Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Other Countries and the universal experience of "This can't be happening."

Sometimes in life I'll be trotting along and be suddenly stunned by something I see or hear. This detail may be large or small, but either way it creates an enormous impact on my perception of myself and the world.

One such example happened many years ago, when I was in college. It was 9/11. I was in the engineering library and a fellow student came over to tell me what was going on with the towers. I looked over at him and told him that he wasn't being particularly funny. He assured me it was true, and we brought up the news on the computer. Sure enough, he was right. This understandably shocked me, as it did the entire country (with, I'm sure, a few nasty exceptions). I wandered around in a fog for the rest of the day. I had Parasitology lab in the early afternoon, and no one could concentrate. The teaching assistant in charge couldn't either, and just gave up, letting us leave.

Now, I say that this shocked me, and it did in this obvious fashion, but also in another way: I'd never been alive when my country was previously attacked. The United States is much like Canada in that way, though for different reasons. I'd always felt incredibly secure in the knowledge that what happened in the rest of the world, you know, Over There, could never happen here. Those Other Countries were where attacks like these took place and ruined lives, not on our soil. The thoughts I had mostly congealed themselves into one sentence: "This can't be happening."

Not here. Not in my country. It just didn't happen. It wasn't even a possibility. Yet there we were, with so many dead, dying, and enormous destruction. It happened, the unimaginable concept become horrible reality.

It had never once crossed my mind - the idea that people in those Other Countries might have felt the same way when it happened on their soil. "This can't be happening." Yet it did. It happened, and in many cases it happened repeatedly: countries torn apart by competing warlords, despots fighting rebellions, struggles between two countries for a single parcel of land, the attempted genocide of one group of people by another. Humans can become accustomed to almost anything, even the terrible aspects of life, but that doesn't keep one from feeling that very sentiment. "This can't be happening." Not again, not here, not to my family, not to me.

Once I realized the truth, which sadly hadn't ever previously occurred to me, my outlook on all conflicts across the globe markedly changed. War, while always objectively awful, had now taken on a vile humanistic aspect. It was personal, not only to the unfortunate individuals involved, but the entire world. I couldn't ever again regard war in the same detached manner.

I have experienced other (generally far more positive) revelations, but this is the occasion I suspect will speak to a majority of people. Each of these experiences irrevocably changed how I thought about the world as a whole, reacted to certain occurrences, and viewed both myself and others (as a subset of the world's population).

How have your experiences singularly altered your outlook on life?

Monday, January 09, 2017

Ballet dancers as special effects

Some things you see in videos look as though they cannot be real. They are just too...lots of things. Catching food on a tray from mid-air (Spiderman), the dancing that I will post below, many examples. In this particular case, it involves two ballet dancers, both from American Ballet Theater. One is a principal, James Whiteside, and the other is Cassandra Trenary, a soloist. The choreography was done by James, and the music will undoubtedly not be to everyone's liking (DAD I AM LOOKING AT YOU). It is, however, sort of necessary so you can see how the steps line up with the beats. They're completely awesome. Behold a still to promote the vid:

And the video itself:

I love how they did this. Jamie did the choreography and music himself. Lining up the slow-mo shots with the music must've taken a lot of hard work. Bless ballet dancers. They're unbelievable.

Friday, December 30, 2016

More on tornadoes

When I was young (and even now, actually, as I kept it) I had a book on tornadoes. It was by Gary England, this guy:

Gary England (born October 3, 1939) is the former chief meteorologist for KWTV (channel 9), the CBS-affiliated television station in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. England was the first on-air meteorologist to alert his viewers of a possible tornado using a commercial Doppler weather radar.[2] He is also known for contributing to the invention of the First Warning map graphic commonly used to show ongoing weather alerts without interrupting regular programming.

The book is: Those Terrible Twisters and the Weather of Oklahoma, available here.

Ahhh, memories...

Anyway, I read that thing so much it was falling apart, and I learned a lot. It was written in a way that encouraged even very young readers to delve into it, given that one's interest in extreme weather phenomena held.

I don't know why I'm so stuck on tornadoes lately, but I am. I watched a documentary last night. I wish they'd just tell you what's going on in a normal voice instead of doing the vaguely vampiric-doom-is-coming voice. "But then...TERROR STRUCK!" No shit, Sherlock. Of course people were terrified. I don't really require your emphasis. Overwrought voiceovers are the bane of documentaries everywhere. Oh, and that stupid stamp thing. "Case closed." *BAM* Rubber stamp-looking thing saying CLOSED on top of the papers at the front of the screen. Yes, thank you, we know.

In other news, Gail Carriger is fantastic, and everyone who loves awesomely witty Victorian steampunk adventures should read her books. I recommend beginning with The Parasol Protectorate, her beginning series. The first book is Soulless. It is a world where there are vampires, werewolves, people born without souls who are perfectly nice, but can go round turning said vampires and werewolves mortal with a touch. Also there is a society of evil inventors, because of course there is.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

I have issues with the current tornado rating system and EVERYONE MUST KNOW

This post was actually written ages ago, and I never got around to putting it up. I think maybe I was going to add more stuff, but that obviously didn't happen. (I just remembered what it was: while I below argue that it would be useful to have more data on wind speeds, what I mean is that they'll collect the data anyway at the weather centers, but it would also be good for people to understand just how bad this thing is that's coming at them, so they're more likely to evacuate.) So here you are:

I'm sure you're all familiar with the F1-F5 tornado rating system. This was the one used for many years. It goes thusly:

F0 < 73 Light damage. Some damage to chimneys; branches broken off trees; shallow-rooted trees pushed over; sign boards damaged.
F1 73-112 Moderate damage. Peels surface off roofs; mobile homes pushed off foundations or overturned; moving autos blown off roads.
F2 113-157 Considerable damage. Roofs torn off frame houses; mobile homes demolished; boxcars overturned; large trees snapped or uprooted; light-object missiles generated; cars lifted off ground.
F3 158-206 Severe damage. Roofs and some walls torn off well-constructed houses; trains overturned; most trees in forest uprooted; heavy cars lifted off the ground and thrown.
F4 207-260 Devastating damage. Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown away some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.
F5 261-318 Incredible damage. Strong frame houses leveled off foundations and swept away; automobile-sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters (109 yards); trees debarked; incredible phenomena will occur.

Now the differences:


F Number Fastest 1/4-mile (mph) 3 Second Gust (mph) EF Number 3 Second Gust (mph) EF Number 3 Second Gust (mph)
0 40-72 45-78 0 65-85 0 65-85
1 73-112 79-117 1 86-109 1 86-110
2 113-157 118-161 2 110-137 2 111-135
3 158-207 162-209 3 138-167 3 136-165
4 208-260 210-261 4 168-199 4 166-200
5 261-318 262-317 5 200-234 5 Over 200

This Enhanced Fujita Scale is in no way even usefully accurate past the F3 level of the original.

During the F5 1999 Bridge Creek–Moore tornado on May 3, 1999, a Doppler on Wheels situated near the tornado measured winds of 301 ± 20 mph (484 ± 32 km/h) momentarily in a small area inside the funnel approximately 100 m (330 ft) above ground level.[13] These are also the highest wind speeds observed on Earth.

The exact number depends on who you ask, but everyone agrees that the fastest clocked tornado speeds exceeded 300mph.

So is the new scale because after 200mph no one really cares? It's so strong that you might as well not bother recording anything else? I'd imagine it would be useful to have additional data, if only for meteorological study. Or is it collected but just not rated?

I find this rather fascinating:

A pressure deficit of 100 millibars (2.95 inHg) was observed when a violent tornado near Manchester, South Dakota on June 24, 2003 passed directly over an in-situ probe that storm chasing researcher Tim Samaras deployed.[26] In less than a minute, the pressure dropped to 850 millibars (25.10 inHg), which are the greatest pressure decline and the lowest pressure ever recorded at the Earth's surface when adjusted to sea level.[27][28]

I used to live in Tornado Alley, when I was in 1st through 3rd grade, and we had several that passed over us. They were very loud, although not sounding to me like the popular perception of a freight train. I spent some time in a storm shelter once, and the hail that we saw upon coming out was incredible. Huge chunks of ice. My family was very fortunate that none of them touched down where we lived. The one that passed over us while I was in the storm cellar did touch down after it passed the Air Force base where I lived. I remember one time when my dad and I stood in the front yard and watched this massive wave of dark cloud moving incredibly quickly toward and then over us. Creepy and cool.

Also yes, I realize that I haven't posted in eons. I've been both busy and unwilling to share. I'll try to be more useful and transparent as we progress. One thing: PLEASE in the comments section do not mention the name of That Creature who is about to take control of this country. It makes me actually retch.

Merci, mes amis. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Rose earrings?

Hey all, I'm wondering who sent me this lovely pair of red rose earrings from an artist in Bulgaria. If this was you, please let me know so I can thank you!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Ellia Bisker, Charming Disaster, and Sweet Soubrette

To those of you who do not know (probably quite a few), Ellia Bisker is a singer/songwriter. She has her own group, Sweet Soubrette, and is one of the duo Charming Disaster (with Jeff Morris of Kotorino).

Charming Disaster, upon being asked who they were: Thanks for asking about our origin story! Jeff was grown in a laboratory vat by a mad scientist experimenting with robotics and ectoplasm in a small suburb of New York City. Ellia was created accidentally by an alchemist attempting to transform lead into gold in another suburb of New York City, 100 years ago. We met thanks to the technology of time travel/astral projection and currently we both reside in Brooklyn, NY, not far from where we started in life (“life”?).

I love these people.

Back to Ellia: she is unique in many ways, but the aspect I've so far appreciated most is her ability to understand others when she puts herself in their shoes. Here follows an interview she gave to Feminist Wednesday back in 2014:

All That Glitters,” from Sweet Soubrette’s second album, Days and Nights, is so much fun to perform live — not just because of its lively upbeat energy (also, hand claps) but because I get to embody a character who is so anathema to my own personal values: the gold digger. Though not exactly a femme fatale, she is nevertheless a star member of Sweet Soubrette’s collection of Bad Women archetypes, and there’s something oddly liberating about putting on her persona instead of just judging her or objecting to her existence — maybe because my own sense of independence doesn’t easily acknowledge any secret wish to be taken care of. I think a lot of strong women struggle with the opposing desires of wanting to be taken care of and wanting to take care of ourselves, and this song allowed me to explore that a little.

It was inspired in part by a woman I knew briefly a few years ago, a friend of a friend whom I didn’t know very well but heard a lot about, and she sort of fascinated me; everything I heard about her got under my skin. She was vain, obsessed with her looks, beautiful in a self-conscious way, and she had exploited that beauty: the rich older doctor she had met while waitressing in Texas was now putting her through school and bankrolling her apartment in Manhattan. I had never known anyone with an actual sugar daddy before. It offended my feminist sensibilities, to say the least. I thought the transactional gender roles she had bought into were not only retrograde and politically incorrect but downright unsavory. I started writing All That Glitters as a satire, almost as a dig. I imagined her hearing it and recognizing herself.

But something surprising happened when I was writing it: I found myself becoming unexpectedly sympathetic toward the character I had created. I found myself giving the woman who inspired her a little more credit too, for being more than just an opportunistic pretty face. In fact, she was intelligent, ambitious, and resourceful; and whatever I thought of her methods, she had used the tools available to her not only to survive, but to pave the way for a future in which she could do more than trade on her looks. Adela, wherever you are, this song taught me not to underestimate you.
—Ellia Bisker

Whether you agree with Adela's lifestyle choices or not, the idea of being able to really grasp someone else's perspective through songwriting (or any medium) is pretty cool, and Ellia does it well.

The rest of Sweet Soubrette's music is available on Bandcamp here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Victorian clothes rock.

Little boy in store, staring at me: "Look at it, Mommy... It's right behind you."
Mom shushes him and doesn't look.
I go past to look for the (nonexistent) kerosene lamp chimneys.
Little boy: "Look at it, Mommy!"
Mom looks.
Little boy: "Isn't it pretty?"

I said thank you and smiled. He turned all bashful, like OH MY GOD IT SPOKE TO ME WHAT IS THIS FRESH HEAVEN