Wednesday, August 1, 2012

GOP lead War on Women

Freedom of Religion means freedom of religion for EVERYONE, not just for Christians. A country with a secular government meant to serve all citizens where religious freedom is a right, cannot lawfully cater to only one single religious institution to the exclusion of the rights of the rest of its citizens.

I don't understand why Republicans are so worked up about providing affordable birth control, at least the offer of affordable birth control to all citizens. While yes, I recognize that this includes an offer of affordable health care to Christians, if they're really the "good" Christians in the way you believe they should be, then wouldn't they decline affordable birth control regardless of whether it's offered or not?

Republican likens contraceptive mandate to Pearl Harbor, 9/11

A House Republican lawmaker likened the implementation of a new mandate that insurers offer coverage for contraceptive services to Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.

Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly (R), an ardent opponent of abortion rights, said that today's date would live in infamy alongside those two other historic occasions. Wednesday marked the day on which a controversial new requirement by the Department of Health and Human Services, which requires health insurance companies to cover contraceptive services for women, goes into effect.

"I know in your mind you can think of times when America was attacked. One is December 7th, that's Pearl Harbor day.  The other is September 11th, and that's the day of the terrorist attack," Kelly said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "I want you to remember August the 1st, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates."

Republicans cried foul when the Obama administration first announced the new rule, reasoning that it would force employers with a religious affiliation to act in a way that contradicts their beliefs. The outcry included criticism from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and President Obama subsequently announced a compromise in which employers wouldn't be forced to offer insurance plans that cover contraception, but insurance companies would be required to offer coverage to women who wish to purchase it.

Republicans rejected the compromise, and subsequently attempted several times to advance legislation to reverse the mandate. The imbroglio contributed to Democratic charges of a GOP-led "war on women."
"This is a right that every American should be outraged, outraged about what this administration and Secretary Sibelius has set forth here on August the 1st," New York Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) said at the same press conference as Kelly. "And as Mike said, August the 1st is a day that we as American will look at as the largest assault on our First Amendment rights."

*UPDATE* Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, a veteran of World War II, condemned Kelly's comments in a statement. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why are we so Curious?

I saw this article in MindHacks and I thought it would be interesting to share:

My column for BBC Future from last week. The original is here.

Evolution made us the ultimate learning machines, and the ultimate learning machines need to be oiled by curiosity.

I hate to disappoint you, but whatever your ambitions, whatever your long-term goals, I’m pretty sure that reading this column isn’t going to further them. It won’t stop you feeling hungry. It won’t provide any information that might save your life. It’s unlikely to make you attractive to the opposite sex.

And yet if I were to say that I will teach you a valuable lesson about your inner child, I hope you will want to carry on reading, driven by nothing more than your curiosity to find out a little more. What could be going on in your brain to make you so inquisitive?

We humans have a deeply curious nature, and more often than not it is about the minor tittle-tattle in our lives. Our curiosity has us doing utterly unproductive things like reading news about people we will never meet, learning topics we will never have use for, or exploring places we will never come back to. We just love to know the answers to things, even if there’s no obvious benefit.

From the perspective of evolution this appears to be something of a mystery. We associate evolution with ‘survival-of-the-fittest’ traits that support the essentials of day-to-day survival and reproduction. So why did we evolve to waste so much time? Shouldn’t evolution have selected for a species which was – you know – a bit more focussed?

Child’s play

The roots of our peculiar curiosity can be linked to a trait of the human species call neoteny. This is a term from evolutionary theory that means the “retention of juvenile characteristics”. It means that as a species we are more child-like than other mammals. Being relatively hairless is one physical example. A large brain relative to body size is another. Our lifelong curiosity and playfulness is a behavioural characteristic of neoteny.

Neoteny is a short-cut taken by evolution – a route that brings about a whole bundle of changes in one go, rather than selecting for them one by one. Evolution, by making us a more juvenile species, has made us weaker than our primate cousins, but it has also given us our child’s curiosity, our capacity to learn and our deep sense of attachment to each other.

And of course the lifelong capacity to learn is the reason why neoteny has worked so well for our species. Our extended childhood means we can absorb so much more from our environment, including our shared culture. Even in adulthood we can pick up new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking, allowing us to adapt to new circumstances.

Exploration bonus
In the world of artificial intelligence, computer scientists have explored how behaviour evolves when guided by different learning algorithms. An important result is that even the best learning algorithms fall down if they are not encouraged to explore a little. Without a little something to distract them from what they should be doing, these algorithms get stuck in a rut, relying on the same responses time and time again.

Computer scientists have learnt to adjust how these algorithms rate different possible actions with an ‘exploration bonus’ – that is, a reward just for trying something new. Weighted like this, the algorithms then occasionally leave the beaten track to explore. These exploratory actions cost them some opportunities, but leave them better off in the long run because they’ve gain knowledge about what they might do, even if it didn’t benefit them immediately.

The implication for the evolution of our own brain is clear. Curiosity is nature’s built-in exploration bonus. We’re evolved to leave the beaten track, to try things out, to get distracted and generally look like we’re wasting time. Maybe we are wasting time today, but the learning algorithms in our brain know that something we learnt by chance today will come in useful tomorrow.

Obviously it would be best if we knew what we needed to know, and just concentrated on that. Fortunately, in a complex world it is impossible to know what might be useful in the future. And thank goodness – otherwise we would have evolved to be a deadly-boring species which never wanted to get lost, never tried things to just see what happened or did things for the hell of it.

Evolution made us the ultimate learning machines, and the ultimate learning machines need a healthy dash of curiosity to help us take full advantage of this learning capacity.

Or, as Kurt Vonnegut said, “We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Foods and Yummies

I have such a love-hate relationship with food. I’ve been vegetarian for 19 years (almost 20), vegan for 6 of those. I never have any intention of eating meat ever again in my life, though I have no issue cooking it for the meat-eaters in my life.
Being vegetarian for so long I go through phases of foods that I like. I eat things for months and months at a time until I’m sick of them. Then stop. I’ve been going through a major salad phase lately. I crave green, healthy foods but Salad and I have often been at odds. When you’ve been vegetarian for as long as I have been salad quickly, quickly loses it’s appeal. It’s winning favor again apparently. My favorite?
Mixed spring greens/spinach
Fresh cut strawberries
Baby portabella mushrooms
Touch of Gorgonzola
Bit of balsamic dressing (I hate salads drenched in dressing. I just want a hint of flavor.)

If I’m feeling adventurous I’ll toss in some dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, or orange bell pepper. I know, I know, getting crazy there =)

But that’s for me. What I have been making for everyone else has been off the charts ridiculous lately.

Last Memorial Day weekend I had a small gathering and made:

Caramelized Dijon & Honey Chicken
Deviled Eggs (my own recipe – absolutely delightful)
Caprese Skewers (Cherry tomatoes, basil, fresh Mozz)
Grilled Cheese Toasties gourmet style (Gruyere/Parmesan/sautéed Onion/Roasted Garlic on slices of French bread)
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting

For the wedding I made:
Fig and Walnut Tapenade with Goat cheese - essentially figs soaked and reduced in Port wine added to my favorite kalamata olive tapenade base, with goat cheese spread on French bread topped with a hint of walnut. This is so yummy.
Then yesterday was Doc’s birthday so his girlfriend and I brainstormed a huge birthday dinner to surprise him with. I cooked:
Chicken in a Spicy Sausage Sauce
Spicy Mac-n-Cheese (Baked, yet another gourmet style mac-n-cheese. I can’t do anything “normal”.)
Roasted Parmesan Green Beans
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Cookies-n-Cream Frosting

I’ve just been cooking like a mad woman. But mad in a good way. I love to feed people. It can be a little stressful doing so much all by myself but I’m a little OCD when it comes to prep work which helps make things run more smoothly. It gives me an immense amount of satisfaction to make food that the people I care for enjoy.
I obsess about finding recipes, but the recipe card/page/whatever is just the idea. I use pre-done recipes as inspiration but 94% of the time I don’t bother sticking to them at all. This is especially true when it comes to meat dishes. I don’t eat meat so I don’t have a knowledge base of experience to pull from. It helps me to have something I can look at to guide my thought process. However I do have an extensive palate when it comes to seasonings and ingredient incorporation so I can always tell when things will work. I look up recipe inspiration, and then alter, cook, and create til my heart’s content.  Food is so fun.
Edible art.
If you’re interested in any of these recipes let me know and I’ll post the source and how I altered them.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Diablo III

I’m a gamer girl. Not one of those silly console gamers. A REAL gamer. Yanno, with a PC. Hah. Oh, don’t get bent out of shape. I’m just kidding, but not really. My computer is a techno-haven of advanced vid cards and state of the art processors. I don’t know a lot about computer hardware, but what I do know, has to do with making my gaming experience more efficient.
The day that I have been waiting for has finally arrived.
The release of Diablo 3.

It’s been 12 years since the release of Diablo 2. Which means I’ve been waiting for the development and release of Diablo 3 for 11 years and 363.5 days. When Diablo 2 was first released I didn’t leave my computer for a day and half until I had beaten the game. It was awesome. I played the shit out of that game. Sorceress, Necromancer, Assassin, Druid, oh yeah. I dabbled with the Paladin and Amazon but quickly got bored. I didn’t even bother with the Barbarian. I’m not a melee fighter. I like magic.

**whimsical sigh**

I have that excitement all over again. There are some things I’m still pretty iffy about. Cons but mostly Pros.

Let’s start with the Cons:

1.      You must be on to play. Even as a single player. Arg. I’m not a social gamer. I like to play by myself so I don’t usually bother with Having to connect to the internet to play struck me as an intensely inconvenient requirement. What if I lose internet access? We have some pretty bad storms here occasionally. What if I were someone in some part of the world that just had shoddy internet access and couldn’t continuously connect? Bullshit.

Admittedly, it’s not as bad as I feared. I had my first game update yesterday and I was surprisingly pleased. I didn’t have to search for a patch or troll the forums to find out about a new update. It informed me automatically.

2.      I was skeptical about the early release. May 15th was the day it came out but rumors are that the game isn’t actually quite complete. There was apparently a lot of pressure to get it out so they released a less than perfect version to appease the powers that be. This means there’s going to be a lot of patches, updates, and (I’m hoping) a full expansion pack. Requiring a connection will hopefully make all of these updates and additions a much less harrowing experience. 

3.      Selling any regular weaponry or armor that you pick up gets you diddly squat for gold. If you want any kind of real compensation you need to be selling only the magic and unique items you find. Which you might not want to do…

4.      I’m still not sold on the Skill selection and Rune advancement. You have Signature, Offensive, Utility, and Passive Skills. I like that you have your skill categories but I don’t like that you can only have the option of 6 Skills at your immediate disposal: One Signature Skill, one Offensive Skill, One Passive Skill, and a choice of 4 Utility hot button skills (Each of these Utility skills comes from it’s own grouping of skill sets but you can only activate one from each grouping at a time). You can switch up your skills whenever you want, but you have to stop and go into your Skill Tree and make the change instead of simply assigning more hot buttons keys.

You also don’t get to add more skill points to skills you prefer over others to increase their damage or effectiveness. You level up and unlock new runes with predetermined advancements that you may or may not want to use. Granted you don’t have to use them, and you can switch between your Rune advancements just as you do with the General skills but you can’t switch between any and all of them at the touch of a hotkey. I think there might be a fix or a hack for this. Forum time. There are a lot of really neat new skills, but I just wish I could make some specific ones more powerful instead of just unlocking something that I might not want to use.

Seriously, I don’t know about you, but one of the things I loved about Diablo II was the ability to set 20 hot keys and switch between all of my friggin skills.

Neutral/Interesting Points

You no longer transmute gems in a Horadric cube to combine for better goods. You have a marketplace Artisan who does this. The Blacksmith is also an artisan where you can transmute your magic and unique items to form crafting supplies. For both Artisans you pump gold into Training. The more training you invest in, the better the quality and level of equipment. From there you have the capability of constructing more complete gems, better armor, stronger weapons, etc. Invest in this!  It’s an interesting take on creating magic items and combining the stuff you pick up.


1.      The game is gorgeous. The graphics and designs are beautiful. I love just looking at it.

2.      I’m really happy they kept the 3rd person perspective. I am not a huge fan of 1st person shooter type games. I like having the ability to see the layout of the immediate environment around me. It enables you to be more capable of defending yourself. I also like that they brought the perspective down a little closer to the action. The monsters, demons, and details are awesome.

3.      I love that they have surprise Events. You still have your general Quests that you discover as you go along, but every now and again there’s a side quest that gives you the opportunity to get something special.

4.      I like that there are check boxes to remind you and verify when you’ve completed a task and/or directs you to the next goal or step in your quest.

5.      Character creation: You can choose any character class AND either gender for each character class! I can always be a girl! Love this. I may have my own gender identity issues, but no joke, I love a strong female character. Love.

6.      Character classes themselves = very cool. We have the Wizard, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, Monk, and Barbarian. In descending order of my preferences.

7.      Speaking of character classes: You can switch between character classes at any point. You can start one game, and try out every character if you choose to. I have to admit, I have not taken advantage of this. I’m hard wired into character loyalty. I will eventually play all the characters (when I’m done with my WIZARD!) but I’ll be starting a new game and building that character up from scratch.

8.      You don’t have a limited number of potions you can hold in your belt. Pro! However, you do have a lag time between uses of Health Potions. Con.

a.       Speaking of Cons, you also have a Cool Down Time before you can reuse your hot button Utility Skills. This is aggravating to me since I’m a heavy magic user. They did this to increase the skill and difficulty level of the game. I get that. But damnit, I just want to kill shit.

b.      You can continuously use your Signature Skills without cost. You have Offensive Spells that use your Mana, which regenerates on its own, but you no longer have mana potions so you have to wait for regeneration. It forces you to allocate your defenses differently. I’m getting used to it.  

9.       You have health globes that drop form creatures to automatically refill your health. That’s pretty awesome.

10. You have more armor! Which means you have more options for customization and character abilities!

11. You can have a follower, much like the Hires from D2, whom also are able to level up plus they can achieve class skills to help you.

12. Okay, seriously, the Pros just go on and on. There is so much awesome about this game with just enough nostalgia from the previous ones that it all ties to together. I am such a fan.


   multi player. You can play with strangers or you can give out your personal ID and only play with a party of specific friends. I do think it’s pretty cool that you can do that easily from home now instead of having to huddle up your laptops on a LAN in someone’s basement. I just don’t know if this is really something I’m interested in. I had my first monster killing date with Tech Boy. He’s the only person I’ve taken advantage of the team playing on with. It was fun that we could be all blood thirsty and explodey together. But at the same time I have internal conflicts b/c I start thinking about what the other player might need or might want; does he need the health globe? Would he want the magic drop? Would he want the gem? Or the coins? And I start feelings bad about picking stuff up. Plus I like to clear the boards and kill every single thing. Some people just like to get through to the next level. Or if I need to go to town I’m holding up the game for the other person. All that stuff bothers me. It’s really fun to have someone else to chat with and team up with and see all the cool stuff they can do, but I have some adjustments to make. Maybe once I’ve filled myself up with single play mode it’ll be more fun to play with others.

And that folks, is my quick (yes, quick) synopsis of how I feel about the new D3 release. Get it. Play it. Love it.

And that folks, is my quick (yes, quick) synopsis of how I feel about the new D3 release. Get it. Play it. Love it.

EDIT and ADDENDUM: In continuing to play I am becoming more and more discouraged and disappointed with this game. 

Talking to Tech Boy he assures me it is almost impossible to beat Diablo without making use of the Auction House and bidding on better armor than you are able to acquire in game. Fuck. I hate this. HATE this. The Auction House is like e-bay for Diablo III weapons and armor. People put up items they've found for bid and there you go. I DO NOT. DO NOT. Want to play. With other people. I want my gaming experience to be completely self-sufficient. If what he says is true then I am going to be entirely pissed the fuck off b/c thus far I am having great difficult with my Wizard finding strong enough armor in game.  What a bloody waste. 

I may quit playing for a while and just wait for the expansion and upgrades. I'm still really pissy about not being able to level up the Skills you want to improve. Hate. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Know Yourself

“Who are you? ” said the Caterpillar.

Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself!”

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”

“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar.

In my profile I say that I’m a whole lot of things that shouldn’t fit together. I have so many varying interests, so many contradictory parts, just a very complex personality. Often the things have no relation to one another but I like the kind of diversity I have in my life. There's something for everyone in me, in my 'personality'. For all my structure and need to be in control, there is no single box to categorize me with.

I'm never really sure why people are attracted to me. My disconnect is so normal for me that I simply don't see what other people see. And I don't understand why people are attracted to the things that they are concerning me.

People take one look at me out in the real world and might think “Goth” or “Artsy”. If they manage the gumption to talk to me and realize I’m also “Athlete” and “Rocket Scientist” they’re initial conception of who I probably was is shattered. But then if I get to know them intimately, I also tend to reflect who they are as well.

I have sort of a paradoxical complex concerning the fact that I tend to mirror and project what people want (what I think they want); even if it's not something I would normally want doesn't that still make me the kind of person that likes to be something that other people want? So do I like the things I don't really like after all? On some meta level I think the answer is yes. But even then the ultimate issue comes back to wanting something for myself. I do recognize that the reason I probably reflect what others want to see, is that so people will stay with me and I gain their company, their affection, and their love in the process.


I also find it easier to "be myself" when I have a role I know I'm supposed to play. At work I'm "an engineer". I know how I'm supposed to behave, I know how I'm supposed to act, I know what I don't want to project and bring into focus, so it's easy for my to tailor myself and slip into a role.

Just me on my own? Does personality exist when there is no one around to see it? Does it mean anything if there is no interaction? When I'm alone I'm creative, or quiet, I read, or I cook, or I do any number of things to keep me busy but I don't have anyone to act on or see me. I'm just me focused on the motions I choose to be going through. Hm. Does this constitute personality?

The things I like are certainly a part of me. But who I am can be so fluid that I don’t always feel like I know all of me in the context of just myself, because often who I am is found in the people that I am surrounded with.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

{ J } is for { J }ust Say No

I’m not saying I have a drinking problem, but others might. One thing I’ve never had a problem with though, is drugs.  I’ve never been interested in screwing with my mind that way. I tried pot approximately 3 times in high school and hated it. I hated feeling slow. I hated feeling like I was floating. It was just awful. I’ve never done it since and I’ve never tried anything else either. All of my friends know this, but they still occasionally offer. Usually in a setting where other’s want to smoke up and it’s polite. Perhaps, hypocritically, I get a little annoyed when someone pipes up before I have a chance to decline when something like, “Oh don’t bother, she doesn’t smoke.” Like, I’m not cool enough to be in their little druggie club. When did drugs become cool?

I don’t have a problem with people having a little recreational fun. But there’s seems to be a two way street concerning Judgment.  Either you don’t do drugs and you judge those that do as making poor life choices. Or you do drugs and you judge those that don’t as being some kind of prude to experimentation.

Come on now. I’m all for a little experimentation, but I happen to use my brain on a daily basis and I don’t need to be fucking with my neurons any more than they’ve already been fucked with. Let’s face it, my biology is a little wacky to begin with and I don’t need to be tempting fate in ways that I have no control over.

Reason #2 that I don’t smoke. The smell of it makes me physically nauseous. It turns my stomach.

I hate that because I do say ‘No’ to drugs that it seems to make people uncomfortable around me too. Like I might narc on them. None of my friends are hardcore into drugs, they just smoke some weed now and again. I seriously don’t see what the big deal is. Who cares? If the government would just legalize that shit they could start regulating it and making a little profit by having one more thing to tax.
Anyways. You have your joint, I’ll have my beer. Can’t be all just get along without the judgment?