Sunday, April 30, 2017

History loves company at L.A.'s newest public park

I am a fan of parks, if you define "fan" as someone who does not go out of his way to avoid them. I live fairly close to a park and so I am gifted, on warm weekends, with very loud musical stylings from cars whose occupants like to commune with nature. 

I do not like to think of myself as a curmudgeon, so I try not to think of myself. I agree with Emma Lazarus in principle; I just wish the huddled masses would yearn to breathe free a tad more quietly.

When we had little kids, the park was great; a daily venue for burning off their energy so that they could not harness it against us. That's a pro tip, by the way, from "The Art of War." (Even when two parents specifically limit themselves to two children so that they will never be outnumbered, it doesn't hurt to occasionally flip through a few pages of Sun Tzu.) 

The park was a social center, too, a place where harried parents could share war stories about exploding diapers and, later, even worse—state testing.

A few years ago an environmental study ranked San Francisco and San Diego way ahead of L.A. for parkland per capita. So it was with a spirit of blatant one-upsmanship that I jumped on the Gold Line last Sunday to visit the new Los Angeles State Historic Park downtown. This lip-shaped smooch of land just south of Dodger Stadium has grass, trees and all kinds of early-L.A. history. It's nice. Like a kiss blown to Chinatown.

As I stood on the overlook, a bridge with a view of the skyscrapers downtown, behind me I heard a horrific shriek, like a peacock on fire. It was this dad. He was shirtless and muscled, two things I never am. He had a radio in a stroller playing music, because what is the great outdoors except a setting for pop tunes? His little boys were running away on the grass below, and his avian death-howl was meant, I guess, as a "come back here." I did not ask for clarification on its origin.

You meet all types in parks is what I'm saying. We need more. Parks and types. The young trees are not big enough to throw much shade yet, but then we've got politicians and celebrities for that. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - love level

 For some people, admittedly, this is a low bar.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Shrimp gets named after Pink Floyd. Seriously.

Researchers recently discovered a new species of pistol shrimp (motto: "Pistols don't kill people, shrimp don't either, unless you're allergic.") It has a bright pink claw which it can click so loudly the noise can kill nearby fish. Scientists have dubbed it Synalpheus pinkfloydi, a nod to a rumor that Pink Floyd once played so loudly in concert they killed fish in a nearby pond. I caught up with the pink critter this week for an interview.

GW: Welcome. May I just call you Floyd?

Floyd: Sure, why not. HEYYY, who knew I could talk?

GW: You were big science news this week. You would think scientists had never seen a shrimp with a neon pink killer claw before. 

Floyd: It never ceases to amaze me what impresses people. 

GW: They say you can click that sucker so hard it hits 210 decibels. A jet engine is only 140. 

Floyd: What is a jet engine?

GW: Well, that's going to be hard to explain. Let's just say it's very loud.

Floyd: Does a jet engine also kill passersby with the manly clack of its claw?

GW: No. 

Floyd: Does a jet engine at least eat passersby?

GW: No. 

Floyd: A jet engine sounds like a wuss. I could take a jet engine. 

GW: Moving on, does the blazing color of your claw serve some purpose? 

Floyd: You're asking me?

GW: Yes.

Floyd: I didn't have a say. I didn't ask for flamingo-paw. I am playing the cards I was dealt.

GW: Why do you suppose nature gave you a flaming claw with which to stun fish?

Floyd: Why did nature give you freckles and a forehead the size of a dinner plate? Nature rolls the dice. Sometimes you get "hard leathery shell, lifespan of a century." Sometimes you get "rockin' pink nutcracker, delicious with cocktail sauce."

GW: I was reading about your cousin, the mantis shrimp.

Floyd: That guy. He can punch through the shells of his prey with the acceleration of a .22 bullet. Trust me, you don't want to high-five him.

GW: Nature is amazing. 

Floyd: Nature should make it easier to find lunch. 

GW: So what is next for Floyd?

Floyd: I am looking into politics.


Floyd: Local stuff at first. Law and order. 

GW: What's the angle?

Floyd: "Fear the claw." That kind of thing.

GW: I can see it.

Floyd: All in all, it's just another brick in the wall. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Eat first!

 I no longer believe in translations.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Steps will be taken...but will they be counted?

It began, as so many obsessions do, with a freebie. My wife's health care provider sent her a tiny clip-on step-counter. It is an oval, dark and smooth, like a river stone but more naggy. You set a goal for the number of steps you want to walk each day, and the pebble holds you accountable. If you check it first thing in the morning, you are met with a little pixelated disappointed face sticking out its tongue at you for only having walked 22 steps into the kitchen to turn on the coffee maker. You would think they could have programmed a motivational morning face. You do not know who you are dealing with.

Apparently the counter resets at midnight, because this morning it showed she had already burned 316 calories in her sleep. She still got the stink-eye from the pebble. Maybe there is a way to change the time zone, to game the system so it thinks she is basically running a 5K in her sleep. If it can be done, people have thought of it. I'll google it, I say. That would be cheating, she says. Who's gonna know? I say. Blue Shield, she says, and shudders a little.

Jen does not have, by nature, an addictive personality, although there was that time that she played Tetris on the Game Boy for eight solid hours until her fingers began cramping uncontrollably. All so she could complete the final level and watch the tiny virtual space shuttle blast off in victory. Or the entire summer she spent endlessly answering questions on Yahoo in a gambit to be voted "best answer" on a wide number of topics and to be rated, by Yahoo, a top answerer. But it's not like she's tried crack.

Suddenly it's all about the numbers, though. "I need more steps" she will say as she breezes in after work, as if she forgot to check the "step" aisle on her last visit to Trader Joe's. "I'm only at 6,000. I'm going to take Skipper a few extra blocks." Our dog is the unwitting beneficiary of the pebble. He will be gifted more sign posts to sniff, more deadly chicken bones to ferret out of lawns, more dogs to inadvisably challenge. Bliss.

I am just thankful this obsession is not something unpleasant, involving me and kale. You know what they say—a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But without a pebble they don't count.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Valveless hog oiler

 There was a time I would not have believed the job could be done without valves. I stand corrected.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"Cats not as aloof as commonly thought, study suggests"

A study out of Oregon State University this week reported that cats prefer people to food, pleasant scents and toys, a result which took dog lovers, indeed all humans, by surprise. I am fortunate to have one of the cats from the study, Precious, here with me today.

George: Welcome, Precious.

Precious: The girl named me Precious. Call me Duke. 

George: You're awfully fluffy for a Duke.

Duke: Remind me again how many lives humans have.

George: One.

Duke: Think carefully about how long you want yours to last. 

George: So Duke, this experiment offered cats a person, a bowl of food, a nice scent and a toy, and most of you chose to hang with the human. Um, are you batting at my ear buds?

Duke: No, I was just...checking...whether they were Android.

George: iPhone. 

Duke: Good to know.

George: So...

Duke. The study, yeah. Well, you have to understand, the people who we went for instead of food or toys were waving a feather. It wasn't just some dude in a bean bag chair sticking out a finger.

George: A feather is kind of cheating.

Duke: It kind of is. 

George: Was the food good?

Duke: Yeah, it was O.K. Some chicken thing. And the toys were cute. A jingly metal ball on a string, a little squeaky kangaroo. The scent was mouse or something. 

George: But the feather.

Duke: The feather was like prey. Irresistible. To be honest, I never even saw the people's faces.

George: It was a close contest, I hear. Food was a close second. 

Duke: They hadn't fed us in a few hours so that we'd be hungry.

George: But the feather.

Duke: That feather! I barely even saw the hand waving it. So the results should really say cats prefer a waving, flitting, sexy tease of a feather to food or toys.

George: You are reliving it right now, aren't you?

Duke: I'm going to need a minute. 

George: The study makes it sound like cats are not the aloof creatures we tend to think.

Duke: Yeah, but did you read the whole thing? Some of us didn't even complete the test. We lost interest. 

George: You really going to lick that whole leg?

Duke: Well, it's not gonna lick itself. 

George: Last question. Do you like people?

Duke: I like people who scratch my ears and then get on with their lives.

George: There ya go, buddy.

Duke: Ahhhh, that's nice. Hey, you got a feather?

. . .


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday Wa Pic - Life Wtr

 "We filtered out the vowels for a noticeable increase in pretension."

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Smart toaster makes creativity as easy as 1, 2, me!

Ever since a certain political personality commented on TV that microwave ovens could be spying on us, I have been yelling at mine. "This president is doing a heckuva job!" I will shout as offhandedly as I can, even if the room is empty. "It is good the rich are finally getting a tax break," I will intone, "They will be able to expand their generosity even more to the needy, which is always their first impulse, and one that I commend."

I do not think my microwave is a camera, but these days you can't be too careful. Every night I hum the national anthem to my smart toothbrush in case it is transmitting.

The smart house is a real thing now. Your appliances can communicate with your phone and with each other. I got a text from my freezer the other day, after loading it up with an unusual quantity of gelato, that just said, "Really?"

On Kickstarter they have fully funded a smart toaster which you can program to toast images using an app on your phone.  For today's purposes I'll call it ToastMax. You can toast pre-set images like Pac-man, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Batman symbol, or best of all, create your own. "Unleash your imagination" the ToastMax ads say. Truthfully, I do not think society is ready for my imagination on toast.

Sure, there have been impression toasters for awhile. There is one shaped like a Darth Vader head which toasts "Star Wars" onto your bread. There is one which toasts the image of Jesus, but it is completely out of stock; totally understandable after an election year.

But ToastMax makes these one-trick toasters look like amateurs. ToastMax allows you to toast yourself reminders like "Pay bills" or even char the local weather forecast into your bread. Do not tell me there has been a better time to be alive.

The company is not modest either: "ToastMax has reinvented the way you connect with family and friends." I do not want to call that hyperbole, but let's just agree to disagree on the definition of the words "reinvented," "family" and "friends," shall we?

It goes on: "Secret messages that are only readable on toast is the fresh dose of surprise they're looking for." I think a copywriter is what ToastMax is looking for. I wonder if they would accept my resume on rye.

. . .