Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best Science Stories of 2008

Discover Magazine recently put out a “Year in Science” Issue which I have now read cover-to-cover, with jaw dropped. Of course, I heard about some of the stories as they happened, but others passed me by somehow. It is amazing what we can do these days. So, I picked out my two favorite science stories of 2008 to share.

1. Invisibility

No kidding. It was actually two years ago that a team of engineers announced they had discovered the technology for creating an invisibility cloak, but this year scientists have learned that they can create this material to conceal objects from anything that travels as a wave. That includes light, sound, and even matter (at the sub-atomic level). Also, they found a way to give the material (actually called metamaterial) a thickness and heft so it can be used out of the lab. Here’s how it works: “To cloak something, concentric rings of metamaterial are placed around the object to be concealed. Tiny structures—like loops or cylinders—within the rings divert the incoming waves around the object, preventing both reflection and absorption. The waves meet up again on the other side, appearing just as they would if nothing were there.” So, if you are seated in a concert hall and there is a pillar between you and the orchestra, that pillar could be cloaked in invisibility material and the sound waves would be tricked into going around the pillar as if it weren’t even there (as opposed to bouncing off of it). The sound from your seat would be just as good as an unobstructed seat. The coolest idea for using this new technology, though, is to deflect actual waves in the ocean away from isolated spots like drilling platforms, low-lying islands, or coastal regions vulnerable to tsunamis.

2. Making Progress Fighting AIDS

This year, scientists did further research into individuals known as “elite suppressors.” These are people who have been infected with the HIV virus but maintain a low viral load and never become ill. Previously, researchers thought that these people must be infected with a weaker strain of HIV, but recent research has shown that is not the case. A study published in August provided evidence that certain people have an immune system that is capable of controlling full-strength HIV. The study documented transmission of the virus from a patient with AIDS to his wife. Though she has the same virulent strain of HIV as her husband, the woman has maintained nearly-undetectable viral loads; she is an elite suppressor. Researchers found that some of the woman’s immune cells were particularly good at suppressing replication of the virus. Joel Blankson, the senior author of the study says, “It’s evident that the immune system can, in fact, control fully pathogenic HIV, so a vaccine should be possible. This provides preliminary evidence that one day a vaccine can be generated.”

Bonus Stories:
*A study published in Sweden showed that drummers (and anyone who is good at keeping a complex rhythm) have higher than average IQs.
*Scientists announced in August that they have found drugs that simulate the effects of exercise in the body. The drugs are in trials now and may be available in a few years.
*Geneticists have discovered that blue eyes arose because of a single genetic mutation that occurred in a single individual less than 10,000 years ago. The mutation spread very quickly throughout the European population, suggesting that the mutation originally had something to offer for survival.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow Cave 2008

Click here to view last years' snow caves.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bonus Footage!

Okay, I know these are sideways. I'm not savvy enough to fix them. Watch them anyway; they are hilarious.

PS: More snow pics to follow :)

Never Waste a Good Snow Day

First, we went for a ski....

Then we did this:

Yes. Yes, we did.

Monday, December 15, 2008

High Adventure!!

My sister Jaima and I discovered a few years back that we are great co-adventurers. Since then we've travelled to several different countries together. Lately we've been talking about heading to Scandinavia in the spring and this past weekend we finally took the plunge and bought the tickets and booked the rooms. On April 17th, 2009 we'll be off to Copenhagen! While there, we'll also visit a couple smaller towns in Denmark and head across the Oresund Sound to visit Malmo, Sweden. I am having trouble containing my excitement!!

So, without further ado:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow Patrol

MixwitMixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

In honor of the HUGE GIANT RUN-FOR-YOUR-LIVES snowstorm that is predicted to hit today, I put together a little Snow Patrol mix. Enjoy!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Everything is Amazing, Nobody's Happy

Thanks to Kent & Allison for the heads up :)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


"Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”
~Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta

I was going to write up a list of things I was thankful for, but it turned out to be too much work. It’s not just that it’s a long list, but that each item on the list has so many facets. For example, not only am I thankful for my sisters, but I am also thankful for the great relationships—friendships really—that I have with them. And I am thankful for how funny Caitlin is and how she is so social and outgoing. And how Jaima always reads the books I recommend, even after I told her at length what they were about and shared every last interesting anecdote. And how Caitlin asks for my advice sometimes just so I can feel like a smart, helpful older sister. And how Jaima knows what I mean when I describe someone as the kind of person who would write “your” when they meant “you’re”. And how one time we were out picking rocks in one of Dad’s fields and the three of us passed tedious hours by making a list of things you could make out of rocks, and when we ran out of things you could actually make out of rocks, we started making things up, like “soup,” “chipmunks,” and “paper airplanes.” And we laughed so hard.

So you see why I can’t realistically make a list of all the things I am thankful for. Not to mention, now that I think about it, I am even thankful that I have so much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Friday, November 21, 2008

TLaJ Book Review #5

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and what it says about us)
By Tom Vanderbilt

This book was recommended to me by an STA bus driver while on the way to work one morning. I requested it from the EWU Library, but had to wait about two months to get it. Then, when it finally came in, I found out I could only keep it for one week since it was in such high demand. No worries, though; the book is just as fascinating as described; I had no trouble finishing it quickly.

Here are some of my favorite tidbits:

• We should all be late-mergers. You know the situation: You are on a multi-lane highway and there is construction ahead. Signs alert you to a lane ending up ahead. You dutifully merge into the other lane, then watch in disgust as other drivers whiz by in the ending lane and merge ahead of you in line. It feels like they are cheating, but they aren’t. When everyone merges early and gets in line politely, it slows things down for everyone because drivers aren’t using the full capacity of the road (one whole lane is empty long before it ends). Those drivers who are zipping ahead and ‘cutting’ in line are actually speeding things up for everyone. Thanks to them, traffic will flow smoother through the construction zone (and safer! There are fewer collisions when drivers merge late) and you will get to your destination faster.

• It’s not just your imagination--studies have shown that people take longer to leave a parking space when someone else is waiting for the spot. Interestingly, when queried, most people claim that they move faster when someone is waiting for their parking spot, but upon observation, it turns out they actually slow down. It’s as if the space suddenly becomes more valuable because someone else wants it.

• This one is obvious to anyone who has traveled internationally: The culture of a place is reflected in the way we drive. In Japan, a country of politeness and respect, traffic is a smooth and orderly affair. In Cameroon, where there is so much corruption that laws can’t be taken seriously, people drive more erratically. This is true on a more localized basis, as well. A “Pittsburgh Left” refers to left-turning drivers darting in front of oncoming traffic very quickly, just as the light turns green (zipping across before the oncoming cars have picked up speed). A “California Roll” (aka California Stop or a Sushi Stop) refers to slowing at stop signs, but not coming completely to a stop.

