Week 16

Computer problems persist

April 16, 2017 – SUNDAY

Photo of step crack

Soaked:  The rains keep coming. The crack in our lower patio grows. We must repair the retaining wall. The task for this week to send a design to the civil engineer. We’ve had two surveys, neither good and neither agreeing with the other nor with the original survey and certainly not with the information we received from a utility company that surveyed our street from an ‘official marker.’ The second surveyor said he would go back to an ‘official’ marker (which he did not do) and/or use a map a utility company had made (which he did not do).   I failed to alter the surveyor’s contract to include what he told me he would do – shame on me! Both the first and second surveyors took their survey origin points from ‘non-official’ markers. The first survey our civil engineer said was bad, and the second survey is worse than the first.

I hate to paint all of anything with a broad brush, but I have found surveyors irritable, uncooperative and not consistent.   I had called several surveyors to request they make a proposal. Surveyor after surveyor said they would not survey our property, and I got sloppy after one surveyor finally said he’d survey our property. I talked to him about what I wanted, but what he said on the phone he did not do in the field. We probably should have used an early surveyor who gave a price of several thousand more than the cost of our hiring a geotechnical engineer’s soil evaluation. The geotechnical engineer spent an entire day at our home (along with two technicians), sent soil samples to a lab, had them evaluated, did calculations based on the lab results and made recommendations to our civil engineer.   All the soils engineer did was less costly than what surveyors charged to quickly (and poorly) survey our small lot. I have been told that in this state, surveyors have wrestled their profession away from civil engineers who pretty much have to go to college to practice engineering. Most surveyors we’ve dealt with didn’t get a college degrees, and their certification process is, in my opinion, less rigorous than that which civil engineers go through, yet surveyors, with lesser education and lesser qualifications, rule, and they seem to charge more than the registered engineers. It seems that surveyors do less work per dollar charged than engineers. Have surveyors always been as they seem to be today? If so, was George Washington as disagreeable and careless and as little concerned with accuracy as those surveyors we’ve been dealing with?

JM likes a saying by the Japanese director Kurosawa, “If I wait until I am ready, I’ll never be ready.” We have no survey I think accurate, but we’ll proceed with the design, ready or not, because if we wait to get a good survey it will never happen and we’ll never be ready.

April 17, 2017 – MONDAY

Photo: road sign in university hall

“When you see a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra

Jorge Luis Borges class: the teacher talked (lots of ‘t’s there) about today’s text (more ‘t’s) ‘The Garden of Forking Paths.’ In thinking on it – the story and discussion was about ‘y,’ the ‘decision nodes’ or the forks, the decision points, points where when a choice is made and another opportunity is discarded. Borges’ story complexity heaped on top of complexity. The idea of forking Frost simplified.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And being one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Borges’ story was more image poem, a philosophical flight, than story, and is as complex as the result of the living of life. Life, simply put, is a ‘choice path’ (my words). From The Garden of Forking Paths, Borges:

I recognized the name of one of our consults, but I could only disconcertedly repeat, “The garden?’

“The garden of forking paths.”

Something stirred in my memory, and I spoke with incomprehensible assurance.

‘The garden of my ancestor Ts’ ui Pen.” …..

The dew-drenched path meandered like the paths of my childhood….

Existence, if one thinks about it, infinite complexity. Perhaps that is why Trump’s utter simplicity in the way he looks at life is appealing. Simplicity is easier to comprehend than complexity. Complexity, because it is complex, is difficult, often infinitely so, which means, of course, it is sometimes not comprehensible at all. Simplicity by its very nature (by what it ignores) is comforting.

Recently I had been thinking of forking, and how each of my parents had made individual choices (a tree of choices), and how their choices overlapped, coincided, conflicted, and how one of their coinciding choices literally created me and how other of their choices, individual and combined, influenced my life, my choices and that of my siblings. I thought of how each choice tree of each family member twined and intertwined like a messy giant forest where the limbs of one tree grows through the branches of other trees resulting in the fact that each tree partially determines the shaping of other trees, how one tree can not be altered or removed, without effecting those around it. Family is a messy living thing.

Our living, it seems to me, is not the clean, simple thing of a road diverging and a single choice, but of choice leading to unending choices and of choices made and those choices creating an individual(s), a family, a society. I thought how the ‘growth’ (choice/s) of one can thwart another. So the reading of the enigmatic ‘The Garden of Forking Paths” was relevant to me because of my pondering on choice determining future choice determining yet an individual’s future choice influencing future choices of others —- choice an infinite thing, both going back and going forward in time. The choices of my path set, but what of the future? Have the choices of my past already created my future? I had thought of writing on my family’s choice tree and how we (collectively and individually) came to live the life we live.

A few weeks back I took a photo of direction signage in University Hall, University of California, Berkeley. Could it be used to illustrate this essay? I did not know, but I found the naming of hallways of interest. Today, that signage symbolic of paths, nodes, choices, poems, short stories, life, you name it: Two halls diverged in a gray building, and I, being one student, went to the class, the Borges class — And that has made all the difference!

April 18, 2017 – TUESDAY

Photo of book

In class today, talk of books: Books as visual objects (objects to be seen); as textural (objects to be experienced through the sense of touch); as writing (objects of ideas— story, poem, prose…); as a unified object (binding & content); objects made to appeal to more than one sense; and to connect on more than one level. Books have something of permanence about them.

The OLLI Bay Area Publishing class has been interesting from first to last, and today’s class looked at limited run Bay-Area books. Representing that group:

  • An award-winning wood block artist (in the Japanese Style) and publisher;
  • A type designer (creator of alphabets) of print and book covers;
  • A printer who spent months in Venice, compiling and printing a book on Venice. He knows individuals from the old families of Venice. He showed a photo he took looking out from some fine palace onto St. Mark’s Square. He’d spent time wining and dining with and visiting the palaces of some of the half-dozen families who own the city. He said the rooms of their palaces, not infinite, but in the hundreds. He told of the fact that they have dining rooms to accommodate dinners of various sizes: from intimate to enormous banquet-size rooms to everything in between. There is so much room that the palaces are filled with endless possessions, possessions belonging to parents, grandparents, great-grand parents, great-great and more greats housed in one palace, the current occupant in possession of the legacy of ancestors who died and left those objects because children did not need them and because there was room and there was no reason to clear out the old to make room for the new. In such gigantic homes, there is so much room, there is always room for the new.; and
  • A woman who brought in one-off books, one-of-a-kind, books of one, a single copy, a copy handmade, hand-printed book. Those original books were amazing. One book, Turning Into A Pumpkin, was a book whose pages were paper bags, and in the bags were things to take out. Another book the pages were black origami, and inserted into each pocketed page were white cards with writing or drawings; and another ‘book’ a continual sheet (a folded scroll), which on the top edge seemed a single long watercolor, a watercolor, a continual form, rather than a scene.

I wished I would have had time to look at each book carefully and long, but the group was large and time limited.   The experience made me want to collect rare books. I cannot do it. I have too much paper and too many books (mostly ordinary books). I need bigger rooms with a full-time secretary to organize and keep my paper life, my books in order.

The ‘lecture’ reinforced the pleasure of the book. The book is a real thing. It is, as they said, a thing of pleasure, sensual pleasure, meant not just to be read, but also to be touched, to be held, to be seen and thereby to be experienced. The book an object of desire. The book itself remembered even when its cover closed, remembered because of its contents and its physical presence. The book is matter. (First time through this essay I spelled matter as mater, as mother. I like that!) Reading an e-reader (or on any a computer device) one is looking at energy. What is there on the screen, in spite of its beauty, when the computer is turned off, the book vanishes, evaporates – it needs continual energy for image to be maintained. No energy, no light, no book. We can touch a screen, but the screen rarely touches us. A BOOK is matter, ink on paper. It is there ready to be plucked from the shelf, not something that vanishes with a switch. Books are matter. Matter matters.

April 19, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

Photo of bagel

Discovery:  JM toasted a bagel on which he put cream cheese and lox.

During college I worked for the YWCA. I had heard of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and had stayed at in one of their ‘dorms’ on a college outing, but until I applied for a summer job at the Young Women’s Christian Association, I had not known there was a women’s organization similar to the men’s, i.e., the YWCA. I learned that summer of bagels and more.

My junior year summer was spent as trainer of the young counselors. Counselors in Training (CIT) they were called. Since I was management (a supervisor), the horse-riding instructor (a supervisor) and I shared a cabin, which was located on a cliff high above Michigan’s side of Lake Huron. The cabin had a large picture window overlooking the lake. Into that window a Yellow Billed Cuckoo flew, killing itself. That is the one and only Cuckoo I’ve ever seen. I regretted the Yellow Bills death then and still do. Not wanting the death to be a total waste, I took the ‘skin’ to a nearby college. I knew of birds, I knew the science of bees, but I understood little of life, including the birds and the bees. Before that summer, a college roommate had told me that a woman had been playing footsie with her. “Why?” I asked. “She was flirting with me,” she said. It did not make sense, and I did not understand what my roommate was saying until long after she told me of it. During my YWCA summer some of the high school girls complained that two of CIT’s had pushed their beds next to each other. I did not have a problem with that, and I did not understand what they were saying. Finally someone came out and said that the girls were gay and ‘carrying on’ in the shared dormitory. I insisted that they were wrong and only men could be gay, but I did, because several other girls were uneasy with the set-up, ask the two girls to separate their beds so that they conformed to the original dorm layout. It took a while for me to understand that what was true of men was also true of women. JM told me that Queen Victoria had also held my view. It seems I was only a century behind the times.

The college women at the YWCA camp were invited to an evening beach party on the shore of the Great Lake, Huron. I went. I had read Hawaii and thought that beach sex, random pairing and unpairing, was something only a few aboriginal societies engaged in. I imagined the beach party was going to be a gathering of youth around a campfire singing folksongs and laughing and talking about lives and expectations and the roasting of marshmallows. I arrived at dusk and walking through the sand and beach grasses. I found myself stepping over bodies, copulating bodies, and realized that no one was there for a campfire. I immediately understood that the night would proceed as the night had begun. I got a ride back to camp, I don’t recall with whom, but I was glad to have escaped what could have been a very unpleasant introduction to serious sex. San Francisco’s ‘Summer of Love’ was very much like the beach party on the western shore of Lake Huron. As a biologist I understood too much about sexually transmitted disease to be interested in copulating with strangers, but youth that night did do what youth (excluding cautious youth) has likely always done. I, being from a religious family, believed ‘sex’ was not an act to be undertaken lightly, especially outside of marriage. My hormones may have been raging, but understanding my psychological self, I behaved by my own values. I was not interested in abstract desire or in quick pleasure, or the need to feel desired by another, but I learned that summer that others wanted what did not interest me.

Back at the camp one of my ‘students’ was leaving for the weekend. She asked if she could bring me bagels as a treat when she returned. “No thanks. I like the taste, but they always are stale.” She brought me bagels anyway and explained what I was eating was not stale, it was simply a bagel. That was the nature of a bagel, they were not meant to be soft like a roll or a slice of bread. “Oh!!!!!” So yet another lesson that summer, a time much of life was unknown to me. Still, much of life remains a mystery. And although it’s been months since the November election, I cannot understand how any knowledgeable thinking person could have voted for Trump and not have voted for Hillary for president. Trump, for me, is just another version of that lake beach party.

And I did not learn of lox until several years after working at the YWCA camp. I learned of lox when I visited one of my students and his family. What I knew of Jews and their culture I had learned in church and from reading Marjorie Morningstar. The family was of Ashkenazi Jewish decent (and I have DNA commonly found in that group). They asked me if I wanted lox? They explained. I ate and have loved bagels, cream cheese, lox, capers and chopped red onion every since. We are not born knowing.

Just as I did not know of bagels or lox, I did not know of sushi when I attended shortly after arriving in California an event sponsored by female architects. I had a drink and a small cocktail plate. A woman of Japanese descent carried a platter filled with long California sushi rolls around the room. She stopped and held it out in front of me. I knew nothing of sushi and thought the long rolls were ‘Japanese burritos’ and took one. The Japanese American architect commented that she had spent the entire day making her sushi treats. She came back by me several times to see how I was doing with her sushi. Raw fish and a huge amount of it. I ate and I ate and I ate it because she seemed upset with my serving and seemed to want to make sure that I ate what I took. A small bite would have been more than sufficient. I wish the maker had told me to cut a small piece off one roll and that small piece was considered a serving. She had no idea I was ignorant of the topic. Before her plate, I had never seen a sushi roll. I guessed at what it was and guessed wrong. By the end of the evening I finished the roll, but after finishing it felt ill. I told no one of my uneasy stomach, worried that it would offend. Since my first California roll I’ve avoided raw fish. Several years later, I did get sushi as part of a pre-fixe menu at an upscale San Francisco restaurant. JM got ill, but it lasted only a matter of hours. I spent a few days sick, could keep nothing down, became too dizzy to stand so ended up in the hospital. The attending physician said I either got food poisoning from an improperly cooked fast-food hamburger or raw fish. When I told him where I ate the sushi, he could not believe I could have eaten ‘bad’ food at that fine restaurant.   We know many who love sushi, but now, if I go ‘Japanese,’ I eat tempura or steak, anything cooked. I love salmon lox, but not salmon sushi, although they are not so very different. We learn by experience, but sometimes a little introduction to the new, makes the new easier to stomach. A little pre-knowledge is not always a bad thing. Sometimes surprises are delightful, but sometimes surprises lead to experiences that one wishes never had occurred. Some love what I hate partially because of the experience of the ‘first bite.’ In writing class on Monday, we were instructed to write a letter of apology. One writer wrote:


I’m sorry I upset the applecart.


That myth describes the bite of all bites, a bite that affected all of humanity — and —

April 20, 2017 – THURSDAY

Photo of foot & crack

The Cracking: It grows. We must get our civil engineer to design a new retaining wall for the back hill. My task this week, I had said, was “to get sketches drawn so that he might provide the calculations and the civil engineering drawing for the wall.” It needs to be done now, but what I need to do, needed to do, is not yet done. “If not done today, then tomorrow, tomorrow” I have told myself, but days, months, years have passed and the crack grows. The hill, the engineer has assured me, will continue to move. The wall is to be built not to stop the hill’s movement, but to be built so that the hill and wall move in unison. It is to be a wall with a purpose unlike Trump’s wall, and paying for the wall will be money well spent, unlike Trump’s wall. Our wall should be built. Trump’s wall, NOT.

April 21, 2017 – FRIDAY

SF photos

Watercolor class: I do believe that I am the worst student in class. (I am.). I once painted gorgeous clouds and tolerable trees, but it’s been a quarter of a century since I’ve picked up a brush. There seems to remain no fragment of paint memory. Just as my old brushes disintegrated from disuse (or perhaps paint’s chemical remains), any skill I had is gone, disintegrated.

The City/County of San Francisco whenever we go over to visit still seems exotic, like a vacation city. JM said when he retires, we’ll have to play tourist regularly. Beautiful weather, and San Francisco was actually warm this evening. (“The coldest winter I ever spent was my summer in San Francisco,” attributed to Mark Twain.) Tonight, on our way to meet friends at a bar, we briefly played tourist, walked from BART to and through the Ferry Building (where we bought small gifts for our godchildren). We snacked and drank at Perrys’ with JM’s young friends. They are younger, much younger. We are the age of some of their parents and the age of at least one’s grandparents. One couple, both are attorneys at some up-town law firm. The husband has become the boss of the wife. I wanted to ask, “How do others in your group feel about that? How can he not play favorites? Does it make it uncomfortable for you (manager and subordinate)? Does it change the dynamics at home/ and to her, does he now try to play boss full time both at home and at work?” But as nosy as my brain was, I could not ask what I was wondering. We had planned, after drinks and snacks, to eat out at a nice SF restaurant. However, we had more than enough to eat and drink, so returned home to hot chocolate. A tame day in a wild city and pleasant from first to last.

April 22, 2017 – SATURDAY

Photo of nothing; co2

Earthiness, Airiness, The Day of the Earth: It is there. It has always been there. It is in us. It is all around us: look up; look down; look right; look left; look to the front; look behind you. It is still there. It is needed, but just like so many things, it is a mater of degree. Carbon dioxide (a molecule, two carbon atoms joined electrically with an oxygen atom) is odorless, tasteless, colorless. We know it is there, but we cannot see or smell or taste it. It is needed, and without it humankind would not exist. Plants take carbon dioxide in, and with the magic of chlorophyll and sunshine, they release oxygen and create matter, matter from energy and air. It seems impossible, but it is done. Without the apple, created from CO2 and sunshine, Newton would not have ‘discovered’ gravity. (He did not so much discover it as hypothesis its existence.) Nor would Eve, long before that, have tempted Adam. (Is the ‘Adam’s Apple’ from Adam’s swallowing a forbidden fruit?!). We, the living world are here because of CO2, but ironically, human existence, if not doomed, is likely to be limited by an overabundance of it. Humans have deforested the globe, removing the very trees that would have helped absorb some of the excessive of CO2 we’ve created by the burning of fossil fuels. Like a children denying what they have done, we Americans seem to deny what we have done, but denying does not change what we have done nor the effects we have triggered by our doing it. It has been said that, “Ignorance is bliss.” Today, IGNORANCE is DANGEROUS. And Trump’s ignorance and denial of basic scientific facts is a danger to you to me and to the world. We must act to reduce CO2 immediately. Efforts to reduce CO2 may be too little too late, but lack of action is certain to result in even greater worldwide catastrophes. Just like many bad decisions made by corporate heads, Trump may not be there to see the devastating effects of his ignorant decisions, but those bad decisions will result in not just in a mere failure of a corporation, but in failure of large ecosystems and beyond. In making decisions, CEOs (to benefit themselves) often choose immediate returns rather than making decisions that would benefit the long-term viability of their organizations. Trump seems to follow that model. He seeks approval from his base, caring little what his decisions will do to them and to all in the future. He wants immediate gratification. Decisions made (as well as those not made) today will affect life and cycles on this planet. Trump denies Climate Change, its cause and is requesting that government-funded institutions not collect Climate Change data. Trump is wrong, and he is doing what he can to prevent the world from knowing the degree of his wrongness.

Nature is a delicate balance. Trump is meddling with that balance, and he seems to think his mere existence trumps Nature. I regret that Nature had any part in his creation, but Nature is not perfect and it created him, an imperfect man, a dangerous man. The nature of President Trump is likely to cause irreparable harm to Nature. What greater mistake could Nature have made?