Monday, December 31, 2007

We've only got five billion years 'til the shops close

Looking back over the past year, I am mostly grateful to have it over. Educational experiences are very well and good, but it's possible to have enough of them. That said, everybody would get bored if I started listing all the positives that came out of an inauspicious year, stuff like seeing friends and family taking amazing leaps into new opportunities. Instead, here's a little Tennyson, and best wishes to everyone in 2008.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Friday, December 28, 2007

No snark

Just a link to Wonkette's gallery of images surrounding the Benazir Bhutto assassination. Wonkette asks whether the uncensored photos of the immediate aftermath make it more real for viewers or whether it just desensitizes us to the violence. I tend to think the former and that we are too used to images of fireballs but not the human aftermath. I also notice that there are almost no women in the crowds at the rally or, later, at the funeral. Is that life as usual, that absence of 50% of the population? Bhutto was a polarizing figure partly because she was a woman in power, and I wish there were some discussion of why her countrywomen are not mourning her in public.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

So we meet again, my furry friend

Progress! Last night's work on Cappi was excellent, all things considered. We're getting to the point where he's stopped the major misbehaviours and I can notice subtler problems in him and in my cues, which is the first step toward fixing same. Man does it feel good to come out of a lesson without having ridden through a bolt. Pat was very chuffed; she says that Cappi's getting much more flexible through his back and neck ("Look, he's letting you compress him and stretch him out like an accordion!" For my next trick, I will play "Lady of Spain" at the trot). She also thinks that he's working harder to do well in this class than in others, although since I rarely see him in other work I can't tell. He still speeds up a lot given half a chance, especially if he's behind a horse he thinks he could beat in a race—which is to say, any horse at all—but he's listening to cues and responding more promptly when I tell him not to be Speed Racer. He even reaches for the bit, stretching down and forward as the reins loosen, rather than fighting the contact or trying to evade contact by going sideways. In other words, I'm feeling somewhat warmer toward him than I used to, and it may be mutual.

This time I was S-M-R-T about putting him away: I untacked him and groomed him one aisle away from his stall, so he wasn't constantly trying to duck out and check on his bucket. Like most of the schoolies, he knows enough about tailoring and human nature to recognize the potential of pockets, and I was loaded with candy cane frag. With that to distract him from his missing dinner, I got him cleaned up (and smellin' minty fresh, too) in record time. He's shaggy at this time of year, but with indoor riding and its lack of mud he isn't too hard to keep neat.

Doc got the rest of the candy cane. It may not be as high on his list as apples, but he knows enough to whicker when I reach into a pocket. Then when it was gone he tried to nip me on the hand and I decided it was time to go. At least he hadn't pinned me against a stall wall so that I knocked a water bucket onto my breeches, Grayson. (ETA: I wasn't the one who ended up wet. Grayson has tried that with me in the past, but I've been lucky or fast or both, and these days I bribe him to keep him facing the right way. Another student was not so fortunate.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I am a visitor here, I am not permanent

Things I found when I stopped by Teal's apartment on Monday:
  • One fish, not labeled, still swimming
  • One gallon jug of water labeled "Fish H2O"
  • One smaller bottle of water labeled "Plant H20"
  • One ziploc bag, containing about three tiny flakes, labeled "Fish food"
  • One double-sided sheet of instructions, with footnotes, on how to deal with the above, including a declaration of absolution should the first-named join the coral reef invisible
  • Two bars of Xocolatl labeled "[3pennyjane] food"
I could get used to this fish-sitting business.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who is like the Group of Seventeen?

Today I learned that the key to some of Gene Wolfe's more obscure Shadow and Claw references can be found in Jorge Luis Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings. I was glad to see some description of Baldanders, since Severian's descriptions of that character and of Dr. Talos's play are confusing to the point of hallucination. But the Borges dissertation on the Fish that lives in the mirror is far more wonderful and strange than even the text about Father Inire's attempts to explain the Fish to a young woman of the court.

