Sunday, November 30, 2008

Psycho Cross #4

I did it! I finally won a race.

OK, so my competitors were two women I've beaten repeatedly in the past and one woman who had never done a 'cross race before. But that doesn't take anything away from my victory... or maybe it does.

I've decided I'm going to stick with the Beginner category through the end of this season, and next year, i'll start riding with the big girls in category B. And this season I may win another race, but i probably won't at all next year.

Oh well - it's clear to me how much stronger I am now than even in September, and much more so than this time last year. It's a good feeling.

home again (quickie)

343 unread items on my google reader
12:23 AM
1:30 PM race start tomorrow
2.5 hours past bedtime
7 hours on the train
2 bags to unpack
1 minor mechanical to do before race tomorrow

1 sleepy kat

make that 344 unread items. goodnight.

Monday, November 24, 2008

vacation!

Leaving tomorrow morning for Seattle - I'll be there until Saturday. It'll be so great to have a vacation! I'm bringing background papers to read, but no computer - which means no movie processing, no excel data crunching, and no powerpoint assembly. Vay cay shun.

This is a quickie, since I've barely begun to pack, let alone prep my bike for gear haulin' and rain ridin' rather than mud racin'. To rack or not to rack? To fender is no question - turkey week in the SEA almost certainly spells RAIN.

Looking forward to Thanksgiving at the home of two of my very good friends, Chris and Jenn. They are both awesome. Also awesome are all the other people who will be there - I don't have the full guest list, but I know Rogelio, my favorite Mexican, will be there, and am sure there will be others - all people I miss tons and can't wait to see. We'll all have to chip in to drink enough for Jenn, since they're expecting a baby girl in March!

Anyway, back to packing. Hooray for vacation!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

late november already?

So somehow time has been passing, and it's almost Thanksgiving. How the hell did that happen? I'm still adjusting to the idea of it being fall instead of summer, and now it's almost winter. What gives??

Yesterday was the third 'cross race in the Eugene series. Only 4 beginner women showed up, and I managed 2nd place out of the 4, coming across the finish line about 50 feet behind the winner. If I hadn't dropped my chain after the first barrier on the first lap, I might have been able to stay on her wheel and maybe pass her before the end. Oh well. I seem to manage to drop my chain pretty often during races - always either after barriers or run-ups. I think that when I put together my new 'cross bike for next season, I'm going to go with a 1x9 setup, with just one chainring and no front derailer. This means I can put chain guards on either side of the chainring and pretty much prevent chain drops. No chain drops means no swearing after barriers. I definitely let out a "Fuuh" before I saw that there was an under-10-year-old right there. Oops - sorry, Dad!

Anyway, by my calculations (based on OBRA BAR points awarded for placement in the Eugene series races), I'm currently leading the women's beginner category for the series, despite never having won a race. There are still 2 races left in the series, though, so I have a chance to get a first-place finish, and even if I don't, I'll still feel like I accomplished something. Next season, I'll upgrade to the B category, which means no more top-half finishes unless I work my butt off training.

OK, back to work: analyzing movies of filet-prepped larvae. Trying to confirm that my genetic scheme is actually expressing tetanus toxin in the neurons I think it is - judging by lack of activation of the muscles they innervate. This means staring at movies, inserting reference points, and trying to determine whether there's a difference between the contractions seen in muscles innervated by neurons expressing the toxin versus neurons expressing an inactive version of the toxin. Off to the computer lab - my powerbook can't handle the movies I'm making.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

book mini-review: quantum neurobiology edition

On a recent (though not the most recent) trip to Portland, I had the chance to stop in to Powell's Books (indeed, what's the point of going to Portland if you can't go to Powell's?). Despite having had several drinks earlier in the evening (or perhaps because of it) I picked up two interesting-seeming books; when I got home from the trip, however, I lost interest or got busy and set them aside. I picked one of them up again soon, and in the intervening time, however, I've been able to finish the first and get about a quarter of the way into the second, and am going to spend some time tonight working my way through the second book. They're fairly similar, despite having been published a decade apart, and extremely timely, despite one being 17 years old.

The first is Information in the Brain: A Molecular Perspective by Ira B. Black. It's an enormous book, despite only being 225 pages (including references and index) - so it's going to take perhaps a whole re-reading to fully understand, but it's basically a great overview of neural signal transduction and how molecules store information. The most salient argument to me is his assertion that biology is behavior and behavior is biology - that there is no delineation between the metabolism of an organism and its behavioral output. The book was published in 1991, so many of the questions he has no answer for have been solved by now, but it's still a wonderfully compact (though dense) introduction to the way brains store and recall information, and an unprecedented synthesis of ideas that any student of developmental or molecular neurobiology should read.

The second is Jeffrey Satinover's The Quantum Brain, with a subtitle sufficiently new-agey to scare away most serious readers, I'm guessing: "The search for freedom and the next generation of man." Smells like woo, right? But so far, it's pretty interesting, and he definitely backs up his claims with good science. It's from a much more computational/AI/systems approach, as opposed to the cellular approach of Black... I'm not far along enough to make a judgement about the quality of the content, but I'm finding the AI/computational/theoretical approach informative, if a bit abstract. From the introduction, I'm guessing that he plans to have a thing or two to say about how these ideas relate to (and redefine) "God"... and the woo alarms will be ringing when this happens, but hopefully he'll save it for the conclusion and leave it at a philosophical discussion.

Anyway, I'll have more to say about both these books in the future, and hopefully will make some sort of insightful tie between the two that will be interesting and informative. On the other hand, I might decide that the Satinover book is just a bunch of hooey (this is the author of a book entitled Cracking the Bible Code - seriously?)... we'll see. I can say that so far, neither of the authors have addressed the problem of how brains form in the first place; I have my own opinions about trying to understand the brain without first understanding its development, though many disagree with me.

(The only thing better than reading for pleasure: Reading for work (ok, indirect work) and pleasure simultaneously! I love it!)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

cross crusade #8

Just got home (maybe 45 minutes ago) from Portland, or actually Hillsboro, where I raced in the last Cross Crusade race of the season. It was on the county fairgrounds, so the course wound through and between barns, over a big pile of hay, and through the rodeo arena - which, incidentally, was filled with ankle-deep mud that ranged from brown water to sticky shite-like consistency. Parts of the rest of the course was also muddy, but it was a nice coherent mud that wasn't really too hard to ride through - it was just a few hundred yards of slog right before the finish line. Fortunately, I only had to do 3 laps, and the elite women only managed 4 in 45 minutes. It was flat, but not particularly fast. Good times, though... I ended up finishing 12th [edit: 14th]in the Beginner category (yes, I race as a beginner, because there are only categories A, B, and beginner... I'm not fast enough to race with the B's, and I've never won a race so I can't be accused of sandbagging...) - the biggest field I've ever raced in with 72 women just in the beginners category. So I figure 12/72 = 1/6... not horrible at all.

Anyway, I'm just blogging while I wait for the washer to finish so I can hop in the shower (I've made the mistake of starting a load and then getting in the shower - not a good idea) and get the rest of this mud off of myself. I still have a few speckles on my arms and a bunch on my legs - even after hosing off. Riding through 6" deep puddles and running through 6" deep mud will get you messy.

Which reminds me of a theory I have about 'crossesrs: we're all just a bunch of kids at heart, who love playing in the mud. After the women's race wrapped up, a few members of the aptly-named Team Beer pulled out a - i kid you not - a Slip'n'Slide. And proceeded to lube it up with baby oil and take turns. As she was unfolding the tarp, one of the women read off the label printed on the vinyl: "Not for adult use."

"That's OK, I don't see any adults here" shot out of my mouth. The other two women looked around, we all shrugged our shoulders, and agreed - no adults present. Problem solved - and Team Beer slip'n'slide open for business. (No, I didn't... yes, I should have.)

Just another of the many, many reasons why I absolutely fucking love this sport.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

big party fun time

Friday night, 9:30 PM. Getting ready to call it a night. I'm signed up to help the cycling team clean up the basketball court tonight at 10 (ten freaking pm, yes), but I'm going to be a big old flake tonight because I am home and warm and it is cold outside, and I don't have the willpower to make myself kit up for cold, dark riding right now and ride through the poorly-lit park not once but twice, once before ten and again sometime close to midnight, to have the pleasure of sweeping popcorn off the gym floor and cleaning up other people's soda cups. Call me selfish, call me lazy... I am both of those things, for sure. And tonight, I'm going to curl up in bed before ten o'clock and sleep in until after 9 before going in to work and tackling lab reports. (I thought 40 was intimidating and hard to tackle - they've doubled! Ack! Oh god, I sound like Cathy! Double ack!)

Add to that the fact that the people I work with in the lab have been fighting a nasty cold-like thing for the past few weeks, and it's been going around, and I so far have remained immune but can just feel the tickle in my throat. My remedy: Elysian Night Owl (in moderation - like maybe a pint tonight), a spicy curry dinner, some Emergen-C, and good old sleep.

Can't get sick now; must race 'cross in portland on sunday. Bedward ho. Sorry, guys... I'll help again next time, I promise.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the wonders of the interwebs

Just spent an hour and a half reading about the Korean DMZ on wikipedia. Well, I didn't spend the whole time on the DMZ, there was also the articles on Korea, Division of Korea, and Pyongyang, and the Google Earth flyby of the DMZ and all civilization in the vicinity; looking at photos of the area and marveling at the uniformity of the housing. It's pretty incredible that I can sit here, in my bedroom, and see the houses and buildings and roads of one of our worst enemies. (Something tells me Kim Jong-Il had an aneurysm when he found out about Google Earth. Seriously, isn't it time for him to die or something?)

I'm feeling guilty for spending so much time just dicking around on the internet (it was a matter of national security! really!) but I have a hard time working for more than about 8 or 10 hours a day, and I didn't get home from lab until after 7; technically, making and eating dinner and spinning on the rollers* while watching rachel maddow, don't technically count as work, but I still felt like I needed some down time afterward. The guilt stems not from feeling like I haven't gotten enough done today (crunched a bunch of data and made a couple of nice graphs; took a bunch of confocal pictures; answered several student questions; virgined flies); it's more from the fact that I haven't graded the students' lab reports from last week, and they're turning in a new batch tomorrow and will undoubtedly want the old ones back. I mean to quit procrastinating, eventually, I really do. I think I'll start tomorrow... sigh. I'll try to have the lab reports done by lecture on Thursday....

Add to that a first wave of grad student anxiety: OHMYGOD what if my project doesn't work what if everyone in the lab doesn't like me what if the professor is unimpressed with my work what if the students all hate me and don't learn a thing from this class what if i can't ever do molecular biology what if i get depressed and fail out of grad school WHAT IF WHAT IF AAAAUGH.

Deep breath; stop stressing.

We're in week 7 of the quarter now; the easy part is over and everything is in high gear and stress levels are high. On the other hand (and this is the main reason why I *love* quarters and think I'd hate semesters), the end is in sight now: make it through this week and next, and then it's Thanksgiving; after that, there's just one week of classes before finals. And then - sweet, sweet winter break.

It's weird, being a student again, again; being a grad student still feels strange too. I think I like it. I also think that I like teaching, but I'm pretty sure that I hate grading. And really, isn't that why I just spent an hour and a half of precious time studying North Korean economic geography, and now more than half an hour writing a blog post? Shouldn't I be grading? Or sleeping? Hmm, come to think of it... if sleeping is productive, I'm going to go get shit done.

*rollers: extremely precarious contraption which enables one to ride a bicycle indoors. Not to be confused with a stationary trainer, which imprisons the rear wheel and keeps the bike upright; rollers come with the risk of suddenly finding yourself traveling at 20 mph in the living room should your attention lapse for a fraction of a second.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

another rainy sunday

First: WE DID IT! We elected Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States. For the first time, i voted for the winning guy for president; I also did my (small) part during the campaign, giving what I could in cash money to help the guy win. After 8 long years, we can finally get to work repairing this country and pointing her in the right direction.

Second: Quick race report. Went up to Salem yesterday to ride 'cross at Battle Creek, a former golf course that has now become quite overgrown. The course was flat and fast, and quite muddy in parts. I ended up placing 4th out of 18 women in the Beginner category; helped, no doubt, by the presence of real actual *beginners* - like, "this is my first bike race" beginners. Great to see so many women out - cyclocross is definitely getting more popular among women as well as men. And, keeping with my "strategy" from the past few races, I "allowed" the winner of the A category to lap me close to the end of her 5 laps, and thus didn't have to do another lap. An excellent strategy, though it won't continue to serve me well if I'd like to improve, or (gasp!) upgrade to category B someday.

On the to-do list for today:
#1. Wash my bike from yesterday. Pictures will follow to show just how muddy we got. I washed myself, but the Surly has become encrusted with mud since I was too tired yesterday to wash it.
#2. Ride the Xtracycle in to Eugene and buy a set of rollers off of a guy. With winter almost here, I think I'll want to have a way of riding indoors on days when it is too wet and/or too dark to get out for a good ride.
#3. Go pick up trash with the UO crew after a volleyball game. Evidently we (aka the team) gets paid if we do this. Shouldn't be too hard to go throw some cups and candy wrappers in the trash...

And, almost certainly:
#4. Try out the new rollers; try not to kill myself while learning how to ride on them.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

sunday (sunday sunday!)

Took today off from almost everything; even though I was up by 10 and was moderately productive, it still feels like a lazy day. We're into the dark days of the winter now: with the time change today it's now dark by 5:30. And although I'm closer to the equator while Seattle is closer to the north pole, I can't really tell the difference in day length. Maybe at the solstice it'll be more obvious.

Here's something really cool: Images of the brain by DTI.

DTI, or diffusion tensor imaging, is based on detecting diffusion vectors of water molecules within the brain. The coolest thing about it is that it's noninvasive: you can get an extremely detailed picture of white-matter connections in a living subject relatively easily. Read the full article at MIT Technology Review. There's some awesome brain eye candy in the article; it's worth it just for the pictures. (via SEED daily zeitgeist)

On the edge of my seat waiting for the election to be over... everyone, remember to VOTE! (Duh.) Got my fingers crossed for a better outcome than 2004...

it's fall in Oregon

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