Monday, April 30, 2007

Eep! And Yikes! And Whoa!

Tonight's episode of Heroes has made me all sort of... incoherently flail-y. In the good way.

Wow, but I think it's been a while since a TV show seriously did that to me.

Random Link Bonanza!

It's been a little while since I've done this, so I've got a bunch of 'em this time...

Futurama vs. Doctor Who: Two shows separated at birth? You decide! (Warning: contains possible spoilers for both shows, including episodes of Who not yet aired in North America.)

Boomshine: A highly mesmerizing, surprisingly beautiful, very simple flash game. See how big a chain reaction you can make!

Pros and cons of the top 20 Democratic presidential candidates: I know a lot of people who would vote for Optimus Prime.

Speaking of politics, Vote Petrelli! Or, y'know, don't, because he's kind of an ass, plus he [Heroes spoilers deleted].

Knut videos: The Berlin Zoo presents insanely cute video footage of the insanely cute polar bear cub, Knut.

Repertory theater artist Mike Daisey had his notes destroyed by an asshole protester during a performance, then tracked the guy down and talked to him. This man is my new hero. This, folks, is how to be a human being.

Uncomfortable Questions: Was the Death Star Attack an Inside Job?: Exactly what is the Imperial government not telling us?

An InformationWeek article about "machinima" -- using video game software to create original animated videos -- which features an animated rendition of the Dead Alewives' classic exposé of the shocking truth of what really happens at Dungeons and Dragons games. (Having attended a few of those myself, by the way, I can confirm that this shocking truth is, in fact, stunningly accurate.)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix movie trailer: I'll admit to having mixed feelings about the movie series, but they're sure making this one look cool.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Warning: Science Content

In the wake of the recent discovery of a relatively Earth-like extrasolar planet, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail asking if I could explain how we know exactly how far away such a planet is. I was delighted to comply, because I'm always happy to be asked questions I actually know the answer to. And because it seems a shame to waste a good lecture, I figured I'd also post a (slightly edited) version here for the edification of the general public. Or at least for the handful of people who read this blog and don't already know this stuff.

So, how do we know how far away this interesting little world is?

The distances to relatively nearby stars (and thus to any planets they might have) is measured using parallax, which -- and you may already know this -- involves looking at an object from two different positions and measuring how it appears to move relative to a more distant background.

Parallax is a familiar phenomenon. If you hold out a finger and close first one eye, then the other eye, you'll see your finger appear to move relative to the wall behind it, because your eyes are a few centimeters apart. Likewise, as you drive down the road in a car, the nearby telephone poles seem to move much more quickly than the distant mountains. The reason why this works is best explained with a diagram, but my scanner seems to be broken, so I can't draw you one, and if I tried to do it in Paint, I think we'd all regret it. You can check out the Wikipedia entry on parallax, though. There's some diagrams there, as well as a much more technical explanation than you probably want. The short answer is that you're seeing the object from a different angle, and the difference is much bigger for things that are close to you than for things that are far away.

Now, because stars, even ones that are close by astronomical standards, are so far away, just moving a few feet, or even a few miles, isn't going to show you much change. What you can do, though, is to use the fact that the Earth moves around the sun to help you. The Earth is 93 million miles from the sun, and it revolves in a nearly circular orbit. This means that in July, Earth is 186 million miles away from where it is in December. (Because it moves in a near-circle with a radius of 93 million miles.) So, if you observe a star, and then observe it again six months later, you can see it move against the background of more distant objects (such as galaxies, which are very, very much farther away). Knowing the orbit of the Earth and observing the amount by which the star seems to shift, you can use some simple trigonometry to calculate the distance to the star.

There. Hopefully that makes sense.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cat Swallows Pill! Film At Eleven!

My ASPCA Complete Cat Care Manual recommends having an accomplice if you have to give a pill to a cat, but then says, "If your cat is gentle and docile, you can give it a tablet without any assistance."

Hooray! It appears I have a gentle, docile cat! In fact, I think I may be prepared to go so far as to say that I have The Best Cat Ever.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Speaking Of Animals...

