Ninjas vs Zombies

Hoo boy is it summer, eh? Those poor ninjas in their black outfits–Stay hydrated, secret dudes! And those zombies are really starting to smell in this heat.

This week has been an interesting one on DorkCargo, starting with a bitter blood feud and culminating in a reminder of how awesome it is that the Karmic Wheel didn’t toss me off in Afghanistan. I thought I’d add one more for the week, another one of these Zombie vs Ninja questions for which there is no right answer.

Local vs Organic.

I know, I know. 1) what does this have to do with books; 2) why does it have to be one or the other; and 3) haven’t we all gone round and round this a million times in our own lives?

At the house of DC we have been radically changing the way we eat: what we eat, how much of it we eat, and where it comes from. It takes for bloody ever now do do the damn shopping, but it actually costs less because we’re eating less. The three points of the food decision decision triangle for me are: organic, local and cost. (photos below are from Whole Paycheck Foods. the first is of non-organic but local, the other is of organic but very not local, the peppers are from holland.)

What I want to know from y’all is your story. Have you made such a change? Why? What are the food shopping and consumption rules you have made for yourself and your family? Any luck getting the Spousal Unit on board with this whole “let’s change the way we eat” plan? Do your kids care?

Diet and nutrition are intensely personal journeys. What and why of my diet choices won’t work for you, and your nutty food ideas won’t necessarily fly round here. But I know that a lot of you do shop at your local farmer markets, have changed the way you eat, or have gone off and started your own farm.

Here’s how this relates to books.

It occurred to me that even though my thoughts and values were in the right place, my actions and food consumption were not. I realized this, like one of those shafts of sunlight parting the clouds in religious iconography, when shopping for food for our roommate at ConCarolinas: committing to a lifestyle change means changing all of my life, all the time, not just picking and choosing when to occasionally commit to some arbitrary values.

I believe that we get a lot of encouragement and gentle reminders and inspiration from our peers. (“If he can do this, I can do this.”) Take a moment to tell us your “what and why”, leave some encouragement for someone else, and take some away for yourself.

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Women’s Work

Hooray! Huzzah!

I’m employed!

That’s right. After a year and a half, I am once again an upstanding and productive member of society. Yah!

The hubs was very gracious and supportive with me during this time, and finally I’ll be able to regale him with stories about things that happened Outside The House. I’m sure he’ll be pleased.

To celebrate the awesomeness, I’m giving away some things:

1) my beat-up used to heck copy of Space, Inc., a collection of short stories about workers in the space-travel industry. This collection is edited by Julie Czerneda. Ask for it in the comments.

2) A copy of Women’s Work by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Why? Anywhere there is both archaeology and fiber I am a fascinated and drooling creature. This book explores the role of women’s industry as the producers of fiber products: fiber, string, fabrics, clothing, embroidery, dyes and dyeing, weaving, sewing, knitting–on and on; and she goes on to show that archaeology, traditionally a man’s realm, has missed such an enormous portion of the history of civilization simply because fiber is not necessarily a part of the average guy’s train of thought (as in, they don’t typically knit for a hobby, and thus didn’t know what to do with a stash of “little stone donuts” [spinning whorls] when they were dug up on the site). She goes on to prove that the ancient world was a lot more connected than was previously imagined, all through the corrected orientation of warp vs. weft. Fascinating. I am now a part of that industry and very happy about it.

3) money (no, not to you) to the Crossed Genres KickStarter campaign. The folks who put together Crossed Genres magazine are both unemployed right now, but they want to keep things going with CG. They’re putting together two story collections with two themes that are of recent interest to Darcargo–skilled labor in SF, and older women as the main character. This got funded so fast that it may be outdated by the time you click on this link, but here it is: Crossed Genres KS. I’ve always liked Crossed Genres magazine, but think it’s especially cool that they’re still doing what they do despite troubles.

4) and a link to an interesting blog post about spinning cotton: Cotton Clouds

Cheers!

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Downtime and Reading

Used to be that I utilized reading as a getaway tool, but that’s changed for me as my life around me has changed. The thoughts get in the way of the words on the page.

We all need downtime: time for the niggling worries and the big ideas to nestle in the brain-wrinkles, doing their percolating thing while the active part of the mind is fully engaged with something truly not important… like Fable II for the forty-fifth time.

Downtime is time to not have customers in your face or to be “on stage” or in “business mode”, and I believe it is as much a part of the creative process as physically crafting or writing.  Some people call it “me time”, Mom calls it “solitaire”. For me, it has to be an activity at which I am not making anything, something with absolutely no goal.

What do you do for meditation or downtime?

TMBG Photos

I actually got some decent photos! The hubs bought me a camera in Dec and I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned how to use it.

Now before you nod and dismiss this achievement with an “oh that’s nice”, please know that I got these from 300 feet away and WITH NO FLASH. Additionally, I did not crop and blow up these images. So, applause, please!

(also, the really bright laser-beam red light that the camera shines out in order to assess depth of field [I think] was irritating people, so I just put my finger over that.)

There were two that needed to be brightened in Photoshop, and I did actually reduce the image size because they were, oh, 24 inches wide.

Jonathan Coulton

Here's the accordion that features in so many TMBG songs.

The guitarist

The flashlight was used as an instrument of audience entertainment. I was surprised that he didn't utilize it musically, actually. Also I like his duck-egg-blue guitar.

This is neither a saxophone nor a clarinet, but is a Bass Clarinet.

This one is my favorite photo. The used a lot of moving film of inane objects along the backdrop.

Hershey’s in the 1930s

For our anniversary, we pulled off the road as we drove home from visiting Duncan’s parents and…

…visited Hershey, PA! (why? what were you expecting?)

This is where Hershey’s chocolate is made.

nom. nom.

Hershey is actually the fellow’s name who started the candy company at the turn of the 20th century. (You probably knew that, but sometimes these words become synonymous with their product, losing their original meaning, like “xerox”.)

Anyways. We visited The Hershey Story museum (cue pompous court music) and not the factory. I don’t know if you can visit the factory, but as this was a last minute unplanned trip, on Sunday, and on a public holiday, I was happy just to get out of the car and see something.

This being the (cue pompous music) Hershey company-funded and -built museum honoring the founder of the (cue pompous music) Hershey Company, its non-objective POV was thankfully utterly transparent. But it was interesting, somewhat educational, and a lovely thing to do on our anniversary.

They say that the air in the town of Hershey smells like chocolate. Not so this day. We got out of the blue bus and filled our lungs with the lovely smell of…is that fertilizer? Dairy farm? gak.

Hershey is a company town. These words “company town” are associated with indentured servitude, workers bound to the company through non-living wages and credits owed to the Company Store, no? So, it was interesting to learn that Hershey, manufacturer and purveyor of fine chocolate, was also a company town. Mr. Hershey designed and built the town, from the layout of the streets to the building of a zoo and amusement park. Even the cemetery is pre-ordained, with Hershey laid out in a monument at the head of a hill overlooking the rest of the cemetery and out at the town.

The cemetery

They had the same troubles that all factories deal with; strikes, bargaining with unionized employees, trying to balance the love-triangle of production, supply and profit.

They say Hershey was very philanthropic, starting a school for orphans (boys, girls were decades later accepted into the school), and donating a shitton of money into the Hershey Medical School at Penn State (anybody familiar with that place?)

The manufacturing of the chocolate was interesting to us, coming so recently ourselves from manufacturing industry, and from a coeval factory at that! The workers’ cotton coverall used by the Hershey’s workers were spot on for those that were in use when we left that our recent facility, down to the twill and ugly band across the waist.

And no, there’s no wax in Hershey’s chocolate. Having spent so much time at “The Plant” in our previous employment, fighting with outdated machinery that is falling apart, we had especial interest in the manufacturing innovations that Hershey introduced.

Let me back up.

Chocolate, pre-Hershey, was astronomically expensive, an exclusive decadence allowed only to the very, very rich. It did, in fact, contain wax. Hershey wanted to make it affordable, and was sure that he could improve the taste. He added milk fat to the recipe–a common thing now, and found that it does sort of the congeally-set-up thing (there’s a word for this in Materials Science…) when slowly agitated in the machine shown here. He could make more of it, faster, taste better, and more cheaply than had ever been done before.

One of the innovations of Hershey. That's chocolate in there.

Ah. I found my photo. This is called "conching", I guess. (because the gizmo looks like a conch shell)

One of the things that our “Plant” was trying to embrace (unsuccessfully) was the improvement to the process initiated by the factory floor worker. You’ll see this in such theories as “Toyota Way” and similar ideas. But it seems that Hershey really did this. The first candy produced was the still-popular Hershey Kiss. These were hand wrapped, every single one, one at a time. There was a family of workers working at the Hershey Factory (two brothers and a father, I think) who came up with an automated method for wrapping these Kisses.

I was looking for stuff from our Vintage Sci-Fi period of between the world wars, and found some interesting things, and interesting omissions. There is no mention of Prohibition, which confused me. Isn’t there alcohol in the manufacture of chocolate? What is chocolate liquer? A mistake, is what it is! Chocolate Liquor is simply the liquid made from cacao beans (liquor, liquid— duh), but chocolate liqueur chocolate-flavored alcohol. So not only was Hershey a genius of innovating the manufacture of chocolate, bringing something everybody wants in an affordable price-range, but was able to weather the 1930s, too.

Here’s some of the packaging art from our Vintage-Sci-Fi period: Maybe readers of Jack Williamson’s Legion of Space ate a Mild and Mellow while flipping though their 1934 subscription of Astounding magazine.

A Hershey's product from 1933.

Baklava Makes a Happy New Year

Nuts & Giant Cinnamon Stick

Starting the Spiced Honey Citrus Syrup

Spices, Ground Nuts, Sugar

Melted Butter to Go on EVERY Layer of Phyllo Dough

Space Out Those Layers Containing Nut Mix

Big Sharp Knife to Cut Into Diamonds

Pour Any Remaining Butter Over Diamonds Before Baking

Remove Solids From Syrup, Taste Test

Baked Baklava

Drizzle Syrup Over Hot Baklava

Let Cool and Then Enjoy Some Sticky Sweet New Year

Going Postal Film

This is a movie recommendation coming from the Kill Your Television corner of Darkcargo, so listen up!

Most books-into-TV or -Movies are pretty much not-so-great, and the best still necessarily cut out swaths of the original materal, and the worst completely re-write the bloody plot.

Sir Terry Pratchett is actually *in* this film. So there.

Going Postal, the Movie, was produced in Britain, and for television, I think. It is broken into Part 1 and Part 2 and is long enough to be engaging without being tedious. I was able to find a downloadable version in iTunes, and the discs are available for purchase in the US.

Going Postal is my favorite of the Discworld series. (You still haven’t read the Discworld novels? What’s wrong with you?) My dad collected stamps, so the Invention of Stamps brought about a lot of fond memories.

In the book, I love the images of this semi-sentient Post Office with its dunes of unmailed letters choking the corridors, Stanley’s pin obsession, and the satire on modern communication. I loved that Ventinari finds the Best Con Artist in the land to revive the post office.

The movie is, in short, glorious.

All the people they chose for the actors, I think, look like the people in my mind’s eye when reading the book (s) (some of the characters reoccur through many of the Discworld novels). Angua: Oh My God, it’s Angua. She’s scary. Ridcully, the adorable pompous oaf. Dwarves in the background, your random vampire in the crowd.

The settings are beautifully rendered and authentic. The Klacks come to life. The bandits attacking the post office’s stagecoach is a scene from an old Western. Probably my favorite setting was the Pin Exchange. Oh, I just died. The place is set up to mimic a Harley Angel tough-dude biker lounge/tatoo parlor.

