Thursday, August 21, 2014

Iceland Volcano Under a Glacier

Volcano Bárðarbunga is hard for me to pronounce. There are two rolled r's in a row. I have a hard enough time with regular r's, like in library. I was hoping I could call it something like Volcano MuaHAAHahahaaa because of the resemblance to a villain planning some terrorist act. This led me to do more extensive research, to see if it really could be the jolt of reality that politicians need to start planning ahead to cope with climate change. Because it's a blog and I know most people don't want to read the whole thing, I'll go ahead and admit it probably won't be that kind of volcano.

The spelling I think of is based on my recent binge watching of "24," Bauer-thar-boon-ka (A topic for another blog. That show makes me so glad I don't work in any kind of chain of command.)

Saturday, August 16 a seismic swarm started around the caldera of Bárðarbunga, which is underneath a glacier. Since early June GPS stations have indicated activity under this massive volcano. Taken together that means magma movement, but it is over 5 km below the surface. Over the course of the week the earthquakes have moved to the east and north along a fissure. My favorite site for up to date information is the Icelandic Met Office.

Here's another article from Daily Kos with some nice photos. This one got me thinking about how a big volcano might change the weather in the northern hemisphere. So I read this one by Dave McGarvie of the Open University. He seems unexcited about the possibility of a big ash-spewing volcano. I think mostly because it's under 400-600m of ice (I've seen both numbers, not a stat I would vouch for.) Here's what he says:
What would the eruption look like? 
At the very least, magma will stall in the Earth’s crust and form an intrusion. We may never see any manifestation of this, except on instruments. But if magma does break through to the surface, then how much magma erupts and what is above it will determine the eruption style. 
If it is under thick ice – that is more than 400m thick – and not much magma comes up, then a pile of volcanic rock will accumulate at the base of the glacier. This will melt a lot of water (14 times the volume of magma under ideal conditions), and we may see a depression in the ice surface. This will add water to a major river, and cause flooding downstream. 
If it is under thick ice and lot of magma erupts along a fissure, then we will see a repeat of the Gjálp eruption of 1996, with erupting magma melting a pathway to the ice surface within hours and forming an eruption plume. Compared to the massive plume of Grímsvötn 2011, this will be a small plume and less problematic for air travel as the particles will not be dispersed widely. 
If magma breaks to the surface outside the glacier margin, there are likely to be small but powerful local explosions as the rising magma encounters the water-bearing sediments that occupy the land in front of the glacier margin. Explosion may occur because flashing water to steam involves more than a thousand times expansion in volume. After the water has been used up, or the magma isolated from the water, then a normal fissure eruption would be expected. 
I emphasise that the above are what I currently consider the most likely scenarios. The “likeliest” scenario could change at a moment’s notice. That is part of the fun and frustration of anticipating eruptions at poorly-known and remote volcanoes.
Well that sounds like it would be pretty bad for Iceland, but not enough of an effect to make American politicians understand how quickly Earth can change the normal weather patterns for years at a time. He goes on:
What is the worst-case scenario? 
That this is the start of a major volcano-tectonic event at Bárðarbunga, which may further develop to the southwest. This is a concern because in the southwest there are fissures that have produced Iceland’s most voluminous lava flows, since the ice melted some 9,000 years ago. 
These fissures are up to 100 km long, and far to the southwest they can trigger eruptions at the Torfajökull volcano. Torfajökull happens to have an abundance of sticky magma that can erupt explosively and produce lots of fine ash. The last eruption, in 1477-1480, produced just two lava flows and minor explosions. But the one before, in about 874 AD, produced an explosive eruption plume that was carried over much of Iceland. 
Also to the southwest of Bárðarbunga lie the rivers which produce much of Iceland’s hydroelectric energy, and a fissure eruption in this area could cause big problems. Icelanders have long known about this possibility and have specific plans in place should this happen. 
I emphasise that we don’t know yet whether this is an isolated event or the start of a more prolonged and larger volcano-tectonic episode. It may be years before we know for certain. But at some time in the future there will be a major fissure eruption to the southwest of Bárðarbunga – we just don’t know when.
I wonder what he means about the Icelanders having specific plans for their hydroelectric energy? I expect magma melting 400 meters of ice in a day would be a pretty epic flood. What do they do exactly? I found a PDF about the plans one hydroelectric plant has in place for a catastrophic flood from magma under a glacier. Flood design criteria for Kárahnjúkar dam – a glacially dominated watershed by G.G. Tomasson et al. This one is northeast of Bárðarbunga, to power an ALCOA aluminum smelting plant. I'm starting to think there is likely a dam that's going to get damaged if magma erupts under a glacier no matter where it happens. This particular reservoir is formed by three dams. The biggest one has these tunnels that send the water to a powerhouse some distance away. I guess that right there is the biggest precaution. The tunnels will only pass so much water. The power house should be protected even if the dams are completely destroyed.

That's the map from the Civil Engineering Report. Now here's the map from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration showing the area evacuated because of the risk from this volcano. It looks like the ALCOA plant is outside the evacuation zone, but just barely.

So how about these plans they're supposed to have? Here's a section from the introduction:
Several active volcanic areas are known to exist underneath the Vatnajökull glacier, none of those however within the drainage basin of the Hálslón reservoir. Still the possibility of volcanic activity within the reservoir drainage basin cannot be ruled out with absolute certainty. 
No specific legislation or regulations apply to flood design criteria for dams in Iceland. Landsvirkjun has therefore developed their own rules, based mostly on Norwegian regulations for flood design criteria for dams, but adapted to Icelandic conditions (VST et al. 2006). In particular, these have been adapted to the possibility of drainage basins covered partly by glaciers with areas of potential volcanic activity underneath.
I guess if the basin for this reservoir was coincident with the fissure they're watching for this volcano they would have evacuated this area too. They may not get to try out their countermeasures this time. But if they did, what would they be?

Here's a photo from the report showing how the spillway of the largest dam works for a run of the mill hot summer glacier melting flood. What is up with that turbidity?! Doesn't look like the glacial rivers and lakes I've seen. That's got to have ecological repercussions. 
The countermeasure for the magma under the glacier melt amount for one of the smaller dams is called a fuse plug. I never heard of that before, but it sounds interesting. Basically they blast out the rock and then refill the hole with something that is more likely to erode. When the big rush of water comes down the river from the glacier this whole end of the dam washes out and trashes the valley downstream, but hopefully the dam doesn't get destroyed. I imagine that if it overtops the dam the falling water undermines the front side and the whole thing just tips over. They don't really say. Here they explain where they came up with the numbers to use in their calculations.
An even larger flood than that estimated above could result from major volcanic eruption underneath the glacier. As there are no known active volcanoes within the catchment area, no direct data exists to assist in estimating the potential size of such floods. Experience from a major eruption at Gjálp in Vatnajökull glacier in 1996 some 20-30 km west of the Hálslón drainage basin indicates continuous discharge of some 6000 cubic m/s from direct melting of glacial ice by the volcanic activity for several days at the height of the eruption (Gudmundsson, 1997). This estimate is used as a catastrophic flood for the Hálslón reservoir.

It's all very interesting. I found photos of the big dam on Flickr. They are very good. Then I went to the photographers website, Saving Iceland, which is depressing as hell. Apparently this dam has very bad karma. (The Wikipedia entry is unsurprisingly wrong claiming there are three reservoirs instead of getting that the three dams are all for the one reservoir. Another one for the reservoir gets it right. Lest we forget, check your facts when it comes to Wikipedia.)

Apparently that high turbidity behind the dam ends up deposited on the sides when the water level goes down in the winter. Then comes the wind and it turns into dust storms. It's always something when you try to mess with natural processes on a large scale.

Anyway, now I know more about how to build a dam against the contingency of a magma intrusion melting a glacier. Now I can start referring to the road over the culvert in the creek as a fuse plug.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Putting fruit in jars

The difference in doing science and goofing off is taking notes.

Here's the baby gopher I saw on Friday
before I made peach jam.
I'm almost out of jam. I gave away a lot of jam at Christmas and got down to my last 2 jars of calamondin marmalade before the summer fruit started coming in. I could consult my inventory spreadsheet and calculate how much to make to match what I eat in a year, but it's too much like work. Easier to just make as much as I feel like and then fret about not eating it up fast enough later. I learned about Pomona's Pectin recently. It lets you safely can acid foods without a 1:1 sugar ratio like most recipes on a Sure-Jell box. I've been developing my own recipes using a unique one-hot-plate-on-the-porch method. I spend time looking up tips and recipes then I write up my own plan on my iPad before I start. I make notes about how it turns out and try to do better next time. I did 25 pounds of peaches in 2012 but skipped it last year. I still had some jam left!

Last Thursday I got 18 of the new crop of Georgia peaches at the fruit stand near me. They were hard, but so bruised I had to peel some of them and cut them up right away. I made 3 jars of jam on Friday. I did them in these cute new half pint jars I got that are shorter than a regular jelly jar. It let me process them with a lot less water in the pot. The jars were on sale at Target.
Faster processing with less water for a small batch
if you just use these short jars.

By Sunday I could put it off no longer and had to use the rest of the peaches before the rotting bruises got too bad. I chopped them up into a fine dice with Fruit Fresh to keep them from discoloring. That's ascorbic acid, aka vitamin C. Here's the recipe I did Sunday.

Peach Jam

9 peaches
2 tsp Fruit Fresh in 3 T water
5 pieces crystallized ginger, chopped
1/4 cup sugar to macerate 

2 tsp citric acid
4 tsp calcium water
1 1/3 cups sugar with 3 tsp Pomona's pectin mixed in

Lids ready in a bowl, jar lifter, rings, funnel, wooden spoon, everything else you need at the ready.

Mix the Fruit Fresh and water in a large bowl. Make yourself comfortable with a sharp paring knife, cutting board, a trash bowl and the large bowl. Put on an audio book. Peel the peaches, cut out the seed like you would a mango, and cut into fine dice. Keep stirring into the Fruit Fresh into the bowl so all the tiny pieces are coated.

When the peaches are finished chop up the crystallized ginger into fine dice as well and add it to the bowl.

Measure the chopped peaches. I had 4 1/2 cups. Add 1/4 c sugar and let macerate while you rest up from all the chopping.

Wash and sterilize the jars you're going to use. I did 6 jars for 4 1/2 cups peaches just in case. Move the pot of jars in hot water aside when they are boiling.
Chopped up peaches about to be cooked

Transfer the peaches to a nice heavy pot and put them on the heat, medium or high. Add 1/2 c water if they are very hard and need to cook a while to soften. Simmer until they soften to your satisfaction. It took about 5 or 10 delicious-smelling minutes.

Add 2 tsp citric acid and 4 tsp calcium water and bring back to a boil. Add 1 1/3 cups sugar with 3 tsp pectin mixed in. Cook about 2 min, stirring vigorously to dissolve the pectin. Bring to a rolling boil, immediately turn off the heat. Take jars out of the hot water. Put some hot water from the pot over the lids in bowl. Scoop the jam out of the pot with a measuring cup or ladel and pour in prepared jelly jars using the funnel. (I prepared too many, only used 5, 1 left empty. Better than the other way around.)

Wipe the rims of the jars. Place the lids and tighten the rings. Hold the jar with something heat proof and turn the ring with your fingers until it's snug.

Bring the pot of hot water back to a boil. (I've started doing this instead of putting the jars in first because Pomona's pectin can break down with too much heat.) Put the jars in the boiling water with the jar lifter. Boil gently for 10 minutes. Remove from the pot with the jar lifters.

Let cool 10 minutes. Tighten the rings finger tight again. Turn the jars over so the peach bits float up to the bottom. Repeat every 10 minutes until the peaches stay evenly distributed in the jelly. This ends up looking sort of like a marmalade.

Here's the baby gopher I saw on Monday when I went to get
my soepketel out of its plastic bin in the shed.
This peach jam is quite good. Strong flavor and nice scent.

**** I saved this as a draft here and was going to write more about how I made blueberry jelly using my steam juicer. But out of the blue I was stricken with emergency-room-grade undiagnosable vertigo and dizziness and for over a month I was unable to look at my 27" monitor without needing to close my eyes and put my head between my knees. After a couple of weeks I was able to use a knife and make jam again. I wanted to try the steam juicer for peaches, but I couldn't drive to get more peaches. One of my aunts brought me some really good cling peaches with no bruises. Another aunt brought me some cherries. I made this really good jam.****

Peach Jam with Cherries

1 lemon cut up and run through food mill. Yield less than 1/4 cup
4 peaches 400 grams peeled pitted
2 cups 318 g whole cherries 287 g pitted
3 cups total

2 1/4 t pectin
3 t calcium water
1/2 c sugar plus extra to taste

Run peaches through food mill into the lemon and stir. Cut cherries into quarters to pit. Add to peaches and measure final amount. (Adjust pectin and calcium water amount based on the package instructions to match the total quantity of fruit you have.) Pour fruit in a pot and add calcium water. Combine sugar and pectin in a bowl. Bring pot to a boil. Add sugar. Stir two minutes to full boil. Jar it up in jars waiting in hot water. I got 3 jelly jars plus a half size one.

It's good. Peach scent comes through. Cherries are toothsome. Not too sweet. Soft set. Would be good on ice cream as well as toast. 

Weird looking in the pot

Spooky looking in the jar

Beautiful on toast
This is probably the best thing I invented this summer so it preempted the already-uploaded pictures of putting up blueberries, below. I picked these myself. My Aunt June has blueberry bushes. She uses fertilizer. They produce way more than she can pick and use herself, so I go over there when she's not home and pick large containers full of them while I listen to Terry Pratchett audio books played on my car stereo with the doors open.

Blueberries in the soepketel. I find it works best with at least 16 cups of fruit.
I wanted to put the berries in jars after they were sterilized with steam but I went too long. 3 quarts of juice were extracted and they were spent. To put up whole berries I recommend extracting 1 quart of juice to make a simple syrup then jar them up while they're still plump. I saved the sad shriveled ones anyway, but it's an inferior product. I will eat it with oatmeal this winter, but I wouldn't give it to anybody else.

Basic soepketel set up
Blueberry juice runs out a little tube.
I clamp it and tie it to the handle with
a ribbon when I'm not actively draining it.
The first quart out is kind of watery.
I used that to make a simple syrup for whole blueberries in jars.
The second two quarts had lots of body and flavor though.
Jelly time!
Here I am bringing the juice up to a boil. I added 2 tsp citric acid
because the Pomona's Pectin recipe says to use 1/4 cup of lemon juice
I'm trying a honey sweetened recipe this time. You have to
mix the pectin in with the honey before you add it to the boiling
juice. I ended up using twice this much because it was too tart.
After boiling for a minute with the honey and pectin
I had lots of foam.
I skimmed off the foam.
I saved it and ate it on graham crackers.
I love how the surface seems to crack when you touch it.
I don't know what this is but I will keep my eyes open for an explanation.
Here's the end of the peach and blueberry experiments
before I was stricken
After I was well enough to drive again I bought 5 lbs of peaches and tried them in the soepketel. I used the extracted juice to make jelly and another attempt with cherries. It isn't as strong flavored as the stuff made from peaches soft enough to go through the food mill. I'm not going to post recipes because I don't recommend it, but I have pictures of what doesn't work and what will trick you into thinking it's going to work.
Peach juice from steam extraction. Left jar is the first stuff to come out.
Right jar is the cloudier stuff after I stirred up and mashed the peaches.
The peaches release almost pure water at the beginning about like blueberries. It had a beautiful aroma and color though, so I was determined to use it. I went by the peach jelly recipe in the pectin box.
It made a lovely jelly, but it just tastes like sweetened citric acid.
I decided to use the more full bodied peach juice with more cherries. They were on sale.
Cutting cherries into 1/8s in stages.
I miscalculated and used too much pectin and it made the resulting product have a really disconcerting mouthfeel. The cherries in it are very toothsome though. I shall eat it up no problem. But again, I wouldn't give it to anybody else.

Rounding out an experiment in failure
I had hoped I could use the pulp of the peaches to make something like jam. I ran it through the food mill and got a kind of brownish, bland mess. I saved it in quart jars in the refrigerator to use in smoothies.

My next attempt to put up fruit in jars was pears. My pear tree is really weighed down this year. I don't even use fertilizer.

Pineapple Pears
These are hard, crunchy pears. And like apples I cannot eat them raw. I must be missing some enzyme in my digestive system. But they are good cooked up in a pie and chutney, and I'm determined to find other things. I thought I'd try them like peaches in the steamer. I pick up the windfall ones and save them up in my crisper. When it was about full I tried a batch. I decided to cut out the seeds because I thought they'd get stuck in the food mill and make little wood chips. Also I sort of wondered if they might be a source of cyanide like apples. I looked it up and they are just like apples. The seeds contain amygdalin which metabolizes to hydrogen cyanide. The hard brown part of the pit usually protects the seed from being digested, but they are crushed and concentrated it can amount to a substantial amount of cyanide. I will keep on coring pears, not out of fear of cyanide, though, but they are just very hard and not good to eat. Even the squirrels and deer leave the cores on the ground around the tree.

Pears about to be juiced
Soepketel in collection mode
First I noticed the skin of the pears on top turned dark brown pretty quickly. I drained out some of the juice after about an hour of steaming. It was slightly sour and bitter water. I dumped it back in to see if it would boil away some of the water. I kept this up, checking if the pears were soft yet, draining, tasting. I let it go 4 hours, stirring and mashing the fruit every 30 minutes. I drained off 3 quarts of juice. Then I let it cool off and put some through the food mill and tasted it. Instead of delicious pear sauce I had bland yet bitter gritty unpleasantness in my mouth. I threw the lot out in the woods. The skin is harboring tannins that are clearly released by steaming. Tannins might be ok in wine, but not what you want in pear sauce.

But what about these three quarts of slightly bitter pear juice? Bitter isn't always bad. There's an Alton Brown pork chop marinade with molasses and coffee in it and it's bitter and delicious. So I decided to boil down all three quarts of juice. 4 hours later I had this.
Glacé de poire
I saved this in a 4 oz jar for the next time pork chops are on sale. That's right, I made about 6 pounds of pears into 4 oz of brown glop. It's like a very sophisticated hard candy that didn't quite come out right.

Now I know the steam juicer is not a way to speed up pear processing. That's not how to get around peeling, coring, and cutting. What IS the way to get around that is one of those gadgets where you turn a handle and it peels and cuts apples into a spiral. The comments on Amazon say it works for hard pears too so I ordered the one with the highest user rating. I think it should be here before the bulk of the pears on the tree are ripe. I will get a lot of use out of it I think. My Aunt Dorian told me to come pick pears off her three trees in a few weeks because she'll be out of town. I have lots of things I want to try!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Japanese Arcade

Back in 2011 I moved from Austin back to Beachton. I drove a UHaul first with all my stuff and then flew back to get my car. In those last days in Austin I made my friend Daniel Rowe go with me to Arcade UFO so I could shoot photos and high speed video of him playing this crazy Japanese music game. I'd been there with him before and his mad skills blew me away. I knew I had to shoot that activity with my high speed camera.

I have always loved watching people play arcade games. I don't know why. I do not like playing them myself. I am truly terrible at it and it stresses me out. But I am transfixed by people who are good at it. I don't even know what he is doing. I think he hits the colored button corresponding to the columns of dashes moving up the screen. I am totally clueless about how the score works, but I think his score was very high. I think I could watch him for a week and still not figure it out. These Japanese games are particularly overwhelming to me. The graphics are like falling in a swimming pool of multicolored ice cubes, half of them flashing lights at different frequencies and the other half each emitting a different tone. But the random English phrases on the screen are hilarious.

