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.
from http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/angeles/recreation/hike-islipsad2littlejimmy-mtislip.shtml

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 Beliefnet.com. 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)