Sunday, September 30, 2007


I like the new template, what do you think? I have long felt that the old template was too in-your-face, the typeface too big, even though I liked the informal look.

I went for a fabulous run in lovely Allerton Park this morning with my running pal caraf and this caught my eye:

There was something about the vulnerability of that little sock--pinker than it appears in this picture--that made me stop and whip out my camera. (Yeah, that's the kind of serious runner I am.)

I picked it up in the hopes that we'd encounter its uni-socked owner, in Mom or Dad's backpack ahead of us on the trail, busily removing the other sock. No dice. So now I have a lonely pink baby sock in my Prius, and I can't bring myself to throw it away.

One last image. Just as I was writing about the pink sock, I spotted a red-tailed hawk (I think) in our backyard. Here it is:

I do hope red-tailed hawks don't eat koi. I've heard horror stories about herons discovering backyard ponds. It's welcome to my rabbits, though.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

50 years ago

It's the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch and the birth of the space age. Just a few entries ago, I wrote about how I was struck by the number of scientists I interviewed who wanted to be astronauts as kids. In an article in a special Space Age edition of today's Science (NY) Times, Shirley Malcolm, now an ecologist and director of education and human resources at the AAAS, said of being in high school at the time,
We stopped having throwaway science and started having real science...Here I was, a black kid in a segregated school that was under-resourced--Sputnik kind of crossed the barrier.
As it happens, black students crossed another barrier 50 years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas, an event that is sharing headlines with the launch of Sputnik. I was really struck by the juxtaposition and what it means about our society. In the fall of 1957, we (or the Soviets, actually) were beginning to explore space. We watched as the federal marshals escorted the Little Rock Nine into Central High School, past a hostile white crowd chanting "Two, four, six, eight, We ain't gonna integrate!"

Is the integration of a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas on the same scale as the Sputnik launch? For many black kids forced to attend substandard schools, the answer may have been yes.

The really sad thing is that Sputnik and the Little Rock Nine are sharing headlines today with the Jena Six. It seems that improving race relations is as hard as rocket science.

Monday, September 24, 2007

National Punctuation Day

Holy Cow!!! I just found out that today is National Punctuation Day, certainly a day to warm the heart of all the apostrophe pedant's like me. I wish I'd known about this earlier, if I had I would have gone out on a little punctuation error hunting expedition and snapped a few photo's with my "camera."

Instead you'll have to content yourselves' with this picture, I snapped in Belize last year. And remember, English is the native language in Belize, so its fair game.

Who among us wouldn't like some spiritual liquor now and then.

OK, how many punctuation errors did you catch in this entry?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Raffi kids grown-up, well, er, almost

I am among the legions of parents who listened and sang along to Raffi when their kids were wee young'uns. And, like many of those parents, I heaved a sigh of relief and bid him a hearty farewell when the wee ones graduated to the Beatles and Rolling Stones and, eventually, to their generation's music.

Seemingly overnight, we moved from Raffi to System of a Down; from ditties about beluga whales to protests against the Armenian genocide. And Raffi was a thing of the past.

Or so I thought.

As it happens, Raffi kids grow up. And they make videos like this:

Bananaphone video

Thanks to Eli, to has the Bananaphone song stuck in his head.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What inspired you?

I've had the opportunity to interview a lot of scientists lately--seven for the Antarctic Scientists book, and six out of a proposed seven for the Volcano Scientists book--and each time I asked, "How did you become interested in being a geologist/astrophysicist/volcanologist/(fill in the blank)?"

I've been struck by the number of people--perhaps one-third of my subjects--who said, "Well, when I was a kid, I really wanted to be an astronaut." And then, of course, the space program was scaled back, or they realized that they were too near-sighted or (sadly) the wrong gender, and their interests shifted. What all of these successful scientists had in common is that they had this intense interest in exploring the unknown, and to my generation, space was the great unknown.

What I'd like to convey to today's generation of kids is that while they may never be astronauts, there is still a wealth of scientific frontiers that we're just now beginning to explore. The second largest influence on the scientists, I think, was Jacques Cousteau--no surprise, because the ocean is a largely unexplored frontier. Scientists are continually discovering new forms of life in unexpected places, from boiling hot springs at the bottom of the ocean to icy lakes high in the mountains. Physicists probe the nature of matter to understand what happened just moments after the Big Bang, and molecular biologists are beginning to understand the ways in which genes influence behavior and health.

