Summer Americana – small town carnival, real life and virtual

Every year the volunteer fire company in my small town has a carnival, a fundraiser for their organization. There are several rides, some food booths, a few carnival games, and fireworks. There is neon. This year there was a classic car show. I do not know how the rides and carnival games come to be – are there itinerant carnival operators who contract with various organizations and travel the US, in summer, running the little carnivals? I’ve seen little carnivals used as fundraisers for organizations around here; the church on the border of my small town has one. I have never seen these small carnivals in California. Perhaps small carnivals are local to regions of the US.

I like small town Americana, in limited doses, so I went, early one July evening this year. In a delightful change from other years’ carnivals, it was not broiling hot and humid.

Since I went early, I got parking! Parking is a big deal for me. Without easy parking, I go home.

My black Honda Civic parked. July 2014

My black Honda Civic parked. July 2014

I entered from the side, going past our town’s softball fields, another slice of Americana. None of my photographs show the entrance to the carnival, which is not as pretty as you would think, as there is a parking lot in front of what I would call the “front” of the carnival. And I can’t see an overall theme on how the carnival is arranged, except the food booths are in the front.

Walking to the Carnival. July 2014

Walking to the Carnival. July 2014

Getting closer to the Carnival.  July 2014

Getting closer to the Carnival. July 2014

You can see neon. I like neon.

Carnival neon. July 2014

Carnival neon. July 2014

More Carnival neon. July 2014

More Carnival neon. July 2014

Ticket booth. You need tickets for the rides, not the food.

Ticket booth. July 2014

Ticket booth. July 2014

Funnel cakes are the best carnival and summer festival food. You make a funnel cake by pouring batter into very hot cooking oil, in a circular motion, hence the term funnel cake. ( cakes are traditionally covered in powdered sugar. Sometimes they are covered with cooked fruit, but I am a funnel cake purist, no fruit for me. If you eat a funnel cake, be forewarned that the sugar and the fat can make you a little sick. It works out better if you eat half a funnel cake.

Funnel cake booth. July 2014

Funnel cake booth. July 2014

This is what my funnel cake looks like.

Funnel cake. July 2014

Funnel cake. July 2014

See how big the funnel cake is! It was yummy.

Walking around, I saw some entrepreneurial people were selling neon sticks. I like neon. I bought two. The neon sticks helped me get to my car. Here they are, lighting up my screened in patio.

Neon sticks. July 2014

Neon sticks. July 2014

I could have stayed for the fireworks, but I decided to go home. Depending on exactly where the fireworks are set off, I can see my town fireworks from my alley, from a couple of blocks away, by the golf course, and sometimes from the second floor of my house. This year I did the alley and walked down to the golf course. The golf course has a tall chain link fence surrounding it, which is new, so the shots from the golf course are not that good.

My other phone had better settings for fireworks. I’ll have to play around with this phone to see if I can get better shots.

Fireworks. July 2014.

Fireworks. July 2014.

I didn’t see the fireworks finale, since my neighbor saw me outside and rushed over to talk to me. Apparently my fence has some openings in it, and her dogs are getting through to my side. Such is life in a small town. I can’t see the damaged fence because my bushes are overgrown; I promised her I will fix my fence after my landscaper tames my overgrown bushes.

My virtual life has a carnival too! I have what is called a smart wallpaper on my Android phone and Android tablet – My Beach HD by DualBoot Games, a 3D beach image. Things move, the scene pans. It is wonderful. I selected the carnival option as the point of interest for July festivities (4th of July is a US holiday). My virtual self can go to a bigger carnival, if I want to! I will have to imagine going there as there are no pictures of the carnival up close. And my real life food is better.

Beach scene and carnival, Android tablet. August 2014

Beach scene and carnival, Android tablet. August 2014

I’m fond of fireworks on my cell phone and tablet. I installed Fireworks Deluxe Full by Jetblack Software.

Fireworks on my phone. July 2014

Fireworks on my phone. July 2014

Happy carnival. Happy fireworks.

It’s all about me. Word clouds.

Like many of us I enjoy things that purport to tell me something about me, even if what they tell me does not seem right. I like fanciful things too. I take Facebook surveys – what color would I be if I was a color? I made that one up.

