November 28, 2007

Questions From My Wife X: Cravings, fish, and mosquito bites. What? Should there always be a common theme?

Hey all! Here's a longer post to get caught up. I may take a break from writing, but it doesn't mean the wife stops asking questions.

Why do women as a group seem to enjoy chocolate more than men do?

Chocolate is composed of as many as 800 different chemical components, ranging from the good (anti-oxidant catechins) to the not-as-good (the fatty acids in cocoa butter). Thus, it seems likely that one of these compunds may have some influence on the hormones that differentiate men from women. A researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that female rats have heightened cravings for chocolate over their male counterparts. Further studies have shown that eating chocolate activates the hypothalamus (area of the brain that regulates hunger) while inactivating the amygdala (involved in emotion and memory). This finding may reveal why eating chocolate is soothing when upset or depressed.

Another hypothesis is that cravings come and go with increases and decreases in hormones. Progesterone is thought to promote higher body fat levels. As progesterone concentration increases towards the beginnings of menstruation, this may also be why women crave chocolate. However, much of this may be cultural. One study has found that the difference in chocolate craving between women and men in Spain (90 to 78%) is much closer than in American women and men (91 to 59%).

Why do people crave particular foods when they are lacking in nutrients those foods are rich in? How does your body know that food items (on non-food items like dirt for those with pica) have those nutrients?

Pica is a weird disease. It comes from the Latin word for magpie (pica) as these birds are found to collect and eat practically anything. A Missouri psychiatric museum contains a collection of nails, spoons, and pins removed from a female asylum patient's stomach. While large consumption of objects can indicate a type of autism or mental retardation, the most recognized cravings are seen in pregnant women.

Studies from the late 1960s and early 70s revealed that 35-40% of pregnant women consistently craved clay, starch, and soil.
Very little research has been done on this disease, but there seems to be a correlation with ingesting of "non-food" with some kind of nutritional deficiency. However, it seems easier to prove that this is the case than to prove why this is the case. Animals made to be deficient in certain essential minerals are more apt to selectively ingest items that contain high quantities of the missing supplement. In people, iron deficiency and anemia seem the most likely to cause pica. Low iron levels have been shown to cause pagophagia, increased ingestion of ice. When the anemia is treated, the craving for ice goes away.

Besides the nutritional explanation, there are psychological and cultural hypotheses as well. For instance, papers by Vermeer and Frate in the late 1970s claim that the practice of clay-eating "ingrained in southern black society" stems from its use in Africa to promote fertility and lactation.

So, as it seems common in these blog posts to say, no one knows the answer to your question and apparently no one is really trying to find it. How the body can "know" that it has certain deficiencies is still a mystery.

Do fish really not feel pain? I never quite bought that -- seems like almost any animal would be evolutionarily able to feel pain for self-preservation.

Ok, I've been typing too much, so this'll be a quick one. Recent studies seem to indicate that, yes, fish feel pain, but this doesn't make them less tasty. They respond negatively to injections of bee venom and vinegar over controls, and may actually be more sensitive than humans. And is this really surprising? Fish are vertebrates and have a relatively complex nervous system in the grand scheme of the phyla charts.

Why do some people get stung by mosquitos a lot while others don't? I definitely fall into the first category, and would love to know how to sic the bugs on other folks for a change.

Female mosquitoes are the biters, and primarily find their victims through a type of smell. It seems possible that different people would have less appealing smells to the buggers and not attract them. Some of the major chemicals that mosquitoes detect are carbon dioxide and lactic acid, key components of respiration. People who sweat less generally get bitten less. Repellents like DEET work by blocking the mosquito's ability to pick up these olfactory signals. So, besides holding your breath whenever outside, just remember to wear plenty of repellent and avoid other floral-based chemical attractants like perfume and sweet-smelling lotions.

October 17, 2007

Questions From My Wife IX: Ancient Beauty Secrets

Were classic ancient beauties (Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, etc.) really all that hot or did they just have good PR?

Ideals of beauty change over generations, so who's to say if the ancients would find today's supermodels attractive at all. But, in her day, Cleopatra was the rage around the Mediterranean. Cassius Dio, a second century Greek historian, refers to her as "a woman of surpassing beauty, and at that time, when she was in the prime of her youth, she was most striking; she also possessed a most charming voice and a knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to every one." But was she reliant on her looks alone as she sought to diplomatically link to Greece through seducing Julius Caesar and Marc Antony? Plutarch says "[f]or her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm..." So, maybe she wasn't all that hot. Recently, Roman coins of her likeness have been found, revealing (if this likeness is at all accurate) that she had a small forehead, hooked nose, and a pointed chin. A marble bust possibly sculpted upon her arrival in Rome reveals more soft and rounded features.

Helen of Troy is probably based more in mythology to be considered "accurately beautiful as stated." Though I find it kinda funny that Isaac Asimov defined a measurement of beauty as the ability to launch one ship -- the millihelen.

Why is prostitution called the oldest profession? What were they being paid with? Meat? Fire? Stone wheels? Pterodactyl record player / woolly mammoth shower (think Flintstones)?

Uh, yeah...this one's a doozy. Prostitution, as loosely defined as providing sexual intercourse for some compensation, has probably been around as long as there has been sex and/or compensation. While I couldn't find a good answer to when it was deemed as such, there were brothels in ancient Greek, Aztec, Roman, and Jewish societies. Some theories suggest that prostitution (and adultery) came from the establishment of monogamy as a social norm in humans. Or rather, the conflict between monogamy and the male need to inseminate whatever is possible to pass along the genes. It seems unlikely to me that this would be the "oldest" of all professions. Wasn't Adam a nomenclature zoologist?

October 16, 2007

Keep It Up/Hang It Up - October 2007

Keep It Up!

  • Blue Bell Ice Cream. I signed up for your club and you promptly sent me a coupon for a free half-gallon. Can't beat that. Way to go, Blue Bell Ice Cream.
  • The fall. Leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp, I feel like actually leaving my house. I love the fall.
  • Baseball playoffs. The Yankees are out, the Sox are still in. Colorado may not have been around very long, but they're still pretty fun to watch. The Indians are good, too. Just a great championship round.
  • Site-directed Mutagenesis. You're the only experiment I can do on a consistent level anymore. We've been together from the beginning. Thanks, SDM.
Hang It Up!
  • Sunburns. You hurt my face and are now starting to make my face peel, as if I had a bad day at the sandpaper factory.
  • McDonald's Monopoly Game. Every year you tease me with your promises of free fries and easy money. And now I find out that for the last few years you've been playing me for a fool? Shame on you, McDonald's Monopoly game.
  • Yoga quackitude. Doing the stretches makes me feel great, but why does it have to be tainted with the false science of "releasing toxins" and "toning organs"? Can't we just enjoy the way it eases tension and promotes relaxation without jumping straight to "healing energy" and "chi"? Boo, quackitude. We don't need you.
  • Sports pundits who mispronounce New Orleans. It's "OR-luhnz" not "OR-LEE-uhnz" or "or-LEENS". I'm looking at you Chris Berman and Al Michaels. Plus, the Saints stink this year. Get over it.

October 4, 2007

Wow, Amazon! How'd Ya Know?

I may be a nerd, Amazon. But not this kind of nerd.

September 21, 2007

Questions From My Wife VIII: Quick Hits #2

Here we go, a bunch of quick answers to get back in the swing of things... As always, these are real questions from my real wife. Do you think I would take the time to come up with random things like this?

Why were so many split level houses built? Were they cheaper than building a regular old two-story house? Did people just really enjoy having random stairs in the middle of their house?

The classic split-level house, in which one side of the home is one-story and situated at a height between the other 2-story side, came into favor in the 1960s. The reason for their construction doesn't seem to be a matter of cost, but rather a way to compress a lot of house into a relatively compact area. Also, it can be a way to use uneven land in a useful manner. During the baby boom 50s, suburb expansion pushed into areas not previously considered appropriate for a neighborhood. It's yet to be determined whether the awkward design or its use as the model for the Brady Bunch house ultimately drove this style out of favor.

What is the evolutionary purpose of allergies? Why do some people have them and other people don't?

Allergies are caused by a hyperstimulation of the immune system by some foreign entity. While it makes sense that the point of evolution would be to continually gain positive characteristics and remove negative ones, this isn't always the case. For instance, some negative mutations, like sickle-cell anemia, are kept in populations because they have other positive benefits. One possibility is that allergies are a side-effect of having a powerful immune system. While annoying, allergies are not generally lethal and would not be eliminated by evolutionary means. As for the second question, that's still a mystery. Scientists assume that genetics may have a role, but allergies are not consistently handed down to offspring. There are a few ideas for why allergies are becoming more common, such as the increased use of chemicals and antibiotics. Recent studies have suggested that as we remove more parasites and other small microbes from our systems, we may be losing subtle immunosuppressants that have previously repulsed allergic reactions. But, to tell you the truth, I'd prefer to get a little stuffed up in the spring than have a hookworm.

At what point in history did people start celebrating birthdays?

Many historians believe that the act of birthday celebration was spread by Roman soldiers practicing Mithraism, a pagan cult dealing in astrology. Not much is really known about how certain pagan holidays morphed into individualistic celebrations. However, in this time from the 1st-4th century, birthday parties became far more common throughout Asia and Europe.

Why does water taste extra cold if you have a peppermint in your mouth? Also, why does peppermint help settle your stomach?

The peppermint plant (above) is a sterile cross of spearmint and watermint, and is believed to have medicinal purposes because of its high menthol content. Menthol activates receptors in your mouth to form a cool sensation; the same cold-sensitive receptors that activate when you eat or drink anything that's cool. This is similar to the heat-sensitive receptors that become active in response to hot stimuli or chili peppers. So, when you drink water with peppermint, the coolness from the water is greatly exaggerated as the menthol is activating the cold receptors. This cooling feeling, along with its properties as a mild analgesic, pushes menthol in the forefront of different natural remedies, including upset stomachs.

September 19, 2007

House craziness

The Mrs. and I have been enjoying the cooler weather by resuming our list of house projects. We've started with tearing out the plaster wall treatment in the master bathroom. It looks ok, but some genius decided that it would be the best way to cover up wallpaper. And now the wallpaper is starting to peel at the corners. I've felt like the HGTV version of Indiana Jones, peeling back layers of old attempts at interior design to get to the pure clean drywall I know is somewhere underneath. The house was built in 1961, so styles have changed. I've been using a large putty knife to cut into the plaster topcoat, then work it in to scrape off everything I can. Then I spray the area down with an enzyme-based wallpaper to get rid of the remaining adhesive paper backing. As far as I can tell the layers were added thusly, from the bottom up:
1) bright yellow paint
2) bright peach paint
3) burgundy and green striped wallpaper (seriously, this stuff is atrocious. I need to add pictures. I found the picture above on a website as a representative image of the process, not necessarily the look.)
4) dark forest green paint
5) cream textured plaster (definitely the most annoying part of the whole thing)

So my fingers are sore and blistered, and I think that I am allergic to the enzyme compound, but this mess is coming off the walls. Then comes fresh paint, a new medicine cabinet/mirror, and new shelves.

But this weekend, we'll be headed to Atlanta for a night to get out of town, see some sights, etc.

August 13, 2007

Keep It Up/Hang It Up - August 2007

(Blatantly stolen from the Jordan Jesse Go! podcast.)

Keep It Up!

  • Golden Oreos -- So much better than regular Oreos, plus I don't have that chocolate cookie breath all day. Keep it up, Golden Oreos!
  • Jack Daniels -- Smooth, dark golden elixir of the gods. You guys can keep your fancy wines. I'll take the sour mash any day o' the week. Keep it up, Jack Daniels!
  • Naps on a hot weekend day -- Air conditioning can't keep up with the 100+ temperature? Ain't nothin' better than a two hour nap to keep that energy going for the upcoming workweek. Keep it up, naps!
  • Unclaimed Baggage Store -- You know, it's hard to find stuff in you and most of it isn't worth buying, but if there's a better way to blow 2 hours in Scottsboro, AL, I haven't heard of it. Keep it up, Unclaimed Baggage Store!
Hang It Up!
  • Degrading Salinas family member trifecta -- We just had a solid reunion, now you, you, and you have to go making a mockery of us all this past week. Shame is brought upon us all. Hang it up, degrading Salinas family member trifecta.
  • Abortion truck drivers -- Yeah, we know having an abortion is a hard process for anyone to take. But you don't need to complicate things by printing billboard images of poorly photoshopped bloody aborted quasi-fetuses and drive around town with them up on your truck. Are those even real pictures? Boo. Hang it up, abortion truck drivers.
  • Broken AC in my office -- Yeah, we know it's hot out. All the more reason for you to KEEP WORKING! Hang it up, broken AC in my office.
  • The sun -- You've killed my zucchini plants and are now threatening my freedom to walk outside. That's it, sun. You're on my last nerve. You better start holding some of those rays back, else I shake my fist harder. Hang it up, sun. (But not completely. That would suck in a near opposite way.)

