Just Shelley

Wiccan Barbie

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I don’t normally do the link to major publication/major story thing, but Mark Morford’s Barbie The Hot Pagan Witch is too good to pass up. It would seem that Mattel has now come out with a Wiccan Barbie, though the Wicca may not survive the honor. Mark writes:

Secret Spells Barbie is, despite her potential and much like every one of the 150,000 weird sub-subniche Barbies on the market, entirely pointless and disposable and, unless the girls who end up with her somehow tap into their inner badass witchiness and suddenly get inspired by some divine funky moonscream to rip off Barbie’s arms and paint her hair bright red and tattoo her nipples with a Magic Marker and impale her on a red-hot hair pin and suspend her upside down from a dreamcatcher, well, she does nothing to further the cause of funky gorgeous goddess-thick witchness and nothing to further the cause of earthly luscious pagan interconnectedness or divine feminine power.

Not that she claims to. Not that this was ever Mattel’s point, or Barbie’s raison d’etre, really. And I suppose it’s sort of wildly unfair to hope that Barbie might actually inspire girls beyond the hair-twirling saccharine fetishism of shopping and friends and cars and boys and shopping and money and dye jobs and shopping and fake careerism and shopping.

I was given a Barbie once for Christmas because all little girls back then were given Barbies. I can’t remember the outfits I got to go with the doll, but I soon became very bored with it. All you could do with the doll is put clothes on it, take them off and put other clothes on. What was the fun of that?

True, I did have a time when clothes, and the acts of putting them on and taking them off, were an important part of my life. When I reached puberty and became interested in boys and fitting in (not necessarily in that order) clothes were a part of the process. However, this obsessive interest in wearing the right thing and spending a lot of money on clothes to become this perfect paragon of rightness faded when I hit a certain age and realized that a pair of jeans and a nice cotton shirt lasts forever and feels great. And I don’t think Mattel makes a Barbie with worn jeans and a cotton shirt.

When we were little, we were supposed to use our imaginations and put ourselves into the glamorous world of Barbie, but how could we? The image was as plastic as the doll. I had brown/red hair, not blonde. I had no boobs or hips when I was a kid, and Barbie had no nipples or hair under the arms or in the groin. My imagination could extend to pirates and make believe worlds with white rabbits and cards that talked, but it couldn’t make Barbie into anything I could understand, much less appreciate and seek to emulate.

I gave the doll to my dog to chew. He had much more fun with it than I ever did.


Speaking of spending just to spend, Sheila writes about an eBay auction of Beanie Babies that has some extremely funny comments by the person making the sale. (Jeneane wishes this guy blogged. I want to use his secrets for my own auction – don’t buy these rocks! They’re just rocks!)

But the ultimate in disposable society and spending is covered in Sheila’s story on Disposable DVDs. Want to know why corporate America has us by the (virtual) balls? Disposable DVDs is a hint.


Burningbird’s Diet for Life

Usually our minds turn to dieting when Spring is here and our thoughts are on bathing suits and shorts for the summer. However, a couple of webloggers I know have been talking about dieting lately, and this is something also on my mind.

Frank Paynter is on a diet that has him eating plenty of vegetables, but little fruit and he’s counting scallops. I can’t eat scallops – shellfish allergy reactions – but I wouldn’t be amenable to anything that cuts into my fruit. I love fruit. I love veggies, too, but the grocery stores are all on strike here and it’s hard to find anything fresh.

Norm Jenson recounts a very funny tale of coffee and donuts, with some problems with number and other forms of perception. Personally, its hard for me to bypass a Krispie Kreme, but luckily the only time I go past the nearest store is on my way back from some of my favorite hikes.

(Then there’s Jonathon Delacour’s Ozu DVD boxed set diet. When I first read the story I thought Jonathon had written I’ve stopped eating, I’ve given up drinking…, until he had all of the Ozu DVD box sets. I was reminded of that man in London who didn’t eat for 40 days and how awful he looked, and was getting ready to put together an emergency Paypal account labeled “Feed Jonathon”, when I re-read the story and saw that Jonathon was not eating out until he gets all these movies. Oh. I really must learn to be more careful with my reading in the future.)