And I like data analysis and data visualization. Data visualization is the new way of saying that you make your data look like a picture – a chart, a graph, a map overlay, something. You visualize it. “Data” is (often) counts of something, by something – number of sales by product (the oblong widget, the square widget), month and year of the sale, area of the world. You can use metrics other than counts, such as averages. What is the average price of a pint of blueberries in Philadelphia, during July 2014? You get the idea.

A word cloud, also called a tag cloud, is a data visualization of all the words in a document or a web site. Wikipedia talks about this in some detail, and includes a formula – You do not do this manually; you use an application, a program that count up all the words, and displays the words differently, depending on how often they are used in your source. Words that are used more often are bigger and have more prominence on the page. You omit filler words such as “the”, “and”. The goal is to make a pretty picture that says something interesting about the document or web site.

I decided to use Wordle ( to make a pretty picture of this blog. Wordle is free. You can put Worldle images on your site. Most importantly, the images it generates are attractive.

I could not find an easy way to grab all the words from this blog, so I carefully copied my blog posts into a document, eliminating administrative words such as “posted”, dates of the posts, and the words from the columns on the side of my posts. I wanted wordle to work on what the blog was about. I wanted to see what comes up. Will California still be important?

I generated my word cloud before the last two posts. My word cloud captures how my blog looks before July 19, 2014. I tried a variety of picture formats and took a screenshot of the one I liked.

Word cloud of, generated by Wordle, June 2014

Word cloud of, generated by Wordle, June 2014

Good news – California is still prominent in my word cloud! There it is, looking blue. You can also see that Wordle is not smart enough to figure out that some words are really one word, even if they look like two. I wrote about Palo Alto, where I lived, but Wordle breaks it up into two words, and distributes the words “Palo” and “Alto” on different parts of the picture.

Next, I wanted to see what my resume looked like, after it went through Wordle. I removed my name and address and let Wordle do its thing. Here it is.

Word cloud of my resume, generated by wordle, June 2014

Word cloud of my resume, generated by wordle, June 2014

From my readings, when you apply for a job, you are supposed to generate a word cloud of a job you like, and then a word cloud of your resume. Then you make the word cloud of your resume match the job as closely as possible. The idea is that your resume fits the job, and so people will want to interview you for the job. I do not know if this works, but I understand the reasoning. But here’s the thing – I am absurdly fond of my how my resume came out on Wordle. I can look at my resume and I see what I care about.  I would not want to change it.

It’s all about me.

My friend is gone

On Monday, July 28, 2014, as I was walking into work, two managers met me at the door. They hustled me into a conference room and told me that my friend in our group died over the weekend. Everyone knew we were work friends, and the managers didn’t want me to go into work and hear about his death from someone else. I could have gone home but I decided to wait out the day.

Often you have personal friends who are like you in fundamental ways. They share your views of the world. Sometimes they share your avocations. Sometimes they are in the same stage of life as you. Personal friends often have similar life experiences.

Work friends can be different. My work friend grew up here, like me. I left the area as soon as I could. Even at a young age, I knew I could not have the life I wanted, if I stayed, for many reasons which I will not go into here. I went away to college, and worked here summers. After graduation I lived in various places – Austin, Texas and California are the ones that count, the places in the world that feel like home. I moved back to Pennsylvania in 2009 for my elderly parents. I am still here. I live in the home I inherited from my parents, that I own with my sister.

My work friend grew up here, like me, and after a stint in the coast guard (so not me) he never left. He built his house not far from his parents. And by built, I mean built. He had the foundation done and the plumbing, but almost everything else he did himself, with his dad and (I believe) some friends. He was an avid boater. He built a new garage to hold his most recent boat, a garage with water, electricity and some insulation – so beautiful it looked like a little house. “In law unit”, we joked.  He had a million friends in the area. He knew his neighbors; they were friendly and they socialized, particularly in summer. I guess when you build your house on a little mountain, in an area with a lot of trees and lots of property maintenance, people get to know each other. He was married, no kids. He loved the outdoor work of maintaining his property, getting rid of dead trees, making it nice. I’m reasonably sure his politics were not my politics, but we never talked about it. He loved summer – on that we were in agreement. He loved tropical vacations by the ocean. He was younger than me, but not a kid, middle aged.

