Friday, December 29th 2006

I also suck at darts
posted @ 1:19 pm in [ - - ]

Earlier this week, when corresponding with a new friend, I was asked about my flaws. Rather than being flip and replying that I could tell him about my flaw, but then the lab where I was created might lose its funding, I referred him to the TISA category here. I highly recommend having a whole public list of stuff you suck at! I mean, it comes in really handy. He then contributed to the TISA project by reminding me of one more:

  1. Darts. It’s like pool: I’m good for one lucky shot per game, so then I stop in an attempt to cover up the general suckitude.

Amusingly enough, a friend of mine once convinced me to play, and then asked about my handedness as she moved some tables and stuff out of the way and arranged the space. I told her it didn’t matter, because I’m ambidextrous — I tend to use whatever hand is closest to the task for most stuff. She was skeptical.

I took my first round of shots — two of which actually hit the target — with my left hand.

“I thought you said you were ambidextrous,” she said.

I took my next turn with my right hand with a similar result. “I am,” I said. “I’m equally sucky with either hand.”


Another giant pile of snow in Denver today. Between this pile, and last week’s pile, I have never seen this much snow at once in this climate in the nearly 10 years I’ve lived here. I’ve decided to stop going out and inconveniencing the neighbors until the roads are clearer. I’m really relieved I don’t have to teach this week. I would be really hosed.

So what I am doing is, of course, finishing up that last chapter. I’d say more about it, but I don’t want anyone getting fish eyes. So here’s a quick encapsulation:

I’m using symbolic dynamics (a method of assigning symbols to qualitative data so they can be processed like quantitative data) to model sequences of violent behavior. Specifically, I’m using a procedure called orbital decomposition. With most nonlinear dynamics procedures, you end up doing three different procedures: one to test for the presence of chaos; one to do whatever it is you’re doing; and one to verify that your results are not just random noise. Orbital decomposition combines all three, plus adds in a few other useful analytic items, like being flexible about how the data are partitioned (some methods require that you determine exactly what constitutes a “stage” of a process, for example, and sometimes the data aren’t too cooperative about that) and determining how long a really good behavioral string is. So it’s very one-stop-shopping for the kind of work I’m doing. Basically, I have to code the data I have from the pattern studies (assign the symbols in meaningful way), then check statistically how frequently each combination of symbols comes up, then run the three sets of calculations. I’m coding right now, and downloading some software that should help me run the calculations.

I’ve had a couple of queries so far, and if I get one or two more, I’ll figure there’s enough non-icthy-opthamological interest to go into more detail. So lemme know.

Monday, December 25th 2006

posted @ 12:39 pm in [ - ]

Merry Christmas, christians, quasi-christians, and other mainstream Americans!

I’ve had a number of email queries about my activities, most of them tinged with concern. First, let me clear up the rumors. Yes, I am writing today, have been for the last few days straight, and will be for the next few straight. Yes, my husband is out of town visiting with his family. Yes, we did get another inch or two of snow last night, and no, the old snow hadn’t melted yet, but yes, the sun is out today. No, Jackie is not pregnant. In fact, she’s in heat. The Cat Who Barely Even Peeps is occasionally punctuating my fortress of solitude with a string of 17 - 35 rapid-fire yowls that set off neighborhood car alarms.

Other than the yowling, things are going very well, in no small part because of the very low-distraction atmosphere. I’m almost out of paper towels, and Titania just stuck her tail in my coffee, but beyond that, no complaints. I have my road bike set up on the trainer so I can take daily “rides” (normally, I keep it in the shed, so that’s kind of a steamy treat), I spend many hours a day writing so I can polish off Part III in the next week, and I haven’t done much house-leaving at all. Some concerned friends have thoughtfully invited me for various Christmassy family functions so I wouldn’t be a pathetic orphan or turn into a pumpkin or anything. I know, I have great friends!

I want to assure you all, though, that I don’t feel pathetic and abandoned, or remotely squashlike. You know how I’m always going on here with some variation of, “If I could just… {stop time for a little while, have about a week or two where nobody was expecting me to be somewhere or do something, get some quiet distraction-free time, master time travel, etc.} …I could get this thing done and get on with my life?” Well, I haven’t mastered time travel (yet), but this time of year is the next best thing, and I couldn’t think of a more thoughtful (commie heathen) holiday gift from the universe. My university and a lot of businesses shut down, people leave town or are wrapped up in holiday/family stuff, everyone puts everything off until the new year… Time does sort of stop right around now for most of the country. I’m getting my long-awaited time warp (so to speak) and I’m seizing it!

