30 December 2007

Lily's Eyes

"Lily's Eyes" is from the musical Secret Garden, based on the book of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This version of it, sung by Anthony Warlow and Philip Quast for a production in Australia, is the most beautiful male duet I've ever heard.

I was introduced to it by a fan of Philip Quast, who is probably best known for playing Javert in Les Miserables in productions in England and Australia (but not the London Cast version of the CDs). In the course of our discussions about various musicals, my friend and I decided that cast recordings of Broadway productions of any musical are inferior compared to recordings of productions elsewhere. If anyone knows where I can get hold of a copy of the Australian production of Secret Garden, I'm all ears.

This post inspired by Jeri. Apparently I was unfond enough after all. :)

29 December 2007

Noble Wraiths


They stripped away everything that made him who he was - took his memories, changed his body to match their own image - and expected him to become one of them. They failed. In the aftermath of their failure, he and they came to some respectful understandings.

Or so he thought. Until they betrayed him and tried to do the exact same thing a second time, as if no understandings had occurred at all. Not just to him, but to an entire shipful of his people. And when they failed again, they tried to destroy all of them.

Even after that he willingly allied with them against his own people. And even after he helped them that time, they betrayed him again.

Then, when he was exiled from his own people because of what they did to him, and the only option left to him for survival was to create his own army in self defense, in their paranoia they wouldn't allow him even that.

He who called one of them brother

Once upon a time he allied with one of them to escape a common enemy. The two together succeeded, and he was so impressed with the other's honor that he called him brother.

On the strength of that experience, he sought out the same one again later on for another alliance. In return he found no recognition of that shared experience at all. He endured imprisonment, their extreme paranoia, and the loss of his entire hive of loyal followers, all without losing patience. He helped save the life of one of them, someone of no importance to him whatsoever; to do so he worked without complaint among them and never once asked to be fed, not even when he collapsed from starvation.

They used him and put him back into imprisonment when they were done, and when they no longer need him they will throw him away.

So who are the actual good guys and bad guys of Stargate: Atlantis? Because I'm finding it difficult to sympathize with the humans of Earth. They have no honor, they never learn and they do their best to burn every bridge they encounter when they could be building them.

It would be much different if the wraiths consciously chose to feed upon the humans when they could choose other food sources - but they don't have that choice. Their only choices are to feed upon humans or to die. How are they evil by not choosing to die? And how much more fascinating a storyline could there have been, exploring the nature of a sentient race that must feed upon another sentient race?

27 December 2007


    When the soul of a child finds a parent and joins with a new body, there is much joy.

    When the soul of the child finds that its joy is met with pain and anguish, there is confusion and sorrow.

    When the soul departs - perhaps to find another parent, perhaps to return to the ether from whence it came, much sorrow is left behind amidst the relief.

The end result was a miscarry, not a medically induced abortion - but we had to wrangle with the questions just the same. In an ideal world, nobody would want to kill their own children. Unfortunately we don't live in that world, and sometimes you have to choose the least bad option. It's good to have as many options as possible to choose from during those times, including triage. And that's how I came to be pro-choice.

My views have shifted a lot in the decade and a half since then. More recently, someone asked me:
    How can you allow abortion if you believe it to be extinguishing an innocent human life?

My reply:

a) Life is precious. However, each individual living thing is not.
b) Human life is not more precious than other life.
c) My own children are precious to me. However, my children aren't necessarily precious to others, nor are others' children necessarily precious to me.

We are all part of the cycle of life - birth, growth, reproduction, death. Some living things eat other living things to live. Some of them hijack other living things to their own ends (disease-causing microbes, parasites). Living things fight over resources all the time - plants try to outgrow each other, ants have territorial wars, etc. Humans are part of the cycle too and no different.

So while an unborn child is a fully valid living thing from the moment of conception, it isn't inherently precious just by the fact that it's alive. It's mainly precious only to its parents and close relatives (and sometimes only its mother). Many other non-human living things would see it more as a resource to exploit (to eat, to hijack, etc.). And sometimes things go wrong all on their own while it's trying to form - and no amount of preciousness (inherent or otherwise) will save it then.

Also, an unborn child is not more precious than a human at another stage of their life cycle. Every stage is important in different ways. Sometimes it's necessary to find the most optimal outcome among many lives, and sometimes this means individual sacrifices.

And finally, there's one more side to it that many people seem to ignore. People seem to want to place the emphasis on physical life as the precious part. But life isn't just the physical body. The physical body is just a vehicle to carry the soul, which joins the body at conception. If the body dies, the soul is not destroyed - it just goes elsewhere. The loss of life is not so great when the soul barely began before the parting, and can begin anew.

The discussion from which the above excerpt came is well worth reading, as it's quite possibly the only civilized abortion discussion anywhere that represents the whole range of viewpoints. Go read and think. Then, for more, I also recommend Jim Wright's opinions on how to move forward.

26 December 2007

A Totoro

This is a Totoro. It's a forest spirit from the anime film My Neighbor Totoro; the plush toy came with my copy of the 1993 video from Fox Video. It's carrying a bag of nuts.

As anime goes, I'm mainly a fan of Rumiko Takahashi (Mermaid Forest, Urusei Yatsura, Ranma 1/2, Maison Ikkoku, more recently Inu Yasha) and Hayao Miyazaki (NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away). I saw most of those as bootleg fansubs back before anime was popular in the U.S., and I vastly prefer subtitles to dubbed versions. Back then anime was something we admired as an art form, with superior filmography and sound (Ah My Goddess! being possibly the best example of that). Then along came Sailor Moon in the mid-90s, little girls everywhere squee'd, suddenly everyone and their dog was watching it, and it all went downhill from there.

24 December 2007

Whack-A-Mole, only sillier

Tontie is a whack-a-mole game. It all starts out so simple. Use the hammer to whack the one-eyed mole as it comes up out of the hole. Collect money if it drops any. Lose life for missing. Sometimes get life back if it drops hearts instead of money.

Then it turns out there are different kinds of moles. Then it turns out there are also different kinds of hammers. Then it turns out that not all hammers can hit all moles, and some hammers need to whack twice instead of once to kill some moles. Then there are the treasure chests, explosives and ray guns.

The eyeballs with numbers are the worst for me. Not only do I have to stop and think about what button I'm pressing, sometimes I'm not whacking what I think I'm whacking - and sometimes what I actually whack is something I don't wanna whack.

In the end, it's still simple. If it has an eye, you must whack it before it disappears. (Unless it's a bomb. Those are all bad.) If you don't know what your hammer does, try not to whack anything that doesn't have an eye. And collect calculators. Those are important.

The level of silliness reminds me of the original Insaniquarium. Feed fish, get better critters, defend the tank from aliens using a ray gun. Also well worth wasting a few days if you've not seen this before.

23 December 2007

Aftermath of the Storm

I think the part that kills me most about being a community moderator is when people who have nothing to fear from me suddenly decide I must be some kind of megalomaniac despot, and that they have to cower from me. Especially when this comes right after other people practically had to beg me to do my job. Especially when they've known me for years. Has that really been what they've thought of me all this time?

None of them saw all the sides of it that I did, yet all of them judge me on what I should have done. Some think I was too harsh, some think I was too lenient. I think I'm glad that for most, the community is back to being an enjoyable place to be.

22 December 2007

Some Peaceful Scenery

Southeastern U.S. coast maritime forest meets salt marsh. To the right, salt marsh eventually meets river. This picture was taken at the northern end of Skidaway Island, during a summertime a few years ago.