After I got back to Beachton with the footage I didn't really know how to edit it. But after thinking about it for a few years, building a whole office, mounting my monitor on the wall, rigging up a full range speaker, and setting up a comfy chair I thought I should go ahead and make the video. I did the entire length of a song because I don't care if it's too long for you, it's not too long for me. There's one piece of 120 frame per second slow motion footage that is over 6 minutes long. I had plenty to work with. You can tell which is the 120 frame per second footage because it's grainy and the screen of the game is flashing because the refresh rate of the monitor is slower than the frame rate of the camera. I cropped some of that video to fill the screen and used different amount of speed changes on that. There's one high speed section that has black bars at the side because I didn't crop to fill the frame. I also shot some 40 frame per second full quality stills that I used in the video with various duration from 0.1 seconds to 0.5 seconds. They have black bars at the sides and aren't grainy.  The stuff that looks like standard video is real time. I did not speed that up. He is really that fast.

I did the whole thing as a music video to Sting Operation from Anamanaguchi's Power Supply album. This is not the music playing on the game. It was actually much faster and manic, but not dissimilar.

At the time I shot this Daniel was working in Austin at Red Fly studios as a video game programmer. Since then he moved to Dallas to write mobile games for Android. I would put in a plug for his company but I don't know what it's called.

As a hermit I cannot indulge myself in watching people play video games in person, but I have found a great internet opportunity. Do you all know about Co-optitude? It's the Geek and Sundry show where Felicia Day and her brother Ryon play old video games. I love this show. It always cheers me up to watch it. I save it for when I need a good laugh.

**Update: Daniel sent me a link to raw footage of him playing that same video game. (shot by his sister.) That's what it looks like and sounds like not edited. My mind works differently though. When I saw him do that I visualized a more artistic rendering of the experience.
He also a link to just the song he's playing, Curus, by D-Crew. I could not have edited a whole video to that song. It sounds like three songs played at once. It reminds me of a banana split, but you have to eat it all in one mouthful. No thank you.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Boating Solo on Towel Day

Ever since my brother did the Everglades Challenge I've been watching the nearby USGS river gage on the internet thinking I might sally forth and try kayaking by myself one day. I don't want to try it on a holiday weekend though. There might be people. So I thought I would try my own private pond just to get a feel for it. I went in the shed and got my nice double bladed paddle and a boat cushion. I thought the boat would likely be too hot to touch from the sun so I got a towel and put it in a bag with my thermos of water and my camera. I put on sunscreen, donned my water shoes, and set off down the hill.

This Grumman sport boat has been leaning on this pile of dirt since 2008. Tropical Storm Fay dumped over 25 inches of rain here and the boat floated away from where my uncle left it and I spied it on the far side of the pond. I went to Walmart and bought a paddle then walked around the pond, waded out to the boat, turned it over, bailed it out, and paddled it across the pond sitting on the point of the bow and pulled it up on dry land. (I acquired a better paddle when I got a kayak later.)
from Wikipedia
By 2012 the pond was totally dry. But we have had as much rain this year already as we had in all of 2012. The pond is full. I used my towel and turned the boat over. I knocked off and threw out a lot of dirt dauber and wren's nests. Then I shoved and pushed toward the water. I was already up to my ankles in it before I looked down to see when I was going to get wet. The water was exactly air temperature I guess. I felt a little nervous I was going to disturb some creature that would startle me, like an alligator or a snake, wading through the grass with my view obscured by boat, but I didn't even see a bullfrog. By the time I got the boat floating enough to get in it I was completely red-faced from the exertion in the hot sun despite my big hat. It's 33°C today.
It's May 25, of course I know where my towel is.
It was hard to get the boat to move through the large bonnets and grass. It's difficult to get up any momentum. It just wants to stop. I allowed as how I was going to the clear water to see if it was more fun to paddle there.

In the clear water it was still a big heavy boat, prone to blowing in the wind. I stopped and got out my thermos of water and assessed my feelings. I felt uncomfortable, nervous a bit. It wasn't interesting or remarkable compared to the view from the shore. The dark clear water was just spooky. The sun was beating down on me. I was worried I was going to get a headache from overheating. I tried to imagine if it would be fun if I was fishing for a delicious, nutritious, and free dinner. It seems unlikely there are any good eating size fish in there in less than a year of having water in it. That's scant motivation, even if I had fishing tackle. I imagined the air conditioner in my lab calling me home from up the hill.

I forced my way back through the friction of the bonnets. I couldn't even take a pretty picture of the blossoms because they don't open up until night.

I got out when I approached the pile of dirt again because I don't like to use my carbon fiber paddle like a pole. I was nervous about stepping in the big alligator hole I knew was somewhere around there. I used to always check if anybody was home when the pond was dry. I managed to not fall in it. I was kind of impressed that my shoes and feet were remarkably lacking in mud. Just little bits of grass and clear water. I found myself quoting a line from the Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch (4:32). 

Cleese: "It's not much of a fun pond really, is it?"
Palin: "Oh, it's the finest in the district, sir!"
Cleese: "And what leads you to that conclusion?"
Palin: "Well, it's so clean!"

I heaved and shoved with my towel and got the boat back up on the pile of dirt, but this time on the water side near the hole that is the counterpart to the pile of dirt. The hole is the borrow pit where my dad got the fill dirt for the slab foundation of house where I grew up, which burned down when I was in high school, and is now the slab under my lab. Just goes to show this pond has been going dry and filling up again ever since somebody put that dam across the creek in the 1800s.
Yesterday I walked around to the spillway. I saw some gambusias swimming against the current out of the swamp behind the dam. That's some clean water.

Conclusion: I need somebody to go with me or this exercise is just work with no point. Kayaking on a river might be better because there would be shade. I would likely still have the nervous, insecure feeling though. Not sure if I want to bother with it. Should I try to sell the kayaks? If this is representative of a report about a solo boat trip is then I expect you're all hoping I do.

Here's some closing words from Douglas Adams in honor of Towel Day and my here-today-gone-tomorrow repeating pond:
Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!” This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for. We all know that at some point in the future the Universe will come to an end and at some other point, considerably in advance from that but still not immediately pressing, the sun will explode. We feel there’s plenty of time to worry about that, but on the other hand that’s a very dangerous thing to say.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sexism in the Extremes

Subtitle: From Just Preferring Men to Shooting All the Women

I've been a woman for 46 years. I had one epiphany about sexism when I was about 26 years old when a older woman working in the electronics factory overheard me complaining about something insulting said to me in a meeting. She said, "He would have never said that to you if you weren't a woman."

I just had my second epiphany about sexism this spring: Sexists only listen to men. I came to this realization partly as a result of starting to follow women on Twitter and reading about it more. It finally dawned on me that it doesn't matter what women say about this topic. Sexists only listen to men. And everybody is sexist, even feminists. We just don't even know it. My extremely liberal mother will take any advice a man offers, no matter how illogical, without doing any of her own research. She just implicitly believes a man knows what he's talking about. And she automatically distrusts me when it comes to things men usually do. She refuses to believe I can fix a septic tank problem no matter how much research and experience I have.

I was on IM the other day telling a friend of mine (a man) the story of the academic who had her job offer rescinded because she tried to negotiate the details, and about the attorney general in Texas who pays women less than men. My friend said "I don't believe women are paid less than men. If that were true women would have all the jobs."

This was kind of a sweet thing to say, in a way. He genuinely thinks women are just fine. He doesn't get how many companies simply do not want them. They would rather pay more for men than work with women. It reminds me of that Pete Seeger song written by his sister about being an engineer. She was only hired because they couldn't afford a man, but the implication was that they hated it and as soon as the budget increased she would be out so a man could have her job.

I recently figured out that when I was in undergraduate school things were better for women than they are now. Back in the '90s there was such a high demand for scientists and engineers nobody gave a damn if you were a woman or a man. But now that there are so few jobs businesses don't want women, they only want men. Just one example, the percentage of female computer scientists has plummeted from 50% when I graduated from college to less than 30% now.

I mused about this to my father the other day, a man heavily involved in the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, and he said, "Well of course businesses should preferably hire men. Women will just get pregnant and quit."

My introvert neurology prevented me from formulating a proper response. I just said, "Oh, like all those times I failed to finish a job because I had a baby." (I have been vehemently child free my entire life and have NEVER left a job without reaching the goal of the project.) Of course this exchange has been bothering me ever since. Thanks to reading lots of articles recently about sexism I realized there's nothing I can do about my father. All I could think of to do was write a letter to my brother and appeal to him as the father of three daughters, "Please reassure me you understand how reprehensible that attitude is." He didn't answer.

It requires men speaking out to change the attitudes of men. It's down to men to tell the other men not to rape women. It's down to men to tell other men that they must practice fair hiring and not presume women are mindless baby factories with magical moneybag husbands. (Who does that?! I don't have a lot of women friends from college but the ones I do have make more money at their important responsible jobs than their husbands. I don't think it ever occurred to them to stop working when they got pregnant.)

It's up to men to change the culture so both genders get equal parental leave like Scandinavians. If that was the case then fathers and mothers would have the same expectations. I'm horrified to live in a culture that says Mary Bara, the CEO of GM, is expected to act a certain way about cars that routinely kill people because she's a mother. Were none of the male CEOs fathers? I don't believe it for a second. Why is it up to a mother to not want to kill people with her product but it's ok for a father? I should think any engineer would be insulted as hell by the idea that they should knowingly produce a deadly product, regardless of their gender or reproductive status. Is this just a management major thing, killing your customers?

I think the low end of the sexism spectrum is covered really well in this article on Slate titled "Sexists Don't Hate Women. They Just Prefer Men." It's scientific.
In a review of five decades of psychological research, they found that while most researchers defined prejudice as an expression of hostility, the more pervasive form of bigotry in the United States comes from people who favor, admire, and trust people of their own race, gender, age, religion, or parenting status. Even people who share our birthdays can catch a break. That means that—to take just one example—sexist bias isn’t largely perpetuated by people who hate women. It’s furthered by men who just particularly like other men.
I don't know what to do about that. It seems like a problem that needs a solution, but I'm stumped.

On the other extreme of sexism we have a man in Santa Barbara who went on a killing spree because women didn't find him attractive. There is a part of society telling men that women owe them something. I read some good commentary on this news from rational women. I followed Xeni Jardin's advice on about the YouTube video that has already been taken down. (Seven dead, seven injured in Santa Barbara rampage shooting.) "There are copies floating around. Do yourself a favor and do not watch it, your life will be better for it."

I read an article on Skepchick by Courtney Caldwell titled "'Alpha Male' Elliot Rogers' Retribution."
Of course, instead of talking about these issues, the media will likely default to the usual armchair diagnosis and hand-wringing fuckery about how Elliot Rodger was "crazy" and "mentally unstable." It has already begun with Sheriff Brown who told reporters, "It’s obviously the work of a madman." Spoiler Alert: Unless you were Elliot Rodger's therapist, you don't get to diagnose him. To do so is not only actively contributing to mental illness stigmatization, but it’s perfectly plausible that it's not even accurate. To quote Miri Mogilevsky of Brute Reason, "It is not actually 'crazy' to believe stuff that’s been shoved down your throat from birth." 
We simply can't ignore how dangerous this movement's rhetoric is, while hoping that they'll simply fade into the darkness. If you still think Men's Rights and Nice Guy rhetoric doesn’t actively condone violence against women, you need to start paying attention. If you think society as a whole doesn't tell men that they are entitled to women's time and sexuality, you need to start paying attention. You need to be angry.
BoingBoing referred to PUA and I didn't remember what that stood for at first. I figured out it's Pick-Up Artist. Later there was an article about it on Slate, "The Pick-Up Artist Community's, Predictable, Horrible Response To a Mass Murder."
Rodger was also allegedly a member of, a website for men who feel they’ve been tricked by the Pick-Up Artist pyramid scheme, which takes men’s money and promises to teach them how to have sex with women. (And not just any woman, but one who scores at least a 7 on the PUA decimal rating scale of female attractiveness.) PUA Hate is a community devoted to criticizing the Pick-Up Artist movement and “the scams, deception, and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to deceive men and profit from them." It is not, however, interested in putting an end to the PUA community’s objectification of women; it simply complains that the tips and tricks don’t work.
Here's a cross stitch design I made for my grandmother
when I was a little girl. This sort of thing taught me
 that I could decide to do something and then do it.
I did not need a self-help coach to teach
 me this about myself.
Despite not recognizing the acronym I do know a bit about pick-up artists. One of my best friends I talk to all the time went to high school with a guy who is part of this community. His name is Tynan. He has an eponymous blog about self-improvement including the story of how he became a Famous Pickup Artist. It seems he approached learning to pick up women as just one of his many projects like learning languages or to play the violin or to support himself playing competitive poker. I have a pretty hard time reading the stuff about pick-up, and actually all the self-helpy stuff grosses me out pretty bad as well. He's not a bad writer, but I've always preferred to figure out for myself how to run my life. To just have somebody else tell me how to do it seems like cheating. One of his recent blog posts about trusting yourself to follow through is a rather precise description of my own approach to life. Yet it makes me very uncomfortable to read it. I would never write that on my blog. I decided to restore an old aircraft trailer so I could sit down to work on my computer. And then I did it. It never occurred to me that I wouldn't finish. I've been starting and finishing projects since I was just a little girl. It seems that if you are old enough to go reading blogs for life advice you are too old to learn to trust yourself to finish something.

I kind of feel the same about the pick-up stuff. I think figuring out what works for you is an essential part of the process. Just having somebody else teach you their extremely offensive method seems like a bad idea. As an empathetic person I can feel Ty's anxiety about women and I understand that he considered it a form of growth to overcome what he saw as a flaw in himself, but the terminology gives me the creeps. The idea of breaking down the act of meeting somebody into defined steps, I don't know, it just feels really wrong to me. I'm not opposed to a systematic approach to things, but in this case I am just not able to get behind it. From How I became a famous pick-up artist Part 1:
When I arrived at Spill, Hayden and others were already there. Immediately, Hayden asked, "Are you ready for your first set?" 
A set is a group of people, including at least one girl, that you approach and talk to.
I'm sorry, I hear "set" and I think of surfers. To me Pick-Up Artists are surfers and women are waves.  "Are you ready for your first set?" sounds like they are paddling out, diving through smaller waves, counting how many are in a set, deciding that the seventh and biggest wave is the only one worth riding. I am simply uncomfortable having this strategy applied to meeting people. Women. I expect they have a term for the woman they are trying to pick up and I don't even want to know what it is. I want this person to not be reprehensible, but I struggle with it. He sounds like a tool. But he's a friend of a friend of mine. They hang out on holidays. I doubt Ty approves of a man shooting up a sorority house. I'm interested to see if he responds to this shooting rampage with a blog post, but he seems to be out of the country.

My point about the pick-up artist is that while I am trying not to hate them all automatically, I'm afraid the people that are delivering advice like they know how to improve everything, well, maybe they actually aren't helping. It may be more important for people to learn to think for themselves

I think there is value in doing your own research so you can choose what to do based on your own capabilities, resources, and personality. People should practice thinking for themselves early and often. It's like the value of really learning to cook so you can read several recipes and then make up a slight variation with the ingredients you actually have instead of just going to the store to buy things you can't afford so you can follow a recipe exactly. You might end up with a great dish that way, but it isn't yours, it's just a copy.

It's important for people to think for themselves, and it's important for the men who really do see women as equals to point out when other men are being unfair.

From BoingBoing, quoting Elliot Roger in the video:
“I will be a god compared to you. You will all be animals. You are animals, and I will slaughter you like animals. I hate all of you. Humanity is a disgusting, wretched, depraved species," the man in the video says.
Well, way to prove yourself right, Elliot Roger. I disagree with his idea that he is somehow above humanity just because he recognizes that they are disgusting, wretched, and depraved. I'm as misanthropic as the next atheist old maid in the south, sure humanity is disgusting, wretched, and depraved. But I don't think shooting up my neighbors who only like people the exact opposite of me is going to make me better than them. Quite the opposite, it would reflect poorly on all atheist old maids and I don't think we need that kind of press. Yet somehow rich white guys can keep doing this shit and it never diminishes the status of their demographic.

** Update May 25 **
From wikipedia rampage killer entry supporting my assertion
about rampage killings by white men.
(Chart doesn't say men, but there are no women's names in the lists.)
Laurie Penny, a writer I follow on Twitter, posted an article on this topic today, "Let's call the Isla Vista killings what they were: misogynist extremism." She writes about feminism all the time; she gets rape threats. She's bona fide. I am surprised that all by myself I came to the same notion about the importance of thinking for yourself. I mean, I guess it makes my point for me, but I'm still patting myself on the back for it. (You can tell she's worked up because of the typos.)
Violent extremism always attracts the lost, the broken, young men full of rage at the hand they’ve been dealt. Violent extremism entices those who long to lash out at a system they believe has cheated them, but lack they courage to think for themselves, beyond the easy answers they are offered by pedlars of hate. Misogynist extremism is no different. For some time now misogynist extremism has been excused, as all acts of terrorism committed by white men are excused, as an aberration, as the work of random loons, not real men at all. The pattern is repeatedly denied: these are the words and actions of the disturbed.
The whole article is very good. She is speaking in terms of how to move forward, what to do about it, which is what I want. Not just blaming the NRA or the Pick-Up Artists, but talking about how the men that AREN'T the problem MUST be part of the solution. If there is to be one at all. I want solutions. It's part of my engineer mentality. But reading the comments under a Laurie Penny article quickly reminds me that most people want to either cast blame or claim it's not a statistically relevant event and disallow using it as a conversation starter to move towards an improvement.
As soon as women began to speak about the massacre, a curious thing happened. Men all over the world - not all men, but enough men - began to push back, to demand that we qualify our anger and mitigate our fear. Not all men are violent misogynists. 
Well, there have always been good men. Actually, I firmly believe that today there are more tolerant, humane men who recognise and celebrate the equality of the sexes than there have ever been before. Today, what I hear from many men and boys who talk to me about gender justice - decent, humane men and boys of the kind the twenty-teens are also, blessedly, producing in great numbers - is fear and bewilderment. Who are these people? Where do they live? And the unspoken fear: do I know them? Might I have met some of them, drunk with them? If the wind had changed when I was growing, if I had read different books and had different friends, might it have been me? If any man is capable of this, is every man capable of it? 
Well, those are the correct questions to ask. What I hear more often, however, is “not all men”. I hear that age-old horror of women’s anger drowning out everything else. Not all men are like this. Don’t look at us. Don’t shout at us. Please, don’t ask us to stand up and be counted. 
One thing I’ve found, when talking to people involved in the savage end of the "Men’s Rights" community, the Pickup Artist scene, or both, is that to a chap they are keen that I understand the difference between their grouplet and the next - those guys over there hate women, those guys over there have a broken worldview, we’re the reasonable ones. And before the charges of book-burning and censorship begin: interpretation does change everything. There are certainly men out there who engage with the ideas of "Pickup Artistry" without absorbing the contemptuous misogyny at its core, much less pursuing it to its conclusion. One of my best relationships, in fact, was with a young man who swore by The Game as a handbook for shy boys who wanted to be able to talk to girls at parties, whilst mocking the sexism at its core. 
So no, it’s not all men. But then it never was. 
But if you think for one second, for one solitary second, that demanding tolerance for men as a group, that dismissing the reality of violence against women because not all men kill, not all men rape, if you think that’s more important than demanding justice for those who have been brutalised and murdered by those not all men, then you are part of the problem. You may not have pulled the trigger. You may not have raised your hand to a woman in your life. But you are part of the problem.
I very grateful that I've only gotten positive feedback on this blog post through Twitter and IM. Both my friends I mentioned in it responded briefly. I'm grateful that so few people read my blog. I don't want to be like Laurie Penny, haunted by violent threats. I like to write, but I sure don't like when mean people read it.