Friday, February 29, 2008

Friday cat blogging

Hello there. I am a cat. I am sitting on something FRAGILE, 'cause I'm a cat.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

the Return of Tuesday Bike Blogging

Some of you may remember Tuesday Bike Blogging from my old blog. I've been meaning to ressurect it for some time now, but kept putting off for one reason or another. Well, no more procrastinating. Tuesday Bike Blogging returns today.

I took this photo with Nora's camera on Mardi Gras, after we had returned home from Zulu. The door behind my bike is the front door of our house. Those are Mardi Gras beads decorating the bike. I had hoped to decorate the bike earlier that weekend, and ride it like that to some parades. But we had bike troubles, and were unable to ride our bikes to many parades.

And yes, my bike is still wearing all those beads, save one string that fell off while I was riding to campus one morning.


Monday, February 25, 2008

All I wanted to do was go grocery shopping

Apparently, that was way too much to ask.

Last week, I noticed that the truck had a flat tire. This is the second flat we've had since we moved down here. The first flat was quite an ordeal; there were a few other things that needed fixing at the time. When the tire went flat, I finally resolved to take it in to the shop. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the tire off the truck to install the spare tire for the drive over to the shop. I felt really silly asking for a tow for a flat tire: I should be able to fix a flat by myself, thank you.

The repair last time ended up including two new tires, and a rotation of the tires. This flat is one of the old tires, but it's in the same position as the first flat: rear, passenger side. I don't think they're entirely unrelated. I found a nail sticking in the tire this time, and I think both flats are a result of how and where I parked the truck on those two occasions (that might be best explained in an upcoming post).

Changing the tire took three hours. First, the lugnuts were rusted and stuck. A lot of WD-40 got them lubricated enough to loosen. Then I started jacking the car. Wait, I'm not supposed to do that yet: I have to get the spare tire out from the underside of the car first. So I jacked it back down, and tried to remember how to get the spare tire out. I vaguely remember seeing my father do this once, at least 12 years ago. But nothing seemed to work. So I asked Nora for help. We finally decided that that mechanism needed WD-40 as well. We also double-checked the internet to make sure it actually worked the way we thought it did. That gave us enough confidence that we were doing it correctly, that we went back and tried one last time. Lo and behold, it worked.

The tow last time cost $90, and doubled the amount of time it took me to get the car to the shop. And because I was stupid about it, I had to spend another $20 for a cab ride back home. The shop is about 3 miles from us, mostly along the river, out of the city and into unincorporated Jefferson Parish. It's an easy, pleasant, and safe bike ride along the river levee. So when I take the truck in tomorrow morning, I can drop my bike into the bed, drive over to the shop, leave the truck, and bike to campus (it'll be about 5-6 miles by that point).

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Ever wonder what you would look like if you were bald?

I have. Its one of those things that occasionally you think about, like "I wonder if I have a funny shaped head under this stuff?" Well, I will be finding out soon, since I am shaving my head on March 12th. I am participating in a St. Baldricks day event, where 'shavees' get sheared in support of childhood cancer research and to show solidarity with survivors of childhood cancers. The idea is both to raise money for, and awareness of, childhood cancers.

I know that most of the people who read this website are poor graduate students, but I am gonna ask each of you for a couple of bucks for the entertainment value of seeing me bald. The link above shows me with my current hair length, and I will be posting photos to that site of me once I have been balded. One of my friends down here in New Orleans swears she won't give me a dime unless my head is utterly bald, and waxed. So those 'bald' photos are going to make me look like Mr. Clean, high entertainment value I promise.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Cat Blogging

I got scared of the rain this morning on my way to campus, chickend out, and stayed home all day. It's okay; I only had one class, which I could miss, and had planned on doing homework all day anyway.

But the day home did give me a good opportunity to catch Hodag being cute. Here he is, completely zonked out on the bed:


Wednesday, February 20, 2008


New Orleans Produces some really interesting signs. Here are a few photos of some I have found traveling around I have been collecting for a while.

Leftover graffiti from Katrina. I guess this guy used his house as some kind of way station for rescue workers and victims. (Hence the "hotel isle of dry"). Notice the mold line on the fence itself, showing that his yard was full of about a foot of water. This was taken Uptown, less than a mile from our apartment.

More Katrina related graffiti (I think). This was posted outside of a never-reopened Chinese restaurant downtown.

Colin and I saw this sign during Mardi Gras. We both thought that two gold teeth should be worth way more than 150$. We found this sign looking for parking for the Zulu parade.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday cat blogging, Valentine edition

Happy Valentines day everyone! I know we are technically a day late, but Hodag wanted to be sure that you all knew how much he loves you.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Carnival Parades

Colin and I went to a lot of parades over the carnival season. Every parade is a bit different, there are mule driven floats which specialize in satire and home made costumes (Krewe deVeix) parades featuring only dogs (Krewe of Barkus) Historically black parades (Krewe of Zulu) and krewes who ride on motorcycles (Shriner's parade). To really understand Mardi Gras parades though, you first need to understand Krewes.

Krewes are the organizations that put together the money and riders for every parade. They are called Krewes after the first New Orleans parade association, the Mystic Krewe of Comus, who thought the spelling of crew with a k and an extra e looked more archaic. (shoppe anyone?) Apparently there are two kinds of krewes; those that are traditional, and the newer bigger superkrewes. Superkrewes tend to be larger and have more floats, with celebrities invited to ride on them, while the traditional krewes tend to choose their royalty from within and hold very old fashioned balls.

Grand marshal of the Endymion parade, Kevin Costner. Note that in the second photo Costner is photographing the crowd photographing him. Meta!

In the krewes with royal courts (king and queen, princess and or prince, dukes and duchesses, and knights) the royalty ride on special floats in more elaborate costumes. The more elaborate the costume the higher up in the hierarchy that rider is. Queens, princesses and maids are often debutantes. Some of the aristocracy (knights or lieutenants) ride on horses that accompany floats, and some parades employ horse troops that ride between official floats. Colin was noting that he found the combination of the masked riders and the flambeaux a bit too reminiscent of the KKK. I think you can see what he meant below.

Horsemen of Mardi Gras. In the first photo, we feature the scary KKK like rider wearing a Capucon (you can almost hear him saying ' I'm gonna get you, Jew!', but I think he is actually just tossing a doubloon). In the second, a less threatening rider who gave me a plastic rose. (My hero!)

If the parade is taking place at night, it is traditional for some Krewes to employ lit flambeaux or torches carried before each float to provide lighting. Flambeaux date from the era before electric street lights in New Orleans, and the flame carriers were slaves and then after the Reconstruction, creoles or free black men. Today it is often homeless or underemployed individuals who can make a bit of extra money for an evening of work. It used to be the case that parade watchers would tip the flambeaux carriers to make sure that they were compensated for the service they were provided, although I did not see anyone stuffing dollars into the pants of the flambeaux carriers we saw.

Flambeaux carriers and their torches resting momentarily as the parade is delayed during Endymion. You can see the kerosene tanks and the aluminum torch backings.

In the larger well funded parades you have multilevel decorated floats complete with masked riders who toss objects out at you as the floats go by. Except for Krewe de Veiux who use mule driven floats, all the floats we saw were driven by tractors from Kern's Mardi Gras world, the company that creates most of the Mardi Gras floats.

A tractor pulling a float at the Zulu parade, with a member of the royal party on board. A photo showing that the tractors are powered by Biodiesel.

Float exteriors are created from elaborately sculpted paper mache, then painted and further decorated with silver and gold gilt sheets. Some floats also have built in lighting. all of the float designs are made to match the krewe's parade theme for the year. This year, for example, the parade of Rex 's theme was "Royal Rivers" and featured the great rivers of the world, and the parade of Orpheus featured "Cocktail Concoctions" where each float represented a drink.

a float from the parade of Endymion with built in lighting, a float from the Hermes parade with gilt.

a siren from the parade of Morpheus, and Riki Ticki Tavi from Endymion's "Salute to Rudyard Kipling".

Between floats with krewe members, there are marching bands from local high schools or musicians on their own small, less elaborate floats. There were some amazing marching bands in the parades we saw, with flag girls, cheerleaders and high steppers. There was this hold up at one point during the Muses parade, and we were entertained by the impromptu music and dance maneuvers of the local high school band in front of us. It was strangely moving to watch these teen agers basically entertaining themselves and dancing and playing just for the pure joy of it. All I can say is those kids had more rhythm than I will ever have.

the steam powered calliope and band from Arizona, the most ridiculous band we saw.

Other than the parade of Krewe du Veiux, the only parade in which we saw krewe members walking was the krewe of Zulu, which had adjunct members parade in costume behind floats and between bands. Krewe du Veiux has its members walk because each of their floats is powered by a single mule, and the float revelers would be far too much weight for that poor animal.

Walking paraders from the Krewe of Zulu.

All of the krewe members, whether on horses, floats, or even walking carry with them throws. Throws are trinkets for the parade attendees, named after the phrase "throw me something, mister!" a phrase that is shouted at floats as they drive by. Throws can range from plastic beads in a variety of colors and sizes, to cups and doubloons with the krewe's name and year emblazoned on them. Small stuffed animals are also commonly thrown to children and cute drunk college girls. Probably the most treasured Mardi Gras throw are the hand decorated coconuts thrown by Zulu(Colin and I each got one, score!). Throws are perhaps the strangest part of a Mardi Gras parade, since they cost thousands of dollars and some people collect only one type of throw. We saw signs that people held up to floats with requests for just doubloons, or only beads. Also, people will get into arguments or fights over a particular coveted throw.

An assortment of cups and doubloons. Some of the small stuffed objects we received.

Throw me a Lemur, Zulu king! ( The Lemur was actually being tossed to the small child next to me.)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Obama on campus

I received this email Wednesday morning:

Dear Students:

I hope you all had a safe and enjoyable Mardi Gras. I am sure you all
noticed that this year's Rex was former chair and current member of the
Tulane Board, John Koerner. John certainly deserved this wonderful

Over the Mardi Gras holiday we also received a surprise request to host an
on-campus speech by Sen. Barack Obama tomorrow morning. It took considerable
effort for us to coordinate this event and its numerous details during a
time when the city was virtually shut down. However, despite the challenges
and hardships, I thought it was an important opportunity that we should not
pass up.

Sen. Obama's speech is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. tomorrow morning at Fogelman
Arena. Doors open at 7:45 a.m. This event is open to the public, but an RSVP
is strongly encouraged. Space is available on a first-come, first-served
basis. For more information or to RSVP please visit
For security reasons, please do not bring
bags or large purses. No signs or banners are permitted.

We are honored to have Sen. Obama speak on campus and, of course, welcome
requests from any other remaining presidential candidates to address the
university community. I hope you have an opportunity to attend this event in
what looks like a very exciting and historic presidential election year.

President Cowen
I arrived on campus at about 8:50. When I got there, the line went from Fogleman Arena, all the way up McCalister, and turned onto Willow. People later told me that it had reached all the way to Calhoun at one point. The line moved slowly and steadily, because they sent everyone into the arena via a metal detector. At 9:15, the arena was deemed full, and they sent the rest of us to the overfill area, in a courtyard behind the arena. I was in the overfill area. The official word is that there were 3400 people inside, and about 500 of us outside.

Before he went inside to give the real speech, Obama stopped outside to say a few words to the overfill crowd. He spent about 5 minutes with us, then went inside. The real speech started exactly at 9:45., and took about 45 minutes.

The speech itself was competent, and not too surprising. It was a pretty standard campaign speech, but written for a New Orleans audience. If I had to summarize it in two sentences, it would be: "New Orleans is a microcosm of the United States. It represents everything that this country can be, and everything that this country has failed to be." He discussed New Orleans's rich history of racial and social pluralism (Creoles, Cajuns, Free People of Color, Catholics, Jews, etc). He mentioned three fauilures of the government regarding the storm: the failure to competently build the levees, the failure to mobilize rescue operations, and the failure to help rebuild. He concluded by saying that the government should not do stuff for us, but rather should be our partner in doing things for ourselves. A friend later noted that he used the word "reconstruction," and that this suggested an interesting comparison to Reconstruction.

There was an obligatory joke about how we all appeared to be recovering well from Mardi Gras. This was followed by an apology for not coming down for Mardi Gras, and a joke that he didn't because any photos resulting from a his attending Mardi Gras would have destroyed his candidacy. He also congratulated us on native son Eli Manning's Glorious Victory in the Super Bowl. That was followed by the obligatory joke about how the Bears need a new quarterback, and is there another Manning brother than could play for the Bears?

Obama now has a video of the speech up on his website.

Mardi Gras Overview

Well kids, we did it we survived our first Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

On the whole Colin and I had a really good time. I was a bit afraid that the holiday would resemble a "girls gone wild" video, complete with teenagers vomiting on my shoes. Although raucous, occasionally violent, and definitely decedent, Mardi Gras was also family friendly, rooted in tradition, and evocative of much of what makes this city a wonderful place to live. It's enormously difficult to describe everything that surrounds Mardi Gras. This post will involve a brief overview of what Mardi Gras is like and what we did, and later posts will go more into depth about various parts of the holiday.

Mardi Gras itself kicks into high gear the weekend before fat Tuesday. Thursday-Tuesday are filled with parades and parties and balls celebrating carnival. Events begin to start several weeks before that, but the number intensifies as you approach the weekend before Mardi Gras.

Events are not limited to one area of the city, nor to one particular audience. Events take place in Uptown, the French Quarter, Mid City, and in the suburbs. The most popular events are parades, although each group that hosts a parade also has a ball and perhaps a party as well. For example, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club had a Lundi Gras Party (on the Monday before Mardi Gras), the parade itself on Mardi Gras morning , and then a ball on the night of Mardi Gras.

Events we attended:

Parade of the Krewe du Vieux French Quarter, (1/19)
Parade of the Krewe of Hermes Uptown, (2/1)
Parade of the Krewe D'etat Uptown, (2/1)
Parade of the Krewe of Morpheus Uptown, (2/1)
Parade of the Krewe of Muses Uptown, (2/1)
Parade of the Krewe of Endymion Mid City (2/1)
Mardi Gras Indian practice West bank, (2/4)
Parade of the Krewe of Orpheus* Uptown(2/4)
Parade of the Krewe of Proteus* Uptown (2/4)
Parade of the Krewe of Zulu Mid City/ Uptown (2/5)

* we didn't really intend to be at these parades, Colin had a friend who was celebrating her birthday, and it turns out celebrating meant hanging out on the parade route


Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday cat blogging

Hodag really seemed to enjoy Mardi Gras. Every time we came home from a parade he would investigate all the loot we had received and play with the beads. Here he is late last Saturday night after our return from Endymion.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Biostat exam

Hey everyone, I promise to add photos of Mardi Gras with commentary as soon as I take my first Biostatistics exam on Friday. Expect in depth coverage by Saturday of parades, Mardi Gras indians and throws. In the mean time, please enjoy this Binomial Distribution table:

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Hey, we've been there (volume 2)

The Giant's Causeway is a natural rock formation on the northern coast of Northern Ireland. It is one of Northern Ireland's most famous tourist destinations, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sadly, it appears that global warming is threatening to flood it.

Nora and I went there on our honeymoon. It's surprisingly large; this photo shows about a fifth of the formation.

The rocks have arranged themselves into hexagonal columns. The formation is a combination of basalt and chalk, and was created by volcanic activity. If that sounds vague, it's because I don't want to offend Dean with my ignorance of geology. I will let him fill in the details.

Nearby, there is an "island" that is disconnected from the mainland by a small gap. Fisherman used to build a rope bridge across the gap every year for fishing season. The British government now maintains a permanent rope bridge, which also gets a steady stream of tourists.

The bridge is about 100 feet long, and the drop looks to my eye to e about 200 feet. The bridge is really rickety, but perfectly secure.

Unfortunately, there isn't a good, canonical article about carrick-a-reed.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Ontario sucks! (For Sam)

Some of you may remember that when I was writing my thesis on quarantine and SARS I went a bit crazy. You may for example remember me wandering around muttering about how much I hated the province of Ontario because they had done such a poor job with infection control during the SARS epidemic in 2002. During one of these rants, Sam Smith found and played for me the "Toronto Song" by a band called Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. The song is all about how much the province of Ontario sucks.

Yesterday in Entomology we learned about the black fly (family Simuliidae) which is the main vector for African River Blindness. In discussing the Black fly, our professor said that they were remarkably stubborn in attempting to feed on humans and painful when they bite. Later in lab she mentioned that there was this folk song all about black flies, called appropriately enough, the "Black Fly Song". It is also about how awful the province of Ontario is, because it is filled with Black flies.

I will give our neighbors to the north this though, the beaver IS a noble animal.