Wednesday, December 31, 2008
When I woke up this morning, I could see nothing outside. The sliding door was fogged up, and the whole hillside was shrouded in fog. But I could hear the birds chirping, and they sounded happy. And then the sun came out!
I may complain that we're on the wrong side of the apartment building so we don't have a view of the city, or that we have to walk too far to grab a bite to eat or a drink, but I really am glad I have this slice of nature in the bustle of the city.
Everyday when I see the city in the sunset glow, or the sun shining off the bay, or when I drive around a corner and see the Golden Gate Bridge or the waves breaking on Rodeo Beach, I smile. My goal is to not become complacent with these spectacular views. Even my own piece of grassy hillside. So don't let me complain.
Happy New Year's! I hope you can hear birds chirp wherever you are as well.
Matt and I have had a busy year.
I quit one job in March to take another one that was going to be the one I kept, only to quit that job in September. I have basically been unemployed ever since - 3.5 months! - and bringing in only minuscule amounts of money from my "freelancing."
We moved twice; once across town in Albuquerque to a house that I thought had better landlords, and where I enjoyed the front porch but hated the gunshots. Next, across the West to San Francisco, where more than twice as much money did not even come close to renting us another stand-alone. But the scenery makes up for it.
Matt was uprooted from his school again, this time much farther away, when he followed me to the Bay. He traded sometime schoolwork for actual paying work, while his adviser still prods him to finish.
We took trips to exciting places like Pittsburgh and Michigan, but my sister was nice enough to bring me to Ecuador.
My sister and brother-in-law returned home to Phoenix from Europe and are now expecting their first baby. (While my sister says my birthday present is to find out the sex, I think the present will be if it's a girl...)
We had a lovely visit from GLOBE while still in New Mexico, and since being in California, we have seen some friends from New Mexico, my parents, and my sister and brother-in-law (all of whom were in town for some other reason but were nice enough to humor us with a visit - my parents on a brief but out-of-the-way stop between AZ and Vegas).
We also spent Christmas at our own home for the first time ever where we ate vast quantities of Italian food.. Although I saw my family, Matt was deprived of his.
Meanwhile, the world got more depressing. The economy tanked, the safe haven for gay marriage was rendered not so safe, people still died in Afghanistan, sexism still thrived, and my preferred presidential candidate lost.
Here's hoping that 2009 will bring peace to more people around the world, as I have found some peace of my own in San Francisco.
[And despite the fact that I took the time to make all these links, I still haven't taken the time to write my AGU blogs or discuss the great museums I've been to. Maybe one day...]
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Most people who know me understand that I am not a museum lover. I am too bored to read the signs, I would generally rather be outside, and I don't want to pay the exorbitant prices to get in. Hell, I sat outside in the park in front of the Louvre and waited there for my sister rather than go in. I am a strange bird. (I did enjoy my recent visit to the DBG, however.)
At any rate, I have been super excited about the new California Academy of Sciences. I have heard much about it, largely because it was designed by Renzo Piano and constructed sustainably, featuring a green roof, loads of recycled materials, gray water, and more. However, it is also awesome. It features a 4-story rain forest, a large climate change exhibit, an aquarium, a planetarium, and penguins!
[Like many other veggies I suspect, I struggle with the ideas of zoos and aquariums. However, all of the CalAcademy's penguins are captive hatched, so they probably couldn't survive in the wild anyway. And I have heard multiple stories from NPS staff who took aquatic specimens to the Academy for a variety of reasons - animals that had to be moved during restoration, ocean creatures brought up when they removed a nasty old net. So I think, that overall, the ability for a child (or me!) to touch a starfish and discover wonder and awe of the natural world, is probably worth it, at least in this case. I totally understand how one might disagree though.]
Anyway, I'm rambling (as usual). Matt's office party involved a trip to the CalAcademy, to which I was invited. After spending a 40 minute commute, partly standing on a crazy, out-of-control bus, I arrived to meet them at the museum only to discover that they were running very late. After threatening to go home (because I'm terrible like that), I decided to wander across the Music Concourse to check out the deYoung Museum as there was a Maya Lin exhibit I wanted to see anyway. So I spent $18 and 1.5 hours in a whirlwind visit to an art museum. (Actually a long time for me, as I got through the Uffizi in just 30 minutes.) I would even go back. There were fantastic photographs, Hudson River School paintings (influential in the establishment of National Parks), an amazing Asian Art exhibit, and crazy outfits by Yves Saint Lauren (thanks so much for letting women wear pants!). Also some Chihuly pieces that definitely did not look as pretty without the cacti next to them, as I suspected.
Then off to CalAcademy with about an hour before closing time. No time for the rainforest and planetarium, as the lines were too long. We checked out the green roof, the aquarium (yay fuzzy starfish!), the climate change exhibit, and the penguins (really stinky!). We plan to buy a membership so we can go back repeatedly and drag all our guests there.
I highly recommend both museums, even for museumphobes like me. I think even non-science geeks would enjoy CalAcademy. Some day I hope to work there.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I loved this movie! Matt claims it's for kids, but I disagree. It has all sorts of adult-world implications and is heart-warming, just as movies should be in the holiday season. Also check out the short "BERN-E" in the special features. 7 minutes of hilarity!
Monday, December 15, 2008
Several hours later we were sitting at the airport, waiting for our friends, when Matt asked me if I'd turned the heater off. I thought he was joking. Nope. Unbeknownst to me, Matt had in fact turned the heater on, not told me about it, and then failed to turn it off before we left for the day. Folks, these are not the kind of things you leave on unattended. I started to freak out, but I hadn't noticed the bathroom being hot, so I tried not to worry too much.
However, when we pulled up to our apartment complex, the entrance was blocked by - guess what! - a fire truck! And then, as we parked on the street, along came another fire truck, complete with siren.
Oh my gosh!
Matt really did start a fire!
We'll be evicted from our home and our friends will have nowhere to stay. And they might not be our friends any longer! And we'll have nowhere to live! And what if someone got hurt! Or worse! I think I'm having a heart attack!
Okay, not to let you down slowly or anything, but there really was no fire in our apartment. Just a terrible, terrible coincidence.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Despite the fact that I have enjoyed other movies set in Africa that depict quite horrible events (Blood Diamond, Hotel Rwanda, Tsotsi), this movie was too much for me. Scenes I hoped were dream sequences simply were not. The entire movie was very much real, with extremely bad things happening to characters that had been developed and known to the audience. The trauma did not happen to nameless, faceless characters.
I will never watch this movie again. Perhaps we should watch it at least once to get a grasp of the evil still happening in much of the world. But once was my limit. If you do watch it, do not go into it innocently like I did - Oh a silly, young Scottish doctor in Africa who likes to sleep with the ladies. How amusing. It is not.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Is anyone interested in reading blogs about these topics?
Who is Frank? Frank was the environment editor at the LA Times. Although Frank had a bad reputation for being crusty and well, kind of an ass, I totally stuck up for Frank. He was always extremely nice to me despite the fact I knew nothing about journalism. After he got laid off from the paper part-way through my fellowship, another editor who sat near us confessed to me that she'd never before seen the side of Frank that he showed me.
Frank, as it turns out, moved to New Mexico just before I left. He'd been in contact with me because he wanted to see me and discuss, as he put it, the sorry state of water and the even sorrier state of journalism. Naturally I was eager to meet with Frank, although I had hardly any free time left before I moved. After all, he had been my mentor as I entered the dark and scary world of journalism. I assumed he was planning to continue his role as mentor while I also contributed some information on the New Mexico water world so he could have some background for future articles.
Well, I met Frank at a quiet little Mexican restaurant. After about 5 minutes of me answering Frank's questions about my future, Frank pulled out his reporter's notebook and proceeded to grill me about any and all possible story ideas that could come from the NM OSE, my lovely employer at the time. Although I would in a heartbeat agree that the OSE is inept, most of what I knew about the agency certainly didn't merit investigative journalism. Frank continued to think that I was holding back, and assured me that I could get in contact with him again after I left the agency if I felt more comfortable. Those were basically his last words to me as he dropped me off back at the office.
So after I'd stuck up for this guy through his last days at the paper, he had the nerve to try to use me. No offer to help find me a job. No nothing.
And that is why I've always been suspicious of journalists. And why I've never wanted to be that kind of pushy journalist, or the kind who has to run out after the speaker at a conference to get the first interview, as I was reminded at NASW. No wonder people think the media can't be trusted. Some of them obviously give us a bad name. Too bad it had to be Frank.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
My more cultured family members suggested we go check out this exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden over Thanksgiving weekend. The artist, Dale Chihuly, apparently has "revolutionized" the art of handblown glass. Some of you may be familiar with the ceiling sculpture at the Bellagio?
I will say, straight up, that if I saw these pieces in a standard museum setting, I would have thought they were quite gaudy. However, mixed in with the beautiful desert plants, the exhibit was really pretty fascinating. It's certainly not something you would see every day.
Tickets are 15 bucks and require advance reservations, and there are people everywhere. But if it's a nice day, I would check it out.
It appeared from the boarding pass I found in this book, by Alan Weisman, that the last time I had picked it up was on my trip to Michigan this past July. It's a dense book, full of well-researched examples from all over the earth, about what would (or will?) happen after the human population is gone. I recall finding it interesting, but obviously I went nearly half a year without picking up the book again. (In my defense, I have been on one of the longest fiction kicks of my life.)
So while I was stuck in the airport for several hours, waiting for my flight home from Thanksgiving weekend, I finally finished the book! What's the message? We've done a lot of crap to the world (no surprise), some of it will outlast us for eons and some of it won't, and at least some of the other species will probably adapt to whatever crazy world we've left behind. Weisman's only hope seems to be that if each woman only had one child, we could actually improve our situation.
We all know that I agree with that concept. There are plenty of kids out there needing homes if you really must raise more than one chilid. But, to each his own. Maybe we're doomed anyway, so what's the point? Isn't that a bright note!
Bottom line: interesting read, but not I book I plan to keep on the shelf for posterity.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
What am I preparing, you might ask. Flying in just in time for dinner, thus avoiding all cooking duties! I am contributing a certain something from a special Square here in San Francisco. Yay for tasty treats!
I hope everyone has a fabulous day, turkey-filled or not! I am thankful for having each of you as my friends.
Monday, November 24, 2008
But we can't meet our neighbors.
Our last New Mexico house featured a tiny little front porch, in a neighborhood of front porches. Or, where a porch was lacking, people sat in chairs in the driveway. We could talk to our next door neighbors, say hi to the people walking their dogs, know what the police were up to, and yell at our friend down the street. I can't say we were active participants in the neighborhood, but I did not feel isolated.
Now all I see are the damn tourists on Twin Peaks yelling because it echoes off our building. Isn't it interesting how a 57-unit apartment building can be less friendly than a free-standing house?
