Friday, February 29, 2008

Happy Leap Day

And here, from the Western Washington University Planetarium, are your leap year rules:

"There is a leap year every year whose number is perfectly divisible by four - except for years which are both divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400. The second part of the rule effects century years. For example; the century years 1600 and 2000 are leap years, but the century years 1700, 1800, and 1900 are not. This means that three times out of every four hundred years there are eight years between leap years. "

There, now it is all perfectly clear : ).

Lunar Hiking

NASA has been at it again. They are looking at possible landing sites for a future moon visit and, after creating some very high-resolution terrain maps of the moon's south pole, are considering landing there. These new high-res maps were created at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena from collected data from the facility's Goldstone Solar System Radar in the Mojave Desert. The maps have a resolution of 20 meters per pixel and are the best terrain maps we've ever had of the moon. "The mapping data collected indicate that the region of the moon's south pole near Shackleton Crater is much more rugged than previously understood. The Shackleton rim area is considered a candidate landing site for a future human mission to the moon." We've all seen the 1969 footage of our first little moonwalk--The terrain was mostly flat and grey with gently sloping hills. Not a bad place to land a spacecraft, but not exactly breath-taking either. The moon's south pole will be nothing like that. Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters describes it this way: "The south pole of the moon certainly would be a beautiful place to explore. We now know the south pole has peaks as high as Mt. McKinley and crater floors four times deeper than the Grand Canyon." Just imagine the amazing backpacking we could do there! : )

National Aeronautics And Space Administration. "NASA Views Landing Site Through Eyes Of Future Moon Crew." ScienceDaily 28 February 2008. 29 February 2008 .

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Freegan Vegans

Thanks to Pam for the assist on this one.

The Freegan movement has been around since the mid-1990s but is recently getting press for its growing numbers given the renewed focus on green living. It grew out of the Vegan movement, which some people apparently found to be too liberal of a lifestyle. As Adam Weissman, the movement's unofficial leader puts it, “If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism." To do this, Freegans try to live without purchasing any product or participating in the capitalist system at all. Anything they need for day-to-day living they find, generally in dumpsters. "They dress in castoff clothes and furnish their homes with items found on the street; at, where users post unwanted items; and at so-called freemeets, flea markets where no money is exchanged." They get their food from dumpsters as well, although most try to work something out with local supermarkets to get recently expired canned goods or badly bruised produce. Predictably, the movement is strongest in California, where local Freegans claim it is not unusual to come across designer clothes and housewares while dumpster-diving, and in New York City.

Thinking of becoming a Freegan? See these links for more info and let us know how it goes! (quotes from here)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Expectations and Reality

I've read several articles and opinion pieces lately about the effect of expectations on our experience of the world. First, there are several studies that have shown that when we know the price of a product, it affects the way we experience it. And I don't mean we get tricked into thinking that the more expensive product is better because of clever marketing or packaging--using brain-imaging technology, it has been shown that these products actually do produce a more intense result. One example I've come across more than once is the ice cream test, which shows that consumers equate ice cream in a round tub as being better tasting than ice cream in a square tub. We are willing to pay several dollars more for it, even if it's the exact same ice cream. Or the wine test, which shows that people who think they are drinking expensive wine (even if they are not), find the wine to be better-tasting and get more brain activity in the pleasure centers of the brain when they drink it, compared with drinking wine that they have been told is cheap (again, this holds true even when the cheap and expensive wines are switched, or when both wines are the same!). Another study showed that our expectations about pain work the same way. Subjects were told to put one hand in a bucket of hot water and hold it there for a specific amount of time. Subjects who were told that the water was very, very hot experienced more pain than subjects who were told it would only be a little bit hot. The subjects evaluated their pain levels verbally and their comments were mirrored by the brain activity scans. Of course, the water was kept at a steady, mildly hot temperature for all subjects.

