Saturday, January 31, 2009

Interesting time lapse "movie"

I ran across this video the other day and decided it was worth passing along. The photographer, realizing that the cities and towns they were passing made the clouds glow, aimed his camera out the window from a makeshift tripod while flying over the US on a night flight. It's interesting to see how many towns and cities pass by during the three hours from the Midwest to San Francisco. I thought it made for a very cool video. For the full effect, watch it in full-screen mode

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A letter from Bill Gates

I'll start off by saying I'm biased towards Bill Gates. Yes, I know he was the head of the "evil empire" that foisted Windows 95 on the world. But, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given away billions of dollars to help fight many global social and medical issues. In the last couple of years alone, the foundation has given tens of millions of dollars to the research institute I work for to fund malaria and HIV research.

The Gates Foundation has also used their money and influence to change the way scientists share their research data. In the past, it was customary for researchers to keep their findings relatively secret, sharing it amongst colleagues only for peer review before it was published. The data was not shared with the world until it was published, and that was how researchers could make sure that their data was not stolen and used by someone else who could then take the credit. The problem with that method is that there may be other scientists in others parts of the country or world working on similar research, or research that could compliment what hasn't yet been published. Because of the secrecy, these scientists probably don't know about the other complimentary research being performed and the connections don't happen until after the data is published. Only then does collaboration begin with valuable time being lost and potential avenues of exploration not being discovered until possibly years later.

The Gates Foundation is changing the way that happens. Many of the grants received by the institute I work for to research diseases are broken up amongst several research institutes. There are stipulations in the grants that the various institutes must share their data on an ongoing basis as the research is being done. The idea is that instead of having 5 scientists in 5 different institutes (for example), you would end up (in this scenario) with 25 scientists in many areas around the world collaborating on their research, comparing notes, and using that power to come to conclusions, and possibly cures, faster. It's a true sea change in the scientific community, and it seems to be working. That has affected my work in IT by needing to come up with ways for the researchers to share their work outside our institute. The challenge has been to maintain data integrity and redundancy while allowing multi-directional collaboration with researchers across the world. It's been an interesting but rewarding challenge.

Now, what prompted me to start this post: Bill Gates began working full-time for the foundation a year ago and has posted his first annual letter on their web site. There is some interesting information in the letter, both factual about improvements that have been made, but also information about the foundation's goals. Whatever you may think about Microsoft's software and Bill Gates' role in that, I have tremendous respect for him and what he doing with the foundation to change the world for the better. Yes, he's spending his money on himself and his family, as well he should. But, he's also putting billions of dollars towards eradicating deadly diseases, hunger, and improving education. Plus, I believe that he is truly passionate about the goals of the Gates Foundation. He's not just there for publicity or personal glory. His stated goal to wipe out HIV in his children's lifetimes is admirable, and I think he has the money and the drive to make it happen. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

You can read his letter here. There are also slideshows at the bottom of the page that are worth watching. Incidentally, in the second slideshow, "Progress In Global Health", there is an image of Bill at my place of work conferring with one of our scientists who studies leishmaniasis (at 00:44). Sadly I wasn't at work the day Bill visited, but I was there when his wife Melinda came to visit (twice now actually) and she is equally passionate about the foundation's goals. She also spoke at a yearly fundraser for my place of work and helped us raise about $700,000 in one night towards infectious disease research.

Yeah, I know this sounds like a Gates love fest, but I'm really passionate about the research done where I work and I'm glad to see someone like Gates (with his influence and deep pockets, and therefore ability to bring about change) is also passionate about it. As federal funding for scientific research has all but dried up in the last few years (thanks to GW Bush's anti-science platform), the Gates Foundation has stepped in and more than filled the gap so that the very important research can continue.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My, how things have changed

Circa 1981

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday evening mish mash

My day ended up being much busier than I anticipated, but it was good. The day truly flew by. I have a new-old employee at work and that's changed the dynamic, for the better as it turns out. The young woman is someone who worked for me for three years up until last year when her husband took an assignment with his job in Japan. They were there for a year and came back in December. They arrived back in the states a couple of days after we opened up a new position in my department. I had had some issues with her attendance when she was here before but I talked to my boss about it, and then we talked to her and now there are some understandings in place, so I feel better about it. Plus, when she was there she did a great job, and all the users just loved it. It was hard to come up with a reason to not bring her back in after the attendance issue was settled. It's been good to have her there so far. I like her personally, and she does do a really good job. By bringing her in the size of the group I manage grew by 25% so it's changed the way we go about our daily routines. It's amazing how quickly we've already hit a stride and I'm really happy about it.

