Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fairy Tales and Candles

I am reading a book of fairy tales.  This is an especially good book, because it has tales I haven't read any version of before.  Like the Witches of Ashkelon:

"Long ago, in the city of Ashkelon, the people were plagued by a coven of 80 witches...Not only did [the witches] play nasty tricks, such as turning wine into vinegar, or causing the fire to go out, but they also brought about grave dangers, casting spells that kept the rain from falling, and causing the cows to go dry."
-Babylon, c. fifth century; retold by Harold Schwartz in Leaves From The Garden of Eden 

But part of me keeps stepping outside the story and whispering to myself that truly, science is our "candle in the dark:"   

"For much of our history, we were so fearful of the outside world, with its unpredictable dangers, that we gladly embraced anything that promised to soften or explain away the terror."
-The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan

All of the things that we blamed and tortured other humans for?  Killing them didn't stop bacteria from living their lives, or fires from running out of fuel or oxygen, or weather patterns from shifting over time, or bovine biology from running its course.  

Science has found ways to fight bacteria (although they may learn evolve faster than we can invent).  Science has a pretty good explanation for what fire is, and what affects it.  Science has some beautiful models that may give us a start on weather (see Lorenz attractors, now taught in any decent first course on differential equations, but also light a candle for Lovelace and Babbage and Turing and Hopper, because some mathematics needs computer graphics to drive home the point), and science has made the U.S.A. take safe, endless supplies of milk for granted.  

Science is my candle in the dark.  Nay, not just my candle, but my bonfire, my excited vapor returning to a lower-energy state, my sun and star emitting energy all along the electromagnetic spectrum.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Poetry Tuesday: An Unsuccessful Secrecy Protocol

Since the pillow knows all,
We slept without a pillow.  
Still my reputation
Reaches to the skies
Like a dust storm. 
~Lady Ise

Monday, June 23, 2014

In Which I Lose Versus Chocolate-Covered Cherries

I found a recipe for chocolate-covered cherries at Chocolate Covered Katie, a website which I like but have artistic differences with since I deeply believe that the secret ingredient is butter.  The secret ingredient is always butter.  Fortunately, shortening to butter is a straightforward 1:1 conversion and she gives an alternative to coconut oil and cocoa powder that involves actual chocolate.  

Nonetheless, I ran into problems.  First, getting the pits out of my cherries.  

I've heard devices exist to remove cherry pits.  I have a knife
and my fingers.  

Life is just a bowl of slightly mangled cherries.  

Problem number two came when I realized I have no double boiler, and now I'm wishing I had used a recipe calling for lots of cream that I could melt and then pour over the chocolate.  I'm nervous about melting chocolate directly over a stove.  It's really hard not to burn it.  

I added sugar because unlike the
recipe, my chocolate is unsweetened.

After all that angst about melting chocolate, I succeeded only to have my chocolate sauce be way to sticky to be sauce.  Possibly the adding of the butter was a mistake.  I tried adding milk, got too much in, and turned to my dear friend cornstarch to fix it.  

Despite my completely unfounded belief that cornstarch will fix my problems, the resulting sauce was too thin to really stick to the cherries.  Or I didn't give it long enough to cool first, or something.

Dipping cherries one at a time is just way too much work.  
The result was not so much chocolate covered cherries as cherries with a slight chocolate tinge.

Well, I still have a glass of wine, slightly chocolatey cherries, and the world cup.  It's not that bad a loss.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Facebook Footballing: Doing it Wrong

I try to not be judgmental about how other people use the internet.  There is no One True Path to internetting happily, and I find it's much better for my peace of mind to block people than engage with them, but sometimes, people are just wrong on the internet.

I am currently irritated with the large numbers of people I have noticed on my Facebook feed complaining they don't like the World Cup because they don't understand the offsides rule.  If it was just people that didn't like the World Cup, I don't care.  Americans aren't interested in football or the metric system.  I get it.  If, however, the stated logic for not liking something is a lack of understanding it, I get annoyed when this statement is made on a web application.  If one is connected to the greatest repository of knowledge and cat pictures ever created by humanity, and uses this to complain about ignorance rather than as a remedy, that's just a waste.

I get that looking for credible information on the web is a learned skill.  I am trying not to be judgmental about people who struggle with this skill, because I have been called upon to teach this skill, and utterly failed because I search without thinking about it and don't have any intuitive (or, frankly, intellectual.  I just don't get it.) understanding of what exactly the problems are that many people face.  However, football is kinda the world's most popular sport here, not some esoteric little-known thing that must be assiduously hunted with just the right combination of search terms.    Typing "offsides rule" into any search engine should turn up something useful.  I really can't manage to not be judgy here.  This is not a topic like vaccines or genetically modified crops; there aren't a lot of quacks filling up search results with claims that the offsides rule is doing terrible things to children and something something chemicals.

I realize also that disliking something due to a lack of understanding is a human tradition that I would guess is older than cheese.  Note that cheese has been dated back to at least 7-8000 years ago.  However, we ought to be able to examine our traditions and discard those which are useless (anti-intellectual xenophobia) while continuing to embrace that which is glorious (cheese).

