In, out, in, out…

Today we’re cleaning up the house, getting it ready to show to prospective buyers.  Our office has been purged of about six years’ worth of detritus, and all my cool toys have been packed away as well as about nine linear feet of bookshelf space and eleven or so linear feet of books.

It just doesn’t feel like home anymore.  It’s too… clean.

Moved lots of stuff to the garage, which is going to be our staging area for the move, of course.  At some point we’ll fill up our garage to the point where we can no longer park both cars in it, but that’s okay.  My car’s pretty trashed anyway.  It can live outside.

So, getting a lot of stuff moved out of the office and computer room and library, ready to move in to a new house (here’s hoping).

In the meantime, in spite of all the moving around and the lifting and the shifting and all the resultant dust and airborne debris, you know what I haven’t had to use?  Neither my nebulizer nor my inhaler.  That’s what.  Air’s moving in and out pretty freely today.  There’s a very slight twinge and tickle deep in my bronchial tubes when I inhale very deeply, but nothing that’s threatening to turn into a wheeze or a hacking cough.

This is a weird feeling.

And in sad, sad, very sad news…

The Dixon Highland Games are no more.  The venue managers at Mayfair have raised the rates to prohibitive levels; several events, such as Lambtown, have had to relocate.  The Dixon Games had arranged to relocate to the Travis Credit Union Park in Vacaville, but now that venue will be closing down at the end of this month.

It’s possible that the Travis Credit Union Park will still honor its contract with the Dixon Scottish Cultural Association for September, but don’t hold your breath. 🙁

A sad, sad, day indeed.

For us, though, moving to Sacramento means more easy access to cool events like this.  That’s one of the many reasons I’m looking forward to the move.

And oh yeah, there is a Highland Games going on in Woodland today.  I completely forgot about that.  Dangit, why do I always remember these things when it’s too late?

Tarantara

We had a meeting earlier this week explaining how it is that when we in our department underreport our billable hours, things suffer.  Like our budget.  If it looks like we’re so very efficient that we’re completing a project which should normally take about 450 hours in just under 15, then we’re going to be asked why it is, exactly, that we have 2.7 full time employees dedicated to that development.  So it’s fallen to me to build a tool for our department that will allow each and every one of us to track all of our billable hours by 15 minute increments, and integrate it with our existing task tracking application.  Given that the application we’re using to track tasks is full of cumbersome database structures and far too much "oh look at me aren’t I clever!" type code, reverse engineering it to make my new project work with it hasn’t been that easy.  But today I got a prototype done, more or less, and I will definitely have an early version ready to roll out on Tuesday.

The development I do, by the way, is not recharged to any department.  I’m just the infrastructure guy.  So I produce no billable hours, so it’s far less important for me to track my time so minutely.  I suspect that I will end up doing so, though.  It’s just fair. Besides, it will be useful to have some metrics on hand for when I need to scope out how long it will take to produce yet another major hack in Moodle (hacking Moodle is about 90% of my job — and judging by what my boss has told me about the reaction to our software from other universities, I’m very good at it).

This evening we went and saw The Pirates of Penzance, which is one of the musicals that I really do enjoy.  When I was a kid, my grandfather had a recording of the D’oyly Carte Opera Company’s production of that play, and I used to listen to it all the time: apparently enough so that I memorized it back then.  I found myself mouthing along with almost all of the music and the dialog.  The production we saw tonight was the Carl Rosa Opera Company’s production, and it was very well done.  I’ve seen some productions that were more blatantly comical, and some that went far out of their way to bring in come contemporary and topical humor to the script. That can be okay, if done expertly, but my preference is to see the script unadorned, since hardly anyone does it expertly; and that’s what the Carl Rosa Opera Company did.  After the show I remarked to the fellow who’d given us our tickets that the finale was different from what I had remembered, and he told me that the producers had actually gone back to an 1879 draft of the script, rather than the 1881 draft that is usually produced.  An interesting exercise in literary excavation; I wonder why they chose to do it.

Oh, in other news

We made an offer on the house that we fell in love with in Sacramento.  We’ve spoken with our realtor and with a financial guy we know through church, both of whom have outstanding reputations in our community, and we don’t think this is premature.  So, let’s hope that this all gets done quickly.

Also, it appears that the most recent round of steroids and antibiotics are actually starting to have an effect on my lungs.  I woke up this morning with a strange feeling; it took a few moments to realize that it was the feeling of air moving in and out of my lungs with scarcely a sound.  No wheezing.  And while I’m still short of breath, having walked all the way from my car to my desk (less than a hundred yards at best — is that not pathetic?), I’m not coughing up my entire respiratory system, and my lungs don’t hurt nearly as much as they have been. Spiffy!

