Friday, December 26, 2008

Surprise box canyon on Rock Creek on Boxing Day

Here is Rock Creek trail near our house on Christmas Day. Chris and I and our two dogs went down and did a longer hike. I went back and did a slightly shorter route today.

Two short hikes along Rock Creek in two days has been very pleasant. I think my urge to get back in shape is rising -- now to keep it going. My proto-New Year's resolution is to do the short version of this hike, down the hill, along the trail for a bit, and then back up in about 40 minutes 4-5 times a week, or the equivalent on an elliptical trainer which is a lot less interesting.

On of the things we did was to re-explore a little box canyon right by Backdoor Cave. This little canyon is a favorite of Chris'. We hiked everybody then in the family up there and had a picnic on his birthday there a couple of years ago.

You would not even know this was here unless you looked carefully, but I noted that somebody has cleared off the trail into it a bit better, cutting down a couple of fast growing foreign species trees that had blocked the entrance. Here is a picture of the first main rock shelf, with our two dogs, Ally and Ty, exploring around.

Here is a picture of the second main rock shelf. You have to scramble up over the rocks in back of the first shelf to get there. I wasn't sure Ally, who is an old 15 1/2 for a dog, would want to do that, but she did. But she drew the line at following Ty up on to the shelf at the back of this one, where you can see Ty.

However, I was game, not quite so old for a person at 57, so I scrambled up to get a view of the rocks and gentler dry creek gulch that goes up the hill following the bed of the creek that made this little canyon over the years.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Macs vs. PCs

Funny to think about it, but I have been a Mac user for almost exactly 20 years. Before that, I had a Korean XT clone, an ATT PC, and, my first ever PC, a Kaypro, aka Darth Vader's lunchbox. Here is a shot of me in 1983 using the Kaypro in our first apartment at Michigan State.

All of them were big steps forward in their own ways, but I remember using a Mac that belonged to a colleague at Michigan State, for a long presentation we were doing, and being blown away by the ease of use, both the graphic interface in general, but dragging and dropping text, in particular -- pretty elementary now, but state of the art then.

So I have always kind of kept track of the comparisons of Macs and PCs. I had second thoughts enough to try out a Lenovo, loaded with Vista unfortunately, because I really wanted to try using the tablet option to take notes and what was at the time better voice dictation software. But Vista was a disaster and support from Lenovo more or less non-existent. I had gotten very spoiled.

Here is a collection of a bunch of the recent Mac vs. PC ads, which put the whole thing in a fairly comic vein -- funnier if you are a Mac user, I fear. Particularly funny, if one has struggled with Vista a bit.

In the meantime, my son-in-law Sam, who is fairly ambidextrous with computers, but seems to have switched from PC to MaC, sends me this gem, in which the Mac vs. PC wars morph into a transformers type battle.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Tree Ornaments as family history

One of the most fun things about Christmas at our house is trimming the tree. We have been collecting ornaments for a long time.

Some are old. Some of the ornaments go back in our families. The kind of ornament you see in the top left, almond-shaped with a recessed center, was the kind we both remember most from growing up in both our families, mine on a farm in Idaho, Sandy's in a suburb in LA. A lot of the small round ornaments here on the top of the tree go back to our childhoods, and Sandy figures that sparkly one with the pink recessed center may be getting on towards eighty-some years in her family.

This one comes from Sandy's family before she was born.

This plastic snowman ornament goes back to the 1950s in Sandy's family. They bought one for her and one for her brother, Mike. The price tag, still on the bottom, still says $.10, so you know this is either ancient or from mid-January from Garden Ridge.

Some are reasonably contemporary. I bought this one of an @ sign at a Christmas market in Sweden back when email was new and we were sort of obsessed with the wonders of the infant internet. We were enthusiastically participating at the time in a number of new communities of interest we had found on email listservs back in the early 1990s.

