Thursday, November 30, 2006

Feels Like Deja Vu

Apparently my car is a magnet for nails. I've lost track of how many times this is now--at least the third or fourth--but it happened again recently. I'm not sure where I picked it up; it may have been locally, or it may have been on Sunday when we drove up to see Liz. Either way, I must have been driving on it for a while without realizing it. I did notice some bumping feelings when I've been driving on the highway to work, but since it didn't occur for the entire trip, I thought it was just the patch of pavement I was on. Anyway, my boss noticed my tire was completely flat this afternoon. A couple of guys at work put the spare on for me, and my boss let me leave early to have it taken care of.

I got to Sears around 3:30. It took four hours before it was done. Everyone and their mothers had to get snow tires installed tonight in advance of the blizzard. (Foresight could have been more foresighted, don't you think?) It didn't help that even after my car was ready, it took a while for someone to enter it into the computer as being done.

The wait could have been worse. I browsed for a while at Barnes and Noble, enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate and a stuffed pretzel, and did some holiday shopping. I also bought three paperbacks for myself. I finished one during the wait and read 70 pages of a second. Still, it disrupted my plans to frost my sugar cookies tonight. At this rate, I think I'll have to do them on Saturday. But the important thing is that my car is once again safe to drive. I just hope driving tomorrow isn't as bad as they say it will be. I only drive about seven miles to work one way, but in a snowstorm, that's still farther than I want to go.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My Sweet George

I would be a bad Beatlefan indeed if I let the fifth anniversary of George's death pass without notice. I've been listening to his music this evening, though I didn't get to listen to as much of it as I wanted.

It's probably obvious to those who know me that John is my favorite Beatle. George is my second favorite, however. I like his dry humor and respect his love for nature and spirituality, even if I don't share his philosophy. I listen to his solo music the most of any of the Beatles'. John's music is so emotionally intense that it can be painful to listen to at times, but George's music is more soothing.

I started reading a biography about George on the morning of the day he died, thinking I'd want to read it while he was still alive. I didn't find out about his death until early the next morning. I had a hard time getting out of bed to exercise that morning, but I forced myself to anyway. As I turned on the TV, I heard a familiar song. Since I wasn't fully awake yet, my thoughts went something like this: "Hey, that's Beatles music! 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps....' George.... Oh no!" Then the news anchor confirmed what I'd just guessed.

George's death in some ways is easier to deal with than John's. While George also died too young, the cancer made it seem inevitable. Even someone who writes alternate history like I do would be hard-pressed to create a scenaro in which he wouldn't have taken up smoking; it was just too "cool" at the time. George's death was more peaceful than John's--though the attack he suffered at his home at the end of 2000 couldn't have been good for his health. But George seemed to accept death gracefully, and "Brainwashed" and The Concert for George provide uplifting music for those of us who still miss him. Even so, the world is poorer without his presence.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Visiting Liz

I don't get to see my dear friend Liz too often. She still lives in the town where I grew up, but her work schedule is more of a problem than the distance. She works a lot on the weekends (she's in catering), and her schedule constantly changes. So when I found out she had today off, we had to go see her.

We still had our usual Sunday morning chores to do, so we got there around lunchtime. After showing Liz our wedding album, which she had asked to see, we treated her for lunch at Panera. We also gave her a couple of gifts I'd picked up in London for her--and her share of Cookiefest 2006. She didn't try them while we were there, but hopefully she'll approve them. We talked for a while, looked at some of Liz's pictures, and watched birds from the kitchen. (Side note: the subdivision where I used to live and she still does is fairly wooded, so it attracts a fair amount of birds. We used to feed the birds too, just as her family still does. You can see chickadees, woodpeckers, cardinals, juncos, and finches in the winter. I miss being able to watch the birds in my backyard.) We could only stay for a few hours, since I had to get back home and pick up a prescription before the pharmacy closed. Besides, Eugene needed to continue with Cookiefest 2006. It was still good to see her, though; hopefully we'll get to visit Liz and her family soon.

I've been naughty and haven't posted pictures from this week, but it will have to wait another day or so. I'm a bit tired and plan to go to bed early. At least I did some light editing on Lennon's Line this evening.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Ending Earthlink

Regular readers of this blog may remember the connection problems I had a couple of months ago. Because of that, Eugene and I ended up switching providers; nothing else worked. Today, I cut the final cord and canceled my account with Earthlink. In some ways, it's a shame I had to do that. I've been with them for over ten years, since I first started surfing the Net. My e-mail address has outlasted several computers. But lately I've been deluged with even more spam than usual; hundreds of spam messages flooded my old e-mail address yesterday. So, even though there are still a couple of bugs with the new system, I'm glad that I have a new e-mail address now. If you're not using that one already, my friends, please do so.

Anyway, I just finished my seventh batch of cookies; the only one left is sugar cookies with homemade frosting. Hopefully we can get them sent out (and yes, Russ, you're still on our list) next week. It's not so much that I'm tempted to eat them, but they're taking up a lot of space on our table. What a problem, huh?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Baking with the Beatles

Well, Eugene already described how Thanksgiving was on his blog, so I don't need to go into detail here. He did forget to mention the entertainment: kids (our ring bearer and one of the flower girls) and dogs. We goofed around with the kids before dinner. I even let them take pictures with my camera, though I need to delete a couple before I post them. As for the dogs, Eugene's father's partner stopped by for a while and brought three of her pets. One of them was a very friendly puppy, just the right size to stick into my purse. I didn't take him home with me, though.

As for what I'm thankful for, family and friends, of course, and especially my husband. I'm also grateful to be healthy.

Today I stayed home to bake. I was hoping to bake three different batches of cookies, but I only got two done. I'm not too happy with how the second batch turned out. It was a new recipe. The dough didn't roll out well, I didn't get the yield I was supposed to, and the cookies stuck to the pan so much some of them nearly broke apart. The cookies do taste good, but I don't think I'll make them again. But at least I had some good music in the background; I'm playing a Beatles marathon of their albums in order. Right now I'm up to Revolver. I'll continue baking and Beatling tomorrow.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Early Family Get-Together

We're not having Thanksgiving with my parents this year, just with Eugene's family. It'll be easier for us not to have to drive up to Wisconsin, eat, and then drive back down to eat some more. Still, I'm going to miss my mom's cooking this year. At least I got to see them yesterday. Eugene and I treated both sets of parents, as well as his brothers and my grandmother, to Texas de Brazil. It's an all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse, featuring different varieties of beef, chicken, pork, and lamb, brought to your table on skewers. It does have a good salad bar too, but the meat is the star of the show.

It was good getting the parents together; I don't think they've been together since the wedding. The only bad thing about the event--besides the price--was that I ate so much I had a bad stomach ache later on that evening. (That's why I didn't blog last night.) It kept me up all night, but the pain finally ebbed this morning. (I'm actually glad I was able to go into work so I could start and finish a three-day experiment before the holiday.) I'm too tired tonight to post pictures; perhaps tomorrow.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Reunion with a Friend

Some of my college friends who read this blog may remember my friend Jen. We met our freshman year; we were next door to each other in Liz Waters, and we were both interested in biology majors. Since then, Jen moved to Kentucky; the last time I saw her was at her wedding two years ago. (She was unable to attend mine for a very good reason.) She's currently visiting her parents in Wisconsin, close to the border, so I drove up today to have lunch with her at a quaint little place called the Speakeasy.

My friend is a private person, so I don't want to post too much about her. She's also photo-shy (though she doesn't need to be), so even though I brought my camera along, I didn't get a picture of her. It was still good seeing her again and finding out how her life is going. After lunch, we went shopping briefly. I would have liked to have spent more time with her, but I'd promised to visit my parents before going home. Hopefully it won't be another two years before we see each other again.

Since Eugene and I are staying in tonight, we may start Cookiefest 2006. If you're not familar with that event, Eugene discussed it on his blog. I'm afraid I do have a slight correction to add to his description. Eugene said that we "bake to our heart's content." It's really more like we "bake until the nice men in white coats haul us away from the oven and give us aprons that truss up our arms."

Given that I plan to bake eight different recipes this year instead of six, I expect to get a visit from the white-coated men any day now.

Writing: I have been editing Lennon's Line, though it's been more on the order of line edits. I'm coming up on a section that drew a lot of comments on OWW, so I need to pull them out and go over them again. I still haven't finished that short story I was working on, so I should get back to that. The Muse knows I need something fresh to work on instead of alll Paul, all the time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

And How Was Your Day?

(cue announcer voice for the following sentence) It's time once again for another Stupid Sandra Moment!

First, I need to provide some background. One of the instruments I work with in the lab is a HPLC, short for High Performance Liquid Chromatography. It allows us to separate, identify, and quantify compounds we're interested in. It does this by flowing a stream of liquid, such as water, a buffer, or an organic liquid, over a column. A column is a thin metal bar with an interior matrix that can be made up of a polymer or some other material, depending on the application. Different materials will be retained by this matrix for different lengths of time, so when they come off, they do so at different times. Other equipment then detects the compounds and registers them as peaks against a baseline. The whole setup takes up a good chunk of a lab bench and costs more than my car. When it works, it works well, but lately we've been having various problems with it.

We purchased a new column recently for a new project. I installed it today. The manufacturer recommends having the solvent running during installation to prevent air from getting into the column, which is a bad thing. This particular column requires a mix of water and acetonitrile, not one of the safest chemicals I've worked with. So as I put the column into place, I held it over the waste carboy we use to temporarily store used solvent before we dispose of it. Meanwhile, every connection of this column to the line was leaking. In attempting to fix that, I got lefty-loosey and righty-tighty mixed up. The column came free and slid down the funnel into the waste carboy.

I freaked a bit. Columns cost hundreds of dollars, and the other chemicals inside the carboy could damage this one. How could I get it out? The carboy opening was too narrow for me to reach inside -- and I wouldn't want to anyway; a mere glove wouldn't be enough protection. I tried fishing out the column with a magnet, but that was too weak to hold it. There was only one thing I could do: empty the carboy into the storage drum and catch the column when it came out.

I donned my lab coat and took the carboy to the warehouse where the drum is kept. As I unlocked the cabinet containing the drum, my boss came by with a gas cylinder. He's always the one empty out the carboy, so he came over and asked what I was doing. I'd hoped I wouldn't have to tell him what had happened, but I had to confess what had happened.

He doubled over in laughter. Then he shooed me back to the lab to take care of it.

Luckily, my boss was able to rescue the column, and we installed it. I'm still testing it, but I think it'll be OK. (Some of our columns are so delicate their matrices wilt if you look at them funny, so I'm glad this one isn't that sensitive.)

Now that I've atoned for my mistake by confessing it on the Internet, I hope the HPLC god will be satisfied and let us get some work done for a change.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Who Needs Words? Everyone!

I saw an article on this morning that made me a little (OK, a lot) miffed. Here's the link:

The premise of the article is that reading is a skill that will soon become obsolete for the majority of workers, who will rely on audio and video cues instead to do their jobs. The futurist author of this article doesn't insist all writing will go the way of the dodo; he acknowledges that "In 2025, tens of millions of Americans continue to enjoy books and magazines as recreational pursuits, and this happy habit will undoubtedly remain part of the landscape for generations to come." (How he reconciles this with the belief that these Americans will only be able to understand 100-word chunks of text is beyond me; perhaps he thinks all fiction will be of the flash (i.e., very short) variety. I'm a novelist by nature, so that would sink my career.) But he thinks only the leaders of America will need the ability to handle abstract thought.

While he includes scientists among the elite, the whole idea of dividing society into literates and illiterates scares me. In essence, the author is saying most people don't need to learn abstract concepts or critical thinking. After all, how can you teach these concepts without words? And if you have masses of people unable to do these things, how can you expect them to innovate? How do you expect them to elect capable readers and make sound policies about abstract concepts? Are we supposed to regress to the ancient style of Chinese government, relying on scholars who pass certain exams to be our governors? That doesn't sound good for democracy to me. A stable democracy requires middle-class, reasonably educated voters, not worker drones. We all need critical thinking skills, no matter what we do for a living.

Reading. It's not just a skill; it's a precious privilige. Exercise your rights early and often, and do your part to make sure the next generation appreciates it.

Thank you for reading this. Hopefully I'll have a lighter topic for my next blog entry.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Still Stunned

I didn't think I would have anything interesting to discuss tonight, but then I checked my e-mail.

I may have mentioned before on this blog that I'm a member of Broad Universe, an organization devoted to promoting women in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I'm on their mailing list and received a digest of messages tonight. The main topic of discussion was sexual harassment in SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America, the professional organization for writers in this genre) and at conventions. I'm not sure how much I should share (and I don't know the names of the men involved), but one of the incidents mentioned by a woman on the list was about going to an awards ceremony and being slapped in the face by a well-known judge moments before receiving an award. Another woman mentioned not having her science fiction writing credits recognized and being excluded from panels while men wondered why they'd been assigned to the same panels.

I don't have enough background on these situations to make judgements about them. Nonetheless, I feel I should say something about them, if only to point out how unprofessional and unacceptable this behavior is, no matter in what field it occurs. I guess I'm all the more stunned by it because I attend WisCon, a feminist convention with a welcoming atmosphere, every year. Perhaps I take such feminism for granted. The woman who got slapped described how stunned she felt immediately afterwards, too stunned to react. Someone else mentioned how women are conditioned to automatically think they're somehow to blame for such treatment. Again, this is another reaction that makes it difficult for women to stand up for themselves in the heat of the moment. One woman did describe how she got someone to leave her alone, but it was a different type of situation.

I studied martial arts for a couple of years in high school and freshman year of college and reach the rank of green stripe, halfway to black belt. Although I no longer practice kicks and thrusts regularly, I like to think I still have the reflexes to defend myself in a similar situation. Given that I'm a short woman who looks younger than she is, it wouldn't surprise me if something like this did happen at some point in my life, either at a SF convention or elsewhere. Hopefully, if I remind myself that sexual harrassment still exists, I'll be more prepared to recognize it and defend myself if it ever happens to me. And hopefully this blog will make others more aware too. We shouldn't have to deal with this behavior in an era when a woman is two heartbeats away from the presidency, but some behaviors persist in the human population for much longer than they should.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Adventures in Voting

Well, it's that time of year we all look forward to: the final day we can be harassed by negative ads and prerecorded political messages. Yes, it's Election Day, the day I get to tell government what to do.

Normally I vote before work, but I had to go afterwards today because I slept in. I've voted here before, so I thought I remembered where to go. Not quite. My polling place is a church--ironic, given that we're supposed to have separation between church and state--but there are two churches used as polling places on the same street, not too far apart. You guessed it: I went to the wrong one. (In my defense, my old voter registration card had the address of my polling place on it, so I didn't think I needed to bring any other voting information with me.) I realized that when I got there--the parking lot wasn't familiar--but I went in anyway to get directions to the right place.

Once there, it took me about twenty minutes to vote. Much of that time was spent waiting for a cardboard booth to become available. I'm not going to reveal how I voted, but it should be interesting if all of my choices won. I doubt that they will, but at least I had my say. The suffragettes would be proud of me.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Happy Blog Anniversary to Me!

Now, where's my cake? Can't have a special occasion without cake. ;)

Well, one year ago I started a blog to comment on another friend's blog. I've found it a good way to keep in touch with my friends and let them know what Eugene and I are up to. It makes me feel closer to friends in other states. Sometimes it's been useful to me to look back at a particular event. Sometimes it seems as if I spend more time in Mundania on this blog than talking about SpecFic, however. I think a lot of the writers on OWW use LiveJournal, but I don't want to start a separate blog.

I haven't done any writing today, though I did crochet while Eugene called tech support about our wireless router. It's finally working now; I think the problem had something to do with the IP address. I'm still not sure if it's going to work well for me, as I seem to be having trouble loading some sites. I didn't think DSL stood for Darn Slow Loading.

Anyway, that's enough for tonight--Tetris is calling.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Party Weekend

It was a happening weekend for us, which is why I didn't post for a while. Yesterday we went to a housewarming party. We met the couple at our tango lessons earlier this year; I also know the woman through a local forum we belong to. They have a very nice condo. There were a lot of people at the party, including our former tango instructors and some other people from the forum. We spent most of our time talking to them. Eugene took a lot of pictures, so I shared them with the forum. I'm not sure if he's going to post the link on his own blog.

Today we had a party for my grandmother, who turned 92 on Friday. She lived on her own until September, when health issues forced her to move into my parents' house. At least some of her health issues seem to be improving now that my mother's caring for her. But to make it easier on my mother, we had a brunch at a restaurant in Rockford. Also there were my brother and his girlfriend, my aunt and uncle, and my cousin and his girlfriend. After brunch, we all drove up to my parents' house and visited for a while. Heidi, my parents' poodle, went crazy with all the extra people giving her attention. We brought along a huge cake from the same bakery that made our wedding cake; it was good, but it wasn't as rich as our wedding cake. At least we made it home without bringing leftovers home. I took pictures, as did Eugene, but I'm feeling too lazy to post them tonight. Maybe tomorrow; it's my blog anniversary, so of course I'll have to post something to mark the occasion.

Writing: I did write a little bit more of that short story I started last week, but I lost the momentum. I need to reread what I have so far and figure out where I want to go next. At least I did more editing on Lennon's Line yesterday; I even finished a chapter. Not sure yet if I want to write tonight; I may just go to bed early, after a round or two of Tetris.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

At Last, Some Real Writing!

It's easy to come up with ideas but much harder to work them up into full-fledged stories. Most of the ideas I've mentioned here have been shelved, at least for the time being, because they don't grab me hard enough to make me write them out. But today an idea came visiting at work, an idea that finally seemed to encapsulate something I've wanted to write about for a long time. So this evening I actually wrote over three hundred words on it. It feels like I've done so little writing or editing recently that even that small amount feels like something.

I don't want to say too much here before I finish the story, in case I derail my momentum. But I will say I'm experimenting with this one. It should be interesting to see what the OWWers will think of it.

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