Friday, November 26, 2004

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

The more I move and travel around, the more American cities seem to blur together. Because current ideas about urbanity are so widely propagated, everything being built in cities today looks pretty much the same. The same patterns are everywhere, I've found myself thinking as I've driven around Minneapolis these past few days. For example, developers everywhere seem to be anticipating an explosion of empty-nesters looking to downsize--without forfeiting luxury--and move back to the city, and thus the same condos are going up everywhere. Chicago has a ridiculous number. High rises were going up everywhere in River North, the Gold Coast, and the South Loop while I was there. When I was in San Diego recently, it appeared that the same thing had happened there. And now in Minneapolis I'm driving by construction sites covered up with the same fancy signs bearing images of the fancy building to be built, the same script typeface, and the same instructions to go across the street to the sales center to see models of penthouses starting at $1 million. Naturally, they don't want to wait until it's finished before they start selling units. I imagine the financing factors in a certain number of "presales," in fact. And the condo towers all look the same, too. I suppose you can't really expect much variation in design from residential high rise to residential high rise when you're trying to build so many so fast.

Another constant of core city revitalization is the built-all-at-once entertainment district. Baltimore rebuilt its Inner Harbor, Chicago has its Navy Pier, and now Minneapolis has its Block E. Block E is a large block near the edge of downtown that sat empty for a really long amount of time while the City Council argued what to do with it. I remember going to my first "shows" at First Avenue in junior high and staring at the posters on the abandoned Shubert Theater (which was across the street) afterward and thinking I was all urban and hip--while I waited for my mom to pick me up. But the council eventually found someone to build an "entertainment and dining experience" that was plopped down in one piece maybe two years ago. These districts, or "experiences," all have the same features. Hotels, restaurants, video arcades, movie theaters, and bars and clubs for later on. The same tenants show up in these developments from city to city. They're where you go to find your Cheesecake Factory, your Hard Rock Cafe, your AMC megaplexes, and your Borders Books & Music. Sometimes someone's vision of the entertainment complex of the future is included, and the city ends up with a temple to media such as San Francisco's Metreon, wherein sensations (tastes! lights! colors! sounds!) rather than solid goods are emphasized. This latter complex is not a mall but an "entertainment destination" and "the place to try all things bright, shiny, and irresistibly new." If I knew anything about Marshall McLuhan's work I might quote him here.

I'm guessing that the original model for all this was the redevelopment of New York City's Times Square. And that's part of what I think is interesting about these districts. While New York may have the biggest such development, and the city undoubtedly retains its edge in many other ways, so much of what it offers in its most famous entertainment district has been cloned throughout the country. Is it really worth it to go all the way to Times Square just because its Olive Garden is bigger? Or they have a Virgin Megastore rather than just a Tower Records or a Sam Goody? Or its megaplex has 5 more screens? It seems to me that what people use for "a big night out" can be found just about anywhere these days with these mini Times Squares popping up throughout the country. The same experience can be had everywhere due to the spread of the chains. And if you're running a business, of course you would want to expand beyond just one market. I guess there's still only one TRL taping a day to scream outside of, though, and Times Square will always have that. Just don't try to get tickets if you're older than 24.

I'm too tired now to celebrate or bemoan the phenomena I've been talking about, so I'll say this is just a record of my musings this Thanksgiving rather than an attempt to argue some grand point.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Finally, a cause we can unite behind

I think it's time to start a campaign to convince the database and web programmers of the world that sometimes people have names that are structured in ways other than the most common method of a capitalized first letter followed by a series of lower-case letters. Sometimes people have two word first names, sometimes people have hyphens in their last names, and sometimes people even capitalize the first two letters of their last name and separate them with an apostrophe. Crazy, I know. All I'm saying is that it doesn't take that long to add these few exceptions to your input-checking code and throw in an escape character (which is 99% of the time just a backslash) before the apostrophes so that they won't be interpreted as extra single quotes and thus as syntax errors.

Either the coders of the world will have to start doing this or I will have to drop the apostrophe from my last name. I'm sick of having my records not stored in your databases even though I get a confirmation page and I'm sick of having to give multiple spellings everytime I need to be looked up somewhere. Be sensitive to my proud Irish heritage already.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A realistic portrayal of the American south

AMC is showing the Smokey and the Bandit II right now. When did this film become an American movie classic?

