Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking

There's nothing I can say that others have not said better than I could. I am happy and amazed that he lived as long as he did but I can't help being a little sad at his passing.

(Videos are loading extremely slowly this morning. Patience.)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

And So It Begins?

The AI take-over that is. You may have heard that some Alexa users are being freaked out by random creepy laughter coming from Alexa. Coming so soon after last week's super creepy X-Files episode, it's only natural that one's first thought might be, "Is this how the AI take-over starts?" But even as I was joking about it on Twitter I was thinking hacker. Some pimply-faced little dweeb is sitting in his parents' basement having a good laugh. However, Amazon says Alexa is merely misunderstanding "lights" for "laughs". Some people though, have described it as an evil laugh, not Alexa's normal, pleasant laugh.

I still haven't abandoned my notion that it's caused by a hacker but if this is the beginning of the AI take-over, be it known that I welcome our electronic overlords.

Women's Day?

So, today is International Women's Day. Bah, humbug! Yes, I am a Women's Day scrooge. I usually shy away from issues. What usually happens when anyone, especially someone whose opinions don't fit neatly into any of the approved categories, tries to discuss issues is that people read only the part they hate and totally ignore any qualifiers and disclaimers. But nobody reads this anyway so imagining that I'm going to get trolls is probably flattering myself to the point of pure fantasy. If I did get trolls it would actually be sort of validating, in a way.

Still, I feel like I have to start by saying this: Yes, of course women should be free to live whatever kind of life they want. Yes, women should be doctors and lawyers and college professors and CEO's and whatever else they aspire to and they should be paid the same as men doing the same jobs. We have mostly achieved that in the U.S. Or at least we have achieved the right to sue our employers for discrimination. Of course, trials and other court proceedings are really just contests to see who has the better lawyer but that's a whole 'nother issue.

What we have not achieved is respect. Women are still groped and women are still mansplained to and geeky girls are still bullied for daring to play video games and liking science fiction and superhero comics. In fact, in some ways things are worse now than in the 60s and 70s. Women who work and demand equality are disrespected by men (only some men but way too many) and women who are traditionally feminine are disrespected by more "progressive" women.

Frankly, women who make a point of letting everyone know how much they dislike anything traditionally associated with femininity both amuse and annoy me at the same time. Honey, you're not better than anyone just because you don't like pink. And here we come to the point I was working up to. I often find myself thinking, "I hate what womanhood has become." And I guess this is my fault for being different - for being a throwback. I have always related more to women in my mother's generation and enjoyed hanging out with them more than with my own generation. But those women, at least in my family, have all gone where we all must inevitably go someday.

This is more than just feeling sorry for myself, though I will admit there is some of that; I feel sad for young women and girls for what they have lost and never will know they have lost. And really, I don't even know how to define it myself. I don't want for most women to go back to being housewives who sew and knit and bake cookies but I want that to still be a valid and respectable option. But that's not really the point. Whether housewives or career women there seems to be some quality that is missing from womanhood compared to the way it used to be and that missing quality hasn't really been replaced by anything positive. As I said I don't know how to define it and maybe I really just don't know enough women and maybe I'm missing something.

Of course I know this is not universal. There are always people who don't fit in and people who can't keep up with the times and most are afraid to speak out and demand respect for reasons that would soon become obvious if this blog was much more popular. Also, I don't want to give the impression that I'm seriously bothered by any of this personally. Sure there are times when I sort of miss having compatible female companionship - someone to go to antique shops and fabric stores with or to just hang out with for a while - but I'm enough of an introvert that I truly enjoy alone time and I'm actually glad that I never have to put up with anyone dropping in on me when I'm not in the mood.

