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Showing posts from February, 2007

shopping for deals

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Yesterday I did some bargain shopping. First I went to Kohl's online store and picked up a hooded sweatshirt, crew neck sweatshirt, a t-shirt, and a fleece pullover and it all totaled up to $22.50 --before tax and shipping, anyway. I love bargains! Most of the stuff was 80% off.

Speaking of bargains, Wall Street had a big sell-off yesterday. The stuff I had was all small companies that weren't affected much. I dropped around $150 in value. I couldn't constrain myself from buying more tho--and now my cash balance is practically nil. But at least I didn't stretch out and use margin. I've done that in the past and got burnt bad. Charred limb type burns. I can't say that I've learned my lesson since I was out on margin just a few weeks ago but at least I'm a little more cautious now.

Anyway, the lovely stocks I picked up are PCYC and THLD. The first company, Pharmacyclics, is a pharmaceutical company that is developing drugs to treat cancer. Their drugs are …

Echinacea

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Everyone who takes Echinacea recovers from their cold. Of course everyone who doesn't take Echinacea also recovers. That's the nature of the disease. It can make us miserable for a few days, but with the exception of vulnerable folk with compromised immune systems, everyone gets better after those few days.

So why take Echinacea? Perhaps you have too much money and want to spread it around a bit. LOL Or more likely, you just feel like you have to do something. This is particularly true of parents who hate to see their kids suffering. But if you have to do something...why not try chicken soup? At least it tastes good.

Colds are caused by rhinovirus and many drugs and treatments have been tried over the years to either cure the disease or make the symptoms more bearable. Echinacea and chicken soup are just two of the many things tried. In fact medical studies on echinacea were done as far back at 1908 when two articles were published on that subject in The Journal of the American …

The Black Donnellys

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There's a new tv show on NBC tonight, at least here in the US. It's called The Black Donnellys and it follows the trials and tribulations of 4 Irish American brothers. According to the NBC site: this gritty series bears witness to the Donnelly brothers' sudden involvement in organized crime, focusing on how they go from boys to mobsters, and showing how their new life affects their relationships with friends, family and lovers.

I saw the 4 actors that play the brothers on The Today Show this morning as well as a few clips from the show. It looks like it has a lot of potential and there's certainly a lot of buzz about the show. Partially this is due to the show being written by Robert Moresco, who also wrote Million Dollar Baby and Crash.

The bad thing about this show is that it marks the demise of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, one of my favorite shows of this season. I can't believe the lackluster 30 Rock is surviving when Studio 60 isn't. (both shows are based …

global warming and yeast

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The title of this post is actually referring to my post yesterday. If you put yeast in a mild sugar solution, say grape juice, they'll use that sugar to create their waste product, ethanol. You see, many organisms that live in liquids have evolved with the assumption that their wastes will dilute out to the point where they won't hurt them. Yeast and ethanol is one example, certain types of bacteria and acetic acid is another example.

In the "wild" these organisms have no difficulty doing their thing--but pesky humans enclose the yeast or bacteria in limited spaces and those waste products build up. We do this because we don't have any interest in the bacteria or yeast--it's the waste products that we really want. Sounds kinda gross, huh?

Wine and vinegar are created when the microorganisms create so much waste that they kill themselves--at which point humans bottle the resulting liquids and then sell them.

Now you might see how I'm making an analogy here to…

Of acids, descaling and my sinuses

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I love my humidifier. Since buying it a month ago my sinuses have given me a lot less trouble. Leaning over the unit and directly breathing in the hot moist air has decreased my sinus difficulties in a big way. However, while I do love the humidifier I certainly don't love taking care of it. Particularly not the scale that builds up quite rapidly on the thermal unit in the base. Since the humidifier goes through a couple of liters of water--and since my water is from a well with lots of mineral content--a night, there's a lot of mineral salts building up. I need to descale every week.

The typical descaling method is to soak in vinegar. Vinegar is mildly acidic having around 5% acetic acid and a pH of around 3. Traditionally vinegar is produced by allowing bacteria to oxidize a fermented solution, typically wine or hard cider. This process takes considerable time, weeks at least and more often months. Some expensive Balsalmic vinegars are aged for decades.

