Happy Birthday to me

I’m 23 years old, woo! Sort of a nondescript birthday, really. I feel old in some social circles, young in others, and I still can’t get a rental car without paying special insurance. Not to mention I’ve been so excited about the magazine article and the book, the whole “Earth returning to the same position around the Sun” thing isn’t as exciting in comparison.

And honestly, I’m a little apprehensive. The last time my birthday fell on election day was when I turned 17. That was in 2004. You know, when George W. Bush got reelected.

Worst. Birthday gift. Ever.

So the fact that Republicans are aiming for a massive victory and too many of those are crazy Teabaggers… Well, I’m nervous. If there’s one thing I’m superstitious about, it’s that Fate exists and he takes sick pleasure in electing crazy people on my birthday.

American readers: For my birthday present, I want you to go vote, preferably for the lesser of the two evils.

And for everyone else… I dunno, leave me amusing comments so I can have a pick me up after the inevitable depressing election results tonight. Or tell a friend about any female atheist bloggers you like – after my last post, that would really make my day!

This is where the magic happens

I’m not feeling particularly blogging inspired (thanks, grad school), so here’s some random photos of my new apartment, now that it’s all set up (click images for larger):How about a game of geeky I Spy? What can you spot, other than the inevitable wire-induced fire hazard beneath my desk?

WTF IS THIS GIANT HOUSE SPIDER BULLSHIT?!?!

Seattleites, you have some ‘splaining to do. Why the fuck did no one warn me about these “Giant House Spiders” that are apparently so common in Seattle? Gaaaaarrahrahbbebabelle.

I’ve blogged about my arachnophobia before, but just in case it’s not clear: I am fucking terrified of spiders. Like, even ones that are a millimeter in diameter. I recognize that this is a totally irrational fear, but I can’t logic it away, so please spare me. Consider this an evolutionary adaptation.

So yeah. Finding two daddy long legs (which, I know, are not spiders, but are spider-y enough) was unnerving. Finding some decent sized spiders guarding my mail box was flail inducing, especially since I see them hanging out in bushes everywhere. But this?

This is unacceptable.

I am not going to show or even link to a photo of these horrible things, not because I don’t want to scare you, but because I am too terrified to even look at them on my computer screen. I turned around, ready to go to bed, and there’s this enormous spider on my wall. It was brown, hairy, and each leg was thick and almost two inches long (not a wolf spider though – unfortunately I have seen those in person). The only reason I was brave enough to squish it was because the idea of waking up and it not being there was even more terrifying. Someone should have been videotaping me as I ran around flailing, silently screaming, and eventually settling on squishing it with a mop because I couldn’t get any closer.

Hilarious for you. Not hilarious for me.

One of the more unnerving parts was how it died. I expected my wall to be covered in exploded spider guts. Instead, it sort of just crumpled into a little ball and fell off. The worst part? I found an identical looking dead crumpled spider yesterday, which means my landlord probably squished one of these before I came. Which means multiple giant house spiders within a short period of time.

FFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

If I had vodka, I’d be doing shots right now to calm my nerves. I feel like stuff is crawling all over me, and I was verging on a panic attack until I decided to blog my neurosis. Seriously, I am not going to be able to sleep tonight. I’m on an air mattress that’s about 3 inches off the ground. At least with a bed I can pretend I’m safe.

Please don’t point out how I’m not :(

Friend: They like cold, dry places like basements, not inside the house.I’ve NEVER seen one in my bed, EVER. If they’re EVER in the house, they like corners of rooms and bathroom tubs because they like really really cold, dry, dark spaces. I’m being as honest as I can here. I’m so sorry this sucks for you. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?
Me: I LIVE IN A BASEMENT
Friend: …uh. Sorry.

EDIT:

Same Friend: My friend just told me that flea bombs work for spiders. And he says keeping a spotless place is the best defense
Me: Fuccccccckkkkkkk. I am a slob
Friend: Oh, hon.
Me: I will fucking clean if it means no giant ass spiders.
Friend: Yes! Good can come of this!

