Seriously, tell me that you don’t get a huge smile when you watch this:

How damn cute.


Obama’s victory last night was literally one of the most amazing events of my thirty-five-year lifetime; I sat there with Shannon, among a group of close friends and new friends, and soaked in the history of the moment. (Annabelle, alas, was asleep upstairs, totally oblivious to the raucous cheering, singing, and joy just ten feet below her.) As a friend said to me this morning, our generation hasn’t yet had a leader this inspirational — Barack Obama motivated more than 135 million Americans to get out of their homes and vote, and as of this moment, 52 percent of them declared that an African-American with a message of hope is the best choice to lead the nation. I’ve been smiling at random strangers all morning, noticed heads held high and spirits soaring everywhere I’ve been, and couldn’t be prouder to be an American.

All that being said, I’m also a bit disappointed in a few results from yesterday’s voting, each of which stands a bit in contrast to the monumental achievement of President-Elect Barack Obama.

First, Don Young (definitely) and Ted Stevens (probably) are returning to Washington, DC to represent the Great State of Alaska as its Congressman and Senator. Don Young has been Alaska’s sole Congressman since before I was born, and is almost certainly going to be tried and convicted of taking bribes; he’s also the one that faces Justice Department investigation for violating the Constitution by changing the text of a bill after it had passed Congress but before it reached the President’s desk for signing. Ted Stevens is a convicted felon, the fifth sitting Senator to ever be convicted of charges, and is almost certainly going to be evicted from Congress. If these are the people that Alaskans feel are their best representatives to the federal government, then perhaps Sarah Palin really isn’t out of the norm up there… and the state is being openly mocked by the lower 49 this morning.

Second, it looks like California’s Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to ban gay marriage, is going to pass — this, in addition to Florida and Arizona also voting for similar amendments to their state constitutions — is a reminder that while Obama’s shattering of a racial divide is notable, it’s all the more so because of the persistence of other divides that are equally shameful. For people to cast their votes to deny a class of fellow citizens the right to enter into legal relationships with the people they love is as abhorrent as it would be to tell those same people they can only love those of their same race, something that was certainly prevalent a few generations ago but now is obviously and mockingly bigoted and wrong. I can only hope that we continue our inexorable march towards greater tolerance, and we can wipe this period out of existence in the next generation.

Finally, in a similar move, Arkansas citizens approved a ban on adoptions by unmarried couples, in an end-run attempt to remove yet another privilege from gay couples by grouping them into the less-offensive category of people who live together but don’t have a certificate of marriage to validate their relationship. For some reason, these voters really feel that the nine thousand-plus Arkansas children in foster care are better served there or in group homes than with loving families; that’s just as bigoted and wrong as banning gay marriage, but it carries with it a real harm to the least-fortunate youth of Arkansas. What a shameful statement to be making.

There’s a huge part of me that wonders if there’s anyone at all who’s as positively passionate about John McCain’s candidacy as Charles Alexander is about Barack Obama’s.

I’m not being facetious — I’m totally serious. The past month or two certainly has made it seem that the Obama campaign brings out the most positive, optimistic, and heartfelt emotions in people, whereas the McCain campaign brings out feelings of division and outright hatred (“Muslim terrorist”, “Elect McCain, not Barack Hussein”, etc.); maybe that perception is a function of the sources from which I get my news, but I’m not terribly inclined to think so.

In any event, Charles Alexander embodies the emotion that I’m hopeful will elect the first African-American president next week.

I just watched my daughter roll from her back to her stomach, look up at me, and then roll back onto her back. If she does this like her other big developmental steps, I suspect that it’ll now be a while before we see her do it again… but I also suspect that our lives are about to change a bit.

So the more astute of you have noticed that things around here quieted down a lot over the past nine or ten months, and those of you who click through the links know why… so I guess it’s time to come clean and introduce you all to the fruits of all that labor1:


That’s Annabelle, born this past weekend — she’s perfectly healthy and perfectly beautiful, down to the tiniest of details. Shannon did an amazing job, and we couldn’t be happier to have grown our family by just over seven pounds of sheer scrumptiousness. We’re slowly acclimating to the changes that a newborn brings to our house, trying to bathe and get out of the house at least once a day, and wondering how it’s possible to love someone this much after less than a week of being in each others’ lives.

1 pun intended

Wow, it took my mom emailing me tonight to tell me that this site was totally empty for me to realize how bad things have become — it’s been so long since I posted that all my posts expired off the home page. Wow.

In my defense, life has become pretty busy, between the whole pregnancy thing, a bunch of weekends with visitors in town, and a ton of work. But I’ve also gotten a chance to take all the tools out and build a few great projects (a full wall of built-in bookcases at a friend’s house, a smaller built-in for our bedroom here, and a few gifts for people), and hopefully I’ll be able to keep that going over the next few weeks.

But in the end, this whole post is an excuse to get something, anything, on the home page here!

So, ummm… yeah, things have been a little quieter than normal around here, for a bunch of reasons.

First, I spent four straight weeks as the attending on the peds oncology service at work (rather than the customary two-week blocks we do), and while I thought that it’d be minimally harder to do, it ended up draining me quite a bit more than that. Between four straight weeks of earlier-than-normal mornings, later-than-normal evenings, weekend mornings at the hospital, and an unconscious fear of the pager going off, I found myself with a bit less time and energy to put into all the normal side stuff I do, meaning less time for blogging.

Second, even without the added clinical responsibilities at the hospital, my “regular” work (building bioinformatic systems for clinical research) has exploded a bit over the past two or three months. That’s awesome — I love what I do — but again, it means that I’m spending more time in meetings (and preparing for meetings), more time building specs and debugging apps, and more time on long-term strategy planning.. which again, means less time blogging.

And finally, Shannon and I have had a lot on our plate at home, what with a new project we’re working on. (For those of you who aren’t so much into knitting, scroll down on her post to see what I’m talking about.) Things are going well, but just like everything else, it all adds up to less time to just sit, chill, surf, and post! Pathetic of me, I know, and I hope to recover a bit now that my clinical responsibilities have diminished, I’ll be able to devote my full attention to my research, and things at home are in a groove of sorts…

(Of course, come mid-March, I make no promises!)

This is one of the dumber articles I’ve read online in a while: mothers whose husbands are stay-at-home dads feel badly when the dads become good at parenting. Are you f$!@ing kidding me? These people needed to go to marriage counseling because the mother felt like she was being “blocked” from what she felt was her natural role as gatekeeper of the father’s relationship with the kids? I love all the little vignettes and quotes, like when the mother felt delegitimized because her husband had a bathtub routine with their kid, or when she prided herself on forcing her husband to change his “parenting tactics” to meet her standards. Idiotic.

