Friday, May 23, 2014

Caturday Post: Packing Kittehs

To safely transport kitties long distance, arrange in large containers well-padded with fluffy towels.  

Do not attempt to prematurely unpack the kitty from the fluffy towels.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sunday, May 18, 2014

On the Evolution of Spirits

Spirits in old China could not pass over large steps or around right angle corners.  This was known.  It was also known to some Europeans that ghosts could not cross running water.

A doorway in Guangzhou, raised to foil spirits.  

Such defenses against spirits beg some questions.  Notably, is it possible to select for spirits that can defeat these defenses?  This seems rather iffy.  For a population of spirits to evolve, several things must be true.
  1. Spirits must be able to reproduce somehow.
  2. There must be variation within the population of spirits.
  3. There must be some advantage gained by being able to circumvent antispirit defenses, such that those who can are more likely to reproduce.
The very first condition, well maybe.  At first blush this would seem unlikely.  Spirits that are not of human origin are generally thought of as not being in the family way, and spirits that are a result of dead humans definitely don't.  However, humans themselves evolve.  It stands to reason that resultant ghosts have changed over time as well.  This also leads directly to point 2.  In that there is variation within the human population, there will also be variation within the resultant ghosts.  And here I am confident in saying that there is also variation within spirits not of human origin.  Chinese imagined spirits are not Irish imagined spirits are not Tanzanian imagined spirits.

 Point 3 actually seems the most unlikely to be true.  What exactly do spirits gain from getting entrance to human domiciles?  It's not like they are going to cease to exist if they don't. The anime answer would be that there are spirits that eat human souls, but I'm not currently enough up on my folklore to venture a guess on whether this is true outside of anime.  And even if it is true, humans can't spend all their time cowering behind spirit defenses unless they are really rich.  Since the really rich are always vastly outnumbered by the really poor,  there will always be easier and less-protected prey.

I actually doubt, considering point 3, that humans are likely to be selecting for defense-resistant spirits. If we are, it is going to be on a significantly smaller scale than the rate at which we are selecting for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antimalarial-resistant malaria.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Caturday Post: A Limerick

Hickory Dickory Doll
The cat ran up the wall
Then saw his error 
And screeched in terror
When he couldn't get down at all.

Our current domicile is cheap and poorly constructed, and the laundry closet has a hole in the wall.  A hole that is accessible to a cat willing to scramble up my heap of boxes and claw through the cardboard over the hole.  A hole that is extremely enticing to a young, healthy cat who has had no entertainment because one human is off at the opera and the other is sick and forgot to lock the child-proof locks on the laundry closet doors.  A hole that is irresistible!  Until he gets up in the ceiling joists and discovers he can't get down.  Whereupon he wails and wails and wails until his human can coax him down by holding a sheet of cardboard up the hole for a landing-spot.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Abductions with Musical Accompaniment: the Utah Opera's Die Entführung aus dem Serail

A night at the opera!  My first such since before Tanzania!  How delightful!  The plans were the best laid, and as such, ganged aft agley, as my lovely sister was stricken sickly and I drove myself the whole way accompanied only by music and guilt.  Nevertheless, the Utah opera was presenting Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and while I fully expected it to be rather sexist and rather racist, because Mozart, I also expected the music to be breathtakingly lovely, because Mozart.

Music-wise, I was not disappointed.  The orchestra was fantastic.  I made friends with a knowledgeable lady sitting beside me who said that the Utah orchestra and opera are now one entity, so we were hearing the Utah Symphony Orchestra.  They played the heart and soul, not to mention the blood and the guts, out of that music.  A thousand bravissimis to the orchestra.  Seriously.  I was swept away from the first notes of one of Mozart's most kick-butt overtures.

I was also swept away by the entrance of the tenor, because he was wearing a really sparkly purple waistcoat and pretty gold shoes.  Between his costume, his sweet voice, and the orchestra, he made Mozart tenor arias not boring!  This is an accomplishment.  Then he stopped singing and I lost some of my enchantment. Entführung is, of course, a singspiel, with lots and lots of spoken dialogue which, presumably for reasons, was rendered into English while the sung pieces remained in German, which made the transition between singing and speaking very jarring indeed.  To make matters worse, throughout the presentation, several of the cast were having projection issues, but since I was close enough to see their mouths moving and just couldn't hear them, the general impression was that they were singing in dubbed-in German.

