Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's a very impressive noise.

All right, it's the last day of NaBloPoMo. I seem to have one post for every day- in fact, I seem to have an extra post for some reason.

It's a good thing it's over, because my supply of clever things was wearing thin. Thinner, says the part of me that spent the weekend with my brother. I'm going to celebrate my success by taking a hot shower and going to bed early.

The cat's asleep in in bedroom, snoring. I was taking a micronap earlier, and dreamed that a flock of miniature Canadian geese was living under our bed.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sloop John B

I got to post a precise nail gun ad for my dad on Craigslist, and help my mother gather pine cones for Christmas gifts, and be a practice dummy for my brother's judo throws! It's pretty awesome here, let me tell you.

I also read a lot and snapped at people.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Dinner and Shopping

I'm back in my hometown. I don't have much to write, except that the pie went over very well; I guess I envisioned people refusing to eat it, or asking if they detected cumin- but after a thousand calories of turkey and stuffing, people will eat anything if it's covered by enough whipped cream. In fact, there was a young lady who does not like pie, so we gave her whipped cream on a plate. I'm pretty sure she managed to scrape off a thin layer of ceramics getting the last molecules of whipped cream.

I had the annual conversation about dishware with recluse uncle Steve- the dishes are the Stanford colors red and white, but they depict scenes on the Berkeley campus. Once again, I got minor points for suggesting that Berkeley took pity on a person who had graduated from Stanford and could find no job but painting plates. Steve, my brother and I were relegated to the not real adults card table, and that was my only real contribution to the conversation. I guess I also said I wasn't married yet. And then for some reason I got all awkward and defensive. I love Thanksgiving.

I also had the worst gravy I have ever eaten in my life. This includes the time BJ and I accidentally made three cups of bacon gravy, and I ate some after it had been in the fridge for a mite too long.

The deviled eggs were pretty bad too, but the pie hater made those, and I ate three in learning to cook solidarity. They weren't disgusting, just salty.

Today I started making apple butter and went clothes shopping with my mom. It was a new store full of things I did not want, the storekeeper was very attentive, and no one else was there. While I was calculating the minimum number of things we could purchase before we escaped, my mother was chatting cheerily about formal shorts and gusseted women's pants. Fortunately for my wardrobe, the women's clothes were for skinny little snowboarding ladies. The store does have really nice potted plants- some Sarricinia, a huge Ficus, and some geraniums edged with Irish moss.

Apparently, I need to go collect pine cones. I hope you are all having a happy post Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fail: Eating sustainably in a strange land.

My family is not one for international travel. My father is a soil scientist, so while I was growing up, non-family related excursions tended to be to sites of geological interest. My father would stand, proud and pleased, and gesture out at the gently rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine: evidence of a mile thick sheet of ice that ground parts of the Midwest into the least imposing countryside in the world. Or at least that small part of the world that I've seen.

In college, I didn't expand my horizons much. This was partly because I was shy, poor, and terrified of debt, and partly because I started dating a man who viewed international travel as a punishment for poor grades. As a newly minted botanist, I did follow the family tradition of travel: I went to Mexico and looked at plants there. I think flowering mistletoe is much more impressive than glacial deposits, but who am I to judge? Instead of rounding out my resume with a handful of semesters abroad and international internships, I stayed home and played house. My roommate and I cooked our way through the very 60s Laurel's Kitchen our sophomore year and never really recovered. We ate peas and kale in the winter, and beans and tomatoes in the summer. We stole fruit from the USDA fields and bought cheap eggs from the egg lab. I also cooked whole wheat bread so dense it sank when fed to ducks. The only person who'd tackle an exceptionally bad loaf was my boyfriend- he'd descend on it muttering misguided compliments; "Each slice is a meal! After eating some of this bread, I don't want anything else! I love how you really have to chew it." How could I keep myself from falling in love?

