The Dependency Principle and the Litany Against Fear

Two thoughts on COVID-19:

First, from Iain M. Banks' Excession:

There was only one problem with the Land of Infinite Fun, and that was that if you ever did lose yourself in it completely - as Minds occasionally did, just as humans sometimes surrendered utterly to some AI environment - you could forget that there was a base reality at all. In a way, this didn't really matter, as long as there was somebody back where you came from minding the hearth. The problem came when there was nobody left or inclined to tend the fire, mind the store, look after the housekeeping (or however you wanted to express it), or if somebody or something else - somebody or something from outside, the sort of entity that came under the general heading of an Outside Context Problem, for example - decided they wanted to meddle with the fire in that hearth, the stock in the store, the contents and running of the house; if you'd spent all your time having Fun, with no way back to reality, or just no idea what to do to protect yourself when you did get back there, then you were vulnerable. In fact, you were probably dead, or enslaved.

It didn't matter that base reality was petty and grey and mean and demeaning and quite empty of meaning compared to the glorious majesty of the multi-hued life you'd been living through metamathics; it didn't matter that base reality was of no conse­quence aesthetically, hedonistically, metamathically, intellectually and philosophically; if that was the single foundation-stone that all your higher-level comfort and joy rested upon, and it was kicked away from underneath you, you fell, and your limitless pleasure realms fell with you.

It was just like some ancient electricity-powered computer; it didn't matter how fast, error-free and tireless it was, it didn't matter how great a labour-saving boon it was, it didn't matter what it could do or how many different ways it could amaze; if you pulled its plug out, or just hit the Off button, all it became was a lump of matter; all its programs became just settings, dead instructions, and all its computations vanished as quickly as they'd moved.

It was, also, like the dependency of the human-basic brain on the human-basic body; no matter how intelligent, perceptive and gifted you were, no matter how entirely you lived for the ascetic rewards of the intellect and eschewed the material world and the ignobility of the flesh, if your heart just gave out…

That was the Dependency Principle; that you could never forget where your Off switches were located, even if it was somewhere tiresome.

Few things are more intensely frustrating than abruptly losing momentum on a project because of something like your computer deciding it has to reboot to apply a software update now. We make grand plans that depend on all these layers of civilizational infrastructure continuing to work as normal, and then something goes wrong and you have to scrap it all, and it's just... tiresome. Very, very tiresome.

Second, the Litany Against Fear, from Frank Herbert's Dune:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

This is my preferred text to recite while washing my hands to ensure that I wash them for the requisite twenty seconds. The only change I make is to the first line: I say "I will not" rather than "I must not" to emphasize that it is a choice I make, not something externally imposed.


I fell out of the habit of posting while work was so busy last fall, and now I've been feeling like I need to Say Something Important about my life or the world when I post, and don't know what that is so I don't. Which is dumb, so here's a post about something cool I recently learned about.

So it turns out that humans (and other primates) have better visual acuity (ability to see detail) than most of the animal kingdom. Some birds, particularly raptors, have us beat, but we can see more detail than all the other mammals. We can also see more colors: most mammals only have two-color vision, but we have three-color vision.

BUT, it turns out that cats and dogs can see a bit into the ultraviolet range! The lenses of our eyes are a little bit yellow, and screen out the shorter wavelengths of UV light. (Which means that if you ever have cataract surgery, in between when they remove the old cloudy lenses and implant new synthetic ones, you too will be able to see ultraviolet for a short while. Apparently it's a sort of washed-out bluish-purple color.) That's not true of cats, dogs, and many other mammals; their lenses transmit a fair chunk of UVA -- about 60% for cats & dogs. (Here's the paper about it.)

So humans can distinguish more colors (three-color vision), but over a smaller range. That's kinda weird, and it gets weirder. There are two flavors of shortwave-sensitive (blue) optical pigment: one is more sensitive in the UV range, and the other is only goes up to violet. We have the violet one. But the UV-sensitive one is evolutionarily older. Which means not being able to see in UV is actually an adaptation. So the question is, why? Why would it be advantageous to lose sensitivity to a greater range of colors?

