Monday, May 21, 2018

Dr. Doolittle

I don't think I ever read "Doctor Doolittle" and may have seen the movie, but I'm not sure.  But throughout my life I have read enough animal books about the relationship between humans and their animals, relationships that have almost an esp about them, that I always dreamed of having an animal I could communicate with, the way Alec and The Black understood each other, or the way The Master and his collies understood each other.

Polly and I have probably the closest thing to a non-verbal communication.  She works harder at it than I do, spending every waking moment studying me trying to figure out if I'm getting ready to go out, going into the kitchen for a snack or for some other reason, whether I'm going to sit in the recliner or Walt's chair.  She bases or own actions on which she decides she thinks I'm going to do.  If I'm going to the kitchen for a snack, she's right on my heels, but if I'm going to get a glass of water, she doesn't bother to get up.  If I stand up, ready to go out, she's dancing around the family room waiting for the snack she knows I will give her, but if I'm just going into my office, she barely lifts her head.

For my part, I have the luxury of studying her body language, trying to decipher what is going on in that little head.  Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don't.

But I watched a Nova special last night (What are Animals Saying?), when I was trying to get back to sleep, and it was so fascinating it kept me awake.  It was on how animals communicate, non-verbally, with each other.  I have such admiration for people who spend literally decades observing a certain species of animals.  One woman, for example, spent so much time over 10+ years living on the outskirts of a tribe of chimpanzees that she almost felt like part of the family.  She observed the subtle ways in which they interact with each other.

The scratches of chimps aren't simply random gestures, but part of a secret language.  It can be a signal to a child that can either mean "grooming" or "let's travel together."  A mother who is walking with her baby and quietly lifts her back foot a bit, is telling the baby to get on her back so she can carry him.


They studied primates who have learned how to communicate with humans and how many words or symbols they learned, but I think they gave short shrift to KoKo, the gorilla who not only has a large vocabulary of American Sign language, but is able to use her vocabulary to express her desires and her feelings and even create her own language, based on compounds of the words she knows.

Whales are vocal learners, as opposed to primates who learn by watching other primates  Their songs are some of the most complicated forms of communication.  A single song can be anywhere from 5 minutes to half an hour and, like our songs, consist of repeated phrases and themes.  There are more than 30 sound types that can be recognized, within the repertoire, which include such things as grunts, shrieks, etc.  They record the sounds and chart them and over years are able to make some sense--they think--of them. The important thing is that they recognize the sounds, and communicate that way.  (Whoever said that "dumb animals" have no language?)

Only the males do the singing and the scientists decided to try to map them.  There are tens of thousands of whales living in separate groups and they were able to arrange the songs into types like the blue song type or the red song type


It ended up being like a game of "telephone" where a song originated in, say, Australia in one year and the next year it had moved on to the next island group, while Australia group was singing a different song.  The original song then moves on to the next island group and the second group takes up the new song from Australia until over several years all groups in all locations sing the same songs, just not at the same time.

This kind of stuff is endlessly fascinating to me (and I never even got to bats, spiders, birds, dolphins and mice). Needless to say, it did not put me to sleep.  The most amazing thing I learned was Zipf's law, which is so complicated I can't begin to explain it, but if you're interested, check Wikipedia.  It's described as  an empirical law formulated using mathematical statistics that refers to the fact that many types of data studied in the physical and social sciences can be approximated with a Zipfian distribution, one of a family of related discrete power law probability distributions. Zipf distribution is related to the zeta distribution, but is not identical.  Yeah a mouthful, but if you are able to make your way through the math of it all, it's fascinating to learn that our human language has the exact same structure as that of animals.

But for sleep, I had to turn on the news and find out what outrageous things our glorious leader had done or said today.  I don't know where that would all be on a map scale of language, but it did finally knock me out.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Stealing

Welcome to Sunday Stealing. This feature originated and published on WTIT: The Blog. Here we will steal all types of questions from every corner of the blogosphere. Our promise to you is that we will work hard to find the most interesting and intelligent questions. (Past hosts include: Our first - Judd Corizan, Mr. L, Kwizgiver and Bud)  Cheers to all of us thieves!


 

This is from Care Bears


What never fails to cheer you up?
An NCIS marathon, believe it or not.


Which friend do you have the most in common with?
Char.  We have been friends for 60 years and while we have differing likes and dislikes, mostly we are in sync most of the time.


One thing that never fails to anger you?
The actions of the Trump administration.


