Saturday, August 20, 2005

Home Is Where the Voices in My Head Agree

After looking intensely for weeks, we may have found a new house to rent.

Note: Given that I live with three other people, the following inner dialogue could be quite confusing. To clarify: Yes, all these voices are me. No, I'm not Sybil.

Heart: I’m in love with it.

The Grownup: It’s a wise choice. Nice neighborhood, quiet street, and very close to where Michele and I work. Not a bad commute for Paul's brand-new contract, either, and quite convenient for Cal State Hayward, where Sonja will be going to school in the spring. With the saving on gas alone, we’ll make up the difference in rent.

The Wage Slave: Maybe I can catch up on sleep now. That would be two hours a day that I wouldn’t be commuting on that wretched freeway.

The Grownup: Nearly 80 miles a day less wear and tear on the car, too. And much less risk of fenderbenders.

The Aesthete: A pleasant neighborhood, definitely preferably to all those Suburbs of the Living Dead you dragged me to see. There’s something appalling about cramming five-bedroom houses eight to an acre.

Suzy Homemaker: They had less space between them than I'd give a squash vine.

The Social Butterfly: What a place to give a dinner party. And we’ll be so much closer to concerts, movies, and our friends. The new town is centrally located, and the public transit is good.

Suzy Homemaker: We’re only half a mile from Trader Joe’s. Plus the garden will be perfect for tomatoes and peppers.

The Aesthete: The grounds, though small, are lovely. Patios and flowerbeds, a fine wisteria, a magnolia tree, and two fountains. Moreover, the fences give the illusion of privacy.

Suzy Homemaker: Plus the trees: Meyer lemons, kumquats, and avocado. I want to put a table on the patio between the studio and the kitchen door of the main house. We could eat most of our meals there. There’s plenty of space.

The Grownup: Well, there are a few space issues—particularly closet space. There really isn’t much.

Suzy Homemaker: But all the closets are lined with cedar!

The Kid: Who needs dumb old clothes anyway? It’s private here.

Suzy Homemaker: It’s time to clear out all the clothes we don’t wear anyway. We could do a fat lady clothing swap.

The Grownup: The ratio of public to private space is better than the current house. I do see a few minor issues, nothing we can't figure out, about allocating bedroom and office space in the main house.

The Kid: Look, my very own playhouse!

Heart: I’m in love with the studio. A whole little suite in a separate building, where I can be alone. I could write there. Listen to music. Blend scents. Privacy. Space. A deep bathtub. I could be alone there. . . . [pause] I could have company there. With a little cozy privacy and a giant bathtub.

Suzy Homemaker: I could set up a little kitchen in the studio for times when I wanted to stay in. There’s a granite counter all ready and waiting. And the house kitchen is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Lots of cupboards and counter space, two big wall ovens, gas cooktop. And a nice view from the window over the sink.

The Aesthete: Nice? It’s more than nice. There are panoramic views of the hills, the bay, San Francisco, and the mountains from the picture windows in the living room and dining room.

Suzy Homemaker: That whole end of the house is almost all glass. We’ll have to wash the windows.

The Grownup: The view is more than 180 degrees. We’ll be exposed to all the weather.

The Kid: Oh goody, thunderstorms!

The Grownup: Probably not many of those, but those single-pane picture windows may make heating and cooling somewhat expensive. No air conditioning, but on this hilltop that’s less of an issue than it is in our current house. And the studio isn’t heated or cooled at all.

Heart: I don’t care. In this climate, it doesn’t matter. I’ll have skylights. I’ll have my own doors. And if we really turn the garage into a library, I’ll be just a step away from all the books I love.

The Aesthete: I approve of the grace and simplicity of the house. Cream walls, oak hardwood floors, pocket doors, and other fine details. We have lived in some beautiful spaces before, but never in a house that so skillfully combines view, gardens, interior spaces, and utility. William Morris would approve.

The Grownup: We all like it, and we’re not likely to find anything nearly as reasonable. There's an Episcopal church in town, too. On balance, the house is an excellent choice.

The vote is unanimous. Now we just have to sort, clear, pack, move, and unpack.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

BASEBALL WATCH: Cautiously Optimistic

My boys have been playing pretty decent baseball all season in the viciously competitive National League East. Most of the time they’ve been over a .500 average. I’ve even gotten used to looking for the Phillies name second or third in the standings, instead of with the mushrooms in the depths of the cellar. We’re now ahead by a half-game over Houston in the wild-card race—and that’s almost unbearable excitement for a Phillies fan.

I won’t make any mocking remarks about the National League West and its fine losing percentage (so much more impressive than its pitiable winning percentage). But I’m immensely proud of my West Coast team. The A’s started off with a truly dismal record. Then they threw themselves into the game and turned it around. Now they’re leading the American League wild-card race.

September is going to be a great baseball month. And who knows? Now that Gene Mauch is dead, maybe we can avoid a September collapse.
NEWSFLASH: Grisly Error in Top Story

This appeared in Editor and Publisher, for the love of Gutenberg.

“There were definitely times when he seemed emotional. He never broke down in tears but there was some pretty grizzly stuff,” Morrison explained.

Not even the angriest bear commits murder by throwing a hot iron at someone. This is a spell-check atrocity.

ADDENDUM: In mercy or annoyance, I emailed E&P before I posted this, and they corrected it posthaste. At least they're responsive.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Advances in Science

Few creatures can be as relaxed as algae. Lolling about on beaches or floating serenely in warm water, they have always exemplified the lily-of-the-field approach to life. They don’t vie to be tallest, unlike redwoods or basketball players. They have no ambitions to corner the market on iodine or build a better lobster pot. They’re blessedly Zen.

Until now. Now scientists have enslaved these free creatures and made them work like Sisyphus.

Cells made to haul tiny cargoes

Scientists in the US have managed to get single cells to ferry objects up and down tiny chambers.

Harvard University experts say, in future, cells could be harnessed to perform micro-scale mechanical work.

The researchers attached a cargo of polystyrene beads to the backs of green algae cells and used light to guide them up and down the chambers.

Details of the work appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"We have basically developed the system of moving objects with micro-organisms," co-author Douglas Weibel, of Harvard University told the BBC News website.
"We harness their motors to make them perform unconventional tasks."

The team have coined the term "microoxen" for the load-bearing microbes.

Nice motor

The Harvard researchers, led by Professor George Whitesides, used the single-celled photosynthetic algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

The algae are about 10 microns long and propel themselves by beating their two whip-like tails, or flagella, in an action similar to the breaststroke. This action is driven by a type of molecular motor.

The researchers used chemical bonds to attach a cargo load of specially coated polystyrene beads to individual algal cells.

Then they used light of different intensities to guide them up and down the chamber. High-intensity light repels the organisms while low-intensity light attracts them.

Load bearers

Attaching the cargoes seemed to have little or no effect on the speeds at which the cells moved. The loads were unhitched by exposing the algae to ultraviolet light, which broke apart molecules in the coating on the beads.

Dr Weibel said the technique had many potential uses in areas such as molecular medicine.

"You could have a bead that picks up a toxin. So you send them to swim off into the human body, and when they return, you can carry out analysis on the bead," he said.
"It allows you to get a really significant sample of fluid and these cells can swim through cracks and little corners."

There is considerable interest in harnessing biological motors to perform micro-scale mechanical work.

However, most research in this area has focused on isolating the motors within cells and rebuilding them elsewhere, rather than using the living organism to perform the tasks required.