Saturday, May 31, 2008

What I'll Miss About New York:
#18 — Occasional Brooklyn

I won't pretend that I visited Brooklyn frequently during these past three years. Truth be told, I think I visited the borough maybe a dozen times. I could blame law school for keeping me away from Brooklyn, but I think that travel time is the greater culprit. On the weekends (when I'm most likely to harass friends living there), the exclusively-local-running subway trains translate into a trip of greater than an hour each way. Of course, the trip is longer if there are glitches in the system. (Note: There are always glitches in the system.)

So I've been to Brooklyn only as many times as I've been to LA. Yet, I'm comfortable passing judgment on LA (Verdict: I hated it until visit #9. Now it's like the cousin whom you appreciate for who he is.), so I guess I'm comfortable opining on Brooklyn.

In a nutshell, Brooklyn is to Manhattan as San Jose is to San Francisco. That is, if San Jose were cool.

You see, although San Francisco captures the public's imagination, it's San Jose and the communities that surround it that really supply the engine driving the Bay Area economy. Google, Apple, eBay, Yahoo, HP, Cisco, Venture capitalists and start-ups A thru Z — are they in San Francisco? Not even close. They're all tightly clustered in the area around San Jose.

San Jose – the more populous of the two cities by 100,000 – is as bitter as a rural Pennsylvania voter, forced as it is to linger in the shadow of San Francisco. Yet, there's a reason that San Francisco came out on top of this sibling rivalry. For all San Jose's economic might, San Francisco has that certain je ne sais quoi that San Jose is most definitely lacking. San Francisco is a global city, brimming with culture and sustaining its own distinct lifestyle. It is a beautiful city populated with strange and fascinating people. The greater San Jose region? Well, it is home to low-slung offices and worker bees. (Even if those worker bees are multimillionaires and are reinventing the world economy as we know it.)

This state of affairs is mirrored between Brooklyn and Manhattan. First, there's the chip on Brooklyn's shoulder. A slight majority of Brooklyn residents voted in 1894 to merge with the City of New York, and the wound to the Brooklyn identity was referred to at the time as the "Great Mistake." Mourning the loss of an independent identity is hardly an exaggeration. One need only glance at a map of the New York City subway to see that all roads (with the exception of the G line) lead to Manhattan. How can another borough truly have an independent identity when even the subway reveals the point of the city's story?

Although the epicenter of New York City's economy is undeniably Manhattan, Brooklyn's status as the most populous borough means it supplies the people required to keep the city going. According to the last census, Manhattan's population was 1,620,867, while Brooklyn's figure was 2,465,326. The only other borough with a population comparable to Brooklyn is Queens, with a population of 2,229,379.

Despite Brooklyn's second-city similarities with San Jose, this is where the comparison breaks down. San Jose, I love ya. But Brooklyn in cool in two ways that, well, you're not.

First, Brooklyn in a cultural force in its own right. Starting with Walt Whitman, Brooklyn has served as a home to writers looking for a little perspective, a place apart from the cacophony that sometimes makes Manhattan too frantic. The trend continues. In last summer's New York Times, Arthur Phillips noted in passing that "new zoning laws that require all novelists to live in Brooklyn." Brooklyn has a siren song that the creative cannot resist.

Second, San Francisco yuppies don't grow up and move to San Jose. Conversely, Manhattan yuppies do grow up and move to Brooklyn. Sure, this migration of thirty-somethings to Brooklyn occasionally draws the ire of committed Manhattanites, but the lady doth protesteth too much. Are these frustrated urbanites afraid of losing their youth by proxy when they see their friends head to the outer boroughs?

Steph & I felt the pull of Brooklyn strongly during a trip to a friend's Park Slope home for brunch a few weeks ago. On the way back from brunch, we walked down 5th Avenue to return to the subway. As we progressed toward Bergen Street, we both got the feeling that – were we to stay in New York – this is where we'd be headed. Turning 30, having a child, and staying on Manhattan means that someday, if you work hard and are lucky, you might have an apartment where TWO (yes, TWO!) people could shower at the same time IN DIFFERENT BATHROOMS. Alternatively, moving to Brooklyn means staying connected to the heart of the city while living in a community that permits you a little more space. To me, the choice would be easy.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


As noted in Gothamist and elsewhere, Manhattanhenge occured tonight. Manhattanhenge (or the Manhattan Solstice) occurs twice each year when the setting sun aligns with the east-west streets on the island of Manhattan (which are offset 28.9° from true east-west).

You don't have to wait long for the next Manhattanhenge sunset. It's on July 12.

Manhattanhenge sunset in front of our apartment on 89th street.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Images are an essential part of the scientific process. More so than words, and even when heavily doctored or taken selectively from dishes of otherwise abnormal samples (I mean, come on, WE know what they should look like), pictures form the foundation of monographs in natural history. Nowhere has this been more true than in marine biology and microbiology, where samples are often delicate and hard to ship to museums inland or, in the case of tiny things, can only be viewed by professional scientists with expensive microscopes and a lot of training in how to use them.

In the olde days, the obtainment of such images relied on the skills of technicians and researchers able to draw what they saw and transform those drawings into formats that could be printed for distribution in journals. Though cases of manipulation are known, for example Haeckel's drawings of early embryos, these hand-drawn images were remarkably good, and it's taken us decades (or centuries in some cases) to perfect cameras capable of recording what these early researchers saw in their scopes. Curating my image database recently, I came across a few of my old favorites that are worth showing here, both because they are beautiful and because they are an excellent reminder that some skills in science just aren't as common as they used to be.

Leeuwenhoek's first images of cells in slivers of cork bark were among the most transformative images in all of science, and remain among my favorites due both to the impact they had on how we think about biological organization (imagine biology class without cells) and because no matter how many times I've tried to recreate this image in lab, I can't get anything close to this good. My microscope costs $250,000. He made his microscope by hand.

Other favorites of mine, for reasons that will become apparent shortly, come from Mortensen's monographs on sea urchin larvae. Whenever I find a larvae I can't identify, or a feature that seems odd, I can almost without fail find out what I need to from his papers from the early 1900s. This one is his drawing of a several-week-old larvae from the sea urchin Tripneustes esculentus. I wish I could remember the website I finked this from. My apologies to you, webmeister, where ever you are.

And perhaps my favorite of all of the images from scientific days of yore are Haeckel's beautiful drawings of jellyfish, beautiful creatures and the inspiration for one of the best art-meets-science exhibits I have ever seen at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This particular copy of Haeckle's image comes from Florian Raible at EMBL.

If you've been a reader of this blog for a while, you will no doubt have been impressed by the volume of lawyerly knowledge contributed by the other authors. I have no such knowledge. But I do have pretty pictures and proof, I hope, that there are indeed beautiful things in the intersticies of life.

A gaggle of larvae from the urchin Lytechinus variegatus viewed under polarized light to make the skeletons glow. No other manipulation of the image was performed.

A three day old pluteus larvae from Sphaerechinus granularis.

And a freaky-weird (but pretty) hybrid larvae resulting from crossing Sphaerechinus granularis and Paracentrotus lividus. Hopefully that's still legal to do by the time this goes live.

Whenever I find things tedious, frustrating, or just dump in my work, I look at these images and remember that tiny living things are really cool.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What I'll Miss About New York:
#19 — (Certain) New York Weather

Let's be clear: There are many aspects of New York weather I will most certainly NOT miss.

New York weather means a sweltering hot summer, with heat reflecting off concrete surfaces below you and around you as you sweat your way to the subway. New York weather also means a winter that – while not as cruel some other Northern cities – makes for some rough going. Since most everyone in New York gets about mostly on foot, you experience a New York winter in a more personal way than you would in a more car-based location.

There are two aspects of New York weather that I'll miss.

First, there is some fine weather in this city. May (and late April) and September (and early October) in New York City can mean some truly beautiful days. A room-temperature city and clear skies translates into lots of smiles on the street. Plus, New York has cold yet clear winter days that I didn't realize I missed living in Northern California (where the winter means months and months of perpetual cloud cover). Somehow that blue sky looks all the more blue when framed by the buildings lining Broadway.

