“Okay, everybody be quiet! I’m going to change channels”

The news from Mother Jones doesn’t surprise me. All “smart” devices have the ability for others–including the government–to accidentally or purposefully eavesdrop on your conversations. I’m especially creeped out by Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers.

In case you needed another reminder that Amazon’s Echo, an internet-connected recording device designed to listen and respond to verbal commands, can pose security and privacy risks for you and your loved ones, here you go. “Unplug your Alexa devices right now…you’re being hacked.” A family in Portland, Oregon contacted the company recently to ask it…

via An Amazon Echo Recorded a Family’s Private Conversation and Sent it to Some Random Person — Mother Jones

Trip to Vancouver: A Travelogue in Pictures and (a few) Words

I just got back from a vacation in Vancouver British Columbia. I got to see my son, his wife and their daughter. They live in Beijing so it is a rare treat when we can meet. There was some business the young family had to conduct and we were happy to offer any service possible to make their visit a pleasant one. Below are some images and words describing my part of the stay. (My wife is still there.) This post is a test: about half of it was done using WordPress’ mobile app. This post is also an example of just how far I had fallen from the days when I had an SLR, multiple lenses, and a portable darkroom. Sorry about that.

Packing the Night Before

I’ve used checklists, advice from travel brochures and websites, and in this case, just thought it out as I went along. Always, my better half makes corrections. And she has as always been right.

Sacramento International Airport

We’re in the newer terminal at the Sacramento International Airport. This is the first time I’ve seen the inside of it–not counting in the excellent independent film “Frances Ha.” It’s pretty empty at 5:30 a.m.


Time for a little shuteye.

SeaTac car rental

Five years ago they moved this facility off campus. What a pain. And the signage in the airport was almost nonexistent. We wandered around for quite awhile until we finally broke down and asked for assistance.

Okay, I see one-third of a breakfast sandwich here

This is the first time I’ve been in a Panera. This one was just north of Seattle. It’s pretty good for a chain, but they can make an improvement on presentation. I mean, that’s the whole sandwich on that massive plate.

Vacation house for a week

I’m not a fan of Airbnb. The disruptive business model gets around safety and zoning laws and wealthier folk gobble up real estate that could go to new and middle-class prospective homeowners, but I don’t make the reservations, so I don’t complain. The basement house is nice even with the loud music and footsteps above.

First Meal in Vancouver

Our place is walking distance from a few places including this (in)famous store. What can I say, it’s convenient. I tried a new Kombucha and couldn’t finish it.

Vancouver International Airport

Hanging out waiting for my stepson Peter, his wife Bin Man, and their daughter Alanis where there’s this beautiful sculpture “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii.”

Loonies, Toonies, and different chips

We didn’t mess much with Canadian bank notes (that just don’t look legit) and stuck almost exclusively with our debit cards. We found on our first purchase in the country that Canada machines don’t like the U.S. chipped cards for money back. This was a step in the right direction since the last time we were in Canada (and when we were in England before that) we found that our credit union cards weren’t chipped at all, so we had to always sign receipts like we were using credit cards. This time the system was a little less of a hassle. Still, ATMs here would not accept U.S. cards.  Perhaps my wife will find a way around this when she continues in Canada.

Getting Settled In

I’ve had jet lag before, but since I’ve never been to China, I don’t know how brutal this kind of jet lag is. We left them alone after briefly visiting in there place.

Site Seeing Over the Week

Throughout my week, we drove around town to various offices so Bin Man could get her paperwork done and also had lunches and dinners at different places. A couple of years back I took a passive interest in the winter sport of curling. I still don’t know the rules, but find it fascinating. On one car ride, I saw the Marpole Curling Club! I wonder if Rachel Homan plays there when she is not on Canada’s Olympic women’s team. (I kind of have a crush on the lady.)

The Medicated Traveler

The inconvenience of being a legal doper: at home, my meds take up a whole shelf in the cabinet. On the road, it’s just more shit I have to pack. These used vials come in handy, though.

Getting Ready to go out

Peter and his daughter Alanis.

The Crystal Mall

If the reader has never been to Vancouver, they might be surprised the city has hundreds of thousands of Chinese-Canadians. This market caters to many of them. Think of a farmer’s market, but inside a building and seemingly endless. I have yet to go to China, but I am told that this market (among others in the city) is just like the kind in Beijing. All you would need to do is quadruple the number of people. The top left image is of a woman creating my Chinese pancake!

Chinese New Year Dinner

Sorry, no pix of the family dinner, but that’s a good thing, right? I didn’t sit there taking pictures while we were having a nice family dinner. My daughter-in-law cooked an excellent meal. I sat across from Alanis and felt a little more like a grandpa. It’s hard to get into that kind of mode when I see her as rarely as I do. At this stage, she has not warmed up to me, but that’s okay.

Fun at the (excruciatingly cold) Kitsilano Park

We went out to the park near our digs in Kitsilano located (sort of) across English Bay from Downtown Vancouver. Alanis had a great time. Growing up in Beijing, she thinks 35 degrees is nothing. My teeth were clenched the whole time so I didn’t rattle the fillings out.

Idle Time with Alton

We spent a lot more time in front of the TV than we did the previous vacations. This is because we were on Peter’s family time and they were struggling with jet lag. Also, we have had some tough luck getting them a rental car. I’m sure this will get ironed out later. We struggled with the television service in our little basement house–most channels wanted us to buy time. We ended up watching the BBC programming my wife watches at home including various British cooking shows and hours of Alton Brown. I have always enjoyed Alton (much more than any other TV cooking host), but not in this quantity. Oh yeah, let’s not forget Olympic curling! I see a future blog post on this particular sport sometime in the future!

The flights home

The only other time I flew on a commercial prop plane (top right image) was when my family and I flew from Acapulco to Cabo San Lucas back in 1977. (I remember we landed on a dirt runway!) I don’t have a fear of flying, but the Airbus Air Q400 and the choppy Northern Pacific sky made the one-hour flight nerve-racking. The landing was so rough the entire cabin burst into applause when we finally came to a stop. The trip from Seattle to Sacramento was also on an Airbus, but this bus had jets on its wings. I sat back and enjoyed the ride.

The vacation is not over for my wife or me. She is still in Vancouver for another week and a half. I’m now at home with one more week off–a staycation albeit with a long honey-do list.

Floating down the river with Dave

Inflatable boat icon. Vector Illustration.

In the summer of 1977, I floated down the American River with my friend Dave. This was a horrible moment in my life and I almost forgot about it until it came to me recently while sitting on a mat listening to a yoga teacher talk about dignity, contentment, and gratitude. We were about to go into some breathing exercises when asking myself how well I have lived by these values the event popped into my head and I nearly broke down and cried. I realized it was on that trip down the river I started making fun of myself in a very self-destructive way. Something very different from the values dignity, contentment, and gratitude.

Dave and I had launched the raft at Sunrise Boulevard with provisions of soda and snacks and were on our way when Dave took off his shirt and I noticed his body was bronzed and muscular. No, my dear reader, I am not gay, nor do I have a problem with somebody being gay. It was more of a reckoning. The Dave I was looking at was no longer the kid that I remembered in elementary school–the misfit, like me. He was no longer the kid that seemed to always be squinting in the sun with his mouth open, bubbles of spittal collecting on one side of his mouth; the only boy in elementary school who didn’t wear white sweat socks with expensive athletic shoes like Puma and Adidas, but funny colored hosiery with oxford-style dress shoes. He was terribly out of step with the rest of us. Now–stripped-down–he was a very attractive man: perfect white teeth, a perfect body, a dark tan, and a deep voice, and the clothes? Well, he was in a swimsuit.

It was painfully obvious now, looking at my phosphorescent blob of a body through his mirror sunglasses, Dave was beautiful and I wasn’t. Dave was dating one of the most beautiful girls from our high school, I hadn’t had a date since my disastrous Senior Homecoming. Dave was the human equivalent of the Ugly Duckling. I felt like that story in reverse–sort of.

At this point, I should clarify something. The young man sitting across from Dave in the raft was not fat–not like I am now (hovering around 210 lbs. at 5’6). I was husky most of my life before college. If you compared me to my brother and the kids in my neighborhood I was definitely thicker. If you asked me if I was fat back then I would have replied with a resounding affirmative and that is a goddamn shame because I could have had a happier childhood if I didn’t walk around so uncomfortable in my own skin. By the time my wife convinced me that I wasn’t fat–going through old pictures and home movies–a desk job, two kids and three squares followed by desserts, lots of desserts had made me become fat.

