Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Goodreads Review

The Long EarthThe Long Earth by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished The Long Earth yesterday, and went to Amazon after to see what others thought, and in many respects I agreed; The Long Earth has an incredibly novel premise, but a storyline that in the end, doesn't really go anywhere (no pun intended).

The book essentially offers a thought exercise of what would happen if relatively unlimited inter-planetary (or more correctly, inter-dimensional) travel were available to the masses on Earth. What would people do? Would there be a mass exodus? Would people try to exploit this travel for their own gain or exploiting others? How would it affect the economy of Earth and the people who remained? What would remain valuable and what wouldn't? Would governments remain intact? So many questions and fascinating to think about.

Unfortunately, the storyline that is the vehicle for this premise is not quite as strong. I won't go into it much as it would spoil things, but I felt rather unfulfilled at the end. I was sure that this coming terror would have been much more metaphysical and not so...meh.  Although they definitely concluded the book in a manner that foreshadows a sequel.

All in all, I would still highly recommend this just to change the way you think, if only a little. =)

oh...and I really want a t-shirt that says "Don't worry! On another Earth it already happened" like Joshua.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SD Home Hot Tub and Landscape Show

Wow... Just over a month in and I'm already having 10 day streaks without a post!  last week was a bit busy for me, things are really getting going in the lab, so I haven't had much downtime to sit and write.  Not that I have much time this afternoon.  I've got cell cultures that need to be fed, yeast that need to be re-cultured, proteins waiting to be purified and parasites itching to infect those aforementioned cell cultures.  It's a regular zoo here.

This weekend we went to the San Diego Home, Hot Tub & Landscape Show at the SD Convention Center. We had received a free admission coupon in the mail (although it turns out there was no admission fee anyways!), and figured it would be something to check out since both Mandy and I had the day off Sunday.  It was a relatively small show, occupying less than a quarter of the SD Convention Center's main hall with probably 100 vendors or so.  I think the main show is actually the San Diego Home Garden Shows that will be at the Del Mar Racegrounds on Sept 14-16 and again in the spring.  Too bad we have to pay for that one!

But the recurring themes at this weekend's show were Solar Power and Epoxy Flooring. 

It's a very tempting idea to install solar panels on our house. San Diego has sun nearly every day, we have no real shading to speak of on our roof, and panels would let us be completely energy independent since we're pretty low usage (thank you, for showing that).   But at a cost of at least $5-10k, I think we may be waiting a few years. The government is offering some pretty good rebates, but it's still a major commitment. Maybe in a few years when the technology improves to the point where it's easy enough to run down to  home depot, buy some panels and storage batteries and hook it up yourself for a few hundred dollars. Wouldn't that be nice?

As for the epoxy pebble flooring, all I could think was "how difficult is this going to be to clean in the long run?"  All these little nooks and crannies for things to slowly accumulate in.  Ugh.  But they did have some very nice designs and it seems a pinch to install.  But what it did remind me of was my college dream of making a coffee table with epoxy and bottle caps.  Thousands seem to have done it, but I still think it would be a ton of fun making one.  Too bad I tossed out all those bottle caps I collected over several years in college planning to make one (don't worry, I had help collecting them).

Still, there are so many possibilities with epoxy.  I started typing epoxy in to the google search bar, and one of the autofills was for "Epoxy penny floor"!  Awesome! Although THAT looks like a lot of work....and pennies.  They said it took 40,000! Better start collecting change now. =)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cutting the cord...errr..cable.

So we finally took the plunge on Friday and cancelled our cable service. We've been talking about it for a while, but I guess I should have told Mandy before I called on Friday morning.  She was in the middle of watching a show when it went out!

But we've still got Netflix, and maybe this way we will have to be even more selective about what we watch.  Or go to the library more...or post on my blog...or a million other things.

One small step for man...

Visit to Grandma's

We decided to make our trip up to Ventura yesterday to visit Grandma.  It's been more than a month since our last visit but we finally had a weekend with both of us not working so made the trek.  The traffic on the 5 was much worse than usual. We reached Santa Monica and saw how nasty the 405 was looking and decided to take the PCH to have a slightly more scenic trip.  Unfortunately, I think everyone else had the same idea.  So our total travel time ended up being 5 and a half hours(!) compared to our usual three. Ah well, at least there were nice views.

Grandma is doing very well.  She's almost back to her original weight before last year's surgery and was eating very well for the two meals we had with her.  Of course, the trout today was "tasteless" to her (but she still ate the whole thing!). And we enjoyed the coconut-banana cream pie for dessert.

The finch bird feeder was empty already so we re-filled the sock with Nyjer seed for the finches.  There has only been one bird that eats the suet so far, a Black-Headed Grosbeak, but he hasn't been back recently. I think maybe we should look into getting a shepherd's hook so we can hang some more formal bird-feeders and place it so some of the other residents can see it as well.

UPDATE: As I typed this, the Grosbeak came back! Tried to take a picture but all we had was my phone and as soon as we approached, off he flew.  I think his ears must have been burning.

The kindle is also updated with a few new library books.  We got...
- The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard about a failed journey to the South Pole in early 1900s.
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (i hear the book was better than the movie)
- The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (I know you said this was weird, penny, but so many good reviews!)

And of course, we brought over a few Dick Francis novels for her as well. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A little Frassled

Since I have a free moment this morning, I figured I'd write about one of our earlier house challenges that at first was a mystery but ended up being quite educational.

A week or so after moving in, we decided to have lunch outside on our patio. When we went to sit down, though, we noticed a small amount of what looked like grains of sand or fine pebbles.  We were both rather confused having never seen this before, and figured maybe it was just something that had blown on to the patio.  Although strangely it was mostly on top of our patio table and chairs. We swept it up and went on with our lunch, not thinking too much about it.

Fast forward a week, same story with a little bit more of this sand/dust/whatever.  Now I'm becoming concerned. The house had undergone spot treatments for termites before we bought it and we hadn't seen any evidence of wood damage.  I got up on our ladder and try as I might, could find no holes in the beams above us.  I really could not find another explanation for this "stuff" so started searching the web about termites and found this...
Not our house, but similar
Hey...that's it! That's exactly what we have.  These were droppings from drywood termites, known as Frass. And according to, this is definitely consistent with a drywood termite infestation. Unlike subterranean or dampwood termites, drywood termites don't need to be near the ground to get moisture.  In fact, the reason their frass is so geometrically shaped is that they are experts at extracting every last drop of moisture from their droppings.
Thankfully it wasn't subterranean or Formosan termites, as these guys are much harder to get rid of, much more destructive and frequently seen in southern California.  Drywood termites (right) tend to have smaller colonies and cause slower, less severe damage than other types.

So we called the exterminator the seller had used for a retreatment (they guaranteed the service for a full year, thank goodness we insisted on getting the full order form including guarantee information!) and had them drop by to take a look.  Talking with the exterminator, it seems that drywood termites are unusual in that while subterranean termites will just invade huge areas, and often whole house treatment is needed, drywood termites prefer to work on one piece of wood at a time.  He had treated many houses, where one timber was fully infested, directly adjoining pieces were untouched.  Either way, he drilled a few holes into the suspect beam (we finally did find their tiny poop chute, "kick hole" is the proper term) and foamed them.

This is what the inside of drywood termite infested wood looks like.  Pretty amazing. Let's hope that's not what the inside of our patio beams look like!

If you want to learn way more than I can put here about termites (granted this paper focuses on Southeastern US species), here's a paper from Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.

So far, no more frass anywhere... but we'll keep our fingers crossed...or better yet...knock on wood!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Glow in the dark tiles!

This is just a reblog of a recent post on If It's Hip, It's Here (yeah, the name's a bit off-putting). There are now multiple companies that produce mosaic vitreous tiles that glow in the dark. And not just for 30 minutes like those cheaper stick-on-the-wall stars of yesteryear. These are supposed to keep their glow for 6-8 hours if they're in sun-exposed areas during the day.

Not that we have anything that needs to be tiled.  No pool over here and the bathrooms were just recently done...but I'm sure there could be something in the future.

Take a look...

Eight-(and six) legged annoyances

I know what you're going to say already, mom.  But spiders are good! They eat all the other bugs!  Well that's what I've kept telling myself over the past month and a half, as I spent more and more time cleaning out cobwebs from our patio and eaves.  However, last night we were coming in from having dinner outside and right next to the sliding glass door I see some movement out of the corner of my eye.  I put everything down and came back to take a look and found a huge black-widow spider.  I think the ones I've always seen at Grandma's were much smaller, maybe an inch at best, but this female (given its markings) was nearly two inches long and quite beautiful. 

Too bad I had to get rid of it.  Normally I wouldn't but because it was within reach of our way too curious cat, it got the flip-flop treatment. Sigh.

I think the number of spiders we have is partly related to the number of crickets in our backyard.  Muji is making a dent in that population (although she doesn't eat them, just catches them) but they are everywhere.  If we spend any amount of time on the back patio in the evening with the lights on, soon enough they'll be hopping all over us. I never realized what a nuisance they could be too!  They were never really much of an annoyance in Pittsburgh, maybe these west coast crickets are more invasive.

I'm going to try some of the advice for the crickets from but if you guys have any tips, I'm happy to listen.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Mulch/Compost for free?! is this something that is kept so under wraps? The City of San Diego operates the Miramar Greenery which provides mulch/compost to city residents (proof of residency required) for FREE!  Up to 2 cubic yards (= six 32 gallon trashcans!) of compost or mulch can be had for free if you load it yourself into your vehicle.

And if you're not sure to do with that 2 cubic yards of compost or mulch....they've got a nice brochure for that.

Wood chips will cost you a few bucks (18 bucks per cubic yard for the plain chips, and 28 for colored chips) but that's still a lot less than Lowe's. Checking the prices, it would be $89.90 for 2 cubic yards of mulch if you bought it by the bag!

This may make the entire getting rid of the grass thing a lot easier.  I purchased some drafting paper and pencils this weekend, now I've just got to get out there and measure all the aspects of our yard.

Hot Days - Cool Books

I know you guys will say I have nothing to complain about, but it's been quite hot here in San Diego over the last week. Well, by quite hot I mean high-80s.  Which really isn't all that hot, since it hit 116 in Phoenix last week, but they've got AC.  Had hoped to do some work in the yard, but after mowing the lawn yesterday afternoon in the full sun at 86 degrees with the push mower, I was drenched.  Thank goodness for public libraries!
The San Diego Public Libraries have recently increased their open hours after having had to cut back last year due to budget cuts.  It was very frustrating before to recieve a notification that a book on hold arrived at our branch on saturday and not be able to pick it up until Tuesday! Our new branch in Serra Mesa (seems like it was only built a few years ago) is even open on Sunday afternoons until 5pm!

This is the second or third time I've dropped by, and I must say,it is a rather charming library.  Lots of real-wood furniture (everything inside is done in the Arts & Crafts style) and plenty of seating!  I couldn't really find any good interior pictures so I'll have to take some next time I visit, but mom and penny, you would like it.

I meant to do some more serious reading (i.e. for the Journal Club presentation I have this Thursday), but I was in the mood for some brain candy so picked up some young adult books that I'd looked at before (don't ask, it's so trite I'm embarassed). Although I wish I had remembered about the Unshelved Book Club, which keeps suggesting really interesting books (or maybe they just have interesting reviewers!). The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter or Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky are two on my list (maybe I should put a hold on them now).

I guess I'll have to head back sometime this week!  Any hot summer afternoon reading suggestions?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It's football season

This entire work thing really is cutting into my home repair plans.

Feel like a slacker since I've only posted once in the last week. But work has been busy and frustrating at times. But a bright note today: the protein i have been working for the last two weeks to grow and purify actually looks like it's there and active today! This is good news because that means i should be able to replicate it and make as much of this enzyme as I need. I had two failed batches (which I'm sure most grad students would scoff at and I did have a lot of guidance from the senior tech) but dang it, having to wait days to find out it didn't work at all is frustrating!  So to run an assay this afternoon and have it work was awesome.

In other news, the Chargers are playing their first game of the pre-season tonight and it's not too bad. We live less than a mile from the stadium (up a big hill at least) and we've been wondering what kind of noise and traffic we might see. But I think as long as we avoid Friars Road on the way home, it shouldn't be a big deal. Maybe we can go tailgate there sometime! Ooh, or maybe they have fireworks we can see!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Coulda Shoulda Woulda

Well, this is why I dislike service weekends. 

I had on my to-do list that I wanted to dig up the front yard sewage cleanout so it would be accessible if we had a clog.  I even went to Lowes and bought a shovel to dig it out with.  But sunday night rolled around, and I was just too tired to dig a two foot deep hole in the front yard.  Oh well, I'll do it next weekend.

Fast forward to monday night at about 11:30pm. Flush the toilet and it starts to backup. Made a solo trip to the nearby 24 hour walmart (mandy declined to accompany me after our last trip to walmart) and picked up a plunger.  As a side note, what is it about Walmart after midnight that such strange people are there: young mexican couples making out in the checkout lane; a family of about twenty, complete with about 10 kids under the age of five doing what looked like grocery shopping; at least two morbidly obese middle aged ladies on their little motorized scooters; and a family selling tamales in the parking lot.  AT MIDNIGHT!

Anyways, got back and plunged the toilet with minimal success.  I figured I'd let it sit for a while and try again in the morning so went to take a shower and found that nothing was draining there either. Oh crap.  Totally figures I would have a mainline backup two days after I was supposed to expose the main cleanout.

$175 later, everything is flushing and draining beautifully.  On the plus side, the plumbing company we used, Courtesy Plumbing, was super quick to respond and had a plumber out within half an hour of talking with them on Monday.

I guess this weekend I'll actually have to DO everything on my to do list.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Weekend? what weekend?

I'm rather bummed that I'm on service this weekend again.  Not that it's not nice to get back into the hospital (you miss using that part of your brain in the lab), but two service weekends in a row just kind of restricts any plans you can make. 

I may spend most of tomorrow not getting much done, not because there isnt' a lot I couldn't do, but I don't want to get too involved in anything, and then have to be on the phone for half an hour or just keep getting distracted with phone calls. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a surgeon on call.  Our pediatric neurosurgeons are on call 50% of the year (there are only 2 of them!!)  So half of the nights of the rest of your life, you have a chance to be called in to the hospital.  I'm sorry, but I like sleeping in my own bed. As much guff as neurosurgeons get, I applaud them for that level of dedication. I could never do that.

But anyways...  I need to make a list of things to do this weekend, so might as well do it here:

- Measure out the house and yard to start drawing the groundsplan for when we tear out the turf!!
- Dig out the cleanout for our main line in the front yard (also to see if there's gravel under the sod)
- Re-seed the dead patch of grass in the backyard
- Tweak the sprinkler heads for the front yard and see if I can get them a little more even
- trim and edge the whole yard

Anything else? Mandy?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Commentating fixed

I have fixed the comments section so there is no longer the word verification and it should be open to all to comment.  However, if I start getting lots of spam comments...I blame you!

Plus, I hate the now accepted use of  "commentating" as a verb. Why do we feel the need to add the extra syllable? Just as annoying as when people say "orientate". Just sounds stupid.  Pretty soon, people will be ventating their frustrations and lamentating the death of the English language.  I wonder what Strunk and White would have to say on this subject.  Hmmm....

Landscape design software

Good landscaping design software is hard to find.

I spent part of my day yesterday downloading and playing with some of the options online, and was quite disappointed. 

The first one I tried was Garden Planner. Sounds simple enough, but the user interface was the least intuitive design and within an hour, I was frustrated by just trying to draw the outline of our property!

How can it be that difficult to draw straight lines? I have no idea, but they do!
This is their sample screen shot, but if the normal user is anything like me (and I like to think that I'm quick at picking up new software) this would have taken DAYS to design.

Next I tried the Better Homes and Gardens "Free" Interactive Plan-A-Garden.   Unfortunately, you have to use one of their 27 stock photos to design on (none of which looked similar to ours). Although you can upgrade for $9.99 and use a photo of your own house. Blegh, I hate paying for software.  But even if you use their stock photos, the perspective on items you insert into the landscape design aren't always the same.  And then half of the plants in the program aren't available without upgrading either. All in all sloppy.  Why not just do overhead planning? It's so much cleaner and simpler.  Everyone is obsessed with 3D this and 3D that, I want 2D!  Definitely less frustrating than Garden Planner, but still a fail.

Overall, pretty disappointing. And some of the other options on although looking promising, were $99.95 for the full version (with 15 day trial). And for that kind of money, I think I'll just go down to Lowes, buy a ruler and some drafting paper, and draw it out myself!

Anyone else have recommendations?

The grass is always greener...

I've been quite frustrated recently with our yard. I'm becoming more and more convinced that they must have just thrown the sod down on top of the gravel that was there previously. The back yard grows wonderfully; nice, thick, dark green grass that I'm cutting at least once a week.  But that section was already grass before the flip (at least on google maps - right) unlike the front, which remains brown and anemic despite more watering.

In fact, the only thing that's growing well in the front is crabgrass! I took the mower to the front half today and it had basically not grown at all in nearly two weeks. So instead, I spent the next forty-five minutes pulling out all the crabgrass I could find. On the upside, I must agree with you, mom; weeding is somehow very satisfying sometimes.

I did some more reading on crabgrass about preventive measures and have changed our sprinkler timers so that we only water three days a week but for a longer time.  Hopefully that will allow the fescue to grow deeper (if there's actually soil under there!) and slow the crabgrass down.
This does give us even more incentive to start planning that California native plants garden!  This weekend we're going to map out the yard so we can decide what areas will be pulled up to make room for all the succulents and decorative grasses!