October 2000 Archives

Just a short note to let everybody know I’m still here, underneath this mound of work. Updates should resume sometime in the not-so-distant future. The current lack of new content is brought to you by a number of factors: Lor being out of town on business for an extended period, the resulting shifts in my sleep schedule and things to do around the house, my work in general, and a few projects around the house that are taking much longer than anticipated.

To follow up on my recent banking question: after a bit of research, it looks like we will be ditching CheckFree. The current plan (subject to change) is to use our bank’s on-line bill paying service, install LinuxPPC on the PowerMac 7500 that was running CheckFree, and use GnuCash for checkbook reconciliation and other financial stuff. This setup won’t meet all our needs (Lor won’t be able to do much stuff while she’s on the road, for example), but it easily matches the current system we have, and it’s cheaper to boot. Plus, I get to play around with LinuxPPC again, and Lor will get introduced to Linux — and I’ve been trying to come up with a way to accomplish those last two goals for a while now.

The other day, a woman I don’t know approached me and asked me if my license plate meant “go to hell”. When we moved to Maryland, we found that personalized plates were only a few dollars more, so we got a plate that reads GENEHCK. When I explained that it was just the name of my website (and my profession, but I didn’t get into that), the mysterious woman said, “Oh, my friend said that it means go to hell in Yiddish”. Seeing from my confused expression and my wedding band that I wasn’t the angry-yet-clever-and-single Jewish guy she was after, but rather a married, geeky goy, she quickly moved on. So, members of the loyal Genehack Corps, if any of you can shed any light on what “ge ne hck” means, in whatever language, please, drop me a line.

Finally, today’s (other?) bit of absurdity came in the snail mail: an envelope with a credit card company return address, bearing on the front the notice: “This is not a bill. It is a pre-approved credit card offer.” Okay, let me get this straight: the company is pre-approving cards for people that have a habit of tossing bill-looking things in the trash without opening them? Yah, that’s a sound business model. It would make a lot more sense if things were labeled the other way around: “This is a bill. It is not a pre-approved offer for a card with a US$500 limit and a 28% APR.”

(I made a few minor changes to the layout template — those of you with smaller screens who were having problems with the layout, let me know if this helps. I think in the long run, I’m going to ditch the right hand side bar, but that’s going to require a bit more hackery — hopefully the current kludge will suffice for now.)

…that you haven’t seen it, I’ll point to We Didn’t Start the Weblogs

Lor and I are thinking about changing our electronic banking app from CheckFree to something web-based. Since I run Linux all the time, it would be nice to have something platform independent. Just as I was thinking of asking people for recommendations, I found an Ask Slashdot thread about that very subject. (Your recommendations are still welcome, BTW.)

Hacktivism gets some play on CNN: “The Internet is the next Kent State, and we’re the ones who are probably going to get shot.”

Go — read one of Ethel’s latest entries. Marvel. Wonder why you haven’t seen this in any major media. If you’re the introspective sort, meta-marvel at how human bein’s just love to find hypocrisy. If you’re a blogger, spread the meme — maybe we can get some of those heavy hitting, liberally biased media mavens to follow-up on this story.

Mike wanted to know about my decision process for deciding between Nader and Browne. I’ve been giving this a bit of thought lately, and so I’m just going to brain-dump it all. Background: in the last two presidential elections, IIRC, I voted for Browne both times (although I might have voted for Clinton against Bush; I’m not positive). I’ve already decided, like a lot of people, that I can’t really stomach either of the major two candidates. Clearly, however, one of those two bozos is going to win. So, I’m basically in the ‘send a message’ position with my vote — I can either not vote at all, which doesn’t seem right, or I can vote for Browne or Nader. Currently, I’m leaning towards Nader, because he’s doing significantly better than Browne in the polls I’ve seen, and I think the best possible outcome in this election, regardless of who wins, is getting some third party over the 5% hump, so that they’ll get federal funds for the next go-round. (Yes, I know about the Reform party, and the way it self-destructed, but what other hope do we have (aside from burning the whole thing down?)) If that’s my goal, Nader is the way to go, I think.

Also, I did the SpeakOut.com VoteMatch thing today, and (after the withdrawn Bill Bradley), I have the best overall match with Nader. Browne and Nader are about equal for me on personal issues, but Nader’s economics match me better than Browne’s. (My economics profile doesn’t really match anyone all that well; I think because I didn’t have strong opinions on most of the economics questions.) So, that’s a little bit of confirmation that I won’t be selling my soul if I vote for Nader.