Now that I’m feeling pretty damn good myself, I’m also focused on getting back into shape. I not only need to lose weight, I also need to re-establish the muscle system that would allow me, among other things, hike some of the better trails without killing myself or having some nice young woman come along and say, “Oh you poor thing! Are you okay? Do you need help back to your car?”

I’m not one for diets though. The Atkins leaves me cold with its focus on returning us to primal man, when we hunted and killed mastadons, barely searing the butchered carcass over open fires before wolfing down huge chunks of greasy meat. Frank’s diet, though sounding more balanced, also turns me off with the limitations on fruit and having to count scallops.

I have been giving serious consideration to turning vegetarian, not the least because I am a strong animal rights advocate. However, I am also an omnivore, as are all humans, and I don’t think I can quite hack cutting out all meat from my diet. I can cut down, and go with leaner meats and range fed critters and push for more humane practices – but I’m not ready to go the grains and legume route. Not just yet.

(Yes, I have had tofu, thank you. I’d rather chew the foam I’m using to pack my rocks.)

I remember when I was very young my mother gave me a diet sheet that someone had given her. It was a joke diet and included items like “eat five banana seeds for breakfast”, and “for a snack, cut open an orange and inhale the fumes”. What was funny about this is that my mother, tiny woman that she is, never had a problem with her weight – she’s always worked too hard. Even now at 70 she’s in phenomenal shape, and when she was younger, she was a drop dead green-eyed beauty. I inherited her eyes, but I inherited my Dad’s build and the Powers have always been big. Not just tall – big. Come to a family party with this clan and you’re going to get scared to death about being tromped on by accident.

“Oh, I’m sorry little man. I didn’t see you.”

A great doctor I had years ago who helped me quit smoking said that my family doesn’t have a weight problem – our metabolism is great in fact. We need little food to maintain our bulk, while people who are naturally skinny are folks that have a bad metabolism. They need more food just to maintain their size, which means their metabolism is inefficient. What she said made sense, but I used to wistfully think that I would have liked to be a tad less efficient.

To compensate for the fact that I can live on the calories of a person several inches shorter than me is the fact that when I do put my mind to getting in shape, it happens quickly. From previous years work in Karate and being a relatively active person, I have a musculature that seems to snap back into existence with only little effort – once I exercise the discipline I need to bring that baby out of hiding. Luckily, I am more active in cold weather rather than warm, so now is the time for me to drop the excuses of not feeling well, and get well. However, rather than diet, I’m looking at making lifestyle changes, some easier than others. The changes may not make me into a svelte figure of a woman, but I’ll feel good.

First is exercise. I haven’t been hiking or walking as much as I should in the last couple of months and this is going to change. I’m returning to my walks every day, and whenever I can, several times a week I hope, hitting the hiking trails. This time of year there are no ticks and chiggers and I can walk the hikes I have to avoid in the summer.

Hauling twenty pounds of camera equipment around helps, but I also need to start working out with weights again. I believe and strongly too, that the reason women have so much trouble with menopause and other aspects of aging is that they no longer indulge in stenuous exercise when they get older. By this I don’t mean the treadmill – I mean lifting heavy things and really pushing our bodies to the limit. To me the best estrogen therapy is a good work out with the weights. This not only helps to balance estrogen in your body, it also triggers your muscles to burn fat more efficiently, as well as increasing your absorption of calcium.

Swimming doesn’t cut it. You need to have gravity to get the best effects. Swimming is great for the joints and great therapy if you’ve had joint problems – but you need weight training, too. Even if it’s working with a set of barbells when you watch TV at night.

Weight training and walking will hurt rather than help if you don’t add in the final leg of this fitness triangle – stretching. I have a new Pilates video that I’m going to try but I find that sometimes the best stretches are the ones we’ve used for years. Newer isn’t always better.

Working the body is a good thing but that’s only part of the battle – I also need to establish a new regime for my mind, and that’s going to be the harder task.