As for International Women's Day, I think it is best observed by focusing on the "International" part of it - on those countries where women are still treated as slaves, or in some cases are actual slaves, where women don't have health care or enough food to eat, or clean water, where they would consider the worst situation in the U.S. to be near Heaven. That's what International Women's Day should be about.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Pre-Spring Rambling

One of my favorite days of the year is the day when I step outside and hear frogs for the first time. That happened on the last day of February. A few days later, another of my favorite days happened - I saw the first tiny wildflowers. (Most people call them "weeds" but really a flower is a flower.) And another of my favorite days will be this weekend when we go back to Daylight Saving Time.

This weekend is also the Tulsa Home and Garden Show, another of my favorite things. This is huge. If you haven't been to it you can't imagine how huge. It's in the River Spirit Expo (They change the name of this building every few years. It used to be the Quick Trip Center and before that... I can't remember.) one of the largest clear-span buildings in the world. It has 354,000 column-free square feet and a total of 448,000 square feet. That's a little over 10 acres of indoor space!

The Home and Garden Show is more "home" than "garden." There are all kinds of building, remodeling and decorating products. And safe rooms. One year we counted 17 safe room companies. Besides the safe rooms there's always a handful of companies that you think, "Why are they here?" But mostly it's like Heaven for HGTV addicts.

So anyway, I've been having a really good couple of weeks. It's not official spring but in so many ways it feels like spring and I'm looking forward to real spring. I'm looking forward to the time of year when I don't have to worry, "Are we going to going to have an ice storm next week?" Which can happen as late as April.

There is one thing that is looming: my 60th birthday. What the hell?! Most of the time I feel like I'm barely even a grown-up. How can I possibly be turning 60? I just can't make sense of it. I kind of joke that "60 is the new 40" but even 40 seems a little older than I should be. Of course there are benefits to being older. I think the worst thing about being old is not being old but being judged by one's age. Younger people have this idea in their heads about what 60 is but it's not what they think and they will never get it until they're at least 50 themselves. But still, they judge.

Oh well, enough of that. Look what I came across this morning: Beautiful Chickens. Honestly, they're not all beautiful; the white, skinny one is pretty creepy. My mom loved chickens and I kind of miss having them around but I'm not sure if I would really enjoy the responsibility of taking care of them. I might; I just don't know. I've never had chickens as an adult. Maybe it's just nostalgia.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Black Composers

My intention was to observe Black History Month by posting videos of music by black composers two or three times a week. Well, I didn't quite make it. It turned out to be more like one a week. But I discovered a couple of composers I wasn't aware of and I really like what I've heard.

I'm going to end the month with probably the most famous African American composer, Scott Joplin. Like many people I was first introduced to Joplin's music by the movie, The Sting, still one of my favorite movies of all time. The arrangement of The Entertainer from the movie is still my favorite. Here's another favorite that I first heard in The Sting.

And from Joplin's opera Treemonisha

Monday, February 26, 2018

Tell a Fairy Tale

Did you know that today is Tell a Fairy Tale Day? What a wonderful idea for a Day! Also, did you know that there is a classification system for folk tales? Oh, that site looks like an incredibly fun way to waste an afternoon! Here's a history of the ATU Folk Tale Index.

Bobby McFerrin

You probably remember Bobby McFerrin for his novelty song Don't Worry, Be Happy but he is much more than a one hit wonder and one man orchestra. He has remained active in music all these years since that fun, silly song, writing more serious songs as well as entertaining audiences with his unusual vocal talent.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Random Linkage

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur - I haven't paid much attention to cartoons for a long time but something about this appeals to me.

Gray Squirrels Good at Problem Solving - And in other news water is wet. Anyone who has ever tried to keep the little buggers from stealing all the birdseed knows this already.

Happiest Facts Ever - These are delightful.

Donuts Are a Girl's Best Friend?

The Louvre's Secret Apartments - Gorgeous rooms!

