Ape Cave

Aug. 4th, 2015 12:14 am
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Recently hiked Ape Cave, a lava tube formed during a fluid basalt eruption about two thousand years ago. The outside layer of lava cooled quickly, but the interior of the flow was insulated enough to stay molten and flow out from under the cooled section, leaving an empty tube a couple kilometers long, full of nifty cave slime and weird waterfalls made of solid rock that you somehow have to climb up or down. It is very dark under several meters of rock. The walls are uneven and glassy, and the shadows cast by your headlamps sink unevenly into the glass and take on three dimensions.

Not much to photograph, except the two places where cave-ins have made holes in the roof, all a-green and ferny.

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animated image of a green and purple aurora
We saw these auroras during the solstice storm (they were a little fainter to the naked eye).

Check out the small ascending object in the lower right hand corner: an ESA rocket launching an Earth-observing satellite!
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 I recently made this three-layer index-card papercut:

Largeish image )
It is a cut sheet of black paper, on top of a sheet of white paper. The white paper has a few holes in it to let the bottom paper, which is red, show through in a couple of places. The holes in the white paper have to line up exactly with the holes in the black paper, so that the red is outlined by black.

It was ridiculously difficult to get the holes in the white sheet in the correct places. I would carefully  mark and cut them, and then three quarters of them would align and the last few would be off in the middle of nowhere. Took me four tries, and a special rush delivery of swears from the manufacturer. And it's still not perfect, merely good enough.

There is actually a word for the process of lining up the parts of a layered image: registration. (Used mostly in printmaking and photography.) I like that. The existence of that word says: you are not alone, others have done this and burned through truckloads of swears, others will do it after you. This is surprisingly comforting and inspiring. Jargon as the mark of shared experiences.
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 I haven't posted in a while, but I want to say that there is an incredible geomagnetic storm going on right now, KP (a measure of geomagnetic activity; we usually go look for auroras if it reaches five) is up to eight. If you live somewhere Northish, consider checking the sky for auroras tonight! It has been a long time since it was this good.

I hope the storm sticks around a while, won't be dark here for ages.


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The problem with deciding to write one post a day is that you get behind, and then you are obnoxious and spammy. This is a repost of something I wrote on the question and answer site Quora, where I enjoy posting serious answers to silly questions. Any rumors that I am reposting this just to annoy [personal profile] juli cannot be proven.

Question: How would the Bulbasaur Pokemon work?

video game biology )
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Once a year, on the anniversary of her cancer remission, my mom hikes around some alpine meadows on Mt. Rainier and looks at the wildflowers. I made a papercut of one of the rocks and wildflowers as a gift for her.

I was inspired by Lynd Ward woodcuts, like this one:

where the image is formed more by texture than by shape. There's the cross-hatched sail, the squiggly wave, the solid boat, the heavy striped sky, the jittery person, etc.

I thought I could do something similar, with three textures from the mountain:
  1. lacey leaves and flowers,
  2. big blocky chunks of rock, and
  3. spiny trees.
But... uh ... I'm definitely not Lynd Ward yet. :) I would call this mixed results: I think there's promise in the texture-based approach, but I wouldn't quite call this go at it a success.


And the photo I was working from:

I changed the asters to lupines, because lupines rule and asters drool, clearly.
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 closeup of a blue scarf with a wheel motif embroidery
For this year's Midwinter Festival of Unbridled Consumerism, [personal profile] juli  got me a khadag! Actually, five khadags.

Khadags, which are a blue Mongolian version of the white Tibetan prayer scarf (khata), are one of my favorite things about Mongolia. You can't go anywhere without seeing one tied to a signpost or truck tailgate or doorframe. They cost about ten cents. Actual religious sites of any type (not just buddhist) frequently have so many khadags that you can't quite tell what is under them, they're just fluttering mounds of blue and wind. 

Anything you might need luck with? Tie a khadag to it!
Did a good thing happen and you would like it to happen again? Tie a khadag to it!
Did a bad thing happen and you would definitely not like it to happen again? Tie a khadag to it!

They're a beautiful color, and they are everywhere. All birds nests in Mongolia contain some blue thread, including one massive raven nest of bleached bone and blue silk we saw. Students tie them to school fences to wish for luck in exams. I loved the sense of  peering into the depths of time, of seeing reinforced hems, all that remained of old silk khadags worn by the wind, next to tattered cotton and new rayon ones. I liked the evidence that says: this place was important to someone once, for at least long enough to knot a  scarf around a tree.

[personal profile] juli  and I somehow returned from Mongolia without any khadags, and as omnipresent as they are inside the country, it proved quite impossible to get them outside it. Until now, when juli again used her amazing find-anything-on-the-internet skills to track some down. Hooray for blue-haired cyberpunk girlfriend! Hooray for khadags! Hooray for giftmas!
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I'm attempting to bring back my favorite livejournal meme. I think only about three people read this journal, so I don't see it going anywhere, but it's fun to try. :)

Comment on this post, and I will interview you by asking you approximately five questions. Post the questions and your answers on your own journal. Optionally, offer to interview people who comment on your posted interview.

(If you somehow find and comment on this post and I don't know you, I will look at your profile, interests, and last few posts for interview inspiration.)

a forest

Sep. 14th, 2014 04:46 pm
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The second-last of the tiny papercutting suggestions on 3x5 cards. A forest, as suggested by [personal profile] twoeleven Forests are hard, I eventually gave up and cheated by cutting two 3x5 cards worth of forest, and stacking them with some tracing paper. It is, of course, a douglas fir forest. I didn't spend years analyzing data on douglas fir branching patterns for nothing! Woo!


Jul. 5th, 2014 04:47 pm
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Three news stories I enjoyed reading and want to share:

I. Hippos Invade Columbia

Columbian Drug lord Pablo Escobar kept a menagerie at his palatial estate, including 4 hippopotamuses. Since his death in 1993, the hippos have been reproducing like crazy, and now there are at least 60 and they are starting to take over the Magdalena river, much to the surprise of fishermen in the area. There are no hippo-eating predators and no droughts in Columbia, so there's not much pressure on their population. Observations indicate every mature female has a calf every year. At night they leave the river to eat crops and occasionally kill cows that get in their way. Programs to eradicate or sterilize them have been proposed, but they're so cute there's always a public outcry, and those options are expensive, so it's not clear what will be done about the hippos, if anything.

Locals report barbecued hippo tastes like pork.

BBC story about the hippos.

II. Tibetan EPAS1 gene found in Denisovan genome

About 4 years ago, a genetic study done on Tibetans and Han Chinese found a bunch of genes apparently useful for Not Dying When You Live At Altitudes With Only 60% Air Pressure. One of them was a variant of EPAS1, which is apparently the Most Not Dyingest, judging by how prevalent it was in the Tibetan population. It has something to do with transporting oxygen in the blood, but we're not entirely sure what - it seems to cause the production of less hemoglobin. There was a lot of speculation how how amazingly Not Dyingest EPAS1 must be to have become so widespread since Han and Tibetan populations diverged about 3000 years ago.

In a weirder twist, a match to the unique Tibetan version of EPAS1 has just been found ... in the Denisovan genome - a subspecies of human known only from two teeth, one finger, and one toe bone found in a cave in the Altai mountains (also found in the cave: human bones, neanderthal bones. Awesome all-species prehistoric party cave?). It is now believed that Tibetans got the Useful Not Dying Gene by cross-breeding with the Denisovans.

Sadly, you can't read the original article in Science online for free, but here's a summary.

III. Qiblah from Orbit

This is only news to me, the conference happened in 2006, but I really enjoyed reading about a conference called by the Malaysian Space Agency, Angkasa, trying to figure out how a Muslim ought to pray facing "toward Mecca" while in orbit around the Earth.

Not that facing toward Mecca on Earth is easy either. Some mosques in North America face Southeast (the direction of Mecca when viewed on a flat earth map) and some Northeast (the Great-Circle direction toward Mecca, shortest distance around a sphere, shown on the map, which was deigned to accurately show distances to Mecca from anywhere on Earth). Living on a sphere is hard.

The conference decided one should:
  1. Pray toward the Ka'aba if one can see it. 
  2. Imagine that the orbit is a giant planet, project the Ka'aba up onto the surface of the orbital sphere, and pray in that direction (via great circle)
  3. If very far from Earth, pray in the general direction of Earth.
  4. Pray towards "wherever" if none of that is doable. I'm kind of curious what word in Arabic got translated as "wherever" in English, it's weird thing to see in an official religious document. :)
They also said that if you were in a spacesuit or something and unable to stand and bow, you could move your eyelids to denote the different prayer positions, and that prayer times should be determined by the timezone you launched from, otherwise, with a sunrise every two hours, you might lose a lot of time praying. 

Just thought that was neat.

Wired article about the praying in space conference.


Jun. 24th, 2014 12:04 am
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[personal profile] dialecticdreamer  suggested I make a papercut "folk sankofa." If, like me until a couple hours ago, you have no idea what a sankofa is, here's what wikipedia has to say:

Sankofa can mean either the word in the Akan language of Ghana that translates in English to " reach back and get it" (san - to return; ko - to go; fa - to look, to seek and take) or the Asante Adinkra symbols of a bird with its head turned backwards taking an egg off its back, or of a stylised heart shape. It is often associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi," which translates "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten."