July 18, 2007

Questions From My Wife VII: Not My Wife, Though She Also Asks Me About Poop

Taking another grant writing break to answer a reader's question. Stacy T. writes:

What does whale poop look like?

As far as I can tell, whale poop is a mystical substance. It's mostly water-soluble and appears as a giant cloud in the water. (See the image posted -- the ring shows whale flatulence bubbling to the ocean surface and that cloud is the poop.) Scientists can tell what the whale has been eating based on the poop cloud color -- this one probably had a good meal of bright red krill. Actually, scientists can look at the excrement to learn about the animal's health as well. Since whales poop mostly water (thus the cloud) any solid or waxy chunks indicate that the whale could be sick and not absorbing much of its foods' nutrients. One of the problems in whale research is the inability to observe whale poop. This would allow scientists to track migration habits and population levels over years of study. Interestingly a dog has been trained for the explicit purpose of detecting whale excrement for research.

Ambergris, a sperm whale bile duct excretion, is released from the whale's intestines. While technically not poop, scientists think that whales produce this in order to sweep large foreign items from their digestive system. Ambergris (literally "grey amber") has been used for centuries as a medicine and in perfume. And while gross, it is not actually a controlled substance, as it seen as a natural animal byproduct and has not been regulated since 2001.

July 17, 2007

Questions From My Wife VI: Myths, Legends, and Other Means of Trickin' Folk

Taking a short break from writing the Postdoctoral Grant of DOOM (ie tricking the government to pay for me feeding a ton of illicit drugs to unsuspecting mice) to bring you another installment of QFMW.

Where did the idea of the unicorn come from? It's nowhere near as interesting as other fantasy creatures, just a horse with a random horn stuck on its head. What creative genius came up with that?

The unicorn is represented in texts as far back as the Old Testament to writings of Leonardo Da Vinci to elementary school folders. Mythologically speaking, the unicorn has a beard, lion's tail and cloven hooves. However, the typical modern view is it is a white horse with a single horn in the middle of its forehead. There are a few current theories on what people were thinking when they came up with the idea, some, as with many mythological beasts, deriving from misinterpreted skeletons.

1) Elasmotherium sibiricum - a large ancient rhinoceros. It is quite possible that skeletal remains of this creature could definitely be thought of as a horse-like creature, with a huge central horn reaching lengths of 7 feet or more.

2) Mutated animals - Gene mutations are always occuring. The possibility that a goat or ox could have developed a single misshapen horn to a recessive gene is very likely. This process has actually been replicated by people that fused together growing horns of young goats or calves.

3) Bizarre interpretations of foreign animals - British monarchs Elizabeth I and James I often told tales of being given unicorn horns from explorers who had spent considerable time in the arctic. Arctic unicorns? Probably just narwhales. Marco Polo depicts a unicorn in his travels as "scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant's. They have a single large black horn in the middle of the forehead... They have a head like a wild boar's… They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at." Marco? Maybe you saw a rhino? African antelopes like the oryx are also possibilities for a unicorn-like interpretation if they stand in profile.

Okay then, smart guy, what about the tooth fairy?

Yeah, this one is plain weird. How we're able to convince our kids of this (and were convinced ourselves) remains a complete mystery to me. I remember figuring it out by requesting that the Tooth Fairy sign and date a form for acquisition of my know, for proper filing purposes and tax records and whatnot. I totally recognized my dad's handwriting.

The accepted American commercial spiel is that after a kid loses a tooth, it goes under the pillow. The tooth fairy comes in the night, takes the tooth, and rewards the kid monetarily (after signing the necessary paperwork, of course). But other countries have their own traditions. An English tradition is to throw the tooth in a fire to prevent needing to search for it after you die. Vikings gave children cash for teeth in order to make jewelry out of them -- apparently they thought kid parts were sources of great power. Better than toes, I guess. Several countries told stories of giving teeth to mice, and the Spanish equivalent of the tooth fairy is a mouse named Ratoncito PĂ©rez. Which is awesome. These ideas, combined with European folk tales of fairies were combined in the 1949 publication of "The Tooth Fairy" by Lee Rothgow and into American legend.

July 6, 2007

Losing Patience. Need a Vacation.

The wife and I haven't taken a real vacation in maybe 2 years. She can accrue vacation (kinda), but mine runs out at the end of the year if I don't use it. We both are in desperate need of something relaxing. So the dilemma -- where should we go? We have to factor both potential for fun and relaxation, while keeping costs down. TRIP=(F+R)/$.

1) Atlanta -- We've been wanting to go here for a while. V has never been to the Coke Museum (and they just opened the new one). Plus there's a Louvre exhibit at the High Art Museum and the new aquarium.
PROS: Relatively inexpensive, family in town = probable good meal out at a nice place, close enough to drive in under 4 hours.
CONS: Short trip, not as relaxing?

2) Gatlinburg -- Been a while since either of us have been there. Interesting combination of the commercialism of the city with the expanse of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
PROS: Beautiful in the fall, drivable, lots to do with the actual city and the hiking trails through the Smokies.
CONS: More expensive in the fall, lots of traffic if we do drive, filled with tourist traps and kinda cheesy.

3) Orlando -- Mostly because I haven't been to Disneyworld in ages.
PROS: Again, not terribly expensive. Even if we want to stay on the resort, there are less pricey options.
CONS: Requires airfare.

4) Las Vegas -- Neither of us really care to gamble or anything, but we just want to see some shows.
PROS: Can get good deals on hotels and airfare.
CONS: Since we don't really gamble and don't care much for nightlife, would we be bored?

5) San Diego -- Going here for a conference in early November. Possibly could stay a few days extra and have Valerie meet me.
PROS: Never been to southern CA, great beaches, world famous zoo and other attractions, free airfare for me, great weather in late fall.
CONS: Logistics of making sure it all runs smoothly, transportation (?), may need to get a more cost-effective hotel as the place I'm staying will be directly downtown, Valerie flying here by herself.

6) Charleston, Caribbean cruise -- Norwegian runs a 7 day cruise from Charleston that stops in the Caymans, Cozumel, and Key West.
PROS: Mind-bogglingly inexpensive (you can get a ticket for under $400 a person), meals included, hits plenty of places we want to visit, lots of time for relaxation.
CONS: Excursions could be expensive, long drive to Charleston, is 7 days too long to be on a boat?

7) Paris -- Neither of us have been to Europe past England.
PROS: It's France.
CONS: Cost. Flight. And also, it's France.

So, there we are. Please comment with opinions. I'll add any information (and anything else I can think of) to the Pro/Con list. Also, feel free to suggest alternatives. Where's the best place you've been to lately, even if it's just down the block?

July 5, 2007

Questions From My Wife V: Color Evolution

What is the point of hair and eyes coming in different colors? I get the evolutionary reason for different skin shades, but not the hair and eyes.

Actually, the genetics of skin color is very complex and is not yet fully understood. So far 4 genes regulating skin color have been identified, and there may be more yet to be found. There are a few theories for the diversity of skin color, such as the balance between avoiding exposure to ultraviolet radiation and production of Vitamin D. Darker skin has the advantage of blocking UV rays and reduced instances of skin cancer due to increased presence of melanin, but lighter skin lets in more light, which is crucial for the formation of vitamin D. Thus areas with less direct light, such as around the poles, have lighter pigmented skin.

However, many scientists view this idea as too simplistic, as it has obvious flaws. People living in the same latitudes -- the Australian aborigines and the Amazonian tribes; the Inuits and the Swedes -- have widely varying skin coloration. Plus most cancers are rarely factors in evolution -- most cellular damage is done far past prime reproductive age. Even Darwin didn't think natural selection had anything to with geographic variations of beauty traits. Current theories are returning to the viewpoint of Darwin and suggesting the evolution of skin color has more to do with sexual choice and picking partners by physical traits that happen to be socially important, but not much else.

Questions behind variations of eye and hair color are very similar to this. Sure, it could have happened for a reason. Legitimate scientific evidence exists that suggests the color of the iris shapes the ability to see in certain light conditions. But while it is more comforting to assume natural selection is involved, it seems more likely that it is not.

Sexual selection is a complicated theory, and not only attributed by Darwin to be the basis of racial differences, but also the general hairlessness of humans and possibly the creation of humor, music, and art. One theory by John Maynard Smith suggests that the human brain was created to its cumbersome levels by sexual selection -- very much like the plumage of a male peacock.

June 1, 2007


Two new techs from China were hired today, bringing the ratio of Chinese to American workers in this lab to 4:3.

Definitely more disturbing, the ratio of women to men is now 6:1.

May 31, 2007

Apathy: A Very Short One Act

[A man walks up to a house and pushes the doorbell. He's familiar with this area -- he's lived there for nearly a year, but still doesn't know many of the neighbors. He waits, impatiently looking at his watch as he notices he'll be slightly late for a dentist appointment. A small Jack Russell Terrier rushes to the glass storm door, followed by a partially dressed 3 year old girl. Moments later, a tall woman in a pink robe and not much else appears.]

Man: "Hi, I think we found your golden retriever this morning. I called the vet on her tag, she told us it belonged to this address."
Woman: "Yeah?"
Man: "I stuck her in my fenced-in backyard just down the road on ---- Drive."
Woman: "Okay."
Man: "My wife is still there so you can go pick her up whenever if you'd like."
Woman: "Oh, no. You can just let her out. She roams the neighborhood."
Man: "Oh. Alright."

[Man walks back to his car, shakes his head confusedly, and drives away.]

May 22, 2007

Questions From My Wife IV: Quickies

A bunch of quick hits:

1) Why does it make you sleepy to be warm?

This basically has to do with the human body's response to overexertion. Increased body temperatures have a tendency to "cook" tissues, so the autonomic nervous system activates a fatigue or tired response. This makes you slow down to hopefully decrease your body temperature to normal levels.

2) When did Sesame Street establish that Snuffleupagus was real and not a figment of Big Bird's imagination?

Aloysius Snuffleupagus was finally revealed to the adults on November 18, 1985. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, "Snuffy's performer, Martin P. Robinson, revealed that Snuffy was finally introduced to the main human cast mainly due to a string of high profile and sometimes graphic stories of pedophila and sexual abuse of children on shows such as 60 Minutes and 20/20. The writers felt that by having the adults refuse to believe Big Bird despite the fact that he was telling the truth, they were scaring children into thinking that their parents would not believe them if they had been sexually abused and that they'd just be better off remaining silent."

3) Why do I get a sinus headache when it's rainy/muggy out?

Apparently if you don't have a sinus infection, you can't really have a sinus headache. What you're experiencing is probably a migraine. Very little is known about this condition (sorry) but sufferers are often hypersensitive to a variety of internal and extrenal stimuli (certain foods, hormonal conditions, stress, and even weather conditions). High humidity and low barometric pressure have been shown to induce the headaches in a large number of migraine sufferers.

Until next time, sports fans.

May 10, 2007

Freedom Isn't Free

This is ridiculous.

Basically, during the 7th inning stretch of all Yankees games, the ushers run chains down all the aisles to prevent people from getting up while they play "God Bless America." I understand that as a privately-held company, the Yankees are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want in their stadium. But when people demand forced patriotism, I believe that's taking it one step too far.

The article mentions that the Red Sox and other teams encourage ushers to do similar things, but I don't recall anything like this at Fenway Park the last few times I've been. Besides, I would guess a few hundred people had standing-room-only tickets, so we had no choice but to wander about.

Just another reason to hate the Yanks.

April 11, 2007

It Took Me A While Too

Friday, April 6, ~7:00 PM -- Traveling to a family member's art opening in Leeds, AL.

Valerie: Heh.
Me: Huh?
Valerie: The Pants Store.
Me: Yeah?
Valerie: They're having a tent sale.
Me: What? Oh.... Nice.

April 9, 2007

Questions From My Wife III: Take Me Out to the Jock Jam

A week ago last Thursday, a group of us went to see the local minor league baseball team take on their major league counterparts at the end of spring training. I learned many things:
1) Baseball is kinda boring if you don't have a beer and/or hot dog.
2) I'm not cool because I don't have a strap on my sunglasses so I can wear them backwards around my neck. Actually, I was probably already not cool because I got my sunglasses from a dollar store.
3) People-watching at stadiums comes second maybe to airports, but it's still pretty good.
4) We've run out of sporting event music.

This directly ties in with the third question from my wife:

Are there still people out there recording jock jams? If so, why do they still play "Are You Ready for This" (alternate choice - "Everybody Dance Now") all the time? Were we in high school at the artistic peak of the jock jame genre?

In high school, due to copius supplies of pep rallies, I believe that our bodies and minds were subjugated to higher quantities of the jock jam. We saw countless little bitchy girls get thrown in the air to songs ranging from "It Takes Two (To Make A Thing Go Right and/or Out Of Sight)" to "Rock and Roll Part 2" (or "Hey, We Beat The Hell Out Of You Cause We're Awesome So Suck It"). So maybe one answer is that we're not around high school gymnasiums as much as we used to be.

But you do have a point. Looking at the track listings for ESPN Presents Jock Jams, Volumes One, Two, Three, Four, and even Five reveals the extremely rigorous process a song must go through to be denoted a jam of jock. But seriously, they were really stretching there on volume 5.... "Ray of Light"? Usher? Actually, I have no idea what makes a song escape Billboard's Top 40 to be a tried and true "jock jam." Are there any hits from the last 5 years that are played with reasonable frequency at professional ballpark? Maybe "Hey Ya", but it's getting really close to that 5-year threshold.

So what's the deal? Are people not recording jock jams anymore? Or are announcers too far out of the loop to play anything modern? My guess is that there's a little bit of both. House music just isn't as fashionable as it was in the early 90s. Current songwriters have abandoned exploring what particular dance steps one must undertake to create the Tootsie Roll. Also, I think all the stadiums just have those 5 discs on shuffle. Why mess with what works?

March 26, 2007

Questions From My Wife II: Sussudio

What is "Su Sussudio"? Why do I hate it so much?

Sussudio is a horrible horrible song written by Phil Collins and released on his 1985 album No Jacket Required. Here you can find the lyrics and wonder to yourself how this man ever made it as a songwriter. Basically, he just sings about how he as a young man longs for an older woman named Sussudio. Over and over. For some reason, this made it to the top of the Billboard charts. But, to give you an idea of what the hell people were thinking in 1985, it followed Bryan Adams' Heaven and preceded Duran Duran's A View To A Kill. True fact: everyone buying music at that time was on some form of cocaine. To further illustrate this point, the lead character in American Psycho alludes to Sussudio as a "personal favorite."

As to why you hate it, I have a few potential answers:
1) It has no story. It's a pop music version of asking someone to go out with them so many times they finally say ok.
2) It's really about a man's love for a horse. Phil Collins got the name Sussudio from one of his daughter's horses.
3) Phil Collins has a whiny voice and stole the main chord progression from Prince's 1999.
4) It makes no sense. Are we supposed to get that Sussudio is someone's name? True fact #2: I can guarantee that it is, in actuality, no one's name.

March 15, 2007

NCAA picks...

Before anyone accuses me of making this up after a few games have started, I assure you that I already went through them to make picks....

Basically, I have Texas over Kansas in the final. Let's see how awesome I am!

(By the way, that's a bracket fungus.)

ETA: Absolutely un-awesome.

March 14, 2007

Questions From My Wife I: Hair Loss?

[A brief intro: My wife likes to ask me questions about anything and everything that pops into her head. I don't mind; she's pretty good about me staring at her with a confused look and no answer in sight. I'lluse this forum as an outlet on attempting to come up with a decent answer for her. And if anyone else has any questions they'd enjoy watching me fumble around on for a few paragraphs, feel free to drop a comment. --G]

You always complain about how much I shed. Why does the hair on some people's heads fall out more often than other people's, but they are not going bald?

Before answering this one, let me give the readers a quick overview of my living condition. I cohabitate with one black cat, one shaggy mutt, and one long-haired wife. It seems as if there is a constant struggle to keep stray hairs off of the bathroom sink and out of the kitchen. I'm constantly finding long dark hairs on my clothing and have recently begun finding them at work attached to my lab coat.

So the question is, where does she keep coming up with new hairs without going bald, and how can we somehow package this and sell it to 40-something execs in sports cars?

On average, the human head contains between 120,000 to 150,000 hairs growing from follicles -- pockets of cells designed to grow individual hairs. This process, like many in the body, takes place in the form of a cycle. First, the hair grows and divides within the follicle, in a process very similar to mitosis. Next, a cellular signal is given and the hair stops being made, and the root is pushed closer to the tissue surface. This is where the hair will fall out. However, the bulb still remains connected to its original location via a series of small nerves and will return to grow another hair in the course of a few months. This cycle can take anywhere from months to years depending on the location, care, and other environmental factors. For instance, eyebrows only take 3-4 months to complete a cycle, whereas it can take scalp hair 3-4 years.

The matter close at hand is it seems like the more hair you have, the more you will lose. Obviously, the longer it is, the more noticeable it is. People lose, on average, around 100 strands of hair a day. Why you don't go bald from it is another issue.

Baldness, or alopecia, isn't well understood. One factor may involve slowing of the hair's growth stage, leading to normal hair loss without rigorous replenishment. This is a reason why chemotherapy leads to hair loss. Cancer drugs keep cells from dividing, and this includes the production of new hair. In addition, the male androgen hormones (testosterone) seem to deplenish hair growth, while female hormones such as estrogen are protectants. Thus, when women have low estrogen levels postpartum or postmenopause, extreme hair loss can occur, similar to male-pattern baldness.

So basically, losing hair is normal. I should just get over it. Interestingly, in my research I found a few theories on why baldness happens in evolutionary terms. Apparently, in gorillas, a large forehead is considered a sign of maturity. The apes with the largest foreheads were seen as the most attractive. Others claim that's it's just a normal process of going from hairy ape to naked man.

So don't despair, balding men. Blame your ancient ancestors.

Americans Hate Eastern Europe

The wife and I watched The Illusionist last night via Amazon Unbox download into the Tivo. (Quick sidebar: if anyone out there has a Tivo service hooked up to a fast-speed wireless connection, Amazon is giving you $15 to try out their new PPV delivery service. Check it out.) Anyway, solid thumbs in the middle 3 stars from me to the movie, but what really bothers me is a trend common in many period flicks:

Why do the characters have British accents when they're not British? Does this seem odd to anyone else? They don't do this for any movies besides ones set in Europe. Is it because an Austrian accent would detract from the dialogue? Then why do an accent at all? You don't see American accents on movies set in Mexico. (Are there any American movies set in Mexico?) What about other countries? Do they do this in Dr. Zhivago? It's been 10 years since I've seen it. Are there others?

That's my beef of the day. Feel free to comment if you can enlighten me on any of this.

Also, in the next few weeks, I'll be featuring a new segment on The State of Upheaval. My wife has questions, I try to answer them. We'll see how long it takes me to give up.

February 23, 2007

Gender in Cancer Science. Two quick points for discussion on a boring Friday afternoon.

It's been known for a while now that increased exercise decreases women's breast cancer risk. However, in the January 2007 edition of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention (I'm sure everyone here has a subscription), a group of German researchers discovered that only household activity had a significant effect on breast cancer risk. Occupational and recreational exercise made absolutely no difference. The study looked at over 200,000 women of varying ages, demographics, and nationality, so it's hard to really argue with many of their methods. And, like many Epidemiology studies, don't really give an explanation as to why this could happen.

This whole thing seems fishy to me, as I don't see why mopping floors would have an different effect on the body, then say, walking up stairs. Maybe it's the cleaning product? And I'm not sure it has much to do with the male-dominated science industry -- the main author on the study is a woman.

On another note of issue is the recent news that Merck will stop lobbying for mandatory support of its new HPV vaccine, Gardasil. Human papillomavirus has many subtypes, but the sexually transmitted kind has been linked to cervical cancer. Merck seems to be afraid of the fundamentalist backlash -- getting this vaccine would, of course, only encourage young women to engage in promiscuous sex, as there would no longer be any reason not to. Never mind the fact that this may prevent nearly 7,000 women a year from getting cervical cancer (note: this is my own rough number, figuring % vaccine success and # of new cases/year).

Is there any reason I'm missing as to why you wouldn't you give your daughter an HPV vaccine? Why don't elected governmental representatives have the courage to stand up for what's right? If this was a vaccine for a male-dominated disease, would the government treat it differently? Though it's really unfair that increased sexually activity seems to diminish the prostate cancer risk. Girls get it rough sometimes.

February 19, 2007

FOOD: Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup

I modified this recipe from Real Simple magazine. Pretty tasty. Since lentils are so small and have a relatively high surface area, the dried beans take less than an hour to cook and soaking isn't necessary. Just spill them out on a cookie sheet for a quick rinse and to make sure that you didn't get any pebbles or chunks of dirt. The original recipe called for fresh thyme and basil, but i didn't have any and used half the amount of dried herbs. If anything, increase the amount of the sweet potatoes. they're the best part. Good with beer and cornbread, as shown in Figure 1.

4 leeks, white and light green parts only
1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained (Not sure if i drained this or not. Can't see how a little tomato juice would hurt anything.)
6 cups water (for maximum tastiness, I used half water and half veggie broth)
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup brown lentils
1/2 tablespoon dried leaves
1/2 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan (optional)

Slice each leek in half lengthwise, then slice each half into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons (about 2 cups). Place in a large bowl of cold water and swish to remove any grit. Drain and pat dry.

Remove the stems from the kale. Stack the leaves on top of one another and slice them crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips; you'll need 3 cups.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, breaking them up with a spoon, for 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Stir in the kale, sweet potatoes, lentils, thyme, salt, pepper, and basil (if using). Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Spoon into individual bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan (if using).

Serves: one metric ton. If you need to freeze it, omit the cheese.

February 5, 2007

Still no baking soda volcanoes. (Science fair part II)

So day #2 didn't take long. The winners from last week, along with winners from another school presented their topics with a 10-12 minute Powerpoint presentation. I was in the Physical science category, and got to see some diverse projects from the effects of fly ash in concrete to effects of antioxidants on cholesterol. I was pretty impressed for the most part. How many times in high school did any of you have to present results to a panel of 2-3 scientists? I would have had some pretty bad jitters, I think.

So we were in and out in about an hour with a few breaks to jam free chicken salad sandwiches and Baked Lays down my pie hole. These private school kids know how to host an event.

The whole thing got me thinking about how much I enjoy teaching. I loved giving the kids pointers on how to approach certain problems. And that it's okay not to know the answer to a question. You just have to have a decent idea of how to find the answer. I'm not sure I would be the best in a classroom situation for that very reason. Too many open book tests. But I may try to start tutoring at some point, possibly when I feel comfortable enough in my current job that I could sacrifice a few hours.

January 29, 2007

I was disappointed that no one created a civilization in a tooth. (Science fair part I)

Last Thursday, I was invited to a local private school, in order to help judge their annual science fair. I was never really into these growing up, but I jumped at the chance to meet other postdocs in the community. Plus, I figured I could help encourage some young local science minds. I enjoyed science as a child, but never had much help coming up with good ideas. I think I only did two – as they were mandatory in the 4th and 5th grade – and neither was well thought out. One of them involved growing sweet potatoes in water under various colors of light bulbs. Mostly they just rotted. In the other, I constructed a maze in a shoe box and watched if a small viney plant could work its way through to the light opening at the end. Kinda cool, but no real experiment here – it either would or wouldn’t. Or in my case, it just died midway through.

Nevertheless, I had hope that the scientists of the future would have better luck. The entries were divided up into 5th grade, Junior (6th-8th grades), and Senior (9th-11th) and further divided up by category. I took Behavioral and Social Science as it seemed that this was a reluctant category to judge. And soon I found out why. Doing a science project is mandatory. And if you don’t/can’t/shouldn’t do science, then you make your classmates fill out surveys and throw something together for the Behavioral and Social Science category. What effects do different types of music have on test taking? Not many. Does ESP work? Probably not. Hey, do you want to see all of this stuff I found on the internet about the Stroop test? Not particularly.

For the first year, students stood by their posters while the judges went around giving them scores on various categories. And for the most part, they weren’t that bad. My main problem is that, at least for the large surveys they conducted, the students didn’t extrapolate much good information from them. One guy in the Senior level collected a massive amount of surveys (~100) on other students’ sleep schedules. He thusly concluded that his fellow students woke up earlier on weekdays rather than weekends. Shocking. But he not only gathered information on waking time, but also what time students typically went to bed, and whether or not they felt rested during the day. It wouldn’t have been much more work to do a quick check to see what percentage of people who claim to be tired in class also go to bed after 2 AM. You know, something moderately interesting. After asking him about this, he just stared at me, confused.

But not all of them were bad. One student looked if different colored paper had any effect on the ability to take math tests. Another found that people are more likely to memorize an object with a smell if they are not related. For example, more people remembered the smell of chocolate associated with an iron than with a mug. My only guess is that the test subjects had to try harder. Basically, if you had a good idea and some kind of conclusion, you did pretty well.

To get a break from the sameness of the survey club, I also judged the Junior Environmental Science category. Beyond a girl that grew carrots in sand under different amounts of light (I had a soft spot in my heart for that one) and a guy that found info on biofuels on the internet and glued them to a board, not much was there. The winner, however, collected hundreds of cans on the side of the road and discovered that an overwhelming majority were from beer. In soda, a huge percentage was Mountain Dew and there was surprisingly little littered Diet drinks. This was an interesting idea that was missing just a few things to get a “Best of Show” prize.

So what I did get out of this day? Well, sore feet and a so-so lunch for one. But it was very refreshing to see kids that really got excited about their projects. Sometimes I get bogged down with my own, and I couldn’t help but get refueled by their enthusiasm. So what's next? Regionals. Powerpoint. This Thursday.

Expect Part II -- The Reckoning soon.

January 22, 2007

Hey, we still have rights, don't we? I hear they're unalienable.

I may have hypocritical wacko viewpoints sometimes, I'll be the first to admit. I tend to lean socially liberal and financially conservative -- a prototypical libertarian viewpoint on government in society. But even acknowledging my own wacko nature, I really don't see how any American can let some things stand. Last week, our very own Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who really ought to know a bit about the Constitution, declared that "there is no express grant of habeas [corpus] in the Constitution." Habeas corpus is basically the right of the individual to not be unnecessarily jailed by a governing body. Article 1, section 9 of the US Constitution declares "the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it."

Mr. Gonzalez argues (against Republican senator Arlen Specter, mind you) that while the Constitution guarantees that habeus corpus cannot be taken away, it never actually grants it to the citizens. Now, this is a bit ridiculous and Specter doesn't fall for it, but it seems very reminescent of debate team practice. Find an argument, no matter how dumb, and defend it until you're blue-faced.

To me, this is exactly the problem of government. It seems as if many of the people are jumping into it because they enjoy the debates and the procedures, but don't really care what they're fighting for. Even if it's just semantics, what is our Republican-nominated Attorney general speaking out against individual rights? How does this help anything?

On another right-related matter, a San Mateo, CA woman is being ordered to remove messages from her home's roof, garage, and yard or face up to $5,000 in fines. While I find her opinions to be a tad nutty (filled with scripture and anti-government diatribes about witchcraft), I'm a bit conflicted about how I feel. It seems like she's not hurting anyone around her, except for maybe in the property value department. I do have to admire her devotion, though. There's no way I would climb on top of my roof with a can of paint to write anything.

January 13, 2007

At least they still have hydrant urination to fall back on.

Can humans track smells as well as dogs? You wouldn't think so, but a recent study has shown that we might have similar abilities in this regard. As least in tracking a chocolate scent. Basically, the researchers at UC Berkeley found that 2/3 of undergraduates (interestingly enough, slightly more men than women -- but this may not be statistically relevant) were able to follow a ~10 meter chocolate scent trail in a field. The back-and-forth motion followed, as shown in the picture, is comparable to a hunting dog's path in tracking prey.

Amusing to me, the picture of the guy on his honches was the cover to the most recent Nature Neuroscience journal.

And, because I haven't been able to figure out how exactly to post videos to the blog, here's a link to the the methodology.

January 12, 2007

Hungry Like the Wolf

News: Idaho governor calls for the eradication of all but 100 of the state's wolf population.

This is a good idea because, as many people don't know, Idaho has an inpenetrable fence surrounding it and due to advancements in satellite technology, wildlife officials can pinpoint individual animals from space.


January 10, 2007

BOOKS: Under The Tuscan Sun

It's truly unfortunate when you're halfway through writing a memoir and run out of things to say. Frances Mayes, a creative-writing professor from San Francisco, tells of life in Italy from a egotistical, liberal guilt-filled perspective. The first half of this book was fascinating, as she details each step in purchasing and fixing up a new house in Tuscany, a northern region of Italy containing the cities of Pisa and Florence. I loved reading every bit of the work it took the author and her husband to find and buy house, with very little grasp of the language. The work it took to update the plumbing and structure was tiring just to read. I have no idea what it is to live in a place that has been cultivated and improved for over two thousand years. Great stone walls were built, wells were dug, and whole rooms were completely refurbished. She all-too-briefly details the stresses of finding competent contractors and the peculiarities of European real estate, the main strengths of the memoir.

However, once they managed to get everything worked out, this book read more like a bad Christmas letter from my cousin Janet. Relatives and friends come and go, with only first names used to describe them, almost if we should know these people already. The second half is full of long, boring descriptions of Etruscan caves and piazza after piazza. Which brings up another point - consistency in explanation. Ms. Mayes likes to throw Italian words into her own language like we have any idea of the meaning. While she translates some and a few are obvious based on context, the majority of the expressions are just floated out there. Perhaps she is trying to put us in her shoes, but I'm not trying to live in a place where I barely understand the language. To top it off, the book concluded with a few charts to help convert old recipes to new kitchens (example: a "very hot" oven is about 450 degrees). But the book contained only a few pages of recipes to begin with, and the charts were certainly not necessary in understanding them.

Overall, a promising start, with a let-down of a second half. I wish that it didn't have such overwhelming pro-Italy biases throughout to give us a fair view of what it is like to summer in Tuscany.

January 8, 2007

Up, Up, and To A Higher Tax Bracket!

My mind wanders from time to time, but a question popped into my head today and deserved an answer: Is it really in Superman's best interest to be a newpaper reporter? Maybe writing for a big-city metropolis paper was his lifetime goal, but isn't it everyone's duty to find an occupation most suited to one's individual talents? And it's in everyone's best interests that Superman has a well-paying job so he isn't corrupted by financial contributions from Lex Luthor and the like. For all those who say that Superman's morals are too high to be corrupted, let's be serious here. If he's stuck in a shabby studio apartment eating Ramen noodles and cold coffee, Superman will be eyeing that blank check from LexCorp.

For my experiment, I'm using Yahoo's HotJobs to calculate salaries, assuming Metropolis has a roughly equivalent economy to Chicago. With this, I'll keep in mind time required (Metropolis may have an endless supply of telephone booths, but it won't matter if you're stuck behind a desk), personal satisfaction, and fringe benefits. According to HotJobs, starting reporters in the Chicago area make roughly $30,000, progressing to almost 50,000 after a few years of service. Couple this with the many hours at a word processor and demanding deadlines, and I don't think ol' Kal-El will have much time tracking down rogue missles or foiling bank heists.

Let's play career counselor for the comics. What else could he do?

  • Welder - base salary of ~$35,000 to 55,000.
    Sure, the money's closer, but just think about how much happier he could be working with his hands (eyes?). And what about the efficiency of working near tall buildings? I'm sure half his day is spent saving careless construction workers anyway. Plus there's the added bonus of owning your own business to schedule appointments around global catastrophes. Or there's always the more artistic side of metal sculpture and design. I bet "Man Of Steel" would look awesome on the side of a van.

  • Home/Building Inspector - $50,000 to 75,000
    Better pay, better cover. Really, who would expect a home inspector to be a superhero? And you gotta use that X-ray vision for something more than giving kids leukemia.

  • Nuclear Engineer - $65,000 to 125,000
    As long as they're not mining glowing green rocks for heavy metals, he's golden. May have a bit less downtime than the previous jobs, but there's very little risk involved when you can be shot in the eye with a bullet and walk away unscathed. Really, what's the deal with that anyway? Who shoots a guy in the freakin' eye? Actually, Superman seems a little dim to me. Not sure I'd want him manning the core.

  • Professional Football Player - $260,000 minimum salary to millions
    Maybe the big guy's best shot so far. Plenty of money for wing expansions on the Fortress of Solitude; only have to work a few months out of the year. Plus, most of the time you're wearing a helmet so no one can really get a good look at you. Perfect for the secret identity.
So what's with the reporter gig? We all know he's just trying to stay close to Lois Lane, but don't you think he'd win her heart wearing a nice suit and a nice place with hardwood floors and a bed that doesn't pull down from the wall? Have some self-respect, Last Son of Krypton.

January 4, 2007

Just because you need another reason to exercise.

A recent study by a group at the UAB Department of Nutrition Science claims that body composition may have an impact on the growth and spread of cancer. Traditional views have pointed towards calorie intake as the main problem in obesity, but it seems that what the body does with these calories is the main concern.

In the first experiment, mice genetically prone to pancreatic cancer were kept at two temperatures -- the cooler the ambient temperature, more energy (as calories) is required to maintain normal body functioning -- and fed the same amount of food. The mice kept closest to normal body temperature predictably became more obese than the other set, but also became significantly more inundated with cancer. The mice that had to expend more energy in the cooler environment retained generally normal pancreas tissue.

To further clarify this result, the researchers kept the mice at different temperatures, but allowed them full access to as much food as they could take in. This would keep both sets of mice at a relatively similar body composition to show whether actual food intake or the controlled temperature had any effect on the spread of cancer. In this scenario, the mice held at the lower temperature consistently ate more, had similar body mass, and thus had similar instances of cancer as the other group.

The actual link between obesity and cancer is still unclear. Leptin seems a likely candidate, as this hormone is not only involved with fat retention, but also in the induction of oxidative stress (cell damage caused by the creation of oxygen free radicals also linked to aging, neurodegenerative disease, and cancer). As a hormone, increased leptin is supposed to tell the brain when hunger is satisfied and to stop eating. But people suffering from obesity are resistant to its effects (much as they are similarly resistant to effects of insulin, thus the increase in occurence of type II diabetes). More and more leptin is produced without satiating effect, wreaking havok on other systems. The transgenic obese (ob/ob) mouse shown in the picture above has a mutation in which its brain is similarly resistant to leptin. The cancerous mice in the study were shown to have a huge increase in internal leptin levels.

So what does all of this mean? Well, basically, leaner bodies tend to handle calories better. Of course, this doesn't increase drug companies' revenues or really help anyone's day-to-day lives. Even though the research shows that caloric intake doesn't in itself cause cancer, excessive eating does lead to increased body fat, obesity, and then disease. Though maybe lowering the thermostat a few degrees over these winter months couldn't hurt.

January 2, 2007

Black-Eyed Peas, Hog Jowls, and Other New Year's Resolutions

Growing up, our family would always be hustled out the door on December 26th for the annual expedition to grandparent homes. First, we'd generally cruise down I-65 to rural Mobile county for my mother's parents, then after a few days head west to the bustling metropolis of West Monroe, Louisiana, to visit the paternal side. Many New Year's Day celebrations were held in the home of my father's parents, with food ranging from the traditional ham, turkey, and dressing to my grandmother's famous ravioli with homemade gravy. (A brief note: I feel I must explain that I'm not talking about meat and two sides, chicken and biscuits gravy. My grandmother called any kind of sauce "gravy", and in this case, was referring to tomato sauce.) We would always have black-eyed peas and cabbage. Wikipedia claims that the peas represent coins, but I remember that my aunts and uncles said that the peas are for good luck and the cabbage was for money. None of this was ever questioned, of course, and all the kids were implored to "just take a bite." Assuredly we would. Even though there are few smells worse than cabbage boiled for 4 hours, who wanted to go through the course of another year without the mystical power of soul food on your side?

Talking with friends on New Year's Eve, it was remarked that the local Beer and Cut Bait shop was advertising the availability of "hog jowls." Never having heard of this, I assumed it was just some strange Wheeler Lake ritual. Yet, for some this part of the pig is just as essential for New Year's feasts as the stinking pot of cabbage in my grandmother's house. And apparently jowls are growing in popularity and getting more expensive.

Superstitions are a big part of everyone's celebrations. Pretty big list here. I'm sure everyone can find an item or two they'll do each year, perhaps without realizing it. This brings me to the point of resolutions. Everyone makes them, with the possible exceptions of those who resolve not to make resolutions. Some diligent people make lists and write budgets and have no problem adhering to big ideals set upon them (by themselves). But these people probably didn't have to make resolutions in the first place. They're for people like me, the procrastinators and the purchasers of self-hypnosis tapes. But this year, things change. Slowly.

So I'm only making one resolution -- write more. Writing seemed like one of those things that seemed more fun to do than it actually was. I envied the people who could do it with seemingly little effort. But I know it takes practice to get there. So here it is, blog gods. I present my offering to you. No way to get better at it besides doing it.

What should you expect from this? A veritable and variable potluck dinner of life. Be sure to get around the table, though, and try a bit of everything. You don't have to eat everything, but at least try the boiled cabbage. Can't hurt.