Bees and other stingers

I’ve been following, off and on, the issue with the vanishing bees.  Colony Collapse Disorder is a pretty scary thing; while we don’t rely on bees exclusively for our crop pollination needs, they’re still crucial, and if the bees all go away, then things will be mighty tough.  I don’t believe we’ll face major famine and extinction, but food will be very expensive, and the human toll will still be frighteningly high.  Now, in our own little part of California, a very agricultural area, we don’t seem to have been hit particularly hard by CCD; I still see plenty of bees flying around, doing their bee stuff.  The worry is there, but seeing the bees (with whom I’ve always had pretty good relations) around makes me feel a little better.

There seem to be as many different theories about what’s happening to the bees as there are people looking at the problem.  The environmentalist wacko/doomsday theorist in me likes the idea that genetically modified crops are to blame.  It’s got a good beat, you can dance to it, and you can cast blame at the multi-billion dollar agricultural industry which is so dysfunctional in the United States anyway.  And while I do think that there are probably some aspects of the craze for GM crops that haven’t been studied thoroughly enough (if only because no one thinks to test for these things), the truth is that, according to my very few conversations with apiarists and farmers, the effects of most of these crops were pretty heavily tested on pollinating insects.  Plus, there have been GM crops in the field a lot longer than CCD has been an issue.

Another fringe theory that I’m less inclined to take seriously suggests that cell phones are to blame.  Yes, the signals from cell phones and cell phone towers can confuse bees and other insects and animals that rely on some sophisticated biological machine that we don’t quite get yet to make their way home, but the effect hasn’t been that strong.  What’s more, cell phones and cell phone towers have been around for at least a decade, but we’ve only observed CCD this past year.  The timelines don’t add up.

So it’s all still a mystery.  Major bee die-offs are not that unusual, but die-offs on the scale that we’re seeing now are unprecedented and scary.

Personally, I’m inclined to think that there may be a number of different factors which are contributing to the current problem.  Most bees in the agricultural industry are from one species, and whenever you have a large population with a nearly identical genome, you’re just asking for trouble.  Genetic variation is a nifty thing; when a new threat enters a genetically diverse population, the odds that someone in that population has a mutant gene that can fight it off and that can then be spread throughout the population rise.  But if those genes are missing, then such a threat can’t be fought off.  This kind of epidemic spread happens in any sort of ecosystem where the majority of a population has an identical genetic code, literally or metaphorically.  New computer viruses that spread havoc throughout the world do so partially because Windows computers are pretty much the same the world over, and if an exploit exists in the source code of the operating system on the computer I’m using, then it very likely exists in yours, and so the same virus can infect both.  If I’m running Linux and you’re running Windows, then only one of our computers will be infected.

So, there’s that.  I’ve also heard that GM crops can impact the immunological systems of bees; I haven’t been able to confirm that, but it’s an intriguing idea.  If it’s true, then this, combined with a lack of variation in the bees’ genetics, leaves them wide open to infection from other pathogens.  Researchers at UCSF have identified a fungus that may be the culprit, actually: a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae that has been found in many of the bees on which autopsies have been performed.  Since I’m not a population geneticist or a mycologist or an entomologist or an ecologist or an insect immunologist or any other sort of ologist, I can’t speak knowledgeably or authoritatively on the issue, but it’s an interesting idea.

One thing that sort of surprises me, though, is that Colony Collapse Disorder hasn’t been linked, in any of the news reports I’ve seen, with the phenomenon of the wasp mega-nests that were being found all throughout the South last year.  Seriously, we’re talking huge.  Paper wasps were building nests that filled up cars, nests with millions of insects when a nest would normally only contain a couple thousand.  These nests had several active queens at once, instead of just one.  Can you imagine walking into your barn one spring day to find that your old Chevy Packard has been packed with a monstrous paper wasp nest, and that they’ve been building smaller, "satellite" nests elsewhere in the barn as well?  Bees are fine little critters that do good and sting you only if you bug them, but wasps are flat out nuts and some of them will sting you just because they can.  And while bees disembowel themselves whenever they sting someone because their stingers are barbed, wasps have smooth stingers and can sting you again and again, and likely will, just because they’re ornery.  Doesn’t seem fair that while bees are experiencing a massive die-off, these wasps are having a population explosion.

Why the giant nests?  Another mystery, from what I’ve read, but some ecologists suggest that wasps normally experience die offs during the colder winter months which prevent their colonies from getting too massive.  But if the winter is too warm, then there’s no die off, and the colony just keeps growing and growing.  Others suggest that some of the queens are, for some reason, remaining in their original nests instead of heading out like they normally do to establish colonies of their own.  They’re lazy, but instead of killing each other, these queens learn to cooperate and build giant nests.

So, bees are dying off, and wasps are making giant nests.  It’s tempting to look for a common explanation.  If it really is an environmental factor that’s causing the giant nest phenomenon, then might the same factor have some role to play in the bee die-off?  Well, probably not, since the giant nest phenomenon was pretty localized to the American south and Colony Collapse Disorder seems to be turning into a global phenomenon.

