25 March, 2008
Why do we get “brain freeze” when we eat something cold?
-Christina Zuniga, via e-mail
Mark A. W. Andrews, professor of physiology and director of the Independent Study Pathway at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, replies:
This commonly experienced pain, also known as an ice cream headache, results from quickly eating or drinking very cold substances. Officially termed sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (talk about a painful mouthful!), it is the direct result of the rapid cooling and rewarming of the blood vessels in the palate, or the roof of the mouth. A similar but painless blood vessel response causes the face to appear “flushed” after being outside on a cold day. In both instances, the cold temperature causes blood vessels to constrict and then experience extreme rebound dilation as they warm up again.
In the palate, this dilation is sensed by nearby pain receptors, which then send signals back to the brain via the trigeminal nerve, one of the major nerves of the facial area. This nerve also senses facial pain, so as the signals are conducted the brain interprets the pain as coming from the forehead—the same “referred pain” phenomenon seen in heart attacks. Brain-freeze pain may last from a few seconds to a few minutes, which is blissfully short as compared with the duration of its cousin, the migraine headache. Research suggests that the same vascular mechanism and nerve implicated in brain freeze cause the aura (sensory disturbance) and pulsatile (throbbing pain) phases of migraines. Interestingly, it is impossible to give yourself an ice cream headache in cold weather—only in a warm ambient temperature will it hurt to wolf down a banana split.
Fortunately, abstaining from ice cream is not necessary. Placing the tongue hard against the palate may help, as will eating cold foods more slowly or warming food in the front of your mouth before swallowing.
Don’t you feel so much better now!!?! I do.
14 March, 2008
In early November of 2000, I was in New Orleans at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference. My boyfriend had come along, and we were staying in a beautiful bed-and-breakfast that, needless to say, was NOT on the conference hotels list. It was the internet boom–we ate so well that, to this day, our friends are sick of hearing about this trip. The election was going on–you may recall the election of November 2000 and how, er, stimulating it was. It was my first conference, my first presentation, and I was utterly psyched. SFN is infamous for its size (over 25,000 attendees) and its scope (“neuroscience” can mean almost anything, and at this conference, it does). All the posters and science to see and absorb…and then in the evening, all the ancillary events. Panels, interest groups, receptions, and I belonged there. Everything was possible.
As was my wont, I went to a career panel. I knew even during my undergrad years that academia was not for me, and that I was interested in an “alternative career” (a disgusting ivory tower phrase for the outside world, IMO). Of course, being an idiot who went to grad school for only the dimmest of reasons, I had no idea what I wanted beyond that. So I tried to go to a lot of panels and read a lot of books about “alternative careers.” This panel was not specifically about that–it was intended to present the diversity of options that would lay before me someday in the distant future. Good enough. I vaguely remember that it had a representative from the classic academia tenure track, a science writer, and somebody else–probably a researcher/administrator from industry or biotech.
But I CLEARLY remember the man who represented science policy. He described his days as a science and technology policy fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He had worked in the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which did what it sounds like it’d do: assess technology for Congress. An intertube describes it this way: “The OTA was created in 1972 to provide Congress objective analyses of major public policy issues related to scientific and technological change.” A Congresscritter would come to them and ask for a report on any topic under the sun. They’d research it and write it up in a nonpartisan fashion. Another quote:
Holt pointed out how many of the OTA reports, from over a decade ago, are still timely and pertinent, including reports like “Retiring old cars: Programs to save gasoline and reduce emissions,” “Renewing our energy future,” “Potential environmental impacts of bioenergy crop production,” “Innovation and commercialization of emerging technologies,” and “Testing in America’s schools: Asking the right questions.”
This sounded like pure heaven. Then, as now, I was a dilettante, interested in too many things, and I was beginning to see just how fucking stupid I had been to go to graduate school, the entire POINT of which is to train you in specialization. The idea that I could grow up and use my prospective science and research skillz to tackle all sorts of different projects–and for a purpose? To a specific end? (I was also beginning to realize that my penchant for efficiency might have been useful day-to-day, but could never have a place in research as a lifelong endeavour.) Turns out the guy was there specifically to promote the AAAS Science Policy Fellowship that had gotten him to OTA. One needed one’s Ph.D. in hand to apply. Still, I took the application packet and read it cover to cover.
I did the same thing at my next conference, and the next, and at local panels, and eventually I was going to panels and I already knew everything they were saying about the fellowships. When I’d network and discuss science policy, I’d hear about the fellowships and how many doors they opened. In dark research moments I’d read about science policy and notice that nearly everything I read was written by a former fellow. While writing my dissertation, I found an ad for a related job in the back of the journal Science, cut it out and taped it in the “escapism” corner of my desk, near the photos of Paris and the ocean at Sharm el-Sheikh (a resort in Egypt where my sister had spent a summer). When considering jobs, the fact that my current job would put me in DC, where I would have top networking opportunities and learn incredible amounts purely by osmosis, was a consideration.
When I got here, I picked every brain I knew, developed my network, picked their brains, and then asked THEM for people whose brains I could pick. And picked them. All of them said the same thing. You must apply for the AAAS fellowship, it’s invaluable, it’s great, it’s perfect experience and perfect for the resume. They all said it was very competitive and then said they had gotten it on the first try. They all took great pride in telling me a particular insider “secret” about the system, such that when I spoke to a new person and I heard them get quieter and conspiratorial, I knew what was coming. I acted surprised each time.
The time finally came: my career had reached a turning point. I was on top of my field and had to either fight to stay there or bow out. The deadlines and start dates and end dates of my commitments and the fellowship lined up perfectly. So I applied. I came out to my boss as an alternative-career lover. I converted valuable research-world patrons into references in fields where they were virtually unknown. I spent valuable research time, time that our rivals were using to do science, writing my application. I doubted my decision when research went well, stood by it when not. I wrote and wrote and wrote about myself (the app was an essay, a CV, another essay, and a biography). I asked for help from aforementioned network. When they started giving me contradictory advice based on their personalities, I knew I had worked it for all it was worth. I sent it in and I waited. I got an interview and one last hoop: write a one-page memo about something and in the interview you will present it and we will ask questions. I sat down to write the memo and I realized that, after all these years of saying “I want to do science policy,” I didn’t know what “policy” meant. I figured it out. I sent it in. I interviewed.
I got the email at noon today: I got the fellowship. Now it’s 8. And I have no idea what to do now.
14 March, 2008
I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IY I GOT IT I GOT IT I GO IT I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IT IG OT IT I GOT IT!
22 February, 2008
When your experiment succeeds late on a Friday! Sends you home right!
(The worst feeling: well, you can figure it out.)
Aaaaah, what a nice feeling. I’ve been out of it, lab-wise, for weeks. This week I finally snap into what’s going on, step on people’s toes in my struggle to make them explain it to me, and in two days I’ve solved a problem that had been tripping the lab up for weeks.
That’s just how I roll.
(And now off I go to my phone-less, internet-less home, and neighbors who practice good wireless network security techniques. Damn them! Damn you, Verizon! Goodbye, sweet Internets…)
6 November, 2007
The knitted brain–holy shit. The quilt is groovy, but I’m a knitter, and I love the 3D aspect. No experience has been as important to my understanding of neuroscience and neuroanatomy as dissecting a brain in my first year of graduate school. Which is kind of “duh”, I know…but to handle a human brain every week, cut away pieces and really see how it was put together…
OMG! A zipper as the corpus callosum (the structure that links the left and right lobes of the brain). Bril.
There is a disclaimer:
While our artists make every effort to insure [sic] accuracy, we cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of using fabric brain art as a guide for functional magnetic resonance imaging, trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, neurosurgery, or single-neuron recording.
Good thing they covered their asses there!
I found this page through MindHacks, a fun blog based on the O’Reilly book of the same name; both aim to provide “neuroscience and psychology tricks to find out what’s going on inside your brain.” And they do it well–I haven’t bought the book yet, but I paged through it a few years ago for a friend who asked me to vet the neuroscience, and IIRC I was impressed. Hardly a shock considering the publishing house, which is known in the tech world for its high quality.
Today the MindHacks folk featured Blue Jean Brain II by artist Lee Pirozzi.
