Saturday, February 28, 2009

Well, whaddya know?

There is an excellent possibility that I am passing along very old news here, after all, the Bluetooth has now been an accepted feature of everyday life for several very long centuries. . .but when I first heard rumors about it, my reaction was, "Why would they name an ear-phone after a Viking?" Then I went away and forgot about the whole matter except for those rare occasions in the grocery store when I answered strangers' hellos and then realized that they weren't talking to me but to somebody in Albuqurque. I don't know what it was I was reading lately, but I was quite floored to discover--of all random things, they did name it after a Viking! Or after a Danish king of the Viking era, anyway. There's a little paragraph in the lower right-hand of the page here that gives it to you from the horse's mouth, as it were. And here is the Wikipedia page on the original Harald Bluetooth. (Why didn't they call the phone Harald? Then when it rang, you could say, "Hark! the Harald!")

Friday, February 27, 2009

More Paintings

Here are Celine's latest:
California poppies (very appropriate for this time of year; plenty of them are already blooming down near Bakersfield)
If I ever had a vineyard, I'd want it to look just like this.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

An Unexpected Pleasure

Monday afternoon I had to go out to California City and I thought it would be a good chance to get a few pictures of the Mojave Desert. We had a hearty rain in the morning, and all the colors from the sky to the gravel were clean and crisp. "Landscape with Rabbit Bush and Creosote" is all very well, but a particularly unique feature of the Mojave is the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia), a very tall member of the Agave family. I came in closer to get a better shot at the lower leaves on the Joshua tree above. . .
. . .and of all things, finally got the chance I have been waiting for (and not expecting in February); a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)!

I believe some have deemed the Painted Lady a territorial insect (its cousin the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is a notoriously fierce creature. . .well, as butterflies go) . At any rate, when I was distracted from the Joshua tree by butterflies. . .there were butterflies. Two of them. For all I really know, it could have been a prospective mating pair trying to impress each other, but they were acting more than coy; they were acting like the Red Admirals I used to watch up at Burnaby Mountain Park. One would fly over an invisible line, the other would come sweeping up to it, looking indignant, and the two would whirl around each other, darting dangerously closer at intervals until the interloper (if interloper it was) had enough. The victor then settled down to enjoy the sun.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An Advantage of Ash Wednesday

So, here is Lent. According to my custom of the last couple of years, I'm going to try to get through G.K. Chesterton's St. Francis. Perhaps I didn't word that quite right; I pick up that book every Lent because it is thought-provoking, not because I could remotely claim anything penitential about reading it. Likewise, it isn't a biography in the strictest sense of the word, it's more like an extended essay on Chesterton's philosophy, built around the life of the saint. Here's a bit from the first chapter:

He was a lover of God and he was really and truly a lover of men; possibly a much rarer mystical vocation. A lover of men is very nearly the opposite of a philanthropist; indeed the pedantry of the Greek word carries something like a satire on itself. A philanthropist may be said to love anthropoids. But as Saint Francis did not love humanity but men, so he did not love Christianity but Christ. Say, if you think so, that he was a lunatic loving an imaginary person; but an imaginary person, not an imaginary idea. And for the modern reader the clue to the asceticism and all the rest can be found in the stories of lovers when they seemed to be rather like lunatics. Tell it as the tale of one of the Troubadours, and the wild things he would do for his lady, and the whole of the modern puzzle disappears. In such a romance there would be no contradiction between the poet gathering flowers in the sun and enduring a freezing vigil in the snow, between his praising all earthly and bodily beauty and then refusing to eat, and between his glorifying gold and purple and perversely going in rags, between his showing pathetically a hunger for a happy life and a thirst for a heroic death. All these riddles would be easily be resolved in the simplicity of any noble love; only this was so noble a love that nine out of ten men have hardly even heard of it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

. . .And it Gets Better!

As a matter of fact, the article about Mary Ann Kennedy and Na Seòid hasn't been published yet as I write this, but. . .