Oh, hallelujah — Google has finally released a version of Google Calendar that works on mobile phones! Shannon and I rely a lot on the online calendaring app, using it for everything from our own schedules to posting community and fundraising events for our Save Eastern Market website, and by far the #1 complaint I’ve had is that mobile access to the calendar has been damn near impossible to date. Now, though, I can both see my calendar and add events to it via the “Quick Add” functionality… looks like I’ll have to familiarize myself with the Quick Add syntax to get the most out of it. (And it’s sort of a bummer that there’s no ability to add an event to anything but the default calendar.)

Those who found themselves in a weblog-free cave for the past 24 hours might have missed the huge storm that erupted over the head of Kathy Sierra, the fantastic weblogger and author of more than a few great programming-related books; in a nutshell, a handful of people in the weblog world have been treating her to death threats and other pretty awful harassment for a few weeks now, and it finally reached the point where she cancelled her presentations at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology conference out of fear for her own safety. To say that the community response has been overwhelming would be a far, far understatement, and I won’t pretend to have something more profound to say than nearly all the folks who’ve weighed in on this already.

That being said, during my time in the pool today at lunch, I kept returning to a point that I think is worth making, so I figured I’d put it out there. Chris Locke, co-author of the original Cluetrain Manifesto and general crank-about-town, was named in Kathy’s post as involved to some extent, and we’ve learned since that he was one of the founders of, a weblog devoted to ripping various internet personalities apart and the home of some of the harassment against Kathy. Similarly, when went away, Chris started another weblog ( for the same purpose, and it was there that yet more harassment of Kathy started taking place. And when asked about all this by a reporter yesterday, Chris unrepentantly defended his involvement in the whole situation; his specific justification was that he was never the one posting awful things about Kathy, and that he has a guiding life principle that prevented him from taking down the posts of those that did, the “You Own Your Own Words” principle of the online community The WELL. The point I kept returning to in the pool is that in the 15 years since he was introduced to YOYOW, Locke and many others seem to have lost touch with the first “O” in that acronym, the concept of ownership. The YOYOW ethic at The WELL is rooted in the fact that the community doesn’t allow anonymity in any form, a situation which stands in stark contrast to the anonymity under which everyone participated in both and (and sites like Digg, Slashdot, and YouTube). In Locke’s little fetid nests, there wasn’t a single shred of ownership taking place; truly horrible posts were just shat out without a lick of accountability for the shockwaves they caused in people’s lives. And as a result, we all find ourselves here, with a reasonably prominent author and community member literally worried for her own safety due to the behavior of a few people operating under the anonymity granted to them by Locke and the others who ran both weblogs. (Incidentally, it’s also a great advertisement for communities like MetaFilter, where the combination of a reasonable barrier to entry and a strong moderator presence keep things incredibly civil and reasoned most of the time.)

You’d think that Locke, the author of the Cluetrain Manifesto would be able to hear the cluephone ringing loudly at his side, but apparently, his rage has made him deaf to the sounds of reason.

Seriously, I love that the New York Times wrote an article about the Capitol Hill house shared by U.S. Representatives George Miller and Bill Delahunt and U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Chuck Schumer. (And we’re reasonably close neighbors!) It’s refreshing that the four roommates have to deal with the same mundane stuff that all roommates do — who gets the groceries, which people aren’t making their beds, who deals with the vermin — yet wake up in the morning and cross the street to serve as leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress.

Am I really the only one who sees the irony in the fact that the company implicated in the bagged spinach E. coli outbreak is named Natural Selection? It feels like the sort of thing that, despite its seriousness, would have caused a bit of chuckling in the land o’ weblogs; in any event, it’s certainly an interesting Darwinian coincidence.

Wouldn’t you know that my Linux box — with a runtime of 200+ days — would choose this morning to puke and die, the same morning that was my very first as an attending on the clinical pediatric oncology service of my new hospital. As it played out, the server died at around 4:10 this morning, I left the house at around 6:30 without realizing it, and it wasn’t until Shannon sent me a message at around 10:00 that I had the “oh, f*@$” moment. It was a weird crash, but it’s back up and running (as this posting will attest!). Sorry about that!

One casualty of the move has been having time to keep up with the folks whose sites I read. The result of this is that right now, I have 2,846 new items in my syndication aggregator — pretty damn daunting. I guess it’s time to start paring that down…

For a good read, and a lesson in humility and respect to boot, check out this awesome post by Michael Bierut about calling Arnold Newman one day without having the slightest idea of who he was.

matt dances in front of the parthenon

I’ve been avidly keeping up with Matt Harding, the nomadic soul who quit his job three years ago in order to travel the world (and who has made a point of trying to get a video clip of himself dancing in nearly all his destinations). He’s landed at a roster of the most exotic places I can imagine, and each of his journal entries is a new chance for me to get lost in another culture for a few pages of exploration. His most recent posting, from Athens (as in Greece, not Georgia), is a great one — he actually got detained by the Athenian police for dancing in front of the Parthenon.

I’ve never had any experience with civil disobedience. I think of myself as a spineless wimp and I guess I imagined I’d fold pretty quickly, so it was nice to learn that I can withstand a little intimidation when the matter at hand is truly ridiculous enough.
I don’t know how I would’ve held up if there’d been anything serious at stake, like life or liberty. This was just about the pursuit of happiness, which trails a distant third for most of us.

The sad thing about the whole story is that while it’s easy to mock what feels like a provincial police response to Matt’s dancing, in today’s increased security throughout the United States, I’d bet anything that there are a million similar stories of other goofy tourists being unnecessarily detained by American security and police forces while shooting pictures and home videos in front of our famous buildings and monuments. (Just ask Thomas Hawk, who’s done a bang-up job documenting his own troubles.)

Update: did you think I was kidding with that last bit? (via Boing Boing)

Oh my god, I remember being mesmerized by the Sesame Street pinball number counting clip every single time it came on when I was a kid. I could be in our family room doing something else entirely, and as soon as I heard the chant-like number that starts the video, I’d drop everything, stare at the funky colors, and get into the music. Just listening to it brings back so much.

Some things I never knew: the song is officially titled “Pinball Number Count,” there were eleven versions of the video (two through twelve, with no version ever done for the number one), and the song was sung by none other than the Pointer Sisters. Awesome. (Via Matt.)

Sorry about the complete silence from the Land of Cheese lately — Real Life™ intervened (a dying patient, a push to secure my post-fellowship future, a semi-urgent need to upgrade the lifeblood of the Queso network, and a baffling attempt to understand the world of home financing). Things are slowly returning to normal, though, and I hope to be as chatty as ever soon!

