Hummingbird

I needed a break from being hunched over the computer, so I strolled out into the garden in front of our congregation’s buildings. A eucalyptus tree was covered in bright pink blossoms, with three or four hummingbirds buzzing around the tree. One of them decided to rest for a moment in a shrub about a dozen feet from me. I stayed there long enough for me to get my camera out of my pocket. Viewed from the front, the feathers on the forehead and neck would glow with bright red iridescence, but from the side they just look black.

Anna’s Hummingbird

I felt a distinct sense of pleasure to see this tiny bird this close; it was a pleasant change from staring at a computer screen for most of the day. I’m always surprised when people talk about having to drive many miles to “get out in Nature.” Even in human-dominated landscapes, you can still find Nature.

A good day

I finally had an entire day that I could spend outdoors. I went birding along Charleston Slough, in Baylands Nature Preserve on the Palo Alto / Mountain View border. Towards the end of my walk, I saw a man standing at the edge of Shoreline Pond and looking intently into a birding scope, and asked what he was looking at. “Barrow’s,” he said, meaning Barrow’s Goldeneye, a relatively uncommon bird. And there it was, swimming along with a small group of closely related Common Goldeneyes.

Barrow’s Goldeneye on the left, Common Goldeneye on the right.

“Thanks for that,” I said. “That makes sixty species today, which is a big day for me.” (Real birders aim for over a hundred species in a day.)

We chatted for a bit, but the sun was setting, and he packed up and headed home. I slowly made my way back to my car, and on the way saw another five species of birds.

I spent all day outdoors. I saw a lot of birds. I mostly forgot about the pandemic. All in all, it was a good day.

Using Jamulus to sing online in real time

The Bay Area Sacred Harp (BASH) singing community has been using Jamulus to sing together online, in four part harmony, in real time. The big problem with trying to sing online together is that the Internet has built-in “latency,” or lag time. Jamulus is free open source software that minimizes latency to allow people to make music together in real time.

Last night, we had eight singers logged in to our Jamulus server, including two singers from Southern California. And it finally felt like we’re getting the hang of how to do this.

We started experimenting with Jamulus back in June, and since mid-August we’ve been singing twice a month, so this is our seventh regular meeting. Singing online requires several adjustments on the part of singers. First you have to get used to the Jamulus platform, including watching your volume level, adjusting the volume levels of other singers, etc.

Beyond the technical learning curve, there’s also a musical learning curve. You have to get used to the fact that you have no visual cues, so instead of watching someone beating time you have to maintain a very sure sense of the tempo. You also have to get used to the fact that there’s more lag time than when singing in person; in person, you can rely on another singer by listening to them and following a split second behind, but singing online has just enough lag time that you have to be exactly on the beat (or even the tiniest bit ahead). In short, you have to be very confident of your part.

No, it’s not as good as singing in person. But because of the pandemic, singing in person simply isn’t possible. This is the best alternative; and really, given how good it feels to be able to sing with others, it’s a pretty good alternative.

I’ll continue after the jump with more technical details.

Continue reading “Using Jamulus to sing online in real time”

Possum still feels stressed, part one

A few months ago, Dr. Sharpie showed Possum some spiritual practices that might make him feel less stressed. Possum says those spiritual practices don’t work any more for him, but Sharpie has an idea….

Click on the image above to view the video on Youtube.

The full text of the video is below the fold.

Continue reading “Possum still feels stressed, part one”

Puzzles

A significant part of our congregation’s outreach to kids during the pandemic has been to send monthly packets, via U.S. mail, with word search puzzles, other puzzles, coloring pages, and mazes. Sometimes there’s a little learning in these packets, but mostly they’re a form of support and ministry to parents and kids: kids get mail addressed to them, which they love; kids get an activity that doesn’t require more screen time; and parents get a few extra minutes of free time while the kids are working on the puzzles and mazes. And it shows that our congregation remembers the kids, and cares about them, even though we can’t see them.

It’s also fun for me, since I love making puzzles. Problem is, when I get into puzzle-making mode, sometimes I make puzzles that aren’t suitable for kids. Like the one below, which is derived from the old Boggle game — and rather than waste this puzzle, I’m inflicting it on you by posting it on this blog:

Find six words that begin with the letter “c” and end with “ate.” To make words, you can join letters going up, down, sideways, or diagonally; but each letter in the puzzle grid can only be used once in a given word.

Update: Carol posted this to Facebook, and both Clarissa and Deb found another word. So now you have to find eight….

ARkstorms

We Californians always worry about The Big One, the next big earthquake.

Apparently what we should really worry about is ARkstorms. These storms come along every couple of centuries. During the last ARkstorm, in the winter of 1861-1862, it rained for 43 days straight, and the subsequent flooding turned California’s Central Valley into an inland sea 300 miles long. If such a storm happened today, some scientists estimate that it would cause three times the amount of death and destruction of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake.

Just wanted to give you something else to worry about….

Making organized religion look bad

Warren Throckmorton has been watching prominent evangelical Christian pastors and leaders during this election cycle, documenting how these “court evangelicals” support Donald Trump. Two days ago, Throckmorton wrote a blog post asking, “Trump’s Denial of Election Reality: Will Court Evangelicals Play Along?”

The answer, of course, is “yes.” Many prominent white evangelical pastors continue to support Trump, and are now issuing statements accusing Joe Biden of stealing the election.

While these pastors doubtless think they are doing the Lord’s work, sadly what they are really doing is undermining organized religion. The many American citizens who are not white evangelicals are going to watch this kind of behavior — tweets that undermine democratic process, statements that deny reality — and begin to wonder about Christian churches. And by extension, wonder about the purpose of all organized religion — read the comments, and you’ll find someone calling for an end to tax-exempt status for religious organizations.

I’m a bit resentful because even though I’m about as far from these white evangelical pastors as you can possibly be (OK, I am white, too, but there aren’t many other similarities), as a minister I’m going to experience an erosion of trust because of the way they come across as hypocritical (Christians implicitly inciting violence), violating the separation of church and state, and out of touch with reality.

Sadly, these “court evangelicals” will not drive away the white evangelicals who fill their churches — but they will reduce the overall number of people who are willing to have anything to do with organized religion. So I predict an upwards tick in the “nones,” those with no religious affiliation, following this election.

Equally sadly, I’m increasingly convinced that what these “court evangelicals” do is really politics, not religion. So they’re destroying organized religion, but not actually doing religion themselves.