Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Heart: The Spending All Day on My Computer Edition

A short "I Heart" to tide you over until next week . . . 

My new netbook, which I'm lovingly calling The Nanobot.  (You can read more about it on Saturday.)  I'll be reviewing it, as well as doing a mini review on Ubuntu Netbook Edition.

My current favorite Twitter feeds @DepressedDarth and @DeathStarPR - hilarious and snarky comments with a Star Wars/Darth Vader spin.

Netflix Instant - I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Netflix Instant is awesome.  Daytime and off-season TV is hit-or-miss (mostly miss) and Netflix Instant is chock full of popular TV shows, B-movies, and surprisingly fascinating documentaries.  At $7.99 a month (Instant only) for unlimited movies, it's an awesome deal.

The Internet - Where else could you watch the cast of "Invader Zim" read unproduced episodes to a live audience? (Although, sometimes it can be a bad thing.  How can I possibly unsee Crispin Glover's "Clowny Clown Clown"?)

More proof that Simon Pegg is the coolest:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Top Five . . . Underrated Young Actresses

We hear a lot about certain actresses, especially when they are in popular movies (ex: Kristen Stewart, Amanda Seyfried, Ellen Page, and Zooey Deschanel), but there are a lot of talented young actresses that don't get as much recognition.  Here is my Top Five list of underrated young actresses.

5.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Although she has experienced an increase in popularity due to her role as Ramona Flowers in the recent film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim, Winstead has a relatively short filmography.  She started out playing guest starring roles on popular TV shows including "Touched by an Angel" and "Tru Calling", as well as a short stint on cult favorite soap "Passions".  Winstead then moved to parts in several horror flicks (The Ring 2, Final Destination 3, and Black Christmas) before being cast as the presumably ill-fated Lee in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof.  Winstead's star does seem to be on the rise after Scott Pilgrim, however.  She is currently working on the prequel/remake of John Carpenter's The Thing (a film that I'm not exactly happy about) and the film adaption of horror/history satire Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Favorite Mary Elizabeth Winstead role: Lee in Death Proof

4.  Eva Amurri

Amurri has some serious film lineage as the daughter of actress Susan Sarandon and director Franco Amurri.  She got her start in small roles in many of her mother's films (Dead Man Walking, Anywhere But Here, and The Banger Sisters), but has some definite acting chops of her own.  Lately, Amurri has appeared in small television roles ("How I Met Your Mother", "House", "Mercy", and a recurring role on HBO series "Californication"), but she has three films set to be released in 2011.

Favorite Eva Amurri role: Cassandra in Saved!

3.  Imogen Poots

Imogen Poots is a young British actress whom I first noticed in V for Vedetta (she played the young Valerie).  She is probably most known for her role as Tammy in 28 Weeks Later, however.  Poots has a very unique look and a maturity beyond her years.  She tends to be relegated to smaller roles, but after the critically acclaimed Cracks, she may be seeing some larger parts.  She was most recently in the film adaptation of Jane Eyre and has three movies in production, including a remake of the horror comedy classic Fright Night.

Favorite Imogen Poots role:  Tammy in 28 Weeks Later (although I am anxious to see her in Cracks as well)

2.  Saoirse Ronan

Ronan is much younger than the other women on this list, but she is an extremely talented actress who is often overlooked for more well-known, but similarly aged names like Dakota Fanning and Emma Watson.  She is best known for her roles in Atonement (as the young Briony Tallis) and The Lovely Bones (as Susie Salmon), but I predict we haven't even seen her best yet.  Ronan's film Hanna will be released later this year and she is currently rumored to be working on the eagerly anticipated adaptation of The Hobbit.

Favorite Saoirse Ronan role: Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones

1.  Romola Garai

Another British actress, Garai has a history of being overshadowed by her more well-known costars, despite her brilliant performances (especially in Atonement with Keira Knightly and Vanity Fair with Reese Witherspoon).  She is especially good in the BBC mini-series she appears in (ex: Emma and Daniel Deronda).  Garai has another mini-series in the works, The Crimson Petal and the White (based on the novel and also starring Chris O'Dowd!), as well as a few independent films.

Favorite Romola Garai role: Briony Tallis (at 18) in Atonement

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Geek of the Week: Dr. Michael Weissmann

Dr. Michael J. Weissmann
If you want to know about bugs, Dr. Mike Weissmann is the guy to ask.  He has an extensive resume that includes co-founding the Butterfly Pavillion and Insect Center in Westminster, CO, where he also worked as the curator.  He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Colorado in Boulder and his doctorate in Entomology from Colorado State University.  I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Weissmann about his work and his love of bugs.

