My playtoy for the day: Philipp Lenssen’s MapPhotos, which uses the new Google Map API to overlay Flickr photos on regional maps. (In order to know where a particular Flickr photo was shot, MapPhotos relies on them being geotagged.) It’s fun to scroll around areas I’ve lived (San Antonio, New York, Brookline) and see them through other people’s lenses…

From Title 4 § 8(k) of the U.S. Code:

The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

From House Joint Resolution 10, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this past Wednesday:

The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.

I’ll just come out and admit it — I don’t understand. (And apparently, neither does John Scalzi, who’s post on cracking the amendment ends with a comment I’d love on a bumper sticker: “Real Americans don’t take away the freedoms of other Americans.”)

Oh, THANK GOD! Go Spurs!

Watching the NBA Finals (can the Spurs please just play like they did at home all season, and finish this damn thing off?!?), I can’t help but recognize that the fine folks in Golden, Colorado want to mercilessly kill me with their insufferable “Love Train” commercial for Coors Light. I can’t imagine that there’s a lucky soul in this country who’s managed to escape the ad; it starts with a crew of bundled-up Arctic day laborers packing a shining silver train full of cases of Coors Light, and then the train rockets off into the distance. Next thing you know, the train has exploded onto the scene at a beach volleyball match, then shows up racing on a NASCAR track, and even blows through a Hollywood red carpet event, each time causing snow to fall from the sky and bringing icy-cold pisswater to the poor, unenlightened masses in its wake. I mean, this might just be the worst commercial in the history of people trying to shove their uninspired drivel directly into my temporal lobes; I’d rather take a baker’s dozen of Chili’s Baby-Back Ribs commercials, and top ‘em off with one or two locally-produced furniture warehouse ads. And sadder still, Ice T makes a cameo in the spot, making it hard for me to watch SVU without starting to hum “Love Train” and then want to use an ice cream scoop to remove any bit of my memory centers that might be holding onto that pain.

Of course, what else should I expect from the same company that claims their beer is the “coldest-tasting beer in the world”? WTF? That’s a claim so stupid it defies comprehension. “Try my widget; it’s the bluest-smelling widget on the market!” “Switch to our brand T-shirts — they feel saltier than any others!” Idiots.

Reason number 4,352,877 that you should run as far away from America Online as you can: AOL is now refusing to accept any email that contains a link to MetaFilter, saying that MetaFilter “is generating substantial complaints from AOL members”.

What jackholes.

At 8 AM tomorrow morning, I’ll be done with all my on-call time for my second year of fellowship. Wow, how time flies.

Take a look at this dialog box, and tell me the exact steps you’d go through to carry out the choice of contacting APC to upgrade your uninterruptible power supply:

APC dialog box

After selecting the radio button, do you click “Close”? Or is it “Tell me more…”? And if you check off “Don’t show me this again” but you choose the wrong button, how can you get this dialog to come back?

A few other irritating things about this dialog box:

  • It doesn’t show up in the Windows taskbar, so if you want to put off your decision while you finish other work, you then have to minimize all your other work in order to get back to the dialog box.
  • APC doesn’t provide any tool that actually tells you the manufacture date of the battery, but instead wants you to trust that the popup isn’t making an error in date calculation.
  • I bought this UPS under two years ago, sometime after I moved to Brookline, so either it sat in the distribution channel for over a year, or the date calculation is wrong.

Thanks go out to this month’s National Geographic issue for turning me onto Stanford’s website for the project to piece together the Forma Urbis Romae. Also known as the Severan Marble Plan of Rome, the Forma Urbis Romae was a huge (60 by 43 foot) marble map of the entire city carved sometime between 203 and 211 A.D., and it was detailed down to staircases, doorways, and arcades. Only 10 to 15% of the map remains, shattered into 1,186 pieces, and the placement of many of the pieces within the map is still unknown. By scanning photos of the pieces and recording information about them like texture, edge thickness, and the presence of any mounting holes, historians and scientists at Stanford are creating computer applications to speed up the process of matching pieces to their place on the greater map. Stanford’s website for the project is an amazing amount of data, a slew of cool photographs, an easy-to-use web database app, and beautiful bit of truly ancient history all wrapped up in one!

Because the NBA has not a single link to the audio stream for tonight’s NBA Finals game 3 on their home page, here’s the link to the RealAudio stream of the San Antonio radio coverage. You probably have to be an NBA Insider member to listen to that; the most galling thing is that I am a member, but in order for me to be able to use the service for which I’ve paid, the NBA made me dig around in my Real Player history in order to find a working link. (I’m on call tonight, and don’t have easy access to a TV; the radio coverage is all I have!)

