Friday, September 30, 2016

Techie Humor

Although I haven't done it for years, for many years, beginning in high school, I did theatrical lighting work, until I just didn't have the time to devote to hanging Lekos on the box-booms of an auditorium for amateur theater groups. Still, I've been a 'lighting guy', and I'm comfortable with much of the jargon... though with LED's and computerization, it's a different world out there now.

Tonight, I was shooting the breeze with a couple of techies who are setting up for one of our October fundraisers, and the subject of the friendly rivalry between lighting guys and sound guys came up. The technical director, who's mainly a sound guy, related a bit about a lighting designer giving him a ribbing about the importance of light vs sound:

"And on the first day, God said, 'let there be light', and there was light."

"First, he had to be heard."

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Can't Get There from Here

The big local story of the day has been the horrific commuter train crash in Hoboken which killed a young mother and injured scores of people. Predictably, the lack of a passive train control system, which might have prevented the crash, has been held up by regulation-averse assholes citing the cost of upgrades to the system.

Here in the real world, besides the death of a thirty-something year-old woman and the injuring of over one hundred others, this incident has thrown a monkey wrench into the commutes of thousands of residents of the New York Metro Area. At times like these even Jerseyites are comrades, even though they have terrible taste in governors.

I'm fortunate in having multiple transit options for getting where I want to be, should I be carless at any particular time. I live within walking distance of a couple of stations on the Metro-North Harlem Line, and the ends of the 2 Train and the 4 Train should I have to get into New York City for any reason. To get to work, I can take a combination of a bus and a Metro-North Hudson Line train, or a combination of two local Bee-Line Buses. If I didn't work nights, one of the local bike trails would be a pretty good option as well. I'm lucky to have redundancy of transportation. It has been many years since I've had to cross a major body of water to get to work, and I can't imagine how bad the commute from Jersey to New York and vice-versa must have been today.

I am a firm believer in infrastructure improvement, especially when it comes to safety concerns. The life lost, the lives adversely affected, and the millions of dollars in lost productivity due to transit problems point out the idiocy of the argument that installing additional safety features on our trains is 'too expensive'.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Today, I've basically been out of the loop. This afternoon, I had to attend the annual eight-hour refresher course that is a prerequisite for the license I need for work. There were only six students in the class, so the instructor was able to get us all to eschew the breaks so we could just call an hour-long 'break' at the end of the class and call it a day. Whew... that was a relief. I had thought that I had a night off, but on a hunch I checked the schedule and realized that one of my subordinates had a schedule conflict and needed time off- my subordinate who worked the early shift covered the first half-hour of my shift, and here I am, trying to get enough caffeine into my gullet. Dinner, I must sheepishly admit, was a couple of handfuls of Cheez-Its. Thankfully, I don't have to start tomorrow night until 9PM... I think I need to force myself to eat a whole mess of vegetables just to start feeling like a human again. I fear that, with October being such a slog, I'll devolve into a trashivore.

In the meantime, I need to catch up with the news, I've been cloistered for most of the day. There's also the matter of some first aid supplies that I had requested ahead of our busy season- the summer stock of first aid supplies has seen quite a bit of use, and we will be busier in the coming month than we've been all summer, so I badgered a bunch of managers until they told me what needed to be replenished. I figure I can put on the all-news radio station while I separate generic-brand bandage strips, adhesive tape, and 'sting relief' swabs into separate packages to send to other sites. We don't have any epi-pens, those are too damn expensive to just hand out to visitors these days.

UPDATE: In the interest of candor, I have to note that I have to take an eight-hour refresher course every calendar year- you can bet your sweet bippie that next year, I will take the course in late March or early April, before the tourist season. Just because I've long taken the course in the Fall doesn't mean I have to keep up the habit.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Debate Night

So... it's the night of the first Clinton/Trump debate. Ugh, I get the feeling that it will be a slog and a slugfest. As a fighter, my opinion is that Clinton's first order of business is to get Trump off of his balance, which is never stable to begin with. If I had been on Hillary's debate prep team, I would have shown her the cool, unflappable Miss May Whitley in all of her glory:

Rattle Trump's cage, flat out state that he's out of his league, that he's none-too-bright. Pin the 'trust fund kid' moniker on him and drop a joke about him being unable to make money on casino gambling on a virtual monopoly in an Atlanta-to-Portsmouth sprawl that housed millions and millions of people at the time. Put succinctly, paint him as a failure, boosted by daddy's money and a congeries of iridescent globes scams that targeted the naive and desperate. In a fight, one should aim for one's opponent's vulnerable spot, and Trump's is the facade that he has maintained, that of a successful businessman.

I'm going to be finishing work at 9PM, and will listen to the first minutes of debate in the car, then go over to a friend's house for pizza and beer. Luckily, it's not a drinking game, don't need to get sloppy.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Long Slog

It's the time of year when the organization I work for holds its major Fall fundraisers, which means that it's 'all hands on deck' time at work. The long hours have already begun- I worked from Friday 5PM to Saturday 4AM, then had a bit of a respite, only working Saturday 5PM to Sunday 1AM. I am currently working a 6PM to 6AM shift, and there is a small army of technicians working their butts off- they are a really nice group of men and women, some of whom I have known for years. They should wrap up around 3AM, then I have to do all the i-dotting and t-crossing after they leave. I actually have a day off on Wednesday, but I will be spending that at an annual certification class... fun fun fun. For the record, one of my co-workers put in a whopping one-hundred and two hours in last pay period. He took the day off today so he could attend a vintage car show- it's the calm before the storm, because he'll have few days off in October.

Myself? I have two days off scheduled for the month- both Secret Science Club event nights... gotta support my people, you know. It's not as bad as it seems, though, about one-third of the nights will be four-hour shifts, which are pretty mellow. I usually refer to October as 'pulling a Captain Nemo', because I won't surface for a month, but this coming October, I'll call it 'pulling an Alvin'. At any rate, I can't complain, I like my job, I like my co-workers, and it's a not-too-common opportunity to pick up a bunch of overtime.

