Saturday, December 30, 2006

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Roomba intelligence

If you are watching your roomba go about its vacuuming business, and you notice a piece of fluff on the floor, it will skip around the fluff as nimbly as a champion agility dog.

sonic weapon immobilized by dog-snoot

From here. Be prepared to turn down the volume.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Science podcast

Radiolab is a kind of "This American Life" about science. The topics are approached as a story. The narrators have a conversational tone and allow their curiosity to move the story along. The guests they get are tremendous (Oliver Sachs, Robert Sapolsky). The format is a little annoying: they do this arty-effects thing where they, for example, talk over each other or repeat phrases many times. Still, in total, I like this show a lot.

Quilts that I actually like

This, on the other hand (see previous post), is quite beautiful.


Sure, I'm in a bad mood. Who would be surprised about that? Here's what I had to say to the USPS store:
This is the worst interface I remember dealing with in an online store. Of course I don't remember the password I used once a year and a half ago. Most sites will send the password (or reset it and then send it) to your registered email account. I had a miserable experience with your website. If amazon sold stamps, I'd never be back here.
I figure I might as well rant while I've got the energy for it. I didn't even add, "and your logo's ugly too."

I'm going to the gym as much as possible. It's a strategy. Insufficient, but it's something.

The End of the Road

I put Mac down on Thursday, December 7th. He had abdominal bleeding from an unknown source, most likely a tumor from a different kind of cancer than he was already being treated for. It was sudden - probably developed over 12 hours. The night before, he was well, soaking up attention from AS. He was my wonderful dog, and I was lucky to have him as long as I did. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

the aesthetic of ineffable rightness

this phrase was used by Martin Kemp in the 11/30/06 edition of Nature. He's talking about the sectioned rocket engine in this picture (taken by Kemp). i love the phrase both because of the funny way that it makes wonderful sense and because it is a perfect description of a particular aesthetic that i love.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


This is the first pumpkin pie I've made. I used Cook's Illustrated No-Bake Pumpkin Pie recipie. I'm quite happy with the filling, although it could have been slightly more gelled. The flavor is fantastic. I've never made a crumb crust before, and I made this one too thick at the bottom of the edges. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Caltech then

There is an interesting article about and interview with Jenijoy La Belle, "the first female hired on the tenure track" at Caltech (1969). She taught literature. The board of trustees had voted to admit women to undergrad programs only the year before, mostly for the benefit of the men, who had many complaints about the absence of women on campus. When the time came, Dr. La Belle was denied tenure. Subsequently the institute being charged with sex discrimination by the EEOC. Dr. La Belle eventually was reinstated and received tenure.

The facts have changed since then, but we still live with many unchanged attitudes from that time.


I did a double take today when I was passed by a Miata, top down, with a tandem cruiser bicycle mounted to the trunk, extending far off the back of the car. It could have been some fabulous tail.

(image originally from flickr user loosenball, CC license)

Below 70!

For the first time that I can remember this fall, the high temperature is expected to be below 70 degrees. Lately, I've been thankful for temperatures in the 70s rather than 80s, so this is a huge joy.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Even though I drink only intermittently...

Be Drunk

You have to be always drunk. That's all there is to it--it's the
only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks
your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of
a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again,
drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave,
the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything
that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is
singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and
wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you:"It is time to be
drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be
continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish."

Charles Baudelaire

Chemo - Day one

Today the little beast got chemosensitization for tomorrow's radiation treatments that are supposed to shrink his tumor. They also took a needle aspirate from the bone marrow and dosed him with pamidronate for pain and bone strengthening. The tech told me that the oncologist said the sample from the needle aspirate strongly suggests that the tumor is osteosarcoma, as expected, but they want to send it out for culture anyway. Fine by me.

I had more frustrating interactions with the practice. I met the other vet, and I'm not a huge fan. She doesn't have much of a bedside manner, and it appears that she's the junior vet. Anyway, I expressed my concerns about the administration of Mac's care. She told me why she thought it had happened. We made a clear list in the chart of the treatments I authorized. I'm slightly mollified.

He was full of vim when he came out after the anesthesia (for the needle aspirate), but now he's pretty tired. I had to hand feed him treats to coat his stomach enough so he could take his anti-inflammatory.

I'm happy to have taken some action.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Lesson: Don't expect the step-stool to stand stably in the shower.
Cost: Shin bruise.
Cost-benefit analysis: considering initial state, not too expensive. Good to learn from the ground rather than from on top of the stool.
Wisdom attained: limited. I went ahead and used it, but cautiously.

Casino Royale: portrait of "an erotomaniacal British toff"

(for a much more withering perspective, the source of the "an erotomaniacal British toff" quote, try this)

I saw it yesterday in a new theater. The first two hours were pretty good. It's a nice action-thriller movie, with high production value. The locations were terrific. The script is fine, exceptional in places. The story is deeper than usual.

Daniel Craig was not bad, in spite of the fact I can't find one particular thing I actively liked about him or his performance. His wardrobe was miserable in several scenes. I don't think he's very good at fights or foot chases or action in general. The first chase scene was nicely planned and fun to watch. The guy being chased was incredibly agile and strong, which probably highlighted Craig's inadequacies. I'm ambivalent about Craig's repartee and expressions. An example of a scene that I enjoyed but also think showed his lack of gravitas is the black and white opening scene, excerpted here). I didn't think I would miss Pierce Brosnan - he was lacking in soul. Yet, here, I do miss him.

Eva Green is fun. I like her accent, and I think she's a reasonably good actress (better than most Bond "girls"). She reminds me of Deborah Winger. Her wardrobe was terrific. There was some inconsistency: even at the end of the movie, I was unable to confidently reconstruct her motivations. Judi Dench's M was wonderful, of course. There was no Q, and it was no loss.

The movie is incredibly long. The last half hour is slow and agonizing. Clearly they tried to make it shorter, but the results were a few painful discontinuities which left the viewer surprised to discover what city we were now in.

I think I'm not conveying the pleasure I took in seeing it - I did enjoy it. If I knew before I saw it how much I would enjoy it, I would still make the same choice. But I'm a sucker for action movies.

Beast Pain

Puppy seems to be in a lot of pain this morning. Last night he licked his knee for the first time that I've seen. He was gimpy after our walk all day yesterday. This morning he's drooled a few times, and he's not putting any weight on the leg when he stands, although he does when he walks. I called the vet today for some opiates; it's something we had talked about a few weeks ago.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Gimpy morning

Today Mac was very gimpy when he got up. He had trouble getting on the couch and was not using his back left leg much at all. He ate his breakfast after a little encouragement. I took him out about an hour after his Rimadyl. He was less gimpy than when he had gotten up. We walked to TL's to collect her mail for her. He was tired and gimpy on the way home, but when I showed him a squirrel he ran and jumped up at it like usual. I spaced out and took him up the stairs when we came inside instead of taking the elevator.

Time to nuke the dog

i started writing this post while watching the dog eat his breakfast while he's lying down. the past couple mornings he seems to be in a lot of pain, and eating kibble standing up is harder on the tile than on the carpet. it also seems harder to for him to reach down to the floor. but even when he is eating his food off a raised platform on the carpet, he's uncomfortable enough that he doesn't eat the whole bowl. after he lies down, i put it next to him and he'll almost finish it. he usually gets hungry later in the day, but i have to make him eat in the morning so he has some food before he takes his pills (which probably make him feel good enough to want to eat, frustratingly enough). a few hours after getting up, he seems a lot better though.

in general, he's in good spirits, racing around the house when i come home, happy to meet new people, always thinking about how he might cadge some food or chase a cat or squirrel. i have decided on radiation over amputation. one of reasons is this: according to statistics, he may only live another couple months (if the radiation and chemo are started early enough and work, it should be more). if he died in a couple of months and had spent two weeks of that time recovering from an amputation, i would regret the amputation. the side effects of the radiation aren't much, maybe a little sun-burn like irritation on the site. his quality of life is pretty good right now, it seems a shame to waste it.

i'm also planning on following the radiation with chemo. the doc said only 20% of dogs have any chem side effects at all and 5% have significant side effects like vomiting or diarrhea. mac is an old hand at digestive indiscretion and subsequent gastrointestinal upset, so the package of odds and symptoms don't seem too bad.

monday is our next appointment with the oncologists. hopefully mac can start radiation next week. apparently he needs some chemosensitization first and administration of a supplementary bone-promoting drug, pamidronate.

i have found the way the oncology practice is administered to be very frustrating. they are bad at returning calls, bad at gathering records, bad at hand-offs between doctors (i should add that once i have an individual's attention, i am completely willing to believe they are at the top of their field). due to this and recent events with my own medical care, i will be treating this as if i were mac's primary doctor, wanting everything that will happen to him at each visit explained to me before it happens, making sure i understand it completely first. i don't trust their disorder. at this point i believe that i can compensate for their deficits in organization and communication with my own organization and focus and will. if i stop believing that, i'll have to find another oncology practice.

in an effort to be informed about our options, i have been doing a lot of reading. scientific and medical research articles are written in code - i'm glad that i've spent the last half decade learning to read at least the scientific side of the code. there are journal articles on immediately relevant topics. if want to buy access to them through the publisher, the articles cost $30. happily i can request copies from my university library for about $6. knowledge is power, but power is power too: if i'm associated with a powerful institution, i can access the knowledge.

and attention is a kind of power. i'm not the best at steady focus, organization and preparation. i think i'll need that for this process. motivation helps.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ancient Latrine Expert

I came across this on boing boing of course. Why do jobs like ancient latrine expert (ok, palaeopathologist) and official bird flu spokesman of the International Badminton Federation fascinate me so much? Perhaps because my own job has a fairly straightforward career path and is defined enough that children can grow up thinking about it. Deciding you want to be an ancient latrine expert probably does not happen by browsing through a list of possible careers.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

More love for wikipedia: my recent wikipedia history

From my November google search history. I have a firefox qucksearch that takes me directly to wikipedia, so this is only a fraction of my wikipedia usage.
Grgich Hills Cellar
Fort Mason
Chemical synapse
Hollaback Girl
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style archive
Patch clamp
99 Luftballons
California gubernatorial election, 2006
Harvard Board of Overseers
Aleister Crowley
Exponential decay
Itsy Bitsy Spider
More wikipedia history, this from my browser history on my home computer:
Mike the headless chicken
Frank Sinatra
Why did the chicken cross the road
Gray (unit)
Wizards of the Coast

I heart Wikipedia: The United States order of precedence

I love this stuff:
The United States order of precedence is a nominal and symbolic hierarchy of important positions within the government of the United States. The order is established by the office of the President of the United States and can be changed by the President, though in practice it is fairly established and rarely modified. It has no legal standing (for example, it does not reflect the United States presidential line of succession), and is instead used to dictate ceremonial protocol. The United States Department of State is responsible for enforcing matters of protocol in U.S. diplomacy.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Celebrate our Monkey Ancestors Day

so good, i have to quote the whole thing. from "the right was right":

Here is our 25-point manifesto for the new Congress:
1. Mandatory homosexuality
2. Drug-filled condoms in schools
3. Introduce the new Destruction of Marriage Act
4. Border fence replaced with free shuttle buses
5. Osama Bin Laden to be Secretary of State
6. Withdraw from Iraq, apologize, reinstate Hussein
7. English language banned from all Federal buildings
8. Math classes replaced by encounter groups
9. All taxes to be tripled
10. All fortunes over $250,000 to be confiscated
11. On-demand welfare
12. Tofurkey to be named official Thanksgiving dish
13. Freeways to be removed, replaced with light rail systems
14. Pledge of Allegiance in schools replaced with morning flag-burning
15. Stem cells allowed to be harvested from any child under the age of 8
16. Comatose people to be ground up and fed to poor
17. Quarterly mandatory abortion lottery
18. God to be mocked roundly
19. Dissolve Executive Branch: reassign responsibilities to UN
20. Jane Fonda to be appointed Secretary of Appeasement
21. Outlaw all firearms: previous owners assigned to anger management therapy
22. Texas returned to Mexico
23. Ban Christmas: replace with Celebrate our Monkey Ancestors Day
24. Carter added to Mount Rushmore
25. Modify USA's motto to "Land of the French and the home of the brave"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Big C

To the left are three x-rays of Mac. The far left is his healthy tibia. In the middle is his other tibia. You can see a relative increase in blurriness compared to the healthy one. To the right is the same tibia two weeks later. I'm a bit fascinated with x-rays. This is the first time I can remember really seeing something clearly on an x-ray.

The vet today had a great manner. She told three things:

1) After examining Mac and looking at his chart from his regular vet and looking at his x-rays, she feels that there is no need to do a biopsy. She says she is 99% sure that Mac has osteosarcoma. She says she's acted on this analysis before and hasn't been wrong so far. I'm greatly relieved - it seemed silly to go through a painful and expensive surgery (the biopsy) when it's unlikely to be anything else.

2) She recommended a consult with a radiologist. Since he's still using the leg, he might be a candidate for radiation therapy instead of amputation. I have an appointment with her recommended guy next Tuesday. I'm pleased at the thought of this option. My concern is that I don't want to do things by half measures. I keep seeing that by all measures dogs get 100% pain relief from amputation and usually do very well with it.

3) If I end up having his leg amputated and I have it done at her hospital, it will cost between $3200 and $4000. Nope, I didn't leave a decimal point out. That's more than twice as much as what the local vet estimated. I may not need the fanciest surgeon in LA after all. If it comes to that, I'll ask my local vet what the level of difficulty is and if she feels comfortable doing it. I will say that it was a fantastic practice, by far the nicest I've ever been to. They had the highest level of service, and, from all I've heard, a great level of care.

Naturally, Mac acted like a puppy all day, barely favoring his leg at all. He was more mobile and energetic than he's been in days. His recent slump is due to a little chocolate digestive indiscretion of his (and mine for leaving it where he could get to it). It's great to see him back to his usual self, but ironic. I have to imagine it was one of the things that gave the vet the idea of radiation therapy. She said she doesn't usually recommend it, because usually the tumors are too far along.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I've schedule a consultation for tomorrow. If the consultation goes well, the biopsy may occur tomorrow. I wasn't able to see the Ventura orthopedic surgeon, who did a successful double hip replacement on a lab I know. The surgeon is a friend of a friend and a board certified surgeon, but he wouldn't be able to do the biopsy for the next 2.5 weeks. The recommended surgeon is also board certified and was a strong recommendation from my vet. Here's her bio:
Dr. Mary Somerville, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.A graduate of the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, she served as Director of the Emergency Pet Clinic of South Bay, performing emergency medical and critical care for three years. She completed her internship and surgical residency with our surgical department. She then successfully completed the ACVS examinations to become a Diplomate (Board Certified Surgeon) of the ACVS.
Another advantage of this surgeon is that she's only 35 minutes away, about 30 minutes closer than the other one. Still, all of Los Angeles is between me and her.

dog health: the story until now

I'm planning on posting health updates about bad dog via blog. This is my first one, so it covers a lot of territory. BD started limping about 5 weeks ago, which I'll call time zero. After a few days, I took him to the vet. They took an x-ray, saw a shadow in the bone below the knee in his left hind leg, said cancer or fungus. Bone cancer is very common Rottweilers and in all dogs his size and age. Furthermore, the location of the shadow on his bone is a common location for osteosarcoma. Standard treatment: limb amputation, chemo. It is practically always metastatic. A chest x-ray was clear, so any metastasis isn't advanced. Two weeks after the first x-ray, a follow up leg x-ray showed that the shadow hadn't changed. Often bone cancer is really aggressive and will grow in that time period.

Three weeks after the first x-ray, I found out that the fungal test was negative, which is unfortunate. It means the shadow on his bone is almost certainly bone cancer. It is possible, but unlikely, that the bone damage could be an idiopathic infarct, which means destruction of the bone from an unknown cause.

Monday (week 4) I saw my regular vet to make a plan; she'd been on vacation. The choice was between a biopsy to confirm the cancer diagnosis or proceeding with amputation. The problem with bone biopsy is that they don't always get a diagnostic sample, it's painful, requires anesthesia (which has risks of its own) and, presuming it confirms bone cancer, requires him to recover from two surgeries rather than one. Even if it's not bone cancer, the biopsy carries risk of damage to the bone that can ultimately require amputation. The problem with not getting a biopsy is the chance of amputating a healthy leg. The biopsy test is not fast enough that they can test it while he's still under and then perform the amputation if it's positive.

I'm not especially worried about any significant decrease in Mac's quality of life if he has to have the leg amputated. He's in good shape, and dogs generally can get along quite well with 3 legs. I'm worried about the metastasis. The typical life expectancy after amputation is 3 months, 1 year with chemo. I had always assumed the pain and sickness of chemo wouldn't be worth putting a dog through, especially since they don't have the knowledge of the benefits to weigh against the discomfort. My recent research suggests it's usually not as sick-making for dogs as it typically is for people. Also, it doesn't simply prolong life expectancy but acts palliatively to reduce pain and secondary sickness from tumors. That's huge to me.

Right now Mac is on Rimadyl, a potent (and liver threatening) anti-inflammatory. It seems to be working pretty well. He's just as perky and happy as always, chasing squirrels and begging for food. My goal is to keep him pain free as long as possible. This is all quite expensive, of course, but hasn't exceeded my old-dog health cost expectations.

Here's a link with information about osteosarcoma in dogs.

Mac is already past the life expectancy of a dog of his size and (assumed) breeds. Hopefully my mental preparation for this kind of news has helped somewhat, but it's still incredibly hard emotionally. He's been a daily part of my life for eight years. He's got lots of qualities I could do with more in my life: happiness, enthusiasm, friendliness, outgoing (ness?), loyalty, stability. I can't imagine what my life will be like without him. My friends and family have been very kind and supportive, and I can only take it as it comes.

Monday, November 06, 2006

People pay for this weather?

when i came down from my weekend in the mountains (5200 feet) yesterday, it was a massive disappointment to descend into the heated smog of los angeles. the air was so clear up there. when we went for a hike saturday, we started out in fleeces, but soon stripped down to t-shirts. back home, today's forecast is for 89 degrees. vile hell-pit.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

beautiful graphics example

this is the firefox add-ons header image. brilliant, right? click it to see it full size, especially if you can't see the flames on the motorcycle.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I've been obsessed with this jacket from the Fray comic by Joss Whedon (and others). I'm working on making a replica of it. If course, I'll need push-up pants if it doesn't work without the butt. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 23, 2006

punchline: ...some of us just go one god further

set up (by richard dawkins on the colbert report, paraphrased):

you can't disprove the flying spaghetti monster, thor or zeus. all these people [gesturing to the audience] are atheists with regard to those gods...

Scientists suck - cynicism alert

1. This is a sad/funny comment about investigation of some early concerns about Eric Poehlman:
Poehlman had definitely stepped on some toes and made a name as an aggressive self-promoter, but this was nothing remarkable for a successful researcher.
Basically, it's an understatement. If you want to get ahead, you probably need to be a jerk. Here's the nytimes article about this guy and his career of scientific fraud (thanks rs).

2. Non-scientist friends and family are often upset to hear about scientific fraud, surprised that someone would bother to be a scientist without integrity and a commitment to the scientific method. I'm starting to think that academics are especially vulnerable to various abuses of power. Academic science is not a very financially rewarding field; I would argue that, instead, people who go into it often derive their reward from being lauded. They need that, and some will do anything to get and maintain it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Best "aren't you..." question

"Are you guys that band we saw at Burning Man?"
Reportedly*, the speaker, a 20 something wearing a pillbox hat, was at a bridal shower at Lovejoy's tea room. The questionees were dressed in leather for Folsom Street Fair but stopped in for tea first.

*Sorry, no link. Personal communication.

The port of Stockton?

Guess so.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Saturday, September 16, 2006

iTunes is stupid

If you use iTunes for any time at all, you will inevitably decide that you want some of your music files to reside in a new location. In my case, I decided that having my audiobook files that I ripped from audiobook CDs in the "Compilations" subfolder was unneccessary; they should be in the "iTunes music" directory. However, there is no way to move these files without losing their iTunes meta-information: how many times I have played them, what they are rated, what playlists they belong to.

Programatically this cannot be hard to accomplish. I don't understand why it hasn't been included. This is just one of a number of features that the program should include but doesn't.

Possible reasons not to include it:

1) The programmers and their masters don't know anyone wants to do it.

2) It goes against the apple ethos of "few options, my way or the highway."
More likely. Stupid.

3) ?

Brilliant: AARP computer tutorials!

i came across this while trying to demystify the checkbox in itunes.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Callwave is a free voicemail alternative for your cell phone. you don't have to do anything differently from what you do now, and it's actually easier to check your messages. There are several cool things about it:

1) you can screen your messages and pick up if it's someone you want to talk to
1.5) [a side effect of item 1] you have a second chance to answer the phone if you didn't reach it during the normal number of rings
2) you can get a text message when you have a voicemail (regular voicemail noticiation won't work). the text message tells you who called and how long the message was
3) you can screen and listen to your messages from your computer (windows only)
4) if you are screening from your computer, you can transfer the call to any number (i.e. your work line, your home line).

i've been using this for over a month now and i'm totally sold. the best part is seeing and listening to my messages on my computer. i hate having to dig my phone out of my bag to check my messages, and then i hate having to dial something and hold the phone up to my ear during the standard airtime-sucking voicemail retrieval process. now my little floating widget on my computer screen tells me if i have a new message. if i want to hear it, i press the play button. that's it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Robert Parker, blogger

Well, managed blogging. It's at Amazon. Great tone.

Awed by inability

Several parts of a group of climbers came by us while we were lounging on the rocks at Chilao Flat. The leader of last three stragglers was a girl who had no sense at all of where the trail was. These are trails used by hikers, bikers, horses, dogs and climbers. Big, wide, honking obvious trails. She made an obvious mistake right in front of us, one that required a lot more effort than following the footsteps in the sand would have required. Then she asked us a couple of times if she should go down the wrong side of the hill. As she left she called after the group in front of her to wait. I thought, if she is that group's best trail follower... Then I realized that was impossible, because there can't possibly be two people in the world worse at following trails than her.

