Sunday, December 27, 2009

Weekend Assignment #299 : Time's Up!

Because of the Christmas holiday, I gave you folks an extra day to do last week's Weekend Assignment. Now I'm running out of weekend in which to post the new one. And that's kind of the topic of this week's Assignment:

Weekend Assignment #299: The first decade of the new millennium is winding down. (Yes, I know that technically the decade runs from 2001-2010. But still.)  Is there anything in particular you wanted to accomplish this year or in the "aughties?" How did it go? Is there still something you hope to get done before the year is out?

Extra Credit: Have you a particular goal for the next decade? And what do we call 2010 to 2019, anyway?

This was the scene when I got home one blustery afternoon last week. The trunk of my mom's 1984 Chrysler New Yorker had sprung open in the wind.  The back of the New Yorker is slightly crunched, and consequently the trunk lid doesn't stay closed very well any more. Beside it is our 1984(?) Dodge Ram van, which carried us around the U.S. and eastern Canada for four or five months in 1986. I couldn't remember just now exactly what's wrong with it, but it hasn't been driveable in years and years. John says, "The transmission fell out." Oh.

Obviously, we need to get rid of those two vehicles. Like the Toyota I got rid of a decade ago, they are meant to be given to charity, and a tax break taken. I've provisionally decided to donate them to our local PBS station to be auctioned for parts (or whatever).It's something we've wanted to do for at least five years, probably longer.

One problem: I can't find the title to the New Yorker. Last year I searched many boxes for it, over the course of several days. I will try again this year, but I don't expect a better result. Still, I shouldn't let that stop me. I'll just have to go to the MVD for a replacement title, won't I? The only thing in the way is that I'll be very busy this week at church, finishing up a project that has a hard year-end deadline.

My other long term goals are more important, even if they're not tied to a particular year, decade or tax season. I still haven't taken the CPA exam, much less been certified. I can't really become a CPA without a piece of paper saying I've worked two years under the supervision of an existing CPA, but at least I can resume studying. This I will do in the new year. No, really.

And then there's getting an agent and publisher for the novels, a goal that seems more out of reach with each passing year. Sigh.

How about you? How have you done on accomplishing your ten year plan? Do you even have one? (Not that I'm saying you necessarily should. I'm just asking!)

While you're thinking about that, let's have a look at last week's responses.

For Weekend Assignment #298: Lost, I asked about whether getting lost was a problem or a pleasure for you. Click on the names below to read the full responses:

Julie said...
...I pressed the button to tell the software to provide driving directions and a map and leaned back in the passenger seat. Take the next exit. And turn around. Perhaps the restaurant was just on the other side of the freeway after the next exit. We could do that. We took the exit, turned around, and were then instructed to go a couple of miles back the direction from whence we'd come. Excuse me?

Florinda said... .
I'm pretty good at reading maps, because I need to be. My eyesight is bad enough (even when wearing my contacts) that I have trouble making out small street signs and address numbers. When I'm going someplace new, I'll study the map carefully first, so I know just how many more blocks I need to go after the last major intersection and can count them off as I'm driving.

Mike said...
It is not an adventure for me. Not one bit. Just ask Jenn. I get stressed going into the city and get worse if we have trouble finding where we need to go, or where the ramp to the expressway is to get us back to our safe suburbs. I tend to get snippy and cranky when we get turned around, I don't know why. Like Jenn tells me, it's not like we are going to get stuck there and never find our way home, or anything. But, when I'm in a position like that I don't think rationally. I start picture us living out of the car and drinking anti-freeze to survive. It's not pretty.

Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate in the Weekend Assignment:

1. Please post your entry no later than Saturday, January 2nd at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

I hope to hear from you soon. Meanwhile, Happy New Year! And don't forget, the Round Robin Photo Challenge returns on January 2nd! And if you're into photography, be sure to also check out the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot.


EMPS: A Visual Christmas Concert

For EMPS #69: Christmas Music, I'd like to show you the visual evidence of this year's Christmas music at my church, the Episcopal Parish of St. Michael and All Angels. Sorry, no audio!

At St. Michael's, the Christmas services begin with the 5 PM Family Mass on Christmas Eve. This is the service at which children help to set up the creche amid the appropriate Gospel readings and carols. Here, Father Smith leads the congregation in a Christmas carol. The woman at the piano flies in every Thanksgiving and Christmas and plays for us. (I assume she's mostly here to visit family.)

A major feature of music at St. Michael's is the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ, which I photographed extensively for one of the very first Round Robin Photo Challenges years ago. In a loft at the back of the church is the antiphonal organ, seen here. It's an extra section of pipes far away from the main organ, which is housed in a chamber behind the church sanctuary.

The other main source of music at St. Michael's is the parish choir, directed by Jane Haman, who also plays the organ. Their Christmas performance takes place at the "midnight" mass on Christmas Eve, which actually starts at 10 PM with carols and bible readings. They are supplemented by a string quartet - or is it a trio?

Aha. The fourth instrument in the quartet is the organ, played here by parishioner and choir member Keith Hege. Chuck Haman turns the pages.

The string players are the evening's "hired guns."

There is a Mass held early Christmas morning, but I'm sure you'll understand when I say I always skip that one. The other mass of Christmas Day is at 10:15 AM. Jane, Chuck and the choir take a well-deserved day off, and composer (and retired English teacher) Alan Schultz plays instead. Both his original music and the classical pieces he selects tend to put the organ through its paces, showing off the range of notes a few thousand pipes can produce. My favorite bits are when he has a "call and response" between the pipes behind the sanctuary and the antiphonal pipes in back.

There are openings to the right and left of the sanctuary, through which banks of pipes can be seen. It took me a few tries to get the shot, but I kind of like the underlit versions.

Here's a better shot of the same pipes and poinsettia, taken with flash.

Just for fun, I tried the autoenhance function on this underexposed shot, and did nothing else to it except resize. Well, it's certainly in Christmas colors!

Don't forget - the return of the The Round Robin Photo Challenges is next Saturday! See the Round Robin blog for details. The new Weekend Assignment will be posted shortly.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The House Around the Corner

Not every neighborhood has one, and I suppose there may be whole towns that don't. But I bet you've seen such a place: a Christmas house. It's one of those houses that get decorated each Christmas to an extreme degree. A tree Christmas house has enough Christmas lights to be seen from space, almost, enough animated Santas and inflatable snowmen to fill every square yard of lawn and rooftop. Listen! Can you hear the electronic chimes playing We Wish You a Merry Christmas? And will the owners really mind if an adult takes one of the candy canes they set out for visiting children?

One thing for sure: their electric bill must be enormous. I hope they're looking into the possibilities of solar power.

But that's okay, just for this brief season, because a Christmas house is a wonder and a marvel. When my friends the Murray twins lived on Speedway near Camino Seco, there was a Christmas house practically right around the corner from them. I used to visit it every year. In addition to the lights and the animated characters it included a toy frontier town and at least two electric trains. The owner dressed as Santa and handed out candy, and someone would come by in the evenings with a vintage fire engine fully decorated with lights and garland and presents. Some nights there were two fire engines. Eventually the display got so big it continued into and across the next door neighbor's yard. I'm not exaggerating. It really did.

Then one year I took my mom to see it, or maybe Shiori, my friend who was slowly dying of leukemia the Christmas I took her looking for holiday lights. The year I'm talking about, there were no lights at the Christmas house, at least, no more than a string or two. The house across the street, which always celebrated the season with a giant, lit cross in their yard, had also put up a large wooden sign. It began, "The Christmas House is dark..." and went on to explain that the owner's wife had died. The husband no longer had the heart to put in the hundreds of hours of work without her help and support.

That Christmas House was gone, but there are others. Tucson has a whole neighborhood, Winterhaven, where every house is expected to be decorated for the holidays. Not every home owner complies, but nearly all of them do, some with tremendous creativity. Two of my favorites were a Blue Christmas, with blue lights and Elvis singing, and a Hanukkah house with the fifteen foot high, lit dreidel.

Our own neighborhood usually has quite a few rather impressive displays, almost rivaling Winterhaven; but the real Christmas house of Terra Del Sol is a block and a half from my house, on Calle Herculo. It has a tree in the front yard that must be 100 feet tall or more, with lights that no longer quite reach the top. But that's just the beginning.

The fence is strung with lights, as is the front of the house. The rooftops of the house and garage are full, and so is the yard. The scale of the whole thing is astonishing. You can't really see it all at once, particularly not with a camera. To cram the tree into the shot you have to be too far away to see any detail.

But details there are. The place rewards a closer look. My favorite piece this year is Santa on a hammock. There's also an inflatable Santa in an inflatable race car.

That Christmas house around the corner is well worth driving to come see it, and many people do. But it's just a short walk for me, or a quick stop on the way home from the pizza place or the Chinese restaurant at 22nd and Kolb. This time of year, I frequently see cars stopped in front of the Christmas house, or at least slowed to a crawl.

One recent evening I took the dogs for a walk to the Christmas house. It was fun, but not conducive to good photography. It's hard to hold a camera perfectly still at dusk while holding onto two lashes attached to restless dogs. Still, I kind of like the effect of the unwanted movement on my imperfect photos!