That's how I found myself traveling off continent for the first time to meet the family of my putative fiance, who still hates leaving home. We went to Chile, or as I dubbed it, Bizarro California. I expected it would be like visiting his mother here (tiny portions of very good food) so I had a dozen Luna Bars hidden in my luggage for sudden drops in blood sugar. I practiced my winning smile and kicked myself for not practicing Spanish.

I spent the next two weeks eating. Breakfast was bread, jam, cheese, turkey, milk, coffee, orange juice, and bread. Lunch was some large piece of meat and bread. Dinner was wine, bread, seafood, bread, meat, bread, and meringue. The bread was fresh and dense- another mystery solved. I also swiftly burned through any sustainable food karma from the last five years. I ate tuna- the waiters demonstrated the impressive size of the fish for our edification, it had been caught off Easter Island, 2000 miles away. I ate the salmon- from the criminally mismanaged farms in the formerly crystal clear lakes of Chile. I ate the anguilitas- though I really wish I hadn't. The next time I want something that unpleasant, I'll order natto and not further diminish the stressed eel fishery. When I was offered abalone, I cheerfully ate that, and then mentioned that I'd never had it before because it was threatened in California. "Oh yes" they said "This one is more endangered! You can farm it, but you'll agree it tastes better when grown wild." I smiled.

After a couple of weeks, his cousin asked if she could make anything I missed from home. "Beans," I said. Beans are for poor people, apparently. "Salad", I said. Apparently it was too dangerous for my digestive system to gamble with raw vegetables. "Whole wheat bread", I pleaded. Whole wheat bread is disgusting and it's impossible that I like it. I thought for a bit. There were feral artichokes growing on roadsides, and I had glimpsed them on the menu before being fed another delicious endangered species. "Artichokes?" She smiled, took six artichokes, cooked them, and ground them into a paste.

Two days before we went home, we visited my fiance's aunt- the only member of the family to still live in the countryside. My future mother in law almost leaped out of the car to see her favorite sister, who offered us a small plate of homemade mayonnaise and artichoke hearts while they caught up. Five minutes later, they were gone. They explained that we wouldn't eat the excellent food of the city- only plain Chilean food. They fed us a meal I still dream about- wild mushrooms with garlic, garden peas with bacon, a beautiful steak, and bread. Everyone drank red wine- (It's not from our vineyard, that's for every day, this is from the neighbors)- and watched me eat. And eat. They offered me more steak, and I demanded more peas. Desert was a cold fruit soup, made from last autumn's preserves.

And there. That's a meal I was thankful for.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Baking pert seven million

The year I turned thirteen, my mother let me cook a dish for Thanksgiving. I guess she figured that pumpkin pie was kinda irritating to make but absolutely essential. I was thrilled. You might say I got a little bit obsessive about it.

I bought pumpkins, roasted them, peeled off the fragile sticky skin, and mashed them. (I always ended up with either 1.75 cups, or 6.33. The recipes call for 2) I made the crusts with the ice water theory. I grated the spices myself. I did this every Thanksgiving for... Jesus... ten years. The pie was not very good.

Then a couple of Thanksgivings ago, I got home late. There was no innocent pumpkin waiting to be slaughtered. There was no heavy whipping cream. There were no whole spices. There was a can of pureed pumpkin, a can of condensed milk, a frozen crust, and a jar of pumpkin pie spice. The pie was fantastic.

So now I use canned pumpkin. It contains one ingredient: pumpkin. It's always just enough for the recipe. I make my own crust, but I use the play-doh theory. I use ground spices- I know they lose flavor, but an unexpected fragment of nutmeg can be a landmine. The pies are pretty good.

(Of course, when I started making pumpkin pasta I learned that roasting squash is the worst way to prepare it for pie. I have a tip for whole squash idealists: peel the pumpkin while raw. Cut it up, boil it, and mash it. Easy.)

