core dump

--I've rather enjoyed seeing that picture of John Goodman from the Big Lebowski at the top of my page every time I passed through (to surf over to blogs that update more often. Which is to say, at all.) I think I may make it my new avatar. I've been compared to Walter in the past, though I haven't the faintest idea why...

--I am becoming increasingly aware that I am better at editing other people's scientific writing than I am at writing myself. This is somewhat frustrating from a personal perspective, but from a career perspective, it's actually very good.

--I found the season finale of Rescue Me last night to be anticlimatic. I don't for a minute think that they are going to kill Tommy, so the 'cliffhanger' is a non-starter. (That said, I will be disappointed if Callie Thorne's character is killed off, because I think she is quite good. She was also good as McNulty's ex on The Wire. Someone should cast her in a bigger part.) For me, the real tension towards the end of the season was whether the crew would actually be disbanding, and that has been resolved. But will the Emmy-nominated main-character/producer/co-creator of the show survive into the next season? Come on...

--Art de Vany looks great on his 69th birthday. I am trying to implement as many of his "evolutionary fitness" principles as possible (lunch today: a small orange, a wedge of honeydew, 3 celery ribs, and about 4 oz of roasted turkey) but I do wish he would hurry up and finish that book...


sucks to be plutonian right now

...also, Dude, dwarf is not the preferred nomenclature...Little Person Planet Pluto, please...


and you think your job is hard

I don't usually blog about what I do for a living. One reason is that a big part of what I do is writing about what I do (and more so with every passing year). So by the time I get to blogging, I've pretty much got science written out of my system.

Another is that I'm just interested in lots of things I don't get paid to think about.

Still, I am incredibly lucky in that I do essentially get paid to think for a living, and that's pretty cool. And even though the nature of modern science is that you specialize in something very, very narrow, every once in a while, I do get to think about the bigger picture.

My colleagues and I study biological barriers. There are a lot of reasons to be interested in biological barriers--one is that they fall apart in disease, and this can be very bad. Another is that they can keep you from getting drugs where you want them to go. As you might imagine, the latter is of great interest to the pharmacuetical industry.

Today I was thinking about this, and it occured to me that what this boils down to is getting molecules into, through, or around cells. Sounds simple enough. The thing is--cells are pretty good at regulating what goes in, through, or around them. If you think about it, this is really all a cell is--a bag of lipids around some water that regulates what goes in and out of itself.

So it's fine and good to say that we're trying to control what goes from A to B. But we should probably keep in mind that the cells have agendas of their own. Plus, they have a bit of a head start on figuring out how to implement them. Of a couple billion years.

Man, I'm glad I didn't think of this until after I finshed grad school.

...and the 2006 william shatner award for outstanding acheivement in becoming a caricature of oneself goes to...

...the Hoff.

Which considering the year Cruise has had, is really quite an accomplishment.


someone needs to write this program

I need a filter that I could feed a large bit of text (~4000 words) that will convert from standard American English to standard British English spellings. Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with me bagging on the Brits in the last post. I'm just trying to publish something in an UK-based journal and I guess they don't pay their copy editors to add in superfluous vowels.

Also, it needs to cover medical and scientific terms. (Hyperglycaemia? WTF???)

two minutes hate

(sigh) England.

You used to be cool, man.

You gave us Churchill and Benny Hill. Ricky Gervais to laugh at. Rachel Weisz to look at. Monty Python and Black Sabbath. Iron f&*@ing Maiden, for crying out loud!

But now...now you're messing with our classic cartoons.

Not. Cool.

The review was triggered by a complaint to British media regulator Ofcom by one viewer who took offence to two episodes of Tom and Jerry shown on the Boomerang channel, part of Turner Broadcasting which itself belongs to Time Warner Inc...

In the first, "Texas Tom", the hapless cat Tom tries to impress a feline female by rolling a cigarette, lighting it and smoking it with one hand. In the second, "Tennis Chumps", Tom's opponent in a match smokes a large cigar.

First of all: Turner Broadcasting--you're a bunch of pussies, and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Second: Even if you accept the premise that the activities of cartoon cats influence childrens' behavior, smoking rates have been steadily falling in the UK (and the rest of the western world) for decades now. This is a solution in search of a problem. (I was unable to find reliable data on the rates of anvil-related assaults over the past few decades in the UK).

Sadly, this is only the latest incident in a long history of retroactively sanitizing our popular culture.

Personally, I dread sharing the world with an entire generation that has never been exposed to anything offensive. They're going to be even bigger tools than their baby-boomer parents.


privatize airline security now

I think I've managed to shy away from enough libertarian rants lately that I'm due one. Anyway, if I get this off my chest here, it might spare my dinner companions later tonight from having to sit through it.

Recent accounts (that's just one--I'm sure we could find dozens) of airport security in the post-allegedly-exploding-hair-products world (at least "post 9-11" something had, you know, actually happened) have led me to one inescapable conclusion.

The only way airline security has a prayer of being 1) effective, AND 2) not completely absurd, is to make each individual airline responsible for the security of its own flights.

Locks on cockpit doors? The only reason it took so long for that to happen--the airlines were waiting for the government to do it. If the airlines knew it was on them, how much do you want to bet they would have been installed on 90% of planes by September 18, 2001? (It's not like they were flying them that week, you know.)

Long lines at security? Do you think the TSA gives a shit if you miss your flight and have to rebook? Do you think the airlines might?

If/when there is another terrorist incident on an American flight, what will happen in the TSA? Do you think anyone will get fired? Do you think their budget will be cut? If anything, more people will be hired, and the budget will be increased. If the airlines were responsible for their own security, how long do you think the airline on which the incident occurred would be able to stay in business?

OK--so who really has an incentive to keep you safe when you fly?

Next time you're going through airport security, take a good long look at the person telling you to take your shoes off, and tell me if you really believe they're doing this job because they want to make a difference.

"But," you may say "won't that greatly increase the price of tickets"?

The last time I flew, nearly 20% of what I paid was taxes. We're already paying for this. We just aren't paying it to the people with the greatest motivation to do the job well.

[/rant] Thank you for your attention.


book meme (or, the brief return of lazy blogging)

Blogging has been sparse. I don't apologize--life beckons. It will continue to be sparse until at least the end of September, when I will be coming to you live from a new house and a new time zone. Details, if you care, can be found over multiple posts here.

Anyway, I saw this one over at Henley's place, and I thought it was cool, so I decided to grab it even though I wasn't tagged.

One book that changed your life:

It's cliche, but if I'm being honest, I can't think of another single book that shook up the way I thought the way Atlas Shrugged did.

One book you have read more than once:

Dancing Naked in the Mind Field by Kary Mullis

One book that you would want on a desert island:

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

One book that made you laugh:

Novel by George Singleton

One book that made you cry:

Atonement by Ian McEwan

One book you wish had been written:

I wish that Bill Hicks had written a book before he died.

One book you wish had never been written:

I don't know--pick any insidious self-help book that reduces the complexities of human relations into catchy slogans and simple answers.

One book you are currently reading:

American Pastoral by Phillip Roth

One book you have been meaning to read:

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Now tag five people:

Anybody who wants to, run with it...


unsolicited advice on buying a home from someone who hasn't even bought one yet

The wife and I just got back from a house hunting trip (this involved flying across the country, so it was kind of a big deal). It ended up being not as bad as I thought it might.

Cutting to the chase: we made an offer on a place, and it was accepted within hours. We found it in 1.5 days of looking around. So pending a satisfactory inspection, it's a done deal.

I feel like I've learned a great deal of terribly practical stuff in the past few weeks, a trend I hope continues (relatively painlessly) as we move into actually being homeowners. So, if you are thinking about buying a house for the first time, here's what insight I think I have on the subject now:

1) Get a realtor, and let them do their job. This should be obvious, but as someone with a very internal locus of control, this took me some getting used to. Talk to them a LOT before you even go out looking for houses, and be very clear about what you do and do not want. If you don't want to live in a brand new house in a clear-cut subdivision and you don't really care about school districts (beyond how they may affect your resale value, anyway) make sure that you mention that. If they don't seem to hear you, hire someone else.

Our realtor was excellent in this regard, but one that I spoke with while investigating a different job in a different place just couldn't get it through her peroxide-blonde-laquered hair helmet.

2) Figure out how much of a mortgage you can qualify for, and then start your search at listings at 1/2-2/3 that ammount. If you can't swing this in the area where you are looking, think long and hard about whether you should be buying right now, because you ARE going to end up spending more than you originally set out to spend.

The reasons for this approach are two-fold: in addition to enforcing some fiscal discipline, I think you do a better job of setting yourself up for satisfaction. If you start at the top of your buying power (or higher) and then work your way down, you are inevitably going to feel like you're settling or giving something up. If you start near the bottom and work your way up, then you get some perspective on what really matters to you.

We originally set out looking for 3 br/2bath with a basement. Pluses would have been a porch of some sort, and non-carpeted floors (we have a dog and allergies and we HATE carpet). Location was secondary, within reason, we thought.

Once we realized that getting most of that in our price range meant living in a pretty scary neighborhood--and more importantly, getting probably the nicest house in a scary neighborhood--we opened things up a bit. We ended up with a 2br/1bath with a full basement. There is no porch, but there are hardwood floors, and we are in a great neighborhood within walking distance (1 block) of a gorgeous park. We're happy with it, and are only spending 76% of what we qualified for.

3) Give yourself a deadline. Otherwise, you will toil endlessly looking for your dreamhouse that probably doesn't exist in your price range if you are a first time buyer. This is one of those tasks that will expand to fill the time allocated to it.


adventures in vagrancy

For the first time in my life, I just resigned from a job. Weird.

To be completely accurate, I gave my notice that I will be resigning in a month, to take another job. It just seems strange, because other than a part-time gig at Jesus's Chicken Shack when I was 16, every other job I've ever had has been for a predetermined limited time or was tied to my status as a student. So I've never had to quit--they just ended.

The time between my end date and my start date of the next job is 10 days. We relinquish our rental 3 days after my job ends. I don't know when we will close on the house we hope to buy, but it probably won't be until we get to where we're going, which will take at least 5 days.

So for about a week next month, I will be both homeless and jobless.



rw is going to be filthy rich

I'm not one to shy away from a challenge, even an insincere one...

The conventional wisdom about achieving fame and fortune (or at least fortune) is that you must come up with something unique, carve out a heretofore unclaimed niche in the marketplace, provide something so original and so compelling that everyone will want what you have to offer and will pay you handsomely for it.

This is, of course, completely and utterly wrong.

The key to fame and fortune is coattails. Find something that's worked for someone else, and just do an imitation of that. In fact, dumb things down a bit, and you will probably reach a wider market than the original.

Why be Alfred Hitchcock when you can be M. Night Shyamalan? Why be Radiohead when you can be Coldplay? Why be Umberto Eco when you can be Dan Brown?

So, as RW's self-appointed get-rich consultant, I am making the following recommendation:

You need to get on the Bourdain Train.

Seriously, this is so simple it's ridiculous. You already eat around and write about it. You write about other stuff as well. You also are traveling all the time. You both have wilder days behind you. You both have a slightly off-center view of the world (I hope you realize that coming from me, this is definitely a compliment.) All you really need to do is tone down the literary content a bit--not everyone "gets" that sort of thing you know--and you're golden. That, and find a publisher.

I'll expect my 20% cut when you get your first advance. Cashier's check will do.

posted without comment


everything will be metal

Caught Adult Swim's latest, Metalocalypse last night. Funny stuff. Imagine Josie and the Pussycats, but with a Norwegian death metal band. You can watch the first episode--in which the band performs a coffee jingle near the north pole, killing and maiming hundreds of fans in the process--here.

Dethklok rules!


friday fun fact!

In either type of [smoke] detector, steam or high humidity can lead to condensation on the circuit board and sensor, causing the alarm to sound. Ionization detectors are less expensive than photoelectric detectors, but some users purposely disable them because they are more likely to sound an alarm...

Funny that I had to move to the desert to learn this firsthand.

Swamp cooler + torrential rains = smoke detectors going off

Naturally, this occured while we were on vacation. A lot. Our neighbors love us right now...


a week in stumptown (or, a visit to the bizarro bible belt)

M posted some pics here, so I won't bother...

Portland--my hometown that I've never actually lived in. It's a beautiful place: cool architecture (both old and new), flowers everywhere, ten billion shades of green everywhere you look, tons of walkable neighborhoods, bridges, and parks. Even the people are more colorful in Portland--you stand out if you don't have at least one visible tattoo. Public transit is plentiful and clean (even the buses). You're never more than a short walk from 1) great coffee, 2) great food, and 3) great beer. I don't know--what else do you need?

The Portland politic I find fascinating. I'm reminded of the joke about Unitarianism: that it's church for people who don't believe in God, but who really like to get together and talk about how they don't believe in God. Portlanders are seemingly obsessed with displaying just how much they hate Bush/love the environment/are tolerant of everyone at every possible opportunity. Bumper stickers, bathroom grafiti, T-shirts, posters, etc., etc. I figure the most popular person in Portland would have to be a gay abortionist here illegally from Mexico who just converted to Islam.

The thing is--and I know some people are going to hate it when I point this out--it is almost exactly like the Bible Belt. Or more precisely, a Bizarro Bible Belt. It's a big echo chamber; people are surrounded by others that (at least outwardly) share their values, and it just resonates through every aspect of life. Visit any small town in the south or midwest, or the suburbs of places like Atlanta and Dallas, and you will see T-shirts and bumperstickers proclaiming affection for George Bush, guns, and Jesus in roughly the same proportion as their opposites in Portland. Talk to people, and you will get the same insular, self-assured sense of "everyone around me thinks like I do".

Whether this phenomenon is a net positive or not, I'm not completely sure. On the one hand, I think it greatly facilitates peaceful coexistance. On the other hand, I think it engenders a very provincial outlook, one that is becoming increasingly less sustainable in a rapidly globalizing society. As the world gets smaller, the folks in Portland will find themselves challenged not just by the values of Dallas, but of Beijing and Riyad as well. And vice-versa.

Regardless, I do hope that they will be able to keep their city the urban paradise that it is.