Thursday, June 27, 2013

Poa volcano in Costa Rica

Yesterday I went up at 2600 m elevation and stood on the rim of the crater of the Poa volcano in Costa Rica.  The crater is 1 km across and the volcano is still active, with the latest eruption in 2009, but not much activity yesterday.  Just some steam clouds (fumaroles) and smell of sulfur from down in the crater.  It didn't rain, which it usually does at this elevation, and the forest on the volcano are deep, low, dark cloud forest, with some open areas at the very highest elevations. It was a gorgeous place, easy to get to, and fascinating - the opposite to tropical beaches and tall rainforest.  Here are some photos, more to come on Flickr later...

 Looking into the crater of the Poa volcano in Costa Rica, with steamy sulfuric clouds coming out from the bottom.
 Walking through the cloud forest at 2600 m altitude.  Fog from clouds, gnarly trees, and lots of wet, green mosses.
 A high-altitude lake has formed in an older crater on the other side of the active crater rim.  The giant leaves in the foreground are Gunnera, or 'poor man's umbrella', and the leaves can be up to 2 meters (6 feet across).
A squirrel had figured out how to beg for food from the tourists and then took up dining space on a tree branch.
Ferns, ferns!  Small, large, enormous, green, and brown and curled up when young.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Spirogyra butterfly garden in Costa Rica

Yesterday I went to a tiny, rather unknown, little butterfly garden in downtown San Jose, the Costa Rican capital.  In a backyard on a slope down towards a river a family has developed a net-enclosed butterfly forest, with host plants, nectar-bearing flowering plants, and many, many butterflies. I was alone there, and in this tranquil place the butterflies didn't mind me - you could get inches away from them and take the most amazing photos. 

They rear their own butterflies, and the garden is a complete ecosystem with eggs, larvae, and pupas present.  This is nice, much different from butterfly houses where they buy the pupas (chrysalis) from other places and then let them hatch.

Here are some of the native butterflies of Costa Rica, all photographed yesterday and with a little quick snapshot camera, not with a macro- or telelens.  It was amazing how close you could get to the insects. 


Friday, June 21, 2013

Iceland review day 4 and 5

Lavafield (hraun) from 1783.

Mountains on the south coast.

Yesterday was by far the most exciting day. The offroad bus did not show up, but an icelander with a monster truck did, with room for us. The tour he was taking us was more of a track than a road, and it went through lava fields with big caves and tunnels, over rivers and on snow fields. It was great! We had perfect clear sky and view over three jökulareas. He drove us up to the Lakigigjar, from the eruption 1783, a row of 25 eruption cones. Overall, we had a fantastic trip. In the late evening, I took a photo tour in the midnight sun. Pics are in the camera, so I show them later. 

Today we have seen Gullfoss and Geysir and ended the day with a bath in natural hot spring water and steam, in a newbuilt spa in Laugarvatn. They had built the spa over a natural steam spring, so there were no termostats. If it got too warm you could open the door, or go outside! Under the floor we could hear the water boiling. Amazing!
Geothermal spa in Laugarvatn

Happy Birthday, B!!!


This is a wonderful day to have a birthday!  Midsummer solstice, sunshine, an abundance of flowers, crisp air and good insects and birds everywhere.  So, a very happy birthday to B! 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Iceland tour II

Yesterday, many miles of stone, lavahraun and sand under the glaciers. The reward; icebergs in the lake Jökulsarlon. Beautiful views on Vatnajökull.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Iceland tour

EH and Ans are touring on Iceland for a week. A few snapshots from the scenery.

Outlook from Dyrholaey, Vik, Icelands southernmost point.

Seljalandsfoss, 65 meters high

My companion for a day.

Shaker patterns

In 2011 we visited Hancock Shaker Museum Farm in Massachusetts, and despite it being a somewhat dreary day, we had a great time among the old-fashioned uildings and their tools and utensils.  What striked me was how in the simplicity of all their handmade things was the beauty of patterns, repeats, and just a tiny bit randomness.  Here are some examples (and more photos here):

basket weaving

weaving for the seat of the shaker chairs
shaker chair seat
wooden box workshop
piglets, very young

Friday, June 14, 2013

Extreme weather situations

I hope you are well in New Jersey and that you and your house are safe. I saw some footage of the Derecho Storm in June last year on the Youtube. The rain and wind is unbelievably strong. Here in Sweden we have had a few days of colder and wetter weather, but ours 30 mm of rain last Sunday was quickly absorbed by the ground. A light thunderstorm went by today, and the kids went out playing in the rain and admiring the rainbow. Tomorrow there will be sun again, and the summer vacation has started in all the schools. So many dreams and expectations to realize, and so many outdoor projects to be done. I for one have started to get my salad  from my vegetable raised bed, and the plants in the flower border are trying to outgrow each other. I have a touch of blue glass here and there, inspired by LS of course ;-).

I wish you a good summer with no severe weather events. It might be unlikely to happen, but I will keep my fingers crossed.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On this day... now and 9 years ago

9 years ago, the periodical cicadas were buzzing, the fireflies bleeping, and we got married. PP,  thanks for the fantastic dinner at Brothers Moon tonight.  (If you haven't eaten there, you should, if you have the opportunity.)  Local, well-made food, and their Caesar salad with extra anchovies are to die for.

Other things that happened today:

The high school had to be evacuated after a bomb scare.  No bomb was found, but all kids were sent home at 2 PM.  Yesterday Princeton University got evacuated for the same reason.  Prank, lunatic, or what?  This is not funny. Neither was it funny when the two old couples sitting next to us in the restaurant talked about the bomb threat in Princeton and one of the elderly men at their table said 'well, I wish the bomb threat had been true and all the liberal professors had been killed off'.  Sigh.

In New York City two window washers got stuck at the 44th floor (about 600 feet, 200 m above ground) on the outside of the building.  They were eventually rescued by firemen cutting holes in windows so they could reach them and bring them back inside.  This was only one block from where AREA works right now.

The fireflies are out!  Blink, blink, blink! Special photo for KV with fireflies from Japan.

The bull frogs are croaking in the dark, right now.  And big black crickets are cricketing.

We are waiting for another giant weather event.  This one isn't named (yet), but we are expecting 4 inches (100 mm) rain tomorrow, storm-level winds, maybe tornados and hail and definitely big thunderstorms.  We haven't even dried up after the most recent storm, and our rivers are so flooded already that roads and bridges are closed.  Not good, the ground can't soak up any more.  But we are prepared, with pumps, generator (if the power goes out), charged cell phones, lots of food, and playing cards and candles. And while we get soaked, Colorado burns. There doesn't seem to be any 'normal' in the weather anymore.

Finally, our cat Smokey believes that the way to get of loose undercoat wooly fur is to lick it off, get it stuck in your teeth and then have it hanging from your lips like if you were an old goat.  Sorry, no photos yet, we are working on it.  She isn't the most cooperative cat when it comes to photography or brushing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Garden update from New Jersey: baby mantis and poppies

The praying mantis just hatched!
The baby praying mantis' are out, growing quickly by eating aphids.  We see up to 10 at the time, and they are hanging out by the daylilies, which opened their giant yellow flowers today.
red maple fruit on a rainy car window
We have had too much rain already.  But the plants love it. In the last week we have had 7 inches of rain, which is nearly 200 mm. The fruit on my car window is an immature red maple samara.
Philip Haas: The Four Seasons
AREA and I went to The New York Botanical Garden a few weeks ago. Philip Hass has an exhibit there where he has made giant, oversized sculptures inspired by Arcimboldo's The Four Seasons.  What do you think?  We weren't too impressed.  Gaudy and overblown, I think. It also looks like a plastic flower arrangement. (more photos here)

poppies and corn flowers at Montgomery High School, NJ, USA
And, among the nicest things our town has done recently is the installation of solar panels by each school, and, the sowing of wildflower seeds around their newly planted trees.  Here are the weedy cornflower and poppies flourishing, with the solar panels in the background. People stop and take photos, just like we did.  This is so much nicer than green, sprayed, sterile, lawn.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What if.... Ponderings over technology

At work we have a copy machine that you have to sign out of when you are done, by clicking buttons on the Touch screen THREE (3) times.  First, click your name in the upper right corner, then select Log Out from the menu, then a new menu comes up asking: Are you sure you want to Log Out? and then you have to hit yes.   Isn't it amazing that something as simple as logging out is made so convoluted?  They can't blame it on safety. 
     When you drive a car and turn left, nobody stops you and wait for you to confirm once or twice that YES, INDEED, I want to turn left.  Imaging the number of accidents that would happen if you had to confirm every little action while driving a car... and response times would increase as would frustration and road rage.  What a waste of time in front of the printer.

At home we have a printer that stops working as soon as one of the colors is finished, even if there is black ink left and you only want to print in black and white.  It just won't print.  It is on strike until you have bought new, expensive color ink (or photo gloss, or whatever it might be), that you don't need for that particular print job. 
    When you drive a car, and the windshield washer fluid runs dry, the car just doesn't stop working and waiting for you to fill up more of it, regardless of where you are.  That would be inconceivable.

Sometimes when you surf the web and look at stuff, the network gets clogged, or the software slows down, and even sometimes, the program or even the computer just crashes, and you are forced to restart the computer.  
   When you drive a car, it suddenly just doesn't stop randomly or goes at tiny speed because of some outside force field or sluggish connection.  That would be pretty dangerous.

Many times you look around on the web and try to find a good restaurant so you browse their web pages, but when you go to their website you are met by 'the intro' - some awful music, slow things (usually photos) moving across the page, and you have to sit there and waste your time unless you can find the tiny semi-hidden text called 'Skip this intro'.  After that torture and time-waste is over, you can start to look for 1) opening hours, 2) address and directions, and 3) the menu.  You would think those three things are the most important information to get to your potential customers, and that at least 1 and 2 should be listed on the opening page of the home page. Oh no, you often have to guess where it is, maybe under 'Contact Us", or 'About Us', or some other non-direct heading.  And often you have to scroll down because the bottom of the page can't be seen at first sight.  For the menus, those are often under a tab, but many are hidden under headings that are tiny, and on extremely slow-loading pages (including the crashing pdf-format), or just small.
    If you drive a car, it doesn't play unwanted intro music when you start it.  It starts up, then it immediately shows you if anything is wrong with the car on the dashboard (any Check Engine light on? Doors open? No, good!).  All information is right there, ready to check out and react to.  Restaurant web pages are like Lego Men hidden in pizza dough, you can't find them or you find a little piece but you can't see the rest.

Who designs these things?  I thought designers' jobs were to make things that WORK WELL and LOOK GOOD.  The first of those things, i.e. practicality, user-friendliness, and usability is as important as that it looks great.  The funny thing is that often the companies insist that their way of doing things are for our convenience, when in reality these things cause us inconvenience, frustration, or just waste time.  Books never fail to open.  Compasses never run out of batteries. Simplicity and ease-of-use means just that, simplicity. 

Will it take 50-100 years to make the internet, printers, copiers, and computers as user-friendly and reliable as cars?  I hope not.  Of course cars break down at times, but they are far more reliable than most of our other home electronics.  I love things that work and that even if complicated, are easy to use. Don't get me started on the design of remote controls... you would think they get paid by the numbers of buttons they put on them.  How long did it take for cars to enter the phase of user-friendliness?  And maybe cars are now on their way to become less user-friendly again?  I haven't mastered the GPS in PP's car at all, because it is not at all intuitive. 

PS.  OK, you want examples of bad design offenders? Here is one...
Prune Restaurant, New York City   
You have to CLICK to enter their website.  What did they think, that you got to their website by accident and need to confirm with them that you actually want to be there?  And then click on Menu and see if you can see their partial tiny menu in a scrolling window... The prices on the lunch menu are about 4 mm tall on my screen.  That is about half as big as a black pepper corn.  Anybody that can read the ingredients on the Bloody Mary menu online ought to get a free drink, or two. Prune, shape up, and fix your website please...

I think Steve Jobs got it right in this quote:

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The last tulips this season

Tulips 'Hemisphere' and summer snow bells Leucujom `Gravetyi Giant'