Friday, July 29, 2011

Everybody Likes Bears

Even deformed ones.

Everybody likes berries.

Everybody likes books.

I can't figure out a convincing way to make this start with B, 
but I'm sure everybody likes it all the same.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Everybody Likes Buttons

It's funny how buttons you wouldn't be caught dead wearing can be completely mesmerizing if you put them in a little dish in a crazy store full of twinkle lights and bolts of gauzy pastel fabric. Something just comes over you.

The best thing about this store was the variety of little dishes and drinks trays.

Also some of the buttons were not ugly.

Some of them.

It was kind of like being inside a giant treasure chest.

Full of silver!

And plastic!

And these dreadful yet magnificent lamps! My taste was completely torn in two the whole time I was there.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Everybody Likes Beads

Red beads

Blue beads

Rainbow beads


This may not be a pigeon. I Googled both pigeon and dove relentlessly until I figured out that doves and pigeons are basically the same bird, and apparently neither of them look like this even though I thought they did. Googling "bird with lumpy head" got me a picture of a deer with antlers. Someone please tell me what this is.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mees Observatory

Last Friday, I enlisted some loyal comrades in a trip to the Mees Observatory, about forty minutes south from me in the Bristol Hills. It's run by the University of Rochester, but they don't use it for much anymore, having moved on to bigger and better things like looking at space . . . from space. (How novel!) They give free tours most summer weekends, from eight o'clock onward until the end of time, if the enthusiasm of our tour guide is any indication.

The Mees Observatory was built on land originally owned by Frank Gannett, of Gannett Newspapers. I would have gone there just for the grounds, which were beautiful and very well-maintained. If we'd gotten there maybe two hours earlier and it had been clearer, I would have taken a lovely picture of the view of what must have been either Honeoye Lake or Canandaigua Lake . . . but we didn't and it wasn't and my picture is terrible. You will have to go and see it for yourself. It's very nice. If they had tea parties on that patio, I'd pay to go.

The Gannett Lodge (a name I just made up) is strange. It's as if a charming rural cabin collided with a 1960s astronomy department storage room, which I think is almost exactly what happened.

I want to film something here very badly.
And then they threw in a piano and some trees because why not?

You have to put the piano in a room by itself or it interferes with Science.
It's a very odd little place, but it has a pleasant atmosphere. There was a talk that went on for perhaps an hour or so about what's in the sky, what's in our sky, and what's in our sky tonight (the list gets progressively smaller). By that time it was getting fairly dark, so we trekked up to the observatory in our cars, and waited a bit while they fiddled with the telescope. That's when we stood around and took pictures of the incredibly old equipment that controls it.

Anna: "Is that a ZIP DRIVE?!"

Adam: "This chair is so . . . SCIENCE!"

Me, in an unrelated conversation with myself: "That is a great-looking phone."
Then we went up and saw the telescope. Now, I have to admit that my favorite part of this whole adventure was simply stargazing on the balcony around the observatory, because it is rarely dark enough to see anything where I live. Out there I could pick out the Little Dipper, which was exciting, because I can never remember where it is. We also learned about Arcturus and the Summer Triangle (made up of Vega, Deneb, and Altair), and space junk. Space junk is impressively fast. There are eight thousand pieces of space junk floating in our sky. I find this depressing, because like, must we pollute even space? But space junk is also cool, because like, we have been to space, man. Mixed feelings.

Anyway. The observatory looks like this, photo courtesy of Matt, who has a much better camera than I do and has kindly donated his skills to Simon & Ivan:

Stranger: "Guys, when you drove up, did this place remind you of the hatch from Lost?"
The moon was rather bright, which interfered a little, but it was also very pretty. The top part of the observatory turns by remote control, which impressed us all very much. Some of us might have been more impressed by that than by the vastness of space, not pointing fingers. The telescope inside looks like this (photo by Matt):

The red lights are to keep your eyes from readjusting to bright light between views.
I should have written down what we saw, because now I've forgotten. One was the moon, I know that much. It is obviously very recognizable. Then we looked at Saturn. Then we looked at two stars, one of which was yellow and one of which was blue, but they were very very very small. Then we looked at a star cluster of some kind. It had 300 million stars in it. It looked like a patch of mist. And thennnnnnn . . . there was something else. Once someone referred to it as schmutz ("I can't see it . . . wait, is it this schmutz? I thought that was stuff on the lens"), we all started calling it that, and I forgot its real name. It was almost impossible to see.

