Colony Collapse Disorder, and Buffers

I just watched a truly horrifying episode of Nature that covered Colony Collapse Disorder, or the sudden disappearance of more than 800,000 of the bee hives in the United States (that’s one third of the total.)

That we truck bees around on semis was surprising. I had no idea. That can’t be good for them at all, and then providing only one source of food? No wonder they’re malnourished.

The really bad news (or maybe the really good news) is that bees are afflicted with an entire host of… well, afflictions. Bacterial infections, fungal infections, malnourishment and viral infections. Something has recently pushed them over the edge, so perhaps if we can find what that one thing is, they’ll be able to start staging a comeback and we can begin working on the other problems.

As always, it’s so frustrating to watch shows like this – I feel so helpless! The pesticides keep pouring onto the land by the billions of gallons-full, and of course the bees ingest it when they collect nectar and pollen. Well, guess what, pesticide-users? Know where that goes? Into the honey that we eat. Not only that, but if the bees die, say goodbye to your bee-pollinated crops, Bucko.

No more fruit. No more veggies. No more nuts.

We’ll have wheat and we’ll have corn and not a whole lot else to eat.

I know it’s no simple thing to just stop using pesticides. I mean, in theory it is – just stop using them – but in practical application the farmers aren’t going to go for it. But this is an epidemic that might overshadow even global warming. Holy shit.

My urge to keep bees is still strong, but it’s been tempered a bit by knowing that they fly up to three miles to gather their nectar – I can’t think of anyplace around here where I could find three square miles with no pesticides in use, including on my grandfather’s farm. Sad. Back in Washington? Yes. Abundant space in some areas – it’s not as big a farming economy on the Western side of the state. (Link about how to help bees: The Bee’s Needs, which contained the following tidbit I hadn’t seen: “Bee a Hive Builder: Building your own bee hive is easy and fun. Creating a wood nest is a good place to start — wood-nesting bees don’t sting! Simply take a non-pressure treated block of wood and drill holes that are 3/32 inch to 5/16 inch in diameter and about 5 inches deep and wait for the bees to arrive.”)

As always, whenever I think about the current state of the environment, I just feel so overwhelmingly sad.

We recently learned about buffer systems in Biology.

Buffers are systems of weak acids and weak bases that work together to keep a pH level within a certain range. There are buffer systems in our stomachs (to keep a very, very low pH,) buffers in our cells (to keep a higher pH) and buffers in nature. Let’s say we add acid to a given buffer system. We can add acid, and add acid, and add acid, seeing only a tiny decrease in pH because the buffer is converting the acid into water or CO2, or whatever that particular buffer system is naturally set up to do. Buffer systems are set up to regenerate themselves to a certain degree through reversible reactions. It’s a genius design.

There comes a point, however, where the buffer is all used up. You’ll see pH levels of 7, 7, 7, 6.9, 6.9, 6.8, 6.8, 6.6, 6.6, 6.6, 6.6 even with large amounts of acid added. Then, suddenly, the buffer zone collapses and you get a huge drop – 5.5, 5.0, 4.7, 4.3, 3.8 and on downwards. Nothing is buffering the effect anymore.

We’ve had a huge buffer zone on this planet since before we’ve been a species. The campfires we had as tribes got easily absorbed into the buffer without so much as a blip on the screen. As we developed agriculture and industry, we dumped more and more into the buffer, but it still kept doing its job. Over the last 60-70 years, we’ve seen more and more warning signs that the buffer system is on the verge of collapse.

Currently? I think our buffer zone is fucked.

Everything is beginning to crash all around us, and really, really fast. Fish populations, bee populations, plant and animal species becoming extinct, butterflies and migrating bird populations decreasing, global warming, stronger hurricanes… everything is rapidly coming to a head, and the majority of people are only now just poking their little prairie dog heads sleepily out of the ground and saying, “Um, what now?”

Keep dumping trash into the ocean, and eventually, it’s going to wash back up on shore. Pour CO2 into the atmosphere and it’s going to end up back in your lungs.

I am so pissed at the world right now that I’m vibrating. It is the nature of all things to change – this I know. But I prefer the natural evolution of things, even when that natural evolution is as violent as a volcano or an earthquake. I refuse to accept the argument that “Man is a part of Nature and therefore everything we do is natural.” That is head-in-the-sand bullshit rhetoric.

The planet will spin on, no doubt, but what if we make it so uninhabitable that it is hell to ride along on it? Is a planet devoid of most of the life forms we know and love and recognize going to be a pleasant place to live?

I believe that we are, right now, at a pivotal moment. This is make-or-break time. Either big changes happen now that start taking us back into the buffer zone, or our symbolic pH level plunges. And the scale doesn’t tip back within the span of our species’ existence.

Then, we will have a series of other pivotal moments, when we lose the sustainability of forests or oceans or breathable air. I think that right now, we have a chance to save it all – the polar bears, the fish, the sharks, the birds, ourselves. What’s gone is gone, but what’s left is at least still recognizable.

I don’t think we have until 2030 to change our ways. Obviously, I’m no scientist, but there is a gut feeling, a palpable urgency, an air of desperation.

When the bees’ hives were torn asunder by hungry bears, their normal buzzing sounds were disrupted. They flew around with high-pitched, spurty, angry bzzz’s that were distinctly distressed and agitated.

The biosphere is making that same sound, but at a deeper level, beyond what we can hear. If you pay attention, though – you can feel it.

More Than a “Concern”

We had a contact isolation patient today. This means that she has some kind of illness that can spread through physical contact. While masks aren’t strictly necessary, gloves are.

Another volunteer on-duty tonight, A., didn’t notice the bright yellow “CONTACT ISOLATION” sign on the door, which was somewhat understandable because it was partially hidden behind a pump. When I noticed A. in the patient’s room, holding her hand, touching her bedclothes and such, I cheerfully called her out into the hallway, as if I had a question.

Once we were out of view and earshot, I pointed out the CI sign – she asked me what it meant. A. has been volunteering in the ED for eight years. After a quick blink, I explained what it meant and suggested she wash thoroughly and glove up. She nodded and went to wash her hands.

Ten minutes later… she was back in the room, touching the patient and not wearing gloves! This is a woman in her 60’s who is not suffering from any sort of mental health issues. I was vexed.

One of the hall nurses and I looked at each other after looking into the room as we each walked by it. “Let me get this straight,” I said to her; “Contact isolation means, ‘do not touch anything without gloves,’ right?”

“Yup.” She gave me a “what’re you gonna do?” look and kept on walking.

There is an episode of “Scrubs” (which, as we all know, is the ultimate in hospital reality shows) that drills home why hand-washing is vital. A patient with a nasty staph infection comes in and is treated. A nurse working with the patient forgets to wash her hands and then touches the doorknob. The doorknob turns symbolically Nuclear Waste Green. Another person touches the doorknob and her hand turns green. She touches something else that someone else touches. The main character, JD, ends up touching an infected object and, soon after, touches a post-operative patient. That patient turns Nuclear Waste Green and dies.

There are infection control people in hospitals whose entire job is to lurk and to observe peoples’ habits concerning hand-washing and general standard practices protocol. I desperately wished for one of those people to walk by and observe A.

Instead, I mentioned it to a patient rep, who reported it to the LPN in charge of the volunteers. She immediately found me in the nutrition room and said, “I understand there are concerns.”

“Oh, gosh… I don’t want to get anyone in trouble… I just think someone should bring A. up to speed on Contact Isolation protocol.”
“Oh, she’s been here for eight years. She knows.”

I explained the situation.

“Well, if she gets herself sick, then she’ll learn.”
I blinked. “I’m more concerned about her transferring the contagion to other patients.” Or to me, I mentally added.

Change of subject.


I thought of marie_rex, who once nearly died because one of her providers didn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom. I thought of the “Scrubs” episode. I thought of being exposed to MRSA through random thoughtlessness on the part of a tech.

And then, selfishly, I thought of my future at this hospital. If I made A Big Deal about this, then that would put me in poor standing with this nurse. She might percolate her dissatisfaction with me to other staffers, who would side with their colleague.

I let it go.

Instead, we talked about how, three years ago, she had her job essentially yanked out from underneath her when it was decided that LPN’s aren’t qualified to treat patients in the ED. We talked about how that affected her then and what she thinks of it in retrospect.

As I was leaving, I talked to A. again myself, unable to just let it go entirely. She said she washed her hands really well and thanked me for pointing out the sign.

“But…but you went right back in there and started touching her again!” I said, somewhat incredulous but still friendly.
“Well, I wanted to finish up the conversation, and I knew I wasn’t going to touch anything.”

She was touching the patient’s bedclothes and guard rails and the patient’s arm. Maybe she wasn’t aware of it.

Staff must sanitize their hands after leaving a patient’s room. Volunteers are not so admonished. We get a 30-second primer about “common sense” and that’s that.

If it hasn’t already, this is going to bite someone squarely in the bottom. I know that people acquire infections from hospitals every day from just these sorts of instances, but I wonder if A. personally has been the cause of any of them?

Letter of Recommendation

I asked my Biology instructor if she would feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for me, which I could include in my applications for scholarships and to the nursing program. Happily for me, she agreed. She gave me two sealed envelopes before our exam today, with her signature across the backs, along the seals. She offered to give me any extra copies needed, as well.

It was difficult not to rip right into one of them to see what she’d written, but I managed to take my exam (aced; not easy, but I knew the material well) and come home before I opened the copy not going along with my scholarship stuff. I was hoping to have a few quotes that I could throw into my portfolio that’s due later this week.

She wrote me the nicest, most complimentary letter I’ve ever had. I love this instructor! I have from the outset, but gosh – now I’d gladly babysit for her. 😉

I’m not a “SQUEE”-er sort of person, but there was a definite internal sense of “EEEEEE! YAY!!!! Bounce!!!”

Can I share it? Ok. You have sufficiently twisted my arm.

“Dear Members of the Selection Committee:

“I am writing to recommend Erin D. for the scholarship you have available. I am Ms. D’s instructor for BIOL 121, Fundamentals for Physiology, for the Fall 2007 semester. BIOL 121 has a small class size and laboratory that provides a good opportunity for me to interact with students and get to know them individually.

“I can say with confidence that Erin D. is one of the most talented and dynamic students that I have encountered. Ms. D’s excellent scores attest to her academic ability. She frequently scores over 100% on exams by correctly answering bonus questions. She shows her genuine interest in the material by applying it to her own experiences and asking insightful questions. She occasionally shares recent articles or other media related to topics we’ve covered in class. It’s very refreshing to interact with a student who is as enthusiastic about the subject as I am!

“In addition to academic ability, Erin D. shows dedication and leadership. She maintains perfect attendance, studies diligently, and organizes study groups outside of class. Ms. D interacts well with her fellow students and I have frequently seen her assist them with difficult concepts during laboratory exercises and before exams.

“In conclusion, I offer my highest recommendation of Erin D. Please give your full and careful consideration to her application for your scholarship. Feel free to contact me by email at {address} or by phone at {number} if you have any questions or would like additional information.

{Instructor}, Ph.D.”

[Happy Dance!!!]



I’ve noticed something in my own speech patterns that seems to confuse the hell out of most people I talk to. Instead of asking someone, “Do you like” or “What did you think of,” I will say, “How do you like,” and “How did you find…?”

Example: Cameron, a 19-year-old biology student, has his PSP on his desk. I ask him, “how do you like your PSP?” He’s confused. I repeat the question, and he’s still baffled. That seemed strange to me, but when I asked, “Do you like it?” he understood.

That confusion happens less frequently than when I asked someone, “how did you find” whatever we’re talking about.

Example: Holly, an RN at Sparrow, has “RN, BSN” on her name tag. I asked her where she earned her BSN and learned it was through MSU. “How did you find the program,” I asked, meaning “was it good, did you like it, was it difficult” all sort of rolled into one. She seemed to think I was asking her, “how did you physically locate the program?”

I rephrased.

“Did you like it?” was too generic – I was less interested in how much she liked it than in what she thought of it overall. I suppose I could have just asked her that – “What did you think of it?”

What confuses me, though, is where I picked this up. Was it at the ranch, surrounded by native Spanish speakers and learning Spanish? Is it through my British friends or through watching Brit TV?



Two things, both are (strangely) related to underwear. No kidding.

Yesterday, I got the funniest email I’ve seen in quite awhile. It consisted of one line. I do know the person who sent it, but I haven’t spoken to him in over a month. He lives in California and does not, to my knowledge, have any of my underwear. 🙂

all my regularly scheduled activities involve your underwear.

This was so out of the blue that it made me laugh out loud. It’s got that “all your base are belong to us” absurd feel to it.

But, even better than the message itself, was the Google Ad it sparked at the top of my screen.

“Mormon Underwear.”

Oh, I had to click on that. I mean, Had To, right? Little did I know this would lead to an hour of obsessive clicking.

After reading the first paragraph, I dissolved into fits of giggles.[1]

“Generally, Mormon underwear is not physically extraordinary. The garment is just made of the usual materials, like cotton and other light-weight materials. Most of them are white, but they can be another color if the wearer holds a milirary rank.[sic]”

Mormon underwear, evidently contrary to popular belief, is not “physically extraordinary?” Wow.

And then it occurred to me – “Whoa – this is part of the dissemination of LDS information? Um, why?”

But, on top of that, holders of military rank…get special underwear?!

Also, I beg to differ that the underwear is not physically extraordinary, because, “The underwear also bears marks which signify orientations toward the principle of truth, life, obedience and discipleship in Jesus Christ.”

Right now, my underwear bears marks of surfboards, which signifies orientations toward the principles of “aloha” and “hey, Barney!”

Further, “Wearing the underwear will constantly remind Mormons that they are “in the world, but not of it.” In the present social evolution, wherein modesty and morality has drastically reduced, the garment will be a kind of protection.”

The underpants will be “a kind of protection?” What kind? Are they equipped with some kind of alarm? Is there a dye packet in there? Are they phenotypical Grannie Panties and therefore will send any misguided boy shrieking into the night?

What sort of underwear a Mormon might be required to wear had seriously never, ever entered my mind. Now, I can’t stop thinking about it! I mean, why do they have a whole page on a Mormon website related to them? Is this a serious area of inquiry? “Y’know, I’ve thought about becoming Mormon… but tell me – what sort of underwear do you guys have to wear?”

Evidently! Because Googling “Mormon underwear” yields 46,000 results!! Starting with, holy fucking shit,!

Naturally, it also has its own Wikipedia entry (with, thank goodness, photos – because I was seriously starting to wonder.)

Really, I can’t think of what else to say about this. I’ll let you boggle amongst yourselves. 😉

[1] Please understand – I am not making fun of Mormons. I’m making fun of websites about their underwear.

Blue Man Group Load-In

This morning at 8:45, I dragged my sleepy buns into the Breslin Center to load in the Blue Man Group’s show (“How To Be A Megastar Tour”) for a one-day-only appearance. Compared to “Wicked” and “Le Cirque du Soleil,” it seemed like a very small show. Note to self: Buy some damned gloves, girl. And a normal-sized C-wrench (monster 10-inch-long ones don’t conveniently fit into pockets.)

After the trucks were off-loaded, I wound up on the video crew with 5 other people. At a few moments after 11, the road crew guy I was following around like a baby duck said, “Ok, you guys have been here for 2 hours now – go take your break.” I blinked. “Um, I’m good.” He blinked. “Really?” “I’ve only been working for 2 hours, dude; I’m fine, seriously. If you want to knock this out, let’s do it.” “Fuckin’ A,” he nodded.

There is occasionally Attitude amongst the road crew (folks who travel with the show) toward the local crew. Some of this is understandable – some of us are new, some are outright incompetent, some are lazy and none of us know the equipment and set-up as well as they do. Still, some modicum of decency would be nice. There usually seem to be several assholes per crew. They are skilled, knowledgeable people with absolutely no patience for anyone who doesn’t know their set-up.

Most of the road crew are perfectly friendly, and make efforts to know their hands’ names. They answer questions. They pitch in. We like those guys.

Thus, to help the good guys and to try to show the assholes that I’m not a monkey, I try to be as alert, aware, competent and helpful as possible. I want to leave a good impression, not only of myself, but of the East Lansing crew as a whole. When they unpack at their next gig, I want them to have an easy go of it (without rat’s nests of cables, like we had.) I like it when people are happy. I also admit to a certain level of wanting to prove that women can work as hard as men. I acknowledge that most men are stronger than I am, but I am not going to back away from working as hard as I physically can. I want to be seen as a good worker.

I also didn’t need a break after barely two hours of work – that just seemed unnecessary.

We finished up the project, and then he insisted I go get a Coke or something, so he wouldn’t get in trouble. Crazy, this union stuff. But, as Rig pointed out while I was on that break, this type of labor has been exploited before. So we take breaks.

Speaking of Rig, I have a very blurry photo of him doing ground-rigger-type stuffs. Blurry, because the slow Treo lens doesn’t do well with large, badly-lit interiors.

Once finished with my break, I got assigned to a different video guy, setting up LED panels in bizarre places around the stage. This guy was not happy; “I have six hands, and three of them are chicks?!” He glanced at me, “no offense, honey.” I arched an eyebrow – “None taken, sweetheart.” True enough, the other two girls weighed about 100 pounds soaking wet, one had wrist issues and couldn’t lift. This was problematic, because she and I were hoisting 120-pound, awkwardly-shaped stacks up about 3 feet. She quickly got replaced.

After my new partner and I hauled about a dozen of these stacks up onto the deck, Sean re-evaluated my girlyness and kept me with him after he replaced the two other girls. “Your steward is being is dick; you can’t have small people doing video. You can’t just dump people onto video because you think it’s chick work. No offense.”

I managed one quick shot of the floor as we were working – it’s blurry and doesn’t have a lot of clear detail. I unloaded a lot of the boxes, and my team assembled and hoisted the two video screens left and right of the stage. The yellow thing is a fork truck, and the crosshairs above the stage are the main video screen thing. The line of black things on the left are speakers.

We got out at 1, and most of the hands are going back at 9pm to take everything down again and haul it away. Lots of work for a one-day show, but at least it’s not an enormous set. “I want you back for load-out tonight,” Sean said, pointing at me. I was happy to have convinced him that chicks are not always useless. I apologized for being unable to help with the load-out.

I have a lot of terminology to learn. A lot. I still have to consciously think about where “upstage” and “downstage” are, and which direction I’m facing to go stage left or stage right. I also have to get comfortable with the fact that not everyone has a good work ethic. There are plenty of people who are content to do as little as possible, and some of those same people strangely get a little defensive about other people working harder than they are. “Why are you always on the move?” and “You’re working too hard.”

The riggers, however, always seem to be doing something. One guy thought that Rig/Dave was my older brother. 🙂 The same guy, seeing my Wolf Haven shirt, proudly told me that he raised two Artic [sic] wolves as pets. Being as polite as I could manage, I asked him why he would do that. We had a brief discussion about wolves as pets, and, trying to short-circuit as much of it as I could, gave him my nutshell speech about why wolves are not good pets, and how they’re generally not happy as pets. None of it sunk in and of course his were the exception, blah blah blah. I know from extensive experience that nobody’s viewpoint (mine or the other party’s) gets changed in these conversations, and since it is no longer my profession, I don’t go off on extended diatribes anymore. I make my point and I leave it alone. It helps my blood pressure.

It was very strange to walk away from the job with the work not yet done. But rules is rules, and four hours is four hours.

I Begin to See Why…

…actual doctors like figent_figary cannot stand to watch medical dramas on TV. Personally, I enjoy them, but even knowing just the tiniest slice of “real” medicine that I do, I can spot actors doing things completely backwards. My current peeve is something that would be so simple to fix – teach the actors that stethoscopes should be put on so that the earpieces face forward. I never knew there was a wrong way to put on a stethoscope until a few weeks ago, and it’s not something most people think of. Still, on a medical show, perhaps it would be wise to ensure the basics are covered?

I can’t imagine how many more details are going to slowly drive me crazy with these shows as my knowledge increases… but I hope it’s not the point of ruining them for me completely. As silly as “House” is, I adore it. As drama-bunny-laden as “Grey’s Anatomy” is, I love it, anyhow. The individual plot of each show is always, always the same. What gets me are the characters – I love the dialogue, I love the progression and development, I love the friendships. The relationship between Wilson and House is one of the funniest on television, but also one of the more subtle. The actor who plays Wilson (who is the same actor who, as a young boy, played the kid who committed suicide in “The Dead Poet’s Society,”) has a natural comic genius.

Going in to each episode of “House,” we know that someone has a crazy, misdiagnosed illness. The Team will run tests, House will grouse superiorly because he knows all along what’s wrong with said patient. Treatments are given, which alternately make the patient better or worse, and which lead to different symptoms and different diagnoses. House, shockingly, is wrong about his initial assumptions. Brilliant plan is hatched, patient is saved.

What we don’t know is what new twist will arise in House and Wilson’s friendship, what wry wit is going to pop up and what else House can do to abuse their relationship.

House: Don’t talk to my patient.
Dr. Wilson: What are you talking about?
House: You get all huffy when my patient stumbles into yours in the hallway, but you’ve got no qualms about chatting my guy up.
Dr. Wilson: This is fun, it’s like Password. Keep talking, I’ll jump in when I get a clue what the hell you’re talking about.

In another episode, Wilson has kidnapped House’s prized guitar.

House: Give it back.
Dr. Wilson: (Befuddled) What happened? Did someone… kidnap your guitar? Your twelve-thousand-dollar 1967 Flying V? Or something?
House: Where’d you hide it?
Dr. Wilson: I’m flattered you would consider me this bold and brilliant.
House: Yeah, it takes a cri… (stops, seeing letters cut out from Dr. Wilson’s newspaper, which resemble the ransom note for the guitar) It takes a criminal mastermind to pull off a heist from an unlocked, unguarded room down the hall. What do you want?
Dr. Wilson: (Surprised) Me? Nothing. But I’m sure the kidnapper wants what every kidnapper wants. (Solemnly) To see you interview five to seven well-qualified fellowship candidates.
House: I don’t need a team.
Dr. Wilson: (Exasperated) You were bouncing ideas off a janitor!
House: And solved the case!


Dr. Wilson: (over a piece of House’s “kidnapped” guitar) Oh my god. This guy means business. Or guys, it could be multiple, multiple guys. Or a gal. Who knows. All I can say is, this reeks of boldness.
House: I am not hiring a team.
Dr. Wilson: You ever tighten a guitar string really, really slowly? Past the point it can handle the strain? It makes this weird sound. Almost like a scream. (squeaking) EEEeeeeeeeeeee!!

[Yet later]

House: Did you ever see Raid on Entebbe?
Dr. Wilson: Yeah, in the end they released the hostages. How’s that working for you?
House: The Ugandans played fair. They didn’t move the hostages on the Israelis.
Dr. Wilson: Once again, I am in awe of the kidnapper’s tactical brilliance.
House: (switches on Dr. Wilson’s TiVo) What is “El Fuego Del Amor” and why do you need ten of them?
Dr. Wilson: It’s a… it’s a Telenovela. I’m learning Spanish.
House: Well, say adios.
Dr. Wilson: (Panicked) Are you erasing my Tivo? House! Not the season finale!
House: I don’t negotiate with terrorists. I smoke them out of their hidey-holes.

Ok, I’ve put off doing Algebra long enough. If only there were a Math Union, who ruled that we can only do so many pages of homework per week, and anything above and beyond that number would be considered extra credit. Alas.

More Math Woes

Things have been chugging along quite well in Algebra-Land. Even the dreaded, evil, hateful story problems haven’t been so bad.

Until Chapter 4.2 – Finding Equations of Straight Lines. I understand the principles underlying it all, really I do: y = mx + b (slope-intercept form) and (y1 – y2) = m(x1 – x2) (point-slope form.)

But the story problems. These story problems befuddle and vex me. Two examples, if I may:

“According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, there were 24 million homes with computers in 1991. The average rate of growth in computers in homes was expected to increase by 2.4 million homes per year through 2005. Write a linear equation for the number of computers in homes in terms of the year. Let x = 90 represent 1990. Use your equation to find the number of computers expected to be in homes in 2004.”

I get that the slope is 2.4 million. After much exasperated explanation by my charming tablemate, I get that “Let x = 90 represent 1990” is just an off-handed way of saying “let x = 91 represent 1991” and “let x = 104 represent 2004.” I would probably, eventually have figured that out on my own. The rest? Not so much. I now know that (91, 24) is a point. I have a point, I have the slope, thus point-slope blah blah blah. I would never have figured that out. Probably ever.

Here’s one that I haven’t tackled yet. For my own edification, I want to write down my thoughts processes as I’m attacking the problem (perhaps “tentatively poking at” is a better word than “attacking,” which implies more confidence.) Here’s the question:

“Whales, dolphins and porpoises communicate using high-pitched sounds that travel through the water. The speed at which the sound travels depends on many factors, one of which is the depth of the water. At approximately 1000 meters below sea level, the speed of sound is 1480 meters per second. Below 1000 meters, the speed of sound increases at a constant rate of 0.017 meters per second for each additional meter below 1000 meters. Write a linear equation for the speed of sound in terms of the number of meters below sea level. Use your equation to approximate the speed of sound 2500 meters below seal level. Round to the nearest meter per second.”

First thought is, obviously, “oh shit.” Second is, “Clearly, the answer is, ‘I think I’ll shoot myself in the head,'” with all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson via Rigger.

I see that my slope is + .017. I think I have a pair of (1480, 1000), but it might be the other way around, and I have no idea which one I should put in the x position and which in the y. But ok, running with this setup, y – 1000 = .017(x – 1480). Therefore, y = .017x + 1025.16. Plugging in 2500 for x, we get: 1067.66. Ok, but 1067.66 of what? Meters per second. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, because for each meter below 1000, the speed increases, not decreases. So perhaps I got my x and y backwards after all. Let’s try it the other way ’round. That gives us an equation of y = .017x + 1463, yielding 1505.5 meters per second, which rounds to 1506 meters per second. That seems right. Yup, the book agrees.

Couldn’t I have just gotten that by doing this: 2500 – 1000 = 1500. 1500 x .017 = 25.5. 25.5 + 1480 = 1505.5 = 1506?

How do I determine which is the x value and which is the y? GAH!

I don’t plan to do terribly well next exam.

On the plus side, I accidentally made everyone in class giggle today. We’d moved on to Linear Inequalities in Two Variables, and our instructor, the intrepid Kary, carefully explained that one needs to shade the area above or below the line to indicate that the answer could be any real number in that range. She mentioned being careful to shade the area in meticulously, and not to be silly about it. “Rats,” I said quietly as I made the universal ‘rats!’ gesture; “I was going to fill it in with puppies.” Evidently, I didn’t speak as quietly as I’d thought. 🙂

One of the student volunteers at the hospital is a math major. He is a senior. He’s freaking out because in one of his current classes, they have begun moving imaginary objects in more than three dimensions. WHAT?! How is that even possible?! Naturally, I had to think of therrin when I heard this, and postulated that such things might be useful in astronomy… maybe… but I can envision story problems from hell, such as:

“The planet Flox, orbiting a dual-sun system in an alternate universe, wants to produce more gleibules. The only way they can increase production without violating the laws of physics is to move their production into the seventh dimension, which, as we all know, subverts the law of gravity. However, operations in the seventh dimension cause an exponential increase in Gesundheit particle emissions, which eventually leak through the trans-dimensional barrier, causing uncontrollable sneezing on Flox.

“The trans-dimensional barrier is represented by the equation, 653 – 456,094,345,001.002353 / 43,980,653xy(z) (insert the rest of a really complicated equation here, involving square roots and exponents and the speed of light.) Assume that Flox experiences time in the same manner as our Earth (this one, right here, where this exam that you are reading right now is located.) Let q = Pelicans. How many gleibules can Flox safely produce in the seventh dimension without necessitating an increase in allergy medications? Should they be concerned about pollutants leaking into the eighth dimension? If so, do their politicians care? Describe the eco-political environment on Flox using only numbers and the word, ‘pants.’ You have 15 minutes.”

“Pushing Daisies”

This ABC show may just be the most inventive, creative, surprising thing of the year. It’s shot in a way that reminds me of the Coen brothers, often my favorite directors, and the show especially reminds me of “Raising Arizona.”

The premise is oddball – a guy whose touch brings the dead back to life. There is, however, a catch. If he touches the person again, they’re immediately back to being dead. If, after the intial, reanimating touch, he doesn’t touch the recently-deceased person again within one minute, they’ll stay alive… but someone else in the immediate vicinity will die.

Bizarre premise, to say the least.

But the writing! The writing soars. It is inspiring and grammatically correct. The narrator is a prim, British, grandfatherly voice whose face we never see. The sets are colorful and very Little Shop of Horrors in their kitsch factor. The lead character, the reanimator, is also a piemaker, who owns a pie shop. It is very, very quaint.

The dialogue is sometimes deliberately flowery or stilted, and in tonight’s episode, the female lead said, “we could be unorthodox urban honey pioneers!”

I’d bet my last dollar that had never been uttered on television until that moment. 🙂

If you have the means, catch up on “Pushing Daisies.” It is absolutely endearing. Intellectual without being snobby. And it has Chi McBride. We like Chi McBride. Especially because he’s a private detective… who knits. “Big Daddy needs some yarn,” he says about the payoff for their next big case.


June 21, 2000

There are few things in this life of which I am truly terrified. I can dress wounds and apply first aid without the slightest touch of queasiness. I witnessed a boyfriend’s vasectomy and held his hand through the procedure. I have mucked out some nasty animal stalls in my day. I owned an albino burmese python which I loved to play with. I usually fed it live mice. I ride motorcycles, do a lot of my own maintenance, and compete in some pretty serious endurance events. I love to camp and hike, and I know how to shit in the woods.

There is one thing, though, that has the absolute ability to turn me into a shrieking girl – a spider.

The idea of touching a spider, or of having it crawl on me (god forbid in my sleep,) utterly Freaks Me Out. Completely. Up until a couple of years ago, if I saw a creature with more than 6 legs in my domicile, in my car, or in my place of work, I relentlessly (but gently) hunted that sucker down, caught it in some kind of container, and deposited it Outside Where It Belonged. Then, when I moved into the Allen Drive house, I reached a kind of peace with the many spiders there – we had two rules:

You are not allowed in the bedroom.
You are not allowed any egg sacks.
First violation, they got a warning, and were either removed from the bedroom, or had their egg sack taken outside. Second violation, out they went. This was a huge step for me. I actually spent time watching them, trying to figure out what it is about them that so utterly creeps me. I think it’s having been bitten by spiders as a little girl. Plus, they’re just so….alien…everything about them screams it; they way the move, the way the look, the way they … well, just the whole way they are bothers me. I think they are very cool, and some of them are even beautiful, in a sinister kind of way. But I do not want any of them touching me. Not even little ones.

A few weeks ago, my friend Beau and I were going to lunch. He was driving. I looked over at him and saw [gasp] a spider crawling on his hair. Resisting the urge to dive headlong out of the truck, I managed to say in a very civilized voice, barely shrieking at all, “YOU HAVE A SPIDER ON YOUR HEAD!!!!!!” Beau, in an act of superhuman strength of will, managed to not drive us off the road and into a tree in an attempt to dislodge the creature from his coif. Instead, he simply said, “What? Get it off.” I paused for a split second. Here I was, trapped in a suddenly very small truck cab with a spider that was visibly quite active. Not only was I to endure this, but … actually wrangle the thing? I steeled my nerves, took a deep breath, and slowly reached for it.

After some aborted attempts and many girl noises, I was finally able to pick it up and fling it out the window (probably with more force than really necessary, but I was terrified it would silk me and crawl back or blow into my face or some other fate-worse-than-death.) Beau was chuckling at me for turning into such a girl. Bah.

The reason I bring this up now is because there is a huge spider in my bedroom at this very moment. I realize “huge” is a relative term. In all cases relating to spiders, “huge” is to mean “any spider with a legs-included diameter of more than half and inch.”

I can hear you sniggering out there.

I tried to scoop it into a glass with a popsicle stick, but it was having none of it. It scurried sideways, it scuttled backwards, seemingly without moving its legs. And then….oh god, then….it jumped!!! Jumping spiders are the absolute worst….I screeched something really butch like “AG!!” and scrabbled instinctively backwards across my bed in an especially graceful maneuver. The spider thumbed the arachnid equivalent of its nose at me, and scurried down into the near-darkness behind my nightstand. Yeah. Like I’m going to poke around where I can’t see anything, and where I know there’s a spider present? Pah. The spider wins this time. But so help me, if I catch it crawling on me, it could sustain injury.

[deep breath]

I feel better now, having shared this. Thank you so much for listening to me. Confessing one’s weaknesses is part of the path to better self-knowledge…right?