Friday, December 31, 2010

The close of 2010

I have been a pretty terrible blogger in the last month (assuming I was ever marginally competent). Sure I can claim to have been busy and preoccupied, but part of it was just me feeling unmotivated. I guess there are times when I write here because I feel the need to share my thoughts on some subject, but there are also times when it seems like too much work. There were three posts that I started in the month of December but never got around to finishing (and are now too out of date to complete). Any other ideas I might have had last month (if there were any) didn't even get that far. Still, I feel like 2010 deserves some form of closing post, even if I will be publishing this in the new year.

So what (of note) did 2010 bring to me?

I was still playing some Dragon Age: Origins at the beginning of the year, and then again when they put out the Morrigan DLC. I also played through Portal after Steam offered it for free, and that was quite a revelation. It was too short, of course, but I am eagerly anticipating the release of the longer, larger Portal 2. I finished up the main campaign of Guild Wars all alone, as my brother couldn't bring himself to play the last three missions with me (sniff!). He did, however, get me to buy Borderlands, which he is willing to play with me, and we're nearing the end of our second playthrough together. But really, this year was all about Mass Effect 2. It is an awesome game, fun, powerful, and very well done. I loved it so much, and the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC which I recently played was just icing on the cake. I can't wait for Mass Effect 3, but at the same time I will be so sad to see the saga end.

Regarding other types of gaming, I also just got hooked on Dominion. Unfortunately, it was a Christmas gift that my younger brother received, so if I want to continue playing it when I go back to Hawaii, I will have to secure a set for myself. If you don't know the game, I highly recommend you check it out.

Fringe continues to be my favorite show on TV. My favorite new show of the year was Nikita, though Hawaii Five-0 is a guilty pleasure of mine as well (it's so fun to recognize places they go to, though less so to imagine that people have been found dead there...). Glee had some ups and downs, but I think they may be on the right track again (hope hope). More disappointingly, they canceled FlashForward last spring, and Caprica this fall. I'm particularly bitter about Caprica. Maybe Blood & Chrome will help explain how the events in Caprica ultimately led to the Cylons of the Cylon War, but I'm not counting on it.

I saw more this year than I think I usually do in the theater. I'm trying to remember which ones (I should keep a list or something). Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Inception, Kick-Ass, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and Black Swan stand out, but I'm surely forgetting others that I enjoyed. And those are just ones in the theater--I also recently saw the movie Clue for the first time (funny and very enjoyable), as well as (500) Days of Summer, which was quite beautiful.

I just have to share this anecdote from the theater when I saw Black Swan. At the end of the movie, as the credits started rolling and the lights went up, my friend and I overheard this conversation behind us:
Person 1: I don't get it... Did [slight spoiler happen] at the end?
Person 2: No, they have to leave it open for a sequel.
It was hilarious. This is not the type of movie that would have a sequel. Really, I mean, it's Darren Aronofsky. Imagine The Wrestler Returns. Requiem II for a Dream. Or Pi^2. No. Anyway, my friend and I thought the idea of Black Swan 2 was pretty hilarious.

In terms of classes and grades, 2010 may have been my best year ever (that one darn professor who only gave me an A). But unfortunately I'm not an undergrad anymore, and doing well in classes is not enough. I need to be doing research, developing my plan for my dissertation, writing my prospectus. That is so much harder for me than the clear-cut goal of mastering class material to do well on an exam. I got enough research done in one of the summer months to have something to present at the yearly student presentations, and then again at a presentation to the general public at Hanauma Bay. But that was really my only productive month of the year. Aside from that, I have failed miserably at being a good grad student. Luckily, I have PhD Comics to help me feel like I am not alone.

Family and friends
2010 was the first year that I had a boyfriend (and the same one, at that: "The Housemate") for the entire year. Over one sixth of the year, though, he was away in Antarctica. I rather like having a boyfriend, but I'm still not sure how serious the relationship is or where it is going. This will deserve its own post, later.

My grandmother died. I am now down to one grandparent--her husband. As the only one of their progeny living in the same city (in fact, I live less than a mile from my grandfather, whereas the next nearest descendant is a five hour plane ride away), I think it will largely fall on me to keep him company. I can't imagine how lonely it must feel to lose your spouse of 62 years.

My roommate from college came to visit me right before Christmas. Despite unusually rainy weather, we had a lot of fun, and her stay was all too short. I still need to go through those photos. If there are any good ones, I'll be sure to share.

In short
It was a good year overall. Could have been better, but could have been a lot worse. I hope that in the new year I'll be able to sort out some of the kinks I've developed in the past year (mainly, questions about the boyfriend and what the heck I'm doing in grad school). So I'll take a cup of kindness for 2010, and I wish for an even better 2011.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Update: grandmother, exams, holiday

My grandmother's funeral was last Saturday. The service was very nice. The church was beautiful, and the flower arrangements were lovely (it was convenient that it's Christmas, so the church was already decked out in poinsettias...we just added even more flowers). We grandchildren all sang "Over the Rainbow" (Iz's tune, original lyrics) accompanied by me and one of my cousins on the ukulele (I'm still terrible at playing the uke, so I was glad that I showed my cousin the chords...he's quite good at guitar already). Another cousin--the one with a masters in vocal performance training to be an opera singer--sang a slightly modified version of "For Good" from Wicked. The turnout was good, and we ended up with just about the right amount of food (yummy Chinese food) at the reception afterwards (i.e., enough for a meal of leftovers).

On Sunday night we had dinner with family from my grandfather's side, which was actually closer to my grandmother as an adult than her side of the family (she didn't seem that close to her siblings), then went back to one of their houses to "talk story" (it's a Hawaii phrase) about my grandmother. I ended up learning a lot about her I hadn't known. I also learned a lot about my grandfather's parents that I hadn't known...even though we were there to share memories about my grandmother, my grandfather and great uncles couldn't keep themselves from veering off topic to talk about other family members who have passed.

We buried her on Monday. It's a lovely cemetery right next to Diamond Head, with the graves decorated by the colorful tropical flowers loved ones bring. I'd been there several times before, as my grandmother's parents and grandfather's parents (whom I never met) are all buried there. The weather was perfect--sunny and clear, slight breeze, not too hot (80ish). I'm relatively stoic, but it was during the burial that I cried the most. It finally sunk in how final this was. That if I wanted to visit my grandmother from now on, that I'd have to come here. And the thought that her parents were buried nearby, and now their daughter was joining them, really got to me.

On Tuesday I got back to work. I had to study for my final exam on Friday morning. I took the exam and I think it went pretty well. I say this now, of course, but I could have gotten some of the questions completely wrong. We'll see. I tried to find my advisor after the exam, but there was no sign of him in his office--for all I know he's already off for winter break. I haven't seen him in a month. With all the family stuff going on, and me just being a general slacker right now (I haven't been feeling very motivated lately), I never had anything to report to him. No progress made on my research. I'm actually a little depressed about it. So I sent him an email saying what's been up with my family (I hadn't even told him about my grandmother), which will hopefully excuse me from not making any progress with my research this month, and wishing him happy holidays. I feel bad, though, that I didn't see him to say that in person. Oh well.

A couple hours after my exam, I went to pick up my college roommate from the airport. I haven't seen her in a year and a half, since our second reunion. I bought a pikake lei (not a very nice one...I am a poor grad student) for her, since I figure it's her first time on the island and I might as well give her the full Hawaii treatment. They're so beautifully fragrant, and as I type this on my bed, it's making my bedroom smell wonderful. My friend is here for five days; I leave on the same flight as she does to go to my parents' for the holidays. Hopefully we can fit in a lot of good stuff in those five days. I'll probably not be blogging much in that time. I hope everyone is well, and I'll surely have at least one more post by Christmas, but in any case, I hope everyone has a happy holiday season!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wear Star Wars/Share Star Wars for Katie: P.S.

Success! (See my post explaining Star Wars Katie Day here)

I chose a Yoda chopstick lightsaber because they're slightly shorter than the others. And did you catch the Jedi Bear cameo in the back?

Wear Star Wars/Share Star Wars for Katie

I still haven't been posting much, as things are still pretty busy with family in town. The funeral is on Saturday and the burial is on Monday. Most of the visiting relatives will be leaving on Tuesday (including my mother, so I can finally get my car back--phew!).

You've likely heard elsewhere already, but today is Wear Star Wars, Share Star Wars in Support of Katie Day (or whatever people are calling it). A 7-year-old named Katie is a Star Wars fan who loves her new Star Wars water bottle, but one day she told her mom that she wanted to bring the old pink water bottle to school instead. When her mother asked why, Katie started crying and explained that kids at school told her that Star Wars is just for boys. Her mother took to her blog, and from there the word spread. Before long, hundreds (and now maybe thousands) of geeks--especially girl geeks--had left comments in support of little Katie. And she didn't just get comments. She got to accompany a Star Wars: The Clone Wars voice actor to a screening, and she's received numerous Star Wars gifts from ThinkGeek, Clone Wars cast members, and many other people moved by Katie's story. Most of the toys her mother will be donating to charity, and she recommends that anyone who wants to give Katie toys instead donate toys to needy children, as Katie has enough. She certainly has enough support to proudly carry her Star Wars water bottle and backpack around school. And Katie supporters have chosen today to honor Katie by wearing Star Wars clothing and donating Star Wars toys to charities.

I totally support the sentiment of the occasion. I don't remember it very well, but as my mom tells it, in pre-school when all the other girls wanted to play dress-up, I wanted to play Star Wars. Sure, I was a pink princess and little mermaid for Halloween, but I also had a Superman cape (with my initial on it instead of an S, of course) and SilverHawk wings. Social norms, and some interest on my part, kept me only half geeky in elementary school--I really did love The Little Mermaid, and my dad would read me books like A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, which were all right (to his credit, my dad still regrets not reading me Lord of the Rings when I was little, as he had to my brothers). But it wasn't until I reached middle school and began devouring the Redwall series that I really started to grow into my true geeky self. This led to my high school reading of Lord of the Rings, Shannara, Harry Potter, Wheel of Time, and more. Both of my parents were Star Wars fans so we'd been brought up on the original trilogy, and about the time that I got to high school, the prequels came out in theaters. Around the same time we got The Matrix, and it wasn't long before the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies were coming out, too. Yes, there were plenty of great reasons to be a geek.

I was lucky that I was never really teased for my geekiness--at least if I was (chances are I was at some point), I found it so insignificant that I've forgotten it. I'll be clear here: by "geekiness," I'm referring to my love of fantasy, sci-fi, and gaming. I have been teased about my nerdiness--being smart (not teased badly, but enough to make me embarrassed at times about good grades)--and about my dorkiness (I didn't really "fit in" with other kids in middle school). But by the time that I was flying my geek colors, I was in high school, and I had a strong group of friends who loved me for my geeky interests (many were geeks themselves). I even felt perfectly confident doing my presentation on Quenya (one of Tolkien's Elvish languages) for my senior year English class, and that's a pretty intense level of geek.

But I can totally understand Katie's situation. Stores with toy departments split into a Boys' section and a Girls' section are one of many ways that young children are taught what things they "should" be interested in, and what things are "just" for the other gender. I always cite this one commercial I saw about three or four years ago for a Playskool kitchen/laundry set: sink, dishwasher, oven, stove, washer, dryer. As a little girl played and giggled, the voice over cheerily told us something to the effect of "Give her the tools to learn and grow into whatever she wants to be." That is, as long as it's a housewife. Cooking can be fun, but washing dishes and doing laundry are really just chores. Really, who could blame any little girl for having more fun pretending to be a Jedi saving the galaxy than pretending to do the laundry? I recognize that there may on average be some innate differences in boys' and girls' interests, but they are not as great as out-of-date social norms imagine--or force--them to be.

So I am in full support of Katie today. One problem: I have realized that I don't actually have any Star Wars clothing or accessories to wear today! Total geek fail. Hmm, I have things related to Firefly, and Mass Effect, and Dragon Age...but no Star Wars. Maybe I can figure out how to put these lightsaber chopsticks in my hair.* At the very least, I'm with Katie in spirit. May the Force be with you, Katie.

* P.S. Success!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Galadriel in The Hobbit, and more Game of Thrones

Cate Blanchett has signed on to reprise her Lord of the Rings role as Galadriel in the two planned Hobbit movies (EW, Variety). This is somewhat of a surprise since, unlike Gollum and Gandalf, Galadriel does not appear in The Hobbit book. We are left to suppose that because The Hobbit has virtually no female characters, Galadriel is being pulled in to offer a little bit of variety. We'll have to wait to see what part Galadriel will play in the story.

Next, I just watched this awesome video on HBO's adaptation of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones. If you're a fan of the series, you have to take a look. If you're unfamiliar with the series, you have to take a look.

Before this I'd seen only photos from the set, so this has me unbelievably excited. We at least get glimpses of the Stark children (and widdle wolf puppies!), as well as a good look at Ned Stark (, Robert Baratheon, Cersei (her blondness didn't bother me as much as it had in the photo), Tyrion, Jaime Lannister (so handsome), Jon Snow, and Daenerys. I'm still a little unsure about how old Emilia Clarke, the actress playing Daenerys, looks (though she does look good), but still I think I was most intrigued by the footage of her part of the story. It's all going to be awesome.

The TV series will premiere on HBO in April 2011. It looks like they're doing an amazing job. I can't wait.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Sorry for this somber and entirely personal, unentertaining post. I just feel the need to "talk," and document these events.

My grandmother passed away yesterday morning. She was 88.

We'd had ample warning. Two years ago she was very healthy--she even drove me around in her car the time I visited as a prospective student to UH. But after three strokes in 18 months, she'd been living the last two months in the full-time nursing floor of the retirement home she and my grandfather moved into ten years ago. The past month in particular has been full of ups and downs. One month ago she started getting a fever, which went up and down for a couple weeks. Two weeks ago, they switched her to palliative care, taking her off of her non-essential, or longer-term, medications. A week and a half ago was the first time the nurses couldn't rouse her for her meal. We thought it might be over then, but the next meal she woke up. My mom and older brother arrived a day later to help take care of her. For the next five days, she continued to improve each day. On the fifth day, last week Tuesday, she was strong enough to feed herself again, she had my mom take her outside into the fresh air and sun for a bit, and she was smiling and talking a little bit, though still not much. It's a little strange, actually, that we considered it such a great day, since just three weeks ago it would have been only a normal one.

On Wednesday she got very feverish again, and she slept from that afternoon all the way through Thanksgiving on Thursday. By Friday, since she hadn't eaten or drunk anything for two days, and didn't show signs of change, we figured that was going to be the end. I dug the Housemate's printer/scanner out of my closet to scan in a photo of her for the obituary. I couldn't get the light balance quite right, and there were little white specks in the scanned image I couldn't get rid of. I suppose once it's shrunk down for the newspaper, they won't show at all.

On Friday night, my mom and brother and I were sitting in her room, just to be with her, when she started coughing, and woke up. Fully awake, not just cracking her eye open without showing signs of awareness, as she had done once or twice on Thursday. Every time she spoke (to be clear, this was only one or two words on about three different occasions) my mom jumped, as if my grandmother had just come back from the dead. She ate some poi (which in addition to being her personal favorite is nutritious and requires no chewing--perfect) and drank some water. She listened intently as we read letters that her children and grandchildren not present had sent, looked on as we showed her photos of our families, and smiled when I pulled out her ukulele to play the two songs I've learned. After two and a half hours, she was looking pretty sleepy again, so we said good night and left her.

She slept all through Saturday and Sunday, though she did seem to try to crack open her eyes when she heard our voices on Sunday night. By then, though, she was breathing rapidly, which, as my doctor grandfather informed us in a very doctorly way, is a sign of the terminal stage. Her rapid breathing through her mouth was drying out her lips, much to my mom's distress, and the nurses didn't have anything suitable to keep them moist--the water we put on at their suggestion just dried out immediately and left her lips drier. So I swabbed her lips with my ChapStick.

On Monday morning, I got the call that she had died. She had been comfortable, and went peacefully. I had class that day, and my brother, who was the one calling me, told me that I didn't need to go, as he and my mother were headed over to be with my grandfather. I didn't feel the need to see her again before the mortuary people took her. I'd seen her the previous night when she was alive. Why should I see her when she's dead?

That night in my grandfather's apartment, things seemed the same. I hadn't seen my grandmother up in the apartment for over two months, so it was easy to think that she was still just downstairs sleeping. I had to remind myself that she wasn't, and never would be again.

There's a bulletin board in the retirement home's lobby that always has an In Memoriam section, with photos of recently passed residents. Every time I walk by it, I see someone new listed there--retirement homes have a relatively high turnover rate. But this time, of course, it was my grandmother. Seeing it was like a dream, like it didn't quite make sense.

I got home that night, and looked up the chords to "Into the West" for the ukulele. I guess even in the face of tragedy, I can still be a geek. But it is a beautiful song. And now that I have inherited her ukulele, I had better learn to play more songs.

