Monday, March 31, 2008

Between the covers


The NYT just ran an article about judging people on the quality of their personal libraries, as though this is some shocking new thing. Really, are there people who don't do that? (Sez the woman who dated a guy who didn't read for fun and who owned I'm guessing maybe 30 books total, but to be fair he was fantastisch in most of the other departments.) I'm with the Jezebel commenters who cite Kundera and Rand on their lists of run-fast-run-far dating dealbreakers, although if the overall library is diverse enough you can kind of maybe forgive it. On the positive side, namedropping The Master and Margarita is a-ok numbah one, finding out that a coworker had read Foreign Devils on the Silk Road made me happy for an hour, and I was tempted sore to perma-borrow a vintage cloth-bound edition of Paradise Lost that someone showed me recently, by force if necessary, because huffing dustmites? Is my anti-drug.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Wrangle wrangle

Tickets: Too much money.
Car rental: Not very much money.
Dental insurance: So very much money.
Wrangling cattle for a cowboy who once hollered at you because you declined to bulldog a charging cow: Absolutely priceless.

Which is to say: Tickets to AZ, I has them. Last year's fun was tempered by the need to get up at o-hell-no-thirty in very chilly predawn darkness. This year the weather should at least be warmer, since we'll be down there in May, and instead of layers of shirts I will be toting SPF Avogadro's Number to protect my neo-Victorian pallor. I'm almost more nervous this time, because working later in the season means more of the calves will be big and ornery, while I have not added much mass. Last year there were a couple of times when I had to yell for one of the guys to lean on my shoulders lest the calf on which I was resting my entire weight still manage to get up. I suppose I could line my chaps with lead plates, but that's some spendy smelting tailoring right there.

Dressaging this week was the usual fun. I got there early enough to snag Cappi, hah! And after just one week on Laura, I had to relearn to find his barrel. It's tough having long legs and a teeny horse. He was great, though; at one point he considered going back to his old left-evasion ways, just as I was bending him and asking him to reach down for the bit. But a little leg pressure, and suddenly he relaxed, reaching down like a champ and keeping his energy forward even as his head dropped. Bless. Max the square peg was back in class, doing his usual routine of "oh God, cantering, so much work, two strides is all I got, boss!" riiiight up until his rider slipped the crop behind her leg and smacked him smartly. Suddenly, as twere a miracle, he found all sorts of energy; she never tapped him again, but he had gotten the picture. Turns out he has a very pretty canter, too, so kudos to her for determination and timing.

Western was...well. I love me a Western saddle, I love having a single hand on the reins, give me a smart cow pony and watch me try to hang on. But it is ridiculously frustrating to work with horses that aren't consistently trained to respond to Western cues, and yet be told to improve my cuing. Not sure that this class will stick; I'm having trouble working with this teacher. It would be different, as would so many many things, if I had the money to keep and train my own horse, but for now I'm trying to grit my teeth and be zen with every bone in my body. "You get all tense," says Teacherwoman MkII, and it takes my limited self-control not to snap anything smart-assed back. (This counts as personal growth.) So we'll see.

Dinner tonight with Mr. and Mrs. JackZodiac at Restaurant K was a lovely treat. I got the chocolate pie, which comes with homemade sour cream and sour cherry coulis and which The Voice had gotten during our Restaurant Week dinner. It's still toe-curlingly, pass-me-the-cigarette, I-just-got-religion good, but I'd better do a hell of a lot of running around at the kite festival tomorrow to compensate. Swope's recipe makes the kind of dessert that can single-platedly shift your center of gravity. The fact that I had it after an orange/jicama/spinach salad with hibiscus vinaigrette and some luscious rockfish Veracruz did not help. Well, okay, it helped with other things. But I'm betting Danny wouldn't thank me for squashing his calves flat.

