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Showing posts from 2015

Christmas gifts, 2015!

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CHRISTMAS!! (and Hannukah too)
I didn't grow up with Christmas, but I've always loved Hannukah.  When Julie moved in three years ago she introduced me to Christmas, which I rolled into Hannukah and New Years to fully transform December into one massive, blurred-together holiday.  I've never felt a conflict: as far as I'm concerned, Christmas is a secular holiday for me.  Jesus doesn't appear in most Christmas traditions, and happens to have been born in April.  For what it's worth, Hannukah isn't really a religious holiday either.  A few years ago I was making an exchange at Banana Republic in Pittsburgh and the clerk actually apologized for wishing me a Merry Christmas.  I told her that Hannukah sensitivity was thoughtful, but seemed unnecessary since it's not an actual religious holiday.  The mother in line behind me objected.  I wish I could say I kept my mouth shut, but the truth is I politely pointed out that God does not appear in the Hannukah sto…

My Hannukah Trip to Pittsburgh

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So much to cover! I went back to Pittsburgh for Hannukah and had a great vacation.  Julie was very nervous because she has complicated relationships with various friends and family members of mine.   My mother is somewhat off-put by Julie's eccentricities.  She also has been hurt by the blunt opinions Julie has shared on her blog in the past.  Julie has had a hard time forgiving my mother for past inhospitality.  It doesn't help that my mother has a strange unwillingness to every utter the word "sorry".  I know this is a cliche that I believe originated with The Fonz on Happy Days.  Her reasoning is based on some principle that has never made sense to me.

The fourth night of Hannukah, before we left for Pittsburgh
On the Sunday after we arrived, Julie and I went on a nature walk through Schenley Park with Mom and Harry.

Taking off her sweatshirt before playing in the creek

A falcon!
More majestic birds
On Monday we went to Phipps Conservatory with Rachael.  It was a gre…

Two Science-related things: Well actually one thing about Europa

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I want to share two things that I think are very cool.  The first is this article about Congressman John Culberson and his passion for extraterrestrial exploration.  The second is a set of tools for picking attractive colors for charts.

John Culberson and the Icy Moon
I recently read an article in Ars Technica ("Attempt no landing there? Yeah right—we’re going to Europa") that described the state of NASA's mission to the moon Europa.  It said that remarkably, it's being cheered along by the Chairman of the House of Representative's Appropriations Subcommittee, John Culberson.  
I shouldn't bother repeating the whole article.  It's worth reading.  The gist is that John Culberson is a Texas Republican fighting to assist -- and even push -- NASA into planning a super-expensive kick-ass science mission to the moon of Jupiter, Europa.  Why?  Because he thinks Europa is just that fucking awesome.
I relate.  It's probably all I relate to John Culberson on, b…

The second thing: Picking Colors for Charts and Figures

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I wanted to make a post on two things -- Europa and picking colors that go well together -- but the Europa part got long, so I moved the color thing to a separate post.  This one.

This probably won't excite or impress you unless you've found this to be a problem, but I found several tools for picking out optimal sets of colors for making attractive diagrams.

I remember seeing the following figure several years ago.  Every day.  Because I printed it out and taped it next to my computer.  The specific bars don't matter so much, to tell the truth, but those citations listed next to each one make up an incredible list of sources that I wouldn't have been able to put together myself otherwise.  I relied on it for checking up on a lot of things when working as a deep-sea marine biologist.  It's from a review from 2012 that remains an outstanding piece of scientific writing.  Dense as hell, but super, super, informative.

"FIG. 7. Composition of bacterial communities…

Halloween, 2015: Went as Jafar and threw a party with my neighbor

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This was a very busy week.

Firstly, I was getting ready for a party.  The chicken coop I built for my neighbor is finally done, and it seemed like the time to throw a party.  It wasn't our original plan to hold it on Halloween weekend, but it worked out well.  Instead of going to a costume party, it was really refreshing to hold a party just themed with enjoying the fall.  It wasn't any kind of protest against traditional costume parties, which as we all know are one of the best kinds of parties.  I really felt in the mood for a chill evening though, and it worked out great.



Part of the reason I didn't feel the need to attend a costume party was because I put all of my energy into preparing for a costume contest at work.  Last year, I arrived just before Halloween.  My new coworkers immediately informed me that our department would be holding a costume contest on the Friday afternoon before Halloween in which all the labs competed fiercely.  They were going as the cast of …

We ran a Muckrun!

Today, Julie, Jack, and myself participated in a muckrun to raise money to fight Multiple Sclerosis.  We were originally planning on doing it with a group, but everyone else flaked.

It was really fun.  Enough talking.  The pictures:


Andrew's Picks: "The Martian" and "The Knick"

I went on vacation several weeks ago and I intend to write about it soon.  In the meantime, Julie has already done so and posted lots of pictures, so you should check them out over at her blog, ialbatross.com.

I actually need to leave for work in a few minutes but I thought I'd give a quick shout out to my recent media picks.

The first is "The Martian", by Andy Weir.  I haven't seen the movie but I intend to.  The book is pretty fantastic.  It has that wonderful quality of good science fiction where you want to try living in the character's world.  It also inspired me to resume my secret project.  All the talk of engineering and ingenuity made me want to make a thing I've been planning for a few weeks.  I'm going to continue to keep it a secret however until I've actually started.  Right now I'm in a lengthy design phase.

Secondly, Julie and I have been watching the first season of "The Knick".  "The Knick" stars Clive Owen and…

August: Some More Pictures

Lazy? You bet. Enjoy some pictures showing off what I did in August. Diving Jack and I went diving. We didn't get any good underwater pictures, unfortunately.

The Biggest Scare I Ever Experienced

I'm reposting an answer I wrote in reply to the following question posted on Reddit: "What's the biggest scare you've ever gotten?"

I was surprised by how proud I was of my response, so I decided to share it here.

Broomball. Broomball is a made up alternative to hockey where you replace the puck with a ball, the sticks with brooms, and the skates with shoes. I have no idea who came up with this, but I was invited as part of a youth group event in high school. It was actually an inter-youth-group event: my BBYO chapter was invited to play against our local USY chapter. Of course it was their idea. We tended to think of ourselves as a lot cooler than the USY kids (which is funny if you have any idea what these acronyms stand for). We would've suggested paintball or something. Mind you, I sucked at paintball and I certainly had no idea how to play hockey, but the idea of broomball seemed literally insane. Disregarding that pee-wee bastardizations of real sports s…

D&D Update: The Hunt for Beyrin Teth and Carmella of Dreadwood - Plus new Players

EDIT: I wrote this a few weeks ago and didn't notice that I never published it.  I'm publishing it now because I intend to give more DnD updates and need to provide context.

The last I mentioned of our heroes, they'd sailed off after stealing a cache of weapons from some bad guys to sell to other bad guys in order to advance in the criminal underworld.  They stopped over on Dreadwood Isle along the way, since everyone had something they needed to do there.  Honton, the captain, needed to hire additional hands.  Sincey, the monk, had agreed to capture a wanted outlaw of the empire named Beyrin Teth in exchange for a relic of his order.  Lucious, the muscle, was set on finding the infamous warlord who'd maligned his reputation.  He'd heard that Dreadwood was ruled by a despot that paid tribute to his quarry.

We met Lady Yin and Jim Lee, our two new players.  We've actually been playing with them for a few months now, but this campaign was established much earlie…

Marijuana, Cancer, and Conflicting Messages Within the Government

There is a very public discontinuity between the federal ban of marijuana and the many states which have decriminalized it in one form or another.  This is about something else, though.  A friend posted an article highlighting the irrationality of the Drug Enforcement Agency declaring cannabis to be without any known medical benefit while the National Cancer Institute includes information on its website recognizing benefits attributed to cannabis.  Here is the article:

"National Cancer Institute Quietly Confirms Cannabis Can Cure Cancer"

It's a pretty sensational headline, so I followed it.  What I found was worth making a blog post about.  The short version is that the article is predictably misleading, but there is an element of truth it it.  Remarkably, this truth is somewhat encouraging.
Some quick context: the DEA rates drugs in "schedules" based on their potential for abuse versus their potential for benefit.  Marijuana has long been a schedule 1 drug, whi…

Goin' on a Nature Adventure

Here are pictures from a camping trip last month.  Julie and I took Ruby camping for the first time.


An actual strategy for curtailing climate change? Seriously??

My neighbor recently invited me to attend a meeting of a civic action group called the Citizen's Climate Lobby.  I was impressed enough to share their proposed goals, which I wasn't previous familiar with.  If you're anything like me -- an American who cares about the environment but often finds Environmentalists alarmist and feckless -- then you'll find this pretty impressive.