20 December 2007

Translating Geology into English

The abstract of a recent geology paper, Dating the First Stage of Planet Formation, says:
    The Mn-Cr chronometer applied to bulk carbonaceous chondrites constrains the solar nebula volatile element fractionation, chondrule formation, and stage I planetary accretion timescale to within +0.91 to -1.17 Myr at 4568 Myr ago. The difference between the initial 53Cr/ 52Cr ratio of ordinary chondrites, defined by Chainpur (LL3.4) chondrules, and carbonaceous chondrites suggests that the former is coming from an isotopically evolved reservoir.

In English, what they said was:

The solar system first began to form about 4.568 billion years ago, though it could've been as much as 0.91 million years more than that, or 1.17 million years less than that. They figured this out by using the Manganese-Chromium dating method on some meteorites (rocks from space) known as chondrites. This is like the carbon dating method, except with manganese and chromium. It's done in a chemistry lab.

How this works: The chromium atom has 24 protons and also a bunch of neutrons. 53 Cr is a chromium atom that has 29 neutrons, and 52 Cr has 28 neutrons. 53 Cr and 52 Cr are called isotopes of chromium. A rock, when it first forms from moltenness, will start out with a certain amount of 53 Cr. As time goes by, the 53 Cr will gradually turn into 52 Cr through radioactive decay. By measuring how much of each type is in the rock (a ratio), it's possible to get a good estimate on how much time has gone by since it first formed.

The authors of the paper did all this on a special type of chondrite (the carbonaceous kind), and by looking at it, they think that the regular kind of chondrite started out from a pool of moltenness that had already done some radioactive decaying before cooling into rocks.

I've read a lot of science papers from all of the main branches of science, and I must say that geologists are by far the grand prize winners when it comes to obfuscatory writing. This is to hide the fact that geology is really so easy to understand that anyone could do it if it was explained clearly to them. I've seen 15-20 page papers, chock full of really big words and dense grammatical structures, that could've been written in 5. Since grant funds tend not to be justified if you only write a few paragraphs to explain what you did, though, professional geologists have to make what they do look bigger and more complicated than it really is.

The above was translated off the top of my head at the request of someone in a chat channel. I felt like putting it here, too, to make me feel smart - as a counter to yesterday's post which makes me feel like a failure. The only thing I looked up was how many protons chromium has. Therefore, take my accuracy with a grain of salt. ;)

19 December 2007

On Endings

All good things eventually come to an end. Everyone is on a different path. Sometimes those paths cross and join for a while, and friendships blossom, and then a while later they uncross and go off in separate directions. Sometimes they loop back around and cross again later, but not always - when they do, the two people that shared paths before might well be two completely different people with a different relationship the next time.

Letting go is good when an end does come. It's good to recognize when it's time, and to do it gracefully instead of clinging vainly on, which can sour the ending. And it's good to not think about endings while things last, but to enjoy every moment as they come.

And sometimes, a path can lead away not from another person, but from a community or an activity.

I came to a fork in my path a long time ago. I've never been good at letting go. Instead of making a choice, one or the other, I keep trying to do both. But with each new door that opens on the path I need to choose, the other path drags me back. I'm trying to go up the middle and I keep running into trees.

It's time I stopped that. RPoL was very good to me for the past four and a half years, but I can't do it anymore. I've been trying to deny the inevitable, trying to recall the enthusiasm I once had from ever greater depths, but it just isn't there. I need to let it go.

17 December 2007

My favorite kind of warning sign

Seen on the office door of one of the faculty:
(click to read.)

One of the biggest hazards of doing science in the field is tampering and theft by random passersby. It never helps to explain anything in the hopes that people will just nod along and leave things alone. Trickery and camouflage tend to work better. When I was in grad school helping a fellow student do some research with shorebirds, they had a box of tracking equipment that had to just sit out in the middle of an island. It was surrounded by a useless but official looking fence and plastered with "Warning: High Voltage" signs. Seemed to work pretty well.

And perhaps humor works well too. ;) The above sign, which is probably also out in the field attached to some electronic equipment too heavy to steal, reminds me of the birdwatcher's box.

16 December 2007

First Big Shoe Lift Test: Standing Around for Three Hours

Today as my takeout shift was coming to an end, I noticed several things:

a) I'm not sore. My back isn't aching, my butt and leg muscles aren't twinging, and nothing is throbbing. Also, all of my leg joints feel fine.

b) I can stand still. I'm not shuffling back and forth to counter the twinging that I'm not feeling. Also, although I'm still going through the motions of attempting to crack my lower back and knees every so often, just out of habit, I don't actually need to. And nothing feels like it's in desperate need of stretching.

c) I'm not totally exhausted. Apparently I normally expend a tremendous amount of energy just by standing around. Today I could probably have kept working for twice as long.

Maybe all this newly freed up energy can now be put to more interesting uses, like gaining strength and stamina! Or acquiring hobbies that aren't in front of the computer! Or fighting crime! Or even just catching up on all the hopelessly behind housework that I can never get done. (Or maybe I'm being hopelessly optimistic. We'll see, I guess. ;) )

In conclusion: so far this shoe lift thing seems like a really good idea. :)

15 December 2007

Beef Barley Soup

This is my one soup that has always gotten rave reviews from everyone who has ever tried it. I make a gallon at a time.

5 small red potatoes
5 carrots
5 celery stalks
a small onion
a small carton of mushrooms
stir-fry beef (I don't like stew beef; too much fat)
1 cup barley (not instant/quick-cook barley!)
some corn (I use frozen; just don't use canned)
some peas (I use frozen; just don't use canned)
some green beans (I use frozen; just don't use canned)
one gallon beef broth (If it's canned, like Swanson's, I would recommend a 2 cans broth : 1 can water ratio because otherwise it's too salty.)

black pepper
cayenne pepper
Worcestershire sauce

1. Cut the beef into small pieces. Brown in the bottom of the soup pot with some corn oil. Dice the onion and slice the mushrooms. Add those in too. Saute'.

2. Add the beef broth. Bring to boil.

3. While it's heating up, wash the carrots and celery and chop into small pieces.

4. Rinse the barley and dump it in when the water is boiling. Stir.

5. When it boils again, dump in the corn and green beans. Stir.

6. When it boils again, dump in the carrots and celery. Turn the heat down a bit so it's not boiling as fast. Stir occasionally.

7. Chop up the potatoes. About an hour after you put in the barley and brought it to the second boil, dump in the potatoes. Stir.

8. Twenty minutes later dump in the peas and turn the heat off. (I have an electric stove. If yours is gas, let it come almost to a boil again before turning it off.) Stir. Sprinkle in copious quantities of black pepper and paprika. Not as much cayenne (it's not intended to be super spicy - just give it a bit of a kick). A couple dashes of the Worcestershire sauce, though I've left this out before without any huge difference.

9. Stir and cover. Let it sit on the stove slowly cooling overnight. Put it in the fridge the following morning. Eat for lunch. :)

That last step about leaving it out overnight may sound scary but I've never killed anyone with my soup by doing that. ;) You can stick it in the fridge directly if you want, but you might end up endangering all the other food in there by putting in something that big and hot right away.

Also, it's important to let the flavors blend together. You can eat it right after you're done adding the spices, but it won't taste right at that point. (It'll be edible and all... the full flavor just doesn't show up until the next day.)

