31 December 2007

Hearst's Folly

Back in 2000 Matt and I took one of our many road trips to points inside California. We love California. It's a great place to visit -- and live.

Anyway, on this trip we visited San Simeon, otherwise known as the Hearst Castle, otherwise known as Hearst's Folly. Designed by famed architect Julia Morgan, it has a long and storied history much too convoluted and detailed to be recounted here.

After the death of its creator, William Randolph Hearst, the Hearst Corporation donated the castle and its considerable acreage to the state -- that was 50 years ago today.

The Los Angeles Times honors that anniversary with a fascinating look at the hundreds of people who are responsible for the upkeep of the castle. You can read the article

30 December 2007

Can You Spell R-E-C-E-S-S-I-O-N?

I've been telling friends and colleagues this for months, so I thought it would be interesting to put it in writing so I can look back in a year and see how right (or, hopefully, wrong) I will have been:

We are headed for a big crash in 2008 -- as in recession, maybe even depression.

I normally do not follow the economy very closely. Not sure why. We don't buy on credit and the only thing we owe on is our house. No credit cards, no other debt of any kind. (When I bought my new car a year ago this weekend, I paid cash. I am not rich; I put away money during the eight years since I bought my last car. I probably saved about $15,000 in interest charges.)

We stayed away from the re-finance bandwagon when housing interest rates fell. We have a relatively low rate, so why change? We also stayed way far from the "sell your house for a huge profit and buy something you can barely afford" contingent, content to stay where we are.

So, why my interest now? This could be the first time in my lifetime (and possibly last) where we as a country have gotten ourselves so far underwater that it might actually change the course of our country's history. As a journalist, it is intriguing to watch -- no experience -- history in the making.

Next, look at the indicators:

value of the dollar very low
price of oil obscenely high
number of mortgages in default at near-record highs
amount in personal savings accounts very low
amount of credit card and other debt very high

It does not take a Nobel laureate to see the writing on the wall. We, America, are in for a very rude awakening sometime in 2008 (probably).

My advice: pay off as much of your credit cards and other bills as possible (to save on interest charges), start putting away everything you can in savings (to start earning interest) and hold off any major changes (new house, new job, new family member) for 12 months.

Hopefully, by this time next year, we will have a much better grasp of the global changes underway and will be better able to make choices.

You can read more about the financial future here.

26 December 2007


Some interesting news from the paleohistory arena: beetles might date back twice as far as originally thought.

Originally believed to have originated about 140 million years ago, new research pushes their origin to about 300 million years ago. This means beetles roamed the planet about 70 million years before dinosaurs.

You can read details of the research here; and you can read more about beetles (and see some gorgeous photographs) here.

20 December 2007

Dear Jonathan Tunick:

I don't know if you read blogs. Do you? Well, let's just work under the assumption that you read blogs and that -- maybe -- you read mine.

Anyway, I just want to put into writing how fantastic you are. Every time I hear a great piece of Broadway score, and look up the name of the arranger, it says "Jonathan Tunick."

No, seriously.

I have loved your work since I first heard the score of "Company" many years ago. You know that one section of "Another Hundred People" -- the one that runs from 1:36 through to 2:14 -- I could listen to that one section a million times and never tire of marveling at how brilliant is your work on it. How can a human being create something that fantastic? I mean, is there any way to improve Sondheim? Yes, have you arrange his music.

Of course, it seems a little silly to write a blog entry to someone with so much talent, but I thought I would do it just so I could put into writing the tremendous respect I have for you. So, here it is:

You are the most talented human being on the planet, and I am honored and humbled to be able to experience such greatness.

If you are not Jonathan Tunick, and you are reading this, and want to learn more about Jonathan Tunick, you can see his impressive list of Broadway credits here, and read more about this great talent here.

19 December 2007

A Little Bit of "Flash"

Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a very simple person. I don't dress flashy, I don't like drawing attention to myself.


I am a huge fan of great design, and an even bigger fan of futuristic design. So, slop both of those together and you get my xmas present to myself this year (pictured).

