The Sad, Silent Coffee Machine

Eldest daughter and her family have been staying with us, on and off, for the past month.  This has not created any space continuum inconvenience to The Car Guy and I – The Red House is more than large enough (because it is the same house we raised a squabble of teens in). Two extra adults and two teenagers  – we left it to them to jostle for prime real estate to set up their internet command stations.

Our kitchen is spacious. It is more than capable of handling the extra cooks. The biggest difference was that the fridge filled and emptied on a daily, rather than weekly basis. Oh, and the dishwasher was often pressed into service twice a day.

But the workhorse, no, the single most essential appliance in the house, was the Coffee Machine. These people are fueled by liquid caffeine.

This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion… From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.
– Honoré de Balzac, The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee –

Yesterday morning, The Car Guy and a very full Jeep transported the Daughter and her family to the airport to catch the first flight of many. They are starting a ten month, round the world adventure. (You can follow their journey at Daily Creatives.)

This morning it is eerily quiet and cold here at The Red House. The Coffee Machine hasn’t even been turned on, so after I photographed it I added the message I expect it would want to send to the coffee drinkers who have left it behind.

 coffee maker

The fridge door has only opened twice. The stack of dishes on the counter is hardly noticeable. The bathrooms are unoccupied – there is no water running. There are no voices chatting, no tap, tap, tap on multiple keyboards.

The weather has suddenly turned, and after months of dry heat, it is raining. Yesterday it was still summer. Today it is fall.

Missing the family, but life goes on…
Looking on the bright side, the Internet is a lot faster now that only two of us are connected…

All my coffee and tea quotations are at The Quippery – Coffee and Tea

Algorithms – Do They Have a Hidden Agenda?

The Quippery
When you ask Google or Bing or Duck Duck Go to find something for you, how does ‘it’ filter the results? How do advertisers, retailers and financial markets make  decisions on what product to offer you? How do banks decide who to offer a loan or a bank card to? How do insurance companies determine how to assess risk and set prices? How do employers and dating sites use personality tests to find matches? The answer is, they use Algorithms!

An Algorithm is a set of detailed instructions that are fed into a computer program to deliver a result, or set of results from the information that it is given.

On the internet, Algorithms determine what we see first, or most. For example, when I input the letters ‘do’  into Google search, the autocomplete algorithm suggests ‘donald trump, ‘dominos’ and ‘donald trump news’. The search engine Duck Duck Go  and Yahoo suggest ‘domino’s pizza’, ‘dorothea hurley bongiovi’ and ‘donald trump’. Bing suggests ‘domino s’, download chrome’ and ‘download google chrome’ before getting to ‘donald trump twitter’.

Why do they all choose such similar suggestions? It is because search engines look for what they believe is most relevant – which is the highest frequency of a search term and the way that pages containing that term link to other pages in the Web.

There are other factors at work too. Because Algorithms are written by people, it is not uncommon for those people to write their personal bias into the algorithms:

The dustup over Facebook’s “trending topics” list and its possible liberal bias hit such a nerve that the U.S. Senate called on the company to come up with an official explanation, and this week COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company will begin training employees to identify and control their political leanings.
– Nanette Byrnes, Why We Should Expect Algorithms to Be Biased, MIT Technology Review, June 24, 2016 –

Sometimes algorithms are simply mercenary in nature. Facebook may claim that its algorithm is personalized for your benefit, but it would be fair to say that Facebook’s algorithm is also optimized for Facebook, and thus for the advertisers.

More disturbing – it has been demonstrated that people’s emotions can be controlled by algorithms built into their social feeds. In 2012, Facebook  and data scientists from two Universities (in a study that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) tweaked the news feed algorithms of roughly 0.04 percent of Facebook users, or 698,003 people, for one week in January. During the experiment, half of these people saw fewer positive posts than usual, while half  saw fewer negative ones. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced  more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite occurred. (In a note of contrition, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the decision to manipulate the content without the users consent might have violated some principles of academic research…)

It is one thing to know and accept that sites like Google or Facebook (both are primary news sources for people under 35) can manipulate what you see and potentially control how you feel. Are you also willing to accept that they could also be isolating you from other viewpoints, thus exacerbating your biases?

