Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I have found a new way to waste time. I recently started using It is a site that streams "stations" at you that gives you some control over what you hear. They have several preloaded stations, but you can also create your station by entering the names of an artists or songs. As you song is played you can give it up a thumbs up or thumbs down. If you vote thumbs down, it bans the song form that station. If you vote thumbs p, it feeds you more songs like it. The idea is that, as you give more opinions, the station will learn your tastes and play more music that you like and less that you don't. The thumbs up and down only applies to the particular station you are listening to at the moment. That way if you have a blues station and jazz station, voting against a blues song on your jazz station won't keep it off your blues station.

It all works because they analyze each piece of music before they put it into their database. After analyzing it the tag each piece with attributes like "folk styling", "syncopated rhythms", "extensive vamping", "extensive use of the mandolin" and the like. The more attributes two songs have in common the more likely you will have a similar reaction to them both. It works pretty well, although it does tend to get stuck in a rut sometimes. Since it is mostly based on a what a piece sounds like rather than what it is, it can become difficult to build a station that plays only, say Irish traditional music. (I'm trying.) It seems that this system doesn't see a lot of difference between Irish music and bluegrass. However, if you thumbs down an artist twice, without giving them a thumbs up, it will ban them from the station forever. I've gotten rid of most of the obvious bluegrass players, but the system keeps throwing new, more obscure players at me.

Which leads me to a the next point, it is great at finding new things you never heard of, but wish you had. Case in point, I am a big fan of Sandy Denny, June Tabor, Maddy Prior and some of the other female singers from the British folk-rock scene and folk revival scene. Through Pandora, I've discovered Anne Briggs. She was enormously influential on all of the singers I like, but she only recorded about 30 songs over a few years and quit the music business at the age of 27. But in that amount of time she changed how all British female folk singers sang. She has since been eclipsed by Denny, Tabor and the rest.

Like I said, a great way to waste time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Osage Hills State Park

After an unplanned flat tire consumed almost two hours, the family had to scrub its plan for a trip to Little House on the Prairie. However, rather than waste the picnic lunch packed by the wife, we decided to visit Osage Hills State Park. Osage Hills is one of the lesser known state parks in Oklahoma. It isn't attached to a large reservoir, like Keystone, or have some odd natural feature like Alabaster Caverns or Little Sahara. It is just several hundred acres of scrub oak and juniper forest with a medium sized creek running through it that has been left alone for decades. There are the usual campsites. The tent campers are segregated away from the RVs, which is nice for the tent campers. They have some nice cabins and a swimming pool that is open in the summer and a nice picnic area. There are a couple of miles of trails over relative rough terrain. A nice place to spend an afternoon or weekend and look at a few birds and maybe see some deer. What they also have is a quite good collection of structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are is a very nice picnic shelter (pictured here), a scenic over-look tower, a nice single arch bridge, a no-longer in use restroom, plus a collection of picnic table, culverts, roads and trails and the like. There is also a dam for small lake that I believe was built by the CCC. I think the cabins were also built by the CCC. The other thing is that the remains of the camp where the CCC boys lived are still there. mostly just some foundations, but also a still standing stone chimney. Way off in the woods stands a stone shack where the explosives were kept. There is also building that looks as if it might have been a jail or something. For someone interested in CCC architecture or the social history of the state, it is an important site. Given that just about any armory built by the WPA still standing qualifies for the National Register of Historic Places, I would think that the whole park would qualify.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Today's birds

I went over to the Pathfinder trail this morning looking birds. I got there and discovered that my binoculars were not in the car. I used one of the backup pair, even though they are not as good. When I got out, there was a tremendous racket going on. There was a large flock of black birds in the trees and on the ground. Between the poor position of the sun, my crappy binoculars and my inability to ID icterids, I don't know what kind of blackbirds they were. I heard a call that was similar to the Red-Wing Blackbird's Kon-ker-ee, but wasn't quite right. I also didn't see any wing epaulets. Probably the same flock I saw last week and failed to ID. The highlight of the trip was flushing a pair of Wood Ducks off the river, and being able to ID them. I've never seen ducks on the Caney through town. I also saw, and heard my first Fish Crows of the year.

The list:

American Robin (flocks of them)
Blue Jay
Northern Cardinal
Downy Woodpecker
Red-Tailed Hawk
Turkey Vulture
Carolina Chickadee
American Crow
Fish Crow
Canada Goose
Wood Duck

Brings the family total to 41 for the year.

Last of the trio.

Arthur C. Clarke died this morning, the last of three greats of science fiction. Heinlein died in 1988 when I was in El Paso. Asimov died in 1992, when I was in Norman. It's odd that I know when and where I was when I read of each ones death. Sort of like baby boomers and John Lennon. Between the three, they constituted probably 20% of my reading between the ages of 14 and 25.