Several members of the group I wrote about yesterday, as you might have discovered, have their own solo pages too, so here they are:
  • Norrie MacIver--He has some songs up in English as well as in Gaelic.
  • Griogair Lawrie--If I read aright, he is a piper with Na Seòid, but here he sings.
  • Mary Ann Kennedy--It is pretty hard to beat "Sios Dhan an Abhainn" for gorgeous simplicity, but this page also has a little video of some puirt-à-beul, with James Graham singing along. For those who are interested, the gentleman on the smallpipes in the background is Allan MacDonald.
  • Calum Alex Macmillan--Although most of these people play regularly with other bands, for today I was trying to keep the focus on the group I started by talking about. Still, I can't help but mention Calum Alex's band, Daimh; it is very hard to ignore, even momentarily, an ensemble that bills themselves: "Over 36 feet tall and weighing 1/2 a ton." Anyway, the pipe and fiddle combinations are sweet!
  • Gillebride MacMillan--Mighty easy on the ears. "Ùrnaigh Naomh Francis" is "St. Francis' Prayer".

Monday, February 23, 2009

Just Listen. . .

Note: This past week or so, I have been experimenting with different technological features for the blog; my favorite so far is "scheduled publishing" where I can write something on Friday (as I am) and have it appear in public on Monday (as it will when you read it).

MySpace is a neat idea, but I'll come right out and say it makes me kind of nervous what with all the inexcuseable junk that gets written on people's walls for all the world to see. . .With that caveat, here is a MySpace page I can't get enough of. It belongs to the group Mary Ann Kennedy and Na Seòid. This is just some good, basic Gaelic music. I don't know where in the world anybody got the ambitious idea of putting five singers in one band, but that is what the "Seòid" contingent is; five Gaelic singers--all men (actually, there are seven; two specialize in the instrumental side of things). Mary Ann Kennedy's lovely voice alone would be enough to recommend the album, as you might gather from the first song, but for me the real draw is such a grouping of male vocalists, fairly rare in Gaelic singing (at least that I have been able to find this side of the Pond) these days. Not many frills--indeed, two of the four pieces on the page are a capella; I guess you might call it meat-and-potatoes music; solid, appealing and satisfying.
  • Alison Krauss fans might recognize the first song: "Sios Dhan an Abhainn". . .that is indeed the American gospel tune, "Down to the River."
  • The second song "Na Seòid" has a surprise--a single line in English that will sound familiar if you've ever seen "Master and Commander". I have no idea what most of the Gaelic is saying, except that I think "Na Seòid" means "the heroes". I don't know who the lead singer is here, but I would not object to hearing him sing some more.
  • The third song, or rather, set, "Bodach Innse Cro," is puirt-à-beul or "mouth music," verses of nonsense words that facilitate the singing of a tune, usually a dance-style piece. Sometimes the snap of the words are very evocative of piping embellishments.
  • The fourth song: again, I am not the one to ask if you want to know what it is about, but I do know that it's James Graham singing lead. 'Nuff said.

If you like what you hear, you can get a pretty generous sampling of the whole CD at CD Baby. Indeed, you can buy the CD there while you're at it. Another source, for the CD is Footstompin' Records in Scotland; although they're overseas, they ship impossibly quickly, their prices are fairly competitive, and, of course, there are a few other similar CD's to choose from, just in case you want to give into the temptation of making a shipment from Scotland "worth it." F'r instance, you can get James Graham's solo CD's there. . .