• In Finland, traffic fines were found to be unfair and regressive (they take up a larger part of a poor person’s income than a rich person’s) so they changed the laws so that fines are calculated based on after-tax income. This sliding-scale system means that some wealthy speeders have had to pay upwards of $50,000 for going 43 in a 25. Sounds outrageous to most Americans, but the Finns have resisted attempts to put caps on the fines. It is widely-supported there.

• We often think of big-rig trucks as being dangerous on the road, but in actuality, truckers tend to be very safe drivers. The problem is that those of us in personal vehicles drive badly around them. In most cases, when cars and semi-trucks collide, the car (or, rather, the driver in the car) is found to be at fault. One careful study found that in 70% of cases, the driver of the car had sole responsibility in the crash.

• In America, on average, someone dies in a fatal car crash every thirteen minutes. Roads are more dangerous at some times than others, however. In an average year, more people are killed on Saturday and Sunday from midnight to 3am than all those killed during those hours the rest of the week. In other words, just two nights account for the majority of deaths. The Fourth of July is, statistically, the most dangerous day of the year to be on the road. Superbowl Sunday is a big killer too, but only after the game, not before. And the traffic fatality rate is generally higher in the city with the losing team.

• In a highway or freeway, low-speed drivers are more likely to be involved in accidents than high-speed drivers. It doesn’t follow, however, that people who drive too slow are the problem and we should raise speed limits (as many have argued) or enforce minimum speed. That argument assumes that people who are going slowly are doing so because they want to and not because they need to for some reason (congested traffic, about to turn, experiencing some sort of vehicle problem, etc). Nearly half of rear-end crashes involve cars that have stopped--presumably for a good reason and not just to get in the way of people wanting to go fast.

• The “Grand Rapids Dip” is a term that refers to results from a study done in Grand Rapids, MI in the 1960s. The study found that people with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .01 to .04 actually drove more safely than those with a BAC of zero. This is because drivers who know they have had a drink or two are more aware of the possibility of impairment (and punishment), so they are drive more cautiously. Alcohol affects driver performance, but also driver behavior. Which would you rather encounter on the road? The sober driver on his cell phone speeding off to a meeting or a mildly-impaired driver watching carefully for obstacles and obeying the speed limit?

• Crash statistics have shown that more people die in car crashes in America who aren’t wearing seatbelts than those who are wearing seatbelts, even though 80% of Americans wears seatbelts all the time. It’s not just that drivers are less likely to survive a crash if they aren’t wearing a seatbelt. It is also true that the type of person who drives without buckling up is also more likely to speed and engage in aggressive driving behaviors, so their risk is multiplied.

• Feeling safe is a bad sign. If you are in a car that feels safe, on a road that feels safe, you are much more likely to engage in unsafe behavior such as speeding and driving aggressively. This is why roundabouts have turned out to be such a great thing, even though drivers don’t like them. Because we are unaccustomed to roundabouts and because they are fairly complex to navigate, we have to slow down, be alert, and drive cautiously through them (usually grumbling about how dangerous they are the whole time). In a regular, lighted intersection, we pay very little attention to what is going on; we just drive when the light turns green and hope no one else is doing it wrong. So the roundabout feels more dangerous, but is actually much safer. Likewise, when we drive in cars that feel safe (trucks, SUVs, etc), we tend to start to drive more dangerously in reaction to that feeling of safety. Studies have shown that people using studded snow tires drive faster in the snow than those without--though they have some added traction, they more than compensate for that benefit by driving less carefully.

I’ve gone on too long now, I know. There are so many other good points in the book (I didn’t even go into the stuff about why driving in super-congested Delhi is relatively safe and why driving in Montana is so dangerous!), but how about instead of me writing them out one by one, you just go out and get the book for yourself?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Time for a Chill

Been awhile since I posted. It's not just post-election super-delight satiation, either. I'm afraid it's more conventional than that: I've been busy. And so has everyone else I know. I don't know if it is some kind of pre-holiday rush or what, but it seems everyone I'm around these days is running around like crazy, including my dear husband who is heading into finals week at Eastern and suffering from the usual almost-end-of-term-oh-please-god-when-will-it-end malaise.

So, we are all due for a bit of a chill-out. I say, sit down somewhere comfy, sip some chilled white wine (I know it is unseasonable, but you can't properly chill out with red wine, it's too warm & spicy), and listen to this mix tape I made just for you!

Mixwit make a mixtapeMixwit mixtapes

Friday, November 7, 2008

The International Response

"This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten," Rama Yade, France's junior minister for human rights, told French radio. "On this morning, we all want to be American, so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes."

"This may be the beginning of a new world. It marks the end of old elites and opens the door for new approaches worldwide," an Israeli man in his mid-50s said in Tel Aviv.

"I want to congratulate you on Barack Obama's victory that really turned a new chapter in the world's history -- that an African-American man, decent and intelligent, became president of the world," one Iranian said. "This was done in America. Your nation has the credit for it."

All quotes from here.

Doesn't it feel like, in some ways, the change we've been hoping for has already arrived? It's a global paradigm shift. I don't know that I ever realized I'd live to see a day when I was not just proud, not blindly patriotic, but actually joyful about our commander-in-chief.

On the other hand, some changes are still to come. After all, my spell checker still wants me to change "Obama" to "Osama".

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Times They are a Changin'

Thinking Ahead

I found this comment posted on fivethirtyeight.com and thought I'd share it:

I am 22 and I'd like to capture my thoughts before America either elects a president who its first 26 presidents could have legally owned, or brazenly subverts the very ideals it was founded upon by manipulating numbers in a final embarrassingly overt goosestep towards corporate totalitarianism.

I am nervous. And not night-before-the-swim-test nervous or even night-you-lose-your-virginity nervous, it's a low rumbling primal panic which I can only liken to Star Wars panic. Disney panic. The edge-of-your-seat-terror that makes you wonder if Skywalker's doomed after he refuses to join Darth Vader and drops down into the abyss, if the wicked octopus or grand vizier or steroid-pumping-village-misogynist is going to wed/kill/skin the dashing prince and then evil people in dark funny costumes are going to take over the world... if it wasn't a movie of course.

And tonight it's not. It's not a movie and yet I feel like Obama might as well be wearing an American flag cape while a decaying McCain, in a high-tech robotic spider wheelchair wearing an eyepatch and stroking an evil cat, gives orders to a sexy scheming Palin who marches back and forth through their sub-terranian campaign lair in four inch thigh-highs and full-body black leather catsuit bossing around the evangelical ants with a loooooong whip... umm... is this just me?

