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On Francis Collins

Jul 29, 2009, 9:44 pm by Zach

Francis Collins, Director NIHPaul sent me a link to this NY Times article about Obama's pick for national director of the NIH, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. Most non-scientists are probably pretty in the dark about the NIH, but it's a Very Big Deal. They head up lots of biomedical research and are responsible for giving out lots of grant money to scientists across the US.

Collins is a Christian and a scientist. Without knowing much about him, I'm sure most liberals would roll their eyes and consider this a step backwards. Collins is actually pretty good about separating religion from science. In fact, I'd say he's a great model for demonstrating how the two need not be mutually exclusive. He doesn't promote "intelligent design" and his CV is pretty impressive. He headed up the National Human Genome Research Institute, which will prove to be an invaluable tool for treating genetic diseases. I actually met him once at a lecture at SMU when I was in high school and he was a great speaker.

However, as outlined in the NY Times article, he has said some things that make people like me cringe--that at some point in our evolution, god inserted a soul. Of course, no science can prove this. The nature of science is to answer how, when and what, but never why. Collins has said, however, “science offers no answers to the most pressing questions of human existence”, which any scientist would agree with.

The question remains as to whether or not someone who is religious can ever be a truly good scientist. To say not would be as intolerant as the religious right is known to be. Logically, science and religion answer different questions (or different sides of similar questions), and a truly great scientist's work would never be swayed by their spiritual beliefs. Historically, this is almost never true. Lots of us hope that Collins is level-headed enough and will make a great director of the NIH, but part of us worries that NIH funding might change directions and support scientists who hold his religious beliefs. I personally don't think this will happen. I think he will end up doing a great job. Your thoughts?

One thing we can all agree on, though, is homeboy needs a new haircut. Do he and Bill Gates see the same barber? Damn!

On Matters Washingtonia

May 25, 2009, 6:49 pm by Zach

Rainier beerAs many of you may already know, I recently moved to Seattle. While I certainly miss Texas--especially the food--Seattle is a pretty nice place to live. The weather is mild and not quite the depressing constant rain that we've all undoubtedly heard so much about. The people are polite on the surface and I can go grocery shopping, get drunk, and eat great Thai food without ever leaving a few block radius of my apartment.

One thing stands out, however. The Northwest is home to many, many microbreweries. Alas, I can find lots of great IPAs made locally. This post is not about great IPAs. This post, gentlemen, is about Rainier beer: Washington's version of Lone Star. Note the white, red and gold color scheme. It tastes about like Lone Star, but not as good. Although I have yet to see it sold in bottles, I'm told that their bottle caps contain the same kind of puzzles found on Lone Star caps. This guy has an archive of solutions. Whether Rainier was made in the image of Lone Star, the contrary, or the two are products of convergent evolution, I'm not sure. That would require about 10 more minutes of searching and I'm due to a Memorial Day BBQ* soon.

*There will be a grill, but whether or not Northwesterners actually know their asses from their elbows when it comes to BBQ remains to be seen.

Sea Town, Here I Come!

Mar 22, 2009, 10:22 pm by Zach

space needleI'm going to Seattle tomorrow morning. I'm going to be getting a physical for a job I hope to get. Don't ask me why I have to go to Seattle to get the physical--that's just what my travel orders state. Getting asked to get a physical means I'm quite a bit closer to landing my dream job, provided that I pass the physical and that at least one other person does not pass the physical, which may be the case, since they don't ask you to get it unless someone else failed or is disqualified.

Even though I'm only going to be there for a few days and it'll be mostly sitting in a doctor's office, I'm pretty excited. The only other time I was in Seattle was a far-too-long layover in the Sea-Tac airport in the middle of the night with nothing to eat but fast food. This time I might get a little time to see the city.

I'm also stoked about getting a three day extension on spring break. I need a rest from SXSW!

Valentine's Day

Feb 14, 2009, 7:55 pm by Zach

cupidI am sick of Valentine's Day. Not because of the commercialization or the fact that I'm single, but because of all the single people who complain about it. I know too many people who bitch about it for weeks on end and then have anti-Valentine's Day celebrations, wherein they pretend to not enjoy the idea of showing their loved ones what they mean to them. I celebrated anti-Valentine's Day exactly once, and that was when I was in 7th grade. Eleven years ago. I was 14 years old.

Calling it Singles Awareness Day doesn't make you edgy. Nor does burning your panties or eating upside down heart cookies. Face the facts: you are, for some reason, obsessed with the idea of being in a relationship and bitter as fuck that you're not in one. You may say all the anti-V-Day stuff is a joke, but there's a kernel of truth to every joke. Maybe the reason you're single is because of your terrible attitude.

Heaven forbid you let other people have fun today. Maybe one day when you find your sack and quit wearing shortpants to work, you might actually have a significant other and you will have fun celebrating V-Day. More than likely, you will not, so next year when you're feeling like a pathetic neckbearded lump of angst, try calling your mom or grandma and telling them happy Valentine's Day. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you and it'll give you something nice to do.

Maybe next time Yom Kippur rolls around, I'll bitch and moan about it for weeks and call it Gentile Awareness Day. Or maybe on Bastille Day I'll have an anti-France party, even though I think France looks really lovely and I'd like to go one day. Anything to make a point to you chronic complainers.

faith in austin destroyed

Dec 13, 2008, 7:42 pm by Zach

Just when I was starting to think that my neighborhood wasn't all bad, it went and pissed me off today. This afternoon, as I was on my way to the Verizon store to buy a new phone, I saw a really old lady in an electric wheelchair in the middle of an intersection (at 6th and Chic�³n, for those interested), waving her arms. The chair was obviously out of juice and people just kept driving around her. I parked my car at a goddamn art gallery and went to see if she needed help. Her chair was in fact broken, so I pushed her all the way home on 5th and a few blocks west. Little known fact: electric wheelchairs weigh as much as one and a half Honda Civics.

1. Fucking yuppie motherfuckers driving their goddamn Priuses around a goddamn old lady STUCK in the MIDDLE of a goddamn INTERSECTION. Fuck you, dickbags. If you can't help your neighbors, get the fuck out. They come here, buy $250,000 condos, raise property taxes out the wazoo, and shit all over their neighbors. Fuck your art galleries. Fuck your condos. Fuck you.

2. The lady was gracious and told me thank you and bless you and whatnot, but her (presumable) daughter just stood there smoking a cigarette on the stoop. Didn't say thank you or fuck you or anything and didn't offer me a glass of water or anything even though I was panting. I just walked away.

I didn't do it expecting a thank you, but you'd think that's common courtesy. The old lady was very gracious, which was all that was necessary, but you'd think the daughter would be gracious...at least a little. This post was not to tell everyone what a good samaritan I am, as I was just doing my duty and helping a fellow Texan. Why nobody else in the neighborhood thought this was a priority is beyond me. I am at a loss for words.

a brief note on neckwear, pt. 1

Dec 7, 2008, 9:15 pm by Zach

windsor knotI've noticed that almost none of the male teachers at my school wear ties. I can only recall seeing one teacher wear one, and usually only the principal and AP's wear them. I firmly believe that when you dress nicer, you will perform better and be perceived as being more professional. I think part of the problem with my low-performing, academically unacceptable school is that the teachers take no pride in their work and it shows in their dress. Casual Friday, at least at my school, now means bluejeans, any grungy old t-shirt, and flip flops. (On Fridays, I wear whatever I would wear every other day of the week, but with jeans in place of slacks.) In an effort to look more professional at school and to get the principals' attention, I've started wearing ties, and it's working. The students are slightly more respectful, teachers have told me how nice I look and the principals now say good morning to me.

I only have a handful of modern, fashionable ties, but slowly making my collection larger. Good ties cost as much or more than a good shirt, but can be well worth the cost. Your tie should be darker than your shirt and should have similar colors, unless you're wearing a solid white or light colored shirt, in which case your tie can be almost any color. Note how the tie in the photo picks up the gold lines on the shirt. Current fashion dictates that your tie be patterned and not solid. The monochrome look went out in the early 2000s, but go ahead and hang onto those ties as they'll likely become fashionable again in 10-15 years. Patterns may be like the one shown here (but a little less shiny), or diagonal stripes. You should never wear a tie with images or pictures unless it's to your goofy office holiday party. The tip of your tie should just touch the top of your belt--no longer, no shorter. Your tie should be silk. Wool and polyester ties have not been in fashion for a long time, and hopefully never will be again. Unless you're going in costume as a 70s sleaze, your tie should not be very wide. Unless you're a jazz musician, your tie should not be very thin. A good rule of thumb is that your tie should be as wide as your lapel if you're wearing a jacket, and luckily for you, dear reader, almost all ties sold in stores are of the preferred standard width.

There are a variety of knots which may be used. The most common is the four-in-hand knot, the one your father likely taught you when you were 12 and attending your first wedding. This knot is good and versatile, but other knots can be more appropriate for certain shirts and situations. In a more formal situation, a half- or full-windsor is more appropriate. The knot in the photo is a full-windsor. It leaves a wide, symmetrical triangle as opposed to the thin, slightly lopsided four-in-hand. This knot also works well for wide collars and for gentlemen of a larger frame, such as myself.

Bow ties are another option. They should be worn with a tux, obviously, but can also be worn in any other situation which requires a tie, but with discretion. If you're very skinny or very corpulent, a bow tie will only make you look skinnier or fatter. If you choose to wear a bow tie to work, make sure you're the only one in your office or workplace who does. If you can pull of a bow tie, you can be the "bow tie guy", which, when done correctly, allows other people you don't interact with daily to remember who you are. If you can't pull off a bow tie, you will be known as "that guy with a bow tie", who you do not want to be. I'm going to buy a bow tie this week and see if I can pull it off.

faith in austin restored

Dec 1, 2008, 9:46 pm by Zach

longbranch innI think it's pretty well known that I have mixed feelings on Austin. On the one hand, it's got a lot of fun things to do, but on the other, it's filled with trustafarians, hipster scum, and lots and lots of posers.

This weekend, however, my opinion started to change. I've been going to the Longbranch Inn (on E. 11th and Lydia, for those who live around here) lately. It's a nice little dive close to my house and it's quickly becoming my regular neighborhood bar. There's only one row of tables parallel to one long wall, so when it's not dead inside, you usually have to sit next to other groups of people if you want to sit down. This Saturday night, a friend and I went, and sure enough, there were only two available seats--right next to a couple.

We asked if we could sit down and they kindly obliged. It turns out they were on their first date and had met online. It quickly became obvious that they were not too into one another and were all too glad to have some other people to chat with to break the monotony. We had a really good time chatting with these strangers and I'm even still in touch with one of them.

Later that night, the friend and I went to Creekside (on 6th and Red River), which has a great back deck. Standing around, sipping our Lone Stars and smoking our Camels, another couple approached us out of the blue and chatted us up. We didn't chat for long, but they were very friendly.

I don't know if it was something in the air or if people were still riding a Thanksgiving high, but this was the first time I've seen such displays of friendliness in Austin. If things continue in this manner, I think I'll stick around a little longer.

Fashion Exaptations

Nov 2, 2008, 12:28 pm by Zach

do ragI've been thinking a lot about fashion statements. Working in a high school, I see lots of interesting fashion choices made by my students. In the adult world, one typically aspires to dress in such a fashion that shows they are smart, neat, clean and financially well to do. In the teen world, one typically aspires to dress in such a fashion that shows either their uniqueness and individuality or, conversely, affiliation with a certain group, although one may argue that the kids who dress "differently" are actually still adhering to strict guidelines set forth by their clique.

Working with lower-income kids, I've noticed that many things they wear are declarations of pride in one's poverty. These things originally had a functional use for older working members of certain groups and are worn in emulation of their older peers by teenagers. This is similar to the idea of exaptation in evolutionary biology in which some physical structure or biochemical process of a living organism serves a different function than for which it originally evolved (think whale's flipper). Here is a list of things I've noticed, none of which are particularly new, but still interesting:

· Sagging Pants - In prison, your belt is taken away and unless your pants are close fitting, they will sag. This look was taken up by lower income kids and now adults, I suppose, to show they they've been to prison, but is now quite ubiquitous.
· Dickies - These are worn by cholo boys and sometimes chola girls. Dickies are functional if you're a mechanic or something and need tough pants that are cheap enough to not worry about becoming stained with grease and oil.
· Janitoresque Shirts and Pants - Similar in function to cholo boys' Dickies, I've seen these worn by chola girls at my school. Their moms and aunts and grandmas typically work as custodians and the girls emulate this look.
· Do Rags - These are worn by black boys. When a wavy look was fashionable with black men, these would be worn in bed at night after the application of pomade to achieve said look. For some reason, younger black boys (and now men) wear them during the day as a fashion statement.
· Hair Nets - Similar in function to the do rag, these are worn by cholo boys to hold down their slicked back hair. These would have been worn at home while getting ready to go out, but they've since made their way into every day wear. I find this to be one of the stupidest looking fashion statements my students make.
· Wranglers and Cowboy Boots - These are worn by both redneck white kids and some Mexican boys. Obviously these serve a function when working on a ranch, but have no real function otherwise. I find this to be the best-looking fashion statement made by my students.
· ID Cards on Lanyard - This one is pretty ridiculous. I noticed this one when I was in high school a lot too. Kids in inner city ghetto schools usually have to wear their student IDs on a lanyard in plain view to show that they are indeed a student at the school. Those kids try to hide them or forget them at home. At the high school I attended and now at the school in which I work, ID cards are worn by black and hispanic kids when they're not required at all. I suppose they've seen cousins or friends from much poorer schools wearing their IDs and want to emulate the look. At my school, their only real use is as a debit card in the cafeteria.

I think the only thing I wear that isn't a product of exapted function is cowboy boots, which I only wear once every week or two. Everything else pretty much serves its function as I wear it. What other fashion exaptations can you think of?

Witchcraft!

Oct 25, 2008, 2:36 pm by Zach

Teenage Mutant Ninja PoodleWhile looking at this picture, I got to thinking about Sarah Palin. Look at this poor dog. Forced to look like a ninja turtle. Not just any ninja turtle, but Leonardo, the de facto leader of the group. This poor poodle doesn't look too happy about that. I doubt he feels equipped or ready to handle a leadership position, but, well, here he is, like it or not. There's a pit bull lipstick joke here somewhere.

This morning I saw this video of Mrs. Palin talking about how silly it is for scientists to get funding to study something as silly as "fruit fly research in Paris, France," all the while doing that folksy little headcocking business. Way to play to the uneducated hicks who make up the vast majority of your voting base, ma'am. I also saw a clip somewhere of John McCain saying he wanted to end funding silly projects like "black bear DEE ENN AY" (with strategic pauses between DEE, ENN and AY to highlight the notion that it's all just made up hoo-ha).

It really grinds my fucking gears when people think any research that isn't directly related to CANCER or something is stupid and a huge waste of money and effort. As if all scientists (especially biologists) are just a bunch of crazy kooks in lab coats, drunk on lab-grade ethanol, laughing in a menacing manner and studying bear DEE ENN AY. Give me a cotton pickin' break.

Vote Democrat, if only for the reason that the Republicans want to squash funding for research they don't understand.

Also, happy birthday, Paul.

On Jackets

Oct 7, 2008, 11:54 pm by Zach

eskimoIt's a bone-chilling 66ºF currently in Austin, Texas. While it'll be a good while before I need to wear anything resembling a jacket, I got to thinking about jackets. Now that I'm an "adult" and have a "job" that requires me to dress slightly nicer than jeans and tshirt, I should probably have an adult jacket, but not sure what to get. The following is a timeline of notable jackets I have owned.

7th grade (1996-1997): Big Starter jackets were all the rage. I had a Dallas Stars jacket.
8th grade (1997-1998): I had a Longhorns Starter jacket. Not sure what I was thinking there.
9th grade (1998-1999): For Christmas I got an Adidas windbreaker that I was pretty proud of.
10th-12th grades and early college(1999-2004): I guess I mostly wore hoodie sweatshirts.
Late college (2004-2005): I got into vintage brown leather jackets in a big way, thanks to Fight Club. I got my first one in a thrift store in New Orleans. I found another in a thrift store somewhere else. Maybe the Left Handed Monkey. I also got into corduroy jackets. I had a brown corduroy number that hinted at being western. I also had a gray corduroy jacket with brown suede elbow patches that I called my professor jacket, but the back of it had some stains, so I only wore it to dark places. It looked especially quaint during the time I broke several toes and walked with a cane for a few weeks.
Grad school (2006-2008): I wore a casual navy blue zip-up American Eagle jacket that I got with a gift card someone gave me. An ok jacket, but a little preppy. Also the sleeve cuffs stretched out and became loose and floppy if I pushed my sleeves up for more than 5 minutes, which I did often. This jacket required lots of washing to reshrink the cuffs. I also started wearing flannel shirts in college on days that weren't freezing, but required something long-sleeve.
Adulthood (2008-????): Not sure what to get. I'd like something that says I'm an adult, well put together, but also young and fashionable and still with the indie crowd. Suggestions?

What are some of your notable jackets?

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