Sunday, January 28, 2007

Meeting the Monk

The Field Museum has a temporary exhibit on Gregor Johann Mendel, the monk whose work with peas led to the discovery of the laws of genetics. I've wanted to see it for a long time, so today we finally went. It was a blustery day, but luckily it didn't snow.

We're members of the museum, so we got in for free. We also got tickets for the evolution exhibit (the name escapes me at the moment.) We wandered around most of the upper level before we found Mendel. The exhibit featured books, documents, and tools used by Mendel, including some of his gardening tools and an apiary. Of course it discussed his pea experiments and explained what dominant and recessive traits are, including a list of dominant and recessive traits in humans. Mendel's work went unappreciated during his lifetime but was independently rediscovered in 1900 by three different researchers; part of the exhibit was devoted to genetics in the 20th century. There were also genetically-inspired artworks, including a karyotype imagining chromosomes as striped socks and a family pedigree done as a mobile. The pedigree traced the inheritance of Huntington's chorea over several generations; different shades of agate represented the various phenotypes. The exhibit concluded with research currently being done to trace gene flow in different populations. There was also mention of a plant that seems to rescue defective genes by resurrecting good versions that they didn't get from their parents. How they manage to circumvent Mendel's laws is still a mystery. We enjoyed the exhibit, but I wish they had more genetics books in the gift shop; most of the souvenirs were pea-related and overpriced. (I may have thought the bib saying "Give Peas a Chance" was cute, but I wasn't going to spend $40 for the set.)

After that exhibit, we went through the evolution one. It covered everything from the beginning of life to the present day. They've redone the exhibit since the last time we saw it; one part I particularly enjoyed was a computer rendition of life in the Precambrian Era. If you need inspiration for aliens, you need look no further. The dinosaur exhibit was also laid out differently from the last time I saw it. I wasn't able to take any pictures in the Mendel exhibit, but I took some here. Here's the link:

By the time we finished walking through the exhibit, we were hungry. We had a late lunch at the Corner Bakery, browsed in the main gift shop, and headed home.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

At the Box Office...They're Standing in Line

As Eugene drove home from work last week, he saw a sign advertising a Billy Joel concert in the Chicago Area in April. We're fans; we saw him perform with Elton John a couple of years ago and really enjoyed the show. So we invited a couple of friends to join us, and they accepted. I was designated the buyer of the tickets, which went on sale this morning. They weren't available through Ticketmaster, and since the venue is quite close to us, I decided I'd go to the box office and buy the tickets there.

Since it was Saturday, we wound up sleeping in. I got ready as quickly as I could and was at the Sears Centre by 8:30, an hour and a half before the tickets went on sale. There was already about forty people in line. I found out later that the first person in line had arrived at 4:00 a.m. Right behind him was a group of people with blankets playing cards; they'd arrived at 5:30. It was a good thing we got to wait inside. I'd brought a book, so I spent most of the wait reading, occasionally talking to the people around me.

Around 9:30, one of the employees came out to talk to us. (By this point, I don't know how many people were behind me, but the line snaked down the hall as far as I could see.) He said that we didn't have a better chance of getting good seats for coming here and that everyone might not get tickets. He suggested calling in for tickets while we waited in line. One guy even brought a laptop to search online!

The tension grew as the minutes passed. Several people called in before my cell phone said it was time, but they couldn't get through. I called the ticket number several times myself but got a busy signal each time. But I didn't have to try too many times; there were eight open windows at the box office, so the line moved quickly. It also helped that the woman right in front of me left when her husband at home got tickets.

When I got to the window, the woman told me the floor seats were already sold out. She did have some seats on the lower level in the second row, so I took them immediately. Eugene was later amazed that in six minutes (the time I had to wait), half of the venue was sold out. But I'm glad I bought the tickets in person. The wait wasn't too bad, and I got decent seats without having to add on extra fees. Can't wait for the show!

Friday, January 26, 2007

An End to Dual Citizenship?

Today, I did something I've been considering for a long time: I created a LiveJournal account. I was inspired to do so while commenting on a friend's journal, since LJ has mistaken me for not human on occasion. (Humpf!) But the main reason I have an account on LJ is because there are a lot more people from OWW (my writing workshop) on that site, so it would be a better place to discuss any writing issues I have.

I'm not sure I want to maintain two blogs, though. Sometimes it seems I barely have time for this one. It's still worth maintaining this site, since it helps me keep in touch with my college friends. The question is, do they really want to hear me talk about projects they haven't read and may never read? (I suppose I should ask them directly.)

Right now, there are two possibilites: I could duplicate posts on both blogs, or I could make one personal and one writing-related. I'll have to play around for a bit before I decide what to do. But I may still keep this name for this blog; I'm not sure people would appreciate it if I change it again!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Game Show Contestants

I think I've mentioned before on this blog that I watch more TV now that I'm married and we have Dish Network. I probably still watch less TV than the average person, but one show I do like to watch is 1 vs. 100. I also see a bit of Deal or No Deal occasionally, as Eugene likes that show. Personally, I find the drama on that show a bit over the top for my taste, and since it's all based on chance, it's not as interesting to me as a show that tests general knowledge.

One thing I've noticed about both shows is that I find a significant fraction of their contestants annoy me. The main trait I find annoying is arrogance. (Sue talked a little bit about arrogance in her blog today, which is part of the inspiration for this blog entry.) Every contestant on those shows is convinced when he or she first comes on that he or she will get the top prize. That's to be expected; it's human nature to think the best of yourself. What turns confidence into arrogance, IMO, is when the contestants dismiss the odds against them or insult the mob members on 1 vs. 100. Sometimes when the insults or cockiness reaches a certain level, I lose sympathy for the contestant. Also, sometimes contestants don't seem to realize how hard it's going to be to reach the top prize. Having been on Jeopardy! (and getting my own arrogance beaten out of me ;) ), I know the shows are harder than they appear. Sometimes the contestants learn that lesson as they play; others cling to their original mindsets for as long as they're on the show.

Sometimes contestants are annoying for other reasons, such as a certain type of laugh, an over-used catch phrase, or some other trait. One college student on DonD last year liked the color lime green--a very bright neon green. She and her supporters all wore the color. It's not to my taste and not a color I'd want to look at.

Why am I bothering to blog about this? It occured to me today that watching people on these kinds of shows can provide writers with character traits to use in their works. Arrogance would be a good quality to give a villain, while secondary characters (or even primary ones) can be fleshed out with quirks like the ones I listed above. The only thing is that certain traits may be harder to convey in writing than through TV. Just as describing an attractive person is less intense than seeing a movie star, so is it harder to make a reader hate a particular laugh than someone who can hear it. I'm sure it can be done, but it might be easier to show others reacting to the trait than describing it.

Having discussed negative traits, I should come up with inspirations for positive traits for heroes. That'll have to be another blog entry, though; it's close to bedtime for me.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Deboning Sorbet

Eugene likes to suggest "deboning ice cream" as an activity for improv performers to act out. After the last time he used this one, I thought it would be fun for him to do it for real. So I bought a Nylabone, wrapped it in plastic, and placed it at the bottom of a container of homemade apple sorbet. We had several servings of sorbet before uncovering the bone. Tonight he finally found it. We were eating out of the bowl when his spoon encountered it.

"What is this?" he asked. Apparently he thought there was something wrong with our ice cream maker.

"Let's dig it out," I suggested.

After several more spoonfuls, he pulled the bone out.

"Congratulations, you have now deboned sorbet," I told him.

He said it was a good joke and kissed me. I saved the bone so we could give it to Heidi, my parents' dog, later.

In Other News: There hasn't been much to report. I did bring my car in for maintenance at the dealer yesterday. It was the first time I've done so since buying the car over three years ago, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at all they wanted to do to it. It took a lot longer than I originally expected; I dropped it off at 9:00 and didn't get it back until 4:30. I was able to get a loaner for the day at no charge, so at least I wasn't stuck at the dealer all day. I wasn't comfortable driving the loaner (the seat didn't adjust very well for my short stature, so I had to scoot forward to reach the gas), so I just stayed home. Eugene and I did go out in the evening for dinner and a trip to the bookstore.

Writing I've been critting chapters on OWW while revising Lennon's Line. I'm rewriting part of the climax to put Paul's girlfriend at some risk without actually letting the bad guys get her (so cliched, IMO). It was tricky figuring out how to do that, but I think I've finally got the scene blocked out, if not completely written. Too bad it took me a few days to solve that. I do goof around on the Internet when I'm supposed to be writing, but sometimes it frees part of my brain for plotting purposes.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Hard Day's Crit

It looks as if my regular crit partners on OWW are coming out of hibernation. Sue's been the main one to post consistently, but two more of them posted a total of four chapters yesterday. It was a good thing I had today off so I could get them done. I've been working on them since this morning, though I took breaks to check my forums and play Text Twist. Now I'm debating if I should chance going outside to start my car. Even I know I need a break from the computer occasionally.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Hunkering Down

As Sting would sing, it looks like the hounds of winter are harrying us down. Last night we got sleet; tonight so far we've had rain, but I'm afraid it'll change to snow later. I have tomorrow off, but I was supposed to bring my car in for routine maintenance. I think I may reschedule and stay inside all day. I'm enough of a Nervous Nellie when I drive in this kind of weather, but in my current condition, I'm even paranoid that I could slip and fall just trying to walk to my car.

At least I'm well prepared to stay inside. Between books and my computer, I have plenty to keep myself occupied. I'll have some time to finish crits for OWW and work on Lennon's Line. Tomorrow I'm planning to make a beef barley soup in the crockpot; I bought everything I need yesterday while I was running errands. I just hope Eugene will be OK tomorrow. He not only has to go into work, but due to some snafus, he hasn't been able to get the heater in his car fixed. (See his blog for more information.)

OK, time to see if I can get one more crit posted tonight.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Happy Laptop

Even smart women make foolish choices.

When I bought my current laptop a couple of years ago, I didn't max out the memory, even though my other laptop was running very slowly. I think I was trying to save some money. That was my first mistake. My second one was more recent; I added bloatware (otherwise known as the latest version of Norton Antivirus) to my system. The drag on my memory immediately became apparent. I'd have to wait to switch between programs, and there'd be a lengthy gap between songs when I played music on my computer. I double-checked the specs and found I could quadruple my current memory, so I bit the bullet and ordered more memory from Dell. It came today, sooner than I expected. I installed the modules as soon as I came home from work.

What a difference! Word opens up so much faster; even a 600-page document like Lennon's Line pops open quickly. Music plays constantly without the band members taking a break after every song. Best of all, I don't have to wait when I switch between programs before I'm able to use them, and when I'm done playing a game, I can close the window just by clicking the red "X" once instead of twice. Even typing seems to be smoother; before when I'd blog or write, the cursor would abruptly jump to another part of the screen. So far, that hasn't happened.

There are still a few quirks I'd like to fix about this laptop, but it's much more usable now. I should be able to keep using it for another couple of years before it's time to replace it. Hopefully then I'll be smarter about the memory.

OK, now let's see if the memory upgrade helps the muse....

Thursday, January 11, 2007

What I've Read: A History of God

I just finished reading this today after work. I started it before we went on vacation, but I wasn't comfortable bringing a book on religion onto a plane in that climate, right after the terrorists were caught in London. For a while the book was buried in a basket of books; after I rediscovered it, I decided it was time to finish it.

This book traces the history of the three major monothesistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It's interesting to note how they underwent similar developments. For instance, both Christianity and Islam were originally much more feminist in thought than they are today. All three religions developed mystic movements, though Christianity was affected the least by this, especially once the Enlightenment encouraged people to think about God as something or someone subject to rational thought. Perhaps this is why Christians (or at least some of them) are more likely to take their holy book more literally than do Jews or Muslims. I never realized before how the fundamentalist movement came about, but this book provides some insight into that. It's also worth pointing out that according to this book, Muslims at the beginning of the 20th century were much more friendly toward the West but then became humilated by some of the military defeats they suffered.

The final chapters of this book discuss the rise of atheism and the future of God. While it's difficult to view God in the same way post-Holocaust as before WWII, it still seems that there's an innate religious drive in humans that's not going away. On the other hand, the history of religion as traced in this book does suggest that mixing rational and religious thought doesn't work well for either science or religion.

There's a lot to ponder in this book, both on a personal level and on the world-creating level for writers. By looking at how religion has changed over the centuries, writers can develop religions for their own worlds that give us a new perspective on the subject.

With my next book to read, I'll be switching things up a bit with some hard science fiction. We'll see if I want to discuss it afterwards. In the meantime, I should also update my blog template.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mental Breaks

The busier my life gets, the more I realize how necessary it is to step back and take mental breaks. When you're rushing around at work, doing several experiments at once, only to come home to dinner and chores, it's very draining. That's bad for anyone, but when you're also trying to write, you're left with no energy and a blank screen. Mental breaks give you a chance to think about your story before sitting down at the keyboard; that way, you're ready to write right away.

I unwind in several different ways. The Internet is always a good standby with forums and e-mail to read, plus there's games. Of course, these mental breaks can last all evening if you don't discipline yourself. Eugene and I have taken lately to playing Yatzee! after dinner; it gives us some couple time. TV is another way to relax, though I try not to watch too much of it. I also like to read and crochet, but it's harder to find time to work on those projects for an extended chunk of time.

Of course, life is going to become even more hectic soon once our baby arrives. But I think even then I'll need to find the time to relax. It's not something you can regulate just to the weekends or vacations; you need some chill time every day to keep your sanity.

On that note, I think I'll call it a night.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


I know I'm way overdue for an update. I wanted to add my to-read list of books to the sidebar first, and I've been either too busy or too tired to do that until now. At least I have a start. This list doesn't include my non-fiction books, and I really should add the authors' names to the list. Perhaps it's easier to update the template in chunks instead of waiting to do it all at once.

I'm reorganizing other aspects of my life as well. When I was single, I kept track of receipts and other financial papers in an accordion file, a new one for each year, organized alphabetically by category. I tried that last year too, but I had so many papers I couldn't even close the file. So for this year, I'm trying something Eugene recommended. I'm putting the financial records in brown clasp envelopes, one for each major category I track in Quicken. I'm keeping all of the envelopes in a file box from Office Depot. The envelopes tend to get mixed up, but in the long run I think it will be easier to find receipts this way.

Not too much else to report. Eugene and I did get together with some friends last night. They had a little girl in November, and the new mom was itching to get out. So we went out for dinner to an Indian buffet. The food was spicier than what I'm accustomed to, so I wound up eating a lot of flatbread. Afterward, we went back to their house for dessert and (for everyone else) wine. Eugene and I got to hold their little girl; it still seems strange to think that soon we'll have our own baby. There's much to be done yet before he or she comes.

Writing: I've been making some progress with Lennon's Line. I'm revising some scenes toward the end. Basically, I want to put Paul's girlfriend in some jeopardy without her actually falling into the hands of the bad guys. (It just seems so cliched to have her captured, even though I do think it's necessary for Paul to believe she's in real danger.) It took me a while to figure out a way to make that work. Of course, it's up to the readers to decide if it does or not.

I've also returned to critting on OWW. Currently, only one of my regular crit partners is posting regularly, though some of the others may still have submissions up. I'm not sure if I'll go back and review those, especially if they've been up for months. When I do resume posting work of my own, I'll probably need to cultivate a few new critters.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Our New Year's Eve Celebration

As I mentioned in my last post, Eugene and I went out to dinner last night. We went to the Weber Grill. There's one in Chicago, but another location opened up near us last year. (Yes, it's sinking in that another year is upon us.) It was our first time there, and we stuffed ourselves royally. We started with a grilled pizza appetizer; Eugene also had a salad. I had a filet mingon with garlic mashed potatoes and a side of garlic spinach. Eugene had a strip steak with a baked potato. The steak was very tender, despite me asking for it medium well. (Had to make sure it was OK for the baby.) We didn't finish our meals, but that didn't stop us from having a sundae for dessert.

After dinner, we went to the comedy club and hung out for a while before they let us in. They had some new chairs in the entrance; I don't recall the technical name for them, but they're the kind without legs (so you're practically on the floor) that rock slightly. We liked them, but I don't think they'll work too well for me when I'm farther along. ;) The comedy club let us in shortly before 8:00. We had a table in the first row. The club was small, but it was well-packed, with 50-60 people there. There were mostly couples, but I saw families there too. Dress ranged from casual to formal.

The package deal for the night included a buffet of appetizers (hot and cold) and desserts, free soda and water, a toast at midnight, and party favors. Yes, this means we both got lei'd. (rimshot). Eugene got a red conical hat that made him feel like a Shriner; if I'd brought my camera, I would've taken a picture for your entertainment. I wore a "Happy New Year" tiara. Of course we got noisemakers too. I didn't have much room for food, but I sampled some cheese and fruit -- and yes, the desserts.

The first show began at 9:00. There were two improv shows with the same performers but different games. We offered a fair number of suggestions; in fact, for one game, the performer taking suggestions said we were "completely destroying the other tables" with our suggestions of Shakespearian drama and Greek tragedy. I also came up with a movie title: Aardvarks Go To France. In between the shows was some dancing; we got dragged up on stage for a song or two.

As midnight approached, the staff handed out drinks for toasting (yes, I just had sparkling juice). They showed a tribute to those who had died in 2006. There was supposed to be a clock ticking down the final seconds, but the comptuer running that developed a glitch, so one of the performers led us in the final countdown. We all drank and made noise and kissed our sweeties, but by 12:30 people started to leave. I was tired, so we left too. But it was nice to go out on New Year's, especially since it may be a few years before we can do it again.

Today we're just hanging out at home. We did some cleaning, and we have a pot roast cooking in the crockpot for dinner. Later on tonight, I may try doing something Sara has done and put a list of my "books to read" in my template. Since there are over 40 books, the list may take up the entire blog. :)

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