Monday, March 31, 2008

The Graveyard

Via BoingBoing is a game entitled "The Graveyard" for Mac and PC. The game is a "Demo" but paying $5 to unlock the full game releases just one new feature - death.  The entire game (if you want to call it that) is you as an old woman walking through a graveyard, turning around and siting on a bench. Then walk out when you are done. There is more to it than that but I don't want to give it away. 
This is an art video game and one of the first to really get it right I think. The common thread to these art games is that they are usually not goal oriented, instead using the interactivity of the game to create an environment for something else to happen. The added element of "unlocking" death in this game is really  intriguing to me, especially since it costs money. 


I wrote about this a few months ago but have been tracking it with interest. It is Beluga Skysails a German company that is working on designing a new kind of sail for big cargo ships.  This kind of energy savings is great, and looks to eliminate CO2 from places that are less sexy than cars, but far more cost effective. (Ocean shipping produces 2x more CO2 than all air traffic).

Well the first successful test was done on a trip from Germany to the USA and back to Norway and achieved a 20% fuel-savings (thats 2.5 tons of fuel and $1,000 a day) round trip using an 80 sq meter para-sail. Next step, a 160 sq. meter sail followed by a gigantic 600 sq. meter sail to be built into a new super cargo ship. More of this please! 

Below is a german video showing the test trip. Happy sailing! 

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spring for Bonsai

Well spring is here and that means that it was time for me to dig up the bonsai from the back yard and see how they faired. It is also time for Megan's ficus tree to light up after a dark winter. So how did they do? 

First the ficus. I was worried that it was ill, but it was just winter. It lost about 50% of its leaves but since the sun has changed, it is covered in buds. 

My oldest bonsai had a hard winter though, and is quite damaged. I made a mistake in my placement outside that left it exposed to wind and more importantly rabbits, who chewed off about 60% of it. The photo on the bottom is of it last fall, the top is what it looks like now. But, I guess that is what happened to it every winter when it was a tree living in the wild, and it is already showing off new growth, so it should be ok. But, this damage does postpone repotting for another year. These bonsai are a long term project!

Last is my newest bonsai that I harvested late last summer. Well it did great over the winter, and I repotted it great this spring, if you can call it re-potting because it is living on a rock! The entire root system is spread out over the rock and then ends by touching down into its base. I am uncertain if the roots that touch down in the base are connected to the tree, but the long term plan is to slowly remove soil from the top of the rock so the roots thicken and can be exposed. Thinner roots should be developed further back and be able to gather water from the base which is always full of water. Again, I am going farther towards my "Witch Tree" look. 

The last bit, is that I did lose one tree that I harvested last summer, bringing last summer's survival rate to 1/3. It was a very nice cedar that was perfectly straight up and down, something that is very unusual for cedar. I should have waited to harvest it until this year. Live and learn. 

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Now that it's starting to feel like spring, the doom and gloom and anxiety that tends to hang over school through late winter is starting to lift. We're also wrapping up some classes in anticipation of starting surgery in just over a week (!!!). This year, we'll be doing spays and neuters on shelter dogs and cats, although you don't know until the day of surgery whether you have a dog or a cat, or a male or female. The cat neuter is a really simple procedure, while the dog spay is usually the hardest, so there are people wishing for either end of the spectrum depending on how confident they feel about surgery. I think I'll be happy with whatever animal I get- I just want the surgery to go well...

Yesterday, we got a nice break from the recent string of downer Professional Skills lectures (animal abuse, child abuse, compassion fatigue, and how to not lose your license among them) with an elective class called "Vet Med and Literature". It's basically vet book club, where we talk about a selection of readings that have something to do with being a student or doctor. It was good to feel semi-human again after a long week of classes. This was my favorite reading:

Mark Doty
Beau: Golden Retrievals

Fetch? Balls and sticks capture my attention
seconds at a time. Catch? I don't think so.
Bunny, tumbling leaf, a squirrel who's -- oh
joy -- actually scared. Sniff the wind, then

I'm off again, muck, pond ditch, residue
of any thrillingly dead thing. And you?
Either you're sunk in the past, half our walk,
thinking of what you never can bring back,

or else you're off in some fog concerning
--tomorrow, is that what you call it? My work:
to unsnare time's warp (and woof), retrieving,
my haze-headed friend, you. This shining bark,

a Zen master's bronzy gong, calls you here,
entirely, now: bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!

