Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yamadori killed the bonsai artist

There as been so much debate of late with reference to yamadori as probably the only suitable source of material to achieve placement or recognition on the world stage that, this unrelenting verbiage has instilled nothing less than a recurring need for a bowel movement. Yamadori has killed the bonsai star.

Folks embark on this journey for various reasons, to some it is the spiritual connection between man and nature, to others it is more about achieving grandeur, and in many cases recognition, public or not. The great bonsai artists of yesteryear and to some extent our present never felt/feel the need towards personal gratification, but embark on the journey out of passion and personal satisfaction. They do not require public approval and in such do not require to have the thirst of their unrelenting egos quenched.

I believe the biggest underlying factor in these debates is the relatively short amount of time man has on this planet and in such, one needs to accomplish as much as humanly possible during this time frame. We now live in a society that is so fast paced, that anything we embark on must be accomplished before we even begin, or for the lack of a better word yesterday. It is sad that in this day and age we can no longer take the time to smell the coffee.

The mere fact that so many require recognition for their creations, has tarnished the underlying beauty of bonsai. The evocative passion bonsai should bring has become a secondary emotion or better yet a negligible requirement when compared to the satisfaction personal recognition brings. There is absolutely nothing wrong in feeling proud of ones accomplishments, but to place the accomplishment above all else, is not practising bonsai in the proper light in my opinion.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Maxmizing our knowledge Pt II

In Pt I we discussed how to judiciously use the power of search engines to surf cyberspace and bring back answers to our questions. In Pt II, I would like to discuss reference material as a whole.

What is bonsai?
A simple enough question in my opinion but to many, bonsais are deemed special. Well they are, sort of, by the purest definition a bonsai is tree in a pot, simple right? Well not exactly. What is the difference between container gardening and bonsai? What is the single most important thing we do? Is it maintaining trees in a miniaturized state or is it maintaining trees regardless of their environment healthy and prosperous? What is required to maintain both, are they not the same? What ensures the latter? Good horticultural practices or bonsai techniques? Is there a difference, and if so what? For sake of argument, let's presume they are both one and the same.

Well since I am a bonsai enthusiast, I will set out and acquire bonsai books. That is indeed a good starting point. But what we often find when we acquire such references is that; we are often left with more unanswered questions than before our purchases. Why is that? Well in my opinion, is that many authors assumed we already have a good horticultural foundation, and they merely need to provide us with the tools and pretty pictures they deem necessary for us to succeed in bonsai. Nothing can be further from the truth. We might as well be talking to a computer. Notwithstanding, there is indeed some extremely good bonsai books out there, finding them is often difficult. However many sites these days contain reviews of most available references.

That being said, why do we purchase bonsai references? Well in part to further educate ourselves on the subject. It has been found that one will acquire quite a large library in quest of information. Some of these volumes will contain only a portion of the information we seek. Is there a better way? Yes!

Understanding plant/tree anatomy is the most important aspect of what we do. Only portions of the latter can be found in bonsai related books. Further understanding the variance between species, their growing needs, there habits, habitat etc... is of paramount importance. Any good container gardening or gardening book will provide a good foundation of horticultural practices which will permit you to succeed. There is one caveat to this however, and that is the substrate to use (soil). I do not like to use the word soil as it leads to confusion, bonsais have unique "soil" requirements.

You will notice several non bonsai related books in the "Book Review" section. These volumes were all acquired for general horticultural information. For example: The Home Gardener Problem Solver. This book serves multiple purposes and is not strictly related to bonsai. Several bonsai books will cover pests and diseases in general, some better than others. As mentioned in Pt I, what is the information you seek, refine it.

Specialty Books
Not dissimilar to refining Internet searches, is the acquisition of what I deem specialty books, "The problem solver", the "Growing Tree" to name a few.

As one grows in this hobby, I find myself purchasing more and more "specialty books", why? If I want to know everything there is to know about Pines as "Bonsai", do I buy a "general" book on the subject, or purchase a book that deals "specifically" with the subject. I believe everyone will agree with the latter.

In the beginning (before cyberspace), all books contained pretty much the same information. With the advent of the Superhighway, much more information as been exchanged, and now authors and publishers are responding to the need, writing/publishing specialty books. Several can be seen in the Book Review section of this blog.

