bintlog v2.0
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Solstice, Seasons Greetings - choose your own preferred wish for a joyous holiday!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
swiss army bridge

Chicago River, South Branch, looking south from Roosevelt
Tyrannosaurus clausius

Sitemeter-related errata
1) Holy crap, do I ever get a spike in site visits when Heather links to me! :)

2) Best search phrase that led someone to my blog this week: "what are the effects of magic marker on dog's toenails?"
Sadly, they did not actually find the answer from me. I wonder what the answer is? I guess it's nice to know that someone is doing their due diligence before coloring poor Fido's nails.
A day at the museum
I'm having a terrible time motivating myself to do anything useful right now, especially since I feel like the only person on campus. So instead, I went to the traveling Darwin exhibit at the Field Museum. It's relevant, at least. I enjoyed the exhibit very much; it delved equally into Darwin as a person and Darwin as a scientist, and led us through his own accumulation of evidence and gradual realization that his specimens might be similar and different for a reason other than "God made them that way," which of course was the prevailing opinion of the time. The exhibit included many of his own tools and books (his annotated copy of Lyell's Principles of Geology!), items from Down House, letters written in his largely illegible handwriting, and some of his own collected beetles. There also was an iguana that opened its eye and breathed heavily at me when I approached, and some beautifully mounted skeletons from the American Natural History Museum. One case contained a written page with a list of pros and cons regarding marriage; apparently he talked himself into it because at the bottom of the page he wrote "Marry marry marry Q.E.D." There was also an amusing story of his discovery of the long-sought lesser rhea, a South American flightless bird... on his dinner plate. As a biologist, I greatly admire his persistence, his attention to detail, and his enthusiasm for his work, balanced with what was clearly a very happy family life. I am probably not alone in my wish to be like him, to revolutionize science with an argument that is so elegant and well-supported and fundamental to the field that my colleagues will kick themselves for not thinking of it first.

I wasn't sure if I was allowed to take pictures, so I snuck one of this page from one of his notebooks. Everyone in my field of study knows this image, the first known phylogenetic tree with that famously hesitant "I think" written above it:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007
And speaking of "Do you remember"...
Hūsker Dū?
All those grade school rainy-day recesses come rushing back with a WHUMP. The black plastic oreo cogs... the yellow daisies... I may have been hopeless at sports, but I rocked at Hūsker Dū?.
Do you remember this?

The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (1965)
Lucky 13
Thirteen years ago yesterday morning, I put on a white satin dress and wished I'd shelled out the money for a fancy necklace. Too late now.

Thirteen years ago yesterday early afternoon, we went to a photographer's studio and stood where he told us. There was some nervous giggling.

Thirteen years ago yesterday at sunset, we got married at the Sinnissippi Park greenhouse in Rockford. Present were our parents, best man and maid of honor and their significant others, one baby, a couple of iguanas, and about a thousand poinsettias.

Thirteen years ago yesterday, the best part of my life began. Happy anniversary, sweetie :)
Monday, December 17, 2007
Anarchy in the US
Barnes and Noble lists the movie A Christmas Story as "anarchic comedy".
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Melany on the Mailbox
I forgot about this picture I took a couple of weeks ago, of a sign on a mailbox on Pulaski near my house:
I submitted it to but they haven't posted it yet. Click on "All sizes" to enlarge it.
I saw Melany the day I took the picture, but I haven't seen her since. Hmm.
It's the most wonderful time of the year
...or so the commercials would have us believe. I spent most of my day Christmas shopping and also buying various things that we needed at home (toothpaste, etc.). I failed to find some of the gifts (my own fault for saying "I'll just look around and see what catches my eye"... that just never works) so I'll be doing the Loop circuit sometime this week to finish up. Bad thing about shopping downtown is I'm limited to what I can carry on the El. Or maybe that's a good thing. The malls were insane of course, and I had one near-accident (oops) trying to escape a left-turn lane that wasn't left-turning anytime soon. I treated myself to McDonald's for lunch, and was about to step forward and order when a middle-aged woman cut in front of me in line and said "Can I go ahead of you? I'm just ordering a hot chocolate." I gave her the universal "By all means, be incredibly rude, I don't mind at all" gesture (no, not that one, the other one!), and got many looks of shared incredulity from the people in the other line. Apparently waiting your turn is for chumps.

Got a lengthy sales spiel from a guy at Macy's, who waxed eloquent about an item made of "genuine Italian leather" and then had to admit that the illustrious item was in fact manufactured in Ohio. He tried very hard to make Ohio sound like the center of leather artisanship so I'll give him credit. I didn't buy the thing, though.

I did buy this to replace our dead dustbuster. It is SO CUTE and I am ashamed to be giggly over a vacuum. Hello, I am my mother, nice to meet you.

