Thursday, December 28, 2006

Scrabble report

To start my new hobby (see post below), I just (1) e-mailed the director of my local Scrabble club to ask for advice, and (2) spent a couple of hours playing a computer Scrabble game. Among the words the computer suggests are my best plays after I play much lamer words:
  • fixt (past tense of "fix")
  • jivey (jazzy; lively)
  • pice (a former coin of India & Pakistan)
  • weel (well)
  • odea (theater or concert hall)
  • vinier (more covered in vines)
  • coelome (coelom-a type of body cavity)
  • umiaqs (umiak-like a kayak)
  • jo (a sweetheart)
  • mazedly (the adverb form of "maze"--to daze, perplex, or stupefy)
  • inarm (to encircle with the arms)
I am mazed. Clearly I have much to learn.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


I have always wanted a hobby. I envy people who cannot wait to get off work and do . . . whatever it is that people do when they're not working, watching movies, reading, chatting, or watching tv.

An incomplete list of hobbies I have tried and discarded:
  • knitting (I got bored with my projects before I finished them)
  • sailing (I have no gross motor skills, and I fear open water)
  • running (I broke my foot)
  • candlemaking (messy)
  • photography (I never wanted to bother carrying my giant camera around, plus I kept forgetting how to load the film)
  • cooking (I got tired of spending $30 and two hours to make something I could get for $6 at the Thai place on the corner)
The one hobby I do enjoy is backpacking, but it's hard to make it a daily or even weekly thing because it requires (1) a couple of free days, (2) a hiking partner who has the same couple of free days, and (3) decent weather.

Anyway, now I'm considering a hobby I half-heartedly thought about getting into a couple of years ago: competitive Scrabble. Yesterday I reread Stefan Fatsis's excellent book Word Freak, which is all about the colorful characters who populate the highest ranks of the competitive Scrabble scene. I love their weirdness and their dedication. I love the massive levels of concern over the composition of the official list of legal words. I love that it's a small enough world that I already know many of the major players and have favorites. I love that it requires no motor skills.

My city appears to have two Scrabble clubs, each meeting weekly. I'm going to go as soon as I memorize the legal 2-letter words. I don' t plan to abandon gainful employment so I can spend my time memorizing word lists, but I think I could become a decent intermediate player.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I just got a mass e-mail with the subject line "sex acts." Normally, I would have assumed it was just one of the fifty spam e-mails my school's spam filter lets into my inbox every day. But the "From" line named someone who frequently sends official school e-mails, so I opened it. I learned that members of the university cleaning staff have been complaining about something: the fact that they keep coming upon people having sex in the law school. When discovered, these couples do not even stop what they are doing; they just continue and assume the cleaning staff will return later.

So, yuck. Can people not take a break from studying long enough to go home for this? And have I been studying on tables where people have been doing it?

Anyway, if anyone in my readership is one of the culprits here, STOP HAVING SEX IN THE LAW SCHOOL. It's gross.

For more stories of inappropriate public behavior (and other stuff), check out True Porn Clerk Stories, a pretty wonderful online diary of a clerk who works in a video store with a porn section. I wasted hours reading it yesterday. Not appropriate for children or work.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Good, wholesome family movies

It's Thanksgiving weekend--a time for hanging out, cooking, chatting, eating, and (at my parents' house, at least) watching movies with family. It can be tough to find movies that are inoffensive enough for 8-year-old kids and 80-year-old grandmothers, yet awesome enough to entertain hipster youngish adults. Here are two such movies I've seen recently:

The Parent Trap (Hayley Mills version). This is a classic from 1961. Two 13-year-olds are sent to summer camp, where they discover that they are twins separated at birth. Everything about the story is satisfying, from the gradual discovery of their twinhood (Hey, we're identical except for our haircuts! Hey, we have the same birthday! Hey, you only have a mom and I only have a dad! Are you thinking what I'm thinking?) to the clever scheme involving them switching places to get their parents back together. The movie is relentlessly positive and feelgood--they don't even get mad at their parents when they realize the parents never told them about each other. It's fantastic.

