Archive for the ‘omphaloskepsis’ Category

Modern Musings

April 15, 2014 - 2:37 pm 8 Comments

What is it about new tires that’s so deeply, primally satisfying? Is that just me?


August 3, 2012 - 4:43 pm 20 Comments

I debated whether this remotely qualified as postable, but given that I haven’t got any other ideas today, content only a small handful of people will be interested by is superior to no content. And damned if I feel like even glancing at politics again today, especially given as the Chickfildämmerung still seems to be in full swing.

I’m kind of a scent geek. It’s one of my few concessions to girliness; I’m roaringly uninterested in clothes or makeup and my hair care regimen is centered around laziness and pragmatism, but I’ve been fascinated by perfumes and essential oils since I was little. For a long time I made my own- I can’t even remember why I stopped doing that, probably because it’s a really damn inconvenient hobby to have if you’re limited in space and don’t live in a city big enough to support a local store that sells essential oils.

When I’m psyching myself up for something (test, interview, event, planning on jumping Stingray’s bones extra spectacularly, whatever), picking a scent for the occasion is as important if not moreso to me than picking an outfit. I have a small collection of favorites for every occasion, things that work for very specific purposes or moods, and a much larger one of stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time but… just… didn’t… work.

For those that don’t spend their time mucking about with perfume, there’s a caveat; everyone’s skin chemistry is different, and lots of scents, especially more complex ones with ingredients that aren’t blunt as a hammer, will smell very different on people whose skin chemistry is sufficiently different. No one knows what exact conditions produce what exact effects, but hormone profile, skin pH, skin oiliness or dryness, and diet all have definite influences. Some are more or less constant over a person’s lifetime and are as unique as they themselves are, some will change with age, stress levels, pregnancy or menopause, and significant diet shifts.

I have learned over time that, for whatever reason, my own skin chemistry, at utter odds with the rest of my personality, will aggressively feminize any scent or oil that touches my skin. Sweet scents tend to get dialed up and dominate other notes in the blend; floral notes will rampage out of control; rougher, sharper scents will be de-emphasized or erased altogether. Occasionally some act of alchemy will pull floral or delicately spicy notes out of scents that aren’t supposed to have anything like that in them. Because the changes my skin chemistry may make to a dried scent in comparison to how something smells in the bottle or wet on the skin are sometimes so dramatic and so opposed to the rest of my personality, and because I am completely psychotic, I have come to visualize this force of my nature as a small, prim woman in Victorian clothing. Her name is Miss Bonnet. Miss Bonnet’s chief joys in life are flowering gardens and tea parties with sticky baked goods served. My chief concern with any new scent is what Miss Bonnet is going to do to it by the time it’s finished drying and warming.

In any case, one of the traditions of roller derby is creating a persona to go with your name and performance on the track. Roller girls can get quite elaborate with extra uniform accesories, facepaint, and other “boutfit” touches. Me being me, the first thing that occurred to me when I realized I should do this was to go looking for a scent to go with. Something that smelled like flashy, fast-moving violence. And, ideally, wouldn’t break down into something hideous when subjected to a few hours of sweat and stress*. This may, in fact, be completely impossible to accomplish, but at the very least I’ll end up with a bunch of things that may smell fantastic on me on more ordinary days when I could stand to feel confident and energized.

Lately, I’ve been a big fan of ZOMG Smells, largely because they make it very easy/cheap for me to order lots very small samples to see what it’s actually going to smell like on me, partly because they’ve got a big sense of creativity and fun and seem to be able to follow through in the quality of the actual product, and partly because they seem to add quite a lot of personal touch to client orders. Every time we get something, we see evidence someone is paying close attention to what the client asks for and throwing in one or two extra samples of something they might like. So, for this particular project, I’ve stuck with ordering from them. (I feel I should probably caveat that the nature of our relationship is strictly me giving them money in exchange for smells; writing this was entirely my idea based on being hard up for content and this having consumed a portion of my week.)

Here are the results so far, for those that didn’t bail out 700 words ago.

Coronal Mass Ejection

Scent description:

The sun is a mass of incandescent gas and sometimes, just sometimes, it sends a big ol’ glob of those fun times hurtling out into space propelled by solar wind.

