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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Happy New Year! 

Tomorrow will be the day for resolutions, but as for tonight, I'll just say "Happy New Year!," enjoy the champagne (if you're imbibing), and blog more in 2004 ...

Inuktitut and Polar Bears 

Trawsblawg has a link this morning to a University of Toronto (UofT) article about the old canard about how many words Inuit languages have for snow. In turn, the UofT article includes a link to the Inuktitut Living Dictionary, which provides translations from English and French to/from Inuit languages (both syllabic and roman orthography). The dictionary -- a project of the Nunavut Department of Culture, Language, Elders, and Youth -- is a little on the slow side, but really interesting.

The UofT article notes that the common misconception that the Inuit have 200 or so words for snow comes from a misunderstanding: It's not that they have multiple words for snow, but that there is no single word that covers the same broad range as the English word snow. The same is true of bear: Inuktitut languages have a word for polar bear and a word for black bear, but no generic word that encompasses all bears.

For example, Ursus maritimus is polar bear in English or ours polaire in French. In Inuktitut languages it is: ᓇᓄᖅ nanuq (Siglitun, Natsilingmiutut, Kivalliq, North Baffin, East Baffin, South Baffin, West Greenland), ᓇᓄᒃ nanuk (Labrador), ᓇᓄ nanu (West Greenland), and ᓇᓂᖅ naniq (East Greenland).

Beyond that, however, a search for "polar bear" also returns specific terms for different age, size, and sex polar bears: e.g., polar bear runts, ᐊᕗᓐᓇᔪᐃᑦ (avunnajuit); polar bear yearling, ᐊᑎᖅᑕᕕᓂᖅ (atiqtaviniq); mother polar bear, ᐊᑎᖅᑕᓕᒃ (atiqtalik); young polar bear ready to mate, ᓄᑲᐅᕌᕐᔪᒃ (nukauraarjuk).

Polar Bears International has a ton of information about polar bears, conservation, habitat, and husbandry, including this neat factoid:
Because polar bears give off no detectable heat, they do not show up in infrared photographs. (Infrared film measures heat.) When a scientist attempted to photograph a bear with such film, he produced a print with a single spot--the puff of air caused by the animal's breath.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Hot like wasabi when I bust rhymes* 

Language Log had an interesting food-meets-language entry yesterday:
A few minutes ago I turned on the TV and watched the final question on Jeopardy. The answer was (I paraphrase) "A condiment eaten with sushi and also eaten at Passover". Since there is no condiment satisfying both conditions, you might think that the contestants all got it wrong. Two were way off: they responded "nori" and "ginger". The one who got it "right" responded "horseradish", which Alex Trebek explained is the same thing as wasabi. It isn't.
The Jeoparchive! has the answers and questions for the entire 29 December episode of Jeopardy, including the exact wording for the Final Jeopardy answer in question: "A plant called this accompanies sushi and also the Passover Seder."

As Language Log notes, horseradish and wasabi are totally different plants: Armoracia rusticana and Wasabi japonica, respectively. Both are members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae), along with mustard, capers, radish, turnip, cress, cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.

A Dictionary of Japanese Food Ingredients & Culture by Richard Hosking says that wasabi and horseradish are similar in flavor, though wasabi is "less harsh and more aromatic." In the appendix, Hosking notes that:
Wasabi seems to lend itself to a considerable amount of commercial deception, possibly because horseradish is called seiyōwasabi (Western wasabi) or wasabi daikon (wasabi radish). The Japanese are reasonably aware of this, but abroad the true nature of the product often appears only on the label in Japanese, and many people think they are eating wasabi when actually they are eating colored horseradish.
Wasabi is written as 山葵 in kanji, as わさび using hiragana, and as ワサビ using katakana. Fresh ground from the root [image], it also sometimes called hon-wasabi (true wasabi) with the kanji 本 before the hiragana or katakana spellings.

Writing about the kanji for wasabi, Language Log notes that 山 "yama" means mountain, while 葵 "aoi" means hollyhock. Although 山 can also be pronounced "san" and 葵 can also be pronounced "ki," "No matter how you try, you can't get wasabi from these components. The fact that these two Chinese characters together are read wasabi is morphologically arbitrary."

Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages has a lot of pictures and other information about wasabi, including it's name in number of different languages. Interestingly enough, in a lot of cases, then name translates to "Japanese horseradish" -- i.e., Japansk pepparrot (Swedish), Japán torma (Hungarian), and raifort du Japon (French).

Wasabi links:*Title swiped from the Barenaked Ladies song "One Week."

Flying Glass 

That was startling. The window in my office just fell in, spreading bits of glass everywhere. And it's not safety glass, so there are some nice big shards. The night of the 23rd, while getting ready to leave for yuletide, I shut my window and the tensionor on the left side flew out, causing a bit of a ruckus. (These windows are on the cheap side, and thus it was not too surprising, despite the noise.) The other tensionor had disappeared long ago; I don't remember if it happened before I moved in to this office or not. Therefore, to open the window in hopes of enjoying the nice Indian Summer type day required propping it open a little bit. Bad idea. The wind caught the window and pushed it right over. Without the tensionors in place, there was nothing really keeping it centered between the rails. Lots of noise, glass, and a small crowd. Already L---, who sits on the other side of the wall from me, is telling people that I broke the window in a fit of rage. Hopefully, it will be boarded up before day's end; if not, I have my John Ashcroft-approved roll of duct tape handy.

[UPDATE: A piece of plywood is now holding back the elements and car alarms. Supposedly, a new window could be in place by early 2004.]

Fact Checking & Proofreading ... 

This week's The Stranger is all about year-end regrets and the chance to make things right before 2004. "But at The Stranger, just like at every newspaper in the world (hello, New York Times), fuckups happen. The mark of a mature newsgathering operation is its willingness to correct those fuckups in print. So this week we offer, with much regret, all the corrections we should have published throughout the year but--due to various production and editorial errors, of course--didn't."

Most fun for me is the "Dept. of Bad Gramatical Things," by Scott McGeath, who is copy editor for the weekly: "Typos and misspellings and factual errors are almost impossible to avoid in any piece of writing: It's my job to catch them all and make sure they don't get into the paper. But get into the paper they do."
Probably the most insidious mistakes are typos and misspellings in text (phrases like "Huge House" instead of "Hugo House," from the July 31 Nightstand; sentences like "Are your local feminist correct?" from the Nov 20 Savage Love), but even more frustrating is recognizing an error and then... not... quite... fixing it. Upon reading the subheadline "Reports Show Cops Flaunt Immigrant Policy" ("Bending the Law," Jan 30), I quickly verified the second definition of "flaunt" in my American Heritage--"to show contempt for, scorn"--and then completely missed the usage note just beneath it, which states, "This usage is still widely seen as erroneous and is best avoided." Thank you for that!
It's amazing how easy it is for misspellings, bad grammar choices, and complete and utter cockups to slip past an editor. Every time I look at an issue -- during edits, on screen during layout, on page when checking lasers, on page after the thing is printed and mailed -- I find things that could have been phrased better or where some letters have been transposed or a missing or extraneous standing head or who knows what. Some are funny, such as forgetting the h in "shift key;" others aren't, like when an organization’s position in favor of project was changed to opposition.

Anytime you're trying to shovel a ton of copy on a tight deadline (particularly in a small office that is short on staff), things like this will happen. Especially when you are trying to figure out things like the best way to write the name of the Belarusian pubcaster (house style prefers using Nacyianalnaja Dziaržaŭnaja Tzleradyjokampanija, a transliteration of Нацыянальная дзяржаўная тэлерадыёкампанія, rather than the official English translation, National Sate Teleradio Company) or are trying to add in the name of a certain minister of communications when the author only gave the person's title.

We print a correction (or just try to pretend that h was there), try to pay more attention next time, and move on.

Also among The Stranger's list of regrets:
The Stranger regrets that public schools across this country--in defiance of reams of incontrovertible evidence from language acquisition studies--still refuse to start teaching children a foreign language until they reach middle school. That's just dumb.

Monday, December 29, 2003

FUH2 & Other Transit Thoughts 

The digital camera was in the trunk during the drive home from New England, otherwise we might have been able to add a pic or two to F--- You And Your H2. Yeah, the site is a bit rude, but it is getting ridiculous how big so-called passenger vehicles are getting.

