Friday, October 31, 2008

Keen!

Mad Scientist's alphabet blocks!

Instead of A for apple, we have:

A - Appendages
B - Bioengineering
C - Caffeine
D - Dirigible
E - Experiment

Hat tip Violins and Starships.

Politics

Courtesy of the Common Room, the best campaign viral video (with bonus cute school kids):



"Obama on the left, McCain on the right,
We can talk all night and you vote as you like!"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Supply-side economics

I don't enjoy steampunk. I don't think it's hip, or cool, or entertaining, or pretty. I don't like the stories, I don't like the clothes, I don't like the clever detritus of modern conveniences made over to look like antiques with a SF twist. It's just not my thing.

However. A lot of people are enamoured of it right now, and many of them are authors. That means they're writing a lot of steampunk. They're writing stuff they want to write, and certainly a lot of people also want to read it; I don't have a problem with that.

But a lot of the non-vampire/werewolf/shaman fantasy and science fiction out there is now steampunk. There's way less stuff I want to read, way less stuff I want to buy. And I buy a respectable number of books a year, mostly new, mostly hardbacks.

I guess I'll have more money for yarn.

Costumes

I've never been big on wearing costumes, whether for Halloween or other purpose. I had trouble coming up with ideas, I had low self-esteem, and as I put it so often, "It's so much work being me, I can't imagine trying to be somebody else." I've done some half-hearted stuff with bits and bobs, like dressing as a pirate (mostly my normal clothes, a gold hoop earring and kid's dress-up hat).

I've also been troubled by the trend toward overtly sexy Halloween costumes for women--a trend that has driven most non-sexy women's costumes out of the marketplace. The most fun costumes I've ever enjoyed (on myself and others) were the costumes at Halloween party with a theme: geology. I went dressed all in blue, and told people I was a diamond (as I was the hostess's best friend, and a girl's best friend is a diamond). One group of four had on matching t-shirts, each with a couple of letters of the word Gonawonaland on it. When asked what they were, they'd stand together for a moment so you could read the word, then walk apart from each other. They were Continental Drift! Cleverness wins over sexy every time.

We have a terrific Halloween party at my office every year. Some of the adults dress in costume, and everybody who has kids brings them in for the party--cookies, punch, goody bags. And we each have a bowl of candy at our desk, so the kids trick-or-treat all around the office. This year one of my co-workers (who dresses up every year) strongly encouraged me to wear a costume she knows I already have, a Ren Faire Italian-ish outfit--so I said I would. As part of it I've spent a few evenings this week handsewing a pillbox hat out of red silk trimmed with black and silver braided cording, which was fun and challenging because I didn't have a pillbox hat form handy and had to come up with a frame on my own out of interfacing and jewelry wire.

Last night as I was trying to get to sleep for some reason the floodgates opened! I came up with a bunch of ideas for easy costumes, mostly with stuff I had around the house (e.g., a beret, a stuffed dragon). I've listed them below, feel free to use them. Most are good for either kids or grownups, men and women, and most can be as modest or sexy as you want, depending on how you carry them out.

- Tourist. Hawaiian shirt (get one from Goodwill if you don't already have one), shorts, knee-high black socks and black shoes, a big camera on a strap around your neck, sunglasses perched on a silly straw hat. For extra points dab some zinc oxide on your nose, and add a fabric flower lei if you've got one (we do). Edited to add: Obviously, this costume wouldn't work for Jay Lake.

- Spider or trapped in a spider web. Package of soft, spreadable spider webbing (easily available at this time of year for decorating), mini plastic spiders (toy store). Wear all black, spread the webbing around your body like a shawl or tunic, sprinkle with spiders. Alternatively cut an hourglass out of red paper and pin to your torso: you're a black widow spider.

- Art work. Take a small picture frame and pin to your clothes somewhere; add a big award ribbon if you can find it. Tell people you're a piece of art.

- Artist. A beret, the award ribbon above, and a kerchief around your neck. Draw on a pencil mustache.

- Missionary. Wear a suit, carry a bible or a Watchtower magazine. Works best if you rarely dress like this!

- Sir Isaac Newton. Dress as usual, carry an apple. Pin a small note written with "Gravity?" to the apple.

- Dragonslayer. Carry around a kid's toy sword and a stuffed dragon. Explain you've just killed this dragon and you're looking for the dragon's treasure.

- Mardi Gras party-er. Dress a little trashed (jeans and a ripped t-shirt? shiny disco clothes?) and add as many strings of Mardi Gras beads as you can find. Carry a plastic cup like the ones they use at keggers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hearing out of balance

One of my hidden disabilities is vertigo--not fear of heights, but a balance disorder. I am subject to occasional bouts of dizziness and poor balance. I first noticed them after a cruise trip to Mexico; my "sea legs" didn't go away for months after we got back. Over ten years later I suffered a serious case of vertigo that lasted about six months, waking in the night with the room spinning around me, unable to walk without weaving from side to side and bumping into chairs and walls, and constantly nauseated. After a clean exam (including MRI, after which I went around declaring I was brain tumor free), a neurologist finally performed an outpatient procedure that cleared up most of the symptoms. They return in milder form whenever I have a head cold (congestion in my ears) or am overtired for more than a couple of weeks.

Today's New York Times has an article discussing the new importance of the vestibular system and its associated disorders. Here's my extended seasickness:

One such syndrome is mal de debarquement, in which people who have spent time aboard a ship, plane or other moving vehicle still feel that they are rocking, dipping and swaying long after they’ve returned to solid ground.

The syndrome has become more prominent given the popularity of cruiseliner vacations, and though most episodes are mild and short-lived, severe cases can last months to years and be accompanied by what sufferers call a brain fog, a sense of cognitive slowing so debilitating that they may end up with careers, relationships, lives in ruin.


And here's what it feels like when I have a return of the mild version of vertigo:

If the brain couldn’t distinguish between movements of the viewer and movements of the view, if every time you turned around or walked across the room the scenery appeared to smear or the walls to lurch your way, you soon might cease to move at all, uncertain of external threats, unaided by any internal compass marked You.

Thinking about this week

What I'm thinking about this week:

Delta Joe's post on a logical fallacy:

One of my favorite Richard Feynman quotes: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

That means we don’t believe Einstein because he was smart, but because we can check his math.


What works, and how we check that it works, are far more important than having the right credential, whether that credential is a familiar name or a degree or even experience in the field.

Kelley Eskridge on the fallacy of child prodigy:

our cultural bias toward the prodigy model of creativity denies many, many potentially good or great or genius artists the chance to reach their peak — simply because we are not willing to be patient. Gladwell cites the music and publishing industries: if a first album doesn’t sell well, the band is seen as not commercially viable; if a first novel doesn’t do well, people assume that the writer is a bad writer, not that this novel didn’t work. And that’s the fallacy in a nutshell: if the first product of an artist is not A Work Of Staggering Fucking Genius, then the artist isn’t a Real Artist after all.

This attitude kills artists.


She goes on to discuss how her lifetime of curiosity and exploration affects her art (which is writing). The gestalt of my life feeds my art.

Nicola Griffith comments on a study about treating addiction with food:

Basically, when we're in withdrawal from heroin/nicotine/gambling/crack we get low on glutamine, a precursor of GABA. It's GABA's job to keep us relaxed. So when we don't get our fix we get anxious and don't sleep. But we can restore your glutamine levels by eating an amino acid called N-acetylcysteine (NAC) that's found in nuts and seeds. Then you can start messing with other neurotransmitters, like serotonin (start by eating stuff high in tryptophans, e.g. meat, brown rice, nuts, fish, milk). And it's good to eat DHA (found in omega-3 oils, i.e. salmon oil, flaxseed oil and so on).

I know since my doc started me on Vitamin D, the times I've felt sadness and frustration have been less intense, less oppressive.

At GirlHacker's Random Log, car music. The car as player piano, the road as music roll:

Last month in Lancaster, California, a road was grooved for a Honda commercial. A Civic driving over the road at 55mph would hear the iconic part of the William Tell Overture (known to many as the Lone Ranger theme). After noise complaints from residents, the city paved over the road. But they decided to groove a different street in an industrial area with the tune. They're hoping it will be a tourist attraction.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The proliferation of Mary Sue

At Overthinking It, mlawski argues for more weak women in movies. After all, the movies are full of women who are bright, talented, and authoritative, but they still get rescued by men, and they still get dressed up as sex objects.

That’s the last straw. It’s bad enough that they make movies that objectify women, but then to call those women Strong Female Characters?

And at least in the olden days, when women were weak and *needed* to be rescued, they got the hot hero men for the job.

Apparently somewhere along the line directors decided that film heroes should be more like audience stand-ins: lame, scrawny, nerdy. So you wouldn’t have Hot “Strong” Marion sleeping with Hot Strong Indiana Jones at the end anymore. You’d have Hot “Strong” Megan Fox sleeping with Weaselly Weak Shia La Beouf at the end. Um, WHAT?! If this female character is so strong and so hot and so great in every way, why in the world would she end up with that loser? Oh. Because he’s the audience stand-in. That makes perfect sense.

So she argues for weak female characters. Weak, that is, in the sense of flawed, just like male characters are. Strong in the sense that they have goals of their own, goals other than "make the male hero happy and have his babies." Make them human, just like the guys.

After all, it would make the stories better.

Working on it

I have a few posts drafted but unfinished. Pain and tiredness get in the way of completing my thoughts, but when I have a good moment or two I'll get back to them.

Today's good news: a friend of mine is on the program list for Orycon. Someone I didn't expect to see, and now there's at least a chance. That's cool. I hope it works out.

I knitted a little last night, a scarf in green unidentified fiber I bought at the Oregon Flock & Fiber Festival last month; it feels like silk and alpaca. It's a tightly twisted double with the sheen of silk in a lot of places, but it has the elasticity and feel of alpaca as it flows through my fingers. And I can tell it's at least two fibers because the dye is beautifully variegated in the way that happens when you dye two fibers that take it up at uneven rates. It's a nice change from the single, almost-no-twist merino I made a pair of fingerless mitts out of last month and gave to Twoson.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's in the assumptions.

I was reading a story this morning about police preparing for unrest on Election day (unrest? did they miss their naps? I've never liked this mask for rioting) and came to a dead stop when I read this line:

Some worry that if Barack Obama loses and there is suspicion of foul play in the election, violence could ensue in cities with large black populations.

Talk about your target-rich environments! if...there is suspicion of foul play? If? Can anyone imagine a scenario in which the progressives believe Obama lost *without* foul play? Not me, no way could I believe that those same progressives who have even publicly stated they believe Bush would never allow another election, he'd impose martial law first, would buy an Obama loss without sincere accusations of a stolen election.

And what about the racist part? Violence could ensue in cities with large black populations? I can't believe an editor let that go by. Isn't it the white people who would be rioting when Obama wins, if they are racists? Anybody worried about that?

Further on (after I've recovered from my laughter-induced asthma fit) I notice that Carville said earlier this month that “it would be very, very, very dramatic out there” if Obama lost. He was careful to point out that he did not explicitly predict rioting and went on to say a lot of Democrats would have a great deal of angst and anger. He didn't mean *riots*, oh no, he just thinks progressives are all a bunch of drama queens!

I don't understand why I don't see more about the possibility of Republicans rioting. After all, they've got the guns. But apparently they're too sober and depressed, or unimportant, or something, to worry the press. And of course nobody would suggest libertarians might riot: they don't believe in collective action!

All this concern is distracting us. I want to know, from what?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

From Denver to Portland

It was a week before Christmas; I was 10, so it was 1971. We'd been living in Denver for a few months, but it was time to leave. Mom rented a U-Haul truck and, with her boyfriend, packed our stuff into it for the trip across the Rockies and west down the Columbia Gorge to Portland.

My sister and I rode in the back, on a mattress with some blankets and a bottle of water and all the boxes.

We stopped in La Grande, where my grandparents fed us and gave us beds for a night.

I remember being cold and scared in the back of the truck, and begging Mom to let us ride in the cab with them to no avail.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More on my political party

Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy discusses giving children a vote.