Akeelah and the Bee. This is a inspirational movie about a kid from a bad neighborhood in L.A. who tries to get to the National Spelling Bee. It's on the formulaic side, but it's based on a good formula. Very enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Blue state

I would just like to commend my home state for not embarassing itself during this election season by passing anti-gay constitutional amendments, nominating racists, or banning stem cell research. Way to go!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My voting experience

I voted this morning, and it was a good experience. It was in a public library, and there was a lot of indoor waiting space, so I didn't have to stand out in the cold as I have in elections past. I had no voter registration card, and no one gave me a hard time about it. Still, there were a few kinks that caused me to have to wait for about 20 minutes even though there were only 5 people ahead of me.

Some suggestions to make things go more smoothly:

1. If you are a voter who fears technology, do not opt for the touch-screen voting when you have the paper option.

2. If you are the sole election volunteer capable of helping people with the touch-screen voting, do not take a break and disappear when there are multiple octogenarians who have just stepped up to the machines.

3. If you are in charge of flipping through the a hundred-page book to find a name that begins with the letter G, and the book is currently turned to the page with names beginning with "V," you can probably go ahead and flip more than one page at a time.

Feel free to comment on your own voting experiences.


It's election day, and most of you are in a serious battleground state, so you should vote.

My predictions for the most-talked-about issues here:

*Proposed Amendment 2 (amending the state constitution to allow stem cell research to the extent allowed by federal law) will not pass. Even though a good-sized majority of voters polled are for it, the grassroots effort against it is incredibly strong. Drive around looking at yard signs in the suburbs or walk into one of the bazillion Catholic churches in the area, and you'll see what I mean. I think some will vote against it because of true disagreement with the cloning & destruction of pre-implantation embryos, some because they're uncomfortable addressing these issues by constitutional amendment, and some because they have been misled into thinking it will lead to clones walking around.

*Jim Talent will beat Claire McCaskill, in part because of the high conservative turnout on Amendment 2.

*The tobacco tax will pass (despite record turnout in the smoker demographic) because nonsmokers really hate smoking.

*The minimum wage increase will pass, because the positive effects are easy to understand, while potential negative effects are based on boring and relatively difficult-to-understand arguments about ripple effects in the economy. I'm voting for it.

*Nationally, the Democrats will take the House but remain a couple of seats short of taking the Senate. For the Democrats to take the Senate, just about every close race would have to break their way. I don't see that happening.

I hope I'm wrong about some of this. In any case, though, I love election day. Turn on some NPR and CNN and enjoy yourselves, nation!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Two podcasts

Two things I love have recently been put into free podcast form, and I want to promote them.

1. This American Life. I discussed Ira Glass's brilliant radio show in an earlier post. Downloads used to cost money, but now each week's show is available for free download on iTunes the week it airs. Just subscribe, and you'll get them automatically. I am extremely excited.

2. Savage Love. You may be familiar with Dan Savage's fairly raunchy syndicated sex advice column Savage Love, which appears in most cities' weekly alternative newspapers. The author has recently started a free, 15-minute podcast version of the column, in which advice-seekers call and record questions, and he responds to a few of them. He admits that the first episode kind of sucked, but says he hopes to make future episodes less sucky. Even with some suckiness, I find him consistently charming to listen to. Worth a listen. It's available on iTunes too.

Can't get enough of Dan Savage even with the podcast? He's also the author of a wonderful book, The Kid, a memoir about the process by which he and his boyfriend adopted their child. He is also an occasional contributor to This American Life--you can search the site for his pieces.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Five places that make me happy

1. The front yard of the house where I lived from ages 2-10. There was a giant oak tree that shaded the whole yard. I spent many happy hours playing there. I don't really remember what I spent my time doing, but I think I sometimes made acorn stew.

2. The main quad at Notre Dame (aka "God Quad" because that's where the Basilica is). The golden dome towers over one end of it. The interior of the quad is an arboretum with tons of different trees. It's gorgeous and serene, and it's where I first fell in love with Notre Dame.

3. The kitchen of my grandparents' farm house. The best time was in the morning, with my grandma making eggs and bacon, homemade bread in the toaster, and my aunts and uncles from down the road stopping by for a morning chat.

4. The courtyard at my law school. You can sit in the courtyard's clean, comfortable chairs and tables for hours, enjoying the weather, studying, and chatting with the many passersby. Also, I made most of my law school friends in the courtyard, so it holds many fond memories.

5. Broadway Avenue in Capitol Hill in Seattle.
This is the sort of hip shopping/restaurant district in Seattle. What made it great was that in addition to the abundance of Thai food, feather boas, and used books you typically find in such neighborhoods, it also had two major grocery stores and a small Target-type store, so you could actually live there. For six years, I lived within two blocks of it, and I rarely needed to go anywhere else.

What places make you happy?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Helium shortage?

A few days ago, I went to the grocery store and tried to purchase some helium balloons. I was informed by a sign that the store was out of helium and that "This is a nationwide problem." So, I got to wondering about some things: Where does helium come from? Is there really a nationwide shortage, or did my grocery store just forget to pay its helium bill?

As best I could figure out, here's what's going on: Although helium is very common in the atmosphere, its concentration is too low to be usable. Most usable helium is found in pockets of natural gas in Texas, where it has been trapped after being produced by the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium. The federal government extracts the helium from the natural gas deposits and sells it to private plants to be processed.

The current shortage is probably caused by a combination of scheduled maintenance (fall is a low-demand time of year because of the lack of baloony holidays) and problems with processing plants in the middle east. Here is an article about it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ironing boards

I have an ironing board like this. Most people do. They are big, they take up closet space, they're kind of a pain to put up and down, and they make a sound when being set up that scares the cat. Also, they can tip over, causing irons to fall on small children or set fires.

Several years ago, I lived in an apartment in Seattle where I did NOT have to have an ironing board like the one above. The apartment had an ironing board built into the kitchen wall, much like this:

The Seattle board was even better than this because the storage box was actually recessed into the wall instead of sticking out. The board flipped down out of the wall, right in the kitchen. The iron was stored right there. It was an ironing paradise.

Note that this was not a fancy new apartment. It was a studio apartment in a building so old that the kitchen had an icebox (the system by which stuff was kept cold before the invention of refrigeration.) Clearly, the ironing-board-in-the-wall idea has been around for a while. So why are we moving backward as a society?

Welcome, Scarlet Panda reader #8

I noticed yesterday that someone has been coming to my webpage repeatedly from a blog called Barrington. I checked out her blog, and found THIS amazing shout-out. I am so proud. I encourage my other readers to check out her quite excellent blog.

I fear she will stop reading if I don't start updating more frequently, so I'm going to make some effort in that regard.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why Studio 60 Sucks

I love Aaron Sorkin, but Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip sucks. Five reasons why:

1. The SNL-type show-within-the-show is not funny.

Aaron Sorkin's shows (The West Wing, Sports Night) are about brilliant, passionate people who have completely dedicated themselves to their work. When Sorkin characters have a problem to overcome, they use their dedication and brilliance to work on the problem, and sometimes they emerge triumphant. Then the audience goes, "Wow, they're awesome!" It's satisfying.

On The West Wing, this formula works: Toby pulls off a political maneuver, the bill gets passed, the audience can see that something great has happened. The bill was passed against all odds! Wow, they're awesome!

On Studio 60, here's how the formula goes: the challenge the characters face is to pull off a funny show in light of some obstacle. Someone writes a sketch. All of the characters talk about how funny it is. We see the sketch. The studio audience laughs. We are all supposed to go, "Wow, they're awesome!" Except that they are not awesome, because the sketch was not funny. Not at all. It was a tired Gilbert & Sullivan parody or a dated Juliette Lewis impersonation. There is nothing to satisfy the audience.

2. The characters are not sufficiently dedicated to their work.

As I said in #1 above, the essence of a Sorkin show is dedication. On Sports Night, Sorkin managed to make us care about whether a sports show was good because we felt like the characters would do anything for the show. Here, it's not clear to me that the characters give a crap about whether the show gets cancelled, so why should I care?

3. The writing is too much about how smart Aaron Sorkin is rather than being smart itself.

Literary allusions are great if they are understood by a good portion of the audience and serve the story by providing a shorthand that helps illuminate the plot or characters. More obscure allusions are fine if they are quick references that can be appreciated by those who get them and ignored by those who don't (The Simpsons does a lot of that). Studio 60's allusions meet none of these criteria.

For example, in the last episode, we had to watch two characters spend a scene basically saying, "Hey, our subplot sort of follows the same simple plot as this Strindberg play, so let's have several minutes where we talk about the Strindberg play and how it's similar to our subplot. Strindberg Strindberg Strindberg." We get it, Mr. Sorkin. You know about plays.

4. Sorkin is under the misapprehension that simply repeating some variation on "Christians are bad" is either a joke or somehow instructive.
There are constant references to "Crazy Christians" and how they don't like science and believe in creationism. There's a Christian character on the show, and most of her interactions involve the other characters talking about how they disagree with her. There's no humor or depth. It is almost too boring and pointless to even be offensive.

5. It tells rather than shows.
There's an actress on the show who is supposedly really talented, well-liked, and funny. How do we know? Because the characters constantly announce it. We have never seen her be particularly talented, likeable, or funny.

I suspect that this show is on the fast road to cancellation.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Cult of Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's annoys me. It's not the food they have, some of which is good. I like the little pretzel things that are filled with peanut butter. It's the bizarre, cultish devotion it seems to create in its patrons. You know the people I am talking about. You're sitting at a work lunch or at a party, and they offer you a weirdly spiced cashew or some ginger snaps. Then, inevitably, they feel the need to tell you, "They're from Trader Joe's." When they tell you what they had for dinner last night, it wasn't just stir fry, it was "stir fry from Trader Joe's." They read Trader Joe's newsletters. Everything is Trader Joe's this, Trader Joe's that. It is unnatural.

I bring this up today because I happened upon this newspaper article today in my local paper that recognizes the Trader Joe's cult phenomenon. Among the many articles and sites devoted to Trader Joe's, I found blog devoted to tracking Trader Joe's-related news and an account of one person's recovery from the obsession.

You can't even buy an individual piece of fruit there!

Llama llama cheesecake llama

I love this video of The Llama Song. Watch it. Listen to it. Love it.

I don't think it plays music until you hit play, but just in case, you shouldn't click on the link if you're currently in Federal Jurisdiction or something.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bear Shock

Can you imagine this happening while you're asleep in your tent? Well, I can. That's why I have never had a decent night's sleep on any of my many camping trips in bear country. It's also why I always thought I would never be able to go camping in grizzly-infested places like Glacier National Park. But that may be changing: in Backpacker magazine yesterday, I I read about the Bear Shock electric fence. It's a portable, 3.7-pound electric fence that runs on two D batteries and allows you to enclose a 30 ft X 30 ft area. When a bear touches it, it gets a 6,000-volt shock. During testing by the National Outdoor Leadership School, it was extremely effective at turning back bears coming into camp for food.

Of course, this not as good as my idea of fencing off an entire state or two for those hikers who want to remain bear-free. Still, it means we're moving in the right direction.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Baggage claim

Now that you're not allowed to carry toothpaste or mascara onto an airplane, almost everyone checks bags. This is good news during the flight, because there is more room in the overhead compartments. It is bad news at the baggage claim.

There are two ways a flight full of people can deal with the baggage carousel:

Approach #1: Everyone stands back from the carousel about a foot, forming a large circle or oval whose circumference is large enough to accommodate everyone from the flight. Everyone can stand comfortably, can easily see the all bags as they come by, and can step forward when their bags come.

Approach #2: Everyone can try to cram themselves right up at the edge of the carousel, forming a small circle or oval whose circumference is NOT large enough to accomodate everyone. Half the people on the flight have to stand on their tiptoes or peer around people to see the bags coming. If they actually do see their bags, they have to squirm through the mass of people yelling "excuse me" and trying to get to their bags before the bags move on.

I have yet to see any flight full of people choose approach #1. Even if a few bright people are standing back, once some morons start in with approach #2, everyone else has no choice but to join in.

I encourage everyone to write to airport managers and designers and encourage them to paint some kind of lines on the floor around the carousels to tell people where to stand.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The most depressing songs ever

Someone has written a book entitled I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You've Ever Heard. There's a review of the book here.

The list of depressing songs includes "One" by Metallica and "Seasons in the Sun" by I don't know who. The #1 most depressing song? The Christmas Shoes. I feel so validated.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Pimp Tax

At a work lunch yesterday, someone mentioned that a congressperson had recently introduced a bill to impose a "pimp tax." My coworker described it as an attempt to discourage prostitution by taxing the pimp's proceeds. Of course, as I pointed out to my coworker, a pimp's income is already taxed, since gross income means ALL INCOME FROM WHATEVER SOURCE DERIVED, including illegal income. So we looked it up online, and found that it is apparently not a new tax at all, but an imposition of increased criminal penalties for pimps who don't pay their taxes.

