Friday, February 20, 2009

Das RheinGOLD

I got a chance to see the dress rehearsal for Wagner's 1869 opera Das Rheingold last night. It is the first of the cycle of four operas that the L.A. Opera is putting on over the next two years, culminating with the complete cycle in May and June of 2010. It is a milestone for Los Angeles and for L.A. Opera that they have decided to take on this gargantuan task. It's a very expensive undertaking at a time when expenses are difficult to meet for everyone. But boy, is the topic ever timely!

The story of Das Rheingold concerns Wotan's foolish desire to build himself a MacMansion (Valhalla) and how he goes about paying for it. Sound familiar? He has promised his builders, two giants, that he will give them his sister-in-law Freia as payment. That may not be familiar, but many people have in a sense sold their family's future in order to have a nice home now. His wife, Fricka, is outraged, naturally, but Wotan assures her he never meant to make the payment anyway. That sounds familiar, too. I'm thinking of those adjustable rate mortgages that when ballooned left their holders without the ability to pay them. The excuse I heard many times was that people never intended to hold the original mortgage to term and expected the banks to re-finance at that point. In the opera, there is a lot of haggling with the builders, but the giants finally agree to accept the gold that was stolen from the Rheinmaidens in payment instead.

This would be a very good deal indeed in today's market with gold selling at over $1000 an ounce. The newspapers are calling this a "flight to safety." One wonders where people are putting this gold and how they intend to sell it once things stabilize again. As with today's bubble economies, the Nibelung dwarf who stole the gold, Alberich, has used it to seek out even more gold and has forced his fellow Nibelungens to do the dirty work of mining for him. One thing that he forges from the gold is the ring which is the object that ties all these operas together and from whence they get the collective name Der Ring des Nibelungen. Yes, there was a ring before Frodo. This ring will give the wearer untold powers, the power to win all the world's wealth. By the end of the opera, Alberich has put a curse on the ring that it will bring only misery and death to the wearer. 'Nuff said.

Putting on the Ring Cycle has become a rite of passage for opera companies and the cities that support them. People travel from all over the world to see the latest production. But it seems to me that the sets, costumes, and design of the production has overshadowed the music and the singing. This was certainly true of last night's performance. I think I got most of the symbolism behind the stage setting: heaven above where the gods reside, the earth in the middle, and the fire pits below. But I spent a lot of my time trying to figure out what those long ropes were supposed to signify, and the light sabers were laughable, like the one I bought my grandson at Disneyland. The opening was very effective with the solo horns and the stage covered with billowing black cloth to represent the river. But the costumes were clumsy and awkward and seemed just to get in the singers' way. And I wonder why none of the females in the cast were allowed to show their hair and instead wore ghastly white skull caps. They looked bald.

I have to keep reminding myself that this was a rehearsal after all, and that the company will not pull out all the stops until opening night on Saturday. But I think the $11m (out of a $32m budget) for the design and staging could have been better spent. Just like in our present world, things have become more important than the message.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What's in a Name?

NGC 2024, NGC 2244, and NGC 2264 sound rather dry don't they. The names of these nebulae give you no clue to their beauty. It's like the name Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2, doesn't tell you anything about the glories of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata. If instead I told you that these were the Flame Nebula, the Rosette Nebula, and the Christmas Tree Cluster respectively, you might want to have a look at them for yourself. That's exactly what I did last night at the In-Town Observing Session for the South Bay Astronomical Society. (It took place at Ridgecrest School this month. I guess the key situation has been resolved.)

While I found all three of these New General Catalogue objects, I couldn't see the nebulosity around any of them, only the star fields. But with the wonders of photography and some software, look what one of the guys, Ken Munsen, was able to pull out of the light-polluted Los Angeles city skies. (All photos in this blog entry are used with Ken's permission.)