Saturday I booked tickets to visit my father and step-mother who live just outside Houston. They have been wanting me to visit for a while, and I've been wanting to visit for a while, and I'm finally going down there. They offered to pay my airfare and how could I refuse that? I thought it was really generous and they insisted and I'm very grateful. I was afraid it wasn't going to happen since fares when up by $190 in the last week, but then Saturday when I checked they had dropped $220 so I jumped at it and booked a ticket. I'm not sure what we'll do yet but I know we'll spend some time just hanging out, we'll do some sightseeing, we'll eat (we all love to eat), and who know what what else. I know it'll be fun. It'll be just me going and it will be the first time I've spent time with them alone in, well, decades. It will be nice to work on the connections just between us.

I'm very lucky in that I have a mother who's one of my best friends, and a father who I'm not quite as close with but very close and who's very supportive. I also had a step-father who was a huge positive influence on me who was also very supportive, and have a step-mother who is a wonderful person, a very positive influence, and just an all-around sweet, intelligent, and caring person. I've been very lucky, and blessed, in the parents department! And, I don't take any of it for granted.

A headline on Rex Wockner's blog today: No on 8: 'We messed up'. Really? Ya think...?

This is very cool. Be sure to zoom in, and in and in and in, and then start scrolling. The detail is incredible and it's amazing that the crowd, almost all of it, was captured in a single image. Does anyone even think that we'd have a scene like that were it John McCain being sworn in? I seriously doubt that we would. The picture definitely captures in history as it was happening.

Speaking of Obama, we went from a President for eight years who could barely put together a coherent sentence in English to one who can launch into a foreign language, like Indonesian, at the drop of a hat. What a welcome change.

Ever have days where you feel like this? I do. Most days!

What does that say about me that I feel as if my wheels keep coming off...?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Boat showin'

After a very uneventful Saturday we decided to go to the boat show today. There are at least 2 boat shows a year here, the one in January at both a Lake Union marina and the stadium exhibition center. The one at the exhibition center is indoors and therefore warm and dry. The one outside is, well, outside so it's at the mercy of the weather. Today the weather decided to be very cold (in the 30'sF) and very cloudy.

We decided to start with the outdoor section of the show first, and it's a good thing we did. Not long after arriving, it began to snow. And then it snowed harder. Luckily we could just go on board a boat and get warm since they all (at least all the ones we chose to board) had heat going inside. We toured several very nice boats, including one rather spectacular 86' trawler style by Nordhavn. I have a few pics of the interior in the slide show below. We eventually got tired of the cold and decided to catch the shuttle to the other venue. It was nicely warm inside, but there weren't that many interesting boats to see. The few large boats that were there actually had lines to get into, and they weren't that impressive after all. They were big, but not finished well, nor did they have very interesting layouts. There were only two sailboat large enough to have cabins and they were rather lackluster. Oh well. I wish we'd stayed at the outdoor venue...scratch that; I wish the outdoor venue had been warmer with less snow.

In any event it was a fun, but cold day. I always enjoy rummaging around on boats, and critiquing what the builders/designers do. It's also nice to get to go onto boats that I could never afford. Several of them had loan terms posted. With only $400, 000 down our monthly payment would be a low $6500 a month. Nice to know that there are still people who can afford that kind of fun. Or maybe they can't. That would explain why some of the boats we saw at the show in the fall were there again this time with lower asking prices!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Jaw-dropping ignorance

I ran across this post on Yahoo Answers and am amazed at the level of ignorance.

It's very sad that this far into the 21st century there are still people who believe that people make a conscious choice to be gay. And, believe that because the christian bible says that it's a sin, people will simply choose not to be gay. The post just oozes denial at an incredibly deep level. Did it ever occur to this person that her son has stopped going to church and is being secretive because he's being told that he's a sinner and evil simply because of who he is? That's just incredibly sad.

On top of that, she won't teach her son about condoms or safe sex because that is apparently what god wants. That borders on criminally negligent in my opinion. Such ignorance on the mother's part is appalling; she'd rather put her child at risk for STDs, using the word of god as justification, than to make sure her son was kept safe. Again, just incredibly sad.

Maybe this woman should tune-in to watch Prayers For Bobby, showing on the Lifetime network (Television for Victims and Gays) tonight. It's the true story of a mother with a gay son who, because of her religious beliefs, could never accept who he was. The son eventually kills himself because of it. The woman who posted this Yahoo question may end up in the same situation if she doesn't start to grow out of her ignorance and start to accept that there are things in this world that her bible is completely wrong about.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday mish mash

The weekend turned out to be much busier than I expected, but that's not a bad thing. I had expected to just veg most of the weekend but I came up with things to do, and I enjoyed being busy and active after all.

I decided to continue my recent trend of cleaning out closets since I've had such good success. First came the guest room closet a few weeks ago. That was so nice when it was done I was inspired to clean out the attic space that's an extension of the master bedroom closet. Surprisingly the master bedroom closet was in OK shape so after that came the office closet. It was a true mess; it hadn't ever been organized since we moved in so it was more than ready for a makeover. It took two full days but, while not a model of organization, it's much improved. Out came two full bags of garbage and a box-full of recycling, an older printer/fax machine, lots of outdated computer parts, and several unused containers for refilling the fish tank. In went a lot of organization and new laser printer that we got on sale the day after christmas. It's nice to be able to find things without stuff falling on me, and I just feel better when things are organized and neat.

in any event, the next task was to clean off a single shelf in the closet on the ground floor under the stairs. I installed the shelf when we first moved in to store hats and gloves on, but it became overcrowded in time. Sadly it was overcrowded with mostly hats and gloves; there wasn't a lot of other junk o n the shelf. We ended up getting rid of about half of what was on it so it's again organized and usable. Anthony ended up putting some things under the house for long-term storage so again the "cat closet" as we call it (because the cat box lives under the stairs in there) is usable.

After that, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and do some work outside. Both yesterday and today were some of those perfect winter days we have in Seattle. It started off cold both days but there wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was incredibly clear. It's nice to have a break from the rain and clouds and see the mountains and enjoy some sunshine.

So anyway, the outside work... The snow in December damaged a lot of the plants out front and they needed tending to. We have two ferns that grew like crazy since we put them in ground and almost every frond was broken by the weight of the snow. We also had a "heavenly bamboo" plant that had grown a little too fast and was top heavy, and then got bent over by ice that needed help. I cut everything back to healthy plant material and cleaned it all up and it's looking OK. I think most, if not everything, will grow back in the spring. The only thing I'm worried about is a jasmine plant that was almost dead when I put it in the ground three years ago. It took off and had become huge and really attractive. Unfortunately all the leaves are brown on it, so hopefully it'll sprout anew.

Today we met a couple of friends for breakfast, friends that I realized we hadn't seen since Thanksgiving. Was a nice time with them. Anthony and I took a short nap while Jayson ran some errands with a friend. Anthony and I then headed to the gym and after that the market. I finally have a chance to sit at home and do nothing, but I just realized the time and that means that I need to start dinner. Ugh...

One task I want to get done tonight or tomorrow is to check airfares to visit my father and step-mother. They want me to come out for about a week (they're just outside of Houston) and I am really looking forward to it. I want to get that planned and on the calendar for early February hopefully.

I can't believe it's almost 19:00 on Sunday. The weekend flew by. I need to go back to work tomorrow to relax!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

And same-sex couples are supposedly incapable of raising kids...?

This story is really just appalling. The couple said that they were very worried about their adopted son but didn't bother to do anything when he went missing, 10 years earlier. How worried would they have to be before they were prompted to action? They obviously weren't that worried or they would have gone to the police, not waited for the police to come to them.

The opponents of same-sex marriage say that same-sex couples can't be trusted to raise children, and that's the primary purpose of marriage. If this couple is the kind of people who are supposed to be better than same-sex parents, I can't believe there is still any debate over the issue. Since the opposite-sex couples have clearly failed at marriage (considering the divorce rate) and at parenting in some cases (such as this couple) why not let the gays and lesbians have a shot at it to see if we can do better. I'm guessing that we can. And that's probably what the conservatives/fundies are worried about.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A rose by any other name...

Reaching new heights of stupidity, a school in England has decided to not call itself a school because of negative connotations with the word. It is a "place for learning". Isn't that the definition of the word "school"? Aren't they saying the same thing?

Are people really so dumb as to fall for the idea that giving something a different name makes a different something? Surely not, but then again, there's no accounting for stupidity. Or wait...should I call it something else besides stupidity? How about: "Given to unintelligent decisions or acts." That's sounds much less harsh now.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Mr Fish

For my birthday in August Jayson and Anthony gave me a betta fish and a small but proper tank to keep him in. I never came up with a proper name for him, but over time he simply became Mr Fish. I set up the tank at work and with a plant in one corner he was very happy. He liked to sit in the plant and watch the movement on my computer screen. After I moved to my new desk he had lots of natural light and more activity to observe.

Every morning when I got to work Mr Fish was at the side of the tank to greet me. He did the same thing when I would leave my desk for any length of time during the day and return. He could obviously distinguish between me and others in my office since he seemed to react only to my presence and no one else. It was really nice to have him excited to see me. He turned out to be a good companion to have at work each day.

Over the holidays I brought him home in his tank since I was planning to be away from work a lot. I was also planning to change the gravel and get his tank cleaned out well while he was at home. Sometime over the last few days I noticed that he had started to get weak. He wasn't swimming as actively as he used to so Jayson and I quickly changed the water and got his tank cleaned out. After that he seemed to rally and be doing better.

Sadly, Mr Fish died this morning. When I checked on him first thing he was lying on his side alive but unable to move. That was really the end and by a short time later he was dead. I know he's "just a fish" and I'm surprised how attached to him I was in just a short amount of time, but he was a companion for me at work and I will miss him.. I'm really sad that he's gone and that I won't have him to greet me at work anymore first thing in the morning.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

One more year down...

Even though it's been said on every other blog in the world by now, I'll say Happy New Year to anyone reading. I myself was in bed by 10:30 last night so I didn't actually see the new year arrive. That doesn't bother me at all since I don't feel the need to be awake to see the new year start. To be honest, I'm very glad to see 2008 fade into history. It will not go down in the history book as the best year for me. Jayson's depression continued during the year, some times worse than others. Due to the depression, financial issues were difficult at times and that put stress on everything. Unfortunately both of those things had an impact on our relationship.

There were definitely some good things throughout the year. We met Anthony early in the year. He's become not only a good friend but also an important part of the family. My job has continued to go well and I actually enjoy going to work. I'm also thankful to have such a good and steady job when the economy is causing several people I know to still be unemployed. Life at home is getting better compared to this time last year, so that's a positive thing. Thanks to Anthony, I started going to the gym regularly to start improving my body, and I can definitely see some changes there.

So what's in store for 2009? Obviously no one knows, but I'm hopeful that the good things will continue. I'm looking forward to some travel this year, first to visit my father and step-mother in Texas. I intend to continue going to the gym since it's something I very much enjoy. And I'm looking forward to some interesting, positive changes at work. I've also got a few projects at home and on the boat, but if this year goes as quickly as the last one I'm guessing I won't get half of them done. So, it should be an interesting year.

Hope everyone had a good new years and has a great 2009!