Thursday, April 27, 2017

Culture - Repka's Restaurant and Grocery

This place is in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rice fields. A bare-bones restaurant that grew out of a grocery store, miles from anywhere. But it has ambiance, a low ceiling covered in dollar bills and a UK flag, a bar, and pools tables. Much like a pub.

It servers Cajun food on disposable plates. The crawdads probably lived in the rice fields outside. Alligator nuggets are $10 a large helping.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Tile - How to find a cat

Loosing car keys is inconvenient, and can be expensive, they can cost $200-$600 to replace. But loosing a cat is an emotional loss.

Pumpkin went missing a few weeks ago. At that time she lived outside, and had no collar, she always clawed it off. Now she has has been inside for a while and got used to a collar, and hopefully will keep it.

I have ordered Tiles for both cats, they are small and light enough, and if the collar remains attached to the cat, you can find the cat. If not you find the collar.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Culture - Tristan Harris - The arms race for human attention

The need for design ethics

Tristan Harris leads Time Well Spent, a company to make technology more human, and have it serve us instead the companies that demand our attention.

One of his good suggestions it to adjust your phone settings so it bring attention to real people, and disables alerts by machines. Companies adapt your phone and computer to get your attention, so they can make money off of you.


"Never before in history have such a small number of designers – a handful of young, mostly men, living in the Bay Area of California, working at a handful of tech companies – had such a big impact on how a billion people around the world spend their time.

We check our phones more than 150 times per day. Knowledge workers spend a third of their day in email. Teenagers (aged 14-17) send 4,000 texts/month, or every six minutes awake. The more we live by our screens and spend time there, the more we live by their design choices.

That’s a lot of power. Just like a city shapes the lives of its inhabitants, software shapes the lives of it users. Therefore software is a domain of great responsibility."

Monday, April 24, 2017

England - Great Dixter

Great Dixter is a wonderful place to visit in England.  It is in the middle of nowhere in Sussex. The site is a Grade 1 listed building, part of it from the mid-15 century, and gardens. I have a weakness for both.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Texas - Pumpkin the Cat

Our neighbor named this cat Pumpkin as she appeared around Halloween, a dark Calico with staring yellow eyes. She had been dumped by her owners. She lived outside until last week, until she had a near death experience with, we suspect, a Raccoon. After finding her missing two friends searched and finally found her cowering under a bush outside of her normal range, traumatized and injured. They took her to a vet, and cared for her until we arrived.

We brought her home, to the consternation of our older cat who, 16 years ago, was also dumped, and who circled the house staring into the windows and till we gave in.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Texas - How not to run a business

Or, how to keep the customer happier

We ordered a stove from a store that offers free delivery.  It was planned to arrived between 7:15 and 9:00 am, but then we got an automated phone call saying it was scheduled between 5:30 and 7:30 pm. Not good, but OK.

At 6:00 pm the truck arrived, and we directed the truck driver to the side entrance so they could use the backdoor to take out the old one and deliver the new one. These were not employees of the store, but a subcontractor used by the store. It should be easy, an electric stove to replace an existing electric stove, no gas connection, existing 240 volt outlet.

They start unpacking the new stove outside and the guy finds it has a glass top that is designed to rest each side on the counter.

"We cannot install this, you need an Install Crew, we are just a Delivery Crew."

I said, "Not a problem, the space the stove fits into is much large than 30 inches, it will not rest on the counter, just put the stove in place." Then I had to show him. The kitchen will be updated later.

"Do you have a wiring kit?" he asked.

I wondered, are we onion peeling this deliver? I said, "No, do you have one on the truck? I can wire it up, this is not rocket science." Those were fighting words.

"Yes," he said. "How much is the cable and how do I pay for it?" I asked.

The cable was free, and the delivery guy wired it up and I checked his work. He plugged in the stove and it worked, and they left. This was their 14th delivery of the day and they had one more to go.

