Newly American

I took a very quick trip to Utah for my father’s naturalization ceremony. I was only there for a day. My dad is now a U.S. citizen! Since he did it for me, it was only appropriate that I be there. He’s lived in the U.S. since the 1960s, but never had any interest in getting citizenship. However, when I lost a job last year due to him being a dirty foreigner, he agreed to do so. I am relieved because it will make the job thing much easier now.

The ceremony was held at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City. My sister, bro-in-law, parents, and I headed up to Salt Lake and were creeped out by the disturbingly empty parking garage beneath City Creek. Seriously, it was creepy. Parking garages should not be that empty. We emerged from the escalators without being killed off by zombies, asked a security guard which direction to go (I hadn’t been to City Creek before so wasn’t sure what direction were were facing there in the middle of a bunch of stores), and found our way to the long line outside Abravanel Hall.

It took forever to get things going – the candidates went in one line where there was paperwork, and the family and friends went in another line and sat around and waited. But the ceremony finally got underway. There were almost 400 people becoming citizens that day, coming from 73 different countries. The judge entered. Boy Scouts led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. A surprisingly talented 10-year-old all decked out in a red, white, and blue outfit sang the national anthem and some other patriotic-ish song. The Salt Lake City mayor gave a speech. Two random women gave speeches. (They were pointless and dull and I think they were included only to make the whole thing longer, which… no.) The new citizens took their oath (YAY!). A couple microphones were passed around so that some of the new citizens could say a few words if they wanted. It was touching. A recorded message from President Obama was played. The naturalization certificates were handed out, and that was it.

I’m so glad I went! It was totally worth it.

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A Practical Proposal

The inability of Congress to pass a budget is getting annoying. Admittedly, I’m cranky because of the lack of air conditioning at work due to a need to cut expenses. Come on, Congress, make some tough decisions, cut where cuts must be made so organizations can actually plan for the money they will actually be allotted, raise taxes if you must, and pass a freakin’ budget.

I think Congress forgot they are supposed to do that. It’s near the top of the list of their job description, right at the beginning of Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution. It seems to be off their radar now, though. So here’s my proposal to encourage them to stop being idiots and actually do their job.

Hold a lottery. Take a hat and place the name of every Congressman/woman, written on a folded slip of paper, into that hat. Take another hat and place the name of every Senator, written on a folded slip of paper, into that second hat. The oldest intern currently working for any Senator will be selected to pull slips of paper from the hats: four Congressmen/women and two Senators. This will be done with the intern’s eyes closed and on the Senate floor with cameras rolling. If the intern accidentally pulls out too many slips of paper, they will be placed back into the hats unopened and the drawing restarted. No state will have more than one representative selected. If a second or more from the same state is pulled, only the first will count. The second or more slip will be placed to the side and another slip pulled from the applicable hat.

These six representatives and their immediate families (if desired) will be flown to Hawaii within 30 days after the lottery. Now, I’m not so good on which volcano might be a good one to pick. We’d have to hit up the U.S. Geological Survey to pick a nice active one with lots of magma and one likely to cause a quick, if horrible, death. Once a volcano in Hawaii is selected, the representatives and their immediate families (if desired) will be taken to that island and allowed some fun and frolic and time to say goodbye.

Those representatives will then be tossed into the volcano.

Congress then has another 30 days after the volcano toss to pass a budget. If they fail, the process is repeated until a budget is passed.

See, all they lack is motivation to do their job. This should help.

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Balticon 2013

I spent all of Memorial Day weekend at Balticon, a sci-fi convention. It was tons of nerdy goodness. I think this is my new favorite con. Nothing, of course, can replace Gatecon. It is forever in my heart as The Most Awesome Con ever, and since it continues no more, it is unlikely to ever be replaced since it can never fade in quality. I will always have Gatecon and Vancouver. Balticon, however, is my new, still living favorite con. The presentations were enlightening, and the panels were well-run. The con was well-organized, had lots of good options, and was busy but not overwhelmingly crowded.

As usual, my default locations was at the science track presentations, but I branched out from there:

  • A couple skeptic society presentations, one on conspiracy theories and one on wacky Washington, DC.
  • Learned about how our eyes work. (“Your brain is lying to you all the time. Do not trust your brain.”)
  • Two different presentations about anesthesia, one where he told us about interesting cases he’d seen and one where we just learned general anesthesia info. (In case you’re thinking, “Anesthesia lectures? At a sci-fi convention?” I certainly did. Well, in addition to being an anesthesiologist, the presenter also writes sci-fi novels. Hence his presence.)
  • A couple author readings. (One was to see a friend. [Buy the books by Janine Spendlove!] One was an accident when I was in a wrong room, but I was seated so that leaving would have been awkward, so I just stayed. Kind of glad I did because I heard a short story where it turns out Jesus was a D&D player and what we know of him is from his character sheet. Slightly sacrilegious, but it was actually a fun story. The author was Michael Ventrella.)
  • Flu strains.
  • Citizen science and
  • Creating author websites. (I didn’t pay attention to the panelists for this one beforehand, but as I sat looking at the nameplates once I was in the room, one jumped out at me. Scott Sigler? Wait a minute… I know that name. He wrote Infected, which I loved!)
  • Archaea (the really cool microbes; sadly, this was one of the duller presentations).
  • Is 1984 still relevant today?
  • Superstring theory. (Two lectures from Sylvester James Gates, Jr.!)
  • A presentation from Rick Sternbach, who was illustrator for several of the Star Trek series. He’s the man behind a lot of the ship designs and a lot more.
  • Robots and emotional mimicry.
  • Military sci-fi vs. alternate timeline sci-fi.
  • Mercury (the planet). I’ll admit, I’ve always found Mercury dreadfully dull, but this lecture has cured me of my ignorance. It’s interesting after all.
  • Space swifties (i.e., quick 5-minute updates on cool things going on with some of the NASA programs).
  • And I think I’ve forgotten a couple more.

As usual, the NASA scientists begged us to write letters to our Congressional representatives – handwritten and, if possible, tear-stained – asking for funding for NASA. Since I live in DC, I actually don’t have a Congressional representative (I asked one of the NASA dudes if he had a suggestion because funding for space and planetary sciences is actually something I really, really support; he recommended hitting up Maryland Congress-folks; I am uncertain), but for those of you not in DC and thus actually having representatives, write a letter in support of NASA, would you? Please?

I forgot my telephoto lens, so all of my photos from the masquerade turned out poor. Also, with only a couple exceptions, I took no photos from anything other than the masquerade. Oh well. Here are the least bad ones.

Janine Spendlove

Princess Leia

Goth Kitty

Professor Dumbledore

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Keepin’ it classy in DC

I stopped by the pharmacy after work. It was entertaining. There was a bit of line – unsurprising since it was 5:30 and they close at 6:00 – but it moved at a decent rate (nothing like the slow hell that is CVS), so I had no complaints. A couple of my fellow line denizens were heavy on the crazy, though.

A few minutes earlier it had rained hard, a deluge from the sky, and clearly a couple people in the line had been caught in it because they were soaked through. I felt bad for them. One woman who was drenched was wearing a white shirt, which was… unfortunate.

A lady in front of me asked an employee if there was a bathroom, but there wasn’t. They directed her to a church or the Library of Congress, both a block or two away. She spent most of the rest of the time in line mumbling about how badly she had to pee.

A cranky pharmacy employee approached the line to inform us that we needed to “MOVE BACK! YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO STAND THAT CLOSE TO THE COUNTER FOR PRIVACY! THAT’S WHY THIS SIGN IS HERE!” She was referring to the sign that clearly stated that people were supposed to wait there so folks at the counter could have privacy. (I was several people back in the line at that point, so wasn’t anywhere near the sign threshold. Also, I always stand at the sign because I’m an obsessive rule follower. I kind of annoy myself that way.) Though she was right, the crankiness was obnoxious. The line moved half a foot back, though the first couple of people were still past The Sign, but the employee wandered away, putting no more effort into enforcing compliance.

While I was standing there, I wasn’t sure if a woman in front of the woman who had to pee was actually in line. She kind of wandered around. As the line moved forward, the wishy-washy line dweller moved more clearly into the line. The woman who had to pee complained loudly to her companion about the other lady cutting in. Everyone, including her companion and the wishy-washy line dweller, ignored her rants.

The lady in the drenched white shirt completed her transaction and turned to leave. The person behind her (who, yes, had been in front the sign, but not egregiously so) moved forward to be next, and the drenched white shirt lady (who had also been standing in front of the sign, even more so, when waiting) flipped out. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE BEHIND THE SIGN! I WANT MY PRIVACY! SHE SAID YOU HAVE TO BE BEHIND THE SIGN!”

The wishy-washy line dweller completed her transaction and turned to go, and woman who had to pee moved forward to take her place. They met in the middle with the zig-zag dance where you’re not sure whether to go right or left and neither is the other person.  After only a couple zigs, they continued on their paths, and the woman who had to pee turned and yelled, “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO SAY ‘EXCUSE ME’! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU! BITCH!”

My turn was next, so I merely paid, smiled at the pleasantly efficient pharmacy employee who gave me my drugs, said “Thanks,” and left. I felt no need to yell at anyone.

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I came into work an hour earlier than usual today. I do this on days when I come in alone instead of with my carpool-mate because that way I can get a good parking spot. The sun popped over the horizon just as I was crossing the Anacostia River. I’ve lived here for almost 5 years, and it still freaks me out to see the sun so low in the sky. (In other words, mountains are still my mindset.) Everything was very orange, and the sun reflected on the river. A  boathouse and docks were to my left, and I saw a crew team rowing past the boats. It was so picturesque. I damped down the usual uneasiness at seeing the low sun and enjoyed the rest of the drive with my music loud, enjoying the blossoming trees and the quickly greening branches.

As I pulled into the work compound, the guards had hard hats on. What the…? I was perplexed for a couple seconds, and then the memory of yesterday’s bombs in Boston flooded back. I’d completely forgotten overnight. The peace of the morning was immediately replaced by the unease that comes with these sorts of incidents – great awfulness where, like almost everyone else, there is nothing I can do but watch the news in dismay and sadness.

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The best tree

My carpool-mate introduced me to this tree. We pass it on the way to work. It’s a weeping cherry tree. It is the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen – from the beautifully twisted trunk and branches to the beautiful pink blossoms. I want this tree!

I weep at its beauty

Seriously, could a tree ever be more lovely

Love, love, love

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First Hints of Spring

Spring blossoms

Blossoms in the cemetery

The neighborhood

First flowers

Pink blossoms

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