Tab:  Were you interested in bugs as a kid, or was it something that came about later?

Dr. Weissmann:  I was afraid of bugs as a kid.  My mom isn't fond of them, and as is often the case, parental influence is strong.  I was especially freaked out by spiders.  It wasn't until I got to college that I realized that insects and spiders are pretty cool, and the more you know about them, the less scary they are.  I guess that is true with many phobias - the more you learn about the item that you are afraid of, the less scary it seems to be.  I'm still a bit freaked out by pre-schoolers, but now that I have granddaughters they aren't quite as scary either.

Dr. Mike, circa 8th grade

Tab:  How did you decide to pursue entomology as a career? 

Dr. Weisssmann:   I didn't decide on entomology as a career, it decided on me.  I'm still not exactly sure how it happened.  I went to the University of Colorado to study aquatic biology.  My original intent ( comes the uber-geeky part) was to study cryptozoology, specifically to approach the study of sea monsters and lake monsters (Loch Ness in Scotland, Lake Okanagan in Canada) from a more scientific point of view as an actual aquatics "expert."  In Colorado, we have no known lake monsters.  The aquatic ecology classes focused mainly on aquatic insects, and the more I learned about them, the more fascinated I became with them.  Most of the aquatic forms are immature stages of flying adults (for example, dragonflies start out as nymphs in the water).  While my course work showed me the wild world of aquatic immature insects, I was curious about the rest of the life stages.  A friend told me about the insect collection in the research portion of the University of Colorado Museum.  I love museums, but had never gone "behind-the-scenes" into the research collections areas.  In November of 1983 (wow, was it that long ago?), I went to visit the CU Museum and requested to see the insect collections.  The semi-retired Curator of Entomology showed me some of the drawers and drawers full of insect specimens, some of which had been collected nearly 100 years earlier.  I was hooked.  He reluctantly allowed me to do an internship there in 1984 (he said that he no longer offered that course, but since it was listed in the catalog, I was fairly insistent that he should honor that).  Dr. Url Lanham became my mentor that year, allowing me to learn Entomology in the old ways, one on one with the master, helping him in the field and in the lab.  After graduating with my Masters Degree in 1986, I was retained by the Museum to help in the collection as the Assistant Curator of Entomology, allowing me to continue mentoring with Url.  I found my niche.

Tab:  Was there an entomologist or another scientist that inspired you when you first started out?

Dr. Weissmann:  My father had a broad background in and love of natural sciences.  He pursued his interest in science by becoming a family physician.  When we took family vacations, it usually included visits to National Parks and National Monuments (he called it "visiting our property" as our taxes paid for them).  These trips taught us a love of nature.  In 5th grade, I was a goof-off in the library one day (most geeks get in such trouble at a young age when they are bored) so the librarian, Mr. Titus, put me in a corner and placed a book in my hand - "More Than A Legend" by Constance Whyte, my first introduction to cryptozoololgy and the Loch Ness Monster.  The following year, my 6th grade science teacher, Norma Kourey had a classroom full of living plants and animals, inspiring me to love living things and want to study them.  Several fantastic teachers throughout the years encouraged me to pursue my interest in biology, leading eventually to me walking through the doors of the CU Museum where I met my mentor entomology, the late Dr. Url Lanham.  When I left the CU Museum in 1991 to pursue my Ph.D. in Entomology at Colorado State University, I studied with two of the greatest entomologists of our time, Dr. Boris Kondratieff, and the late Dr. Howard Evans.  My education in science, and specifically entomology, was the best a bug geek could ever hope for.

More Than a Legend by Constance Whyte

Tab:  What about butterflies fascinates you?

Dr. Weissmann:  As insects go, they are OK.  Many people believe I love butterflies, just because I consult on butterfly exhibits worldwide, have a butterfly garden in our front yard instead of a grass lawn, and am often seen wearing t-shirts covered with butterflies.  Actually, butterflies are not my main interest and really never have been.  When I started at the CU Museum, the Hall of Life was full of dead specimens, so they allowed me to put a small insect zoo in a portion of the space, featuring live insects and related arthropods.  It was a huge hit.  In 1988, while visiting a large insect zoo at the San Francisco Zoo, I learned about a new exhibit across the bay in Vallejo - a butterfly house where visitors could walk in a greenhouse surrounded by live tropical butterflies.  I was excited by the experience, and became determined to bring that kind of experience to my home state of Colorado.  However, it was always about the insects.  To me, the butterflies were a great marketing gimmick to get people to look at the other insects.  Even people who dislike (or even despise) insects make an exception in the case of butterflies.  Once in the door to see the butterflies, it would be possible to throw in some education about the less-appreciated insects.  I hoped that if a bug-hater like me could be turned around at a relatively later age in life (I was in my 20s when I first went to the CU Museum), then an insect zoo with a butterfly gimmick might help others learn to appreciate the tiny world of animals all around them. 
Tab:  What is your favorite bug? 