That's acetic acid …

no wheeze, no sneeze cat

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Cats. Anyone who's read this blog for a while knows I have a love like-hate relationship with cats. For one thing, they make me sneeze, itch, sometimes even wheeze. The other thing is that a pet is supposed to worship you--gotta love dogs for getting that right--and cats decidedly don't do that. No, not even a little.

What brings up this subject of cats and allergies is an article in the January Issue of The Scientist titled Felis Enigmaticus. Cute title. The article lightly reviews the science of producing "knock out" animals and more in-depth goes over the claims of Simon Brodie and his company Allerca. This is the company which made headlines last year with their claim that for $4,000 you could buy a hypoallergenic cat from them in the near future. That claim resulted in Time Magazine awarding Allerca's cat with one of Time's honorable mentions as the Best Discovery of 2006.

First of all, it's important to know what a knock out animal is. We use them in …

communication skills in prokaryotes

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I was reading the February 2007 issue of BioTechniques--doesn't everyone?--and came across something interesting in a profile of a professor at Princeton University.

It seems that Dr Bonnie Bassler is very interested in communications issues. From my varied relationships with the fairer sex this seems to be a constant interest with women. However Dr Bassler has worked a twist into this issue. Her work is purely with bacteria. Yes, bacteria. Bacteria and communication issues. Germs can talk?! Who knew!

It all started when Dr Bassler went to a lecture which had as its core how certain deep sea bacteria use bioluminescence to signal, a topic now called quorum sensing. I still can't get over bacteria talking. Anyway, Dr Bassler quickly signed up to work in this area of research and has since found that bacteria do communicate in a large and diverse number of ways--the method of communication depending on the environment that the bacteria has adapted to. (or for any IDers out there: …

The Amazing Race

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It's a little weird that this season is called All Stars. While there is one team that won their season and two teams that came in second most of the teams finished a lot lower. In fact the modal finish was 4th place (3 teams) with another finishing 5th and two teams placing 6th (and Danielle who finished 7th). All Stars? Hardly. It's also-rans.

Despite that, I do think this will be a lot of fun for anyone who's watched the race before. Most of the teams are interesting and it should be fun to see how well they play together. There's a good mix of teams that compete compassionately and teams that go for the throat. In my humble opinion, it's the Beauty Queens that are the most brutally competitive. They finished Season 10 in 4th place but really deserved to do better. They were eliminated mainly because they'd screwed so many other teams over that everyone wanted them to lose. I wonder how they'll play the game this time?

So who would you pick to win? I have …

blessed be the cows

As of 6:35pm today I am off that no-animal diet that I'd been doing the past 3 weeks. I ended the diet with two roast beef sandwiches. Mmmm. Toasted oat bread with two slices of provolone cheese and 4 slices of roast beef in each sandwich with just a little horseradish in there too. And then toasted a bit so the cheese was just starting to melt. It was a religious experience! Maybe tomorrow I'll start back on milk chocolate...

I bought a pound of both the beef and the cheese so I'll be doing this several more times. Cows are so special.

The Amazing Race: All Stars

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After Ren left to go back home I watched 60 Minutes and The Amazing Race: All Stars. TAR was the first episode in the new All Star season. It's really kinda ridiculous but I love that show. I didn't think I'd like this new format--but I was wrong. I just eat this show up.

There's only one team that I don't like though two of the other teams have one member annoys me. The team I don't like is the cousins and they managed to squeak by elimination tonight. Darn. My favorites are Rob and Amber, of course. He's so competitive he pisses a lot of people off but I enjoy the humor he displays when he's trying to get ahead. The guys in Team Guido strike me the same way. In the first season they were rather mean spirited but I suspect the past 5 years have mellowed them a bit. I won't give anything away about the episode since I know a lot of people haven't seen it yet. Here's a link where host Phil Keoghan talks about the new show a bit.

Mary and Ian a…

weekend roundup

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Ren and I watched two movies today. Inside Man by Spike Lee and The Da Vinci Code by Ron Howard. I'd heard a lot of bad things about Da Vinci Code so I wasn't expecting to like it, especially since I thought that the book wasn't written very well. Imagine my surprise then when I found myself liking the movie. I thought the movie held the interest and theme far better than the book did. Shortening the globe trotting that goes on was a very good move on Howard's part. In the book, Brown just didn't know when to stop with the continuous clues to yet new locations or the preaching about the Feminine Devine stuff--the movie handled it a lot better.

