Archive for March, 2010

The racist census

March 30, 2010

Yep, we got the US census forms the other day. And yes, I object to the racism built into the questions.

In, let’s see, 1990 maybe? I was a native American. Perfectly true: I was born in the USA. Not only that, but my parents were born in the USA, and as far back as I know (which admittedly isn’t very far), so were their parents. Native Americans, all.

I think there were a lot of native Americans in that year’s census. So our dear leaders decided that you could only be a native American if you were a declared member of some tribe. Ok, we’re not talking about race, we’re talking about political pressure groups (surprise!).

What was I in 2000? I don’t recall at the moment.

This year, one of the choices is white. Well, as best I understand the genetics, colour is not a race. Or, if white is a race, why isn’t black one of the choices for race (of course we all know why). Mostly transparent skin (which isn’t actually white) is a way of collecting enough sunlight to synthesize vitamin D in latitudes with limited sunlight.

If we’re really talking about genetics, I would have to admit to having recessive genes when it comes to complexion and hair colour. But how do I answer the question?

I was reading recently about the tracing of DNA evolution from Africa through Asia and eventually into the Americas. Since the census doesn’t accept my native American-ness based on a finite number of ancestral generations, let’s go back to the Ur-generation instead.

I, like everyone else (or at least like all other Americans) am African-American.

New camera

March 28, 2010

With a trip to Beijing coming up, and the likelihood of some serious sightseeing, I thought it might be time to indulge myself in a new camera. The big one is too big to conveniently travel with; the small one doesn’t have manual control of shutter or aperture, the slowest shutter is 1 second, and the lens cover design makes it hard to get the lens clean.

Anna had a Panasonic FZ35 and liked it, so I got one too. A bit bigger than a mini, I can still travel with it. It has some quirks: you can’t extract the battery or memory card without removing the tripod. The lens hood attachment is just plain weird. The controls are packed so tight that I found myself unintentionally mashing some of them when I just wanted to grip the camera. And the lens sticks out beyond the lens cap, so you need to remember to remove the lens cap before you power up the camera. But I can live with all of these. It has a few nice features: 18x zoom, face recognition. And the flash is positioned so that it illuminates the scene even when you are extremely close.

It has what they call extended optical zoom, up to 35x, but the picture size is proportionately smaller, and at the end of the day, you do *not* get increased magnification; you just get a smaller picture.

Last Saturday, I hiked Monument peak and Mission peak with Elmar (18.4 miles, 4500 vertical feet, first gopher snake of the season). When I got home, the new camera was waiting for me. Cool!

Jacky and I went to Edgewood on Sunday to look at wild flowers, and of course for me to try out the new camera.

I think that will be satisfactory!

This Saturday, I hiked Purisima redwoods, where I found the first garter snake of the season and a beautiful little crab spider.

 Ten eyes!

Last night I did the obligatory photo of the moon. I’ll spare you, but just mention that it wasn’t too bad.

Today, Sunday, I walked the Baylands, something like thirteen miles. Flat country, so I probably won’t log any exercise for the day. There were a few interesting things to see: lots of hummingbirds (I’ll spare you the photos), starlings collecting mud to build their nests…

 Yummy, yummy!

At Shoreline lake, the clams were squirting streams of water every now and then. Despite watching and waiting for a while, I didn’t get any fotos of a squirt, but I did get a shot of the clam’s necks sticking up out of the mud.

Further on, I found a plant infested with about ten million aphids. Enjoying the aphids were several ladybug larvae.

And enjoying the ladybugs, a spider. Ten more eyes!

There was a folded over leaf that contained a colony of thrips (yuch!), but the most interesting remaining small animal of the day was another insect, sharing a juicy plant with even more aphids.

I don’t know whether this camera will do justice to the Great Wall or the Ming tombs, but I’m certainly happy with it so far.

AT&T helpdesk experience

March 18, 2010

I have tried to sign up for Google accounts for weeks, nay months. Google tries to confirm that I’m not an imposter by sending an email to my non-Google account. Fine; lots of providers do this kind of thing.

The problem is that I never get the email, so I can never click on the link and close the loop to confirm my new account.

Well, true, I have the spam filter in my AT&T account enabled, which generally seems to be a good idea. But this is ridiculous!

I signed up for another Google account, using my work email as the primary non-Google account, and the confirmation email arrived just fine, no problem. So I finally decided to ping AT&T on the issue.


First of all, if you work through the usual AT&T screens related to internet access, you get nothing but Uverse options, and after a frustrating chat session with a Uverse heldesk rep, it turns out the AT&T DSL is a totally different universe.

Oh. Nothing on AT&T’s internet access web sites suggests an alternative. DSL doesn’t exist any more.

Why do I care about AT&T’s marketing distinctions?

Anyway… I finally got an AT&T DSL chat line rep, who spent considerable time with me and basically told me it couldn’t be their problem and I must have been mis-typing my email address, lo, these dozens of times over the weeks and months, from different computers, etc. Not very helpful.

I hunted through a not very useful collection of pages to see if I could turn off the AT&T spam filter, and after considerable trouble found the email settings page. More or less by accident, I happened to look into my webmail folders, where, lo and behold, I found my missing Google emails, not in the webmail spam folder, but in the webmail trash folder.

Ok. First and most important, the service rep should have understood the possibility that when I was talking about email folders, I was referring to the Outlook folders on my PC that I use all the time, rather than the webmail folders that I never use. That was the fundamental misunderstanding, an omitted but important training point of the customer service reps.

Second, of course, according to published behaviour, the email should have gone into the webmail spam folder, not into the trash. But who’s counting?

I tried to explain all this to another AT&T rep in a chat session (no way to resume the thread of the original one). When I logged in a second  browser session to explain the details, the chat session aborted. Surely it ought to be possible for that not to happen. But who’s counting?

While looking into my webmail trash folder, I also found a confirmation email from that had been improperly trashed. But who’s counting?

The customer service rep assured me that AT&T *never* deletes email.

Based on a random sample of two, I suspect the bug in the AT&T software (and I insist it is a bug!) is that it deletes email with the string “noreply” in the sender’s address.

But of course, I couldn’t tell AT&T about the diagnosis because the communication got disrupted. How hard am I willing to work to help them solve a problem that they don’t even know they have?


Update, 19 March

Well, it isn’t the string “noreply” in the sender’s email address. As I watch my webmail trash folder, I find stuff from Charles Schwab,, all kinds of things that are not trash and that I should have been receiving.

This is with the AT&T spam filter turned completely off.