Another Vegetable

To our surprise and delight, our gardener planted water spinach (空心菜) in one of the many flower beds surrounding our house. This particular one is above the car port. Today we got the first harvest.

How’s this for a raised-bed garden?
Better-looking than anything we can buy on the local market!

Things grow very well in this climate, especially now, during the rainy season. Vegetable-loving us are very happy.

My Lockdown Project: Resurrecting Audio Recording on the Web

In my previous career in academia, I developed software programs to facilitate language teaching and learning. It was a rewarding job. I loved putting my programs into the hands of teachers and students, and seeing the students benefit from my work.

I found a niche to specialize in: web-based audio recording. Our center’s most popular tool was a simple audio recorder that a teacher could put into any web page. Students used the “audio dropboxes” to submit their speaking homework for the teacher to evaluate.

The technology required the Flash plugin, because plain HTML didn’t have a way to access the computer’s microphone. Flash was THE technology in the early 2000s.  But it didn’t last.  The introduction of the iPhone was the death sentence for Flash.  It probably isn’t an overstatement to say that Steve Jobs killed Flash. Apple made the decision not to support Flash on the iPhone. When mobile started to overtake desktop computers, Flash was in trouble. So was my suite of tools.

Fast-forward several years. Flash is now disabled by default on desktops. I doubt any cell phones support Flash. Adobe recently announced that Flash will officially die (again) at the end of this year. But while Flash was dying, HTML was growing up.  HTML’s capabilities have largely caught up with Flash. The HTML specification has matured so much that it’s possible to do a lot of what Flash had been used for. Including native audio capture.  Even on the iPhone!

Like the rest of the planet on lockdown, I have some extra some time on my hands lately. Because I’m a nerd, I recently decided to see if I could reproduce Flash’s audio capture functions with native HTML. My goal was to be able to capture audio on my iPhone, and then upload the file to a remote server. All in native HTML.  Essentially, I want to reproduce my old Flash-based functionality on an iPhone.

It’s been several years since I did any serious web programming. Javascript has matured and advanced.  My old brain has matured and decayed. Besides refreshing my programming knowledge, I had to learn some new programming protocols before I could dig into the guts of the new WebAudio specification. It all came back to me, though (eventually). After several weeks of work, mostly on evening and weekends, my universal audio recorder is ready for beta testing. I call it the Dencorder, because shut up, it’s mine, and I can call it whatever I want.

The Dencorder, beta release, as it appears on an iPhone. This is 100% HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Even the graphics are generated by Javascript code.

 

The code is as pure and standards-based as I could keep it.  I didn’t use any frameworks or libraries (not even JQuery).  It’s just plain, vanilla HTML, CSS, and Javascript.  On desktop computers and Android devices, this should just work.  If you’re using an Apple device (iPhone or iPad), you will have to make a setting change in Safari to enable the new MediaRecorder function. But once that’s set, the recorder should work fine.   And the whole thing, Javascript code and web page, is all less than 600 lines of code.  I could probably shave another 100 lines off if I were a good programmer.  But I’m not a good programmer, just a clever amateur.

Feel free to play with it.  See if you can break it.  There is an “upload” function, which will put your audio file onto my server.  If you choose to upload your audio file, please don’t record anything naughty.  You can access the Dencorder here:  https://denniehoopingarner.com/audiocontext/recorder/.  I had a lot of fun making this, and to experience how far HTML has come in the last ten years.

The Elephant in the Room

Like a lot of art, not everyone “gets” these elephant sculptures. I’ve heard some negative comments. But I think they are really something. I’ve been wanting to write about this art exhibit in the Embassy for a few months, and finally have a few minutes to share some images.

A little background: Bangladesh is the reluctant host to nearly a million refugees from Burma. The Rohingya crisis has spawned many tragedies, both humanitarian and environmental. The two combinesd in an unfortunate clash that happened when human beings and wild elephants needed the same space.

Refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh

A large refugee camp sits right on top of a migration ground for wild elephants. Unfortunately there has been loss of life on both sides, as neither the confused elephants nor the panicked refugees know how to handle the situation.

A Bangladeshi artist had an idea. If the people understood the elephants, maybe they would seek ways to coexist and avoid conflict. His idea was to make life-size sculptures and place them in the refugee camps.

Elephant sculptures in the field.

His next insight was to convince the people to not just accept the elephants. He explained to me: “they have to love the elephants.” His approach was to ask the people for their old clothing. He used the scraps to make the “skin” for his elephant sculptures.

On display in the Embassy

The artist loaned three elephants to the Embassy. We have them on display just outside the main door. Aside from the patchwork skins, they are very lifelike.

An elephant…

I had realized that art could be a tool for social activism, but I had only thought about that point in the abstract. This project uses art for conservation and disaster relief. That’s pretty meaningful. I’m grateful to Mr. Shadhin for lending his work to the Embassy for a few months.

Finally getting the garden in shape

Our “garden” is really a collection of pots on the flat roof of our house. It’s the same concept of a raised-bed garden, I suppose. But our version is a lot less attractive.

The guy that we hired to take care of the yard is also supposed to do our garden. It’s taken a while, but he might finally understand what we want.

The mistress of the garden enjoys her project.

We inherited about 30 basil plants. They were already on the roof when I moved in. I like basil as much as the next guy, but 30 plants is objectively too much. Especially when they are not really “plants,” but are arguably “bushes.”

That’s a lot of basil.

When we asked the gardener why he planted so much, he hemmed and hawed, then said that he likes to eat it. I think maybe he has a side business where he sells it. That doesn’t bother me, far be it from me to get in the way of his side hustle. As long as he plants what I want, too. We told him that he had to limit the basil and make room for what we want.

Now I have a lot of kale…

We convinced him to separate the kale out into individual pots. It’s starting to take off and grow quickly. This variety has flatter leaves and the stalks are tender and edible. I think we made a good choice.

Kale

We also have a healthy beanstalk. And I didn’t have to trade a cow for it! 🙂

Not magic beans, just tropical weather and lots of rain.
The peas are a work in progress.

The next challenge is to teach our housekeeper how to cook the kale. She calls all leafy green vegetables “spinach,” for some reason. We have been served what we would call “spinach,” but also vegetables that she calls “long spinach” (morning glory or 空心菜, and “red spinach” (I don’t know the English word for it, in Taiwan it’s called 莧菜). I guess we can call our kale: “roof spinach.”

Mosquito Fogging

This happens almost every day in my neighborhood, usually in the late afternoon or early evening. It appears to be an attempt to kill mosquitoes. It might kill some of them, but not all. Not by a long shot.

A guy runs around with a fogging machine. He shoots the stuff into the drainage sewers, where I guess the mosquitoes hide. It leaks out from drains further down the street.

The smell is pretty noxious. Every time we hear the lawnmower-like sound, we run around and turn off all the air conditioners. We don’t want the fumes to get sucked into the house. If it kills mosquitoes, it can’t be good for other living things. Like us, for example.

Home Invasion

An alien life form penetrated the defense network of my fortress this morning.

Its posture within the secure zone indicated that it realized its fatal miscalculation.

Security forces encountered little resistance, and so were able to be merciful. The invader was extracted and banished to a dirt pile outside the perimeter. No casualties were reported.

An after-action review board will be convened to assess the protective measures that are currently in place, and will recommend adjustments to security protocols as necessary.

Big cyclone is coming

They call them “cyclones” here.  That word used to make me think of a tornado.  But a cyclone isn’t a tornado, apparently.  A cyclone is a hurricane or a typhoon.  Except that it originates in the Indian Ocean.  So there you go.
A super-cyclone is barreling its way toward Bangladesh.  Weather.com is calling it a “Monster Cyclone.” It will make landfall tonight.  Dhaka is in its path.  They say 14 million people will be “affected.”  That means: “their houses and all their possessions will be blown away – literally.”  As if they needed more misery here.  The universe has not been fair to this country.  

We diplomats are safe.  My house is earthquake-proof.  The walls are three feet thick.  I’m not exaggerating.  There’s a big generator in the front yard, I have a 20-gallon water distiller and plenty of food.  We told our housekeeper to stay home and stay safe.  The only danger that we face is extreme boredom waiting for the storm to leave.   And I’m not worried about that.

You may see some horrific images on the news and online about the cyclone’s impact on Bangladesh.  They will probably be accurate.  But they won’t reflect the position that we are in.  We’re fine.

Rainy Season has Arrived in Dhaka

It’s been raining almost every afternoon and evening for the last few weeks. The locals tell me that it’s a little late this year, but rainy season seems to have arrived.

This squall caught us just as we wanted to leave for work. Instead of walking home, we waited for a few minutes, then a few minutes more, then finally gave up and called a car to drive us home.