According to Borges, the ancient Cantonese believed that mirror creatures once invaded our world and were forced back by the Yellow Emperor, who condemned them to repeat, "as though in a kind of dream, all the actions of their human victors....One day, however, they will throw off that magical lethargy. The first to awaken shall be the Fish. In the depths of the mirror, we shall perceive a faint, faint line, and the color of that line will not resemble any other....In Yunnan province, people speak not of the Fish but rather of the Tiger of the Mirror. Others believe that before the invasion, we will hear, from the depths of the mirrors, the sound of arms."

Sweet dreams.

Tending to one's knitting

With Orthodox Christmas a mere two weeks away (we're not just rehashing an old argument, we're also in ur salez, takin advantidge of yer barginz), I'm working on several knitting projects, including a Fair Isle tea cozy. And, really, if anyone's got a more old-ladyish thing to say than "I'm knitting a tea cozy," I would like to hear it.

This is my first foray into Fair Isle knit, as opposed to intarsia work, and I'm keeping the pattern pretty simple, just alternating stitch rows (1-0-1-0, offset each row) and a sequence of small diamonds across the middle. Weebat and I have been exchanging idle thoughts on the options for knitting in code using Fair Isle, since adding a second color doubles the amount of information a given stitch can convey (knit versus purl, color 1 versus color 2). Madame Defarge is the obvious reference, and because Dickens leaves it vague as to exactly how her knitting was coded, we are free to speculate. Binary, we decided, is too unwieldy; you need too many stitches per character. Braille might work, but it would require keeping close track across up to three rows, it's not widely read by the sighted public, and unless you knew someone pretty well you might object to having your sweater read (or not, depending--no judging here). We settled on Morse code, although we were still debating the formatting and hadn't come to any conclusions about the format.

And then it turns out that Kristen Haring got there first anyway.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Caramel corn in the office

As a chilly-blooded member of our species, I spend a lot of the winter whining quietly about the fact that it has, again and completely unpredictably, gotten cold. Yes, yes, cold is relative; I have endless admiration for my friends in New York and Chicago and Minnesota and the plumbing-free outskirts of Fairbanks and other areas where man was clearly not meant to live. I pile on layers of tights and silk shirts and sweaters and scarves and insulating footwear, and sometimes I even reach for chemical assistance, either following my former choir director's very Slavic advice—"[3pennyjane]ochka, you need to do a shot before you come to church. Just one: It will warm you up and give you stronger voice"—or slipping heated insoles into my riding boots.

And yes, now that winter hath gone and descended on DC, riding has lost some appeal. Not only do I have to pile on the long tights, fleece-line breeches, wool socks, multiple tops, polarfleece jacket, down vest, and fingerless gloves under the thin riding gloves, the nippy weather tends to make the horses bouncy and more likely to misbehave. Add to that the challenge of trying to adjust cold stirrup leathers with stiff fingers, and I start to lose track of the fun.

But I rode last night. What with uncooperative weather, travel, personal distaste for riding in a windstorm, and one teacher's season tickets to the Terps, it had been about three weeks since I'd been on a horse. Three weeks! I wasn't sure I would still remember how to find the saddle. But it turned out well: Although the dressage class was full, at six people, for once Cappi and I were not the problem children. I even got him to correctly shoulder-in, walking diagonally with his body in a straight line, rather than bending until he looked like a parenthesis and oodling sideways withers-first. "Hm," said Pat, "That was good. He's getting too easy for you." I thought of his previous bolts and leaps and wondered how likely that was. Conclusion: Not very. But when he is good, he is very very good, and when he is bad I am coping.