We started work here in the same group, almost two years ago. We went through all the reorganizations that happened here. We are on our third manger. My friend helped me get through hard times; he was there for me. Currently, he was going through some hard times himself and I was there for him. On work stuff, we agreed on some things and disagreed on others, but we always worked it out. In our latest work set up, he was in a workspace next to me. I said hello to him every morning and goodbye every evening. He was an early birder – I drag myself in as late as you can reasonably come in around here – 8 amish.

He brought in treats – he loved sweets. I brought us cashews.

He was the nicest man I ever met. He was good at dealing with people, colleagues, internal customers, vendors. Everyone liked him.

In a different life I would have never known him. Aside from growing up here, and being the same race and (generally) class, and having some similar experiences growing up, we were different. We would have never socialized, never become friends. But that is what happens at work. You become friends.

I will try to remember to hook up the trickle charger he gave me. Because, in case you do not know (he told me), I will get more for my dad’s car if I can start it. My dad’s car has been sitting in my garage for over a year, and odds are good it will not start. My friend wanted me to get a good price for my dad’s car. After I get the car started, I am supposed to put a little new gas in it – old gas gets thick and sluggish? I do not know.

Brian, I will miss you.

Kauai Beach

Kauai Beach, not sure of the name. Taken late 1999s. Posted in honor of Brian, who loved tropical vacations by the ocean.

Pandora jewelry is like the iPhone – hack your bracelet!

I make jewelry as a hobby, some bead stringing, a bit of knotting, some wire work.
On an internet forum I’m on, we talked about Pandora Jewelry. Pandora is known for their bracelets. The most popular bracelets have a sterling silver base, a fat chain. You buy glass beads, metal beads, enamel beads and charms to add to the bracelet. There are a multitude of charms designed to commemorate moments in your life, getting a degree, getting married, learning a sport – that sort of thing.

The product is nicely designed and good quality. The glass beads have an art glass appeal; they look like Murano glass beads. Everything in the product line fits, both from a design and a construction perspective. And you can buy the bracelets everywhere, in Pandora specialty shops and department stores (in the US), online. I am not going to link to the product as I’m not interested in Pandora jewelry links coming from my site. The links are easy to find, if you are not sure what Pandora bracelets look like.

I like the product, somewhat – but there is something about the product that makes me uncomfortable. When I look at Pandora jewelry I think – damn, what an amazing business plan, marketing plan, their pricing. The supply chain works beautifully. And there is something about the pieces that make you want to stay in Pandora’s world. What is going on?

Pandora jewelry is designed to keep you in the Pandora world. You are never done. You can start small, a bracelet, a bead or two, a charm, and add to it. New beads and charms come out, periodically, that you can buy to celebrate the events in your life. Marking your life moments with a charm (in my opinion, a too obvious charm) is appealing. People like to commemorate events in their lives. You can take beads and charms off and add new ones (I think you can, I don’t have any Pandora jewelry). Your friends and family can give you a new bead or charm – you can buy them everywhere. The design is such that everything goes with everything. The design is recognizable. You can look at a Pandora bracelet from across the room, and you can recognize the Pandora of it – brand is big with them. From a design perspective, I don’t like the metal on the glass beads, but this is another opportunity for branding; the word Pandora is on the metal surrounding the bead hole.

What it feels like to me, more than anything – an Apple consumer product – iPhone, iPod, iPad, iTunes. Everything Apple is deliberately designed, and designed to work together. Life is good for you if you never stray from the Apple space. And you are never done with Apple – you can upgrade your device (not exactly like Pandora) and get something else on iTunes. Your friends and family can give you an ITunes thing. This is not a perfect comparison because so many of ITunes things are thought to be cheap enough that you buy them yourself. People are also not sentimental about an electronic thing the exact same way they are about jewelry.

Pandora is like that. It even has something of a proprietary aspect to it, just like Apple! Their beads have an unusually wide hole, to accommodate the fat Pandora chain, so your standard Murano glass beads are not going to fit. This is an imperfect analogy, but you get the idea – though by now, there are bead shops that sell beads that will fit on a Pandora bracelet chain.

