mollyringle: (comet)

I'm not a good astronomer, only able to pick out a few constellations or individual stars. But Sirius is probably the one star I'd know just by looking at it even without Orion nearby to point the way. All stars twinkle, but Sirius glitters and flashes--red! blue! yellow! white! full spectrum! I stared at it a while last night, and when I pointed it out to my husband and said it could easily be mistaken for a plane due to its brightness and flashiness, he peered at it and said, "No, that *has* to be a plane...doesn't it?"

Then the Pleiades and Jupiter grouped up together in one of the skylights over the bed, so, thank you all around, clear winter skies.

Speaking of astronomy, did you know there are two, yes, TWO possibly brilliant comets coming in 2013? Comet PANSTARRS will be the more modest opening act in March, and the potentially dazzling Comet ISON is due for around November. Keep an eye on astronomy pages for details. (This blog seems dedicated to the comets in particular.)

Speaking of science in general, you could do a lot worse for a new year's resolution than this philosophy from Neil deGrasse Tyson:

degrasse tyson

Or maybe you just need something faux-literary and silly. Here you go.

mollyringle: (lightning)
Dudes, you've got to read this:

I have to post this article because it's fascinating, hilarious, and terrifying all at once. Interestingly, the comments on it seem to agree with my instinct: the Strid, the innocent-looking creek in the UK that drowns everyone who touches it, is the scariest. That's precisely because it is so innocent-looking. It's also because, jeez, English landscapes aren't supposed to be deadly! Every other continent, sure--no one's surprised to find Africa featuring twice on this list--but England? Where a gentle 1,000-foot-tall hill is a mighty mountain, and serious weather means a foot of snow? Regardless, it houses The Stream That Will Suck You Under To Unknown Depths and Drown You and They Will Never Find Your Body.


Mind you, I did LOL later in the article when they refer back to "jumping the Pleasant Brook of Death." There is comedy gold throughout here. Dark-comedy gold.
mollyringle: (perfume ad)
Last month we spent some vacation time at my in-laws' house, which is a new, clean, dry, prefab dwelling in central California. When we got back, our 1940s Seattle house smelled old and musty in a striking way that I usually don't notice. It wasn't an altogether bad smell--it mostly reminded me of secondhand record stores and vintage movie theaters. Still, I had to wonder, is that the smell that hits everyone in the nose when they enter our house?

However, yesterday we returned from a weekend at my parents' vacation house across Puget Sound, a 1960s kit house (cabin, even) coated inside and out with smoke, sand, marine air, fir needles, dog hair, and probably 324 kinds of mildew or mold. (Really, it's charming, and the location is possibly my favorite on Earth, but such is the state of the interior air quality there.) When we came home after that, my nose found with pleasant surprise that our house smelled crisp and clean and fresh.

The difference is possibly due in part to the length of time our house was unoccupied--ten days in the first case, only a day and a half in the second. Being unlived-in and having the thermostat turned down and the windows shut probably contributes to a disused smell of its own. But I can't help thinking the main part of the difference lies in the air we got acclimated to in each case while we were away--arid and new on the one hand, damp and quaintly crumbling on the other. I guess our house's smell lies somewhere in between, and it's likely that whoever enters it will smell mainly the difference between our house and what they personally are used to.

This just goes to show that those designing perfumes, or studying olfactory science, have a heck of a lot of subjectivity to factor into their calculations. I wish them the best of luck.
mollyringle: (Parrish stars)
Does anyone else experience phantom phone buzz?

I tend to leave my cell phone on vibrate, so as to avoid having a call wake up a sleeping toddler, or chirp loudly in the public library. But that means I've become susceptible to thinking the phone is vibrating when it actually isn't. The car rumbles over a rough patch of pavement, someone scoots a piece of furniture, two pieces of fabric rub against each other--each time, I snap to attention and check the phone, thinking maybe someone called. Ugh. Nope, generally not.

Phantom phone buzz, I tell you. It's a real thing.
mollyringle: (Powerpuff - by Xenia)
Our sons have lately been watching two Pixar movies obsessively and repeatedly: Cars and WALL-E. And though my husband and I keep reminding each other *not* to analyze and nitpick the plots of these movies, which aren't really supposed to make huge amounts of sense, we keep finding ourselves doing it and making observations to one another anyway. We can't help it.

WALL-E in particular brings out the pointless musings in us--maybe because Cars makes no sense in its initial concept (cars are the only living things on Earth? And they', so you kind of forgive the rest of its oddities as minor points in comparison. But WALL-E seems like honest-to-gosh science fiction, so you try to take it seriously; but as such, it has big silly plot holes. Examples:

If humans have managed to keep themselves alive and well on a spaceship for 700 years, including somehow creating food out of who knows what, surely they have the technology to go back to Earth and clean it up?

What is the Axiom doing out there in space, anyway? They appear to be just floating around aimlessly. Aren't they at least conducting some astronomical research? Looking for another habitable planet? It would seem not, which is really odd.

Of all the robots, why did they give the vegetation probe (EVE) the most lethal firepower? Wouldn't the power-hungry robots on the Axiom find a way to program in some similar firepower for themselves?

If said power-hungry robots (Auto and his cronies) didn't want the captain ever to return to Earth, why did they let him see the plant and the "time to return to Earth" message in the first place? Why didn't they steal the plant off EVE the second she arrived, and incinerate it, and never tell him?

By the way, the first plant that grows again on a barren Earth, what's that really going to be? Kudzu? Dandelion? Knotweed? I suppose it's still potentially edible, but quite unlikely to be the tidy little bean sprout they illustrate.

Also there are a couple of common sci-fi errors. For example, there shouldn't be any sounds in space (like the fire extinguisher's whoosh when WALL-E is using it to jet around). And the Axiom's gravity field would surely orient gravity toward the floor of the ship, no matter which way the ship was pointing, so spinning the steering wheel shouldn't make all the passengers go sliding to one end of the room as if they were on a boat in the ocean.

But, honestly, despite all those points, I think it's a delightful, clever movie. We still grin and giggle at certain lines and scenes. (The first time through, I couldn't stop laughing at WALL-E getting attacked by shopping carts.) The animation and artwork is astonishingly cool, the sound effects fun and creative. (I heard in a radio interview that for MO, the frenetic clean-up robot, they recorded the buzz of an electric razor.) I sympathize fully with EVE's fiery temper, as it's quite a lot like mine. (As my family acknowledges. Good thing no one equipped me with a laser arm.)

And I may never want to eat a Twinkie again after watching that cockroach burrow into it twenty or thirty times now. So that's probably just as well, as far as my health is concerned.
mollyringle: (golden egg)
Among the complications of modern life and our zillion ways of keeping up-to-the-minute with our acquaintances' lives is this: we no longer have an excuse for not knowing about big events that befall our friends. I'm not saying I want to be in the dark regarding my actual friends' lives. No, I'm thinking of this mainly in the context of fiction writing.

I'm revising a novel that I originally wrote in the mid-1990s. And rather than update it to modern day, I decided I needed to keep it in 1995-ish, just before the Internet invaded every last person's life, because otherwise there was no good reason for the protagonist to be unaware of a horrible thing that happened to his high school best friend. These days, you know everything that happens to your friends, former and current, because they post it on Facebook, or Tweet about it; or, if they have a modicum of privacy and dignity left, they email you personally. ("FYI, this happened...")

But back in the '90s, though we did have telephones and the post office and even, increasingly, email, we were far more able to lose track of friends--even good friends. I just don't see that happening anymore. Unless someone makes an unusual effort to stay off sites like Facebook, and is one of those people who seldom answers email--or changes their address a lot and neglects to tell their friends (and such people are regarded with large amounts of hostility from their families and acquaintances, as you know)--then you're sure to be in touch with them electronically fairly often. As to phones, nowadays everyone carries a cell, and long-distance is bundled into the monthly plan, so you don't have the excuse of cost when it comes to ringing up a friend in another state.