On top of this feeling that Dave had really blossomed and I was, well, the unattractive guy in Dave’s sunglasses, I felt I had this coming. Childhood can be vicious. Dave was often the object of many jokes–most of them behind his back. I think it is fair to say that before getting into that raft I had a pretty low opinion of myself. The reason Dave and I were friends was because we were both members of the same untouchable caste. I wasn’t completely shocked that Dave was such a good looking guy and I wasn’t: in the last couple of years Dave was spotted by our high school’s expert skiers–a cliche of attractive students. Dave had been skiing for years and could keep up with these people. Dave had also been interested in weight training throughout high school. Me? I spent most of my high school years in my room.

So, I should have seen this coming. Still, the physical superiority on the other side of the raft shocked me, especially against my own mediocrity. So, somewhere down the river, staring at Dave, I began to hate myself and that hatred manifested itself in cracking wise about my weight, my burn-and-peel fair skin, my height, and my physical weakness. Like I was afraid Dave would take this time–now with a captive audience–to call me out on all the back-stabbing and tell me how great it is to be him and ask how much pussy had I’d been getting lately, knowing the answer was zilch.

I don’t think we had beers, but we both became drunk: I on spouting self-deprecating humor and Dave on laughing at it. I vaguely remember even cracking a joke about my seizure disorder. Something about how, years previous, my best friend, Jesse–in an attempt to defend me when everyone else was laughing at how I royally sucked and some game–shouting at my attackers, “He can’t help it! He wasn’t born right. weren’t you?” The only way to back up my buddy backing me up was to confirm my lameness. I fancy me saying something like, “Yep, Jesse’s right, gents. Take it easy on me, I’m a complete retard!”

Though I believe good ole Jesse was only asking for mercy amongst the neighborhood kids, I probably had a more universal interpretation of “wasn’t born right.” After all, in addition to sports, I also wasn’t very swift when it came to scholastics, and I had a stutter at one time. So, when I had a seizure in in my backyard in front of all the neighborhood kids it only validated this feeling that I was less than the rest of them.

When I got home after the rafting trip, I felt sick to my stomach. I quietly walked to my backyard, and right where I had that seizure in front of all my friends seven years earlier, I threw up. Following the rejected soda, chips etc. came the tears. I’m sure there was a physiological reason for the vomit launch–being under the sun for that many hours can take its toll. I like to think it was a psychosomatic response to the nuclear attack I launched on my self-esteem.

If treating myself as an enemy combatant was the reason for the vomiting, I can say it never happened on this scale again. What I can’t say is that the self-deprecating jokes stopped, all together. From that point on the jokes were a bit more conservative. Call them drone strikes. It’s important we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes I might go a little overboard with the “it’s important to laugh at yourself” idea, but for the most part I keep the values of dignity, contentment, and gratitude close.

Over the forty years since the dreaded raft trip, I would graduate from college, get married, have kids, and hold down a respectable if not an exciting job. With age, my health would begin to fail and I would find myself on this yoga mat and that trip down the river would pop into my head. An unfortunate moment. Breathe through it, Jack.

The color purple and other femmy things


via Daily Prompt: Purple

Recently, I received a cushion from one of my female yoga teachers. A purple cushion. Let it be known, with my red, pink, salmon, and other bright-colored oxford shirtsleeves, I am pretty secure in my sexuality. Still, the color of this cushion is emblematic of American yogic culture–overwhelmingly feminine. But hey, aside from it being a little small for my wide ride it suits me fine. Besides, I’m using it in a class that is almost completely comprised of women.

And that’s the thing about yoga and the male–and especially the older male: in American, he is a minority. When I started this thing a couple of years ago the male to female ratio didn’t matter to me: I was in it purely for my health–like taking a pill. Then one fateful Sunday afternoon the usual teacher didn’t make it and the sub introduced me to what yoga could be for me. Yoga changed for me right there. Since that time it has been an awkward, sometimes frustrating, but rewarding journey.

Mind you I don’t have a problem with two of my four teachers being female. In fact, one of them has on more than one occasion said that yoga magazines and online sites do a great disservice to the male yoga practitioner. Unless you like all the feminine hygiene ads, female models, postures that emphasize benefits to the female body, and articles titled “Any man who wanted to be with me wouldn’t be conflicted” and “Five Ways to Make a Man Feel Really Loved,” the male yoga reader has to wade through a lot of tall grass to get to the practices and other pieces that apply to him.

So, I sit on my purple cushion every Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by women. Sometimes I envision what would American yoga be like if it appealed to men like Crossfit does, or–Hey, wait a minute. Would if us guys all wore kelts!


The Daily Post and writer’s block

Writers Block

Is it the words The Daily Post is generating or am I having a case of writer’s block?  Just when I relaunched this blog I find myself without much to say. True, I usually wax on about myself like I was the most interesting person in the blogosphere but, my new leaf of writing about ANYTHING but myself has failed. (See what I mean!)

When I was an aspiring, but not an inspired writer my friend and muse, Wolfgang, used to tell me, “Read a word a day and write a word a day.” Wolfgang obviously was lower the bar for me. Years later I would go through the journals I wrote in from the 1980s and realize they were filled with daily entries like “Word” and “I can’t think of anything to write.” (At least I kept up with the daily entries.)

When I can actually read my cryptic scrawl, many of the longer entries are embarrassingly dull. These days I think of that “… write a word a day” charge from my muse every time I find myself staring at the Daily Post word. This seemed like a great idea back in February when I stumbled upon ToadMama‘s Brave Bold Blogger Challenge. I finished the challenge only to find out my registration was either lost or rejected–I was submitting entries that were outside the challenge. Nevermind that. It was a good exercise. So this Daily Post business seemed like a continuation of this idea.

I am impressed with many of the writers at WordPress. My skills are not up to the level of the writers I follow and that’s okay. It’s not a competition. What I envy is how frequently many of these writers post work.

Anyway, I rebooted this blogging stuff to express myself–just like I did way back when I was posting on Blogger. Hopefully, future posts from this blogger will be more interesting.

As for today’s word: I have absolutely nothing to say about “Symbiosis.”

Me and minimalism: then and now

via Daily Prompt: Minimal

Minimal Music
In 1983 I was introduced through a record review by Robert Christgau’s in The Village Voice to the music of Philip Glass. It was at this time–the height of my very short but frenzied record-collectinglassg phase of my life. My first album of by Glass was The Photographer followed quickly by the challenging opera Einstein on the Beach, and later the brilliant soundtrack to the equally brilliant film Koyaanisqatsi. These recordings were the first classical works I ever had though at the time I really didn’t consider them classical.

Glass is a minimalist or a composer of minimal music. I was fascinated with minimal music. When I purged my record collection of all popular records the Glass albums remained and I added other minimalist works by other composers like Terry Riley , Henryk Gorecki, and Steve Reich.

Minimal music was simple and very complex at the same time. It was best described to me once as watching a flower bloom. The process is slow, but beautiful and the beginning of the piece is very different from the end or, in some cases a work will start simple, slowly build in complexity, and then begin to breakdown until it is simple once more. One of the best examples of minimal music is Steve Reich’s “Drumming.” Watching it being performed gives the listener a good idea how the process works. I’m not a big fan of the piece, but I like how the viewer can literally see the music build and break down.

I don’t collect music anymore. All my rock, folk, soul, and everything else that falls under popular music are gone. The only songs and albums that remain are whatever is on my iTunes account and the classical and jazz recordings that I never listen to anymore. Now I listen to podcasts. I used to have nearly 500 LP’s now I have about 100 CD’s that are buried under about an inch of dust. You could say I now have a minimalist record collection of a different sort.

Minimal Living
In 2014 I read the book Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus known as The Minimalists. This particular type of minimalism has to do with stripping one’s life down to the essentials. These two guys also made an interesting film called simply, of course, Minimalism. I am also interested in reading Enough by Adam Hamilton and More of Less by Joshua Becker, but I don’t really know what else can be said about thibox package delivery cardboard carton stacks subject.

This minimal living thing is not new–the Spartans had this stuff down, so much so that the term “Spartan” or living “Spartanesque” means a simple live. Interesting, considering how these guys were perhaps the biggest bad asses in human history. Just ask Xerxes.

Minimal living is harder to achieve when you are married, but that is also a cop-out for me. I find myself buying shit I really don’t need, but just seems cool. Still, it’s incremental. On January 30th of this year our current train-wreck of a U.S. President signed an executive order requiring that for every one new regulation, two must be revoked. While this executive order will most likely result in disasters, the principle, when applied to daily living, is pretty wise.

I use this idea when it comes to clothing. Generally, I don’t buy clothes unless I absolutely have to, but when I do or I get Christmas and birthday gifts of clothes I pull twice as much stuff from my closet and give it to a clothes closet. Electronic gadgets are a little tougher.

Perhaps the hardest things to shed until recently are books. Now, that my wife is (independently of any prodding by me) on board with book thinning we are beginning to incrementally empty our shelves except for reference book and anything we haven’t read. Like my music, I thought I would never do this. It is liberating!