Monday, August 31, 2009


I was having an argument with a friend about presidential vacation time. He was upset that President Obama took a vacation during such a complicated political situation; the health care debate, the terrible state of the election in Afghanistan, etc.

Today I found the statistics showing I wasn't full of bullshit when I defended him. Apparently, President W. Bush took rather more vacation time than Mr. Obama: more than a third of his time in office. Although to be fair, it sounds like it was maybe less vacation, more telecommute.

I wish I had those kind of benefits. Presidents probably get health insurance, too.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Public Service Announcement: Lemon & ginger

If something is stuck in your esophagus that prevents you from swallowing but allows you to breathe, you can relax your throat muscles with warm, weak lemon tea. When the throat muscles relax, this often opens enough space to allow the obstruction to be swallowed.

Lemon tea:
Heat water to "very warm" - keep it comfortable to drink
Add juice of a generous slice of fresh lemon

If you have had a serious throat obstruction (and/or been Heimliched), you may have trouble swallowing next time you try to eat. To avoid this problem, drink some lemon-ginger tea five minutes before trying to eat.

Lemon-ginger tea:
Cut a slice of fresh ginger about the shape of a dime
Put the ginger and some water in the microwave and heat to "very warm"
Add juice of a generous slice of fresh lemon

I got this info from a paramedic half an hour ago and it totally worked. No one even had to go for an ambulance ride.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Public Service Announcement: Real Estate Deeds

Today I learned that if you are drafting a Quitclaim Deed (or any other kind probably), it is extremely important that the Grantor's name exactly match the Grantee's name on the previous Deed. For example, if the current owner's name is "John Michael Smith," and when he got the property the Deed called him "John M. Smith," then when he passes the property on his name damn well better read "John M. Smith" and not "John Smith" or "John Michael Smith" or "J M Smith" or any other variant.

If you are so unlucky as to draft a Deed with the incorrect name, the County Clerk and Recorder's office will still file it and all you'll have done is cloud the title to the property until you can execute a Correction Deed. Every time you file something with the County Clerk and Recorder's Office it takes an average of 30 days to get it back with the recording information.

If at all possible, try not to make this mistake while dealing with an Estate or Trust as either the Grantor or Grantee, because Personal Representatives' Deeds and Trustees' Deeds are a whole separate pain in the ass.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Julie & Julia

I saw this movie with my mom this afternoon. It's about a modern woman named Julie who learns to cook by doing every recipe in Julia Child's book Master the Art of French Cooking, all in one year.

I had heard the name Julia Child, but I've never actually seen an episode of her (apparently) iconic television show. The movie was seriously entertaining and a major dose of the warm fuzzies even without any existing knowledge, but I do wonder if I was missing some nuances there. And I had no idea that the titular Julie is a real person.

I was really pleased that it passed the rule without even trying. It issn't a feminist movie, it isn't going out of its way to make a point about the issue... it is simply, quietly, a movie about two women who really like to cook, and who have female friends as well as husbands. In fact, it almost didn't pass the reverse test- as far as I can remember, there is only a single scene where two guys talk about something other than a woman - and that is a guy getting questioned by Senator McCarthy's goons about whether or not he's homosexual.

They totally dumped on The Joy of Cooking in the movie, which I found kind of hilarious, since in my head the two books are, essentially, the same thing. But then, my cooking bible is Recipes for a Lady or a Man.

Among the things I learned from this movie: there were no French cookbooks in English before Julia Child published her book in 1961. It was a labor of love that took three women more than ten years to complete, and the original draft featured more than seven hundred pages just on sauces and poultry. They must have cut it down some for the final draft?

Julia Child learned French cooking in the late 1940s (1949?) from a class for American GIs to learn to be professional French chefs. It appeared in the movie that the GIs' tuition at the cooking school was being paid by the government, which surprised me. I guess that counts as vocational training. But I wonder if you could get the Army to spring for it today.