In short, staying in touch has become much, much easier, to the degree that I have to set stories in the grunge era if I want my characters to have startling, heartbreaking discoveries about each other and feel bad for not knowing about them sooner. Yep. Life is tough on us writers that way.
mollyringle: (Finian's Rainbow - gold)
For what it's worth, my dad, a nuclear engineer, sent this in email today. I'm not here to tell you that nuclear power is 100% safe and clean or anything like that, but I do hope to help you do what the Hitchhiker's Guide helpfully reminds you to do: namely, DON'T PANIC. For panic, there is no need. Here's my dad's message:


For more reliable info and status of Japan's nuclear plants, see:

1. Nuclear Energy Institute:
Click on the "information on the Japanese earthquake and reactors in that region"
This also gives links to other sites.

2. World Nuclear Association:
Also see their info sheets, such as 'nuclear power plants and earthquakes'

3. Japan Industrial Forum:
They give reports on the plant status of each plant.

Radiation measurements: 1 Sievert= 1 Sv= 100 rem, or 1 mSv = 100 mrem.

Normal background doses for a person in the US is around 500-600 mrem/year.(5-6 mSv/yr)

A dose of 40 rem (400 mSv) or less produces no detectable effects, such as increased cancer incidence.

Doses above 40 rem increase your cancer incident rate proportional to the dose. A dose of 100 rem increases your cancer incident rate by about 5%, and a dose of 200 rem increases the cancer incident rate by about 10%.

A dose of about 100 rem (1000 mSv or 1 Sv) would induce radiation sickness. Most people would recover from such a dose with treatment.

A dose of about 400-500 rem (4000-5000 mSv) would be lethal to about 50% of the people.

The Japanese plants do have a problem, but it is pretty localized to the plant site and to a lesser extent the area within about 10 miles of the plant. Any radiation reaching the US should be negligible and produce no effects. There's a lot of space and dilution between us and Japan, along with decay of the radioactive material.

Hopes this helps understand the situation.


Molly's addendum: Japan, you are strange and unique and beautiful, and I love you! I'm so sorry for all that has happened to you lately. I also applaud the infrastructure and engineering you had in place beforehand, which kept these disasters from being much, much worse. You'll pull through this just fine, because you're awesome that way. Much love, your buddies on the other edge of the Ring of Fire.


Update, added 3/17/11: I asked Dad what kind of dose readings we're actually seeing, there and here. His answer...

Reliable dose readings at and around the plants are hard to find. I don't think TEPCO (who operates the plants) is doing a very good job reporting these, nor is the regulatory group in Japan.

I've seen the following numbers:
150 mrem/hr at 20 km
3000 mrem between Units 2 and 3
40,000 mrem beside Unit 3, then later falling to 1190 mrem, then 60 mrem
10,000 mrem inside Unit 4
75 and 34 mrem/hr at the plant gates

Remember that the average person gets about 600 mrem/yr from background. So some of these are very high doses and one would not want to spend very long in that vicinity. That's why they are recommending evacuation around the plants.

What might we see here? Depends on how serious the accident becomes. We might see a slight increase in the background here--we might pick up a few extra mrem. But that's like the dose you'd get flying from Seattle to Chicago.

The trouble with radiation is that it's too easy to measure. You can measure very small amounts--like one atom disintegrating. Many airborne toxins aren't measurable until they reach concentrations of 5-10% of a lethal dose! If radiation were this way, we couldn't measure it until it reached 3000 mrem or so.

We will probably know more what to expect in a few days, but I wouldn't worry about a very large increase in the background dose.
mollyringle: (Gutenberg)
It's that time again, when I page through my journal and my Goodreads dashboard to remember what I read last year and pick out my favorites. So here they are--in, refreshingly, no particular order except that in which I remembered or was reminded of them.


Isabel's Daughter, Judith Ryan Hendricks. Avery, a young woman raised as an orphan, gets unexpectedly thrown onto the track of her mother's identity when she stumbles upon a portrait that resembles herself, in Santa Fe, NM. The questions of what she'll discover, and how her relationships will turn out with the other people she meets along the way, kept me reading; and I also loved the influences of Native American culture, herbology, and a whiff of magic. But my favorite feature was probably the setting and its mouth-watering sensory detail. The colors of scenery and artwork, the sounds of desert thunder, and best yet, the taste of New Mexican peppers and sopapillas and chilis verdes--yum! Oh, also, Hendricks gets mega-bonus points for actually emailing me back personally when I dropped her a line to say I liked her books--and for saying she'd read one of mine too! Thank you, Judi!

