Sunday, February 24, 2013

Working with a Princess

We work well together.  Sometimes making lampshades.

Sometimes at the computer.

Somehow though, she manages to get more breaks in than I do.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Chalalaca for Your Birthday?

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

It's not a typical birthday thing for me to go out and watch birds. Especially with a charming and informative guide who came prepared with a powerful spotting scope. Even my best guy - who is definitely not on friendly terms with binoculars - at least said that he had a great time.

And how could you not have a fine time when you got to see motmots, chalalacas, honeycreepers with bright red legs and a cute pygmy owl?

Our guide, Josue de Leon Lux, knows every bird (in English and Spanish) at Los Tarrales Reserve in the Guatemalan highlands (we just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought we'd stop by...). He knows them by sight, by sound and probably even by first name. Most importantly, he could easily locate them through the scope so that we too could get a view. And in all his free time, he records the local bird calls for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY.

I'm ready to go again, anytime. Even if it means putting up with another birthday.

Special thanks to Jack Miller
Miller Atomic Research Services

Friday, February 1, 2013

People's Revolutionary Dept. of Public Works

Last December - that's 2011, mind you - I contacted Oakland's Dept. of Public Works to let them know that there was a vacant house on the block and that the disabled parking zone in front of it was no longer necessary. And hadn't been necessary for over six months. And maybe they could do something about it.

I waited for a response and within a coupla months, got a phone call: someone would be sent out soon.

Cool, but just how long is soon?
Well, not soon enough for some community-minded and relatively handy locals. One night last summer, some busy busybodies - closet radical renegades, no doubt - relocated the metal sign (I'm sure it got recycled) and repainted the blue curb to gray. The blue still showed through - I wouldn't hire them to work on my house - but it seemed to do the job. Suddenly, there was one more parking space available on the block.

So why should one more parking space matter, anyway?

Because my neighborhood, like most urban neighborhoods, is awash in cars. MTC, our regional transportation agency concluded that, way back when (1930 to be precise, when my house had already been around for nineteen years), there were about 29 vehicles per 100 residents in the Bay Area. These days, that number is estimated to be around 75 vehicles. Nationwide, the average is closer to 81 cars per 100 residents. Now dat's a lotta cars.

What has also changed is where those cars are stashed: it used to happen in garages. But now most garages are stuffed full of stuff, leaving many cars to live on the street. Some aren't even allowed in the driveway. Which suggests that maybe the problem is not parking exactly, but cars. Or could it be we car owners?

The final chapter? On December 11, 2012, a city truck showed up on the street. The very nice, and slightly bewildered, man from Public Works came with sign-removing tools, a paint sprayer and some paint, and instructions to remove a disabled parking zone...