Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sonic Blade

Just by chance I happened to see a TV advert for a revolutionary new home kitchen tool, the Sonic Blade. It cuts through layers of a sandwich without smooshing everything in the process. The 30 seconds I saw hooked me. The images were compelling. The blade cuts so finely and crisply that your sandwich looks like it has been cut with surgical precision.

Immediately I thought, "Ah ha!" that sonic blade is a mass marketed version of the precision surgical instrument my surgeon used to remove my endo. It looked like it vibrated quickly and that is what made it slice through the sandwich with minimal damage.

So, remembering that my surgeon said he used a "harmonic scalpel" that vibrates, I googled it and found that the "ultrasonic" blade he used vibrates 55,500 times per second.
Here's how it works.

Having read the blurb about the ultrasonic harmonic scalpel used on me, I can say I am impressed and fortunate that he used this tool instead of a laser. Lasers burn the endo away and cauterize at much higher temperatures. That creates more tissue damage, kind of like what happens when you use an ordinary kitchen knife to cut through a sandwich - you end up with seriously torn up insides.

Unfortunately, lasers are foisted off on many women who have surgery for endometriosis and aren't lucky enough to get sent to a surgeon who uses such fancy equipment. I recall reading somewhere, I forget exactly where, that lasers are actually more expensive than scalpels. That makes intuitive sense. I wonder about cost of the harmonic vibrating scalpel.

I couldn't easily find out how much the harmonic scalpel costs, but I bet it is be pretty pricey given its Lilliputian proportion. It's only 5mm in diameter.

The knock-off As Seen On TV version costs $100, and if you buy now, you get one for free, reducing the per item cost to $50. That's so cheap I wonder if the quality matches. In any case, I am certainly glad my surgeon didn't use such a crude instrument on me! The Sonic Blade only vibrates a few hundred times per MINUTE, allegedly. Here's how it works.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Chimps Spear Hunt

Chimps and a number of other animals, including non-primates, have been observed using tools. Chimps use tools in a wide variety of contexts, however, up until now they had only been observed using tools to process plant matter or insects. For example, chimps use twigs to fish termites out of holes, rocks to smash nuts to get at the nutritious pith inside, and partially chewed leaves to sponge up water to drink from tree cavities. Recently, Iowa State University anthropology professor Jill Pruetz observed chimps using sticks to fish bushbabies out of tree holes.

This spear hunting was observed in the Fongoli population of West African chimps in SE Senegal. Chimps in other parts of Africa cooperatively hunt and eat red colobus monkeys, a species absent in SE Senegal. They have never been observed using tools to do this.

Ian Gilby, who has studied chimp meat eating, has anecdotally observed chimps using sticks to fish birds, another prey item, out of tree cavities.

Pruetz proposes the tool use she observed, which only occurred once successfully, qualifies as tool use for hunting because sticks were modified systematically and used consistently in an effort to catch bushbabies. One of the spear-making steps involves biting the stick tip to a point. Chimps were observed using the spear in a stabbing motion inside tree cavities 22 times. They also sniffed and licked the spear points after withdrawing them.

"In the single instance in which a chimpanzee was observed to extract a bushbaby, it was unknown whether the prey was alive or dead after the use of the tool, but it made no attempts to escape, nor did it utter any vocalization. In that case, the chimpanzee ultimately broke off the terminal end of the hollow branch by moving several meters up the large (>10 cm diameter) branch and jumping on the branch until it broke off. She then climbed down, reached into the cavity, and pulled out the bushbaby," reports Pruetz in the in-press Current Biology article, "Savanna Chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes verus, Hunt with Tools."

The observation that chimps use biodegradable tools to hunt meat suggests that early human ancestors probably used tools far earlier than previously thought. Though I am skeptical about exactly how much foresight this spear hunting demonstrates, such observations can provide valuable insight into the lives of early hominids.

You can read a brief about the study here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Wild West - Prairie Dog Style

Prairie Dog Prof Says the Critters Are Cute, but Evil
By David A. Fahrenthold
The Washington Post

The world's expert on lust, violence and cannibalism among prairie dogs uses a slide in his lectures that sums up a lifetime of research. A pack of the squirrel-size creatures is shown perched on their hind legs: cute, cute, cute, cute, cute.

But then, next to each fuzzy head, John Hoogland has written something nasty he has seen happen in a prairie dog ``town.''

``Promiscuity, kidnapping, pedophilia, murder, infanticide,'' it says. Not so cute.

``Studying prairie dogs is like watching little people,'' he says. ``Whatever we do, they do as well, and usually more often.''

Hoogland, a professor at the University of Maryland, has spent 34 years unraveling the daily routines of a burrowing rodent. It has always been interesting work: These towns can make Melrose Place look like Sesame Street.

But now, his research has gained new political importance as environmentalists and ranchers battle over protection for a quintessential Western species. Prairie dog advocates have seized on the findings of this East Coast professor, who calls his subjects ``little woofers'' and loves them in spite of what they do.

``I'm not doing anything different,'' said Hoogland, 58. ``But now, everybody's interested in prairie dogs.''

There are four species of prairie dogs in the United States, but their numbers have declined dramatically. Prairie dogs occupy perhaps 5 percent of their former territory, the result of massive extermination campaigns on the Great Plains.

Even today, they remain perhaps the most hated rodent in the West, because ranchers fear that prairie dogs colonies will eat pastures bare. The dogs are killed by the thousands with poisoned oats, long-range rifles and new technology such as the ``Rodenator'' which blasts their burrows with a propane-fueled explosion.

Environmental groups have sought to cut back on this culling, pushing for greater legal protection for all four species. They have repeatedly cited Hoogland's research in their arguments, because he found that prairie dogs seemed to reproduce more slowly than other rodents, such as rabbits and rats.

That, prairie dog advocates say, makes it hard for their populations to rebound from human slaughtering.

``They can't take these additional stresses on their population,'' said Nicole Rosmarino of a Santa Fe, N.M.-based group called Forest Guardians.

To learn this, Hoogland had to explore prairie dogs' dark side. He found that they keep their populations down by eating their own kin.

``They are herbivores, strictly,'' Hoogland says. ``Except for eating babies.''

Hoogland didn't set out intending to study prairie dog cannibalism. As a young researcher, he first tried to study a species of ground squirrel, but they just mated and then scattered. Despairing of ever being able to keep track of them, Hoogland says, he actually cried.
Then, in the early 1970s, he found prairie dogs. The animals spent most of their life within the same few acres - and a good bit of it above ground, where he could watch them. Perfect.
``Within 10 minutes, I remember saying out loud to myself, `I could study these things for the next 10 years,''' he recalled. It turned out to be a much longer commitment than that. Hoogland found a job at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, which has an office here in this Appalachian college town.

It's not that there are any prairie dogs in Maryland; there aren't. The appeal was the flexible schedule: Hoogland's bosses let him live with prairie dogs for more than four months a year.
This month, Hoogland left for the Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado, home to a colony of white-tailed prairie dogs. He and a team of assistants plan to capture all the animals and paint their fur with identifying numbers, racing stripes or other designs. Then they will climb up in seven-foot-high towers and watch what ensues.
And watch.
And watch.
They will note which dogs ``kiss'' each other, pressing their teeth together in a greeting gesture; who fights with whom; who spends the night in whose burrow. They will watch up to 14 hours a day, every day - doing work that can be tedious and tense at the same time.

``It always looks like nothing's happening,'' said Mark Hoogland, 29, one of Hoogland's four children, who often helped with research and were home-schooled to accommodate the family's schedule. ``But then somebody sneaks into somebody else's burrow, and that's what you've been watching all day long for.''

They have seen all kinds of things from their perches. There was mating-season chaos, in which males tried to keep females sequestered underground - before they escaped out a back entrance. There were insights into prairie dog altruism: The scientists dragged a stuffed badger across the colony and noted which dogs would give an alarm call to warn others. Some warned their relatives. Some saved only themselves.

Then there was the baby-killing. Hoogland didn't notice it for seven years, because it usually happens only underground. One of his early clues was the sight of a female prairie dog emerging from another mother's burrow, licking blood off her claws.