Reason hangs by such a slender thread

Humorous Pictures
see more crazy cat pics

I was caught mid-giggle by a spasm of twitching, because agh, THROUGH yonder window. It's through.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Information gradients

Mini-med is back from its brief hiatus, hurrah. Ooh, and it brought lemon squares. Digression ahoy: Patch clued me in to the fact that the best coffee in DC is to be found at Illy, an easy stroll from my office and oh-so-conveniently on the way to G-town. It's criminal that I've been drinking Starbucks froth when I could've been indulging in Illy's luscious crema. The only downer is that the artisanal steaming process takes forever, so you have to just stand there and think wistful thoughts of how much you would enjoy bathing in a vat of the stuff.

So this week's class actually was about drugs, or more generally the science of pharmacology, and since I'm not expected to do the calculus for titrating doses to correct maintenance levels over time, it was perfectly fascinatin'. We got a zoom-through of the basic principles of pharmacology: all drugs are poisons (if poison is defined as something affecting a system's function), there is no single-effect drug, the definition of the main effect versus the side effect can depend on what you're treating (for instance, morphine can be given for pain relief, with nausea and constipation as side effects; to stop diarrhea, in which case the buzz and nausea are the side effects; or to induce vomiting, in which case I'm betting you've already got the picture), the therapeutic window must be defined and sustained fairly carefully, et cetera. There was also a massive tasty infodump about normal neuron function, how lethality is defined relative to effectiveness, delivery mechanisms, the history of drug regulation, interactions between drugs, and the function of the most addictive drugs. Kids! Take your meds on time! Follow directions! Nicotine is bad! Cocaine is worse! Chewing coca leaves with ash enhances the buccal membrane's uptake of the good stuff! And so forth.

The downside of the classes is that some of the attendees use the Q&A periods to air grievances—"I had to show ID to buy Sudafed!" "Drugs are too expensive!" "My cat's breath smells like cat food!"—that don't add value. But other students ask short topical questions, such as how to set up a schedule for maintaining a certain minimum drug level if you don't want it to fall to zero before the next dose. Those people were also smart enough to sharrup and listen to the answers (which, for that question, is to use a loading dose: a large amount of the drug to start, followed by smaller maintenance doses). The information gradient is denser around the person with the laser pointer than it is around you, Mr. "I read in the New York Tiiiiimes that antidepressants have a substantial placebo effect and I'm going to imply that people who need Prozac are whiners and I'm going to talk over your answer because it sure seems like you should agree with me so that's my question." Is there a real-world way to rickroll someone without bystander casualties? God, it would be so handy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It has to be said

I love Jane Smiley in ways that cannot be textually rendered, even above and beyond her horse-world pieces (although if you haven't read Horse Heaven, you've got a treat in store). I mean, damn. "Bush and Cheney were hungry for war. Nothing they said could hide their eagerness. The story they put out, they had found out things, and they had explored all options, and now the invasion was a last resort, was evident bullshit. They never for one second had the demeanor of men who were thinking things over and weighing least bad options. They were hot to attack and impatient with anyone who stood in their way (the name Hans Blix springs to mind)."

The other bit of culture-conflict awesomeness, to which party I am fashionably late, is the flap about blogger/professor PZ Myers being banned from a free screening of a movie for which he had been interviewed and for which he was thanked in the credits. The topic of the movie? How intellectual dissent favoring intelligent design is—oh cruel!—being stifled on college campuses and how this is bad because it's important that everyone remember that belief in evolution leads to atheism and thence to the fall of civilization. And yes, the best way to demonstrate your commitment to free thought and open discussion of an issue is certainly to eject someone you know will disagree with you and whose interview you quotemined after getting it by misrepresenting your movie. But. BUT! While the movie's poobahs and their hired security did identify and bar Myers from the screening (for which he had registered under his own name, the foolish honest cephalopoidian creature), they let in Richard Dawkins. A grateful nation stands awestruck at this example of the difference between the fail simple and the fail EPIC.

Friday, March 21, 2008

They never forget

Baltimore's newest pachyderm pwns the cuteness index.


Two bits of fun geekly times. First, via Boing Boing, cometh the news that Warp Graphics are celebrating their thirtieth anniversary by posting the entire Elfquest corpus online. Elfquest was the series that got me into comic books, and the only thing to regret about the current project is that digital pages don't give off the smell of comic books fresh out of their "agh you opened it, so much for the resale value" prophylactic baggies. A whiff of that bitter papery smell flips me right back to Christmas 1986, lying in my new sleeping bag and going through 20 back issues that Santa had found in some strip-mall comics joint. Thanks for all the fun times, Pinis!

And then, via Making Light, points of common consensus.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Are we gonna need a bigger stick?

Pat's back! Dressage again! Generalized hurrah!

I was just too late yesterday to get either of my regular ponies, with one student snagging Cappi and the other sharking Grayson, although of course to steal Grayson is to borrow a world of potential trouble. I refuse to ride Edmund, because God did not make me with removable pieces or boundless wells of patience and calm, so I settled on Laura, a big gray mare who hasn't been a regular in our class.

It's been about four years since I was on Laura, which puts it back in the days when my teacher was a Slavophilic vet-school grad prone to saying things like, "Let us proceed to the ring, hortatory subjunctive!" Laura had recently come back from an enforced vacation, which had followed an earlier vacation during which she was turned out with a colt who people thought wasn't sexually mature. Oops, it turns out you really ought to check before assuming that. Bomp-chicka had apparently ensued. So Laura went off and had her foal, and eventually the two were separated and Laura came back to the barn. Oh, and she was still lactating. So then the game became keeping her from getting completely backed up and developing mastitis, but not encouraging her body to continue to lactate. Long story short, my teacher turned to me after the lesson and said casually, "Hey, want to learn to milk a horse?" Uh. Hm. Let me consult the files. Nope, nope, never had a weirder offer. But what the hell, nothing ventured nothing made into airag.

When I've seen Laura work in the years since, she's been kind of shlubby and reluctant, though not actively naughty, so I wasn't thrilled about riding her. But by the time I'd figured out how to climb onto her and get my legs adjusted (she' s at least a hand taller than my regulars and considerably rounder of barrel), she had seen the dressage crop and done some mental math. Conclusion: "Better do what the lady with the stick says." Not only did she move out at a solid working walk, she worked her ass off in the maneuvers, managing respectable leg-yields and turns on the forehand and bends to both sides while moving straight. We couldn't quite get the shoulder-in, maybe because by then both she and I were getting tired, she because she's out of shape and me because I too am out of shape and was trying to squeeze her huge bulk forward with my puny legs. All in all, though, the class went very well; it's heartening to find that I can transfer cues from horse to horse without too much trouble. The taste of progress is delicious.

After all the detacking and grooming fun and games, I went home to change and go back out to the gym. What kind of parasite has eaten my brain, I do not know, but it wants its treadmill time. Thank God for podcasts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Another knight of the Golden Age

RIP Arthur C. Clarke. I didn't read much of his stuff when I was hoovering up SF stories with the usual preadolescent enthusiasm, and I never cracked 2001, but damn if "The Nine Billion Names of God" doesn't have one of the most elegant closes of any short story ever. It was the kind of story that stuck in your mind, rousing echoes years later—"Hey, do you remember a story where, like, monks are trying to recite the names of God? And they hire a pair of engineers? Or am I making that up?" "No, yeah. It was next to 'Nightfall' in an anthology I had." "Oh right, the one about the planet with all the suns?" "And the fire? Right!" Then of course the corrupt president of Earth in "Babylon 5" was named Arthur Clarke, as part of Harlan Ellison's not-at-all-subtle series of references to classic authors (the evil leader of the telepaths was named Alfred Bester, and there was at least one other name dropped with the grace of a neon-green anvil). Dying at 90 in your tropical paradise doesn't sound like a bad way to go. [ETA from comments: Serialkarma's father called her last night to say, "I thought you would want to know that Arthur C. Clarke died tomorrow." Which, like Making Light's contribution, is a fine and proper epitaph.]