The order of vegetables as stated above is important too. Stuff will cook at different rates. It took me a while to work out exactly what order to do it. Total cooking time has to be at least an hour and a half or the beef won't be tender enough.

14 December 2007

That original moment of Ohhh three years ago

Two quotes I encountered yesterday in a long comment thread about treatment for mental illness:
    127. Once I got help it was like putting on glasses for the first time and realising that I wasn't seeing anything the right way.

    72. I understand the hesitation in talking to friends. When I first went on medication for chronic depression and anxiety, I was astounded at the change and told everyone I knew. It was a miracle cure for me. It was interesting to see the varying reactions amongst my friends. That was an eye opener.

    I'm still open about taking medication and seeking help when needed and I encourage others to do so. But I am sometimes less ready to blurt it out to just anyone. That's a shame.

There's a special kind of sadness that happens when one has an epiphany and suddenly the whole world makes sense - but the rest of the world has the opposite reaction. And one realizes that the joy cannot be shared with one's closest friends and family without losing them.

It happened that way for me too, when I first discovered that I'm not an ugly duckling among ducks and geese at all, but really a swan.

12 December 2007

Followup for those concerned...

To continue the story about my mismatched legs:

My chiropractor gave me a shoe lift insert today. He said to try that and see if it actually helps anything before pursuing anything more expensive. It's a piece of rubber, only about a quarter of an inch thick, but my body can tell the difference. My right hip is enthusiastically in favor. My entire left side seems skeptical so far. Guess we'll see how sore I am after a few days of this...

11 December 2007


(picture compliments of my brother, who has declared me weird for wanting it)
Meet Doggie. He was our most beloved pet. He was named after the stuffed dog in They Cage The Animals At Night by Jennings Michael Burch, which my mother read when we were children, and in turn told to us a little at a time during our afternoon naps. He once won first place in a dog show in the stuffed dog category.

Nowadays he lives with my mother. I think he spends his days guarding the end of her bed.

(This post was inspired by Janiece Murphy's giant schnauzer Boogie, who is big and black and recently seen on a white light-colored! couch futon!.)

UPDATE: For all the people landing here looking for a picture of Burch's doggie: 8th picture here. :p

10 December 2007

"Saturn car key won't go into ignition" revisited

I have a Saturn wagon. Last summer I talked about a problem where it wouldn't let me put the key into the ignition, and how I solved it at the time. An additional followup to that: after a while I discovered that I could get the key into the ignition if I just banged on the steering column from underneath. That was much less tiring than the wrestling I was doing.

Nowadays I'm not having that problem anymore - it magically vanished after I had a bunch of unrelated problems fixed at a place other than the Saturn dealership. (Incidentally, to follow up what happened there - the epilepsy was due to a jammed door lock switch. They replaced both, everything is working great now.) Did the ignition problem vanish because they found and fixed it too? Or is it just due to a change in the weather from summer super-muggy hot to late fall "reasonable"? I don't know.

Why am I writing this post? Because someone googled on "Saturn car key won't go into ignition" and only found my post about Saturn customer service. I thought I'd be helpful and link in every part of the whole saga. :) For the executive summary: try banging on it from underneath.

09 December 2007

On being shafted

Science research isn't exactly the most well-funded endeavor in the country. Especially when the research isn't medical or otherwise of direct human impact. Ocean research is fairly low on the priority list overall, even in the best of times. Education is likewise not exactly a high priority here. The politicians talk it up, but when it comes time to fund it, the money isn't there.

In the economic climate of the past six years, the entire University System of Georgia was well and truly squeezed. The state budget proposals called for more and more cuts each time, until whole universities would've had to close. Every institute-wide meeting we had was doom and gloom about our lack of ability to pay for anything. There was a lot of pressure on the faculty to find funding from other sources than the state. There were layoffs. My boss was constantly worried about keeping all his own underlings paid.

Meanwhile, living expenses continued to rise. The price of gas skyrocketed, both for cars and for winter heating. Rent kept going up, as did utilities and the cost of doing laundry in the complex's coin-operated machines. The complex started making us pay for our own water. Each individual thing was only a little bit, but it adds up.

So I got a second job. I did it to avoid asking for a raise. I considered it my part of the sacrifice of the hard times we were in, because even with the low pay, it was better to have a job at the institute than not have it. I thought it made sense that it was better to have a job at low pay for a long time, than to have high pay for a short time and then become unemployed, which almost happened with my previous boss when his grant funds ran out earlier than he expected.

Sometimes people from the institute would buy food while I was working there. They were always surprised and cheerful about seeing someone they knew, and I would tell them I was "just helping out a bit for some extra pocket money," and then they would pick up their food and obliviously go on about their lives, not stopping to really wonder why.

I also kept my heat ten degrees lower than is actually comfortable for me, ate a lot of butter, and stopped going anywhere other than work, home, and the grocery store in between.

Imagine my surprise when, last summer, I discovered that I was the only one who hadn't had a raise in those entire six years. Not only that, I was now the lowest paid research grunt in the entire institute - and quite possibly the lowest paid full-time employee period.

Tonight my boss met my other boss. It was the first he knew. I wonder if he'll be observant enough, recalling the rage that made it impossible for me to speak to him for two days, and the ensuing straightening wherein I got a 12% raise and was promised another 8% raise next fiscal year, I wonder if he'll figure out how it really happened.

The economy has improved in the past year or so. We have money now to repair our existing infrastructure, upgrade our docks, replace old vehicles, and even build a whole new building. The future is looking good.

But never again when I hear about funding crises will I just quietly understand.

08 December 2007

A tree in Georgia

This is a southern live oak. We have four or five of them in the campus quad of the place where I work. The grayish stuff hanging off it is an epiphyte commonly called "Spanish moss" - it's neither Spanish nor moss. Savannah has a lot of these trees lining its streets.

07 December 2007

Minor imperfections of anatomy

My left leg is about half an inch shorter than my right. Pictures of me as a kid show that my left leg wasn't straight up and down - it looked bashed inward at the knee. Somehow nobody thought of this as a problem. (Then again, our "health care" during my childhood consisted of "don't get sick.")

Nowadays, this means that I lean slightly to the left (even when I'm sitting down, apparently), that touching my left toe is much easier than touching my right toe, and that standing still is nearly impossible - I have to shift around a lot. Too much walking kills my right hip, which in turn kills every other joint in both legs when I try to compensate by walking different, and eventually my lower then upper back. Also, my present exercise routine tends to leave my right hip seriously sore for days.

My current shoes have soles that are an inch and a half tall. I've recently discovered that walking around with only my left shoe on feels really nice to my right hip.

06 December 2007

Quick housekeeping note

Normally, whenever someone posts a comment here, I get an email notification. For some reason this stopped happening two days ago. If you've commented on any of the older entries, please be aware that I'm not ignoring you on purpose - I probably haven't seen it at all. Feel free to drop a note here if you've commented on something older than the last 4 or so posts and you want to make sure I see it.

Thanks, and hopefully Blogger/Google will fix itself soon.

05 December 2007

Forms of roleplaying

Roleplaying games come in many forms. First, there is a whole category of sexual activities that are also called "roleplaying." That's not the topic of this post. There are also two categories of video games called roleplaying - cRPGs such as Diablo/Diablo 2, Neverwinter Nights, Elder Scrolls, etc., and MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Everquest, etc. Then there are the pen-and-paper style roleplaying games. In these, two or more people get together and create a story. One person generally controls the setting and plot, while everyone else controls a character (or several).

There are a multitude of ways that a group of people can get together to create a story. Tabletop is where people gather around a table, usually in someone's living room, and there is usually dice involved. LARP (live-action roleplaying) is like a combination masquerade ball and improv acting event - participants dress up as their characters and interact with each other as them. Sometimes there is a strong storyline, and the improv is mediated by a narrator or group of narrators; other times it's an excuse to pound on each other with foam weapons. People also sometimes play by phone or through the mail. With the advent of the Internet, there came email and Skype, and there are several ways to play online.

Chat-based games happen through Instant Messengers like AIM, MSN, Yahoo, or through IRC. There is also specialized software dedicated to them, such as OpenRPG. It's a good realtime substitute for when the group can't all meet around a table, it's slightly slower than tabletop, and it's limited mainly by participant typing speed.

Then there are the true online writing games. They take place through blogs, wikis, and forums. They run much slower than chat; there is no instant gratification of seeing immediate feedback from other participants. The tradeoff is that the writing can become very well-thought-out and elaborate. They range from games that are just like tabletop in feel, up to full-fledged collaborative writing.

The hobby is about 40 years old at this point. For some reason it's not well regarded, even among other geeks. I personally see nothing embarrassing about it, nor reason to avoid mentioning it in non-gaming social contexts. Roleplaying is group storytelling, and storytelling is as old as humankind.

04 December 2007

Universal health care in the U.S.

We actually do have universal health care here in the U.S. already.

It's in the form of public hospital emergency rooms. Those are taxpayer-funded and aren't allowed to turn anyone away, which is why the poor and uninsured go to them in such large numbers and not always for emergencies.

I think we need a better universal health care system now.

03 December 2007


Sometimes I'm utterly compelled to do something that, at the time of doing, is totally incomprehensible - but makes perfect sense in hindsight. And I regret doing it with every fiber of my being - but at the same time know that it's completely right.

The waiting has ended. Things have begun.

30 November 2007

Nanowrimo 2007: Done!

Every year they design a new winner's certificate. This year it says "This literary honor is bestowed but once a year upon the bravest, most dedicated, and GIFTED of writers who have achieved their creative potential in ONE absurdly challenging month. The bearer of this certificate shall forever occupy a revered place in the firmament of HIGH-VELOCITY NOVELISTS, and his or her work shall stand as an INSPIRING testament to what can happen when one courageous writer triumphs over the naysaying and self-critical voices that stymie the flow of ART AND MERRIMENT in the universe."

I love it. :)

29 November 2007

American Indian Creationism

The American Indians are from America.

If you're like me, you read that and immediately thought about the Bering Strait, and how they came to the Americas some 10 to 40 thousand years ago via a land bridge. The American Indians aren't from America, they walked here and settled it from somewhere else.

Are the Chinese from China? Did they not also walk there from elsewhere to settle? If you're like me, that thought doesn't occur to you at all when you think about those people in those places. Why, the Chinese have 6000 years of recorded (written) history and culture, which is a really long time.

So is 10 to 40 thousand years.

Where is the difference coming from, then? All through grade school here in the U.S. (and probably Canada), we are taught that the native Americans came to the Americas via the Bering Strait. Scientifically speaking, this is not in dispute, because every human being on Earth originally came from Africa. But somehow this has turned into the notion that the native Americans are not from America and have no claim to their own land. (Just think about that one. Do the Chinese "have claim" to their land?) It's a notion that isn't based in science at all, but in politics, and specifically in something called Manifest Destiny.

Meanwhile, according to the American Indians, they have always been here. God gave them Turtle Island when the world began. This has led to a form of creationism that is every bit as irrational and anti-science as Christian and Muslim creationism, and focuses mainly on attacking the Bering Strait theory.

I'm a scientist. I can happily mock Christian and Muslim creationism until the cows come home. But from the American Indians, it just makes me sad that I can't think of a respectful way to defend myself.

So I won't, because I would rather agree with them.

Manifest Destiny was wrong. The American Indians are from America.

27 November 2007


One thing I miss about living in Indiana is the dried, crispy leaves in the fall. I love the way they sound and feel when crunched underfoot.

Here in coastal Georgia, we have acorns instead. Hundreds of them, hitting the roof and walls and windows like tiny gunshots every time the wind blows. Their caps crunch well underfoot, too, but they don't pile up to quite the heights that the leaves did in Indiana.

In coastal North Carolina we had giant pine cones, fallen from longleaf pines. Those were fun to collect and give to people elsewhere who could be wowed at the size.

22 November 2007

Things I am thankful for

I am healthy. My body is in good working order and I am fully mobile. I do not have to plan my days around whether or not I'll be able to get out of bed. I can afford health and dental insurance, and the time to visit doctors, so that I can stay that way.

I am fed. I can afford to eat three meals a day every day.

I am sheltered. I can afford the luxury of a roomy two-bedroom townhouse all to myself, in a safe neighborhood with good management.

I am employed. I have the freedom to choose my hours. I have the freedom to choose my clothing. I have the freedom to decorate my office space however I choose. I have the freedom of unlimited internet access for whatever I choose. I can do my work without being treated like a schoolchild.

I have a car. I can afford to keep it running.

I have a view. Twice a day every weekday, I drive over the most beautiful salt marsh in the world.

I have time. I can afford to pursue recreation and dreams.

I have good friends all over the world. They take me as I am without insisting that I be something that I am not. They share their days with me and allow me to share mine with them.

I have family. Some of them are beginning to understand that I am happy.

19 November 2007

Yet another picture of Indiana trees

These are at McCormick's Creek State Park. It was mid-October.

To be perfectly clear, my self-bashing in past trees posts is directed at the compositional qualities of my pictures - not the scenery that was in the pictures. Nature is always beautiful in southern Indiana. :)

17 November 2007

The World is Not Fallen

From an email I received over a year ago:
    ... but birth defects (and all illnesses and mental problems and meanness and......) are all caused by the fact that we live in a fallen world. There is a way that things are supposed to be (by design) and they are not that way because of sin. But given the fact that we live in a fallen world, birth defects are something we have to live with for now ... just because something is "natural" doesn't mean that's the way it is supposed to be.

My reply at the time:
    First, I think the world is beautiful as it is. It seems to me that you want the world to be something that it isn't, and I see the world for what it is and like it that way. God made it, and Nature shaped it, and it's chock full of neato wondrous things. Yes, human nature has its dark sides, but that's part of the splendour. There are light sides and dark sides to the world, and they balance each other out in so many cool ways. And that's exactly how it's "supposed to" be.

    So when you call it "fallen" and "wrong", well, that starts treading the edges of my own religious sensibilities. It feels like you're trying to insult it (the world, that is), and therefore Nature and God.

    Life isn't about perfection. Perfection is static and ultimately sterile. And worse, perfection isn't living. We were blessed to be put on the earth and given a chance to experience life and living. And learning from it. There is no "should" or "supposed to" in living. There is only "is." And only after you grasp what that means, and reach acceptance, can you truly learn what life is
    really all about.

She is some denomination of Protestant Christian, I'm not sure which one. She didn't reply, though we've exchanged other emails since then. I still don't understand how anyone can live that way. It seems to me the height of insult to reject the world God made because you don't personally like it, and the height of arrogance to then go on and think you know how it should've been instead.

We weren't talking about evolution vs. creationism, which is what reminded me of the email exchange. We were talking about gender dysphoria, a type of social birth defect. Both are fairly controversial topics here in the U.S. due to widespread ignorance, though I understand they are non-issues in much of Europe. And my reaction to both types of ignorance, when it comes to the kinds of rationalizations that often occur on the way to understanding (if it happens), is about the same.