In the mean time, I have to say that one recommendation I got over the past week that’s served me incredibly well is Matt telling me to give reBlog a shot. It’s a website syndication aggregator, built on the codebase of one of my favorite (but increasingly neglected) apps, and it’s just frickin’ amazing. (Matt authored a review, complete with a screencast, over at Lifehacker today.) Because of the aforementioned system upgrade, I actually uncovered a wee little bug in reBlog, but the code was easy enough to read that I banged out a fix for it over the course of a night and I’m now pretty much sold on the app. If you’re in the market for a web-based aggregator, go set up an account on the online demo app and see what you think.

If you want to be a wee bit depressed, head over to the Anderson Cooper 360° weblog at, specifically to the comments on Dan Simon’s post about the connections eleven women have made to each other after each underwent artificial insemination with the same donor’s sperm. In that comment thread, you’ll find such gems of wisdom as “these procedures rationalize polygamy,” “it totally ruins the very definition of a family,” “I guess these women have have little common sense or spiritual background,” “God designed marrige [sic] and families for a specific purpose,” and “how despising that humans have come to this” — all from a bunch of readers who can’t even lay claim to knowing how each of the eleven women came to her decision to undergo artificial insemination, but are damned sure that the decision was wrong. A bunch of the comments are enough to highlight what is, in my mind, a pretty big division in this country, a division between those who are willing to accept ways of living life that differ from their own, and those who feel not just that their beliefs are unquestionably correct, but feel the need to impose those beliefs on the rest of their communities.

I swear to you that when I saw the title to this TiVo Blog post in my syndication aggregator, I immediately wondered how my wife and I got roped into contributing… and it took a good 10 or 15 seconds for me to realize that there are probably other “Shannon & Jason” pairs that might exist out there on the web. Perhaps I should take this as a good reminder that it is possible for my life to be less wrapped-up in the online world…

This is the time of year when I get a little sad that I’m not going to be traveling to Austin to attend SxSW. I put in a good few-year run of making it to the conference, but last year and this, my work life here in Boston (and my two-week honeymoon in October!) has made it impossible for me to make it down to the great state of Texas. (Having spent two formative decades of my life 70 miles south of Austin, I actually mean that, at a minimum because of the chile con queso, breakfast tacos, and margaritas.)

Being that my training as a pediatric hematologist/oncologist has taken precendence over the web-geek side of my life for the past little bit of time, moving SxSW onto the back burner makes good sense — hell, when I went two years ago, my professional focus had already shifted enough that the talks and interactive sessions played a clear second fiddle to having the chance to see a bunch of old friends and meet a slew of people in-person that I only knew via email and instant messaging. And while it still makes sense that I dedicated my conference time this year to the annual American Society of Hematology meeting, I’m nonetheless sad that a sizable chunk of my friends will be getting together in Austin over the weekend, listening to great talks about the world of interactive media, eating amazing breakfasts at Las Manitas and lunches at Guero’s (I’m looking at you, Alison!), going bowling late into the night, and generally having fun.

I’ll miss you guys — have a big bowl of queso and a margarita (on the rocks, with salt) for me!

Seriously, I don’t know what to say about this story. The short version: Judith lost her camera during a vacation to Hawaii, and started a weblog about the vacation that was illustrated with other people’s Flickr photos. Earlier this month, she got a call from a park ranger saying that a Canadian family had found her camera, but when she called them, they had decided not to send it back to her because their nine-year-old son had grown attached to it — and ended up stiffing her for even more than that. Unbelievable. (Oh, and no comments here — go comment on Judith’s post, instead!)

This has to be one of the most fascinating advice threads I’ve read in a while: I feel after-school special. In it, someone (an adult!) relates a form of bullying that she experiences every morning on her bus ride to work, and asks how she might be able to avoid it; the wide spectrum of recommendations people make provides an awesome glimpse into the different personality types there are out there.

Now here’s a great story about the positive side of karma: Kevin Stephan, a seventeen year-old young man in Lancaster, NY, saved Penny Brown from choking to death a week and a half ago… nearly seven years after Brown saved Stephan’s life when he suffered a freak cardiac arrest.

Back in 1999, while on the field during a little league game, Stephan was hit in the chest by a bat and went into cardiac arrest. Brown (an intensive care nurse) was in the stands, rushed onto the field to help, and was able to restart his heart with near-immediate CPR. Now, fast-forward to last week, when Brown began choking on her food in a diner in Lancaster. The staff and other patrons called for the help of a volunteer firefighter who was washing dishes in the kitchen — Kevin Stephan. He came out and successfully performed a Heimlich maneuver, repaying the debt. Amazing.

Back in October, I wrote about some Bank of America customer deciding that he would use my Gmail account’s address as the destination for all of his online banking notices, and about how the BoA reps painstakingly claimed to not be able to do anything to deal with the error. The story ended OK, though — I gave them a second chance by calling back a few days later, and ended up getting a competent manager who found the right accountholder and then called him to ask him to correct his error. For two weeks or so, the notices stopped — but then they started right back up again, with the same last four digits of the account number. The realization that the same person put the wrong email address into his BoA account preferences a second time made my brain hurt, so I just put it on the back burner and hoped that it would sort itself out (ha, ha). Alas, they kept coming, so today, I called BoA again.

In contrast to that first phone call back in October, this time the company performed admirably. The first-tier rep understood how annoying this is and got me to his manager quickly (saying that he didn’t have the authority to browse the account database or cold-call customers). The manager spent a few minutes looking up every accountholder with the same first initial and last name as me (which corresponds to the format of the Gmail account), and in about four minutes, she had him. She promised that as soon as we hung up, she’d again contact him, and she’d also leave a detailed note in my account so that if when this happens again, it won’t even take this long to handle.

As frustrating as bad customer service is, good customer service can be even more gratifying.

levine kids, circa 1979

As Shannon and I blew through New York City two days after Christmas, my folks passed along another few batches of old photos that they had culled out of their huge collection. I’ve decided to try to scan a bunch of them for safekeeping, and had to start with this one — to me, it’s a great window into the individuality of me and my siblings. That’s Noah, on the left, looking pretty well-put-together (hair brushed, sleeves carefully rolled up, looking suave with his hands in his pockets), and Rachel on the right looking coy and mischevious. And of course, I’m in the middle, a little more dressed-down, hair wild, and goofing off as usual. Really, it’s perfect.

What a great use for Ask MetaFilter: a guy found a digital camera in New York City, and in an effort to find its rightful owner, he posted a few of the pictures to Flickr and then penned a post asking for help identifying the people in the images. A Flickr user has already identified the restaurant; let’s see how long this takes!

Update: looks like it isn’t going to work out, mostly because a few idiot members of the website Digg started complaining that the person who found the camera was infringing copyrights and otherwise violating the people’s privacy by putting the photos online. It’s amazing how idiotic people can be.

In the Atlanta airport, now: I’m sitting in my gate, waiting for my plane to board, and the teenage girl at the end of the row of seats is not only listening to her CD player at a volume that makes the music audible to half of the gate’s occupants, but is also loudly (and badly) singing along as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.

Odd behavior, that.

(Update: as the gate area has become more crowded, she has chosen to double her volume. Odder behavior, that.)

me at 3

Shannon and I spent a huge chunk of this afternoon cleaning up our house, and I found a cache of pictures my grandmother sent along to me from her collection. The one above is one of them, and I really like it! I’m not sure why I like it so much, though — maybe it’s the total bowl-cut, or the ringer-T (of which I still own about a dozen!), or the brooding look I’ve got going on. In any event, there I am at the tender age of three, about fifteen years from figuring out that that hairstyle wasn’t gonna cut it.

Wow, did I really disappear from the web for the past week and a half? Sorry ‘bout that; between finishing a push to get a new feature set added to one of my lab applications, spending the Thanksgiving weekend with the family, taking a quick day-and-a-half trip to our nation’s capitol, and getting ready for an upcoming conference, I’ve been a bit underwater. But in that time, I’ve learned a slew about the object models of both Javascript and PHP, taught my two-year-old nephew to say “queso dot COM!” whenever he sees me, stood on the spot in Union Station where I nearly screwed up the earliest days of my relationship with Shannon, and remade enough PowerPoint slides to fill my quota for the next decade. And I get to stay in town this weekend, for the first time in what feels like twenty years, so I’m looking forward to getting back to work here!

I’ve spent most of the last week amazed by the story of Harriet, the giant Galápagos land tortoise whose 175th birthday was celebrated this week. She’s an animal who is said to have been brought back from Ecuador by Charles Darwin himself in 1835; she was born the same year as Emily Dickinson, the year that Greece gained independence, and, incidentally, the year that her native country of Ecuador separated from the Republic of Colombia. Biologists claim that Harriet is the oldest known living animal on the planet; thinking about how long Harriet has lived leaves me in awe, both as a scientist and as a fellow inhabitant of Earth.

Talking about Harriet also led Shannon to tell me about Lonesome George (or, in his native tongue, Jorge Solitario), another tortoise whose name tells a sad story. All giant Galápagos land tortoises are thought to belong to a single species, Geochelone elephantopus, but there are either fourteen or fifteen recognized “races,” or subspecies, of G. elephantopus. (In all actuality, the question if whether they’re subspecies or bona fide species is just that, a question.) Of that number, only eleven remain, and Jorge Solitario is the very last known member of his subspecies, G. elephantopus abingdoni. Despite efforts to either find a female member of the subspecies or mate him with a female from another, closely-related subspecies, George has resisted efforts to carry forward his genetic lineage, so with him might die his entire subspecies of giant tortoise. He’s currently estimated to be around 75 years old (making him middle-aged!), and lives at the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galápagos Islands. (Shannon’s actually visited him there!) It’s incredible to me that we know we’re likely to be (slowly) watching the end of a genetic line, and can’t really do anything about it.

I stopped off at a local drugstore today to pick up a supply of loratidine (the generic name of Claritin) for Shannon and myself, the allergy duo, and the labels on the shelves reminded me of the power of marketing and brand recognition. All the products had a label below them, on the front edge of the shelf, that had both the price of the product and the unit price; in the case of loratadine, the unit price was the price per 100 pills. And looking at all the different options, between the number of loratadine pills in a bottle (five, 10, 20, etc.) and the various brands (Claritin and Alavert being the two most well-known names, Nuprin and Dimetapp getting in on the mix with their own offering, and the ever-present store brand), the price per 100 pills ranged from $25 (the store brand, 120 tablets for $29.99) to $119.80 (Claritin brand, five tablets for $5.99). Even just looking at what I would pay for a bottle of 30 pills, the unit price ranged from $47 to $77 — making it nearly two-thirds more expensive to buy the brand-name than it is to buy the store-brand. In an age when a ten-percent gas price rise provokes fear that the end is nigh, people seem perfectly willing to spend 60 to a couple hundred percent more for the exact same product sold under a different name. That, to me, is interesting.

At first I thought it was an aberration, a slip up on the part of a Crate and Barrel store manager this past Sunday; I put it out of my mind as quickly as it found its way in there. But tonight, at the Container Store, I knew it was more than that when Shannon pointed it out: Christmas music, dripping out of the ceiling speakers, wafting from aisle to aisle. I mean, seriously, is the first weekend of November really time to start assaulting your customers with silver bells and dreams of white Christmases? Might this be a bit premature?

If it weren’t so sad, it’d be funny: Tim Iacono, a southern California software engineer, and two coworkers spotted a row of new Hummers behind a local hotel, and (having read how hard it’s been selling SUVs in the current economy) decided to investigate. What they found was around three hundred unsold Hummers being stored in two offsite parking lots; the pictures tell the story way better that I can.

anil and alaina getting married!

Congratulations go out to Anil and Alaina — they done got married! In fabulous style, they took over a small parcel of Madison Square Park this afternoon, and under the official eyes of Alaina’s sister, had a bunch of us say a few words before taking their vows and pledging their love. And while it was a little cold in New York today, the sun came out at all the right moments, beaming right alongside their enormous smiles. (Yeah, I know — I seem to have caught Anil in one of his very few non-smiling moments above…) I can’t imagine they could have asked for a better start to their lives together! (For those who are interested, the rest of my pictures are over at Flickr.)

About a month ago, I started getting mail to my Gmail account from Bank of America that contained a bunch of information about bank account deposits, withdrawals, and balances. Trouble is, it isn’t my bank account; all the emails just say something to the effect of “This is an alert for the account with the last four digits XXXX,” and then tell me to log into my online banking account to see details about the alert. The emails come at the tune of one or two a day, and have nothing in them to indicate how I can let Bank of America know that some accountholder put the wrong email address into their preferences.

Tonight, I called BoA’s online banking customer service department and explained the issue to them. The woman put me on hold for a few minutes, and then came back to tell me that there’s nothing they can do about it, and that I should “just ignore the emails.” I was a little incredulous, and asked if they really don’t have a way to search their database by email address, figure out the accountholder, and contact them to let them know their error, and she said that that was all true — the only way they can search their records is by account number. I asked for her supervisor, who came to the phone and repeated their inability to do anything at all. I reiterated that I had the last four digits of the account number, and she said that there was still nothing they could do. She recommended that I just delete the emails, and hope that the owner of the bank account comes to realize his or her error.