I really want to make chocolate mousse and boeuf bourguignon. Also: deboned ducks and aspic are freaky. Freaky and yucky.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I could have been sleeping

I fell asleep on the couch at 7 but I got kicked off at 8. I could have been sleeping ever since then, but instead this ate my evening. You see, I posted a random comment on this post with the partial text of a Starfleet explanatory pamphlet. Turns out, it wouldn't leave me alone. Here is the full version. Sorry, I don't think this counts as educational. But on the other hand, I bet you didn't know that Maria Vasquez had a really tough tour of duty back in 2209-2213.


Don't panic! It can happen to anyone. Marriage customs vary enormously, even considering only humanoid pairings; non-humanoid and polyamorous arrangements can be even more complex. However, we do require that any Starfleet personnel who have been accidentally married undergo a xeno-cultural awareness seminar within six months of the marriage, regardless of whether they choose to stay married. The seminar and accompanying workbook may be completed as a distance learning course if you assigned to an extended mission.

1) If your new spouse is a fellow member of Starfleet and/or a coworker aboard your ship, go to 2. If your new spouse is a guest of the ship and/or a resident of a planet you were visiting, go to 3.

2) If your new spouse is in your chain of command, go to 4. If your new spouse is not in your chain of command, congratulations! You may remain married with no additional action on your part, although we encourage you to register the marriage with Personnel. If you do not wish to be married after all, you may simply get a divorce under Federation Code 14-10-129.5; forms are available at no charge from the main computer and may be submitted via normal communication channels.

3) If your new spouse is a non-Starfleet citizen of the Federation or a neutral world, go to 5. If your new spouse is a member of an enemy planet/race/political group/etc., go to 6. If you met your new spouse during a First Contact situation as defined by Federation Code 11-156-7(e), STOP READING THIS FORM! Report the situation to your commanding officer IMMEDIATELY.

This is very important: TRY NOT TO LOOK AT OR HAVE SEX WITH ANYTHING. (Unless you feel that your life is in imminent danger under Federation Code 11-156-532, in which case the diplomatic restrictions on bodily contact under Federation Code 11-156-1 are no longer binding.) TRY NOT TO VIOLATE THE PRIME DIRECTIVE. (This isn't waived by imminent danger, actually, you may remember that before you embarked, we made you swear to die rather than violate the Prime Directive.)

Failure to report a conception that occurred during a First Contact situation may be cause for a formal reprimand pursuant to Federation v. Vasquez, 354 F.Supp.52d 555 (2210)(cert. denied).

4) You must file an Affidavit with Personnel regarding Federation Code 14-10-550, which prohibits "legal contracts, oaths, or other binding commitments coerced from a subordinate by a superior officer," which has included "marriages or life-bondings performed outside the normal territorial jurisdiction of the Federation High Council" since Vasquez v. Archer, 355 F.Supp.52d 110 (2211)(cert. denied). The affidavit must indicate whether a) you were coerced into the marriage either by the other partner(s) or by a third party (e.g. a priest or leader of an unfamiliar culture), b) you were aware that you were being married at the time of the ceremony, and c) whether you wish to remain married or void the marriage. It is unlawful to retaliate against an indivudual reporting coercion by a superior officer, under Federation Code 12-2-2(a). If you wish to remain married you may apply for an exemption under Federation Code 14-10-550(b). Affidavit and exemption forms are available at no charge from the main computer and may be submitted via normal communication channels.

5) It is vital to determine whether your new spouse has previous marital commitments; before your ship departs the planet, have your new spouse complete Form VVVa, available in most Federation languages at no charge from the main computer. This form includes questions about existing spouses, line and/or group marriage obligations, lines of succession, parental rights, etc. These questions are invaluable in determing how to allocate your pension benefits and any child support or spousal maintenance while you are on active duty, as well as determining which procedure to follow should you wish to obtain a divorce. Most Federation worlds recognize divorces performed under Federation Code 14-10-129.5 (see #2 above); for a complete list see Starfleet Legal Education Pamphlet 291 (SO YOU NEED TO DIVORCE THIS ALIEN CHICK (OR DUDE) LIKE, IMMEDIATELY, OKAY?). Watch out especially for planets on which all assets of both partners become communal automatically upon consumation of the marriage (e.g. Betelgeuse V) and planets on which one spouse automatically becomes the property of the other (e.g. Orion II, Goringen, etc.).

6) The Federation does not recognize marriages across enemy lines under Federation Code 14-10-130, and does not enforce child support obligations across enemy lines either, pursuant to Vasquez v. Chkrnzkl, in re: the interests of CEV, 2 F.Supp.53d 270 (2213)(cert. denied). However, be aware that should the Federation conclude a peace treaty with the enemy group to which your new spouse belongs, either you or your spouse may file a child support enforcement action at that time under Federation Code 14-10-150 as applied in in re: the interests of CEV, 2 F.Supp.270 at 298. If you are currently being held prisoner by your new spouse's people (including nominal captivity in which you are held in comfort but are simply unable to leave), go to 7. If you (or your ship) are currently holding your new spouse captive, go to 8. If you are no longer in contact with your new spouse, keep detailed records of your time together in your personal log; we recommend that you add any relevant information to your Medical Record.

7) How the hell did you get ahold of this pamphlet anyway? If you're thinking of escape, don't you have bigger things to be worrying about? (By the way, if you're in Romulan space, you might try emergency subspace frequencey 251 alpha, we've got some listening ears scattered around, especially near the borders; you never know.) And if you'd prefer to stay with your new spouse, honestly Starfleet best practices aren't super relevant to you anymore. (But be aware you may be prosecuted for treason in your absence under Federation Code 1-10-300.)

8) Try not to get pregnant or kidnapped by your new spouse during an escape attempt. IF YOU RELEASE YOUR NEW SPOUSE YOU WILL BE PROSECUTED FOR TREASON UNDER FEDERATION CODE 1-10-300! DON'T DO IT! Nobody cares if it was all a misunderstanding or they are really a good person underneath or whatever. You are automatically excused from security, interrogation, medical, and communications duties that have anything to do with your new spouse. No one is going to enforce the marriage (see #6). Take a nice hot bath and stay out of the way.

Technical difficulties?

When I use this account to sign in to other OpenID sites, it shows my username as the whole URL, "". How do I make it show my display name, "autodidact"?

Edit: Turns out I just needed to configure it on Dreamwidth's own network because my OpenID settings don't carry through. Can I count this as what I learned today?

Edit:I can't figure this shit out, WTF. I do think it's probably a Dreamwidth thing rather than an OpenID thing so I'm gonna quit whining about it here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Atonal Music


I didn't really learn much today, I worked and went to the doctor and made cookies and screwed around online. So I'm turning to An Incomplete Education for a dose of trivia. Apparently, Arnold Schoenberg wrote "perhaps the first really atonal work" in 1899. His two biggest pupils stole all his thunder and he died alone and bitter in 1951. Awesome.

I've never been a big fan of atonality, although it does add some spice when used in moderation. We played too much Bartok in high school orchestra. You don't know atonal til you've heard an atonal piece played by a terrible freshman violinist.

See, this is why night classes suck

Last fall semester I took College Algebra as a night class after work. So far so good.

I actually hadn't taken a math class since my Junior year of high school, during which I took one semester of Trig and essentially said, "fuck it, I don't need this shit." Not because it was hard, really; it was just kind of boring and two hours of homework every night. And that was (Jesus) seven years ago WTF.

So. With College Algebra under my belt and a nice long break from taking night classes, I want to take College Trig. There are three colleges within a reasonable distance of my home and work. I have exactly one other caveat: I can't go to class on Wednesdays, I have other commitments. All three colleges have exactly one section of Trig that meets in the evening. All three are MW approx. 7-9:30.

Don't these places talk to each other? And who wants to do Trig until 9:30 at night anyway?

Now the question is, am I willing to take Survey of Calculus instead? You don't need Trig for it, it's not a prereq for anything else, and it's billed as 'for liberal arts majors,' so it's pretty clear it's dumbed-down. Is some math better than no math? And why do I care, I can't pretend I'm not a liberal arts major.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Don't know enough about string theory

Today I learned that I lack the background physics knowledge to actually learn about String Theory. I hate not knowing enough to learn. Do I hate enough to make an emoticon face? Yes.


Boingboing featured this video about visualizing ten dimensions, which I found really cool but, upon second watching, maybe not thoroughly-argued - particularly the transitions around 6-7-8 dimensions leave something to be desired. I checked out the comments on boingboing and found that lots of people thought the video was total crap. So I decided to see what Wikipedia has to say about it (hello again, my first-but-never-last-stop research friend!)

Three paragraphs in, it became obvious I need to know what the holographic principle is. The first sentence of that article rather heavily implies that I need to know what the black hole information paradox is. Now the key concept here appears to be Hawking radiation, which I actually am vaguely familiar with, in a liberal-arts major sort of way, so that's a place to start. Hawking radiation is the idea that when pairs of particles randomly come in to existence (?) they might be right on the edge of the event horizon of a black hole, so that one particle might go in and the other out, thus appearing to "emanate" from the black hole.

Okay, so I can start in on that information paradox. But, passing a couple of named theorems that probably would help me understand the issue, the very next major point is something to do with entangled states... one of the ideas repeatedly ridiculed by those boingboing commentors as new age bullshit (although it was not actually mentioned in the original video!). Great.

Someday when I have a couple of hours to put into it, I'm going to watch this other video about dimensions that was recommended by boingboingers who thought the first one was crap, and then read that entire friggin' Wikipedia article, and every subsidiary article I need to figure out the gist. I may need more math; I've been considering doing some self-study trig to work myself up to calculus. I'm sure there's a pop-science book out there that could help me out too... but we'll see how long I care.

But I guess I need to actually do some work at work for now. Picture me sighing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dying Detroit

I'm a little late to the "OMFG Detroit is doomed!" party, but I just saw this map of how much Detroit has shrunk (via Quiet Babylon). I knew the city was in trouble, but I had no idea it was this bad.

Do I get to have an opinion about a city I've never visited? It seems reasonable to me to bulldoze the outlying regions and concentrate everybody in a more reasonably-sized area. I think a lot of cities could benefit from razing suburbs, actually, even in mostly-healthy areas - suburban sprawl is contributing to many of our social and ecological problems.

But what about the people still living in those areas of Detroit? There are some, according to the maps. Do they want to keep living where they are, or would they rather be consolidated? Many (or most?) of the people still living there are desperately poor, too poor to relocate or perfectly content squatting rent-free where they are. Does that change the value of their opinions?

I'm glad the town I live in is doing pretty well. There's a growing amount of empty retail space but the downtown is still busy and there's a growing area out by the highway. I've been wanting to break out of the status quo of my awful job for a while now, but I'm terrified that I won't be able to find another one, or at least not another one with health insurance. Reading about a place like Detroit pulls at me, though. Both ways. I am ambivilant. I want to cut all ties to my safe, sane existence and head out there and visit before they find a solution, see that post-apocalyptic insanity. I want to buckle back down and make sure I never have to visit that post-apocalyptic insanity, make a safe and secure haven for myself right here where I am and pitch in to keep this community going strong.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Maya Hieroglyphs

This weekend, I'm working on An Introduction to the Study of the Maya Hieroglyphs by Sylvanus Grimwold Morley. ( Isn't that a fantastic name? Seriously, it sounds like a D&D wizard rolled up by a 13-year-old.) It was originally published in 1915 but reprinted in the 70s.

The first couple of chapters about the Maya civilization are really interesting, but somewhat limited. At least in part that's because the whole area was in political chaos from the late 1300s to when the Spanish showed up in the 1500s, and after a couple of tries the Spanish succeeded in taking control of the area. So the earliest and theoretically most reliable sources of information about the Mayan culture are Spanish missionaries writing two or three hundred years after the fall of a great civilization. The main guy Morley cites is Bishop Landa, one of the first missionaries in the region, who wrote a history and description of the Maya in 1565. Landa was also a crazy asshole who tortured lots of people and burned all the native books, thus ensuring his own was the most authoritative source - though I doubt that was his primary reason.

Morley's analysis of the Mayan culture has apparently been superceded by more more recent, thorough research, according to Wikipedia. I suspected as much even while I was reading it, especially when it talks about the Maya in comparison to Greece, with a "golden age" of sculpture and culture followed by decline. He's also got a lot of "noble savage" ideas that bleed through when he makes generalizations about the hospitality, attractiveness, and level of "civilization" of the Maya. He's really condescending in general, both about the Mayans and to the reader. He says things like, "[t]hough a problem of first importance, the analysis of the simple elements is far too complex for presentation to the beginner..." (p. 26)

Also according to Wikipedia, most of Morley's ideas about the Mayan writing system have also been rendered obsolete by further research... which makes me wish I were looking at a better book, I suppose. But this book is almost exclusively about the calendar and date symbols, and Wikipedia seems to think those bits are probably okay. And this is the one I've got. So whatever, I'll go with this.

So a Mayan week, a "uinal", has twenty days ("k'in"). Most of the days have more than one symbol. The first day is Imix and the last is Ahua, and Ahua is the most important day of the week, the one that is most often used to count to or from something. Days aren't just called by their name, though, they're always preceded by a number, 1-13. So for example a day might be 3 Ahua or 12 Akbal. It takes 260 days for the day-number pairs to repeat, and this 260 day cycle is the basis of the Mayan sacred year. Apparently Morley doesn't know the name of the 260 day cycle in Mayan, but he says the Aztec name for this unit is "Tonalamatl". Wikipedia claims scholars use "Tzolk'in".

The calendar year started in July and was divided into 18 "months" of 20 days, for a total of 360 days, (called a "tun") plus 5 sacred days at the end of the year. The 5 extra days, called "wayeb" , were apparently not a happy year-end celebration, but instead a time when no one did anything or went anywhere for fear of evil spirits. The Maya were aware of the extra day every four years that we correct with a leap year to bring the calendar year into line with the solar year, but they didn't correct for it because that would mess up the counting cycle of uinals and tuns. Instead they did insanely complicated calculations to figure out the equinox, etc.

The "Calendar Round" is 52 years, which is the time for the tonalamatl to meet up with the 365-day calendar year (though not the solar year, nor yet the tun). A "ka'tun" is 20 tun, or about 9.7 years. The next division is the "Long Count," the one that people are so freaked out about supposedly ending in 2012. One B'ak'tun is 20 Ka'tun, or about 395 years.

So you can see that their calendar system requires a bit of knowledge of symbols but an enormous amount of math, not only to calculate which day would fall when but also to bring the calendar year into harmony with the actual solar year. But I suppose our weeks of seven days and months of 28, 30, or 31 days is not really any simpler.

Mayan writing reminds me a lot of Japanese. Maybe that's because Japanese is the only language I've studied that didn't use the English alphabet. But there are recurring elements in the figures, which can have either a phonetic or a semantic content. The same elements can have their form altered to fit more harmoniously in the figure, and they may in fact be completely unrecognizable at the end. Etc. According to Wikipedia, the Maya also had a complete syllabery, like Japanese. The whole thing gives me tremendous sympathy for the people trying to figure this stuff out- Japanese is hard enough when I've got a textbook sitting right there telling me how to figure out what it means.

I'm only fifty pages in and planning to work all the way through to the end; if I learn anything else cool I'll post it here, but I think this is a pretty solid summary of the actual information in the book. The rest appears to be application; actually learning to read and use the Mayan symbols.