Get it while it’s hot! 23andMe for $99

You may have already heard the rumors floating around and they’re all true: 23andMe is having another sale — the whole thing for $99!

Edit: No discount codes are needed. There’s an instant discount of $400 off due to the Black Friday+ sale, which will go until Christmas Monday 11/29 or while supplies last. Head on over to the store, or read on for a bit more info.

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New season, new theme

Inspired by Stephanie Huang of projectsteph, I’ve decided to try on a new blog theme. It hasn’t been that long since the last change, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot since then about what I like in a blog, visually: sans serif, a clean palette, nothing too big or dramatic, lots of space for actual posts and minimal styling so that images get full emphasis. But there are always new themes coming out, so who knows if this theme will last a month, a year, more, or less.

Jokes only a geek could love?

A while back I compiled a list of jokes that pass my criteria for supreme cheesiness. I had a bit of a rough start yesterday and could use a laugh (indeed, who doesn’t?), so I figured now is as good a time as any to share them. For the scientifically inclined, do don’t worry – there are plenty of jokes here for you.

Courtesy of Chris Lasher:

A bioinformatician walks into a bar. The bartender asks, “GATCGCATCAATAAA?” The bioinformatician replies, “I’m going to need a translation.”

From Ricardo Vidal:

Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.

A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm, and says: ‘A beer please, and one for the road.’

From Neil Saunders:

Mushroom in bar: “A round of drinks for everyone!” Customer: “Well, he seems like a fun guy.”


There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar.
One says, “I think I’ve lost an electron.”
The other says, “Are you sure?”
The first replies, “Yes, I’m positive…”

(a variation: A neutron walks into a bar and orders a drink. Upon being asked the price, the bartender responded, “For you? No charge.”)

If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate!

Student: Did you know diarrhea is hereditary?
Teacher: Well, actually it isn’t.
Student: Yes, it is, it runs in your genes.

How many ADHD kids does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
HIPAA who?
I can’t tell you!

Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse (better?), we have the pick-up lines:

I wish I could be your derivative so I could be tangent to your curves.

Hey babe, wanna see the exponential growth of my natural log?

Baby, I know my chemistry, and you’ve got one significant figure.

If I were an enzyme I’d be DNA Helicase so I could unzip your genes.

Hey, baby; wanna test the ‘k’ of my bedsprings?

Are you the square root of 2? Because I feel irrational when I am around you.

How can I know so many hundreds of digits of pi and not the digits of your phone number?

Also, some good jokes from Physics Buzz.

And no post about science comedy would be complete without a mention of Earth’s premier science comedian, Brian Malow! I had the pleasure of hearing some of his act at SciBarCamp and it’s first rate. I especially liked this bit about time travel, from which I’ll paraphrase just a snippet:

When I meet people, I like to ask “when are you from?” instead of “where are you from?” in hopes that I’ll trip one of them up. He’ll say, “I’m from 2199, how about you?” and I’ll say “I’m from… RIGHT NOW! Quick, get a net!”

Turns out Brian was good friends with another comic I admired greatly, Mitch Hedberg!

An open letter to frightened parents (by SkepChick)

Elyse over at SkepChick has an excellent open letter to frightened parents:

Dear Parents,

If you have not made the decision to vaccinate your child, I urge you to make that decision now. Immunity from painful, disfiguring, and sometimes even deadly diseases is not a gift you should withhold from your child. Your child is, undoubtedly, the greatest love of your life… a love so great that it was unfathomable until you experienced it. And I know that you want to and need to do everything in your power to protect him or her. Which is precisely why you’re hesitant to vaccinate.

I understand. As parents, we all understand. Vaccines have received almost nothing but bad press over the last few years. Even the good press seems to come with all kinds of asterisks and disclaimers. But let me remind you of something: the press is not concerned with accuracy, they are concerned with readership. Sensationalistic and scary stories grab readers’ attention. It’s why your evening news begins with murders, shots fired, child abductions and fatal car accidents. That’s not to say scary always means untrue, but it should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism…

Read the whole thing – there’s lots of good stuff in there, and weightier, as she writes from a place I haven’t yet been. When I eventually have children of my own, I’ll make sure to keep her words in mind.

A girl’s gotta do what?

I have a lot to think about after the unexpected outpouring of debate that followed my open letter. I’ve been alternately encouraged to send the letter to be published in larger news venues and to frickin’ do my research before posting anything. Admittedly, there are a lot of things I don’t know about vaccines, or about parenting, having not been in the position yet to make decisions about a child’s health. Watching the debate unfold, however, made it clear that there are some fundamental issues underlying the controversy which go deeper and broader than the discussion on vaccination. I hope to reflect on this in a later post but it will take me some time to get everything down in writing with other obligations pulling at me.

Photo by tekmagika on Flickr

Photo by tekmagika on Flickr

For now, though, it just kind of galls me to see this. After watching a truly flabbergastingly misleading video of hers about the need to purge all toxins (including yeast, wheat and dairy, which are apparently equivalent to marijuana in McCarthy’s strange universe) in favor of “natural supplements” (cue list of commercial vendors), I was surprised to see that she blogged about getting her hair colored, extensively and often. Sure, people get their hair done. Sure, people are hypocritical. But you never want a spokesperson for a cause to do things that suggest they’re not entirely serious about that cause.

I guess this is what one might call a hypocrite. I talk about staying away from toxins, yet I bleach the hell out of my hair every month. It’s tough to avoid everything that is not good for you. Yes, I have given up a lot so far, but I don’t think I can ever let people see me with my original haircolor. Yuck.

I agree that it’s tough to avoid everything that’s not good for you. That’s  why we have priorities, so we can focus on what’s really important. That she goes on the record lambasting so-called toxins and then publicizes the fact that she willingly subjects herself to harsh chemical hair treatments (joking about it all the while) gives me some idea of what her priorities are. And that’s just one of the reasons why people should look elsewhere for medical advice.

An open letter to Oprah

@Oprah, don’t watch show but nice Duke speech. take own advice and make difficult decision to pull support from mccarthy, save lives. kthxbi

And now the long version:

Dear Oprah,

I have to confess, I have never watched more than a few minutes of your show. Probably not the best way to start a letter to you, but I want to be honest. And the truth is, I think you’re making a terrible mistake.

Last weekend, I spent more time listening to and watching you than in the rest of my life combined. My family and I were sitting in the Duke stadium, looking down on the thousands of giddy graduates (including my older brother), the esteemed faculty in their rainbow regalia, and the charming, if a bit over the top, fake castle festooned with flags representing the different academic schools. I had no idea you were the commencement speaker until the student speaker, Robert Paul Jones, pretended to get a cell phone call from Parking & Transportation services about your limo double-parked in front of the chapel.

Having only seen you in short commercial clips and on the cover of your magazine, I wasn’t sure what to expect from your speech. I was pleasantly surprised. You were warm and funny, your voice clear and yet dressed with feeling, and I am sure you meant every word. Over the course of those 20 or 30 minutes, I developed a great respect for you as a talented speaker.

But I couldn’t leave the stadium wholly inspired by you, as I’m sure many others did. To me, it is clear that a significant number of people look up to you, and trust your advice and judgment. That is why it is such a huge mistake for you to endorse Jenny McCarthy with her own show on your network.

Surely you must realize that McCarthy is neither a medical professional nor a scientist. And yet she acts as a spokesperson for the anti-vaccination movement, a movement that directly impacts people’s health. Claims that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism have been refuted time after time, but their allure persists in part because of high-profile champions for ignorance like McCarthy. In fact, ten of the thirteen authors of the paper that sparked the modern anti-vaccination movement retracted the explosive conclusions they made due to insufficient evidence. Furthermore, it is now clear that the study’s main author, Andrew Wakefield, falsified data to support these shaky conclusions.

We have come close to eradicating life-threatening and crippling illnesses because of vaccines, but are now struggling to prevent outbreaks because of parents’ philosophical beliefs that vaccines are harmful. Realize this: when someone chooses not to vaccinate their child, they aren’t just putting their own child at risk, they are putting everyone else around them at risk. Diseases with vaccines should normally be of little concern even to unprotected individuals due to herd immunity – with the majority of the population immune, unprotected individuals are less likely to come into contact with the pathogen. Unfortunately, herd immunity disintegrates as fewer people are vaccinated, putting everyone who hasn’t yet been vaccinated at greater risk for infection. Now, the rates of infection by diseases for which we have safe and effective vaccines are climbing, thanks to anti-vaccination activists like Jenny McCarthy.

You reach millions of people everyday and your words and endorsements carry an incredible amount of weight. If you say to buy a certain book, people will buy it. If you do a segment on a certain charity, people will contribute. And if you say that what Jenny McCarthy is saying has merit, people will believe you.

As your speech drew to a close on Sunday, you mentioned that you still make difficult decisions from time to time. You told us about a show where you had the exclusive first interview with the author of a prominent book on the Columbine tragedy. Despite days of promos and confirmed broadcast schedules, you decided to cancel the show at the last minute because it had a negative energy, and you didn’t want to be responsible for sending that dark energy out into the world. You didn’t want to be responsible for someone seeing that show, feeling that dark energy, and going out to commit another Columbine. You said that you followed your gut to make the right decision.

Maybe your gut is being silent on this one, so let me speak up on its behalf. You have another decision to make. Pull your support from Jenny McCarthy and her platform of anti-vaccination. Because while the Columbine segment raised the specter of potential future tragedy, anti-vaccination propaganda is causing more and more people – mostly children – to fall sick and die from preventable illness as I write this. Jenny McCarthy could be considered responsible for a significant number of these; you can imagine what might happen if you give her influence over your audience of millions.

So Oprah, I hope you take my letter, and the well-intentioned if sometimes harsh criticisms from many others in the blogosphere, to heart. Because even though I still don’t watch your show, others do, and they listen to you. Probably not the best way to end a letter to you, but I want to be honest.

Yours turly,


P.S. My dad – for whom English is his second language – calls you “Op-er-a.” Isn’t that cute?

Update 5/18/09: Due to much reposting on Twitter, Facebook, and other blogs (including Bad Astronomy!), this post already has over 5,000 views! Small potatoes compared to many blogs but it’s a big deal for this one. :) Thank you all for the unexpected, enthusiastic, and civil responses. Now the question is  – what should we do next? What is the best way to leverage whatever momentum we might build to get Oprah to pay attention?

Orac has a lengthy post dissecting Jenny McCarthy’s recent “scientific” video, “Biomedical Treatment 101”.

The long and short of it, or Contemplating the BHAH

Photo by magandafille on Flickr

Photo by magandafille on Flickr

Ok. This isn’t a serious post, but I need some help. I’m usually prone to one of two things – impulsiveness, and over-analysis. In this case, I’ve given myself too much time to think about it, so it’s way beyond any hope of an impulsive decision. What’s my problem?

A haircut.

First, some background. I have healthy, straight black hair and refuse to use anything more than shampoo and conditioner. I towel and then air dry 100% of the time, even when it’s long, as it is right now. I get my hair cut on average once every year. Aside from a $4 haircut in LA six years ago, I’ve never had it shorter than about shoulder length since 3rd grade. I have streaked it red twice, both in the last four years.

It’s now been 16 months since my last haircut and my hair is about 17 inches long (lower-chest level), and practically screaming with split ends. I’m very tempted to go for a BHAH – Big Hairy Ambitious Haircut – namely, chop it mostly off and streak it red again, but several things are curbing my usual impulsiveness:

1. The Real World. No, not the TV show. I need a job soon and that means I’m going to be interviewing, starting in a week. Short hair is fine, theoretically; funky colored hair maybe not so much. What do I want my potential future employers and coworkers to see?

2. Leaving the Bubble. There will be lots of pictures of me in a few months, commemorating the years I spent as a grad student, including photos of me in a funny hat and a formal photo of me to go up on the wall of my department library. What do I want my current friends, mentors, and colleagues to see?

3. The Unknown. Like I said, I’ve only had my hair shorter than shoulder length once in recent memory, so I don’t have a lot of experience with whether short hair works for me. I want to be edgy but I also want it to look good. Given #1 and #2, I’m warier than usual of experimenting.

4. The bottom line. I’m a strange sort of cheapskate. After all, I only get my hair cut once a year, but it could be a $4 haircut or a $200 haircut – I’ve done both. The infrequency is a combination of laziness, indifference, and the fact that I don’t see a need to go more often than that unless I want something specific (if you couldn’t tell, I don’t tend to do much in the beauty department). The occasional expense is because sometimes I want a quality product, especially when I want something more drastic. So while it might make sense to just get a “safe” haircut now and do something more drastic after all the hubbub is over, part of me really resists the idea. I mean, it’s cheaper to get your hair cut once than twice, and cheaper to get it cut and colored in one visit than in two. I don’t like spending more time than necessary on my hair (despite my spending an hour writing this post). Plus, if I’m going to eventually cut it short, I want to cut it short in one go, so that I can donate it.

Alright. So I’m sure I’ve lost 99% of you by now, babbling on about my hair indecisions. For those of you who are left, what do you think? Should I ignore #4 and just get an intermediate cut now, leaving the spiky red boy cut for later; cut it short but color it later; or do the whole shebang? Does short hair even work on me? Should I worry about something else, like my thesis? Help!

Here are some photos illustrating the various hair phases I’ve gone through:

short1 short2
February 2003 – the $4 haircut, kind of a mullet. Man, those were the babyfaced days.
red2 long3
September 2006 – fresh red hair January 2007 – 5 months later
shwu-fp1 long2
June 2007 – 9 months later July 2007 – about as long as it is now

Baby’s first Bayesian network

My favorite activity at baby showers these days is decorating onesies – essentially cotton leotards for the infant set. Not only is it a practical gift, but it gives the friends of the expectant mother a chance to flex their creative muscles. For the geekier among us, it’s also an opportunity to ensure that the baby starts off life with an appreciation for science.

So, in addition to the flowers and the butterflies and the general baby themes, we had DNA, Bayesian networks, and chemical structures:

doublehelix21 xx bayesnet21
venndiagram meiosis2 estrogen2

It’s truly a thing of beauty, especially that lovely double helix. I contributed “meiosis” and “Yael ∩ Eli = me”, but I also couldn’t resist trying my hand at humor, nor could I leave without paying homage to a fan favorite:


Best wishes to the expecting couple! If only every baby could be so lucky to wear these fashionable, and educational, garments.

Need a little validation?

This video is amazing. At first, you’re thinking, “16 minutes? Can I really watch a YouTube video that long?” By the middle, you’re engrossed in a wonderful story. And the ending leaves you with a rare feeling – not just happy, but satisfied.

You may recognize the main character from the TV show “Bones”.


I got a senior scientist blogging!

It’s already all over the intertubes by now, but I figured I should post it myself as well just to preserve it in my own blog archives:

My advisor, Russ Altman, and I won the “Get a senior scientist blogging” challenge sponsored by Nature!

Nature Network announced it today and there’s supposedly a press release as well. We’ve actually known for more than a week but had to keep it secret as they prepared the public announcement.

As our prize, Russ’s blog post on one of his first post-genomic moments will be in the Open Laboratory 2008 anthology and we will both get to go to SciFoo in August. Since we’re basically in Google’s back yard*, two other lucky people will get supported to attend SciFoo as well! Who doesn’t love 2-for-1 deals?

Some are curious, and indeed, so am I – what were some of the other front-runners? How many entries were received? Did the challenge actually get a significant number of scientists to start blogging? Either way, it would be nice to see some of the entrants just to add to my list of good science blogs.

Thanks to my blogging friends for the support, to Russ for taking my suggestion seriously, and to Nature Network for sponsoring the challenge! I’m definitely looking forward to SciFoo.

* At least, I hope to stay in Google’s back  yard. We’ll see how the job search goes. By the way, can I put this on my resume??