The Sankofa symbol appears frequently in traditional Akan art, and has also been adopted as an important symbol in an African American and African Diaspora context to represent the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future. It is one of the most widely dispersed adinkra symbols, appearing in modern jewelry, tattoos, and clothing.

Thanks, [personal profile] dialecticdreamer !

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[personal profile] juli  and I just got back from one of our biannual trips to Cambridge for her schooling, and I am having trouble readjusting to ordinary wash-the-dishes life. Also, one of the goats seriously injured herself yesterday, and while she's now totally fine and harassing the sheep as usual, I keep having flashbacks to the overwhelming image of holding a struggling goat with blood matted in her fur at inopportune times, such as while trying to eat.

Time for happy distractions. Suggest to me a subject for a Tiny Papercutting!

Tiny Papercuttings will be made out of 3x5 index cards (8ish by 12ish cm), and I'll post a reasonably sized photo, and also a dreamwidth-icon-sized image, like the icon I'm using for this post.


Jun. 7th, 2014 11:52 am
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Tonight we are leaving for Boston, where we will be a couple weeks. If you would like a postcard from Boston, please leave your address and your favorite species of nudibranch, if any.

Comments are screened.

No, I don't already have your address, even if in any sort of sensible universe I would, such as if I lived with you for four years and you haven't changed your address since then. Not to pick a totally true example or anything.


Jun. 5th, 2014 06:57 pm
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Yesterday [personal profile] juli  took me (and some friends) to dinner at a Korean restaurant, where she had called ahead and persuaded them to make dotorimuk just for me. Dotorimuk is jello-like stuff made from acorn starch. It is served with chrysanthemum leaves, shredded bell peppers, sesame oil, and a sauce made out of hot pepper, honey, garlic, and soy sauce. The acorns are earthy and slightly sweet. I had only had simplified dotorimuk preparations in the past, and I was blown away by the real thing. I am reasonably sure it is The Most Delicious Thing.  

I did not think to take a picture of the dotorimuk, because I was too busy PUT IT IN MY MOUTH, so I'm shamelessly stealing a picture from this website:

picture of Korean acorn jelly dish

I really admire [personal profile] juli 's ability to talk to the chefs at a restaurant and get them to make something that isn't on the menu. That seems almost supernatural to me: she's doing something outside the rules that govern the world as I understand it.


May. 9th, 2014 11:10 pm
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Still enjoying cutting holes in things, and now I have proper black and white paper. Crow inspired by a woodcut of Holly Meade's, not the least bit original.
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Last week I posted a goofy image of Tesseract the Goat and one of [personal profile] juli 's idea, Tess is always curious about anything she seems humans handling or doing. She's pretty sure she's people and doesn't understand why we make her live with all these weird goats and sheep.)

So far the photo has:
  • received 6885 likes or reblogs on tumblr, in large part from people with disturbingly obscene usernames
  • shown up on twitter where [personal profile] tim  saw it posted by someone who doesn't know [personal profile] juli  or I.
  • migrated to reddit at least once
  • and become an ... um ... interesting youtube video I can't honestly recommend but am listing for completeness.
Tesseract is mildly famous! Internet: still pretty weird. Neat, but weird.
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[personal profile] juli requested I post this recipe, which was thrown together so she could have oreoish cookies despite the fact that she is allergic to about 80% of all puny human foods. There's not much going on in these, flavorwise, so a good cocoa powder is important.
  • .75 cup mesquite flour
  • .375 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1.5 tablespoons stevia powder (equivalent to a little over half a cup of sugar)
  • .125 teaspoons salt
  • .25 teaspoons baking powder
  • .125 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 7 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Stir together the dry ingredients (mesquite, cocoa powder, stevia, salt, baking powder, nutmeg). Cut the butter into pieces and rub it into the powder, like you're making a pie crust or biscuits, until the mixture is in little sand-sized crumbs, and you can pick up a handful and squeeze to stick them together. A pastry cutter would be great for that step, but we didn't have one, so I cleverly decided not to use it. Mix the yogurt, water, and vanilla together separately, then stir into the crumb mixture until the whole thing mostly holds together. 

Dump the dough onto aluminum foil and shape into a cylinder about 20 centimeters long. Wrap up in the foil and stick in the freezer for 15 minutes to chill. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the cylinder into half-centimeter thick slices, lay the slices on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. After cooling, they are dry and crumbly, much like oreos, though with an oddly complicated taste - the mesquite flour tastes like cinnamon and fava beans, or something.

Modified from this recipe.
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 It is my great pleasure to inform you all that a reporter at the Wall Street Journal called [personal profile] juli "impetuous" today. :D 


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