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Friday, November 28, 2003

Animal Intelligence 

Interesting article this morning in The Washington Post about cognition in chimps and dolphins. Apparently, when faced with an either/or choice, they can recognize (and admit) when they can't tell. For example, the dolphins had to flip one lever if they heard a low-frequency tone, another if they heard a high-frequency tone. As the amplitude of the low-frequency tone was increased to a point where it approached the high-frequency tone it reached a point where the two tones were two similar for the dolphin to tell the difference. At that point they kept flitting back and forth between the two levers without flipping either. When given the "I don't know" option, the dolphins would select that when they were stuck.

The chimp experiments sounded even more conclusive, but they're both interesting; and rats and other animals didn't seem to understand/use the "I don't know" option.

One other animal intelligence item, well more animal mimicry than intelligence: A few weeks ago, The World had a quick segment about Hoover, the talking seal who used to live at the New England Aquarium. Apparently, he was raised by a couple from Gloucester and at some point picked up their speech patterns as his own. He wouldn't speak coherently, just laughing (with a very human laugh) and yelling things like "Come on!" "Get down!" and "Hoover, get over here!" (actually, factoring in the Gloucesterman accent, it was more like "Huvah, git ovah herah!"). The aquarium has an audio file of Hoover yapping.

Getting Back to "Normal" 

It feels a bit odd being out of the office for so long, but still being around the house: Wednesday for the transfer, Thursday for Thanksgiving, Friday for post-Thanksgiving, and then the weekend. Work is backed up, but I guess that can be coped with.

The in-laws breezed in Wednesday night, while Evelin was still on bed rest, and headed home around noon today. I did a little work in the yard (trimming some low-hanging branches from the oak tree near the patio), but other stuff that needs doing -- cleaning the gutters, raking (again), etc. -- are having to wait because of the rain that started yesterday and is expected to stick around through tomorrow. And they're predicting snow late tonight (with no accumulation, thankfully).

Evelin is feeling better. The 24 hours in bed were a bit tiring (ironically enough), and she's still a bit sore from the retrieval, but the meds are going well and we are just waiting for the pregnancy test in December. So, until then, it's just a waiting game ...

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

And ... 

All three embryos graduated to Evelin's uterus! We were worried after last night's report, and we didn't hear anything from the doctor before we had to leave to make it to the clinic on time, but, after sitting around for a while, the doctor came out to give us the news: all three passed the final round of testing. We aren't out of the woods by any means yet, and we don't go in for a beta check/pregnancy test until Monday, 9 December, but it was a good feeling to have three embryos available for the transfer.

Of the three, one is looking strong, at just before the blastocyst stage; a second is clumping, but not as far along as the first one; and the third one is lagging a little bit. But all three passed the 10-chromosome defect tests. There is a chance that there could be a defect in one of the 17 chromosomes not tested, or any or all might decide to stop growing for any of a million reasons. (It is very, very unlikely for all three embryos to take.)

So that's the deal. The acupuncturist stopped by this afternoon for a post-transfer treatment, and she said the changes in Evelin's pulses feel good, so that is a nice, positive sign ...

Down to Three 

Last night, around 9:00 p.m., the PGD doctor called. Three of the five remaining embryos made it through the second phase of testing. Right now we are scheduled for a transfer around 11:45 a.m., but we are expecting a call this morning to let us know how the third round of tests went, which may mean a change in plans. Evelin's acupuncturist is making a housecall around 8:15 a.m. to help get her body ready for the transfer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The Terroir of Chocolate 

I had my first taste of a "Unique Origin Varietal Chocolate" this afternoon -- the 71% minimum total cocoa Guaranda from Cocovic SA. The Forastero variety of cocoa trees, according to the Cocovic website, is generally only used as a base for mixing with better chocolates, but the Arriba Superior Summer Selected (ASSS) grown alongside the Río Guayas near the Río Arriba in Ecuador defies the Forastero reputation. The tasting notes from the package read:
Perfumed aroma with fruity, acid notes and floral tones of acacia honey, with milky and exotic wood nuances. Typical personality of cocoa bean. Smooth bitter taste with notes of sweetened citric fruits and with floral tones of honeyed character.
And that's pretty accurate. It is very mild with nice underlying flavors and a pleasant bitterness that lingers well in the mouth.

This idea of single-source chocolate appeals to my inner wine/whisky/apple/cheese snob. I do believe the terroir — the soil, water, sun, etc. — where something is grown/made infuses the food with a certain je ne sais quoi. It's part of what makes certain pinot noirs taste silky and others watery, makes certain blue cheeses have just the right tang, and gives some single malts from the islands that perfect blend of iodine, salt, peat and floral notes.

Now, if they someone can market single-source chocolate successfully, can anyone import raw cocoa pods? A few years ago, I went on a press junket to the Centre Spatial Guyanais in Kourou, French Guiana, and we took a side trip into the rainforest via pirogue, stopping at a small native village in the forest and a Hmong restaurant somewhere off the river. (I think we were on Rivière de Cayenne, but I don't remember, and looking at a map isn't helping.) In the village, we got to see a bit of local agriculture, including some cocoa trees. Our guide chopped a ripe cocoa pod off the tree for us and cracked it open so that we could have a taste. The gelatinous sections that hold the cocoa seed are milky and sweet with just a faint hint of chocolate taste, but it was so refreshing and nice. Every time we go to the U.S. Botanic Garden, I keep looking around the cocoa tree in the garden court, hoping to see a ripe pod ready to fall, but I've never been lucky enough and I think it is probably not allowed for one to pluck a fruit from one of the trees in the collection.

I mentioned the possibility of trying to sell cocoa pods to a U.S. Department of Agriculture official at a Beltsville Agricultural Research Service public field day, and he said he though it would make an interesting novelty, but I didn't get the feeling that I would be seeing cocoa pods at the grocery store anytime soon.

Some News ... 

Evelin just called me. Of the 27 embryos, 22 had a variety of problems that make them not viable. Which means that five progress to the second round of testing. That is slightly above the 80% mark that the doctor was looking for -- and there is some small comfort in knowing that it looks like we found an explanation for the miscarriages -- but it is still really scary to only see five embryos ready for the next battery of tests.

Thanks for all the prayers and thoughts, and hopefully one or two of these guys will be deemed strong enough for the transfer tomorrow.

Late Call 

We finally got our embryo update around 8:30 last night. The doctor called between the Lovenox and progesterone shots. Of the 28 embryos that fertilized, 27 were successfully biopsied for PGD testing. The first round of testing should be done today and the second tomorrow. (I thought there were three rounds of testing, but we're scheduled to transfer however many of the embryos (two or three, probably) on Wednesday, so I don't know how all the testing will get done in time. It may well be that we are looking at a day-six transfer, which would mean Thanksgiving at the clinic ...

Evelin is doing better; the OHSS seems to be leveling off and while she's still feeling a bit icky, she is able to move around more than she was over the weekend. The shots are also going well: Last night was the first time the progesterone shot hurt (I must have hit a nerve on the way in).

So, we're keeping fingers crossed and waiting to hear the results of the testing. According to the doctor, what we're hoping to see with the PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) is fatal flaws in about 80% of the embryos. It sounds odd to the hoping to find out that 21 or 22 of the 27 embryos have such severe genetic abnormalities that they cannot survive, but if that is discovered, it would mean we have an answer as to why we've had five miscarriages.

The theory we are operating on -- because all the other testing has turned up either nothing or very slight borderline concerns -- is that despite Evelin's young age her egg reserve is older than would be average for her age. (A caveat: the following is probably grossly simplified.) As women age, the eggs they produce tend to be less viable. Even though both of our DNA karyotypes came back normal, it could be that the majority of the eggs Evelin has left have some abnormality that cannot be detected until they are fertilized and then stop growing at some point during embryo/fetal development.

So, if it turns out that a variety of disorders are present in 21 to 22 of the eggs, we would still have five to six embryos that are good candidates for the transfer. Of those the doctor's will pick the two or three that look like they are the strongest, and then we're ready to go.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Revolution 

LivingWithCaucasians is giving an eyewitness look at the ongoing political changeover in Georgia. It makes for fascinating reading, and, I imagine, it must be amazing to actually be there on the ground.

I remember watching the Soviet state newscasts on CSPAN 2 back in 1991 when the Soviet Union finally dissovled into the Russian Federation, Republic of Georgia, and 13 other nations; it was fascinating to see things unfolding so quickly with subtitles. The dissolution of Shevardnadze’s government [BBC | Washington Post | DW] didn't unfold (at least for me) on television so much as online, but it is still fascinating to see people create such change. Hopefully, it will put Georgia on to a better political and economic track. As soon as this IVF cycle is considered a success, I think I will have to toast the new government by opening one of the bottles of თბილღვინო (Tbilvino) wine I bought last year -- is a peaceful revolution better toasted with a dry white (Ts’inandali) or a semi-sweet red (Odjaleshi)?

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Enough to Fill the Active Roster 

Okay a quick update because I need to run the farmers market and rake leaves. We ran out to the clinic today and got the fertilization report (as well as lower doses of Lovenox): Enough eggs fertilized to fill out the active roster of a baseball team.

Of the 32 eggs harvested, 29 were mature. Of those, 28 fertilized. (I credit the Barry White they play in the incubators; Barry White always helps.) Now we get to see how many continue to grow and then they start biopsies on Monday for the PGD.

UPDATE: All 28 cleaved, which means they made it to day two. Next step, one more growth report and then the news from the PGD doctor starts to come in ... Also, the yard is raked; the GoldRush apples were at the market, but it was a small crop this year, so we won't be still getting them in February/March; and I'm going to make a second batch of the cranberry sauce tonight, just to make sure there's enough for the crowd.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

No News Is ... 

Well, frustrating. No news is frustrating. We were expecting to get a fertilization report from the clinic today, but no word. I guess they're short-staffed headed in to Thanksgiving and they do seem to be a bit heavily booked at the moment. We have to run out to the pharmacy there tomorrow, so hopefully we can corner someone and get some information.

The reason we have to run out there is that the Lovenox injections are the wrong dosage. Last time, with the IUI, we were using 40 mg injections, but Evelin's response indicated that she should use less. Since we had 40 mg syringes left over, we planned to just squirt 10 mg out of the syringes and use the remainder, but we found out tonight that that doesn't work. The syringes are preloaded with the specified dosage, but they aren't marked, so there's no good way to figure out how much medicine is being discarded/reserved.

One other injection item: After injecting Evelin with the progesterone, I was trying to cap the syringe with one hand while massaging the injection site with the other. A tip for those trying this at home: Don't hold the needle cap in your mouth and try to cap the syringe one-handed. I ended stabbing myself in the lip. Lips tend to bleed for a while.

Other than waiting for the call, Evelin's laid low today. She's recovered from the anesthesia, but is feeling really bloated and pained. It's probably a mix of recovery from the retrieval and symptoms of ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome (OHSS). It's another reason we're going to try to talk to someone at the clinic tomorrow.

I got a few things done. I built a small wine rack for under the stairs in the cellar. It's really just a simple rectangle with a diagonal bar running through it, but it holds about 40 bottles, which helped clean things up down there. I also, based on Evelin's suggestion, framed up a quick high-sided shelf to sit atop the box to hold the other bottles that didn't fit in the main rack. I also organized things: labeling things so that I can tell what's what without pulling out a bottle and making sure the whites and others that should be drunk young are on the easy-to-access top shelf, while the ones that are supposed to lay down for a few years are on the hard-to-get-to bottom.

I realized that if I am going to do anything more complicated than little things like this, I really need a table saw. It's a bid difficult to cut long straight lines with a circular saw and no rip fence or anything else to run along. (Despite the equipment used, I managed to keep all my fingers connected to my body.)

This evening, I made us a nice tagine with artichoke, olives, garbanzos, and preserved lemon from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It turned out really well. The preserved lemon really added a nice flavor to things, contrasting with the bell peppers and other spices. It also had a sort of parsley pesto sauce that was drizzled over it, which added a nice note.

Right now, I'm trying to get a head start on the week by making cranberry sauce. We aren't hosting Thanksgiving this year, but we did say we'd bring the cranberries. I'm using a port wine-based cranberry sauce recipe from Food & Wine that we did last year (when we did host things). It tastes great. Friends this past Thursday was making light of how easy cranberry sauce is to make and how nobody really pays attention to it, but I've always liked it (even when I was a kid and it came out of can) and the port and orange in this recipe complement the cranberries very well.

Friday, November 21, 2003

32 Retrieved 

Out of the 45 or so follicles, we got 32 eggs, slightly above 71.1%. We don't think Evelin broke any records, but we're happy. The doctor was pleased because the follicles had been growing along with the rising estrogen levels, but we were able to trigger and retrieve before the E2 got too out of hand. Evelin remains at risk for OHSS, but hopefully it will only be mild. Now we introduce my guys to Evelin's eggs in a swank, velvet-lined Petri dish, play a little Barry White, and see how many of them decide to get together. We should be getting a call tomorrow to let us know how many fertilized. Then, until the transfer on Wednesday, we should get regular updates about how things are progressing. We also get to start the progesterone shots tonight and the Lovenox injections in the morning.

Evelin did pretty well with the anesthesia. She has never been under before and since she responds well to meds in general, we weren't sure how this would go. It left her really groggy for a while and a bit nauseous, but we made it home after about two hours in the recovery room. She is resting quietly now, watching The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Now we just get to wait, do the injections, and keep our fingers crossed ...

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Thinking About Translation 

In my day-to-day work, I often am reading/editing/rewriting material that's been translated into English. Often it is written by someone whose first language is not English and, in many cases, the writer is writing directly into English, but their native language peeks through the text in phrases, constructions, and word choice. It's part of my job to edit such materials into English that flows more naturally and that has greater clarity without sacrificing the specifics of the technology being discussed.

German translator Marcus Ingendaay has an interesting essay about the difficulty of translating literature -- specifically William Gladdis's The Recognitions (in German, Die Fälschung der Welt) -- in which he describes how translation requires a destruction of the original text:
... I have to delete any memory of the English phrase, I have to create an abstract of the phrase, which should take into account all aspects concerning form and content without taking over the specifically English form and rhythm or the feeling of the whole. In the process of digitalising a sentence in this way I turn it into a non-sentence, into pure information. What is important is the following: there is no metamorphosis without destruction.
It is an interesting way to describe the process of not just translation but also editing. I use a similar process (albeit not as drastic) when I'm stuck trying to recast/rework a particularly baffling sentence. (Thanks to La Muselivre for the link.)