When real life strikes…

…bloggers crumble. Aaaauugghh *die*

If you follow me on twitter or have been paying attention at all, you should know that I’m going to be crazy busy for the next week… month… hell, forever. I’m going down to Purdue for one last visit from Thursday to Saturday. Going to see a bunch of my friends now that classes are back in session since I have no idea when I’ll see them again. Why?

Because I’m finally moving to Seattle, wooooooooooooooooooooooo!

Yes, in a week the “trapped in Indiana” part of my bio will no longer be true. But as you can imagine, I’m going a little crazy. Moving to college was easy – Purdue is only an hour and a half away from my home, and I barely had a car full of stuff to take down there. Now I’ve had four years to accumulate shit, and I get to move 2,000 miles instead of 100. The extra fun part?

I’m driving.

It was about Plan T, but Plans A through S fell through. It’ll be…interesting. Thankfully my friend Mark is coming with me, so I won’t go totally insane (you may know him as ElGatoCello on twitter). Just to show you how awesome Mark is, we’re leaving on September 9th, which is his freaking birthday. This is a good test of who your true friends are – ask them to cram into a crowded car and drive through Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, and Idaho for three days while listening to you sing along poorly to your “Gay Dance Mix!!” playlist. …Ok, I may still go insane, but I’m bringing him down with me. What this really means is there will always be one person able to livetweet our mutual insanity.

But yeah, it’s a 34 hour drive through the middle of nowhere. The directions are basically “Get on I-90 and drive 2,000 miles.” I’m sure it’ll be pretty, but I’ll definitely be stocking up on podcasts and caffeine before I go. The longest road trip I made before this was a 24 drive to Utah a couple years ago, but I only had to drive 7 hours on the way back because I was traveling with two guys who were trying to out-macho each other with their driving endurance. We drove straight through. That will not be happening on this trip.

So after I come back from Purdue, I get to play Car Tetris and see how much stuff I can cram in. I think it should be okay, since I basically just have my clothes, some electronics (computer / Wii / PS3), some dishes and cooking utensils, and then as many books as I can shove into the car. I gave all my furniture away since it wasn’t worth the hassle. Heck, I originally got it all through dumpster diving anyway.

Even once I get there, my insanity isn’t over. One, I need to find a bed – the plan is to order one so it arrives soon after I get there. Two, I’ll need to at least minimally furnish the rest of my apartment. I know myself – if I leave stuff in boxes, it’ll be that way five years later. And three, I actually have to get ready for graduate school. This extra long summer has made me forget I’m kind of starting my PhD. No biggy, right?

*gulp*

So the blog will be on autopost more often than not between the 2nd and 12th. Like always, if you have blogging inspiration or random questions to ask me, feel free to email me or go over to formspring.me*.

Oh, and moving tips are welcome. How’d you survive any cross country relocations? Best way to furnish an apartment on the cheap without getting raped by creepy craigslist people? Seattle specific tricks? Best car games to play while driving through Montana?

Question quickfire

Twitter is down and both of my friends have left me to go to sleep. I suddenly feel very alone. In order to pretend I’m conversing with someone, time for some quick formspring.me questions!

What kind of clothing do you find sexy?

I like it when guys dress up nice. Like, snazzy button down shirt and dress pants. Maybe even a suit. Maybe even a fedora. It’s just nice to see something other than a nerdy t-shirt for a change (which is pretty much all I wear too, so nothing personal guys).

What is your favorite ice cream?

Chocolate with peanut butter swirled in. Not peanut butter cups – actual huge chunks of peanut butter. At Purdue, Silver Dipper does it best. Back in Munster, Oberweis is the definite winner.

What is your favorite video game?

I’m horrible at picking just one, so I won’t. My three favorite series are Civilization, Final Fantasy (including Tactics), and Pokemon. Yep, I like strategy games. Trust me, you don’t want me relying on reflexes. Unless you want to be entertained – in that case throw Resident Evil 4 into my hands.

Favorite album of all time?

My tastes change so frequently that my answer would change every year. The most recent album I’m obsessing over is Scissor Sister’s Night Work, which is fabulous. I’m a huge fan of the Scissor Sisters, and their new album definitely did not disappoint me. Unfortunately, I can’t same for some of the other bands I liked (I’m looking at you, The Killers).

Which do you prefer: I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant or Toddlers & Tiaras?

Toddlers & Tiaras. Both shows are horrifying, but for different reasons. When you watch T&T, you can scream at the screen and laugh at how awful some of the mothers act. It’s sad that those little girls are being forced into stupid pageants – but unlike IDKIWP, it doesn’t really affect you. I mean, have you seen IDKIWP? It’s fucking terrifying! “So, I was on the pill, and we were using condoms, and I had my period every month, and I didn’t gain weight, and I didn’t have morning sickness, and then out popped a baby!” Gaaah, what the fuck? That show should be used as a type of birth control, because you’ll be too afraid to have sex after watching it.

This is post 41 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Delegation: An Economical Approach

This is a guest post by Mark Webster. Yes, I’m allowing periodical guest posts so I can do things like shower and eat – no whining. Because he’s a math educator, Mark nerds out about why we should delegate tasks – something I suck hard at.

For those of us who did not attend the SSA convention, we heard Lyz Liddel and many others talk about the importance of delegation—specifically talking to those student leaders out there who had difficulty with the task.

Lyz’s suggestion, and rightly so, was for leaders to delegate tasks to their members and other officers…even if it meant that they wouldn’t do *as good* of a job.

Why?

Of course, the reasoning is fairly simple. One person simply cannot do the job alone.

If the job is only getting done by one person, there are two highly likely situations:

1. The person will get burnt out by the job and the club will dissolve because they were the only person doing anything.
2. The person will graduate and the rest of the club will be lost without them because nobody showed them what to do and will dissolve.

Of course, perhaps I’m being melodramatic, but in a situation where we are still working on getting well-established student organizations all around the country, it’s difficult to see groups struggling when they should be thriving.

“This is an appeal to emotion!” you might grumble at this. Which is absolutely right. But, I can see how, as skeptics, we might want to see some proof that this is actually the case. Good on you all.

The Proof

For the proof in our pudding, we must turn to Economics, that one class we slept through in high school. Now, I am by no means an Economist, but I did take an introductory Micro-economics class in high school AND one in college, so I feel perfectly qualified to talk about it.

Imagine the club were run by two people. In some situations, this is actually the case. When starting out a group, we aren’t going to be able to have six or seven officers. I know in the case of Purdue, in order to be a legal group on campus, a group must have one office designated “President,” and one designated “Treasurer.” Let’s assume this for our “theoretical group.”

Let’s also think about what it takes to actually keep a group like this running:

People to come to meetings and populate events and Money to fund said meetings and events.

Now let us assume that the person designated “President” is an experienced and qualified individual. Perhaps he has been on the executive board of a few clubs in high school so he has excellent leadership. Maybe he was a student council member in charge of the fund-raising for his class, so he knows how to milk money out of pretty much everybody. Perfectly capable of running a fledgling student group.

Let’s talk about Mr. “Treasurer” now. He is a young able-bodied individual, but he has had absolutely no experience in any of these affairs. He wasn’t particularly active in any groups back in high school, and he doesn’t know a bake-sale from a raffle, but he met up with President on facebook, and they decided to start a group together.

I’m sure every one of you in the shoes of President would at least take a minute before handing him anything important for the group. He has no experience at all. He doesn’t know what he’s doing and any of his first couple attempts are going to be slipshod at best. Let’s throw some example numbers out there.

Let’s say, in one day, President could recruit 10 members compared to Treasurer’s 2 and President could raise 300 dollars compared to Treasurer’s 30. If you had to pick someone to do each task individually, who would you pick? C’mon, be cold and analytical! I’ll even add a chart for you:

President

Treasurer

Fund-raising (in dollars)

300

30

Recruitment (in people)

10

2

Of course, President is anywhere from 5 to 10 times as efficient as Treasurer for ANY of these tasks, so we would pick him for both tasks.

We call this “Absolute advantage.” As in, President has the Absolute Advantage over Treasurer for both of these tasks.

