Category Archives: Science & Nature


Earthquake SimulatorWe had a nice little earthquake tonight – 4.2 magnitude, centered in Lafayette.

I was reading Max a bedtime story when it hit. There was a nice loud pop, which sounded like something really big hit the front of the house. That was followed by some flickering lights and some objects swinging.

The cool thing about this was that we saw the Earthquake exhibit at the National Science and Technology Museum in Kaohsiung, and we took a ride in the earthquake simulator. It was set up like a small kitchen with a couch and a table, and we had the task of turning off the gas and stove, opening the door, and getting ourselves into secure locations within the room. It was simulated to be the magnitude and duration of the Chi Chi earthquake that devastated central Taiwan in 1999, and it was a pretty wild ride. So Max got quite a kick out of this event, and he was fully primed for his first real earthquake experience.

I think Yingwen is in her choir rehearsal right now. I am sure they must have felt it – they are all right near the epicenter.


Transamerican Fog

The fog returned here today after two weeks of record-breaking heat. It hit 112∫ here last weekend, and higher in other parts of the Bay Area. This morning I awoke to the nice familiar chill of the fog layer creeping inland and cooling our hillside with it’s mist and shade and the smell of the sea. This makes me happy – I like the fog, but heat and I don’t get along so well.

I don’t know how anyone can deny global warming at this point. With the record-setting temperatures in Europe and North America, record hurricane seasons, and massive, state-sized chunks of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica breaking off, not to mention all that scientific data showing year-over-year temperature increases.

Many of the plants in our back yard are burnt to a crisp from all the sun and hot air. I might be able to save them, but it’s looking grim, and I’m not a plant person.

Normally, Summer isn’t so bad here in the East Bay. Fog from the Pacific creeps in and hangs over us until mid morning, burns off by noon, we get some nice warm summer temps in the 80s or 90s for midday, and then the fog rolls in again in the evening so we can get a little sleep. But when it’s still 104∫ at midnight, sleep is elusive. Welcome back, Fog.

That’s hot. State’s power supply starting to feel strain from record heat wave

It’s been hitting over 100∫F here in the East Bay now for the past three days, and well into the 90s for over a week. Yesterday and the day before, I saw the thermometer hit as high as 110∫, and as I type it is 105∫ outside at 1:10PM. I’ve discussed this with several people who have lived in this area for some time and we all agree that none of us can remember such a long-lasting heat wave, and certainly none of us can remember seeing 110∫ in this area in the past 30 to 40 years.

We have been swimming a lot lately. It’s amazing – even if I just stick my head out of the water, I can feel the hot air and the sun baking my skin.

I went to the grocery store yesterday afternoon and it was eerily empty. There were tons of free spaces in the parking lot. I got there around 7PM and the sun was on it’s way down. I usually plan to be in there for a couple of hours due to my having to read each and every label I pick up to make sure there’s nothing that contains any gluten (for me) or peanuts (for Max).

Wake up and smell the global warming. It’s friggin’ hot!

A Discussion on Aesthetics & Engineering

Next week I get to be a panelist at the International Conference on Web Engineering at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. The panel discussion is entitled: “Web Page Design- Aesthetics Meets Web Engineering.”

I think that historically (can I say “historically” in web context? I suppose it’s been around long enough by now…) there has always been some kind of a barrier between the “designers” and the “programmers.” The individuals that can bridge that gap, plus get the related disciplines of marketing and library science that are involved with your garden-variety web project, are the individuals that you just can’t pay enough. And yet, no collegiate program seems to effectively take this holistic approach to what is truly the reality of the web business. What is a poor aspiring web developer to do? Read, attend conferences, blog, and participate in the current trends and discussions of web development seem to get most of us there, but the traditional path towards learning a discipline has always been to go to a college or trade school.

Unfortunately, most educational programs I’ve evaluated for the persons that ask me come up short. Either they focus too much on art and multimedia and they miss the technical side, or else they focus too much on the more lofty aspects of computer science, such as artificial intelligence, while completely missing the touchy-feely stuff. And god forbid they should actually discuss things like W3C recommendations, information architecture, or usability. The average college program usually misses the interdisciplinary nature of what most web professionals deal with on a day-to-day basis, and in my opinion tends to steer them in the wrong directions. I can’t tell you how many time’s I’ve been asked to “design” a website, which included a complete visual style and logo, a content management system, shopping cart functionality with secure logins and identity management, and don’t forget the Flash product demo and the initial Apache server setup. Or some combination of those things – it seems no matter how specialized we try to become, at some point one of those things needs doing and someone needs to be able to pick up the ball.

Interestingly, most of the really good web developers I know don’t have computer science degrees or art degrees. Often they come from wherever – an anthropology major here, a marketing major there. They learned what they learned and excelled at what they excelled at out of need and intuition, by absorbing the resources available around them. I know several of my former music colleagues and music school classmates that have transitioned into web careers gracefully. The parallels between music and the sciences are almost too numerous to mention, and have been explored since the days when Pythagoras first wrote about the “music of the spheres.” Indeed music is a perfect bridge between aesthetics and engineering, because certainly the disciplines of music theory, counterpoint, harmony, acoustics, etc., all have direct correlations with mathematics, physics, and computer programming languages. And yet at the same time, music is art in it’s highest form, a thing of pure aesthetic that strikes at the very foundation of the human soul. I am convinced that there is something in the daily routine of practicing music that makes one adept at the sciences. It’s as if the same neurons are getting massaged when you’re doing calculus as when you’re practicing a concerto.

And so, we have this panel discussion. I’m looking forward to this one, because these have always been keen issues of mine.

Promising research for celiacs

This exciting piece of news crossed my radar this morning: A paper from researchers at Stanford University outlines a possible path for treatment, and maybe even a cure, for celiac disease:

Rational Design of Combination Enzyme Therapy for Celiac Sprue

Here, we demonstrate that a two-enzyme cocktail comprised of a glutamine-specific cysteine protease (EP-B2) that functions under gastric conditions and a PEP, which acts in concert with pancreatic proteases under duodenal conditions, is a particularly potent candidate for celiac sprue therapy. At a gluten:EP-B2:PEP weight ratio of 75:3:1, grocery store gluten is fully detoxified within 10 min of simulated duodenal conditions, as judged by chromatographic analysis, biopsy-derived T cell proliferation assays, and a commercial antigluten antibody test.

This is preliminary research, but it holds much promise as described. All I want to do is not have to worry about ingesting a miniscule amount of gluten every time I eat; to turn the strict avoidance of gluten-containing foods into maybe a mere rule of thumb. To maybe enjoy a nice pint of hoppy pale ale again, on special occasions.

And then maybe we can work on that peanut/tree nut allergy thing some more. It seems that every one of us in this family, with the exception of Dylan, has some major allergies to live with. I suppose technically gluten intolerance isn’t considered an allergy, but there’s a fine line there. But the peanut/tree nut allergy is extremely frightening.

A cure for food allergies likely isn’t that far off. Current government funding levels are woefully inadequate, but it is generally felt that with proper financing these things could have viable treatment options within five to ten years.