Elizabeth Cotton - Interesting life story

Underwater Garden - strangely clear flood waters

Monday, February 19, 2018

Black Composers

Adolphus Hailstork "Sonata da Chiesa" for String Orchestra (1992)

This sonata sounds a bit like spring to me, which seems appropriate right now even though spring is still weeks away.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Black Composers

I was already slightly familiar with William Grant Still but I hadn't heard this particular piece before.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Random Linkage

World Wide Weirdies - Sounds like a take-off on the World Wide Web but these are actually from the 1970s.

Wooden Money - but no wooden nickels

Embroidery Portraits - Wow!

Creative Hyphenation and places your mind goes

Colorful Houses of South India

Customer Stories - I never get tired of these. I just keep reading and going, "What the hell was wrong with that person?" My fantasy is that some of the bad customers will read these, recognize themselves and feel shamed. (More likely they would get angry but I did say it's my fantasy.)

Car in Space - No, not that car. This is another blast from the 70s.

The Secret Teachings of All Ages - Hmmmm... I must explore this sometime.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Black Composers

Another one by Florence Price

Cold Weather Vices

Hot chocolate! In particular, Land O' Lakes hot chocolate in wonderful flavors like cinnamon and caramel. I don't have any right now. Last year I ordered it from Amazon. The Reasor's here has it and I did buy a couple of the big containers but they don't have all the flavors.

But anyway, that's gone now and I wasn't going to buy any more because calories. I decided (again) that I'm just going to drink hot tea this winter but last time I was at Walmart I saw they had Great Value salted caramel hot chocolate mix in the big round containers. (which turned out to be only half full. I know stuff settles but really?) I hesitated to buy it because I was like "Ewwww Great Value brand" but "salted caramel" won. I bought it and darn it, it's actually pretty good. Not up there with Land O' Lakes but really not bad and it mixes up as well as Land O' Lakes. It doesn't leave lumps that won't mix no matter how much you stir like some other cheap hot chocolate mixes.

I have some Chocolate Candy Cane tea from The Spice and Tea Exchange and it is heavenly but there's just something about hot cocoa - the creaminess of it - for which there is just no substitute. Someone on Twitter suggested Swiss Miss because it has on 60 calories per packet? Sorry, that makes sense but it also tastes like it only has 60 calories.

There's no fix for this. I will just have to consume less of something else and hope the weather warms up soon.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Good Guys Drink Tea

Yesterday was Charles Dickens birthday. As a fan I should have known that but I didn't until I came across this article about coffee and tea drinkers in Dickens' novels. Of course as a tea drinker myself it makes me happy that more often than not "the good guys prefer tea while the dodgier ones plot and scheme over coffee."

This also inspired another thought: that both what we consider elite and what we consider sinister or evil is at least partly due to a lack of familiarity. Here in America we think of tea (we're talking about hot tea here) as more elite than coffee and we imagine proper Brits sitting around in elegant parlors drinking tea from beautiful little tea cups. Never mind that that's probably no longer reality, if it ever was.

This also explains why a certain kind of movie villain always listens to classical music. Most people are not familiar with it so it seems plausible that it's what smart evil guys like. Wait! Is this why nobody like me? Because I drink tea and listen to classical music?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Books Books Books

It has been way too long since I wrote anything about the books I've been reading and, to be honest, there are some that I barely even remember so I'm going to go through these briefly, starting with the most recent one I finished.

Generally, I do not much like post apocalypse novels but for some reason Amazon keeps recommending them to me and darn it some of them are actually pretty good. Excellent, in fact - like The Silent Earth Trilogy by Mark R. Healy. It begins sometime after a Nuclear Winter. All life on Earth has been wiped out and all that's left are "synthetics," what most of us think of as androids. Strangely though, these synthetics are exactly like humans. They have emotions and feel pain, both physical and emotional, just like humans. The only difference is that if they get damaged they don't heal, they have to be repaired but on post apocalyptic Earth there are no repair facilities. (And of course they don't eat or drink which is the main reason I would never want to be an android. Ice cream is too important to me.)

