New Orleans. Six things to do.

Ever been to New Orleans? What are your favorite sights/activities/restaurants?

The news stories about New Orleans, at least the ones that filter through to where we live, are hyperventilatingly negative. Highest crime rate in the nation! Second highest poverty rate! Brain eating amoeba in the water supply!


Here to tell you, we visited recently and loved it.  Music everywhere. Amazing food. Even had mild and cool temperatures — a rarity it, but it does happen.

Six tips for NOLA visitors, particularly neophytes (like us):

1. If you like to bicycle, several bike rental companies cater to tourists. Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had 11 miles of bike paths. Now there are 84 miles of bike lanes in the Parish, and 104 miles in the greater New Orleans area, with more planned. You’ll find the cyclists, like everybody in New Orleans, hospitable and friendly.

photo 2

Lips of Lips and the Trips, who was kind enough to take a break from her commute to her day job for a chat.



Lips at her night job. Image source: Lips and the Trips website

2. By all means take the famous trolley, admire the brass and mahogany fixtures, and squeeze in with all the other tourists. To really see the city though, take the bus. The same $3 day pass for the trolley also gets you on the bus. You’ll ride with locals, see more sights, and get where you want to go, faster.

3. Museums. Save time for museums. Try these:

National World War II museum. For anyone who likes history, planes, guns, technology, and gadgetry, this place is heaven. It was a tough sell for me because war museums seem like an excuse to glorify genocide, but the curators make an effort to include the sobering side of war along with the glory. There are oral histories from veterans, nods to the Women’s Air Corps, the holocaust, and the Tuskegee Airmen. There is a sizable exhibit on Japan. There’s an entertaining, patriotic film for an extra $5, which is “four dimensional,” meaning vibrating chairs, steam-smoke and stage sets. For another $5 you can participate in a Submarine Reenactment, in which an heroic crew goes down, victim of one of it’s own torpedoes. I pooped out after 3 hours, but my husband the history buff could have spent the whole week at this museum.

The Insectatorium. Don’t be cowed by all the kids in line for tickets, and bring your knee pads because the signs are at kid height — but I guarantee, you’ll come away with a new appreciation for bugs. Couldn’t talk the Mister into sticking around for the cooking demonstration, so if you get to see it and sample the menu, let me know how the fried cockroaches are.

The Civil War Museum. Be forewarned, the sign outside says “Civil War.” The sign inside says “Confederate War,” which is closer to the truth. This is a commemoration from the perspective of the South, and is full of uniforms, photos, testimonials, flags, equipment, stories and swords — lots of swords — of Confederate soldiers and officers. It’s a moving display, complete with letters from sweethearts and cannon balls lodged in ossified tree trunks.

4. Food. Glorious food. We did not have a bad meal. Favorites? For a fancy meal, August.


Photo source: August website

For less formal food, the lunch counter at Cochon Butcher. Decidedly not for vegetarians. Dead pigs right there in the back room. The food was terrific.


On the other end of the gustatory scale, with vegetarian & vegan options, organic, raw, gluten free — catering to whatever special needs you can think of, Meals from the Heart Cafe:


Photo source: Meals from the Heart

5. Music. Mardis Gras is the just tip of the iceberg. There are jazz cafes, and music on the streets, festivals, concerts, you name it. We were lucky enough to hit Wednesday Music at the Square, on Lafayette Square,


And the French Quarter Festival,

But pretty much any time you visit, be ready to be soaked in music. Check the event calendars to make sure you don’t miss the musical events happening near wherever you stay.

6. The guidebooks warn tourists not to stray from main thoroughfares because crime is high. That’s no doubt good advice, but be a little adventurous. Visit cemeteries that aren’t so famous. Walk a block or two off the avenues of antebellum mansions, to the quiet streets with modest homes. Visit the areas where whole blocks have been bulldozed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is sensory overload. You’ll be glad for the break.


We hope to return. Do you have suggestions for things to do on future visits?

The NSA’s best excuse ever to play War Craft


Be afraid. Be very afraid.

What do you think about Edward Snowden’s release of classified documents?

Go ahead. Sound off. The National Security Agency couldn’t possibly be listening.

Whatever your feelings, you have to admit, Snowden got people talking. Other whistle blowers using legal channels were forced to give up their careers, and aren’t exactly household names.  William Binney, a 30 year NSA veteran who tried to raise red flags, was greeted one morning by FBI agents pointing guns at his head as he stepped out of the shower. Who has heard of William Binney?