Sandy has been interested in most things Scandinavian for a long time. When she was in grad school at Stanford, coming back home to Los Angeles for holidays, she would sometimes stop at a "Danish" village for tourists called Solvang. This little nisse (Danish Christmas elf) dates back to one of those stops. Just to his left is an origami box ornament that Sandy made. For some reason, holidays frequently summon prodigious sieges of handicraft by Sandy, so one Christmas she made dozens of these.

Ornaments do come in from all sorts of places, which adds to the fun. The round ornament on the left, with the celtic knotwork, is a site token from a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) event called Clancy Day in Ontario, Canada, back when we lived in Michigan and went up to SCA events in Canada a lot. (The token showed that you had paid your entrance, or site, fee, so people started making them more and more interesting, so several ended up on the tree and dozens live in a box somewhere.) The heart on the right came from the Christmas bazaar in Ã…rhus, Denmark last year. Danes love to decorate Christmas scenes and trees with red hearts, and we got into the spirit of it.

Sandy liked the heart motif long before we lived in Denmark. Here is an embroidered felt heart she made, sort of in the style of Hungarian folk art (which she also likes a lot), when when she was in college in the early 1970s.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Reveling in UT's own Olmec head

It has been giving me a sheer delight that I find it hard to explain and verbalize that the University of Texas and more particularly the Institute of Latin American Studies has its own handmade reproduction of a Mesoamerican Olmec head from Mexico, made by an artist in Veracruz and donated to us by the government of that state.

Many find the head a bit weird. It is certainly not modern or much in sync with our usual supposedly tasteful European-descended public art. Even Sandy whose artistic tastes are bit more esoteric even than mine finds this irrational exuberance of mine about the head a bit odd. But it just makes break out in a truly irrational large grin every time I see it.

Part of what delights me so much is that this sits in front of the Latin American Studies building so that you walk by it every time you enter. I go there a lot to go to meetings and to use the library so my daily environment has just been brightened and a wonderful bit of what I like about Mexico planted right on my path. Sometimes even large institutions really get it right.

About the art, the official announcement says, "In contrast to a public image that identifies the Olmec (1500–400 BCE) as merely an enigmatic people who sculpted colossal stone heads of unknown gods and carved exquisite jade figurines, current scholarship recognizes Olmec culture as the foundation of civilization in Mesoamerica. Unquestionably, the Olmec not only carved magnificent monolithic public monuments, but they also originated the first inter-Mesoamerican art style. Recent discoveries in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, strongly suggest that the Olmec even may have independently invented a system of hieroglyphic writing around 1000 BCE." Read more at

Fading glories of fall

It has been a great fall season for bright fall colors and for colorful sunsets.

Here is a sunset over the pond in the park near our house. We were driving home, marveling at the sunset on the clouds, so I pursued the sunset into the park so I could hang out the window with my trusty iPhone camera and grab a picture.

It has been the best fall for tree/leaf color that I remember in ten years of living in Austin.

Here is an example of trees in the sunset on the other side of the park another day.

And here is a close up of one of the same trees.

And another tree across the park.

And the sunset on a wall at the end of the park. If you get the right angle, it hides the fact the wall is in front of a highway and lets me have the illusion I am walking in the woods or some nicely manicured wooded estate far away from cars and roads.

Texas German Christmas

Saturday we did a lot of Christmas errands, the most fun turned out to be the Christmas Market at the Texas German Free School. Just uphill from Red River in Austin, with new condos and music venues just half a block away, here was a delightful breath of Austin history. The German Free School was started in 1848 to teach German language and culture, which it is still doing. It is still in the same historic building. You can see an upper story veranda here, flying both American and German flags.

I love historical markers, so I will include a photo of the one for the school here, a bit hard to read, but go check out the original.

Texas German survives as a dialect, albeit a disappearing one. One of Sandy's colleagues, Hans Boas, studies it and people in Sandy's department, Germanic Studies, have been collecting samples for years. While at the market, we talked to a former student of Sandy's who is a Texas German and grew up speaking it. We arrived just as a singalong of Christmas songs in German had started. You can see them in the next photo.