Inside Man really impressed me. I was quite taken by the movies pace and approach to giving hints and clues in very small doses. While I have some reservations about the final scenes of the movie that didn't spoil the enjoyment of the excellent pacing and writing of the movie. And talk about an all-star cast. Denzel Washin…

new pet

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The newest resident of my house is a little white puddle. Isn't it cute?


Okay. It's not a real dog. It's one of those sentimental Valentine's Day critters. And no, nobody gave it to me. I bought it on Friday at a clearance sale. But at half price it was too cute to walk by. I covered up the sentimental sign on the front with the apple. Maybe apples are the fruit of original sin, but hiding that sign is no sin!

Research, monkeys, and influenza

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In 1918 there was an outbreak of influenza. That's not unusual. Most winters see a flu going around. That's been true ever since British trading ships began circulating from China back to Europe and the Americas in the late 1700s. You see, birds are the main reservoir for the flu virus and since many birds are migratory, seasonal patterns of flu transmission occur. Many of the flus we experience have their root in shallow Siberian lakes where ducks spend their summer. When the weather turns cold, the ducks migrate to China and infect people with the flu virus, which in turn is transmitted to British sailors and then those sailors would bring it back to Europe with them. Year after year.

Most years not many people died but occasionally the virus would be particularly deadly and hundreds of thousands would die in a pandemic, sometimes, like in 1889, over a million would die. But never in human history has there been as deadly a pandemic as the 1918 flu, often called the Spanish F…

movie review

I took 3 movies out from the library last week. Accepted, Pirates of the Caribbean 2, and Derailed. I never watched Derailed. I looked at the movie trailer on the DVD for the movie and didn't have any interest in it at all. Apparently it's about two married people who have an unplanned affair sparked from a chance meeting on a subway--and during their tryst a person robs them...and then uses the contact information he gleaned in the robbery to blackmail them. That's all far too sordid for me so I didn't watch it. Did any of you like it?

Pirates had a huge budget and it shows. Shows? Hell, it's more like the money is a stinking polecat (skunk) being thrust at your face--you just can't ignore it and while it's kinda pretty, it's not entirely welcome. I didn't dislike Pirates 2 but I can't say I enjoyed it either. To me it was like a 2 hour commercial for the third movie. And that's more than a little annoying. It's a very polished movie but…

I have heat and CBAK

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Happy St Valentine's Day everyone. I did the flower thing and for some reason they were delivered yesterday. My girlfriend didn't mind but I was a bit annoyed. Judy--what's going on with your industry? LOL I bet it is a wee bit stressful for florists this week.

I sent roses to Ren and tulips to my parents. 18 of one and 20 of the other. A lot of plants lose their lives to this little celebration.

As of 4pm Tuesday, I once again have heat in my house. Thank God! It's about to get cold again and I'd not want to have my heating unit on the sideline when the mercury drops below 20f again like it's supposed to later this week.

The bad news is that the repair cost almost $500. To be exact, it was $498.75, and that was almost evenly split between the labor cost and the R-22 (freon) that needed to be put back into the system. More than 10 pounds worth at $22 something a pound. Hell, prime Kobe beef costs less than that!

On the stock front I bought 1,000 shares of China B…

no heat but I do have bread

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I still don't have any heat and it's a mite cold in here but since it's 10 degrees warmer outside tonight, it's not as bad inside either.

As you can see here, the repair fellow did make a visit to see me. He checked out the underbelly of the house first since that's where the periodic ills of my HVAC system are usually found.

While he was there he dropped the fan speed of the unit. The thing had been set so high it was like a gale was blowing through the house everytime the heat or A/C went on. And the noise!

However despite careful and studious examination of the system, no problems were to be found. Thereupon the examination made its way to the outside unit.




Yep, that's the inside of the outside unit. That makes for a rather confusing sentence, y'know?

Most of the unit is empty space but the outer rim is lined with heat exchange coils like the radiator of a car. But it was the tubing in the middle that contained our errant part.

The repairman told me it was qui…

Onyx Pharmaceuticals (ONXX) and over reacting

I've been watching Onyx Pharmaceuticals for 6 months now, ever since I bought a few shares of their stock. I posted about it at that time. As you can see from that link, the stock was sharply down on some bad news and I bought my shares at the corrected price. That was due to my feeling that the stock had been unjustly punished by the market for news that didn't really hurt their core business very sharply.

