Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happiness from tolerance.
From all our kin to all of yours.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Teacher's Pet (Peeves)

Today's student tip of the day:

Many students feel (erroneously) that some form of communication with the teacher is better than complete anonymity. I understand that this sort of thing works for people like Lauren Conrad, Amy Winehouse and Rush Limbaugh, but given that you probably don't stand to make several million dollars in libel lawsuits or from photos taken of you snorting coke with your kitten, negative attention in your case might actually result in a net loss.

When you send me emails that ask about course logistics, you are wasting a big, expensive resource (my brain). Instead, why not check that slick 13" silicone brain you insist on bringing to class? I know how consuming it is to watch Ashton Kutcher catching Hollywood intelligentsia off-guard by putting muffin tins in their underwear drawers, but that's why your laptop has multiple tabs on its browsers: so you can check the course website without missing the hilarity that ensues when Bruce Willis fumbles to strap a muffin tin to his backside.

When you do have a real question of substance, try to send it to me without making it clear that you're only interested in the correct answer (i.e., as opposed to the underlying concept). E.g., questions or issues prefaced with "I really want to understand..." or "I find it fascinating that" are better than "I really want a good grade." The following is an example of an excellent and relevant question:

"Dear Teacher,
I was recently reading the article you assigned on flying patterns of conchords. In the assigned questions, you asked us to describe body morphology that might affect flying speed. You listed as examples wingspan, torso length and sugalumps, but I can't find any information on sugalumps. Some brief research on the internet indicates that sugalumps only affect male conchords. Is your question about all conchords or just males? I am doing my honors project on the links between skin elasticity and flexibility and am fascinated by the constraints of morphology.
Thank you,
Student Etiquettious"

And here is an example of a bad question:

"yO. I don't get what U want from the Q on sugalumps. I need to get a good grade in this class so if you could explain it better, the question wouldn't be so badly worded."

Questions? Comments? OMG - I just saw that, too. His ass has muffin indents on it!! Hahahahaha!

I never want to leave you without a photo, so, speaking of interesting underwear, here is a recent photo of Vodka.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When it Rains, it Pours

It always starts like this. Three seeds must be thrust gently into a narrow opening. One must then cover up to avoid inseedsent exposure. Finally, one waits in eager anticipation for a sign of impending life. One repeats this as many times as stamina allows or until all of the available repositories have been impregnated (so to speak). I, a veritable Don Juan of seeding, have sown all 25 cavities shown below. Though I paid equal attention to all of my little seedlings, some nonetheless are reluctant to come out and show their true colors (a rainbow?). Notice that the lettuce seedlings (top), planted yesterday, have begun their upward adventure with only minimal stimulation. Their close cousins, the swiss chard (lower left), are also indiscriminate shooters. Interestingly, the brussels sprouts are unabashedly oxymoronic... The carrots and columbine also have yet to emerge.If you want to put the seed back in speed, best to avoid avocados. I've been germinating a seed in a plastic bag for about three weeks and it's only produced a skinny root and stumpy head (see below). As an aside, while many websites have indicated that one should place a punctured seed on stilts (e.g., toothpicks) in a half-glass of water, I have found it easier to place the seed in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel. I have a general affinity for wet towels, so maybe it's just me, but I'd recommend this technique for anyone trying to grow an avocado tree from seed.
His brother, for example, was started this way about a month ago, and is now burgeoning from a seedy, glorious hole. In related news, the garden is generally over-productive, which isn't surprising given my complete failure to heed spacing guidelines. Our first broccoli have been harvested, and slightly too late. It's supposed to be harvested when the head is somewhere between four and seven inches in diameter (that's what she said) and the little buds are all the same size (that's what Dre said). Ours have just begun to bolt (go to seed) as indicated by the lovely yellow spots interspersed in the green, though as far as I can tell, it has no effect whatsoever on flavor.
We thus have too many veggies. Moreover, the veggies I'd like to eat move to a different beet. Clearing of redundant greens has begun in anticipation of resplendent reds. Stay tuned. I've got to attend to the Moroccan stew that has claimed most of these as vicstems.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stalled but not idle

Idle hands are the level's tools... That's right, in the nearly three months since last posting, we've been busy leveling the back yard and preparing ourselves for summertime sanctuary/ margarita madness.

This is a view of the new pathway, which leads to...
the new patio... and the new strawberry patch, which has passed HM's inspection...

and has made notable appearances on Seattle's Bee-list...

Lest our NW hippie friends protest, we have also started our very own edible garden, with peas, tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, kale, lettuce, peppers, and cucumbers. Now all we need is a money tree to compensate for labor spent...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

To the chopping block!

The garden is coming along, though in some ways it seems even more discombobulated than when we started (snort!). We have now moved into the back yard to begin work under the auspices of a new academic discipline: arboreal Darwinism. That's right - we choose trees according to aesthetic appeal and send the rest to the chopping block. In fact, the trees are often hacked using their own trunks as substrate. To me, this seems vaguely cannibalistic, but as I'm now on a list for having used the words "Darwinism, cannibalistic, and chopping block" in the same post, I'll have to saccharine this up to avoid penal detention, so here goes...

Morning shot of our back yard, before limb massage commenced:

The first tree put to rest - inducing supine state using gentle strokes:

These guys came in the morning to give an estimate and came back the same afternoon to begin beautification. The dude here was tickled to interact so intimately with the power lines during teticure.

This hawthorn was the largest the arborist had ever seen in Seattle. Its removal required extensive maneuvering. Armed with a 42'' dangling chainsaw, the barber pictured below set to work on the hawthorn's head. About an hour later, we were left with a glistening bald stump at which to marvel.

Naively, we opted to be left with the remains, which we have now been hacking up diligently for several hours. We've removed the hatchet from its resting place in order to put old Hawthorn to his.

To be continued...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lord of the Mud Pies

As threatened, a post on our recent gardening adventures. We have attempted several times to clean up our yard. The largest effort occurred before we took off for a year in China. Naively, we reduced the rent in exchange for upkeep by the renters. Needless to say, upkeep didn't happen and we came back to a yard that was, perhaps, more unkempt than when we bought the place. 

Anyway, this represents one catalyst for a proper revamp of the necrotic plot. Spring's arrival further warrants an outdoor sanctuary. Moreover, as many of our associates are at some stage of child-bearing, we'll need to entertain ourselves and the occasional barren buddy or two. As it so happens, a favorite pastime of one celibate crony involves studying the natural history of raccoons while intoxicated (this is rather cerebral compared to a historical fondness for mattress surfing). The mead and amber are bubbling away in anticipation so it's on to seducing raccoons... 

Raccoon seduction requires professional guidance, which we have obtained. The garden design is quite alluring, even for non-Procyanids - it incorporates a number of local plants, a vegetable garden, a patio and, potentially, an herb spiral (welcome to the Northwest). The re-model is rather intensive, and will proceed slowly given other commitments, but the first stage has now been completed. This is the before photo of the South side yard: 

To begin, we hauled excess dirt, compost and mulch from the side yard into the back yard where we will use it to level the ground before laying the patio (lest we be sued by intoxicated natural historians). This involved a lot of digging and, because this is the space we have around the back staircase, 

a jury-rigged way of getting the dirt into the back yard: 

Digging and hauling have now been completed, and the roses and irises have been temporarily relocated. It's not an attractive pit, but the dirt now exposes 6" of the foundation, which is required by law. 

This will eventually be re-planted, but first the patio needs to be laid. In the mean time, Peter has laid claim to the South side plot,  having taken on the epithet, Lord of the Mud Pies. 

To be continued... 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Munch on this, quarter!

The quarter is basically over. Yes, I have to go to a meeting tomorrow morning, but I'm going on a Wooster-style bender tonight, and looking forward to a Jeeves-style hangover cure in the morning (hair of the dog, anyone?). In addition, my friend Anna has successfully defended her MA in Geography today - another reason to celebrate. Since I may have a spare hour or two in the next week, you might anticipate either photos of garden progress or a photo update from our most recent adventure across the country (both, if you're unlucky). In the mean time, this is approximately about how I feel about this quarter, in particular, stats. 

I got to write the first paper on my own data. Very preliminary, but vaguely satisfying, even if things didn't go quite as planned. A long way ahead, but hopefully over beautiful terrain. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sex bias

Four thirty in the morning and can't sleep again. Nothing puts me to sleep quite as well as my own drivel... 

I gave a little presentation on my research yesterday in the BioA class I'm TA'ing . Whenever I discuss this informally, I like to preface the presentation with personal reasons for being interested in kinship and family. Sometimes I joke about how living with four siblings makes the logic of the demographic transition especially appealing. Today, I showed my class the two photos below and argued that interest in sex-bias was a natural outcome of growing up in my family.

The photo on the right is especially telling. It looks all cute until you realize that one brother (A!!) is ready to strangle the new baby, while another is ready to box in baby's ears. I haven't quite figured out what B1 was doing, but I'm guessing it's not good given his avoidance of the camera. If I had to write a caption for the photo on the left, it might be something like "Who needs glass ceilings when you have older brothers?"*

At one point, when I was still a staunch biological determinist**, I had attributed my mom's love of my brothers to differences in chromosome size. I.e., since dads are more related to their daughters than they are to their sons (they're giving their big juicy X chromos to their daughters and their little piddling Y chromos to their sons) and since moms are proportionately more related to their sons than to their daughters (passing along the same amount of genetic material, but moms' genes account for a larger proportion of sons' genomes due to competition with useless, trivial Y), moms should prefer sons and dads should prefer daughters. 

I held this belief privately for a number of years (disclosing only to my friend Pete Buston (now at UCSB) and my brother A, even though he tried to strangle me) because of some egomaniacal paranoia that someone would scoop me. I ate my own stomach when I read a paper by Hartung in 2007 (written sometime in the late 70s or early 80s) where he had laid all of this out, in writing, and much more formally than my piddling brain had even aspired to. During my general exams, I confessed publicly to having held this belief and everyone had a nice hearty laugh at my simplistic (simpleton?) hypothesis' expense***. 

Why do I choose to regale you with such soporific tales? What does this have to do with crafts-related pursuits? Nothing! My little rat brain won't sleep and it's stuck on sex bias. There will be no pursuit of craftiness until I can un-obsess over sex (bias). 

I'm working on a paper now that examines sex-biased parental investment as it differs according to group-level ideology (this is what happens when you lose determinism; your discourse gets jargon-laden and impossible to understand; sorry Papa Popper!). I am in the pretty early stages of working through some  HLM models (redundant, I know, but if Brian Williams gets to say PIN number, I can say HLM models) looking at this and I'm stuck. At first, everything looked all hunky-dory and then I allowed for random variation at the household level and everything turned in the opposite direction. I can't even decide whether the data are poisson^* and I really don't want to deal with the messiness of negative binomial HLM (insert scary music here). 

Anyway, before I bore you all to tears (staring through glassy eyes at a glass ceiling is especially counter-productive), I'll finish up with another personal anecdote and a photo (craftsy, right?). Just as psychologists are crazy*, anthropologists who study families come from dysfunctional families*. One of the only bedtime poems I remember being read to me as a kid (read by my father) was "How doth the little crocodile" by Lewis Carroll: 

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

As you can see, though there are obvious benefits to being preferred by dads, there are also costs - nightmares (it's a nice poem, as long as you're not 5). And just to make sure that you can't sleep either, here's a recent photo I took in a parking lot in the Florida Everglades of a nice little alligator with "gently smiling jaws". 

*As my friend GK has pointed out, sometimes it's necessary to append statements like these with "just kidding!" lest you should think I'm serious. 

**Just kidding?

***Note delusional unwillingness to ascribe hearty laughter to my expense.

^*My stats professor insists that it is necessary to examine the outcome variable within each group, having subtracted effects of covariates before determining functional form, which makes sense to me, but isn't the poisson model a mathematical construct to deal with count data in the first place (i.e. it's a convenient, tractable way to make y positive)? It's not like your data ever really come from a poisson distribution, right? Can stats nerds fill me in on this?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Midnight Rambling

Preamble: It's been a while, I know. You can thank graduate school for that. When I started this blog, a friend admonished that I should savor the precious little me-time I had while in New Hampshire to write my dissertation. She's probably right, but it's the only me-time I've had in a long time, so I'm glad I did something else. This is the first weekend in a while in which I don't have a stats problem set, so might as well do something useless with my insomnia!

Crafts: On to the necessary crafts-related yarn. I'm unraveling at the seams here, folks. Obviously, the whole crafts projects thing is on hold for the moment. I've had to drop the needles for a while as I come to grips with the fact that I am once again slave to the academy. Nonetheless, I tried today to get a jump on some spring knitting (pun intended) by taking a stroll down to the local yarn store (which shall remain nameless because I'm still feeling that nice) to take advantage of their 15%-off-normally-ridiculously-priced-yarn sale. 

The customer service at this place honestly makes me want to go in there, feel up their yarns and then buy them on the web. It's that bad. Evidence: 

Item A) Upon entering yarn store, I inquired as to continuation of aforementioned sale. Snippy response to the effect of, "it's written clearly on your coupon; it continues until 6 PM tomorrow." I ask, "it's necessary to print the coupon? My friend (who works in your store) emailed the sale information to me. I thought it applied to anyone who walked into the store." To make a long story short, rather than offer me the discount, they offered (as sardonically as possible) for me to go home, print out the coupon and return with it in hand, lest I should try to come back 30 times within the next 24 hours to buy out their entire merchandise at 15% discount. The mere thought of such malevolent yarn buying makes the curlers fall right off my head!

Item B) Before I had decided never to return to this store (sorry, Anna), I asked them to recommend a project for my mother, who may have knit at some point in the past, but gave it up to make bazillions of dollars before re-cession-tiring this fall. The sales woman somehow condescended to answer me, even though I failed to realize that size 12 knitting needles don't exist (duh? - they don't want to make knitters feel like their fingers are pudgy?). When I asked whether she had any good beginner quickie patterns that came with purchased yarn, she balked. She reminded me that "most knitters" like to find patterns and then pick the yarn. It is my impression that "most yarn stores" (yes, I'm doing air quotes as I write this; I'm that mad) have patterns that accompany yarns for beginners (usually, they're so easy that you could read the yarn and figure it out, but it's helpful for people just starting out), so at first I wasn't sure why she was so irritated by my suggestion. 

Then I remembered why I never liked this yarn store. They always try to make money, on everything. And when you are inclined to be thrifty (mwa), their Depends go all a-crinkle. Why offer a free pattern with yarn when you can make the customer pay for both, after all? Why offer a discount without a coupon when you can rake in the trees from paper printing? Why offer a free hint for a knitter in trouble when you can make the knitter pay for your advice? Did I mention that this place even makes you buy into the frequent buyer program? 

Well, it's bad business, if you ask me. And rather short-sighted, too. The incentives for me to purchase from this particular store are numerous. For one, this shop is literally around the corner from me. I also have a friend who works there. I like to buy from local businesses (as opposed to online). What, exactly, do they gain by not offering me a small discount, particularly since you had to have received some notification to have any idea about the sale in the first place. I hope these women have some excuse. I mean, relative to one's pocketbook, the price of adult diapers has probably gone up during the recession. In any case, I'm sticking with Weaving Works. They may only give 10% off on the birthday instead of 15%, but I don't have to buy some plastic keychain to receive the discount. 

Enough ranting. The hint is in the label.