I Love Weird Bugs

This is something that many of my friends find surprising. When I was 16 years old, I wanted to be a myrmecologist when I grew up. That’s a type of entomologist (insect scientist) who specializes in ants. I went to Costa Rica and hiked the rainforest for a week just so that I could see leafcutter ants; I purposely shook an acacia tree so that I could get the special species of ant that lives inside the acacia to come out and bite me (yes, this hurt like hell.) I read tons of books by E.O. Wilson. I still lust after the very expensive but very badass volume The Ants by E.O. Wilson and Bert Holldobler, who are, by the way, probably the greatest myrmecologists of all time. You might also know E.O. Wilson’s name from the even more badass project known as The Encyclopedia of Life, which is like a wiki that aspires to have an entry for every living species known to man.

I’ve kind of gotten over my insect obsession, meaning that there are entire days or weeks in which I do not think seriously about insects and how cool they are. But the fascination never really left me. Thus I link today to this great site that I StumbledUpon:

The 5 Most Horrifying Bugs In the World

Not only are the bugs extremely gross, but they have that same enthusiastic “whoa that is so badass” tone that I remember having when I was 16. These days when I say “that is so badass” I am usually referring to one of my students’ breakthroughs in their writing or something that my horse did. Both more expensive phenomena to produce than ants.

Speaking of ants, I would like to have one of these, please. The aluminum casts, not the guy.

In Memory of Theodore O'Connor, 1995-2008

The name “Theodore O’Connor” probably means nothing to most of this blog’s readership. It will mean even less when I say that it belonged to a horse, not to a person. But today, Theodore O’Connor, better known to horse fans worldwide as “Teddy”, was euthanized at his home stable in The Plains, Virginia. And the horse world is very sad.

Theodore O'Connor, Creative Commons Copyright Allison Conrad
Creative Commons Copyright by Allison Conrad

For the horsepeople who happen to Google this blog and think I’m playing a nasty and cruel joke, trust me, I though the same when I heard the news. But unfortunately, the news is very real.

In his sport of Three-Day Eventing–the horse sport that I love and which I someday hope my own horse will excel in–Teddy was among the very best. He was the 2007 Horse of the Year for the United States Equestrian Federation. He was named to the short list for the 2008 Olympic Games. He finished in the top six at what is arguably the most challenging Three-Day Event in the world, the Rolex Three-Day in Kentucky, in both 2007 and 2008. He was a Wayne Gretzky, a Michael Jordan, in horse form.

But even more impressive than that was that Teddy dominated this sport at the height of 14.3 hands, meaning that he was technically a pony, not a horse. To put that in perspective, Teddy was at least 6 inches shorter than almost any other competitor at his level, and some of his competitors were up to 15 inches taller than he was. When we’re talking about a sport judged on speed of completion with five-foot-tall fences that can be as much as four feet wide, being short was seen as a hell of a disadvantage. Before Teddy, there had never been such a small horse competing at the top levels of the sport, and most people didn’t think it was possible.

I guess nobody gave Teddy that memo, but he was in the habit of clearing those fences with many inches to spare. Here he is landing from a fence at the Rolex Three-Day that was at least five feet tall:

Creative Commons Copyright by Kelsey Sherman

And here’s Teddy doing a victory gallop with the rest of his team (that’s him on the left in case it isn’t obvious).

What makes this hit even closer for me is that Teddy died at home, on a stable yard where safety was a priority. Teddy was being unusually frisky on a routine hack around the property, so the rider wisely chose to dismount and lead him back to the barn rather than risk her safety and the horse’s safety. Unfortunately, Teddy then managed to bolt away from his rider, tripped, and sliced his leg open–an injury from which there is no reasonable recovery, so he was euthanized. Thus Teddy essentially died at his own hand–the rider was doing all she could to keep him under control and safe in a situation the horse had been in dozens of times, yet the horse’s flight instincts got the better of him.

I am sad today for Teddy’s loss. I’ve surprised myself by being so sad about it, in fact. It makes me think of my own horse and how lucky I am to enjoy his company, even on days when we can’t ride for whatever reason. This is the great joy and the great sorrow of the horse sports: that you come to know and love a partner with whom you cannot even carry on a verbal conversation, that you learn to communicate in a million other ways, that you come to respect your horse partner’s physical superiority just as your horse learns to respect your superior problem-solving abilities. But just as horses can’t teach us to be more physically agile or more effective at submitting authority to others, we can’t teach our horses to be more careful of their own fragile bodies or turn off their instinctive prey animal instincts of flight from prey and no-holds-barred pursuit of food.

My deepest condolences to Teddy’s many riders past and present, to his wonderful breeder Wynn who has done so much to legitimize sport ponies in our community, and to the entire eventing community as we hug our horses and savor our days with them.

For those who want to remember Teddy as he was:

Teddy’s Cross Country Run, Rolex 2007

Teddy Stadium Jumping, Rolex 2008

A cheesy, but excellent slide show tribute to Teddy that highlights the many riders and supporters that brought Teddy to the top of his sport

Continued Adventures in Cable Bill Management

Six months ago, I called Comcast and got my Internet and Cable bill downgraded from something like $98 for basic cable and Internet to $80 for digital cable and Internet. I don’t know why more people don’t do this–you just call and ask for the cancellation department, and inevitably some nice gal comes on the line who gets paid to “save customers”. Of course, by the time I was done with her, the nice gal had a tinge of irritation in her voice. Trust me, you don’t want to haggle a cable package with a college composition instructor. We’re too well-prepared by the time we call you, and even worse, we know how to make our point without being unpleasant or rude.

She kept trying to upsell me to a $99 Internet/Cable/Voice-Over IP Phone Service package, and she was extremely miffed when I pointed out that I could have AT&T DSL for $35 or less, DirectTV for $30 monthly, and Skype VOIP service for less than $2 less. And she was already miffed that I wasn’t paying the monthly rental charge for a cable modem–if any of my students or fellow Ann Arborites are reading this, stop paying for that damn thing. You can OWN one for the princely sum of $30 to $40, saving you hundreds of dollars over the life of the modem compared to renting one.

Anyway, silly me thinking that the $80 package deal would hold over time. I get my cable bill this month and it’s jumped to $118. That means that even with just that one sky-high payment, they’ve managed to screw me for an extra $38 this year.

So I call Comcast back, expecting the runaround. I guess they put a “don’t eff with this customer” note on my file, because this time they were nothing but pleasant. Good for them for quickly agreeing to knock me down to an $86 package that’s exactly the same as my former $80 package. It’s not a total victory–I still get taken for $72 more per year–but hey, it beats the heck out of paying $120 every month.

Try it yourself. The worst that can happen is that you come to an impasse with the cancellation lady, you cancel your service, and you call back the very next day to get it turned back on.

Finally Gave In and Bought a Bike

As usual, the Memorial Day press was dominated by people griping about their “staycations” and how they couldn’t go to the lake house. But before I get into how I inadvertently joined them in that gripping, let me say for a moment that my dad was a soldier for almost all of my childhood and teenage years, one of my best high school friends is in the Navy and is training to be a flight surgeon, I grew up near Washington D.C. where Memorial Day still means what it’s supposed to mean, and I tried to celebrate it “for real” in small ways. I clapped for the soldiers in the Atlanta airport as they passed by. I wanted to buy one a coffee or a drink, but he got away from me in the shuffle on the escalator. I thought about my dad.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t cringe about the gas prices along with everybody else. It seems that with the rising gas prices, everyone’s had a different breaking point. Some people traded in their SUV’s at the $3.00 mark. I know a gal who decided to entirely cancel her horse show season at $3.50 due to the cost of hauling her truck and trailer. And my breaking point was $4.10. I finally gave in and bought a bike.

I ended up writing a whole lot about that bike, but for blogging purposes, I’ll cut it short. It’s a Huffy, which fulfills a childhood dream of mine to own a Huffy (most of my friends tell me that they longed to own a Schwinn, but I had a Schwinn when I was a kid, so maybe that’s why I wanted the Huffy). My husband spent much of the day putting it together for me, only to have the cheapie inner tube bust when I took it out for a spin. D’oh! So then I had to drive 1/2 mile out of my way to Target to get another. Isn’t it sad that we’ve gotten to the point where driving 1/2 mile out of the way requires legitimate forethought?

All in all, it’s been about a $130 project, which means it’ll take something like 113 days of riding it to and from school before I break even. That’s about the middle of October, by my estimate, but as my husband gently point out, it might have auxiliary health benefits too. Compared to the $44 gym membership I used to have that I never used (because, ironically, I felt so guilty about driving a mere 1.5 miles down the street to the gym), a $135 bike project might be a heck of a bargain.

Notes from Computers and Writing 2008

So here I am in Athens, Georgia, trying to wrap my brain around everything I’ve heard in the last three days at the Computers and Writing Conference 2008. It’s been a surreal experience; for once, I’m not the only English faculty member within 50 miles to be attached at the hip to my MacBook! This year’s conference theme was “Open Source”, and I’ve learned about TONS of new Open Source tools that I might integrate into my class.

I also attended a great discussion about Internet identity, where the presenters made a persuasive case for using one’s real name as part of their Internet persona. So I figured why not found a new blog without a pseudonym?

Anyway, more later as I start to explore these new tools. For now, some links to a few cool applications:

  • Splandoo – Downloads streaming videos (like from Youtube) into playable permanent files.
  • A.nnotate.com – Share your document annotations online with others, including Word comments and sticky notes.
  • Camstudio – Like Camtasia, but FREE! Records whatever’s going on on your computer screen plus whatever audio is playing.
  • Persuasivegames.com – Video games that communicate their arguments through interactive play.
  • Blast Theory – A video game that simultaneously takes place in real space and virtual space
  • Twitter.com – “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”
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