Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Most Unintentionally Ironic & Kind of Sad Song I Have Heard in a While

From The Happiest Millionaire: "The Land of Golden Chariots"


Programming Update

Due to a sudden upswing in foreign-language spam (some of which I only learned the nature of when I got my coworker Wenge to translate it for me), I'm adding a word-verification step for comments*. That should teach those dirty-minded robots! If, by "teach" you mean "not affect at all."

We now return you to your regularly scheduled apartment cleaning.

*You can still comment anonymously, if you quite reasonably don't want anyone to know you're reading this stuff.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shoesday: Out With The Old, On With The New

Don't you hate all the posts this time of year about renewal and resolutions? Well, tough, because here comes another one.

I spent yesterday cleaning out my closet, a development that actually has a lot less to do with the incoming year than it does to the fact that in about a week and a half we are moving to a fabulous new apartment, and even though it has ample closet space, I don't want to have to move anything more than absolutely necessary*. I've done this before, on previous moves, but I was feeling particularly brutal today, and even the usually-sacred-haven of my shoe closet was not spared in the frenzy of trashing and donating.

(For the faint of heart, I want to assure you that the shoes pictured here were not among the casualties. I'll get to writing about them in a minute, but I just wanted to make sure that was clear.)

The shoes I did get rid of fell into two categories: worn too much (already-replaced running sneakers, well-loved but past-the-point-of-repair everyday shoes, all sent to the trash with some regret) and not worn enough. The latter were a mix of purchasing mistakes and the not-quite or no-longer fabulous enough, shoes that simply were not earning their closet space. None of them had shown up on the blog, which I think is telling. If a shoe isn't interesting enough to write about, why keep it around?

These shoes, on the other hand, are interesting enough to have their own blog. They were my birthday present from Cameron (picked out by me), purchased on our stop in New York and fabulous beyond human comprehension. You should see them with the purple tights.** In fact, I wore them into BevMo and two separate people (an employee and a guy who was there browsing the tequila selection and talking about how he was growing chronic (his words) for the government now) spontaneously came up and told me how awesome they were. True story.

*Actually, my preference would be to have all of my stuff magically teleport to the new place. I hate moving.

**I'm trying to come up with a way to work these into my New Years plans of getting my hair cut, going to Karen's Rock-Paper-Scissors Invitational and hanging out in the barn watching movies with my parents, but so far I'm coming up blank.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Why Do Government Scientists Get To Have All The Fun?

Researchers at Los Alamos kind of, accidentally, partially blow up a building.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Another Christmas Song

It occurs to me that my Christmas song posts have, in the past, been somewhat negative in nature. There was this analysis of what remains, in my opinion, the most annoying Christmas song ever. (Yes, even worse than the barking dogs. At least they didn't take themselves so damn seriously.) And, of course, this classic television moment. So I thought this year I would do something unrelentingly cheerful and positive, with much better production values. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Stephen Colbert with "Another Christmas Song"

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Another Christmas Song
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy


(Excerpts from the yet-to-be-written book based onthis actual headline.)

It was past midnight in the Cancun Museum of Science and Juan, the obviously expendable security guard, was making his rounds. Humming La Bamba, he played his flashlight across the exhibits on soap bubbles and rainbows and 11-dimensional M-theory, in the bored manner of doomed security guards everywhere.

When he came to the traveling exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs, however, he paused. Not because he was interested in the mot advanced examples of robotic dinosaurs available for public exhibition, but because his shoelace had come untied. As he stood back up, he heard a noise, like giant metal feet trying to sneak quietly across linoleum.

"Hola," he said. "¿Que es eso*?"

Then he saw it, and before he had time to scream, or even form an upside-down question mark, the giant metal teeth lunged out of the darkness and ripped through his flesh in a way that was nothing at all like breaking open a piñata.

Somewhere in the distance, the surface of an unattended glass of water rippled.

* * * * * * *

"My God, man, what have you done?" said Rick, the well-muscled American expat, living in Mexico for reasons having nothing to do with "tax evasion" or "outstanding warrants."

