Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday afternoon random

* Roger, if you do want the CD, e-mail me your mailing address and I'll send it out. Address is over to the right (and you probably have it anyway, from the comments I've left on your place).

* I'm working on a new quilt top. Super bright, maybe obnoxiously bright fabrics. (The sashing is a very yellowish green). The focus fabrics are from the Far Far Away line, which features unicorns and frogs and roses and the Princess and the Pea. It makes me happy. I love novelty fabric and I cannot lie.

I did finish the long-stalled "Book of Stamps" quilt - I was going to photograph it this afternoon (it was sunny out) but then I got distracted by stuff and wound up with my hair washed and in what amount to pyjamas and didn't want to go back out. Maybe tomorrow will also be sunny.

I think I stalled on that top because (a) all pale fabrics (b) not as "interesting" as novelty fabrics and (c) a limited palette of both colors and prints. But I will eventually either quilt it or have it quilted.

* I did also work some on the top in the frame. I have maybe 1/3 of the border left to do but because it's kind of a complex design, it takes a while.

* The reason I wound up in my pyjamas early is that I went out and did some yardwork this afternoon despite my hip bursitis still bugging me. (I actually think motion is better for it than stillness is, and it seems like sitting on a low chair is worst).

I mowed the lawn (it was all weeds - mostly henbit - but I still worry about the city coming after me again for "too tall vegetation." Never mind that I have neighbors' whose is taller.) Then I decided to clean up the raised beds and plant them - which necessitated a trip out for mushroom compost to top-dress and I also wound up buying some seeds.

I already had French Fingerling beans (the BEST green beans ever and I look for that variety every year). I planted two rows of those and will plant two more in another 10 days or so to have a slightly staggered harvest. And I also bought a packet of "Detroit Dark Red" beets (I think this is one of the old, old varieties). I like beets, and while my previous success was not so good (some didn't form beets, they just grew lots of tops - and I don't like beet greens that much) I wanted to try again.

And this year, I am trying turnips. I'm not an ENORMOUS fan of turnips, but I'm thinking ones from the garden might be more appealing than the overgrown and dried-out ones from the store. And anyway, I can mash them with potatoes and make neeps and tatties and that would be a bit more appealing than just plain turnips.

Still too early for tomatoes, I think....and anyway, the plants on offer looked really puny. (I don't start tomatoes from seed, I have nowhere good in the house to raise them). I'll wait another couple of weeks and see, it's still not even April.

I keep looking at the bare patch at the back of my yard where the enormous leaf pile used to be, and think, "I should order a load of topsoil and make it into a big garden and just plant it with shade perennials." I still might do that, I like the idea of a big garden of hostas or whatever. (I'm not a huge hosta fancier but they're the first thing I think of when I think of "specimen plants for shade")

If I could get a locksmith to change the broken (won't open) lock on the back fence I could have the topsoil seller just pull into the alley and offload it easily....simpler and less hauling than having them dump it on my drive (and less mess, and less disruption for me) and cheaper than buying the soil bag by bag at the garden center.

(I'm also wondering if there's any kind of edible-fruit-bearing plant that would do well in would be lovely to have raspberry canes or blueberry bushes, but my backyard is kind of shady)

* I also cast on for the Holi Festival (that's the name of the yarn colorway) socks - I think I am going to go and work on those and watch Big Hero Six.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Here goes nothing

This is a short fanfiction I typed up last night. It's an idea that's rattled around in my head for a while. I don't read much fanfiction so I have no idea if someone has beat me to the idea or not (one thing that stays my hand on these things is researching the "prior art" - seeing if I'm taking an idea someone developed before me).

This has, as I said, rattled around in my head for about a year in longer and shorter forms. This is just a short version of it, where the protagonist doesn't wind up going to the town where I have her go on some versions of the story.

I have a hard time judging my own writing because I do mostly scientific writing which is a very different style and I have to go through so many tortuous (and torturous!) rewrites of it that by the time I'm done I'm sick of what I've written and unable to judge its merit. (And I've had a few "this is a long shot, but oh well" papers get accepted with minor revisions, and some I thought were pretty good rejected out of hand, which makes me mistrust my judgement).

So anyway, here it is. I haven't really edited it much; I pretty much wrote it as I thought it:


I have spent my life moving. I settle here and there, live for a while, but then my secret is discovered and I must move on.

When ponies learn it, they react differently to me. In some cases, mares grab their foals and hold them tightly to them – out of fear that my curse is somehow spreading and will afflict their offspring. In other cases, ponies are unnaturally interested – what is it like? How do I feel? Have I always known it would be thus? And in still others, they pity me, looking at me with large, watery eyes, and speaking in hushed tones.

The shunning is the worst – that is when I know I must leave, because in some towns, the shunning is followed by letters. Or worse, rotten eggs and mud thrown at where ever I am living.

In all cases I am sure the reaction is out of fear. What I am is unnatural. What I am is something that ponies believed could not be. What I am is something every colt and filly fears, but which comes true for none of them – none except me.

No matter how they react – fear, sick fascination, shunning, or even pity – their finding me out means I must leave, I must move on. I will find another town for a while, I will live there, and I will be discovered again.

I was born with considerable promise. I am told that my paternal grandmother, whose talent was divination of this sort, placed her ear to my expectant mother’s belly and informed my parents that the foal was going to be a mare, and that her name was to be Cypher.

Immediately the excitement started: why, the foal would grow up to be gifted at math! She would be brilliant, she would solve all the unsolved equations of Equestria. Or: She will be a genius at codes. She will create codes that allow the various princes and princesses of the different regions to communicate, safely, with no fear of their messages being intercepted by Changelings or other warlike creatures. She will help to keep peace in Equestria!

However, my name turned out to be a cruel joke.

In my travels, I have often longed for the strength and skill of an Earth pony – because then I could move to a remote area, raise crops, and live off the land. I would have no need of towns, no need of other ponies, no need to continue slowly depleting the inheritance my grandparents left me and worrying about how I could perhaps earn a few bits. Or I envied the mobility of the Pegasus ponies – I could live in a place safe for me (even atop a cloud of my own!) and merely go into town briefly, when food was needed.

Rather, I was born a unicorn. Born with a milk-white coat, a mane so pale yellow it looks white, and watery blue eyes. My unnatural appearance (in a world full of gloriously colorful ponies) seems to go with my unnatural nature.

For I am the one thing every young pony fears and the thing that every older pony reassures them is impossible: 

I am a grown mare with a blank flank.

It was not for want of trying. As a unicorn, it was expected I possessed some magic, some particular ability with spells. Some unicorns are gifted in being able to teleport large items; I strained for weeks to move rocks and fell trees, thinking perhaps I could work in construction. 

Other unicorns have particular fine-scale skill; one of my great-uncles created gorgeous tapestries, some of which still hang in royal palaces. He created them stitch by stitch, moving the needle and fiber with complex spells. But I had none of his talent: I could do only the most basic of sewing, and it was loose and unattractive at that. 

My maternal grandmother was a healer-unicorn; with her skill and her magic she could excise tumors and set broken bones. I could not even heal a scratch on my own knee.

Oh, I have SOME magic. I can move a quill to write, however sloppily, and I can levitate a brush to care for my own mane. But moving heavy objects, creating beautiful things, healing, helping ponies to fall in love or find peace – in short, anything that represents a special talent or even a skill to earn a livelihood – escaped me. 

And so, I remained a “blank flank,” as the schoolyard taunt goes. At first, my parents told me to be patient and keep trying: when I was a filly, it was not so alarming. But as I matured, I increasingly caught the looks of worry that passed between my mother and my father. 

When I attained my majority, the age at which a mare or stallion leaves home, I still had not found my purpose. My parents had nothing to say to me about it but I knew they were disappointed; I knew they had no ability to understand why they had been cursed with an offspring who would never reach the full level of maturity. 

I left, one night, after my parents had gone to bed. I left them a short note telling them not to worry and that I would return if I ever found my purpose. I would be provided for; my mother’s family was well-off and when her parents died, they left me enough gold to keep myself going for a long time, provided I was careful. And so I left. 

I have moved all around Equestria – from the big cities like Canterlot and Fillydelphia to the tiny towns, Whinnywood and Farrier Junction. I’ve tried living in the wilderness but without earth-pony skills or Pegasus mobility, it was too hard to keep myself fed.

Perhaps someday I might find my purpose and be able to stop moving around. But I have largely given up hope of that and have made the best of my life as it is. I don’t even dream of getting my cutie mark any more.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Some random stuff

* Gah, state route 3 is a lonely stretch of road. (I took it back and forth today - 48 to 3 and then back again). I wound up having to listen to the "Chansons" channel (French Canadian pop and also francophone country - which is really kind of weird and interesting, and yes, there is French language country music apparently) because the Symphony channel was playing something I disliked (R. Strauss' "The Hero's Life," which, GOLLY is a LONG piece - I kept switching back and it was STILL on)

Sirius XM Symphony <<< Sirius XM Pops Classical for driving. But Pops Classical is no more on car radios (I guess you can still pick it up if you shell out a little extra to listen online). This irks me because I have the subscription so I can have music I like IN MY CAR. (Next car, I might get one with Pandora capability. Or whatever replaces those in the future.)

* Just sort of tired and sad. Part of this is situational, part of it is just the time it is. Driving along that lonely road, I got to thinking about what I said this morning about "fear of failure" and I realized it's really "fear of rejection" more than fear of failure - because I suspect with a couple good friends to say, "You know, it's really not so bad" or to remind me at least I tried, failure would be easier to weather, but the rejection thing - I have a hard time dealing with that. Probably because my memory of me as a 13-year-old eating her lunch alone in a dark corner of the lunchroom is a little too close to the surface for me, still. (I can visualize her, and in some moods, I admit, it makes me tear up. Being 13 was really awful in a lot of ways for me. I had something happen to me (from a peer) that would be considered borderline sexual abuse today, my at-the-time best friend dropped me and didn't want to be seen with me because she was invited to sit at the popular table, I was turned down for the gifted and talented program). Perhaps part of the reason I like so many things (cartoons, stuffed toys, Hello Kitty, Japanese miniature food) that is indicative of childhood is that somehow it allows me to pretend that it's still before my 13th year and none of that stuff ever happened. (And yet, there was bad stuff that happened earlier, it's just that 13 was the big bad year of bad stuff)

And yeah, rejection by some anonymous Internet troll shouldn't count as rejection - but still rude crude nasty comments directed at me bug me. Just like there are one or two people I know where friends/colleagues remind me, "That person just acts like a jerk to everyone, don't let it bother you," their acting like a jerk to me still bugs me."

I feel like I experienced so much rejection from about age 7 to about age 16 or 18 that I don't want to deal with it any more. And yeah, that should suggest that I'm even better at dealing with it than some people but I really am not - it's almost like, I don't know, an allergy or something, where the more exposure you get the worse your reaction to it is. 

* I also hurt. I sat for too long yesterday grading and my hip bursitis flared back up. And my neck and shoulders hurt (I think this is stress - I do not think it is in any way related to the car accident, because they were better for a while). And I stubbed my toe hard and broke the nail (my toenails are pretty fragile) and it broke off exposing some of the nail bed. Not gonna be fun wearing field boots for fieldwork tomorrow. Wasn't fun today walking around in tennis shoes. I might see if I can figure out something to wrap that toe with.

I hope I'm not developing some chronic condition where I just start hurting periodically. (Already I'm thinking about getting an order to get my thyroid function checked because of the tiredness and also my hair has been a little more dull and brittle lately, and both of those can suggest a sluggish thyroid)

* I am making time to watch Big Hero 6 this weekend. It's sat next to my tv for a month and I haven't got to it. And I need something fun and escapist like that.