What made me want to go here, aside from the fact that it's just cool, is that I had been reading about William and Caroline Herschel in Richard Holmes's amazingly fascinating and marvelous book Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. (It is honestly one of the best books I have ever read; if I haven't recommended it to you in person, which I probably have, I am recommending it now.) I may do a whole post on the Herschel siblings another time, but I bring them up now because what impressed me is that this telescope we looked through on Friday was a modern piece of equipment, professionally manufactured, and pretty large as things go. And it was so difficult to see anything with it that we were reduced to calling quite marvelous astronomical objects "schmutz." More than two hundred years ago, William Herschel built a forty foot telescope by hand -- imagine making a mirror by hand, I didn't even know it was possible -- and managed to see things like the polar ice caps on Mars, a new moon of Saturn, and various star clusters very far away. Granted, Herschel also thought there was a civilization living on the moon, but still: now that I know how difficult it is to see through modern equipment, I am doubly impressed by all the things Herschel discovered with equipment he built himself. Not to mention the fact that he built something forty feet long when a whole university didn't spring for anything longer than ten. And I'm pretty sure they didn't make it themselves.

William made another telescope for his sister Caroline, much smaller than his -- smaller even than the one at Mees -- and with it she discovered eight comets, a whole galaxy that's so far away it's expressed in numbers and letters that don't make sense to me, and 560 stars the astronomers before her had not seen. Had she been given a forty-footer of her own, goodness knows what she might have seen. She was also a very talented singer, the first woman to receive a professional salary from the king of England, the recipient of two medals, and an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, which, as you can imagine, was not accustomed to including women in any of their doings. When she was young, her parents thought she should be their uneducated servant for the rest of their earthly lives. That did not work out for them.

But I've gotten sidetracked. Caroline Herschel fascinates me. The point is, the Mees Observatory is really cool, and getting to see the moon up close was amazing, and you should all go and donate five dollars, because they really want to clean their lenses.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Doctor Who is Always Pertinent

Me, yesterday:

Mr. Magpie: "I just want things back like they used to be!"

I have been watching a lot of Doctor Who while lying like a ragdoll in my big blue chair moaning quietly to myself which always makes me feel better when I'm sick. My pathetic condition has not stopped me from making some observations about the happenings on this show that are now driving me insane:

1. All alien races are always entirely homogenous. While this does explain why the Doctor likes humans so much (they are legitimately the most interesting of all the species on the show), it seems highly unlikely from an evolutionary point of view.

2. Whenever the Doctor says something is impossible ("But it cawn't be! That's impossible!"), it clearly isn't, because it's right in front of him. Duh.

3. Whenever the Doctor says some alien is the last of its kind, ninety million more of them come barging in with lasers. Really, I'm starting not to trust his judgment.

4. Also, why are so many aliens the last of their kind? What is going around killing all but one of everything? Half the time it seems to be the Time Lords, which leads me to believe the Time Lords were rotten people and maybe I shouldn't be so sad that the Doctor is the last of his kind, because his kind were evidently quite dangerous.

5. Aliens are always hungry, and what they are hungry for is humans. I am willing to believe that they want human brainpower or something, but I am not willing to buy that they want human flesh. Why would you land on this planet and eat humans? Humans are not meaty, not in relation to, say, cows. How about an episode where instead of having to save the entire human race (again), the Doctor has to save all of bovine kind?

I can't think of anything else. Which is pretty good, as far as a list of complaints born of a cranky and feverish state go. My list of complaints for Spooks is much longer. Starting with, is it really necessary to play Arabic flute music every time you show a terrorist? Come on.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Food Cop

I try to avoid writing blog posts that involve my co-workers -- because I don't want to get dooced, become famous, and make a million dollars, that would be terrible -- but I can't resist this one.

From: Co-Worker
Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2011 2:52 PM
To: Department
Subject: Food Cop: Report for 5/6/11

Detected odor of decay in local food-cooling unit; searched premises.

Apprehended a small, over-age salad and a sack with moldy fruit. Perps removed.

Am currently monitoring takeout noodles.

- Food Cop

From: Simon
Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2011 4:16 PM
To: Food Cop
Subject: RE: Food Cop: Report for 5/6/11

I have been trying to remember to remove those takeout noodles for the better part of a week. I’ll do it before I go home today. Thanks for the reminder, Food Cop!

From: Food Cop
Sent: Wednesday, July 06, 2011 4:16 PM
To: Simon
Subject: RE: Food Cop: Report for 5/6/11

Just doing my job, ma'am.

- FC

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Photos from Letchworth

(As usual, they look better full-size.)

I may

have photoshopped

some of these

slightly too much.

Friday, July 01, 2011

More Murders in Libraries!

Every time I go down in what I like to call the Deep Stacks (two floors underground, all the way in the back where you are like five miles from an exit) I get freaked out by the shelvers. They are very quiet, so you never know they're there until you pass a row and someone's in it. Usually they don't hear you coming because they're listening to iPods, so they whip their heads around to look at you because you've alarmed them, and that alarms you, and soon everyone is alarmed. This is the least creepy situation.

The medium-creepy situation is when you are minding your own business in the Old English section, and you see someone pass by, four stacks over, just like the alien in Signs, where you just barely see it and it's gone and you don't really know what it was. You assume (in my case) that it's human, but you have been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, and you are not willing to bet on it.

The maximum-creepy situation is when you are walking down a long corridor with shelves on both sides, and suddenly you realize someone is standing in the shadowy part by the service elevator. She is standing completely still, with her back to you. She does not move the entire time you are walking toward her. You divert to the section you were heading for, spend about fifteen minutes there, and come back out again. And she is still standing in the same position, not moving, not making a sound. Down there in the deep stacks, your brain becomes slower, no doubt because of the increased air pressure (you know like in the ocean and stuff, it's just like that) and you assume there are only possible two outcomes to this situation:

(1) She has died standing up, and I am about to realize my lifelong fear of discovering a dead body (thank you so much, Stand By Me).

(2) She has been bitten by a zombie, and when she inevitably lurches around and faces me, she'll be dead-eyed and bloody, and maybe holding someone's unattached arm . . . and then she will devour my brain.

Neither of these things happened, however. I think probably she was texting. So the outcome was what it always is: I think to myself, "There is a short story or murder mystery in this for someone who writes short stories or murder mysteries, which I do not."

I read a murder mystery once that took place in a library - an academic one even, I believe. It was called something like Death by Dewey Decimal* and on the cover it had a picture of someone's arm flopping out of a card catalogue or something equally ridiculous, which was 100% of the reason I got it out. I didn't like it much, but that was because of the rampant sexism disguised as feminism, which became grating. (It was old.) However, it made me think that, considering the sort of people who write books, there should be more novels about libraries . . . and murder. The Name of the Rose should qualify, I guess, but significant portions of it are deadly boring so it doesn't count. And Miriam Grace Monfredo wrote a series about a librarian in Seneca Falls in the 1840s who always ends up solving a murder. But the murder isn't usually in the library.

So. You heard it here first: MORE MURDERS IN LIBRARIES! They are perfect: lots of silent, dark, isolated places where screaming might well not be heard; all kinds of nooks and crannies and stairwells and elevators you could get stalked through; nice sturdy wooden furniture to vault over or throw at people; and if you tried hard you could probably work in a suspenseful scene of database searching, in which the search terms would be escape AND ("serial killer" OR "homicidal maniac") and of course you would want the full text for that because who could do a proper job hunting down citations under that kind of pressure.

On that note, I think I might have to start packing heat at work. Also, I now have a better answer for people who whine that interlibrary loan takes too long. UNLESS YOU ARE BEING CHASED THROUGH LEVEL B BY AN AXE-WIELDING LUNATIC, YOUR DEADLINE DOESN'T INTEREST ME.

*Addendum: The title was Dewey Decimated, which I think we can all agree is genius. It's by Charles A. Goodrum. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has probably, since 1977, become more progressive in his views on women. At any rate, here's the cover that induced me to read it, as if the title weren't enough: