Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Virtual Barber Shop

What with getting ready for the Richard Peck workshop this weekend (which I think will be awesome, and I'll blog about it when it's over), raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through their Team in Training program (click here if you're interested in contributing to a great cause and helping me meet my fundraising goal), and working on revisions and getting photo permissions for the Volcano Scientists book, I haven't had much time to blog. But I just had to give you a heads-up for one of the coolest auditory illusions I've ever heard: The Virtual Barbershop.

Listening to it, you feel as though you are in a barber's chair, with the barber moving around you, clipping away at your hair. The illusion demonstrates our ability to locate sounds in space; by comparing the inputs to the two ears, we can work out where a sound is coming from. You'll need to listen with headphones:

Aren't you glad it wasn't the virtual dentist?

I discovered this and four other auditory illusions on The New Scientist's web exclusive, part of their special music issue. I've been interested in auditory illusions for years, since I went to a talk by Diana Deutsch, who studies the perception and memory for sounds and has discovered a number of musical illusions and paradoxes. I think that this kind of stuff would make for a great kids' book--but it would have to be accompanied by a CD. I wonder if anybody would be interested. Hmmm.

Now playing: Sam Moore with Wynonna, BeBe Winans & Billy Preston - I Can't Stand the Rain
via FoxyTunes

Thursday, February 21, 2008


OK, so I just went to see The Spirit of the Marathon with caraf and, as it turns out, a whole movie theater full of running pals. See the trailer:

As it was beginning, I told her I hoped seeing this movie didn't make me want to run another marathon. I've sworn off them! I always get injured! 13.2 is half the distance, twice the fun!

So she waited until the end of the movie to tell me that in April 2009 Champaign-Urbana will host a brand-spanking-new marathon, the Illinois Marathon. Maybe I'll run another one after all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Writing and running

My friend Inga just forwarded me this link to a very interesting interview with Japanese author Haruki Murakami (Wind-up Bird Chronicles, Kafka on the Shore) in the online, English version of Der Spiegel.

He has a book, coming out in German translation next week about the importance of running for his work as a writer. Needless to say, I want to read it! How about that English translation?

Here's a thought-provoking excerpt from the interview:

SPIEGEL: Are you a better writer because you run?

Murakami: Definitely. The stronger my muscles got, the clearer my mind became. I am convinced that artists who lead an unhealthy life burn out more quickly. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin were the heroes of my youth -- all of them died young, even though they didn't deserve to. Only geniuses like Mozart or Pushkin deserve an early death. Jimi Hendrix was good, but not so smart because he took drugs. Working artistically is unhealthy; an artist should lead a healthy life to make up for it. Finding a story is a dangerous thing for an author; running helps me to avert that danger.

SPIEGEL: Could you explain that?

Murakami: When a writer develops a story, he is confronted with a poison that is inside him. If you don't have that poison, your story will be boring and uninspired. It's like fugu: The flesh of the pufferfish is extremely tasty, but the roe, the liver, the heart can be lethally toxic. My stories are located in a dark, dangerous part of my consciousness, I feel the poison in my mind, but I can fend off a high dose of it because I have a strong body. When you are young, you are strong; so you can usually conquer the poison even without being in training. But beyond the age of 40 your strength wanes, you can no longer cope with the poison if you lead an unhealthy life.

Read the entire interview here

Conspiracy theories

A visit to a tattoo parlor can be a bit of an eye-opener if you don't happen to frequent that sort of place often. As my sister and I found out yesterday. My sister's tattoo artist turned out to be pretty chatty, after an initial semi-surly period. (Perhaps he was just shy.)

"Are you allergic to latex?" he asked, donning his latex gloves.

No, she was not. Good, he said, and went on to explain that he and his high school girlfriend found out, the hard way, that she was allergic to the stuff.

Well, okey-dokey, then. And so the conversation went. The fact that we have daughters in college came up, which led us to Northern Illinois. Now, I haven't written anything about Northern Illinois because...what could I say, other than to add to the chorus of whys resonating across the blogosphere.

But apparently that week's spate of awful school killings--add the shootings in Louisiana, Tennessee and California to the NIU massacre, not to mention the shootings at the Lane Bryant store in Tinley Park and probably a mess of other gun-related tragedies--have spawned an interesting conspiracy theory. According to tattoo artist, it was all a set-up. I'm not sure I followed what passes for logic in his argument, but I think it went something like this. There is pending conceal-carry gun legislation, and those sissy gun-control people don't want that it to pass. So they arranged, somehow, to put guns into the hand of this kid with a serious mental illness (did they make him go off his meds, too?) so that the conceal-carry legislation would fail.

Evidence? Well, the campus police responded within 5 minutes! Unheard of! (That emergency response plan they'd been developing and fine-tuning since Virginia Tech was just for fun.) And, get this--there were more doctors than usual working at the ER that day!

All we need is to have a whole nation full of people like this walking around with guns stuck into their jeans. The man made a pretty snowflake, though.

I hope the title of this post doesn't bring up nut cases hoping to find support for their pet conspiracy theory.

via FoxyTunes

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sister love

When our oldest brother just became a grandfather for the first time, my sister--four years older than I--complained that now she really felt like a middle child. Me, the little sister with her new tattoo, and David with new grandchild. So I suggested--merely suggested, I'd like to emphasize!--that she should just get a tattoo as well.

So today I drove to Chicago to take her out to Frontera Grill for lunch for her birthday today. I'll let you guess where we ended up:

She got a beautiful blue snowflake on her left should blade, in honor of her move from Dallas to a very wintry Park Ridge.