14 November 2007

What water temperature looks like from orbit

This is what sea surface temperature looks like off the coast of the southeastern U.S. in the fall, as seen from space. The scalebar is in Celsius. Those +'s are a grid of U.S. Navy towers that used to be for flight training. We have sensors at the ones with squares. The red streamer is the Gulf Stream, which is a stream of warm water that comes from the Gulf of Mexico and goes in an enormous clockwise circle in the northern half of the Atlantic Ocean. While it's doing that, it moves a lot of fish around and keeps England warm.

Making this sort of picture is approximately half my job description (other half being that ton of cruise data that I've been banging together a SQL database for in the past several months). I also make them for chlorophyll levels, dissolved organic matter, light penetration, and a number of other more arcane things. It's fairly mindless work compared to learning how to code things, and the results are pretty.

13 November 2007

Ahhh... Real Life.

On Friday one of my tires was nearly flat due to a nail. I had that patched and also had them all rotated.

On Saturday the car had an epileptic fit in lieu of starting. I met a taxi driver who wants to someday go into the music industry, perhaps as a producer, but starting out as a DJ. Mr. Squirrel paid the fare with food. After work I drove home in his car (and a coworker drove it back to the store).

On Sunday I discovered that it only takes half an hour to walk between the far side of the mall and my apartment. Also, that flowers still bloom in Savannah in November.

On Sunday evening I discovered what it means to gladly be the omega of a good pack rather than the alpha of a bad one. Also, I desperately need to learn more Spanish than "goh-mah-loh" (shrimp fried rice).

On Monday I met a tow truck driver whose mother died three days ago, he can't afford to go to her funeral, his father is messed up on drugs, his little sister ran off with some guy when she was eighteen and hasn't been seen since, his firstborn son died in infancy, and his wife is five months pregnant. Meanwhile, the garage decided my main problem was a dead battery, when in fact the dead battery was caused by the car's epileptic fits.

Tuesday morning the car goes back to the garage. Maybe I'll manage to get some words written in edgewise.

10 November 2007

More Trees

These are still more pictures from Brown County State Park, Indiana, in mid-October. The lake is Stahl Lake.

As before, the overall composition is almost right, though I wanted to have more of the left. However, the subject tree on the right isn't entirely in the frame.

In order to get (almost) the whole tree, I had to omit most of the lake, and still the very top of the tree is out of the frame. For the perfect shot I would've had to step farther back. Unfortunately there was nothing to stand on and we didn't have a boat.

08 November 2007

On Earth - Samael

(Song is four minutes long. The other 3:55 of video is skippable silence.)

Samael is a black metal band from Switzerland. On Earth is from their 2004 album Reign of Light. What first caught my attention was the way the singer enunciates "dancing" in the chorus. After that I was hooked on the bountiful joie de vivre. Upon further research, it turns out that their music as a whole makes great theme music for about half of my Nanowrimo novel. Better, their Myspace page is set up to continuously loop five songs, which makes writing flow even easier. Life is good. :)

07 November 2007

How To Draw Everything

A friend of mine has been writing a lot of how-to-draw articles. As he's both a writer and an artist, and has successfully taught utter novices to become decent artists, these are a good read if you're even remotely interested in learning how to draw and how to add art into your everyday life.

He takes requests, too. Go check him out. :)

05 November 2007

'Tis the season

Every year around this time, Georgia passes out a Charitable Contributions form to all its state employees. The idea is that instead of having endless unsolicited charities go through our offices asking for money year-round, everyone can be put on one gigantic list and us employees are asked all at once, one time.

Every year they ask that if you don't contribute, you still must return the form with the word "no" written across it. As a guilt-trip, it probably works great. However, as I'm not a fan of emotional manipulation of that sort, I write "no" anyway. But I still give money to charities when I can afford to do so.

A decade ago when I was a naive young tree-hugging liberal who figured the plight of endangered species greatly outweighs anything that might possibly be going wrong with human beings (there are 6 billion of us, after all), my choices were:
    World Wildlife Fund (WWF) - there are dozens, if not hundreds of environmental conservation organizations that, as far as I can tell, are basically all the same. The WWF is very large and does all sorts of things worldwide. My rationale is that it makes more sense to focus my money on the ones that are obviously successful instead of scattering it to lots of different places. Pooling of limited resources et al.

    Nature Conservancy - these guys aren't big into political activism and lobbying. The basic philosophy is simpler, quieter, and in my opinion makes a lot more effective sense: they buy the land they want to preserve. Sometimes money really does talk louder than words.

Nowadays I've added "bleeding heart" to that.
    Modest Needs - this place provides emergency funds to the working poor. For example: being laid off with no health insurance when an illness hits; the car you use to get to work breaks down, and you can't afford to fix it, and you lose the job if you don't get to work; you miscalculate your bank balance by a few dollars, bounce a check, and must now pay ten times as much via bank fees for bouncing it and late fees for whatever you were trying to pay with that check. The idea is to help people avoid going into the downward spiral toward homelessness in the first place.

    National Relief Charities - The most recent place I've been scoping out. It's a group of organizations that help Native Americans, who are the poorest of the poor in the U.S., and the group done the most wrong by the U.S. Their method is to ask the communities what is needed rather than just give random stuff, some of which might be more harm than good in the long run.

My main concern with places that help fellow human beings is that they not be religion-oriented. Those always seem to have ulterior motives, wanting to turn the people they help into versions of themselves, and I refuse to have any part in that.

Then there are the "fun" places. It isn't a matter of life and death if they don't get money, but they've certainly done a lot to enrich my life, and I donate out of gratitude.
    RolePlay OnLine (RPoL) - I've been playing there since 2003. I give money every year to help with the server costs.
    Nanowrimo - Likewise (since 2004). Plus they build libraries in third world countries so children there can learn the joy of reading.

Eventually I'll probably add Pandora and Wikimedia to the list, but the above places are what I can afford now.

02 November 2007

Some Trees

These are more pictures from Brown County State Park in mid-October.

I like the composition on this one, but as you can see, it was rather cloudy and the lighting wasn't very good.

I like the way the sunbeam falls on the orange tree, making it very bright, and the way it stands out against the dark clouds behind it. But the composition wasn't so good. It should've included more from the top and the right to get the surrounding trees.

Just pretend like it's one photo with both the sunbeam and the good composition of trees. :) Click on them for the gigantic version - I didn't scale down the size, because Kitten42 mentioned wanting to draw from them.

01 November 2007


November is (Inter)National Novel Writing Month. It's an annual writing marathon wherein participants attempt to write at least 50,000 words toward a single story in 30 days. The quality of the words does not matter - there just has to be 50,000 of them. Winners get a lucky special certificate to print out at the end, but more importantly, they get an astounding sense of accomplishment.

That's what I'll be doing all of November. It'll be my fourth year and I'm looking forward to adding a fourth certificate to my wall. :) My progress will all be posted to my writing blog at Hobgoblin. Realtime chatter will be with SFFMuse, which has a small, cozy chat community on irc.worldirc.org (come join in, those of you who are also writing and aren't there already!). Nanowrimo has a chat channel on irc.goodchatting.com but I find it too big for my tastes.

My posts here might slow down a lot in the interim.