I believe in the power of the front porch.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The Court, however, refused to allow gay marriages to begin again, pending their decision. Oral arguments won't take place until March, at the earliest, so that's at least 5 more months of inequality!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Kitchen and Dining Room:
View from the Balcony (of Twin Peaks):
View from Twin Peaks (and some of my hair):
This past weekend, San Francisco had record highs - about 80 degrees. There was actually a weather advisory, telling us to wear lightweight clothes and drink water. These people need to get out more!
Matt and I took the opportunity, after a tasty lunch provided by my dad at Burgermeister, to hike the Coastal Trail and Bay Trail from Ocean Beach to Ghirardelli Square. Absolutely gorgeous! Of course, now it's all foggy and cold again, but it was fun while it lasted.
But let me tell you, that water sure is tasty, straight from my tap!
But my biggest discovery was the shooting star that fell through my small sliver of sky. I don't recall seeing one of those from my houses in New Mexico, and they were certainly more rural than this giant city. Such a quick delight, I didn't even have time for a wish.
I read this book by happenstance. After finishing Breaking Blue, I perused the books I had with me at my house in Marin and realized again that they were all books I'd tried to get through before and never succeeded: The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey (I know, what is wrong with me!), The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols (classic water book set in New Mexico), The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, Collapse by Jared Diamond, The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons by John Wesley Powell.
So instead, I checked out the books that had been left by previous residents. The Prophecies of Nostradamus didn't sound like good bedtime reading, so I figured, how can you go wrong reading a memoir by a guy who likes to live in Mexico. Apparently the author, Tony Cohan, is somewhat famous, although I've never heard of him. Although come to think of it, maybe I only think he's famous because he beat me over the head with that fact about 100 times in the book. Oh, look at me, I played the drums with the Beatles. Oh, look at me, I'm a famous author. Oh, look at me, I've had a lot of fantastic sex with gorgeous women (and maybe some men). Okay, I know talking about yourself is the point of a memoir, but good grief. I'm not that into it. He kind of reminds me of Paul Thoreaux in his most recent books where he became full of himself as well, such a shame after his great earlier books.
I'm generally not one for mysteries, but since I've been expanding my reading realm based on authors I like, I checked out this book by Timothy Egan. I'd previously enjoyed Lasso the Wind and The Good Rain, so as part of my free gift certificate to Better World Books, I picked up this one. It's supposedly a true story, about a 1935 crime that became hot again in 1989, as a sheriff/graduate student researched his thesis. Of course the work destroyed the guy's marriage, and the lives of the ancient criminals and their families. Not one of my favorite books ever, but the internal police force corruption put on display is rather sickening, if not surprising.
Shortly after Matt first got here, we were driving into town from my house in Marin, and as Matt braked for a stop light, his seatbelt abruptly detached from the side of the car. As much as I like to make fun of Matt for braking way too hard way too early and giving me whiplash, only to glide slowly into the light, I'm pretty sure that seatbelts are supposed to be designed to hold up, especially during such sudden braking. Alas. We happened to be about two blocks from Toyota, so we pulled right in.
The service advisor took our car into the garage very quickly. We had no idea they were going to fix the problem right away, so when a mechanic suggested we go inside and get a hot drink, we complied. And what a fantastic coffee and hot chocolate machine! So tasty! By the time we got our drinks, the car was ready! No charge! (And they swear the seatbelt won't fall off again...)
A week or two later, after several hours at the DMV, I ended up with an extra license plate with nowhere to go. And I was told that I could receive a $100 fine for driving without a front license plate, even though my car didn't even have screw holes on the front bumper! Wanting to avoid paying more money (after the DMV, the smog test place, and a street sweeping fine sucked up a bunch), I figured I would stop by Toyota on my way home and ask them to put on my license plate. I pulled up, a mechanic grabbed a drill and some screws, and I was out of there. No charge.
I wonder what kind of service you get when you actually pay money?
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Proposition 8 is a gay marriage ban. I realize that sometimes propositions are confusing, because although you know what your position on an issue is, you may not realize how the proposition is worded, and thus whether you should vote yes or no. Since Prop 8 proposes to ban gay marriage, if you support gay marriage, you need to vote NO.
This proposition has nothing to do with religion or schools. It would simply treat some people differently under the law. Marriage outside of a church is a legal contract, and everybody, gay, straight, or anything in between, should have the right to be able to marry whomever they want (except, you know, minors).
Even if you belong to a Church that will not marry two men or two women, that is not the same as taking away somebody's legal right to marry. Taking away a legal right for one group of people is simply discrimination by the government. The churches across the country (not just California!) have pumped large amounts of money into the campaign say yes to 8, and this is overwhelming individual citizens and other groups saying NO to 8. It looks like the marriage ban may actually pass, and will in a way be decided by people who do not even live in California. So if you live in California, please vote NO on 8.
I have commented in previous blogs that I felt a bit guilty about getting married myself since not everyone is allowed to in most states. I thought it was fantastic when the California Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. In fact, our neighbor went to California to get married to his girlfriend in a joint ceremony with his sister and her girlfriend. While I originally and still do think that was awesome, as my neighbor pointed out, it's still not fair that his sister had to travel to California to get married instead of doing it at home in New Mexico. And now some people are trying to take away even that opportunity!
As a radio DJ said this morning, 15 or 20 years from now, we will look back upon this time as another stupid thing we did, like discriminating against black people. Voting NO on proposition 8 is an opportunity to end one form of discrimination in our country! Equal rights for all people. We all need to keep working to make this true. Vote NO on 8!
However, in (somewhat) happier news, one of the speakers at the Conference reported that a study has found a Bradley effect in only 3 states, but a reverse Bradley effect in 12 states. The reverse effect seems to come from Christian conservatives who won't admit to their friends or the pollsters that they would vote for a black man, and but then they actually do.
