Friday, July 31, 2015

RIP, Roddy

I was never a professional wrestling fan (though, for some reason, a lot of women I've gone out with were), but there are some professional wrestlers who transcend the sport-entertainment spectacle. Roderick "Rowdy Roddy Piper" Toombs, who died today, was one of these individuals.

My great and good friend J-Co, a skinny, well-spoken, well-read kid, was inexplicably a fan of both professional wrestling and schlocky movies, so when Roddy Piper played the lead in post-apocalyptic schlockfest Hell Comes to Frogtown (also starring J-Co favorite Sandahl Bergman), he was in a transport of delight. Hell Comes to Frogtown shares some similarities thematically with Escape from New York, but was aimed at an audience that believed that the latter film was too sophisticated:

The high point of Roddy's film career was John Carpenter's low-budget 1988 sci-fi/horror satire They Live, a critique of rampant commercialism and creeping fascism. While the film received a mixed reception from critics when it was released, it has gained a considerable cult following, being embraced by both the anti-fascist left and the anti-globalist right for its depiction of an occult reality fostered on the average citizen by a predatory, alien elite. While Roddy Piper didn't win an Oscar for his portrayal of the protagonist, his quick wit and glib tongue were served well by the script, and Roddy (sporting a gloriously cheesy 80s mullet) delivered one of the greatest quotes in the history of B-filmdom:

Suddenly, it feels like the world is all out of bubblegum.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fractured Narratives

Lately, the local independent radio station has been playing the single from the brand-new Death Cab for Cutie album, which is named for a Japanese art of piecing together broken pottery to reveal a history of an object's history and use.

In a comment on my last post, short woman linked to a Think Progress article detailing the deaths of five African-American women in police custody this month. Piecing together various local news stories reveals a sinister pattern. Similarly, the endless incidence of police killings of African-Americans (and, it must be added, Native Americans)can now be connected, local news story to local news story, through the use of the internet, resulting in a narrative of a slow civil war on minorities.

The history of the United States has long been characterized by fractured narratives, the unseemly aspects of American society buried, necessitating the unearthing of fragments which had to be carefully assembled to form a counterbalance to the sanitized, comforting legend. Currently, a true view of American society has to be pieced together from the narrow columns of local news outlets. In the case of gun violence, the GOP-dominated congress has extended a ban on CDC studies on gun violence statistics. Any broad narrative about gun violence has to be pieced together from local news stories, those narrow columns in low-circulation, narrowcast newspapers. The true extent of gun deaths, the majority of them suicides, is obscured by the difficulty in compiling the data.

A healthy democratic society depends on the compilation of accurate information, laboriously piecing together various shards to discern a true picture of our nation is simply not good enough. kintsugi is a charming approach to pottery conservation, but it's a really bad approach to assessing the health of a culture.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Local Iteration of the National Disgrace

Dominating the local news is the story of the death of Raynette Turner, a 43 year-old African American woman, while in police custody. Ms Turner was being held while awaiting arraignment for shoplifting, a crime which does not merit the death penalty in any jurisdiction I am aware of in the US.

This case is an eerie echo of the death of Sandra Bland while in police custody.

I used to live in Mount Vernon, and occasionally blogged about it, and I currently live a mere three blocks from the border. Mount Vernon is a pretty rough town, but I can't recall an incident like this occurring there. So far, an investigation hasn't taken place, but the statistics for death while in police custody are appalling, as is the long duration of pre-arraignment jail terms. Cruel and unusual punishment is supposed to be considered unconstitutional, but it seems to be altogether too common.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Appropriate for Today's Soundtrack

It's almost midnight, I think I'll fall back on the 'post a video' gambit in order to get a post in for the day... One album that I have listened the hell out of was Strange Times by The Chameleons, a band from the greater Manchester metropolitan area which combined a guitar-heavy wall of sound, driving rhythm section, and deep, distinctive vocals. Despite having this album on heavy rotation, I really never sought out the band's other albums until recently. Tonight, I was struck by how prophetic the song title A Person Isn't Safe Anywhere These Days is:

The band's sound was well-developed from the get-go, a moody body of work that seems to occupy a space in the soundscape midway between Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen. I guess I'll be listening to their entire discography over the next couple of days.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sleek, Elegant

While on the walkabout on the job this evening, I had the good fortune to see a sleek, elegant critter, resplendent in pinstripes:

The eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is one of the most common reptiles in the New York metro area, perhaps second to the diminutive brown snake (Storeria dekayi). The site where I ran across this beauty is a garter snake paradise- a nice mix of meadow and forest, with a small body of water. Eastern garter snakes operate as well in the water as they do on land, and take a variety of vertebrate and invertebrate prey. This particular snake is well situated.