The free additions
Oh boy! free stuff, not exactly, but extremely useful if one is willing to invest the time and effort into it. As previously mentioned, there is a wealth of good/pertinent information found in various written articles. In the beginning I use to bookmark said articles only to find out they could no longer be found in cyberspace, and a great deal of wealth was lost forever. Now I copy and save everything and will often print these articles out. In saving/printing these articles, I also save the author's credentials, so I can request permission to post them in cyberspace. Most authors will not object to this practice providing the article is not modified and the rights of the author are published.

After a while, acquiring all this information and retrieving it at a later date can become cumbersome. A simple index will render retrieving information child's play. To many this is or deemed quite a chore. I find winter is the best time to carry out this bonsai chore. One does not need to build such a reference in any given day, but bit by bit will get you there. Once constructed maintenance becomes a simple task. This task is rendered easy if one has necessary skills to build a "database" index, complete with search function.

In closing there is a wealth of information at our fingertips. Bonsai is surrounded by a certain mystical aura, why is that? I believe that learning and applying good horticultural practices, is far more important than creating "bonsai". Understanding horticultural practices is the foundation in creating and sustaining the life of trees in a pot, the rest is basically varying techniques in pursuit/creation of artistry. Therefore, a good reference library is one that contains general horticultural information, that is further refined with bonsai related material and expanded upon by well written articles from experienced enthusiasts in our field.

Although good literature/reference material will provide you with a solid foundation, nothing can replace one on one teaching or hands on experience. But it is my opinion to succeed, one needs a good foundation.

Maximizing Internet searches in quest of knowledge Pt I

With the overwhelming wealth of information floating in cyberspace, I am often amazed how this intellectually rich and resourceful environment is under-utilized. I remember the days when research was leafing through book, after book or encyclopedia indexes in quest of information on a particular subject. At times we spent days, even weeks trying to find the information needed, comparatively speaking with today where, researching any given subject is often accomplished in a matter of hours.

With the advent of the Internet along with its wealth, finding information these days on a particular subject should be child's play, or is it? What tools are we missing that we still can't find what we are looking for albeit; it is more than likely contained in cyberspace. Having established that the information is contained in cyberspace, how do we retrieve it? Well hopefully this article will assist you in maximizing the power of search engines in order to facilitate retrieval of the information sought.

Some basics
We all know that a computer is basically just a giant calculator for the lack of a better word. It doesn't understand plain English, French, Italian, or any other language for that matter. It communicates with numbers, more specifically ones, zeros, or a combination thereof. It doesn't comprehend intent, only the numerical equations submitted via the input from carbon based interface, you. So how do we maximize the use of a computer in our quests for information? Well I guess we can start by learning its language, or better yet how it interprets what our requests are. My father had an old saying "garbage in, garbage out". So at this point you may ask what does this have to do with bonsai? Nothing! You may leave now or you may choose to read on.

Maximizing your Internet experience
We have established that cyberspace contains a wealth of information at our fingertips. How does one maximize retrieval of this information?

Research is a lost art to many these days. We are living in a society that not only thrives on instant gratification but one that expects maximum results from minimum effort. We seek answers to our questions and expect these answers to be forthcoming by a mere click of a mouse. Are we seeking answers or information? To me there lies a great divide between the two. In my opinion one seeks information from the Internet whilst discussion groups and forums provide answers. Is there a difference between the two avenues? Yes there is. Which one in your opinion will generate the best result?

It could be said that targeting a specific group, which deals with the subject at hand, will answer all our questions on a given subject. Are they answering our questions or merely adding to the confusion? More often than not, ill prepared individuals will find themselves in a state of total confusion after these altercations, one in which generated more questions than answers. So how can we maximize these experiences to the benefit of all? Through the judicious questions one asks search engines, vice generalities. Here are sample questions:

- Fertilizers
- Fertilizing bonsai
- How do I fertilize my bonsai? (Forums)
- "Understanding fertilizers" "composition of fertilizers" etc...

In your opinion which one will provide the best results? Which one better describes the information sought? When I research a subject, I have found that the greatest results are provided with the use of the last question, or a combination thereof, why? Because…

Question one in my opinion is too broad and will provide useless information at best. As we know every single page containing the word "fertilizer" will come up as a result. Some information may be of value, but very little at best.

The second question is a little more specific and will render good results, without the enormous amount of hits the first question generated. It will often lead you to bonsai forums, where a search on that forum will render similar results as question one, but at least it will be bonsai related. However, is there a better way?

The third question is targeted to a specific audience and will provide favourable results, providing the question is clear enough. One will find that such a question will generate discussion with good information, provided everyone understood what you are seeking. The answers provided would be specific to the question(s) you have asked.

The fourth question is the one that will provide you with the greatest amount of quality information, once again in my opinion. It is general, not tailored towards a targeted audience, but specific enough that it should answer all your questions. Why? Aren’t the reasons you asked the question in the first place, was to understand how and what fertilizers to use, and how they affect our trees? This is known as defining/refining a search. The computer knows exactly what you want and will quest cyberspace for the information, in a fashion not unlike a trusty retriever.

Post research
Undoubtedly your research answered allot of questions, on the other hand it probably raised some. This is a common occurrence and a by-product of research. What the research provided you with is a good foundation in generating more refined questions in order to cull the collected data. The purpose behind these subsequent dissections is to discard superfluous information, leaving you with a good foundation to later engage a targeted audience in an informed manner, which again in my opinion will provide you with a positively more enjoyable and informative experience.

It could be argued that hitting a given forum would have rendered similar results. I personally doubt it because we have seen it time and time again where it has indeed failed. Why is that?

More often than not, information seekers aren’t prepared to receive the information although they have asked a question. Once again why is that? In my opinion they failed to build a required database in order to decipher the given information into intelligible results. These research sessions take far less time, than research sessions of yesteryear. Are we that pressed for time that we don't have the time to do it properly?


How do I fertilize my bonsai?
You may use any fertilizer with a balanced NPK, provided it is used in accordance with the manufacturers recommended dosage and frequency.

What is NPK?
I rest my case!

I have often heard that cyberspace is but a collection of unedited and inaccurate data, and more often than not totally useless for research. Are we to believe that this is the norm or the exception. If one has conducted their research thoroughly, with specific targeted questions, it isn't long before any given uninformed but intelligent individual has the ability to decipher between the chaff and the wheat. I believe the Internet has provided an open means of identifying inaccurate data, vice promoting it. I have several edited and published references that contain inaccurate information. Should we now stop buying reference material?


Tired of Microsoft...

I have recently (Sept '07) switched over to Linux, more specifically to Kubuntu (Feisty Fawn 7.04), which is Ubuntu operating the KDE desktop as a user interface. Linux is not for the computer illiterate, the learning curve is steep, but the rewards far outweigh the complexity IMO.

I was tired of all the BS that surrounds the MS operating system and MS products as a whole. You may wish to compare Linux and MS metaphorically to Beta and VHS. We all know that from inception Beta was far superior as far as quality etc... than VHS. Unfortunately, the popularity/availability of VHS over Beta won the race. Was that a good thing? I believe if Beta's availability was greater the consumer would of had a choice, isn't that what free enterprise is all about ...choice?

Maybe it's because I am getting old (I sound like Andy Rooney), I believe in innovation but do not necessarily believe in following "the" program. Who's program? We are now living in a world where folks are flocking like sheep at the gate to follow "the" program. Instead of we as consumers or just plain human beings voicing our opinions and disgusts wrt what is going on. We have become a generation where convenience is a daily operative word. In doing so many core values are freely exchanged for the minor convenience(s) rendered, whether it be the gun legislation, Sunday shopping or whatever... Statistically speaking far more people are injured talking on their cell phone while driving than non criminal acts of firearm accidents. The gun legislation has not taken guns off the street so to speak. It has indeed increased the difficulty of law abiding citizens in acquiring guns for recreational purposes, but has not hindered criminals. If I, as a law abiding citizen acquire an AK47 in a matter of weeks, what does that say about our gun legislation? Scary isn't it? Hey! but we are all part of "the" program.

I recently had a long debate with some friends on the subject of "the" program. It seems that the younger generation support "the" program, whilst the older generation has misgivings wrt its application. Now, we are not talking about very young and the very old here, we are talking 30 comparative to 50. The most misused word in today's vocabulary IMO is... it's convenient. When a person can no longer discuss the merits of the conversation, they simply reply because it is convenient, not realising the implication surrounding the fallout of such actions.

An example of convenience can be seen with self "check out" found these days in most large stores. What is the ramifications surrounding this convenience? The fallout from this convenience is job loss, beneficial to the company perhaps, but not to the public at large due to employment opportunity loss. Regardless of arguments it can be summarized as "greed" on part of both the consumer and enterprise. Folks use the self check outs to avoid long line ups. The solution open more registers = employment. I had a discussion about a couple of months ago on this very subject, whereas folks could not see the pitfalls. I even had a teller (my age) that stated that self check outs do not necessarily result in job lost, but increase in customer convenience. There we go that word again. To me this word is as repulsive as saying F... Anyway we went on to discuss this observation. I stated "one teller to look after 5 cash registers. Are they paying you more for this service since you are looking after 5 tills vice 1? She said no. Then, 4 people are out of a job, while ensuring customer satisfaction and throughput. This is just an example and I am sure we can argue the merits of both sides until the cows come home, but I'll refrain from this tangent and bring us back to the subject at hand, Linux and the subject of "choice".

