Friday, September 28, 2007

crummy design from an unexpected source

The major Pasadena event recognizing World AIDS Day has a crummy looking website. I'm nearly embarrassed to send people there to contribute - will they think it's a fraud? "No self respecting group of gay men would be associated with this!" The tabs across the top look cheesy, the faded background image isn't identifiable, nor is it aesthetically pleasing. It's large enough to distract from the text and the logo. But what really kills me are the vertical blue bars, which look a lot like scroll bars. In fact, when I first went to scroll down the page, I was confused for a minute. While any given person might not live up to a positive stereotype about their group, you'd think a group focused on a disease that disproportionately affects gay people would have a better looking website.

Also crummy looking: AIDS Service Center (the main beneficiary of the event, and probably a main organizer)

And, in fairness, fantastic looking: GMHC

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Scientist's Unconscious Credo

One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.

Marie Curie, letter to her brother, 1894
French (Polish-born) chemist & physicist (1867 - 1934)
(Certainly not limited to scientists though)

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I went on a lovely backpacking trip, but the last morning was a little cold for my tastes. Later I found out the low had been 18 degrees. I'm so tough!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"They had fun making it"

This seems to be a recent trend, books and movies that relish the fun to be had in making them. Certainly some zest is pleasing and not to be begrudged, but when the pleasure taken by the creators is greater than the pleasure it gives, one might wish the creators had focused more on their job. AR on Ocean's 13: "I won't go see something that was more fun to make than it is to see." Although she didn't explicitly begrudge Chabon the pleasure, RS similarly thought the Yiddish Policeman's Union appeared fun to write, but she found the book tedious.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Adieu Coney Island, hello shinier dullness

As I've said before, I love Coney Island. I love the air of decrepitude, cheesy rides, freak shows, a huge ferris wheel, and go carts all adjacent to the board walk. These parts are called Astroland, and the family who has owned it for 40 years has sold it to a developer who plans to level the place. The family plans to keep the adjacent famous wooden roller coaster, the Cyclone. Coney Island is part of New Yorkers' (if not national) identity, a place known to generations of people from all walks of life. In the past few decades, it has also been celebrated by counter culture, with the Mermaid Parade ("Brooklyn's yearly celebration of homemade spangle and semi-nudity" - Village Voice) and Sideshow School. Historically there has been continuous change to Coney Island and I have to accept that. I just hope it doesn't get modernized beyond recognition.

The New York Times has a lovely paean/editorial on the topic, including these gems:
''A spirit of frolic must be manufactured,'' maintained Frederic Thompson, the dreamy impresario of Luna Park, ''and it cannot dwell where straight lines, dignified columns and conventional forms dominate.''
...Coney has remained an urban space; diverse and edgy and even seedy in places, much more like the rest of the city was in the 1970s, rather than the ever shinier, duller New York of the 21st century.

If the airport is your town's best feature...

A terminally boring small town I lived in as a kid was mentioned parenthetically in a New York Times article recently. I was curious if there were other mentions. On searching the NYT site, I found that of the 10 first entries, 7 were articles about surrounding places that use the town's airport, 2 focussed on a crash at the airport, and one cited it as the birthplace of a hall-of-fame cowgirl.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Benefits of being a crazy dog lady

A few days ago I walked from my car to the dumpster in my garage, keys in one hand, a paper towel and a peach pit in the other other. I opened the door to the dumpster room and tossed the keys into the dumpster. Luckily this particular dumpster wasn't under the trash chute and only had large pieces of packing material in it. My keys were some five feet from me on part of a cardboard box.
Of course I travel with a Chuckit in the car, and its pasta-fork like end allowed me to fish the keys out after a few tries. Actually I have two Chuckits in the car, but let's keep that to ourselves.

p.s. If you haven't seen a Chuckit in action, spend 40 seconds watching this (non-commercial, audio-free) video:

With great power comes...

the potential for doing some really stupid things. Case in point: I issued a command on my linux computer today that had the effect of changing the permissions of every directory on the computer. Luckily I interrupted it before it had gone too far, but it's still a huge mare's nest of stuff to fix.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Recently I was on Nantucket and was constantly amazed by the clouds and the beauty of the light. I figured Los Angeles must have only crummy clouds and light since I couldn't remember being transfixed by them here, unlike in other cities like San Francisco. However yesterday I was visiting some friends on their boat near Long Beach and got to see this wonderful light. Clouds not too bad either.

Selection of performance-enhancing genes

In May, scientists at the NIH published an article about the genetics underlying extremely muscled "bully" whippets. They described a mutation in the myostatin gene that impairs myostatin's usual role of putting a brake on muscle development. Animals have two copies of most genes. Animals with this mutation in one of their myostatin genes (like the middle dog in the picture above) are heavily muscled and extremely fast. Animals with the mutation in both their myostatin genes , like the right dog in the picture, are barely recognizable as whippets. I think their extreme appearance contributes to the sense of alarm this discovery has occasioned.

There's a New York Times article on the subject that does a good job of describing the problems and benefits associated with identification of genes underlying given traits. I especially like this comment about the psychological effect:

Inborn abilities once attributed to something rather mystical seem to lose a certain standing when connected to specific genes.

There were several missteps in the article though. The author does not remark upon some fallacious breeder assertions. For example, she paraphrases breeders as saying "no genetic test can predict the intangible qualities that make a dog great." "Great" in this context seems to mean a racing champion. Why would we think the drive to win races not genetically based? In other kinds of animals, we've already identified genes that affect memory, sexual orientation, aggression and feeding.

A more elementary error in the article is the assertion that DNA testing will allow breeders to intentionally breed dogs with "a genetic advantage," as if breeders who have breed fast dogs together in the past have had conferred some other kind of advantage on the dogs. As long as people have selectively bred dogs, we have been manipulating the genetics of dogs, just without the level of knowledge we now have.

Still, I am pleased to see this kind of coverage in the popular media. And I too am somewhat sad about reducing canine and human qualities to genetics. However, both species have tens of thousands of genes, most traits are affected by multiple genes, and we cannot selectively breed canines or ourselves for many genes at a time at this point. We may prioritize some traits in either species, reducing our sense of mystery or the divine, but we will not eradicate quirkiness or the unexpected from either population any time soon.

What do ad people get paid for?

I came across this racist ad by Intel in the Dell catalog today. It makes me doubly annoyed that it's in the Dell catalog: it means that two sets of advertising people vetted the thing. Gee, what could be wrong with a bunch of dark-skinned, barely clothed clones bowing to a smug white guy in business clothes?