Favorite way to spend a sunny day?
I wish I could say something healthy like going out and enjoying the weather, and doing all sorts of fun stuff, but really I prefer to spend the time inside.



Create a fortune cookie note based on your week.
Confucius says double check your calendar before heading to an event.


Favorite way to exercise?
Exercise?  Excuse me, but what is that?


Favorite thing about your best friend?
We have the same sense of humor, based on our experiences of 60 years


What kind of things do you like to create?
Interesting new recipes, Swap bot journals, writing Funny the World.


What languages would you like to learn?
I know a smattering of French and Portuguese (less now than 20 years ago) but would like to speak Spanish, which would be helpful, living in California.


A topic you’re really knowledgeable about?
The history of the Lamplighters music theater.  Everything else I think I might be knowledgeable about, sure as shootin' someone will point out where I have my facts wrong.


When do you feel you look your best?
About a week after I have my hair cut.


What types of music do you like to listen to?
I used to listen to music a lot, but rarely do any more.  When I do it's generally show tunes, John Denver, or older classical music (the 3 Bs and their ilk).


Something that leaves you completely in awe?
Oh so many things.  A gorgeous sweeping vista, preferably with an ocean attached, an intricate sculpture (thinking of the sculpture at St. George's chapel at Windsor Castle which made a sculpture aficionado of me)... 



(look at all those soft folds of fabric, sculpted in marble)
 
...a glorious choral work, watching the young contestants on Master Chef Junior

What is your most childish aspect?
Lack of self control.


A time where you had to be really brave?
Following the deaths of each of our kids.


How do you like to keep warm?
Hunkered down under a nice quilt.


What brings out your soft side?
baby anything .... humans, dogs, elephants, etc.


What is your favorite way to treat yourself?
Taking myself out to lunch, either alone or with a friend.


Something you’re proud of about yourself?
I have made a small difference in my part of the world.  No matter what else, I can hang on to that.


Something you don’t care about?
Most current movies, with lots of CGI and endless fights.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday 9


Welcome to Saturday: 9. What we've committed to our readers is that we will post 9 questions every Saturday. Sometimes the post will have a theme, and at other times the questions will be totally unrelated. Those weeks we do "random questions," so-to-speak. We encourage you to visit other participants posts and leave a comment. Because we don't have any rules, it is your choice. We hate rules. We love memes, however, and here is today's meme!


Saturday 9: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life! (1982)

Unfamiliar with this week's tune? Hear it here.
 

1) This song is about a girl who is heartbroken about a boy who won't take her calls. Do you screen your calls, deciding to let some go to voicemail? Or do you pick up whenever you possibly can? (We're referring to calls from people you know.) We get more robo calls than anything else, so yes, I screen my calls.  I would say that I don't pick up unless I recognize the number, but sometimes I get calls from Atria about my mother and I never know which number that is.

2) When she was feeling her lowest, she heard a song on the radio that lifted her spirits. What's the last thing you heard on the radio?

The last thing?  I don't listen to the radio a lot, but it was some talking heads program on NPR.

3) This song includes the sound of squeaky wheels, indicating a sudden stop and perhaps a near-miss. Tell us about your most recent traffic mishap.

When parking in a garage, my foot slipped off the brake and onto the gas and I bumped into the chain fence...no noticeable effect, though.

4) "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life!" is featured in the 2002 video game, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Do you spend much time on video games?

The only game I play on my cell phone is 1001 squares, which I have in 3 different versions for 3 different machines.

5) This week's featured artist, Indeep, was a trio. We've had many groups, some duos and tons of solo artists on Saturday 9, but not many trios. Can you name another popular trio?

No.
 

6) The last time Indeep performed together was in 1997, at a New Year's Eve show in Paris for French TV. Have you celebrated a holiday in another land? We might have been in England one 4th of July.  Oddly enough nobody celebrated.

7) Britain's Royal Family is in the news this weekend, with attention centered on the nuptials. The Royals made news in 1982, as well. When this song was popular, Michael Fagan gained momentary fame by breaking into Buckingham Palace. He found The Royal Bedroom, where he came face-to-face with the Queen. He reports that Queen Elizabeth sleeps in a nightie that "reached down to her knees." What did you wear to bed last night?

sweat pants and a sweat shirt.
 

8)  In 1982, you could buy a loaf of white bread for 50¢. Today, the national average price for that loaf of bread is more than $2.50. When you go grocery shopping, do you comparison shop and make purchases at more than one store? Or do you prefer one-stop shopping? Oh definitely one-stop shopping.  Walt will shop in every store in town, if he could.
 
