Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Short Course in Epidemiology

Once again, Sandy Szwarc undertakes to explain the science of epidemiology, and why so much of what is reported as news really turns out to be noise. Junkfood Science: Math phobia — Is that evidence for real?:

"Most worries among the public would already be assuaged if more people simply understood that relative risks less than 3 (200%) have long been recognized as untenable. Just imagine how many popular fears and health agendas would disintegrate in an instant if the public realized that relative risks less than 10 — that’s 10-fold or 900% as high — with p-values >0.01 are often not real, tenable and are generally explained by confounding factors."

Happy Birthday, Junkfood Science!

Monday, October 15, 2007

I Choose Extinction

Pro-science: The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme: "The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

A blogging and scientific experiment.

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is ...".

Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

*You can leave them exactly as is.

*You can delete any one question.

*You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...:, or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".

*You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...”.

*You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the "parent" blog you got them from, e.g. Pro-science to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

My great-great-grandparent is Pharyngula.
My great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My grandparent is The Flying Trilobite.
My parent is Pro-Science.

This branch is withered. Sorry, Kristjan.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Pikachu Octopus

Yeah, I had to post this, because I keep telling people about it, and it takes me forever to find it. I thought maybe if I stored it safely in my blog, I'd be able to find it again. Pharyngula had this up in July. That makes me a very slow blogger, I guess.

It's pure Cute Overload, isn't it?

Enjoy, Liam, this cute is for you; the Science Blogs' Pokemon is for you, Colin.

Friday, August 31, 2007

We're Back in School

Ahhh. It's been a tricky week. Kindergartners were split with half starting Monday and half starting Tuesday. Woof Woof Woofie went Monday, visited the doc for another x-ray (cast off in two weeks!) on Tuesday, missed Wednesday to have ear tubes inserted, and so is only completing her third day of school this week.

What a difference four years makes. When we sent the Possum off, we blithely put her on the school bus for the three block trip each morning. Had the bus schedule not changed to something really inconvenient, we'd probbly have stuck to it. She didn't tell us much about school or how it was going, so it was the first discussion with her teacher at six or nine weeks before we found out how miserable she had been, crying every day.

But third grade is great. Of twenty-two students, she's already had classes with seven, and she's got her best friend from second grade in there.

While the Possum isn't embarrassed to have her mother walk her to class, Woof Woof Woofie is. That's right: on her second day she asked me not to walk right beside her, and this morning she wanted to be dropped off out front. They're great kids and endlessly fascinating in the ways they resemble one another, as well as the ways they differ. Which is exactly what I liked about having two kittens from the same litter thirteen years ago. Cat ownership was good preparation after all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Beware the Evil Grapefruit

The article said something like this: "Avoid Deadly Grapefruit". No, that was just how it came across to some readers. Somehow between the actual article in British Journal of Cancer and the press release, and then the newspaper article, though, that's what it became. Reading the actual paper in the journal is difficult for most people not just because Sturgeon's Law is true of research papers, but also because access to medical journals is limited for people who don't work near a medical research library. I read the paper, and it's pretty much Bullsh*t, although not as bad as the newspaper version made it sound.

Epidemiological studies can be helpful at revealing further avenues of inquiry, but they are not proof of anything. The other epidemiological study that invariably comes out saying the opposite will also get big headlines, but the clinical study that disproves both of them will be ignored.

"In epidemiologic research, relative risks [RR] of less than 2 are considered small and usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or effects of confounding factors not evident"
National Cancer Institute, "Abortion and Possible Risk for Breast Cancer: Analysis and Inconsistencies," October 26, 1994

In this study, the only patients with a RR greater than 2 were the ones currently taking estrogen/progestin therapy. The highest RR for the greatest consumption of grapefruit? 1.30. Any lower and the headline would have been saying that "Grapefruit Saves Lives".

So, the really interesting stuff from this particular study (in my opinion) didn't make news:
This finding of a reduced effect of grapefruit in women with a higher BMI is similar to the lower effect of ET on breast cancer risk in women with a higher BMI

That is, these meaningless increases in risk are even less meaningful for fatter women. That's a relief, isn't it?