Dr. Benson, the older and much less attractive scientist, leaped up from his chair. "I was finishing my work! They wouldn't fund it as science, but for a travelling museum exhibit the money poured in. I was able to create the world's first perfect robotic dinosaur replica!"

"But what went wrong?" asked Carla, the hot and caring dolphin researcher who found Rick's machismo annoying but secretly attractive.

"Nothing went wrong. It worked perfectly! Except for the off switch," Dr. Benson added. "That went a little wrong."

"I'll say," said Rick. "It's killed three people so far, and Spring Break starts tomorrow. This place is about to be crawling with drunk kids."

The scientist went pale. "College students? Oh, no."

"What? What is it?" said Carla.

"Well, you see, I had some bad experiences when I was teaching undergrads, and it may have slightly influenced the programming. . ."

* * * * * * *

"Dude, I am so drunk," said a drunk college student.

"Dude, like, me too," said another drunk college student.

"Dude, we should get a reality show where we get drunk and, like, get girls and stuff."

"Heh. Yeah. Awesome."



"Is that, like, a dinosaur?"

"Dude, you are wasted!"

"Yeah, but, du-- AAIIIEEEEE!"

Moments later, blood with an alcohol concentration of about 0.07% gushed down the street and flowed into the darkened city's well-maintained gutters.

* * * * * * *

Rick looked across the table at Carla, or more specifically at the unbuttoned shirt she had thrown on over her bikini top when she heard the news. "It's up to us to stop this thing," he said. "The police don't believe us, they think it's the drug cartels. We're the only ones who can save these people."

"But, how? And by the way, my eyes are up here."

"Yeah, so? Anyway, we're gonna need something big to stop this thing. Bullets don't hurt it, and it'll tear right through anything smaller than a tank."

"Okay, well, do you have a tank?"

"Nope. But I can get us something better."

*Eso no es queso.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Scent of a Dead Person

Looking for that perfect gift for someone with a celebrity obsession and very little understanding of molecular biology? How about some cologne "Engineered from the(mtDNA)* of some of the most recognized Celebrities & Famous people in the world"? Celebrities and Famous people! The scent of DNA! And it's on sale!

I don't see how you can miss with this one.

*mitochondrial DNA. Which means you'll smell like anyone in their maternal line. Also, you will gain their ability to use the Force.

Shoesday: Green Christmas

We are suffering from brutal winter conditions here in the Bay Area at the moment, by which I mean it is raining. Rain is pretty much it for winter around here*, which suits me just fine. People who move here have a way of complaining about how they don't like it that the seasons don't change**, but I have been to other places in winter and what should have been spring and I realized there was a key fact these people were leaving out: Yeah, the seasons change; they change to things that are bad. Everything gets cold and gray and slippery and there are horrible things like sleet. (Rain with snow mixed into it. This is. in my opinion, a terrible idea.)

So I am perfectly happy to only have rain to deal with, but it does present some challenges to the dedicated shoe-wearer. Suede is right out, of course, and anything with a leather sole that I haven't gotten around to having rubber soles put on yet. (A good local cobbler is a fine thing to have. So is an apple cobbler, but that's another post.) Which makes it handy to have a few workhorses, like these kind of silly but surprisingly useful faux-fleece lined boots I got on sale at Aerosoles a couple of years ago. Stunningly fabulous? Well, no. But sometimes you go with the merely nice in order to save the fabulous for more favorable conditions.

*Sometimes we have frost.
**Clearly not true: We have when it rains and when it doesn't rain. In the summer there's fog.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Abandon All Taste, Ye Who Enter Here

Are you a fan of true late-mid-century, high-grade American design fromage? Then trust me when I say that you need to book yourself onto the Carnival Elation toot suite (that's French for "before you sober up"). It is a truly remarkable thing, not only for the quality of tacky decorations, but the thoroughness with which they were applied. Trust me, when it came to this ship, no expense (or surface) was spared in the designers' attempt to achieve chintzvana.

When we first got on, and I was faced with the brown-and-orange color scheme, I will admit that I was nervous. I had heard a bit about Carnival as a cruise line; that the ships were run-down and poorly maintained*, that the crowds were loud and young and drunk**, that the food was lousy***. So I was worried that this was not a good sign. But when we got out of the lower decks and into the public spaces, I realized my fears were unfounded. This ship was not a lousy place, it was an awesomely, spectacularly, fabulously awful place.

There was dark and heavily carved wood, inlaid checkerboard walls and the kind of stained glass you find in finer dive bars everywhere. There were pillars molded with vaguely Greek-vase-ish figures, accentuated by pinholes of colored lights. There was gilding, and neon, and tiers of rainbow lights. There was a five-story atrium with colored spotlights and a man at the piano singing heavily accented and largely out-of-tune renditions of classic rock songs, from lyrics he read off his laptop screen. And everywhere, and I mean everywhere, there were thousands of small plastic "crystals" that lit up and changed color.**** Also, they had decorated for Christmas.

It reminded me of San Luis Obispo's Madonna Inn-- in my opinion, the gold standard of unwinking absurdity in decoration, but there was also something very Vegas about it. But not the new, modern, shiny Vegas; this was the Excalibur of the sea.

Oddly enough, though, I actually came to like it better than the decor on the newer and more modern ships I have been on. It was more honest. Under the light wood and blue-tinted windows, as desperately as they want you to forget it, the new ships are every bit as mass-produced and tacky as an old booze-cruiser like the Elation.

And the strangest part? How quickly we assimilated to it. The light-up panel in the corner of our room bearing a drawing of the Mauritania went in less than a day from being a source of wonderment and hilarity, to just a way to get light under the TV. And it was the same with the rest of it; after a while it seemed perfectly natural to walk into a piano bar with a badly rendered Statue of Liberty head on one wall and a lit-up model of the Brooklyn Bridge along another. (And then to turn around and walk right back out, because they allowed smoking in there and living in California destroys your tolerance for that sort of thing.)

Never could quite stop giggling at those crystals, though.

*Not true.
**Kind of true.
***Entirely true, unfortunately.
****What I want to know is, what was the thought process that went into those? Did no one look at the giant boxes and piles of them and think, even for a minute, "Hey, maybe we're overdoing the little crystals." Or was there some kind of Spinal Tap/Stonehenge-type mixup, and they only meant to get a couple hundred of them but someone moved a decimal point and they ended up off by a couple orders of magnitude, and the couldn't return them, so they decided to jut run with it?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shoesday: The Return

You know how some weekends you start off just getting on a cruise ship, minding your own business, and the next thing you know you've spent way too much money on piña coladas and slept in so late that you were having your breakfast around the time most people would consider more appropriate for "lunch," and watched some terrible karaoke (but not participated, because you didn't spend that much money on piña coladas), and looked out the window at Mexico and decided not to bother, and attempted to learn the rules of football, which seems to involve something known as "downs" and also a lot of shiny pants (you're not sure, but you suspect that the real, secret, rule is that the team with the shiniest pants wins), and ate food that was not that good, but there certainly was plenty of it, and nearly scalded yourself in a shockingly hot hot tub, and discovered that you like both saying and drinking Harvey Wallbangers, and used your jewelry case as a purse, which worked fine until it flew out of your hand in the disco, scattering earrings all over the dancefloor? And then suddenly it's Monday, and you feel like you're still on a boat, though available evidence would indicate otherwise? And you realize the fact that you have not done anything remotely productive for the last four days, short of scribbling some notes for a blog post on a piece of stationary, which you really should dig up, because you're pretty sure they were brilliant?