The synthetics have formed various factions. One faction hunts down other synthetics and kills them for spare parts. Another is trying to form a new civilization. The main character is one of two synthetics who are trying to restore life using frozen embryos and seeds. This is, as I have already said, an excellent book - compelling story and great characterization. I can't really consider a book "good" unless it has characters I care about and other characters to fear and/or hate. This has both as well as a great story with plenty of action. I highly recommend this book to all science fiction fans.

I suppose you could call Adrian Tchaikovsky's Children of Time post apocalyptic also but the whole story takes place on a ship and an alien planet so I think of it as more of a space opera. A few thousand humans have left a dying Earth and headed for a previously terraformed planet. When they get there they find the planet is already home to a rapidly evolving civilization. The story takes place over a period of hundreds of years as the characters wake up from cold-sleep, go back into cold-sleep, and wake up again several times. This is another excellent story and as unique as anything I've read. If you're arachnophobic you might want to skip this one though.

I finally read Oliver Twist. Around the time I was ten years old the movie, Oliver, was a really big deal and everyone thought Mark Lester was the most adorable kid ever but I never got to see it so the book was completely unspoiled for me. I'm a huge Dickens fan so of course I enjoyed it. I did get a bit impatient with Oliver always being in some kind of danger but mostly it was a fun ride.

Sadly, I do not have a perfect memory or even an especially good one. Good enough - average, I guess you could say, but there's only so much disc space available so inevitably some things are going to get lost. I remember very little about Gemini by Ray Jay Perrault. I do recall that I thought it was interesting and different, though I can't say excellent. I may read it again sometime.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is sort of an odd book and really hard for me to explain. I've been thinking, well, really for weeks, about how to describe it, what to say. I'll just say I liked it and I plan to read the other two books in the trilogy. If you want to know more you can go read about it on Amazon

I am afraid that there is nothing I can say about Babylon's Ashes, the sixth novel in James S.A. Corey's Expanse series, that wouldn't spoil the earlier books so I'll just say it's good - really good. Some things happened in it that were kind of disappointing to me and overall I didn't like it as well as some of the earlier books but still, it was very good and of course I will continue reading this series.

Monday, February 5, 2018

African-American Composers

Florence Price

Best Game Ever? Maybe.

I thought about not watching the Superbowl. I was almost 100 percent certain that the Patriots would win and I just didn't want to see it happen. But I knew that if a miracle happened I would be seriously disappointed if I missed it. Also, I didn't want to miss the commercials. Yes, I'm one of those people.

I mostly spent the first half dinking around on Twitter, but then gradually getting more and more interested during the second half and actually paying attention. Still, right up until the last second I expected to be disappointed; I knew that Brady had to pull it off. But he didn't! Tense, full of surprises, and the right team won. And of course Brady had to be a sore loser. (I was going to use a more crude term but changed my mind.) Seriously, I know losing is always disappointing but what the hell? The guy has won five Superbowls already. It's like he think he owns it and no one else has the right.

Anyway, best game ever? Probably not. We tend to forget other "best game[s] ever" in the excitement of the moment. The Eagles are not even one of my favorite teams but anyone who beats the Patriots is suddenly one of my favorite teams.

Oh, and about those commercials? Possibly the most lame Superbowl commercials ever. I think my favorite was the Jeep commercial with the dinosaur. Because, dinosaur! There were a few of the tug-at-the-emotions style commercials. I liked the T-Mobile(?) diversity spot. The one with the babies. Never have been wild about Bud Light's "dilly dilly" series of commercials and the attempt to make it more of a story only made me fully dislike them. Bring back the damn horses. Everybody loved those.