Anyway, that’s my story — feel free to tell me that I’m an idiot, if you want to: jacobs@genehack.org

We’re back. The travel part of the trip was uneventful; the ‘visit Jessamyn’ part of the trip was wonderful! The weather was incredible, we got to meet some cool people, visit some new places, hang out, and just generally relax. I thought about writing up some sort of travelogue, but that’s not really my style of writing, and besides, I don’t have the time to do it justice — gotta get back into the ‘get up and go to work’ thing. More later tonight or tomorrow morning…


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Tomorrow I head off to New Hampshire, where I’ll meet Lor (currently in Boston), get a car, and drive to West Topsham to visit Jessamyn. I’m pretty excited; I need a bit of recovery. (·)

To follow-up on the question I asked Mike in the last entry: Mike responded in his 18 October entry. Here’s what I emailed back to him:

i don’t read the editorial page of the post, but i did see that one of the debate summary articles made the same point about the majority of the 300,000 being military reductions. it went on to point out that the growth in texas was relatively minor (~3%, IIRC).

as for being ‘impressed’, i don’t know what to say. i think my expectations have been diminished pretty far, all things considered. <shrug>

do you happen to know how the budgetary numbers work out as percent of GNP, rather than absolute numbers? i’m not an economist, but it seems that tax revenue (and hence expenditures) should scale linearly with the economy — and the economy improved a lot between ‘92 and ‘99.

oh, and since we’re on the topic, i’ll ask you one more (possible stupid/naive) question: why do the candidates let themselves take the fall for things that weren’t really their fault? specifically, i’m thinking of the medicare reform thing that bush has been harping on in the debates — “they’ve had 8 years to reform it and it didn’t happen”, that sort of thing. (not trying to pick on bush; gore did this too; i just can’t recall specifics off the top of my head for him.)

IIRC, (and maybe i don’t), medicare reform legislation _was_ proposed in the congress, possibly multiple times. given the gop majority, it seems like the failure to pass some sort of medicare reform should lie with them — not with the executive branch. so how come gore doesn’t say this?

No response as of yet; let me know what you think.

XEWA Workshop is going to attempt to lay the groundwork for a common set of schema that will unify bioinformatics services.

Gentle guide to DocBook. So many things to learn; so little time.

Ebola is back.

“Licking your wounds” might soon be more than a metaphor.

Achilles is an Open Sourced 3D artifical life simulator that uses OpenGL and neural networks.

The other day, I came up with the perfect solution for those parents who are worried about the influence of violent television, video games, music and the ‘net on their children: Skinner boxes. Not only can you completely control what the child sees, you can punish ‘deviant’ behavior, or reward ‘good’ behavior, as you see fit! Unfortunately, skinnerbox.com is taken, but both skinner-box.com and skinnerboxesforchildren.com are available — get to it! (In case you were wondering about the meme that Skinner himself did something similar with his daughter, I’ll let you know that that’s an urban legend — but that’s all good; no pesky prior art to block that business model patent.)

Lately, I seem to have been running across a lot of stuff on how the ‘net is changing the nature of academic publishing: Jorn had some thoughts, Wired News had an an article, and this message, about free online archives of scientific papers, moved across bionet.journals.note.

The Anti-Defamation League has put together a database of tattoos, logos, and symbols characteristic of hate groups. Of course, since there’s so much context involved in the use of signifiers, they had to cast a pretty wide net: (1) (2) (3). Curiously, the Christian cross isn’t featured, even though some hate groups do use it.

New Zealand seems to be taking a sensible approach to deciding what to do about genetically modified foodstuffs.

Judge rules that cursing out cops not illegal.

Oregon school targets Hispanic males for sexual harassment education.

This could be useful at some point: What is data mining?

Also very useful, very soon: Probability Theory: The Logic Of Science (Thanks to Greg at Nodalpoint for this one.)

Is it just me, or is that new Fox show Freakylinks about a group of kids with a blog? Or what some Hollywood producer thinks is a blog, anyway — the site’s way over-designed, they’ve got a Flash splash screen on the site (the link above by-passes that), and a pop-up window on exit. So, it’s like a blog, but ‘cooler’, in that superficial, stupid television way.

Okay, time to go get ready for the trip. Hope everybody has a good weekend; I’ll see you on Monday.

Watched the debate tonight; it was the first that I’d been able to watch all the way through. I liked this format a lot better than what I saw of the first two; I think having questions come from voters is in general the Right Thing. I do wish some time for follow-up questions had been alloted, however.

Turning to the issue of who ‘won’, to borrow a phrase from Jessamyn, you can call Al Gore a bus driver, ‘cuz he took Bush to bitch school. Bush was rambling, unfocused, and seemed, at times, confused. He often failed to answer questions, not because he was trying to make another point (like Gore often was), but because he just couldn’t get to a point. Gore, in contrast, seemed to know the ins and outs of not only his plans, but Bush’s as well (oftentimes better than the Governor seemed to know them).

The difference that I’m talking about was most pronounced in the candidates’ responses to the question about family farms. Gore seemed very informed, about an issue that doesn’t really (on the surface) seem to impact that many Americans, and was able to point out how, via the intersection of conservation and farming, the issue did have a broader impact. Bush, on the other hand, babbled for two minutes, without giving any specifics what so ever. In fact, I’m not sure if he actually uttered a complete sentence in response to the question — his entire reply seemed to consist of short two or three word platitudes, strung together at random.

In the post-debate voter reactions that I heard, many people seemed to think that Gore violated some of the debate rules, and that this somehow reflected on his integrity. I agree, he did break some of the rules; however, Bush broke just as many: both directly addressed the audience and each other, both went over time on responses, and both tried to seize rebuttal time without deferring to the moderator. Perhaps the fact that Gore was the first to break these rules does reflect on his ability to hold the office of President (I don’t actually think so, but I’ll concede that some people will find it important.) The question for me is, what does Bush’s response to Gore’s rule-breaking say about his ability to govern? After Gore broke a rule, Bush was usually happy to follow in his footsteps — the only time he appealed to Jim Lehrer was in the exchange about his social security plan, when Gore had him backed into a corner and he had no other way out. What’s Bush going to do if he gets into a similar situation as President? Who will he appeal to then?

Finally, just to indulge in a little cross-‘blog discussion: Mike says “If the Democrat ticket is pinning its hopes on the American public believing it’s the party of small government, then the race is over.” There may be some merit to that position; nonetheless, I was impressed tonight when Gore pointed out that during his terms as Vice-President, the federal government has decreased in size by 300,000 employees — that’s down from whatever it was at the end of the last GOP administration. In contrast, Gore claimed, the size of the state government in Texas has actually increased under Bush’s time in office there. So, my question to Mike is, if past performance predicts future behavior, how do you reconcile your statement and (what Gore claims are) the facts? (In case I’m not totally clear: dispute the facts if you choose, but I’d like to see primary source citations if at all possible.)

Whew! That’s probably the longest political piece you’re going to see on GeneHack for quite some time. Apologies to the non-Merkins in the crowd who stuck it out this long — it won’t happen again, at least for a good long while. Finally, despite all of the above, I’m still not planning on voting for either Gore or Bush — my ‘none of the above’ vote will be going to either Nader or Browne.

As several of you wrote to point out (and thanks!), the word ‘Bits’ in yesterday’s entry should have been ‘Brits’. I’ve made the correction.

Thanks for all the feedback on the design — I’ll be writing back to y’all tonight. I’ll also be changing the link color to something a bit more distinctive. But not right now — too much other stuff to do… 8^/=

Cool picture of an anti-globalization activist in Prague. More here.

Hamfest locator. Now you too can pick up dodgy hardware on the cheap.

Okay, you’re probably going to be hearing a lot about how the experiments with THC self-administration in monkeys prove that marijuana is addictive. What most of the write-ups I seen have omitted is that as part of the experimental design, the monkeys were trained to self-inject IV cocaine. If switched to saline, they quickly stopped self-injecting; if switched to a solution with THC, they continued to self-inject.

So, it seems just as reasonable (at least to me) to conclude that THC is a potential remedy for the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal as it does to conclude that THC is addictive. I don’t know; maybe it’s just me. Get the full scoop here.

Oh, this is going to get passed around at work today: Brits are miserable. (The group of people I habitually hang with at NCBI is about half Brit, half Merkin.)

Just in case you haven’t seen it in the bunches of other places that have linked it, here’s a pointer to Phil Agre’s “The New Science of Character Assassination”. Probably something you should read, if you’re an American citizen of voting age. Actually, if you’re not on the Red Rock Eater list, you’re missing out on a lot of good stuff.

Argh — up too early. Big meeting at work; life is (potentially) about to get very interesting (for Chinese values of the same). Wish me luck.

Thanks for all the good feedback about the Big Bird/PowerPoint rant. I’ll be getting back to everybody by tonight or tomorrow (I’m currently way behind on mail.) You might notice the ol’ GeneHack spread is looking a little different this morning; I spent some quality time working things over this weekend. The biggest change (after the appearance) is the addition of permalinks (the little (·) things after each entry). Let me know if there are any problems with how the site renders; it looks okay in Linux Netscape and Mozilla and Windows Netscape and IE, but I don’t have Mac access at home anymore. Feedback from users of other browsers is also welcome.

