Friday, October 31, 2014

Five Fandom Friday: CANDY

5 Fandom Friday is a weekly meme hosted by The Nerdy Girlie. I've been following it (or rather, blogs that participate) for a while, but haven't felt compelled to answer.

Until now.

My participation in fandom is minimal and subdued, shall we say. But no greater love hath a man than I do for chocolate and candy. Or something.

1. 3 Musketeers

I was a picky eater as a child, even when it came to candy. I don't like peanut butter in my chocolate (at all, ever), and since I probably got burned some time with a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, I was wary for YEARS about having anything else ever with my chocolate. Ever. I don't think I had a Twix bar until I was in college. So whenever a house was giving out 3 Musketeers I got super stoked, because a lot of them always had nothing but "chocolate + another thing" candy.

Fortunately, I could always trade with my brother, who was happy to get more Snickers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

2. Kit Kat Bars

Another safe, pure chocolate bet. Also, they are really satisfying to snap into pieces.

3. York Peppermint Patties

The only safe bet to mix with chocolate is mint. I would always save these for last and eat them in teeny-tiny nibbles to make them last as long as possible. 

4. Swedish Fish

I'm sure I got a few small bags of these suckers here and there from trick-or-treating, but I'll admit I probably ate more of them during my brother's baseball games than at Halloween. 

Ironically, now that I live in Sweden and can get "candy fish" from the candy section of the grocery store any time I want, it's been ages since I had any.

5. Candy Corn

Far and away the best Halloween candy of all time. It's more the province of school crafts and party gift bags than proper "grab a fistful" trick-or-treating, but either way this is the candy I looked forward to the most when the calendar switches to October. Or, in my broke college student days, when the calendar flipped to November and all of the Halloween candy went on massive discount. 

Apparently a lot of people hate candy corn. I can only surmise they hate all that is good and beautiful in this world.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trek Thursday: The Man Trap

#50: The Man Trap

In case you forgot: A shape-shifting salt vampire, whom Bones believes is his beloved ex-girlfriend, chows down on some redshirts. She spares McCoy because he has such strong feelings for her (she also feeds on love...?), but turns on her husband and the captain. McCoy is the one who has to shoot her to save Kirk and the ship, of course, because of the Rule of Drama.

Getting to see the rest of the crew of the Enterprise have some more lines and some more personality is a nice change of pace. This could be either a good or bad thing, depending on how you feel about the somewhat painful exchange between Spock and Uhura; personally, I wish it had carried over into later episodes (though written more competently). Regardless, a salt vampire is kind of a cool idea for a monster, shape-shifting or otherwise, and the pathos of the species' extinction at the hands of the good doctor doesn't feel at all hamfisted.

Also, I'm probably the only person in the world who thinks the handpuppet flower in Sulu's botany laboratory is a cool, cute effect.

But what potential this episode had is squandered pretty quickly. (There's a reason it's not ranked higher, after all.) McCoy may get a backstory, but what he gains in character development he loses in smarts. We all do stupid things for love, but Bones makes some decisions that are just, well, bone-headed. (Hah, hah.) To be fair, McCoy isn't the only one holding the idiot ball: Kirk and the crew seem to be pretty unnaturally slow on the uptake that they're dealing with a shape-shifter.

There's also far more shots of the creature wandering around the Enterprise looking for a meal than is really necessary. Smells like filler, to be honest.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

November is Coming

NaNoWriMo—"National Novel-Writing Month," the mad dash where thousands of people around the world try to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in November—is almost upon us. This year, in addition to all the writing, I'm helping (in a small way) to organize local NaNo events in the Stockholm area. This will be interesting, as I'll also have work and class to keep up with as well.

If you've always wanted to write a novel, NaNo is the perfect crash course in getting started. It's also a great way to meet lots of great, geeky people. (NaNo attracts a lot of geeks and nerdy types. I'm not sure why.) And, finally, it's lots of fun. It's a great way to to perk up the cold, dreary month of November.

Some things I have found useful in NaNos past:

100 Questions to Answer Before You Start Writing Your Story

Assorted Generators

World-Building Questions (Fantasy)

Many people like to use Scrivener or Ywriter or some other fancy software, but I don't. The bells and whistles are too distracting for me.

Will you be participating in NaNo? What will you be writing?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Foodie Friday: Pre-Prepped Veggie Life Hack

Show of hands: how many of you browse Pinterest at least a few times a week? Now, how many of you ever follow through on the things you pin?

Yeah, me too.

But this spinach and tomato quesadilla recipe from Budget Bytes looked good and easy. The beauty of the stuffing is that it is super versatile and you can use it in a variety of dishes. If you make a whole bunch over the weekend, you won't be tired of it by the times it runs out on Friday! You can even be super ambitious and double the recipe and freeze it for when you don't feel like feeding yourself. (Hint: this would be a good one to save for NaNoWriMo!)

Pre-Prepped Veggie Life Hack

(because it's too easy, lazy, and basic to really be a recipe)

What You Need

  • Half a pound/200 g of fresh spinach
  • 3–4 diced Roma tomatoes (2 is just not enough, IMO)
  • One pound/500 g of shredded cheese (if you're not feeding vegans)
  • One half to one whole shredded onion
  • One shredded chicken breast or equivalent amount of your favorite vegetable protein (if you like)
  • Favorite spices
  • A big-ass bowl
What You Do
  • Dump the spinach in the bowl and shred the hell out of it with some scissors. Or you can use a blender, if you like, I'm not judging. Set aside. (Budget Bytes uses frozen but I find it easier to hack up a giant bag of fresh spinach than mess around with thawing frozen and then squeezing out the water.)
  • Dice the tomatoes. This is the most time-intensive process for me. If you want to be lazy, just slice 'em up. If you want to be a little fancier, squeeze all the pulp and water out of the tomatoes and then dice 'em up. Add to your bowl of spinach.
  • Slice the onion. I never know how much I use because I always use what's left over from our last dish. JV likes to cook with onions and he'll slice however many he bought that night, regardless of how much the recipe needs, but I would say it's probably "mostly one" onion. Add it to your bowl of spinach and tomato.
  • Add the cheese if you have it.
  • Set it aside and prepare your chicken breast however you like it. This is the other time-intensive part but I skip it by asking JV to prepare and shred the meat (I trust him with preparing meat more than I trust myself). Add the chicken to your bowl of veggies and cheese.
  • Add your spices and combine well.
That's it! This was enough to last two people for four dinners (in this case, quesadillas) each and it takes about 15 minutes, maybe like 20 if you include chicken or a vegetable protein. If you keep it in a sealed container or bag in your fridge, it'll easily keep for five days. It's good to use in quesadillas, burritos, omelettes, scrambled eggs, sandwiches, wraps, or just on its own. Other things you might like to add:

  • Beans
  • Bell pepper
  • Mushroom
  • Shredded carrots
  • Corn
  • Arugula 
Whatever you think is tasty and have the time and energy to prep!

Bon appetit!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Trek Thursday: Bread and Circuses

#51: Bread and Circuses

In case you forgot: It's Roman times with television, with Christianity thrown in as a bonus plot twist.

This episode has always felt like a script that could have been really cool and awesome if it didn't have to go through the assembly line sausage factory that was TOS filming. Televised gladiatorial combat as entertainment? Within the realm of possibility—contemporary audiences can't seem to get enough of things like The Biggest Loser or Big Brother. A culture where slavery is still the norm? For sure. It's not like we don't still have slavery today, after all. But society that's just a straight Roman empire clone with TV thrown in? Come on, Genes. You can do better than that.

The whole Sun/Son switch-up at the end is what sours this episode for me the most, though. Whenever religion crops up in TOS (or any kind of progressive science fiction from the middle of the century), it just sucks. It seems like token attempt to placate the more conservative, Christian viewers at the time, and it's at total odds with Roddenberry's original vision of the future: "everyone is an atheist and better for it."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I Played: Lord of the Rings: War in the North

This got a brief shout-out from me both on Twitter and in my latest Read Play Blog response. But I think it's worth sparing a few more words here because I don't think Lord of the Rings: War in the North (PS3, 360, PC, and OS X) got the acclaim or recognition it deserved. On Metacritic it has something like 63 / 100. Google aggregates it as 3.5 / 5.

War in the North is basically the first LotR-inspired game I've played all the way through. I've dropped in on a couple of LEGO Lord of the Rings sessions, and there was some weird isometric puzzle one for the GBA for Fellowship of the Ring but I quickly lost the patience for that one. I've also heard tell of the LotR MMOs but MMOs are not my bag. There are games that predate the Peter Jackson movies, mods for preexisting games, and on and on, but despite my love for the books I never played any of them

I am a LotR video game noob and that is where this review is coming from.

JV picked up War in the North because he heard it was a fun hack 'n' slash game to play co-op and we can always use more co-op games. This was to tide us over until Reaper of Souls launched (and then dropped in price), and it ended up being incredibly fun in its own right.

The story of War in the North is contemporaneous with the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Your party engages with Sauron's forces in his northern outposts and, it's implied, help the Fellowship by keeping Sauron distracted. Yeah, being unsung heroes!

The character setup is your standard thief/fighter/mage trilogy: a human ranger, a dwarven fighter, or a lady elf mage. (You also get a giant badass bird after the first dungeon, but he's strictly NPC.) Each class has its own set of skill trees (AW YISS SKILL TREEEEEEEES) for you to puzzle over. Whichever character isn't controlled by a player is controlled by the AI. After meeting Aragorn at the Prancing Pony, off you go to kick some ass and take some names.

The control scheme is intuitive: you have heavy and light attacks and you can defend and counter. Simple, but elegant. Overall the controls are responsive and the fighting is very fluid and easy to get used to. The level design is also fantastic and mostly succeeds at balancing the challenging-versus-fair tension necessary for every successful game. There are long runs of minion hordes, endurance fights against siege weapons, wave survivals, and rewarding bosses and minibosses. (And no bullshit escort missions!) 

Other reviews judge War in the North for being too repetitive, and I see how it could be, but since my personal heaven is an endless hack 'n' slash, I could not give a flying fuck about "repetitive." It's what it says on the tin! MASH THE BUTTONS. KILL THINGS. KNEEL BEFORE ZOD.

The loot system is also impressive. Each helm, armor, or weapon has its own unique style. The same helm will still look different on the ranger than it does on the dwarf or the elf, so every item in the game has been designed three times over. The artists for War in the North did a superlative job with the design.

I freaking loved this game. I did. I loved the hell out of it. It is just sheer fun to play. You can go back and replay previous missions (though you won't be able to fight the unique monsters, minibosses, or bosses) or, if you want to grind or just see how much ass you can kick, you can choose one of two bonus "survival" levels: Lorien or Osgiliath. They're not part of the story in any way. You can just go and kick ass for the hell of it, or to grind a bit for the next dungeon, or to stock up on ammo and potions. Not to mention there are, of course, a wide range of difficulties you can complete the game on if you want to go for that True Completionist Mode. 

I do have a few beefs, however.

1. The story is just too short. You can finish the game (which takes place over the entire trilogy) in a weekend, and that just doesn't feel right for something as epic as Lord of the Rings. I mean yeah there are some sidequests and things, but that's not enough. It could have benefited from some Fallout level NPCs, sidequests, and world exploration.

2.  Ally AI is just dumb as a sack of bricks. Theoretically you can tell your AI player (if you're not playing with two other players) to "attack" or "defend" with up and down on the D-pad, but in practice it's useless and overall the AI-controlled characters are idiots. JV and I played as the mage and the dwarf, respectively. The mage has a pretty essential spell called Sanctuary that blocks enemy missiles and (after some early levels up) heals. It is the backbone of the game. And every time JV would cast it when we needed some healing, the AI-controlled ranger would just stand RIGHT OUTSIDE the dome unless I maneuvered my dwarf as far away from him as possible (without stepping outside the AOE). 

However, the game was designed to be co-op, so I can see why the developers wouldn't want to sink a lot of time into complex AI. The game is designed to be played with other people, not with the computer and definitely not on your own.

3. But the worst issue, by far, is bugs. Game-breaking bugs. This might be less of an issue if you play online or on PSN (which seems to be the style of play the devs were considering the default), but playing co-op with JV was riddled with issues. At one point near the end of the game, because we teleported back to town to do some maintenance before facing a boss, the boss never loaded. The save was totally ruined and we had to start all the way from the beginning. Dying also seemed to trigger some weird buggy issues, as did trying to drop into a game with a higher-level character. We were able to play around these by playing the game on Easy (no dying), doing dungeons in straight runs (no teleporting back to town), and always playing together (no significant level discrepancies). 

Despite these issues, War in the North doesn't get the love it deserves, and I'm bummed that in the 3 years since its initial release, there hasn't been a sequel, a reboot, or at least some fucking patches. It's easy to get into, it's fun, and overall it's designed well.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Birthstones: Turquoise (December)

If cold December gave you birth,
The month of snow and ice and mirth,
Place on your hand a turquoise blue;
Success will bless whate'er you do.

According to the Kansas City list, December has a few choices (turquoise, blue zircon, tanzanite; lapis lazuli prior), but we'll start with turquoise.

Turquoise is a secondary mineral; instead of forming under heat and pressure like silicates, diamonds, or corundum, it's the result of weathering and oxidation on copper deposits. Its chemical formula is CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8·4H2O, making it a hydrate. On a microscopic level, turqouise looks something like this:

If you want to peek at most of the modern Kansas City birthstones under an Internet microscope (metaphorically), this Japanese website (in English) has a really handy list!

Turquoise forms in arid regions with histories of volcanic activity, and because its formation is highly irregular, the stone can vary significantly in its color and characteristics. Thus, it's become common to refer to turquoise by its mine or place of origin, as turquoise pieces from the same mine share similar characteristics.

Sleeping Beauty Turquoise

Kingman Turquoise

Bisbee Turquoise

Turquoise is one of the oldest precious stones known to civilization and was found and used all around the world, even in ancient times. The ruling classes in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, Egypt, Persia, Tibet, and China (just to name a few) used it as adornment and often as a magical talisman or good luck charm. The oldest known turquoise mine was operating in Egypt as far back as 5500 BCE.

The English word turquoise comes from an Old French word for "Turkish," turqueise. World-renowned for thousands of years, turquoise nonetheless did not make its way to Europe until well into the Common Era via Turkey, though the stone itself originated in mines in Iran. Other, older names for turquoise include callais (according to Pliny the Elder), pirouzeh (Persian, "victory/victorious"), firouzeh (Arabic), and teoxihuitl (Aztec).

Since it's such an old stone, traditions and beliefs about turquoise abound. In Ancient Persia it was believed to be a talisman against, and also a harbinger of, death: it was worn for protection, and a change in the color was believed to be a warning of imminent doom. Turquoise can absolutely change color, but this is the natural result of exposure to radiation (even just sunlight) or chemical reactions with cosmetics, perfumes, or the oils of the skin.

The Zunis and Apache tribes in the New World also sported turquoise. According to Apache lore, turquoise improved aim. The Zunis believed that it improved a horse's sure-footedness and prevented the rider from being injured from a fall or throw.

Turquoise is a soft, porous mineral—about a 6 on the Mohs scale. It can absorb perfumes and scents very easily; if turquoise is going to be part of your ensemble on a night out, apply any perfumes/hair sprays/etc. before putting on your jewelry. Do not store turquoise in airtight containers (like opal, it needs some ambient moisture), and be careful not to leave it with particularly malodorous items, lest it pick some of it up. It is also very susceptible to the solvents used in most cleaning solutions; instead, it's best to clean turquoise with a soft toothbrush and plain water.

Because turquoise is so soft, it often undergoes treatments to increase its hardness and durability. These include waxing and oiling (using wax or oil to fill the natural fissures of the stone), backing (using adhesive to attach a thin slice of turquoise to a more durable back), and stabilization (similar to waxing and oiling, but using an epoxy or sodium silicate instead). Dull pieces are often dyed with Prussian blue to enhance their color. Gemologists can determine what treatment a stone has been subjected to, but those tests are often destructive (ruining the color of whatever portion is tested). There is also reconstituted turquoise: flakes and turquoise powder useless on its own combined and suspended in a resin. This often referred to as "block" turquoise, or sometimes just "block."

Naturally, turquoise being so popular, it is often imitated. Not all reconstituted turquoise contains any turquoise at all: often, block turquoise is nothing but resin and dye. Howlite, a white, porous stone with gray veins, is often dyed to resemble turquoise. Some stores are up front about this and some are not. I've also noticed that people on Etsy will tag anything veiny and light blue as turquoise, though if you read carefully it's "turquoise variscite" or "teal howlite" or whatever. Read those item descriptions carefully! And there is no such thing was "white turquoise": I suspect that's a sexed-up term for howlite.

Friday, October 17, 2014

101 in 1001: Lothlorien!

I made it safely through Moria and past the Balrog to get to Lothlorien!

Soon I'm going to have to decide which route I want to take first: go with the hobbits to Isengard to Isengard! Or go with the rest of the Fellowship on a slightly different route to Isengard?

I have also accomplished a few other things that are much less dramatic: eating loads of fresh produce (grapes and smoothies are my favorite summertime snack), blogging regularly, finally getting a new images for my blog header/Etsy banner/FB photo, etc. That last one is probably the only other thing that's at all interesting. Now everything matches across all my platforms: Facebook, Etsy, the blog, and Twitter. It's convenient to have a boyfriend who enjoys working with the GIMP and graphic design!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Read Play Blog October: Halloween!

Read Play Blog is a meme about video games and books, posted every 16th of the month. Bloggers are encouraged to answer a discussion question, and recommend a video game that is similar to a book they liked. Hosted by Happy Indulgence Books & Read Me Away.

What game character would you like to be for Halloween?

I'm actually out of costume ideas for Halloween this year, which is unusual for me. I'm pulling together a few things from my closet and going as a cowboy (because I will be out this year, not like last year where I stayed in with JV and some friends and watched Nicolas Cage movies). I guess you could kind of read it as John Marston from Red Dead Redemption, but since I've never played the game I can't really claim any sort of costume cred. I think I'd like to play it, but I am fail at aiming. Which is too bad because Red Dead Redemption, GTA San Andreas, and the Saints Row games look like so much fun! Argh.

One year in high school—I think it must have been senior year, in any case it was right when Wind Waker had come out—I was Link, and I went pretty hardcore with that. I made a slap-dash green tunic and hat (with a sewing machine and everything) and shield, bought a sword and a blonde wig, and carried a boomerang and a bottle of red fruit juice with me. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of that costume!

Otherwise the games I like to play have totally customizable and thus totally unrecognizable characters (Demon's Souls, Fallout 3) or they have an epic loot system (Diablo 3, War in the North) which makes a recognizable character impossible because there's just too much to choose from. I do like Marcassin's outfit in Ni no Kuni. If I had to pick a character from a recentish game to cosplay I think it'd be him. He's not the world's most interesting character, but I like his look.

But I can't top this freaking awesome cosplay!


I have been totally immersed in Diablo 3 so I will recommend War in the North for all you Diablo-style loothounds. That's what JV and I played before he picked up Diablo 3 and it's equally as satisfying. It takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe so the book parallel is pretty obvious! You play as a human/dwarf/elf team working in parallel to Frodo and the Fellowship to take down evil in Middle Earth. Yeah!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What I Read: Grabben i graven bredvid (Benny and Shrimp)

This week's selection is not a book I would have ever picked up willingly; it was required reading for my Swedish class.

It's a romcom? Oh, ugh, I thought. But I took a closer look at the back cover and saw numerous positive reviews. "Grabben i graven bredvid kommer säkert att bli en modern klassiker." ("The Guy in the Grave Next Door is sure to be come a modern classic.") Maybe it won't be so bad, then.

False alarm. False hope, more like.

I can't imagine a situation where my fellow anglophones would ever come across this book—it came out 15 years ago and is hardly The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (though that book is also a hot mess but that's a rant best saved for another day)—but if you do, I would advise against picking it up unless you need some mindless entertainment to pass the time. You know, like a trans-Atlantic flight or a hospital waiting room, and the battery on your Kindle is dead and so is your mp3 player and you can't sleep and you finished your Sudoku book and the only other things available to occupy your time are back issues of celebrity rags and Good Housekeeping.

I had a lot of problems with this book. I'm sure if I'd read it in English I'd only have more; I won't pretend that the literary nuance of passages here and there didn't elude me. I'm good, but I ain't that good. Nonetheless, there were other problems that were so stark I couldn't help but notice them, even through the hazy fog of my nonnative Swedish.

The story is a love story between Benny, a dairy farmer, and Desirée, a cosmopolitan Stockholm librarian. They meet in the graveyard where Desirée comes to mourn ("mourn") her late husband and where Benny tends the grave of his parents.

It's a cutesy conceit and I was willing to give it a chance, but it never picked up from there. The rest of the story is your typical mismatched odd couple love story. A chance for some great character study, not to mention commentary on class and education and what society does and doesn't value, but nope. Mazetti seems to think that so long as you insist that two characters are totally different from each other, you're spared the task of actually characterizing them.

Benny is as dull as dishwater, but I'd take him over the hysterical (and I'm using that word with all of its original sexist connotations, here) stereotype that is Desirée any day. Desirée is baby-crazy and talks endlessly about her ovaries and biological clock. Desirée and her ~BFF~ Märta (who is equally hysterical) spend their evenings drinking wine and gossiping over their men and their sex lives. Desirée is the emotional, artistic one in the relationship. And so on.

 The magical sex trope is one I'd like to see die. See, Desirée wasn't really in love with her late husband. How do we know? Why, she never enjoyed the sex. How do we know that she's not really interested in the coworker she starts seeing? The sex is mediocre. And how do we know that Benny is ~*~The One~*~ for her? Because all of a sudden she's having the best sex of her life!!!! People absolutely have different chemistry with people: two people can have really dull sex with each other but incredibly hot and immensely satisfying sex with other people. Stuff like this—"it's never been like THAT before"—is a grown-up version of the "true love's kiss" from the old fairy tales, and it's just as ridiculous.

The problem with the odd couple love story trope is that you have to have enough of a connection between these two opposites for the romance to seem plausible. Novelty wears off quickly, and if there's no rock-solid connection underneath the novelty then the relationship falls flat and, in the case of fiction, so does the story. If I can't imagine what brings these people together, then you have failed as a writer, and there is no way I can imagine or understand what Benny and Desirée like about each other or see in each other.

The best thing I can say about Benny and Shrimp is that it is a quick read, and a short one to boot.

Monday, October 13, 2014

All Food is "Real" Food

"Real food." This is a phrase I see a lot in my Internettin': on Facebook and blog posts, on Twitter, on professional ("professional") articles.

I can't stand it. First of all, unless you're having a pretend tea party with a child, all the food you're eating is real. It exists. It can be eaten. It has calories, (some) nutrients, and if you eat it you will at least keep from starving to death. (I also have a serious bone to pick with the market's decision to use "organic" to refer to a specific subset of food, but that's a rant for another day.) Some food may not be up to your standards of what is nutritious, or healthy, or whatever, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Second of all, there is a serious level of inherent snobbery in describing some foods as "real" and implying that others are fake or fraudulent. Usually the snobbery is intended to be self-directed, like, "Oh, I lost some weight after I decided to eat more real food"—implying that you think your eating habits of the past are subpar. But language like this cannot ever be only self-directed. There are always going to be people who now eat like you did. Language like this damages other people.

Third, it ignores the economic reality for many families: prepackaged foods and meals (the implied Other to the raw, unprepared, straight-from-the-plant-or-animal goods that are "real foods") are an essential staple of their survival, both in terms of sustenance as well as mental health. Preparing food is a ceaseless and often thankless task, especially when you're talking for an entire family, and assuming that low-income parents who may be working physically demanding jobs (and maybe even two or three of them!) should somehow find it in their psychic reserve to spend the rare moment of free time they have doing more work is grossly insensitive. Yes, cooking from scratch is cheaper—if you only consider the money. Cooking costs time and energy, too (that's part of the price you pay for ready-made food: the convenience) and unless you happen to enjoy cooking as a hobby, that is not time or energy well spent.

"But I'm not saying they should!" you insist. But every time you talk about how you and your family usually only eat "real food," you are inviting the comparison of someone worse off, someone whose Tuesday night savior is a can of Dinty Moore (this was the case in my house growing up) because there is no time or energy to make something "real." Judgmental language naturally invites comparison and it makes it clear on which side of the comparison your sympathy lies.

This is especially potent in parenting. There is, no doubt, an entire book to be written about the role of authenticity when it comes to raising children. A whole chapter could be spent on "real" food, and how advertising, the media, and society constantly reaffirm love is paired with authenticity and what society deems to be the best, healthiest foods, while neglect or, at best, parental inability, is paired with the inauthentic, and the lower-class "fake" foods deemed to be unhealthy or at least not sufficiently "healthy."

People have an overwhelming need for labels for everything in life, and the food they eat falls under that category: vegan, vegetarian, real food, organic food, paleo, low-carb, no-carb, and on and on. But more than any of those other labels, "real" food brings with it a nasty Other, an implied Less-Than. Don't be that asshole. Stop calling your specially-designated dietary selections "real food." It's all real food.

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Item: Black and Blue Pi Wrap Bracelet

Not a color combination I usually go for in my wardrobe, but I think the look in this one is quite dramatic!

The latest jewelry from Kokoba: black and blue wrap bracelet in twine and agate, with pi.
Black and blue wrapped pi bracelet
The dyed blue agate looks very bright here, but in typical light (and against the skin) it's more navy-colored, or even black.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Trek Thursday: Where No Man Has Gone Before

#52: Where No Man Has Gone Before

In case you forgot: A member of the Enterprise crew catches some condition that gives him mirrored contact lenses and incredible psychic powers. Kirk tries to figure out how deal with this threat, eventually killing him. A pretty lady psychiatrist dies in the process.

This episode is the second pilot; its original airdate as the third episode must have confused the heck out of its contemporary viewers, because the differences are significant. Spock is pissy and irritable, and his dynamic with Kirk just doesn't feel right. The chief medical officer is played by the bland and forgettable Paul Fix, and the costumes are some of the ugliest sweaters ever to grace a television screen. The "person with godlike powers" trope is going to get some more mileage before the series is over, unfortunately, and this isn't really the most compelling variation on the theme. The appeal of this episode, and why it isn't rated any lower, is in its value as the second Star Trek pilot. This is what the show almost was.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Birthstones: Topaz (November)

Who first comes to this world below
With drear November's fog and snow,
Should prize the topaz's amber hue,
Emblem of friends and lovers true.

Like most other birthstones, the topaz is a proper silicate; it's primarily made out of SiO4. It forms in igneous rocks high in silicate (pegmatites, granite, etc.). Like other tough silicates (ruby, for example), topaz is often what remains after weathering. As a result, topaz is often found in gravel and/or alluvial deposits. Significant sources include Brazil, the Ural mountains, Sri Lanka, and Burma.

What separates topaz from quartz is aluminum and fluorine that hang about in between the tetrahedrons of silicate. Its proper chemical formula is Al2SiO4(F,OH)2.
However, aluminum and fluorine don't necessarily affect the color of topaz, since it can form without colors. They instead affect the crystal lattice: topaz is orthorhombic in shape, while quartz is trigonal.



Stray chromium creates red, pink, and purple topaz; flaws in the crystal structure can lead to yellow, brown, or blue coloring. As a result of this play of light within the crystal structure, topaz is often pleochroic. There is also a whole host of trade names for topaz: imperial topaz is yellow/pink/pink-orange; blue topaz (which is rare in nature; most blue topaz has been dyed, heated, or otherwise enhanced), mystic topaz (colorless topaz given an iridescent coating), and orange topaz (orange to orange-yellow). Only the orange/orange-yellow variety are considered November's birthstone. ("Traditionally," anyway. You do you etc. etc.)

128 ct topaz from HandyNat

The name topaz is generally believed to refer to an island by the name of Τοpáziοs/Τοpáziοn in the Red Sea. Now called Zabargad/St. John's, it was an ancient site for yellow gemstones (that are now believed to have been a variety of peridot rather than true topaz) and, like many other stones, the name of their place of origin became a shorthand term for the gem itself—or any gem similar to it. Writings in the Middle Ages used the name topaz to refer to any yellow-colored stone, so it's hard to say precisely when topaz (versus olivine peridot or citrine quartz) was discovered. It isn't exactly hard to find, in any case; it's been with us for a while.

The ancient Greeks believed that topaz—and any other yellow-colored stone—imbued a person with physical strength. The Romans thought it improved eyesight, and Egyptians would wear it as a general stone of protection. Topaz was also used in Vedic astrology (some assert that the name doesn't come from the island of Topázios but the Sanskrit word "tapas," meaning fire). In addition to being associated with Jupiter, a topaz worn near the heart was thought to bestow long life, beauty, and intelligence. Europeans in the Middle Ages believed topaz could break curses and dispel anger.

Because it is relatively tough (8 on the Mohs scale), topaz can also be used as an abrasive,  but beyond that, topaz is prized first and foremost for its beauty.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Trek Thursday: Space Seed

#53: Space Seed

In case you forgot: The Enterprise encounters an old Earth vessel from 200 years ago, with everyone aboard in suspended animation. Turns out they're all war criminals (including KHAAAAAAAN), and they take over the ship with the intent to find a planet to rule. Their plans are foiled and they are instead sent to an uncolonized planet as punishment.

Oh yeah, nerds. I'm going there. Space Seed is one of the worst Trek episodes of all time.

 My biggest grief is Marla McGivers. She sucks. When she initially refuses to help Khan take over the ship and he crushes her hand (remember, he's five times stronger than your average dude), it's just...uncomfortable. Pair that with the doe-eyed devotion Marla exhibits for him despite all that and it's too much like actual real-life abusive relationships to be able to watch.

Even if Marla is my biggest grief, she's hardly my only one. The chuckling and grudging admiration Kirk, Bones, and Scotty all have for Khan leaves another sour note over the whole episode; I come down squarely on Spock's side in this case. Imagine if someone found a cryogenically frozen Hitler and woke him up 200 years after World War II, and, after learning about the atrocities he committed, just laughed them off because he had been such a great leader of men. Then when Hitler tries to take over their starship and kill their crew, they just laugh some more and decide that rather than submit him to the justice system to which he rightfully belongs they'll just do him a favor and give him a whole freaking planet.

What the fuck, guys?

The only good thing to come out of this is Wrath of Khan, which is a near-flawless movie that may or may not have had me bawling like a small child. And for those of you complaining about continuity re: Chekov and "I never forget a face" Khan: