Thursday, May 31, 2007

Creature Of The Night

Reason why I prefer being nocturnal, #13: It's now officially getting to be Too Damned Hot during the day. I was walking around town, doing some daytime errands before bed this morning at about 9:30 or so, and it was already 80 degrees. Man, I thought it was unusually cool here for the end of May; turns out I was just sleeping through the non-cool hours. Bah! I do not like this strange thing you day folk call The Sun. And, man, it adds a whole extra layer of ick to too-warm morning hours when you've got lank hair and sweated-in clothes and everybody else is freshly dressed and still smells of shampoo.

I believe that I will not venture forth during the day again until I am forced to. Unfortunately, at some point I need to get my swamp cooler up and running, or it's going to be too hot even to sleep, and that's something that kind of needs to be done during the day. Damn it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Kitty Update

Because people keep asking how he's doing, and because the internet exists for people to talk about their cats (well, the parts that don't exist for porn), I thought I'd post an update on the state of no-longer-so-little Vir Catto.

To recap: Vir is the kitty I found mewing pitifully in my driveway in September of 2005, after his mother gave birth to him there and buggered off. Now, ever since he was a tiny scrap of a kitten, I've noticed that Vir's breathing sounded kind of loud and perhaps a little bit wheezy. Initially, it didn't seem very alarming, but as he's grown from being so tiny I had to weigh him on a postage scale into his current 21-pound-monster self, the noise grew, too, and in recent months I'd really begun to worry about it. Now, he's never really seemed sick. He doesn't cough; he doesn't sneeze or leak snot; he never seems to have attacks where he really can't catch his breath. But, more often than not, he sounds sort of like a slightly-squeaky Darth Vader. So I took him to the vet, and the vet thought he most likely had asthma and started him on a course of corticosteroids and a host of other drugs.

Well, none of that seemed to help at all, which surprised the vet a bit, because asthma is apparently very common in cats and is usually the answer when it's a chronic issue like this, but asthma pretty much always responds to steroids. So I took him back in to have them look into what I guess is the second most common cause of breathing issues in cats, which is heart trouble. I'm deeply relieved to be able to report that his little kitty heart seems to be absolutely fine. (And also, though far more incidentally, that an EKG for a cat costs rather less than I'd expected it to.)

The vet's current opinion is that, while it's not impossible that there's some sort of problem with his lungs, the most likely possibility is that there's some partial obstruction in his airway: a growth or a birth defect of some sort. He thinks it's kind of unlikely to be a polyp, as the noisy breathing seems to have started when he was a baby, and polyps tend to occur in adult cats. So he thinks it's very likely Vir has a slightly deformed palate or something. In which case, he'll probably just have to live with it, as surgery on that part of the body is apparently kind of difficult, and totally not worth it given that it's not really causing him any great distress.

Now, in a human, or even in a dog, what they'd do is take a flexible endoscope, thread it through the respiratory passages, and get a look at exactly what's going on in there. Apparently, though, it's difficult to find flexible endoscopes small enough to use on a cat. The vet said he has a rigid one that he could at least use to look at the inside of Vir's nose if I wanted, but that not being able to see any problems with that wouldn't really tell us anything. I decided not to bother. If a negative result would tell us nothing, and we wouldn't do anything about a positive result anyway, why put the poor critter through it? Unless, of course, he gets worse later and really is having trouble getting enough air. The vet said the only reason he could think of to want to know right now is if it was cancer, but that cancer in that part of the body is very hard to treat, anyway, so knowing might not make a lot of difference. And I rather doubt it's cancer, not if he has had it for that long.

So, yeah, I'm going to go with the "he's just got a weird nose" theory and stop worrying, unless he gives me some new reason to. I had been wondering for some time, actually, whether that might be the case, as I've never seen him show another single symptom of, well, anything. I've never even seen him do that stick-the-neck-out-and-wheeze thing that cats tend to do when they're having acute respiratory problems.

I have to say, I'm greatly relieved, as "Everything's probably pretty much OK and you don't need to do anything right now" is almost always one of my top preferred outcomes for things I've been worrying about.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I Felt The Earth Move...

We had a nifty little earthquake here last night. I was sitting at my computer when I heard a sort of booming rumble and what sounded like the shade on one of my windows rattling. My first thought was an explosion, but a) the explosives range doesn't usually make a habit of testing at 11:00 PM, and b) the whole house then proceeded to shake in a very different way from the usual quick window-rattling of an explosion. The top of my computer desk actually vibrated for a few seconds, which was really fascinating to watch.

I know, I know, people in California are snickering at me right now for even considering this sort of thing newsworthy, but earthquakes are just unusual enough here to be exciting.

Getting My Alignment Checked

Your Score: Neutral-Good

78% Good, 42% Chaotic

Plane of Existence: Elysium, "Blessed Fields". Description: The plane of peace. Notable Inhabitants: Guardinals - noble immortal humanoids with bestial features.

Examples of Neutral-Goods (Ethically Neutral, Morally Good)

Cloud Strife (FFVII)
Boogenhagen (FFVII)
Mother Theresa
Sidhartha Gautama (the Buddha)
Bilbo & Frodo Baggins
Samwise Gamgee
Indiana Jones
The Dali Lama
Ben (O-Bi-Wan) Kenobi
Luke Skywalker
Harry Potter

Often goes along with the laws and desires of the group as being the easiest course of action, but ethical considerations clearly have top priority. May pursue quite abstract goals. Often aloof and difficult to understand.

Will keep their word to others of good alignment
Would not attack an unarmed foe
Will not use poison
Will help those in need
May work with others
Indifferent to higher authority
Indifferent to organizations

Neutral Good "Pure Good"

A neutral good [person] will obey the law, or break it when he or she sees it will serve a greater good. He or she is not bound strongly to a social system or order. His or her need to help others and reduce their suffering may take precedence over all else. Neutral good [people] do good for goodness' sake, not because they are directed to by law or by whim.

This alignment desires good without bias for or against order.

Other Alignments and Tendencies (Tendenices are what you would more often sway towards; esp. for Neutrals):
0-39% Good, 0-39% Chaotic: Lawful-Evil
0-39% Good, 40-60% Chaotic: Neutral-Evil
0-39% Good, 61-100% Chaotic: Chaotic-Evil
40-60% Good, 0-39% Chaotic: Lawful-Neutral
40-60% Good, 40-60% Chaotic: True Neutral
40-60% Good, 61-100% Chaotic: Chaotic-Neutral
61-100% Good, 0-39% Chaotic: Lawful-Good
61-100% Good, 61-100% Chaotic: Chaotic-Good

Link: The Alignment Test written by xan81 on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the The Dating Persona Test

Monday, May 21, 2007

I've Been Called That Before.

You scored as Goofy. Your alter ego is Goofy! You are fun and great to be around, and you are always willing to help others. You arn't worried about embarrassing yourself, so you are one who is more willing to try new things.







Peter Pan


The Beast


Sleeping Beauty


Snow White


Donald Duck




Cruella De Ville


Which Disney Character is your Alter Ego?
created with

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sure, Rub It In That I Have To Wait...

I just played back an answering-machine message from my sister, currently on vacation in the UK, in which she excitedly informed me that she was watching Doctor Who on BBC1 right now.

I love my sister.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Well, At Least I Wasn't Sylar.

Which Hereos Character are you?
Your Result: Matt Parkman

Matt is very confused about his power to read other people's minds. He is very passionate about both his family and his career and he sometimes goes overboard and he isn't very good at controlling himself or his powers.

