torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)
Scientists Edge Closer To Elusive Lab Test For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

(Spoiler: it's cytokines, over a dozen of them.)

My reaction )
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)
This year's recipient for my Untied Way donation was a dark-skinned man in a wheelchair. Poor, black, and disabled... that's a tough row to hoe. I feel for him.

I started doing it two or three years ago, when I got off 80 at the Central offramp and impulsively handed a $20 to the guy on the curb. He was a scruffy white guy in his late 20s who looked like he'd been homeless for a while; I'll never forget the look on his face when he stepped back again and actually looked at the bill I handed him. If you've ever been really poor, you know that expression -- he had just discovered that he could afford to eat that day, or to get off the street for a night, and his relief was so profound it was hard to keep his knees from folding. He had expected a buck or two, and suddenly had the grinding stress lifted off his shoulders, even if just for a moment. I drove away and never saw him again.

But the next year I did it again, for a different guy. I always seem to end up getting off at Central near the end of December, for one thing or another, and there's always somebody there. Last year I think it was a woman, beaten down and looking older than her years. This year all I could give was $10, but I hope it made a difference anyway. I had to roll past and slap it into his glove like a relay runner because the light was green, but he caught it, and maybe even caught my "Happy Christmas" to go along with it.

Most of the money I've spent on Christmas this year was for charity, and I'm okay with that. It's not much... $10 for this, $25 to be doubled by the health-food store and used for the food bank, but I've never lost sight that however tight things are for me, they're tighter for somebody else. I won't erode my own footing for them, but I do what I can. Like Jon Carroll suggests, I give just a teensy bit more than I feel like I can afford... usually it's just one donation, though I hope someday to be able to manage a few more. It's something, anyway, even if it's just a little birthday candle in the dark.

Happy holidays.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)
#YesAllWomen and the Continuum of Aggression. Good insight, and a good job of pulling a bunch of the threads together.
torquill: A molecular model of Vitamin C (science)
If you're looking at a scientific field where you really feel you need to know more about what's going on -- say you've discovered that your child has a rare disorder, or you simply want to have an educated opinion on a matter of the day -- this is a decent crash course on how to read and really understand scientific papers. Science reporting can be sketchy at best, downright misleading at worst, so being able to read the source material is invaluable. I skim papers regularly, and read them in depth on occasion, to make sure I know what I'm talking about. There is a learning curve, but as you get more familiar with the format, vocabulary, and the particular field, it really does get faster and easier.

The one thing I would add to this checklist is in the last step (which she lists as optional): check the citations. When I'm rummaging around in a controversial topic, such as the health effects of GMOs, I want to know which papers the researchers were focusing on for the basis of their own research. There are two reasons: one, you can quickly identify the signature papers that everyone is working from, and evaluate those yourself; two, if you've already evaluated the papers they cite, you can get a feel for agendas or sloppy thinking that they might be prey to. For GMO research, a big tell is when I look at their citations and find several papers by Seralini, who has been discredited up one side and down the other. Unless they're using him as a foil in an effort to set the record straight, I know they aren't concerned about rigorous science, and may share his agenda. I then read the paper very carefully.
torquill: A sweet potato flower (gardening)
For anyone in the SF East Bay, if you are interested in growing tomato plants this year, the Contra Costa Master Gardeners are holding a huge tomato plant sale this upcoming Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10-3 at 2640 Shadelands Dr., Walnut Creek. Plants are $2 each (cash/check only), all of them heirlooms which have been tested in this area. Visit The Contra Costa Master Gardeners site for more info.

I'll be there from 10-12:30 on Thursday and Friday, happily answering any and all questions about growing tomatoes. I'm quite familiar with a number of the varieties (I was happy to see they have almost all of my rock-solid standby heirlooms) and I'll advise anyone on the best choice for a given taste or location. :)
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)
Raunchy? Yes.
Of questionable taste? Of course.
Attention-grabbing? Absolutely.

It's The Oatmeal, after all.
It's also Very Important.
Tell everyone.

Animated GIF of cute furry animals... which is not child-safe. )
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)
Ever wished you could spontaneously apparate moving boxes? Then make them disappear again? How about not worrying about the integrity of cardboard? And having an excuse to unpack once you get where you're going to?

If all that sounds good, check out Zippgo. Not free (I know some places you can get free boxes, but then you have to deal with them afterward), but they deliver and pick up. I thought it might suit some people here.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (servalan)
This Monday, according to

There was an extremely large disclosure of usernames, e-mail addresses, and lightly-encrypted passwords from Gawker. If you ever created an account at Gawker, Gizmodo, Jalopnik, Jezebel, Kotaku, Lifehacker, Deadspin, io9, or Fleshbot, your information was probably released (over half a million unique e-mail addresses and hashed passwords were released). There are active exploits of this information in the wild, including spam on Twitter. Protect yourself by changing your password everywhere except Gawker.

You can check whether any login name or email address of yours is in the released hashfiles at Gawker Check. If you re-use passwords on multiple sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, etc., and you've come anywhere near any Gawker site, it's worth your while to check. Even OpenID info (though not passwords) is in there.

Many people have looked over the released data (it's available by torrent, for example). One article I ran across which is of some interest: the top 25 most offen occurring passwords in the Gawker files. Lesson: don't choose a password which sounds like what an idiot would put on his luggage.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (happymaking things)
I just got a screaming good deal on flower bulbs tonight, thanks to two sites:

Holland Bulb Farms, featuring 50 daffodil bulbs for about $12 depending on variety, and 100 botanical crocus for $10.49; and
RetailMeNot, an offshoot of BugMeNot which gathers coupon codes for all sorts of online retailers -- I got flat $4.99 shipping for my order and saved 10% as a result.

I ended up buying 174 flower bulbs for $39.30, with shipping. Daaaaayam.

Firefox users, if you want to be informed when RetailMeNot has a coupon for the site you're currently surfing, there's an add-on for that.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (challenge)
One of the kind people at the potluck last night mentioned this, and I looked it up today:

Dan Savage and his partner Terry tell LGBT youth that "It gets better" after high school.

They're hoping that YouTube can reach some of the horribly isolated and alienated LGBT kids who don't have community centers, support groups, major gay-friendly cities, or even supportive families. People are encouraged to post their own videos explaining that life gets better as an LGBT adult, in an effort to cut down on teen suicides. Dan and Terry's own video is pretty poignant by itself... I could have used that when I was a teen pariah, even a straight one.

Let's get the word out.
torquill: A sweet potato flower (gardening)
This is really only of interest to gardeners, but if you are one and you've been told that some of your favorite plants have been dying from the oak root fungus (Armillaria mellea), the foremost question in your mind is "how do I deal with it?" Resistant plants are about the only answer.

Unfortunately, the UC guidelines for susceptibility are about 20 years out of date, and the updated list Dr. Bob Raabe created after several years of research has never been published. Since people need this information, I converted the PDF to HTML and posted it here: Plants Resistant to the Oak Root Fungus. You will find easy-to-read tables of resistant and susceptible plants there, and a link to the PDF for download.

It's currently hosted on my personal server; it may move to a spot on the UC Botanical Gardens site or one of the Master Gardener websites if we figure out where it would be best. I didn't want to delay getting it out there any longer, however. If it moves, I'll provide a redirect so you can still find it at the above link.
torquill: A molecular model of Vitamin C (science)
Study: Many Sunscreens May Be Accelerating Cancer

The culprit is not one of the polysyllabic synthetic chemicals (though there are plenty of those whose effects are unknown or suspect)... it's vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate. Antioxidant it may be, but upon exposure to the sun it can become carcinogenic, reflecting the often delicate structure of many antioxidants. They're reactive by nature, it's how they do their jobs, but if vitamin C breaks down with exposure to heat and light, it's no great surprise that putting vitamin A out on the front lines of sun exposure might not be a great idea.

The Environmental Working Group report is yet another dismal assessment of our sunscreen options in the U.S. They do recommend a few of them, but the best way to prevent skin cancer and burns is still to avoid the sun and wear protective clothing.

I've never been more glad that skin cancer doesn't run in my family, as that's still the greatest source of risk -- long sleeves and staying out of the sun is not especially practical for field work in agriculture. I'll keep relying on a base tan and the simplest sunscreens I can find. For those of you with fair skin and/or a risk of skin cancer... be careful out there, and read labels.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (techie)
You may be eligible for money from a court settlement.

The settlement covers accounts back to 1994 (yow) and addresses improper speed caps and, in some cases, lower-than-minimum speeds on customer DSL lines. If you've ever had DSL through Pac Bell or AT&T, it looks like it would be worth going through the online filing... you'd get at least $2. :)
torquill: A sweet potato flower (gardening)
Anybody who's local enough to fetch them is welcome to them, first come first serve. I have:

3 Brandywine, Sudduth strain: Dark pink beefsteaks, more reliable than regular Brandywine, just as tasty. Potato leaf.
2 Earl's Faux: Dark pink beefsteaks, very tasty, prolific. Potato leaf.
2 Vorlon: Dark maroon beefsteaks with green shoulders, the size of the palm of your hand, prolific. Potato leaf.
1 Little Lucky: Bicolor round slicing tomato, mild but tasty. Potato leaf.
1 Stump of the World: Another pink potato leaf beefsteak, flavor is reportedly rich and deep.
1 Yellow Brandywine: Yellow beefsteaks with mellow, full flavor. Quite well known. Potato leaf.
1 Noir de Crimée: Brown-maroon round slicers with green shoulders. Classic "smoky" black flavor. Regular leaf.
1 Abraham Lincoln: Round red slicers, classic flavor (I think). Recommended by a friend in the know. Regular leaf.
1 Dorothy's Green: Large green beefsteaks, sweet with a spicy overtone if grown well. Regular leaf.
Mortgage Lifter: 1 original Radiator Charlie strain, 1 Estler strain: Large pink beefsteaks, my first favorite tomato. Classic flavor, very prolific; Estler is reportedly more so, though I didn't see a difference the one year I tried it. Regular leaf.

All of these are vine types, so they need a sturdy cage (not a little three-ring hardware store dealie), trellis, or post(s). I tie them up with twine between two steel fenceposts and it works well. If you need a cage, I may be able to rescue one of the concrete reinforcing wire pieces I've used in the past.

On the flip side, they'll produce steadily into November depending on the weather. I've grown Brandywine Sudduth, Earl's Faux (originally discovered as a Red Brandywine that definitely wasn't), Vorlon, and Mortgage Lifter multiple times each, and I can vouch for their reliability. All of the others have good reputations. (The reason I have so many potato-leaf varieties is that they're better at resisting the spider mites I have here; I include it so that you won't be surprised by the unusual leaf shape.) All the plants were grown without chemicals of any kind.

Take 'em away, folks!
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (bean)
16 Round Table Pizza locations in Contra Costa County will donate 15% of the payment for your order on June 29th to the Contra Costa County arm of the UC Cooperative extension, if you bring in a copy of this flyer. This is at no additional cost to you, beyond the paper and ink needed to print the flyer. If you eat pizza and you can get to one of the locations on the back of the flyer between 11am and 10pm on June 29th, please make the effort.

For those unfamiliar with the Cooperative Extension, it brings you the Master Gardener Program, which provides volunteers for school gardening education projects, booths at most farmer's markets in the area, the Master Gardener helpline (which offers gardening help for anyone in the Bay Area), support for 4H, and more. As a Master Gardener myself, I can tell you this program does a lot more than most people think, and its funding has been completely cut as of June 30th. We've got some help to continue to at least December while we search for new funding sources, but we still need some operating expenses for the second half of this year, and the Round Table fundraiser could help a lot.

Check out the flyer and the participating locations, and help out if you can, even if it's only by spreading the word. Thank you!
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (omg)
I have been made aware of the phenomenon known as the "salmon bot".

It connects two random people on AIM by sending both of them the same random message (it just happened to me on Yahoo IM, so it's there too). The other user's visible handle belongs to the bot, and is made up of "[adjective]salmon". I got to talk to "shimmeringsalmon", for example. There are other fish bots with similar characteristics, such as Trout-bots and Coho-bots -- shimmeringsalmon told me my handle was "WhitelistedCoho".

So if you get a random IM from someone with a fish name, and they think you started the conversation, it's a fish bot at work. The Wikipedia entry linked to above has an opt-out command if it bugs you, how to poke the bot if you want, and more information on who is behind them.

I'm finding I don't mind so much now that I know what's going on. I'll try to explain it to the next person I get connected to, so that at least they understand (and can opt-out themselves).
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (challenge)
Contra Barn Dance (PDF)

This is in Pacheco (a little north of Concord/Pleasant Hill), quite near 680. It's put on by the Rainbow Community Center, our local GLBT group, with help from SF Queer Contra Dance. Donations help defeat Proposition 8, which has a lot of support in Contra Costa County.

It runs from 7 to 10pm at the Pacheco Community Center; the suggested donation is $12. Bring friends! :)
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)
It's been over a year; I figured I should brush the dust off the pages and repost them.

If you are in a position where you may at some point either 1) feed me/take me out to eat or 2) host me at your house, you may find these useful:

My food restrictions
My chemical sensitivities, including a list of safe and unsafe products.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (grin)
Thanks for the books, even the ones I haven't read yet. I'm sure Aahz is polishing off a cask or two in memoriam.
torquill: Sarah Jane Smith walking away from the TARDIS, forlorn (Sarah Jane)
I'm glad I didn't try school; I'm weak as a kitten today.

I've given in and compiled a couple of lists:
My food restrictions, and
My chemical sensitivities.

I feel horribly self-conscious making lists like that, but hopefully they'll work toward drama-avoidance.


torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)

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