Dec. 6th, 2010 11:09 pm
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So what have I been up to recently? Sometimes life is awesome, and sometimes fair to middling.

Nick moved to Baltimore; he's all professorial now. He's got his own lab at the Carnegie Institution at Johns Hopkins. He has a fun new apartment in a converted old Catholic school, and I visited for 2 weeks around Thanksgiving to help warm it.

In August I stumbled into the best thing to happen to me in years: a Burning Man art project called Syzygryd. Remember those things I used to love doing? Building large strange objects and putting them in improbable locations and working under pressure with amazing people? Yeah, all that, but with a big budget. Burning Man this year was an entirely different experience than usual for me, focused on work not play, in a way that fit me very well. My only small regret is that I haven't stayed in touch with my new community as well as I'd meant to.

I am ashamed to realize that my last post here was my big "aha" moment about my science, because that was 9 months ago, a very long gestational period for a project... But by coincidence, I just ordered the first pieces of it today. I'm looking forward to getting my hands wet.

I still really like Irish step dance. I want to get better faster. I'll be happier when I'm getting as much exercise as I did earlier in the year - it felt great.

Other stuff, I'm trying to put behind me. Onwards!


Jan. 3rd, 2010 10:44 am
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It only just occurred to me that I work at a university that resembles nothing so much as a country club, and that I can use its facilities for free.

First, there's apparently a decent climbing wall (top rope and boulder) open afternoons and evenings. Free for Stanford people; $5 for guests. I want to find people around Stanford to toprope with. It would be awesome to have a regular climbing partner again, since it's the only thing that gets me going every week, but I could also just go occasionally with random friends.

Second, I've been looking for a nice wood floor where I can practice Irish dance once or twice a week. I wonder if there's anything on campus that would work for that, maybe even a room with mirrors. I feel self-conscious if there are people doing other things in the same room, but I could probably get over that. (There's a Stanford undergrad from another CRN dance school -- I ran into her at the competition. She's in Germany for the quarter, but in the spring, I bet she'd dance with me.)

Third, and most trivially, I bet somewhere at Stanford there is a locker room with a nice reliable scale. At the moment, I weigh myself once a month or so by walking into Mission Cliffs and asking nicely to use their bathroom! I could just buy a cheap scale, but I dislike unreliable measurements (not because it matters -- it's just another litle OCD thing) and I don't really want to weigh myself often.

Oddly, this has nothing to do with New Year's resolutions per se. Fitness fits the "harder, better, faster, stronger" theme but it's not quite what I meant.
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I have my first (and probably only) Irish step dance competition at the end of the month. I've been practicing a ton (but not enough), sitting out ceili dances on Mondays and instead just doing my steps in the corner. I don't care much about how I do as long as I don't fall on my face, but I'm still surprisingly stressed - the other night I dreamed that I'd forgotten my dance shoes and had to compete alongside the champion level dancers, for instance.

One thing I haven't figured out is what to wear. I'm new to our class/ensemble and so I've got a hand-me-down costume for our 8-person ceili dance. It's at least two sizes too big, though, so I really don't want to wear it in the solo competitions. Since we're adults, and since our dance organization doesn't stress costumes as much as some, I don't need anything fancy (and I don't need to wear one of those ridiculous curly wigs). A few of us are trying to buy matching inexpensive dresses but I'm running out of time or ideas.

Here are the constraints: Black, can conceal a sports bra, knee length or a bit shorter, full-ish skirt (a generous a-line skirt would be fine). Must come in XS (0-2). Adult dancers often wear long-sleeve, knee-length velvet dresses, though I think I'd rather not have long sleeves. (Here's an example.) Short prom "little black dresses" would work if the top weren't too revealing. I'm actually considering wearing my high school prom dress, but it's got a halter neck so I'd need a new bra, and it's too big.

I've checked Vicky's Secret, JC Penney, and a few dance stores online, and the Jessica McClintock outlet and Nordstrom Rack in person. I'm going to look at Target tomorrow, I think... Any obvious places I'm not thinking of? Cheap is good.

Yesterday, Charlie and I and two others from our dance class went to watch a feis (dance competition) in Oakland. We only saw the champion level dancers, and they were amazing. But damn are the solo dresses scary looking! Way too many neon colors and sequins. Wow. People pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for them...

big apple

Aug. 20th, 2009 10:29 pm
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I am on Long Island. It's sort of awesome, as usual; I'm at an RNA conference at Cold Spring Harbor.

But on Saturday, the conference ends and I schlep my stuff into the city for an extra day and night of fun. Only one problem - the fun. I haven't had any time to think or get maps or anything. In general I'm fine with exploring a city on my own; there are plenty of museums and such, and that doesn't take much planning. But I'll be sad if I'm in NYC on a Saturday night and I don't find some interesting thing to do in the evening. That's the part of solo travel that can be a downer. I'm not quite asking livejournal for someone to adopt me for the evening (at least not quite yet) but hey, if I'm forgetting someone who's in NYC...

Also, I wish I had an iphone. No need to plan anything if I have the internet in my pocket!


Jun. 18th, 2009 04:51 pm
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I spent the past few days canoeing down the Green River in Utah, a phenomenal river flowing calmly through deep canyons into Canyonlands National Park. The trip had many highlights, but I want to share this one before I forget.

We'd made camp up on a high bank away from the mosquitoes, and as we set up our kitchen area and had some wine and cheese and crackers, someone looked up and said, "A golden eagle!" I assumed at first it was a turkey vulture; we'd seen a few that afternoon. But it was definitely an eagle, soaring high on thermals. We got out the binoculars and took a closer look.

The eagle circled around to the cliff in back of our campsite. Then another bird appeared in the air above it and shot downward, sleek and small compared to the eagle. It was a peregrine falcon, and it must have had a nest on our cliff. It rose up above the eagle and then divebombed it again and again, turning and punching as it passed the eagle. The eagle spun out of its way and fought back, but eventually it decided the other side of the canyon was more hospitable and left the peregrine to its nest.

Peregrines are my favorite birds, but I'd never seen one in the wild before, only nesting on skyscrapers. I don't think I'd seen a golden eagle before, either. The combination was phenomenal.
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Dear internets,

I have some questions about dishwasher installation. Have you installed one? We have a 20" space in the alcove off our kitchen that is just begging for a dishwasher. It is next to our washing machine, so there is pre-existing plumbing. I am certain I can make this work. (My favorite contractor is off on a backpacking trip that I missed due to poor planning, and I'm impatient, but probably the best answer is to wait til he's back...)

The options are an 18" portable dishwasher or an 18" "under-counter" dishwasher (we'd add a counter surface to the top, or something).

details )

And after this, I'll maybe fix our shower plumbing. That would be nice.
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I used to eat a lot of ice cream. I'm not sure how this fits in with my claim that I don't like sweet, fatty food, but whatever. In fact, I think in college (a time of total failure to live a reasonable life) I subsisted on ice cream, because I never remembered to buy food and there was a 24-hr gas station convenience store next door to my dorm. My nutrition improved once the 24-hour Stah Mahket opened in back of the building. But I digress.

In particular, I used to eat a lot of Breyer's mint chip ice cream. I loved its texture and its simple natural flavors. It's lighter than most ice cream because its main ingredient is milk, not cream, so I could eat a lot and not feel full.

And then, two years ago, they changed it. They added a stabilizing gum to the ingredients. Its texture changed. I was very sad.

But last week, I heard that the Whole Foods store brand ice cream was just like the old Breyer's! And it's true! Yesterday I was in a grouchy mood so I thought I'd pick some up on my way home and try it. Nick knew I was having a hard week. When I called him to say I was on my way to the store for ice cream, he revealed that he, too, thought I could use some ice cream and he had already walked to Whole Foods to get me some!

So I can recommend Whole Foods 365+ mint chip ice cream as a replacement for Breyer's. (It does have stabilizing gum, but it seems not to affect the texture as much.) And I know at least two other people who felt as strongly as I did about Breyer's, so I hope this brightens your day.

this land

Jan. 19th, 2009 12:02 am
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Sunday was the big concert on the Mall for the Obama inauguration. Pete Seeger (89 years old - when did that happen??) sang This Land is Your Land, the original version with the more controversial verses added back in.

Here's a great video of it.

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office I saw my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

A great big wall there tried to stop me
A great big sign there said Private Property
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

Watching it made my day. Singing it probably made Pete Seeger's decade, from the look on his face.


Dec. 21st, 2008 02:41 pm
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I'm in the solstice mood. I missed a solstice party last night because I wasn't feeling great earlier in the evening and Nick was at work, but later, C and I made it to Gaskell's and I got to dance quite a bit.

And this morning, I got a tree. We went to the tree lot on Bryant again this year. Last year, I got a reject tree (I called it krummholz but it was actually quite nice) for wicked cheap. But I walked into the lot today and there were only perfectly shaped trees, each $52. I asked the guy if they had any rejects this year.

"You don't need to get a reject tree to get a good deal," he said.

I figured he was trying to sell me a fancy expensive tree. I looked skeptical.

"How much you want to pay?"

"Well, last year, I paid $20."

"Ok. Pick a tree."

So I chose a perfect tree my height, hand over a twenty, and left happy. I'm glad I've learned to bargain. It's close enough to Christmas that who knows, maybe they're selling the remaining trees for $20 to everyone. But I bet if I'd gone up to the cash register with $52 in hand, they'd have taken it without comment.

Now it's time to clean and get ready for guests. I'd love to spend the day hanging ornaments, a fire in the nonexistent fireplace and a strong eggnog in hand, and then play a few games of Scrabble. Maybe this evening!

can has.

Dec. 20th, 2008 03:34 pm
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I now have:

  • Enough table space for our holiday guests. Craigslist provided a square table exactly the height and width of the current table, with legs that screw off. More work than a folding table, but we can store it, legs off, with the folding chairs, and it'll make it feel more like a single long table. This also means we can have dinner parties, one of our goals for the year.

  • Four inflated tires on my car. I discovered a flat yesterday, but it wasn't totally deflated. Today I drove very slowly to Larkins Brothers tires a few blocks from here, and they patched the tire for $15 in 15 minutes or so. Not bad! As usual, Yelp doesn't lie.

  • A date for Gaskell's, but as usual, nothing great to wear. I will improvise.

  • A cold. But that's ok. I'm past the contagious stage, anyway, I think.
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    I'm getting better at telling apart gunshots (common) and fireworks (way more common) in my neighborhood. So when I heard three shots out my window just now, I was pretty certain they weren't fireworks. But then I heard the same pattern of three again, and then again, and I grudgingly admitted that no one was likely to be shooting like that.

    It turns out I was half-right. A police announcement, according to a few local news blogs:

    Please Note: On Thursday, December 18, 2008 testing of the gunshot recognition/locator system known as "shotspotter" will take place in the Mission District. It is anticipated to occur at approximately 9:00 PM and will be occurring at various locations. The testing will occur in the areas of 18th St & Mission, 22nd St. & Valencia, 23rd St and Folsom, and 18th St and Bryant.

    18th and Bryant is a block from here. I wonder if this system will help anything.


    Oct. 12th, 2008 07:27 pm
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    You all hear me talk a lot about the Monday night ceili that's replaced the Plough in my life, but I'm not sure I've ever posted details about it. If any of you are interested (and local, and not already regulars, which leaves... not many of you):

    Alameda Ceili
    Mondays from 8:00-11:00 p.m.
    at the
    Alameda Ballet Academy
    1402 Park Street, Alameda (second floor)
    $5 each, lesson included

    It's open to all and starts with a lesson from 8-9. Even if it's your first time, you'll be able to get out onto the dance floor for quite a few dances. And as a special bonus, this Monday is free. (Also November 10 and December 8).

    Most weeks, there's live traditional music from 9-10 or so. Otherwise we play whatever recorded music seems to fit, including lots that's not traditional, for better or for worse depending on your tastes.


    Sep. 5th, 2008 08:18 pm
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    It was hot today in San Francisco, hotter than it gets more than once or twice a year, and the heat bothered me more than on the Playa. I resented the need to wear clothes, so I wore less than usual and tried not to sweat to death while I did some work in a cafe. All week I've been wearing little tank tops, sandals, short skirts, not my usual attire.

    I find that what I miss from the Playa is not the excitement but the openness. The man sitting just across from me in the crowded cafe - it would have been so easy to say hello, to ask what he was working on, but we don't do that sort of thing. I sat on my front steps with a beer and a book as the sun set, hoping I could strike up conversation with people passing by, with the well-dressed patrons at Universal, with the neighbors or the camera crew who were filming something at the restaurant. At the back of my mind was the homicide rate - two seriously injured in a shooting on my block last night, another two killed five blocks south later in the evening. I wonder if that's what the camera was for. I saw a few other news vans. The heat always seems to lead to a crime wave.

    Last night I kept the feeling going by walking with Nick for ice cream (orange cardamom and chocolate) at Bi Rite, and then a drink (bourbon) at the closest pub (Homestead). I swung by C's on my way home to drop off a note - his phone had an unfortunate accident, and so, amusingly, we've kept our Playa-style communication going. My first day at Burning Man, he gave me a mailbox, genuine USPS, with my name on it, mounted on rebar next to my tent. His matching mailbox got a lot more use than mine, thanks to his excellent location in Center Camp.

    The last few days have involved little other than sleep, eating, and dragging myself to work (where I sometimes sleep more) but I think I'm past that now. Burning Man was absolutely phenomenal, the best time I've had there, and I can't wait for next year. I hope I manage to write up some of the fun before it fades into memories. I'm already looking forward to seeing everyone again, hopefully well before a year has passed.

    total win

    Aug. 21st, 2008 06:02 pm
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    I went to REI earlier for one of my last BM purchases.I was reluctant to spend the money, but I went in search of a camelbak resevoir that would fit inside my iridescent backpack. I decided after the last time that a camelbak is really the right answer for water. The 50-oz one looked reasonable, and I decided it was worth the extra $5 for the greater capacity over their 35-oz version.

    Anyway, after waffling over the expense, I went up to the counter while digging in my wallet for my REI member card. The card I pulled out was, instead, an REI gift card. I looked baffled. But it was, in fact, an unused $50 gift card. A few minutes into this, I remembered that my brother gave it to me for graduation. I win.

    I wonder how I'd forgotten about it? Usually I have a disturbingly complete mental index of giftcard assets.
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    "Burning Man: because what goes better with dust than faux fur?"

    Against my better judgement, I'm heading to the Playa again this year with my fabulous camp, the Cult of Levitating Plywood, full of creative engineers and wonderful fun people. Cult? Of course we're not a cult. We just like building domes.

    I'll be out of contact with most of the world from Saturday or Sunday til the following Tuesday. But if you're on the Playa, please come find me at our camp at 6:45 and Fairlane. We're camped in the Alternative Energy Zone (AEZ) Village just behind center camp. AEZ has a big, visible sign, and we're the largest camp in AEZ, taking up most of one corner of their space. Our camp is easy to find, with its two shiny silver domes and, this year, a beautiful shiny yurt.

    Also, C is putting together a ceili dance thing at his sister's camp, Camp Contact, at 4:40 and Fairlane. It'll be Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 6:30 to 8. Come dance with us!

    If you are attending, feel free to leave your location as a comment and maybe we'll run into each other.
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    I'm not much of a cocktail drinker. A few exceptions are on my mind at the moment, though. First, there's an article in the SF Chronicle about vermouth, and it mentioned something I'd totally forgotten: this excellent red vermouth called Carpano Antica Formula. Years ago, Nick and I went to Cesar in North Berkeley and had an amazing Manhattan (I think) that used that. (That was also the bar that made me love sidecars, our house drink of choice thanks to the lemon tree in the backyard.)

    Second, last night Lex shared some of his gourmet tonic water to make really great gin & tonics. He got it at BevMo, but I can't remember its name and they don't sell it through their website. I guess I'll go there sometime soon and look for it.

    Third, on the non-cocktail side of things, Trader Joe's has this interesting single malt Scotch in stock again (or did a few weeks ago). It's a very smoky Islay malt called Finlaggan. (I'm not kidding about very smoky. C left a glass of it out overnight, and I came home and wondered who was barbecuing.) The interesting aspect is the price - around $16 for a bottle. Web research says that Finlaggan is not itself a distillery. It's the label that the group of Islay distilleries use to bottle their excess each year, or something like that. At any rate, it's good, and cheap. So I'm a fan. And C is a huge fan (he's the one who told me about it, and he bought a case when this year's stock arrived).

    Edit: Finlaggan apparently comes from one single Islay distillery, which sells to the company that bottles it as Finlaggan, but the identity of the original distillery is secret.


    Jun. 18th, 2008 04:33 pm
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    Man, Nick wins again. French lentils topped with sauteed gingery chard, caramelized onions, and a slice of toasted goat cheese. It's hard to beat this.


    Jun. 4th, 2008 11:08 am
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    I'm hoping to rely on my bike to commute to Caltrain (starting in the fall). I have a nice shiny hybrid bike, a Giant Cypress DX, that my parents bought me at the start of grad school. It's sort of heavy: extra features like fork and seat shocks, a thick mountain bike-style frame, huge knobby tires. Carrying it up the BART stairs has been annoying.

    So I've been considering replacing it with something sleeker and lighter, but I feel bad doing so because it's a perfectly decent bike.

    On Sunday, Nick and I were walking around Hayes St and I fell in love. A cute girl was sitting outside a cafe with an equally cute glossy black vintage ten-speed. It was a 1970s Motobecane touring bike. She let me pick it up and it wasn't that heavy, despite the older materials (probably a steel frame).

    I just searched craigslist and, by chance, someone is selling the identical bike, except in a much less exciting color (grey):

    The price is rather surprisingly low, but I can check for obvious frame or rim damage. The frame is nominally my size but I have odd proportions so I'd have to try it in person, of course.

    Would it be stupid to buy it? Can I get it repainted glossy black or does that ruin the vintage appeal? I don't want to paint over the name. But the black and red look of the one at the cafe was really what I fell in love with. Maybe I should wait til an identical one appears. Can I justify replacing my bike? I could probably sell my current one for that price. Will I hate the skinny tires on SF's pothole-riddled streets [and do they have the annoying style of valve]? Will it actually be any lighter than my current bike? Do I really want to drive to Milpitas?

    Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion! (Most likely, I won't get it.)


    May. 2nd, 2008 03:42 pm
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    There are so many things I want to do this weekend. Dancing at Friday Night Waltz, chantey sing on the Balclutha, Maker Faire all weekend, a birthday party, an engagement party, Steer Roast [admittedly a bit far away], New Orleans jazz with a friend...

    I'm skipping them all. I'm sending my thesis out for comments on Monday, with luck, and I have pages and pages to write and revise before then. I'll be so happy when I'm done with all this. I feel friendships fading and social groups moving on without me. At least the people I spend the most time with are also very busy right now, so they don't miss me too much.

    (I might go to the engagement party, actually. We'll see.)
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    I like my Mac for many reasons. Life is so much better now that I can run analyses in a terminal window and work on a Word document at the same time. I wrote the first chunk of my thesis in Word quite happily. But when it came time to deal with inserting references and figures, I made a big last-minute decision.

    My thesis is now in LaTeX. I've always enjoyed writing LaTeX, and I always assumed I'd write my thesis in it. But once I had so much written in Word, it seemed like a hassle to switch.

    Not so! Almost everything was plain text, with no equations and very little text formatting. Copying it into emacs was trivial. With some help (and moral support) from Nick, I found the MacTeX package. Now life rocks. I write in my shiny native emacs that verges on wysiwyg in tex mode (superscripts are super!), I save my pretty figures as pdfs in Illustrator, and then I just run pdflatex on the commandline. Everything is where I want it and looks clean and professional. And even better, a friend gave me "thesis in a box", a set of templates and configuration files for University of California theses. Now I don't have to worry about the title page format or any of that.

    And as for references... I've used EndNote before and liked it, but no one had a copy I could "borrow", which is part of why I gave up on Word. I've never used BibTex. It's always scared me. But then I discovered BibDesk. This is amazing. It can do everything EndNote does (in particular, search PubMed remotely) and I just paste the citation strings into emacs. I even found some bst files to make the references section look like I want.

    This is working so well that it makes me sad that most biology journals don't accept LaTeX submissions.
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