If a minor can pass a test of basic political knowledge (say, the political knowledge equivalent of the citizenship test administered to immigrants seeking naturalization), why shouldn't he or she have the right to vote? Such a precocious child-voter would probably be more knowledgeable than the majority of the adult population. Giving her the right to vote would actually increase the average knowledge level of the electorate and thereby slightly improve the quality of political decision-making. I've met twelve-year-olds with far higher levels of political knowledge than that of the average adult. You probably have too.

Once the knowledge objection is off the table, all the arguments for giving adults the right to vote also apply to sufficiently knowledgeable children. Like the adults, children have a claim to the franchise because government policies affect them too, because otherwise their interests might be undervalued in the political process, because it affirms their status as citizens with equal rights, and so on.


I have some objection to giving an intelligence test because if applied to adults it is unconstitutional, but I am willing to entertain arguments that there is something special about age to change that determination.

Ilya Somin also points out:

Some commenters note that children might lack maturity or life experience, as well as knowledge. Obviously they do lack it. I'm just not convinced that either is tremendously useful for voting. Most voting decisions have to do with complex, large-scale policy issues that can't easily be weighed based on personal experience. Realistically, even most adults have little life experience that is directly useful in assessing difficult policy issues.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I am precocious.

The Headgirl at The Common Room makes some points that I think describe me:

I'm only pretending to be a participant in American society, when I really belong somewhere else (but don't ask me WHERE that somewhere else is. I haven't a clue).
[...]
[O]ne of the key things about TCKs is that, in adolescence, they act more mature than their peers. Something about living in multiple worlds propels them into closer relationships with adults rather than those in their age groups.


And quotes from a linked article:
One of the other parts of the article that had me vigorously head nodding was this one:
"On the surface, most adult TCKs conform to what is going on around them in such a way that attention is not drawn to them. As they meet new people and situations, they are slow to commit themselves until they have observed what is expected behavior. If what is expected is unacceptable or incomprehensible they will quietly withdraw rather than make fools of themselves or hurt the feelings of others."
Observation is a big part of the game. There's a lot to watch, too!
[...]
We don't want to *always* observers - it just takes us a long time to warm up to any other role, particularly in large settings. In smaller settings, though, human connections are extremely important. Why? Because sometimes that's the only notion of "home" we've got. One of the hardest questions for a TCK to answer is, "Where are you from?" or "Where's home?" Home will never be a "where" for me. Home=the people in my life, which is another reason for feeling disconnected. If people make up your construction of home, and if you live a thousand miles from some of these people, of course you're going to feel restless!


We moved around so much when I was a child, I don't have a sense of a home culture, a place where I know how to behave to be accepted as part of the group. I usually feel like an outsider, on the edge of community but not part of it.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

An easy fast.

If you are fasting for Yom Kippur this year, I wish you an easy fast.

I haven't had a successful year; I feel humiliated about how little I've progressed toward my goals. Tonight I will admit my part in the faults committed by everyone in the community and ask for forgiveness and a fresh start, and both I and everyone in the community will receive those things. I look forward to it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

An insufficient and inaccurate argument against abortion

At The Volokh Conspiracy Todd Zywicki asks:

I've never met (or at least talked to) anyone who has gone from being pro-life to pro-choice. [...]If there are any readers out there who have made this migration (there must be), I'd be interested in hearing how that transition came about. In particular, what arguments did you find persuasive in changing your view on the morality of the issue?

In the comments, berkeleybeetle responds that zie did change:

because if we accept a fetus as an individual with rights, it has no right to attach itself to someone's womb and demand to be supported. I suppose, strictly speaking, this is pro-choice with the caveat that the fetus is told to come out with its hands up, first.

and shelbyc replies:
Even though, in most cases, the mother causes the fetus to become so attached for her own recreation, and the fetus has no choice in the matter? Funny logic.

One problem with this argument is that it relies on attributing a particular intent to all categories of a specific act, that is, under this argument every time a woman has sex (even when she is raped, even when she is using birth control) an implicit part of that sex act is that she has extended an irreversible invitation to a fetus. Another is that under this argument men have no agency: men's sexual acts do not impose a risk of pregnancy on women because it is the woman extending the invitation.