Which reminded me of LAST week, when they had me humming “if I only had a brain handbag”:
Designer Jun Takashi has created a high fashion handbag, shaped like a brain. Why? You ask. Why not? I answer.
At this point I would like to make it clear that the idea that we only use 10% of our handbag is a myth.
Scientific studies have found that all of the handbag is in constant use, although some parts may be more active than others.
(I like how they debunk the ridiculous 10% myth. It might be true in the Angel from Montgomery sense*, but not in the neurological.)
The Wizard of Oz joke up there is that I have a lot of bags. By which I mean purses. I blame the DSW Shoe Warehouse in Chicago on Clark and Wellington, which was not only within easy reach of public transportation but had free parking. (I got a lot of shoes there too, but those are more socially acceptable, and I tend to purge shoes more as they age, but bags don’t wear out as fast.) I remember one day when I came home to Chicago Ex and said, “Look at this bag I bought!” “Oh good,” he said, “You needed more bags.” I was flattered that he’d noticed, a second later I figured out I was being teased. These days, with every new bag I acquire, Reaganite slightly-sardonically asks “So….is THIS one the Perfect Bag?” I have to explain that the perfect bag is a platonic ideal**, and that different needs require different bags, so no one bag can ever be perfect, so it is not an answerable question. He laughs at me anyway. Perhaps he has never taken philosophy.
Here is the ironic part: I have a dearth of luggage, the most useful type of bag. I also have no professional-looking bags for interviews and other sorts of days when I need to look like a grownup. Purses, purses everywhere, and not a one to take to San Diego for a conference.
I tried to take a picture of the closet that has most of my purses in it, but it didn’t really get the point across. I have them all hanging on racks and hooks on the back of my front/coat closet door, and well, let’s just say that the door basically has to be forced closed.
Maybe I should shoot each one and make a grid of them, or something. That WOULD help me purge, as some of them are probably embarrassing, stylewise. I could try to do them chronologically, then I would have an excuse.
You know, because I don’t have enough to do.
**Have you ever noticed that every time the Platonic ideal idea is explained pedagogically, the teacher uses the example of a chair? 4 out of 4 times in my academic experience. Bizarre.
18 August, 2007
Via MindHacks, a very good post about the question of whether addiction is a disorder of the body or of the will. It is very creative in its use of what is often thought of as a 100% physiological and genetic disease as an example.
This topic is much in the media recently (perhaps someone is plugging a book and I have missed it?) I recommend the post as an orientation to the issues.
2 May, 2007
“Techne, going to the talk?”
It’s 11:50 and due to government hoop-jumping I only got in an hour before and so I’ve barely done anything yet. Talks really fuck with my flow in general, I’m sorta — you’ll be shocked to hear this — ADD/hyperfocusy when it comes to work. And I didn’t mark this talk in my calendar, which means it didn’t catch my eye.
But jeez, the whole lab is going! Our PI. All 3 other fellows including the one who barely speaks English. One of two technicians AND the senior non-PI scientist. IOW, everyone who’s in today who isn’t tied to the bench by a timer.
“Um, what’s it about?”
“Schizophrenia, cortical activation something.”
SCZ (as we abbreviate it)? That’s not even my area. That’s not anyone’s area in our lab. I ask who’s giving it and the talk isn’t familiar. Of course, me having a bad name memory and not “doing” SCZ, he could be a Nobelist in the damn field and I’d barely know. And “cortical”, that doesn’t sound too genetic. Sounds like all the cell biology stuff I ran screaming from in grad school. Yeah, definitely a talk I’d skip under normal circumstances, and my feet already hurt from my morning adventures in walking-all-the-hell-over-NIH.
“Where is it?”
“[Halfway across campus.]“
Sigh. My feet can just barely take that, and it’s SO damn nice out, and EVERYONE is going and look they’re already out the door. I pick up my notepad, which this week features a list titled “OMG I have so much to do” and has 10 items already, and join the crowd. After all, if everyone is going, maybe it will be good, right?
Yeah, you know what that sentence means as well as I do. Worst. Use. Of an hour. Ever. Some better uses of my time would have been:
Sleeping at my desk. It would at least have been restful, more restful than lecture-naps. Everyone has nodded off at a talk at one time or another, but once in grad school I got called out for snoring during a talk. That was seriously embarrassing, and now I live in fear of doing it again. Luckily nobody I knew was at that talk, but this time both Boss (PI) AND Boss’ Boss were there. (‘Course, Boss was sleeping himself. Later we traded staying-awake-through-lecture tips. I usually bite my hand as hard as I can stand, and kick myself/step on my toes under the table if there is a table. Along the same “pain” lines, he pulls the hairs on the back of his neck. Oh, the things one learns in one’s postdoc.)
Staring into space in an empty room. I could have meditated. Net gain in relaxation.
Poking myself in the face with my pencil. This could have gotten me injured and given me a good excuse to leave the hall, albeit a hard-to-explain one. Hmm, why DIDN’T I do this?
Now, don’t get me wrong. The talk was a perfectly decent talk for someone in the field or who cared about that sort of approach. It just wasn’t at all interesting to me. I have a hard enough time learning to be a geneticist, faking my way through electrophysiology is not something I’m into. I spent about half the talk trying, about another 1/3 biting my hand as hard as I could stand, and the last bit doodling. Here is what is written in the doodle-space of my “OMG I have so much to do” list.
- A very tiny stick drawing of a female figure, with hair sticking out in all directions and her hands on her face and a word balloon saying “HALP.” (This ungrammar is inspired by the weekend I spent reading lolcats.)
- Very tiny writing recapitulating what I remembered of the lolcats:
- Very tiny writing saying “OH NOES I’S TRAPPED IN BORING”
- Very tiny writing saying “HALP I NEED A HALP”
- Less tiny writing saying “stand up for what U Need next time”
- Primary list of ppl for whom I need to buy Mother’s Day cards
- Secondary list of ppl for whom I need to buy Mother’s Day cards
Talk protocol is such that if you look like a grad student who might be mid-experiment you can leave whenever, but you need to have positioned yourself unobtrusively for people to buy it, and we all were sitting mid-row. You best believe I would have worked that shit had I been better positioned. It FINALLY ended, but the questions, of course, went on and on. All I could think was: great, now I am wasting MORE than an hour at this talk. (I wrote most of my lolcat phrases on my pad during this period.)
Protocol specifies that you can leave after the applause and before the Q&A, whoever you are. But I was mid-row and went with a large group and protocol FURTHER specifies — OK, strongly recommends — that you not leave individually if you all came together. I kept my eye on the three dudes at the end of the row who were blocking our egress and when they finally left I oh-so-subtly pointed it out to my PI. “Look,” I said. “Those guys left, we’re clear.” “You guys are,” he said ruefully, “I’m stuck here. I’m having lunch with the guy.” (Lunch with a speaker is a tradition, there are anywhere from 2 to 15 people in attendance, so this doesn’t mean they were buddies.)
The next questioner’s question was an annoying non-sequitur, and I’d had enough. I got up and left without listening to the answer, walking over all our lab’s attendees as I went. Even though it was probably the last question, I didn’t want to have to deal with being social with the labmates. I walked back to the lab all pissed off at the waste. Well, it WAS a nice day, anyway.
Other members trickled in after me, and to the tech I said something like “Wish I hadn’t gone to THAT talk,” and he said “Me too.” Wait. Him too? “Why did you go?” I asked. “‘Cause everyone else was?” “Yeah…”
Ding! I put two and two together as the light went on, illuminating the puzzle pieces as they jumped into focus. Tech and I went because a critical mass had formed. The mass formed because a few people were joining our PI, cause when the PI goes to a talk, it’s usually important. The PI didn’t want to go, but the speaker was hosted by his boss, whose field the talk WAS in. I could just imagine the email from his boss encouraging him to come and lunch with this faboo researcher. It was all just one long chain of peer pressure!
This is probably some kind of definition of power.
18 April, 2007
Recent gun-related events virtually ensure an encore of one of America’s traditional performance art pieces in response to tragedy: Guns Don’t Kill People, Teenagers Kill People (introducing…the 2008 Presidential candidates!). Well, at least it will be marginally more informed than will the next potential performance, Video Games Made Him Do It. (And let’s hope we can avoid Who Let Them In Here, Anyway? especially since Geraldo and Bill O’Reilly knocked that one out of the park so recently.)
Well, I got no particular knowledge about all those phases, but I do have a gun control-related angle.
US residents of all ages and both sexes are more likely to die from suicide when they live in areas where more households contain firearms. A positive and significant association exists between levels of household firearm ownership and rates of firearm and overall suicide; rates of nonfirearm suicide were not associated with levels of household firearm ownership…the availability of lethal means increases the rate of completed suicide.
The finding got a big yawn around my lab, but then maybe the common wisdom about suicide isn’t as well known in the blogosphere as it is here in a lab full of psychiatric researchers. Commence lecture!
- Suicide kills over 30,000 Americans a year. (More statistics can be found here.)
- You may wonder why I use the passive voice up there, don’t people do the killing? Yeah: depressed people. You can’t talk about suicide without reference to depression/mental illness, and the decisions people make when depressed are (duh) not necessarily the ones they’d make when healthy.
- To commit suicide is usually an impulsive decision. As a result it’s a common cause of death in young males.
- The idea to attempt suicide is more viral than you’d think: it spreads like a meme. When a suicide is reported, there are often local methodological copycats (educating police forces and newspaper editors NOT to publicize details can cut down on this substantially). A particularly awful example of how fucked up this can get is the story of Golden Gate Bridge suicides, which I can’t even reread, it’s so depressingly infuriating.
- Choice of method is opportunistic. (See above article.)
- People’s estimates about a method’s lethality are not accurate. This has a lot of implications, among them the fact that women are more likely to attempt, but men are more likely to succeed. In large part this is because women use less lethal methods (pills) than men do (guns).*
The author of the study puts it simply: “In a nation where more than half of all suicides are gun suicides and where more than one in three homes have firearms, one cannot talk about suicide without talking about guns.”
Now, it’d be a helluva public health measure to void a constitutional amendment just to prevent suicide. I’m not advocating this as why you should support gun control, I’m not completely on any particular side of the issue. Just keep in mind, when the NRA types get rabid about their purported “rights,” that lots of these people have depressed kids at home who know where the ammo is. What are the 2nd amendment absolutists doing to prevent having to pry their own guns from their child’s cold, dead hands?
*Because pills are such an ineffective way to commit suicide, there is a sexist misperception out there that women (who tend to use pills) intend suicide less seriously, and are just doing so as a “cry for help” or to get attention. But there is no correlation between lethality and seriousness: since suicides are so often impulsive and opportunistic, seriousness is hard to judge from the outside, easy to lie about from the inside, and impossible to determine for the successful. Nonlethal attempts are judged as less serious than lethal suicides because all lethal suicides appear seriously meant, whether they were or not.
12 April, 2007
Scroll down for the cheesecake. Keep reading for some meat.
Got an interesting idea from this post:
When people speak of losing a part of themselves when a loved one dies, they are speaking quite literally, since we lose the ability to effectively use the neural patterns in our brain that had self-organized to interact with that person.
What a great and accessible application of a neuroscientific idea to explain a psychological phenomenon — and it doesn’t even rid that phenomenon of its substance and depth.
I recently read Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking, which is an extensive exploration of the psychology of grief and loss (I recommend it). If you read it with this thought in mind, I think it will give you an interesting angle on why grief can take the shapes it does. This certainly makes me think of how the same book could be written about the neurological changes Didion underwent in that time…and how that’d be a completely different but also valuable book.
I, for one, have gotten value out of both approaches, at different times. In difficult emotional situations I fixate on coming to an understanding of WHY — what could lead a person to do act X? Only later can I process them at a more emotional level. In the train ride to my parents’ house the night we got the news of my aunt’s suicide, I read this book like a novel. It provides an exhaustingly comprehensive psychiatric perspective on suicide’s origins, from the personal all the way to the epidemiological level. It’s written by a clinician/researcher and popularizer who’s respected in both areas, which is no easy feat. It’s later now, and so Didion’s book has been important to the current stages.
While I’m making book recommendations, I found the suicide book a bit too depressing before I had a particular reason to read it. On the other hand, Jamison’s memoir of living with bipolar disorder is gripping and of general interest.
The rest of the ideas in the post are the standard kind of annoying “we’re so close to developing supercomputers that we can download our brains to, and therefore use to live forever” crap we can expect from a certain stripe/era of AI research. Oh, so many issues I have there. A few:
1) One of my favorite neuroscientific truisms is “if the brain were simple enough to understand, we would be too simple to understand it.” Where would a bit dump of our brains/minds even BEGIN? The upper-left-hand neuron? (What about cultures that read right-left?) Memories (“I was born a poor black child”)? And which historical point in time to capture? Should we do backups to keep it current? Save older versions, perhaps to retain health, and ditch the body once deterioration sets in? Not to mention the utter meaninglessness of a consciousness without physical input. Just look what sensory deprivation can do to an embodied brain.
2) Metaphors squelch understanding and new ideas, and all the more so when they try to cover more complex phenomena. “The brain is a computer” squelches understanding of its function because it ignores a lot of the types of connections made between neurons.
In fact, it’s just this disconnect between computer simulations of brain function and the actual functioning of the brain that switched me from computer science geekery to neuroscience, lo these 10 years ago now. In a Neural Networks class, I kept trying to make my network’s neurodes more like biological neurons, and got more and more impressed with the impossibility of the task and how it revealed how little we knew about the brain. Considering that each year of biological education teaches you more and more about what the last class didn’t even get near, to have finally run up against the limits of knowledge in a field was heady stuff. I switched majors posthaste.
N.B., the metaphor of DNA as blueprint/book of life is similarly harmful to the understanding of genetics. But that’s another post.
Yeah, I fully and humbly acknowledge that these objections may someday seem as hilarious as “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible” and other statements are today.* In fact, one of the coolest things about extended lifespans, to me, is getting to see so many new things developed and so many old things proved wrong. Not to mention the chance that I could see the Cubs win the World Series, although my brain may need to be in a computer for that one.
No, I have no idea who nom’d me (Reaganite swears it weren’t him), why I care, or why I would be OK being associated with some of the most gossipy damn people in the DC internet tubes. Since becoming aware of the Best DC Blog site on Monday, I tried to figure it out by reading a few comment threads there and “DC blog wars” posts on BigHeadRob’s blog, and I tell you whut: I’m never getting that two hours back.
Here’s another perspective though. While I had fun comparing the bizarreness to junior/high school on Monday and Tuesday, on Wednesday we spent an hour in lab meeting discussing some psychiatric-genetics-research-field politics. And as any DC resident knows, politics is high school. When I tell him some of my hair-raisers, Reaganite assures me that scientist politics is not substantially different in form from Hill politics. So when we tell the poor kids who find themselves at the bottom of high school food chains that “it’s not always like this, it gets better, people grow up,” we are lying. Lying lying lying!
Other reasons I care. Well, I’m self-centered. Show me a blogger who isn’t. Heck, show me a human being who isn’t. I’m competitive too, in weird indirect ways that are hard to describe: more against past versions of myself than other people. In my defense, I think people who know me will agree that these are not my mortal-est sins. (Guess which is!)
Also, as a child, I was an ugly duckling. Glasses filling half my face, feathered hair, not grown into the nose yet…maybe if I win I’ll post a photo of those days. Yay for the exorcism of childhood demons. And how better to prove the old saw that DC is Hollywood for ugly people?
Also also, it’d make a truly hilarious addition to my imaginary business card. Dr. Scientist. Photographer. Sexiest Blogger DC 2007. OK, only sorta hilarious.
Yeah, I’m in Florida. Reaganite’s mom and I get on fine, as I knew we would. But we are all tired and stuff, and R. has to do some work, which is why I have all this goddamned time to blog. Shouldn’t have much more until I get back–going to Disney tomorrow, for the first time ever.
*As you may know, Bill Gates denies saying “640K ought to be enough for anybody.”
4 April, 2007
Originally uploaded by techne.
I’ve had my pupils dilated twice in my life. The first time, about 5 years ago, I caught a glimpse of them as the drug wore off. They were all cateyed and smushed! It was weird! Also, awesome. I was both grossed out and fascinated, it was definitely an “if only I had a camera” moment.