Snowden at least got noticed.

My favorite revelation: the NSA’s decision to target online games.


Is that a camera in your cleavage?

A 2008 NSA memo warned that virtual games might seem innocuous, but actually, they are a “target-rich communication network” allowing intelligence suspects “a way to hide in plain sight.” Because terrorists, like gamers, assume fake identities and make financial transactions, online games “are an opportunity!” Agents adopted avatars (make believe characters), collected data and communications, and attempted to recruit informers.


Check out Pro Publica’s slide show on NSA, CIA and British spying in online games

So many agents were playing online games, one memo declared that “deconfliction” was needed so that spies wouldn’t spy on each other.


Happy ever after on Second Life

Was the mission successful? Were terrorists found using Second Life or World of War Craft to launder money and plot bomb attacks? No.

There will be a flurry of media stories about Snowdon this month when Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer and, until October 13, 2013, journalist for the Guardian, releases his book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Security State.

Expect more fun and games.

“I want to spark a worldwide debate about privacy, Internet freedom, and the dangers of state surveillance. I’m not afraid of what will happen to me. I’ve accepted that my life will likely be over from my doing this. I’m at peace with that. I know it’s the right thing to do. I want to identify myself as the person behind these disclosures. I believe I have an obligation to explain why I’m doing this and what I hope to achieve.

“I only have one fear in doing all of this, that people will see these documents and shrug, that they’ll say, ‘We assumed this was happening and don’t care.’ The only thing I’m worried about is that I’ll do all this to my life for nothing.” Edward Snowden 


What’s your favorite leaked secret from the NSA documents? Do you play online games? If so, have you noticed any suspicious characters hanging around?

Read more:

World of Spycraft: NSA and CIA Spied in Online Games

Spies Infiltrate a Fantasy Realm of Online Games

Xbox Live among game services targeted by US and UK spy agencies
NSA and GCHQ collect gamers’ chats and deploy real-life agents into World of Warcraft and Second Life





Score One for Pollinators

Geranium jolly bee

Image source: kfjmiller via morguefile

Are you following the news about the collapse of bee colonies? If so, you probably know that neonicotinoid insecticides (dinotefuran, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) were linked in a recent Harvard study to bee deaths.

This spring our town, Eugene, Oregon, passed a ban on neonicotinoids, the first community in the country to do so.

In Oregon we had our share of bee wipeouts last summer, including one in June, when an estimated 50,000 bumblebees were killed after a licensed pesticide applicator violated the label and sprayed blooming linden trees with the neonicotinoid dinotefuran (brand name Safari). The intended victims were aphids, and the site was a Target parking lot. Within weeks, another massive bee die-off was reported in Hillsboro, where trees had been sprayed with the same pesticide.

Other states and communities are trying to pass laws restricting neonicotinoids, which is good, because not much is happening at the national level. The EPA is studying the issue, and their study is not scheduled to be completed until 2018.

If you’re following the fight to protect pollinators, check out Saving America’s Pollinator Act, H.R 2692, introduced by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D- OR). It would limit the use of neonicotinoids until a review of scientific evidence and a field study demonstrates no harmful impacts to pollinators.

Meanwhile, restrictions need to be put in place locally, town by town. Hopefully, Eugene is the first of many.


Photo source: playfuldragon via morguefile

Know any beekeepers, or have you kept bees yourself? What’s happening in your area regarding bees and other pollinators?

Good news on climate change: Garlic

Good news on climate change? Anyone?

It’s probably progress in the right direction that the issue has started appearing regularly on the front pages. It only took five rounds of being taken to the woodshed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Still, it’s not clear how we’re to fix things, or if that’s even possible. Politicians sure aren’t jumping on the bandwagon. In Oregon’s Voter’s pamphlet for the upcoming election, only one out of 48 candidates even mention the topic. And, on a gorgeous day like today it’s particularly hard to wrap my head around the idea. It’s too big, and too depressing.


Things look fine. Three Sisters, Bend, Oregon

When good news about climate change surfaces, I glom onto it like cling wrap to a bowl.

For example:

Garlic can cut emissions of methane gas.

When it comes to global warming, methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and methane gas emissions have increased by 150% in the last century. Cows produce methane in their manure, and when they fart and burp. Each cow produces between 30 and 50 gallons of methane a day. With about 1.4 billion cows in the world, that’s a lot of gas.


