Thursday, July 31, 2008

Rabbits and Their Tastes

Certain rabbits have peculiar culinary interests. I have alluded before to the broad tastes evinced by Calypso Spots, who likes not just most fruits, vegetables, and hays, but also macaroni and cheese, Indian cuisine, nuts, chocolate, gingerbread, yogurt, and countless other things that are best not given her in more than small doses. It was no surprise, then, when she expressed her grave disappointment that I had eaten an entire fortune cookie without giving her any crumbs.
I was much more disturbed to discover that when Orion discovers a pile of fur I have just groomed off him or Ms. Spots, he will proceed to begin eating it as though it were hay. He has done this twice in the past few days, and therefore I think this means that no piles of fur can be left temporarily for him to find.
Could this be the explanation of his abnormal bulk?

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Sitting Around

When one visits a hospital patient, considerable sitting ensues. I suppose it could be worse, since no one says that visitors can't stand, or must refrain from walking around now and then, but no matter what progress the patient is making, the visitor tends to spend a great deal of time sitting there wondering what would make life more interesting for everyone. When the patient is conversational, that's something; when the patient is sleeping soundly, the visitor can actually read a book; but mostly the visitor just sits around keeping an eye on the situation, offering glasses of water, fetching nurses, reminding the patient to exercise in situ, and so on.
On the plus side, the patient in question seemed to improve considerably between 10am and 4pm, and even managed a journey out into the hall using the walker.
After all that excitement, I came home and let a pair of deserving rabbits out into the back yard and settled down to write some fiction since the likelihood of focusing my brain on matters academic seemed very small.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

An Update, of Sorts

What, me dead? Me kidnapped by alien beings telepathically summoned by Orion as he sat in his litterbox?
Well, not quite. I didn't even manage to do the dancing forecast for last weekend (I hasten to say through no particular fault of my own but merely circumstances leading in other directions), although I do recommend the Frida Kahlo and Lee Miller shows up at SFMOMA. (I also recommend the food at the museum cafe.)
I did make it to a great party where I got to see fellow 1990s-era NWU activists.
I have also managed to spend some quality time (as they say) in various Bay Area cafes, communing with my laptop.
Of late I have been acquainting myself with the Kaiser Oakland Hospital, where my father has had the interesting experience of getting a new hip joint. So far I suppose this has gone well enough, although we could do without night-time disorientation that prompts him to think he can get out of bed or that people are out to get him. He is lively enough when wide awake during the day and interested in a topic. I'm not sure the medical staff always appreciate his playful answers to routine questions, however. I suspect his nurse Amelia, who gets along very well with him, purposely asked him who was president just so he could tell her "The president is... Dick Cheney... but the president doesn't know that."
I find that PK of BibliOdyssey, who could have confessed an attachment to Švejk to me long ago, has taken the unheard-of step of scanning illustrations from his own copy of the book to post. Those who haven't got their own copies, or who just want to look at some Josef Lada drawings, or even who just want to read what we all said, might want to take a look.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Berkeley Strikes, Cafes, and Music

Over the years, when I've gone over to UC Berkeley to use the library, I've periodically found the grad students on strike. They teach many of the undergraduate courses, they (like grad students everywhere) are not paid all that much, and it's extremely expensive to live in the Bay Area. And of course other issues are often involved as well. University of Pittsburgh's grad students aren't unionized, so we always have to hope that the university administration remains benevolent, and that our departments treat us well.
This week a different group of UC workers is on strike: the AFSCME service workers. It's a 5-day strike, called after 11 months of negotiation. These employees include custodians, cooks and food service workers, groundskeepers, bus drivers, building maintenance people, security guards, and so on. These are not types of jobs that historically get very high wages without union support. Life is expensive in the Bay Area, and while I thought gas was expensive in Pittsburgh when it got over $4 per gallon, it's well over that here, so I don't find it surprising that the AFSCME wants a "UC Statewide minimum wage," improvements on overtime pay, and other things.
Having said that, I'm off to The Musical Offering to have another cup of coffee while figuring out just what I need to look up at the library. I'm trying to avoid looking up too much more and just make revisions. Of course, the danger in hanging out at The Musical Offering is that I will buy CDs, since this is the place to go for anything in the early music (or other subsequent classical) line.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Beatrix Potter Drawings