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bigger than Bugs

To keep the month from being all weather or music, here are a few pictures from my trip to the coast last July. This is a beach at San Simeon, and those rockish objects are elephant seals. Not exactly the daintiest creatures, are they? They come ashore and burrow about in the sand; some people surmise that the sand helps them rub off their winter fur. Despite their sluggish (literally!) appearance on land, they have amazing endurance in the water and will, in fact, spend months out at sea.
Even this sunbathing group had plenty of members that had to go out to test the water and tell everybody else about it. Their call--well, let's just say they sound about like they look. Rather big and overbearing.
But they are kinda cute when they're little.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Julie Fowlis and Bagad Kemper

This video is something different. The piece (actually two songs Hùg air a’ Bhonaid Mhòir/Da Thàibh air an Fharaidh) is the first set from Julie Fowlis' CD Cuilidh, which I can't recommend highly enough. This arrangement, however, differs from that on the CD in that here she is singing with a bagad (Bagad Kemper). A bagad is a Breton bagpipe band which, in its natural state, is quite a bit different from a pipe band of the Scottish model; the bombardes, a sort of bagpipe-less chanter, are a feature, as is obvious in the video. Many bagads compete both in their Breton events as well as in Scottish-style competitions (Bagad Cap Caval and Bagad Brieg were in the top five of Grade 2 at the World Pipe Band Championships last year; in fact, Cap Caval took first); when playing in Scottish competitions, they use only the pipes and drums, no bombardes.

Note: You can probably guess it, but this isn't my video. It belongs to a person on YouTube with the name "smartotrams"

Friday, February 20, 2009


Here are a couple more shots from Friday which I later edited into black-and-white. The first might be a liquidambar, but I am not positive. Whatever tree it is, its seeds grow in interesting, spiny shells: The tangle of tiny branches behind the chain-link fence was quite enthralling in person; it grew into its own world, almost entirely blotting out the park behind it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Some Impressive Photos

Here is a neat insect website. The specialty here is hard-to-come-by shots of insects flying. It is in German, but since it is mostly pictures, you can navigate with little trouble. However, it is worth switching to English (English flag at the top of the column at the left) to read about the years of work that the photographer has put into taking these pictures. I think the Coleoptera pictures are particularly neat (take a look at the Pyrochroidae section); the sight of an ungainly beetle in flight almost makes it a new creature.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Experiments With Black and White

The snow smothered an otherwise normal Friday at the park into a quiet white desert. There were plenty of seats for anyone who wanted to sit and watch a snowstorm.
But no takers.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Field Linguistics

One of my young music students was telling me about the wonders of the L.A. Zoo which he visited over the weekend. A highlight of his trip was the aviary where he took note of a certain bird call and imitated it closely enough that the bird replied to him several times.
"I speak bird," he took an honest pride in his accomplishment. The honesty, however, held a little more weight than the pride: "But I don't know what they're saying."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Unique. . .

Until today, the most perplexing tongue twister I had ever come across was: "It's nice to know unique New York."
That one may be pretty well unbeatable, but this evening my friend Chey introduced me to a new one that gives it a pretty good run for its money. I don't remember the whole thing word for word, but you get enough to chew on with the last phrase: "Which witch watched which Irish wrist watch?" The first few words aren't bad (though the "which witch" combination might have thrown in a snag for a couple of my favorite professors who were both from Saskatchewan and who were admirably precise in their pronunciation of the "wh" in "which"). . .but "Irish wrist watch"? Tell me there's a chance!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


We cannot dwell in the time that is to come, lest we lose our now for a phantom of our own design.
--J.R.R. Tolkien
Unfinished Tales

Friday, February 13, 2009

Not much going on here besides the weather, so here is the weather: I had a nice walk in the snow, but wished I had brought glasses of some sort; it was all quite lovely to look at, but a little harder to appreciate when it was actually in my eyes. As far as how deep it was, it was no record, but the neighbor kids were quite impressed. "It's up to my ankles!" a little boy told me, as I walked to the laundry room. He paused and regarded his feet closely, then added in a tone of great wonder, "No, I think it might be past my ankles." It was. Considerably.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Something to Look Forward To

Bonnie Rideout is a respected fiddler in the Scottish tradition. I was excited to run across the news that she is working on an album which is piobaireachd only. Somebody later told me that it has been an ongoing project for some years, so there's no telling when it might actually be complete--still it is an interesting idea, and worth waiting for. The full extent of my knowledge of fiddle piobaireachd is limited to a single (and time-dimmed) hearing of "MacIntosh's Lament" as played by Rideout. The notes about her project make me curious, especially the claim that there are piobaireachds written expressly for the fiddle. Theoretically, this could mean tunes that utilize a two, or even three octave range. I find the notion of a piobaireachd in a range of more than nine notes almost as incomprehensible as I do a fourth dimension. . .but it sounds like an art worth hearing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tlingit Resources

Languages are just plain neat. Sometimes you can run across a word or an expression in one language that conveys a thought you can only convey very clumsily in another. Sometimes the sounds which occur in one language are notably different from the sounds of another and fall upon the unacquainted ear almost like music. One lovely phoneme (among a good many others) which we don't have in English is /tl/. As in Tlingit, from Alaska (and also, I believe, in Nahuatl from Mexico). I was fooling around on the 'net yesterday and was delighted at the amount of material available for those who would like an introduction to Tlingit, for example, this flash-powered chart of the Tlingit alphabet. You can listen to the sound of each phoneme there, as well as to the sounds of words which begin with any given letter. For more extended listening, there are the archived lessons from KHNS Radio in Alaska. I have only listened to one so far, and it was quite short (5 minutes or so) and manageable--and I did learn, at any rate how the word "Tlingit" itself is pronounced, thus the current fascination with /tl/.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Real Pictures

My sister has been trying out acrylics over the last few months and she just sent a few pictures of her pictures: These are hardly the size of the originals--she has been painting on boards which are about two feet by three feet across. Not surprisingly, she was out buying more paints today (well, okay, also they were having a sale on paints).
My timid mind (which is daunted at the notion of drawing with a pencil on an area the size of a postage stamp) is quite amazed by the thought of all that detail, light, and color in all that space.

Monday, February 9, 2009


So. The wind brought the rain, and the rain slowly turned to snow. The "Welcome to Tehachapi" signs out on 58 advertise us as "Land of the Four Seasons," and a rather exaggerated local claim is that we have been known to get them all in one day. That is, I repeat, exaggerated, but it certainly has been a week for varied weather!This morning, when I had finally persuaded myself that dragging myself out of my nice, warm bed would not result in a scene out of Jack London's "To Build a Fire", I found that the backyard looked quite charming.
I took a few pictures around the ten-foot yard, and then, feeling the need to thaw, came in and tried this shot. Although the lighting in my house is not famous for being perfect; the darkness in the picture is a result of the window's backlighting fooling with the camera. I may occasionally refer to my house as a "lair", even so, the photo is highly inaccurate.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Second Shot (etc.) Part 2

As the rainbow became more visible, it stretched into a full arch. The eastern end was a bit fainter than the end I was watching, and I was in too close to attempt a full-length shot (my camera does have a "stitch together" feature for panoramic shots--I need to learn to use it!) I think this one is my favorite:
One thing that doesn't show up at all in this pictures; there was a herd of Angus-type cattle in that field. In fact, there are probably a few of them in the end of the rainbow here:
The sun still had some life in it, I think, but the clouds moved up over it, and the rainbow began to fade away again. About then, the cloud-feathers reached the place I was standing; I put the camera away and enjoyed something that no picture can convey: the feel of rain on my face.

A Second Shot (and then some)

As you know if you live in these parts, rain is a comparatively rare and wonderful occurrence. Whether that warrants chasing after rain clouds or not might be a matter open to debate, but when I was driving home from the grocery store yesterday, the rain feathering over the mountains looked most enticing. I drove out to the empty lot where I practice sometimes and took a few pictures. The sun was creeping momentarily below the clouds (it was about 5:00) so the front lighting was an interesting contrast with the wavering silhouettes of the mountains.
While I stood snapping away, a the sun began to coax a rainbow out of the downpour. It wasn't all that bright to begin with, and it suffers a bit in its transfer to film (or bits, as the case may be), but if you use your imagination, that's it starting over in the left corner of the picture below.
The sun kept falling, and the rain kept moving in closer; the arch lengthened, and its colors grew more vibrant:

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Musings of an Idle Mind

The week was a bit switched around, so today ended up being the dreaded Cleaning Day instead of yesterday. The advantage--I had plenty of time to pay attention to my CD collection. This led to a question, however. I was listening to Kate Rusby, who sings "been" to rhyme with "seen". That in itself is hardly surprising--she's from Yorkshire--but it suddenly occured to me that, while most of the USA pronounces "been" as "bin", nobody habitually pronounces "seen" as "sin." As if the world didn't have enough problems!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Another Weather Report

The rain came in on the tail of the generous wind yesterday, falling in the form of "occasional showers" through the afternoon . I woke this morning to a grey sky between the cracks in the blinds, and the promise was fulfilled as the day unfolded; the rain was much steadier today. I mostly missed a rather nice photo opportunity this afternoon, when a full rainbow arched across the east, just at sunset. I spent too many valuable moments hunting for just the right place to get a picture without too many wires in the foreground; by the time I settled for the high school parking lot, the light was fading fast, and I didn't manage to get the full arch.
I would feel much more accomplished if I could say that the fuzziness in the picture above is just rain--it was, in the Irish turn of phrase, a soft day--but it is actually a faulty exposure. It was, however, the only one I got that conveys any idea of the golden air, so there it is.
Though the rainbow was an extraordinary distraction, off to the west the sunset was also spectacular. J.R.R. Tolkien had a word in his Quenya language, laurië, to mean a golden light. It is the perfect definition for the luminous color the clouds became as they soaked up the last drops of liquid sunlight. As I was finishing up the last few shots, a group of cheerfully rowdy students came out in search of their cars. One paused to say in a serious tone of voice, "Nice sunset." I thought in my aged twenty-something way, the kids of today. . .just might turn out right.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Last night was a very windy one up here, and the sun rose on some very active clouds. I ran across this one about 8:00. No, the sky was not that impossibly blue--I played with the contrast here to highlight the wind-carving.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Envelope Exchange

The envelope exchange was busy over Christmas; themes included Poinsettias, Red and Green, and a recipe exchange. Two of the envelopes I received were from overseas, one from Australia, and one from Iceland. Of the handful of envelopes I addressed myself in the past few months, I think the most original were those from the wheat exchange in November:
I used real wheat, left over from the bouquets at my sister's wedding, and painted it with gold acrylic ink to make the prints. As you can see, the effect was rather abstract. If the butterflies look even more abstract, as if, perhaps, they were originally put in to cover mistakes. . .they were. It was fun trying out designs on a vertical envelope, and I think I'd like to do it again, but come to find out, the postage costs are almost double if you address them vertically!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Something That Doesn't Happen Every Day

Worldwide, there are approximately 40 pipe bands that compete at the highest level, Grade 1. (Wikipedia lists 40 exactly, but I am not positive that is current.) As of today, another band has joined their ranks, the brand-new North American Pipe Band. Just in case y'all needed something to celebrate.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Yellow Flowers, Part 3

Well after all that, those yellow flowers I've been rambling on about bear the rather unbecoming name of Bladderpod. The scientific name is Isomeris arborea. They are particularly Californian, and do not occur elsewhere. The Califlora page has a thorough write-up, and yet more pictures. The Las Pilitas Nursery site also has some interesting observations, even mentioning that the plant is found near Tehachapi.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Bit More on Yellow Flowers

Those yellow flowers from last Sunday remain a mystery as far as identification is concerned. I had the fortune to be riding down the hill with my dad this morning, and pointed them out. He nodded, "Oh, rattlesnake bush." Well, that is a name, but it turns out, it is Dad's own name for them; when he was a child, he and his brothers were out somewhere in the hills with his dad, and they heard a sudden ominous rattling over a rise ahead. The foothills down near Bakersfield are rattlesnake country, so if any such sound should cause worry, it is quite a legitimate one. However, on this occasion, when Grandpa scouted ahead, he found nothing more alarming than one of those bushes, its seed pods rattling in the wind.