Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

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Like my brownhouse:
   concerned citizen
Thursday, December 2 2010
Like many internet-addicted people with interest in the sciences, I was interested in whatever astrobiological news was being embargoed prior to its release at at 2PM news conference today. Before the content of that story leaked out well before 2PM, I'd been hoping that spectroscopic studies of a distant exoplanet's atmosphere had demonstrated a mix of gases suggesting life on that planet. (It's my informed opinion that such a discovery has a good chance of coming within the next ten years, assuming techological society doesn't first revert to something too marginal to support the necesary research.) An early version of the leaked story had it that new microbes had been discovered that relied on an entirely alien form of biochemistry (that is, they were descended from a different biogenesis event from the one that had produced mushrooms, roosters, and oak trees). That would have been mind-blowing. In the end, though, the news was far more mundane. Microbes had been discovered that could substitute arsenic for phosphorus in their biochemistry. That's admittedly a good trick, but not especially astounding. As for the bacteria themselves, they are clearly descended from bacteria of the sort that gave rise to all other known life. The arsenic utilization trick is just something they picked up later under strong selective pressure in a uniquely-toxic natural environment (Mono Lake, California). It was amazing how poor the level of science reporting of this story was even after the news conference. I have enough biological knowledge to be curious about whether arsenic was being used by these bacteria to make their Phosphate-deoxyribose DNA backbones (part of biological information architecture) or their ATP molecules (part of their energy architecture), but neither information was forthcoming. [In the end, it turned out, nobody is entirely sure yet.]

This evening Gretchen and I would be attending a meeting held by the Town of Woodstock on a motion to revoke the license for the one animal sanctuary with which we have a relationship (the one in Willow). It seems that five of the sanctuary's neighbors had been bothered by noise resulting from the three (count 'em: one, two, three) live music events the sanctuary had held in the last year and had filed a motion to revoke their special use permit. So Jenny and Doug (who run the sanctuary) had rallied the troops, including us.
We entered Woodstock from the west, stopping first at a joinery shop along the Bearsville-Wittenberg Road to check in on a rustic coffee table we're having made for us by a joiner Gretchen had recently met. The original version of the table was a bit too rustic and devoid of straight lines, so we stood around while the joiner dude drew in some lines and interactively made some cuts. It was still perhaps a bit too rustic, but we won't know until we put it in our living room.
The Town of Woodstock meeting was held in a room in one of the buildings on the Comeau Property (where we often walk our dogs). Soon after we arrived, it was pretty much standing-room-only, a crowd populated with many familiar faces. At one end of the room was a large table at which sat Jenny, Doug, their lawyer, and a group of middle-aged people I took to be the Town of Woodstock Board. The first people to speak were the neighbors who were trying to get the special use permit revoked. Their contention was that, owing to the sound of distant music, they'd been unable to read on their screened-in porches or put their grandkids to bed on one or more of the three occasions in the past 365 days when a music event took place. It seemed like an unreasonable expectation for serenity, and planted an idea in my mind for something to say.
The overwhelming bulk of people spoke in favor of the sanctuary and it seemed pretty clear that the Board was sympathetic to their views, though they were polite to those in support of revocation (including one cranky old codger whose last name is a homophone for a word meaning "large subdermal infection"; he cast an especially wide net of accusations, including a complaint that the immaculate sanctuary has a foul smell). [REDACTED]
There'd been a list passed around collecting names, and a lot of people had assumed it was just an attendance list and so when they'd been called on to speak, they'd said that they didn't have anything to say. I came to believe, since I'd signed such a list, that my name would be called. So I'd been thinking of things to contribute. One of my mottos is "never pass up an opportunity for public speaking." In the end, though, I actually had signed the attendance list. If I wanted to talk, I'd have to raise my hand after all the people on the list had said what they'd come to say. It turned out that I was the last member of the public to speak. I introduced myself with my first and last name and then identified myself as a "concerned citizen." The goal here was to maintain mystery as to what side I was on, since this would work better to keep people engaged. (The tendency at these sort of meetings is to listen until the speaker gives away what side he or she is on, which is done immediately.) I said that right now we're in the middle of deer season and the forests ring with the sound of gunfire, at which point the head of the board urged me to get to the point about the one issue they'd been tasked to discuss: the hours of operation. I assured him that I was getting to that. And when I did I concluded my statement by saying that whenever I hear the sound of gunfire, I think how nice it would be if it were to be replaced with the distant sound of music.
Gretchen and I busted out of the meeting early and went to the Gypsy Wolf on the west end of Woodstock. We'd been to the Gypsy Wolf precisely once before approximately seven and a half years ago. We'd found their food disappointing and overpriced and had never gone back. But a lot can change three quarters of a decade, so tonight we decided to give it another try. The place has a warm, though somewhat oddball interior, a sort of Mexican-restaurant-while-high-on-mushrooms ambience that might actually be frightening to some people (the kind of people who can't handle the distant sound of live music wafting into their porch three evenings out of 365). We both ordered the vegetarian burrito, which was easily made vegan. It ended up being a chaotic dish of rice on one side, beans on the other, and weirdly-integrated mix of pan-seared vegetables wrapped in a tortilla in between. It was actually delicious, but still disappointing given that what we really wanted was, you know, burritos. This was the first time I'd ever encountered Negra Modelo on tap (except perhaps Poets & Writers in DC), so I had a pint of that after a disappointing house margarita that tasted like chemicals. That all sounds pretty negative, but we'd go there again.

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