What I'm saying is, these are not the times to confront the fact that at some point in the past you have purchased pink suede kitten heels. You know how it is.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

How To Make A Cup Of Tea: A Handy Powerpoint Guide

Shoesday, Eventually

The Story*:

Well, it's been a busy week, what with the traveling and the conference sessions and the working out in the hotel gym, and the torrential rains, and the poster sessions, and the complementary beverages at the poster sessions, and the additional beverages at dinner, and the wondering if the new storm moving in is going to be a problem with going on the cruise, and the hotel room TV channel selection, and the uncertainty as to who, if anyone will still be employing me after next week, and the very limited number of outfits I have to wear here, due to having packed the small suitcase because I don't trust Virgin America not to take away the other one and charge me twenty dollars. Also, I didn't even pack these shoes, because the pants they were supposed to go with shrank rather dramatically in the wash, so I didn't have to get them hemmed, which is all well and good, but I also do not, technically, fit in them now, which is not well or good, so I only have skirts. Also jeans, but I haven't been wearing them, because I am attempting to appear Professional, which would probably be going a lot better if it weren't for all the Beverages.

(I do actually have a couple of very nice pairs of shoes with me, but I don't have a picture of them so I am just going to have leave you in suspense.)

*AKA, the excuses

Monday, December 07, 2009

San Diego Bits & Bobs

1. At some point during this conference I really should make it out of dinner somewhat sober.

2. I saw a girl in the airport with boots like these, and now I want some. Damn my impressionable mind!*

3. People from Australia are impressed if you know about cricket, even if what you know is that England beat their team resoundingly earlier in the year. Also, the concept of a "rebuilding year" transcends national boundaries.

4. I am not going to get the Shoesday post written for tomorrow morning, because someone seems to have reordered the keyboard on my laptop. Sorry.

*Note: I am not going to go out and buy those actual boots. I'm not that crazy.

Conference: Day 0.5

Things I have learned so far today:

1. A small percentage of HIV-infected patients are able to control the disease with slightly autoreactive neutralizing antibodies.

2. The conference doesn't provide breakfast pastries, only coffee and tea.
2a. There is a Starbucks, but the line is long.
2b. The amount of frosting on the lemon poundcake is a bit much.

3. The new hot phrase in antibody engineering is "There's a lot of room on the bottom." (Possibly paraphrased from Feynman.)

4. I can make it through about forty minutes of straight presentation time before I doze off.

5. The H1N1 virus is closely related to the 1918 influenza strain, and may have re-emerged in part because most of the people with protective immunity have died off.

6. San Diego isn't a lot of fun in the pouring rain.

7. (Addendum from last night) I really should not drink wine at work events

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Off To San Diego!

Will report back as to whether there are any shoes there.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Shoesday: Got My Writing Boots On

The Story:

Last weekend I sat around the apartment, ate more carbs and drank more wine than was good for me, read an entire Carter Dickson novel and watched a variety of movies. This post isn't about last weekend. This is about the weekend before last, when I went to the Berkeley Mystery Writing Intensive, where authors such as Cornelia Read, Sophie Littlefield, Tim Maleeny, Tony Broadbent, Juliet Blackwell, Seth Harwood and Some Movie Guy held forth on topics useful to those interested in making a living out of murder, without all the messy cleanup*. (The event was organized by Sharon Johnson, whose powers of organization are such that she probably could actually herd cats, and then get them to fold flyers.) Also on the guest list was Sophie's agent, Barbara Poelle** who, by dint of her profession, was immediately the object of the desperate attention of the great unpublished hordes***. I don't know what Sophie has on her, but it must be good. I knew coming in that she didn't represent the sort of stuff I write,**** but that didn't stop me from piping up at every opportunity with increasingly inane comments, to the point where she not only knew my name, but pronounced it with a little sigh.

But what's the point? What does this have to do with the picture at the top of this post? You ask.

Thanks for the reminder, I say, hauling myself back from the brink of the mud puddle of self-loathing. The point is that I was wearing these boots on Saturday. So, while from the knees up I may have been a stammering moron, with two unsalable books on my hard drive and another one on the way, wearing a shirt that I didn't realize gapped quite so much at the top and asking ridiculously contrived questions the answers to which were only of interest to me, from the knees down I was awesome.

*I totally would have been an assassin, if it wasn't for the dry cleaning bills. Also, blood makes me pass out.
**Occasionally described as "slithery."
***Okay, there were about twenty of us.
****i.e. Barely comprehensible ravings of insanity, with lots of footnotes.