The store should have told us, and sold us the correct cable, but the employee failed to do that. The fact the delivery company truck had the right cable on board and it was free makes me think this happens often, and the store pays for the cables, as it is cheaper to supply a free $20 cable than have to make a second trip to a less that happy customer to complete the install.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Texas - Raccoon capture and release

Raccoons are native to all countries in North America, and invasive species in other countries, especially Japan where the were brought in as pets and are now destroying temples.  One night, months ago, I found two, they huddled in the corner of a building but were gone after I went to fetch a camera.

This weekend we caught one in a friend's trap and it was relocated 5 miles away, far enough we hope.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Texas - New Italian-sourced stepping stone

New stepping stone, with Italian-sourced numbers

To replace the very old one, with Mexican-sourced numbers

Friday, April 14, 2017

Texas - The hidden ginger, a wonderful surprise every year

Geology - When Britain became an island

A new paper from Nature Communications, "Two-stage opening of the Dover Strait and the origin of island Britain."

450,000 BCE Britain was a peninsular of Eurasia, connected by a chalk ridge, and Earth was in the first cold period of our current ice age. The northern part of the North Sea froze over connecting northern England to Scandinavia, and water dammed up in the southern ice-free part of the North Sea.

Water rose until it overflowed over the land bridge, it would have been an awesome waterfall to see. Home Sapiens did not exist yet, but some very early members of Homo Neanderthalensis may have seen it. As the water flowed over the isthmus, it created a deep plunge pool, a depression in the chalk seabed. The plunge pool elongated as the waterfall retreated "upriver." Chalk is full of flints, and these would have accentuate the abrasive power of the water. Finally, around 430,000 BCE the whole ridge was breached releasing the dammed up water.

There is also evidence, in 160,000 BCE, of a second lake spillover, during the fifth cold period of our current ice age. At this time Britain was so inhospitable no Homo species lived here. There is no evidence of habitation between 180,000 and 60,000 BCE. After 10,000 BCE our current inter-glacial started and things improved.

See for the complete article.

Gupta, S. et al. Two-stage opening of the Dover Strait and the origin of island Britain. Nat. Commun. 8, 15101 doi: 10.1038/ncomms15101 (2017).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Culture - Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Yuval's first book, Sapiens, was excellent, and I even saw a copy of it for sale in Istanbul, so there is hope for a Turkish secular society.

Sapiens ended at the present, and Homo Deus starts at the present.

I am part of the way through the 464 "pages."  If one is listening or not reading on a physical book, a page is meaningless. Wordcount is 138,880. There is no SI measure for book size.

At the dawn of the third millennium, humanity wakes up, stretching its limbs and rubbing its eyes. Remnants of some awful nightmare are still drifting across its mind. ‘There was something with barbed wire, and huge mushroom clouds. Oh well, it was just a bad dream.’ Going to the bathroom, humanity washes its face, examines its wrinkles in the mirror, makes a cup of coffee and opens the diary. ‘Let’s see what’s on the agenda today.’ 

For thousands of years the answer to this question remained unchanged. The same three problems preoccupied the people of twentieth-century China, of medieval India and of ancient Egypt. Famine, plague and war were always at the top of the list. For generation after generation humans have prayed to every god, angel and saint, and have invented countless tools, institutions and social systems – but they continued to die in their millions from starvation, epidemics and violence. Many thinkers and prophets concluded that famine, plague and war must be an integral part of God’s cosmic plan or of our imperfect nature, and nothing short of the end of time would free us from them. 

Yet at the dawn of the third millennium, humanity wakes up to an amazing realisation. Most people rarely think about it, but in the last few decades we have managed to rein in famine, plague and war. Of course, these problems have not been completely solved, but they have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. We don’t need to pray to any god or saint to rescue us from them. We know quite well what needs to be done in order to prevent famine, plague and war – and we usually succeed in doing it. 

True, there are still notable failures; but when faced with such failures we no longer shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Well, that’s the way things work in our imperfect world’ or ‘God’s will be done’. Rather, when famine, plague or war break out of our control, we feel that somebody must have screwed up, we set up a commission of inquiry, and promise ourselves that next time we’ll do better. And it actually works. Such calamities indeed happen less and less often. For the first time in history, more people die today from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals combined. In the early twenty-first century, the average human is far more likely to die from bingeing at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola or an al-Qaeda attack. 

Hence even though presidents, CEOs and generals still have their daily schedules full of economic crises and military conflicts, on the cosmic scale of history humankind can lift its eyes up and start looking towards new horizons. If we are indeed bringing famine, plague and war under control, what will replace them at the top of the human agenda? Like firefighters in a world without fire, so humankind in the twenty-first century needs to ask itself an unprecedented question: what are we going to do with ourselves? In a healthy, prosperous and harmonious world, what will demand our attention and ingenuity? This question becomes doubly urgent given the immense new powers that biotechnology and information technology are providing us with. What will we do with all that power? 

Harari, Yuval Noah (2017-02-20T22:58:59). Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (Kindle Locations 366-390). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Switzerland - Cowbell

A friend yesterday gave us a real hand-made cowbell, bought in Switzerland in 1960.

The leather is smooth on the inside, and the bell is really loud, it was made for a cow not a tourist.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pompeii - In view of the volcano

Life in the roman town of Pompeii ceased in 79 CE in a horrendous eruption of gas and ash from the nearby volcano. The population of maybe 11,000 had no chance. The site was rediscovered in 1599.

The place is huge and there are many streets of buildings in various state of preservation. It would be an improvement to the open-air museum to take a street and recreate as best as we know what the street would have been like, in says 78 CE. Populate it with actors doing period-correct activities.

As more is discovered and understood the street could be updated.


Art work by Igor Mitoraj is scattered throughout Pompeii, it should be removed, it is out of place in this historic site

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Texas - Brenham historic houses

Three houses in Brenham, Texas

Giddings-Wilkin House, built in 1843 when Texas was a country, no longer a possession of Mexico, and not yet part of the USA

Giddings-Stone House build in 1870 on a hill surrounded by 320 acres, by the same family, to escape the yellow fever, of the lower land

Ross-Carroll house built in 1899, late period Victorian style, with a open turret on the third level

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Rome - The Tibetan Shop

I spoke to the owner of the store, and he said he was not Tibetan, but from Nepal. Close enough.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Culture - The failure of the separation of Church and State

Trump's speech last night ended with a very christian religious message:

"We ask for God's wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed, and we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will in the end prevail.

Good night and God bless America and the entire world. Thank you."

Rome - More pictures

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rome - The Pantheon

The Pantheon is a Roman Temple built by the roman emperor Hadrian, finished in 126 CE. It is in amazing condition. It has a concrete roof with a hole, and drain holes in the floor.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Rome - Street Art

So can the person see you through the shirt, or do they listen carefully over the traffic?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Vatican - What the pope needs to gift to us

We found the very item we need to give artistic balance to the country garden, but we need to convince the pope to gift it to us. It is the "Sphere within a Sphere" by Arnaldo Pomodoro in the Vatican garden. Looks like the Death Star. We saw a "similar" sphere a year ago that was for sale, just not the right price, this one is unlikely to be cheaper.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Assisi - A pretty town in the hills

Assisi is small town on a hillside, half way between Florence and Rome. We walked from the east side through the medieval town to the Basilica on west side.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Florence - Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral)

Started in 1296, it took until 1436 to complete. For 140 years rain entered the building. The huge dome was the last part to be added, as they did not know how to do it. It is fashioned of two interlink domes, and made without scaffolding or buttressing. At that time the designers and builders did not have the mathematics but drew from models and experience.  It must be a good design as it is still standing.

The frescoes on the inside of the dome were completed in 1579. It will always be a work in progress.

Saturday, April 1, 2017