Sunday, August 26, 2007

This is News?

I am sorry: I just had to repost the entire article...

Streetcar projects will cause traffic delays


Streetcar construction projects in the South Lake Union area and just south of Denny Way on Westlake Avenue are expected to create delays for motorists starting this week.

The intersection of Terry Avenue North and Harrison Street is scheduled to be closed for installation of streetcar tracks 24 hours a day from Monday until Sept. 21, city officials said.

Valley Street's intersections with Westlake Avenue North, Terry Avenue North and Fairview Avenue North will be periodically closed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 or 11 p.m. until 5 or 6 a.m.

Westlake south of Denny will be the site of nighttime work, all between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., Wednesday night through Saturday morning. Parking there will be restricted all week.

In related news, PI Staff have decided that today would be a good time to go out for their twice- yearly visit to the South Lake Union neighborhood.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ruminant On This!

goats on campus
Originally uploaded by tom_robey.
Currently at a cost of $750 per day, a herd of 60 goats is eating ivy, blackberries and assorted other goodies along the southeastern most section of Ranier Vista. There's gotta be someone out there that knows if this is better for the environment, cost effective, or hilarious...

Friday, August 3, 2007

Light Reading

Seattle City Light's customer newsletter, Light Reading has some good information this month for people interested in Seattle's energy use.

First, the 2006 fuel mix disclosure indicates that 98.0% of all electricity used in Seattle is from non-carbon emissions sources. This is from from 2005's 93.7%. Here is the 2006 breakdown:
  • Hydro: 89.8%
  • Nuclear: 4.6%
  • Wind: 3.5%
  • Natural Gas: 1.1%
  • Coal: 0.9%
  • Biomass: 0.05%
  • Petroleum: 0.01%
  • Waste: 0.02%
I wonder what "waste" is.

The other resource in the newsletter is a personal emissions calculator provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. Unfortunately, the usage calculation for home electricity use is based on national averages, both for cost per KWH and power mix. This is important for assessing % generation from 'green' sources. For my ~$40/month bill, I've estimated that I should enter $2.50/month in order to account for this benefit of living in the Northwest. (2% of our energy comes from burning carbon, while the national average is 70%, but we pay about half of the national power rate average; Seattlites should multiply their bills by .06.)

Seattle still looks to me like a rather green city. Emerald in fact.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Crows and West Nile Virus

Lately, my walks to and from bus stops or around campus have included a little foraging for berries, flower, coyote scat and other cool stuff. A consequence of this is that I notice (more than usual) animal carcasses. Since I am on the lookout for an intact crow's head for a Wunderkammern project I am working on, there are a few health issues I need to pay close attention to. Namely, West Nile Virus. If you see a dead crow, and live in a region where WNV has been reported, there's a good chance your county has a reporting system in place. In King County, you can call 206-205-4394 M-F 8a-5p, or go to the easy web-based form I just used to report two crow roadkills I saw on Saturday.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Welcome Wolves to Washington

Recently there's been a flurry of news about coyotes in Seattle. A bit of misinformation is out there, and only a little fear-mongering (mostly on behalf of small pets), but in general I am impressed with how willing Seattlites are to share their green space. But can you imagine the response if wolves made their way to Puget Sound?

An article in the Seattle Times today reports the first documentation of the coyote's larger cousin, Canis lupis in Washington State. A biologist's motion activated field camera captured on film a gray wolf in Pend Orielle County earlier this year.

Ironically, the less populous wolf is better studied than the opportunistic coyote. Mountain state and Pacific Northwest residents are probably be familiar with the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone and beyond. This wolf is probably descendant from these transplants and is scouting for new territory. Wildlife experts in Washington say that there are no packs in the state yet, and it may be a while before Washingtonians see any. That is not stopping efforts to plan for wolves' arrival. The stigma and mythology associated with wolves may not be as misguided as the public misconceptions concerning sharks, but community consensus needs to form sooner than later.

The wolves are coming. Will we be ready to welcome them?

Monday, July 23, 2007

More Coyote News

The P-I and King5 both featured urban coyotes today. Coyotes are not new to Nuevo Colony, but there is a big media buzz today. Check out my science blog for a more complete analysis! Or, if you have seen a coyote, head over to the Northwest Coyote Tracker to report it. The site owner has been deluged today with reports, but I think she will catch up after all the hype dies down.