However, now we must think about “Opportunity Cost.” How much does it cost for President to spend time raising that 300 dollars? Some of you are thinking “What does he mean…cost? Isn’t he MAKING money?”

Well, yes. President is, indeed, making money, but for every dollar he is earning by fund-raising, he could be using that time to recruit people, and vice-versa. He can recruit 10 people in the same amount of time it would take him to raise 300 dollars. That is to say, for every person that he recruited, he could have made 30 dollars…and for every dollar he raised, he would have ended up with 1/30th of a person instead. Same for the Treasurer.

Time for another chart:

President

Treasurer

Opportunity Cost for fund-raising (in people)

1/30th

1/15th

Opportunity Cost for recruitment (in dollars)

30

15

So while it is true that President had an absolute advantage in both fund-raising and recruitment, his opportunity cost for recruitment is twice that for Treasurer.

It stands to reason, then that recruitment is a job best delegated to Treasurer. Perhaps, he won’t do as good a job as President would, but if they each do the job that they have the lower opportunity cost for, they will be more productive together than if Treasurer just sat around and did absolutely nothing while President did all the work.

Now, of course, all of this has been based on the idea the the President will be best at everything, which is certainly (and thankfully) not usually the case, so it behooves you, oh leader of your student group to seek out and foster those members and officers in their strengths (and relative weaknesses). Find the ones who can get the job done…whether or not they can do it as efficiently or as well as you can.

This is post 9 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

What we can learn from ancient human DNA

What can we learn about a person just from looking at their DNA? As our knowledge of genetics continues to grow, we may even be able to figure out what they look like. Research published in Nature looked at the genome of an ancient human using 4,000 year old hair that had been preserved in Greenland’s permafrost. From looking at genes that cause known traits, we can learn a lot about his appearance.

  • Male
  • Type A+ blood
  • Brown eyes
  • Darker skin
  • Stocky body
  • Dry earwax
  • Shovel shaped teeth
  • Thick, dark hair
  • Tendency toward baldness

Okay, as an aside: Who is the lucky artist who gets to draw a reconstruction of an ancient human, or the feather patterns on dinosaurs? Is this someone’s profession, or does a grad student do it? Maybe I can finally find a way to combine my art skills with my biology skills!

Anyway, it’s pretty cool that we’re able to learn about the actual physical appearance of someone just from their genes. Think about the implications in forensics cases when all that’s left is tissue that’s beyond identification. But that’s not the thing that made this paper Nature-worthy. All of these genotypes are very similar to modern Siberians, which tweaks our current understanding of human migration. Jerry Coyne summarizes it well over at his wonderful blog, Why Evolution is True:

Oh, and the really interesting result is this: the DNA suggests that the individual had components of genes still present in East Asian and Siberian populations, but not found in modern-day Inuits or people from South and Central America. This suggests that there were two separate invasions of North America from Asia: the one that gave rise to native Americans, South Americans, and modern Inuit on the one hand, and that leading to the presence of Saqqaq in Greenland. Those latter individuals probably came across the Bering Strait, and then, hugging the Arctic, made their way eastward across North America and then to Greenland.

That conclusion is of course tentative because it’s based on only this single genome. Still, based on the sequence, and the tentative phylogeny showing that this individual’s ancestors split off from the ancestors of their closest living relatives (the Chukchis of eastern Siberia) about 5,000 years ago, anthropologists may have to revise their conclusion that there was one invasion of North America from eastern Asia around 18,000 years ago.

Very neat stuff! Though I would like to see a study using modern humans to see how accurate these sorts of predictions are. Take maybe ten individuals with various phenotypes, sequence their genomes, have the researchers try to reconstruct their appearance without previous knowledge of what they look like, send it off to an artist, and see how close we can get! I’m not sure what profound result this would show other than if this method is useful or not – just seems like a really cool thing to try out. Can’t we do science for fun every once in a while?

