Feeding the Crows, by Jennifer Stevenson

Crows in January

Crows in January

This year the crows started coming around in larger numbers.  Chicago’s 2008-09 winter has been a bear, socking us with zero-neighborhood temperatures, then snow, then low temps, then snow, over and over and over.  Our “January thaw” never happened.

This means that the crows have a  harder time foraging, which translates into sixty to a hundred crows at my crow feeder per day.  Continue reading


Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

It’s Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday today. 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his master work, On the Origin of Species.Charles Darwin Recognizing that most of us have not read it, The New York Times this week provided selections from the book along with commentary.

Over those 150 years our knowledge of evolution and natural selection has grown exponentially. As the February Smithsonian Magazine reports, we now know — through geology — that the Earth is old enough to have permitted the evolution of life. And due to the work on DNA and the genome research, we know that all life on Earth is closely related.

In fact, scientific knowledge has exploded during those 150 years. We know so much more than Darwin did, though his work certainly prepared the ground for modern biology. As the Smithsonian article observes, “[T]he future has come down solidly on Darwin’s side — despite everything he didn’t know.”

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EVERGREEN: On Becoming a Professional Amateur # 13: Kill Bad Verbs Before They Kill Your Story

Sample paragraph: I saw Hal coming toward me across the office commons, waving. “What did the boss say?” he screeched.

I shook my head and waved him away. “I don’t want to talk about it, Hal.”

“Oh, Ron,” he squealed. “Please tell me he didn’t fire you!”


Do the verbs screeched and squealed help build up the atmosphere of this scene or disrupt it?

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A Real-Life Furby

The world’s smallest primate, the highly-endangered Tarsier, has been called a “real-life Furby.”  Actually, that comment was about the rarest Tarsier of all, the pygmy Tarsier, which was first sighted in Indonesia in 1921.

Tarsier This unusual, charming creature is obviously nocturnal — the clue is its enormous eyes, as large as possible to let in as much light as can be, so the Tarsier can see well during the night-time hours.  Tarsiers are most common in the Philippines, where there is a Tarsier Rescue organization. Unfortunately, like so many other charming, unusual wild animals, there is a thriving black market trade in Tarsiers, even though the animals are so delicate that they seldom live long in captivity.

Here is a great link to more in-depth information about Tarsiers. The Tarsier’s unusual morphology in teeth, bones and brain structure has caused it to be difficult for taxonomists to classify (well, they fight over just about anything, anyway). It is definitely a prosimian, and considered, for the time being, to be in its own unique infra-order. Many fossils of tarsiers have been found, and it is considered to be a very early order of primate — and it is not correct to say that it is the world’s smallest “monkey,” because it is not a monkey. Continue reading


The Amazing Spider-Man #583: A Very Short Review

Amazing Spider-Man #583There are no exciting new comics this week so I am going to step into the Time Bubble and go back several weeks [sfx: the day pages flying through the air to stick themselves back onto a desk calendar] to contemplate this issue, which came out the third week in January.  You probably have seen it but may not have noticed — that was the week when Barack Obama was on the cover of a lot of publications.

It is always great fun when presidents (it is nearly always the president, because young readers are unlikely to be able to visually identify any other politician) turn up in the comics, but it is rare.  So far as I know this is the very first time a Chief Executive has been so prominently featured on a cover, larger even that the title character.  This may be due to Obama’s public declaration, reiterated only the other day,  that his favorite comics characters are Spider-Man and Batman.    The story here is of mild interest — a villain with a weak grasp of the electoral process tries to take Obama’s place at the swearing-in.   In a nice touch, Obama himself successfully reveals the imposter, who then pulls the superpower card and has to be socked into submission by Spider-Man.  Slight but perfect.  I am sure that Marvel sold a jillion copies of this thing; they are already on offer at inflated prices on Ebay. Continue reading


Shake-Up-Your-Brain Books

A while back I was the guest editor at audible.com and had occasion to consider recent audiobooks I’ve enjoyed, in particular books that pick your brain up, shake it around, and put it back in your skull with a new viewpoint.

Because of an Interweebs-wide pixel shortage, some of the article got cut. In addition, some books I would have liked to include aren’t available in audio versions. So I decided to revise the article; this is the expansion of the non-fiction section. Continue reading


It’s All About the Process


I love learning how to do stuff. When I was a kid I had weaving lessons the way that my peers had piano or violin lessons. I taught myself to sew when I was a teenager. Taught myself to knit. And when I see a recipe for something I’ve never made — particularly if it’s a fairly basic thing (like cheese) or a really complex thing (baklava! beef Wellington!) my thumbs start twitching. It’s not that I need home made cheese — I’m pretty much the only cheese eater in my house — but the urge to know how to do it is nearly overwhelming. Continue reading


Sarah’s Travels in Florence

Day 2 – Sarah Does Florence

img_04991The new travel alarm worked and woke us up at 7:00 am (Tim needs to be up early for the conference and this proved to have its advantages). I was sure that today was the day I had tickets for the Boboli Gardens, and instead ofchecking, I went blithely ahead with the plan I’d made & headed out to the Mercado Centrale to acquire some things for an al fresco lunch. It was raining lightly, but the morning was very fresh and pleasant.

Mercado Centrale is what it sounds like, it’s the central market of Old Florence. The main building holds all kinds of food merchants. I was able to get salami (Salami de Milan), bread, cheese and strawberries for a fraction of what a meal in a trattori would cost. It turned out to be enough food for the day, when supplemented with cups of coffee and bottles of water.

Got back to the B&B for breakfast. V. nice. Fresh baked, slightly sweet croissants (found out later that what I was seeing as a croissant was actually a brioche, which explained the sweetness), cereal, yogurt, coffee, intensely orange orange juice. Only then did I pull out my ticket and find I’d gotten the day wrong. Garden ticket was for tomorrow. I’d sensibly not scheduled myself anything for the first day in case I was so wiped from the trip I didn’t feel like doing much.

‘Sokay. No biggie. Today I would take myself out and see Florence. And so I did.
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Strength training, or, you’ve got to be kidding

I have never been a fan of exercise for its own sake. As recorded in this blog, I have taken up swimming—because it’s like flying, because I can do it lying down, because against all odds I’ve become good at it, because there are a dozen ways to play in the water if I don’t feel like logging dutiful laps. I’ve taken up riding horses because I’ve loved horses since I was so high. I’ve taken up roller derby because I have a screw loose.

But pushups? Situps? Planks, leg lifts, jumping jacks, jogging? These are the behaviors of the confirmed ath-a-lete, the sweat monkey, the endorphin junkie. Not yours truly.

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