Sunday, May 31, 2015

Community Gardening: Entry 2

Over the years, I've learned that I get the most satisfaction from gardening when I don't spend a lot of money. I start with inexpensive ingredients and draw on my creativity, the wisdom from other growers, and a willingness to experiment. My results don't look like a photo spread from Sunset magazine, but they do reflect my sensibility that a garden should be artistic, subtle, and organically connected to its place.

Using Colorful Tomato Cages adds
a sense of whimsy to the garden.

Raised beds are preferred by most
community gardeners; however, I have
opted for a border composed of discarded rocks.

Tip: Buy Locally

I'd bought into the myth that you get the best deals from places like Home Depot, Lowe's, and Walmart. Yet, here in Portland, Maine, l found that local nurseries can often be less expensive, offer more variety, and provide a healthier stock of plant than those found at the discount chains, provided you shop around. For example, I compared tomato plants at my local nursery, Broadway Gardens, ($1.98 to $6.00) with those at Home Depot ($6.98). True, there are lots of very expensive plants at Broadway Gardens, but in this instance, the local nursery was the better deal for tomato plants. So, before you head off to the discounters, check prices at your local nurseries. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Ireland Votes on Marriage Equality: Be My Yes

Socially conservative Ireland votes today on marriage equality. This heavily Catholic country is expected to be the first nation in the world to approve same-sex unions through the referendum process (recent polls suggest that 58-64% of eligible voters will approve marriage equality). Whether these poll numbers translate into actual votes is another question. Historically, polls underestimate opposition to same-sex marriage by 5-7%. People are sometimes "shy" about voicing opposition to same-sex marriage for fear of being labeled a bigot, which, of course, they are.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Community Garden Journal: The Beginnning

Brentwood Farms Community Garden
Portland, Maine

This year I decided to join a Community Garden right here in Portland, Maine. Although I have an undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture and have designed many gardens over the last couple of decades, I've never participated in a community garden. I hope this new experience will reinforce the satisfaction that come from producing healthy food from almost nothing but your hands and the soil. So dig in, and follow me as I discover the joys (and perhaps pitfalls) of community gardening.

Day 1
Day 1
Before Weeding, Compost and Leveling

The Brentwood Farms Community Garden is located near Evergreen Cemetery in a quiet and tranquil section of Portland. It's the perfect spot to let go of stress and get your hands dirty. The cost of an 8' x 8' plot for the season is $35, which includes the use of tools, compost, and water. 

I selected a plot with plenty of afternoon sun, easy access to water outlets, and level ground. Today's project: weeding, adding compost, and tilling the soil.

Tip: Why Till?

Tilling is needed if you are mixing amendments into the soil. Tilling is also helpful if you have severely compacted soil that needs to be broken up or any type of soil that needs to be broken into finer bits for planting seeds. This process also removes weeds and undesirable roots from the soil.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Gay Traffic Lights

In another step toward GLBT acceptance, the City of Vienna, Austria has installed gay-themed traffic lights depicting male-male, female-female, and opposite-sex couples in place of the traditional stick figures. The temporary lights were installed as part of the city's gay pride festivities, but they proved so popular that the city decided to keep them indefinitely. The gay-themed lights have even spread across to Germany where Munich has plans to launch its own gay traffic lights in July.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Beguiling Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks has been called the "poet laureate of medicine." His books about neurological case histories (The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, and Awakeningshave been critical and commercial successes. In his new book, On the Move, Sacks gives us a moving portrait of his own life, a life troubled by shyness and an inability to form stable relationships. Now facing the end of his own life (he has terminal cancer), Sacks recounts his life as a physician, professor, writer, biker and power lifter (who would have thought!). The most touching part of this memoir is when Sacks describes falling in love with the writer Billy Hayes in 2007. On the Move is poignant look at a gifted man. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Airline Report Card

Remember the series of winter storms last February that made travel a nightmare. I was victim to flight cancellations four times. Well, the US Department of Transportation is out with its Airline Report Card for February. The airlines with the highest on-time arrival:
  1. Alaska Airlines - 85.1%
  2. Hawaiian Airlines - 82.2%
  3. Delta Air Lines - 78%
The airlines with the lowest on-time arrival:
  1. Envoy Air - 53.3%
  2. Frontier Airlines - 58.8%
  3. JetBlue  -  59.7%
No surprises here. Alaska is my favorite airline: good service, dependable, and comfortable. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Advertisement: Die Schönste Frau der Welt

Die Schönste Frau der Welt

This German Advertisement from Bonprix begins by asking the simple question, "What is [Describe] the most beautiful women in the world?" The adults describe this woman as having long hair, thick lips, big breasts, big eyes, thin, etc. You get the picture. Then they ask the same question to children. They all say the most beautiful women in the world is their mother. Happy Mother's Day! Alles Liebe und Gute zum Muttertag!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

5 Cents Can Save the Environment

Recently, the City of Portland enacted a law requiring retailers to charge customers 5 cents for every paper or plastic bag taken from a checkout line at a grocery or convenience store. The law was enacted to promote recycling, reduce litter, and to draw attention to personal behaviors that impact the environment.

