Blog Relocation News

I’ve decided to move the blog from the free WordPress.com hosting service to a paid host called Bluehost. This blog has been a WordPress.com blog for nearly three years now, after my old self-hosted blog (which I had started in 2004 as “Rural Rambles”) expired in a tumult of bit entropy.

Having a WordPress blog on a separate host gives me a certain amount of freedom. I can edit any theme, and photos can be larger. I also will be able to directly embed audio and video in posts, an ability available to WordPress.com users only by paying for a site upgrade.

Naturally this entails more blog-management work for me, but I enjoy such geeky chores. For a while, at least, I’ll post links to new posts here, but not images. Here are the first two posts on the new blog:

Site Changes

Town Of The High Plains

As you can see, the new theme needs a bit of tweaking, but these are early days.

Bev and I have been driving from Arizona to New England these past few days. We stopped and camped near the Buffalo River in NW Arkansas, a beautiful area I haven’t visited in many years. A few trilliums were beginning to emerge in the beech/oak/pine woodlands there. Here’s a pristine example:

arkansas_trillium-s

Larry

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Filed under General and Local, Natural History, Photos, Plants

Desert Poppies

It’s easy to ignore common plants, just as it’s easy to ignore people en masse. The eye becomes surfeited easily and novelty is required to revive our flagging attentions.

This tendency can be fruitfully resisted, I’ve noticed. Magnification helps. I’ll shoot a few photos while out walking, then later find unexpected aesthetic delights lurking in the bundles of pixels disgorged into a USB cable.

The California Poppy is a common spring flower here in Bisbee. Our sub-species (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana) is a strong clear yellow with just a hint of orange, unlike the orange-yellow form found in California. The plant grows from sidewalk cracks where there is sufficient sun. The foliage is a distinctive shade of blue-green. So far I’ve seen just two clumps in bloom, but I’ve noticed hundreds of plants girding their vegetative loins for the big reproductive push. The plants bloom sporadically for a month or two, but eventually the severity of the midsummer sun will sear the ferny foliage into green dust.

A couple of morning shots:

Poppy-2013-1

Poppy-2013-2

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

I enjoy walking in those increasingly-rare places neglected and ignored by most humans. Such places aren’t confined to pristine nature reserves, but can also be found in the nooks and crannies of any town or city.

Human development isn’t a uniformly pervasive force. It insinuates an environment by finding the paths of least resistance. These conduits or channels roughly correspond to the perceptions people have of potential profitability, intuitions which, thankfully, are often wrong.

Think of a lichen finding its own path of least resistance into the microscopic seams and flaws in the surface of a granite boulder.

There is one thing (among others) that makes an observational walk perennially popular with a certain sort of person: the sheer unpredictability of what might be seen. The potential for surprise is always there, even on a walk in a very familiar place. There are transient scenes, experiential ephemera which for the most part aren’t witnessed by anyone. Chances are you won’t see one on a particular walk, but you are guaranteed to not see such a scene if you don’t go on that walk.

I’ve indulged in enough generalizing by now, don’t you think? Here’s a concrete example, a scene I encountered yesterday while walking along a canyon slope on the north edge of Bisbee, Arizona. The manzanita trees have passed their period of peak bloom. Here’s a spray of blossoms on a tree which is still attracting pollinators:

manz_bloom-1

The more hurried or impatient manzanitas have dropped their corollas now that the flowers have been fertilized and ovaries are bulging. The fallen waxy-white blooms make an appealing litter upon the debris-strewn rocky soil beneath the trees. This is a scene which sunlight and rain will soon destroy:

manz_bloom-2

I can’t help but feel lucky that I happened along while the scene was still pristine. In this next shot I like the color of the dead manzanita leaf, and the way it caught the morning sunlight:

manz_bloom-3

Larry

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Filed under Essays and Articles, Natural History, Photos

A Late Spring In Arizona

Phenology is an old-fashioned discipline, dependent as it is upon an observer staying in one place for several years. Who does that any more? I did for quite a few years, but for the time being I’m unmoored.

You could think of phenology as a blend of chronology, accounting, and natural history. It boils down to keeping records of when certain natural events happen each year in a certain place. The observer, of course, must be able to differentiate species of plant and animals; otherwise the records would be completely subjective and difficult to share with other record-keepers. Linnaeus’s wonderful idea lives on!

In the pre-computer era (most of human history) phenological observations were kept in notebooks. Aldo Leopold and his family wrote their observations in the day-squares of a large calendar, another common approach. A year-end task was transcribing those notes to a notebook so that the calendar could be disposed of.

I must confess that any phenological observations I make are a byproduct of photography. How fortunate that digital photographs, like all computer files, are intimately associated with their date of creation!

Here’s my slender contribution to Southeast Arizona phenology.

The desert spring is quite unlike those of northern climates. Many of the trees (including many oaks) are evergreen here, so there isn’t the dramatic budding, unfolding, and awakening I grew up with. Many of the plants here wait for the late-summer monsoon rains to make their growth. Still, there are a few spring ephemeral plants. One of them is the Golden Corydalis (Corydalis aurea), a beautiful and dainty plant closely related to the Dutchman’s Breeches and Bleeding Hearts common in Eastern woodlands and gardens.

I first saw and photographed this Corydalis last spring, and I had a vague idea or hunch that the flower bloomed earlier last year. Sometime in early March, I was certain, but only the existence of the photos I shot last year provided me with evidence of the flowering date. Here’s a close-up I shot last year on March 6th:

corydalis-2

This year the plants waited two weeks longer to bloom; I shot these photos a couple of days ago, on March 19th:

corydalis-3

corydalis-4

Naturally I wonder about the possible reasons for the delay. We did have an unusually chill and snowy winter. Many spring ephemeral plants bloom when the soil has warmed sufficiently. Now I wish I had records for previous years!

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

March Morning Sky

This morning I was sitting in front of the computer, reading posts at Metafilter and following links from Arts and Letters Daily. Bev had been out walking Sage; she came into the house and said, “Larry, you ought to take a look at the sky this morning!”

I put my shoes on, grabbed a camera and enacountered the best morning sky we’ve had this month. Most of the canyon was still shadowed but the higher slopes glowed brownish-orange as the sun’s rays swept across them:

morning-3-04_2

Some of the sky’s tints were reminiscent of those in a Maxfield Parrish painting:

morning-3-04_1

There was just a brief period when the eastern horizon exhibited impressive colors and patterns:

morning-3-04_3

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Photos

Helicopter Tour

[the scene: a muddy airstrip in rural England. A pilot dressed in ragged khakis shepherds a group of assorted tourists to his waiting helicopter. Some of the tourists seem reluctant.]

[pilot] Step right up, folks, this this is the best chance you will ever have to get a bird’s-eye view of the magnificent rolling hills of Yorkshire! Just twenty bucks, a price that can’t be beat!

[tourist, a querulous elderly man] How do we know this machine of yours is safe?

[pilot, smarmily ingratiating] Never had a mishap, and I’ve had ‘er up hundreds of times!

[A portly German man wearing a curled white wig approaches the pilot, huffing and puffing]

My good man, I understand that you have a pianoforte on board your craft. Can that be true?

[pilot] Why as a matter fact, I do! It’s just a spinet, but I’m sure it will agree with you. I do keep it well-tuned and tempered!

[The German man pays his fare and the passengers are escorted into the helicopter by the pilot. Once the aircraft has gained elevation the pilot banks the ‘copter over the rough terrain]

Not as green as it usually is down there, but we’ve been enduring an oven-like drought!

Larry

1 Comment

Filed under Arizona, Food, Stories, Video

ABC Files and Recording Music and Video

This winter I’ve been writing less and devoting more time to playing and recording music. It’s great fun, and I feel it is high time I documented my music after so many years of playing.

The software available for musicians is plentiful. I tend to use only FOSS software (FOSS stands for Free And Open Source), a trait which as time passes becomes more feasible and less a statement of religious conviction.

Some of my favorite and most-used pieces of software cluster around an ASCII-text file format known as ABC. Chris Walsh came up with the format back in the 1980s. He needed a way to represent traditional melodies without going to the trouble of drawing staves and using normal musical notation. ABC is musical shorthand. Notes are represented by letters, and various typographical symbols indicate bars, rests, and most other musical features. ABC is quite portable; it can be scrawled on a restaurant napkin or included in the text of an e-mail. The format has been most popular with musicians in the British Isles.

With todays gargantuan multi-gig computer hard drives the advantages of ABC have declined somewhat, but there are so many tune and transcription collections available on the net in ABC format. For a fiddler like me the files are a cornucopia of musical delights. So portable, too! Millions of tunes in ABC format can be stored on a CD or a USB stick.

Software is available which converts an ABC file to a printable Postscript file. The results are excellent. Here’s an example. This is an ABC file represnting the bare bones of a tune I came up with several years ago:

X:1
T:Goldberg Waltz
R:waltz
C:Larry Ayers
N:First played circa 2004 --
N:Notated January 2013
L:1/8
M:3/4
K:G
GA|"G"B2 BAGE|D2 B,2 D2|"C" E2 C2 E2|G6|"Em"E2 B2 B2| B2 B B3|
"D"ABA GFE|D2 B,2 A,2|"G"G,2 BAGE|D2 B,2 D2|
"C"E2 C2 E2|G6|"D"D2 d3 d|d2 d2 d2|"G"BA G"D"F "G"GA|G6||
|:"G"Bdg dgd|Bdg dgd|"C"ceg ege|ceg ege|"Em"B2 e2 g2|b2 b2 b2|"D"a2 ag fe|
d2 dc BA|"G"B2 d2 g2|gf ed cB|"C"c2 cdef|g4 ^g2|"D"a3 gfe|d3 cBA|"G"B2 G F G2 :|

A program called abcm2ps translates the ABC typography into a file which looks like this:

goldberg

The tune sounds like this (more or less, as I seldom play anything the same way twice!):

Goldberg Waltz recording

I’ve been using a multi-platform program called Audacity, which can be obtained here:

Audacity

It’s a very versatile multi-track recording and sound-editing application.

Videos are ubiquitous on the net these days due to the popularity of Youtube and, to a lesser extent, Vimeo. I thought it would be fun to make some music videos and upload them, but I had a problem. I’d never successfully edited video before, and the few times I tried I felt stymied. The software has been written by people who grew up editing video and certain user-interface assumptions are made by the developers which were not at all intuitive for me.

I finally figured out my problem, which was that I assumed that the editing paradigm used in text and audio editors carried over into video editors. This isn’t true. Video editors mostly have been developed using an analogy with film editing. Cutting and splicing film (with discarded strips of film falling in curls to the cutting-room floor) is used as a metaphor for dealing with streams of video frames. The computer’s cursor is exchanged for a knife or scissors which “cuts” the sequence of frames.

This may seem obvious, but it took me a while to embrace and be able to use that metaphor! I can be dense at times.

I’ve been using two video editors, Openshot and Kdenlive. They are both good programs, but each has its strong points.

I started out using the audio track recorded by the camera, a Canon G11. That audio was fairly decent considering the tiny microphone on the camera, but I wanted multiple audio tracks. Lately I’ve been recording and editing with Audacity, then substituting the Audacity track for the camera’s recorded audio. I also have been using an external microphone. Of course the audio has to be synchronized with the video, but I found that Kdenlive does that automatically.

Here are a couple of videos. This first one was shot using the built-in camera and mike on Bev’s Imac:

You can see Sage the collie in the background in that one. Pets wandering into the scene are commonly seen in Youtube videos!

This is a later one shot with the Canon G11 on a tripod, and with the audio recorded with Audacity:

One last video… this one shows me playing an Irish set-dance tune called “The Blackbird” on the guitar. I dubbed in a fiddle track as well:

All rather amateurish, I admit, but fun!

Larry

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Filed under Essays and Articles, Music, Uncategorized