And the answer is apparently that there's a tradeoff between acuity and sensitivity. Screening out short wavelengths reduces Rayleigh scatter and chromatic aberration, which give you blurrier vision at the blue end of the spectrum. And all the critters that have yellow lenses are diurnal. Nocturnal and crepuscular critters, on the other hand, are more concerned with absolute sensitivity under low-light conditions, so they have clear lenses as well as features like a reflective tapetum lucidum at the back of the eye, which increases overall light sensitivity at the expense of fine resolution, and a higher rod to cone ratio.

So you can see well in the dark, or you can see a lot of detail, but not both.

Also, cats are apparently kinda near-sighted because they don't have any muscles to change the focus of their eyes. Which would explain a lot, honestly.

(Now I'm thinking this probably means that D&D races that don't have low-light vision should get a bonus on seeing fine details and at distance. And does that mean darkvision is just echolocation? Should we be imagining dwarves and orcs wandering around underground going "meep meep meep" to figure out where the walls are? That's hilarious and I love it.)

Holiday Recovery

I think, maybe, I am finally recovered from the end of 2019, which was exhausting.

Basically, a bunch of work deadlines all converged, most of which were completely non-negotiable, so back at, like, the end of September, I looked at my to-do list and realized that if I was going to finish it all on time, I had to start now, and then I was just running in overdrive mode for three months.

I did get (almost) everything finished, so that was good. I got a reprieve on finishing and submitting the data archive paper by the end of the year, because my boss decided that it was more relevant to working group 2, for which the deadline is not until sometime this summer, and that she was too overloaded with working group 1 stuff to work on her piece of it. On the one hand, I'm a little bit disappointed because I did set it as a goal and didn't quite achieve it, and I was looking forward to having it finished and off my plate. But on the other hand, I think it really was for the best; I think I could have pulled it off, but I've been in recharge mode since the middle of December and only now starting to feel back to normal, and I think hitting that end-of-year deadline would have drained my battery all the way to zero and taken considerably longer to get recover from.

Plus, I'm still not sure that I'm fully back up to snuff. I caught a cold on New Year's Eve; I felt it coming on Wednesday and got my zinc lozenges in early, and I thought I had gotten over the next day, but I had planned to work from home at the end of the week, and it really just didn't happen, and it's only today that I've finally had enough gumption to do more than the essentials. And it's the same with recovering from overwork strain; I keep thinking "oh, I feel better," and then some time passes and I think it again, so maybe I'm still not all the way back yet.

So, holidays:

We got back from AGU (post forthcoming) on Monday the 16th, and I was right back at work on the 17th. Went to Kent's holiday party on Friday the 20th, followed by birthday party at Eaton Street (for Brandon & Jon) on the 21st.

For Christmas, we went to Naponee. Jerry had to be back on the 26th, so we drove out on Monday (the 23rd) and drove home on Christmas Day. Along with Mom & Larry, Leslie and Layne and Joyce (my step-sister, her son, and her mom) were there, because back in November they moved out there to get away from Denver's high cost of living. Leslie has found a job working at a group home for the disabled, and they found a house to rent, but at Christmas they were still looking. So it was a very full house for our visit, with them plus Joyce's dog Booger (a good boy but very barky). Lots more presents than usual to open on Christmas morning. But it was also good downtime; I was out in the trailer (where Jerry & I were sleeping) on Tuesday afternoon, and it was just silent in a way you don't get in developed areas.

Side note, I read The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison on the trip and really enjoyed it. It's an unusual book; fantasy, but very constrained, almost claustrophobic. No adventure, just steampunk court intrigue about people and politics and psychology. It's very good. My only complaint is that the names are very strange I had a terrible time tracking them.

Scheduling problems derailed Star Wars on Sunday the 29th, so we went over to Jeff's and played some of the new games I got for Christmas (Dominion: Nocturne, Squirrel or Die, and Sakura) with him & Jeff.

Douglas is in town and came over to visit on Monday the 30th, so we got all caught up on our trip to SF and suchlike.

New Year's Eve we spent at Craig's. I brought ramen eggs, which I realized are more convenient than deviled eggs because (1) they're easier to make and (2) easier to transport; you can just cut them in half once you get there, add a dab of crunchy chili-garlic topping, and there you are. We played a bunch of Jackbox games, and then everyone said "okay, I'm old" and we all headed home by about 12:30.

New Year's Day we went over to Neal's to play Tapestry, which is a big and complicated civilization-building game. I had a good time, though I had to apologize for grousing about being seriously behind in the midgame, because I misjudged my position and was able to pull seriously ahead at the end. Would play again, though it's one that needs some space between plays.

I also binged 4 seasons of Taskmaster while I was too tried to brain very much. It's a British show where the contestants (5 comedians) compete at performing ridiculous tasks, and it's very funny. The first two seasons are on youtube, and others can be found by googling.

I still need to do a couple catch-up posts for AGU and all the big stuff that happened in the fall, and I have some other thoughts in prep, but hey, I'm at least caught up on recent doings now.

Thanksgiving, Anthocyanin, and Too Many Things

Man, it feels like much more than a week since I last posted. Except for Thanksgiving proper, I did indeed end up working all through the holiday on that report (ugh bleah), but I finally got it finished and submitted on Sunday and now it is done forever, hooray! Now I just have to get this data analysis done...

We went over to Eaton Street for Thanksgiving, and it was excellent. I made Fancified Green Bean Casserole and Magic Butterfly Lemonade. (Fancified GBC: frozen green beans instead of canned, heavy cream, fancy dried mixed mushrooms, splash of white wine, bit of nutmeg.)

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The Magic Butterfly Lemonade was tasty and refreshing, and it did the color-changing magic, so it was a successful contribution to the Thanksgiving feast! There was also ham and turkey and dressing and fancy butternut squash salad and 4 Varieties Chex Mix and a bunch of other stuff, plus apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies for dessert. We stuffed ourselves and played vidya games and a couple rounds of Sequence and had a lovely holiday.

Friday I worked on the report and Jerry went to work for Black Friday stuff, and then we met Jeff & Alice and Neal & Rhonda and Thomas & Karen to see Knives Out at the Mondoplex. (Plus tacos beforehand.) I enjoyed it quite a bit! It's a good murder mystery, and it's funny, and it does a good job of not being the movie you thought it was, on multiple occasions. Recommended.

Saturday I worked on the report, then played D&D at Neal's. My dwarven paladin finally got to smite some baddies! It was very satisfying.

Sunday we had to cancel dim sum with Bats & Sarah because they had to fly home early to avoid weather on the East Coast, but that was fine because I had to work on the report. I finally finished the report, the 5-10 page executive summary, the 1-page abstract, and the Report Summary Form a bit after lunchtime. We also cancelled Star Wars since I had no prep time (nor spoons left), so at 4-ish I headed over to Thomas's and we watched the first 3 episodes of The Mandalorian (enjoyable) and played a game of Betrayal at Baldur's Gate. I got the okay from my boss to submit the report and was finally done with the damn thing when I got home.

Monday I caught up on a bunch of miscellany at work and started preparing data for the data analysis I have to get done this week. Did bills when I got home. I probably had other essential somethings I dealt with, though I can't remember what. (Monkey has been doing lots of supportive things, for which I am very grateful.)

Yesterday we had a departmental retreat for the other department I have a 20% joint appointment to. My boss is out of town at the terrible mandatory symposium (for which I had to put together her poster before I did the report), but the rest of us in our group figured we should show our faces.

It was good! (Well, other than starting at 8:30 am.) Some all-hands-meeting stuff at the beginning, then some interesting talks, and then after lunch we had a workshop on SDI Core Strengths, which we'd all taken the assessment for. This is one of those personality type things , where it's red/green/blue for whether you focus on performance, process, or people, and respond to conflict by assertion, accommodation, or analysis. It seemed more like a real thing than a horoscope, and did seem to provide advice about how to talk to people that was (checking against myself and some colleagues) actually useful. I also very much appreciate that has a separate category for the people who respond to all the questions about "which do you do more, A, B, or C?" with "it totally depends on context," because that is a million percent me. Hub all the way!

It finished with the departmental holiday party, so tasty nibblies and work socialization. (Enjoyable, but tiring.) And then I came home and made some spinach-cheese hors d'oeuvres for our other departmental holiday party today, plus I got a haircut this morning and met with a bunch of different people and I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow morning, and jeebus, it's no wonder I'm tired. Like, I'm getting all the stuff done, and I think things are going generally well, but man will I be glad when I get some downtime.