Now, being a database programmer, I know that she’s wrong, and that there’s certainly someone within the BoA system who has the ability to search their database by email address. (For example, if an investigator from the Department of Homeland Security called them and told them that they had intercepted a suspicious email, would they really send the DHS rep packing?) What makes me sad is that they’re just plain unwilling to try. When I explained that we have five accounts with BoA, it didn’t make any difference; when I explained that it was hard to justify continuing to use a bank that was so unwilling to try to do the right thing, it made an equal amount of zero difference. So now I’m forced to resort to reporting the emails to Gmail as spam (which they really are, since they’re unsolicited email that I’ve tried to put a stop to by contacting the originator), and writing a letter to the (un-emailable, un-faxable) escalation department at BoA seeing if anyone there realizes the stupidity of this. And when we eventually leave Boston, we’ll see whether BoA retains our business…

Shannon and I have started our southerly migration to start getting ready to get married this weekend! We’re in a Panera off of I-84 right now — Shannon bought a book about Spain from Audible (worst… website… EVER!), but it seems to have not made it onto her iPod, so we figured we’d combine eating with using Panera’s free WiFi to grab the book again. A bit after midnight, we should be in South Jersey!

Today’s peaceful distraction from an otherwise-hectic day: National Geographic’s WildCam, a live, streaming webcam from a watering hole in the Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. (A direct link to the RealPlayer stream is here.) Right now, it’s 8:30 PM in Botswana, and there appears to be an infrared filter on the camera — meaning that I’m being treated to a glowing elephant spending some quality alone time at the watering hole. The video and audio feeds are nice and fast, too; it appears that there’s an entire satellite uplink dedicated to the project, so it’s not too surprising that the quality is this good. It’s constantly amazing to me how the internet can bring unbelievably cool things right to our desktops, in real time and with minimal filtering, and watching African wildlife strolling around a watering hole at night just reinforces that amazement.

I think I love Matthew Baldwin’s newly-coined term “white crayon” — it seems like the kind of thing that will come in handy.

camden with the sox

Sorry about the radio silence this weekend; I took a trip down to Baltimore to catch yesterday’s Orioles/Red Sox game with a bunch of the teenage kids from my oncology clinic. The whole thing was awesome — we flew in Friday night, got a tour of Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Saturday, ate a quick lunch and hurried back in time to meet more than a half-dozen Red Sox players (Olerud, Timlin, Nixon, Ortiz, Myers, Wakefield, Youkilis, and Mueller), and then had a catered luxury party suite for what turned out to be one hell of a baseball game. Most of the kids had enough energy left over to put a few hours into ESPN Zone last night, and everyone filled their tanks back up with a huge brunch this morning before hopping onto a flight back to Boston. It was amazing to watch more than thirty kids with cancer — some on active chemotherapy (and one who was discharged from the hospital less than two hours before the trip started!) — get the chance to free themselves from their parents, spend a whole weekend running around with their friends, meet and talk with their idols, and overall get treated like royalty everywhere they went.

The good news: I was able to swim 4,000 yards tonight, the furthest I’ve pushed myself since getting back in the pool.

The bad news: now that I’ve gone 4,000 yards, I’m unclear whether I’ll let myself do anything less next time I’m in the pool. Damn that competitive nature!

Remember two weeks ago, when a sales rep of the internet service provider Globat demonstrated his amazing lack of empathy for the people of Plaquemines Parish? Well, here’s an example of the other, shinier side of that coin: in addition to matching their customers’ donations dollar for dollar, Dreamhost gave a year’s free webhosting to all of their customers with billing addresses in the affected areas of the Gulf Coast. That’s very nice to see, and I’m glad to know that for every company like Globat, there exists a Dreamhost.

Does anyone know of any other good ISP-related stories that have come out of Katrina?

A little while ago, during the thick of things in post-Katrina New Orleans, I asked if anyone had found a decent infographic that helped explain both what led to the waterlogged city and how the situation was changing. One of the commenters pointed me in the direction of the New York Times interactive feature (really, a full-fledged Flash application), and I’ve been following it ever since. The people at the Times have kept the app updated nearly daily, and have added feature after explanatory feature; it’s a great resource for synthesizing all the information about levees, pumps, canals, neighborhoods, and everything else.

An honorable mention also goes to CNN’s offerring, which I first saw this morning. In particular, the CNN app has maps with overlaid information about estimated water depth by date ranges, showing where the water was its deepest, and how engineers have progressed in pumping out areas of the city.

I was getting ready to write something about today, the fourth anniversary of 9/11, and figured I’d reread the piece I wrote a day or two afterwards as a bit of a reminder. After reading it, though, I think there’s nothing I could say today that would be better then the words of four years ago. (Well, I’ve made one correction, as you’ll see below.)

I was in my hospital’s morning report when I got the first indications that something terrible had taken place. The administrator for the hospital came in to warn us that the hospital was switching into crisis mode; she said that there was a plane crash into one of the towers at the World Trade Center, but she didn’t know any more than that. One of the other residents left the room, and a few minutes later, came back in crying hysterically. She had called her boyfriend, who works in the World Financial Center, and who told her that people were jumping out of the devastated tower right across the window from him. At that point, I decided to leave, get more information, and get in touch with everyone in my life that could be downtown.

At first, none of the major news websites were accessible. I was finally able to find a television, though, but watching the coverage, it really didn’t register with me how serious things were. One thing I did think about was that my brother-in-law (my sister Rachel’s husband) works on Wall Street, so I sent an email to his Blackberry pager to see if he was okay. It was his reply that got me to understand the magnitude of what was happening:

I am. Can't track down Rach. I've never been so scared.

Then realized that I didn’t know where, physically, my sister worked, and from the message, it clicked into focus that she was in as much danger as my brother-in-law was. I tried to call my father, and after a couple dozen “all circuits are busy” messages, I got through and learned that he had just heard from my sister –- she was fine. Relaying that message back to her husband via email, they were able to meet up and quickly retreat from southern Manhattan.

Then the towers collapsed. When the second tower fell, I realized how close I had come to losing two of the most important people in my life.

Later that day, I found out that my sister worked in 3 World Trade Financial Center, and had actually watched the second plane hit the tower. Likewise, she saw people jumping to their death out of the building above her. Talking to her, I realized that my little world in New York revolves mostly around the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights, and because of that, the past few days have been less about personal loss, and more about a global sense of pain, fear, and sadness. For Rachel and her husband, the past few days have been full of personal, identifiable loss -– their list of coworkers, friends, and business associates who are missing keeps growing, and the stories that they have passed on are enough to make you curl up in the fetal position and never, ever come out.

When it seemed clear that my hospital wasn’t going to see a whole lot from the disaster, I came home, wrapped my arms around my girlfriend, and hung on for dear life. Some may argue that the world didn’t change a whole lot on September 11, 2001, but it’s impossible to refute that my world changed.