Who--or what--inspired you? (This question is not just for scientists!) Mine was the movie The Fantastic Voyage, so of course I became an immunologist.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


There's a "top 100 songs the year you graduated from high school" meme that's going around in the blogosphere amongst those of us who are searching for things to write about other than what we're having for dinner tonight. And while I'm not going to reproduce the entire list here or tell you which ones I loved/tolerated/hated, let me just show you the top ten songs from my graduation year, 1979:

1. My Sharona, The Knack
2. Bad Girls, Donna Summer
3. Le Freak, Chic
4. Da Ya Think I'm Sexy, Rod Stewart
5. Reunited, Peaches and Herb
6. I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor
7. Hot Stuff, Donna Summer
8. Y.M.C.A., Village People
9. Ring My Bell, Anita Ward
10. Sad Eyes, Robert John

Hmm...what do you think we were doing that year? Note that Robert John's "Sad Eyes" is #10. You knew that all that fun couldn't last, didn't you?

I was at a Barak Obama rally today (stay with me here, this will eventually be music related, which is not to minimize the importance of Barak) and ran into a friend who just came from a sale of the people who used to own Record Service. Remember when there used to be independent record stores, before Borders/B&N/iTunes? Oh, yeah!

Well, I hustled on over to the sale, where I picked up a bunch of CDs for $2 each. And at such prices, I felt free to do a little exploration. So I picked up a Hootie and the Blowfish album, their third I think, titled "Musical Chairs," which came out in 1998. For reasons I will explain in a moment, this band had completely slipped under my radar at the time (unlike every single one of the songs on my graduation year's top ten!). I recognized the name, I thought I might like them, but I was pretty clueless, really. So I bought the CD. And loved it!

Hootie and the Blowfish, as it turns out, falls into that abyss of bands who happened to be popular either when I was a) in graduate school, and either busy trying to find a cure for autoimmune diseases, working on my thesis, or playing pickup softball and drinking in bars after the softball games; or b) into my Chicago folk-music phase; of c) having babies and learning the words to Raffi songs. There's really just this huge black hole of my knowledge of popular music, and I blame it all on graduate school and having babies.

Anybody else have a similar experience? Come on, you know you do. You don't have to have gone to graduate school or had babies to respond, you know!

Friday, September 7, 2007

A sad day

One of my favorite authors, Madeline L'Engle, has died. She was 88. The New York Times article reporting her death quotes her as saying,

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

What you chose to say will indeed continue to matter cosmically, for a very long time, Ms. L'Engle.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Julia love

I hope you won't mind if I indulge in a bit of Julia idolatry. I'm so glad my daughter Caitlin transferred to Smith, not only because it's a terrific school that I think she'll love, but also because it's Julia Child's alma mater.

Which led me to tell her the story of how I came to correspond with Julia. When I was a staff writer for the American Oil Chemists' Society, I wrote a couple of articles about gourmet oils (remember, this was the early 1990s). While my article mainly dealt with the industry's response to growing public interest in gourmet oils, I wanted to ask some chefs about the types of oils they used. I sent Julia a letter, not really expecting an answer. Graciously, she sent me a typed response.

I dug it out of my files, and here it is:

Basically, she said: I use olive oil. I taste it before using it. For certain purposes, I use walnut or hazelnut oil.

In other words, nothing fancy, but always good. You were the best, Julia. You taught us all how to enjoy really good food.

Caitlin told me she thought that the cafeteria at Julia's house was now the "Healthy Options" kitchen. Which I think may have made Julia want to weep.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


I hope my teenage son doesn't see this, even though it looks like lots of fun. Good soundtrack, too. But I do wonder how the high-fiving guy broke his arm.

Goodbye, Mr. Peet

I was enjoying my morning coffee--Peet's, which we have shipped to us from Berkeley--and reading the paper when I learned that Alfred Peet died at the age of 87. Peet was the godfather of gourmet coffee and mentor to an entire generation of coffee entrepreneurs, including the founder of Starbucks.

When I began dating Tony, I was your typical midwestern coffee drinker--that is to say, I drank lots and lots of weak coffee that came out of a can. It was typically brewed in a percolater, and you could let that puppy run all day long, and as far as I was concerned, it was good to the last drop. Tony, on the other hand, mail-ordered this fancy coffee called Peets from Berkeley, where he went to graduate school. I thought it a bit silly, even snobbish, to be honest. Mail ordering coffee beans, which you then had to grind every morning? Sheesh.

But I was pretty fond of Tony, and it wasn't long before I grew to be pretty fond of Peets coffee as well. I even went so far, as few times, as to bring some Peets with me whenever visiting a non-Peets household. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. Talk about a coffee snob!) When Tony was on sabbatical at U.C. Berkeley and we were living in Oakland, I visited the original Peets (pictured above) fairly regularly.

Now, of course, good coffee is fairly easy to come by--and I'm not talking about the Starbucks on every third corner, although even that is better than the stuff we used to drink. And we owe it all to Alfred Peet.