Yet another ‘alternative’ web browser: BrowseX.

A merger between Novaris and Zeneca is re-fueling concerns about ‘terminator’ seed technologies

Every day, it seems, the War on Drugs gets more scary.

A reporter’s account of how Nader was blocked from the first presidential debate.

Annoyed about the Shrub’s pandering comments about Columbine and the Internet during the second ‘debate’? Go sign this petition:

We, the undersigned, hereby state that each of us is the child whose heart was turned dark by time on the Internet, as mentioned by the Governor during the second Presidential debate.

Well, I read it, and thought it was okay, but the /. reviewer loved it.

The UK is going to let insurance companies factor the results of tests for hereditary illnesses into decisions about rates, and even whether or not to insure people. No one is going to be forced to have tests done (yet…)

Some Danes found a whole new phylum last week.

Barak/Amanpour interview transcript. I don’t mean to trivialize the situation in any way, but isn’t it about time we figured out how to get out of cycles of retaliatory killings?

As I’ve been saying all along, human cloning is going to happen; all we need is for somebody to step up to the plate. Too bad it’s a buncha wack-jobs.


ELM-ART is a free on-line Lisp education system. I keep thinking I should try to move my Lisp skills beyond the ‘setq in .emacs file’ stage…

This is going to be one of those rare, no-link, all personal crap GeneHack updates. I need to rant just a little bit before collapsing into bed.

I’ve mentioned before that I taught a couple of classes in the past month. (Two sessions of the same class, that is.) One of the other instructors had a schedule conflict, so I picked up his two sessions too. A bit of background: this is a graduate level class; it’s part of a part-time masters program offered by Johns Hopkins at a local extension campus. The program is targeted at people with bioscience bachelors degrees who are doing technician work in government or industry; it offers a career development path as an alternative to going back for the more traditional Ph.D. Based on this description, presumably, the people in this class are somewhat more motivated than your average schmoo on the street, or even your average beer-guzzling undergrad.

So, anyway, I gave a lecture last night. I freely admit, it wasn’t my best work. I’ve got any number of reasons excuses: I didn’t have time to make my own overheads, so I was working from someone else’s material; I didn’t really have time to prepare, period; I don’t know this material as well as the other stuff I taught on. Really, though, that’s all bullshit, because it all boils down to me not being as prepared as I could have been, or prepared as I possible should have been. Nevertheless, I think I did an okay job — but it’s impossible for me to actually tell, because I couldn’t get any feedback from the class. There’s nothing quite like asking, “Are there any questions?” and seeing 20 blank, semi-slack-jawed faces staring back up at you.

But I already ranted about that particular problem last week; tonight I’ve got a slightly different bug up my ass. About halfway through the three hour class, I called a fifteen minute break. During the break, I was milling around the class room, giving people the opportunity to buttonhole me, in the hopes that they’d actually ask me a question about the class material. Instead, no fewer than five people (that’s about 20% of the class) asked me if the overheads were available on-line, or if I had a print-out they could have.

I explained to them, over and over, slightly less patient each time, that I really don’t like handing out copies of my overheads, that my experiences as both student and teacher had shown me that handing out lecture notes like that caused students to pay less attention to the lecture, to think about the material less critically, to ask fewer questions of the instructor, and in general to focus on the exact wrong thing: the specific examples in the notes, rather than the general principles that those examples were intended to illustrate. I’ve got other reasons, too — I think people in general pay more attention when they’re taking notes, and I think they’re more likely to ask questions when they hit a concept that they can’t quickly get down on paper. I think the ability to absorb material verbally and record it on paper for later use is a valuable, possibly even an essential skill in science, and it’s something any normal, reasonably well educated person should be able to do. (I realize that this doesn’t apply to people with learning disabilities, and I am willing to make exceptions when warranted — but none of these people were claiming any special problems; they just didn’t like taking notes.)

Finally, one of the students said “I can’t look at the screen and take down notes”, in a semi-whingy manner. Trying to debug the problem, I replied “What — am I talking too fast, or flipping the slides too quickly? Stick your hand up, and ask me to slow down, or go back — I’m more than happy to do that.” “No,” the student said, “I can’t watch the animations and take notes at the same time.”

And then I remembered: in my haste to get the class together, I’d used the PowerPoint presentation of the person who was supposed to speak — a presentation loaded down with various bits of zinging text and dancing graphics. And at that point, I realized yet another aspect of the PowerPoint evil. Not only does that crap piece of malware result in speakers spending more time on useless appearance-based noodling and not enough time on the actual content of what they’re talking about, it encourages the audience to go into TV watching mode, to sit back and enjoy the little bits of pixels that go whizzing about the screen. And they expect, somehow, that while they’re in this mode, that they’re somehow going to be magically Educated, that Knowledge is going to flow into their pointy little heads, and if it doesn’t at the time, well, then they can just go back and look at the hard-copy lecture notes until it does.

I think I’m going to call this the Sesame Street Expectation: the notion that learning things needs to be fun, and not in a “boy that was hard work but I learned a lot” kind of way, but in a “Gee whiz, Bert, that looks pretty complicated” kind of way — that it’s an essentially passive process on the part of the student, and that feedback from the student to the teacher isn’t going to be heard — because one of the first things you learn while watching Sesame Street is that the furry little guys in the box don’t talk back, regardless of how loud you shout at them.

My plan for improving the quality of presentations used to be two-fold: destroy every copy of PowerPoint (and assorted functional clones) in existence, and give offenders remedial “how to give a talk” classes, emphasizing the content-based logical mark-up portions of HTML as a mechanism for making slides. (The hardcore hopeless cases would be forced to learn TeX.) Now, however, I think there needs to be a third step: Big Bird must die.

Suggestions for implementing the program, donations for the cause, nominations for other contributing factors, and hate mail telling me I’m an up tight, elitist, self-righteous prick to jacobs@genehack.org.

(And yes, I did cave; I will be putting the notes (in some form) on-line. Other lecturers in the class had given handouts, and since I failed to emphasize that I wouldn’t be, it didn’t seem all that fair. Of course, now it feels like I’m cheating them, in a “give a fish versus teach to fish” kind of way…but you really can’t win.)

Let’s hear it for getting up way too early…

Hey, what’s that white stuff on Jessamyn’s porch? (10 days until trippage!)

To Read List: Nader/Gore flunky debate.

Eating less makes you live longer, at least if you’re one of a number of model organisms. Somebody has finally found a genetic basis for the phenomenon.

You may have heard of the infamous discrepancy between men and women when it comes to studies about the number of sexual partners — otherwise known as the “well, what the hell are the men schtuping then?” problem. Turns out, researchers have been neglecting to count prostitutes, and once they’re factored in, everything balances. Some comments: (a) I assume they mean female prostitutes, although they never say. Boys can sell it too, yah know. (b) I also assume we’re talking about hets here, rather than gays, although again, they never say. If their reasoning is correct, than the numbers for gays should have been working out all along. I’m also not sure how bisexuals get dealt with within the framework of the study.

Ring Story follow-up: (See below for Ring Story.) Ran my version past Lor, and she agreed that it was basically true-to-life. She did point out that I lead her into buying the ring (the first time she asked, I said, “well, I’ll need a ring”, or somesuch) and she also disputes that gender equity had anything to do with it. I think the actual quote was “Bullshit — it was because you’re a cheap, lazy bastard.” Ahh, wuve — troo wuve…

ObDumbass: When you go into work on a holiday, you’re a devoted hard worker who maybe needs to get a bit more of a life. When you go into work on a holiday because you didn’t realize it was a holiday, you’re a dumbass. In my defense, Oppression of the native American peoples Columbus Day isn’t a holiday in the academic world. It’s a bit weird, really — okay, we’ve got this guy who gets lost and “discovers” a place that’s already got a ton of people living there. Plus, once the “discovery” is made, the guy and his friends turn out to be the rudest houseguests ever seen in the hemisphere — and we celebrate this? Are Italian-Americans that hard up for a hero?

I should be grading last week’s lab assignment for the class I’m teaching, or reading the papers for Tuesday’s journal club, but instead I’ve pissed away most of the day avoiding Real Work, and now I’ve decided that I just must clean out my bookmark queue. I’m probably going to regret this tomorrow, but here goes…

Last week, Hal asked me about some work on mitochrondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutation rates. (It’s towards the bottom of the linked page.) He was asking about this report, which found mtDNA mutation rates in C. elegans that were about 100 times greater than previously observed. I still haven’t had time to read the original research article, and I’m not really an evolutionary biologist anyway, so take the following with a big grain of NaCl. Several questions seem to be unresolved, to me: First, since the animals were under no selection whatsoever, is there any chance that they were accumulating other mutations that could increase the mtDNA mutation rate? (This could be answered by looking at the rate of accumulation of mtDNA mutations over the 200 generations used by the scientists.) Second, is 200 generations enough time to get a decent sample? Were multiple populations grown for 200 generations, or is this based on one group of worms? How recently were they isolated from a real “wild type” population? (Animals can accumulate mutations when living under lab conditions — leading to infamous deaf-blind strains of lab mice, because they’re more likely to be grabbed by the scientist looking for one to breed.) Finally, why is the mutation rate of mtDNA assumed to be constant across evolutionary time? I know it probably makes a lot of the math easier, or solvable in the first place, but I can’t think of any reason why it has to be the case. Anyway, hopefully that answered Hal’s question, sort of.

