Thursday, March 5, 2015

"Rats are so hard. I miss mine, but not the having to say goodbye so often." 
-- Squeaky

The brevity of a rat's life is not easy on their Mommy, but I tried not having rats for a few months, and it did not go well.  I discovered a long time ago that if I feel lousy and I'm the only one who would be screwed over by my inaction, I don't get out of bed. If I feel fine I'll go do things, and if other people are counting on me I'll do some -- although not necessarily all -- of the things I have slated, but just me? Fuck it, moving is not worth it, I'm going back to sleep.

Rats are nom-oriented like dogs and obstreperous like cats. They won't let you not feed them. They live in a big metal box and can make a truly astonishing amount of noise when they put their minds to it. Mine are spoiled rotten and have no idea what starvation actually feels like, so they think if their bowl is empty, that means they're hungry. The fact that they have emptied it by stealing all the rotini one by one and hiding them in the corners makes no difference.

They are very easy to please. Literally all you have to do to make a cage full of rats scamper around in joy is personally feed them one by one. Food is good and individual attention is good, but when they get to pick a food up right out of Mommy's hand that's awesome. Everything tastes better when Mommy hands it to you directly. They are also suckers for pets. One of the boys from the Bridge Crew used to sleep on the roof of his house, on top of the cage cover, flat on his back with his belly to the sky. All he was missing was a tiny hand-lettered sign that said DEPOZIT TUMY ЯUBZ HEER.

Rats are otherwise tolerant of procrastination. It's not great for them if I let the cage go a few extra days between cleanings, but they don't personally care. Eddie is very proud of her pile of random stolen crap and has no problems hanging onto it a little longer than normal. They have a free-feed bowl of dry things like oatmeal and uncooked pasta that I can just leave with them until they've eaten all of it. Their diet in the wild is mainly grains, and this has the advantage of being incredibly cheap. They have another ramekin of wet/perishable leftovers that I can take away again after a few hours if they're finished with it.

I don't close their cage anymore, since they've realized their own house is way more awesome than anything they can get to outside it, so if I want to pet one of them, I just cruise by and stick my hand in. When they want attention, they climb all the way up and camp on the Attentioning Corner (the top right corner of the cage roof), cantilevered out as far as they can go without falling off. It took them about a year to come up with the bright idea to chew through the boot lace that holds the top door out as a porch, and one of them landed smack in the wastebasket, so they seem to have decided that's not worth the trouble.

You basically forfeit your decorum when dealing with rats. If I were concerned with looking sophisticated with my pets, I would not interact with a species who routinely try to stuff themselves head-first into my bra. I'm pretty sure that letting a rodent jam its tail into your nose and use your nostril for balance is universally considered the opposite of dignity. You can kiss them on the tops of their little heads, but they shed like any other pet, and they taste like rat.

On the other hand, they learn all kinds of things. I've watched most of them discover, test, and finally cement into their wee little brains that tugging on my sleeve or pant leg is the signal for upmommyUP! We had one once who had chronic sniffles, and because it's pretty much impossible to titrate out the correct dose of Sudafed for a half-kilo rat, he got caffeine (decongestant) and theophylline (bronchodilator) in the form of dark chocolate chips. It took several weeks and all three housemates coincidentally coming home in quick succession for us to realize we were being had: He had learned how to make the horrible asthmatic honking noise on purpose, because we responded by giving him delicious noms. It's a wonder he didn't manage to OD.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bye-bye, Binky.

Binky's gone.

I went to check up on them yesterday, and Bianca -- the rat who dodges everything, who flails when picked up, who hates being held -- wobbled up to the front of the cage, climbed my arm, and refused all attempts to put her back into her box.

That's usually what happens at the end. Unstoppable independent rats suddenly get cuddly, cuddly rats become one with the inside of your shirt. Binky slept on me for a few hours, out in the living room.

I called out of rehearsal last night and work today. Binky survived the night but clearly was not thrilled about it, so I took her into the MSPCA. It crossed my mind to wonder if I could walk her down to Angell from here, and spare her the train ride. She hated the Orange line. Regretfully, I concluded there was still too much snow between here and JP to manage it. I would have done it, in nicer weather.