So I guess the upshot is that Obama's lead may actually be an underestimate. Not that I'm counting my chickens yet. In fact, I'll be lucky if I even get to vote, and I'll never forgive myself if I don't.
New Mexico requires you to apply for an absentee ballot. They say they need to receive the application by October 25th in order for everything to work on time. I mailed in my application on October 17th. They just mailed me my ballot on October 29th. Wednesday. Presumably through the Albuquerque post office, which is notoriously the worst domestic post office ever. So I'm assuming the best case scenario is that I receive my ballot Saturday or Monday and then send it via overnight fedex to the County Clerk, who has to receive it by 7 pm November 4th. In which case I will be paying a large amount for my right to vote. Worst case scenario is that I receive it on Tuesday or even later, in which case, I will have been basically disenfranchised. Way to go New Mexico!
In other news, today is Matt's first day of work. The company is actually so nice that when Matt proposed to start on Monday, November 3rd, they suggested that he come in for at least a few hours today so that our benefits can start tomorrow instead of December 1st. What a fabulous company! I am used to companies that try to cheat me out of every benefit imaginable. (Like the 401k match I never got. Although, I must say that while my 401k is in the tank, my New Mexico Retirement fund is doing smashingly! New Mexico did something right for once! Although Matt says he heard a news story that made it sound as if New Mexico just got lucky. Shocking!)
And in other, other news, we are signing a lease this afternoon. Hopefully I'm not jinxing it by writing about it first. It's high on the Twin Peaks, so a bit of a hike from the closest neighborhoods - The Castro and Cole Valley, but it was spacious, somewhat affordable, and comes with off-street parking, on-site laundry facilities, and a balcony. Also located on bedrock, so the lowest earthquake shaking in the City from the various shake maps I looked at.
And as further evidence that we now live in San Francisco, not New Mexico, Mayor Gavin Newsom was on some random radio station this morning. He and the DJs chatted about the Halloween festivities, why Proposition 8 (the gay marriage ban) is terrible, and how the Mayor's lack of a tie made it seem easier to undress him. Really! Mayor Marty was OK and all, but this guy seems fabulous!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I have made an exciting discovery while driving through the streets of San Francisco. (And believe me, I'll never do that again! Drive, that is. Hopefully I'll make another discovery one day.) The Green Chile Kitchen. It sounds a little uppity for New Mexican food and all, but maybe that was the only way the owners thought they could sell the stuff in San Francisco. I have my fingers crossed for tasty and hot green chile.
What are the odds that two different speakers would use this image during their talks at the same conference? Apparently neuroscientists are also big nerds who like to think they are cool and funny. I guess maybe they are...
Anyway, this concludes my science blogging for the time being. I hope you enjoyed reading about something besides me, me, me!
However, the tour totally inspired me! The environmental fluid mechanics lab is housed in the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, Stanford's new energy and water efficient building, so first we learned about and walked through some of the building's features. On the south side, the windows have horizontal fins which are topped with a light colored surface. Guess why? That's right, a high albedo will reflect light back into the room, but the less direct light makes it less fierce. The building self-ventilates and maintains a temperature range of 68 to 75, making the air comfortable and high in quality. The 4-story building features four 4-story atriums.
All wood furniture comes from bamboo. The cement floor contains high percentage fly ash. Landscape is watered with lake water, the building is double plumped so toilets receive non-potable water, and on and on. The building uses 50% less energy and 90% less potable water than a similar building of normal design standards would. And they're not yet using rainwater harvesting (they claim it's not cost effective yet), and owing to some strange political pressure, only 1/3 of the urinals are waterless. Apparently there are also a lot of code difficulties that make building green difficult.
The guy giving the tour noted that the biggest obstacle is human behavior change. For example, the building has to have lights so that people can work at night, but it is hard to get people to leave the lights off during the day even when there is plenty of natural light. Of course, the lights turn off automatically after 20 minutes of no use, but this doesn't help when there are constantly people around.
Another cool thing about the building is that it houses a wide variety of programs and departments. However, the building is not organized in that way; rather it is divided by area of study - freshwater, oceans, land use, etc. Truly interdisciplinary! The environmental fluid mechanics guy works on a lot of studies related to coral with biogeochemists and marine ecologists and all sorts of other scientists. He isn't just cooped up with other engineers all day.
Speaking of fluid mechanics, I enjoyed learning about other applications for it besides freshwater stream systems and aquifers. Ocean and estuarine dynamics sound really neat too. And getting to play with wave machines and corals? Also exciting! And doing research from a boat in Australia? Phenomenal! I guess I should have expanded my fluid horizons...
The building also houses the Woods Institute for the Environment, another intriguing multidisciplanary research, training, and education center. Also check out Stanford's Environmental Portal. I think I have found my future academic home.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Anyway, toxo normally functions in a life cycle between cats and rats. Toxo can only reproduce in cat stomachs, so they hitch on to rats and make the rats lose their aversion to the smell of cat urine, which causes rats to head on over to cat smells and become dinner in no time at all. Providing, of course, a route for the parasite into the cat stomach for all the reproduction that could be imagined.
Amazingly, Dr. Robert Sapolsky of - guess where - has found that in toxo-infected rats, everything else functions normally. They still maintain their other normal fears of open space; they basically function absolutely normally except for suddenly being attracted to cat urine. So the parasite targets precisely this one function - and scientists would love to have the targeting precision.
Turns out that toxo migrates to the rat brain and goes latent, but in the amygdala, which controls fear and anxiety, it causes neurons to atrophy and disconnects fear circuits. It blunts the stress related to cat odor. It actually switches the response to cat urine from fear to sexual arousal, increasing testosterone in male cats. Female cats actually prefer toxo-infected males, presumably because of the elevated testosterone.
What does toxo do to humans? Well aside from fetuses, it was assumed that it doesn't do much because it goes latent. However, one study showed that males show a slight disinhibition related to neuropsychological tasks of impulse control. And two indpendent studies found that toxo-infected humans are two to four times more likely to die in car accidents related to speeding. Apparently, the disinhibition leads to more reckless behavior. However, those 3 studies are the only ones in existence related to toxo's effect in humans.
What is the take away? Apparently, according to Sapolsky, who incidentally got lost on the Caltrain on the way to speak this morning even though he is actually a Stanford professor and the meeting was at Stanford, parasites are really cool. And, even if thousands of neuroscientists study processes such as this, a parasite will still know more than they do. Makes you wanna go hmmm.
The first study Shiv discussed relates to the current financial crisis. He designed an experiment where a participant is given 20 $1 bills. Each round, the player can invest $1 or pass. 50% of the time, the investment will result in $1 loss, and 50% of the time, the investment will result in a $2.50 win, or a gain of $1.50. So what is the optimal solution? Well, to invest 100% of the time of course. Shiv says most participants recognize this and will start the game at the 100% level. However, every time a player loses, the emotional experience in the brain creates negativity. This overwhelms any positive emotion. Slowly, participants' emotions "hijack the cognitive brain." Emotions cause a person to stop investing even though they know they should. Hence, part of the problem with our financial crisis. In a related note, lots of wins increases positive emotion which can lead to greed...
In another study, Shiv exposes a price placebo effect. We've all heard about the placebo effect in medicine, where patients get better when fed a sugar pill, probably because they believe it is a real pill. Well it turns out that when the sugar pill is more expensive, the effect is even stronger. In a study that won an Ignoble Prize, Shiv's research group showed that at least 60% of people in a study who were fed sugar pills and told they were pain killers said they had pain reduction. But 84% of people who received the "pain killers" at full market price had pain reduction. The others had received the "pain killers" at an enormous discount. Related studies also show that people like wine better when they are told it is $90 than when they are told it is $5. Even when it's the exact same wine.
Shockingly enough, not only do people report less pain and better taste with "expensive" products, they also actually experience less pain and actually prefer the expensive wine, as shown through fMRI. Some people speculated that this effect would not work with "real," objective diseases. In other words, cholesterol-lowering drugs or antibiotics would not be subject to this effect because the diseases they treat are not subjective as is pain.
However, Shiv believes, and is currently attempting to verify through research, that this is not the case. Here's why.
The research has shown that predicted utility influences experienced utility. Americans tend to associate low price with low quality. So the region in the brain that deals with pleasure prediction, the striatum, will send less dopamine to the region that actually encodes pleasure if the product is cheaper. Although the biophysical pleasure may actually be the same with cheaper and more expensive versions, the strong connection between the pleasure predictor and the pleasure encoder decreases the overall pleasure experience.
Even more interesting, low reward prediction caused by low price can actually lead to stress and the production of cortisol, which shuts of repair mechanisms in the body to focus on some perceived threat. Shiv believes this cascade of events will also make the price placebo effect very real for even antibiotics. He encourages doctors that when they prescribe a generic, they should make sure to tell their patients from their position of authority that the generic will be just as effective as the brand name. He thinks that this may help to reduce the price placebo effect. (I sure hope that my brain isn't telling my body that my generic birth control pills suck...)
My favorite study was the IKEA fruits of labor study. First Shiv discovered that products that come in hard to open packages are returned less frequently. Then he discovered that if someone else assembles your IKEA furniture for you, you are less willing to give it up. If you do it yourself, you actually like the furniture better.
Finally, someone has explained my non-rational attachment to my IKEA dining set, which was assebled painstakingly slowly by yours truly!
So what are the implications of all this? Shiv believes he exists to make people think in new ways. He hopes that people will use this knowledge for good, and amazingly enough, he does not do consulting! And he's a professor!
For example, Dr. Karl Deisseroth of Stanford can inject a light sensitive gene obtained from a specific type of one-celled algae into an animal brain and then use optical stimulation to make different circuits in the brain switch on or off. Unlike electrical stimulation, this optical stimulation can be targeted to a very specific neuron. This is especially important in the hypothalamus, where the neurons linked to very different but important activities intermingle. This is also the area of the brain associated with many psychiatric diseases.
One such psychiatric problem is narcolepsy triggered by rewarding arousal - food and social contact, for instance. Deisseroth showed a very sad video of a dog trying to eat, but falling asleep by the time it started chewing. This problem is very debilitating in humans, and is caused by a deficit in certain receptors.
Deisseroth has used the light sensitive gene and optical stimulation to trigger a wake state in lab animals. He hopes that this might lead to therapy for narcolepsy, and that the method could be used to address other psychiatric diseases by targeting other specific neurons. However, he cautions that there are ethical and philosophical issues involved. If the hypothalamus is the area of the brain that tells us what we "want," how much can we change what we want? Is "want" defined only neurologically?
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Nass went through a whirlwind of studies for us. Navigation systems can encourage safer driving if the voice is related to your emotional state. Happy people like a happy navigator, and well, misery loves company. Sad computer navigators can actually cause happy people to have more crashes.
When randomly assigned avatars and made to take math tests online, people with male avatars think they do better and actually do do better on the tests. No matter if those people are male or female. People with male avatars also try harder.
Robots can disagree with people in a productive way as long as their voices don't come from their bodies.
People would like the Microsoft Paper Clip much better and think it functioned better if it told you to send Microsoft an email when the help result wasn't useful.
Male German BMW drivers won't take direction from a female computer navigation voice.
Multi-media mulitasking involves brain function in ways that psychologists used to think was impossible. Women are better at mutitasking than men but like it less.
And the research goes on and on. It actually seems highly related to the implicit bias studies, but it is amazing how we ascribe some of these traits and biases to inanimate objects. Especially if they talk to us. Creepy.
Yes, the Bay Area is due for an earthquake. Yes, multi-story apartment buildings with garages on the bottom floor will be in real trouble. Yes, I'll probably be living in one of those.
And an organization called the 1868 Hayward Earthquake Alliance actually celebrated the fault's birthday - or rather the 140th anniversary of the last quake on the fault, which is also the average time span between major quakes on the fault. Those are some sadistic people.
And yes, at least one of the water districts in the Bay Area thinks it will take several years to get the water system back up and running. I also learned that earthquake codes (which don't apply to the ancient places we'll be living in anyway) are designed to keep people alive inside the building, but not to allow the buildings to be occupied after a quake.
So hey, mom and dad, get ready for us to move back in when our apartment falls down around us.
Through conjoint analysis tests, she has discovered that people will unwittingly give up $3400 salary (out of a $35,000 to $50,000 range) to have a male boss rather than a female boss. This goes for male and female respondents, including ones who state that no way, no how, do they have a preference for men over women.
She has found that doctors who are shown to have an unconscious bias against black people through Implicit Association Tests, actually prescribe fewer clot-busting drugs to their black patients than to their white patients. And again, these are often people who think racism is terrible.
Depressing? Yes. Surprising? I'm not sure. Although I am a bleeding heart liberal, sometimes I catch myself being more wary of black men on the street than white men, so obviously I have some internal association of black with violent. However, I firmly believe that all people are equal, and I would like to believe that I would not actually treat a black person differently than a white person. Maybe I am wrong.
Banaji has a website, https://implicit.harvard.edu/, where you can take these Implicit Association Tests and learn about your own unconscious preferences. You can either take demo tests or sign up to actually contribute to her research. I have taken two so far. In the U.S. Election 2008 test, although I showed no preference for black people over white people, I did show a slight preference for Obama over McCain. In a different test, I also showed a slight preference for thin people over fat people. Although, again, I think I am consciously aware of my prejudice towards less thin people. Which just goes to show that even though I know about it, I couldn't stop it.
Banaji hopes that in some way, taking these tests and learning about your unconscious biases may enable you to change your thoughts and behaviors. Research has shown that are brains are elastic, but it is not yet clear that they are plastic. In other words, although we can change them temporarily through some practices, the research is not yet positive that those changes can become permanent.
In other depressing news, these unconscious preferences are present in children at an early age. This information did surprise me, because I feel I was into my late teens before I actually developed some awareness of racism. I had been raised in a relatively Hispanic culture. I had friends who were black, but at the time I barely realized that. It wasn't until we moved back to Michigan and I started hearing jokes about Hispanics that I became keenly aware of racism. However, I think somehow this awareness has also led to my unconscious or conscious biases. And I'm sure I wasn't sheltered from racism when I was younger; I also realize today that my parents harbor some "isms" as well.
So what does this say about all of us? I'm not sure, but I hope this research will help us figure out how to change for the better. Interestingly enough, Banaji says Diversity Training is the worst thing a company can do. It actually results in more bias. Makes me think of the Office episode.
Saturday was mostly about the industry and business of writing, but today started the New Horizons in Science sessions, where they bring in researchers to spend an hour or so discussing their discoveries. When I first saw that this was in the program for 3 days, I couldn't imagine how bored I would be with three days of science sessions. However, this first day was fabulous! I thought I loved water, but I can't remember the last time I went to a water conference where all the topics were fascinating to me. Although the Carpe Diem Climate Change conference I attended in Albuquerque was pretty darn good.
So I realize many of you dear readers are not scientists, but I would like to spend a few blog posts sharing some of this great research with you. And hopefully the next day or two is just as interesting and entertaining.
It's been awhile since I've gotten so into a book that I couldn't put it down. It's been awhile since I really let myself enjoy a work of fiction. It's been a long while since I read a book over 500 pages.
The Brothers K flew well over my high bar. I have read David James Duncan’s book The River Why many years ago, I think when I used to actually go to the library. It was a nature book, something more typically up my alley, and it overflowed with beautiful words.
So I decided to venture into his other works, even though this particular book is fiction. (And I had no idea how many pages it was when I ordered it online. Tricky internet!) The chapters follow one family, the Chance’s, from when some of the children are yet to be born until the children are having kids themselves. “K” references strikeouts mainly, and some other things found in a definition in the middle of the book, and at least the first half of the book focuses heavily on baseball. The second half has a Russian lit flair, so you can see where the title comes from. Although I admit to not having read the original, The Brothers Karamazov, even though I adore Dostoevsky.
The book also features an excellent discussion on religion and spirituality, war and peace (not Tolstoy), mental illness, and some darker corners I will not reveal here. The beginning, when the children are young, really drew me in and kept me reading late into the night. I felt the middle lacked a bit of the simple beauty of words, but maybe I had just read too long. But the story picked back up towards the end, and I eagerly finished. And believe me, I am not one afraid of quitting books I don’t like. I don’t believe in that kind of suffering.
I highly recommend this book. It made me laugh, cry, grimace, smile, and everything in between. And although it is 600 pages or so, it reads easily, no struggle at all. I will certainly seek out more of his work.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
This past weekend, JD and I trekked down to San Diego and Temecula for the latest hydrology wedding. Where the temperature was under 50 degrees. Where I had to wear a Harley Davidson jacket. However, the wedding was absolutely beautiful.
Since everyone I knew was in the wedding, after dropping them off I went wine tasting with CR's husband. This was my first wine tasting experience ever, but I survived. And had some fun. Although apparently tastings in Temecula are not free. At any rate, of the three wineries we went to, Filsinger was my favorite. KR thought it was terrible, but then he was drinking reds and I was drinking whites. Despite the fact that the lady at Hart made fun of me for liking fruity wines (apparently she thinks all whites are fruity), I especially liked the fact that the whites at Filsinger were a bit spicy rather than fruity. After all, in general, I am a beer drinker.
The vintner himself was pouring our wines, and KR could not stand the history he gave me about each one. He was German. At one point he offered me a free bottle of wine if I could guess what music was playing, but unfortunately Bernie wasn't with me, so the classical music escaped me.
Maybe, just maybe, I will drink wine again in the future.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Friday afternoon I headed to Muir Woods for an educators’ symposium, so I arrived about an hour early to have a little look-see. I did a two mile loop hike, apparently with everybody else in the world. I cannot remember ever being in a National Park that was so crowded. Also, as it turns out, being high up in the hills in the Bay area smothers you in fog and you can’t actually tell what time of day it is. Although I showed up at 2:30, I spent the whole evening thinking that it must be getting late. And let me tell you, the fog is rather disconcerting when you are driving home in the actual night and see absolutely nothing on the side of the road. Just one massive abyss.
Anyway, one of my favorite people, John Muir, once had this to say about the Monument named after him:
“This is the best tree-lover’s monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.”
As Matt will happily tell you, probably more than once, I am not so much a tree lover. I am a mountain lover, a broad vista lover, a rocky coastline lover. Yes the redwoods are impressive, but what with the people and the dimness, I’d really rather be here at Golden Gate.
Also I had heard that the road to Muir Woods is terrible and, from more than one person, that you might actually get sick while driving yourself. I was relieved to find out that although a small part of it was comparable to the “scenic highway” to Silver City, at least it wasn’t 30 miles long.
Today I went for a walk by my office. Well, I meant it to be a walk, and I was dressed for and prepared for a walk, but it turned into a hike. Because of course if I see something tall in front of me, I have to get to the top of it. (Unless that something is, say, over 12,000 feet. Luckily this one was probably less than 1,000.) In around 5 miles, I didn’t even finish my water bottle! I tried to make myself drink, but I guess it’s just not the desert here.
The hike featured a better view of the stunning scene in which I work:
As well as views of the city, as displayed above. (Sorry about the terrible picture.)
And some extreme creepiness:
Usually I make fun of Matt for being scared of abandoned buildings, but this was freaky. The trail led up between two rows of barbed wire fence and into a gate, which I’m not sure was supposed to be open. I can’t imagine the Park Service thinks it’s a good idea to let tourists wander around in falling down buildings.
The wind was blowing remnants of building pieces around, the gate was swinging back and forth and squeaking, and a lone raven was hopping on and off one of the most decrepit structures.
Of course I went in anyway, because I had to get to the top of the hill. And there is something intriguing about the juxtaposition of nature and war.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Yesterday evening I rode my bike uphill to my house, which took about 18 minutes, including the time spent on the side of the rode when, in the midst of shifting, my chain popped off and took the plastic thing with it, smashed into pieces along the road. Luckily I managed to get the chain back on, but I was in the middle of a very steep hill, so I decided to walk to the top rather than having shifting issues in the middle of the hill. I felt like such a wuss, as all the other bikers passed me and stared. So I also need to go to find a bike shop and purchase some Tri Flow to get my bike working properly, since I managed to leave mine in Albuquerque.
Finally, since my bike is in need of some minor maintenance and it was raining this morning, I decided to drive to work. My car wouldn't start. Luckily my roommate was home and had a jumper cable and he started me right up. However, he didn't know where any auto shops were, but I figured I should go to one right away or I might need another jump. So I decided to call somebody with internet access while I headed down to Sausalito to look for a shop. Matt was prepping for an overnight shift and I didn't want to wake him up, so I tried my sister who was apparently still asleep. So I had to turn to my mother, who is not terribly good at internet research. By the time she figured it out, I had already found a gas station with a service bay right on the main drag. I rolled in right as they were opening (8:10 AM!), and had my car back, with a brand new battery, in 30 minutes. It only cost me everything I have made in my first three days here...
I might just walk everywhere, but there aren't any pedestrians allowed in my tunnel.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
But I can’t complain; it is amazingly beautiful here. I remember being in the city and staring across the Golden Gate at the bright green Marin headlands and thinking it must be nice over there. For some reason I never went. I was not one of the intrepid souls who pedal rented bikes over the bridge and down into Sausalito, or occasionally into the park. Luckily, I have been given a second chance, and now I can look across the bridge at the city, draped in fog, lit up at night, or maybe, one day, in full sun.
Here is my World War II era military housing set in the hills:
Here is my World War II era office building (the one in the back) that was supposed to be temporary:
Not bad, eh?
I still don’t have any pictures of the bridge and the city, as my camera died at an inopportune time. But I’m pretty sure my house is only slightly over a mile from the bridge. I had no idea I was that close.
I’ve also been to parts of Point Reyes as well, which is beautiful in a completely different way. I will try to get the camera out there in the near future as well.
Anyway, if you ever want to reach me I do have the internet and text messaging capability at my office. I am a 1-mile bike ride through a scary tunnel to the nearest location of cell phone service, so phone calls require planning ahead.
My housing is quite dirty, but my roommate is moving out, and if people want to come visit, I will think about cleaning it. Although I’m pretty sure most of the yuck is permanent…
I know New Mexico is beautiful and all, but if I had to choose…I think you know. And hopefully I’ll get my husband back soon!
Friday, September 26, 2008
I kind of think it was a cheap byproduct of Cadillac Desert. He obviously used much of his water research to write this book, and the entire scenario is based on comments a geologist gave him about Cadillac Desert - basically that it failed to address what could happen to California's water supplies in the event of a large earthquake near the Delta. The whole book read as if it came straight out of Cadillac Desert - and maybe part of it did, I just can't remember.
However, as far as a scare tactic, it just did not work for me. In his scenario, only a couple thousand people died. Yes, that's a lot, like in Katrina, but large earthquakes around the world have produced death tolls up to half a million people. That is freaking scary. A few thousand? Not bad odds in the populated Bay Area - makes me want to take my chances.
I will not be keeping the book, so if you're looking for a fast, easy beach read, almost like a novel, just let me know!
Other than that, I can't complain too much about Costa Mesa. It makes me want to move back to LA. I just love it, for some inexplicable reason. I mean, we could have stayed here:
ocweekly.com (The Ali Baba Motel)
Next stop: San Francisco Bay
Friday, September 19, 2008
Today is the beginning of the long trek to Fort Cronkhite. It will include stops in Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, Costa Mesa, and possibly other California locations. So let's make some plans! With air fare what it is, who knows when I'll be back...
P.S. "A Dangerous Place" arrived in the mail today, so I'll let you know if I change my mind!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
First the ice cream man was murdered a block or two from our house back in June. Then a man was killed in a downtown parking garage in July (this is probably at least six residential blocks away). So everytime we heard firecrackers, we sort of wondered if it was gunshots. Now I know - there is no mistaking that, especially when you are close enough to hear yelling too.
We have a friend who has lived in this neighborhood for several years, and he has not experienced murders so close by before. Apparently 2008 is just dangerous.
I gave you a chance, Albuquerque.
You lost it.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Also, since I hardly ever wear makeup, any type of makeup lasts me forever. But this article says that basically I should throw it all away.
I need help!
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I have recently read two pieces of information that have made me wary of living in the Bay Area. And this is because I am a geek. Or a dork. I'm not sure what.
1)A workshop or field trip at this year's Science Writers conference in Palo Alto (P.S. Is anyone going to this?) looks at the fault running through Oakland. The fault historically moves on average once every 140 years. The last quake was in 1868. So. Yup.
2) A blog by a company with whom Matt interviewed this morning (yes, I was reading a hydrology blog) was talking about how the levees in California are actually worse than those in New Orleans and that a natural disaster, in this case an earthquake, could do some serious damage. Serious. He referenced the scenario written by Marc Reisner in the above book. Oh, and the same guy told Matt in his interview that most of the buildings in Oakland have no been retrofitted.
So of course, I ordered the book, used of course, off my favorite online bookstore, betterworldbooks.com. Because why live in denial when I can scare myself outright. Although I'd like to point out that Marc Reisner also wrote the fabulous book Cadillac Desert, about water, and I have been told he then changed his tune 180 degrees on water. So maybe, were he still alive, he would change his mind about earthquakes. Maybe?
And before, I was thinking that Oakland or Berkeley might be a good place to live, but now I'm thinking a different part of the Bay Area might be just a wee bit safer. Hey, when it comes to earthquakes, every little thing helps, I imagine. Or hurts.
Also, Matt's prospoects for a job are looking good, so I guess I won't get to run away this time! (Love you...)
Monday, September 8, 2008
I have now uploaded pictures from the entire summer to Picasa.
Apparently I have entered a rebellious time in my life. Besides my husband, only one person has sincerely told me they think this a good idea. My parents think I am out of my mind.
I already moonlight as a writer for a trade magazine, and I am looking to pick up a couple contracts from my current job. The internship will provide me with some more clips for my portfolio. So ideally, after the 6 months, I will be partially on my way to becoming an independent science and communication consultant.
I do have a husband who is planning to make the opposite transition - from the freewheeling world of school to one of a corporate consulting job - so I guess I have a fallback crutch. But I've been reading these self-helpy type business books (so uncharacteristic of me!) and they have convinced me to believe in myself and give it the old college try without worrying about making it. And then I'll succeed!
So if you know anyone who needs a competent and efficient hydrologist, water planner, or science and environment writer, send them my way!
(And as a second side note, I received a signed copy of Gary Hirshberg's book, "Stirring It Up," by sending in 20 Stonyfield Farms yogurt lids, and it totally inspired me to go work in corporate America. Although the good kind of corporate America. Maybe I could get a part time gig doing that. I'm just not good at this commitment thing.)
As I'm writing this, I'm thinking about all the people who have judged me, silently or verbally, for moving to California, and to the Bay Area no less. And I'm starting to get defensive. But I don't need to defend myself. They think I'm young and naive, or they know I won't like it there, or they think I can't afford it. So what. If it doesn't work out, I guess I'll just leave! It's a shocking attitude, I suppose, to life-long government workers.
I've been to San Francisco only twice before, and my husband once - on our honeymoon. But we both love it. For years I've thought about living there, only to think, as it is ingrained, that there is no way I could afford such a thing. But why not give it a whirl?
This blog is here to document my attempt.