Dr. Weissmann:  In keeping with my initial focus on aquatic zoology, I studied the Water Scorpion for my Masters degree thesis (not a real scorpion, but a stick-like, extremely well-camouflaged, predatory bug that lives in pond water here in Eastern Colorado).  My mentor, Url Lanham, taught me a love of wild solitary bees (not the typical European honey bee that most people are familiar with, but the native bees that were here long before the European imports - nothing against European imports, as my father is one, but our native bees are very diverse and fascinating insects!). For my doctorate, I studied the Giant Sand Treader Camel Cricket at Great Sand Dunes National Monument.  Both of these are special to me.  These days, in addition to consulting on butterfly exhibits worldwide, I spend my summers working with mosquito surveillance in Colorado, and have found a fondness for these fascinating animals.  When in El Salvador consulting on a butterfly farm project, I was bit by a mosquito that was, on a microscopic scale, far more beautiful than any butterfly I have ever seen - metallic purple, green, gold, and silver in color - MESMERIZING!
Water Scorpion

Great Sand Treader Camel Cricket by Eric C. Maxwell

Mosquito by David Scharf

Tab:  Are there any bugs that you don't like or are afraid of?

Dr. Weissmann:  Not really.  There are some that I treat with the respect that they deserve, due to their ability to injure me.  I don't play with Black Widow Spiders, although I use them in my education programs.  I am careful around most arthropods that bite or sting.  I'm more afraid of pre-schoolers - those 4 year olds bite, carry many diseases, and are often dirty, the opposite of a cockroach, which tends to be clean, doesn't bite, and rarely if ever carry diseases in the wild.  It is more important to use caution when picking up a pre-schooler than when picking up most arthropods, lest you get bit and have to get shots.  Bugs are not nearly as scary. 

Tab:  What are some of the most common misconceptions about bugs?

Dr. Weissmann:  Most people believe that the majority of insects are out to do us harm.  In reality, only a tiny percent affect humans in any way.  Most go on about their lives unnoticed by us, and certainly taking little if any interest in humans or what we do.  Those that carry diseases, bite, sting, or compete with us for our food tend to give all the others a bad reputation.  If humans were to disappear from the earth, life would go on pretty much as it was before.  If insects were to disappear, life as we know it would not exist.
Tab:  What is your favorite part about being an entomologist?

Dr. Weissmann:  I get to play with bugs!  I get to be a kid forever, turning over rocks and running across fields with an insect net to see what is out there.  Also, when you are an entomologist, it is OK to be a geek, in fact it is expected that an entomologist is geeky.  Most importantly, I get to share my enthusiasm and interest in nature with others in hopes that they may also get to see insects in a more positive light the way I was "converted."

Tab:  What is most challenging about being an entomologist?

Dr. Weissmann:  There is a lot of myth-information and myth-conceptions about insects and other arthropods out there.  Hollywood doesn't help any with some of the giant scary bug movies, and now with the Internet, misinformation about arthropods travels around the world at the speed of light.  Much of my time is spent countering that misinformation and replacing it with the facts whenever possible.

Tab:  What are you working on now? 

Dr. Weissmann:  In the summer, I work as Surveillance Manager at Colorado Mosquito Control, monitoring the 48 or so species of mosquitoes in the state, as well as the diseases like West Nile Virus that they carry.  The rest of the year, I do bug programs ("Dr. Mike's Bag of Bugs") at schools around the region, as well as lectures for various groups on different topics in entomology.  I also consult around the world on new insect zoos, butterfly farms, and butterfly houses, taking the knowledge gained from our work founding the Butterfly Pavilion and Insect Center in Westminster, Colorado, and applying it to other peoples' dream of creating similar facilities.  I'm also working on making sure my granddaughters (4 of them so far!) grow up learning that insects are okay, and being geeky isn't anything to be ashamed of either.

If you would like to hire Dr. Weissmann for speaking engagements or consulting, or have some bug questions of your own, you can find his contact information on the Kallima Consultants website.
*If you'd like the chance to be interviewed and featured on Geek of the Week, leave me a short note in the comments with your email!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Saturday Review: This Week

Since I don't have anything specific to review, I'll let you in on how my week went.  My best friend J.D. and her geekling, Monkeyface, came out to visit us, along with her boyfriend and another good friend.  A good time was had by all and we geeked out at the Lego store, the comic book store, and various other places.  Monkeyface had a blast tormenting the kitties and playing with our toys.  (He especially like the germs!)