Putting Cappi away after a class usually involves some dancing to keep him from bolting back to his stall to make sure that thieves don't make off with his precious bucket of grain. Last night he was particularly difficult, and at least three times I reached for the second cross-tie only to realize that he had gotten behind me by spinning to point back at his dinner. This is the creature who doesn't think he can turn on his forehand in class? Hah. I brushed him down, picked out his feet, and buckled his heavy blanket into place across his chest and under his belly, then I finally stopped being such a cruel bitch and led him back to his stall, ducking past his well-gnawed Bizzyball. He graciously stood still for the two seconds it took me to undo his halter before he dove into his grain bucket, and I got to go back inside where it was warm and there were treats.

...What do you mean, a resemblance?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Wire is hungry

Okay, not the Wire, the yours truly, who is probably nicer and has never tried to suck out anyone's life essence and render them faceless. Well maybe the once.

One of the few missions I had going into Atlanta, apart from surviving and maintaining a veneer of professionalism, was to get down to Ria's Bluebird for breakfast. And I did, although it was hard to crawl out of bed; the preceding evening had involved a party and then vodka and sonnets and conversation until quite late, and my hotel bed was both extraordinarily comfortable and big enough to swim in. But no! Duty! To the pancakes! I staggered out.

My first impression was that Ria's is as much like an Austin dive as I've ever encountered outside that city--decor that's funky without being twee, pleasant forthright waitstaff, a mix of students and office workers and truckers, a cheerful but not overloud buzz of conversation--and nothing dispelled that impression. I can't speak first-hand about most of the menu's offerings, although the biscuits and gravy and the mushroom/brie scramble that people around me got looked excellent and vanished fast, but the buttermilk pancakes with bananas that were set down within minutes of my arrival were, as advertised, fantastic. I had to close my eyes. Two large perfectly fluffy pancakes soaked with warm syrup and topped with fruit that had given up all hope of being a healthy source of potassium, along with pedigreed coffee that was looking for some ass to kick, bliss bliss bliss. Ria's, you guys. No joke. Plan ahead and you can even work off the caffeine high by strolling through Oakland Cemetery, across the street. I did not have the time to budget and had to bolt back downtown to help wrap up the last of our meeting, but I did it with a happier heart.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A lost art

The really interesting authors find the most fascinatin' books to read. BoingBoing points out that William Gibson, who is back on the blogging horse, has republished an excerpt describing a (mercifully short-lived) trend in the 1700s for wearing tin stomachs that simulated pregnancy. I get past the WTFness of that only to find a section quoting the author on how men in these corrupt modern days are dressing like teh wimmenz ("Master Molly has nothing to do but put on his frilly little bonnet and he will pass for a lady, except for his deplorable face").

Goodness! you think. I must find the original work for myself and seek its present wisdom! What might it be called? And that's when the really great bit starts, because it's "ye blockbufter that'f burning up ye top 10 lift!" and the title is to match: Satan's Harvest Home, or the present state of Whorecraft, Adultery, Fornication, Procuring, Sodomy, and the Game of Flatts, and other Satanic works, daily propagated in this good Protestant Kingdom.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Humane only goes so far

The mice avoided the humane traps until I went away for a week. I will leave it to the reader to guess how I found this out.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tis the season

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

On Monday night, the last full night of our association's annual meeting and the night of the traditional huge party for all attendees, Rock Ninja and I had a lot of fun wandering around the cold-water exhibit in the Atlanta aquarium and making this smoochy face at various creatures, including the sea lions, the belugas, and of course the sea otters, who even at sleepy time were federally controllable levels of cute. The Georgia facility is more open than the Baltimore aquarium, so despite the 2000 guests and associated gate-crashers, there was plenty of room to walk around once we'd gotten through the scrum around the bars. I particularly liked the petting tanks, trying some gingerly contact with a sea anemone, some skittish shrimp ("It doesn't matter how much you've had to drink, we are still not appetizers"), a small shark, a manta ray, some horseshoe crabs, and a sea star. Verdict: Generally slimy and occasionally chitinous in the extreme.

