22 February 2009

Azaleas again

Last summer, a bunch of overhanging tree limbs got removed from the fenceline between my apartment building and the patch of woods behind it. They destroyed some of the brush lower to the ground in the process, and I was afraid there wouldn't be any more azaleas.

Well, there aren't any in front of my own patio anymore, but some of the other ones are still alive. They started blooming last weekend:

There are also a couple other colors, but they're farther into the woods and I can't get close enough for good pictures. Here's last year's pictures (which technically weren't actually taken last year, but that's when I posted them ;) ).

19 February 2009

Couple Quick Followups

What electric outlets and light switches look like in Croatia

Comment about the light switches in particular: the Europeans in my audience took one look at the example in my post and basically all thought, "wow, retro." Apparently light switch technology is more advanced over there than here.

So is their dishwasher technology, for that matter. Ours are big clunky obvious machines that tend to be fairly noisy when they're running. Theirs come with front panelling that match their cabinets, and are so quiet it's hard to tell that they're on. I wouldn't mind having one of those. :)

Some insightful commentary inspired by the 25 Things meme

It started as a reply to some whining going on in the mainstream media about the meme, and tangented out to observations about modern-day racism. Good food for thought.

18 February 2009

Fox News: News on an informativeness level you'd get from reading my blog (if I ever did news)

Today I went to a pizza buffet for lunch. I foolishly chose a seat right under one of their TVs without checking to see what was playing. It turned out to be Fox News.

I now understand why everyone calls it Faux News. o.O Did any of those people even go to journalism school? What happened to reporting verified facts and all the opposing viewpoints surrounding a newsworthy event in an unbiased manner?

Example: 16 year old girl found dead, another found unconscious nearby, at Fort Lewis (an army base in Washington). Something about drugs and one of the soldiers being involved (no really, that's all the info I managed to get out of their story). Fox News says "well gee, they were civilians, so we don't even know how they got on the base in the first place, I think they have to be escorted by a military person or something? And their IDs get checked? And there's some kind of curfew involved about that but we're not sure." Uhhh. IT'S YOUR JOB TO FIND ALL THAT STUFF OUT BEFORE YOU GET ON THE AIR.

They did have one report that I wanted to hear. Facebook is currently having a debacle about its Terms of Use. I learned this last night because they put up a big sign on everyone's home pages, and also a number of friends had status updates talking about it. I read the sign, then checked their terms of use page, found the problem paragraph, read it, discussed it with a friend, etc. What did Fox News say? "Oh yeah, Facebook is trying to claim ownershp of everyone's info." Uhhhh. No. >.< DID IT OCCUR TO YOU TO READ THE TERMS OF USE THAT YOU'RE REPORTING ABOUT? OR WAS YOUR COMPREHENSION SO BAD THAT ALL YOU CAN DO IS REPEAT THE HEARSAY?

Yeah, I think I'll go back to getting all my news from other people's blogs now.

16 February 2009

One of life's little slow-motion mysteries

Today I caused the collapse of a house of cards.

I also learned some disturbing things about a second house of cards. Will it also collapse in the wake of the first one? Or will it remain standing to get bigger until, when it finally does collapse by some other force, its dust will take months to settle instead of only weeks?

And will the house builder ever learn a thing?

13 February 2009

A Crash of Waves

My original low-resolution scan of a photo I took in southern California in 1994:

I passed a more recent, higher-resolution version of the scan to a friend (Robert Sloan 2), who turned it into art:

It's in soft pastels, for a contest that involves expensive prizes if he wins. He hears back about it probably in April.

Then I sold the high-resolution scan to BigStockPhoto.com. :)

(... and that's pretty much it for "good things that have happened to me this week." The rest of the week has been from blah to crummy.)

07 February 2009

A weird little geological bowl

This cliff is part of a rocky beach somewhere in southern California. Notice how there's a dark-colored band of rock that winds around the bottom, like a bowl, that there's more tightly folded light-colored rock in the bowl, and there's a big crack down the middle (with the trees growing in it) that doesn't seem to go through the bottom of the bowl.

My first thought was that the crack is a fault. The light-colored rocks on either side of it don't appear to meet up with each other. However, because the dark-colored band is continuous along the bottom, it might be a dike that just weathered faster than the surrounding rock.

Which is not to say that there aren't faults in this picture. To the right of the bowl, some of the light-colored rock is doing some interesting folding action, and in one spot it comes to an end against another band of the same stuff.

All in all, a fun little head-turner for the casual roadside geologist. ;)

As for where it is, I hope someone out there can tell me. The picture was taken in December 1994, and is of the same place as these:

I was there with some extended family during a two-week visit, my first trip to California, and they were showing us around.

I mention all this now because I just found the original photos while excavating my storeroom, and was rescanning Crash of Waves for a friend to turn into art.

06 February 2009

25 Things

There's been an Internet meme going around Facebook for the past month or so, and recently it has spilled out into the blogosphere. The basic gist is: "list 25 random things about yourself."

I'm going to cheat on mine, and use a similar meme from last year for ten of them. Also, I'm planning to copy/paste this into Facebook as well, where some of the audience hasn't heard from me for 17 years, so not all of this will be new stuff to people reading along here ...

1. I was supposed to become a world-famous concert harpist. My instructor, a world-famous concert harpist herself, so believed in me that she gave me lessons worth $100/hr for free. Unfortunately, it turned out that I wasn't that big a fan of classical music, and was even less a fan of the associated social trappings that went along with being a concert harpist. Me and high society fancy schmancy schmoozing - they don't go together.

2. I was in the children's choir for a production of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, which we performed for him on his 70th birthday (1988) in Massachusetts.

3. I once stood in the eye of a hurricane. Bonnie came straight up the Cape Fear River in North Carolina in 1998, and she moved so slowly that we were in her eye for an hour.

4. I spent a couple summers helping a fellow grad student do research on royal terns. It involved lots of time on small sandy islands in the middle of the Cape Fear River (their breeding grounds).

One time we were late getting off before low tide, and we got stranded. There's a picture somewhere of us tugging our 8-foot motorboat through ankle-deep water, between the channel markers (for a channel that clearly no longer existed; they'd evidently not dredged recently).

5. The most fun part of the tern study was the annual banding event. Once the tern chicks are old enough to be out of the nest but not yet old enough to fly, they all get herded down the beach into a corral. Then they get metal bands clamped around their legs. They're really cute at that stage - little white fluffballs with feet.

We also did a few laughing gull chicks. They're pretty cute too, if you don't think too much about what they grow into. Laughing gull chicks will fall instantly asleep if you drop a towel on their heads. So, there was much chasing them around with towels after we were done with the terns.

6. I also helped another grad student with an age and growth study on some juvenile groupers. My part in it was to keep them clean and fed in some outdoor fishtanks. While I was doing that for the groupers, I also kept some snappers - since they were the subject of my own research. They were supposed to all die of cold before the winter really set in. The groupers did. But the snappers, whose range is farther south than the groupers, were a lot tougher than anyone expected. So every two weeks all winter long, I put on five layers of short-sleeved shirts, two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, scarf and winter hat, and plunged my arms up to the armpits into icy cold water so I could suck the uneaten food and algae out of their tank.

7. Whenever I go on offshore science cruises, there's always at least one crewmember who is really big into deep sea fishing. This works out well since we get to eat a lot of fresh fish that way.

One time someone caught a 100 lb yellowfin tuna. It took 45 minutes to reel in. The guy cleaned it immediately after it was caught, and sliced off chunks of superfresh sushi for the rest of us. While its muscles were still twitching, even. It was a bit warmer than I liked, but the next day it got served up properly chilled with the wrong kind of rice, the wrong kind of soy sauce, and tubed wasabi. It was still yummy. :)

8. The most unusual thing I ever pet-sat was a 10-gallon tank of 20ish juvenile clownfish. (The kind that likes anemones.) The clownfish in the biology building's lobby aquarium had spawned, the eggs had hatched, and one of the other grad students had taken them under her wing. They were about half-dollar sized or so when she brought them over and set them up on the floor of my living room for three days.