Now we'll see if I actually do it. All too often I get busy and don't do stuff for myself.

*What do I do for dinner? I ate fish yesterday so I don't want fish despite having a couple cans of salmon on the shelf. And I had baked ziti for lunch so I don't want anything with the meat sauce I made the other night. Sigh. Eggs? Maybe. If I could still eat ham I'd make baked eggs with a slice of ham in it. Plain baked eggs are okay but just okay.

Rice and beans? Except "rice has arsenic." (Then again, I heard someone commenting that "Japanese and Indian people don't seem to have vastly higher rates of arsenic-related cancers, and they eat a lot of rice" so I don't know). Rice and beans is a type of comfort food for me. It's cheap food - starving student food - but I like it. ("red beans and rice didn't miss her" heh. Except I more often use pinto beans)

I guess I'm hitting a point again where the low-sodium diet is hard, I get to wanting things I can't have. I went along happily for a couple years avoiding all that stuff but now I think of pepperoni pizza or ham and eggs or just being able to eat vegetables with something other than vinegar or green herbs on them....

but at the same time, sometimes I wish there was just an easy "full nutritional meal replacement" that wasn't totally gross and didn't have artificial sweeteners (which I can't tolerate) in it, so I could just eat THAT and not have the frustration of figuring out, "What do I eat this time?" I've talked about Purina People Chow before and I still kind of think this needs to be a thing.

(Hm. I wonder if Monkey Chow would be close enough. Probably doesn't contain 100% deemed-fit-for-human-consumption stuff, but monkeys are the closest animal to us that Purina makes something for).

Yeah, it's sad that I'm even contemplating this but I'm just tired and cooking takes time and I can't do carry out food. (And I'm sick of salad)

*I need to either finish the Mabel Pines amigurumi, or just accept I'm giving up on it for now and start the pony amigurumi I'm thinking of - doing the OC librarian pegasus that I'm calling Folio. She's going to be grey, with a coral-colored mane, and violet eyes (unless I decide at the last minute that looks too terrible with the mane, in which case I will go with green)

As I've said before: I don't NEED more ponies and yet at the same time I kind of do. (I'm going to check tomorrow morning at the mart of wal in the slight hope they have the next wave of blindbags in. I need a little treat of something.)

On the road

Well, today I go do Service to the Profession.

I think I need a day away. (Tomorrow is fieldwork. I think I MIGHT be able to squeeze in a wal-mart run before fieldwork if I get up early enough).

Well, what I really need is a classroom of 100% non-plagiarizing students who clearly care deeply about the information, but I guess that's not gonna happen. (I'm trying to  tell myself that the plagiarists let time get away from them, didn't feel they had time to write a paper, and made a foolish gamble that I wouldn't check. That's a worse bet than playing the lottery, but then again, lots of people buy lottery tickets.)

I will say it's a pity that the place I am going has less in the way of interesting shopping than the town where I live (at least, based on my quick run-through of the downtown one year) or I'd take a little while after my Service got done to go look for a treat. Oh well.

I have the arms and legs done for the Mabel Pines amigurumi, and I started on the hair but bogged down because the pattern is being counterintuitive to me. Normally if I just keep going and trust the pattern things work, but, meh.

And yet, what's the worst that could happen? I could have to rip it back, e-mail the pattern author for clarification, and start over. And yet, that seems enough of a hurdle I put the project aside.

I do notice my "fear of failure" (which I've pretty much always had) is coming back in strange ways. I don't tend to try new things (or try doing new things and putting them "out there") because of what I might call, "Internet comment section fear" or maybe "You Tube Jerk Fear" - like, I have a few ideas for pony fanfiction hanging out in my head, but I never sit down to write it out because I feel like the point of fanfiction is to share it, and I have this fear that if I write it and post it somewhere someone will essentially say, "You're an idiot, why did you think you can do this? This is terrible." Or, I feel a little the same way about playing piano in public. I could possibly do it at church because if I messed up there, no one would say anything (at least not to my face) but in other settings, I'd be afraid of overhearing, "Wow, for such an old woman, she really has no ability to play. She really lacks any skill at all."

I don't know. I know, I know, giving the jerks real estate in my head is a foolish move, but it seems like, with the rise of the Internet, everyone becomes a critic, and not only a critic, but some kind of crazed super-critic who doesn't want to just look at the technical aspects of what the person did, but go after them on an ad hominem level. And forget that noise. It's not worth it. And yeah, maybe I'd write wonderful pony fanfiction. Or design great sweaters. Or maybe, with a little work, I could play pretty well for an audience - but the nuffers have removed my desire to do that. And so, whatever in those areas I might have had to offer the world will go undone, because I just don't have the emotional energy to read someone's nasty comment about me. Good job, nuffers. 

A big part of it is that I have so little time for those kinds of things that the thought of putting in time and effort and then having someone poop all over it and ruin it for me - I just can't.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Four of Twenty-Five

That's the number of papers I found that were in part or full, plagiarized.

I shouldn't have checked tonight. Now I won't sleep well, because this is where I begin to doubt myself: what use am I as an educator if I can't even convince students not to cut and paste from Wikipedia, and all I can do is give them zeroes when they do? If I can't make people care enough to want to do a decent job?

What's the point? Why do I even do this? I should just give up on assigning papers all together because it gives me such a headache every time. What is possibly good for the students is bad for my own happiness and sense of calm. And I'm not even convinced that having 20 year olds who complain they have little experience writing write, without being able to make them do an intensive, technical-writing course is any good. All that happens is they get frustrated and I get frustrated because I don't have enough time in this class to teach people to write properly. So everything gets all half-a**ed and ugly. LIFE is just half-a**ed and ugly.