The other part of the problem is that sidewalks (or at least ones that actually take people directly from place to place instead of to street crossings a mile apart) don't seem to be in development plans anymore. Sunday's Washington Post had a good article on how hard it is to walk places, even in relatively near in suburban areas.

They are reworking and adding some sidewalks near where I work, which is good, but the construction planning seems to think that people don't actually walk around here. (Actually, not too many do: crosswalks are spaced at half-mile intervals (at best), and there are some very busy streets with the sidewalk abutting the curb.) In some cases the sidewalks on both sides of the street are torn up with signs directing people to use other side.

There also is a rumor that somesort of streetcar or light rail line could be run out to Bailey's Crossroads as part of this project. There's no sign of such an effort thus far, nor on any of the online sites, but that would be great. I'd love to be able to commute by rail to work (I can take Metro to work, but it means catching a bus or cab to get from the nearest Metro station to the office, and that means doubling the commuting time and/or spending an extra $20 per day or so).

[ADDENDUM: I did find one reference to light rail to Bailey's Crossroads. Back in March 2002, the Arlington County Civic Federation issued a resolution on Metro Expansion that would run from Falls Church down Route 7 to Bailey's Crossroads and then up Columbia Pike to the Pentagon. That is a line I would definately ride/use.]

If they do build a streetcar out here, I hope they look at the system being reworked in Toronto. They're using a special rubber coating on the rails to help improve the life of the system. It looks pretty neat. (Thanks to Ranting and Roaring for the link.)

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Christmas and the Aftermath 

Another holiday has passed. Evelin and made the drive up to central Massachusetts on Christmas Eve in the rain. Despite the weather, the drive wasn't too bad until we reached Connecticut. It seemed that most of New York City decided to take a half-day before trying to take the Merritt Parkway up to New England. We bailed somewhere before Bridgeport and took backroads up to I-84, which proved a bit less trafficked (for the most part).

By the time we arrived, Evelin's parent's family Christmas Eve party was well underway, although we weren't the last to arrive. It was a bit of a whirlwind after the long drive, but good to see everyone. The annual Yankee swop went reasonably well. There had been a bit of discussion about the "theme" this year and Evelin made the decision for the group that it would be a white elephant swop; there were a few genuinely nice gifts that ended up being wanted, but more than a few of them were found behind the couch and other hidden places around the house over the course of the next few days.

Christmas morning was nice. Evelin's brother and his girlfriend slept in a bit, so we were all sitting around for a while before the present opening could start. All in all, Evelin and I did well this year: Her brother liked both the real and gag gifts: He'd asked for a hat and gloves -- "workman style" -- so he got a hardhat and some chunky leather gloves as a joke to go along with the toque and cycling gloves he wanted (he owns a bike courier business). Her parents got the new kitchen trashcan they'd wanted. Her sister got a new waffle maker (although it turns out she did want a Belgian one, except she said she didn't because she thought Belgian waffles were square), and her husband got the Tour de France DVD.

Evelin got some nice gardening tools, a pair of earrings, a nice felt coat, a few more Christmas bears, and The Two Towers extended edition DVD. I got some books, Zoo Tycoon, an ice-cream maker, and a Red Sox cap allegedly from Pedro himself. We also received some artwork: two pieces of pottery, a piece of Haitian metalworking that will hang nicely in a window, a small oil painting, and a nice watercolor.

Instead of going over to Evelin's aunt's house for Christmas day, we all decided to just have a chill time at home. The thinking was that we'd seen 99% of the same people the previous night, and most of them were going to be seen (by the women at least) on Boxing Day for Evelin's sister's baby shower.

Of course, Evelin's sister being six-month's pregnant did make the holiday one of the more stressful ones I can remember. Had the IVF cycle worked, things, of course, would have been a lot different, but since it didn't, Evelin and I both had some down moments during Christmas. For the most part, we both handled it well, but there were a few grumpy moments.

That evening, mostly to get out of the house, Evelin and I went to see Peter Pan, which I though was really well done: good special effects, stuck well to the original book, all in all very well done.

On Boxing Day, Evelin went to the baby shower (she'd made a gingerbread Noah's ark for the party) while I stayed at her parent's house and read through two chapters of her father's baseball book, One Glorious Season. He has been working on the book for years, but has just got an editor and he wanted me to take a look at how the first chapter that came back from the editor looked. All in all, it was good; she'd reordered some things in a way that made the chapter flow a little bit better and helped sharpen the focus in a few places where it'd strayed in the earlier draft. However, there were a few other changes that I thought weren't completely thought out, so I noted my comments on that chapter and on the next one slated to go to the editor. The book looks at different ballplayers who had one breakout year during the 1950s and then never really performed at that level again. There are a lot of interesting anecdotes and stories in the book, and hopefully it'll be well received whenever it gets published.

Saturday, we took off early to try and beat the rush home. It didn't work. Around Exit 8A on the New Jersey Turnpike, the backups were sounding atrocious at the bottom of the turnpike and traffic was heavy where we were, so we bailed, taking Route 130 to I-195 to I-295. And then, as we got down to Camden, they were officially detouring traffic from the turnpike to I-295, so things were slowing down again and we ended up heading across the river into Philadelphia. Except for a brief slowdown where I-476 merged with I-95, that worked out well.

It was around 2:30 p.m. when we got to Wilmington, and we decided to take a short break to visit the Brandywine Zoo. I had seen the signs for the zoo from the interstate before, but it never really clicked in my mind that there was a zoo in Wilmington. It turned out to be a rather small place, but with some nice exhibits. The enclosures were small and on the old side, but the animals seemed well acclimated. The Andean condors were hopping around and flying a little bit when we came in, but the binturongs (which is what I wanted to see; I'd never seen a live one before) were just lazing about on braches. The otter enclosure was nice and big, with a decent underwater viewing window, but the animals themselves were nowhere to be seen.

Back on the road, we hit a ton of traffic as soon as all the cars coming from New Jersey merged in with I-95, so we bailed and too Route 40 through Delaware all the way to Baltimore. It made the trip a little longer, but I think I'd rather have to deal with stoplights than stopped traffic on the interstate.

That evening we unpacked and settled in to watch The Two Towers in preparation for going to see The Return of the King today. Wow. I know the moviemakers took some liberties with Tolkien, but it a fantastic movie, and Evelin's already looking forward to the extended edition DVD of part three.

After the movie, we walked around Union Station for a while, and I ended up buying a hat. I've been looking at fedoras and other classic hats at vintage shops for a while now, but I had yet to find one that both fit and looked decent. So, when we passed Incognito Hats, I had to look around. There was one that I liked with a smaller brim, but Evelin gently dissuaded me -- "It's not in your best interest" -- from that one in favor of the Lite Felt Outback hat. It's not quite the hat I imagined getting, but it's fun for right now ... now all I have to do is get a press card made up for the band.

The other thing I found out is that while my head is big, it's not the freakishly large head I thought it was. The hats in the vintage stores must tend to shrink over time because I always seemed to need a size 8 hat, which aren't easy to find. In the store, size 7½ hats fit fine.

Tomorrow, the holidays end and it's back to work or at least back to a short workweek.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Santa's Eight Tiny Giraffes? 

Okay, with the exception of some lines of collectible figurines and Toys "Я" Us seasonal advertising, I don't think Santa Claus is normally associated with giraffes, but a few years ago, Evelin and I went down to Louisiana for Christmas and took a side trip to Global Wildlife Center in Folsom. During the trip through the park, we got the chance to feed a reticulated giraffe (a mom with a young calf). They let us buy these big cups (about the size of a large soda at the movie theater) filled with a type of kibble. The giraffe took all of about 6 seconds to stick her tongue into the cup and pull out every last bit of kibble.

I also have been thinking about giraffes a bit since visiting the new Hall of Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History last weekend.

In the time since I started volunteering at the National Zoo, it's had Masai, reticulated and, now, Rothschild's giraffes (Randall is now in quarantine, but can be partially seen in the Elephant House; another male will come later, probably after Malaika goes back to Disney's Animal Kingdom). This is one-third of the number of identified giraffe subspecies.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (as of 1996), giraffes are classified as "LR:cd" (lower risk: conservation dependant). As a species, giraffes do not "satisfy the criteria for any of the categories Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable;" however, they are "the focus of a continuing taxon-specific or habitat-specific conservation programme targeted towards the taxon in question, the cessation of which would result in the taxon qualifying for one of the threatened categories above within a period of five years." Although giraffes are not endangered as a species, some subspecies are endangered. The Nigerian giraffe, for example, is now extinct in Nigeria and can only be found in Chad. Others, such as the Rothschild's giraffe, are threatened by hybridization with other subspecies as habitat destruction or well-meaning relocation efforts bring different subspecies into the same habitat.

