Dry and blurry eyes

In the middle of 2018 I experienced a sudden increase in blurriness with my normal computer glasses. It was hard to see my computer screens. This was distressing, given that my livelihood is all about looking at computer screens. I went to the eye doctor because I thought I might need a new prescription, and it turns out I do not; a medication I take causes my vision to blur. Lesson learned: if you see an eye doctor, tell them about all your medications.

I also have dry eyes. It turns out that the best treatment for dry eyes is warm compresses! I use a thing called Thermalon which I heat up for 20 seconds in the microwave and then wear over my eyes for five minutes at a time. Apparently I’m supposed to do this 2-3 times a day, and never skip, else my eye’s oil glands will dry up and die. Spooky! I am told that these oil glands are super important for keeping the eyes moist and happy. Supposedly a warm wet (clean) washcloth over the eyes will do a similar job. I’d been skipping the compress treatment because I didn’t notice any difference, but apparently it’s a long-haul treatment that only improves things over many days of  use. Lesson learned: don’t skip a treatment just because you don’t feel an immediate benefit.

For drops, I use Refresh Optive Mega-3 Eye Drops Preservative Free. They are quite magical. I use them twice a day but you can use them a thousand times a day if you want.

In conclusion

Listen to your eye doctor. Don’t stare at a computer for too long. Take breaks. Look into the distance. Blink frequently! If you are in the Camberville region of Boston, I highly recommend this office: https://www.myeyescambridge.com/

Oasis in the desert

The Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is a protected wildlife refuge in southwestern Nevada directly east of Death Valley. Ash Meadows is a haven for rare plants and animals. Dotted among miles of sandy brush, you will be surprised to see intensely blue ponds of water. These ponds harbor ancient species of fish such as the rare Amargosa pupfish and form the last remaining oasis in the Mojave Desert.

The view is amazing as you come away from the desert to see this surprising, scintillating blue in the middle of an expansive ashy nothingness. I love the teal and orange color scheme.

The intense blue pool:
Teal and orange pool in Ash Meadows

The expansive, ashy nothingness:
The scruffy, alien-looking landscape of most of Ash Meadows

Taking the long way around

In 2013 I went on a long, circuitous road trip of 6000 miles from San Francisco to Boston in my trusty Honda CRV. I meandered quite a bit, stopping by the side of the road to take photos whenever I felt like it, and generally taking the long way around. I stopped at many national parks along the way and took a gazillion photos. I had no real schedule or agenda. It was glorious.

Posted in response to daily prompt Meander.

Language generators

I am in the middle of novel revisions, so naturally I am updating my language generators. I get kind of obsessed with them.

Random language generator
I wrote this page to generate random sentences using JavaScript and JSON libraries. It retrieves JSON data words using an AJAX call and then generates language using pre-defined rules.

Lorem ipsem language generator
This demo generates lorem ipsem text up to as many paragraphs as you specify. Use it for your web design projects. It is created using Markov chains applied to a very long sample of pre-existing lorem ipsem.

Markov chain language generator
In a Markov chain model, the probability of each item (in this case a word) is based on the state of the previous item. A Markov chain language generator can generate real-sounding text given a source document by predicting which word will follow next after each word. Sample documents here include Alice in Wonderland, Ulysses, my very own vampire novel, the King James Bible, a Latin Bible, a few other texts, and user input where you can enter your own text.

Variations on a (cute animal) theme

I used to keep pet rats, and at some point I decided to breed them. A litter of baby rats is usually between five and fifteen babies. They start out tiny and pink, and by the time they are a few weeks old they have fur and start opening their eyes. When they are little like this they are very tame, inquisitive, and friendly. I found homes for them all.

This led to endless variety of cute baby rat photos like the ones shown here. They like to cuddle and form little piles, so it was easy to take multiple photos of the same group of animals. Posted in response to the weekly photo challenge Variation on a Theme.

The key to naps is to get everyone in a pile.

There is more than one configuration of the nap pile

Time to sniff the butts!

Time for another nap. Naps are important.

Out of this (inner) world

I used to go caving nearly every weekend. I have since stopped, because I prefer to spend my weekends warm and dry, but I do miss the beauty and wonder of caves.

Caves are a beautiful “inner” geological world that may as well be out of this world, they are so foreign and unusual. Caves are one of the last unexplored territories on earth. There are very few places with as much unseen territory as caves (the oceans are another example). Because they can be difficult to get to, caves often remain unspoiled by trampling feet and human development. There are many detailed mineral formations and beautiful objects in caves, and they also provide valuable scientific research.

Soldier’s Cave is a limestone cave in California with many intricate features, including cave bacon and helictite. You can see bigger photos here.

Helictite is is a type of speleothem found in limestone caves. Helictite is formed when water and minerals are extruded from the wall over a very long period of time. The results are the beautiful, spindly, almost-transparent formation like the one shown below.

Helictite detail

The rock formation below is called cave bacon. Cave bacon is formed in limestone-based caves when a thin stream of water dribbles down the edge and slowly leaves deposits over a very long time. In the end you get thin ribbony formations of minerals. These formations are also called “draperies” because they look a lot like fabric. They have to be lit from behind in order to show the stripes so vividly.

Posted in response to the photo challenge Out of This World and the daily prompt Fabric.

Pears simmering in wine sauce

These food photos are posted in response the photo challenge Sweet.

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but cooked fruit is always delicious. These bubbling pears were from a friend’s Thanksgiving meal. We spent the weekend at in Gualala, California. Gualala is north of San Francisco along the Pacific coast a little south of Mendocino. I spent Thanksgiving there with my old friend Andrew a few years ago.

You know what’s really sweet? Old friends. I’ve known Andrew since 1988. Sweet.

From the same Thanksgiving we ate this pear upside-down cake:

Where should I put my travel stories?

I used to have two blogs, one primarily for photos, and one primarily for writing. So where do I put my travel stories? They always contain a number of photos, but, there’s also a lot of story to go with them. An example is this post I wrote about Rhyolite, Death Valley. Do they belong here? Or there?

In the end I decided to host them all here, in the one blog to rule them all. This blog may be all over the place with photos, writing, and whatnot, but at least I’m not splitting my brand.

Novel snippet

Another short snippet from my novel-in-progress, The Trick.

Small annoyances got under her skin and grew more obnoxious over time. Jake’s voice, once a soothing baritone, developed a scratchy rasp. The way that he ate food, slobbery and loud, started to madden her. His caramel and honey scent turned to bitter licorice, and the hazel of his eyes turned a puke-toned green. Not literally, of course, thought Helen. But that’s how things go over time, don’t they? They acquire qualities one never imagined on first meeting.

What do you think?

Big Sur Horizon

This photo of Big Sur posted in response to today’s daily prompt, Horizon. I took a series of photos left-to-right and then pasted them together in Photoshop to make a panorama. I was fairly outdoorsy when I lived in California and always had my camera (Nikon D200) with me. Nowadays my biggest hobby is writing. Still, my trusty camera and lenses sit on the shelf, waiting for the day when I feel like taking a picture again. Odds are higher that I’ll take photos with my iPhone, and not lug around the heavy Nikon.

Big Sur Panorama

And another Big Sur coastline horizon:

Big Sur Beach

Pretty-creepy songs

I’m a fan of songs that are pretty to the ear but contain a darker undercurrent in the lyrics. These pretty-creepy songs are nice to listen to, but something dark is going on.

Every Breath You Take

Perhaps the most famous example of a pretty-creepy song is Every Breath you Take by The Police. On first listen you might think it’s a gentle love song. No! The narrator is obsessed. It’s basically an ode to stalking.

Even Sting himself admits it’s not a love song. According to Wikipedia he says “it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow.” Doesn’t matter what Sting says, however, because the lyrics speak for themselves:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

I’ll be watching you? With every step? That’s definitely not a healthy relationship he’s talking about. I’m always surprised at how many people think it’s a regular love song.

The Nicest Thing

Kate Nash’s The Nicest Thing starts out gentle, with soft guitar, gentle violin (or is that a cello?) and almost self-conscious lyrics. The conversational style reminds me of Elton John’s Your Song. She talks about her crush and how she wants to see if they can make it happen. So far, so good, as far as romantic songs go. But then this happens:

I wish that without me your heart would break
I wish that without me you’d be spending the rest of your nights awake
I wish that without me you couldn’t eat
I wish I was the last thing on your mind before you went to sleep

That’s not love! That’s not romance! That’s terrible. She wants this guy to suffer (really suffer) if she can’t have him. Here’s a hint: if you want someone to suffer, you really don’t love them. It’s a slightly modified version of “If I can’t have you, then no one will!”