We are two bad-a** sisters. I'm telling you, we had the best time today! Yay Susan!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Racing for a cure

Seven years ago, my good friend Patty Conlin sent me a challenge: She was running a marathon to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The society's mission is to cure lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. Patty's former husband, father of her daughters, had lymphoma, and she wanted to do something to help. Did I want to join her?

Now, at that point I had never run more than six miles at one time. I had only run 5K races, and so 26.2 miles seemed pretty daunting. I thought I might do my part for the cause by writing a narrative piece about a first-time marathoner running for Team in Training.

Silly me. I became that first-time marathoner, although I have yet to write that piece. Still, it was one of the proudest moments of my life. That June, I ran the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, raising over $4,000 for research to help cure blood cancers.

Now I've learned that a friend and fellow children's writer, Becky Mabry, has been diagnosed with lymphoma. My friend Alice McGinty and I have decided to run the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon on May 3, 2008 to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Becky's honor. Here's how you can help: I am asking you to help me meet my fundraising goal of $2,000. You can pay online at my website: http://www.active.com/donate/tntil/tntilSLatta.

And here's the deal: I'm going to sweeten the offer: the first person to make a contribution of $25 or more on my website gets a pair of Team in Training socks! Yes! I will send them to you! I'm sure they're nice and comfy and they're probably purple and green, which I think is a rather nice color combo. Plus, your contribution is 100% tax-deductible and helps save lives.

If you prefer to do it the old-fashioned way, and I'm not making any judgements here, you can send your check, made out to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, to me at Sara Latta, 1101 W. University Ave., Champaign, IL 61821.

OK, end of pitch. You all are gems. Take care.

Now playing: John Frizell & Randy Edelman - My Home Is Virginia
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Our stories, ourselves

On Friday, I heard a remarkable piece by Barbara Bradley Hagerty on NPR titled "Understanding the Gospel According to Huckabee."

In it, she cited several of Mike Huckabee's biblical references--and the surprising lack of people, including evangelicals--who failed to get his point. For example, Huckabee said in his Super Tuesday victory speech:
"Sometimes," the former Arkansas governor told his supporters, "one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor."
Well, to me that was obvious: he's referring to David and Goliath. No brainer, for those of us who went to Sunday school and learned all these stories, right? Not according to the people NPR interviewed, and not according to Boston University professor Stephen Prothero, author of the book Religious Literacy, who says that "Half of Americans can't name any of the four Gospels, and that includes the Christians."

The interviewer goes on to ask people what Huckabee might have meant by his reference to the widow's mite ("Is it a spider?") or the feeding of the crowd of 5,000 with two fish and five loaves. (Although Huckabee tells it as a boy feeding the crowds, and in my memory it's an adult Jesus, am I correct?) And people just don't know what he's referring to. No idea. And these are people who said they were evangelicals. So I was strutting around like a peacock when I learned that I understood ALL of Huckabee's biblical references--every single one.

Now here is the point where I say that I haven't gone to church in quite some time. I guess you could say I'm agnostic now. I'm not a Huckabee supporter. But I was raised a Baptist, and I remember these stories from my childhood. For those of us who care about stories that speak to the human condition, they resonate. David vs. Goliath? The little guy can prevail, if right is on his side. The widow's mite? It's not how much you can give, it's the commitment. The loaves and the fishes? Faith can make a difference. These are stories, human stories. I'd be willing to bet that other writers raised in the Christian tradition would recognize Huckabee's allusions as well; they are damn good stories indeed.

My novel in progress uses Daniel in the lion's den as one of its prevailing themes; it's about the willingness to walk into the fire believing in the faith of your convictions.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Super-duper Wednesday

Why is it super-duper? Well, there's the obvious, of course; it now appears that Obama not only won more states than Clinton but also has more delegates. So that makes me very happy.

But from the perspective of this election judge, yesterday's primary has left me with a real feeling of hope and faith in the electorate. It felt more like a general election than a primary; none of us had any time to read or do soduku puzzles or crochet; lunch was snatched in 30-second intervals. The precinct (CC38) with which we shared a polling place always, and I mean ALWAYS, had a line. Sometimes very long. (Our precinct, CC33, was one-third the size of the other one.) And this despite the fact that there was pouring rain for much of the day that left many of the roads flooded.

Some numbers for our two precincts:

Turnout of registered voters:
41% (CC33), 45% (CC38)

74% (CC33); 76% (CC38)
25% (CC33); 23% (CC38)

39% (CC33); 44% (CC38)
30% (CC33); 39% (CC38)

Best comment from a voter in response to my standard, "Hi. Would you like a Democratic, Republican, Green, or Nonpartisan ballot?"

"Democrat! I'm here to make history!"

Most puzzling comment to that same question (by a woman with her daughter, both obviously very excited):

"I don't know, I've never voted before! I don't know who any of the candidates are. Oh, I guess I'll go with Republican." (Daughter, like the baby kangaroo, said, "Me too.")

And, with apologies to John Mayer, we're not waiting on the world to change. We're MAKING change happen, every time we vote.

Now playing: John Mayer - Waiting On the World to Change
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Fired up, ready to go

Oh, my gosh, this video was linked to Yes We Can on YouTube. Forgive the Obama mania, but it's great:

Yes we can!

Check it out:

If you have a primary or caucus on Tuesday, I urge you to get out and vote--no matter who you support! I voted yesterday, because I'm going to be an election judge on Tuesday outside of my precinct. Make your voice heard.