31 October 2007

Jamaican goat stew

Two observations about authentic Jamaican goat stew:

1. Goat meat has exactly the same appearance, taste, and texture as corned beef.

2. It has bone fragments in it. So do a lot of authentic Chinese soups and stews, some of which I've been invited to eat at the takeout where I work. Not only are there bone fragments, there are also bits of skin, blood vessels, and other assorted tissues. It makes the stew taste outstanding as long as I don't look at it too closely. As it requires both hands, napkins, and a discard receptacle, it's not so good for eating while working.

The Trials and Tribulations of a Sunday Coder

Yesterday, with some detailed help of a friend of a friend, I finished writing my very first (of three) PHP scripts that will put actual data into the database! (Up to that point it was lots of short scripts to put ancillary info into it, such as home institutions of cruise crews, funding agencies, the serial numbers and calibration dates of every sensor we've ever used to measure anything, etc.). Yay! I'm totally awesome!

Then I started work on the second script. Right away I noticed two things: PHP isn't going to like reading this dataset, and the haphazard way I was processing the data before has just come back to haunt me. It's going to be an organizational nightmare that will take ten times more code to accommodate than if I'd known what I was doing in the first place. Augh! I hate myself and want to die!

The friend of a friend comes to the rescue again and talks me past the problems. Yay! There was much rejoicing and happy-dancing!

I code and code and code some more. It suddenly occurs to me that I've been doing it wrong the whole time. The better way would not have required me to learn quite as much PHP as I just did. Augh! I'm a total idiot!

But I'm in luck, because most of what I just coded for PHP from the command line is still going to be the same from the web browser. I just need to ... code even more. Some surrounding bits, plus the scripts that will make all the pretty buttons. But I know how to do HTML forms because that's what all of those short scripts from before are. Yay! I'm totally awesome! The second script is almost finished!

I wonder what tomorrow will bring when I debug the second script and then start working on the third script. Special thanks go to my new best buddy Randi Mitchell, for being willing to sit around handholding a total stranger through some excruciatingly detailed material. :)

29 October 2007

Bloons Tower Defense: A Study in Poverty Economics

Being Poor in Bloons Tower Defense 2 is knowing exactly how much everything costs. It's having to buy 30-point road spikes and 40-point monkey glue because that's all you can afford and you need something Right Now, instead of saving up for the 600-point cannon that you know you need. Being Poor on "hard" is always being exactly one level behind where you need to be. Being Poor is having no margin for error - make one mistake and you're doomed.

At least in a bloons game, you can just keep playing over and over until you know what's ahead, where to put every tower, and which upgrades to bother with. And then on Round 50 at the end when you suddenly don't need money anymore, it's disproportionally hilarious to cover the entire track in monkey glue.

26 October 2007

In Pursuit of a Landscape in Oils in the Wilds of Indiana

Finding good scenery to paint is a lot harder than it sounds. First, it has to be close enough to a road for bringing in all the art supplies. Second, it has to have good composition potential. Third, the weather has to be good. My brother and I went looking for such a place in a couple of Indiana's state parks.

McCormick's Creek runs through a canyon, which makes it sound like it would have nice paintable scenery - but unfortunately we didn't find any. There were lots and lots of trees, but not enough clear spaces.

Brown County State Park has many tall, steep hills and it's possible to see a skyline above the trees in there. Unfortunately the places we passed lacked any good foreground subjects to put as the focus of a painting. Stahl Lake, the smaller of two lakes in the park, was the closest we came.

I was there to see trees in their full autumn glory, but the leaves mostly hadn't turned yet. My brother was looking for a wide, slow-moving creek with a rustic wooden bridge. Such a place exists - we went there many times in our youth and have the pictures to prove it. It just wasn't where we were looking. We think it's at Turkey Run State Park. By the time we thought that, though, it was too far to visit.

I took a bunch of photos of mediocre composition from the expedition. My brother ended up doing a still life at home instead.

25 October 2007


They say that online relationships aren't "real" because people can disappear at any time without notice, never to be seen again, and nobody knows what happened. This is no different from offline relationships. Every time someone graduates from a school, changes jobs, leaves a social club, or moves to a different city, people lose touch then, too. The number of people one stays in touch with when leaving any community, online or offline, is about the same.

They say that leaving an online community is like flipping a switch. Turn off the computer and it ceases to exist. This, also, is no different from offline communities. People can walk away from those, too, and never look back to see how their absence affects the ones they left behind.

They say those things and they are wrong, because we do still exist, and we do still care. Even if the one who leaves never does come back, we still have to wonder why.

We're allowed to be mean to gays here

The University System of Georgia has just put out its new, improved anti-harrassment/anti-discrimination policy. It prohibits us from being mean to each other based on "race, sex (including sexual harassment), ethnic or national origin, religion, age, disabled status, or status as a disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era."

I understand that those in charge of figuring out the wording did get asked about "orientation." Since it's not mentioned despite that, I can only conclude that the omission is deliberate. Especially since the previous version (marked "effective July 2006" at the bottom) did include sexual orientation.

24 October 2007

Night Guard: Keeping danger out? Or keeping the kids in?

So for the past two nights, I've been skulking around a dorm full of schoolchildren, here to visit the aquarium and learn some marine science. Their teacher claimed they were all "little angels" ... yeah right. The girls were trying to sneak into each other's rooms so they could chat all night, and the boys were probably planning wee hour expeditions into the woods. Hence the need for a skulker.

I walked around the building every twenty minutes or so, making sure to pass each room slowly and that my shadow fell across their windows. I kept no particular pattern, and would often stop right after reaching the end of the row to see if anyone came out after my passing. Then I would sometimes go back the other way. At erratic intervals, I would stop in the middle and peer into their rooms to check that they were actually in their beds (the second night, many more of them had their blinds tightly closed...). Thusly did they all know that I was right there the whole time... lurking in the shadows... waiting to strike should anyone try to escape.

It was very quiet both nights. The kids thought I was awesome and thanked me for keeping them safe. The teacher wants me to do it again for them next year.

22 October 2007

The entire range of my cartooning abilities

I used to draw this horse in large quantities in grade school. I could do it standing still, walking, running, rearing, with a saddle and reins, with a rider, with wings, with a unicorn horn, by itself or in a herd. Sadly, it's the only thing I can draw. Also I can only draw it facing to the left - they look as crummy as my human figures when facing to the right.

1. I drove 800 miles again yesterday and am too tired to say anything profound just now, so I'll just doodle a quick pony...
2. To the Whatever readers: yes I know it's a few days after the nick of time. No it's not throbbing, sorry. If you want, you could always bang your head into the wall a few times until it looks like it is.

20 October 2007

The herding of cats

Tour guide (a current student): "This is where some of the faculty have their offices..."

Alumni: "That used to be the computer lab." "Are any of the teachers I knew still here?" "What's over there now?" "Didn't the mailboxes used to be on this wall and not that one?" *people start wandering off in different directions*

Tour guide: "This is where we have our dorm rooms..."

Alumni: "Oh hey! This was my room! And this was yours!" "I want to go over to the other wing where my room was." "Do the bathrooms look the same too?" *more people wander off*

Tour guide: "Uh, and this here is what my room looks like..."

Alumni: "Wow, the furniture hasn't changed in 15 years and it even still smells the same!"

*half the crowd has disappeared*

Alas poor tour guides. I guess they taught us well to be independent thinkers and explorers.

One of the event organizers: "I'd show you the renovated auditorium but I don't have the key to it."

Alumni: "Oh, well. The door hinges are on the outside, right?"

Event organizer: "... please don't."