No other house in the neighborhood can really compete with the decorations at the House with the Giant Tree, but there's another house across from it of which I'm rather fond. It's a more modest but nicely-laid-out display, with rows of lit candy canes and (this year) neon trees lining the driveway. The night I was out with the dogs, one of their three inflatable snowmen had somehow fallen over, just slightly marring their display. But it was intriguing, because it almost looked deliberate. I didn't manage to get a good shot of it, but the effect of the one snowman bent over a pile of rocks and wood and electrical stuff was that he seemed to be building a fire. And the other two snowpeople were warming themselves at it.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

EMPS: With Christmas Decor, Both Quality and Quantity Count!

For Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #68: Holiday Decorations, I have a bit of variety to show you. Again this year, I've tried to capture on camera the scope and some of the detail of our neighborhood's "Christmas house," the one that has almost as many lights and decorations as the rest of the block put together. At the same time, though, some of the decorations that have been the most meaningful to me this year have been much more modest in scale.

Let's start here, in front of my own house. The bit of greenery hanging off our front alcove thingy is not technically a wreath, but a swag. It was a gift from St. Michael's to me, something to do with a fundraiser for St. Michael's Day School. It's been years since we had fresh greenery at Christmas around here. I used to insist on a live tree every year, even if it was a small one, because that's what I grew up with. But John and I love our vintage aluminum tree, and really, it's kind of selfish of me to insist on spending money every year on a live tree in addition to that and the artificial white one. So I'm grateful for the swag, our only outdoor decoration this year.

Well, almost. On our door, which you can't see from the street, is John's big addition to our Christmas decor this year, a riotously colorful, anything-but-traditional wreath of shiny bits of Mylar (or whatever). Hey, it makes him happy, so I'm happy!

Speaking of St. Michael's School, as I was a few moments ago, there was a great decoration outside a second grade classroom that I was walking past nearly every day for a while on my way to work in the church office. It amused me greatly, but something happened to it about halfway through Advent. It was replaced!

I can only imagine that someone complained about the first stocking, and the teacher gave in, or else she swapped it out because she or the kids stopped being naughty. School let out on Thursday, and on Friday there was no stocking up at all.

Carly also wants to see an heirloom decoration. We haven't actually gotten our stuff out yet, but here's a taste of things to come. The first ornaments we ever had as a couple were cardboard Kliban cats and some ratty old glass balls I got cheap at the Salvation Army store. Nowadays we have many more vintage ornaments, purchased at swap meets and elsewhere, as well as some reproductions of the ornaments I grew up with. Here's a taste of what we have, dug out more or less at random for you. I'll have much more to show you when I get the tree up.

Now here's just a sample of the Christmas house photos. I'll do a whole entry on just that (and the house across from it) in a day or two. Trust me, there's a lot to see!


Weekend Assignment #298: Lost

This week's Weekend Assignment comes from a minor misadventure I had a couple of days ago:

Weekend Assignment: #298: Do you often get lost, trying to get someplace new? Do you print out a map, or just wing it? And when you do have trouble finding your way, is it an annoyance or an adventure?

Extra Credit: Is your town or city easy to get lost in?

The buildings above are some of the offices of the Arizona Department of Economic Security on Toole Ave in Tucson. I needed to go there on Thursday afternoon to drop off some financial paperwork related to my friend's food stamps and state health benefits. (She is disabled, and the fact that she moved recently meant that they wanted to reevaluate her financial situation.) Toole Ave is the location of that wonderful old train depot I've photographed repeatedly for this blog, so I thought I had a fair idea where the DES office was. So a little after 4 PM, I called from church to make sure they were open until 5 PM, and rushed downtown with no further preparation.

That was a mistake.

I parked near the Rialto Theater, one of two historic movie theaters in downtown Tucson that have taken on a new life as concert venues, and fed the meter for an hour's work of parking on Congress Street, just in case. I passed the Hotel Congress and approached the train station, watching for the street address on my piece of paper. One problem: the Historic Depot is on East Toole. The address of DES was on South Toole. South Toole? Where the heck was that?

I stopped a stranger on the street and asked whether he knew the answer to this urgent question. He didn't, but we agreed on a theory that it was south of Broadway. Which was south of Congress. I had just walked north from Congress. I was going the wrong way!

So I walked down a side street, checking every street sign for any continuation of Toole. Eventually I found myself on the corner of Fourth Avenue and I-forget-what, south of Broadway, but with no sign of  South Toole anywhere. I called DES on my cell phone. "You're almost here," I was told. I was advised to walk east, two stop signs down. It turned out to be three blocks, although one of the streets I crossed may not have had a stop sign on my side. I walked in the door exactly at 5 PM. Needless to say, I was at least half a mile from the train station, with no direct route back.

