Dana’s Gift Emporium for the Terminally Late and Non-Shopaholic

Right. Crap. Christmas and/or other midwinter holiday requiring giftage. There’s very little time left to get that special someone a little something, isn’t there? Suppose I’d best boot the Dojo to another day and get on it, then.

If, like me, you’re teh suck at this whole shopping thing, hopefully the links contained herein will offer a bit o’ the old inspiration and assistance. Even if you do have to give someone a card saying, “I ordered your gift late, so you get to open this card first.”

What if you’re buying for someone you’re obligated to buy for but don’t really like? Oh, just wait. Got that covered, too!

Science Gifties

Evelyn Mervine has the definitive list of gift ideas for geologists, by geologists. You’re sure to find something good here, but in case you need more ideas, Agile has also got some suggestions.

I’d like to plug Edmund Scientifics, because when that whole uproar started over gendered science kits, even though they weren’t the main offenders, they responded by doing the right thing and ending the gender segregation. Check them out for a little something for the Young Scientist on your list. They have a remote-controlled flying shark on the front page right now. How awesome is that?

Rocks In a Hard Place offers some fabulous items for the geologist on your list, and comes recommended by Garry Hayes. Their front page alone made me scream with joy. They’ve got fluorescent bloody minerals, and really, who doesn’t want fluorescent bloody minerals?

Also, there’s Mini Me Geology, which has some adorable options, and there’s that Austin Powers reference in the name, which makes them all the more awesome. Plus, Rock Detective kits. Seriously, where was that shit when I was growing up?! Recommended by Kate from Iowa.

Do you know someone who doesn’t own Brian Switek’s Written in Stone yet? Remedy that immediately!

And, this may not exist yet, but what an idea:

Surely this should be on every geologist's christmas wishlist? I want one. via @ http://t.co/bCa3MahU
Dr Rebecca Williams

Here’s a one-stop shop for the geek on your list from Double X Science.

For Those Less-Than-Loved Ones

Our own Stephanie Zvan uncovered a treasure trove of ideas for those obligatory gifts you must present to people you’d rather not buy a gift for, and will present with a present only because social niceties demand you do so. Even if you haven’t got one of those people in your life, read the post – it’s good for a belly laugh.

Charitable Works

Speaking of belly laughs, bust your gut laughing and find some good causes to give to at The Bloggess, where The James Garfield Christmas (And Hanukah) Miracle Returns. Sort of. This also ties in beautifully with the begrudging gift category. See Miracle #3.

And the JAYFK is having its Holiday Vaccine Drive. This is a fabulous thing – you can, for not much money, potentially vaccinate an entire village. We wish each other good health every season. Why not do more than wish?

Too Poor For Awesome Gifts

Are you kidding? Srsly? You can afford whole worlds!

Sign at Powell's Books

Doesn’t even have to be a new book – plenty of beautiful stuff at used bookstores at a great price. Doesn’t even have to be a physical book – get an ebook for those with ereaders, and you can afford even more!

But if you’re super-amazing poor, don’t forget the greatest toys of all time, which often don’t cost a thing. Give a copy of that post along with the toy, and you might make it out alive.

And always, always, remember the love. Give plenty o’ that, and get plenty back, my darlings!

Trek Into the Past

So. Star Trek turned 45 last Thursday. Wow.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I lost my Star Trek innocence. I wasn’t much of a sci-fi fan as a teenager, especially not the teevee shows. I loved Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica and… that was just about it. I truly believed most of those shows were horribly corny, with awful special effects and atrocious writing. I was above all that. I would never ever in my entire life become a Star Trek fan. Star Trek fans were pathetic and weird.

Ah, youth. So full of certainty and so full of shit.

Then my friend Ryan spent a few days with us on his summer break from college. This happened at the same time they’d started releasing Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS. Yes, I am dating myself. Shut up. Anyway, Ryan saw these while we were at Wal-Mart one afternoon and snapped them up with evident glee. His little face just glowed. And he assumed that I, of course, would watch them with him.

“No,” I said. “I hate Star Trek.”

His face. So shocked. He pitched. He pleaded. He cajoled. He seemed to give up in the face of my continued refusal. I should’ve known better. Ryan was a man who could hear the word no, but not when it came to entertainment he believed in. And he could be a devious little bastard.

He also knew me very well. Since he was staying at my place with a herd of other friends, he had easy access to both me and backup. So at 8 in the ay-em, when I was still dead unconscious, he came into my bedroom. “We’re gonna watch Star Trek.”

I think I meant to say something like, “That’s nice, dear. I’m going to continue sleeping,” but what I really said was, “Groan.”

He started in on a let’s-watch-Star-Trek-together sales pitch, ending with, “C’mon. Just one.”

“If you want me to watch Star Trek,” I said, “you’ll have to carry me out there.”