However, the "the hell with it" theory of pie making is taking its toll. The recipe calls for five brownish spices- and while I'm trying to find the damn cloves, pretty much anything looks plausible. A spoonfull of hot chocolate mix might not sink a pie, but I'm not so sure about my roasted ancho chile powder. And I have so many spices! Also, for some reason the cinnamon is empty. (Oh yeah, Turkish lentil soup) I'd just depend on the other things, but when I rely on nutmeg everything tastes like I threw in a half bottle of Coke.

So I added a couple of good shakes of Garam Masala. It has four of the five, as well as a bit of cumin, black pepper and coriander. It can't be any worse than the other pies my family's choked down over the years.

Lame Downer Post

I still have the patriotic fervor carefully instilled by the American educational system. I'm quite happy Obama's our future president. However, people are saying that his election eliminates our history of slavery and segregation. (or maybe I should stop reading Time) Regardless, voting for the best candidate at the right time does not make everything better. We made the best economic decison and we expect to get patted on the head.

I can't think of anything that the United States has done that comes close to the awesomeness of the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Britain decided that the slave trade was morally unconscionable, blockaded the Coast of West Africa, and declared any ship carrying slaves a pirate ship. That's a financial catastrophe! (Except for the cash from ships siezed)

I guess that still doesn't make up for 150 years of the slave trade, but it's a good start.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mike's Bread Recipe!

I made Mike's bread recipe for the third time tonight, and it remains pretty damn good. It has 3 ounces of cheap beer for the fermenty malty flavor, and a tablespoon of vinegar for the sourness. It uses a tiny tiny amount of yeast and an insanely hot oven, and sits bubbling dangerously on the counter for 18+ hours for those of us who like to feel like Laurel. It's awesome. The link is somewhere in the comments- although I've committed it to memory because the Cook's Illustrated website has locked me out.

An old coworker and I were talking about foods you learned to love in college- (Shout out to Amy and the tomato sammich) She told me about a snack she loved when she studied in Germany- the chocolate sandwich.

All it requires is good dark chocolate bars, good warm sourdough bread, and good butter. By some amazing coincidence, we had all three in the house last night. I encourage people to make their own chocolate sandwich, even if you have to heat the bread in a toaster oven first. Chill the chocolate too. It's an excellent breakfast if you want to have a sugar crash at around 10:30. This is a great plan- when everyone else gets to work, you're reading garish comics about D&D.


I hadn't really thought about the dude who managed to avoid most of the vegetable kingdom for a while. I worked with him for a summer before he went to grad school. He's an excellent botanist, very self critical, and given to... well...

Temper tantrums. Yelling at people for putting noodles on top of rice and then never letting them eat rice in front of him again. Throwing cow pies at coworkers. Driving away laughing while the gate opener runs gasping and sockfooted behind the crummy. Hiding in his room after work, crouched behind the bed when people knocked on the door. I'm all for whimsical behavior, but there's a limit in a workplace setting.

So yesterday I saw one of his friends- Sarah 6, as she was known in college. We were chatting, and she mentioned that she'd just visited the greatest botanist I've ever met under the age of forty. I asked after him.

"He's great!" she said "I think the stress of grad school has really made him open up, recognize that the inner child needs to be expressed now and again. He's not so worried about being proper and appropriate."

So that's a relief, right?

Monday, November 24, 2008

I know in general that it's bad to open e-mail from John Holmes.

Señor C and I have inherited each other's friends, which is pleasant because we both have to social skills of carp. Usually my technique for friend making is poaching the aquaintances of my current friends. Either that or impertinant personal questions.

But there's a downside. The friends are all lovely, but they have family. And then the family gets ahold of your work e-mail.

I guess my point is, if someone's e-mail handle is the name of a porn star, maybe you shouldn't open it at work. If one does, one should pray that the computer is muted.

One of the best parts of this weekend was discovering that Mr. Holmes sends most of these e-mails from his phone. He's not rude enough to interrupt conversation to check his RSS feeds, he waits until he's in the bathroom.

