Monday, October 30, 2006

The one that got away

With the time change yesterday, I found I was able to easily wake up early this morning. Right after I got out of the shower I noticed a great blue heron off in the distance flying towards my condo. I had just enough time to pull the lens cap off and snap a picture. Unfortunately, I didn't quite get enough time to focus well. By the time it was landing in front of my window, this blurry photo is all I managed to get:

I did take a few more pictures after it landed, but nothing that would have been as impressive as the heron landing. But, at least I managed to get a picture that was a bit sharper:

(As is the case with just about all the photos I post here, you can click on the photo to get a larger view.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Snowy Egret

One more egret picture... my favorite of the batch from this morning. Even though this one was taken with the window of my condo open, it's still not as sharp as I'd like. But, I think that's more my lack of understanding/skill with various camera settings rather than a shortcoming of the new lens.

It should be noted also that this is the original photo as taken. I did not crop it or modify it in any way.

New camera lens

In an act that could be taken as direct contradiction to the fortune advice of last week, I bought a new camera lens - one with much better zoom capability than anything I've had in the past. It's the Nikon VR 80-400mm f4.5-f5.6 D ED AF (how's that for alphabet soup?). No, it wasn't something I really needed, but it is definitely something that I will frequently use for many years to come.

Here is a sampling of how much of a closer view I can get when taking wildlife photos. (Most of these pictures are only slightly cropped from the originals.) I took these pictures this morning after just waking up. The pictures were shot through two somewhat dirty panes of glass (my condo windows) with some glare, so they aren't as sharp as they could be were I actually outside. (I think the last shot was done through a screen as well as two windows - ug!) I also forgot to use the vibration reduction feature of the lens (since I was still half-asleep).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fortune of the Week (2)

Today at lunch I got this fortune:

Do not desire what you do not need.

There's definitely some Buddha-inspired wisdom in that one...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Buddhist Economics

Friday night, while driving home from karate class, I found myself thinking about various ideas regarding existance and consumption and what constitutes an ideal lifestyle in the modern world. I try to be generous in helping others with donations and volunteer work and things like that, yet I often debate whether it is enough. Thinking of money as a tool that could be applied to the betterment of others, I wonder whether I should be making more sacrifices.

For example, suppose I go out to eat for dinner. Maybe I spend $20. I didn't really need to go out to eat. I could have easily survived on putting together a meal at home about $2 and instead applied the $18 towards doing something benefitial for others. So, by going out to eat am I actually hurting others?

One could argue that by going to a restaurant I am supporting the local economy. I've helped "spread the wealth" to the people who work at the restaurant, and indirectly helped the employees' families and restaurant suppliers and down the chain to the people who grew the food. The whole free market system is based on this chain of people paying for goods and services. Ideally, everyone in the system has a job in which they are paid money so they in turn can give the money to someone else and as such it forms a cycle. But is this the most efficient use of the money and resources? And is this a sustainable system?

The same idea applies to an even larger extent with consumer goods (such as my computer, digital camera, etc.). Does the buying of these goods actually do more harm than good? Does mass consumerism of today encourage and accelerate the inevitable depletion of non-renewable resources? And does living at a level beyond basic comfort (which one could argue most middle-class and higher people in the US do) contribute to evil?

That is, in part, what this article on Buddhist economics attempts to address. I don't claim to agree with all the material the author presents, but it is a thought provoking article.

What got me reading this article was an article in Japan+ magazine. I had never heard of the magazine - my mom happened to give me two copies that she got from the library where she works. It's a magazine about Japanese culture and society. Anyhow, back to the subject at hand, there was an article in the July 2006 issue with an interview with a Buddhist scholar Toshimaro Ama, and he mentioned Buddhist economics. This particular quote caught my attention and got me to Google for more information on the subject:

According to Schumacher, Buddhist economics is founded upon two main principles. The first states that an economy has steps that climb from poverty, through sufficiency, to satiation. The progress of the economy up to the level of sufficiency is a good thing, but above that level it becomes destructive. The second principle is that it is important to differentiate between resources that are recyclable, and those that are not. A civilization that practices the former is one that can live in harmony with nature, while the latter is bound to be a declining civilization as it can only deplete nature's resources.

You can read the whole article here.

Stay Safe Josh!

Yesterday my nephew Josh shipped out to Iraq. He's in the army and is going to be stationed just outside Baghdad in Sadr City. He'll be there for 18 months. Obviously, I hope he stays safe, but I also hope he'll get the chance to learn a lot from the experience, maybe get a chance to see life on this planet from another point of view. I have no idea how I would have handled being in such a situation at his young age. I give him a lot of credit for joining the military when he knew he'd almost certainly be going off to Iraq.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Nice nature photos via the BBC

I just ran across this story on the BBC - here. It features a few nice nature photos from a recent competition. The walrus photo that won top prize is pretty amazing. If you read the story, be sure to click on the photos for larger views. The smaller images definitely don't do the photos enough justice.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Yet another sunrise

It's funny, the sun rises every day, but I never seem to get bored taking pictures of it. Here's a recent morning view from my condo:

If you look closely, you can see all sorts of dirt on the image. (There's a very large noticable piece in the lower right and some other spots elsewhere on the right half of the picture.) This picture was taken shortly after I bought a new F2.8 24-60mm lens from Sigma. (I damaged my original lens when I dropped it in Okinawa.) The new lens is quite heavy due to the large pieces of glass, and it uses a nice sturdy metal ring for connecting to the camera body. Unfortunately, the previous two lenses I used had a plastic mount, and over time bits of plastic apparantly wore off on the metal camera connector. Then, when I used this new (heavy) lens with a metal mount, I think it dislodged a bunch of the plastic shavings and they found their way onto the camera sensor.

Fortunately, the camera sensor is easy enough to clean-off. A little bit of sand paper and some elbow grease and I'm all set. (Just kidding - you should NOT touch the camera sensor! A simple hand blower is all that's need to get the dust off. The camera has a menu item that lets you raise the mirror for cleaning the sensor.)

Art or Vandalism?

When I came back from my trip to Okinawa this past July, some coworkers got a bit creative with my office closet door. They took about 100 fancy drink umbrellas and stuck them on the inside of my closet. It looked pretty nice, but since it was on the inside of my closet door, no one else really got a chance to enjoy it - until this week. The office cubicle furniture is pretty modular and I noticed the door is reversable. So, I just removed one screw and flipped the door over. Now all the umbrellas are on the outside of my closet door for all to see.

So, is it art or vandalism? I kind of like it. It definitely brightens up the otherwise all grey color scheme of the office. The main question I get from other people in the office is whether I drank all the drinks to get those umbrellas.

Here's a more straight-on view of what the door looks like:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Fortune of the week

A couple of friends of mine have recently started putting a palm tree photo of the week on their blog. (They live out near LA.) While no where near as visually appealing, with the amount of Asian food I eat, I figured I can easily mention at least one interesting fortune cookie fortune per week.

Tonight I picked up some take out from Apsara Palace on Hope St. in Providence and got this fortune:
Pick a path with heart.
That's pretty good advice coming from a cookie. It's much better than the last few fortunes I've gotten recently - things like (and I am not making this up) "Not all cookies contain fortunes." and "You will read this and say 'Geez! I could have come up with better fortunes than that!'"

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Bluebird of Change

I've been thinking about writing about this topic for a while, and since I just discovered today is Friday the 13th, I figured what better day to write about a family superstition?

Let me start by saying I am not a superstitious person, nor do I believe in curses or magic or anything like that. I just think this is an interesting set of coincidences that makes for a funny true story.

My family has a tradition of getting together every Christmas-eve for a smorgasbord - a somewhat traditional Swedish Christmas meal. As part of the meal, we would always have rice pudding and hidden in the pudding would be one almond. The family tradition was whoever got the almond would have good luck for the next year. (I think the real Swedish tradition was the person to get the almond was to get married within the year, but that didn't work for a family with a bunch of young kids...) So, as a kid, I remember always looking forward to having the rice pudding at the end of the night, quickly digging through looking for an almond, being disappointed when I didn't find it, and then discarding the pudding because I didn't really like the stuff. (I should note I now like the pudding quite a bit - I guess it's something you appreciate more when you get older. None of my young nieces or nephews seem to eat it either. Just like when I was a kid, they just look for the almond.)

