Thursday, April 27, 2006

Blogging as a Writing Block

Those of you who write on blogs, whether you've started in the more recent explosion of blogging (this one started in Spring of 2005, and is by far the longest lived of my attempts at blogging) or you've been doing this for years and have amassed an empire of loyal readers (think BoingBoing), will be familiar with the problems that go along with them. It, I think, is an extension of pure vanity to check counter statistics, try to keep semi-regular updates to keep what little audience you (you = I in this case) have managed to gain, to make sure the words you type correspond with what you're actually trying to say, and to worry about being at least marginally witty or, if all attempt at wit is being abandoned, to at least get across your point.

Recently, a blogger who'd evidently been doing such for five years shut down her blog and wrote a happy little Slate article about it. It's an interesting perspective, and probably worth at least a quick glance. I have no intention of finishing Murphspot in the near future, but it's interesting to consider the mortality of these things once in a while.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Swerving

So here's the problem with riding a bike from my apartment in Edgewater to my workplace in Evanston, other than the 5.5 mile drive is a wee bit tiring. Mostly, the downside comes not on the way there, but on the way back home. In the morning, the sun is shining, and the ride along the lakeshore is incredibly beautiful when there's not wind blowing you into things. You arrive at work with a feeling of accomplishment.

On the way home, however, it's usually rather dark and the drive is more aptly described as "damned creepy" if I follow the route I followed in the morning, which goes through the more residential bits of Evanston. Today, however, I rode down Chicago Ave., Evanston's most densely populated North/South thoroughfare. That wasn't so bad, though there was some prick that cut me off at South Boulevard. The problem, as it were, came at the intersection of Chicago/Clark and Howard, where I was forced into the other lane by some schmuck in an SUV that did the whole "right on red" thing in a manner which can only be justified if there's a woman in labor in the car. If there was, it seems that they were stopping at GameSpot before heading to the hospital.

Which means I'm taking the residential route from now on. I did, however, find that there's a Hollywood video a few blocks west on Granville, which resulted in the purchase of Corpse Bride, Capote and Good Night and Good Luck. I've never seen the last in the series, but I've heard good things and besides, it was three DVDs for $25 (the price on each individually was $14.99, so bonus.)

In other news:

My IM Softball team got around to winning our first game of the season (which is now three games old; the other two games being a loss in the opener and a tie last week), whomping some group of gents with a jackass pitcher. Our right fielder was a cricket player and, from what I could tell in the hour since I met him, a fine fellow who picked up the game surprisingly well for having never played it before. He did kind of bring the bat with him to first on a hit, and a fly to right fell in for a double, but I was able to cover him on that and, to be honest, he tried a whole hell of a lot more than Jeromy Burnitz does. I say the Pirates should recruit him, and start him in right.

Also, the lab is in full "movecore" mode, meaning we're packing our possessions for the long and terrible journey three hundred yards away in another building. Good times.

Monday, April 24, 2006

It's late!

So now that I’ve got a moment to write in this thing, Blogger’s down. C’est la thing.

Some updates in what’s going on.

I’ve just given my group meeting, which means I can stop freaking out about giving my group meeting until, oh, late September. There are some things I’ve got to work on, but overall, things are going well with research. Until this weekend. We’re moving, you see, to the building across the way where I’ll have a seat next to a ground floor window, a desk much closer to where I’m actually doing research than I’ve got set up right now, and the most incredible lab chairs in history. The downside is that the next week is going to be somewhat hectic as we try to pack up the entire lab and move it, while cleaning. And that this weekend, vacuum lines were shut down, meaning I couldn’t do much. Sadness. On the upside, once again, chairs.

I have quite a lot to complain about with my current domicile (and will probably have about the same luck when I move into a new place this September) but at least the Earth has not yet opened up to devour my building. Knock on wood. Or particle board. Whatever the hell this thing is.

It appears a new petition has been drafted calling for what would essentially be a revival of the Federal Marriage amendment though this time it’s not evangelical Protestants, but Catholics that have signed this petition, which seems like it's a bit of non-news, at least in the sense that yes, we were already quite aware that same-sex marriage is against the beliefs of several churches, and that's cool. While I understand and certainly respect the right of those that believe homosexuality is evil to hold that belief, I just cannot comprehend the idea of then effectively legislating that belief. I have absolutely no problem with individual churches deciding that they’re not going to grant marriages to same sex couples. Any law that would grant homosexuals the right to marry one another that would force any church to do so is clearly unconstitutional, and that’s not what anyone’s talking about. That’s entirely their prerogative, and if it’s their belief that to do so would be directly contradictory to their faith, that’s cool. They’re not hurting anyone, really, as in becoming a member of a church, you're accepting its beliefs, and if one of their beliefs is that gays can't marry (or form relationships), it's kind of nonsensical to call yourself a part of that church and then prattle on about them being discriminatory. By somewhat, I mean completely. If you're not down with how a church views gays, then don't be a part of that church. I have, however, yet to hear a solid argument that entirely avoids both the arguments of religion and tradition and gives me a good reason why Jack and Bill shouldn’t be able to get the whole power of attorney deal.