Alumni: "We used to disable the door alarms with magnets."
Fellow alumni (who is now an electrician): "I unscrewed the plate on the door for my wing and disconnected the wires."

Ahh... good times.

18 October 2007

Cars have body language

Freeway driving is a bit like playing asteroids, especially when there are four or more lanes to each side. Fortunately, despite the fact that it sometimes seems otherwise, cars only go in a few specific directions rather than every which way.

Unfortunately, unlike asteroids that only move based on inertia, they can slow down, speed up, and change direction, sometimes for no apparent reason.

Fortunately, this doesn't generally happen without warning. Even when they aren't using turn signals, cars have body language. By watching how they slow down, speed up, tailgate, drift, or "lean" to one side of the lane or the other, it's possible to know what they want to do (or are about to do). And by watching all of the other cars around them, it's also possible to know why.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to read car body language. Most people probably aren't even aware of it - it's not exactly required knowledge for obtaining a basic drivers license. Even people who do know aren't necessarily always paying attention at all times. It's therefore good to assume that everyone else on the road is oblivious until they prove otherwise (or are a professional trucker).

17 October 2007

Parodies of parodies

Road trippin' across America
In my station wagon at 80 miles an hour!

Road trippin' across America
Boldly going northward, I think my back's gone sour.

-- parodied from the chorus of Star Trekkin',
which is itself a parody of Star Trek:
The Original Series
by The Firm.

Most people in the U.S. know of the song from Dr. Demento's radio show. For anyone who might've never heard it before, here's a video version that reinterprets it for Stargate: Atlantis (another parody!):

Mmmmm... wraiths. I would so be a wraith worshipper. While I'm waiting for that to ever happen, I'll be driving 800+ miles today. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves while I'm gone. :)

16 October 2007

Some observations on the nature of heated arguments

Those who dish out can never take it. Some can dish out, some can take it, some want nothing to do with either side. But there's no such thing as a person who can do both.

A person who accuses another of being selfish or ungrateful is almost always trying to get something specific from the other that they don't want to give.

The label of stubbornness really means "refuses to do or be what I want them to do or be." This label tends to follow statements that start with "you should" or "you shouldn't."

Cries of "I don't understand!" means that the person wants to rant at length in vehement disagreement against whatever they don't understand. They don't want to actually understand.

Cries of "I get it!" means that the person doesn't get it at all, and is probably so far from actual understanding that they never will. Especially if the followup starts with "but you have to understand..."

Accusations of any character flaw means that the accuser has that flaw. These can be very revealing about the weaknesses of the accuser.

15 October 2007

Food in Cars

The absolute best way to have food for a long roadtrip is to have a small fridge that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Unfortunately, this requires both a large, roomy car and a small fridge that can plug into a cigarette lighter. Many people don't have one or both of these, and nowadays there are many more uses for the cigarette lighter than having it occupied the whole time by a fridge, so the next best thing is a good cooler.

Mine has a flat-top hinge lid, which is easier to open and close while driving than the pushbutton swivel kind. I have a water bottle that screws into the lid, which starts the trip frozen. I also have several small gelpacks that thaw slower and can last up to 12 hours, which I place at either end and along the bottom. They make soda-can-shaped freezepacks meant to be placed between cans, but in my opinion those take up too much room that could be better filled with edibles. The cooler itself is large enough to hold up to eight cans of soda (or juice, or other non-alcoholic beverages) and leave a small bit of space at the top. Usually I bring four drinks at most and fill the rest with food.

The best road food comes in bite-sized pieces that can be eaten one-handed, requires no utensils, and is not too messy. Anything with a runny sauce is right out. Good choices are carrot and celery sticks, bananas, dried fruit (raisins, craisins), most nuts (not pistachios still in the shell), some types of chips that aren't too crumbly, pretzel sticks, popcorn, meat jerkies. (I'm not sure candy counts as "food.") Sandwiches work better cut into quarters and with nothing in them that will drip. Pepperoni or salami are better than other meats because those won't spoil instantly if left in the sun on the dashboard or passenger seat instead of properly put back in the cooler while not actively being eaten. I often bring a bag of pizza-sized slices to eat by themselves instead of bothering with a whole sandwich. Some wet fruits will work, such as strawberries or apples if there is a paper towel to catch any drips. Oranges will not; too much peeling. Yogurt will work if there is a good cupholder to put it down during bad traffic.

Hot food can also be bought on the road. Plain (no sauce) chicken nuggets and french fries are good. If it's something that can't be put down on an unstable surface or in a cupholder between bites, park the car somewhere first.

Aside from the food itself, bring a whole roll of paper towels. They're good as napkins and you never know if you might spill something. Have an empty paper bag for trash - paper because those are easier to reach into one-handed without looking, as they stand open all by themselves. If there will be a lot of wet trash, put the paper bag in a plastic bag. Place the cooler, paper towels, and trash bag all within easy reach of the driver seat.

All of the above, of course, is intended for long road trips with only the driver in the car who is trying to cover the maximum possible distance in a minimum amount of time (that is, no stops longer than 10 minutes). A much wider variety of food is possible if there is someone else to open packages and keep things unlittered, or if meal stops are planned in. Also, much of what I do is geared toward not making a mess in the first place rather than having to clean up afterward.

This post is dedicated to bakho, who thinks I post too much about food, and Rebelcat, who thinks I post too much about cars. :)

14 October 2007

Open House Weekend

"This is the boat's dry lab. Over there is the wet lab. This is where we do all the science on the boat. Different groups of scientists will bring their own equipment on board. The dry lab is where they put all the electronics equipment and computers. The wet lab is for anything to do with seawater samples or chemicals. The idea is to keep them separate from each other.

"Over here we have the computer that controls the equipment out on deck. See that circular looking thing right outside the door? This computer controls that. As we put it overboard and send it down to the bottom of the ocean, we can watch the data come in in realtime on the display. Also, all those tube things are water bottles. When we send it down, they're open at both ends - and when we see some water we want to collect, we can push some buttons on this rack over here, and it'll close up, so we have a sample at the depth we want.

"That display tells us how deep the water is where we are now. It's coming down from the bridge. That's a giant magnifying glass with a light. Those are immersion suits, which are for if the boat sinks. That's just the eyewash. No, they don't actually let
me go out on the cruises. I know nothing about global warming, quit trying to make me say something authoritative."

... is what I did for four hours yesterday.

"Sometimes you have to lose some money to keep the customer. We could've either given him the $25 that the former manager owed him, so that he would keep coming back to buy food and therefore give us more money in the future, or we could make him pay the entire amount for his food now and never see him again. I see we've chosen the latter, and now we'll argue about it for my entire shift."

... was the three hours after that.


... was the rest of my day.

As for today:

I'm 34.

Mmm... sushi.

12 October 2007


New Age instrumental music is like classical music, only better. Kitaro is one of my favorites. His album Kojiki tells the story of the creation of Japan in seven parts. The 1990 release explained the full story in the liner notes; the CD I bought later left it out. There is now also a DVD, which I hope put it back in.

Track 2: Sozo (second half)

Track 3: Koi

Track 6: Matsuri. According to the liner notes, the sun goddess has gone into hiding, the world has gone dark, and everyone else throws a fake party to lure her back out and shine light once more upon the world. She comes out near the end of the piece.

My favorite track is actually Reimei, which comes after Matsuri. It basically says "and everyone lives happily ever after" and sounds like a grander, more epic version of Sozo. Unfortunately nobody has posted that one on Youtube. Maybe I will later, if I can figure out how to turn an MP3 into a video...

edit: Success! Here it is now.