Consistent with other studies on postmenopausal oestrogen use, we found an increase in breast cancer risk, particularly among current EPT users.

And post-menopausal hormone use really is risky, just like everyone else was saying.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I Hope I Become More Like My Mother

Her bookshelves:

And again:

Versus my best:

You may judge which tree the fruit is falling closest to, since this is the bookcase of the Offspring:

Monday, July 16, 2007

Zombies by Mail

Lame, I know. Anyway, the gifted, charming, and culinarily canny Rax designed these fabulous t-shirts. So I wanted to post the pictures promptly as a big "thank you!"

I provide the zombies, you provide the captions.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fishy, Fishy

Charlotte Observer | 07/03/2007 | A reel big surprise:
Piranha in Catawba

"Melton noticed something very different when he opened the fish's mouth with his pocketknife: 'It had a whole bunch of teeth. Then it just bit down and left an impression in the blade of my knife.'"

If this were fiction, credibility would be strained.

Update: It's not a piranha

Melton said wildlife officials told him that "by taking that fish out of the water, I had done a good thing."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

School's Out!

As of Friday, the formal education is over for the summer. And that means our annual haircuts yesterday. And local dairy ice cream. The Possum before

and after

Woof Woof Wolfie before

and after

me, likewise

and also,

I'd like to thank everyone who offered suggestions, and apologize for not turning out better on the basis of that help.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Okay, I love it, and it's pretty handy. There are features I'd like, so it's not perfect, but what is? To my amusement, I happened to notice, over there, on the left, that little box says "recent books from my library".

It's funny, go those are all books I read more than twenty years ago, but only recently added to LibraryThing.

Yeah, it's a geeky book joke.

Also, I really need to trim my blogroll.

A Domestic Manifesto

frontstepdesign: Manifesto:

"What I do, as an Architect and a person, is learn how to create a wonderful domestic life. 'Wonder' in this case, means not only pretty - and pretty* is very important! - but also helpful."

I am so there, only without the architecture training or the devotion to the cause or the creativity. It's an updated version of the William Morris quote I love:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”

As an only peripherally connected aside: now that we have a composting bin, it's really encouraging to see how much compost we generate. All those fruits and veggies we eat, are tangible, and useful.

Real Life

I'm tired. What I would like to do after work is put my feet up, eat cake or cookie dough, and read some Terry Pratchett that I got for my birthday. Someone bringing me slippers and a cocktail would be lovely, too.

What I do, however, is come home, run around the yard for an hour being a Spice Girl or a Sailor Scout or Shaggy (my Shaggy voice is pretty good, zoinks!), fighting evil with swim noodles and breaks for boogie boarding in Hawaii (because superheroes need surfing vacations too), fix a mediocre supper of some kind of pasta (I am still just learning to cook [I know], if The Spouse is working, or serve as chef's assistant if he isn't. Eat, put away the leftovers, dole out desserts and allergy meds to the Offspring, and then get them into their jammies, watch them brush their teeth and try not to crack up about something, apply fluoride, get them into bed (all three of us in Woof Woof Wolfie's bunk for books and it's crowded, all elbows and knees), read to them for an hour from two of the endless series of Henry and Mudge books (now with spin off series of Annie and Snowball) or the other new Rylant series, The High-Rise Private Eyes and either The Miserable Mill or Matilda or Thodosia and The Serpents of Chaos (the Possum's choices these days), after which I will put out the light and lie still, hissing like a goose occasionally when someone who shall remain nameless will not be still in that top bunk and is making an astounding amount of racket, contorting her body into impossible shapes trying to find a comfortable position and get the pillows just right. Finally, when I have just started to doze off myself, but have been jerked awake by an untimely mattress squeak, I will realize that Woof Woof Wolfie is out cold and I may find my shoes and creep from the room, after almost-but-not-quite forgetting to pass out the good-night kisses, and then I can retire to the screen porch for ten minutes of peace and a smoke.