So when I had my dilation last month in preparation for my LASIK surgery this Thursday, you bet I brought my camera. While cool (my irises were particularly interesting, as I could see their depth), they got back to normal in a sadly normal way. No cat-eyes. No oblong squashed oval pupils. Just this photo of me on a bus with bedroom eyes and a furrowed brow, which is because I was thinking “I hope this is focusing on my eye and not my nose like the last two I took.”
Yep, LASIK. The glasses are going. I feel weird about that, but I’ve been thinking about eye surgery for 20 years, so it’s not a new idea. I’ll be able to go to sleep looking at the moon, which will no longer be a white blob out the window. To take naps without worrying about nasty contact badness or rolling over on my glasses. To roll out of bed, put shoes on and go for a run without having to put contacts in first. And, of course, the example everyone uses: I’ll be able to read the alarm clock. I do think I’ll take a hit, science reputation-wise, but I can always get fakeo glasses for big events, or work on my “I’mma kick your ass” persona that is ever so important to any scientific career.
Oh yeah, the other benefit, I’ll be able to SEE. For free! (After I pay off the surgery.)
I am getting excited. At the office last week for another eye checkup thingy, I got to watch a surgery just like the one I am to have. OMG y’all. It was so freaking cool. First they numb your eye up and Clockwork Orange your eyelids. (OK, FIRST first you get Valium, and THEN they Clockwork Orange your eyelids.) Next, the Super-Nifty Computer-Controlled Laser Of The Future, which tracks your eyeball as it moves around, lasers your cornea with its magic rays and creates a flap. This takes maybe 30 seconds. The doctor’s actual hand wields an actual tool to pull the flap back (just about the only non-SNCCLOTF task in the whole process). Under the flap it’s all matte-looking, unlike the glossy surface of the cornea. This is because of how the flap is made–with super-microbubbles at just the right depth, which is also teh awesome. Forget you, microkeratome that they used to use back in the dark ages of eye surgery (2005)! Anyway: flap back, then it’s the actual surgery as the SNCCLOTF lasers off bits of the cornea to reshape it. Maybe two minutes this takes, MAYBE. Then the doc slips the flap back and pats it down and such, with his actual hand and its actual tool, and you are done, time for the next eye.
I wish I could do it myself!
See youse on the other side.
1 April, 2007
My parents once asked me what I do at work. Seeing as how I used to test rats for despair and then kill them, they were looking for glamour to share at the cocktail parties. (They’d stick to the behavioral testing.) Alas, all I could say was “I sit at my computer and figure shit out.”
Along those lines, a friend brought this to my attention today.
That reminds me! I have a new moniker: Dr. Scientist. So take note, everyone, or I will shoot you with my Laser Cats.
7 December, 2006
I remember back when the internet tubes were too narrow for video and you had to watch this cult-geek classic on the decaying film reel that was your genetics prof’s most prized possession. Now he could show it off of Google Video….
This may be one of the Top 5 uses of the Internet: wide dissemination of this interpretive dance. Introduced by Nobel laureate-to-be Paul Berg, it illustrates the process of protein synthesis. It tells you all you need to know that the music for the interpretive dance is the “Protein Jive Sutra.” And that the narration is based on Jabberwocky.
Watch it. It’s teh hilarious, and you might even learn something.
26 October, 2006
and working on my photographs. September and October have been a complete blur (with the summer not much better) of work. Our data started coming in in June and it has. not. stopped. In the months since I’ve learned shocking amounts about genetics, statistics, computer wrangling (I’d call it programming but mostly it’s data massage). It’s tremendously exciting, but it’s been a roller coaster. In the spring I was in tears over how badly research was going, and now I’m at the forefront of my field and have only to write the papers to prove it.
I’d write about the work–it DEFINITELY qualifies as the latest obsession–but I feel a bit paranoid about it. While it’s almost certainly ridiculous, it’s fairly easy to identify me within the field, and you never know just what sort of info is bad info for others to know. I promise after I publish I’ll tell all…I could speak generally about the work, about where genetics is going and so on, but I think others do it more completely, and this blog is broad enough.
I just can’t find that hour needed for good blogging/photo-editing. I get home and my mind is in a million pieces from all the little things I have to do, such that I can’t pull the pieces together to concentrate on anything before I get too tired. I’ve decided not to reread and edit this post beyond spelling and typos, just in the interest of getting something out there.
I had about 10 ideas just now as I was loading the “compose” page for what to say, and now I can’t remember them. Fuck you, brain.
I leave for Sardinia on Friday. Lest you get too excited for me: it’s for a conference, and like last year when I went to this conference (in Boston), I’m going into it less than healthy. I’m also worried about bringing my new work laptop and my camera–how can I leave either behind? But that’s a lot of crap to carry/keep track of in a country known for its grabbiness. Yeah, you’re feeling really sorry for me about my trip to a beautiful Mediterranean island, I know. I’ll shut up now.
One thing taking up my time that I won’t be complaining about is Reaganite. He’s had his own trial by fire this summer, but always found time for me, and was never short (or worse), as I am in stressful times. Considering the circumstances we met under (I was on the very worst rebound you can imagine), and some things that happened later…well, tenacity paid off on both sides. So I spend as much time with him as our scheduls will allow. And that’s time spent offline–although now that we’ve both convinced our employers to get us MacBook Pros, and we are completely enthralled by their sexiness, maybe we will blog together Also he really needs a new name. Maybe he will start a new blog and I can refer to him that way. Eh, babe?
(Seriously tho, the MacBook Pros are sexy as hell. How on earth does Apple do it? The other night I was not feeling well and he brought his over and we seriously got out his laptop, put it at the end of the bed, and Front Row’ed a DVD with the included remote. I don’t recall drinking the Apple kool-aid…maybe it was so long ago I’ve forgotten.)
Yeah, how scattershot am I? I wrote this last night and fell asleep before I could post it. Sheesh.
5 September, 2006
That’d be pretty silly of you. I call today’s exhibits “have you guys heard of IM?” I just had the following exchange over email.
Collaborator 1: Was our meeting set for tomorrow 2:30?
Me: I have Thursday at 2 in my notes.
C1: (Other Scientist) may be able to come to the meeting, do you still want me to propose that collaboration with him?
Me: [forwarding this suggestion to two labmates] What do you two think?
Labmate 1: I’ll be back tomorrow at 2, will call to discuss this.
82 lines this took. Due to the lovely business-world habit of never deleting anything — not even signatures — from replies/forwarded emails, that last email in the chain was eighty fricking two lines. I can see the point of preserving the paper trail, and do heartily approve of it in theory, but it bothers me aesthetically. And we haven’t even heard from Labmate 2 yet. Who has a long sig.
For Exhibit B, however, we have my interactions with Boss’ Boss, which are characterized by emails so short that the junk Outlook adds after my name in the “To” line is longer than their entire content. He takes the UNIX-command attitude towards communication — if it can be expressed in two or three letters, it will be. He includes a .sig of a few lines — but it has no contact information, just titles. See what I mean? Wouldn’t IM be perfect for both of those?
Waitaminnit you say. Interactions with Boss’ Boss? Who terrified you so in May? Why yes indeed. As I said at the time, he is just a glowery-faced guy who was thinking hard, and nothing was personal. In the intervening months there have been many opportunities for me to make other impressions on him. He’s currently preparing for his own big review of the kind that my boss went through in June, and we collaborate with him on the genetic side of his work, so he is emailing us a lot lately with little questions about this or that gene. And when my boss was out of town last month, guess who got the questions?
6 August, 2006
Found a popular-press article about some fascinating research on willpower that leads to some interesting conclusions. The experiment:
Take, for example, a group of hungry volunteers who were left alone in a room containing both a tempting platter of freshly baked chocolate chip biscuits and a plate piled high with radishes. Some of the volunteers were asked to sample only the radishes. These peckish volunteers manfully resisted the temptation of the biscuits and ate the prescribed number of radishes. Other, more fortunate, volunteers were asked to sample the biscuits.
In the next, supposedly unrelated, part of the experiment, the volunteers were asked to try to solve a difficult puzzle. The researchers weren’t interested in whether the volunteers solved it. (In fact, it was insoluble.) Rather, they wanted to know how long the volunteers would persist with it. Their self-control already depleted, volunteers forced to snack on radishes persisted for less than half as long as people who had eaten the biscuits or (in case you should think chocolate biscuits offer inner strength) other volunteers who had skipped the eating part of the experiment.
Read the article to see how this led Reaganite and I to this conclusion:
1 August, 2006
A year ago this week, I was packing my Chicago life. A year ago next week, I was starting my DC life. Not sure how to celebrate this yet. Since finishing my degree I’ve never been so busy, and there’s no end in sight. Oddly, realizing this — that I have no experience having this much responsibility — has made it easier to handle.
And that’s why no posts, these last two weeks have not given me the chance. And when I do I have little to say that seems of interest. Maybe it’s time to go more photoblog — I’ve been feeling good photo-wise lately, although it may all be because two weeks ago I took what instantly became my most popular picture ever. Someone actually managed to cheer me up from an 11-hour day of science and heat exhaustion simply by mentioning it.
Oh and in other obsession news, the Cubs totally kicked Cardinal ass this weekend. Another sweep, like the one I saw in April but better because it was a 4-game series and weirder because in the real world of baseball it’s the Cubs who suck and the Cardinals who are good. Hey, I will take the weekend of endorphins any ol’ way, thanks, and you’ll do well to not remind me that Maddux got traded to the Dodger.
How about some kid stuff? That’s for sure an obsession after a weekend with them. Here’s some advice from my nephew D. We went bowling yesterday (god, was it only yesterday? I was up at 5 today to fly back and am putting a full day in at the moment). D. and I were chatting in the car on the way over in that “I’m-almost-10-times-your-age” way that one chats with kids. I forget the topic. Whatever it was about it had nothing to do with bowling. “We’re here!” called his mom as we pulled into the parking lot. “Yay! We’re here!!” said D. Then, he pointed at me and said very sternly, “And DON’T EAT THE BOWLING BALLS!”
The extended form of the rule is: I cannot eat bowling balls, or I’ll turn into a, a, a, a bubble, er, a bubble gum man. No not a bubble gum WOMAN, bubble gum MAN, and and and I’ll *pop*! and be dead, so don’t do it. I might also turn into a bowling ball. As those of you who know 3 year olds know, in this are the seeds of a great way to drive them crazy all day, as you pretend to eat bowling balls in front of them, or to be a bubble and blow up, or ask if you can eat cars, or guitars, or the man from Mars. That answer was no, you can only eat food, but later that day we had Mexican for dinner, and I was told if I ate a tortilla, I will turn into a tortilla, and they will eat me and then I’ll be dead. Even though it’s food! What’s an aunt to do?!? “It’s OK, you can eat it,” says his older sister J. reassuringly. “You can just come back to life.”
A clinician labmate described psychosis to me recently, in minute detail. Talking to children can really be bizarrely similar.
(Not the funniest kid-ism ever, but it cracked me up. D. is very much the vehicle-obsessed type of little boy. Although he’s moving onto dinosaurs now, his first love, the ambiance, will always have his heart:
We taught J. how to leave voicemail messages. I think it opened up a whole new world of phone fun to her. Right now at home I have waiting for me a message of her singing “twinkle twinkle” to my cats. I had to leave so early this AM I decided not to wake her up to say goodbye — mistake! She was … sad to have missed me. I understood the whole scene — the bursting into tears at the empty Aerobed, the incomprehensible sobs from which one can manage to pick out maybe “aunt” “bye” “left” between the gulps for breath, right down to Daddy making it all better (Mommy was taking me to the airport) — when I deplaned in Detroit and received this text message.
From: (J.’s Dad’s email addy)
Subject: Miss you already
Body: Hi (Techne), sorry I missed you this morning, I hope you have a safe trip. I really miss you already. There are a lot of itches on me, maybe they are from the sky. Maybe the bugs from the sky have itches like me. Maybe the trees have the itches too. I had a really fun time with you. Love J.
(I called in, the freak-out report was confirmed by Mommy who said she came home to J. sitting in her dad’s lap at the computer, gulping out “wan” “say” “bye” “one” “more” “time” “aunt” “techne”.)
I’m not so much with the biological clock (see above re responsibility; can barely feed MYSELF, yo) but being an aunt really suits me. It’s sad that all the kids I know are back in the Midwest. I have absolutely no kid outlet here (‘course I have a ton of things here I didn’t there, which we won’t get into.) At home, I am that friend who becomes honorary aunt to a slew of friend’s kids, and who at times prefers the kids’ company. Here, I take pictures of strangers’ kids on the bus to get a smile out of them. Sigh.
Exhibit 295 or so in “super-wide is the kid portrait lens” is below. D. is also showing us his tongue color, but has not yet realized that white popsicles don’t do fun things to your tongue.
15 July, 2006
So I’m hit #5 for “woo girls” on Google, partly because of searches like that in the title. (Sorry I couldn’t be of service, dude.) Even when I posted about another Adams-Morgan nightlife classification it all went back to woo girls, both in my post and in the comments. Well, they are sparkly. And louder. So it makes sense.
Some great stuff got mentioned in those comments I thought I’d bring to your attention.
It seems that woo girls have been described at least twice before (hits #3 and #4), most notably by Derf. Many thanks to KCinDC of DC’s Drinking Liberally for the link. In science we call this being scooped, but a) I’m honored to have been scooped by such an esteemed figure and b) his description is generalized, and mine is more detailed. For one, I explain the yakking girl that he illustrates. Perhaps we should collaborate.
You must, must read this description of woo girl culture, written by an actual woo girl. It explains the why of the woo. It’s eye-opening. It’s hilarious. Reader Alex is hired for bringing it to our attention.
Lastly, it was discovered last night that a little woo girl resides in all of us. Got a group together to visit H st NE and the Palace of Wonders. Fun was had by all, and the relative uncrowdedness of the place was nice, but it is not quite worth the cab ride yet I don’t think. On our way back to the A-M area, three of us stopped for a fish “sandwich” at the Horace & Dickie’s, which IS worth the trek. Dr. “Cranky Sunshine” Birdcage had been struck, when in the neighborhood last month, at the reputation of the place among the local children she was running educational programs for. If you have not heard of it (I hadn’t), you will. The setting makes makes Ben’s Chili Bowl look like Les Halles…and the fish makes BCB look like Cosi. It will explode on the hipster scene now that H street is the new destination as it is perfect drunk food and the grittiness of the place really gives you that “look at me, I’m slumming it” feeling that is so key to the H st NE corridor at the moment. I ran into Sommer, the new DCist editor, at PoW, so it may be only a matter of time until we see a review…
Hey, I was talking about my inner woo girl. Stop distracting me. Yes, a woo escaped my lips last night. A passing car — driving at speed — saw us eating our “sandwich” on the sidewalk in front of the bar. Passenger shouted out the window at us, “FISHEEEEEEEEEEEEEZ!” Ha! Yes! Fishez! This fish is so good! I was compelled to respond, to reach out to this anonymous urbanite and acknowledge the fried flesh that unites us. But how? I had no time to think of words, the car was at the corner already. And what words are there, really? “Yes I agree, this fish ‘sandwich’ is excellent!”? So. WOOO!
It was brief, but unmistakable. My companions, thankfully, understood. “I’m a woo girl for this fish sandwich,” I said. They nodded. Maybe they also would have been. Maybe I was simply the only person who didn’t have delicious fish in my mouth at the moment. (Re the car: I suppose they could have been saying “BITCHEEEEEEEEEEEEEZ!” but that doesn’t make nearly as much sense. I mean, Dr. B and I are luscious babes and all, and have been known to attract passenger-side attention of this sort. But “bitchez” is not the usual thing yelled, comments tend to be more complimentary, or at least anatomy-specific. No, it was the fish, people. It could induce anyone to yell out a car window.)
I was going to show you why I keep putting “sandwich” in quotes but I just realized that this sandwich went unphotographed. !!! How could that be! Much like when Dr. C.S. Birdcage’s fish sauce bottle broke outside Toledo Lounge in front of a half-dozen photographers, and not a one of us documented the tragedy.
The bar itself was documented. It was one of those fun flickrite nights where shutters were very much a-snap. I look forward to the shots. About mine, let me just say that animated people are hard to photograph, and my ol’ “stick the camera over your head and shoot blind and work it all out in postprocessing” trick is a lot more complicated with a fisheye.
11 July, 2006
You’ll remember that my apartment overlooks the intersection of Drunk and Crazy, and so it makes sense that the first classification to make itself known to me, the “woo girl,” was one of the noisiest. It also makes sense that this group would have been so easily and aptly named by Adams-Morgan employees and residents, since they are colored brightly to attract attention. Not so our latest type, my friends, not so. Unlike their woo-happy sisters, they are quiet. They are nondescript. And there is no consensus on what to call them. Are they frat boys? Are they Republicans? Are they interns? Staffers? It’s a mystery.
Two things, however, are clear.
1) They wear striped shirts.
2) They are very, very drunk.
I shot this specimen before I had thought up this project. It was the very earliest hours of 2006 and revelry was high on Drunk St., but he was sitting as motionless as humanly possible. His pose seemed to indicate incredible sadness, like he had just received awful news of some sort of medical or financial nature, but on second glance he was actually holding himself together with every fiber of his being concentrating on not falling over or throwing up.
I was reminded of this fellow, and made aware that perhaps we had a type on our hands, while arriving home from work later than usual one recent Friday night. It was 10 or thereabouts. As I walked up the shady residential stretch of Calvert towards Adams-Morgan, I was vaguely aware of two guys moving slowly towards me, but they were too far away to take note of yet. But then! One of them, suddenly and dramatically,
in the middle of the sidewalk. With great economy and purpose of movement he slooooooowly stretched his arm out towards his companion, and gently, ever so gently, pulled Companion away from the center of the sidewalk. Ever so gently, and with small, focused steps, Companion let himself be moved to the side. Heads down, they remained in their near-penitent sidewalk-clearing position until I had passed, avoiding eye contact, as if looking at another human being might somehow have caused them to lose their balance. Or their judgment. Or their cookies.
I am not sure which bars these males frequent. I’ve probably been in bars with them and just not noticed. Hell, I’m not sure I’d notice these guys even if they bought me a drink. Maybe one already has…hmm. Also, I am not sure if their primary goal is finding mates or getting drunk. To be that drunk at 10 on a Friday indicates the latter, which is no way to propagate a species. But maybe they use the weekend drinking nights for different purposes. Perhaps Friday is for loosening up enough from their workweek to be able to find mates on Saturday. That’d be a pretty sophisticated reproductive strategy, and easily testable by closely observing differences between Friday and Saturday night behavioral patterns.
They have to have a vocal phase — I do hear men woo!-ing at times, might be them — but I seem to see them a few too many beers on the other side of that. Are these the men who get in fights with men of other ethnic groups? (nah, those are probably these guys,
who are more of the t-shirt wearing type. We’ll cover them another time.)
Yes, the striped drunkards leave this researcher with more questions than answers. Is there a better name? Do they travel in packs, or pairs, or are they loners? Do I need special glasses to see them, or to learn special techniques, all Gorillas In The Mist-like? How many beers get them to this point, are they lightweights, average, or high-tolerance? Which locations do they choose to throw up, and do they do so alone or in pairs or groups? Do they express the X-linked street-urination gene that so many sports fans do — are they perhaps sports fans themselves? Where do they reside? Are they from….VIRGINIA? (Oooo, this makes sense. If so, where do they park?)
Is A-M their native drinking land? Or is it the Hill or downtown post-work bars that serve K streeters, and the ones who make it up here are the adventurous ones? Hmm, if so, and if they ARE wooing the woo girls, this could result in population drift: the more adventurous striped drunkards (who leave wherever to come here) mate with the more adventurous woo girls (those who leave Georgetown/the Herpes triangle). Nine months post-birth control failure later, they have adventurous, alcoholic children. This might even lead to a speciation event. In this uncertain world (brought to you by G.W. Bush and narrated by Al Gore) these adaptable children may prove better survivors. They could even be the future of the human race.
Or…their adventurousness may be alcohol-fueled, and after the apocalypse, when liquor is likely to be in short supply, they may die out faster than the rest of us. Who’s to say? Not even Al Gore, I don’t think.
26 June, 2006
…it’s an odd nexus in me.
– During the 2000 election aftermath I kept thinking, “a couple hundred, or even a couple thousand people difference? This is noise, pure noise. Junk the data and do it again.” This put me in the position of arguing against both sides, which was odd after a year of passionate partisanship.
– On a dare, I once spent three hours investigating the 9/11 Pentagon crash conspiracy theory. You know, the one that is all “where’d the plane go??” and “no way can anyone fly that well!” and so on. (It’s crap, of course. Although the pilot was a pretty lucky guy.)
– I am always a hit at parties when I inform people just exactly WHY LSD is one of the safest recreational drugs you can take. I love it when people, holding containers of one of the most dangerous drugs you can take and often holding little sticks of another, refuse to believe me. (Of course, now that I work at NIH, I have instant cred on all such topics, which always ensues in hilarity, as when I was introduced as an expert in bird flu to a bunch of political folk.)
– On the flip side of this, I once lost two friends due to an argument over drug laws, specifically, the relationship or lack thereof between a drug’s legal status and its dangerousness. The argument basically arose because I took a historical and biological view, and they took a prosecutorial/law-and-order view. Not so much with the compatible. (Also incompatible? The scientific and the legal attitudes towards disagreement and how to handle it. Sigh.)
– The recent intersection was seeing An Inconvenient Truth this weekend. There’s Al Gore standing on an elevator dealie scaring the shit out of everyone and I’m looking at the scary-ass graph and wondering, what’s the r-squared for temp and CO2 in that graph? I’ve spent the last 45 minutes tracking this data down to analyze it myself. Why? Oh, you know, because I have NOTHING ELSE TO DO, CLEARLY.
In other news from the movie, I got in a nice dig at my Reagan-loving, supposedly-Republican companion. At one point Gore makes the case for greener policies being good, not bad, for business, and uses the car companies as an example: “Look! Toyota and Honda are doing well! Ford and GM are not! *colorful graphic evidence*” This struck my companion — mind already stretched dangerously far open by even being AT the Al Gore movie — as having the ring of truth, and he said so to me, incredulously. Nah, said I. Their taxes must be too high.
9 June, 2006
He Should Go Back to "Dude"
White guy: Nigga, please.
White girl: That's not okay. Don't say that.
White guy: Nigga, thank you?
What an interesting week it's been. The data has been pouring in to such a degree that yesterday, when we heard that a particular long-awaited chunk was finally ready, we all groaned "nooooo!" I've only been in the lab a year or so, but for the lab this is the culmination of years of work. Several disparate strains of work are coming together
all at once. And as the fellow I'm RIGHT IN IT. I've been at the lab until 9 or 10 every night–because I WANT to be, which is odd for me Things are also coming together for me as far as learning all the programs and analyses I need to know. I had been feeling bad because I hadn't really been on top of it, but this is why: I can only learn when I have actual data I care about to learn on.
It's been a decent photography week too. I rescued my gala pictures:
(Will you look at that hair? I only discovered this year that I had curly hair. It's been fun to play with–it has to be coaxed into it, but boy is it worth it.) (also this is my favorite dress ever, I think.)
I've also been pretty happy with my going-around-town sort of shots:
And this weekend promises to be teh awesome, as the flickrites descend on HonFest and Roller Derby. Yes, it's a Very Baltimore Weekend for me. Were I seeing the Orioles tonight instead of the Nats it would round it out nicely. But these should be a lot of fun to shoot. AND THE WEATHER IS STILL HOLDING! HALLELUJAH!
Well, off to it! Today my boss and I meet with BB to discuss our awesome data. We also met with another bigwig this week over his data which we are analyzing and it's supporting ours. And after the meeting on Monday I blogged about, these people know who I am, because I apparently made an impression at one point by talking about the work in terms of patients and how the results would help them. Let's all try not to think about why that would be such a memorable thing to talk about at these levels. (Well, OK, y'all know me….I was also gesticulating in full "I'm trying to convince you with my passion" mode. That's a fairly memorable thing, esp for bigwigs to have it done to them by a lowly fellow. But I've never been known for my ability to be inhibited by status when the true yardstick in the room ought to be ideas. And now they all know that.)
6 June, 2006
– DC LIFE I don't know what I did to deserve this amazing, fabulous, lovely perfect weather which would be nice even for a temperate city much less a Southern one. The summer misery is my only real problem with living in DC. (Well, that and disenfranchisement.) Even when it was hot last week I was not too upset, figuring I had had my lovely perfect spring and it was OK for summer to start now. So getting ANOTHER nice week….hell, I was CHILLY when I got home tonight. Chilly! In June in DC! Hallelujah!
– BASEBALL I've been neglecting one of my obsessions. Why? Because the Cubs had an incredible May…an incredibly BAD May. Their worst May ever and close to their worst month ever…they went 7 and 22, and they pretty much deserved it, too. It was painful even from here. Add that to the fact that I was out of town a lot in May and so couldn't get to any Nats games until Memorial Day — and that their month wasn't so hot either — and baseball's been on the back burner. I expect to be going more now that I'm in town for a few solid weeks. I have not even scored a game all year. I kinda miss it, I'm done with taking bad ballpark shots from my seats.
I do have a sorta-baseball story though, from my friend's wedding in MN. One night at a bar I found myself being wingmanned while a groomsman put the moves on a bridesmaid. Now, the wingmen were married, but had not told us this yet, instead preferring to go to their buddy's wedding alone and ringless and flirt with cute girls. When we found out, we were tres amused and almost started a side bet on how long they could go without mentioning their wives.
Anyway, the bar: I was bored but baseball was on the TV, which made up for it. Wingman and I watched the day's late games finish, and then the recap of the MLB day, all the while talking that nice relaxing baseball chatter. After a bit I found myself double-teamed (heh) as the baseball talk had lured Other Wingman away from his bridesmaid to join our convo. Blah blah, Dusty, Nomar, Barry Bonds (they were from LA)…after about 3 innings of this, the lured one exclaimed, "I don't get it! How is it that a cute baseball fan like you isn't married??"
I should have pointed out how a wife who talked baseball all the time might not be the boon he imagined, but I was laughing too hard. If I had a nickel for every married guy who's swooned over me cause of baseball….well that's about how cheap talk is, cause I'd still be single! Sheesh. I do not have this availability problem with fans of other sports. Maybe I just don't know other sports as well? (A few hours later, the wives got a shout-out, but the kids remained unmentioned.)
– PHOTOGRAPHY I would love to show you pictures of me at the high-class function I was getting ready for last Saturday when I posted. I took pictures of myself right before leaving with my SLR, and brought my p&s camera to the event itself. But the card from the small camera is showing up blank and the card from the big camera is flaking out because I was playing with shooting in RAW again for a few days, which for some reason is causing all kinds of odd behavior I've never before seen. I'll try photorescue tomorrow, but grr. Grr!!
– SCIENCE Remember my stressful presentation, which had to happen even though I was underprepared, and for which many bigwigs including my boss' boss (BB) showed up? Today was odd, because I got to see my PI go through the EXACT SAME THING.
PI has a massive presentation to give in two weeks. In 20 minutes he has to justify his last 5 years of funding and make a case for his next 5 years of funding. Today was the only day one colleague could attend a run-through, so he presented an early draft, and I think it's when he referred to its roughness that I started to see the similarities, because I had said almost the exact same thing. He availed himself far better than I did of course (he had all weekend to prep!) but still, it was disorienting to see him stand in the same spot I had stood in and have the same experience I had had — even in front of the same people. Yes, BB was there, as was Hilarious Iconoclastic Brit, Deceptively Quiet Guy, and a few other less colorful people.
It got even weirder when I realized that the process he was about to go through was JUST like a thesis defense. "Stand up in front of a critical panel of people senior to you, present the story of the last 5 years of your work in support of the document you submitted to them a bit ago, and defend your own value as a researcher; if we like what we hear and how you respond to our grilling, we will give you a cookie." He's an MD, the closest he's been to a defense was probably mine, a year ago, when he sat on my committee.
And I am right in the middle of this, my friends. Oh yes. We fellows will also appear before the board, to speak to his mentoring abilities. More directly though, we've been analyzing some data that just came in, along with some data which has been sitting around for a while, and damned if they don't point in the same direction. This is, er, not the norm for the field. So a lot of this very recent stuff is going in the presentation.
This has been a good science week, because I've finally figured out how to use the specialized, legacy, poorly documented and quirky software programs we use for analysis. Oh, and? The direction it's all pointing in? I called it months ago. "There is a smoking gun!" I said. "It's right there!" I said, pointing. "I'd bet the farm it's the XYZ gene!" I said, "although I am glad I don't have a farm to actually bet!" So the TOLD YA SO! song is going on in my head a lot lately. (Not that anyone argued with me, but they were scientifically, that is to say appropriately, skeptical.)
16 May, 2006
11 May, 2006
poster session, Biology of Genomes meeting, Cold Spring Harbor Labs, originally uploaded by techne.
9 May, 2006
Just might be science for a while. I think I might be totally and completely boring about it, too. Please do let me know which bits are interesting and which aren't. If any are interesting at all…
I'm giving a poster this week. Unfortunately, I knew I could rely on my "if I wait until the last minute and then stress the fuck out and work like mad, it'll all get done" strategy, which has been field-tested to within an inch of its usefulness. The part I always forget about that strategy, which works brilliantly, is JUST how much the stress sucks. And for how long. But I also forget just how sublime it is once I do take off thinking. It's been a while since I got to do this, just think, figure stuff out….since I defended, in fact.
The scale is different now. The meetings I'm presenting at are smaller. I'm on the field's bleeding edge, working on a very hot topic, and I speak for my lab, so if I'm wrong, it might be a major embarrassment. This sort of error is not unheard of.
This afternoon I walked into what I thought would be a casual presentation of the poster so far to the other authors. That's what my PI said in his email about it, anyway. Which was sent to 8 people. Ha! Not only, NOT ONLY were there ~20 people there, but one of them was my BOSS' BOSS. Let's call him BB. The head of a very important research division at NIMH. Sitting in that alpha-male conference room seat, on the long side of the table facing the door. Probably walked over from his (ahem) OTHER office, on the other side of campus; a 10 minute walk in the life of a busy man. There, to hear me present my data.
Why? Because the email my boss sent said:
(Techne) in my lab has come up with a solution to (bleeding-edge problem), with r^2 values that go over 0.95.
r, you see, is the correlation coefficient of how related two things are. It goes from 0 to 1. So r^2 > 0.95 is hair-tearingly-out awesome, read-the-sentence-again awesome. And I have 0.96. (Every little bit matters.)
The thing about data this cool is, nobody cares if you, oh, hmm, say, are underprepared and tongue-tied and flustered because BB's sitting right across from you staring at you while you search for the words to the stats you only just learned but have to sound competent on and your PI said it'd just be casual and coauthors and friends, but head of the program, yo!! Who never smiles! Even when he's happy!
No — really, honestly, nobody cares. Because it's good enough that once the basics are finally out your PI, who is very good at this sort of thing, deftly takes over from you to guide the conversation. And you, seeing that your PI has your back and that he's also performing for BB, can relax and chime in at a level that redeems you somewhat, cause you know this is totally not about you, which is freeing. And it's a fabulous and interesting pure-science bliss awesome conversation of the type you love, and everyone's already forgotten about your "uh, uh" and remembers only the 0.96. Which you leave up on the screen, really really big.
And at the end they all sincerely thank you and say "great work! really great!" and they mean every bit of it, because you might have just saved them millions of dollars and/or months or years of time and given them the key to Huge Discovery, and now everyone knows who you are, and by the end of the week people outside NIH will too.
8 May, 2006
WordPress problem for the last week meant I couldn't create new or edit old posts. Wah. It was likely for the best, as I was doing so much goddamn data analysis that last night I dreamed about data structures and I/O into R and matlab. Which was scary enough to get me wide awake after just 4 hours sleep.
And I don't even know matlab.
27 April, 2006
We needed some clip art for our lab newsletter, and didn't like any of the stuff we could find. Usually I have the 17-40/4 on during the week, but since I got a replacement for my jacked-up 50mm/1.8 last night I am wearing that today, and it's so good indoors….You know folks, I have my camera, I said. I'm at your service, who's got some ideas? Ensued 20 minutes of lab teamwork and creativity that was lots of fun! We've been operating as a lab a lot today, this was just the afternoon incarnation….it feels good to have a lot of people working on the same idea, be it running a TDT on chromosome 5q or taking shallow-DOF shots of DNA microarray chips.
To the left are the "deep-well" plates which contain stock DNA–in this case, DNA of families with bipolar disorder that were collected by NIMH. They are templates for making the black plates to the right, in which we perform the SNP assays: reactions that look at a particular base pair of interest to determine each person's genotype (whether they have a C or a T there). SNP ("snip," not "ess en pee") is short for "single nucleotide polymorphism." Most points in the genome do not vary between people, or even between species, but a very few do and those are the ones we care about. ANyway, so we genotype SNPs,and then we try to correlate that genotype with the patients' clinical features.
And that's all there is to what I do.
20 April, 2006
Major research breakthrough, totally have a flow, I could sit and work for the rest of the night.
I have class in 10 minutes, and not one I can blow off.
ALWAYS HAPPENS (although usually it happens at 4:45 on a Friday).
20 April, 2006
I am going to attempt to do this quickly and not write a book for each one. Hey, why are you laughing?
Props to B. and L. for their help!
1) One summer, age 12 or so, I watched the Empire Strikes Back every day.
2) I knit. I made an iPod cozy before it was cool. It was too big though.
3) In HS I was a key starter for a varsity sport. We won State my senior year and got to 17th in Nationals, just missing the Sweet 16 on a technicality (and those games were televised, garr!). Which sport? Scholastic Bowl. Yes, to compete in Sectionals we needed medical exams to prove that we were healthy enough to press those little buttons.
4) An online dating site once asked me what my "most unusual or impressive skill" was. It was too gross to list there, but not here! (THATS YOUR WARNING, MOVE ON TO 5 IF EASILY SQUICKED.)
I can get an immobilizing hold on a rat, kill it with a guillotine before its stress response kicks in, collect 3/4 of its blood volume, remove and freeze its brain in one piece without nicking it or anything, remove and separate out the two lobes of its pituitary gland and freeze them, and clean everything up for the next rat — in 5 minutes. I can do this for hours.
Give me another 5 minutes and I can, instead of freezing the brain, dissect out and separately freeze the olfactory bulb, frontal cortex, hippocampi, amygdalae, hypothalamus, and cerebellum (and others, if needed.) And sterilize the equipment and clean everything up for the next rat.
5) As a frosh, on a dare of sorts one night at dinner, I gave a safer-sex demonstration to a good half of my college's students. Leaving no sexuality behind, I used both a banana and an orange.
6) I can't ride a bike or swim. OK, that's exaggerating a little. If I had to bike or swim for my life, I would live, but it wouldn't be smooth, and sadly I tend to get more tension than joy out of both things. See, when y'all were getting bikes as kids, I got…a scooter. So I learned balance, but not really how to kick off and get started and manage the pedals easily and so on. (I also broke a front tooth in half in a fall, although that's probably not the scooter's fault, qua scooter.) As for the swimming, were I swimming away from a threat I'd be able to keep my eye on it the whole time…since I'd be doing the backstroke.
Your turn! (Adding links tomorrow, too tired and pissed at wordpress right now cause it totally ate the first version of this post. Any ideas for helping it play nice with Firefox?)
I-495 blues (c'mon, you're halfway there and that's without the obvious one)
17 April, 2006
Group blog project! (blogject?) Let us construct a taxonomy of Adams-Morgan nightlife.
First you must split everyone up by race, because despite the neighborhood's vaunted "diversity", when DC comes here to play they come in monochrome groups and go into bars where everyone is the same color as them. (My favorite exception so far? Kokopooli's, the legendary-in-my-own-mind pool hall on 18th and Kalorama, where tables are $10/hour max, and the jukebox is not trying to prove anything, and there is a dartboard and foosball and hookahs and couches, and the pool balls have candy fillings and the bathroom attendants give massages and everybody knows your name…where am I? What's going on? Oh yes. Blogging. Diversity. Kokopoolis: integrated.)
Moving on. So. Taxonomy. After you've split everyone up roughly by race you can look within the groups a little more. Since my bedroom is within earshot of the intersection of Drunk and Crazy, I began this work by sound, and the first group to emerge was the Woo Girls.
Woo girls were so identified about a month or so ago, during my Weekend of Many Eric/ks. They were named by Roscoe, the bouncer at (can you see this coming?) Kokopooli's.
Despite their recent naming by this expert in the field, this researcher had noted woo girls on many previous occasions, dating back to last August when she moved into the area. They are named for their call. Usually takes a few drinks for it to be fully voiced, but once it is, the piercing "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"s can be heard for blocks.
If you need to spot them before this (that is, before they have arrived at Chloe or Saki, or "slummed it" at Millie and Al's) you need only position yourself on the 18th street side of the SunTrust Bank plaza on 18th and Columbia, and look for the hair-blow-dried-out blondes (they are all blonde) getting out of Virginia cabs in teetering ugly heels, painted-on jeans, and camisole tops. Many display glittery markings, and most (all?) carry small purses so trendy your eyes may hurt if you look directly at them. N.B.: this is their dress year-round, they do not feel the cold. Even on 20deg nights they wear only the camisoles and do not even toss a wrap over their shoulders! And I know you can get glittery wraps! I've seen them on other groups of nightlife.
They do not always take cabs — they can use public transportation, although their ability in this sphere is limited. An example: one Friday night I left the Woodley Park Metro station to find a 98 bus right outside at the stop, ready to leave. Now, this bus exists only to take people back and forth from the Metro down 18th to go along U Street and back again. It costs something ridiculous like a quarter (I don't know because my SmarTrip card takes care of me). Two woo girls who had been in front of me on the escalator conferred a bit about how to get to Adams-Morgan. Oh let's not walk, says one. (The shoes.) So they hailed a cab, and got into it just as I boarded the bus. La la la, across the bridge, up the hill, 30 seconds later here we are. They got out of the cab just as I got off the bus, at the bank plaza. I considered telling them about the $8 they had just wasted, but as I was working out how to do that without laughing, they were already across the street, compelled by the power of Chloe.
Behaviorally, they can be classified as lightweight herd animals. They are never seen alone, and their packs sometimes exhibit a hierarchy and sometimes don't. Lightweight: one of their number has usually overindulged by 11:30. (At that hour, every few steps you can trip over tiny blonde women kneeling in the gutters holding back each others' hair.) Once stomachs are voided and minimal vestibular function is regained, they hail cabs — again, as a group, although occasionally if the original pack is big enough only a smaller subgroup will split off — and hie back to where they came from.
How far do they roam? I have a colleague at NIH who resides near Crazy, as I do, but in Georgetown. He recognized them easily from my description and agreed with Roscoe's nomenclature. We think they may be even thicker on the ground over in his parts, despite the cobblestone sidewalks (which are really hell on the heels, darlin'). Despite being trained biologists we have not done the fieldwork to answer this question, because we are usually laughing too hard at their behavioral patterns as described above, which is not conducive to good data collection. I think they are not yet established on U Street, perhaps due to a lack of appropriate nightclub habitats, but the data here is scant also.
I would like to tell you about their distribution and appearance and behavioral patterns around the Herpes Triangle, which I believe may be where the species originated. (We can test this, because in the area where a speciation event happens, the genetic diversity is the highest. I would consider the presence of honest-to-god brunette woo girls in the H.T. to be evidence in support of my hypothesis.) Yes, I suspect that their probable ancestral range is in downtown DC, but alas, I cannot speak to this point at all, never having spent an evening in them parts. (Kokopooli's is between here and there.)
Do you have any woo girl stories? Are there other classifications of DC nightlife you've noticed? How do they differ in other cities, if at all? They seem to me to be related to Chicago's Trixies, but IIRC Trixies cover up when outdoors in the winter.