The species name is Giraffa camelopardalis. The word giraffe comes from the Arabic الزرافة (zarāfa), which is purported to mean "tallest of all." Camelopardalis is the giraffe constellation and camelopard is the heraldic term for a giraffe. Both words come through Latin camelopardus from the Greek καμηλοπάρδαλη (kamelopardale), so called because giraffes appear to have the head of a camel and the spots of a leopard.

Thinking of their spots, while the evolutionary advantages of patterned fur are relatively easy to theorize about, exactly how the patterns develop is less clear. Since, with giraffes at least, the patterns at birth change only in size as the animal grows, something in utero lays down the pattern that will literally mark the individual giraffe for life long before the hairs themselves develop. Marcelo Walter's Ph.D. thesis talks about this a bit, even though his goal is realistic computer modeling of animal patterns. (The pertinent information is at the end of Chapter 2 "Models for Mammalian Coat Pattern Formation," which ends with a case study of pattern formation in giraffes.) In the thesis, Walter suggests that giraffe patterns are laid down around day 36 of development; giraffe gestation lasts about 457 days.

The nine subspecies and descriptions (drawn from Giraffe Lover) are:Some sources combine Kordofan and West African giraffes, Nubian and Rothschild's giraffes, and Angolan and Southern African giraffes, respectively, into single subspecies. Four other subspecies have been described, but are not widely agreed upon:And, here are a few giraffe links:[ADDENDUM: It seems Father Christmas paid special attention to Steffi, Dawn, and Crackers, the reticulated giraffes at the London Zoo.]

I don't know how much I'll get to blog during the holiday madness of the next few days, so Merry Christmas to all who mark that holiday, Happy the rest of חֲנוּכָּה for those who mark that holiday, and have a great couple of days to everyone else who doesn't have a holiday or celebration going on these next few days.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Google Doodles 

I was just noticing this year's Google holiday doodle, with the snowmen digging out the Google logo in time for Christmas. The search engine has a gallercy of the holiday logos its put up to mark notable holidays, anniversaries, sporting events and just for fun since 1999.

Commercials You Never Saw 

AdAge has published its look back at 2003's advertising, including a rundown of the 10 best advertisements that won't be shown in the U.S. There are some that are really well done and others that are bizarre, but most all of them make you wonder what Madison Avenue things of the average consumer in the U.S. if some of these sorts of campaigns wouldn't work in the States, particularly the Honda "Cog" commercial, which is simply amazing.

Other top 10 lists include the 10 most-watched videos on AdAge.com, top 10 non-traditional campaigns and 10 most-successful product launches. The most-watched videos include the two Chevy Chase commercials for Ülker's ColaTurka soda, which are really surreal. (Thanks to adrants for the link.)

British magazine Ad Breakdown also has relased its review of 2003 advertising (as reported by the BBC). The BBC doesn't include videos, unfortunately.

Thinking of television commercials, my favorite one of the moment is Pepsi's "Just Lunch" advert with the dog who steals the sandwich and Pepsi and then frames the cat. The first time I saw it, I died laughing and then I reënacted it for Evelin about seven times.

Monday, December 22, 2003

A Little More from the Weekend 

Sunday was a pretty sedate day: read the paper, go to the farmer's market and the grocery store, panda watch, pay bills, etc. The trip to the grocery was the first big grocery shopping we've done since the UFCW began informational pickets at D.C.-area Safeways. We usually go to Safeway because it's in our neighborhood, but this time we drove up to the Giant in Greenbelt. Although it doesn't look too good after management rejected union offers late last week, Kroger's did sign a new agreement with workers in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, so hopefully an agreement will get worked out in the Safeway strike out west and the agreement can be used to avoid a full-blown here when the local contracts are up in the spring.

The pandas are doing well. Tian Tian is acting a little odd, however, spending a lot of time pacing and ignoring some food (he's still excited for honey and biscuits, but it takes him a while to get to his bamboo). It's probably hormonal, although too early for him to be coming into rut, so who knows. The keeper said he had a few stretch of a few days like this last winter (maybe he's nervous about whether he's on Santa's naughty or nice list), so he's likely to return to normal until it gets closer to breeding season in April or so.

Two things I forgot from Saturday: That evening, around 9:00 p.m., Evelin and I heard a lot of sirens moving slowly through the neighborhood. We'd been hearing them in the distance for an hour or so, and when we looked out the window, what to our wondering eyes should appear, but two police cars and a hook-and-ladder truck (no tiny reindeer). Santa was atop the truck waving to all as he passed. We tore open the shutter and threw up the sash, and waved and waved and laughed and laughed. (Apologies to Henry Livingston Jr. and anyone who had to read that.)

Also, while at the National Museum of Natural History, I found another single-source chocolate — Jamieson’s 100% Ghana Cocoa Bean Chocolate. Unlike the Cocovic dark chocolate bars I found at Trader Joe's, the Jamieson bar was "rich milk chocolate" (37.8% cocoa solids). This made it a bit harder to tease out the elements of the chocolate that could be attributed to the terroir, but there was a bit of fruitiness that was nice to the bar. It would probably go well with something raspberry. According to the Jamieson’s website, they do sell a Robust Dark (70% cocoa solids) and a Mellow Dark (60% cocoa solids), as well as a few milk chocolates. (The Rich Milk one they were selling at Natural History is the least chocolate of the line, based on percent of cocoa solids; I guess the Smithsonian doesn't think its gift shops could get away with selling more hard-core chocolate or something.)

Sunday, December 21, 2003

My Kind of Day 

Evelin was so nice to me yesterday: We got to do all the things I wanted to do.

First, we headed down to The Mall to see the new Hall of Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History. Fantastic! The Smithsonian did a really good job with this, mixing dioramas with animals standing alone in naturalistic poses. Some of the animals were carried over from the old exhibits, and retain their old poses, for example the leaping tiger, but others are new additions the collection.

Actually, two new additions have me wondering: The two giraffes on display are both Masai giraffes, and a person at the information desk told me that they were not part of the old collection. Both Ryma and Griff, adult Masai giraffes at the National Zoo, died within the past four or so years and the zoo is part of the Smithsonian, which makes me wonder if the two giraffes on display in the new Hall of Mammals were Ryma and Griff. On one level it seems a touch ghoulish, but if the museum is going to display dead animals, I guess it's better to take advantage of locally sourced animals that died of a natural death rather than mounting expeditions to "collect" new specimens, as would have been done in the old days. The Natural History website has an interesting online exhibit about what the taxidermy team does to get the animals ready for display.

[ADDENDUM: Well, it seems likely that the giraffes in the hall are (were?) Ryma and Griff. An short article in the November issue of Smithsonian notes that while some of the animals came from the old Hall of Mammals, "The rest of the specimens -- including the orangutan, which came from the National Zoo [his name when he was at the zoo was Tucker] -- are more recently departed residents of zoos, game preserves and research facilities." The Holland [Michigan] Sentinel has a Washington Post wire story with more about the work of the taxidermists and a few references as to sources of the animals in the new hall.

addendum continued ... Actually, the idea of displaying animals at Natural History who were on exhibit at the National Zoo during their lifetimes shouldn't be surprising. In 1999, when Hsing Hsing, one of the two giant pandas given to the United States by Mao Zedong, died, there were plans -- delayed and eventually scrapped -- to have him exhibited in the Natural History rotunda near the African Elephant. There is a panda in the new hall, but it is not Hsing Hsing or Ling Ling.

addendum continued ... I'll probably revisit all this in another posting later, but according to a Washington Post article, some of the mammals were, in a sense, collected new for the new hall. Kenneth E. Behring, who donated a lot of money to renovate the hall, is a big-game hunter, and he donated some specimens from his collection for use in the new Hall of Mammals.]

From there we wandered back to our car, walking through the National Gallery of Art to avoid a little of the cold. I haven't been through there in a while, and we took a walk through the new sculpture galleries, which are really nice and flooded with natural light.

In the late afternoon, we caught a matinee of Love Actually at the Old Greenbelt. Super-cute Christmas date movie. I've liked Richard Curtis's other work (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Black Adder, The Vicar of Dibley, etc.), so I was looking forward to Love Actually and wasn't disappointed.

Afterwards, we flipped by Franklin's for a quick dinner and then it was off to the University of Maryland Observatory for its twice-monthly open house. After a short lecture by Elizabeth Warner, director of the observatory, about what's going on in the night sky during the first half of 2004, we got to take some peeks through the observatory's telescopes, espying the Pleiades, Andromeda, and Saturn. The Pleiades were similar to the naked-eye view, just greater distance between the seven sisters; Andromeda was just a bit of diffuse light; but Saturn was so cool. You could see the rings, even a bit of separation between rings. The person who looked before Evelin and I did was able to pick out moons, but we couldn't. Still it was really neat.

When we got home, I tried looking at Saturn through our binoculars, but it wasn't too clear. Then I realized I was looking through the wrong end (true story, embarrassing but true), but they still weren't strong enough to really bring Saturn into sharp relief. Plus, without anything to brace against, my hands kept wiggling too much to get a clear, non-wiggly view of the planet.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

"New Man!" 

Just a stray observation. My barber has a few stock phrases he uses over and over. Usually, there's not much of a queue, so you only hear things once or twice, but this morning, a lot of people were getting cleaned up for the holiday or something. The first stock phrase, said as he whips off the drape and holds up the mirror so you can see the back of your head, is "New Man!" The other, said when he's ready to tilt the chair back up after giving someone a shave, is "Time to wake up!" Both are said with a bit of a shout and a smile.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Polyglot Caroling 

I'm not 100% ready for Christmas yet, but a story over at FN's Ramblings about the Goa Choral Symphony's 2003 concert sounded interesting. The group is performing carols in a variety of languages:The last language, Konkani, is the national language of Goa and part of the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European languages. "Natalam, Natalam, Natalam" (Christmas, Christmas, Christmas) was composed specifically for the concert by Alberto Barreto, director of the chorus.

Digging around some, I found a fair number of Konkani resources online (although most of them use Roman script), including Teach Yourself Some Konkani and the KonkaniWorld Dictionary.

Krishnanand Kamat has an interesting article about The Origins of the Konkani Language, which includes some discussion of different Konkani dialects and other nearby languages:
If one has to see the diversity of today's Konkani language, one should travel the Indian west coast. In Bombay, they speak in Marathi accent whereas in Konkan, they stretch the words so that no outsider can understand! The Hindus of Goa liberally use the Portuguese words whereas the Christians use it as if it's a Portuguese dialect. In Karwar and Ankola, they emphasize the syllables, and in Kumta-Honavar, they use consonants in abundance. The Konkani spoken by Nawayatis of Bhatkal is very melodious with smearing of Persian. People of South Kanara do not distinguish between nouns of Kannada and Konkani, and have developed a very business practical language. They sometimes add Tulu words also. The Konkani of Kerala is drenched with Malayalam, and the Konkanis of north Karnataka add Kannada verbs to Konkani grammar. The city-bred use a plenty of English. To write Konkani, Kannada, Nagari, Roman, Arabic, and Malayalam scripts are used and this way, Konkanis declare themselves as members of world family (Vishwakutumbi). There is no other language with a possible exception of Sanskrit that a language is written in so many scripts.

I Thought I'd Added RSS ... 

Okay, so I'm still trying to figure out how to get an RSS feed to work on my free Blogger/Blog*Spot blog. I did sign up for the BlogMatrix RSS feed generator, but about one day later (and I don't thing there's a connection), the BlogMatrix box crashed. So until that's back up, the feed is not going to work.

After digging around, I found Blog Bloke's very clever way to manually generate an RSS feed that works with Blogger/Blog*Spot so long as you have some spare webspace to host the RSS file. It probably would work for me, but at this point I'm not feeling too pressed to have an RSS feed. (Plus, I'm hoping BlogMatrix will come back up one day soon.) That said, it is an ingenious solution, well worth considering for those who absolutely have to have an RSS feed for a Blogger/Blog*Spot blog and need it now.

Kiswahili and Ladino on the Radio 

I have always been enamored with radio. I remember as a child getting a clock radio for Christmas (one of the best presents ever). I would lay in bed turning the dial amazed by the different songs and programs I could hear and never quite understanding why the AM station down the street that I would listen to during the day would disappear after sundown, to be replaced by a station from Pittsburgh. This fascination with radio has continued (and I make my living writing about broadcasting), so it is no surprise that I was suckered in by the headline "Swahili broadcast strikes a chord on local airwaves" in yesterday's Prince George’s Gazette.

The article, by combining radio with languages, grabbed me on two levels. First, a local radio story that reminds me there's more on the air in town than college radio (WMUC-FM), NPR, Pacifica (WPFW(FM)), and very, very few commercial stations that can be listened to for more than a half-hour at a time. Second, I know there is a large African immigrant population in the D.C. area, but I didn't realize there were some 50,000 Kiswahili-speakers in the area, and that 9,312 people in Prince George's County speak an African-language at home. The article did miss a few details: The program, entitled "Sauti Njiwa," will be moving to WFAX(AM), 1220 kHz, in January and is an evangelical Christian program. According to the "Sauti Njiwa" website, the broadcaster is looking to expand its program to stations in New Jersey, Minnesota, Texas and California.

On a different note, "Morning Edition" today had a segment on a new album of Ladino music, A la Una -- In the Beginning by Sarah Aroeste. The album sounds interesting, mixing Ladino language and some traditional instruments/rhythms with more contemporary rock, jazz,. and dance music influences.

The segment includes some thoughts on the development of Ladino from Aroeste and Rabbi Marc D. Angel of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in Manhattan. One interesting comment (and the story is probably apocryphal), when asked to note similarities between Ladino and the other languages that it drew from, Angel pointing to the Ladino and Castellan Spanish words for God -- Dio in Ladino and Dios in Castellan. Angel said Ladino dropped the s from Dios because the s sound made the word sound plural and they believe in only one God. The segment concluded with Aroeste singing a Ladino Chanukah song, "Ocho Kandelikas."

[Sidenote: חֲנוּכָּה ("rededication") has only five letters in the original Hebrew. In English there are at least 17 ways to spell it, including: Channuka, Channukah, Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanuko, Hannuka, Hannukah, Hanuka, Hanukah, Hanukkah, Kanukkah, Khannuka, Khannukah, Khanuka, Khanukah, Khanukkah and Xanuka. Source: Biblical Holidays]

Looking further afield for more about Ladino, I ran across the Ladinokomunita:
News of the death of Judeo-Spanish (Ladino) have been greatly exaggerated. This beautiful Sephardic language is not only used daily, but it is the only acceptable language of communication in our virtual community called Ladinokomunita. The members of this Internet chat group, who may reside hundreds and thousands of miles from each other on earth, have discussions with each other daily via e-mail in the language they all understand. In other words, here, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) is indeed very much alive!
The site includes some MP3s of spoken Ladino, a quick introduction to the language, and original Ladino fiction and other writings.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Feeling a Little Antisocial ... 

Yesterday was the office holiday party and (like the past few such office happy hours), I skipped out of the office without stopping by. I actually got a decent amount of work done after most everyone else left, but I still cut out early to run some errands. I just didn't feel like hanging out, partially because I'm still not drinking and it get old telling people over and over again, "Sorry, I'm off alcohol right now; doctor's orders." The doctor's orders are a bit of a stretch at this point, but it's easier than explaining the whole infertility/IVF thing (a few people at work know, but I'm not really publicizing everything Evelin and I are going through -- well except on my blog, but I don't think anyone from work's run across it).

Last night, Evelin and I broke out the Christmas bears. We haven't been 100% in the Christmas spirit thus far, so no decorations are really up in the house, but I decided to pull out the bears so they're scattered across various pieces of furniture in the living room. Evelin's been accumulating the bears (most, but not all, are Boyd's) for a few years now, and I've been guilty of adding one or three to the collection each year.

One other thing, Evelin's gingerbread house is being used to raise money for charity. Her office has been participating in a food drive for food bank in D.C., so she decided to set up a raffle for the gingerbread house she made last weekend. As of last night, she’d raised $85 for the food bank, and they were going to continue to sell tickets today and draw a winner in the afternoon.

ADDENDUM: Evelin ended up raising around $130 for the food bank with the raffle. Since she didn't have any tickets in the pot, she did the drawing and pulled out ... the dean's name. The immediate call was to redraw (afterall, it just looked really suspicious for her to pull her boss's name), but instead he dean decided to give the house to someone else in the office who had just had his god-daughter and her two little girls move in with him.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Native American Languages 

After blogging about Elizabeth Seay's Searching for Lost City, I was poking around online for more info about Unicode support for Native American languages when I ran across Languagegeek.com. Chris Harvey has a nice site devoted to the indigenous languages of North America, complete with syllabaria/orthographies, keyboards, sample texts, and other information for 75 or so languages. (The languages of Canada's First Nations seem to be where he started, so some languages have more information than others and pages for a few languages have yet to be built, but the site looks set up to cover all 75.)

He also offers the Aboriginal Serif Unicode font. He has some interesting notes about Unicode issues, however; some of the characters had to be mapped to private use areas as Unicode has not set aside spaces for some of them.

Finally, Harvey includes an interesting article about the history and use of Canadian Syllabics. A PDF version is available for those who don't want to download Aboriginal Serif Unicode.

Random Thoughts on Flight 

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's lark over the dunes of Kill Devil Hills, but people had been going up in the air long before Wilbur and Orville. 21 November 2003 marked the 220th anniversary of the Montgolfier's balloon ascent from the garden of the Château de la Muette. (The Château de Balleroy Musée des Ballons commemorates that flight, along with the rest of the long history of ballooning.) Before that, in 6th Century China, early experiments with man-flying kites were made, and by the 13th Century, they were in common enough use for Marco Polo to make mention of them.

Back in March, we took a long weekend to the Outer Banks and visited the Wright Bothers National Memorial. It's a surprisingly sparse place, just a mix of sand and brambles with a small museum. Of course, things were still under construction for the new facility that opened last week. I imagine the exhibits are a good bit more than they were when we visited. Still, it was neat to walk over the ground where the Wrights conducted their proof-of-concept experiments and to see the markers noting the distance of each of the first four flights.

That was a nice trip, getting us out of town for a much needed break. We stayed at the Cameron House Inn in Manteo, which was quite nice; ate at 1587, which was fantastic; and spent a good bit of time exploring Roanoke Island, including Fort Raleigh, the North Carolina Aquarium, and looking for Mother Vineyard. We also visited two wineries on Knott Island: Martin Vineyards and Moonrise Bay, which had a really tasty sauvignon blanc that had some interesting, almost salty notes, that I attributed to its seaside origin.

The Wright Brothers also have a connection to the D.C. area, specifically the College Park Aviation Museum, which includes information about the Wright's role in military aviation and the College Park Airport's role as the first military flight school.

In the winter, driving home after dark, I can peek into the National Air and Space Museum, getting glimpses of various planes and spacecraft. It's one of those things that makes the commute home a little nicer, as well as a reminder of the images we have only in D.C. (Another would be the U.S. Capitol Holiday Tree, which was all lit up last night; I'm not sure when it went up things year, having been away from work and my normal commute since last Wednesday.)

One last thing, the Air and Space Museum Annex, a.k.a. the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, is now open. It's a gigantic facility (basically a huge hanger full of aircraft and spacecraft) that looks really cool. I don't know how soon before Evelin and I get out there, but I know my father will want to take a look next time my parents come to visit.

ADDENDUM: Well, it took the Wright Brothers about six weeks in Kitty Hawk before they achieved flight, so I guess it makes sense that today's re-enactment never really got off the ground. Now the replica is off to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

When's a Decorative Font More Than Decorative? 

While in Baltimore Saturday, I picked up a new book that looks really interesting: Searching for Lost City: On the Trail of America's Native Languages by Elizabeth Seay. It is in the same "language travel" genre as Helena Drysdale's Mother Tongues: Travels Through Tribal Europe and Mark Abley's Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages. I'll probably blog about it once I get a chance to read it, but based upon some flipping through and glancing at passages, it looks really interesting.

However, the one thing that doesn't quite irk me, but I'm not sure I like it either, is a question of book design. The language that sparks Seay's travels into Native American languages is Cherokee (specifically Overhill/Upper dialect), and the designers decided to set the title of the book in English, but using characters from the Cherokee syllabary that look kinda similar to the English characters -- ᎦᏋᎯᏒᏣᏂᎥᏂᏳ ᎸᏅᏒ ᏝᎾᎦᎿ ᏟᏐᎱᎩ (using Unicode; Code2000 and Aboriginal Serif Unicode support the Cherokee character range) or g7h9E/v/= km9 ^ng- CD!f (using the Cherokee font). The same trick is used for her name -- ᏋᏞᏐᏃᎪᏰᎬᎿᎻ ᎦᏋᎯᎩ (Unicode) or 7VDZqBz-N g7hf (Cherokee).

Although it can fairly easily be parsed as the English title, using Cherokee characters seems to slightly complicate things for a little stylistic effect. First off, for anyone who reads Cherokee (admittedly not a majority of the people who might encounter the book), it is going to look like nonsense: ga-quv-hi-sv-tsa-ni-v-tsa-yu lv-nv-sv tla-na-ga-hna tli-so-hu-gi for the title and quv-tle-so-no-go-ye-gv-hna-mi ga-quv-hi-gi for Seay's name. Second, the designers had to modify some of the characters to match what they wanted it to look like in "English." For example, Ꮈ (lv) is flipped on its axis to look more like an f, and Ꮒ (tsa) has its ascender squished in one instance to make it look more like a lowercase n. (In my rendering of the title above, I did not try to replicate either of these changes.) Also, the designers went out of their way to use "odder looking" characters: Ꭿ (hi) instead of Ꭺ (go), Ꮁ (hu) and Ꮏ (hna) instead of Ꭲ (i), Ᏻ (yu) instead of Ꮐ (nah) and so forth.

I've seen this done with Cyrillic characters on record albums, some book jackets (for example, GURPS Russia), magazine articles and other places, and I can't say it bothers me, but it also doesn't sit 100% right with me.

Catching Up 

No entry yesterday: I just didn't feel like I had anything to write about. I ended up working from home because of the 12:30 p.m. trip up to the fertility clinic to provide a sample for the SCSA test (results expected around New Year's). It didn't make sense for me to schlep all the way down to work, up to the clinic, and then back to work, so I said to hell with it.

Other than that, Sunday the snow and ice and sleet and rain kept one of Evelin's cousins from making it to decorate gingerbread houses, but her friend and two other cousins (one of whom was standing in for his sister who we originally thought was coming) made it. Here are two shots of Evelin's house. I'm not sure what's being pointed at in the one shot, but watch out for the garden gnomes near the Christmas trees. This was the first year Evelin's used sugar cones (frosted green or white) as trees for the yard. They worked out pretty well.

Evelin's 2003 Gingerbread House (front) From this perspective, you can't see the bubblegum chimneyGarden gnomes guard the ice-cream cone trees.


I offered occasional advice and encouragement and helped keep the one cousin occupied when he got bored with the decorating. (Which wasn't too hard, considering the amount of candy he scarffed up while working with his sister on their house: "Oops, that didn't work, I guess I have to eat that [insert candy name here].")

I also registered my beard with the National Beard Registry. It's registered beard number 1021 and I'm not sure if its new registered status means I cannot shave it off if I ever grow tired of it or something.

Oh, and on the baseball side of things, Miguel Tejada is headed to the Orioles. It looks like the birds are aiming to seriously challenge the beloved BoSox and the hated Yankees next year. That's fine by me; we'll just see how the rest of the off-season trading and haggling goes ... and then next year: Cowboy Up!

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Learnin Selchs for tae Spek Scoats 

Back at the end of November, I blogged about Hoover, the talking seal at the New England Aquarium. Well, it seems Hoover may not turn out to be unique if Dr. W. Tecumseh Fitch has his way.

According to the Guardian: "Fitch, a specialist in language evolution, plans to recruit undergraduates to 'hang out' with young seals in the hope that the seals will pick up human speech patterns."

The research is going on in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews. The goal of the experiment is to try to figure out why seals are able to replicate sounds, including (at least in the case of Hoover) human speech. (Thanks to Language Log, via 日々精進。, for the link.)

Dollar Days! 