And so he did. He scooped me right out of bed. He’s not the strongest man in the universe, but he was determined. Picture him staggering through my chaotic bedroom, trying to avoid tripping over debris, navigating hazards, while I watched the approaching door with the certainty that I was about to have my head cracked open upon it, if he didn’t fall and squish me first. I was about to die because a friend wanted me to watch Star Trek.

We made it to the living room with only minor bruising. He deposited me in front of the television whilst the other houseguests laughed and roared their approval. Ryan may not have been a strong man, but he was a smart man. He stuffed a Coke in my hand, knowing that at this hour and so equipped, I wouldn’t have the will to move for at least an hour, and an hour was all he needed. Then he turned on the telly.

The episode, for those interested, was “The Naked Now.” Yeah. If you know it, you’re already laughing.

By the end of that hour, I was hooked. By the end of summer, I was a full-on fan. I became an officer in our local fan club. I dressed as Deanna Troi for Ryan’s next visit (which didn’t shock him half so much as the fact that I was wearing makeup). I loved the friend who constantly wore his starship captain’s uniform, and didn’t think it at all weird that he’d spent months figuring out how to say, “Take your ticket and get on the damned boat” in Klingon. He worked for a boat rental company, it made perfect sense.

I owned the Enterprise’s manual. I wrote Star Trek fan fic. I read the books (and to this day, Q-in-Law is one of my favorite reading experiences. Read it. You’ll laugh). I watched all the movies. And I discovered a wealth of stories I hadn’t even known existed.

Star Trek taught me that sci-fi could be awesome, even in the television industry, even when the special effects weren’t all that. It taught me that this genre could tell amazing stories.

I rather drifted away after those halcyon early years of passion. I no longer read the books or write the fan fic. I don’t belong to a fan group, or keep up on the new spinoffs, or even all of the movies. But I haven’t stopped loving Star Trek.

I’ll always want my tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

I’ll always want to see them boldly going where no show has gone before, even if I’m not along for every voyage.


Equality is Beautiful

New York State is celebrating marriage equality, and it’s beautiful.

Niagara Falls by @LanceBass

Governor Cuomo wholeheartedly declared July 24 as a day to commemorate marriage equality, which gives us even more to celebrate aside from the marriages of a lot of very happy couples.  If you really want your heart warmed, click here to see Phyllis Siegal and Connie Kopelov right after they tied the knot.  The Salt Lake Tribune has a huge gallery.  And the Digital Cuttlefish has written a poem especially for the occasion: “My Marriage is Gay Today.”  At least one hetero marriage has been changed by all this gay marrying!

By the time I, like Phyllis and Connie, am a white-haired old lady, I hope that every state has allowed same-sex couples to suffer matrimony like the rest of us get married, and that the idea that the United States once was a place where people who loved each other couldn’t marry simply because of similar genitalia is as unbelievable to the youngsters as the idea of Jim Crow and bans on interracial marriages.

I think this calls for a song.

(And yes, I’ll have Los Links up later today. I’m horribly behind, but they’re coming.)

Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Click the link for his “The Other America” Speech.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Don’t go silent.  

On this day, we remember the power of dreams.  We remember the power of a great many good people all coming together for a just cause.  And we remember that the right words, symbolic actions, and a refusal to back down from demands for justice can remake the world.

Thank you, Dr. King. 

Christmas Rocks

In more ways than one.  For instance, I’m not at work.  Woot!

By the time you read this, it’ll be Boxing Day, so Happy Boxing Day!  That holiday always confused me as a kid.  I had no idea why there would be a special holiday for beating people up.  Then I found out it was an extra holiday lucky people in Britain and other such countries celebrated that had nothing to do with boxing, and I think this is where my anglophile tendencies began, because who wouldn’t want an extra holiday right after Christmas?  Even if it did have a funny name.

In fact, it seems no one’s quite sure why it’s actually called Boxing Day.  Who cares?  There’s sales on – reason enough to celebrate!

We have rather more luck with Christmas, where the name is obvious and the seasonal celebrations easily traceable.  Hudson Valley Geologist Steve Schimmrich has a good primer up on all that.  And Doctor Science points out that no, in fact, Christ is not the “reason for the season,” as so many fundies like to pretend (h/t).  And it wasn’t a foundational holiday for early Americans, either.  Our own national hero George Washington saw it as a prime time to launch a sneak attack, as the colonists who would become Americans didn’t celebrate Christmas but Germans did.  Isn’t there something in Sun Tzu about taking advantage of enemies’ hangovers?  I’m sure there must be.

Retailers would have us believe it’s all about buying shit, and giving and receiving gifties is awesome, but Doctor Science has some of the other reasons us secular types enjoy a good midwinter celebration:

To have a green tree in the house, filled with light, in the darkest and coldest time of year, as we feel the year turn from old to new — how can that not be numinous? When we decorate with green branches and red berries, this isn’t from Christian iconography —

“I remember hearing,” said Susan distantly, “that the idea of the Hogfather wearing a red and white outfit was invented quite recently.” NO. IT WAS REMEMBERED.

(from Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett). The rising of the sun and the running of the deer, seeing our families and having enough to eat: all of these things are worth celebrating. Such celebrations don’t have to be either secular or religious, in the usual sense: they are pagan in the sense of “rustic, countrified, what the common people do”. Human, in other words. 

Good reasons all.  And I’m not fussed about what our midwinter celebrations are called.  “Christmas” is a decent enough shorthand for all those midwinter celebrations.  But next year, I might start popping off with “Happy Boxing Day!” just to see how many Americans have no idea what I’m talking about.

But all of that’s just a long lead-up to what we’re really here for: the presents!  And thanks to our geobloggers, Christmas this year rocks!

Follow me after the jump for ye delights.

Let’s start with a sing-song, shall we?  Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous was kind enough not to actually sing the 12 Geological Days of Christmas, but he’s got the lyrics and we can carry the tune:

The words below are sung to the obvious tune, and (mostly) just about scans – although my festive gift to you is not to post anything resembling audio of me trying to sing it myself.

On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
2 concordant zircons
…and an APWP.

Enjoy all twelve!

And here’s another traditional carol, courtesy of Lockwood: “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie:”

Now we’ve got the music going, we can haz gifties!

Silver Fox sends us Xmas Greetings from Nevada:

Many more pretty pitchoors where that came from, o’ course!

Garry Hayes sends us a postcard from the edge!  The Christmas Gift: Storm Passes in the Grand Canyon.

Mmmm, home!  Love the stormlight in Arizona.  Love love love!

Erik Klemetti gave us his gift early.  Dr. Adam Kent answers your questions about Mt. Hood (and more):

Afters months of waiting, I have finally been able to get my act together enough to post the answers to questions you posed to Dr. Adam Kent. If you remember back to the beginning of the fall, Dr. Kent and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Geosciences about the nature of magma mixing and eruptions at Mt. Hood in Oregon. You sent in questions and now you get some answers. Enjoy!

Suvrat Kher has Recommended Holiday Reading:

A passage from Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883

(And yes, I’m gonna be mean and make you go to the link for your giftie!  Those of you who haven’t read the book yet may want to reconsider after reading it – I had no idea Krakatoa had so much to offer, and I’ve been eyeballing it for years now!  Might be getting meself a little Boxing Day giftie, in fact…)

Finally, we come to the huge package that’s been looming under the tree.  You know, the one that screams ZOMG OPEN MEEE!!! but everybody’s made you save for last because it’s that freakin’ awesome.  Callan Bentley went out and got us a fantastic Serpentite and Melange!

That is an AMAZING thing to see — tectonically-rounded blocks of serpentinite, surrounded by a sheared-out, foliated paste of crushed serpentinite. That is a serpentinite mélange. Look at the way the foliation wraps around these lone survivors, like native prairie grasses swishing around the last two bison in South Dakota:

There are so many drop-dead gorgeous photos in there, so much astounding geology, I didn’t even know what to filch.  Twas the bison simile that did it!  ZOMG, Callan, thankyouthankyouTHANKYOU!

And thank all of you: my wonderful geobloggers, my science and political and melange bloggers, my Tweeps, my friends, family, and cat, and you, my dear, my cherished, my raison d’etre readers!  I love you all to pieces.  Happy hollydaze to you!


Merry Kittehmas!  Or Cephalopodmas or Squidmas – really, you can choose any animal you like!

Gifts May Be Late – Kitteh’s Got Dem

This was the scene as I tried to wrap and pack my parents’ Christmas gifts.  She’s sleeping on the shot glasses.  How that can be comfortable, I don’t know and don’t necessarily want to ask.

Eventually wrestled them away.  But I’ve had to leave the green tissue, which she decided the instant I removed it from the box was the most awesome Christmas gift my mother’s ever sent her.

I Got Paper!  Ana Box!

She is, at this moment, sleeping on the green tissue once again.  Eventually, my living room is going to be filled with tissue, boxes, and other odd bits of packing material that my feline has decided make her life worth living.

So this is Kittehmas.  Ai hopes u can haz wunderfull wun!

A Special Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais

Happy Yule, my darlings!  Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, or whatever other midwinter festival, I hope you’re having a blast.

And here, courtesy of Ricky Gervais, is a nice bit of ammunition for all of those relations who might be giving you guff for being an atheist at this time o’ year (h/t):

Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution – a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us – with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

Haven’t lacked in the reasons for living department myself.  If I want transcendence, I can wander off into the mountains and soak some right up.  A nice waterfall’s quite enough cathedral for me.  Communing with the universe via Hubble isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon, either.  Crack open a book on science, and I have all of the wonder I need to sustain my soul for a good long while.