This is the "Barcode"-model watch by Tokyo Flash, the watchmakers whose designs are, well, unlike anything you have seen -- even in forward-looking movies like "Blade Runner" or television shows "Star Trek" and "My Life and Times."

You can browse all of the Tokyo Flash designs here. You can purchase your watch through them (in Japan) or Altivo, an outlet in the United States.

14 December 2007

It Is Easy Being Green

Despite Kermit's words to the contrary, it IS easy being green -- as demonstrated in this really interesting list of 52 things you can do right now to lead a greener life.

I was surprised to see that we already do 28 of the things listed. And that's without really trying. I would love to see if we could get all the way up to 52.

09 December 2007

Ten millimeters?

Finally got the results from my colonoscopy (see entries of 14 and 30 November). The polyp itself was totally benign, so that means it was not cancer. What is weird, though, is that the polyp was 10 mm in diameter. Ten millimeters? That's like half and inch! That's huge! What's something like that doing growing in my colon?

Well, everything is swell for now. They are recommending I go in for another colonoscopy in five years (because I had a polyp) rather than the usual ten years (when you have no polyps or symptoms). I guess that's okay.

08 December 2007

Love Birds

What the author of this article fails to mention is that we -- yes, Matt and I -- have a colony of lovebirds living around our house, and coming to visit whenever we put out bird seed (which is usually Saturday afternoons). They're out there right now.

Our Peach-faced lovebirds (agapornis roseicollis, pictured) are wonderful. We first noticed them in our backyard about five or so years ago. There were a few at first, and now there are many more -- not flocks of them, but more than a couple.

I'm not sure what the author means about their screetchy singing. We think it's cute. It's the most distinct sound we can hear. We have lots of birds in our backyard (amazing, considering how we live in a desert). We have woodpeckers, flickers, sparrows, finches, Inca doves, mourning doves, hummingbirds, and a handful of other birds we can't quite identify. No matter, we love animals, and they are all welcomed on our backyard!

06 December 2007

What $57,200,000 Will Buy

I am a big fan of history, specifically three periods: 20th century America between the wars (roughly 1918 - 1946), ancient Greece and Rome at the time of the origins of modern thought (roughly the 7th century BC), and the time when civilization began to coalesce (Mesopotamia, about 5000 years ago).

Mesopotamia, called the cradle of civilization for good reason, saw the origin of the most basic human inventions -- among them: writing, the wheel, glass, the arch, and the concept of "zero." But it is here, too, where arts and culture flourished.

One product of this great moment in time was recently sold at auction for the record-trouncing price of $57,200,000. The last known such piece in private hands, the Guennol Lioness (pictured) was carved from limestone by an unknown artist for an unknown reason. Only three inches in height, it makes a powerful statement of its time and place in history.

You can read more about the history of the piece here and more about the auction here.

03 December 2007

Differently Animated

Matt and I love Aardman Animation -- the company responsible for so many wonderful animated products like "Creature Comforts," the films featuring Wallace and Gromit, and those really cute Chevron Techron adverts on the telly.

Now they have done a series of public service adverts about people who are differently abled, like people in wheel chairs and the like (see photo).

Although the spots are airing in England, you can see them here.

01 December 2007

And the Numbers are In:

According to the National Weather Service:

"A record rainfall of 1.23 inches was set at Phoenix yesterday November 30 2007. This breaks the old record of 0.55 set in 1982."

It is interesting to see how weather plays out in this time of global climate change. About ten years ago, when people really started talking seriously about the subject, experts predicted, among other things, this: Climate extremes would be more pronounced. In other words, where it was hot it would get hotter, cold would get colder, wet wetter, and dry drier. They also said that when storms happened they would be bigger and more intense.

Here in the desert southwest of Phoenix, we have seen these exact things happen: Winter 2007 was the coldest in 30 years; Summer 2007 was hotter and lasted longer than normal. Usually dry, we have been drier (now in our 12th year of below-average rainfall amounts). When we get a storm system move over us, like Friday, it is bigger, lasts longer and drops more rain.

I realize that, statistically speaking, it is hard to form opinions on trends with only a handful of data points (in this case, a dozen years), but it is intriguing that we are now seeing exactly what has been predicted in re climate change.