As my readers may suspect, the Spotted Pair and I have arrived safely in California and are pretending to be very busy. (Well, I am supposed to be, while they are making a show of having much grooming and other business to take care of.) I have actually made two plum and apricot pies, with two more planned for tomorrow, but there are no photos because we ate the evidence.
In the meantime, those who are fond of rabbits and other small animals, or simply have a weakness for wonderful illustration, can go see the rare Beatrix Potter drawings at BibliOdyssey. For the most part I haven't seen any of these elsewhere, although I do have notecards of a different version of the dancing rabbits.
Speaking of dancing, I expect to do a good deal of that over the weekend, assuming of course that I do not break a leg going up or down library steps.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Random Strangeness

As the rabbits and I prepare for our summer trip to the Bay Area (that is, the California one; I have learned that there's also one in Clear Lake, Texas, which even has some things in common with the California one), we or at least I have encountered various odd, if presumably insignificant, things.
Why, for example, should the glass part of my driver's side mirror choose to fall off? I heard a noise outside as I started the car, and even opened the door to look and see what it was, but didn't see anything. Naturally I later discovered that the mirror was gone and I had run over it.
Why is it that, when I took two blankets to the cleaners a couple of months ago, the tag said they would be ready in a few days and that the cleaners were not responsible for items left over 45 days, but when I came by three weeks later, the blankets were not yet done, and indeed when I came by now (at least 45 days later), they still weren't done and apparently the assumption is that when you bring in blankets for spring cleaning, you want them stored all summer because you won't be needing them? I don't in fact need the blankets yet, but I would prefer to know ahead of time that the cleaners could/would store them. What if I had been moving out of town?
What possessed my cell phone screen to go blank (requiring it to be shipped to T-Mobile for repair or replacement) and the loaner phone, just before I returned it to our local T-Mobile store (which I might add has given me excellent customer service) to suddenly claim I had no voicemail account? Actually, the latter wasn't the loaner phone's problem, but I don't know what caused the voicemail account to disappear for about 8 hours until tech support did some sort of magic and it reappeared complete with saved messages.
Why (not that this is anything new) does my apartment always feel about 20 degrees hotter than the temperature outdoors? I really don't like to listen to the airconditioner, even though I am glad to have it.
Why (not that this is anything new either) must Ms. Spots wait until just after I have swept the floor and emptied the litterbox to leave a pile of droppings in front of said litterbox? I think that, at the age of six, she is a bit too set in her ways to be trained out of this practice. She does use the litterbox, but seems to regard the area in front of it as an adjunct litterbox.
And why, when Megan visited over the weekend, did Orion feel that it was absolutely necessary to invade the bedroom at 6 a.m. and chew not only a phone cord and a USB extension cord (neither normally available to him), but to chew up the cord to Megan's phone charger, which had fallen on the floor during the night?
Pondering these peculiarities of life, I am also pondering whether the rabbits will be easily persuaded into the carrier to go to the airport. Orion is presently sitting in the litterbox doing his special Meditation and Contact with Alien Beings routine, and Ms. Spots is napping by the dining room table, so at the moment it would be easy to put them in the carrier, but we have an hour or so to go before we leave, and they may well decide it's time to move to their daytime napping spot under the couch. But there is no point in putting them in the carrier now, as it is disagreeable enough for them to spend 12-13 hours in the carrier without adding on an extra hour. --What, 12-13 hours just to fly across the US? Well, an hour and a half to get to the airport on the bus, an hour or hour and a half to deal with airport security and all that, and then of course we don't have a direct flight (whatever happened to those?) so we go out of our way to Atlanta and take an hour to change planes, and then it will take an hour or hour and a half to collect the suitcase and take BART at the other end. It always ends up with 12-13 hours of rabbits in carrier, and while they hate it, I must say they take it very well considering everything.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

It Still Looks Like a Baby Boom to Me

I have alluded before to the discrepancy suggested by Pittsburgh demographics (elderly population, deaths outnumber births) and the large number of babies and small children I see almost everywhere I go barring campus.
It is my suspicion that while deaths may outnumber births, this does not mean that there is any shortage of births, but merely a remarkable number of older residents dying off. And, since Pittsburgh has an enormous number of state-of-the-art hospitals, I suspect the city also draws in a lot of patients who live elsewhere but die here.
The Pittsburgh I know is so overrun with infant life that I firmly expect a flipflop in the near future, similar to that which Julia tells me has occurred in the Czech Republic: when I was in Prague, politicians lamented the lack of births but you saw babies everywhere, and now they admit there is a baby boom.
Why do I think Pittsburgh (or parts of it) is crawling with preschool-age children? Well, sit in Tazza d'Oro any day of the week, pretty much any time of day, and you'll see a constant parade of strollers, babes-in-arms, and children old enough to race back and forth shrieking with high spirits. There is a small sign at the counter stating that "Unattended children will be given espresso and a free kitten" but I haven't seen any children who aren't nominally attached to an adult, only those who give the impression of being unattended. I keep meaning to make a count and see whether there are usually more than ten babies and toddlers per hour, or if it just seems that way sometimes.
Since Tazza d'Oro is a magnet for so many neighborhood parents and grandparents, I should not have been surprised that the Highland Park annual neighborhood garage sale was a bit of a disappointment for the non-parents among us. Practically every participating household was getting rid of baby and young-child gear. Almost the only things I ended up buying were lemonade and baked goods sold by entrepreneurs under ten. (Baked goods = excellent, lemonade = awfully watered-down but still thirst-quenching.) Yes, there were places here and there selling furniture and miscellaneous goods, and in a few cases I did see things I might have bought if I hadn't expected to move in a year, but on the whole the non-childhood items were not that numerous and not that much to my taste.
Getting out of my own neighborhood, which after all could be an anomaly, the other day I observed no less than six prams and strollers (some of them twin-sized), plus some preschoolers, all out for air on Ellsworth as I biked to school. The day before I hadn't been counting but did notice a parade of strollers that included one triplet version. I assume that particular display was courtesy of a daycare center but the others seemed to be individual mothers and babysitters.
Let's not forget that the baby-goods store on the corner of Negley and Penn is not only thriving but getting a new and handsomer coat of paint (I am waiting for it to get rid of the dreadful signage of the baby pulling open a musical diaper, but I don't expect that to happen anytime soon).
And, of course, the bus is always full of babies and children under ten. Lately there has been a rise in pregnant women on the bus as well.
All of this infant-life had the unpleasant effect that I recently dreamt I was moving back into a college dormitory that had been redecorated with Winnie-the-Pooh carpeting in the hall and where I noticed an empty triplet stroller parked outside my door. Um, I like Winnie-the-Pooh as much as the next person, but this still struck me as nightmarish.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Toyen Paintings in Houston

On my Houston trip I saw an impressive amount of art, both belonging to the collector who invited me, and elsewhere. I got to see three Toyen paintings, belonging to two different collectors.
Message of the Forest (1934) is a large work and the girl's head looks better than in reproduction. (Still decapitated, but...)
Bound/Unbound (1925) is quite small, maybe about a foot wide. I actually got to hold this one and examine it closely. It reproduces pretty well in print, though.
Parmi les ombres longues (1943) is a medium-sized work that shows much more detail when seen in person than in reproduction. If you look carefully, you can see that the figure is seated in the midst of a desert, with a city far in the distance.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Houston Transit Adventures

I've returned from the Houston trip, which was both fun and productive. On the whole, I discovered that Houston is far more appealing than I might have expected, partly because both the collector who invited me and the colleague with whom I stayed went out of their ways to show me around. The Houston area is very green, which always makes a good impression on me (not that I don't like deserts too), and the weather wasn't even boiling hot.
I did see one glaring problem while I was there, however: wheelchair access on buses.
Since I'm not in a wheelchair and don't currently have friends or family (that I know of) in one, I don't spend a lot of time contemplating wheelchair access. I had not paid great attention to advances in bus technology other than to observe that for quite awhile San Francisco has had "kneeling" buses (I wasn't hugely impressed with how that worked but didn't see it in action all that regularly) and that Pittsburgh buses have a very efficient system for loading and unloading wheelchairs.
On the one day that I took the bus in from Clear Lake to downtown Houston, a wheelchair passenger loaded at my stop, which was a large Park-and-Ride facility. The loading was not all that remarkable except that the bus had to be carefully aligned with a specific spot on the pavement or sidewalk, which the bus driver couldn't really see because the wheelchair door was in the center of the bus. An astonishing number of seats had to be folded up, however.
We were soon on our way, and the wheelchair passenger was soon involved in conversation with another passenger who had been studying her Organic Chemistry. It turned out that both of them intend to go to medical school, so they quizzed one another on organic chemistry and discussed their plans.
The faults of the Houston bus became evident when we reached downtown and the wheelchair had to be unloaded. I was seated directly behind, so I had a good view of all the machinations.
I should note that both the San Francisco and Pittsburgh buses put their passengers relatively close to the ground. There are still steps up, which is what their wheelchair mechanisms eliminate, but the passenger does not feel abnormally far from the pavement. The Houston bus was the kind where passengers sit very high, more as you would expect in a bus with a big luggage compartment under them. It was a little unnerving going on the many freeway bridges and having the sensation of teetering on the edge of a cliff. In any case, the altitude of the passenger area meant that the wheelchair probably had to go up and down about four feet. There was a lot of equipment, there were all sorts of controls, and it was rapidly clear that the driver had no idea how to operate any of this.
The driver fiddled with the controls and the ramp for what must have been close to half an hour before agreeing to get help (we were right by the transit center), which acutely embarrassed the unfortunate wheelchair passenger and made him late for his meeting. Fortunately the few people who were left on the bus at that point were in no hurry, and only one person bothered to get off and walk. I was pretty sure my stop was the next one, but I wanted to see how the incident ended; another passenger said that after spending three hours on an airport runway the day before, spending awhile in an airconditioned bus was no big deal.
The wheelchair was ultimately safely unloaded, but we were all made very aware that Houston needs to improve its wheelchair acess on public transit. I was not at all impressed with the complicated machinery on the bus, but it did ultimately work, so as Houston has already bought these buses, the drivers had better be properly trained to operate the wheelchair lifts. There was no excuse for such an incident.
My colleague, who graduated from my department a couple of years ago and thus knows the Pittsburgh buses well, said that Houston has a considerably younger population and thus fewer people who need wheelchair access. She did not think this was any excuse, but it is why the city has gotten away with poor wheelchair access. We agreed that Houston has got some nice bits of public transit (the light rail in the city is good, assuming it goes where you're going) but definitely needs to expand the light rail, develop more options for suburban commuters, and fix the wheelchair problem.
Our Pittsburgh buses don't seem like anything special (even if they do have multilingual greetings plastered all over them, which is a nice touch), but I have a new appreciation for how smoothly the drivers load and unload wheelchair passengers on a daily basis. Our main type of problem with wheelchairs is that often the 71A inbound can't pick up a wheelchair passenger because it already has one onboard and the bus is packed to the gills with standees. We could use a few more buses on that 71A route, okay?

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