Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Welcoming Anne

Anne joined our family on 10/22/09 @ 1:27 AM Pacific, about 30 minutes after we checked into the hospital. Once the time came to be born, she was in a hurry.

Anne @ Almost One Day Old

All are well and at home as Anne approaches one week old. 2½ year old big sister Katie has reacted predictably to this addition, with equal measures of cuteness and chaos.

Whereas shock and life-changing awe was the initial reaction to Katie's arrival back in 2007, Anne's arrival has been one juxtaposition after another:

It's the stark contrast between the needs of a newborn and the needs of a preschooler.

It's remembering how nervous we were when Katie wouldn't sleep or eat or was fussy versus our expectation now that these situations will pass, then return, only to pass again.

It's the suburban California setting that Anne has entered compared to the urban New York world that first greeted Katie.

The things that haven't changed?

Yep, we're still naming our daughters as if we have the full expectation that they may need to someday serve as the Queen of England (Anne Charlotte, meet Catherine Emily. I assure you that, should we someday have a boy, Æthelred is definitely a strong candidate for his name).

Yep, the flood of emotion at greeting a new life is unchanged. In addition to in love, in awe, overjoyed, enamored, and profoundly satisfied, I propose we coin a term to describe the emotional state of the parent of a newborn — Darwinish. "Oh very little one, I long to take care of you so that you might grow, thrive, and – should you so choose – someday pass on your (and my) heritable traits."

Yep, some part of me is still shocked that the 80+% of the human population that reproduces is largely able to cope with the demands of these little things. Looking at a newborn, you're immediately reminded of the frailty of human life. Looking at all the former newborns walking around you each day, you're constantly reminded that we are a resilient species.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I once had a boss who occasionally asked us to do things that we'd really rather not do. For example, he once asked my co-worker to fight a parking ticket for him.

I was reminded of this by a copyright case in which the Supreme Court will hear oral argument tomorrow, Reed Elsevier Inc., et al., v. Muchnik, et al. (08-103). As happens occasionally, the Court rejected the issues presented by the petition for certiorari and wrote its own instead. What is far more curious, however: all the parties are on the same side of the issue the Court decided to hear — they are all against the Second Circuit's ruling on it.

So the Court got Ohio State law professor Deborah Jones Merritt to argue that side. I can just imagine that phone call:


C.J. ROBERTS: Howdy Professor, this is John Roberts!

PROF. MERRITT: The Chief Justice?

C.J. ROBERTS: That's the one.

PROF. MERRITT: Oh, um, ah, hello your Honor. How may I help you?

C.J. ROBERTS: Well, see, we've got this case. We're thinking about granting a writ of certiorari, but, I'll be honest, these guys kinda missed the boat with their petition.

PROF. MERRITT: I see . . . . I don't want to tell you how to do your job, but couldn't you just deny the petition?

C.J. ROBERTS: Welllll, yeeaaaah, I suppose. But the case implicates a pretty important question they didn't raise.

PROF. MERRITT: That makes sense. Well, you're the Supreme Court! You can write the question yourselves, right?

C.J. ROBERTS: Exactly! That's what I keep telling everybody.

PROF. MERRITT: So what's the problem?

C.J. ROBERTS: Well, don't tell anyone, but we kinda want to reverse the Second Circuit.


C.J. ROBERTS: The problem is, all the parties want us to reverse the Second Circuit on our question, too.

PROF. MERRITT: Oh, that is tricky.

C.J. ROBERTS: So . . .


C.J. ROBERTS: Wouldja mind arguing the other side?

Just like my co-worker, who dutifully fought our boss's parking ticket, Professor Merritt couldn't bring herself to say no.

Good luck tomorrow, Professor!

Friday, September 25, 2009

What I'll Miss About New York:
#10 — Columbia University

In their Pulitzer Prize-winning book Gotham, Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace note that the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum was – in 1821 – "a rustic seventy-seven acre plot several miles north of town." By the 1890's Bloomingdale was no more and Columbia University – a school that had existed in New York since it was founded as King's College in 1754 – moved to occupy this seemingly remote location in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.

Columbia University circa 1895, from roughly 115th & Amsterdam Avenue
Today, this spot could be considered rustic and rural relative only to Times Square, and Columbia University is seated in a neighborhood of multi-story buildings that sit shoulder-to-shoulder alongside Broadway and Amsterdam. Still, in the imagination of many New Yorkers I've met, there's a sense that this school is somehow apart from and other than the rest of Manhattan.

Columbia's too far north. For an island that extends to 220th Street, it's a little surprising when you first notice that the maps affixed to the taxi cab partitions don't extend north of 125th Street. Though Robert Moses failed to divide the island with his Lower Manhattan Expressway, Manhattanites incurious about the goings-on above Columbus Circle succeeded in creating two islands where God only created one.

It's the wrong side of the island, too far from the locales of Project Runway and Gossip Girl, north of celebrities walking their dogs or strolling their babies. I'd meet someone at a party downtown and let them know that I studied at Columbia and more often than not their reaction was something along the lines of, "Welcome back from the provinces, country cousin! Will you be in the Big City very long, or is it back to the farm with you?"

Columbia is a bookish place. A place of athletic teams that haven't been competitive since Lou Gehrig. A place that plays social second fiddle to the tragically hip university located in the beating heart of Greenwich Village.

And I miss this place, this place that is the geographic opposite of the serene and almost sleepy school where I obtained my undergraduate degree.

Columbia reminds me that there is a history to this country that I barely know. A 19th century American listener would recognize the name of this school as being a synonym for the United States and the New World, generally.

Since its erection in 1886, the Statue of Liberty has come to represent this country, personified. But before that statue's erection, this country's feminine form was Columbia. Where the Statue of Liberty evokes within us thoughts of this country as a City upon a Hill, Columbia's general evocation of progress and modernity is less of a burden for us to shoulder. Where the Statute of Liberty demands that we shine a light to illuminate the world, Columbia signifies the unrealized promise of a country that is a new arrival on the global scene.

As this country releases its hold on the mantle of global hegemon, maybe we'll see a return to the image of Columbia. The US will have to learn to live with the idea that we can't be the new colossus, unilaterally addressing the world's problems. But we can be Columbia.
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.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Coolest 9 Minutes and 35 Seconds Ever Broadcast?

A little more than 49 years ago, on July 21, 1960, CBS broadcast "The Sound of Miles Davis" on an episode of Robert Herridge Theater. The show featured a set recorded on April 2, 1959.

At the top of the program, the Miles Davis Quintet (including John Coltrane on tenor) launched into a soulful, stunning rendition of So What, the studio version of which was laid down one month earlier on March 2, 1959. For the millions of fans of jazz music who have memorized the studio version, the CBS version opens a window into how the song evolved in the months following its famous recording.

Since So What is the most memorable track on Kind of Blue, the most famous jazz album of all time, I think you're forced to conclude that these are the coolest 9 minutes, 35 seconds in the history of broadcast television.
Update (8/17): Kind of Blue was released fifty years ago today.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

What I'll Miss About New York:
#11 — Our Building

You can tell two different sets of stories about our old building in New York.

The first set of stories concerns the structure itself. 216 W. 89th Street is a few years shy of 100, and it shows. Compared to its nearly identical sister building to the south, it wears a far darker hue of grime.

Making your way up to our apartment meant squeezing into our undersized elevator. When riding in the elevator by myself, I'd think of it as a kind of elevator version of the 7½ floor from Being John Malkovich. When riding with several others, I thought of those grainy black and white pictures of showing laughing 1950's types packing a phone booth.

The normal-sized service elevator next to the passenger elevator offers a clue to the building's former glory. Today, it looks like the service elevator for any number of old New York buildings: accordion gate, manual operation, worn wood slats covering the floor. A closer look shows its former life. On the faded walls of the elevator are beautiful faceted mirrors . Scrolled iron rims the ceiling of the elevator, and marble surrounds its entrance in the lobby. As originally laid out at the turn of the last century, each apartment in the building had servant's quarters, and I'm convinced that the elevator that I rode every day was the servants' elevator, with today's service elevator transporting the residents of yesteryear.

The second story worth telling about our building is the story of the people who live there. Living in an urban setting means a degree of engagement with the lives of others completely unlike the set of interactions a suburbanite has with his neighbors.

The slow awakening of relationships after umpteen elevator rides together. The fights of spouses heard in the hallway or echoing across the alley. The tenants on rent control and the younger tenants paying market rate. The physical closeness of knowing that someone else lives behind that wall.

The family of four in the one bedroom apartment (both kids approaching high school age). The person who made everyone's business her business. The addict. Some of our best friends moving into the building. The octogenarian tenants who have lived their whole lives in the building. The building super straight out of central casting. The simplicity of a dozen relationships where all you know about the people is that they have kind faces and say hello when you see them around the neighborhood.

Despite all the people in Manhattan, New York is a lonely place, you'll hear. In a sea of anonymous faces, my building was an island, a group of smiling, friendly, welcoming people who melted any preconceptions I had about New Yorkers. They made the city a smaller, friendlier place. They were fleeting family to me — I miss them and think of them fondly.

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.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Turn Yourself Around

Now that Katie is about 2½, we've been singing a lot of the Hokey Pokey lately. Although some version of this song has been around since the mid-19th century, I was aware that the version of the song you and I recognize was not some traditional version, but rather a chart topper from the early 1950's recorded by bandleader Ray Anthony.

Amused that a song with all the complexity of a nursery rhyme could attain national popularity, I took a look at the list of mid-century chart toppers to get an idea of how many goofball songs made their way to the top of the list.

Although the Macarena, which surged to the top of the global charts in 1995 and 1996, proves that novelty songs can still sit at #1 inside and outside the U.S., the occasional rise of a goofball single over the past couple decades pales in comparison to the number of novelty songs that sat atop the U.S. Best Sellers in Stores charts during the late 40's and early 50's:

SongFirst Week @ #1Weeks @ #1
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!January 26, 19465 weeks
Open the Door, RichardFebruary 22, 19471
Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)August 9, 19476
I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf CloverFebruary 21, 19483
Woody WoodpeckerJuly 3, 19486
All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front TeethJanuary 8, 19491
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed ReindeerJanuary 7, 19501
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa ClausDecember 27, 19522
(How Much is) That Doggie in the Window?March 21, 19538
After this flurry of Christmas-themed #1 hits, no holiday songs have returned to the #1 perch.

The dawn of rock and roll largely kept novelty songs away from the #1 spot until the mid-1970's when Kung Fu Fighting and Disco Duck (Part 1) each found their way to #1 in 1974 and 1976, respectively. Of course, these tunes were just paving the way for the Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band by Meco, a disco version of the movie's theme that topped the charts for two weeks starting on October 1, 1978.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Sequence MY Genome. Now.

Its almost certainly a coincidence, given the authors' affiliations, but I did a double take when seeing this article published.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Skype: Connecting Robots With Robot Grandparents Since 2009

When Katie was 2 months old, I marveled on this site at Skype's video conferencing software, software allowed us to stay in close visual touch with relatives thousands of miles away.

I'm happy to report that now, as Katie is about 2½ years old, Skype's video conferencing abilities have expanded beyond what they were in 2007. If you look in the bottom left corner of the laptop screen, you'll notice a robot (one wearing a diaper box and a bowl as a "robot hat"). Yep, Skype circa 2009 allows robots to connect with robot grandparents across the miles.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Can A Blog Win a Pulitzer Prize?

Like many of you, I suspect, I've been glued to every possible source of coverage of the current unrest in Iran (perhaps more so....sick days haven't been the same since the invention of the internets). I've looked at bunch of sites, but no single site has impressed me more than Andrew Sullivan's. Like many people, I think that Twitter is, with the possible exception of Facebook's new you-take-a-quiz-I-tell-everyone-what-friggin'-80s-pop-icon-you-are, just about the worst invention in the history of human speech.

But in the past few days, Twitter feeds have provided amazing insights into what's happening on the ground in Iran. The central government has shut down many of the major news outlets, websites, and cell phone networks, but through VPN connections and other tricks I don't understand, tiny Tweets have made their way across the world and are being used to coordinate everything from protests to denial of service attacks.

Sullivan has been compiling many of these Twitter feeds on his blog with the result that we here in the US can feel the full strength of the fear, the anger, and, yes, the hope in Iran in a way I've simply never experienced with any form of media before. Go read it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Katie Discovers a Windows Feature — dıןɟ uǝǝɹɔs

While we were banging our hands on the keyboard, watching a web video of a piano virtuoso playing Flight of the Bumblebee, Katie unintentionally discovered a Windows feature that all should know.

If you are using a Windows machine, hit the following key combination:

Ctrl + Alt + Down Arrow

ʍoɹɹɐ dn + ʇןɐ + ןɹʇɔ
:uoıʇɐuıqɯoɔ ʎǝʞ sıɥʇ ʇıɥ 'pıp ʇsnɾ noʎ ʇɐɥʍ opun oʇ

Armed with this knowledge, my unsuspecting coworkers will soon know my upside down terror! Mwahahahaha!

Update (6/11): Unfortunately, it appears that the availability of the screen flip feature appears to depend on the video driver for your particular Windows system. Although the feature worked on my old Dell Latitude D610, it does not work on our systems at work. Curses!

Monday, June 08, 2009

O Court, Please Leave Room for Great Use

It's been a long time since I've ruminated on the fair use copyright standard for video sharing websites, but whatever standard the court settles on, I hope they make room for fan-made music videos that I find amazing:

Death Cab for Cutie - Little Bribes from Ross Ching on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

MOMA — I See

After experiencing the Met and MOMA both with and without audio tours, I'm now of the opinion that going to an art museum without a good audio tour or an informed guide borders on a waste of time.

MOMA's new short film does a good job of summing up the difference in your appreciation when you can approach a piece on a more than aesthetic level:

Monday, May 04, 2009

Gadget Girl's Self-Portraiture

Katie was born into a wired world, and I find her ability to interact with gadgets a little dazzling.

Whereas I was probably fumbling with a rotary telephone dial when I was her age back in 1978, Katie knows how to turn on an iPhone, pressing the button at the bottom of the device and then sliding the virtual slider that appears on the screen. She can scroll through the application trays on the device, flicking her finger laterally until she finds the bubble wrap application or Brian Eno's Bloom application, or some other program she likes.

She's also something of a photo buff. A few months back, she learned that a digital camera displays the captured image on an LCD screen on the back. Now she says "See dat. See dat." in a patient monotone after you've taken her picture, kindly requesting to stare at the small version of herself on the camera's back.

We hit a new gadget milestone this weekend, when she obtained our friend's camera and proceeded to turn the camera towards herself, saying "cheese!" and taking her own portrait:

Friday, April 24, 2009


Given all the Texas secession talk since Tax Day, the term Quebexas came to mind this morning as I was making the coffee.

Seems like there are more than a few parallels here:

  • Claims to a culture distinct from the rest of the country
  • Country-esque size (Quebec = 595,391 sq mi (larger than Madagascar), Texas = 268,820 sq mi (larger than the UK)]
  • Linguistic uniqueness
Any others that leap to mind?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Zigzag Sunset

There are few benefits to working until sundown on a beautiful spring day. I was surprised last night to learn that one of those benefits is the way that the sunset bounces in a zigzag pattern down my hall.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Things Learned @ Starbucks @ 6 AM

Should you find yourself at Starbucks ordering a triple venti latte to try to wake up for your 10th 16-hour day in a row while working on some work emergency, here's a heart attack of a tip:

At least at my local Starbucks, the button that permits the barrista to make an odd number of shots is broken. They can only draw espresso shots in twos. Thus, be friendly and your sympathetic server will ask you if you want that extra shot.

Lest you think that four shots of espresso is just too much caffeine, it's still less than the Starbucks brewed grande coffee.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Get Rich! Just Like Me!

Facebook ads were strange and are just getting stranger.

Based on the pattern on this fellow's collar – which looks an awful lot like the military's new MARPAT camouflage pattern – I suspect this fellow is a member of the U.S. military holding up some Iraq or Afghanistan reconstruction money, not some entrepreneur showing off his hard-won earnings:

As our country spindles downwards into economic darkness, I feel like I've noticed a trend whereby the claims of internet advertising have become more ambitious and outlandish. As our lives get plainer, ads promise only more luxury.

Today, we're all suddenly focused on living within our means, we wonder how we'd manage if that job disappeared, we know that our current shared struggle was hatched from the simultaneous failure of our fellow countrymen's fatally flawed get-rich-quick schemes.

Yet we're still not attentive enough to notice that the image of the fellow holding tens of thousands of dollars in his hand is a ploy, a lie in plain sight. That money is not his and it's not yours, but maybe you're more likely to click the ad today than you were a year ago, because just for a second, you want to believe that you can succeed economically without wait or effort. Just for that moment, you look at the image without seeing, hoping for the chance to get rich because you're sick of a world that says you're lucky to get by.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Yet Another Sign that the Economy is in Dire Straits

The number of people arriving at this blog after searching for something like Find Velveeta in Grocery Store has skyrocketed since the start of the year.

11/10/04: Find the Velveeta

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bûche de Lardon

Speaking through his character Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde remarked that "The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties." Softy that I am, I disagree. However, there's no denying that your spouse being away awakens a part of your personality that slumbers when they're around. Guy Time is what happens when my family is out of town, and as my friends get married off, I find it's the same with them.

Take Dan, for example. My friend Dan is married to a wonderful woman named Sita who is a professional raw vegan chef. Dan is an amazing combination, equal parts hippie and South Philadelphia, and he is the kind of guy who I imagine gladly gobbles the awesome and healthy cuisine that is a part of the daily life of someone who lives in a raw vegan household.

Still, I know that Dan wasn't raised on nut milk and cashew cheez, so the following IM exchange last Thursday came as no surprise to me:

Me: Tempted. You?
Dan: I think maybe its important that we try it just once
Me: I think your spouse would have a hard time being present.
Dan: She's gone saturday ... ...

(. . . many instant messages and roughly 7 hours later)

Operation Bacon Log is a go.
And so it came to pass that Dan and I cooked a Bacon Log (or, across the pond, perhaps a Bûche de Lardon) this Saturday. For those of you who are as yet uninitiated, the Bacon Log (called by some The Bacon Explosion) is a veritable pigstravaganza. It is all the swine you would ever want to eat . . . in convenient log form. But why simply describe Bacon Log when we have pictures? Gaze upon the glory:

Bacon Weave
The log starts with a tightly woven mat of raw bacon. I swear I couldn't have gotten these any tighter if I was using a loom. I'm confident this mat could have held water. Those sprinkles are a garlic & onion rub.

The Enbaconing
Atop the bacon weave, you place a roughly 1" thick layer of sausage. On top of this sausage, you sprinkle some crisp cooked bacon — the delicious innards of the log. This crispy bacon will absorb the "juice" as the Log cooks. Yeah. It's "juice."

Pig Sushi (in a way)
Dan has completed the initial roll, trapping the crispy bacon in the middle of a raw sausage roll. Note that the bacon weave is still flat. At this point, it occurred to us that this is a lot like rolling a giant sushi. A GIANT SUSHI FULL OF SWINY GOODNESS, THAT IS!

Initial Roll
Dan is preparing to roll the sausage back over the bacon mat. Tip for those of you keeping score at home: Use aluminum foil, like we did. It'll make if vastly easier to get the bacon to wrap tightly around the sausage without any unaesthetic slippage. No one wants bacon slippage. No one.

The Completed Log
Dan applies the finishing touches to the log, preparing it for the long journey that awaits it.

The Baking
Ever wonder why they call it bacon when it's almost never baked? Well, at this moment Wikipedia tells me that bacon "is derived from the Old High German bacho, meaning 'back', 'ham', or 'bacon'." So bacon is derived from another word that also means bacon? I must say that I'm shocked.


Fresh from the Oven
If you look closely, the juice is attempting to escape from the log. The orange hue of the juice indicates that it is laden with Vitamin C. Yep. You heard it here first. The Bacon Log is loaded with all the nutrients and minerals that a growing body needs. My sources tell me that it contains enough Vitamin C to last a normal adult a full year.

Still Life with Bacon Log
This is the finest picture ever taken by a camera. Go ahead. Let the tears come. It's hard to be in the presence of such greatness.

The Carving
Dan carved the log with all the care of a vascular surgeon. I think all these years of living with a vegan has made him more sympathetic to the plight of those animals that become our food. His careful carving honored the pig(s) that had become this feast.

Oh, in the back of the picture you'll see a flask of "juice." I'd like to tell you we each did a shot of this. We did not. Well, there's always next time.

Plated with Salad
It was delectable. I scarfed down my plate and a second, and contemplated a third.

We brought the ample leftovers back to my house, where Steph's mom shared some with me the next day. She was awed at how tasty it was, especially with a baguette (as, I'm told, they eat the bûche in the old country). We agreed that it was perhaps the perfect food for watching a brunch-time football game on a fall day.

Dan had to ventilate the apartment before Sita returned, but I doubt he's in trouble for introducing such a quantity of swine into their abode. After all, she got that cooking sheet specifically for him to cook bacon on. See, Mr. Wilde, it's no life of mutual deception after all. Even the raw vegan chef knows that sometimes her man must answer the primal call of Bûche de Lardon, The Bacon Log.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I Can't Believe That Today Has Come

I'm a fan of the alternate history genre of fiction, because it forces us to look at history as a malleable and flexible thing. Sure, this country averted disaster when the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, but what would have happened if it had not been resolved? What would have happened to the world if World War II had resulted in a different outcome, or if the U.S. Civil War had turned out differently?

Looking at major world events and the aftermath they wrought, it is clear that history is a close question. The world that we know is the result of individual conversations that happened (or didn't happen) between people whose actions determined the shape of our reality. Things could very easily have gone another way.

I'm reminded that I think that our world could easily be a vastly different place today because today is the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States. I simply cannot believe that this day has come.

It's as if we've been suddenly pulled into an amateur alternate history that defies all belief. We have, apparently, elected the right person for the right time — a professorial, wise individual with a complex worldview for complicated times. Yet, more amazingly, we have elected an African-American man whose mother was only 18 when he was born, a man whose father was Kenyan and left his mother, a man whose first and last names are so unique to an American ear that Al Sharpton mispronounced them during the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and a man whose middle name evokes fears about a recent U.S. enemy.

I cannot believe today has come.
     I cannot believe today has come.
          I cannot believe today has come.

And it is wonderful.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Biology Dreams

We've been a busy lot here at Sauntering, what with the lawyering and the child-rearing and the generation of sanctified knowledge and all that. I've been meaning for some time to write a post talking about what it is that motivates scientists to do what it is we do. I was going to say something about the nobility of the pursuit of knowledge and the inability to shake that lie we were given in grade school that the world really *needs* more scientists. But I realized I was wrong. This post from xkcd pretty much sums up why I became a biologist.