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Caturday Post: Summertime and the Living is Easy

Ophelia, an old kitty who lives with my parents, demonstrates her relaxed approach to life.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Poetry Tuesday: Cicada

Shizukasa ya
iwa ni shimiiru
semi no koe

penetrating the rock
the cicada's voice

I heard no cicadas in Wyoming.  It makes me happy to hear them once again. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Groups (the people kind, not the abstract algebra kind)

School of Doubt posted my question!  To wit, how do I redirect the lamentable tendancy for female students in a lab group to watch/take data while letting the male students do all the setup/building stuff?

I'm just as guilty here as my students.  While a student, I didn't know how to balance myself and my lab partners so that everyone got roughly equal time doing stuff/writing things down.  Now I'm supposed to be the wise teacher, and I still don't know how to do this.  Your experiences or suggestions, gentle readers?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Caturday Post: The Memory of Furniture

When I lived in Houston and adopted my little cat Scaramouche, I had a small metal bookcase.  The kitty quite liked it.  He would sit on the top shelf (I usually left a towel there) and rest his head on my purse.

Kitty in Houston likes his bookshelf with purse pillow.  

Since I moved, a few times, and left the country for a while, that bookcase has been living in my parents' basement.  Since moving back to Atlanta I retrieved it.  Not the prettiest piece of furniture, sure, but portable.  Which is generally higher on my list of furniture priorities anyway.  My sweet little Scaramouche kitten remembers it! I initially had my junk in his spot, so he sat below and sulked until I moved things.  At which point he promptly moved up a shelf and began purring.

All this stuff is in my way.  

This is where I belong.  Now where is the fluffy towel that used to be here?!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Butt-kicking Misogyny: Surely Female PCs in Baldur's Gate Will Only Want to Romance a Paladin-Want-to-Be!

The first step of character creation for all the Baldur's Gate series of computer games:
"Females of the Realms can excel in any area they wish, and are easily the equals of their male counterparts in every skill or respect."

In many respects, Black Isle programmers lived up to this promise.  I always play a female character, and I have greatly enjoyed every Baldur's Gate game I have finished.  

But even in nearly perfect computer games there are bugs, both accidental and deliberate.  Male PCs in Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal original programming (as opposed to add-in mods programmed by fans, of which I am a huge proponent) have three possible romance storylines in the game.  Female PCs have one.  Male PCs, depending on their choices, may romance a dark elf, a fighter/druid, or even impregnate a cleric/mage NPC.  Female PCs may romance the fighter/cleric paladin want-to-be NPC or no one at all.

When time or money ran short, it was the other two planned possible romances for the female PC that got cut.

I am a feminist for many reasons.  One of those reasons is that by the time I'm old, I want to see male and female choices cut equally when things must be cut.  I don't want women taking the bigger cut, and right now, we still are taking the bigger cut.  And things get better not by saying "Oh, well, count your blessings," but by saying, "Things are not equal, and we as human beings can change and do better."  Change in small things as well as big things.

Appendix: For a thoughtful and thorough take on women in games and gaming, you should be watching  Anita Sarkeesian's videos.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Poetry Tuesday: Vaster than Empires, and More Slow

Overquoted, perhaps, but still an excellent poem from Marvell. 

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

        But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

        Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tree Defacement and Other Shenanigans: A Light-Hearted As You Like It

Georgia Shakespeare sometimes does Shakespeare in the Park, in which they show up at a park in Atlanta, sell tickets for low low prices (such as free if you purchase online on the correct day) and perform plays for the masses to the locally gathered masses.

I realize The Globe was much more of a structured structure than park grass, but I like to think this is the scene Shakespeare was writing for anyway.  A group of people chilling with their picnics, giggling at the slapstick comedy.  In this case, As you Like It, in this production, due to the great musical talent of the cast in performing the written in songs, turned into kind of a stupid musical rather than just kind of a stupid play.

This is not a criticism.  As you Like It is largely crowd-pleasing fluff as written, and it was here played as fluff, complete with silly wrestling match in which people fall down humourously.   (It is a constant, universal across time and culture, that humour is when people fall down.  Because humans are rather terrible creatures.  To our credit, however, we generally stop thinking it's funny if someone gets hurt.)  Add some gratuitous mocking of (really bad) love poems and the zeal of the lovelorn poet, shepherds and goatherds with very redneck accents to code them as Rustic and Ignorant folk, and some gender-bending hijinks named Ganymede (and I now understand the homoerotic allusion in that name), and it's a very funny time accompanied by a guitar-bearing page.  Who strummed and frolicked at the same time, I was impressed.

Sure, there is a slightly more serious speech in the play ("All the world's a stage...") but this time around, I was distracted by wondering if the melancholy and irony of Jacques was a prototype for Wilde-style aesthetic melancholy.  It's quite possible, of course, that Shakespeare is laughing at us with some deep passage hidden behind the sex jokes, but meh, he wrote for the masses to laugh.  I'll be a laughing mass.

The evening was lovely.  I am in civilization, it is warm enough in summer to spend an evening outside without discomfort, and my neighbors on the lawn had too much pizza and cake.  Just too much pizza and cake.  I was asked to help them eat it.  'Twas a hardship, but we must all do our part to alleviate the terrible burden of too much food.

I'm so happy I live in Atlanta again.  

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Through the Heart and Hinter Lands of America: A Tale Told in Billboards

The middle states of the U.S. are sometimes referred to as the Heartland.  Presumably this makes them important.  Importance notwithstanding,  Nebraska, Missouri, and southern Illinois are not the most exciting states ever to drive through.  I spent a lot of time reading billboards and thinking about them.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures, because usually by the time I notice a billboard, it's too late to fish out my camera.  My poor indefatigable boozers of readers must rely solely on my descriptions.

  • "Discover the Truth" with a picture of part of the typical evolution picture with a red line through it. Much as I dislike that typical evolution picture, as it reinforces the belief that evolutionary change is a ladder-like process and the top of the ladder is a white man with a CEO haircut, anyone claiming to have The Truth is, I assume, trying to sell me something.  Usually either theology or a conspiracy theory about scary chemicals in food.    
  • "Heaven or Hell, where are you going?"  Nicely reductive and dichotomous cosmology based on fear here. I think I'll let Bill Watterson handle this, as Hobbes has not one, but two geographical responses to the question of going places. 
For the record, I ended that day in Paducah.
  • "1 man + 1 woman=marriage."   Let's see, respect, trust, love, mutually agreeable financial arrangements...nah, none of those aspects of marriage are important enough for a billboard.  Much easier to police number and gender of involved parties. 
  • "Bring back dignity" With a picture of the Confederate battle flag.  First of all, this was in Missouri, which was never part of the Confederacy, so I'm confused about motivation here.  Also, good to know that dignity, which I always thought a matter of personal merit, is dependent on vexillological statements of nationalistic allegiance.  
  • "Why cowboys don't talk much" with a picture of the Wyoming mountains.  In my experience of Wyoming cowboys, they talk quite a lot.  Usually smack.  About people they feel are inferior, which is typically women and the entire population of California. Because eating granola is somehow deeply offensive to cowboys. 
Speaking of Wyoming, the approach to Cheyenne was heralded with billboards informing me Cheyenne possesses 140 restaurants and 2,300 hotel rooms.
In order to not be completely scornful of billboards, I should add that 1 billboard asked me to report instances of human trafficking to a given phone number.  Of course, I'm still not thrilled with that, because the sign offered me no helpful information on what human trafficking in the states is likely to look like, and asking an uneducated populace to report suspicious activity without qualifying education tends to result only in more rampant racial discrimination than before, but it was a gesture, I guess.  Also, it does bring up the point that it's hard to get anything useful, or subtle, onto a billboard, which really calls into question their entire alleged purpose.

On the other hand, I recall billboards in Kampala that stated things such as "would you want someone marrying your child?  Don't do it to someone else's child."  That seems like a good and possibly even convincing use of a billboard.  (And yes, I know that child marriage is bad because a girl is someone, not because she is someone's daughter or sister.  Small steps here.  It's always easier to convince people using an ideology they are already likely to agree with.)

Tell me, have you ever been convinced by a billboard of anything ideological?  Ever? 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Caturday Post: At the End of a Long Journey

I dragged my poor babies through a four day car trip from Wyoming to Georgia.  Scaramouche will be farmed out to the opera now due to his ability to scream for 6 hours at a stretch without experiencing any hoarseness or other vocal distress.  Now, however, they appear to be recovered, and liking their new home, which includes a screened in porch.   A screened in porch is the only thing better than a window.

Tamerlane boldly surveys his new surroundings.  

Scaramouche is happier about the return of his favorite toy than his
new surroundings.  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

There's No Place Like Home

There are green trees, and bushes, and grass, and trees! outside my window.  There are friends who will share aerial fabrics and practice time.  I bought vidalia onions and Georgia peaches today.

I am so happy right now.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Voyage of the Returned Peace Corps: Through the Madness of Nebraska

Quality warning: All photos taken from a moving vehicle. 

I am leaving Wyoming and moving home to Georgia.  Not a moment too soon as internet service to the apartment ran out and I discovered that a neighbor possesses a wireless network charmingly named gRapeVan.  So away!  And Onward!  Through Wyoming, which may have been nice back in the Mesozoic when it was tropical and underwater.  But from the present, 2 views of Mount Elk, not as inspiring as Hokusai.    

Also, some piles of rock that just sit on the landscape in the part of the state that's on the right side of mountains to foster green-ness.

Into Nebraska.  According to the people I text on a regular basis, no one in the states really has a good grasp of where Nebraska is, or any of the states more or less in the middle for that matter.  Because we're Americans.  Americans only learn geography from war, and we have yet to invade Nebraska, though we probably should.  Because all the sameness, sameness, sameness, monotonous.  With quaint farmhouses hiding spider-obsessed cultists behind quaint curtains, guarded by cows.  

Here probably lurk Cthulhu cultists.  
I am clinging to my reason by a thread, but I can feel the spiders, crawling behind my eyelids.  Ia, Cthulhu!  Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!