Anyway, the point is that things feel weird folks. I have friends who have peed in waterbottles to keep from interrupting a Halo-playing marathon who got off their asses/couches to volunteer for the Obama campaign not once, but many times. Friends so cheap their body content is at least 1/3 Ramen Noodle who donated a good deal of their hard-earned cash to the campaign. People have registered to vote in record numbers, and yet, something just doesn't feel right. I think we should stop congratulating ourselves for just voting. To vote is a privilege which people have died for, and I think there's a whole lot more to be done for the country than to simply help win an election every 4 years.

Hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of man-hours spent on both sides by good-intentioned people who want to make a difference in an historic election, so many resources and voices and energies devoted to a single day. After tomorrow, half of that is going to have been a waste. And I can't help but wonder what could have happened if all that muscle had been put towards something else, and what will happen to its momentum after the election has come and gone. Shouldn't we be donating our money to good causes whenever we can? Helping people who don't have? Dedicating some of our time to contribute to making the country which provides for us a better place? Of course a power shift is a hugely significant step on the path to great reform, but worrying about this election has been a wakeup call for me:

Even if Obama wins, we have not "won." This isn't a movie and we can't toss every greedy lobbyist oil fatcat bigot down a reactor shaft. I think if we dedicate ourselves to the ongoing welfare of the country as much as we have to the outcome of this election, we'll have a much better shot at coming closer to the overwhelming good the liberals hope Obama will usher in, but which no mere mortal could fully realize alone.

Which brings me to the other side. I've heard a lot of people claim that if McCain wins, they're leaving. I heard the same thing about Bush's reelection, and his unelection before that, and nobody seems to be leaving. And that's fine. Because as much as I complain about certain political happenings, atrocities, etc., I really do like it here and I suspect most other people do too. We have New York and Hollywood, purple mountain's majesty and sea to shining sea, we created jazz and country music and baseball and cars and lightbulbs and computers and that movie with hundreds of animated singing Chihuahuas! I mean who among the shivering Plymouth pilgrims ever imagined ordering hundreds of animated singing chihuahuas onto a magical box from an invisible information superweb?

The point being, if things don't turn out the way I want tomorrow, I feel compelled, as a college-graduated adultish-type-person, to take a stand. And if I'm going to leave I'm going to leave. But if I'm going to stay I'm not going to sit around whining like I have for the past 8 years. It's like when I don't clean my room because it's dirty and then I blame the dirt. So in my very indecisive way, before you and your screen, I'm declaring my intention to make some kind of stand in the event of -(Ican'tevensayit)-, and encouraging you to consider making one too...

Jump the ship or grab a bucket?
Wasn't everything so much easier back when the worst possible affront to your values was a PB&J sandwich cut diagonally with crust?

Anyways, I guess what I'm saying is that if we're going to stay on board, we should probably be generous with our time and resources when times are tough even more than when the hero saves the day. Because what if he doesn't? And what if he can't? "Yes we can" should mean more than just winning an election if we're really committed to change.

Hannah Friedman

Read more from Hannah here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Notes on the Election Projections

Here is the projected election map from fivethirtyeight.com (non-partisan site). As you can see, Obama is the clear projected winner.

*The little boxes inside of Nebraska and Maine represent the split votes that those states have opted for. They split up their electoral votes so that it isn't a 'winner take all system.' In those states two electoral votes are given to the state-wide popular vote winner and the other electoral votes (2 in Maine, 3 in Nebraska) are split up among the congressional districts. This allows for the possibility of a split electoral vote in those states, however, since they implemented these rules, neither state has ever actually split the vote. It looks like this year will be no different; Maine is going all Obama and Nebraska is going all McCain (although Obama is polling pretty strongly in Omaha this time around).

*Notice how much more blue there is on this map than there was in the last two presidential elections. We've come a long way, haven't we? This is partly why I have faith in our two-party system. Both the parties and the people are free to be fluid and change over time. In multi-party systems, the parties are more tied down to a particular set of party lines, but in America we change and evolve to suit the times. Plus, our parties are inclusive. It is a rare set of political opinions that wouldn't find a home in one of our parties (on the fringes at least).

Sigh...just three days to go....

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Drunk-Proofing Your Email

Google has already solved so many of the world’s problems; it was only a matter of time before they tackled this one: Drunk Emailing. I won’t tell any personal stories here, but I am sure you can imagine the scenario. It’s Friday night, you’ve had a few drinks, you are thinking things over, maybe remembering the good old times with your ex or reliving that argument you had with your boss and suddenly it comes to you—the perfect comeback. You hop online and type away. Before you have time to think twice about what you are doing, you’ve already hit the send button and that email is off to surf the internets and make small carnage out of your personal or professional life.

The solution: Mail Goggles. Mail Goggles is a Gmail application that will make you think twice before hitting the send button. Here’s how it works:
First of all, by default Mail Goggles is activated at night and on weekends, the times when you are most likely to be in the predicament described above (you can change these settings if they don’t match your particular habits). When you sign into your email account during the ‘active’ hours, you will be forced to answer a series of mathematical questions before being allowed to send any mail. You can customize this feature to reflect your actual (sober) mathematical ability.

If you take too long to answer the questions or if you get too many of the questions wrong, the message will be saved in your Drafts folder for you to review and possibly send tomorrow. Then the program tells you to go to bed. Brilliant, right? More info here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

History in the Making

I know the photo is fuzzy, but the moment seemed sufficiently significant to warrant documentation:

One vote; signed, sealed, and in the mail!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Meltdown

Yesterday I attended a teach-in at EWU focused on the economy and politics of the moment. The teach-in was the brainchild of the dean of the college of social and behavioral sciences. She was thinking about the market meltdown in the shower one morning a couple weeks ago, her head spinning with questions, when it occurred to her that she had a number of experts in her department who could probably explain the whole thing to her. The event was led by a panel of five people: two economists, one poli-sci professor, on finance professor, and one retired financial advisor. Each person on the panel took about 15 minutes to talk about the economic crisis from their own perspective, and then the floor was opened to questions. Here is some of what I learned.


1920s-1930s--Great Depression. The government failed to act quickly. There were very few regulations in place on the financial and banking industry and no safety nets. It snowballed out of control because the people lost faith in the markets and in the government.

1933--The markets saw huge gains and started to get back on track. The government started to regulate the financial industries and other industries as well.

1970s—In the early part of this decade there was a period of stagflation thought to be brought about by too much regulation. This began a long period of reducing government regulation and oversight of many industries.