To continue, Pedrillo, in a nice green, was adequate, but not fabulous.  It seemed as if he wasn't quite fully committed to what he was doing on stage.  He did achieve full commitment and a beautiful moment in act three with his comic serenade, but until then he was rather shown to a disadvantage at having to share with stage with, first, Osmin, and later Blonde.  Osmin was wonderful.  Gustav Andreassen is not only a great bass (with a few projection issues at the beginning, but most of them were having those.  The orchestra was fully committed to their dynamics and the singers couldn't always keep up), he is the sort to dance about doing headslides while gleefully singing about executing people.  He was also in pretty red (stereotypical, but oh well) Turkish-ish robes and pretty red shoes.

The costumes were all rather wonderful, actually, with the notably notable exception of Konstanze's.  It's cake-topper pink poof, with presumably several layers of Crinoline of Doom beneath, and topped with a wig that looked like a toy poodle might have died on her head.

Konstanze, with the head of the Pasha taking up space in the foreground.
The Pasha is struggling to have real facial expressions. 

At least she made up for it by being unable to project in the lower registers and becoming unpleasantly strident in the upper registers.  A lady sitting next to me who is more familiar with the Utah Opera assures me that Celena Shafer is normally quite good and pretty-voiced, and was just having an off night.  Nevertheless, between her vocal failings and her one acting trick of jerkily bending forward with every dramatic phrase (for emotion?) I was not impressed.  It would have been really funny if Konstanze's music in any way supported anything but tragedy and tragic resolve, but it doesn't, and the wonderful wonderful orchestra continued to be fully committed to performing the heart and soul out of the music.  Her scenes with the Pasha just made all her problems worse.  The artistic director, who deserves all credit for having the surname of McBeth, saw fit to cast himself in the strictly spoken role of Pasha Selim, where he demonstrated that for all his directorial prowess, he has almost no personality whatsoever on a stage and attempts to make up for it with a sparkling lavender and gold robe.  Far be it from me to ever discourage a man from standing about in a sparkling lavender and gold robe, but between his standing and and Konstanze's oddly jerky emoting, the tableaux created between them was approximately as compelling as a school of jellyfish with tutus.  Appropriately enough, his entrance was hailed by a chorus whose members all had remarkably bad posture.  Back to complaining about Celena Shafer's Konstanze:  she really bugged me during "Martern Aller Arten," which is a very powerful piece of music that I happen to love, that she performed so very poorly.  She got through it, though noticeably running out of breath at points.  I mean, sure, it's hard, but that's what coloraturas are paid for.  During the final phrases, she was on her knees clutching at the legs of the Pasha.  No.  Just no.  The final phrases are defiant, not supplicatory.  Listen to the music!   This piece is when Konstanze stops being whiny and possibly in love with the Pasha (which is hard to understand with this Pasha) and declares she will die rather than love him.  Any supplicating has to take place in the middle of the aria  and then only when she promises that the Pasha will be rewarded by heaven for having mercy.  When she is declaring that she will suffer torture and die, she should not be draped beseechingly on the Pasha or lying on the floor.  I am officially over her.  Actually, that's a lie.  Later on I ended up being fascinated, because Belmonte gives Konstanze the portrait of her that he has been carrying around with him.  I think to demonstrate how devoted he has been, but she spends the rest of the scene holding onto the portrait, alternately staring at it beatifically and clutching it to her breast.  She is doing this to a portrait of herself.  The unbridled narcissism was inspiring.

Amy Owen, singing Blonde, was significantly more fabulous.  She was great. Her opening aria sounded like she was working a little too hard, but ever after that she had a light and lovely tone.  Where her colleague soprano, was boring if not annoying, she easily held my attention and won my love.  Her Blonde is the type to play on swings, fondle the biceps of the supernumeraries, take off her shoes and dance barefoot, and lecture Osmin while standing on a chair.   Quick, the Shakespeare signal! Someone needs to compare her to a summer's day!  Also, I wish I could make some bilingual pun with "Aupres de ma Blonde" here, but I don't have the language skills.   Anyway, to repeat, she was great.  Especially when Pedrillo and Belmonte demand assurance of faithfulness from women who have been kidnapped by people to whom consent isn't really a thing, Blonde responds by slapping Pedrillo.  That is exactly the response that deserved.  Konstanze just gets mopey.

A slap and indignation is also not how I was expecting a Mozart opera to handle that.  Given the unapologetic misogyny of say, Cosi fan Tutti with regards to faithfulness, I was pleasantly surprised.  While I'm on the subject, Entfuhrung isn't quite as overtly racist as I was expecting either.  I mean, sure, the whole set up is "these evil dark/Islamic people have taken 'our' women" but by and large the Muslims get a fairly fair shake.  As is historically accurate (well, maybe not with the Ottoman Turks, my memory is shaky here, I think I'm actually thinking more the Arab leaders in the Crusades, e.g. Saladin, but probably to Mozart & co, Arabs/Turks/Moors/Persians are a sort of homogeneous conglomerate of Otherness), a Muslim leader demonstrates far better ethics than his European Christian counterparts, and that rather makes up for the icky "let's get the Muslim drunk despite his religion, ha ha ha!" scene.  In fact, Osmin rather transcends all attempts in the libretto to make him look foolish here, though that is mostly because Andreassen is such a phenomenally better actor than his colleagues on stage who are attempting to make him look theatrically foolish.  There is a giant and prominent crescent and star on the gates to the Pasha's garden, which is rather weird, since it's analogous to Christians just building steeples on the roofs of their homes, but meh, it's Utah.

It was a good night at the opera.  It wasn't the level of opera of, say, the Houston Grand Opera, but it was fun and entertaining despite some flaws.  Honestly, it would be worth it just to hear that music performed with such understanding and commitment by that orchestra.  Such music will cover a multitude of sins.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Fibers, Morality of

Politicians in the U.S. have a tendency to engage in slightly overwrought prose about whatever it is they don't like eroding or destroying the moral fiber of the nation.  Dedicated to precise definitions as I am, I asked a very talented seamstress (my mama) what, in her opinion, were the least and most moral fibers.

She replied that any fiber that is made out of liquid that comes out of the ground and used to be a swamp is immoral, while fiber from currently grown plants in non-swamp conditions are moral.  This makes sense, as swamps are creepy places full of mosquitoes, angsty gothic types, and sometimes overly large dogs covered in glow-in-the-dark paint.

So while I am willing to accept that synthetic fibers are immoral while your cottons, linens, and whatever is made from sisal are moral, I do wonder about fibers which are covered with sequins.  Sequins, the cheap kind, are plastic, but I deeply believe that sequins are moral.  On the other hand, I have the moral and aesthetic sensibility of a magpie.

It is also possible that such politicians are referring to fiber in the sense of nutrition.  But I'm not really sure how, even in a society that likes to label foods as good vs bad, fiber can be mapped onto morality.  If you don't eat any, the GI tract will suffer, and if all you eat is fiber, you will die of starvation.  There is a Chinese legend about vermicelli, which is rather fibrous, becoming magically transformed into chains in someone's intestines, helpfully recounted by E.T.C. Warner (and freely downloadable from the Gutenberg Project) thusly:

Sun Hou-tzŭ, the Monkey Sun, the rapid courier, who in a single skip could traverse 108,000 li (36,000 miles), started in pursuit and caught her up, but the astute goddess was clever enough to slip through his fingers. Sun Hou-tzŭ, furious at this setback, went to ask Kuan-yin P’u-sa to come to his aid. She promised to do so. As one may imagine, the furious Page 222race she had had to escape from her enemy had given Shui-mu Niang-niang a good appetite. Exhausted with fatigue, and with an empty stomach, she caught sight of a woman selling vermicelli, who had just prepared two bowls of it and was awaiting customers. Shui-mu Niang-niang went up to her and began to eat the strength-giving food with avidity. No sooner had she eaten half of the vermicelli than it changed in her stomach into iron chains, which wound round her intestines. The end of the chain protruded from her mouth, and the contents of the bowl became another long chain which welded itself to the end which stuck out beyond her lips. The vermicelli-seller was no other than Kuan-yin P’u-sa herself, who had conceived this stratagem as a means of ridding herself of this evil-working goddess. She ordered Sun Hou-tzŭ to take her down a deep well at the foot of a mountain in Hsü-i Hsien and to fasten her securely there. It is there that Shui-mu Niang-niang remains in her liquid prison. The end of the chain is to be seen when the water is low.
That could conceivably be immoral fiber.