For those of you who are interested in an update, I took Vir back to the vet today, since his breathing has, if anything, gotten worse rather than better. He doesn't seem to have any horrible attacks where he can't breathe or anything, but he spends a lot of the day sounding like he's stuffed up even though he appears to be snot-free, and there are times when he's unambiguously wheezing.

So the vet took some x-rays... His lungs mostly look good, but there was a bit of a white area on the x-ray the doctor wasn't too sure about. He still thinks it's probably asthma, though. So Mr. Catto now has more steroids (for if it is an allergic thing), and antibiotics (just in case there's an infection) and a bronchiodialator (to open up his airways). Oh, joy, oh joy... I get to feed him four doses of liquid and part of a pill every day.

If all that stuff doesn't help, they may want to look at his heart, although that may require equipment my vet doesn't even have. Man, I'm really hoping this'll do the trick.

I'm A Wolf! Unless I'm Not.

This quiz, apparently, is part of a promo for the upcoming Golden Compass movie (an endeavor I have mixed feelings about, as I had issues with the book, and more issues with what I've heard the movie's doing with the book). Clicking on the graphic to "find your daemon" takes you to a flash-intensive site that'll try to get you to listen to several lectures about the movie-world's background while you keep clicking through to get to the quiz, but the site is very pretty, and the background's actually interesting, so it's less annoying than it might be. If you click on "is my daemon a match?" it'll ask you for opinions about my personality and possibly make changes to the type of animal. Which seems kind of cool. Just don't go telling it any lies about me, 'kay?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Doctor Who Materializes Here This Summer

Because I know there are people reading this who are interested, a bit of news: The Sci Fi Channel is going to be showing the third season of the new Doctor Who starting in July. Being the impatient and obsessive type I am, I've already watched the four episodes that have aired in the UK thus far, and I'd say they range in quality from borderline brilliant to kind of dumb... but I love the new companion and think David Tennant is very much on form. My fellow Americans should definitely check it out!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Nope, Nothing Clever Yet. This Is Kind Of Cool, Though.

I'm Just Gonna Keep Doing Stupid Memes And Quizzes 'Til I Think Of Something Clever To Say, OK?

My Fortune Cookie told me:
Where there are visible vapors, having their prevenance in ignited carbonaceous materials, there is conflagration.
Get a cookie from Miss Fortune

You know, it sounds a lot more true when you put it that way.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

You Can Take The Woman Out Of South Jersey, But You Can't Take South Jersey Out Of The Woman.

What American accent do you have?
Created by Xavier on

Mid-Atlantic. This is what everyone calls a Philadelphia accent although it's also the accent of south Jersey, Baltimore, and Wilmington. Well, everyone that lives near there, that is. Outsiders can tell you talk differently from them even though they can't tell what your accent is.

Take this quiz now - it's easy!
We're going to start with "cot" and "caught." When you say those words do they sound the same or different?

That's actually really quite impressive. And also an answer to the occasional person from my old stomping grounds who's accused me of talking like a New Mexican now.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Well, I'll Try To Take It As One.

You Are 4% Girly

Um... you're a guy, right? If not, you're the most boyish girl in the world.
And for you, that's probably the ultimate compliment.

Apparently I Am A Geek Up To My Forehead and Elbows. Free Online Dating81% - Free Online Dating

This was a much better quiz than most of 'em, clearly designed by a true geek. I was terribly amused, though, by the ad that kept urging me to "meet single geeks in Socorro." As if you couldn't throw a stone here without hitting one...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Time Is An Illusion. Lunchtime Doubly So.

I've always understood intellectually that humans, like most critters on Earth, have an innate internal clock, and as someone who's worked rotating shifts of various kinds for over a decade now, I've had a lot of experience at tweaking and recalibrating mine. But it still surprises me how utterly, utterly surreal it feels when that mechanism gets truly and seriously messed with.

Now, I've been working nights the last month or so. This was to large extent my own choice, and I liked it just fine, but it is unusual for me to stay on any shift long enough that it starts to feel completely normal. But by last weekend -- two consecutive 8PM-8AM shifts -- I was so solidly adjusted to a nighttime schedule that the little clock in my brain was absolutely and completely certain that night was day, to the point where I kept thinking of it as day and half-expecting day-shift stuff to be happening. The fact that it was dark seemed irrelevant. Or rather, it seemed perfectly sensible: it's dark during the day, of course. It always is.

OK, that was weird enough. But then I got to the point where I had to think about switching back over to day shifts, which I'm starting on Monday. (Normally, I'd have another full week to make the transition, but I have to cover for someone who's going on vacation.) In the past, when I've needed to get myself off of night shift, I've usually done it by trying to shift backwards: waking myself up earlier so I'd be tired earlier. This is hard to do, though, most especially if you've been on nights long enough that your internal clock genuinely believes that bedtime isn't supposed to come before 8AM. Plus, it involves not getting enough sleep, for however many days it takes to accomplish the transition. The radical alternative is to do it the other way: to attempt to stay awake for something like 30 hours. This is faster, but it sucks, and attempting it often results in dropping of exhaustion around 2 PM and waking up in the middle of the night, which isn't quite the desired effect.

I was contemplating doing the latter, anyway, when it occurred to me: there's absolutely no reason I'd need to shift forward all at once. Having crammed in three days worth of work on the weekend, I only had 16 more hours I needed to put in somewhere, with it not really mattering when I showed up... which gave me a full week of flexible hours before I had to be ready for the day shift.

So, I've been rotating forward slowly. On Monday I went to sleep at 10 AM and woke up at 6 PM; Tuesday it was noon to 8, Wednesday 2-10, and today I fell asleep at 4 PM and woke up at midnight. At this rate, come Monday, I'll have wrapped myself around so I'm sleeping 10PM-6AM, which should be absolutely perfect.

I'm not sure if I recommend this method or not, though, because it's... did I use the word "surreal?" Being awake during the day after living nocturnally for so long is bizarre enough: I remember walking down the street at mid-morning on Wednesday feeling kind of freaked out by the fact that it was so bright and there were so many people and wondering at the fact that other humans could possibly consider this normal. I can't help but wonder if people who've just been released from prison -- or at least from dungeons -- feel the same way.

Anyway, that was weird enough, and having afternoons come at the end of my day is also weird enough, but the truly surreal thing is how my internal clock just seems to have given up and broken. I have no sense of time whatsoever now. I hadn't realized before just how much we define our days as divided by our sleep periods. Or rather, I had -- every shiftworker, I think, has the innate sense that it's not tomorrow until you've slept, no matter what the clock or the morning person who's relieving you think -- but I hadn't realized just how deeply that's embedded into our subconsciouses. I guess it's true that you don't ever properly appreciate things until you have to do without them. Because I find that I honestly can't remember whether something happened today or yesterday, for any definitions of "today" and "yesterday" at all. There's no sense of "before I slept last" being a different period than "after I slept last," and, man, that doesn't sound terribly disturbing when I write it out like that, but, believe me, it's disconcerting. Everything runs together into a big, undefined temporal blur. And I have to keep looking at clocks and calendars to figure out things I really ought to know intuitively, like how long I've been awake and what day of the week it is and whether it's morning or night.

It's a fascinating personal experiment, really, which is why I've rambled about it at such length (and probably bored the crap out of anybody who isn't me). If nothing else, it's given me a greater appreciation of how much that internal clock normally does for us, not to mention a more visceral understanding of the cyclical nature of time. It's also proving quite successful... Staying awake an extra couple of hours each day is easy enough -- much easier than trying to go to bed earlier -- and I'm getting plenty of sleep and remaining a productive human being, even if I'm being productive at odd hours. But I really don't think I'm going to make a regular habit out of this.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's almost 2 AM. I think I should probably be getting ready for work.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Laugh of the Day

Loyal reader Andrew Ironwood sent me a link in the comments to this cartoon, and I thought it was far too funny not to share. Well, at least, it's funny if you're into role-playing and watch Lost. I can't be the only person here who fits into both categories, can I?

Definitely An Independent Film

I've done this "soundtrack of your life" meme before, but a) I'm extremely bored at the moment, and b) I think this is a slightly longer version, and c) anything involving random mish-mashes of music never fails to amuse me. So:

1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle.
3. Press play.
4. For every question, type the song that's playing.
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button.
6. Don't lie and try to pretend you’re cool.

Opening Credits: "Closer to the Heart" by The String Quartet Tribute to Rush. Hmm. That's actually rather nice.

Waking Up: "Captain Jack" by Billy Joel. OK, that bodes less well. And, frankly, bears no relationship to my life whatsoever, even my teenage years. I was an entirely different type of disaffected teen.

First Day At School: "Young Lust" by Pink Floyd. Um, yeah, this is definitely somebody else's life we're documenting here.

Falling In Love: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" by the Police. Well, at least it's an actual love song.

Fight Song: "Shelter from the Storm" by Bob Dylan. I can't imagine what kind of fight anybody could possibly have to that... Maybe it's actually played after the fight.

Breaking Up: "Soul Driver" by Bruch Springsteen. Um... OK. I guess the answer poor Bruce gets is a "no."

Prom: "Truck Drivin' Song" by Weird Al Yankovic. Bwah! That would have been much more interesting than my actual prom, which featured no cross-dressing whatsoever.

Life: "Jurassic Park" by Weird Al Yankovic. Alas, there has been a noticeable lack of dinosaurs in my life. Although I have seen a lot of movies, maybe that's what it refers to.

Mental Breakdown: "Par Avion" by Mike & the Mechanics. Possibly it's listening to this song that's causing the mental breakdown, I dunno...

Driving: "Battle with the Elements" by Dr. Jane and the Primordial Oohz. Apparently I'm driving across a periodic table. Or studying for a chemistry exam in the passenger seat.

Flashback: "For No One" by the Beatles. I guess I'm flashing back to that breakup I did to "Soul Driver."

Getting back together: "One Slip" by Pink Floyd. All right, that's just disturbing.

Wedding: "For Reasons Unknown" by the Killers. Yes, thank you soundtrack, I think it's now extremely clear that this is a doomed, loveless relationship I'm trapped in.

Birth of Child: "So Long" by the Goo Goo Dolls. So apparently the guy I married takes off as soon as the kid is born. Charming.

Final Battle: "I Love Almost Everybody" by Space Ghost. This movie appears to be some kind of bizarre tragicomedy, and I suspect it's going to be impossible not to laugh at this part.

Death Scene: "By the Rivers Dark" by Leonard Cohen. I have no idea what that means, but it seems weirdly appropriate, all things considered.

Funeral Song: "Cartoon Heroes" by Aqaua. Bwahahahahaha! I think I love this movie, actually.

End Credits: "Move" by Coleman Smith. Hmm. It's a jazzy, instrumental thing. I think it works.

OK, you know what? I definitely want to see this movie. It's got nothing to do with me, obviously, but it's got dinosaurs (possibly), cross-dressing truckers, a deeply cynical view of relationships, and a fine sense of irony and absurdity. Let me know when it's coming out on DVD; I'll stick it at the top of my Netflix queue.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

It's Not Time To Go Home Yet?!

Wow, I'd forgotten just how tedious 12-hour shifts can be...

Friday, April 13, 2007

DIY Cat Project: Before And After

Having to tote ol' Vir Catto around in that pet carrier today reminded me all over again of how amazing this whole process by which small critters get to be large ones is, and I thought I'd post a couple of pics so the rest of you can compare and marvel with me.

So, here's the picture of Vir taken with my crappy phone camera a day or two after he was born, all cuddled up to a little stuffed bunny rabbit:

And here he is a year and a half later, with the same bunny:

I'm really hoping he's going to stop at this size!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kitty Follow-Up Report

Well, Vir got the same corticosteroid shot I did. Let's hope it works as well for him as it did for me.

The Sun! It Burns!

Jesus, how do you day-dwellers stand it being this bright out? *grumbles sleepily, goes to stuff cat into carrier*

Currently Events

I've been neglecting this poor blog terribly of late, I know. *strokes poor neglected blog apologetically* Well, at least there's always this memey thing...

Current clothes: My old "save Farscape" fundraiser t-shirt with the words "Irreversibly Contaminated" on it. Blue jeans. Black belt. White socks. Black sneakers.

Current mood: Pretty good. In fact, I've been in a pretty good mood for a while now. I'm also starting to get a little sleepy... It's nearly 5 AM, so it's coming up on my bedtime.

Current music: I was listening to some random-shuffle music on the iPod earlier, but I don't remember what most of it was. The most recent (albiet non-musicy) thing I've listened to was the commentary for the latest Doctor Who episode, which I've been playing while doing a bit of housework.

Current annoyance: Hmm. Remarkably little is annoying me at the moment, actually.

Current thing: Living a nocturnal existence. First I worked my own week of night shifts, then I traded with someone else for his week of night shifts. This week, I don't have a set time I have to be in, but I'm on nights again for the weekend, so I haven't bothered to adjust my sleep schedule any. Actually, being awake when everybody else is asleep and vice versa does come with a few annoyances, but overall I'm quite enjoying it.

Current desktop picture: This extremely cool lunar eclipse picture.

Current song in head: It appears to be David Bowie's "Golden Years."

Current book: Eddie Bear, Private Detective, which contains two humorous fantasy novels by Robert Rankin: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse and The Toyminator. I've just finished the first one. It's written in a deeply silly style that teetered a bit between annoying and amusing for me for a while, but ultimately I found it pretty entertaining. Well, hey, I think it'd take a lot to make me dislike a book with a title like that. I do have to say that I think I slightly prefer Jasper Fforde's take on the whole "murder mystery with nursery rhyme characters," though. (And, man, that's kind of an odd sentence to type, when I stop to think about it. Is this becoming some kind of weird new subgenre?)

Current DVD in player: Nothing at the moment. I finished the last disc of The Greatest American Hero a while back. Next up is Richard III, the WWII version with Ian McKellen, but I keep not getting around to it.

Current refreshment: I had some lemon-ginger herbal tea a while ago.

Current worry: Poor Vir-kitty is getting pretty wheezy and/or snotty. When he went to the vet for his checkup a few months ago, I was told he probably had a touch of asthma, or maybe allergies, but he wasn't doing too badly then, so it didn't seem to be worth worrying about. It's definitely starting to bother him a bit now, though. Hell, it's starting to bother me. I can hear the poor critter breathing from across a room. He's got a vet appointment tomorrow. I'm just hoping he doesn't need some horribly unpleasant and expensive treatments or anything.

Current thought: Yes, getting sleepy. I should finish this up, listen to the rest of that Doctor Who commentary thing, and get some sleep so I can get up at the crack of 3:00 to take Vir in for his appointment.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Me Fail English? That's Unpossible!

Your English Skills:

Grammar: 100%
Punctuation: 100%
Vocabulary: 80%
Spelling: 60%

Well, that sounds about right. Although, as Fred of Occasional Fish (where I snurched this from) points out, a few of the punctuation questions do perhaps admit of legitimate stylistic variation, and one of them uses a different set of standards depending on which side of the Atlantic you're on.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Because Everyone Ought To Make One Of These From Time To Time

A list of things which are making me happy right now:

New Doctor Who.

Getting enough sleep.

Mornings coming at the end of my day, where I'm able to properly appreciate them.


Being able to enjoy spring, rather than suffering miserably through it. (Thank you, drugs!)

Hardcore nerd rock.

The wonderfulness that is Robert Culp in The Greatest American Hero. (And the fact that cheesy 80's television is fun.)

Firefox (which I've finally switched over to using on my home PC, and which does not appear to randomly freeze or crash on me the way Netscape did).

Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia in low-guilt, low-fat frozen yogurt variety.

Getting more exercise, and actually feeling pretty good about it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Lost in Time

Oh great, the clocks I had to set ahead by hand weeks ago have now just spontaneously set themselves another hour forward. Except, of course, for the ones that didn't, including the one on my living room wall that decided a few days after I changed it that I clearly didn't know what I was doing and reset itself back, as well as one I apparently never changed in the first place. Now one-third of the clocks in my house say 5:20 AM, one-third say 4:20, and one-third say 6:20. I may never know what time it actually is again.