The top photo is of the Flame and Horsehead Nebulae (two for the price of one!) The bright star to the left of center is Alnitak, the left-end star of Orion's belt. The Flame is obvious to its lower left, but you have to look carefully to see the Horsehead off to the lower right. The Horsehead was made famous to us ordinary folk by the Hubble Space Telescope which celebrated its 11th Anniversary in 2001 by publishing a new photo of the nebula. What's so amazing about Ken's photo is that the guys tell me that the Horsehead is very hard to see through amateur scopes even if you are out in the desert at a dark site. And to think that Ken was set up right next to me when he took this photo at Rancho del Mar High School in January!

The photo on the left was taken by Ken at Ridgecrest and is of the most famous of all nebulae, the Great Orion Nebula. In fact, the photo shows all three "stars" of Orion's sword which include many other interesting objects—NGC 1981 and 1977 (top stars), NGC 1980 (bottom stars), as well as M42 and M43 (in the middle). M43 is the little cloud of purple gas just on top of M42.

The technique used to produce these wonders is to take several relatively short digital exposures and "stack" them together to bring out the details. Ken explains:

The shots of M42 I did from Ridgecrest School and they were all done in 30-second increments with 30 images stacked using Images Plus. The Flame and Horsehead Nebula was done from Rancho del Mar school with 30 1-minute images stacked.
Some guys use a digital video camera and then select the best frames and stack them together. However, I am just learning this stuff, so I am not the person to ask for details. If you want to more about the technique, here is a good place to start. Of course, having a really good telescope helps, too.

Besides being Valentine's Day, it was very cold last night so not many visitors came to see the stars. The seeing was pretty good though, steady, but there was a lot of moisture in the air and dew became a problem by 10:00 pm. When my tracking motor had a "fault" at 10:35, my fingers were too frozen for me to want to start a re-calibration (think cold, wet metal), so I packed up. But I didn't leave until I had a look at Saturn and five of its moons through another guy's scope. The rings are almost edge on right now, but we could still see some of the dark line called the Cassini Division. Check out the SBAS website for the time of our next in-town observing session (it'll be in the current newsletter First Light) and come on up to have a look. Visitors are always welcome.

My last photo for this blog entry is of the beautiful Rosette Nebula (NGC 2244). Ken took this photo out in the desert at Red Rock Canyon and used longer exposure times. Thanks very much for sharing, Ken!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tidepool Report

I made it down to Abalone Cove on Sunday afternoon as planned. It was raining at my house when I had lunch but it finally stopped long enough to give me hope for the rest of afternoon. It turned out to be a beautiful day down at the cove. No rain and plenty of sunshine. The tide was out to -1.7 feet at 2.46 p.m. After trying to make up my mind how warmly to dress, I finally arrived at 2 and stayed until the sun set after 5 p.m. Grace (gracefully gamboling over the rocks in the photo) and her family were already there when I arrived as were many other people. I took over 165 photos which you can view at my Picasa Web Albums site. I have added captions to many of the photos to aid in identifying the plants and marine life.

However, the afternoon was almost spoiled right away when I came upon a family of poachers. They were foreign (Chinese) and spoke no English but they certainly knew what they were doing, digging octopi out from their hiding places under the rocks with a hook. They were dressed as fishermen with heavy boots and waterproof pants. Grace was furious and tried to tell them that taking anything out of the park was forbidden, but they just shrugged her off. We saw them put at least one octopus and one Brittle Star in their cooler. I felt slightly relieved when Grace called the number given on the map they hand out at the gate and reported them. Someone else had already reported them and Grace was told that they planned to confront them as they left. My concern was that there are several ways to get down to the tidepools, so how could they be sure these people would leave by the gate?

My friend Yvetta has sent me further information on the subject which I will pass on to you so you will be informed. A fishing license does not give someone the right to take octopi from the Preserve. Abalone Cove State Marine Park is a Marine Protected Area. The state Fish & Game regulations clearly state that all marine aquatic plants and all invertebrates including worms, squids, octopi, most shellfish, sea urchins, sea stars, and sea cucumbers, are prohibited for recreational take. If you should see something like this happening in the future, it is recommended that you not confront the person or persons. Instead, contact the California Fish & Game or have the person at the gatehouse do it. The numbers to call are (858) 467-4201 (South Coast Region) or (831) 649-2870 (Marine Region). I'm planning to add these numbers to my cell phone.

