Saturday, August 30, 2014

Friday Find: Scientifiques

The Etsy circle feature has been more of a bane than a boon for me. No matter how many times I clear out my "following" list, 90% of what shows up in my feed is just Not For Me.

That other 10%, though, includes some real gems, like Scientifiques. Everything Lorraine has is gorgeous and handcrafted, and she is obviously inspired by a variety of STEM fields! From math:

Euler's identity math bracelet jewelry from scientifiques.
Euler's identity cuff bracelet by scientifiques

to paleontology:

Green River bat fossil photo pendant by scientifiques
to chemistry:

Carbon science jewelry scientific necklace by scientifiques.
Etched Copper Carbon Period Table Pendant by scientifiques

In particular I love her use of metal (a skill I wish I had but at the moment don't have the supplies or space for). I love the warm brown of copper and am glad to see someone using it in the jewelry world. And check out this piece de resistance:

Diplocaulus Fossil Skull Necklace by scientifiques
Talk about a statement piece!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Trek Thursday: Court Martial

#58: Court Martial

In case you forgot: Kirk is on trial for the death of one of his crewmen owing to gross negligence (Starfleet suddenly cares about all those redshirts now?). THE COMPUTER has damning evidence against him, but the man Kirk stands accused of killing is still alive and has tampered with the memory banks in attempt to destroy Kirk's career and exact his revenge.

This week, on Perry Mason in Space...

That's all this episode is, really, and if you like procedurals then this episode gets a lot better. If you don't, though, you're SOL. The dated worries over man versus machines might have struck a chord with contemporary audiences, but it's not a theme that ages well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What I'm Playing: HabitRPG

You're all playing HabitRPG right now, too. You just don't know it yet.

See, someone finally had the idea to gamify real life and give you rewards like gold and XP for completing arduous tasks like doing the dishes, exercising, or cleaning your apartment. Brilliant!

I'm only level 3 right now, so there isn't a whole lot of world content available for me at the moment. I'm sure that'll change soon: I am constantly adding new tasks to accomplish (like writing blogposts) and leveling up like crazy.

The best part about HabitRPG is that it is absolutely free. There's not much in the game you can't purchase or acquire for free, though you can unlock some things faster by donating to the site. I've only been using it for a couple days but already I'm more motivated to stay focused on tasks and get important things done. Which is sad, I guess, but that's how it goes: sometimes you need some external motivation to get things done!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Birthstones: Sapphire (September)

A maiden born when September leaves
Are rustling in September's breeze,
A sapphire on her brow should bind
`Twill cure diseases of the mind. 

After our brief trip back into silicates with peridot, in September we're returning to corundum. Instead of silicon and oxygen, it's composed of aluminum and oxygen.

Then what's the difference between a ruby and a sapphire? What makes them different colors? Chemical impurities. Ruby contains trace amounts of chromium; sapphire contains iron and/or titanium.

("But doesn't iron make things orange-y?" In silicates, yes. Not in oxides. This is the same reason why chromium makes silicates look green, but ruby red. It forms different kinds of bonds that reflect or absorb light differently.)

A cool effect you can get both in rubies and in sapphires is a "star": a rutile (titanium dioxide) crystal forms within the gem and creates a 6-lined star shape. This affect is called "asterism." It's fairly rare in nature, but it's possible to induce this effect in lab-grown sapphire.

Star sapphire is formed by rutlite crystals within the sapphire.
The name sapphire has a complicated history. The origins of its name can be traced conclusively to the Hebrew sappir, but it is likely even older than that. That became the Greek sapheiros, which was simply "blue stone." Such a precise name meant that many ancient blue stones were also called sapphire. Lapis lazuli, for example, was often referred to as sapphire, while sapphire might have been called hyakinthos by the ancient Greeks. There is another school of thought that suggests the name comes from Sanskrit sanipriya ("precious to Saturn"). It's difficult to say when, precisely, the name sapphire was pinned down to Al2O3.

Of course, as we learned with rubies, sapphires can come in a variety of colors besides blue.

Sapphire can also be found in shades of green.

Sapphire can also be found in shades of yellow.

However, it's the blue sapphire that is most often associated with September and has the most lore associated with it. Al203 in other colors were most likely confused for other stones, or considered separate.

Sapphire is a stone that has been around for a long, long time, as evident by the age of the name, so of course it's picked up a fair amount of folk beliefs and traditions!

Ancient Vedic astrologers believed the stone magnified the positive qualities of Saturn (otherwise considered an unlucky planet): leadership, ambition, responsibility, patience, and longevity. Clergy in the Middle Ages often wore sapphires (or other blue gems) to represent heaven, perhaps creating or just only reinforcing the belief that the stone attracted heavenly blessings. Royalty wore it as a charm against envy. Renaissance thinkers held that the stone could cure anger and stupidity.

The first sapphires were probably sifted out of alluvial (riverbed) deposits, where they are still found today (in addition to underground mines). The largest sapphire producers in the world are Madagascar and Australia. Some of the finest and most famous stones, however, have been mined in Sri Lanka.

Sapphire has also been synthesized since the early 1900s. The process leads to a proper, chemically-identical synthetic stone. Fortunate, because sapphire also has a lot of practical applications; particularly, it can be used for a special kind of glass that can tolerate a heavy heat load and also "let through" a broad spectrum of light. It also is scratch-resistant (considering the only thing harder than it is diamond) and extremely durable. "Sapphire glass" is used in lasers, spectrometers, barcode scanners, those xenon headlights everyone hates so much, and for shatter-resistant windows in armored vehicles. You can also find sapphire in cellphones, emergency vehicle radios, and satellite communications systems. It's quite the multipurpose stone!

Note that there, as always, unscrupulous people intent on trading on the prestige of sapphire's name. I've seen items on Etsy that list "sapphire jasper" as one of their materials used, but that's just a trade name. It's more likely variscite (also known as aqua terra jasper, snakeskin jasper, or impression jasper), which is a beautiful stone....but not actually sapphire. They are related only in that they are pretty.

Natural sapphires are often treated to improve their color and clarity; there are ones that are naturally brilliant and saturated with color, but they are rare and fetch a high price. There are, yes, synthetic ones as well, but beware artificial sapphire (usually just colored glass) posing as the real thing.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Read Play Blog

I stumbled across this from Karsyn! Read Play Blog is a monthly gaming-related meme hosted by Read Me Away and Happy Indulgence Books that goes up on the 16th of every month. This has just gotten underway, so there are only two sets of questions so far; like Karsyn I'm going to answer those now and then the following months I'll answer on the 16th like everyone else.



How did you get into gaming?

Lawyer Mom went right back to work after having me and my brother. Dad worked, too, so they hired a full-time sitter for us: a woman whose son became like our favorite cousin. He was some years older than us and very into video games; I remember playing (or more, watching him play) Legend of Zelda on the NES and going head-to-head in the versus mode of Sonic 2. He also had a GameGear and a Gameboy (there was no Nintendo v. SEGA rivalry in that house, believe it or not!) that he trusted us to play with when he was at school.

My brother and I both became hooked. From the SNES on, we had a console of our own we could play at home. SNES to Dreamcast to GameCube to Wii; now I live with JV who owns a GameCube, a PS2, a PS3, an XBox 360, and a Retron console that plays Genesis (sorry, I'm in Europe: Megadrive), NES, and SNES cartridges. He also has a Dreamcast tucked away somewhere.

What do you recommend for new gamers?

It depends so much on what you have and what you like. I think Minecraft is a nice introduction to gaming, because you can do whatever you want and make it as easy or as hard as you want. I think platformers are good, too. They're easy to get the hang of, even if they're fiendishly difficult, and I think that's what most people think of when they think "video game." Little Big Planet is a lot of fun, and it has a good coop mode so if you're not very good, you can get someone else to play with you and help you out.

I recommend you ask a friend who likes games (and you!) to make recommendations, or to ask if you can join them (if possible) on a game or two so you can try it out yourself with a friendly hand to guide you.

What game you are currently playing?

I've finished the main storyline of Ni no Kuni and have moved on to the "postgame" content. I say "postgame" because I still haven't beaten the final, FINAL boss. Lately, though, I've been playing the PS3 version of Minecraft with JV. When I have nothing else I feel like playing, I pop in Fallout 3 and run a few side quests here and there. I finished the main storyline in that, as well, or most of it (not the storyline in the DLC; I think I have a few quests left in that). There is just so much to do in that game, I don't think I'll ever finish it.

Theoretically I'm also playing Demon's Souls, but if I'm to be honest, most of my gaming time is taken up with Ni no Kuni and Minecraft.

JV also just bought Diablo III, a game I've been looking forward to for FOREVER, but I'm hesitant to get started with it now because I know I will be addicted by the time I clear the first dungeon.

What is your favorite gaming genre?

I will play most anything, truth be told. The easier question is, what is your least favorite gaming genre?, and that is FPS. I don't like the mechanics of the FPS most of the time (at least Fallout 3 gives you the VATS aiming system!) and I don't like the "gritty war shooter simulator" genre of Call of Duty (or as we call it, CALLERDERTY) or Wolfenstein or Battlefield or so on. It seems like a lot of bullshit macho posturing.

Anything else is fair game. I enjoy mellow puzzlers (Karsyn mentioned MYST in hers, and that game was my childhood), I enjoy platformers, I enjoy puzzle/adventure RPGS (Zelda, Ookami, etc.), I enjoy RPGs and JRPGs....anything, really.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Trek Thursday: Tomorrow is Yesterday

#59: Tomorrow is Yesterday

In case you forgot: The Enterprise accidentally travels through time  to late 1960s Earth and works desperately to undo the impression they fear leaving.

When you're dealing with science fiction, time travel is going to be a tempting (if not downright inevitable) plot point that comes up. This is the first such instance in Star Trek (discounting the last, weird ten minutes of "The Naked Time") and it was just as irritating upon rewatching as it was the first time I saw it. How could Spock (or the computer) fail to realize that captain Christopher would end up fathering the captain of the first successful Earth-to-Saturn probe? That seems like a pretty obvious oversight.

Shouldn't their encounter with a black hole-style anomaly have propelled them into the future, not the past? On the flip side of that coin, why does their "slingshot around the sun" idea send them forward in time instead of further into the past? If they've already messed with the timeline by taking Christopher aboard, how can they trust any of the history in the ship's databanks? More importantly, why does the Enterprise and everyone on it still exist? What if the Enterprise's visit to Earth is supposed to be part of the timeline? (And why doesn't Spock consider that last point?)

The logical consistency in this episode is just a big pile of NOPE.

The one redeeming factor is a little touch of melancholy at the end. It was Christopher's dream to go into space, and he got to do it, but he won't ever remember that he did. Kirk's runaround with the security is also pretty entertaining.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

New Design: Knotted Pi With Twine, Faux Pearls

The style for this necklace came to me by the way of a DIY pin some months ago. The shabby chic look of the twine and pearls combination was totally different from what I usually make, and since I'm always on the lookout for styles that mesh well with my numbers but are also different from what I've already made, I decided to give it a try. This was some months ago, but I only got around to photographing the results today. Ahem.

Three-strand pi necklace with twine and fake pearls.

The one problem with this look is that pearls are often drilled with exceptionally tiny holes. Twine, on the other hand, is often quite bulky. These faux pearls are just plastic beads from the craft section in our local department store: much easier to string on twine, but not as fun as the real thing. For that, I'd need a proper beading needle and some tricks. Or use invisible/illusion cord, a fine, transparent nylon cord which is often paired with pearls:

However, the look is different. A bit dressier, don't you think?

The other option is to use twine with other beads, like gemstones or wood, that are drilled a bit larger. But that doesn't seem to be a look that people are really making, or are interested in, at least not just strung with knots. Macrame is not really where I want to go with this.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Trek Thursday: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

#60: For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

In case you forgot: After being attacked by nuclear missiles, the Enterprise traces the attacks back to an asteroid that's really a spaceship that the passengers fervently believe is a planet. It just so happens their spaceship is on collision course with a populated planet, so naturally Kirk and company have to do whatever they can to prevent such a disaster, which involves dismantling the computer that's been piloting the spaceship. McCoy starts off with a deadly case of space AIDS but (of course) is cured by the end of it.

First of all: that title. Really? Really? It's my undying hope that out there, some emo shoe-gaze alt-rock band will release a song with this title, because it's just too perfect.

In another case of backassing: how can we get one of the Power Trio ensconced in this proto-hivemind society? I know: give him xenopolycythemia (which JV and I immediately renamed "xenophobic cephalopod")  and have the high priestess of the asteroid-spaceship-planet inexplicably fall in love with him so he'll want to stay behind and become initiated into the culture. Because someone in the Power Trio needs to be some kind of spy for Starfleet, so that they can figure out where the evil computer is, otherwise the Power Trio couldn't save the day.

Yup, it's another "computers run amok!" episode, and it's not one of the better ones. This computer has not only set the spaceship off course; its directive from the very beginning has been to dupe the population of the spacecraft for reasons that are never made clear.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What I'm Reading: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

One of the best things about the ArmchairBEA I participated in was finding a whole bunch of bookish bloggers writing reviews on new/recent books. Much of my reading time these days is focused on Swedish language acquisition, and then chipping away at my Classics Club/TIME Top 100 list, so any books NOT related to those goals get pushed to the side.

But then people kept writing about Americanah. Lots of people. People whose opinions I knew I could trust. And they liked it. And then, completely unrelated to this, JV found one of Adichie's TED talks—about the danger of a single narrative—and when I connected the name and the woman giving the talk to the book everyone had been talking about, and when I saw a single copy in the extremely schizophrenic English section of "my" bookstore (you all know what I mean by "my" bookstore), I figured that was a sign enough I should get it. So I did.

Americanah is the story of Ifemelu and Odinze, and their youth in Nigeria and their adult lives in the United States and England, respectively. The story arc the book seems to be tracing is an ambitious one. One review I read said it was perhaps too ambitious; while I'm going to reserve judgment until I finish it, right now I find myself agreeing, kind of. There isn't so much going on that the book is impossible to follow or anything like that, but there are storylines where I want to know more, like Aunty Uju and The General.

The writing is eminently readable and I find myself plowing through the book at a pretty snappy pace. Do I think it will become a timeless classic? Perhaps. I am reminded a lot of Zadie Smith's White Teeth—it could almost be called an American* White Teeth—in that it's a story that concerns multiple people and families across a timespan of years, nearly all of them trying to come to terms with themselves and their identities (race, ethnicity....the whole shebang). White Teeth felt a bit tighter and a bit more focused. Americanah also stays quite serious, most of the time. Not that seriousness is to the story's detriment; as Ifemelu writes in one of her blog posts, it is apparently more palatable to white people for Blacks to mention racism in jest, as a funny story, and to not come across as at all bitter or angry about it (in a world where Ifemelu's decision to simply stop using relaxer on her hair and let it grow out naturally is seen in her workplace as a threatening move and potential political or racial "statement"), and I want it to be okay for stories about race and identity to be serious, too. Not just the classics (Beloved, Their Eyes Were Watching God) but also the stories we read today. In the books that we read not because we have to, but because we want to be entertained, or moved, or engaged with the world.

I don't know if the book will break my heart yet (in a sad ending kind of way not in a wasted potential of a book way). It seems like it might. We'll have to wait and see.

*Adichie is Nigerian while Smith is British, but since much of the book is set in America and is about being Nigerian in America (as opposed to being Jamaican or Bengali in England), I think it's fair to call it "an American White Teeth," as opposed to something like "a Nigerian White Teeth."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Music Monday: Grand Hotel

I always listen to this song all the way through when it comes up on my playlist. The best that prog rock has to offer. Why aren't they in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame already?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Birthstones: Peridot (August)

This is another instance where the updated Kansas City list differs from the original Tiffany & Co. poems. The original Kansas City list in 1912 included the sardonyx from the Tiffany & Co. poem, but also peridot; the updated list dropped sardonyx entirely. Reasons for this elude me but I'm sure they have to do with selling things.

Rough piece of peridot

After a brief foray into corundums (corunda?), beryls, and chrysoberyls, with peridot we're back in the realm of silicates: minerals composed primiarily of SiO4.

3D model of silicate (SiO4).

Peridot is rich with magnesium (sometimes iron): (Mg, Fe)2SiO4. One a microscopic level, the whole thing looks like this:

Peridot, then, exhibits the same characteristics we've come to expect of silicates. What makes peridot unique is that it is always and only an olive yellow-green color. In fact, properly speaking, its full name is peridot olivine—olivine is the larger class of Mg- and/or Fe-rich silicates; peridot is the name given to gem-quality samples.

Where the name comes from is unclear. The first written record of it in English is a 1705 translation of Latin church records from 1245. It might come from the Arabic faridat, meaning only "gem," or it might be a corruption of the Anglo–Norman word pedoretés. The Gemological Institute of America favors the former; the OED favors the latter. Historically, high-quality peridot olivine was often confused with emerald, or sometimes topaz; this is probably why the stone didn't come away with its own name right off the bat. This confusion was rampant in all places and ages, but especially in the treasure stores of European churches. Much like the Black Prince's red spinel (thought to be a ruby at the time), the stones in the Dreikönigsschrein in Köln, Germany were long thought to be emeralds—in fact, they are peridots.

Cleopatra's fabled emerald collection might also have been peridot, but obviously there's no way for us to go back and check.

Needless to say, this green silicate has been around for a while, even if it's operated under many names. While olivine forms deeper in the mantle than most other stones (except diamonds), it is still made of silicate, the most common material in the Earth's crust. One good volcanic eruption can bring a whole host of rough peridot to the surface. Peridot can also form in outer space, on other planets or protoplanets; occasionally they make their way to Earth via a nickel–iron meteorite (called a pallasite). The result is stunning:

The Egyptians mined quite a significant amount of peridot, and used it as a ward against evil and "terrors of the night." It was also thought to treat asthma and reduce the thirst of a fevered person. The stone's power was thought to be enhanced by setting it in gold, stringing it through the hair of a donkey, and wearing it on your left arm.

While it doesn't actually help with asthma, peridot olivine does have other, practical purposes. Right now it is being seriously investigated as a tool in the fight against global climate change, specifically as an agent for sequestering CO2. It's also used in blast furnaces in steel production. On a more frivolous note, olivine is also often used in Finnish saunas as it's fairly dense and also resistant to weathering.

Peridot, while lovely, is not as rare as some of the other stones we've recently looked at and does not typically command jaw-dropping prices. It is also not synthesized either; the only imitation on the market is green glass. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Trek Thursday: Assignment Earth

#60: Assignment Earth

In case you forgot: The Enterprise's latest mission is to travel through time to watch late 60s Earth for "historical study." They stumble across a previously unknown alien being whose ultimate mission is to apparently babysit Earth and keep us from doing anything stupid.

Roddenberry wrote this as a backdoor pilot (get your minds out of the gutter) for his latest brainchild, which would center around said alien being (left), his cat-wife (not pictured) (we also had a woman as a cat in Cat's Paw, what is it with TOS and female felines?), and his plucky young attractive sidekick (right).

This is backassing to the highest degree. Watching the pilot for another show when you're trying to enjoy your Trek is a little tedious, even inconsistent: the previous two times the Enterprise traveled through time it was by accident (The Naked Time and Tomorrow is Yesterday, in case you wanted me to cite my sources) (though I haven't gone back and checked the stardates on the episodes), now they can do it at will?  And the last time they ended up back in late 1960s Earth, all they cared about was getting out without messing up the timeline. That seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind in Assignment: Earth.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

No More Heroes: Brian "Skeptoid" Dunning Convicted of Massive Wire Fraud

For those of you who don't read Pharyngula but do follow Skeptoid, you might want to know that Brian Dunning has been convicted of defrauding eBay* of millions of dollars. He did it by "cookie stuffing."

Dunning and a colleague developed their own little widgets for websites: one was a "where in the world?" widget where you could see where in the world your visitors were coming from, and the other (Dunning's) was just a page hit counter. Totally harmless-seeming and fun little things to have on your website.

Nestled within that code was a sort of sleeper cookie unrelated to the widget's stated purpose. That cookie would only activate (not really the right term but it'll do) if you browsed to eBay and bought something. It would trick eBay into thinking that you had purchased your item via an affiliate link belonging to Dunning, and they would then send him an appropriate cut of the purchase.

This chafes me because I have definitely visited the Skeptoid website on this computer with this browser and have also bought a handful of things off eBay—shame on me for not regularly clearing out my cookies and such, I guess—so I've probably contributed to his ill-gotten gains by crediting him with a couple sales he has no right to claim. I should say that there is no official word on whether he used that widget or that particular piece of code on his website, but it would be naive to think he didn't.

Not the worst thing a person can do, but still pretty shitty.

*I mean it's eBay and not little old ladies, but still.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Find: Leslie Tunic Top by SWAK

Okay, so normally I reserve my "Friday Finds" for Etsy or Zibbet shops, but I am so freaking over the moon that I'm making a rare exception.

"Leslie" Tunic Top by SWAK Designs
I could make a whole long song and dance post about being fat and fashion but instead I will only say:

Why doesn't anyone know how to make a good goddamn tunic top?

I can't count how many adorable tunic tops I've seen that inexplicably do not allow enough material above the gathered/sewn bit (you know, the part that should go right around your band) for the boobs they're supposed to be holding. This isn't a case of going a size or two up, either; you do that and now the gathered bit sits where it should, but the V-neck is halfway down to your navel. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that kind of look, but it's definitely not the shirt's intended use (judging by the models). It's like they're all designed for women with incredibly high-set, possibly gravity-defying bosoms. Either that or they're designed so that the horizontal bit goes RIGHT ACROSS your boobs? Which, if that's the case, is terrible design.

Enter: the "Leslie" tunic top from SWAK designs.

Let me back up: SWAK designs is a plus-sized (and only plus-sized, sorry) clothing vendor based in LA, with products made in the US in sizes (generous sizes at that) up to 6X. I've ordered clothes from them before, and been pleased, but this is my first post on them. 

I'm not getting any kind of swag for this, either; I have just found shirt nirvana.

Because that's what this is: proof positive that a good tunic top IS possible because the Leslie top is perfect. A generous neckline that doesn't venture into "would you like to see my new bra?" territory but still feels modern and flirty and a gathering that actually sits under your boobs. And! AND! The gathering is elastic so it can, if necessary, stretch over a large rack! Not a problem for me (I am not particularly out of proportion in that department) but I know there are women with bigger boob woes than me.

It is a bit pricey when not on sale ($49.90), but SWAK has loads of sales and discount codes so if you're smart about your shopping it won't break the bank.