Claire Bennet
Nathan Petrelli
Niki Sanders
Peter Petrelli
Hiro Nakamura
Issac Mendez
Jessica Sanders
Which Hereos Character are you?
Make a Quiz

And, man, how incredibly freaking awesome has this show turned out to be? I am literally biting my nails waiting for the finale.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Hmm, Is That What The Inside Of My Mind Looks Like?

From the land of time-wasting internet memes, it is, apparently, a painting meant to match my personality:

Click here to create your own painting.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Another Big Old Bunch Of Random Links

Wow, if it weren't for Star Wars and Blake's 7, this would be the Scientific Edition of Random Links...

Images of Earth from Planetary Spacecraft: Lots of pictures of home sweet home, taken from very far away.

Science in Two Minutes or Less: Discover magazine held a contest asking readers to explain string theory in a two-minute video. You can view the competitors and choose your own favorite. (I note that the physics club from my old alma mater, New Mexico Tech has an entry... They don't really explain string theory very well, or possibly at all, but, man, do they make me nostalgic for my college days.)

New Pictures of Jupiter: Amazing images of Jupiter and its moons taken from the New Horizons space probe.

Star Wars Gangsta Rap: Not worksafe, but surprisingly entertaining.

Blake's 7: Rebel: A new audio-play remake of the classic British SF TV series, presented in 5-minute segments. I've listened to the first three, and I think it's fairly well done given the limitations of the format, but, as a huge fan of the original, I can't keep my brain from constantly screaming out that it's wrong. It didn't happen like that! That character doesn't behave that way! And their voices are all wrong! I find, though, that if I imagine it as a dramatization of the "real" events produced many, many years later, I can relax and enjoy it better. I'm sure this says something about me.

Maximizing Survival Time Inside the Event Horizon of a Black Hole: If you've ever wondered what you should do upon falling into a black hole in order to maximize your survival time before your inevitable doom, here's some helpful advice.

Inner Life of a Cell (short version, long version): Very cool computer-animated video illustrating some of the complicated goings-on inside a cell. The short version is three minutes or so, and consists entirely of nifty but somewhat baffling images. The long version is about eight minutes and features a narration involving a lot of polysyllabic words.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I'd Probably Like Chick Flicks A Lot More If They Were Geekier.

I appear to have finally figured out how to get in touch with my deeply buried romantic side, because I keep going back to look at this cartoon, and it keeps making me go "awww!" in exactly the way that I think the endings to romantic movies are supposed to and generally don't.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Comet Without A Heart

Well, someone did ask me about the book Heart of the Comet, which I mentioned the other day as prompting some reflections on why I no longer seem capable of enjoying hard SF, or at least the majority of it. And because, hey, if you can't plagiarize yourself, who can you plagiarize?, I figured I'd expand on my answer a bit and post it here.

So, I was reading this book, which is by popular SF writers Gregory Benford and David Brin, and which was published in 1986 in honor of the return of Halley's Comet. I kept meaning to read it then and for some reason never got around to it, but when I found it a couple of years ago at a library sale I picked it up. Hey, I may be slow about it, but I do tie up unfinished business from my youth eventually.

Anyway, reading it now I kept thinking -- as I often seem to these days -- that I would probably have liked the book much better if I'd read it when I was fifteen and much less, erm, discerning. Because it's not an intrinsically bad story, really, even if it is hugely far-fetched. (It involves a long-term expedition to the comet and, among other things, the discovery of alien life there.) But the writing -- which is really just bog-standard hard-SF writing -- grates on me. Example: the book contains a number of time-jumps, and the individual sections tend to start with some character looking around and thinking, basically, "Gosh, here it is, ten years later, and here are all the things that have changed..." Now, real people might occasionally think things like that, but if they do, they usually have some reason, other that that it's time to introduce the reader to the next bit of story. Here, it just doesn't sound remotely natural, and that's characteristic of the tone of the whole thing. The characters aren't really there to be characters, they're there because, well, you're supposed to have characters in a novel, I guess. And you're supposed to flesh them out and make them interesting, so everybody gets one or two character quirks and a bit of Significant Backstory, but it all feels, to me at least, very artificial. And the direction the book ultimately takes involves one particular character doing things not because they're the sorts of things any sane human being would do, but because the authors clearly thought it would be neat and would take the story to its desired conclusion. Probably what ultimately bothers me, really, is the sense that one could easily re-write all the characters, give them different personalities, different backstories, different relationships, and nothing significant would change, because that stuff is all just detail painted in between the supporting structures of the plot, rather than actually contributing to the shape of the story at all.