Have I ever mentioned what elegant and charming people my readers are?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Also the Chenopodiaceae. I don't know why.

I do not like that man. He's quite disagreeable. And then there's the obligatory post visit fight betwixt Señor C and myself. I demand that he not inherit 50% of his DNA from such a man, and he points out that if I didn't insist on love and respect for the people who raised us, we could spend the weekend watching Avatar.

So some of you called me these last few days. My phone was sitting safely in my old pants. Call me back.

Gyozilla and I were cooking, and he mentioned that he didn't like parsley. I asked if there was anything else he didn't care for, and he mentioned fennel. Interest piqued, I asked about brussels sprouts, liver, lima beans, and natto. He said they were all fine. Then, being a good botanist, I asked about celery, carrots, parsnips, dill, and cilantro. Score one for pattern matching skills: I've found someone who hates the entire Apiaceae, without prejudice.

I had a coworker would wouldn't eat the Apiaceae because the alkaloids found in Conium might be hiding in relatives. He also avoided the Fabaceae (compounds in Astragalus), the Solanaceae (Solanum), Brassicaceae (glucosinolates in general- the burning taste in mustard and wasabi), and the Anicardiaceae (Poison oak family- no mangos or cashews) Since he made a diet that excluded carrots, celery, parsnips, beans, peas, peanuts, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, I suspect he actually secretly hated vegetables. What did he eat? Mostly rice.

After a little research, I'm pretty sure that Gyozilla doesn't like the compound anethole- the fennel flavor. I know the aroma because I depend on that same compound in my scent based keying technique. All the things he hates smell the same!

Well, okay, he also hates chopped herbs in his food. And he doesn't like cheese very much. Still, I got to do the creepy psychic thing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Must make post to keep up schedule!

But I'm at my outlaws, hanging out. It's pretty exciting. Funny things might be happening, but imagine a screed against the undead being discovered. There's already enough freeform paranoia floating around here. It would be taken as proof positive that we're all plotting against him.

C and I are hanging out with Gyozilla. We went to the comics shop and had the best ice cream in the entire world (honey lavender).

Also, aside from girls with Germanic ancestors, it seems C has a type. (I can't make the tilde work on this computer) The type is children of alcoholics! Lucky him.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Overheard at Work

"I'm so lucky! And the best part is, I get to keep the cockroaches too!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Raised by the hardcore left.

There's an xkcd where two characters are humming the same tune- then they burst into song for the chorus, and find that they are singing songs from vastly different subcultures. (I can't find the cartoon!)

Same thing happened to me in a car at work. Except he broke out with "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" and I warbled "The union makes us strong!" That's really all you need to know about my upbringing.

So there's a great song called "Guantanamera"- it's about a girl from Guantanamo. There has to be a joke in there, right? A humorous retranslation that will make me seem clever in two languages. I looked up the lyrics for ideas.

I am an honest man
from the land of the palms
and before dying, I want to share the music of my lost home.

I pray the poor people of the earth
will be spared my fate
the song of the mountain brook
pleases me more than the sea.

Y para el cruel que me arranca
El corazon con que vivo
Cardo ni ortiga cultivo
Cultivo la rosa blanca

So now I feel petty. There isn't really anything you can add to a sweet song from man exiled and imprisoned because he was fighting for his countries Independence from the USA. It doesn't really lend itself to sarcasm Hey, George Bush! You made José Martín ironic and sad!

Mostly I remembered the "My poems are hellof colors and also vivid wildlands imagery" part of the song.

If I were in love with someone of a similar cultural background, Arroyo de las Sierras would totally be on the short list for baby names. Señor C vetos everything fun as an "affront to his culture".

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


One of my coworkers is doing a pre-experiment with oak moths. She wanted to know if they weighed less, took longer to pupate, ate less or more, and died at a higher rate when eating oak leaves that grew on toxic serpentine soil versus normal soil. Short answer? Nope. They are exactly the same.

