Showing posts from January, 2007

Saint Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is only two weeks away. It's more a holiday for women than men, or so it seems to me, but today I found an interesting post that might change that at least a little bit.

First of all, here's a card for everyone that reads this blog--but don't take it too much to heart if you're a guy. I'm just sayin...

Now that we have the card givin' out of the way we can get to the blog post that caught my eye a few hours ago. It's from a craft blog--I bet that got the guys fingers twitching towards the back button--from Mia, a woman located in Perth Australia, who runs a website named One Hour Craft. She's also got a blog called Mia's Cloud.

Now it's quite true that for the most part crafty blogs are totally oriented towards the fairer sex but in the case of this one post--not so much. You see Mia posted about making Valentine's Day string panties a few days ago. Now that's a present it'd be great to unwrap--or simply gaze upon fo…

no knead bread

Yes, I'm probably the last person who bakes on the planet that's not tried the no knead bread recipe yet. I've been teased about this by a fellow baking hobbyist who I work with so I'm breaking down and trying the recipe this week. I'll post pics in a few days when I've done the baking.

One reason I've resisted is that I don't think baking bread from scratch is that much work. Of course I use a stand mixer so the real amount of kneading I do when working from scratch is minimal. Actually the work is brief and consists more of punching the bread down to redistribute the CO2--which is easy work compared to kneading bread dough.

That pic to the left is a loaf of bread I made using the old fashioned kneading method--albeit with the kneading done with my mixer over there.

In the meantime, for those out there that aren't familiar with the no knead concept it's based on a recipe published in the New York Times on November 8th, 2006 in the Dining Section b…

headaches and cold

Most of last week I was having really bad headaches. Now I always have sinus headaches to one degree or another but these headaches felt different. I think I narrowed down the reason for them to it being related to dry air. Yes, dry air.

I've heard other people complain that dry air would give them headaches but it'd never happened to me before but after having horrendous headaches last Tuesday through Thursday I went to Wal-mart and picked up a $25 humidifier. It's a cute thing with a water tank that holds something like 3 or 4 liters of water and uses heat to create the mist. It also has this little cup in which you can put smelly stuff to scent the mist. I'm using eucalyptus. Anyway, this seems to be working well. Last night I woke up 4 times with a headache and each time I leaned out of bed, over the humidifier, and breathed in the steam directly for several minutes and the headache went away. It's like magic!

The negative part of all this is that I really can…

Ostrich poop found here

I took these pictures last Fall while visiting the NC Zoo. On the left you can see what appears to be a nice polite ostrich just wandering around. This impression soon turns out to be false when her dowdy tail feathers raise up and reveal a puckered anus. Ewwww! If you look carefully, you can see that she's made a deposit on the ground. More ewwww!

Feel free to click on the image to make them bigger. Details can make all the difference in these shots.

In other matters, aren't those really bony legs they have? And couldn't they have a little more color?

Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma

I finished reading The Omnivore's Dilemma last Saturday morning just before going to that Science Blogging Convention I posted about last Sunday. It's a book that is very difficult to put down. The book is well written which is no surprise since Michael Pollan has long been a contributing writer at the New York Times as well as a professor of journalism at UC Berkley.

Pollan asks the question "What should we eat?" in this book and the answer occurs organically during the course of the book. By the time you've finished the last chapter you'll know the answer to that question and I doubt it'll be the same as before you started the book. In that sense The Omnivore's Dilemma is revolutionary. It will affect the way you look at food and change your world view of the morality of food and of the government agencies that have aided in making our food choices of today what they are. Is that a run on sentence? It felt rather long and breathless.

First of all, le…

Do you know the muffin man?

In February I'm going to go on a one month regimen of not eating animal products. I've not had any meat in two weeks so in a way I've already started. I have, on the other hand, been eating a lot of eggs.

They've all been in the form of muffins. Each batch of 5 or 6 muffins requires one egg and I've made 8 batches in the past 4 days. 10 muffins a day I've been eating. And that's about all I've eaten in that time span.

By the way, to the left is my muffin maker--it does 3 at a time and takes about 6 minutes per batch-- along with the mix I used, an egg and some milk (actually half and half).

I can't explain these little food craze things I go through but it's been true all my life. One week it'll be mac & cheese casserole or maybe lasagna and that's all I'll eat...until my next interest comes through and that could be pancakes, pork chops, cheese and crackers or anything else. It's very unpredictable.

I know a lot of people need v…

Sonic Hedgehog

There's an interesting article on Sonic Hedgehog in the January 18 issue of Nature. I'm used to seeing this gene mentioned when discussing mammalian function or development but not fish--although the article refers to cartilaginous fish only. While both humans and cartilaginous fish are vertebrates we diverged so long ago from the chondricthylans that it's easy to forget that we still share quite a few genes.

One of those genes is Shh, commonly referred to as Sonic Hedgehog, pictured over there to the left. Shh, in mammals, encodes a signaling molecule that plays a central role in developmental patterning, especially of the nervous system and the skeletal system. It's highly conserved and mutations in the gene result in serious maladies such as holoprosencephaly type 3. I'm familiar with Sonic Hedgehog due to its being implicated in causing tumors and thus of interest to cancer investigators.

Getting back to the article in Nature, it demonstrates how Shh is conserved…

Knights of Prosperity

Rant: there's spoilers contained herein so avoid reading this post if you intend to watch this week's episode of Knights of Prosperity but haven't done so yet.

Last chance to turn back folks.

Okay. I got suckered into watching the show again by JerseyDude. I'm sure he meant well--or maybe it was a practical joke. It's hard to believe the show has a legitimate fan.

This show has the premise that a group of blue collar n'er do wells have come together to hatch a plot. The plot being to rob Mick Jagger's Manhattan apartment. Not likely, I agree, but I can see how you could float this idea to get a series funded. After that of course you have to deliver something and this television show delivers nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Tonights episode, you ask? Well, the Knights have decided they need to get one of their members inside the security team that guards the Jagger apartment. Due to a very unlikely situation one guy on the team gets noticed favorably by the Jagger secur…

television roundup

Here's a brief break from serious science posts. Let's talk some television.

I watched a show last week that was dreadful. It was originally supposed to show in the Fall but kept getting bumped. The name is The Knights of Prosperity and the episode I saw was so bad that I immediately deleted the show from my recording list. I didn't want to take a chance on seeing another episode by accident. It was that bad.

Last night I watched a half hour show on Steve Irwin that's named Crikey, What An Adventure! I'd recorded from Animal Planet on Sunday. It's being played a bunch of times this month along with Ocean's Deadliest, the special that Irwin was in the process of filming at the time of his death. I'll watch Ocean's Deadliest tonight and expect that it'll be quite interesting albeit sad since we won't be seeing anything new from Steve though it does seem like Bindi, his daughter, will be getting a lot of exposure.

A week and a half ago CBS…

Salvia divinorum

Have you ever heard of Salvia divinorum? I hadn't until this morning. There's a brief article about it in The Daily Tarheel, the student newspaper here at UNC.

Salvia divinorum is a hallucinogenic drug that's legal in most states and available in head shops The article even identifies the two locations here in Chapel Hill that carry it. Scary stuff, especially if you have college age kids. I'll have to forward the article to my brother and his wife.

The active ingredient in it is Salvinorin-A, C23H28O8, which is available from chemical supply houses though I suspect it's regulated to some degree. The drug was characterized recently by Bryan Roth, a pharmacology professor here at UNC, back in 2002 in an article in PNAS. According to him, the only affect Salvia has is on the kappa opiate receptor in the brain. The psychoactive mechanism for this was identified by Daniel Siebert back in the 1990s.

The drug was originally derived from a plant that is a member of the sage…

Science blogging conference

A few days ago I mentioned that I was going to attend a one day conference on the topic of science blogging. Yesterday was that day and the conference was very good. The organizers (Anton Zuiker, Bora Zivkovic, Brian Russell & Paul Jones) did an excellent job--particularly when you consider they were pulling this off with a shoestring budget and a lot of volunteer time. The meeting was well organized--Anton seemed to be everywhere at once making sure everything was running well--ran on time, and the speakers were fantastic.

After some beginning remarks by Anton about the conference and Bora about science blogging in general the main program started. The morning session was comprised of two lectures with lots of Q&A afterwards. The lectures were by Hunt Willard, director of the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, who gave a very informed and pertinent lecture on how best to approach disseminating science knowledge whether via blog, print media, or even press confer…

angiogenesis and Warburg Effect

I work in cancer research and of late I've been investigating the affects of some chemicals on angiogenesis, particularly as it relates to breast cancer. Now I'm a technician, not a PI, so my nose is to the ground and I often miss the big picture since my concerns are oriented towards the day-to-day research. As a result, I often get tunnel vision and only look at cancer through the prism of my research.

In this case that means that I frequently think of cancer as only developing when there's plenty of oxygen available--which is reasonable since as a fast dividing group of cells, a cancer tumor needs lots of energy which would seem to imply oxidative reduction, not glycolysis--which requires sufficient vascularization and thus angiogenesis.

However the cancer picture is more complex than that and the Warburg Effect is one example of that. Some tumors actually preferentially grow in the absence of oxygen and use glycolysis as their primary source of energy. They do this by bl…

Athletes and modes of consciousness

I was watching a basketball game the other day (UNC defeating Clemson 77-55) and I was contemplating how the announcers would often remark on a player's focus when shooting from the free throw line. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my brother regarding Tiger Woods last summer.

He mentioned how focused Woods was when approaching the tee and I said that it was quite possibly the opposite. From what I know of how the brain works--and that's definitely not my area of expertise--one of the dividing lines between talented amateur athletes and the professionals is probably how much the professionals can avoid focusing consciously on their activity.

I know that sounds stupid but hear me out. We tend to think that we control our body's movement. Sure, there's a lot of evidence that events take place that way. We want to raise an arm--and that arm goes up. Wink an eye or tap a toe--same result. That sounds pretty convincing.

A simple version of how these things take plac…

insomnia and snow in north carolina

The weather here in North Carolina has taken a turn for the colder. The same is true for most of the USA. The global warming train has taken a brief break--at least here in my neighborhood.

I woke up this morning around 3am and couldn't get back to sleep. I was bored and started taking pictures of the time/temperature readout up on my wall of my bedroom.

As you can see, it was quite chilly last night and it got colder as dawn approached. In fact, as you can see in the picture below--we had our first snow accumulation of the Winter. It's less than an inch but it looked so pretty. Kinda annoying to drive in but other than having to drive a little slower the commute was painless.

It's been raining a little bit but despite that there's still a fair amount of snow outside my laboratory. I brought my camera in to work with me in the hopes of taking some pictures of a snow covered campus but unfortunately I had to much work this morning to be able to go outside and now more than…

blogging and science

Ren and I are going to be spending the next two weeks apart. Tragic, I know. This has nothing to do with us and everything to do with work. Work...

Ren and I both regard work as a necessary evil--she'd rather be sleeping and I'd rather be reading but nobody has offered either of us money for those activities so we still go to work.

Back to the topic at hand: Ren's job is going to be more stressful for the next 2 weeks. They're doing a major installation which for a variety of reasons--that's code for "I didn't understand her explanation"--requires warm bodies in the department at all times. 24-7. Merely being on-call just won't cut it. So for two weeks everyone in her department will be working 12 hour on/off shifts.

Ren needs at least 8 hours, preferably more, sleep a night. Between driving to and from work, feeding herself and those other necessary activities, she'll only have 10 hours open and her kids and the fur patrol (4 cats and a dog) wil…

Tara Fitzgerald, Hugh Grant, and Robert Mitchum

I didn't have to work today due to Martin Luther King Jr's Day. I watched a few movies off of the hard drive on my DVR to free up some space. One of them, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, from 1995, I'd recorded over a year ago. I should never record movies because I just never seem to get around to watching them. The other movie was an oldie from 1958 Thunder Road starring Robert Mitchum (he also co-wrote the theme song and managed to direct the movie and produce it as well as having co-written the screenplay -- busy fellow, it was almost a one-man operation though his son James, playing Mitchum's younger brother Robin in the film, helped out too).

They were both good movies but Thunder Road was pretty dated in terms of acting. The male leads, Mitchum and Gene Barry, who played a Treasury Agent, acted well but Mitchum's son was a little stiff and the women were dreadful. Maybe the casting was done to make the male leads shine brighter in …

chair repair 101

On Sunday I had my favorite chair give way. Perhaps it's my increasing girth or more to the point, weight, that did the deed but I'd like to point the way to a different culprit.

Here's the scene of my hasty and somewhat clumsy interim repair. It took a little time to diagnose since my first impression of what went wrong was a false one. I thought a binding strap had given way--it looked like it'd ripped--but apparently it was supposed to be that way.

What had actually happened was that screw there on the table amongst the repair items had sheared right through. Even with my 220 lbs on the chair it shouldn't have done that. Perhaps the screw was faulty?

As we get a little closer to the screw we see that it's not a factory fault but rather a design issue. To save a little money the company used filled screws instead of solid ones.

