Tuesday, June 18, 2013
In 2011 we visited Hancock Shaker Museum Farm in Massachusetts, and despite it being a somewhat dreary day, we had a great time among the old-fashioned uildings and their tools and utensils. What striked me was how in the simplicity of all their handmade things was the beauty of patterns, repeats, and just a tiny bit randomness. Here are some examples (and more photos here):
Friday, June 14, 2013
I wish you a good summer with no severe weather events. It might be unlikely to happen, but I will keep my fingers crossed.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
9 years ago, the periodical cicadas were buzzing, the fireflies bleeping, and we got married. PP, thanks for the fantastic dinner at Brothers Moon tonight. (If you haven't eaten there, you should, if you have the opportunity.) Local, well-made food, and their Caesar salad with extra anchovies are to die for.
Other things that happened today:
The high school had to be evacuated after a bomb scare. No bomb was found, but all kids were sent home at 2 PM. Yesterday Princeton University got evacuated for the same reason. Prank, lunatic, or what? This is not funny. Neither was it funny when the two old couples sitting next to us in the restaurant talked about the bomb threat in Princeton and one of the elderly men at their table said 'well, I wish the bomb threat had been true and all the liberal professors had been killed off'. Sigh.
In New York City two window washers got stuck at the 44th floor (about 600 feet, 200 m above ground) on the outside of the building. They were eventually rescued by firemen cutting holes in windows so they could reach them and bring them back inside. This was only one block from where AREA works right now.
The fireflies are out! Blink, blink, blink! Special photo for KV with fireflies from Japan.
The bull frogs are croaking in the dark, right now. And big black crickets are cricketing.
We are waiting for another giant weather event. This one isn't named (yet), but we are expecting 4 inches (100 mm) rain tomorrow, storm-level winds, maybe tornados and hail and definitely big thunderstorms. We haven't even dried up after the most recent storm, and our rivers are so flooded already that roads and bridges are closed. Not good, the ground can't soak up any more. But we are prepared, with pumps, generator (if the power goes out), charged cell phones, lots of food, and playing cards and candles. And while we get soaked, Colorado burns. There doesn't seem to be any 'normal' in the weather anymore.
Finally, our cat Smokey believes that the way to get of loose undercoat wooly fur is to lick it off, get it stuck in your teeth and then have it hanging from your lips like if you were an old goat. Sorry, no photos yet, we are working on it. She isn't the most cooperative cat when it comes to photography or brushing.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Arcimboldo's The Four Seasons. What do you think? We weren't too impressed. Gaudy and overblown, I think. It also looks like a plastic flower arrangement. (more photos here)
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
At work we have a copy machine that you have to sign out of when you are done, by clicking buttons on the Touch screen THREE (3) times. First, click your name in the upper right corner, then select Log Out from the menu, then a new menu comes up asking: Are you sure you want to Log Out? and then you have to hit yes. Isn't it amazing that something as simple as logging out is made so convoluted? They can't blame it on safety.
When you drive a car and turn left, nobody stops you and wait for you to confirm once or twice that YES, INDEED, I want to turn left. Imaging the number of accidents that would happen if you had to confirm every little action while driving a car... and response times would increase as would frustration and road rage. What a waste of time in front of the printer.
At home we have a printer that stops working as soon as one of the colors is finished, even if there is black ink left and you only want to print in black and white. It just won't print. It is on strike until you have bought new, expensive color ink (or photo gloss, or whatever it might be), that you don't need for that particular print job.
When you drive a car, and the windshield washer fluid runs dry, the car just doesn't stop working and waiting for you to fill up more of it, regardless of where you are. That would be inconceivable.
Sometimes when you surf the web and look at stuff, the network gets clogged, or the software slows down, and even sometimes, the program or even the computer just crashes, and you are forced to restart the computer.
When you drive a car, it suddenly just doesn't stop randomly or goes at tiny speed because of some outside force field or sluggish connection. That would be pretty dangerous.
Many times you look around on the web and try to find a good restaurant so you browse their web pages, but when you go to their website you are met by 'the intro' - some awful music, slow things (usually photos) moving across the page, and you have to sit there and waste your time unless you can find the tiny semi-hidden text called 'Skip this intro'. After that torture and time-waste is over, you can start to look for 1) opening hours, 2) address and directions, and 3) the menu. You would think those three things are the most important information to get to your potential customers, and that at least 1 and 2 should be listed on the opening page of the home page. Oh no, you often have to guess where it is, maybe under 'Contact Us", or 'About Us', or some other non-direct heading. And often you have to scroll down because the bottom of the page can't be seen at first sight. For the menus, those are often under a tab, but many are hidden under headings that are tiny, and on extremely slow-loading pages (including the crashing pdf-format), or just small.
If you drive a car, it doesn't play unwanted intro music when you start it. It starts up, then it immediately shows you if anything is wrong with the car on the dashboard (any Check Engine light on? Doors open? No, good!). All information is right there, ready to check out and react to. Restaurant web pages are like Lego Men hidden in pizza dough, you can't find them or you find a little piece but you can't see the rest.
Who designs these things? I thought designers' jobs were to make things that WORK WELL and LOOK GOOD. The first of those things, i.e. practicality, user-friendliness, and usability is as important as that it looks great. The funny thing is that often the companies insist that their way of doing things are for our convenience, when in reality these things cause us inconvenience, frustration, or just waste time. Books never fail to open. Compasses never run out of batteries. Simplicity and ease-of-use means just that, simplicity.
Will it take 50-100 years to make the internet, printers, copiers, and computers as user-friendly and reliable as cars? I hope not. Of course cars break down at times, but they are far more reliable than most of our other home electronics. I love things that work and that even if complicated, are easy to use. Don't get me started on the design of remote controls... you would think they get paid by the numbers of buttons they put on them. How long did it take for cars to enter the phase of user-friendliness? And maybe cars are now on their way to become less user-friendly again? I haven't mastered the GPS in PP's car at all, because it is not at all intuitive.
PS. OK, you want examples of bad design offenders? Here is one...
Prune Restaurant, New York City
You have to CLICK to enter their website. What did they think, that you got to their website by accident and need to confirm with them that you actually want to be there? And then click on Menu and see if you can see their partial tiny menu in a scrolling window... The prices on the lunch menu are about 4 mm tall on my screen. That is about half as big as a black pepper corn. Anybody that can read the ingredients on the Bloody Mary menu online ought to get a free drink, or two. Prune, shape up, and fix your website please...
I think Steve Jobs got it right in this quote:
Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
I visited an old mansion a few days back, with an old overgrown garden and park. My interest was to see if there where any old bulb plants left, and it was! Large stands of narcissus, scattered daffodils and peonia rugs where visible. The narcissus I found was a kind I never seen before. A Google search later I think it could be A narcissus called White Lady. It's known in cultivation before 1927, but the origin is not known. It is the big white one with a yellow trumpet.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
A few days ago I attended a big commercial fair about cosmetics and botanicals, where the suppliers to the cosmetics companies showed of the newest, bestest, cheapest and, of course, the most 'naturalests'.
I can't even count how many times I saw '100% natural' on signs there. The strangest was the sign that said 'Ultra-organic', I wonder what that is. Pure carbon? Another sign said '100% botanical'. Hmm, no water in that product? All marketing, of course.
Anyway, here is my report:
Up and coming botanical products, soon in a store near you (if not already):
Meadowfoam seed oil (from Limnanthes alba, a springflower native to NW USA).
Camelina sativa oil (camelina was grown in ancient agricultural societies in Europe, and now it is back!)
Borage seed oil (Borago officinalis - this wonderful blue-flowered plant with edible flowers that look like they can sting you with their black anther-pistil shaft. The leaves look like hairy tongues. )
Echium seed oil (from the European species Echium plantagineum, now an invasive species in North America - yes, let's use up the invasive species, I love it! I mean it, I am not joking... It is also toxic in large doses.)
Argan oil (from Argania spinosa, an ancient crop tree of the berbers of Morocco, and the new natural product darling of the upscale cosmetics companies)
Can you imagine a field of these plants grown as crops? That would be a bit different than a field of beets or lettuce...
From the non-botanical end of things, there are now crushed garnet included in some skin exfoliator products. Talk about wasting a beautiful gemstone!
I believe that candy and desserts are one of the few areas were strong cultural differences still live on. Thai, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, and American food have conquered the world and anybody knows what sushi, burgers, and ketchup is now. But I think candy has a long way to go to become more global, at least candy outside of the chocolate main stream.
So, for your food education, here is some typical Swedish candy that you can't really buy in the US or other countries of the world (the northern parts of EU excepted).
First, Swedes love licorice, and they love salty, sour or very fruity candy. Generally speaking, American candy of today is either supersweet (sickly sweet), or chocolatey, and that is different from the Swedish candy. Swedes also like mixes of flavors (salt & sour, etc.).
Turkisk peppar ('Turkish peppar'). Horribly hot-spicy hard licorice candy with a dry powdery inside with ammonium chloride (salmiak) powder. Great!
Then there is of course Swedish fish - WHICH DOES NOT EXIST IN SWEDEN. This is the American version of Swedish fruity, chewy, sugary candy, which in Sweden comes in many shapes and forms, not just red fish. The most common are 'sega råttor' (= chewy rats), which often are green, yellow, red or maybe even in black (licorice). Oh, and this custom of calling non-black things licorice as you do in the US, that doesn't exist in Sweden. Licorice is always black and always has true licorice plant extract in it.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Sunday, May 12, 2013
In 2004, during our wedding here in New Jersey, was one of the outbursts of the periodical cicadas, which has a 17-year life cycle. They were everywhere! They were part of the "Great Eastern Brood", the largest of the populations.
This year another brood of these noisy insects are back, and we have just started to hear a few in the forests this passed week. It doesn't seem to matter if it is daytime, dusk, dawn, or night - they go on making noise on and off regardless of light or not. They sound like this. This is called the 'East Coast Brood', and these insects have been living underground on tree roots since 1996. Amazing!
Friday, May 10, 2013
The post office released this stamp for the particular use on large envelopes for greeting cards. How practical! I use them for letters to Sweden that need more than the usual postage. More on the stamp, the art, and the orange, black and white here. These were the color of the coat of arms for Lord Baltimore, who not only gave name to the city, but also this butterfly, and the bird called Baltimore Oriole, which we have in our yard. It hasn't arrived yet this year, but it will, and it builds hanging woven nests in the big silver maples along the road.
This butterfly is relevant to me, because tomorrow I am driving to Baltimore to pick up AREA who has finished her first year in college (yeah! congratulations!!!). I doubt we will bring back any butterflies or birds in the car, but there will be art, more art, kitchen stuff, a table, microwave, unused foods, and who knows what that will need to be emptied out from her college apartment and stuffed into my car. Welcome home AREA!
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
" Everywhere I looked people were detached from everything around them. From the beautiful produce, the delightful pastries, the never-before-in-the-history-of-man selections of great wines and cheeses. The guys were not "checking out" the plethora of beautiful girls flowing like spring water thru the aisles. The women weren't even noticing the displays of chocolate. Instead, they did the "thorazine shuffle" with their carts aimlessly navigated with one hand and the rest of their being concentrated either on staring like zombies at the screens of their iPhones or Blackberries, or wandering without a compass while listening to something at the other end of their cell connection, eyes staring off into the middle distance. " [by Kirk Tuck]From this fantastic blogpost, read the rest of it, it is worth at least 5 minutes of your time. The blog is called Visual Science Lab and is written by Kirk Tuck. Lots of great thoughts there! (and thanks PP for sending the link to me)
This is so true. And as an owner of an iPhone, which can be incredibly useful at times, I am happy to admit that and I use it more often than necessary, I also see the horrible addiction possibilities. I often think that it is the software opportunities, apps, and 'things' on the technologies that pull people in, more than the technology per se - things like texting (instant), Facebook (instant), twitter (instant), and the need to be connected, to whatever that might be - the instant feed of stuff you haven't asked for. I am sure there are situations where these instant feeds can be a good thing, but if 95% of it isn't, then it is a problem. And it just pushes more people just to think about me-me-me or superficial snapshot moments, instead of less self-focused things with deeper reflections.
One of my students said 'I have to check Facebook all the time, I might miss out on something otherwise'. What that something might be, was less important. I think this me-me-me generation that is growing up now (and that includes people of my age too), are actually horribly afraid of being alone, being unimportant, or being self-sufficient without input from other people. To lay in a sofa and read a book during a Saturday is considered weird. Go for a walk? Weird. Try to produce something thoughtful or beautiful over a longer time, not an instant opinion or just reaction to something, is unusual.
Life in the internet and wi-fi age has turned into fast, fragmented, and furious. My best thinking time and planning time is the early morning walks, just me, a friend, and a quiet morning with hammering woodpeckers, sunrise in dewy grass, and right now, shining white flowering dogwoods in the forests. No interruption, just one hour of walking and talking and thinking and figuring it all out. Without any digital technology, but the iPhone is in the pocket if a photo is needed, but usually the photos turn out so bad on it, that it isn't worth taking one. My old digital camera is a lot better, but heavier, so it stays home.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Sunday, May 5, 2013
We visited Washington DC two days this past week and in the middle of this busy, self-important and rather abstract city of lawyers, lobbyists, politicians, administrators in massive federal buildings and regular people that just try to make ends meet, is a little oasis of green.
The old Dumbarton Oaks estate is on a hilltop with old ancient trees (well, maybe only as old as the city, a couple of hundred years), and landscaping that reminded me of the gardens at Chanticleer in Pennsylvania, another favorite of mine.
Here are some photos of this wonderful place. The wisterias and dogwoods were in bloom... Visit if you can.
I just love this season.... I don't know the species name of this Rhododendron, but the flowers are enormous, and the plant is tall enough so the deers can't reach the buds in the winter.
Friday, May 3, 2013
Thursday, May 2, 2013
In the Baltic Sea, far out north of the biggest Baltic island of Gotland, lays a smallish island made from sand. It is appropriately named 'Gotska Sandön', which means the 'Gothic Sand Island'. It is a magical, rough place of excessive beauty, and has a long history as a place for pirates that plundered ships that had wrecked on the sand barriers. There was never many people living on this island, just a small group of farmers or traders, and today mostly ecotourists visit in the summer.
I was there in 1982, when I was 15, on a trip I have vivid memories from. You had to travel there on a fishing boat, about 4-5 hours over the sea, and we had to bring all food and everything else we needed. There is freshwater on the island, but not much. There is no harbor, so you have to use a small dingy to get ashore and wade the last part in the waves (which are cold in this part of the world). Of course you can only get to the island when the weather is calm too.
These days it is a Swedish National Park, and most of the island is pure sand with either pine or oak forest. Large sand dunes along the beaches, some orchids (like the pink one above), nesting terns, and driftwood. Walking on the dunes is one step forward, glide two steps back. There are pebbles on the beaches that are totally transparent, from quartz. It was pure wonderful Swedish summer, green, lush, sunny and not too hot.
This Swedish stamp was made by the artist Gunnar Brusewitz, a famous watercolor painter who painted Swedish nature. Here are some more photos from this island (Flickr pool). And, this is how it looks like from the air.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
A few weeks ago my sister, her sons, and I visited the NJ shore, horribly devastated after superstorm/hurricane Sandy. But the Island Beach State Park, one of the few areas with natural vegetation left on the barrier islands of New Jersey, looked surprisingly unscathed. Only the human-made structures were buried, destroyed or maimed. In the cedar forests you couldn't even tell a hurricane went through. Here is the beach dunes, moved inland several yards, and with beach plums poking through. Lots of sand were moved inland and the shores are no longer as wide, but still - nature seems to be able to handle nature's wrath a lot better than cities and villages. Photos of those will show up soon here on the blog.
The Chevy Shot, originally uploaded by ericwill.
We often feature train shots by our friend EW here on the blog, and here is another one. I don't know the back story, but just look at this - the diesel locomotive running by, the old car from the 1950s, the grain silo and the funnels to release who knows what into sacks, barrels or truckbeds. It is a historical moment, just like so many other moments that pass by us without notice. A photo of America's past, but taken just a year ago. Click on the photo to see more of Eric's fantastic train photos.
Friday, April 26, 2013
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Here are some very quick photos to show that the spring is here, finally. In the last two weeks every plant has burst open and things grow faster than I can photograph. This is among the best times in New Jersey, before the horrible hot and humid summer.
Right now, flowering in the garden is: gooseberries (krusbär), plums (plommon), dandelions (maskros), pear tree (päron), peach tree (persika), dead nettle (rödplister), daffodils (påsklilja, pingstlilja), Scilla (scilla), crown imperial(kejsarkrona), bleeding heart (löjtnantshjärta), hairy cress (hårig bräsma), goldenbells (forsythia), birch (björk), veronica (trädgårdveronika), and common rocket (sommargyllen).
I have been busy prepping the raised beds for the sowing of carrots, onions, chard, radishes, peas, lettuce and beets, and they are all coming up now. There is plenty of space for the tomatoes and peppers, which have to wait until last frost date, May 15. I bet they might have to revise that soon, considering our increasingly warmer climate.