Friday, October 26, 2007

'Dag, Hodag

Agent 007 reporting for duty, M.

Last weekend Colin took me out to a lovely neighborhood restaurant called Mat and Nadie's to celebrate our six months of marriage. We had a fabulous dinner, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Before we left, Hodag was being all snugly, and I jokingly told Colin that he obviously wanted to get all dressed up and come with us to dinner. Next thing I know, Hodag is wearing a bow-tie. Sadly, Hodag did not come with us to dinner, but the food was delicious.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

videos of New Orleans neighborhoods

Louisiana rebuilds is a website that was created after Katrina and Rita to help people in Louisiana, and in New Orleans especially, to rebuild their lives. Lots of valuable information can be found on this website, and they advertise new information every day on the "Louisiana rebuilds minute" on WHNO (our local NPR affiliate) at six in the morning and six at night. Today, the announcement mentioned that they just posted videos detailing how different neighborhoods in Louisiana look and function at this point in time. I thought those of you who are wondering how New Orleans really looks would like to see them. I should mention that the video on Uptown, our neighborhood mentions that this part of town is nearly 100% back to what it was. I have to disagree with that. Although we are clearly the most recovered part of New Orleans, I still see signs left over from the hurricane somewhat frequently. For example, the lack of food stores and small businesses. But, I still think the videos give a good vibe for what it feels like in different parts of New Orleans. Head on over if you are interested.


It was a banner day for genetics today. This afternoon I was listening to a fascinating story on NPR about identical twins, given up for adoption at birth, who never knew each other, all for science. They were part of a scientific experiment to determine what each of a pair of identical twins would grow up to be like without knowing the other. The idea proposed in the study was that it was somehow detrimental to be raised with your twin, and that if raised alone the twins could become separate, independent individuals. It was supposed to be the ultimate determination of nature verses nurture.

More on genetics, Colin sent me this article on C. Elegans, determining what attracts male worms to hermaphroditic (female) worms and vise versa. What makes the male worms male, and the hermaphroditic worms female? The researchers genetically manipulated a hermaphrodite worm's nervous system by taking a gene that is responsible for the sexual characteristics of male cells and turned it on in the hermaphrodites' brains. This made the hermaphroditic worms behave liike male worms ( become attracted to other hermaphroditic worms).


On Monday it rained like hell here in New Orleans. It rained eight inches over the course of the day on Monday, and because we live below sea level, it flooded. We have pumps for situations like these, but the rain fell so hard and fast that it outpaced the bailing efforts. Underpasses became lakes, with cars acting as small islands. It was pretty amazing. I had to go downtown to take a make up exam (last week I think I got food poisoning, this week I have ankle tendinitis, but that is a different story) and I was afraid that the truck would not make it there and back in one non-soggy piece. I wisely assumed that the shuttle which I usually take would not be running, as it is dang low to the ground. I latter discovered that this was in fact true, so I made the right choice, and the car and I were fine. In fact, Tulane canceled classes in the afternoon at both the uptown and downtown campuses, as people could not get to classes. This of course happened AFTER I braved the rainstorm, sigh. Anyway, Here are some visuals to give you an idea what it looked like.

Here is a photo I took in the truck on my way to school. Those cars are on a raised driveway, I think the water was about 6 inches here.

No, that is not the asphalt, that's the river in front of our house at 1:15 on Monday, as I was leaving.

I wish I could take credit for this one, but I can't. I have to give credit to my public health buddy Alana and her roommate (who actually took the photo on her camera in front of their house).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fires in California

Both of our families live in California. I grew up in Orange County, and my parents are still there. The bulk of the rest of my family is in Los Angeles. Nora's parents moved to Pasadena after she left for college. Two of her sisters are in San Diego. Both sets of parents have emailed/called to let us know that they have not yet been threatened by any fires. We have been told that one of Nora's sisters has been evacuated, and we expect the other to be evacuated soon.

My father sent me a photo Monday night, with the caption "I thought you'd enjoy a picture of Sam in action:"

"Sam" refers to my stepbrother, who's a seasonal firefighter with the California Department of Forestry, and an EMT the rest of the year. I think he is the one on the right. This morning, my stepmother added the following email:
Sam headed down to San Diego this morning. 5 FWY south was closed due to the fire at Camp Pendelton. Sam flew through the CHP with his uniform on and was
driving down 5FWY with zero traffic...Bizzare! He said he will most likely be babysitting his station in Ramona and won't see too much action this time.
WHEW! He will be in touch with us daily and I'll keep you all posted.

(Camp Pendleton is between my parents and San Diego, along the coast.)

My uncle Chuck is a forester with the CDF. Earlier in the summer, my father sent me a photo of Uncle Chuck and Sam together in front of Sam's truck:

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Its getting delightfully cool here (finally!) and I am beginning to really enjoy living in the tropics. At night Colin and I are opening the doors to the porches and letting a nice 65 degree breeze blow through the apartment. As the weather cools down, new fall crops are showing up at the farmers markets and in local stores. Some of these I knew about, like persimmons and pomegranates, but others like mirliton and satsumas are new to me.

Mirlitons are a type of small green squash that I am betting made it here during either the Spanish rule of Louisiana, or during slave times brought by Caribbean and Haitians. It is originally from South America and Mexico, and it is grown in many small farms here in Louisiana. It is used quite a bit in Creole cooking , and I am looking forward to making more dinners with local flavor. I haven't yet bought one, but I hear that they taste somewhat like a cucumber crossed with a potato. I will update you on the accuracy of that description once I get my hands on one.

Satsumas are originally from Japan, and are a type of seedless tangerine. The ones we have gotten in the last two weeks are green on the outside, but are wonderfully sweet on the inside. This morning I stopped by a farmer selling satsumas out of the back of his truck on St. Charles. For those of you who cannot try a satsuma from Louisiana, I found this wonderful web page on them, with a great description and photos. (Besides the video of peeling the satsuma with one hand is hilarious!)

Friday, October 19, 2007

I always did like Crick better.

So, heard about the new trouble James Watson is in? He made some racially insensitive remarks and now everyone is in a total uproar. 'In an extraordinary outburst, the veteran academic, 79, claimed he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really".' (daily mail UK)

Watson is referring to the fact that most IQ testing places people of African decent, and African immigrants in western countries is lower than Caucasians. This is usually assumed to be the result of social and language factors (white people from well educated backgrounds write the test, therefore the test is skewed to people from similar backgrounds) For example, people for whom English is a second language also score less well than those who are native speakers.

Watson has been in hot water before, for comments on sex and women, as well as on homosexuals. I have to admit that I have always thought of Watson as a bit of an asshole ( I mean have you READ the Double Helix, the man is impossibly egotistical!) so I am not really suprised by his latest remarks.

Cold Spring Labs just suspended him over the comments and the subsequent backlash. Crick has also been accused of having been sexist in the past, especially toward Rosalind Franklin, whose x-ray diffractions were used to determine the structure of DNA. However, Franklin seemed to forgive Crick near the end of her life, she stayed in his house when she was dying of ovarian cancer in 1958. I have always thought of Crick as the true scientist of the pair Watson and Crick, and he clearly was more of a gentleman.

Friday Cat Blogging: Late Night Edition

Hodag kept me company while I did my Math homework for this week. I tried to catch him asleep, but he woke up every time I turned my camera on.

This problem set went better than last week's, because I started on it a lot earlier. Still had one problem I can't quite get; maybe I'll figure it out in the morning.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Santa Margarita mini-Reunion

Some of you may know that I was raised Catholic, and attended a Catholic high school. Most of you probably know that I have not considered myself Catholic in several years.

Earlier this week, I was wasting some time on Facebook. I discovered that a couple of people I knew in high school are living in New Orleans. I met three of them for drinks. Josie went to Loyola New Orleans, and is heading back for an MBA. Laurie Ellen is a 3L at Tulane. Ashley just finished a tour of duty here with Teach for America, and now works for a public-defender type office. The one I didn't meet is Bridget; I think she's here for an MBA at Tulane.

None of us knew each other particularly well in high school. We all sort of knew each other; I'm pretty sure I shared at least one class with each of them. So I was a little nervous about how we would get along. That was completely unfounded. We all relaxed very quickly and just hung out all night. It reminded me of the things I liked about my high school: an intellectual vibe similar to that at UofC, and the need need for social activism. I think that reflects some of the few things I like about the Church: it fosters an environment of study, and insists that we must do good works.

We stopped and wondered at one point about the probability of the situation. I've though about it a little bit, but not thoroughly. There were 420 students in our graduating class. 5 of us are now living in New Orleans. I imagine that it's reasonably likely, but there are a lot of mitigating factors that are hard to keep track of.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday cat blogging

The most interesting things in my life need to start happening at hours other than 6am. I got up yesterday morning and let the cat onto the porch. After a few minutes I heard Hodag scratching at the bottom of the door frame. When I went over to investigate I saw he had cornered a gecko and was trying to dislodge it from under the door lip. I opened the door and saved the gecko from certain doom. While I was at it I took a few photos. Once again they are kinda blurry, since I was angling the camera with my left hand.

Hodag, the mighty hunter, and prey.

Grad School is Hard, Let's Go Shopping

I have a problem set due every Friday in Math Methods. I know this. Yet, somehow, I still struggle to get everything together to actually do it on time. My latest frustration is the one that was due this morning. At Nora's insistence, I kept at it last night until I couldn't do anymore of it. Not because I was tired, but because I honestly could not figure out how to do the two remaining problems on it. Then I got to campus this morning, and mentioned those problems to Ilan. He said, "I didn't have too much trouble on those ones; I just this." And it turns out they were really simple. Colin smacks his forehead. It would have been just fine if only I could learn how to manage my time better. Being out of school for two years has not been kind to my (already crappy) time-management skills.

End rant. Begin long weekend of preparing for two exams, grading papers, and getting the truck fixed. And hopefully having something actually interesting to say.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Vindicated! My love of bad doctor dramas is ok!

And my mother says House is unrealistic. In this example from the BBC, a person who had swallowed a glycol poison was saved by the administration of non-medical alcohol, in this particular instance, vodka. (Anyone remember the episode where the prisoner drank Xerox toner?) Of course in House the alcohol was tequila (which seems to be all that the main character drinks in the way of intoxicating beverages) the BBC report also notes that the patient did not even have a hangover by the time he woke up. Lucky SOB. I just wonder where they got the Smirnoff.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


I smell controversy! Does the kouprey exist or not? Have a look at these two national geographic articles, here and here. Tell me something, is it just me, or do they need to change the layout of their articles when they disprove something? And why the hell is the "real" in quotes? Are the good folks at national geographic leaving room for error? Does the kouprey exist or not? I MUST know!

Graduate Physics According to xkcd

I was wasting time reading xkcd when I came across the centrifuge comic. I realized that this is a better method of labeling my class notebooks than simply writing the name of the class on the cover. Hence, my current classes:
  • Mechanics -- we just finished non-inertial frames, and the current homework (mostly Lagrangians) requires a non-inertial frams as a alternate solution on one problem

  • Math Methods -- there are others that were appropriate, but I found this one first. We didn't really spend any times on vector arithmetic per se, but it's close enough

  • Solid State -- suggestions welcome

Future classes:

EDIT: I dislike the way Blogger handles the timestamp on draft posts. Apologies to anyone reading this via the feed; you might have this post listed thrice.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Stinkin' Linkin'

I am about to tell you a story that makes me tear up a bit. I am not exactly sure why, since I don't particularly care for car design or racing, but this moved me. I am taking this story from a Times Picayune articles that can be read here and here.

Two guys in New Orleans decide to renovate a used car into a speed machine capable of breaking the land speed record of 256 miles an hour. Nesbitt, a former motorcycle designer, who now works as a bartender and Overslaugh, the bar owner chose not just any old car, but a mold ridden 1998 Lincoln Mark VIII that had sat in a Gentilly driveway for a month after Katrina. It smelled so bad when they began working on it that they called it Stinkin' Linkin'. This unlikely racing team took their car and themselves all the way to the Bonneville salt flats of Utah, for Speed Week. The trip however took its toll on the team and the car itself. the Stinkin' Linkin' travelled from one Wal-mart auto shop to the next, borrowing tools to keep the car driving for the next several hundred miles. Apparently, shop managers started calling the next Wal-mart on the way to Bonneville to warn them that in a few hours a racing car would be coming in. The employees were described as"universally hospitable, and perplexed" (racing cars are usually brought to races on trailer hitches so they will not be damaged). Once the New Orleanians arrived at Bonneville, they managed to pass the technical inspection and were allowed to race. In the end, car 504 (numbered after the New Orleans area code) drove at a top speed of 162 miles an hour, nowhere near 256 mile record. To the team, the top speed was less important than the fact that the car survived the trip, and that the team was able to represent New Orleans at a national racing event. And, after all, the Stikin' Linkin' outraced something far more meaningful to the group than a world record, that flooded car drove faster than hurricane Katrina ever blew. (162 mph vs 150mph)

"you see that car over there? that car sat in flood waters that loved ones died in, and we transformed it into something beautiful, something to make the folks back home proud, even those that are no longer with us."- J.T. Nesbitt on the Stinkin' Linkin'

Oh, and if all of this isn't cool enough, they also built a tall bike.


Friday, October 5, 2007

Photo essay

Colin and I both got flat back tires this week from biking over the ridiculously potholed streets in New Orleans. We have been walking to classes because we haven't really had the time to put the new inner-tubes in. I have taken these daily walks as an opportunity to take some cool photos of things in our neighborhood. therefore, I present to you my photo essay "things I saw this week going to and from classes".

from top down
a) green house collecting toilets
b) fence growing ferns
c) a local church
d) nun statue on porch
e)Katrina placed chair
f) banana flower

Toad in the Hole

Or rather, frog in the cup. This morning I awoke at 6:15 as I do every morning and sleepily wandered out to get the Times-Picayune. The last two weeks I have really begun to notice the encroaching winter season, as it is still quite dark when I walk onto the lawn. A few times I have startled geckos who were still out hunting for bugs. This morning as I leaned over to get the paper I saw a little brown gecko go running away from me. Then I heard a distinctive 'plop' noise. As I turned around I saw a plastic cup buried under some plants next to the porch and directly where the gecko had run. Thinking that the gecko had managed to enclose itself in the interior of the cup I picked it up. To my surprise it contained a frog, who had apparently been startled by either the gecko or I. I brought him in to show to a very sleepy Colin and grab a few photos before returning him and his cup to whence they came. The photos are not my best, but I was dang tired.

Friday Cat Blogging

Hodag has recently taken to trying to help me study for classes. The problem is that cats think that the best way to help someone with something is to lay directly on it. Here he is helping me prepare for my epidemiology exam on Wednesday, notice the paper under his head, which is the study sheet I was trying to use.