Bread Alone, Judith Ryan Hendricks. Hendricks also wrote a couple of books featuring my dear city of Seattle. This is the first in the series; I haven't read the second yet, but plan to soon. A Californian woman, abruptly dumped by her husband, finds solace and redemption in making bread for a small Seattle bakery. Again, luscious sensory detail. Reminded me never to write a scene without smells, tastes, textures, and colors.

Moon of Little Winter, Margaret Marr. Kudos to Marr for drawing me right in with an original and quirky premise: two strangers (a man and a woman) show up in the middle of the night to claim the same house, which apparently sits smack dab on a property line. Needless to say, sexual tension kicks in immediately, but so do the spooky complications: bones discovered on the property, objects moving by themselves, spirit wolves, witches both good and bad, and the darkest of family secrets. Marr put a fresh spin on the old "haunted house" storyline with her many innovations. I had a great time reading it and didn't want to put it down.

Voices on the Waves, Jessica Chambers. Chambers is such a skillful novelist, I would never have guessed this was her first published book. She writes with the beauty and grace of a complete pro. This story sucked me in from the start with its rich cast of diverse characters and utterly gorgeous English seaside setting (doesn't hurt that I'm an Anglophile, I suppose), and charmed me into staying up late to keep reading. The characters' interactions were complex enough that I couldn't foresee where they would all end up. Though love does blossom in one or two places, its darker cousins, jealousy and shallow lust, play important roles too, as does good old friendship. I truly cared about all these people, even the ones who behaved badly, because Chambers is so good at finding the humanity in everyone.

The Love Thing, Chris Delyani. Delyani's novel is set up with an irresistible premise: the story of Pride and Prejudice as a modern American office romance, with nearly all the characters played by gay men. Really, do I need to say more? All right, I will: the cakes! The young hero gets roped into the job of baking birthday cakes for everyone in the office, and, though lacking culinary training, dives into the task boldly and turns out a drool-worthy series of baked masterpieces that would make Julia Child approve. Made me ashamed of my Duncan Hines boxed mixes, I tell you. A tasty and charming story all around.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, Susanna Clarke. If you liked Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, with its simultaneously dark and tongue-in-cheek mingling of Regency and Faerie, and want another taste, then this collection of short stories along the same theme ought to satisfy your cravings. It also would work for anyone who couldn't get through the weighty length of Strange and Norrell but did enjoy the premise. Fanciful, odd, ever so creative.

Swann's Way (In Search of Lost Time, vol. 1), Marcel Proust. I didn't so much read this as meander through it a few pages at a time over the course of a couple of years. And oddly, I tended to find myself liking it. Calling it a novel would not feel entirely right, though of course technically it's a novel. What's remarkable about Proust, though, isn't the plot and characters so much as the startlingly true insights about emotions, love, the senses, time, and memory--and such insights crop up on pretty much every page. As someone wise once put it, Proust was (nearly) a neuroscientist. I'll tackle volume 2 one of these days. Really.

The Gravesavers, Sheree Fitch. This one's Young Adult, loaned to me by a friend, and I'm so glad I got to discover it. A 12-year-old girl spends the summer with her sour grandmother in Nova Scotia, and discovers not only (of course) the family harmony she'd been lacking, but ghosts and spooky truths about a shipwreck that occurred off the coast long ago. At times sad, at other times invigorating and beautiful, this was a lovely and addictive read.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl. Is this novel overly precocious, with its young author, and even younger narrator (age 16), spouting graduate-degree-level political theories and literary references, complete with bibliographical citations in parentheses? Yes, it is. Does the author lean too heavily on ultra-unusual-and-brainy metaphors and analogies, some of which take the shape of page-long anecdotes that get in the way of the action? Sure, no question. Are a lot of the characters--the teens especially--so flawed as to be annoying to read? Yep, definitely. I passed the halfway mark, did I crave this novel more and more intensely, putting off other tasks simply so I could sit and read and learn what happened between a group of cliquish teens and their mysterious teacher (and the narrator's brilliant dad)? Yes, absolutely. And as that is the central challenge to any author, and best test of any novel, I give this one high marks.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Yeah, okay. You know what To Kill a Mockingbird is about. You read it in high school. So did I, but I'd forgotten nearly everything about it, so I re-read it, and was thoroughly charmed and moved, as everyone tends to be. Young Scout is a shining example of a candid, engaging narrator, and Atticus is the parent we all wish we could be. We'll try harder, Atticus, we promise.