In ask and you shall receive news, J.D. gave me the "Bewitched" Barbie as a late Christmas/early birthday present and it's just as beautiful as it looks online!

And in Hallelujah! news, Kris finally cut his shaggy hair and shaved off the scary homeless guy beard!

The Before:  Kris with Sir Monkeyface
And the (oh-so-handsome) After!
And you can probably tell by the return of pictures that I once again have a computer.  Since Lappy met his ill-fated demise, we bought a Toshiba netbook that, so far, has been awesome.  Meet the new addition:

I love the color!
Teeny tiny laptop
It's adorbz!
This new guy needs a name - any suggestions?

I had an awesome (and busy!) week.  How about you?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Top Five . . . Phobias

One of the less fun parts about being neurotic is the phobias.  I have several, so I'll share my Top Five with you:

5.  Ornithophobia (fear of birds)

Ever since being dive-bombed by blue jays while playing in my backyard as a toddler, birds have always made me nervous.  This fear was reinforced by several bird-related events including (but not limited to) being chased by a goose at the Base lake, being swarmed by seagulls while trying to eat outside at Disney World, and watching Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds in 3D.

4.  Glossophobia (fear of public speaking)

As a relatively shy person, speaking in front of large groups terrifies me.  If I never have to take another speech class it will be too soon.

3.  Emetophobia (fear of vomit)

Throwing up is high on my list of least favorite things (as it is, I assume, with most people).  I try to avoid it at all costs and often joke that I have a 10 foot "barf radius".  I can't watch people throw up on TV or in movies, even when I know it's fake.  Ironically, I happen to be married to a guy with digestive problems that lead to frequent vomiting.

2.  Nyctophobia (fear of the dark)

Yep, I'm 27 and I'm afraid of the dark.  I combat this by turning on every light in the house and sleeping with the TV on.

1.  Fear of Driving 

What can I say?  Something about being in control of a two ton motorized vehicle capable of squashing small animals and causing bodily injury and death sends me into quivering panic attacks.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Geek of the Week: Wil Wheaton

Wil Wheaton as Evil Wil Wheaton
If you were going to crown a "king of the geeks" or elect a president of "Geekland", it very well might be Wil Wheaton.  Not only has the actor/writer starred in one of the most beloved sci-fi series of all time,"Star Trek: The Next Generation", he also is the co-creator of w00tstock, a Lollapalooza-esque festival geared at geeks of all types.  Wheaton's first major role was Gordie LaChance, the hero of Rob Reiner's film Stand By Me, based on Stephen King's novella "The Body".  He went on to play the polarizing Wesley Crusher on the wildly popular "Star Trek: The Next Generation".  After "Star Trek", he starred in independent films, lent his voice to animated characters, and honed his writing skills on his blog.

Wheaton is a frequent guest at science fiction and comic conventions and he is experiencing a resurgence in his popularity, mostly due to recurring characters on Felicia Day's web series "The Guild" and CBS sitcom "The Big Bang Theory".

Wheaton's blog is always funny and thoughtfully written and his Twitter feed is an extension of his witty, humorous personality.  Follow him on Twitter (@wilw) or visit his blog Wil Wheaton Dot Net.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Saturday Review: Why Zebra Don't Get Ulcers

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky
Published in 2004 (3rd edition)

 If ever there was a time to not to judge a book by its cover, this would be it.  Despite its whimsical depiction of zebras dancing in a circle, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers is not a self-help book.  Written by renown biologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, it is a science text that explains the phisology of stress and the toll chronic stress takes on the human body.

He begins by explaining how stress in humans has evolved over time.  Stressors in early humans resembled those in animals and directly related to survival.  The two main causes of stress were finding food and trying to keep from being eaten.  As science, medicine, and technology advanced, psychological causes began to take over.  Sapolsky theorizes that the anticipation of an event or consequence causes just as much stress as the actual event.

Studies on stress and their findings are discussed, but the majority of the book deals with the physical ramifications of chronic stress.  They include weight gain, depression, depleted immunity, and accelerated aging, among others.  I found the chapter on stress-related sleep issues particularly interesting, as I have dealt with on and off bouts of insomnia for most of my adult life. 

Sapolsky intentionally writes the book with nonscientific readers in mind, but never talks down to them.  He explains his reason for doing this: "I love science, and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means that you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awed by nature.  Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and reinvigorate it."  The book is relatable, interesting, and at times, very funny.  I would highly reccomend this book for those interested in psychology and health, in addition to those suffering from chronic stress and/or anxiety.

