Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Science debates

Thanks to Sminthia, over at the Sminthophile (that means a lover of mice to you and me), I learned of the call for a bipartisan presidential debate focusing on science and technology. Here is an excerpt from their website:

Science Debate 2008 is a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a growing number of scientists and other concerned citizens. The signatories to our "Call for a Presidential Debate on Science & Technology" include Nobel laureates and other leading scientists, presidents of universities, congresspersons of both major political parties, business leaders, religious leaders, former presidential science advisors, the editors of America's major science journals, writers, and the current and several past presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, among many others.

We have noticed that science and technology lie at the center of a very large number of the policy issues facing our nation and the world - issues that profoundly affect our national and economic security as science and technology continue to transform our lives. No matter one's political stripe, these issues pose important pragmatic policy challenges.
So if you'd like to see the presidential candidates engaged in a debate about science policy, head over to their website and click to support Science Debate 2008.

In keeping with the theme of this post, I present you with an amusing demonstration of mitosis (Courtesy of The New Scientist's guide to the best videos online):

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Extreme ironing

Okay, so the female protagonist in my WIP practices yoga. And Chris, my male protagonist, would be a runner. Yin and yang, you know? But then I thought, how about a more interesting sport? So I googled "obscure sports," and sure enough the internet delivered. I discovered the U.S. Association of Rock Paper Scissors and the World Finger Jousting Federation, among many others. But I think my favorite obscure sport has to be Extreme Ironing. Their website, called the Extreme Ironing Bureau (heh, heh), calls extreme ironing "the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt."

There's synchronized extreme ironing cycling:

Underwater extreme ironing:

And mountain climbing extreme ironing:

On second thought, I think I'll just leave Chris as a runner.

New blogs

I added a couple of new (to me) blogs to my blogroll, WriterBear and Children's Books Chica. Both are written by fellow Lesley MFA people, with an emphasis on writing for young people. Jana, aka WriterBear, is also one of the administrative people at Lesley who helps the residencies run like well-oiled clocks. And her WIP involves--get this!--a bear. Am I right, Jana?

Children's Books Chica (what's up with that name?) is the home of Jessica, who also happens to be a senior marketing manager at a Big Name publisher in NYC. Read her blog to get the word on marketing children's books.

Right now I'm supposed to be working on a synopsis of my sci-fi road caper. Geez, don't I have a root canal that needs to be done or something? Oh, good, the dog threw up.

Why is writing a synopsis so painful? Am I being a baby about this?

via FoxyTunes

Friday, January 25, 2008

Robert Burns Day

Today is the birthday of Robbie Burns, Scotland's national poet. Now, being partly of Scottish descent, I thought about celebrating it in a culinary way. How do the Scots do it? Why they make haggis, their much-beloved national dish! And what, you may inquire, is haggis, exactly? did not have a recipe for haggis, but did. Here is the list of ingredients:
1 sheep stomach
1 sheep liver
1 sheep heart
1 sheep tongue
1/2 pound suet, minced
3 medium onions, minced
1/2 pound dry oats, toasted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground herbs

In case you're so inclined, you can find the rest of the recipe here. The recipe ends with the advice, "Serve with mashed potatoes, if you serve it at all."

Okay, then! Let's not do it and say we did. How about, instead, the first two stanzas of his poem, "Address to a Haggis" (in English translation):

A blessing on your honest, hearty face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or chitlins,
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your skewer would help to mend a mill
If time of need,
While through your pores the flavors distill
Like amber bead.

You'll find more about haggis and the rest of the poem here. You've got to admit, Burns had a sense of humor. Well, all the Scots, if you think about their apparent adoration of that recipe.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January madness

I'm not a cold weather person. I'm usually ready for spring around, oh, December 22. More so than usual today, when we awoke to find that our boiler (yes, we have steam heat) was overflowing and consequently not working. I think the temperature last night was something like 12 degrees, and the high today is supposed to be in the 20s. So, cold. The heating repairman has been working on the boiler for over six hours now. It's a chilly but bearable 65 degrees in the dining room where I'm working. The fingerless gloves help.

Seed catalog people understand people like me, which is why they send out their garden porn in January. I ordered some seeds from Renee's Garden . They arrived yesterday, and it was only then that I understood that I might have gone a little overboard.

So, for you Champaign-Urbana area readers, I'm likely to have way more tomato and pepper seedlings than I can plant--which means you can have some, as well as seeds that you can plant outdoors.
Now playing: GRAVITY - John Mayer
via FoxyTunes

Why I'm an Obama Mama

Four years ago, I was convinced that the U.S. had finally had enough of George Bush. I certainly had. (Understand, I didn't vote for him the first time around either. Are you kidding? I've never voted for a Republican in my life.) Finally, I thought, the American public had recognized that this emperor had no clothes.

