torquill: Sarah Jane Smith walking away from the TARDIS, forlorn (Sarah Jane)
This is probably going to get reposted to Tumblr, because it's personal-political.

A Chronic Fatigue/ME rally as a watershed moment )
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)
What's happening in Iraq, in clear and simple statements. Thanks, The (Irish) Independent!
torquill: The devourer of worlds is not impressed. (devourer)
I just had an interesting cycle of events.

Inspiration, action, consequence, disillusionment )

A tidbit of less personal, but positive, news: A virus-resistant (transgenic) strain of cassava has been developed just in time to save that staple crop from what the BBC reported as an epidemic of Cassava Brown-Streak Disease sweeping across Africa. This is similar to making papayas resistant to Papaya Ringspot Virus in the mid-1990s. (Did you know that the vast majority of papayas grown in Hawaii are transgenic? Now you do.) It could save millions of Africans from famine, and the researchers want to pass on the technology to labs in Africa. Hopefully, by making the transformation process more transparent and accessible, they will avoid what happened with the GMO papaya strain. That was a bright spot in my day.
torquill: Sarah Jane Smith walking away from the TARDIS, forlorn (Sarah Jane)
She's gone.

It floored me to hear it; I hadn't realized she'd been ill. It hit me harder being so soon after Nick Courtney.

My thoughts, of course, immediately turned to Tom Baker, who's no spring chicken -- but (as far as I can tell, he's quite private) he seems to be hale and hearty, and having a good time recording new Doctor Who stories with Big Finish. The fact that those rumors turned out to be quite true has buoyed me a little.

I'm just glad Lis Sladen hung around long enough to make the Sarah Jane Adventures episode "The Death of the Doctor"; I thought that was the best story I had seen in quite a while, a cross between SJA and DW proper. It seems to offer a bit of closure, for me at least.

I didn't start crying until I selected the icon for this post.
torquill: Sarah Jane Smith walking away from the TARDIS, forlorn (Sarah Jane)
Nicholas Courtney, 'Doctor Who' actor, dies at 81

Brigadier Sir Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart was the longest-running character outside of the Doctor himself, I believe, and met the most incarnations of the Doctor; it wasn't his role to start with, but he gave it life. The Brigadier met every classic Doctor but the Sixth on screen, and in canon he met every one of them through the Eighth.

Nicholas Courtney also wrote three memoirs, "Five Rounds Rapid", "A Soldier In Time", and "Still Getting Away With It". I guess it's time I picked up at least one. He was quite a character himself.

I had a feeling for the last couple of months this was coming, but it still came as a bit of a jolt. I don't know anyone who didn't like the Brigadier.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (headdesk)
Just in case anyone else is wondering where the "OMG if an LED shatters in your home you need a hazmat suit to clean it up!!1!" meme is coming from:

LED products billed as eco-friendly contain toxic metals, study finds

It's an important study; LEDs appear to have more than the legal amounts of lead, and other heavy metals such as arsenic can be a disposal and groundwater issue. Where it departs from reality is how it affects the average person.

Oladele Ogunseitan, chair of UC Irvine's Department of Population Health & Disease Prevention [...] said that breaking a single light and breathing fumes would not automatically cause cancer, but could be a tipping point on top of chronic exposure to another carcinogen. [...] When bulbs break at home, residents should sweep them up with a special broom while wearing gloves and a mask, he advised."

Since Mr. Ogunseitan seems smart enough in other parts of this article, I have to assume that the reporter screwed up and quoted his guidelines for disposing of CFLs, not LEDs. Meanwhile, the "hazmat" aspect seems to have panicked non-science reporters everywhere, and I'm now getting OMGWTFBBQ from my alt-health list and social media. Sigh.

I'm going to write to Mr. Ogunseitan and the UC Irvine communications director in the hope they can put out a correction, but corrections never travel as fast or as far as bad science. :/
torquill: A close-up of the Fifth Doctor's coat, with celery (doctor)
Keeping it all in the "family".

With my favorite two Doctors mixed up in this, it couldn't be anything but awesome.

I'd utterly forgotten that Peter Davison had a relationship some time back with Sandra Dickinson, aka Trillian. What a crossover. ;)
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: A molecular model of Vitamin C (science)
Authorities plan to burn down Escondido "bomb factory" house

It's less crazy than it sounds, as modern HEs typically burn quietly rather than exploding. Still, they stopped searching the house and grounds because of what they found on a cursory search (nine pounds of HMTD, PETN, and ETN in the yard and shed alone!). The house contains untold kilos of HEs, various chemicals, and god-knows-what else. Derek notes that the tenant's day job appears to be robbing banks -- which suggests the guy's ability to calculate risks might be just a little on the skimpy side. As it is, they found chemicals stored in pickle jars on shelves, which really brings back that episode of CSI (which featured prominently in the credits for several seasons). Not a place you want to be rummaging in.

The burn should happen next week. Watch the news sites... :)
torquill: Doctor Wilson, thoughtful (wilson)
Day four of laryngitis, joined now by sinus congestion. I don't know what the heck this is (it's far from typical post-flu stuff), but it's getting very old. I feel fine otherwise, just stuffy and squeaky.

I hope all of you are having a good holiday, by whatever metric you use. It's a slow day here, which suits me just fine.

Being a slow day, I'm catching up on links... Here's another look at the safety of airport backscatter machines, this time by a scientist who researches breast cancer and low-level radiation damage for a living. The redacted TSA documents are a little disturbing. I haven't seen anything yet to make me feel safer about the health aspects of these things -- looking "naked" pales in comparison, AFAIC. Something to mull over as you're waiting for your flight home, perhaps.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (challenge)
Wow. Can we get some more of this?

Most of you know that I was a victim of long-term, systematic emotional bullying from first grade to 11th grade, and I've always felt strongly about it. I've never heard any good methods to combat it, only vague "we need to have no tolerance for bullying" rhetoric... until now. These stats are astounding.

I think I'll start pitching this sort of approach to our new Superintendent of Schools in January.
torquill: A molecular model of Vitamin C (science)
A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health

This is not new research, but a re-analysis of the original studies done for the approval process when these varieties were introduced. It involves one Roundup-Ready variety and two Bt-protein synthesizing varieties. These varieties are all currently part of the food supply.

The conclusions (do read the "Discussion" section, it's not totally opaque for the layman especially if you read the first paragraph and the last two) were that the experimental design by the Monsanto researchers was quite flawed, and the original analysis of the results was imperfect at best. When this team reweighed the data to compensate for the experimental flaws, and ran an appropriate statistical analysis on the result, they got totally different trends than the original researchers did. From my somewhat limited knowledge of experimental design and analysis -- I had a teacher who focused on what mistakes are commonly made, and how to spot them -- this was a very thorough and appropriate correction of the statistical techniques and design.

A few highlights: )

I'm not an opponent of genetically-modified crops -- far from it -- but I've been concerned from the get-go that insufficient testing has been done on all aspects of the safety of the resulting plants. The possibility that Bt proteins could be toxic to humans makes sense to me, as we've never eaten large amounts of the stuff before and who knows what our bodies think of it; we already know that Roundup is toxic, and crops which can be sprayed with impunity will naturally have higher levels of residue in them. We need to look at these potential issues before these crops are released to the public, and assure ourselves that the risk is minimal or none. We, as scientists, owe it to ourselves and the public to do this, no matter how small we think the risks may be -- even with a "safe" bet, we're still gambling with huge stakes.

I hope this spurs a flood of animal-toxicity studies, particularly long-term ones. I hope it prompts studies of other crops, such as soy and canola. We can't afford to wait.

Lastly, I hope this serves as a reminder: don't take any single study at face value, whether you like or dislike the results. Unless you can critically examine the methods and analysis that were done, you have no idea whether the data was good or the conclusions were reasonable. Bad studies and analysis don't even have to be from malicious or sneaky intent (I can tell you that a distressing number of researchers figure that slapping all the numbers into a table and running ANOVA is the best way to handle any data). Wait until the study has been picked apart and corroborated by others before treating it as anything approaching fact.
torquill: Doctor Wilson, thoughtful (wilson)
"Positive thinking's negative results: For some people, optimistic thoughts can do more harm than good."

Apparently, the advice from a whole load of self-help books -- to use positive thinking and affirmations to increase low self-esteem -- can actually drive down self-esteem levels in people who already have trouble thinking good things about themselves. It's a phenomenon I've observed before, but the explanation these people have for it makes a great deal of sense.

It still leaves me wondering "well, what should people do about increasing self-esteem, then?"... but I suspect that rather depends on the individual. I know what worked for me, and there are other things which work for others -- but just willing yourself to have a better self-image may actually backfire.
torquill: A molecular model of Vitamin C (science)
Making decisions tires your brain.

When CFS gives me brainfog and it's hard to focus, it gets much, much harder to make even small decisions (like what I want to eat). This links the lack of concentration issue with the difficulty in making even brief, simple decisions.

Hell, I should contemplate how this affects me even when I'm not crashy.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (mad science)
NPR's "Marketplace" had a segment today on the UC Berkeley team working on creating a synthetic version of the surface of a gecko's foot. After poking around a little, I found an article from January suggesting that we are not terribly far away from having real gecko tape.
torquill: Tea cures all ills (tea)
He is, however, telling his fans (quietly) that he has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

He says that it's early yet, they're optimistic, and there's time for at least a few more books if not lots more... but yeah. Sucky.

I remember when I saw him at ConJose in 2000... quite a quirky and likeable guy. Sharp.
torquill: Doctor Wilson, thoughtful (wilson)
Everyone's posting this link, but (having gotten through half of it so far) I feel compelled to post it myself as well.

The effect of praising kids

Anyone who knows me well won't be surprised to hear that I'm not interested in most aspects of raising kids. What caught me on this one was that, like [ profile] tenacious_snail and [ profile] akienm, I could see my own childhood in it. What finally took my breath away was this:

According to Meyer’s findings, by the age of 12, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well—it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. And teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it’s a teacher’s criticism—not praise at all—that really conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude.

That managed to put into words something I've observed in myself for years, and goes on to provide possible explanations for such a seemingly contradictory reaction.

All through this article I've been nodding my head. If you were brought up with teachers and parents always telling you you're smart, go read it.
torquill: A molecular model of Vitamin C (science)
British researchers uncover DNA variations in seven common ailments

The seven common diseases are bipolar disorder, coronary artery disease, Crohn's disease, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, and Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

It doesn't give us a straight out-of-the-box solution, not by far... but it does provide a lot more information about the diseases in question, and about the roles of these genes. It's exactly what people were hoping for when the human genome was sequenced.

Edit: [ profile] joedecker linked to a post at In The Pipeline, reminding us that media reports that this is "a locked chest full of the secret keys to health" are way off the mark. I had generally tried to avoid giving that impression with this LJ post, but it's a good thing to really bring attention to. This is a significant piece to the puzzle, but we aren't much further than pulling the pieces out of the box and putting them on the table yet. Getting the full picture is a long way off.
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (teh mad)
State cuts off Delta pumps

This whole situation pisses me off to no end.

The most recent victims in the water wars are the fish. )
torquill: Art-deco cougar face (challenge)
I've always liked Leonard Nimoy. Now I have another reason to.


torquill: Art-deco cougar face (Default)

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