I fail at sleeping

I’ve never been good at the whole “sleeping” thing. I take forever to fall asleep, I wake up frequently, I never feel well rested, I get sleepy throughout the day. It’s not the sort of passing insomnia caused by a stressful event or a particularly hard work load (though the later is more likely voluntary sleep deprivation, which I also sometimes do). My failure to get a good night’s rest has existed since literally as long as I can remember, probably since I was five years old.

My memories of insomnia as a little kid are kind of hilarious, in retrospect. As a kid I believed the mantra of “Parents can solve everything, therefor you should tell them all of your problems.” Oh childhood innocence. But it was rule I followed very closely, especially when I couldn’t sleep at night – which, unfortunately for my parents, was fairly often.

During one of my sleepless nights, I would slowly open the door to their bedroom and creep over to my dad’s side of the bed. Looking back, I am so amazed and relieved I never caught them in the middle of some hanky panky – probably because they quickly got used to me barging in on a fairly regular basis (sorry Mom & Dad – what else are kids for?). The exchange was always the same:

Me: Daaaddddy? … (if father did not awake, insert poking here)
Dad: *wakes up* huuhh what?
Me: I can’t sleep.
Dad: Grumble.

He would then take me downstairs to the couch, put on All Dogs Go to Heaven, and then wait until I fell asleep.

Yeah, my dad can’t stand that movie anymore.

Soon he was putting on the movie and leaving me there. And after that, my sleeplessness was met with “And what do you want me to do about it?” and I learned to go sleep on the couch without harassing my dad. (As an aside, my dad asked me recently why I always woke him up and never my mom. That’s because she was a much deeper sleeper, and I knew I wouldn’t get any help from her. Poor dad, suffering from child logic.)

I also used to sleepwalk a lot when I was little. Apparently I would go into my parents’ room babbling nonsense, one of them would tell me to go back to bed, and my zombie like self would listen. I still do minor sleepwalking-like things, but never actually walking around (with one exception). I’ve been prone to sleeptalking, especially when I’m having an angry dream. Sometimes I’m shouting so loud in my dreams that I’ll mumble it, much to the confusion of roommates and boyfriends. I’ll actually sleepcry more frequently than I’ll sleeptalk, which is simply bizarre upon waking.

But the thing I do most frequently is also the thing that freaks out roommates the most – sleepsitting. All I’ll do is sit straight up in bed and stare facing forward. I usually wake up after sleeping in this position for a while, think “Oh, I’m doing it again,” and then lay back down to go to sleep. I completely freaked out my first college roommate, who thought I was possessed or fucking with her when I did this one night. This almost always happens when I’m having a particularly stressful week, so I have no idea how chemicals are messing with my brain to produce this effect.

Even ignoring these bizarre sleep habits, I’ve never been a good sleeper. It usually takes me anywhere from a half hour to an hour to fall asleep, sometimes up to two hours on a bad night. It doesn’t matter how exhausted I am. Once I’m actually sleeping, I’ll still wake up at least twice a night, sometimes up to ten times; I’m not even sure if I know what it’s like to sleep without doing so. The only perk of this is that I always vividly remember multiple dreams from that night, and I frequently lucid dream (“Oh, hey, this is a dream. Time to fly around, weee!”).

Then I’ll usually wake up multiple times before the alarm goes off, frantically checking the clock. An hour left. 45 more minutes. 30 minutes. 20. 15. 10. 5. 2. It’s maddening. And when I finally wake up, I’m never well rested, and I’m lethargic and falling asleep throughout the day. The only mild solution I’ve come up with is allotting myself 10 hours for “sleep,” assuming I might actually sleep during 7 or 8 of those hours. Problem is, I’m an overbooked college student who hardly had eight hours to set aside for sleep.

The utterly maddening thing, however, is that I sleep fine when I shouldn’t be sleeping. On the rare occasion that I nap (I try not to, since I know it makes sleeping at night even worse), I will be out like a light and go into super deep restful sleep. If I’m a passenger in a car, I can’t keep my eyes open and I’ll be gone no matter how uncomfortable the situation (I blame this on my parents – when I was little, they’d drive me around to get me to fall asleep). If I’m sitting at the back of a giant boring lecture after getting 3 hours of sleep, I have no problem microsleeping while managing to not drool all over the desk, snore, or be distracted by the lecture (I know, naughty Jen).

But it seems like the second I lay down in a real bed, I’m wide awake. It’s worse when there’s something I have to wake up for in the morning, but it’s still not perfect on weekends. I’ve never harassed doctors about it, since their general reply (and the reply of others) is that I’m just stressed and anxious.

…Okay, which is totally true.

Regardless, it’s still annoying. I know there are a thousand tips I could be following to get better sleep. Exercise (ha), going to bed at the same time (haha), eating at regular times (uh, I’m a college student?), avoiding caffeine (the only thing keeping me functional during the day), and staying away from the computer before bed (ahahahahahaha). Maybe I’m doomed to my sleeplessness because of my lifestyle. Maybe my constant sleep deprivation is the cause of my sarcastic, mildly cranky personality – aka, the source of all my blogging inspiration – so I don’t actually want to cure it.

At least I can rest easy…well, rest easier knowing that mild to moderate insomnia is associated with increased longevity. I can be sleep deprived even longer!

EDIT: I forgot to include my one sleepwalking exception! This happened maybe a year ago-ish. I had been watching way too much Food Network on TV, and had a hilarious sleep walking episode. I “woke up” semi-conscious, thinking I was participating on Iron Chef. My bed was the prep station and my desk was the stove top. I literally got up and started moving my blankets around, thinking they were food, and then walking back and forth to my desk. The strangest part was that I was semi-lucid during all of my hallucinations, which is why I remember this episode. The whole time I was thinking nonsense like “Man, this food is so hard to cook because it’s not really food, it’s blankets. Wait, what? Oh well, must keep cooking.” At one point my imaginary Chairman demanded cookies, so I literally walked over to the bathroom and stared at the toilet paper. “This isn’t cookies, this is toilet paper. But he wants cookies. Can the toilet paper be cookies?” Eventually I woke up enough to realize that I was playing imaginary Iron Chef, and I walked back to my bed and went to sleep.

The brain is an amazing organ.

EDIT 2: Damn, apparently I already blogged about my Iron Chef sleepwalking. I have no new material, folks. Oh well, go there if you want a more detailed and hilarious description of my sleepwalking.

Ah, relaxation

I’ve discovered a unique trend. I actually blog more when I’m incredibly busy and stressed because I use it as a fun escape from that insanity. Aka, I use it to procrastinate doing real work. Why does this matter? Because unfortunately for you guys, I’m on winter break, which means I’m doing nothing but sleeping, eating, and playing video games. That also means I’m feeling fairly uninspired at the moment. So, you have two options:

1. Inspire me. Leave a question or topic in the comments, or email me at [email protected] Ask me anything, doesn’t have to be intelligent or about atheism.

2. Tell me how you’re relaxing over the holidays. Going on vacation? Reading an awesome book? Playing a great game? Drinking excessively? Inquiring minds want to know!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go crack open my new copy of Little King’s Story until I get some blog fodder.

New Blogs

Two of my friends just started blogs, so I figured I’d give them some pluggage.

My friend Mike is a political science major and a prolific tweeter who will now be blogging over at Politics and Pucks. Most of his stuff will be over politics, the interactions between politics and religion, pop culture, and hockey. Yeah, last part’s a bit random, but who doesn’t like some blogging randomness? Maybe there’s a huge number of political hockey-loving atheists that I don’t know about. I always enjoy Mike’s political insights, especially after he’s had a beer or two (hear that, Mike? Drunk posting!!).

And you guys have already met my friend Mark who did a series of guest posts for me during Blogathon, and humiliated himself with me in our Chop Suey karaoke video. I’ve known Mark since first grade, and I think he’s funnier and more insightful than me, so I told him he should start blogging too – now he’s over at The Internet Stops Here. Consider it a mathimatical sister blog to Blag Hag. It’ll cover atheism and random nerdy topics, but instead of biology, he’ll talk about math and his adventures in teaching. Oh, and his first post features yours truly being a giant dork, so that’s extra incentive for you to go check it out.

Now go and say hello!