Work, snow, repairs, birthday games

I am working on the Final Report for one of our grants, and it is the worst thing. It's going to be the only work thing I do all week, and it's going to eat up time over the holiday and the weekend, and it's No Fun At All. Yuck-ptoo ugh bleah!

We got about 8 inches of snow last night. The office was closed today, so I worked from home, and I left early yesterday to avoid nasty traffic. Looks like it should be reasonable to go in tomorrow, though. And I am taking a moment to be appreciative of (1) having a garage in which we park our cars, and (2) having some chunk my HOA fees, much as I dislike how high they are, going to paying other people to deal with shoveling all the snow. Yay!

Speaking of paying other people to deal with things, last week Michelle (my brother's fiancee, who is a contractor) came and fixed a bunch of stuff around the house for us. We now have a front door that opens easily, toilets that don't run, sinks that aren't cracked, nice bright light fixtures in the bathrooms, a bunch of walls that aren't all dented and scratched up, and -- best of all -- we can use the shower in the master bathroom again! The drain doesn't leak into the ceiling above the garage anymore! I had forgotten how nice it is, especially since it has the best water pressure.

Sunday afternoon we went over to Matthew ([personal profile] fineplan)'s place for birthday board games, and had much fun with him, and Mitch, and Jonathan, and Stephen, and... a couple other guys whose names I forgot because I'm a terrible person. We played a game of Citadels and a couple rounds of Codenames, and then the Cyanide & Happiness make-a-comic game, and then half the guys had to take off, so the four of us left played Organ Attack (birthday present) and The Table Is Lava, where you flick cards at a bunch of other cards and meeples, trying to knock them off. (It was a flicky game, so I wasn't any good at it, but it was decently enjoyable.) We also got to meet Matthew's ferrets and his cat Deimos, who is a sweet boy but very yelly.

(I still have lots of journaling to catch up on, but that's three things and three things make a post and my dinner is ready. Before I go back to reporting, waaa blah whinge boo.)

Stabbed by an onion and the mysteries of optics

Jerry had a cold this weekend, and I appear to have caught it. Boo! Here's to hoping I got the zinc lozenges in my system fast enough to mitigate it.

I had my annual wellness exam about a month ago, with nothing really to report, and then a couple weeks later (Saturday, October 26th, to be exact), I got stabbed by an onion.

I was reaching for an onion in the produce section at the grocery store and a dried-out root jabbed right into my finger. Because it was a little tiny puncture wound, there was no good way to get it cleaned out or to get antibiotic ointment into it. And, of course, because it was (literally) dirty, it got infected.

So I made a doctor's appointment and Monday morning I got a tetanus booster and a course of antibiotics. (It wasn't being all that troublesome, but I looked online and everything said "yup, go see a doctor", because circulation in your fingers is lousy and it's easy for infections to turn nasty.) A couple days lastser I was squeezing out some yuck out of it and managed to get a 3 mm sliver out of it, and after that it healed up pretty quickly.

And then, on the 29th, I was taking my contacts out, and just before one of them popped out and went flying (as hard lenses are sometimes wont to do), the sink drain lost its grip and opened up and the lens went sailing right down the drain. I tried to recover it from the trap, but had no luck. Well, I was overdue for an eye exam anyway, so I checked to see when the next available appointment was at the nearest Kaiser, and there weren't any until the end of November(!)... except for one slot the very next morning at 7:45! So that bit of good luck made up for the bad luck of losing the lens in the first place.

The exam went smoothly, and they gave me some disposable soft contacts for temporary until my gas permeables came in. These lenses were WAY too strong. The first pair I put in made me seasick and I felt like I couldn't see anything, so they gave me a pair that were half a diopter down from my new prescription, and I still felt like they were much too strong. I could see things on the horizon with perfect crystal clarity, even in poor lighting, but I really couldn't focus on anything less than 3 feet away. And, well, I'd say that 80% of my life happens at less than arms' reach; I picked up a pair of reading glasses, but I was wearing them basically all the time except when I was driving. And I concluded that I would much rather have good vision for everything withing 30' and have some weak distance glasses for driving. So I was convinced that my prescription was bad and needed to be changed up.

