"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Debate Watching 

I'm still not sure what I'm doing tonight for debate watching. Anyone care to make any suggestions (because I really am too lazy to think for myself today)?

DOQRAPS, Population Edition 

Scientists are some of my favorite people. They do all sorts of wonderful things, and make life much better. However, sometimes they say some really stupid shit. A Yale researcher has published a study claiming that the most recent common human ancestor lived between only 1,000 and 3,000 years ago. Now, not having any of the details of the study or its methodologies, I can say that this is Bloody Daft.

There is, to my knowledge, absolutely no reason to suspect that the Mayas or Incas had any contact with Europeans. They were in America 2,000-3,000 years ago, Europeans were not. Unless reproduction was a very different process back then, those are very separate genealogies. Clearly, the Australian aborigines were not interbreeding with even the Chinese that recently.

I'd like to defend scientists everywhere by pointing out that the author of this paper is a mathematician (famous for ignoring reality in favor of an elegant model), but the editors of a certain journal did, in fact, publish it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Search For More Money 

After seventeen years, Mel Brooks is finally making the promised sequel to Spaceballs. And he's planning on returning to his role as "Yoghurt." this is good news, indeed.

via /.

Creeping Fascism 

Big Brother is coming. I don't remember the exact quote, or who said it (and am too lazy to Google), but someone predicted that with each advance in technology, the Father-Knows-Best State becomes more inevitable.

Two slightly scary bits in the news today effectively support this proposition: a military blimp is now being tested as a surveillance instrument for DC (floating over my head now, watching me...), and a Barcelona club is injecting RFID tags into VIP-listers. These are the subtle beginnings of something quite unappealing. Welcome to the Police State. Please wear your tinfoil hat at all times.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


This is not something I like to have to do, but certain individuals are making it necessary. I linked this earlier, and it bears repeating. Specifically points 1, 9, and 24. You know who you are.

Technical Assistance 

Is needed. My office computer has developed an appalling habit. It plays all sound in double-time. CDs, MP3s, Webcast conferences (most irritating, as it actually disrupts work). Unless I play a CD using the 'play' button on the actual drive, not using any media player. WinAmp, WindowsMedia, RealHelix all play in double-time, it sounds like everything is being covered by the bloody Chipmunks.

Any suggestions from the more technically minded?

La terre vue du ciel 

Ces photos sont incroyables. Absolument. Merci bien a Teresa pour avoir mis le lien.

A New Hope, continued 

Two very exciting bits of news today. First, American scientists have successfully targeted a key HIV protein, Naf, which could lead to a bunch of new therapies not just for AIDS.

Hopefully, however, this discovery, in regards to HIV, will be irrelevant, and a Nigerian surgeon's apparent vaccine will prove not to be the DOQRAPS entry it seems. The nature of the publication, being highly secretive, etc., is either worrying or encouraging. He could be scamming for publicity, but since he offers to open it up under contract (the journal editor apparently agreed to his terms, and found his methods "plausible"), or he could really be on to something and smart enough to protect himself from Pharma. I'm hoping for the latter but have a sinking feeling about the former.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Baby Steps 

In the direction of less ridiculousness regarding "drugs" in the US. The FDA is finally starting to allow serious research into therapeutic uses of psychedelic drugs. As I've said before, the problem has long been that the DEA/NIDA (same thing, really, which is horrible) have only allowed research that paints banned substances as harmful, addictive and generally Bad Things. The good stuff doesn't get discovered, because all the government will allow (let alone fund!) is looking for the bad.


Leptin has been getting plenty of play recently, due to emerging understanding of its many roles in metabolic and body-weight regulation. A new study confirms an earlier report that leptin therapy (specifically, recombinant leptin therapy) can restore menstruation in women with hypothalamic amenorrhea. This is interesting because it gives great insight into a number of important systems, not because we need pregnant supermodels.

Sprawl Crawl 

We all know that living in the suburbs sucks away your soul. Now, there's evidence that it's also harmful to your health. This isn't exactly news, as there've been numerous recent studies linking sprawl to obesity and underexercise, but this just adds to the pile.

