more importantly

Holy crap! Congratulations, you crazy kids!

But c’mon, out with the full story. We wanna hear how it all went down — Emily and I both think it must have involved chemical synthesis of some sort, but we’re divided on the specific mechanism of action. There are probably a bunch of different ways to make a fully-formed ring pop out of a test tube, right?

Relatedly, here’s Miller and Michelle’s thoroughly charming proposal story. It’s a battle for romantic supremacy! Allez-valentine!


Antibiotics: acquired. Temperature: 101.5°. Dr. Akhigbe: a good man, and thorough.

Actually, Dr. A was great. We talked about politics, he tested me for diabetes (for some reason) and he explained various interesting medical tidbits. And, of course, he did all of this on a Saturday. What a nice guy.

The first two pills of my Z-pack are coursing through my veins as I type this, and I’ve got high hopes that I’ll feel non-terrible tomorrow. Trenchant thoughts on net neutrality will hopefully commence then.

the right man for the job

Well, I remain sick and miserable. Eleven or twelve hours’ worth of sleep didn’t do much to improve things (although I am at least a little less confused), but my body is still a distinctly unpleasant place to be. I’ve had enough — it’s time to find a doctor and get some goddamn antibiotics. I’ve been a very good boy when it comes to not demanding superbug-breeding pharmaceuticals for minor illnesses, but this is too much. I’m calling in whatever credit I’ve built up.

The only problem is that I don’t really have a doctor, per se. I put down a primary care physician for insurance purposes when I changed jobs, but I haven’t actually been to see her. Some phone calls revealed that not only is she not open on weekends, but she’s changed practices. That’s a no-go.

And then there was the pleasantly confused old man I visited a few years back, who accidentally wrote me multiple prescriptions for what I have since been assured is an alarmingly powerful antibiotic. It would have been a promising route to pursue, but I don’t remember his name and kind of doubt he’d take weekend appointments and/or still be alive.

So it was off to the Blue Cross website to find a nearby doctor. And I think I hit paydirt on the first search result. No fancy-pants weekend answering services for Dr. Akhigbe: judging by how confused he was at getting my call, I’m pretty sure I’d gotten him on his cell phone. I guess that’s the sort of high-touch approach they teach at the University of Lagos.

Anyway, after the initial confusion and alarm at receiving my call had subsided, the doctor was extremely pleasant and helpful. “I don’t think I’ll be in the office this morning, but I might be there in the afternoon,” he said in a pronounced Nigerian accent. “Why don’t you try around three?”

Why not indeed. So three it is, and I’ve got high hopes for cajoling some antibiotics out of him. Not only do my symptoms seem to actually be appropriate to a bacterial infection (it’s like having a normal sore throat, except much less pleasant), but Dr. Akhigbe is, in addition to being a general practitioner, a pain specialist. Odds of me walking out of that office with a scrip for oxycontin just got ugraded from “poor” to “fair”.

science journalism!

Let’s make up for yesterday’s egregious overtagging. Via Slashdot I see that some researchers at the MIT Media Lab have figured out a novel way to stop neurons from firing. The secret lies with a light-sensitive chloride channel — shine yellow light on the neurons and chloride ions flood into the cell, eliminating the potential across its membrane and making it impossible for it to fire. They know the gene for this chloride gate, too — it comes from a particular bacterium.

The subhead? “Work could lead to non-surgical treatment for epilepsy, Parkinson’s”. Christ. This conclusion is apparently based on the following quote from someone at the Media Lab:

“In the future, controlling the activity patterns of neurons may enable very specific treatments for neurological and psychiatric diseases, with few or no side effects”

Well, yes. A correlary: in the future, eliminating physical infirmity could allow more people to lead full, active lives, with few or no side effects.

The new MIT research could lead to the development of optical brain prosthetics to control neurons, eliminating the need for irreversible surgery.

Despite cool CGI sequences like the intro to Fight Club, our brains aren’t actually filled with flashing pulses of light. If you intend to stick yellow lightbulbs in there, you’re going to need some kind of surgery.

But all of this is beside the point, because humans don’t have the chloride channel in question. The Media Lab people are talking about making transgenic mice that would, and that’s cool. But if adding new genes to human brains were easy (or safe), there’d be more direct ways to treat the sorts of neurological diseases that the article hints at, since many of them are associated with specific genetic defects.

None of this stupidity is the Media Lab’s fault, incidentally. Their neuroscience program is very new, and while this work seems cool and may provide a genuinely useful research tool, it’s probably not actually as cutting-edge as the article would like us to believe. But when you’re writing grant applications you have to come up with justifications for the innovatively terrible things you plan to do to mice. “Curing all sorts of diseases (someday)” is a popular choice. It’s just like when I was on the debate team in high school: the downside to the team’s other plan is always that it will cause the planet to erupt in global thermonuclear war. Should we extend Most Favored Nation status to China? Well, the downside is an inevitable nuclear holocaust. On the other hand, if we fail to grant MFN we’ll still all be reduced to atomic ash. Here, I have some out-of-context quotes from a Newsweek editorial to prove it.

And so it is with science journalism: every reported advance will cure disease, provide infinite clean energy, or revolutionize the way we work, eat and play. It’s pretty frustrating — there’s a surplus of science PhDs out there, right? Would it really be so hard to find one who also knows AP style? Is it really so impossible to write a story with a hook other than “technology is magic”!?

rebel without a pause

Yesterday Kriston linked to an interesting post by Ilya Somin over at The Volokh Conspiracy that wondered what the next changes in our cultural morals will be. Nobody thinks that slavery is okay or that women are inferior to men; similarly, it now seems inevitable that homosexuality will eventually be accepted by society. But what will come after that?

Somin identifies animal rights, capital punishment and forced national service as the likeliest candidates. It’s a pretty good list, although I think his libertarian instincts may make him overestimate the likelihood of forced national service becoming a real cause celebre. Similarly, my own instincts make me want to believe that the moral and policy case against capital punishment will gain traction soon — but I also suspect that the death penalty’s usefulness for podium-thumping means that it’s here to stay for a while longer.

The question of animal rights is the most interesting of the three, I think, and one that I can easily imagine becoming a significant cultural issue. Among my peers, at least, I think there’s a general sense that animal suffering is bad and should be minimized, but also an understanding that it may be acceptable in some circumstances. Medical testing? Probably. Rhinocerous-horn aphrodisiacs? Probably not. What’s the exchange rate between animal suffering and human enjoyment, anyway, and is it weighted by the complexity of the animal’s nervous system? I’m not too worried about a bivalve’s subjective experience of pain — pig is more problematic (maybe we should breed or engineer stupider ones). What of bacon?! A little bit goes a long way, after all.

Anyway, it does make one wonder whether there’s an end point to society’s moral evolution or whether this will be an endless process. It’s clear that we haven’t yet arrived at what you or I or most people would define as a completely just society. But it also seems likely that someday we’ll slip into fuddy-duddy-dom and have our own sense of social justice eclipsed by earnest door-to-door canvassers campaigning for, I don’t know, the right to urinate in public. We’ll think that we and we alone were fit to judge the right stopping place for the march of progress. No doubt our great-grandparents thought the same thing.

Alternately, maybe we’ll someday reach an endpoint. We’ll all shuttle through pneumatic tubes in silver jumpsuits and androgenously shaved heads, confident that that there are good and immutable reasons for the few remaining limits on personal liberty that we impose on one another. I’ve got no idea which scenario will triumph. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be dead by the time it all shakes out.

What’ll actually be relevant (and at least somewhat related) are the new advances in rebelliousness implemented by the lousy teenagers that many of us will eventually spawn. There’s obviously an element of unpredictability here — you wouldn’t want to defy social norms in a way that can be anticipated by the squares, after all — but the range of innovatively outrageous teenage behaviors that are at all practical seem to be diminishing. I suppose that the biological realities of parenting make sexuality, tattoos and drug use sort of evergreen options for misunderstood teenagers. But those are also all pretty common in our popular culture. To really be at the forefront of rebellion the kids will have to come up with something new.

My money’s on voluntary limb amputation. I predict a sudden uptic in the incidence of BIID, a rash of shocked newscasts, and a lot of impassioned essays about the limits of the ADA. It’s going to be really irritating and, to me and my fellow liberal paternalists, more than a little tragic. Our only hope is for cyborg modification to become feasible first. As you can probably guess, I’m a bit more bullish on that issue.

Ted Stevens was close

I spent a lot of the afternoon working on a Wink presentation, so I’m a little screencast-happy at the moment. But I thought I’d pass along this solid intro to Yahoo Pipes, which I dug up for Kriston to further his dreams of becoming an art-criticism-fueled Galactus. If you’re interested in doing something with RSS but don’t find the Pipes interface intuitive, have a look.


Let’s not leave things on a down note. You know what I haven’t posted yet? Photos of California. So here they are — the best ones, anyway. The full set of at-least-vaguely-redeemable photos can be found here.

I wish I’d taken more shots of my friends, any of my relatives, and fewer pitcures of natural splendor — pictures of the first two are usually pretty fun, and pictures of the latter are usually kind of a letdown next to the real thing. But there are a few decent pics in there that at least hint at how astoundingly beautiful Point Reyes is.

But of course the highlight of the trip wasn’t any of the touristy crap, but rather just getting the chance to see folks I hadn’t in a while. It was really good to meet up with Jon, Jeff, Marie and Paul, and to meet Paul’s girlfriend. And seeing Noree, Ron, Jeb and Mimi was wonderful. I really can’t thank Jeff & Marie and Noree & Ron enough for putting us up. Berkeley is a pretty great location for a California vacation home base, it turns out. Not only because it’s walkable and close to the BART, but also because co-op pizza is GREAT pizza. You can really taste the collectivism — delicious, delicious collectivism.