I'll try to keep to a regular posting schedule, but I'll be falling back on short posts, video posts, and pre-scheduled posts. I'll surface one of these days.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Polk Salad Bastard

Last month, inspired by a post about pokeweed by Thunder, I posted about pokeweed and the country-rock standard Polk Salad Annie. We actually have quite a bit of pokeweed growing on-site here, far north of the Mason-Dixon line:

I was actually lucky enough to encounter a couple of small poke plants, small enough to be solidly in the 'pick me' category:

Erring on the side of caution, I boiled the pokeweed that I had harvested in three changes of water, then sauteed it in some olive oil with some garlic. The greens have a nice flavor, similar to that of spinach... and I consumed them without any ill effects, though they do tend to 'clean you out' very well if you know what I mean, and I think that you do. I can readily see a small amount of pokeweed becoming part of the weekly foraging take, in season. We have a secondary growth of stinging nettles coming up, and the pokeweed would be a good accompaniment for the nettles and lamb's quarters in my typical green slurry.

So, now that I'm a poke-eater, I guess that I could qualify for a song of my own:

Polk Salad Bastard, the dude likes getting plastered.
Everybody thought it was a joke, that this Northern boy is chowing down on poke.
A big, bald, Schick razor shaving bastard.

I found a really great cover version of Polk Salad Annie by Sammarinese singer Little Tony (who's a better Ciacci than Scott Baio ever could be). I particularly like this version because he was singing the song phonetically and made some charming errors due to his unfamiliarity with such regionalisms as 'truck patch'. I find this version a lot of fun, but not quite as much fun as Tony Joe White's duet with Johnny Cash:

I think Italians would 'get' the whole polk salad thing- Italian cuisine specializes in making bitter things delicious, and pokeweed seems like it belongs alongside such greens as escarole, arugula, and radicchio. I think poke would go well with beans, which like pokeweed can be poisonous if prepared incorrectly. Like poke, they can also clean you out really well.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Brilliant Coda to this Month's Lecture

What could be a better follow-up to an oceanography/marine biology lecture than the announcement that President Obama has created the first Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean? The fact that this oceanic preserve contains some of the very seamounts and marine canyons described in Tuesday's lecture is just the icing on the cake.

Back when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, I was quoted in an interview as saying, "I'm happy that we have a nerd in the White House once again." In his speech acknowledging the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, hot on the heels of the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, President Obama shows himself to be a steward as well as a nerd. He cherishes the oceans, and he is doing what he can to protect important regions of them:

Once, not too long ago, the oceans must have seemed indestructible, but with overfishing, ocean acidification, and appalling pollution, it is evident that these once invulnerable-seeming environments are woefully fragile. The creation of protected areas is a small, but significant, step in better stewardship of the oceans, and the president deserves kudos for making it happen.

I'm going to miss him being in the White House, but I have no doubt that he will go on to a stellar career as a former President.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Secret Science Club Post-Lecture Recap: Alvin and the Chipmunks Abyss

Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House, in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, for this month's Secret Science Club lecture featuring Dr Mercer Brugler of CUNY's City Tech and the American Museum of Natural History. Dr Brugler is a marine biologist, deep-sea adventurer, and activist helping to get women and minority students involved in the sciences.

Dr Brugler opened his talk with a couple of photographs- beginning with a nice shot of a newly discovered genus and species of low-light coral, following this up with a photograph of a whale turd which had attracted the attention of some hungry sea cucumbers. The bottom of the food pyramid of the sea consists of light-dependent phytoplankton, many of the denizens of the deep sea rely on biological material 'raining down' from the upper levels of the ocean.

The focus of the talk then quickly shifted to coral, which are Cnidarians. The Cnidaria are approximately six-hundred million years old. A coral colony can be likened to a ton of 'mouths' (polyps) that secrete a skeleton and clone themselves. A coral colony is composed of genetically identical individuals. Each individual polyp can be likened to an 'upside-down jellyfish (the technical term for a jellyfish is medusa)'. Cnidarians are two cell layers thick, with a goo called mesoglea filling the space between the layers, and have a two-way digestive system, spitting out undigested material from their 'mouths'. Coral polyps reproduce asexually and the colony secretes a calcium carbonate skeleton over which the polyps can grow. The polyps are connected by a layer of tissue known as a coenosarc. Coral colonies can reach an age of four thousand years. Like all Cnidarians, corals have stinging structures known as nematocysts, which have barbed 'harpoons' which inject venom- Dr Brugler quipped that the venoms are of various toxicity levels- this determines whether or not one has to go to the hospital. Coral colonies shed mucus, which is being studied to determine if it has cancer-fighting or antibiotic properties. Corals that dwell in shallow regions have photosynthetic dinoflagellate symbionts called zooxanthellae. When coral bleaching occurs, the beneficial zooxanthellae die off, stressing the coral.

Corals are divided into subclasses- the 8-tentacled octocorallia, the 6-tentacled hexacorallia, and the tube-dwelling ceriantharia. Among the octocorallia is Corallium rubrum- Dr Brugler ruefully noted that his mother likes coral jewelry, made out of the skeletons of dead animals. Also among the octocorallia is the blue coral. The hexacorralia includes the reef-building stony corals (Scleractinia) and the sea anemones.

Certain corals thrive in extreme environments, such as the vicinity of hydrothermal vents and cold seeps and under polar ice. The black or thorny corals are deep-dwelling hexacorallia with protein based skeletons. Among the black corals are the wire corals, which through convergent evolution resemble the octocorallia sea whips. Dr Brugler displayed a succession of slides which beautifully illustrated the variety of coral forms- branches, fronds, feathers, bushes, spines... He recounted the DNA sequencing of the genus Bathypathes and noted that DNA plus environment equals morphology.

The topic then slightly shifted to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the largest structure of biological origin on Earth. As large as it is, the Great Barrier Reef is succumbing to bleaching.

Dr Brugler then completely changed direction, turning his attention to the deep sea. Sunlight can penetrate seawater to a depth of 200 meters (this sunlit area is the photic zone). Below 200 meters, photosynthesis cannot occur, the water is cold (typically -2 to 4 degrees Celsius), and the pressure is extreme- for every ten meters one submerges, the pressure increases one atmosphere. There is little food in the deeps- the dead bodies of phytoplankton rain down from the shallow waters to the bottom- this detritus is known as 'marine snow'. Among the pictures Dr Brugler displayed of deep-sea life was a time-lapse sequence of amphipods Hirondellea gigas swarming over a feast of dead fish. Despite Edward Forbes' belief in an Azoic region of barren sea beds, there is life in the deep sea. Dr Brugler jokingly described the deep seas as 'Dr Seuss Land'- the sort of biome which houses ten foot-tall corkscrews.

The next topic of the lecture was the means by which humans explore the depths. Dr Brugler began with a question, "Should we phase out human occupied vehicles like Alvin?" Human-occupied vehicles cost about $45,000 per day to operate, while remote-operated vehicles cost $4,000-$11,000 per day to operate. ROVs can stay down longer and collect more specimens. The deepest region of the ocean, the Marianas Trench reaches a depth of perhaps eleven-thousand meters at its deepest area, the Challenger Deep. Seventy-percent of the Earth's surface is covered by the oceans, sixty-five percent by the deep seas- the deep ocean is Earth's largest environment. Dr Brugler gave us a quick overview of the bottom topography of the oceans- the continental shelves border the continents, then the continental slope reaches a depth of about two-hundred meters. Beyond the continental slope, the seabed abounds in trenches, canyons, seamounts, and spreading areas.

In 1934, William Beebe and Otis Barton descended to a depth of more than 900 meters in a bathysphere until the water pressure caused the airhose to collapse, necessitating a hasty retreat to the surface. In 1960, the crew of the bathyscaphe Trieste descended to a depth of about nine-thousand meters when their plexiglass window cracked, necessitating a hasty retreat to the surface (I sense a trend here).

Dr Brugler then described shipping out on the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer to the Drake Passage between southern South America and Antarctica in order to obtain deep sea specimens- only one sample had been obtained in the region by Russian scientists. Dr Brugler described the area, with its strong currents and multiple seamounts as the 'washing machine of the ocean'. He noted that if one were to fall overboard into the cold waters of the 'Passage, one would die in five minutes, which basically translates into 'you die'. The seas are high, with rogue waves of ten meters in height. Ice chunks in the water can snap chains meant to secure equipment on deck. Deckhands have to work in rotating teams, because frostbite can set in in five minutes. The water freezes into pancake ice, then can form small icebergs. Dr Brugler recounted tales of cetaceans following the icebreaker while 'pterodactyl-like' wandering albatrosses fly overhead. On the pack ice, clueless chinstrap penguins try to flee the unfamiliar humans, and are set into a panic by two stupid individuals which attempt to 'toboggan' on their bellies... uphill.

Despite the difficulties, there are rewards- the team obtained some deep sea glass sponges- Euplectella aspergillum, known as the Venus' flower basket because each sponge houses a mated pair of shrimp.

In the depths of the ocean, hydrothermal vents provide homes for such creatures as the newly-discovered Relicanthus daphneae, a hexacorallian which, through convergent evolution, appears like a giant (meter wide polyp, three meter tentacles) sea anemone... DNA sequencing indicated that this organism doesn't place with other anemones. Other hydrothermal vents seem to be monospecific environments, housing only crabs, only anemones, or only basket sponges.

Dr Brugler then introduced the audience to Alvin, a famed submersible paired with the research vessel Atlantis. He gave us a stem-to-stern description of the submersible- the outside houses electrical equipment, batteries, cameras; the crew compartment is a six-foot diameter sphere which is designed to accommodate three persons (the good doctor is 6'4", so he's a bit cramped)- one driver and two observers. Also inside the sphere are twelve oxygen tanks and two carbon dioxide scrubbers. There's no heater, and the sphere gets cold, so the crew members need to pack a bag of extra clothes. Crew members cannot wear metal accoutrements- while titanium is strong, it is soft, and scratches are a no-no. The Alvin was recently overhauled, and now has five cameras to replace the original three cameras. Additional portholes were added to the sphere, and it is more ergonomically friendly. Often paired with Alvin is the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Sentry- Dr Brugler joked that Sentry 'mows the lawn', taking photos and scouting out the scene before Alvin goes down. Dr Brugler treated us to lovely images of the New England and Corner Rise Seamounts (PDF), chains of seamounts characterized by numerous canyons. A ferromanganese(Fe-Mn) crust overlays a basalt substrate, and corals thrive on it. Dr Brugler cited the work of the University of Rhode Island's Inner Space Center in deep sea exploration.

We were then given a quick 'tour' of the seabed- seamounts are undersea mountains of volcanic origin, the mid-ocean ridges are areas of increased water flow beneficial to life, methane seeps give off plumes of methane which feed communities of micro-organisms, deep sea brine pools are hypersaline pools on the seabed which are denser that surrounding waters- they even have their own 'waves' as they interact with surrounding waters. In 1977, hydrothermal vents were discovered along the Galápagos Rift, home to giant tube worms with bright-red hemoglobin-rich plumes (most worms use copper-based hemocyanin for oxygen transport). Also found near the vents were large mussels and snot-like bacterial mats. Certain bacteria are methane-fixing. Among the chordates thriving in the deep are the sharklike chimaerae.

Dr Brugler then introduced us to a dazzling array of Remote Operated Vehicles- the Pisces IV and V, the Herculesand Argus. Dr Brugler noted that if any audience members liked playing on the XBOX, they should become ROV operators so they could explore the Manning Seamount. Dr Brugler then noted that deep sea exploration is hit-or-miss. Sometimes, hours are spent looking for something, but nothing is found... at a cost of $45,000. Conversely, sometimes a crew will discover a wealth of information.