What's a good day to visit a bunch of Baltimore museums? Apparently yesterday. The Downtown Partnership was sponsoring "Downtown Dollar or Less Days" this weekend with a bunch of the museums and attractions open for only $1. This was really cool, except that it meant the National Aquarium was beyond packed.

Rewind a moment. Evelin had a daylong meeting/certification workshop in Catonsville for the free-lance résumé writing/coaching she does, which was followed by a holiday party. She also had a coworker hosting a party in Columbia that same evening. So the plan was I'd drop her off at the workshop and bum around Baltimore for the day before picking her up and heading to the parties.

No problems, I figured it'd be pretty easy to waste a day in Baltimore; the city has a lot of historic sites and museums, as well as the aquarium and I could always take a return trip to the zoo.

I started off at the Westminster Burying Ground to visit the graves of Edgar Allan Poe. Yep, graves; there is a fair-sized white marble monument/tomb with a bronze portrait of Poe at the entrance to the burial grounds marking where Poe, his wife and mother are buried. But around back is a smaller gravestone (replete with a raven carved on the top of it) marking the site where he was originally buried. His grandfather's grave is next to that site. I then tried to visit the Poe House, about a half-mile away from the gravesite, but it didn't open until noon.

Instead, I ended up at the Maryland Historical Society (MDHS) to look at the new Carey Center for Maryland Life and the "Looking for Liberty" exhibition, which quickly traces the social history of Maryland with breakouts on the side that look at defense, religion, industry, self-determination, and aritistic visions throughout the history of the colony/state. Here's where I first encountered the dollar days. I was expecting admission to be $3 or $4, but they only wanted $1, so I said, "okay."

Next up, I headed to the Fells Point Maritime Museum, which is part of the MDHS. It has some interesting looks at industry on the Baltimore docks with special attention to the Baltimore clipper schooners that were used for fast trade, including privateering, blockade running, the illegal slave trade, and the fruit trade. Here a Post-it Note covered the usual admission sign saying that entry was just a $1. I began to catch on, but figured the National Aquarium wouldn't be part of a dollar admission scheme.

I was wrong. I headed to the National Aquarium and found a huge line snaking around the construction zone that will become the Australian River Gorge exhibit in 2005. At first I thought it might be the ticket line (previous times we've been, there has been a long ticket line) and I toyed with the idea of buying a membership to the aquarium in hopes of being able to cut in line. Instead I found out, yes, the aquarium is just $1 today.

It was a 40-minute wait in line, and the place was packed inside. I got my dollar's worth out of it, but I was back outside in about as long as I'd waited to get it. The only exhibit I paid much attention to was the seahorses, sea dragons and pipefish exhibit because it is closing at year-end and these are really interesting creatures. Of course, that exhibit was just as packed as the rest of the place -- I'm surprised I didn't hear too many comments about being packed in like sardines -- and I moved as quickly as I could, just getting glimpses of sharks, rays, assorted fish, and a sea turtle on my way to the exit. Actually, one cool thing the aquarium has done was a special brochure for kids that directed them to the different animals that were in Finding Nemo: "You've seen the movie. Now, find the real thing!"

With about three-and-a-half hours before I was to pick up Evelin, I was on a roll. I started to visit the Baltimore Civil War Museum (again, part of the MDHS), but it's a small facility that I visited not too long ago, so I pushed on to the Baltimore Public Works Museum to check out the bits of old wooden water mains that are on display along with the neat exhibit that decodes the various utility access hatches and manhole covers used through out the city.

From there, I walked away from the Inner Harbor toward Little Italy and came to The Flag House & Star-Spangled Banner Museum. This was the home of Mary Pickersgill, who (with the help of her mother and daughter) sewed by hand the giant flag that flew above Fort McHenry during its bombardment by the British during the War of 1812 and inspired the poem by Francis Scott Key. The house is the second-oldest in Baltimore and while the docent was less than engaging, it was nicely restored.

I then retrieved the car from the garage and drove up to Druid Hill Park to see if the Baltimore Conservatory was finished with the remodeling job. It wasn't, so I drove around the park to the back of the zoo and got to espy a penguin through the fence. The rest of the place looked pretty deserted and it was getting dark, so I headed to the workshop site and waited (reading David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice in the car) for Evelin to finish up.

The first party was all résumé folk and a pretty nice scene. The host had two little dogs, one of which constantly would sit back on his haunches to beg (for food, petting, attention, whatever). It was really funny, especially as it made him look like an ewok. The second party had a really sweet dog, part lab, who was the pup of the host's parent's dog back in Colombia. He was so cute, and I must have spent a hour just petting him (there had been a group of kids at the party earlier who'd overfed him and helped tire him out).

Today is GH-Day ... gingerbread houses. We're not sure how many people will make the trek in the snow and ice, but Evelin invited a friend and three cousins over to decorate gingerbread houses. It's something she's done every year for the past ten or so (and she regularly made gingerbread houses as a kid). I tend to get too frustrated by trying to recreate architectural elements in candy for it be fun for me to participate, but I do like to hang around, stealing bits of cookie and candy and offering suggestions. For example, a few years ago, I pulled out the drill as a joke, but it turned out pretty handy for punching small holes into the gingerbread snowman for eyes and attaching licorice arms.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Running Against Bush 

I'm not a runner*, but I just got this from the local Howard Dean mailing list:
Looking for a fun and easy way to express your displeasure with the current administration? Do you like to exercise? We have the perfect way for you to do both at the same time. Come join the "Run Against Bush" team. Our vision is to motivate thousands of Americans to participate in road races in a National "Run Against Bush" campaign.
The first race targeted for participation is the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Race. The URL for Run Against Bush is http://www.runagainstbush.org/.

* I actually was starting to run a few years ago, building up my distance and doing okay with it (although I never really got to a place where I enjoyed it; I had more fun doing sprints rather than distance), but then I blew out my ACL skiing. The ACL is all repaired now, but I just never have felt like going back to running.

Dumbest IVF Law ... Ever 

I realize that there are a lot of things about IVF that make people uncomfortable.

There are embryos being created that may never have the chance to develop beyond the blastocyst stage even if they are healthy. (For example, if a couple produces six healthy embryos, implants two and freezes the rest, then they have twins and decide that's the size their family will be. The remaining embryos will eventually be discarded or, depending upon local laws and mores, they may end up being used for research.)

Or IVF techniques can be used to for gender selection or to avoid chromosomal problems. (This is part of what we are using PGD for, not gender selection, but seeking a chromosomally normal embryo because the ones we are producing normally are so chromosomally abnormal that if Evelin does get pregnant, the result every time thus far has been a miscarriage.)

So Italy is looking to solve these discomforts by heavily restricting IVF [Guardian | AGI] in ways that make no sense.

The new law bars, among other things, any use of donor sperm or eggs; limiting the number of embryos that can be created to three and all three must be transferred; no freezing of embryos; no genetic testing of embryos; no surrogacy; no IVF treatments for gays, single people, or elderly women (I wonder how they set the age limit ...); etc. Human cloning is also banned, as is experimentation with embryos.

Sure, IVF is a complicated science that requires oversight and regulation; there is plenty that can be done that could be abused, but this law is ridiculous. Also, I know the Catholic Church opposes IVF (and frowns upon IUIs and a lot of other infertility treatments) and that the Holy See has a lot of influence within Italy, but there has to be a much better solution than this law.

If Evelin and I lived in Italy, right now we would be completely out of luck. Our next stage is likely to involve either donor sperm or donor eggs, oops, neither allowed under the Italian law. Our previous IVF cycle also violated multiple provisions: 32 eggs retrieved? Banned. 28 fertilized? Banned. Genetic testing? Banned. Okay, we did follow the rules by transferring the three embryos that passed the PGD tests, but we were planning to freeze viable embryos if we had had a bunch of them (an IVF cycle using frozen embryos is a lot less invasive, painful, and costly than the entire retrieval process).

Hopefully, wiser heads in the judiciary or among the populace, if it gets put to a referendum as some legislators are hoping, will boot the new law from the books quickly.

A Little More from Yesterday 

Evelin reminded me of a few funny details that I overlooked in my report on the doctor consults. First, our RE got really excited when he saw that Evelin was reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Apparently, he studied the book pretty intensively in 12th grade (or in the equivalent of 12th grade in South Africa) and he immediately wanted to flip thorough the book to see if he could remember how it started. He then asked us if we were Monty Python fans and if we knew the "Thomas Hardy Novel Writing in Wessex" sketch (thanks to Clarablog for having the text of the sketch up where Google could find it). He had nothing to say about the book I was reading -- Citizen Emperor: Pedro II and the Making of Brazil, 1825-1891.

Later, as we got into the possible problems and solutions, the doctor made a slight digression, saying that if we didn't want to pursue further fertility treatment/intervention/diagnosis, he couldn't say we'd never be able to get pregnant successfully on our own, but the most likely outcome would be more miscarriages and resultant physical and mental stress. He then counseled use of long-term birth control. It makes sense, but it seemed a bit odd. However, it's also a nice sign that he cares and doesn't want to see us getting hurt over and over again.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Doctors' Report 

Well, we had the two consults and all things considered, it looks like we have a few more tests that can be done before we have to make some big decisions. We went in thinking that we would be talking about a second IVF cycle, but the RE is against that at this point because we had such a high percentage of abnormal embryos. (Even though three embryos passed the PGD testing, the doctor thinks there is a fair likelihood that all three had undetected abnormalities -- either something in one of the chromosomes not tested or something in one of the cells that wasn't in the biopsied cell.)

So the next stage for us is to try to isolate whose genes are mucking things up. The greater suspicion is with Evelin's eggs, but there is a chance that it could be with my sperm. If it were a problem with me, our options would be a lot simpler (donor sperm is quicker, cheaper, and a lot less medical intervention than donor eggs), so we're starting with a couple of tests. First a sperm aneuploidy test will be done at the clinic, and then they'll send a sample off to South Dakota for a sperm chromatin structure assay (SCSA).

The science on this is still in flux (and the clinic is planning a wide scale experiment for next year or so), but there seems to be correlation between high percentages of aneuploidy and high percentages of DNA fragmentation. If either problem is evident in the sperm, it could explain the range of chromosomal defects that showed up in the embryos we got with our IVF cycle. One of the embryos was XYY and another XXYY, which are defects in the sex chromosome transferred from the male side, so there are some indicators that the problem could be me.

The other theory is that the mechanism in Evelin's eggs that assigns chromosomes to cells could be misfiring, which is possible considering the range of defects that the PGD discovered.

At this point, I'm going in on Monday to give a sample and then two to three weeks later we should know whether or not the problem is me. If it is, the first option is donor sperm. If it's not, we can do tests on Evelin's eggs, consider using donor eggs, or start talking about adoption.

Anti-Littering Campaigns 

Berlin has new talking rubbish bins, which the city hopes will encourage people to toss trash into the bins instead of on the sidewalk. According to The Guardian,
"We want to encourage people in a nice, funny way to throw their trash in the baskets and not on the street," said the official, Bernd Müller. The talking trashcans -- powered by solar cells -- are meant to show that Berlin is "a modern city with high-tech services, and that it is also very cosmopolitan."
The other fun thing is that the units are polyglot, with some saying "Thank You" or "Merci" instead of "Danke." At night, the bins will glow green, instead of speaking to avoid startling people.

I don't know if they still do or not, but when I was a kid, trash cans in New Orleans were painted purple, green, and gold (the colors of Mardi Gras) and featured a stylized person yelling: "Throw me somethin’, Mister!" Of course, this phrase is what people yell to maskers during Mardi Gras parades in an attempt to get beads, doubloons, etc.

Of course, such measures will not help keep raccoons out of the trash.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Exercises in Geekdom 

This is kind of cool: Student finds largest known prime number. I haven't been involved with the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, or GIMPS, but I have been "working" with the SETI@home Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project for a few years now.

Basically, the way such things work is by taking slack time on tons of home computer processors around the world, feeding them bits of data, letting the machines crunch the numbers, and then returning the results for interpretation to the main project computers. It's a really effective way of handling massive amounts of data without having to book time on a supercomputer.

Thus far, my computer (or computers, since I've changed machines at least four times since joining the project) has completed 1065 data units in a total of 29,721 hours 50 minutes and 07.9 seconds. And it's nearly 80% through with data unit number 1066.

As far as I know, no interesting communications have been found yet, but it's still a neat way for my computer to pass time when it's not being asked to spellcheck something.

What's in a (Place) Name? 

Listening to Marketplace last night, I got to wondering about specific place names that get used as synonyms for a larger community/industry. Immediately coming to mind are:Expanding the geographic size from a street to a city, and you get:The last of these parallels the usage of the political capital city of a county as shorthand for the government itself (i.e., "Washington is looking for allies in its war on terror," instead of the "the Bush administration ..." or "the U.S. State Department ..." or “Karl Rove ...").

Also, one time I was stopped by a police office for a rolling stop at a stop sign (this was in my youth; for years I have maintained a strict full stop policy) and he accused me of making a "California stop," I presume extending the image of California as a laidback place to describe a lax attitude on my part to traffic laws.

The capital-city-as-shorthand-for-the-government usage seems to be the most common one, and the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives as a second definition under Washington: "fig. The US government or any of its departments;" and as a fourth definition under Brussels: "The Commission of the European Community, with headquarters in Brussels." Hollywood and Wall Street also rate Shorter OED entries, but not the others (with the exception of Fleet Street) may be too U.S. specific for that dictionary.

So, the things I'm wondering are: 1) Is there a specific term for a place name that represents a larger community/industry? and 2) What other such place-names-as-synonyms-for-communities/industries are there?

Earthquake! and Water Rights 

Yesterday, a small (4.5 on the Richter scale) earthquake hit Virginia. Although the epicenter was down near Richmond, some people in my office claimed they felt it, and there were local reports of windows rattling and things falling off shelves in some parts of the region. One person in my office, a half hour after the quake passed, said she thought she'd felt something, but just thought it was one of "excited jumping things." Apparently, I've been known to jump out of my chair and to run out of my office, shaking the Mid-Atlantic in the process.

In other regional news, the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia does have a right to steal water [Washington Post | ruling | Richmond Times-Dispatch] from the center of the Potomac. Under the royal charter that carved out the Maryland colony way back in 1632, the southern shore of the Potomac River was designated as the southern boundary of Maryland. When the District of Columbia was carved from Maryland and Virginia, it got control of the Potomac where it ran through the 10 square miles, but when Virginia retook Arlington and part of Alexandria from the District, it's only got back what it gave, leaving the river in the hands of D.C. From its source in the Allegany Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia (and West Virginia) end where their shores touch the Potomac. (Chris Whong has an interesting site covering colonial era disputes of Maryland's borders.)

For decades, Virginia has been allowed to tap Maryland's water from an intake near the Virginia shoreline, however with all the people farms that have cropped up throughout Northern Virginia, the small streams that fed into the Potomac from Virginia have been damaged by all that construction. As these streams silt up, the Potomac is getting increasing levels of dirt and debris, as well as losing some of these small tributaries altogether, which makes that near-shore intake less effective. Virginia got the wise idea that it would be able to get cleaner water if it moved the intake into the middle of the river (far from the silt and crap it's been pumping into the Potomac).

Well, Maryland, which has been working to implement "smart growth" policies that try to limit sprawl and the environmental problems it can cause (such as silting up streams and decreasing water quality throughout the region). So it is no surprise that Maryland objected to the Virginia plan to tap the cleaner central waters of the Potomac. Sadly, the courts have now ruled that Virginia's right to provide its overdeveloped people farms with water that it has yet to ruin overrules Maryland's right to try to preserve the Potomac.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Blaugh ... 

I think I've crested the hill at work for the moment. A few fires are still smoldering (and one final proof, already late, has yet to be called), but I feel less 過労 than has been standard for the past week or three. Knowing the results of the IVF cycle also probably helps, despite how it turned out.

One thing from this weekend that's still bugging me is The Washington Post's series of articles about the National Zoo. The gist of things is that the zoo has lost a number of animals over the past few years, and there are some legitimate questions that have been (and should be) raised about that. However, this two-part article that outlines the deaths of 23 animals comes after a host of similar articles that rehash the same details of the same deaths over the same period of time. Perhaps the two articles would be more troubling had they not been preceded by article after article after article over the past year or 18 months that said the same things. As a keeper told me the other day, "It just makes you sad."

The articles leave the readers (as is evidenced in some of the comments this morning's discussion) believing that the curators at the zoo don't care about the animals in their charge, which is far from the truth.

The other thing is that the articles lack any sort of context. There are no statistics from other zoos to make a comparison about how well/poorly the National Zoo is doing. Mentions of rodent problems at the zoo don't point to the giant rat problem DC as a whole has. No mention is made of the years of cuts the Smithsonian and federal government have made in the zoo's budget, leaving it short-staffed with deteriorating infrastructure. The difficulty inherent in providing veterinary care to wild animals is understated in the articles at best. No mention of the total number of animals being cared for/healed by the staff vs. the numbers who have died. And so forth.

The other thing is that a lot of the charges seem to be coming from one individual, and there is little to no investigation of his motives. Dr. Donald K. Nichols just resigned from the zoo, citing "poor zoo leadership" as part of his motivation for quitting. I don't know what sort of internal politics are going on here, but in the Post articles and discussions, it sounds like Nichols has some animosity toward the current zoo leadership and it could be informative to know some of that background. Also, his criticism is coming from the point of view of a pathologist. It's real easy after an animal is dead to diagnose what is wrong: Wild animals try to hide disease and injury; to do otherwise would mark them as vulnerable to possible attackers and/or rivals. This instinct doesn't subside in the face of a veterinarian who has to make some tough decisions about the care of an animal, so I don't think it's reasonable to expect 100% perfect diagnosis. Hell, if the Post took a similar in-depth look at a hospital, I would expect to find similar problems with misdiagnosis. Although, with humans, it might not result in the same death rate, because humans tend to get extraordinary medical intervention compared to what animals -- even charismatic megafauna at zoos -- get.

I guess the most frustrating thing is that articles leave the impression that things are getting worse when they're not. The first time I visited the National Zoo as an adult, in the early 1990s, it left me with the feeling that things were really bad there. Buildings and enclosures were in rough shape, and the animals didn't seem to be happy. Now, there is a lot of construction going on and several new habitats, enclosures, and buildings have been opened. There are a number of younger animals (the aging collection at the zoo has complicated the health picture, another thing the articles understate). There are more enrichments available to the animals. This is not to say there aren't still problems. Some animals do display lots of stereotypic behavior (a sign of stress, unhappiness, and/or boredom), and some enclosures are still in terrible shape. But, all in all, things continue to look like they are improving. It's not the best zoo in the world, but it is definitely getting better every month, and it is far from the hellhole that the Post articles make it sound.

Monday, December 08, 2003

The Rabbit Lived 

The nurse called in the afternoon with the news: negative, without a doubt.

At this point, we have discontinued all the meds, and we have a consult with the RE and PGD doctors on Thursday, although they are unlikely to have any answers.

Rough Weekend 

The snow proved more picturesque than anything else. Friday was slush, but that night things turned snowy, giving us two inches or so by morning. I had to go into the office for a chunk of the day. (Japanese has a word that fits -- 過労 (karō), which means "work stress" and is the stem word for 過労死 (karōshi), which means "working to death.")

I got most of what I needed to done, but Evelin was left home alone with lots of time to worry about this cycle. She ended up using an ovulation predictor kit as a home pregnancy test, and it came up negative. I think, at best, an OPK would make an extremely imprecise HPT, and not too much faith should be placed in the results, but it definitely depressed Evelin.

I got home, cleaned the ice and snow from the sidewalks (I'd asked Evelin not to shovel the snow), and the we had a bit of a blowout over Christmas shopping (hers is 98% done, mine about 8%) and cards (100% vs. 2%). Based on my bickering-as-indicator-of-pregnancy theory, I took this as a positive sign.

Sunday was a lot better. We got cookies made to send our grandmothers (chocolate-peppermint swirls and date-pecan cookies, which adds to the anise biscotti and Basler leckerli Evelin already made and we may throw in some Lindt truffles). Evelin did most of the work, but I helped....

After running to the farmers' market for more eggs (I also picked up potatoes and onions for a gratin that worked out very well), I stopped in to Takoma Underground, where I found a neat little English-to-Italian dictionary of legal terms -- Dizionario Giuridico, volume secondo, Inglese-Italiano (Dott. A. Giuffrè, 1955). The really fun thing is that it has an ex libris bookplate from the Italian Embassy inside the front cover.

In the afternoon, I watched the pandas, who weren't up to too much. They've had a crazy past few days enjoying the snow, so by the time of my watch, they were both pretty much asleep.

Today is a bit tense. We had a 7:00 a.m. blood draw for the pregnancy test; results are due this afternoon and Evelin is having the clinic call me. (Sorry Anita, I won't blog the results until I talk to Evelin tonight ...)

Friday, December 05, 2003

Positive Thinking 

As of the past few days, Evelin hasn't been feeling too positive. She says she doesn't feel pregnant, and she's not noticing symptoms she's had during her previous pregnancies. I'm holding on to positive thoughts for a couple of reasons, however.

First off, we've not had a medicated cycle fail thus far. There's a first time for everything (to drag out a cliché), but the odds are in our favor.

Second, the last IUI cycle Evelin didn't think she got pregnancy symptoms, but we did get our highest beta hCG levels ever.

Third, by definition an IVF cycle isn't "normal." With all the drugs used before and during the process/pregnancy, the "normal" symptoms are sure to get all bollixed up.

Fourth, we have both been really testy and overly sensitive lately, pushing each other's buttons and being a bit snippy. I don't recall for the first pregnancy, but for the last four, we turned into the Bickersons about a week before we got a positive.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Wintry Mix 

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.
Ezra Pound's "Ancient Music" is a parody of the anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem "Sumer is icumen in," and I apologize if the refrain offends anyone, but it pretty much fits how I'm feeling about the weather system that's supposed to hit us tonight and to lag through the weekend.

Actually, I like snow (which is kind of odd for a Louisiana boy), but it seems to want to hit when I have too many things going on. I don't need the traffic troubles it is likely to bring tomorrow (or if I end up coming in to work on Saturday). Plus, the city still hasn't picked up leaves on my street. Even though the yard has been raked pretty clean, there are several big piles of leaves sitting beside the sidewalk and the street and now they're going to just sit under the snow/ice and mulch ... kind of like what happened last year.

Driving in to work this morning, the other winter thing that struck me is that DC has a fair number of memorials that include some sort of water element. But during winter, the water bits are shut off to avoid freezing problems/damage. Driving past the National Japanese American Memorial, I was thinking how the shallow pool part of the memorial looks a bit bare/ugly when empty. When filled with water, it creates a nice reflective surface that works really well with the large rocks in the pool and the rest of the setting, but empty it's no where near as evocative. The same is true of the Capitol Reflecting Pool in front of the Grant Memorial and several other reflecting pools/fountains throughout the city. I think the water elements in the FDR Memorial stay active all winter (and if they don't, well the memorial loses something -- the way water is used to represent times of trouble, war, and reflection is really effective).

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

A First Time 

I have been giving Evelin injections now for a while (albeit not continuously). The first was the hCG shot for the first cycle we did at the fertility clinic; and then there were Gonal-f shots and hCG injections for both IUI cycles; Lovenox injections for the second IUI cycle; and a-million-and-three injections -- Gonal f, Repronex, hCG, Lovenox, progesterone -- for this IVF cycle. Every time, I follow the standard procedure: set up in the injection, clear any air bubbles, make the jab, pullback on the plunger, and then inject the meds.

The idea with the pulling back of the plunger is to make sure the jab is going into fat or muscle (depending upon the type of injection) instead of into a blood vessel or the liver or something. Usually, it just pulls a little air into the syringe and everything is ready to go. Last night, with the Lovenox injection, I hit a vein or something. I pulled back and a bit of red mixed in with the medicine. No big deal, I just pulled out the needle and prepared another one, and it only bled a little bit for Evelin, probably because the Lovenox is an anticlotting agent. (Her nightly progesterone shots now have to be covered with a Band-Aid otherwise that little dot of blood that the jab causes will take a long time to clot up.) I have gone through a vein or something before (making for a nice bruise), but that was the first time blood ended up in the syringe. It was kind of weird.

Other than that, Evelin says I have been very good with the injections. All the horror stories on the IVF message boards and the materials from the clinic and pharmacy and the tales from friends made it sound like each one of these injections was going to be super painful. But that hasn't been the case, thankfully. At first I was worried that I wasn't doing them right (how can the meds be working if they don't hurt?), but I guess we're just lucky...

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