Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Dog Park

After a successful outing
Her Royal Highness the Newf
relaxes in her usual fashion.

Yesterday afternoon the Baroness von Roughenhausen came snout to snout with her first Newf since coming home with us. What's weird is the other Newf belongs to another female psych prof who teaches more or less in the same area I do. Needless to say, she has the job I wanted. Bygones. She's nice and so is her Newf. Katy acted as though she knew right from the get-go that there was something special about this other black bear, a 9 month old female. Play bows, barking, swats, hip checks, slobber shakes and the like ensued.

We got a tip that there was a meeting up of fellow dog lovers and their dogs at a makeshift "dog park" on the mostly fenced off playground of a local elementary school.

We weren't sure what we were getting in to when we went this morning because Katy is so skittish. We walked up and I thought "uh oh." There were about 30 dogs and just as many people. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

But, intrepid we were. We charged ahead, took Katy off of her leash, and let her decide what to do.

She was instantly greeting by a swarm of smaller dogs who seriously freaked her out. They ran circles around us, Katy hiding behind me then Sleyed, then me, then more circles around the whole pack. We watched and waited and eventually she calmed down. Her hackles relaxed; she ventured off and all of the rest was smooth.

She came snout to snout with the other Newf and took down some small fries. At one point she got hip checked by a lab. She whipped around as if to say, "uh - huh what was that?!" then took off, making a mental note of who's number she had to get a piece of next time.

We met some potentially interesting people and some great dogs. Our baby did just fine. This could be a great Saturday tradition and a fantastic way to get her properly socialized.

Google Image Meme

Place you grew up.

Place you live now.

Your name.

Your grandmother's name

Favorite food.

Favorite drink.

Favorite song.

Favorite smell.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Items Ruined by the D.O.G.G.

TV remote control & two AA batteries
my black walking shoes
nob for the washer
knitted hat
screen of my brand new iPod
her comb
a borrowed book
fridge magnets
plastic dishes
her Coach collar
iPod remote control

She still chews something up about 1 in 3 or 4 times she is left alone.

Today I discovered that she has figured out how to move the crate I use to pen her in to the kitchen where I can control what she has access to. She also figured out how to open doors. She got into the office where I had stashed our shoes in case she did get out. Thankfully she left my brand new leather sandals alone. But, she munched the TV remote plus the batteries which meant another trip to the vet to see if she had a mangled one in her gut. Two hours later I picked up a sedated Newfy who had managed to not swallow a battery. Sleyed finally found it tucked in between the cushions of the couch. While she was being checked out I picked up a new universal remote.

At lunch I realized that all I really had to show for the $100 xray was the plastic bag I brought the remote home in.

My sister, who has NO IDEA what she signed up for when bringing a kid into the world, remarked in response to some other thing Newfy chewed up: I would never buy anything nice again.

Right. I'll get right on that solution.

Max went through this a while back. At one point he ate my SPSS disks, a bunch of chocolate truffles, coffee beans, a carved ostrich egg, and a few $20 bills which were not so munched they couldn't be spent... so we have been down this road before. With Max, all we had to worry about him going after was food, plastic, and erasers. He pretty much stuck to that. Newfy is an equal opportunity chewer. Anything is game. I do wonder what it will be next.

We need a better way to keep her penned in - especially if I am going to be working outside my home again!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Walking Plans

Now that my dissertation is done and all of my job applications are in, I haven't got a whole lot to do, so I have taken to walking the dogs a lot more often during the past week!

Today Senior Spaniel and I walked all the way over to our old neighborhood to scope out two houses that are for sale. We don't need to move, but knowing that our income will probably double soon has got me thinking about the possibility of upgrading. I don't want a lot more space, but I would like to have a real 3rd bedroom, a full second bathroom, and a house that is on a more quiet street. If it had a fenced yard large enough for Newfers to run around that would be great. Well, Senior and I didn't see much that was truly exciting.

I needed to carry him home the last 4 blocks. He weighs 30 lbs and I'm a bit of a shrimp too, but we made it. What's more amazing than the fact that I could carry him home easily was that he actually let me do it. Usually he snarls if he's picked up, but this time it was as if I bailed him out big time. He's snoozing at my feet now.

Newfers will leave soon to walk downtown with me to pick up her favorite guy from work. One thing about living so close to work/ school/ downtown/ groceries and all of the conveniences of our noisy location is that we do actually walk a lot. I am reminded of this every time I talk to my MT family who have a habit of asking what the price of gas is. I always say that I haven't got a clue because it has been so long since I had to fill the tank!

If we find a house that allows us this level of convenience (excuses to walk), offers a little more space, is still modern inside *and* leaves us plenty of money left over, we will be extremely lucky. I'm talking with our agent tomorrow, just to feel out what's on the market here. Maybe if we trade up we can stop worrying about that damned roof and the old pipes. If not, hey, we will get a new roof, maybe a new sewer line, and have loads of money left to invest and travel, not to mention other things that will be necessary if...