But then, a week and a half later (after three extra trips because I got a message that they were in, but that's not the same as them being ready or the person who readied them being in the office), I got my new hard lenses with the even stronger prescription, and... they're fine! I still need to pull out the reading glasses for really close up, or when my eyes get tired, but overall, I feel like the prescription is totally acceptable. So I don't know what's up with that.

So I've made a lot of stops by our local Kaiser office lately for not very much.

Paradoxical laziness

We're already halfway through November and I'm kind of not okay with that given how much work stuff I need to get done between now and the end of the year.

I mean, I guess I'm on top of it. Tomorrow I am giving a work-in-progress talk for my lab, and I've had the slides ready for a couple weeks. And last week I finished my poster for AGU, which is the second week of December. There's just a bunch more stuff looming in an alarming fashion. (And which I knew was coming, which is why I got that other stuff done early.) Just, ugh. It's gonna be a lot.

The thing that's weird about it is that in college, I was a terrible procrastinator. And I'm not sure what changed. It's not like I switched from being sorta lazy to being all ambitious or anything.

I think now I'm just lazy in this preemptive and long-range way, where I get stuff done ahead of time so I have more room to slack off later on. Like, I'm productive because it's waaay less effort than letting things slide.

Is that a thing? Well, it's how my life is going, so I guess it must be.

Catch-Up Post (part 1)

A long catch-up post, not so much because I expect it to be interesting as because my memory is terrible and if I want future-me to have some recollection of various goings-on.

We did tie-dying on the weekend of August 10th at Eaton Street. It was a big party; lots of fun. I went a little overboard and did five different shirts.

I did three ice-dyed shirts. The long-sleeved green-black one came out good. The short-sleeved green-purple one is a bit muddy, and I think I will tie-dye it black and leave that as the background. The short-sleeved red-orange one looks like fire and is AMAZING. The only downside is that it's a little tight...

I did a regular tie-dye of a silk shirt with wrapping up marbles so they make circles, and it turned out pretty good. I wasn't totally clear on what to do different with silk instead of cotton, and it took the color well but just kept bleeding every time I rinsed it. I let it hang for several weeks until I got around to dealing with it. I washed it with half a packet of Rit color remover in the washer, then ran it through twice with just water, and that seems to have fixed it.

Finally, I did a shibori shirt that I really like, folding it into triangles that make a neat lattice pattern. Could probably have folded it a little less tightly; it's still mostly white. Jerry make a tie-dye shibori using clips and marbles that looks beautiful and spells out "fuck trump" in Morse code.

Had a McGinnis family dinner at an Olive Garden down in Lakewood the day after. Enjoyable, though there were lots of relatives who I sorta recognized but mostly didn't know. Bo & Barb gave me a big packet of photos and genealogy charts my dad had put together.

Labor Day weekend I went to two pool parties: at CJ's on Saturday and at Bob's on Monday. Both were fun, with weather on the cool side. Jerry was able to come to the one at CJ's, hooray, but had to work Sunday and Monday, boo. But his hours are (finally!) going down now that they've hired on Sensei John.

Saturday Sept. 7th I cooked a whole bunch (I made fenugreek cauliflower and zucchini curry) and then Dave & Michelle came over and looked at home repair stuff. It looks like the phantom sink drip is probably not an actual leak, and all the rest of it should be doable. Still need to figure out if the downstairs shower is actually leaking.

That Sunday, we had dim sum at Star Kitchen with Jon, Gene, Brandon, & Matt. (JonGeBraMatt?) Nom! On the way home, Jerry and I stopped at Home Depot and picked out light fixtures and sinks for the home repairs. Adulting!

On Monday, I did the zoning meeting thing, which I wrote about previously. I found out at our board meeting that it passed, hooray! And apparently my speech did help, so that was nice. At Chris's games night that week, we played a neat coop game that Tom M. brought which was sort of a cross between Dominion & Sentinels. I liked it! (And then we played a quick game of Dominion.)

