Pluot Defense

Laura discovered this morning that her fingernails are unusually hard; they’ve gotten noticibly longer than they have in the past without breaking, says she.

My theory: this is an evolutionary adaptation so women can fight off would-be pluot-harmers.

The Pluot Update

Laura has been feeling pretty crappy with all-moments-of-day-or-night-unpredictable-sickness. It doesn’t look like much fun; be nice to her when you see her. As per received wisdom, Laura’s been going through pickles like there’s no tomorrow. So far, they have not been combined with ice cream, though.

We are officially in week 10. As of week 8, Lark Junior is known as a “fetus”, no longer an embryo. By now, he should be about 1.5 inches long and look like a peapod. Apparently, by the end of the week, the inner structures of the ear will be done forming. Also, the little guy is no longer sporting a tail. Phew.

We haven’t been giving much thought to names, although the forerunner proposal from friends seems to be “Crash”. Although this is a promising, forceful, name, and appropriate for either a boy or a girl, we may take some time to think of a few alternatives on the off chance that we stumble across an even better one.

We have decided we will deliberately not find out whether Lark Junior is a boy or a girl before delivery, so it will be a surprise.

Photo of the Day

I went to a Mariners game this past weekend with some friends; we had fantastic seats, thanks to Zeynep having been given some unused season tickets by a colleague.

Here are some caretakers raking the infield dirt between innings:

Photos of the Day

By now, I think everybody knows:

Note the ambiguity of a couple of the tests in the middle row. Those were the early ones.

This was taken last week, and the little tyke was all of 15mm long. It has some growing to do…

Titanium titanium titanium

So I had the second stage of my osseintegrated dental implant performed today. This is a simple procedure; much more straightforward than installing the implant in the first place.

This got me thinking: where would we be without anaesthetic? Dental implants are sort of primitive if you think about it: they’re just little metal screws that get driven into your jawbone. Ditto the other titanium equipment installed in my femur: a metal rod and some interlocking screws. The main achievment for both seems to be that we settled through trial and error on materials and installation techniques that the body tolerates well. Apparently, the main cleverness with dental implants was to realize that a titanium screw whose surface had been roughed up microscopically causes surrounding bone to grow onto and adhere tightly to it. That, and figuring out the right amount of torque to apply during installation, and the fact that even moderate heat from drilling will cause the bone to not fuse to the screw later. All this business about the body healing over, or adhering to, pieces of metal that you stick in it seems to me like coolness on the part of our bodies, and not really impressive cleverness on our part.

The thing that’s more impressive and that makes all this tinkering possible is anaesthetic. Today, the dental surgeon made an incision in my gumline and installed a little metal abutment thingy to maintain an opening in the gum tissue, and then put in a couple sutures, all while I was fully conscious. There’s no way anyone would tolerate someone monkeying around in their mouth like that unless they had, say, been knocked over the head hard enough to raise the possibility of coma or death, if it weren’t for anaesthetic.

Or what about when they patched me up after the scooter accident? It’s not clear anyone could tolerate the surgury without anaesthetic. Open-heart surgury and the like would be impossible.

I say, it’s a darn good thing we figured out the set of compounds that can selectively or entirely shut down the nervous system without killing you. Thanks, doctors.

Thoctors.

Victory through denial

This news is now slightly stale, but still hilarious(ly depressing). The US State Department decided to stop publishing its annual report on terrorism, possibly because its tabulation of terrorism attacks was expected to show that in 2004, there were more terrorism attacks than in any year since the publication was first published in 1985.

Recall, of course, that the 2003 publication famously understated the number of people killed and wounded in terror attacks that year, and had to be revised.

We may not die of cancer

It turns out we might not all die of brain cancer from using cell phones, after all! At least, so says this study.

Photo of the Day

Baseball fans at Safeco field:

Congrats to Eva and Adam!

Congratulations to Eva and Adam, two friends of ours who got married a few weeks ago. I finally got around to posting pictures from the wedding I have been working on.

Here are images from before the wedding, as the bridal party was getting ready:

And here are images from the ceremony / reception:

No escape from the military

The Garfield High School PTSA in Seattle recently passed a resolution barring military recruiters from campus. Today, The Seattle School District replied that under the law, military recruiters can’t be kept away from high school students.

Why is that, you may wonder? It turns out that the No Child Left Behind Act requires that public schools provide “on a request made by military recruiters or an institution of higher education, access to secondary school students names, addresses, and telephone listings”. Also, the act requires schools to “provide military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of those students”.