As you can also sort of see in the photo, if you look carefully, that most of the singers are getting elderly. I was fascinated, if anything, that they had held on to their dialect for so long. My own father grew up speaking German at home in a not dissimilar Swiss German Mormon immigrant colony in southern Idaho in Montpelier on Bear Lake. He spoke German until he went to school, then was persecuted enough for speaking German that he stopped speaking it and worked hard on learning English. Then the family moved away to a more promising farming area in Idaho, in Burley, where few spoke German, so the incentive to use German was pretty well gone. By the time I came along, when he was in his 50s, all he remembered were some Swiss songs in German and a few phrases and stories. At the very end of his life, in his 90s, when he started living more in the past, I remember that he started telling a few stories from his early childhood in which some of the dialogue was in Swiss

So I was fascinated to watch a couple of small language dramas at the German Christmas song singalong. In this next photo, in the center, you can see one couple setting on a bench where the woman, who looked to be in her 40s, was singing, while her husband and son looked on. Further left, there was what looked to be a father and his adult daughter, both singing. It was fascinating and a bit poignant to watch this effort to hang onto an immigrant heritage. Makes me a bit wistful, too. I wish I had grown up speaking Swiss German and English, both.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving at Linda and Jim's

Linda Dee is Sam's mother, mother-in-law to Julia. She is also a great cook. So when she and her husband, Jim, invited us over for Thanksgiving, we accepted, and fast. Here you can see Linda and Jim hard at work, finishing the preparations.

First we hung out in their back garden, which has been nicely redecorated, for a bit, with drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Here is Chris, philosophically regarding a cup of hot apple cider, for some reason.

And here are Julia and Sam, hanging out in the garden as well.

After a while we moved into the living and dining rooms to get serious about dinner and then, when all hunger had long since been banished, dessert. Here are Sandy and Jim, hanging around the table we had been assigned to. She is showing off a small fish ornament that she has just received as a party favor, and was quite delighted by.

Finally we all retired to some sofas to digest, groan, and arrive at a pleasant after-dinner lethargy. Here you can see Chris, me, and Julia in that phase. Finally we all recovered just enough to get some higher brain power back to work for a game of Taboo.

Thanksgiving Walks

We are eating Thanks- giving Dinner twice this year, on both Thursday at Linda & Jim Dee's and Friday at our house. So extra walking is required both to prepare and recover.

Julia came over early Wednesday with her two dogs to walk in Barton Creek with Chris, me and our two dogs. Our usual walk from our house goes into the green belt across the street, out to the edge of the bluff overlooking Barton Creek. Here is a view from the trail along the edge of the bluff, looking out over the valley of the creek.

Then the trail drops down a slope, running along a dry creek, down to Barton Creek, which is just a dry creek bed at this time of year, which you can see here.

We walked along that for a half mile or so and then back up a trail along another dry creek. Here is a photo of that trail.

That walk was pretty good preparation for Thanksgiving on Thursday, but we ate way too much, which will be the subject of another post, so I needed another walk.

Fortunately, my old friend and former student John Jirik is in town for Thanksgiving and wanted to do one of our traditional walks, where we walk around Lady Bird Lake and talk about Foucault, Bayart and light topics like that. So we met up Friday a.m., with my dog Ti in tow, and set out on the trail that starts by crossing under the Mopac Bridge on a footbridge full of walkers, joggers and dogs. That bridge also provides one of the best views of Autumn colors in Austin, as you can see here.

Here is another view of Lady Bird Lake from the other end of the bridge.
And here is a view of a particularly nice tree on the other side. After that I decided to get down to seriously walking and talking, so the iPhone went back in the pocket.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chapter 6. In which the author's inner druid emerges

Most mornings I round up a dog or two (depending on whether 15 1/2 year old Ally feels up to it), and walk through the neighborhood along Travis Country Circle. Just walking the street is pretty scenic these days, as the light shines down through the oaks and other trees along the street, as you can see in this first photo.

I usually walk down to Blue Valley Park by the headquarters of the Travis Country neighborhood association, which has a nice man made pond, which you see here, that runs between a ridge and a dry creek bed.

As you can see in the next photo, taking a picture of a rather active dog with the simple camera in an iPhone is a dodgy business, but this is Ti, my enthusiastic walking partner.

I am not sure she pays a lot of attention to the scenery, but I am very fond of it. I have a hard time getting enthused about exercise in a gym, on a human equivalent of a rat's running wheel, but there is something very good for body and soul about getting out and walking out of doors.

In fall in Austin, if you walk at about 7 am or 5 pm, or ideally both, the quality of light is quite amazing, as this photo shows. It illuminates all the trees in an almost magical way.

It definitely highlights my ongoing love affair with oak trees. When I went to university at Stanford, and was a pretty enthusiastic jogger, I would jog out to the foothills in back of the university and run around through the California scrub oaks that covered the hills.

You can see a nice shot of those foothills in a photo I borrowed from the Stanford U. website.

I remember some folklore at Michigan State among people who had been undergrads in the 1970s about a legendary, maybe entirely folkloric student group called the Zen Druids, who worshipped the oaks that weren't there. I think I can see why the original druids of Great Britain supposedly worshipped real oaks (we don't really know that much about druids) -- but they are much more impressive than a golden calf, for instance.

Sandy reminds me that she had some transcendental hours with the giant pecans on Lake Austin a few weeks ago when I was out of town. She assures me that it's okay to get mystic about trees. If you want a good riff on this, go look at Kipling's poem, Oak and Ash and Thorn.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


From 1979 to 1983, while Sandy and I were both finishing our doctoral disser- tations, and getting down to the serious work of having first Julia (1979) and Rolf (1982), I worked for the Office of Research at the U.S. Information Agency. I did surveys in the Southern Cone of Latin America on public opinion and media habits. Interesting work, but much more fun working on things like opinion about human rights under Jimmy Carter than on security concerns under Ronald Reagan. That seriously spurred the desire to finish those dissertations, get some articles published, and get on back to the university.

But while we were there, we made some very good friends. Two of them, David (who I worked with) and Karen Gibson, came to visit last week, so we played hookey for a day, when we did not have any meetings or classes, and drove them out to Fredericksburg. Above is a picture of Dave and Karen with Sandy, at Wildseed Farms, which Sandy is fond of because she is very keen to grow more Texas wildflowers, and they have good seed packs. So we stopped there on the way to Fredericksburg. Here is a picture of their entrance, nicely landscaped.

The place seems to have gone well beyond wildflowers, however. They now have a lot of Mexican pottery, a "German" biergarten, etc. I did like one polychrome Mexican pot version of an armadillo, shown here, but I left him at Wildseed Farms. Take only photos, leave only memories -- that is my motto for both wilderness areas and tourist traps.

It was a gorgeous fall day with very nice leaf color, by Texan standards--not exactly the riot of color you get in New England in fall, but nice enough-- all along the way. Here is a photo of the central town square in Fredericksburg, looking toward the octagonal Vereinskirche, which was built in 1847, rebuilt in 1936. The original was both church and refuge or fort for the first against raids by Comanches who did not want German settlers in that part of Texas. However, the German settlers made a peace treaty with the Comanches, which is one of the very few treaties between white settlers and indigenous people in the USA which never was broken.

And here is a last photo of the original city library, a nice old stone building, like many in the town. We ate at George's German Bakery, wandered around a bit, and drove back to Austin, enjoying the fall scenery all the way.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

change begins at home

It is interesting to see how our once solidly Republican neighborhood, Travis Country, one of the first suburbs outside Austin, has changed. The first year we lived there, 1998, we had a party for grad students and gave detailed directions. One of them said, "You could have just said the only house on the street without a Bush (for governor) sign."

Here is how the neighborhood, Austin precinct 354, voted this year. Here is a quote from an email from Barb Colvin, our wonderfully well organized and well tempered Democratic chairperson (rather like Obama himself, come to think of it):

....for all your good work which helped make this dream come true....

Hi all,

About a dozen of us worked at the polls on election day, some as judges and clerks, others held signs and talked to voters. It was fun. Even the voter who called us "socialists". Almost as good as when I was called a communist while handing out Lloyd Doggett literature in 2204. Makes me kinda proud.

[I was one of those -- it was pretty fun. I guess I missed the guy calling us socialists.]

Here are some interesting results for P 354. I've rounded off the percentages and reported only D and R numbers. Democrats are listed first. Remember that our precinct is roughly split between Rs and Ds. We got out the vote and changed some minds. We did good !

President, Obama 56% - McCain 42%
Senator, Noriega 49% -Cornyn 46%
Representative, Doggett 60% - Morovich 36 %
District 47 State Rep, Bolton 53% - Keel 47%
Chief Justice 3rd Court of Appeals, Jones 58% - Law 42%
Precinct 3 County Commissioner, Huber 51% - Daugherty 43% (big upset)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

yes we could

It is a great day for the USA in lots of ways. A calm, competent, but visionary leader. A completely different image of U.S. leadership to the rest of the world. A potential giant step in healing U.S. racial divisions. And a nice reminder that this is still a country in which remarkable social mobility is still possible.


But now the real work begins. It was wonderful of Senator McCain to pledge to work with Obama. I just hope a lot of people join him. The country, and world, need it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I went off to Athens, Ohio (not Greece, for better or worse) last weekend to go to the Global Fusion conference on international communication. It is one of my favorite academic meetings, fairly small 100-200 people, so you get to actually meet and talk to new people. Great place for internationally oriented graduate students to give their first paper and meet other grad students and faculty. Great place for me to learn a lot of interesting new things, like how young Indians (South Asians) are flocking to the Bollywood island in the virtual world Second Life to meet each other.

It was also just after the peak of the leaf change season in southeastern Ohio. So the foliage was glorious as you can see in the first photo above, taken right our the backdoor of the Ohio University hotel we were in.

Athens is only about 50 miles away from West Virgina. I heard a fabulous local bluegrass music show on the campus radio station on Sunday, as we were driving back to the airport--you can really see the cultural connection to Appalachia.

Here is another photo, taken from the van that took us back to the airport in Columbus, OH. (Athens is very pretty and charmingly remote, but it is also a long way from the nearest airport in Columbus.)

And here is one last photo also taken from the van on the way back. Let's hear it for the modest but not bad camera lurking in my iPhone, so that I am seldom without a camera anymore.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Amateur hour

Interesting how the amateur political videos are turning out to be much better than the official ones. One more strike for Web 2.0 (the rise of user-generated content) into the realm of politics.

Here are a couple of absolutely classic YouTube do-it-yourself amateur campaign videos. Andrew Sullivan says they are the best of the season.

He might be right. Interesting how they reflect the two great genres of modern U.S. popular culture: illustrated children's lit (remember that George W.'s favorite book was "The Very Hungry Caterpillar") and beer commercials.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Watch out -- all the new media are watching

One interesting thing about the election is how hard it is to deny it when you say something that you wanted to say to one group but not have another hear. True at the global level, too - as the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed (of Islam) last year showed: they thought they were having a nice, local exercise in free speech and their own brand of humor, that tends to parody and sarcasm, but once launched in almost any form, things can spread all over the nation or world very quickly.

Here is a new one for the USA.

Robin Hayes spoke at a McCain-Palin rally yesterday, about how "liberals hate real Americans who work and achieve and believe in God".

Quoting DailyKos:
Hayes had prefaced his comments by saying that he wanted to be sure "not to say something stupid". Apparently what he meant was, he didn't actually want to be quoted saying anything stupid, so as to retain plausible deniability.

Because he flatly denies making the comments. He claims that the national press were there and nobody wrote about it, so the New York Observer's Jason Horowitz (who broke the story) must have misreported.

Update: Hayes spokeswoman, Amanda Little, says that Hayes absolutely denies making the comments that appear in the Observer article. She noted that other national reporters were at the event and didn't pick up on what the Observer reported.

The Crypt called the Observer reporter in question, Jason Horowitz, and he said he stands firmly by his reporting. "I was there. That’s what I heard. I was taking notes while he was talking," said Horowitz.

But here is the soundbite captured by someone and spread all over the Internet. A little something to remember when speaking in public.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Race and the campaign in Western Pennsylvania: "We're voting for the n***er."

Sometimes the USA really does amaze me. I don't know whether this election will make race issues worse or better, but I am beginning to hope it will be better.

Here is a story from, which does great campaign coverage, particularly aggregating and making sense of the polls, but also interesting on the road type stuff.

"So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the n***er!"

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the n***er."

In this economy, racism is officially a luxury."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blood sport

Whether you enjoy blood sports, like hunting, or find them problematic, is an interesting cleavage in modern society. For myself, I consciously stopped hunting back in Idaho at about 17, when I was also deciding on a bunch of other changes in where my life was headed.

There were two specific incidents that tipped me over into making the decision. One came from going goose hunting with two of my nephews, Andy and Dan Tiller, out near a bird sanctuary near Lake Lowell in Nampa, Idaho. Dan and I both shot at the same goose. We both claimed it, which is still the occasion of discussion. But the real lasting effect on me was to realize that I wished it was still up in the sky, flying magnificently along, instead of crumpled in a dead heap of feathers on the ground. I started losing my taste for the idea, particularly since the poor thing was so full of buckshot that it wasn't even edible. The real tipping point came a bit later, when I was hunting rabbits out in the desert, near my hometown, Kuna, Idaho. I shot one in the stomach and it screamed. Exactly like a child. I was too transfixed to even go put it out of its misery at first. That pretty much did it. I sold off my .22 and shotguns.

I was fine with other people hunting, particularly for deer, particularly when they actually intended to eat the meat. I was even happy to eat it under those circumstances. I just stopped seeing it as my kind of sport. I recognize that a lot of hunters, like my nephew Dan, who has established a private game preserve in an old farm along a river in Idaho, do a lot of good in preserving the habitat of the birds they hunt.

Still, for a variety of reasons, the image of Sarah Palin hunting wolves from the air made me sick to my stomach. Not much sport in shooting an animal from the air, particularly in winter when it has almost no chance of getting away. Might as well tie it to a post and then shoot it.

My wife Sandy had an even more virulent reaction. She dreamed that cannibal hunters, including Palin, were hunting people, including her, from helicopters and then eating them. I am sure Dr. Freud could have a real field day with that.

Hunting wolves has been a particularly hot issue in the west. A lot of the locals see them as dangerous pests who just prey on livestock. Outsiders tend to see them as a noble animal which ought to be preserved. I lean toward the latter, but can understand how a rancher might think the other way. But I think the blood sport shown in this video is pretty disgusting either way. If a hunter wants to go after a wolf, he or she at least ought to have do it on the ground, preferably on foot, to even the odds up -- maybe put some actual sport into it.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sic transit gloria 3869 Deervale Drive

When Sandy was 10, she and and her family moved to a then new California ranch-house at 3869 Deervale Drive in Sherman Oaks in Los Angeles. She grew up there and after we got married in 1978, we spent a lot of time there off and on. We stayed there for three months in 1979, while Sandy was having our daughter Julia, who got the distinction of being born in nearby Hollywood. We hung out by the pool, which you can see in the first picture, and admired the view out over the San Fernando Valley. With the kids, we walked down the hill to eat in Jewish deli's in Sherman Oaks and shop in some great used record and CD shops.

I guess all things pass. After Sandy's mother died in 2004, we ended up having to sell the house so we knew that it was out of our hands and into someone else's control. Still it was a shock to drive by today and see that the old house had been knocked down and a huge new white, rather ordinary looking house up in its place -- shown in the two photos here. I guess I had at least hoped that if something new went up it would be more interesting than the old ranch house it replaced.