Why would I require that the reasoning be non-religous and non-traditional? Because atheists get married all the time as long as they're of opposite sexes (as do billions of people of any number of faiths, so tying it to a single faith or even a subset is silly), and when you start applying tradition to things like who's allowed to date whom, things get prejudicial.

I’ve heard arguments from both sides, and I just can’t get past the whole “legislating religion” deal that must go along with this. It’s not a matter of letting people run rampant with all sorts of crazy marriages. Presumably, just the opposite, allowing homosexual marriage would allow for at least some shedding of the conception of gays as people who have sex with anything and everything. As William Saletan argues, it’s not akin to allowing polygamy, as marriage between members of the same sex is not the arbitrary decision to stick marriage at “two” but rather to put it at “one”, as in “devotion to one spouse”, which is what it is now. Frankly, I’m not so sure banning gay marriage is about that so much as it is the ability to control and wield power over a decidedly small portion of the population. In the political sense, not the religious sense. In the religious sense, it’s simply “we don’t do that.”, and I’m down with that.

Summary: Some religious leaders have petitioned for the banning of same sex marriage. I support their right to do so, believe it’s a perfectly rational extension of their beliefs. I think they’d probably be remiss if they didn’t. At the same time, I don’t believe that banning gay marriage is the right course of action, at least from a completely secular, "go down to city hall and they let Frank visit Alexei in the hospital when Alexei falls ill" standpoint. To me, from a strictly non-relgious standpoint, it appears to be the same as being allowed to marry anyone else. And I can't quite see how chromosomes (or genitalia, though I'm not certain about what the current legal state of marriage between a man and a male-to-female post-op transsexual is) should decide whether one can put one down on their insurance.


Damn Pirates. I don’t know what kind of state of mind you have to be in to consider putting Jose Hernandez at third over both Joe Randa (who has had some good defensive work this year, and hasn’t been sucking out loud at the plate really) and Freddy Sanchez (who I’d like to see out there from the start, so that the first inning is only a three run Astros lead, as Berkman doesn’t reach on something Hernandez would have had if he weren’t daydreaming about why Jack Wilson is so completely non-photogenic. Going onto the Pirates message board on right now is like entering into a battlefield. A battlefield with incredibly low morale where the infantry has decided to shell itself for kicks.

Who knew.

I’m going to bed.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Worst Franchise?'s Page 2 is searching for a new punchline to fill the place of the L. A. Clippers, and as such are conducting a reader poll to determine the Worst Franchise in Sports. The Bucs get a mention that's painful to read if only because it emphasizes the fact that we've just extended Littlefield's contract, but I doubt they'll make it as the worst franchise after the poll is concluded. For some reason, I think "Royals" sticks out in the minds of the general populace more readily, and that with the remainder of the sports added in, the Pirates will finish out of the top five. In the top ten, certainly, but not the top five.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Not for the Faint of Heart

I’ve not been updating this much recently, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and I really would be seven kinds of shocked if one couldn’t glean that from both the timestamps and the fact that I open every one of these now with the apology that I’ve not been updating recently.

So we’ll continue.

In Murphy News:

  • I was not meant to be a butcher (hint: if you really don’t like animals dying for scientific studies, skip this). It’s funny that I’m sitting in a Subway eating a meatball sandwich while I type this, but I really don’t know how cool I am with killing an animal myself. Case in point: I’d like to do some metal studies involving the hippocampus. Not the human hippocampus, of course, but a rat hippocampus. Which means getting a rat brain. I didn’t actually have to extract the brain, of course, as I’d never done it before and would probably have ended up injuring the rat and causing, in a roundabout way, the beginning of a new species of superrat which would subjugate us all. So I watched the physiologist do it. Step One: Knocking the rat out in the desiccator filled with inhaled anesthetic. I’m fine with that. Step Two: Dissecting the rat. Ok. It wasn’t in pain (so she said) and it’s over now. Rat done. Step Three: What’s she doing with that knife? Step Four: She’s not… Step Five: She is. Step Six: Rat head in a jar.

