Monthly Archives: March 2013

A three footed squirrel eating birdseed on the ground.

Really, there’s a long explanation for how it came about, but let’s just say that I feed some of the squirrels that live in my sister’s backyard. Smudge is by far the friendliest. Sometimes she follows me around like a dog when I’m gardening. I’ve become fascinated by their social lives because on the one hand they’re can be solitary and territorial. On the other they can be quite sociable. I haven’t yet figured out how they decide which other squirrels they tolerate, which ones they play with and which ones get chased away.
This fellow appears to be friendly with my friend Smudge. Smudge is very jealous of her relationship with the magical peanut dispenser and threatens most other squirrels who approach me. However, she tolerates Tripod. The fellow has half a tail and only three feet.

Tripod, the three legged squirrel running up a tree with a peanut in his mouth.
He’s one of the most timid of the squirrels. He never starts fights and always runs away if another squirrel threatens him. He’ll come close to me to get a peanut, but he always moves quickly, so it’s hard to get a good picture of him.

Tripod enjoying his peanut high up in a tree.

Despite his disability, he gets around pretty well.

Snowdrops growing along a fence.The other day, I went to a symposium about a controversial development project that has dragged on for years in a neighborhood of east Baltimore known as Middle East. The city of Baltimore has lost a great deal of its population over the last few decades and many neighborhoods are pockmarked by abandoned houses. There are so many of them that even the best efforts give little indication of making much of a dent in the problem. However inhospitable they may appear to outsiders, however, there are people who consider these neighborhoods home and the people who live in them want the same rights to their life and property as those who live in prettier locales.

The people living in the Middle East neighborhood were displaces a number of years ago. A plan was conceived by the wealthy and powerful people in the town to create biotech park. Using the promise of good jobs as a rationale, the power of the state was used to seize land and displace the residents. The houses were razed. Many blocks, a total of eighty-eight acres, were flattened making for a surreal sight, a hole in the middle of the city. A couple of buildings were built. When they could not be leased as rapidly as planned, the developers abandoned the promised biotech park and started talking about shopping malls, hotels, anything that would make them a dime.

Protests by activists, displaced residents and politicians representing those communities have continued. The lives of the former residents of Middle East have already been disrupted but there are people who want to make sure that the wealthy don’t benefit without some benefit also accruing to the ordinary citizens of Baltimore. The symposium was conducted to talk about the development in the former Middle East neighborhood as well as development in general.

The during the introduction, the speaker made what seemed in that context to be a rhetorical statement. He referred to “what developers are willing and able to do.” I would like to take this short phrase and pull it out and look at it.

Too often, I believe we, people who criticize the behavior of corporations, concentrate on the first part without thinking enough about the second part. A while ago, when I was still living in New York, I went to go see a documentary called The Corporation. In the first “chapter” of the film, which can be seen at the previous link, a business professor, Joe Bardaracco, describes a corporation as

a group of individuals working together to serve a variety of objectives the principle one of which is earning large growing sustained legal returns for the people who own the business.

The basic conceit of the film is that, if a corporation is a legal person, then that “person” suffers from a personality disorder. Using a diagnostic checklist from the World Health Organization’s Manual Of Mental Disorders DSM IV, the film “diagnoses” the corporation as being a psychopath, meaning that it is without morality and empathy for others. Unfortunately, the film is too heavy-handed to have convinced anyone who did not already agree with its premise.

However, a book entitled The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, which I highly recommend, which was written by two individuals with an almost opposite political viewpoint, also leads to a similar idea of a corporation as a legal person whose main purpose is to make money for its stockholders. They detail the history and, whether you agree with their moderately conservative politics or not, they give the reader a good understanding of the pros and cons, the utility and the dangers, of the modern corporation. In an interesting side note, at the time Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations the corporate form of ownership appeared to be in decline.

This brings me back to the question of development in Baltimore and the phrase “what developers are willing and able to do.” To often we view the behavior of developers in terms of the morality that governs the behavior of human beings, but they are not human beings; they are frequently corporations. When we look to them to aid a community we are looking to them to do something they are simply not able to do.

Yesterday, I was reviewing with my sister events that occurred in seventh grade that I really ought to cover and I brought up an incident that I thought might be important. She advised me against writing about it because it shows me in a bad light. However, I said to her that one of the reasons that I wanted to write this anonymously was so that I could be honest. If I’m not going to be as honest as possible, why am I writing this at all?

A photograph taken around a mine in Ogdensburg, New Jersey.The question, to me, is “Is it relevant to my aims?” Although it may not be obvious at first, I believe it is.

Back to the library where I have now gotten comfortable wandering into the adult section.

The non-fiction books for adults were on a mezzanine level, half a flight up that open staircase, between the main reading area with current best sellers and the checkout desk and the floor with the reference room and fiction.

After arriving at the first landing from the staircase, you found yourself at one end of a floor lined with stacks. On the right, was a railing, separating the mezzanine floor from the open area that included the staircase. Looking over the railing, you could see main floor below and the reference room above. Ranged along the left hand area was row after row of the stacks. Each row dead ended against a wall. Every other row had a tall narrow window at the end, making was always struck me as the most obvious lighting solution for a library that I’m surprised that it hasn’t been used more often. It was evening, however, and the windows were nothing more useful than glossy rectangles of black.

I no longer remember what I was looking for. What I do remember is that the library was not crowded and I was alone on that mezzanine level. I was half way down the row of stacks, about a meter inside a row. I was on my knees trying to find a book that, following the call numbers, was apparently located on the bottom shelf. There I was, kneeling down, looking for a book. Not an unusual position for me, when I think about it.

I felt a hard thud on my ass.

“Look at this little nerd.” I craned my neck and looked over my shoulder and saw three girls, about a year older than I was.

The one who was closest to me kicked me again.

“What a little fucking nerd.”

She kicked me again, this time it was really hard and impossible to ignore. I got up. I was now blocked in by three girls in flannel shirts, tight jeans and feathered haircuts. I can still remember the face of the one closest to me, not the biggest of the three, but by far the loudest, the one who did all the talking. She had dark blond hair. I suspect that it was naturally curly since it had that frizzy quality curly hair had when it was blown out into that Farrah Fawcett feathered hairstyle. She had a wide face, a pug nose and freckles. With a personality transplant, she might have passed for cute. However, the way her thick lips were curled into some demonic expression of hatred was not flattering.

I took a step backward, probably several. That was not the smartest move since the three Gorgons naturally advanced, moving me further into the bowels of the row of books.

“Do you want to get the crap beaten out of you?”

This was apparently not a legitimate question since I was shaking my head furiously to indicate “no”, yet the Gorgons continued to advance.

I panicked. I’d never been in a fight before. I hadn’t a clue what was supposed to happen next. The possibility that the Gorgons intended, for no rational reason that I could determine, to inflict serious pain on was a possibility I had to take very seriously. So I did. I decided it was fight or flight so, flight being removed as an option, I wrapped my hands around what was a surprisingly skinny neck. I began shaking. I can’t be certain that I didn’t squeeze a little.

One of the others, until now nothing but a shadow of the frizzy blond with the skinny neck, said, “Oh my God, she’s going to choke her.”

Why she hadn’t earlier said, “Oh my god, she’s going to kick her,” or any other utterance which would have rendered my choking Medusa entirely unnecessary, is a question no one seemed to care about. However, it was a well-timed statement since choke entered my barely functioning brain and struck me as a bad idea. I moved my hands apart, effective letting go of my catch. The three Gorgons ran out of the library.

When I first got a digital slr camera, my serious photographer friends warned me against “too much photoshop.” They heaped tons of derision on those who did that. Nowadays, the complaint is about Instagram filters. Any of these things can be used badly or used well.

I don’t use Instagram, but seeing people who have tweaked their photos using the filters made me want to see if I could imitate the instagram filters in a photo editing program.

For this how-to, I’ve decided to use Paint.NET because it is free and the fact that there are fewer options makes it easier and less intimidating to use than photoshop. Yet it is similar enough to most of the major photo editing programs that anything you learn can be transferred to most of the others. Paint.NET is for Windows only, I’m afraid.

First, install Paint.NET. It can be found here.

To start, we’re going to imitate the Instagram filter known as “Inkwell.” This is by far the easiest and this will give you a chance to get comfortable with the program.

Since the Inkwell filter simply turns any photo into black and white, the most important part here is your choice of photo. It’s a good idea to pick something were the impact of the picture isn’t based on the colors.

Here is a photo I took today.

A cat sleeping in the sun.

I thought it might work well in black and white because it’s mainly about light and shadows.

Open up the program. In the menu bar, go to File > Open. Navigate to the photo you want to turn to black and white and open it.

There should be a smaller window open in the program labeled “Layers.” If it’s not there, go to Window > Layer, or hit F7. That should bring up a box that looks like this:Screen shot of a window in a program labled "Layers."

On the bottom of the box there’s a little symbol showing two pieces of paper with a tool tip that says “duplicate layer.” Click that icon to duplicate the layer. We’re going to start each photo editing attempt this way. The advantage is that you still have your original underneath all the changes you make, so if you don’t like something it’s easy to start again. In fact, it’s a good practice to save the file under a different name at this point, something like “MamaBW.” Uncheck the original background image, which is located on the bottom.

Make sure the top image is highlighted. (In the image on the right, I’ve made a copy of the copy. You will only have two layers at this point.)

In the menu bar, go to Adjustments > Hue/Saturation. A box will open that has three sliders labeled “hue”, “saturation” and “lightness.” Take the saturation slider and move it all the way to the left. The number in the adjacent box on the right will read zero after you move it. Click “Done.”

Alternately, you could just click Adjustments > Black and White, but I wanted you to play with the sliders because we’ll be using them to do less simple things in the future.

Okay, you’re done. If you want to be able to save the layers, make sure you save it as a Paint.NET file if you want to save the layers, and as a jpeg if you want to be able to view it in another program, share it or post it on the web.Same photo of the cat.

Now, one of the reasons that I wanted to start with a black and white photo was, not only because it is the easiest, but because you can often get a better result than you can in instagram. As it happens, I was pretty happy with the result, but frequently, I’m not. First, make a copy of the black and white layer so that now you have three layers. Now go to Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast. This will bring up a box with two sliders. You can move them back and forth and watch the image change. It’s rare that you will want to move it more than just a little bit in either direction. Since I thought lightening the photo might give it more the sense of being filled with sunlight. In the end, I wound up with brightness being equal to +45 and the contrast was set to -5.

Photo of cat.

If you want to play around a bit, you can go back to adjustments and try using either “Curves” or “Levels.”

One of a series of posts that Out Walking the Dog has done about some dolphins in the East River.

Out walking the dog

The North Brooklyn Boat Club has posted a video and photos of the East River bottlenose dolphin, taken from the back of a canoe.

Members of the Boat Club are “very sure” that they saw not one, but two dolphins. I was first alerted to this video and the possibility of multiple dolphins by Vladimir Brezina, Out Walking the Dog reader, scientist, kayaker and blogger extraordinaire. Vlad, who was out on the river himself this weekend, posted the video in a comment on one of my earlier dolphin posts where he also informed me that some boat club members believe it is possible they saw three dolphins. It can, of course, be hard to tell since a dolphin can cover quite a large expanse underwater, popping up fairly far from where it was last sighted.

In a Twitter exchange this morning with Out Walking the Dog (@Wildlife_of_NYC

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Well, those of you who know me well probably know that I have a difficult time leaving well enough alone and you’ve probably been wondering how long it would take before I would muck this whole thing up. For the rest of you who are just getting to know me, the likelihood that I would just apply a template and let it go at that was close to nil. Please, try to be patient. I’ll get bored and stop playing with the layout in a week or two. By the way, I don’t have an iPhone, an iPad or any idea what I’m doing. So if things aren’t displaying, let me know.

A fallen tree in the wood with moss growing on it.

A close up of a wilted, sliced tomato with an orange sweet pepper in the background.I’m not really into the whole food porn thing, so I tried to think of something that ran counter to that idea. Being a slob, I had some vegetables that I had sliced from the previous day’s lunch sitting on the counter. I had made some okra and tomatoes, which also included red and yellow pepper, onion, shrimp, all that dumped over couscous. It was pretty good if I may say so myself. I enjoyed my food and forgot to clean up.

A sriveled up end of an onion.

I was about to throw it out when I though, “Hey, this doesn’t look so bad.” Using a black cloth I used years ago for photographing architectural models, I set up a makeshift still life studio. Voila.

Very young seedling in a peat pellet.

Our seeds have sprouted already!

Considering our recent conversations about sexuality, and that one of sexual practices that sex addiction proponents frequently consider deviant is pornography, I just had to include a link to this Sun article about pandas using panda porn as a sex aid. The article is very cute.

I was thrilled to see that Natalie Reed was posting again, only to be disappointed by the fact that she will have stopped again yesterday.  She has an interesting post about musical taste and society. I’m not linking to it because I agree with it, she has some oddly late realizations and makes some unsubstantiated sweeping generalizations, but I still think it’s interesting. I had similar experiences about social pressure to like certain types of music and to dislike others. I’m not sure if I should include it in my memories, not being a musician. On the other hand, since the musical forms were sometimes stand-ins for other ideologies, perhaps it might be worthwhile to examine. How much can I bore all of you with the trivia of my early adolescence?

I haven’t listened to this talk about James Baldwin yet, but I will certainly get to it.

Finally, Interesting Literature has a post about one of my all time favorite writers, George Eliot (proof positive that I’m a dork).

Today is Friday and therefore the day I can indulge my silliness. I’ve posted a picture of baby Crash before. Right now, I have some pots of catnip growing on my windowsill. They were getting a bit raggedy, so I clipped some sprigs and brought it over to the boy.

A cat chewing on a sprig of catnip. DSC_0002

The boy sure does love his catnip. Clicking on the “cats” tag will take you to a list of all my cat photo posts.