The little critter was valiant- it coiled up as if to strike rather than fleeing when the hairless ape waved a camera in its face. I admire a little beast with moxie.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Kepler, FTW

Here's some timely news, about a week after I attended a Secret Science Club lecture about the search for earthlike planets around distant stars, the Kepler team found a rocky planet orbiting in the habitable zone of another star. Phil Plait describes the planet in Slate thus:

This doesn’t mean the planet is Earthlike, though. For one thing, it’s bigger than we are: Its diameter is 1.6 times that of Earth. We don’t know its mass, unfortunately, and without that we can’t know its density. The density is what gives us our first clue about what the planet’s made of; water has a density of 1 gram per cc, but iron is 8. Rock is 2–3.

If the planet has the same stuff in it as Earth does, it’ll be more massive; four times Earth’s mass*. In that case, its surface gravity would be 1.6 times Earth. If you weighed 100 pounds on Earth, you’d weight 160 pounds there. But only if it’s rock and metal like we are. If it’s less dense (more rock) than, the surface gravity will be lower; if it’s denser (more metallic), it’ll be even higher.

Sounds like Jack Vance was onto something... at any rate, it's great to read that Kepler has had such a resounding success. How soon before we're watching alien sitcoms, picked up by radio telescopes?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

For The Record, I Did Not Scream Like a Baby

When it's really hot outside, I typically wear shorts to work. Recently, I had to get something out of a low cabinet, and while sitting on the floor, I saw this critter about three inches from my knee:

That is one of the biggest house centipedes (Scutigera coleoptrata) I've ever seen, probably about an inch and a half in length but looking a lot longer, due to the length of its legs.

House centipedes are uncanny critters, fast, alien, and venomous, though they seem not to be "biters". I'm not the squeamish sort, but the idea of this unheimlich beast being so close to my skin was pretty freaky. For the record, I did not scream, but I did jerk my knee away in a fashion which would have been very comical to a bystander. Good thing I was working alone.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Being a guy who works long hours on the weekend, I didn't have time to address Bernie Sanders' Netroots Nation kerfuffle, so ably covered by Tengrain, who also ably covered the ensuing media freakout.

Personally, I consider myself a liberal, not a Democrat per se, and that the "Black Lives Matter" protestors were present to ensure that the primary concern of the African-American community, typically a solidly Democratic voting block, is addressed by the Democratic presidential candidates. I've read some website comments taking them to task for putting Bernie Sanders, who has a 97% rating from the NAACP, on the spot, but they are literally fighting for the lives of their loved ones. At the very least, Bernie should have been better able to extemporize a response, even if it were merely a promise to listen. Bernie's a prickly old Brooklyn boy, and he was thrown off his game by an unexpected confrontation.

Class matters to the African-American community, it has since the first African slaves disembarked in the British colony of Jamestown in 1619. African-Americans have always been the canary in the economic coalmine, the first to suffer in times of privation. Class issues, though, currently take a backseat to the problem of systemic racism, particularly in the death of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement authorities.

Bernie should appoint an African-American advisor to coach him on issues of concern to the black community- the population of Vermont is over 95% white, so Bernie needs to improve his ability to communicate effectively to minority voters.

In the meantime, the media response to Bernie's gaffe was absolutely atrocious, with Ruth Marcus taking the prize for being stupid and obnoxious:

It's obvious that Ms Marcus doesn't consider African-Americans, who are concerned with the appalling death toll in their community, are "normal voters", let's hope that Bernie doesn't make that mistake... we need the guy in the race to ensure that economic justice remains an issue in the upcoming election.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Deep Green, Dark Gray

It's been hot and humid here in the NY metro area lately, the sort of weather that causes even guys like me to have a bad hair day. Yesterday, it must have rained hard during the midday hours, because there were residual puddles on the ground. It was a good day for amphibians, and the amphibians were out in force in the evening.

Right outside the building, I saw a frog which, judging buy its size, was probably a common green frog (Rana clamitans) or a small bullfrog (bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)- in all the confusion, I didn't pay attention to whether or not it had the green frog's dorsolateral ridges. At any rate, it was considerably smaller than this behemoth, which was as big as my fist.

Also outside the building was this particularly dark (compare to these guys) little American toad:

On days like this, the swampy air seems to act as an extension of the onsite body of water. I know I feel kinda bogged down in all this humidity.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hungry Little Maws

While doing the typical walkabout on the job, I heard a high-pitched racket and found a tiny bird's nest full of noisy little chicks wedged in a box that houses an antiquated, unused security watchclock:

The video goes a little squirrelly at one point, but you can see the hungry little critters clamoring for food. In order to give an idea of the scale, I hovered my finger by the nest, but please note that I did not touch the tiny little things.

I didn't linger by the nest for long, not wanting to scare mom off. She's tiny, shy, and quick, so I didn't make a positive identification, but judging from her coloration I'd guess that she's an eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe). I shot this video while she was off on a foraging excursion.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Seeing Red

This is the time of year when I go nuts for the invasive-but-delicious Asian raspberries known as wineberries. As I tend to note this time of year, I tend to gorge myself on the berries that practically overrun one of my jobsites. This week, the berries are at their peak of ripeness:

I'm seeing red, and it's delicious. Hey, suddenly I am reminded of one of my favorite tunes by antipodean rockers Split Enz:

That slightly off-kilter piano solo in the bridge never fails to crack me up... or is it that I'm practically drunk on wineberries?

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Last Saturday, thunder posted a great portrait of a local stag. That very day, I was fortunate enough to get close to one of the "townies" living near my workplace:

Now that's a handsome hart, a hartthrob, if you will. How about a profile shot?

This deer was hanging out in an old orchard, full of cherry, pear, and apple trees, along with one single quince tree. It's a popular spot:

Like most popular spots, sometimes you have to share it with turkeys:

Things are going okay right now, but there may be some tension when the apples and pears ripen... there's usually a lot of acrimony when it comes time to divvy up the fall apple haul. I'm already trying to convince the stag to leave the site by introducing her to a cutie that lives up the road.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Secret Science Club Post Lecture Recap: Imaging Earthlike Planets from Space

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture, with Princeton University professor of aerospace engineering Dr Jeremy Kasdin and principal investigator of the Exo-Starshade Project. Dr Kasdin's lecture concerned the search for extrasolar rocky planets, earthlike planets orbiting other stars.

Dr Kasdin began his lecture by asking what are the challenges involved in detecting distant rocky planets, why is it so hard? In April 2014, the first earthlike planet was detected in the habitable zone of a distant star by astronomers using the Kepler Space Telescope. The ability of a planet to sustain life is thought to depend on the presence of liquid water.

The discovery of exoplanets has dramatically increased over the past year. There are various methods of detecting exoplanets- radial velocity employs changes in the velocity of a planet as it moves toward or away from Earth that result from the gravitational effects of orbiting planets. By 2003, all of the extrasolar planets that had been discovered were all Jupiter-sized giants close to the their stars. In order to find smaller planets, there was a need to go into space.

Planets can also be found by imaging, seeing planets. They can be detected by transit, when a planet passes in front of a star, it blocks light from the star, resulting in a diminution of the star's brightness. The size of a planet can be determined by the amount of light that it blocks. The further from a star that a planet is, the longer an orbital period it has, so the more time is needed to detect it.

The first exoplanets were discovered using the radial velocity method. The first planet detected using transit was HD 209458 b- the use of transit confirmed a detection via radial velocity. Radial velocity and transits have been the most successful exoplanet detection methods so far.

The Kepler Space Telescope was designed to detect small, rocky planets by counting photons in order to measure planetary transits. Over one hundred thousand stars were targeted by Kepler and thousands of planetary candidates, mainly small planets not in the habitable zone, were discovered but not confirmed- in order to confirm the presence of a planet, three transits must be observed, but an equipment failure after three years led to a failure to confirm. In 2013, Astrophysicist Francois Fressin corrected for biases in order to clean up data accumulated by Kepler and announced that earthlike planets were common- the majority of planets are small, though the big planets were discovered earlier. It seems that the two most prevalent types of planets could be described as Super-Earths or Small-Neptunes. Probing the outer reaches of other solar systems could help determine the composition of exoplanetary atmospheres.

The initial discovery of exoplanets was through indirect observation- one would look at a star and extrapolate the presence of planets orbiting it. Direct observation of exoplanets is now sought. With the evidence accumulated by Kepler, it is now thought that every star has at least two planets. Recently, direct observation resulted in the discovery of a giant planet orbiting the star Fomalhaut, along with a huge debris disk. Similarly, four giant planets were detected around the star HR 8799 through direct observation.

One technique for determining how earthlike a planet is would be to search for earthshine, an atmospheric combination of water, oxygen, and carbon dioxide that mimics Earth's atmosphere- figure out what light is absorbed by the atmosphere of a planet, and compare it to the Earth's atmosphere. In particular, absorption of lightwaves in the 700 nanometer range would suggest the presence of plantlike life. Plants also emit infrared light. The first exoplanet for which a spectrum was obtained was HR 8799. In order to have more success in capturing spectrographic data for exoplanets, an orbiting observatory is needed.

Dr Kasdin then posed the question, why is imaging so hard? He displayed a series of images of Pluto and its moon Charon, with the two objects indistinguishable in certain images due to resolution problems. As light enters a telescope, it is diffracted- the central disks of bright stars appear bigger and diffraction rings form. Planets being so much dimmer than their stars, they tend to get swamped by the diffraction patterns- with the contrast problem, they cannot be distinguished from their planet. Larger telescopes can reduce diffraction because they resolve better. Reflecting telescopes using secondary mirrors held in place by struts cause diffraction spikes.

Diffraction patterns can be fixed in three ways nulling interferometers use secondary optics to cancel out starlight, internal coronagraphs are attachments to telescopes which block out starlight, and external occulters block starlight entering a telescope from a distance. The topic of the talk then shifted to external occulters. Scattered starlight creates visual "noise" called speckle which obscures planets- by blocking the star, the scattered light is reduced and image errors can be corrected. Deformable mirrors can correct wavefront errors. Another way to reduce diffraction is to use shaped pupils to apodize light to reduce diffraction effects. Atmospheric distortions and imperfect optics reduce contrast.

Dr Kasdin then enumerated a number of new exoplanet detecting projects such as the Gemini Planet Imager, WFIRST-AFTA,and as a pièce de résistance, the Exo-Starshade, an external occulter which is designed to create an artificial "eclipse" outside of a telescope to obscure a star in order that its planets can be seen. He then presented lovely images of a proposed sunflower-shaped occluder, a forty-meter diameter apodizing occluder which is supposed to be positioned 40,000 kilometers in front of an orbiting telescope in order to allow planets to be seen. Here is a video of a TED talk that he presented about this occluder:

Pop open a beer and watch it so you can get a taste of the Secret Science Club. The bastard missed much of the Q&A because he needed to answer a call of nature. After the lecture, he asked Dr Kasdin if the discovery of extremophiles stretched the notion of the habitable zone (touché, doctor), but Dr Kasdin wryly noted that all of the extremophiles that we have encountered are firmly in the habitable zone, and that a certain amount of anthropocentrism is inevitable when it comes to searching for life. After the lecture, my friend Ben joked that the habitable zone is where the bank hasn't redlined the neighborhood.

Once again, the Secret Science Club has served up a fantastic lecture, a combination of science fact and the nuts-and-bolts work that underlies scientific discovery Kudos to Dr Kasdin, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bright Early Mourning?

Yesterday, I had a close encounter with a fledgling bird that was trying out its wings. The little thing took off when it saw me round a corner, but only flew a couple of feet before it perched and regarded me with a bright onyx eye:

Judging from its size and the shape of its bill, I'd have to guess that it is a fledgling mourning dove (Zenaida macroura. If you aren't familiar with Aunt Snow's blog, it's named in honor of a mourning dove sighting. The doves are common around here, and they are lovely, shy creatures. On one memorable occasion, I got closer to one than I did yesterday- in fact, I grabbed an exhausted one which had gotten into a greenhouse at work so I could release it outdoors. Luckily, it was unhurt, and was able to fly off. Unluckily, I had my phone in the pocket corresponding to the hand with which I had grabbed the bird, so I couldn't take a photograph of it, a mistake which I made sure not to repeat.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mom's Birthday

Today is mom's natal day. I called her last night to wish her a happy birthday because her plan was to hit the road around 8AM and drive to my brother Vincenzo's new house (he was transferred back to the 'States in June) to help him and his wife to unpack when the movers finally bring their possessions to their current home. Mom already has a bunch of activities planned with the grandkids, who have been eagerly anticipating her arrival.

Is there any better birthday present than spending time with a bunch of grandkids? I know mom's answer.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Farewell, Good Doctor

Another bummer in the news today, the passing of Omar Sharif, nee Michel Shalhoub, who had perhaps the best entrance in any film:

It takes quite a talent to steal a film from Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, and Anthony Quinn, but Omar Sharif damn near pulled it off in Lawrence of Arabia, the sprawling, epic adaptation of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the sort of book that is perfectly suited for occupying one's time while one works a summer job involving very little responsibility.

Having been taught to play contract bridge by my parents at a young age, I associated Omar Sharif with his syndicated bridge column as much as I did with his acting career. It was always a hoot to me seeing the name of this famous actor in the newspaper, above the four hands depicted in each column.

I hope he's got a good partner in the afterlife.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Decades of Lies and Obfuscation

Finally, evidence of something that all of us knew- Exxon executives knew that carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas since the early 80s. Think of all of the progress in alternative and renewable energy sources that could have been made in three decades, using the money that Exxon and the other fossil fuel businesses used to fund climate change denialism, not to mention all of the money and (more importantly) lives thrown away in order to secure or steal fossil fuel sources.

Three decades of lost ground, lost momentum, and lost lives... let that sink in for a brief moment. Three decades of knowingly committing Gaiacide. I have often likened fossil fuels to "startup capital" to be used to kick off a mature energy economy based on a variety of safer renewable energy sources, but the short-term profits of the fossil fuel companies have long trumped the prospects of long-term human survival.

It's obvious that the oil and coal companies knew that continued burning of fossil fuels would be a problem, just like it's obvious that the tobacco companies knew that smoking caused lung cancer, it's pretty appalling to finally see one of the "smoking guns" exposed.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Uncomfortable in Your Own Skin?

No matter how hard a human being attempts to think outside of his or her preconceptions, it's often difficult to avoid an anthropocentric view of one's surroundings. Sometimes, when confronted by something foreign to the human experience, it takes a while for the reality to sink in. Last night, I saw something which took a while for me to process. With no further ado, let me post the picture of what it took me a couple of minutes to puzzle out:

It dawned on me what that profusion of legs meant... it was one of the ubiquitous camel crickets which frequent our site, in the middle of its periodic moult. Crickets being orthopterans, they undergo partial metamorphosis, they shed their skins periodically as they grow larger. I managed to catch this particular cricket mid-moult. It didn't look particularly pretty, but then I'm looking at it with a vertebrate bias, and invertebrates outnumber us vertebrates by a wide margin. It's a beautiful planet, a bug planet.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

How 'Bout a Different Flag?

Back in the 1970's, there was an inexplicable pop-culture trend which glorified some of the less-savory aspects of Southern culture, with films such as Smokey and the Bandit, and Moonrunners, and Deliverance celebrating such aspects of Southern culture as distilling illegal whisky, bootlegging, and backwoods atrocities. This pop-culture trend, beginning with "outlaw country music" and continuing with films, ended up on the small screen with the release of the television show The Dukes of Hazzard, a sanitized "reboot" of Moonrunners that was explicitly marketed as "family friendly" entertainment (I know, right, a kids' show about bootlegging moonshine?).

The Dukes of Hazzard was noted for two features- Catherine Bach's long, long legs/short, short shorts combo, and a candy-apple red 1969 Dodge Charger with a roof emblazoned with the the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and dubbed the General Lee.

One of the "General Lee" models was purchased by professional golfer Bubba Watson, who now wants to paint over the "Confederate flag" on the car's roof. Mr Watson wants to paint an American flag over the TiDoS rag, but I think he should paint a rainbow flag on the roof of the car.

He should then change the name of the car from "The General Lee" to "The Stonewall Jackson".

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Hey, Baby, It's the Fourth of July!

Here's wishing a happy Independence Day to everybody here in the 'States. I'm working today, being "essential personnel", but that's okay. I have just locked up and will be spending the next three hours hanging out in a particularly beautiful spot, admiring a bird that Benjamin Franklin considered more impressive than the bald eagle which graces the seal of our nation.

Later this evening, I'll have a chance to watch a local fireworks display that will be taking place adjacent to the property. Getting paid to have a crowd-free view of fireworks is not a bad thing, especially when the pay-rate is doubled for the holiday.

All told, it's a nice, low-key way to spend the day- no traffic snarls, no crowds. I pretty much adhere to a non-traditional holiday schedule these days (I rate for Walpurgisnacht and St Swithin's Day) because of my non-orthodox work schedule, and my big beer-drinking night is typically Tuesday. Anyway, for all of you who have the day off, enjoy it, you've earned it.

Post title explained in this post.

EDIT: Got paid to watch a nice fireworks display from a corner of the property- the amazing thing about fireworks displays is how ephemeral they are, twenty minutes and they're done.

Friday, July 3, 2015

An Uncharacteristic "Bleg"

Sometime this week my laptop, a HP 350 G1 running Windows 7, has developed an annoying problem... there is a software glitch that results in the keyboard acting as if the "shift" key has been depressed. I know that it is not a hardware problem because it occurs when I plug another keyboard into the USB port and even when I use the "onscreen keyboard" option. I have looked for answers to the problem and have tried updating the BIOS and drivers and uninstalling and re-installing the keyboard driver. Still, the problem recurs... and, no, I have not activated the "sticky keys". The problem is especially annoying because it borks the touchpad, which registers a left-click as a drag-and-click.

It's getting to the point where I'm considering throwing my laptop across the room. To compound matters, my friend who would check out the problem for a bottle of booze (he'd do it for free, but I never show up at his house without booze- I don't show up at
anyone's house without booze) is out of town for a two-week vacation.

Have any of you ever encountered this problem? It's enough of a "thing" that there are considerable threads about it on the computing forums, but none of the suggested answers has worked to clear the problem up for more than a few minutes.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Neighborhood Won't Be the Same

Like most men my age, I have to say that I number among my early crushes Sesame Street's "Maria", played by actress and author Sonia Manzano (in the interest of full disclosure, there were quite a bunch of foxy children's television personalities back then, such as Carole and Paula, who I have had the privilege of meeting).

At any rate, Sonia Manzano is retiring after forty-four years of teaching children basic reading and arithmetic, in English and in Spanish. More importantly, she has garnered numerous Emmy awards for writing and is active in cultural and philanthropic organizations. As a cast member of Sesame Street, Ms. Manzano was a highly visible example of a smart, successful Latina living in a vibrant, multicultural neighborhood (hey, they even had a bunch of funny monsters living there). As the show developed, it transitioned from teaching young children the basic skills they need to succeed scholastically, to taking on issues like racism and bereavement. The show also had, in retrospect, a certain, shall we say, sultriness:

For the record, the Muppet Show, which didn't make a pretense of educational content, also had content aimed at "mature" audiences, but I digress.

Back to Sonia Manzano... I have come to appreciate her for her Bronx boosterism, such as her many years as a Bronx River Alliance supporter. She's the local girl who made good, but never forgot her roots, and dedicated herself to helping the neighborhood, much like the beloved character she played.

Looking back at old Sesame Street clips, it's fun to see that Ms Manzano grew up with us, starting as a twenty-one year old "young adult" and making the important life transitions- getting a job, getting married (not to be confused with the other Bronx Maria's Wedding), having a child, and growing into a healthy, respectable maturity. It's been a privilege to watch Ms Manzano grow up, even as she helped countless kids grow up. She deserves to enjoy her retirement, but the neighborhood won't be the same without her.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Grabbing Nuts

Last year, for the first time, I made a batch of nocino, a liqueur made from unripe walnuts. I'm not exactly convinced that last year's batch was all that great (I think I used too many cloves), but my mom liked the stuff. This year, I'm going to make another batch, with fewer cloves and perhaps more vanilla, maybe a couple of coffee beans.

Anyway, today I stopped by the job early so I could gather some of the black walnuts from the two large walnut trees onsite. When I got to work, I shocked my co-worker by telling him, "I'm here to grab some nuts." Poor guy was the only other person present, so I think he was sweating a bit until I explained that I'd be harvesting some walnuts to make a liqueur. He was less perturbed when I returned with two bags of walnuts and asked, "Can you smell my nuts from where you're sitting?" Unripe walnut fruits have a pretty strong, almost citrusy, aroma.

I adapted my first batch of nocino from this recipe, but this time I think I'll halve the clove content and add a couple of coffee beans to the mix. Last year's experiment wasn't a complete success, but a promising start. The limoncello, in contrast, has always been a huge success, right from the start, and I have two gallons of the stuff just waiting to be bottled.