Your Laptop A Splode!

After St. Patrick's day revelries, we were hanging out with some friends and I noticed a burning plastic smell.  Imagine my distress when I found that my laptop power cord had shorted out and started melting the case!  I caught it before it did any damage to my desk, but sadly Lappy is no more.  I'm currently using Kris's work laptop, so there may be a shortage of pictures over the next week.  I am planning on getting this little guy to replace poor Lappy.

A moment of silence, if you will, for my dearly departed computer.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Home Sweet Home II: Return of Home Sweet Home

And now, where we spend most of our time . . .

The main seating area

Side table (with sushi plushes!)

Grindhouse poster above the couch

The DVD bookshelf ("Twilight Zone", Forbidden Planet, The Birds, and "MST3K" are all represented!)
More DVD shelves (rayguns and Domo!)

Bow down and worship . . . the cat pirate ship!
Awesome sci-fi posters (The Astonishing She-Monster and Creature From the Black Lagoon)

Top Shelf:  Zombie shrine  Bottom Shelf:  Monster High dolls (Oh . . . and books)
Monster Domos, Jason Foster from "The Masks", Alice, and Scott Pilgrim  (and more books)

Legos . . .
. . . and the man who built them (and Sullivan)

And last but not least . . . the evil genius chair (complete with sock monkeys and Darby)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Home Sweet Home

More pictures from our apartment . . .

The kitchen (I wasn't kidding about how small it is!)

It's George!

The dining table (Darth Vader hangs out in the corner!)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'm a Busy Miss Lizzy*

In between reading and preparing for impending out-of-town guests, I will have little time to write.  (Lucky you!)  Instead, I offer you a few photos of our wee den of geekitude.

A peak into my teeny tiny (but clean!) kitchen
The chalkboard, with a leftover Valentine's message (I'm tempted to leave it up!)
The coat closet and my go-to grocery bag, resplendent with robots!
Want to see more?  (Of course you do!)  Come back tomorrow . . . and the next day . . . and the next!

*Just ask Moss.

I Heart: The Creepy Kid Edition

  • My Ghoulia Yelps doll - I discovered Monster High dolls last year, and since then, I've been searching for the elusive Ghoulia Yelps doll.  Last week, I happened to be at Target and thought I'd check the doll aisle just in case . . . and there she was.  Behold her cat eye spectacled zombie glory:

Monster High doll Ghoulia Yelps
  • Lenore - Believe it or not, my mom got me into Roman Dirge's Lenore comics.  Touted as "the cute little dead girl", Lenore is the slightly twisted, undead, but very cute little girl who loves her friends: a serial killer-possessed rag doll (Ragamuffin), a reanimated carcass named Taxidermy, and her dead cat, Kitty, who she carries around like a beloved stuffed animal.  Dirge's website features Lenore comics, as well as animated shorts.
Lenore, the cute little dead girl
  • "Growing Up Creepie" - A mega-cute cartoon about a little girl who was raised by insects.  She's gothy/alternative and has to deal with the mainstream mean girls at her school.  

  • Funko's adorable plush Universal monsters - Big heads and shiny black button eyes make these adorable monsters the perfect gift for geeky kids (with open-minded parents).  The monsters include Frankenstein, Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy.  (Funko also has slasher movie villain plushes, including this Freddy Krueger plush)
  • Watching "Eeire, Indiana" on Netflix Instant - A kids' version of "The Outer Limits" with a dash of "The X-Files", this tragically short-lived show was one of my many favorites. With the help of creative consultant (and famed horror flick director) Joe Dante, the show included references to several sci-fi and monster classics.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Art of Being Lonely

I think I'm going to boycott Facebook for awhile.  Not for any political or ideological reasons, but for my own good.  About a week ago, a friend mentioned that sometimes she hates Facebook.  When I asked her "Why?", she talked about feeling strangely jealous when she saw other friends making plans to hang out or talking about the fun things they were doing.  She's a single mother, and when she's not working, she's usually at home with the baby.  She doesn't get invited out much, so it's hard to see her friends making plans without her.

I really like Facebook.  I enjoy reading tidbits about my friends' lives, seeing their pictures, checking out the links they post, and keeping in touch with long-distance friends and family.  Even so, my friend's observation makes sense.  Recently, I've noticed I get bummed when no one comments on certain wall posts.  My head plays a sad, tinny chorus of "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go eat worms", until I almost start believing it. 

The hardest thing for my brain to understand is why I don't feel that soul-sucking sense of psuedo rejection here.  Days when I get comments on my blog posts are a lot like snow days - I do an excited, giddy dance around my living room when they arrive, but they are rare and definitely unexpected.  It might partially be because on Facebook, I'm writing for people who know me, but here, I'm essentially writing for strangers.  I think the biggest reason has to do with my own blog reading habits, however.  I find new blogs to read almost daily, and while I read fervently and often, I very rarely comment.  This gives me hope that others are doing the same with my writing.

Feeling rejected on Facebook seems to fly in the face of my very nature.  I am, and have always been, a loner.  I come from a very large extended family, full of amazing and talented individuals, and I have always felt lost in the shuffle.  I enjoy spending time with them (and with friends), but I always feel a sense of relief when I return home and I am alone.  I am alone for long stretches of time, perfectly content to watch movies, read books, and hang out with my computer.  When I do make social plans, they usually come all at once.  I gorge myself on social interaction and return to my solitude, satiated but drained from all the time spent with others.  I am the camel of socializing.  A night out with friends can carry me over months of being alone.  Why, then, is my psyche being so shallow all of a sudden? 

An acquaintance and coworker of Kris's recently posted this poem (ironically on Facebook). 

Maybe I need to relearn how to be alone, and to stop seeking fake validation from Facebook comments.  Until then, Facebook and I are on a break.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Geek of the Week: Dr. Robert Sapolsky

Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky
Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky is not your average scientist.  The curly-haired, bushy-bearded professor is a world renowned expert on stress.  In addition to teaching biology and neurology at prestigious Stanford University, he is the author of the critically-acclaimed book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers*.  Sapolsky has spent the last 30 years studying the correlation of interaction and stress-related diseases among the baboon population of Kenya. He postulates that baboon relationships mirror basic human relationships, and by studying stress in baboons, he can infer the effects of stress on humans.

While working on his doctorate, Sapolsky discovered that chronically stressed lab rats had significantly diminished brain capacity when compared with non-stressed rats.  Specifically, chronic stress affected the rats' hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory.  In his work with baboons, he has also discovered that the animal's place in the social hierarchy affects the cortisol levels in the blood.  In layman's terms, the higher status the baboon has, the lower its stress level.  Sapolsky, along with his colleagues, discovered that the earlier a child experiences major stress in their lives, the greater effect it will have on their adulthood.

He has also taken the study of stress to a cellular level.  Telemiers are the "caps" that protect your individual strands of DNA.  As we age, the telemiers deteriorate, but Sapolsky noticed in his research that high levels of stress accelerate telemier deterioration.  It's fascinating stuff and Sapolsky is fascinating to listen to.  (I highly recommend the National Geographic documentary, Killer Stress, in which Sapolsky is featured heavily.)

*I will be posting a review of this book on Saturday.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Kid Question

I've been with my husband for almost nine years - we dated for six and have been married for almost three.  Of course, there are people who periodically ask whether we plan to have children.  This question in and of itself does not bother me, but the reaction to my response occasionally does.

I have never been a "kid person".  I knew from a very early age that I did not want children and I have been honest about my feelings when I am asked the "kid question."  Surprisingly, my friends with children never give me grief.  It is usually people I've just met or casual acquaintances who have issues.  They tend to look at me with a mixture of horror and pity, as if the concept of someone not wanting kids is so completely alien that they cannot comprehend it.  When they ask "Why?", I usually try to navigate the awkward conversation tactfully with a tinge of self-deprecating humor.  Inevitably, people who push the issue will say "But kids are so great!", "Once you have your own child, you'll understand.", or "Oh, you'll change your mind eventually!" 

It may not be their intention, but by looking at me with pity or saying I'll change my mind, these people are saying my choice isn't valid.  That isn't the case.  I can be satisfied with my life and feel fulfilled without having a child.  Ultimately, what I don't understand about this kind of reaction is how one-sided it is.  It's not as if I approach people with children and say, "Why would you want to have kids?"  If I did, these people would be highly offended, and rightly so.  Who am I to question their life choices?

It's also a matter of knowing what I'm good at, and by extension, what I'm not.  Some people just aren't cut out to have kids, and I happen to be one of them.  On the maternal instinct scale, I rate about a 2.5 - on my best day.  I'm also a neurotic mess.  I worry about everything, I have weird phobias, and I don't like messes.  That's not the best environment to raise a kid.  The way I see it, I was extremely lucky to find a partner that's willing to deal with my issues.  Do I really want to push my luck by throwing a child into the mix? 

I can usually brush off the disparaging reactions by reminding myself that these people don't really know me, but there is one statement that makes me angry.  I've heard from several people that my decision to not have children is "unfair" to Kris because he would make such a good dad and I am denying him that opportunity.  For the record, Kris would make a great dad.  He's got a big heart, he's fun, and he's really good with kids.  I'm sure if we had kids, he would be delighted.  But he's also an adult, and from the very beginning of our relationship, I made my stance on having children clear.  I gave him several opportunities to end the relationship if having kids was important to him and each time I brought it up, he said he was fine either way.  The bottom line is that my decision to not have children has nothing to do with being fair or unfair to Kris.  He loves me enough that he chose to be with me, even if it means he won't have children of his own.

For those of you who have any doubt, trust me.  I love my friends' children.  I enjoy seeing their pictures and I love spending time with them.  I also love my life.  I feel complete with Kris and I am sure of who I am.  No pity or convincing necessary.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Heart: The Fembot Edition

  • Jewelry from Made With Molecules, especially this "Serotonin" necklace.  An awesomely geeky alternative to the "Happiness", "Love", etc. jewelry that you see everywhere lately.
  • The "Bewitched" Barbie - Even though I wasn't named for the little girl on this classic '60s show, it's usually what people think of when they learn my name.  "Bewitched" stuff is pretty hard to find, especially something as beautiful as this doll.
  • Florence + The Machine - Florence Welch has an amazing voice, an inventive style, and an impressive ability to straddle musical genres.  It's been a while since I've found a current band or singer that I really liked and I was surprised how much I liked Florence + The Machine, considering that my tastes usually run more toward the classic rock genre.
  • Diablo Cody's memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper - It's a quick read that alternates between witty and shocking and one of the better "guilty pleasure" books I've read in a while.
  • "Atomic Betty" reruns on The Hub - I just discovered this cartoon while flipping channels.  A Canadian toon, it was on Cartoon Network for a year before being axed.  It's a sweet girl-centric show in the vein of "Powerpuff Girls" about a teenage girl who sings in a band, likes sci-fi movies . . . and happens to be the galactic savior of the universe.
  • Grammar Girl - Uber-helpful books and website that solve your grammar problems in a user-friendly and relatable way.  You can also follow Grammar Girl on Twitter (@GrammarGirl) or listen to her podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips website.
  • Grace Kelly in Rear Window - Hitchcock was famous for his use of cool blondes in leading female roles, but Kelly is my favorite because unlike some of the others (Kim Novak in Vertigo, Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest, Tippi Hedren in Marnie), she seems approachable in addition to being beautiful.  (The gorgeous clothes don't hurt either!)
  • Doris Day movies - I spent several days last week watching light, breezy films from the '60s starring Doris Day.  Back when AMC used to actually play old movies, my mom and I would watch their Doris Day movie marathons.  They are the perfect fun and girly flicks to watch on a girls' night in.  (Top Five Doris Day films:  The Pajama Game, Lover Come Back, That Touch of Mink, The Thrill of it All!, and Pillow Talk)

And now, the reveal . . .

From red to black!

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Top Five . . . Childhood Crushes

     I've already mentioned that I was a weird little kid, and that extends to my various childhood crushes as well.  I was a big movie buff even then and I often developed puppy love for offbeat characters in my favorite films.  I was lucky enough to have a young, very cool mom and to grow up in the '80s and early '90s, so my crushes come from that era (and a lot of them from John Hughes movies).  Here are my Top Five childhood crushes:

    Max Casella as Vinnie Delpino
     5.  Vinnie Delpino (Max Casella in "Doogie Howser")
    Vinnie was the titular character's best friend on "Doogie Howser, M.D."  He was a New York accented, wise-cracking budding filmmaker and often the instigator of the mischief the two friends got into.

    Christian Bale as Jack Kelly
    4.  Jack Kelly (Christian Bale in Newsies)
    In the fact-based Disney movie Newsies, Jack Kelly was the leader of the "newsies" - New York-based newsboys who went on strike after Joseph Pulitzer raised newspaper costs.  Back when Bale was a relatively unknown actor, he did this heavily panned flick. But critics be damned, I freakin' love this movie and I still watch it when nostalgia strikes. 

    3.  Lane Meyer (John Cusack in Better Off Dead)

    John Cusack as Lane Meyer
    I love Cusack in almost all his flicks, but Better Off Dead  is one of my favorites.  It has several quotable lines and Cusack is at his sarcastic best playing Lane Meyer, the jilted, semi-suicidal boyfriend of a popular girl who left him for his school's star skier.

    Robert Sean Leonard as Neil Perry

    2.  Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard in Dead Poet's Society)

    Before appearing as Dr. Wilson on "House", Leonard was best known for his performance as Neil Perry, the intelligent prep school student who attempts to follow his acting dreams, much to the dismay of his father.  Dead Poet's Society  is an excellent film and Leonard is amazing in it.

    Jon Cryer as Duckie Dale

    1.  Duckie Dale (Jon Cryer in Pretty in Pink)

    All of this brings me to my #1 childhood crush, and the only Teen Beat-esque poster I had on my wall.  In his pre-"Two and a Half Men" days, Cryer was best known as the unrequited love afflicted Duckie Dale.  Loyal to his best friend/crush and devoted to New Wave, Duckie was the coolest geek out there and every true Pretty in Pink  fan knows that Andi should have picked him over Blaine.

    Honorable mentions:  Duncan (Elias Koteas in Some Kind of Wonderful), Ferris Bueller and Cameron Fry (Matthew Broderick and Alan Ruck in Ferris Bueller's Day Off), and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride)

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Geek of the Week: Felicia Day

    Felicia Day
    Smart cookie Felicia Day got her start playing Scout in a community theater production of To Kill a Mockingbird.  In addition to being home schooled, she studied ballet and operatic singing.  She was also an accomplished violinist and was accepted to Julliard School of Music at 16.  Day decided to attend the University of Texas at Austin when they offered her a full scholarship and studied mathematics and music performance.  She graduated as a National Merit Scholar and the valedictorian of her class.

    After college, she began an acting career that included a recurring role on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".  In her spare time, Day was an avid gamer and used her experience playing MMORPGs to create the popular web series "The Guild".  After the privately funded first season became a huge hit, Microsoft agreed to fund future seasons.  Day also appeared as Penny on Joss Whedon's musical web series "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog" and continues to act in television and films.

    Day recently announced via Twitter that she was working on a new web series.  The series will be based on the popular PC game Dragon Age: Origins and feature Day as writer, producer, and star.  Wil Wheaton, costar on "The Guild" and creator of geekfest Woostock, will also write and star in the production.

    Follow Day on Twitter (@feliciaday) or visit her website/blog.

    Day shows off her impressive pipes in music videos released to promote "The Guild":

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    Your Signature Here

    A while back, I wrote a post about style.  I wasn't sure I had any, but after talking to a fashion-forward friend, she pointed out that everyone is continually drawn to specific items and these items often become a part of their signature.  Even if you don't think about these "signature pieces", other people notice and recognize them as part of your look.  My very wise friend says if you are unsure about how to create your own style, you should start with the items, colors, and patterns you are repeatedly drawn to and build your style from there.

    Here are my signature items:
    •  Dark plastic framed glasses - I tried the metal framed glasses, but the pads always pinched my nose and I loved the Buddy Holly-esque square frames that I saw many people wear.  I got plastic frames for my second pair of glasses and never looked back.
    • Black Converse All-Star High Tops - Genetically cursed with flat feet, Converse All-Stars are the shoes I find most comfortable.  My dad wore Converses when I was growing up and I think my affinity started because I associated the shoes with him.
    • Polka Dots - I've always been a fan of classic movies and retro clothing, but when I started working at a '50s-style diner I was given carte blanche to go all out.  My favorite items had black and white polka dots and this beloved pattern carried over into my regular life as well.  Polka dots have been on everything from my pajamas to elements of my wedding.
    Our beautiful polka dot and fuchsia cake!

    My bouquet (wrapped in polka dot ribbon)

    • Fun earrings - I got my ears pierced later than most girls and I always loved funky earrings, especially when they were shaped like various objects.  My first pair of dangly earrings were silver fish bones similar to these.  (I still have and wear them, and I always get compliments!)  Since then, I've acquired earrings that look like sushi, playing cards, Gummi bears, and even nails.
    • Cherries - At the diner, we were expected to sign our names on our tickets with a little flourish.  Inspired by a cute dress my mom had given me to wear under my uniform, I began drawing cherries next to my signature and it blossomed from there.  My absolute favorite earrings are these rhinestone cherries:
    10 years and still going strong!
    • Black glitter nail polish - I've worn black nail polish on and off for years and my favorite manicures have been black glittery nails with white tips.  When I do my own nails, my favorite polish is Sonia Kashuk Starry Night, which Target sells for $4.99 - an excellent price for quality polish.

    One of my most recognizable signatures is about to change - my red hair.  I've had different shades of red hair for about ten years.  I was born blonde, but as I got older my hair inched toward brown and stopped somewhere in the middle, leaving my hair a kind of dishwater blonde/brown hybrid.  I had always envied girls with red hair (especially Molly Ringwald) and began dying my hair red during my first year of college.  I still love red hair, but I'm ready for a change - at least for a little while.  (I'll be posting my new look on Tuesday, so come back to check it out.)

    What do you consider to be your "signature pieces"?