As fun as it must be to trick research subjects into experiencing false pain, this is more than just an academic exercise. Generic and name-brand drugs have the exact same ingredients and ought to work exactly the same. But they don't. If you have more trust in the name brand, you will get a better result from it than you will from the generic. This isn't just happening in your head--okay, it is, but that doesn't mean the effects aren't real. Your expectations about the product actually affect the way your body reacts to it physically. Placebos work in a similar way. When Prozac was initially in trials, it was found to be very effective when compared with the sugar pill that was given to the control group. However, now that the public has been convinced of the efficacy of Prozac, there is less of a difference between the results from the control group and the results from participants actually on the drug. Because the study participants in both groups believe that they are getting the treatment and have an expectation that it will work, even those in the placebo group see improvement (though the placebo effect does drop off after several weeks in the study). Again, this is not just based on how much improvement subjects say they are getting; brain imaging show that all study participants are actually less depressed.

Neuroscientist and writer Jonah Leher puts it this way, "The human brain, research suggests, isn't built for objectivity. The brain doesn't passively take in perceptions. Rather, brain regions involved in developing expectations can systematically alter the activity of areas involved in sensation. The cortex is "cooking the books," adjusting its own inputs depending on what it expects. Although much of this research has been done by scientists interested in marketing and consumer decisions, the work has broad implications. People assume that they perceive reality as it is, that our senses accurately record the outside world. Yet the science suggests that, in important ways, people experience reality not as it is, but as they expect it to be."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The End of Conservatism

I came across another great Fareed Zakaria essay in last week’s Newsweek that really put the conservative movement into historical context for me. I think I tend to assume that the way things are today is the way things have always been--but then, I didn’t live through the change-crazy 60’s and 70’s. In the essay, entitled “The End of Conservatism”, Zakaria suggests that the conservative movement was born out of those years and became popular “because it proposed solutions appropriate to the problems of the age—a time when socialism was still a serious economic idea, when marginal tax rates reached 70 percent, and when the government regulated the price of oil and natural gas, interest rates on checking accounts and the number of television channels. The culture seemed under attack by a radical fringe. It was an age of stagflation and crime at home, as well as defeat and retreat abroad. Into this landscape came Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, bearing a set of ideas about how to fix the world.” Put into that context, I feel like I can finally understand what the Conservatives are thinking. Growing up in a world like that could lead you to believe that conservative policies were the answer. Not to mention that fact that some of those policies did make American lives better.

However, Zakaria goes on to suggest that those policies no longer offer answers to our problems. Although many people still consider themselves conservatives, on an issue-by-issue examination, the majority of Americans have moved to the center or even to the left. “Public support for prescription-drug benefits ranges from 80 to 90 percent….A majority of Americans regard the Bush tax cuts as "not worth it," and would prefer increased spending or balancing the budget to cutting taxes….According to the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans who believe that military force can reduce the risk of terrorism dropped sharply between 2002 and 2006, from 48 percent to 32 percent.” All of this is not to say that everyone is climbing on board the old-fashioned liberal bandwagon and demanding more government services, oversight, and spending--“They don't want bigger government—a poll last year found that a majority (57 percent) still believe that government makes it harder for people to get ahead in life—but they do want a smarter government, one that can help them be safe, secure and well prepared for political and economic challenges. In this context, conservative slogans sound weirdly anachronistic, like watching an old TV show from ... well, from the 1970s.

So I guess the ideologies have changed on both sides of the spectrum. And as usual, it turns out we have a lot more in common than we thought.

Seriously, read the article. It’s very good.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Barking Dogs and Beautiful Fools

I'm feeling artsy today, so here are a couple of my favorite Billy Collins poems. Enjoy!

Another Reason Why I Don't Keep A Gun In The House

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

Night Club

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don't hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.

For no particular reason this afternoon
I am listening to Johnny Hartman
whose dark voice can curl around
the concepts of love, beauty, and foolishness
like no one else's can.
It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette
someone left burning on a baby grand piano
around three o'clock in the morning;
smoke that billows up into the bright lights
while out there in the darkness
some of the beautiful fools have gathered
around little tables to listen,
some with their eyes closed,
others leaning forward into the music
as if it were holding them up,
or twirling the loose ice in a glass,
slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,
borne beyond midnight,
that has no desire to go home,
especially now when everyone in the room
is watching the large man with the tenor sax
that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.
He moves forward to the edge of the stage
and hands the instrument down to me
and nods that I should play.
So I put the mouthpiece to my lips
and blow into it with all my living breath.
We are all so foolish,
my long bebop solo begins by saying,
so damn foolish
we have become beautiful without even knowing it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Girl's Guide to Beer Pong
Why Most Republicans are Really Democrats
Magic 8 Ball Decision-Making for Beginners

I don't really have anything to blog about today, but the blog titles I came up with were too good to pass up. : )

Yet another wild birthday party last night--It's becoming a habit. This one was at Jake and Andrew's (the birthday was Jake's). Yes, I learned to play beer pong and it turns out I have no measurable skills in that area. Also, I apparently suck at Catchphrase. And foosball. Nevertheless, I believe fun was had by all. I'd like to think that it's a sign of a really great party when it comes to a close around midnight with everyone gathered in the kitchen to share a giant venison steak dripping with red wine sauce.........but I'm not really sure......

Happy Tuesday Everyone : )

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Participatory Democracy

Gordon and I had a good time caucusing on Saturday afternoon. There were four different precincts meeting at the union hall that served as our caucus location and it sounded like everyone was very surprised by the turnout. There were probably about 200 people there. Apparently last election cycle there were only twelve people from our precinct at the caucus, but this time there were at least forty of us. Of course, Washingtonians actually had a chance to make a difference this year--usually by the time we get our turn to vote there is already a presumptive nominee.

In our precinct, we ended up with seven delegates for Obama and three for Hillary, which very nearly matches the state-wide results. Gordon and I were elected to be delegates for our precinct (for Obama), so we'll be going to the district and city caucuses in April as well. It will be really interesting to participate at those higher levels, I think. We are really looking forward to it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Think Like A Jillian Book Review #1

The World Without Us
Alan Weisman

This book provides an oddly optimistic outlook for a world suddenly without humanity. It is basically a series of "what ifs" that Weisman attempts to answer with the best information available, although, to some extent the answer to the World Without Us question is "who knows?". Weisman asks his readers to imagine the nearly impossible--that humanity suddenly vanishes (he suggests that religious or alien rapture or heretofore unimaginably lethal disease be the cause). What would happen to the world? Our cities, our works of art? What would happen to our farm land, to our orchards, to our favorite pets? The question, though macabre, is clearly one that appeals to many because the book is a bestseller. Weisman is skilled with words and knows how to weave a rich story. Unfortunately, the topic is huge and Weisman did not have the space to be truly comprehensive, so the reader is left wanting more. Nevertheless, Weisman does a good job with his picking-and-choosing, and the book covers several of the most interesting results of human disappearance in great detail.

Weisman begins by covering the basics of how different materials break down over time, so you get a feel for how long your house will stay up after you are mysteriously spirited away. You understand why your plastic Tupperware will be around long after your roof collapses and your home is taken over by a nice family of raccoons. On a slightly larger scale, he talks about what will happen in our cities, whether on the ocean or inland. Our glistening skyscrapers will be long outlasted by stone cathedrals built centuries ago. Our modern buildings don't stand a chance. On the other hand, anything made in bronze will last basically forever, as will automobile tires, so don't think we won't have left our mark : ).

The most fascinating part of the book was devoted to describing the fate of a few of our man-made "wonders" after we are no longer around to tend to them. China's Great Wall would fall or be swallowed by foliage within a few short decades. The Panama canal would probably not last a single rainy season. New York City would literally sink into it's own subway tunnels and rivers long buried under the pavement would flow freely through the streets. In Texas, the large oil refineries would probably explode from pressure within a few days. If not, as metal tanks quickly corroded, one lightening strike would ignite an inferno we can hardly imagine. And nothing would stop it until all the fuel had burned. There is no way to fully predict the effects that would have on Earth's climate. And then think of the nuclear power plants scattered around the globe. They have back-up systems and safety controls of course, but with no people around to flip the switches, they wouldn't last long.

Weisman's two closing chapters were particularly entertaining. The first focuses on a small community of activist groups who are dedicated to eliminating the human race (Visit the website for the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement at Some groups are fairly militant where others just want to decrease birthrates worldwide. The final chapter talks about the future of our little solar system. Whether or not we are here to see it coming, the sun will expand one day and swallow up the inner planets of the solar system. We already know that life on this planet is temporary; Unless we can find a way to move somewhere else, I'm afraid extinction is in our future eventually. I say let's accept it gracefully : ).

