Monday, October 31, 2005

No radiation, but melted plastic is kinda nasty

So that radiation quarantine I was in last week? Turns out it all started because of plastic lab utensils melting in a dishwasher.


The above referenced article also clued me in that the building failed to meet fire codes last year.


ESB was going to be demolished and rebuilt, but UT didn't get the bonds it wanted from the Legislature.


Calexico, Iron & Wine, Texas Book Festival, and the end of my newspaper writing

Last Friday saw the publication of my last two articles for The Daily Texan, at least for a while. One is a preview for the Calexio and Iron & Wine show that happened at Stubb's last night. The other is a preview for the Texas Book Festival that was held this past weekend.

The amount and difficulty of my schoolwork, my responsibilites in the student organizations of which I'm a member, my other job (officiating volleyball games), and a serious lack of sleep are all contributing factors in my decision to drastically reduce my writing for the paper. All of these are more important than writing for the paper. Yes, even volleyball.

Volleyball pays $9.50/hour to do a relatively easy job. And sometimes a team doesn't show up, meaning I'm getting paid for just showing up in uniform.

Writing for the paper pays $8/week with the expectation that I will average one article or a couple reviews a week. An article takes about six hours to complete when you figure in research, conducting and transcribing interviews, and the teeth-gnashing process of writing it. Reviews aren't as labor intensive, but I still have to read the book or listen to the CD multiple times before I write about it, so six hours is a minimum. Even adding in the fact that I get into the show for free and keep the book or CD, I'm not even making minimum wage.

On second thought, it's wrong to compare the two solely on economic grounds. Getting to talk to bands and writers I like is really frickin' cool. Also, going through the process of writing - as frustrating as it can be - makes my future writing better (at least I hope so). Those benefits can't be quantified.

Still, schoolwork and sleep are much more important in the long- and short-term, respectively. And I didn't even get to go to the Calexico and Iron & Wine show because of school and sleep deprivation. I went to the Texas Book Festival, but didn't have time to finish a wrap-up article about it (sorry Texan editors) for the same reasons. Sigh. Some day I'll finish and post the Lemony Snicket interview/show review I did.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Zak Sally, ex-Low

Zak Sally, ex-Low

I just heard the sad news that Zak Sally, bassist for Low, has quit the band. I'm not terribly surprised given the history, but it still makes me sad.

Low is my favorite band (tied with Magnetic Fields). Just as Zak spent his whole adult life in the band, I've been following them since I was a freshman in college. I've seen them more than any other band with the exception of Spoon (with whom I actually went to college), once roadtripping through Texas to see Alan, Mimi, and Zak play five times in five days. I've got almost everything they've released and lots of live shows too.


I'm going to miss the way Zak would spend a good chunk of their shows with his back turned and head down. The way he quietly sung "la la la la la" at the end of "Closer". The way he'd smile at some weird thing Alan would say on stage. The way he got to cut loose on their louder, faster songs. The genuine appreciation when he'd get a gift from a dorky fan (that'd be me).

Dang dang dang.

I think I'm going to have to listen to some Low tonight and cry a little.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wayne Coyne would love my eyes today

I woke up this morning with a burst capillary in my eye.

Just like it says on the back of my (slightly out-of-focus) Flaming Lips hat:

Of course the front of my (rather out-of-focus) Flaming Lips hat says:

It has nothing to do with the rest of this post (as opposed to this one), I just cherish it so.

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Monday, October 24, 2005

It's (probably not) a radiation vibe I'm groovin' on

As I type, I'm sitting in a classroom at UT-Austin, effectively quarantined for now.

At about 6 PM smoke was noticed in the Experiemental Science Building (ESB), which houses biology and chemistry labs. For some reason, the fire alarm didn't go off immediately and a UT police officer came to our lab and told us to leave the building. We gathered outside and took our lab quiz while waiting for the all clear. Apparently the smoke alarms did go off a full half-hour after smoke was first noticed, a rather discomfiting situation given the nature of the work that happens in the building.

Within a couple minutes, several firetrucks, an ambulance, and a Hazmat truck came down the street lights and sirens going. We were moved across the street and asked not to leave the area. Our lab teaching assistant valiantly attempted to go over some of the classwork so we wouldn't get behind as more and more emergency vehicles arrive. Later, our student IDs were collected by UTPD.

After another hour or so the officials on the scene gathered the roughly 150 of us to update us on the situation. While a UT police officer was in the building, their radiation dosimeter detected something (who knew UTPD routinely carried such a thing?). Later, when the firepeople were in ESB, one of their radiation dosimeters malfunctioned showing a reading as well.

All the firepeople were scanned on their way out of the building with nothing detected, but there was still we students, faculty, and staff. We lined up at the North entrance of Welch and were scanned one by one before proceeding to the classroom where I now sit.

The mood in the room is good. Most people are chatting with their classmates or on their cell phones. There's a spirited game of Charades going on in the front of the classroom and a smattering of students are reading or tapping away on their laptops like me.

