the geek life

Wisdom from The Doctor

Impossible Astronaut Day was the 23rd. I kept finding these weird marks on my arm, but the only thing I heard was silence…

Impossible astronaut day

Here are eleven things I have learned from The Doctor:

The least important things sometimes, my dear boy, lead to the greatest discoveries.
1st Doctor

Logic, my dear Zoe, merely enables one to be wrong with authority.
2nd Doctor

A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.
3rd Doctor

There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t act a little childish sometimes.
4th Doctor

You may disguise your features but you can never disguise your intent.
5th Doctor

What’s the use of a good quotation if you can’t change it?
6th Doctor

Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way.
7th Doctor

I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.
8th Doctor

The past is another country. 1987’s just the Isle of Wight.
9th Doctor

Some people live more in twenty years than others do in eighty. It’s not the time that matters, it’s the person.
10th Doctor

My experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly, always hope.
11th Doctor

joanna irl

Thoughts on Boston, Editorial Choices, and why I’m choosing not to look.

This has been stewing in my mind for a couple of days, so you’ll have to bear with me.

The whole world is aware of the bombings that took place two days ago at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Thanks to this age of social media, in which everyone has a phone and every phone has a camera, we knew within minutes what happened. It was like a flood: the first few confusing mentions, then more and more until everyone from national TV to Twitter to the street corner were talking about it, and mostly nothing else, on Monday.

And with it came the photos. Raw, in-the-moment photos. Images normally reserved for movies and special effects were real and vivid and so bright and clear.

And I decided not to look.

As humans, we can’t help but watch sometimes. Horrific things unfold and we can’t tear our eyes away, we can’t seem to stop the “rubberneck” effect. In a time when we have unlimited access to images like those coming from Boston, it’s hard to not look. It’s also hard to know when you’re going to see something that will burn itself into your mind for the rest of your life.

One of the strange things about our instantaneous news is how we have shifted from wanting to know to actually feeling that we need to know what’s happening. We are almost like a hive-mind, reaching out, making sure that every single person knows something bad is happening somewhere. And then we sit and obsess over it, either by planting ourselves in front of the television, or the computer, or the Twitter feed on a phone, and we watch for every update, for every theory, for every new shocking tidbit.

Don’t get me wrong on this. It is important to know what happened. It is vital that we find out who or what is responsible for this terrible act, that we bring justice to them, and that we make every effort to stop this from happening again.

But we seem to have developed an idea that it is somehow our civic, or even our moral duty to watch these things as they unfold. Minute by minute, we stare at the continued lack of information, the increased flood of sickening images, as if somehow by letting our lives stop it will change things.

The people running toward the explosions to help, those carrying away the strangers to get aid, those running toward hospitals to give blood, they are all heroes, all showing the capacity of humanity for good in the face of evil.

But in the midst of all of that, for those of us hundreds or thousands of miles away, those of us who are removed, there wasn’t anything we could do. I think that feeling of helplessness is what draws us to stop and do nothing but watch, to put ourselves into the situation as if somehow by participating in the communal watching we can help.

And in the midst of it, hundreds of individuals (and then news agencies) have to make editorial decisions about what we as a community will watch.

The images coming out of Boston were horrific. They were sickening and shocking and most of all real. They were unedited snapshots (and videos) of real time disaster and, especially at first, none of them were posted or shared with any warning.

No matter how much we feel it is important to know in the moment, it is important to remember that we are not obligated to look. We just aren’t. There are things that can’t be unseen, and there are people who do not need to see the blood to understand the horror of it.

And while there were amazing, helpful things that came from social media that day (such as helplines getting passed quickly and Google’s person finder spreadsheet), there was also potential for people to see their loved one, lying on the street, and to find out that way what happened, or for a child to suddenly find themselves facing something that will induce nightmares for years to come.

Why does this matter?

I read an op-ed that pointed out that these bombs were meant to be seen. They were left at a place conspicuously crowded and exceedingly photographed. The finish line itself is covered with cameras to record winners, record runs, you name it. The person or group responsible wanted us to see and wanted us to be horrified.

And so I chose not to look.

I am angry, yes, and I am horrified that this happened and by the idea that such a thing could happen anywhere at any time. But I also know that seeing those images would do me more harm than good. It was hard to break the mental cycle, that need to read every article, to know moment by moment the reactions on the ground, but I had to pull myself away, to give myself that sense of separation, the wait-and-see to find out what really happened instead of the rumor and fear-mongering and hearsay.

I am still avoiding the pictures and videos. I will continue to do so. They don’t deserve the power we give them. Instead I will continue to pray for the victims, and remember Romans 12:21.