Today the stock is soaring on good news. To wit, a report that stated that their Nexavar cancer medicine, which they share with Bayer, helped patients with liver tumors live longer. While it is certainly good news for the company, I don't think it's good enough to warrent the stock moving up 80%--yet that's what has happened. Biotech stocks really do move irrationally. It's like watching the mood swings of a 13 year old girl. And oddly enough that's half the fun of investing in biotech stocks. Go figure. (and in case you're curious--I did sell it, I d…

Brrrrr

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It's damn cold in here. My heat isn't working. AGAIN! I was at my girlfriend's place for the weekend and when I came back home it was 55f in here and the heat was on but no hot air was coming out. This has been happening every now and then for several weeks but it's difficult to get it repaired when it's not consistently not working.

Up to now it's just been the electric coils that would sometimes not work but this time the heat pump isn't doing its thing either. That's why the title on this post. I turned off the heat a few times tonight since sometimes that's all it needs to get going again--but not this time--so it's staying off for the entire night and I'll see what happens in the morning. It's 53f in here now and since it's hovering at the freezing point outside, it'll be around 48f in here by the time I wake up. Getting out of bed in the morning will be quite the challenge!

I've owned this place for 3.5 years and the HVAC…

Apples and The Botany of Desire

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I'm currently reading Michael Pollan's book The Botany of Desire. I'm in the second section that relates to flowers in general and the tulip in particular. However this post concerns itself with the first section of the book, the section which focuses on apples.

I never really thought about it much but if I had, I'd have probably assumed that apple trees were grown from seeds. Oddly enough it turns out that's not usually the case. You see, apples are a very sexually expressive species. The progeny vary extensively from the parents. So you can have a tree that bears great apples and find that not a single seed from that tree results in a commercially viable apple tree.

If the story stopped there you'd probably have never eaten a single apple--and not even have heard of them. The apple tree first appeared in Kazakhstan, a former republic of the Soviet Union, where it still grows wild. The wide variety of characteristics contained in the seeds has allowed the apple …

pictoral exploration of no knead bread

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A few days ago I posted that I was going to make some no knead bread. I finally did so 2 nights ago and here's some pictures of the process:

First off you gather the dry ingredients like so...


then you add some water, in this case 1.5 cups and then stir them together so they look like this


after that you put the dough into a warm place for an overnight incubation. I started this at midnight and it only took about 5 minutes to mix the flour, yeast, salt, and water together and place them in the microwave. No zapping! I only used the microwave because it was an easy place to store the bowl with the dough.


After 18 hours the dough had almost doubled in size. It was on the small size due to the house not being very warm.


I then dumped the dough, which was quite sticky, onto a well floured surface. In this case it was a silicon baking sheet on my cutting board. The silicon sheet worked quite well.


You then fold the edges up onto the middle. You're not supposed to punch it down but I coul…

Evolution and Hedgehog

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I read an article in Seed, a science publication positioned between the serious research journal and the wide circulation science magazines, the other day that sparked my interest.

The article focused on the role of hedgehog, a gene I mentioned in a post the other week, in how the Mexican blind cavefish--pictured over there to the left--lost its eyes over time.

The article, written by Pz Myers, explores various biological explanations for why a species would lose functionality, such as flightless birds or eyeless fish. The species he focuses on is the Mexican blind cavefish which dwells in underground rivers where they are never exposed to light.

The first explanation, economical adaptation, is the one I learned in college, long before DNA analysis was available. This type of adaptation says that it requires a finite amount of time, energy, and effort to build an eye so that over time, if the eye doesn't contribute to the welfare of the species, the eye will cease to be made. This ex…

TV, Pollan, and a movie

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I finished reading a 3 book series by Gordon Dickson, a SF writer, earlier tonight and then immediately started reading Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, the book he wrote prior to The Omnivore's Dilemma. So far the Pollan is interesting but his conflation of how evolution works can be quite irritating. In Omnivore's Dilemma he had some literary reasons for making that error but in this book that reason doesn't exist. It's starting to appear that he's a mite confused on the mechanics of how evolution works. He does have the Darwinian aspects correct, at least.