I guess you can tell I am confident I will be offered the job I want and have already mentally spent my earnings!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Action Jackson

I became an aunt (again) over the weekend, and this time I have a nephew. The little guy is very cute and healthy. He weighed 7 lbs, 3 oz and was 19 inches long, with feet so long they didn't fit on the measuring page. He has my hair and my lips, his dad's chin, and my sis's eyebrows and nose! It will certainly be fun to watch him grow up.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Somebody's Idea of Dinner

Avocado, V8, olives...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Plum Blossoms

Forget crocuses.

Some of the first blossoms to open during the year, plums are the rightful heralds of spring both in Walla Walla and in Japan. And they smell wonderful. Not quite jasmine or gardenia, but right up there. I am a sucker for the white flower fragrance spectrum.

Plums typically flower in February and March in Tokyo. The event is celebrated with plum festivals (ume matsuri) in public parks and shrines across the country.

The plum tree in my backyard, well technically behind my garage in the alley, has managed to keep its bounty of petals despite the gale force winds we seem to be getting. The tree had plenty of petals to go around and also has a small twin on the other side of the garage that is flowering as well, so I didn't feel at all bad about the few I snipped off to liven up the living room.

That'll mean fewer plums to pick up off the ground later.

The plum blossom is a recurring image in Japanese art.

I can see why. At The Japan Print Gallery in Notting Hill, one can purchase original woodblock prints by such artists as Hiroshige, if you've got the cash. Someone bought "The Plum Gardens at Kameido" for 9800 pounds; it measures 14.5 x 9 inches. I would love to have a reproduction poster of it, framed in matte black, for my dining room. The colors would be a great fit; I only wish it had more plum blossoms.

At the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art I located this neat water jar for tea ceremonies.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Spiders Love 2 Snuggle

With a headline like that, of course I was going to click. While it is an interesting news feature about an observation an entymologist made about two species of whip spiders, after watching the video of the mama spider supposedly stroking her babies with her whip-like pair of legs, I can't say I am at all convinced the story deserves the headline.

It's not that I have a problem with spiders "loving" something, though that is probably not the term I would choose, unless of course I was writing a news feature... but anyway, that's beside the point.

What I take issue with is the evidence that the mama spider is actually touching her babies. You can see her "whips" moving around and the babies legs and bodies squirming, but it is hard to tell whether she's actually touching the babies. If she's not making contact, we could hardly call it "snuggling" in the classic mammalian sense, or reptilian, for that matter. Snakes and lizards form piles, presumably to thermoregulate their cold blooded bodies, and maybe they also derive some sensory pleasure from it above and beyond temperature. Perhaps these spiders derive some sensory pleasure from touch, and if so, that would be neat. But there is a long way to go from video of a mama spider moving her legs around in the vicinity of her offspring to concluding that she's touching them.

Now, suppose the researcher put some visible powder on the babies and observed the powder was removed by the actions of mom's whips. Then, I would be convinced. I'd even go so far as to say that's evidence of arachnid grooming behavior.

Grooming and touch are important social behaviors in a wide variety of animals. Such behavior serves a variety of functions which depend on the species. For most, the tactile contact improves basic hygiene. Getting rid of pesky parasites is the name of the game.

However for others, tactile contact lowers blood pressure and heart rate, which is an indicator of physiological stress. Primates and other mammals have been known to fall asleep while being stroked and groomed for just this reason. It's relaxing. For primates, tactile contact and grooming in particular, is way of making and keeping friends. Friends can be powerful allies. It is no accident that we humans speak of "grooming people for the job."

Spiders may love to snuggle. How about some evidence they at least touch? That way we can validly admit these two species in to the warm and fuzzy club. That is what this is ultimately about, afterall.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My dissertation is DONE! Now what?

This morning I submitted my first complete draft of my dissertation to my advisor so now I can sit back and relax until the comments come back. I have just over one week before I have to send it to my full committee. I am not in the least bit concerned or anxious about it. I know I will have to make some changes and I know I will have to boil it all down to a 20 min. talk for my defense, but that is relatively easy.

What has been weird and different about writing my dissertation compared to what many other psychology PhD candidates do? I've done the entire thing 3,000 miles away from my home institution, my advisor, and my committee. Am I getting my degree online? Well, no, and YES. Without the Internet and email, I could not have done this dissertation "my way." Sure, I have done a fair amount of it "their way" which is what you have to do, but I have: a) avoided having to interact too often with my advisor, b) done most of my dissertation on my couch wearing pajamas, c) did it all in a far more pleasant climate, and d) avoided paying about $1500 in fees. That's what I call doing it my way!

I think I can confidently say that I work well independently. That should give me an advantage when I try to land a t-t job at a SLAC given that in those positions, you have to work alone. There is no such thing as a lab full of graduate students and post-docs doing your work for you.

But what is my plan?

Leave academia like so many other women in science? Science Woman lays out an entire laundry list of reasons why people, and women specifically, opt out of tenure-track academic jobs. I can relate to quite a few of them.

I don't know what the future holds for me.
Here's a multiple choice test for all of you clairvoyants out there:

I could work off an on in a "visiting" capacity at the SLAC here and never really make any real money or have a real impact on students and my field, but it would be relatively easy money and I would have lots of free time, comparatively, to write a book, raise a family, and/or explore hobbies. It could be like semi-retirement.

I could work in a non-teaching/adminstrative job at the SLAC and make a decent income doing something valuable and still having a positive impact on students, but I would have constant reminders that I am not teaching when that is what I really want to do and I would have to work in an office M-F including summers. I would not be "bringing my work home" with me as often, but on the balance, I might not have as much free time. I would have tons of money, comparatively, to spend traveling but I'd have to limit it to 2 weeks at a time.

I could work on and off doing odd jobs through temp agencies, earning just enough money to contribute enough to the household economy to kepe us afloat. I would have little job satisfaction and I would have to figure out how to survive and thrive in the real world, albeit only periodically. I'd meet lots of new people, many of which I might have at least one thing in common with, but I'd always have to watch out to not appear to be too smart. I'd probably get fired a lot for stupid reasons.

I could apply for any and every academic position that looks remotely achievable and uproot my family to move to wherever I landed a position. I'd make some money, but we would probably still struggle to make ends meet either because of the high cost of living in this new location or because my husband can't locate a good job. I'd make a valuable contribution to science and to my students but my relationship and mental health might suffer in the process.

I could take a vow of poverty and put my artistic talents to use by becoming an artist. I could paint monkeys that I could turn into educational greeting cards. I could make and sell beaded jewelry, paper boxes, and soap. I could try to make tables and carved wooden frames for mirrors. The possibilities are as endless as my imagination and skills. I would actually have to sell the stuff, which means, I would have to force myself to market my art by getting it into arts/craft fairs and jurying for shows. I'd have to hunt down galleries and stores that would take my stuff for a large cut of the profit. I'd a be just another starving, manic-depressive artist.

Anyone want to take a stab at predicting my future?
You can leave me your answer in a comment!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

African Blues

If I had the money to go anywhere in the world after going to Rwanda to see wild mountain gorillas, and after going to Madagascar to see the world's last remaining lemurs in a highly endangered landscape peppered with the baobabs of Little Prince fame, I would go to Mali to the Festival du Desert to hear the music that has come to be my go-to choice for just about any purpose.

In the final days of dissertation writing, Malian music has and continues to fuel my fire to burn through the last remaining points I want to make about my research.

My favorites lately are Amadou and Mariam. Their song Chantez-chantez always makes me happy when I hear it and it is also one of the first Malian songs for which I could understand nearly every single word. Walide is another great one, also intelligible to anyone who understands some French.

I can't make out all of the words to Walide, so in a vain and lazy effort to locate the Cliff Notes (i.e. its lyrics), I learned this instead:

Amadou et Mariam, once billed as The Blind Couple of Mali, are just that, a blind husband and wife musical act. Guitarist Amadou met singer Mariam at the Institute for Young Blind People in Bamako, Mali. They are Bambara, significant because Bambara music bears obvious resemblances to American blues. Their largely acoustic debut, 'Sou Ni Tile', connects America's Mississippi delta, Mali and the Middle East.
Read more and listen to their music.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Good Advice

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from the person I credit for making me into a psych major. He suggested that when you have trouble going to sleep, don't just lie there in bed counting the sheep, get up and do something. Eventually you will be tired enough to fall asleep. I took that lesson to heart and now have another two pages written on my dissertation discussion as well as a more complete outline. And, true to form, I am now more tired. I cannot say I am actually ready to fall asleep though.

So, I'll tell you about this other time I couldn't fall asleep. Looking for a guaranteed soporific, I picked up Elbow Room, a dense but very thin book, almost a pamphlet really, by Daniel Dennett. The first time I tried reading it, I couldn't. I just muddled through it, barely comprehending his message. It was over my head, or so it seemed. Then, insomnia hit and I picked it up again, hoping for a cure, if not a panacea for my situation. As you might have guessed, this all happened during the dark days of graduate school.

Well, wouldn't you know it - I got sucked into the thing. I read it for hours, enthralled in the wee hours of the morning by stuff like sphexishness. I can't recall if the dawn greated me before I admitted defeat and let the paper sleeping pill work its magic, but I can say that Dennett kept me awake even when I desperately wanted nothing but to fall asleep.

It all reminds me of the ancient story of Scheherazade, the Persian virgin who kept herself alive for at least 1,001 nights at the mercy of her murderous and jealous husband by enticing him with story after story that never ended in one night.

Unlike each of his previous wives who were executed each night before they ran the risk of cheating on him, Scheherazade stayed alive because her husband wanted to hear the end of the story.

Not only is this a lesson to women to stay interesting to their husbands - or else(!) - it is also a favorite example of evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller who uses it in his fantastically entertaining book The Mating Mind to illustrate mate guarding gone wild.

Mate guarding is a term used to describe what one individual does to prevent his/her mate from cheating. This can take a variety of forms from "vigilance to violence" in the words of David Buss. You can read the JPSP article yourself by downloading the PDF here. It's required reading in my EP seminar.

Vigilance is just paying close attention to where the mate is and who s/he interacts with, but actual mate guarding, i.e. behavior that may actually prevent rather than simply monitor a potential cheater can take some extreme and violent forms. Think domestic violence. EPs, at least some of them, think domestics are essentially about jealous people attempting to prevent cheating. Whether or not this is the case, I do think it is a very interesting theory worthy of investigation.

But back to the Daniel Dennett story and it's relevance to Ms. Scherezade. Was I kept awake by a guy who wrote the book in effort to get laid with pretty young ladies like myself? Who knows, but if you believe the theory Geoffrey Miller puts forth in his book and several academic papers, the answer is YES! And, duh.

Interestingly, I later met Mr. Dennett at a conference. He happened to walk by a poster I was presenting and looked, well, lost. I knew damned well who he was and so, naturally was eager to make his acquaintance. I ended up giving him the location of the poster he was looking for and then kindly and subtly invoked the principle of reciprocity by suggesting that he come back afterward to take a look at my poster. I really did not think I would see him again, however, he returned. Not only did he return, but he mock-groomed an imaginary bug from my hair. Between primates, this sort of thing is certainly socially significant. I could only conclude that Mr. Dennett was interested.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sealing the Deal

Today I pulled the trigger and purchased a bunch of plane tickets now that it looks like it is pretty much a done deal for me to get that elusive three letter degree.

My advisor has given her approval for my statistical analyses, which for me means I have the green light to expect things to go fairly smoothly at my defense. There may be some suprises from my other committee members but I have at least one who is a definite cheerleader and another who prefers to hang in the background. It's the other two who could create trouble, but that's what revisions are for, and I am assured that there is almost no chance that they will not pass me at this point. They want me out of there just as much as I do.

I spent the afternoon hashing out the discussion of some of results. It was actually fun. I made a lot of progress once I realized that I could use the theory that one of my committee members is known for to explain it.

After that, I pulled the triger and got the tickets. Then I started researching the regalia...
$280 bucks to have a cap, gown, and hood to keep. Highway robbery!

Part of me says this is a small price to pay for the only tangible evidence of the degree aside from the paper it will be printed on. And, afterall, they paid me to get the degree. Sure, I had to spend years in indentured servitude in exchange, but I thought teaching was highly rewarding. I have mostly forgotten the first couple of years spent in true serfdom. I recall Freud had something to say about the utility of repression...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Beading Project - Start 2 Finish

One of my birthday presents. It belonged to my husband's grandmother, who grew up in India. No one knows exactly where it came form or how old it is. The pieces look like painted bone and depict scenes of birds, gazelles, a camel, veiled belly dancers, a kneeling man in front of a holy book (a Qu'ran?). Perhaps it is from Iran. We have some pieces of chipped pottery from her that are allegedly ancient and from Iran. I think she may have traveled there at some point. I love the pieces; they remind me of my travels in and around Tunisia where I saw all of the scenes depicted on the tiles. The bracelet was too long for me to wear and I wasn't a big fan of the links in between the pieces so I re-tooled it. The whole project took about an hour.

Using a wire cutter made for beading, I snipped off the metal connectors and clasp. I had to use needle-nosed pliers to pry the metal tips of the connectors out from the bone tiles and then straighten them so they could be cut safely without damage to the tiles.

I started one end of the new bracelet with a jump ring threaded with two wire strands. I used a crimp bead on each strand and tightened it in place with flat-nosed pliers. Then I threaded the first bead (jasper) through both wires, and after that I placed a small silver bead and then a bead of red jasper on each wire. Next I used a silver bead with two holes so that the wires would stay apart at a distance that worked with the holes for the painted tiles.

After stringing the jasper beads for each side of the painted tile I twisted the wires over to hold everything in place while I separated the other tiles from the metal pieces they were strung on.

I strung the rest of the jasper beads, each on its own wire, with the other tiles I wanted to use. I had three left over; I can use them in other jewelry pieces. I finished the end of the bracelet with the same arrangement of beads as its beginning and set out the pieces I would need for attaching the clasp. Attaching the clasp and actually finishing the bracelt is the single hardest part of beading. It requires a lot of dexterity and patience. I was going to use two crimp beads to tie it all off before attaching them to the clasp but elected to put both wire ends through the same crimp bead. That way I would use only one plus only one jump ring. It took a little trying, but I got it to work and am happy with how it turned out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Three Cheers for Positive Results

Living where I do in this fertile, temperate valley has its benefits compared with life in Graduate School land. There it would still be winter for at least another month, if not two. Here, I have spring flowers blooming (yeah for positive results!). Sure, they are only the early arrival crocuses; but, they are the harbingers of what will come: tulips, daffodils, lilies, phlox, azalea, lavendar, snapdragons, gladiolus, hyacinth, and others growing in my yard whose names I have forgotten or never knew.

Two autumns ago I indulged a little girl who stopped by my office trying to raise money for her school by buying flower bulbs. All the risk factors were there: adorable kid, raising money for one of the poorer schools in town, flowers, and the icing on the cake - she asked me about what I teach and upon finding out told me what she had just learned about the same subject in her after school camp and then gave me a charming little demo. Even though I didn't know whether I would still be in this house/yard long enough to reap the rewards of the purchase, it all added up to too irresistible of a combination to say no.

I remember digging hole after hole to plant the new bulbs. I also dug up, divided the rootballs, and transplanted some outhouse lilies to a different location where they would be less obvious. They are thriving now and have multiplied thanks to the root ball division. The whole process was a back-breaking, finger-numbing, pain-in-the-butt event, but I really enjoyed the welcome break from grading papers and reading academic articles.

It was my first time planting bulbs. That spring, only one of the daffodils came up, two crocuses, and three oddball dark pink puffballs, a relative of onions. I was disappointed that all 40-50 of the new bulbs didn't produce flowers, but then I learned it often takes more than one season for bulbs to produce flowers.

Today I finished up the re-analysis of dissertation results that my advisor suggested I do and am pleased to report that nothing really changed. I don't know what that says about the robustness of all these tests, but I did find out that you can test hypotheses two different ways and still get virtually the same results. I really freaked out (and that's putting it mildly) when I found out I had done the analyses incorrectly. I was so worrried that all of my beautiful results would change to complete mud and that my discussion and conclusions would be pretty darm near inconclusive. However - three full days worth of significance testing in SPSS turned out only a few minor changes and my effect sizes generally increased which is great. I am thrilled about still having positive dissertation results (second cheer for positive results!!).

I celebrated by weeding with Newfers out in the backyard. She was thrilled herself and zig-zagged all over the yard at high speed. I could tell she would have loved to run around more, but I had to keep her reigned in after she elected to run off to check out the front yard on her own.

After getting her settled inside, I went back out to plant seeds - a FNU-LNU thing I call the "dollar plant" and some catalpa tree seeds I collected from seed pods I dried inside over the winter. I also checked on the seedlings I transplanted earlier. The transplants are doing okay. If it continues to be spring-like, I will transplant the rest of the babies. In a few months my garden should be hopping with another species of lavendar and more varieties of snapdragon, not to mention foxglove - if I can get those seeds to germinate.

Speaking of babies, I found out today my sis and I have the same due date, which I find absolutely hilarious given that she is having a baby and I'm having a dissertation. Either way, it'll be a PHD, pretty hard day, all around. She wants me to be present for the birth, so if that's going to happen I have to finish before she does. The race is on baby sis!

I also finally got a BFP on my OPK test. Hallaleulla or however that is spelled - my ovaries still work! (and that makes the third and final cheer for positive results!!!)

Monday, March 12, 2007

World On Fire

En lieu of a substantive post, I bring you one of my favorite videos from one of my favorite artists.

Friday, March 09, 2007

5 questions meme

The five questions came to me courtesy of Propter Doc.

1. Living in Walla Walla, do you have any great onion containing recipes?
No, but I know someone who does! Check out this recipe for very yummy Swedish meatballs. They aren't really Swedish anymore because Mr. Sleyed has put his own spin on them, making them much spicier. My Norwegian grandma made them for family holiday gatherings. There are also a few recipes here, but I can't personally vouch for them. If you ever find your way to Walla Walla, the "Sweet Onion King" makes some great sausages. Last summer I grew some sweets in my front yard. They made excellent accoutrements to sandwiches!

2. Which development/study in evolutionary psychology has excited you the most?
My own, naturally :-) I love it for many reasons. No one has ever published a paper on it before; it cuts across primatology, nonverbal behavior, and evolutionary psychology; and everyone at one point or another has done it. Other than my own little piece of EP, I have been very excited by a concept called "strategic pluralism" that explains the within sex differences observed in mating behavior. EPs, and especially the media representations of EP research and theories, tend to focus almost uniformly on between sex differences in promiscuity while ignoring the substantial overlap between men and women. The strategic pluralism theory proposes that humans have adopted a range of sexual strategies and have tended to selectively adopt them in response to their individual physical condition, the operational sex ratio of their community, and their individual developmental history. Thus, what really makes an individual adopt a more promiscuous or more monogamous approach to sex is not whether the person has an X or Y chromosome but other, often environmental, factors.

3. Why Newfoundlands?
I have always wanted a big but gentle, intelligent, loyal dog and I'm a sucker for black dogs with white "love stripes" down the chest. They look tough and intimidating but they're really just big softies. And, they are great with kids. They are the gorillas of the canine world.

4. Where in the world would you most like to go and why?
I would go to the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda to spend time with wild mountain gorillas. I'd like to walk in the footsteps of Dian Fossey, get to know the place where she worked, smell the air ripe with gorilla musk, and meet the park guards who protect the area.

5. What does the perfect bouquet of flowers look like?
I don't think any one flower bouquet is the perfect one. Any arrangment of flowers can be perfect in its own way. A single flower of unusual shape, hue, or provinance can be perfect. A uniform bundle of garden variety tulips can be perfect. All flowers can be considered perfect in some way, I think. Even dandelions.

Anyone who wants to play along can let me know by leaving a comment. You'll get five questions to answer too!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Observations of the Human Body

Evolutionary psychologists are fascinated with bodies. To us, bodies provide clues about who we have been as a species. Want to know how sexually promiscuous human females have been over eons of evolution? Look at the average size of males' testicles. Bodies also tell us something valuable about the physical condition of the owner. Want to know how fertile a woman might be? Check out the condition of her lips. As a rule of thumb - the redder, the better. Want to know if a guy might be a cad? Take a look at his jaw and brows. Those cues are just the tip of the iceberg. EPs have looked at such things as WHRs, BMIs, facial and body symmetry, breast size, skin quality, and chest-to-waist ratios, not to mention finger digit ratios. All convey information that others can and do use to size up a potential mate.

Ethologists are interested in bodies too, specifically what they do and what we do to them. Desmond Morris, probably the best known Manwatcher, has catalogued a whole tome of body observations that range from the subtleties of hand gestures to the meaning of tatoos. What we do with our bodies, how we move them and decorate them, can also send sexual information. However, bodies don't always send sexual messages, and even when they do, it isn't always intentional. That leaves a lot of room for ambiguity and misinterpretation - and lawsuits for sexual harassment.

Bodies don't always have to be about sex though, not even naked ones. Bodies can send political messages. And they can be objets d'art. However, when all three unite, the effects can be stunning.

Artists whose canvas is the human body ask us to view the human body through their lens. War photographers and pornographers render up some of the most provocative and powerful imagery.

Recently I had the pleasure, if you could call it that, of watching a touching documentary called simply, War Photographer. It is easily one of the very best documentaries I have ever seen. Everyone should watch it. I already knew that war brings out the worst in humanity, but watching humans in war zones through the eyes of an artist who deeply respects his subject and approaches it with courage and dignity, is altogether different from anything I had seen before. The photographer, James Nachtwey, comes across as one part arrogant madman and three parts humble saint. I think he truly believes that what he's doing will end war. I hope he's right.

Pornographers also document their observations of the human body, but are looked upon a lot less favorably. There's no doubt we Americans have some serious sexual hang-ups when it comes to the naked body. Feminists also have some serious hang-ups, sometimes for good reasons, with pornography.

The artist who created the images posted here had this to say in response to his art being called pornographic, "I don't mind my work being called pornographic. As Andy Warhol said, "Isn't that great." Pornography has been an art form for as long as humans have been around. A large majority of the ruins of Pompeii had to be hidden because it wasn't acceptable for society. And of course, it's just not accepted in America." His work can be seen at the Seattle Erotic Arts Festival and EDL Photographics.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Endometriosis Surgery Photos

EDITED TO ADD (July 24, 2009):
If you're here because like me, you have endo and are scared about what it means for your ability to conceive and have children, here's my story. When I found out I had severe endo, and what that meant for my ability to have children, I scoured the internet for anything I could find about what my chances were. What I read was not encouraging. But, I am now here to say - it IS possible to get pregnant completely naturally if you have endo. It happened to me.

I had the surgery in Feb 2007 and by Oct 2008 I was pregnant with my first child. No fertility treatments, no drug therapy, just plain old, FUN, conventional conception. I think it is a medicial miracle, but I also think the surgery had a HUGE role in making it possible for me to conceive. I had my baby July 14.

When I was scouring the internet for info about endo and pregnancy, one of my big questions was how much labor and contractions would hurt because of the endo. Would they be more or less painful? I don't know if it was just me or my experience with the pain of endo, but the contractions I had were very managable. I really thought they were going to be A LOT, LOT worse. In fact, I labored at home, alone, until I was 8 cm dilated! I had no idea I was that far along by the time I checked into the hospital. I credit having gone through the pain of endo for preparing me.

I also ended up having a C-Section. My uterus and cervix would not dilate further despite the use of pitocin (something I had wanted to avoid) and I had already been laboring at 8 cm for 10 hours before the decision to do the c-sec. My doc said, "You may look 14, but you have a 35-year-old uterus." I don't know if my uterus gave out because I was in labor for so long, because I am 'older' or because I have endo, or perhaps because I had surgery on my uterus and cervix. The medical peeps don't know either, but I thought it's something you might be interested in knowing because more info never hurts, in my opinion!


My post-operative follow-up happened yesterday.

Scroll all the way down to see the photos and their explanation.

Dr. Bad News, as he has come to be known, went through my photos with me and I can say a couple of things: 1) I got a taste of what some of my students must have felt when I rushed through slides on occassion, 2) I like all the gory details and want them in official medical terms, 3) I hate feeling like I am being up-sold, and 4) I really hate wasting time being given info I already know.

Observations 3 & 4 come from Dr. Bad News pitching IUI (intrauterine insemination) and IVF (in vitro fertilization) as the first choice options for getting me pregnant. This came after he told me endo is associated with infertility and that there are two theories why: structural and inflammation/immunity problems, which I knew about and I also knew already that no one really knows to what extent or how or why endo is associated with infertility. A paper I read said there is no clear connection, and therefore no strong empirical support, for the widely held notion that endo and the immune system contribute to implantation problems. The idea persists like it some sort of old wives tale about not going out with wet hair or you'll catch pneumonia. Dr. Redwine in Bend, the other endo specialist I could have gone too, concurs that infertility is not strongly related to endo. It is incredibly vexing that no one really knows exactly what the hell goes on with endometriosis and infertility.

So, Dr Bad News, who is in private practice at a fertility clinic walked me through the photos of my Roto Rooter surgery and then told me he thought I should immediately go for the heavy guns approach to getting me pregnant: IVF. It costs $12,000 just to try once. Most women need three tries; I'm sure you can do the math for the cost. And that all adds up to a 60% success rate. $36,000 for a 60% chance. Our insurance covers none of it. Nor does it cover the 10% success rate IUI route; who knows the cost there.

And - if infertility is related to immunity problems, getting rid of the endo inflammation *might* minimize the immunity problem (i.e. the immune system creates an environment that is hostile to the egg, sperm, and/or embryo implantion), but the longer we wait or the longer it takes to conceive through whatever means, the more likely the endo and hostile environment will come back, and the more likely it comes back with a vengence. So, if it takes three years to come up with $12,000, then it's pretty much a fool's errand because a) the endo will be back, b) my uterine/ovarian environment will be hostile to implanation, and c) my eggs, what's left of them after the surgery, will be in poorer condition because I will be that much older and the endo will have had that much more time to screw them up.

I know I have severe endometriosis. Dr. Bad News didn't need to sell me on IVF which we can't afford right now and which won't be likely to work when/if we can afford it. I know that if I get pregnant and don't miscarry it will be somewhat of a miracle. I'd at least like to give the surgery and my cleaned out body a chance to do what female bodies were molded over eons of evolution to do. And, if it doesn't, oh well. Why would I want to use artifical means to bring a life into this world who will likely carry the genes that contribute to endometriosis and infertility? If my body won't carry a pregnancy then I don't want to force it to. That seems like a bad idea.

By all other accounts, including Dr. Bad News when I prodded him for an answer, the surgery I had is supposed to make it more possible for conventional conception. That is not only free but FUN.

Here are the photos:


The arrow points at a spot of endometriosis on my left fallopian tube. That yellowish-brown spot is about the size of a pin head. At the lower left corner you can see some blue stuff. That's the dye he shot through my tubes to see if they are open. The fact that you can see the dye means the left tube is open. That doesn't mean that an egg released from the left ovary will make it down the tube to be fertilized by sperm there. The inside of tubes can be like obstacle courses with many places for an egg and sperm to get stuck. Tubes can "not move well" even though they are open. That means the tube might be open but it doesn't move the egg along.

SCAR TISSUE in the Pouch of Douglas

All that greyish, filmy stuff is scar tissue that has connected the back of my uterus to my rectum. Endometriosis is commonly found in this space, called the Pouch of Douglas. It could be what was causing me to get diarrhea with my periods, a classic symptom of endo. The brownish spots near the top of the photo on the pink organ look like more endo.


This photo shows my uterus looking an awful lot like a baseball (in pink) with yellowish-brown stitches pointed out by the arrow. That's an endometriosis adhesion. It may be what made menstrual cramps painful.


The photo above shows the cut open endometrial cyst on my left ovary. The red stuff is "old" blood that had filled the cyst. The cyst blood was allowed to spill into my body where it will presumably be reabsorbed. I was told the cyst wall is where the endometriosis is and the blood inside is harmless, but I don't believe that. Other surgeons put the entire, unruptured cyst into a a little baggy and then pull it all out of the laparoscopic tube. This means none of the contents of the cyst, and none of the endometriosis, has much of a chance of coming apart and then attaching somewhere else. I do not like, not one bit, that my cyst was ruptured and then only the cell wall was removed.


I was told that the endometrial cyst had grown into my ovary and that the presence of endo there can harm the eggs in the affected ovary, diminishing their "quality." What that means - if my left ovary is the one that produces an egg follicle, the egg that tries to make its way down that questionably okay fallopian tube might have genetic abnormalies that might impact its ability to implant and then be carried to term. Eggs with severe abnormalities are usually spontaneously aborted and end with a miscarriage, something that happens more often for women who have endo. Because my left ovary was monkeyed with, the eggs may have been reduced in number. By how much, no one knows.


The white thing is my right ovary, about the size of an olive or an almond. It had some smallish spots of endometriosis on it as well. It thankfully did not have a cyst as well which is good. However, no one has told me whether my right ovary is functional, and none of the photos I have show dye flowing out of my right ovary. The doppler echo on my last ultrasound didn't make any noise when they listened to my right ovary. The left one did. I did not think to ask about the status of my right ovary at the follow-up because so much of the talk was about the other more glaring problems. I called my surgeon's office and left a voice mail with him asking about the right ovary, but I'm not expecting a call back.

I wonder if I will ever be able to get pregnant given the extent of the endometriosis I had. My left ovary is seriously screwed up at best, and although the left tube is open, it has questionable structural quality so I may have to rely entirely on my right ovary and right fallopian tube to work in order to get me pregnant. That's why I am freaking out about the lack of a photo showing that my right tube is open. On the bright side, I have always had regular cycles, so I have most likely been ovulating. I got my period right on schedule just two weeks after the surgery, so my cycle seems to still be regular. If so, I am supposed to ovulate in a couple of days. An OPK (ovulation predictor kit) will tell us whether that's the case. Although my surgeon said he removed everything he saw that he thought looked like endometriosis, there is no guarantee that he got it all. In fact, he most likely didn't given that some of it was too small to see. That, combined with how the cyst was removed, makes it possible that I will have endo show up where it hadn't previously been somewhere down the line as long I continue to ovulate.

Friday, March 02, 2007

You know you're loopy when...

... you find out the Grey's Anatomy episode is a re-run so you turn the TV off and read a dense academic article instead while your husband reads an even denser academic article on the couch by your side...

... then, instead of going to bed because the articles conked out your engines, you stay up talking about them...

... and you're still up later laughing yourselves silly reciting lyrics from a Regina Spektor song and playing the alphabet game to the color green.

How many different ways can you say the color green before you admit defeat and hit the sack for real?

We got to M - malachite.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Deadline 2: MET! (sort of)

I've been analyzing study 2 data like mad, well, not too obsessively, and given that when I set the deadline I failed to appreciate exactly how many more analyses I'd have to do for this study compared to the first, I wisely made an executive decision to ease up on my deadline for writing up the results.

I had 4 hypotheses to analyze, some with multiple parts, plus post hoc tests to run, and although I am done cranking out the numbers now, the one week turn around time I set for writing it all up wasn't going to be possible, not even with superhuman ability to avoid sleep with no deleterious effects!

The new deadline for the write up is now Monday, which is completely reasonable, and if I bust my butt so speak, I could even be done by the end of business hours on Friday, leaving the weekend open for tom foolery. My deadline for turning in the whole thing to my advisor was Mar 7 but I don't want to bang out the discussion in two days, so the new one is Fri, Mar 9. Four days to write a discussion is reasonable. The last time I wrote that intensely I had a bottle of red wine to help! I am totally prepared to go out and get a bottle of monkey Barrel Thief Red if I need to. Around this valley, the wine possibilities are endless, but I've had my eye on this one for quite a while. It's perfect for a primatologist writing about monkey stuff :=)

Whatever happens, I have all of my data analyzed now and have a pretty decent story to tell. Many of my predictions were born out with the data, including the most important one! I am very excited about that and think that I should be able to get it published somewhere, hopefully in a higher impact journal given the experimental protocol and sound theoretical foundation. Plus, my work is a genuinely novel contribution with relevance to multiple fields. I love it! I really do.

There are things I would do differently the next time around, including one major one, but I am not terribly worried about defending my work nor the future of my "research program." That major thing I would do differently? It's the next study. I should be able to have it up and running, pending IRB approval, this summer.

And, I have a paper under review now with another one co-authored with one of my thesis students sitting around waiting to be tidied up and sent out to reviewers. That paper contains an exciting discovery that I can use to bolster my dissertation discussion. Thank you Mr Sleyed for reminding me about that! He's so smart, it's like having another me around sometimes!