Sunday, January 31, 2010

Videos taken with my iPod Nano

My parents gave me the latest iPod Nano for Christmas. What a cool little device it is! Its chief purpose is to play music, of course, but it also takes video, and a few hours ago while fooling with the video, I accidentally pressed a button that took me to a special effects menu I didn't even know existed. So... here's my room on a sunny Sunday around noon, and here's what some of the effects do to it. (The original Nano videos are bigger and clearer; Blogger compresses them.)




Film Grain:


Tunnel of Light



Cyborg is definitely my favorite, and Film Grain comes in second. Imagine if someone from the Twenties, when film really looked like that, could see my Nano.

Oh my goodness, people! In ten years we'll be in the Twenties again, and then I'll have to say "Nineteen Twenties" to clarify what I mean! How can that be? How could the Twenties ever mean something entirely unrelated to flappers and Prohibition and the stock market crash? Tempus fugit....

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Interesting effects of the Pill

I was in college when I first heard about the sweaty t-shirt research. Our immunology professor was teaching us about MHC genes, which code for proteins that present foreign antigens to immune cells as part of protecting our bodies from invading viruses and such. Theoretically it's advantageous to procreate with someone whose MHC genes are dissimilar from yours, to give your children a robustly diverse set of immune genes with which they can tackle a greater variety of potential threats.

So, scientists had a group of men wear t-shirts for a while, and then they gave the shirts to women to smell. The women picked out the men they thought they'd be attracted to, based only on their scent. And it turned out they'd picked men with dissimilar MHC genes to their own. Isn't that crazy? They could tell by the smell!

Well, more recently I found out what happened when those same women starting dosing themselves with the hormones in the birth control pill. They began to pick the wrong men:

After taking the pill, women shifted toward preferring genetically similar men. Women who did not take the pill slightly increased their preference for genetically different men....

The question, of course, is what happens when a woman taking birth control pills marries a man to whom she's attracted -- and then stops taking the pill.

Herz says marriage counselors who have never heard about these studies tell her that the No. 1 complaint among women no longer sexually interested in their husbands is that they can no longer stand how he smells.

And women aren't the only ones influenced in this way. Men are more attracted to women who are ovulating, and the scent of them triggers a testosterone surge. Pill users don't get that invisible pheromonal advantage in the middle of the month, since the Pill stops ovulation. This has a bearing on the next article too, in which a scientist speculates that the Pill is responsible for the shift from the masculine movie stars of the sixties to the baby-faced stars of today. Women prefer more masculine-looking men when they're ovulating, so it's a reasonable theory that a nation with more Pill usage and fewer ovulating women would begin to prefer less masculine-looking movie stars. I wonder if that's also why beards have fallen so far out of fashion?

Even the environment is affected by all this. Male fish in our rivers are becoming feminized, and studies have linked this to all the female hormones in the Pill that eventually seep into the water supply. Which leads to a disturbing question: if all the extra estrogen does that to male fish, what is it doing to male humans? According to research I remember but am too lazy to look up, infertility is a much greater problem than it used to be, even after accounting for the higher average age of marriage, and the human male sperm count has been dropping for decades.

Environmental problems and t-shirt studies aside, I wouldn't use the Pill not only because it's a contraceptive but because it's an abortifacient. That is, it not only acts to prevent ovulation (and thus conception), but when breakthrough ovulation occurs anyway and the resulting egg is fertilized, it's unable to implant in the womb because of how the Pill's hormones affect the lining of the uterus, so the embryo dies instead. That information needs to become much better known, since it's very pertinent to the decision of anyone who believes that life begins at conception!

But anyway, I find all this research fascinating. How do you like knowing how much you're affected by your hormones? Or better yet, by invisible, odorless pheromones, wafting from someone else's body, right up into your nose? I've encountered this whenever I live with other young women and we find our cycles synchronize... and it's just weird!

Four fun videos

My cat's scared of a tiny dog half her size, but this cat runs off a bear:

Clever bottlenose dolphins hunting for fish-- though my mom points out this is no more amazing than birds building nests or spiders weaving webs; it's just that this is a new behavior we're not used to seeing from childhood.

David Niven, trying to present an Oscar, is interrupted by a streaker. I love how Niven keeps his British cool, but you have to appreciate the streaker's timing too!

A digital reconstruction of Captain Sullenberger's flight and landing in the Hudson River.