When these coronal mass ejections are pointed Earthward, they do neat junk like freaking out radios, the entire power grid of Quebec, and the Earth’s magnetic field in general. The Carrington Event, a super-major CME in 1859, was especially exciting, causing aurorae borealis as far south as Rome. Certain telegraph operators at the time–possibly crazed on patent medicines–also claimed that they could operate their telegraphs without an external power source due to the current running through the lines. A coronal mass ejection of this majesty happens, on average, every 500 years or so. Ready?

Notes: Pink grapefruit, Tunguska pine, two ambers and the distilled fear of everyone working in telecommunications…by which we mean tolu balsam.

In the bottle, this smells just about as described. Mostly grapefruity, with something warm and a little woodsy underneath, and something difficult to pin down or define lurking about the edges. Wet on my skin, the pine and amber came forward a lot and the tolu balsam asserted itself a bit more.

Unfortunately, as I learned when I later looked up what exactly tolu balsam is, it smells like vanilla and cinnamon to most people. Miss Bonnet loves these things in a way that’s sort of inappropriate. By the time it finished drying on my skin and warming to my body temperature I smelled like I’d spent my day working in a Cinnabon outlet. No trace of any of the other elements remained. I wound up having to actually wash it off my wrist to stop smelling like a tray of baked goods. I will probably give the rest of the sample bottle away to a friend whose skin is more reasonable on the subject of sweet, vanilla-y smells. I wish her joy of it, because this smelled amazing in the bottle and I’m really disappointed it doesn’t work for me.

Nuee Ardente

French for “a glowing cloud”; Volcano for “I must have you right now, darling”. An incandescent current of superheated caustic gases and glittering shards of volcanic glass that rushes downhill ahead of an eruption’s rocky components, the nuee ardente is a volcano’s most potent distillation of its twin capacities for beauty and hot death.

The former cities of Pompeii and Saint-Pierre were blown a kiss, thus, by Mounts Vesuvius and Pelee respectively. And now….well, you know. Our take: rosewood and dark rose blooms, black tea, and flecks of cinnamon.

In the bottle it smells exactly as described, somehow hot in the way a smell shouldn’t be able to present. The cinnamony smell isn’t sweet at all, but more like the raw bark off a cinnamon tree. Wet on the skin the rose and tea assert themselves a lot more strongly. By the time Miss Bonnet was done with it, it smelled less like a pyroclastic flow and more like having black tea with cinnamon sticks sitting in the cups, in a rose garden on a hot day. Not unpleasant in the least, and I’ll probably use the rest of the sample, just not remotely what I was going for.

As a strange footnote to this test run, Tank loved this one. He sniffed and nuzzled me like I smelled of finest deer poop, and I had to shoo him off when he started drooling on my chair. The other two dogs didn’t care. As of the other two one is neutered and one is female, I worry a bit this makes me smell of bitch in heat on some level.

Wrestling Tigers While Calling Your Mum Long-Distance

There are days when you are doing absolutely everything, and somehow you manage to balance it all with aplomb. This scent is for those days, both to reward you for coping well and to encourage it to continue: earth to ground you, incense to soothe the scattered mind and help you collect your thoughts, beloved frankincense for a touch of ancient luxury in your everyday life, two steady woods, and a sweet cola drink to help keep you perky and alert.

Incense, cola, frankincense, woods both sharp and creamy, and a hint of rich, grounding earth.

In the bottle it smells potent and aggressive. Heady stuff. As it was drying it acquired a bizarrely strong floral note, which thankfully faded once it was finished settling on what it was going to be, which was slightly sweet, woody, spicy, feminine (as usual for me) and very well blended. Stingray characterized the end result as “I feel pretty, and also I am going to kill you”. Winner. Will put this one through a stress test to see how it stands up to sweat, and even if it falls apart I’ll be ordering a full bottle because this worked fantastically for me. It lasts for ages without breaking down into simpler components, too.

Barbaric Splendour

Rich and proud and glinting with everything precious your neighbors had until you rode up and took it away from them. A heady blend of plunder notes and the pleasure of inflicting your will on the populace! Golden amber, sandalwood, patchouli and earth churned by the hooves of your richly-caparisoned steed. Isn’t ‘caparisoned’ a great word?