On Pins & Needles 

Well, mostly needles. One needle. The really important hCG injection. The one I always worry that I've screwed up.

Basically, this is the shot that will trigger ovulation. We didn't inject any Gonal-f or Repronex last night; we didn't inject any Lupron this morning. The 12:15 a.m. injection of hCG will trigger ovulation and at a quarter past noon tomorrow, Evelin will be in the OR having her eggs harvested.

All should be well, but since this injection is so critical (and since it's the one that I don't get to practice day after day to get comfortable with), I am worried that I did something wrong. This is going to sound sadistic, but the reason I'm worried is because it didn't hurt Evelin. It's a long (1.5 inch, 23 gauge) needle and an intramuscular shot. All the warnings and prep material say that it is likely to hurt ... but it didn't and the injection site wasn't sore this morning.

The area of Evelin's backside that the nurse had highlighted yesterday morning (literally with a yellow Avery Hi-Lighter) wasn't really visible anymore, so I had to calculate where the injection should go. The doctors wanted us to inject only 5,000 USP of the hCG, instead of the 10,000 USP in the vial, but the intramuscular injection required 2 cc of water, so I had to fill the vial with 4 cc of water to dilute things and then pull back half for the injection. So far, so good. But then, while counting down the minutes to 12:15 a.m., I started second guessing the injection site, retraced the lines, and alcohol-wiped a new injection site a little south of my original estimate.

At exactly 12:15 a.m., the injection was given. Evelin probably won't like to read this, but it seemed to take forever for that long needle to go in. The small subcutaneous injections are in place very quickly; the intramuscular jab, however, seemed to keep going deeper and deeper. I gave a pullback on the plunger to check for blood in the syringe (which would indicate that I was in a vein or the liver or something); there was none, so in went the medicine. After the needle came out, there was a bead of blood that welled up, but that’s supposedly within the normal experience.

Tomorrow morning, Evelin has an acupuncture appointment to help get her body set for the anesthesia and retrieval procedure, then we head over to the clinic ...

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

T Minus ??? 

Okay, we don't have a specific time yet, but Evelin called and said that we are go for triggering ovulation tonight. This means retrieval on Friday. The E2 levels are still rising, but the doctors are really worried about ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome (OHSS), which Evelin is at risk for based on her response thus far to all the drugs, her high E2 levels, and past experience during IUI cycles. This means we aren't giving the other follicles too much more development time, but we should end up with enough embryos to move on to the next stage ... preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD).

ADDENDUM: Okay, I have the word. We trigger at 12:15 a.m., which means an afternoon OR slot on Friday.

Αισχύλος vs. The Mummy 

Sure Hellenic culture and Egyptian culture interacted over the centuries, and the library at Alexandria held many works of Greek drama when it burned, but who could imagine extracting a long-lost play from the bowels of a mummy.

That's exactly what is being done, however; "... archaeologists found mummies in Egypt which were stuffed with papyrus, containing excerpts of the original plays of Aeschylus," said Andy Bargilly, the director of the Θεατρικού Οργανισμού Κύπρου or Cyprus Theatre Organisation (THOC), according to press reports [BBC | Reuters | Playbill].

The Αισχύλος (Aeschylus) work in question is the Achilles trilogy, which was recreated based upon scraps of papyrus found in mummies and information gleaned from other ancient critics and writers, including some material about the Trojan War from Homer's The Iliad. "We do think it is a faithful adaptation to a large extent, but nobody can say 100%," Bargilly said. Author Elias Malandris worked on the project for a decade.

Follie-ball 

Well, we coasted last night, this morning, there were two follicles that were well within range, but a host of others slightly smaller than 16 mm. Depending upon the E2 levels, we could be coasting again tonight with the hCG trigger shot tomorrow evening. However, if the levels have plateaued, then we trigger tonight.

Because of this, we got the full run down on the dos and don'ts for retrieval day. My end of it is pretty easy (as is true for most males dealing with IVF); Evelin has some eat/drink restrictions because she'll be going under for the procedure. We also have to do to hCG injection at a very specific time based upon our timeslot in the operating room. Because of Evelin is sprouting fortysomething follicles (ergo the "follie-ball" title, the ultrasound tech said Evelin's ovary looked like a volleyball, but I misheard her), the nurse said she is likely to get a very early or a very late slot in the OR.

Other than that, the only other concern is that the hCG shot has to be intramuscular. This is the first intramuscular injection I have had to give Evelin (soon, I'll be doing a lot of them; the progesterone shots have to be intramuscular), so the nurse drew a big target on her backside so that I know where to give her the jab.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Follicle Update 

Wow, I guess everything written about "Pottermania" was dead on. My list of Harry Potter in translation was mentioned by Languagehat yesterday, garnering me more hits than any previous day. Thanks to those who have pointed out errors; I am aiming to have things correct on the list, but working with poor-quality cover pictures and languages I don't know leads to some errors. As of today, I know the Hindi title is at least partially wrong, but I think I have the rest corrected.

Moving away from language, Evelin called to say that she'd heard from the clinic. Her E2 levels are still rising, so we are coasting tonight, continue with the morning injections of Lupron to stave off ovulation and will probably trigger Wednesday or Thursday night with retrieval 36 hours later. So what does that mean? Well, although Evelin has fortysomething follicles, most are on the small side. If we were to trigger ovulation with an hCG shot tonight (which is what the doctor thought we might have to do), then only the top few follicles would be able to release mature eggs. The rest would be immature and very unlikely to be viable for IVF.

The good news is that as long as the estrogen (E2) levels are rising, the follicles are still growing. By coasting (skipping the Gonal-f/Repronex injections) the E2 will start to plateau and the larger follicles will hopefully mature enough for us to retrieve a good number of eggs. So it's back tomorrow for another blood draw and ultrasound, and then maybe again on Thursday morning.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Harry Potter Worldwide 

The BBC is reporting that J.K. Rowling has begun work on book six in the Harry Potter series. According to the report, the series has been translated into 60 languages, although I'm only able to find 51 translations of the first book (and that is including the U.S. English and U.K. English and the Cyrillic and Latin Serbian editions separately):Other editions are reported to exist in Arabic, Bengali (may be only in an unofficial translation), Greek (Ancient), Greenlandic, Macedonian, Urdu, and Zulu, but I can't find the titles for them online. Which leaves about a handful of languages missing.

What's also interesting is that there seem to be a number of lesser-used languages into which Harry Potter has been translated. I suppose this is to help encourage Welsh, Basque, or Galego children, for example, to practice/use the language, just as the Latin and Ancient Greek editions can be used to encourage students to study the language.

The BBC Harry Potter subsite includes several articles about the translations of the books into various languages, as well as reports about various fan translation sites that cropped up to translate the new books before an official translation could be made.

ADDENDUM: Okay, some corrections based on comments here and over at Languagehat. I think I got the L-R/R-L character input fixed for the Hebrew. Korean, Bulagaian and Ukranian are now fixed. I'm sure I messed up copying the Hindi for "the philosopher's stone" (पारस पटभर). There could well be other problems with this list, let me know and I will try to correct them. Thanks!

Just Noticed ... 

No matter how many times you go some place there's always something new to find. Sunday, I got to the National Zoo a bit early for my panda behavior watch shift, so I decided to walk up and see the new lionesses again. Last Sunday, both lionesses were out and the lion, Tsavo, was off exhibit. This time, he was out with just one of the lionesses. For the most part, they seemed to be ignoring each other; they were in the same part of the enclosure, but not interacting. She was in the back of the yard, making vocalizations toward the wall and Tsavo was laying around near the front of the top level of the yard, but she did walk over at one point and rub faces with him, getting an "awww" from the crowd.

After watching the lions for a bit, I walked around the great cats exhibit and watched the tigers tearing apart some pumpkins that had been left over from Hallowe'en. Then I noticed a path into the bamboo. At first I thought it was the exit from Tiger Tracks (a children's exhibit that talks about the lives of tigers), but then I noticed an enclosure. It turns out the zoo has a caracal and a serval hiding on this little side trail that connects the back of the great cats exhibit to Think Tank.

I asked one of the panda keepers if those enclosures were new and she said they'd been there as long as she had ... about 17 years. I think I just never noticed them because I usually was paying attention to the tigers (especially when we had cubs) and never looked behind me.

During the watch, I did get to touch panda fur for the first time. They have a bag of fur from when one the pandas needed to be shaved a little for a blood draw or something similar. It's really stiff and wiry, like the fur of some terriers.

Other than that, Evelin is now part of the "every day club," meaning she has to go to the clinic every morning for a blood draw and an ultrasound. Sunday, there were 25 follicles on the left ovary and 10 on the right with mean diameters ranging from 11.1 mm to 15.2 mm (actually that's just the range among the four largest from each side; the others weren't measured). Retrieval looks on target for Friday, but might happen on Thursday, depending upon how big things are getting and what the E2 levels are.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Polar Bears and More 

After flipping by the clinic for a blood draw and quick ultrasound (about 25 follicles too small to measure; another seven or so with a mean diameter of 10 mm or greater; E2 levels rising at a desirable rate), Evelin and I took a trip up to the Baltimore Zoo.

It's the third oldest zoo in the country, and the first few cages (and they are cages, not enclosures) are a bit depressing, but they did have a good deal of vegetation and enrichments in them and the animals seemed well adapted. As you get deeper into the zoo, however, things brighten up a bit.

The new Polar Bear Watch exhibit is only partially open -- they need to finish the arctic fox and snowy owl exhibits and repair a glass panel in the underwater part of the exhibit before it can be filled and used -- but it is a significant improvement from the old polar bear enclosure. The Africa section had some cool giraffes, and the chimpanzee forest was well done, as was the watering hole. The children's zoo section was also neat, including a walk through the various environments of Maryland, including a piedmont forest and a mountain cave. There were lots of little side things for kids here, and it ended up in a farm with a petting zoo.

Sidenote: If you haven't ever seen a giraffe running, it really is cool. They move pretty quickly, but because of the length of their legs and the way their neck moves when running, it looks like it's happening in slow motion.

The sad thing is that the zoo is having financial problems (Baltimore Sun story), which are forcing them to look to cut 20 staff members and to loan out their two breeding-age elephant cows and other animals. The news that the zoo would lose its elephants has helped draw in a number of new donations (98 Rock had a DJ in a cage to help raise $40,000 from listeners), as well as promises of aid from the state, but it remains to be seen whether or not more people come to the zoo and become members.

Ironically, the zoo has been able to get funds for new exhibits, like the Polar Bear Watch, but those funds are dedicated and don't end up helping covering the costs of staffing, maintenance, or repairs after things like Hurricane Isabel. Hopefully, things will turn a corner, the state will kick in some funds, and some companies will see the benefit of contributing to the general fund, instead of just wanting to have their name on a specific exhibit, animal, or enclosure.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Vegetable Cobbler 

I got distracted this morning with the cesarean stuff and forgot to blog about the vegetable cobbler I made last night. The recipe came from the October 2001 issue of Southern Living; my mother is going through her old magazines and cutting out things that look interesting before throwing them away, and she thought I'd like this recipe. She was pretty much on target. Goggling things, I found a copy of the recipe on Emeril's website.

The dish wasn't too complicated; if just took a bit of time to prep everything.

I started with slicing/chopping up all the vegetables (1 small onion, sliced; 2 medium leeks, sliced; 2 carrots, chopped; 4 small red potatoes, cubed; 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped; 3 tablespoons parsley, minced) and mixing up 1 cup vegetable broth with 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons flour, and a half teaspoon of salt. Then I prepared the cornbread topping: combining flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, baking soda, butter, buttermilk, and honey. (The amounts and methodologies are on the link). It was then just a matter of cooking the vegetables in order, putting it into a casserole dish, plopping on the cornbread mixture and baking for about a half hour.

We both liked it, but something was missing. Evelin thought a touch of mace would contrast with the spinach; I thought maybe some peas, but they would probably overcook. Plus, as Evelin pointed out, a spring vegetable like peas would distract from the autumnal nature of the dish. Oh well, I'll keep the recipe on hand to try again ... maybe with a little mace or nutmeg or ... something.

One cool thing about this dish was it gave me an excuse to dig up some carrots. We planted the seeds for these things back in April or May, but they were planted in a raised bed that was filled with less-than-great soil from Home Depot (as opposed to the good Canadian organic soil that filled all the other beds) and that bed seemed to really hold on to the water when it rained (and it rained a lot this year). Each time we've pulled one up, it's been a scraggly little thing that probably would lose a fight to a supermarket baby carrot. This time, however, amidst the scrawny little guys, I found a real, full-size carrot. It was of decent length and diameter and it tasted quite good. Hopefully, we'll find a few more lurking in there over the next few months. Actually, I'm not sure how late we can leave them in the ground; probably we should make sure they're harvested before the ground freezes at the very latest.

Looking in the Shorter OED, cobbler is listed as "origin unknown," but its use to describe a deep-dish fruit pie with a thick crust dates to the mid 19th Century United States. Linda Stradley has a short history and lore of cobblers and related sorts of dishes.

Cesarean Sections 

I got an e-mail from the Italian office yesterday: My publisher just had her second son by "cesarean cut," to use the phrase from the e-mail. Naturally, this phrasing raised some questions in the U.S. office. Although the procedure is called a "cesarean section" in English, the Italian term is taglio cesareo, literally "cut cesarean." French and Spanish simplify things to césarienne and cesárea respectively, while German uses Kaiserschnitt, "imperial cut."

At first the "imperial" bit seems a bit out of place, then I found this (from "Cesarian Section: A Brief History" at the National Library of Medicine): "Even the origin of "cesarean" has apparently been distorted over time. It is commonly believed to be derived from the surgical birth of Julius Caesar ..." The Caesar link is clearer in British English, where the preferred spelling is caesarean, than in U.S. English.

The brochure disparages the link to Caesar, noting that at the time of little Julius's birth
... such a procedure was performed only when the mother was dead or dying, as an attempt to save the child for a state wishing to increase its population. Roman law under Caesar decreed that all women who were so fated by childbirth must be cut open; hence, cesarean.
Also offered as a possible origin is the Latin word caedare, to cut. The brochure notes that the term caesones "was applied to infants born by a postmortem operation." The term "cesarean section" came into widespread usage following the 1598 publication of Jacques Guillimeau's book on midwifery; previously, it had been called a cesarean operation.