If you believe, as I do, that trending news can often be incomplete news –  will you search for better information if you see ‘Red Flags’ like the following?

– does the story  contain facts that seem to be inflated?

Example from Greenpeace USA: “The Arctic is one of the most unique places on Earth. It spans eight countries, is home to more than 13 million people… Fact check: The National Snow and Ice Data Centre, which is supported by NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says “In total, only about 4 million people live in the Arctic worldwide.”

– is the story attempting to appeal to your emotions, or to the emotions of young people who may not be old enough to understand the inaccuracy of the story?

Example: Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, soliciting donations for the Suzuki Foundation, did a “live from the North Pole” broadcast in front of some faux Arctic scenery in 2011. “Santa’s workshop is sinking! Climate change is melting the snow and ice and the rising water is getting too close for comfort. Santa must relocate – fast – to make sure all the nice boys and girls still have a happy holiday.”

– does the headline contain exaggerated language that attempts to make you fearful?

Example: “Sir John A. Macdonald: 5 Frightening Facts About Our First Prime Minister” – Rachel Décoste, Huffpost –

– does the story swear at someone or make derogatory comments?

Example: “Soon enough, he will be alone, surrounded only by his admiring fellow racists. But he will still be governing from the Oval Office. It bears repeating. Americans got what they asked for. And it oozes.” Opinion piece on Donald Trump from Neil Macdonald, for CBC News

Who is to blame for the dismal state of journalism today? Do you think Algorithms  have played a role in forming your opinions or  have they impacted your life in other ways?

Follow this link to read my list of related quotations: Algorithms

The Elemental Muskrat – Reshaping the Banks of Their Watery World

Alberta water

One evening I watched some Muskrats ‘working like beavers’ at a friends farm. The muskrat is a largish rodent that looks like a stocky rat. It seems harmless enough, but has the ability to reshape the banks of any body of water it decides to call home. In this photo, you can see a cut in the bank where one of its underground dens has perhaps collapsed. If they dug bank burrows under the windmill on the other side of the dugout, it might eventually cause a big problem!

Alberta Water
Muskrats primarily eat a wide variety of plants. This pair were transporting sweet clover – doesn’t it almost looked like a bridal bouquet!?

I really was disappointed when I downloaded my muskrat photos and looked at them on my computer. The early evening light wasn’t optimal for capturing detail with a zoom lens. I fancied the photos up with a few filters, but all in all, I’d say they are good examples of what ELJAYGEE calls  Second Best Shots

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is Elemental.

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A Satisfying Day at the ‘Gamma Dogs’ House

We recently became ‘Grandparents’ to a puppy, though the term ‘puppy’ seems odd for a dog that never was very small and is growing really quickly. Our daughter and her husband are taking their puppy, Ghost, to puppy classes and are making good progress in establishing themselves as the ‘Alpha Dogs’! This training is quickly forgotten, however, in the excitement of a day here at our rural Red House. We joke that I am so far down in the dog’s ‘hierarchy of obedience’ alphabet that I am the ‘Gamma Dog’.


“So many smells. I wonder if any of them are dog approved food. The ‘Alpha Dog Lady’ sure didn’t like the dead gopher I found here last week.”

“Sniffing, running, digging, rolling! People – I need a bowl of water!”

“And I’m done. Could someone carry me to the car?”

This week’s WordPress.com Photo Challenge is Satisfaction.

Are you a dog owner? Or – do you just enjoy a dog when it visits, then get to send it home with the owners?

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Would Grandma Approve?

A Collage of Doilies. What would Grandma think if she saw some of her handiwork hanging on the wall!?

red wall, starched

Doilies with the FotoSketcher Emergence filter

Doilies with the FotoSketcher Dots filter

Doilies with the GIMP Stained Glass filter

My previous post about Doilies is at Preserving and Using Grandma’s Doilies.

Do you have any of your Grandma’s  or Grandpa’s treasures displayed in your house?

This week’s WordPress.com Photo Challenge is Collage.

