Sending You Elsewhere

You know how I thought I’d have Written in Stone read in two nights?  Make that three.  Books with actual, real-life science content take longer to read than novels.  Whodathunkit?

So I’m sending you away.  Lockwood, for instance, has a magnificent post up on coffee, trees and rocks, which includes a glorious photo of a gingko clothed in fall color.  And he shows you how to get your nerd on in plywood.  And then you really must make it by Silver Fox’s place, where gorgeous photos illustrate the difficulties of mapping in the wintertime (and yes, dear non-desert readers, our high deserts get quite a lot of snow, believe it or – well, you’ll have no choice but believe it after you’ve seen Silver’s shots).

Need something to vent at?  Something to really get your dander up?  Cujo’s got two: an outrageously funny spanking of AFA’s Bryan “If You Didn’t Kill A Bunch of People, It’s Not Worth a Medal of Honor” Fischer, and a post dissecting the idiocy of the Air Force vis a vis the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.  Still not done?  In case you missed it at PZ’s place, read Johann Hari’s takedown of kosher and halal slaughter.  This, dear Mr. Jeff “Atheists Are Scaring Religious People Away From Skepticism!” Wagg, is exactly why religious claims cannot be shielded from skeptical scrutiny.  To take religious claims on faith just cuz their religious ain’t just bad skepticism, it’s aiding and abetting torture.  Oh, and the next time somebody tries to tell me how meek and mild religion is, I’m going to duct tape them to a chair and force them to read Jerry Coyne’s post on visiting the Palace of the Inquisition (warning: do not read before/during/after any meal).

There.  That should keep you busy whilst I read.  Worthy posts, all, and just what one needs on a cold winter’s night.

Well, those, and the video Lockwood put up on Twitter:

Oh, that takes me back to my Flagstaff days!  My roomie and I used to sit out on our porch on snowy evenings and watch the cars slide down the hill, occasionally placing small bets on just how spectacularly a particular – ah, how shall I say this kindly, um – risk-assessment deficient driver would bite it. 

How I miss those days!  Aside from the snow and ice, o’ course.

Insert Clever Post Title Here

Sorry.  My darling Aunty Flow finally showed up.  Wetware nonfunctional.  But I couldn’t let Halloween end without posting Brian Switek’s awesome cat-o-lantern:



Love it!  Of course, it’s got stiff competition from Silver Fox’s Jack-o-Breccia.  If you haven’t seen Jack yet, you really must go say hi.  Bonus: considering what he’s made of, the neighborhood hooligans might hurt themselves should they try to smash him.  My kind o’ jack!

For those who’ve been waiting patiently all month, Accretionary Wedge #28’s up at Matt’s place.  It’s all tricked out, too – nice Halloween touch, there.

Hopefully, in the next day or so, I can show you what I did with my Halloween before Aunty got nasty.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got permission to post the photos, but everyone was rushed and so I don’t want to put anything definitive up until I’m sure I didn’t shoot something that shouldn’t have been shot.  We were testing the camera in low-light stage conditions, y’see.  Some of them came out brilliantly.  It’ll make you want to go see the musical, only you can’t, because it was the last show.  But there’s more where that comes from, and I might even have sneak peeks, and those of you who don’t live in Seattle will end up wishing you did.

Best thing about today: giving my intrepid companion his All Hallow’s Read.  He’s always doing superbly thoughtful things for me, rescuing me from computer ruin, chauffeuring me around whilst I car shop – it was nice to finally take him by surprise with a little something.  (Why Buildings Fall Down, in case you were wondering – All Hallow’s Read’s about giving a scary book, and, well, that’s grownup scary and interesting.)  Five minutes in a bookstore, people.  That’s all it takes to make someone happy – as long as you go in having a good idea what they might like.  Next Halloween, give your own intrepid companions the gift of a scary book they don’t expect.

Next best thing about today: watching Jesus hand out communion wafers while saying, “Body of me.”  Awesome!

And you, my darlings – what did you do to celebrate the best holiday of the year?

Some Things of Especial Note

Whilst you’re waiting for me to get my arse in gear on the whole Discovery Park geo thing, here’s some lively links to keep you busy.

Callan Bentley’s moving!  He’ll be joining the new American Geophysical Union’s new blog consortium by the end of the month, so watch his space for directions to the new digs.  Congratulations, Callan!

(Ye gods – will we all be assimilated into networks?!)

Our own George W. has a fascinating post up on the powers of 10.  My mind, it is blown!

Marcelo Gleiser explains why science matters.  If you missed it the first few times it made the rounds, don’t dare miss it now.

Carl Zimmer explores where e-Book publishing might take us.  Those who believe writing and reading are dead, take heart!

And (dum-DUM-dum!) Readers Beware!  Which says everything that needs to be said to arrogant asscrunches who think bloggers are unwashed, untrustworthy little pissants sullying the fine reputation of journalism.

Memories

Over at Glacial Till, Ryan has a post up sparkling with excitement – his first trip up Mt. Hood, y’see.  Read it if you haven’t.  His enthusiasm’s contagious, and we can all use some of that.

Sparked some memories, that, and a few realizations.  This threw me a bit:

Nor was I prepared for the decreased amount of oxygen available at 6000 ft above sea level. However, I survived the altitude sickness with nothing worse than a slight head ache. Not bad for my first time at that altitude outside of an airplane.

We’re surrounded by mountains that soar into the 14,000 ft range round here, so it’s easy to forget we actually live closer to sea level.  Where I live in the Seattle metro area, for instance, doesn’t get much above 300 ft.  But I’m surrounded by hills, so it feels higher.

I grew up at high altitude.  The lowest elevation I saw in my young years was 4,000 ft, and I didn’t live below 1200 until I moved from Arizona.  I still have trouble remembering I don’t need to follow the high altitude directions when cooking.  My mind will always be somewhere up there.

And when I think of high altitude, one memory comes to mind.

So this one time, at fall camp, we were kicking it at 9,000 ft, right there on the San Francisco Peaks.  Hated it.  I’m not good at being away from home now, and I was worse then.  I’m stuffed in a cabin with girls I despise, and the food sucks, and it’s fucking cold at night, and if I could’ve turned around and gone home, I would have.  But partway through the week, they took us out on an all-day hike.  It’s when I discovered I didn’t actually hate the Jehovah’s Witness kid in class.  One of the girls had gotten a little sick, y’see, and a small group of us along with one of the adults got separated from the main group while we were clustered around waiting for her to feel well enough to continue on.  We’d planned to meet up at the pre-arranged lunch spot.  But we got a little bit lost.  So no shit, there we were, a handful of kids and a young adult, trying to find our way, traipsing through the trees, knowing we were lost but never worrying much about it.  We kept going up and up and up, and suddenly, the trees were gone.  We’d hit the treeline.  We were right there where we could see and very nearly touch the Arctic part of the Peaks, the elevation where in Arizona (yes, Arizona) you get permafrost and once had glaciers.  We weren’t supposed to be anywhere near there.

We lingered for a bit while the guide got her bearings.  The whole thing had that magical sense of being somewhat forbidden, and unique to us.  The other group wouldn’t get to see this.  And it was thrilling.  So stark, so wild, so high in the sky.

We weren’t even very late for lunch, actually.  We hooked up with the rest of the group shortly afterward, and me and the Jehovah’s Witness kid hung out on a rock together, finding out that we did have things to talk about even though he was a little different.  Well, so was I.  And both of us were kind of on the sidelines for all the crazy camp antics, watching the other kids act like idiots and shaking our heads.  What I’d mistaken for a religious superiority complex was actually just high intelligence, and once I’d found that out, we got on great.

That was also the camping trip where one of the camp guides stopped us in the middle of a beautiful bowl-shaped valley and, just about the time I was admiring the lovely scenery and thinking how very serene it all was, announced we were standing in the center of a caldera.  I.  Freaked.  Out.  I knew caldera meant something like crater (which is what it actually was – she wasn’t hip to the distinctions).  I had a mild volcano phobia.  And all I could do was look around for steam vents and pray the damned volcano would stay dormant until after we’d gotten out of the crater.

Fun times, fun times.

Things improved as the week went along.  They moved my best friend into our cabin to ease my homesickness, and so the other girls had to have their best friends move in, and with double the number of kids packed in there, cold was no longer a problem.  We slept all sandwiched in, piled atop each other like puppies, and after that, the mean girl and I had a certain accord.

We dragged an enormous puffball mushroom back to camp and one of the guides (the really cute one with the earring, which was terribly risque for a man back in the 80s and so awesome to us) bashed it open so we could see the spores blow out in a cloud.

The bad boys found a family of garter snakes one day.  They made the mistake of thrusting them in my face first.  I’ve never had a fear of reptiles, and rather pissed them off when I squealed, “How cute!” and asked to hold one.  They moved on to another group of girls, which elicited the proper screams.

We learned square dancing.  We dug in to some of the very few wild plants around Flagstaff that put out berries that won’t kill you (small, waxy, and nothing to write home about, but exciting because they were wild food).  We built a shelter, and sent up smoke signals, and would’ve built an igloo if there’d been enough snow on the ground.  We watched an educational film about surviving in the wilderness that we all loved because it had a guy dying of a really gruesome sunburn.  We had archery, and I hit the bull’s eye.  We scared away all the local wildlife.  And by the end of the week, I was willing to stay up there the rest of my life.

When the buses disgorged us at the school, my mother was waiting there, holding my much-missed dog, who got so excited when she saw me that she peed down my poor mom’s leg.

Later, my mom and I took a walk in the woods behind our house, where we found an animal skull and a shed snake skin, and I realized I’d just forged a much deeper connection to the natural world.  Not that I hadn’t grown up in it, but I knew things about it now that I’d never known before.

But the one thing out of all that experience that comes back to me over and over again is that glorious moment when we stepped from the tree line and saw tundra, a sight few Arizonans ever see.

No wonder I’ve got a high-altitude attitude.

Cleaning and Creativity

Cleaning day is a very dangerous day.

After taking Silmë for a walk (okay, drive), during which I picked up business cards from my favorite dealer and got reassured I’d made an excellent car-buying choice, I decided it’s time to excavate the house.  And yes, I do mean excavate.  Part of this enterprise involved vacuuming.  My vacuum cleaner didn’t survive the experience.  I’ve known for a while the ol’ motor wasn’t what it used to be, and today, it told me to fuck off while it died.  Well, at least it did that after I’d finished the carpets.  It’s been a good and loyal vacuum for a good many years, and it was just its time.

Then I had to iron my curtains, because when I washed them, they got all wonky.  One looked much longer than the other.  This wasn’t right.

So I’ve been off the intertoobz for a good proportion of the day, and right now all I want to do is put my bed back together and stay in it for a few days.  But there’s an interesting post I felt it necessary to highlight: “How to Trick Yourself Creative.”  It seems people actually study this stuff, and here are some conclusions:

However, in terms of the science, here’s what I can offer:

  • Longer periods of preparation beget longer periods of incubation;
  • When solving linguistic problems (making sense of a given set of information) engaging in tasks with a low cognitive demand is most effective in generating insight during incubation;
    High congitive demand tasks during incubation are not facilitative;
  • When solving creative problems, it seems engaging in a wide information search (during incubation) is most effective; and
  • When a problem has a limited set of solutions, information search may not be facilitative; Incubation most benefits ‘divergent thinking’*, followed by linguistic tasks, followed by visual tasks (like mental rotations)

So I do not want to hear a single fucking snarky comment the next time I am blocked and doing things like building Japanese villages out of toothpicks instead of writing.  That falls under the “tasks with a low cognitive demand” category, m’kay?  And if anybody gives me shit over those endless rambles through Google and reference books, I shall hit them over the head with a rolled-up copy of the above post.  Fair warning.

I’m turning the floor over to you, my darlings.  What do you do when your creativity needs a good boost?

I Miss My Spider

A few weeks ago, a spider came to live on my porch.  It built large and beautiful webs, taking advantage of the porch rail and rafters.  When it rained, the web collected raindrops and became something enchanting:



When it stopped raining, the silvery web against the dark green trees shone as if hundreds of diamonds had flown into it and gotten stuck:



(Arachnophobes: do not go below the fold.)

I come home for lunch.  The spider’s dinner time was apparently the same time, because when I’d step outside for a smoke, it would almost invariably be munching:





I spent an instructive afternoon once watching it rebuild its web from scratch.  Efficient little bugger, shuttling back and forth on the non-sticky threads, carefully arranging all the threads just-so, until a beautiful new orb graced my porch.  Which, alas, I could not photograph because the sun was at the wrong angle and I had no contrast. 

And now, my lovely orb spider is gone.  Dead, moved south for the winter, I don’t know.  But I miss it. 

I’ve noticed, since getting the new camera, that I have a different relationship to the creepy-crawlies in the natural world.  I used to be distinctly uncomfortable around spiders and freak out in the presence of bees.  These days, I’m more willing to get close, hang out, let them do their thing while I observe. And I’ve discovered they’re perfectly okay with that.  They don’t bother me if I don’t bother them (mosquitoes and the annoying flies on Hurricane Ridge excepted).  Not to mention, they do useful things like eat other bugs and pollinate plants.  They have an intriguing evolutionary history, some of them have complex societies, and all of them are quite lovely – if you just take a moment to really look.

Of course, that course of action isn’t recommended for those with severe allergies.

Food for Thought, Food for Disgust

First, the food for thought – a long but interesting post regarding the utility (or not) of religion in society.  Geez, that sounded stodgy.  Let’s try “Celebrity Death Match between Philip Kitcher and Daniel Dennett!!1!11!

There.  Now, doesn’t that sound intriguing?

And here’s the food for disgust:

In a Rage Reduction therapy session, a child is restrained by a therapist – usually a licensed psychologist or social worker – plus one or more assistants. The therapist “activates” a child by yelling, belittling, threatening, relentlessly tickling, bouncing the child’s head, covering his mouth, and painfully knuckling the child’s rib cage and sternum. Such sessions typically go on for two or more hours, until the child is exhausted from struggling and becomes, as one psychologist observed, “a whimpering little puddle.” Children, even teenagers, are then swaddled and given a baby bottle by their adopted mother for “bonding time.”