Hike at Chilao Flats

AR and I took the woof for a hike today. The starting elevation was 5200'. The sky was amazing. It was great to get out of the city.

BD was especially tired. We stopped several times for him to rest. Once we were near a bee nest and spent some time watching them. In this picture there is a bee resting on Mac's left foot.

The sandy trails are something you see a lot here. I remember them in Colorado, but not on the East Coast.

There were dramatic clouds too. No rain, but eventually a little shade. We spent a while lying on a rock and looking at the clouds while Mac divided his time between panting and thinking about what it would take to get up onto the rock with us.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Fold Wallet v1.0

You know I love plaid. This is the outcome of my latest make-it crush.

I've been interested in making wallets for a while now. Ultimately I have another style in mind, but I'm stuck on that front. So meanwhile, I decided to learn a bit about wallet making. This is the best set of instructions I've come across; they're easy to follow and encouraging.

This is the first wallet I've made (besides the nylon one that I have a faint memory of making in seventh grade). There's a lot I want to improve. Some improvements will come when my sewing skills improve. I also need to figure out a way to keep it from sagging. Finally, making plaid fabrics line up is really hard! Nevertheless, I'm very happy with this for a first effort.

What do I do with something like this when I've made one I like better? I have a hard time throwing things away. Donate it to Goodwill? I wonder if they would take it.

I also discovered that my bobbin winder doesn't work. To run, it requires that I stick a flathead screwdriver into my machine, which makes me squeamish. I'm loathe to get it fixed though; I have a very basic machine and don't want to spend a lot of money on it. So for now, sewing requires a screwdriver.

You can see the how the card-holding pockets aren't flat across, and how uneven my stitching (on the sides especially) is. Click for larger image.

With cards and bills in it, the wallet holds its shape respectably.

My plans:

  1. Use fabric interfacing to make the card pockets stiffer.
  2. Use some kind of plastic to give the outer wall some more shape.
  3. Use pinking shears on the seam allowances, which should de-bulk the edges of the wallet and make sewing it smoother.

Advice is welcome!

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Drunk Biking

Turns out it's a crime:
Type VC Section Violation
M 21200.5 Riding a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both.

Here's where I got the graphic and the deets

Monday, August 28, 2006

Changes in Brain Structure in Response to Parenting

Like human fathers, male marmosets help raise their young, yet the ways in which fatherhood influences the brain remain largely unknown. We show that first-time and experienced marmoset fathers have enhanced density of dendritic spines on pyramidal neurons in prefrontal cortex as compared to non-fathers. In parallel, the abundance of vasopressin V1a receptors and the proportion of V1a receptor–labeled dendritic spines increase.
Kozorovitskiy Y et al. Fatherhood affects dendritic spines and vasopressin V1a receptors in the primate prefrontal cortex [PMID: 16921371]

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Fire lookouts in the Angeles Forest

Forty years ago, there were many more lookouts on various peaks of the Angeles National Forest, but the increase in smog decreased visibility so much that their effectiveness was greatly reduced, and they were closed.

File under unexpected consequences, in this case fire detection influenced by smog

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Primate researcher quits after colleague is target of firebomb

After years of being targeted by animal rights activists, Dario Ringach announced he was planning to quit primate research. The targeting included phone harassment, demonstrations at his home, pamphlet distribution to his neighbors and a firebomb openly intended for a colleague (the group accidentally left it on an elderly neighbor's porch; it did not detonate). He asked that the animal rights organizations no longer target him and his family. The Primate Freedom project said they will not stop targeting him until he makes a video tape of himself "apologizing for the nonhuman pain and suffering he has caused."

Dr. Rinhach is an associate neurobiology professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has done research on human physiology and will presumably continue.

Details are here (free) and here (subscription only, text here)

I support restrictions to limit the use of animals in research as much as possible, to maximize the quality of life of the animals and to minimize stress and suffering. I have worked at numerous organizations involved in helping animals in various ways.

Nevertheless, I think that the attack on research using animals is misguided. If one's concerns are for the welfare of animals, there any many better targets.

Consider euthanasia of companion animals. Dogs are the animals closest to my heart. In 2000, there were 95,000 cats and dogs used in research (1). More than thirty times that many are euthanized in shelters per year (2). Euthanasia of stray dogs and cats is entirely preventable (through spay/neuter programs, etc.) and benefits no one.

Or consider the slaughter of the 10 billion food animals that are killed in the US each year (3). While many people enjoy eating meat, the food animal industry is a lot more disposable than the contributions of animal research to health care - a vegetarian diet would improve the health of the majority of Americans and free up a lot of resources (grains and vegetables require much less fuel to produce per calorie compared to meat (4)); trying to get by without medicines and techniques developed by animal research (vaccines, coronary bypass surgery, organ and bone marrow transplant, joint replacement) would radically decrease the health of many and the quality of life of all.

Even if the US, or the world, ended animal research right now, the losses would be huge. We might get to keep some recent high profile recent medical advances like deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's (5) and the ability of people who are paralyzed to communicate via computer or control a robotic arm (6). But we would never progress on spinal cord injury repair, a cure for diabetes, or stem cells and their myriad potentials. We need a vaccine against AIDS, new antibiotics to replace the ones that bacteria become resistant to, treatment for Alzheimer's, and better cancer prevention.

While people in the United States are empathetically concerned when they see pictures of apes with surgically implanted electrodes, they are not prepared to end the food industry, to lose the freedom to have pets as they please or to wave goodbye to the level of health care they currently have. Animal research will not be ended or restricted through legitimate means.

(1) USDA Animal Care Report, 2000.
(2) Humane society on euthanasia statistics
(3) Organic Consumers Association on Food Animals
(4) Michael Bluejay's Bicycle Universe on fuel required for food production
(5) NIH on deep brain stimulation
(6) Nature article on control of computers by electrodes in brains

"Astrologers should have been consulted."

my favorite pluto-demotion story: my dad called me yesterday to say that he had read something in the wall street journal about how scorpios (which i am) might be having a problem with pluto no longer being a planet. he called to jokingly reassure me that it was going to be ok. i am especially amused that he came across this in the WSJ, usually so stogy.

here's a quote from the Seattle PI:
"Whether he's a planet, an asteroid, or a radioactive matzo ball, Pluto has proven himself worthy of a permanent place in all horoscopes," says Shelley Ackerman, columnist for the spirituality Web site Ackerman criticized the IAU for not including astrologers in its decision.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Conventions of interest

I was reading a New York Times article about hotels starting to use kiosks in the lobby for automated check-in, which I think is genius. I would use it at least 80% of the time. I'm not a big hotel user, but I can distinctly remember the hassle of the last few times I've checked into a hotel, which suggests that they were memorably bad experiences.

Anyway, they quoted a customer who was checking in for a stenography convention. Google has no relevant results for "stenography convention," but I hit paydirt with the "United States Court Reporters Association (USCRA) Annual Convention." Topics for this year include the following:
3. Surgical Procedures for Weight Loss – What You Need to Know
...In this seminar you will learn about the Micropouch gastric bypass and the Lap-Band procedures, including possible complications and long term outcomes. Court reporters need to be healthy and energetic. In this seminar you will learn about new options for weight loss. Dr. James Sapala, Bariatric Surgeon Victory Memorial Hospital

(Surgeon trolling for patients? Medical device purveyor doing sales? Are court reporters especially obese?)

4. Conan the Grammarian
Celebrating his 25th year writing, our speaker, Usage Editor of The Random House of Dictionary of the English Language, will offer a common-sense approach to standard grammar and usage....


9. Electronic Recording (ER) – Threats in the Courtroom and New Strategies to Face the Threat
...You will also learn what to do when ER rears its ugly head in your state...Laura Dennis, NCRA’s Senior Government Affairs Specialist & PAC Manager, Sponsored by NCRA’s Official Reporter Community of Interest

(Technology is bad)

10. Real Events, Real Emotions: How to Deal with Vicarious Traumatization
...Are you simply an impartial, unemotional conduit for the information, or do you experience more of a person's emotional pain than you consciously realize? This seminar will explain what Vicarious Traumatization is, how it affects you, and how you can recognize the signs.

(I think I got VT from watching The Shield and Rescue Me)
Unfamiliar fields are so weird and interesting.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Reasons To Steer Clear Of Career Women

Forbes recently published an article (they took that version down, the chickens. and then they re-posted it alongside a counterpoint) titled "Don't Marry Career Women." Perhaps it is overly optimistic of me, but I'm convinced that the tone is intentionally provocative and the article is consciously and humorously outrageous. In any case, I wondered whether bad news for one group might be good news for another. In the spirit of intentional provocation, I have annotated their list of reasons to "steer clean of career women" with my list of "reasons for women to have good careers."*

The Forbes list is numbered; my complementary observations are the unnumbered paragraphs following them.

Men's Title: Reasons To Steer Clear Of Career Women
Women's Title: Careers Give Women Advantages In Marriage

1. You are less likely to get married to her.

Women: You are less likely to get married to someone you don't want to marry. And when you are unmarried, it's increasingly socially acceptable.

2. If you do marry, you are more likely to get divorced.

Women: If you conclude that your marriage was a mistake, you are more likely to have the confidence and financial wherewithal to end it.

3. She is more likely to cheat on you.

Women: You're more likely to have all kinds of opportunities men have historically had, including the opportunity to cat around. Goose, gander. Still, probably not a good idea.

4. You are much less likely to have kids.

Women: Your self-esteem will depend less on having children. You are free to choose to have them or not.

5. If you do have kids, your wife is more likely to be unhappy.

Women: You're going to have high expectations about your guy contributing to child-care.

6. Your house will be dirtier.

Women: Your self-esteem will depend less on having a clean house.

7. You'll be unhappy if she makes more than you.

Women: Pick your guy carefully; if he has self-esteem problems he's going to have trouble with your success. Also, see #2 about divorce, above.

8. She will be unhappy if she makes more than you.

Women: You will have the chance to make decisions and have responsibilities in line with your abilities as an individual rather than with your expected role as a woman. This will cause some friction in various areas of your life. Again, pick your guy carefully: if he has trouble with your success, it will probably make you unhappy. If he's a leech, that will probably make you unhappy too.

9. You are more likely to fall ill.

Women: You will be less likely to be making your husband's medical appointments, checking that he takes his medicine, and monitoring him carefully for every boo boo. He's going to have to take care of himself more than men have historically. You might want to teach him how to do that.

To conclude, a note to women who are not seeking the advantages listed above: If you are a career woman and really want kids and like to let a guy feel like he's in the driver's seat, you're a rare commodity, June "Condi Rice" Cleaver. From the tone of the Forbes' article, it seems that you will be a highly sought prize. Still, keep in touch with your girlfriends; you never know when your priorities will change.

* According to Forbes' definition, a career woman "has a university-level (or higher) education, works more than 35 hours a week outside the home and makes more than $30,000 a year." Also, in some cases, they're defining her as white.

When to complain: health care is a hassle

I was referred to a pulmonologist by the student health center here at school since they were prescribing me asthma meds and I hadn't had a lung function test in a while. The pulmonologist's office doesn't take phone calls from 11am to 2pm, so it took me a very long time to reach them to make an appointment, which they made for a month after that. They sent me paperwork, which I didn't fill out. I lost my wallet (actually I think I just misplaced it), so I don't have my driver's licence or insurance card. I called them about half an hour before the appointment to see if that would be a problem and to ask if I should go home to get the blank paperwork or if they could give me another packet. I was on hold for a very long time. Long enough that the question became moot. I hung up and called back. When they said "can you hold?" I said, "No, I'm on my way in, and I'm just calling let you know I'll need to get another packet of paperwork from you." She said, "I can't hear you. You're breaking up. Can you hold?" Without waiting for my answer, she put me on hold. I hung up.

OK, here I have to admit that I had done two things wrong: I didn't have my citizen card and I hadn't filled out the paperwork. I was a difficult client. Still I was really frustrated.

When I got there, I told them all I had was the cash, a single credit card and the information off my health insurance card. The receptionist made a moue. I felt like saying, don't give me that shit, just tell me straight up. I said, can you not see me? She said no, sorry. We went back and forth once and then I just left. I was so sick of that damn practice.

So I walked down the stairs (by the way, I biked to the office, albeit only 2 miles, in the 91 degree weather and then walked up and down the stairs. My asthma meds are obviously working fine. I'm not the one who wanted to see this damn pulmonologist to start with, but I need my meds, and the student health doc said they wouldn't prescribe them anymore without more info about my condition. I think this was all because he was playing some power trip on the nurse who saw me last, Alice)...

Anyway, I walked down the stairs in a huff. I've been feeling really put out by the shit I have to do during the day - it eats into my day disproportionately and I hate it. To have this huge waste of time was irritating three times over: once because I left the lab at all, twice because I was leaving for something I didn't especially want to do, and thirdly for not even getting it done. I called Health Services and told the receptionist, a wonderful wonderful woman, my whole saga while I walked my bike back toward campus. I asked her if she could please prevail on the doc at health services to just do an exam on me himself. It seems obvious to me that there is nothing scary or even interesting going on with me, pulmonarily speaking - if he agreed, I think he wouldn't have a prob continuing with the status quo prescriptions. With many kind and calming words, she put me on hold to go find a nurse, saying it was over her head, medically speaking. I started riding my bike toward campus. When the wonderful receptionist got a nurse on the phone, the nurse said she was going to call the pulmonologist's office and see what she could do. I told her if they would take me I would turn around.

I was somewhat pleased not to get another call while I was riding back to the lab. I figured that even if they did take me, I would still be pretty annoyed when I got back to the pulmonologist's office, so it would be an unpleasant visit. When I got back to the lab, I got a phone call from the university nurse. She said the pulmonologist had said it had never happened before and they could have just held my credit card. If it got to the pulmonologist, I think it means she gave them what-for. Presumably it's a good thing for your medical practice if you have a nearby university referring its well-insured students to you. It hadn't occurred to me that the institution held some clout. The university nurse got me a saturday appointment, which is great. I'm temporarily mollified. Maybe the appointment will be transformational and allow me to train much better. Yeah right.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Isotope Tests on Landis

I read a little bit about the tests they are doing to determine whether Landis was using illegal performance enhancing drugs. They can test the ratio of carbon isotopes in the steroids in the urine. I couldn't figure out how that would show whether the steroids were endogenous (made by Landis' own body) or not. It turns out that synthetic testosterone is made from a group of plants that use a particular kind of carbon fixation (from CO2). They are called C3 plants, and a molecule is involved in their kind of carbon fixation that favors the 12C isotope over the 13C isotope. Testosterone synthesized in the body comes from C3 and C4 plants, and so has a different mix of isotopes. Seems like the smart testosterone drug usage move would be to get testosterone synthesized from a similar mix of C3 and C4 plants as we eat.

On a related note that turns me green with envy, it was important that the French lab quickly receive the request that they test the other sample, because "it closes for a two-week vacation this Friday." (source)

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hello Darth

A photoshopped Hello Kitty Darth Vader.

An obscure and unexpected job

The International Badminton Federation has an official bird flu spokesman, according to this article about the dire effect of the Bird Flu on production of badminton birdies.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

junior varsity airlines

there are some major airlines i won't fly because i think their operations are poorly conducted and/or their customer service is abysmal: US airways, alaska airlines, america west, ata, frontier. i will happily fly jet blue, america airlines, united, delta, continental or southwest. i prefer not to fly northwest, but i'm not adamant about it.

recently i bought a plane ticket to a remote location across the country, necessitating travel on two airlines: american airlines and a podunk one. i bought the ticket through expedia, and they had to issue me a paper ticket, since Podunk Air doesn't do e-tickets. when i unexpectedly had to change the return date, i found out that my ticket had been issued by a third airline, US airways (note its inclusion on the above list of airlines i don't patronize). because there isn't time for me to return the tickets to expedia by mail, they told me i had to go to the airline ticket counter. expedia customer service gave a confirmation number for american. i called american, who told me i needed to call US airways. US airways told me i had to go to the ticket counter and the closest one is at LAX. after stewing over the hassle of getting to LAX, i called US airways back to ask if they could tell me the cost of changing my ticket when i get to the airport. they couldn't even find my ticket from the information on my paper ticket, my credit card, my flights, anything. exasperated, i called expedia back to complain about having to deal with a company i hate. they told me two things.

one, you can't know in advance who is issuing your ticket when you buy it through expedia. if you fly on one airline, usually that airline issues your ticket. if you fly on two, there is a chance that a third will be the issuer. dude, how much does that suck?

two, i can change my ticket when i get to the airport for my departure. five calls is too much. i'm sure i'm in for more hassle when i get to the airport and have to go to the US airways counter before i depart on american airlines.

the levels of customer service met my expectations: for my two calls to expedia, one service person was competent and helpful and the other was not; my call to american was handled well; and both my calls to US airways were handled badly, curtly and incompetently.

in the future, i don't know what to do. this is a route i fly at least once per year. i could buy two separate tickets directly from the airlines, but then i couldn't change them together, they wouldn't coordinate delayed flights for me, and i couldn't check my baggage through. there used to be a major airline that flew to Podunk; maybe next year one will be back. or maybe i'll fly into the nearest metropolis and take surface transport, which would take at least four hours.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Angelenos love exercise

HC left me a voice mail to report sighting an exercise video being played in a minivan. All occupants appeared to be seated.

On proprietary reagents

I tell authors that 'proprietary' is another term for 'not fit for serious scientific work'
Clifford B. Saper, Harvard Medical School, writing in Nature 442, 353(27 July 2006)

Saturday, July 22, 2006


"Mommies are boring"

This conversation has been around a few bends, from here (where you can find a link to the original if you wish) to harri3t via rs. It inspired this following rant of mine, originally written as a comment to harri3t.

I agree with what harri3t said:
"But I don't think it's stay-at-home moms who are to blame. It's people in general. And it's not really that they're boring, but that you are bored because there is not enough of a connection."
It's certainly been true in my scores of jobs-that-were-not-callings, where I wasn't inherently interested in the subject of my work. In each type of job I was thrown in with a different group. With lawyers and people who work at law firms, I often had one set of things in common; with people who worked in construction, another. As harri3t suggests, unless we had something in common that we both cared about, the interactions tended toward the insipid. Of course, if you ask someone something outside of strollers, billable hours or subcontractors, sometimes you find something of interest you didn't know you both cared about. The construction workers were, as a rule, more fun and more interesting than the law firm people. Of course, the construction crowd were also better people, but that doesn't say anything in particular about construction workers.*

*Lawyer-bashing is an easy bandwagon to jump on. I gave years of my life to working with lawyers, and I'm confident that my assessment reflects my experience. There are, of course, exceptions. Similarly, I am aware of the historically patronizing glorification of the working class, but again I stand by my perceptions.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

from the "i was drunk at the time" archive

what does it say that I have to be drunk to read myself?
-mimi smartypants

Monday, July 17, 2006

Friday, July 14, 2006

Why I hate LA, reason # 4,823,230

"L.A.'s way too crazy and wild a place to be pulling people over for talking on their phones," said Charles "C.J." Jacobson of Sherman Oaks, a producer of TV commercials. "Maybe there should be a permit system. There's a slew of professionals who need to use cellphones in cars. But soccer moms don't need to be doing it.",0,4543915.story?coll=la-home-headlines

promoted from comment:
"People who do important shit, like me, should be able to use them. People whose children just got hit in the face by a soccer ball during a game have their damn nerve," said Mr. Pompous (PA) Asshat.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

upstaged by pieces of wood

Last weekend, I went to see Pirates of the Carribean. It was preceded by surpassingly* bad service at a pho restaurant that served reasonably good food. I enjoyed the movie, although I think it would have done better to have a more cohesive overall plot and at least a semi-ending. Here's a wonderful sentence from a review of the film that embodies a sentiment that had been lurking below the surface of my consciousness:
Mr. Bloom, as is his custom, leaps about, trying to overcome his incurable blandness, and is upstaged by special effects, musical cues, octopus tentacles and pieces of wood.
* RS prefers "exceptionally."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Formerly Anusol

Anusol! This cracked me up at the store the other day.

(Picture from flickr)

Clever/sad: jury-rigged wheelchair

the other day I saw a grey haired man pushing a white haired woman in a supermarket shopping cart that had been modified to serve as a wheelchair.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

uniquely human mental powers are due to...

There is no shortage of one-line theories of human nature.
-Paul Bloom, reviewing Changing Our Minds by Bruce E. Wexlerin Nature 442, 27-28 (6 July 2006)

This resonates with me, because we all love reduction. Complex ideas, even among scientists, are unpopular.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sunday, June 25, 2006

stop staring at my feet, you balkan freak

says a character on the shield in the episode called "Blowback." i've been watching reprehensible tv again, and it sure is enjoyable.

saturday was disgustingly hot. i spent a little while in the library and then a couple of hours ice skating. the ice skating was lots of fun once i pushed through the initial discomfort. it was ironic to have cold weather asthma even after i walked out of the rink back into the vilely hot and humid air.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Old Man and the Sea

I'm listening to it on audiobook. My favorite author used to be Salman Rushdie, for phrases like (from memory, i.e. roughly) "the station wagon of despair." This phrase from early in Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" reminds me of Rushdie, although chronologically Rushdie follows Hemingway:
The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat

Friday, June 16, 2006

going to the mawl

yes, last night i visited the mall. i went for some hair dye (bright pink!) and it turns out that you go to the mall for that. so i went.

1) agghh!

2) the parking is insane. you park far far away. at least it makes people walk a little.

3) i saw a woman sitting in a wheel chair that was powered by bicycle pedals that her feet were pedaling. i wonder what the story with that is. what kind of illness makes you able to pedal but not able to stand? maybe something neurodegenerative that affects balance or coordination?

4) agghh!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Night Palms

I'm alwasy fascinated by the patterns of the lights on the palms. Last night I was in the lab past midnight, working and grading, and when I passed these on my way home I had enough energy to take a bunch of shots. I'm not totally happy with them, but they're not bad. Posted by Picasa