Thursday, October 8, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Trouble With Tribbles

#3:  The Trouble With Tribbles 

In case you forgot: The Enterprise is tasked with guarding a store of grain on a space station from Klingon saboteurs, much to Kirk's frustration. The overly-theatrical but still charming trader Cyrano Jones brings the fuzzball Tribbles on board the station and they end up reproducing at an astronomical rate, but they serve their purpose in uncovering a Klingon mole and saving the nearby planet from poisoned grain.

It's goofy, but it's a classic. Spock gets to deadpan snark EVERYTHING, Scotty punches a Klingon for insulting the Enterprise, and Stanley Adams is loads of fun to watch as Cyrano Jones. It's too bad Jones never made another appearance in the series, as he's just as much goofy Summerstock community theater fun to watch as Mudd.

I may have permanently ruined this episode for myself by reading up on Stanley Adams and learning that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I may have now ruined the episode for you as well. I'm sorry.

Back to the episode itself, though. Kirk is kind of needlessly dickish to a Federation official just trying to do his job. Whatever's supposed to be funny about it just isn't, at least for me. But then, if he weren't being a dick, he wouldn't be Kirk.

The overall silliness, while refreshing and fun, doesn't really have any emotionally satisfying "right in the feels" moments or interesting philosophical quandaries, making it mostly fluff and filler. Well-done fluff and filler, to be sure, but fluff and filler nonetheless. Nonetheless, it's a good palette cleanser. Some days you have moods that only Tribbles can fix.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What I'm Playing: Hexcells

This one is just a mellow little puzzler. Sorry, hardcore gamers, but I guess I'm a ~filthy casual~ at heart.

There are three editions of Hexcells: Hexcells, Hexcells Plus, and Hexcelles Infinite. They're all developed by Matthew Brown, who has a couple of other games out now that also look cool.

He describes Hexcells as an "ambient puzzle game" and I'd say that's a pretty apt descriptor.

Hexcells screenshot courtesy Matthew Brown
Everything about the game is clean, simple, and calming, and that is the game's strength. Games can do a lot and be a lot these days; to be simple (truly simple, not scaled-down-for-mobile-app) is a bold move.

The game play of Hexcells is, unsurprisingly, like Minesweeper with hexagonal cells. There are some twists and turns thrown in (as you can see above, sometimes you get hints about how many "mines" in a specific column rather than in the surrounding tiles), but it's still very straightforward.

For extra stress-relief, zone-out experience, there is the soundtrack. On its own it's great chill-out music, but the creative little touch is the inclusion of the game play in the music. Every time you either find a "bomb" or clear out a cell, a subtle audio cue plays—in perfect synchronization with the soundtrack. There's something about uncovering the blue cells or destroying the yellow ones to play with the soundtrack that makes things even more satisfying. Headphones are a must.

As for the puzzles themselves, they're well designed. They might err on the side of too easy, but not that often. (Of course, I say this without having even cleared Hexcells yet.) I've had a couple where I had to sit and think for a while, and a few where I had to ask JV to come over to see if I had missed anything. Funnily enough, sometimes the act of looking away from the screen to talk to him was enough to refresh my brain: I'd look back and see the critical bit I had missed.

You can get the whole set for around $10 US on Steam. If you're not sure it'll be your thing, you can just get the first for $3 US.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Newly Listed: Maille DNA Bracelets

This week we're taking a break from mathematics and delving into biology with these chainmaille bracelets. This spiral weave, called This Is Not Food, resembles the double helix structure of a piece of DNA.

A science-themed piece of jewelry, like this DNA-inspired maille bracelet, would be a great gift for biologists and biology teachers.
DNA maille bracelets
I love beads, I really do, but I also recognize that diversification is important. Chainmaille has piqued my interest for some time now (probably because of my partners in craft is a seasoned maille expert), but I couldn't figure out a way to make it work for me until I saw a 4-in-1 spiral weave.

An example of a 4-in-1 spiral weave from Keitilen on DevArt
The only problem with this weave is that you need to "lock" it in place, otherwise it twists into Jens Pind Linkage, which is (IMO) kind of ugly. There are a couple ways to do it: loop the twist onto itself, add small reinforcing rings to lock the weave, and (possibly, I'm not a maille expert yet so jury is still out on this) work with rings that have a very specific aspect ratio (AR) (which is to say, rings that have a specific relationship between the thickness of the metal and the diameter of their shape).

I wanted to work with the jump rings I already had, and I didn't want to add the reinforcements I saw because that often ruined the double helix shape. Eventually I found a weave called This Is Not Food, which still had a clean double helix outline but also naturally kept to a spiral form. If anything, it's even more more appropriate for DNA jewelry because you can think of the pairs of jump rings that keep the shape as DNA base pairs.

I did manage to figure out a way to do a regular 4-in-1 spiral bracelet. It came out really well, and is now sitting in the gift shop at the Da Vinci Center in Allentown, PA!

I got to get a picture of it before I had to sell him. This reminds me: I need to order more jump rings!
Otherwise, you can visit my earlier DNA projects in the Kokoba Etsy shop, as always. And cheer yourself up this Monday by browsing some spectacular #SciArt on Twitter!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Trek Thursday: Balance of Terror

#4:  Balance of Terror 

In case you forgot: Federation colonies along OMG THE NEUTRAL ZONE have been attacked by Romulans. Kirk gives chase and ultimately destroys the ship. There's also some irrelevant nonsense about a wedding and some slightly less irrelevant nonsense about space racism.

It's the Romulans! And oh snap, they sure do look a lot like Vulcans. There must have been some level of shock and excitement at the reveal back when the episode first aired, because the mythos of TOS had yet to be established. As far as the audience knew, Spock really could be a Romulan spy. It's hard for viewers today to experience that same visceral shock—everyone knows Spock is a good guy—but the idea is cool enough that I'll still count it as a point in favor. We also have the first appearance of Mark Lenard, aka Sarek, as the Romulan commander. He is one of the highlights of the episode, and though he is totally a scumbag for destroying Federation colonies without provocation, you still feel bad when he opts to go down with his ship.

Again, like "The Corbomite Maneuver," this is an episode for Kirk to be an awesome captain of a starship, not a bull-headed Casanova who gets involved with planetary intrigue. Episodes that rely on the Enterprise being under the threat of death and destruction for the dramatic weight aren't as fun to watch, for me (of course they're going to survive!); episodes where you wonder how they're going to escape, rather than if they're going to escape, are where it's at. "Balance of Terror" is a great example of that.

Sometimes TOS forgets that it's in space, and that it can maneuver in all three dimensions. Surely the Enterprise could have switched to a course perpendicular to the trajectory of the Romulans' super plasma beam? An understandable mistake since the episode was inspired by submarine movies, I guess, but a little throwaway line about how the plasma beam is heat-seeking or locked on to the Enterprise or whatever would have been enough.

Why the wedding? Why? It's not like this episode needed any padding. At least the space racism with Stiles and Spock serves some sort of moralizing, Aesop-y purpose.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What I Read: The Last Word by Hanif Kureishi

Courtesy Goodreads
I blazed through The Last Word in almost no time at all. Maybe like three proper sit-down reading sessions? Honestly, if I had the time, it could have been a member of the one-sit read club, but given my current schedule it was just not to be.

Hanif Kureishi is not on the TIME Top 100 Novels of the 20th century list; he is an addition that I made because I wanted more diversity in the list. Someone in a 101 in 1001 group I'm in suggested The Buddha of Suburbia and I added that, then realized the only copy in the entire Stockholm library system was out, and then overdue, and then LONG overdue. But browsing the world literature section at Kulturhuset, I saw that they had plenty of other Kureishi books. The Last Word seemed the most interesting, and so far as I'm concerned it counts towards my list.

The Last Word was easy to read, and surface-level interesting. It focuses on an up-and-coming writer who is working a biography of an elderly British Indian author (Mamoon) but having a difficult time doing so—his publisher wants lurid sexy details, Mamoon's wife wants him painted in the best possible light, etc. The surface-level interest is: will Harry (up-and-coming writer) finish the biography or not? How will it turn out?

The language is light and easy; even though the dialogue is comically overwrought, it flows, and it does well exactly what John Green does poorly (HEY-OH): managing to be pretentious and heavy-handed without being annoying. Maybe that worked because there was an overall comic, even farcical tone about the whole thing, whereas The Fault in Our Stars was trying so hard to be serious and gut-wrenching.

Speaking of farce, the style of humor makes The Last Word feel anachronistic, or like a throwback. There are a handful of contemporary references to things like cell phones and video games, but you could take them all out and, with only a very minor rewrite for one scene (Harry gets his girlfriend to record Mamoon admitting to some scandalous things), the story would remain unchanged. The Last Word shares more in common with Lucky Jim than, say, White Teeth, and that felt weird for a book that was published only last year.

Because the story is largely farcical, the characters are all stock, trope, and stereotype instead of detailed or well-developed. We have: a writer in the decline of his greatness who also happens to be a grumpy old man (Mamoon); a hysterical wife hungry for her youth and "the good life"; the vapid girlfriend who can't stop buying new clothes; the drug- and pill-addled manic editor/boss who is successful despite (or because of?) a serious substance abuse problem to whose whims Harry must always cater, and Harry the ladykiller.

As the book continued I thought, "Is this about V. S. Naipaul? Is it? I really want it to be." Because everyone being awful includes, of course, Mamoon. As things pieced together (overbearing dad, violence and grossness towards women, rightwing douchery), I thought, "This has to be Naipaul!" I'm one of many who have noticed the connection, and this pleases me, because Naipaul is a shit writer and an even shittier person. The more people taking the piss out of him, the better.

It is also an extremely British book. Unsurprising, since Kureishi is British, born and raised, but there's nothing about the whole British Indian experience. Of course, Kureishi is allowed to write about whatever he likes, instead of what I expect/want out of writers of color; moreover, he seems to have done the standard "minority experience" novel with The Buddha of Suburbia, anyway, so it's still staying on my list.

Otherwise, The Last Word is not an amazing or life-shattering read. I guess it's impressive that despite not liking any of the characters I still wanted to know how things turned out for them, but maybe that's a result of the headspace I'm in at the moment: thirsty to read anything in English. This is my first English read since July. The rest have been Swedish literature, but once in a while you need something in your own native language to take the edge off. (At least until your Swedish gets better.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Newly Listed: Tan Pi Copper Earrings

Remember how I said Mondays were like my weekends, because after Saturdays and Sundays full of tutoring I had some time to myself? Just kidding! I've picked up another tutoring appointment on Mondays, potentially. I am really bad at setting boundaries for myself.

But I still have time to do a bit of blogging and Etsying, so here's another newly-listed item:

Copper and tan pi earrings
My earrings are always more understated than just about everything else I do (kind of out of necessity; most people don't want drop earrings more than an inch long). It's so understated that you could really argue this isn't properly math jewelry, since it's just 3.1, and I mean I wouldn't really have a good argument to the contrary.

But hey! I love the colors, and I love/hate an excuse to use my mookaite briolettes (the faceted teardrops at the bottom). I bought them ages ago at a market in South Korea and I still haven't used them all up yet. I've talked before about bagel books—these are bagel beads. I only use them sparingly because I love them so much. I will probably cry if/when they eventually run out, because I can't find a good replacement for them, either. I should have bought more strands...!!  To the point: I save these for projects where they will be perfect.

The other beads are, to the best of my knowledge, colored opaque glass. I also bought them in South Korea, without a label, and I didn't have the language to have a meaningful discussion with the merchant about their origin. But if you want to treat yourself this Monday, these STEM earrings can grace your earlobes.

There's some other great #SciArt out there this week, including this nifty watercolor about the recent super blood moon eclipse stuff in the sky:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: 5 Favorite Things About Fall

I'm a week late on this week's 5 Fandom Friday, but I am the only person on Earth who is just not here for pumpkin-flavored everything and I ended up being busy last week (JV had a doctor appointment), so I figured I would skip this week's pumpkin for something I like much better: fall! Incidentally, my favorite place to be in the fall is Korea. I can't explain it, but there is something magical about Korea in the fall (though upstate New York does run a very close second). I've been on a Koreastalgia kick lately so here are some old photos.

(Soswaemun gardens, Gwangju, November 2012)

(Gyeongbukgung Palace, Seoul, October 2011)

I have always lived in a place that has a proper fall (except when I spent most of November of 2010 in Costa Rica) and I've always loved it. Of course, I'm generally an upbeat person so I love most seasons, but fall and summer are probably my favorite because they never fail to disappoint. Spring is, well, spring is actually the worst and I could do without it (guess I'm not that upbeat). Winter is awful if there's no snow. But summer is always warm and sunny and green, and fall is always cozy and the leaves always turn.

1. Tea season

Okay, I mean, it's basically always tea season, but there is something much nicer about a cup of tea when it's chilly out than when it's the middle of summer. I'm just not big into iced tea.

2. Scarves

I have a billion different scarves, all of which have wonderful memories: some I bought in Korea (my other adopted home country) and some are ones from Lawyer Mom. I have a brown/black/orange on she made for me before I left for college, which is easily six feet long because I asked her to make it EXTRA long, and it's my favorite thing ever. My other favorite scarf is one I bought in Insadong. It's not OTT long like the one Lawyer Mom made, but it's extra wide. It often doubled as a wrap when I was teaching in hagwons without any central climate control.

3. Foliage

I wish fall lasted longer and also kind of never ended? That ugly period between when leaves are all gone and the first snow of winter happens is the worst, and thanks to climate change it's getting longer and longer. But before then, I like to enjoy the show.

4. Halloween!

Candy! Costumes!

5. National Novel-Writing Month

I cannot sing the praises of NaNoWriMo enough. It's always fun, but the last few years it's been more than just fun for me.

When you're an introvert in a new country, meeting people can be really difficult. Before I moved to Sweden, I was really worried about how I would do when it came to meeting people and making friends. I didn't want to move into a situation where all of my friends were JV's friends. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important that couples have friends, but I think it's also important that each member of a couple maintains their own set of friends. That way when your partner is out of town, or busy, or being kind of a sourpuss, you have other people you can talk to (and if you need to have a moment to piss and moan about your partner, you can be sure it won't get back to them).

Bearing that in mind, even before I stepped on the plane I deliberately focused on finding groups to join and people to meet (thank you, Internet). Luckily for me, I came to Sweden in October, right when NaNoWriMo things were starting to gear up! Two years later (WHAT TWO YEARS?!) and I have plenty (plenty for an introvert) of friends and I'm even organizing events and write-ins myself. Because even though I'm an introvert, I love to organize events and throw parties and get people together. Weird, I know.

And, of course, I get some writing done, too. These days, November is about the only time I really do a lot of creative writing work anymore. Oop.

What do you look forward to in the autumn? Share and/or link in the comments!