Might not make Science or Ecology, but it'll take up thirty minutes in a lab meeting.

So now we have 200 caterpillars, cocoons, and moths that are pretty much worthless. However, it's the most exciting thing in the lab right now. We pick them new leaves, watch the moths mate, and rescue caterpillars that have fallen off of their leaves. It's a communal bonding experience, much like apes grooming.

Also, for some reason there are Madagascar Hissing Cockaroaches.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More misguided software proposals!

Microsoft should add a new program to its Office Suite: Microsoft Time Traveler. To prevent errors in causality, the only thing it will let you do is deliver a swift smack upside the head to previous users of whatever Microsoft Program you're working with. Someone managed to enter 1500 records without noticing that the units of measurement varied between entries? Someone included 200 superfluous columns from Excel in your database? Someone (usually you) deleted a table when it was the only soft copy of the data you needed? Use Microsoft TT to punch your past self in the ear. Bastard.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Plants that lift your heart

Every botanist has a few plants that make them happy in their soul. Mayhap non botanists have them too, I don't know. But this is an excellent place to share yours.

Señor C says I can name a baby after a genus, but has vetoed Erythronium, Hypericum, Parnassia, and Fritillaria. (I took this photo!)

He'd rather call it Conquistador Lord of the Undead the 27th, I suppose.

Crazy Suicide Trees Part II

Señor C refers to lodgepole pines as "Crazy Suicide Trees" because of their serotinous cones. The tree grows best on bare mineral soil with lots of sunlight and water, so the cones stay on the tree with the seeds shut tightly inside until they are exposed to heat- from forest fires. The trees also take any chance to turn a ground fire into a crown fire, because taking out every other tree in the forest is a great leap forward for the lodgepole population in general if not that tree in particular. The trees are basically made of oily rags and match heads. It's really awesome firewood.

Meadows in California are having a rough hundred years. First, the lovely people who burned them every couple of years were quietly encouraged not to do that. Also, they should start wearing shoes, goddammit. Then the grazing of federal lands became commonplace- and since forest floors covered with duff are not so tasty, herds congregate in grassy moist meadows and tear the shit out of them. Sometimes shepherds dug troughs so that cattle and sheep could drink. These troughs, cow paths, and ATV/truck ruts form ditches, the ditches cut deeper into the precious organic soil, the water level dropped, and bad things started to happen.

Areas with water tables very near the surface have very nice plants. (Scientific surface water table test. Stick your finger into the soil. Is it wet? Then it's a surface water table.) First, the soil is basically super rich compost, formed by four thousand years of grass quietly lying down and dying in water. In this situation, most plants would drown- the roots have to respire as well as the leaves. Adapted plants have spongey cells that funnel air down to the roots, or tiny rootlets that stick above the surface to gasp for air. It tends to be an area without a lot of invading plants. (Also, it's the home of three of the five plants that always lift my heart when I see them. Hypericum anagaliodes, I'm looking at you. )

Since the water levels on many of the meadows are lower, Lodgepole pine seeds in the soil are geminating, and lots of little pines are taking over the meadows. The instinct of Land Management Professionals is to set the meadows on fire. This is a fantastic idea.

Well, it is an okay idea, actually. Burning meadows is always good. But setting things on fire to prevent the spread of things that spread when there is fire? That's awesome logic there.

Man in my lab has a project that seeks to prove this with science. Since he couldn't get a federal grant to prove setting things on fire was a bad idea, he got one to prove setting things on fire is a good idea. (Yay USFS, encouraging latent pyromania.) He was all set to burn these meadows and prove that it wouldn't knock back the crazy suicide trees, but then it rained four inches. That's OK! He can totally afford an extra year of graduate school!