Making Light's links to the online Anglo-Saxon Christmas carol quizzes are live and delicious. One of my few regrets from college was that archaeology classes got in the way of my taking the English department's two-semester class on Old English and Beowulf, but since then I've worked on picking up some of the language here and there. The rhythm and flow of Anglo-Saxon English get me right in the dantian. Not long after the LotR movies came out, quite a few philology texts by and about Tolkien became widely available; Il Padre and I accidentally bought each other copies of the exact same book for Christmas. I don't keep up with the New Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as often as I should (reporting on the weather in 2006: "In þissum wucum heard forst ond great cyle fór west of Siberiam ond Russiam ofer Easteuropam, ond her snaw feoll in Athenai in Greclande"), but I'm impressed by the people who keep it up.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Finding joy

While I was off in the ATL cooing over my fluffy bed and whining about my schedule (unjustly, as mine was freer than many), I got a sobering e-mail forwarded through the church network. A man I knew, actually someone I had a monster crush on from about age 8 through 28, had slipped and hit his head while leaving a New York bar. He insisted that he was fine, but his friends noticed that he was bleeding from the ears and demanded that he let them take him to the hospital. A paramedic who periodically posts at Making Light once said that if you're wondering whether you ought to call 911, you should already be dialing. The doctors found hairline fractures above both ears and some intracranial swelling. He seemed oriented, responding to the time and place questions with "March" and "Pluto" respectively, indicating no damage to the smart-ass structures, and has been doing well since, apart from some blurred vision and a ringing in his ears. Today I got an update that he's being moved out of the ICU, has had the spinal shunt removed, and may be released as early as tomorrow. He may have some damage to one ear and will need rehab and observation, but the prognosis is very good. For this relief much thanks.

After a conversation about C.S. Lewis with a friend earlier this week and since I'm midway through The Narnian, I spent my first evening back rereading The Magician's Nephew for the first time since my teens. As a kid, I found it the least engaging of the Narnia books, what with the tedious logic about the green and yellow rings and the hopping between worlds, but this time I went through it at a good clip and even found myself getting teary at the scenes of creation. Now that I know a bit more about Lewis's mother's death, which by all accounts was slow and painful, I find Digory's temptation to steal a cure for his dying mother much more affecting. Reading it as a child, I don't think that I really understood that she was actually likely to die. I still prefer the allegory in Til We Have Faces, about which I get sniffly no matter how often I read it (dust mites in the binding, maybe), but I am glad to have my old copies of the Chronicles to revisit.


Terry Pratchett has Alzheimer's.

He mentioned the phantom stroke at the LOC bookfair this summer, and I hoped that it was something that his remaining neurons could work around. I want my favorite authors to live long lives, ideally to outlive me no matter how chronologically improbable that is, and to be writing straight up to the moment when they painlessly step out. I am greedy for them to produce more books and have good lives. This seems like a cruel trick.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Singin' the Homeland Security Blues

With apologies to Mr. Cash:

I keep a close watch on these bags of mine
I keep my ID with me all the time
I take my shoes off, and I never whine
For TSA, I stand in line.

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Und zo, kinder...

I am off down the road where the flight-path lanterns glowed and the pretty little pharma reps are flying. (NB: If you know the source poem, you are a massive geek. Congrats!) I am sad that I will see so little of the city, since most of my time will be spent inside an enormous conference facility, booking it between hotels for meetings in windowless banquet halls, and/or rubbing my sore feet.

On the plus side, howsomever, a friend and I have tentative plans to sneak out on Tuesday morning, having discovered a small local cafe that offers some healthy vegan options...and also biscuits and gravy, enormous heaping breakfast tacos, and buttermilk pancakes with caramelized bananas. I don't see myself digging the tofu scramble, even with the best of dietary intentions, but those pancakes are a whole different story.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Chaucer nedeth a newe payre of shoes!

Reason 2,583,899,024 to love the internets: Because someone is rewriting a Flight of the Conchords song in Middle English. "And ich haue soore nede of thy merchaundise. Aw yea. And ich am yn my red hose, the which aren cleped busynesse hose." Aw yea indeed.