So don’t worry about me. I’m not sad or lonely on Christmas. I’m actually having a pretty giddy time in my Lair of Chaos. Better yet, because of my chaotic Christmas, I will emerge in the not-too-distant future as (the mildly evil) Doctor Spawn! I know I have a lab coat around here somewhere, and since I’m not teaching Anatomy & Physiology anymore, I haven’t had a good excuse to wear it. Heyyy, it’s kind of like fodder for Issue #1 of Doctor Spawn comics… Anyway, thanks for your concern. Everything’s cool.

Saturday, December 23rd 2006

Post-snowday top-10 rant
posted @ 2:56 pm in [ - ]

Top 10 things that really frosted my (already pretty frosty) cachongas yesterday:

  1. The driving habits of benighted SUV owners. Even though a lot of the roads were somewhere under an 8-inch ice shelf, plenty of SUV drivers were driving really fast, tailgating, and passing fellow motorists on the right — even when there wasn’t a lane there. They don’t seem to grasp that 4-wheel drive only works when you’re accelerating. Once you hit the brakes, you’re just a hockey puck like everyone else.

  2. Having to go to the library in emergency mode. I had a few short hours to gather everything I might conceivably need for the rest of my project. Yikes, I hope I got it. The staff was terrific, and really went above and beyond the call of duty to help me out, which was awesome. It sure won’t be their fault if I don’t have everything.

  3. In a few of the municipalities in the Denver metro area that had actually made some attempt at snow mitigation, they were half-assed enough about it that you’d be tooling along in the right lane and it would suddenly be replaced with a bigass pile of snow without warning.

  4. Consumerism. Getting around wouldn’t have been nearly as hard yesterday if people weren’t gorging themselves on it in some sort of annual ritual.

  5. The layout of the university’s library. The whole thing is on three vast floors. Two of them are book stacks, with all the books in the center of the floor and study tables around the edges. There is no place to set down your coat, your backpack, your armloads of other books, so you have to lug them around with you, and signs at the study tables remind you not to leave your things unattended because of the risk of theft. It’s not like one could actually see one’s possessions from more than one single point in the book stacks, so that’s a problem. Plus, you need a sherpa if you’re going from, say, the bound periodicals stacks to the current periodicals, because they’re toward the back of two different floors. In terms of direct distance, they’re probably only about 30 feet apart, but because the only access between floors for which one does not require a papal dispensation is a staircase at one end of the building, it’s a brisk 5-minute walk. Possibly carrying 60+ pounds’ worth of stuff. It would be a lot easier just to break through the floor and fall there. Yeah, that’ll put you off wanting to know stuff.

  6. My crappy formal training in mathematics. The math I got in school was useless and badly taught. What I know about math I learned at home from my dad explaining it to me, and later, I taught myself. That’s worked out okay, but because of the lack of a formalized regimen of some kind, I have holes in my knowledge, and I basically go along and fill them in as needed. I read some mathematical text, and if it doesn’t make sense, I read it again. If it still doesn’t make sense, I figure out exactly what’s bothering me about it, and go look that thing up. I repeat those last two steps as often as necessary until it does make sense. It’s a relatively effective process, but it’s time consuming. Sometimes I wish I had had better math teachers growing up — or that I was a little younger, so I wouldn’t have gotten that crap about boys being good at math and girls being good at English — I might know a lot more of this stuff off the top of my head. Or, you know, be a physicist or something.

  7. The way errands and other necessary evils pile up when you can’t go anywhere for a couple of days, and how much it SUCKS when a million other people’s errands have also been piling up, and they’ve been there before you, pissing off the help, so now every clerk in town is downright surly.

  8. Not being able to wear cute shoes out to dinner because you will fall on your can if you do.

  9. The way stuff freezes in the winter when the sun goes down. Come on, there has GOT to be a better way!

  10. Negligible competent formal snow removal! The upside to living in this mild cilmate is of course that it’s, you know, mild. The downside is that every few years, when there is a fairly significant snowstorm, you’re screwed. The snow removal method here in Colorado is called “the sun.” It comes out, and if you’ve only got about 6 inches or less of snow, no biggie, it’s gone. If you have five or six times that amount, though, there is still no budget, no plan, no checklist of preparations, and snowplows are about as prevalent as, say, dragons or unicorns. I actually saw one Wednesday, and I stood and gawked at it. Of course, it wasn’t anywhere near my block. Or the airport. Or the highway. Or going anywhere with its blade down. Maybe it was a mirage.

I am not going anywhere today, boy howdy. My cachongas still require some thawing.

Wednesday, December 20th 2006

posted @ 12:02 pm in [ ]

You know, my entire childhood, I prayed for snowdays and never got them. Today, at the very, very end of my formal education, when I just need to get down to the damn library for One More Thing, BLAM! Here it is: the gradaddy of all snowdays, like the cosmic weather scheduler thought I needed a karmic kick in the ass. I’m at a critical point in the process: I need to see if a dataset the library claims to have contains enough data points for a groovy cusp catastrophe model, and if it doesn’t, use another method, for which I need to pick up a few books, which are also conveniently located at the library, 13 snowy miles away. I got about 6 blocks from home this morning, got stuck, and had to turn around and come back (which took a good 30 minutes). Fortunately, I have nice neighbors who helped me get un-stuck (Yaaay, Colorado!), or I might still be up to the hubs in some surprisingly greasy precipitation (surprising considering it’s still managing to blow sideways). I can’t take a day off from the ol’ process, though, that’s for sure. Besides, symbolic dynamics wait for no one! Feh.

Monday, December 18th 2006

Part III A…
posted @ 8:23 pm in [ ]

…is away!

I don’t have a page count total yet, because I just sent it to my chaos guy, and I don’t know how he’s going to react to it. He might think it sucks or needs restructuring, and master documents are kind of a bitch to rearrange, so I haven’t slugged it in. We could infer, though, that 603 previous pages + 5 intro pages + 28 pages in this freshly-finished chapter = around 636 pages, depending on how the master document handles it.

Basically, Part III A was a survey of some key concepts of nonlinear dynamics and why it’s potentially really useful for analyzing international relations, and a review of a few key methods. I mostly did it to shift mental gears and review a bunch of stuff, but I also imagine it’ll be pretty important, just in case anyone besides my parents ever reads this thing, to know what the hell I’m talking about.

Part III B applies one method to the pattern studies I slogged through. That starts tomorrow, and oh yes, it is THE LAST FLIPPIN’ CHAPTER! I hope I hear back from my (probably insanely busy) chaos guy wicked soon because the university library will be closing for, like, a week and a half in a few days, and it’ll be hard to lay my hands on any additional resources. Oh, and in case what I’m planning to do is stupid and I should stop it immediately.

Friday, December 15th 2006

Breaking News!
posted @ 10:26 am in [ ]

Our favorite modern-day Ben Franklin (and fine, fine, superfine hostess) broke some kickass news today! Not only is she out there favoring the demos with her work, but it’s even news about journalism being so much more in the hands of those of us who consume news and know what’s good.

“…GateHouse Media, which owns 300 newspapers and is the most valuable newspaper company in America right now, is moving to something called Creative Commons licensing for newspaper content. CC licensing gives up some of the protections of copyright to make sharing it on things like blogs and YouTube etc. explicitly legal. Quite a big change from ‘Let’s Sue The Audience!’ MPAA and RIAA, who take people to court for sharing or remixing songs and movies.”

Ah, one more satisfying blow for the democracy of information. Check it out at PressThink!

Thursday, December 14th 2006

More TISA!
posted @ 10:09 am in [ ]

As some of you know, one of my ongoing projects here has been to list 100 Things I Suck At (TISA). This time of year reminds me of a major one:

  1. Gift wrapping! I don’t know what my frickin’ problem is. Even if the object in question is nice and square and orderly, it looks like poorly socialized howler monkeys wrapped it. I picture one of them thoughtfully putting its finger on the ribbon so the other one can tie a bow (maybe softly chattering in a helpful way), and the other one biting the finger instead — and of course, the screeching, flinging and general simeon consternation that would ensue.

Wednesday, December 13th 2006

posted @ 10:21 am in [ ]

After noodling around with a number of names, I think we’re going with “Jackie” for the new cat. No, not after Jackie O. Jackie Chan (c’mon, it’s me). She’s very stealthy and she really put the hurt on a catnip turtle I gave her the other day.

Tuesday, December 12th 2006

What if I wanted to get you something really expensive?
posted @ 9:19 am in [ ]

In response to yesterday’s posting, I got a little ribbing for my, er, inexpensive tastes. Apparently, I’ll never get a canoe if I don’t advertise the fact that I want one, or something. I don’t actually want a canoe, because there aren’t many places to take one out for a spin here in Colorado. It would become a hillbilly lawn ornament almost immediately (and since it doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas: still Jewish).

So: fine! I guess one could send me money or fork some over for body work on my car. Now that the Fender-bender That Would Not Die is over and done with forever, I reckon I could get that body work I’ve been hankerin’ for. I might like to get back east to see some of you mooks, or do some other traveling in the new year, once I’m finished. Sorry, that’s all I can think of.

Monday, December 11th 2006

Our neighbors think we’re Jewish
posted @ 12:05 pm in [ ]

Several houses in our neighborhood have lighting displays by which one could read. Well, in terms of lumens, anyway — it’d be pretty damn distracting to try. Phillip has been known to string white icicle lights around the perimeter of the living room ceiling during the holidays, which gives one a pleasant sort of 2001 “It’s full of stars” feeling upon arriving home, but I’m really not into doing the display thing myself. Most of the houses in our neighborhood have some sort of lighting display, even if it’s considerably more understated than all that. Not us. Must be Jewish.

Interestingly enough, I’ve had a handful of different people ask me if I’m Jewish over the last couple of weeks. I guess I might be able to fake it as long as nobody asks me to recite a half-Torah, but I’m hot sure where the questions are coming from. It could be my lack of goofy Christmas hats, sweaters, or other paraphernalia. It could be that I’m very ethnic-looking compared to much of anglo-nordic Colorado. It could be that occasionally, Yiddish offers a mot juste I just gotta use, and that confuses people who are not from the east coast. It could be that I sometimes complain about the lack of good deli. But hey, I also complain about the dearth of fresh seafood, cheap dairy products, and truly kickass pizza. It could be my lack of ravenous seasonal consumerism, but you know that’s not because I’m Jewish, gentle reader. It’s because I’m a godless commie.

That’s not to say, though, that I don’t enjoy finding the right gift for someone, because I absolutely do. Some years I have done a lot of shopping and spending. This year, I’m doing a lot of knitting, because I’m low on cash and it’s a good way to chill out after a long day of making my brain spin. It has also given me a good way to use some of my yarn stash, which made me feel oddly moral somehow. When it’s all finished, I’m going to make myself a huge felted tote bag using a bunch of the colorful remnants of all the other projects. I’m looking forward to it–should be pretty cool.

It’s really satisfying to make someone a one-of-a-kind gift you know they’ll really like, but that doesn’t mean I don’t approve of the most “impersonal” of all gifts: the gift card. I feel the need to weigh in on this because I’ve noticed so many people talking smack on them this year. Hey, it’s a little piece of plastic possibility, people! Make a frickin’ retail wish!

I suppose this is the point at which I should mention that this year, apparently I have officially become hard to buy for. Huh, I say to myself. When did that happen? Is it because I’ve been a dissertation-writing hermit and people feel like they haven’t seen me in a while and don’t know what I like anymore? Is it because I lost some weight this year and people don’t know the current size and shape of my fabulousness? Is it because I’m apparently Jewish now? People have begun asking Phillip what I want, and he doesn’t know either. Aww, maaaaaan! I’m getting a bowling ball, aren’t I? There is still plenty of stuff I like and am embarrassingly demonstrative about liking: yarn, road trips, tools (especially bike tools), candy, stationery supplies, shoes, sucking less at pool, dance clothes, books, accesssories, craft kits, coffee, House of the Dead III, puzzles, tunes, James Bond, art, mammals, scotch, pedicures, justice and freedom for the proletariat… For those of you who are looking at this for the sole purpose of trying to figure out what to get me, though, there’s a bit of guidance below. Heyyyy, it shouldn’t have to be so frickin’ hard to figure out what everybody likes, right?

I’m also blowing off a lot of holiday stress this year. I haven’t decorated (because I’m what? Jewish), I’m not going anywhere, except dissertationland and perhaps out for Chinese on Christmas day, and instead of the past years’ mass mailings of holiday cards, I’m doing the same thing I did last year: Tit-for-tat cardwriting. If I get a card, I send one back. If I don’t, I don’t (elderly relatives are of course exempt from this policy). It cut my card distribution by more than half — and it was the ingrate half, too! Plus, a few cards a day is quite manageable, whereas a big stack you need a hernia belt to lift to the height of a mailbox hardly seems like a good trade-off for three seconds of holiday visibility with people who are blowing off the ritual themselves. Next year, I should have something good to crow about and a lot more time on my hands, so maybe I’ll return to Annual Contact Mode then. I might even write a frickin’ Christmas Letter! How would that be?

What could Meg possibly want? Well, first of all, consumerism annoys me, so feel free to go cheap. Call it the justice for the proletariat part of the wish list. Feel free also to make a contribution to something or volunteer for something instead (you know, provided it’s something good. Please do not make a donation to Focus on the Family or something in my name — that’s a worse gift than fruitcake). If none of that feels right, though, here are a few ideas, in no particular order and good year-round:

  • I often think about joining the Denver Art Museum or the Botanic Gardens (we already belong too the zoo and the science museum), but I never get around to it or have the cash together when they hit me up.

  • As for the stationery supplies, Levenger used to be insanely fabulous. They have gotten a lot more expensive in the last couple of years, though, and don’t carry as many of the things I really used to like about them, in favor of more and more office furniture, for which I have no frickin’ room. Plus, as previously mentioned, commie, so uncomfortable with the idea of incredibly expensive leather-encrusted everything (including a leather Monopoly game, I kid you not!). Some lovely bags, but they’re outrageously expensive. The stuff I really used to like was the groovy, cheap pen sets, pre-stocked bags of stationery supply delight, and cool, cheap art sets, all of which there are hardly any anymore (these seem to be all that’s left), and they used to have way cool, incredibly novel stuff on sale all the time. They also used to have a wish list feature, which they also seem to have dropped. Sigh. Generally speaking, I am especially enamoured of kits/sets and smooth-writing implements with brightly-colored ink.

  • As wild as I am about James Bond, I’m not crazy about the asychronous way they’re packaging the new box sets. However, a bunch of used Bond DVDs would be pretty cool. The three suckiest (worth having only for the sake of completeness) would be Octopussy, License to Kill, and Moonraker. We have Die Another Day on DVD already (and a few others on VHS). Beyond that, the field is wide open.

  • The two yarn stores I frequent most are Posh (my favorite) and Showers of Flowers (because it’s huge). Both offer gift certificates.

  • I wicked need a trip to the dance supply shop because my pointe shoes are getting soggy and I’m a little too sleek for the unitards I’ve been wearing to class. Plus, saggy Spandex is just sad. My local dancewear provider, Classical Dancewear in Golden, doesn’t seem to have a website. Also a little sad. There’s always Discount Dance Supply, though.

  • Since I’ve taken over the maintenance of my own (and occasionally my friends’) bikes, I’ve been accumulating tools for that. I could use a pedal wrench, a set of cone wrenches, some other stuff…

  • I get most of my shoes, clothes and accessories at discount joints like T.J. Maxx, Ross, and Burlington Coat Factory. Hey, just because I’m a commie doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be stylish and foxy. I am also a huge fan of L.L. Bean tote bags (gotta love the custom boat & tote!) and plan to pick out a couple sometime wicked soon.

  • Most of my books and tunes come from Barnes & Noble or these days, and I always want/need books and/or tunes.

  • For scotch, I am partial to single-malts from the highland region and the occasional Islay. Good red wine is good too, and bad red wine is hilarious. Bad scotch is not funny.

  • For the pedicure thing, there are a bunch of day spas and nail salons near me. This one and this one are right in my neighborhood and seem pretty reasonable, but since I don’t spend nearly enough time pricing spas, I have never actually been in either one, nor any of the many others nearby. Since I go to Nirvana anyway, location and atmosphere are not a concern.

  • What about the puzzles? I have decided not to attempt Sudoku until I finish writing, because it would be a terrible distraction. I like crosswords from the Boston Globe a lot and don’t have easy access to them anymore. I dig logic puzzles and can whip up a truth table fairly quickly. I wicked love jigsaw puzzles, but they’ve been too time-consuming to work on while I’ve been writing. I think one of the things I’m going to do when I get my rough draft in is spend a couple of days watching James Bond, doing jigsaw puzzles, and possibly drinking.

  • What the hell is House of the Dead III? It’s an arcade video game where you get to shoot zombies. I like version III the best because it has a plastic pump-action shotgun. Dave & Buster’s had it the last time I was in there, a few months ago.

I hope that helps give those concerned a few ideas.

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