After Grace left, I climbed all the way out to the point which is where I took the photo at the top. You can see the opening to the cave that I mentioned earlier. No one was going across the gorge today, however. The waves were fiercely crashing into the surrounding rocks.

Many thanks to Yvetta for all the information she sent me as well as the help with identifying species.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tidepool Weekend

Ok, all you tidepool lovers, we're due for another set of negative tides this weekend. They will range from -1.3 on Friday to -1.7 on Sunday, again right in the middle of the afternoon. You can expect the tide to be very low one hour before and one hour after the times given below.
02/06/2009 Fri 01:29PM LST -1.3 L
02/07/2009 Sat 02:08PM LST -1.6 L
02/08/2009 Sun 02:46PM LST -1.7 L
02/09/2009 Mon 03:21PM LST -1.5 L
Unfortunately, the weather may not be so cooperative this time as we are due for some rain. If we are lucky, Sunday and Monday afternoons may be clear. It will be much colder, too, with a high of 56 to 60 degrees predicted in that time period. But we need the rain, so I'm not complaining too much.

I have to work Friday and Saturday, so I will probably try to go out on Sunday. If you decide to do some tidepooling this weekend, dress warm, be kind to the animals, take lots of pictures, and be sure to share them with me when you get back. See you at the cove!

Sunset at Abalone Cove on January 10, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Knitting News

I made great progress on the Feather and Fan Cardigan last November. I finished the right upper bodice at Thanksgiving but then put the project aside in order to finish the Maltese Shawl for my DIL. Now picking up the cardigan again, I am finding it hard to get back into it. I usually take notes when I knit, especially when there are two of something to knit that have to be exactly alike. But I guess I wasn't as careful this time, or I was in too much of a hurry when I started the left upper bodice. I ended up ripping it out at least three times before I got things right. Well, almost right. I was still one stitch off with my sleeve increases on the front side, but I came out with the right number of stitches at the shoulder. Hopefully, when the seams are stitched up, no one will be able to tell. But you never know which mistakes will show and which will remain forever hidden. When the left upper bodice is done, the lower bodice will be knitted down in plain stockinette stitch. Here is a photo of what it should look like when finished.

Rowan has come out with a new magazine. I really love their styles although there are a lot of them I would never wear. I currently have three Rowan projects that are started but not finished—the Helon Dress, Anya, and Glade. The Helon Dress came to a stop because of sizing problems. As Grace over at Bad Mom, Good Mom related, getting the size right is the hardest part of knitting. I would have thought that having a sewing dummy would help, but apparently not. Sometimes as soon as you cast on, the die is cast so to speak. The size is set and there's nothing you can do to change it. That's the case with the Helon Dress.

The magazine was on sale at Sakonnet Purls (I think the sale is over now). Yarn was on sale, too, and they got me with the free shipping offer for orders over a certain amount. So I decided to buy some yarn while I was at it, but I didn't have any projects in mind. When I saw this luscious yarn by Knit One, Crochet Too, I was hooked. As you can see from the label, it is a handpainted yarn called Ambrosia, 70% baby alpaca, 20% silk, and 10% cashmere, color lavender cream. I bought six hanks, enough to make a tank top or short-sleeved top. When the yarn arrived, I was delighted with it and spent many hours searching through my pattern books for just the right project to knit with it. The current choice is another CEY Make it Modern pattern called Girl Tank, but I may change my mind. The yarn is so special, it needs special treatment and I just know I am going to love working with it.

Monday, February 2, 2009


After spending two weeks playing, practicing, rehearsing, and playing some more, I am finally able to sit down at the computer and write a post. I have done some knitting and I'll bring you up to date on that later. (I have some gorgeous yarn to show you.) I haven't written about my diet in a very long time, so I thought I'd start back with that topic. Dr. Eades has had several very good postings recently on his blog and I'd like to draw your attention to a couple of them. If you are new to my blog, I am a low-carber and have been for almost five years now.

One of the things I like about the Drs. Eades is that they are willing to change their views or update their recommendations as new research comes to light (if the research is good research). They use their blogs to comment on these new findings and sometimes the best stuff is in their comments to the comments from readers. They will have to do a revision of their books someday. They do have a new book in the works that was supposed to come out this January, but release has been delayed until the fall. The burning question that seems to be on everyone's mind is, what do you do if you try low-carb eating to lose weight and you reach a stall, a plateau, and just can't get things going again. Or you go off the diet, gain weight, and want to get back on the diet to lose that weight, but find that things are not so easy the second time around. Then there are those of us who have reached a certain age and find that the pounds just pile on despite all our best efforts.

Dr. Eades points out that one cause for the stall, the difficulties losing weight, and the middle-aged weight gain is a tired or stressed liver.

The liver is the primary organ involved in metabolism. In order to lose weight successfully, you need to have a liver that is running on all cylinders.
Dr. Eades gives several reasons why the liver may not be functioning up to par, including old age, but also including the fact that alcohol, medications, caffeine, and excess insulin in the blood caused by excess sugar in the diet (remember all carbs are sugar) need to be processed by the liver. It has been found that being overweight can cause the same liver dysfunction that drinking too much alcohol does.

People who consume too much alcohol over too long a time period develop first a fatty infiltration of their liver cells, then inflammation that progresses to fibrosis, then ultimately, if the drinking doesn’t stop, to cirrhosis and possibly even liver cancer. This same exact progression takes place in the livers of many people who are overweight and/or insulin resistant.
If you have too much insulin circulating in your blood because your liver can't process it all, you will have trouble losing weight.

Insulin stays in the circulation because it is put there by the pancreas and because it isn’t metabolized in the liver. A liver that isn’t functioning up to snuff won’t break down insulin as rapidly as it should. Consequently, higher levels of insulin mean more difficulty in losing weight. Plus, since the liver is the major organ involved in the entire metabolic process, it works a whole lot better to stabilize everything when it is unhindered by having to detoxify a lot of unnecessary stuff. Which is why you need to baby your liver when you restart your low-carb diet.
He recommends laying off the coffee (and I would include any drink with caffeine in it) and alcohol until you get your system going again.

Another great post was about eating low-carb in Mexico. It can be done. In fact, I think it can be done anywhere there is good food and attention is paid to the preparation of that food.

Speaking of liver, my sister and I were talking about how we both like to have liver now and then, but our families won't touch the stuff. We were wondering if it is because we were forced to eat it when we were young and now it feels like "comfort food" to us. I just had some calves' liver yesterday and I am so full of energy today. That happens every time I have liver. But my sister and I both agree that it has to be cooked right—very lightly. I like to sauté mine over a low heat in butter and coconut oil with just a little seasoning. It's really good that way. I accompanied last night's liver with some wonderful cream of celeriac soup. I can give you that recipe, because I made it up myself. A hand-held blender is a great tool to have, but if you don't have one, you can use a food processor. It's messier but does the job.

coconut oil
1 celeriac, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 stalks celery, chopped coarsely
1 carrot, chopped coarsely
2 small or 1 medium onion
1 1/2 cups water
1 can coconut milk
sea salt

Melt the butter and coconut oil in a soup pot. Add the celeriac, celery, carrot, and onions and "sweat" (put the lid on the pot) for about 15 minutes. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Simmer the vegetables for 20 minutes or so, until the celeriac is soft. Turn down the heat and add the coconut milk. Purée the soup with a hand-held blender right in the pot. Add the other 1/2 cup of water (or more) if the soup is too thick. Add some salt and bring back to a simmer.

I like to serve the soup with a drizzle of a good quality olive oil in the middle.

The entire pot of soup will contain about 28g of carbohydrates, but you will get about 3 or 4 servings out of it depending on the size of your celeriac and how thick you like the soup. Considering that one smallish boiled potato (2.5 inch diameter) will have 25g of carbs, this is a good deal. At only 7.3g per cup, celeriac is a good substitute for mashed potatoes.