Friday, January 30, 2009

Testing. . .a New Camera

Donna got back from San Diego yesterday afternoon and arrived bearing additional birthday gifts for The Ancient One. She knew I had been thinking about anew camera and presented me with the very model I have been looking at for several months; a Nikon Coolpix C18.

This 8.0 megapixel (bright red) digital camera should provide much clearer photographs than I had been getting from my old 3.3 megapixel Sony Cyber-shot. I just got back from testing it and present the first "test" photos I took. First, is a photo taken from the same vantage point as my banner photo:

Next, since it is a relatively clear day (without interference from smog) is a view of Catalina Island taken from a vantage point on Via Zumaya in Palos Verdes Estates:

The last 2 provide a flowery close-up and a set of palm trees who seem to be standing guard over the neighborhood:

I'm pleased with this first effort with the new camera. It should be a lot of fun over the coming months and years.

Thank you Donna!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Day I Turned 18

It was 53 years ago today on my 18th birthday. I graduated from high school; Central High School in Detroit, Michigan to be exact. The following week I started college at Wayne State University (also in Detroit).

I mention this because I recently came across my final high school report card, both sides of which are pictured below:

This report card is interesting for a number of reasons. To start with, it is far different from the computer generated reports that are turned out by schools today. The writing on the front of the card (other than the grades themselves) is mine. At the beginning of each semester, every student had to fill out his/her own card. The back of the card shows my mother's signature for the first two reporting cycles. In the mid-1950s, my mother would never sign anything with her own first name; it just wasn't done. It was signed as "Mrs." before my father's name. That was a married woman's identity; in some ways we have moved forward a long way in the past half-century even if the glass ceiling has yet to be fully shattered.

Another curiosity: at that time, the school system in Detroit (as in many other communities) operated strictly on a semester system. Children entered kindergarten in either September or January, depending on birthday. And high school seniors graduated in January or June when they completed 12th grade. Since I started school in January, I graduated in January. The grade "12A" on the front of the card indicates that this report is for my 2nd semester in the 12th grade. The first 12th grade semester, which had begun the previous January, was "12B."

The listing of courses is rather sparse. I was a graduating senior and I was able to have a relatively light load my last semester; my 2nd semester of Chemistry, 4th of composition and 3rd of Journalism. Economics was required. During my 1st 12th grade semester I took Trigonometry (which at that time was the highest level of math offered in high school in Detroit unless you were at a "technical" high school"). The periods of the day for which students had no classes, they were assigned to Study Hall. I still remember Henrietta Carr, my study hall counselor, who oversaw the records, progress and behavior of all the members of my family.

An interesting sidelight: When I graduated, I completed 2 generations of our family to attend Central High School, although when my parents were students, the school was in a different location (which later became and still is the Old Main building at Wayne State). To my knowledge, the Central my generation of Cohen's attended is still there and in use. I last was in the building when I went back for my 35th reunion.

Oh, the memories this old report card has conjured up. It just seems fitting to share it on my birthday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It’s a New Day and a New Era

My first presidential election was 1960 and I proudly cast my ballot for John F. Kennedy. It was a transforming election; JFK was the first Catholic elected President of the U.S. He brought class to Washington. And although he was taken from us too soon to have a major, direct impact on national policy and culture, Lyndon Johnson was successful in bringing about much of what Kennedy had laid out, most notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which led to a changing of the demographics of American voters and helped establish the framework that made possible the outcome of the 2008 election.

Today is the beginning of another new era, the result of last November's election. Today was President Barack Obama's inauguration. He is the first person of color to hold the highest office in the land. And it has been a very emotional day. Not just for me but, apparently, for most Americans. Every seasoned commentator I have heard on TV today has said that there never has been an inauguration like this one. The last estimate I heard was that there were about 1.9 million people attending the event in Washington. There was laughter and tears. It must have been the biggest party ever seen in this country.

Obama's inaugural address was brilliant. To use a phrase I think I first uttered after hearing JFK address the American people on January 20, 1961, we now have a President who is both literate and literary. But I truly believe the changes that are coming are more than just in the improvement of the language and style of our new leader. While skeptical when he announced his candidacy 2 years ago, I have come to believe that Obama is a man of substance, in his view of governing, his policy preferences and his temperament.

In spite of the derision of his early work in community organizing by partisan opponents, it is that experience that taught him to listen and to trust people to give back to their country. As editor of the Harvard Law Review, the young Obama could have clerked for a Supreme Court justice or had his choice of jobs in prestigious law firms when he graduated from law school. But he chose to go back to Chicago and work with the community; he believed in people and he worked to convince them that they could empower themselves. When he stands up there and tells the crowds, "this is all about you", I believe him. He has walked that walk.

So I am looking forward to the next 8 years as we work our way out of the economic morass that Obama has inherited. I am looking forward to again having leaders who listen and who want this country to earn the friendship and respect of people and leaders from around the world. I know we are better than the public face of the outgoing administration. I am confident that Barack Obama will steadily lead us in a renewal of all that is good about America. Amen!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Old Dogs and New Toys

Since daughter Alicia was visiting, the family decided to celebrate my birthday about 2 weeks early. After a dinner with neighbors last Tuesday evening, we went back to (ostensibly) see for the first time the apartment into which son Seth moved about 2 months ago. It is very nice; about a block from the ocean in Redondo Beach. While we all were sitting there, Donna presents me with one of those gift bags and brings out a large brownie and they all sing happy birthday to The Ancient One.

Inside the bag I found an iPod nano. It is one of those music players (whatever they're called) that young people have attached to their ears with little speaker "buds" while they listen to the music contained thereon. I had just read about this particular device (along with many others) in a recent issue of Fast Company with heralded the arrival of SSDs (solid state drives) with a prediction that they would gradually replace the current HDD (hard disk drives) in our computers and such. This little iPod nano that I received contains 8GB (gigabytes) of memory which is a lot although my son told me I would fill it far more quickly than I thought possible.

My nano (I immediately became attached to the cute little thing) measures 3½ inches by 1¼ inches. It is all of ¼ inch thick. To get a better sense of its diminutive size I took the below (not too clear) picture of it in the palm of my hand.

Although I am a septuagenarian, I decided to not let myself become intimidated by such a tiny piece of new technology. Since Tuesday, I have been uploading my (mostly jazz) music collection on to my computer's external hard drive (an HDD drive) using iTunes software. Then I plugged the nano into the computer via a USB port and downloaded it all to my new toy. Thus far, I have moved 25 albums, containing 17.1 hours of good music to the nano using about 942MB (megabytes) of its memory. In other words, it is only about 12.5% full. Amazing! But then came the test: How does the music sound?

Off I went on my morning walk. Since the device is solid state, it can be shaken and jostled about without a problem. Following the claims of the literature, after I inserted the buds in my ears (they're even marked L(eft) and R(ight), I gave the nano a good shake which put it into "shuffle" mode and songs, randomly selected by the toy, began to play. I must say that once I mastered the volume controls (sliding a finger left or right around the center dial), I was amazed by the high quality of the sound entering my ears. If I had not decided to "shuffle" the music, I could have selected the album or artist or musical piece I wanted to listen to. It truly is amazing.

Yes, this old dog is hooked on his new toy. And now I face an additional challenge: Am I up to multi-tasking, i.e. can I continue to read my thrillers and mystery novels on the morning walk and listen to fine music at the same time? I think I am up to it. You know, some things happening in the 21st century are pretty nice.

Friday, January 16, 2009

W.D. Snodgrass (1926-2009)

His name jumped out at me as I glanced at the obituary page of the Los Angeles Times this morning. W.D. Snodgrass, "Pulitzer winning poet and teacher. In truth, I hadn't seen the name in decades but it brought back many memories. I was a student at Wayne State University (in Detroit, Michigan) from 1956-1961. Snodgrass joined the faculty in 1958 and he was there for 10 years. In 1959, his first book, Heart's Needle was published and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1960.

I never took a class from Professor Snodgrass, but I did attend a few of his on-campus poetry readings. The details from 50 years ago are cloudy in my mind but I remember him as a man one does not easily forget. I also remember the hoopla on campus when he won the Pulitzer for Heart's Needle.

Our paths crossed ever so briefly when I was a young undergraduate student with a minor in English. While I had not thought about him for many years, he was not forgotten. I was saddened to read the news Snodgrass' passing. May his poetry live on. May he rest in peace.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Spring in January – Banners 15

There's a neighbor around the corner who must be tired of winter in southern California. He replaced his holiday banners with these:

Obviously, he is ready for spring. And it's only January 10th!


Friday, January 9, 2009


This post is a shameless plug for fransfamousnuts (just click on that name and you will be delivered to her website. Now why would The Ancient One put what, in reality, is a commercial in this space?

Well, you see, Fran is my oldest niece; I won't say how old but when she was an infant, I was the teenage baby sitter. Fran has her own business, Group 230 Design, back in Michigan but somewhere along the way she found a way to add a glaze and spices to almonds, cashews and pecans. When I heard about this venture, I requested a sample of her "fiery, fabulous recipe." Being a loving niece, she sent me a small package which I polished off without sharing.

I can attest to the accuracy of Fran's advertising. I have experienced fiery food before (and I like it) but have not associated fire with nuts. I did like them and decided to mention them here. That's the commercial!

Thanks for sending the nuts Fran! They were great! I hope a couple of folks who stop by go to your website (here) and decide to try them. Let me know if they do. Do you need a west coast rep?

And from now on, back to non-commercial blogging. . .

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A New Year, Anniversary and HDTV

It must have been a good New Year's celebration. It's been a week since I last wrote anything. And it has been a good and busy week. New Year's Eve was spent with friends; movie (Frost/Nixon), dinner and back to our house for desert and greeting 2009.

And then an anniversary! Donna and I were married on New Year's Day in 1981. She has put up with me for 28 years which is no small feat to which both she and previous wives can attest. Basically, it was a quiet day. No offspring around this year. We did get out to dinner although our preferred restaurant was closed.

We also began the search for an appropriate anniversary gift. Many years ago we established a tradition of buying a mutual gift rather than giving each other separates gifts on this momentous day. Usually it takes several days or weeks before the purchase is made.

This year we decided to join the 21st century and buy a High Definition television set (HDTV). We visited several stores and learned about such things as LCD v. plasma, 1080p v. 770p and 120 Hz v. 60 Hz. Then we started revisiting stores, leaving one when the salesperson who only wanted to sell us the most expensive brand proceeded to lie to us and say that an opposing store did not sell the brand we were interested in (although I had seen that brand at the opposition the day before). We moved on and ended up at our friendly Costco where, much to my surprise, we found the most knowledgeable, least pushy sales person. Needless to say, we bought ourselves a 42" LCD, 1080p, 120 Hz set at Costco (with the added n bonus of an additional 2 year warranty at no extra cost).

Once home, Donna and I started the unpacking/setting-up process. Luckily, son Seth stopped buy which sped things up dramatically and we are now enjoying high definition television. It is a far cry from the 10" Philco my father brought home in 1948 when an appliance store owner client of his couldn't pay his legal fees and provided us with the "first TV on the block" instead. (In those days we watched a lot of test patterns and I remember watching the Howdy Doody show and Milton Berle's comedy hour sponsored by Texaco. It was long before coaxial cables and live TV and all the new fangled stuff.)

Hopefully, I will not become too enamored of the new TV; that might take me even further away from my writing. Now that the anniversary gift is taken care of, I plan to get back to regular posts and more focus on family history, events and photos. And knowing how my mind works (or doesn't work), I might even repeat some things I've said in the nearly 2 years I've been a member of the blogosphere.

So welcome to 2009 and thank you for stopping by and checking on what The Ancient One has to say. If you're in the neighborhood, come see our new TV.