Friday, January 29, 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday, smog and Candlemas edition


The recent rain washed all the smog out of L.A.'s sky, for a day or so. It reminded me of this well-known incident: An L.A. man had some out-of-town friends visiting him, and he took them on a drive up into the mountains. The car climbed the winding roads until they were above the smog line. They parked in a turnout with a nice view of the valley and ate their lunch while looking down on the dome of brownish haze that enfolds all Los Angeles in its smoggy arms. Suddenly the L.A. man began to have difficulty breathing. He wheezed, gasped, clutched his throat, whispered, "I need air... please..." and then collapsed to the ground. Fortunately he had quick-thinking friends. One of them ran to start up the car, and the other seized one of the brown paper lunch bags. He held the bag over the car's tailpipe until it was full of exhaust, then rushed to the side of his unconscious friend and held it over his mouth and nose. The L.A. man inhaled and revived.

In L.A. we don't trust any air we can't see.


In this video a soccer player collapses from cardiac arrest. After four seconds, an implanted defibrillator restarts his heart-- you can see his legs jerk when it happens. He got up feeling fine and asked to get back in the game!

What awesome stuff humans invent! God made us in His likeness-- He is creative, and so are we. Okay, some of us more than others. Okay, I never invented anything. Except some brownie madeleines I'll post about sometime.


On my nightly walks I'm still seeing about four houses around the neighborhood with Christmas lights on. Can they not bear to let Christmas go? Are the lights set to go on automatically and no one's noticed yet? Or are they deliberately waiting for the traditional end of the Christmas season on February 2?


Remember when Christmas was the only holiday we had colored lights for? Now I see orange and purple lights in October, and last night I saw a house all lit in red and white and realized the lights were little hearts.

Hurry and buy some all-green lights at a post-Christmas sale! You can market them as St. Patrick's Day lights in March. I want a ten percent cut for giving you that idea.


The Jewish law in Jesus' day was that every son had to be brought to the temple in Jerusalem when he was forty days old (girls at eighty days-- no one knows what the difference was about), and the parents had offer sacrifice for him. So Mary and Joseph offered two doves for their baby son Jesus. This is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and it falls on February 2, forty days after December 25.


The feast is also called Candlemas becaue of the custom of blessing candles on that day.

"Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall"

— Robert Herrick (1591-1674), "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve"


February 2 is also Groundhog Day, when the groundhog sticks his head of his burrow and if he sees his shadow, we'll have six more weeks of winter, but if the day is cloudy we'll have an early spring. It's no coincidence that Groundhog Day is the same day as Candlemas. Check out this old rhyme:

If Maries purifieng daie, Be cleare and bright with sunnie raie, The frost and cold shalbe much more, After the feast than was before.
[1584 R. Scot Discovery of Witchcraft xi. xv.]

Mary's purifying day is February 2, same feast. By Jewish law the mother was considered ritually clean and able to enter the temple forty days after the birth of a son. There's an interesting echo of this in the old but not extinct custom of the churching of women... but I've already gone on too long for quick takes.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I was trying to pick an airline...

...for a flight I was booking, and the cheapest tickets were for United Airlines. Second-cheapest were Southwest. Usually I fly Southwest and it's fine; I didn't know about United. So I went to Google and typed in "What's it like to fly United Airlines?" and quickly found this chart from which I learned that United has the lowest customer satisfaction scores and Southwest has the highest. That was an easy decision!

I'm just posting this to say how much I like the internet. I remember being stressed out in eighth grade when I had lots of homework to get done and I needed the encyclopedias but the library was about to close... and now all the information is accessible any time, right at our fingertips!

Unrelated cute picture someone forwarded to me. The email said that these two are best buds and live at the T.I.G.E.R.S. sanctuary in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Look, they're holding hands-- er, feet!

Friday, January 22, 2010

I love rain!

Growing up in L.A. County probably has something to do with it. We get rain so seldom that when it does come, it's usually the lead story on local news. I've seen strangers greet each other with, "Isn't this rain great?"

So I'm really lovin' this week. El Niño has kicked in and it's been raining hard since Monday. I keep leaving my basement lab to walk up to the first floor and look out the windows, just to enjoy the fact that there is actual water, falling from the sky!

More than that, whenever it rains I almost feel like... God is doing me a favor. Like He knows how much I love it and sent it specially for me. :)

My folder of favorite desktop pictures includes all of these. No lie.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's wrong with this email I got at work today?

Think about it.

From: [Name deleted]
To: biomail@*******.***
Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 8:53 AM
Subject: BIOMAIL: Biomail

To All Biomail Subscribers

Yesterday some subscribers to Biomail did not receive the NeuroLunch email notice. Spontaneous deletions from the Biomail list have happened in the past. If you would like to confirm you are still subscribed, please visit the following web site:

You have received this message because you are subscribed to the
Biology Division mailing list. To unsubscribe from the list, send
email to majordomo@*******.*** with the message unsubscribe biomail.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Altar server video

My friend Joe often serves Mass at St. Therese, one of my favorite churches. I usually see him on Sundays at the TLM, but here he stars in a training video for altar servers of the ordinary form Mass. My favorite part is at 1:45 where he walks right by Fr. Robert with his head down. :)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Find the cat

This picture shows her in one of her favorite hangouts (particularly when there are dogs or strangers in the house).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

St. Thérèse on falling asleep at prayer

The fact that I often fall asleep during meditation, or while making my thanksgiving, should appall me. Well, I am not appalled; I bear in mind that little children are just as pleasing to their parents asleep as awake; that doctors put patients to sleep while they perform operations, and that after all, "the Lord knows our frame. He remembers that we are dust."

I never argue with a saint. :)

Perhaps God wants me to get up early

My alarm is normally set for around 5 am, but last night I thought, "No, I need more sleep. Tonight I'll turn it off."

So this morning a REALLY LOUD THUNDERCLAP woke me at 5 am.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Maxims of St. Philip Neri

One per day! My favorite so far is this one:

He who wishes for anything but Christ, does not know what he wishes; he who asks for anything but Christ, does not know what he is asking; he who works, and not for Christ, does not know what he is doing.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Common-sense rule of fasting

A few years ago I was fasting from sweets-- I think it was Lent-- and after a class at church, one of my friends came in with a scrumptious-looking pan of cookie bars she'd just made. I had to turn them down and felt bad about it, since there weren't many people left in the room to eat them. Later that night I thought it over and resolved that for the future, all my voluntary fasts would be suspended any time there was a chance I might be hurting feelings by refusing food.

So yesterday I was fasting on crackers and tea (like bread and water, only easier, because tea demands cream and sugar!), and I went to the boss' office to report some results. He handed me a large shortbread cookie. And then he held out a carton of strawberries and instructed me to take the biggest, juiciest one. Now, how could I refuse such a kind offer in such a situation? One mustn't say no to THE BOSS! I was forced to mitigate my holy fast, and in conclusion, om nom nom.

Friday, January 08, 2010

It's a high of 74 degrees today in the L.A. area

Our tangelo tree is heavily laden with bright orange fruit, flowers are blooming, and birds are singing.

Heard it was a bit cold in other parts of the country...

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Happy Twelfth Day of Christmas!

The twelve days are between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6). Sometimes December 25 is counted as the first day, and sometimes it's December 26. I prefer the latter because it means this post isn't late. :)

I think it would be nice to have a penitential Advent and a quiet reflective Christmas, and throw the wild gift-giving extravaganza on Epiphany-- that's when wise men give gifts, after all... :) As it is, it seems like Christmas ended a long time ago already, although the Liturgy of the Hours is still celebrating it, with an Epiphany angle, so it's nice to go to church and pray it with others.

Ya'll know this song?

The Twelve Days After Christmas
(Frederick Silver)

The first day after Christmas, my true love and I had a fight.
And so I chopped the pear tree down and burned it just for spite.
Then, with a single cartridge, I shot that blasted partridge,
That my true love, my true love gave to me.

The second day after Christmas, I pulled on the old rubber gloves
And very gently wrung the necks of both the turtle doves,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The third day after Christmas, my mother caught the croup;
I had to use the three French hens to make some chicken soup.
The four calling birds were a big mistake,
For their language was obscene.
The five gold rings were completely fake
And they turned my fingers green.

The sixth day after Christmas, the six laying geese wouldn't lay:
I gave the whole darn gaggle to the ASPCA.

On the seventh day what a mess I found:
All seven of the swimming swans had drowned,
My true love, my true love, my true love gave to me.

The eighth day after Christmas, before they could suspect,
I bundled up the...

Eight maids a-milking,
Nine pipers piping,
Ten ladies dancing,
'Leven lords a-leaping,
Twelve drummers drumming...

(one girl speaks) Well, actually I kept one of the drummer boys!

...and sent them back collect.
I wrote my true love, "We are through, love"
And I said in so many words,
"Furthermore your Christmas gifts were for the birds!"

If you want something serious for Epiphany, I posted T.S. Eliot's poem two years ago.

Random fact: the reliquary of the three Magi is in the Cathedral of Cologne, Germany. In fact, it was the presence of their relics that demanded the building of the biggest Gothic church in the world. It took centuries to finish. A German co-worker from Cologne told me all that, and I trust him enough not to fact-check. :)

Progressively sillier videos

That's right, each one of these videos contains more silliness than the one before, until the last one, which is so horriawfully funny that it will actually kill brain cells. You have been warned. :)

First one up isn't silly; it's just a catchy commercial for the NBA that I wish I had on my iPod to jog to. Bill Russell at the end is a nice touch.

Next up is a link to a remarkable demonstration of how much more exciting golf would be if it were called by basketball announcers.

An MC Hammer backup dancer...

Pride goeth before a fall...

And this one appears to be a harmless cheesy 80's movie... until the 0:37 mark or so. Unintentional humor is the funniest.

Monday, January 04, 2010


I bought a Starbucks Venti Caramel Brulee Latte with whipped cream, and drank it down to the last drop. Then I checked out its nutritional information online. As I feared, that thing had 500 calories.

It's a good thing I didn't have any New Year's resolutions!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The album someone should record

I wish it were easier to find arrangements of hymns that a) Sing all the words b) refrain from dumbing down or politically-correctifying the words, and c) put the emphasis on the words, singing them clearly and not drowning them out with too many voices or a big orchestra or annoying vocal stylings by a singer more in love with her own voice than with the lyrics she's mouthing.

One album of classic hymns that actually meets these criteria is this one. Some classic Catholic stuff was recorded in simple style on this album. If you have other recommendations along these lines, do tell!

Now I'm in the mood to once again post the words of O Little Town of Bethlehem, because it's my favorite Christmas carol, and it's still the Christmas season until the Baptism of the Lord. :) This hymn is like an Ignatian contemplation set to music. In contemplation you take a scene, usually something from the Bible (the Gospels work well), and you imagine it in detail, the place and time and people and what they're doing, sometimes placing yourself there too. And then you reach into the scene to draw out the truth hidden in it, the underlying spiritual reality, and you draw that into your heart and apply it to yourself.

I'm doing the ten-week Ignatian Exercises thing at my church again, and today they were talking about contemplation, so that's why I suddenly made the connection. I keep thinking about O Little Town of Bethlehem because it moves me so much and can't convey how. I usually end up crying right around "The hopes and fears of all the years," if not before. I mean... what can I say? If all the TV shows that played on all the channels tonight suddenly went dark, and everyone decided to contemplate these words all evening instead, we still wouldn't be close to comprehending all their richness.

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep the angels keep
Their watch of wond'ring love.
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell,
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Tempus fugit too fast

When I was a kid I loved the movie War Games and thought a computer hacker must be the coolest person ever. It's too bad technology has changed so much that David Lightman's nifty tricks-- using a soda can tab to make a pay phone give him a free call, opening a combination-locked door using a tape recorder-- probably wouldn't help him much any more. But watching the movie with my dad again tonight was a nice trip down nostalgia lane. Except for Ally Sheedy.

There she is, playing Matthew Broderick's love interest, smiling because she's got a geeky guy and they're going to rule the world.

When I used to watch War Games, I thought Ally Sheedy looked like a very grown up glamour queen. So hip and daring, sassing the teacher and riding her motorbike and jogging right up to David's front door. She was a woman of the world. And now...

Now I think, "Wow, she's so young!"

Friday, January 01, 2010

Lightmoon virus, ugh.

The reason I'm not writing some insightful New Year's post right now, or at least getting useful chores accomplished, or even enjoying my recording of the Spurs flattening the Heat last night (they beat 'em by 30 points! Woohooooo!) is that every computer in the house, as well as cameras, ipods, external hard drives, etc., has been infected with some virus called Lightmoon. Fortunately it wasn't too difficult to clean most of the devices, with the help of Microsoft's free anti-virus software. (Just recently made available. It's called "Microsoft Security Essentials".) But one of the computers can't install the anti-virus software for some reason. I wonder if it's the virus itself that's blocking it? I'm trying to remove Lightmoon by hand, but the nasty little bugger modified some registry entries to allow it to run automatically at startup, even when I'm in Safe Mode, and once it's running I can't delete it; it just keeps re-creating itself. Naturally the virus also disables the regedit command so I can't easily fix the entries it edited. But there's probably a workaround somewhere, and hopefully I'll find it before I waste too many hours working on the problem, or blogging about the problem. :) Happy New Year's to you too!

Quiz time: my first sentence up there says "has been infected." Should it be "have been infected?" Do I make the verb agree with "every computer" or with "cameras, ipods, etc"? Grammarians, help me out here.

Update: The virus problem was taken out of my hands by two wonderful men who were visiting the house on New Year's Day. They tried to install Norton's anti-virus program, figuring that a program you have to pay for might do better than one that's free. But that wouldn't install either! Lightmoon was blocking all potential attackers. Undaunted, the men got on the phone with tech support, and eventually a genius in India took over our computer remotely and got the Norton program to install. Then came a big ol' virus scan, and the first defragmentation our computer has ever been subjected to in the five years of its existence. Lightmoon is now gone and everything seems to be running all right, thanks to our lovely friends.

If anyone landed here via Google and hopes to solve their problem without involving lots of money and tech support, you can check here and here for more info about the virus... and, um, good luck!