9) Random question: What's the first famous quote that comes to your mind? "Theater is our lifeline to humanity. Without it, we’d all be Republicans."
- Ken Ludwig

Friday, May 18, 2018

S'wonderful

We went to see An American in Paris last night, the final offering of the Touring Broadway season.  Jeri sent a text this morning and asked what I thought (she and Phil saw it in New York).  I wrote back one word:  "spectacular."

 
Forget any memories you have of the Gene Kelly movie, since this is so different (I ordered it from Amazon and watched it at 4 a.m. this morning), but it's definitely a spectacle with massive projected sets so incredible you sit there wondering "how did they do that?"

We actually had been to the show the previous night too, but didn't see it.  I was shocked when I went to pick up my tickets and discovered there were none for me.  Matt (the publicity guy) and I had exchanged texts and he knew I was coming.

Finally, the woman in charge of the box office, who knew what was going on more than the people working the windows, told me that though this was opening night, the press opening was not until Thursday, so we drove home again and came back last night.  The mistake was almost nice because it gave us two nights to listen to our audio book, since my colleague wasn't riding with us.

Before going to the theater in Sacramento, we stopped by Lamplighter Pizza here in Davis to do our bit for the Pet Assistance League fund-raiser and bought a nice pizza for dinner, with enough left overs for lunch today.

 
Before That, I went to Atria.  I first had a meeting with the new Life Guidance Director about the "plan of action" for my mother, which doesn't include anything that hasn't happened for the past year.

After our meeting, I went to my mother's apartment and found her napping.  I tried gently waking her, but that didn't work, so I sat there for half an hour wondering if she would wakeup, which she did.  She sat up and I said hello.  She talked with me for a little bit and then said she had to go to the bathroom.  She did and 10 minutes later I went to check on her and found her sitting on the toilet, her pants around her ankles, and reading a magazine.  I talked with her an thought she would be coming back into her room, but 10 minutes later she still had not, so I just left.

I get credit for going for the visit and she won't remember whether I was there or not, so ... whatever.  I was home in time to take a nap before going for pizza.

I am now almost all set for the wedding.  I made clotted cream yesterday (ridiculously easy to do)...


...and will make scones this afternoon.  Maybe that will keep me awake for the ceremony.  Not that I care that much, but its an "event" and something interesting to do.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

David's Thursday Thirteen

A month ago, on the eve of the 19th anniversary of Paul’s death, I wrote a Thursday 13, listing 13 things I think of about Paul. Now we are on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of David’s death and I will do the same for him.

1.  David was the kid who was nearly born at home.  My labor went so quickly, that we had to leave 6 year old Jeri to babysit for the others because Char, who only lived 5 minutes away, hadn't arrived yet.  To this day she says she will always remember the look on my face as the car hit a bump backing out of the driveway as she was arriving and a contraction hit.  At the hospital I told them I was in transition and they poo poo'd me, then as soon as they examined me, rushed me to the delivery room.  I later told them "when a mother giving birth to her fifth child tells you she's in transition--believe her!!"  His was the first birth Walt was able to be in the delivery room for but the baby arrived so quickly, Walt was still getting gowned as he was born, but he was at least able to scratch my nose when it itched, since my hands were tied down.


2.  He weighed 10 lbs and was the biggest baby in the nursery, since all the others were 6 lbs or less.  When they wheeled babies out to the viewing area for parents and relatives to ooh and ahh over, he looked like a 2 month old compared to those tiny newborns.

3.  He was a very solemn baby.  He had these big brown eyes and he always seemed to be taking everything in before making a commitment to anything.  You felt rewarded if you got a smile.  In truth, I had not been happy to be pregnant this time.  I had such a special relationship with Tom and was sad that was going to change.  I loved him, of course, but it was "different."  One day I was on the phone and David, about 6 months old, was bouncing up and down in his "bouncy chair."  I looked at him and have gave me this dazzling smile and I realized with a start that I had fallen in love with this baby.

4.  My favorite David baby memory was when he was about 15 months old and toddling about.  I was sitting on the grass in front of our house in Oakland watching him play with the others a bit farther down the street.  Suddenly he saw me, stretched his arms out and ran up the street, throwing himself in my lap.  I get all warm every time I remember that. 

