Russell's Blog

New. Improved. Stays crunchy in milk.

Cat tales

Posted by Russell on June 29, 2009 at 9:52 p.m.
In the last 24 hours, my cats have learned four things.
  1. Maximum face nuzzle! The larger (as yet unnamed) fellow really likes to nuzzle people. It's his thing. He climbs up on your chest, at pushes his hot dry nose into your face as hard as he can. A few days ago, he discovered that he can increase the nuzzling intensity by winding up a bit, like a pitcher throwing his own head. Yesterday evening, he discovered that he could increase the nuzzling intensity even more by getting a running start, and face-planting into my face while I'm reading.

    He is now starting from the hallway, and using the corner of my bed as a springboard to launch himself at my head at a full gallop. He tucks his paws under his belly and closes his eyes, so he comes in like a little furry nose-missile. I dare not get out of the way, or he'll hit the wall behind me and hurt himself. About half the time, I managed to catch him before he hits me.

    His little brother sits quietly on top of the pile of books next to my bed, and watches his larger brother do this with a sort of sad, disappointed expression on his face.

  2. Do not eat dental floss. They climbed up onto the sink, opened up the medicine cabinet, and pulled down my dental floss. They then managed to unravel the whole spool by chasing it around the legs of the kitchen table. Thusly restrained, they then proceeded to eat the dental floss, one cat at each end. I woke up to two very sad kittens, attached to each other by their pyloric valves, separated by about twelve inches of knotted dental floss. There was a lot of puke everywhere. I carefully pulled the floss out of their throats, which led to more vomiting. They hated it, but didn't struggle or scratch. They looked very surprised once they felt better.
  3. Stink beetles taste terrible. This hardly needs elaboration.
  4. Falling in the toilet is not fun. This evening, the larger fellow decided he was suddenly interested in the toilet bowl, which he's never cared about before. Perhaps this was part of a quest today to gain as many disgusting experiences as possible. He followed me into the bathroom while I was hanging up the towels from the laundry, and I could stop him, he scrambled up and over the seat and into the bowl head first. He seemed genuinely shocked to discover that he could not avoid the water at the bottom. Vigorous thrashing and yowling commenced. His little brother looked on from the threshold, looking grave and embarrassed (as usual). I pulled him out, and he stopped yowling, and stuck him into the shower, and he resumed yowling.

    Now he smells like Irish Spring, and keeps casting suspicious glances at the toilet. A few minutes ago he followed me into the bathroom again, and did his threat display (puffy tail, arched back, hissing, sideways-walking) at the toilet. His little brother, once again, observed from the threshold with a grave and embarrassed expression.

Cats! Help name them.

Posted by Russell on June 21, 2009 at 6:38 p.m.
I've adopted two kittens! They were captured with their mother in a feral cat colony out in the farmland somewhere around Davis. As much as I love cats, feral cats are a terrible ecological problem; they eat their way through the native bird population astonishingly quickly. The mother is supposed to be a champion huntress, which is kind of bad. She is too wild to become a house-cat, but fortunately not wild enough that she would have to be put down. Evidently she's been spayed, and will eventually gain employment as an official rodent control officer at a farm or vineyard, safely away from nesting areas.

However, I have a problem. I don't know what to name them! They have provisional names, but they're already growing out of them. They are brothers, so I'd like to name them accordingly. If you know any good names of brothers, or brothers-in-arms, from history or literature, please post below.

Candidate names are :

  • Buzz and Neil
  • Romulus and Remus
  • Castor and Pollux
  • Lio and Erasmus
  • Watson and Crick
  • Wilbur and Orville
  • Yuri and Glenn
I tried to think of some characters from Shakespeare, but most of the brothers in the plays murder each other, or do other dastardly deeds. Not very fitting for these two guys. They are just about the least mischievous kittens I've ever met. The worst they do to each other is to induce unwanted consciousness via squirming.

Bike safety column in print

Posted by Russell on June 19, 2009 at 4:55 p.m.
My article on bike safety is in print in the Davis Enterprise! I was invited to write this column as a follow up to my Davis Crash Map article and Anna's accident in 2007.

It's not up on their web site yet. I'll update with a link one they post it.

:: update ::

Here is the text of the article :

The Davis Enterprise: June 19, 2009
Davis Bicycles! column #20
Title: When road design gets personal Author: Russell Neches

Two years ago my little sister was riding her bicycle to a friend’s house. A woman was diving home from work. They met when the car hit Anna at 30 mph.

Before I go further, Anna is OK.

The weeks following the accident were hard. Aphasia, hematoma, and dental prosthesis became a regular part of family conversation. It was a month before we were sure she would get better.

Anna lives in Norman, Oklahoma. Norman is a lot like Davis; it’s roughly the same size, population and distance from the state capital. Norman hosts a big university and encourages bicycling.

After the accident, I desperately wanted someone to take responsibility. At first, I blamed Anna for not being more careful. Then I read the police report, and blamed the driver. But when I visited Norman and stood by the splashes of dried blood on the asphalt, I found I couldn’t blame either of them. The blame belonged to the road itself.

In sharp contrast to Davis, Norman has some of the sloppiest road design in America. The road where the accident happened has no curb, no sidewalk, no lane markings, no lights, and no center divider. The street is a smear of asphalt that informally fades into gravel and scrubby grass on its way to becoming front yard. This wasn’t some lonely country road. It happened downtown, right next to the University of Oklahoma. The equivalent spot in Davis might be about Seventh and E Streets. Until Anna’s face slammed into the windshield, the driver had no way of knowing for sure that she was driving on the wrong side of the road.

Davis does a pretty good job when it comes to road design. Even out amongst the farms, most of the roads have reflectorized lines to mark the center and shoulders. This isn’t because paint is cheaper in California. It’s because public officials have found that the lines help people be safer drivers.

With Anna’s final round of reconstructive surgery still in the works, I hope I can be forgiven for being preoccupied with bicycle safety. I’m a scientist. When scientists get worried, we go back to the data. Mapping the last couple of years of Davis accident reports indicates that the biggest problem spot in our town is the much-debated Fifth Street corridor.

It has been proposed to transform the stretch of Fifth Street north of downtown from a higher-speed four-lane road with frequent stops into a lower-speed two-lane road with center turn pockets. The design would look somewhat like B Street does now. I was surprised to learn that the two roads carry about the same amount of traffic.

Not everyone likes the idea, and some warn that slowing traffic may result in congestion. This must be taken seriously, and so detailed computer models have been constructed. The models show that the proposed design would actually increase throughput and reduce congestion somewhat.

This counterintuitive result is something with which I have personal experience. I grew up in Los Angeles, the poster city for congestion. It got that way because people tried to solve congestion problems by adding lanes. What we got for our billions of dollars was even worse congestion. LA has more acreage under roads than under destinations, and yet it is still asphyxiated.

Roads are ancient technology. Roman engineers would find California’s freeways impressive, but would learn little from them. But even ancient technology can be improved. We didn’t get from swinging stone axes to landing robots on Mars by refusing to try new things. Lane reduction has been tried in other cities, with great results for safety and efficiency.

The proposed Fifth Street design sounds like something worth trying. It will make Davis a safer, more efficient place walk, bike and drive. Repainting and installing different signals is part of the normal process of maintaining and improving roads. The proposal would simply guide this process. If it doesn’t work, the city has more paint. My family learned the hard way just how important lines of paint really are.

I’ve made an interactive map at displaying the last couple of years of Davis accident data. I hope it will inspire you think about how our roads are designed, how those designs succeed, and how they can be improved.

— Russell Neches is a microbiology graduate student at UC Davis. He has commuted to school and work through Los Angeles, New York and Boston on various vehicles including bikes, cars, trains, subways and on foot.

:: update 2 ::

Here is the direct link to the article on the Davis Enterprise website :

Marrow donor kit!

Posted by Russell on June 19, 2009 at 3:56 p.m.
I received my buccal swab kit from the National Marrow Donor Program. It took about three minutes to prepare. It's about as hard as brushing your teeth.

I especially like the biohazard sticker for sealing the sample card. Then, you just stick it in the mail.

They'll do the tissue typing, and (hopefully) add me to the database of marrow donors.

Seriously, why haven't you signed up yet?

Now blogging from Tehran

Posted by Russell on June 16, 2009 at 5:09 p.m.
Dear Iranian Security Forces:

Welcome to, now from Tehran. Please spend as much time looking at this page as possible. There are lots and lots of links to follow. Who knows what important security information you will find? It is very important that you read every single post on this blog. Carefully. And discuss each of them with your superiors.

I may have scattered the names and locations of many active dissidents in old posts on my blog. Then again, maybe I haven't. You won't know until you look. Please take your time.

You can be from Tehran too:

<meta name="ICBM" content="35.696189, 51.422961">
<meta name="geo.position" content="35.696189, 51.422961">
<meta name="geo.placename" content="Tehran, Iran">
<meta name="geo.region" content="ir">

More things from Israel that annoy me

Posted by Russell on June 14, 2009 at 3:21 p.m.
If you can read Hebrew well enough to find the right contact form on their damn web site, please tell Bezeq that the following IP addresses are part of a botnet:

That is all.

What are you waiting for?

Posted by Russell on June 09, 2009 at 3:31 a.m.
Starting today, the first 46,000 who sign up can join the National Marrow Donor Program for free. Tissue typing normally costs about $50, so this is pretty neat.

I don't get along very well with needles, but this is kind of, you know, important. And it's fairly unlikely that any particular donor will be asked to donate. Tissue matches are very specific, which is why it's so important to get lots of people in the database.

If you are Asian, or any sort of nifty minority, then it's extra important that you sign up. If you are mixed race, then it's very important.

Mimi lost a friend to cancer this year because they couldn't find a marrow match. There could have been one more name called at her graduation if there'd been just a few more biracial hits in the marrow database last year.

Look at it this way. Superman saves people all the time, but he has to go through all sorts of bother and trouble with the secret identity and such. A few days of lower back pain seems like a pretty awesome deal in comparison.

If I'm ever asked to donate marrow, I'm getting a cape.

Another solar transit

Posted by Russell on June 03, 2009 at 6:01 p.m.
Now that she's all graduated and stuff, Mimi came out to Davis for my birthday this week. She took me to this place in Napa called, of all things, Ubuntu. Not only is it a nice word in Zulu, but it's also a Linux distribution, a restaurant and a yoga studio. Anyway, they were the runner up for best new restaurant of 2008 in the New York Times Food & Wine section.

It was delicious, but kind of difficult to describe. Evidently, the chef walks out into his garden each morning, peers at the ripening ingreedients, and invents the day's menu based on what's ready to eat. Neat!

Anyway, Mimi is here in Davis until Friday. We're having a great time biking around town and doing Davis-y things.