Saturday the 14th was lots of Getting Things Done. I went to the credit union and got a new credit card because the chip on mine had died. Then I got a haircut, and then I went to the Home Despot up on 120th and bought more stuff: 3 sinks, 3 toilet kits, and a folding door for the furnace room. I actually ran into Michelle there, which was a surprise. I ended up deciding that I actually wanted slightly different sinks with a better style of lip, so I took them and two light fixtures (because talking to Michelle I found out we needed one big one instead of two small ones) to a different store up north that had the sinks I wanted in stock. And THEN I went grocery shopping!

Lots more to come, but I almost lost this post to a reboot once already, so here it goes.

Naponee weekend

Jerry was able to get Friday and Saturday off, so this weekend we took a trip to Naponee to visit my Mom & Larry.

The drive out was a lot greener and a bit more interesting than the last few times we've been; not only has it been a very wet year, we're usually heading out there more in the winter. We saw a lot of sorghum that was an interesting red-brown color.

We left around 11, which got us there right around 6 pm. Grabbed a salad for lunch in Byers, switched drivers in St. Francis, just over the Kansas state line, and gassed up in Atwood. (The distance to St. Francis is now "half a Pamble-get", since we drove there and back to meet my parents and pick up Mr. Panthro-kitty, who is sometimes "the Pamble".)

They had us stay in the fifth-wheel, which was quite comfortable at this time of year. (It can get a little chilly in the winter.) We opened the windows and ran the fan the first night, and that worked pretty well, except that the hose for my APAP kept collecting water and waking me up. (Probably because I had the humidity turned all the way up for arid Colorado, and it was way too much for Nebraska; I turned it down to 2 on Saturday night, and that worked a lot better, although it also ran out of water.) The second night, we cooled the fifth-wheel down in the afternoon with the AC, then kept everything closed up because a big front moved through and it rained a fair chunk of the night, and we both slept better.

It was a pretty low-key visit with a lot of down-time. We went for a walk with Mom & Squirt and saw all the progress they've made on renovating the former restaurant into a bunkhouse for visiting hunters. Helped Mom pick tomatoes and thin out the plants; Jerry got a great picture of a big ol' bumblebee harvesting nectar from an artichoke thistle. Took down the birdhouse on a big pole and helped cover up the boat and a bunch of sacks of cement in the back of Larry's truck. Sunday morning we helped move a big refrigerator from the bunkhouse back to the house, to be swapped later with one of the smaller fridges.

We drove down to the lake and had a look at how far up the water still is. A lot of campground and boat dock stuff got flooded this summer, and the water came all the way up to the road on the bridge (and was still way up when we drove over it), although the lake was only at 25% of full flood-prevention capacity.

The building across from the bunkhouse has partially collapsed. You wouldn't think a big solid brick building would be vulnerable to just falling down, but the mortar erodes over time, allowing things to shift around, and then wind comes along and puts stress on the whole strucuture, and the bricks start to fracture, and then a big chunk of wall comes down.

Mostly we just hung out and chatted about nothing of much consequence. We showed them our honeymoon pictures. Paid lots of attention to the cats and the dog: Toodle is a sweet boy who loves scritches, Bobbi is soft and affectionate until she gets fed up, Squeaker is still too spooky about strange humans to do more than scurry across the room, and of course Squirt was very excited to see us.

We took Hanshin Tigers t-shirts and a bunch of ice-dyed handkerchiefs; Mom sent us home with a bunch of tomatoes, a salad grabber, frozen ground beef, the diet peach soda and ginger ale she didn't like, some jars of jam, a bunch of chai teabags, and a carpet cleaner. We managed to avoid bringing home the strange gilded cat statue a 6-year-old huckster at an auction sold her. (6yo: "What would you like to buy? How about this?" Mom: "No thank you, we already have three cats at home." 6yo: "Well, the more the merrier!" Mom: "I guess I'm buying a weird cat statue.")

We took off after lunch on Sunday and got home at 6-ish. The I-70 mess was mostly cleared up by the time we were passing up, so we only had to endure a few minutes of slow-down. We got home in plenty of time to unpack, go grocery shopping, refuel and wash the bugs off the car, reassure our kitties that we were in fact home now, and get some relaxation before bedtime. It was a nice trip.