So, I'm glad I watched it. Now the season is over and I'm happy about that too. I do enjoy watching football (though I admit its detractors have a few good points) but what I do not like about it is the way it takes over our lives for half the year. We watch five, sometimes six, games a week. And yes, I know I don't have to watch them all and I don't always but... oh never mind. I'm not going to waste time trying to explain it. Like most things, it's complicated.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Henry Darger

After posting the link about the 15,000 page novel yesterday I just couldn't let it go. This is the Internet! Surely someone has posted that whole ridiculous masterpiece online. Well, sadly, so far no luck. Maybe on the Dark Web? [kidding]

I did, however, learn more about Henry Darger himself. Holy crap, people! I felt like I was reading the synopsis of a Criminal Minds episode. And the book, aside from the length, is probably not something I would want to read but I still kind of want to read it anyway. Lost or inaccessible works really stir up my curiosity, not to mention some minor outrage at being denied access to something I'm curious about.

The book by John MacGregor, mentioned in the article, is $200 at Amazon so that's not happening either.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Just a Few Links

Long Reads - I discovered this excellent site via Twitter. It has longish articles on a variety of topics.

Henry Darger's 15,000 Page Novel - I have a strange thing for big books. I have actually read books because they are long. But a 15,000 page novel? Well, yes, I want to give it a try. I probably will never get the chance though. I have checked both Amazon and Project Gutenberg. [Sad, pouty face]

Snow Sculpture Battle in Tokyo - Nice, lots of Star Wars stuff.

Vintage Store Front Mosaics - I love these. It makes me sad that nobody does this anymore and few people are interested in saving the ones that still exist.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Current Media Obsession and Other Random Semi-related Thoughts

Have you ever noticed that the media can't seem to handle more than one social outrage at a time? How long has it been since you heard anything about Black Lives Matter? The MSM have gleefully dropped this and other topics and embraced one that they find much more interesting and, perhaps surprisingly, safe - sexual harassment. Now I'm not saying this isn't an important issue to address but the attention it's getting compared to other equally or even more important issues... Well, I want to call it astounding but we all know this is how the media operates so it's really no surprise at all.

It has slowed down somewhat but for a while it seemed like every day another famous man was revealed as a harasser. We have been on pins and needles wondering what beloved actor we will have to start hating tomorrow. But we are never given any details. Was it rape? Was it groping? Was it inappropriate comments or overly aggressive flirting? Exactly how much hate and outrage is appropriate? And is forgiveness ever possible?

I have never experienced anything like sexual harassment. It would be too easy, and not at all fair, for me to talk about my life and what kind of person I am in connection with this subject. Girls of my generation were taught that if you dress modestly and act like a lady men will treat you with respect and it seems that it worked for me but to make this assumption ignores the fact that other women have experienced sexual harassment in spite of following the rules. Personally, I think it's comparable to the old saying about locks - that they only keep out honest people. Just as a thief will still break into your house or car in spite of locks, not even a burka will slow down a true scum bag.

What doesn't get talked about much is respect, or the lack of it. Sexual harassment is just much farther along the same spectrum of disrespect as condescension and mansplaining. (No, I'm not saying they're equivalent. Pay attention.) Sexual harassment and sexual violence are more widespread than most people realized but the underlying disrespect is even more widespread. It would be nice to think that the light that is currently being shone on the problem of harassment will lead to bringing an end to it but unless something is done about disrespect for women little will change.

If you are a woman you have been condescended to and mansplained to, and if you challenge the man who does this he will invariably react with hurt and outrage. I firmly believe that the vast majority of men do not even realize that they are doing it. If you point it out to them they will righteously swear that they were "just talking" and go away convinced that "you just can't talk to women" or some such dismissive thoughts.

I don't have any hope that things will ever really change. There's a small, stubborn, old-fashioned part of me that feels life was easier when men were free to condescend unchallenged and women laughed and talked among ourselves about how immature men are and what fragile egos they have and "you just have to let them think they're in charge" and all that sort of talk. But that fails to acknowledge all the horrible things that were swept under the rug in those days. We have to keep shining the light, even when it hurts to look.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ursula LeGuin

It was all over Twitter last night - Ursula LeGuin has died at age 88. I have only read three of her books: The Dispossessed, The Word for World is Forest and The Left Hand of Darkness. I liked them all well enough but was never especially motivated to read more so I guess I'm not a huge fan. What's sad about it for me is that I have reached the age when all the people who have been icons for my whole life are dying. Of course they are because they're all older than me but it's not that easy to be logical about it.