Exactly as described in the bottle. Someone sweaty and ready to beat your head in, who also happens to be oiled up with something faintly exotic. Unfortunately, once applied, Miss Bonnet chased the barbarians away with her broom, leaving only a faint residue of sandalwood and patchouli, though that residue lasted a day and an age. Stingray liked it a lot more than I did, which means he can have the rest of the sample. It will probably work better on his skin anyway.

Camping In A Vanilla Forest

Holly says this scent is like going camping in a vanilla forest, and so we went with that. Imagine, if you will: your campfire sends up thick vanilla smoke as night falls upon your little party deep in the woods. The fire heats a chunk of old tree sap– young amber in the making– until it adds its golden essence to the sweet aroma. The night air from the ancient vanilla forest smells of rich earth and herbal secrets under fragrant fallen logs. In the morning, you will hunt black vanilla truffles.

Young amber, smoky vanilla, earthy patchouli and a hint of vetiver-green shadows in the underbrush.

This one was the ZOMG crew’s bonus extra in the package, and apparently they know better than I do. In the bottle it smells, bizarrely enough, EXACTLY as it’s named: like you are sitting next to a smoky campfire in a dark forest primeval that for some reason happens to smell of vanilla. As it started to dry it seemed like Miss Bonnet was pulling her usual inappropriate mojo and making it smell entirely like sweet vanilla and coconut, but after it settled down the results were surprisingly nice. The smoke and char came back, along with something faintly floral that Stingray characterized as what would happen if Susan Sto Helit took over Miss Bonnet’s flowerbeds**. Against all expectation I’ll run this one through the sweat test and see what happens. At the very least it’s the first vanilla-smelling anything I’ve ever tried that doesn’t make me smell like a six year old eating a sugar cookie.

*I should probably note before the nightmares start that I am *not* one of those people that likes to marinate in perfume. My sense of smell is pretty sharp, and if mine is good Stingray’s is supernatural. I pick one pulse point, singular, and give it a quick, light swipe or spray and done. Generally no one but the two of us notices I smell of anything in particular.

**Possibly the single geekiest description I have ever written of anything.

Gather Round, Children

May 15, 2012 - 6:00 pm 14 Comments

Blogfriend Blunt Object has an ongoing series about fiction and its dangers.

The gist of his point is that the act of consuming fiction is essentially the act of absorbing and accepting someone else’s narrative, in a form in which its biases and errors of construction and perception go down much more easily than had the same person simply asserted them to you as fact. At one point he describes it as an “unpatched security hole” in our cognition.

With respect, I disagree. If the human taste for fiction and narrative is an unpatched security hole in our thinking, our taste for sports is an unpatched security hole in our bodies. Sports cause us no end of problems- they expose us to physical danger unnecessarily, wear down our bodies more than normal life would, and cause us to divide into little rival tribes. Every game of sandlot baseball is an opportunity for someone to lose some teeth or get concussed or break a limb. Across the animal kingdom, studies of play have shown that it exposes those who engage in it to much more physical risk than they gain in reward in the form of practice or physical development.

But, almost no one questions the benefit or healthiness of physical play, even to the point where we really probably should. It’s self-evident that physical play builds coordination, encourages self-directed exercise, and that children aren’t quite right and really can’t stay on an even mental keel without it. It exposes us to risk and injury, but even if we can’t quite quantify it, the benefit is more than worth it to the point where we engage in national navel-gazing in how we can manage to encourage more of it in children and adults alike.

One of the most interesting theories I’ve seen on the subject of humans and their art- including fiction- is that art is actually a form of cognitive play. All small children, no matter their culture, will draw and color if given an implement that will make marks, and all of them enjoy storytelling and story games. The author’s assertion is that these activities are as much a part of our development into mentally normal humans as crawling and running around is important to developing our motor skills, and I think he makes a very strong case. (The details of said case are worth actually buying the book, though I had a lot more use for the first half than the second.)