Because I believe in innovations (Linux/Unix is not really innovation. It has been around for quite some time, just not in the average household), I got on with "the" program so to speak. Not the mainframe program, but my program, one of which included choice. As a consumer I chose to distance myself from "the" program, so to speak, and the reasons were simple. I was tired of spending copious amounts of money maintaining the convenience of home based PCs.

This tiredness resulted from the frustration of having to constantly upgrade software because of fixes to the MS operating system, that rendered a good portion of software incompatible with the newly fixed MS operating system and so on and so forth. Bill did not build an empire (because that is what it is) by being stupid. I have said for years that the software and hardware industry have been in bed with each other. Build it and they will come! That is something we have all heard. Create a demand, and the consumer has no choice but respond accordingly.

Windows is an extremely user friendly OS, but it stops there IMO. I'm looking for software compatibility enjoyed by Mac users and a stable platform that doesn't require rebuilding every 6 months or so, because of some imposed fix from MS that renders your platform unstable. Mac metaphorically speaking can be compared to Beta and VHS. When Apple created the "Mac" and their operating system, they did it right IMO. When they created their software, they insured it was compatible not only with the OS, but with the other designed software for use on the "Mac".

Now it can be argued that MS is in this pile of "doodoo" because of consumer demands. The one stop shopping syndrome. Regardless of what "what is" as long as I can get it in one package, I am happy. Years ago I used to run a memory manager, that used RAM more efficiently then allowing "Windows" to decide when and where to use it. To the many uninformed, this was indeed a good solution. Was it efficient? No! In days of old, we needed to reboot our systems because of "low resources", do you remember those days? A comparison might be like borrowing money, in this case RAM. Windows used to borrow, but never pay back hence, lack of resources. Memory managers were like debt collectors for the lack of a better word. They knocked on Windows' door demanding payment of said debt, and "windows" obliged. It's not that windows did not honour their debt, they were to busy trying to manage memory to actually take a time out and pay their debt. They appreciated a third party taking part in this interaction, but couldn't really be bothered until pestered. When discussing "choice" this is but one example where IMO a win win situation was not only created but existed. A need was created by "windows", this need was fulfilled by a third party (creating opportunity and sales, not to mention employment) and offered the consumer a "choice", whether they wished to allow the inadequate memory management offered and packaged by "windows" or use a third party in the management process. "Choice" formed an integral part of "convenience" Are you still with me?

So why did I switch? Elementary my Dear Watson! I was sick and tired of daily crashes, sometimes up to 20 a day, because of incompatibility issues, not only between "windows" and software, but incomparability issues between "windows" and hardware. Some of the fixes were no longer compatible with your hardware configuration, so you were forced to shell out more dollars to fix the associated problems. Allot of the fixes were security related, therefore the need to constantly update your OS. At times these updates rendered your Virus software incompatible or worst inoperative, leaving you with 2 choices, become vulnerable or upgrade. The biggest incompatibility issue lies with IE6 and better and Mc Afee. There are indeed better virus software out there than Mc Afee, but they all have their faults, some more than others. Talk to the gurus and you will get a 10 to the power of, answer.

For years I enjoyed the luxury of a corporate license, permitting the use of the software in the home, for business related issues. Now that I am retired, I no longer fall under this luxurious umbrella. When software is no longer compatible, I need to fork out money. The only reason I still maintain MS products on my PC, is because I still have kids in school. The missus and I do not need any related MS products for our daily computer interactions. That's one of the reason I did the switch.

I updated my tower (built myself) under supervision and decided that Ruth and I do not need MS or any other product in our lives for what we use a PC for. The old system was reformatted and a clean install of Windows XP Pro, was carried out. During initial installation before I could get around to putting Virus software and spy killers on the machine, I was attacked by 117 robots of which 2 were viruses, not harmful viruses, but viruses nonetheless that would not allow me to install McAfee. I couldn't get rid of the virus, so it forced me to start anew. The following day, I disconnected the NIC card and reinstalled everything prior to registration and activation. I was fortunate and now have a clean system. For how long? God only knows! To reformat this PC takes hours, vice minutes. I require 168 updates every time I reformat, this is only going to get worst as time goes on.