Clarke had a great run. Not only some of the best SF novels and short stories of all time, but part of the team that won the Battle of Britain. (Not the guys in the planes, the guys inventing radar.) Worked out the math for the geosynchronous satellite, and popularized the idea of the space elevator. His work with Kubrick on 2001 helped bring SF out of the pulp ghetto, although it is by far his weakest novel. Of the three greats, Clarke was most wide ranging. He could base novels around a big piece of technology (The Fountains of Paradise), yet not have the novel be about the technology. He was the first SF writer to write anything original, or interesting about religion.

He will be missed. RIP Sir Arthur.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My bitch

This is Daisy Belle. At least that's her name for now. She is a five week old Labrador Retriever puppy. She lives with us now. God help me, I own a dog. The girls are all delighted, except perhaps Daisey, who seems to be mostly traumatized by the move. Give her a few days and she should get over it. Now for the joys of house training

On reading aloud

I have read The Lord of the Rings probably thirty times in my life, about once a year since my mid-teens. About five years ago, I did something different, I read it aloud. April couldn't read the print on the edition we owned, and I found it intolerable that she had never read it before. We also hooked Sophia, who was then only five, at the same time. What I didn't expect was how moving I found portions of the book to be when read aloud. One particular piece was the finale to the "The Ride of the Rohirrim". I finished the chapter and all three of us sat stunned for a minute. Then April said in a small voice, "Wow, boys think different from me." I had read this chapter dozens of time before, silently, yet I had not felt this impact. I do every time now. Try it yourself. Read the following aloud and see if you don't feel a sudden elation, an urge to join ride and slay, and sing as you do so.

Then suddenly Merry felt it at last, beyond a doubt: a change. Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering. Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting; morning lay beyond them.
But at that same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City. For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle; and then as the darkness closed again there came rolling over the field a great boom.
At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again; and rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had heard a mortal man achieve before:
Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden!
Fell deeds awake; fire and slaughter!
spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered,
a sword day, a red day, ere the sun arises!
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer, and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder. And straightway all the horns in the host were lifted up in music, and the blowing of the horns of Rohan in that hour was like a storm upon the plains and a thunder in the mountains.
Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!
Suddenly the king cried to Snowmane and the horse sprang away. Behind him his banner blew in the wind, white horse upon a green field, but he outpaced it. After him thundered the knights of his house, but he was ever before them. Eomer rode there, the white horsetail of his helm floating in his speed, and the front of the first eored roared like a breaker foaming to the shore, but Theoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne upon Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the white feet of his steed. For morning came, morning with a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled, and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And the all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City.

The sound of a human voice, reading the words of a master has powers that words on a page can only give a dim echo.

More birding

The family and I got up early to go birding. I had intended to take them to the Osage Trail between 86st N and Sperry, but we didn't like the parking situation. We went out to Keystone Dam instead. Took Avery Drive and then old Highway 51. Stopped on both sides of the Dam. Not a lot going on, intermittent rain kept most of the birds down. As we were crossing the dam, I spotted a raft of ducks on the lake, fairly close to the dam. Couldn't stop on the dam, though. Damn dam safety rules. They were letting a lot of water out of the dam, which slowed things below the dam down some as well. There were a lot of pelicans below the dam. I saw four of them do something I've only read about; co-operative fishing. They form up in a circle, then rush inwards beating the water with their wings, herding fish into a eating zone, then scoop them up. I also saw a Great Blue Heron which thought it was gull. It was flying low over the water, and then dove into the water grabbing a fish. It then had to fly away quickly to avoid the converging pelicans. I've never seen or heard of Great Blues fishing like this. One exciting sighting; As we were going up Old Highway 51, The Wife called out, "Cardinal, but that wasn't a Cardinal". I stopped the car, got out the field guide and started looking at red birds. She rejected a tanager, and described a black mask on the bird. I showed her the Vermilion Flycatcher. As soon as I showed her the bird she said, that's it! A pretty rare bird for this part of Oklahoma. We went back and looked around for ten minutes or so, but failed to find it again.

The list for the day:

Rock Pigeon
European Starling
Red-winged Blackbird
American Robin
Turkey Vulture
Carolina Chickadee
Eastern Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Blue Jay
American Crow
Savanna Sparrow
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Ring-billed Gull
Double-crested Cormorant

Fifteen birds, including five new ones for a total of 39 year birds for the family. (I noticed that had in fact counted House Sparrow before, so adding it to the number here was wrong.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Some more birds.

Our family birding year is not off to a great start, but hope springs eternal. We have gotten out a few more times. Some of the birds we have picked up are:

32. Yellow-rumped Warbler
33. Gadwall
34. Tufted Titmouse
35. Carolina Chickadee

I stopped by Oxley Nature Center the other day, on my way home from work. The damage done by December's Ice storm is amazing. The marsh was full of birds, many of the them Dark-eyed Juncos I've never thought of them as marsh birds. There were also a lot of sparrows. I don't know which kind. I need to work on sparrows. I went to the Pathfinder in Bartlesville this week as well. Saw a lot of expected birds. I also saw some sort of thrush and some "black bird". Never did figure out what they were. This is getting frustrating.