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An Artistic Look at Bridges

‘Post processing’ or photo editing can not only slightly improve a photo, it can extensively alter it! Here are a few ‘before’ and ‘after’ examples I applied to photos of Bridges.

Old Town Hall

Before: Bamberg Germany, Old Town Hall

Bamberg is an beautiful example of an early medieval town in central Europe. It has a large number of surviving ecclesiastical and secular buildings. It is crisscrossed by many rivers, winding canals, and bridges. Some of the bridges are old and famous and some, like this one, are more modern, but don’t detract from the architecture of the surrounding buildings.

watercolor filter FotoSketcher

After: FotoSketcher Watercolor filter

In keeping with the feel of an ancient European City, I used a Watercolor filter.

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Deception Pass State Park; Oak Harbor, Washington USA

Before: Deception Pass Bridge, Washington

Deception Pass Bridge is the common name for two, two-lane bridges that connect Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island in the U.S. state of Washington. Pass Island lies between the two bridges.

Washington, USA

After: FotoSketcher Emergence Filter

I used a filter called Emergence, which is really a series of triangles. I like the way they highlighted the red rose hips.

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Arizona, USA

Before: New Navajo Bridge across the Colorado River, AZ

Navajo Bridge – The original Navajo Bridge was completed and opened to traffic in January 1929. Prior to the building of the bridge, the only way to cross the Colorado River and its formidable gorge was at Lee’s Ferry a short distance upstream. Construction on a new, wider bridge began in May of 1993. The old bridge became a walking bridge.

Pencil Sketch Collage

After: Pencil Sketch filter

I used a Pencil Sketch Filter – just because…

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Have you experimented with using filters on your photos? Which program do you use?

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is Bridge.

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Grow Up, Snake!

Transient – a snake passing through the yard, my ‘fear’ of said snake, the snakes skin.

I have to say at the outset that I don’t really like snakes all that much. Not big snakes, for sure. (A snake always looks bigger than it really is, by the way.) So the first time I saw a ‘pretty big’ snake in my yard in Arizona, I was a bit ‘freaked’ out. It looked suspiciously like a Rattlesnake… Fortunately, our local Fire Department comes running when you call and ask for their Snake Removal assistance. I think they would rather deal with a snake than with a snake bite.

The snake turned out to be a Gopher (or Bull) Snake. From a safe distance, Gopher snakes and Rattlesnakes resemble each other – they have the same sort of markings and colors.

A stretched out Gopher Snake – about 3 ft (1 metre) long.

When I’d calmed down, and took a closer look, I saw how the Gopher Snake differed from a Rattlesnake.

round pupils

Gopher Snake head – no facial pit, and round pupils distinguish the gopher snake from the rattlesnake.

Both snakes can be a bit short-tempered. The Gopher Snake will rise to a striking position, flatten its head into a triangular shape, hiss loudly and shake its tail at intruders. The ruse works very well if the snake also happens to have it’s tail hidden in tall dry grass.

tapered tail

Gopher Snake – tapered tail, no rattles

After this particular snake had slithered off, The Car Guy discovered that it had left it’s skin behind. ‘Love the Skin You’re In’ only works for a month or so for a snake, then they discard it for a nice new one so that they can grow larger.

Here is the skin – each scale sparkled in the bright sunlight. Quite beautiful.

Snake Stories
Common Name: Gopher Snake or Bull Snake
Scientific Name: Pituophis
Description: The top of the snake is tan, cream, yellow, orange-brown, or pale gray, with a series of large dark brown or black blotches, with smaller dark spots on the sides. They can reach 9 feet (275 cm) in length, but 4 feet (120 cm) is more common.
Native to: from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans, as far north as southern Canada, and as far south as Veracruz and southern Sinaloa, Mexico, including Baja California.
Date Seen: April 28, 2017
Location: North of Fountain Hills, Arizona
Comments: This is a powerful constrictor that preys on a wide variety of animals including rats, mice, rabbits, lizards, birds, snakes, eggs, and insects. It hibernates during the cold months of late fall and winter.

Have you ever found a snake skin? Did you know that humans shed their entire outer layer of skin every 2-4 weeks at the rate of 0.001 – 0.003 ounces of skin flakes every hour?

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is Transient.

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