Monday, November 27, 2006


Either the cows are too weak, or my sorceress is too strong. I’ve been playing a lot of good, ol’ Diablo II lately (as my demonic dream last week would suggest), and I finally got my sorceress to the point where I could unlock the fabled Secret Cow Level. I remember years ago facing the Hell Bovines with an amazon, and getting my butt soundly whupped. That was the only time I’d ever gone toe-to-toe with the axe-wielding cattle, and I have been both fearful of and enthralled by that hidden dungeon ever since.

However, my sorceress walked through the level. Literally. Granted, I have the Spire of Lazarus, which gives me +1 to all skills, and the Peasant Crown, another +1 to all skills, and a random yellow amulet for yet another +1 to all skills, so my girl’s beefed up rather beyond her actual level. Suffice it to say that if you have 10 points in Chain Lightning, you can saunter through the cow level without even being careful. I never took a single hit, and neither did my little rogue pet. I didn’t bother raising my Mana Shield or my Chilling Armor.

The cow level was easy. Too easy. I was sad. I barely even noticed the Cow King. And when I saw that he was immune to lightning, my rogue lackey took him out while I was loading up Glacial Spike. (Either that, or “immune” actually means “resistant to,” and I had already beaten him down along with the rest of the herd with my storm of Chain Lightnings.)

It was actually reassuring to go back to Nightmare Level, Act I, and have to run away from some common Dark Rangers.

(And to anyone who is familiar with Diablo II and actually knows what I’m talking about, this is in single player. No bartering or cheat codes. I’ve had some pretty good luck with item drops this game.)

Oh, but I need a life!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Domestic Goddess I Am Not

I have a new laser printer, and I am determined that it shall not die the same cat-hair-clogged death as my old ink jet printer. So I decided to make a cover for it. However, I am rather lacking in actual sewing skill. I am shamed to say that from conception to completion, this project took four hours. (The cover, mind you, consists of only three pieces of cut fabric. Anyone with talent could probably have whipped this up in less than an hour, and the results surely would have looked better.)

Lacking an actual cloth measuring tape, I made approximate measures with a wooden yardstick. Then I taped together several sheets of 8 1/2” x 11” paper to get a page large enough to cut a rough pattern from, after which I hacked up an old tie-dyed bed sheet, frequently shooing away meddlesome cats. Then I moved on to the sewing machine, then the seam ripper, then the sewing machine again.

The result, as you can see, is not particularly pretty. I am a perfectionist about many things, but obviously sewing is not one of them. But it will do the job.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gobble gobble gobble!(This picture is from May 2005. But since I didn't see any turkeys yesterday . . .)

Bananas, the Natural Demonsbane

Last night I dreamed that I was being pursued through a large house by a gang of bloodthirsty, heavily armored, sword-wielding demons, resembling a cross between the Oblivion Knights from Diablo II and the Nazgul from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This wasn’t nearly as nightmarish as it might sound, though, as I was a well equipped demon slayer. However, there were a lot of them, and they cornered me. Now, I had been eating bananas earlier in the dream, and as the demons were running me through with their swords, I unleashed my banana breath on them. They shrieked in pain and crumbled into black dust, swords and all.

My subconscious is probably telling me, A) I’ve been playing too much Diablo II lately, and B) I should eat more bananas. (And possibly C) I’m a loony.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Autumn in the Forest

. . . when the only green to be seen is the pond algae.

An algae-covered pond in the forest.
Note also the beaver handiwork in the lower left corner.

I had hoped to see turkeys on my walk, but there were none to be found. Perhaps it was the time of day, or the proximity of Thanksgiving, or the noisy herds of children on the trails, or the shouting and pounding and clanging of the railroad crew repairing the tracks, but the turkeys were all in hiding.

So were the deer, for the most part. It’s not uncommon for me to see several deer out in the forest, but today I saw only one. I think I woke her from her nap. She never got up from her bed, but simply watched me warily until I took my pictures and left.

A doe laying in the brush.
Otherwise, I didn’t see much beyond the usual squirrels, robins, and one red-bellied woodpecker. Still, it was a pleasant walk in unseasonably warm weather.

Book Review: Basic Vision

Imagine a textbook so engagingly written that you actually want to pick it up and read the next chapter. Such is Basic Vision: an Introduction to Visual Perception, by Robert Snowden, Peter Thompson, and Tom Troscianko. (Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN-13: 978-0-19-928670-6.)

I’m in the habit of reading anything that catches my eye, and this attracted me with its fun illustrations and optical illusions. It kept me with its interesting, occasionally snarky, explanations of visual functions and dysfunctions.

This is the first textbook I’ve ever read cover-to-cover without being required to do so for a class. It is targeted toward university undergraduate students (and often addresses them directly), so it would probably not be of much use to a physician or other vision scientist who already has a solid understanding of eye-brain interactions. However, for the curious layperson, it is a wonderful introduction.

How do our eyes read a printed word? Not letter by letter as one might think, but by jumping back and forth and assembling the word from the length and shape of the letters. Substituting a nonsense word that has a similar shape to the real word will not impair reading as much as substituting a synonym or a word with the same meaning from another (known) language.

The effects of high and low spatial frequency (which sounds incomprehensible when you only read the words) were clearly illustrated by a pair of pictures. Both contained the image of a skull and the face of Sir Anthony Hopkins superimposed on one another, with their spatial frequencies reversed. So if you hold the book at normal reading distance, the left picture is a skull and the right is recognizably Sir Anthony Hopkins. But if you prop the book up and look at it from across the room, they have swapped places. It is tremendously spooky! And neatly explained in the text.

Another favorite example in the book shows the way depth perception involves an assumption on the part of the brain that light comes from above. One picture appears to show a carved wooden deer in relief. The other appears to show an upside-down carving of of another deer in intaglio. However, if you turn the book upside down, the raised deer appears sunken, and the sunken deer appears raised. And if you turn the book sideways, the perception of depth vanishes and you can clearly see that the two pictures are mirror images of each other, set side by side rather than along the plane of reflection in order to break that recognition.

I shant bore you with more details, however, if you wish I would or if you just want to see the illustrations I’ve described, I’ve provided a search box in the sidebar of this blog. Find out if a library near you has it. If not, see if they can get it through interlibrary loan. It will make you see sight in a whole different light.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How Many E-Mail Addresses Does One Woman Need?

I now have five, count 'em, five e-mail accounts to juggle. And, unfortunately, they all have different capabilities and obligations, so I can't dump any of them.

1) My work e-mail. I do try to avoid using it for personal communication, to keep the division between work and home strong.

2) The ISP I actually pay for. I can't get rid of it, or I'll lose internet access at home.

3) Hotmail. The only one that allows me to send and receive messages in Japanese.

4) Yahoo. Required in order to keep my Geocities page.

5) Gmail, newly created this morning. Required for upgrading the functionality of this blog.

E-mail aside, I've lost count of the number of other services that require usernames and passwords.

How much is too much?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fits Like a Glove--Wait, it IS a Glove!

I got about two-thirds of my Christmas shopping done this weekend, and during the course of my excursion, I made my first trip to the new Cabela’s in La Vista. I’d never been in a Cabela’s before, and as I passed through the doors, I drifted to a stop and stood gaping at the vastness of it.

I neither hunt nor fish, but I appreciate hunters and fishers because I’m very fond of meat. And I have many hunters in my family, so I have an understanding and appreciation of the hunter aesthetic. This store is magnificent, bordering on decadent.

The displays of taxidermized animals and birds are better than museum quality. A far cry from the faded, dusty, static displays I remember from childhood at the natural history museum, these were dynamic and cleverly arranged. And it was quite educational, as I saw many species I was unfamiliar with. Also, the enormous aquarium filled with live native fish species was well worth the trip.

I was there to get gifts for others, but I ended up buying something for myself as well: a pair of gloves which cost more than I ever dreamed I would spend on handwear. I won’t say how much, except that it is more than I have ever paid for any shirt or pair of pants. However, I have a history of buying cheap gloves, which I end up hating because they unravel, or they utterly fail to keep my hands warm, or they irritate my wrists, or whatever, and then I buy new ones the next year. It is my hope that higher quality gloves will last long enough to average out to the same annual cost in the long run.

These gloves are black leather, but not from a cow. In fact, they are genuine kangaroo skin, with flannel lining. They are extremely comfortable, and I am not experiencing my usual buyer’s remorse, so I think I made a worthwhile choice.

However, there is one caveat. I have always justified wearing leather and suede because I eat beef and pork. I have joked that I don’t wear animals that I don’t eat. However, I have not eaten kangaroo. And, this being Nebraska, we don’t see a lot of them around here. Well, at the zoo. However, I suspect they would disapprove of me dragging a barbecue grill into the Wild Kingdom Pavilion.

Anyone know where I can get kangaroo meat in Nebraska?

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Feeling worn down and wrung out, I came home from work hanging my head and dragging my feet. Not that my life is bad--merely my attitude. In fact, my mood was completely at odds with my workplace having received a special award today, recognizing our collective above-and-beyond achievements these past few months. Personally, though, I seem to be increasingly absent-minded, and making more mistakes, which causes me to lose faith in myself. After intense days at work, I’ve felt too intellectually exhausted to do anything of consequence at home.

Tonight, I had the urge to numb away all sensations. That desire is scary, and it makes me glad that I don’t actually drink alcohol. As it was, I wanted to eat myself sick with ice cream, which would, in that mood, have been essentially an attempt at self-medication.

But I did something else instead. I went for a walk. I used to take strolls quite often, but lately, it’s become rather rare. (All the usual excuses, “too busy,” “bad neighborhood,” blah blah blah.) But I listened to the quiet “good” voice instead of the loud “bad” voice, and off I went.

There is a church not far from my home which has a Chartres Labyrinth in their courtyard, faded purple paint on gray pavement. My legs were already sore by the time I reached the spot (I can definitely tell I haven’t been exercising recently), so I paused a moment at the mouth of the labyrinth. Then I went in.

As I walked along the narrow pathway, twisting through the coils and hairpin turns, the distress within me tightened, winding like a spring. By the time I reached the flower-shaped clearing in the center, I felt truly stormy inside. So I took a few deep breaths, then softly sang, “This Is the Day That the Lord Hath Made.” Then I turned around, and my attitude turned inside out.

Retracing my steps back to the beginning, my tension unwound with every twist in the path. When I reached the mouth once again, I felt loose and free as I haven’t in weeks. I said, “Amen,” and walked home lightly and cheerfully.

I may still have ice cream, but now it will be just a little bit because I want something sweet, and I won’t make myself sick.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

And the Hunter Shall Become the Hunted

On my way to work this morning, I witnessed a rather large cottontail rabbit chasing a rather small white cat. The kitty fled across the street to safety. The bunny stopped in the middle of the church lawn, looking mighty and triumphant. Methinks the kitty picked a fight he couldn't handle.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mystery of the Blue Cell Phone

I returned home to find the security door of my apartment complex propped open, a no-no after dark. As I drew near, I noticed a small blue cell phone laying in the middle of the entryway. A heart-shaped foil kitten sticker marked the front of the phone, and a matching flower-shaped kitten sticker marked the back.

I looked around, wondering if I was being watched. Candid Camera? A morality test? A trap? Or just a lost phone and a stuck door?

I really didn't know what to do with it, but I was afraid that the phone might get kicked or stepped on, so I moved it to the table by the mailboxes. Anyone who lives in my apartment complex will see it there, so if it belongs to one of my neighbors or their guests, it ought to find its way back into the right hands. And my neighbors inside this building are excruciatingly scrupulous about not taking things that don’t belong to them. We once had a pile of pennies--at least fifty cents worth--sit untouched in the laundry room for over a month.

(My neighbors outside the building, on the other hand, will smash your car window to get your stereo. But at any rate, this side of the security door is safe.)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Caucasian Chalk Circle

In 1945, just after the end of World War II, in the ruins of the village of Nukha in the Caucasus Mountains, the people who had fled their ancestral home return, but the newcomers who had defended the village don’t want to go back to where they came from. What to do about the land, when the two groups have such radically different ideas?

Into this scene comes a singer-storyteller, to involve all of the people in both groups in a grand play about another war, long, long ago.

Thus is the stage set for Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. I had not heard of this play before, but I enjoy plays in general, so when Mom asked if I’d like to go with her, I eagerly agreed. I was not disappointed. The students of Nebraska Wesleyan University put on a superb show, with excellent acting, singing, and costuming all around.

The play within the play tells the story of a coup in which the governor of Nukha was killed. His wife, more concerned with her dresses than her infant son, flees the estate, leaving the child behind. Grusha, a servant girl, can not bear to leave the infant to die, despite the urgings of her friends. And so she picks up the baby and flees to the mountains, and her choice to save the child could cost her everything.

By intermission, I felt certain that none of the characters in this story could possibly find their way to a happy ending. The tone had been very dark, and the situation increasingly bleak. But then in the second act, a new character, the clownish drunkard judge Azdak, ignorant of the law, incurably corrupt, but with a glimmering understanding of justice, turned everything upside down, inside out, and backwards. The final chapter was a retooling of the familiar tale of King Solomon and the two mothers. Almost but not quite a deus ex machina, but still, I was glad for the upbeat ending.

All in all, a wonderful production of a captivating play. Too bad this afternoon’s performance was the last of the run, so I can’t tell you all to rush out and see it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

John Williams

John Williams is John Williams, and he will always sound like John Williams. A few months ago, I turned on my favorite radio station, KVNO, and heard a piece I thought I recognized as the Jurassic Park theme. At the end, though, the announcer identified it as being from Indiana Jones. This morning, on the way into work, I thought, "Oh, they're playing the Indiana Jones theme again." The announcer then identified it as Jurassic Park. I like John Williams' music, but it does all sound kind of similar.

Random Neurons Firing

I had a rather bizarre dream last night. One of my friends, with the assistance of Donald Rumsfeld, explained to me the intricacies of the plumbing in my bathroom. I was certainly no fan of Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, but apparently in the context of my dream, he was an excellent and trustworthy plumber. But, of course, it was a dream, and upon wakening, I was saddened to realize that it didn’t even remotely make sense, and my bathtub really didn’t have a secret trap door to facilitate the easy removal of hair clogs.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Final Fantasy XII

I do not own a PlayStation 2, nor do I have a copy of Final Fantasy XII, but I bought the special edition guidebook, mostly to get the artbook. Of course, with six randomized covers, one doesn’t always get the character one wants. My guide turned out to have Basch on the cover, my absolute last choice. I have no interest in manly men. I really wanted Fran, but would have settled for any of the girls.

Well, one of my friends, who rather prefers the manly man type, traded books with me. This got me Vaan, flaunting his feminine wiles. He’s almost girly enough for me, and I hear tell that in the original Japanese version of the game, he was overtly bisexual. So I was happy enough to have the “family” boy.

Then another friend turned up Fran. Joy of joys! So I traded up yet again, and now I have the sexy warrior woman, Xena with long ears and wicked claws.

Fran on the cover of the guide and the artbook open to a picture of Montblanc.

Being a die hard fan of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which has sucked away hundreds of hours of my life, I was already familiar with the viera race. (A viera multiclassed as a red-and-white mage with doublecast is nigh unstoppable! I could send her into battles alone, and she was always victorious.) Thus it was Fran that attracted me to FFXII in the first place. That and the fact that the game is loaded up with moogles and bangaa. I was ecstatic to discover Montblanc and Nono in the artbook, beloved friends from FFTA.

So tonight, I went over to a friend’s house to play FFXII. The graphics are luscious, with many charming touches. There’s no gameplay or programming reason to have an unnamed child in the city spontaneously do a handstand, but it adds to the richness of the world. The background characters seem like individuals with distinctive personalities. When you look up at the sky, you get realistic light effects from the the sun. Sand blows from the tops of the dunes. The dark crystals shimmer in a way that makes you want to reach out and touch them. It’s magnificent and beautiful. And if the gameplay art is amazing, the movie sequences are jaw-dropping. Animation--especially hair--has advanced considerably even since Advent Children.

And it’s fun! This game has a lot of humor, once you get past the grim, depressing opening sequence. It recaptures the playful spirit of Final Fantasy VII. I never got very far in VIII because it was too serious. It lacked the charm that had sucked me into VII and held me there. (And I never played any of the games after VIII, although from what little I've seen, X and X-2 had their fair share of humor.) I think XII will be able to have the same hold on me that VII did.

I look forward to eventually having a PS2 and my own copy of the game. But I will have to wait a bit. Once the PlayStation 3 hits the market and people start ditching their PS2s en masse, I hope to score a used PS2 on the cheap. Probably after Christmas. And by then, hopefully, used copies of FFXII will be showing up, as well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mouse Patrol

I was in the mood to organize. I get like that from time to time, an uncontrollable urge to create order, or sometimes just to move stuff around. I was downright giddy after last night’s purchase and assembly of a new storage cabinet, and this morning, I sat at work, bouncing in my chair and singing to myself. I was getting work done, but my mind was on my storeroom and what I wanted to put where. So when one of the online services I needed went down, I took a half-day off.

At home, I joyfully emptied the blue boxes, filled the black boxes, and shuffled the contents of the burgundy boxes. Then I emptied and reorganized the kitchen cupboards and counters, along with the hall closet, moving thematically chosen items to the new storage cabinet. I had a grand time. And yes, I remembered to walk up to my polling place and perform my civic duty.

This evening, I intended to write. The next sequence of scenes for my novel is reasonably clear in my mind, and I need to get them down before my hastily jotted notes stop making sense to me. But then came a cry for help . . .

My friend had a mouse in her house last week. She caught it and thought all was well. But last night, a quiet scritching and scuttling told her that she was not alone. So after setting out a half dozen or more traps, she called me. Because I’m the brave one--or something--she needed me to go on mouse patrol, checking behind and underneath all the furniture.

Flashlight and grabber tool in hand, I found papers, prescription medication, pocket change, photographs, and many other small sundries that had fallen into the darkness, but nary any mice. And no evidence of them in the place where she’d heard them the night before. (Beware the ghooooost mice.)

In the next room, however, there were definite fresh signs of rodent activity. So we moved some of the traps, plugged holes with steel wool, and set out fresh mint. Hopefully, she will not have any more tiny gray invaders.

Now, it is bedtime. Tomorrow night, I must write. My characters are threatening to ditch me and find a more diligent author.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Judgment Day for Judges

Tomorrow is Election Day. Everyone pretty much already knows who they're going to vote for in all the major races, but what to do about all those pesky "Should this judge be retained in office?" questions. How should we know if they should be retained? We've never heard of most of them!

Well, there exists a useful tool to help one make informed choices for these judges. The Nebraska State Bar Association provides the Judicial Performance Evaluation, wherein legal professionals rate the judges on various factors, from legal knowledge to punctuality.

For those of you not in Nebraska, check to see if the bar associations for your states have something similar. They very well might.

And get out and vote tomorrow!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rose Moon

This evening, the full moon rose at roughly the same time as the sun set. Atmospheric conditions were just right that the moon, barely above the horizon, appeared both enormous and faintly pink. The sky at that point was dusty lavender. The combination was simply exquisite. Only minutes later, the moon had risen high enough to appear its normal color. Still lovely, but no longer the blushing beauty that had greeted me at the crest of the hill. The brevity of the rose moon made the sight all the more precious.

On a completely unrelated topic, I watched V for Vendetta with Dad this afternoon. Highly appropriate, given today's date. "Remember, remember, the fifth of November . . ."