Native species

I was just looking on Amazon for a book about landscaping in Michigan and came across this passage in the first few pages of the “Look Inside” feature of Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan

Not only does a native plant depend on the organisms with which it has evolved, but the other organisms also depend on it, creating a true web of life. This natural system of checks and balances ensures that native plants seldom grow out of control in their natural habitats.

I got to thinking, why is this important? Objectively speaking, nature finds a way of “adapting” regardless. What will be, will be.

I think the importance is actually a reflection of our own values. Humans value control. We value predictable situations. Checks and balances afford predictable situations and non-dramatic, non-disruptive shifts that we can adapt to or react to to minimize adaptation requirements.

Where else do we hear about “checks and balances”? As any high schooler could tell you, the U.S. government. The founding fathers were smart men.

I only wish the financial industry were open to more checks-and-balances style regulation instead of feeling like it cramps their style. Perhaps we wouldn’t be in global economic crisis we are in now if they were.

A Reminder

It’s been 4 years now since my friend Justin passed away. Though time has tempered the magnitude of the loss, his absence still enters my consciousness on a regular basis. So much has changed since then… uprooting from CA to MI, home ownership, birth of a child, my oldest child entering the educational system, the deaths of two (in-law) grandparents… the list goes on. Each milestone and major event is a reminder of the passage of time. In idle moments when my mind wanders I often begin to dwell on my own mortality and whether I’m making the most of my time here on Earth. Justin’s passing is a regular reminder that there are no guarantees in life and that I should make the most of it while I have the opportunity. So, while I have to say I’d much rather he was still around, I’m thankful for the intangible gift he left behind. Thank you, Justin.

The Illustrated President

It’s been a few years since I’ve posted anything related to the current presidency. A friend past along a link to this Harper’s Magazine article regarding a painting by W.H.D. Koerner titled “A Charge to Keep” (1916) that George W Bush admires.A blurb from the article:

Bush has consistently exhibited what psychologists call the “Tolstoy syndrome.” That is, he is completely convinced he knows what things are, so he shuts down all avenues of inquiry about them and disregards the information that is offered to him. This is the hallmark of a tragically bad executive. But in this case, it couldn’t be more precious.

I thought it was quite humorous. Life imitates art? How true.

Sugary Tweet

I realize I haven’t been very good about blogging recently. As a stop gap measure, I’ve been using Twitter to capture fleeting notions over the past week or so. I had been holding off, as I felt the last thing I needed right now was another Internet distraction. But I have to admit, it’s kinda fun. And I find I post to it fairly frequently because 1) the entries have to be short because they are limited to 160 characters and 2) there is little to prevent me from posting since I leave the site open in a browser tab most of the time. And I explicitly chose to not have it notify me when a follower tweets (in Twitter parlance) so that it wouldn’t be a distraction.One of these days when I upgrade the blog software I’ll figure out a way to pull my tweet RSS feed into this blog’s entry stream. Until then, you’ll have to visit the site (or use the RSS feed) to see updates.If you’ve got a Twitter account or feel like getting one, let me know so I can add you to my “following” list.

Complete Day

Ran 18 miles.Discovered the existence of mutual friends with two separate TNT members.Drank a raspberry mocha.Paid respects to Justin at his freshly laid grave marker.Disposed of a dead robin on our back porch.Pulled dandelions.Got a flat wheelbarrow tire.Tweeked my back.Seeded and fertilized the lawn.Saw a complete double rainbow.Ate Thai food for dinner.Wore four sets of clothes over the course of the day.

Undifferentiated News. Undeferential to Music.

The major local public radio station here in Detroit WDET recently made substantial changes to its weekday programming, most notibly dropping the Judy Adams and Martin Bandyke shows. There have been a number of articles in the local newspapers discussing the changes:

A group of listeners called Save Detroit Radio has formed to protest the changes and may be filing a class action lawsuit against the station for taking donations during the fall pledge drive without disclosing the planned changes.I have to say that I’m quite upset about the changes myself. I was introduced to the station many years ago by my father. Ever since moving back to Michigan from California, it’s been the only local station I found worth listening to for its music programming. I’ve included below a letter that I’ve sent to the radio station regarding the changes. Continue reading

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Provisions for drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the last pristine region in the United States, have been quietly slipped into the completely unrelated defense spending bill by the US House of Representatives. The bill must still be approved by the US Senate.Here’s a letter that I sent to my US Senate representatives Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow.

I am very upset about the provision for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that was thrown into the defense spending bill. What type of refuge are we providing if we’re actively disrupting the wildlife’s feeding and breeding grounds? Not only that, but the oil that can be extracted will have negligible impact to the defense budget, national economy and dependency on foreign oil. Please vote this measure down and do what you can to have your colleagues in the Senate, both Democrat and Republican (especially John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Arlan Specter), to do the same.