Storytelling is specific exercise for a specific cognitive skill, one that develops late: abstract reasoning. In order to create a story, you need to create multiple purely abstract concepts and string them together in a way that makes sense and communicates something interesting enough to be worth paying attention to. Speculative fiction in particular is an exercise in changing a few variables of the known universe and then taking the results to as logical and interesting a conclusion as the author can imagine. A strong storyteller must specialize both in social skills (making the audience empathize with the abstractions and believe the premises of the created world), abstract logic, theory of mind (creating characters with believable motivations), and many other human cognitive specialties. It’s as much exercise for our particular kind of mind as Parkour is exercise for our particular physical specialties.

Blunt isn’t wrong about the dangers of absorbing someone else’s worldview uncritically in story format, but if we’re both right that leads to an interesting conclusion: literary education as valuable beyond the simple study of fiction. Given that English lit classes teach students to analyze fiction, pull it apart, identify its aims, values, and goals, examine it in context of the time and place it was produced and the life and worldview of its author, it’s essentially a self-defense course in fiction. Once you can ably dissect it, you can see its seams and pick out the author’s worldview from your own more reflexively. Once you understand how to pick out themes, ideas, and decide how well (or badly) it’s been developed, you can more easily examine a narrative’s premises as well as its desired conclusions.

If we are both correct, it’s a strong argument for required liberal arts education.

You Don't Want To Know What Happened To Pork Chop

May 3, 2012 - 10:40 am Comments Off on You Don't Want To Know What Happened To Pork Chop

Strangest dream I’ve had in awhile, and that’s saying something given the competition: Doug, Rise of the Machines.

You Don’t Want To Know What Happened To Pork Chop

May 3, 2012 - 10:40 am 2 Comments

Strangest dream I’ve had in awhile, and that’s saying something given the competition: Doug, Rise of the Machines.

Adventurer Fail

March 5, 2012 - 11:45 am Comments Off on Adventurer Fail

In this morning’s journey on the Weird Dream Express, I got recruited by some faction of water gods or elementals or what have you to go fight some big fire bastard after a long trip down the Water Tunnel of Metaphors, brought to you by the washout grade of Disney Imagineers. It went poorly, mostly because the kit they gave me appeared to be mostly scavenged from the drywall section of a hardware store, the gear belt was a mess, and the instructions for it all appeared to have been produced by the same Tagalog-speaking guy they get to translate from Japanese to English for electronics products. The water gun was a good idea, but, uh, too small. While the boathooks were sound in build and theory, with the idea of hooking those ridiculous sandal straps, if the intended enemy is fifty feet tall and the operating Destiny Draft Pick is 5’3″, you may want to rethink the physics of your plan.

The kingdom of wherever that was can pretty much perish in flames until they can field some kit that’s up to at least Ikea’s standards. And maybe grab one of the Super Soakers with the backpacks from Toys R’ Us. I don’t see that fire guy going anywhere until then, but at least he has a good sense of humor.

Actually, I’m pretty sure the water elementals were much more up to it in the first place. Next time someone offers to send me down a dark magic hole I’m worried about drowning in I can ask them why they don’t damn well do it themselves.


March 1, 2012 - 6:48 pm Comments Off on Handsy

A bit of moderately interesting afternoon fluff from the NYT: hands and fingers.

From the article directly, four tests. Before you read on beyond the quote block, try them all.

• Make a fist with your nondominant hand, knuckle side up, and then try to extend each finger individually while keeping the other digits balled up tight. For which finger is it extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, to comply?

• Now hold your hand palm up, fingers splayed straight out, and try curling your pinky inward without bending the knuckles of any other finger. Can you do it?

• Imagine you’re an expert pianist or touch-typist, working on your chosen keyboard. For every note or letter you strike, how many of your fingers will move?

• You’re at your desk and, without giving it much thought, you start reaching over for your water bottle, or your pen. What does your hand start doing long before it makes contact with the desired object?

And here is what happened when I tried them, behind the fold: (more…)


July 22, 2011 - 7:07 pm Comments Off on BTDT

Jennifer posts about a dream involving needing to shoot someone and not being able to. (In her case, because the slide came off in the holster.) Coincidentally, in a bull session with some of our other gunnie friends the subject came up and it turns out we’ve all had that dream, often in a wide variety of ways.

Between Stingray and me alone, we’ve had:

– 900-pound trigger pull
– Unclearable jam
– Gun fires, but the bullet just falls impotently out of the barrel
– Gun falls apart
– Gun was apart in the first place, cannot be put back together
– Wrong ammo
– No such thing as right ammo, gun chambered in something completely obscure
– Gun is magic ammo-eating device, perpetually not loaded when trigger pulled even if freshly loaded
– Uninsertable magazine
– Magazine falls out
– Gun successfully fired, intended target bulletproof
– Gun successfully fired, intended target not bulletproof but mysteriously mobile and also mad as hell
– Gun successfully fired, shooter recent graduate of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy

The way I figure it for me at least, they’re out-and-out anxiety dreams. When I was much younger I had dreams about running from a pursuer who never stopped; when somewhat older, dreams about trying to beat somebody down with my bare hands and them simply not going down. Now that I’m a shooter and my subconscious has absorbed that defending myself from a threat may involve a weapon, it’s the Comedy Malfunction Parade.

These days I use them as a dipstick for my overall current mental health/outlook- if I neutralize the threat, escape, or otherwise deal acceptably with the situation, I’m doing pretty well. The time I dreamt I actually DID successfully beat someone to a bloody pulp and then felt REALLY BAD ABOUT IT, I figure was right about the pinnacle of self-confidence for me…

Give Me Space

April 14, 2011 - 3:34 pm Comments Off on Give Me Space

Appropriately straightforward reporting on research into space-related phobias (claustrophobia and acrophobia, respectively) and people’s ability to process space neurologically.

The upshot is that neither fear of tightness/crowding/small spaces nor fear of heights are often tightly linked to trauma, and that the people who experience them significantly enough to have sought help for them both process space badly and tend to, respectively, dramatically under- or over-estimate distances.

Particularly interesting to me, because I have a pretty mild case of claustrophobia- simply small spaces and moderate crowding don’t bother me, but I can’t/won’t attend a concert of any size that doesn’t space people out with stadium seating and attempting to learn to change my own oil ended in near-meltdown- and I know for a fact my spatial sense is terrible. I can’t make visual judgements of distance or volume with anything even approaching accuracy, I’m clumsy because I can’t accurately estimate how far things are from me and either bump into them or under-estimate a gap and trip. It’s interesting to me because I can pretty clearly see some of my neurological “seams” when it comes to processing distance; I can throw an object and place it where I want to accurately, but I could not for the life of me tell you how far away my target was or model in my head how long I would have to walk to get there. Likewise my accuracy with a gun is fairly normal, but the distances are totally meaningless to me except as an abstract concept that relates to how small the target looks and how much I might have to lead something or raise my sights. Whatever feat of differential calculus my brain performs in order to handle projectiles appears to be different from the bit that moves my body through space.

I also have an extremely specific case of acrophobia that’s completely unrelated to the rest of how I process heights and is pretty clearly linked to trauma. When I was maybe six or seven, I was walking with my father on a rim hike at the Grand Canyon, and at one point he slipped on some loose gravel and nearly fell over the rim; he got close enough that his feet were dangling over empty space when he stopped sliding. Ever since then I’ve been overwhelmed with anxiety if I’m anywhere near a barrierless edge or am looking at someone else who is- but a barrier of any kind, even if flimsy, instantly removes the anxiety, and no other heights bother me at all. Top of a ladder? I don’t care. High building? Great view. Bridge over a river? I fantasize about jumping down*. When I was younger than the cliff incident I gave my parents a heart attack by climbing some twenty feet up into a tree on a camping trip, and I was the kid who had to learn the hard way that jumping off a swing at the highest point is not fun. (Several times, in fact- the flying part was always great.)

There’s no insight to wrap this up with. It’s just interesting to me.

*No, I’m not suicidal. I mean like in the way a pool with a diving board looks inviting. The high board at my school pool was never frightening to me either.

Mom Will Like This

February 24, 2011 - 4:04 pm Comments Off on Mom Will Like This

Twice today I’ve started out with the intent to give an idea or person a merry savaging, then upon reading further to bolster my argument, developed too much sympathy to want to pick on the relevant people even though I still disagreed.

I can’t tell if this is writer’s block, a sign I’m becoming a better human being, or a sign I’m losing my edge.