Dang, with all the excitement about Pi Day and going to see the National Geographic's amazing frog exhibit (waxy monkey frogs! Chinese gliding frogs! frogs by Leonardo, frogs from Mars!), I missed writing up the one event I wish I'd stayed in Texas to see: Bandera's Wild Hog Explosion. Hogs are an invasive species and do all kinds of damage, so there's very little love lost for them among country people, but the creatures are smart and dangerous enough that hunters treat them with a certain respect. None of which, it must be admitted, is evident in the idea of wrassling a squirming pig into a burlap bag, but at a guess the ensuing hijinks would be worth the visit. Add a beer and a Frito pie, and that right there is a good date.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Match It for Pratchett

Terry Pratchett, as has been mentioned here before, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It's horrible to think about someone like him having his mind eroded piecemeal, but it's a shitty diagnosis for anyone. Pratchett has donated $1,000,000 to Alzheimer's research, saying that he would eat the arse out of a dead mole if it would give him a fighting chance, and no sooner had the news hit the papers than fans set up Match It for Pratchett to make it an even million quid. You can stop by and make a simple donation, buy a t-shirt, or, if you're feeling flush, check out some of the online auctions (I hear tell that the Luggage, full of autographed copies of all the Discworld books, is available). Then maybe head over to one of the US Alzheimer's funds and give them something as well. To quote the Omnians, we are here, and this is now. Go do a good thing.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Limping toward Gomorrah

Did you know that horses are heavy? And that the hooves of them are hard? And that standing between a horse and her grain is not smart? If so, you're three points ahead of me and my big toe this morning. I've gotten so much better about not swearing in the barn, which since the place is full of moppets and their parents is for the best, but last night I backslid with a vengeance.

Last week, Heza and I had a horrible time, the kind that you get when the horse is in A Mood and you are in A Mood, and the two of you end up pissing one another off as though you were roommates and the infamous Who Cleans the Bathroom fight had reared its head again, but instead of maturely talking it out or just leaving it alone until you can be grown-ups, you stay in the same room and silently try to tweak one another's nerves. Like that. And my hip was acting up, so I couldn't press him forward without feeling the muscles on that side going numb in a way that portends an expensive visit to the Bulgarian masseuses, and Teacherwoman MkII was not sympathetic. I avoided writing about all this stuff at the time, because the whining, oh my God, the whining would've made all the dogs on the internet (oh yeah, like you don't know they're reading...what else is Sitemeter for?) apply for asylum in Brazil. So what with one thing and another, I was pleased that last night promised a new-to-me match, a short little chestnut QH mare named Molly. Her quirks are inconsistent speed, which I can handle, and not turning right, an issue that caused some of the aforementioned backsliding and swearing and eventually the use of stronger direct rein than I prefer. Sing it with me: Sommmmebody needs grounnnndworrrrk! She also wanted very much to be next to Sterling, which is a problem because he's a gelding and will never be the boy she wants; he knows it and therefore defends his space fiercely. But overall Molly and I handled things pretty well: She does downward transitions on a dime and responds well to soft steady leg, both things that I need to practice more, and I was happy by the end of the class.

But then, of course, back at her stall, I was stupid enough to leave my toes where she wanted her hoof to be, and instead of lifting her foot she tried to press through me as I yelled many loud bad words. The running I did later on doesn't seem to have hurt the toe any further, but if the nail ends up a casualty it's getting blamed on my hard-core fitness routine (*cough*) rather than on my equine idiocy, because after five-plus years I should know better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The girl in the bubble

Last night's lecture at mini-med school was supposed to be on drug mechanisms, including those of Prozac, booze, nicotine, and cocaine, and I was quite looking forward to hearing about all that fun stuff and why it's dreadfully bad for you and/or therapeutic. But schedules change and interest rates fluctuate, so instead we got a lecture about microorganisms, presented by a guy with a British accent and a professed love of "House" (although, quoth'a, on the show you never do see lab technicians; instead the poor team do all their tests themselves).

