Friday, April 28, 2006

Starlings - Bah!

Starlings–as any birder knows–are a non-native or “introduced” species, and as such many serious birders do not hold the Starling in high regard.

Site and Date of Introduction: European Starlings were first introduced to the United States in 1890. Rumor has it that one hundred starlings were released in Central Park in hopes that all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works would become established

But now, I might have to reevaluate my earlier perceptions because the darn things can understand grammar:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The simplest grammar, long thought to be one of the skills that separate man from beast, can be taught to a common songbird, new research suggests.

Starlings learned to differentiate between a regular birdsong "sentence" and one containing a clause or another sentence of warbling, according to a study in Thursday's journal Nature.

Starlings - Yech!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Build Your Own Cupcakes

Birthday celebrations continued with a small joint party for the Dude and the Hobbled Wife on Sunday. In attendance were the Gisselquist side of the family, Grandma Shirley, Uncle Paul, Aunt Deb, and Cousin Quay - busy schedules only allowed one cousin to attend. Good fun was had by all, especially the Dude waited all weekend to play with his cousin(s). After dinner, where the Hobbled Runner almost started the grill on fire (alas not pictures) we all built our own cupcakes, adding frosting, sprinkles, and candles.

The Harry Potter Lego set was quite a hit. The Dude stayed up late Sunday working on it, and then awoke very early Monday morning to finish it before school.

Lutherans - They're Everywhere - Almost

Perhaps we should rename the I-94 corridor, running from the Twin Cities to Fargo and beyond, Lutheran Alley.

Find similar distributions for other relations here.

[Via Marginal Revolution.]

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Six Years Ago Tonight

Six years ago tonight we barely made it to the hospital. Where do I start - most of you have heard the story in one form or another.

Some things I’ll never forget: We arrived at the hospital at 9:05, and the Dude was born about 9:10; we drove about 5 miles thru South Minneapolis without really stopping at stop signs or red lights, and no one got hurt; there was no gurney or wheelchair in the lobby of the hospital (like on TV) and no one to assist us—just one little old woman who shouted “Good Luck” as S and I waddled by; we made it from 1st to 4th floor on the notoriously slow hospital elevators without stopping at floors 2 or 3; the Dude was “crowning” when the midwife and I “tipped” S into the hospital bed; the nurse wheeled in “the cart” with all the necessary birthing supplies after the Dude was born and lying on S’s stomach; we got those little identifying wrist bracelets about 15 minutes after the birth.

I still shudder, but at least I can laugh as well.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Yes, There Are Stupid Questions

No such thing as a stupid question? Don't believe it:

Saying that there are no stupid questions devalues the process of inquiry. Questions are the engines that power the growth of knowledge, and we cannot rely solely on a random interrogatory process. Although unstructured strategies such as brainstorming and free association have their uses, we need to balance them with a disciplined approach to questioning. Students must learn to expand on initial answers as they ask new questions.

[via Newmark's Door.]

Friday, April 14, 2006

Brown Creeper

The good thing about being a half-assed birder is that it's easy to spot "life birds" - birds you've seen for the first time in your life - adding them to your life list. Now I don't have an actual "list" - but I keep track in my head. I don't know how many different birds I've seen, but if you ask me if I've seen this bird or that, I can give you a quick "Yes" or "No".

A few days ago, I spotted a "lifer". Actually, my neighbors spotted it and I identified it. They pointed to our large cottonwood and remarked, "Hey look, two baby woodpeckers are climbing up your tree."

"Those aren't baby woodpeckers - too early for new ones," I replied authoritatively, though I don't really know that for sure. "They look like nuthatches." The problem was that they were kind of small, the wrong color (brown, rather than bluish grey and white like a nuthatch), and creeping up the tree - most nuthatches I see tend to creep down and around (and sometimes up). Just then I noticed a white-breasted nuthatch further up the tree. Comparing the two in close proximity, I quickly made the ID - Brown Creeper.

Life bird - and "yard bird" of course. My yard list is pretty extensive. Employing the liberal rule that you can claim any bird spotted from your yard, I've got "the regulars" along with ruby-throated hummingbird - spotted at a flower; turkeys - at the bird feeder two years ago; several hawks - fly-overs; and a bald eagle - fly-over but very near - it almost landed in the field behind our house. To that list I now add Brown Creeper.

Joe's Crabby Shack

Been in something of a funk lately (see below). Thought it was getting better yesterday, and then we went to Joe’s Crab Shack—or Joe’s Crabby Shack as I’m now calling it.