Photo source: Yvonne Parijs-Bosman via Queen of the Cows

And garlic? A three-year study at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth demonstrated that cows fed garlic produce 50% less methane than non-garlic eating cows.  “Garlic directly attacks the organisms in the gut that produce methane.” Still unknown: whether garlic affects the flavor of the milk, but we’ll take that as it comes. For now, bravo Aberystwyth scientists. Yay.


Image source: hotblack via morguefile

Is climate change on your mind? Have you done anything to change your lifestyle or are you politically involved in climate change issues? Do you know of any leaders we can vote for, or innovators who are inventing/promoting solutions?

Sources: Do Cow Farts Actually Contribute to Global Warming?

Garlic May Cut Cow Flatulence

How Garlic May Save the World

Me and My Petroleum Distillates

What’s in your cleaning cupboard? Got anything poisonous? Are you sure?

You might have trouble finding out.

Take Petroleum distillates. As part of a remodel, we received a sample cleaning solution as a “gift.” It worked pretty well — magically, wonderfully well. It did everything — polished mirrors, cleaned sinks and counters.

When the sample ran out, I bought a jug of it.



Never mind the strong smell. It made things look really good.

Now the bottle is almost empty. Reorder? Probably worth it to find out what’s in it. Also, maybe it’s time to look into why it smells, and if it does bad things to the water used to wash the cleaning rags.


Avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin. Avoid prolonged breathing of vapors.

1. What’s in it? The only ingredient listed on the label is down at the bottom, in small letters, on the back of the jug: Petroleum distillates.

2. What are petroleum distillates? According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), it’s a synonym for Naptha and rubber solvent. It is flammable. Permissible exposure limit: 500 parts per million.

3. How much is 500 parts per million? How much time does it take for “breathing of vapors” to become “prolonged”? Unknown.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, another of my favorites, Spray n Wash laundry stain remover has a petroleum distillate, too. Hmm. Spartan Chemical Company’s material safety data sheet adds more info., pretty much unintelligible to me.

So, all that digging, and still hanging on the fence. Wear gloves. Don’t breathe it. Use sparingly. Already doing all of the above. Should be OK, right?  Maybe. Maybe not.

4. Should it be kept out of the water supply? Unknown.

5. Why is it so hard to figure this out?

Partly because there’s a labeling loophole that allows chemical companies to omit the names of ingredients in dyes, fragrances and preservatives. Partly because nobody is sure about the dangers. 

Friday (April 11, 2014) Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced the Household Cleaning Products Right to Know Act of 2014 bill, which would require cleaning products makers to disclose ingredients. We can follow how that goes at his website.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group turned out to be a good resource. They looked at 2000 household chemicals in 2012 to see what’s in them, and rated the ingredients in terms of the risks they pose.   Protect All Shine Plus isn’t on the list, but lots of other stuff is. Check it out. They give petroleum distillates an F, citing allergy and cancer risks.

OK, ok. Probably not worth the shiny sinks.



Image Source: kakisky via Morguefile


Got any substitutes for me?

Tech for Troglodytes: What to do about the Heartbleed Bug


Bleeding heart in bloom this week, on a computer near you

Shall we take the Heartbleed bug seriously? Yes. We do not want hackers selling our credit card numbers, social security numbers and personalities. Think of it as housekeeping. Nasty but necessary.

Run, don’t walk.

Do these 5 things:

1. Change the passwords for your most important and sensitive sites — banks, credit cards, mortgage payments, utilities, and probably, social media sites. Now. Many sites are getting fixes. Sadly, when fixes are complete, you will have to do this again, and change all of the rest of your passwords too.

2. Use hard-to-crack passwords. See Best Passwords Ever.

3. Sign up for a password manager like Dashlane, LastPass or KeyPass, which will store all your passwords in one place. A manager can speed up the time it takes to generate new passwords with a password generator. Protect your account with a long, goofy password that you can remember, and can’t be cracked. Memorize the password, and store it offline.

4.  Take advantage of two-step sign-in whenever it’s offered. Google offers it. So does WordPress.

5. Check to see if sites you deal frequently with have had their bleeding hearts fixed by going to this site put out by Bruce Schneier:

Good luck!



Learning the hard way: Scribbler’s Travel Tips

Got any travel tips?  We’re on the road a fair amount, and it would be good to reduce the odds of having to kick myself.  Here are some things learned the hard way:


Image source: Seeman via Morguefile

1. If you’re at a nice restaurant, and the host or hostess spreads a black napkin on your lap, and a white napkin on your husband/friend/date’s lap, don’t be offended. It doesn’t mean the staff anticipates you spilling red wine on the linen. It’s to prevent the white napkins from getting lint on your black outfit. It’s also grubbing for tips, but don’t be offended by that either. They really are underpaid.

2. Do not pretend to take a picture of your spouse when you’re really taking a picture of a famous actor and his wife sitting behind your spouse. The celebrity couple will not be fooled. The looks they give you, which will show up in your photo, will make you ashamed of yourself. (No picture here. Enough said.)

3. What about purses? Do you carry one? What kind?

For me anyway, it turns out purses aren’t necessary.  Pockets work great. If you don’t believe me, ask any guy. Purses are one more thing to remember, and make you a target for pickpockets. Also, no matter how big your purse is, things still get lost in it. Of course, if you want a purse, that’s fine. Just remember — unless you have a medical condition or a baby, you probably don’t need one.


Image source: Free Vector Site

4. Your feet are important.  If you pretend they aren’t, they will punish you.

5. If you wouldn’t wear it at home, you won’t want to wear it somewhere else.

On second thought, go for it. No one knows you anyway.


Image source: Alvimann via Morguefile

Are you a traveler? What’s your favorite place to visit? What’s on your traveling wish list?

What your name says about you.

What does your name mean? Does it suit you? If you’re a blogger, how did you pick your blog title?

If you don’t know the definition of your name, I recommend you drop in to Urban Dictionary, which offers the latest, coolest, most flattering definitions of who your name says you are. For instance, take Julia (ahem):

“a name for girls. Most julia’s are artistic, smart, romantic, beautiful and also very charming. Julia’s can get whatever they want if they try. They can be very sexy so watch out! They are romantics and love old movies, art and books. they love old stuff! They usually aren’t very athletic but if a julia is athletic she’s kick butt! they have great fashion sense and usually look smokin’. A julia will most likely become a mother because they love kids. They are very successful in life and there is just something about them that draws people in. Also they are ah-mazing dancers!
– Julia roberts
– julia stiles
– julia meyerhoff
– julia schneiderman
– julia ormond
– julia de burgo”

Just get me a crown, will ya?

Much better than, which says Julia is the male form of Julius, then bumps you to this:

“masc. proper name, from L. Julius, name of a Roman gens, perhaps a contraction of *Jovilios “pertaining to or descended from Jove.”

 Ho hum, by jove.


Thank you wikipedia for your wonderful free photos

From now on, signing my name, Smokin’

Speaking of names, celebrate a new blog name with me! Henceforth, Schrodinger’s Cat is Alive (my former blog name) will remain, alive and dead in it’s box, free for the taking by someone else worthy of such mathematical wonders. In it’s place: Scribbler’s Playhouse. That’s what really goes on here anyway.  Thank you all you writers who drop in and egg me on, providing the impetus to come out as a writer.  Turns out it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

If you’re busy this week and don’t have time to look up the etymology (love that word. Roll it around your tongue. Tastes sweet, doesn’t it?), I’ll look up your name for you. Promise to only tell you the good stuff about yourself, especially if you push the Follow button.


Buzz Cut for a Rebel Tree

Ah Spring! The ornamental pear! ImageLambs! Image

Witch hazel, which survived an ice storm!











Put in a word to the Equinox faeries for this tree, which not only has the misfortune to be located next to a no parking sign, and a fire hydrant, but also, was duly punished for exhibiting  noncompliant brown leaves last summer.


May you, once again, sprout leaves.

Happy Spring.

Revelstoke, B.C.: 10 tips for non-expert skiers

How’s your ski season going? Where’s your favorite ski area? Are you one of those 55 and over skiers who fly fearlessly between tree wells, leap off cornices, or bounce with liquid knees over moguls the size of boulders. No? You still working work on carving turns and get itchy at high speeds? Does someone like us have any business on the famed powder-snow slopes of Revelstoke, B.C.? YES! If you’ve been there are you going back? If you haven’t read on.



“Mom, Revelstoke is for real skiers,”  — a friend’s son.

Until recently, most alpine skiing at Revelstoke was via Sno-Cat and helicopter. In the early 2000’s, the town decided to plump up the local economy by developing the ski area on local Mt. MacKenzie. The result is a stunning resort, with 5,620 lift-served (1,710 m.) vertical feet, the largest in North America.


Expect irreverence.

The town shifted almost overnight, according to one local guy who rode up the gondola with us, from a population of retired Italian railroad workers, to 20-something ski jocks.  The place has the feel of ski areas back in the days I learned to ski, full of youngsters who’d do anything — sleep on couches, live in poverty, sling burgers and shovel driveways — to ski. When the snow is good, everybody who can heads to the slopes; and the snow is good on a lot of days. Thirty to forty five feet of snow falls per year.

Every chair has a blue run or green connector, so anybody can get down from anywhere — but, people don’t go all the way to the wilds of British Columbia for runs like you’d find at home. You go for the powder. It is impressive.

CMH Monashees Pastry Chef on the job

This is not me. I wish it was.

The keys to a great visit:

1. If you travel by air to get there, carry on ski essentials.  Our skis didn’t arrive until 36 hours after we did.  A woman in line with those of us whose stuff didn’t make it, was pretty upset that she’d checked her bag with her brand-new ski pants. The airlines will refund purchases and rentals, but it’s a hassle.

2. Build flexibility into your travel schedule. The highways in the area are vulnerable to avalanches and, in the case of sudden thaws, high water. To get to Revelstoke, we flew from Eugene, Oregon, to Seattle, then to Kelowna, B.C., then drove three hours. That went fine, but the return was trickier. The highway from Revelstoke to Kelowna shut down for the 36 hours before our departure. In order to make our flight, we re-routed the drive to the airport, to a 5 hour drive that involved two ferry rides.

3. Speaking of avalanches, ski in bounds. Avalanches on the slopes are a problem whenever there is heavy snow, which is often. The Chairs: Ripper chair is good for (1) beginners, (2) for access to tree runs, which looked too narrow for me, and (3) finishing runs off the North Bowl. It has a long run out at the bottom. We had more fun on Stoke chair. Plenty of access to wide bowls and routes between widely spaced trees, all with deep, snow and light traffic.

4. Accommodations and Food: Sutton Place Lodge at the base of the ski area offers luxury accommodations and ski-in, ski-out convenience. There is, so far, one restaurant, and one bar, so make a reservation. The food is good, and so is the service, but both places can be full of young men, rowdy after a day of double diamond downhill. Alternatively – the town of Revelstoke is a ten minute drive away, charming, offers several hotels for pretty much any budget, restaurants and two well-stocked grocery stores.  Favorite place: The Village Idiot, a local pub with good food, and vintage skis decorating the walls and furniture.


The Village Idiot Pub logo

5. Get your quads in shape. Chairs are few, and runs are long. Plans are in the works to increase the number of chairs, but for now, one gondola and 2 chairs serve all the runs. Don’t worry, there is more than enough mountain (3,121 acres). If you don’t want to wear yourself out too quickly, pay attention to the directional signs. Missing the bottom of the chair or the mid-mountain gondola means you ski for a long, long way, on terrain that can be relentlessly uneven.  Bottom-to-top-to-bottom can take an hour. Don’t be proud. A ride down the gondola at the end of the day is a godsend if you’re tired, and the view can’t be beat.

6. The terrain lives up to its reputation as “varied,” so polish up skills.  One run can be steep, bumpy, groomed, wide, and narrow — all of the above. Don’t want to take lessons?  The internet is full of useful mini lessons and reviews on how to ski better, like this one (no affiliation with this company):

7.  Equipment: Take advantage of the powder by experimenting with rentals. If you haven’t already, try a “rocker” ski, or an all mountain ski that is longer and fatter than what you are used to. The resort rentals are kind of beat up, but fine for experimenting with. Know your waist size, as in the skinny mid-section of the ski. A narrower waist is easier to turn, fatter is better in powder. Look for a 85 to 100 cm waist for intermediate skiing, 100-110 for advanced skiers.

8. Layer up, dress warmly: with so much vertical, there can be a big difference in temperature at the bottom and the top of the runs, and there can be a lot of time to cool off between runs.

9. Black diamond runs are manageable for most intermediate to advanced skiers — Steep, but not too steep, gentler slopes toward the bottom. The double black diamonds looked intimidating, and I did not attempt any. Maybe for my 60th.

10. Enjoy the show. Serious skiers are everywhere, demonstrating how it’s done.

How’s your ski season going? Where’s your favorite ski area?