storm followup

So remember when I said we'd be without power for about 24 hours?  We're over 40 hours without power, and I wouldn't be surprised if it took until the end of the week to get everything up and running again.  I've heard rumor that the university's generators only last for 3 days or so, so if they run out, we won't be able to work, charge our phones, etc.  I'll need to stop using my department's fridge for our four-pack of Italian sausage.

It's just a waiting game for us, and we're lucky that we don't personally need power for anything medical (monitoring devices, refrigerating medicine).  The university powers academic buildings because there is scientific equipment that needs to maintain power, or so I've been told.  Makes me feel guilty for using that electricity to blog.

Local restaurants are open, as is our main grocery store, but our stove is electric, so I can't cook.  We ran out for candles last night, and half the world was dark--big shopping centers completely empty.  The only candles we found cost and arm and a leg, and were Christmasy. I avoided the glittery ones, opting for self-contained tri-color three-pack containing a "Berry Merry Christmas" scent.  Heaven help us all.

I'm investing in a set of emergency beeswax candles when this is over.  The upshot of the power-less-ness is that candle-powered nights are really quite lovely, and I wouldn't mind having them more often (though preferable not all in a row).  Last night, I spent a while turning old clothes into rags by candlelight, which was very soothing.  Reading would be a strain, though.

Again, electricity is the only real limitation; it impacts light, refrigeration, computer and internet access.  I'm itching to get it back at home, but trying to enjoy the experience.


remnants of Sandy

The crazy storm that hit our area this weekend is almost past.  We don't have power at home and haven't since we sat down to dinner last night--the timing was spectacular.  But, the university is magical and never seems to lose power, so we're on campus today. (In reality, they just have generators.)

Lots of trees are down, leaves and branches are everywhere, and lots of people are cleaning things up surprisingly quickly.  If this is what the worst storm in the recorded history of this area looks like, then life is pretty darn awesome.  I mean, all we have to worry about is not having electricity for maybe 24 hours.  Talk about cushy.


they don't have that much power

It's pretty obvious that that the issue people care most about right now is the economy.  And Obama and Romney have spent a lot of time talking about it--for the first two debates, they spent about 74 minutes on the economy and about 84 minutes on everything else (source).

The thing is, they just don't have that much control over the economy.  I wish we could measure, or even estimate, the potential impact of a president with each issue.  (I feel that given the breadth of political science, something like this should exists--I just haven't found it.)  That way, people could judge candidates based on potential impact over all their issues of interest, instead of weighing a beast like the economy equally against things they have more control over, like healthcare and taxes.

An op-ed and video by Megan McArdle on presidents and the economy:


even smaller things

Apple released both the iPad Mini and the 13" Retina MacBook Pro today--both smaller versions of existing products.

While there has been a lot of hype about the iPad Mini, and it seems like an excellent product, I feel like the 13" Retina is the one I was looking forward to, and it got very little press.  The reason for the lack of press on the 13" MacBook Pro is that the use cases for it are almost identical to the 15", whereas the iPad Mini is physically held and used differently than its bigger brother, making it more distinct.

Apple emphasizes the one-handed-ness of the Mini design, although I think most people will still use two hands for most interactive tasks.  Typing may or may not be harder.  My hunch is that people will simply prefer one or the other, not having one of each for different purposes.  I'll have stave off judgment on my personal preference until I can actually hold one, since the feel of interaction is the major distinction.



just on belief (a follow up)

I was talking about belief with some of my friends this week (if you think you were one of them, you probably were), touching on some of the things in my last post, but mostly covering a lot of ground on the topic of belief generally.

One friend questioned my assertion that belief was a choice, saying something to the effect that even if you want to believe, sometimes you just can't.  That resonated with me and I've been mulling it over for the past few days.

I think belief is akin to an emotion--it's something we feel, not that we logically come to.  A position or stance, we come to by logic, but usually basing some of that logic on a belief, e.g.: given that I believe X, I can conclude that the government should do Y.  There are some things that most of us believe to be true, like that killing is bad.  But sometimes our beliefs change and warp because they're emotionally based.  Someone can believe that killing is bad, but then kill someone in a rage, defending the honor of a member of their family.

I think that we can consciously train our emotions to some extent (more here), but I had never really thought of applying that to beliefs.  My sense is that beliefs are like gut reactions we don't want to train, or shouldn't train, otherwise we end up with situations where people are manipulated.

At the same time, beliefs are manipulated by political parties, religious denominations, and social groups.  We teach each other what's acceptable, mostly in terms of social behavior, but expressing certain beliefs is a social behavior.  If I said I believed the moon was made of cheese, I would be mocked until I didn't believe that any more.

So we also come to beliefs based on evidence.  They are, in part, a summary of our understanding of the world.  I believe sun will rise because it has done so repeatedly.  Some of that evidence is enforced socially (like people making fun of me if I believe the moon is made of cheese), but some of it is based on evidence (the moon kind of looks like cheese, but other things look like cheese and aren't).

There are feedback loops for belief as well. Attending church could make people believe more (or less) in a religion. Socializing with Democrats could make you more liberal.  You often use your belief to determine you actions, but then your belief is reinforced by the results of your action.

In the end, do we make the choice to believe or not?  It might be deterministic given the evidence and our emotions, but I don't know.  Is the moon made of cheese? Does God exist? Does the sun rise each day? Some questions are easier than others.


on belief and expressing ideas

I am annoyed by atheism.  It annoys me because people are out there declaring that there obviously is no God with the same kind of certainty that was held by those who believed the earth was flat.

Agnosticism and skepticism I respect and encourage, but when it come to matters of that which is inherently beyond our understanding by its very definition, I don't think that we can have any semblance of certainty in either direction.

To be sure, ardent believers also annoy me with their unwavering faith--perhaps I simply cannot see the perspective from shoes that are not my own, even when they were once mine.  I was once an arrogant believer, so convinced of the truthiness of my particular denomination.  Now I want to believe and disbelieve all at once, but can do neither.

There's just no evidence to prove or disprove the notion of deity, and so the scientist in me decides to sit square in the middle, on top of a fencepost, huffing and puffing all the while about those running about in either field.  Fenceposts aren't very comfortable, you should know, but they can provide spectacular views.

You see, no matter where you are, it's a matter of choice. Some people choose to believe. Some people choose to not believe. Some people choose make chancy chairs out of pillars of wood.  It's a personal choice and we've got to respect each other, not scoffing at believers, not attempting to convert anyone that floats into your sphere, and not getting upset when people aren't as angsty about the whole dilemma as you are.  (Doesn't mean I listen to my own advice.)

I've been reading Religion for Atheists, which is inspring this rant.  Botton outlines a series of points about how religion improves communities and provides individual consolation; his objective is to illuminate how secular society can use many traditionally religion mechanisms to make itself better.  He is very thoughtful and his points are enlightening, but his tone is grating because it continually emphasizes the obviousness of atheism.

So I suppose it's not atheism that annoys me, its the arrogance of presuming the position of your audience.  I don't like it when people presume I'm either a Democrat or a Republican.  I don't like it when people presume I believe blindly or that I am constantly critical of my church.  I don't like it when people presume that I believe whatever thought they're selling me at the given moment.  Part of the reason I don't like it is because the people making these assumptions don't bother to justify statements that I think are in dire need of justification.

Refining an idea within a sympathetic community is a good first step, but it is not the end. The title makes it obvious who the intended audience of Religion for Atheists is, but that's just a cop-out--the work would have been stronger if it had anticipated a wider audience. 

If ideas are truly good, be they political ideas, social ideas, or ideas related to belief or the lack thereof, they can and should be expressed without relying on the crutch of targeting a sympathetic audience or presuming your audience is sympathetic.



Sometime this summer I decided that I had accumulated too much in the way of crafty supplies.  They have the tendency to collect, being easier to buy (or otherwise collect...I'm a obsessive ribbon-salvager) them than to use them.  Currently, I have a large toolkit full of miscellaneous things, plus a basket of yarn, a basket of fabric, and six full-to-bursting cardboard boxes, each one with its own associated project.  And then there's my sewing machine, which is no dainty fairy.

So I decided to declare a craftiganza!  The rules are:
  1. no more starting new projects until my current projects are done
  2. no buying more stuff, unless I need it to finish an already established project
  3. all of my current ten projects must be finished by January 2014
The idea is that when I'm done, I'll have my sewing machine, my sewing/craft box, a basket for a single handcraft (knitting, needlepoint, etc.), and a basket for single a sewing-machine project (dresses, quilt), giving me no more than two active projects at any given time.  I'll still have the capacity for plenty of stuff, but at least there'll be a good pipeline for using it up.

When this is complete, the next step is to do the same for my art supplies.  Until then, we'll see how this plan goes.


Guatemala and Belize

In August, N and I went to Belize and Guatemala.  Well, first we went to California for my Grandma's 90th birthday party, which was awesome.  My family is full of so many great people, whom I got to hang out and catch up with, but Grandma especially is a hero of mine (that's a water gun at a wedding, gracias a Rachael).

Anyway, so we flew out from California after the fam-tastic party.  Immediately after we got off the plane, we got in a taxi (which was some guy's old van with a tag hanging from the rearview mirror), and then to the bus station, where we boarded a minute after we got there and a minute before it left.  It was as if everything had been planned to the T, but really there was absolutely no scheduling involved. Bussed inland to San Ignacio.

The next day, we went to Actun Tunichil Muknal, which is an incredible cave.  To get inside, you have to swim through water with skin-nibbling fish, then it's 3 miles alternating between swimming, squeezing through narrow passages, and ogling at huge crystal-covered caverns.  Then there are ceramic artifacts and mayan skeletons.  You have to go barefoot for the very back part, where a cave-crystal covered skeleton called the "crystal maiden" resides.

Then it was off to Guatemala the next day to see Tikal.  All the while we had been seeing interesting birds and other critters, but Tikal had an excellent assortment, including a toucan! There were also some huge trees, crazy mushrooms, and brightly colored insects that flew a little to close to my face for comfort. These things, however, is not what Tikal is known for.  No, Tikal is one of the largest archeological sites of the Mayan civilization. There were dozens of structures we were allowed to climb, a handful of hugely scary ones we were not, and a plaza with a bunch of school children playing like it was central park. When we were there, a thunderstorm rolled in, putting on quite a display as the backdrop of these ancient temples, making my mysticism-loving self very happy. We also got very wet.

Tikal was used as a filming site in Star Wars IV--this is the famous angle.

After Tikal, we stayed at Flores, a touristy island in the middle of a lake.  There, I had my first experience with a tuk-tuk, which I insisted were really just three-wheeled lawn-mowers without the cutting blades.  The next day we made it down to Finca Ixobel, where we went horseback riding up in the mountains, and lounged in hammocks.

The finca has a really interesting history involving drug wars, American spies for the CIA, and gunning down the owner at the entrance to the finca.  We talked to the horseback riding guide, who was only a kid when it all happened, but it was a crazy story with the moral that places like this in Central America are really safe, but are struggling financially because of the drug war reputation.  Before and after the trip, everyone was asking about how safe it was, which felt strange to me.  I felt more safe in Guatemala than I did in Greece, and no one asked about my safety for that trip.

After our time at the finca, we took a bus down to Rio Dulce, where we got on a boat ride to Livingston, the only moderately sketchy place in our journey.  The boat ride was stunning, as we rode through a gorge with crazy amounts of green on each side.  It was obviously intended for tourists, though, as the boat driver stopped at all the right places to let us get pictures.

Livingston was a dump.  We were harangued by Belizians as soon as we got off the boat--Livingston is still in Guatemala, but it's a common stop on the way to Belize.  Not wanting to stay the night, we got something to eat, got the immigration paperwork taken care of (also very sketch), and waited for our boat.

When we got on the boat, we went south for one more stop in Guatemala before heading to Belize.  The boat driver told us what time to be back at the boat while he went off for a bit. So we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  About an hour after he was supposed to be back, the two kids who helped with the boat starting getting antsy--there would be a fine for getting into port after curfew.

One of the ministers for Livingston was in our boat, and N chatted with him about tourism. We speculated about the driver having a girlfriend, watching the soccer game that was on in the bar next door, etc.  When he finally got back, he explained that he had been trying to sell his chicken frier.  N turned to the minister and said, "If you really want to improve tourism, don't let things like this happen."

The driver then proceeded to take our tiny little speed boat and take the shortest path possible to Belize, cutting through open water with a thunderstorm on our tail.  It was like Disneyland, with bigger and more frequent drops than the Indiana Jones ride.  But for a half-hour straight and no seat-belts.  Our rumps were really sore afterward.

We spent the night at Punta Gorda, and took a bus back up to Belize City, were we caught a water taxi out to Caye Caulker, the most beach-bummy place I've ever been.  There, we loafed about the white-sand beaches, ate very fresh fish, and made friends with some crabs.

We spent a day snorkeling, seeing a sea turtle, a moray eel, a barracuda, a spotted eagle ray, and petting small sharks and rays at (unsuprisingly) "Shark Ray Alley."  There was one dude who grabbed a shark for a photo, which was appalling.  On the other end of the spectrum, a woman from New Zealnd didn't touch the animals out of respect, which I found admirable.

It was beautiful and exciting, but when the time came, we were both ready to go home.


thank you, garden

It's looking like tonight will be the first hard frost, so I need to say thank you to my garden and harvest everything that's left of my peppers, which are really the only thing still producing right now.  It's a shame because there are still several tiny peppers that will never make it to full size.  I'll have to start them sooner indoors next year.

I haven't really posted much about the fall harvesting season.  We got under 2 dozen ears of corn of varying sizes, two tiny butternut squash, several heads of sunflowers, coriander seed, lots of basil, tomatillos, and a good supply of peppers.  It was certainly another learning year, though.  Mostly, I need to have a better schedule, so that I know when I'm planning to harvest things (not just when to plant them).  Then I can plan for second season crops--I could have easily had fall beets and lettuce.  I also need to do a better job keeping the bottom of the fence buried, since rabbits are really, really persistent.

I'm doing the best I can for now, but I really, really want a decent piece of land.  That way, I can build a proper fence, have a greenhouse, and start long-term plants like artichokes, asparagus, fruit trees and berry bushes.  In time.

I also finished planting and mulching the elephant garlic this week.  I might keep an eye on it for the next few weeks and then just let it rest over the winter.  With any luck, I'll have a good crop in the spring.


the pace of change

For those of you who aren't LDS or otherwise haven't heard, this Saturday the church president a policy change: men can now serve missions starting at age 18 (used to be 19), and women can now serve missions starting at 19 (used to be 21).

Everyone's buzzing about it.  Young women are super stoked about the possibilities, some older women are excited but a little bitter that the change was only made recently.  I'm personally excited to see the next generations of girls, possibly even my own daughters, grow up thinking that a mission is a serious possibility, not just something to be done if you don't get married in college and don't know what to do with your life.  (I'm not saying that was the actual reason for most women missionaries, but it was a common perception.)

I think this is a great step toward equalizing men and women in the church.  While it isn't perfect equal (women can still only serve 18 months as opposed to men's 24, and there's still the 18/19 discrepancy), it's a much, much better policy.

It's got me think about the pace of change, though.  At the press conference after the announcement, when asked why weren't the ages set to be equal for men and women, Elder Holland responded "one miracle at a time." N pointed out the quote from Winterbuzz on FMH, that sums up the skeptical view pretty well (which I share):
While I am happy that this change makes so many people happy, I can’t help but wonder that if this is the most we can expect from modern day prophets in the way of revelation, that’s sort of depressing, isn’t it? We must be so spiritually hungry that even the smallest shift in policy seems heaven sent.
Each generation experiences the church's policies and politics differently.  My parents experienced the policy change that African descendants could receive the priesthood, but also the anti-ERA push.  The next generation, like Joanna Brooks, experienced the September Six in the heat of their coming into real adulthood.  My generation experienced Prop 8 in that same heat, and now we have this policy change to add to the list of experiences.

Just looking at the list, it seems like we're focusing on smaller and smaller changes or policies.  This makes sense, because--never mind, I'm not going to go into detail on the parallels between policy changes and simulated annealing.  You can make them yourself, if you care enough.

Anyway, I hope to see more equalizing progress.  That's all.