Can you believe this stupid fucking shit is still done to children?  If you want to get your own rage on, read that whole post.

And a special bonus: if you want to twist any noses today, why not ask a Teabagger why they hate puppies?

In Which I Name My Car

Yeah, so, I’d planned to return to the regular weekday political blogging, maybe put a little something up on science, get back into the flow.  But it took me over an hour to get to work today.  Had to drive the car around looking for an emergency kit for it, right?  And then there was the obligatory drive down Forbes Creek.

After work, it took me two hours to get back home, going by way of Monroe and Gold Bar, whilst Sean and I listened to Epica and yakked about The Ghosts of Cars Past, zombie apocalypses, and other such subjects.

And I could’ve caught up on some political reading between calls at work, but I spent most of my time today browsing steering wheel covers on Amazon and hitting up teh Google for Elvish sites.

You see, I’d decided last night, as I lay abed, that this car needed a name that reflected my Lord of the Rings obsession.  I’d been thinking of her as Silver – not simply because of the color, but because of a line in a Kamelot song: “Shine on silver / From the sky into the night / Gaia shivers / And I need your leading light.”  So, what the hell?  Why not the Elvish word for “silver”?

Because it’s celeb, that’s why.   So what if it’s pronounced “kay-leb” – it still looks like something out of a star stalker magazine.  Poor Professor Tolkien.  He couldn’t have foreseen that indignity to his beautiful language.

Wordlist after wordlist finally led me to the right name: Silmë (seel-may).  Oh, you may laugh.  Go right ahead.  But here’s why: it means “starlight,” and is also the poetic word for “silver” in the Quenya (ancient Elvish) tongue.  It satisfies my desire for a name meaning “silver” in one of Tolkien’s languages.  So there we are.  Silmë. 

That’s her name. 

Now if only they made LOTR steering wheel covers…

She’s My Girl

And I love her:



(Click for clearer image.  Don’t ask me why Blogger’s suddenly decided to display sub-par crap in the post proper.)

Credits:

Toyota of Kirkland ensured I got the car I wanted at the price I wanted.  Barry Glenn, my outstanding State Farm agent, made sure financing was available and, as always, did a brilliant job setting me up with the right policy.  Chris saw to it that I had the right info.  And, vitally, my intrepid companion chauffeured me around and waited in dealerships without complaint. Thanks, guys!

Apologies to my favorite dealer.  I wanted to buy a car from him.  He didn’t have this car.  But if any of you are in the market for an extremely sweet Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, or indeed a Hyundai of any description, call Hyundai of Seattle and ask for Peter.  You’ll not only get an excellent car, you’ll get some of the best customer service in the industry at a price that will leave you very pleased indeed.

Regular blogging will resume tomorrow night.  But don’t be surprised if there’s the occasional gush over how amazed I am that I own a car this sweet.  ;-)

Car Shopping Day is a Very Dangerous Day II

Always take your test drive on a long and winding road, preferably with hills, so you can truly get a feel for the car.  This is something I learned today, and it has led to the new car being knocked from the short list.  Its performance was okay, but failed to knock my socks off.  Besides, it didn’t have any air conditioning.  When a car’s going to end up traveling to Arizona, this is a serious drawback.

If I’d had the money for a higher-end model, circumstances would probably be otherwise.  That manufacturer is making some sweet machines.

I shan’t be getting a brand new Nissan, as the dealership is asking prices that made me laugh.  They also played the “let me talk to the sales manager” gambit, which doesn’t go over well with me.

So it’s down to a celebrity death match between the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V being sold by my favorite dealer, and the Honda Civic LX-S being sold by the other guys.  I wish the Civic was at my favorite dealer’s lot.  Sigh.  But I suppose my choice will depend on how I feel in the morning.  My intrepid companion came along for the day’s car shopping adventures, and likes the Sentra quite a lot.  Lumbar support, you see.

Yes, in a Sentra.  This is one that had upgrades.  Many.  Upgrades.  One of which would be getting torn out of the trunk at my earliest convenience if I buy that car – what the fuck do I need a subwoofer for?  We’d be keeping the moon roof and the superb

Either way, my decision shall be made tomorrow.  And you lot won’t have to suffer me babbling about this experience any longer.

Chris shall probably groan when he learns I’m buying one of the used cars on his “don’t buy used if you can help it” list, but financial circumstances mean I either go used, go without, or go with a car I’m not thrilled by.  Considering how long I intend to keep this vehicle, I need to be thrilled.  Possibly even ecstatic.

We’ll just see how thrilled the guys with the Civic are when I tell them how much I want to pay for it.  Hee.