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I have a thing about Beauty and the Beast tales, and I think I’ve just figured out why.

Fairy tales are classics for a reason. They strike deeply-ingrained cultural notes that resonate across many lines. (And like most of history, they’re often pretty hard on women.) But what is it about this particular storyline that appeals to me? I’d never really thought about it, until I found myself reading a not terribly well-done version and wondering why I was still reading. Why this sub-genre appeals to me. Then I figured it out.

It’s because in this story, she saves the day.

* * *

We can argue about the story or the level of efficacy Beauty has (not to mention her name), but the template of the story lends itself to modern updates in a way that many other fairy tales do not.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed other fairy tale retellings, but they don’t always appeal to me in the same way. Is it because there’s no princess in sight? Because there’s room for ethical debates alongside the magic and mystery? Because both main characters are flawed in interesting ways? Probably.

* * *

If you’re too young to remember a time when girls in (at least some) stories did not rescue themselves, count your lucky stars. When I was a kid, that’s pretty much all we had. Princess in a tower, waiting to be rescued? Check. Princess in dragon’s lair, waiting to be rescued? Check! Princess orphaned, alone, and (say it with me now) waiting to be rescued? Yep. And then, of course, there were all those stories where the girl didn’t even make it out alive. Ouch.

My parents tried, but it’s hard to counter the weight of all that history. Slowly, slowly, feminists pushed and creators did better and the world began to shift, but in the meantime, I was a voracious reader with limited formative years.

My attachment to the story may also have had something to do with my own position in the world at the time. The role of misunderstood outsider was one to which I could relate.

I mean, Heinlein’s* Friday was a big deal back in the day. Hard sci-fi starring a kick-ass woman of complex genetic makeup and latte-colored skin? Um, yes please.

* * *

On a related note, I recently learned that my father’s science fiction habit started thanks to recommendations from a sci-fi minded staff member at his university, lo those many years ago. That’s what got our shelves filled with speculation, and I’m better for it. So thank you, interesting unnamed woman who cared enough to share what she knew. (And if that doesn’t sum up most of human history, well, I don’t know what does.)

And that is one reason why I like what I like. Whatever you like, find a way to distill what’s good from it and embrace it. Even if at first it looks a little like a beast.

* * *

* There is deserved debate over Heinlein’s treatment of gender, but his stories helped me see that a different world, a better world, was possible as a kid, and that’s something I’ll always appreciate. It also made me think more about writing, and how to fix what’s broken, and it looks like I’m not the only one. Here’s Jo Walton’s take: The worst book I love: Robert Heinlein’s Friday.

* * *

lion in darkness
Photo by Matthew Kerslake on Unsplash

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I like Rube Goldberg machines. They are ridiculous and entertaining and look like something I might actually be able to make (even if that’s not always true). They also help me pay attention to the everyday objects and systems around me in new and more interesting ways, always helpful for creativity!

Here’s a fun one for all you cake lovers out there.

I especially love the butter bit. (TBH, though, after all that, I’d want chocolate:)

* * *

And don’t even get me started on some of the lockdown creations people have come up with, like this family of awesome in Toronto. 

Well done!

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If you, like me, watched the Mars landing and thought, “So cool. But something is definitely up with that parachute,” you were not wrong!

Image via the Parachute Up-Look Camera A on Feb. 23, 2021 (Sol 2). NASA/JPL-Caltech

The striking red and white pattern was too distinctive to be meaningless. 

I initially speculated that the design was meant to help engineers better understand the forces at work as the lander fell through the atmosphere, but nope. With more thought I might have made some progress, but I put the question aside and focused on other things (like the first audio recording from the Red Planet).

Cue the Internet.

There’s a hidden message in the parachute of NASA’s Mars rover – The Verge

Depending on the shape and location of the red-and-white color patterns circling around the parachute’s center, the segments represent different numbers which can be translated through binary code.

— Internet sleuths solve secret message on Perseverance rover’s Mars parachute | Space

Check out the key below, showing the code in four concentric patterns. It reads: Dare Mighty Things. That’s the Perseverance team motto and is also on the wall at the Jet Propulsion Lab. JPL gets another shout-out in the outer ring, which lists the Lab’s lat/long coordinates on Earth. (That’s going to be awfully confusing for any aliens who find it on Mars:)

Image shared by Rick von Hagn on Twitter https://twitter.com/MrIosity/status/1364436321457082370

Well done!

* * * 

Speaking of extraterrestrials, now seems like a grand time to plug my favorite new Syfy show, Resident Alien.

An alien crash lands on Earth and must pass himself off as small-town human doctor Harry Vanderspeigle. Arriving with a secret mission to kill all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life…but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world.

It stars the fabulous Wash, I mean Alan Tudyk, plus a cast of other terrific, talented and quirky actors, and is a thing of beauty. The premiere was frakking hilarious.

It’s on my mind because it plays on Wednesday nights, but if you missed it, full episodes are available online for the next year or so.

I’m chuckling just thinking about it.

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This is quite a month for Mars missions. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been on the planet since 2012, toddling around mountains and craters (ahem, doing serious science, but it’s so cute!), far beyond its expected lifetime.

Now if all goes well, it will get a little company.

* * *

Due to good planetary positioning*, three spacecraft launched from Earth last July. Amal, the spacecraft helmed by the UAE, is now in position for orbital observations. China’s Tianwen-1 is orbiting now in preparation for a summer rover landing, and NASA’s Perseverance is slated to (fingers crossed!) land tomorrow February 18th around 3:55 p.m. ET.

I’m serious about the fingers crossed but though, because Perseverance is trying something dramatic, parachuting down to the surface, firing rockets for stability, then dropping cables to the surface. Here’s a video illustrating the process, aptly dubbed “7 Minutes of Terror,” of Entry, Descent, and Landing. 


Have I mentioned there’s an eleven-and-a-half minute comms delay? That’s the scary part. Once they put the quarter in, they just have to let the whole song play out.

* * *

Want all the fun and none of the terror? Live near a Krispy Kreme shop?** Then February 18th is your lucky day! Krispy Kreme is offering a one-day only promotion

The Mars Doughnut: A Chocolate Kreme-filled doughnut dipped in caramel icing with a red planet swirl and sprinkled with chocolate cookie crumbs. This limited-edition doughnut is available in shops and online for one day only.

Mmmmmmars.

Buy these tomorrow or, if you were one of the many, many people who submitted your name for NASA’s “Send Your Name to Mars” campaign (me! oh wait, still no doughnut shop), print out your boarding pass and get a free doughnut.

* * *

Want to get a better feel for what it’s like to actually drive a rover on the surface of Mars? There is a free augmented reality app lets you turn your backyard, or living room, or wherever into Mars. You can walk, drive the rover, explore or do science:

This New AR App is the Coolest Way to Learn About Mars

It’s definitely time to rewatch The Martian!

* * *

* For more on how to calculate this, see Basics of Space Flight and Let’s Go to Mars! Calculating Launch Windows, or just rewatch The Martian. You know you want to!
** Like I used to, once upon a time!

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I know I’ve been on a whole snow / winter kick but hey, it’s winter! It’s also snowing here today and is very pretty, with the sort of light, fluffy flakes that bring a blanket of quiet as they fall. Which reminds me!

These free printable Star Wars snowflake patterns from Anthony Herrera Designs are very cool. If you like that sort of thing, which I do!

Just one fine example of Starflake awesomeness

I’ve made these in printer paper, cardstock and acrylic, using everything from scissors, Cricut, and laser cutter. Print, cut, and enjoy!

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The Eyes Have It

Well, I thought I was going to write about something else today, but apparently (apropos of this previous post) I wanted to draw eyes. It’s what I would have done for that earlier post if I hadn’t hit a little hiccup in the software department.

I recently had to give up Photoshop and the rest of Adobe’s Creative Suite. Ok, I didn’t have to, but the subscription software model gives me hives, so I switched to Affinity Photo. It’s a little like trying to bake a cake in someone else’s kitchen. Same concept, same goal, but everything’s in a slightly different place and the ingredients are all different brands. So I’m having fun teaching myself what’s what and where.

And this is me experimenting:)

original image: Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

That’s a lot of eyes!

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Panda Party!

Today could use a little pick-me-up, so I give you…
Pandas in the snow!

And now I’m smiling 🙂

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Ugh. I slept not well, feel not 100% well, and it’s Tuesday, the most demanding of my work days. But! I have decided!* Today will be a not bad day. Probably.

How do I know that this is true? Because already one thing has gone right. No spiders in my straws.

As you may remember, I usually have a smoothie for breakfast, the kind with chia and hemp seeds and other ingredients that require big straws. You may also know that I have a soft spot for the planet and the critters who live here (even creepies like spiders), so I don’t use plastic straws. A thoughtful friend gave me some cool metal bendy straws for my birthday (thanks, L.:)** which are terrific for things like lemonade and iced tea, but for smoothies, I like glass.

That’s them on the right. Sturdy borosilicate glass straws*** with rounded ends, thick enough for thick liquids but clear enough to see if anything has crawled inside during the night. Like a spider.****

It’s only happened once, but coming this close to sucking up a house spider first thing in the morning? Not something one forgets.

So, how do I know that today is going to be a not terrible day? No spiders for breakfast. I count that as a win.*****

Hope you have a not terrible day too, but if you don’t, remember that it happens to the best of us!

“But I am very poorly today & very stupid & I hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.” 

― Charles Darwin

I think of this quote a lot on bad days. Just keep going. You’ll get through it.

* * *

* I find this sort of declaration works better if exclamation points are involved.

** This photo shows other cool gifts as well, like the fun person-shaped tea infuser and spice rack. I try not to be too saccharine, because sometimes life just really is hard no matter how much positive thinking one applies, but starting off the day feeling both grateful and fortunate helps.

*** My straws came from a company called GlassDharma but they’ve retired now. They passed on their lifetime guarantee to another company called DrinkingStraws. I haven’t tried them yet but their straws look fun.

**** For a while we were getting spiders in all kinds of weird places, like the blender and yes, straws. My guess is that it the light refraction in those places looks something like water to them, but that’s just a guess.

***** The spiders are off doing what they do. I don’t kill them.

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One Bern

Mondays and Tuesdays are my busiest work days, so I asked Bernie to stop by and keep you all company.

Yes, #Berniesmittens is a thing right now and why not, I think we could all use some fun. (I believe I’ll call it a Bern, or one unit of unself-conscious fun.) Want to make your own fun with Bernie? The image is here.

If you want your very own version of the mittens, I have semi-sad news. The teacher who made those mittens can’t keep up with the thousands of requests that came her way after the inauguration. Interested in making your own? Check out this guide from The Guardian:

How to make Bernie Sanders’ inauguration mittens

Or do what most of us are doing when we can, and stay inside:)

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I’m baking today. Remember that recipe I posted a couple of days ago? Yeah, that’s the one. Mr. Man is fresh out of sandwich bread and I like to bake, so it’s a win-win.

Bread is at once astonishingly simple (flour + water and optional leavening and heat, the end) and complex. Once you get past the basics, head onto the web and search for “baking bread,” you’ll find a million (no wait, 1.61 billion! seriously?) hits, plus an entire genre of cookbooks plus whole cultures (hello, France!) that revolve around this particular culinary marvel.

* * *

I like bread. I like baking. I don’t love lots of nitpicky details.* That’s why I spend a non-zero amount of time trying to simplify my favorite recipes. I’m usually asking “What can I strip from this process and still have the result turn out well?” 

But. Our house is cold at night plus my flour spends most of its time in the freezer, and cold dough is sluggish dough. So today I’m going to highlight a little thing called “desired dough temperature.” (Yes, the acronym is unfortunate, but it’s still a useful concept.)

“…there’s a crucial facet of baking that can help us bakers increase consistency that isn’t always immediately apparent: the importance of dough temperature in baking.”

— The Importance of Dough Temperature in Baking | The Perfect Loaf**

The article linked above gets into the nitty gritty of what and why, if you’re up for a deep dive. Here’s a similar review from King Arthur, who I love***: 

Desired dough temperature | King Arthur Baking

* * *

Geesh, so many footnotes today. Where was I? Right, how to produce consistent bread through temperature control. Ahem. 

Short version: balance ingredient and room temperatures so your dough is ~78F. The easiest way to do that is to tweak the temperature of your liquid to compensate for cold flour, say, or a cold room.

There’s a formula, which I dutifully wrote down, then thought, “Self, you know the internet worked this out already. There’s got to be a handy dough calculator just waiting for you!” And lo, there was. I’m sure there are lots of them, but this is the one I’ve been using:

Common Bread Baking Calculators | The Perfect Loaf

This is what my calculator looked like for this morning’s dough:

I used my mixer to knead the dough today and had to guess on the friction factor, but I came quite close to my target****:

And look, it’s time to shape the dough for its second rise. Happy baking!

* * *

* I was never the kid who memorized every single dinosaur genus and species, or knew every baseball stat, or could rattle off the weather in my hometown in 1861. I suspect that particular period in a child’s life has to do with some confluence of brain expansion outpacing life expansion, but that’s just me guessing. Hmm… This is where I have a moment of deep introspection and realize, wait a minute, I was that kid. Not dinosaurs or sports, but Star Wars. And Lord of the Rings. On the other hand, I was never the sort of completist who had to love all things Star Wars (sorry Episodes I, II & III, you definitely do not complete me), so no judgements here.

** Aside: That Brød & Taylor proofer in this blog’s first picture? I want that. It’s pricey and a mostly single-use appliance and I don’t know that it’s quite big enough to hold all of our yogurt containers and as I’ve been telling myself for the past three years, I do not need it. And still it calls to me:)

*** Both as a mythical modern legend and a company. I liked T. H. White’s The Once and Future King and Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave as a kid. Although I try to ignore that business with Guinevere and Lancelot and Mordred and… ok, maybe I just like Merlin and Excalibur and the Round Table. Where (let’s bring it home) they would have enjoyed bread!

**** I probably should have stuck the probe in all the way (have I learned nothing from aliens?) but the dough ball was so nice I didn’t want to puncture it.

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