1990s-2000s--Without regulation, there are huge profit-making opportunities that go unchecked, which is how we got into the current economic crisis. More on that below.

Why/How did it happen?

1. Failure of regulators to keep pace with financial innovation.
2. Failure of regulators and congress to enforce existing regulations.
3. After the bubble-burst of 2001, interest rates were dropped and were kept too low for too long.
4. Failure of lenders to advise home buyers about managing their own risk.
5. Consumers have been buying homes that are too big and expensive for them.
6. Institutional lenders who were buying and selling these mortgage packages amongst themselves also didn’t manage risk well.
7. Rating agencies (like Standard & Poor’s) that are responsible for rating mortgages based on their likelihood of default rated many mortgages wrong. Their probabilities and mathematical models were off.
8. Failure to maintain stable leadership over the US Treasury. The head of the treasury is an important position for managing financial crises, but it has been a bit of a revolving door in the past decade.
9. Failure of congress and the president to appreciate the connection between ‘goods & services’ markets and ‘credit’ markets. They underestimated the collateral damage that would come from a credit collapse.

The Bailout:

When it comes to the bailout, the evidence is clear. The experts are almost entirely in agreement that the bailout was a good idea. It was the general public who were against it for the most part, which is mostly because we didn’t understand it. And since the people didn’t support the bailout bill, their representatives in congress who are up for re-election next month had a hard time voting to approve it. There was a sharp failure of the political leadership to convince the public that the bailout was necessary.

So here’s what the bill is all about. As Obama said on the senate floor last week, the bailout bill is an emergency measure only, not a long-term solution. Imagine that your house is on fire. You have to put out the fire as quick as you can, you can’t waste time pointing fingers and trying to figure out who is to blame for it. That will come later, after the immediate danger has passed. The $700 billion isn’t exactly a hand-out either. The government is buying (with our tax dollars) actual assets from these floundering financial companies. We are buying up the risky mortgages and other such devalued assets so that the companies that currently hold them can get them off their books and continue to do business. The value of the assets will rise, however, with time and consumer confidence, so the bailout isn’t actually going to cost the US Treasury $700 billion in the end. We’ll be able to recoup a lot of that money. There is even a very, very slim chance that we will make money on the investment.

In the meantime, we are currently in a recession. We have a bear market. We can expect unemployment rates to rise, and with that, crime and poverty will likely rise too. Taxes will have to rise to cover the cost of our social programs, or else the programs will need to be cut. There is no way to know how long the recession will last, but the system will recover. We will make changes to the system to re-regulate the finance and banking industry to some extent. The more the recession hurts, the more likely we’ll be to learn from our mistakes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Where I Was Two Years Ago This Week....

Thanks to Jaima, one of the best travel buddies ever, for the reminder!

Street in Vienna

Parliament Building in Budapest

Matthias Church in Budapest

Spa in Budapest, "like bathing in a cathedral"

Bratislava, Slovakia

Jaima, this one's just for you. Notice something missing from this photo? A McDonald's, for example? :)

Pecs, Hungary

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Complete Gibberish

One question, one answer from Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric:

COURIC: Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries; allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health-care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, helping the—it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health-care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade, we've got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive, scary thing. But one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today, we've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation. This bailout is a part of that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How I Feel About Sarah Palin

Here are some excerpts from a recent article from Sam Harris, founder of The Reason Project and author of The New York Times best seller “Letter to a Christian Nation.” I wish I could express myself this well!

"The point to be lamented is not that Sarah Palin comes from outside Washington, or that she has glimpsed so little of the earth's surface (she didn't have a passport until last year), or that she's never met a foreign head of state. The point is that she comes to us, seeking the second most important job in the world, without any intellectual training relevant to the challenges and responsibilities that await her. There is nothing to suggest that she even sees a role for careful analysis or a deep understanding of world events when it comes to deciding the fate of a nation. In her interview with Gibson, Palin managed to turn a joke about seeing Russia from her window into a straight-faced claim that Alaska's geographical proximity to Russia gave her some essential foreign-policy experience. Palin may be a perfectly wonderful person, a loving mother and a great American success story—but she is a beauty queen/sports reporter who stumbled into small-town politics, and who is now on the verge of stumbling into, or upon, world history."

"The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too ordinary. [snip] Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth—-in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated."

"I care even more about the many things Palin thinks she knows but doesn't: like her conviction that the Biblical God consciously directs world events. Needless to say, she shares this belief with millions of Americans-—but we shouldn't be eager to give these people our nuclear codes, either. There is no question that if President McCain chokes on a spare rib and Palin becomes the first woman president, she and her supporters will believe that God, in all his majesty and wisdom, has brought it to pass. Why would God give Sarah Palin a job she isn't ready for? He wouldn't. Everything happens for a reason. Palin seems perfectly willing to stake the welfare of our country—-even the welfare of our species—-as collateral in her own personal journey of faith. Of course, McCain has made the same unconscionable wager on his personal journey to the White House. [snip] Ask yourself: Is it a good idea to place the most powerful military on earth at her disposal? Do we actually want our leaders thinking about the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy when it comes time to say to the Iranians, or to the North Koreans, or to the Pakistanis, or to the Russians or to the Chinese: "All options remain on the table"? We have endured eight years of an administration that seemed touched by religious ideology. Bush's claim to Bob Woodward that he consulted a "higher Father" before going to war in Iraq got many of us sitting upright, before our attention wandered again to less ethereal signs of his incompetence. For all my concern about Bush's religious beliefs, and about his merely average grasp of terrestrial reality, I have never once thought that he was an over-the-brink, Rapture-ready extremist. Palin seems as though she might be the real McCoy."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Physiological Basis for your Political Opinions?

This is fascinating stuff. In a new article published in Science this month, researchers from Rice University concluded that political attitudes are predicted by physiological traits. Political Science professor John Alford and his colleagues studied 46 adult individuals with strong political beliefs from Lincoln, Nebraska. Initially, subjects were asked to fill out questionnaires tracking their beliefs, personality traits, and demographic information. Later, they were brought into the lab where they were hooked up to physiological measuring equipment and given a series of tests. In the first test, they were shown photos of threatening images (spiders, bloody faces, and maggots) interspersed with a sequence of other images. They were then shown non-threatening images (bunny, child, bowl of fruit). Their physiological reactions to these stimuli were recorded. The second test involved measuring involuntary responses to startling noises.

The researchers found that strong negative reactions to the threatening images and startling noises correlated with political beliefs characterized by a preference for “socially protective policies” including defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, opposition to pacifism, obedience, warrentless searches, and the Iraq War. On the other hand, people who experienced only mild reactions to the threatening visual and auditory stimuli were much more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control. They concluded, “Political attitudes vary with physiological traits linked to divergent manners of experiencing and processing environmental threats." This may help to explain "both the lack of malleability in the beliefs of individuals with strong political convictions and the associated ubiquity of political conflict.”

Rice University (2008, September 22). Political Attitudes Are Predicted By Physiological Traits, Research Finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 09/22/08.

Friday, September 19, 2008


That's right, folks, I am the proud new owner of my very own whitewater kayak!!

So here's the basic chain of events leading up to this glorious day:

September 2007: Captain Awesome takes a kayaking class at EWU and starts bugging everyone he knows to give it a try.
September 2007-March 2008: Captain Awesome and friends relentlessly hound me to try this new sport
March 2008: I finally take the plunge and start learning the basics at Open Pool nights.
April 2008: My first time out on the river. Bad idea, nearly died : ).
May 2008: I take the Intro to Whitewater Kayaking class through Epic Adventures at Eastern.
July-August 2008: I'm back on the river, running class II and III rapids on the Spokane and Clark Fork. I get my roll!
September 2008: Combat rolls. NEW BOAT!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Not Too Bad

[From XKCD]


I’ve been working hard on my kayaking skills lately. The Spokane River finally came back up to runnable levels (above 1500 CFS) and the weather is staying beautiful even though we are into September now, so we’ve been going out on the river nearly every night. Last night we may have over-extended ourselves, however. We didn’t get started until about 6pm and we had a pretty long run to do. We ended up doing the last mile or so completely in the dark. It was a beautiful night and we had a full moon, but it was still a bit disconcerting trying to navigate rapids without really being able to see them. We were on an easy stretch of the river, so none of the rapids were really dangerous (so don’t worry Mom!). Anyway, it was a wonderful time.

Last week I ran the upper Spokane several times. That’s probably the most popular section here in town. It has some solid Class II rapids, popular playspots and is great for beginners. I still find it very scary, but am starting to get the hang of it. On Friday, I got two combat rolls (that’s where you roll yourself back upright in a rapid as opposed to freaking out and swimming which is what I usually do) which is pretty cool. Thanks to the ever-patient Captain Awesome for teaching me this cool, cool sport!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Series of Events....

....With apologies to my dear husband who is actually a total badass in the woods and doesn't usually set things on fire.

Friday, August 29, 2008

What Will The Neighbors Think?

Obama's defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to.

By Jacob Weisberg | NEWSWEEK
Published Aug 23, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Sep 1, 2008

What with the Bush legacy of reckless war and economic mismanagement, 2008 is a year that favors the generic Democratic candidate over the generic Republican one. Yet Barack Obama, with every natural and structural advantage, is running only neck and neck with John McCain, a subpar nominee with a list of liabilities longer than a Joe Biden monologue. Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, deficits in clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma. Yet at the moment, the two appear to be tied. What gives?

If it makes you feel better, you can rationalize Obama's missing 10-point lead on the basis of Clintonite sulkiness, his slowness in responding to attacks or the concern that he may be too handsome, brilliant and cool to be elected. But let's be honest: the reason Obama isn't ahead right now is that he trails badly among one group, older white voters. He lags with them for a simple reason: the color of his skin.

Much evidence points to racial prejudice as a factor that could be large enough to cost Obama the election. That warning is written all over last month's CBS/New York Times poll, which is worth studying if you want to understand white America's curious sense of racial grievance. In the poll, 26 percent of whites say they have been victims of discrimination. Twenty-seven percent say too much has been made of the problems facing black people. Twenty-four percent say that the country isn't ready to elect a black president. Five percent acknowledge that they, personally, would not vote for a black candidate.

Five percent surely understates the extent of the problem. In the Pennsylvania primary, one in six white voters told exit pollsters that race was a factor in his or her decision. Seventy-five percent of those people voted for Clinton. You can do the math: 12 percent of the white Pennsylvania primary electorate acknowledged that they didn't vote for Barack Obama in part because he is African-American. And that's what Democrats in a Northeastern(ish) state admit openly.

Such prejudice usually comes coded in distortions about Obama and his background. To the willfully ignorant, he's a secret Muslim married to a black-power radical. Or—thanks, Geraldine Ferraro—he got where he is only because of the special treatment accorded those lucky enough to be born with African blood. Some Jews assume Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel, the way they assume other black politicians to be. To some white voters (14 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll), Obama is someone who as president would favor blacks over whites. Or he's an "elitist," who cannot understand ordinary (read: white) people because he isn't one of them. We're just not comfortable with, you know, a Hawaiian.

Then there's the overt stuff. In May, Pat Buchanan, who frets about the European-Americans losing control of their country, ranted on MSNBC in defense of white West Virginians voting on the basis of racial solidarity. The No. 1 best seller in America, "Obama Nation," by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D., leeringly notes that Obama's white mother always preferred her "mate" be "a man of color." John McCain has yet to get around to denouncing this vile book.

Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world's judgment will be severe and inescapable: the United States had its day, but in the end couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.

Choosing McCain, in particular, would herald the construction of a bridge to the 20th century—and not necessarily the last part of it, either. McCain represents a cold-war style of nationalism that doesn't get the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics, the centrality of soft power in a multipolar world or the transformative nature of digital technology. This is a matter of attitude as much as age. A lot of 71-year-olds are still learning and evolving. But in 2008, being flummoxed by that newfangled doodad, the personal computer, seems like a deal breaker. At this hinge moment in human history, McCain's approach to our gravest problems is hawkish denial. I like and respect the man, but the maverick has become an ostrich: he wants to deal with the global energy crisis by drilling, our debt crisis by cutting taxes, and he responds to threats from Georgia to Iran with Bush-like belligerence and pique.

You may or may not agree with Obama's policy prescriptions, but they are, by and large, serious attempts to deal with the biggest issues we face: a failing health-care system, oil dependency, income stagnation and climate change. To the rest of the world, a rejection of the promise he represents wouldn't just be an odd choice by the United States. It would be taken for what it would be: sign and symptom of a nation's historical decline.

For Your Viewing Pleasure....

...TLaJ brings you a video of a bunny in a bowl. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ross Lake Canoe Trip 1.0

My husband and parents and I just got back from a canoe trip on Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park. It was incredible! The lake is beautiful, surrounded by towering hillsides, snow-capped peaks, and over half a million acres of wilderness. To get to Ross Lake, you actually have to park at a lower lake, called Diablo. You paddle up that lake, then portage over land up to Ross Lake. Ross is a long lake, stretching about 20 miles North and South, going up into Canada.

We had beautiful weather going in. The sun was out and the water was completely glassy. We paddled up Diablo (one of the most beautiful lakes I've seen), waited for portage to Ross, then paddled up Ross to our first campsite at Big Beaver Creek. There were about six other groups camped out there that night, but we had a great campsite and it didn't feel crowded at all. The next morning we set off up the lake to our next campsite, Ten Mile Island (which is, oddly, eleven miles up the lake). This time there was plenty of wind whipping up waves, but we paddled on through it all. We checked out a mysterious, deep canyon called Devil's Creek and got to our island campsite around 1:30pm. We ended up having the whole island to ourselves. After setting up camp, Gordon and I paddled across the lake to check out a waterfall. After nightfall, I took a dip in the lake to clean up. It was raining very hard at this point, but the air and water were warm.

We broke camp the next day and paddled back down the lake to our final campsite, McMillan. The weather was quite stormy and we fought wind and waves the whole way down. We stopped several times along the way to dry off, rest, and regroup. Nearing McMillan, with just one small bay to go, we ran right into a nasty squall. The waves turned to swells and we were pushed around relentlessly. Gordon and I nearly tipped the canoe. Even paddling with all our strength, we hardly moved. Finally we got both canoes around behind an island where the water was calmer. We waited out the storm there for about twenty minutes. After that, the sky cleared and the sun came out. We had an easy paddle around the point to our campsite.

Our final day of paddling went pretty smoothly. We paddled back down Ross Lake in fairly smooth water, then got portage down to Diablo Lake. We had to battle wind and choppy water on Diablo, but we made good time and stayed pretty dry this time. All in all, it was a great weekend. Just the right mix of challenge and relaxation. We will definitely be doing it again!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spy Stuff (Shhh!)

Sorry about the dearth of posts here lately, folks. TLaJ is undergoing some non-blog related changes. For starters, I just got a new job! I can't tell you what it is, but I can say it is a high-level, top-secret government job*. Possibly involves espionage, secret gadgets and suitcases of cash dropped off in shady alleys. I can't say more.

I haven't started the new job yet--I will start in September--so for now I am finishing up things at the old job, fighting daily against the inevitable onset of short-timers disease. My motivation is just not what it used to be. On the plus side, I have a vacation coming up, starting this weekend. Not sure exactly where it will take me as existing plans sort of fell through, but I am sure it will involve camping, watersports, and whiskey in some fashion or other. If anyone knows of an great vacation spot in the Pacific Northwest that I should try out, let me know.

*Low-level, no-security-clearance office job

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Roll Roll Roll Your Boat...

That's right, people. I GOT MY ROLL!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Surviving the Unthinkable

On a recommendation from Scientific American Mind, I picked up a copy of The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley at Aunties yesterday. The book was so incredible, I could not put it down. Ripley is a reporter for Time Magazine and is an excellent writer. The book poses the question, "Who survives disaster and why?" Ripley's exploration of this topic covers survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attack, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings, airplane crashes and several other disastrous events. She interviews survivors and families of victims, plus the leading scientists in human behavior and neuroscience. It is fascinating stuff.

The book opens with a long chapter focused on one woman who was in the first tower hit on 9/11. She was working up around the 70th floor, about 10 floors below where the plane hit the building. When the plane smashed into the tower, the whole building swayed back and forth like it was about to topple, but it didn't. It continued to shutter and groan. The woman and her co-workers did not panic. They stayed put in their office for about five or six minutes. They made phone calls and tried to figure out what happened. The waited for an alarm or instructions. Finally they agreed to exit the building, but not before shutting down their computers and gathering their belongings. Even as the smell of jet fuel and smoke filled the building, no one seemed to freak out. Many people in the building had never been in the stairwell and did not know how to find it, slowing the escape. Once in the stairwell, it took the woman an hour to get down the tower, more than twice as long as building architects had expected.

At one point during the descent in the stairwell, word came that there was a fire on the stairs several floors below, so everyone filed out of that stairway and into a lobby around the 40th floor. While waiting to file into a different stairwell, the second plane hit the second tower. The woman can hardly recall that moment, though she was standing right at the window and must have seen the whole thing. She doesn't remember hearing or seeing anything. She was in denial about the nature of the disaster and kept telling herself that it was all just a big mistake. As she finally got down to the lower floors, she remembers that firefighters were running up the stairs past them, shouting encouragement and trying to get people to move more quickly. The tower collapsed just moments after the woman made it safely out of the building. She heard the groan of the building about to collapse and was somehow able to run into a neighboring building ahead of the force.

Ripley explores this woman's reaction and finds several interesting clues into the behavior. First of all, in many disasters, precious seconds are spent milling around before people decide to make an escape. Of survivors polled after 9/11, the majority of the people stated that they made phone calls, turned off their computers, and gathered their belonging before heading to the stairwells. Second, though the woman's mind was very foggy throughout the whole ordeal, it is likely that this helped more than it hindered. Stuck in a slow-moving line down a narrow staircase with hundreds of other people more than fifty flights up in a burning building could lead to a deadly panic, but nearly everyone was calm, helpful, and polite. They didn't really discuss what was happening. Their brains had shut down some of their senses so that they could just focus on getting out of the building. This is also a very common response to extreme stress. Three of the most commonly reported experiences listed by survivors of disasters are tunnel vision, time dissociation (the feeling that time slowed down or sped up), and loss of hearing.

Ripley also goes into what makes some people more likely to survive than others. In the Hurricane Katrina debacle, the media widely reported that it was poor blacks without transportation out of the city that were left to die in the storm, but later research didn't bear that out. Most of the people who stayed admitted that they did have a way to get out, had they wanted to. The biggest factor wasn't race or poverty, it was age. Over half of all the people trapped in the city were over 65. They had survived several big hurricanes before and thought this one would be no different. On surveys given after the fact, the most commonly listed reason for not leaving New Orleans ahead of the storm was that people didn't expect the storm to be as bad as it was.

I was also surprised to find out that most major airline crashes are survivable. Nearly 60% of people involved in a dangerous airline crash in the past 25 years have survived to fly another day. There are ways you can increase your chances. The main thing to do is to listen to the safety instructions and study the safety card in your seat before the plane takes off. Time and time again, survivors reported that it was the few seconds they took to listen to the demonstration that saved them. Even if you have heard it a hundred times, glancing over the card before a flight can save your life. In the middle of a disaster, your brain has a tendency to shut down. If your heart rate gets very high, you may lose fine motor skills and critical thinking skills as blood stays in your core to protect your heart. If you have the safety instructions fresh in your mind, you will be able to act without thinking about it. Also in recent years, airlines have begun training the flight attendants to yell at passengers during an evacuation. Often people who have been in a trauma enter a sort of trance and yelling at them will snap them out of it. There have been several crashes where many passengers survived the actual crash, but the didn't get out of the plane before the ensuing fire, even when there seemed to be plenty of time to do so. In some cases, there are pile-ups at the exit when everyone tries to use the same exit instead of the one nearest them. In other cases, people are just too stunned to move quickly.

It does appear that some people are better equipped to deal with disaster than others. This must be partly due to genetics and partly due to experience, but scientists haven't been able to fully tease out all the details yet. It does appear that some people are born with a certain resiliency that allows them to go through disaster time and time again without losing their cool. These are the people that the military wants on their special forces teams. Men die in lightening strikes, floods, and fire far more than women, but this is mostly because they are more likely to take risks like running into a burning building or driving on a flooded street (NOT a good idea). Women are more likely to heed warnings and get to safety quickly. Other factors come into play however. During the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, men survived at twice the rate of women because women did not know how to swim and the men did.

There are about a hundred other interesting anecdotes and studies from the book that I would love to explain, but I've gone on enough. Ripley does a great job. Read the book.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The 'Web of Happiness'

It's pretty common in the kayaking world to hear boaters yammering on about their kayaking philosophy. We like to talk about Zen and Focus and lots of other such nonsense. And while it's true that kayaking is, in fact, Eudaimonia, it turns out that fact doesn't magically turn those involved in the sport into starry-eyed, silver-tongued philosophers. Well, maybe starry-eyed isn't too far off the mark.

Case and Point: Eric Jackson. Jackson is huge in the world of whitewater kayaking. He is the creator of the Jackson kayak line as well as a whole range of instructional videos. In the videos, he uses his children as actors to show viewers the proper way to complete a variety of kayaking moves. For the average adult kayaker watching these videos, nothing is more frustrating and demoralizing than watching a nine-year-old do moves and stunts with that unnatural child-like finesse and knowing you probably won't achieve that level of skill in your lifetime. Damn kids, grumble grumble.

Anyway, while surfing the kayaking interwebs today, I came across this little philosophy gem from Eric Jackson himself:

“Happiness is as fragile as a spider-web. Left alone it breaks apart one string at a time until it no longer catches the sun’s rays reflecting joy; instead leaving a dusty reminder of better times. Only when building the web of happiness daily, tending to the major strings and then adding to the web, does happiness become the first feeling felt in any thoughts, actions, or conversation.”

Wow, right? I just don't quite know what to say to that. Except that maybe kayakers should stick to what we know and leave the philosophizing to the philosophers and liberal arts students.

See you on the water.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Whitewater Weekend

Going into this weekend, my kayaking experience was limited to the EWU pool, local lakes, and the peaceful Little Spokane river float (with the exception of this ill-advised trip down the lower Spokane River this spring). But over the last two days, I think it's safe to say I came into my own as a whitewater kayaker, though not exactly on purpose. On Saturday, Gordon and I kayaked the upper Spokane River with our friend Duke. It is a pretty easy route with a few Class II rapids and a couple cool waves/holes. I did swim (flip over and exit my boat) at the tail end of Flora rapid when I hit a submerged rock, but overall I did very well and felt pretty confident.

Saturday afternoon, we got a call from our friend Drew, who we haven't seen in a couple months since he's been out in Idaho working as a rafting guide on the Lochsa River. We agreed to meet up in Missoula (about a 3-hour drive from Spokane) to check out the whitewater park there. We arrived there at about 7pm and got checked into a shady motel that seemed to be otherwise full of Hell's Angels. We spent the evening wandering around downtown Missoula (very cute) and checking out the local pub scene. The following morning, we got up, had breakfast and headed for the river (Clark Fork). The boys surfed the waves at the Whitewater park while I videoed them safely from the shore. Because it was early in the day, they had the whole place to themselves and did very well surfing the wave.

After that, we left one car down at the Whitewater park, loaded our boats and gear into the other and drove up the river a few miles. We put in near a bridge and kayaked several miles back down into town. It was a nice little run of mild Class II rapids, culminating with a run through Brennan's Wave at the whitewater park. We went out to lunch, then watched some crazy-good kayakers play in the waves at the park for awhile. We got a tip from some folks there that there was some good kayaking about an hour west of Missoula in the Alberton Gorge, so we took off to check it out.

Driving along the gorge, we stopped here and there and walked out to the edge of the gorge to check out the river. The area was very beautiful and the river looked mild and fun. We estimated it was mostly Class II water. So, we all got back into our kayaking gear (I won't go into the trials of pulling on skin-tight, cold, wet gear while hiding in the woods near the river) and set out on the water. We put in at the top of Alberton Gorge, at the Cyr Bridge put-in. We came up to a rapid right away, and it was fabulous. It was basically a straightforward wave train with very big water and a large, easy runout. Very fun; definitely gets your heart racing. The next two rapids we hit made us realize we were not in Class II water after all. I checked the listing at American Whitewater today and that whole section of the river is listed as Class III/IV.

You would not believe how big this water was. Some of the waves were easily 7 feet high and they came at you from several directions at once. I had a number of close saves in the upper rapids, somehow pulling out a brace at the last minute to keep from flipping. Drew had told me about his strategy of willing himself to stay upright, which seemed to work pretty well for me too : ). In our fourth rapid on the run, a long one called Cliffside, I went right into a hole and ended up flipping. I came right out of my boat and the boys helped gather my gear while I swam to shore (for any kayakers reading this, no, I don't have my roll yet). I got back in the boat, calmed down a bit, and we took off again, with just one rapid to go. This last rapid was also very nasty. Both Drew and I ended up swimming, then getting bashed against an underwater rock before making it to the shore. Gordon was toppled, too, but pulled off a mid-rapid roll like a champ. Drew's helmet has some nice gashes from where his head struck the rock. He also banged up one knee. I hit the rock pretty much as soon as I wet-exited, before I had the good sense to get my feet up, so I managed to smash my left ankle, right hip and right knee against the rock before I was shot out of the rapid and towards the shore. I'm pretty bruised, but amazingly not broken.

After that little mishap, we had just one minor rapid before the take-out. All in all, it was a pretty amazing run. I think we were all a little impressed with how well we did, considering our under-estimation of the rapids at the start. It was a really exhilarating ride; I am sure I'll try it again sometime, maybe in three of four years : ).

Thursday, July 31, 2008

In the Beginning...Diamonds

(Come on, you had to know it was only a matter time before I wrote a post about something sparkly!)

We've all heard the theory that life on Earth sprang out of some strange primordial soup, some swampy mixture of chemicals that just happened to have what it takes to spontaneously spring to life. But scientists have so far been unable to explain just what it was about that early ooze that made it so special and, well, lively. New research from German scientists Andrei Sommer, Dan Zhu, and Hans-Joerg Fecht (Dibs on using that last one to name future children!) presents an interesting answer.

It appears that, billions of years ago, the surface of natural diamonds may have been just the right place for life to grow. Diamonds are crystallized forms of carbon and are older than Earth's oldest life forms. In laboratory experiments, the scientists showed that after treatment with hydrogen, natural diamond forms crystalline layers of water on its surface, essential for the development of life, and involved in electrical conductivity. When primitive molecules landed on the surface of these hydrogenated diamonds in the atmosphere of early Earth, the resulting reaction would have been sufficient to generate more complex organic molecules that eventually gave rise to life.

This post also gives me a great excuse to look at photos of diamonds online : ).

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Guest Blog #3 or A Short Rant by a Tall Fellow

I kayak a lot, four or five times a week lately. When I go out it is typically in the later evening or early morning so the only folks I run into are fellow die-hards trying to get their fix around work and whatnot. But recently when I was taking a group down the river with EPIC I had an opportunity to go out midday when the locals(yahoos, amateurs, non-kayaking folk) were on the river.

Wow, quite the eye opener.

Now, if you whitewater kayak you spend hundreds of dollars on your boat, and every accessory also costs around a hundred bucks (this varies--helmets and paddles cost more, hydroskins and skirts less) so when you actually get out on the water you are wearing or using about one thousand dollars worth of gear and boat (in the summertime). You have to secure everything well or risk losing expensive equipment when you roll, loop, surf, etc.

I don't mean to be judgmental and elitist (I'm going to sound that way but I feel better about it now that I've said I don't mean to), but when you are wearing all that gear and you have put a great deal of time and thought into being safe on the river it really ticks you off when you see a jackass floating through a sweet playhole on a pool toy with his cooler floating in an inner tube tied to his wrist with a length of rope. It's not just the fact that he isn't wearing a PFD, or that he's drunk, or that he is tempting fate by wearing his potential noose on his wrist, well yes it is. Then you have your folks out fishing, for the most part they are pleasant folks, but then there is the guy on the walmart raft with all his gear and beer unsecured in his boat on, I'll give him this, a relatively mellow class 2 stretch. Still if he tips or something all his gear ends up in our river and all those bottles end up all over the shore.

"Where", you may be asking yourself "the hell is this guy going with all this, and why do I care?

"Wow, harsh!" I respond. The answer is I'm no longer sure, but I think I was going to comment on some sort of political or social dilemma, give me a moment I will try to remember...


I think what I was going to say is this, we all have to stay cool in the summer and playing in water is a great way to do it, but folks on pool toys in the river? Jerks with beer in Walmart boats fishing? (I mean shopping at Walmart is bad enough!!)
But if you are going out on the water, please, use sensible judgment or go with someone who has good judgment and the ability to beat you senseless. That way you don't annoy/pollute/die or, most importantly, irritate your local kayakers.

By Gordon

Thursday, July 24, 2008

An Artist in the Family

For your artistic viewing pleasure, here is art from my sister Jaima...

The drawing is of a sculpture on the college campus where she works.
Notice the excellent shading.
Yeah, we're talented people : ).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Odds and Ends

You may have noticed that the two books I'm reading right now (according to this here blog, anyway) have been the same for quite some time now. Truth is, I have started both books and they are both excellent--interesting and thought-provoking. But then I got distracted. I'll go ahead and blame it on the season--no self-respecting summer reading list is complete without a big chunk of escapist fiction, huh? So I re-read the first three Harry Potter books, then I read two Agatha Christie novels (in one day!), now I'm working on Jurassic Park (One of my all-time favorites--I'm at the part right now where the T-Rex is attacking the two children in the cars!). I have a couple other works of fiction on my list and then, I promise, I'll get back to reading the good stuff. : )

Also, I thought I'd call attention to a little addition to TLaJ that I doubt anyone has noticed. Way down at the bottom of the page I've added a "Where I've Been" map. Quite fun. There is a feature where you can turn the countries you want to visit green, but I would just end up turning the whole thing green, so I didn't bother. Top three countries I am dying to see right now are Turkey, Greece, and Croatia. And Czech Republic. And Morocco and Spain. See, this gets out of hand fast.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More Summer Shenanigans

Yes, that is Gordon being pulled behind a speed boat in a kayak : ).

Friday, July 18, 2008

Captain Awesome

Kudos to Captain Awesome for getting FIRST PLACE at the Hydrotherapy kayaking competition last night. There were three categories (big air, entry tricks, and something else I forget--I was on my second (read: third) glass of wine by then), and Gordon took first in the Entry category for entering the wave with a killer dry roll then continuing to surf it. We took home some serious loot, too: A dry bag, beer cooler, carabiners, and gift certificate to the Olive Garden. Fun was had by all. For more info on Hydrotherapy, click here. Gordon should be posting video of last night's event here sometime today, so keep checking back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I had been hearing a lot about some phenomenon called LOLcats over the blogosphere, so I went to my trusty Wikipedia link to find out what this was all about. I could sort of tell it had something to do with some sort of weird netspeak (read: poor grammar). But after reading through the entire article on LOLcats and even clicking on all the links and going to the supporting websites and seeing several actual examples of said LOLcats, I have to admit this is one web phenomenon that I just can't wrap my mind around. How about you kids?

LOLcats definition: An image combining a photograph, most frequently a cat, with a humorous and idiosyncratic caption in (often) broken English—a dialect which is known as "lolspeak", or "Kitteh". The name "lolcat" is a compound word of "LOL" and "cat". Lolcats are created for photo sharing imageboards and other internet forums. Lolcats are similar to other anthropomorphic animal-based image macros such as the O RLY? owl.

I know, I know. Now it's all perferctly clear, right? Here's more history:

There are several well-known lolcat images and single-word captions that have spawned many variations and imitations, including "Ceiling Cat" and "Basement Cat" which have become the lolcat equivalents of God and Satan, respectively. Others include "I can has Cheezburger," "monorail cat," "I [verb]ed you a [noun], but I eated it", "hover cat", "Oh Hai I upgraded your RAM," "WANT", "DO NOT WANT!," "Fail", "Nom Nom Nom" (used for eating), "Halp!", "Invisible [object]", "Proceed," and "Pew pew pew" for shooting. A related phenomenon uses photos of an elephant seal("lolrus") on the search for a blue bucket ("bukkit").

Such astounding clarity. And now for some examples:

Don't ask me why......