A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson. When Bryson realized he had no idea why the oceans are salty, or how a nuclear bomb works, or why the periodic table looks the way it does, he set out to get a thorough, ground-level education in science. This book lets us acquire one too. Having Bryson as the author makes it a fun experience, of course--he never lets go of his sense of humor, and always gives us a look at the quirky human beings behind the stuffy, dry scientific discoveries. If you, like so many of us, find yourselves in danger of having your high school (and college) science education completely gone from your brain, and wish to remedy the situation, this is about as pleasant a method for doing so as you could find.

The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson. Chicago hosted the World's Fair in 1893, as you might have heard. I kinda-sorta knew that already. But the "White City"--the Fair's huge buildings and grounds--and the effort it took to build them were completely new to me. Oh, and there was also a serial killer operating in Chicago at that same time. An incredibly scary, prolific one, who built an actual murder mansion to make the killing easier. I would tell you about the basement but I don't want to spoil it for you. Or revisit that chillingly horrible part of history, honestly. Still, a fascinating read! The very best of humanity squished alongside the very worst.

Save the Cat!, Blake Snyder. Writers, snap this one up! The sadly departed Blake Snyder penned this little handbook to help screenwriters turn out good, marketable scripts, but the principles of scene and storytelling he lays down are applicable and hugely useful to any writer. It got me rethinking my novels, and energized me to face the revisions with new purpose. Also, he's hilarious, and so easy to read. Thanks, Blake. You'll be missed.

To the many, many other authors I know: I probably just haven't gotten to your books yet! I apologize and hope to do so soon. Those two little kids take up a lot of my would-be reading time. Someday apparently they'll be teenagers and spend all day sleeping and texting their friends. Or so I'm told. Anyway, I'll catch up on my to-be-read list then.
mollyringle: (moon over ocean)
I seldom come up with science fiction ideas, but here's one that occurred to me lately while dealing with our flooded basement (puddles and rivulets, not inches or feet, but still a nuisance):

Once science has figured out how to teleport matter, maybe involving those odd particles that act on one another at a distance or something, the world can set up a water exchange program. Via the future's version of the internet, a person or group who has too much water can hook up with someone who doesn't have enough, and, poof!, the water gets whisked away from the flood-stricken and given to the water-needy. So, for example, our basement's water could go to some parched home garden in Australia. Or, on a larger scale, the floodwaters rampaging riverfront property in the state of Washington right now could be spirited away to supply the city of Los Angeles or other desert metropolises. Handy, huh? Get on that, science.

In totally different news, I finally got around to watching the "making of" featurette for HBO and [ profile] grrm (George R.R. Martin)'s "A Game of Thrones," and I am officially excited!

Yowza, talk about eye candy--on the part of actors and set dressing alike. Scenery, too, as apparently they filmed in both Northern Ireland and Malta. And the cool thing about Martin's story is that it's not merely eye candy; it's brain candy as well. Mind you, given the sex-and-violence level, I'll have to find a way to watch it when my kids aren't around, but this looks worth it.
mollyringle: (chocolate)
Sorry for the delay in the announcement, but [ profile] nehi won the perfume drawing from last week. Congratulations! I'll announce a new drawing (again a perfume) in a few days.

My question for the world: why is it seemingly impossible to get decaffeinated chocolate? I'm talking dark chocolate, now, not "white chocolate," which isn't exactly chocolate anyway. I assume there's something about the chemical makeup of cacao that creates difficulties in separating the caffeine-containing components from the good stuff.

Chocolate very seldom keeps me awake from caffeine content, but once in a while it does, in the case of a particularly rich, dark dessert. And for those who are seriously caffeine sensitive, a decaf version of chocolate would probably be a godsend.
mollyringle: (golden egg)
Okay, tell me if my instincts are right here.

In a novel I'm reading, a character mentioned being "one-third French" and two-thirds something else. My instinct is that you can't actually be one-third, or two-thirds, anything. Doesn't your genealogy have to come in halves and quarters and eighths and so on? You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc. So is it actually possible to be "one-third" any given ethnic group?

Math people, enlighten us.

If my instincts are right, please add "I'm one-third [blank]" to the official list of fallacious things your characters should never say.
mollyringle: (iPod)
The Radio Lab podcast once discussed earworms, which are those songs you cannot for the life of you get out of your head. People called in to sing bits of their own personal earworm tunes, and in a follow-up episode called "Earworms", the hosts pointed out that, interestingly, people were often perfectly on pitch when singing these songs. It seems that perfect pitch, at least for the song in question, often accompanies the nagging experience of being unable to stop humming that tune.

I tested it myself just now with a song that's lately in my head; namely, Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." I've never had perfect pitch in my life, to my knowledge, so I figured I'd be off by at least a couple notes.

I was exactly on pitch.

My tempo was a little too fast, but I nailed the key. Crazy.

Try it yourself! Tell me what happens.

By the way, it's sometimes hard to remember what notes you were singing, because when you start playing the real song, the legitimate notes wipe clean your memory, at least for most of us. Thus it's difficult to know whether you've matched the pitch or not. I did it by singing a few bars into the computer microphone and saving the file, then playing it back and comparing it to Coldplay's version. I'd overlay them in Sound Studio to demonstrate my moment of accurate pitch, but there's no reason you should have to hear me sing "da da da-da-da-da". (I couldn't remember the lyrics...)
mollyringle: (moon over ocean)
Two mildly amusing things of late:

1) Spotted a cartoon in American Scientist titled "Fermat's Last Novel," with caption, "That's it, 'Guy gets girl, war then peace, don't have enough time to put it all down here, will flesh out later'?"

Sounds like what goes on in my head much of the day.

2) While channel-surfing, we lingered on a travel show about the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. My two-year-old son pointed at the screen, beaming, and said, "Look at all the cows!"

That's what the drunk tourists in Pamplona say, too. Seconds before getting gored.
mollyringle: (kodama)
I heard about the case of Mr. and Mrs. H's supposedly haunted house on "This American Life" last Halloween, and meant to post it here. Upshot: feeling chilled, fatigued, and weirdly suffocated in some rooms of your house? Hearing and seeing strange things? Yeah, you might want to check for carbon monoxide before you go blaming ghosts. It can produce all those symptoms and more--"more" in some cases meaning "death."

Thought it was interesting, since not only should it make a lot of people rethink their ghost stories, but it might actually save some lives.

I still hope ghosts are real, sometimes, sort of. But a good scientist eliminates other explanations first.

Poll thing

Oct. 15th, 2006 12:37 pm
mollyringle: (lightning)
[Poll #845392]

Body type would have something to do with that last question, I'm sure; but I don't think it's as simple as "big people are warm; tiny people are cold." In fact, a lot of skinny people are skinny because they have metabolisms that burn like rocket fuel; therefore, they are comfortable at lower room temperatures than the average person. In addition, I'm betting it has to do with what you're used to. Those from toasty parts of California really can shiver and pile on sweaters when it's 62 outside. I have seen this personally. Meanwhile, Alaskans often wear shorts when it's 45. Again, personal witness.
mollyringle: (Rain - leaves)
The other month we tried some Oreo knockoffs from a brand called Back to Nature. The name spawned many jokes: ah yes, nature, where chocolate sandwich cookies grow on trees. Monkeys flinging them at each other, squirrels carrying them off to their nests. A real bitch when you park your car underneath one, though; the filling smears all over the windshield.

Anyway, that brings up the question of whether "natural" is always better for you. In the case of cookies with some heart-healthy fat instead of Crisco, then yes, I suppose it is.

But when I want to know why we need to clear all the dead leaves away from the garden, justifying my laziness by pointing out that forest floors are covered with dead leaves and are quite fertile and happy, the "nature" argument doesn't quite hold up. Yes, forest floors are covered with dead leaves, and as a consequence they are also crawling with bugs, many of which would love to eat more plants, or hey, move into our house. Since that is not acceptable, I become willing to clear the dead leaves. Thus the difference between a garden and the wilderness.

Similarly, I find myself thinking things like: "It's silly that we shouldn't walk around barefoot for fear of putting too much strain on our feet. We were designed to walk barefoot! Our primitive ancestors must have done it all the time!" To which Anthro brain has to answer: "Yes, and look how long they lived. Why, a good 32, 33 years." Ditto for worrying about how the sun, or tooth decay, or sleeping on uncomfortable surfaces, might hurt us. Since I hope to live a good three times what our hominid ancestors did, I will be trusting in science and technology to help.

Luckily science and technology help bring us cookies. Which, in the case of Back to Nature, are really good. Better than actual Oreos, if you can believe it. You win THIS round, nature...
mollyringle: (kodama)
On warm nights in the calm, dark inlets of Puget Sound, the saltwater lapping up to the shore will sparkle with a pale green light if you run your hand through it. (You can also use a stick, or generally disturb the water in any way.) This is one of my favorite sights in the world. When I was growing up, we were always told that the sparkles were due to "phosphorus." Turns out they aren't, technically. It's bioluminescence, most likely from a type of plankton called dinoflagellates. There are compounds made from the element phosphorus that do glow in the dark and are used for glow-sticks and other such items (which I am also fond of), but phosphorescence and bioluminescence are not the same thing. In fact, bioluminescence, to judge from my web readings lately, is much cooler than phosphorescence.

On land you don't see glowing life forms a whole lot. In the sea, they're extremely common; and the deeper you go, the more the glow. Take the interesting case of the cookiecutter shark, who (to quote Wikipedia's page on the subject) "uses bioluminescence for camouflage, but a small patch on its underbelly remains dark and appears as a small fish to large predatory fish like tuna and mackerel. When these fish try to consume the 'small fish', they are bitten by the shark." Clever!

Several jellies ("jellyfish") glow too, as do a number of squids, marine worms, and fish. The Bioluminescence page at UC Santa Barbara has some gorgeous photos. Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution's Bioluminescence page has an extensive and quite interesting Q&A on the topic, which includes the intriguing finding that "Bioluminescence has apparently evolved many (possibly as many as 30) different times in evolutionary history" - that is, separately and unconnected from each other - suggesting it is a very useful feature indeed.

Fireflies, which I'd love to see but still haven't, are probably the most famous example of bioluminescence, as you don't have to go into the deep sea to find them (but you may have to go into the deep South). They luminesce as a communication device, to find and attract mates. And in a page right out of Alice in Wonderland, a fungus that grows in forests sometimes makes decaying trees glow faintly at night. That phenomenon is called "foxfire," or occasionally "will o' the wisp" (though I think that term can be attributed to marsh gas flames too). I clearly need to spend more time in forests at night, as I've never seen foxfire either, and it sounds awesome. (Linguistic note: some sources claim that the word "foxfire" comes from "'faux' [Fr.: 'false'] fire", and has nothing to do with foxes. I'll buy it for now.)

But the coolness doesn't stop there. Chemicals of bioluminescence have already been isolated and used as tracers for certain medical and biotechnological studies; and (according to Wikipedia) engineered bioluminescence is being considered for ideas like:
- Christmas trees that glow by themselves
- roadside trees that do likewise (saving electricity costs)
- crops that luminesce when they need water
- novelty pets that bioluminesce, such as rabbits or mice

Why stop there? Think how much some people would pay to have bioluminescent hair or tattoos. There's a fortune to be made here; and, I suspect, a sci-fi novel somewhere in the makings too.
mollyringle: (comet)
A coronal mass ejection is heading for Earth!

But that's a good thing. It may well mean auroras. You don't have to know much about atmospheric sciences or geomagnetics to know that today's chart of the planetary K-index, which is a good aurora indicator, definitely looks dramatic. (The bars are red! They're going up high!) Keep an eye on for details. Wow, Seattle is even supposed to have clear skies tonight. Incredible.

In other good news, I got a request to see the full manuscript of my Seattle-ghost-story novel, from one of the agencies I talked to at the writers conference in July. Stroke a rabbit's detached foot for me. Perform voodoo if that's more your style.

In lesser news, I am so tired. Lemondrop must be on a growth spurt or something. Or else it's all the socializing over the past weekend, and then Steve traipsing off to North Carolina for work right after that.

Then again, in 17 days we fly to Maui, so how bad could things really be right now? And I have dark-chocolate cheesecake in the fridge. Mmm.

P.S. Perfume note: under the lapel of my jacket today, I dabbed some Chanel Coco, and a bit of lavender fragrance oil. The mix is surprisingly good. The lavender grounds the Chanel nicely. Damn Chanel always smells good, though. Which I suppose is why it costs as much as plutonium.
mollyringle: (comet)
More unrelated tidbits. I apologize to those who dislike the ploughman's platter approach to LiveJournal. Just take the chutney and leave the cheese if that's all you're interested in.

1. Perfume I'm sampling today: Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle. Quite lovely. Sweet, sophisticated; touches of orange, florals, and maybe patchouli (which, like many an off-putting scent, can smell very good when mixed with the right things). Elegant, and I'm enjoying wearing it, as I always have so far with the Chanel scents I've tried. I'm not getting an "I can't live without this!" reaction, though, which is good, considering it is seriously $100-a-bottle perfume. I'll stick to the decanted trial spray I bought for cheap off eBay.

2. There is someone in my extended family who likes to send email forwards without checking first. But, then, this person does have an AOL address, so we can't expect them to know about the real internet. Still: today's email claimed that we should all troop outside to admire the night sky because, this August, Mars is going to be so close to Earth that it will look the same size as the full moon in the sky. Okay. I can understand falling for the notion that pressing #-9-0 on your phone will allow scammers to make long-distance calls on your line. But how do you get to be 70-something years old without realizing the astronomical catastrophes that would need to happen for Mars to get close enough to Earth to appear the same size as our Moon? We'd be sending Bruce Willis out on a rocket with a nuclear missile to destroy the Red Planet if that were happening--provided we weren't deluged by our own massively irregular high tides.

3. Speaking of tides, have I mentioned we're going to Maui in September? *does hula of joy* Never been to Hawai'i before. (Notice how the linguist is a dork and includes the glottal stop.) Been reading a guidebook about it, and am quite stoked. Red sand beaches! Black sand beaches! Ten billion waterfalls! Lava-rock tidepools! Tropical fruit! Jungles! Deserts! Sunsets! Swimming everywhere! Still being in the United States so you don't need vaccinations in order to visit, and can drink the tap water! Oh, but uh, [ profile] kenshi and others coming along, I feel obliged to mention that they have something called the cane spider. Fortunately, not venomous or aggressive. Unfortunately, huge and hairy, and fond of crawling around inside houses and cars. *shudder* OK, but still--no panthers! No snakes! No monkeys to throw the coconuts at your head! Really, Hawaii could be a lot worse.

4. Oh yeah, I had a 4th: I've started reading Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. I'm liking it very much, which doesn't surprise me, as Eliot is fabulous; but sometimes I am annoyed by my music-associative mind. For whenever I see the title, I get Styx's "Mr. Roboto" in my head, only with the words, "Thank you very much-a, Daniel Deron-da." How inappropriate and lame is that? I don't even like that song. The VW commercial was funny. But still.
mollyringle: (Gutenberg)
From [ profile] tdj and elsewhere, a very exciting bit of news about, oh, pretty much everything having to do with Western literature as we know it:

"Since it was unearthed more than a century ago, the hoard of documents known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri has fascinated classical scholars. There are 400,000 fragments, many containing text from the great writers of antiquity. But only a small proportion have been read so far. Many were illegible.

Now scientists are using multi-spectral imaging techniques developed from satellite technology to read the papyri at Oxford University's Sackler Library. The fragments, preserved between sheets of glass, respond to the infra-red spectrum - ink invisible to the naked eye can be seen and photographed.

...In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

...Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".

When it has all been read - mainly in Greek, but sometimes in Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Nubian and early Persian - the new material will probably add up to around five million words."

No, I'm not thinking of the gorgeous new film epics, featuring men in togas, that can be made from this fresh material. No, of course not. Kidding aside, I am quite dazzled with the artistic and scientific achievement here. This rocks hugely. And I don't even read Greek plays much these days.


mollyringle: (Default)

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