To further exacerbate my computer woes, as of January 2008, "windows" will no longer be supporting previous software releases so they can concentrate on Vista. It is not that updates will no longer be available, but new problems, security or otherwise will no longer be fixed. Talking to the public at large, and the gurus, Vista is probably the worst OS that MS has released. Because of what has been discussed herein, now you now why I decided it was time to make a switch, where I can at least control my destiny. I had a "choice"

Don't get me wrong, Linux is not for everyone, especially to folks who have basked in the luxury that Windows and GUI (graphic user interface) offered the public at large but, De gustibus et coloribus non disputandum est , there is a Linux flavour for everyone.

As I mentioned "the" program and its "convenience" made the average PC user lazy because of GUI. When our systems fail we take them to the shop for repair at $85/hr, a "convenience" that was mentioned in the discussion I had last WE. I would rather fix my own problems then shell out hard earned cash to someone else. I would rather spend this money on something else, bonsai for instance (since this is a bonsai forum) which brings me greater pleasure and less frustrations than maintaining a PC. By all means computer shops are needed as this not only creates employment opportunities, but remains a useful resource when all else fails.

GUI has rendered us lazy and therefore the need for PC repair shops was created. When we take our PCs to the shop, isn't it funny that they seldom use GUI to troubleshoot your system, but rather command line entries (DOS or programming language of one flavour or the other). Not everyone is interested nor has the capability of operating in this fashion, for sake of convenience if nothing else.

My switch was rather seamless, because of previously learned basic computer skills. The learning curve is not as steep to me because of previous experience using command line functions, and hence why I chose the "flavour" I am now operating, which permits a large portion of GUI and has the ability for those inclined to use the "shell" (Command Prompt). It is a hell of allot easier to correct "a file" vice reformatting the whole system. You can argue that this is also possible with "windows" and you are absolutely right. However, it seemed to me it would become a weekly task.

So you might ask why would one switch over? Stability! and the growing popularity of the OS from industry, to the common household. I believe that open source software is the way of the future. It not only allows the consumer a choice, but because of "open source" provides the consumer with multiple choices of what OS is better suited to meet "their" PC demands. The alternate sollution? Vista! sorry that is all that will remain after January, so I jumped on the band wagon now rather then be forced later. It was my "choice"

What I have seen so far (1 month) is a OS that is stable, does not require to be rebooted (some systems haven't been rebooted for years), can you say that categorically with "windows". We have become accustomed to: when all else fails reboot, a neat way of realigning your OS. A good OS system does not require continual alignment of its components IMO. The downside of switching? MS software for the most part is obsolete. It can be run through emulation, but not all is compatible for emulation, for the time being. The flip side of this argument, is that one would need to upgrade MS software regardless in the future to maintain compatibility with the OS. My freedom! I do not need to change software, update it, or upgrade it if all is well. Once again it comes down to choice and the freedom thereof.

This is an example of why I believe in Linux's future:

My step-daughter created homework on her father's PC operating Vista which runs MS Office 2007 out of the box, which in turn you will need to purchase after X times used from MS, how convenient. Anyway her PPT could not be opened at school. She should have saved it as a 97-2003 file and it would have worked fine, but. Anyway I opened the file in OpenOffice (Linux version of MS Office) I was not only able to open it, but also save it as a PPT 97-03 file. Her homework can now be run at school. I ran it under MS Office 2000 at home (other PC) not a problem. All my old MS files are accessible in OpenOffice. She was thrilled I was capable of saving the day, and so was I with the power of Linux. As you know you can open older version on newer versions, but not the other way around, at least that is my understanding. I was pleased with what I was capable of doing. I am sure as time goes by that I will be enlightened further wrt this OS. To date I am tickled pink!

Because the core of Linux allows you to build upon the "kernel" to suit your PC needs, it doesn't have all the extra baggage "windows" bundles just in case user X requires it. The payback, a super fast and stable system. Oh! I almost forgot. Are you frustrated these days of constantly having to reopen help files or whatever, because of only one desktop? I can operate up to 20 from one monitor. Now that is a nice feature for what I do. Like cut and paste from various parts of the Net into one document. I only have my system set up with 4, but isn't it nice to know that I have another 16 available should the need arise, and the best of all, it's free and a button click away. Now! not only is that performance, but Choice...

PS: What is "the" program again?