Friday, November 19, 2004


I ran across this article while looking up the definition of "reductionism" while writing the NSF essays. Is "Systems Thinking" anything new or just new jargon for stuff we already know? It references some books about management, so I'm suspicious of the latter. Perhaps it's the title of a new seminar that will be taught at businesses around the country for exorbitant fees. Maybe it's an accurate description of concepts that I agree with but that are too high-level and generic to be directly useful. Nonetheless, I liked the Weltanschauung sketched in this paragraph:

"Systems Thinking is a worldview based on the perspective of the systems sciences, which seeks to understand interconnectedness, complexity and wholeness of components of systems in specific relationship to each other. Systems thinking is not only constructivist, rather systems thinking embraces the values of reductionist science by understanding the parts, and the constructivist perspectives which seek to understand wholes, and more so, the understanding of the complex relationships that enable 'parts' to become 'wholes' as noted in the example below."

We can't just be reductionists. We've got to think about the whole too. We've got to do it all. All at the same time. We've should think about everything up and down the scales in everything we do if we want to do things right. Interactions between components of the system. Functions of the individual components. But paradoxically, if we try to do it all, we'll get nothing done.

So how do we translate this desire to do "systems sciences" into actual systems science? What are some good examples of this type of science in practice? Or are these concepts so general that they are meaningless?

I know, I know, the easy answer is that we can't do it all, and that's why science keeps going forever. But because it's reasonable to expect to make at least some progress, how do we then start moving in the direction of systems science?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Essay Assay

Time for an update. Here's the score:

"Why do you want to be a scientist?"
This one is going ok. I really wrote the whole thing tonight based on stuff from my Statements of Purpose for grad school admissions. This of course took way too long, just like everything does, but I think the end product has been adequate. Unfortunately, from looking at SH's score sheets from last year, it's not even clear where this essay is rated. Maybe it's "holistic" deal where this essay acts as a frontispiece [Is that a proper use of that word? Ed.] for your other essays. So the key with this essay is probably to put your reviewers in a good mood and make them think you're a worthwhile human being. I feel like what I have written tonight may be able to do this, but then again maybe not. As DR said last night, it's all a crap shoot anyway. Also, this one still has two lines on the second page. Should be cuttable.

"What research have you done before?"
This one is written but needs cleanup. Again, it's all just cut-and-pasted out of my grad admissions SoPs, so most of it has already been vetted by multiple people. I of course had to change the present tenses to past for the stuff I did in NH's lab, and I had to add in the new stuff I've been doing in LT's lab. LB looked at it last night but I haven't looked at her comments yet. I think the main task for this one will be to cut a bit and put some sort of frame around it, some sort of intro-ish and conclusion-ish words so that the reader isn't jumping right in at the start and jumping right out at the end. Then again, maybe the jaded reviewer would rather I just listed a bunch of bullet points.

"So what's are your big research plans, you smarty-pants graduate student?"
This needs an introductory sentence so the fall into the essay isn't as steep and the intro needs general flow-improvement. I think most of the body is ok. Needs a concluding sentence or two. Overall, could use some cutting. But I'm afraid if I cut too much more I'll sound vague to the point of seeming like I don't know what I'm talking about.

"While you're at it, show us you have a social conscience, too."
Haven't written a single substantive thing for this one yet. That means ~1000 words to go for a one-page essay under my spacing, margin, and font size scheme. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuckity fuckity fuckity fuck fuck fuck. Don't know what to write for this one. Clock is ticking. Must get to work.

In other news, I actually kind of miss the 24-hour A-level reading room at U of C. There was something The library here at Parnassus closes at midnight on weeknights, and my smarty-pants grad student status doesn't seem to confer upon me any after-hours privileges. I guess there's just no demand for it. If you're a med student, you should be in bed at that hour so you can get up the next morning at a normal hour like a doctor would. If you're a grad student, you should only be working this late if you are in lab. And since all the journal articles are online, it just doesn't make sense to have a 24-hour bricks-and-mortar library at an all-biomedical-sciences campus like this one.

Still, I could use a place to type after hours on nights like tonight (hopefully there won't be too many more), and the nice thing about the A-level was that there were always other freaks there at every ungodly hour, and even though they were strangers you somehow felt less lonely being near them because you knew that you weren't the only person still awake and working. And there was a bit of schadenfreude when you left and saw that they were still there while you were about to go to bed because your stupid complexity theory problem set or your stupid western civ paper was finally done. Actually, I don't know if I ever felt that way upon leaving the A-level. I'm just making this shit up. Well, some of it.

There aren't any late-night coffeehouses that I know of in this neighborhood either. I guess there weren't any near U of C either. I guess the attitude of local proprietors is that the only thing you should be buying at this hour is liquor. But there is that donut shop at 9th and Judah. Donut World, I believe it's called. That's open nonstop. I could use a chocolate old fashioned or two. That's where I'll go on my way home.

Saturday, November 13, 2004


I need to focus. It's 4:06 p.m. already and I haven't done a damn thing.

Things I have done today:
  1. Woken up.
  2. Walked to living room to grab laptop.
  3. Brought laptop to bed so I could check in on the state of the world while still under the covers.
  4. Fallen asleep.
  5. Woken up.
  6. Checked the news again.
  7. Showered, brushed teeth, ate apple.
  8. Canvas cafe for a latte and bowl of soup. (This cost me $8. What the fuck?)
  9. Wrote a few lines of my "Broader Impacts" NSF essay.
  10. Headed to Milberry Union for iced tea and an energy bar. Looked up an article I want to reference in the above-mentioned essay while eating said items.
  11. Headed to the library and grabbed a chair with a panoramic view of the ocean, the Golden Gate, and the Transamerica Pyramid.
This has to stop. I should be getting so much done. There's so much to do and most of it is actually quite worth doing. One might say that by working late I ought to be able to get just as much done as a normal person, but it usually doesn't work that way. Saturday night rolls along and the whole ambience makes it seem like work is not an option. It gets dark out and you feel like you should be at home. You start to think you can allow yourself just a little bit of relaxation when really you shouldn't stop working. I need to start working during the daylight and sleeping during the darkness.

So it's time to get going. Time to start thinking about just one thing at a time, and thinking about that thing for a long amount of time. I'll turn AirPort off so I can't check the web or look at my email. Find some peaceful music and be frenetic.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Per metalife's suggestion, I am reposting his post with my own links:

"i started off grounded. i sought self-awareness. i saw myself seeking and the whole process looked sad and futile. i tried to become grounded in some beautiful state of perpetual seeking and not finding. but there was no end to the recursive analysis and i am now left floating, alone, a metalife."

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


I know HIPAA places all kinds of restrictions on what doctors can say about their experiences with their patients. I think patients can still say whatever they want about their experiences with their doctors, though. It's interesting that health care is such a private matter (I'm not saying it shouldn't be, I just think it's interesting that it is). Whenever we admit that we went to or are going to see a doctor it's always in hushed, vague tones, as if we are embarrassed about even having to set foot in the door of one, no matter how minor the issue. Is this because it's just not something others care about or are we afraid of admitting we have weaknesses, that we need help? Certainly as a twentysomething there's a tendency to feel pretty immortal at times.

Anyway, being new in this town and one to put these things off I hadn't yet located a medical provider when my paroxetine (Paxil generic) ran out on Saturday. As this drug is supposed to have some pretty nasty withdrawal symptoms, I was concerned about letting it lapse for too long and got the first available appointment from Student Health. (Coincidentally, the only available time was during discussion section, so in going to this appointment I was leaving a discussion about membrane transporters to go shut down one of my own membrane transporters.) The NP I saw was nice and obliging, and gave me a fresh prescription with a minimum of rehashing of my troubles. She asked routine questions about how I was adjusting to life here, and I tried to convey the truth, which is that I've been more satisfied with the way things have been going since I've been in SF than I have been in a long time. She described the talk therapy programs here at UCSF, and when I did that thing I do where I stumble and stutter rather than simply saying "I'm not interested," she ended my hemming and hawing by saying "You just want your Paxil."

This was the truth, but hearing it put this way was a little funny. It really is something that I want rather than something I need, as I could certainly live without it and have lived without it. It's just something I'm afraid to go off of at this point because I know how bad it can get. Rather than being a necessity, for some of us SSRIs end up a lifestyle choice. Some think there's a certain moral high ground in not taking them, as one should be able to deal with one's own problems without the aid of exogenous psychoactive chemicals. You could probably argue that there's a practical high ground to this as well, as learning to deal with one class of difficulties may enhance your ability to deal with other problems. I used to feel this way but at this point I just don't care about any high ground I may be losing by continuing to block SERT. Choice A is a wider range of moods and the risk of being incapacitated by a significant depressive episode. Choice B is emotional equanimity and dependence on a drug. It seems so much safer to stay on the drug.

After all, would I be where I am today without my meds? Would I have been confident enough to pursue the opportunities I am today glad that I pursued? Would I have cared enough and been able to concentrate enough to keep getting things done? Would I have managed to be unanxious enough to not come off as completely socially inept? Would I have avoided having a breakdown that might have driven me to fail or give up? I'm inclined to stay on the meds just because they might be what's keeping me sane enough to at least get some work done. They certainly aren't bringing me joy or bliss--and I wonder if they're preventing me from highs as well as lows--but I'm pretty sure they are play a role in making sure I stay functional. I'm thinking in functionality I've got a pretty good thing going, and I therefore should count my blessings and feel lucky to have found in these meds something that seems to guarantee that I'll live a life where I feel at least O.K. and probably do some worthwhile things, even if I never feel great.

Is anyone ever this ambivalent about, say, taking their blood pressure medication?


Those chocolate chip cookies that are half dipped in chocolate that they sell at the Nurseteria for $1.75? Really, really, good.