I gave her Tylenol, in case she hurt, and Benadryl, so she would be too sedated to panic.

When I got there, they let me back into a private room to wait. I opened Binky's box and she crawled out onto my arm, into my coat. I held her until she was quiet again, mostly asleep. She couldn't chitter very well, but she tried, her little jaw working away at nothing. She was still quiet when I wrapped her up in an old shirt and handed her to the vet.

I owe the MSPCA $70 that I don't have. I'll deal with it when the bill gets here. I've never had an animal put down at Angell before and I expected to owe them more like $150 that I didn't have, so I suppose, under the circumstances, that went well. They're nice people. They say 'sorry for your loss' even when your loss is a rodent. I wish I had enough money to give them some even when I'm not losing a pet.

When I first got Binky home, she was so runty I wasn't sure she was going to grow up all the way. Then she was snuffly and tilty, but it didn't seem to slow her down much. She ended up seeing two Christmases, which is a pretty good run for a rodent, especially an inbred albino. Eddie and Yuki don't seem to have noticed yet that I left with the third rat and haven't given her back.

The Angell people let me take her home. Bianca got the same send-off I give all my rats, wrapped up warmly in a box with a handful of snacks. I threw in some Hersey's kisses. She can have all the chocolate she wants now, and she won't even have to fight her sisters for it.
I realize that some of the stuff I write on this blog makes me sound like either a lunatic or a superhero. Monitor whine, UV glare, pitch discrimination, microexpressions, etc. I am definitely not superhuman, and if I am a nutcase, I don't think this is the evidence you need to prove it.

What I am talking about here are a lot of edge cases. All of this stuff is overtly perceptible to some subset of perfectly normal human beings, and probably there is a larger subset for which the sensory input exists, but is below the threshold of conscious perception. They'd know that some whites in sunlight were extra-glarey but probably wouldn't describe them as going purplish, and a room full of CRT whine or diesel idle would feel stressful but they would not be able to tell you why. Liars look hinky, but what makes 'hinky' different from 'not-hinky' is a mystery.

My actual mutant superpower is a chronic inability to stop paying attention to this shit. I phrase it that way for a reason: It is decidedly opt-out, not opt-in, and the only way I have ever found to genuinely turn it off, rather than just note and file everything away for later, involves benzodiazepines. Even dissociatives don't actually make it stop -- they just put a lot of the external inputs on pause while I bang around in the file cabinets, sorting previous data.

Anecdotally, a lot of the sensory weird seems to be the kind common among autists, particularly the "jesus fuck I can still hear that TURN IT OFF" parts. I also get some of the common scramble conditions. From time to time someone will say something and I'll be completely unable to parse it -- I usually respond with 'what?' which is stupid of me, because then they just repeat themselves louder or slower, when what I actually need is for them to rephrase. It's rare in person but it happens all the fucking time over lo-fi speakers like telephone receivers, which is one reason I hate phones so much. The more stress I'm under, particularly if it's physical stress like illness or pain, the less I'm able to consciously put anything on the ignore list, and the lower my tolerance gets for irritating stimuli. I hate everything in the entire universe when I have a migraine.

Most of the raw ability is probably congenital. A lot has been published on the heritability of intelligence (or whatever is measured by IQ tests, at least); my parents, though bonkers, are both easily genius-level. My mother was part of a number of pilot programs that eventually turned into the "gifted & talented" educational supplements I was dumped into while in public school. My father is an aerospace engineer, which is not a career path for the dim-witted. Joint hypermobility syndromes show evidence of being passed down along family lines; my mother and all of her sisters were dancers, and it was not uncommon to see her reading a book in the kitchen with one foot on the floor and the other leg propped casually up on the breakfast bar. My grandfather was red-green colorblind, and my mother tells a few stories about having a bizarrely hard time matching indicator reds while doing titration labs in a chemistry class, the significance of which I do not think she realizes.

Last I checked, both parents looked much younger than they actually were, despite being chain smokers since their late teens. I am informed that I do not look 33, either. I don't see any reason why the response curves on my senses and/or brain should deteriorate any faster than my face. You would think that turning every music player I have ever owned all the way up all the time would have ruined my ears, but given charge of the remote control, I still keep the TV volume so far down that other people need the subtitles to follow along. (Not that the numbers mean anything useful, but I keep the TV set to about 9, while Jazmin will usually crank it into the 25ish range. Any higher than that and I visibly wince.) I have gotten a lot of very strange looks from Harvard psychologists, when I volunteered to be an adult control for their experiments, and they discovered I use the same basic algorithmic deduction process to detect patterns as a particularly quick child.

The ability to use any of it, I think, is a matter of experience and environment. Supposedly you can train yourself into it as an adult, but I could not tell you how. My antennae are all very finely calibrated because I grew up in a nuthouse. It's difficult to predict people who refuse to use Earth logic, so the only way to deal with it is to learn how to read them quickly and accurately, and respond as fast as possible, usually by fucking off to the other end of the house and hoping that out of sight also means out of mind. I give it 0/10, would not recommend. It was highly effective at teaching me how to be hypervigilant, at the expense of basically all of the other people skills that the normal kids were learning at the time. The fact that it also works on normal humans is a happy accident.

Being able to explain it is yet a different meta-layer. I taught that to myself out of sheer necessity. I couldn't have otherwise figured out what the fuck was going on or why I was so unhappy all the time. It's a protective measure as much as the hypervigilance is; it gives me the ability to argue with profoundly narcissistic/paranoid people like my mother (or just people who mean well but execute very poorly) who make a lot of assumptions about what I'm feeling, and try to shoehorn me into "help" that makes things worse. Judging from what I read in psych research and the suggestions I get from professionals, a lot of my brain weasels operate in non-standard ways. It's difficult to get people to believe that unless I'm very definite and very articulate about outlining how the process really goes, and sometimes they still don't get it.

Anybody want to make me feel like less of a circus freak, feel free to share your own personal weird talents and abilities down in the comments.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Can you spot the snipers hidden in these photos?

About half of them, my eye landed on them first thing. They were ridiculously easy. I couldn't tell you why the spot was wrong, just that it was. The other half, I couldn't find if my life depended on it, as I suppose it would if I got mixed up in anything that involved snipers lying in wait.

I have no idea if I got the half I did because I'm observant or because I'm a mutant. Possibly both. My mother's father ended up fixing radios and jeeps for the Army Air Corps instead of flying planes because he was deuteranopic, commonly known as 'red-green colorblind'. I'm told that the infantry informally used colorblind soldiers to spot stuff stashed in jungles and woods; I don't know if they still do, or if that would even work in a rocky beige desert. Turns out that when your brain isn't distracted by all those greens, cammo net stands out like a sore thumb.

About 1% of all men are red-green colorblind. The relevant gene is carried on the X chromosome. Colorblind women are rare; you'd have to be unlucky enough to inherit two copies of the same mangled gene in order to get no properly working medium-wavelength cones. Female carriers with male relatives who are colorblind are much more common.

It's possible for a female carrier of the gene to have the normal dominant copy expressed in some of her cells, and the mutated recessive copy in others, via a process called X-inactivation. This would give her four kinds of cones -- short, medium, long, and weirdo -- and make her a tetrachromat, potentially better able to discriminate between colors on the visible part of the spectrum. I score only middling-well on tetrachromacy tests, although a lot of places, like this one, say that it's not possible to use a red-green-blue display to test for red-green-blue-octarine vision.

On a practical basis, I'm one of those people who insists there are different shades of "black" and "white". Everyone asks me when they want to know if two colors are the same or not. I don't bother taking swatches along when I go to buy sewing supplies, because I can color match to the eidetic snapshot in my head.

The last item on that FAQ is particularly interesting to me. I never thought to ask about it, although I doubt it would have done me much good if I had -- it took me ten years to get anyone to stop laughing long enough answer me when I asked if people who didn't wear corrective lenses also saw fuzzy halos around streetlights at night. The color vision is faintly but noticeably redder in my right eye than my left. Been that way forever. As a kid, I wondered if it affected what color cellophane went over what eye when you wore 3D glasses, but I never got around to investigating.

Barring some sort of bizarre neurological disorder that somehow only hit one kind of cone on one eye and never affected any other part of me in any way ever, I'm pretty sure the only way you could get a different white balance on each eye would be to have a bunch of weird cones in one of them. So congratulations, me! I probably qualify as a tetrachromat. Studies show a prevalence of 2-50%, so the rarity is somewhere between "natural redhead" and "below-average height".

I'm pretty sure I'm also getting something just off the UV end of the spectrum. I'm not magic; the human retina is sensitive to UV light, but the cornea and vitreous humor (i.e., the lens and your eyeball goo) filter most of it out. Cataract patients who have had their natural lenses removed and not yet had artificial ones installed report gaining superpowers changes in their vision, mainly that some things now seem a very bright bluish-purplish-white. Since whites only bloom like that for me in absolutely blazing sunlight or during a migraine aura - two things which are sometimes unfortunately related -- I'm guessing what's happening is that the lens and humor actually only block 99% of the UV coming in, and my brain just ratchets the signal way up when it feels like being a dick, noise floor be damned.

Or I could just be paying way the hell too much attention to something everyone sees and normally ignores. That also happens.

Still, the stuff that blooms when I'm about to get a killer headache is the same stuff that glows under a blacklight, and it blooms in a fiercely exaggerated version of what I used to contend with in Arizona in the summer. The photo of the gym shorts, where he points out that they have a purplish cast under UV, I also find telling. I used to stock clothing at a department store, and I was forever having to fix racks full of things just like those gym shorts, because whoever tidied up before me had just jammed all the different blacks onto one arm of the stand and walked off. I wonder now if perhaps they genuinely could not tell the two colors apart.

[ETA: Missed it the first time I skimmed, but cataract surgery dude also mentions a bluish haze on pavement. Christ, yes -- Arizona is paved everywhere, not that the surface is much different than the proto-sandstone that passes for dirt in those parts. Summer was miserable; there was nowhere to escape from the glare. When I later moved to a place wot had actual seasons, I discovered that snowbanks can be just as bad. And, during auras, white linoleum tile under fluorescent lights. I definitely do not see as vividly as he does, though. I could probably have used one of Moggie's portable blacklights as a flashlight in a dire emergency, but I don't know what wavelength they were and inasmuch as it was a small lamp and probably very cheap, I don't know how much light it leaked in the normal visible spectrum. They were not anywhere near as bright as his example.]

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Serial: Captain America #1

You guys, I found a thing on YouTube!

There's a passing reference in the Marvel movies that one of Cap's projects, during his USO showgirl days, was starring in adventure serials. The kind they used to run before the main picture at movie theaters.

(I've no idea if he did that in the comics as well; I'm not that up on the old issues. Although I do know that in comics continuity, for a while Steve was making ends meet as a comic book penciller. He sold most of his work to Marvel. I'm pretty sure it was either stated or implied that he was doing the pencils for the Captain America comic that existed in-universe, because that is exactly Stan Lee's sense of humor.)

The Captain America adventures were, in fact, a real thing. Not starring the real Cap on leave from the European front -- so far as I know, anyway -- and featuring 'DA Grant Gardner' as the Captain, rather than 'Steve Rogers'. (People other than Steve and Bucky have canonically worn the suit. They were both on ice for a rather long time... and frankly, neither one of them would have gotten along well with Cold War politics anyway. There would have been a lot of shouty punching for sure, but not necessarily directed away from the people who wrote their paychecks.) They were produced in 1944 by Republic Pictures, one of their most expensive series ever, ran for 15 episodes, and are profoundly ridiculous in the way that only adventure serials can be.

The piece is only improved by the fact that one of the plot Macguffins is a widget that mines things using vibrations. This affects the dialogue in pretty much the way you expect. In the very first installment, you get an older business-like gentleman asking, in horrified shock, "How did you know about my vibrator?"

Friday, February 27, 2015

A friend of mine posted a link to this on Facebook the other day. It's a beautiful, melancholy, wistful piece.

I've seen a few of those, and I have noted that, at least in my possibly not-very-representative sample, a lot of women wanted to be pretty, whatever that was to them, to have that moment where everyone in a room stops and stares at their beauty.

That is a real thing, and it does happen sometimes, but it doesn't go quite the way I think most people think it does.

I'm not gonna lie, I think it's fun, in the same way being on stage is fun. And I mean exactly the same way being on stage is fun. If you don't like being on stage, if the very idea of having to get up in front of a million people to give a performance or a presentation triggers your secret magical anime transformation into Super Pass-Out Panic Monkey GO!, then you would hate it with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns. I'm not saying that you're guessing wrong about how you'd react if the entire room spontaneously decided to shower you in approval for being able to dress and groom yourself in a visually-pleasing manner. I'm saying that's not actually what happens.

See, in real life, you don't walk into the room and start immediately receiving psychic rays of validation for your fashion choices. You walk into the room and sooner or later, you come to the realization that people are turning to look at you when you pass them. Nobody tells you why they're staring. If you ask, in fact, most of them will deny having done it at all, because they think it's rude and they're embarrassed to have been caught out. If you are not already the kind of person who is willing to come to the conclusion, all on your own, that nothing's wrong with you and they're probably fixated because your new dress looks particularly bangin' tonight, the experience is going to be disquieting at best.

If you're the kind of person who can't help but presume the worst whenever people pay attention to you, you're going to want to melt through the floor and languish there in puddle form until the world ends or everyone forgets about you, whichever comes first.

One of my more infamous incidents was at a group shoot in Worcester. We had a bunch of photographers and a bunch of models in a large converted warehouse space with various photo backdrops arrayed around the edges, and a wardrobe room where everyone could drop their stuff and get changed. While I was shooting for a latex designer, I ran into Suki Jones, who had three suitcases of dresses and zero models, all of them having flaked, so I volunteered to shoot some of her stuff while the model I'd carpooled with finished her work.

I ended up in a green laser-cut lamé dress. It was originally meant to be a mermaid skirt, but I had no tops that matched and she had misplaced the bikini that went with it, so I hiked it up as a dress and held it there mainly by stuffing it into the top of a strapless bra. I didn't really know what her 'look' was yet, so I padded out onto the floor barefoot, to ask trivial things like whether she thought it was okay like that, and what shoes she wanted me to wear.

This is the dress:

It's properly mine now, in exchange for some later work. This makes me very happy, but that's beside the point.

Suki was out somewhere in the middle of things, and to get to her I had to pass some little clots of 'togs, exchanging the usual water-cooler gossip in between sessions. As I walked past them, the talking suddenly stopped. Absolutely dead. By the time I got to Suki, other people had stopped talking and looked around to see why the first few had stopped talking. Some of them had gathered their cameras and were following me out towards the sets.

I elected to ignore them, because I had to ask Suki things about accessories, and because ignoring that is normally what I do. This, for some reason, will sometimes drive bystanders bonkers. When I was a teenager, I wore a short skirt to a geeky convention, because it was Phoenix and it was a thousand degrees and I don't own shorts.  I was fine, but Tommy spent most of the day trailing me around protectively, and later told me that if I ever did it again he was going to bring a baseball bat, just in case.

This time, I was in a professional environment where having men with cameras follow you and your fabulous dress around the room is expected -- encouraged, even -- and not necessarily creepy, so ignoring it worked fine. But by the time I got Suki to answer me about gloves (yes) and shoes (no) and pick a backdrop to shoot against, I was towing half a dozen photographers. Never saw any of them before in my life, and I don't think I've seen any of them again either. Just perfect strangers, staring and pointing cameras at me, flashes going pop-pop-pop.

I've been doing this for an embarrassingly large number of years now, and I'm used to that kind of thing. Remove all the context from it, though, and imagine how you'd feel if that happened to you. Nobody says, "We wish to bask in your glory," they just look and move and assume you are aware of why.

You're not going to get your 'radiant Disney princess' moment unless you already figure 'radiant Disney princess' is a thing that you can pull off if you give it the ol' college try. Anyone who tells you that moments like those come entirely from within and have nothing to do with the reactions of others is feeding you a crock of purest bullshit, but it does require an interaction of sorts, and you can't hold up your half of the bargain if you don't have access to that state of mind.

As I said. Exactly like being on stage. Food for thought, I hope.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jazmin is still humoring me. Well, not so much 'humoring' as 'along for the ride', or perhaps even 'throwing herself into the gunner's seat'. I asked her which version of Cap's outfit she'd want to build for this hypothetical stage combat demo, and STRIKE SUIT STRIKE SUIT STRIKE SUIT, apparently.

All righty, then. The cosplay part of the plan is the one I am 100% sure we can pull off, given enough time and money. I am very good at building costumes. Ten years of being de facto in charge of Halloween will do that to you. Other people have noticed this, too -- I'm handling costumes for the Post-Meridian Radio Players' Spring Adventure Spectacular, which is volunteer, and someone else has inquired about costumes for his dance troupe, which I will believe when I see the signed contract and deposit.

I get asked informally about this stuff all the time. A good 50% of knowing what you're doing is just knowing how to run triage on outfits: Which pieces do you need to make completely custom, which do you need to buy from someone who has more specialized skills than you, and which can be altered from something you get off the shelf? Another quarter is just knowing what everything is called, so you can Google it and see how cheaply you can get someone to mail you one. Putting the custom pieces together is a mix of machine sewing, hand sewing, sculpting, painting, and a whole fucking lot of patience.

We independently came to the conclusion that we are not going to sexify the outfits. On a practical level, it's not necessary. We will be a pair of geeky, athletic young women wearing superhero outfits and pretendy beating on each other in the middle of a large ritual gathering of nerds. I'm all for projects that involve copious titties -- I hang around with burlesque artists, for fuck's sake -- but this one is not going to need them.

On a philosophical level, I find it rather annoying that we even have to take that question into account. These are fictional characters. They're figments of someone's imagination. Imagination is malleable. I have no problem with sexy being a legit part of the character; I have a Black Widow classic outfit that's not a lot more than a skin-tight catsuit, and if I were playing Emma Frost I would absolutely be wandering around, freezing my ass off, in sparkly white lingerie. But we don't need to look male to play these roles, and we don't need to re-jigger everything to be stripperiffic to justify being females playing them, either.

On a design level, I'll be straight with y'all here: It would take a lot of extra work to figure out how to make these outfits unflattering, and there is no reason for us to bother. There's not a lot of skin showing, but that means nothing to a competent tailor. We're both female-identified, female-bodied persons of more than reasonable curvaceousness. If you take a look at the way the panels are cut, and the strategic seams and edges on the layers of armor (Winter Soldier outfit here; we're using the 1/6 scale figures for reference because goddamn those are detailed), they've been cleverly constructed to emphasize wide shoulders and a tight, narrow waistline. Works dandy on female figures, too.

The detailing won't hurt. Jazmin is not exactly unqualified in the bustular department to begin with, and she's going to end up with a big shiny Scotchlite star and eye-drawing stripes smack on top of her boobs. The Winter Soldier's shoulder harness has a horizontal linking strap across the front that I'm going to have to shift down to bra band level if I want to be able to move in it. Both pairs of cargo pants are going to have to be taken in as much as possible at the waist, to eliminate any extra bulk underneath the utility belts. My boots, at least, are going to have low heels, because I'm a weirdo and I much prefer dancing, running, and doing other agility tricks in shoes with a super-springy instep. Cap is very gymnastic and Jazmin needs to be able to move, so instead of an armored under layer, she's probably getting that smoothed-down look with some heavy-duty Spanx.

The internets are not going to give a shit about 99% of my harebrained schemes, but they may in fact care about this one. We're looking into putting up a Patreon project on my account and a GoFundMe page, in the hopes that some of the people who care will also have some spare cash. If anyone else wishes to be roped into helping with this turkey, drop me a line at