Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Financing and Teaching

i'm in mortgage limbo. i feel pretty knowledgeable, and i'm in a good negotiating position, so i'm optimistic. mortgage folks prefer to do business over the phone so they can work their charming ways on me. i try to redirect them through e-mail so that i can evaluate their offers objectively. tomorrow is the inspection on the apartment. i'm excited about it.

the teaching is going great. the students are great. the teaching is exhausting, but i'm learning a lot and enjoying the work. it's disheartening how the girls tend to see biology as easier than physics. they say things like, 'i really enjoy biology, but i don't understand physics very easily.' i think that if they're going to try to avoid things they can't understand easily, they should avoid biology too. actually, i think that they can understand physics, and complex biology too, they just need persistence and confidence.

i feel like i have little to say because i'm so caught up in what's going on around me. i've been desperate for sleep. i've been napping in the afternoons. i think i may be back on top of it soon.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

shopping cart races

the costco in burbank has a long parking area that gently slopes downhill. on our weekly trips there, HC and i usually ride the cart from the store back to the car. the costco carts are large and heavy in themselves. with our typical cargo of water and dog food, they have great momentum. we have a variety of strategies. sometimes one of us will ride on the cart, and the other one will push and, to whatever extent possible, steer. the other day we had two carts. since HC is lighter than i am, i gave her the heavy cart and we raced to the car, running, hopping on the cart, and hopping off again to correct the steering and push some more. today we made a quick trip and only had one cart. we were both riding the same cart. between the laughing, shouting and cart ruckus, mac generally knows we're coming well in advance of our arrival at the car. HC concluded that the trip to costco is really all about the cart. it's definitely a reward.

i looked around the web for other people's shopping cart adventures, but the prevalence of the term "shopping cart" on ecommerce sites mucks up the search. still, i didn't find anyone who seems to have picked up on the excellent combination of environmental factors that costco offers. i did find these guys though. our carts did not flame. maybe next time.

my offer on the condo was accepted. i'm in escrow. i was really high strung the first two days, but i'm feeling a little calmer now. i'm downplaying it here because i'm trying to not freak out about it.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Vox Populi - Seen at Caltech

Car 1: Acura sports car. License plate: (decoded) metalhead2. Bumper sticker: "Re-elect Bush. We've waited for armageddon long enough."
Car 2: Honda Element with a dog crate in the back. Bumper sticker: "My border collie is smarter than your honor student."

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Credit Joy

I may make a bid on a condo! In preparing for this, I was talking with a mortgage person who commented that I had 'great' credit! Honestly, on some level I don't think this is a great achievement, since I have had money to fall back on when I came up short. On the other hand, I'm pleased with how many years I've made it through school without decimating my savings. Also, my worst financial characteristic is probably the tendency to forget to pay bills. The fact that I've simply paid my bills on time for long enough to have great credit is worth celebrating. I used to have miserable credit, due to my dealings with whats-her-name, and I have overcome that. Hooray!

My neighbor

As much as I like it when Maria brings her grandsons to give Mac treats, she makes me a little wary. She's just unpredictable and kind of brittle-seeming. I ran into a neighborhood guy on the street today. He's retarded and pretty friendly. I asked how he was, and he told me about going to a Shania Twain concert. After that conversation, I mulled over the idea that he might be my favorite person in the neighborhood. It occurs to me that he doesn't get to have as much conversation with people as he might like. Usually I avoid people who don't take cues about when you need to end a conversation, but this guy reads the cues perfectly. In this neighborhood, he's a gem. If you're looking for him, he's the one in the Shania Twain t-shirt.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Template and e-bay woes

Howdy all. I'm still working on a better template layout, so please be patient. I worked from home today, making good progress on the Phantom Limb lecture as well as the website I'm developing. I just picked up the mail and received some pants HC and I bought for her using my account on e-bay. Here's my note to the seller:

Hello - I received this item today. I'm disappointed because I don't feel that the rips were accurately described. You said, "Note these have been altered, a slit was cut up the sides for more fashion appeal." The slits were not cut, they were ripped. They are not on the seam; they are not symmetrical; they are ragged. I don't think 'fashion appeal' is a reasonable description of the rips. Additionally, the pants smell. I can't identify the smell, but it gave me a headache right away. Thanks in advance for your response."

Argh. In other news, I'm looking at an apartment tomorrow. Happy day to all!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

All Hail Mimi Smartypants

Mimi Smartypants rocks the house. My favorite quote of today: "It is kind of creepy when the patriarchy works in your favor like that."

Monday, June 21, 2004


Holly is channeling the dinosaur mounted above the headlight. Maybe.

spell check woes

i've been flitting around different email programs. outlook is too slow. my outlook express went kludgy on me. eudora was cumbersome. i'm using thunderbird right now, and i'm pretty fond of it. i had an adaptation problem though: the keyboard shortcuts for the spell checker are different than the ones i'm used to. consequently, i've used Alt-A thinking it would _A_dd the word in question. Alt-A in thunderbird is Replace All. so "Claire" went out as "Ilaire", and "i'm" as "h'm". Alt-A is hardwired into my brain and it's a key combination that one can execute without much hand movement, so i still don't intercept the erroneous command consistently.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Big Mouth Dog

When I came home from hiking today, Mac, who usually picks up a shoe or a toy to greet me with, picked up two of my shoes. This was the best picture I could get of it.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Flash mob

about a week ago i noticed a young guy playing with a pit bull in the yard of the suspicious house across the street from me. it's suspicious because they have a huge solid metal gate in their driveway, no one person seems to consistently live there, and there are constantly different flashy cars in the driveway. i am curious about this house, but HC is consumed with curiosity about it. most of the people who come and go look armenian (in this neighborhood, in another neighborhood they might be italian or russian) and are usually fairly presentable in terms of clothes and behavior. the two giant meat-heads in white tank undershirts who were sitting on the porch one day were exceptional in that way. this guy and his dog are exceptional too. the guy, about 20, is sporting all kinds of street tough clothes and attitude, and i'm pretty sure the dog's ears have been cut back (which is done either for fighting, so other dogs can't grab them by the ear, of for the appearance of a tough dog). the guy is the only person i've ever seen around the house at night. the folks from this house stand out not only because their actions are different from any other house i see, but also because they seem so furtive. i've never seen the gate open, and there doesn't seem to be enough material coming in or out for them to be manufacturing drugs (with meth houses being the most common residential crime-house thing around here). there might be an invalid in the house, but the level activity seems higher and more purposeful than i would expect even of the household of a much-visited invalid. the house might be some kind of meeting place, but i the comings and goings don't seem regular or (usually) coordinated. suppositions welcome.

Friday, June 18, 2004


Beast, Holly, her woof Kozo and I went for a walk/jog today in Griffith park. I think Beast's feet are totally healed now. Here are pix from his convalesence.

Frog problems; man problems; a condo is seen

It seems that the mutant frog problem never really got cleared up.

There are two lily ponds near the building my lab is in. I haven't seen any young frogs in them since
my last frog entry
. Where do the adult frogs come from?

Yesterday I had a series of bizarre interactions with men. The first one happened when I was walking Mac. I walked by the house with the flowers Mac crashed through. I heard a greeting from the man I often see outside the house, but I didn't see him. Finally I realized he was sitting in his car in the driveway. I stopped and walked toward him, apologizing and asking if he got the note I left. He said, "I love you, baby." I stopped and said, "OK, thanks." He said, "the flowers are already growing back. I love you, baby." I said something innocuous and left. (Does one capitalize the first letter of a quoted sentence, as in "He said, 'The flowers …'" or not? Please leave a comment.)

The second bizarre interaction was with Abraham, the mechanic. He was telling me about his daughter, who sounds great. He was saying that he encourages her to go to graduate school and become an accomplished woman before she considers settling down. I loved his logic. He said, 'and then I said to her, when you are a successful lawyer and you own your own house and you pay your own way, you will know that a man who is interested in you is not looking for someone weak, for someone who will be dependent on him.' The odd part was when he was telling me about a boyfriend she had. They were together 2 years. According to Abraham, she told him she wouldn't have sex, and he broke up with her. He looked me in the eye and said, "if I loved someone, if I had waited two years and she wasn't ready, I would wait. I would want it to be her choice."

The third and extremely odd interaction was with the apartment manager, Ramone. He was turning onto Wilson from northbound Pacific and I was turning from southbound Pacific. I was in front of him once we turned on to Wilson. I walked by his parking spot on the way into the building. I said that I hadn't recognized him until he passed, I had recognized him in the rear view mirror after I had turned into the first driveway into the complex. Ramone said, 'Me too. I didn't recognize you until I saw you from the back. [pause, followed by an amused and slightly suggestive tone] I recognized you from the back! But weren't you wearing a red handkerchief?' We talked a little about my hat and parted ways. I was honestly surprised that he would make any kind of joke like that; he's always seemed to be a really respectful and polite guy.

Yesterday Holly and I walked to a nearby condo on the market. I wanted to take a closer look at the complex. When we got there, we saw that there was an open house. I was reluctant to buzz them, but Holly insisted, for which I am grateful. I attribute my reluctance to my general aversion to meeting people.

The apartment was huge. There were essentially two suites, each with a bedroom, hall and bathroom, all of which were separated from the main space by a doorway. The master suite had a lovely walk in closet. The apartment's character was typical Southern California Apartment Building Bland. The kitchen had ugly cabinets, there was ugly paint on one wall and ugly wallpaper on another. One wall was fake-wood paneled, which I hate, and it had popcorn ceilings. It was on the ground floor, and its fenced in patio was contiguous with the walkway between it and the next building. The interior hallway to the apartment was really dark and depressing. The front door of the apartment was a very odd and ugly double door, the kind where one side is usually stationary. The apartment was clean though, and aside from two walls, the paint was white and fairly fresh. Holly's analysis: she thought it was very utilitarian and would be great to rent to a roommate and easy to rent out (if necessary) after I leave.

The apartment seemed dark to me. I have fewer windows at home, but there's nothing between my apartment and the sky, so I get lots of light in. The building across the walkway from yesterday's apartment blocked direct light.

I haven't gotten enough of a sense of what's available to compromise on a place like that. The complex seems nice and it's right across the street from school. I've seen a few listings in that building, so hopefully more will be listed. I think a different apartment in that complex might suit me better, especially if it's not on the ground floor.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Least Publishable Unit (LPU)

I've come across an interesting phenomenon today. Two of the journal articles I wanted to see were not available through Caltech's library or online subscriptions. I could request the articles through the library for a fee. I don't have a sense of how good they are, but one of them sounds really interesting. This count of two doesn't include the several articles that are not translated into english. Caltech doesn't have the breadth library holdings of a giant university like UCLA, but still, it's well funded enough that we have good online access. These articles and the journals they are in are obscure. I've done a detailed reading of research in lousy journals and found some terrible stuff. I don't specifically remember finding good stuff, but it must be there. As you can see from my interest in obtaining these articles, I haven't given up on obscurely published work yet. Here are two schools of thought about poor quality research (from

MIT biology professor Richard Young was quoted as doubting whether the scientific enterprise would suffer if the bottom 80% of the literature would just vanish (Hamilton 1990).

Seglen (1992) was perhaps correct when he ascribed the skewed pattern of citations to the operation of a basic probability distribution. He theorized that the skewness implies that there will always be a large fraction of uncited articles that will be impossible to eliminate for statistical reasons. The zero [citation] class is probably a necessary part of the cost of doing science and technology

What is computational biology?

i highly recommend this article by arthur lander. it's a very nice discussion of computational biology and its potential uses. PLOS is a journal publishing group that's somewhat related to the open source software movement and creative commons.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Griffith Park

These pictures are from today's hike. I hadn't been this way before. I'm pleased with the new places I'm finding in Griffith Park. I was surprised to see the hill of pine (?) trees.

Golf ball injuries

driving by the golf course on the way to hike in griffith park this morning, i noticed how busy the links were and wondered how many people get whomped by a full speed ball and what the resulting injuries are like. some people are especially unlucky and die immediately, it turns out from articles on pub med. others have injuries more like what you'd expect: note the "acute extradural haematoma" in A. B is the same patient 5 days later, C is the fracture, D is 4 years after injury.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Mistakes were made

i miss the tard blog (link courtesy of the way back machine). i read the whole thing a few months ago, but it seems like the good material is all pretty old. the stories are realistic and cynical and heartbreaking and hilarious. and in that vein, i offer you a special tard entry here: i was looking at my data, wondering why i didn't have a particular subset of it. i'm looking at recordings of electrical activity in monkey brains. the recordings were made while the monkeys reached in various directions and other variables were changed as well. for one of the changes, i only had data for reaches in some of the directions. my first thought was that those experiments hadn't been done. after some searching, it turned out to be the simplest possible error on my part - i hadn't moved the data with those codes into my working dataset. lovely. as i write it out, i see that my description doesn't convey the headsmack-deserving idiocy involved.

in other news, holly c had a nightmare health care experience today. she's stressed but physically fine. it reminds me how important it is to explicitly ask your doctor how many times she/he has performed this exact procedure before. often doctors who are not regularly in teaching hospitals (and maybe some who are?) may only observe a new procedure before trying it; they may not have the chance or make the opportunity to try it first while supervised by someone experienced. someone has to be the first, but it should be an informed decision.

thanks to billmon for this item, paraphrased here (except the quotes which were lifted directly): Mary L. Walker is the leader of the team that authored of the torture memo that's been getting press recently. In an interview, she said "Making moral decisions in the workplace where it is easy to go along and get along takes courage. It takes moral strength and courage to say, 'I'm not going to do this because I don't think it's the right thing to do.' " In the report, she wrote, "Officials could escape torture convictions by arguing that they were following superior orders, since such orders 'may be inferred to be lawful' and are 'disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate.'"

I saw Saved! last night, and it was wonderful. A strong recommend. As art, it was pretty good. The acting was great. The ending and exposition were a little too emphatic. Still, it was very enjoyable.

Obviously, I'm not that kind of biologist

I saw little frogs in the lily pond for the first time. I guess it's that time of year. Or maybe I saw them before they're eaten by the starving graduate students.

SoCal Signage

I love the signs in Southern California. I think they're so prominent and so interesting looking due to the historical importance of cars and driving in Los Angeles. But that's just a theory.

DIY tour guide

there's an article in the nytimes about san francisco tour-guiding carts that use a GPS and pre-recorded audio clips to guide you around landmarks and tell you about them. i like the idea. it appeals to the side of me that sometimes prefers not to deal with people and likes to run on my own schedule. i think i'd also want more control over when the thing talked. if i were going to visit an unfamiliar city, i think i'd try it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Gas Leak

for those of you who don't live nearby, i include an e-mail i sent out to local friends.

howdy all -

i have a dilemma. i apparently have a leak in my gas tank, and i need to get rid of most of the gas before they can work on the tank. it's almost full, so i've got about 30 gallons of gas to get rid of. my car is sitting in the north parking garage at school.

so, if you need any 87 (cheap) gas (or even just can fit some in your tank and want to do me a favor), let me know. i'd like to get rid of the gas thursday. my schedule's pretty open. just let me know and i'll siphon some gas into your tank.



Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Deciphering Los Angeles

there are a few telltale signs of decay in my neighborhood. one of them is what mike christened 'the air conditioner graveyard' under the stairs to my apartment.

Monday, June 07, 2004

San Diego by Train

after mike came to visit (friday), i went down to san diego by train to see roberta at a conference she's attending. the academy health research conference was held at the town and country hotel. they had a nice unheated pool. i swam in it yesterday morning, but this morning it was too cold. roberta laughed when a hostess at a restaurant asked if we wanted to sit on the heated patio. roberta said to me, why would you need heaters? i was glad for the heaters, and i am glad for the heated pool at caltech.

the train isn't quite as smoothly run as it is on the east coast, but it's cleaner and just as meditative. riding along the ocean made me miss the ocean. i loved going to the beach in san francisco. when i lived in pacifica and took mac to the beach almost every day, that was wonderful. i watched surfers on the way down, and i was more interested than i have been before. i'm not sure why. it may be the angle. from above, the maneuvers are more fun to watch. i'm not especially tempted to take it up myself though. i am inspired to get to the beach more. stay tuned.

another oddity of observing the world from a train: i caught sight of men in white out in the middle of a green expanse. i assumed they were farmworkers like the other people i'd see out in fields. closer inspection revealed that they were golfers.

i feel more exposed to southern california than ever before. i saw many barbies, but also more variety than usual. mike remarked that LA has more thin women than san francisco. i think LA might be even worse than the rest of SoCal. you could pick the californias out at the conference: they were wearing shorts, sandals and/or capri pants. speaking of which, i bought the second pair of sandals.

on the train on the way back, there was an amish family on the train. there were three girls in their late teens. they were wearing teal robes, black stockings black shoes. they and their mother all wore their hair parted severely and tied in a bun under a simple lightweight white cotton bonnet with strings down the sided. the dad was bearded and wearing a dark vest and pants. mom's wearing a large black dress. it's nice to be surprised.

In a few places the beach was empty and lovely.

The train goes along the beach for the last half hour or so. There were a lot of RV parks and mobile home parks right by the beach. Also places that look like you can pitch a tent.

People tending crops.

Further from LA, there were office parks.

Maybe this is what I saw when I was spacing out.

We passed a lot of train yards.

Still in LA.

This is blurry, but the scale is amazing. This guy is walking in the river. This is one of my goals as well.

The river and an overpass.

These are pictures from my train trip from Glendale to San Diego and back. This is LA.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Educational Television

i can't believe ensorcel is really a word. i heard it on a west wing rerun the other night.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Low tech

this is a great article about a very low tech way that fingerprint readers can be fooled. it sure undermines my interest in them. it's just like on alias!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


A flower from the same hike (see below). Click on the picture to see the flower in more detail.

Strawberry Meadows in Angeles National Forest

I went for a hike this weekend with Jason in the Angeles National Forest. Incredibly beautiful. Amazingly, it's not that far out of the city, and we only saw a few other groups of people.


and this is just great news for me: Bad Air Causes Heart Disease, Heart Group Says. i think LA is bad for me in so many ways. i worry about whether i'm doing permanent damage to my lungs by exposing them to this sludge called air.

Learning & Memory Symposium

tomorrow brings an all day conference. i'll see a professor from san diego who i interviewed with last year. i'm looking forward to it, but i'm also trying to figure out how to manage it. these things make me so tired. happily i'm going with holly, and she's got similar issues.