Thursday, March 31, 2005

in summary

it really bugs me when people say "in summary" and then introduce a new idea. i'm reading a generally great review in a stellar publication, but it has this bone-head error. i'm sure the review that we recently submitted also has some problems like that, so maybe i shouldn't get so chuffy.

the little corner grocery is closing for a while. it's a pathetic little place, stocked in the fashion of a third world store. there are wooden shelves painted white, mostly empty. it is staffed by a woman who looks beaten down by life, makes terrible sandwiches, and smells like cigarettes. i only go to this store when i'm desperate, and then only for ice cream. i'll be interested to see what happens with the store. you wouldn't think it would be hard to succeed as the closest convenience store to campus. all they have to do is stay open later than the on-campus mini-store, and they've got it made.

in summary, i'm going to walk the dog back to work later, run in and start some bacteria growing. it's a much nicer way to drop back to work than to have to drive. i'm glad for that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


the students in my program have to give a lunchtime presentation once every two years. today i gave my first one. i practiced the talk in front of other people (well, with RS it was over the phone, but you get the picture) three times, plus a little informal touch-up with a couple people in the lab. i presented it alone to myself fully twice. these repetitions helped. i'm trying to put more zing in my tone, expressing excitement about the work and trying to make it infectious. that and talking smoothly are my major presentation goals.

the presentation itself went reasonably well. i was happy with it. i wasn't quite as 'on' as i would have liked to be. also, there were several transitions that weren't especially smooth, but generally i'm happy with it. i'm pleased at how the effort i put into it paid off.

i just took mac out for his evening walk. it's 63 degrees out tonight, and spring has arrived. the weather is perfect for putting on a light fleece and enjoying its softness on skin, but there is no chill. on our short walk down the block, we walked through several clouds of tantalizing and sweet scent, wafting from various trees and bushes. sublime.

tv: chicklets

tonight's tv viewing menu:

csi (rerun)
lost (new)
alias (new)
eyes (new)

i love jorja fox on csi, but she does this funny smile thing where her big two front teeth with a gap between them look like chicklets (big rectangular pieces of white gum).

this is a terrible picture of her, but it's the only one i could find that shows the chicklet smile.

on alias, the plot required the computer geek to go out and do action spying in the field. they put him in the nice leather jacket just like they usually put the hottie (michael vartan) in, and i swear they gave him the michael vartan haircut, gel, and stubble too. then they lit him the way they do michael vartan. most of it worked quite well, making the computer guy look better. unfortunately, when they put the dramatic lighting on him, it just emphasized his visually less appealing qualities.

i watched the premiere of "eyes." it gets two thumbs up from me. the writing and acting is terrific. the plot moves along and, for tv, is reasonably fresh.

warning: what follows is not a tv-related observation.

i was in a medical building today with a ton of therapists' offices in it. the elevator has instructions for getting help if it gets stuck. at the bottom of the instructions is "do not panic."

1 - does that help anyone?
2 - does the presence of that admonition have anything to do with the number of therapy offices in the building?
tv: chicklets

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Impala! The umbrella!

The tears are still drying on my face. Here's the story: six years ago a man was on the phone leaving a message about being late to a meeting when he witnessed a minor traffic accident. His hiccup-inducing narration of the aftermath was eventually converted to an mp3, and it's recently gotten a lot of attention. Really, you must listen to this voicemail message, but do not operate heavy machinery while you do.

Monday, March 28, 2005

the burn journals

procrastination is the name of the game right now. i've been making some progress on my presentation for wednesday, but i just had to post about this book, 'the burn journals' by brent runyon. i finished it over the weekend.

it's about a young teenager who repeatedly tried to kill himself and ended up burning himself terribly. the book focuses on the events leading up to the fire and the first year after the fire. it seems emotionally true, devastating, but true. i recommend it. i really like how it represents the difficulty of knowing one's own motivations, even while terribly regretting one's actions.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

terry schiavo

it's painful to me to read the misinformed stuff people are writing about the schiavo case. there are several facts that are frequently ignored: 1) brain imaging shows that most of her cerebral cortex has atrophied; 2) there is no argument that she had told to multiple people that she would not want her life to be prolonged in this way; 3) her husband did not decide her fate. instead, he asked the court to evaluate what she would have wanted and this is what court after court decided and upheld.

her father reports that she followed a balloon they brought into the room. her mother reports that terry has smiled in response to her mother's presence. videotapes were made and "carefully viewed" by the court, which found that her responses were not consistent or reproducible.
"...despite the irrefutable evidence that her cerebral cortex has sustained the most severe of irreparable injuries, we understand why a parent who had raised and nurtured a child from conception would hold out hope that some level of cognitive function remained. If Mrs. Schiavo were our own daughter, we could not but hold to such a faith.

But in the end, this case is not about the aspirations that loving parents have for their children. It is about Theresa Schiavo's right to make her own decision, independent of her parents and independent of her husband."
-- The 2nd District Court of Appeal, June 2003
i'm pleased that all the courts have come to the same decision, even in the fact of such intense pressure from the executive and legislative branches. it makes me confident that the facts are strong. i can understand how terry's parents' reason could be overwhelmed by their emotion, but i'm really disappointed by the actions of congress. it's not supported by the majority of people in the US. is it a congressional kowtow to the religious right? that's the only explanation that makes sense to me.

in which I socialize outside of my home

last night i hung out with the lovely and talented MM, my design-y friend who lives in SF. he had just sent his mom and niece back to san diego.

we went to see D.E.B.S. which is a funny stupid movie, and just my style. that said, i think it's really likable in general, unlike most movies i like. so i recommend seeing it. hear me?

i really hate hearing anything about the plot of a movie before i see it, so i'm not going to talk about that here. one weird thing about the movie was how freakishly thin the leads are. i'm used to seeing thin girls, i thought, but these guys are scary thin. their thighs look like my arms. scary. also, they weren't toned, which i'm also not used to seeing. it looks like they don't work out.

after the movie, we went to hama sushi, on 2nd street between san pedro and central. it's downtown, just inches away from a sketchy neighborhood. but it's a very nice place. small. the sushi chefs are great. it seemed mixed pretty evenly between whities and japanese-speaking japanese people.

then i took MM back to his hotel (a lovely place that i recommend) and went home. funny how all the driving around was definitely part of the evening. we wanted to drive together so we could spend more time together. we got to talk a lot, cruising along the highways and thoroughfares of the city. i realized that i drove 72 miles last night though, not counting the times i missed my cross-street. i now see the advantage of having gps navigation system. not only do you know better where you are, but it facilitates your relationship with your passenger.

here's the list of mileages
24 miles to mike's hotel
4 miles to the movie
9 miles to the restaurant
11 miles back to mike's hotel
24 miles back to pasadena

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Exercise Inflation and a moment of lab competence

From the abundant wittage at chez miscarriage:
The first thing I noticed when I exercised this week is that they've made exercise a lot harder since I last did it.
In spite of my recent mood improvements, I haven't exercised this week. I did take a nice long walk with woofie Saturday morning though. That was lovely and reminded me that I want to do more of it. It was raining. I was wearing a windbreaker. Bad dog and I got wet, but I didn't mind. In fairly warm weather, I like walking in the rain. My experiment from Thursday continued on its fantastically perfect route. Amazing. However, I'm having a problem with one readout: my kalirin antibody is giving me barely any signal. I can't really progress without that, so I'm increasing the concentration of the antibody and letting it incubate for the rest of the weekend. Take that!

I don't remember what day it was, but I think I may have had a breakthrough this week. I had a moment in the lab when I was looking at some inconclusive results. I thought, "you can't beat me. I can lick this problem." It was as if I had absorbed a threshold amount of confidence and knowledge. I was enjoying trying to figure out what was going wrong. Troubleshooting is something I like doing. Maybe I should consider being a method whore, learning and mastering a bunch of methods.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Crazy dog lady

I'm not a crazy dog lady. Really. Right? Isn't this picture of my beast so cute and funny that it doesn't make me a crazy dog lady to put it up on my blog?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

critical television watching

casting: you know you're looking at an african scene shot in the us when many of the black actors are light skinned.

commercials: men looking for lawn care supplies pick up chain saws. i'm thinking, what? then, as i write this, i think about people like harriet whose yards contain trees. still, it seems like a good idea to hire a professional to do anything that requires a chain saw. and who is the audience of this show, anyway?

weight issues: on alias, substantially overweight male actors get to portray attractive, smart, active characters, e.g. the actors greg grunberg and victor garber. they do so convincingly; both characters are quite appealing. greg's character suffers a bit from the nice guy/fat guy conflation, but no one thinks victor's character has anything soft or kind about him. the actors get the full-on flattering treatment in camera angles, haircuts, and wardrobe. it would be nice if female actors had those kind of roles available in general and on this show in particular. there have been some great established actresses on the show, but as far as i can remember they've all had knockout bodies. i'm thinking of lena olin and patricia wettig in particular. i can't think of a heavy women who has been on the show.

lethal methods: on alias, an assassination was carried out using a method similar to the one i used on a mouse today. it's not the part where they wrap the wire around the guy's neck; it's the cervical dislocation. i wasn't happy about the mouse killing today.

bribery: also on alias, information is sought in exchange for a dvd. based on the bribee's reaction, the dvd presumably contains some kind of pornography. based on the audio from the brief clip the bribee is shown, it sounds like it involves airplanes. i'm thinking, airplane related porn? yeah, that's obscure, but probably not illegal, except in alabama. don't take the bribe!

trends in old 4x4's: since season one (it's season four now), alias has occasionally used old toyota landcruisers. while i gave them props for it originally, it's not so fashion forward now as it was then. after the article in the nytimes special fashion section, i'm declaring it played out for now.

Casting pearls before swine

A lovely phrase RS reminded me of. Thank you RS.

In other RS news, she's running a half marathon Saturday. Go, RS!

Coming to Dinner

Looks like it's a nursing female too. I'd feel a little heartless siccing Mac on her. The bottom line is that I don't think there's anything I can do to keep her from eating my porch plants. I really love having the big shade tree envelop the porch.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Potluck or Massacre?

I'm not feeling bleak, but bleak things are appealing to me. Somehow they are comforting when I'm somewhat down. Right now I'm feeling ok, not great, not good, but not bad, and that's an improvement.

Anyway, here's what inspired me to write. I was reading a New York Times article about Terry Ratzmann's killing of his pastor and other members of his church in Wisconsin. The article reads like a straight news article of a tragedy, as I would expect. But here's how it ends:
Tapes of several 911 calls from church members reveal chaos, with people wailing and screaming in the background.
"Oh my, oh no, oh no, oh no, Gloria is dead, oh no, oh no, oh no, there's at least - how many are on the floor? - 5 to 10," the woman says. "Five to 10 at least, oh my, one of my friends is laying on the floor, I think she's dead. This is a massacre."

"All of a sudden we heard bang like a firecracker, but it was so loud and then again and again," the woman continued. "My husband pushed me down to the floor, my son. We all went to the floor, everybody.

"Right after this we're having a potluck and then an entertainment show this evening," she added. "I think it's all on hold."
Tell me that the last paragraph doesn't add a completely surreal aspect to the story. Just tell me that.

The roommate and I watched the movie Napoleon Dynamite tonight. It wasn't as good as I had hoped. It was a little slow moving for me. Once I started viewing it as an absurdist piece, I liked it more though.

martha, coke mules, and mom

i've been reading a blog called eurotrash. the current tag-line is "the whole detached-irony thing is very 1999." Here's a quote:
How delicious to think of Martha as a coke mule. I feel sure she would embroider a seasonal coke tote-bag for the occasion.
eurotrash manages to be sympathetic even in her sniping. today's entry was about seeing people who are desperately down on their luck and thinking of your mother. most of the homeless women i see here in pasadena remind me of my mother. their weathered faces and sunken features remind me of how she looked after she lost her front teeth and how she looked when she was sick with cancer.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

More animal butt stuff

yesterday was an abysmal day. terrible, awful. enough said about that. today is better.

i saw a funny article about inseminating elephants. you'd think it would be a no-brainer, like inseminating cows. nope.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Anza Borrego

i went to anza borrego today to look at what is locally called 'the bloom.' my SFSU old office-mate, a plant chemist, would rhapsodize about anza borrego in the spring. as promised, it was quite beautiful. click the picture the whole set. the pictures don't convey the silence and space. i was lying in the car after eating an apple, spacing out, when i caught an irregular motion out of the corner of my eye. it was the first of a long series of butterflies that were flying up the creek bed i was in. it was wonderful. it made me wish i had a camp cot. i wasn't about to lie on the ground, with all the ants that i saw and scorpions and snakes that i didn't see. nature's fine, to a degree.

Scientific Measurement

Last night I dreamed that a friend, a colleague, was explaining to me how his lab was measuring the female menstrual cycle to many digits of significance. He was as proud of this as of determining more digits of pi. It didn't seem that he was aware of the variation among women.

AH told me about a dream she had. The world was taken over by aliens. She had been told not to take anything from anyone. A girl handed her something AH thought was her camera. It rang, and it turned out it was a cell phone. When AH answered it, the aliens blanked her memory and a chip popped out of her head with her memory on it. She didn't remember if the chip was compact flash or another format.

How to spend a Saturday night

17 pictures for you
Originally uploaded by _buttercup.
A crew of people from my lab went to a body building competition. It was a hoot. Click the picture to see the collection of pictures from the event.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

motivational speaker

who do you think is the first google hit for "motivational speaker"? tony robbins? tom peters? deepak chopra? steven whoever, of the 'seven habits' series?

yossi ghinsberg. who the heck is that? never heard of him (?) before. the first speaker result with a name i recognize is result 16, which includes bonnie blair, the olympic speed skater. number 19 includes lance armstrong. when i say includes, i mean, their name isn't in the title of the page. finally, at entry 26, tony robbins is mentioned, again, not in the title.

why did i think about looking this up? i'm having a little motivational trouble. i'm presenting two papers tomorrow night in a class. it's my second presentation for the class. i was happy with how the first one went. part of my problem with focusing on the presentation is that i find the papers boring. i can tell the conclusions to someone with no neurobiology in three (long) sentences.

1) we're looking at two parts of the brain: the amygdala, an area that's involved in processing emotion, and the orbitofrontal cortex (the part in front (frontal) by the eyes (orbital)), an area that processes rewards and punishments.

2) if you measure the level of activity in the amygdala, for both taste and smell, you see changes corresponding to different INTENSITIES of stimuli (the thing that's being tasted or smelled), but you don't see changes corresponding to different KINDS of stimuli (pleasant, citrusy, icky (that's science right there)).

3) on the other hand, if you look at the orbitofrontal cortex, you see the opposite: changes corresponding to different KINDS of stimuli but not different INTENSITIES of stimuli.

ok, if you gave up on that list, here's the one sentence version: changes in intensity are reflected in activity in the amygdala; changes in kind of stimulus are reflected in activity in the orbitofrontal cortex.

those facts are somewhat interesting. it's interesting that the brain really can treat intensity and kind differently. these results also imply that the KIND of stimulus is more relevant to punishment and reward/orbitofrontal cortex and that the INTENSITY of stimulus is more relevant to emotional processing/the amygdala. that's interesting too.

neither of these results says much (that i can see anyway) about how effective olfactory cues are at eliciting memories.

you might say, surely you left stuff out that people with a brain science background would be interested in. well, maybe. there's the part about how we can't really know that the results are right for a bunch of technical reasons, and how they need to be repeated and confirmed using other methods. but that's it. i swear. i should go rogue and present the paper on monkey butts.

well, enough complaining from me. i'm going to walk the dog and get the laundry out the dryer. that'll liven things up.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

guess what? monkey butt!

today i went to a presentation that covered two papers. the first paper uses a method called future discounting. you measure a person's level of future discounting by telling them to choose between, say, $25 now or $50 in a week. you have them make choices like this for a broad range of amounts and times (a week, a month, a year), until you've characterized their level of future discounting. generally smokers and heroin addicts, for example, discount future rewards more than other people - they prefer the bird in the hand to the two guaranteed birds currently in the bush. heroin addicts discount future rewards more and more as the time since their last use of heroin increases.

in this paper they characterized people's future discounting, then showed them a set of pictures. each set of pictures was of either people of the opposite sex or cars, and either attractive or unattractive people or cars. then the experimenters remeasured the person's level of future discounting. they determined that men who had seen attractive women increased their future discounting significantly (pretty women make me generally want things now), and women who had seen attractive cars increased their future discounting significantly (pretty things make me generally want things now).

there are obviously problems with this research (how do you pick pretty? are all the people straight?), but it's provocative.

the second paper was called monkey pay per view. the monkeys had to choose to look at one of two targets. for one target, they would get some juice. for the other target, they would get some juice and see a picture. some pictures, like those with monkey butt, were valuable to the monkeys, and they would choose the target that allowed them to see that picture even if they got much less juice than the other target gave them. other pictures, like the faces of low status monkeys, were not valuable to the monkeys, but they would look at the pictures if the picture was accompanied by significantly more juice than the target that didn't make them look at a picture.

this research is not at all like my research, but it's interesting anyway.

Chocolate is like crack

My presentation on Thursday is about the affective aspects of taste. I think it's interesting, but the data looks a little shaky. Maybe I'll be convinced after I've gotten into it in more depth. The best paper I'm covering is called "Changes in brain activity related to eating chocolate: From pleasure to aversion." How great is that?