Winter Wonderland, my ass.

My half-frozen, stuck-at-home ass. Here’s our backyard, from the safety of the kitchen window:


If it actually stops snowing, I might take a few more snaps around the neighbourhood. *shiver* Or, you know, not.
Update: it didn’t stop snowing until dark, but I did take this snap out of an upstairs window:


Write yer congresscritters.

The senate will vote during the week beginning October 15 on a bill that changes the NIH Open Access deposit policy from a request (which has generated about 5% compliance) to a mandate. This would be a leap forward for OA and science, not only in the US but throughout the world. If you’re a US resident, please take a few minutes to write to your Senators in support of this bill. (Letters should arrive by close of business Oct 12.)
The American Library Association has made it trivially easy to contact your congresscritters about this: go to their action alert, fill in your zip code, write a brief letter and hit send. For help in composing a letter, see Peter Suber’s collection of talking points, background and other resources. Below is the letter I sent.

Dear Congresscritter,
I am a research scientist and (pending final approval) about to become a US citizen. I have worked in the US for four years, having held an NIH T32 postdoctoral fellowship for two of those years. As a scientist and as a concerned member of the US public, I am writing to urge you to approve without change that portion of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill which directs the NIH to change its policies from a request to a mandatory requirement for free, timely public access to NIH funded research.
The US, through the NIH, invests roughly $30 billion in medical research every year. While the return on this investment is significant, it is far lower than it should be — and mandatory Open Access is the answer.
Open Access maximizes research efficiency (and thus the return on research investment) by removing obstacles to the acquisition of new results by researchers (1), and is essential for realizing the vast and virtually untapped potential of automated data- and text-mining (2, 3). Traditional scientific publishing sees the taxpayer pay for the research, pay to have it published, and then pay again to access it (or for the same researchers to access it!) through subscriptions to privately owned journals (4). Legislators have a practical, legal and moral obligation to end this inefficiency and waste.
In the two years since its instigation, the current voluntary policy has resulted in less than 5% of NIH funded research being deposited in the National Library of Medicine’s public archive; a mandate is clearly necessary.
Finally, please do not be taken in by dishonest, self-interested arguments put forward by the traditional publishing lobby. Open Access is entirely compatible with all existing copyright schemes, will have no negative effect on peer review and does not involve any form of censorship or government interference in research or in publishing (5). Moreover, the NIH estimates (6) that implementation of the mandatory Open Access policy will cost less than 10% of the $30 million/year the NIH already pays directly to publishers in the form of page charges.
Open Access is necessary if US research is to flourish as it should, and mandatory deposit in the NLM or an equivalent archive is necessary to support Open Access to publicly funded research. Please approve without change that portion of the appropriations bill which changes the language of the NIH deposit policy from voluntary to mandatory.

“Thinking bloggers”.

thinkingblogger2ql6.jpg Abel of Terra Sigillata kindly tagged me with a recent blog trope, naming me one of the bloggers who makes him think. This, it goes without saying, is undeserved, but that never stopped me grabbing for good things before. So without further ado, here are five blogs (in no particular order) whose authors make me think, challenge my preconceptions, and generally give my grey matter a workout on a regular basis:
The Bell by Jared Dunn. In his own words:

Content, likely to be a mish-mash of politics, culture, media, sports, and tech, with emphasis probably on politics. I’m a rather incorrigible generalist / dilettante and a serial digressionist…

He’s also smart as hell, and never stops trying to figure out why people do the stupid shit they do. Obdisclaimer: he’s a pal.
One Foot In, by Alice Domurat Dreger. The title refers to one foot in the academy, one foot in the real world. In her own words:

Most of my professional energies have gone to improving the medical and social treatment of people born with socially-challenging bodies, including people with intersex, conjoinment, dwarfism, and cleft lip. I work with affected adults, parents, and clinicians to make things better in the social and medical worlds. The question that motivates me is this: Why not change minds instead of bodies?

Her essays are fascinating, and showed me a whole shadowy world I never even knew was there. For a quick intro, try When Medicine Goes Too Far in the Pursuit of Normality, Proof that I Like Penises or Separate Together. You will also find Dr Dreger blogging — more frequently than on her own site, in fact — at the Hastings Center Bioethics Forum.
Philosopher’s Playground, by Steve Gimbel — “an on-going game of intellectual tag concerning ethics, science, politics, and all topics philosophical”. Steve is smart and well-read and funny and personable (online, I mean; we’ve never met, although he likes beer which inclines me to think we’d get along). He recently triggered an excellent blogversation about teaching science with a provocative post about whether labs are a waste of time, he’s dead wrong about impeachment, let’s see… oh yes, he’s also a prophet, and as far as I know the inventor of the tragically underused phrase civil fucking discourse.
Update: dammit, someone got Steve before I did. I read that post, too, and forgot all about it. OK then:
Big Monkey, Helpy Chalk by Rob Loftis. I’m not entirely sure what it is that Rob does for a living, apart from the fact that he’s an academic (or, as I like to call it, a government thinkmonkey) — but how can you not love a man whose latest writing proposal is “Gaius Baltar and the Image of the Tyrant in Plato and Boethius”. If you need more than that, try the North County Academy for the Excruciatingly Fine Arts.
Majickthise, by Lindsay Beyerstein. You probably already read Lindsay, and if you don’t you should. You should also support her efforts to establish a truly independent reporting career, and, I dunno, maybe name one of your children after her. Some of her big stories include Hurricane Katrina, Scumbag DeLay’s perp walk and Ned Lamont whuppin’ Holy Joe. I hope she runs for President one day. (Oh yeah, “magic thighs” — it’s a Hitchhiker’s Guide reference.)
Adventures in Ethics and Science, by Janet Stemwedel. I’m surprised Janet hasn’t already been tagged (someone got to Zuska before me, dammit). Science is not like law and sausages: you are encouraged to watch it being made. Adventures is an excellent window onto that process; Janet is a PhD chemist and a PhD ethicist, and looks at science not only from the bench but as a human endeavour, a process carried out by a particular (and peculiar) tribe. If you are interested in how science works, read this blog.
I want explicitly to say that I don’t expect my tag-ees to play, but if you feel like doing so the original guidelines, from Ilker Yoldas who started this thing in February, are as follows:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display this ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ graphic (in silver or gold) with a link to the post that you wrote.

linklog 060706

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Nurses’ Day

Orac points out that today is National Nurses’ Day in the USA. In fact, National Nurses’ Week runs from May 6-12, and International Nurses’ Day is May 12 — Florence Nightingale’s birthday. The romantic myth largely obscures the real story when it comes to Florence Nightingale, and it’s all too easy to fall into that view of nurses and nursing: the ministering angels, all heavenly compassion and hot towels. The problem with this view is that it plays up the comforting hand on the brow at the expense of the highly trained hand clearing the intestinal blockage. Orac exhorts patients to “show how much you appreciate their caring work”. Because “caring”, see, the fluffy bunny stuff, that’s what nurses do — they hold hands and wipe arses. The real work is done by doctors, of course.
To be fair, I’m pretty sure that’s not what Orac meant. But given that this patronising view of nursing is all too common, it’s what he said. (Or, because this is something of a hot-button issue for me, it’s what I heard.)
So anyway, happy Day to any nurses reading, and my personal thanks to you and your profession for all the misery you’ve saved me from over the years.

linklog 060402

  • ScienceDaily: Brain Imaging Can Predict Effectiveness Of Cognitive Behavior Therapy For Treating Depression
    fMRI study: better recovery in response to CBT is predicted by decreased activity in the subgenual cingulate cortex and increased activity in the amygdala, in response to negative stimuli (emotion laden words).
  • Google Romance
    This was an Internet Jackass Day stunt, but it could be done, and it wouldn’t need Google’s imprimatur. All that is required is a standard data/metadata format for a profile — fill it out, post it anywhere (blog, lj, whatever) and wait for search hits. If I were still single I would work this up for sure.
  • ThermaSAVE Building Systems
    Polystyrene panels offer light, strong, bio/chem/env inert construction units with very high insulating capacity and moderate cost. Looks like a great match for prefab design.
  • The Citizens of Porto Alegre
    The Citizens of Porto Alegre: in which Marco borrows bus fare and enters politics, an ongoing experiment in participatory democracy. I wonder if Portland would go for something like this?
  • Intelligent Enterprise Magazine: Wikis, Blogs and Other Points of Failure
    Greenbaum misses the point entirely. Of course blogs and wikis and so on are mostly shite; everything is mostly shite. What matters about blogs etc. is how they differ from all the other shite, particularly from older publishing methods: a more level playing field for access, much shorter time lapse between observation or idea and readers’ eyeballs, searchability, community, and so on.
  • Dog thong flatulence gas odor smell
    A doggy-thong to ease the pong? Please tell me this is an elaborate Internet Jackass Day hoax. Via GeekPress.
  • Good place for a long walk | Ask MetaFilter
    Best places for long (weeks/months) walks. I suggested Shikoku, but there are heaps of wonderful ideas.

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Happy Holidays

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I’ve been something of a Scrooge about Christmas for a long time — I’m not Christian and rampant materialism squicks me (yeah yeah, why’d I move to America?–It’s not all McDonalds and reality TV over here, you know), so there’s not much left but family time, and I don’t need Hallmark to tell me how or when to enjoy that. Also, I like giving people presents but I’ve never really liked getting them — it always makes me feel weird in a way I can’t explain — so I’ve pretty much weaned everyone I know off the whole Christmas deal, apart from a few comforting family rituals with my Mum and Dad. Bah humbug, you know?
Have you ever noticed how it’s usually people who have plenty of stuff who feel this way? At least, I guess, I have some sense of ‘enough’. The spousal unit, though, knows from hardship in a way most Westerners only guess at. (You think you’re tough? You ain’t tough.) Which makes it a minor miracle of human potential when Cat looks at our cozy middle class lifestyle and says “That’s plenty, let’s give the extra away”. (You think you’re cool? You ain’t cool.)
All of which is by way of introducing Cat’s Christmas message this year. I can’t put it better so I’m just gonna steal it:

Dear Everybody Who Buys Stuff For Us:
We know we’re hard to buy for. We know we don’t help you much with this. We’re not into “stuff”, and we have everything we need.
One thing we do love is our city, Portland, Oregon. We’re committed to making it a better place, and support local charities that help people who aren’t as fortunate as we are. This Christmas, we’d like to be a little selfish and ask you to support our local charities, too.
See, I haven’t always been where I am today. I grew up on government cheese and second-hand clothes. I’ve accepted the holiday turkey from the food bank with gratitude. I’ve hoarded canned food during good times, to get through the lean times. But here I am, happily married, a home of my own, living in plenty. I made it, and others can, too. They just need a little help. How ’bout it?
If you’re on board, please check out our givelist at What Goes It’s an easy way to give to one of our three favorite charitable organizations, Sisters of the Road Cafe, Central City Concern, and the Oregon Food Bank.
Thanks, and have a wonderful holiday.
Cat and Bill

What we both want, far more than anything more for ourselves, is for everyone to have what they need. So if you were thinking of buying me something, that’s what I’d like.

Blog Against Racism Day

So I missed Blog Against Racism Day. It’s not that I’m suddenly all for racism; nor did I forget. I left it to the last minute, and then found that I had no spare time yesterday and nothing to say that could be said quickly.
Go here to find entries by more responsible people who post when they say they will, and check the Technorati search for even more.
It was also World AIDS Day, and I had nothing to say about that either. I suck.

personal note; or, a “shout-out” as the kids say

I am almost certainly the world’s worst snail-mail correspondent, but it occurs to me that I can use this blog to remedy that, at least in part. So — Auntie Sis, Uncle Graham, Adam and Claire: thank you for the birthday card, which arrived in good time and was much appreciated.
While I’m at it, thank you also for the other 34 cards, to most of which I daresay I never responded. It occurs to me that this is a remarkable1 demonstration of familial affection and support, thoroughly undeserved on my part, and I am grateful for it.
Also, a little bird tells me that my uncle is a bit under the weather, so my best wishes to you Uncle Graham, and my thoughts are with you all.
1 For those playing along at home: I’m 35.


Over at Alas, A Blog, bean is beginning a series of “on this day” posts highlighting the history of the women’s movement. If, like me, you were none from six on this short quiz, you might want to pay attention.