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.