All the while, Dr Brugler was showing slides of the gorgeous organisms found in the depths, such as the 'bubblegum coral', Paragorgia arborea, which can attain lengths of six meters, and the black coral Leiopathes, which grows micrometers per year, but which can attain 4,265 years of age. While deep sea corals do not form large reefs, the coral Lophelia pertusa forms deep-water reefs off the coast of Ireland and Florida. The big reefs are in the shallows, Dr Brugler noted, but there are singletons in the deep sea. Sea spiders, pycnogonids, feed on corals with a proboscis. Seastars often feed on fallen coral, but avoid the upright corals. Taller corals provide access to greater water flow for worms, crabs, and brittle stars. Some of the larger polychaete worms can attain lengths in excess of a meter. Other organisms lay egg masses on corals- recently, eggs of the Dumbo octopus were found on a coral- one egg hatched in captivity, but the low-pressure conditions led to the death of the octopus shortly after hatching.

Dr Brugler stressed the importance of public outreach- black corals are harvested for jewelry and illegally traded. It is difficult to identify black corals... the Department of Justice collaborates with the Smithsonian and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Sevices, confiscating suspected corals and having them identify biological materials. Dr Brugler recounted having a couple of Feds oversee him while he was attempting to identify a coral item. He displayed a picture of a gaudy bauble made of gold, red coral, and black pearl. One a more hopeful note, deep sea bamboo corals can possibly be used as living bone implants. The Revlon cosmetics company uses an extract from the 'sea whip' Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae in makeup for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Dr Brugler then discussed the effects of global warming and ocean acidification on corals- certain corals, exposed to conditions of high acidity, can stop forming skeletons and take on the appearance of sea anemones (a topic also addressed in Dr David Gruber's July 2014 SSC lecture). Will our kids have coral reefs? When the pH is moved by a factor of .3, the corals adapt to take on their anemone-like forms, the current shift in pH is .1. When acidification ceases, the corals resume forming skeletons.

Dr Brugler then touched on the topic of genome sequencing. He noted that the genetics of leeches are being studied in order to determine medicinal uses for leech anticoagulants (one cannot work in the Department of Invertebrate Biology at AMNH without dealing with the Leech Guy). The DNA sequence of bedbugs is being determined in order to develop better pesticides. DNA sequencing is becoming faster and cheaper, DNA sequencing equipment is getting smaller, and sequencing can be done in real time in the field.

Dr Brugler left off the lecture with a quote from author C.P. Idyll: "It was once considered absurd to expect life to exist in the deep sea- cold, perpetually dark, and subject to crushing pressures."

The lecture was followed with a Q&A session, as always. One individual in the audience asked about the evolution of deep sea corals- it is generally thought that shallow corals invaded the deep sea, rather than vice-versa. Another individual asked about the mechanisms by which animals survive when the pickings are so slim in the deeps- Dr Brugler suggested lipid storage as the best mechanism for long-term survival. Some bastard in the audience asked if different hydrothermal vent communities were compared genetically with each other- how much connectivity is there in the deep sea. Dr Brugler likened hydrothermal vents to evolutionary stepping stones- rich oases of life, but noted that corals evolve very slowly, their changes in DNA tend to occur one-hundred times slower than typical invertebrates (chalk a lot of that up to asexual reproduction). Asked what he wants most to know, Dr Brugler stated that he wants to know what is in the deep trenches (some bastard in the audience, perhaps fed up with this year's presidential election, joked that maybe Cthulhu could be found). When asked about the Hudson Canyon, Dr Brugler expressed a hope that there would be a DIY ROV movement, with hobbyists building there own submersibles to explore the waters around NYC- he noted that this would be a great way to monitor invasive species. When asked what the greatest threat to the oceans was, Dr Brugler stated unequivocally that it was carbon dioxide emissions.

After the Q&A session, Dr Brugler gave a coda to his lecture, describing his roundabout route to his doctorate. As a child in Texas, he was introduced to SCUBA diving by his father, but his diving was limited to lakes with low visibility. He attended University of Miami, Florida as an undergrad and applied to a masters program at the University of Charleston, where he was accepted by mistake. After an initial confusion about his status, he was told to sequence the DNA of black coral, and things smoothed out for him... because of this unorthodox start, he decided that his life goal (which is totally awesome) would be to ensure that no high school or college student who want for experience to pursue the goal of studying what they want to.

This particular lecture hit what I've come to call the 'Secret Science Sweet Spot'- it was a great blend of hard science, adventure narrative, gorgeous visuals, and advocacy. Put succinctly, Dr Brugler hit it out of the park. Kudos to Dr Brugler, Margaret and Dorian, and the staff of the beautiful Bell House. High fives all around.

After the lecture, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Brugler and two of his grad students, both young women of Latin heritage. The good doctor takes his goal of STEM diversity seriously. Also in the audience was SSC lecturer Dr Simon Garnier, who has been a regular audience member. One of the other regulars outed me as a blogger... it's kinda odd to come out and tell people you're a blogger, and I'm not big on self-promotion. He read my recap of his lecture and didn't hit me with a shoe afterward. Sorry, Monsieur Docteur, I should have told you earlier... Dr Frans De Waal sussed me out on his own. Dr Garnier was accompanied by a couple of his grad students- as a big nerd, I have to say that it's a lot of fun to be able to geek out on Atta in a bar, and to hear anecdotes about one's homework being eaten by army ants. Good times! This is what the Secret Science Club is all about.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mr Sulu, Set Your Phaser on 'Burn'

Longtime readers of mine will know that I am a big fan of George Takei. I liked him in the original Star Trek, I respect his record as a fighter for civil rights, and I like his hilarious takedows, takeidowns if you will, of bigots and fools. George's latest 'burn' is a dig at Donald Trump, and boy is it a scorcher:

George doesn't suffer fools lightly, and he can deploy a thermonuclear snark-attack. I've written before that President Obama should award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to George Takei and Nichelle Nichols for their human rights work and their contributions to American culture. President Obama is a 'Trek' fan, possibly a Vulcan- awarding George and Nichelle the PMoF would enrage a lot of right-wingers, and the President doesn't owe those idiots a damn thing.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Terrorist's Blast, or a Dope's Dud?

The big local story this weekend was the explosion of a bomb in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood yesterday. I was firmly ensconced in the suburbs, attending the wedding of two longtime friends, and then working an overnight shift at a site I don't typically work... I was pretty much out of the loop as far as the news was concerned, and I was so worn out that I slept until well after 2PM, sleeping through one alarm, but having set a backup alarm in case I was comatose.

I am familiar with the neighborhood in which the blast took place, but not as familiar with it as this guy. The odd thing about this bombing is the placement of the device- anyone aiming for mass casualties would have placed the device in a more trafficked area, such as Times Square. This particular incident is more reminiscent of the placement of a homemade bomb in Central Park, which injured a visitor's leg to the extent that it had to be amputated below the knee. In the case of this new bombing, all 29 victims have already been released from the hospital, not that Gary Johnson knew that they were hospitalized at all:

My instinct is that this incident was rooted in malicious mischief, rather than terrorism. Lately, a lot of, as security experts would describe it, dumb shit has been occurring in Manhattan, notably a series of cigarette lighter attacks on women in Midtown. Thankfully, this current incident didn't kill anyone. I think it'll be blown out of proportion- already the dumpster fire is citing the dumpster bomb as a reason to 'get very tough'. I'd prefer that we get very smart, it's the best way to combat dumbassery.

UPDATE: Listening to the news coverage of the suspect's apprehension, it seems like he's a terrorist and a dumbass. Thankfully, his career of evil was cut short by his incompetence. Meanwhile, the heroes in the case were a pair of luggage thieves and a barman- of the three, the barman has an honorable profession, but high fives go to all three.

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Unhealthy Precedent

The latest news in the election cycle was Donald Trump's appearance on Dr Mehmet Oz talk show, during which he purportedly produced his medical records for Dr Oz. This is a response to a faux scandal concerning Hillary Clinton's health. I can't remember the health of presidential candidates being an issue before- Ronald Reagan, JFK, and FDR all suffered chronic health problems... William Henry Harrison died, probably of pneumonia, shortly after his inauguration. The Constitution provides for a chain of succession should a president die in office.

The insistence on the release of medical records bugs the hell out of me... years ago, I worked in a HIPAA compliant facility. We took the privacy of individuals whose medical records were were responsible for storing seriously- every file represented a human life, and every human was owed their privacy. An insistence on publicizing medical records seems to me to weaken the privacy rights of average individuals. I'm not a big proponent of 'slippery slope' arguments, but this is one instance in which I believe there is a danger... if the medical records of Clinton and Trump are considered fair game, I fear that those of Joe and Jane Schmo will soon be as well. The real problem is that this is all in the service of a bullshit fake controversy.

I'm also bemused by Dr Oz's role in this tawdry affair... Dr Oz is, at best, a woo-slinger, at worst, a scam artist. He certainly doesn't deserve to play a role in a national election. With Donald Trump's appearance on his show, we witnessed a guy who plays a billionaire on television releasing a bogus medical report to a guy who plays a doctor on television. In an election which has degenerated into a reality television series, this is a new low- a crossover episode involving two grifters. All told, it's a tawdry affair, and it sets an unhealthy precedent- an individual's health records are not a matter for public consumption.

Now, tax returns are another matter entirely... the public has a right to know what potential conflicts of interest may effect the way a potential executive will govern. We need tax returns, not colonoscopy results... we know that Trump's head is up his ass.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

This Is Serious Business! We Are Serious People!

The office which I share with my subordinates houses the site's lost-and-found box. Items of clothing, an occasional backpack... all end up in our office in a large box. We actually have a good track record for returning important items- lost wallets, lost phones. I always tell people, "Write down your name and contact information and we will make an effort to return your item to you." I've had people tell me, "Oh, I'll never get it back." They are invariably surprised when they get the call that their wallet or phone has been found.

Certain items, it's impossible to return if nobody gives us a description... hats, gloves (lotta little kid gloves get lost in the colder months), sweatshirts. Occasionally, toys get left behind. Our new office mate is Lizzy:

Lizzy is a jaunty, chatty little equestrian... I actually googled her backstory, so I could figure out where her 'off' switch was so I didn't kill her batteries. When on, she delivers one of several catchphrases and her plastic pony is off to the races. For some reason, one of my co-workers put the toy on my desk... I don't get THAT bored sitting around late at night.

Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to reprogram Lizzie's programed speech so she can take a level in badass:

Oh, well, it's not like we have a Skeletor action figure for Lizzie to hinder...

I also found a 'pillow dachshund' on top of another box under my desk... the place is starting to look like a used toy store:

These items were probably lost at our Labor Day weekend fundraiser. If nobody claims them, I'll give them to our weekend cleaning lady. She has three young children and I'm sure they would get a kick out of this toy. At the risk of sounding like a total sap (I blame it on reading The Velveteen Rabbit as a kid), toys should be played with, should be enjoyed by children. Lizzie deserves to be cherished, and if the original owner doesn't show up, my friend's children deserve a chance to cherish 'her'. Regarding neck-pillow dachshund... I think I just might keep it... I love the feel of plush on my bald head.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

An Uncharacteristically Early Start

Today, I start work right around the time I typically get home from work. I usually have Tuesdays off, but my workplace is a polling site and we are hosting primary elections today. The poll workers are scheduled to arrive at 5:30AM, and the polls open at 6. We usually have the same crew, a nice bunch of people which includes one of my part-time co-workers. When they arrive, I will help them find the proper wall outlets for the optical scanning voting machines (I do miss the old mechanical ones, to be honest). It's a 12-hour day for me, but it's pretty cushy... after the initial 'roadie' work, I pretty much hang around and answer questions as needed, or just shoot the breeze with people. In actuality, though, it'll be a good day to catch up on expense reports and to work on the schedule for October, our busiest month- there's always something to do.

I prepared for the day by succumbing to trendiness and cold brewing a quart of concentrated coffee. Still, tonight at bar trivia, I think I'll be nodding into my beer.

UPDATE: The poll workers are a mixed bag- about half is the old crew, the remaining half is split between workers at other poll sites and brand-new poll workers. As a representative of the hosts, I have a good sense of 'institutional memory'- I know where the outlets are, I know the 100' 'no electioneering' limit (though I always ask them to verify, as a CYA measure).

As I unlocked the back doors of the building, mainly to prevent anyone from getting locked out, I noticed that there were some cleaning supplies right outside, then I remembered that we had a cleaning crew come yesterday to pressure wash the outside of the greenhouse that our food concession uses as a cafe. They didn't quite finish the job, so I have been informed, and need to return today. Something tells me that it's going to be an interesting day. Our gift shop management did something smart, though- they will be open for most of the day, so people can spend some money after casting their vote.

SECOND UPDATE: In a move which surprised nobody, She Who Must Not Be Ignored, the divalicious Ginger, made an appearance at the polls:

Of course, one of the poll workers is allergic, so I had to entice Ginger out of the building with some kibble.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fifteen Years Gone

It's that time of year again, the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I pretty much said all that I had to say about 9/11 on the tenth anniversary of the attacks. Two friends of mine were killed in the attacks, the loved ones of friends of mine died, and I know a lot of people who escaped alive, though people are still dying from the toxic cloud that resulted from the towers' collapse. One friend of mine was a suburban first responder who arrived with a crew in the aftermath, but pulled them when they were given 'dust masks' rather than respirators... by individuals wearing respirators. 9/11 will form the background 'hum' in New York's psyche for decades to come. I don't think about the attacks often, but there are recurring reminders- seeing relatives of the victims that I knew, particularly one of my favorite students, who was born shortly before her father died of lung cancer a few years after the attacks.

I also wrote about the reactions to the attacks, specifically the heinous reactions that New Yorkers rejected as 'not in our name'. Like a lot of New Yorkers, I'm a bit stymied by the emotions that the World Trade Center attacks engendered in people who hate New Yorkers. Now, fifteen years later, it's even weirder, especially seeing something like this:

Sure, it's offensive, and I want to smack the individuals involved with a shoe, but in some ways, the callousness is better than the false piety that people felt they needed to demonstrate. The tragedy has faded into the background for the vast majority of Americans- it was something that they watched on television, they didn't have to comfort grieving loved ones, they didn't smell the miasma of the burning when the wind blew from a certain direction. In some ways, it's a relief that people can go back to hating New York without putting in an insincere disclaimer about 'the Fallen'. Meanwhile, some schmucks from a Texas mattress store lose their livelihoods while a much worse asshole still has his television career.

The country is moving on, memory was never the strong suit of the American public. Still, there are some of us who will be periodically reminded of the attacks because we know people who are continually reminded by the absence of the deceased. It's healthier to remember the lives of our people, not to dwell on their deaths.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Its Fifty-Year Mission: To Entertain, to Inspire, and Occasionally to Provoke Discussion

Much has been made in the media this week about the fiftieth anniversary of the debut of the original Star Trek:

While slightly before my time, I fell in love with the series as a kid when it was in its long run of syndication on local television stations across the United States. Star Trek was occasionally scary, often funny, always interesting. The colorful menagerie of monsters and aliens appealed to my nerdy young self, and the cast of main characters seemed to have a wonderful chemistry (I was unaware of tales of offscreen rancor). Amid all the flashy, sometimes cheesy entertainment, I was (like many contemporaries) absorbing the liberal, humanistic values that I espouse today. Gene Roddenberry's original vision for Star Trek was even more liberal than the version which was aired on television- a female first officer was nixed by the network because execs considered it controversial.

Looking back, it's a bit appalling to think that the mere portrayal of an African-American woman being portrayed as a bridge officer was considered controversial, especially since Lt. Uhura was depicted by Nichelle Nichols (as critic John Kenneth Muir puts it "one of the most beautiful women ever to appear on American television")as a proud, intelligent woman from a United States of Africa, bearing a Swahili name. When she expressed a desire to quit the show, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr urged her to remain:

In the midst of the Cold War, when Gene Roddenberry added a character to appeal to the teenage demographic, he added a young Russian with a Beatle-cut. The character often delivered laugh lines about the Russian origin of various proverbs and fictional characters, but he was a far cry from the typical sinister Russian of Cold War propaganda.

The show wasn't perfect, having imagery firmly rooted in the male gaze... this screengrab gives the game away, one episode seemed to play the trafficking of women in a jokey fashion, and the miniskirts and bouffants of the women's Starfleet uniforms seem silly and dated by today's standards. That being said, the show also offered male eye-candy for viewers. Still, the show's values were remarkable for the time- in the famous 'Arena' episode, Kirk shows mercy to a fallen foe and another portrays a successful attempt to establish communication with an alien lifeform known to have killed humans... as a kid, watching a grown man emoting while playing opposite a giant pile of dog poop was funny, but the scene does achieve a sort of pathos:

As far as plots go, the show ranged from tragic romance to allegory to comedy. It also utilized the talents of such pulp-fiction luminaries as Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Norman Spinrad, and Frederic Brown- notably, the story editor and a scriptwriter for the series was a woman, D.C. Fontana (the show debuted three years after the embarrassing back cover blurb of Margaret St Clair's The Sign of the Labrys). 'Trek' was an introduction to Science-Fiction fandom for countless fans.

About those fans... even though the show only had a three-year original run, it hit a nerve and spawned a vibrant fandom, perhaps the ur-fandom. 'Trek' fans had an enormous influence on the development of fandom itself, having originated such concepts as the 'Mary Sue' and slash fiction (which has branched out from the relatively mundane Kirk/Spock to more outré offerings such as Kirk/Horta). Hey, as long as it's between consenting sentient lifeforms, who am I to judge? The show was the origin of many common tropes, and words and phrases such as 'redshirts', 'he's dead Jim' and 'beam me up' have passed into the modern lexicon.

Besides spinning off numerous television series, including an animated series, and a plethora movies, the series has inspired parodies aplenty and songs of various styles. For a short-lived original television series, the show certainly worked its way into the cultural landscape star system.

The cast of the show has had varied relationships to the roles, ranging from denial to acceptance. Their relationships with their fans has also evolved, with this 'SNL' skit being a perfect illustration of fandom frustration, even though William Shatner has come around on his famous 'Get a life!' line. While James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, and Leonard Nimoy are no longer with us, we fans still have William Shatner, who has now taken on the role of a beloved, but hammy elder statesmen, Walter Koenig, who has gone on to a career as a science-fiction author as well as an actor, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei have continued to advocate for human rights, with Nichelle having worked as a diversity consultant for NASA.

The enduring appeal of Star Trek is due to the show's evocation of a sense of wonder, and its optimistic view of humanity's future. The show combined action, humor, and strong characterization with a firm moral core. It exhorts viewers to put aside the petty animosities of 20th century societies and band together as one human family to achieve wonders. The society portrayed in Star Trek isn't perfect, and the lives of the Federation citizens isn't perfectly safe, but with a sense of unity, a sense of curiosity, and a sense of decency, humans can go out and explore the universe, and the species can live long and prosper. That's a message which still rings true a half a century after the show debuted.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Empty Nest...

Sometime over the last week at least (sadly, I wasn't around to see it happen), the eggs laid by one of our resident snapping turtles hatched (unless, of course, one of our local raccoons dug out the nest... one of the pitfalls of the 'r' reproductive strategy):

I'm going to have to check out the vicinity of the nest for any hatchlings- they look very cute when they are pocket-sized. I'm slightly bummed that I wasn't able to witness baby turtles burrowing out of their nest, but I can't always be as lucky as I was when I spied the killdeer chicks minutes after hatching.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

End of an ERA

In a case which actually supports the adage that only the good die young, Phyllis Schlafly has finally ceased to haunt the planet. I'm not the sort of person who agrees that one shouldn't speak ill of the dead- it's important to call out persons who have willfully harmed others, especially those who have made long, successful careers out of it. Schlafly made a lucrative career out of traveling around the United States to tell women to stay home and let their husbands work.

For those few readers who might not be familiar with Schlafly, I am envious of you... I mean to say, she was one of the leaders of the Ladies Against Women movement, who was best known for her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. Schlafly was a uniquely horrible person, a woman who tried to trivialize domestic violence and sexual harassment, who categorically denied that spousal rape could occur, who believed that the pay gap wasn't a bad thing because it sustained marriages. She even allowed her hatred of immigrants to, er, trump her belief in the Free Market. Tell me that it's not good to speak ill of such a monster.

Phullis Schlafly did her level best to decrease opportunity for women, to decrease security for families. Still, as horrible as she was, I really can't blame her for her career of evil. In a sane society, she would have been the crazy lady on the local street corner, calling young women sluts. I blame American society for allowing her hateful, reactionary message to influence legislation. The real shame is on us.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Off on Labor Day?

In a stunning development, I actually have off on Labor Day. My 'weekend' is typically Monday and Tuesday, so I usually have off on Mondays, and we have adequate staffing so there's no 'all hands on deck' situation. The organization pays time-and-a-half on holidays at any rate, so my part-time subordinates are actually happy to work. One of the guys told me about a bunch of car repair and maintenance bills he has coming up, so he's eager for all the hours he can get. I'm content with loafing around all day in order to celebrate my status as a worker. I had a conversation with a bunch of co-workers today about working on Labor Day, and the general consensus is that the job is rewarding... one important factor is working for a not-for-profit is 'buy in'. None of us is making a ton of money, but we value our work and we cherish our workplaces. That being said, I don't mind having the day off.

In the past I've linked to the Dead Milkmen's song Stuart, which I consider a perfect distillation of right-wing conspiracy theorist fringe paranoia. In their snottier early incarnation, the Milkmen excoriated the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon with their song Labor Day:

As an added bonus, in the hope that taco trucks will indeed materialize on every corner, here's a doubleshot of Dead Milkmen, Taco Land segueing into Big Lizard in My Backyard:

Now, if only I had a taco truck on the corner, I know what I'd be having for lunch on this lazy Labor Day. Hope everyone is having a good time.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Conversation Took a Turn for the Weird

Today was a busy day- we are in the midst of a late-summer fundraising event, a family friendly harvest festival that has been drawing about twelve-hundred visitors to the site each day this weekend. There are games and craft activities for the children and a beer concession and bluegrass band for the grownups, plus a nice low-key educational content so we can sneak in some learning. It's a nice atmosphere, a great vibe. I had a seven year old try to give me some of her Pokémon cards because I answered some questions she had, I thanked her, then told her she'd be better off bringing her cards to school and trading them with her schoolmates for ones she didn't have. Sweet kid, I didn't mention that Pokémon were a bit of a touchy subject round these parts.

The day wound down, and I was able to lock the visitors' center so the shop assistant could close up. After locking up, I saw two gentlemen outside the front door, so I grabbed a copy of our brochure and a map put out by the local chamber of commerce which lists local businesses. The two guys, one who looked to be in his mid-to-late forties and one who looked to be in his mid-to-late fifties, were visiting from the Syracuse area. I explained that we were closed for the day, but that our sites were open on Labor Day and we were hosting a festival which runs from about 10AM to 5PM. I gave them a bit of the local scuttlebutt, and indicated on the chamber of commerce map a section which lists local hotels. We chatted for a bit, and I told them where they could go to buy some local souvenirs.

The two gentlemen thanked me, then left the premises. About twenty minutes later, they returned and the older of them asked me, "Do you know of any adult places around here?" Things got just a bit weird. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, and I like to think of myself as imperturbable.

To clarify matters, I replied, "Like, a porn shop? There's a place a few miles away on the service road to the main highway."

"Do they have a cinema, or booths where you can watch?"

"Uhhhhhhhhhhh... I don't know... if you stop in there, someone might be able to help you with that. If not, you're not that far from New York City."

The gent thanked me again, and the two went on their way. It was just a little weird having a conversation like this with a complete stranger while on the job (of course, it would be a lot more awkward having such a conversation with a friend, or worse, a family member). I'm not about to mention this to the boss in the context of company 'hospitality standards', largely out of concern that he'd tell me where I should have sent these guys. At any rate, it was weird, and in a weird way, it reminded me of an obscure song I heard on the legendary WLIR as a kid... a song that I am not the only one to vaguely remember that I now know is Soft Core by a band named Maurice and the Cliches:

Kinda funny to think back on listening to this as a kid... thanks for the nostalgia trip, friendly pervs!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Deadbeat Donald Even Stiffs the Big Fish

Looking at the picture of Trump's 'war room' staff, posted by Tengrain, the thing that struck me most was how young most of them looked. Knowing that millennials are often trapped in unpaid internships indeed, Trump's daughter has become infamous for not paying writers), I immediately suspected that these poor foolish College Republican Trump Youth are not being paid for their strategery (sic). Hell, not even contracts are enough to get Donald Trump to pay his bills.

It got even weirder then... it turns out that Trump isn't even paying his top staffers. This is actually surprising to me, because, as Bernie Madoff proved, stealing from other rich people is a cardinal sin, while stealing from poor people will ensure that the poor peoples' tax dollars will bail you out when you crash and burn. It was acceptable when Trump was stealing from dishwashers and cabinetmakers, but I can't see stealing from consultants working out for him in the long run. Trump has even stiffed the very lawyers who have represented him in lawsuits regarding his unpaid bills.

I can't imagine competent campaign workers to continue with Trump's bizarre presidential bid... these are not exactly charitable people here. Even if Trump's real endgame is a right-wing network of his own, as some people suspect, I can't see right wing scumbags such as Racist Bannon (apologies to 'Johnny Quest' fans) and Roger 'Bad Touch' Ailes going all-in with a guy who is a grifter on the level of Donald Trump, though I imagine Bannon would own the network while Trump would be relegated to the status of 'the help'. At the best, I could see these three assholes ending up like this:

The real kicker here is that Trump's brand has pretty much been nuked from orbit- his racism and misogyny are too toxic for major corporate sponsors, only the most naive people will work for a guy with his record of non-payment. The guy even makes his volunteers sign a contract which states that they, and their employees, sha'n't ever disparage him.

I keep waiting for the total implosion, but it hasn't quite happened yet. In a nation of three hundred million people, there are enough idiots willing to line your pockets to their own detriment... the well-heeled people who are being stiffed are evil, not stupid, they'll probably bail soon.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Warning to Researchers: Don't Fall in Love

One of the big stories from earlier in the week was news of the discovery of a radio signal of extraterrestrial origin that needs to be further examined. I'm not overly optimistic that this signal is evidence of an extrasolar civilization, but such a discovery would be a neat thing to see happen in my lifetime. Even with my pessimistic view, I have one word of warming to any scientists investigating the origin of this signal... don't fall in love:

Oddly enough, I seem to have only one post mentioning Split Enz, even though they have long been a favorite band of mine. A few years back, I posted a link to a documentary about New Zealand's Flying Nun Records that Another Kiwi was kind enough to refer to me. At any rate, 'Poor Boy' is a cautionary tale... Proxima Centauri B is no place to go looking for romance.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

This Jack Ain't Jack!

On Sunday, one of our visitors approached me with a problem- she had a flat tire and didn't have any roadside assistance plan, would it be possible for me to help her? Being the sort of person who enjoys an occasional mechanical challenge, I told her that I would do my best. I went to the parking lot, accompanied by the visitor and one of our weekend cleaning contractors, an extremely nice gentleman from Peru. The woman's car was a late-90's/early-oughts vintage Volkswagen sedan, a car that I had no experience with regarding basic maintenance. First things first, though, I had the woman open the trunk so I could size up the equipment provided for tire changes. The jack looked so flimsy that it passed beyond 'scary' into the category of 'comical'. Oh, well, work with what you have. I rummaged in my own car for my 20" cruciform lug wrench because tire irons are totally inadequate to the task of removing tires.

Looking at the lugs, I was momentarily stymied, because they looked like they needed to be removed with some sort of specialized 'star fastener' remover, though a brief examination revealed that the lugs were covered with ornamental rubber doodads, which were easily removed with a screwdriver. Upon cracking the lugs with the lug wrench, I encountered something I'd never encountered before (having no experience with Volkswagens)- the bleeping things were lug bolts, not lug nuts. WTF? They came out easily enough... By this time, we had acquired a small audience- dudes like to kibbitz whenever they see other dudes doing dudely things. We were all hanging out, joking about the jack- I dropped a comment about how I'd have felt a lot more comfortable using a three-ton hydraulic jack, whereupon one guy bemoaned the fact that he had three of them at home (being a commercial driver by trade), but that he didn't have room in the car for them because it was filled with his baseball gear.

At this point, I was confronted with the next obstacle- the damn tire didn't come off. The last time I had been involved in a tire change, we had a similar problem, solved with a sharp blow with a post driver, with a wooden board used to cushion the blow. Yeah, the subtle approach tends to work. Not having such a precision instrument at hand, a bunch of us took turns kicking the tire, which made me cringe when I looked at that flimsy jack. I excused myself so I could obtain a can of WD-4O so I could spray the wheel in order to loosen the tire hub. By the time I returned with the can, one of my Chuck Norris emulating comrades had loosed the hub with his mighty foot. Now, it was time to put the new tire on- because of the bleeping lug bolts, it was impossible to simply place the new tire on the wheel and then fasten it- I had to hold the damn tire and try to align it while one of my tire-changing buddies inserted the bolts. Once we accomplished that, it was an easy matter to hand-tighten all of them and then 'crank them down' with the lug wrench. I can't imagine how much of a pain in this ass this would have been if I hadn't have had help.

We then gave the woman some pointers about driving on the spare- it was rated for 50MPH, so she had to take it slow. Unfortunately, it being late Sunday afternoon, none of the local tire places was open, so she had to dive all the way home to Queens. She wanted to give us money for our help (buy yourselves a beer) but we refused to take her money- she needed it for the new tire, and we had fun doing the job and socializing. Every once in a while, a guy's got to do guy things in a guyly fashion. Thank goodness, though, that it was still light out, most of my tire changes have taken place after nightfall.

One lesson I learned (besides avoiding Volkswagens)- this being the second tire change in a row that required some sharp blows to remove the old tire, I went out and bought a dead blow hammer to keep the lug wrench company. Our busy season is coming up, and additional tire changes may be in my near future. Regarding the jack situation, I think I'll have to deal with the shit jacks that aren't worth jack shit- I doubt I can get approval from my department head to buy a decent hydraulic jack on the company dime.