And, while I'm complaining, let me just point out one specific thing that drives me completely up a wall, which these guys do over and over and over in this book: using descriptions and epithets instead of character names, even when they're completely inappropriate in context. It's always "the Hawaiian woman" and "the tall Mauritanian," and so on, using people's nationalities and physical descriptions and job titles and such, regardless of whether those things are relevant to the subject at hand, or even the way the POV character would think of them at all. It gives one the impression that the writers are worried we're going to forget who these people are. Which, actually, is a very real danger, because the book's so full of so many forgettable people. Tip for authors: if you feel the compulsive need to keep reminding your readers which character is which, you have a serious problem with characterization.

Anyway, the point is, I'm finding it harder and harder to enjoy a book in which I find the characterization and the prose to be awkward and clunky, no matter how much interesting scientific speculation there is in it. And, of course, it's the scientific stuff that's the focus in hard SF, with hard SF writers usually just not caring as much about the characterization and the prose, as well as often not being very good at it if they do care. I also find, increasingly, that while I'm happy to read about planetary geology or theoretical starship engines at great length in non-fiction, long passages on such subjects make my eyes glaze over very rapidly in a novel.

I try to tell myself that, really, it's a case of different strokes for different folks, and these guys are just serving their audience, because there are a lot of people who are just there for the nifty ideas and aren't put off by the clunky exposition and stuff. But I can't help the fact that, in my heart of hearts, I think of it as just plain bad writing. And, OK, really, there's nothing intrinsically bad about plot-based, rather than character-based storytelling. But I don't see why it has to be an either-or thing.

I looked up some reviews of Heart of the Comet after I read it, and found one which suggested that it might make a good movie. I think I sort of agree. In fact, I think it would be much improved by being made into a movie, in much the same way that The Hunt for Red October was improved by it... Because in a movie, you can't have long expository passages about submarine engines; you have to focus on character, dialog, and moving the action along. Sadly, though, genuine hard SF movies are even rarer than well-written hard SF novels.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I'm Not A Virus, But I Am Feeling Pretty Malicious At The Moment.

That last post was actually composed several hours ago, but apparently in the middle of editing it, Google, in its infinite wisdom, came to the conclusion that I was some sort of evil piece of software, and cut me off. Even trying to go to the main Blogger webpage got me the following infuriating message:
We're sorry...

...but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can't process your request right now.

We'll restore your access as quickly as possible, so try again soon. In the meantime, if you suspect that your computer or network has been infected, you might want to run a virus checker or spyware remover to make sure that your systems are free of viruses and other spurious software.

We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we'll see you again on Google.
Fuck you very much, Google. What am I, if not a user? And my PC is clean and healthy, thank you. Well, clean, anyway.

Apparently it wasn't just me, as once I was able to get into the Blogger help forums -- not the world's easiest trick, since I couldn't get to the Blogger page to find the link for it -- I saw several other people complaining about the same thing.

But, gosh, you'd think they read that bit in the previous post saying I couldn't think of anything to be annoyed about and decided to provide something for me. I'm especially irritated since I lost all the edits I'd made to the post. Fortunately, I at least had the basic post itself, since I'd composed it in Notepad instead of the Blogger text box. But if there are any typos or awkward phrases in that last post, it's not my fault. The version I was going to use was much better. Really.