Oh, and good luck to Hal on the thesis — hurry back, y’hear?

Reason Online had an article about animal research last week. Unfortunately, in their desire to tar the animal rights crowd, the authors choose an unreasonably large brush. There is a place for animal research in science, but I also think that there are some species that do deserve some additional protection — great apes among them. While the move to grant constitutional rights may be overstepping the case, I think the success in teaching ASL has shown that there is something not unlike intellect in some primates, and that probably deserves protection of some sort.

The National Review hatchet piece on Judy Blume is seriously off base. Is there something about the process of childbirth that causes all parental memory of childhood to be wiped away?

Texas principal institutes no-hug policy.

“Really, in junior high, they just don’t need to put their hands on each other because they can get into trouble,” [Robbins] said.

Maybe, just maybe, this issue here is with a grown man unable to deal with the idea of non-sexualized touching between peers. Maybe, just maybe, this grown man shouldn’t be in a position of authority over children.

Nice summary of some current theories about aging.

Great. I’ve moved from the land of the hantavirus to the land of West Nile virus. On the other hand, maybe this will have a positive effect, if it gets people to be more careful about leaving potential mosquito breeding grounds (e.g., buckets of water) lying around their yards.

James Lovelock — formulator of the Gaia hypothesis — says that nuclear power is the way out of the fossil fuel crisis. I also get a bit of a giggle out of the idea of dropping reactor waste into the rain forest as a way of restricting development.

Le Tigre should probably go onto the “To Buy” list, if I ever get around to reviving it.

Salon covers the bioethics lawsuit. It’ll be interesting to see this play out in the courts; it’s an interesting complex case.

Beauty. (Warning: naked bits behind that link.)

Since I got to NCBI, I’ve been reading a bunch of bio-computational method and technique papers, trying to get a feel for the way people think about the big problems in the field. It’s a lot more math than I’ve been used to, and a lot of that math is statistical. Bayesian methods are fairly popular, but until I read the linked article, I didn’t realize how controversial their use is.

There was a new bioperl release last week — get it here.

The 1998 Perl Quiz Show Questions, with answers. Should kill a good hour or so, if you’re looking for something to do.

ISMB2000 papers are up, for those of you (like me) not lucky enough to attend.

In Praise of Sloppy HTML, my ass. Look kids, getting it right isn’t that hard. Being sloppy because it “saves time” and “isn’t that important” doesn’t make me think an organization is closely managing it’s resources, it makes me think they hired amateur wankers to do their coding. Of course, my opinion isn’t worth much, as I’m part of that unimportant “small minority” of techies. Feh.

As you probably know unless you’re living in a cave, the 2000 Ig Nobles happened. Winner list here.

Thanks to Monkey Fist for summarizing my thoughts about political content carried on broadcast media.

Boy howdy, do I ever love that War on Drugs. Yes siree Bob, no two ways ‘bout it.

Unfortunately, the online version of a quilting story in the Washington Post doesn’t have the nice pictures that were in the dead tree version. The Renwick Gallery page doesn’t appear to have any either. (This link especially for the quilting side of the family; we’re keeping a warm thought for y’all.)

Most of you have probably heard of Kary Mullis, the, ummmm, rather eccentric kookball researcher that won the Nobel for inventing the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which has made most modern molecular biology possible. Most of you probably haven’t heard of Michael Smith, who shared the Nobel with Mullis, and who recently died. In contrast to some of Mullis’s actics, Smith put on a class act:

On learning that he had won the Nobel Prize, Dr. Smith invited 12 co-workers with him to Stockholm to share in the glory and the festivities, picking up the entire check. The party included all research assistants, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students who had worked on projects that led to his prize.

Follow-up on last entry’s request for DC area traffic info on the web:

(First from Rafe; other two from Mike.)

Ahh, hell. I was getting all set to wrap this up, when I got mail from Lyn about a new Medley entry, which lead me to a new All Too Cozy entry about engagement rings (and rituals, in a bigger sense). I had some of the same feelings back when Lor and I had been dating for a while — and I guess maybe the best way to explain is just to tell the story…

So, like I said, we’d been dating for a while — a bit over a year, if memory serves. Everything was good, we were happy, and at that relationship point where we technically had separate addresses, but were in fact living together — you know, the “where are we sleeping tonight?” stage. It was getting to be That Time. Those of you who are married know what I’m talking about; we both pretty much knew we were going to be moving on to the next stage, but we hadn’t actually formalized anything yet. At one point, being my essentially lovable yet irascible self, I told Lor that I wasn’t ever going to ask anybody to marry me, because the odds were that, as the man, I would have taken the initial step in the relationship, by asking the woman out. In my opinion, I continued, it was only fair that the woman should pop the marriage question, so that she too would have to experience the possibility of rejection. Actually, I might have done that little schtick a couple times — I don’t remember. I wasn’t really serious — some of it was my ambivalence about gender equity in relationships, but mostly, I was just trying to pull her chain a little bit. So, of course, I was pleasantly surprised when she took me at my word, and popped the question. She bought a ring for me too; the whole nine yards. Clearly, I said yes, and it was one of the better decisions I’ve ever made.

So, anyway, that was my personal solution to the engagement ring quandary. (And hopefully I don’t come off like too much of a schmuck in the telling of it.) We ended up using my engagement ring as her wedding band, which also has a nice cyclic quality to it, I think. Plus, having the guy wear the engagement ring is a pretty good way to head trip some of the more up-tight people in your life. 8^)=

Anyway, I think I’ll wrap it up with that little story. It’s going to be a long week; I should probably get to bed now.

Gonna try to whip out an update before going off to work…

ObDebate: Had to teach, so what with that and getting dinner and such, only saw the last 30 minutes of so of the debate, and wasn’t really paying attention to that. Did watch a bit of the post-debate stuff on NBC — which was mostly spent thinking “where’d they find these losers?” as I listened to the comments of the panel of undecided voters.

ObBlog: I’ve been noticing over the last week or two that, due to my daily dose of blog-ness, I’m seeing interesting things (at least) a day or two before they show up at the “major” news outlets, and certainly before they penetrate the popular consciousness. Not really sure what advantage that gives me, but it’s neat, and demonstrates yet another reason why blogs are good for you (tm).

ObPersonalWhinge: I’ve been having to get up earlier and earlier in order to have time to do my morning routine and still get parking at the Metro station. (For you non-DC-ians, Metro is the DC subway analogue.) Yesterday, for example, I got to learn one of life’s Great Truths: When you see people with handicapped placards cruising for parking spots, you are well and truly fucked.

Speaking of which, anybody out there know of a website that gives DC metro area traffic reports?

Urgh — running short of time — need to get in the shower. But first, some Massive Link Propagation:

bioperl.org has some pictures from BOSC2000.

In the same vein, a couple of sets of YAPC2000 pix: one and two

Short Vernor Vinge interview. No new book until mid-2001?! Time to re-read A Deepness in the Sky, I guess…

Here are the docs for declawing your CueCat (removing the chip that provides the unique ID).

mojolin.com is a new Linux employment site.

Okay, should have a more substantial update later today or tomorrow — see you then.

Sorry ‘bout the silence here lately. Taught that class last week, spent two days at work trying to catch up on about a week of stuff, and then my parents hit town on Friday. Been squiring them about town for the past couple days; one more to go, and then they’re headed back towards home. Linkage first, then more journal-y stuff, I think…

Joe Barr says everything about Dave Winer’s definition of Open Source that I would have.

Interview with Jason Haas, LinuxPPC hacker. I wish I had the cash to get back into the Mac hardware world, but that’s just not happening.

Joining the GNOME project — for those of you who want to give something back.

Black 47 inter/overview. Missed the show, unfortunately. Really not taking advantage of the show opportunities in DC, I fear — something to work on.

Not quite sure where to start with the Techno Greeks article that’s been linked to hell and gone. Part of my problem is the article’s focus on tools. I’m interested in tools, but the focus in the article is on using blogging tools, and their impact on the content, not building them, and that’s not too exciting to me at this point. I also think the emphasis on collaborative space-building is off target, but maybe that’s because I think the Web is not the best place for that. Mail lists, Usenet, and even IRC are much more suited for community formation, in my opinion. Finally, I think it’s about time people stopped knocking the “I just went to the water cooler and that made me think of…” style of blogging. If you don’t like it, don’t read it, or at least try to understand that in many cases, it’s part of becoming a good blogger. Blogging requires a bit more reflection, introspection, and thought than many people are encouraged to have these days, and part of developing that seems to involve a period of self-absorption and obsession with daily trivia. It passes, at least for some, and those are the ones you end up wanting to go back to.