The Citizen's Climate Lobby is -- as its name suggests -- a lobbying group designed to encourage the adoption of a carbon reduction plan called "Fee and Dividend".  Fee and Dividened would place a fee on each ton of carbon produced.  Mining and drilling companies would be required to pay what is essentially a tax on each ton, however that money would then be divided evenly and repaid to every American.

What?

Yeah.  Charge carbon producers and give the proceeds away.  If this makes immediate sense to you, congrats.  I had to have it explained a bit.

First, lets consider that no matt…

Keepin' Busy: I'm DMing an RPG

It's been a busy few weeks.  Here is what was going on outside of work. 

For a few weeks I've been planning this secret project I'm starting.  It'll stay secret until I build some momentum.  I was held back, though, because I wanted to install some software on my computer for design purposes but my computer developed some problems.  I'm trying to resize partitions, so if anyone knows how to do that please call me.

I'm still trying to finish the chicken coop that I started six months ago.  It is very nearly done, however I was held up trying to find a way to secure the chicken wire on the roof to the edges which were rimmed in cinderblock.  I ended up deciding to attach wooden planks to he cinderblock wall and then attach the chicken wire to the planks with a staple gun.  It was a massive pain, partially because I was trying to alter the design in a very late stage and partially because attaching things to masonry requires drilling with a special bit that wears …

Stuff I've been doing

Oy.  I swore I'd never make a post about low posting frequency, but here I am.

I'm going to try a new strategy of shorter, more frequent posts in the hope that I'll regain my momentum.

Work's been a little crazy lately since our lab assistant left for a new job, which means that all of her responsibilities are on me until the position is filled.  Yikes.

Last Tuesday, I took Julie to see Audra McDonald and some ballet dancers and also the LA Phil at the Hollywood bowl.  You know when you go to something with high expectations and it's good, but still disappointing?  What is the opposite of that?  Because Audra McDonald was amazing.  She sings like some kind of genetically engineered super-singer, and she was really charming in between songs.  The ballet was a little too classy for me, but still fun.  I haven't seen legit ballet since I became an adult and stopped having parents and teacher around to try and culture me.  They did "Fancy Free", which was…

Quick Thinking at a Job Interview

After several uneventful weeks, I once again have things to talk about.  Carlisle just turned SEVEN, which means he surpassed his expected lifespan after rescue by about five-and-a-half years.  Julie and I just took the dogs camping, which meant that Ruby saw the forest for the first time.  Also, my friend Mick just celebrated his birthday.  I've also got a new personal project in the works that I'm very excited about.  For now, I will share the best story I have from Saturday morning.

The short version is that Julie had a job interview.  The interview was for a position as a research associate for a new lab at UCLA.  It's very similar to the position which I currently work, except using mice instead of cells in a plate, and also with better pay.  The lab even studies the brain-gut axis, as does our lab.  This isn't really a huge coincidence, since that's a hot topic right now.  Specifically, this new lab studies "The Human Microbiome", which is another H…

Julie wrote a fanfic I like

I told Julie about a premise I read online and she wrote it out.  Take a look on her blog, here:

www.ialbatross.com

Me and my best friend both got haircuts

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He's looking pretty fly.


Stem cells: this post gets weird at the end

A friend recently asked me whether stem cells could be grafted into a brain to repair damage from a stroke.  I didn't know the answer, so I went looking for it.

This reminded me of an episode of South Park from a long time ago.  In it, Cartman lobbies for the use of stem cells in order to save Kenny's life, only to reveal that all he wanted all along was to use them to clone a Shakey's Pizzaria.

The reason I bring this up is because it harkens back to the first layman explanation of stem cells I ever heard back in 2001.  The explanation given was that stem cells turn into whatever they're around.  For many, this is still the extent of what is known.

If this is true, stroke treatments make a lot of sense.  To my knowledge, there are no real treatments for a stroke.  A whole bunch of brain cells die and you lose the function of whatever they were needed for.  Sometimes you can go through rehab to find new ways to rely on other parts of the brain, but the damaged part of …

Justice was served

I got a ticket for running a red light on my bike.  There was a break in traffic and I zipped across.  A guy who I drove in front of honked.  I didn't make him slow down at all, but I still regretted crossing.  Then, on the other side, I locked eyes with a cop who'd been waiting at the light.

I biked on swiftly and hoped that they wouldn't consider it worth turning around.  They did.  They pounced like cheetahs.

I don't know how much it will cost.  I feel ridiculous getting a traffic ticket on a god-damned bike.  Apparently I'll need to appear in court?  For some reason?  I'm done kvetching though.  No point in blaming anyone or anything but myself.

As infuriating as this is, it occurs to me that somewhere out there is a driver who honked at a biker for crossing the street without waiting for a light, and then saw him promptly get caught.  I hope it made your day, buddy.

The Consequences of Breaking Rules

Earlier this week, Julie was called into her boss's office.  There she was met by her boss, as well as her boss's boss.  The head of the department.  They were investigating an incident that had happened the week prior involving an injured bird.

I was familiar with the event.  Julie told me the week prior that she'd been summoned by two vet techs who were in a panic.  They'd been trimming a bird's beak and it had struggled, and they'd cut off too much beak.  The bird was bleeding heavily and the two vet techs were both completely new and had totally lost their composure.

Julie explained to her superiors that they'd asked for her assistance, which she gave.  Together, they'd sedated the bird.  They'd cleaned it off and wrapped it in a towel for warmth.  They applied a coagulant to its beak to stymie the bleeding and placed it in a safe and assuring environment to heal without it agitating itself.  She'd then sent out a calm and reassuring email …

Check out Mike Lee on Talk Nerdy, episode 67

I'd like to give a quick plug to a colleague, Mike Lee, who appeared on the podcast Talk Nerdy with Cara Santa Maria in episode 67 last week.  In it, Cara asks Mike to explain what we might expect life to look like on other worlds and how diving to the bottom of the ocean on Earth informs those predictions.  Mike is a graduate student at USC and a collaborator, and he speaks very well.  Follow the link and have a listen.

In related news, NASA has approved the Europa Clipper mission to proceed.  Europa is a moon of Jupiter which has been considered by many to be the most likely home to extraterrestrial life in our solar system.  This reputation was built on the results of a flyby by the Galileo spacecraft two decades ago which provided evidence of a gigantic ocean beneath the surface of the moon.  Finally, a dedicated mission will provide us with new information on which to improve our predictions.  You can find more info at the links below:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europa_Clip…

Some updates

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It has been a busy month, for good and bad.  Here are some updates.

My friend Marge visited.  It was bittersweet.  It was great getting to see a dear friend, although I didn't get to see as much of her as I would've liked.  I had a two-day mandatory work retreat, then she had to spend the better part of a week in Santa Barbara for matters relating to her work.  When she got back, Julie's tooth manifested a massive infection.  Julie's had a wisdom tooth in need of removal for years that went untreated because a surgeon accidentally broke her jaw when she originally went to have her wisdom teeth removed 8 years ago.  
I think that the infection might've been exacerbated by stress.  Julie has been depressed for a large part of 2015, and she gets pretty anxious about trying to make a good impression on people I like.  This can be pretty self defeating, which further contributed to an awkward visit.  I still had fun, though.
The surgery went well, except that Julie deve…

Totally overwhelmed in the best possible way

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This has been a mind-expanding week.

This is the only way to describe it
Perhaps because my PI is on vacation with his family, I've found more time than usual to catch up on reading.  In addtion to scientific articles relevant to our work, I've started reading a sci fi novel called "Nexus", by Ramez Naam.  "Nexus" is about two neuroscience grad students at UC Santa Cruz in 2040 who make some huge advances in interfacing computers with the brain by using illegal technology.  The language is convincing enough to feel eerily believable, even if the content is beyond anything we can currently do.  The real life science I've been exposed to recently seems like it would have seemed equally fantastic 25 years ago, though, so I can't totally rule out the possibility of something like this coming to pass.

If you really consider the implications, you quickly begin to recognize that a person sufficiently networked with computers and other other people directly …

Raise the Roof!

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I built the roof of the chicken coop!  I'm very pleased.  It was a complicated step that required a fair bit of geometry.  I had such a busy month that I haven't had a good work day on the coop in nearly three weeks.  Here it is, though.  It isn't done, but it is free standing and solid.  Next, I have to add supports to the corners so that it has the right shape so that I can attach chickenwire.

I built the general roof a few weeks ago, but it was very rickety.  Today, I started by straightening it out and screwing it all together.
  These blocks were bolted down.  You can't see the masonry bolt well.
Another beam attached
 My neighbor's son helped me lift it up.


 Added another beam to the front and back

Here it is!