Speaking of my mom, we took her to see Phantom of the Opera yesterday. I was afraid it wasn't going to live up to my memory of seeing it in Detroit many years ago, but it was fabulous! I know the Broadway recording backwards and forwards and was pleased that the Chicago cast's interpretation was very different, less polished and more expressive.

Overheard at Bed Bath and Beyond, near some Christmasy figurines: "Oh, this one looks like Santa threw up! Isn't it cute?"

Christmas is in ONE WEEK. Yikes!!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Your tax dollars at work!
Yesterday, H.R. 847 passed the U.S. House with an overwhelming majority. What is H.R. 847? It's the "Yay Christianity!!" bill! It has no purpose or legal bite, so therefore it's not technically unconstitutional, but boy oh boy is it leaning into the gray area. Jesus Christ, people, we GET it: Christians win. You are in charge, you run everything, you invented Christmas and Western Civilization, you're Good People, hooray for you. But why is my constitutionally secular government wasting its time and resources to remind us that Christianity is Awesome? Of course hardly anyone voted against it; even the most strident atheist or Jew or any other non-Christian-theist is generally unwilling to take a public stand that brands them as an intolerant bigot who hates kittens and holidays. It would be downright unchristian.

For the record, Rep. Emanuel, I am very disappointed in you.
Cuteness part two
Daily Coyote - a photoblog about a woman, a cat, and a coyote. Warning: may tempt you into quitting your job, hopping on a Vespa, and moving to Wyoming.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
You will die from the cuteness
First known footage of wild long-eared gerboas
This article has lots of great footage of one of the cutest animals you will ever see, plus an extraordinary story of how conservation is done. Marvel at the dedication of a few individuals who must rely on donations and broken down vans in order to do their work. Even more amazing, marvel at how little is known about the Gobi desert and its native inhabitants. Just when you think the scientists and naturalists have uniformly covered the planet with monographs and YouTube videos, it is revealed that there are wide swaths about which we barely know anything at all.

Monday, December 10, 2007
"I have a Wikipedia knowledge of physics." This from a young woman who was bothered by the thought that she may not be sufficiently cerebral to appreciate Jonathan Coulton's music. Also, she reminded her friend that she does have nerd cred, being a level 4 female dwarf and all.
(and if you follow the link and look at the crowd picture in the Dec. 9 entry, bottom right corner... guess who?) ;)
Thursday, December 06, 2007
December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. It commemorates the École Polytechnique Massacre in 1989, when 14 women were murdered by a bitter psychopath because they were women and were getting an education. Every year on this day, the director of UIC's Women in Science and Education program sends an email to remind us of the event: "The path you walk today was blazed by many brave women and men before you. Keep on moving forward."

I don't remember the event. I was a freshman in college, a biology major, but I lived in The Bubble and such news rarely reached us. Would I have been more or less likely to stay in the sciences then if I knew someone out there might hate me for it? I don't think the event would have made any difference to the 18-year-old me, a person I have long recognized as embarrassingly immature. The present me, however, feels defiance whenever my rights as a woman and a scientist are challenged. I will stay on my chosen path. Just try to stop me.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Christmas guilt
There is a new War on Christmas, and this time it's not about religion.

We have always been an artificial Christmas tree sort of household, for a few reasons:
1. Discarded trees dumped in the alley after Christmas infuriate me. The city provides free mulching on a weekend in January not far from our house; you just have to get the tree there. Alternatively, evergreen boughs are great for protecting gardens until spring. Either way, trees don't belong in landfills.
2. Dead trees make me sad. I know they're a crop and were grown for the purpose of cutting down, but still. Is there anything more sad than a Christmas tree lot the day after Christmas?
3. Real trees get dry even if you remember to keep watering. Our house is old and timbery. Tree lights get hot. It sounds like a recipe for disaster.
4. Needles on the floor.
5. And the number one reason: artificial trees are much cheaper, transportation from and to the basement takes about five minutes, they're not very heavy, and now they come *pre-lit*.

We lost our tree in the flood of our basement last June, and will be shopping for a new one this week. Then I read this post: The ecology of Christmas

Now I'm feeling so much eco-guilt I am reluctant to buy a tree at all. The real ones are chock full of pesticides, fossil fuels were burned in their cross-country transport, and they'll end up in a landfill; the fake ones are made of toxic chemicals by 8-year-old Chinese children, plus the fossil fuel thing applies, and the landfill after a few years. Unless I want to be a Bad Planetary Citizen, I must plant a locally native evergreen (are there any besides juniper?) purchased from a responsible organic grower and brought home by bicycle, decorate it with acorns and other native seeds, and then admire it through the vinyl-framed window of my fossil-fuel heated house built of wood ripped from the Wisconsin Northwoods in the most unsustainable way possible, while nibbling cookies baked with eggs from chickens living in tiny cages and fed overpriced corn diverted from the ethanol supply stream. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I try very hard to behave in environmentally sound ways, but I need to choose my battles. Can't I please enjoy one month out of the year without having to be reminded that my Christmas tree is killing the planet?

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