Follow this link for video from the King5 report.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Keep Kerlikowske

And to think Seattleites want to can Gil Kerlikowske as police chief...
According to a hilarious article in the P-I this morning,
officers (including Kerlikowske) watched as a 30-year-old Seattle man shoved the eagle to the curb and then stomped on the costumed man's back as the eagle's costumed confederate -- a man dressed as a beaver -- looked on.
Other highlights of this blurb include a description of the fight as a
man-on-eagle fracas.
"Man-on-eagle fracas" is also what appears in the police documents. I'd chalk this incident up in the 'good cop' category. The chief is still protecting eagles, even after being removed from the endangered list!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

SLU Neighborhood

Every so often, it comes to folks' attention that the South Lake Union community is undergoing major change. Today, it is a front-page story in the P-I.

I work at the University of Washington building at 9th and Mercer. When our lab moved here two and a half years ago, there was a 'vision' for SLU to be a biotech hub where scientists, grad students and biotech employees would all live and work. The only way students will be able to live here is if we bring cots into the lab!

SLU is turning into a nice neighborhood, and it will be nice to have a mixed tech-residential- commercial neighborhood. UNLIKE Belltown, Cappy Hill and the Central District, there are new businesses AND new residences moving in. This of course all comes at the expense of the poor, who were shut out of their low-rent apartments 5 years ago. replaces Pearl Jam. Yuppie replaces starving artist.

Ahhh... Progress!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cubs Sweep Sox

Worthy of a post here is that the Chicago Cubs (the good guys) beat the Chicago White Sox (the guys in black or something) three times this weekend. For those unaware, this phenomenon of winning all three games of a series is called a sweep. In case you need to know more and don't already, here's the obligatory hyperlink to another story.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Urban Coyotes

Two days of the last week, my wife and I have spotted coyotes near our Seattle apartment unit. She saw a group of three near our parking lot and together we saw one on the drive up to our building. It makes me really happy that there are predators in our neighborhood. Of all the mammalian predators, coyotes are the most likely to inhabit urban areas. Here are some specifics about them from Wikipedia:

Size and appearance: A member of the dog family, it stands about 24 inches at the shoulder, weighs 20-25 pounds and is 3.3 to 4.3 feet long, including its roughly footlong tail. The fur is long, coarse and generally grizzled, buff above and whitish below. It has reddish legs and a bushy, black-tipped tail. There is considerable local variation in size and color.

Characteristics: Noted for nightly serenades of short yaps and mournful howls, it is primarily nocturnal and hunts alone or in relays. Coyotes are intelligent animals with a reputation for cunning and swiftness. They can sometimes attain a speed of 40 mph. They virtually never attack humans.

How do they survive in Seattle, and why are they in our backyard? Our apartment abuts on one side with a golf course where coyotes have frequented for 20 years, and the other side consists of sloping brush down to the Burke-Gilman trail. Just beyond the trail is an old military base now called Magnusen Park. Coyotes love to den in ravines, and there are several near our place. They eat rodents and small pets - both menu items abound in Seattle. My guess is that they use the Burke-Gilman trail as a conduit. The wildlife service estimates that there are thousands of coyotes in King County.

I will be looking forward this summer to nightly serenades of short yaps and mournful howls.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Vanilla Orchid

I can taste the ice cream already!

For those that do not know it, my wife Susan keeps a nice population of orchids in our home. Occasionally they bloom, and it's a real treat when that happens. You may know that most orchids are epiphytic, meaning they grow without soil. The vanilla bean orchid however, grows in soil and forms a long vine. Susan's mom (in Hawaii) has one that is probably 15 meters long. (We got its clone a couple of years ago.) The Kailua mother plant has started to bloom! Evidently, it blooms at night and is only open for a short time. Susan's mom and sister have started artificially pollinating the blooms in hopes of getting a bean. It's a good thing they have the green thumbs.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Summer In Seattle

The 4 month stretch of sunny 70 degree days without a cloud in the sky that defines the Seattle summer started 5 days ago.

Shhhh.... don't tell anyone that it really doesn't rain that much in Seattle!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Evelyn the Envelope

Always interested in proper recycling etiquette, I recently emailed Seattle's expert on recycling (who also happens to be a cartoon character) about carbon copy papers. Here is our communication. Note that it only took a couple of days to hear back from 'her.'
Date: Thu, 31 May 2007 12:48:53 -0700
From: Ask evelyn SPU
To: Thomas Edwin Robey
Re: NCR paper/ carbonless paper

Yes, you can call me Eve, but you cannot recycle these
items. They belong in the garbage.
Thank you Thomas!