Pandora jewelry has a sameness to it. This works well from an “everything goes with everything” perspective, but the look borders on sterile, safe. Where are the square glass beads, the oblong beads, the knobby beads? Where are the beads that aren’t all shiny and new? And I don’t think you get much, for what you pay for – but one can say that’s the same for all jewelry, for all consumer products – perhaps for all material goods. You always pay for the brand. If you ever go to a bead show, you realize how much the markup is on jewelry, and I don’t even have a wholesaler’s license.

In my ideal world, Pandora bracelets would be the gateway drug for getting people to experience more in the world of jewelry. Go to that craft fair, go to a bead show, haunt the internet for wonderful things. See what else you can put on your bracelet. Hack your bracelet!

Until I buy a Pandora bracelet chain to hack – here is a simple bracelet I made, using glass beads I bought from a vendor at the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival – recent link – Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival 2014. I’m not sure of the year, late 1990s to 2000s, maybe. The rust colored sparkly beads are goldstone. The bracelet is strung on sturdy stretchy elastic – designed for jewelry making. I’m also showing some earrings I made, using glass beads from the same vendor.

Bracelet and earrings I made.  Photo, July 2014

Bracelet and earrings I made. Photo, July 2014

Hack your bracelet.

The Death of My Parents – And I Channel Them

I moved from California to southeastern Pennsylvania (US) in 2009, to be closer to my very old parents. Through a set of circumstances – I did not get the job I wanted, which was several hours away, then I worked from home, then I took a job in the area – I lived with them until their deaths in 2013. I lived in their home and became what I call an accidental caregiver. I did not plan to be their in-home caregiver; it happened.

My mother died of dementia on February 1, 2013. She was 92, in their home until the last week of her life. She had an excellent quality of life, until almost the end.  We brought in hospice care and other caregivers, though not full time until the end.  Caregiving became very difficult. This explains my lack of blog posts in 2012 and 2013. Basic living was hard enough. There was no time for anything else.

My father died of congestive heart failure on April 24, 2013. He was 91, in their home until the last three and a half weeks of his life. What was good for his heart was bad for his kidneys. His death was hard in a different way. My father did not have dementia; he was himself, though older and slower. We had a very good two months together.

Dementia is different. I do not believe that a person with dementia is gone, as in “she is not my mother anymore” – the person is there, of course. But you can see their capabilities slipping away. They become different from what they were before. You can see, clearly, that there is no turning back. Death is inevitable. It was not like that with my father.

I go on. I am living in the house, which is now mine and my sister’s. I do not plan to erase memories of them, but I am slowly making the house more my own.

Sometimes I wonder if I am channeling my parents. I will start with my father.


My father was a retired industrial engineer. Retirement in his 60s freed him to do what he wanted. He and my mother traveled more, often but not always with their daughters. I planned most of the trips. My father also enjoyed his home, very much. He liked to make things. He made most of the furniture in their home..

My father made cards for his wife and his daughters, using the colored pencils my sister gave him. The cards were sweet, adorable, funny. Sometimes you can see his light pencil markings of the design; he marked out the design before he colored it in. My father was a planner.

This is my favorite card.  I do not know the year, before I move here in 2009, some years. before. . It shows the best of my parents.

My father made this card for my sister and me. I am not sure of the year.

My father made this card for my sister and me. I am not sure of the year.

After there were no more large pieces of furniture left in the house to make, my father wanted to make things that were practical, but more “artistic”, and on a smaller scale. He taught himself to make coffee tables and end tables, inlaid with mosaics he made from kitchen and bathroom tiles, ceramic, solid colors, no designs on the tiles. He was careful with their money, so he and my mother went to stores that sold tiles and asked the store clerks if he could buy the remains of odd lots and discontinued tiles. I think he told them what he planned to do – he might have shown them. Often they gave him the tiles for free. It’s hard to resist two cute little old people, telling you what they planned to create with kitchen and bathroom tiles!

Here are two end tables from the outdoor screened in porch. Yes, I know, I need to put something on the wood. There is some leakage from the roof of the outdoor patio.