So, takehome lessons.
1.) You can help! If you are hanging out in a meadow and see a ditch forming on a cowpath or whatever, build a little dam. The water that backs up behind it will help the plants we all love. Sure, my mother (looking at you B) told you that you shouldn't dam creeks, that the natural environment was precious and delicate, but she didn't know that we'd already screwed things up.
2.) Wow, if only the FS would move away from logging and burning to restore meadows! If only someone would look at manually reconstructing the creek bed and excluding cows! If only someone had the spare time to measure vegetative bounceback over several years!
Excellent. (I has a secret project doing this. Mwahaha)
3.) Time, tide, winter rain wait for no man.

Crazy Suicide Trees

Thursday is current research day at the lab. It's also baked goods day. Guess which area I am plotting to excel in. (Hint: see last post.)

Anyways, there are eight people in the lab who are not me. There's also the dude who has the exact same name as my uncle, whose official job title is "GIS monkey to the greatest ecological mind of our era and bioregion". (I may have referred to said genius as stupid talky man) Regardless, that's a presentation schedule of about one new project or paper every two months. I'm a bit intimidated.

That's OK, I'm just a tech! I don't understand complex statistical processes or advanced ecological concepts, but I make great cupcakes!

But lets talk about some of the research.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


I don't really know what to post about. I guess my choices are workplace alienation, incredibly basic database theory, and toasted butter.

Toasted butter is pretty awesome, actually. I often talk it up, and everyone nods politely. It's hard to convert people to a baked goods theory without the baked good right there, right then. Unfortunately, toasted butter is so awesome that I eat a lot of the cookie dough I put it in. It's so awesome that Señor C's normal avid consumption of cookies ramps up to frightening levels. Usually he can be distracted with tartlets or jam cake, but there is no dissuading him from toasted butter cookies. If I made extra for him, he'd eat them all, and then be sick.

So you will have to make things with toasted butter on your own, dear readers. Take some butter, melt it in a large, light colored pan (you need to see it change color), and put it on medium heat. Stir it occasionally, and let it form foam twice. Eventually it will smell like melted baby angels and have toasted carmel colored bits at the bottom. Use where ever you'd use melted butter in baked goods.

Or I could share a recipe: Burned Butter Brown Sugar Cookies (makes 2 dozen in a world where no one eats the dough)
Preheat oven to 350°
10 tbs burned butter
Stir in
4 tbs unburned butter
1 3/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 tbs vanilla (It's a lot, but the flavors are friends)
and then
1 egg
1 egg yolk
Mix together dry ingredients:
2 cups and 2 tbs white flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Mix together wet ingredients and dry ingredients. Form 1 1/2 inch balls (You may want to roll them in a little white sugar) and squash them with either a fork or the palm of your hand. Bake for twelve minutes, or until you're convinced that they're still too raw and squooshy to be considered done. Let cool, and then hide a dozen before you taste one.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Señor C is cooking dinner!

He's making cilantro pesto pasta with kale, bacon, and peas. That's like seven of my top ten favorite foods all together!

He's pretty cool.

(There is olive oil and pine nuts, bringing total to seven)


I made bread today. It was the rapid rise no knead whole wheat loaf that Mike suggested. (Thanks Mike!) I suspect it would be far better if I had not left the dough in the fridge for twenty-four hours, but hey, it's nowhere near the worst loaf of bread I've made. (That would be the no knead bread where I replaced instant yeast with... not instant yeast. It was yeasty. And brick hard.) I mean, this stuff would float. And the residual mess is quite small. In fact, it's quite tasty. I think I'll make it again, but follow the recipe. And find a timer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Señor C is playing QWOP, a running is really hard flash game. It can be played here:

It seems to mostly consist of kicking yourself in the back of the head while wiping out in a spectacular manner.

He also put together an impressive video game system, currently used to alienate our neighbors further. (After the Evolution related yelling) The cool part is the projector and the blank wall. I'm told that the six speakers and the subwoofer are not the cool part. They are the loud and neighbor alienating part though.