No doubt every metal fitting on the chair is of hollow fill fittings. I'm amazed that the chair has lasted as long as it has. I'v…

movies on DVD

I saw three movies on DVD this weekend. I checked all three out of the library which is closed on Monday so I might watch a few more of the special features before I return them. The titles are The Sentinel, Match Point, and Mission Impossible 3.

The Sentinel: I just finished watching this one a half hour ago. I liked it but thought the first half was a lot more interesting than the second half. The reviews of it I've seen weren't too complimentary. They mostly wrote it off as a generic "secret service protecting the president" flick much in like with movies like Eastwood's In the Line of Fire. I'd agree with that for the second half of the movie but I thought the first half showed some originality in exploring the interplay of agents behind the scenes as well as illustrating more of what they do on the job when the cameras aren't on them. Is it enough to make it worth buying or renting? Probably not but it's good enough entertainment if you can get i…

Decisions on Friday

I should never make decisions on a day when I wasn't able to get any sleep the night before. They tend to be hasty and not well thought out. But here goes...

I think I'm going to switch to the "dark side" for a month using February First as the kickoff date. That it's the shortest month of the year is just good luck. Ha! The darkside in this decision is going without meat. Vegetarian. Eeek. God I need to get more sleep--I'm already regretting this.

And since this has nothing to do with politics or being sensitive to the needs of other animals but rather is a test to see how sensitive my IBS ridden innards are to animal proteins--I'll probably jettison eggs as well and definitely cheese. God I need to sleep more. This is a hasty decision.

The best aspect of this is that maybe I'll lose some weight. I'm 219 as of this morning and that's a good 40 pounds over what I should be. There's no way I'll drop back under 200 but going to 210 would be…

70,000 visits and counting

This is my 587th post and in an hour or so the 70,000 discrete visitor (repeat visits don't count on any given day, people are only counted once per day) will be taking a look at my blog. Want some more numbers? It's 26f outside right now and that's just too damn cold for me. I know lots of people endure much colder weather--but I moved to the Southern US for the warm weather. Nobody mentioned that it'd still get below freezing down here too.

Half my last 100 visitors were from the USA and the rest were scattered across the globe. Not surprising most are in English speaking countries since I'm not multilingual.

I've been experimenting with preparing beef steaks this past week. It's not a food I normally eat so there's a learning curve involved. I've taken pictures of my mistakes but I'm waiting for something to actually taste good before posting about it. I suspect it'll take another couple of days, I'm afraid. At least it's adding a…

Fjuckby by any other name

Fjuckby is a village in Sweden.

According to Wikipedia, prior to the 1930s, the village was known as Fjukeby. In the 1930s, the spelling of the name of this small historic town was changed to Fjuckby. As you can imagine, that has caused a lot of jokes to emerge from English speaking peoples due to the similarity to the word "fuck" and also the Swedish word "juck" which means the same thing.

In December 2006 the inhabitants of Fjuckby applied to change the name of their village back to the original spelling of Fjukeby.

Now there's only something like 65 people in the town so how much ribbing and ridicule can they be enduring? You'd think a town that small would want to get noticed. Hell, it's probably the reason for the name change in the first place. After all, they might not have been familiar with the English word "fuck" back in 1930 but they surely knew about the Swedish word "juck" since they are in Sweden. I guess this fits into th…

Omnivore's Dilemma

I've finally started reading Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. I've had it for over 6 months and am only getting started on it now. I'm only on page 57 and it's already gotten me pissed off multiple times as well as given me quite a few things to think about.

For example, in 1919 a typical farmer in the USA would be able to support his family and 12 other people, producing on average 20 bushels of corn per acre. And at that time about one in four people living in the USA lived on a farm.

Contrast that with today when there's only 2 million farmers yet those few produce most of the food that we need--and in many areas a lot more than we need. Each farmer now produces enough food for 129 people and each acre of land grows 200 bushels of corn. Each number about a 10 fold increase in less than 90 years.

The reason for this change? Improved crops, of course, particularly corn, as well as using better equipment such as tractors instead of horses. But it …

Next by Michael Crichton

Let's start out by my saying that I don't think Crichton's written a real novel in quite some time and this book, Next, is not an exception to that. However I did enjoy reading it and I would recommend it for people with an interest in or fear of genetic / science research.

Let me justify my remarks a bit. I think Crichton is a very good writer when he bothers. However he's only got so much time and his creative energy is split in many directions which results in books that are multipurpose. Lost World and Prey were little more than movie scripts spun into books. State of Fear was a polemic on global warming much in the style of Da Vinci Code. Crichton's current book, Next, is a different type of non-novel. This book is like a few Powerpoint slides filled with bulleted points but fleshed out in a fictional fashion. The result is what seems at times to be almost random jumps between thinly described characters--characters which serve mainly to illustrate the potent…

bad weekend

*whew* This has been a bad weekend for me. I've been kinda sorta sick the whole time. I don't know if it's a mild cold or really bad allergies (my girlfriend got another cat--this makes 4!--so I might be reacting to it) but in either case I just don't feel good.

As a result I've been doing a lot of sleeping and reading but not much else. Ren and I replaced a wall switch that had stopped working --it controls the fluroescent lights in the kitchen-- but that's the only project we bothered with.

I only watched half the UNC / Florida State game 'cause I was so tired that I kept falling asleep. Sad. UNC won the game (84 v 58) and I really wish I'd seen more of it. Zzzzzzzz...

meat and phallic concerns

Meat. Sure, it tastes good but it's also damn similar to the stuff that makes us able to be-bop around every day, the muscles that comprise our own bodies.

This is what I ended up buying a few days ago when I went shopping for those meats on sale at Food Lion. The only round eye roast there was a bitty little thing. Just over 2 pounds. I bought it anyway but I had been hoping for something bigger. Along with the bitty roast I bought some chicken breast filets and a package of sweet Italian sausage.

As you can see below, I chopped up the roast into small "steaks" for later cooking. I wrapped everything in plastic wrap to hold in moisture and then aluminum foil and labeled them with size, cut, and date. Have you ever noticed how much sausage looks like penises (peni?)? It makes taking the skin off a little disconcerting.

These are the cuts I derived from the eye of round roast. They're very pretty!

Here's a little detail artfully arranged. It's fun playing with you…

squirrel bootie plus corn

I bet you thought that I meant to say "porn" not "corn" up there in the title. Ha! Just because this is about squirrel butt doesn't mean it's pornographic. This is more in the theme of a nature post, y'see.

These pictures were taken on my parent's deck the day after Christmas.

The one to the left is a squirrel nervously eyeing me as he snacks on some corn. I was using my 12X zoom but he still didn't like me snapping pictures of his dining experience.

I probably took at least 50 pictures of this nature. Each time I put out another ear of corn there'd be a little battle and the winner would sit on the perch and eat the kernals. Some would fall to the deck and the losing squirrels would rush in and grab the loose corn.

Some times the dominant squirrel would chase the others away and sometimes he'd not bother. It was interesting trying to snap pictures of this battle of will, but ultimately it didn't work very well. Those rodents are so damn…

beef: it's what's for dinner

Yeah, I know. The title has bad grammar but that's what the ad agency came up with for The Beef Council so I decided to use it too.

At left is a picture from the ad for this week from the grocery store that I usually go to. As you can see, the round section is on sale for half price and I'll probably pick up a eye of round roast tonight, after work, if any look good.

The "Round" sections come from the back end of a cow and are one of the tougher cuts since that's the working part of a cow. It's the equivalent of our buttocks and hamstring muscles, I think. These muscles are best used for pot roasts or if brasied. You can also cut the roast up into steaks but again, you'd want to braise them since there's not a great deal of fat in this section of meat and the muscle fiber is tougher than that in other areas of the cow.

My intention is to cut the roast into steaks and then freeze down most of the cuts. Eventually I'll braise them, probably on my stove…


Right now my 2007 resolution is 6 Megapixel and I don't think that's going to change this year.

Okay. Wrong type of resolution to be talking about around the New Year but even though I've had my camera (Panasonic DMC-FZ7) for nearly a year now--I bought it late last March--I still love it.

I guess my New Year's Resolution would be the traditional lose weight and exercise more--but everyone knows that we all break that one, so what's the point?

Hey, how about Mother Nature making a resolution? No big hurricanes or tsunamis? Earthquakes? No to those also. Same goes for volcanos. There's a great resolution!
The nature thing has been a bit sloppy here in NC the past 2 days. As you can see from these two pictures, we're getting rain here.

The picture above is of my deck where you can see that there's standing water with raindrops making ripples. The picture to the left is a small tree in my backyard, with my shed as the backdrop, and a little bird shivering in th…