It makes me sad to see that the same arguments in defense of Bush we now know to be patently, verifiably, completely false are still being trotted out by conservatives in an attempt to deflect post-Katarina blame back to the local level. Listening to the radio, reading weblogs, and watching television over the past two days, I’ve counted dozens and dozens of people who still continue to claim things like that Louisiana Governor Blanco never declared a state of emergency, that Bush pleaded with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Blanco to evacuate the area and that both local leaders refused, that Bush didn’t intervene earlier (read: stayed on vacation) because he knew that “liberals” would rip him for taking control from a female governor, and that everyone would have been saved had Mayor Nagin just gotten the people onto all those buses. It’s another example of people adapting evidence to beliefs, rather than the other way around, and it makes me wonder exactly what a conservative leader would have to get caught doing to get these people to acknowledge the existence of a problem.

That being said, I’m also willing to acknowledge that there are a number of conservatives who have proven to be more willing to take a more rational view of the situation. For me, the primary evidence of this is the continued freefall of Bush’s approval rating; there are also random experiences I’ve had over the past week that provide further evidence. (For example, the hosts of the morning radio show I listen to have sadly talked about their support of Bush in the past, but this week, they called him an imbecile, questioned his judgement, talked about his inability to acknowledge his problems, and generally gave him the respect they’d give a New York Yankee.) It feels like the post-Monica era in the Democratic party, although it feels like it’s taken a lot longer and required a lot more work to get here.

In the end, Bush is a lame duck President, and doesn’t need public support for reelection. The rest of his party isn’t so lucky, though, and I’m hoping that its continued (near-unanimous) defense of him and his decisions will help Americans recognize the depth of the problems that we now face as a result of the past five years, and help start to right the wrongs in the 2006 interim elections.

It’s not a surprise to me that our President’s reactions to the horrors along the Gulf Coast have seemed to be something less than heartfelt or imbued with empathy, and my personal opinion is that it’s pretty easy to reconcile that observation with the fact that the majority of people whose lives have been destroyed by Katrina appear to be black, underprivileged, and relatively dependent on the assistance of their government to recover from a tragedy of this scope. I guess I never fully understood how Bush acquired those values, though, but hearing about his mother’s take on the refugees in the Astrodome today, I’m pretty sure I get it now. (Crooks and Liars has the audio, as well.) I always thought that Barbara Bush was a stately woman, but apparently she’s also a bit of an elitist, and has a terrible perspective on one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the United States.

Things that make me want to pull my hair out:

Things that make me happy:

I’ve added an MP3 of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s morning interview (transcript here) to my torrent server; it’s as worthy of your time as is Mary Landrieu’s interview. I’m with Anil, though — if I were looking for something to lessen my anger, this probably wouldn’t be the thing to help do that.

anderson cooper and mark landrieu

Today’s addition to my torrent server is the CNN video from yesterday’s conversation between Anderson Cooper and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu. (Thanks to the people at Crooks and Liars for capturing the video.) If you haven’t heard anything about the interchange, it’s worth reading the transcript (it starts about a third of the way into the show) — he essentially interrupts a bit of Congressional backpatting to explain what conditions in New Orleans are actually like, and calls her on the apparent lack of a more robust and forceful response by the national government. The gem of the exchange:

COOPER: Excuse me, Senator, I’m sorry for interrupting. I haven’t heard that, because, for the last four days, I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

Of course, the transcript doesn’t do nearly enough justice to the video.

In the midst of what feels like a worsening of the situation along the Gulf coast this morning, I finally saw something that put a bona fide smile on my face: a listing of all the law schools that are extending offers to accommodate the displaced law students of Loyola and Tulane. A bunch of the offers waive tuition entirely, and promise to allow the students to remain until such time as their home school returns to operation. It’s things like this that make me remember that the power of this country derives from its people; while the various levels of government continue to try to get a handle on the larger disaster, there are people who are doing what they can within their own communities (towns, universities, whatever) to help with the smaller disasters.

Update: as is usually the case, Rafe says it better.

It wasn’t until I saw the news about the Army soldiers being put “on alert” for possible deployment to the Gulf coast that I realized how much my anger about the post-Katrina horror had grown over the course of today. This afternoon, we’ve already heard that the evacuation of both the Superdome and Charity Hospital had to be suspended because of sniper fire, that people are literally dying in the Convention Center due to starvation and dehydration, and that efforts to get food and water to the stranded people have met with violence and total anarchy. Why are these troops merely on alert? Why aren’t they on planes and in convoys on their way to the region? Why aren’t we airdropping soldiers and entire crateloads of food and water into the Convention Center and Superdome, providing gunship escorts for the evacuation effort, and doing absolutely anything else it takes to restore even the most basic needs and dignities to all the people who are so desperately waiting for help? And then in bizzarro world, we have our President strumming a guitar with Mark Wills and our Secretary of State shopping it up and playing tennis with the celebrities in Manhattan, all while the mayor of New Orleans issues desperate pleas for help. (Does anyone else think that the response to Bush’s appearances over the past few days is going to eclipse the response to him sitting through a twenty-minute grade school reading lesson while the World Trade Centers were attacked?) I certainly hope that things get better in the next few hours and days, but it’s clear that our country wasn’t prepared for a catastrophe this great, and isn’t doing so hot trying to make up for lost time.

red cross

Does anyone know whether Amazon has waived the normal 2.9%-plus-$0.30 fee that they assess on donations made to the American Red Cross through the Amazon Honor System? According to their charities page (and an old c|net article), the company explicitly waived the fees for 9/11 donations, but there’s not a word on the Amazon website about whether that’s still true.

For the past few days, I agreed with the general sentiment on the web that Amazon’s lack of any prominent mention of ways to contribute was odd (especially given its quick and overwhelming response to the tsunami earlier this year, converting their entire homepage into a plea for donations). This just extends that baffled sentiment a little bit more for me — if they are waiving the fees, why don’t they make that clear? And if they’re not waiving the fees, why wouldn’t they?

I’d love it if someone knew the answer to this; until then, though, I’d recommend either donating to the Red Cross directly (though their website has been absolutely swamped, and is at times totally inaccessible) or to the Red Cross via Yahoo (who has pledged to pass 100% of donations through to the Red Cross).

Today’s electronic issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune is up on my torrent server, for those who want a single-PDF version; there are some amazing photos in the issue, including a high-resolution satellite shot of the areas affected by the two major levee breaches (page A-4) and an amazing perspective on the need for helicopter evacuations (page A-12). Again, the people at the NOTP are putting in an unreal amount of effort documenting the destruction and mayhem in Katrina’s wake.

landsat of new orleans post-katrina

The satellite images of a post-Katrina Gulf coast are starting to roll in; so far, the USGS LandSat image has the best view of the amount of land saturated by water. (For a good previous comparison, go to the USGS Global Visualization Viewer for New Orleans (requires Java!), and take a look at the 240-meter resolution images for December 2002 or January 2003.) I suspect we’ll be seeing some higher-resolution images from GlobeXplorer and Space Imaging in the next few days, and of course, there are plenty of images from the ground that reinforce how immense the damage is.

The writers, photographers, and editors of the New Orleans Times-Picayune again had to resort to an electronic issue today, both because they had to flee their building and because there’s no longer anyone in New Orleans to read the paper. Everyone all should be commended on the amazing amount of effort they’re putting into covering (and putting a human face on) what looks, from the safety of Boston, to be an absolutely horrific disaster. I can’t begin to imagine what it feels like to watch one’s home and hometown destroyed, and to know that it will be months before they can even start to think about returning to normal.

(I’ve again put together a single PDF file that has all thirteen pages of today’s Times-Picayune; you can find it in the same place as yesterday’s torrent.)

Understandably inundated, the New Orleans Times-Picayune is publishing today’s issue electronically, and is maintaining a breaking news page as well. There are a slew of amazing photos in the electronic issue, and some terrifying stories of peoples’ experiences during the onslaught of wind and water, all of which reinforces the reality that Hurricane Katrina literally destroyed an entire band of communities along the shores of the Gulf. (The issue is distributed as a series of PDF files from the page linked above; for ease of use and archiving, I’ve combined them all together into a single 6 Mb download, and put the file up as a torrent.)

matt dancing in pike place market

This weekend, my brother passed on a link that’s kept me entertained ever since. Where the Hell is Matt? is the site of Matt Harding, a self-described “28-year-old itinerant deadbeat from Connecticut” who’s traveling the world and posting fantastic missives along the way. On top of this, though, Matt has taken up videotaping himself dancing at all of his destinations, and the clip montage he’s posted is pretty much the best thing I’ve seen on the web in a while. (My favorite is his clip from the Impenetrable Forest in Uganda — it’s both creative and funny.) The whole package is oddly life-reaffirming — a guy who quit his job to wander the Earth and dance! — and easily has made its way into my daily-read list.

(I’ve put up a torrent for the large QuickTime version of the clip montage, so feel free to treat Matt’s bandwidth gently and get the movie from the torrent instead. I asked Matt for permission, though, so if he’s not OK with it the torrent might disappear.)

Has anyone come across an infographic or other online diagram of the layout of New Orleans which includes both the surrounding geography and the levees and dams that protect New Orleans from that geography? I’ve had my eye out for one on all the major news sites all day, and haven’t found anything that helps me understand the exact threats that might put the city underwater for the next six months or so.

me and nascar #99

After this past weekend, I can officially check something off of my lifetime to-do list: push a NASCAR well over 100 on a regulation track. Holy crap, was that fun.

The story is this: as a celebration of my brother-in-law John’s 30th birthday, my sister planned an elaborate trip for eight of us to go to Atlanta and have a blast. The plan was for us to fly down on Friday, get up early Saturday morning and make our way to the Atlanta Motor Speedway to spend a few hours with the NASCARs, bolt off to a Braves game, enjoy dinner at a good steakhouse, and then fly back Sunday. Throughout the week beforehand, a not-insignificant number of emails flew back and forth between the eight of us, some frothing with excitement at the NASCAR opportunity and others hesitantly expressing amazement that it’s even legal for schmucks like us to be put behind the wheel of 750-horsepower beasts of cars. (Of course, there was also one or two that mocked the New Yorker of the group who never bothered to get a driver’s license, or to learn how to drive for that matter, and thus had to be excluded from the NASCAR part of the weekend.)

nascar dashboard warning

Due to some roadwork (and the fact that the Atlanta Motor Speedway isn’t anywhere near Atlanta!), we ended up being about 20 minutes late getting to the racing school, and walked into a room of about 50 people who were all there to drive the cars. There was a half-hour lecture, a quick fitting for our racing suits and helmets, and then we were all given a van tour of the track (during which we learned that not only were there taped-down marks on the track to help us find the best course, but that the actual NASCAR drivers prefer having the marks on the track during races to help them out too!). After that, we were all put into cars with instructors riding shotgun to give us four-lap lessons; we made no friends by, after being late, then being the first people pulled out onto the track. (It turns out that my sister had amazingly arranged with them to help get us to the Braves game on time!) That session was when I learned the following things: (a) NASCARs have toggle switches instead of ignition keys, are louder than you think by an order of magnitude, and don’t have speedometers; (b) the only time that a NASCAR is out of fourth gear is when it’s accelerating up pit row; and (c) instructors aren’t scared to grab the wheel with one hand and redirect the car at 80 miles and hour, all while flicking the ash off of their cigarettes with their other hand.

all of us with dale jr's car

After waiting for the other students to run through their training sessions with the instructors, we were given the go-ahead to climb into our cars sans instructors and pull out onto the track. During the training, we were asked to keep the cars around 3,000 RPM (which ended up translating into around 70 or 75 miles an hour); once out on the track solo, there weren’t any limits to what we could do. I went out with my older brother, my brother-in-law, and his older brother, and it quickly became clear that with youth came stupidity. John and I gunned it right from the start, pushing the cars hard on the straightaways and only slightly less hard in the turns — by the end of our 15 laps, we both ended up lapping our older brothers one or two times. It was a total blast, through and through.

There were four cameras in every car, so once we were all done, we went to the media trailer to buy the DVDs with the footage of our races — just to learn that my sister had again taken care of everything, having arranged for the DVDs to be shipped overnight to their New York apartment so she could distribute them to everyone herself. (In the mean time, I have a few pictures of the outing up on Flickr.) We rushed back into Atlanta and enjoyed a Braves victory, relaxed at our hotel for a little bit, ate a fabulous steak dinner, slapped each other around at ESPN Zone for a little bit, and crashed hard. All in all, it was an awesome mini-vacation, and I’m itching to figure out how I can work another trip to Speedtech racing school into the next few years!

The last 24 hours have been jam-packed with new arrivals. First, there’s our wedding rings — Shannon’s is platinum and matched to her engagement ring, while mine is white gold and big enough to swallow hers without even realizing it.

our wedding rings

Then, there’s our wedding invitations, on thick and comforting cardstock and (fantastically) already addressed! All that’s left for us to do is print out our information cards, slide ‘em into the envelopes, and put stamps on, and everything will be ready to drop into the mail.

our wedding invitations

And last (but certainly not least!), there’s Robbie, my brother and sister-in-law’s first baby! He tried to set a land speed record for time from “who knows if this will happen today” to “welcome to the world, little tiger!”, and everyone’s doing just fine.

welcome, robbie!

All in all, a great 24 hours — which is a good thing, since the next 48 hours includes one southward-bound flight, one night in south Jersey, a hundred million errands, one northward-bound car trip with my parents, one night in NYC, as much playing with Robbie as we’re allowed, one rental car, and a final northerly car trip to return home. Busy busy!

Probably around a year ago, I got fed up with being lazy and out of shape, and decided that I’d try to do something about that. A long, long time ago I swam competitively (seriously, I started back when I was able to express my age using only my fingers, and gave it up not long after I had to include a toe or two), and since the present-day me hates running, weightlifting, and most other forms of cardiovascular torture, I figured that trying to get back into swimming might be a bit more preferable. So a friend and I started trying to get to our neighborhood pool once or twice a week, but between the pool’s odd hours, my screwy schedule, his twin sons, and a Boston winter that was incompatible with human life much less with walking a half a mile to the pool, we never seemed to get into a sustainable rhythm, and gave it up entirely after just a few months.

About three or four months ago, I exploited a day in which I was again feeling particularly lazy and out of shape to motivate me to do something about that, and after a few emails I found a gym nearby that allows employees of the medical center to join up and use their indoor pool. It took me a few more weeks to get off my ass and join, but I finally dove back into the pool last month in an effort to find an exercise rhythm that worked for me. I’m happy to say now that I’ve kept with it thus far, and when I updated my unbelievably geeky Excel swimming spreadsheet today, I realized that I surpassed an in-pool marathon this past Tuesday. That’s oddly exciting to me, and I hope that I’m able to stick with this long enough to realize more and more weird little milestones like that, all in the name of keeping healthy and staying in shape.

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.

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!)

The Self-Referential Aptitude Test was a fun way to waste a half hour of my time this morning! It’s been a long time since I did anything like this, but it brought back how much I enjoyed logic puzzles and recursive games back in my math geek days. (Who am I kidding, though — those days are still here!)

One piece of advice, though: don’t make the mistake of confusing answer markers (e.g., A, B, C, etc.) with the option that that marker marks. For example, there are a lot of places in the puzzle that answer marker A denotes the answer “B”, and you should try as hard as you can to keep the two ways of denoting an answer separate. Not doing so is the quickest way to totally confuse yourself!

Well, color me glad that Shannon and I decided to forsake a Caribbean honeymoon for one in the south of Spain!

Reason number 1,423 that our country is completely doomed: at this moment, 24 of the 30 photos on Yahoo’s most popular news photo page are of a billionaire skank socialite whose only claim to apparent fame is taping a few dozen instances of either servicing or being serviced by Rick Solomon. Another of the thirty pictures is of the paparazzi taking her picture, and yet another is of her only slightly less-skanky sister. That’s a full 87% of the most popular photos devoted to complete mind-numbing nothingness. (There’s a 750 Kb PDF of the photo page as it currently looks here, and a 1.5 Mb PNG here.)

Damn, it’s been a whole week since I’ve posted anything at all! I guess that’s what happens when I’m on the second of back-to-back weeks on call, and when on top of that, I have a project that needs to be done stat at work. So, in lieu of something more focused, here are the things that I’ve enjoyed over the past week:

  • watching Brad Choate’s new SpamLookup plug-in for Movable Type fill up my logs with notices about blocked TrackBack spam. After an initial brain fart trying to install the plug-in, I got it all set up, and haven’t seen a single one slip through since. (Of course, given that I was getting about 500 spammed TrackBacks for every legit one, and was seriously considering abandoning it as a result, it’ll take a little while to know if SpamLookup is truly the answer.)
  • the National Geographic Photo of the Day. There have been some unbelievably amazing shots in the past week, enough that I’m starting to get my photography jag back. (Must remember to get the light leak in my Contax SLR fixed!)
  • the weather in Boston, which has emerged from the subarctic temperatures we had come to expect and hit seventy twice! (Must start thinking about getting the air conditioners into the windows!)
  • the completely unencumbered ease of using Ajax (or XMLHttpRequest, or whatever you want to call it to avoid meaningless religious wars) to develop web applications. The project I’m completing at the hospital is a web-based database for storing tissue specimens, and having this tool in the toolbox makes for an unbelievably more usable and intuitive interface, something that makes me as happy as the end users.
  • Will Smith’s Switch and Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl; what can I say, I’m a sucker for a silly song with a good beat.

It’s always cool to me when a member of an online community to which I belong steps out and becomes notable in an offline way — like the fact that MetaFilter member Frasermoo turns out to be Grace Beesley Fraser Moores, and he got married at Windsor Guildhall only an hour after Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. And if having his wedding preceded (at the last minute!) by royal nuptials isn’t enough, he had the added bonus of having 25,000 well-wishers stick around to cheer him and his new wife on, as well!

my radiation monitoring badge

Today, I had a flashback moment that ended up connecting me to my parents in a way that I never would have expected.

Both my parents are physicians, and for most of my childhood, I remember being surrounded by the trappings of their work lives — white coats hanging on the backs of car seats, a stethoscope curled up on top of the cookbooks in the kitchen, otoscopes in the drawers of our buffet counter, beepers occasionally shrieking to life and prompting us all to run to see if we could catch the audio message (this was in the days before pagers displayed text messages). Nothing ever stood out as particularly representative of their work, but rather, all the stuff was as much a part of who my parents were as was their hair color or names. Since deciding to become a doctor, I’ve had a few moments that have triggered these memories, or made me better able to understand why there was so much of my parents’ physician lives intertwined in their home lives.

Today, I finally got around to taking my radiation research safety class at the hospital, and at the end of the class, the instructor handed out the monitoring badges that we have to wear whenever we’re in the lab. When he put mine down in front of me, I had a weird moment in which I flashed back to the same badge being on every single one of my parents’ white coats I had ever seen, a moment that was as much of a visceral connection as it was a visual memory. Thinking about it, both my parents had research labs in the hospital, and they’d both have had plenty of cause to wear monitoring badges in their daily lives, so that part makes total sense. What I can’t figure out is how, in my head, the badge became so emblematic of them being doctors — and how after it had, I then managed to completely forget about the association until today. In any event, the most interesting thing to me is how getting the badge made me identify more with my parents than anything else has prior, including them giving me my first stethoscope, and all the conversations I’ve had with them about patients in the past seven years. How powerful this little piece of plastic and film is!

my childhood, courtesy of flickr and google maps

Matt’s walk through memory lane (courtesy of Google Maps and Flickr) inspired me to do the same; while I was setting up a new machine at work, I scrolled around my old stomping grounds using the new satellite view at Google Maps, digging up memories and committing them to screen. Here’s the result! (There’s also a new Flickr group for these images, if anyone’s interested.)

This is my new favorite picture; I might actually make it into my desktop, it’s so cheesy.

I’m on the last day of my trip to San Diego, sitting in a Barnes & Noble using their wireless connection. Next to me is an otherwise-normal-appearing middle-aged man, in a suit, sitting in an easy chair and talking on his cellphone. One would think that he’d be talking about work, or maybe what to bring the kids home for dinner… but nope, he’s engrossed in a conversation about his Grand Theft Auto skills. Awesome.