    I’m not cool with doing that. I accept that these kinds of things have to be done so that we can more fully understand the chemistry of life, but I think I’ll sit back and let someone else decapitate the rats.

  • Busy week this week. Group meeting on Tuesday afternoon, which I’m quite nervous about, and softball game on Monday. In case I’ve not said this, I’m involved in a softball team now, which is fine, but the manager signed us up for the wrong league such that instead of playing the Computer Science graduate school, we’re playing SAE tomorrow. Color me all kinds of mercy rule.


  • I’m encouraged by what I saw from Duke’s outing on Saturday, and a bit discouraged by Snell’s today. Conflicted about Casey’s injury as he was hitting moderately well and we are paying him more than anyone else on the roster, but at least it gets Craig “Thor” Wilson some playing time (it should be coming over Burnitz, but it’s playing time nonetheless), which is providing us with everything that looks like offense recently. Mostly, I’m just waiting patiently for the first day off, Thursday, so that the relievers can get a modicum of rest. On that note, someone came up to me yesterday to ask why the Pirates have played more games than anyone else. I laughed a little. And then looked sadly at the schedule.

  • I realized that I’m not sure what style of announcing I like. Cubs announcers tend to be a little too high on themselves, the Reds announcers were kind of static, saying something only when something happened such that a sizeable chunk was dead silence, but I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than Pirates announcers chatting about their pets and silverware.

  • 4-10 isn’t where I wanted to be right now, but it’s hardly the end of the world. Pirates fans in the Pirate Q & A and on message boards have been calling the season lost since the first game. While I’d be surprised to see enough change to get us to .500, it’s just damn depressing listening to the talk of fan revolt.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Keaton and Optimism.

Nearing the end of the 8-3 loss to the Dodgers at the Pirates home opener this afternoon, this appeared on the Pirates front page. I'm calling shenanigans. While I'm certainly not calling the season as lost after eight games, and was unable to watch the game due to work today, it certainly seems like quite a bad outing from Duke in addition to the inability to put together a run when we need one. Or five. I'll be the first to admit that building for the future is a more pressing priority. There's just something about 1-7 that I'm not quite fond of.


Ironic that they included the bit with Michael Keaton (who threw out the first pitch) and the Batman/Rivers Cuomo picture after he made some less than sunshiney statements to the press.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


1) It takes a very long time to get a cheap bike that's intact in the suburbs of Chicago. Walmart's selection is iffy and I'd have had to spend more than I felt like for what's going to be used probably relatively rarely, and compounded by the fact that the Walmart in Niles is a pretty interesting experiment in anarchy and that when a bike's going to be placed on the top rack, it's probably better to print the price in something larger than size 5 font. So off to Target. Reasonably priced bike there, but the gearshift has been snapped off. They've got another, but it's going to be ok because there's one in the back. Unfortunately, that had no front wheel (which, I've found, is at least somewhat necessary). They sent us off to another Target, which, we were told, had eleven of the same bike (or did that morning.) Our arrival to the bike department was marked by the last of those bikes being sold, the explanation of the Target employee in the bike department that they're the top seller in the Western Hemisphere or something, followed by some more yammering, and finally, price matching another bike. It's a bit heavier than I'd like, and not as standard-road-bike as I'd like, but it's what I've got. So there's that.

2) I live too far away from the school to ride there. I found this out after doing just that this morning, and I'm incredibly tired. So I apologize if this makes no sense.

3) A win for the Pirates. From Victor Santos? From what I was able to see, it was a pretty solid ball game, with Santos throwing a solid game with sufficient run support. I'm hoping Hernandez closing isn't something that's going to go on consistently, but still, he put together a reasonable 9th (that is, he succeeded in his charge, which was closing out the game). Nice jack from Jack, and I'm glad we're not going into the Home Opener 0-7.

85 game winning streak, starting now. I'm calling it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'm not poisoned

Quick note while I'm waiting for my solvent to come off.

My blood mercury: 4 ng/mL
Normal blood mercury: 10 ng/mL
Toxic blood mercury: 50 ng/mL

My blood cadmium: <0.2 ng/mL
Normal blood cadmium: 1 ng/mL

My health=fine.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Adventures in Glenlake.

So here's the day.

At about one-in-the-afternoon, myself and Meera (the other Infected) jet off to Evanston Memorial Hospital for a quick blood drawing, some tests and the hair metal that plays on a loop in the lobby of Evanston Memorial. Alas, the office that would do our work for us there is open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (promising!) from eight-in-the-morning until eleven-in-the-morning.

That's right. Nine hours per week this place is open for workers comp claims.

So we're required to drive to Glenlake, IL for the tests at a facility out there. I must have fallen asleep at some point (I've been up at this point for about 19 hours), because I really can't recall the point at which our surroundings ceased to be at least mostly suburban and became cows. The surrounding area led me to believe that it's not someone who has cows because they need cows, but someone who has cows because they really dig on the concept of having cows.

Driving Driving Driving.

We arrive in Glenlake, at the proper site for them to steal my blood. After a quick check-up, I was given two (2) tests, one of which ruled, while the other whimpered meekly. The one that ruled involved being locked in a sort of sensory deprivation chamber (that is, a tiny soundproof booth) with a set of headphones and a buzzer. it was very Win Ben Stein's Money. Or 21. Whatever. Thing is, I apparently dig on being locked in small, soundproofed booths, hitting a buzzer whenever a note is played.

The less awesome test was a simple vision test, which I sucked at because I hadn't brought my glasses.

So that's all well and good. The Good Doctor prescribed for us 10mg/kg/day of a chelating agent (DTSA) as a prophylactic treatment, and sent off to Walgreens (specifically) to pick up the prescription, which we were assured would be covered by Workman's Comp. Before we were released, they robbed us outright of a bit of hair (they robbed Meera of quite a lot, actually, though it's unnoticeable unless you want to annoy her) and blood. The guy that stole my blood was an embittered Cubs fan that I hope won't ever take my blood again, if only because you're not supposed to be angry when you're doing that job.

Anyway, off to Walgreens to fill these prescriptions. We were given the prescriptions, and a form and nothing else. This absolutely baffled the pharmacists, who did not believe that the Workman's Comp organization existed and implied that we might have been trying to scam the pharmacy out of their DTSA (it is known to have hallucinogenic effects if smoked by people that would think that I'd want to scam a pharmacy out of a chelation therapeutic.) Perhaps, I think, it's because he admitted to not having a clue what it was the prescription was asking for (that is, he'd never heard of this drug). After some calls to the organization, the pharmacist continued to refuse to fill the prescription, and so I'm not starting that therapy quite yet. He seemed to feel a bit bad about it after we told him the chemical with which we might have been contaminated, but overall seemed not to care enough to actually give us the medicine we were supposed to get.

I'm leaving lab now.


this is an audio post - click to play

Note: That "27 pills/day" was misstated. It'd be 9 pills per day. Unfortunately, the pharmacist refused to give me the medication, which you'll hear more about in the next post.

Damn it.

When it really comes down to it, I have not the expletive.


On the subject of the baseball season beginning, Slate has a nice little slideshow of baseball worldwide.


It's about time for me to get back to work.

But before I do, I'd just like to note that today's Opening Day for the Pirates, playing at Milwaukee. While I probably could have hooked up some kind of "me getting to Wisconsin", I've got group meeting in two weeks to prepare for, I've got no car, and I really probably should just be at Northwestern. Particularly after spending most of yesterday waiting for the White Sox/Indians game to come back from rain delay.

But that's cool. I'll just check out the Brewers/Pirates series in late July or something.

The problem with today is that the game starts at 1:05 Central, which is five minutes after an appointment I've got with the Workers Comp people. Turns out I've kind of got to get a blood test to determine whether or not I've got mercury poisoning. It seems that when you stumble upon some sealed NMR tubes of a certain chemical (a very common NMR standard for mercury in the sense that it's remarkably good in that purpose, and essential to the research considering our group's MerR work) in the lab, and then are six feet away when one is broken, you've got to go in, even if you've bolted from the room. It was stored safely, and posed no real threat to anyone as it was, and it was simply in the act of disposing it that a tube cracked. It's almost certainly nothing, as the ventilation kicks around here and no one actually came into contact with it, but it's something we've got to get checked out, and I'd like the peace of mind of knowing that it's nothing.

In a related note, here is a very well constructed telling of the tragic Karen Wetterhahn story. I'm not familiar with Wetterhahn's work, and from all accounts I've heard she was a world-class chemist, and hers is a story that should stand out to any student of science as the reminder that with the rewarding bits comes quite a lot of risk.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Beginning of Audioblogging on Murphspot

this is an audio post - click to play

Feel free to give some pointers and overall opinions. I'll be deciding later whether or not I'd like to continue doing it based on a) general reception from the three of you that read this b) whether I feel like it c) whether it's actually free.