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Monday, June 30, 2008

No Ceili Again

Sorry gang. No ceili for me tonight. I'm just too tired from Stanford Dance Weekend. I just need to go to bed like... now.

On the plus side, Dance Weekend was great fun. Jodi's Charleston Variations class was my favorite, followed closely by Richard's Dances in 5/4 Time. That class will further improve my ability to dance to anything, anytime, anywhere. Also, putting Joan's Vintage Blues class in the 4-5pm slot on Saturday was pure genius. It was a very welcome antidote to the Mazurka class.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Captain Kirk is a Jerk

With an eye to Fred's Bachelor Party trip in August, and a general lack of anything on television, I decided to Tivo a few old Star Trek episodes and remind myself of the old series (and a little TNG).

The first thing that leapt out was the highly archetypal nature of so many of these episodes. These stories have been done over and over again, but here's the genesis of this sort of thing on television.

The next thing that leapt out in the old series was the utter disdain for science and scientists, which is pretty odd for a a science fiction show. The way they refer to scientists in the Space Seed episode was as though they were all amoral jerks with no sense. It sounded more like something you'd hear from Phred Phelps than on a sci-fi show. Also, in the Star Trek universe, all brown people are apparently interchangeable, because Ricardo Montalban was playing an Indian guy with a Spanish accent.

And then after a few episodes, I came to one pretty ugly conclusion: Captain Kirk is a total asshole. I think the Requiem for Methuselah episode is what sent me over the edge. They land on this planet, find out it's inhabited after all, and rather than asking nicely to have some of the natural resources or making a case, he demands that Flint give it to him or he'll destroy him with the Enterprise's phasers. Then he proceeds to go after Flint's ward in a totally reckless manner, ignoring the needs of his crew who are up there about to die from Rigellian fever. After knowing her for less than a day, he demands that she fly away with him in his big shiny starship because he's so madly in love with her. Even after finding out she's an android, he still makes a fuss about her choosing him, and eventually she overloads and dies. When he gets back to the Enterprise, Spock mind-melds him so that he can forget, because Spock is apparently that kind of enabler.

But that's all just one episode. I've watched more episodes, and the guy doesn't come out smelling any sweeter. He's demanding and self-centered and falls in lust at the first sign of a pretty girl. Suffice to say, I have a really hard time imagining this guy in any sort of leadership role, let alone someone giving him command of a prestigious exploration ship.

I know, I know, these were made in a different time, and The Next Generation is a very different series with a very different Starfleet, but wog. For one thing, I feel really old. For another, how did I not really notice or internalize this before? And finally, ye gads what little brain worms did this install when I watched it as a kid?

Still, it's interesting to see how my perspective has changed. It's always good to have these little reminders thrown at you that what you thought at one point may not be exactly how you'd perceive it now. Plus, it's a nice thing to watch when Spot demands cuddles, which seems to happen with some regularity in the late evening and usually ends up with her in the crook of my arm asleep with right paw up and left paw down.

Two and a Half Pounds and Growing!

For better or worse, Spot seems to have stuck as a name. Leeloo seemed too froofy for her somehow, though that's still my second choice and if she grows into it, so things might change. When she just won't leave Pixel alone, she gets called mei mei, because she's being entirely too much of a little sister.

She is convinced that whatever Pixel is doing must be the best thing ever. Normally, she hates dry food, unless Pixel is eating it and then it must be yummy. If Pixel is in the tissue box, then she needs to be in the tissue box. If Pixel is on the bed, then she needs to be on the bed. And her favorite moment to pounce on him is when he's just gone into his litter box. Several times now, I've heard him start to scratch, and grabbed her as she headed towards him with a gentle, "Mei mei, let Pixel go potty in peace."

For the first time last night, I didn't have to get up in the middle of the night to lock her in her room. She slept until after the alarm went off, and only then started attacking everything that moved (but mostly Pixel). She is fearless and runs at startling speeds without slowing down to turn or change elevation. Last night this meant running a top speed towards the kitty condo and then continuing at that speed right to the top. She loves climbing the screen door to greet you, so I'm happy it's a metal screen that won't be damaged by such use.

Pixel is being incredibly tolerant. She has a special affection for attacking his back legs, and he will cheerfully wrestle with her but never seems to bite too hard or strike in anger. There is no hissing. She complains piteously when he holds her down, with her whining and flailing all limbs while he casually looks up at me with the, "No seriously, why?" look of the put upon older brother.

All in all, it's going well. I'm going to schedule an appointment to get her spayed next week.

Monday, June 23, 2008

No Ceili For Me

Hello world. It's 8:53 and I'm still at work. I've been working all afternoon on a video helplet about using email signatures. Some of the other helplets went so quickly and easily that I totally underestimated this one, so here I sit at the office, reviewing video helplets, trying to decide if it's worth rerecording and republishing to fix that one tiny glitch that maybe only I'll notice. At 8:15 I thought, "I'll wrap it up in a few minutes and only be a little late to ceili. Now I'm still working on tinkering, tweeking, and hopefully zipping and sending off to Cynthia for final publication. At least there's Waltz Weekend this weekend to make up for those lost dancing hours (and then some!).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Constitutional Amendment by Simple Majority

I'm just a little blown away. Is it really true we can amend the state constitution by passing a proposition by simple majority? Shouldn't it be a higher threshold like 60% or 2/3s majority? Why is it easier to amend the constitution of the state than to pass a basic state budget?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Finding Balance

It's a tricky thing. I can't tell you how happy I'll be to celebrate Suzi and Sandy's legal marriage. They were married in the eyes of their god and their community eight years ago, but starting tomorrow, they'll be able to have a marriage licensed by the state.

And yet, there is a balance that needs to be found. A story on Morning Edition reminded me how easy it is to tip over the other side. A basic separation of church and state is what drives this issue for me. The religious beliefs of some should not be able to overwhelm the reasons behind our laws. There is little difference between a man and woman and a man and man marrying in terms of the legal implications. There's little needing rewriting beyond some basic pronounce and replacement of "spouse" for "husband" or "wife." There is nothing about the legal status of one homosexual couple getting married in the eyes of the government that in any way damages the meaning of a hetero couple getting married in the eyes of the government, their church, or their community. It does not destroy the "sanctity of marriage." But the tricky bit is when it comes to all of the social and commercial implications. Can a wedding photographer only choose to photograph hetero weddings? Can a bakery only sell cake to hetero couples? As it turns out, we answered this question as a nation years ago with our repudiation of the idea that restaurants could be whites only and such. But what about the church that gets a special tax-exempt status from the government and hosts weddings. Can they refuse to rent their space on the basis of gender of the couples? What if they rent willingly to hetero couples who are not part of the congregation? What if that homosexual couple is part of the congregation? Where is that line? Where does the right to exercise religious freedom versus the right of couples to equal access tip? This is the really dangerous stuff that will make a backlashing constitutional amendment much more likely to pass.

And yes, we've drawn that line, but have we drawn in it exactly the right place? I'm not sure. Reading Carol Lloyd's article on ADA compliance in San Francisco reminds me how easy it is to err on the wrong side of the line. There's an unreasonable burden being placed on many small business owners to retrofit spaces to be ADA compliant in a city that is old, built on hills, and full of odd spaces that hardly fit the mold of a modern business. Does the need of one or two potential patrons in wheelchairs necessarily fully trump all other needs? How long before so many of these weird, odd-shaped spaces are simply shuttered in favor of things moving to cheaper, modern strip malls in the 'burbs, or worse yet, until those unique businesses are lost forever?

So how do we find balance? How do we accommodate the needs of the handicapped and fit them into our quirky, mismatched world? How do we find a balance to live and let live and let those with different beliefs coexist without running over each other? Is it even possible? Or do we have to adjudicate and legislate every trade-off and make winners and losers in every case?

Have I Mentioned I <3 Trader Joe's?

Dinner last night consisted of Trader Joe's Berry Medley (blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries). A one pound bag of frozen summer berries is $2.49 and thrown in a bowl and allowed to defrost for half an hour, sprinkle with a pinch of sugar and oh my it's a joy! I think I ate 2/3 of the bag over 3 hours. I had originally planned for that to be a lovely afternoon snack but it was so good that it just became dinner, and I can't think of a better meal for me, all full of vitamins and anti-oxidants and just not that many calories. It reminded me of my grandma's frozen summer peaches, which is still my favorite hot weather treat. There are few things better than peaches picked at the peak of ripeness and frozen away for a few months and brought out during those unbearably hot end-of-summer days in Sacramento.

The Science of Dancing

Of course, it's possible I may read too much fascinating science news to post it all without that becoming the primary content of my blog, but whatever.

Dancing. It's evolutionarily unique to humans. So what is about our brains and our wiring that make this such a joy and such a drive? Perhaps the most intersting bit in the article was about how you can appreciate dance that you know the skills for better than other forms of dance. This holds true when I weigh it against my experience. A perfectly executed salsa dance leaves me cold, but show me somebody doing a complicated swing routine or maybe some wild mazurka and I just think, "oooh! I wanna do that!" followed by unraveling what they just did and trying to figure it out.

Aggressive Drivers and Their Stickers

In my new quest to post science news that makes me say, "Hmmm... interesting," I bring you the story of researchers who really were just sitting at that green light to piss you off, and to record how long it took to piss you off.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Two Pound Vortex of Laziness

She's not even two pounds yet really. There were a lot of things I could've done today. I could've gone to the Pirate Festival. I could've gone to see A Few Good Men at City Lights. I could've even gone to see The Incredible Hulk, Zohan, or Kung-Fu Panda. But I totally didn't. I totally sat on the sofa with a kitten who would shift and wake up here and there and let me start a load of laundry, then would come back and beg to be held again. Then another two hours of kitten purring and napping while I watched Masterpiece Theater, Torchwood, and 27 Dresses. Yep, it was the apex of laziness. And really, all that purring and adoration doesn't suck.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fido

While I'm not really participating in BLITEOTW, I thought I'd take this opportunity to mention how much I enjoyed Fido. Carrie Ann Moss is radiant in this movie, and a swear the whole movie exists just so she can ask a zombie, "What's wrong Fido? Is Timmy in trouble?"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

That Wookie is Footloose!

Thanks to Ray for pointing this one out. It totally made my day.


But wait - there's more. They did it last year using 70's disco.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I <3 Trader Joe's

I'm sure most of y'all know that I'd probably starve were it not for Trader Joe's, but they've done it again. Their Very Mini Vanilla Meringues are so yummy! And they're bitty! And what's more, a serving is 100 pieces for 100 calories. That's right - one calorie per bite. And I could've easily made them in my own kitchen. The full list of ingredients is sugar, egg whites, vanilla, cream of tartar, and salt. Better yet, I don't have to make them. I get to buy them already made! And there's a little part of my brain that says they taste a little like Lucky Charms marshmallows, only better. (Ammy now flashes back to driving through Wisconsin with Kevin and eating the entire bag of marshmallows in one day. Ugh. That plus squeaky cheese curd. Weird day.)

Nap!

While it may not come as a surprise, but in head to head testing, the best way to get over afternoon sleepiness was to take a nap. It works better than caffeine and it works better than getting more rest at night. Much of the Mediterranean world figured this out hundreds of years ago, but grabbing 20 minutes sleep at your desk is the sort of thing that gets you talked about in all sorts of career limiting kinds of ways. But it's what our bodies do naturally and it's what will make us more productive in the long run, so why does our culture so strongly rebel against this? It's not an every day thing, but every now and again, I get the overwhelming afternoon sleepies and I'd love to be able to just have a space to go and just take that little nap and be back to productivity rather than fighting it for the next two or three hours.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Replaying Evolutionary History in the Lab

I'm just going to start posting all of the super-cool science news I find rather than just thinking, "Dang, that's so cool!" because it seems like every time I want to go back and find some article I read, El Goog fails me. Already this week I couldn't find the article on orange cat genetics that I've found three other times in the past. I'm not sure what the magic set of keywords is to make that page come up, but I've looked at a lot of other pages and none of them focus exclusively on orange kitties and their X chromosomes.

Anyway, today's "OMGScienceIsCoolSQUEEE!" article is all about a researcher tracking e.coli in the lab across thousands of generations and having them make a really unexpectedly complicated evolutionary leap.
A major evolutionary innovation has unfurled right in front of researchers' eyes. It's the first time evolution has been caught in the act of making such a rare and complex new trait.

And because the species in question is a bacterium, scientists have been able to replay history to show how this evolutionary novelty grew from the accumulation of unpredictable, chance events.

Twenty years ago, evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski of Michigan State University in East Lansing, US, took a single Escherichia coli bacterium and used its descendants to found 12 laboratory populations.

The 12 have been growing ever since, gradually accumulating mutations and evolving for more than 44,000 generations, while Lenski watches what happens.
Profound change

Mostly, the patterns Lenski saw were similar in each separate population. All 12 evolved larger cells, for example, as well as faster growth rates on the glucose they were fed, and lower peak population densities.

But sometime around the 31,500th generation, something dramatic happened in just one of the populations – the bacteria suddenly acquired the ability to metabolise citrate, a second nutrient in their culture medium that E. coli normally cannot use.

Indeed, the inability to use citrate is one of the traits by which bacteriologists distinguish E. coli from other species. The citrate-using mutants increased in population size and diversity.

"It's the most profound change we have seen during the experiment. This was clearly something quite different for them, and it's outside what was normally considered the bounds of E. coli as a species, which makes it especially interesting," says Lenski.
Rare mutation?

By this time, Lenski calculated, enough bacterial cells had lived and died that all simple mutations must already have occurred several times over.

That meant the "citrate-plus" trait must have been something special – either it was a single mutation of an unusually improbable sort, a rare chromosome inversion, say, or else gaining the ability to use citrate required the accumulation of several mutations in sequence.

To find out which, Lenski turned to his freezer, where he had saved samples of each population every 500 generations. These allowed him to replay history from any starting point he chose, by reviving the bacteria and letting evolution "replay" again.

Would the same population evolve Cit+ again, he wondered, or would any of the 12 be equally likely to hit the jackpot?
Evidence of evolution

The replays showed that even when he looked at trillions of cells, only the original population re-evolved Cit+ – and only when he started the replay from generation 20,000 or greater. Something, he concluded, must have happened around generation 20,000 that laid the groundwork for Cit+ to later evolve.

Lenski and his colleagues are now working to identify just what that earlier change was, and how it made the Cit+ mutation possible more than 10,000 generations later.

In the meantime, the experiment stands as proof that evolution does not always lead to the best possible outcome. Instead, a chance event can sometimes open evolutionary doors for one population that remain forever closed to other populations with different histories.

Lenski's experiment is also yet another poke in the eye for anti-evolutionists, notes Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago. "The thing I like most is it says you can get these complex traits evolving by a combination of unlikely events," he says. "That's just what creationists say can't happen."


So, not merely evolution, but replicable evolution. That's frikkin' cool!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Name the Kitten

So her working name has been Spot, which is a perfectly valid name, but there's also a few others that I've been considering. What do you think?

It's Good For You, But How Good?

I'm reading Everything Bad Is Good For You and I just finished the video game section in Part 1 and it immediately occurred to me the problem with the lessons video games are teaching you.

The author goes on about how we play games because the "rewards are both clearly defined and achieved by exploring an environment." But that's just it - in the real world, there's a lot of crap you have to do that doesn't have a clearly defined reward. One of the big complaints about "kids today" is that they expect to rocket through the ranks, becoming management in the first year or two after college, and all of us Gen Xers are laughing at them because we're still waiting to get there because the Baby Boomers are dawdling on this whole retirement thing (and don't seem the least bit interested in training us to follow them out of fear that we'll steal their jobs). So while the telescoping effect of task on top of task to achieve a bigger objective is a valid skill, the idea that you'll be rewarded consistently is a bit misleading. As any Gen Xer knows, you're just as likely to get laid off rather than rewarded after doing all the right things and busting your tail to perform miracles at work.

So that's a terribly cynical take-away from my lunchtime reading. Good thing I have a really cute kitten at home to bust me out of my cynicism. The world just seems a warm and fuzzy place when a kitten starts purring at the mere sight of you and wants nothing more than to be picked up and held close.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

It's a girl!

Spot had her first vet visit today. First thing - she's a she, a relatively rare orange lady. She is also a total drama queen. Just getting a temperature sounded like we were chopping her tail off with an axe. The blood draw and the vaccine was so much worse. But the blood draw showed that she's healthy as can be - no FIV or leukemia. She's also cleared for no ear mites and no worms. In a week or so she'll get a flea treatment and in the meantime I'll keep picking them off individually. (I'm finding one or two a day now.) She's just about 8 weeks old now, and had her first day with full run of the house.

A little aside: while we were waiting for her test results, a nice couple came in with an absolutely gorgeous black kitty. They'd gotten her from a CalTrans worker who called and said someone had thrown the cat out of their car on the Dumbarton Bridge. I can't imagine anyone being so horrible. The kitty is so sweet and could easily find a home if surrendered to the humane society. Why why why would someone throw an animal into traffic? These are the things that really make me question humanity.

Anyway, we made it back home around 2 and after a brief trip to her room (to use the facilities and have a bite of lunch), I gave the little lady free run of the house. She marched right up to Pixel and immediately started swiping at him. 1.5 pound kitten versus 14 pound cat, and Pixel promptly runs away. After a while, he started actually turning around to face off with her, but he's still being a chicken. Instead of playing along, he's hiding in his "I'm not happy" spot in the closet and occasionally acting out by doing things like hopping up on the table and lounging even when he gets scolded. We're going to keep her separated in her room for a while longer when it's bedtime and when we're not home. Hopefully they'll develop a working relationship, and if not, we'll get her spayed in a month or so and her second round of shots and put her up for adoption after that.

But in the meantime, she's just unbelievably cute. She's back in her favorite sleeping position now, belly up in the crook of my left arm, making typing near impossible...

Friday, June 06, 2008

Multicultural Springfest Video

Charlie's Dad took video of us at the Springfest, and Anna put it up on her website, but the file is so huge! The good news is that I now know why Google Video still exists after they bought YouTube. Via the Google Video Uploader, you can upload longer, larger video files. So I did:

See where the CD defeated us (started skipping)!
See a balloon pop mid-dance and nearly give us heart failure!
See where Charlie remembered to call for his partner then promptly forgot what he was doing!
See me horribly out of breath and trying to announce!

But if you want to see something pretty cool, skip to about 12:25 to see the polka set. It rocked.

Is Knowing English Grammar a L337 Skill?

My manager had a lot of little comments and nitpicks on a document I sent out yesterday. He's notorious for this stuff. He's the kind of guy who gets really bent out of shape about the different between a hyphen, an em dash, and an en dash. Most of the time I just roll my eyes and do it his way, but today he was citing number one through twelve should not be written in numerals. I'd actually made a choice in my content to write 7 days as 7 instead of seven because there were other day citations in the paragraph (30 days, 14 days, etc.) that were numerals and I thought the consistency would make for easier scanning. This was definitely a style choice for web readability, but I was willing to go with his desire for seven. Except he said that numbers one through twelve should be written out, not one through ten. According to MLA standards, it's one through ten. So I looked it up and cited the section and wrote back asking to which style guide are we beholden.

And then I chuckled to myself. Don't go to the mat with the former English major/English teacher. She's actually armed.

Toyota Dealership Service Variation

It turns out my included service for my Prius runs out after 55,000 miles. I'd thought it went to 100k, but that's just the extended warranty. So, for some foolish reason, Toyota makes you start paying cash on the most expensive visit.

As my car rolled over the 60k mark, I pulled into Stevens Creek Toyota. I'd been getting service there most of the time before and they seemed to do a reasonable job. I had my coupon clutched in hand and got out to go over things with the service advisor. Having two coupons - one for 15% off and one for $50 off, I was pretty sure the $50 coupon was the right answer, but figured I should double check on the cost before committing to one or the other. I asked, and he answered, "Looks like $989."

The air left my lungs. Seriously? Yes, seriously. Okay, so I wasn't prepared for that. Backpedaling commenced. They would need my car all day and it wouldn't be done til at least four. Well, I needed to be on my way by three at the latest, so I'd better go. Well, we could probably do three, he says. And I so, "No no, let's do this another day. " And I run away.

This week I call around to a few other Toyota dealerships in the area expecting to have highly similar quotes from each of them. Instead, I get a range of quotes from $289 to $488. Nothing came anywhere near the $989 mark. Toyota of Palo Alto won my business by offering me an on-demand shuttle to and from Stanford, a willingness to do it in half a day, free wireless on site if I opted to wait, and a nice service manager named Val who cheerfully offered his cell number in case I had any other questions. For $299, less a different coupon garnering me $25 off, I made it out for less than $300 with Shadow ready for another five thousand miles (and where the next service will be much less than fifty bucks).

But really, how can this be a viable business model when there are no less than 6 Toyota dealerships in a 15 mile radius?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

For the record...

Spot is occasionally awake as well. Usually when he's awake, he's attacking something, eating, or about to fall asleep.
See exhibit A: Or exhibit B:

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Spot

It is very hard to get to work when there's a kitten at home. Kitten wants to run around and play. Kitten wants attention. All. The. Time. And when I have to put him back in his kennel, it's the kitten apocalypse. The most angry kitten screams in the world burst forth. You can hear him from the street outside. But oh lordy he's cute. See:

Rick took him to work yesterday and will come back and pick him up a little later. His coworkers demand it. He was clearly so very helpful at the office.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

This and That

I got suckered into a kitten. We'd been thinking about getting a buddy for Pixel, so when my mom called and said they'd rescued a kitten from Watt Avenue, I hesitated. I suggested lots of options. I didn't really want to drive to Sacramento and deal with a very very young kitten who'd probably need a lot of attention. And so my cousin fixed this by sending two photos to my phone. I texted back saying, "Now that's just playing dirty!" I called my mom back and said, "So can you meet me in Concord?" Yep. Two hours later, I was heading home with kitten formula and kitten food and one tiny little ball of orange fluff about 6 weeks old. So far, the fluff is called Spot.

Last night I went to PEERS rehearsal before ceili. I have a long list of notes of what to bring on Saturday and it seems I'll be playing the blushing ingenue again. For the record, when Pierre says, "Twenty dollars! Twenty dollars for Miss Maybelle Merriweather!" and I blush and hide behind my fan, it is not a real auction. It's part of the show. Do not try to outbid Pierre.

At the ceili, Amanda brought me the most amazingly gorgeous bouquet and the sweetest card. I'm so completely thrilled she managed to hang in there and do the performance. It was totally the right thing. And OMG such pretty flowers! I feel appreciated. This is really good. I brought copies of the Stanford Report for all the Springfest dancers and everyone was so thrilled to see us hovering on the front of the issue. I picked up some extra copies today for folks like Charlie who wanted one for every refrigerator.

Dancing was fun. It's oddly liberating having no formal responsibilities there anymore. I don't have to call. I don't have to teach. I don't have to collect waivers. I don't have to check on the band. I don't have to make sure the CD gets stopped before the next track plays. I just show up and dance and pay my $5 like everyone else.