Anyway, maybe I will finally get around to reading the Earthsea Trilogy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

This 'n' That

A really unusual place to hang a chandelier

I need this today. But with a less thorny kind of plant.

Women on Bicycles - 19th century posters and interesting history

Okay, so apparently it is possible to anesthetize plants.

The coolest memo pad ever and I want one. Not much space to write notes though when you get past the first sheets.

New Google app is cool but needs a little more work.

Probably more than you ever wanted to know about blood types

The Star Wars opening crawl? Flash Gordon did it first, in 1940.

In case you're not already creeped out enough about voice commands

You've probably already heard about the sandwich that was smuggled into space but it's so delightful I can't resist sharing. If you're like me you probably assumed that NASA security was so tight nobody could ever get away with anything.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Time Lapse

I heard this on the radio a few days ago - beautiful and serene, with a hint of drama.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Reading List

As if I really need more books to read, here are 95 Science Fiction & Fantasy Books to Read in 2018. I haven't finished reading the list yet but already I have found a few that interest me.

Stars Uncharted, S.K.Dunstall
QUIETUS, by Tristan Palmgren
Free Chocolate, by Amber Royer
Outpost, by W. Michael Gear

Well, that's certainly a good start. Now, to read the rest of the list.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Brains Are Weird...

... but sometimes mine is awesome. Last night (or this morning) I dreamed an entire Star Trek series that never existed. I wish I could remember more of the details. There was an android character named Data but it wasn't Data and that confused us (I was watching with my son) so I grabbed the remote and looked at the "info" and the first aired date on it was 1965 and that confused us even more because the technology and decor was more Next Generation era but I noticed that the uniforms were original series style uniforms except they were all blue. I think the captain was female, which would be wrong for 1965. So, because of all that, at some point I realized I was dreaming.

Like I said, I can't remember many details. There was something going on on a beautiful planet, something involving a river. There was also a spectacular view of an ocean. Wherever it is I kind of want to go there for real. In the dream it was like I was there. Even though I knew I was just watching it on TV I was also in it somehow? You know how dreams are. Anyway... that's what my weird brain came up with last night. I'm really disappointed that I probably won't get to see any more episodes.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Hello 2018

So 2018 is finally here. I am neither happy nor especially unhappy about that. Years that end in 8 are the years I turn an age that ends in 0 and this year it's going to be a big, ugly one. I'm still not done being freaked out about turning 50 ten years ago in May. But honestly, it seems too unreal to have any strong feelings about it. I don't quite believe it yet. I think after a certain age (say, 45?) we should no longer be required to know how old we are. We should be allowed to say, "I'm 45 plus," and put 45+ on official forms and documents.

Other than that, new years don't mean much to me. It's totally arbitrary. It's just the day when we start a new calendar. Not that I don't think about it at all. But I just can't get very excited about it. The last time I got excited about a new year was 2000 but the new millennium has turned out to be, mostly, a big disappointment.

I've always sort of thought it's weird that the new year starts in January. It should be the first day of spring, or, if you want to keep the months the same, March 1st. Or maybe April 1st. On the other hand, Having it a week after Christmas does feel like a good end to the big holiday season - a way of formally "getting back to normal".

So that's it. Life is getting back to normal, whatever that means in 2018. Normal is always changing you know. I want to blog more, I kind of miss it, but I don't know if I will. Maybe two or three people are even reading this and I have trouble feeling motivated without at least a small audience. Aside from that, I'm not sure I have much to say that's worth the time. Mine or yours. I do, sometime in the next few days or week, want to say a little about the last half dozen books I read. If I can get motivated.

But anyway, happy New Year to all of you who are into that sort of thing.