``It was almost like I was watching Macbeth,'' he said, thinking of Lady Macbeth's attempts to wash an imaginary ``damned spot'' of blood from her hands.

Hoogland says he's still not sure exactly why they do it. It may be simply for a high-protein meal.

``You wouldn't find out a lot of these things unless you were just terribly persistent,'' said Pete Gober, a field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Pierre, S.D. ``He never gets tired of it.'' Hoogland says he still isn't. ``People say, 'Don't you see the same things?' '' Hoogland said. ``Never see the same things. Always something new.''

Field Note:
Hoogland's research makes prairie dogs look like they are the Great Plain's version of monkeys. Studying them resembles studying monkeys, except that prairie dogs disappear underground rather than up a tree. That's got to make his research that much harder. I can relate to the challenges of studying behavior that happens "behind closed doors." It's no surprise that he's studied them for decades and still has questions. I wonder whether he's considered installing cameras to watch what happens underground. I'd bet he'd need those cameras to come equipped with little lens wipers to clear debris.

I, too, wonder why females kill the infants of other females. I know prairie dogs aren't primates, but female infanticide has been known to occur in some primate species. It's not as well understood as the male infanticide, which itself was poorly understood until Sarah Hrdy discovered that males kill the infants in troops they take over in order to reproduce with the females and insure that their own progeny live. Prior to her discovery, scientists thought infanticide was a pathological byproduct of crowding. Now infanticide is recognized as a reproductive strategy. Perhaps female infanticide is also a reproductive strategy. It could very well all come down to food supply though.

This article also mentions kidnapping and pedophilia. I wonder what exactly this refers to. Primates sometimes kidnap infants. Usually it's young nulliparous females (who haven't reproduced yet) who take babies to play at parenting them. They don't make great babysitters, but neither do first time mothers. It's thought they do it to get practice. Regarding pedophilia - it's not unknown in the primate world. Bonobos, a species of ape, have sexual relations with infants and juveniles as well as adult males and females. It's all part of normal bonobo life, an observation which can make for excellent conversations about what is 'normal' and 'natural' for modern day and what might have been for ancestral humans.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Spring Cleaning cont.

After all of the weekend spring cleaning Mr. Sleyed and I got done last weekend, I have been thinking about spring in general, the passage of time, and the future.
Hope springs eternal. Time flies...

This spring my sister will become a mom and I will become a PhD. I have a massive amount of work to do in a very short span of time, so every bit of it is precious, yet I have to plan for the reality of student loans coming due this spring, a surgery bill, and a big international trip, not to mention the defense trip, to pay for - ALL of which cause a pressing, immediate need for me to generate some creative ways to make money SOON. I wish that time didn't fly quite so fast.

Spring cleaning has also led me to think about how to make our dining room a more inviting and useful place. Right now it holds only a small, worn wood table and a rug. There's one picture on the bare, beige walls. If I had money, I'd buy more functional furniture for the room and deck it out in a modern style with classic, sleek lines in black and red. It might look vaguely Japanese or Chinese. I'd put my own version of the Time Flies Clock set pictured above on one of the walls. Instead of England and China, mine would be Tunisia and Japan, and the silhouettes would be black.

I am really looking forward to visiting Japan this summer. Today I'm uploading Pimsleur's Japanese to my iPod and have set out some travel books so I can check out all the options for places to go when I need a mental break from "dissertating."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Snow I Ordered Arrived!

That's right, last night while talking to my dear dad I mentioned that I found a new down-filled ski jacket on super sale and that I wanted it to snow so I could wear it before jetting off to NH for my defense, and my wish was granted contrary to my dad's own wish for no more snow. He lives in a place where it actually snows in the winter so he has a better excuse. I didn't think it would actually snow again here in the desert valley this winter, and I thought for sure I would have to wait until April in NH to bust out my new coat, but there are huge puffy flakes of white snow everywhere! The snow genie delivered! Yes.

... which all reminded me of the really cool road sign I saw in the last place on Earth I expected to see a snow advisory sign. I snapped the photo with the intent of someday turning the cool sign into something I could put on a Tshirt, magnet, etc.

I don't know very many Photoshop tricks, but I got at least this far in creating the image I want. Ideally the red would be pure red, minus the splotches, and the black would be pure black. All of the lines, including lettering would be crisp. Perhaps someone who knows more Photoshop tricks could clean it up for me (Maurice? Alasdair? Margot?)

Seeing the sign again also reminded me that I have already forgotten a lot of the Arabic I learned, but I do remember one of the absolute most vexing things about the language is that there are no vowels in the written form so you have to know the word already in order to know exactly how it is pronounced. The letters in the sign above are th-l-je(as in French) but it could be pronounced in a variety of ways.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Deadline 1: MET!

That's right, I met the deadline I set for myself for completing the analyses for study one and writing up the results with time to spare! I even sent my draft to my dissertation advisor 12 hours ahead of schedule.

Not only did I meet my deadline, but I did it even though I did other things today. I took breaks. I practiced healthy eating habits. I wasn't a jerk to my family in the process (at least I don't think). I ate lunch with my husband at the dining room table rather than over my laptop. I read blogs. I commented on blogs. I talked to people on the phone. And, I have time to spare! Oh, and I did laundry! And watered the plants! And made a follow up appointment with my surgeon!

I didn't think I would have enough time to go over the comments my advisor gave me on my previous draft, but I did and have already made the recommended changes. I also didn't think I'd have enough time to make tables of my data but I made four of them, and they are very pretty and well-organized.

My reward for meeting my goal is to watch Lost tonight and get a pedicure. I love pedicures and haven't had one in a while so this was great incentive. I think I'll splurge and get a French manicure on my toes.

I have more than three hours to go before Lost comes on, which means I can also easily watch the episode of Heroes I missed Monday night. Or, I can use this head of steam to start work on study two.

But - the BEST part?

ALL of my predictions were validated with significance coming out of the wazoooooo! Yahoo. That will make the write up that much easier.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Study Links Surgeons' Competence to Video Game Proficiency

Study Links Surgeons' Competence to Video Game Proficiency
By Denise Gellene
Los Angeles Times

Worried that kids spend too much time playing video games? Take heart, they may become great surgeons. New research Monday found that surgeons with the highest scores on ``Super Monkey Ball 2,'' ``Stars Wars Racer Revenge'' and ``Silent Scope'' performed best on tests of suturing and laparoscopic surgery.

Doctors who had played video games at least three hours a week sometime in their past worked 27 percent faster and made 37 percent fewer errors on the surgical tasks compared to those who had never picked up a game controller, according to the study.

``For as little as three hours a week, you could help your children become the cyber-surgeons of the 21st century,'' said Dr. James C. Rosser Jr. of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and lead author of the study in the Archives of Surgery.

The research looked at 33 surgeons attending a course on laparoscopic surgery and found that their game-playing skill was a better predictor of success on the surgical tests than years of medical practice or number of surgeries performed.

Expertise with ``Super Monkey Ball 2,'' which involves steering a ball containing a monkey down a serpentine track while simultaneously targeting bananas, was most closely linked with high test scores.

Dr. Myriam J. Curet, a Stanford University surgeon who wrote an accompanying critique, cautioned against uncontrolled gaming, which has also been linked with aggressive behavior and bad grades.

The study agreed, saying ``indiscriminate video game play is not a panacea.''

Properly channeled, game playing can foster the hand-eye coordination and fine-motor skills needed by laparoscopic surgeons, who rely on television monitors to guide them during surgery, said Rosser, who plays video games five to six hours a week.

``Where did you go to school? Did you pass your boards?
... Patients may also ask their doctors, `Are you a 'Super Monkey Ball player?' ''


Psychology textbooks frequently criticize video games, citing studies that show violent video games beget violent behavior in real life too. It's great to see studies that show video games, albeit non-violent ones, can actually have a positive effect.

I definitely do think the key is to limit the amount of videogame play a budding surgeon, or any other child, indulges in. Three hours a week isn't that much, but it appears to make a difference. Any more than that and other important skills may fail to be developed. You might end up with the equivalent of a kid who exercises only his right arm, lifting heavier and heavier weights until his right arm so outpaces his left arm in strength that he not only looks ridiculously unbalanced, but is left with a left arm so atrophied it's useless.

I don't know if my surgeon played videogames, but he's got a track record of not making mistakes, so he must have developed an impressive degree of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills somewhere.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Quel plaisir!

Yesterday I had the pleasant experience of locating a CD I created of Le Petite Prince en francais.

I had managed to find the original copy online at a small bookstore in Montreal or Quebec (I forget which).

It was only available on cassette, but I wanted it in French, and Sleyed owned the software program Toast, so I purchased it anyway and Sleyed digitized it. I made a sticky label for it complete with St. Ex's drawings from the book, in color. It looked great, was fun to listen to, and really helped improve my pronunciation.

Unfortunately, the label might have degraded the quality of the data so it could only be played on the home stereo. It sounded fine for a while but then it became clear to me that whole sections were seriously degraded. Humpf.

So, I looked at the iTunes store and found a different recording, easily downloaded, and enjoyed... NOW.

Right now I am listening to Le Petite Prince en Francais!

Yahoo! It's been too long since I practiced French. I realized that after writing an email back to my Tunisien friend yesterday. He doesn't write in English very well but my French is passable (especially when I actually consult the dictionary!) so it works out for the best. It had been too long since I wrote anything of consequence in another language so it took far too long. It was a fun challenge though. Sleyed and I decided a while ago that if we have kids we'd like them to be bilingual. We should learn Spanish better because that would be more useful, but we figured that would be easy enough for them to learn on their own given where we live.

Fitting with my multi-tasking habits, I'm also blogging, scanning childhood photos of Sleyed's uncle and dad, and recording who sent Sleyed and I wedding cards ten years ago.

We found the cards in a box yesterday while spring cleaning. It was the one warm, sunny day in a long while so, naturally, we stayed inside all day and cleaned out our place. We decided to get rid of the cards after recording who sent cards in a little scrapbook we bought before the wedding (ten years ago!). It feels good to clean out stuff we don't really need to keep. And, it was fun to revisit that occassion.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Just checking.

As seen over at Young Female Scientist. One last procrastination.

I think the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is hokey but amusing. Lots of businesses use it to learn about potential or current employees. My opinion of the test is mixed to say the least. I took it a long time ago in college and found out I'm an INTJ. It fit. I was never much of a J though, scoring on the low end/borderline, so it is no surprise that I'm an INTP by this test, which is not the real MBTI, btw. The description given rings true, every bit of it, except the suggestion I'd be a good programmer. Maybe behavioral! But not what I think they mean. The description YFS got for INFP also fits me to a T (plus confirmed I'd "make an excellent writer, psychologist, or artist"), so either this is astrology or the test lacks validity ;-)

You Are An INTP

The Thinker

You are analytical and logical - and on a quest to learn everything you can.

Smart and complex, you always love a new intellectual challenge.

Your biggest pet peeve is people who slow you down with trivial chit chat.

A quiet maverick, you tend to ignore rules and authority whenever you feel like it.

You would make an excellent mathematician, programmer, or professor.

Back To Work: Deadlines, Deadlines!!

If it's already afternoon and I've been busy all morning since before the sun came up, does that mean I am pushing myself too hard?

It's mostly been desk work... My Man With Gills don't get on my case! I only started one load of laundry. It's not like I'm out in the backyard mud ripping up weeds and popping out my stiches.

What have I been up to? I lose track.
But I made important, real, quantifiable dissertation progress:
1) Wrote acknowledgments page.
That was fun and rewarding. I can wait for the Very Important Primates to read it after it goes to print. My first impulse of course is to let the most important VIP read it, but he'll have to wait too.
2) Downloaded more data.
I really don't need it, but it is nice to be able to add and it really doesn't take that long. I must remember to do that AFTER I analyze study one data and write the results section. That's what I will be doing while Sleyed weaves and does housework this weekend. I get a free pass on housework for another week ;-)

And on another front, I told my co-author our paper got rejected. It's the second rejection. Oh well. I know where to send it next.

Scanned in miscellaneous stuff, including design plans for SIL to make her own accordion books, two stories, and... the best, an advert for a COMPLETE SOLAR SYSTEM. Only $3000.

Ate oatmeal for breakfast and spinach/basil stuffed jumbo shells for lunch. Drank chai.

Moved seedlings to a sunnier window.

Washed some towels... and a couple of curtains.

Checked in with old friends, and some new ones.

Redesigned the Endometriosis Association brochure in my head.

Printed out an article I want to review for this blog and ended up replacing two ink cartridges before it was done. Made mental note to actually take the 4 empties to be recycled for money off the next ones.


Decided on new goals and rewards for meeting next set of deadlines:

Wed, 21 Feb
finish results section 1 (get to watch Lost that night, pedicure)
Wed, 28 Feb
finish results section 2 & send draft to advisor (get to watch Lost, Pottery Barn shelves)
Wed, 9 March
discussion section finished & sent to advisor (haircut & color?)

Mon, 19 March
revise/rewrite, send new draft to committee (Creektown Cafe Dinner WITH WINE)

Attend sister's labor party. You better not go into labor early!!!

Mon, 16 April
final defense (get a PhD?)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Random Thoughts

I've already posted for the day and my brain is way too full, so I'm just going to purge the random collection in a series of bullet points.

*** Before having surgery, especially one that knocks out your core (your abs) for a while, get your hair cut short if it's long and especially if you've been thinking about it anyway. Raising your arms to wash your long hair (which is heavier when wet) requires your abs to be in good shape. If they're out of commission due to surgery or whatever, you'll be grateful to not have one other thing you can't do by yourself.

*** Live C-Span coverage of the House and Senate politicians speaking can be fun and inspiring to watch, particularly when they're on the subject of how to handle the situation in Iraq. I was particularly moved by the delivery of a Republican congressman, Virgil Goode. It wasn't because he lived up to his name in the making a good point department, but because his oratorial style reminded me that I really love teaching. Why?

I had a whole new class on the psychology of persuasion worked out in my head after listening to him. His speech was a fantastic example of using emotion to persuade. Those who followed lacked his style; they spoke like normal people and may have made excellent, rational points, but they lacked the power his approach did. I fear that power when it's unleashed on a public who prefers ignorance to information and emotional decision-making to those based on deep thought.

*** Using your social support network is an excellent way to make your life easier and you shouldn't wait until you're sick to do it.

*** If you need a dog to do something, just tell them what to do in the language you've trained them to pay attention to. Short, clear commands work. Be clear and be consistent when dealing with verbally training dogs. Be creative when using their new skills.

You can use one dog to get the other one to get in line behaviorally. For example, my little old man licks himself excessively sometimes. It drives up my stress level. I'm a primate, that's natural. When another primate starts grooming compulsively, it makes that primate want to displace anxious energy too, usually by grooming a nearby primate. If none is available, they turn the impulse on themselves. Dogs don't really do this, so instead of risking injury to my post-surgery body by getting out of bed to interupt the little licker physically (which is the next to only way to make him stop, trust me), I get my other dog to stop him. How? I say simply "Katy look Max" which she has associated with Max going to look for a hidden treat. I taught Max that "Go look" means I have hidden a variable number of treats and he needs to go find them. Saying "Katy look Max" gets her to go find him and then sniff his mouth. He stops licking himself instantly.

*** Puppies are still destructive, impulsive, and needy even when they are 11 months old but look like an adult. Such dogs can be stunningly similar to teenage kids.

*** If someone has not treated you with the respect you deserve, don't abruptly react but wait until you've gained perspective and can respond appropriately.

*** Lost is still one of the best shows on TV. Last night's episode had me in doubt, as did the bizarre choice to move it to a later time slot, but the show has me hooked again. Last night's episode took an awfully and perhaps unnecessarily long time to develop. It became hard to follow in places, but the ending and final message made it worth it. I love the themes more than the mystery of the island, but even that runs a really close second! Hume and Locke. I love it. The philosophy of life is what really captures me. Are we blank slates? How much control do we have over what happens to us? I love that stuff. I also really love the inclusion of bizarre psychological and medical stuff. The brainwashing to try to change the wayward ways of one of the others. Weird. Total Terry Gilliam too. He's the guy responsible for Brazil and 12 Monkeys - fantastic psychological thrillers. And the hatch - it appeared to be a well stocked, spacious Skinner's Box from the get-go, but is that really what it is? I love that it looks like the island is one big experiment. Waaaaaa haaaaa haaaaaa. Now we just need to figure out who are the evil souls walking around wearing white lab coats concealed under their day clothes.

*** If you want to continue living, at times you must release control of your life to someone else. For those of us who desperately want to stay in control and who believe they are in control (me, my dad, my grandpa for example), it can be particularly difficult to turn our control over to the doctor who can help if only we comply.

We humans are a curious species. So fragile, yet so powerful. Some of us surrender control to a higher power, God, Allah, Jehovah, Mother Nature, whatever the label is, but what unites all devout believers is that we are not fundamentally in control. Perhaps that makes it easier for them to hand over control to a surgeon or an anesthesiologist who can be thought to assume the power of God. Maybe it doesn't. I wouldn't know. The God I believe in isn't short of cash or followers. In other words, I will never be electable to the Office of the President of the United States of America, but it's no matter, I would not want the job anyway. However, if any openings appear for Benign Dictator With Ultimate Power, I'd consider the job ;-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Prior to receiving a perfect-for-me set of Curious George themed scrubs to relax in post-surgery from my best friend, the word "scrubs" only conjured up the TLC song "No Scrubs," an insanely popular, catchy late-90s hip/hop song about a girl who won't date poor guys, i.e. scrubs. I'm not sure of the origin of the label "scrub," but perhaps it refers to a man so lazy that he needs to clean up his act before he's suitable to date.

In any case, the song is one of my favorites to use in my evolutionary psychology of mating classes. It expresses so perfectly, and explicitly, the idea that men need to show evidence they can provide material goods to a potential mate in order to be competitive on the mating market. The other major way men can woo women, besides offering "good genes" (healthy, masculine face and physique), is to offer quality caregiving. The "good parent" strategy has not received enough attention from evolutionary psychology, but the sentiment can be found easily enough in pop songs if one extends it to include expressions of love, emotional attachment, and commitment.

In fact, there are several songs that can be used to jumpstart discussion of What Women Want. I am particularly fond of P!nk's song "Most Girls," Madonna's Express Yourself," and Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle," for which I have always wondered whether the line "If you wanna be with me, baby there's a price to pay... You gotta rub me the right way" is meant to be taken literally or figuratively. We groom all sorts of people in all sorts of ways to get what we want out of them. It's the primate way; why would it be any different when it comes to achieving mating goals?

As an evolutionary psychologist, I wonder how a girl's experiences with parents and peers during childhood and during her fledgling attempts at dating influence how much priority a woman places on those three male commodities of genes, resources, and caregiving. I'd have to say that's my main research interest, but being a broad one, I had to start somewhere. So, naturally, as a primatologist and an EP and a maverick, I chose the perfect topic: human mutual grooming.**

Was that wise? Who knows. Right now, I could care less about whether my topic is timely, whether it will get funded - let alone a tenure-track job, or even whether it will receive any press, but I have to stay focused on what really matters right now. I have to find enough enthusiasm for the topic to successfully defend my dissertation. It's coming. I can feel it. Realizing the multitude of metaphors for grooming and references to cleaning in artifacts of everyday life really helps. So, too, does being on the receiving end of a lot of grooming over the past week. Thank you Mr. Right!!

Monday, February 12, 2007

When Sorrows Come

They come not single spies but in battalions.

At least, that's the way it seems lately. I don't care to list all the gory details to convince you that my laundry list of bad experiences over the last few years warrants the melodramatic use of Hamlet, but it is my favorite play and it captures how I imagine at least one member of my family must feel.

First things first, I am fine. I had the laparoscopic surgery rather than the big scary version, and my cyst is gone without any major complications. I did have an allergic reaction to an anti-nausea drug that earned me an overnight stay in the hospital for what was supposed to be outpatient surgery. I vomited three times and got the detox shakes really bad when coming down from the anesthesia but those wore off at about the same time I could finally hold down food. I ate an excellent filet of salmon with rice and cooked carrots at 2am. It was seriously excellent - or - the two days of fasting made it so.

I do have endometriosis but it is only stage 3 (out of 4) and my tubes are open, so I can theoretically be a mom to my own child someday, hopefully soon. We have a 3-6 month window to try and then we'll have to use more "aggressive" measures... whatever those are. We'll see how it goes.

My surgeon was wonderful; I like him more every time I have to talk to him. He used a harmonic scalpel to excise the endo which is wonderful news - it means less chance of the endo coming back, less pain, etc, etc. We'll see how it goes. I have NO expectations except that I will have to take birth control pills continuously until menopause. Oh well, no more periods for me! What a deal.

I even got pictures... haven't looked at those yet. Should I post with explanation or not?

To do, or not to do. That is the question I put to you. Wanna see 'em?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Travel Map

As seen at Psych Grad, this cool little map can easily be created here.

It's fun to see how many states I've been to - predominantly the West and Northeast - and how much of North America I've been to. I don't feel an overwhelming urge to visit all 50 states. But, I would like to go bird watching in southern Texas.

As for countries I'd like to visit? My top ten are: India, Turkey, Morocco, Peru, Cambodia, the Seychelles & Madagascar, Mali, Tanzania, and Rwanda. I think Mali, Madagascar, and Rwanda are the hardest to get to and will require the most cash. If I suddenly had $100,000 after paying off my student loans, I would go to Rwanda first - to see mountain gorillas. Then I'd go see lemurs in Madagascar, and finally I'd got to Timbuktu and the Festival of the Desert in Mali where I'd listen to some of my very favorite music, live.

Surveymonkey Insider Knowledge

This morning I tried to download my newest data from surveymonkey and got shutout. It told me I had to be a subscriber to export data. What a shocking development given I have been a "professional" subscriber for more than a year now. My survey looked completely normal otherwise.

Evidently the card I used to automatically pay each month expired. The notification was sent to my junk inbox so I didn't read the message until I found it there after discovering the problem. I have signed up for a professional subsciprtion again but surveymonkey hasn't yet recognized it yet so my new data is still inaccessible.

Originally, I signed up for the professional subscription ($20/month) so that I could 1) export data, and 2) use "logic" to direct people to particular questions based on their responses to previous ones. I kept the professional membership ever since - 17 months so far.

Now, it looks like I could have gotten away with spending A LOT less money. I think I could have signed up for a professional membership to design the survey with the logic, paying $20 once, and then could have canceled it. Then, after getting all of my data 18 months later, I could have signed up again so that I could export the data. I would have saved at least $320!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Everyone Gets an F for the Day ... Except

It would be great if I could temporarily forget that I have a medical condition that requires attention. It would be great if I could go on about life as if everything is normal. That way, I could get real work done -- like importing new data in to SPSS, running basic descriptive statistics to find out what my sample population looks like, figuring out how to select and eliminate more than one "case" at a time in SPSS so when I run my analyses I can rule out people who don't have siblings or aren't in a romantic relationships when I run analyses on my research questions .... but alas, I am totally preoccupied.

Not even breaking up another knock-'em-down drag-'em-out hair flying brawl between the jerk canines provided relief. The little one who got bullied again this morning literally had the shit scared out of him by Big Bad Bully Boar, and I didn't notice until after I stepped in to break up the fight! Guess how I discovered it?

Stepped in it. Ew.

Between the toes and smashed into my heel. God damned assholes. So there I was with dog crap all over my foot and two dogs still trying to kill each other. I couldn't go after them because then I'd have spread crap all over the floor....


All of a sudden a big, manly winter glove came flying into the bathroom, the scene of the crime.

I turned around and there he was - My Man With Gills, Mr. Hero. Why is he home? Did he get fired? Laid off? Shit. I have a surgery coming up that really needs his company's insurance. What's going on? Crap. Crap. Crap.

Oh, no big deal, just needed to retrieve some equipment at home to get a reporter set up with recording equipment. Whew.

He even stopped long enough to help clean up the mess.

Everyone gets an F for the day... except that dear husband of mine, who this morning, had impeccable timing!