This CueCat article has one of the more stupid ideas I’ve seen lately. For Ghu’s sake, you’re being given free hardware! Take it, toss the software, declaw the thing by finding and following the hardware mod instructions available on the web, and then figure out something cool to do with it. Cataloging book, CD, and video/DVD collections spring to mind right off, but alternative access technologies also seem worth investigating (using it to scan codes that correspond to letters or common phrases, for example). This is market-induced wealth redistribution at its best; don’t protest by refusing to play — protest by using their ball in a new game that you make up.

We’re on the calendar, baby. Can’t wait.

New My Word’s Worth, about the role of community in encouraging moral behavior. Still sorting out what I think about the piece; looking forward to hearing what Dan has to say. Seems like Burning Man participants might have some insight here as well — so if you fit, let me know what you think.

Hmmrm. DreamHost has upgraded my hosting plan, or will be doing so in the near future. Looks like I’ll be getting PHP4 access, among other new goodies. Just what I needed, another time sink. Seriously, DreamHost has been a great place for GeneHack to live; if you’re looking for small scale hosting space, I highly recommend them.

Why am I getting spam inviting me to visit the site for a copper mine? Oh wait, it’s a stock scam…

Another curious mailed pointer: The Luddite Reader. If you looked at this site long enough to grab my email, would you think I’d be interested in a neo-Luddite site?

Gtk-Perl info, which might be needed at some point.

Whew! Just tore through a BIG pile of accumulated email. I think I’m actually caught up! Or, at least I am until I check my mail again. (And that doesn’t include a particular person in Arizona; yours is going to take a bit longer to do, so stop whinging. No, I mean it, and yes, I am talking to you, 4E boy.)

Okay, onto the personal/journal-y stuff. People here only for the links should stop reading now.

As I’ve mentioned, I taught a class last week. The topic was “Information Retrieval from Biological Databases”, but practically speaking, it was more like “How to use Entrez”. (Entrez is a web front end to GenBank, PubMed, and several other databases of biological information that are maintained by NCBI.) The teaching went basically okay, I think — although the next time I give this lecture, it will be better. Some of my example searches didn’t work so well; I should have checked those out more carefully. That failure did allow me to extemporaneously opine on some dangers of searching on free-form text fields, however, so it wasn’t all bad. It was a class in a Masters program, so most of the students were engaged, and seemed to want to learn, which was a nice change from my previous experiences teaching undergraduates.

I had about half a rant worked up last week about the students who didn’t want to be there, but the time for writing that has passed. Maybe it’s my perspective from having been on both sides of the lectern, or having been through gradual school, but I’m always a bit amazed at the “just putting in the time” attitude of some students. Look, kids, listen to the grizzled old guy for a minute, ‘kay? You’re paying good money for the opportunity to pick up some of the knowledge I have. Some of that money is ending up in my pocket. That means I’m working for you, in a very specialized sense. If you’re not getting it, you need to let me know that, so that I can try to help you get it — because that’s my job. Sitting there and looking bored is not a sufficient message; I can’t tell if you’re bored because I’m not reaching you, or because you already know the material. I’m more than ready to be challenged to teach, but in order for the whole thing to work, you have to challenge me. Otherwise, you’re depriving me of an opportunity to teach the best that I can, and you’re cheating yourself out of an opportunity to learn — and if that’s not what you’re there for, it’s better for all involved if you just stay home and watch crap on tee-vee.

Been doing the tourist thing in DC with the parents. Saturday, we did the Mall and White House, with a short pass by some of the Smithsonian buildings. We found a high school classmate of my Dad’s on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, which was interesting — probably my closest personal connection to Vietnam. Today we visited Arlington National Cemetery, and the Postal Museum (which was much, much better than I anticipated it being). Lots and lots of walking going on — grew a blister the first day. During the time in the Cemetery, I briefly grokked why people like to hike, which is something that’s always been a bit confusing to me. (Go out, walk around in a circle, go home — what’s the point?) Not sure what’s on tap for tomorrow; possibly more Smithsonian museums, possibly the Zoo. It’s good to see my parents; as I’ve said here before, I like them not only as parents, but as interesting people that are generally fun to hang around with. I’ve got about a roll and a half of pictures in the can at the moment, but I’m still dependent on a non-digital camera, so it’ll be a bit before that stuff shows up.

I was going to write a bit about an impending death in our family, but I’m still processing that event, and maybe it’s not time to talk about that just yet. Kind thoughts to all that are going through it with me, though.

I have to teach one more class this week, so I’m not sure when I’ll get back to y’all. Get on the update list if you want a mail when I update.