Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The most inconvenient temperature for precipitation

The ground is frozen and the water on the ground is part ice, part snow. Solid water, that is. But the air is slightly warmer and the precipitation is rain. Liquid water, that is. The temperature is hovering right around freezing, and the rate of precipitation is not enough to wash away the solid. It is not cold enough to freeze into (easily trampled) snow or ice, and not warm enough to dissolve the matrix holding the liquid in place.

What results is that the solid water is supporting the liquid water in a scaffold of slush. A sodden barricade which prevents all city drainage from working properly. The sidewalks are cold, sticky reservoirs supported on both sides by ridges from plowing and shoveling.

My winter boots are warm but not waterproof on the tops, so the slurry oozes in and collects around my foot. It is cold. My waterproof boots would fare no better, because although dry, they lack the insulation to protect me from walking through several inches of thick, icy goo. (I didn't get any photos, but the car tracks made a compelling case for snow tires, which parted the slush and gripped the ground, leaving a cleared trail behind.)

And through this, I commute.

This post's theme word is paseo, "a leisurely stroll," or "a place or path designed for walking," or "a street or boulevard." To avoid the slush paseo, I walked in the slushy street whenever possible.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Guilt about racism

Racism is bad. We all agree on that. I want to mention two leisure activities --- the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and the movie District 9 --- which made me feel personally guilty about racism.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks describes Rebecca Skloot's journalistic and emotion-heavy research into the immortal cell line derived from Henrietta Lacks' unknowingly-donated-to-science cervical cancer cells. The book has two tones: the first, a factual historical narrative describing scientific research, blends via description of Henrietta Lacks' health and life into the second, a first-person account of Skloot's research efforts over many years, which extended to a very personal relationship with Lacks' descendents.

The science part was interesting. All the emotional parts --- and this includes parts with scientists being manipulative, deceitful, and exploitative --- made me feel guilty. As a child of privilege, as an educated person, as a scientist, as a human being, the story made me feel guilt. About my own luck, by chance of birth, to have avoided those circumstances. This contrition is reinforced by Skloot's own similar feelings, which she explores at length.

By the end of the book I was having flashbacks of District 9 every paragraph or so. That kernel of an interesting idea, that intriguing nugget of science (or science fiction) was the bait to lure me, yet again, into this abstract feeling of shame and iniquity. Yes, I see that thing you're showing me! It's bad! I want to change it! Yes, 30 seconds later I still feel bad about it!

What purpose does all this remorse-mongering serve? Highlighting awareness? We get it, we're aware of racism. I just wanted to read about cancer research, I just wanted to see alien technology; is there some need to crush me with guilt? Skloot seems to derive some catharsis from writing every twinge of contrition, every individual malfeasance; perhaps bringing unpleasant history to light can shape future history for the better.  District 9 is the bigger culprit here, because I guess the producers weren't sure the audience would pick up on the analogy that confining aliens to a ghetto was like apartheid confining people to a ghetto. So they drew the analogy in every. single. scene. Is this a movie about historical atrocities or about futuristic atrocities? I can only effect one of those. Sure, you're winning the battle for hearts and minds, but there's no opposition and you haven't told us what to do to win the battle for... you know, the actual battle.

In the end I'm forced to blame myself (touché) for enduring. I read the entire book, I sat through the entire movie, I caused myself to have the experience which gave rise to these feelings which I do not enjoy. I'd much rather live the life of the mind, where all recreational (and employment-driven) media consumption is stripped down to its essential ideas, without the dross of attendant emotions.

Of course this "dross" is a main purpose of recreational media. (Thank you, Prof. Lynn M. Festa's "Sex and Sensibility in the Enlightenment", for teaching me all about experiencing emotions as a cultural pastime.)

My recommendations: read some interviews with Skloot, you'll get the main points. And watch District 9 at home, with the fast-forward button handy.

This post's theme word is comminate, "to threaten with divine punishment" or "to curse." Those who have not watched District 9 are roundly comminated.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chopstick technique

I am intrigued by the chopstick technique presented below.
How does a single tentacle control both chopsticks? It looks like it's a hunting tentacle, so maybe the hunting tentacles have extra abilities that the others lack. The configuration as represented looks instable. A small amount of squirming on the human's part would suffice to loosen from the ominous --- dare I say, eldrich? --- grasp of the squid's tentacles.

But a merry eldrich grasp it is!

This post's theme word is micturate, "to make or eliminate urine." The hapless human micturated in terror, but the ocean absorbed both his screams and that small embarrassment.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Winter storm Nemo

This morning I checked the weather, then unpacked my fancy spherical skiing goggles and deployed my full-head fleece layers in the Mom-Patent-Pending "seamless" arrangement. The only thing showing was the tip of my nose.

The streets and sidewalks were unplowed, thick fluffy white snow. Then I trudged --- faster movement not possible given the relative heights of my knees and the snowdrifts --- to work. What joy! What rapture! What shoulder-borne snow collections!
A delighted morning commuter!
If you look closely into my awesome fog-free goggles, you can see a double thumbs-up for the weather! Plus the wide snowy field outside this castle, whither I am bound.

This post's theme word is kyirked stoor, an Orkney term for snow when accompanied by wind which whirls the snowflakes. She skipped merrily through the kyirked stoor to her cold, windowless cinderblock cell. (See more delightful Orkney weather words here, where I"ve sent you before.)