I encourage you to call, fax, or e-mail your representatives in the US Senate to do the same.Update 2005.12.21: Wow. I received a response from Sen. Stabenow with some informative information. I’m assuming it’s a general message regarding her actions related to ANWR and the defense spending bill (based the mail merge line at the bottom of the message), but I appreciate the response nonetheless. I’ve included it below.I’ve never been one to really consider writing in to a politician or organization to voice my opinion. I’ve always assumed that they’re going to do what they’re going to do and my opinion will likely be ignored. That’s not to say that won’t happen. But I guess I’ve started to get passionate enough about some issues that I’d rather make the effort to do actively influence the situation than take the path of least resistance and do nothing. Continue reading

Backpacking Digital SLR

After about 5 years of using my 3.3 megapixel Olympus C-3040 digital point-and-shoot camera, I decided that I was ready for a digital SLR. The Olympus has been a great camera over the years. With its fast f/1.8 Carl Zeiss lens, it has the ability to take some nice shots even in low light. The photos have turned out nice and sharp under most conditions. However, I’ve learned a lot about photography in the past few years and have felt limited by its point-and-shoot feature set. I had a Minolta 35mm SLR prior to the Olympus and was just getting up to speed thinking in terms of aperature and shutter speeds before I went digital. The Olympus supported these features, but accessing them required drilling down through a few menus. Not only that, but like many digital cameras of its day, its shutter lag requires that I anticipate shots before they happen. Much of the time I’m pressing the button as a smile is forming. I realized that I was ready for a faster camera with controls that allow me to access the functions I need quickly.As I started to research my options, my criteria for the camera and lenses were as follows:

  • Lightweight – I wanted gear suitable for taking on backpacking trips (such as my 3-week John Muir Trail hike). Therefore one of my primary criteria was that it had to be light. I did a lot of research on ultralight backpacking strategies before the JMT hike and I knew that if I really wanted to go light I could carry an ultra-compact point-and-shoot, but I didn’t want to give up the opportunities that the SLR would allow.
  • Appropriate for my photographic needs – It needed to be great for mountain and landscape photography, but just as useful when not on the trail such as at family gatherings and candid shots around the house.
  • Capable of high-quality photos (sharp, little chromatic aberation, little flare) – If I’m going to bother to carry the gear, it had better produce some worthy photos.
  • Headache free (e.g. good build quality, under warranty) – I don’t want anything falling apart on me, but if it does, I want to be able to exchange it for another one. While doing my research, I read too many testimonials in online forums from people who found that they had to return a lens once or twice that did not meet their expectations.
  • Inexpensive as possible without sacrificing the above qualities – In the spirit of Albert Einstein: as cheap as possible, but no more.

After doing quite a bit of research, I settled on the following equipment (getting as much of it as possible from a local camera store in order to make it easier to exchange if necessary):

I’m posting this information for the benefit of fellow hikers with similar criteria in a digital SLR. It took quite a while to do the research, so hopefully this information will save other people some time. Granted, the technology and product line-ups change fairly often and prices go down over time, but I think these things should prove a sound investment. Chances are a camera body with more features will come out in the next year or so, but it is unlikely to get any smaller or lighter for ergonomic reasons. The lenses should be compatible with any future body, though I’ve seen some concern about the use of the EF-S mount in future Canon camera bodies. Only time will tell.Please read on if you’d like to read more about the decision making process. Disclaimer: some of the links that I’ve included go to online retail sites. I have no affiliation with any of them. They just happen to be where I found good information to link to! Also, please note that I wrote the majority of this entry in May 2005 but didn’t get around to finishing it until November 2005. I’ve updated the text appropriately but have left the prices at the original May 2005 values. Continue reading

Too Much of a Good Thing

This guy has written up a blog entry on being overwhelmed by the amount of digital media that is available and interesting to us these days versus consumable due to time constraints. This is definitely something that I’ve come up against myself. Rather than enjoying the music and photos, I feel like I have to keep consuming more and skimming through what’s in front of me or else I’ll get behind.I’ve got a hard drive full of music that I have never listened to. I’ve now set up a playlist on my iPod to pick 50 random songs that have a playcount of 0 in an attempt to hear at least most of them (of course, I need to make sure the unheard songs make it onto the iPod in the first place).I subscribe to the RSS feeds for a number of photoblogs. I originally thought it might be a good way to increase my understanding of what makes a good photograph and therefore make me a better photographer. But what usually ends up happening is I skim through the photographs in the feeds just to get through them all rather than stopping to analyze and appreciate them.I’m not sure what a good solution is yet. I still want to see and hear new stuff but it’s hard to cut back because I don’t want to miss out on anything.

Empty Spaces

Last night a bunch of Justin‘s friends from the Bay Area met up with his parents at his condo in Sunnyvale to console, reflect, and to remember. I was a little nervous about going because I thought it might be a big cry-fest, but surprisingly enough most people were in good spirits. Make no mistake, I’m certain we are all deeply saddened by his sudden departure. I know that I personally have gone through cycles of acceptance, extreme sadness, and denial. But I think last night was indicative of Justin’s personality based on the types of people he chose to surround himself with.His parents seem to be coping remarkably well, considering. They are terrific people and it’s very easy to see where Justin developed a number of his mannerisms. His father reminds me very much of my own father in many ways.As we were coordinating the event, calling each other to make sure everybody knew what time to head over, I couldn’t help but think that there was someone in the group that I had neglected to call… then I realized it was Justin.Today I came across an article about a mechanised drum machine with an acronym-based name of PEART in honor of the extremely talented drummer from the rock band Rush. My first thought was: Oh, Justin needs to check this out! Oh, wait…I’m going to miss that guy terribly.