And I do believe that’s where all of those friends and relatives who give us atheists the old pitying stare and the firm lecture have an abject failure of imagination: they can’t imagine how a universe without god can possibly be enough.  I say the universe doesn’t need a god.  Gods are surplus to requirements.  It’s already got an embarrassment of riches.  Gods just get in the way.  The stories about them are fun, true, and I do enjoy a good myth, but as an explanation for how the universe really works, myths are poor substitutes for the real truth.  I’ve never yet come across a myth that astonishes me half so much as what physics has revealed.  The natural wonders around me don’t need a god to make them wonderful: geology, chemistry, physics and biology have done a good enough job of that – far better, in fact.  The stuff we humans make up isn’t a patch on the breadth, depth, and astonishing underlying simplicity of reality.  

As a bonus, science doesn’t require me to go sit in a church on Sunday mornings and condemn the unbelievers to hell.

For some people, I suppose, the world is not enough.  Something in their wiring requires a deity to make them feel like their life has meaning.  Sometimes, I wish I understood why.  I used to, until I gave up on the god thing and realized how very unnecessary that had been.  I suppose I used to have the same fear of falling that so many others do – felt if I didn’t have a god there whipping me, I might stray from the straight and narrow.  But morality hasn’t been a problem.  The opposite, in fact.  Morality’s easier when it just comes down to us.  We’ve got to treat each other well, help each other out, because we’re all we’ve got.  There’s no one coming down from Calvary to save us.  We’ve got to do it ourselves.  So unfold the hands, roll up the sleeves, and get to work.

We haven’t got dominion over the Earth.  We’re residents, and if we tear the place up, well, we haven’t got anywhere else to go, so best take care of it.  That includes our fellow creatures, who support our lives here in ways we’re only just beginning to understand.  Ecology is a crazily interconnected thing.  If you think that story about a missing horseshoe nail causing a war to be lost is a good proverb about the importance of the small details, well, you might want to have a look at what happens when something so seemingly inconsequential as an insect is removed from the food web.  Even bacteria matter far more than we might have cared to admit. 

Thing is, I can see those things, now that I’m not worried about the afterlife and all.  Far from contracting, my worldview has expanded since getting rid of gods.  Anyone else experienced the same thing?  Anyone else found a universe of possibility opening up before them once they’d taken the god-goggles off?  Wonderful, isn’t it?

And like Ricky said, I no longer need a reason for my existence.  I know, roughly, why I’m here: there’s a whole story of evolution and reproductive biology behind that, a history of contingency and coincidence and one damned thing after another that led to the person typing this.  I don’t need any more reason than that.  It doesn’t concern me.  It’s an inane question, really, asking why I exist and not some other combination of genetic material, what reason I was put on this earth – I’ve come to find out that not everything needs the kind of reason religious people mean.  I’m here.  The important question is, what am I going to do now I’m here?  And that I get to decide for myself.  There’s no one set path I must follow.  I can explore, let my imagination lead me around by the nose, let curiosity drag me from one adventure to the next, without ever worrying whether it’s the right thing to do.  “An it harm none, do what ye will.”  I have filched that from Wicca and live by it daily, happily.

Do I feel like I’m missing something?  Yes, all the time.  I’m missing those years I wasted chasing after religion when I could have been chasing after science instead.  Aside from that, no.  There are no gaping holes left in my life, no god-shaped gap demanding to be filled.  I can’t even imagine wanting a god to worship anymore.  I’m filled to overflowing with the wonders of the universe: there’s no more I desire.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  A bank account full enough to live off of for the rest of my life wouldn’t go amiss.  More time to explore the universe, then, you see!  But that’s just a fancy, nothing more.

So sorry to disappoint those fundies who love to dream and tell tall stories about those sad, crying, empty atheists who sit around miserable and alone at Christmas.  The reality’s quite different.  Oh, chances are, I am alone – but that’s not because I’m an atheist, it’s because I’m a writer whose family lives out of state, and hence I can plead inability to get time off work and money for travel in order to squeeze out a little extra time with ye olde scribbling.  Blissful, that.  So yes, fundies, there’s one consolation for you: I’m alone.  But sad, crying and empty, I am not.  How can I be?  There’s too much wonder in the world for me to ever be miserable for long.

My darlings, atheists and believers and all in between, I do hope you’re putting this holiday to great good use.  There’s food, family, friends, fun and loot to be had.  Whatever your reason for the season, just pause for a moment to reflect on how many reasons we have for living.  There are so many, great and small, that we’d be here well into the new year before I got done listing them all.

Here’s to you, and here’s to life, and here’s to another shopping season successfully survived!