Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Critical life question: answered!

One of the little quirks of being American is that we live in a country with a pretend speed limit. We really have absolutely no idea how fast we can drive. Sure, we can read the numbers on the road signs that tell us the theoretical speed limit, but we're all aware that you're allowed to go faster -- in some places, much faster -- than the pretend number on the signs. Other drivers will get actively angry with you if you adhere closely to the posted speed limits. Police officers have actually pulled people over for driving exactly the speed limit; it's considered "suspicious behavior". They assume that if you're actually sticking with the posted speed, you must have something to hide.

The real speed limit, in practice, is the speed above which a police officer will write you a speeding ticket. It's a number which varies by a huge number of factors. It's close to the sign number in school zones and construction areas; it's much higher in nice neighborhoods if you're driving an expensive car; it jumps lower if you have out-of-state license plates; it's effectively zero if the police officer doesn't like the way you look. The lack of actual standards for acceptable speeds adds a bit of stress to the driving experience. You know you can go faster than the mythical number, but you have no idea how much faster.

No longer, though, at least in Indianapolis. Our mayor announced last week that we have a real speed limit now: the number on the sign plus five. Any faster than that, and officers can write you a ticket. I'm actually pretty happy about having the speed limit defined with numbers instead of wishful thinking. I don't know how much this will change things in practice, really; I suspect you can still drive your Porsche pretty fast before they'll ticket you, and I suspect that looking like you don't belong in a nice neighborhood will get you pulled over for going 5mph under the posted limit. Still, it's nice to know that the speed limit is defined. It's oddly comforting to know that if you're pulled over for driving the posted speed plus ten, you were forewarned; you can no longer complain about the nebulous speed limit. You'll know you were taking a risk driving over the real speed limit, whereas before, you might have thought you were below the getting-a-ticket speed....

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On The Naughty List

We hire a lot of performers at the Artsgarden. I think our database lists six or seven hundred different groups who have performed here over the last few years. And, almost universally, they've been great to work with and good at what they do. Of all those performers, we have exactly one band that we refuse to hire. They were actually a pretty good band, but they were extremely difficult to work with and verbally abusive and insulting. So we won't hire them again. In some ways, I feel a little bad that we even have a naughty list. But the fact that we've hosted around 400 performers, artists, and events a year here for the last seven years, and we've only got one band that we won't ever hire again, makes me feel a little better. All those performances, and only one set of people has so irritated us that we don't ever want to see them again? The problem's probably not on our end.

I mention this because we've got this band performing in May. We didn't hire them; they're here for a private event. Still, I'm extremely not looking forward to working with them again. I get to call their tech guy in a few minutes and make arrangements, and I'm even dreading the phone call....

Monday, April 28, 2008

strange taste in souvenirs

Laura and I are trying to avoid amassing any more stuff; we've got plenty already. Still, we bought a souvenir in Louisville: a new toaster! The most romantic gift since the vacuum cleaner! It's a nice, cheap toaster, just like our old recently-deceased model that refused to pop up, caught fire, and set off the smoke alarm last week. Except less burn-scarred, and with no smoke stains, and it'll at least theoretically pop up when the toast is done. So we're happy to have a new replacement kitchen appliance. And it really will function as a souvenir. Whenever I make Laura toast, I'll have to say something about our wonderful mini-vacation in Louisville, and it'll bring us happy memories.

The old toaster died the day after our kitchen faucet started malfunctioning. Do appliances die in threes, like celebrities? If so, we're due for more kitchen trauma in the near future....

Vacation: it was nice.

Laura and I just got back from a short vacation. We were planning on attending a wedding in Nashville, Tennessee, Saturday night, so we decided to leave a little early and spend some time at a bed-and-breakfast. We left after work on Thursday, stayed at the Rocking Horse Manor Thursday night and Friday night, and drove to Nashville on Saturday.

Our two-day mini-vacation was great. We spent some time Thursday discussing everything we could do in Louisville: parks, museums, shopping, tourist stuff. And we didn't do any of it. We spent most of Friday sitting in comfortable chairs in the Rocking Horse's back garden, reading, napping, and watching the birds. It was the best possible way to spend a day off. We only left the house twice all day; the first was a walk down the street to a nail salon where Laura got a manicure, the second was the other direction down the street to eat dinner. I really like the area of old Louisville where we stayed, too. Gorgeous old houses, safe streets, and everything you need in easy walking distance. If we could afford the real estate, it'd be a nice place to live; as is, it's going on the big mental list of places we'll occasionally daydream about living in.