For FREE monthly e-mail updates on conservation tips,
events and activities happening around Seattle, visit: to subscribe to
Curb Waste E-News.

>>> Thomas Edwin Robey 5/29/2007 2:45 PM >>>
Yo Evelyn,

May I call you Eve?

Can the yellow carbon copy paper from receipts and phone
message records be recycled in Seattle?


Thomas Edwin Robey
MSTP Bioengineering Student
University of Washington
206.616.8684 (lab)
Make sure you recycle right!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Anthropomorphizing PacMan

MentalFloss reports an amazing breakthrough in digital anthropology achieved after “the observation of human and various predatory animal skulls,” as well as plenty of observation of his (PacMan's) work on the screen. The omnivorous dentitia is clearly well suited for ghosts, cherries, hamburgers and feed pellets.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Nature on the Balcony

My labmate MBN is defending her dissertation this Wednesday, but still has her priorities straight. She has two excellent posts about defending her balcony garden. Ladybugs rule!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Carbon Trading

I thought all of my talk about carbon footprints on my other blog was inducing olfactory hallucinations, but it turns out they're just putting tar on the roof next door.

The UW Medical School (with help from Paul Allen's Vulcan) is building new research space at 9th and Mercer in the South Lake Union Neighborhood. This is good for the school, good for science, and probably good for the economy. But I am guessing it is not very good for my health...

Not to worry...
Only levels inside an enclosed asphalt kettle may be high enough to pose a serious health threat.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Locked In

Well, it's happened...

I have finally developed Graduate student Locked-in Syndrome. A state of GLiS should not be on anyone's to-do list. Those grad students out there know what this is. Similar to the clinical manifestation of Locked-In Syndrome, the afflicted graduate student cannot move or communicate due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body. Except for the blogging muscles, of course.

Unfortunately, if I don't snap out of this soon, several important experiments' data will be lost. Then who knows when I will graduate!!! Well I guess that is enough to cure me of the physical manifestations of GLiS. Now, on to the GLiS-induced psychosis. Anyone know a remedy for this one?

How Ironic that this post follows the previous one ; |

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

You've arrived when you make it into the University Week.
For more information, read this...
Extra points go to the person who first determines where the second link's photo was taken...

Water Water Everywhere!

The Lake Union water taxi may yet have a chance! As part of Seattle's grand plan to "bridge the gap" (between what?), crews are resurfacing Dexter Avenue North. Part of that plan seems to include a rapid transit path to Lake Union... for boats...

But seriously: right now water - some of it knee high - is streaming past my building at 9th and Mercer on all four sides! This main broke right in front of the King5 TV studios. A good slide show is available at their site. The Seattle Times reports that:

About two blocks away, Mayor Greg Nickels canceled a news conference scheduled at 9 a.m. to highlight major improvements to city roads.

It's too bad I didn't bring my canoe to work today!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

SLU Park

The South Lake Union Neighborhood is going to be a really nice place to work and live one of these days. Between the streetcar to connect us to downtown, and all of the (expensive) little cafes that are popping up for lunch, it might soon feel less like an industrial area and more like a multi-use neighborhood. Also in the works is a nice park at the southern tip of Lake Union. We can see them putting in the seawall now. It is nice to go over there for lunch even before the facelift - this should be a hoot once it's finished. Someone else will have to let me know about it. Hopefully, I will be long gone from the lab by the time this is done!

Here's the grand plan:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Alaskan Way Viadebacle

My friend Jonathan just posted a comment on the alternative newspaper The Stranger's blog (called Slog) about the transportation debacle in Seattle involving the Alaskan Way Viaduct. It's worth a few minutes to check out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Happy Birthday!

With a smirk, our building's deliveryman yesterday morning gave me a 3 foot long shipping box adorned with Hawaiian floral print. Until it was time to go home, I stored it in the same fridge where we keep such goodies as bacterial plates and cell culture media. I appreciated that the package came from a nursery with the address "Mile Marker 9." My mom and dad picked them out during thier recent vacation to Kauai.

Inside were the most beautiful orchids, anthurium, and ti leaves. A ginger and bird-of-paradice topped it all off!! Arranging them was a lot easier after Suzy suggested using green foam! We hope these last for a while.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love Birds

Today was a good one for birding on the way to the bus stop. Leaving my house I saw a ~2 year old eagle flapping southbound. It had a clear white triangular patch, but no bald head or tail yet. I think its beak was malformed, which might be caused by an Aspergillosis infection.

Then as I turned onto the Burke-Gilman Trail, I noticed first the meooow of a towhee, and then a strangely quiet Stellar's jay investigating the poor towhee's nest. I tried to scare the nest-robber, but was unsuccessful. Then, up on the ridge, I noticed a flicker performing its duties as morning alarm clock. It was rat-a-tatting on the steel cover of someone's chimney. I can't blame it for finding a perfect drum! Then strolling past some plum trees, I was shadowed by a flock of bushtits.

And to think that I complain about the long 74 bus ride. If I didn't take that bus, I would miss out on some of nature's drama!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

iPod? No Thanks, I'm Trying to Quit

got headphones?

After my previous post, I donned my recording studio styled headphones to crank through some rock assisted image analysis. I paused to consider the role of earphones in scientific labs. I wear earphones in the lab on three occasions: (1) image analysis, (2) to listen to the Pitt Panthers or (3) to signal to other people that I am not to be bothered. I plug in to my desktop compy, though. I haven't quite mastered the MP3/podcast thing yet. (Maybe I don't want to???)

My lab is an iPod lab. All of my grad student colleagues have one, and many listen while they work. I wonder if they have sinister motives (see #3 above). My deal is that if I am doing anything that involves words or numbers, I cannot listen to music. Senor brain just doesn't work that way. So that rules out tunes while I follow protocols, have conversations or write. It's inappropriate to transfer my own learning style on others, but I can't help but recall the good points about lab culture from a critique of lab life in the iPod era.

It's kind of funny that I am writing this, since my grad student pals will probably read it at some time... I just wonder if my tendency to work ideas over in conversation with someone else might benefit from a culture less connected to media and more connected to other people.


UPDATE: A fellow blogger made a nearly simultaneous entry on the effect ipods in society, but in a different context. Go figure that some state legislator wants to limit use of iPods by pedestrians in New York City.

morning reflections

This morning I came into work really early. It is nice to sit in the lab, read a journal article, feed the cells and hammer out a plan for the day before anyone else shows up. Watching the low level wisps of grey get pushed aside by western periwinkle over Lake Union is an added bonus.

The serenity of the lab in the morning is really nice, so I got to wondering about why I cannot be this productive the rest of the day. Maybe it's that no one is around to come ask a question (or for me to ask a question of); perhaps it's that I really am a morning person. I bet it has something to do with the fact that I do not receive emails in the AM. It's not like our lab ever gets particularly loud or busy.


Saturday, February 3, 2007

Treatise on Dairy

For those Cheeseheads among my humble readership, I would like to divert your attention for a minute or so to my sister's HILARIOUS entry regarding the (in)fidelity of refrigerator stores.

Please refer to the January 31 entry on LidUponMyHead.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

SEIU Picketing

Today from noon to 7PM, a group of Service Employees International Union members protested outside of our UW Medicine building. Previously, they have left fliers on car windows informing us of the lack of health care for the janitorial staff that works here. Today was a full fledged protest though.

Their set-up included two tents, a griddle for cooking, several bullhorns, a giant puppet and some chants and marches. There were plenty of signs, too. Overall, this was a very dedicated bunch. I thought they were going to camp out overnight, but they packed up just after rush hour.

The story is that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's company, Vulcan owns our building. They hire a company called Cascadian to provide janitorial service. Cascadian does not provide health benefits to its service staff. The rest of UW is a union shop, so the SEIU comes down to protest periodically.

Some of you may know of my position against the graduate student union at the UW. I would have to lean PRO-union on this issue, however. What do others think about this situation? Is anything else juicy known about it? That meat looks pretty juicy.

Thanks for MBN for the excellent photojournalism!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Gates + Stewart = $$$

Anyone else catch Bill Gates on The Daily Show last night?

I stayed up past my bedtime to see what Jon Stewart would ask the world's richest man, and what did I see? A glorified commercial. The business reporter for the Seattle P-I went ga-ga over the visit, but I went to sleep unimpressed.

Couldn't Jon ask one of the world's most influential people about his hopes and plans for ending poverty? Instead he asked about the F12 button.

Couldn't there have been SOME comment about the popularity of charity donations and concern for the developing world that the Gates Foundation has initiated? Instead, Bill talked about his dreams of web-based TV.

It didn't help that Gates ran off the set even before the commercial break! He's thinking, "Well, my job is done here, hopefully I sold a few thousand more copies of Vista!"