Background: Yesterday was summer-like with the temperature about 80 degrees and sunny skies. It’s the kind of day when we go to Joe’s Crab Shack because you can eat outside on their “porch” while the kids play on the little playground out back. Mind you, I don’t go to Joe’s in the “off season” since it’s not really that great, but during warm weather it’s a different story - no other place I know of where you can eat outside next to a playground for the kids. No more whiny, squirmy kids, “When’s our food going to come?”

We arrive at Joe’s to be told that they are not serving dinner outside, only appetizers, since they are short-staffed. They had two large parties arriving shortly, what looked like an end-of-the-year girls high school volleyball team party, and (I kid you not) a wedding reception. The decision was made - on one of the first great days of the year - to not serve dinner outside. After a little discussion we decided to eat inside, but let the kids play outside before dinner.

The kids proceed outside to play, and I go with them to watch. As I walk across the “porch” area I glance quickly at the food being consumed by the outside patrons. 8 year old M is the first to notice that these people are eating regular dinners. Sure enough - I ask the waiter and he said that, Yes, these folks were served dinner but that was before the decision was made to stop serving outside. OK - I can buy that - I think.

About 10 minutes later, a young couple is seated outside. No big deal I think - they probably want to enjoy their appetizers in the sun. Of course - two minutes later, there’s the waiter tableside describing all the dinner specials for the evening. Then I did something I hardly ever do - - the minute he leaves the table, I confront him. “Are you serving dinner out here?” He looks confused. Then I say, “because we were told that we couldn’t be served dinner outside.” Mumble, mumble, “I’ll talk to the manager.”

[I’ve run out of energy to tell this stupid story so I will cut to the chase]. Manger visits table, explains that other large parties are here - short staffed. Apologies from manager, offers to “comp” us desert—which they don’t. Hobbled Wife protests. In the end we get free drinks.

All I want to know is - given the incredible weather and number of kiddies at the restaurant, why didn’t they close a section of indoor tables to allow outdoor dining on one of the nicest evenings of the season? And why did they immediately tell us (and another family with kids - “No outdoor dining”), yet seat the nice attractive young couple outside and serve them dinner? Hmmm.


Funk explanation: Last week a friend of our family died. Bill died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism. Totally unexpected. He leaves a wife, 5 year old son (who went to preschool with the Dude), and 18 month old daughter. I’ve become almost accustomed to the stories of suffering amongst our friends (cancers, tumors, brain hemmorages, etc over the past few years), but this sudden death really knocked us of our feet - we can’t imagine how the family is coping.

S went to that funeral last Friday. Last Sunday, we attended the funeral of one of my father's cousins. Not nearly so unexpected, but two funerals in 3 days is a lot.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Small World

Driving to work today, listening to KFAI, when they play a song called Garam Masala by someone named Terry Eason. I've never heard anything by him before, but I liked it, "He went to Target. . . " Gotta love a song that mentions Target.

So I'm driving along trying to come up with a clever way to remember the name Terry Eason (since my hands were occupied and I didn't have a pen and paper anyway), when it dawned on me - heh I went to High School with a guy named Terry Eason - what a great way to remember the name.

By the end of the song I'm thinking, could this be the same Terry Eason? I get to work, Google the guy, find his website. He looked pretty familiar, doesn't have much hair anymore - but most of us have changed for the better since 1980 anyway. A little further digging, and confirmation - it's him.

I like this from his site:

But there is a world of infinite gradations between obscurity and megastardom, and it's in that range that Eason is curious to find his slot. "You see bands getting dropped because they only sold 50,000 copies," Eason says. "But if I press a thousand and sell them all, I feel like a success. But..." He pauses with an apologetic chuckle. "Maybe I'm rationalizing now."

Go Spartans!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Maple Syrup - - mmmmm!

The kids were sad to hear we missed Maple Syrup Fest last weekend in Vergas. The in-law's cabin is located about 6 miles from Vergas, so we spend a lot of time in Vergas in the summer months.

New this year was a 5K run happily dubbed the "FlapJack". Runners began registration at 9:00 a.m. and began the race at 10. Overall men's winner was Ken Hammer, 52, of Frazee with a time of 18 minutes and seven seconds. Heather Smith, 24, of Audubon led the women at 20 minutes, nine seconds. Hammer says he runs about 20 miles a week. He runs for the competition and "for today". "I need races that challenge," he says.

Man - - 18:07 - The Hobbled Runner wishes he could have been there. Perhaps he could have given Ken a run for his money.