Unless Garfield is willing to prohibit all college and employer recruiters from campus, or become a private institute, they are required to allow military recruiters access to their students.

What I do

This TechWeb article actually mentions the project I’m currently working on!

Photo of the Day

Taken on Capitol Hill:

American universities losing ground

The SF Chronicle reports that US universities are falling behind in technology:

American universities — once the dominant force in the information technology world — fell far down the ranks in a widely watched international computer programming contest held this week.

The University of Illinois tied for 17th place in the world finals of the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest. That’s the weakest result for the United States in the 29-year history of the competition.

This year, the contest was held in Shanghai, where a home team, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, won. Two Russian institutions, Moscow State University and St. Petersburg Institute of Fine Mechanics and Optics, came in second and third. Canada saved North America’s honor, as Ontario’s University of Waterloo took the No. 4 spot.

[...]

Patterson noted that, in many high-scoring countries, governments are in the vanguard of technology research. In the 1970s and 1980s, he said, the Defense Department’s research arm, DARPA, invested in academic research and supported work in industrial centers such as Xerox PARC and Bell Labs. That public/private cooperation helped develop the personal computer and the Internet.

“When there is more and more competition in the world, the U.S. government is spending less on research than before,” he said.

This bodes poorly for continuing fears that high-paying technology jobs are likely to leave the US, methinks.

Non-public public spaces

This Slate article discusses the Mall’s latest transformation: commercial developments are now laid out to look like town squares, small-town streets, or other mimicries of traditional public spaces. This makes them more pleasant than previous designs, but brings up a disturbing point:

The malls remain, of course, private property. This means that activities that are traditionally protected in public, such as demonstrating, photographing, or simply hanging around, are tolerated only at the discretion of the mall’s owners and staff.

Lifestyle centers are privately owned space, carefully insulated from the messiness of public life. Desert Ridge, for example, has a rigorous code of conduct, posted beneath its store directory. The list of forbidden activities includes “non-commercial expressive activity” — not to mention “excessive staring” and “taking photos, video or audio recording of any store, product, employee, customer or officer.” “Photos of shopping party with shopping center dcor, as a backdrop,” however, are permitted.

This is our public realm? Lifestyle centers aren’t any worse than malls as gathering places; in fact, they’re a lot better-designed, successfully capturing most of the pleasures of walking down a city street. And yet, if it’s crossed your mind that, as a society, we’re getting a little confused about our right to freedom of expression, then lifestyle centers are a fair target. There’s something a bit unhealthy about faux public places designed to attract rich people and make them feel comfortable. (At least the traditional mall didn’t try to hide the fact that it was a shopping center.) The lifestyle center is a bizarre outgrowth of the suburban mentality: People want public space, even if making that space private is the only way to get it.

What will happen when our most well-trafficked and comfortable public spaces aren’t public at all anymore? Won’t it be tempting for city governments to give up on creating and maintaining public spaces if these ersatz-public-spaces become popular? Will we only realize when it’s too late that we no longer have the right to effectively express ourselves in public because nobody frequents the few remaining spaces where this is permitted?

Secular Humanism

Christopher Hitchens’ recent column in Slate on remembering John Paul II had a peculiar effect on me: I was struck while reading it that it was a crystallization of unapologetic secular humanism.

Consider AIDS in Africa. The religious-orthodoxy perspective would have it that if Gospel is understood to forbid the use of barrier contraceptives, then the use of barrier contraceptives is Wrong. It doesn’t matter that this causes great human suffering, because the Gospel is absolute. Furthermore, it’s an axiom of religious moralism that there is an absolute moral code that is independent of specific human circumstances.

In secular humanism, though, “Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience”. This puts human well-being at the center of the question of morality.

Christopher Hitchens’ article is imbued with this perspective:

Unbelievers are more merciful and understanding than believers, as well as more rational. We do not believe that the pope will face judgment or eternal punishment for the millions who will die needlessly from AIDS, or for his excusing and sheltering of those who committed the unpardonable sin of raping and torturing children, or for the countless people whose sex lives have been ruined by guilt and shame and who are taught to respect the body only when it is a lifeless cadaver like that of Terri Schiavo. For us, this day is only the interment of an elderly and querulous celibate, who came too late and who stayed too long, and whose primitive ideology did not permit him the true self-criticism that could have saved him, and others less innocent, from so many errors and crimes.