Aren’t they lovely?

Top of an end table my father made.  He made the mosaic using ceramic tiles he cut up. Photo taken 2014.

Top of an end table my father made. He made the mosaic using ceramic tiles he cut up. Photo taken 2014.

Another mosaic table my father made.  Photo taken 2014

Another mosaic table my father made. Photo taken 2014

How do I channel my father? I like to make things, and I like to work in a series, like my dad. My father loved to work in series. And I make cards too. But I don’t plan as much when I make things. I use materials that respond better to an iterative process.

I am not an engineer, but I am a computer person (business IT), and I love tech. So I took some of his methodological approach and organization to other facets of my life. And I’ve color coded and labeled the cables and power chords of all the devices connected to my desktop, at both the device and the computer end. That’s organization!


I think my mother had a naturally better design sense than my father. It came to her easily. She had a knack for putting things together. She had a good sense of style,  a classic, youthful look. She loved pants and stopped wearing dresses entirely, when women could. She had a fine design sense, but she didn’t like to make things that involved much in the way of organization or planning.

My mother loved growing things, most of all. “I stick it in the ground and it grows”, she said. She could get roots out of any cutting. Along with outdoor plants, her plants and flowers on the closed in porch (the solarium, we sometimes called it, the sun room) were amazing. And the plants and the flower boxes on the screened in patio were also very pretty. This was a way for her to exercise her design sense.

I don’t like outdoor, in the ground, gardening all that much, though I’ve done it. I like container gardening. I’ve maintained the indoor plants and added to them.

I channel my mother when my sister comes over to visit. I show my sister all the new blooming things, exactly like my mother.did.. I say “look at this, it is blooming, this started to bloom, I rooted these collies (coleus plants) and look how well they are doing.” Just like my mother.

From the sun room.

View from the sun room, 2014. The gerbera daily is blooming.

View from the sun room, 2014. The gerbera daily is blooming.

Snow outside, blooming plants inside. View from the sun room, 2014.

Snow outside, blooming plants inside. View from the sun room, 2014.

My mother rooted a cutting from a bouquet of flowers from Hawaii that my sister sent her. The little "cutting" is now over three feet tall and shows no signs of stopping.  View from the sun room, 2014.

My mother rooted a cutting from a bouquet of flowers from Hawaii that my sister sent her. The little “cutting” is now over three feet tall and shows no signs of stopping. View from the sun room, 2014.

And so I go on.

Summer swimming, changes, goodbye to my California connection

Summer swimming at my local community pool in Pennsylvania was the best ever.

Before the pool opened. June 2012

The office where I bought my season pass. June 2012

Rope dividing the sections. August 2012

Diving area is beyond the rope. August 2012

Swimming In the lap lane, looking at the diving area. August 2012

You can barely see the seam at the bottom of the pool (diagonal line) that I use to swim in a straight line. August 2012

Goodbye to outdoor swimming for this year. August 2012

This leads me to changes.  Currently I work at home, doing something a bit different from what I usually do for a living.  I worked for over a year for a company based in California.  Most people who work there work remotely – there are people I work with all over the US and a few other places.  And  I love telecommuting,

That changes in the middle of September.  I am taking a job with a local organization.  I have to go there every work day, though it is the easiest commute ever – two stoplights at the edge of my small town, get on the good freeway, the modern one, not the “good luck merging in traffic” one, two protected left turns right after the exit, and I’m there.  It’s not a great time for me to get a job outside my home, but the job is a good one, I like the organization, and I will be doing work I value.  The job was too good to pass up.

But – what this means is that after three years, my last California connection is gone. I can’t exactly pretend I’m just passing through, though I won’t retire here.  I live here, in the house I grew up in, and I’ll go to work, every work day, to a job in this area.

I’m reminded of those movies where a person who has lived away returns home and discovers something.  There’s usually a lesson, some connection, some reestablishment of roots, some closure, sometimes an appreciation of the “simpler” life.  I don’t feel any of those things. My life is not a heartfelt movie.

And wait, my recruiter, who got me the job here, he lived in California for years, and liked it.  There’s always a connection.