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.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Spider-Man casting, plus a quick update

It still feels a little weird for there to be a Spider-Man reboot in the works so soon after the last successful movie in the franchise, but since I like Spider-Man, I remain interested in its progress. Casting continues on the Spider-Man reboot, adding Rhys Ifans as a villain (Variety, Hitflix). He joins Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who have been cast as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. It was not announced which villain Ifans will be playing.

I've been pretty busy lately, which is my excuse for not posting much. The Housemate leaves for Antarctica in under two weeks, and his flurry of preparation has been spilling over to me a bit. Also, my midterm exam is this Friday, I have a talk coming up, a fellowship to apply for, and some serious progress I need to make on my research. And I have a relative visiting town. Anyway, I don't expect this to be my blog's most productive month.

I do, however, plan to post on this year's Blog Action Day, October 15, which has the theme of Water. And even though I am an oceanographer, I will not be talking about the ocean's problems. I started out in environmental engineering as an undergrad, and I took a class specifically on the the issues of clean water and water limitation plaguing the world. Expect some surprising statistics.

To make this post a little more worthwhile, here's something that has nothing to do with anything, but will hopefully make you laugh. Actually, I was reminded of it while preparing for Blog Action Day, so I guess it has something to do with something, but the link between the two probably won't be clear until Friday's post. Anyway, this is one of the funniest things I've ever seen, so I hope you enjoy it!

Robin Williams explains the origin of golf.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blog Carnival: Best Travel Adventures - Red Hot Lava

OK, I just found out about the 20sb blog carnival with the topic of Best Travel Adventures, and that it's not too late to sign up. Since I recently had a spectacular travel adventure, I couldn't resist posting. If you've read all the posts from my Big Island trip, then this will be repeat information. This is the abridged version of my RED HOT LAVA story.

My boyfriend and I took our first vacation together on the Big Island of Hawaii this past August. We were there for only four days, but seeing as we live in Honolulu, it was only a short flight away. He had never been there before, and I had never been there as an adult, i.e., without my parents. We stayed on the Kona (west) side of the island and spent most of the trip snorkeling the fabulous coral reefs full of fish and starfish and sea urchins and moray eels, but on one day of our trip we drove to the east side of the island to see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

We spent most of the day taking short and easy hikes around the park. We drove around the Kilauea caldera, saw the big Halema'uma'u crater with the sulfur dioxide plume rising out of it, looked down some natural steam vents, and hiked through an old lava tube. Around sunset, we drove to the part of the park that we were told we might be able to see some real red hot flowing lava. But when we got there, we were told there was no visible lava from that point that evening. We'd be able to see the red glow of the lava illuminating the sulfur dioxide smoke coming up from it, but that wasn't nearly as exciting as the idea of seeing the lava itself. We were disappointed.

Ready to take advantage of our disappointment, some locals sitting at a table to the side of the parking lot caught our attention. They were selling lava tours, where an experienced guide leads us on a hike out to get a good view of the lava flow. You can't go out by yourself, because one: it's probably a bad idea, since it's rough and there are better paths to take than others, and two: it involves going over private property (illegal trespassing!), but the guides cut a deal with the property owners so they're allowed to take people through. They had a laptop showing very impressive video of flowing lava, which they said was taken the previous Sunday on one such hike. All this could be ours, with $40 and a 45 minute hike (each way).

I was a little wary of going anywhere not sanctioned by the National Park itself, but my boyfriend seemed very enthusiastic about the idea. There were some logistics issues, since we hadn't eaten dinner yet and it was 7:00 and this could take 3 hours, and we didn't have cash on us, but we decided we were OK in terms of food and water, we didn't mind driving back to Kona later at night, and there was an ATM at a convenience store right near where the hike to the lava flow would start. We decided to take the plunge.

As we talked to one of the other young couples (a nice Swiss pair) waiting for the guide to arrive, we decided this felt a little like the beginning of a horror movie: four young, international couples, all strangers, heading out with a mysterious guide over rough terrain well after dark, with the promise of a spectacular, if hazardous, sight. Yes, this was a great idea.

The guide who was going to take us on the hike to see the hot lava was late, allowing me to get a little more nervous about the expedition, and the night to get a little darker. All the people going in our group (eight of us) followed the guide in our cars to another parking lot not in the National Park. Apparently this is where all the guides start their groups hiking out to see the lava, and there was a convenience store, an outdoor/window restaurant, and an outdoor bar with live band where people would come back from seeing the lava to celebrate. We got money from the ATM and water and flashlights from the convenience store. We all gathered around the guide again as he gave us some last notes before going out. Turns out the hike would take more like one hour and fifteen minutes each way, plus we'd stay out at the lava maybe half an hour or so. So we'd be finishing up around 11 pm. With a two and a half hour drive to Kona after that. It was going to be a long night.

We headed out away from the noise and the light of the bar, into the dark. The first couple minutes were on an even dirt path, but then we started out over the bumpy, hardened lava fields. We noticed this tree mold just as we stepped off the path:

The lava cooled with a fallen tree in it, but that tree had since disintegrated, leaving the mold. Kind of like someone leaving their shoe print in cooling cement.

After that, it was a rough hike. At the beginning, I'd call out every time I stepped over a big crack to warn my boyfriend behind me to watch his step. But after 10 minutes or so, they became commonplace enough that we knew we just had to watch our step all the time. The rocky land was not flat, but had sloped lumps that we were walking up and down and up and down. The top crust was crumbly, so we had to be careful not to slip on the loose bits on the slopes. And the pahoehoe folds were fragile, so the guide warned us not to step on their ridges, since they could break under us and twist our ankle. It sounded a lot like we were walking on broken glass as our shoes crunched over the loose crumbles of the lava rock.

I have little sense of how long we hiked over the hardened lava field, though I would estimate about half the hike was that segment, as we were making our way towards the coast. Finally, we made it to the coast, where we turned right to go south towards the lava flow. Here, we got some relief, as the path along the coast went over dirt (though sometimes through stands of trees with tricky roots, but that wasn't so bad). It seemed safe, as long as we didn't look to our left and see the rocky cliff right there leading straight down to the crashing waves. The shrubs and trees were nice to see--some sign of life--and the guide told us that if we heard anything rustling around out there, it was probably a wild boar.

For most of the hike, we'd been able to see the red-glowing plume of sulfur dioxide rising from the lava outflow. As we made our way down the coast, we finally got a sight of the lava. Very distant still--no more than a dot smeared on my camera screen--but distinctive. I snapped a couple pictures, but they would soon become obsolete.

As we got closer to the lava flow, the terrain changed back to rough lava rock. We climbed down a steep slope to a black-sand beach. The sand was very grainy because the land was so new, and the ocean hadn't had time yet to refine the grains. We continued on, back over lava rock, but this time, the rock was hot (bringing the temperature to around 100 F/38 C). That could only mean we were getting close to where we'd view the lava.

And before long, there it was. It was spectacular.

Look at it drip! All the while, waves from the left were crashing onto the shore and the rocky ledge where the lava was flowing from, sometimes high enough to cover our view of the lava (see it in the video at the end of the post). This is a photo from my boyfriend's camera, where you can see the lava glow reflected in the approaching breaking wave.

The dangerous glow of the super hot lava, the slow rise of the illuminated smoke plume, mixed with the power and the sound of the ocean waves crashing onto the shore--it was a truly awesome, breath-taking sight.

While we took photos of the lava flowing into the ocean, the guide scouted ahead to figure out how close we could safely get to some of the hot lava sitting at the surface. We walked just a minute inland where we lost sight of the waves but could see surface lava. This was fairly stationary, and thus relatively safe to get closer to (or so the guide believed). The plume of smoke prevented the guide from taking us to what I guess was a river of lava, which we couldn't see over the ridge, that was feeding the ocean outflow:

The guide took those of us who wanted to get a closer view of the surface lava right up to see it, but some of us chose to stay behind. My boyfriend and I decided not to go any farther when we realized we were stepping over cracks that looked like this:

Yes, there is a reason the rocks we were standing on felt hot. I don't know if they were actually over liquid lava, or if they were resting on mostly hardened but still glowing hot rocks. In either case, we decided we had a perfectly good view of the surface lava from where we were. It wasn't like we needed to touch it or anything.

Blow up that photo and it's like we were right there, right?

It was an amazing sight. While we were standing there, my boyfriend said, "I'm really glad we did this." I responded, "I'll say that when we're back at the car."

We hiked back to lights and civilization quietly, everyone just thinking about what we had seen. The creation of new land. Pele (Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes) at work. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unless we go again.

The rest of the night was pretty hectic. By the time we got back to our car, it was past 11 pm. We needed: 1) bathroom, 2) gas, 3) food, and 4) coffee to help us stay awake on our 2.5 hour drive back to Kona. Do you know how hard it is to find those things that late at night in small towns surrounding a volcano? After lots of driving, circling, and stops, we had finally achieved all four of those goals. It was now 12:15. We made good time, so we got to Kona at 2:15. Brush teeth, shower, bed. That bed felt so good. It had been a crazy day, but also an exciting, awe-inspiring, memorable adventure.

Here's the video from our trip that day. The beginning is just craters, but the red hot lava starts at 1:13.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Hobbit, Wonder Woman, and geeky parodies

A few quick things to share today.

For those of you with an interest in the two planned Hobbit movies, there may be hope. After being delayed due to MGM's debt and failure to find a buyer, they lost director Guillermo Del Toro, though it looks like Peter Jackson will step in for him. Recently, the seven major actor unions boycotted the film due to the studio's failure to sign a deal with local actors. On the studio's side, they say that the union instigating the boycott is Australia-based, and its young New Zealand branch represents only 10% of New Zealand actors, and the trouble they're raising is just a ploy to allow them to extend their influence, blah blah blah (Variety). Anyway, things have been pretty rocky lately. However, sources close to the project have hinted that studios MGM and New Line may be close to greenlighting the project, though it's still not a certainty (Variety). Sets, wardrobe, animatics, and battle sequences have all been prepared. Here's hoping for some concrete good news soon.

David E. Kelley, best known for legal dramas including Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Boston Legal, is turning his eye towards superheroes. He is planning to work with Warner Bros. TV to create a new live action Wonder Woman TV series (Variety, MTV). We don't have any idea who will play her, what her outfit will look like, whether she'll have the invisible airplane, etc., but we do know that it will be a modern take on the superhero. While fans continue to wait for a Wonder Woman movie, maybe we'll at least have a TV show to hold us over.

Lastly, most of you have probably already seen the excellent Team Unicorn "Geek and Gamer Girls" parody of Katy Perry's "California Gurls". It's hilarious, clever, and sexy, and has a couple great cameos. For those of you who haven't seen it, check it out below, and for those of you who have seen it, well, it's always worth another watch:

Geek and Gamer Girls Song - Watch more Funny Videos

Anyway, I know I'm slow about these things, but I only recently discovered this other geek-themed parody, this one for the guys: "California Dorks" by JasonMundayMusic. The geekery is a little more towards the tech side, it has some California-specific details (as the name suggests), and it's less sexy than dorky, but I found it utterly endearing. This guy is awesome. "You can search Google Ma-aps..." Not as polished as the Geek and Gamer Girls (lower production values and all), but at least it's in tune (I've listened to a bunch of parodies out there that are a little bit painful). Enjoy!

Friday, October 1, 2010

New hope for my sci-fi fantasies

As a sci-fi fan, I am elated at some recent astronomy news.

Aliens are an important part of science fiction. Obviously not all science fiction has to do with outer space (Blade Runner, The Matrix, etc.), and not all science fiction that takes place in outer space is focused on alien life (Firefly, Battlestar Galactica). Still, aliens are an important part of many sci-fi universes (Star Wars, Star Trek, to name a couple biggies). For centuries, humans have asked the question Are we alone? and then imagined What would happen if we aren't? Aliens are our gateway to new and amazing technology; their discovery will bind humanity together and bring peace; they will give diversity and tolerance a new meaning... Or they'll try to kill or conquer us all. That's always a possibility (a likely possibility according to Stephen Hawking, of course).

But in order for any of these sci-fi dreams (and nightmares) to come true, there has to be life outside of our tiny blue planet. For a long time, people have said that the conditions on Earth which make it habitable are so incredibly unlikely that the chance of there being another planet similarly suitable for life is infinitesimally small. Others, myself included, have believed that with so many planets in the galaxy (in the universe!) even something with a small chance could happen many times. Not that we'd necessarily ever find another one of these habitable planets--it's just likely that one's out there somewhere. Right?

Well, my sci-fi dreams just got one huge step closer to maybe being true. Astronomers have found a planet that may be suitable for life! (See the abstract submitted to the for the Astrophysical Journal here, and various reports from CNN and Associated Press.) Enter the beautiful Gliese 581g. Not exactly the sexiest name; its sun is called Gliese 581, and as the sixth planet discovered in the solar system, it gets the "g" designation (because the sun itself is "a"). We can't get too excited yet, since we don't know if the planet actually has water (necessary for we know it, at least), but it does have temperatures that would allow liquid water, it's the right size and distance from Gliese 581 to have an atmosphere without being an ice giant, and it's rocky. A lot of astronomers are very excited about this; they say there have been false alarms before regarding the discovery of habitable planets, but this one looks like it may be the real deal.

So what do we know about Gliese 581g? It's a little larger than the Earth in diameter and about three or four times the Earth's mass. It is closer to its sun than we are to ours; it takes only 36.6 Earth days to complete its orbit. Gliese 581 is a red dwarf star about one third the strength of our sun, which I guess is why Little G (Can I call it that? Uh, maybe not.) can be closer to it than Earth is to our sun while still being habitable. The planet rotates slowly and is actually tidally locked to Gliese 581, meaning that one side always faces the sun and one side faces away (like how the same side of the moon always faces the Earth). Temperatures on the planet range from -25 to 160 degrees (the article I got this from didn't mention which scale, but I'm going to go with Fahrenheit), presumably on the "night" hemisphere and the "day" hemisphere, respectively, but the terminator--the "twilight zone" of eternal sunrise/sunset--is quite comfy, described as "shirt-sleeve weather" by article co-author Steven Vogt of UC Santa Cruz.

Reading the descriptions of Gliese 581g definitely reminded me of Mass Effect. Both Mass Effect 1 and 2 had dozens upon dozens of planets, and even if you couldn't land on most of them, you could always get a short description of them, often including surprising, funny, or informative details. Heck, it's how I knew to use the term "tidally locked" to describe Gliese 581g. Take the planet Chasca from ME1:

Chasca is tidally-locked to Matano. The same side always faces the sun, resulting in a scorching day side and a frozen night side. In the temperate areas around the terminator, temperatures average around 30 Celsius. Combined with a nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, this slender band of habitable terrain allows limited colonization by humans.

In fact, I counted 10 planets from ME1 alone that were described as tidally locked. See, video games can be fun and educational. Gliese 581g could totally be one of the planets described in Mass Effect. And that makes my geeky little self very happy.

Gliese 581 is dim enough that you can't see it from Earth without a telescope, but if you have one, it can apparently be found in the area of the constellation Libra. The star is about 120 trillion miles away, which sounds like a lot for us Earth-bound folks, but on the scale of our galaxy, it's right in our neighborhood. 20 light years away! We can observe from the Earth what the planet looked like just 20 years ago. My mind is totally blown. A possibly habitable planet. Just 20 light years away. The astronomers connected with the article seem to think it is highly likely that the planet could have life (though, granted, they are understandably even more psyched about it all than I am), and they've done some calculations to estimate that as many as 10-20% of stars may have Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone. I'll take that with a grain of salt, though, since I don't want to get my hopes up too high.

So it's rocky and likely has an atmosphere and a band of nice temperatures for habitation. But what are the chances it actually has life? Vogt has high hopes for the presence of water due to there being right temperatures for liquid water, and since we've found life wherever we've found water on Earth, he thinks there's a good chance something is living there. The fact that Gliese 581 is a dwarf star, which will last longer than our own sun, gives the planet more time to develop life, as well. And, as Vogt says, "It's pretty hard to stop life once you give it the right conditions." And we're not expecting little green men or sexy blue ladies. Extraterrestrial mold, algae, or bacteria would even be beyond remarkable. Though sexy, intelligent, and benevolent aliens would certainly be appreciated. Either way, it's all pretty frakking amazing.

Let the new sci-fi stories begin.

Update 7/20/12: See follow-up post here. Also, this planet is apparently nicknamed "Zarmina".