In my work, I've seen lots of these studies, and so have more info than that little release gives. The moral of the story is that communities need to be built in such ways as to encourage people to walk and bike, in stead of drive everywhere. To do this, things like grocers, shops and schools need to be close enough to get to without driving. Also, less parking makes places prettier in addition to discouraging unnecessary drivers.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Vitamin E 

A new report indicates that vitamin E therapy improves outcomes in idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss. Details aren't given on how this works, but I suspect there may be a placebo effect involved. I wonder if it helps for other hearing loss?

Friday, September 24, 2004

Memories.... (yet again) 

Speaking pretty scientific terms, "Long-term Potentiation" is a good one. That's a process where a neuron becomes permanently (or at least semi-permanently) more sensitive to signaling. Usually, this happens with repeated stimulation, or very strong acute stimulation, which leads to an increase in receptors on the dendrite or, as recent studies to which I have no link show, even on the axon. Long-term potentiation may also involve alterations in the cell's resting potential (within the range of about -80 to -55 mV, of course, since above this you get activation), but that's a different part of the story.

There's tons of evidence linking LTP to learning and memory functions, which makes sense. How it all works, however, is a mess (like all of neuroscience, that's what makes it fun and interesting!). In today's issue of Science, a team of researchers have found that recycling endosomes seem to act as the 'storehouse' for receptors bound to and from the membrane. When they stimulated LTP, they found that these organelles do the legwork of upping (or, in the converse, reducing) the cell's receptor densities. But, surprisingly, they also saw increased recycling of other molecules as well! This is one of the fun things about science: the more you learn, the more mysteries you find!

Nerd of the Week 2 

This week it's an old favorite: writer, editor, blogger and scientist (not to mention forever permalinked) Kathryn Cramer! She wins this week's award for this post, including the words
Sometimes I am struck by the pure poetics of scientific language. I am charmed by this title and first line from the new issue of Nature.
The article is about quantum teleportation, and the title is "Demonstration of a quantum teleportation network for continuous variables." I agree, it is beautiful language, though this may be the allure of a foreign tongue. I speak neither Physics nor (much) Math. I'm encouraged that someone who actually understands it thinks it's pretty too.

Someday I'll get around to designing one of those cute award graphics that winners can put up somewhere, should they happen to have web pages.

News from Iraq 

In (dis)honor of my 500th post.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Oh. Shit. 

I've just learned that the house I rent in was just forclosed and auctioned off this morning. I am in the process of finding out what recourse I have. I'm hoping I can just buy it. Does anyone know anything about the rules in DC?

UPDATE: Regarding comments so far. The trick is that the 'lease' is actually just a rental agreement and is probably only useful in establishing squatters' rights. I wasn't at the auction, because no one told us it was taking place (about which I'm more than a bit annoyed). I'm planning on calling around, etc., but of course this happens just as I get mad busy at work AND this weekend is Yom Kippur (hm, maybe this is Jarma (Jewish Karma) for something).


The problem of uninsurance and underinsurance affects us all. Lost productivity from sick days (or, worse, people coming in to work sick who not only get less done but also infect others), higher costs for everyone to cover those who can't pay (and consequently only get care at the ER, which is way more expensive than at a doctor's office), etc.

The (mainly) Republican idea is that by shifting the costs of insurance onto employees (patients) instead of employers, people will spend more carefully and the market will reduce costs. This report should give anyone who believes this pause.
This is one of those times the nice economists' theories don't work. At. All. People strapped for cash skip prescriptions, avoid the doctor, etc., and end up making mountains out of molehills. Or, more accurately, pneumonia out of a light bronchitis. So they go to the ER. And get three or four prescriptions. None of which they can pay for, so the hospital 'eats' the cost. And passes it on to the rest of us. If they had had proper insurance and gone to the doctor in the first place, it would've been a matter of one visit and maybe one (and relatively cheap) antibiotic prescription. Instead you have an ER visit, multiple prescriptions, and lost work. This is why coverage is key.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Stupid Things To Say 

As standards in 'mainstream' journalism plummet, even the BBC seems to be suffering. Today, an article about the health benefits of a 'Mediterranean diet and lifestyle' (including lots of fish, olive oil, and veggies with little red meat ad plenty of exercise) included the following:
"experts say adopting four simple lifestyle measures more than halves an elderly person's risk of dying."
This is a profoundly stupid and totally misleading statement. An elderly person, or for that matter any person has the same risk of dying no matter what. The probability that you will die is approximately 1, no matter what you eat, drink, smoke, or do. A better statement would be that following these recommendations might increase your lifespan, or improve your quality of life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


'J'écris en mauvais français pour les mauvais français.'
Plus ce change, plus ce meme chose. Pourquoi pourrirent pas les vieux cons me laisse? Une ancienne problème viens de m'appelée. J'ai dit "je suis occupe" mais il rappellera. Chaque fois je fais du progrès, il y a quelqu'un ou quelque chose de ma passé qui m'embêté. Je ne veux pas être méchant, mais je veux moins soit retourné aux histoires.

New and Old 

A new addition to my herbal/alternative medicine theme comes from another one of my favorite spices: vanilla. A predrug version of the flavor molecule, vanillin, seems to have beneficial effects in mice with sickle-cell disease. Cool beans, heh.

While our old friend vanilla does new tricks, old momma nature has more and more up her sleeve: a 22nd amino acid has been discovered. Sorry all ya'll med students: another one to memorize!
Meet you newest friend, L-pyrrolysine:

Monday, September 20, 2004


I didn't get it. People talked about this guy, saying he was all that. I googled him. I was so not impressed. Then I went and saw Donnie Darko. Which is a truly brilliant movie, and blew away my expectations.

And make no mistake, all the rest of ya'll be damned: I. Am. Going. To. Marry. Jake. Gyllenhaal.

Song du Jour 

Ladytron, "He Took Her to a Movie" (remix bertrand) from The Genius of. There is something off about this track...it could almost be sweet and a bit twee, but instead it is completely unnerving. I can't put my finger on why. If you don't know Bertrand, I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Stinky and Drinky, Again 

I love vodka. And I love drinking games. So you can imagine my excitement at this news. There are so very many drinking game possibilities! Who's up for it (as soon as they start selling it here)??

Sewing Seeds 

It's been known for some time that the cannabinoid system is involved in embryo implantation. Now, researchers are making some other connections: it may be involved in ectopic pregnancies: pot-smoking may increase the likelihood of these painful and sometimes dangerous abnormalities.

And, another old idea gets the boot (or, the beginning thereof). Patrilocality, the tradition wherein a woman moves to where her new husband lives, suggests that womens' genes would travel farther than mens'. Chromosomal analysis suggests the opposite to be true: men seeking 'fresh meat,' if you will, wandered far and wide across evolutionary time. Interesting.

Unrelated, but interesting: Botox may be useful in treating tinnitus. Ahh, sweet prospective potentially dangerous relief!


This almost falls into the realm of science, or at least social science. Some guy found a fully loaded digital camera memory card in a taxi in NYC, and is posting one picture a day and making up the story of the actual photographer's life. It's fucking brilliant! Definitely a new daily read.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Really, really interesting piece in the Times today about the changes in how intersex children are being treated.

Hat tip: Graham.

Popeye Power! 

The stuff that gives Popeye his extra boost of strength may soon power your cell phone and Blackberry. Sortof.
Scientists have derived a protein complex, called Photosystem I from spinach chloroplasts, which shows promise as a new bioelectric power source. I'm not fully coherent today, so all the cool and interesting stuff in my head about this is not coming out properly. In other words, go read the article!

Friday, September 17, 2004

For the Children 

We all know that the American healthcare system is Totally Fucked Up. We pay two to three times (in terms of total expenditures, GDP) what our Canadian, French or Japanese counterparts do, for partial coverage to their full. Some argue that the problem is too much regulation, and others say that we get better care than do people in those other places.
Those who say the latter, are wrong. For anyone who'd like to argue that children's health is not a (or perhaps THE) key measure of a successful health system I will also note that the US has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than do most other "First World" nations. We need to drastically change our system, or we are In Trouble.

Deaf kids in Nicaragua (who probably don't have great healthcare either) , have provided a groundbreaking 'natural experiment' in language development. They developed their own sign language, and researchers have been able to track its evolution in real-time. Very, very cool. Anyone who has the full-text journal article should send me a copy and I'll love you forever.
UPDATE: There's a much fuller description available here.

L'Shana Tova 

OK, fine, so I'm a day late, whatever. It's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish newyear. Now that I've stopped laughing hysterically, I'm posting this:

via Boingboing

Thursday, September 16, 2004

DOQRAPS: Tech Edition 

I suspect that any use a mouse in said internet surfing, and that, consequently, we are all intimately acquainted with some degree of repetitive stress disorders, and/or carpal tunnel syndrome. Science may have found an answer! The "nouse" is a video-based tracking system that lets you navigate your computer using your nose and eyes!

Great idea, I say. I'm all for not using the mouse. It would make my wrists so much happier. I do not think, however, that I would sacrifice any of my few remaining shreds of dignity to this cause by nose-pointing like a bloody spaniel. I also seriously doubt how well this would work. People blink all the time, sometimes multiple blinks together, naturally: how many false-clicks is that going to produce? I know I certainly don't sit still in my desk chair and keep my head in one fixed position all day: I move around, answer the phone, etc...how can the camera keep tracking its focal points through all that, and how long does it take to reset?

This technology sounds much more useful to me as a springboard, or even just a proof-of-concept, than an actual product. I'd rather wait till I can do it all telepathically.

Nerd of the Week 

The inaugural Nerd of the Week (or however often I decide to award it) award goes to the anonymous Cambridge vandal, who spray-painted guanine and the word "Phospholipase" onto a parking lot just outside the building where Watson and Crick did their most famous work. Good show!

It Keeps Getting Better 

Beer, that is. A new study has found that drinking beer has the same health benefits as red wine. But, unfortunately, both effects are only beneficial when taken in small doses: one drink a day, not three. At higher levels, the effect is reduced.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

"Duh" Du Jour 

Brazilian researchers have found that drinking energy drinks with alcohol does not reduce the alcohol's depressant effects or boost stamina. This means all of ya'll drinking those nasty-ass Red Bull and Vodka things are just getting drunk AND a big wad of carbs. In other words: drink something less disgusting (so your date can steal a sip without gagging! That's not supposed to happen till later....)

Alien Nation, Redux 

I've written before about extra-terrestrial life. An essay in the current issue of PLOS Biology examines how we might identify and detect alien life, raising a number of interesting points. Unfortunately, the author falls into the same old trap, of assuming that all life has to be made up of the same basic materials that we're made of: carbon, nitrogen, water. Even the passing mention of possible silicon and ammonia-based life implies an unimaginative bias: silicon is carbon's big brother, ammonia could be water's. They have similar properties, and could interact as carbon and water do.

Why no consideration of something utterly alien, I ask. The basic definition of life, something which displays metabolism/entropy resistance and self-replication, could take any number of forms. I agree with Mr. McKay, how we find and identify life is a critical question, but I am unwilling to accept his limited criteria.

Cool Toy 

A flashlight that accepts batteries of many sizes. If only we could get more things (I'm at work, so no link-y) like that. heh.

More Good News 

...For you potheads. It turns out that THC inhibits a class of cancer-causing herpes viruses. This is not to say that if you smoke pot, you won't get them, or even that you can get this effect from smoking pot (the immunosuppressive effects of THC may well outweigh the benefit), but it's a hopeful clue towards better treatments. Also, it doesn't affect Herpes S1, which is the kind you're probably thinking about.

...For you drunks. Moderate alcohol consumption after heart surgery seems to improve outcomes. I'm concerned about this result, because you're supposed to get beta-blockers after surgery I think, and alcohol can interact with beta-blockers and kill you.

...For oselle tea lovers. It seems that hibiscus extract has similar cholesterol-fighting powers to red wine. Brilliant.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Health care quality, and patient safety specifically, is a big part of my research. I spend my day reading much more detailed accounts of shit like this, mostly where the outcome is not as good. No wonder I refuse to go see the doctor anymore, huh?

Up and Down 

We have some Very Good News and, of course, some Very Bad News.

It turns out that jacuzzi's are major vectors for Legionnaires Disease. The hot water provides not only ideal conditions for colony growth, but also steam and aerosols for easy introduction into the body. Plus, maintenance and disinfection are difficult. Bummer.

UW-Madison researchers have found that transthyretin, a protein which binds beta-amyloid proteins, seems to stop Alzheimer's progression. This is a totally novel direction for Alzheimer's research, and could lead not only to effective treatments, but also to better prediction and detection (defective transthyretin gene or under/overactivation?

Monday, September 13, 2004

Breathe, Dream, Dye 

Asthma and COPD suffers may see a new type of treatment: Heliox. This gas cocktail, usually used for SCUBA divers, has the Nitrogen component of air replaced by Helium, making it lighter, less dense, and it turns out, easier to breathe. Asthmatics saw significantly improved attack courses, and COPD patients saw improved walking endurance with Heliox versus control. Plus their friends, family and caretakers were no doubt entertained by their squeaky voices.

Most of what we know about behavioral neuroscience comes by accident: chance injuries that very specifically knock out some function, like the ability to use verbs (but not nouns or adjectives), or, in the case of Charcot-Wilbrand syndrome, to dream. Swiss researchers have examined a stroke patient with this condition, and found that areas in the deep occipital lobes (visual cortex?) and right posterolateral thalamus were affected, and that the dreaming process does seem to in fact be separate from the REM sleep function. This is all really interesting. Anyone got full-text?

As proteonomics quickly becomes a dominant force in bioscience research, new ways to measure cell protein levels, in real time, are critical. UNC researchers have developed a new dye that seems to allow visualization of active proteins in vivo, a major step forward. This kind of measurement will be key to better understanding of cell and gene functions, as well as drug effects and possible outcome predictions. Watch for more technologies like this to come along quickly after this!


Researchers have begun to chip away at two hallmarks of biological science: Linnean nomenclature and the "Tree of Life" model.

UCLA scientists have found, by genomic analysis, that the first eukaryotic cell was formed by the physical fusion of two prokaryotes. They consequently assert that the "Tree" of life is more accurately represented as a ring, and, being proper nerds, titled their paper "One Ring to Rule Them All." Without the full-text, I'm not sure really how I feel about this, but it sounds interesting.

A movement has begun within some circles to abandon the Linnean nomenclature, that's the one we all learned in High School biology - Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species - for a new system called PhyloCode. The PhyloCode proponents are of course regarded as renegades, and I suspect that PhyloCode may also be proprietary (i.e., a business venture, which is no way to do science), but they seem to have a point. Linneaus' system, while brilliant, is fairly limited to its phenotypical origins: it does not (cannot?) account for genomic classifications, and as more and more families and even classes and phyla are discovered, it becomes unwieldy. A new system might be good, but which one is the question.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

First thoughts on the the ever-wonderful Adams Morgan Day.
More tomorrow.

Copyright Michael, 2004.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

I don't have anything to say today. My brain is still muddy from too much wine. So I'm posting this picture. I took it in Ribeavillé, Alsace, because I just loved the image.

Copyright Michael, 2004.

Friday, September 10, 2004


Having a well-educated population is key to having good scientists to do the research about which I write. The Bush administration is doing everything in its power to prevent this from happening. Jeff gives us a lovely example.

Education is one of those things that everyone in the US pretty much agrees is essential, but are mostly unwilling to spend any money on. Until we get over that, America will continue to fall further and further behind the rest of the world. We must find a way to stop that trend, because I do not have any desire to raise my children in a third-world country.

Losing The War 

Yes, that one too, but it's not the topic of this post. A fascinating (and disheartening) piece on the hunt for an HIV vaccine, and how it continues to fail and why it is probably a wild goose chase.
I wish I was good enough at the things required to study virology (calculus and computer science are my problems)...HIV research is so mind-blowingly fascinating I would love to be involved, even purely for the genetics aspect. Horrifying as it is to say, this is one damn cool virus.

No Good 

Nightclub lightshows keep getting more and more advanced, with strobes and disco balls and lasers, etc. It turns out, unfortunately, that those lasers may significantly harm your eyes. (Maybe those toolbags who wear sunglasses to clubs are on to something?)

What's Bad is Good, Continued 

It's been a bumper season for things Of Which Puritans Do Not Approve.

A new Yale University study has found that social gambling is actually beneficial to seniors. Who needs casinos on Indian reservations...have them at retirement homes!

And, a follow-up study has further established that cannabis is helpful in treating MS, both in terms of palliative (pain relief) measures and in reducing spacicity, a primary symptom.


I'm back after a rushed, hectic mid-week trip to Miami. I may post later about the data we collected, because it's really interesting: we looked at health IT systems in a network of community health centers. All I'll say now is that if I lived in Miami, I would go to these centers for care before many doctors, even though I have insurance.
On to the news!

University of Texas researchers found that bed-restricted patients who got nutritional supplements (sports drinks with amino acids, carbs) suffered less muscle wasting than did controls. So if you're laid up, take your aminos!!

Another study demonstrates the safety of the MMR vaccine. It does not cause autism.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Just What We Need 

Axorexic mothers, and female bodybuilders with PMS: leptin therapy restarts menstruation and ovulation in underweight women.

And, a new way for Big Brother to watch over us: travel records by hair analysis.



I've been embroiled recently in a debate (if one can really use that
term) over childhood immunizations. There are lots of reasons people
give for not immunizing their children, and to be honest none of them
hold water. The religious objections are I suppose valid, but the
problem is that it not only endangers the child in question, but
everyone else too: one non-resistant kid becomes a vector for new
variants of a disease, and all of a sudden you have an outbreak.

The most preposterous of the anti-immunization arguments, however, is
that they aren't proven effective and/or safe. Yes. They. Are. The
whole "debate" only really started when one guy in the 1970's decided
to go on a personal crusade, and cooked up all kinds of bogus science
to support his delusion that vaccinations were variously harmful to
kids, kids' immune systems, etc. And so the public health world has
had to re-invent the wheel on vaccines, spending untold millions on
unnecessary studies to prove that something some guy made up isn't

And more bits of the puzzle fall into place: research shows that thiomersal
is not harmful to children, and that the chicken pox vaccine
reduces hospitalizations.

Win Money 

If you're a registered US voter, you should click here and enter to win $100,000 from the HotorNot guys, because voting is Hot. Plus, if you win, I also win, which is why I'm posting this. Also to encourage anyone who isn't registered to bloody well do so, because remember: if you don't vote, you can't complain!

Monday, September 06, 2004

Weekend Roundup 

Continuing on my recent non-science trip...
Last night, we went to Taint at DC9, because it happens on Sunday and I don't ordinarily get to go, so it was my first time. By 'we,' I mean myself and two of my (straight) friends.

It was brilliant. Great venue, not too crowded (which made the waiting in line almost OK), and yes, great music...we'd expected this, having been fans of DJ RC's shows at St. Ex for some time. The funny thing is, I always have more fun at gay clubs when I go with my straight friends. Yes, it means that I won't meet or hook up with any guys, but that seems to be the biggest draw: I'm there to drink and to dance (I love and am damn good at both, if I do say so myself!), and get to not give a shit what people think. When I go dancing with my gay friends, it always ends up being a competition. Plus, my straight friends (male and female) can out drink my gay friends three to one, which means not only *don't* I care what people think, I *can't* anyways.

After Taint, we walked back up towards Adams Morgan, and stopped at the Best Jumboslice Ever. It's on U, between 13th and 14th, and it's brilliant: same greasy pizza you get anywhere else, but the vibe is totally U St, as opposed to Adams Morgan. There's Arabic techno playing loudly and spillover crowds from Bar Nun, Velvet Lounge, Between Friends. The people were friendly, smiling and saying 'hey' as you walk by (unlike in AdMo, where they just sortof push and shove and spill on you), plus, the best part: they have seating!

End result: I may need to give up working the first Monday of each month.

Open Access 

The open information movement is a logical result of our increasingly information-driven world. The open-source software movement gains momentum and influence every day, and regardless of current debate, the open-encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is probably going to soon become a respected, viable model.

With all this going before, it's only a matter of time before the scientific literature is forced to follow suit. The first step has happened: the NIH proposes requisite free access to the results of all NIH-funded research. This makes sense, not only from a knowledge-wants-to-be-free perspective, but also because this is publicly funded research. Why should we pay twice for it? Of course, the publishing industry has other ideas, but they probably don't have the power to override public opinion here (as the pharmaceutical, oil, and recording industries seem to), so this will happen. And I'll be very happy about it!

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Late Record Review 

I got a bunch of new CDs last week, two of which I'll have to think a lot more about before I have much to say. Those are Bjork's new Medulla and Jón Liefs' Dettifoss and other works. For totally different reasons, these two Icelandic albums escape me for the moment. Also, talking about Mozart is often like dancing about architecture, and others have talked about Ambulance LTD all over the place, so I won't bother on either count. Which leaves only one to talk about (which is fine by me, really):

April March - Triggers. (samples)
Elinore Blake is quite a bit older than she sounds, or than she looks on the cover of this album. She's been, in various forms, a mistress of pop culture for a long time, and April March is only one of her many guises.
March's music has a childish sweetness and naivété, but below that surface is very adult, and often elegant, songwriting and performance. The instrumental opener, "Résumé," is pure Bertrand Burgalat, lush and dissonant, like waiting for something to happen: a great way to start! Followed by "La Nuit Est Là," bouncy, happy music and beats, a spoken poem by a corpse, lying in wake under the stars. "Coral Bracelet," track 4, might be my favorite: over a tight groove, the sing-along lyrics are subtle and subversive...it's catchy without being an ear-worm. Number 7, "Sometimes When I Stretch," is cool, down-tempo, hallucinatory - the kind of song you might play all night, dancing close with someone you'll never see again after morning. Track 10, "There is Always Madness," is a cheery pop song, catchy and sweet, with an edge: "They wonder what I have, But that is only madness." ♪♪♪♪♪ out of ♪♪♪♪♪.

Friday, September 03, 2004


Bloggers like commemorating certain hit counter milestones (you all know it's true, so I'm not linking to examples). I do too, I guess, and so I want to give congratulations to the USDA, who gave me number 2300 at 4:37:34 today.

I'd like to think that, as a civil servant in an at least partially science-based agency, you were here to learn about the latest science news. It was a light day on that front...hell, it's been a light couple weeks on that front (I've been cranky, for those wondering)...but I know that time-wasting is a universal daytime activity. See? I'm doing it right now!!!


It's no secret that Madonna et al.'s current Kabbalah ridiculousness pisses me off. But regardless of all that, this is a really fascinating post about Kabbalah and nanotechnology, something I'm reading up on right now. Bloody interesting.


I wasn't going to blog about the RNC convention. I wasn't going to give it that much credit. However, that was before I read this brilliant bit over on AlterNet. It would have been effective, had Mr. Bearman not chickened out at the end. He sets it up perfectly: the Log Cabin and pro-choice Republicans are desperately trying to 'take back' their party, they want inclusion in a club that only wants their votes, and yet they think that they can gain more power by surrendering the only power they have: those votes. He sets all this up, but fails to follow through with the kicker: that these people are at best, naive, and, at worst, out of their fucking minds.

It's like the Nader people (interestingly, in the same sense but the exact opposite way): they want to have an alternative voice in American politics, bully for them I agree it's be a good thing. But they fail to understand that they have no power when they vote for non-viable candidates: there is no partial representation in America. If your candidate loses, he has No Voice. At all. None. Zip. Zilch. It's as if you never voted.

The only way that any of the Greens' (or whatever Nader is this week) agenda, some of which is quite good, gets accomplished is by holding those votes hostage in a real sense (as Mr. Bearman suggested to Jennifer Stockman), by saying, we'll vote for you and help you win (in a real sense: this is a tight election; or in an organizational sense: we can GOTV) if you bring our issues to the table. If not, then we'll stay home. Quid. Pro. Quo.

It boggles my mind how so many otherwise thoughtful, intelligent (and certainly well-meaning) people (gays, pro-choicers, etc.) can withstand the dissonance of supporting a party that ignores all the issues that brought you to the table in the first place (economics, personal responsibility, etc.) and makes its entire platform about hate, and hating *them* (these gays, pro-choicers, etc.) specifically.

I've said it before and I'll say it again:
Gay Republicans make me sneeze and break out in hives. I'm allergic to oxymorons.
But this is not how it should be, and I would love to see a Republican party that was indeed a "Big Tent." I still wouldn't be likely to vote for them, but I would also not dismiss the possibility out of hand. And that would be good for America.

Fatty McAtkins Returns 

With all the argument over whether or not it's safe or healthy, one really major question about the Atkins Diet remains less discussed: Does it work? And, if so, Does it work better than something else? A new Danish study indicates that yes, it does work, but not any better than a low-fat diet. The Atkins group lost weight faster, but in the end it evened out. And what about keeping it off? That data is not available, as there hasn't been enough time, but it'd be interesting to see.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Tea and Pretention 

Tea is almost certainly my favorite non-alcoholic beverage. I like almost all kinds, depending on my mood, although I have to be really desperate before I go anywhere near that Liptons muck. I keep a hefty stash at my office. Green with Jasmine, Darjeeling, Earl Grey to have with cream and a bit of sugar, Roselle (black tea with hibiscus...it's really fantastic, especially iced!).

Today someone else left a box in the kitchen of something I had to try: Mango + Orange Ceylon. The packaging is what really strikes me. It is delightfully pretentious!
"Sure you love tea," it croons, "but have you ever fallen deeply in love...for* one tea...get ready for this heart-wrenchingly delicious blend..."

Now, I will say, great tea can be amazing. But ferfuckssake, enough already...it's good, but I'm not going to, you know, *experiment* with it!

*also, is this Engrish? You fall in love, not for it!


"Reading is fundamental," so said the ad campaign. A Microsoft psychologist wrote a nice synthesis paper on theories of word recognition, here. It's a fascinating topic, though I'm not sure I like his conclusions (or, my coffee just hasn't kicked in sufficiently), and it does bother me that, with a PhD in psychology, he was unfamiliar with the word shape literature. We covered it in Psych 100. It's an interesting read, regardless.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


I'm shamelessly swiping this off Chris, which I hope he doesn't mind. Then again, he's not the RIAA, so I can't get in too much trouble, right?

On Britney:
...you're only two gin and tonics away from being the next
Anna Nicole Smith.

Memories.... (again) 

Memory is, arguably, the most important non-physical function of the brain. It allows us to learn from experience: that food isn't tasty; that river is too swift to swim; invading Russia in winter is a bad idea. Two studies published recently shed more light on how memory works.

Researchers interested in memory retrieval trained rats to do a water maze task, lesioned their hippocampi, and then tested their memory. The lesions affected learning and memory in interesting ways, which should lead to good follow-up research. I won't bother abstracting it, there's a nice synthesis here.

Another study, which highlights something we all know already (that standardized intelligence/aptitude testing is crap), examined list recall from visual versus aural input modalities. It turns out that recall is highly modality-dependent: the auditory system seems to be naturally 'primed' for sequential memory, whereas the visual system is not. And both seem to be independent of actual linguistic ability.

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