Monday, March 29, 2004

I almost forgot to write about Rob! He was driving down to Emory University in Georgia. He's interviewing for their Physician Assistant program in Anesthesiology. He drove down there by himself though, said it took him about 13 hours to get there. I hope he has a good interview. He's already been accepted to Texas A&M and Oregon State for chemistry, so the more options the better. I was pretty happy for him when I heard he'd be accepted at both places.

This weekend was a blur of activity. Friday night Ellie and I packed things in boxes, but found there wasn't much left to pack and that we kept needing things that were already packed away. Since Ellie had done quite a bit previously there wasn't much to do, so we went to be about 11 to be ready for Saturday morning.

Saturday morning rolled around and that meant moving day. I hopped in the car and drove down to Mason to meet my Dad and Susan at the truck rental place. We stopped and got some coffee and McDonalds on the way, and met them there about 9AM. Meet a funny old boxer (of the dog variety) named Dutch who roamed around the hardware store that doubled at a Budget Rental center. We cruised back up to the apartment with a new 24 foot truck and began the loading process.

With Ellie, Susan, Dad, and myself we managed to have the truck loaded by 11:30 (about an hour and 45 minutes I think). Dad and I went to Dicker and Deal to try to sell our couch (it's uncomfortable) and entertainment center (it's huge and doesn't really fit with the color of the hutch and kitchen table). We negoiated $90 for the both of them and dropped them off, quite satisfied that we managed to get some change for them.

About that time I got a call from Ellie. She was asking where the garage door opener was (since we'll be storing things in the garage until we can close on the house). I told her it was in the Escape where I told her I put it on Friday. That meant they had to drive all the way back to the apartment to get the opener then return to Holt to offload the truck. Keep in mind that we're under a bit of time pressure because we're supposed to have the truck returned by 2PM and it's now 12PM. We're feeling the time cruch a bit!

Fortunately two of Susan's sons came to help us (Matt and Arend). Once everyone arrive back at the new house we try the garage door opener and the garage doesn't open. Uhh ohh. Ellie walks closer and closer until she is 10 feet from the door and it's still now opening. I'm preplexed because I checked to make sure it worked before I left Friday. I walk up to the door, try the open once or twice, then reach down and pull the door up. It was unlocked the whole time! Did I ever feel stupid at that point. Next we started unloading the truck and placing stuff in the garage. I was in the truck pushing things to the edge of the back and then folks would come to pick them up. We finished unloading the truck in only 20 minutes! That was fast. We cruised down to Mason, dropped the truck off, and went to lunch with everyone. It went great. We spent a few more hours with my Dad and Susan at the mall and Marshall's, then called it a day. We returned home to an empty apartment and slept on sleeping bags on the floor (it's not nearly as nice as a bed).

Saturday when we had walked back into the house we were hit with the smell of cat urine. That kind of settled the long runing problem we've had with Midas. We decided we couldn't risk him peeing all over the new house with the new carpeting, so we agreed to try to either send him to the cat rescue or to send him to live with my mom and see how he does. I was feeling pretty sad this morning without him around. I missed him last night too. Now I can't have him cuddle up to me at night and sit on my stomach and watch TV with me. I think he'll like Mom's place though. There is a lot of space for him to explore and two other cats to play with (I doubt they'll play at first though, probably hiss instead) as well as Bruno, the wire haired fox terrier that my Mom loves.

Monday, March 22, 2004

If anyone wants to read the actual research here is a link to the article on the Journal of the American Medical Association's website:

I suspect most of you won't be able to access it because you don't subscribe, so if you want to read the abstract (short summary" I've posted it below:

Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000.

Mokdad AH, Marks JS, Stroup DF, Gerberding JL.

Division of Adult and Community Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga, USA.

CONTEXT: Modifiable behavioral risk factors are leading causes of mortality in the United States. Quantifying these will provide insight into the effects of recent trends and the implications of missed prevention opportunities. OBJECTIVES: To identify and quantify the leading causes of mortality in the United States.
DESIGN: Comprehensive MEDLINE search of English-language articles that identified epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory studies linking risk behaviors and mortality. The search was initially restricted to articles published during or after 1990, but we later included relevant articles published in 1980 to December 31, 2002. Prevalence and relative risk were identified during the literature search. We used 2000 mortality data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to identify the causes and number of deaths. The estimates of cause of death were computed by multiplying estimates of the cause-attributable fraction of preventable deaths with the total mortality data.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Actual causes of death.
RESULTS: The leading causes of death in 2000 were tobacco (435 000 deaths; 18.1% of total US deaths), poor diet and physical inactivity (400 000 deaths; 16.6%), and alcohol consumption (85 000 deaths; 3.5%). Other actual causes of death were microbial agents (75 000), toxic agents (55 000), motor vehicle crashes (43 000), incidents involving firearms (29 000), sexual behaviors (20 000), and illicit use of drugs (17 000). CONCLUSIONS: These analyses show that smoking remains the leading cause of mortality. However, poor diet and physical inactivity may soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of death. These findings, along with escalating health care costs and aging population, argue persuasively that the need to establish a more preventive orientation in the US health care and public health systems has become more urgent.

I've got a few things to write on today, so let me start with one that I'm a bit more passionate about. The news media seems to have picked up this and is running stories about obesity being the second leading cause of death. Unfortunately people either don't read the actual research or bother to get truly informed about it. When people you are talking with start talking about how "obesity is the 2nd leading cause of death" drop this on them: The actual study indicates it is "Poor diet and physical inactivity."

This may seem like splitting hairs to some, but it is a very important point. Obesity is a co-occurence with poor diet and physical activity! People seem to want to argue that it is a obesity that is the cause of the problem, and I will say it simply: obesity is a symptom of the cause.

Consider this: The 5-year success rate for weight loss maintains from deeding is 5%! If your physician told you that he was going to give you a drug to prevent heart disease, but then also told you that there was a 95% chance it would fail and that once you went off the drug your health would be worse and you'd be more likely to suffer health complications would you take that drug? I sure hope not. Yet the research has shown time and again that people who fail at the diet (95% of us, so if you've failed you are not alone) regain all the weight and more! This leads some people to enter "yo-yo dieting," which is PROVEN to shorten life span! Why are physican's still telling us to lose 10-20% of our weight when nearly everyone fails and may end up worse off? I've heard many people say it, but I'll play my cliche card of the day: The definition of insanity is to do something that you know the outcome of and to expect something different!

So I've written a lot on this and I'd love to talk to people about it if they care to hear. To avoid sounding like a griping whiner I will make my own recommendation for healthy living: Exercise EVERY day, eat a wide variety of foods (especially fruits, vegetables, and fish), and feel good about your body. I cannot say it enough! Take it from someone who went to school to study diet, nutrition, and health. The answer is not the latest diet of the year.

The other stuff I'm not quite as opinionated about. We saw the house this weekend and it's really close to being complete. There are only a few little things to be done inside now. The problem is that they've got 2 other houses that they're supposed to close on before ours and they have a fair amount of work that needs to be done, so the March 26th closing date is not going to happen.

Now this a problem for us because we have a lot of help available for moving things on the 26th, but almost none for the 30th (the date the builder has proposed). Not only that, but Ellie can't get the time off work to sign the papers, so it's a real problem. Now couple that to the fact that we planned to move out of our apartment by the 1st of April so we wouldn't have to pay another month's rent. Hopefully we can move some of the items over the the house and stow them in the garage, but apparently the building inspector does not appreciate that. I've proposed moving the stuff to a storage locker temporarily if we can't get it in the garage, but Ellie said she doesn't want to have to move twice. It may not be an option though. I'll try to keep everyone posted on this.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I've been ruminating for a bit on what recently happened in Spain. Then I was watching the NBC Nightly News last night while folding laundry and saw a story about 16 Palestinians (I could have the number wrong) being killed in a rocket attack from Israelis, which were exacting retribution for a bombing in which a 12 year old Palestinian boy was paid to place a bomb on some mass transit.

Many news outlets seem to call the Spain attack and response a win for Al-Qaeda and a loss for President Bush, and I'll say I agree with that assessment.

It all saddens me a great deal and makes me more and more ask when our leaders with realize violence only begets more violence. It was rather funny on the Daily Show when they said Al-Qaeda's motto was "What Wouldn't Gandhi Do?" Sadly, it applies to more than just Al-Qaeda. I wish I had something witty to say to lighten the mood, but I just can't muster anything at this time. -------------------CMN

Monday, March 15, 2004

Sunday we spent cruising all over the place. We wanted to get to know Holt a little better, so we cruised down there and explored a little. Not a whole lot to the place. We also stopped by the Pilgrim House (a furniture place), what turned out to be a bad idea on my part since it just reminded Ellie about how much things really do cost. She said it was a tease. I just wanted to see what was there. Down the line it's an option I suppose.

The house is almost complete. As far as I can tell the only things that need to be finished are dry walling the garage (which we can move in on before it's finished), carpeting, putting urethane over the wood, and patching the nicks and scratches in the walls from the construction process. The appliances all have to be put in, but we're working on that with Sears. Ellie managed to get a much better price through the builder and their relationship with the Builder's Resource Center over there, so now we have to go "return" the stuff we bought this weekend and ring it up with the other guy. Oh well. It will save us a bit over $300, so that was good news.

Work is going to be rather quiet next week, as several of the lab folks are heading to the Society of Toxicology meeting in Baltimore. It looks like it's just going to be me, Sandy, and Shawn (the newest graduate student) around next week, with everyone else in Baltimore. I hope they have a good time and get some good ideas. I know the head honcho, Bob, is meeting with some collaborators and potential collaborators. I bet there will be some good stories from the trip.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

So rather than trying to fix the graphics and text on the right side of the blog I decided to first add a comment system. My guess is that one of two things will results. Either we will see how few people truly read Colin's blog, or we will get to have some real interaction. I hope for the latter!

Friday, March 12, 2004

If you'll please excuse how the text gets messed up on the right side of the screen (for Internet Explorer users). Looks fine in Firefox, so I think it's a problem with how IE interprets HTML. I'm working on it. ----------CMN

Looks like things are go on the house out in Holt. The radon test came back at ~1.5 pCurie/liter. Fine by me. Of course, the EPA recommends long term tests, but I guess I can do that sometime down the line. Testing can be done cheaply with a kit. The house look like it will be great though.

Ellie and I were talking last night about plans for the house. She naturely wanted to talk about decorating and I naturally wanted to talk about telephone, internet, and television service. Most of the stuff we're going to wait on to decide, but we have decided to leave TDS Metrocom (our telephone service provider) behind. We're going to just stick with our cell phones since we have decent signals inside the house (unlike our current situation at the apartment). There is also another couple down the street we had met at Sears. They're both in IT, so I made a passing comment about setting up a wireless network and they something along the lines of "As long as you've got a line of sight." Sweet! I'd love to be able to split the cost of a fat bandwidth internet connection with another group (since we're out of range of, which provides some great DSL for MSU students/staff).

I just don't have the equipment at this point either. I've been looking around at wireless routers with ports of external antennas so that I have an idea about what can be done. I'm almost inclined to make my own "cantenna" wave guide antenna (lots of info on the net about them) but I don't know which to set it up for at this point, so it's purely academic. My preference is for either 802.11g or 802.11a (probably a, since it's less likely at this point to suffer from interference problems). I'll keep you posted on the development.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Last night I downloaded my first iTunes song, "This Love" by Maroon 5. Thanks Pepsi, for the free tunes. I guess I don’t score points for being a music snob. I haven’t listened to the college music station is months, so I’ve been a little out of the loop on the music snobbery scene as well. I’ve been spending most of my radio listening time with NPR or the classical station.

My continued tinkering with Mozilla Thunderbird and Calendar is becoming less tinkering and more regular use. I set up the mail reader as an IMAP client so that I can read my mail from the different lab computers and at home and they’ll all still be in sync wherever I go. Of course the easy way would have been just to use the MSU Webmail application, but that would simply be too easy. Plus I get better options when it comes to spam filtering and mail writing than if I used the Webmail application. I’ve got Calendar set up so that it will sync up with my remotely stored calendar file and update it if I change it. A poor man’s calendar server indeed, but it meets my needs. I wish when my calendar was downloaded the events that are marked private would only appear as "private event." Oh well. Maybe we’ll see something like that eventually.

I’ve also decided I’d like to write a suggested research project. I’ve started to assemble some literature on the use of Surface Enhanced Laser Desorption Ionization - Time of Flight (SELDI-TOF, a good acronym) mass spectrometry for the characterization of biological samples. I know it sounds complicated, but take my word for it, it’s not as complicated as the name makes it sound. I just don’t want to go into too much detail here, primarily because it would bore most people, and secondly I’d like to get it puzzled and planned before I take the wraps off it. There is also the normal paranoia that one doesn’t want to reveal too much about a any project that may have potential application outside of the purely academic pursuit of knowledge.

Secondarily I’ve also started fiddling with a calendar for lab equipment that can be accessed over the web. The Genomics facility at MSU uses a web-based calendar for people to sign up for time on one of the more valuable pieces of equipment (a real-time PCR machine), and in passing Dr. Roth mentioned that possibility that down the line the Food Safety & Toxicology Center may want to apply for a grant for which tracking the use of departmental property would be desirable. I naturally thought the technical approach would be superior to paper logs, but as usual it’s more of an undertaking than most would care to go through. Basically I need to learn to setup a web server, and from there I can add the calendaring application (it’s predesigned). First I want to learn how to set it up safely though, as I don’t want to open any of the lab computers up to any greater security holes than already exist (all of them are Windows computers).

Along those lines I did one thing to remedy the situation. It won’t sound like much, but I finally managed to set the computers up so that they will automatically download and install the most current virus definitions every night. Normally one could just use something like Norton Antivirus’ LiveUpdate, but either the lab computers don’t have a current subscription, or LiveUpdate is broken. Either way, people had to manually download the definitions and install them, which led to intermittent updates. I used a batch file from Symantec’s website and then puzzled and experimented until I had it set up to run without trouble around 4AM every day. It’s a small thing, but those are the kind of puzzles I like to solve. --------------------------------------CMN

Monday, March 08, 2004

This weekend we bid on yet another house. This time it's out in the Holt, and the price is greater than what I had budgeted for in my mind ($152,900 is the cost). We came to the realization, or at least I did, that a house that would not require some major expense in a neighborhood we like are not available, so we're going to bite the bullet (ack! what a cliche) and buy a new house and pay more than we had originally planned. At least this way we know we've got a fresh slate on a house. I'm looking forward to having some projects and the like.

I'm experimenting with Mozilla Calendar lately. If you look over in my links bar there is one for "Download My Home Calendar," which will allow one to copy my current calendar (but not change it). I found some hosting at what allows for some easy WebDAV access, so I thought I might experiment a bit. One thing I've found in the academic world is that scheduling a meeting is a real nusiance compared to what it was like when I interned at Kraft Foods. There one could look at a person's schedule using Microsoft Outlook, as we were all hooked up to an Exchange server. There isn't anything like that in the academic area (as I make this blanket statement I'm sure there are some exceptions), but I think I'm going to make an effort to bring it to people's attention. We'll see what happens.

Monday, March 01, 2004

It was a bright, nice weekend here with bad news to accompany it. We inspected the Clifton Rd house that we had our bid accepted on and discovered many problems. To make a long story short (since I've got to go catch a bus soon), the house had the potential to require ~$20,000 in repairs over the next 5 years and we didn't think we could get a good return on the money we used to buy the house if that were the case. Now we've spent nearly $600 on home inspections and still don't have a house. It's getting to be really frustrating and depressing.

I also hurt my mom's feelings because she wanted to come to visit and I told her we were too busy, even though I saw my Dad and his g/f this weekend (they came for the home inspection, then turned around and left). I wish things were easier. Also my grandmother's 85th birthday is coming, but since it's going to be at my aunts' house Ellie doesn't want to go (which I understand and support her on for reasons I won't go into here). She and I will have to try to find some other way to see grandma.

One project is getting put on the backburner at work because despite having several months of practice at all the techniques we're still not observing the expected results that were in the grant proposal. Since that's the case there isn't a great deal of point to going after other parts of the grant, since they kind of depend on the experiment I've been working on. That's frustrating. I'm going to have to do some literature research to try to find an alternate possiblility I think to explain what's going on. -----------CMN