Your thoughts, my indefatigable boozers?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Poetry Tuesday: Edna St Vincent Millay

Whereas morning in a jeweled crown
I bit my fingers and was hard to please
Having shook disaster till the fruit fell down
I feel tonight more happy and at ease:
Feet running in the corridors, men quick-
Buckling their sword-belts bumping down the stair,
Challenge, and rattling bridge-chain, and the click
Of hooves on pavement — this will clear the air.
Private this chamber as is has not been
In many a month of muffled hours; almost,
Lulled by the uproar, I could lie serene
And sleep, until all's won, until all's lost,
And the doors' opened and the issue shown,
And I walk forth Hell's mistress . . . or my own.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Unfinished Quests: Prophecy of the Shadow

The first RPG I remember playing was Prophecy of the Shadow.  I spent many hours on this game, exploring forests, fighting monsters, selling treasure for better weaponry, and expanding my vocabulary. 

I admit it: I did feed the felon a bottle of white zinfandel.

The plot line is very standard: you are a mysterious orphan being raised by the local healer.  The world has been falling into disrepair for years now: magic disappearing, the rightful princess disappearing, an unscrupulous regent dealing unscrupulously, prophecies of doom floating around for those in the know, non-humans muscling in on previously human turf, etc, etc,  but everything for you is very ordinary until your master is assassinated and you are left to find your destiny on your own. 

I almost fulfilled my destiny...but I could never find how to finish the game.  Years later, desultory googling about a walkthrough in the hopes of finding out what the ending was supposed to be turned up nothing.  But a few weeks ago I tried again, and found not only a synopsis by another blogger who is blogging through old computer games, but links to DosBox versions of PoS!  Turing bless the internet, and Turing bless DosBox!

I am now on a quest to finish Prophecy of the Shadow and fulfill my destiny!  And I am having a lot of fun playing through this game again.  As in any good RPG, sometimes it takes you a few tries to hack through the creeping ooze:
At least PoS doesn't have mustard jellies (the Baldur's Gate version of ooze on steroids).   On the other hand, there are the PoS equivalent of Beholders, which throw fireballs at you.  I'm working on my strategy with ranged weapons, but honestly the only way I've taken a PoS Beholder down yet is to charge straight in with a great sword and keep reloading until this works.  

I'd forgotten some of the extra touches that make PoS so much fun:
Excuse me, do you sell shrubberies?
I did remember exploiting the poor fight coding: enemies come toward you in a straight line, and if they encounter an obstacle, they will stand and wait on the other side of the obstacle until you move.  I love standing safely on the other side of a bush and slingshotting a bandit! 

We'll see if this time I can finish the game.  Doing so will tie off a frustrating loose end from my early gaming days.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Caturday Post: In Which the World-Conquering Sword Does not Conquer

Tamerlane believes that one day, he will win against his big brother.  Until that day, he gets beaten up a lot.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

White Chocolate and Pineapple Cheesecake

Made pineapple syrup to pour in this, with candied pineapples to decorate.  It's more subtly flavored than I had hoped.  I am not a fan of subtlety in cooking.  Still yummy, though.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Another Technological Solution which is Unbecoming to the 21st Century

Battery operated smoke detectors.  Actually, most smoke detectors.

It is a thing which should be obvious that the more pleasant it is for a user to interact with a device, the more the user will be willing to interact with the device.  Yet this very important device that we want people to interact with and test regularly is infuriatingly obnoxious for the user.  At the very least, the low battery alert should have some sort of 12-24 hour "snooze" button option.  This should be trivial to engineer and takes into account that it is unrealistic both to expect users to have 9v batteries on hand at all times for replacements or to be able to just go buy one at whatever time the battery starts dying.   Having to push a button regularly would be significantly easier than taking the alarm down and removing the battery, and would remind the user that a replacement is needed. Under the current system, completely disabling the alarm is the only realistic response to a dying battery once the beeping stops it's easy to forget about buying a replacement battery.

It is recommended that smoke alarms be tested regularly.  I certainly am not in the habit of doing this.  I tend to forget about the smoke alarms unless I am in the middle of actively being annoyed by them.

The thing is, it is possible to make dealing with a smoke detection system much more interesting now that smart homes are becoming more of a thing.  Though I do hesitate to recommend computerizing all of the things as a way of making consumers more interested in interacting with necessary devices.  Not everyone has the privilege of computer access and literacy and we really don't need computers driving a further class divide.  However, there does need to be some significantly better user interface system for a smoke detector than a beep every 5 minutes that can only be stopped by disabling it or replacing the battery.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Poetry Tuesday: Love Poems for Spring, John Keats Edition

John Keats had the consumption, which I still maintain is the most poetic of all diseases. 

O Blush not so! O blush not so!
Or I shall think you knowing; 
And if you smile the blushing while, 
 Then maidenheads are going.

There's a blush for want, and a blush for shan't,
And a blush for having done it; 
There's a blush for thought, and a blush for nought, 
And a blush for just begun it.

O sigh not so! O sigh not so!
For it sounds of Eve's sweet pippin;
By these loosen'd lips you have tasted the pips 
And fought in an amorous nipping.

Will you play once more at nice-cut-core,
  For it only will last our youth out, 
And we have the prime of the kissing time,   
We have not one sweet tooth out.

There's a sigh for aye, and a sigh for nay,
And a sigh for "I can't bear it!"
O what can be done, shall we stay or run? 
O cut the sweet apple and share it!
~John Keats

Monday, May 5, 2014

Studying Dance

One thing that occasionally frustrates me about dance is that apart from ballet and angsty contemporary pieces, the stages available are largely nightclubs.  Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with nightclubs but I prefer to see art treated with a little more respect than is typical there.  But apparently there is now an academic conference for performative teaching and learning!

A dear friend and teacher of mine is presenting.  I am insanely jealous but I can't think of a better person to do this than a fierce Greek lady who studies folklore and promotes Middle Eastern dance as an expression of cultural identity.  She taught me about the Turkish influence on Greek fire rituals.

There are people in this world who know and understand the effects of the Turkish on Greek fire rituals.   This makes me almost as happy as knowing there is now an academic forum for such people.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Remembering the 'Droids on Star Wars Day

Today is, of course, Star Wars Day.  May the Fourth be with you all, my darling indefatigable boozers.

Remember to spare a thought for the plight of 'droids in that galaxy far far away.  This is something that tends to get dropped from discussion in the extended universe, but 'droids occupy a weird slave niche in the Star Wars universe despite being so heavily anthropomorphized it is not clear what, if anything, is the difference between a 'droid and an organic sentient being.  Without any such questions being raised, 'droids are subject to being forcibly abducted (by Jawas) or reduced to parts by Gamorreans in a weird 'droid house of horrors on Bespin.  'Droids can, through the use of restraining bolts and programming, be quite literally robbed of free will.  R2-D2 can only regain any sort of ability to act freely after he tricks Luke into removing his restraining bolt.  There are 'droids that seem to own themselves and have careers--IG-88 comes to mind--but these would still be subject to the rampant discrimination exhibited at, say, the Mos Eisley cantina.  Though Mos Eisley is a wretched hive of scum and villainy located on a backwater planet, and Bespin isn't exactly the galactic core.  Things may be better in a more cosmopolitan area like Coruscant, but we really never see any 'droids as a significant part of mainstream culture.  The largest role they seem to occupy is in the armed forces of the Rebel Alliance, where they are taken for granted as astromechs, and in one of the Rogue Squadron novels Wedge Antilles casually has his astromech's memory wiped.

One might, with the new information available from episodes 1-3, take the rather nasty state of affairs regarding 'droids as resulting from an anger leftover from any atrocities committed by the 'droid army, but that neglects any thought of whether the army 'droids could act freely in any meaningful sense.  Also, I refuse to seriously consider the new movies as existing, even less so now that Disney has bought the franchise.  I will continue to boycott Disney for their successful lobbying of congress to destroy the integrity of the intellectual property system in order to protect their own back catalog.

While I am bringing the current and local galaxy into this, it's also an interesting reminder that A New Hope was released in the 70s, with legal racial segregation at least very much in recent memory.  As is the case in most Hollywood movies, the cast of Star Wars is mostly white men, so a white human male bartender refusing service to R2-D2 and C-3PO is probably more of an attempt to comment on U.S. culture than an attempt to create an internally consistent reality.