We're not so sure the Jeep is good for long trips anymore. It's not the most mechanically sound vehicle, and we feel like we're tempting fate by taking it on highway trips. So we rented a car for the drive. We ended up with a 2008 Ford Escape hybrid, which was a lot of fun to drive. Oddly uncomfortable seats for long trips, but otherwise it's a great vehicle. Even with hybrid mileage (around 30mpg), the trip still cost us about $85 in gas. But that's $40 cheaper than we could've hoped to get in the Jeep. Plus, the Jeep's not great to travel in, given that you can't lock it. We're not used to the luxury of being able to leave valuables in the car while we run into the grocery store, so we got a little spoiled by a lockable vehicle. I'm glad we rented a car; the extra peace of mind was worth the $22 a day the rental cost us.

And, we had fun at the wedding. Congratulations, Monica and Brad! We wish you all the best.

I have to confess that Laura and I were in full vacation mode when we got to Nashville. We had just crawled out of our in-suite hot tub and were lying in bed watching in-room cable, when we noticed that it was time to start getting dressed for the wedding. We had a moment when we were considering just staying in bed, and sending a nice card or something later....

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A night at the ballet

I saw the Butler Ballet's Giselle at Clowes Hall last night. The dancers did a great job. I've been impressed a few times recently by Butler's dancers, and Giselle was no exception. Laura designed lights (mostly; they hired in a consultant who had absolute control over the production), and I really liked the part of the design for which Laura had a vote. I would've liked to see what Laura would've done with act two, if she would have had the freedom to design it her way. Still, I found the show entertaining, for a storybook ballet.

Which is not my favorite genre of dance, to be honest. They're not content to just dance and let you pick it up as you go along. The stories are full of complexity that can't be shown on stage, so you're expected to go into the show with a complete knowledge of the story and the characters. In general, this is what irritates me about storybook ballets: they don't survive as independent works of art. The dance on stage can be pretty, but the storytelling comes to the audience less through the dancers, and more by reading the program.

Giselle is unique (at least in my experience) amongst ballets, in that you actually know, just from watching the show, the main character's name. It appears on her tombstone, which is onstage for all of act two (this isn't a spoiler, since the synopsis in your program tells you she dies at the end of act one; one of the nice things about storybook ballets is that they're spoiler-proof). Were it not for the tombstone, a person might assume that Giselle is the name of the dead girl's mother. Or the guy she's in love with. All storybook ballets are this way. The characters have names because you read them in your programs. And they have to have names. Giselle can't just be "the girl"; Albrecht can't just be "the prince". I think this is less about the performance, and more about the résumé credit for dancers. The names serve as shorthand for the roles you performed. It's easier to say you were Myrtha than queen of the ghost-things.

Side note: I play a mental game during the boring parts of storybook ballets. I work under the assumption that everyone on stage has a name, not just the main characters. So I name them. The third country maiden from the left? Barbara. The guy who takes Drosselmeyer's cloak when he enters the party in Nutcracker? Mack. Odette's second assistant deputy swan girl in Swan Lake? Candy. It keeps me interested in the show when the dance doesn't.

There are things about Giselle, as a story, that irritate me. If you're not familiar with the ballet, pop over and read the synopsis of Giselle to learn what the story's about before I issue my complaints. Go ahead -- read the synopsis. I'll wait.

Okay, now that we're on the same page here. My biggest problem is that every production of Giselle I've seen (both productions, that is!), Hilarion is cast as the villain for revealing Albrecht's deception, and his death is shown as somehow justified. Personally, I've always thought Hilarion was the hero. He's the local villager, the king's gamekeeper, who's been crushing on Giselle for years, bringing her gifts and leaving her flowers. Along comes the prince, who sneaks away from the castle (and, not insignificantly, his fiancé) to seduce the hot country girl Giselle. He pledges his love to her and gets her to fall for him. Hilarion thinks something fishy is happening and discovers Albrecht's sword. Albrecht says, "okay, so maybe I'm royalty. Ignore the fact that I've been deceiving you -- I love you, baby!" But when the royalty find him, he takes his fiancé's hand and turns his back on Giselle; he says, essentially, "oh, her? She's just some country girl I was dancing with at the harvest festival." Because of his betrayal, Giselle dies of a broken heart (or suicide, depending on the version you see). The prince is a two-timing jerk. And yet Giselle, showcasing her extremely poor taste in men, is still hopelessly in love with the prince. In act two, she saves him while letting Hilarion dance himself to death.

Which, incidentally, is one thing I find unintentionally amusing about Giselle. How do you credibly show a character being compelled to dance himself to exhaustion, in a ballet wherein all the characters ever do is dance? "Look, he's dancing around with the ghost-women for almost two minutes! This is obviously tiring -- completely unlike all the rest of the dancing he's been doing for the last two hours, for reasons which escape me at the moment!" And this is entirely because of the plot synopsis in the program. If I were only watching the dance, I'd assume that the Willis were draining his energy, sucking the life out of him until he collapses, and the dancing was the usual balletic movement while he was trying to escape. But because I've been told what's supposed to be happening, it ends up unintentionally funny.

I'm also amused that Giselle spends all of act two, essentially, undead. It's a sign that I watch too many of the wrong movies: I almost laughed out loud during what was otherwise a solemn moment, when she was bending over Albrecht's dance-weary form, and a voice in the back of my head said, "Braaaaiiiinns!!!" Yeah, I know -- ghosts, not zombies. Still, funny. I guess you had to be there.

One oddity of seeing a storybook ballet at Butler University is that they've got a huge dance department. The students all have parents who are paying $27k a year ($36k a year, if you include room and board) for their kids to study dance. I suspect the dance department is under some pressure to not exclude any of their students from the bigger productions. The result: I've never seen a ballet with a cast as huge as the ones at Butler. It seemed like there were a hundred dancers on stage for bows. It was crowded. Oddly, they don't end up with bad dancers onstage, detracting from the quality of the production; Butler is a selective school, and I don't know if they even have any bad dancers.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Charitable Intentions

Earlier I mentioned that I'm volunteering for Spotlight. I always feel a little guilty disclosing when I do something good for others, like Spotlight or donating platelets. I can still rationalize talking about it; with Spotlight, I think the maximum number of people should attend and/or donate, and I'm backing it up by saying it's such a good cause that I volunteer for it. I talk about donating platelets because I think more people should donate blood, and I try to educate people about the process a bit. Still, I feel a little bad telling people when I do something righteous.

It might be my Catholic upbringing coming back to haunt me. I remember Matthew, chapter 6: "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (It should go without saying that I can't quote this well from memory anymore; I had to look it up. But at least I remembered that it was in Matthew 6, right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.) Even if the religious prohibition against public giving doesn't apply to nonbelievers like me, it still seems tacky to brag about how much you give to charity.

Of course, this only applies at low income levels. If you've got piles of cash and donate it for something worthy (like, say, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail), it's apparently perfectly acceptable to require that your name and your spouse's name appear as part of the logo, and on every light post and sign on the trail. If you throw some (ill-gotten) green at the symphony, it's not at all gauche or tasteless to insist that they name the Circle Theatre after you.
Indianapolis Cultural Trail

But for those of us with significantly smaller cash reserves, it still seems highly tacky to spend too much time reminding people about all the good things we do. And I still feel a bit of a twinge when I do it.

Monday: Spotlight 2008

This Monday is the annual benefit concert for the Indiana AIDS Fund: Spotlight 2008! It's a fun evening, with performances from about two dozen performing arts organizations in Indianapolis. And absolutely everything, as far as I know, is donated. Clowes Hall donates the venue, a dozen union stagehands donate their time, the production manager volunteers, both lighting designers volunteer, the pianos are donated, the piano tuners volunteer, even the company that rents the tent for the VIP reception beforehand isn't paid. It's pretty impressive. I volunteer for the sound crew, as do Alan (the sound guy for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra) and Ernie (the sound guy for Clowes). Tickets are $32 and $100, with the $100 ticket getting you into the VIP reception. And tickets are 2 for 1 if you've got an Indy Arts Card. If you can, stop by and catch the show. It's money well spent; over 90% of your ticket price goes directly to the AIDS Fund, which is unheard-of in fundraising.

By contrast, the symphony was in a wee tiny bit of hot water a few years ago for their telephone fundraising, in which 90% of donated money was sucked up by the telemarketing company. The old symphony honcho, when confronted with the fact that the symphony only got ten cents of every dollar donated, said, in effect, "it's ten cents we wouldn't have had otherwise, so I'm not bothered."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sans wheels, again

My bike chain seized up a few weeks ago; now that the weather's gorgeous again, I was planning on fixing it today. The original plan was to put Laura's bike chain on my bike, pedal over to the local bike shop, and buy a new chain, then put the old chain back on her bike, and put the new chain on mine. It turns out, the process for changing the chain on my Trek Navigator is actually fairly complex. I need to disassemble parts of both derailleur mechanisms to get the chain off. So I'll head to the bike shop and buy the chain first, hoping it comes with a repair link so I can leave the mechanism intact (and remove the old chain with bolt cutters).

And, as I got into the project, I found out that I've also somehow managed to break off a gear tooth on my 7th and 5th gears. You can't really use a gear with a missing tooth, so I really need to replace them. And, I just found out that Trek apparently doesn't directly sell replacement parts for their cheaper (defined by them as, "less than $1200") bikes. But, they probably didn't actually make the part I need anyway. I'll need to disassemble it to figure out the manufacturer (Shimano, I'm guessing), and see if I can order a compatible replacement. I might have to take it to an actual bike shop to see if they can fit a new cassette. In the meantime, the bike's not really rideable. I'm off Sunday, so I'll probably spend the day dismantling my bike.

I'm wildly curious to find out how much it'll cost to repair my bike. We're a bit short on cash, and probably will be for a while; it's tax time, and we weren't prepared for the enormous check we had to write. But, at the same time, I really need wheels. Even if they're the kind you pedal.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Movies today

As part of my loafing plan, I spent the day watching a few movies: Hot Fuzz, Night Watch, and the two Grindhouse Cinema features (Death Proof and Planet Terror). All in all, not a bad way to kill most of a day. No real reviews here, but a few observations. First movie: Hot Fuzz. It's an odd film, in that it's not much like what you'd expect from watching the trailer. It's got funny moments, but not really enough to make it a comedy. And, it requires you to strain your suspension of disbelief a time or two, with really major plot developments. And the humor is almost all played straight, making it situational humor rather than a string of jokes or sight gags. Night Watch: also not bad. It's the most expensive Russian movie ever, costing almost $2 million dollars (which I believe is roughly the catering and lodging budget for the average Hollywood blockbuster). It's on the line between horror and fantasy, and the dubbing from Russian to English was done very well. It's a bit hard to really understand at times, but I suspect that's because it's an attempt to turn a dense novel into a medium-length movie. It's also nice seeing a movie in which you don't recognize anyone in the cast. No big-name American stars, no familiar character actors in bit parts. It lets you just see what's on screen, instead of watching it through the filter of your foreknowledge about the cast. I don't know that I'd watch it again, but I'm definitely glad I watched it once.

The Grindhouse Theater movies are, as I understand, a homage to the low-budget movies shown as double features in drive-ins in the 70s, where the theater owners would show two movies back to back, with the movies trimmed to length by the theater owners themselves. Planet Terror is pretty much a glossy zombie-oriented splatter flick. It's everything you'd expect in a low-budget direct-to-video sequel to Return of the Living Dead (which it isn't, I should clarify), with some recognizable cast members (Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Rose McGowan, and Bruce Willis stand out in my memory). My favorite moment was a cut directly from a sex scene (with Rose McGowan, rowr!), to a "Missing Reel" plaque, to a scene of a burning building, with much action and character development implied in the gap. If you're expecting a zombie splatterflick, you won't be disappointed. The second movie, Death Proof, is very artistic, I'm sure, and the first 45 minutes is nearly as dull as watching paint dry. In places, watching paint dry would've been an improvement. But the second half was actually pretty good, and entertaining too. If I had any advice to offer, I'd say watch the first 45 minutes at high speed (I'm recommending 4x) with the sound off. You won't be missing anything, and even at 4x and no sound you'll pick up everything you need to. As soon as you see Rose McGowan (the blonde at the bar) head for Kurt Russell's car, switch to normal viewing speed and watch the rest of the movie. You should probably watch the inane dullness of the four girls in the car, even if you're tempted to skip it, just to give you an idea of what you fast-forwarded through. The second half is better, and the car chase at the end is much fun to watch.

So you know, I didn't just watch movies all day on my day off. I also played Ghost Recon and read and cooked. At least the reading and cooking were somewhat productive.

kitchen experiments

A lot of brilliant ideas come from experimenting with different ways of doing ordinary things. The very best ideas seem obvious in retrospect, and after someone comes up with the clever thought, everyone else wonders why people haven't been doing things that way all along. On the other hand, sometimes there are good reasons why people don't do things a certain way. But the only way to find out is to try it.

I did this today. It turns out, there's a good reason why be boil pasta instead of steaming it -- namely, that the pasta turns to unpleasantly-textured mush in a steamer. The other experiment worked out much better; bacon bits go great in a jar of Ragu. So I had a 50% success rate for my culinary experimentation. I can live with that. And, it was a learning experience I can pass on to y'all so you don't have to do the experiment. Don't steam pasta. And if bacon bits in spaghetti sauce sounds good to you, you're probably right.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Busy, Busy!

I have been slammed this week. Mostly I worked a lot; we did five performances of Midwestern Hemisphere this week, and I spent a looonnnng day setting up for DK's gala with Laura, and I built an arched doorway for the Symphony, and I did the first half of our taxes. Needless to say, I didn't do any writing this week; I couldn't even summon the mental energy to post a quick blog entry.

But it wasn't all work. My week also contained kittens! Last Tuesday, Ghost had triplets in our garage, in the big box lined with packing blankets where most of our kittens have been born over the last few years. Thursday morning, we noticed she had moved them somewhere else; one kitten was still in the box, so we assumed she was still in the moving process. But Thursday night, the kitten was still there. I tried to pick her up and found that she was stuck, tangled in the threads of the packing blanket. I suspect she might have a broken leg, probably from Ghost trying to pick her up while she was snared. And she was cold, but somehow still alive. We cut her free and brought her inside to warm her up and feed her. We put her in a box with a heating pad, and were planning on taking turns waking up every hour all night to feed her, when we saw Pouncer -- the alpha mom cat of our feral colony -- on the porch. We thought that, if Pouncer saw her, she might take her to Ghost. No luck, but Tommy (also very pregnant) was on the porch too, and when she heard the kitten she jumped in the box with her. The kitten tried to nurse, which apparently sent Tommy into labor. We got to watch a kitten being born! Extremely cute, except possibly for the part where the mom eats the placenta. We carried the box out to the garage, and Tommy is now feeding and caring for the injured kitten as if it were her own.

Tommy is the first of our human-friendly feral cats to give birth. We're unintentionally breeding surly cats; the ones who are friendly, we catch and take to FACE to be spayed/neutered. So only the ones who aren't friendly enough to catch are breeding. We'll see if her kittens are friendly too....

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bonus thought on living in a giant invisible dome

At one point in Midwestern Hemisphere, the giant invisible dome's creator mentions that it would be possible to build a dome that let people inside leave (and air and water through, presumably), but would only let selected people in -- more of a filter than a dome. I really like this idea. Not because I've got people I'd like to keep out of my invisible dome, but because it's so freakin' grisly. Wildly chaotic. Here's why:

Say our hypothetical dome can be made selectively permeable. For certain people and substances (the aforementioned air and water, and food as well), it's like the dome isn't even there. For everything not on the happy list, it's still an impenetrable solid wall. Close to the worst-case scenario: say somebody on the naughty list arrives at the dome. In a bus, traveling at normal speed. The rest of the bus will pass right through the dome. But our guy, when the dome hits him, will be stopped short, just as if he ran at 40mph into a wall. Ouch. But it's worse than that -- not only does he hit the solid dome at speed, he stops, and the bus keeps going. First, he'll be caught between the dome and his seat. The seat will probably snap off, leaving him to be smashed between the dome and the next seat back, and the seat after that, each impact jarring the bus as, essentially, the seats hit an immovable object. It's likely he won't survive his journey through the seating units. He'll likely be mashed to a pulp by the time he hits: the back wall of the bus (which is pretty darn solid -- it's where the engine usually is). Even if his journey through the seating has jarringly slowed the bus, when he hits the back wall he'll turn into a thin layer of goo between the force field and the wall as he absorbs all of the bus's kinetic energy. And the bus will stop dead, the rest of the passengers thrown forward at the bus's sudden stop. It won't be pretty for anyone involved, really.

I mentioned the bus as an almost-worst-case scenario. Even worse: an airplane.

I'll leave it to your imagination to picture the shenanigans you could cause by setting your adjustable semipermeable dome to reject, say, rear-bumper bumper stickers, or wristwatches, or undergarments, or (if you're feeling particularly nasty) molars....

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Living inside a giant invisible dome, part 3

I suspect that drinking is a popular pastime in the Giant Invisible Dome Thing. But not for long; it's not reasonable for anyone to have stockpiled even a few weeks of beer for themselves and their friends. If you and your best buddy each drink eight cans of beer per day, you'll go through ten cases of beer in just over two weeks; most people don't really have more than a case or two around the house. Even the hardcore alcoholics restock their supply every few days. Beer drinkers will get smacked with sobriety pretty darn quickly. In better shape will be the wine drinkers. Many buy by the case, and a wine drinker is more likely than a beer drinker to have a stockpile of wine somewhere in the house. At the top of the intoxication ladder are the liquor drinkers. Hard liquor gives you a better chance for staying on the sauce longer; most liquor drinkers tend to have a liquor cabinet stocked with a variety of alcohols. Sure, you'll eventually be down to the creme de menthe and kirschwasser, but it's about the alcohol, not the taste. Ideally, the guy you want to be is the guy with a wine cellar. Even if he eventually works his way down (up?) to the expensive stuff he bought as an investment, there's no down side. You get to keep drinking, and you actually have an excuse to drink the good stuff instead of saving it.

Eventually the alcohol will run dry. Can you make more? Probably. Unless you've got a beer-making kit and supplies handy, beer isn't an option. Ditto with wine; even if you've got supplies and grapes, it takes a huge quantity of grapes to make a bottle. You'll have better luck with distilled liquor. Alcohol is produced via fermentation, and almost any plant matter will ferment given the correct conditions. If you've got juniper berries you can make a passable gin, but your options don't stop there. You can make grass-clippings vodka or maple-leaf bourbon about as easily. It's not hard to set up a still, either. The process would be labor intensive, but it'll give all the on-sabbatical people something to do with their time. Down side: grass-flavored vodka.

Food might be more of a problem, both short-term and long-term. If you've got a few avid gardeners with supplies and seeds, you can plant fast-growing, high-yield vegetable crops as soon as the dome forms, and you'll have food by the time the pre-packaged and frozen food runs out. Of course, everyone will get sick of zucchini soup, stir-fried zucchini, and zucchini pate on zucchini slices. But it's got calories, and it'll keep you alive until other vegetable crops start sprouting and producing. You'll be able to produce year-round; you won't ever have a real winter under the dome. Still, you'll have to turn almost every bit of plantable land into garden space, and again -- labor intensive. But it's not like people have anything better to do with their time. And grains are more problematic than vegetables. In any subdivision, you've probably got a gardener with everything they need to plant tomatoes and zucchini and beans and corn. But it's doubtful anyone will be able to plant rice or wheat. It's harder to eat a long-term balanced diet without grains.

One of the big questions is, do you eat your dead? It's not necessary for nutrition, if you've got an appropriate supply of vegetables and a little grain. But it's not a bad idea, in a practical sense. You really can't afford to waste anything in the dome. You won't need to serve the corpse as steaks and meatloaf; more palatable will be to add the deceased to the food chain by hot-composting the body for use as fertilizer. Very circle-of-life, and not as morally creepy as cannibalism.

Cannibalism, by the way, isn't a good food source. In a dietary sense, animals are essentially a complicated way to get calories from plants that people can't eat. If you're a Blackfeet Indian living on the Northern plains, there's not a lot of local greenery you can digest. But buffalo can eat the grass, and you can eat the buffalo. Humans as meat animals don't serve this function. Further, humans don't provide any essential nutrients you couldn't also get by eating your broccoli and beans. If you're growing enough edible plants to survive, eating people won't help. And if you're not producing enough food, eating people will only provide short-term calories without solving any longer-term problems. Better would be to figure out how much food you can produce and how many people this could support, and then start killing the less-useful people until you're down to a sustainable population level. Again, you'll get the eventual nutrition by composting the bodies, rather than eating them. And much more ethical, once you're done with the murdering.

Next: a bonus Dome Thought on semi-permeable domes and mass transit!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I Am On Facebook

I'm officially a part of 'net culture, I suppose. In addition to a blog and a Twitter page, I'm now on Facebook, just like all the cool kids.

Laura's been Facebooking for a while; I've been resisting, largely because I really don't need anything else taking up my time online. Any new thing is a distraction from what I really should be doing when I'm parked at my computer: writing. I need to figure out how to get my character in through the skylight and past the security guards, but it's so much easier to spend a few minutes seeing if I have new friends, or if I should be throwing virtual coconut cream pies at them or shooting them with virtual Cupid's arrows or whatever. I'll try to keep the facebook games to a reasonable level and not let it consume my life. Or my writing time....


Our mayor in action!

I have to mention: the mayor just announced that he's going to Do Something about the problem of panhandlers downtown. Go Mayor Ballard!

First, I need to point out that he's not talking about doing anything for the homeless population; his only concern is the scruffy gentlemen shaking cups at passersby. As long as the homeless are somewhere that downtown visitors and residents aren't actually inconvenienced by (or made aware of) them, he's unconcerned. Second, I noticed that one prong of his three-pronged plan is to actually start enforcing the panhandling laws enacted by the last mayor. Maybe this is the advantage of having the police under the mayor's control: they'll actually [selectively] enforce the laws [he wants them to enforce], for a change. My favorite quote: a police spokesman said that they never really enforced the panhandling ordinance before, essentially because they didn't have a specific anti-panhandling task force.

Another prong: require the cup-shakers to buy some kind of expensive license or permit from the city. I think this is the same as making unlicensed cup-shaking a crime, thus giving the police another excuse to arrest or harass them. But for me, the real kicker is the main prong of his initiative: a public awareness campaign to get people to stop giving them money (ideally, donating to a charity instead). This is brilliant! His press release made it sound complicated, but I think it's the same advice you get about stray cats: stop feeding them, and they'll go away! I suspect he's picturing a scruffy homeless guy staring down at his empty cup o' change, suddenly being inspired to clean up and get a real job so he can afford to enter rehab and stop drinking Mad Dog. It's a totally brilliant strategy -- a pure strategy, unsullied by contact with sociology or psychology or a basic understanding of human nature! I'm sure it'll work miraculously, with the number of panhandlers on the street decreasing in exact proportion to the increase in the number of panhandlers in jail!

In passing, I'll note that I might have a new temporary favorite word: prong! Prong prong prong prong prong!

Living inside a giant invisible dome, part 2

One oddity of living in the giant invisible dome thingy is your relationship with water. Water can't penetrate the dome -- rain and snow don't pass through. This is a problem, since water in pipes presumably won't pass through the dome either. But, you do have a handy water source (even though collection might be problematic): atmospheric condensation on the dome.

A bit on how the atmosphere works. You notice how it gets warmer as the day goes on -- this is largely because the sun heats the earth's surface, and this heat radiates. We cool at night by this radiant heat dissipating into the atmosphere (heat can radiate in a vacuum, but with all that air right there, what it effectively does on Earth is heat the air). The convection of this warm air moving is one of the things that makes wind. But in the dome, you don't have a huge air mass to cool you. The radiant heat keeps heating the same air, and the hot air can't escape. This turns your subdivision into a gigantic, 100% efficient greenhouse.

More numbers: according to NASA (I generally trust their data), the sun delivers 1370 watts per square meter at noon at the equator. Energy delivered (in joules) is watts per second; this equates to 4,932,000 joules per hour per square meter. Of course, the sun is rarely directly overhead; over the year, the noon sun's angle of incidence varies by 23 degrees or so. It's directly above the equator at the spring and fall equinoxes; the rest of the year, you can estimate its angle of incidence with something like 23(2*sin(number of days from the equinox/365)). And, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we're pretty far removed from the equator (41 degrees north); factoring this in, the actual amount of energy we get is 1370*cos(41-23(2*sin{number of days from equinox/365})). I'm skipping showing my work on the calculus here, because it doesn't transcribe to webtext well. But if you integrate this over a 12-hour day, you get an average of 12 million joules of energy per square meter of dome-covered land per day (this peaks at around 18 million on the summer solstice, and bottoms out around 7 million on the winter solstice).

How much of this energy stays in the dome? It depends partially on the albedo (reflectiveness) of what it hits. Asphalt roads only reflect 4% of the light that hits them; concrete roads reflect between 40% and 65% of the light that hits them. Grass reflects 23%. Roofing shingles vary from 10% to 45%, depending on composition and color. Figure our subdivision is 50% lawn, 20% paved with cement, 5% paved with asphalt, and 25% built with some sort of structure (deck, house, patio, pool, etc). I estimate an average 29%; this means you lose around 3.5 million joules per square meter as it reflects back out of the dome. You've still got 8.5 million joules per square meter hanging around in the dome.

More math: air weighs roughly 1.2kg per cubic meter. It takes roughly 1000 joules of energy to heat a kilogram of air by 1 degree (celsius). It takes roughly 800 joules of energy to heat a kilogram of dirt, and a cubic meter of dirt weighs roughly 2500 kg. When the sunlight hits, I'll assume it has to heat everything roughly evenly (this is not true, but makes for convenient math; I'm done with the calculus for now), and has to heat the dirt to a depth of three meters. A dome of radius R contains 2/3*Pi*R^3 cubic meters of air, and 3Pi*R^2 cubic meters of dirt we need to worry about. It absorbs 8.5*Pi*R^2*10^6 joules of energy in a day. It takes 2 million joules to heat each cubic meter of dirt by 1 degree, and 1000 joules to heat each cubic meter of air; the energy required to heat the entire dome by 1 degree is 2000R^3+ 1.8R^2*10^7. Divide this by the energy available, and we see that the temperature goes up by one degree every R/13000 + 2/3 days. This works out to a temperature increase of one degree per day for a dome 8600 meters wide; for much smaller domes, you're stuck with the lower boundary of 2/3 days per degree.

You'll lose some radiant heat at the dome edge, but much less heat than you'd lose if air could actually flow. Even if you lose heat half as fast as normal (a generous estimate), you're still gaining a minimum of 1/3 of a degree celsius per day. So it'll get hot in a hurry.

Back to water: the fact that it'll quickly become significantly hotter inside the dome than outside does have an upside. Water will condense on the cooler inside surface on the dome, so all you have to do is collect it as it runs down the sides. Possibly a system of ditches and troughs could be constructed to channel the condensate to a central pond (or several smaller collection pools). The dome residents also have the option of bathing and washing in water from swimming pools.

There's another option, which is that water might still continue to flow through the water pipes. I theorize thusly: the water in and out travels in metal pipes. This means that the inductive actualization of the force field as it bifurcates the cross-section of the water pipes creates a harmonic reionization field which locally destabilizes the modal kinetic inhibition effect. The transmodulation (I refer, of course, to therionic transmodulation) caused by the flowing water as the dome forms results in this reionization field's reactive nullification of the localized antikinetic effect. This operates (we assume that water was flowing through the pipe as the dome formed) because the metal pipe creates a monaxial phased reactive differential via the conductive/inductive subatomic metallic fluxes present in the latticed metallic matrix of the atomic structure as the ionically-charged water (it helps that it's fluoridated) moves past, inducing microcurrents into the matrix. It makes perfect sense, if you think about it. :-)

Next: beer and cannibalism.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Thoughts on living in a big invisible dome, part 1

This doesn't have anything to do with Midwestern Hemisphere, as such -- it's more a science nerd's thoughts on living in a big, invisible dome. My first thought: when will they run out of oxygen?

First, some facts. A person consumes roughly 2 moles of oxygen (32 grams) per hour. A square meter of grass produces .04 moles of oxygen per hour. Roughly half of the surface of a subdivision is grass; the rest is paved or built upon. Oxygen makes up 21% of the ideal atmosphere. A cubic meter of normal atmosphere at standard temperature and pressure contains roughly 9.4 moles of oxygen. (For you non-science-oriented folk, you might ask what a "mole" is. It's a number -- roughly, six hundred billion million million molecules.) The variables: R (radius of the dome, in meters); H (number of humans in the dome); T (time since the dome started, in hours).

So here goes the math:

Rate of oxygen consumption: 2H moles per hour. Total consumption: 2HT moles.
Rate of oxygen production: .02 Pi*R^2 moles per hour. Total production: .02 Pi*T*R^2 moles.
If you want consumption to equal production, H=.01 Pi*R^2. This is the ratio of people to dome size at which oxygen consumed equals oxygen produced.

But this isn't likely to happen. Probably you'll either have too many people or not enough people for the size of the dome. At any given time T, the amount of oxygen under the dome is 6.3 Pi*R^3 + .02 Pi * R^2 * T - 2HT. The percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere at any given time is this number, divided by (44.6 (moles of gas per cubic meter) * 2/3 Pi*R^3).

When this number hits 35% oxygen, people get edgy and start killing each other. At 50%, everything is dangerously flammable. When it hits 14%, the old and weak start suffocating; at 8%, even the healthy start keeling over. It's interesting to plug in some size and population numbers and see how the math works out. I should mention that for any real size of dome, the bigger risk is too much oxygen; if the dome is a kilometer across, you'd need a population of 7850 to balance out, which seems like a lot. If the dome is 400 meters wide, you need a population of 1,256. I should also mention, the cumulative effect of people and plants is relatively small compared to the volume of oxygen in the dome to start with; hypothetical dome with a diameter of 800 meters (ideal population 5024), with a population of only 800, after 4 weeks, would only show an increase of oxygen from 21% to 21.3%. You'd have to spend years in the dome before oxygen became an issue....

Next: water and sunlight in the giant invisible dome.