Plastic bags were a special concern because they don't degrade and frequently get into waterways where they can harm wildlife. Plastic bags are estimated to kill over 100,000 marine animals each year, mainly the sea turtle. But they also kill land animals such as birds that swallow them and die. A recent study noted that a five cent bag fee in Washington, D.C., resulted in a 60 percent drop in plastic bag usage!

Five cents is nothing, and I was skeptical whether this new law would change behavior. For example, I have dozens of reusable bags in my house that I rarely use. However, since the law went into effect, I've modified my behavior. Now, when I shop, I use a reusable bag, and I'm not the only one. At the checkout line, most of the people that I see are also using reusable bags. It seems that charging a relatively small amount for bags can produce a substantial change in behavior. So just maybe, a little 5 cent charge can indeed help the environment, save wildlife, and promote sustainability.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


This story is based on actual facts and happened to an acquaintance of mine. I usually ignore Missing Person Flyers, but suppose one day you saw a flyer with a person you knew. 

Andrew Collins

Andy was last seen leaving the S-Bahn Ostbahnhoff on Saturday January 12, 2012, at approx. 4 AM walking toward the Schilling Bridge.  Andy is 26 years old, and described as 184 cm, 77 kg, medium to muscular build, dark brown goatee, brown eyes and short brown hair. He was wearing a black jacket, dark blue jeans, and black boots. Andy has a bulldog tattoo on his left shoulder. 

If you having any information please contact: 0466/4553-7000

Dave wouldn't ordinarily pay attention to a missing person flyer. Every few months, he would see one plastered on a utility pole or tram kiosk. Someone who had vanished. Sometimes foul play? Sometimes a person wanting to start a new life? Usually, no one ever found out. 

This flyer was different. Dave had put it up himself. 

It had been 18 months since Andy disappeared, and the police and private investigators had given up the case. All the leads had dried up, but the police had a theory: Andy had wanted to go missing. He was a foreigner, no connection to Berlin, and perhaps, he wanted to get away from it all. Start over. 

Dave had been working in Berlin for three years when Andy's parents contacted him. They'd pleaded with him to see what he could dig up. Dave had been frank with them. He didn't think he could do anything. Sure, he'd gone to school with Andy at Northwestern, but they rarely socialized. They had gone out to dinner a few times, but they traveled in different circles. In fact, they were hardly friends anymore. But Andy's parents were insistent. They wanted someone who knew Andy and someone they could trust. They believed that Dave would have an advantage over the professionals and could think outside the box, uncover things the police had bypassed or overlooked.

Dave thought it was unlikely he could find anything. This wasn't a novel where the amateur sleuth uncovers the smoking revolver and then gathers the suspects in the drawing room to unmask the culprit. Nevertheless, Dave agreed to put up flyers, talk to Andy's friends, and retrace Andy's last few days. 

His reluctant acceptance relieved Andy's parents, and that in itself was good reason for him to go through the motions of trying to solve Andy's disappearance, however silly it was.       
Getting any information from the police was nearly impossible. However, he did speak to Hauptkommissar Peters, the detective in charge of the case. Peters was a grizzled ruddy-faced man of about 50, a receding hairline and the beginnings of a belly.

“You're wasting your time young man. We've done all we can,” he said insistently. “If you want my opinion, off the record, Mr. Collins drowned. He'd been to the Bergheim, the dance club, on the east end, and was last seen walking toward the Schilling Bridge on his way home. He probably felt adventurous, you know young people, and took a short-cut across the River Spree. It was January, and the river was nearly frozen. The ice cracked and he drowned. Simple as that. His body was probably washed out to sea,” he added.

“But the sea is hundreds of kilometers away. Wouldn't his body have washed ashore?” Dave said.   

“Not necessarily. It was winter after all. Bodies are sometimes never recovered. Now, good day. I'm a busy man. My advice, don't waste your time,” he said curtly as he showed Dave the door. 

Next Dave talked with Andy's former roommate, Paul. He confirmed what the police already knew. Andy had money problems. Paul offered his theory:  Andy was heavily indebted to loan sharks, and maybe they killed him. Dave was skeptical of that idea, but dutifully noted it in a notebook he had bought for that purpose. 

Dave had arranged to met Hannah, Andy's off-and-on-again girlfriend, at a cafe. He had met her at a party shortly before Andy's disappearance. She was hard to miss: bright blue hair, a nose piercing and a large tattoo of Wonder Woman on her right arm. But she had changed. She was hugely pregnant, seven or eight months, by the look of her.  

“You know, I've told everything I know to the police and those investigators. I don't know what I can add,” she said, nervously lighting a cigarette. (The sight of a pregnant woman smoking made Dave cringe but he kept focused.)

“I'm doing this as a favor to Andy's parents. I just want to ask you a few questions and confirm what the police probably already know,” Dave said.

“Okay, go on,” she said, not looking at Dave directly. 

“You were the last person to see Andy alive on the night he disappeared. What did you talk about?” 

“I met Andy at the Bergheim for a drink at around 11 PM. I wanted to break up with him, once and for all. He looked tired and very pale. He seemed worried and sad so I didn't have the heart to tell him that night,” she said mechanically as if she had memorized her lines. 

“Did he look like he was high or drunk? Dave asked.

“Andy? Not likely. He wasn't into drugs. Maybe a little weed but nothing stronger.  As for drinking, one beer would put him under the table. We chatted for about 20 minutes, and then he left, saying he was tired. That was the last time I saw him, she replied, with a hint of tenderness in her voice. 

“And that was it?”

“Yes, but you know, I found it odd that Andy paid for the tab. Andy rarely paid for anything, and his wallet was full of Euros. I asked where he got the money, but he said it was a long story,” she added, inhaling her cigarette deeply into lungs. 

“And you told the police about the money?”

“I'm not sure. There was so much going on at the time. I was in a daze. I may have forgot. I don't remember, she added restlessly. 

Something in her manner made Dave think there was more. “I'm not the police. I'm here at the request of Andy's parents. They want some closure. They just want to know what happened to their son. You're going to be a parent soon. You can image what's going on in their minds,” Dave said.

Hannah fidgeted. She looked apprehensive. She wanted to say something, but couldn't. “Hannah, I know you want to tell me something. What is it? There's nothing to be afraid of.”

“It's not that easy. So much time has passed. Andy was desperate for money. He'd been out of work for awhile and owed people a lot of money. Not nice people, she added.

“Loan sharks?” Dave queried.

“Yes. I told Andy I knew a place where he could get money fast. No questions. I never dreamed he would take me seriously, but when I saw him that night. I knew he had done it. He didn't have to tell me,” she said.

“Done what?”

Her lip quivered and she said quietly, “He sold a kidney. There's an underground market for such things.”

Dave was stunned. He didn't know what to say. “Why didn't you tell the police?” 

“I was afraid. I felt responsible in a way. Plus, they say this organization is run by the Russian Mafia. You don't want to get involved with them. Then I heard rumors that sometimes, when a rich client offers enough, they snatch someone they know who isn't too connected, and take vital organs. And then the person just disappears and no one knows. So ever since he vanished, I can't help but think.... But of course it's foolish,” she added. But Dave could see in her face she didn't think it was foolish at all. 

“Aren't you concerned that I'll go to the police with this new information,” Dave asked.

“I'll deny everything. I'm not getting me and my baby involved with those people. Now, I recommend that you drop this too. Taking a life means nothing to the Mafia. Now, I've said enough. I need to go. We needn't meet again,” she said as she rose from the table. 

A few weeks later, standing before a well-manicured house on a leafy canopied street in a posh section of Potsdam, Dave couldn't believe this was the address he'd been given. He had expected a warehouse or a grungy tenement, but this was upscale. It had taken some persuading, but Hannah had told him how to get in touch with the organ buyers. Posing as a prospective donor had brought him this far. His hand trembled as he reached up and pressed the bell. He waited. The door opened and standing before him was Hauptkommissar Peters.

“Hello, Dave.”

Dave Sable

Dave was last seen leaving the Potsdam Central Train Station at approx. 3 PM, on June 23, 2013. Dave is 29 years old, and described as 180 cm tall, 70 kg, medium build, short brown hair and blue eyes. At the time of his disappearance, he was wearing a tweed sports coat, white shirt and khaki pants. If you have any information about his whereabouts, please contact -

Potsdam Police 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pregnant at 10?

A 10-year-old girl is pregnant after being raped by her stepfather but the government of Paraguay has refused to grant her an abortion (as would a number of USA states). It's an extreme case where the government thinks it knows best. Paraguay's decision is an example of a law that would rather see a child's life placed at risk than perform an abortion. For those Pro-Lifers, I ask a simple question: Whose life are you concerned about? It's certainly not the 10-year-old who is being forced to carry her rapist's baby to term. It doesn't take a doctor to know that pregnancy for a child risks not only her emotional and mental health, but possibly even her life. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

How Old Do I Look?

My Favorite Vegan Restaurant in Berlin
Goura Pakora
How Old Do I Look is a face-detection tool from Microsoft, which guesses age and gender from a photo. Using cloud based algorithms to recognize faces, the tool can estimate your age from a photo. The tool still has a few bugs, but its results are generally very accurate. From a photo taken last year it, estimated my age at 50. It's a little off but not bad.