A sidenote: The National Library of Medicine has a small online exhibiton of Medieval manuscripts in its collection. The images aren't the clearest, but there are some neat pieces in the exhibition.

Of course, any thoughts of cesareans or any other method of birthing are still a long ways off for us. After getting a call yesterday afternoon, the doctor has scaled back our stimulation doses to a half ampoule each of Gonal-f and Repronex. Evelin notes that this is a ridiculously small amount of medicine and that she has never heard of anyone going through IVF needed so little medicine. Part of the concern is that her estrogen (E2) levels were rising very quickly. They would like to see a smoother curve in hopes of staving off ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome (OHSS). The high E2 levels also help explain the nausea Evelin's been feeling. (She'd attributed it to my driving, but it looks like there is a medical reason instead.) This morning, the follicle count was 16 on the right and 10 on the left, and some of them were larger than 10 mm, which is a good, but happening rather quickly. My guess is that they are going to have us coast (i.e., skip a Gonal-f/Repronex injection) a night or two as we get closer to the retrieval ... which is only a week away.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

How People Talk 

Last week, Languagehat blogged about an article in The New Yorker about Silvio Berlusconi, which included a mention of how the way Berlusconi talks is so different from his opponents.
[Anthropologist Mariella] Pandolfi says that, for her, the great irony of Italian politics is that all the likely candidates of the center-left... speak an Italian that's elegant but completely incomprehensible and elitist. "It's the language of the priests, the courts, the language of authority,... whereas the language that unites Italy today is Berlusconi's television language. His grammar is dreadful. He gets the subjunctive wrong. Give him three seconds on television and he makes four mistakes. But you discover that everybody loves his mistakes. That's his power."
This got me thinking about politicians and how they use language. Much has been made of the way British Prime Minister Tony Blair uses Estuary English [BBC | The Independent | University College London Phonetics and Linguistics], and apparently even the Queen's accent has shifted over the years. Somewhat closer to Berlusconi's language misusage are W.'s myriad malapropisms.

But the thing that hit me this morning, while listening to a bit of the 30-hour Senate debate over delays in the appointment of a handful of ultraconservative judges on C-SPAN Radio, I was struck by Republican Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma and how he relayed a tale in English and Spanish. While Inhofe's Spanish grammar was fine, the way he used the language made it sound so odd. It wasn't like Joe Liebermann's toss-off usage of "mi familia" in the second Democratic debate a few months ago, which just sounded painful; instead Inhofe was trying to speak Spanish with the same cadence he would use for a formal English debate. The emphasis fell in odd places and the rhythm of the language was horribly off beat. Maybe he was overly influenced by the setting -- speaking from the well of the Senate must be different than talking on the street or in an office in Tulsa -- or maybe he was just pushing through it to try to make a political point or two, but it just sounded wrong.

I'm all in favor of politicos -- and pretty much everyone else -- learning and using more than just English, but other languages have different tones, rhythms, frequencies that are key to making the language sound "right." Arte Radio.com has a small feature (in French) about this, "L'oreille ethnique," that aired on the Radio Day of European Cultures.

Maybe it's just me however. I always seemed to spend more time in language classes listening to the accent and trying to get the sound right than trying to memorize the vocabulary. I could get a few sentences to sound very good, but I could only get out a few sentences. (The other problem with this method is that it helps to have a native speaker for a teacher: My Ancient Greek and Latin teacher, with her very thick Bostonian accent, would have been a poor model for pronunciation.)

Overachieving Ovaries & Sculpture 

Okay, so those two are only tangentially connected in that it sums up our morning. Things started very early with the howling winds waking us up about five minutes before the alarm was due to go off. We had to be up especially early to get to our 7:00 a.m. appointment at the fertility clinic. The ultrasound technician checked things out, and Evelin has 13 follicles growing on the right and 10 on the left (each follicle has the potential to spit out an egg, and since we're doing IVF, the more the merrier). None are big enough to count yet -- we're only on three days of stimulation at the moment and still early in the cycle -- but we're expecting the doctor to want to scale back our doses some, which is almost ridiculous because Evelin's on a very low dose (1.5 ampoules Gonal-f, 0.5 ampoules Repronex) as it is. But she is very much an overachiever when it comes to responding to medicines ...

After dropping Evelin off at work, I headed off to see the collection of Birds I View sculptures at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Birds I View was a public art thing that went on this summer; now the birds have been gathered up and on display for a few days until they are auctioned off next week. I don't think we'll bid on any of them -- and they weren't as cool in the hallway of an equestrian arena as they were out in the wild -- but it was good to get to see some of the ones I hadn't seen yet.

I also flipped through the University of Maryland College Park to get a quick look at the Jim Henson Memorial Garden that was dedicated a few months ago. It's a nice setting, albeit in the midst of a construction zone until they finish work on the Stamp Student Union, with a life-size bronze Henson sitting on a granite bench talking to Kermit the Frog.

The rest of the day, I think, will be spent getting some things edited/written at home (I may be playing hooky, but I'm swamped at work at the moment), and Evelin has an acupuncture appointment at lunchtime. I also plan to try a recipe from Southern Living that my mom sent us, as I'll have time to actually cook something semi-complicated this evening.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Timesink 

I found this while searching for zoo-related blogs: a terrible, terrible, terrible little Shockwave timesink/game called Zookeeper. It's in Japanese, but the basics are pretty straightforward. Just shift one animal either up/down or left/right to create lines of at least three of the same animal. That line then disappears and everything tumbles down, à la Tetris. Each group you catch gives you more time After you catch a certain number of each animal, then the next level starts. If you don't catch the required number of animals before time runs out, the zoo administrator yells at you in Japanese. Thanks to XImpress Blog for the link.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Injection Report 

Well, we have begun the stimulation injections. Originally, we thought the shots would start on Sunday night, but the fertility clinic called and asked us to wait until Monday night to begin so that things would stay on schedule. So, starting last night, I am injecting Evelin with 1.5 ampoules of Gonal-f and a half ampoule of Pergonal (Repronex). These two drugs will help stimulate Evelin's ovaries to produce a bunch of eggs that can be harvested in a few weeks for our IVF cycle. For a bit longer, we're also still doing injections of Lupron in the morning (albeit only about a quarter of the dose previously being used).

Mixing up the drugs is a fairly simple matter (well, it is now that I have gotten the hang of it; a while ago, during our first medicated cycle, working with the needles was a real pain). Because of half doses of each drug being used, I have to mix up two batches at once, use one syringe and then refrigerate the second for the next night. It also means snapping open four little glass vials and two vials of sterile water. Normally, this isn't that much of a problem, grip firmly with thumb pressed against the top of the bottle, apply pressure, and it snaps cleanly at the line. Something happened last night with one vial of Gonal-f, however, and the top basically shattered, dropping bits of glass into the medicine. I didn't get cut, but we did have to throw out that vial.

Other than that, the first of this stage of injections went well. Evelin is back to the clinic on Thursday to see how she's responding and she has an acupuncture appointment that morning, too.

Monday, November 10, 2003

And the Official Word Is ... 

美香 and 添添. I checked the transit slips for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian that are posted in the panda house, and all my scrambling around about their names was misdirected. Mei is 美香 (Mei3 Xiang1, beautiful fragrance) and Tian is 添添 (Tian1 Tian1, more and more).

The bears had a pretty good day yesterday. With the cooler weather, they were spending a lot of time during the day playing, which is good for zoo visitors, but it also meant that Mei was already asleep when my behavior watch shift started, which makes for a pretty boring watch. Luckily she woke up around 5:15 p.m. and was active for about a half hour, eating and exploring.

One thing that can be difficult during such a watch is figuring out the intent of the panda's activity. For example, Mei spent a bit of time shaking, gnawing and sniffing a feeder ball (basically a big, plastic ball with an arm sticking off of it; they were originally designed for apes, but they are a good enrichment for the pandas because it makes them think and work to get biscuits). There are two main options I have for coding the activity -- stationary explore or object play. The problem is figuring out what Mei is trying to do: if she's looking for food or trying to figure something out about the object, then it is stationary explore; if she's tossing it about or moving it in a way that doesn't seem to be looking to elicit food or something, then it might be object play.

In this case, it seemed like Mei was shifting back and forth between play and exploration. Some of the movements were more deliberate, carefully turning the ball and sniffing in each opening; others were more carefree, rolling the ball across her head or bouncing it with all four feet while she was laying on her back.

I had parked at the bottom of the zoo so that I could see the new lionesses (they look like they're fitting in well), but that meant walking back through the zoo in the dark after my panda shift was over. I really like being in the zoo at night: during the summer more animals are actually outside and active in the evening, but I did get to see the camels laying around and the lights were on in the ape house and small mammal house, letting me look in from the main path. Driving back to the zoo entrance, I passed a four-point buck walking alongside the road (the National Zoo is in Rock Creek Park, and there are wild animals -- deer, foxes, raccoons, etc. -- that do wander into the zoo at times).

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Yardwork 

We just finished up the first leaf harvest of the season. It's a fine crop; mostly the desired shade of brown, but with some not-quite-ripe yellow and greens mixed in. I'd forgotten what a pain the leaf blower can be at first. This is only our second season of using one, and there is a bit of science to it, especially when blowing up against the house or near a fence. Unfortunately, the oaks don't look like they are anywhere near being finished dropping their leaves, so we're sure to have two or three or six more raking events before the year is out.

We also got the net up on the pond. Evelin had the clever idea to thread a few boards between the net and the water; hopefully that will keep the leaves from weighing the net down into the water between rakings and it will make it a little more difficult for the squirrels to try to walk out on to the net to get a drink (and thus sagging the net into the water).

This morning, we went in for the Lupron evaluation; basically, Evelin got some blood drawn and they checked out her ovaries. Everything was as quiet as it should be, so we get to start with the Gonal-f and Repronex injections tonight and we continue with the Lupron injections in the morning. We are doing 1.5 amps of Gonal-f and a half-amp of Repronex, which means mixing up three bottles of Gonal-f and one bottle of Repronex with 2 cc of sterile water, drawing back 1 cc to inject that night and refrigerating the remainder for the next night.

Yesterday, we took a longer-than-expected hike. We went out to Sugarloaf Mountain, which straddles the Frederick-Montgomery county line. We haven't been hiking there in a while, and we ended up going for a longer hike than we'd expected.

First I forgot that it was a 7 or 8 mile hike (for some reason I thought the loop out to White Rocks was only 5 miles), and, second, the trail we ended up taking wasn't too heavily traveled and it was hard to follow it in some places because of all the leaves obscuring the path and the blazes being a bit far apart and faded. It's possible that, in some places, we were following an abandoned trail. We eventually made it to a better marked section of trail and got to take in the views from White Rocks (a site used by both Confederate and Union troops during the Antietam campaign in 1862) before heading along the ridge line to Sugarloaf Mountain proper and then back down to the car. On the eastern side of the mountain, there were tons of trees down. According to The Sugarloaf Mountain Newsletter, about 80 trees were toppled by Hurricane Isabel in visible areas, and dozens more are down in other parts of the forest. All in all (with the assorted sidetracking and aimless wandering early in the hike, plus detours around fallen trees), we think we did 9 miles or so.

Friday, November 07, 2003

The Return of Autumn 

The rains of the past two days have washed away the last remnants of our Indian summer. Many more leaves are on the ground and cold weather is back. A few days ago, Languagehat mentioned that he had only recently learned that a true Indian summer can only come after a heavy frost. My father-in-law told me the same thing when he was visiting a few weeks ago, which surprised me. Back in Louisiana, Indian summer was the return of warmth after a cold snap, but it wouldn't require a frost. (We often didn't get our first frost until well into winter.) My in-laws are from New England, however, where the cold can come early, which might explain the frost requirement.

Languagehat pointed to a NOAA article about the origin of the term Indian summer and tracing the early citations to late 1770s Colonial/Revolutionary North America. This led me to wonder what similar early autumn warming trends were called elsewhere. The Glossary of Meteorology noted that in Europe the terms old wives' summer, St. Martin's summer, St. Luke's summer, and All-hallown summer were used.

Some more digging found that Middle and Eastern Europe seemed to prefer variations of old wives' summer or old woman's summerOther nations named it after the saint's feast day that typically ushered in an Indian summer:Interestingly, in South America it is termed veranito de San Juan (little summer of St. John, in Argentine Spanish) because the seasons come at a different time of year than in the Northern Hemisphere. The saint associated with an Indian summer in France depends upon which saint's day is nearest to the event, although l'été de la St-Martin seems to be the most common/generic.

"After summer" is used in Frisian neisimmer and in Flemish nazomer to describe Indian summer, while Québécois uses the same term as English, just in French: l'été des Indiens (although the less PC l'été des Sauvages is also found in some references). I asked a Brazilian colleague what the term was in Portuguese and she insisted that it is summer year round in Brazil thus no need for such a term.

A few other terms that turned while digging online:

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Languages Signed & Spoken 

As I mentioned a few months ago, I've been interested in sign language for a while now for no good reason. At the moment, I don't know anyone who is deaf, and other only ASL "speakers" I've known are a housemate who was a Deaf-outreach coordinator for PETA and a coworker who was studying ASL to become a sign interpreter, and it's been years since I've seen or heard from either of them.

Still, D.C. is locus for the Deaf community and Deaf culture, in large part because of Gallaudet. It is not uncommon to run into people having conversations in ASL on the Metro or at the Zoo or elsewhere around town. I only know about six signs, so it's not like I can eavesdrop, but I do (discreetly) try to watch for patterns or signs that I do recognize. I do the same thing whenever I hear someone talking a language other than English; it's sort of a game for me to see if I can figure out what language is being spoken.

In this vein, Evelin checked out from the university for me Many Ways to Be Deaf: International Variation in Deaf Communities edited by Leila Monaghan, et al. It's and interesting collection papers solicited at symposia worldwide about Deaf culture and sign language, running the gamut from historical pieces about British manual alphabets of the 17th Century to the modern genesis of Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua (ISN) to pedagogic strategies to the role of signing in Deaf identity among various communities worldwide.

Especially interesting was "Romance and Reality: Sociolinguistic Similarities and Differences between Swiss German Sign Language and Rhaeto-Romansh" by Penny Boyes Braem, et al. The authors compared Rhaeto-Romansh with Deutschschweizerische Gebärdensprache (DSGS) because both are threaten minority languages that have official recognition. Comparing the legal status of both languages, past and present attitudes toward them, and future prospects for the languages, the authors conclude that Rhaeto-Romansh, despite a recent up tick in awareness of the language, faces a harder slog in the long term than DSGS.

The explanation of this analysis is what is especially interesting, however, and it is a point that comes up in several other essays in the book:
As [François] Grosjean (1992 [The bilingual and bicultural person in the hearing and deaf world]) has commented, there are important differences between those who are bilingual in oral languages and deaf people who are bilingual in signed language and spoken language. Future generations of those who are bilingual in spoken languages have good chance of becoming monolingual in the language most useful to them. In contrast, future generations of deaf signers will probably remain bilingual because they will continue to have a need in different spheres of their lives for both the economically important spoken language and the perceptually and fully accessible signed language.
The comparison that comes to mind are the group of Australian languages mentioned first chapter of Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages -- Lardil, Marlda Kangka, and Damin.
The daily language used by most of these men was called Lardil. After puberty, boys were circumcised (without anesthetic, or course) and taught Marlda Kangka -- a sign language. ... After a year or more, young men who were brave enough moved on to the second stage of initiation: penile subincision. ... The reward for enduring the pain was a second auxiliary language, Damin.
Nowadays, Lardil is threatened and Marlda Kangka and Damin are extinct. Modern life has lead to the end of these rituals and the associated languages. Another example might be Abkhaz hunting language, which was only spoken by the nobility only while journeying through the forest and has since gone extinct. The situations that lead to the development of these languages have changed and thus the languages are allowed to atrophy and die. Deaf sign languages, however, have a situation (the Deaf community) for which their use remains ideal and therefore they are likely better withstand the assault of a majority language.

Of course, and this is a point several papers in Many Ways to Be Deaf make, as technological aids like cochlear implants become available and as people who have partial hearing are encouraged to use oral language instead of sign language, sign language and Deaf culture in general become threatened the same way other minority languages and cultures are threatened.

It seems inevitable in an increasingly globalized society that linguistic and cultural differences will become harmonized. There is more to be gained for an individual to speak the language of government and industry than a historic local language that may only be partially understood outside one's home valley. But -- and this is the point of Spoken Here and Helena Drysdale's Mother Tongues: Travels Through Tribal Europe -- there is a significant loss to all of us when these languages die. Specific terms for geography, weather, plants, animals, etc., are lost. Different ways of looking at the world become homogenized. Hopefully, efforts like the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages will at least slow the loss of minority languages and maybe even lead to the revival for some.

Dictionaries! 

Last night, Evelin and I stopped by a preview of a church yard sale that one of her coworkers is working on and I got to dig through several boxes of foreign-language books. This being the D.C. area, with its large percentage of diplomats and spies (retired and active), the foreign-language section was pretty big, with a lot of Russian and East European material. There were also a few Foreign Service language-learning packs for Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian and a few other languages.

I skipped over a lot, but did come up with a few goodies: Byelorussian-English English-Byelorussian Dictionary by Alexander Ushkevich and Alexandra Zezulin (Hippocrene, 1992); Ukrainian-English and English-Ukrainian Dictionary by W. Niniows'kyi (Ukrainian Bookstore, 1990); Anglicko-Český Česko-Anglický Slovník by Ivanem Poldaufem (Státní Pedagogické Nakladatelství, 1971); and Cassell's Croatian Dictionary by F.A. Bogadek (Macmillan, 1985).

The coolest, however, is the Russian-English English Russian Military Dictionary 1968 published by the Joint Technical Language Service in London. It is stamped with "For Official Use Only" and "This book is the property of Her Majesty's Government and is for the use of persons in Her Majesty's Service” on the cover. I justified it by thinking it would make a great present for a Russophile friend of ours, but it may be hard to part with, even though I have no use for it. The dictionary is full of translations of military specific terms, such as (flipping through random pages) однополчанин (soldier serving in same regiment, soldier from same unit); коварный газ (insidious gas); and ровик (foxhole, weapon pit) with the sub-entry ~, противоскоростной (vehicle hindrance scarp). Actually, I had better stop looking through it, because it gets neater with each page.

The best bit? Hardbacks were only 50¢; soft covers, 25¢. So $2.00 for all five books.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Practical Joke 

Sometimes I crack myself up. It's not that much of a joke, but last night Evelin and I were in Staples and I saw the premade signs for restrooms, including "All Employees Must Wash Hands", which I decided we needed in the restroom at my building. I get in early enough to probably get away with sneaking one into both the men's and women's room, but I decided to just go with the men's room. It's been up for a few hours now and I don't know if anyone has actually noticed, but it still gives me a giggle.

On the IVF front, Evelin finished her last birth control pill last night and had her fourth Lupron shot this morning. She keeps joking that she's about to begin menopause (which is a pretty good comparison to what the Lupron is supposed to do) and is warning me to watch out for mood swings and hot flashes. At least the weather is turning back to colder; that might help her ... In another week or so, we get to start with even more injections.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Just a Few Random Things 

Ötzi is back in the news today. The Italian courts have ruled that the German hikers who discovered the iceman back in 1991 may be due a reward. The ruling, which South Tyrolean officials are appealing, named the couple as the official finders of Ötzi and allows them to claim a finder's fee of 25% of the value of mummy. How to determine that value, however is a big question mark. I'm not sure what laws are in play here; I guess something similar to salvage rules for treasure troves found within territorial waters. Transblawg has some more details, including a link to a special Ötzi section of Südtirol Online (in German).

Greenpeace has a new cinema advertising campaign [AdAge's advertising spots of the week; the third advert down] that is great. I don't know how many people it will encourage to adopt more Earth-friendly purchasing/consumption habits, but it is really funny. I know Evelin and I should do a better job of activist purchasing, but we do try. We eat low on the food chain, shop at the farmers market, grow our own food organically, and we buy wind power to feed into the grid.

The latest issue of AKG Report, the PR magazine of Austrian microphone manufacturer AKG Acoustics, has a really neat article about measuring elephant vocalizations. Given the source, it's not surprising that the article focuses heavily on the technical methodology and equipment used to record the vocalizations (particularly the low-frequency calls) of the African elephants at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria. However, there are some interesting observations about how elephant calves learn to speak; Tiergarten Schönbrunn has two calves who are being observed as part of these studies. Actually, the zoo has several interesting studies of its elephants under way.

Even more interesting, at least to me, is that the same Arbeitsgruppe Bioakustik working group that is studying the elephants is also planning to study panda vocalizations:
Scientists have known for some time that giant pandas emit various sounds. What remains unknown, however, is when and in what connection are particular sounds first uttered by adolescent giant pandas? Do male and female giant pandas produce different sounds?

The "Bioacoustics working group" [Arbeitsgruppe Bioakustik], a cooperative effort between the zoo and the University of Vienna since 1996, will eavesdrop on the two pandas and will analyze their characteristic sounds for the first time.
Considering the little bits we've been able to determine about Mei and Tian's vocalizations, the idea of measuring the vocalizations and trying to correlate specific tones/pitches/frequencies with activities/stimulus/etc. is really exciting.

Monday, November 03, 2003

The One-Month Novel 

Has anyone heard of this before -- NaNoWriMo? I'm not sure what to think of a project designed to encourage people to write a novel -- or at least 50,000 words -- in a month. Part of why I'm blogging is to force myself to write, but I it doesn't force me to really structure my writing. Maybe it would do me good to produce "the Great Frantic Novel," as NaNoWriMo describes things. If I started today, that would mean needing to write 1,851.85 words per day until the end of the month ... hurm. My entry about Sunday was 652 words, so 1,199.85 words more than that. Everyday. While dealing with IVF and work. Hurm ...

Indian Summer Sunday 

Yesterday was a fine example of Indian summer. The temperature topped 80°F, a gentle breeze pushed a few clouds through the sky; if it weren't for the falling leaves and the sun setting around 4:30, it could have been spring.

We started of the day with the first Lupron injection. It's a tiny needle and a small injection, but the kit is a bit odd. Unlike the Gonal-f or hCG, the Lupron is in a small vial that keeps getting reused; the other meds, it is one vial per injection. This just means having to keep resterilizing the rubber stopper with alcohol wipes before drawing out each dose. We also started the doxycycline; although, we both forgot about it until the evening ...

Taking advantage of the weather, we got to work early in the garden. First was planting the apple tree, followed by moving some butterfly bushes in hopes of giving them better sun. (This summer they were glowing horizontally across the ground to try and get out of the shade.)

Next up was destruction. I cut down a small tree in the backyard that wasn't really doing anything for the landscape. It was too close to the redbud and the Japanese maple. We also pulled out some bad vines that were crossing the fence from the neighbor's yard and trying to strangle off a dogwood, and I cut another branch off the fig tree that we are slowly taking down. I also started getting the pond ready for winter: cutting back the water canna and the pickerel weed, cleaning out fallen leaves, dosing the water with some Stress Zyme and other bacteria. All that's left is getting out the netting to try and keep leaves out of the water. I also broke out the leaf blower/vacuum to chop up some leaves so that we could add them to the compost tumbler.

And all this was before noon. After a lunch of grilled pepper-and-onion fajitas, Evelin decided to do some things around the house, while I ran off to see some historic places south of D.C., specifically two sites John Wilkes Booth visited after assassinating Lincoln. (Actually, I should have started at Ford's Theater in the District, but I didn't ...)

First up was Surratt House & Tavern in Clinton, Maryland, home to Mary Surratt, who was executed along with three other conspirators. It's now considered questionable about how much Surratt knew about Booth's plans and actions, although her son, John Surratt, was in on the assassination plot and an earlier plan to kidnap Lincoln. Because of what happened to the family, only two pieces of furniture are known to have been in the house in the 1860s, although the rest are authentic to the period. Things that make the Surratt House different from other historic houses in the area -- aside from the specific people involved -- are the attached tavern, really just a small barroom and an attached traveler's dinning room, and the attached kitchen. Most kitchens at this time would have been separated from the main house.

Next up was the Dr. Samuel A. Mudd House in Waldorf. After Booth left the Surratt's house, he made his way to Dr. Mudd's, which is where the leg he broke leaping to the stage at Ford's Theater after shooting Lincoln. As with Mary Surratt, there are questions about how involved Mudd was in the conspiracy; in the end, Mudd was sentenced to imprisonment at Fort Jefferson in the Florida Straits.

Unlike the Surratt House, the Mudd House stayed in the Mudd family until it passed into the hands of the Mudd Society, which runs the house/museum. Therefore, almost all the furniture is original to the house and to the family. They have some fantastic pieces. Leaving the house, I took a short detour on the way home by St. Mary's Catholic Church, where Dr. Mudd and his wife are buried.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Virginia: Land of Apples and Wine 

Speaking in broad generalities, I'm not the biggest fan of Virginia. It's a regional thing, I guess. I was born in Maryland and ever since I moved to the DC area, I have lived north of the Potomac even though I work in Virginia. Perhaps you have to live in the region, but there are Maryland people and there are Virginia people and they can learn to coexist, but our state and their commonwealth will always have a bit of a standoffish attitude toward one another.

That being said, Evelin and I found ourselves driving south on Route 29 again this weekend headed down towards Charlottesville. This time, we skipped the presidential homes in favor of the fruits of the land.

Vintage Virginia Apples had its Fall Harvest Festival, so we went to taste apples of all sorts of old and new varieties. We came home with a fairly good supply for eating and cooking. Winning varieties included Albemarle Pippin, Golden Russet, Black Twig, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Arkansas Black. We also came home with a GoldRush tree. It's a little guy, and we probably won't see any fruit for four or five years, but we love GoldRush apples, so the idea that we could have some in the backyard is really cool.

After the checking out the festival -- actually, we only dove into the apples, got advice about growing our tree, and then took off -- we continued south to the Apple Shed, where we loaded up with other, less exotic varieties, including Ginger Gold, Rome, Stayman, and Empire.

[Sidenote: If anyone likes apples, Roger Yepsen's book Apples is a great reference guide with drawings and histories for tons of weird varieties.]

After loading up with apples, we turned our attention to wine. Yes, I'm not supposed to be drinking, but Evelin let's me slide a little here and there, and visiting wineries is an allowed exemption. (In retrospect, however, maybe it shouldn't be; I don't know if the wine interacted with the sinus meds, but I got a killer headache in the afternoon.)

The Virginia Wine Marketing Program has a guide to wineries and festivals across the commonwealth, and it includes a wine passport. You are supposed to get a sticker at each participating winery and if you visit 20 wineries in a year, you get a "fun, all new Virginia wine prize." Visit 35 or more, and you get a "unique Virginia wine accessory." I want my gift or accessory, so when we are near a Virginia winery I haven't already been to, I like to stop.

We started off at Wintergreen Winery in Nellysford. They had a nice cabernet franc that should lie down for a few years before becoming a very nice cabernet franc, as well as a vertical tasting of their 2000 and 2001 reserve chardonnays. 2001 was a drought year, which really mellowed the fruit and made for a nice wine.

We then hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few miles, stopping at an overlook to watch eagles soaring around. I kept trying to act like a mouse, but none of them were fooled.

We then ended up in Afton, where we stopped at Afton Mountain Vineyards and Veritas. Afton had a 1999 and a 2001 pinot noir, both of which were surprisingly nice for a grape that shouldn't do that well in Virginia. Veritas was a much bigger operation with a construction of a new function hall going on. They had some very nice wines, including a very smooth, big cabernet franc and a more velvety petit verdot. Also nice was the 2002 late harvest viognier. Veritas also won interest because they seemed to have a fair number of dogs lazing around the place, including a Jack Russell terrier that was investigating cars in the parking lot very intently and at least three hounds who were wandering around. I think they are all working dogs, tasked with keeping the vineyards clear of deer, raccoons and other animals that might want a grapy snack.

The final winery of the day was White Hall Vineyards, a bit north and west of Charlottesville. They were a madhouse this afternoon (I think it was parents weekend or homecoming at University of Virginia, based on the mix of people we kept running into), but we managed to tour the winery and to taste the full range. The pinot gris was nice, as was the gewürtztraminer and the 2002 petit verdot.

In addition to the apples and wine, we got a taste of the tail end of autumn foliage. Most of the trees were orange shading to brown, but a few flares of red and yellow were evident, and the mountains were gorgeous. Maryland does have a small swath of mountains that compare with the Blue Ridge, but it is a very small swath. And, in general, our wines lag a bit behind Virginia's. But things continue to improve on the wine front, even if we can't manage to expand our mountains ...

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