I hate hate hate websites that are designed for advertisers and marketing tie-in partners rather than for users. And that goes doubly so for websites that take users’ money and don’t put the services that those users pay for right up front.

Update: the links appeared on at 9:00 PM on the nose. So despite the fact that the NBA forces local affiliate radio stations to stop streaming pregame coverage 30 minutes before the game starts, the NBA doesn’t provide coverage to its paid customers until the exact moment of gametime. Total morons, they are.

Hey you — yeah, you, acting like you don’t hear me talking — I have a favor to ask. If you’ve got ten to fifteen minutes to spare, wouldya be so kind as to help Cam Marlow get his Ph.D.?

(Funny thing — during the step where the survey asked me about five random links from my site, one of them was Cam’s own weblog. Awesome.)

This is sad: the state of Texas has had to take custody of a 12 year-old girl with Hodgkin’s lymphoma after her parents refused to proceed with her radiation treatment. More details are provided in a series of articles from the local Corpus Christi, Texas newspaper; it appears that Katie Wernecke’s family believes that her Hodgkin’s is in remission, and thus that she doesn’t need any more treatment. Additionally, the family appears to have read enough to believe that treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma without radiation is possible, and is furthering this as justification for their decision to decline radiation. Given that this information is from the news reports I’ve been able to find, I’m sure that it’s somewhat of a simplification, but it does appear to form at least the core of the family’s argument with Katie’s oncologists.

Whatever their arguments turn out to be, as a pediatric oncologist, there are two truths that guide most of what I do in the clinic: first, the achievement of remission doesn’t mean that the treatment so far is enough to prevent relapse, and second, there is a stark difference between what we know to be true and what we suspect may be true.

In terms of the first truth, the best example is that of the most common malignancy in pediatrics, childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). With certain treatment regimens, we’re able to cure nearly nine of ten kids with ALL. With reasonably rare exceptions, every child with ALL is in remission after the first month of treatment; one of my favorite conversations with families is when I get to go in and tell them that their child has no evidence of residual leukemia. That being said, we know — with decades and decades of the best data that could possibly be gathered — that if we were to stop after that month, almost every single one of those children would relapse, and relapse soon. For that reason, we continue on with an additional one to two years of therapy, therapy which includes additional chemo, and in some cases radiation to their brain and spine. Again, this treatment isn’t us oncologists just making a random decision about what to do, but rather is supported by decades and decades of data that tell us that stopping treatment any sooner than that, or omitting parts of that therapy, lead to unacceptably higher risks of relapse and death. (An important adjunct body of data also informs us on the importance of completely dealing with the leukemia the first time — relapses that occur earlier are much, much more likely to be untreatable and lethal.) While this example involves childhood ALL, the same data exists for most every cancer we deal with, and certainly exists for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

In terms of the second truth, one of the reasons I went into pediatric oncology is fact that most everything we do is guided by clinical data that supports its efficacy. Before adding chemo drugs to treatment regimens, we study them (first in cells, then in lab animals, and finally in patients); before taking parts of a treatment regimen away, we similarly study the alternative regimen to make sure it’s safe and doesn’t compromise our success rates. And here’s where there is a kernel of truth to what the Wernecke family is saying — there is currently a study being run by a national pediatric oncology consortium to examine whether there is a select group of Hodgkins lymphoma patients in whom radiation can be omitted from their therapy. But here’s why it’s just a kernel of truth, and not the whole truth: the hypothesis of the study contends that it’s only the truly lowest of the low-risk patients who could be cured without radiation, and in fact, an intermediate-risk arm of the study had to be closed because it was clear that the patients were doing worse (read: more early relapses). And thus, while pediatric oncologists believe to be true the fact that there’s a subset of lower-stage Hodgkin’s patients who don’t need radiation to cure them of their disease, we also know to be true that with the chemo medicines we have today, higher-stage patients require radiation in order to give them any chance of a cure.

Again, this is sad, mostly because the family and the oncologists weren’t able to come to a consensus that acknowledged the sometimes-bad side effects of treatment for a cancer that is certainly lethal without effective therapy. Hopefully, where the doctors haven’t been able to do their part to act in Wernecke’s best interest, the courts will, whatever the facts of her diagnosis are and whatever the outcome of the court hearing next week.