At which point I will realize that while still tired, I am no longer sleepy, and that there is a load of laundry that's been moldering in the washing machine for 24 hours, which desperately needs a rinse, and when I go to put it in the drier, I'll discover a load that's been wrinkling in there for 24 hours, and by the time I get that folded and weighted down (in order to replace the random creases with proper ones), I'll be too exhausted to read a word, but too wired to go to sleep without pharmacological assistance.

And somewhere in there I manage to fit in gathering whatever permission slips and checks are necessary for second grade tomorrow, bringing in the mail and Mom's newspaper, chatting with my beloved Spouse about the news of the day and upcoming special scheduling events and the weather (he's very knowledgeable about the weather, and just think how much more fun it will be when he gets his birthday weather station up! we'll be rolling in data and the exact time of sunset!) and movies we've seen recently (mostly animated and G rated) or twenty years ago when we both worked separately in theaters. And I'll have a conversation with Mom about her garden, and extended family news, and what a wonderful husband I'm lucky to have. And I'll feed the cats and pet them.

This is my life and it is exhausting and I love it. I'm insanely lucky to have all this.

A Little Help, Please

I'm sure there must be a way to work on a draft of a post, save it, come back, edit it, and reset the date and time so that it posts as today, rather than sometime in the distant past when I first got an idea.

Can anyone explain that to me for Blogger, or provide a link? I really don't feel like hunting that down tonight.

Doh. Post Options, right below the composing box.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Spreading a Little Happiness

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Happiness wins science book prize:

"A scientific exploration of the various ways people attempt to make themselves happy has won the annual Royal Society Prize for Science Books.
Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness had been tipped as the favourite to win the prestigious £10,000 award. "

Two years ago in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2004, I read a piece by Jon Gertner on Affective Forecasting. It's not often that I can pinpoint a paradigm shift in my own thinking, but since reading that article, reading more on the topic, and blogging on it, I can be fairly exact. I'm delighted that Gilbert won the prize, and I'm very eager to read the book.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Castle Waiting: The Accessories

I don't recall having encountered this before: the author is offering a dust-jacket, color plates, a library card set, and a charm to go on the ribbon bound into the book.

The whole set is very appealing. I'm a sucker for all book-related stuff, and I adore library cards, particularly when they aren't kept in pockets in the designated books. (I like to use them as book marks, and if the library book is old enough, there's a bookmark storage pocket built right in.) Medley's having fun with Castle Waiting, like Jaspar Fforde in the Next books, with ads for toast, and his website with the Book Upgrade Centre. I'm looking forward to the next Next almost as much as I'm looking forward to the final Potter.

Not that every author should try doing jacket design or extensive web pages. For the vast majority of authors, all those who are not also visual artists, I would think that any time spent trying to come up with the clever ideas would be poorly spent. There are so many possibilities for doing these sorts of things badly, and even if they are done well, you're still going to annoy some people. Besides which, it all takes time away from the really important stuff: getting the books out.

What do y'all think?

Friday, April 20, 2007

It's All About Meme

Pro-science asks : Why do I blog?.

Let me count the whys:

1) Because I am always posting comments on other blogs that are way too long, and still having more to say. Really, way, way, way too long. So part of blogging is to edit my ideas down a bit, and part is just having all the space I need.

2) To keep the occasional friend and relation up on the cuteness that is the Offspring. Without actually forcing them to look at pictures or respond with strained laughs and rictus smiles. Really, no one has to click or comment.

3) Like the rest of my life, I can imagine exactly how great it could be if I only had more time. Unlike boxes of books I'm never going to read, it's incredibly easy to keep an infrequently updated blog. No dusting required.

4) To share my blogroll, because there are so many insanely skilled bloggers out there, and I figure every little link helps.

5) To get in the last word.*

* "mochila" [moh-chill-ah]

Five reasons, so I'll tag five blogs:

Insane Troll Logic by my doppelgangirl
Mimi Smartypants
MOM: Not Otherwise Specified
Faux Real
Atheist in a Minivan (no Possum relation, thanks for asking)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

If There is a "New Atheism"...

does that mean that there can be Fundamentalist Atheists, insisting on returning to the old ways of disbelief?

I love Pro-Science because I agree on every major issue, natch, blut also because he really takes the time to elucidate the issues. Kristjan does awesome fisking on ID in particular, science in general, and he brings a clear-eyed disinterest to American politics.

Plus he gave me the link to the coyote in the Loop.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

No Voter Left Behind

How about this: high stakes testing in every district in the nation, performed by international observers. Any district which can't prove that it has 1) registered all eligible voters, 2) provided all possible aid to assist said voters in voting and 3) counted all those votes, will have their federal representative taken away, and the voters will be reassigned to some other district. They'll also have all federal funding taken away.

That should improve things, right?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

We're Like this

Last nice at bedtime Woof Woof Woofie was most taken with the word "stupidhead" repeating it over and over. Then for reasons I can't recall, the Possum said "mochila", which the Offspring and I agreed, sounded much more like a small furry rodent, suitable (only) for wearing around a woman's neck and/or shoulders, rather than a "backpack". It was necessary to spend a great deal of time playing in the bathroom with fur stoles from the dress-up box and repeating the word "mochila" in as many sentences and silly posh accents as possible. And, of course, to attack one another with the end of the stole where a face would be if this were the Ghostbusters movie where the fur attacks the woman.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Back Up Your Birth Control Day

Are you backed up?

For more on EC, check out The Well-Timed Period, for the answers to all your questions.

I encourage everyone, whether or not you think you might need it, to check on the availability of EC in your area.

Hat tip to Alison.

Friday, March 16, 2007

What We're Reading

I'm currently in all sailor all the time mode, reading Peter Pan to Woof Woof Woofie and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists to myself. The Possum checked out The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, but she's reading Half Magic right now. I'm reading Snicket's The Bad Beginning to her (last chapter tonight), but that has a character with hooks for hands, so it feels right.

Currently accepting sailing/pirate recommendations for any age level. Also, accepting tacky Hawaiian shirt recommendations.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Unclear on the Concept

HGTV is holding their annual Dream Home Giveaway. Apparently, every year they build some huge expensive resort home and give it away to some unlucky person, although this year, the recipient will be luckier than those in the past. This year they are giving away enough cash ($250,000) to enable the winner to insure and pay taxes on the beast until they can unload it.

You know, I've spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about dream homes. My math grades would have been higher in middle school, had I not devoted class time to drawing floor plans. Here's the fundamental flaw in HGTV's contest: a Dream Home is a personal thing, not generic. My dream home is designed for me. It does not feature an elaborate dog house. Currently, the mental version incorporates universal design, cradle to cradle* products where possible, and green, sustainable products everywhere else. My dream home is fully accessible to our disabled friends and family, and fun for our aging, unable-to-jump enormous cats. My dream home has a library for fiction and lots of bookshelves everywhere else for all the other subjects we like to read about. My dream home includes a separate-but-attached granny cottage. My dream home looks traditional, but is virtually fireproof and very easy to keep clean. My dream house is in my current neighborhood, and will enable me to stay here for the rest of my life.** My dream house has many windows on the south, east, and west sides, and few on the north, and all of those windows are shaded from the summer sun.

If HGTV would like to draw my name out of their hat, I'll be delighted to sell off their faux dream house, and build my own. I'm pretty sure I could have everything I want for considerably less than 2.5 million.

*Fun fact: the book Cradle to Cradle is waterproof, and itself recyclable

**I just realized yesterday that given my expected lifespan, I have even more years ahead of me for reading than I have so far enjoyed. And I don't have to waste four years learning to read.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Simple Gifts

The Purple Possum received two fifth birthday presents of particular note.

The first to mention is a fish tank, smallish, I think, although I know absolutely nothing about fish, but cute. It has a blue plastic base and top, with a light, and a filter, and a heater. The effect is a fish take designed by the same designer as the iMac. The bottom has been covered with blue and green gravel. Originally, there was an adorable snow scene background drawn by the girls, but that didn't stay up long after fish were introduced to the tank. The fish are two black mollies, Blackie and Molly, two guppies, Cameron and Goldie, two swordtails, Peter and Susan, one catfish, Splee, and one snail, Gary.

The snail moves around much faster than I would have guessed, probably because there isn't a lot for it to suck off the walls yet. The catfish is fun to watch, bottom feeding, because it's whiskers waggle when it eats. Peter and Susan are the only mating couple, the Spouse tells me, so to me it seems a little like the Smurfs, with only the one female in the group. Or, as Geena Davis would remind me, like most programming for kids. Susan has a bulge, which may be eggs. Yes, I am speculating on the baby bump of my non-celebratory fish. One of the original black mollies didn't survive the transition into the new tank. I've just learned that this is a common problem for new fish. One of the guppies also had problems, and we couldn't find it for a while. It was either trapped in the filter, or under the filter, or just hanging out. Fish are inscrutable, their actions and motivations opaque. After being re-released into the tank as a whole, the guppy in question was noted to be missing a portion of its tail, which the Spouse said would grow back. Said guppy spent the rest of that evening getting caught in the filter some more, or floating in ways that are not good, belly-up, for example. So, after the girls were asleep, the Spouse went back to the fish purveyor to replace the two unsatisfactory specimens.

Yesterday morning the girls woke up, and the Purple Penguin asked right away about the struggling guppy.
"Go look," I said, "Pop got new fish." You see the problem: "fish" is both singular and plural. She went, she looked, she ran back to tell me.
"The guppy's tail grew back! And there's a new black one."

By the time I came home from work, it was understood that no miraculously quick tail growing had occurred. That there were two new fish. I went to look at the newly-named Goldie, and couldn't spot it.
"Sweetie," I asked the Spouse, "I can't see Goldie." He leaves off cooking dinner to check. A couple of long pauses later, he comes back, with something in his hand. He found Goldie. She managed to jump out of the fish tank. Through an uncovered area this small.

No more guppies, the Purple Penguin has decreed. She didn't specifically mention that she didn't like their dying/suicidal ways.

The second gift I wanted to mention, was a real electronic keyboard. The Purple Penguin's favorite toy from Christmas was a tiny plastic harmonica that came in a cracker, so we all agreed that something musical might be the way to go. By a happy coincidence, a second-hand keyboard became available. The Spouse demonstrated its use by plunking out Linus and Lucy, a household favorite. My mother and the girls were all terribly impressed, unaware that he could play piano, too.

After supper, the Possum went off to play Ascendancy with her father, a game which has recently delighted her no end, not only because the Spouse has customized his version by naming all the alien races from classics of science fiction.

The birthday girl spent about two minutes playing with a magnetic paper doll with me, before she came up with a new idea. I was to pick out a background, dress the doll in one of the costumes available, and she would play appropriate music on the piano.

My five-year-old invented for herself the idea of a musical soundtrack. Huh.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Check the ads up top

This context-specific stuff is funny. I just realized I'm running ads for pest control. I think I've found a way to take care of pesky varmints.

Edited to note that of course now that I made this post, the ads have changed. Oh, well. Do you think if I mention playing Global Thermonuclear War (a darts game, actually), I'll get something good?

That Miracle Grow was a Bad Idea

This is my youngest, rather tall child, (currently) aka, the Purple Penguin.

This is my eldest, tallest child, aka the Possum.

Soon my evil plot will come to fruition and the Spouse will never again be able to hide things from me on the top shelves.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

It made me laugh

Tomorrow is the Purple Penguin's fifth birthday. The Possum, a cool seven-and-a-half year old, watched her sister getting all excited about the chocolate cupcakes for the party, and said

The way she's hyperventilating, she could make a cappuccino.
As I said, it made me laugh.