Other events included Charlie Kirchenwitz of Dent demonstrating chain saw carving and Vergas merchants offering special maple goodies: maple frosted kuchen at Goodman's, maple brats and maple malts at Vergas 66, maple syrup sundaes at the Loon's Nest, maple popcorn at Vergas Ace Hardware, maple syrup frosted treats and Jake's maple syrup at the Quiet Cricket, and maple glazed chicken dinner at Spanky's. The day ended with "dancing the night away" at Billy's Corner Bar.

The day always ends at Billy's.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Let There Be Light!

On a gloomy day, it's good to remember this good news.

On Monday, I Lileks' Bleat had this to say about Daylight Savings Time:

And next year it starts the second week of March! Suicides in the Nothern tier states will drop, I tell you.

So I decided to do a little digging and was thrilled to discover the details this change:

On August 8, 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This Act changed the time change dates for Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. Beginning in 2007, DST will begin on the second Sunday of March and end the first Sunday of November. The Secretary of Energy will report the impact of this change to Congress. Congress retains the right to revert the Daylight Saving Time back to the 2005 time schedule once the Department of Energy study is complete.

Can't wait!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sit Right Down

After a hard day's work, wouldn't this be nice place to crack a beer? It's a grass arm-chair - - the inital form on top and the finished product below.


Larry is a Chinese Name

I was trying to explain intellectual property law to the kids the other day. Yes - I know that sounds preposterous, but let me explain. M (age 8) had heard about “pirated” DVDs and wanted to know what that meant. I explained that it’s illegal to copy someone else work and try to sell it as your own - we refer to that as “pirating” - stealing something like the pirates of old. It was just like the rule against copying someone else’s schoolwork, I said. That should have settled it, but for some reason I thought I’d push the conversation forward - probably didn’t want my law school education to go to waste.

“It’s like the Harry Potter series,” I explained. It would be OK to create another book/movie about magical boy wizards. J.K. Rowling didn’t create the genre of magical boy stories, so she doesn’t have any right to restrict others from doing so.

“Like Charlie Bone,” said M.

“Yes, like Charlie Bone. He’s magical to some extent, but the author of those books isn’t trying to steal the Harry Potter idea.” I was amazed that I had enough knowledge of Charlie Bone to answer that one. Again, I should have stopped here, but I pushed on.

“Now what would be wrong would be if one of us created a series about a magical wizard boy named Larry Hotter, who went to a school called Pigswarts, and had two close friends called Don and Germoine.” I was quite proud of myself here, then the Dude broke in.

“No one would believe that anyway. Larry is a Chinese name.”

Note: The Dude has a kindergarten classmate named Larry who’s parents are from China.

Maybe you had to be there? It’s even funnier when you consider that the only person named “Hans” that we know is also Chinese-American - - one of M’s 3rd grade classmates.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Scooby Doo Meets the Phantom of the Opera

Busy weekend. Everything revolved around the kids as usual. Saturday, M attended a birthday party for a classmate, while the Dude entertained an "old" preschool friend at home. Highlight of the evening was the Hobbled Runner preparing his now famous, "Fish in a Boat" from the Desperation Dinner cookbook. It involves preparing a tin-foil boat, placing the fish in said boat, pouring various spices over the top, and grilling for about 10 minutes, "or until fish flakes". It's a great way to get those Omega-3s, and because it's cooked outside, the house doesn't smell like fish. H & J stopped by for dinner and brought the salad.

Sunday was swimming lessons, then the Dude attended a birthday party for one of his kindergarten classmates, while Dad and M went to a "tryout" (though we didn't call it that) for a Minnesota Opera children's choir program. Due to some Mother-Daughter dynamics, it fell to the Hobbled Runner to accompany M to this event. Even I was nervous - but tried not to let on as I had to spend the entire weekend psyching her up for the event. She almost backed out several times, and even in the rehearsal room she thought about changing the song she was going to sing for the tryout. I was able to talk her into sticking with the song we were actually rehearsing - the only one we brought music for (since they had a piano accompanist).

M was richly rewarded for 6 minutes in front of "the panel". She got a trip to Cupcake after the event. Upon returning home, M was pleased to find that Henry was visiting for the afternoon, while his parents were otherwise occupied. After the Dude returned from his party, they all crashed on the couch to watch a Scooby Doo DVD. [photo above]

As an additional reward for the Opera event, the entire family went out to eat at Macaroni Grill this evening. [Steak & Arugula Salad - Tender cuts of beef cooked to order on a bed of fresh baby arugula, spinach, radicchio, apple-smoked bacon and bleu cheese. Served with Toscana dressing. Approximately 9 carbs $12.49 - - Very tasty.]