28 January 2010


My quest: To play Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom, a game that came out in 2003 and only runs in Windows. (I blame my brother for the existence of this quest.)

The problem: I only have non-Intel Macs.

The goal: Somehow obtain a computer setup that will run the game, as cheaply as possible.

Not having an Intel Mac, the only possible emulation solution was something called VirtualPC, which nobody recommends. However, Shawn Powers had an extra copy lying around, so he sent it to me in the hopes it would help. Alas, it didn't. T.T (But thank you Shawn for trying. This was a year ago and you've probably forgotten all about it by now...)

The next possible solution was to acquire the cheapest possible Windows-running machine. That plan stopped the whole quest for a while, due to the whole spending money thing. I couldn't quite justify to myself that I should spend a few hundred dollars just to play one game. But then Christmas came around again, I went back to the place that had the game, I succumbed to the temptation to play it, and thus: here we are again.

So I shopped around. And found a $200 Acer Nettop. :) In the picture below, it's the small white box between my iMac and the other monitor (also new, for another $110).

It lacks a whole lot of features that most people would want in a computer, and some friends yelled at me thoroughly about the whole plan. I should save up until I can get something better, some said. Or I should just not spend at all, said others. However, it does what I bought it for and I don't need Windows for anything else, now or in the future, so I'm quite happy with it. Plus I hoard quite well the rest of the time, and will make it just fine to my next move (either a new job or, if I still don't have one when my lease here ends, into the house of some friends who have offered to let me stay rent-free). And who knows, maybe I'll run into other Windows-only games. ;)

22 January 2010

Package of Sachima: The Sequel

At the same time that I received a box of sachima from John the Scientist, a couple friends also received packages: Anne got a box of instant ramen, and Michelle got ...tentacles.

Michelle didn't actually want her tentacles, so she sent them to me (so that I could, in turn, donate them to the nearest poor, unfortunate octopus that had lost its tentacles in a terrible accident). Meanwhile, I drooled over one of the ramen brands that Anne got, which inspired John to send me a whole case of it. Thus: triple loot for me. :)

The tentacles have now been reattached to a deserving octopus by a crack team of vet surgeons. Here he is, all happy to be able to catch his own food again:

(Note: any similarities between this octopus picture and those found by googling "plush octopus" are entirely coincidental.)

The ramen has now been sampled, and indeed it is the brand I remember fondly from 15 years ago. :) And the sachima? I'm down to seven of them (out of an original 24). The taro ones (purple) especially are pretty good, though my favorite are still the plain (yay nostalgia ;) ).

And finally, along with tentacles, Michelle sent me one of her old cameras. Now I can finally show everyone what the screen on the broken one looks like:

It started out as all-white with diagonal cracks. As time has gone on, it's been turning into ovals of white with rainbow stripes. Picture taking is still perfectly possible through the viewfinder, as long as you don't care what the camera chooses to focus on, or the exact composition, or changing the flash function, or any of the other settings, or seeing the results instantly...

21 January 2010

Grade School Science Fairs

When I was in 8th grade (age 14), my school held a science fair. My project was about the growth of mold in four different drinks - milk, orange juice, apple juice, and grape juice - in glass bottles that were both capped and uncapped. These resided on a shelf in my bedroom for a month and the smell was terrible, and also I couldn't drink apple juice or grape juice again for a very long time. And I got a D. >.> Being as I was a child of restaurant owners, and being as I was in a college town where half the other kids had university professors for parents, well, my crappy little handwritten poster just didn't look all that good next to, say, the sophisticated microbiology project with the gigantic professional-looking poster with petri plates in front of it. And my grasp of proper scientific format was nonexistent at the time.

All of which came to mind during my second experience with a grade school science fair, which was today. This time, though, I was one of the judges.

The projects were interesting and varied, and about on the same level as my project probably was. They grew plants, grew mold, tested for conductivity in things, tested for differences between different brands of various products (toilet paper was popular for some reason), and also wrote reports about volcanoes. It was fun seeing what their perspective was on things, when they didn't quite have all the knowledge that you'd expect in the average adult. :)

18 January 2010

A walk in a park

Despite having lived in Savannah for 8 years, and even though I used to drive past it every day, I'd never visited the Skidaway Island State Park until today. When I got up, though, it was sunny and warm (60s F / 18ish C). It's also right after a week of below-freezing nighttime temperatures, which means many fewer bugs. And I wanted to be outside. So ...

Coastal Georgia is basically all salt marshes - think of it as a "floodplain" area as the tide goes in and out. In the park, it was mostly filled with Juncus roemerianus (black needlerush). At the edge of the marsh, the treeline pretty much just starts up suddenly where the highest reaches of saltwater ends.