I took a break from the books to watch some television and a movie that I borrowed from the library. The television was The Class (good but a little flat compared to other episodes), How I Met Your Mother (pretty bad), and Heroes (an addictive show--with a surprise ending, as usual). Before I watched those shows I started to watch a DVD, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby but only got about …

Vegetarian

I've been on this no animal parts or pieces diet for 5 days now. It's not as easy as I was expecting. Just on Sunday I had at least 5 incidents when I couldn't eat something that hadn't initially occurred to me as being forbidden. The worst was when I was going to eat some malted milk balls--but the name gave away the problem there--but that led me to the obvious thought that MILK CHOCOLATE was also not on my menu for February. That was an ugly thought. VERY ugly. Not long after that I gave a bag of cheese puffs to my girlfriend to take home with her because I knew it would start calling my name from the cabinet.

Those were all obvious foods not to eat that hadn't occurred to me. Less obvious was pancakes. I was thinking they were like pasta, flour and baking soda. Nuh-uh. They have eggs in them. Dammit.

At the moment I'm not eating fish or honey either but those are up for review soon. I suspect I'll be having dreams about tuna fish sandwiches soon.

Overnight…

some snow on UNC

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Here's two pictures I took a few days ago when we got some snow here in Eastern NC. By northern standards it was a laughably small accumulation but that's not how it seemed to people here. A lot of people didn't go to work and many schools canceled classes.

The picture below is where I work at UNC. My lab is on the second floor. It'd been snowing for a couple of hours by the time I got into work but only about an inch was sticking to the ground in Chapel Hill at that point. It kept snowing for another 3 hours then transitioned into freezing rain.


Since I grew up in upstate NY it all seems silly to me. We'd not have a delay in school even if a foot of snow dropped overnight. About the only thing that would delay or cancel school was if it got real cold. Once it got more than 30 degrees below zero (farenheit) the furnaces had trouble keeping up and they'd cancel. It's rare for the temperature to drop below 10 degrees here. By contrast, the town that I grew up …

More thoughts about the Pollan book

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Micheal Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma is one of those books that you keep on thinking about long after you finish reading it. I wrote a review of it a few days ago in case you're interested.

The reason I bring this up is that today while driving past a number of cow pastures on my way to work---have I mentioned that I live in a very rural area?--I was thinking of Pollan's description of Polyface, a small self-sustaining farm in Virginia, and their methods of keeping cows.

Joel Salatin, the owner of Polyface, doesn't just put cows out in a pasture, which is the common practice elsewhere. What they do at Polyface is only allow the cows in any given area for a short period of time and use light portable fences to keep them in that one area. The reason for this is that cows, not surprisingly, like to eat the grass that tastes the best to them. In fact they'll crop that type of grass right down to the ground which often kills the grass. Then the cows will move…

New Blogger

I doubt many people will see this since everyone that regularly looks at this blog has the address Utenzi2 bookmarked, but this is the post-transition Utenzi. Wheee.

Yesterday Blogger finally forced the issue and made me move over to their new version. A little dose of Fascism to brighten our day. And to continue the tradition we've established--Blogger and I--they screwed me again. Now the Dashboard interface won't let me publish to Utenzi2 just like, many months ago when I moved over to Beta Blogger, they wouldn't let me publish to Utenzi.

It's difficult to keep an audience when every 6 months or so Blogger forces one to change their web address. Assholes.

Hopefully they'll allow me to publish again to what reluctantly became my regular address at Utenzi2--I've got a help request in to that effect--but if not, I'll have to send out requests for everyone that reads my blog to change their blogroll address for me. And of course the indexing organizations like…

vegetarian for February

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Okay. As of 45 minutes ago I became a temporary vegetarian. I'm already mourning the loss of cheese and butter. I suspect missing eggs will follow soon. The meat I can go without pretty easily for a month but denying myself cheese and butter will be tough.

As Roxanne reminded me the other day, there's lots of tasty edibles like muffins that contain these banned substances. In the case of muffins it's eggs. That'll go for cake also. Sure there's mixes that only need water but that's because they already have egg solids within them. So I can't have them either.

On the other hand, I get to eat as much rice, beans, and pasta as I want. Potatoes and bread too. Just no butter on that bread or potatoes. And no meat sauce on the pasta, and no franks or bacon in the beans. It's going to be a long month--but fortunately it's the shortest month of the year!

For anyone just seeing this blog for the first time, I've got a bunch of food sensitivities and so I…