Officials from UT and the Fire Department just went over the details with us again. All the potential radiation sources in the building were checked and they were not responsible for the probable almost surely false dosimeter readings. We're to be dismissed shortly.

I knew I should have brought my camera with me today.

UPDATE: The area was roped off by standard yellow caution tape, but as I was leaving I noticed that the affected building itself was surrounded by red HOT ZONE tape. Haven't seen that before and would prefer not to again.

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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Pumpkin carving

My roommates and I had a pumpkin-carving party on Friday night. We had lots of snacks including pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin ale. While watching The Thing (John Carpenter version) and The Grudge (American version), we massacred around twenty pumpkins. Thinking back on it, maybe we invited too many people. Floor space was hard to come by and it was difficult to hear the movies what with people chatting and the pumpkin gutting. Still it was fun.

I made a Flying Spaghetti Monster pumpkin.

Flying Spaghetti Monster pumpkin

More photos here.

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Occupation: Dreamland Q&A

Last week I interviewed documentary filmmaker Garrett Scott about his film Occupation: Dreamland for an article to run in The Daily Texan. My laptop started to act up though and I lost the article. So I had to retranscribe the tape and due to lack of time, it ran as a Q&A. I generally don't care for Q&As as I think they're lazy with the exception of the way they're done in The Onion AV Club.

Anyway, the film is about a squad of the 82nd Airborne stationed in Al-Fallujah shortly before the Marines arrived to level the place. In the film, the squad go on missions and while away the hours in-between. It's not a groundbreaking film in form or content, yet it's still an important contribution to the historical record.

Enough people went to see it last week, so it's still showing at Alamo Lamar.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Sports-related drop in ER visits

A study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine (which I need to start reading) found that hospital ER visits in Boston drastically fell during important Red Sox games. Although sports-related drops like this have been found before, the Boston researchers were the first to chart a direct correlation between the time of the games and the exact volume of ER patients.

From the New Scientist article:
One explanation for the startling correlation is that while people are watching TV, they are sedentary and fairly safe. “People are at home watching the games so they are probably not getting into trouble,” explains Brownstein.
Huh. That's a really interesting idea. The article goes on:
Another is that people who attend ER are often not experiencing a medical emergency in the true sense of the word. “There is clearly some discretionary component that explains the timing,” says co-author Kenneth Mandl of Harvard Medical School.
Now that's more in line with what I thinking. I'm fairly certain that when most people think about emergency rooms, they're thinking about car wrecks and snake bites and heart attacks. All true, and then there's the vague abdominal pain, migraines, and minor lacerations that aren't rush-you-right-in emergencies. The latter are what fill up ER waiting rooms.

At the hospital I worked at, Mondays are typically very busy and it slows down a bit as the week progresses with another bump up on the weekend. This makes sense when you consider that doctor's offices and some public clinics are not open on the weekend and usually booked up at least several days out, so any problems people experience over the weekend will bring them in on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.

Then I noticed a curious thing. Whenever Monday was a holiday, that Monday wasn't very busy. However, Tuesday would be slammed. So I conjectured that some people didn't want to interrupt their three-day weekend with a visit to the ER. That's the "discretionary component" one of the Boston researchers cited.

I'd love to see more research done in this area to nail down the specifics of why this drop in visits occurs. Is it because patients are choosing to do something else instead of going to the hospital, or is it because what they're doing is keeping them relatively safer?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Now it's official

Yesterday I received notification that I am officially a nursing student. Some of you might be thinking, "Wait, I thought he already was a nursing student." Well, I was officially a pre-nursing student. Lemme 'splain.

Unlike most other schools at UT, in the SoN you are classified as Pre-nursing while taking prerequisite courses for a couple years. Then, you apply to be admitted into the upper-division sequence. It's competitive and roughly 40% (at this time) of those who apply are not accepted. The average GPA of those admitted is around 3.40, so a B average is usually not good enough. The students who don't make it in have one more chance to apply the next semester, then they have to leave the school.

It's harsh, but there's only so many slots in clinical classes and they want to make sure only the students with the best prospects are taken. Also, the SoN is a top-ten nursing school and they want to stay there, so standards are high. The students who don't make it in transfer to another university or change their major.

Yes there's a nursing shortage. At this time though, the bottleneck to getting more people into the profession is not willing students so much as it is the lack of nursing faculty and the availability of clinical sites at which to study. More alarmingly, the existing nursing faculty is rapidly retiring. Which is why the UT SoN faculty are always dropping hints about students progressing through to PhD and becoming faculty themselves. I just found out that if I go right into the Masters program at UT when I finish my Bachelors, they waive the GRE requirement and the application fee.

Nifty, though I won't be doing it. Anyway, as soon as I finish this semester with Cs or better in my classes, I'm officially a nursing student. Yay.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Queer movies and four Vietnamese lunar New Year's

I wrote a couple pieces that were published this week in the school paper.

This one has reviews of several films screening as part of the Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival.

This one is a CD review of Four Tet's Everything Ecstatic with a bit about his live show coming up tomorrow evening in Austin.

Yo La Tengo at Emo's

Yo La Tengo 10/6/05

On their way out to play the Chinati Foundation annual event in Marfa, TX, Yo La Tengo stopped in Austin for a packed show at Emo’s. They haven’t played a venue this small in Austin since I began seeing them in 1994, so it was somewhat momentous.

My recently joined-at-the-hip concert buddy Amy and I arrived a bit late to the show and mercifully missed opener Jad Fair’s set. Jad’s artwork is cool, but his music is rather bad. It’s entertaining for a couple songs, then gets progressively more annoying as it goes on.

Yo La Tengo played a good show, but not as great as many I’ve seen before. This is at least partly because I’m a bit jaded about seeing them perform sprawling, mesmerizing versions of “Blue Line Swinger” and "From A Motel 6", but also due to the bland Extend-O-Jams in which they indulged at times. Still, it was enjoyable.

Ira explained that they had recently played at a friend’s wedding and so had learned a bunch of covers, hence the large number of unfamiliar songs they played. I’m not enough of a music wonk to identify them all, but there was a Zombies cover, a Sun Ra cover (not “Nuclear War”), and a song dedicated to Sterling Morrison (ex-Velvet Underground).

Jad Fair & Yo La Tengo

They also brought Jad Fair out to perform some songs off their collaborative album. It was a much needed blast of fast, rocking numbers that invigorated the show even after Jad left the stage.

The best part of the show was when Ira noted that Henry Rollins had done a spoken word show in Austin a couple of nights ago. In honor of this, James gave a dramatic reading from one of Henry’s books. Watch it here (taken down).

A friend and I were discussing the cost versus the length of the show. We decided that at $0.17 a minute, it was worth it. Then went on to talk about the possibility of a band peep-show booth concept where you keep pumping in quarters as long as you’re enjoying the show. My friend was taken with the idea that the band had to keep on playing as long as you had the quarters, possibly leading to exhaustion of known songs and the spectre of amphetamine abuse.

Right after this conversation, I noticed the guy in front of us with “Jesus is Lord” tattooed on the back of his neck in big block letters. Huh. If he’s serious, I can’t imagine that this would endear you to fellow Christians and prospective employers. If he’s not serious, I… Dude! An ironic “Jesus is Lord” tattoo on your neck?!

More photos of the show and a Yo La Tengo video game.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

The one about the Air Force recruiter

This entry was supposed to have a clever title playing off the Air Force motto. Then I looked it up and realized that nobody would know what I was talking about. The mottos are (there are two) "No one comes close" and "Uno Ab Alto" (One over all). Not exactly "Semper Fi" or "Army of One". Oh well. Kinda goes with the general feel of the Air Force, it being the branch that doesn't have to advertise as much.

Today's meeting of our nursing student association was sponsored by the Air Force. And by sponsored I mean they bought us tons of pizza and soda. Always a good way to get college students to show up. After the business portion of the meeting, the recruiter and her cohorts hit us up with the spiel.

Honestly, it's a pretty good deal if you don't mind the moving every three years, the structure, the uniforms, and - depending on your orientation - the sexual witchhunts. Oh, and possibly working in a war zone.

In order for the recruiter to document that, in her words, "I did not eat $400 worth of pizza all by myself," attendees were asked to fill out a survey form. I left out some key info like phone number, e-mail, and Social Security number because I really don't want them contacting me or acquiring a credit card in my name.

In the comments section I was tempted to write, "By the way, you didn't ask but I'm telling: I like guys kind of a lot. So..." I resisted the temptation, but since the form was pink I drew a big upside-down triangle on it. Hee.

Upon reading an earlier version of this post, Joolie made me a graphic:

Gay Force

She's so cool (and trademark-violating).

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Weezer was at least partly right

Some of us are on drugs. I don't take pleasure in the often debilitating drug habits of others, but damn sometimes it makes me giggle in dark region of my heart.

A few more quotes overheard at the hospital:

Patient says to the doctor, "Please don't take my Ambien away. Please! I won't abuse it. I promise. Just give me one. Okay two."

Patient to nurse trying to give him pain medication, "Pills?! If I wanted pills, I would have bought them on the street. I need a shot. And I am not a drug-seeker."

Patient to doctor, "I'm not a crack addict. I just started smoking it last week."

Nurse to patient, "Are you taking any medications on a regular basis?"
Patient hands nurse his list: 140 tabs Lotensin†, 5 coricedin†† (sic), 3 Aleve, 2 doses night quill (sic), 12 24oz beers, crack - I don't know how much, and 2 Tylenol PM.

He'd almost have to smoke crack to offset all the depressants he's taking, though he really should keep track of his dosage. Maybe he should get one of these:

† Lowers blood pressure
†† Coricidin Cough & Cold, also known as Triple C, is sometimes taken recreationally which can seriously fuuuck you up to and including death

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Voxtrot, The Bellrays, & The Octopus Project at Emo's

Last night I saw a fun show with two local bands outside and one touring band inside. I was surprised but impressed that they all were able to draw a near sell-out crowd at Emo's. Everyone played well and you should definitely go see them if they're playing near you.


The Bellrays

The Octopus Project

More pics here.