Do labor unions in cities other than New York and Boston use giant inflatable rats in their demonstrations outside union-busting companies? I certainly hope they do; it’d be mean to deprive residents of those cities from the sheer mirth that seeing a giant inflatable rat on the sidewalk brings to the soul.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post had a column about grade inflation written by Alicia Shepard, a journalism professor at American University. The piece didn’t approach the subject from the perspective of documenting the existence of grade inflation, though; that much was (and is) assumed to be true. Instead, Shepard relates how she and and other teachers regularly get harrassed (or even bribed!) by students to whom they give grades lower than an A, students who almost certainly don’t deserve As for their work but who feel that anything less is an insult to them. Similarly, she points out the growing feeling among teachers that a college education is shifting from being a privilege to being a consumer product, and that the shift is bringing with it a belief that the cost of the education alone justifies good grades, irrespective of the amount of work a student does to earn them. It’s all a bit eye-opening, and a truly sad statement about education in America.

dotster's ad

To be filed in the bin of continuing abuses of the net by companies that should know better: today, I got an email from the domain registrar Dotster (who I have patiently asked about a dozen times to stop sending me their ads) claiming that now’s the perfect time to register my .DE domain name for use with my Delaware business. What’s the problem with this? The .DE domain is the national top-level domain for Germany! To me, it seems a bit, you know, presumptuous to advertise another nation’s top-level domain as perfect for registrants in a measly U.S. state. (And according to the official German registrar, it’s also a mandatory condition of .DE domain registration that the administrative contact maintain a German postal address that can receive any and all legal and court documents that might be filed against the owner of the domain; I wonder how Dotster is dealing with this little stipulation.)

The city of Wilmington, Delaware has already started squatting in the domain space, but using a domain name that I’m certain causes them more trouble than it’s worth (“no, no, no, that’s the word ‘wilmington’, then a dot, then the letters D-O-T, then another dot, and then the letters D-E!”). With the jackassery of Dotster, though, I’m sure that’ll change.

Slate continues its reasoned look at the current state of airport security, this time in a piece penned by Christopher Hitchens. The pullquote that sets the tone of the piece:

The time elapsed between Sept. 11, 2001, and today’s writing (1,364 days) is only slightly less than the time between Pearl Harbor and the unconditional surrender of Japan (1,365 days). And airport security is still a silly farce that subjects the law-abiding to collective punishment while presenting almost no deterrent to a determined suicide-killer.

Shannon and I have been traveling a lot (wedding planning, birthdays, etc.), and waiting to get through security at the Philly airport about a month ago, I surmised that it’s only a matter of time before we’re all standing in long lines leading to the metal detectors, stripped down to our underwear, shuffling along and hoping that we don’t get selected for random colonoscopy. At least we’ll all have a little more motivation to stay in shape…

When I got home from work today, my neighbors were all staring inside a rotted-out hole in a tree trunk next to our house, something that I thought was a little strange. Alas, it turns out that a few days ago, they noticed a group of black-capped chickadee hatchlings living in the hollowed-out tree, and today, the new chicks started to try to venture out a bit. By the time I got home, only three of the original five were still in the nest; the other two found their way out, and had started to explore the area a little bit. Of course, neither of them had mastered the whole how-to-fly business, so we kept having to follow their (louder than expected) chirp to find them and get them back over to the nest area. They had their full plumage already, and were as tame as can be, allowing us to just walk right up and help them find their way home. One of the two was getting a little better handle on using his wings than his sibling, though, and within about half an hour had figured out how to flit back and forth from the ground to the nest.

I went out for a beer with some friends, and when I came back, the three inside the nest were still chirping away. It was easy to find one of the two out-of-the-nest chicks hanging out on the edge of our stoop by following the sounds of his chirp, but I never found the fifth one — maybe he was the one who was rapidly mastering flying, and had ascended into the trees overhanging our house. In any event, I wished them all luck getting through the night (there are a few street cats around here), and came inside to settle in. (If they’re still there tomorrow, I’ll try to snap a few pix!)

I couldn’t be more proud of Anil for managing to get a goatse T-shirt into the pages of the New York Times (article, including picture, also here).

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then consider yourself one of the few blessed people who still inhabit the internets. If you really want to know what I’m talking about, the Wikipedia has a safe-for-work explanation, with links to the not-safe-for-work versions if you really, really want to sear your retinas for all eternity. Once you’ve read the Wikipedia article, though, you should revisit the T-shirt page and see if it makes a little more sense….