I'm wasting my life. I'll die and be dead and gone and nothing I will have done will have any effect on anything. There's nothing I can do that will make anything any better. And I wish I could break through that wall to the point where I stopped caring about how messed up everything was and how I have no power to improve anything, and just learn to suck what enjoyment I can out of life, since I can't fix anything.To STOP CARING. I'd be a lot happier if I cared less.

I think part of the issue is how I was always told growing up that because I was Smart, I would Do Great Things, and here I am, instead, teaching at a small obscure college and tearing my hair out over people who plagiarize because really what some of them want is certification, not education, and others have poor time management or skills, and so give up and punt and hope I don't check.

And I wonder: did the people who said I'd Do Great Things lie to me (or were wrong), or have I failed them by not pushing even harder to make an impact on the world for good?

(This is the point where, if my life were actually a movie, I'd sell all I had and give the money to the poor, in a Grand Gesture to try to make the world better. But I like my comforts too much to try to do that)

(Or, this is also the point where, if my life were a different sort of movie, someone somewhere - an angel or a fairy godmother or a magic unicorn, depending on the movie, would go "Oh no! There is a woman in sector 7-G who is getting discouraged, we must DO something!" and then something magical would happen in my life to make it better.)

it kind of stinks that life isn't actually like a movie.


Edited to add: I'm gonna ask a colleague about the partial (like, less than 1/3 of the paper) plagiarism and get their idea on it, whether to take off part of a grade (to cut down on wear and tear on me) or to give a fullfledged 0 (which would be more fair to the students who actually did all their own work). And I'm also gonna hold the papers an extra day without grades being posted or applied, and tell the class that I am "investigating some suspected plagiarism." I also want to look at the information again and do another comparison to see just how MUCH was plagiarized. I think I need more time for that.

I always thing of the case of my dad, where in one of his large classes, the TA helping to proctor said that she thought she saw two people copying but couldn't prove it well enough to take the exams, and he was all "I got this" and the next class announced that there had been an "incident" of cheating and if the guilty parties turned themselves in, they'd JUST get 0s for the exam, he wouldn't take it up with Academic Affairs. He thought it was a useful bluff to get the pair to turn themselves in.

The next day, 12 people showed up at his office hours to confess.....

I'm not gonna do that but I do think there's some possible value in letting a couple people sweat for a day or two.

But crikey, this was not that hard of an assignment and it's one that a lot of people find fun and interesting.

a little disappointment.

I had listened several times to Dandy Livingstone's "A Message to you, Rudy" on YouTube and thought, "I'd like a CD of his stuff."

Apparently, such a thing does not exist. (I suppose there are old copies of the record out there, but I don't own a turntable and don't like paying hipster-inflated prices for such a thing).

But Amazon told me it did. So in excitement, I ordered it. It came today. It's not. It's from a band called "Livingston" and is an "unsigned" Christian rock band from Georgia. (I can't even find samples of their music online). There's a British Livingston band, that's sort of saddish electro-folkish music (hard for me to describe it from what little I can find on YouTube). This is different.

I'm....not that into Christian rock. I got in touch with Amazon, wanting to return it for a refund. They just refunded me and told me not to return it. So - if you're into both Christian rock and pigs in pokes (I have no idea of the style of music, I have not opened the CD) - e-mail me you address and I'll drop it in the mail to you.

but yeah, a little disappointment.

This is what I wanted:

("Rudy" is Jamaican slang of the era for "Rude Boy" - sort of, but not quite, the Islands version of a Teddy Boy - a teenager who dressed sharply but was involved in petty crime. So the "message to Rudy" is "clean up your life, grow up a little, stop being a jerk." I may have reasons for identifying with this song right now.)

Whine o'clock

I choose to elide details here, but....

I hold 10 hours of office hours a week.

I give assignments that, if it's a longer assignment, like a paper, has about a month of lead-time.

And yet, I get people complaining, "There's NO INFORMATION OUT THERE ON MY TOPIC" AS they are handing the paper in to me. I know that's a total displacement behavior, it allows the person saying it to justify later that I was "unfair" if they don't earn a decent grade on it.

(Yes. And I also assume it means "I started this last night" because honestly? I hold ten office hours a week and am extremely visible around the department. So people can find me when they need me.)

And it makes me SO tired. SO tired. I hauled butt this morning to take care of something I had forgotten to do previously so that class would run smoothly today. No one ever sees me hauling butt to get these things covered, so no one cares. Stuff just magically happens and no one realizes that I woke up at 2:30 in the morning going "Oh crap, I forgot to get That Thing copied that I need for class, so I'll have to take part of my prep-time to do it this morning." Someone else probably wouldn't bother with That Thing and would just tell people, "I forgot," but I can't let myself do that. Everything has to work smoothly.

The other thing is that I very occasionally get a student who seems to want to take all the responsibility for their education and push it on to me. Oh, I have certain responsibilities: running class, setting up lab, instruction, grading. But I can't write their papers or take their tests for them. I can't study for them. And it makes me extremely tired when I get someone who acts that way.

Part of the reason I didn't plan on having children is that the idea of being THAT responsible for another person's life terrified me. If I mess up my own life, fine, okay, it's my problem. If I mess up someone else's life - that's awful. So when someone tries to PUT responsibility they should take onto ME, and then imply I'm somehow failing because I don't do their job for them....well, it just makes me tired.

Ugh. My whole weekend is already spoken for by work so I'm NOT happy on that front. It just makes it worse to hear someone acting as if I'm unfair to expect them to do something educational.

(Also I am wondering when on earth I'm going to get to the wal-mart to get more milk. They don't have the kind I need anywhere else in town. Tomorrow afternoon/evening is out because it's Check Day, and Saturday I will be doing fieldwork. Maybe I GO WITHOUT freaking milk for a few days, I don't know.)

My Little Plesiosaur

(I decided to do this as a separate post from the previous one, because the idea of the title pleased me too much to not use it)

Anyway. This is the second "critter" I made over break:

Nessie full body

It's a Nessie (some people who believed in Nessie figured it was a population of plesiosaurs that somehow survived extinction in the lochs).

This is a free pattern on Ravelry. I had to kind of chuckle because the designer commented that it was not tech edited or tested (and therefore disclaimed responsibility on errors). I found NO errors in the pattern (more than I can say for some patterns I've paid for that have allegedly been tech edited) and I also didn't find any very confusing places. The little "horns" you kind of have to trust the pattern on (because they're made in a way that's not quite intuitive, or at least wasn't for me) but if you follow the pattern, they work, and they are crocheted right on, so you don't have to mess around with attaching them later.

I used Lion Brand "Heartland" in the color "Everglades" (not Everglades Tweed, a related but different color). The yarn was kind of splitty but I think it made a good Nessie.


It's funny, but in a way the Nessie (I have named mine Oona) reminds me almost a little bit of the baby hippos on the The Worst Cat tumblr.

I don't know what "worst" animal a Nessie would be, though. But there's something about the slightly shiny eyes and the earlike horns:

Nessie close up

Weather and cable

Well, spring is really here. We had the first big "incoming cold front meets up with warm humid air mass" event. (This is kind of like, I don't know, seeing the two most rabid fringe-y supporters of opposing political parties meet up. And about as ugly. And you still need to pick up all the broken twigs afterward)

The hail woke me up. It was midnight. It sounded like it was trying to bash in the windows (I have screens, so it would have to be really gargantuan hail to do that). The hail sounded very loud and the weather people had been talking about "golf ball up to tennis ball sized hail" (I don't know, but I think a tennis-ball-sized hailstone could punch through a roof). So I got up and put the weather radar on; the line of storms was passing right through but after that it was quiet.

Once things subsided a little I opened the front door and peeked out.

The hail was, at most, pea-sized. It just sounded crazy loud.

We do get weather radar on our cable system. It used to be called NEXRAD but they've since changed the system and I don't know if it's that any more. It's a help, because it's faster than turning on the computer to look up the local radar, and ever since The Weather Channel morphed into a virtually-all-reality-shows channel, it can be really hard to find weather radar on them. (I think they were showing a re-run of "Prospectors" at the time I checked the local radar).

(If I had a very large amount of money I wanted to possibly throw away - because I have no idea if anyone other than I would want this - I would start up two new cable channels: "Simply Weather" and "Simply News." They would be as advertised. "Simply Weather" would be 24-hour-a-day weather forecasts. Each region of the country would get its own forecast at least once an hour (so it could be, for example: New England at the top of the hour, Mid-Atlantic at 10 after, Great Lakes at 20 after) and just repeat it, with the small variations needed as the weather changes, around the clock. And "Simply News" would be just that - half-hour broadcasts of world news. No commentators, no extended programs speculating on missing persons or forensics and no stupid celebrity news. (If a famous person died, that would be mentioned, but there wouldn't be the idiotic, breathless, "BREAKING NEWS: Kim Kardashian changed her hair color!" stuff). Again, I don't know if anyone else wants a channel like that but when it's 8 pm and I kind of want to know what's going on in the world, I have to go to the computer for that because, as far as I can tell, all the news channels have gone to either commentary programs or something like "Forensic Files."

Yes, there'd be a lot of repeats. But considering that most folks don't turn a news channel on and leave it on all day, that wouldn't matter so much. Or Simply News and Simply Weather could be a single channel, with the first half of the hour devoted to weather (with a scroll of news headlines) and the second half devoted to news (with a scroll of weather information)

There does seem to be a process of, let's call it "rot" in the absence of a better term, that seems to happen to cable channels - they establish with high ideals about programming being informational and educational (Discovery Health, back when it was that, used to have CME units for medical personnel some mornings) but apparently that doesn't sell ad time, so gradually it spirals down (and now, what Discovery Health has become has shows like "Sex Sent Me To the ER" or "Here, look at this person with this weird medical deformity.") And don't get me started on TLC, formerly known as The Learning Channel.

And yeah, I admit I like some lowbrow stuff - I enjoy some of the seriously stupid comedy movies that are out there. And "Untold Stories of the ER" is one of my guilty-pleasures shows*. But the thing is: I don't want that on EVERY SINGLE CHANNEL and that's the problem with cable; it seems like a channel starts out wanting to be unique but then it sees the new designer jeans the other channels have and it decides it wants them too. And then a couple of the channels get new "Farrah Fawcett flip" haircuts and so all the other cable channels need them, too. (And yes. I am very consciously using the metaphor of a conformist junior high of the late 1970s because that's what it's like - the "popular kids" get something, and then EVERYONE wants it, instead of being content to be their own weird selves)

*Because of the hokeyness of some of the re-enactments, and also the sheer implausibility of some of the situations. I SUPPOSE they happened, but.....for anyone familiar with the show, I will say "Campstove Stuffing" as an example of one of the most, "Even a person who's stoned wouldn't be THAT stupid, would they?" things.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Two quick things:

* Came home yesterday afternoon (before piano lesson) to a phone message from the other driver's (the one who hit me) insurance. They wanted me to call them, left all kinds of contact information. I dutifully copied it down off the message. My natural inclination is to be helpful and I planned on calling them right back. Then, as I was about to call, I thought, "Wait. That was a university vehicle. Maybe the university needs to know about this before I call."

That was a smart move. I called the Lady At Motor Pool and told her about the message. "Oh, really?" she responded. "Did they give you contact information? They haven't called us and we've been trying to chase them down. As long as you weren't hurt in the accident, you have no need to talk to them. In fact, if they call back, just tell them to call us."

I was only too happy to give it because (a) if I don't have to deal with something like that, it's a bonus, (b) the university will be less likely to be able to be persuaded/brow-beaten/whatever* and (c) It's always good to be on the good side of Lady At Motor Pool.

(*I don't KNOW that the insurance company would try to make me think it was my fault or some such thing, but I've heard of those kinds of things happening, where they try to get the "injured party" to either settle for something less or somehow manage to twist things so it looks like they were responsible)

My general tendency in this life is to be as gentle as a dove but sometimes to get by, you have to be a bit more wily and serpentlike, I guess.

Edited to add: in class today, in the course of explaining where I want the students to meet me for me to pick them up for lab, I said, "And I'll try not to meet up with a speeding driver this week" and got a laugh out of the class. So at least there's that.

* I may have figured out the source of the mouth hives. Cucumber. I did try a bite or two of tzatziki sauce (which contains cucumber) with the gyros before I got the bad hives. Then, last night, I used some "sensitive skin" make up remover wipes I had bought - I wasn't terribly careful with them close to my mouth and as I wound up "tasting" a little bit of the scent on them, I must have got the stuff in my mouth. Very shortly after I started getting a bump, which swelled up into a hive overnight.

Guess what one of the botanicals in those cloths is? Yeah, cucumber extract. I never normally ate cucumbers (never liked them) so I hadn't really been exposed to them much. And I think without being able to get the allergy immunotherapy (long story but it can interact badly with the beta blocker), my pollen allergies (which contribute to oral allergy syndrome, which is the hives in my mouth) are probably getting worse.

Not a nice trade-off, but my blood pressure is so well controlled on the beta blocker I'd hate to have to try changing to a different class of drugs just to be able to do immunotherapy again. I just have to avoid cucumber (and probably melon, which is in the same family). Cooked cucurbits don't seem to bother me too much - I can eat things with cooked pumpkin in them.

The hive is almost gone now. I will say for these that they tend to go down fast after I take my antihistamine, and also if I get some blood flow going (I did a workout this morning; it does seem exercising helps with those types of hives and I assume it's because it encourages more blood flow, which carries away the histamine....)

So cucumber is now my nemesis. I can imagine myself seeing one in a grocery store, and giving it this kind of a look:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Life is good.

I had my first piano lesson of the spring today. I've paid up for 10 weeks and it sounds like once those are up, there may be the possibility of more. (10 weeks is the rest of the spring semester plus a bit).

My teacher hugged me when she saw me again. I kind of think of her as a friend even though we don't really socialize (she lives out of town and we tend to run in slightly different circles).

I got a little nervous playing what I had been working on for her (stupid desire to please people, it gets in the way of my actually being able to play - I get too nervous with the "don't mess up, don't mess up" script running in the back of my brain) but did manage to drop into a good groove on "When You Wish Upon a Star" and she's going to have me work on it for another week but then probably move on. (I've already picked out another piece - "Always," a nice waltz by Irving Berlin. I like the song even though to my ear, it always sounds slightly, I don't know, nostalgic or maybe even elegiac....)

And I'm working on a "little" Spindler sonatina. And she's got me working on figuring out the chording for a hymn, which is coming easier than it once did.

She also commented that she respected my level of devotion to keep playing between 40 minutes and an hour a day (depending on time) even when I didn't have lessons (I do that. I figure the only way to ever get better is to keep on working). And I can tell I'm playing better - I started trying Bach's Invention #1 again a little while back and was surprised at how fast it came back to me, and how much more facility I could play it with this go-round.

I need this. For me. There's not a lot of stuff I do that is exclusively for me and for my own joy, and I need this.

At loose ends

* Science-fair judging is this week; Friday I cancel my one class and drive a bit north to do it. I enjoy this, but at the same time I also find it challenging, walking the line between giving the necessary feedback so people can improve and maybe crushing a nascent spirit. (Then again, I've seen one or two spirits in my teaching career that could have done with a little crushing - once in a while you run into someone who thinks they're all that and a bag of chips, and it turns out, they just don't have the skill or ability or work ethic to back it up)

* I also judged a virtual science fair for one of the scientific societies I belonged to. I was kind of dreading it because I thought it would be haaaaard (a couple of the presentations were Ph.D. students) but it wasn't so bad. One person didn't have theirs done and posted so, I don't know. I'll check back tomorrow but if it's not up tomorrow I won't have time to do it, even though they're giving us through Sunday. (A lot of times people don't have presentations ready; I've seen that at the in-person science fair. I try to be good about giving benefit of the doubt - maybe they had a family emergency - but I also wonder a bit when I see three or four that are no-shows. I have enough experience with people who get enthusiastic and then flake out to kind of think that's the case. Oh, I know I get enthusiastic and flake out on lots of stuff myself but it's all stuff for me - knitting projects, quilts, stuff like painting my sewing room - that don't directly affect my career.)

* I have to go out and do my fieldwork for this spring Saturday. The weather should be good so I'm kind of looking forward to getting out - it'll be warm, but not as warm as today (the wasps are already out today. I like bees, I like pollinators, but I dislike the aggressive "red wasp" type of wasp and the yellow jackets.) I do have to look into getting specimen cups - can probably check on that tomorrow.

* Apparently CNN showed a graphic of Richard III's reburial and had it (at least briefly) captioned "Richard LLL" Roman numerals, how do they work? Heh.

Though I will say - this may be something not covered in school any more; I knew someone who remarked that "I grew up in the 80s so I didn't have to learn that" with the implication that it wasn't that important.

I don't know. I come from a background where the attitude was, every time you have the opportunity to learn something, take it, because you never know where it will come in handy. While I don't use Roman numerals much in my day to day life, I think the "I didn't have to learn that" attitude is something we do see sometimes - the idea that not knowing something is something to be maybe even a little proud of. My general response to finding out I don't know something is embarrassment, followed by a quick look-up (in the library, in the old days, on the Internet, now) to quick teach myself it.

(And I teach a class called Principles of Biology I and there is a Principles II that is the second semester class - so at least there is a use of Roman numerals)

I don't know. I see this from time to time in students and others I interact with - not just a certain pride in not knowing some thing that I kind of took for granted "everyone" knew, but also a lack of curiosity that baffles me a little. I've done stuff like post links to online textbooks or to Powerpoint presentations of material other faculty have put on-line with the suggestion, "If you need further help, you can try here" or "If you want more in-depth information, you can find it here." Occasionally when I get someone coming in asking for help in a class, I ask if they've looked at the additional resources I suggest and I get a blank look in return.

Good golly, people! The internet is there, free, right in front of you. It's a banquet (of information), and most poor suckers are (figuratively) starving to death! I've learned almost everything I know about clay mineralogy by going through the Powerpoint presentations various geologists teaching a class in it have put up online.

(And yeah, yeah - I know, you have to be good at judging what's fact and what's crap. But that's a skill you can develop, like any other. And even just asking the question, "What are they trying to sell me?" can help there)

* One thing I am happy about in my life is how I was always encouraged (as a kid, especially) to read more and learn more and pay attention to stuff. And I am blessed with a frighteningly good memory, so stuff like movie quotations float up unbidden into my consciousness.

Actually, that was probably part of what made me "weird" as a kid - I could be a little disconnected from the immediate reality of "OMG Billy D. and Sarah S. are going out!*" or "Did you hear about Jenny taking a bunch of diet pills and having to get her stomach pumped?" I was kind of a little egghead and was out of touch....

(*Heh. "going out" in the seventh grade sense: they declared it to be so but otherwise were never seen together. Junior high was WEIRD and it was hard on a literal-minded kid like me, because I thought "going out" meant you went somewhere, out, together, like to a movie or something. But in junior high that was not it at all)

I also cried easily (I was intellectually mature but emotionally immature - an egghead who cried easily, therefore it was like having a flashing sign on my forehead saying THIS ONE IS FUN TO TEASE).

But would I trade the thirteen year old I was for a different sort? Would I give up what I was to be more popular, or more in tune with how the other kids were? I don't know. If it meant I was a different sort of a person as an adult - if it meant I was less compassionate or less able to tolerate solitude or less able to entertain myself with my own brain - no, I wouldn't, not to be the most popular girl in school.

* Sometimes I wonder if the lack-of-curiosity I see and complain about is partly a lack of motivation or volition and a desire to be told what needs to be done or known rather than figuring it out for oneself. Or in some cases, it's a "don't bother me with information" - I've known people who, presented with a one-page sheet of instructions, proceed to ignore it and then cack up whatever it was the instructions were for, because they didn't want to take the time to read them.

I don't know. I'm not a lazy or incurious person so I admit it's hard for me to have a great deal of sympathy for people who want to be.

* Oh, and even though I answered Roger's question in a comment, I'll go ahead and post it here:

I was taught to pronounce "gyro" sort of like "Hee-ro," only slightly aspirating (I think I said glottalizing, which is probably not correct) the "H" sound. Years and years ago, my dad's office was within easy walking distance of the Greek Orthodox church in that community. The Ladies' Aid group (not sure what it was called in Orthodoxy but that's kind of what it was) used to do Thursday gyro lunches - a gyro, a salad, a drink, and a Greek pastry, all for a pretty cheap price. The university people loved it and his office group often went there; I did a few times when I worked in his office in the summers.

Anyway, that's how they pronounced it.

Also - my dad, when he became president of the local Sigma Xi chapter - Sigma Xi is a scientific society - he went to the priest and asked the priest how to correctly pronounce the Greek motto, which would Latinise to something like "Spoudon Xynones" - which means "Companions in Zealous Research". I think the priest was tickled someone would come to him and ask that.

(Now I think of it - that little anecdote is just indicative of the attitude in my family: "Don't know something? Go and find out by either asking someone who will know or finding a book." And I've picked that up myself)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Knit over break

Despite being sick, I did make a few things over break.

This is the first one I'm sharing:

Oribatid mite

It's the oribatid mite I promised (threatened?) to make using the Flapjack Frogs pattern. I used Wool-Ease Chunky in the color called Walnut. It took less than a skein of it. The mite came out a little bigger than the worsted-weight frogs, but not as huge as I thought it might. (I used US size 8 dpns).

Orrie's legs (yes, I named the mite Orrie, what else could you name him?) are lengths of 4-stitch i-cord sewn to the body. Mites are arachnids, like spiders are, so they have eight legs. Oribatid mites used to be known as Cryptostigmatid mites (there's also an Astigmatid mite group; I always wondered if they needed glasses). They're more commonly known as beetle mites because they have round, hard, brownish bodies, and superficially resemble tiny beetles. You can see some photographs of real oribatids here.

Oribatids are one of my favorite groups of soil organisms because they're so easily recognizable. They are also mostly detritivores, which means they eat dead stuff (mostly plant matter) in the soil and recycle its nutrients - so they're good for the environment. They're an extremely widespread group, found throughout the temperate zone and even into colder climates. And individual mites can be fairly long-lived; some of them spend two years in development from larval to adult stage. Some species are all female and reproduce by parthenogenesis (essentially, the female mite becomes pregnant without mating and has babies that are clones of her).

I just did a very simple face on Orrie; that's how I wanted it - just a pair of eyes.

Orrie #2

He turned out surprisingly cuddly. And he pleases me a lot....turned out cuter than I thought he would.

Need a lift?

I've long liked the English choral (mostly hymn-singing) tradition, and I've liked the John Rutter compositions I've heard. I think in a way he is the modern descendant of the hymnwriters of the past, like Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley. His work is "modern," and yet it does honor the traditions and musicality of the past - it follows the traditional hymn-form rather than going a pop-music route.

This is called "Look at the World." The video uses images (the person who compiled it - Arendientje - used footage from a variety of nature programs) of the world, which makes it very restful to watch.

(As a biologist, some of my favorite hymns are those that mention the natural world - All Creatures of our God and King is one that immediately comes to mind. And yes, I do experience a certain peace by being out and watching pollinators or collecting vegetation data or something like that.)

Kind of a good antidote to all the ugly (human) news that's out there right now - photographs of plants blooming and young animals playing.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring is here

The forsythia is out. And my rosemary decided to flower this year and it's covered in bees* because it's one of the few things flowering right now.


And I've been having to run the dehumidifier. (The week before I left I was having to run the in Oklahoma)

And I'm working to clean my house (well, not at this exact moment, but I'm going back to it soon) because my piano teacher e-mailed me and lessons are starting back up next week.

I am very happy about this because I think I progress faster with a teacher. Oh, I practice on my own, but it's different having the guidance of "Maybe doing it this different way would be easier" or "that fingering isn't very good, try this one instead."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Break is over

I feel ever so slightly cheated about break.

1.  I caught a cold Sunday and was not doing very well Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. So I couldn't do much. My mom commented, "Wouldn't it be harder to be sick when classes are in session?" but yeah, I could have gone in and done the basics of what I needed to do (I probably would have taken a sick day Wednesday) and then gone home and watched old movies on the tv. It's not quite as fun when you're supposed to be on break and having fun.

2. Wednesday night we went to the local-to-them Greek diner (which is currently run by Lebanese immigrants...) I decided to splurge a little, sodium-wise (and I wasn't otherwise very hungry) so I got scrambled eggs with a side of gyros meat.

Well. There's something in gyros meat I'm sensitive to. And I now know that one variety of hives I get is "oral allergy syndrome" - about an hour after dinner, I started getting bumps inside my mouth and they swelled BADLY overnight. (The good news is that in most cases, oral allergy syndrome never progresses to anaphylaxis). But I was miserable because my face hurt and I was miserable because I looked ridiculous*

And I don't know what it was. A quick scan of the gyros meat available in the freezer at the grocery didn't turn anything up. (Well, it has MSG, but I've never reacted to MSG before).  Maybe there's celery in those mysterious "natural flavors." Sigh. I hate being allergic to stuff. (And in my bleaker moods, I wonder if I'll keep developing new food sensitivities until all that's left is lamb, rice, and green beans....supposedly three of the least-allergenic foods)

It can't be that bizarre meat allergy people get from tick bites, because I ate steak on the train last night and was FINE. So it's probably a seasoning in the gyro, but most of the gyro-meat-producing companies are absolutely closed-mouthed about what's in them, other than "beef and lamb and seasonings."

(I SUPPOSE it could have been the cucumber in the tiny bite of tzatziki sauce I tried and then decided I didn't like. Or, I suppose it's possible (though unlikely; I think this was commercial gyros loaf) that sumac was a seasoning, and I am sensitive to other sumac-family things (mangoes, cashews, pistachios**)

But, gah. I hate this. I can't go and get a skin test because that requires several days without any antihistamines and I don't know if I could cope with several days of bad hives (the antihistamines normally keeps them under control) before going and doing that. And I COULD do an elimination diet trial, but that's a lot of work (I tried sort of a casual one before going and getting treated for the hives, but gave up before I tried eliminating dairy- nothing seemed to make a difference other than the stuff I already knew bothered me like carrots and raw melon and some squash and cashews)

(*"You made me look ridiculous!" (deep voice) "You made me SOUND ridiculous")

(** I suppose that's another value in learning botany, sigh. You know what ELSE you can't eat because it's in the same family as something that bothers you. Then again, there's also stuff that cross-reacts, like birch pollen and melons)

So anyway. Not the best break ever. I didn't do much other than stay home....

I did get some knitting done and I read a few books. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

not for profit

Last year, the AAUW group I belonged to lost its "not for profit" tax status. This was frustrating, as our coffers are small (we have about $3000 in a checking account, for funding small scholarships and for incidentals like sending flowers to a funeral when someone in the group dies).

We had to reinstate, because the paperwork (and tax burden) for a group classified as not not-for-profit is worse. We were able to do this in part because a local CPA/attorney did much of the work for us on a pro-bono basis. And we had a retired member with some tax expertise and a real sense of duty and determination to fix it.

Well, some $800 and a ton of paperwork later, we were reinstated. The general impression was that we filed the documents that had been necessary to be filed, but that the national leadership dropped the ball on notifying the IRS about some stuff, and that was why we were dropped.

And then at the meeting last week, a letter, from the National, talking about how so very many not-for-profits have lost their status recently, and had to go through the same thing we did.

(And I was able to quickly find a news story on it. Yeah, Kafkaesque bureaucracy is about right. Our member who did the work reported being on hold with the IRS for three hours one day) And here's another one. Yeah. Toastmasters' groups being dunned by the IRS. Greeeeeaaaattt.

(With a lot of these small groups, it would be a blood-from-a-stone issue. As I said, our assets are maybe $3000, but many non profits are even more shoestringy than that.)

So, apparently, this is a widespread issue. Hm. Someone somewhere got grabby, is my interpretation - or someone, somewhere, realized that Petty Bureaucrat Rules enabled them to have the "fun" of sending out those letters, and they did.

I wonder if they realized how much stress, sadness, and trouble they caused for people? I know we never spoke of the idea of disbanding but some not-for-profits apparently did. And what it cost us in the fines or whatever to the IRS, well, we could have funded one of our small scholarships out of that.

But, gah. Just another example of why people hate bureaucracy, hate centralized leadership where some person who doesn't know the people they're dealing with makes the rules, and hate things like zero-tolerance schemes. (And why some people don't trust government agencies.)

(I also admit I didn't totally appreciate what I interpreted as a slightly whiny tone in the letter, it almost felt like a, "Don't complain to US this whole thing was NOT OUR FAULT." Well, you could have said something six or eight months ago....)