But that's fine with me. I wasn't the last person in line before the guy I'd talked to on the phone locked the door. It was a bit of a walk, and a bit stressful, but I got the paperwork turned in and everything worked out with no problems. Then I had the fun of walking back down streets I'd never been on before, approaching familiar landmarks from a new direction. As long as I'm not up against some kind of time constraint, getting lost is one of my favorite ways of exploring.

Navigating in Tucson is generally pretty easy. As long as you can see the mountains, you know which direction you are going, and the major cross streets go straight down the grid of the city, about a mile apart. But there are individual streets that trip you up, changing direction so that to go straight is to get on a different street, or disappearing entirely only to reappear elsewhere. When you go downtown, there's the added confusion of one way streets, some of which are one way in some places and not others. Yes, it can be tricky! Syracuse trumps Tucson, though, if only for the fact that Genessee St. and Erie Blvd intersect three times, in three different parts of metro Syracuse.

Do I use maps? Well, I got a terrible score in map reading in my elementary school "Iowa" aptitude tests, so don't count on me being good at using them. But I do look places up on Google Maps if I have a job interview, or I'm going somewhere else unfamiliar and must be there on time. I probably would have looked up the DES office, were I not in a hurry, and if I didn't think I knew where Toole was.

How about you? Is getting lost something you avoid as much as possible, or is it your idea of fun? While you're thinking about that, let's have a look at last week's responses.

For Weekend Assignment: #297: DIY, I asked how much you try to make repairs and other skilled tasks yourself, and how much you rely on professionals instead. Click on the names below to read the full responses:

Duane said...
As Clint Eastwood once said, "A man's got to know his limitations," and I'm pretty good at knowing mine. If it's a simple project like changing the oil in the car or something similar, I'll tackle it myself. The last such job was replacing some of the drain pipes under the kitchen sink. If it's a little more complicated I'll try to find someone who knows what they're doing to come over and help me, i.e., make sure I don't screw it up worse than it was before I started. If it's still under warranty or absolutely necessary, I'll send it in for repairs or call someone to come out. It all depends on how complicated it's going to be. I'm not real handy, but I do have some skills.

Julie said...

We prefer the DYI route, but hope we know when to leave it to the experts. We have a couple of projects going this weekend. One is the continuing redo of the office closet. Paul is building shelves. This is one of those jobs where we're constrained by the weather as the pieces of wood need to be cut outdoors. No pictures, because all I have is an empty closet.

Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate in the Weekend Assignment:

1. Please post your entry no later than Saturday, December 26th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

I hope to hear from you soon. Meanwhile, Merry Christmas! And don't forget, the Round Robin Photo Challenge returns on January 2nd! And if you're into photography, be sure to also check out the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Nerve

This is just a quick note to mark the fact that I submitted Heirs of Mâvarin to an agent for the first time in several years. Ethan Ellenberg is John Scalzi's agent, and currently soliciting new clients, but that's not the only reason I'm giving him a try. Years ago - five years at least, maybe longer - I read an article by Ellenberg in one of those Writer's Market-type books I tend to buy every year. I don't think it was Writer's Market itself, but some competing directory of literary agents.  In any case, the article stuck in my mind as being especially engaging and helpful, even if I can't remember exactly what book it was in.

More to the point, Ellenberg's agency represents sf and fantasy, especially fantasy, and even YA fantasy. It's always seemed like a perfect match for me. So why did I never query him until now? Fear. The fact that he's Scalzi's agent makes him a major player, at least in my estimation. I didn't want to submit work to him until I was certain I had the best possible query letter, synopsis, and opening chapters. So I tinkered away, confused myself with conflicting advice from friends, and ultimately got sidetracked with school and jobs, blogging and Facebook.

Shame on me.

But no longer. Last night I wrestled with a few paragraphs that have been bugging me for years, and finally conquered them - I hope. This morning, after four hours of sleep, I broke my earlier chapters into smaller chunks, on the theory that most people don't write chapters the length of War and Peace, much less submit them that way. The chapters are edited and formatted, the synopsis looks good, the query email is nice and short, and the whole thing is sent out.

And now I'm going to bed, wired as I am after finally doing something my Inner Weasel had successfully discouraged for years. Now I must try not to obsess about what response I'll get, if any, but get on with everything else I need to do, writing and otherwise.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

EMPS: Chasing Santa in Tucson Traffic

For Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #67: People And Places, Carly wanted us to get out and photograph people in, you know, places. Exactly a week ago as I write this, on Sunday afternoon, I had an unexpected encounter with some rather famous people in the most ordinary of places: the intersection of 22nd St. and Craycroft Road here in Tucson, Arizona, less than two miles from my home.

I was on my way across town when I saw a flash of the color red on a motorcycle in the right lane ahead of me.

When I pulled up to get a better look, the garments were instantly recognizable. The couple on the motorcycle were two of the most celebrated people in the world, particularly at this time of year: Santa and Mrs. Claus!