Anyhow, at some point in time in the mid 1990's my mom decided it might be nice to expand on the family tradition and get something to give the person who got the almond - just something simple, but nice, that could be kept for the year and then given to the next person the next Christmas-eve. She chose a simple glass bluebird, which we called the bluebird of happiness:

Unfortunately, once we started this new addition to the tradition, it seemed the bluebird had it's own interpretation of what people needed for happiness. It seemed everyone who got it had their current relationship end within the year. My brother got divorced, a friend of the family had a ten-plus year long relationship end, and I split up with my girl-friend of 10 years. We started jokingly calling it the bluebird of change rather than the bluebird of happiness. It got to the point where people were hoping they didn't get the almond at Christmas-eve. Since I am not superstitious, the last year were did this tradition, when the father of my fiance at the time got the almond, he ended up giving the bluebird to me. And what do you think happened? That year my fiance and I split up.

After that happened, no one wanted to see the bluebird again. So I've kept it ever since. I've had it for 5 years now and I've not been in any new romantic relationship since. Coincidence? Of course it is!

But... I still ponder the idea of selling the bluebird on eBay with the description of "Cursed bluebird for sale. Guaranteed to end your current relationship within a year!" just to see if anyone would be interested in buying such an item.

Although, I must admit, I can't really sell it. It's a great conversation piece.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mmmm.... maggots.

For the past 5 years or so I have had a small "lucky bamboo" plant at my desk at work. A couple weeks ago, back when I thought it was safe to drink carrot juice, I got to wondering what would happen if I watered the bamboo plant with carrot juice instead of water. I was hoping maybe the leaves would turn orange. I asked a friend at work who knows a bit about plants, and he said it would probably be good for the plant since the carrot juice contains phospherous, which is good for plants. So, one day instead of water, I used carrot juice on the plant.

Unfortunately, there was a problem. The bamboo plant isn't in any soil - it's just in a ceramic dish with some small stones holding the roots down so it doesn't tip over. So, when I added carrot juice, after a few days it started to look like a swamp. I hoped that over time it would get better as I just kept adding normal water. I figured the carrot juice would eventually break down and get dilluted enough to just be some sort of fertilizer for the the plant. Well, today, after the long weekend I came into work and went to water the plant. When I did, I noticed a fly flew out of the ceramic dish. I then noticed that floating in the water was what looked like a tiny slug. I wondered to myself how a slug would have found its way through an office environment into a small cermic dish on a shelf. Then I looked more closely at the thing and realized it was some sort of insect larva. Then I noticed there were 4 or 5 more of them floating on the water. Ewwwwwwwww!

So, I decided it was time to say good-bye to the bamboo plant. Most of its leaves had already turned orange (yay!), but then fallen off (boo!), so the plant wasn't doing so well anyhow. Plus, it was given to me by my ex-fiance before we split up, so I suppose it's only appropriate maggots eventually started growing in it. Ha!

Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera to work, so I don't have any pictures of the cute little maggots.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

WARNING! Bad Carrot Juice!!!!

My mom just called me to let me know the FDA has issued a warning about some cases of botulism reported due to bad carrot juice. And wouldn't you know it? The recalled product is what I've been drinking - stuff from Bolthouse Farms. Ug!

The full warning is here:

Addendum: I should clarify that it is suspected that the botulism poisoning cases are the result of "temperature abused" bottles of the juice - i.e. the stuff wasn't properly refrigerated. But, it does seem a bit concerning that two of the cases occurred within a day of each. More from Bolthouse Farm's press release can be found here:

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No Bites

Two months and counting and no bites on my condo. The real estate market is very slow right now. I've only had about a half-dozen people even come to look at the place and none of them have made any offers. It's a good thing I don't have to move at any specific time, otherwise I'd start getting anxious. But, regardless, it is still a bit disruptive. The biggest downside to all this is a lack of a dojo at home. It's not quite the same trying to practice karate while navigating around a coffee table and other pieces of furniture. I hadn't realized how much I had taken for granted the open space at home before. Since it was always there, it would encourage me to take the time to practice at home - even if sometimes it was just for a short time each night before going to bed. Now my only significant practice time is what I can fit around classes at the Kodokai dojo. It makes me realize that when I move I'll definitely look for a place where I can have some space set aside for karate practice.