Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On My Own

Tonight I'm uploading the last of my CDs to my computer, so I can get rid of the discs. After this I'll have no more physical CDs in the house, which I'm pretty excited about. I haven't bought a CD in almost 10 years now. I don't have a CD player in the house anymore. So it's time for them to go. I'll load what I want on my iPod and back up the rest. Think of the space this will save.

I just finished loading the 2 disc Broadway version of Les Miserables. It was one of Jeff's CDs. I had the London version on cassette (remember those?). I've never been tempted to "walk the boards" as they say, but if I were to act, it would be in Les Miserables. And I know exactly the character.

The first time I heard On My Own, sung by Eponine, I was in love. I loved the song from the very first verse. Perhaps it's all the unrequited romances I've had over my life. Perhaps it's my more tomboyish (or at least not girly) demeanor. But Eponine has always struck me as a kindred spirit. And not just because she's an alto and a brunette, both of which are rare in most musicals.

She's a melancholy character, prone to imagining things. The first verse of On My Own is about her imagining herself walking with Marius. I can't tell you how many imaginary walks or imaginary conversations I've had with characters or with people I know. I instantly connected with her because of her solitary imaginative walks. She pretends that she's independent even though she's longing to be loved. She is strong and just wants to be one of the guys. I see so many parallels it's as if they wrote the character for me.

So if I ever get the acting bug, I'll audition for Eponine. I can sing her pretty well in the car or the shower. I sing On My Own or Little Fall of Rain, at least once a month. I should be getting good at it by now. Perhaps one day I'll take the chance.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lost in YouTube Land

Hi, I'm Cat and I'm a YouTube addict.

They say the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Well I have a problem. For years I followed webcomics, collecting comics like they were postage stamps. I'd read the entire archive and then add them to my list of daily or weekly reading. Then I did the same with blogs. I still follow over 120 blogs and 30 webcomics and that's pared down from two years ago.

YouTube has been just as addicting, if not more so. At least when I finish one webcomic it doesn't instantly direct me to 30 or 40 more just like it. I can lose hours just clicking from one video to the next. Mostly I start with the channels I love (which I'll link to below) but then it just branches from there. And suddenly I've spent four hours watching 3 to 7 minute videos.

I blame Jeff. He got me started with a YouTube channel called Smarter Every Day. Destin Sandlin makes educational videos of the stuff he finds fascinating. Fortunately for us, it's really fascinating stuff. He tries experiments, he shows examples, and he makes videos with so much enthusiasm that you can't help but be intrigued by his subjects. Just watch a few of his experiments and I know you'll be hooked. It's incredible stuff. I learn something new with each video. But once I started watching Smarter Every Day, it opened up the doors to all the other educational videos out there.

Periodic Videos, created by Brady Haran, is a channel that focuses on chemistry. They started out by going through each of the elements in the periodic table. It is a mixture of narrative, experiments, and some of the wildest hair you'll ever see. I'm only halfway through their archive of 500 videos but I never get tired of watching their work.

CGP Grey creates very professional looking animated videos to discuss politics, geography, and sociology, among other topics. Each episode is meticulously researched. It's a great mixture of entertainment and education. Grey's wonderful sense of humor and personality keeps me riveted to subjects that would normally leave me cold.

MinutePhysics by Henry Reich uses drawings to explain incredibly complicated physics topics in a video that's only a couple minutes long. Henry manages to make the topics seem simple and understandable with his drawings and his easy explanation. I've learned more watching that channel then I ever did in my high school physics class.

Veritasium by Derek Muller also explains physics and science topics. Derek normally starts each video by presenting some of the misconceptions about that topic and then uses experiments to show the correct reason why things work the way they do. I find it both interesting and humbling to realize that I often have the incorrect assumption about how things work. All of his videos make me want to learn more about the topic at hand and even more importantly, make me want to try experiments of my own.

The Brain Scoop with Emily Graslie was one I wasn't sure how much I'd like at first. Emily started out presenting videos of her work in U of Montana's Biology Department. She dissected a wolf, taught us about pangolins (one of the coolest animals ever), and showed us the fascinating animals in the school's collection. She's since moved over to the Field Museum and her videos now cover that amazing museum, which is my favorite place in the world when we go to Chicago.

Recently I've started getting into Numberphile, also created by Brady Haran. Jeff started watching this mathematics video series a year ago or so, but I struggled with it at first. I've never considered myself very good at math but these videos are making me see that it's just a matter of looking at things in the proper light. Some of it may still go over my head but I'm started to see patterns, and deciphering the language that is math.

But it's not all educational. I listen to most of my music on YouTube. Even after I've bought the songs and they are on my iPod, I find myself pulling up the videos. YouTube allows me to jump from song to song, using the suggestions on the right side. I've found some great new music that way.

My current fascination is John and Hank Green, collectively known as the Vlogbrothers. I'm a little late to the party since they did their well known Brotherhood 2.0 years ago. But the video correspondence between the two brothers makes for both entertaining and educational watching. I had originally found John Green through his work with Mental Floss (even before I found out he was an author) and Hank as the creator of The Brain Scoop. But since discovering their year of video correspondence and other videos, I think I might become a full fledged Nerdfighter.

I know that I've barely skimmed the surface of what's available on YouTube. There's plenty of material that I try to stay away from. I'm not looking for stupid human tricks. And I only occasionally watch funny cat videos. But I know that there are plenty of other videos out there that will both entertain and educate me. There are creators making some of the most unique and fascinating material being produced right now. YouTube has become a classroom. And I'm so glad I've found so many ways to learn.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Huginn and Muninn

I have a thing for the corvids. The Corvidae family of birds that is. You probably know the most famous member of the family, the crow. I've written about my love for crows here. Ravens, crows, rooks, magpies, and jays make up the most well known species of birds in the family. And they are all pretty cool birds.

Mythology has used crows and ravens in the past to symbolize intelligence, resourcefulness, tricksters, and sometimes death. The birds occasionally get a bad rap just because they can be scavengers. But my favorite corvid reference comes from Norse mythology. Odin was claimed to have two ravens: Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory) which he sent out everyday all over Midgard (earth) to gather intelligence and collect memories. Odin is often pictured with the birds and since ravens are one of the cleverest of the birds this spy-like ability seems perfect for them.

I love the images and the idea of Huginn and Muninn. While reading some of the Norse stories I was instantly drawn to the two birds, much like I was drawn to the story of Fenrir, the wolf. But as a writer the birds have even more significance. I live in my thoughts and memories most of the time. These two concepts are central to writing. So the birds mean a lot to me. The moment I learned of them I wanted to get a tattoo of them. I'm thinking about putting them on my shoulders, one to a side. I too want to be like Odin, sending out my thoughts and memories into the world and seeing what comes back. Of course it doesn't hurt that they are corvids. Cool birds, and a cool mythology.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why I won't lose weight this year

The greatest airplane flight I ever took was from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia. Even considering the fact that it was a 16 hour flight during which I didn't sleep a wink, it was a wonderful flight. The airline went out of its way to make us happy. Socks and eye masks were standard amenities. There were popsicles before take-off, hot towels before landing, two tasty meals that I actually wanted to eat, and orange juice as we taxied to the gate. And cookies. More to the point, Biscoff cookies. It was my first introduction to the greatest airline snack of all time.

For those who haven't had the pleasure, Biscoff cookies are a shortbread cookie with a touch of cinnamon. For me they taste a little like a mild gingerbread. Spicy and crunchy and far better than the standard fare of peanuts or pretzels which you often find on flights. The Lotus company makes the cookie as a with coffee snack but they have become synonymous with airline travel.

Well, Jeff and I haven't been traveling much lately but I found out recently that I can still get my shortbread fix. We were in the grocery store picking up peanut butter when I happened to glance at the top shelf. And my mouth dropped open. Then I started salivating.  There was a small jar of Biscoff Spread. Cookies I can spread on toast, or dunk chocolate bars in, or even just eat with a spoon. I've managed to go through half the jar in a very short period of time. Even as I type this I'm licking a spoon covered in cookie goodness. So much for those weight loss resolutions.

And many of the baking blogs I follow have started to post recipes that include this lovely spread. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to mix this heavenly delight with other things or if I'm going to selfishly eat it plain, spoonful after spoonful. Happily I know that once this jar is empty it's only a short trip back to the store for more. Even though it isn't as exciting as hopping on a flight somewhere and unwrapping the crunchy cookies, I think the spread is the better option. After all, it's like cookie dough but in spreadable form. YUM!

A Matter of Degrees

It is 8 degrees out right now (feels like -5). Tonight the wind chills will be 20 below zero. The high predicted for Monday will be -4. I don't even want to think about what that night will bring. It's winter, and I'm whining.

Years ago I made a deal with myself that I would only complain about one season. Winter is it. It can be 106 with 80% humidity and I won't say a word. But -4 is some kind of ungodly number. I feel bad for the birds I watch out the window. I'd invite them in if I could. I'm not sure how the rest of the animal kingdom is doing it.

Me, I'm hermiting. I didn't leave the house yesterday. I'm not planning to leave the house tonight. I'll go home, change into sweatpants, put on my slippers, and curl up under a blanket. And all that in a warm house. For the last three days, this has been my routine. New Year's Eve was cold, so we stayed in. Yesterday was barely 10, so we stayed in. And tonight we'll stay in.

I know I've grown up here. I should be used to this kind of weather. And in some ways I am. I can deal with the cold. I just don't want to.