5.  He was such a smart kid, and so terribly un-motivated.  He is one of those "what ifs' I talked about yesterday.  In grammar school they wanted to put him in the new Gifted and Talented class, but it would mean he would attend a different school and he was reluctant to leave his best friend.  We left the decision up to him and ultimately he chose not to make the move.  And then the kids were put in separate classes anyway and the friendship cooled.  I often wondered if he had that extra stimulus in grammar school would he have worked harder in school?  He always got mediocre grades and the only reason he got into college was that he did so well on his SAT.  He goofed off so much in school that on graduation day, as we were getting into the car to go to the ceremony, he turned to me, with kind of a dazed look on his face, and asked "what now?" It just hit him that he'd blown his school years and did not have the grades for college, or any skills for a job. 

6.  But everyone loved him and he would help anybody.  When Victor, a 20-something man from Zaire, was living with us, he spoke almost no English and struggled with the language.  Dave and his friend Jeff decided to teach him English.  Every day after school, the three of them got together and using toys and lots of laughter, they slowly taught him to speak English.  They had such a close relationship that Victor showed up at his funeral--I don't even know where he was living or how he found out David had died.

7.  He got a paper route a year or two before he was officially old enough to have one, but Paul had been hired and found out he hated it, so David started delivering papers until we finally admitted to the paper that it was David, not Paul who was doing the delivery.  Often I sat with him on the floor in the morning, helping him fold the newspapers and then drove him on his rounds (I did that on Sundays when the papers were so big and he was now delivering for two different papers).  There was one house that had a small tree, newly planted, that he would jump over every day.  I wondered how long he could do that before the tree got too tall.  I was sad, after he died, to discover that the tree had been cut down (this was a few years after David gave up delivering papers).

8.  We accompanied the high school Jazz Choir to New Orleans when they performed at a jazz festival (and won).  Dave's friend Jeff was a huge jazz fan and so, by default, was David.  The group met a street performer in the French Quarter and the three of them performed together.  This is my favorite photo of that trip.

 
9.  He and Tom were  Lawsuit's biggest fans and as much as I enjoyed watching the band perform, I almost enjoyed more watching how much Tom and Dave loved the music.  The first concert after Dave's death was a very difficult one for everyone and in between sets we were all behind the scenes crying.

10.  He got into Chico State but I think partied more than he studied his first semester.  He was at a drinking party one night when a friend of his, also drinking, staggered out onto the railway tracks and was hit by a train. He was not killed, but in the hospital and Dave and a friend were making plans to rehabilitate him when he was ready to leave the hospital.  Then one night around 1 a.m. he called me in frantic tears.  The friend had died.  He had never realized that was a possibility.  He had a nervous breakdown and left school.  We had a very long talk when he came home, sitting in a darkened room.  He told me at that time that he felt his brain didn't work right and he also told me he thought he was not going to live long.

11. We got him into therapy and, after he did lots of research at the med center on anti depressants, he agreed to start on medication.  Within a very short time, he told me he felt his brain worked "right" for the very first time in his life.  He got his life back on track, started working at the local supermarket, where everyone loved him (everyone always loved him) and he was making plans to start UC Santa Cruz to study music.
 
12.  David gave good hugs and had a terrific smile. I've said before that I still hold the mental picture of the last time I saw him, on Mothers Day of 1996, standing in the hallway in his leather jacket, holding his arms out just like he did as a toddler, with a big smile on his face as he closed me in a bear hug and told me he'd see us when we returned from our trip to New York.  He died while we were in New York

13.  After his death. a friend of his told me some story I can't remember now but it concerned a white owl and how he always associated David with a white owl.  The night of his death, the friend had been driving and a white owl flew right past his car window.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday Stealing

If you could, where would you max out a credit card?
My automatic response would be "a book store," but I have so many books now, I really can't "fit" any more.  Amazon is a good answer, since you can get just about anything there, from paper clips to major appliances, but for a "real" store, I guess it would be Michael's, because I always spend too much, always wish I could spend more and have this fantasy that with enough stuff from Michael's, I could make this office neat again.


Why do you like the music you listen to?
I don't listen to a lot of music any more, but when I do it's either show music or some classical music that will calm the cacophony created in my brain by the ever worsening situation in this country.  


What are your favorite colors?
Red and yellow.  Primary colors.


Do you collect anything?
Not any more.  I have, at certain periods of my life collected stamps, Judy Garland memorabilia, souvenir spoons and magnets.  I suppose I kind of collect postcards, but only by accident of joining Swap Bot swaps.


What's your dream job?
You can't really beat being retired and working 0-3 days a week reviewing stage shows.  It doesn't pay much, but the perks are great.


Favorite cosmetics brands:
You lose me here.  I haven't used cosmetics in a very long time.