I am sad, but accepting; I'd been prepared. It's too bad that she didn't live to see any of her grandchildren get married. But she got to know us all, she was proud of us, and she knew we loved her. She was happy. If I can get to her age and say as much, I will know that I've lived a good life.

RIP, Popo.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hathaway & Franco, Spidey disaster, and Kershner dies

A few bits of entertainment news:

I've been tracking the Spider-Man musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, for a while now, first as I thought it sounded like a ridiculous idea, then as I thought it might turn out to be good, then as I saw it plagued by multiple problems (running out of money, losing cast members) and delays (remember when previews were supposed to start last February? those were the days...). The most recent news is not good. After all this time, the show finally opened for preview showings on November 28 (the premiere is scheduled for January 11), but the performance is being called a disaster (e.g. Studio Briefing, NYPost). There were multiple significant malfunctions, such as cast members (including Spidey himself) being left hanging over the audience for several minutes. These glitches forced the performance to stop four times in the first act, and once in the second. During one of the stops, an audience member was heard to say, "I feel like a guinea pig tonight. I feel like it’s a dress rehearsal." Well, it kind of was... Reeve Carney (Peter Parker) said that it was the first time they'd gone all the way through the show ( Wow, no wonder there were so many things going wrong. The whole performance took three and a half hours, and to make things worse, some audience members reported a boring score and confusing script. The most expensive Broadway show ever, at $65 million, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark can't afford to be a flop. Things aren't looking good so far.

Irvin Kershner, director of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, passed away this past Saturday at age 87 (Variety). The first sequel to the original Star Wars, the darker Empire Strikes Back initially received mixed reviews. However, it has gone on to become the most highly praised of all the Star Wars films. Much of the credit is given to Kershner. RIP.

OK, now, let's end on a lighter note...
It has been announced that Anne Hathaway and James Franco will be hosting this year's Oscars ceremony (e.g. Studio Briefing). Last year's ceremony had a pair of hosts as well, with Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin hosting the event, but the choice breaks from recent tradition by having hosts who are neither comedians nor song-and-dance performers. Not that Franco and Hathaway can't be funny or sing (we've seen some evidence to the contrary), but these are not talents for which they are primarily known. About the choice, producers said, "James Franco and Anne Hathaway personify the next generation of Hollywood icons— fresh, exciting and multi-talented." Their selection may be an attempt to increase the ratings for the telecast, bringing in young eyes who may not have been drawn by last year's "old fogies." Franco is very likely to be nominated for a lead acting Oscar this year, for his role in 127 Hours. Anne Hathaway received a best actress nomination two years ago for her lead role in Rachel Getting Married, and has a chance at a nomination this year for her role in Love and Other Drugs. I like both of these actors, so I hope they find ways to use them well in the ceremony. I'm hopeful it will be an entertaining show.

Friday, November 26, 2010

One month down, two (plus) more to go...

It has been one month now since my boyfriend, aka the Housemate, left for Antarctica. I am not holding up as well as I thought I would.

We've been messaging and emailing practically every day since he left, though there was a six-day period in there where he was on a boat and had no communication with me at all. In the past week and a half, we've even been video chatting most days. That has definitely helped a lot. But I still miss him like crazy. Once in a while, I go through periods where I find myself feeling really sad, almost lost without him--I even whimper. I just want him to come home, or for me to hop on a plane and go to Antarctica to be with him.

What happened to me? Up until a little over a year ago, I'd never had a boyfriend. High school, college, and two years of post-grad, I never felt like I needed a boy. I was single and proud. But now I have a boy, and when he goes away, I feel miserable. Have I really become so dependent? So weak?

I expected it to be a little difficult without him. He's such a huge part of the life that I've constructed here in Hawaii: housemate, classmate, best friend, boyfriend. Without him, there's no one there when I wake up, eat breakfast, walk to school, walk home from school, make dinner, eat dinner, watch TV shows, and go to bed. No one to talk to about my day when I get home from school. I have been spending a little more time with a couple of my friends at school, but it's nowhere near what I had with the Housemate.

On top of this, though, I think I'm missing him even more than I anticipated due to unexpected circumstances. I'm going through a bit of a rough patch right now. My research at school is in a sort of bad place. I've been stuck for a little while on a problem, partially because I'm having trouble finding the motivation to move forward and fix it. I've been doubting the direction of my project, and even my passion for the topic. It's sort of a downward spiral: I get frustrated with some problem in my project, so I start to question whether it's a good idea at all, which makes my motivation to work through the problem diminish, so I spend even more time getting frustrated, etc. Now that my fellowship application is in and I really have no excuse for not moving forward with my project, I've been feeling a little depressed about my research.

The other thing that's hovering over my head is that my grandmother is really not well. She's been living under nursing care for the past few months because she's really weak after her last stroke, but at least she had been talkative (though, having poor short term memory, she'd keep asking the same questions) and was feeding herself. But the past month has been full of ups and downs--periods of fever, or no fever, times where she can feed herself, or can't feed herself, is talking, isn't talking, etc. My mom and brother arrived last week Thursday, and the next day she started to get better. Still not how she'd been a month ago, but she was talking a little and wanted us to wheel her out for some fresh air and sunlight. But then suddenly on Wednesday, she had a bad fever and hardly seemed aware of us being there... Basically, it's very possible that this is the final downhill slide for her. I'm resigned, but it's still stressful, and the fact that all we can do is wait is so sad. So it wasn't the best Thanksgiving. My brother and I had a couple hours at a proper Thanksgiving dinner party with extended family members on the island--as I had celebrated Thanksgiving last year--but most of the day was spent hanging out with the grandparents, holding my grandmother's hand, holding a wet cloth on her forehead, comforting my mom. Forgetting that it was supposed to be a day to be thankful, and just feeling sad and stressed.

So that may be why I miss the Housemate so much, and feel so empty and lonely sometimes. Having him here couldn't fix all my problems, but it would certainly be some welcome comfort and support. February can't come soon enough. I thought having my mom and brother here would help speed things along, but no such luck. I guess there's still the holiday season to look forward to.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrate it today. And to those who don't, well, happy workday! OK, happy Thursday, at least.

So I saw RAY J's post with a "fun Thanksgiving questionnaire" and thought I'd answer the questions too. The weather here in Hawaii is no good for getting me in the mood for Thanksgiving (it should be cold! the leaves should be gone!), so hopefully this fill-in-the-blanks questionnaire will help me feel Thanksgiving-y.

1. My Thanksgiving plans this year will include...
visiting my grandparents in their retirement home around lunchtime, since my grandmother isn't well enough to leave, then going to my great aunt and uncle's house for dinner with lots of cousins.

2. My favorite Thanksgiving was...
freshman year in college, when I brought my three unofficial roommates (I spent almost no time in my actual dorm room that year, but always hung out with these three girls in the room that belonged to two of them) home with me for Thanksgiving. I remember on the bus ride home, I taught them the names of the 16 family members of mine who would be there, and how to identify each one, so they could act like family, too (because I know I can't remember 16 new names from just one introduction).

3. My signature Thanksgiving dish is...
Well, the only thing that I can come close to calling "my" Thanksgiving dish is the pumpkin spice cookies I made last year. They were a huge hit at the party, and I was so very pleased with myself that I even did a post about the cookies.

4. My favorite Thanksgiving food is...
pumpkin pie! Also, my mom made this cranberry sauce (or relish?) dish once that had pomegranates and orange zest in it (and other yummy stuff). It was sooo good!

5. Thanksgiving free association!
pie, turkey, Thursday, family, Pilgrims

6. Thanksgiving is...
a great time to get together with family and PIG OUT without guilt!

7. I am thankful for...
my mom's pies. Oh, um, and you know, having such a loving family, and all that stuff.

The only Thanksgiving-appropriate decoration I have in my house is a small pumpkin that I bought before Halloween--I figured it could do double duty and be a nice table centerpiece for both holidays. It's pleasingly round, about the size of a large grapefruit, and had a nice smooth orange complexion. But in the past few days, it has started to get little green spots. I know it's over a month old, so I shouldn't be surprised if it isn't perfect anymore, but I have never observed pumpkins getting green spots. I always think of fruits and vegetables as starting out green, then turning other colors as they ripen, not the other way around. Oh well, it still looks nice enough, and it'll be past season by tomorrow. Such is the life of a pumpkin. I should have taken a photo of it when it was still all orange. It really was quite cute.

I hope everyone has a great day and eats a lot of good food! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Navel-gazing: My blog's traffic sources

If you're on my blog, there's a fair chance you are just looking for a good photo of a humuhumunukunukuapua'a. And you didn't even find the humuhumu photo I took myself, but instead the one that I poached off of someone else's website (sorry, whoever you are!) for my Intro to Hawaii series.

Yes, starting this past July, Blogger finally started showing us bloggers some statistics for our blogs, such as numbers of pageviews (total for the blog as well as top individual posts), traffic sources, and audience composition (including country, browser, and operating system). It was about time; I know some other blog platforms have offered stats for a while, and since comments and followers are not very good indicators for numbers of hits or visitors, I have on occasion wondered what my blog traffic is like. It's a bit of a shame, though, that it started only in July because I suspect that May-June may have been my blog's peak in exposure. Oh well, I could be completely wrong about that...I guess we'll never know, right?

Anyway, the thing that I have found most intriguing to look at in the stats is my blog's traffic sources--particularly the most popular search terms that lead to my blog. These search terms are clearly a large factor in determining my blog's most popular posts, and they are not what I might have expected. The following are the top searches that lead people to my little blog, in approximate order (I believe that the number counted for searches does not include image searches, so I can't offer a strict order of popularity):

First, a note: I mention in my post Google search results rankings. I know that search results vary depending at least on the searcher's location, and possibly other factors, so these are merely my own Google search result rankings; I can't speak for others.

Image search for humuhumunukunukuapua'a. As I mentioned above, people using this image search term find the photo that I poached off of someone else's website for my Intro to Hawaii wildlife post. It's an injustice that my copy of it has wound up higher on the search results than whoever posted the original (when I do a Google image search, it comes up 5th on the list). I don't know how this photo gained popularity, but I guess there are relatively few sites that actually have the full Hawaiian name of the fish written out.

Felicia Day. I can't imagine I'm anywhere near a top search result for her name, but somehow it comes up. People must click through a lot of Felicia Day site listings to find this blog. Image searches for Felicia Day also lead here, whether the searchers find the screen shot I took of her throwing a fireball in my Kinect post (it's a rather pleasing pose), or the photo I copied of Day with Crabcat Industries at Comic-Con on my post about Crabcat Industries. Speaking of which...

Crabcat Industries. This top search item actually makes sense to me, since there aren't that many sites--yet--that talk about Crabcat Industries, but there is rising interest in their awesome group. They've just launched their own website, at

Kinect RPG. Tons of people are excited about the Kinect, but gamers want to know what RPGs exist for the Kinect. Bad news: There aren't any signs of Kinect RPGs on the horizon. So the people searching for a Kinect RPG often find themselves out of luck on my blog with RPG in the title, on my post about the Kinect.

How To Train Your Dragon RPG. There is a HTTYD forum RPG, but not much in the way of anything money-making that would be advertised, or have multiple pages with lots of hits. Just enough people are lured to my post on HTTYD after searching for a HTTYD RPG that when I do a Google search for it, I'm somehow the 2nd result.

RPG called life. Are people actually searching for my blog? Or is it just people who think it's a catchy phrase to search for (another occasional search term is "life RPG")? I am pleased to find that when I do a Google search for my blog title (no quotes), my blog is the first result.

I also have some of the top (English-language) Google image search results for the name Berlin Zoo in combination with various animals (e.g. otter, tayra). So my blog gets a significant number of hits from people image searching with those terms, and finding my post on the Berlin Zoo.

These popular search terms mostly explain the posts on my blog that have received the most hits ("all time", i.e. since July), which are as follows:
Introduction to Hawai'i: Wildlife
Top 10 characters I want to be
I want a Kinect
How To Train Your Dragon
Crabcat Industries

The exception is the Top 10 characters post. Why does it rank so highly? Sure, it is one of the posts that I recommend as a "favorite" at the top of my blog, but there are 12 others there, none of which have nearly as many hits. Little in my popular traffic sources leads to this post (the only thing I've noticed is the occasional hit from a Google image search leading to the Sydney Bristow picture). Alas, the popularity of this post remains a mystery to me. Well, it is one of my favorites--very fun to write--so I guess I can't complain.

OK, that's all the navel-gazing for now. I realize this was possibly extremely uninteresting for anyone other than myself. Sorry about that. Thanks for reading, anyway!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Game of Thrones HBO series

This week's Entertainment Weekly features exclusive photos from the set of HBO's upcoming Game of Thrones series, based on the books by George R. R. Martin. And I just have to say EEEEEEEE!!! I'm so excited!

Check out the photos

This is a fantasy series that really belongs on HBO. Movies would have to truncate it way too much and wouldn't do it justice. The networks--and softer cable channels--couldn't touch it. Given the content and the need for period detail (and the necessary money to make it), I can't really picture it anywhere else. Wherever they're doing True Blood and Boardwalk Empire, that's where Game of Thrones should be. Perfect.

Now, about the pictures on EW. They don't show nearly as much as I'd like. They have very little of the younger characters, which is frustrating because they are for the most part played by unknown actors, and I really want to see them. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) looks good, and there's also a nice shot of cute little Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). Argh, but what about the other Stark children? We also have a nice shot of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), with her unnaturally platinum blond hair. It will be interesting to see how the actress handles her unusual role. I wonder how old the actress is--the character is supposed to be only 13, but the transforming, complex role would require a huge amount of maturity.

The adult actors are a little less of a mystery, and we get some nice shots of them at EW. Sean Bean as Eddard Stark--I approve. Reminds me a bit of Boromir, but I suppose that's to be expected, especially in stills when we can't see his rather different character in action. Mark Addy (The Full Monty, A Knight's Tale) looks good as Robert Baratheon. I suppose I'm used to seeing him play goofy characters, but I'm sure he'll fit the role well. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. Of course. The casting requirements for that role are fairly specific. But I think he'll fit the role well, and not just because of his stature. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister. Hey, he's the guy from that short-lived show New Amsterdam. He looks good. Very good. Yeah, I'd do him, even if he were my br--no, no, just kidding. Moving on... Lena Headey as Cersei Baratheon. Eech. This is the one role that I'm not so sure about, which is strange because I love Lena Headey--Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was a highly under appreciated show. But as Cersei? I think mainly it's the blonde thing. I'm looking at the photo, and she looks like Lena Headey with a blond wig/dyed hair. It's actually kind of an important plot point that her character is a natural blonde, and from the way it looks in this photo, she's not pulling it off. I suppose ultimately that's a very small thing, and the acting is what really matters, but still, I wish she looked a little more convincing as a blonde.

The overall look of the sets and costumes is great. It's not quite Lord of the Rings, but they're putting a lot of detail into creating the world (they created a whole language, a la Klingon, for the Dothraki). This isn't glamorous fantasy, it's dark and dirty and kind of drab. As far as the look of the world goes, I think they pretty much nailed it. It's just how I want it to be.

This is a pretty unique series. As the article quotes Sean Bean as saying, "The story is so different from what we're used to seeing on television". Yes, it's dark and kind of depressing and deals with things that make people, particularly studio heads, squirm. For the most part, I love reading fantasy for the escape--I can picture myself as one of the characters, or another character in the world (bad fan fiction in my head), and it seems like it would be really cool to be there in that world. Not so much the case with Game of Thrones. Their world seems like it's kind of a grim place to be. It was probably the toughest fantasy book I've read in that regard, but the story is so interesting, the characters so intriguing, that it becomes worth it.

Seeing these photos has inspired me to get back into reading the series. I got distracted by other things after reading the first book, but if they're going to do a TV adaptation, I'd better get ahead. It looks like it could be excellent. I hope the show is a huge success.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Just wanted to share an xkcd comic from this week, since it describes a part of my life right now.


7,655 miles (12 320 kilometers) is a long, long way. Email and gchat don't feel like enough. And it's only been two and a half weeks. Three months (or more) to go...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Holograms! and more Spider-Man casting

In casting news for the new Spider-Man reboot, Martin Sheen is in final negotiations for the part of Uncle Ben, while Sally Field is in talks to play Aunt May (Cinematical). Already cast are Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, and Rhys Ifans as villain The Lizard. Mary Jane will not be making an appearance in the new movie (EOnline).

As usual, I'm excited by news related to science-fiction technologies becoming simply science. Scientists at the University of Arizona are working on developing holograms--a la "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."--and they're making impressive progress, publishing an article in scientific journal Nature (AZ Daily Star). Recent developments in 3D technology may have eliminated the need for 3D glasses (I am currently only aware of it working on smallish screens, but presumably it could be expanded to larger screens as well), provided that the viewer stands within a certain range from the screen, but this takes it a big step further. Images are in "full parallax", so you can actually see more of an object by moving around; for instance, moving to the right of a head facing forward allows you to see the left side of the head; moving up lets you see the top of the head. Now that is immersion. To create this effect, 16 cameras are used to record an image from all sides. The image requires a screen to appear (so it's not quite like R2-D2's projection of Princess Leia), but because of the true, full 3D images, the screen could be horizontal or vertical. The main problem with the current technology as I see it is that at present, the images can only refresh every 2 seconds. But that's still a huge improvement over three years ago, when the images required minutes to change. It shouldn't be too long before they have the images refreshing fast enough to trick us into seeing movement. Also, three years ago the holograms were in only one color, and now they have three colors.

The project is being pursued simply as a research project, without application as a main focus. But one could definitely imagine such technology being put to use in hospitals (3D brain images?), war rooms (3D battle plans), and video conferencing. And of course in entertainment. Movies and video games could find ways to use the impressive immersion of the hologram. Principle investigator Nasser Peyghambarian predicts that the technology in some form could be available to some customers in five to ten years. I can't wait.


On a personal note, I have a fellowship application due in the next couple weeks, I have a ton of progress I need to make on my schoolwork, and there's a lot going on with my family life at the moment (grandmother here in Honolulu is sick, my mom is coming out in a week and a half to visit), so basically I'm pretty busy right now. I may not be posting much in the next several weeks. But I'll still be around. Catch you later.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Just a quick post for the occasion: I wanted to share a photo of my favorite Halloween costume from when I was a kid. My mom was great at Halloween. Each year, she would take us to the fabric store to look through patterns, and we could be practically anything we wanted. "Practically" being an important word here, since she would sometimes guide us away from certain costumes for reasons like that they wouldn't be warm enough for the end of October in New England. She's really quite good at sewing (she also made me lots of dresses when I was little), and my cool costumes included the Little Mermaid, Jasmine from Aladdin, a squirrel, and a stegosaurus (the swinging, spiky stuffed tail was awesome). But looking back my favorite costume would have to be my lobster costume. I actually wore it two years, I think when I was both 9 and 12. The second time, my little brother dressed as a chef.

The costume actually came up in blog conversation at one point, and it was requested that I post pictures. Now, finally, here it is. (Happy, Seb?)

Sorry about the poor quality. I scanned it in from the photo album when I was at my parents' house. But can you make out the little legs hanging on the sides? This is from the first Halloween that I wore the costume.

Hope everyone has a fun, spooky, happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity, March to Keep Fear Alive

Hawaii is lovely and all, but right now I wish I was still living in Maryland. Why? Because if I was still in Maryland, I would go in to Washington, D.C. this Saturday for Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and March to Keep Fear Alive (respectively). Granted, it won't be nearly as historic an event as when I went in for Obama's inauguration, but it might be more fun (funny, at least). And definitely not as cold.

Since college I have enjoyed The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but I didn't watch it regularly until early fall 2008, in the midst of the economic crash and the presidential election. There was certainly a lot of material for the writers to use at the time. As the economy went to crap, they gave us ways to laugh at it all. And they kept us in good humor about the sometimes bewildering election. I watched every episode from then until I left Maryland in summer 2009, when my life got considerably busier (I went back to school). Anyway, I consider myself a fan. I still watch their shows now and then, when I'm looking for a quick show to give me a good laugh.

A quick word about the "fake news" issue. I guess there have been polls saying that a significant percentage of young people call The Daily Show their primary news source, which has a lot of judgmental old people shaking their heads. Yes, they make things up in their news reports, but it's always a riff off of a true news story (unlike, say, The Onion, which by the way is also hilarious), and the viewer is never in doubt which part of the story is true and which part is fake. So you get a little information on a true current story, then a good laugh. Nothing wrong with that. I read "real" news online, but The Daily Show, and to a certain extent the Colbert Report as well, isn't a bad complement to the real news. Stewart and Colbert are both funny and smart, and, conveniently, for the most part they share my view on political issues. Their commentaries on current news are sharp, hilarious, and can be comforting, even therapeutic (Example: as Glenn Beck gains more followers, more attention, and more inexplicable power, it feels awfully good to laugh at his oblivious hypocrisy). By pointing out the insanities of our political system, the media, and the people grabbing all the attention, these comedy shows grant us a measure of sanity.

I hope they get a great turnout for their rally. The country could use a little sanity. I'll certainly be tuning in as they stream it live online. Tune in on Saturday, October 30, noon-3pm EDT.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Caprica canceled

SyFy just announced that it will not be renewing Caprica for a second season (Variety, EOnline). The remaining five unaired episodes will be pulled from the schedule, to be aired in the spring. In spite of its ties to the popular Battlestar Galactica, Caprica was not able to gain a large enough audience for SyFy to want to renew it.

I'm very upset to learn of this cancellation. I was just watching the most recent episode, enjoying the character development and the many interesting plot lines going on. There are so many questions in that show, things left up in the air that I'm anxious to see resolved. Will Daniel be able to write an AI program as good as Zoe's? Will Clarice get her hands on Zoe's backup (assuming that the thing exists)? Will Amanda be able to get any information from Clarice's family? Will Daniel be able to pull himself together after all that he's done? What is Joseph Adama getting himself into? What will happen to Lacy when she's shipped off world? What will the Zoe and Tamara "deadwalkers" do in V-world? Will the world ever know that it wasn't Zoe who blew up the train? And, of course, the big question that's always underlying everything: How do these events ultimately lead to the Cylons we know and love--the Cylons that start the war with the humans? That is, who are the first Cylons?

I was looking forward to many seasons of Caprica to answer some of these questions. Hopefully the remaining episodes will offer some answers, maybe a little closure, but the big questions intended for multiple seasons will remain unanswered. There's definitely a lot of missed opportunity here. This was a smart, challenging, intricate show--sci-fi that speaks to our own society, even though it is set in a different world. They told a lot of story in the few episodes they got. It deserved better than this early cancellation. I'm sorry to see it go, and I'll miss it a lot.

RIP Caprica

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Hobbit will shoot in New Zealand

Sighs of relief everywhere:
After days of negotiations between New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Warner Bros. executives, it has finally been decided that the two Hobbit movies will be filmed in New Zealand (Variety). After a dispute and boycott (which has now been lifted) from an Australia-based New Zealand actors union, the studio says it lost confidence in the work climate of the country and considered moving it elsewhere. But now it's finally all settled, and Middle Earth will remain in New Zealand where all three Lord of the Rings movies were shot.

Peter Jackson is set to direct the movies, Martin Freeman has been cast as Bilbo Baggins, and Richard Armitage (the very attractive Sir Guy of Gisborne from BBC's Robin Hood) will play Thorin Oakenshield.

New Zealand was such a perfect and beautiful location for the Lord of the Rings movies, it would have been a real shame to take the Hobbit movies somewhere else. I'm very much looking forward to seeing Hobbiton again. I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hold me like you'll never let me go

The Housemate left for Antarctica last night. He'll actually spend a few days in Chile before boating down to Antarctica, but he's gone.

As a parting gift, he gave me a Build-a-Bear Jedi bear. Best. Boyfriend. Ever. It's the perfect present because
1) It's a Jedi! He even has a plush lightsaber.
2) I think it's a very cute bear, and the fur is incredibly soft. And
3) When I opened the box the Housemate said, "It's a snuggle bear!" in reference to the fact that one of my favored pet names for him is "snuggle bear" (...I am so embarrassed right now). See, he got it for me so I'd have someone else to cuddle with at night while he's away.
So far I've just been calling him "Jedi Bear". I was trying to think of some cute clever pun on a Jedi's name (err, Bear Kenobi? --yuck), but I haven't come up with anything yet. Any suggestions?

I gave the Housemate a fleece slanket to take to Antarctica. If you watch The Big Bang Theory, it's what Penny gave to Leonard when he was leaving for the North Pole: a blanket with sleeves (she gave him the red one, I got the hunter green). It's no good to walk around wearing, but if you're sitting and want to use your hands--for reading, using the computer, talking on the phone, etc.--it's the perfect thing to keep you warm and cozy. It's not any use here in Hawaii (unless your office air conditioning is way too high or something), but hopefully he'll enjoy it in Antarctica.

He may need that extra warmth. I am sorry to report that he has left for Antarctica with no more warmth than a bunch of long-sleeve t-shirts and a single fleece jacket. He meant to bring a nice fuzzy sweatshirt hoodie as well, but he forgot it at home. The thing is, that's all he owns. Having lived his adult life thus far only in Indonesia, Arizona, and Hawaii, he doesn't have much in the way of warm clothing. At least he has the fleece jacket, which I told him to buy from the outlet stores when he was in Maine last month. I meant to make him order more stuff from L.L. Bean (they ship for free, at least in the current season), but never got around to it. I guess he can buy stuff in Chile, but it may be that his one fleece jacket will just see a lot of use. Which is good, because he can't get his money's worth out of it here.

I drove the Housemate to the airport in the mid-afternoon (any excuse to leave school early!). As I often do when driving to the airport, I sang "Leaving on a Jet Plane." I started singing it innocently enough, but was taken aback by how the lyrics came across to me this time, as they hadn't ever resonated with me the same way before (even though the lyrics are from the point of view of the person leaving, not the person left behind):
I'm ready, I'm so lonesome I could die...
So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
I don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go
OK, so I know he'll be back in February, but I don't know when in February! He still has to decide if he wants to do any traveling in South America before coming back up to Hawaii. And I felt lonesome, and I wanted him to kiss me and hold me like he'd never let me go. It still seems strange to find myself feeling this way about someone.

When we got to the airport, we found that his flight had been not just delayed, but "rescheduled" for two hours later. So instead of going straight through security after checking in, he stayed outside to hang out with me. We went to the little Starbucks right there (mocha coconut Frappuccino is sooo delicious!), then sat together on a bench sipping our coffees. We played with his fancy new camera, taking shots of the plants and the pigeons and sparrows and the Starbucks signs and each other, though the lighting wasn't ideal (very gray and cloudy). He gave me a shoulder massage, which was awesome because I was really sore, probably from doing all his lab dishes for hours, but possibly also from my encounter with the PlayStation Move Gladiator duel at the local Best Buy. It was a very pleasant hour and a half or so, just us hanging out together there with nothing to do but enjoy each other's company...

And await the inevitable. I did find myself occasionally blurting out "Don't go," still, but my sorrow at seeing him go was now tempered by my excitement at the experience he was about to have, so I also kept saying things like "You're going to have such a great time!" So while the sadness--and sometimes tears--would creep up, there was also that happiness to console me. I waited in the line for security with him, then watched him go through security to make sure that he didn't have anything he couldn't take through and needed to pass off to me. He got his shoes back on, put on his backpack, went around the corner and was gone.

It hasn't really hit me yet. I mean, he's left for a week at a time before, so this isn't so out of place. But I think as the weeks go on, there's a definite chance that I'll get lonely, unless I change my habits and start hanging out with my other friends more. The problem is that he's not just my boyfriend--he's also my roommate and my best friend. So I've lost my snuggle bear, my moral support, my grocery shopping pal, my personal chef, my TV-watching companion, and my movies/beach/weekend activity buddy. I guess I've made the mistake of putting all my eggs in one basket here. "All Housemate all the time" is very convenient when he's home, but when he's gone it leaves "all nothing all the time."

I'm sure it'll be OK. I'll have a new roommate (a subletter for three months) moving in probably next week, so hopefully I'll get along with her. Maybe she'll want to do grocery shopping and cooking with me. I'll try to make more of an effort in hanging out with my other friends. And there are a number of things at home that I've been meaning to do. I have books to read, shows to watch, games to play--I still haven't done the Shadow Broker DLC for Mass Effect 2 or the Morrigan DLC for Dragon Age: Origins. Plus, there's always school work, which could definitely use more of my attention.

It might turn out to be good for me to have some time away from the boyfriend. But I miss him. I know now how nice it can be to have someone who wants to take care of you, even if you're expected to take care of him in return--that can be nice, too. Independence is simple and has its own advantages, but for me, right now, I find that I prefer having a boyfriend. Especially since my shoulder still hurts.

Don't go--
Have an amazing time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Not quite the week I was hoping for

This past week was the last week before the Housemate leaves for Antarctica for three and a half months to study marine viruses in the Antarctic summer algae blooms. Back in May when we first found out that he'd be going to Antarctica, I could hardly contain my jealousy. Um, scratch that--I couldn't contain my jealousy. It's an exotic, unique and beautiful place that very few people ever get a chance to visit. And there are frakking penguins there. But now that it comes down to the point of him leaving, the jealousy is gone, and I'm mainly just sad.

I think I imagined that the last week before he left would be full of fun things. We could get lunch at a new Indonesian restaurant that opened on campus (the only Indonesian restaurant I know of on the island, believe it or not), go to our friend's Halloween party, see Paranormal Activity 2 in the theater, eat out at a fancy restaurant to celebrate our anniversary (since we never got around to it last month), and I even rushed to get my open water certification done so we could go out diving together before he left. Well, turns out we did none of those things.

He just had so much work that he had to do before heading to Antarctica. It's understandable, I guess, that there would be a lot to take care of before leaving for over three months. Last weekend, he slept over at school--twice. There was some experiment that he needed to check on every two hours, for over 48 hours, so he just camped out there. The second night (Saturday to Sunday), I slept over with him. We brought his inflatable mattress (either queen or double size, not sure), which just barely fit on the floor of my office, as well as blankets and pillows and pajamas. We ate takeout Thai in the lab, watched Star Wars on my computer, then went to bed. Yes, his alarm woke me up every couple hours, but I figured it was all fitting payback for my BioWare Bazaar nights. The bed was actually quite comfy, and the fact that my office has no windows, and thus no natural light to disturb us, allowed us to sleep in pretty late. I got nearly 11 hours of sleep--I don't remember when the last time that happened was.

This past weekend, we didn't sleep over at the lab at all, but he worked late. And I, anxious to spend whatever time I had left with him regardless of the venue, went to the lab with him. One night (I can't even remember which night it was...Friday, I guess) we stayed until 2 am. I helped him with samples from the ultra centrifuge (kind of cool--you could actually see viruses, concentrated into cloudy bands in the density stratified layers), but I was totally falling asleep as it got later and later. I tried to sing to keep myself awake, but I learned (fun fact!) I can apparently continue to sing "Giants in the Sky" even as my mind slips into a partial sleep state (my eyes closed and I forgot where I was or what I was doing, but I kept on singing). Two of the other nights, I washed dishes that he needed washed in the lab (big jugs, flasks, beakers, test tubes, etc.). The first night I watched The Daily Show and Colbert Report while washing; the second time, I got to listen to Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything on audiobook. At least that part was fun, and I got to wear a lab coat, too! It's funny how the public image of a scientist always has a lab coat (watch a TV ad that features a "scientist", and they're sure to have the white coat), but I don't think I'd worn one since maybe one of my undergraduate labs, if then.

Then there was the camera drama. The Housemate has had his eye on buying a very nice (and very expensive) digital SLR camera for over half a year, now, and the fact that he was about to travel to Antarctica (unique landscapes! penguins!) finally inspired him to get it. He found a good offer for the camera and a couple lenses on a website, but thanks to a sleazy sales rep and a naive and trusting Housemate (perhaps made extra vulnerable by the fact that he was calling at 3 am--as soon as the place opened on the East Coast--to make sure it would ship in time), he got totally ripped off. We didn't get the package until Friday afternoon, customer service was closed for the weekend, so the issue just simmered all weekend. On Monday morning we were able to get a discounted price, so now it probably comes down to a more "normal" price, though nowhere near the good deal that he expected. I still think they're totally sketchy, sleazy, disagreeable, and didn't give him what he deserved, and I wish he hadn't ordered from them in the first place. It was an added stress that he (and, well, we) didn't need the weekend before he leaves. So I would highly recommend you NEVER order from CentralDigital ( They suck &$%. And if you find yourself in the mood to prank call them (toll free at 1-800-896-4661) or email them computer viruses, that would be OK, too. All right, sorry, end of rant...

The Housemate was also busy finding and preparing for a subletter to take his room. Three months' rent adds up, so he couldn't pass up the opportunity to recoup some of the housing costs (it's actually quite a good deal for him, as he's going to Antarctica on the lab's grant and doesn't have to pay for room or board for three months while he continues to be paid). He had to clear out his room of possessions (a lot of them ended up in boxes in my room...), clean, and put an ad up and show the room to interested people. Luckily he did manage to find a subletter. She should be moving in on November 1 or so. So it seems to have worked out (so far), but it took a lot of time and work.

Anyway, it wasn't quite the romantic week I was hoping to spend with my boyfriend before he leaves for over a quarter of a year. But at least I got to spend a lot of time with him. Even washing his dishes made me happy, though not as happy as diving or dining out with him probably would have made me. As the week went on, I found myself increasingly blurting out "Don't go" to him. That, and "Can I come, too? I'll be your carry-on personal item." Sometimes when I say (or just think) these things, I tear up a bit, too, which of course gets me lots of hugs and kisses from him, which I like. What happened to me? It wasn't that long ago that I was little miss never-had-a-boyfriend. And now I can hardly think what to do without him. I really wish I had a research project in Antarctica, too. I hear they have a hot tub there.

To be continued, tomorrow.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dive certified!

Today I finally got my open water certification, and I have a little card to prove it! It's a temporary card, so I still need to give my instructor a photo so he can mail away for a real card, but it's official!

And I saw dolphins! Unfortunately I didn't get to swim with the dolphins--they were farther from shore than we were diving, out by the dolphin tour boats that were possibly illegally feeding them to get them to stick around nearby. But there was a whole pod--maybe 15 or 20?--that we could see from the shore. They were mostly swimming at the surface, but from time to time we'd see one leap clear out of the water. And when we got in the water, well, we could definitely hear them. The high-pitched squeaks and chirps carry quite well underwater, as you might imagine.

Out diving, I saw a couple sea turtles, which were totally unperturbed by our presence. I love that--I mean, fish don't really mind divers or snorkelers unless we get close, but the sea turtles don't even mind getting close. Which is funny, because the law protects them from harassment, which I think includes getting within maybe 10 feet of them (I'm not sure that's the law, though...need to check). I guess they're tough, they're much better swimmers than we are, and it's illegal to hurt them, so it makes sense that they're not afraid of us. Anyway, I was sitting on the bottom waiting for the instructor to do something when I saw a turtle swimming right towards me at quite a good speed. It didn't bother altering its course one bit on account of me. Came close enough that I could have reached out and touched it.

I saw a few colorful fish I'd never seen before, and a big school of unicorn fish. I saw three or four white-mouth moray eels. One I only barely saw: In the shadow under a bit of reef overhang (like a very small cave), I could see something light colored moving up and down. I couldn't figure out what it was at first, but I saw a dead crab at the corner of the "cave" entrance. I realized the light-colored thing was the eel's bottom jaw, as they're always opening and closing their mouths, and the crab was its lunch. The other cool thing I saw that I'd never seen before was some other type of eel--smaller, white with dark speckles--sticking its head out of the sand. Apparently they swim around at night, but during the day, they hide in the sand, sometimes putting their head out. If we swam too close, or made sudden movements in their direction, they'd disappear under the sand (and you couldn't even see their holes, since they would immediately be covered by sand). They were very cool eels.

Unfortunately, as you have probably guessed, I didn't have my camera. And I probably could have brought it, because again we didn't go deeper than 30 feet. But I'm really looking forward to bringing my camera out diving. I love being able to look at fish at eye level, and for extended periods--not "dive down to get a quick photo oh no I need to go up for air" as it is with snorkeling. Hopefully I'll get some good shots next time I go out diving. Apparently there's a shark spot near where we were (some nice white tip reef sharks). And I'm still hoping for a dolphin sighting.

Hobbit is finally greenlit!!! and Lee Pace is a vampire

At long last, New Line and MGM have given The Hobbit the green light to start shooting this February (Variety). MGM's financial troubles had been holding up the project, along with the Bond franchise. Peter Jackson is confirmed as the director of the two Hobbit films, since Guillermo Del Toro stepped down from the role last summer due to the delays. What has yet to be set in stone is the location of the filming. Since all the filming for the three Lord of the Rings films was done in New Zealand, it seemed only natural that the Hobbit films would also be shot in New Zealand. However, a dispute with a New Zealand/Australia actors' union resulted in half a dozen actors' unions (including SAG) boycotting the film (or at least advising members not to participate), so the studios began exploring other options for locations, particularly in Europe. The unions all just lifted the boycott, but it is unclear whether that will ensure that the films will be shot in New Zealand, or if the damage has been done and the studios are moving elsewhere (Variety, Studio Briefing). The other thing that has yet to be announced is who will play Bilbo Baggins, though Martin Freeman is a popular rumor.

***Edit 10/21/10: I wrote this post last night, but today it was finally confirmed that Martin Freeman will indeed play Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit (EW). I am so excited--he will be awesome!***

I am not a particular fan of the Twilight saga; I have read none of the books, though I have seen the first two movies in the franchise. But I am a fan of Lee Pace, the unbelievably adorable and appealing star of the sadly short-lived Pushing Daisies, as well as an incredibly handsome supporting cast member of the even shorter-lived Wonderfalls. So news that Pace has been cast in Breaking Dawn has suddenly renewed my interest in the series. He will be playing Garrett, a longtime friend of Carlisle Cullen. A good vampire, but not a softy "vegetarian" like the Cullens. A bunch of other new cast members were announced as well (I guess the book has a lot of new vamps?), including Andrea Gabriel, Toni Trucks, Omar Metwally, and Noel Fisher (E Online). All gorgeous, of course, but none quite so much as Lee Pace.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

First Dive!

Just a personal update that I HAVE FINALLY HAD MY FIRST SCUBA LESSON. Yes, I came out here to Hawaii exactly 15 months ago, telling everyone that I was going to study oceanography and scuba-dive around coral reefs for my job. But then classes happened, boyfriend happened, laziness happened, etc., and I never got around to learning to dive. Until now.

It was really quite convenient. A friend of mine from school is a dive instructor, so I worked something out with him for private lessons. I was slightly nervous because from time to time in the past year I'd heard him complain about his dive students--this guy couldn't breathe with his mask off without snorting in water, this guy breathed so fast he ran out of air way too soon, this guy took three hours to understand the dive tables--things like that. So I was worried that I would be the next example of a stupid student diver.

But I think my lessons went pretty well. I spent most of the day learning skills--descending, ascending, reaching neutral buoyancy, plus all the "what to do if crap happens" skills (mask fills with water, I lose my mask, run out of air, need to put my weight belt back on, etc.). At the beginning of the dive, I was having trouble equalizing my ears to the pressure. Ear, actually--my left ear was fine, it was just my right ear that was giving me trouble. At first it wasn't equalizing fully (just enough to get me to the relatively shallow bottom). Then I got it to start fully equalizing, but it was making squeaky noises as it equalized. That was a very bizarre experience. Why is my ear squeaking??? I had a reverse squeeze (when there's too much pressure inside my ears pushing out) on the way up, which was also relieved by a squeaky equalization. But after a couple squeaky descents, my ear finally seemed to give in and let me equalize it without much trouble. It's something that gets easier with practice, and I think part of it was just figuring out which technique works for me.

My low point of the day was definitely disconnecting the low pressure inflator hose from the BCD (buoyancy control device). It required a very awkward positioning of my hands, plus left hand strength and coordination (something I am rather short on), and I swear the little latch was stuck. Took me maybe 5 minutes to detach the little bugger, seriously. That was embarrassing. But the skill I found the hardest (that other one was just stupid) was breathing from a free-flowing regulator for 30 seconds. I had two false starts--I'd calmly pull the regulator out of my mouth, press the button to make it free-flow, think Holy frak, the bubbles are coming out really fast!, start putting my mouth over the bite pads to try to "sip the bubbles", then think to myself WTF?! I can't breath bubbles underwater! and put the regulator back in my mouth. It was just very disconcerting. On my third try I finally got myself to do it, by thinking of it like breathing with my face looking into the shower head: I'm breathing air, there's just some water getting sprayed in my mouth, too. So for anyone out there who wants to get dive certified, that's my advice for that skill--think of it like the shower. Even then it's disconcerting because the air is COLD, due to the fact that it was just under high pressure and is now expanding rapidly. Fun stuff.

But other than that, the skills went very smoothly. And after my "confined water dive" skills were done, I got to do my first open water dive. For that we went to Kewalo Basin, by Point Panic Beach Park (where do they come up with these names?). My only task was basically to not do anything wrong. Follow the teacher, don't crash into things, don't sink or float uncontrollably, and check air pressure so I know when to head back. Among other things, I saw a viper eel (a type of moray eel), lots of humuhumunukunukuapua'a (none attacked me), some cute little orange fish I didn't know, some spotted boxfish (both male and female), and a pretty big pufferfish. He didn't puff--I guess he wasn't afraid of us, which is good. My max depth for the dive was only 31 feet, which means that I could have brought my camera, which is good down to 33 feet. But apparently we're not allowed to have a camera for our first open water dive. I guess they want us to concentrate on not dying or crashing into the reef instead of taking photos. Oh well. Maybe next time.

I only need one more day of dive lessons (for the three last open water dives) to get my open water certification! Finally! See, it wasn't so hard, why did I take so long to get around to it? Anyway, hopefully I will be dive certified next weekend. The question is whether I'll be able to go out diving with the Housemate before he leaves for Antarctica, in just over a week. I can't believe it's finally almost that time. More on that later.

After diving, I went home and ate dinner with the Housemate while watching this past week's Hawaii Five-O. They had a scene in it from Point Panic Beach Park. I had to be obnoxious and pause it and say "I was totally just there this afternoon!!!" I love watching that show. Still waiting to bump into Grace Park around town, though. That would make me very, very happy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day: Water

Today is Blog Action Day! After my lame last-minute post on the occasion last year, I decided that I would better prepare myself for this year's Blog Action Day, even though it is on the same day as my midterm exam, and I have family visiting, a presentation to prepare for, and all the other things keeping me busy that I complained about on Wednesday morning. All that stuff wouldn't distract me from writing a high quality post--no way. But then on Wednesday afternoon, my advisor dumped on me the task of writing a proposal that is due--you guessed it--today, October 15. Seriously, two days to write a proposal?! When I have a midterm to study for?! Well, this post may not be the brilliant post you were hoping for, but maybe it will have a few things you find interesting, and hopefully you'll learn something.

While looking at course offerings in college one semester, the slightly sappy course title "Water for Our World" caught my eye. It was because it had the word "water" in it, and I was interested in oceanography. Once I read the course description, though, I realized it had very little to do with the oceans and was instead about the water resources available to the world's population. I thought that sounded interesting, too--I was majoring in environmental engineering for some reason, after all--so I decided to enroll. While it was definitely the easiest course I took in college (one of those environmental engineering classes meant for non-science types, and furthermore a one-time course taught by a visiting professor), I learned a lot and gained perspective on the water problems facing the world today. So today I figured I'd share a few of the things I learned in the class that stuck with me the most.

Access to safe water supply

Those of us in the developed world take water for granted. Sure, sometimes tap water tastes bad, or you have to shower in hard water, but you know it's not going to make you sick. And you know it's going to be there. You know you're not going to die from dirty water, or lack of water (provided you don't do anything dangerous, like go hiking in the desert without sufficient water supply). But almost a billion people in the world don't have that luxury. 900 million people don't have access to a safe supply of water. Even more surprising is what counts as "access to a safe supply of water". "Access" is within one kilometer. A "supply" is at least 20 liters per person per day. And "safe" implies an "improved drinking water source", which includes boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs, and rainwater.

So 900 million people don't even have that. Most live in Asia and Africa. Water is tightest for people who have to carry water miles to their home, who may be forced to get by on a mere 5 liters a day per person. Some modern toilets throw out more than that in a single flush. 5 liters is enough to drink, and may be enough to cook with depending on what you're cooking, but it doesn't leave much for cleaning and sanitation. It is usually left to the women to collect the water, so each day a woman may spend three hours walking to the water source, filling a container with up to 40 lbs of water, and carrying it home on her back. Many women in communities where this is done have back pain from an early age. They have less time to do other tasks that might help improve the quality of life for their village and family. And girls who are also given the task of collecting water are forced to miss part of the school day, or wake up so early that they're exhausted by the time the school day begins.

Without safe water supplies and sanitation, people can get sick and die. 1.6 million people die every year due to diarrhoeal diseases attributable to poor sanitation, 90% of whom are children. Yes, we can get sick and have diarrhea occasionally, but in some places in the world it is a life-threatening condition, as diarrhea can lead to dehydration.

In some unfortunate cases, solving one problem with water resources leads to another. The terrible example is the wells in Bangladesh. Diarrheal diseases due to unsanitary drinking water were a huge source of mortality in the region, so in the 1970s UNICEF and World Bank started advocating the usage of wells. 8 million wells were built, but it was later found that this "clean" groundwater was actually high in naturally occurring arsenic. As many as 40% of the wells, providing water for 80 million people, have unsafe levels of arsenic and cannot be used. But it is difficult to convince people not to use their wells, since it was such a sanitary improvement over their previous water source that they don't want to go back, and the arsenic is killing fewer people than unsanitary water used to. But it can take many years for arsenic poisoning to be diagnosed, so we still don't know just how many people have been affected.

Mismanagement of water resources

Even people who have access to safe water supplies are not immune from water troubles. Mismanaging our water today may be setting us up for big problems in the future.

People in the developed world use a lot of water. Especially those in the U.S. and Canada. On average, Americans and Canadians use over 550 liters of water per day, per person. In the summer, half of all treated water used by Canadians goes on their lawns. If you're curious what the domestic water usage breakdown is (leaving out seasonal lawn watering), the typical person uses 35% of the water for bathing and showering, 30% for flushing the toilet, 20% for laundry, 10% for cooking and drinking, and 5% for cleaning. And what you eat can have a huge effect on how much water resources you're sucking up--your "water footprint". To produce 1 kg of beef requires 15,000 liters of water, compared to 3500 liters for 1 kg poultry, 1650 liters for 1 kg soybeans, and 500 liters for 1 kg potatoes.

So you can perhaps understand how agriculture is responsible for nearly 70% of freshwater withdrawals. Chemicals and fertilizers used in agriculture are washed into the waterways, causing serious problems for the health of the rivers, lakes, bays, and gulfs into which they flow. Fertilizers in particular cause problems when they enter the ocean where they fertilize the algae, which bloom to huge numbers, in a process called eutrophication. It's a problem because soon those algae will die, and the bacteria that decompose their bodies will use up the oxygen in the water, creating hypoxic "dead zones". These zones have too little oxygen for fish and other animals to breathe. The most notorious dead zone is that in the Gulf of Mexico, which has been known to reach 22,126 square km/8543 square mi--almost the size of New Jersey, and a little larger than Wales.

Some places have plentiful renewable water resources, but others are tapping into more water than they perhaps should be. In some cases, river waters are diverted so severely that the river...stops. Irrigation of the great Nile River in Egypt causes the river not to reach the Mediterranean for parts of the year. Similarly, it takes so much water to support the cities in always sunny (never rainy) southern California that the Colorado River doesn't always cross into Mexico to flow into the Gulf of California. Tough luck for the Mexicans who wanted their river.

The most notorious example of overuse of water ruining the resource is the tragic Aral Sea. Irrigation diverted for agriculture all the water that once flowed into the sea, and now the sea is half its original size of 66,000 square km. The mineral concentration is four times its original concentration, killing off all the fish that once thrived in the sea. The fishing industry that once supported 60,000 fishermen with 40,000 tons of fish a year is entirely gone. Former seaside towns are now 70 km from water, and heavily polluted with pesticides and heavy metals. They are ghost towns.

Cases like the Aral Sea are good warnings, but the problem is not always so visible. In countries including the U.S., China, India, Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, and Egypt, the withdrawal of groundwater is greater than the recharge rate. We are depleting our groundwater, in some cases leading to saltwater intrusion (freshwater removal allows saltwater to creep in farther--sometimes as far as the wells). In these cases of groundwater, water is not a renewable resource.

As world population increases and water resources continue to be drawn down, water access will increasingly become a problem over the next decades. While 500 million people lived in countries chronically short on water in 2000, by 2050, it is projected that 4 billion people will live in countries with chronic water shortage problems (this includes India, South Korea, South Africa, Belgium, and Germany, to name a few). Suddenly, this short bit from Robin Williams on Broadway doesn't seem so funny...

OK, still funny. But not so far fetched. It's quite a sobering thought--that conflicts over water resources may spread over the next few decades.


Well now that I've gone on about the doom and gloom of water resources, what can we do? There are many people out there with plans to improve clean water access and sanitation for people in the developing world. If you want to help out some of these projects, here are some recommended charities (recommended by Blog Action Day, not me specifically):

Fund the building of wells with charity: water

Bring clean drinking water and the dignity of a toilet to people around the world, with Just $25 can give one person clean drinking water for life.

As for the water shortages, I don't know what to say other than to think a little before wasting water. Turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth or putting shampoo in your hair. I'm sure if we get a little closer to water doomsday there will be other ideas. Well, we can hope.

Have a happy Blog Action Day! Go pour yourself a glass of water, and enjoy.

Notable sources for this post:
Most of this information is from The Water Atlas, the "textbook" (60-page picture book... OK, mostly graphs and maps, but they were colorful) from the course I took:
Clarke, Robin and Jannet King. The Water Atlas: A Unique Visual Analysis of the World's Most Critical Resource. New York: The New Press. 2004.