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Michael's Journal
yard values
my journal
March 2010

Michael Engle
Date: 2010-01-16 12:51
Subject: Live from the back porch
Security: Public
Today we're coming to you live from the sun-drenched back porch, texting on a tiny iPod keyboard. The snowpack is rapidly melting. Gigante drops of water are plashing on the leaf mulch below. Shortly, we are off to a Cinemapolis matinee showing of "The Maid," a film made in Santiago that won prizes at Sundance.

It's good to have a break from the colder parts of winter even though I finally entered winter through the skiing portal last week. The thermometer says 48; it's cooler than that out of the sun and off the porch. But still warmer than it's been in a month or more.
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Michael Engle
Date: 2010-01-13 20:37
Subject: Did You Know?
Security: Public
"Yard work is better than bicycling, aerobics, dancing, and weight training for maintaining healthy bone mass."

[ http://www.howcast.com/videos/14489-How-To-Make-Your-Yard-EcoFriendly ]

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Michael Engle
Date: 2010-01-12 15:03
Subject: We're in the zone: lake-effect zone
Security: Public
It's snowing. As it has every day this year except yesterday. We're in the zone, the lake-effect zone, for the moment. These are not the heavy amounts that get dumped southeast of Buffalo or on Tug Hill or on Oswego, but still. It's a nice freshener-upper for the snow pack, and it's great for skiing. Jane and I did the skiing six-mile version of our usual on South Hill Recreation Way yesterday--a bit of a stretch, but it was our first sunny day in a while, and so it was great to be out in the sun and the snow, soaking up all that anti-depressant light.

The same thing happened in Hastings for our whole visit (and the winter that we lived in Kalamazoo, 1978-79): daily lake-effect snow. The snowfall was obvious because we had to clean off the car every time we drove somewhere. It made me re-appreciate our porch, since it serves as a cover over the car and practically eliminates the pre-drive ritual of clearing ice and snow. If only we could get along without sodium chloride on the roads, winter would be perfect. Solar-powered in-pavement heating coils anyone?

Time to head out into it again. It's fun to loll around half the day reading, talking, eating, and troubleshooting DSL [:-), but there comes a time for the kinetically inclined to move it out the house. And it's great to have a walking and skiing partner. Just don't fall out the truck!
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Michael Engle
Date: 2010-01-07 11:36
Subject: window on the Arts Quad
Security: Public
I'm sitting in an easy chair in Olin Library, looking out onto the snow-covered Arts Quadrangle. The sky is a uniform gray. People in puffy coats and variety hats run, hobble, and stride by. The walkways are clear, so the footing is good. It's a balmy 25 degrees. Looks like the Plains states are really getting a dose of Arctic air and good old winter weather. No doubt it will be here soon enough.

Meanwhile Harry Potter is on our read-aloud agenda and there is plenty of seaoned wood for the fireplace. Since I'm off work this month, the drill is: enjoy the present. It is so easy to slip into worrying about things not done or to be done. So I stopped by Gimme to nurse an espresso this morning, read in Jason Wilson's The Andes: A Cultural History, and enjoy the caffeinnated afterglow. Then a walk along Cascadilla Creek and up, up, up the hill to here. Along the way--three mallards on the ice at the edge of the thin strip of open water coursing down the middle of the creek, two standing and one sitting. Their legs and feet are a remarkable orangey-red color with the appearance of plastic. How can they stand on the ice? They must have no blood in their feet at all. Looking down from about eight feet above them, I have a close view of their beautiful feathers. The feathers and coloration of the female which seem rather drab from a distance are rendered in exquisite detail. A passing jogger stops to admire the plastic feet and the amazing feathers. Stunning.

Time to return this borrowed laptop to circulation and head down the hill for lunch. More on the Wilson book in short order.
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Michael Engle
Date: 2010-01-04 18:10
Subject: Avatar 3D
Security: Public
Jane and I just returned from Regal Cinema after seeing James Cameron's Avatar in 3D. But first, this financial message:

Production cost of making Avatar: "probably closest to the figure the Los Angeles Times’s John Horn and Claudia Eller cited earlier this month—$280 million for the production, plus marketing costs" (Vanity Fair). Marketing costs, about $150 million, according to the same Vanity Fair article. And the worldwide gross take as of today (January 3, 2010) according to Box Office Mojo: $1,018,814,898.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, here are my initial pros and cons for what will probably be the largest grossing movie to date.

Pro: The 3D is fairly cool. I actually had a slightly acrophobic response at one point.
Con: The large animal animation in the early scenes was stiff.
Pro: The flying animal animation was awesome.
Pro: Surely the best 3D movie made to date--of course it's my first, so what do I know.
Con: Some of the plant colors were "Fantasia"-ish rather than interesting.
Pro: The insects seemingly fluttering in the space in front of the screen were awesome.
Neutral: I involuntarily cried in the "I see you," "I see you" sequence.
Con: Sigourney Weaver can't run.
Con: Sigourney Weaver is not a believable scientist.
Con: The floating mountains sequence is a blatant ripoff of Miyazaki's Laputa.
Pro: Possible increase in environmental consciousness in viewers.
Pro: Anti-torture message.
Con: Revenge fantasy pandering.
Paradox: Intensive use of technology to send anti-war technology message.
Con: Expensive to gain entrance.
Pro: Entertaining.
Con: Very heavy-handed music.
Con: Background details not rendered clearly.
Pro: Breakthrough use of movie-making technology (credit to Lord of the Rings).
Con: Going to make a lot of money for Rupert Murdoch.
Con: Takes all the suspense out of the Academy Award for best picture/best director. The Academy will never be able to resist this one.
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Michael Engle
Date: 2010-01-03 10:12
Subject: back in Ithaca
Security: Public
After a holiday trip to Michigan, we're back in Ithaca, enjoying an onslaught of lake-effect snow. Very windy, lots of snow blowing around, single-digit air temperatures, below-zero wind chills. Time to get down to Six Mile Creek with the camera and see what's happening.

We had a very good trip weatherwise both to and from western Michigan via southern Ontario and northwestern New York. A southeast tailwind on the way, clear roads, and temperatures in the 40s. Some rain, but nothing major. On the way back, we stopped at a B&B in Dunnville, Ontario, for the night. The weather turned sharply colder, but we had a northwest tailwind the whole way and almost no snow on the roads (plenty of dried salt, though). We did encounter a brief snow squall southeast of Buffalo (where else?) on the second morning of the trip. But it was mostly clear sailing. Now that we are ensconced again on State Street, let it snow. Nothing like sitting in a hot bath, our own termas de altillo, watching the weather blow by.
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Michael Engle
Date: 2009-12-16 11:53
Subject: what was next
Security: Public
What was next was a multi-day stretch of below freezing weather that made the exposed ground hard with frost. Followed by a relaxation into above-freezing weather with rain which washed away most of the salt from the previous snow. Followed by a couple of inches of new, light lake-effect snow riding on the northwest wind. Definitely fire-in-the-fireplace weather.

It takes a very precise coordination of wind direction, wind speed, and Great Lakes water temperature for us to get a lake-effect snow here in Ithaca (elsewhere I have written about the rarer Cayuga Lake lake-effect snowstorms). Most of the time, the snow falls in large quantities well to the north and west of us--several feet in this last lake-effect storm--without ever reaching as far south and east as Ithaca. The big lake-effect storms happen early in the winter when the lake water is relatively warm and the lake surface is ice-free. The arctic wind sucks enormous amounts of moisture from the lakes as it warms while blowing across the open water and then dumps equally enormous amounts of snow as it recools over the colder land surface.

Then the wind slackens a bit but continues to blow across the lakes to us, and we will have a few days of cloudy weather with towering clouds of ice that may or may not emit snow. Today is one of those days--desultory fits of light or very light snow mixed with occasional brief glimpses of sunlight. And windy.