Still, it’s fun to speculate.

Update:  Thanks to a friend of mine for pointing out this article to me about how cell phone signals apparently got linked with Colony Collapse Disorder.  Turns out it was some German researchers who were studying the effect of the radio signals generated by landlines on the learning ability of bees.  Nothing to do with cell phones at all, but the media, surprisingly, misinterpreted the research.  Imagine that.

The Dixon Race Track

I haven’t mentioned Dixon Downs in my blog for various reasons; mostly, it’s because I think I’m one of two people who live in Dixon that read my blog regularly (the other being my wife), but there’s also that little side of me which doesn’t like politics very much.  But I had to comment on the election results.

It looks like the citizens of Dixon voted down four municipal measures that would have allowed Magna Entertainment to build a racetrack in town.  The results are unofficial, but with a seven point lead and nine out of nine precincts counted, it would take a pretty impressive swing to turn that around.  Not impossible, but it would probably be suspicious.  From what I hear, it’s primarily the absentee and provisional ballots that need to be counted, and around here those tend to be voters on the more liberal side — the voters who are likely to vote No on Dixon Downs.

What impresses me about this vote is the money spent on it.  Magna Entertainment funded the "Yes on Dixon Downs" campaign with close to half a million dollars.  Dixon Citizens for Quality Growth funded the "No on Dixon Downs" campaign spent $24,000.  This surprises me, because I’m a tad cynical when it comes to politics, and I generally assume that the side with the most money — especially when the side has up to ten times the amount of money as the other side — will win, regardless of the message.  So even if the final vote count is in favor of Dixon Downs, I think this is still pretty impressive.

If these results hold, it won’t be the end of Dixon Downs, though.  They still own the big chunk of property that the race track is supposed to be built on, and they could still build it; but without the zoning changes that the four ballot measures would have allowed, it’s going to be a lot harder to do.

And me?  I voted no.

Ouch

I hate politics.  I think that the realm of politics is filled with small-minded, overzealous corporate shills, and that the life expectancy of a person who goes into politics with any sense of honor or integrity (especially on a national level) is dangerously short.  So I write very few posts that address politics at any length.  But here’s one just for fun.

Mike Denford over at the Questionable Authority has a painful and poignant post in response to Secretary Gates’s announcement today that the tours of our soldiers in Iraq are going to be extended from twelve months to fifteen months.  His own wife is serving over there right now, and while she will probably be coming home soon, he expresses quite well the anger that too many service families are probably feeling right now.  I can only imagine it, myself; I have no loved ones over there, though if things keep going the way they are, I have nieces and nephews and godchildren who may end up serving over there in over a decade’s time.

I’ve never been a fan of the war in Iraq.  I’ve never thought President Bush was being straightforward with the American people, and I’ve always suspected his motives.  I don’t think he and his cronies ever had any idea what they were getting into, and it seems painfully obvious that they refused to listen to any advice that went counter to their own narrow ideas of what would happen.  Maybe we just invaded on a day when the flower shops and chocolate stores were closed; I dunno.  But I’m not sure I can go along with the Democratic congresscritters who want a pullout; I’d hate to see us leave the job unfinished, now that we’ve started it.  Maybe I’m just missing an essential element of the pullout idea that would allow us to do it gracefully without leaving behind the kind of mess that we left behind in, say, Afghanistan.  It seems inelegant and dangerous.

Then again, what can I possibly say that hasn’t been said a million times over already?  The only solution to this mess is to invent a time machine and go back to Florida in 2000 and say to all those voters, "No, no, you punch THAT hole, the one over THERE, to vote for Gore, not THAT one!"  Not that I trust Gore all that much — the man’s a politician, and therefore unworthy of any trust.  But I do think he might have approached the war on terror with a more reasoned approach instead of trying to get revenge on a man who tried to have his daddy killed.

As for John McCain’s ongoing cerebral implosion, all I’ll say is, "Yick, I can’t believe I used to like that guy!"

Indulging my vanity

Stole this from my friend Satyrlovesong:

We all have things about our friends that make us slightly envious.

Not in a bad way, but in a ‘Wow! I wish I had that person’s hair/eyes/money/relationship/toenails/whatever.’

So tell me what about me makes you envy me. . . then if you feel like it, post this in your blog and see what makes me envious of you.

 

Well, yahoo!

Looks like Room 636, an anthology of "new takes on urban legends" and which reprints my short story "Who Remembers Molly" (previously published at The Harrow), has finally found a home with StoneGarden.net Publishing.  No word yet on when the book will be available.  StoneGarden.net is a small press, sort of a print-on-demand press, but based on my research it looks legitimate.

I’ll keep y’all up to date.