As I said, the book has a rather positive outlook overall, though you may not be able to tell from this review (apparently I liked the dark parts best). Weisman spends a lot of time dealing with plant and animal life and how it would flouish happily if we were gone, so that's were most of the optimism comes in. This is a good read; I highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

And Now The Moment You've All Been Waiting For....

Think Like A Jillian's Official Presidential Endorsement

This is a long way in coming--I've not had an easy time of it. Clearly I am not alone in this; many of the current candidates are neck-and-neck. But this year I feel that, rather than choosing between the lesser of several evils, we are getting to choose between the greater of several goods, and that is definitely a good thing. For me, it comes down to Hillary and Obama (Why one is referred to by first name and the other by last name is beyond me; it just feels right). I definitely classify myself as a Liberal, but even I can see that this year's Republican candidates are useless. It's a lot of conservatism run amok over there (and haven't we had enough of that lately?) and even if you're into that, no candidate on that team is the least bit inspiring. So, back to Hillary and Obama.

I have always liked Hillary Clinton. I believe that she has what it takes to lead this country, fix some of our problems, and be a great influence for good. She would represent us well internationally and I feel that her priorities (education, poverty, etc) are right in line with my own. Furthermore, she comes across as rational and clear-headed, two attributes I prize very highly and that I strive for in my own life. She's highly experienced and has a great network of support to back her up. That said (uh-oh, here comes the 'but'), I know that she turns a lot of people off. I've heard co-workers say that they would never vote for a woman who stuck with her cheating husband. I've heard my own mother--who never says anything bad about anyone--say horrible things about Hillary, a woman she's never met and knows almost nothing about. There is something about her that is divisive. I believe most of this stems from latent sexism, though I am sure none of you Hillary-haters out there will admit it. It bugs you that she is decisive and un-emotional. You would be so much more comfortable if she would put on a dress, smile, wave, and keep her mouth shut. Nevertheless, we can't get anywhere with a leader that half of the country loves and the other half absolutely despises.

Which brings us around to Obama. I love Obama's spiritedness and energy. He is young, and I mean that in a good way : ). Even conservatives have a hard time finding things to hate about him--he is just very appealing. Obama is well-educated and it shows in his speeches and his ideas. He has spent time overseas and has experience with cultural variety--a trait that may be more important for leadership in this country than we have previously assumed (See Fareed Zakaria's interesting essay on this subject here Obama's priorities are also not far from my own, and I feel he would be particularly good at repairing relations with alienated allies overseas. Most importantly, I feel that Obama has a better chance of beating out the Republican candidate (regardless of who it is) come November. Because he lacks that divisive edge, he will be hard to beat. He is a unifier that can move this country forward. I don't expect that he'll get through his first year without any rookie mistakes, but he will represent us to the best of his ability and over time, I think he'll come into his own and become a great president.

Think Like A Jillian officially endorses Barack Obama for President.

Monday, February 4, 2008


1. To "rip," "shred," or "tear" something up, as in skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding or skiing.

1. Short for gnarly
2. An outcry of randomness
3. An exclamation used in place of another word
4. One who says or understands "Nar"

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Ron Paul Revolution

Rebublican presidential hopeful Ron Paul was in town yesterday, aparently speaking before cheering crowds of Spokanites about his plans for immediate withdrawal from Iraq (and all other international military entanglements), to provide abrupt and rigorous tax cuts, and to protect us from the menace of a multi-cultural culture by building giant walls around our country and stationing heavily-armed guards at all entrances. I would have thought that his line of reasoning (if you can call it that) and his idea of America would appeal mostly to crotchety old men who feel sidelined and marginalized by a younger and better workforce and who would prefer to blame it (and everything else, from the price of gas to El Nino weather) on Mexicans--whether here illegally or otherwise--than to actually take stock of themselves. As it stands, however, the four Ron Paul supporters I've actually encountered have all been 18-year-old white males. And I have to wonder about that. What is it about his message that appeals to them? His campaign is certainly steeped in fear-mongering and conspiracy-building that has a disturbingly xenophobic bent (see --It can't be a good thing that young men are showing an interest. Any thoughts?