It soon became clear that they were turning right onto Craycroft, headed, perhaps, for Toys R Us, or possibly Party City. (Make of that what you will.) Well, I had to follow them, didn't I? I soon caught up and pulled alongside. Santa looked a little dubious at my maneuver, but his wife graciously waved as I took the shot, while Here Comes Santa Claus blared from the Harley's speakers.

And that's not all! The Clauses had an escort. Two elves were riding with them on a second motorcycle. I think they were a couple as well. And there you have it: the daring Daylight Ride of the Santa Claus Gang!


Weekend Assignment: #297: DIY

This week's Weekend Assignment sis inspired by my husband's current project:

Weekend Assignment: #297: There are times when we hire professionals to build or fix things for us, and other times when we attempt the job ourselves. Some people pride themselves on their DIY skills or electronics geekery, while others leave it to the experts as much as possible. How about you? Is your first instinct to call for help, or do it yourself?

Extra Credit: Have you ever regretted taking on a task best left to the professionals?

At this moment, John's Mac is lying open on the desk in his office, having become basically unusable about a month ago. A week ago the replacement hard drive he bought on eBay arrived in the mail, and last night I held the monitor in place while he extracted the old, broken drive. Tonight we checked three stores for the rubber cement the Internet says he needs to attach something to something else. Slowly but surely, he's moving toward the scary moment when his decision to try to fix the Mac himself is a brilliant success or a dismal failure.

Now if it were me, I'd have had a tech looking at the thing a month ago. Opening up a computer is not my idea of a good time. Neither is replacing the flapper on a toilet, patching cement in the back yard, or replacing a washer on a sink. Fortunately, John is well up to the latter three tasks - well, sort of. When he does admit that expert help is needed - a plumber for a pipe in the back yard, for example, or aqnd electrician when a circuit breaker dies - I'm the one who has to make the call. I'm not sure what that proves, if anything.

But there are times when I stubbornly take on a project at the very limit of my abilities. For Halloween 2007 I made a Tiki mask out of cardboard. It came out okay, but I pulled an all-nighter to do it. Another time I attempted to spray paint the inside of my Saturn, replacing the rather ugly brown dash with pink. It really, really, didn't work, and John was furious. The biggest issue was that it caused a terrible reflective glare on the windshield. We went to the Tanque Verde Swap Meet and bought an upholstered cover for the dash, and it ameliorated the problem. Sort of.

How about you? Do you spend the weekend rebuilding your computer or installing new cabinets, or would you rather leave it to the experts? While you're thinking about that, let's have a look at last week's responses.

For Weekend Assignment: #296: Scandalized, I asked how much you follow or avoid news of celebrity and other scandals. Click on the names below to read the full responses:

Duane said...
You can usually catch me on my soapbox, railing about how the media is wasting so much time on such nonsense while there are much more important stories going on. For example, in the past few days, while the media has devoted major resources in tracking down every single one of Tiger's mistresses, the escalation of the Afghanistan War, the health care battle in the Senate, the upcoming climate conference in Copenhagen, and other major stories haven't received the attention they deserve.

Carly said...

I suppose my particular interest in such stories would fall into the "In between" category. I don't think I obsess, but there are some types of scandals that capture my attention more then others do. I tend to follow the political scandals much closer then... say... the latest he said/she said with John and Kate Gosselin. Although I have to admit, there is something about the Gosselin's that intrigues me on some level.

Florinda said...

In this time of 24-hour news cycles and information overload, it's awfully hard to avoid hearing about the scandal du jour (and it seems like every jour there's a new scandal), but after the first few reports, I usually try to. I'm interested in the first few reports, but once the stories move beyond "just the facts" and start digging for overly-intimate details and speculating at random, I tend to start feeling like I really don't need to know much more about it after all.

Julie said...
I click and read some stories but honestly, unless a celebrity does something beyond the pale I'm not terribly interested. If I follow, it's mainly out of interest to see how the various outlets cover a particular story. Boring, I know.

Thanks, folks! I'm writing this on the night of Tucson's first hard freeze of the year, with snow on the mountains predicted for early next week. Your entries are giving me all sorts of ideas on how to warm up!

Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate in the Weekend Assignment:

1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, December 19th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

I hope to hear from you soon!


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Who Is That?

A million down, 18,841 to go.

I'm working on a kind of fun but very time consuming project at home, a consequence of changing computers a few weeks ago. I had to download Picasa 3 again, and start over nearly from scratch on the program's primary function: cataloging every image file on every hard drive it can find, as well as on your Picasa web albums.

The most interesting but troublesome Picasa 3 does, if you let it and help it along, is catalog and tag every face it can find in all those photos, coordinating these identifications with your Picasa web albums (where Blogger images are stored) and even your Google contacts list. Did I mention this is a Google product? Anyway, it seems to me a worthwhile thing to do, because it automates the tagging process quite a bit, making it easier to find pictures of specific people. It also can be a memory jogger. You may know now who that co-worker is that you snapped at the Christmas party in 2005, but will you remember his name five years and three jobs later? How about the actor who played the albino guy in that one episode of Doctor Who? Or the kids in your second grade class photo? If you track the answer down now, that face is identified forever.

Do I know you?

The program sorts all the people into albums as it goes, a process that can take days if you have (as I do) multiple copies stored on various drives of practically every digital photo you've ever taken. It's fun and kind of amazing to see the variety of faces in the unidentified group, the actor from desktop wallpaper or that DVD I photographed surrounded by people I vaguely recognize from church, or else don't remember photographing at all.

But I've never met any of these people!

Some are vague blurs or too dark to bother with (half of these are unedited files), but most of the faces look like interesting people having a good time, judging from all those smiles. Doubleclick on a stranger and she might turn out to be a face in a crowd at Disneyland, or a kid in the same first communion ceremony as my godson. More disquieting are the faces I know but can't recall the names instantly, whether they starred in Harry Potter movies or were in some of my classes from first grade through high school.

Also potentially troubling are the sheer numbers of files it finds of each photographic subject, including many copies of the same basic image due to unedited files, backups and pictures of pictures. I somehow have more photos of myself (838) than anyone else. #2, I believe, is David Tennant, with 502 images and counting. My beloved husband, who doesn't like me to post his photo, has 159 images. But I have more pictures of Barbie's sister Skipper (94) than of my brother Steve (20). To be fair, though, I see Skipper far more often. There are several Skippers in our den, and Steve has only been to Arizona once.

In some ways the software is very smart about this facial recognition stuff. Somehow it usually gets Ringo Starr and Leonard Nimoy right in photos taken years or even decades apart. Other times, though, it can be completely idiotic, misinterpreting a railing or a pattern of dots as a face. Jolly Rogers, troll dolls, the picture on the mouse pad in the picture of your office, the actor on the spine of the video box on the shelf behind your husband...all these and more are fair game to Picasa. "Who is this person?" it wants to know. "Add a name." Sometimes it makes a wild guess, and the results can be hilarious. Some examples I've found:

Also David Tennant and a guy from church!
  • David Tennant, a black guy with dreads and at least one woman identified as my bald, white, male character Fayubi
  • My male high school social studies teacher as my Aunt Flora
  • Reverend Seth Polley as Wendy Darling (Peter Pan's friend, as seen on the dark ride)
  • Emmet Smith (from a magazine cover) as Mattel's Barbie.
There were even odder examples, confusing me, David Tennant, Barack Obama and others with each other; but I don't quite remember the specifics. There were a lot of them.

I'm well on my way though the project now; the scanning is finished and I only have 18,458 unnamed people left. Yes, the number went up since I wrote the opening paragraph of this entry, due to finding several blurry strangers identified as Scott Bakula or a Mavarin drawing. But I'm getting there.

Next time: the Weekend Assignment!


Sunday, December 06, 2009

EMPS: The New, Improved Old Car

To be honest, I kept putting off taking the pictures for this week's Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #66: Under The Hood. The hood doesn't stay up on my Eagle Vision, and it's hard to find and operate the catch that opens the hood at all. But here are the pics at last.

The thing to notice here is that these pics no linger feature ashes from burned wiring, as they did when I last photographed what was under the hood of my car. Also, the radiator has a shiny new cap. The radiator cap, at $8 or $12, I forget which, was the least expensive by far of the four sets of repairs the Eagle got this summer and fall. I figure we spent about $2000 repairing this 1994 car, much of which we still owe my dad, who pitched in to help.

The same car last August, after it overheated. Note the burned wiring.

So the engine, radiator, and air conditioning are in pretty good shape, finally. But the paint job is dead, the driver's side inside door handle fell off months ago, and the plastic dashboard is warping in the Arizona heat. But the car still gets me around, and that's what counts. Right?


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Weekend Assignment: #296: Scandalized

This week's Weekend Assignment seemed like a good idea at the time:

Weekend Assignment: #296: The press and the public always seem to be obsessed with one scandal or another, from Tiger Woods to Balloon Boy. Do you eagerly follow such stories, try to avoid them, or something in between? Does the identity of the celebrity (or would-be celebrity) affect how interested you are?

Extra Credit: Have you ever purchased a supermarket tabloid?

This week, Tiger Woods has been the subject of much news and speculation in the aftermath of a rather minor traffic accident, along with derisive jokes and even CGI recreations of the incident. And I don't care. I'm only vaguely aware of how the story unfolded, and I really don't need to know whether his wife hit him with a golf club and to what degree he deserved it. Much as I disapprove of adultery, I have no interest in  learning about the alleged sexual misbehavior of someone I've never met. What business is it of anybody's, aside from the people directly involved?

The story of the boy and the runaway balloon was slightly different. It wasn't about sex or celebrities. It was initially a bit of an oddball mystery to be solved, namely, what is this balloon thing, and why did they think there was a boy attached to it when there wasn't? My interest lasted only until the mystery was solved and the hoax revealed.

Michael Jackson? I admit that I watched one or two specials in the media frenzy after his death, if there was nothing better on. The only excuse I can offer is that I grew up hearing the guy on the radio, and was slightly intrigued by his tragic persona. Many years ago I postulated that he would benefit from being forced to live a normal life for a while, specifically working at a fast food counter. I still think so, l really. But no, I don't think his life and death warranted wall-to-wall coverage for weeks on end.

All this being the case, it's probably no surprise that I hate supermarket tabloids, and have never purchased one. I don't trust them to be remotely accurate, an assumption that seems to be borne out if one compares the headlines from week to week. For a while it seemed that one of these papers named a different culprit every issue in the death of  the same little girl. Now a certain paper seems to be making up a scandal involving a Republican one week, a Democrat the next, over and over and on and on. It seems to me there's enough legitimate scandal involving Senators and governors. Do we really need to supplement them with fake scandals about the current and former Presidents and their families?

Reading the paragraph above this one, you might wonder: if Karen hates tabloids so much, then how does she know in such detail what they have claimed in their headlines? Okay, you got me: I do tend to read one or two headlines as I wait to pay for my groceries. To paraphrase a line from one of my unsold novels, it's only because I have no better use for my eyes. I don't read the articles, nor buy the publication. I just stand there, being annoyed.

How about you? Do you enjoy following celebrity news, particularly stories of famous people making a mess of their lives? When non-celebrities get their fifteen minutes of fame, do you notice? Or is it all just background noise to you? Tell us about it in your blog, or in the comments below. Easy instructions to participate are at the end of this entry, right after last week's wrap-up.

For Weekend Assignment #295: Keep Me Warm!, I asked how you like to keep warm in cold weather. Click on the names below to read their full responses:

Bea said in comments...
Hi Karen. I'd rather keep the thermostat at lower than 70, possibly 68 would be enough for me. But hubby likes to keep warm, and donning more clothes isn't exactly his solution. We have disagreements about how to respond to the colder evenings every winter. I love snuggling in warm blankets. Alas, two puppies on the bed would be completely acceptable by me, but our babies are gone, and we haven't opened our home to new pets just yet. Perhaps when one of us can be home most of the day, we'll reconsider. Retirement perhaps, in two years. Til then, I settle for wrapping up in a blanket when I'm sitting at the computer in the winter. Or reading a good book. Take care. bea

Florinda said...

Right now, the thermostat is set at 73, but the heat's not turned on. I'll switch it on and lower it to 69 overnight, and then bring it up to 73 again in the morning, when we crawl out of our warm beds and into showers that don't warm up fast enough. But on a typical day, I'll turn the heat off again before we leave the house. This is Southern California; the number of days each year when we actually have to heat the house all day long is probably in the low double digits.

Julie said...

Last night a cold rain fell, and I was simply cold and miserable. About 7:30 last night I gave up and settled in bed under the electric blanket with a book. My arms were chilly, but that was the price I paid to keep the rest of my body warm.

Carly (of Florida) said...
Here is my favorite way to keep warm, cuddle with the hubby under our 2 down comforters and a thermal blanket. My parents were visiting last week and on the same night we slept under our 2 comforters (no thermal blanket that night.) They pushed the quilt off of the bed they were sleeping in and used only a sheet.

Carly (of California) said...
Dylan is my little cuddle buddy when it's time for bed, he just loves to sleep alongside me, between myself and Alan. When I sleep alone, on Sunday nights, he sleeps on a pillow right next to me, and sometimes, he cuddles on my right shoulder. Not only is it heartwarming, but it is body warming as well. He takes care of me, and I always feel loved. 

Mike said...

When it is chilly, I usually put on what Jenn likes to call my 'old man sweater.' It's just a zip up fleece thing, but since I wear it all the time, Jenn likes to make fun of me. Though, when I am on a stretch of days off I do tend to wear it a lot. It's like the flannel shirt Michale Keaton wore in Mr. Mom. So maybe she's not so far off. Hey, at least it's not a sweater that Mr. Rogers wore, or anything.

Thanks, folks! I'm writing this on the night of Tucson's first hard freeze of the year, with snow on the mountains predicted for early next week. Your entries are giving me all sorts of ideas on how to warm up!