I wonder if there was some pre-show agreement about questions. Maybe Jon was as flustered sitting next to Bill Gates as he is when some beautiful actress comes on the show. Yeah - that's gotta be it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Source Lake

SF and I went with some friends on a small snowshoeing adventure Sunday to Source Lake. It's a pretty easy hike to get to, and there's a really nice trail. It is too bad that our book told us to "take off 'cross-country' northwest from the parking lot until you hit the trail." At least we got some nice and peaceful wooded hillside experiences. Namely: (1) not being able to walk down the hillside because it was too steep and (2) not being able to sled down the hillside because it was too wooded. So there was plenty of 'peaceful' time while we figured out what to do. Some minor injuries aside, everything went well. After we got down and followed the beaten path, we encountered snow cavers and some boy scouts building igloos. There was a nice waterfall, several beautiful dogs, some good sledding and the potential to see the lake had we stayed on the trail. There was not a cloud to be seen. Here is some documentation of our being on the hike.

To get there, take Exit 52 from I-90 and head toward the Alpental ski area. Park in the very last lot and follow the groomed trail. After an open meadow, the path quickly narrows to a single track. Be on the lookout for prime sledding slopes on your left. Call ahead for the avalanche risk. This is one ONLY for low risk forecasts.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Fire Works?

Uhh, yeah...

So I was at lab at 6:00 on Saturday evening toiling away at the research stuff, when JG yelled at me (I was wearing headphones) to look out the window. Actually, all I heard was FIRE! (We had a fire drill yesterday that everybody passed with flying colors...)

The moral of this story is that there was a fireworks show on Seattle's Lake Union this evening. Complete with cubes and smiley faces. Anyway, I called my cousin-in-law to see if she knew what it was all about. (She has a SWEET view of Lake Union and Gas Works Park.)

Anyone out there know what this was about?

My first thought was the Vista roll-out. (As in Microsoft's new operating system.) There could be enough tech nerds in Seattle to pull it off... Bill Gates is on the Daily Show Monday, after all. The cousin thought it was for the Boat Show. JG thought that was a good bet.

Tom's Brain on Science

Ever volunteered to be a 'normal control' in a medical research study?

A little while ago, I signed up to participate in a research study in which some neuroscientists and engineers were designing systems to predict visual tracking based on cortical activity in the brain. The basic research was meant to increase understanding of neurological physiology. Potential applications included (top secret) use by the military and tools that quadriplegics could use to control motion.

The protocol involved me lying in an MRI machine while an image was displayed in a visor. I alternatively controlled a cursor or just tracked it with my eyes. The MRI then measured oxygen use in my brain. I am guessing that some end product would use electrodes instead of MRI given MRI's bulk (>4 tons) and expense ($Millions)!

Anyway, for an hour of my time, I pocketed $25 and this nifty 3D view of my brain.

Friday, January 26, 2007

One Night Count

Have you ever wondered how cities estimate homeless populations? If municipalities provide social services for homeless individuals, it is important to collect data to support proper resource allocation. In addition, King County has embarked on a 10 year plan to end homelessness - how do they plan to measure outcomes from their efforts? With a census, of course!

Last night was Seattle's One Night Count. The One Night Count is the primary data collection assessment for unsheltered homeless individuals, and is conducted in late January around the country. SF and I participated in a team that walked 30 block area of Seattle's University district between 2 and 5 AM this morning. 735 volunteers joined us in King County and tallied 2,140 people trying to survive without housing or shelter. Given the weather, the organizers estimate that another 6,000 homeless men, women and children resided in one of several transitional housing or homeless shelters in the area. Read the press release for more specifics, and also for some touching stories.

Once the caffeine overcame the delirium associated with waking at 1:30 AM after only a few hours of sleep, our cognitive functioning seemed quite normal. I am glad, however that it was easy to find parking in the U District. Parallel parking might have pushed my limits of spatial reasoning.

What was participating in the count like? Think of it this way. An alley we walked down could have been someone's living room. Some stoops we inspected were clearly once bedrooms. Vans with condensation inside and food on the dash are studio apartments. It makes me wonder how many folks I have incidentally woken with loud talk after a night out, or in the nervous energy following late night studies.

Will I transfer the 5 tallies on that waterproof paper into my memory as evidence of my concern? Or can I position those marks in the foundation of my motivation to work for justice?

Brand New Colony

Well, if I am going to commit myself to this business of public writing, I may as well try to go all-out. My first blog, Hope for Pandora is a science, ethics and policy themed site. Brand New Colony is a venue for more personal stories and comments. I plan to offer my political and social insight, and occasionally pen some how-to pieces.