And, sigh, what with trying to figure out what the heck was going on there, I still haven't taken in the laundry, scooped the (now very smelly) cat boxes or cleaned the bathroom. At least I did get some food and called my sister.

Yes, It's Yet Another Meme, But At Least This Time It's One With Some Content.

I feel like I ought to apologize for the recent utterly content-free nature of this blog, not that I imagine anybody ever comes here looking for Deep Thoughts and Meaningful Insights. I blame day shifts, which seem to have the effect of pretty much shutting down my higher brain functions, as well as making my free time seem seriously constricted, what with having to have an actual bedtime. I did have some sort of not-quite-a-rant in my head about how I find I longer take much pleasure in the hard science fiction sub-genre (or at least the vast majority of it), prompted by reading Benford and Brin's Heart of the Comet, which I'm sure I would have liked much better if I'd read it in 1986 as I'd originally planned. But I never quite managed to care enough to organize my vague'n'scattered thoughts into a post. If anybody out there is actually interested in hearing about that, though, feel free to give me a prod and maybe later, when I'm sufficiently bored, I'll get around to it.

In the meantime -- heh, I nearly typed "in the memetime" -- here's that "currently" meme again.

Current clothes: Gray sweat pants. Black t-shirt that says "I'm blogging this." (Heh.) White crew socks. No shoes.

Current mood: Pretty good.

Current music: Most recently, some random-shuffle stuff on the iPod, none of which I really remember. Before that, the soundtrack from Shrek.

Current annoyance: Not too annoyed about anything today. Mainly because I don't have to work. Having to work for a living is probably the biggest annoyance in my life, but there's hardly much point to bitching about that.

Current thing: Up 'til this weekend, it was pretending, with some success but little enthusiasm, to be a day person. Fortunately, I'm back on evenings now, and after that I work nights for several weeks. This is in some respects an inconvenience, but I find it something of a relief. There are too many people around during the day. It makes me feel weirdly claustrophobic.

Current desktop picture: This picture of a lunar eclipse and a lighthouse.

Current book: Conservatize Me by John Moe, a non-fiction book about a guy from Seattle who finds himself drifting slightly from his lifelong liberal viewpoint and decides to explore that by steeping himself in red-state culture and Republican rhetoric, to see if it's possible to convert himself to conservatism. Moe's a pretty funny writer, so it's an entertaining read, and I think the book does make an actual contribution towards bipartisan understanding.

Current song in head: "Proud to Be an American" by Lee Greenwood. Because John Moe mentiones this song over and over and over in his book. Apparently listening to this damned song on continuous loop is a fundamental part of the American conservative experience. Moe and I both agree that that this song is utter drivel, and I may never forgive him for putting it back in my head. I am still traumatized by memories of being stuck in the car with my country-music-loving mother on long trips during which this freakin' song would be played approximately once every fifteen minutes. Aaargh! I keep attempting to eradicate it by playing the theme song to I Dream of Jeannie in my brain, which historically has a strong record of getting badly stuck in there and driving everything else out, but I have had only mixed success. Damn you, John Moe!

Current DVD in player: Disc two of season three of Stargate SG-1. So far, this seems to be kind of an uneven season, but Stargate fans assure me that it is, overall, a good one. The last episode I watched featured Jack O'Neill teaching alien children the meaning of fun, which isn't something I can really bring myself to feel good about.

Current refreshment: Nothing since I finished my morning coffee.

Current worry: Despite getting five doses per day of sundry medicinal concoctions, Vir doesn't seem to be improving any. He also doesn't particularly seem to be getting worse. But if he'd respond to the medication, they'd just diagnose him with asthma and I could stop worrying that he might actually have some sort of horrible affliction heretofore unknown to veterinary science.

Current thought: I'm hungry. And I need to get my laundry in off the line, call my sister, clean the bathroom, scoop the cat litter... I really ought to get off my ass and actually start doing stuff.

Call Me That And Die.

Your Hippie Chick Name Is: