Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Urticating spines beneath their exuberant hair"

Something is not quite clear to me about these caterpillars Franz is interested in.

"Urticating spines"--ok, that makes sense--spines which cause itching.

"beneath their exuberant hair"--wait a minute. Hair is a quintessentially mammalian trait, along with the modified sweat glands which are nipples. These beasties are invertebrates. How can you have hair--an epidermal projection (as I learned in comp anatomy), or a Skin appendage, which is-a Subdivision of epidermis (as defined in the Foundational Model of Anatomy [FMA])--when you don't even have an epidermis?

Yet it certainly does look like hair in the first photo, doesn't it? This is interesting enough to check out. I will put it on the list, right after beaver cloacae and "persistent male uteri", to investigate.

My guess is that it is homoplastic and analogous, but not homologous. More on those concepts and the exuberant locks of itchy-making poisonous caterpillars later.

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There will be no Episode IV of Mystery Animals :(

because I guessed it :)! The second photo gave enough background (a leaf) to where "caterpillar" seemed a reasonable guess. Franz responded:

"Yes, it's a caterpillar of the Megalophygidae family, specifically a Podalia sp. These guys have urticating spines beneath their exuberant hair and are toxic without necessarily causing an anaphylactic shock."

What did I win, Franz? :)

(and I got the paper turned in today, too...)

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Today I went out to the car, which sports an old Kerry-Edwards sticker, to find some Republican in the apartment complex had felt the need to indulge his spleen.

He had left a taunting post-it on the car. But he couldn't even write a note of fewer than 10 words without error, managing to misspell "loser".

Only one "o", dumbass.

I miss the pro-education, pro-free speech Republicans.

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Monday, May 30, 2005

Mystery animals, Episode III (more work avoidance)

So my friend Franz has been teasing me by email with "guess the animal", and instead of finishing my paper (due tomorrow), I'm searching on the web to figure it out.

Here are the clues from him so far:

1. A photo of the animal

2. The entire "entity" is the animal.

After guessing "mouse", I got the following clues:

3. Not mice. Not their cousins the rats either.

4. Several people have inadvertedly stepped on them and died.

So that led me to guess "poisonous marine invertebrate of some type" (and to ask for clarification about whether that is really "hair/fur" on the animal), and these are the clues in response:

5. I consider them HAIR because, overwhelmingly, professionals from respectable sources call them HAIR: [long list of universities and professional journals follows].

6. "Marine invertebrate" ... I bet this hairy entity will never meet the ocean. Perhaps we are talking of the same Phylum. But we are definitely talking of different Classes. (at least one subphylum of the-phylum-the-hairy-entity-belongs-to contains "marine invertebrates")

7. A photo of a relative of the hairy entity (same Family)

Ideas? Guesses are welcomed in the comments; I'll post the answer when I find out.

If I get any more work-avoidant than I already am, it'll be time to write a post on my traditional work-avoidance topic, the candirú! :)

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In Memoriam: Dwight Conquergood

I was shocked and saddened to discover just now that Dwight Conquergood died late last year. For quite some time now, I have really admired his work in helping disenfranchised communities to acquire and share information (see, for example, the description of the health fair performances he organized in Southeast Asian refugee camps in Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down), and regret that it was cut short.

Performance Studies International has established an award in his honor.

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Memorial Day

One thing I owe my father* without issue or qualification is a deep respect for the men and women in the armed forces. On this Memorial Day, I would like to express my profound gratitude for their service, as well as for the sacrifices they make for it.

* An old Navy man, he coped with my voracious reading at the age of 7 by giving me a copy of The Bluejacket's Manual, which I devoured.

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Sunday, May 29, 2005

Curiouser and curiouser

This is intriguing: apparently (update: some) male beavers have uteri (wombs) (update: to some degree), and apparently this is normal for the species (i.e., not a pathology caused by pollution or other environmental factors).

At least, that's a side discovery of the preliminary result of a search on the embryology of the urogenital system of the beaver. I've got a bad case of work avoidance on my final project for a class, which is why I'm doing the search on beaver embryology in the first place. This is just the kind of fun serendipity that will pull me further away from my paper if I let it. So, reluctantly, I am putting aside beaver cloacae and "persistent male uteri" until after I turn in my paper on Tuesday.

But this does get more and more interesting: beavers seem to be unusual mammals structurally on a couple of different counts. Adaptations to a semi-aquatic lifestyle, perhaps? I'll let you know what I find out--but after Tuesday...

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Cloaca: The Prediction

So most of the glass-cutting for the copper goldfish last night took place with Galaxy Quest in the background, but before that, Animal Planet had a sweet little program about beavers, their lives and families, and their interactions with humans.

They kept referring to the beaver's "cloaca" (and every time they pluralized it as "cloacas", I heard my classics prof uncle do a little pirouette in his grave!). Apparently, from a functional (physiological) point of view, the beaver's cloaca is a kind of sac, where secretions from scent glands are stored for marking territory later. For the moment, though, you should take this with a grain of salt until I verify it; I was much more focused on cutting the glass rather than myself, than on the program, but I think that's the gist of it. I don't remember their saying anything about it from a purely structural (anatomical) point of view.

An essential feature of the scientific method is that it allows you to make testable hypotheses. By contrast, a non-scientific paradigm, such as Intelligent Design or any of the other kinds of creationism, does not lend itself to testable hypotheses: if a supernatural event is responsible for the development of different species, there are no natural constraints on what it is able to do. Therefore, no species would necessarily be more like any other species, and there would be no reason to expect their genomes to exhibit any more similarity than you would find at random.

So here is my prediction: despite the name "cloaca", I predict that the embryology of the beaver's urogenital system is very different from the avian and reptilian cloacae, and very similar to the embryology of the urogenital system of other mammals, and that the beaver's cloaca has nothing to do with the structure of the same name in birds and reptiles. I base this hypothesis on the evolutionary history of the beaver as a fairly specialized mammal, relatively fairly distant phylogenetically from either reptiles or birds. I am going into this exploration cold, with no specific knowledge of beaver biology, and will report my results as I am able to gather them.

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Now that I have started to blog in earnest, there are getting to be enough posts on different topics that it would be nice to have a topics, or threads, feature. Alas, Blogger apparently does not make that easy. However, there is a hack here.

I have started the workaround process by creating blogs for each topic, that will feed into this one as the main blog; it will be interesting to see if this works.

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Bye-bye, heat wave

For the last few days, the Seattle area has been having relatively high temperatures (80s-90s). Today seems to have broken it--I just got back from a wonderfully brisk bike ride under cloudy skies; much more the typical Seattle pattern for May.

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Glass, Goldfish, and Galaxy Quest

Well, I spoke too soon about getting better--I broke 4 of the goldfish pieces tonight, so I have to re-trace and recut them :(. I hate it when I waste glass like that, but I'll find something to do with them later on. My teacher Rumi does mosaics, so probably something like that is how these little scraps of glass are going to end up.

On the other hand, Galaxy Quest is on, which is a fun little movie. So while I'm redoing those pieces, at least there's some decent entertainment in the background. Alan Rickman is too funny!

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Glass lessons

Well, my first piece is fully assembled--now it just has to be patina'ed. I'll put up a picture of it; it is a parrot, and I am going to give it to my friend Lisa for her aviary.

The parrot is a leaded piece, and I just began my first copper piece (a goldfish) tonight. I found some nice cloudy blue for currents in the water, and green with texture for the water plants. I'll photograph it after it is assembled; I'm not yet ready to document the whole process, because I'm still fairly clumsy at it--not a role model so much as an object lesson at this point. But the process is going more smoothly this time, and not only because it is a much smaller piece, but also because of some of the things I learned the first time around.

I am getting more precise with my scoring, and the pieces are much more accurate--I am not going to have to make up so much on the grinding this time. That's the biggest thing I took away from this first piece--to do the grinding right. I ended up regrinding every single piece, because I rushed through the grinding. I was behind from missing a class, so I tried to make up the time on grinding, but it turns out that "close enough" is basically useless--the pieces need to fit cleanly together.

Still, after the regrinding, it was thrilling to see how well the pieces fit, and to see the design emerge piece by piece. I'm getting that sooner with the goldfish this time, because my scoring is getting better.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

Congratulations, Ahror!

This evening is a happy milestone--Iain and I are going to a party to celebrate Ahror's successes, and his beginning a new life in Los Angeles.

Ahror Rahmedov is a young Uzbek man who has overcome a number of obstacles to resume his life, after an accident that derailed his medical training (this newspaper article summarizes his story).

I met him in my capacity as a massage practitioner, working with him before and after some of his reconstructive surgeries. It was clear even then that after his immediate need for the surgeries had been taken care of, that he needed something to go back to, although finishing medical school was obviously out of the question.

Ahror has a very quick mind, and a talent for math and physics, and he had just gotten interested in using computers to stay in touch by email with people all over the world. So we thought that maybe we could combine those skills with his previous medical training, and he could make a new career in medical informatics. I began teaching him Visual Basic, but he quickly surpassed what I had to teach him because he picked it up so quickly--for example, I got one of those little kids' ring toss games to illustrate the Tower of Hanoi, in order to teach him the concept of recursion. I thought that since it was a brand-new idea to him, he would get it after a couple of reiterations, but he sat back looking at it, thought about it for a moment, and then got it on the first try. That was typical of our sessions, and at that rate, he quickly went past what I was able to teach him.

Now he has completed his degree in Computer Science and Engineering, and will graduate from the University of Washington on June 11th. He has been accepted to UCLA for graduate study, and will be a research assistant there.

Ahror has accomplished a lot, and we expect a great future from him.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Circus Contraption

Well, between school and life, I have been totally slammed lately--but I did finish assembling my first stained glass piece! More blogging on that this weekend, as there were some very valuable lessons in it.

In the meantime, it looks like all I have time to blog so far is plugging my friends' endeavors, but that's ok--they are definitely good causes.

My friend (and ex-research colleague, before he ran away to join the circus! :) Kevin is a composer and musician for a small circus troupe, Circus Contraption. They are performing in Seattle, and raising money for a trip to perform in New York. I recommend going to see them if you're in the Seattle area. (I should add two things here--one, there are no animals other than humans in this circus. Second, except for the shows explicitly designated as family-friendly, they all contain mature content--so this is definitely not the kind of circus you'd take kids to in order to see elephants, just fyi.)

Here's the relevant info from Kevin:

"I wrote much of the music for our most recent show, 'Circus Contraption's Grand American Traveling Dime Museum.' The show re-opens in Seattle next week, and runs June 3rd through July 30th at Sand Point Magnuson Park.

The bigger news: we are taking the show to New York City for the entire month of September! But we need help making it happen. Here are ways you can help:

- Talk! Spread the word about the shows in Seattle and New York.

- Donate! We need to raise $60,000 to finance the New York trip. If you are at all inclined to make a small donation, it *will* make a difference. Donations should be sent to: Circus Contraption, 6310 NE 74th St #107-E, Seattle, WA 98115.

- Watch! Come see the show. Tickets for Seattle are on sale now at Brown Paper Tickets. You can get them online at http://www.BrownPaperTickets.com/event/1664 or by calling 1-800-838-3006.

The basic details for shows are listed below. If you need more details, check our website (http://www.CircusContraption.com) or just drop me a line."



Circus Contraption's
Grand American Traveling Dime Museum
June 3 to July 30, 2005
EXCEPT: No shows June 24-26, July 1-3
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 8 pm/ Doors open 7:30 pm
Magnuson Community Center Auditorium, Magnuson Park,
Building 47, 7400 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle WA 98115

Tickets $20.00 each; Group Discounts available.
Opening Night show (June 3) is Pay-what-you-can!
MIDNIGHT SHOW: Saturday July 23: $15; doors 11:30 pm
CLOSING NIGHT GALA (with Champagne Reception):
Saturday July 30, 8 pm: $40-$100 sliding scale
All shows contain Mature Content



Circus Contraption's Grand American Traveling Dime Museum
September 1 - October 1, 2005
Wednesdays through Sundays
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue (between 9th and 10th Streets), New York NY
Tickets $20.00 each; Group and Student discounts available
Opening Weekend shows (September 1-4) and all Wednesdays:
All shows contain Mature Content

Contact for show info:
http://www.CircusContraption.com; (206) 442-2004
Email: info@CircusContraption.com
Contact for tickets: http://www.TheaterMania.com; (212) 352-0255
Contact for directions and venue info:
http://www.TheaterfortheNewCity.net; (212) 254-1109

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Friday, May 20, 2005

Prisms Online

I've updated some links on the right of the page, and one of them is to Prisms, my husband's show on KBCS community radio. He plays avant-garde music "in and out of the classical tradition, experimental soundscapes, high points in art music of the West and beyond, of the 20th century and beyond". This means that he runs the gamut from Debussy to space opera, and lots else besides.

Of course I'm biased, but if you like unusual and adventurous music, I recommend tuning to 91.3 FM in the Seattle area or getting the stream at KBCS from midnight to 3AM Sunday evening going into Monday morning.

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

Hello, World!

My name is Raven Travillian, and I'm a PhD student in biomedical informatics. In my free time, I am learning the craft of stained glass. I plan to blog about my research in comparative anatomy and knowledge representation, the intersection of scientific and complementary medicine, learning stained glass, bears, cats, rodents, and whatever else seems interesting.

Ouy ; mais il faut parier ; cela n'est pas volontaire ; vous estes embarqué. --Blaise Pascal, Les Pensées

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