Monthly Archives: February 2008

Leap Day

Happy Leap Day!

Leap year is one of those funny idiosyncratic facets of humanity that makes me love us so much. A lot of those peculiarities have to do with time: daylight saving time, work weeks, lunch time, clocks, and even time itself are all a little bit strange if you think about them enough.

Does anyone remember The Pirates of Penzance? I think that movie is my earliest memory of an on-screen kiss. Plus there’s a cool application of the leap-year phenomenon when the main character realizes he’s a lot younger than he appears because he was born on a Leap Day (I know that this isn’t how it actually works, but this is probably the means through which I actually learned what a Leap Year is).

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Posted by on February 29, 2008 in Entertainment


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Spy in the Base

eBay is sketchy. Every time I complete a transaction, I sort of expect the worst. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when I ordered The Orange Box (PC version), and the installation key they included with the game didn’t work because it had already been used. The seller was legit about it though; he emailed me a working replacement key which theoretically cannot be used again now that it’s associated with my Steam Account.

The game is good. Really good. Good enough that I’m considering getting the XBOX version as well, so that I can play Team Fortress 2 with my XBOX friends (waiting for some kind of signal from them that they are actually interested in playing it though). I beat Portal over the course of a week, even though I’ve seen the whole thing on YouTube. Knowing what was going to happen put a slight damper on the experience, but it was still fun. Hearing the Portal Song, “Still Alive”, in-game… earning it with my own sweat and nausea… made me a little emotional. Team Fortress 2 has been a delight. I’m terrible at it, but the class-based FPS has a lot of depth. All this praise and I haven’t even installed Half-Life 2, ostensibly the biggest draw of The Orange Box for many gamers.

In general I shun these games because they make me sick, but TF2 has actually been easier to handle than some others (Gears of War, for example), and I think it’s because of the “cartoony” design. This would explain why I never had trouble with Doom or Marathon on my old Macintosh, but when Half-Life came out for the PC I was instantly vertigoed. There’s something about the high detail level that is more vertigo-inducing.

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Posted by on February 27, 2008 in Entertainment


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Girls Disrupt Flight, Assume It’s Because They Look So Good

“… they were just discriminating against us because we were young, decent looking girls. I mean, no one else really on the plane looked like us, except us.” – Sarah Williams, victim of her own beauty.

See the CNN report here.  I don’t know what’s worse, CNN carrying this story, or me carrying this story.


Posted by on February 26, 2008 in Entertainment


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This Post May Contain Strong Language (But it Probably Does Not)

The conversation usually goes like this:

Friend: Wow. Did you hear the way so-and-so cursed me out back there? That was pretty bad.

Me: Yeah he sounded pissed.

Friend: Nobody’s ever spoken to me like that in my life, and I think I’m sort of sensitive to it since I don’t like to curse.

Me: I know what you mean – I don’t ever swear.

Friend: Yeah, I never swear either.

Me: No, I mean, I can count the number of swears I’ve said out loud in my entire life on one hand.

Friend: Yeah me… Wait what? Oh… What…? wow.

A post Dan put up about swearing has been on my mind for several months now. I was recently reminded of it when the topic of swearing on blogs came up here. I like learning about why swears are considered swears, because I don’t swear, but I don’t know why.


It feels awkward that I know this about myself, or that I have such an internal track record. I recognize that the words I have grown to count as swears are somewhat arbitrary (the ones I can think of start with f, a, s, h, b, and sometimes d). Avoiding these words can be hard; I remember dreading English classes where we read books out loud, because there was always a possibility that I would have to either break my streak or feign a coma. Somehow I manage to avoid typing these words explicitly (though copy/pasting them feels OK), but I admit that it feels strange when I type words like assist, as if I have to type them really quickly without pausing in the middle.

The silly part is that, like the children and teens we’re ostensibly trying to protect by censoring these words, I think swears all the time. Beyond that, I have no problem hearing them! They can often be best way to express yourself, and I sometimes find myself wishing I could use them (I can use them of course, but I’ve built up a mental hurdle about it). In the past few years I’ve resorted to using the cheat-words that often serve as swear replacements (e.g. “That’s freaking awesome”).

I’m not sure when I created this rule for myself. Obviously swearing was always discouraged at home and school. I do have one memory from my childhood of my younger brother telling my mother that I had said a swear (when I had not actually done so) and getting punished for it. The injustice of the situation was so infuriating, because not only had I not committed the crime in question — I had never sworn at all!

Occasionally I think I should just go into a room an swear my lungs out, just to get over the hurdle. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t done that.

[For completeness, most of the situations where I swore came at times when I was inadvertently (as in, without thinking) parroting something that someone near me said.]


Posted by on February 25, 2008 in Garbage In, Garbage Out


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Blogging as a Way to Think

A few days ago I wrote about some blogging tips I had gleaned from a talk by Ancient Wisdom Productions. I alluded to what some of my reasons for blogging have been, though that wasn’t exactly the reason for the post.

Today I saw a video of Clive Thompson talking about why he blogs (link via Baxt), and I think I have a lot in common with his motivation. As Clive explains:

I do it to sort of record stuff that I’m interested in, that I see, what I think about it. It helps me like literally think ideas out… I know [a concept] intrigues me, I don’t know why. As I write the blog entry, I literally develop the thoughts. So it’s a way of developing my thoughts, and recording them, so that you know, months later, I can look back and remember, and re-experience the stuff that I was interested in.

The focus of the interview was science and technology blogging, but I think the same reasons are broadly applicable. He also touches on the important aspect of user feedback, and reminds us that if you don’t want to blog, you don’t have to.


Posted by on February 22, 2008 in Alchemy


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Filing System for Research Papers

The Inbox Zero Google Talk recently inspired me to get my research life organized. E-mail organization was a logical place to start, and my desire to try to keep a low number of messages in my e-mail inbox was easily adaptable to the “process down to zero” method promoted by Inbox Zero.

Now I’ve moved on to research papers. For the last several years, I have collected papers in various places (PDFs in a references file, printouts all over the place). When I actually need to organize these for some reason (i.e., to write a paper), I typically go and download all the citations into either Endnote or Jabref, and then assign each paper a unique 5-digit ID number. Then, I put that ID number in the ‘label’ field in Endnote, and keep the PDFs and papers sorted by ID number in my computer and/or filing cabinet.

This system is great for finding things fast, as long as I know what I’m looking for. However, if I want a number of papers on a particular topic (let’s say, ‘synthetic biology’), I either need to do some searching within Endnote (which can be hit-or-miss), or I have to know by memory who wrote the papers on a particular topic, search for those authors in Endnote, and then retrieve the papers by their 5-digit ID number (my memory doesn’t do well at this).

In the end, I duplicate a lot of effort in finding papers that I’ve already “found”.

I’ve done a bit of googling on this topic, but nothing convincing has come up. The best resource I’ve found was at Ask Metafilter, and it’s pretty weak. Some of the possibilities I’m considering are:

  • File by category – This works well for quickly finding a set of papers on a particular topic, but it can fail when one paper belongs in multiple categories (either you won’t find it in the folder where you think it should be, or you will have multiple copies of papers in your file).
  • File by author – This has a lot of the same drawbacks as filing by ID number, but the added advantage of forcing you to think more about who writes what, and becoming more familiar with their names.
  • File everything electronically – This scares me, because I still prefer reading papers on paper. However, it would greatly simplify the storage and searching process. How bad is it for the environment if I just print a paper every time I need to see it?

If you are faced with the same problem, or a similar one, I’m curious to hear how you handle it. I know no system will work for everyone, but I’d love to try something that simplifies and streamlines the process. I’m also interested in comments about particular software or processing steps that you like.


Posted by on February 21, 2008 in Alchemy


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kk houz winz

My first lolcat, created as part of the icanhazcheezburger poker cats contest (link below):

crazy, funny pix

For details, see the online Poker Cats Contest. Also see the blog of the contest creator.

I think this means I’ve finally accepted Web 2.0… and lost my last shred of dignity.

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Posted by on February 20, 2008 in Entertainment


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