It's not that interesting, but the phrase "Pimp Tax" makes me laugh.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

toothpaste for dinner

This is one of many awesome installments of the webcomic toothpaste for dinner. It's darwn by a research chemist named Drew who lives in Columbus, Ohio. It's really hit-and-miss, but sometimes it is hilarious. Slate featured it in a Slideshow Essay. Check it out.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Looking for Scarlet

The other day I got an awesome e-mail. Here's the essence of it, some quoted and some paraphrased:

"To some of you I am going to come across as being crazy and to some I may be viewed as being romantic and I'll deal with however I'm judged if it means finding the girl who took my breath away." I'm looking for a woman named Scarlet from University X and this was my only hope of finding her. We met at the airport in City X while waiting to board a flight to city Y, and we also talked when the plane landed. Scarlet had an "electric personality," "amazing eyes," and "long straight brownish blond hair." I should have asked her for her number but I was too afraid. "If you're not her and don't know her, I apologize for wasting your time but I had to make an atempt to find the girl of my dreams."

The "To:" line of the e-mail included dozens of addresses, all of women with the first name "Scarlet." Apparently he went to the University directory, typed in "Scarlet," and e-mailed everyone who popped up.

Creepy? Or has someone just seen too many romantic comedies?

My problem with myspace

The career services office at my school recently reminded my fellow students and me that potential employers, in addition to reading our cover letters and resumes, might research us on the internet. They warned us to clean up any myspace accounts or blogs that might place us in an unfavorable light.

I don't have a myspace account, and I'm pretty anonymous here. Someone truly dedicated, like a stalker, could probably figure out who I am, but a potential employer would be unlikely to put in the required effort. Anyway, there's not much here that's embarassing.

So what's the problem? When you google my name (in quotation marks), you get eleven hits. Ten of them are me--my name is unusual. These hits all correspond with my resume in a way that would say to an employer, "There's only one Scarlet Panda in the world." One of the hits, however, is a myspace page that belongs to the world's only apparent other Scarlet Panda. In addition, the google listing for this page shows a, shall we say, "off-color" poem involving my (her) name. I will not repeat the poem here. Those who know me (or any stalkers) can find it for themselves--you have to click on the Google's "cached" version to see the whole thing.

I find this upsetting. What can I do? Can I sue someone? Get my own myspace page so that it's obvious there are two of us?

Sunday, March 19, 2006


This weekend, I went on a lovely two-night backpacking trip with warmfuzzy, fishfrog, and nell. It was a bit cold, but the trail was a good level of challenging and the company was good.

Backpacking is one of my favorite activities, and one I should make the time to do more often. It's cool to know that you can survive (even in bad weather) with just what's on your back. It's fun to play in streams and identify trees with nature books. Most important, it's great because it's such a complete vacation from my normal life. The normal things I deal with--e-mail, school books, driving, television, phones, clocks--are absent or irrelevant. My only worries are things that I don't usually have to think about too much--whether it's light outside, how close I am to a water source, what the weather is like, how to protect my food from animals. It's such a completely different way of life that I really feel refreshed when I get back.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Listen to this band: The Vacation

I saw a great show last night by a band everyone should listen to: The Vacation. I went to high school with the lead singer and guitarist, twins Ben and Steve Tegel, respectively. (Ben's in the middle in the photo; Steve's on the right.) Even if I hadn't, though, I would be a fan.

Their music is pretty simple, really catchy rock. It's very easy to like. If you're interested in such things, their influences include the Velvet Underground, the Sex Pistols, Guns 'N' Roses, and the Rolling Stones. I recommend "White Noise" as a starting point, but all the songs are good. Their first album is available on Amazon and iTunes, and it's being rereleased by a major label soon.

A review from the BBC is here. An article from Filter magazine is here. Their official website plays music automatically when you go there, so I am not linking to it, but it's


Monday, February 27, 2006

Adrian Mole and Karl Pilkington

I've been re-reading a very entertaining book over the last couple of days: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4. It's a fictional diary kept by an English teenager, and it's hilarious. If you're in the mood for a quick, light, entertaining read, I highly recommend it and its sequels.

I believe the Adrian Mole books are quite well-known in Britain, though I don't know too many people here who've read them. Fans of the Ricky Gervais podcast may be interested to know that Karl Pilkington thought the diaries of Anne Frank were "an Adrian Mole sort of thing." I've also seen the character of Karl compared to Adrian Mole, though I don't think they're really similar. Adrian is much more of a go-getter than Karl.

Listening to the podcast (which includes Stephen Merchant reading excerpts from the diary of Karl Pilkington) has affected my reading of the book. As I read the Adrian Mole book, I hear all the lines as read by Stephen Merchant, which makes them even funnier.

Out There TV

Thanks to superelectric, I have just discovered an awesome TV show: Out There TV. If you enjoy my posts about reptilian shapeshifters and contrails, this is the show for you. In the first 15 minutes of the show I watched, they mentioned tons of standard conspiracy stuff: aliens at Roswell, Bohemian Grove (a place where world leaders gather for strange rituals and planning the New World Order), the possible fakeness of the moon landing, a recent UFO sighting, David Icke (reptilian shapeshifter theorist), and evidence that the September 11th attacks were orchestrated by the U.S. government. They also had some more timely information, such as a theory that controversy in the Muslim world over the Danish political cartoons was orchestrated by the U.S. to promote the "clash of civilizations" that it needs so the New World Order can take over the world. It's must-see TV.

The show also addresses some pretty mainstream stuff--secret NSA wiretaps, surveillance cameras and facial-recognition software in public places, and the administration's suckering of the American people into an unnecessary war with Iran. One thing I find interesting: conspiracy theory types are generally thought of as extremely right wing, due to their distrust of the federal government (and, sometimes, anti-semitism.) But they have a lot of overlap with today's liberals in their views of war, privacy, and civil liberties. And man, do they hate Bush. The two groups should team up somehow.

You can find out where to watch it here. Most of my readers can see it on channel 51 (not cable). Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2006


You know what's the greatest plot device ever? The body switch. Two characters, typically with very different personalities, switch bodies. Hilarity ensues. I defy you to watch a movie or TV episode involving a body switch and not be mesmerized.

At the moment, I'm watching an old episode of Angel. Angel has, against his will, switched bodies with some old guy who doesn't know Angel is a vampire. It's awesome. The old-guy-as-Angel is having totally inappropriate interactions with Angel's friends and acquaintances--hilarious! And there is drama too--what if the old-guy-as-Angel goes out in the sun, and Angel dies? How will Angel get his body back? I love it.

While TV can do a good body switch story, the best examples are in film. Here are my top five:

1. Freaky Friday (Jodie Foster version)
2. Vice Versa (starring Fred Savage and the brilliant Judge Reinhold)
3. Freaky Friday (Lindsey Lohan version)
4. Big (not quite a "switching" movie, but the same idea)
5. Like Father, Like Son (starting Kirk Cameron)

Other suggestions are welcome.

Wasted effort

I went to my apartment's gym yesterday. I biked for miles but went nowhere. My fellow gym-goer repeatedly picked up heavy objects, only to put them down again. At all hours of the day, all across the country, millions of people are doing this. I got to thinking about what a ridiculous waste this useless expense of energy is. We need to do something about it.

Instead of running on a treadmill for an hour, why not run to work? Or run errands for people who don't have cars? If you want to pick up heavy stuff, why not pick up some boxes or rocks or something that someone needs moved?

Even if this would be too difficult to organize, it seems like we should at least hook up the nation's treadmills and elliptical machines to some sort of generator. Am I wrong?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Immortality for $31, shipping included

Today's topic: Alex Chiu, inventor and general crazy person.

Alex Chiu is most well-known as the inventor of "Eternal Life Rings" ($31), devices which grant the wearer immortality and cure a variety of diseases. The devices work using magnets to alter your circulation somehow. He has gained a great deal of notoriety from these inventions. Interestingly, in addition to selling the rings, he provides instructions on how to make them yourself.

But the immortality rings are not all there is to Alex Chiu. There's really no way to organize a description of this guy, so I merely provide you with a sampling:

On religion: He believes completely in the Jewish religion but is not a Jew. He thinks the Bible was a big astrology chart, and he's a big fan of finding Bible codes. He has proven, using stock charts, that God is a mathematical formula.

On biology: Animals are living magnets. Once you get this, biology and evolution are easy to understand--he explains them through animated GIF's--"A must study for all scientists." Also, if you want to make your own cells, he provides instructions (it involves boiling a few vegetables and leaving them on the stove for three days.)

On the future: In the future, food will be free (like air) because it will be farmed by robots in skyscrapers. We won't have an illegal drug problem because everyone will use debit cards instead of cash and no one will dare buy drugs with a debit card.

Miscellany: He hates Confucius. He loves Alicia Silverstone. He loves his cat and would choose him over Hilary Duff. He thinks anyone from Taiwan who doesn't consider himself Chinese doesn't deserve to be immortal.

I encourage all of you to browse Alex Chiu's extensive website. Also, here's an interview with him from slashdot.


Hoosiers of the St. Louis sort

To most Americans, the word hoosier means "person from Indiana." Indianans proudly call themselves hoosiers. In my native St. Louis, however, the meaning of the term is rather different: it's a very insulting term meaning, basically, "hick" or "redneck." Oddly, the hoosier-as-hick usage seems to be totally specific to the St. Louis area.

The Wikipedia article on "hoosier" specifically mentions the strange St. Louis usage: "In the St. Louis area of Missouri and Illinois, a hoosier may be someone who is lower-class and white (like white trash and redneck)." The Urban Dictionary lists 20 definitions of hoosier, 10 of which focus on and explicitly mention St. Louis. [One reader gives an example of how to use it: "I got cut off on Highway 40 this morning by some fucking Hoosier driving a Hemi covered in American flags and "W" 2004 stickers."] In a long essay exploring the origins of the term hoosier, Jeffrey Graf of the University of Indiana devotes two paragraphs to the St. Louis usage.

So what is a "hoosier"? And why do St. Louisans use it in a way that no one else does? Well, no one really knows. Some think that it originally meant country bumpkin and that the negative usage faded almost everywhere but St. Louis. Others think it was originally a greeting--"who's there?"--that got slurred over time. The links above list other theories.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Cat challenge

Here's a little challenge of your understanding of the piebald spotting gene, elementary genetics, and (most important) ability to search for cute animal pictures on the internet.

Suppose the two cats below mate. Think about what the resulting kitten would look like. Find the cutest kitten you can that could result from this mating, post it (or a link to it) in the comments section, and explain its genetics. I want to see some cuteness, people.


Lessons in Cat Genetics, Part II: White paws and bellies

Many cats have color on their backs and heads but have white paws and a white belly. However, you almost never have a cat that is white everywhere but colored in the paws and belly. What's going on?

The answer can be found in the piebald spotting gene, abbreviated "S." During early kitten development, all of the pigment producing cells (melanocytes) are located close to the animal's spine. During development, those cells migrate from the spine area down toward the cat's sides, belly, legs, and paws. That process is controlled by the "S" gene.

Some lucky cats have two "good" copies of the S gene--SS. In those lucky cats, the pigment cell migration process works perfectly. The cells get all the way to the cat's feet. Lucy is an example:

Other cats have two "bad" copies of the S gene--ss. These cats still have pigment cells, but those cells don't migrate very far. So you get a cat that is more than 50% white, like this one:

Other cats have one "good" copy and one "bad" copy--Ss. In these cats, the pigment cells can get pretty far, but not all the way. That's how you end up with the very cute tuxedo cat:

The piebald gene illustrates something interesting about genetics: the phenomenon of incomplete dominance. Usually, if you have two alleles, one of them will be dominant. Suppose we're talking about human eye color. "B" is associated with brown eyes, and "b" is associated with blue eyes. Since B is dominant to b, an individual with one copy of each (Bb) will have brown eyes.

In piebald, however, there is really no dominant allele: SS, Ss, and ss all look totally different. We call that "incomplete dominance."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Read this book: Life of Pi

I finally read Life of Pi by Yann Martel, thanks to SquishyBurrito's recommendation and kind book lending. It is excellent. If at first glance you don't think you would enjoy a book about a teenager and a tiger stuck in a lifeboat, think again. It works as an adventure story, but it's also a much more complex look at faith and humanity. It's the kind of book that makes you want to belong to a book club because there's so much in it to think about and talk about. Read it. Thanks, squishy!

Next up on my catch-up-with-reading-over-vacation-plan: Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Other recommendations are welcome.