(Winnie is showing some serious self-restraint here....)

Monday, March 17, 2008

New Subaru!

Yup, there it is! All bought and paid for and Winnie approved. After living with it for just a few hours I can say that it drives just great! It clings to the ground, the steering is very responsive and it has good acceleration with a pleasant rumble. The brakes are strong, and the visibility is phenomenal. I think the suspension has just the right amount of travel to it. You can feel what your tires are hitting, but it is more like feedback from the road and less like just running over bumps.

When I was driving it home I thought it was a shame that I wouldn't be able to really try it out on some curvy roads because it just felt so fun to drive! Well, ask and you shall receive because two blocks later some lady who's line of sight was blocked by a parked bus pulled out of a driveway just a few feet in front of me - too close to stop. She slammed on her brakes placing her directly in front of me in the new car (on the way home for the first time no less) and I did too, along with whipping the wheel to the left to get around her. The car jumped sideways it moved so fast, and I was past her. The ABS kept everything in line even on the wet road. The only vision I got of the other driver was her bracing for impact! So, slalom on 50th street.

What else, on the way home we had some low level fog, so Megan hit the fog lights And suddenly the lines in the road were clear again! And here I just thought they looked cool.

So, it is my opinion that this car can get through just about any weather you throw at it. I look forward to having it for a long time and I can't wait to drive it again tomorrow! I hope I don't use too much gas this month...

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I know I'm a couple days late....... but happy belated Pi Day everyone! A day to celebrate endless ratios, crazy people who can recite thousands of digits, and of course, pie. Mmm.

No Pi Day celebration is complete without some Pi Day carols and a listen to Luke "Pi Guy" Anderson's Pi Rap (although frankly, I enjoyed his Pi love ballad more... but according to the website, that one will be online next year). My favorite Pi Day was when I helped my uber-math-nerd friends connect Buntrock and the Science Center together with a giant string of sidewalk-chalked Pi. Good times.

Back to classes tomorrow...

Saturday, March 15, 2008


We're home safe and sound, back to a happy corgi, clean apartment, and one more glorious day of spring break until I have to go back to class. Next week is a four-day week (Friday off for people heading down south for the SAVMA symposium), then we're in it for the long haul until summer vacation.

Will post about our wonderful trip tomorrow!

Almost time to come home

Bye bye cherry blossoms...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

New car? New Car!

You did what??

Our new 2002 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport

Well we bought a new (used) car. Today. After the last entry said we were planing on it in a few months. And after I was certain I wanted a pre 2002 model. No money has exchanged hands yet, and we wont get to take it home until after San Diego (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that we are going to San Diego next week) but I feel very good about the deal. It has higher milage, but it just had a lot of work put into it, the #1 being new head gaskets that are impossible to replace on these engines. The only problem I found was the alternator sounded like a bearing was going out, so that will need to be replaced some time. But that is an easy fix on these cars. Other than that, the entire car looks pristine inside, outside, and in the engine. Especially after mucking around the the nasty dirtyness of the Volvo engine with its oil leak, I think it is great! Of course it is 13 years younger than the Volvo.

So why the change upwards? Well the price was right and there were lots of changes in 2002, but the most important was in safety. They increased the body rigidity dramatically so in the event of a crash the car wont crumple. It also improves handling. Watch this video from the British TV show 5th Gear to see why this is important. And to see why the Volvo is far less safe than a smaller car with a body designed to crash.

Ok, now the goods.
- Automatic
- Active all wheel drive (shifts the power to where it is needed)
- Air Bags
- CD + upgraded sound system.
- AC
- trailer hitch
- power everything
- jumbo fog lights
- 15'' alloy wheels (chris likes)
- Roof rack (I plan on taking off the cross bars until they are needed to improve sound and aerodynamics)
- Rubber cargo area (for cargo or corgi!) + spare 12v outlet
- fold down seats

It is going to be amazing to have! The visibility is incredible, you feel like you are sitting on the edge of your seat over the road. And it handles like it is glued to the ground - just like a Impreza should. Sure it doesn't have the kick of a WRX but I asked it to go a few times, and it was happy to oblige with a nice strong even acceleration. It can haul stuff, and should make getting around the cabin a dream.

I can't wait to take it home!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A new (used) car?

So the target to buy a new car is sometime in April or May, before school is over and before we head back up north again. I think we will go back to two cars for the summer and then probably sell the Volvo (if I can part with it) in the fall. A few thoughts on what traits I am looking for in no particular order:

- Good gas milage
- reliable
- easy to find parts
- cargo room
- cabin/camping worthy (can it hold a canoe?)
- tough
- good handling
- fun to drive
- not older than 1999, or over 120,000 miles.
- alloy wheels (don't know why, but hub caps really annoy me)
- Anti-lock brakes
- Oh yea, price.

And here is the list! One obvious thing, they are all Subarus. I guess I am a sucker for the all wheel drive stick-to-anything chassis and rally inspired style of all Imprezas. So from oldest to newest:

1999-2001 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport
This slightly funny looking car (well all Subarus are supposed to be funny looking) has it all, and I have been looking at it for a long time now. A smaller car with good gas millage (23/29), especially considering it is all wheel drive. It is 6'' higher than its non-sport version and has anti-lock brakes. So, it can get out of snow drifts, turn on snow, and stop on snow! Nag - those vents on the hood are non-functional. Lame. But it still puts out a respectable 142 hp. Click here for a great slide show.

2002-2003 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport
A huge re-design took place for the 2002 year with the addition of the "bug eye" design. Again, the differences between the base version (TS) is a few minor things like ground clearance and fog lamps. But gas mileage is down 10% from the older model at 20/26. The added weight, but more importantly horsepower rose from 142 to 163.

2002-2003 Subaru Impreza WRX Wagon

The real deal. Remember those fake hood scoops? Well no more. This scoop leads to a mean 2.0l turbo and churns out 227 hp. And the gas milage is still very comparable to the regular version, at 19/26. But it requires mid-grade gas minimum because of the turbo. Of course, if you use it to its full potential and keep the turbo spinning you will see a much lower number. But this thing is supposed to be an amazing car, and won all sorts of awards when it came out. Car and Driver named it the car of the year.

Everything above 2003 gets well out of our price range, even though my favorite is still the 2004 model. So where am I leaning right now? Its the first option, the older Impreza Outback Sport. Better gas mileage, and less expensive. But it still has airbags and anti-lock brakes. Inside is the engine from one of the most common cars on the road in Minnesota, the Subaru Legacy, so repairs should be easy.

So thats what I have been thinking about. Odd thing though, I have yet to test drive any of them! That could throw a wrench in the works. Thoughts are welcome!


Things that stand between me and spring break:
-clinical pathology case set
-dermatology final
-radiology quiz
-neurology take-home exam (most of the way done...)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Post Super Tuesday part II

I will pawn this off to Josh Marshall from Talking Points Memo and a snippet from his final thoughts written last night,
A lot's getting said tonight. And a lot of it is baseless speculation. But the one thing that rings true to me is this: The Clinton campaign got rough and nasty over the last week-plus. And they got results. That may disgust you or it may inspire you with confidence in Hillary's abilities as a fighter. But wherever you come down on that question is secondary to the fact that that's how campaign's work. Opponents get nasty. And what we've seen over the last week is nothing compared to what Barack Obama would face this fall if he hangs on and wins the nomination.

So I think the big question is, can he fight back? Can he take this back to Hillary Clinton, demonstrate his ability to take punches and punch back? By this I don't mean that he's got to go ballistic on her or go after Bill's business deals or whatever else her vulnerabilities might be. Candidates fight in different ways and if they're good candidates in ways that play to their strengths and cohere with their broader message. But he's got to show he can take this back to Hillary and not get bloodied and battered when an opponent decides to lower the boom. That will obviously determine in a direct sense how he fares in the coming primaries and caucuses. And Obama's people are dead right when they say, he doesn't even have to do that well from here on out to end this with a substantial pledged delegate margin.

EDIT: While I am at it, i'll throw in some Kevin Drum for good measure. In short he says don't worry about this extended fight breaking up the party. Look at 1968:
Consider. The Democratic incumbent president was forced to withdraw after a primary debacle in New Hampshire. The Vietnam War had split liberals into warring factions and urban riots had shattered the LBJ's Great Society legacy. A frenzied primary season reached all the way to California in June, culminating in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. The Democratic Convention in Chicago was a nationally televised battle zone. Hubert Humphrey, the party's eventual nominee, had never won a primary and was loathed by a significant chunk of the liberal community. New Left radicals hated mainstream Democrats more than they hated Republicans.
And what happened? Nixon won, but by less than 1%. If dirty primaries translate into general election losses, Humphrey should have lost by more than a landslide.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Democratic rift

My data is far from scientific but from reading more blogs and comments than is probably healthy but here is an observation: there is a very hard and mean rift quickly growing in the Democratic party. In places where comments are usually very civil and engaged, people are swearing off the other candidate. Writers who have been repeating how proud they are of the democratic party and all the candidates are now openly threatening to not vote for president in 2008. "Repugnant" is the word of the day.

So we will see how things shake out, but John McCain will gain the remaining delegates to become the official Republican nominee today. And he can only be liking what he sees.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

To tug or not to tug?

There aren't many dog games that have ignited such fierce debates as tug-o-war. No one argues about the merits of fetch or frisbee, but there are two schools of thought about tug. One side says that tug is a dangerous game that teaches dogs dominance, and that they can use physical force to gain a prized possion from a human. In order to maintain the role as "pack leader", you should never allow a dog to think he can wrestle something away from you. Dogs should willingly give up even the most valuable goodies, and if they don't, they are exerting dominance over you. If you do engage in a game of tug, they say, at least the human should always end up with the toy at the end lest the dog leave thinking he won.

On the other side of the debate are people who say that tug-o-war is just a game, and a good game to really unwind and let off some pent-up energy. Play serves a very important role in animal behavior, even for wild animals. The great thing about play is that all normal rules are off and normal roles are often reversed. The bigger puppy turns down his strength so that the littler puppy can wrestle with him. Motions are exaggerated, and normally stealthy animals become rambunctious and noisy. Current thinking about the reason that animals play is to put their body into positions and situations that they wouldn't normally be in. This allows them to learn how to react to the unexpected (like getting knocked off their feet by a predator). The bigger puppy learns how it feels when he's the weaker one, and the littler puppy learns what he needs to do when he's winning the wrestling match.

Behaviorist Patricia McConnell writes about tug in her book The Other End of The Leash. She sides with the people who say it's just a game, and not about a fight for dominance. Tug, like any other form of play, is about letting animals experience roles they might not otherwise have. When Winnie and I play tug, it's a time for her to growl, show her teeth, and refuse to let go of a toy- behaviors that, outside of tug, we wouldn't tolerate. McConnell believes that dogs who have a playful outlet for normally unacceptable behaviors are less likely to exhibit those behaviors in an inappropriate setting. She also cites a study about dogs who were allowed to play tug- half of the dogs never got to win, and half got to win some matches and lose others. The dogs who never got to win simply quit playing, because who likes to lose all the time? It's not a game anymore if you never win.

Obviously I lie in the pro-tug camp. I tend not to buy into dominance-style thinking anyway, but I also have played tug with enough dogs to know that dogs know the difference between play and normal life. However, there are a few important points about safe tug-o-war:
  • any contact between skin and teeth immediately ends the game, accidental or not. Dogs are very aware of where their teeth are, and need to know that they have to have complete control even during play. It's especially effective if you let out a loud YIP! and walk away looking extremely offended.
  • You get to call off the game whenever you want. Before playing tug, dogs should know what "drop it" means, and should follow that command even in the middle of the game. If they don't drop when you tell them to, game over. Dogs hate when the game ends early.
  • If you're working on specific behavior issues like resource guarding, tug probably isn't the best game to play.
These points aren't about maintaining 'alpha dog' position, but about dogs being polite and knowing that there are some boundaries that can't be crossed, even during play.

Happy tugging!