And the costumes and fabrics are just delicious. Watch for AdoraBelle’s velvet dress, Moist’s Goldy Uniform, and the journalist’s purple slicker.

The last three or so Harry Potter films were…ok. The LOTR were fabulous, but just not the book.

This movie, and the others in the series, if you can find them, I recommend without reservation.

Also, you should read the books.

Blogging Companions

Your indulgence, please.

I have been told that I am not a very concise writer, and that is true. I love words, and putting them together. I revel in using them to gush over beloved books and favorite authors. This blog has been good for me. So here is a little bit about my blogging companions.

They have the most expressive faces.

They enjoy the same snacks I do.

They are fuzzy and four legged.

Majestic Jeegs

Jigan is our franken-pitbull. He came with many scars, and has had a few surgeries along the way. In short, he has gotten more fugly over the years.

Tanuki is a shelter mut that Jigan picked out last April. Let me be absolutely clear on this: Tanuki is Jigan’s dog. Jigan has never really taken to another dog in his long years with us. Finally, at the age of 12 he was suffering from loneliness and trying to chew a hole through very solid doors while we were both at work. So we sucked in a deep breath, and took the plunge. We drove Jigan to the shelter one Saturday morning and proceeded to introduce him to a few female pitbull mixes in the shelter’s play areas. None of them took. We were ready to pack it in and give the doggy psychologist a call. We made one more walk through the warren of adoptable dogs, and there was Tanuki, all 70 lbs of him in fuzzy greatness. He had literally just arrived from foster care and vet signing off on his adoptability 15 minutes prior to meeting us.

Tanuki Prior To Hair Cut

Well, we turned the two loose in the play pen and within 10 minutes we knew. So after signing away my first born child and a reasonable check, I was able to put a lead on Tanuki and pack him in the car and cart him home. Jigan’s depression and anxiety have been gone since Night 1 of bringing Tanuki home. Tanuki will spend hours grooming his pitbull, and Jigan loves it. They cuddle and play that infuriatingly annoying game of Who’s Mouth Is Bigger. They zip as fast as they can through the living room, occasionally knocking over furniture. And they are both exquisitely expressive while begging for treats.

So two months ago, Jigan was suffering from skin allergies, an on-going condition. This time around he had a a few odd bumps. So off the vet’s for a prednisone shot for the allergies. However, the vet had never seen a case of bumps like his. The other resident vet was called in and had no clue either. They excised two of the lumps and sent them off for analysis. A few days later, I got a call that started with telling me stuff about the ‘mitotic index’ and such. No good call starts with technical details like that, so I was prepared when, 7.5 minutes later, the vet told me Jigan had terminal cancer and the best we can do is make him comfortable for as long as possible.

Jigan and Tanuki Begging for Pistachios

Jigan is now ~13 years old, and I figure he has had a good long run. So far, the daily pill of prednisone is keeping him pain-free and active. I don’t know how long he will be around, but looking back am I ever glad we took that plunge and got Jigan a dog of his own.

Meta-Museum

I also went to an Aquarium across the river from Cincinnati in Kentucky.

The fishes were beautiful, an array of saltwater, freshwater, deep sea and littoral critters.

The building was absolutely packed to the gills (haha) with short humanoid forms.

The major dissapointing feature was the bizzare lack of information. There were a few plackards identifying the fishes, but not a whole lot about life cycle, habitat, impacts of pollution, predator/prey chain, ecology or evolution. It was like a surrealist museum of a Natural History Museum in which science doesn’t exist.

I don’t know if the lack of info was because of lack of interest and staff, but it does lead me to wonder, as per the aquarium’s physical location in the same state as the Creationism Museum.

I saw jellyfish for the first time today, and was impacted with wonder at these creatures developing so utterly different from us: no vertebrae, no organs, and a multi-stage lifecycle.

Touring the aquarium reminded me how much I loved my biology, geology, and genetics college courses.

A world in which evolution has no part is, to me, a labrynthine terror-house, an inexplicable parallel universe from which I will always be struggling to escape.

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