To start, I am going to stop putting my ego into the hands of others. When we’re young we bring things we make to our parents to get their praise, but somewhere along the way, we get stuck into needing that praise when we become adults. Appreciating praise is one thing – needing it and becoming dejected when we don’t get it, that’s another and it isn’t healthy.

Weblogging tends to enforce this, with our every increasing need for link fixes and rank, as if our pages have become the new druggie flophouses of choice. I challenge you to not to check your referrers or your ranks for the next week, and see when you start sweating. I did this, cold turkey, this week and the only thing I check now is Technorati because it gives me information about who is linking to a specific post of mine, and I like to read what people say; to join in other conversations.

(Or, is that an excuse, similar to saying I need the speed to lose weight and the barbituates to calm down; the cigs to keep from getting angry, and the booze to keep on smiling.)

Part of this effort to take back our egos also means that, at times, we have to cut people out of our lives who are quick to judge us, and even quicker to express that judgement. Life is too short to be surrounded by people who are quick to point out our faults, but strangely silent when it comes to our strengths. When faced with the weight of their disapproval, we can become dejected, eat more, walk less and feel less good about ourselves – it becomes a pretty nasty cycle of disapproval and living to that expectation of disapproval.

People who provide praise and support in equal measure to advice or constructive criticism, these are our friends. These are healthy, confident people and the type of person we should seek to become. The others aren’t worth our effort, and they’re certainly not worth our time or tears.

I’ve read entries in weblogs about people having to come to grips with friends or family members who disapprove of them, who condemn them, or who constantly demean or tear down the person. Usually the weblogger has had to get professional help in dealing with this situation, and that’s not a bad thing; I believe in doing what you need to do to get healthy. However, I can’t help thinking that the person causing the problem is the one that needs help and perhaps the best thing for the weblogger is to tell them so, and then say good-bye until they get their own problems fixed. Yes, even with family – being born in to a family is not the same thing as entering a covenant of disapprobation.

As for food, the traditional focus of a ‘diet’ and really that aspect of getting into shape that’s the least important component: I am practicing moderation, and I’ve had to eliminate or severely curtail some types of foods, but I’m not counting, weighing, or otherwise fixating on it.

Well, except for my box of Godiva on my birthday, of course.


Be afraid…be very afraid

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.


qB, in Red or Dead aka How to Kill grey squirrels:

I find my antipathy to our grey furry red-genocidal disease-toting verminous arboreal cockroaches is not unique. There’s even a National Squirrel Awareness Week site with imaginative suggestions from readers as to things to do with squirrels. I particularly enjoy ‘I will run over a squirrel with my tractor’ and the positively glowing ‘im gonna shove a light bulb between every squirrels hairy cheeks and make sum rodent lamps’.

Our apartment complex is crawling with the little grey buggers, but supposedly these critters are native to this area, and therefore not considered a pest species. Still, we put out food for the rabbits and the birds, but none for the squirrels who get plenty from all the nut-bearing trees around.

Grey squirrels were a pest back in the Northwest, and virtually killed off the native, less aggressive red squirrel. We also used to have problems with them getting into our bird feeders, but nothing prepared us for the day they discovered the cat door.

My ex-husband was an M & M junkie at the time, and we usually had a bowl of peanut M & M’s in the family room. One day we came in to find the bowl on the ground, and bitten through M & M candy shells all over the floor. The squirrels had found the cat door, came in, and had a merry old feast.

Now, what qB needs is the black squirrels from California. It’s the only squirrel species I know that can hold its own and beat the greys. What we should do is box some up, and ship them over to England where we can release them in the parks…



Visiting Scovil’s web site to once again look at and admire his photographs of minerals, I discovered the name of the green mystery mineral I discussed yesterday. It’s Vivianite.


It’s not a perfect sample, but at least it’s not blackened as so many Vivianite samples are with exposure to light (she says as she looks at her sample, sitting in the sun). Obvious holes in the matrix show where better crystals have been pried loose, probably to be sold separately. Personally, I think imperfections in the piece adds to its character.

I have always collected based on beauty and character rather than value and perfection. Because of my undisciplined approach, my collection is interesting rather than profound. That’s not to say that the collection isn’t worth money — sometimes beauty and character do go hand in hand with monetary worth, as demonstrated with this virtually flawless rhodochrosite.


Still, there are a few of my samples I shouldn’t include in the collection photos because they’re obvious fakes, or novelty items and of no serious value. When you show your collection, you don’t show these rocks. You certainly don’t photograph them.

Mineral collectors will only show you their good pieces, the ones they’re most proud of. However, if you look into their dark corners and hidden drawers, you’ll find their bits of fraud, fiction, and flaws — samples they think about tossing someday, but they won’t. The imperfect pieces, the mistakes, and the fakes add life to a collection. They add history. They make a collection interesting.

For instance, the photo below is of bismuth, which is normally a featureless blobby white/grey mineral. However, put it into a centrifuge, spin it at fast speeds and inject a little oxygen, and viola — you have a beautiful bit of color. No value to it, but I like my eccentric no value pieces. This particular one reminds me of an Escher drawing. You can also use it as a pencil — now, how handy is that?


I have a few frauds, too. My favorite is a hand-sized rock with quartz and appetite crystals in it. I have no doubt about the nature and quality of crystals, but the sample itself is an obvious fraud. I knew it was a fraud when I bought it. I still bought it, and therein lies the value of the rock.

At an outdoor mineral show consisting of tents set up in the parking lot around a rather seedy motel in Tucson, Arizona, I came across one table filled with yellow-green appetite crystals from Mexico. Most were still attached to their rust-red matrix, making the pieces quite pretty overall.

I tried to effect a knowing attitude, but I swear, I must have had rube tattooed on my forehead. The Dealer, an older man who was very gallant to me and kind to my niece (not all that common among the tents if you’re not buying in bulk), sized me up, came to some kind of internal decision, and brought a rock from underneath his table for me to look at — a hand-sized piece with a couple of relatively nice appetite crystals in it.

“That’s what you want”, he said in heavily accented English. “That’s good rock. Nice crystals. I give you good deal on it.”

I picked up the rock and looked more closely at the two larger crystals. They were both wedged into the rock but even a cursory examination showed that the crystals were cut at the bottom and then glued into the rock, with bits and pieces of broken crystal glued around them in an attempt to hide the obvious manipulation. (Crystals in matrix always sell better than those that are loose.)

I looked up at the dealer and he beamed at me, nodding his head, pointing at the rock and kept saying, “Good rock, nice crystals, eh?”

“It looks like the crystals have flat bottoms and aren’t attached to the rock”, I said.

“No, no. This happens sometimes. Pressure on rock force crystals loose, but they held in by rest of rock.” He assured me, shaking his head a modest display of genuine sincerity. “No, this is good rock. Good crystals. I give you good deal.” Pause.

“Fifty dollars.”

I gaped at him. Literally gaped at him, mouth open in astonishment at the chutzpah of the dealer. I held the rock in my left hand, and pointed at the crystals with the index finger on my right hand and just looked at him.

He smiled back, beaming in pride of this treat he was bestowing on me.

“Fifty dollars?”


“Are you kidding? This is a fake!”

His smile faltered. A hurt look entered his big brown eyes (before, bright black and alert, now suddenly taking on aspects of one’s favorite dog just before it dies). His age set more heavily on his shoulders and he shrunk in slightly, as if in despair. His body said it all: His son has died; his daughter has run off with a biker. I even thought that, for a moment, I could see his upper lip trembling, and a hint of moisture appearing in the corner of his eye. I watched his change of expression — from certitude to dejection — with utter fascination, and more than a little consternation.

“Madam,” he said quietly. “You wrong me. This is no fake. Please, I would not do such a thing”

Placing his hand over his heart, he lowered his head slightly and pulled away from the table, turning his shoulder away from me as if flinching from a blow. I looked back at him and I realized in that moment, I have met fraud before, but I have not met artifice. And artifice is a ceremony, as precise as the tea ceremonies in Japan — my response was equivalent to not taking off my shoes, spilling the tea, dropping the cup, and then farting when I go to pick up the pieces.

I didn’t know what to do. Putting the rock down and walking away would have flawed the moment and marred the experience, for both me and my young niece who was with me that day. But I didn’t know how to recover.

“I, uh, I’m sorry,” I stammered. “Uhm…I didn’t mean to..uh”

The dealer was not a cruel man; or perhaps he was used to dealing with gauche Americans who buy their goods marked with barcodes and stickers, with heavy assurances of quality. He turned towards me, his face now that of one’s favorite wise old Uncle, the one mother invites to dinner but then hides the booze.

“Madam, I understand. There is so much evil in the world. You must be careful. But see now, I am an honest man. But I am not a selfish man. I will give you this rock, this pretty rock for … forty dollars. It is a steal at forty dollars.”

Shrewd eyes on my face. Next line was mine. I had my opening. I could have put the rock down and say that I hadn’t that much money and I still needed to buy lunch for my niece and thanked him and walked away and the moment would have been salvaged, but it wouldn’t have been right. Besides, the crystals were good if small, and there were some interesting bits to the piece, not counting the ingenious use of glue.

“I’ll give you ten dollars for it.”

“Madam! Ten dollars! You are joking! No, no. Ten dollars. No, no!” He exclaimed in dismay, but he also smiled at me in approval of my response — there was hope for me yet, me with my wits dulled by years of supermarket shopping and sell-by dates.

“Thirty-five dollars. I will take thirty-five dollars.”

I was about to counter with fifteen, feeling more confident in this bargaining game when the Dealer picked up another crystal on the table — a small one. A very small one. Barely more than pretty dust.

“And I’ll throw in this lovely crystal for your niece. See? It is a fine crystal. Yes? Good offer?”

“That’s very kind of you,” I said, clenching my teeth at the exclamations of delight from my niece who loves getting something for free even more than she likes sparkly things that cost money.



Books Writing

Don’t search on me

Following on the heels of the recent excitement about searching within pages of books at Amazon, there’s now a growing backlash against this facility from, among others, the Author’s Guild. According to Volokh Conspiracy and numerous publications, such as Ziff-Davis News in the UK, and The New York Times the pushback occurs because each search returns five surrounding pages of a book, and the Guild says that this could be used to get all the pages for a relevant section of a book so it need not be purchased. Ultimately, according to the Guild, this violates contracts between authors and publishers.

I’m an author, and currently have several books out at Amazon. From test searches, it would seem that my Practical RDF book has not been added to the database yet. Personally, I hope it does get added, because it can only help sales.

For instance, a person is interested in an RDF API called Jena, and searches on this keyword, rather than RDF. My book shows up in the results because I cover Jena. This is good for me as an author because the more I put my book in the front of readers’ eyes, the better chance it has of selling. This is a much better selling tool then me going into book stores, pulling my books from obscure shelves and putting them in more prominant locations.

(Eye level of the average person, front of book displayed if there’s room, or pulled out from shelf so it’s no longer even with the other books.)

If I have a problem with the facility is that it’s a mess. There doesn’t seem to be a way to turn off this look inside feature to find a book on a subject, not just a keyword. As for ‘Jena’, its rather surprising the number of ‘Jenas’ in books out there. To compensate for this, you’re reduced to trying different search patterns that focus on Jena, the RDF API, rather than Jena, the Napoleon campaign.

This is less easy then it seems. For instance, you’d think you’d have a winner with ‘java jena rdf’, except the first title that shows is “The Polish Officer: A Novel”. What are these authors talking about?

I, of course, also did a vanity search on my name, in quotes, out at the site and found a few references to it in other books. Not many – I’m usually the writer not the writee. One I thought was particularly interesting is my name showing up in a figure in a book,and the page containing the figure was shown. It would seem the search works with figures as well as text.

As for this enhanced facility adversely impacting on book sales, I’m finding that the current political and economic climate in this country and the rest of the world is doing a great job of this anyway – Amazon’s efforts aren’t adding much to the overall effect.


Professor Bainbridge has some good comments on the negative aspects of this search facility on the sale of his books – but I still want my books in it.