Do not be overcome by evilbut overcome evil with good.

joanna irl

Winter in a red ball gown– my Traveling Red Dress story

So, I mentioned in passing (in my last blog entry, actually) that some of the photos from my trip to the North Carolina Outer Banks were taken while I was wearing a red ball gown. I said I’d come back to that. This is me coming back to that.


There is a movement called the Traveling Red Dress. It’s about supporting people, sending encouragement to people who need it, whether you know them or not. The Red Dress can be anything (although usually it is an actual red dress) that represents all the times we say no to ourselves because something isn’t sensible. And I’ve said no to non-sensible things a lot in the last few years. I call it my “Grown-up Brain” and it drives me a little nuts, because really I want to wear a hat with ears and eat rainbow cupcakes and watch My Little Pony. And I may do all of those things (when I’m at home, and don’t usually admit such things) but really I mostly talk myself out of things with: “You’re thirty. People who are thirty don’t do that.” Or “You don’t need that right now, it can wait.” Or “Maybe I shouldn’t be admitting to people that I really do like My Little Pony.” You know, all the usual things people my age have to logic their way through in daily life.

And then comes the dress.

Last year, when J was deployed, I had a lot on my plate. I was stressed beyond belief. And I wound up making a much needed trip to North Carolina to visit friends and family.

And when I got home again, I found that someone, a stranger I didn’t know from Oregon, had mailed me a Red Dress. I’d been sponsored for one.

The whole point of the Red Dress is to have it, be fabulous in it, have your picture taken, and then send it to the next person who needs it. You’re not supposed to keep it.

I’ve had mine for a year.

It came to Hawaii and between the end of deployment and the start of the move and everything in between, I never got my Red Dress photos in Hawaii. Not to worry, I told myself. I’ll take them in California before J has to deploy. I was sure there would be an opportunity!

And then it took us much longer to find a place to live than expected, and he left sooner than expected, and I never got my Red Dress photos in California. No problem, I thought. I’ll be in New York this fall and I’ll take my photos there!

Then Hurricane Sandy came. No New York trip. I was, however, back in North Carolina for another visit.

So as I approached my two months in North Carolina marker, I started to wonder if I shouldn’t just send the dress on its way again. It had done its job, after all; it had made me feel special when it arrived, and I had fun trying it on and getting it fitted, and it was a RED BALL GOWN, which is something completely not sensible that I’d never have bought for myself. So I was done with it, right?


A friend of mine got in touch, wanting to get out of town for a weekend to go chasing wild horses. She also happens to take photos. I asked if she’d like taking photos of the Red Dress. She said ABSOLUTELY.

And here they are.

It was bitterly cold, the Outer Banks were getting a winter storm with high winds that cut through the fabric, and I could barely take off my wool coat, but we stood on the beach and took photos anyway.

So that was my Red Dress story. It’s ready to go traveling again. If you know anyone somewhat close to my size (I had the dress taken in, but the fabric wasn’t cut so it can be let out again– or taken in more), let me know. I’m looking for the next person who needs it.

The Red Dress was claimed and has gone traveling again. ^_^

conservation ftw, joanna irl

Life Lessons from the Zoo

I realized today that I have learned several important Life Lessons from my time spent at various zoo and animal-related places. Here are some of them.

  • Easy humor is not the same as smart humor and usually not clever or original. Put some thought into it. (Just today I got the oh-so-clever line, “And what kind of wild animal are you?” Thanks, funny guy. Because I haven’t heard that in, oh, two days.)
  • People all think they know what’s best, and will tell you so at any opportunity, especially when they don’t understand the reasoning behind the thing they’re being asked to do.
  • “Having fun at work” means all sorts of different things. I think I’m the type of person who views “high productivity” as more fun that “sitting around” and that’s good to know.
  • “High productivity” doesn’t equate to overwhelming paperwork. Being outside and having a lot to do is better than being inside and having a lot to do.
  • If it doesn’t have a tail, it’s not a monkey, even if it has a monkey kind of shape. This is true for other things; calling something a name doesn’t make it the thing you are calling it.
  • Every day there is the same exact mess to deal with, and the work will never be done, but that doesn’t make the work less worthwhile.
  • Things are not always what they seem; a bucket might indicate it’s “feeding time” but it might also contain tools, paint, fill-dirt, or yes, even poop. Don’t assume, just ask.
  • Tourists always wear bad shoes, whether it’s hiking in high heels or the chunky sandals that are unnecessary for paved, flat sidewalks.
  • Act like you are supposed to be there and chances are no one will question you.
  • Make eye contact and smile and people will tell you their life stories– they want someone to listen, even if you’re trying really hard to get your chores done.
  • Weeds always grow back, unless you take them out at the root. Find the root and chances are you can fix the problem once and for all.
  • Admitting when you don’t know how to do something isn’t a weakness; it’s a chance to learn how to do something new.
  • Using the tools you’re given correctly makes all the difference in the world; no matter how many times you swing a pick-ax, if you don’t hold it the right way it won’t make a dent.
  • You have to wade through (and shovel out) a lot of crap in order to earn the reward in the end, but it’s worth it. It is absolutely worth it.


joanna irl

Alrighty Then: pop culture references that… don’t.

Recently I’ve started paying attention to various ways our everyday language is strange (being in a place where people commonly don’t quite understand one another even though we can all speak “English” does that to you). Our use of expressions and idioms, for instance, must confuse some people not from the US to no end. I give you: “That joke kills me!” as an example. It’s extreme sounding if you don’t know that it’s meant as a metaphor.

I’m not talking about accents, either, though I will say it took me a minute to tell the nice Australian gentleman at the zoo yesterday where to find the “taoy-gahrs” that were enjoying the rain as large, stripey cats who like getting wet do. Once I realized he wasn’t talking about a type of turtle, it helped a lot.

Back to my point, though. One of the things I’ve noticed lately is how many pop culture references we make every day and it got me wondering: How many things do we say all the time without even thinking about its original reference point?

Example: today I used the phrase “Alrighty then!” and then had to stop and think because it struck me that I was quoting something but couldn’t think what. It didn’t matter because it’s become a common expression and no one finds it strange, nor do they find it funny because unless you ask someone to really think about it, they won’t come to the realization that I’ve just quoted Ace Ventura any faster than I did. I mean, that movie is old by pop culture’s standards. A lot of people haven’t seen it. And there are people like me who haven’t seen it (or haven’t seen the whole thing) and know it best because of its being referenced in pop culture.

There are a lot of phrases we use that are from movies, TV shows, music, and what have you for which I’m sure the vast majority of people don’t even know the original things being referenced. There are also things where I’m guessing the reference is better known than the original thing itself.

Other examples:

  • “Wink wink, nudge nudge” is used to humorously make someone aware that you’re hinting at something. It comes from Monty Python (as a huge number of our pop cultural references do) and an innuendo-laden sketch from Flying Circus.
  • “Beam me up, Scotty” is maybe one of the more famous examples of this; though most people know it’s a Star Trek reference, most people don’t know it wasn’t actually said in the original series. Although for knowing that, I might be one of the people being targeted by this (often making-fun-of-geeky-people) phrase.
  • The Ninja Turtles are, of course, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, and Rafael. They are all famous Renaissance artists, but my guess is that most (I’m being optimistic and giving people credit for knowing Michelangelo and possibly da Vinci, if they realize that it’s that Leonardo) folks think of the Ninja Turtles first.
  • “Drinking the Koolaid” is another one that gets used, usually to mean that you’ve bought into an idea. I doubt many people in my generation or younger know it’s referring to the cult leader who got his followers to drink a flavored something and commit mass suicide, which was essentially mass murder. Not a good reference, though it has now become so commonplace that the dark edge has been removed from the expression itself. Reading about what happened is, of course, still horrifying.
  • Just the other day I said, “What we’ve got is a failure to communicate,” and received a blank look from someone. I think people still use and get this one, but it’s definitely not a younger-generation expression.

There are, of course, others, but you get my point. Some are even better known than the things they themselves were referencing.

How many things do we say every day that make no sense out of our cultural context, and how many more don’t mean the same thing any more? Expressions and slang are always evolving our language, and have been since the roots of English began over a thousand years ago. It’s interesting to see it happening in the here and now, though, and not just in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (which starts the shift from Old to Middle English).

Yeah, I’m a nerd.

joanna irl

Candy Corn Confessional

There are a lot of things from childhood (and even from early adulthood) about which I feel a certain nostalgia. These things range from the $.05 candies (always “tutti frutti”) at the corner store in Edisto when I was 6 to being in Chapel Hill for Halloween during college. In both of these cases, as well as many others, I feel that if I ever tried to go back and recapture the moment as it exists in my head, that it will forever be ruined. Memories last a long time, but those impressions are fleeting in a way, where going back has too much potential to disappoint. Some things are best left to memory lest they turn out to be less than wonderful. It’s quite a bit like the sleigh bell in The Polar Express that eventually stops ringing as the magic of childhood fades.

By the same token, there are some things, mostly very small things, that I have held onto even as I’ve moved farther into adulthood. One of these is decorating for Christmas at the same time every year; I always put up the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving, if not immediately after Thanksgiving dinner itself. This started off as a combination of excitement and convenience: my brother, sister, and I were always very excited to get out the Christmas decorations, but also (especially as we got older) Thanksgiving was one time when everyone was in the house and it could be an event.

But there is one little tradition I have that hasn’t quite faded. Every year I wait for the arrival of the Halloween candy, not because I like Halloween candy specifically, but to get my hands on Brach’s candy corn and pumpkins. (Yes, it has to be Brach’s.) For some reason this particular flavor from childhood has never changed to my palate (I once liked circus peanuts, for instance, and now find them disgusting) and I buy a bag each year. These pumpkins have decorated birthday cakes, have been used as toys, and have been my favorite fall candy for years.

There is a part of me, though, that almost dreads the candy corn because I feel like at some point my tastes will change and I will open my little orange packet and the pumpkins won’t satisfy because I’ll have outgrown the sugary sweetness. I have already found that most sugar candies aren’t good to me any more, but so far the candy corn is still just the way I remember it. And in a strange way, that’s comforting.

joanna irl

Love in a Coffee Cup

So, this happened today.

Manning the rails

I’m doing okay, really. I think I am in complete denial about the whole thing, to be honest. We’ll see how I am two weeks from now. In the meantime, I have a little story about yesterday.

If you know my husband at all, you know that he is what I affectionately call a “coffee snob.” I am not kidding. He lived in Italy for 4 1/2 years and learned to make cappuccinos from a barista at the place down the street from his apartment. We buy Illy coffee (among others) and he has two grinders (a manual and an electric) and (I am not exaggerating) five coffee makers. He has temperature gauges, frothing cups and espresso spoons. And one of the things he does for me is that he makes the coffee.

J is the sort that expresses love more through small actions than through words or gifts. You have to know what to watch for sometimes. And every morning that he has time, he makes me coffee (if I want it) or tea (if I don’t). It’s one of his gifts for me, and I love that about him.

Well, he’s gone now for a while (thanks, US Navy!) and I am left with lots of coffee making equipment and no barista in the house. I do know how to use all of these things but when I just want a cup of coffee, a simple cup and not a whole pot, it’s an awful lot of trouble. It’s time consuming. It’s messy. This is why he does it for me.

And so yesterday while we were out enjoying our last free day together, he took me to an appliance store.

And he bought me a one-cup-brewer.

It’s one of those automated deals where all I have to do is fill the reservoir and choose the flavor I want and it automatically makes the drink for me. All I have to do is throw away the used coffee packet at the end.

While it may seem random (and strange for a coffee snob like mine to purchase), by giving me this little gadget, he has given me coffee for the entire time he’s away. No mess, no fuss. It’s a little way to still take care of me even when he can’t be here.

Dress whites on board

I have love in my coffee cup. What’s in yours? ^_^


If you want more info about the ship getting underway, here are some Navy photos and a video you can have.

joanna irl

Unrequited Wrong Number Love

I was awakened around one in the morning to a text message that I only half noticed. I’m used to getting messages at odd times, either because people forget that my time zone is however many hours behind theirs, or from organizations that I want to hear information and they message me based on my Eastern US time zone phone number.

At 7:30 my phone rang with a number whose area code matched mine. I knew it was a wrong number, and fully expected my usual caller (have I ever told you about my “grandmother” who calls quite frequently?), but found myself on the other line with a young man who obviously felt awkward about asking for the name with whom he asked to speak. I told him it was a wrong number and hung up, then got up and started my day. He called again a little after 9, and this time I tried my best to sound pleasant, but let him know (again) that he had a wrong number.

Then I checked my text messages.

I found a very simple but very sweet message from this guy (addressed to the same name he’s trying to find) with an image of a heart surrounded by roses, wishing this girl a very happy birthday with many more to come.

So now I’m wondering…

Did she give him a wrong number on purpose? If so then it’s a little bit tragic that he’s trying so desperately to just wish her a happy birthday. I can imagine him sitting at home, spending his day wanting nothing more than for her to notice him, for her to realize that he doesn’t just want to be her friend, that he cares very much for her… and to keep getting me on the other end.

On the other hand, maybe he mistyped her number into his phone. Maybe he’s still sitting there, thinking that she gave him the wrong number on purpose and feeling wretched about everything, when she’s sitting at home wondering why she hasn’t heard from him and what has kept him from wishing her a happy birthday. Maybe she’s as lonely as he is and wants nothing more than to know he cares.

And maybe I’m imagining too much into their lives, and maybe there’s nothing more to the story than a simple wrong number, but I wonder how many times in our lives things just happen and we don’t think to look at the bigger picture.

I hope they find one another and I hope they are happy. I really do.