Call me crazy, but one of my pleasures in this weather is shoveling and sweeping the sidewalks on the State Street side and driveway on the Water Street side of the house. Clearing the snow soon after it falls usually averts a multitude of sins, mainly of the ice variety. The sidewalks are not normally icy until the snow has been tramped on and then cured into an almost unbreakable bond with the concrete walk surface. Once that happens, it's a lot of chopping and hacking with the shovel to get a sidewalk cleared. There is also pleasure in the neighborly connection, silent or spoken, with other shovelers who are out at the same time conducting our virtuous labor--clearing the sidewalks for pedestrians heading to work. An instance of communal labor for the civic good, reason to celebrate.
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Michael Engle
Date: 2009-12-10 17:41
Subject: the incredible shrinking snowpack
Security: Public
Well maybe it was not a snowpack. Three plus inches of snow fell overnight Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Very wet. The temperature rose above freezing, and it rained the rest of Wednesday morning. Then the sun came out a bit, and the wind blew a lot. Then it rained more in the afternoon and evening. Still windy. Thursday morning the snow was mostly gone, and it was cold again. And the wind was blowing, hard. And continued blowing hard all day.

I walked a loop through Mount Olivet Cemetery just before dark this afternoon to see if the wind had blown down any sugar maple branches. They make very good firewood. I collected a few nice, dead branches that had been seasoned on tree. Man, was it cold. The wind was blowing from the south, the most exposed direction. I got crisped. Signs of weather to come. I wonder what's next.
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Michael Engle
Date: 2009-12-03 12:40
Subject: story of a real birder
Security: Public
When I comes to birding, I am definitely in the casual birder category. Because the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is here in Ithaca, there are many world-class birders and other very serious birders, and regular, I-need-this-for-my-life-list birders. Life lists are the tallies that birders/bird-watchers keep of all the birds they see.

The appearance of an Ivory Gull in southernmost New Jersey recently stimulated a flurry of birder activity. Meena Haribal works at the Lab and keeps a blog of her experiences. She is also a dragonfly expert, so many of her posts are concerned with that. And she is also from India, so her language is sometimes just slightly outside standard U.S. English which, for me, makes her posts all the more interesting and enjoyable. I thought that you, dear readers, would enjoy this bit of insight into a serious birder's life: Meena's post about a trip that she took more-or-less on the spur of the moment over Thanksgiving weekend to see an Ivory Gull, a bird she had tried to see before without success. The post is here: http://meenaharibal.blogspot.com/2009/12/ivory-gull-for-thanksgiving-week-end.html
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Michael Engle
Date: 2009-11-26 10:21
Subject: giving thanks
Security: Public
For hearing crickets cricking on November 24;
a cooler than usual October and warmer than usual November has smoothed out the long glide into winter very nicely, and the crickets are taking advantage.

For people to family and friends to walk with and talk with (and kindly listen during my caffeinated monologues).

Jane and Kate and I walked around Ithaca yesterday with special attention to the architecture of houses and tree identification.

First we dropped off the VW downtown for an oil change at Patterson's and walked to the newly renovated Gimme! on West State for coffees and espresso.

Then across the street to look at the newish two-story post and beam building that houses a Volvo shop; three Jay Hart terrain art works grace the lobby.

Through neighborhoods to Agway to look at possible terrarium plants. Since paying more attention to lichens, mosses, and liverworts, I want to start a native plants terrarium. Will look for a used aquarium at Salvation Army to house it.

To Wegmans to load the Kelty pack with food for Thanksgiving dinner including a Daikon radish that rode outboard on the pack like a character from Spirited Away. Plus a team attack on the self-check checkout (it's still enough of an innovation to be exciting).

Entonces back through the hoods with a stop at Significant Elements, Historic Ithaca's barn full of old house parts, to buy twelve old brass double-hooks coat hooks rescued from Beverly Martin Elementary School during the GIAC renovation to install in our basement for hanging winter hats and gloves.

Good way to live on a warmish, cloudy morning of Thanksgiving Eve.
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