It's amazing how one 8mb song plus one 1mb picture can become 25mb of video. Pay no attention to the psychedelic pulsing flowers - I have no idea why it's doing that.

11 October 2007

State of the Union

I'm watching another beloved crash and burn at the hands of a fool with too much pride. I have been for a long time. There is much I've wanted to say, then and now - but I don't, because I'm afraid.

There are countries where one can get 'disappeared' for expressing forbidden political opinions. This wasn't supposed to be one of them.

My Reunion Blurb ... or, more than you ever wanted to know about me

First, a brief recap for those who missed my 5-year and 10-year blurbs: BS biology and BS geology from Indiana University, MS marine biology with a thesis in fish ecology from University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Got married, got divorced, had one other relationship, now single again, no kids, not particularly looking. Lots of interesting jobs during all that, and now I'm at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO) in Savannah, Georgia, where I've been since 2001. Got big into roleplaying games for a while. Got big into online video games for a while.

In some ways, life hasn't actually changed much since last we left off with the Tale of My Life in 5-Year Installments. I'm still working full time as a staff scientist at SkIO, though I've moved to a different lab. I'm still living in the same townhouse. I still look almost exactly the same as I did when I graduated high school. Life has been very stable for a long time.

But most of the time it feels like everything is moving forward at breakneck speed. I got back into roleplaying games shortly after the last reunion, only this time it was almost all online. From there I rediscovered a childhood love of writing - because online roleplaying is all done in writing. In 2004, a friend passed me the link to Nanowrimo - "National Novel Writing Month", which is a writing marathon where participants write a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. It happens every November. I've won the marathon three times now, and right after the reunion I'll be preparing for the fourth. I've been working on a whole series of stories set in a dark fantasyish world, along with a few other unrelated ones along the way. No, nothing is published yet, and at this point it's not even a gleam in my writerly eye, though maybe it will be more than a hobby in another five years. While doing all the roleplaying and writing, I've managed to learn something new almost every day, and I've met some of the greatest friends I've ever had.

As for other things, I became addicted to Wikipedia last spring, and now help organize articles about songs with some occasional writing thrown in on other topics. I'm working weekends at a Chinese takeout, at first for the extra money but later on because I became quite attached to the family who ran it. They sold it recently and moved, however, so I'll be quitting as soon as the new owner is fully settled in. And I have a blog at http://kayara.blogspot.com where I try to talk about something different going on in my life every day (please visit!).

09 October 2007

Chinese Takeout: An Ending of More Than One Kind

I'm watching a beloved's beloved crash and burn at the hands of a fool with too much pride.

This is much harder than it sounds. Especially when I'm one of the few in any position to do something about it, and I can't do anything. He's not listening. And I have too much honor to leave.


Blue sky, blue sea, blue bow. Taken from the RV Savannah during a research cruise.

08 October 2007

My worries about money are really all health care

The quarterly newsletter from my retirement advisor says that my age group (31-42) worries the most about money - moreso than older or younger people. I worry too. Rising prices and basic living necessities aren't too much of a concern at this point, nor is the ability to weather (smallish) financial emergencies. What I worry about most, which is not a category in the newsletter breakdown table, is funding my old age. I now have a retirement plan (and hence a retirement advisor), started earlier this year the moment I could afford one, which will hopefully take care of basic living necessities after I'm too old to work. That leaves old age medical expenses.

I'm an American. Over here, lots of old people are on expensive daily drugs that they can't live without. Health care, meanwhile, is mainly provided by for-profit corporations; for-profit corporations are by their very nature mainly interested in deriving the maximum possible money at the minimum possible expense with which they can line the pockets of their board members, which is not, in my opinion, in the best health interests of the standard customer in the longterm. In my particular case, there is a lifetime maximum benefit - and I'm not quite sure what's supposed to happen if I exceed that. Do they expect me to just keel over and die and thus stop troubling them anymore? Because if I hit that point, I doubt I'd find another corporation who would want to cover me, as I'd be a major expense rather than a source of income for them.

The other option would be our current governmental non-system known as Medicare/Medicaid. What we have there is a massively inefficient bureaucratic triage that, due to insufficient funds to cover everyone they should be covering, they've used what funds they have to set up a system that discourages people from asking in the first place, and that ensures that people with low chances of survival die as quickly as possible. (People who disbelieve this notion should try needing it themselves sometime.)

Obviously, the only realistic approach for me is to avoid needing expensive daily drugs in the first place. To that end, I pay attention to what I eat and try to stay healthy. I go in for the free yearly physical and dental cleanings. I sank a lot of money into a chiropractor this past year, and more recently a massage therapist; together they're fixing up a bunch of things that have started going downhill and they've shown me a whole lot about how to keep things in good working order. They pointed me to an exercise program that a) even someone as puny as me can do, and b) it seems to actually be working (albeit slowly).

To round this all out, there is supposed to be a government-based alternative option to the retirement plan, too. We call it Social Security. It doesn't provide enough funds to actually cover basic living necessities, and furthermore, any attempts to make up the difference through other income sources are heavily penalized. I consider myself fortunate that I can afford a retirement plan.

05 October 2007

Fun with Frogs

It's been raining all week with no sign of stopping until next week. The frogs are everywhere. Near as I can figure from browsing around the Web a bit, these are Hyla spp. tree frogs. They like to cling to glass doors.

The two on either side are the same frog from different angles. The middle one was smaller. Those are 3/4 inch squares. I also made a fancy artsy arrangement of them.

04 October 2007

The Code of Siram

When my sister and I were children, we made a secret code that was totally uncrackable to people who didn't know what it was - but at the same time was ridiculously easy to read without a cipher key for people who did. First, we started with the letters of the English alphabet:

Notice that some of the letters are crossed out. In my infinite youthful wisdom, I had decided that those are redundant and therefore aren't needed. C can be represented with either K or S, Q is just KW, X is just KS, and as for Z, well, it sounds close enough to S and nobody ever uses it anyway. (Grownupy retrospective wisdom has had more to say about that since then....)

Then, we looked at each letter and asked ourselves, "What does it look like?" For example, A sort of looks like a tepee, E looks like a comb, F like a flag, G like someone sitting at a desk, H is a ladder, etc. We drew those out and tweaked them for a while, until we had:

which became the code base. Because it resembles the actual alphabet, it's remarkably easy to read - which does not make for a very good super secret code. Therefore, we decided that there should be multiple ways to write each letter.

Above is the code in full. When writing in it, we just chose the letter variations at random. It works out well because E is the most common letter of the alphabet and coincidentally also has the most variations. We did discover that Z actually is a necessary letter, and so is C because it's part of CH. In practice, we just substituted SH for every CH and got by well enough for our own purposes.

Our purposes, of course, was to annoy a mutual friend by passing notes to each other in standard teenage "ha ha! you can't read this!" fashion. In reality most of the notes just talked about ordinary things like where we should go for lunch (aka "lunsh"). The friend spent years trying to decipher it and never succeeded.

Later on I went back and added some more symbols for SH, CH, and TH.

The latter two are stolen from the Mandarin Chinese teaching alphabet. (Ever wonder how Chinese schoolchildren learn to read and write all those thousands of characters? Well, there's a cheat code...) By the time I put those in, though, we'd all grown up and moved on to other entertaining pursuits with our lives, and they were never used.

In summary, the code works on two basic secrets: