Saturday, November 21, 2015

Getting Judgmental

I was recently asked to be a judge for a poetry contest held by the student editors of Taft College's literary magazine, A Sharp Piece of Awesome. This magazine has been put out by the students for the past five years, with their next issue due out next May. However, this was the first year I learned of their poetry reading event.

The event, like many of their book launch events, was held at the Black Gold Cafe in downtown Taft. The owner is a strong supporter of the schools in Taft.

There were probably twenty people there, mostly Taft College students, but a few other people came out to hear and read their poetry. There were three judges. Bill Devine is a professor at Taft College, teaching English classes. Then Clarissa Alderete, who is a student at Taft College and one of the Sharp Piece of Awesome editors. Then there was me. I had been invited since I'm a Kern County published poet.

We (the judges) took a few minutes before the reading started to go over the criteria we wanted to us. Since it was a contest of reading, some of the criteria were performance based (like articulation), and since it was a poetry contest, some of the criteria were literary (like clarity and imagery). Then we scattered to different parts of the room to listen. Then afterwards we got back together and discovered we'd all agreed on the top three. Oh, we did have them in slightly different order, but we all had the same top three. So after a little discussion we decided on a consensus order.

Given that most of the people there were Taft College students, it's not too surprising that two of the prizes went to some of them (first and third prizes). But second went to an older man (probably in his seventies, maybe eighties). His poems, while not in a modern style, were very good, and he was a very good reader. Well, actually he had his mostly memorized. The audience as a whole also got to vote their favorite, and again the majority went for him.

So all in all this was a fun event. I had a chance to meet some new people, talk poetry and have a good time. It was quite an honor for Geoffrey Dyer, the Sharp Piece of Awesome faculty advisor, to think of me as a possible judge for their event. Hopefully I'll have a chance to do something similar again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Center of the World

Normally in August there is a festival down at Pine Mountain Club (near Frazier Park for those that don't know) called the Center of the World Festival. The name comes from the fact that the Chumash people that lived there say that Mount Pinos is the center on the world. The festival operates on grants and has a theme that changes based on their current grant.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


I recently went to a breakfast meeting in Bakersfield which presented information about John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club and the man that helped convince Teddy Roosevelt to start the National Parks. In 1976 California historians named him the greatest Californian. (I'm sure that he'd still be near the top today.) But despite being an important Californian, he wasn't born here. He was born in Scotland.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Jury Is Out

When you read this I will be coming up on my period of jury duty. It has actually been a couple years since I've been called. But there for a while I was getting called every year. At first I would go and get put in a pool at the end of the afternoon so I'd have to come back the next day.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Urban Coyote

Now that's not some re-imagined movie starring John Travolta. But it is in fact, “a thing”. I have been looking at some articles on animals (and other things) for a project I've been fiddling with on the natural history of the area. And one of the things I've been reading that has been of special interest is that of coyotes in an urban environment.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Leap Second

On June 30th we had a leap second added to the year. A leap second? That's right, a second. We're all familiar with the leap day we add to the year every 4 years (next year will be one). That day is added to keep our calendars aligned with the stars. When someone asks how many days in a year, we automatically say 365. And that's pretty close.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fortune Cookie

A couple weeks ago I was having Chinese food down in Bakersfield and opened up my fortune cookie. It said that I was to receive a “great honor”. It's not that I put any store in what a cookie thinks, but I did try to think of anything that I might be in line for that could be considered an “honor”. And I came up with two. And they both came true.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Animals on Wheels

Just the other day I was flipping channels since I couldn't find anything on and stumbled across the PBS show Nature reshowing the episode “My Bionic Pet”. This concerned the lives of several animals using prostheses. There were dogs with three (or two) legs, a pig with a wheel chair, and even an alligator with a prosthetic tail.

Friday, May 29, 2015

National Donut Day

It is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And I'm sure we can all think of organizations and groups, and even individuals that have done terrible things with the best of intentions. On the other hand, I'm not sure where the road paved with donuts goes, but it isn't hell.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Building Books

Getting a book published can be difficult. It took years before J.K. Rowling found a publisher for her Harry Potter books. And many other authors have told stories of wallpapering rooms with their rejection slips. Down in Bakersfield the Writers of Kern writing group regularly starts meeting by asking who's been rejected since the last meeting. And I'm a member of “The Failure Club” on Facebook. This isn't to rub noses in our failures but to celebrate our attempts.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Twin Studies

When scientists want to understand something they will often use an experimental “unit” and a control “unit”. And when studying something if you have a second copy around then you can control for more kinds of factors. And when it comes to people identical twins are the closest you can get to a second copy.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Getting There

A few weeks ago I took part in an outing that took the MetroLink from Lancaster down into Downtown Los Angeles. On the weekend you can ride unlimited for $10. This includes not just MetroLink, but the other rail lines in the L.A. area. (It also includes some of the bus lines down there as well.) So you could ride from Lancaster to Oceanside then back again all for $10.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Pi Day

Mark your calendars! It is almost Pi Day! What is Pie Day you may ask? Well, it a bit of fun based on math. The number pi (the Greek letter π) is the ratio of the length around a circle (the perimeter) to the distance across (the diameter). So to calculate pi you just need to measure around the edge of a circle then divide by its width. The number you will get (depending on how well you measure) will be about 3.14. So just for fun people have started to call March 14th (3/14) Pi(e) day.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Colonel Allensworth

Having gone to school in Oklahoma I learned about the state's many “historically black towns”. At least that was what they were called when I went to school. There were many such towns in Oklahoma. And while some are still in existence, there are many that no longer exist. And sometimes the town names tell us about the people that lived there, names like Bookertee and Liberty.

Saturday, January 31, 2015


Wikipedia says that monoculture is growing a single crop over wide regions. This provides advantages since the farmers can concentrate on developing techniques to maximize yields for only one crop. So they can develop machines that can efficiently harvest one type of fruit or grain. And crops can be developed that are specifically designed to do well in a specific area.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

If I Had A Hammer

Back in the 1980s observations of a layer of sediment right when the dinosaurs went extinct led to a hypothesis of an asteroid or comet impact being the cause of the extinction. Like many hypotheses that are fairly radical, it took a while to gain acceptance, yet now it is considered the likely cause of the extinction.