Kerry hadn't been my ideal candidate--I was a Howard Dean gal before he dropped out--but when he became the party's nominee, I supported him wholeheartedly. I also did some local campaigning for this new guy, Barack Obama, who had electrified us at the democratic convention that summer. I even attended a fund-raising luncheon with his wife Michelle, scoring this button in the process (does anybody but me think it's kind of strange?):

My daughter Caitlin and I served as election judges on election day. The job, if you haven't done it, is not terribly difficult, but there's a lot to keep track of and remember, and by the time the polls close and you count all the ballots, it makes for a very long day. We had heard promising reports throughout the day about the exit polls, and were feeling quite optimistic about the outcome of the election. But as we drove the ballots to the main office and listened reports of "irregularities"in Ohio and other states, and our optimism began to fade. It was late, maybe 10 or 10:30 by the time we got home to watch the returns on TV, and began to cry as we watched the election slip away from Kerry.

The outcome of that election disturbed me, not only because Bush won illegally and I thought that it meant disaster for the country, but also because I hated what it had done to me and my relationships to people I loved. In the past, my brother and I had always had lively, if friendly, disagreements about politics. If I pulled up behind somebody at a stop sign with a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker, I had to fight off the urge to rear-end them. (I'm sorry, I truly am, to those of you who supported Bush and are also reading this blog. Especially my family. I no longer feel the urge to rear-end any of you. I love you all, despite your past mistakes.)

And I wasn't alone in my anger. The divisiveness and polarization of politics in this country didn't begin with Bush, but it seems to have become particularly virulent in the past four years.

Which brings me to Barack Obama. Now, Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are really pretty similar when it comes to policy issues, although of course Obama gets points for being against the war from the beginning. I'd vote for any of them in a general election. (The future of the Supreme Court depends on them, for one thing!) But Edwards' "us against them" rhetoric is polarizing. Clinton will give us more of the same divisiveness that dominated the previous Clinton administration, but without Bill's charm. (And besides, who wants Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton? Let's see, that would put Jeb next in line after Hillary, right?)

Only Obama has the ability to unify our country. And I don't care how good Hillary's health care proposals are, if she can't get the Republicans on board with her policies, she won't achieve squat.

I'll just close with an anecdote that Obama told in his speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Sunday:

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organizes for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She's been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and the other day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

So Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we begin. It is why the walls in that room began to crack and shake.

And if they can shake in that room, they can shake in Atlanta.

And if they can shake in Atlanta, they can shake in Georgia.

And if they can shake in Georgia, they can shake all across America. And if enough of our voices join together; we can bring those walls tumbling down. The walls of Jericho can finally come tumbling down. That is our hope - but only if we pray together, and work together, and march together.

Amen, brother. Amen.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

ALA awards, books, disillusionment (not all related)

I always look forward to the announcement of the ALA awards--the Grammys/Emmys/Oscars of kidlit, but without all the fanfare, beautiful costumes, and witty comments. Oh yeah, a lot like the Grammys/Emmys/Oscars this year! I haven't read any of this year's winners, much less the honor books, but I've now added a pile of books to my to-read list. Plus, they always give me added encouragement in my own writing. I'm having a lot of fun right now with my sci-fi/caper/road trip novel, something I promised myself I'd finished after my sad and intense first novel (now in revisions). I don't know if the sci-fi novel is any good yet, but I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Right now I'm reading Michael Ondaatjie's Divisadero. What a terrific writer he is, and one of the things that really impresses me is that it is nothing like The English Patient, which in turn is nothing like In the Skin of a Lion (these are the only books I've read by Ondaatjie). OK, well, there stylistic similarities, but thematically, they all seem quite different to me. I guess the thing that ties them all together is his wonderful attention to character.

I also recently picked up Sara Paretsky' writing memoir, Writing in an Age of Silence (I was looking for her newest books, Bleeding Kansas, which Borders did not have. Bad, bad, Borders!) Paretsky is the author of the V I Warshawski detective series. I've enjoyed reading her books over the years, not only because I like her writing and her protagonists' commitment to social justice issues, but also because I have some curious connections to the author. Her father, David Paretsky, was one of my microbiology professors at the University of Kansas. I knew him as a genial, kind man who seemed to take a real interest in his students.

He used to call me "Sally," because he said that was his nickname for his daughter, also named Sara, which I thought was kind of touching. I think at the time I knew him, she may have just have been writing or published her first V I Warshawski novel. Not only that, but her brother, Jonathon, was my German T.A. for two semesters. But that is not all. When I met Tony at the University of Chicago, I learned that one of the physicists in the department was married to Sara Paretsky. I met her, briefly, at a departmental party. She probably doesn't remember me, or my mention of my connection with her father and brother, but I remembered her, and when David died several years ago from Alzheimer's disease, I wrote her a note expressing my sympathy.

So it was with interest, and great sadness, that I read Sara's memoir. It seems that the public David Paretsky I knew was nothing like the mercurial and belittling father Sara Paretsky knew. One girl with four brothers, she alone was not allowed to attend a private school; it was apparently expected that she might become a secretary, if that. She became successful in spite of, not because of, her family.

I suppose it's worth noting that she grew up in a very different time. Yes, we both grew up in Kansas, but those twenty-three years that separate us represent tremendous advances in attitudes towards women. But he was very progressive in civil rights issues--especially in the 1970s, when the University of Kansas was more politically inflammatory than most other schools. But not so progressive, it seems, when it came to his family.

via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Library love

I'm writing this at what may very well become my new "downtown office." Which in the past was a fancy way of saying "Aroma Coffee." But table space, comfy chairs, and electrical outlets are in plentiful supply at my new downtown office, not to mention reference materials and librarians. Soon there will be a coffee shop ("Latte da!") and WiFi access.

Yep, the new Champaign Public Library just opened its doors to the public on Sunday afternoon, and it's splendid! Light and airy, with walls made from bamboo (fast-growing, and so a good alternative to hardwood) and energy-saving features, it has tons more space, computers and a much larger collection. Conference rooms and quiet study rooms. The children's section is bright and friendly, with a story room and discovery area and a help desk that does double duty as a light show. There's a separate teen room with YA books, computers and a Wii.

My library scientist friend and running buddy Joan was in town on Sunday, so we decided to pop in on the library's grand opening in the middle of our run, hot and sweaty as we were.

We were stunned. It was mobbed! People of all ages. It was like a party. And people were using the library, not just gawking. The checkout lines must have been 20 people long. I'm telling you, it brought tears to my eyes to see this much enthusiasm about a new library. Joan, too, and as a library geek she also appreciated getting to see the state-of-the-art book sorting room.

My downtown office experience will be complete when the coffee shop downstairs opens and their WiFi is installed.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Edge Annual Question

What have you changed your mind about--and why?

The Edge Foundation asked this question of 163 scientists, innovators, and other thinkers.

I haven't read all of their answers, but as a writer of fiction I loved the one by a psychologist at U.C. Berkeley, Alison Gopnik. Titled "Imagination is Real," here is how it ends:

In fact, I think now that the two abilities - finding the truth about the world and creating new worlds-are two sides of the same coins. Theories, in science or childhood, don't just tell us what's true - they tell us what's possible, and they tell us how to get to those possibilities from where we are now. When children learn and when they pretend they use their knowledge of the world to create new possibilities. So do we whether we are doing science or writing novels. I don't think anymore that Science and Fiction are just both Good Things that complement each other. I think they are, quite literally, the same thing.
I encourage you to click here to read the entire thing. And if you've changed your mind about something, post it in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

New Year's Resolutions

None. But I do have some goals.

I signed on to a 30-day writing challenge, hosted by HipWriterMama. My goal: 10,000 words of the first draft of my road trip novel by January 31.

I think that my friend and fellow kid's book writer Alice and I are going to commit to training for the Indy Mini-Marathon in May to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training, so that means getting back onto a regular exercise schedule. We have a friend who was recently diagnosed with a recurrence of lymphoma, and we'd like to do it in her honor. Running for a good cause is a terrific motivator. I'll let you all know more about how you can help out if you're interested.
And while reading this stack of books I got for my birthday and Christmas is not really a goal, it IS something I'm looking forward to. (I'm in the middle of The Paper House.)

Does anybody else have a goal for the coming year?

Now playing: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings - Humble Me
via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

It is a cold and windy New Year's Day, more quiet than it has been around here for a long, long time. It's been great having the family all together again (see left), and my parents came to visit for a few days between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Now that the holidays are over, I'm energized and itching to return to a story I began working on before Christmas.

Some pictures to give you an idea of what's been going on these past two weeks:

Remember my recent interest in mathematical crocheting? This was the result; a moebius scarf I made for Caitlin. I thought it turned out pretty well. There are two ways of going about making a moebius scarf: there is the cheater's way, in which you crochet the whole scarf, joining the ends with a twist when you're finished. Or there is the more interesting way, in which you create a twist after finishing the first row by joining the bottom of that row to the top of the second.

The girls tell me I'm gaining a reputation for giving geeky presents, starting with the time I gave them cane toad purses for Valentine's Day one year. Alison's geeky Christmas present this year was a plush Streptococcus pneumonia ( Eli did not get a geeky present. He is geeky enough all by himself.

The kids and I had fun baking. We made gingerbread cookies; Eli made a version of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu, accompanied by a terror-striken angel, one-armed teddy bear, and dismayed snowman:

Caitlin and I made rugelach, a delicious Jewish cookie made by wrapping a cream cheese dough around a mixture of dried fruit, nuts, and levkar or jam. I must say, I think that for a goy I make a pretty mean rugelach, thanks to Lauren Groveman's recipe in Baking with Julia. No pictures, unfortunately. And then Alison and I made croissants (also using a recipe from Baking with Julia), which were amazingly delicious and well worth the effort, although I did manage to burn out the motor on my Kitchen Aid mixer kneading the dough, which is very hard and not at all easy to work with at first. But look!

OK, now I need to go to the gym. I think you understand why. Wishing everyone a joyful, productive new year!

Now playing: Girlyman - St Peter's Bones
via FoxyTunes