Tag Archives: birds

Technology for the Incarcerated

Christmas 2016 Elmwood Jail

I read Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh‘s recent article “How Technology Could Improve Mental Health in Prisons – But So Far Isn’t” (13 Dec 2016, in Fast Company) and considered other ways in which technology helps inmates.  I lead a weekly Education for Ministry seminar at Elmwood Correctional Facility (County Jail – in Milpitas, California). Here is how I see technology helping the ten men in my seminar:

  1. Because they do not have computer access, I make a standing offer to research topics that arise from our class discussions and bring the curious students more information.  Last night, I delivered printouts on Suetonius, Julius Caesar, prophecy in the Book of Daniel, the Caiaphas Ossuary, Galilee Boat, Ketef Hinnom, and Tel Dan Stele, plus a biography of Pontius Pilate. Wikipedia‘s easy access to vast fields of knowledge means in only an hour a week, I can bring the inmates a richer view into the world of the Hebrew BibleNew Testament, and Christian history.
  2. I was one of the St. Andrew’s prison ministry team who brought worship and song to Elmwood on Christmas Day. When leaving, I noticed a group of lovely deep purple irises blooming next to the back parking lot. Further on, I stopped to take a photo of two ducks on the water behind the jail. Just then, a big white egret erupted from under the bridge where I stood – as if an angel were arising from the water.  Because of easy and cheap digital photography and my color printer, I can show the inmates pictures of how nature was celebrating Christmas with them.
  3. One of my students was transferred from Elmwood jail into the state prison system.  He is highly intelligent and deeply faithful and wants to keep up his Christian studies.  Because prisons and jails will accept book deliveries directly from Amazon, I can use ecommerce to send him better books than are available in the prison library.  For Christmas, I sent him two EfM books: Transformed Lives: Making Sense of Atonement Today, and Care for Creation (a franciscan spirituality of the earth). We hope he will be transferred to a prison that offers an EfM Online course or one with an in-person class.
  4. The Elmwood class asked for song books in both English and Spanish so that they can sing hymns together.  I found Oramos Cantando – We Pray in Song. There are Spanish-only and English-only hymnals but this seems to be the only bilingual song book available. I even checked with our church’s Director of Music – who said he did not know of any.  I was able to locate eight paperback copies in good condition for less than $10/each on Amazon, delivered in a week from eight different used book sellers located all over the USA.

Oramos Cantando - We Pray in Song, 2005
Christmas 2016 Elmwood Jail

If you want to receive Katysblog posts by email, please sign up using the Sign Me Up! button (upper right).

Updated 3 January 2017
Images Copyright 2016 by Katy Dickinson


Filed under News & Reviews, Politics

San Juan Islands, Washington State


We are just driving home from a week with family in the San Juan Islands at the north end of the State of Washington, just below Canada. This is about a thousand miles driving each way from our home in San Jose, California! All along the way, we saw the looming background presence of some of the largest California-Oregon-Washington mountains: Shasta, Baker, Rainier – part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the ring of volcanoes and associated mountains around the Pacific Ocean.

As this was our first visit to the islands, we also saw many of the tourist sights: Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm, Pelindaba Lavender, whale watching with San Juan Excursions, Orcas Island Pottery, the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Lime Kiln Point State Park, etc. There were a great variety of wild and tame animals along the way: foxes, orcas, a great horned owl, deer, a camel, a black snake, salmon, seagulls, harbor seals and dolphins, sea anemones and barnacles, bald eagles, turkey vultures, quail, honey bees and bumble bees, raccoons and alpacas – and of course, horses, cows, sheep, pigs, cats and dogs. We enjoyed two Shakespeare performances: Much Ado About Nothing (at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland, OR), and Cymbeline (at Island Stage Left, Roche Harbor, WA). A delightful trip!



















Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson


Filed under Home & Family, News & Reviews

Public Objects to San Jose Water Company Plan


On 28 May 2015 in downtown San Jose, California, the San Jose Water Company held the first and only public hearing on their Proposed Water Shortage Contingency Plan – that is, how they will respond to Executive Order B-29-15 by the Governor of the State of California (signed 1 April 2015) requiring a further statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage through February 28, 2016. The private San Jose Water Company serves over a million people in the greater San Jose metropolitan area (about 230,000 paying customers) – including many in core Silicon Valley cities: Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Santa Clara, San Jose, and Saratoga.

In his introductory remarks, John B. Tang (Vice President of Government Relations and Corporate Communications, San Jose Water) said that they expected a decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) by 15 June 2015. He further mentioned that there has already been a 17 foot drop in groundwater during the last year (subsidence) and that it would take up to 300% of normal rainfall to retreat from the drought.  Mr. Tang said that San Jose Water is asking for residential customers to cut 30% of their water usage – by average rather than by individual customer usage. There will be an appeal process published later to address issues of medical needs and larger-than-4 family size. Palle Jensen (Senior Vice President-Regulatory Affairs, San Jose Water) and Bob Day (Director of Customer Service, San Jose Water) also spoke.  Mr. Jensen in particular expressed his frustration in only having 25 days to prepare their plan.  He several times blamed the plan’s shortcomings on the short development time allowed and on requirements given to San Jose Water by the Santa Clara Valley Water District and other agencies.

My son Paul and I were among about 350 upset local citizens, landowners, and small business owners who attended the meeting.  All who spoke objected to how the San Jose Water Company has chosen to respond to the Governor’s new water reduction order. Of the dozens who came to the microphone after many hours of patiently standing in line in the auditorium, no one objected to conserving water or minimized the seriousness of the California drought, now in its fourth year. They did energetically disapprove of how the San Jose Water Company proposes to respond.


  • California’s Executive Order calls for a 25% water usage reduction as compared 2013 and directs that “These restrictions should consider the relative per capita water usage of each water suppliers’ service area, and require that those areas with high per capita use achieve proportionally greater reductions than those with low use.” [emphasis added]
  • The San Jose Water Company’s plan calls for a 30% reduction of the average water usage across residential customers.  Apartments and business will only have to reduce landscape watering.  However, private homes will have in addition to conserve inside water usage. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 31% of  City of San Jose citizens live in “Housing units in multi-unit structures” – that is, about a third of area housing that will not have to conserve water under this plan.
  • The single most recommended change requested by the public to the San Jose Water plan was to ask that reductions be based on individual (per capita) usage for all customers rather than by average of only residential customers.
  • The criticism most frequently expressed at the hearing was that no notes were taken by the three executives (other than to record who spoke and what city they came from) and no recording was made – indicating that this meeting was only for legal requirements, rather than to listen seriously.  There was no indication that the San Jose Water Company proposal would be modified before its submission to the PUC.  However, the executives did say that they would consider changes to the program in the future.
  • The size of a residential lot is not taken into consideration in the proposed plan.  Several speakers from the public said that they have many large trees that will die without water this summer.  One woman with a big lot said she had already deeply cut her water use and the new plan would require her to cut 88% of her water usage in addition to paying much higher water rates because of drought surcharges.  She said it cost her over $4,000/each to have large dead trees removed so that they did not create a fire hazard. Another man with a larger property said he had already cut his water usage by 45% but was being asked to reduce even more.  The San Jose Water executives eventually mentioned that the Santa Clara Valley Water District has an agricultural exemption program that homeowners who grow their own food or have orchards can investigate.
  • Some businesses (commercial nurseries, golf courses) are exempt from the restrictions; however, swimming pool and spa companies will not be allowed to fill new pools.  About five of the speakers from the audience identified themselves as being associated with pool or spa companies who foresaw serious job losses.  They said that swimming pools use less water than even drought-resistant landscaping (and one third of the water of a grass lawn), so the restriction on filling new pools did not make sense.
  • One speaker reported that other water companies in the San Francisco Bay Area are being far less strict in their requirements of customers.  For example, the nearby East Bay Municipal Utility District (“East Bay MUD”) is only seeking to reduce water use by 20%.
  • Several speakers objected to San Jose Water encouraging neighbors to tattle on each other. There is even a special webpage to make local spying easy. (Compare this to a southern California community that last month started giving cash rewards to their Water Saver of the Month to encourage conservation success.)

Our own family lives in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose, part of the San Jose Water Company’s service area.  We have a large lot bordered by the Guadalupe River. As I wrote in February, the Guadalupe River in San Jose was dry in summer 2014 for the first time since we bought our house 18 years ago. The river rose this winter but only a few water pools are left now. Our riparian property is home to a large number and variety wild animals, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects.  We have dozens of very large trees – old native oaks, cottonwoods, redwoods, ashes, olives and other nut and fruit trees – that are already stressed by the long drought. We have been reducing our water use for many years and are in the process of applying to the Landscape Conversion program of the Santa Clara Valley Water District. That is, we are letting our lawn die and planning to replace the grass with less-water-hungry plants. We will redirect the lawn water to do what we can to save our trees.  Fires set by the homeless who often settle along the riverbank are a big concern for us.  There was a serious fire caused by a campfire a few years ago just upstream from our house.  We are very motivated to keep our trees watered and in good health to reduce fire risk.

From the 9th edition of the New Sunset Western Garden Book: The Ultimate Gardening Guide (2012) p.719:

How to Fight Drought:
When drought comes, and with it the possibility of local bans on lawn watering or punishing hikes in water bills, what can you do? It’s too late at that point to install a water-conserving landscape, but you can take steps to save the plants you have.
Save established trees and shrubs first. These are costly to replace and have the greatest impact on your landscape. (A lawn can be replaced with sod in an afternoon, but a 70-foot-tall redwood can take 20 years or more to replace)….”




Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson

1 Comment

Filed under Home & Family, News & Reviews, Politics

Golden Monkey Trek, Crowned Cranes in Rwanda


Terra Incognita Ecotours helped some of us TechWomen mentors visit the Mountain Gorillas and Golden Monkeys after last week’s delegation to  meet the girls and women working in STEM in Rwanda. We stayed at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge. While there, we also saw Grey Crowned Cranes, really big worms, and other interesting creatures. As soon as we returned from the monkey trek, we scraped off the mud, showered, ate lunch, and drove to the airport to start our 30 hour travel home to the Silicon Valley.











Images Copyright 2014 by Katy Dickinson

Leave a comment

Filed under Mentoring & Other Business, News & Reviews

Too Windy to Sail


Laura Biche and I drove to San Francisco yesterday to see the 7th day of the America’s Cup. Unfortunately, after almost an hour of hunting and finally finding parking at Fort Mason, yesterday’s boat races were called off due to winds. Laura and I made the best of our afternoon by walking through the art galleries and museums at Fort Mason, ending with an memorably delicious dinner with John Plocher at Greens Restaurant.  A day well spent!






Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson

Leave a comment

Filed under Home & Family, News & Reviews

Scottish Games, Falconry, Camo Utilikilts


The 148th Scottish Highland Gathering and Games is a major San Francisco Bay Area annual event featuring music, dance, crafts, and sporting competitions.  I particularly enjoyed the presentation by the California Foundation for Birds of Prey. Most of their talk was about the modern hunting sport of falconry (including how breeding programs helped to bring back the endangered peregrine falcon), some was about conservation practices to protect birds, and the rest was show and tell. The presenters showed a  variety of hawks, falcons, eagles, owls and even a vulture. Four women handlers flew their Harris Hawks over the audience. The Harris Hawk is an unusually gregarious bird – family packs hunt together (compared to most raptors that hunt alone). The announcer teased the handler for the Peregrine Falcon who sported a pink mohawk hairstyle – saying that he was part cockatiel.

This is very much a family event with parents and children in Scottish costume – and others who wore their Renaissance Fair or Dickens Fair costumes regardless. There were many buff guys strutting around in plaid skirts – sometimes with bands of other men but often with little kids in their burly tattooed arms. Scottish costume ranged from historically accurate tartans with full clan accessories, to camo pattern utilikilts worn with tshirts and hiking boots.

In one of the craft halls, I discovered that my Dickinson family may be historically associated with the Paisley district tartan. I knew that some ancestors originated in Scotland but this was the first time I saw our name associated with a tartan.

See the 22 June 2014 blog post for a picture of the tartan sash I bought!






Images Copyright 2013 by Katy Dickinson and John Plocher

1 Comment

Filed under Home & Family, News & Reviews

Loon Lake, Wisconsin


Last week, John and I visited his Plocher family at Loon Lake, Wisconsin. We were last there in 2009 for his parents’ 50th Anniversary. We re-painted the orange and white window trim on the front of the cottage and spent much time in boats, enjoying family and the lovely peaceful surroundings. In addition to Cassie the cocker spaniel and our human family, there were animals (mostly birds and bugs) with us everywhere. The Osprey fish eagles, Bald Eagles, and Loons were the most spectacular but the variety of dragonflies was fascinating. My least favorite were the swarms of biting mosquitoes.


IMG_0329 . IMG_0369
IMG_0629 . IMG_0645
IMG_1163 copy . IMG_1167
IMG_0865 . IMG_0987
IMG_0824 . IMG_0833
IMG_1184 . IMG_0991
IMG_0946 . IMG_1068
IMG_1087 . IMG_1130

Images by Katy Dickinson Copyright 2013


Filed under Home & Family, News & Reviews