Here are the guidelines if you'd like to participate in the Weekend Assignment:

1. Please post your entry no later than Friday, December 12th at 6 PM. (You can also post your response in the comments thread, but a blog entry is better. )
2. Please mention the Weekend Assignment in your blog post, and include a link back to this entry.
3. Please come back here after you've posted, and leave a link to your entry in the comments below.
4. Visiting other participants' entries is strongly encouraged!
5. I'm always looking for topic ideas. Please email me at mavarin2 on if there's a Weekend Assignment theme you'd like to see. If I use your idea, you will be credited as that week's "guest professor."

Stay warm, everyone!


Thursday, December 03, 2009

More Power!

This entry won't be especially deep or wordy. It's just to show you something I've been tracking for a few months now.

The last "Safeway Sunset"? Maybe.

At the corner of Golf Links and Wilmot in Tucson is a formerly empty lot. Looking west across it from the Safeway shopping center, one sees the Tucson Mountains in the distance. When the lot was empty, it was a fabulous setting for sunset photos. Over the years I've taken many a "Safeway Sunset" picture from the parking lot in front of Subway.

I think that I shall never see
base housing lovely as a tree.

A year or two ago that began to change, as base housing for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base was built at the south end of the empty lot. The view was suddenly more prosaic, but if I pointed the camera in the right direction at the right time I could still get something good.

Then something new happened. First a bunch of short posts went up, hardly taller than old-fashioned headstones. These spread across the land on the south side of Golf Links, from Wilmot nearly to Craycroft Rd a mile away. As the mysterious construction continued, I discussed this odd sight with someone from the temp job I had at the time. He also lives in the area, and had also been watching the proceedings. We concluded that the work crews were building solar panels.

They were indeed. I don't think they've quite finished construction on the acres of off-the-grid green technology, and it's very hard to photograph them adequately from the Golf Links side. But here are some of them as seen from the Subway / Safeway parking lot.

Much as I love taking sunset photos, I'll happily trade that particular vantage point for DM going solar, and getting off the Tucson Electric Power grid. More power to them.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

EMPS: Sometimes It's About Being Thankful for...Stuff.

For Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot #65: Giving Thanks!, I suppose I could have showed you the Thanksgiving Pot Luck at St. Michael's this past Thursday, if I'd remembered to photograph it; or my beloved husband, if he allowed me to post pictures of him. I'm truly thankful for that pot luck at church, where I ate with friends and helped out in the kitchen, and got a plate of leftovers for my Wiccan friend who declined to attend, and would otherwise have been alone all day at Thanksgiving. And of course I'm thankful every day for my funny, cranky, smart, always-stimulating husband of thirty years (and counting).

But I didn't remember to take those Thanksgiving pics, and we didn't have much by way of turkey afterward, just enough for me to get a few meals of leftovers if I padded them out with Trader Joe's stuff and a frozen entree. Here's the box from that entree. Exciting, huh?

BUT! I'm also thankful for something material this year. You see, after 20 years without an accident, John has been rear-ended three times in the past six months -- and no, none of the accidents were his fault. He got a $2005 insurance settlement on the third accident, and was not inclined to spend it on fixing the car's trunk and taillight. Instead he's going to replace the dying hard drive on his Mac, and we got me a new computer. It's a desktop, for a change. John insisted that it's better than a laptop and likely to last longer. I still have my laptop for trips, at least until the motherboard finishes dying. So here it is: a $500 Gateway with 4 GB RAM and a 750 GB hard drive, plus an 18.5" monitor. John even admitted that it's faster than his Mac (when it's working), and the monitor is bigger. Windows 7 isn't compatible with my photo editor, so I was finally forced to upgrade to PhotoStudio 6. So I have working software again. Yay! It may be crass and material of me, but I'm thankful for my new computer.

And that's not all! We agonized for a good twenty minutes in front of four vacuum cleaners at Costco, ranging in price from $89 to $299. John tried opening the canister on the cheapest one to see how it worked, and fake dirt poured out onto the concrete floor! We ended up with the $139 Hoover. Now, if you're like me, you've probably had the experience of disappointing vacuum cleaners. You know: the demonstrators show the vacuum picking up fake dirt designed to be vacuumed easily, or maybe a bowling ball. But that's not what you need a vacuum to do, is it? You get it home, and does it pick up the dog hair? Probably not. But that's exactly what we needed it to do, and exactly why we stood there, agonizing.

But we picked one and took it home, and John tried it out even before we unpacked my computer. Amazingly, it picked up three canisters' worth of real dirt and dog hair(!) from the den alone! It works! It's wonderful! As wonderful as a vacuum cleaner can be, anyway.

So John is happy with that purchase - and that makes me thankful, too!