Favorite scents:
I don't wear perfume, but I love the smell of the ocean, of a real (not hot house) rose, freshly brewing coffee, baking bread, puppy breath, and the hair of a newborn baby.


Favorite flavors:
Chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and then the flavors of foods like crab and clam dip.


Favorite magazines:
I'm not really a magazine person, but I do take Food Network, Pioneer Woman, and This Week (a news magazine)


Favorite piece of jewelry:
I don't wear jewelry.  I have had favorite pieces of jewelry, some given to me by the grandkids, until they broke or were lost, and an opal necklace that I don't wear any more.


Favorite Holiday:
Thanksgiving, because it's the one holiday where there are no expectations of what to give or get and the reason is just to get together with family.  I am fortunate that our family has always gotten along well, so it has almost always been a pleasant holiday (and you can't beat a holiday that ends with pumpkin pie.


Favorite season:
Autumn because the leaves are beautiful and it is followed by winter, which I enjoy.  Winter rains, sadly, are followed by the beautiful blossoms of spring but that is only a harbinger for the heat of summer, my least favorite season.



Coffee or tea?
Coffee.  Peet's French Roast, which we have been drinking since Peet first opened his first store in Berkeley.  (did you know that the Starbucks guy learned coffee roasting from Alfred Peet?)


Where would you go on vacation if you could go anywhere?
Somewhere in Africa where I could see wild animals.  Maybe Botswana, which is supposed to have the largest number of elephants left in Africa.  But I fear that my traveling days are over, because of both my mother's condition and my body, which ain't what it used to be (and it never was that hot to begin with!)


What kind of geek are you?
What defines a geek?  I love Star Trek, enjoy some sci fi books, though have not read that many.  I have a desktop, a laptop, an iPad, an iPod, a Kindle and a cell phone and use them all, but couldn't program any of them if I had to.  I am fairly good at PhotoShop, at least all I need for my needs.  I can zip through a lot of functions on our TV remote, but again only the ones that I need, so I haven't bothered to learn the rest.  I don't really think of myself as a geek.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Something New Every Day

They say that one thing you can do to keep your brain active and...young...is to learn something new every day.

If that's the case, Walt and I have brains that have been through a car wash this evening and come out all shiny and new looking!

We had what amounts to a master class in something I was vaguely aware of, but had absolutely NO idea what it was all about;  air guitar.

Oh I had seen people playing imaginary guitars before and knew that was called an air guitar, which seemed rather silly, but my word...this is a whole new world!

I was reviewing a show called Airness, which does have a plot which is kind of irrelevant, but it's an air guitar competition in which three guys - "Shreddy Eddy," "Golden Thunder," and "Facebender" and one electric girl "Cannibal Queen" are competing in a local contest and a girl (Nina) joins them, thinking this will be a piece o'cake for her to win because she actually plays the guitar, so playing without a guitar won't be any problem at all.
The playwright explains that she is not an air guitarist and when she first saw an air guitar competition she thought "this is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of."

Over the next 90 minutes you learn what an almost spiritual endeavor it is for the participants, how their whole performance comes from the depth of their soul and how to impart that energy to the audience.

From the program"  "Indeed the world of air guitar is interesting, full of people who genuinely feel that air guitar does good in the world.  The Finnish ideology of Air Guitar is as follows: 'Wars would end, climate change stop and all bad things disappear, if all the people in the world played the air guitar.'"

There are official rules, printed in the program, which include things like learning that the official contests contain two rounds, freestyle, where the competitor performs to a song of their choosing, and compulsory, which they perform a surprise song, chosen by the judges.

Performances are scored on a scale of 4-6 in things like technical merit ("you don't have to know what notes you're playing, but the more your invisible fretwork corresponds to the music that's playing the better the performance") and stage presence ("anyone can do it in the privacy of their bedroom.  Few have what it takes to rock a crowd of hundreds or even thousands, all without an instrument."

There are competitions all around the country all year long and then the World Championship is held each year in Finland.


a recent 2-time winner
 
This is perhaps not the show, or the activity for opera fans, symphonic fans, chamber music fans, or musical theater fans, and especially not the show for anyone whose idea of popular music died when Elvis came on the scene (which pretty much describes the 3 of us who went to the show together!).  But I guess the biggest compliment I can give it is that I didn't hate it as much as I expected to.  In fact, Walt and I grudgingly admitted that we kind of enjoyed it.

And I certainly know more about air guitar tonight than I ever knew -- or thought I wanted to know.