s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: April 2006

Friday, April 28, 2006

Book: The Time Traveler's Wife

Good, but achingly sad. (Not everyone might agree. I do tend to be a “glass is half empty” sort of person in some situations.)

I found this book in a roundabout way. I came across “Henry de Tamble” (one of the protagonists) on Wikipedia’s
List of Fictional Librarians, and I was intrigued. (The page also includes Barbara Gordon and Rupert Giles – he’s in good company.) Then I ran into the book on Theric’s blog. (Apparently it was also selected for Today’s Book Club, but I’m well out of that loop.)

I started reading the book through Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature one night while working on a project. (It’s generally true of me that the closer a deadline looms, the less I can focus on one thing for any length of time, to the point that I’m rapidly switching between five different activities mere hours before something is due.) I’d work on the project for a bit, then read a couple of pages, then go back to the project.

At some point Amazon politely but firmly informed me that I’d read enough pages, and now I needed to buy the book. (This is a major downside of trying to read books with “Search Inside” – one is inevitably cut off in the middle of an intense passage.) Unlike the
Edgiest of Killer Bunnies, I don’t buy books all willy-nilly, and I certainly wasn’t ready to buy this one without knowing how it ended.

I checked our library, but no copies were available. The U of I is very reluctant to recall or hold books, so I went to the I-Share catalog, a sort of statewide inter-library loan. There were multiple copies listed, but most of them were checked out, missing or already on loan. After a couple of weeks of fruitless waiting (I think my request is still outstanding), I finally thought to check the Urbana Free Library, and was very surprised to see a copy listed as on the shelf. So I went to Urbana Free, applied for a library card, endured a very long lecture from the circulation librarian on how to use a library, and went home with my book. Which I read for the rest of the day and finished the next morning.

Many of the reviews I read said something like “It says that it’s a sci-fi novel, but it’s really a love story.” I have to disagree. It most certainly is sci-fi, it’s just that it’s also a really well-written story, where so much of science fiction gives the genre a bad name. And as tired a motif as time travel is, having been tackled by everyone from H.G. Wells to the writers of Quantum Leap, Audrey Niffenegger manages to find a unique take on it. In her world, time travel is an illness (“chrono-impairment”) and as Henry gets older his body shows the ravages of this condition, as surely as if he had cancer or AIDS.

Yet even as chrono-impairment brings him and Clare (his wife) greater pain than he can imagine, it is also responsible for the greatest joys in their life, and he can’t disentangle the two to decide if his life has been good with some bad parts or bad with some good parts. At one point, Clare finds herself obsessively worrying about him – “[My] thoughts chase each other like those weird fur pieces old ladies used to wear around their necks with the tail in the mouth, circling around until I can’t stand one more minute of it.” Her life seems to run in the same circles. The good things cause bad things which cause good things until you can’t pick apart which is cause and which effect.

Niffenegger wisely decides to forgo all the complications of the past changing the future, or of a “many worlds” theory of decision making. In her world, the past is set in stone and free choice only exists in one’s own present time. (Even this is debatable, since the future doesn’t seem to be changeable, either.) It might be this atheistic determinism that ultimately made the book so sad for me. While some might argue that the book ends on a happy note, I was very much depressed by the thought of a life full of pain without ultimate meaning.

(Also I have the bad habit of imagining that any bad thing happening to anyone else could also happen to me. As such, I am now genuinely concerned that I will marry a time traveler and be constantly stressed and worried. My overactive imagination is same reason that Rough Stone Rolling has been such slow going. If I have to read one more story about Emma Smith, cold and very pregnant, slogging through some Midwestern storm . . .)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Survey says . . .

Let’s see . . . Bawb votes for Chinese, Master Fob says French, Logan makes a snotty remark about French, then votes for Chinese (plus maybe half a vote for Russian), Theric says Chinese, Ben Crowder says Russian or Welsh (Do I assign one vote to each? No, that’s not fair if he gets two votes. I’ll give 0.75 of a vote to each), Squirrel Boy (the Amazing) says Welsh, la bamba says Chinese, Saule Cogneur says Chinese, Melyngoch says Russian (only because Latin isn’t there), Ambrosia says Welsh and Optimistic says Russian.

So, the winner is . . . people, no. I’m not doing Chinese again. My brain is all Chinesed out for a while, and I’d like to work on a language where I have even a minimal amount of reading comprehension. I vote Russian and my vote is worth everyone else’s combined. (How’s life in the Katyocracy?)

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Foods I cannot have


I have to have either meat or beans for protein, which makes eating kind of miserable. I don’t really like meat (I order vegetarian almost everywhere I go now) and I’m getting a little sick of beans. On the plus side, Lent is over, so I could have chocolate again, but the “no sugar” rule pretty much quashes that. (But I do occasionally cheat where chocolate is concerned.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How you know I am a nerd

(Just in case there was still any doubt.)

Now that I live in The Mission Field, I stream the General Conference broadcast online instead of listening to it on the radio or watching it on TV. I use Windows Media Player, which turned out to be kind of trippy because I had the background image set on “Ambience: Water,” which looks . . . trippy, especially as a visual image accompanying something as straight laced as the audio of the LDS General Conference broadcast.

As I cycled through the different images, trying to find something which produced less of a visual disconnect, I realized that most of the background images are generated from the frequency data of the audio stream, some more directly than others. (“Bars,” and “Ocean Mist,” are good examples, while “Scope” is a simple waveform – the exact thing you’d see on an oscilloscope.) I paused on “Scope” to watch the high frequency noise of Elder Monson’s sibilants as he introduced the musical number. And then the hymn began with an organ solo just on the melody line, and played with just a few ranks (or only one) sounding. Organs are typically played with a lot of ranks sounding because any single pipe by itself can be a little thin in the way of harmonics. The purity of the sound made for a very regular waveform, and I got excited about how cool it looked, but I didn’t have anyone to tell.

Nerdy, nerd, nerd . . .

Monday, April 17, 2006

Book: No Strings Attached: The Inside Story of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop

This book was lame. I kept reading it, hoping that it would get less lame, but it just kept being lame. The only reason I finished it was that I really love the Muppets and the book was short enough that I figured I’d plug through it just for the information. And even then, there wasn’t really that much information supplied.

It doesn’t help that I own another book about Jim Henson and the Muppets called Jim Henson: The Works (by Christopher Finch) which is absolutely fantastic. I’m not sure if it’s just written better, or if it’s easier to write a book about a person than about a studio. In truth, No Strings Attached does seem to suffer from a lack of focus on any one theme. People in the studio come and go (and die) and projects come and go and even technology comes and goes, as the studio handles everything from animatronics and CGI to human prosthetics.

Many of the movies aren’t very good or aren’t very successful. This has to be a bit of a drawback for someone working on special effects – you can put a lot of time and energy into some really fantastic work, but if the writing is poor, then the movie won’t be very good, for all that you’ve designed the first life-sized animatronic baby gorilla. Still, most of the architectural projects in Rem Koolhaas’ S, M, L, XL don’t ever get built, and it almost doesn’t matter, because the ideas are so cool. In fact, that’s one of the fun things about that book, that at the end of all the sketches and ideas and models for every project, you turn the page and either see the finished building (because it actually got built) or you don’t (because the client picked someone else’s design or because the funding fell through). So the fact that some ideas don’t pan out doesn’t mean that you can’t write a great book about those ideas.

Back on the topic of Jim Henson, I wonder if it’s easier to write a book about someone who died young. If you’re trying to write a biography about someone who’s still alive, you have to bring the story of their life to an artificial conclusion, even though their life is still going on. If you wait until they get old and die, nobody remembers what they were famous for, or you have to end your book by putting a rosy spin on how they were old and feeble and alone for their last twenty years.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a good read on Jim Henson, find Jim Henson: The Works. Don’t waste your time on No Strings Attached.

Friday, April 14, 2006

French or Russian?

Or German or Welsh? (Or Chinese?)

I’d like to be working on a foreign language right now. Actually, I’d like to work on a lot of things, but improving my linguistic skills would be useful both from the perspective of intellectual satisfaction and of professional development. I’m at a point in several languages (German, Russian and Welsh) where I’ve got a good handle on the basic grammar, and what I really need to do is to expand my vocabulary and improve my reading comprehension. My French vocabulary is good enough that I can read comfortably, but I could still stand to improve it, and there’s plenty of good French literature out there I haven’t even touched (which is particularly embarrassing for someone with a degree in French literature). My Chinese comprehension is well behind my comprehension in other languages, but the nature of Chinese is such that even looking up a character in the dictionary can be a great linguistic adventure, and I could definitely stand some practice in looking up radicals and taking characters apart. (And then I could further said adventures by going to zhongwen.com and looking up related and root characters!)

My point, in all of this, is that I’m in a position in each of these languages to significantly improve my abilities by doing some daily reading and studying. The question is: which one?

I have to point out, before I get any further, that this is not just a pipe dream and I actually have done this in the past. Eighteen months ago, I spent over a month plugging diligently away on a Russian article, working on it for at least an hour a day. (The fact that I was doing on-site work at a library in Alabama and had nothing to do with my evenings in my hotel may have had something to do with this.) Before that, I spent the summer between Russian 102 and 201 going over case endings and verb conjugations every day. (A miserable second year of German had taught me that I really did need to put the grammar memorization time in, and not just try to fly by the seat of my pants.) However, my most recent attempt (last semester) was a bit less successful. Last semester I was supposed to work on Chinese. I got as far as half of one sentence of the Chinese version of an iconic English book (“Hali Pota”).

So, here are the candidates for a semester or a summer of free-time language study (such as that may turn out to be):

Chinese: There are a number of Chinese students in my program, so I encounter the language a lot and often wish I could understand more than I can. Plus, this is my newest language, so (fickle polyglot that I am) it’s the one that I’m still the most excited about. (Plus, how cool would it be to watch Chinese martial arts movies without the subtitles?)

French: I have a very nice copy of Les Misérables on my bookshelf that I’ve never gotten all the way through. Not that it’s so hard (Hugo is surprisingly accessible), but there’s just a lot of it, and the 19th century vocabulary got in the way of my reading comprehension. But there are plenty of French writers that I love and whose work I feel I should read more of: Balzac, Hugo, Camus, Sartre, Tocqueville . . .

German: This is the language about which I am currently most apathetic. It’s also the language I encounter the most in my daily activity, because about a third of the books I’m cataloging are in German and I attend a biweekly librarian lunch where we speak German, so I have the opportunity to humiliate myself in the language twice a month. (I have a feeble desire to convince the others that really, I could speak much better if I cared at all.) Adding to my great apathy is the fact that I don’t really like any German writers, except maybe Hesse and sort of Brecht.

Russian: This is the language I most want to study, in part because of the literature (there’s still Tolstoy and Pushkin, even if it turns out I don’t like Dostoyevsky), and in part because I have a sneaking suspicion that Melyngoch will be called to serve a Russian-speaking mission, and I’m not going to let her get better than me if I can help it! (That’s a very mature attitude, right?)

Welsh: This is probably the coolest language I’ve ever studied. Not that it holds a candle to Russian or Chinese in terms of difficulty, but it’s just so random. Plus, I could translate Wikipedia articles into Welsh, which seems vaguely like it would amount to an actual contribution to society.

Opinions? Votes?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Book Club

The Relief Society in my ward is starting a book club, I think as part of the new non-Enrichment Enrichment Program. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I love reading and I’m always looking for an excuse to read more. On the other hand, this may be yet another opportunity to discover how very little I have in common with the other sisters in this ward.

This month’s reading is Persuasion, by Jane Austen, which is nice because I’ve seen the movie several times, but I’ve never read it. Apparently we’ll all get a chance to choose a book eventually, but I have to laugh when I look over my book diary, because so few of the titles would be appropriate.

In that light, I present An Incomplete List of Books That I Have Read and Loved, But Will Certainly Not Be Recommending for the Relief Society Book Club:

The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio
Just because it’s a classic doesn’t mean it’s not all about sex.

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
A book about why stay-at-home mothers are all suicidal.

The Backslider, Levi Peterson
I’ve already taken heat on the Board for recommending such an explicit book to a Mormon audience.

How We Die, Sherwin B. Nuland
A really interesting book, but some would doubtless find it disturbing.

The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis
A book that portrays Christ as weak and Judas as strong? I think not.

Speaking of Chinese, Raymond Chang
Probably no one else cares enough about Chinese linguistics to get through this book. (But if you do care, it’s a really great book!)

Better Than Well, Carl Elliott
Another highly disturbing book. Especially the chapter about people who harm themselves because they want to be amputees.

Possession, A.S. Byatt

The Gospel According to the Simpsons, Mark I. Pinsky
Offensive to people who think The Simpsons is an evil show.

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
More offensive to Muslims than to Christians, but the title still says it all.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

All the lonely people

I don't like my ward.

I am past the “don't know anyone” stage – I have many acquaintances, and I still don't like my ward. I am past the “too shy to be myself” stage – I have been my real self on multiple occasions, and I still don't like my ward. (Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that the masses have not reacted well to my “real self.”) I am past the “haven't yet made a good friend” stage – I have effectively exhausted the potential candidates for good friends, and am resigned to the fact that I will not make one in the current crop. (It doesn't help that all three of my Utah friends who were considering coming here next year have now made other plans.) What I really don't like about my ward, I now realize, is that it's full of single people who are obsessed with being single.

I do not deny that being single is a great hardship in the lives of many Latter-day Saints. Nobody wants to be alone, particularly not in a religious culture which vaguely equates singlehood and damnation.

I also do not deny that there are plenty of people in my ward who are not single-mindedly obsessed with getting marriage, who live happy, full lives and who realize that there is more to living the gospel than pining for a ring and a temple date.

However, this does not change the fact that a group of people, united by one feature, will necessarily approach life from the perspective of the thing they have in common. Women in Relief Society approach the Gospel as Mormon women. Single Mormon adults approach the Gospel as single Mormon adults. I imagine that in Spanish-speaking branches, the Gospel is approached from the point of view of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Nonetheless, there are some huge differences between groups of women, singles and Spanish speakers. For one thing, there are no congregations composed entirely of women. Relief Society is certainly biased towards the perspective of women (for better or for worse), but it ought to be balanced out by Sunday School and Sacrament Meeting, where we have to take the men and children into account, as well.

Spanish-speaking branches, like singles wards/branches, worship as a homogenous group. Again, though, there are crucial differences – the main one being that speaking Spanish is not considered a sin, trial, or hardship. If one is living in the United States and if one does not speak English well, that may certainly be an inconvenience, but we do not tell native Spanish speakers that the most important thing they can do in life is to learn English, we don't obsess about the fact that they don't know English yet, and we certainly never imply that those who chose not to learn English in this life are set to be ministering angels, while the Anglophones receive higher glory.

The fact that we, single Latter-day Saints, are united by something that is “wrong” with us means that we are going to spend a lot of time obsessing about that thing that is wrong. Worse yet, this is something over which we do not have complete control. If there were a ward comprised entirely of people who were having trouble with the Word of Wisdom, you can bet that the Word of Wisdom would be the underlying topic of many lessons, but you wouldn't have a room full of sweet sisters and “nice” RMs who would very much like to live the WoW if it were only under their control because it is much more under their control.

So, I am tired of being a single person in a singles' ward, and watching engaged people magically float away to the Land of the Marrieds like one more cat ascending to the Heavyside Lair. (The fact that they often move out of state, and not just out of the ward, makes the transition all the more magical, as one never sees them again.)

Attending my last ward, a family ward with a fair number of young marrieds, was quite refreshing, as one got to see the beatific ascension from the other side. Mostly the dewy young things would show up in Relief Society, gushing about how married life had been the best three weeks of their life, and everyone would say “Awww. How cute!” and move on to talking about something REAL.

The downside of attending this ward was that I was effectively invisible to the (married) women my age, since I didn't fit into their “group,” and they hadn't yet learned how to have friends outside of their group. All the same, I think that I'd still take effective invisibility in balanced family ward over being one more sheep in an obsessed single's ward.

Monday, April 10, 2006


When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher’s name was Miss W. (where W. is a very unusual last name). Her last name had originated with her Canadian great-great-great- (etc.) grandfather, who was a fur trapper. (This would make more sense if I would actually post the full last name, but I won’t, for reasons of privacy.)

Anyway, one day in October or November she told us that she was going to get married over Christmas vacation to a man named Mr. W. (same unusual last name). Mr. W., she explained, was descended from the same Canadian fur trapper, but they were no more closely related than 4th or 5th cousins.

One of my classmates raises his hand: “Are you marrying your brother?”

“No,” Miss W. replied, “We have the same great-great-great-grandfather, so we’re 4th cousins.”


Another classmate raises her hand: “Why are you marrying your brother?”

Miss W. (with a tighter smile, perhaps): “I’m not marrying my brother. I’m marrying my 4th cousin. That’s a lot different from a brother.”

Yet another classmate: “Are you allowed to marry your brother?”

(Imagine 6-year-old Katya wanting to hit her head repeatedly on her desk.)

I came home that day, and I told my Mom that Miss W. would be married when we got back from Christmas.

“Oh? And what will her name be then?”

Mrs. W.,” I confidently state.

“No,” my Mom replies gently, “It won’t be Mrs. W. any more. She’ll have a different last name.”

You can’t win.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

How to be a good 100 Hour Board writer: the first in a (possibly) ongoing series

1. Answer questions

This sounds pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised.

My induction into 100 Hour Board writer-dom was a bit unorthodox. I didn’t apply (more like I harassed my way on) and I didn’t come on at the beginning of the semester with the rest of the newbies. In fact, I wasn’t even a BYU student at the time (although I was planning on taking an evening class the following semester, which I believe was the justification for bending the rules a bit). I’d also heard about other writers who hadn’t been too keen on my joining, so I was sort of trying to lay low and not step on any toes.

So I’d been on the Board for just a few weeks, and there weren’t very many questions in the inbox at any one time (those were the days), so it was kind of a contest to see who “got” to answer an easy question first. And I remember there was this one question about why Christmas lights worked differently from regular lights. And I thought: “Well, it’s because Christmas lights are wired in series and regular lights are wired in parallel.” (Duh.) But I didn’t answer the question. And then I checked the inbox later that day, and the question was still there. And I read it again, and I thought: “Hello? Christmas lights are wired in series, not in parallel.” But I still didn’t write anything. And I checked the inbox the next morning, and the question was still there. So I yelled at it again. And long about the afternoon of the second day, I finally figured out that apparently no one else knew the answer to that particular question, and maybe I should answer it instead of yelling at it.

So I did.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

summer and fall

This Monday I get to register for summer and fall classes. I wanted to take “Thesaurus Construction” in the summer, but they weren’t sure it was going to be offered. I have to take at least one summer class to keep my assistantship, so I was also considering “History of the Book” and “Great Printers and Their Books” as backup options. However, it looks like the Thesaurus Construction class will carry, so I’ll take that (assuming I can get in).

In fall, I’m planning on taking “Foundations of Information Processing in LIS,” “Digital Libraries: Research and Practice,” and “Information Modeling.” At some point I should probably take “Reference and Information Services,” but that class is offered every semester and the others aren’t, so I’m not in any rush. Other classes I’ve considered for fall are “Searching Online Information Systems” and “Interfaces to Information Systems.”

The tricky thing about the classes I want to take is that they’re all LEEP (distance education) classes, which means that they’re only offered online. This makes the scheduling sort of odd, because they’re all offered in the afternoon or evening, to accommodate LEEP students who are working during the day. My earliest class will start at 2pm (which is still a bit early for an evening class), and my latest one will end at 9pm. I had another (on campus) class this semester which ended at 9pm, which made for a very cold walk home in January. So I may very well be quite grateful to be able to “attend” class from the warmth of my own bedroom.

Aside from the fact that I, as an on-campus student, have to request special permission to enroll in LEEP classes (priority is understandably given to off-campus students), I am just a touch concerned about the lack of human interaction fall semester promises to provide.

I am not someone who has a high need for human interaction. My (nonexistent) dating life, my non-participation in ward activities, my non-participation is department functions, my well-worn library card, and my newly acquired interest in knitting all attest to this. However, I do have a minimal need for human interaction, which is something that I have been known to forget until it’s been days since I’ve had a conversation that was more than a perfunctory exchange of factual data and I suddenly become REALLY lonely.

I prefer classroom interaction to purely social interaction for a number of reasons. First, the default in a lecture situation is actually not to interact, which means that if I think you’re boring to talk to, I can just ignore you. (“You” refers, of course, to some nameless boring person, and not to you, gentle reader.) I can’t really just ignore people in a purely social situation. And if I do decide you’d be interesting to talk to, then we have our classwork in common, which makes it easier to start a conversation for someone like me, who has a hard time with intermediate-level small talk. Also, the fact that we’re both enrolled in a class together implies that we have some general academic interests in common.

Oh, and you’ll notice that my fall classes bear very little resemblance to the ones that
Melyngoch is planning on taking. I can only assume that they are not offered at her school, and that’s why my program is ranked first in the nation. She seems quite resigned to the situation, though, and I greatly admire her brave, cheerful outlook in the face of a complete dearth of information science classes. Mel, you’re an inspiration to us all.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I liked you better when you were gay

I recently found out that an acquaintance of mine in the LIS program is straight. I’ve known him since last semester, and from the first time I met him I assumed he was gay. I’ll spare you the details, mostly because I’m not quite sure that I can articulate why I made the assumption. Perhaps the best I can do is that he reminded me, in some fundamental way, of other gay guys I’ve known. Only now, it appears that he has a girlfriend. (Given the liberal bent of this community, I’m going to take that as a sign that he’s straight, not just closeting.) Disturbingly, I now find him really annoying, which wasn’t the case when I thought he was gay.

There are several possible explanations for this:

1. In a streak of reverse discrimination, I automatically like guys who are gay. Disturbing because it implies a blanket judgment based on sexual orientation, not on personality and character. Even if this judgment is in favor of the traditionally oppressed, this still speaks to a shallow approach to life.

Happily, this is easily discounted by providing a counterexample. If I can think of a gay guy that I don’t like, this theory is bunk. And I can. (Whew.)

2. Whatever it is that makes me think a guy is gay is something that I see as a defect in straight guys. Disturbing because it implies a double standard, or that I see the stereotypical manifestations of male homosexuality as some sort of “disease” that gay men can’t help having, but that ought to be avoided in straight men.

This is the one that’s been bothering me. The one that’s been making me think: “So, it’s OK to be a little – what, exactly? prissy? – if you’re gay, but not if you’re straight? What the hell kind of attitude is that? Am I really automatically associating negative qualities with gay men, then magnanimously forgiving them those qualities because I assume they can’t help it?” A very troubling discovery indeed. But then I thought of a third explanation.

3. There are certain things that automatically give you points, in my book. Being a Mormon convert. Learning Chinese. And being gay.

None of these assigns a huge amount of points, nothing more than a nudge, really, but if my opinion of someone were on the borderline of neutrality, being gay might be enough to nudge him up to the positive side.

And, looking back on it, the things that are bothering me about him have always bothered me about him; he’s been creeping up on “annoying” status for months now. Suddenly becoming straight just sent him over the edge. I feel better for deciding I’m not as irrational as I feared.

(In a very, very odd twist of fate, I should point out that he might actually not be straight after all. When our classmate referred to his girlfriend, he got a weird look on his face, and didn’t say anything to confirm or acknowledge her existence. Which wouldn’t be conclusive, except that the “girl”friend has an androgynous name, and could therefore be a boyfriend, as well. Is it possible that our classmate misapplied a gender when someone made reference to a “partner” or “significant other”? It’s a rather far-fetched scenario, and I find that I don’t really care either way, except that it would be funny if I thought he was gay (again) and liked him again. But I think that I would still find him annoying, at this point.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

There be tornados here

So we had our first tornado Sunday night. Or we had our first tornado warning, which means that the sirens went off and we had to go sit in the basement for 45 minutes because a tornado had been spotted in the area and might come our way.

I just knitted the whole time and listened to the Illinois natives tell stories about “the great tornado spring of tickity-seven” or whenever, and then they let us go back to our rooms and go to bed, although the tornado watch was still in effect. Luckily, we didn’t have any more warnings that night.

The weird thing about tornados, I’ve decided, is that they are very . . . specific, as natural disasters go. I’ve been in an earthquake (or a series of earthquakes) when I visited California and a hurricane when I was in Alabama two years ago. (OK, technically it was a tropical storm by the time it got that far inland, but the eye went right over where I was, so it still counts.) With earthquakes and hurricanes you’ve got a whole swath of people who are affected. With tornados, the damage can be very bad, but the worst of it is also very precise. A tornado can destroy one house, and leave the house beside it practically untouched. (Of course, the thunderstorms associated with tornados cause damage to a more general area.)

So I’ve now been through a tornado, or I’ve been through a tornado warning, at least, which is all that most Midwesterners ever see. Spring is apparently a bad time for twisters, so I’ll probably see a few more before the end of May. And I’m very concerned because I’m out of yarn, so I can’t knit through the next one. Maybe I’ll bring a book.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Close your eyes!

When I was little, it occurred to me one General Conference that the camera stays running while the prayers are given, and that someone has to operate the camera. I went to my Mom, very concerned about the cameramen who had to keep their eyes open during the prayer. I think she told me that they could just point the camera and let it keep running while they closed their eyes.

When I got older, I also realized that sometimes it really is OK to keep your eyes open during the prayer. But you should still try to be reverent.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


It is a truth universally acknowledge that you can spend as much on a hobby or activity as you want. Some hobbies naturally lend themselves to excess (collecting Mahnolo Blahnik shoes) and some naturally lend themselves to thrift (collecting paper clips), but a creative person can find a way to spend a lot on even the simplest pastime (such as knitting).

To that end, I have discovered qiviut (/'ki vjut/). Qiviut is the wool of the musk ox. Specifically, it is the soft wool under the long outer coat. (“Qiviut” is an Inuit word – musk oxen are native to Alaska, Greenland and northern Canada.) Qiviut is stronger than wool, softer than cashmere, it will not shrink in hot water, and it doesn’t itch. And it is insanely expensive. 300 yards of laceweight yarn (enough for a scarf) could easily run you $100.

This was supposed to be my “cheap” hobby.