You know, I'm not going to go into details about this lecture, because it ended up giving me a bad case of the squeams. I am grateful that the poor transition from color version to xeroxed black and white slides in the packet means that the horrific picture of a newborn suffering from one of the nastier side effects of C. difficile infection isn't clear enough to cause flashbacks. "You'll not sleep tonight," the cheery presenter had told us at the beginning of class; hell with sleeping, though, I didn't think I'd ever manage to eat again. Also, while it's sort of interesting to see an infected GI tract with hundreds of neatly aligned colonies of bacteria, it's not at all comforting to hear that the air around you is probably aswarm with those self-same nosocomial spores. The line for the women's room after was longer than normal, because everyone was frantically scrubbing down.

Please forgive any typos. I'm experimenting with typing this from inside a protective dome of Saran Wrap. May we all live like Boiled in Lead: "Caffeine, sugar, and THC/ Is all the doctors are gonna find in me/ When they do the autopsy./ The microorganism won't get me."

Now 'scuse, I must go wash my hands again some more.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The wind cries, "Mush, you huskies!"

I'm a big fan of the gratuitous weirdification of the world, so when someone pointed out that the DC Idiotarod was being run this weekend, there was naught to do but haul ass down to the Krispy Kreme for sugar and photo ops.

Quite a few of the photos came out, but I'm sad that I didn't get pics of Team Suri You Jest (runners dressed as different Tom Cruise characters), Team Bluth (all Arrested Development characters, obvy), Team Flavor of Love (the cart included a stripper pole, and one of the runners did the entire route in stilletos, which is fookin' hard core), Team Walk of Shame, Team Naughty Nurses (free Brach's lollipops! only for boys, aw), or Team Nameless But Known as Those Guys Hauling an Actual Bar (arriving at checkpoints late but to riotous cheers). I did get shots of the Smurfs, the Zombie Marters, the Pirate Amino Acids, the Jamaican Cool Runners, Devo, and the Recycled Bridesmaids, all of whom were sweet about posing (Team Gore, above, were very photogenic). We must've been following the Leisure route, because even at a walk we were able to more or less keep up with the teams, always with an ear out for the sound of a rattling cart hurtling up behind us at speed. We saw a lot of drivers pull over to yell variations on the theme of WTF, and generally it seemed like passersby thought it was good fun.

As at Punkin Chunkin, people had put a lot of thought and effort into participating in a fundamentally silly event. With 364 days to go before the next one, it seems like we should be able to come up with something, because I really want to do this next year. Someone else will have to acquire the cart, though; I lack the steely nerve for such a life of crime.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Yeast is yeast and west is west

Pursuant to yesterday's post, I should mention that fasting in the Orthodox tradition involves giving up almost all animal-based foods, including meat, dairy, eggs, and fish, as well as olive oil and wine (technically speaking, alcohol of all sorts is verboten, but the Russians claim that beer is actually a form of bread and thus permitted—don't think about it too much). The week before the Great Lent begins, the Orthodox dip a toe into the waters of deprivation by giving up meat, and in theory you spend that week clearing the larder of all the remaining dairy products. Really you're building up a cushion against the coming weeks of thin food: To quote a small child of my acquaintance, when asked whether he was storing berries in his stomach instead of his basket, "No, I am eating them." So say we all.

Which brings us to blini. There seems to be a some disagreement online about the taxonomic differences between blini and oladi, but wevs, every thin spongy sourdough buttery pancake crepe-like thing I've had has been referred to as a blin. Back in ze old pagan days, when people got sick of the endless Russian winters, they made round warm yellow pancakes as an attempt to encourage the sun to get its ass back into the sky; these days, blini are an integral part of Maslenitsa ("Butter Week"), aka Carnaval for Slavs. It not being bikinis-and-feathers weather in that part of the world, samba parties are replaced with feasts of blini. The blini themselves help explain why, even when bikini weather rolls around, many of us are not fit for it.

God do I love blini. It's not enough that the average blin is made with eggs and whole milk, fried in butter, and kept from sticking to its neighbors with butter; it's got to have toppings at least as rich as the blin itself. Blini can be served savory, each person applying the appropriate personal measures of sour cream, chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped green onions, smoked herring, smoked salmon, caviar, and/or extra butter, and sweet, with preserves, honey, sour cream, and/or extra butter. It is not unheard-of for blini to be filled with ice cream or Nutella (although this is rare and considered faintly indecent). You can pile your doctored blini in layers and cut them into wedges for genteel forking into face, or you can roll them up like burritos and end up smeary with butter. In a wonderful example of evolutionary symbiosis, icy shots of vodka help keep the cholesterol from building up to lethal levels and the blini help cushion the effects of the alcohol. At larger events, there may be dancing to help you process your sudden lipidosity, but in smaller gatherings the evening is likely to wrap up with conversation, possibly dessert, and maybe a pre-bedtime serving of yet more blini.

This morning, after spending yestereve at The Voice's and putting away three generous plates of blini, four glasses of red wine, and several shots of vodka, I am not sure I will ever move again. Hail to the blin, says I. Hail to butter, hail to smoked salmon, hail to the people who managed to eat dessert. Hail most of all to a friendly and fattening farewell to winter.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Vernal equinox says what?

I'm with Idle Words about the differences in calculating dates for Eastern and Western Easter being "fearsomely complex and dull," but this year's five-week difference seems extreme. I vote we revoke the Second Council of Nicea's decision to nix celebrating Easter just after Passover and replace that idiot-proof calculation with a Twister-worthy series of instructions designed to make sure that Easter would be celebrated just after Passover, but without referring to the Jewish calendar. [ETA: I can't seem to get that sentence right. To rephrase, Constantine et al. wanted to ditch all references to the Jewish calendar, a decision that I think is completely bollocks. Better? Okay then.] Then the Western world made the Gregorian adjustment, throwing the calculations for equinoxes and such completely off relative to the intent of the Nicean decision, and oh, have the dates gotten borked. (Although, to look on the bright side, everyone else got to look forward to monster discounts on Peeps beginning in the 20th century. Progress!)

All of this is preamble to saying that it's traditional to make pysanky only during Lent, when presumably you pretty much give up on cooking anything fun and have nothing else to do in the evening while your tastebuds atrophy. The fast kicks off on Monday. The first two eggs are ready for their vinegar baths, Mr. DeMille.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Thanks a latte

Fun and games with my favorite bendy boy again. Eventually I'll get around to asking Pat to snap some pictures while we're working together, despite past evidence that seeing those kinds of pictures sends me into insta-despond at how gawky I look on a horse. I've taken some quick shots of Cappi while he's been on cross-ties, but they're never very good: He's always peering around to see whether I've manifested treats, or he's squinching up his face at something, or he's just glaring, ears back and mouth wrinkled, because I am taking pictures rather than FEEDING HIM or GROOMING HIM or otherwise making his life as he wants it to be NOW RIGHT NOW. He's kind of an enormous whiny toddler about the whole cross-ties and photos thing. Which is a pity, because whenever I see him being ridden I'm struck again by how cute he is, all glossy roundy black Morgany body and long thick show-pony tail, and I would like to share the adorableness. One of these days.

Cappi had been nicely warmed up at a jumping class, so as soon as I was in the saddle he moved out with a fine swinging walk, barrel rolling from side to side and helping loosen up my hips and back. He resisted some of the moves once he figured out that I wasn't going to let him just run around (in fairness be it spoken, he will do all the moves at speed), and at one point he thought about spooking at the wind, but overall we did pretty well. We even did some cantering, although to keep him from bolting we limited it to three strides of canter and about thirty of trot, repeatedly. He grumbled but obeyed. At one point Pat called for me to reset my inside leg, which had drifted forward, so that Cappi would bend more smoothly into the canter. "I can't just flail around and hope for the best?" She said no. "Well, hell, that's my whole philosophy of riding; now what'm I sposed to do?" The best part of the lesson was watching another student try to canter the new Halflinger pony, who runs with all the grace and coordination of a crate of beer falling down a flight of stairs. You don't want to laugh, because someday it could be you on that horse, but wow does it look as though cantering is something Max was not designed by God to do.

My reward after class is to spend a few minutes with QC, Pat's big pinto mare. QC greets me with a nuzzle and immediately stretches out her neck, suggesting that I might scratch along her crest and down her shoulders. In return she rests her head on my shoulder or arm and nibbles the seams of my jacket. When I turn to go she looks despondent. Pat is certainly her person, but QC has enough love to go around.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

You've got to love heme, and kiss heme, and squeeze heme

Short review of the first mini-med lecture: Loved it, learned a bunch, came away excited and thinky and, oh yes, grateful for my little hemoglobin molecules for working the way they're supposed to. Smooches, you guys! Keep up the oxygen binding and releasing!

Longer version: The first IQ test was finding the classroom, which I managed eventually. Reward for being such a good mouse? Free cookies. We all settled in, flipped our arm desks into place (agh, college flashback, agh), and looked attentive while the chair of the program introduced the series. He explained that the course is part of the medical school's initiative to reach out to the community, described the program's structure—four sessions on the science behind various disorders and four on clinical applications—mildly upsold us by pointing out that the autumn series includes lectures on gross anatomy ("That's when we can get the cadavers"; you know, we never think about the seasonal variation in available corpses, my dear Dr. Maturin), and introduced the first speaker. Meanwhile I was flipping through the presentation booklet and suppressing a little apprehension; page after page of molecular chains, diagrams of protein structures, and incomprehensible graphs full of actual Greek, oh dear. I limbered up my pennin' hand and hoped for the best.

Which best is actually pretty much what we all got. After we weathered the inevitable shrieky mike probs, it was on to the equally unavoidable PowerPoints, the hallmark of modern science. The speaker spent 45 minutes whipping us through slides on the basic molecular biochemistry of a functional hemoglobin molecule, from amino acid chain to the actual mechanics of action, with brief discussions of how altitude affects the molecule's ability to pick up and release oxygen, how carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin's receptors, and how the proton/oxygen exchange works. After a short break, he dove into how a single amino acid change affects Hb's function in sickle cell disease (Hb! yeah, we're such good friends, I use the nickname), how sickling occurs, how SCD affects tissues other than red blood cells, what the positive side of the mutation is for carriers who do not express the disease, what DNA tests are used to diagnose SCD in a fetus, what the current treatment protocols are, and what's currently in development.

It was both awesome and a little boggling that the guy got us through so much information, some quite technical, so quickly, and that, based on the follow-up questions, people appeared to have followed almost all of it. Kudos to him for being so clear and for so effectively taking my mind off the primaries, to the uni for hosting such an interesting event for so little baksheesh, and to the local buses for getting me home before I turned into a squash. Backpats for all (except Texas).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Don't pull on that, you never know what it might be attached to

I'm taking a flyer tonight on a new course, a local university's "mini-med school" program, eight weeks of two-hour lectures for the surprisingly low price of a hundred bucks. Considering that the school in question is notoriously expensive and miserly as hell, that's a steal even for a course that doesn't grant credit. I am too squeamish for most medical programs, as vitreous humor–covered lab partners from my high school and college days can attest, but I'm fascinated by medicine and sick of feeling stupid around my association's members (it is no longer enough to be able to say macroglobulinemia without stumbling), so this sounds like it might be a good compromise. There doesn't seem to be any unifying theme to the program, indicating that the planners may have pulled whatever speakers were available and turned them loose, but the scattershot approach has the virtue of allowing us to cover a broad array of topics. Sickle cell anemia, diabetes, drug marketing, medical interesting grab bag.

So that'll be Tuesdays, and Wednesdays will be dressage, and Thursdays, because we're finally inching out of winter, the barn will again offer Western classes. I am somewhat put out to find that this midweek block of edumacational goodness makes it tricky to get to the free gym during the week. Damn built-in excuses for being slack, as if I needed more of you! On the other hand, my office continues to offer lunchtime yoga on Tuesdays. Today, one of our staff fell asleep during the final relaxation; apparently this is not a new thing for him. Do you have any idea how hard it is to lie in corpse pose, thinking blissful glowing nonthoughts, while trying desperately not to giggle? Now that's a workout.