The standard southeastern maritime forest is fairly open with trees spaced far apart (that is, you can see pretty far into it and it's easy to walk through). The tallest are pines, but there's a variety of deciduous and palm-type trees in the midlevels. Saw palmettos stand out as the main part of the understory. The pines have extra-thick bark and there's lots of pine needle litter, which means fire is a part of the ecology.

Far enough inland away from the saltwater, there are shallow freshwater ponds. Some of which are called "sloughs" (sloo). These are a type of wetland. Also, in places where spanish moss is especially thick, the distant forest can look ghostly silvered.

All in all, I walked about 7 miles and saw every part of every trail (almost... would've gotten the last bit too if my legs hadn't wore out). Skidaway Island State Park isn't that big and can easily be seen all in one day. The trails are all flat and wide (would rate "level 1 difficulty"), but then, coastal Georgia is pretty flat. And it turned out to be a good idea to wear my crocs for the venture because I had to wade through some of it (it rained a lot over the weekend).

Shawn Powers

By now, everyone everywhere has probably heard about Shawn Powers and his family, whose house burned down yesterday. All of their pets died in the fire. Shawn's a friend and fellow UCFer, and much beloved at Linux Journal where he makes many amusing videos.

I can never think of anything to say when things like this happen. But I thought I'd pass along the donation button for people who haven't found it yet.

16 January 2010

Some boxplots about baby fish

It's been a while since I've said anything sciencey here because, well, being laid off from my sciencey day job has kind of drastically reduced (possibly even eliminated) the number of sciencey things I do on a daily basis. However, all is not lost! I can still dig up past sciencey things I've done, such as for my masters thesis. :)

To the right are some pictures of baby fish - five species of Lutjanus snappers that usually live in Florida but had gotten lost in North Carolina at the time they were caught. They were about 1-2 cm long at the time. We caught hundreds of them, mostly L. griseus, during two (non-consecutive) years of sampling with nets. Among other things, we compared their size ranges with each other:

These are box plots. Which is a fun modern statistical way of looking at data besides just getting an average and a standard error or standard deviation (also included, because older scientists who aren't used to fun modern ways prefer to see those there). As you can see, some of them came in bigger than others. :)

This post inspired by Janiece, who is learning about box plots in her statistics class.

11 January 2010

Domestic Excavations: One Year Later

It's now been almost a year since I first started seriously poking through my roomful of old boxes of stuff. A lot has gotten tossed, recycled, or shredded. The harp in one of last year's pictures has been freecycled. Boxes have been emptied, and other boxes have been filled. Stuff has moved into and out of the room from other parts of the apartment. The result so far? I think my stuff is actually multiplying. o.O

At the time I started, I figured it was finally time to unpack everything and settle in. A few months later, however, that turned out to be premature. So while I still unpacked and sorted, I'm also working on repacking it all back up again. Such is the way of my life.

07 January 2010

Taking it down to semantics and definitions

From ABC News:
    Efforts to promote 'transgenderism' in public policy deconstruct one of the most fundamental concepts known to mankind. It renders gender, the most basic organization of social systems, completely meaningless. In doing so, activists like Simpson are asking the rest of society to radically reorder the ways in which the culture makes reasonable and rational accommodation for the two genders," [Monica Schleicher, spokeswoman for Christian group Focus on the Family] said.

There's actually a pretty big difference between gender identity and gender role. When transpeople are talking about the topic, they mean identity. When everyone else does, they usually mean role (as Ms. Schleicher does). This conflation is what causes a lot of confusion and frustration, I think.

06 January 2010


This is a traditional firepot. Or, well, it's actually a huo guo. Which in Mandarin translates as "fire" and "pot" so my family just calls it a firepot. :) It has space for a small charcoal fire in the bottom part, a donut-shaped bowl for food, and a chimney. The bowl is filled with soup (usually pork broth), and the table is set with platters of raw food that get cooked in the soup as the meal goes. Through the chimney is how the fire gets stirred and more charcoal added.

Food items include thinly sliced raw meats, green leafy things like spinach and cabbage, tofu, fish balls, other seafood, and things along those lines. Each eater gets a plate with some soy sauce, sesame oil, and sometimes other sauces (we use a lot of sah tsa, which I have no idea how to describe). The meal ends with putting mei fun into the pot, and a bowl on the chimney to smother the fire (if it hasn't already gone out).

Firepot is what we do for festive occasions (in much the same way that most Americans of the dominant culture have turkey on Thanksgiving). Nowadays, because people are more worried about fire hazards, they make electric versions of the pot or just use fondue pots instead. To me, that's just not the same...