9. I once swam with a barracuda. This was in the Florida Keys, near the end of high school. Without my glasses on I couldn't see what it was, only that it was long and skinny and fairly large, so I was following it around. Then I noticed that everyone else had fled to the other side of the boat...

10. Every year, the place where I work holds an Open House, where we let the general public mob the place. It's supposed to show off what great science we do, so that they'll want to give us more of their tax dollars. But in practice, most of it is a bunch of games and activities for small children. I've done the rounds to all sorts of things, from manning the check-in desk to helping with boat tours to explaining arcane oceanographic equipment. One year I was dressed up as Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants. It was like being a celebrity. Small children loved me, grownups were confused ("is that a cucumber?"), and the DNR boat patrol staff wanted to use me for target practice.

11. I've been on a horse exactly once. (Not counting the merry-go-round live ponies at travelling carnivals and etc.) It didn't much care for my opinions on where we ought to go, and kept trying to run me into low-hanging tree branches. I was sore for a week after that ride.

12. The most fun thing I saw in Hanauma Bay, Hawaii, when I was snorkeling there last spring was a sea cucumber. It looked like a gigantic fat black worm. It was kind of squishy when I prodded it with my foot.

13. In college we were required to take a foreign language, and the language I took was Tibetan. The first year was awesomeness. The instructor was all about an immersion approach, and we learned things in the same order that we would've if it was a first language - first some hearing and speaking, then the alphabet and reading and writing. I also had fun comparing it to Mandarin, as some of the basic words are similar. I remember a lot more of the basic phrases ("what is this/that? this is a table, where is the library" etc.) than I do anything about French, which was three high school years of grammar drills.

The second year got very esoteric, with an instructor who thought we wanted to learn how to read ancient religious texts rather than be passably conversational if we went there. I lost interest and didn't take a fourth semester like I'd originally thought I would. The only thing I learned there was that I have an excellent short-term rote memory. The exams asked us to translate 2-3 passages of Tibetan into English, given 20-45 possible ones that might be on them. The final exam had a ton more passages than the midterm, I think because the instructor didn't understand how I could've possibly passed the midterm, and wanted to make sure I couldn't do it by sheer memory alone. I did.

14. It was in Montana that I learned just how short my physical limits are. Most of us started out the 6-7 week geology field courses in bad physical shape. The difference was that they became fit, while I did not. I reached an early plateau, and thereafter I had to start walking much earlier than everyone else if I wanted any hope of being not so far behind that I couldn't still see the next farthest behind student when they reached the next station. It was the first I'd ever really run into any limits on things I can do if I put my mind to it. Those field courses are a large part of the reason why I dropped geology, though I still love rocks.

15. My favorite subliminal advertising is Wall Drug.

16. Someday I want to do a grand months-long roadtrip all around the continental U.S. I figure I'd go across on 80 or 90, down the west coast, then across again on 20, hitting all the major national parks along the way.

17. I've been to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, and Tijuana in Mexico, and I didn't drink at either of those places. There was plenty of fun to be had by watching other people having fun, and enjoying the company I was with.

18. When I was ten I wanted to be a writer. Then I was supposed to become a world-famous musician (see #1). Then in college I fled from music into science. Then near the end of grad school I lost all will to live for a while, and passion for doing science along with that. Now I'm working a science job (but nothing resembling anything I studied), and I'm back to wanting to be a writer.

19. I've worked at Wendy's, Einstein's Bagels, and a local-run Chinese takeout. Each time I learned all sorts of interesting things about life, the universe, and everything. Everyone (able-bodied) should do some food service at least once in their lives, especially at a well-managed, well-run one, and see what the world looks like from the other side of the counter.

20. For those who may have missed the memo (or joined us after it), I'm in the T part of the LBGTQ spectrum. This is a social birth defect, not a lifestyle choice. I say "social" because we transpeople aren't mentally or physically defective, by and large - but we have some interesting problems trying to interact with other people. I have male body language and male reactions to things, which nobody expects or comprehends out of a female body. People tend to get confused, some decide that I'm somehow being "rude" though they might not be able to pinpoint exactly why (it has to do with body language microcues), and a lot decide it's easier to just stop talking to me. Online I find it much simpler to present myself as male to people who have never known me in real life. (I'd prefer to not have to specify at all, but some people get really weirded out if they don't know. Also, English unfortunately has gendered third person pronouns.)

21. I love food. I'll try almost anything at least once (by "almost" I don't mean things like balut), and will discuss food at great length at the slightest excuse.

22. I used to be really big into Star Trek. Then when that started petering out, I was really big into Stargate. Now that's petering out too, and I'm not big into any particular sci-fi franchise at the moment.

23. Enya's Orinoco Flow (Sail Away), which I first heard while in high school, was the first I knew that there was any kind of music besides classical, pop rock, and country. I was really big into New Age instrumentals for a while (but not Yanni :p). Then at some point I discovered I liked alternative and metal. And that's where I am now, more or less, with my interests mostly for European metal. But I'll listen to just about anything. Even some occasional hiphop.

24. I'm an awful teacher, but an excellent tutor. Standing me up in front of a classroom of 20-30 students is a bad, bad idea. But sit me down with someone who just needs a nudge in their thinking in just the right place, and epiphanies happen. Partly I think it was because the tutee was of the right mindframe by asking for help, and was therefore listening to begin with. But there's still some art involved in knowing not only what to say, but also when to talk and when to wait in silence for the wheels to spin. Most of my tutees only ever came in once, and then I never saw them again - but then their friends all came. ;)

25. Yoga didn't seem like much when it was my mother doing the poses out of an exercise book when I was a kid. Then a year ago a chiropractor ordered me to start going to classes twice a week. Now I think it's awesome. I'm stretching all sorts of muscles I didn't know I had, and even building some new ones (slowly). And I keep trying to talk everyone else into it too. ;)

Hmmmm. It took me all day to come up with all that, even with help from the previous meme. Now I'm going back to not talking much about myself. :p

02 February 2009

A highly technical geek story (or, a farcical tragedy)

Hooking up a printer in XP is supposed to consist of these easy steps:

1. Plug the printer into the computer.
2. Turn on the computer.
3. Turn on the printer.
4. Wait for the computer to fail to autodetect the printer even though it's on a USB port, then go to Control Panel, then Printers, then Add Printer.
5. When the computer asks, insert the CD that came with the printer. (This step may take a while if the CD in question is nowhere near the printer and hasn't been thought of since printer purchase, and is lying in the bottom of a box somewhere.)
6. Wait for the computer to find the printer info on the CD and copy over all files.
7. Print out a test page. Voila.

What actually happened:

Well, we got through step 5 with only a minor bump in the proceedings (when there was much rummaging around the house to find the aforementioned CD, accompanied by rumors that it might've been thrown away, and also a fair amount of angst by the child who most wanted the printer to be working).

Then came Step 6.

I should stop and mention at this point that the XP in question was running in Chinese. I couldn't read a darn thing I was doing, and the friend who could read it wasn't at all computer-savvy and didn't understand everything she read. Also, her English is weak and my Mandarin is weaker. Yay for universal picture icons. :)

Anyway, so there was a bit of a problem when it turned out that the computer was unable to locate all files on the CD. It wanted to find a somethingsomething.dll that didn't exist, in a directory that didn't exist. As usual when dealing with Windows, I quickly gave up trying to look at files via the GUI and went over to DOS, so I could see what all was on the CD. There wasn't a "cht" directory, but there were a number of other three-letter ones that looked like "rus" and "fra" and "dan." Presumably different languages then. So, not knowing what the dll file was for, I found a dll file with the correct name in the dan directory, and told the computer to use that.

Moving on to Step 7! I tried to print something. An error box popped open. It was in ... Danish? o.O

It turns out that most freebie online translators don't do Danish, and the ones that do, don't do it very well. (Or "dan" stands for some other language that isn't immediately obvious.) I think the error was trying to say something about low ink. But I don't know. The printer itself complained that it was out of paper (it wasn't). We didn't get it to print anything. :(

01 February 2009


Most people think of dandelions as a weed plant, but there's nothing like a lush green grassy meadow dotted with these cheery yellow flowers. They're edible, too. They don't grow well down here in the coastal southeastern U.S., alas.