Second, there's the way that New Yorkers react to good weather. Having lived in California, I have seen how a whole region can grow to take good weather for granted. I grew up in Nebraska, a place with wildly fluctuating weather, in a household that watched The Weather Channel as if we were all going to be tested on the information later. Compare that with my time in California, where checking the weather meant looking at the calendar. Is it May? If so, it's not going to rain on your barbeque – no forecast necessary.

I'm reminded of how much New York City residents appreciate their good weather every April. This year it was April 17 when the year's first beautiful 72° day arrived. Columbia's Low Library has an impressive set of steps in front of it, and as was the case with the two previous years, undergraduate sun seekers occupied every possible inch of space on these steps, happy to soak in the sun that they had missed so desperately during a long winter and a wet spring.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Putting Obama's Portland Rally in Perspective

According to MSNBC, Obama's rally in Oregon yesterday attended by 75,000 supporters was not the largest US political rally ever. That honor goes an 80,000 person rally held by Kerry/Edwards back in the 2004 campaign.

The big difference? The Kerry/Edwards rally was one week before the general election. Yesterday's Obama rally was 169 days before the general election.

It's not going out on a limb to say that Democratic rallies this year are only going to get bigger — a LOT bigger.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What I'll Miss About New York:
#20 — All Manner of Food Delivered to My Front Door

Outside the confines of Manhattan, having food delivered to your home means ordering pizza. After Domino's Pizza popularized free delivery in the 1960's, it seems that Americans decided no other food should be as convenient as the pizza, brought from the restaurant to your living room.

Not so in Manhattan. I have had Italian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, American, French, Japanese, and multiple kinds of Mexican cuisine all brought to my apartment from neighborhood restaurants. All without getting off my couch.

What's this? After living in New York City for three years, I'm returning to California. These are the parts of my New York experience that I'll miss the most.

What I'll Miss About New York

Law school wrapped up last week, and (assuming that I passed) graduation is on Thursday.

Like thousands of other graduating law students, my summer holds the joy of studying for the bar exam. Although I suspect I'll enjoy prepping for the bar – call me a sadist, but being spoon-fed black letter law all summer doesn't sound that bad – I think I need another project to keep me sane.

We moved to New York three years ago; Steph and I depart from New York to return to California at the end of August. In the interim, I'm going to share with you some of the things that I'll miss about living in this city. I hope you enjoy it — we've sure enjoyed living here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

If Moses Had Known About This, I Suspect It Would Have Been Forbidden in Leviticus

I have been introduced to the possibility that a dog might wear a sweater woven of its own fur.

Last week, I was looking over Steph's shoulder as she casually perused a short online article, How to Card Angora Fiber. As she got to the bottom of the article, both of us immediately saw a Related WikiHow link that loomed large on the screen, demanding to be clicked:

How to Make Dog Yarn

Yes, gentle reader. It can be done. It is called Chiengora and according to the scholarly work, Evaluation of Non-Traditional Animal Fibers for Use in Textile Products (.pdf link), the following breeds are more-or-less house sheep walking among us: American Eskimo, Poodle, Old English Sheep Dog (pause to let irony sink in), Shih Tzu, Schnauzer, Labrador Retriever, Pekingese, West Highland White Terrier, Bichon Frise, Cockapoo, Lhasa Apso, Pomeranian, and Australian Shepherd.

Yes, gentle reader, it can be done. But should it be done?

Time, Patience, & Quite a Bit of Paint

I've stumbled across a longer version of MUTO, the incredible art installation that I posted to the blog last September:

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

(Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sexual Selection is Fun

I'm not a usual promoter of cute online toys, and I've grown increasingly distrustful of online networking sites like Facebook that, as Andy pointed out, seemed designed to infantilze otherwise productive members of society. But this one's different, because it's educational. It's also pretty funny.

Courtesy of Ralph Haygood, I bring you Evarium on Facebook.

Evarium is a sexual selection simulator, bringing to to view one of the more interesting, and misunderstood, of the mechanisms originally proposed by Darwin for explaining the incredible diversity of life we see all around us, and a pretty good demonstration of the fact that God need not have an inordinate fondness for pretty colored, drag-prone Quetzals, so long as somewhere there is a female Quetzal that finds those feathers just irresistible.

Though we think about adaptation as a product of post-Darwinian thought, the idea of adaptation long pre-dates Darwin, as evidenced by the writings of thinkers like Aristotle, William Paley, Darwin's own grandfather Erasmus Darwin , and Empedocles, my favorite and most forgotten (and most spectacularly wrong) evolutionary theorist.

All of these thinkers pointed out that, when you look at the world around us, organisms seem to be remarkably well suited to the tasks they do in life. But there are some obvious, and often beautiful, exceptions to this rule, such as the tail feathers of the peacock or the elaborate antlers of some deer, that seem so over the top that you have to wonder why peacocks aren't all eaten on the spot by hungry lions (or whatever). I can tell you from personal experience that they are not hard to catch, are terrible fliers, and are very, very tasty in a stew (thank you, Chinese field assistants for that culinary adventure).

The answer, while it may seem obvious to us now, was one of Darwin's great coups: Only in the very long-run is the survival of a trait a function of the survival of a species. As long as your pretty feathers on average net you more offspring (your sexy factor minus your eaten-by-lion factor) than the other birds in the single's bar (called a "lek" by biologists), your species is going to see a lot more long tails in the future.

What wasn't appreciated even by Darwin, who considered sexual selection to be an important, but still relatively minor contributor to organismal diversity, is just how much organismal change can be driven by sexual selection alone. Ralph's simulator makes this clear in a way that is easy to understand, fun to play with, and a lot more attractive on your profile page than that stupid aquarium. I encourage you all to take a look (and while you're at it, take a gander at the Random Questions section of the Evarium page).

I should also note that every time you add this, just a little more money from the free market goes to science, a field that just keeps losing in the oh-so-important battle in our government to make cooler ways of blowing people up.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Don't Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out

Law school is hard. Anyone who has been a 1L (a first year law student) will tell you that the initial attempt at grappling with legal jargon and legal nuances made them feel like a complete dullard during the first year of law school.

But – for most – law school gets progressively easier as time goes on. 2L year brings a better understanding of how this social machine works, and 3L's (frequently with a post-graduation job in hand) are old hands at this game.

At my school, graduating 3L's benefit not only from their experience, but from student rules that are designed to make failure all but impossible. A friend alerts me to the following passage from the Columbia Law School Academic Rules (.pdf link): If the student receives only one grade of Fail in any term, he or she shall have the following options:

. . . only with the consent of the instructor, to undertake remedial instruction and submit to re-examination out-of-course, in which case if the student performs satisfactorily on the reexamination, the grade of Fail will be changed to C.

. . . it is the faculty's understanding that will be the usual device where impending graduation or delay in grading fifth term students, together with a want of other credits toward graduation, foreclose the use of others within the usual period of the student's law school career.
O lackluster 3L, please leave the building, take your diploma, and begin donating posthaste!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

This is Why Relegation is Awesome.
This is Why Relegation is Terrifying.

The Great Escape of 2008 is complete. 30 minutes ago, Fulham defeated Portsmouth, 1-0, to outpoint Reading (which defeated Derby, 4-0) to remain in the English Premier League.

I am completely shocked. As the commentators on Fox Soccer Channel noted, Danny Murphy's goal in the 76th minute means £50 million for the Fulham ownership. For me, it means that I get to cheer for Fulham in the EPL in 2008-09 — something that just blows my mind, considering that I wrote the team off for dead 5 weeks ago.

Go Fulham!

Hoping for the Chance to Eat Relegation Crow
The Fifth Stage of Relegation Grief

More on Relegation:
Why I am a Fulham Fan (...and Why You Should Be, Too) — Part I
What if MLB Had Promotion & Relegation?

Update (5/14): It's three days later, and I still think back to Fulham's escape and smile. This breakneck migration from the lowest low to the highest high feels better than any championship win I've ever celebrated.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Hoping for the Chance to Eat Relegation Crow

Following their crushing defeat to Sunderland one month ago, I wrote that Fulham – the EPL team nearest my heart – was "mathematically certain[]" to be relegated down to the League Championship of English football. This Saturday, we'll see if I was wrong.

Following my April 5th relegation obituary for the squad, Fulham – a team that had not won an away match since September 2006 – promptly won two away matches at Reading and Manchester City. Yesterday, the team won a vital game at home, pushing Birmingham further into relegation territory. More importantly, this victory temporarily pushes them out of the relegation zone — the team is currently tied with Reading for the last slot, but is ahead of Reading on points. If the season ended today, they'd escape relegation by the narrowest of margins.

Next weekend is the final weekend of the season, and Fulham has the chance to survive. (Note: As I mentioned in my original EPL post last June, the final relegation slot was also determined during the last weekend of the 2006-07 season.)

If Fulham wins and Reading wins by less than a truly historic blow-out (the goal differential between the two is +6 Fulham), Fulham is in.

If Fulham draws, Reading draws or loses, and Birmingham draws or loses, Fulham is in.

If Fulham loses and both Reading and Birmingham lose, Fulham is in.

In all other circumstances, Fulham will be relegated.

Fulham plays at the somewhat-mighty Portsmouth next weekend. Birmingham plays at home against the game Blackburn Rovers. Unfortunately for Fulham, Reading goes up against Derby County. It doesn't really matter that it's an away game for Reading — Derby is statistically the worst team to ever play in the English top league. Even if Derby beats Reading, its 14-point total for the season is the worst in the history of the English game.

So it looks like Fulham has to win. I'll be traveling during the game, which will help ease my anxiety as the team battles for its EPL life. Go Fulham!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Religious Scratchiti

If you’ve been on New York City’s subways recently, you probably noticed the absence of spray-paint graffiti, long a symbol of urban decay though with its defenders in the art community. New York authorities have managed to defeat subway graffiti by using graffiti-resistant materials on subway cars. A new form of graffiti has emerged in its place: scratchiti, graffiti formed by scratching marks into glass.

This afternoon I observed some unusual scratchiti on the R train. It appears to be a Hebrew abbreviation. The first (right) letter is Bet. The second letter is He. It is an abbreviation for the phrase Baruch HaShem, which translates to “Blessed be God.”

Among some Orthodox Jews, it is customary to write this abbreviation in the upper right hand corner of letters. What it’s doing as subway scratchiti, however, is a mystery. Perhaps the scratchitist was trying to bless the train?

Unconscience Error

I don't read many articles on car racing, but I like it when they contain wonderful malapropisms. Here's a bit from an ESPN article on Indycar's attempt to woo Dale Earnhardt, Jr. into the driver's seat for one of their races:
If Earnhardt's conscious wouldn't let him accept the contract, but his conscience would still permit it, then I suppose Mr. Gossage should only negotiate with his counterparty when the latter is unconscious or subject to subconscious influence.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Impressive. Most Impressive. Obi-Wan Has Taught You Well.

This Obama supporter thinks The Empire Strikes Barack does a pretty good job of summing up the last couple months of our Democratic Demolition Derby:If down the road you find this to be removed by Google, then the search engine is policing the boundaries of YouTube a little bit too closely. This is clearly a fair use of the underlying material.

Update (5/2): Of course, Hillary is hardly Darth Vader. She's more Lando Calrissian, an ally and kindred spirit who has temporarily been wooed by the dark side. It just wouldn't be such a fun video if she were Lando, so let's permit the talented creators a little artistic license.

(Hat tip to Ben Smith)

Obama in the Tacky, Tacky Driver's Seat

When Michigan held its Democratic primary on January 15 of this year, Barack Obama did not appear on the ballot. After Michigan breached party protocol when it moved its primary ahead in the season, Obama (along with Richardson, Biden, and Edwards) removed his name from the ballot. Although Clinton, Dodd, Kucinich, and Gravel appeared on the January 15 ballot, 40.1% of Michigan Democrats voting in this voided primary preferred someone else, voting for Uncommitted.

If you accept the tortured popular vote math offered these days by the Clinton campaign – math that requires you to add count the votes from both Florida and Michigan (without adding any portion of Uncommitted to Obama) – Clinton leads in the popular vote. If you don't engage in this intelligence insulting exercise, Obama leads by every meaningful metric.

Of course, Obama's insurmountable lead doesn't sell ads for news outlets. And it won't stop ABC from creating a photo illustration with Obama losing to Hillary in an effete half-purple, half-pink Indy car: