Backyard Giant Spider

Okay, I found this under our long-overturned (to keep water out) wheelbarrow. I flipped the wheelbarrow over, three very large centipedes (I counted two not four legs per segment) scurried out, and then I spotted this momma. I believe it is the momma: there was a much smaller identically colored beastie nearby, probably the male.

What is it? A false black widow is my best guess.

Spider

Moving Offices

My time in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle is over. Our lease of three years is up and we've been rapidly dismantling our office. Thank you, Craig's List, for your help in removing large, unwieldy objects.

If you send me snail mail, drop me a line for how to reach me. Three of we six colleagues will continue on to a new (improved? at least different) office space elsewhere. We'd hoped to relocate by July 1, but weren't able to nail down details with a potential office spot that needs to be built out.

Ballard BgFor the next month, at least, I'll be living...I mean working...out of an ActivSpace location in Ballard. Really, FreeLard, the boundary between Ballard and Fremont. I'll have a view of Salmon Bay, including the cement and gravel company that dumped 30 yards of slurry in my backyard (on request, not accidentally) and a working port.

The location is not near but on the Burke-Gilman bike trail which runs a few blocks from my home. So I'll have zero excuse to not bike in every single day of my tenancy.

ActivSpace rents out utility space with a tiny heater and a window that opens and a fluorescent light. There's a lock on the door and card-key access to the elevator and building. You can use it for anything legal. It's month-to-month (actually, 30 days' notice at any point), and you forfeit 50 percent of your security deposit for canceling within six months. It's cheap and we'll see if I can make it work for an office interregnum.

If you think I've been ignoring you, it's a little hard to stay on top of things with a baby, an office move, and a pile of great deadlines. You'll hear from me someday.

Thimerosal Linked to Autism (Not the Usual Conspiracy Theory)

Totally frightening article in Salon today about how the CDC, drug companies, and others suppressed clear evidence linking thimerosol to autism. Thimerosal is a mercury-derived preservative that used to be widely used. A friend with a fellowship at Oxford in 1990-1991 had me ship her non-mercury-containing saline solution from the US because the mercury-free version was unavailable in England at that time.

In the past, there has been a lot of bad science, supposition, and conspiracy theories that connect this preservative with increased rates of autism. Unfortunately for those of us who were skeptical, this Salon/Rolling Stone article that relies on information obtained via the Freedom of Information Act shows that beginning in the Clinton Administration, a determined effort has kept the good science, direct correlation, and actual conspiracies secret.

We have not had our son exposed to thimerosal because the CDC currently advises that it thinks it is safe but doesn't have the clinical proof to demonstrate that it's safe. Thus, we've been prudent, and asked our pediatrician about all the vaccines and immunizations to ensure that they are mercury-free. She only administers mercury-free vaccines for infants (because that's what they're ordering) and noted that one for when Ben is older currently includes it but it will be phased out by the time Ben needs it.

This is a chilling and horrible violation of the public trust that will lead to assured billions of dollars of lawsuits against the drug companies that apparently colluded with government to suppress this information as they simultaneously moved to remove thimerosal from their vaccines. If this article checks out over time, we've got a massive smoking gun.

Myself, I've always been concerned that the food supply and environmental factors were responsible for the rise in autism, as well as improved diagnosis and an expanded set of definitions that encompass autism. No longer.

The other part of this, of course, is that the people who say that once a kid is given a vaccine that they are autistic the next day--that doesn't appear to be born out by the evidence. As a toxin, mercury accumulates, so it might be a matter of weeks or more likely months.

Frist Can't Face Medical Discipline

Because BIll Frist wasn't acting as Terry Schiavo's doctor when he viewed a few minutes of a videotape of her provided by the family and ostensibly did not have access to her medical record, he can't be disciplined for providing a totally inaccurate prognosis. He can, however, be held accountable for his actions in wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer money to defy the wishes of what Republicans have established as one of the bulwarks of their entire social program: the integrity of marriage.

Herr Senator Doctor Frist, who apparently is a very fine doctor when public policy isn't thrown into the mix, defied the permanent, irrevocable nature of the bond that Republicans cherish in order to throw his uninformed, but ostensibly authoritative view into the public despite the fact that Schiavo had been shown over and over again to be receiving the best possible care in Florida. In fact, Republicans have voted for bills--not sure precisely which have made it into law--that would have prevented Terry Schiavo from receiving this level of care, which makes the whole thing ironic. There are people who could return from deep state who will now not receive the care necessary due to funding cuts. We'll have 100,000s of Terry Schiavos who doctors will agree have some chance, and they won't get that chance.

The autopsy of Ms. Schiavo showed that every diagnostic tool that qualified doctors presented with her full record and access to her physically actually produced accurate results. Her brain had atrophied. She could not accept food or water by mouth. Her husband didn't abuse her. She did not have an eating disorder. Of course, the folks so passionate about keeping her alive as the Virgin Mary of Coma have already disputed these results.

Sen. Dr. Frist responded: "Aides to Dr. Frist, a likely presidential candidate in 2008, angrily said he had never made a formal diagnosis and thus had nothing to retract." ... His spokeswoman, Amy Call, sought out reporters who asked about the case to assert that Dr. Frist 'never made a diagnosis.' " The NY Times, however, notes, "Dr. Frist said [in his floor statement on March 17]. 'Based on the footage provided to me, which was part of the facts of the case, she does respond.' "

Rep. DeLay, not a doctor, said on March 20, "Terri Schiavo is not brain dead; she talks and she laughs, and she expresses happiness and discomfort. Terri Schiavo is not on life support."

Of course, being in power means never saying you're sorry or you're wrong. True for Democrats as well as Republicans--all parties.

Except for Mel Martinez, perhaps? " 'I really probably come to the view this has to be more resolved at the state level, seems like the kind of issue the state courts deal with,' Mr. Martinez said."

Next up: Stopping legislative attacks on judges which will lead to more of the kind of violence that is striking around the country.

When Coffee and Wi-Fi Don't Mix

13Wifi.XlIn tomorrow's New York Times, I filed this story on Victrola Cafe & Art, a small coffeeshop that is turning off its free Wi-Fi service on weekends. It's a lovely cafe of the kind that one used to find only in Manhattan, but since the rise of Starbucks have populated the hinterlands such as Seattle as a kind of alternative. In Seattle, the home of Starbucks, Tully's, Seattle's Best, Torrefazione, Caffe Vita, and other brands and roasters, we have at least one zillion cafes and most have a distinct culture.

The folks at Victrola, a couple transplanted from Albany, New York, started the cafe as a business, but they wanted to develop a place for the exchange of ideas, where regulars would turn up and pass the time of day, where their baristas could produce mean shots while discussing Kierkegaard. They've achieved that.

But the Wi-Fi culture clash meant for them that the cafe gets filled during busy times with one-to-a-table laptop users, some of whom don't even make a purchase. They wrestled with it for months in staff meetings before testing different methods. During it off on weekends has been successful in atmosphere and financially, and it's also easy to explain.

Some patrons are bent out of joint about it, but I have to say that Wi-Fi is an amenity that's secondary to the business that the cafe is try to conduct. Wi-Fi has to be subordinate to the actual purpose, whether it's cultural or financial. I've been to Victrola a few times before, and they have great decaf and a real commitment to making good coffee and good conversation. I'll brave the hard-parking streets of Capitol Hill a little more frequently in the future to obtain from them a cup of joe--or giovanni, since it's espresso.

Lactivism!

I haven't heard this term before, but it's part of post-feminism: lactivism! Activists agitating for the right (not grudging acceptance) of women breastfeeding babies in public. The New York Times covers it today.

I was typically unaware of how this all worked until having a baby. Ben has always been a frequent and insistent feeder, and if women don't have the right, ability, and comfort level to nurse in public, it condemns those who want to breastfeed to staying at home or giving up early.

I saw a discussion on a blog where grown men and women were going all oogey over the idea of women breastfeeding in places like Starbucks or a store, and it made me want to scream. So, what, you'd rather put a ball and chain on a women, leave her barefoot at the stove, not let her leave her house?

The sexualization of the breast is at the heart of this: the discomfort is from people who can't cope. If you don't want to see someone breastfeeding, don't look. It's the desire to stare and the repression of this desire that provokes discomfort in others. It's a beautiful act.

Canceling a Service and Libertarianisn

I hope I don't misunderstand what a libertarian is and confuse it with a laissez-faire capitalist, but whenever someone tries to lecture me about how businesses would fare better without regulation, I just want to tell them: try to cancel a service that you've signed up for with recurring billing.

I've just been canceling some subscriptions, and my god, do otherwise reputable businesses make it ridiculous hard to cancel. There's every motivation for them to put you off and make it hard, but jesus on a stick! There is some regulation that covers canceling recurring billing, most on a state-to-state level as I understand it, but there's nothing that requires specific procedures, so you could call cancelation unregulated.

I was trying to cancel my Sirius service, and went through the phone tree to someone who told me I had to call back and go through the tree again. I asked her if she could transfer me. She said no, she couldn't. I asked her what option it was on the tree; she said "5." I said, I went through four levels of phone tree--"5" on what level? She didn't know.

When I finally got through, I was put on hold for 10 minutes, then a person came back and said the cancellation department was unavailable, and then told me several times that my account number wasn't valid until I demanded he enter it, at which point it was magically valid. (The account number was in an email sent to me by the company.)

Yeah, businesses can just regulate themselves because their interests will always coincide with consumer's interests.

I would push for legislation that requires symmetrical cancellation: any method I use to subscribe should be available to cancel. If I have a Web account, I should be able to click and cancel at my desire. A newspaper archive service I subscribed for a month required a phone call, fax, or snail mail letter to cancel. When I tried to fax, the fax number they provided was invalid. I had to contact them to get a fax number to cancel.

This is why we have consumer-protection agencies.

(A little later) By contrast, I found a feedback form for account issues on XM Radio's site, asked them to cancel my account, and within a few hours received confirmation that they have done so.