January 30, 2004

In Memoriam ... and in future

It's a sad week, if you love the idea of space exploration. NASA had its own memorials but I wish we had a national day of memory, with parades and speeches and solemn bells tolling to remember the deaths whose anniversaries fall this week.

January 27, 1967. Apollo 1. Grissom, White. Chaffee. [bong]

January 28, 1986. Challenger. Scobee, Smith, Resnik, Onizuka, McNair, Jarvis, McAuliffe. [bong]

February 1, 2002. Columbia. Husband, McCool, Anderson, Brown, Chawla, Clark, Ramon. [bong]

[bong. bong. bong. bong. bong. bong. bong. bong.

Appropriately, NASA has honored all three crews with the names of sites on Mars. The area where Spirit landed is now designated Columbia Memorial Station, and there are hills around it now called Chaffee, White, and Grissom. The area where Opportunity landed is now Challenger Memorial Station.

Rudder's proposal is that there be a day set aside, like Veteran's Day, to honor explorers, all those who died finding new lands and maybe even those who didn't. That could apply to everyone from Magellan's crew, most of whom didn't make it all the way around the world, to Scott's crew in Antarctica to Commander Rick Husband's crew on Columbia.

Like a lot of people, I'm not sure space exploration ought to be handled by governments instead of private industry. Or maybe the exploration of this planet provides the appropriate model: Columbus was financed by Ferdinand and Isabella, and Scott was financed partly by the British government. Maybe with the X prize and the several competitors for it, this is the time for the private businesses to take over. There's a fortune waiting out there -- quite a few fortunes: mining, tourism, microgravity manufacturing just to name three. (If history holds, though, the real money will be made Levi Strauss style -- not in the first rush but in the supply chain.)The problem is that to harvest all that it takes quite a bit more than a leaky wooden ship and a pressed crew, and it takes the sort of long-term view that businesses are typically not good with. But there's lots and lots of money to be made, and that's a powerful inducement.

Posted by dichroic at 10:50 AM

January 29, 2004

telecommuting - yay!

Oooh, luxury. This morning at the gym, realizing I probably didn't have any
meetings I couldn't miss, I decided I could not face the drive in and
called in to say I was working at home. It's sort of like calling in sick, only
productive (at least somewhat). I decided I could spend half the day installing
our new remote dial-in networking program on the theory that. with our unHelpful
Desk it would actually take that long) and the other half reviewing material for a
class I'm teaching in a couple of weeks.

I did miscalculate a bit; it
turned out there was no possible way to install the remote program without going
into work and downloading some stuff from my laptop there, which I don't have here
because it's just too damned heavy to carry home every night, which is why I need
the remote program on my home computer in the first place. On the other hand, I'd
figured all that out, answered all my e-mail, and finished a bowl of popcorn
(what? It's got to be as mutritius as cereal!) and my second cup of tea by the
time I'd usually be getting into work after driving forty miles. Oh, and I'd erged
an extra 3K to help make up for sleeping in yesterday.

Plus, I get to
be near my fridge, be home for a meeting Rudder had scheduled with another pool-
renoation guy, and have lunch with Egret and the micro-humans. And do laundry
while I work.

Note to self: speak to manager re telecommuting more
often. Also, take in lighter-weight laptop bag. Maybe that will help.

Posted by dichroic at 09:38 AM

January 28, 2004

self-induced happiness

I don't know if it's that "maturity" thing I keep hearing rumors about, but one
thing I've noticed is that the older I get, the less of a drama queen I want to
be. (Was it Mark Twain who said, "It's amazing how much maturity resembles being
too tired"?) That may not be totally obvious to recent acquaintances; I still like
having people pay attention to me and even at work where I actively practice the
application of tact (such as I can) no one is usually in doubt of how I feel on an
issue. But the mere fact that I can (attempt to) be diplomatic without wondering
whether I am somehow being untrue to my "real self" is a sign of change, and so is
that fact that Rudder and I fight much less than we used

Incidentally, I've never quite figured out how one would go about
finding one's "real self", as so many people still want to do. Dig in the
backyard? Use a dowsing rod? I finally came to the conclusion that for me at
least, my "self" is something that develops as a result of my experiences and
thoughts, rather than something passively waiting to be discovered.

My favorite quote on happiness is, typically, an engineering sort of
viewpoint: "Trying to be happy is like trying to design a machine whose only
requirement is that it shall run noiselessly." In other words, the first question
is not how will you be but what will you *do*? Then you can decide to feel happy
about that or to change it. I'm not trying to say dogmatically that attitude is
only a matter of choice. No matter what Victor Frankl said, there are some
situations in which I could not feel happy and which I coudln't change. Even
without going to the extreme of Auschwitz, there are people here in the
blogosphere who've had fate punch them in the guts, without their having proffered
any sort provocation.

I do find though that the diaries I read first
are those who are contented href="http://www.baraita.net/blog">with href="http://sometoast.diaryland.com">their href="http://www.marissalingen.com">current href="http://squirrelx.diaryland.com">lives even with the occasional problem,
or else though who are trying href="http://lathesage.diaryland.com">to href="http://sixweasels.diaryland.com">build lives with which they can be

I admire people who are doing their best to deal with href="http://trancejen.diaryland.com">body href="http://caerula.diaryland.com">blows life sometimes lands. I think the
Norse had a point when they included Loki in the pantheon. But I'm getting older
here -- I don't have time for self-inflicted angst anymore.

Posted by dichroic at 11:56 AM

January 27, 2004

the Mozzie goes surreal

Well, that experience was somewhat more surreal than href="http://www.ucomics.com/calvinandhobbes/">Calvin's brain or a Dali
painting. Yesterday I got a letter from the car dealer where I'd puchased the
Mozzie, or rather from a service group (what's that?) with whom they'd partnered.
The gist of the letter was that they're desperate for some makes of used cars,
would I be interested in letting them buy back mine, they were having an event at
which we could dicker (and they could try to sell me a new car) and oh by the way
go to this website and type in this PIN and I could win $20,000.

That dealership are not among my favorite people (or even my
favorite sleazy car dealer people) but that $20K was persuasive, so I brought
the letter to work today to look into it. Melting clock #1: on inspecting the
letter more closely (remember, this owuld be the letter that arrived yesterday) I
noticed that the event was actually held last week. Not a good sign, but I figured
the blame in that case could actually lie with those convenient scapegoats the US
Post Orifice. Melting clock #2: Undeterred, I dialed up the website and plugged in
my PIN, only to have it tell me I'd typed in one it didn't recognize. I have, in
fact, been known to mistype numbers, so I tried again. And again, with and without
the dashes shown in the letter. I also tried the phone number they'd given me as
an alternate, but got no recognition of the number on their very own

Melting clock #3: Too bad to lose my chance to WIN BIG! but
after all, the main purpose of the letter was to discuss buying back my car "at or
even above market value". So I gave up on winning the price of a new vehicle and
dialed the dealer, at the tollfree number listed in the letter. (It did seem a bit
odd to call a tollfree number for a local company, but it was their letter and
their dime, after all.) I reached a message saying that the number had changed,
but giving me the new one. I dutifully wrote it down, and dialed that one. I
reached a very nice man at a Toyota dealer who gave me information about the
event. He didn' sound very impressed with the promotion but loves the MR-2 Spyder
and told me they would be very interested in looking at it. He said that since
it's a convertible, it would bring a much better price in March or April, when
spring weather comes around. In retrospect, this should have been clue. He also
recommended that I try taking it to another used car dealer on a road I'd never
heard of. I asked him for more detail and he mentioned taking a Higgins road.
Well, we do have a Higley Road, so I asked if it were out there south of WIlliams
Gateway (a small airport). He said yes, past the mall, which confused me further,
since there's not much south of Willie but farms and desert. After a bit more
mutual confusion, it finally transpired that he was in Missoula, Montana! I, as
any regular reader will know, lived in the Phoenix area. Furthermore, the dealer
where I bought my car is also in the Phx area. We parted with mutual thanks, and
he went off to pass the story on to his manager.

The denouement is
that I figured I ought to tell my dealer, skanks though they are, of the
surrealism perpetrated in their name. I called up and spoke to someone in the
sales department and passed on my whole story. While I was there, I asked for a
rough idea on what the buyback price might be for my vehicle. His answer? For this
low-mileage car, 3 years old, of a model of which Toyota releases only 5000
vehicles/year, at a time when he's supposedly hurting for used cars to sell, his
price is 2/3 of what I paid less than a year ago for a car then two years


Posted by dichroic at 12:07 PM

January 26, 2004

brush with danger, not to mention olive oil

Well. It's only Monday and already I've had my brush with danger for this week
(actually, it was on Sunday). Here is some gratuitous advice: you know those
tempered-glass casseroles and pots that are supposed to be safe for the stovetop?
Don't believe them. And when Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything) tells
you to saute oil and garlic in a casserole dish, don't believe him

I was attempting to make a beef stew (actually a Belgian
carbonnade, though I was still debating whether to cook it with beer, as
prescribed, or with wine) and the recipe said to take a casserole or deep skillet,
saute a clove of garlic in oil for one minute, discard the garlic, and then brown
the beef cubes. I chose to use a glass casserole dish that I *swear* said it was
safe for stovetop use on the theory that it would hold in heat better than my
aluminum frying pan (I don't have a cover for my cast-iron pan), sauteed as
instructed, put in the first batch of beef, then CRASH! SQUEAL! TINKLE! SHIT! The
casserole exploded, spraying glass onto me, the stove top, and the adjacent
counters. The squealing and the swearing was me, the rest was the glass dish
Rudder said it made a very pretty sound -- presumably not the swearing part -- but
since he said it while cleaning up most of the glass, I can't complain about his
misplaced aesthetic sense. (And anyway, it probably was a pretty sound.)

No injuries were received, except to dinner. Fortunately, my
wearing-glasses-to-rest-the-eyes-from-contacts day happened to coincide with my
got-spare-time-so-I-should-cook-something-real day, and I don't think the glass
sprayed that high anyway. We decided to throw out the meat rather than rinsing it;
even the beef pieces that weren't in the dish were on the counter right next to it
and we were afraid rinsing might not get rid of all embedded shards. So much for
beef stew; take-out burritos for dinner.

Saturday had its
disappointments, but less so. We were hoping to do some cross-country skiing up by
our property, but the snow wasn't quite deep enough. It was a very nice packing
sort of snow, though, so we went over to our place and left large snowballs and in
one case a snowman nearly my size by some of the more vulnerable young trees, to
give them a bit extra water. The whole thing would have been even more fun if I
could throw a snow ball well enough to actually hit anyone with it, and by anyone
of course I mean Rudder.

Note to bibliomanes: Do not buy href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-
1818501?v=glance&s=books">Living with Books
-- if you want to read it, get it
from the library. The pictures are nice enough but the words are disappointing -
not illuminating, not always right (I noticed one caption described the wrong
photo) and prone to saying terrible things on the order of (quoting from memory.)
"It doesn't matter if access to books is difficult as long as it is not totally
impossible" Doesn't matter to whom?? It certainly does to me! Also, too many of
the setups shown focused on looks rather than storage -- a grid of boxes on a wall
in which one or two contained one or two books for instance. Certainly not my idea
of living with books - living with book, maybe. Instead, I recommend href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0517595001/102-8916285-
1818501?v=glance&me=ATVPDKIKX0DER&st=books">At Home with Books
if you want to
see beautiful, well-used, and well-loved libraries from Keith Richards' to the
Duke of Devoinshire's (I finally realized this was the book I had gotten from the
library and loved, and will probably eventually buy it) or if you are less
interested in pictures and want to read about books, ways to store them, and the
history and engineering of both, try Henry Petroski's href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-
1818501?v=glance&s=books">The Book on the Bookshelf

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

January 25, 2004

Me and the Beeb

Note: No, no, I'm not that well-read. I wasn't trying to say I'd read the
whole second half of the list plus my ending commentary! But we had a guy coming
over to discuss some fixes to the pool (new surfacing and decking, mostly) and so
I didn't have time to profread. Fixed now.

Stolen from href="http://www.livejournal.com/users/ionas/29643.html?#cutid1">Ionas
'Top 200' list: books I've read are in bold

1. Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien

2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

3. Dark Materials, Philip Pullman

4. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling

6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne

8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis

10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller

12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks

14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier

15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres

20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling

23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling

24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling

25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

27. Middlemarch, George Eliot

28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving

29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck

30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson

32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett

34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute

38. Persuasion, Jane Austen

39. Dune, Frank Herbert

40. Emma, Jane Austen

41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery

42. Watership Down, Richard Adams

43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy

49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian

50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher

51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck

53. The Stand, Stephen King

54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

56. The BFG, Roald Dahl

57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome

58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer

60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman

62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden

63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough

65. Mort, Terry Pratchett

66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton

67. The Magus, John Fowles

68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett

70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding

71. Perfume, Patrick Suskind

72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell

73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett

74. Matilda, Roald Dahl

75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding

76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins

78. Ulysses, James Joyce

79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens

80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson

81. The Twits, Roald Dahl

82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith

83. Holes, Louis Sachar

84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake

85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson

87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

89. Magician, Raymond E Feist

90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac

91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo

92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel

93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett

94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

95. Katherine, Anya Seton

96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer

97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson

99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot

100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

101. Three Men In A Boat, Jerome K. Jerome

102. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

103. The Beach, Alex Garland

104. Dracula, Bram Stoker

105. Point Blanc, Anthony Horowitz

106. The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens

107. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz

108. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks

109. The Day Of The Jackal, Frederick Forsyth

110. The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson

111. Jude The Obscure, Thomas Hardy

112. The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 and 3/4, Sue Townsend

113. The Cruel Sea, Nicholas Monsarrat

114. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

115. The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy

116. The Dare Game, Jacqueline Wilson

117. Bad Girls, Jacqueline Wilson

118. The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

119. Shogun, James Clavell

120. The Day Of The Triffids, John Wyndham

121. Lola Rose, Jacqueline Wilson

122. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray

123. The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy

124. House Of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski

125. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

126. Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett

127. Angus, Thongs And Full-Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison

128. The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle

129. Possession, A. S. Byatt

130. The Master And Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

131. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood

132. Danny The Champion Of The World, Roald Dahl

133. East Of Eden, John Steinbeck

134. George's Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl

135. Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett

136. The Color Purple, Alice Walker

137. Hogfather, Terry Pratchett

138. The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan

139. Girls In Tears, Jacqueline Wilson

140. Sleepovers, Jacqueline Wilson

141. All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

142. Behind The Scenes At The Museum, Kate Atkinson

143. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

144. It, Stephen King

145. James And The Giant Peach, Roald Dahl

146. The Green Mile, Stephen King

147. Papillon, Henri Charriere

148. Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett

149. Master And Commander, Patrick O'Brian

150. Skeleton Key, Anthony Horowitz

152. Thief Of Time, Terry Pratchett

153. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett

154. Atonement, Ian McEwan

155. Secrets, Jacqueline Wilson

156. The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier

157. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey

158. Heart Of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

159. Kim, Rudyard Kipling

160. Cross Stitch, Diana Gabaldon

161. Moby Dick, Herman Melville

162. River God, Wilbur Smith

163. Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon

164. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

165. The World According To Garp, John Irving

166. Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore

167. Girls Out Late, Jacqueline Wilson

168. The Far Pavilions, M. M. Kaye

169. The Witches by Roald Dahl

170. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

171. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

172. They Used To Play On Grass, Terry Venables and Gordon Williams

173. The Old Man And The Sea, Ernest Hemingway

174. The Name Of The Rose, Umberto Eco

175. Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder

176. Dustbin Baby, Jacqueline Wilson

177. Fantastic Mr Fox, Roald Dahl

178. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

179. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Richard Bach

180. The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery

181. The Suitcase Kid, Jacqueline Wilson

182. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens

183. The Power Of One, Bryce Courtenay

184. Silas Marner, George Eliot

185. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

186. The Diary Of A Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith

187. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh

188. Goosebumps, R. L. Stine

189. Heidi, Johanna Spyri

190. Sons And Lovers, D. H. Lawrence

191. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

192. Man And Boy, Tony Parsons

193. The Truth, Terry Pratchett

194. The War Of The Worlds, H. G. Wells

195. The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

196. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

197. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett

198. The Once And Future King, T. H. White

199. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

200. Flowers In The Attic, Virginia Andrews

There are far more books bolded than on most of the booklists I see. Ihis may show
what an Anglophiliac I am (as Isaac Asimov once said, I have no drop of ENglish
blood in my vains but much of my cultural heritage is from the British Isles). I
think it's more likely, though, that it's because this list is apparently derived
from lists of their favorites sent in by real people, not critics or ivory tower
anchorites listing the books people ought to read. Incidentally, I haven't
differentiated here between books I read because I wanted to and those I had to
read for a class. I haven't bolded the ones I was supposed to read and didn't.
(Sorry, Mrs. Martyska!) The hardest part was remembering which of all those Terry
Pratchetts I've read and which I haven't. And they left out _A Monstrous
Regiment_, which is my new favorite of his, for the story, the message and the
title (which did sort of give things away, but only if you're a fan of either
Milton or Laurie R. King).

Posted by dichroic at 11:22 AM

January 23, 2004

not a pickle bottle

I beg your indulgence for another mostly political entry.

First, why
is everyone (and by "everyone" I mean the reporters who are still talking
about it) so confused about the Dean Screech? Yes, it was goofy and yes, it's not
a good idea to do goofy things in public while you're campaigning for national
office, and yes, it's totally fair to give a candidate a hard time for being
goofy. I understand the sampling of his speech making the rounds of the Internet
and I thought the Letterman top 10 was pretty funny. But why are some people
confused? Have they never screamed themselves hoarse at a ballbame or whatever? It
gets to a point where you try to talk and strange sounds come out and so you get
to playing with it -- and maybe even doing a trial screech -- just to hear what it
sounds like. I sort of thought that was one of those normal human

But I grant that it's still not a good idea on national
broadcast while running for a Serious Important Job.

I do not like
political parties, at least not when people are expected to toe a party line. I
don't even like labels like conservative and liberal which assume that a
particular stance on one issue necessarily goes with another stance on another
issue. Humans and their opinions are more complex than that -- at least humans who
bother to think, and they're the ones I case about. Case in point: I heard a story
this morning about a the big conservative convention -- these are some serious
right-wingers, who don't think GWB is conservative enough. And why? In some
cases at least, it's because he keeps building up the size of our government
instead of keeping it small. (Ick. A man who is far right on social issues while
supporting big government - worst of both worlds.) Another case in point: go read
LA on privacy rights.
LA's somewhere left of me on many issues but she's one of those who makes up her
own mind on each issue. Hello, Mr. Shrub? Weren't you supposed to be a Republican?
Weren't they the ones who used to brag about supporting individual freedoms
against that big nasty government? And I can't help but wonder if the NRA has
actually looked at Dean's position on gun control rather than assuming anyone
running as a Democrat must be in favor of outlawing all firearms. (Come to think
of it, wasn't Brady a close Reagan advisor? That's how he got shot in the first

Jo March once told her sister Amy not to "talk about labels,
as if Papa was a pickle bottle". If you've eaten one pickle from a jar, you pretty
much know how all the others will taste. Like Mr. March, I am not a pickle bottle.

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

January 22, 2004

our real state

I don't agree with all of Doug's
points, but I'm a lot closer to his views than I am to Shrub's. We need to pay the
members of our military a decent wage and get them *all* good health care before
we send them out attacking anyone else, bin Laden != Hussain (that's "not equals",
for anyone out there who's not a programmer), I believe gay marriage is a human
rights issue and can't figure out what they're so scared of anyway (I'd be a lot
more upset if I had to model my own marriage on, say, Ward and June Cleaver's than
on some of the gay couples I've seen), and this country's freedoms are so
important to me that I'll accept a bit of extra risk rather than see them

There are a couple of small points on which I do agree with
Mr. Bush, to be fair, though always with caveats. I do believe the world is a
better and safer place without Saddam in it. But I'm not sure we should have gone
in there and I am very sure we shouldn't have done it the way we did. Going in
without an exit plan is some thing no decent program manager in any corporation
would do. I expect better than that from our Commander in Chief, a an with access
to the best minds in the country, in a situation where many lives are involved.
Maybe I am turning into a manager because that appalls me from a pure planning and
risk management viewpoint.

Also, I'm though in most cases I'm stron
on separation of church and state, I'm ambivalent about faith-based organizations.
It honestly wouldn't outrage me if we gave federal funding to, say,
href="http://www.habitat.org//">Habitat for Humanity or href="http://www.heifer.org"the Heifer Project. Those are organizations that
help others for reasons based in the faith of their founders and members. But
they're not tied to a specific denomination, they decide who to help based on need
rather than on a religous litmus test, and they'll help you without trying to
convert you. Maybe religion belongs in public life when it is inclusive and when
it helps its adherents to act for the good of others. But anything divisive or
that belongs to a particular creed or that teaches or implies that others are
inferior, should not be funded on the public dollar or espoused by public
organizations. I'm a bit extreme there; I don't even like the White House
Christmas tree. Though I suspect it might not be publically finded, which
mitigates that a bit. There is nothing like growing up as a minority to let you
see just how much majority religions continue to dominate this supposedly-secular
country. I think it's very hard for people in the majority to see even when they
honestly try; so many things just seem like the right and natural things to think
and do, when they're what you're used to.

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

January 21, 2004

bleeding in different ways

I never even met Stacey-Dawg and yet href="http://sixweasels.diaryland.com">Six and href="http://zencelt.diaryland.com">Zen at me sniffling over her. At work,
dammit. At least I have a door in case the mascara smears really badly. I've never
had to deal with the death of any pet but a hamster or goldfish, and some how
those are hard to bond to. My parents got their dog the year before I moved out to
college, rather than any time in the previous *sixteen years* I spent begging for
a dog.

Yup, still a little bitter. Plus he was definitely a Daddy's
dog. So not only did we not really bond much, but I got a bit annoyed at the
'rents referring to him as my "brother". Though possibly not as annoyed as my
actual brother got at being mistakenly referred to by the dog's name. (Both names
begin with a vowel, both are male, so he got it a lot more than I

But this is something I'll be facing sooner than later; my cats
are in very good shape now, but one is almost fifteen and the other is only two
years younger. I don't know how long their good health will last. We will get more
kittens when they leave us, though, not because a pet can really be replaced but
because a house without children or pets and with only two residents seems
unbearably sterile. I want life around me.

To go from metaphorical
emotional bleeding to the real physical kind (how's that for a really stretched
segue??) I actually gave blood today, for only about the third time ever. It's not
that I'm not willing to give, but that they reject me for low blood iron 9 times
out of 10. (Low by their standards - it appears to be comepletely normal for me.)
Today the iron count was for once above where they want it, surprising the hell
out of me.

No wonder there are chronic blood shortages though. They
rule out so many people: people who weigh a pound too little (why not just take
half a pint?), people whose iron is one point low (would you rather die from lack
of blood than just be a little less energetic from the blood you're given?), and
not only anyone who is a hemophiliac, which does make sense, but anyone who sleeps
with one, which seems excessive. Anyone who has spent 3 months in the UK or 6
months in the rest of Europe is also ruled out. If it's a matter of dying quickly
for lack of blood, I'll take my chances on mad cow disease, which hasn't even been
shown to have been transmitted to humans. A while back, I couldn't donate for a
year because I had spent approximately three hours in the Korean DMZ. This time
they let me give blood but first spent twenty minutes checking that it was OK that
I had been in Ushuaia (which has a climate considerably cooler than, say,
Portland) and Antarctica. This was because they had to make sure there was no risk
of malaria. Note to the Red Cross: there are not a whole lot of malaria-carrying
mosquitoes in Antarctice. Mosquitoes are not fond of ice.

Anyway, I
gave. So there's my act of civic responsibility for January. Come back in two
weeks when we have voting, primary elections style.

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

January 20, 2004

Kipling again

I was looking through some Kipling and a few of his pieces still hit home. It is a
foul and disgusting thing that in my country href="http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/verse/p1/ab
still rings true. (Even if you're antiwar or anti this
war, the military should not enlist people if it can't pay them a decent living
wage or give them the benefits they deserve -- like good health care for anyone
wounded in the course of duty.) It is a sad thing that so many of us including
our "leaders" don't understand href="http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/verse/p4/gl
, also. On the other hand I find it hard to express my
gratitude at having been born in a time when href="http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/verse/p2/ha
situation was not inevitable.

On a
totally different note, I stole this one from href="http://trinity63.diaryland.com/040115_21.html">Trinity63:


Recommend to me:

1. A movie.

2. A

3. A musical artist, song, or album.

4. An diaryland
user not on my favorites list.

Copy and Paste with your answers
in my comments. If you want, copy and paste the questions in your own

Feel free to skip the movie rec. I rarely get around to
watching one. I find them slow compared to book, honestly.

Posted by dichroic at 04:05 PM

career path?

I'm sitting in on a class today (fortunately with laptop). What I hate about these
is that they always want to break for lunch at noon. $&#%# late sleepers. I
got up this morning at 4:45 and worked out in the gym. Even though I had what for
me is a close approximation to a big breakfast (Gatorade, a clementine and a box
of cereal in the car) plus tea when I got to work, I'm hungry. Because I'm
in this classroom, it's not easy to find a morning snack. And it's only about
10AM. By 11, when I would normally eat, I'll be ravenous. By noon I'll be drooping
from low blood sugar and will be on the verge of a headache. Not good. I hate
living on other people's schedules.

Unfortunately I can't eat really
big breakfasts because if I eat them early I get weighed down and queasy for the
rest of the day, and I couldn't eat later because by the time I got in I didn't
have enough time before class.

What I would really like is href="http://www.marissalingen.com/">Mris's work schedule, but there are
problems with this, one large and one major. The large one is that I don't write
fiction - I just seem to be lacking that skill or drive. I could probably fake
something up if necessary (like, if I were being graded on it) but I don't have
plots, characters, or situations bubbling up in my head as "real" fiction authors
seem to. The reason I only classed that as a large problem rather than an
insurmountable one is that there are, after all, nonfiction books -- and I do have
essay topics bubbling up for me. The really insurmountable problem is that I don't
have the drive or discipline that is necessary to actually finish a book. Even
when I had a good idea, was out of work, and got an agent to say "Yes, write
samples and I'll look at it," I didn't get myself moving to put together the
writing and photos to send. I'm still a bit annoyed with myself for falling down
on that job, since it had potential to change my life in a way I'd like it to
change. Or (given what most authors earn) at least give me an accomplishment to be
proud of.

The worst thing about writing, as a career, is that you
actually have to write. The fact that I can even frame that sentence, I realize,
is enough to keep me from ever being a professional author. Potential isn't much
good if you don't fulfill it. Anybody know of a good career path that just
involves sitting around at home and reading with occasional meetings with other
people so you don't get too lonely? Where you get to pick only what you want to
read? And that pays well? Given that basis, I could even throw in a few hours of
writing or planning a day. Really, if I could find that job I could write a book
telling others how to do it and probably really would make a fortune.

While I'm on the subject of books and reading (as if I'm ever off it), I should
note that, having categorized the comics-and-graphic-novels section Sunday, I
should add to muy authors list: I have at least 5 books each by Scott Adams, Burke
Breathed, and Lynn Johnston and more than that by Bill Watterson. Also, having
looke up the values of the items in that section, I can report that my brother has
a better idea of the eventual values of graphic novels than the rest of the family
give him credit for. All are worth well over cover price and Bruce Sterling's
Frankenstein is worth far more than I'd ever have guessed.

Posted by dichroic at 10:02 AM

January 19, 2004

The Worst Journey: recommendation

ANTARCTICA: Literature

"Gentlemen, let us keep our language noble: for we still have heroes to commemorate!" -- Arthur Quiller-Couch, from On the Art of Writing

Quiller-Couch wrote that when the cabled news of the gallant deaths of Scott's Polar Party first came in. It's fitting that the heroes themselves were capable of noble language as well as great deeds.

There was Titus Otes, who on staggering out in a blizzard in hopes his companions could save themselves if not held up by his gangrenous frostbitten feet, said calmly, "I am just going outside and may be some time." There was Dr. Bill Wilson, who in his dedication to science, never cared that his party was beaten to the Pole, so long as they brought back new knowledge. There was Scott himself, whose last written words were "For God's sake, look after our people!". His diary makes it clear he knew he was doomed days before the actual end and yet there is no complaint, fear, or letting up of standards.

(Of course, it's also fairly clear to a dispassionate later reader that it was Scott's own decisions that killed him, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans, and that put so many of his other men through such hell. However, not only he himself but all of his expedition members either never realized it or never admitted that fact. Scott was courageous and interesting and very much a gentleman, but if I were on an expedition I'd much prefer Amundsen to lead it.)

And then there is Apsley Cherry-Garrard, whose account of Scott's second and final Polar Expedition is titled The Worst Journey in the World. (Properly speaking, the Worst Journey was not the fatal Polar one but a trek made in the middle of winter by ACG, Bowers, and Wilson. They went through the coldest rings of Purgatory for months and retrieved their goal ..... three Emperor penguin eggs.) He was the youngest member of the expedition; was in the First Return Party to come back on the trek to the Pole; was on the Winter Journey that encountered temperatures down to -77F ("That was the day I discovered records are not worth keeping.") and was in the group that found Scott and his companions 11 miles from a depot that had the food and fuel that would have saved them. (They knew they were that close, but they were stuck in a blizaard.) ACG was not only a veritable hero but was one of the best writers I have ever come across, without exaggeration. He is never flowery, but there are so many lines worth quoting that my book is festooned with markers.

I'm not what Anne Fadiman calls "a carnal lover of books"; my college texts are
entirely highlighter-free and though I may read my paperbacks to death, their
pages are virginal and unmarked until the day they fall from the binding. Because unfortunately I couldn't find my tin of href="http://www.levenger.com/PAGETEMPLATES/PRODUCT/PRODIDPG.ASP?Level=2-3-3&PageID=289-1508-302&Category=293-294-
17&special=search&C=17&L=3&ID=SearchClicked&i=0">Page Points
, the pages of my copy of Worst Journey are fluttering with Post-It flags and even -- near sacrilege -- marked with drylighters for some of the most indispensible passages. (Don't worry, they're erasable.)

Before reading, I thought the blurb on the cover calling Worst Journey the "War and Peace of travel writing" was fairly stupid. I still think it's a bit of a silly comparison. But it is not exaggerated. It's probably best to take CHerry-Garrard's own advice, and read this and other books on polar exploration when you're not in similar circumstances; you up there in the Northeast might want to hold off a couple of months.

Posted by dichroic at 12:05 PM

January 16, 2004

the library

got me wondering, and the idea of getting some use out of my less-than-half-done
library categroization was appealing. Therefore, here is the list of authors whose
works I own in quantity. They range from literature to, well, not -- and then
there are a few not generally regarded as literature that I think ought to be.
There are some like Bill Bryson that I own mostly in hardback, some like Lilian
Jackson Braun that I own only in paperback or cheap used HBs, and a few like
Dorothy L. Sayers of whom I own mostly PBs but plan to grandually upgrade. I'm not
separating this list by genre; one think recording my whole library has taught me
is that books are nearly as difficult to categorize as people are. But more fun.
(I don't like putting people in pigeonholes.) I wasn't going to comment on these,
but I can't seem to stop writing about books.

I own five or more books by:

Louisa May Alcott (includes 5 books of which one is an omnibus including stories
and a couple of full-length novels)

Austen (Technically, I only own four, but one of those is an omnibus of all 6 of
her books. I have a couple of duplicates and a book of her letters.)

Gael Baudino (5. I wish she'd write more like Gossamer Axe.)

Bill Bryson (7, he's certain to eventually end up on the 10+ list.)

Agatha Christie (6 plus a couple about her. Will probably eventually be on the 10+
list by grace of lots of books written and lots for sale used.)

Steven Coonts (Actually most of these belong to Rudder. I only like his nonfiction
about flying.)

Susan Cooper (Will probably not end up on the 10+ list but only because she
doesn't write enough!)

L. Sprague de Camp (Compleat ENchanter books, mostly.)

Diane Duane (6 and growing -- I own some of the Wizard books, both series. She
writes lots of books, but I'm not a huge Trekker.)

Elizabeth Enright (Again: if only she'd written more...)

Neil Gaiman (6, novels only - I need to read the Sandman stuff someday.)

Barbara Hambly (7, mostly mysteries rather than SF)

Laurie R. King (The Mary Russell books -- don't like her harder-edged

Mercedes Lackey (7 - can get a bit cloying. I think my favorite character of hers
is Diana Tregarde.)

CS Lewis (9 - I need to get the rest of the Silent Planet books someday, as well
as A Grief Observed.)

McCaffrey (6 - I used to love Pern but it finally started getting old.)

Sharyn McCrumb (5 - don't know why, since some of her stuff has a mean edge I
don't like. Some is all right, though.)

E. Nesbit (8 - actually I'd have thought I had more. Some are hard to find in
print, though.)

Patrick O'Brian (5, and I'll probably enventually get most of the series. But
likely in PB, especially since they are such a nice edition.)

Miss Read (8 - also definitely increasing. Wonderful comfort reading, but never
syrupy or cloying. I couldn't stand the Mitford books, which are so often compared
to Fairacre.)

Spider Robinson (9 - I need the latest Callahn book.)

Elizabeth Scarborough (7 - Seashell archives, Godmother books, and a few

I own ten or more books by (and some of these numbers probably don't need

Lilian Jackson Braun (10 - a growing number - they're easily found used and no
thought is required. Sometimes that's good.)

Tom Clancy (17 - these are Rudder's. He likes to stick to a few authors, but says
each Clancy book has been a little worse than the last lately.)

Charles de Lint (16 - 2 signed!)

Robert A. Heinlein (25 - enough said.)

Madeleine L'Engle (12 or 13. I hope she manages to get that last Meg Murray book

Diana Wynne Jones (11 - definitely will get more as she writes them, and probably
a few more of those already written.)

Charlotte MacLeod (18 - no more of these unless there are some I don't know about.
Not a huge fan of the Kellings but I love all her other series)

L.M. Montgomery (26 - again, enough said.)

Elizabeth Peters (24 - I think I will buy the latest Amelia book. I listened to a
copy from the library and thought the quality was still up. Don't like the more
recent Nefret and Ramses as much, though.)

J.K. Rowling (sort of a cheat; I have each of the 5 HP books on both paper and

Dorothy L. Sayers (16 that I want to upgrade to HB eventually.)

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

January 15, 2004


Hey, I think I just saw Canadian Geese! I have no idea what they were doing out
here - it seems a bit too early or too late for migrating.

I'm fairly
sure they were at least some kind of geese, from the size and general shape. They
were flying in a wide, sort of flat V-shape; one arm of the V was so long it had a
lovely wave it it. There must have been more than 50 of them. I couldn't hear any
honking, since I was in the car at the time.

Any birders out there?
Could they have been Canadian geese, flying over Arizona?

Posted by dichroic at 05:36 PM


Someone just told me we were "blessed" for being able to go to Antarctica and Ireland in the same year. I hate hearing that.

She's partly right, of course; I know there are a lot of people who could not take trips like that because of circumstances they had no part in choosing or that they could not have anticipated when making choises: illness/ infirmity, layoffs (though I was laid off two years ago and it only postponed our trip) or other factors.

That said, I got to make the trips mostly because of choices we made. We don't have kids to support or scrimp college tuition for. That's a choice, and one we made at least partly so that we'd have freedom to do what we want. I could have bought all of the highest priority items on my To-buy list with the trip money. Of course, some of that is camera gear and without our travels I wouldn't have much to use it on. If I were a better person I could have funded a large chunk of a semester's tuition at the local university for someone else who couldn't afford it. I chose to broaden my own mind by travel instead.

I don't think we're rich, but statistics say we're doing pretty well. But I know plenty of people who make less than we do, some who were on our latest trip, who make travel their priority. They're not so much blessed as determined. Quite a few people who work for Rudder (and ake less money than he does) live in houses much nicer than ours; we just elect to be able to leave our house frequently instead.

So yeah, I guess I am "blessed": I have the health to be able to take this trip and the education that lets me make choices that enable me to earn the money for it. I didn't get hit by a car the week before we left, my husband didn't leave me, my company didn't lay me off, the U.S. didn't decide to invade the penguins. But give me some credit too.

P.S. to Zen: Feels good, huh? Now you need to find a sport so you have something to train for.

Posted by dichroic at 12:34 PM

January 12, 2004

chilly people

Note: I've finished this entry now. The new material follows the old.

Antarctica: People

When you're on a boat for ten days, it does matter who's on it with you. We tried to sit with different people at meals, so we ended up meeting and talking to most of the other hundred or so passengers. I'm not even going to try to talk about all of the staff, let alone all the passengers we met, I'll just recount a few of the more memorable ones.

In my next life, I want to be Annie. She was the hotel manager, which means she's basically responsible for everything that keeps a hundred people happy except the expeditions -- and she did check us out as we went down the gangplank and even drove a Zodiac on occasion. The word that comes to mind is 'gracious'. She has the sort of kind and capable manner that calms people down, a face and body that remind me vaguely of Hepburn (Katherine, not Audrey) only less bony -- but she's so well proportioned that even if she put weight on it wouldn't matter -- and one of the most beautiful speaking voices I've ever heard. Fortunately she made a lot of the wake-up announcements. Apparently she and Woody, the bartender, are an item. He did tend bar most capably, always with a smile, and well he should; he's a lawyer when on shore and has recently qualified to testify in front of the Victoria (Australia) Supreme Court. Apparently he wanted a bit of variety, "another sort of bar" as it said on his staff bio.

I'd guess that Tony, a milkman from Australia, never met anyone he didn't like, and possibly never met anyone who didn't like him. He was the loud, outgoing passenger who got everyone else loosened up, even if it meant he had to repeat his jokes three times so everyone heard him. You couldn't miss our Tony. He was also the one who got in a kayak for his second time, his first in a single (doubles are more stable) and promptly fell in. He was right by the ship and the kayak guide and a Zodiac driver got him out in a about two minutes, so no harm done. (Drysuits are a pain to get into, but no one ever complained about wearing one.) In quieter moments, though, Tony confided he'd booked the cruise because this was his first Christmas without his wife, who had died after three years fighting cancer, and he didn't want to spend it at home.

Viktor, one of the Russian crew members, tried to abduct me three separate times on New Years' Eve -- I mean, the first time he actually grabbed my arm and tried to pull me downstairs to the crew lounge. I'd been down there once before, courtesy of one the expedition staff, to hear Mad Yuri singing Russian Karaoke. (Bujold fans will know why I always thought of Yuri as Mad Yuri.) I did go down to their lounge later -- this time instead of singing they were dancing to Russian techno and were glad to see extra women since there were only a few on the crew -- but I made damn sure to have company to help extricate me. Viktor's hands kept sliding lower and he was sort of attempting to kiss me (or a spot in the air where he seemed to think my face was). I don't think it was anything personal, just an excess of vodka. Even someone's grabbing my hand and waving my wedding ring in front of his face didn't seem to make much difference. Of course, for all I know RUssians wear wedding rings differently or don't wear them. Rudder and I left after a little while; I might have stayed longer but I didn't want to offend anyone on their own turf, in the one place where they get to unwind (though it was also true the Russian women were making sure to keep away from Viktor too). And I think Rudder especially wanted not to offend Viktor after someone told us he'd been a middleweight weightlifting champion. It sounds awful, but was pretty funny, actually -- he was plastered and just trying to be friendly.

I think Graham, one of the kayak guides, might have been happier without the rest of us along to cramp his style. He was good though, and actually more careful about watching all of us and offering tips than the other guide. He'd taken the job basically as a way to get back to Antarctica and build up his photo portfolio; he's breaking into professional photography in the Galen Rowell mold. The late (*sigh*) Galen Rowell is my all-time favorite photographer, so this is a huge compliment. Graham reminds me of him not only in the quality of light he captures but also because he's certifiably insane and thus gets shots no one else would be in position to catch. A year or so ago, he and two friends were the first to kayak the entire length of the Antarctic Peninsula. And they did it unassisted: no chase boats, no supply caches, no long distance communications. They did manage to raise "the only sailboat still around" at some distance away -- much more than the type of radio they had can usually manage -- and did an all-night, 90km paddle to catch it before it left. I have no idea how they'd have gotten home otherwise. Since then they've done an even more difficult trip that involved a long paddle along the coast of Peru followed by a hike in to climb a peak in the Andes, a first ascent, where they had to relay because they had way to much climbing gear to carry all at once. Next will be another first ascent in Greenland.

Lynn and David have slightly more sedate lives, but then David's at a point in his career that Graham is stilll aiming for. Lynn is a naturalist who focuses on Antarctica (not sure what her specific research topic is but she had good answers for all the odd questions I came up with). Together they've written two of the definitive books on Antarctica and I now have a copy of one of them inscribed to me by David and Lynn.

Will is the editor of Practical Photography, which is more or less the equivalent of Popular Photography in the US. Peregrine invited him along because this was a special photographicly-inclined trip, which meant they had special photography talks from which we got some very good tips and that they'd organize a couple Zodiacs on the cruising expedition to focus on the people who wanted to hunt around for just the right angle to photograph each iceberg. And who didn't mind others doing the same. Will is the main reason I came home with a list of about $3000 worth of photo equipment I really want to get right now!

Of course all the passengers had stories -- I don't think boring people go to Antarctica. (Er, present writer excepted.) There was the 11 year old second degree black belt; the securities lawyer who didn't actually get the breakfast in bed she won in the ship's auction but who had so much fun planning it she didn't care; the college girl who's been all over the world with her dad -- but he makes her sit in business class while he rides first; the venture capitalist engaged to the oceanographer who spent most of the trip in their cabin *ahem* watching movies, and any number of people who have seen far more of the world than I've managed yet. But I'm working on it.

Posted by dichroic at 02:48 PM

January 09, 2004


Note: I've added several pictures and quotes to the penguins entry as well as a couple on this page. Go look.

Wind and Waves

"That night the temperature was -75F; at breakfast -70F; at noon nearly -77F. That day lives in my memory as that on which I found out that records are not worth making." -- Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World

Our first day in Buenos Aires was hot and steamy enough to give me flashbacks to my time in Houston -- fortunately all our other days there were a bit cooler - comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt. Ushuaia was cool enough for us to want a jacket, warm enough to want to take it off walking uphill -- it's built on the foothills of mountains high enough to have snow at Midsummer.

We were very lucky with our weather on the ship. We'd been scared of the Drake Passage, which can have 60' (20m) seas. That wasn't helped any by realizing that the rough seas shown in Master and Commander were supposed to be near the Horn, not all that far from where we'd be, or from running into an acquaintance who's in the Naval Reserve and who had stories about being in seas that rough near Antarctica. It turns out that seasickness patches (Scoploamine, I think) are available only by prescription in the US, but you can now get Bonine or Dramamine that's good for 24 hours. Considering the number of people we saw who felt ill even with the patches on, I'm glad we got the Bonine.

Neither of us get seasick, as far as we know, but neither of us had been in very rough seas or on a boat for days at a time. We were sort of curious, but I'm one of those people who will lay still in bed for hours rather than throw up once and get it over with. It didn't seem like an auspicious way to start a long trip, anyhow. So we sailed in the late afternoon, had no trouble with the ship's gentle rocking in the Beagle Channel, but took our pills that night just in case. It never got terribly rough -- only 3 or 4 on the Beaufort scale, is my guess based on a wall chart they had -- but quite a few people were missing from breakfast the next morning, and a few more walked out after seeing food. Neither of us ever really felt sick and we got to like the rocking of the ship -- very restful when you're in your bunk and you're rocking head to foot as well as side to side. Either that or the drugs made us
want to nap at every opportunity the first two days -- we weren't nearly as sleepy on the way back, when we took Bonine on the first day through the Drake Passage but were finally brave enough to skip it on the second and last day.

Oddly, the worst place was in the dining room, especially when
they covered the ports and set up a screen for slides during the lectures on days we were at sea. That was on the third level and our cabin was on the fifth, so it *must* have moved more but we never noticed it as much up there. It may have been just the optical effect of being in a big room.

When we got down to the islands and the mainland, we had a few gorgeous blue-sky days and several tranquil gray ones. There are no waves down there; when a wave hits an iceberg, it stops. The only time we felt some swells was when we kayaked out into the Bellingshausen sea -- that was enough motion to get me a little nervous, especially since I was in a single that day.

For kayaking they issued us drysuits that we wore over one layer of long underwear and a layer of fleece. Mostly we were warm enough while paddling, cold when we sat still. We wore more layers in the Zodis, which can move fast enough to generate their own icy wind. After we'd been paddling, they'd get us in a Zodiac and either tow the 'yaks or leave them for other Zodis to pick up and speed us back to the ship -- we'd always have to pull our gloves and hats back on for that. Brr.

In that water, which was just a degree or so above freezing, you only last two minutes or so if you all in. The drysuits are supposed to extend that to 20 minutes or more. One guy did fall in, his second day in a kayak and first in a single. But he picked the right time; it was immediately after he'd gotten in, just a few meters from the gangplank. He was first in his boat; I got in mine, paddled a little way, looked overand saw him in the water. He'd somehow ended up floating with his back against the ship and the boat against his front. The kayak guide was there almost immediately, and a Zodiac was a few seconds behind; they got him out and back on the ship right away. I picked up his paddle, so at least I
felt a bit useful. (They did ask if he wanted to go back out. He said, "Not today, I don't think," and stayed with a double for all subsequent paddling.)

We got some warm days on land, though -- I remember one which must have been in the high 40s (9 or so Celsius). After walking around a Gentoo colony for a while, several of us took off our windbreakers and sometimes our fleece jackets and just sat on some nice warm stones to watch what the Expedition Director kept referring to as "A Day in the Life of a Penguin". Most days were colder, but it never really got below freezing. I'm reading Apsley Cherry-Garrard's account of Scott's last expedition as part of which he and two other men did a trip in winter in -70 degree temperatures. I'll stick to summer down there, thanks.

Ironically enough, on the way back we got stuck in a snowstorm in Chicago. It was much colder than anything we'd seen in Antarctica and visibly was so low I was surprised they were flying at all. Our flight was canceled and we were lucky to get stand-by on one two hours later. That one took off two hours late itself -- we finally got to the runway, the only one long enough to use in that weather and so the one that all the plaes were using, and then we had to return to the terminal to de-ice again. To my surprise, we did get out on our second attempt and got home about 7 hours later than we'd expected. On the other hand, it's a balmy spring day here, with highs predicted to hit 78 (25C). That is not what I want in early January. Can I go back to Antarctica now?

Posted by dichroic at 03:24 PM

show me the Moon

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Antarctic anecdotes for a political

I find it totally impossible to believe that Shrub's new "guest
worker" initiative isn't prompted by a need to get him more Hispanic and other
immigrant votes. On the other hand, I believe it's the right thing to do -- these
are jobs most Americans will not take -- though of course it's all going to
depend how to details are worked out. Apparently the similar bracero program in
the 1950s ended up being fairly abusive, so there need to be escape valves and
ways to change emplyers built into the system. But that can be done, with a bit of
awareness and common sense. A few years ago when it was impossible to hire enough
software engineers, we imported them from places like India and China. Companies
were required to prove they couldn't find enough at home, people who wanted to
move to the States could. I worked with quite a few of these people and they
seemed happy with the system, though it did occasionally have some red tape
hitches. one thing that has long bothered me about NAFTA is that it hasn't helped
the poor and desperate, those most in need of help.

If you had asked
me a week ago, I would not have believed that this president would do this thing.
Yeah, it will help companies looking for labor, but it will also help poor people
desperate to support their famlies. I really don't have much problem with an
initiative that gets him votes and does the right thing, however much I might wish
those motivations were in the opposite order. Where I have the problem is in the
nagging cynical hunch that this is a way for the President to look good with no
risk because he knows Congress will not pass this law. Not only that, it can make
his opponents look bad even if their reasons for not passing the law stem from
fear that the guest workers will be abused.

Fortunately, I think the
peepul are often smarter than politicians believe -- and that includes Latino
peepul. I think most people will not change their votes until they see what
promises actually materialize. If President Bush puts his considerable influence
behind passing an initiative and getting plenty of human rights safeguards built
in to it (as well as safeguards to mkae sure companies don't fire Americans to
hire chaper labor), then he will have earned some votes.

If this
week's intiative was a bid for Latino votes, then next week's is a bid for votes
from engineers and space buffs like me, not to mention Texans and Floridians who
know they would benefit from a revitalized space program. It's being widely
reported that next week the President will announce a new space initiative
including to the Moon, a possible permanent Lunar base, and a manned mission to
Mars. I can't adequately verbalize how badly I want that all to happen, but we've
been burnt before, not least by Bush Sr., who also promised a manned mission to
Mars. No mere promises are going to have any effect on my vote. In this matter,
I'm going to vicariously share in the St. Louis roots of a man who sparked a
passion for space travel in so many of us, Robert A. Heinlein. Mr. Bush, I speak
for myself and a lot of other engineers who would eagerly put other work aside if
we could make a manned space program something more than the painfully limited
orbital program we now have. Mr. Bush, in this matter we're all from Missouri, and
you'll have to show us.

Posted by dichroic at 09:40 AM

January 08, 2004



"Whatever a penguin does has individuality, and he lays bare his life for the whole world to see. He cannot fly away. And because he is quaint in all that he does, but still more because he is fighting against bigger odds than any other bird, and fighting always with the most gallant pluck, he comes to be considered as something apart from the ordinary bird - sometimes solemn, sometimes humorous, enterprising, chivalrous, cheeky -- and always (unless you are driving a dog team) a welcome and, in some ways, an almost human friend." -- Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World.

I've always thought it was a bit silly to have a favorite animal -- I mean, a favorite animal species -- especially considering that people who tell me they "love rhinos" or whatever rarely seem to be acquainted with many actual instances of that species in the flesh. This is the main reason penguins are not my new favorite critters. On the other hand, I like the concept of totems, so maybe I can adopt a penguin as my totem, as long as that doesn't require me to start diving in icy waters and smelling like fish. I wish we could have brought one home for a pet. Probably the cats would disapprove. (Anyway, penguin guano is not something you'd want in the house and this desert doesn't have much of a supply of krill to feed them.)

Yes, we saw penguins. Lots and lots of penguins, Gentoos, Adelies, and Chinstraps. They have no fear of humans and will come right up to you to investigate. They are the most endearing creatures I've ever seen, mostly because they try so hard. They are not terribly well adapted to land, and will waddle and waddle until they get frustrated, try hopping for a few jumps, and sometimes flop down on their bellies on the snow and push with feet and flippers. Their ungainliness is deceiving though; colonies can be fairly far up out of the water, and that awkward motion can move them much faster than you'd think; a penguin can waddle almost as fast as a person can walk. In the water they suddenly turn into graceful miniature dolphins. They porpoise in the water in groups that look like synchronized swimming teams. Then one will suddenly do a very good duck imitation, bending backward to stick its head and tail out of the water before diving down again. Every once in a while one will furiously flap its wngs for a minute -- either they've just never given up on that darned flying thing, or else it's a heat-loss thing. Also, sometimes one will "sing": they point their beaks straight up and warble. Not sure if it's a mating thing or what.

I've seen a lot of writing about what a rough life penguins have, but I'm not sure it's true. They live in extreme conditions, of course, especially the Emperors who live on the ice by the main continent itself, but they are adapted to it. They like the cold. We saw our first colony, chinstraps, on a fairly warm day. Most of us had our outer jackets off and several of the penguins were plopped belly down in the snow to cool off. They do show some hesitation in diving into the ocean, but I think that has more to do with leopard seals than with cold water. Sometimes they'll cluster together on the edge of an iceberg until one falls off. The others will crane their necks over to see if the one who fell was grabbed by a seal and if not, some of the rest may jump in.

There were eggs and a few chicks out while we were there, though I never got a good look at one of the latter. Rudder did because he's taller -- the nests tended to be uphill from where we were walking and we couldn't go too close. The eco-ideal is to not only not disturb all local species, but to avoid doing anything to make them alter their behavior.

My only regret is that we didn't go to the Falklands or far enough south to see the more colorful species like King, Emperor, or Rockhopper penguins. The ones we did see were definitely a high point of the trip.


In contrast to the entertaining penguins, seals are basically giant fat slugs with a layer of blubber. On land they don't do much but sleep, belch, and fart. In the sea they're a bit more lively and apparently some tourists have been startled to find a leopard seal (which have big sharp teeth and prey on penguins) resting its head on their Zodiacs. We saw fur, leopard, and Weddell seals as well as sea lions, and got a few pictures to add to the ones we have from Oregon, California, and Alaska, but I still find it hard to get excited about the pinnipeds.


We saw several Minke whales, which are small whales much like dolphins, as well as a couple of the much larger (and lazier) humpbacks. The humpbacks were mostly "logging", which is just laying there literally sleeping like a log. We only got a glimpse of orcas, though people in a few of the Zodiacs did get good looks at them.

Our best whale experience was with a Minke one day when we were in the kayaks. We saw several Zodiacs gathered together, which is generally a sign that there's something to see, so we paddled over. The whale apparently decided that our bright yellow kayaks were far more interesting than the black Zodis, so it came over to investigate. He stayed and played with us for a very long time, poking its head above water, then diving down under us and turning up somewhere else entirely. In fact, he (or maybe she, I don't know how you tell) stayed so long that we had to go on because we were all getting cold -- generally this is unheard of; you stay and watch a whale until until the whale gets tired of you and goes away. Rudder and I were in a double 'yak; this whale came so close to us and dived so shallowly under us that I was getting a little nervous and was glad not to be in a single! I asked the staff naturalist later, though, and she said that whales never do knock over 'yaks or Zodis. Apparently they have enough of a sense of what we are to realize that just because they like the cold water, that doesn't mean we would.

By the way, since this essay is titled "Fauna", I will also comment on the flora we saw: moss. Lichen. A bit of grass in the South Shetlands. That's it.

Posted by dichroic at 01:23 PM

January 07, 2004


I'll start with Buenos Aires, because that was the first place we got to when we left the US. We had an afternoon there, stayed overnight, toured the city the next morning, then flew to Ushuaia. On the way home we did something similar but in reverse.

I'd have to say we didn't like Buenos Aires. This is not because we're the sort of weenies who don't like anything different from home, or because we can't cope with not speaking the language. We liked Seoul just fine, and my Spanish is a hell of a lot better than my Korean. BA just doesn't seem to have that many attractions, or at least not many of the sort of thing we like. (To be fair, it does have a number of art museums, though the Cultural Center, the only one we visited, was small and mostly full of the sort of modern art that doesn't do much for either of us.) People who like BA talk rather about the atmosphere, the shopping and the restaurants than the architecture or the history or the museums.

As for the atmosphere, what I saw of it was mostly gray. Robert Heinlein, who visited in 1953, described it as a "charming, beautiful metropolis"; apparently the loss of a dictator to force the city to keep clean and (more probably) recent economic turmoil and hard times have not been good for its charm or its beauty. (Though presumably good for its human rights record.) The amount of litter on the streets was comparable to that in Philadelphia or New York. There are a lot of parks, but we never saw anyone using them -- instead we saw many people picnicking in the medians of the highways. They'd just park the car and open up a table.

It's a huge city, so of course there were plenty of good things too; we just couldn't seem to warm up to it. For one thing, I was delighted to find that my six years of public-school Spanish were actually of some use. I could even detect a bit of local accent: people always said "Buena' dias" or mucha' gracias" instead of pronouncing the 's' between words. The food was all right, though not wonderful, but that really may just be a matter of not being what we're used to -- except that the "lomo" or beef loin usually was pretty fatty.

There is an area by one of the ports, Puerto Madura, that has been renovated. The old shipping warehouses have been turned into apartments and restaurants. It's a nice place to stroll, and whole families of locals and tourists alike do. We took a city tour; the best part of that was the old Italian area, where the houses are painted in patches of bright colors and where the tango was invented. There was one street there that was lined with stalls selling paintings of the buildings, all very colorful, and a crowded indoor market full of small reproductions of the buildings and of mate cups with silver straws. It was all bright and cheery, originally a way of laughing at poverty -- the bright colors in patches were because the original owners could only afford odds and ends of paint.

We also liked the Cementario de la Recoleta, the "city of the dead". Instead of tombstones, there were crypts, each ten or twelve feet high, organized like tiny houses in narrow streets. In many of them we could see caskets, or steps down to a lower level, or even bouquets of flowers. Some of the crypts even had stained glass, which I couldn't quite figure out. Evita Peron's crypt had plaques proclaiming her the friend of the worker, and handmade signs saying "We still remember you, Evita - we love you." (All in Spanish of course, so open to my mistranslation.)

Outside the cemetary, they hold a craft market on weekends, where I bought a pair of silver earrings and a necklace of rhodochrosite, the "national stone", sold in shops all over the city.

From BA we flew to Ushuaia, which we did like. Much of its economy is founded on adventure travel, so it felt a bit like Bend, Oregon, or Park City, Utah, or Queenstown, New Zealand. There was one nice shopping street, then it was mostly houses and a few business -- it's also the provincial capital, so there were some government buildings as well. The Museo del Fin del Mundo wasn't as impressive as its name, but the Museo Presidio was wonderful. It's set in the old prison and was really a combination of museums. Each of several wings had a different topic: Antarctic exploration, Ushuaia history, local missionaries, prisons in general, prisoners there in particular, local art. There would be a different exhibit in each cell. It was wonderfully done.

Good thing Ushuaia does have plenty of shops; at least one family on our trip had to buy complete wardrobes when their luggage failed to arrive!

Posted by dichroic at 07:03 PM

January 06, 2004

antarctic overview

"Speakin' in general, I 'ave tried them all --
The 'appy roads that take you o'er the world.
Speakin' in general, I 'ave found them good
For such as canot use one bed too long,
But must get 'ence, the same as I 'ave done
And go observin' matters till they die"
-- Kipling, Sestina of the Tramp Royale

I worked from home today because I was a total idiot and forgot to take my laptop back to work, having brought it home for the holidays for safety. As you will realize, this means that I drove all the way in, realized only then that I didn't have it, returned a few phone calls and drove all the way home. Oops.

Because of that little screw-up, I did have time to write about our trip. I just haven't figured out how to do it: where to start, what level of detail to use. I think I'll just start with an overview today, then write about various topics in more detail.

We booked our trip through Mountain Travel-Sobek, but the ship is actually run by Peregrine Adventures, an Aussie adventure travel company. They have several different trips; we took the shortest one, with 10 nights aboard ship, due to time and money constraints. Here's the itinerary and some other info. I would recommend Peregrine to anyone traveling to the Antarctic or the Arctic. The ship is totally sparkling clean and well run, there are only about 110 passengers, and the expedition staff are total knowledgeable pros. (I was less impressed with the Argentinian company Gador Viajes who ferried us to and from the ship, hotels, and airports in Argentina.)

Itinerary: We flew first to Buenos Aires, spent a day and a hlf there, and flew on to Ushuaia at the tip of South America in Tierra del Fuego. We boarded the ship on December 23 in Ushuaia, spent a day sailing though the Drake Passage, then hopscotched along the northern half of the Antarcitc Peninsula. There were every morning and afternoon to islands, bays or the mainland; we had signed up to kayak so had that option as well. Some outings were just cruising/kayaking, some involved hiking. We camped on the mainland one night on 2m of snow and stopped by the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Station our last day.

I want to write much more about Buenos Aires, which we didn't especially like and Ushuaia, which we did; about the wildlife, including seals, whales and penguins -- penguins are the most endearing animals on earth; about icebergs, camping, Vernadsky; about the people along with us (ship's crew, staff, and passengers). Each is probably an entry on its own. A bit of advice: when dancing with crazy drunken sailors on New Year's Eve, make sure you have friends along to help extrcate you.

What we didn't know but were delighted to find out was that this trip was focused especially on photography. There were two professional photographers on staff(one was also a kayak guide) and they had invited the editor of Practical Photography magazine along. We have most of our pictures back (10 rolls of slide film, over 200 digital photos, just waiting for the waterproof disposal cameras to be developed) but we don't have the film ones (aka the good ones) digitized yet. Here, for a taste, is one of the digital ones, taken with my little Canon Elph:

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM

January 05, 2004

what lies ahead

We're back. My next challenge will be to figure out how to tell about the trip; I
had thought of just typing out my trip journal, but since it runs to 48 pages,
that's out. Carpal tunnel syndrome is not one of my great life ambitions. And
anyway, it's quite possible no one wants to read about every single bay and island
we saw (there are a lot of bays and islands on the Antarctic

If I get much time typing at home with my journal to hand,
I will include excerpts, and I'll try to at least answer the questions, "Why would
anyone want to go there?" and "If I did want to go there, should I sign up
for the same trip?"

Besides, my voice seems to have left me (maybe it
stayed back with the penguins) so communicating by print is easier anyway.

How ironic is it that we got all the way back from the end of the
earth, from a polar zone known for frighteningly low temperatures and the regions
of the seas (the Drake Passage is in the "screaming fifties", right below the
"roaring forties") known for spectacular weather, only to get caught by snow in
Chicago on the very last leg of our trip?

Posted by dichroic at 05:29 PM

January 04, 2004

mired in irony

update (via pda): walked on glaciers. kayaked in bellingshausen sea. returned
safely from antarctic peninsula via boat. traveled from tierra del-freaking-fuego
to buenos aires via badly signed airports that announce only in spanish. got to
b.a. airport despite mistake on part of transfer bus from hotel to airport. even
survived customs in miami. and now on the very last leg we're stuck in chicago
because of a little snow. yeesh.

Posted by dichroic at 04:59 PM