The object of her affection/lust/torment is not even an actual lover. She works up all this pain and anguish for someone she barely knows? Gee, that’s not stalkery at all.

Shady Grove

Takenobu’s cello version of traditional Appalachian folk song Shady Grove might be a love song, but there’s a bit that throws me off:

If I can’t have the girl I love
I don’t want none at all

It’s not quite as bad as “If I can’t have you, then no one will”, but it’s in the same ballpark. And this:

I wish I had a needle and thread
The finest that could sew
I’d sew that pretty girl to my side
And down the road I’d go

HE WANTS TO SEW HER TO HIS SIDE! Maybe it’s a metaphor, but I get a definite “it rubs the lotion on its skin” vibe. At minimum it implies a disregard for her feelings.

As with “The Nicest Thing” or “Every Breath You Take,” there’s plenty to suggest that the object of his desire doesn’t return his affection:

I wish I had a banjo string
Made of golden twine
And every tune I played on it
I wish that girl was mine

She’s not even his girl, and he’s already dead set on marrying her:

Some come here to fiddle and dance
Some come here to tarry
Some come here to fiddle and dance
I came here to marry

Note the similarity with earlier ballad Matty Groves, which features a lover’s triangle and murder. Wikipedia observes,

The folk/Bluegrass song “Shady Grove” from the United States also with many variations in wording, some arising in and around the Civil War, has a tune very similar to and possibly arising from the tune of Matty Groves.

But wait, I love these songs

Make no mistake, I love all three of these songs. Their beauty lies in the feeling that what you hear is not what you get. I particularly like how “The Nicest Thing” builds from casual to completely demented.

There are probably tons of pretty-creepy songs out there. Can you name any others?

What counts as cold?

I took this photo several years ago when I lived in San Francisco

The photo features a bus passing by the Embarcadero neighborhood. At the time of taking the photo I thought it was incredibly cold. I wore gloves and a hat and couldn’t warm up. I was not quite miserable, but approaching. It was windy.

Now that I live in the Boston area I have a completely different attitude about cold. Do I need to wear the thick puffy long coat, or the thicker and even warmer puffy long coat? Do I need to wear the slush-proof boots, or will regular boots suffice? Will the subway station be flooded? Will the sidewalks be passable? Will I be stuck in a blizzard if I go into the office? Checking weather has more significant implications on my routine.

Since moving to Boston I have developed a winter uniform

When I first moved here I wanted to be fashionable in the winter. I thought puffy coats were silly-looking and made everyone look shapeless. Now, I think they are fantastic. The technology for keeping out the cold is amazing.

My winter uniform:

  • Standard long black puffy coat (what everyone wears)
  • Blazer and scarf
  • Fleece leggings and skirt
  • Knee-high boots (or sometimes Uggs)
  • Leather gloves
  • No hat unless it’s really cold, because my headphones double as earmuffs and I keep the hood up
  • A hat and a hood if it’s really cold

It’s a tricky balance to wear something outside that will be suitable for the office. I tried wearing pants because I thought they’d be more suitable for snowy weather, but they required a belt and were generally uncomfortable. I have been a no-pants person for many years now and I can’t go back.

What’s your winter uniform?

Novel writing and the elusive third act

I am in the throes of novel writing.

I am working on the third act of The Trick, in which the heroine (Helen) goes a little baby-crazy, and her immortal vampire boyfriend must make a decision: start a family, or live without her.

I’m stuck because I don’t know how to write about baby-craziness. I never felt it myself. I have only witnessed it in others, and I fear turning it into a stereotype. Also, my novel is only at 48,000 words. It’s a wee bit too short.

In essence, I am stuck, with a fairly static third act. How do I make it as dynamic as the first two acts?

Act 1: They fall in love. Falling in love is fun to write about.
Act 2: They travel and enjoy the world. Vincent recalls previous girlfriends. Helen starts to worry about aging, and asks to be turned. They fight about it.
Act 3: Helen’s fear of aging and her desire for a family runs into conflict with Vincent’s non-human nature. Conflict is good but this act feels flat to me.

What do you think?