I had all sorts of adult things I was going to do today- return my non-fitting dress, figure out why the mapping software doesn't work, fixing the car, complaining about the lack of heat in our house, and unpacking. The eternal unpacking. I guess I baked bread, unpacked three boxes of books, and had Señor C untangle my unholy Access database. Given the problems I have unpacking books, I'd like to give mad props to Cuervito for unpacking them last time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


My office is a desk in a lab. It's fenced in on three sides by filing cabinets, so my spot for idle gazing is a blank metal wall. My back is to a door and walkway, and I am convinced that every set of footsteps is for me. One of my officemates talks. And talks. My Lord, he has his own office in another building, why is he here, sorting out errors in his travel itinerary in a loud voice over the phone?

Everyone else is on a 9-5 schedule, which gives me a precious half hour at either end of the day to get 80% of my work done.

Every day I think: I need to go home and work so I can think.

Then I go home and think differently.

Novels of Evolution, addendum

Actually, if it were a novelized version of single celled organism evolution, covering endosymbiotic events and formation of aggregate cells, I would snap that shit up! The tertiary endosymbiotic event would be awesome fiction fodder, FYI. Otherwise, I will be reading my Regency romances over here, thank you.
This is a graph for you. You can see that African populations have nearly 100% of the genetic diversity present in humanity. This is pretty solid evidence that humanity radiated from Africa. Thus, things that aren't present in African populations are thought to be recent adaptations.

Like lactase.
And excessive norepinephrine production- (This one is really cool. Mitochondria are ordered to cylce through stored energy, producing waste heat. This is why people can live at latitudes greater than 35°. This is also why Norwegians are insane.)

Worst book of 2008: Evolution (Baxter)

This is probably the worst book I'll read this year. Just in case, I've put off the Eragon series until '09, because if I read another book this bad in the near future, I will stab out my eyes.

That would be bad.

Ken and Ingrid passed this book along to me, because I "like evolution". I hadn't really examined my feelings towards evolution- upon reflection I think it's messy, brutal, and pretty cool. (also depressing when applied to me) My emotional investment with Darwin's four laws is apparently exactly the wrong one for reading a novel- really a collection of short stories- about significant evolutionary events in mankind's past and future.

So, the science is not bad. I found a couple of solid points I disagree on, but that's probably because we're in different fields. He's still clinging to the type-specimen paleontology crap, and several of my teachers were kind enough to beat that out of me, and then I read Wallace. And he had an animal that violated the r r^2 r^3 principle to make a point. (Most of the fossils we see are from low moist areas, not the fossils of mountain species.)

Actually, that one bugged me. It was a giant pteradon- 100 m wingspan!- that lived in the stratosphere, eating stuff that had blown up there. It made me want to yell: That is REALLY BIG! There is NOT ENOUGH AIR in the stratosphere! Something that big cannot live on WAYWARD MIDGE SWARMS! Having them mate and nest on mountaintops doesn't work: the tallest mountains in the world now barely scrape the BOTTOM of the stratosphere, and the Indian subcontinent HAD NO HIMALAYAS when this was going down. I did yell, actually. Quite a lot. That's how we met the neighbors. They agreed it was a very bad book.

The sex bugged me. It's a book about evolution, so sex is important. But there was a disturbing subtheme of more human males and their attraction to less intelligent, helpless, much younger females. It was uncomfortable hearing about arousal while freeing a monkey-girl from a snare, or offering tools to a poor lonely Homo erectus or watching your orphaned sister mature. Ew, Mr. Baxter. Those are things I didn't want to know about you.

There were the toolmaking language using raptors. I aknowledge that there might have been sentient animals before humans- I'd like to hope that there are some now. The feud between the raptors and the sentient brachiosaurs was a little bit Land Before Time.

Then there was the "missing link" story. It's about a tribe of functionally modern homonids- they have fire and trade, but lack a real language. It's the end of the era of ten thousand homonid subspecies- these happy few are the ten or so people we are all descended from. They're in the Rift Valley. They are the source of all of human diversity. One of them is called Sunset because he's a redhead.

I bet you could shove a shitload of dried peas into his skull.

Yes, ducklings, the forebearers of humanity already had a gene that today is found only in the descendants of the Celts. That extra special pigment that we see only in descendants of Northern Europeans and Spaniards. However, the effects of said gene are only visible if you also have very little melanin. (Otherwise, you look like Señor C.) Which means that according to Mr. Baxter, the ancestors of all humanity were white. Props on the hardcore racism, dude. Too bad it's wrong. I had three paragraphs on how it was wrong, but I started to rant. I'm going to go eat, rather than edit it. Don't read this book.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Part of the reason I'll be working this weekend is because I got Hughed. Hugh sat me down to talk about the project I inherited from him, and my workload quadrupled. And the first item on every single list reads "Learn to use appropriate program"

So I made three kinds of fozen confection and watched Avatar, the Last Airbender. It's pretty good. And mad props to Señor C and the person who doesn't yet have a pseudonym for indulging my sour cream ice cream craziness
Apparently I need to make three updates to get back on track. Unfortunately, I also have a hangover. And a dirty house that is only partly unpacked. And lots of work. And a car with a weird battery problem (man, someone should look at the brakes too) And a hangover.

Adulthood sucks

Wednesday, November 5, 2008




I spent today taking an eight hour course on my retirement and health care options as a university employee. Wooo. Also, we learned not to accept gifts from vendors.

There was free food- TANSTAAFL, but it was free for me.

And everyone seemed to think that because they were learning about really boring adult stuff, they should act like really boring adults. You might posit that they actually were boring adults, but you didn't see how they were dressed. If I were their supervisors, there would be a talk about appropriate workplace attire, believe you me.

I should talk- I've worn the only nice pair of jeans I can find every day this week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rule 0, people

I'm gonna be a DM. I'm so excited!

But seriously. I thought role playing was to teach us social skills in our teen years- but apparentlys, is for grownups too. First skill is that the Dungeon Master gets testy when people plan bits of her campaign behind her back. I'm seriously considering doing the "steal their shit and dump them in a prison cell" schtick if they keep it up.

Otherwise, things are going well. I've decided to do as little work as possible in designing the world- you might think I'd just steal someone else's world, but then I'd have to read about it. Also, the last thing I want is someone pointing out that there are two moons when I really need it to be dark at night. Instead, it's the most thinly veiled reference to California ever. Don't tell. Each ecological subregion is a kingdom, see? All the cities are translated into Spanish, and then Babelfish German. It'll be great.

New computer

I got the 'field laptop' at my new job. Senor C says he has an extra keyboard and mouse- I think I will be needing them. The laptop has a sticky "n" key, and a lot of other keys I think I'd call sticky if the n key were't so stubbor. I have a bad case of palm scroll, and I keep reaching for the invisible mouse. I think that I'll find a way around that though. My goal is to be so awesome at left handed trackmousing that I never notice there is no invisible mouse. (Jim at least is interested in this post. Finding invisible mice is a big part of his day)

Six kinds of bacon

I bumped into another former professor today- she remembered me, more's the pity. (That's not fair.) She has ideas about what young people today should be doing. They should be in grad school, for one thing. They should go to botany club meetings, for another. They should not swank about new jobs. They should think botany is awesome. And they should vote. She did a quick check to see how Señor C and I measured up. (I scored much higher than he did, btw. Except on the bragging)

Damn, I should have thrown Cuervito and his impending nuptials under her wheels. That'd derail the fair judgement of my abilities.

Hey, dude, have you told the doctor of Chlorogalum you're engaged yet?

On a side note, the newly revamped Co-op has at least six kinds of bacon. We will try all of it as soon as possible.