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June 9, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: Zetetic Shtick

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
                    Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain
                    For promis’d joy!
Robert Burns

Welcome back, diegesians! I apologize for the paucity of posts lately, but I can assure you the reason is worthy. My NESN colleagues (yes, you read that correctly!) Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy spilled the beans already, but I am returning to NESN as an analyst.

I’ve always wondered about that saying, “spill the beans.” The folk etymology of the cliche detailed at The Maven at Words@Random is, as all fictive origin tales are, quaint. Secret societies in ancient Greece supposedly voted on potential initiates by placing beans into a jar; black for “no” and white for “yes.” Said beans were surreptitiously placed into the jar to keep the vote anonymous. Inevitably, as Greeks were inveterate drunkards, especially members of these conclaves, someone knocked over a jar, revealing the secret and thus spilling the beans.

And you thought the voting for the presidential voting for the past two elections were irregular.

Ancient Greek groups are the origin of many a peculiar and rarely used word. “Zetetic” is an elaborate way to say “inquisitive ” or “investigative.” This is exactly the posture I will bring to my analysis of Red Sox baseball this weekend: acute analysis and unrelenting rigor.

As a compelling side note, there is a Zetetics Laboratory at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis in France. They offer a cash prize to anyone that can offer proof of the paranormal, as the James Randi Educational Foundation does.

I’m eager to enjoy the epicurean delights of the ballpark again. Sadly, the common usage of  “epicure,” which refers to a person who delights in sensual delectation, particularly food and drink, has drifted far from what the sage Epicurus instructed. Epicureanism stressed the neutrality of higher powers such as gods and theorized matter was comprised of atoms; the later was brought over from the school of Democritus. Epicurus’s school, The Garden, was diverse, including both slaves and women. The meaning of “epicure” distorted throughout the ages because the philosopher’s tenets were to achieve mental ease (ataraxia) and freedom from bodily pain (aponia). Sensual desires were not to be sublimated but encouraged to the extent that they are satisfied, although not overly so.

But this leniency towards gratification was misinterpreted and extrapolated to profligacy, quite contrary to Epicurus’s original intent. During my stint at NESN, however, I hope to abide by the germinal beliefs of the Epicureans and hopefully deliver analysis that is simultaneously ataraxic and aponic.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

May 19, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: Age Against the Machine

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.
Albert Einstein

Since I’ve retired from baseball (and I haven’t heard from NESN in eons), and had time to reflect on life, the universe, and everything, I am often struck catatonic with deep thought. I find my mind often dwells on the constructs that humans make to divide time in digestible bites--seconds, minutes, hours, days, years. Our paltry lifespan is dwarfed by geologic time, however. Most people know about the Jurassic period thanks to the movie, but do they know that the Jurassic was just an eye blink of time in our earth’s history, a mere 55 million years (give or take five to ten million years) of time in the 4.5 billion years earth has been extant.

In fact, the Jurassic is just one of three periods in the Mesozoic Era, which began 251 million years ago and ended 65 million years ago. The Mesozoic is an era within the Phanerozoic Eon, which spanned 545 million years. Since we cannot conceive of time on such a scale, I will equate different periods of time with Julio Franco’s life span, which, while vast, is hopefully not beyond the grasp of the average human.


Since time is on my side, I’d like to take the readers on a whirlwind tour of geologic time. This week, we’ll commence with the eons; each week, we’ll explore the highlights of each period of time.

The first eon is the Hadean, named appropriately enough after the Greek underworld. But in actuality, this is not a recognized geological time frame because there were no rocks except meteorites. This eon also has no official name; previously, it was also known as the Azoic (“without life”). The Solar System was in its infancy, with no planets to speak of, just debris which began to coalesce due to gravity into ever-larger bodies that would become planets. The creation of the earth’s crust started with the cooling of the earth in this eon. Around about this time, Julio Franco’s parents met.

In the following eon, the Archean, earth had an atmosphere of primarily of methane and ammonia. Under a sun that was a third dimmer than today’s sun, creative forces were astir. Seventy per cent of the continents’ mass formed within this eon, built upon the stable masses of the earth’s crust, which are called cratons. Life first appeared on the planet in the form of stromatolites, which are colonies of photosynthetic, prokaryotic cyanobacteria. Those weren’t the only things that had their first stirrings; Franco’s parents had their first kiss, which lasted a million years. It could have been longer, but Franco’s mom was worried about being caught.

The Proterozoic eon found life in greater abundance. The earth had enough oxygen to sustain aerobic, simple, multi-cellular life, known as eukaryotes. Eukaryotes differed from prokaryotes because they had discrete membranes for their nuclei and organelles and reproduced sexually. There is evidence that eukaryotes did not spontaneously generate their organelles but rather they were incorporated through endosymbiosis. Prokaryotes became the building blocks for eukaryotic cell organs by being subsumed and integrated into the eukaryote’s cell systems. Rife with similar promise for the future, Franco’s parents got married.

Much like Julio Franco, the Phanerozoic is still happening. This eon has its etymological origins from the Greek word for visible (φανερος), since life was no longer merely microscopic. At the beginning of the eon, Franco’s parents had a bouncing bundle of joy the christened Julio. Likewise, the earth gave birth to complex animals and plants.

Next week, we’ll into the details by exploring the eras of geologic time.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

April 28, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: Colophony Conspectus

All religions, arts, and sciences are branches of the same tree.
Albert Einstein

Baseball is like a religion to me, one that combines ineffable artistry and infallible science in a single medium. My days as a ballplayer were some of the best times of my life and those memories will never leave me. The reminiscences are still so vibrant to me: I can recall the smell of the freshly-shorn field and hot dogs, the sound of the ball smacking into the catcher’s mitt and the gruff voices of vendors, the brilliant white of the foul lines receding into cheerful yellow of the foul poles. And the feelings: the cinch of the belt around my waist, my cap snug around my temple, and the reassuring heft of the rosin bag in my palm.

The rosin bag is one of the few foreign objects permitted to remain on the field during play. You’ll see it perched on the back of the mound, perpetually within the reach of hurlers. Pitchers like me use it to enhance their grip on the ball. The powder provides the proper balance of dryness and tackiness that is essential for the pitcher to feel comfortable with his release. Every pitcher has his or her idea of the ideal combination of slickness and friction; the amount of rosin assists in calibrating the touch.

RosinbagarroyoLike so many of the implements of baseball, rosin has its origins in the pine tree. In fact, rosin does carry the distinctive tang of conifers. Just as maple syrup is tapped, resin from pine trees is collected. Resins from different types of trees are collected, and each manufacturer has its own secret combinations.

The sap is then distilled into turpentine, the volatile solvent, and rosin. Rosin is processed differently for its varied uses. For luthiers, rosin is mixed with beeswax and particles of precious metals to alter the tone of their musical instruments. Baseball rosin bags have humbler companions such as cornstarch or talc.

Another name for rosin is “colophon,” from the Ionian city of the same name which was once known as the primarily as the exporter of the substance. The meaning of colophon evolved to be associated with printing and books, probably because of the use of rosin as a fixative for inks. The word now refers to the back matter of publications which describes the typeface and any other production details of a book but also is the name for any publishing house’s trademark. RoSIN, an abbreviation of RetroSheet Intraplay Notation, is a subset of the language created to power RetroSheet and is attempting to be the standard syntax for describing baseball plays electronically.

Words and baseball, like the interplay between pitcher and catcher--always passing meanings and ideas between each other, semaphorically and metaphorically.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

April 21, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: What the Muck?

Deliver me out of the mire,
and let me not sink:
let me be delivered from them that hate me,
and out of the deep water
Psalm 69:14

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to snag a foul ball or gopher ball in the stands, you would have noticed it’s not flawlessly white, even if it it hadn’t been through the rigors of play. This is because every ball used in major and minor league play is first treated with Lena Blackburne Original Baseball Rubbing Mud.

To make myself useful around the Red Sox clubhouse, in case I get a call that they need help or whatnot, I’ve been teaching myself some new skills that may come in handy. One thing I’ve been mastering is the art of rubbing baseballs. But before one acquires the expertise necessary to prepare a ball for play, one must understand who Lena Blackburne is and what makes him famous.

Blackburne started off as a shortstop for the Chicago White Sox in 1910. In the course of his 17-year career the itinerant infielder also played for the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Braves. After his playing career ceased, he settled in as the third base coach under Connie Mack for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1933 to 1954.

At the time, there was no standard substance with which to de-slick balls. You see, new baseballs are just too shiny and slick for pitchers to grip. Umpires would use everything from tobacco juice to shoe polish, but nothing donned the ball with the right touch. Blackburne took it upon himself to find the alkahest to the pitchers’ baseball woes.

Somewhere ensconced in the anonymous mires of a Delaware River tributary there is a sanctum of incomparable muck. Blackburne chanced upon this champion lode of ooze that was perfectly suited to the task of breaking in balls. It enrobed the ball with its smooth consistency, described as a cross between “chocolate pudding and whipped cold cream.” By 1938, Blackburne supplied the American League with his clandestine conconction. Being a stalwart supporter of the American League, he actually refused to sell the mud to the National League until the 1950s.

I don’t like to turn to our divisional rivals, but in this situation I had to seek the supreme guru of craft. I went Baltimore on a sojourn to mentor with Ernie Tyler, ball man. Mr. Tyler, the real iron man of the Orioles, has worked 3,699 consecutive games as of April 20th. He has been with the team since 1954 and has been the clubhouse attendant since 1960. Mr. Tyler likes to prepare around 80 balls a game, but for Fenway, I would up it to 100. Not only does one ensure a uniform color and texture, but one must also check for defects on the spheres. The omniscient slime exposes blemishes that would otherwise go unnoticed.

It’s odd how, in this case, you must sully something to make it proper.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and perhaps some readers of the Boston Phoenix.

April 14, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: Transfusion Confusion

Genius is always allowed some leeway, once the hammer has been pried from its hands and the blood has been cleaned up.
Terry Pratchett

Blood is thicker than water and you can’t get it from a stone. Baseball is back, and it gets my heart beating and my blood pumping. Like Johnny Pesky, the Red Sox are in my blood.

Even before William Harvey correctly described the circulatory system in 1628, blood was the centerpiece of a myriad of powerful beliefs. The word “blessing” originates from the Old English “blœdsian,” which described a certain act sacred to Germanic migrants to Britain, the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. These tribes believed that dismembering their adversaries and sprinkling their blood on consecrated objects, places, and themselves and would grant them the strength of the enemies.

Beyond the myths of blood, however, is the intricate study of blood, or hematology. Most people know about blood types, but few know why transfusions between incorrect types can be fatal. The ABO system of blood typing classifies human blood according to the antigens that characterize the immune response of red blood cells:

  • Group A, whose red blood cells’ surfaces are covered with antigen A. The immune system will produce antibodies against cells that have antigen B. They can only receive blood from other type As or O.
  • Group B is the opposite of group A.
  • Group AB has both A and B antigens. Preferably they would receive AB, but A, B, or O may also be transfused.
  • Group O has neither A or B antigens, so all other types can accept type O blood, making this type the universal donor type. It does produce antibodies to counteract A and B antigens, so type O can only accept type O blood.

In addition to the letter types above, there is also the Rhesus factor, or Rh factor, named after the Rhesus monkey. A positive or negative sign indicate the presence or absence of this antigen. The mistyping of Rh factor is particularly perilous to women who, if they receive the incorrect blood type, may develop antibodies that could impact a fetus. The antibodies could traverse the placenta and attack the red blood cells of the developing child in a process called hemolysis. Hemolysis renders red blood cells useless, ravaging the cell membrane and releasing oxygen-carrying hemoglobin into the blood plasma.

It’s odd how science can flow back into folklore. In Japan, blood types are supposed to be indicative of personality, much like astrological signs, numerology, or other forms of quackery. Other places in Asia are beginning to subscribe to this system and asking someone their blood type there is as common as asking what one’s sign is.

Not that I believe in the theory of blood type personalities, but here’s what I think certain Red Sox players, past and present, would be. The traits are derived from Wikipedia and the otaku site called Issendai’s Lair.

  • A: Conservative, reserved, patient, punctual, perfectionist, good with plants, introverted, obsessive, stubborn, self-conscious, and uptight.
    Well, Curt Schilling is a lot of the above except for being reserved and introverted. I’ve heard tell that Mark Bellhorn was good with plants. Nomar Garciaparra had a streak of shyness and compulsion. Like the “Type A” personality that used to be associated with coronary heart disease by American cardiologist Meyer Friedman (another personality type system that has been debunked), they are stressed and goal-driven.
  • B: Creative, passionate, animal loving, optimistic, flexible, forgetful, irresponsible, and individualistic.
    Pedro Martinez, anyone? Although I’m not too sure how keen he was on pets. Type Bs are portrayed as unconventional, off-the-wall, and ruled by their impulses.
  • AB: Cool, controlled, rational, sociable, popular, empathic, aloof, critical, indecisive, and unforgiving.
    Keith Foulke strikes me as an AB, with his calm, nearly impassive, demeanor. He still seems to be stung by the fans revolting against him last year. In anime, villains are often type AB.
  • O: Ambitious, athletic, robust, self-confident, natural leader, arrogant, vain, insensitive, and ruthless.
    Who else but David Ortiz? There might be a budding Little Papi in Jonathan Papelbon. Type O is considered the best type according to Japanese standards of behavior.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

April 7, 2006

Dave’s Diegesis: Clubhouse Chemistry

Chemistry can be a good and bad thing. Chemistry is good when you make love with it. Chemistry is bad when you make crack with it.
Adam Sandler

It’s good to be back, diegesis devotees. I had a productive offseason by taking some chemistry courses. The word “chemistry,” in case you didn’t know, has its roots in the Greek χημεια (chumeia), which could be the origin for the precursor of chemistry, alchemy, via the Arabic الكيمياء, which is pronounced “al-kīmiyaˀ.”

All that I learned in my studies has greatly aided me in understanding the potential assets and impediments in the Red Sox clubhouse this year. Sure, some people say that chemistry is overrated, but I happen to think through careful observation and tracking of observable phenomena, the supposedly capricious nature of human behavior can be equated to chemical reactions. To wit:

  • Josh Bard: NH4Cl (ammonium chloride)
    For Bard, I describe more what he should become rather than what he is. Ammonium chloride is embedded into soldering wires to help the lead and tin parts of the wire flow when melted, joining together disparate parts. Bard must similarly become the conduit for Wakefield’s knuckleball and the strike zone, merging them together into a seamless whole.
  • Josh Beckett: C3H5N3O9 (nitroglycerin)
    Beckett’s explosive power on the mound can only be described as dynamite. Unlike his chemical compound counterpart, however, the righty’s blast selectively demolishes only opposing hitters.
  • Matt Clement: Pb(N3)2 (lead azide)
    Clement, despite his calm demeanor, is potentially explosive. He can be, like his chemical equivalent, the active ingredient in detonators to unleash massive devastation on opponents’ lineups. But he isn’t the primary explosive.
  • Coco Crisp: KNaC4H4O6·4H2O (potassium sodium tartrate)
    Can you smell what Coco Crisp is baking? Those sweet wins can’t be made without a little efferevesence, which is what baking powder does for our favorite desserts.
  • Lenny DiNardo: Gd2O3 (gadolinium oxide)
    When a pitcher has a meltdown on the mound, Terry Francona turns to DiNardo. When there is a nuclear reaction, good old gadolinium oxide is used in control rods to avoid an atomic catastrophe.
  • Keith Foulke: Pu (plutonium)
    Once a dangerous weapon and now some say he is on the verge of a meltdown. We all hope not, but the signs are there.
  • Alex Gonzalez: C12H22O11 (sucrose)
    When I see Gonzalez field, my immediate thought: Sweet.
  • Mark Loretta: Caesium (Cs)
    Reliable and and steady, caesium is used in atomic clocks because that is the agreed element in the International System of Measurements definition of a second (9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation which corresponds to the transition between two energy levels of the ground state of the 133Cs atom). Some of its isotopes are also used in the treatment of cancer. Loretta is the caesium of the team, dependable and curative.
  • Mike Lowell: CO2 (carbon dioxide)
    You could see Lowell as the byproduct of respiration, an unwanted compound in the vital act of resuscitating this team. But, as carbon dioxide is critical to plants, so could the veteran third baseman be crucial to the development of the greener players on the roster.
  • Trot Nixon: H2S (hydrogen sulfide)
    What else is smelly and the result of biomatter breaking down with the presence of oxygen? Breathing hydrogen sulfide can kill nerves in the olfactory system, which his my best guess as to why Trot can wear the same fetid hat all season.
  • David Ortiz: O2 (oxygen)
    Without oxygen, we die. Without Big Papi, the team dies.
  • Jonathan Papelbon: Ni (nickel)
    Indifferent to oxidation and magnetic. Nickel is the primary element in many super-alloys, and as we add more farm talent like Papelbon’s to the team we’ll be made of even better metal. Since he’s homegrown, our shining pitching star only costs nickels, too.
  • Wily Mo Peña: Fe (iron)
    Strong, but needs to be annealed and alloyed to attain its full strength. With the mentoring of Ron Jackson, Ortiz, and Ramirez, Peña may become a man of steel.
  • Manny Ramirez: N2 (nitrogen)
    Like the gas, Ramirez must be harnessed into usable forms. Enrique Wilson is analogous to the nitrogen-fixing bacteria that converts nitrogen into ammonia, the foundation of important biological molecules, such as amino and nucleic acids, including deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
  • Curt Schilling: Pb (lead)
    Of all stable elements, lead has the highest number. Schilling doesn’t let media criticism erode his confidence in himself and his abilities, just as lead is resistant to corrosion. Long exposure can lead to nerve and brain damage, similar to listening to the veteran pitcher’s press conferences for extended periods of time.
  • Rudy Seanez: KCN (potassium cyanide)
    Seanez, if his stuff is on, can be lethal to hitters, and thanks to his Ultimate Fighting resume, he is deadly on a number of levels.
  • Julian Tavarez: (Mg,Fe)3Si2O5(OH)4 (magnesium iron silicate hydroxide)
    More commonly known as asbestos. Causes cancer.
  • Mike Timlin: NaClO (sodium hypochlorite)
    The active ingredient in bleach, this oxidizing agent purifies the team of unclean thoughts and rids bases of runners, whom Timlins sees as bacteria contaminating his territory.
  • Jason Varitek: NaCl (sodium chloride)
    The Captain is the salt of earth. Roman soldiers were paid “salaries” so they could buy the valuable flavoring. He was indeed given a large salary when he was re-signed with the Red Sox in 2004, but salt, in moderate quantities, is essential to life. In three years we’ll see if the team suffers from too much sodium intake.
  • Tim Wakefield: C (carbon)
    As carbon is the building block of life, so is Wakefield the foundation of the Red Sox. Like his elemental counterpart, under pressure he assumes gem-like qualities.
  • David Wells: C2H5OH (ethanol)
    Boomer, like his associated compound, is a great social lubricant. And if you can stomach a sentence that mentions both Wells and lubrication, you are a stronger man than I. At any rate, when you need someone to help you lighten up, Boomer is your man. In a figurative, not literal, sense.
  • Kevin Youkilis: CH2:C(CH 3)CH:CH2 (isoprene)
    Last year Youkilis bounced between McCoy Stadium and Fenway Park like a rubber ball. This year he’s springing from third base to first. Everyone likes to play with rubber balls; it is probably the most-lost childhood toy in history. Try not to take it for granted.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site, other seekers of the alkahest, and NU50, who liked one of my mojo suggestions.

October 7, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Hiatus

Dave’s Diegesis will not be published again until pitchers and catchers report next year. Dave’s ghostwriter will be taking a brief sabbatical from that particular column, but there will offseason content on EE, including book reviews, hot stove conjectures, continuing analysis of the Patriots, and whatever else that might grab the interest.


September 23, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Interspherence

A friend of mine once sent me a post card with a picture of the entire planet Earth taken from space. On the back it said, “Wish you were here.”
Stephen Wright

People have goals, some mundane, some grandiose: learning a new language, running a 10-minute mile, climbing all the highest mountains on seven continents, making a soufflé, or acquiring the skill to play a sitar. Geeks, who are people, too, also have similar aspirations, esoteric though they may be. We may delight in discovering a new species, being named a MacArthur fellow, getting a job with NESN as a baseball analyst, and identifying a new planet.

This last ambition may become more difficult to accomplish thanks to the killjoys at the International Astronomical Union (IAU). A special working group of the IAU was convened to specify what constitutes a planet in the Solar System. Their work was accelerated because of the controversy over several recently discovered objects that the IAU is questioning as proper planets.

At the far reaches of our Solar System is the Kuiper belt, which is a ring of asteroids or Trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) that orbit the Sun. Most TNOs are ice with some some organic compounds, which is the basic composition of comets. In fact, the distinction between “asteroid” and “comet” is another long-cherished astronomical certainty that has been called into question (and I am positive a working group of the IAU is being conjured as I write this to settle the issue). It turns out that there is at least one TNO that is larger than Pluto.

Pluto’s planethood has also been called into question. In fact, many astronomers claim that had Pluto been discovered today, the paperwork to definitively call it a planet would not have been notarized by the proper authorities of the IAU in the timeframe of an orbit of the Sun by the ninth planet, which is 248 years. It might be possible for said paperwork to processed in time for Pluto to become the eighth planet from the sun, which it will be in 222 years since its path takes it within the domain of Neptune’s ambit.

Just ask Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, Chad Trujillo of Gemini Observatory in Mount Kilauea, and David Rabinowitz of Yale University, hopeful discoverers of what could be defined as the tenth planet. The trio identified 2003 UB313 on January 5, 2005 from images captured on October 21, 2003. From the available data, it seems that the object is at least one and a half times larger than Pluto. It orbits the sun every 560 years at an odd 45-degree angle to the ecliptic. It is further sub-classified as a scattered disc object (SBO), a TNO whose bizarre orbital path is attributed to interactions with Neptune at the dawn of the Solar System. Not surprisingly, the discovering team wanted to dispense with the alphabet soup used to describe the object and petitioned the IAU to officially label UB313 as a planet.

The IAU has this sparse announcement on their website regarding TNO UB313:

We repeat below an earlier announcement of an IAU Working Group for establishing a definition of a planet. The discovery of 2003 UB313 has precipitated the need for such a definition in order to decide whether 2003 UB313 is to be classified as a planet or not. Until then the object will not be given an official name by the IAU.

Definition of a Planet

The IAU notes the very rapid pace of discovery of bodies within the Solar System over the last decade, and so our understanding of the Trans-Neptunian Region is therefore still evolving very rapidly. This is in serious contrast to the situation when Pluto was discovered. As a consequence, the IAU has established a Working Group: “Definition of a Planete [sic] under Division III, to consider the definition of a minimum size for a Planet. Until the report of this Working Group is received, all objects discovered at a distance greater than 40 AU will continue to be regarded as part of the Trans-Neptunian population.

What be you, UB313?


Discovery images of the new planet. The three images were taken
1 1/2 hours apart on the night of October 21st, 2003.
The planet can be seen very slowly moving across the sky over the course of 3 hours.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other seekers of the .

September 16, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Crying Foul

For nothing can seem foul to those that win.
Henry IV, Part I
William Shakespeare

Imagine someone traipsing through history and leaving an indelible and intriguing legacy that was ultimately fradulent.

Even as a child Richard Meinertzhagen had an abiding love for nature, especially birds. When Richard was a child, Charles Darwin would visit the Meinertzhagens. Darwin was a friend of the family through the philosopher Herbert Spencer. It was Spencer, not Darwin, that devised the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Richard was cheeky enough to sit in Darwin’s lap and pull on his beard.

Had he his druthers, Richard would have probably chosen to become a vagabond naturalist like Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace. But Richard came from a banking family of some means, and in Victorian England, that meant you did not stain the family honor with such pursuits of frivolity. to free himself somewhat of the yoke of expectation and to satisfy some of his wanderlust, he joined the British military at the age of 24.

Meinertzhagen was a ruthless lief-tenant in the Royal Fusiliers, ordering butchery in the land that would be named Kenya but was then known as British East Africa. While there he did as colonialist British men were wont to do in strange climes: chronicled and shot at wildlife. He gained enough knowledge to compile two books: Birds of Egypt and Birds of Arabia.

Age seemed to mellow him temporarily until in 1910 at the age of 32 he found himself in Odessa dining with the British Consul. Their meal was interrupted by a pogrom. Witnessing the destruction and murder of Jewish people prompted him to became a fervent and lifelong Zionist.

This ardor inspired him to seek out Adolph Hitler in July of 1939. In January of that year the German chancellor made public threats against the Jewish people in his speech to the Reichstag.

Meinertzhagen had a loaded pistol with him on that visit. The conversation was translated by Hitler’s foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. But Meinertzhagen obviously did not assassinate the pair. In his memoirs, Meinertzhagen wrote, “I am seriously troubled about it. If this war breaks out, as I feel sure it will, then I shall feel very much to blame for not killing these two.”

Long after World War II, in 1954, Meinertzhagen donated approximately 20,000 bird samples to the British Natural History Museum in Tring. This huge donation was spurred by a peculiar interest of his with regard to ornithology: chewing lice.

Very recently, however, it was discovered that the Meinertzhagen collection is actually comprised of specimens stolen from other institutions and catalogued with details contrived by their supposed benefactor. He had said he gathered these speciments when in the Middle East and Asian subcontinent, where he had supposedly hobnobbed with T.E. Lawrence. Even that acquaintance has been called into question, along with his dubious ornithological contribution to history. Meinertzhagen went so far as to claim that he found the last of a species of forest owlet. Not only had the bird been previously unveiled to Western people in the 1880s, but it is still extant.

Strange that Meinertzhagen became the thing that he enjoyed to study, a louse. He was a parasitic creature that needed to attach himself to beings greater than him to attain the stature that he would not otherwise have. It is one thing to aspire to be great and quite another to delude yourself and deceive others in hopes of being perceived as great.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone birdwatching geeks trying to find a nesting place. For more on Meinertzhagen, read his biography by Peter H. Capstick. This book used Meinertzhagen’s diaries as the primary source, however, so caveat emptor.

September 9, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Eggcellent

I hope some animal never bores a hole in my head and lays its eggs in my brain, because later you might think you’re having a good idea but it’s just eggs hatching.
Jack Handy

Still haven’t heard from NESN even though I submitted my resumé, as urged by their recent commercials. I’m thinking they are waiting until the postseason to ramp up. And when they do, I’ll be waiting. Until then, I’m like a little hatchling waiting to spring forth from my shell.

Which got me to thinking: what if humans were oviparous? That is to say, what if we were like birds that lay eggs, within with our embryos would gestate? Would we develop special brooding ceremonies? Instead of baby showers perhaps we would participate in arcane rites where protective glyphs would be rendered upon the shells of our offspring. I would venture to say that the reduced sexual dimorphism would result in a more egalitarian society. Without a single sex having the sole obligation of carrying progeny within its body, there would less biological basis for the subjugation of one sex.

One can imagine that the trafficking of young would be more feasible. Laws regarding the commerce of human life prior to hatching would need to be strengthened. Or would the very fabric of humanity’s assumptions about child-rearing change since we were not viviparous? Would egg switching be a common practice? How about brood parasitism?

The most famous practitioner of brood parasitism is the cuckoo bird. Female cuckoos lay their eggs in another species’s nest. To fool the host mother, the egg will mimic the host’s egg. In fact, female European Cuckoos (Cuculus canorus) are divided into specific genetic groups that lay differently patterned eggs to target specific host species. The eggs laid by a female European Cuckoo are indistinguishable from their host’s and retain their host’s pattern regardless of the male parent. Cuckoo embryos develop more quickly than their host species, so when they hatch they will instinctively jostle the host’s eggs out of the nest. Cuckoo chicks are even equipped with a depression in their backs to aid with the disposition of their would-be competitors.

I think I’m driving myself a bit cuckoo with nothing to do and no baseball to play. That’s what you get for putting all your eggs into one basket, I suppose. I’ve heard it’s better to have a hen tomorrow than an egg today anyway. So I’ll forget all that existential angst and just learn to take a yolk.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone birdwatching geeks trying to find a nesting place.

September 2, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Give a Little Bit

The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In lieu of the usual Friday column, I wanted to list some organizations that are part of the rescue effort in the Gulf Coast states. Please consider donating to the charities below to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina. These are all 4-star rated charities as determined by Charity Navigator, an organization dedicated to researching charities and rating them based on their operating capacity and efficiency.

Even the poorer countries of the world are offering to aid the United States.

August 26, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Welkin Home

Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene II
William Shakespeare

It is high time to let the cat out of Schrödinger’s box: I’m beginning to lose faith that I might get a position at NESN. I’ve even resorted trying to divine my future via the extremes of pseudoscience and quackery by consulting horoscopes and other devices of charlatanism. It’s mystifying to me that people think their fates are determined by the observation of astronomical objects all from our relative positions on earth, but I find my self in desperate straits.

I was born on November 23, 1969, so that makes me a Sagittarius. Sagittarians are supposed to be enthusiastic, generous, religious, philosophical, argumentative, blunt, impatient, and pushy. The myth behind the astrological sign of Sagittarius is based on Chiron, a centaur. Centaurs were the only half-man, half-beast creature that was held in any esteem because the ancients respected horses. Chiron was the most honored and was the pupil of Apollo and Diana and thus well-versed in the fields of hunting, medicine, music, and prophecy. In fact, many medical and occult terms still extant have their origins from the name Chiron, a form of the Greek kheir, meaning hand, including chiromancy (palm reading), chiropracty, surgery (originally cirurgerie from Old French), and chiragra (gout of the fingers).

The myth of Chiron tells of him being grievously injured by an arrow shot from the bow of Hercules. The missile had been dipped in the Hydra’s poison that was of such potency that the physician could not heal himself. Here his tale intersects with that of Prometheus, who stole the fire of the gods and granted it to humanity. Prometheus was punished for his misdeed by being chained to a rock in Tartarus while his liver was endlessly eaten and regrown. Hercules requested from Jupiter that Prometheus be freed should someone willing to take the Titan’s place be found. Chiron ceded his immortality to take Prometheus’s place, and the king of gods rewarded him by placing the centaur in the skies as the constellation Sagittarius.

In Chinese astrology, I’m an Earth Rooster. We terrene fowl are much like the bird we are associated with: feisty, resilient, assured, determined, proud, extroverted, and theatrical. This is probably the basis for my telegenic personality. This forecast indicates that the Year of the Rooster bodes well for those of my ilk, so I am trying to remain upbeat. As the old folk say, however, “One day you’re a rooster, the next a feather duster.”

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone linguistics-loving geeks trying to get a word in edgewise.

August 19, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Third Word War

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

From time to time I’ve been accused of being verbose, tedious, and perhaps even a bit highfaluting. I don’t intend to put on airs, of course, that’s just the way I use words. Words are the essential utterances that distinguish us from all known creatures, and I value them above any earthly riches. Language grants form to the amorphous and brings order to the inchoate. It can unify, but just as quickly mystifies. While Mike Remlinger has had time to retreat from his infinite ERA, during my retreat I’ve plumbed the mines of language devotees and discovered some wordplay gems that I’d prefer to share rather than hoard. Sort of how Remlinger is so generous with earned runs.

In the study of linguistics, metanalysis is not some sort of French postmodernist theory but rather the process in which a phrase is changed so that a part of one word fuses onto the other. A famous example is “a nadder” evolving into “an adder.” Baseball has a metanalyzed word of its own with “umpire.” In Middle English, an arbiter was called a “noumpere,” someone who was impartial because he was “not a peer” of the parties in dispute. Tell that to Bob Watson.

Another language quirk is the mondegreen, introduced to us by Sylvia Wright. Wright misheard the last words of the lay “The Bonny Earl O’Murray” as “Lady Mondegreen” rather than “hae laid him on the green.” A more recent offshoot of this effect is the mishearing of popular song lyrics, many which have been collected in books and websites. I’m guilty of one that still amuses my mom to this day. On a long drive, I stared out of the car window, absentmindedly singing “Cheese and spice. Cheese and spice!” Mom looked over baffled and asked what I was singing. I told her it was that cheese and spice song, the one that we heard on the radio that was part of an advertisement for a production at the local theater. “Jesus Christ Superstar” was being performed by the island theater group at the time.

In 1775, Richard Sheridan released a play entitled The Rivals that featured a character named Mrs. Malaprop. Malaprop, from the French “mal à propos” meaning “ill to purpose,” would use pompous words incorrectly much to audience ’s delight. The trait was so notorious it became the basis for malapropisms, which are the unwitting misuses of a word in place of another. One of her famously tortured sentences was, “If I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!” She meant to use apprehend, vernacular, arrangement, and epithets. A common one you will even find in the New York Times is “prosperity” for “posterity.”

Lest you think fictional female characters are the only folk to be immortalized as a word quirk, let us not forget the Reverand William Archibald Spooner. Where mondegreens are slips of the ear, spoonerisms are trips of the tongue in which the initial consonants are switched to humorous effect. “The Lord is a shoving leopard,” is, possibly apocryphally, ascribed to Spooner.

With the advent of the internet and chat programs, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the comic mistypings I’ve witnessed. In our 30-second attention span society, everyone is guilty, so no one person should be singled out with these drifts of the hands and minds. One particularly memorable one I heard was someone typing “manstring” instead of “hamstring” in the Royal Rooters game chat.

For further reading and enjoyment, I recommend:

There might be a conspiracy to convince me that the extra “s” style is unseemly given these names. At any rate, join the lettered cabal. All it costs is time.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone linguistics-loving geeks trying to get a word in edgewise.

August 12, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Diseases That Cure

Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
William Shakespeare

On August 26th, the Red Sox, NESN, and WEEI will host the 4th annual Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon. Last year the event raised $1.56M, exceeding its goal of $1M goal. This year the goal has doubled to $2M.

Originally associated with the Boston Braves, the Jimmy Fund was established in 1948 when a young cancer patient was visited by Braves players. The visit was broadcasted to a national audience, and donations poured in to purchase Jimmy a television so he could watch Braves games. When the Braves left in 1953, the Red Sox adopted the Jimmy Fund as the team’s official charity.

Cancer research has always been at the forefront of medical technology because of its very nature. Although there are many forms of cancer, the hallmark of the disease is aberrant and unrestrained cell division. Mutations in the genes, either hereditary or environmental, which control cell division and growth enable this abnormal behavior. Recent therapies that cause less side effects than chemotherapy and radiotherapy that have been making headlines include advances in monoclonal antibodies, adeno-associated virus type 2 (AAV2), and nanotechnology.

Monoclonal antibodies are proteins cloned from cell lines designed specifically to seek out other proteins called antigens to attack. In cancer therapies, monoclonal antibodies can disrupt particular processes that encourage tumor proliferation and dissemination. Monoclonal antibodies have different mechanisms to affect malignancies; they can target tumor angiogenesis by inhibiting the formation of a vascular network that supplies blood to tumors, or they can impinge mitosis by interrupting the signaling pathways of malignant cells’ division, as well as any other means to breakdown the development of malignancies. Many monoclonal antibodies are available to patients now, such as trastuzumab for breast cancer and cetuximab for colorectal cancer.

Recent developments at Penn State University show a promising deployment of AAV2 as a cancer-killing agent. According to Craig Meyers, Ph.D., AAV2 has no known effects on humans, but recognizes cancer cells as abnormal and destroys them. AAV2 requires a helper virus, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) to activate its viral capacity. HPV is linked with cervical cancer, and when AAV2 and HPV they initiate apoptosis, or cell suicide, of cancer cells. Scientists are currently further researching the way AAV2 causes apoptosis. Another mode that AAV2 can be used is as a gene therapy vector, a modification which would enable it to carry corrective genes into the body to right the mutations that cause cancer cells to grow inexorably.

Nanotechnology has been harnessed as a weapon in the fight against cancer as well. At my alma mater, Stanford University, Hongjie Dai, Ph.D., has pioneered the use of carbon nanotubes and lasers to obliterate cancer cells. Carbon nanotubes absorb light waves that are near-infrared frequencies. These same light waves pass through body tissue without resistance because they are longer than visible light. The nanotubes react to lasers emitting this frequency of light by heating to 158˚F. Cells with nanotubes ensconced within them are destroyed by the heat, but any cells surrounded cells without nanotubes remain unharmed. Dai increased the targeting efficacy of the nanotubes by coating them with folate molecules, making them adhere to cancer cells with folate receptors. He foresees using other molecules to bind to other cancerous cells.

Every new method we find to combat cancer is a step forward. Each year approximately 1.4 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the United States alone, a figure which does not include the 900,000 cases of skin cancer diagnosed. Cancer causes roughly 560,000 deaths a every year. Please consider donating to the Jimmy Fund to help support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, or to a cancer charity of your choice.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks trying to make a difference in this no-good, two-bit world.

August 5, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Musings for the Masses

I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.
Johannes Kepler

Who knew it would take so long to get a return invite from NESN? I’ve been in touch with key people there, but haven’t heard back from them yet. With this seeming lack of interest, I’ve begun to question myself, pondering what exactly I am made of. Is there some essential ingredient lacking that that makes me unfit in their eyes? Maybe something in my atomic makeup that is deficient?

My mind wandered, as it often does, and I began to contemplate the very nature of mass. Perhaps my television persona is theorized to exist but yet to affirmed, like the Higgs boson. The Higgs boson is the as of yet undiscovered elementary particle that, according to the Standard Model of particle physics, is the particle that grants mass to other elementary particles as well as to itself.

I’ve written before about scalar fields, and the hypothetical Higgs boson, like all elementary particles, has a corresponding scalar field. The Higgs field is unlike any other scalar field in three profound ways:

First, the fields we are more familiar with, such as the electromagnetic field, have an intrinsic quantity of angular momentum associated with the the spin of its matching particles. Photons have a spin of 1, while the Higgs boson is unique amongst its peers by having a spin of 0 (zero).

As a consequence of this zero spin, the universe at its natural, lowest energy state is permeated by a nonzero Higgs field. To visualize this, think of a rosin bag that has an indentation after pitcher has punched it. In other quantum fields besides the Higgs, like the electromagnetic field, the bottom of the concave represents zero. The net energy of the system increases if any nonzero field is presented. In picturing a Higgs field, in addition to the concave you have to envision a slight bump in the middle of the recess. This bump represents the Higgs field’s zero, which is surrounded by the lower, nonzero ring.

Lastly, particles react with the Higgs field so that they behave as if they have mass proportional to the field strength multiplied by the strength of the interaction. In this case, a particle interacting with the Higgs field can be imagined as if David Ortiz were walking through a group of fans that begin in a uniform distribution. As fans realize Big Papi was amongst them, they would begin to gather around him. Once he passes through a particular cluster of fans, they return to their original positions. This illustrates how a particle (Ortiz) accrues mass as it interacts with a Higgs field (crowd of fans).

I need to get me some some of the same crowd reaction that guys like Ortiz get to bolster my career ambitions. Then I’d be gettin’ Higgsy wit it. If I get in touch with the folks that run the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP) at CERN, maybe it will help me find a way to amass more appeal.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks looking for a career in television.

July 29, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Dino Bite

I clothed thee also with broidered work, and shod thee with badgers’ skin, and I girded thee about with fine linen, and I covered thee with silk.
Ezekiel 16:10

Trying to break into the television industry isn’t as easy as it seems, despite the fact that Sam Horn has a regular gig. I feel out of place, like a tiny mammal in the Mesozoic, the age of dinosaurs. Looking for inspiration, I read about one mammal that turned the tables and preyed upon dinosaur young. One hundred thirty million years ago, Repenomamus giganticus, a carnivorous badger-like mammal, roamed what would become China. R. giganticus, who I will call Mama Cus (a roundabout play of its scientific name, which made me think of Big Mama Cass), might seem like a misnomer since it was about 3 feet long and weighed 30 pounds, or the size of most dogs. But Mama Cus towered over its warm-blooded contemporaries, most of which were mouse and rat-sized herbivores meekly scampering underfoot of terrible lizards. You wouldn’t find Mama Cus, a triconodont, eating at the local salad bar.

RepenomamusA recently unearthed fossil of Repenomamus robustus, a smaller cousin of Mama Cus, had a juvenile psittacosaur positioned so that it appeared to be have been eaten. In the same dig, Mama Cus fossils were found, confirming that these mammals weren’t limited to the size and diet originally assigned to them. This rich fossil find was part of the Yixian Formation, a perfect location for fossil formation with its sandstone and volcanic ash composition.

“This new evidence of larger size and predatory, carnivorous behavior in early mammals is giving us a drastically new picture of many of the animals that lived in the age of dinosaurs,” said Jin Meng, associate curator at the American Museum of Natural History. Much like Mama Cus and Dr. Meng, I have to buck the trend to forge ahead in my next stated objective. My family and I aren’t hurting for money or anything, though it would be nice to have a bit of an income since EE doesn’t pay whatsoever.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks looking for a career in television.

July 22, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Vision Decision

The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.
Ray Bradbury

Ever since I did that guest stint on NESN, the more convinced I am that television is the ideal industry for me. To that end, I have been exploring every aspect of broadcasting. The essential factor in building a rapport with your viewers is to know how you are presented to them. What better place to start than know exactly how your image is being brought into the living rooms of New England?

The television technology you are probably most familiar with is the cathode ray tube (CRT). Let’s explain this technology by breaking it up into its discrete parts. The tube refers to the vacuum tube through which electron beams from the cathode travel. “Cathode” means “down direction” in Greek, and refers to the negatively charged emitter, or “cathode ray emitter” in the vacuum tube. The rays generated by the cathode activate the “anode,” or positive receiving terminal, in this case a phosphor-coated glass screen. Phosphors are rare earth compounds that fluoresce when hit by the electron beams. Color displays have groups of red, green, and blue phosphor dots, which are not coincidentally the additive colors of light. Three electron beams correlate with three different phosphors, enabling all colors to be displayed.

Comparing liquid crystal display (LCD) technology eliminates the need for the long focal length of a vacuum tube and is therefore more space efficient compared to CRT displays. A picture element, or pixel, in an LCD consists of rod-shaped liquid crystal molecules layered between two transparent electrodes and two transparent polarizing filters, which axes are perpendicular to each other. In a color LCD display, each pixel has subpixels of red, green, and blue. The charged molecules of liquid crystal arrange themselves in a helical configuration when the transparent electrodes convey a charge. Variations in the charge control the twist of the liquid crystal in each subpixel, affecting the intensity of light permitted to pass through the polarizing filter closest to the viewer. LCDs are generally preferred over CRTs because they use less electricity and eliminates almost all radiation exposure.

Plasma displays, or more accurately, gas discharge displays, have a layered configuration much like LCDs, but instead of liquid crystal a layer of an inert gas mixture of xenon and neon is sandwiched between two layers of glass. The gas is contained in hundreds of thousands of cells and a layer of address electrodes line the layer of glass farthest from the viewer. Display electrodes are affixed above each cell, and when the gas atoms are ionized by a charge from the address electrodes they emit light. Different proportions of red, green, or blue are yielded depending upon variations in the pulses of current through the cells. Since plasma screens use the same phosphors as CRTs, color reproduction is highly exact. Like LCDs, plasma displays do not require the space of CRTs, but they do require more electricity to operate than their slim counterparts.

Perhaps the most fascinating television technology is digital light processing (DLP). DLP was developed by Texas Instruments. Images are created on microelectromechanical mirrors, each 16 micrometers square, arrayed on a complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chip. This digital micromirror device (DMD) has anywhere from 400,000 to two million switches, each of which cancels or reflects light based on the input provided to the chip. There are two types of DLP configurations, single-chip and three-chip DMD projectors. Single-chip DMDs rely on a four-sector color wheel between the projection lamp and the DMD, and synchronization between the wheel and chip displays the sequence of red, blue, and green so quickly as to produce the illusion of full color. This system is limited to 16.7 million colors. Three-chip DMDs are capable of displaying 35 trillion colors. The three-chip configuration has a prism to split the light at its source so that each of the primary colors is sent to its own DMD chip. Since each color is being displayed simultaneously, the result is greater color saturation.

Television isn’t what it used to be, and despite Bradbury’s reservations, I believe I can bring a profound and significant contribution to the NESN oeuvre. All I need is another chance.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks looking for a career in television.

July 15, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Speaking Clique

Language is power, life, and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.
Angela Carter

Several things distinguish humanity from other animals, among them behing upright stance, true opposable thumbs, advanced cognitive abilities. But chief amongst these all might be the ability to convey abstract thoughts through language. Since I’m pursuing a second career as a television broadcaster, which requires a deeper understanding of how we communicate, I’ve been reading about Chomskyan linguistics.

Noam Chomsky redefined the study of linguistics, his most influential work being Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. The primary aspects of his linguistic philosophy are universal grammar, the principles and parameters approach, and his ideas about grammaticalness.

Universal grammar argues that all humans have a innate ability to acquire language, and that children attempt to apply this inherent grammar to the particular language which they are learning. This theory attempts to explain how the intracacies and nuances of language are so adeptly learned by children in a short amount of time by positing that a set of rules await refinement by the input these children receive.

The principles and parameters approach extends this theory into specific syntactic modules in our brains to be switched on or off according to the particular language being learned. According to his principles and parameters approach, there is a finite set of fundamental principles common to all languages as well as a finite set of binary parameters that determine a given language’s variability.

Finally, grammaticalness to Chomsky is not merely distinctions in usage and persnickety points about when and where to use a world. Grammaticalness can be determined by the intuition of a native speaker. Rather than relying on a limited pool of observed speech, as behaviorist linguists would do, this approach would free linguistics to explore generative grammars in little-used structures syntaxes that are not encountered in quotidian speech.

I can’t wait for my next NESN appearance now that I’m fully prepared. Bob Tewksbury’s got nothing on me.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks looking for a career in television.

July 8, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Biting Commentary

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. That is the difference between dog and man.
Mark Twain

You can say that someone or something’s bark is worse than its bite, like dogs, politicians, and Kevin Millar. But scientists have recently discovered that a now-extinct carnivorous marsupial, Thylacoleo carnifex, out-bites every known animal that has existed. A watershed excavation in the Nullarbor caves in Australia yielded eight almost complete T. carnifex fossils, along with the remnants of other Pleistocene animals such as Megalania, the world’s largest goanna; Wonambi, a 20-foot long python; and Procoptodon goliah, a short-faced giant kangaroo that could grow to 11 feet tall.

ThylacoleocarnifexT. carnifex, who is affectionately called “leo,” became extinct 46-50,000 years ago, prowled southern Australia for Diprotodon (ancient 3 ton animals similar to wombats) or archaic kangaroos. The creature probably used its retractable claws with semi-opposable thumbs to scale trees and descend upon their chosen prey. Leo weighed in at approximately 550 pounds, and in comparison to even Smilodon (saber-toothed “tigers”) had the greatest biting force yet discovered.

Paleontologist John Long, author of Mountains of Madness: A Scientist’s Odyssey in Antarctica, is now the head of sciences at Museum Victoria and previously worked on the leo exhibition at the Western Australia Museum. His enamorment with this being has inspired him to write a book about the so-called marsupial lion. “You only have to look at them,” said Long, referring to leo’s teeth. “Its dentition is different to anything we have seen in other predators around the world. Leo’s front incisors had serrated edges, just like a kitchen knife. Its carnassial or side-shearing teeth were used to slice flesh once it had subdued its prey.” Sort of reminds me of the Boston media.

Why all the attention to the biting capacity of predators? Scientists Stephen Wroe and Colin McHenry recently published an article in the Royal Society Proceedings comparing the bite force quotient (BFQ) of 39 different carnivores. Interestingly, placental mammals of similar size to their marsupial counterparts have smaller BFQs. Wroe and McHenry theorized that placentals compensated for their lack of brute biting strength by evolving smarter hunting techniques. There just isn’t enough space in the skull for both massive jaw systems and large brain capacities, so in species where one characteristic is selected for, the other will likely diminish.

I won’t extrapolate how all this might apply to Boston Dirt Dog, but I think you know where I’m going on this: big bite, bantam brain.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks with a social conscience.

July 1, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Coloratura

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
Rabindranath Tagore

Everyone’s talking about Brian Roberts and his vision-enhancing MaxSight contacts lenses developed by Nike and Bausch & Lomb. My old comrades in arms Bronson Arroyo and Mike Timlin wear them, as do Danny Graves, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Joe Mauer. The lenses for atheletes in action sports have amber-tinted lenses that filter blue light wavelengths and emphasize the viewer’s perception of red colors. Cutting out the blue light reduces visual noise so that moving objects, such as a pitched baseball, stand out in relation to the background. The lenses also have medical benefits for people with extended solar exposure. Timlin has pterygium, a thickening of corneal tissue that can lead to vision loss.

This scientific breakthrough got me thinking about our exceptional ocular abilities and how they are tied to genetics. Myself, I’m a trichromat like most people; my retinas have red, green, and blue cone photopigments enabling me to have the normal human perception of visible light.

Approximately 8% of men are prone to color-blindness because of the placement of the genes that express red (RCP) and green (GCP) cone photopigments are adjacent on the X chromosome. Since men only have a single X chromosome, they have only one chance to get the correct expression of RCP and GCP. If a female carries a mutated set of photopigments genes in a given egg, her male offspring will not perceive reds or greens as distinct colors because of lack of the proper photopigments. These men would be considered dichromats, and you’ve probably stifled a giggle if you’ve seen one try and dress himself.

In stark contrast, by this same genetic quirk it is possible for women to have the ability to receive four different wavelengths of light, making them tetrachromats. Since women have two X chromosomes, and the expression of GCP or RCP is not limited to a single wavelength value, on rare occasions women could inherit the potential ability to see slightly different values of these colors.

Tetrachromacy would require X-inactivation during embryonic development, where aspects of both the father’s and mother’s X chromosomes would be expressed in their daughter, resulting in a genetic mosaic. An example in cats you can readily see are calico patterned felines. This hypothetical tetrachromat could conceivably perceive the typical red, green, and blue, along with an additional slightly shifted red or blue wavelength.

This raises the fundamental question of whether or not our brain is built to receive four channels of color. Would the developing brain learn to process this additional wavelength, or are we hardwired to only see the three? How early would a developing human need to begin receiving this extra light frequency to be able to process it meaningfully? Would it lay dormant because a tetrachromat would be surrounded by trichromats that could not train her to notice the distinctions she may perceive?

I was asking these questions to my potential new colleagues Tom Caron and Sam Horn. Hopefully you caught me on the NESN pre-game tonight. It’s an exciting new endeavor for me, and I have to say I’ve already impressed my peers, including Michelle Damon who, as soon as she saw mentioned how much Johnny talked about me. We’re meeting sometime this weekend to discuss color perception in more detail. A new beginning, and already I get share the most valuable gift of all: knowledge.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks with a literary bent.

June 24, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Sheer Lunacy

O, swear not by the moon, the fickle moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
William Shakespeare

I have to admit I miss some of the Red Sox locker room antics. Arroyo’s guitar playing (not so much his singing), Timlin and Nixon’s hunting stories, and Millar’s pranks. Specifically thinking of one of Millar’s favorite capers got me to thinking about the moon.

There’s been a lot of coverage lately about how the moon looks larger in the sky than it usually does. One of the primary theories is based on Mario Ponzo’s 1913 discovery that we tend to judge the size of objects based on the background. His example illustrated this concept with two bars of the same length lying across railroad tracks that are drawn to seem as if they are getting farther away from the viewer. The bar that straddles both rails seems larger, while the one that does not appears smaller to the viewer. The problem with this theory is that airplane pilots observe the big moon phenomenon without points of reference on the ground.

Another theory posits that the human brain uses a construct of a flattened dome to when it perceives the moon. According to this theory, as the moon traverses the sky it remains the same size. Our minds, however, impose the flattened dome parameters to our vision and then adjusts our perceptions, and the moon seemingly diminishes.

In truth, there is no definitive answer to this enigma. Sometimes, some things evade explanation, and remain tantalizingly distant to the ministrations of science and logic. And, in truth, at times it is better to be amazed than to analyze, and marvel at the splendor above us.

I go out of the darkness
Onto a road of darkness
Lit only by the far off
Moon on the edge of the mountains.

Will I cease to be,
Or will I remember
Beyond the world,
Our last meeting together?
Izumi Shikibu

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks with a literary bent.

June 17, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Constant Craving

They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.

What if constants were not so constant? Of course, supposedly constant things, like faith, hope, love, and the need for a 6'5" late innings defensive first baseman named “David” not “John” wax and wane over the course of time, in spite of what Shakespeare would have us believe. But, hey, who’s bitter? Those supposed constants are based on human nature, infinitely variable and volatile. True, universal constants, like the velocity of light, the gravitational constant, and the mass of an electron, have not been questioned, as they are the warp and weft that comprise the material of the universe as know it.

Or rather, as we think we know it. Recent findings indicate that the underpinnings of our physical universe may not be as constant as we imagine them to be. M-theory posits that universal consistency is only possible if there are more than four dimensions. With this understanding, the constants we observe might be apparitions of a higher dimensional space where the actual fundamental constants preside.

Since the 1930s, there has been speculation that constants might be fickle. Cosmologists recently have been able to compile data that shows one of these cherished numbers, the fine-structure constant first introduced in 1916, may have varied throughout time.

The formula for the fine-structure constant is:


Where “c” is the velocity of light, “e” is the elementary charge, “h” is Planck’s constant, and “ε0” is the permittivity of free space. The value of α is rounded to 1/137, and I would have made this my number if the major leagues allowed it.

Bizarre things would manifest if α were different:

“[A]ll sorts of vital features of the world around us would change. If the value were lower, the density of solid atomic matter would fall (in proportion to α3), molecular bonds would break at lower temperatures (α2), and the number of stable elements in the periodic table could increase (1/α). If were too big, small atomic nuclei could not exist, because the electrical repulsion of their protons would overwhelm the strong nuclear force binding them together. A value as big as 0.1 would blow apart carbon....

“If α exceeded 0.1, fusion would be impossible (unless other parameters, such as the electron-to-proton mass ratio, were adjusted to compensate). A shift of just 4 percent in would alter the energy levels in the nucleus of carbon to such an extent that the production of this element by stars would shut down.”

AlpharedshiftThe discovery of quasars in the 1960s enabled astronomical observations to measure α more precisely. Light emitted by a quasar travels immense distances, and along their path passes through gas that absorbs the light at frequencies. This absorption is dependent upon the electromagnetic force between the nucleus and the electrons, which also derives the value of the fine-structure constant. Using spectroscopy, Patrick Petitjean, Bastien Aracil, Raghunathan Srianand, and Hum Chand studied 18 different quasars over the course of 34 nights and determined that over the past 10 billion years, α was less than 0.6 parts per million, which they claim proves that the fine-structure constant did not vary.

However (every great mystery of the universe article always has a “however”), a competing duo, mathematician John D. Barrow and astrophysicist John K. Webb, has compiled data that showed that α increased at 6 parts per million over the past six to 12 billion years. Barrow modified Jacob D. Beckenstein’s generalizations to the laws of electromagnetism to accommodate inconstant constants by adding gravity to the mix. This modification made the fine-structure constant more than a constant, but a scalar field, a number which impacts every point in space. Although the increase that Barrow and Webb seems small, when recast as a scalar field, a theory of the historical variations of α emerges. On a cosmic scale, gravity is much stronger than electromagnetism. So, the expansion of the universe and its accompanying impact on gravity affects α, driven by the disparity between electric and magnetic field energy.

“During the first tens of thousands of years of cosmic history, radiation dominated over charged particles and kept the electric and magnetic fields in balance. As the universe expanded, radiation thinned out, and matter became the dominant constituent of the cosmos. The electric and magnetic energies became unequal, and α started to increase very slowly, growing as the logarithm of time. About six billion years ago dark energy took over and accelerated the expansion, making it difficult for all physical influences to propagate through space. So α became nearly constant again.”

So, sigh no more ladies, sigh no more. Formulae were deceivers ever, with one foot in sea and one on shore; to one thing constant never.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone science geeks with a literary bent.

June 10, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Chews Your Destiny

In honor of interleague and my former team, the Red Sox, who are in the City of Hog Butchers, I write about the history of gum.

The word comes from the Middle English gomme, from Old French, from Late Latin gumma, variant of Latin gummi, cummi, from Greek kommi, perhaps from Egyptian mj-t (and even I don’t know how to pronounce that last one). Many cultures invented gum throughout history, and this parallel evolution proves that you can’t keep a good invention down.

In ancient times, the Greeks used mastiche, which was derived from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus, which can be found on Chios, where they still tap the tree the traditional way). Of course, the word “masticate” comes from this substance to English by way of Latin. Mayans also used plant sap for gum, but their tree of choice was the sapodilla (Manilkara zapota), and the chewing material it created is chicle.

Few people know that Antonio López de Santa Anna, the Mexican president, dictator, and general, inadvertently helped spread the usage of gum in the United States during his exile in New York City when the 1860s. He had vast quantities of chicle shipped to the city and was attempting to transform the substance into a replacement for rubber in carriage tires. When this venture proved unsuccessful, his American business partner, Thomas Adams, decided to market chicle as a replacement for the paraffin wax and spruce gum. Adams and his father were fairly successful. Their company, whose first product was called Adams New York No. 1, eventually originated brandnames that persist until our present time, such as Dentyne and Chiclets. The Adams Sons and Company goes through many iterations, including being purchased by Pfizer; the most recent transaction was in 2002 when Adams was acquired by Cadbury Schweppes for $4.2 billion.

But why do we like chewing gum so much? Some say it is an extension of the suckling instinct. Scanning recent publications, there are many ways gum may improve your life. Experts of all different stripes have detailed how gum enhances cognitive performance, improves memory, abates bad breath, and may eventually increase breast size. Chew on that as you enjoy the games at Wrigley Field, and note that William Wrigley is to Thomas Adams and the popularization of gum in America as Abner Doubleday is to Alexander Cartwright and the origination of baseball.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

June 3, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Rehabilitation

It feels wonderful to be back, readers, after too long a hiatus. I want to thank EE for allowing me to continue to inform and enlighten. I would also like to acknowledge the great group of guys that were brought in; they would have brought viewpoints that I wouldn’t necessarily have. In fact, I was inspired by them, and will be expanding my purview even further beyond the vast territory I already cover (similar to how I am when I am in the outfield).

For a while there, I was lost without the Red Sox and my customary spot in the virtual world. Everyday, I’d check my electronic mail (e-mail), hoping some notification from either Mr. Epstein or EE. Refresh, refresh, refresh, all day long on my Gmail page. What a great invention e-mail is. Back in 1971, Ray Tomlinson used a terminal to relay a message digitally to his colleague. It was the first instance of e-mail over a network. The use of the “@” was originated by Tomlinson to show which user was “at” a terminal, and this is the protocol to parse out user identities to this day.

Anyway, I would be online all day, waiting for the word. I’d also check here to see how things were going. I was surprised that Mike Mussina was even considered. I had some classes with him, as we had the same major at Stanford, and he’s never had the breadth and depth of knowledge as others I can mention. As for Miguel Batista and his literary bent, I mean, come on. Poetry is just words. To wit:

On this beauteous night of June,
We dismiss the diegesis platoon.
And welcome back the orignator:
McCarty has returned, all the greater.

Lance Berkman has an agenda, I believe. I think his relatives have an interest in a civil engineering firm in the Houston area; getting rid of Tal’s Hill would position him to benefit from his planned redesign of Minute Maid Park. Don’t believe for a second that his motives are entirely pure.

So, I’m back. During my reprieve I had to opportunity to do extensive research, abstract my findings, and send them to the team and front office for their comments. They haven’t yet gotten back to me, but I’ve been calling them to remind them I need their input. They are always laughing when I call them, but I sense the mirth cloaks the pain they are truly feeling. I’m still as close to the team as I ever was; once a Red Sox player, always a Red Sox player.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site. Welcome back, Dave! We teased you a lot because we had you on the spot, but welcome back.

May 27, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: The Decision

EE: As much as I would like to, I can’t take another trip to interview another candidate. The EE coffers are nearly empty. We’ve got to go with the folks we’ve seen so far.

dEEvil: You should really pick Mike Mussina. I’m certain your fanbase would love that. [Cackle]

angEEl: Don’t be tempted by the dark side, EE. Consume you it will, as a friend once told me.

dEEvil: What’s dark about Mussina?

angEEl: His hair, his eyes, his heart, and his intentions.

dEEvil: Typical naïve goodness. Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.

angEEl: Are not!

dEEvil: Is to!

angEEl: Are not!

EE: Guys... and by “guys” I mean imaginary apparitions of me at about 1/20 scale perched on each of my shoulders with the requisite horns, tail, and pitchfork and wings and halo, respectively... calm down. There’s a choice we’re making....

dEEvil and angEEl: [Singing] We’re saving our own lives....

EE: I hate you both.

dEEvil and angEEl: [Snigger]

EE: So, who’s it going to be?

angEEl: You must take into account the 1,972 voice mails you’ve gotten from David. He truly misses his weekly chance to shine.

dEEvil: I particularly liked message number 784, where he proffers up his soul. That’ll get him places. In fact, hold on a sec. [Whips out mobile phone.]

dEEvil: [Into the phone] Yo, Belial. Did that deal we were considering go through or what? No kidding? Excellent. Tell Dantalian “hi.” Talk to ya.

dEEvil: Okay, then, I’m fine with McCarty.

angEEl: Hold on a second, I don’t like how that sounded. Was that about David?

dEEvil: No, of course not.

angEEl: Ah, all right. [Smiles placidly]

EE: [Sighs] If we go with McCarty, we go with what the readers want. I’m all about making them happy. Except if they are Canadians, of course.

angEEl: Heaven’s coming out with a encyclical about them, and it was determined they have no soul.

EE: That was pretty apparent with Alan Thicke.

dEEvil: About time. The exchange rate for Canadian souls was paltry.

EE: Anyway, I’ll give Dave a call. Hopefully he’ll have time to do this.

dEEvil: He probably has time to broker peace in the Middle East.

angEEl: Or invent cold fusion.

dEEvil: Hey, that was pretty good, wingy.

angEEl: I have my moments, my hooved friend.

EE: [Sighs] Not even my internal dialogues are unique.

May 20, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Replacement Candidate #3

EE: So, Lance, what we try and do with the weekly Friday columns is bring to the audience topics that may interest them, such as developments in engineering, medicine, or other technologies, and couch it in terms of a major league baseball player’s experience. With your degree in engineering from Rice, we think you would be ideal to replace Dave.

Berkman: Your timing on this is outstanding. While I was on the disabled list, I started on a project to redesign Minute Maid Park’s monstrosity in center field, Tal’s Hill.

EE: That’s an idea whose time has come.

Berkman: You may have seen me make some incredible plays on that incline when I played center, but I tell you, it totally compromised the health of my knees. In fact, I believe that hill is the reason I was put on the DL.

EE: I thought it was because you were playing flag football in the offseason?

Berkman: That may have also been a contributing factor, but the primary cause is the stress placed on my body from having to navigate that difficult terrain.

EE: I could definitely see this Tal’s Hill thing being a column.

Berkman: A column? Like, one single post? No way. This would be at least a 12-week project.

EE: We like to be exhaustive, but 12 weeks on a single topic seems like overkill.

Berkman: And that 12-week estimate, that’s an overly optimistic timeframe, frankly. I could have easily said 20 weeks. So, here’s how I would map it out: the first 5 weeks would cover demolishing the current hill, the next 5 would be presenting the 5 different combinations of clay, dirt, and turf I have devised, the next 5 would be the installation of the selected field stratum, and finally, a 5-week evaluation of the new field performance.

EE: I need to interject here that our readers expect a certain depth as well as breadth in the Friday columns. For example, Dave would write about knee biomechanics one week and the entropic end of existence as we know it the next.

Berkman: This always happened to us engineers. We’re forced to come up with a solution to a pressing problem and not given the proper time and resources to successfully execute it. There’s just one reason why I’d rather be playing in the bigs than actually putting my degree to use. It would just be wasted on unaware project managers. Or content editors, in this case.

EE: You also have $85M other reasons that you signed for just this past March.

Berkman: There’s no denying that. Anyway, I’d be interested as long as I can fully document the Tal’s Hill project.

EE: I’ll run this past the other staff members. Thanks for your time, Lance.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty used to join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site. Since he was designated for assignment recently and will mostly like retire, EE is in the process of finding a replacement. Help....

May 13, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Replacement Candidate #2

The Scene
Lula Lounge, Toronto. Open mic night.

EE: Is Miguel Batista performing tonight?

Bouncer: Yes, and it’s $5 cover.

EE: Can you give me a receipt on that? Because I’m doing this for this site I write for, and I’m expensing this trip, so....

Bouncer: No receipt.

EE: Okay, so can I, like, listen to him from the doorway?

Bouncer: No, it’s against the fire code.

EE: [sighs] Here it is.

[EE correspondent makes her way to a table where a guy is already seated but one seat is open.]

EE: Is this seat taken?

Guy: Not at all. You here to hear Miguel?

EE: Yes, I’m scouting him out for a column for the blog I write. We might go in a new direction for one of the columns.

Guy: [snorts] A blog? Doesn’t everyone have one of those?

[Miguel Batista strides onto the stage with an acoustic guitar. He seats himself on a barstool in the middle of the stage. A lone spotlight shines on him. He strums a violent chord.]

Batista: Placental beings overtake oviparous sluggards, fur flies

[Light, rhythmic strumming, more subdued than his initial attack.]

Batista: Flight evolved in parallel paths
Freed from the ground, rules in the sky

[Executes a rapid flamenco-like flourish.]

Batista: Flashback, screen wipe
Rivera yells “Catch the ball!”
Futile syllables aloft

[Batista bows. A smattering of applause.]

Heckler: Good thing you make $4.75M a year. I’d pay you that much to get off the stage!

Guy: Ugh. No one appreciates art these days.

EE: [whispers into iPod voice recorder] See if Lance Berkman might be interested.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty used to join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site. Since he was designated for assignment recently and will mostly like retire, EE is in the process of finding a replacement. Special thanks to Andrew of 12eight for the Miguel Batista suggestion. He’s a fan of “bad puns.” This seems to indicate that he believes good puns exist. Who will break the truth to him?

May 6, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Replacement Candidate #1

EE: So the goal here, Mike, is to write about a topic in science, sociology, literature, and so forth, for an audience of baseball fans. Dave was very good about bringing his on-field experience, combining it with cutting edge developments, and presenting it to the readership.

Mussina: Baseball fans are interested in things other than beer and gambling?

EE: Well, sure, yes. The readership here is a fairly eclectic group. You really shouldn’t underestimate them.

Mussina: If you say so. So, I can talk about the differences between the classical theory of economics versus the marginalist economic theory, and your readers would eat that up?

EE: Yes, especially if you write about it using your team as an analogue. For example, you could describe the marginal utility of the Yankees winning a World Series. Frame it in terms of how much more happiness a customer receives from purchasing in contrast with buying less. Is the Yankee organization satiated, so that with the hypothetical next World Series Championship that your team buys, the winning won’t be as enjoyable as the previous titles, and so brings less marginal utility?

Mussina: Having never experienced winning a championship, I wouldn’t know.

EE: Oh, that’s right. My apologies. Slipped my mind.

Mussina: Upon reflection, I have to say this does intrigue me. It’s not like I hang around with my teammates a lot, so I have a surfeit of time to work on this.

EE: Glad to hear this is something you might want to contribute to. We’ll be in touch.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty used to join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site. Since he was designated for assignment recently and will mostly like retire, EE is in the process of finding a replacement.

April 29, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Bacterium® 4 Processor

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.
Rich Kulawiec

Sorry this week’s column is a little late; I was busy troubleshooting Terry’s laptop because it had a virus. As I was disinfecting his computer, I thought about the possibilities of biological processing through engineering bacteria. It’s a fascinating topic, and I could tell Terry was enraptured by my explanation. Unfortunately, he got pulled away into a pre-game meeting before I could finish explaining this new computational methodology. At least I get to tell my readers about this novel nexus of life and artifice.

Ron Weiss is a major figure in a new inter-disciplinary field that could be labeled “synthetic biology.” He is an assistant professor of electrical engineering and molecular biology at Princeton University, and he programs cells by developing and inserting synthetic gene networks into cells. By being able to control biological material on a cellular level as if it were a living computer, Weiss anticipates his research will advance living tissue engineering, biosensing and effecting, biomaterial fabrication, and the understanding of naturally occurring biological processes.

BacteriacomputerHis team was able to manipulate E. coli colony to glow with either red or green light in response to a signal sent by a different set of E. coli. Although we’re probably decades away from full control of cells through artificial mechanisms, one of the first applications of this technique may enable us to detect bioterrorist compounds with greater efficacy. Unlike current methods of detection, bacteria could be programmed to “have an exquisite capability to sense molecules in the environment,” Weiss said. “The bull’s-eye could tell you: This is where the anthrax is.”

Weiss exploits the widely found biological phenomenon of “regulatory cascades,” which in computer programming terms are simply algorithmic processes to respond to a set of stimuli. When the naturally occurring sets of instructions are replaced by artificial means, Weiss calls them “synthetic transcriptional cascades.” In a paper submitted to the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, Weiss states that although there is a certain level of predictability in the output of programmed cells, phenotypic variations in cell populations introduced variable reactions, and these differences are more pronounced in longer cascades.

I’m encouraged by this new fusion of biology and engineering, both genetic and electrical. Maybe the next time I fix Terry’s computer, I’ll be giving it an aspirin rather than downloading a software patch. Take two of these and your laptop will be able to go over the advanced scouting reports in the morning.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

April 22, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Beyond the Fields We Know

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.
Jalal ad-Din Rumi

You might think of me as simply an outstanding first baseman, especially after that play I made earlier this week, but I also pride myself in my outfield prowess. Whenever I’m prowling the edges of the field robbing hitters of extra base hits, the other guys ask me what the heck I’m doing out there. So I tell them I’m using a combination of the linear optical trajectory (LOT) and optical acceleration cancellation (OAC) models of tracking moving objects.

Some of my teammates think I’m crazy for using both LOT and OAC, because I guess they are proponents of a simplified adoption of either one or the other. I then decided to attempt to prove that my tactic was correct. I had offered to take part in this April 2002 study, but after I had sent a dozen or so e-mails to Dennis Shaffer and Michael McBeath, the authors, with some of my suggestions, they regretfully informed me that they had all the participants they needed. It was a great effort, however, only to be refuted by a competing faction with this comment in December of 2002.

OacFielders using the OAC model supposedly have a two-step approach. They first align themselves horizontally with the path of the ball, then they run towards to ball at a speed that makes it appear as if it were rising at a constant rate. For this approach to be successful, fielders need to adjust to the correct speed to cancel the ball’s acceleration. Run too slowly and the ball will appear to slow down and land in front of the fielder; too quickly, and the ball seemingly speeds up and land behind the fielder. The essential assumption behind this method is that people are adept at discerning acceleration, which is actually not the case. In practice, the most difficult ball to field is one hit directly at a fielder, while the OAC theory presumes that it would require more effort to run laterally to the flight of the ball. I’ll be the first to tell you, and I’m not alone among outfielders, that it is actually easier to track down a ball from the side.

LotThis brings us to the LOT framework. LOT assumes that a fielder uses the differential between straight and curved trajectories rather than changes in speed. The LOT theory is based on evidence that people are better at determining minute changes in optical curvature. When I’m out in the field, the ball looks like it moves in a straight line and at a constant speed relative to the background scenery. To counteract this, I would run on a curved path to accommodate the curvature of the ball’s trajectory.

There are limitations to using only one of the methods at a time, so, like the best outfielders, I use an amalgam of both strategies. Especially on windy days or balls hit with a lot of spin, where the trajectory of the ball is less predictable, both modes should be employed.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site, and this week perhaps Ultimate aficionados like NU five oh who likely use a synthesis of LOT and OAC when playing.

April 15, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Neurochemistry in the Time of Cholera

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Faith, hope, love. But the greatest of these are oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. Serotonin is probably strongest of all. Or perhaps it is vasopressin receptors.

In trying to understand Terry Francona’s almost obsessive attachment to Mike Myers, I sought answers in the realm of neurochemistry. Why is the already feeble human brain, continually wrought with counter-productive emotions such as guilt and self-doubt, subject further to the unpredictable neurochemical chicanery of love? This is the question Helen Fisher, an anthropologist, delves into throughout her research. Fisher defines three stages of love and the associated chemicals that drive the impulses underlying those phases.

The first stage is lust, where the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen play center stage. I’m fairly certain Francona has gotten over this phase since, as we all can see, Mike isn’t much to look at. But, when they initially met, testosterone probably surged. This hormone aids in gaining lean body mass, increasing sex drive, and promoting aggressive behavior.

Second, there is attraction, where you think continually about your object of affection. This is where Francona is at with Myers, I believe. A set of secretions that are both hormones and neurotransmitters, called catecholamines, consisting of dopamine, norepinephrine (similar to adrenaline), and serotonin bombard the brain.

  • Dopamine is found in the areas of the brain that controls movement and balance. The lack of this transmitter is a factor of Parkinson’s Disease. This catecholamine is also a primary actor in the pleasure centers of the brain. Vital activities such as eating and sex are rewarded, but this also engenders the danger of addiction.
  • Norepinephrine causes the increase of heart rate, strengthens the heart’s contractions, opens airways in the lungs, and in general enacts a range of impulses that comprise the fight-or-flight response. This compound mobilizes the sympathetic nervous system to meet a challenging situation, like which LOOGY to call up in the correct situation.
  • Serotonin is the primary mood-elevating chemical. More properly called 5- hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), its original name has its origins in the fact that it was originally thought to be an agent only in vasoconstriction, or decrease in the diameter of blood vessels. However, 5-HT’s effects are far wider ranging, and play a large role in affective disorders and addiction. A deficiency in 5-HT can lead to depression and anxiety. A study has shown that in some cases, the 5-HT levels for infatuated people actually decrease, causing depressive disorders.

Finally, there is the attachment phase where lasting commitment is required, primarily to ensure that the couple bond will last long enough to raise children. Two hormones in particular, oxytocin and vasopressin, are thought to play a role in long-term relationships.

  • Oxytocin is released by during child birth to secrete milk and also fortify the mother-child bond. However, it is also released during orgasm, which Fisher theorizes may intensify adult bonding.
  • Vasopressin primarily directs kidney function, but may assist in forging committed unions. Vasopressin receptors were originally studied in prairie voles, one of the 3% of mammal species that are monogamous. A closely related species that differ by less than 1% genetically, montane voles, are a stark contrast with their cousins, since they are inveterate philanderers. It turns out that the montane voles have no receptors for oxytocin and vasopressin, and therefore building loyal relationships do not affect the reward centers of their brain.

So, love isn’t really a drug, but a complex interaction of neurochemicals that imbue those in our lives with a complex reaction of varying hormonal secretions, dependent upon whether or not the receptors for said chemicals exist. Isn’t it romantic?

(Incidentally, the bitter almond reference in the Marquez quote alludes to a common symptom of cyanide poisoning. Cyanide works by blocking metabolism on the mitochondrial level. You’re not likely to last very long with reduced aerobic respiration. You’ll be able to breathe, but oxygen would not be processed on the cellular level. Glycolysis, or anaerobic metabolism, will continue, and the buildup of high levels of lactic acid (lactic acidosis) that is the by-product of glycolysis can be life-threatening. Lactic acidosis, in conjunction with the shortage of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the universal energy-releasing molecule found in all known living things, make a lethal pairing. Although cyanide targets metabolism, the brain has a high metabolic rate, which makes the poison effectively a neurotoxin. The breath of victims of this poison often have a characteristic almond odor. The huge, energy-consuming human brain, the bane of us all.)

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site. Special thanks to Pine Tar Helmet for her insights into the Francona/Myers relationship.

April 8, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Stemming the Tide

One topic that incites much furor and little understanding is stem cell research. With the ethical, religious, medical, and scientific interests that converge over this subject, many people find themselves taking sides without the access to unbiased information. Much of what is available is skewed towards the agenda of political groups.

To familiarize you with the terminology, there are many key definitions to learn. First, there are three classes of stem cells: pluripotent, multipotent, and totipotent.

Pluripotent stem cells come from human embryos a few days old. Once a cell “line” has been isolated and established, however, they can be used indefinitely in the laboratory, since they can proliferate without differentiation in vitro. Cell differentiation is the process where the features of a specialized cells are acquired.

Note that some adult stem cells, specifically hematopoietic cells, bone marrow stromal cells, and brain stem cells, are also pluripotent. Hematopoietic cells can develop into three major types of brain cells (neurons, oligodendrocytes, and astrocytes), skeletal muscle cells, cardiac muscle cells, and liver cells. Stromal cells may differentiate into cardiac muscle cells and skeletal muscle cells. Finally, brain stem cells can generate blood cells and skeletal muscle cells.

There are other stem cells originating from adults that are multipotent. They are further down the path of differentiation than pluri- and totipotent stem cells, and therefore their potential for treatment is limited. The potential supply of adult multipotent stem cells is much lower than other types of stem cells since they are more difficult to isolate and purify. Furthermore, these cells are more prone to mutations upon replication.

Finally, there are totipotent stem cells, which can originate all different cell types. An embryo is totipotent until around the 16-cell stage.

Stem cells are necessary for the experimental cell-based therapies that may eventually treat every known illness. These novel techniques induce stem cells to differentiate into the specific cell type required to repair damaged or depleted adult cell populations or tissues. Another aspect of stem cell research is uncovering the molecular and genetic controls of the process of cell differentiation to better manipulate the cells into the correct cell type needed.

Many have labeled stem cells as the holy grail of medicine, a panacea for all the infirmities that trouble people. However, significant barriers remain until cell-based therapies can be widely used, including overcoming technological, ethical, political, and religious limitations.

Perhaps someday stem cells can be used to stop Tom Carron’s male pattern baldness, correct Jerry Trupiano’s lack of depth perception, and adjust the ear deformities that plague the Ronan Tynans and Eric Friedes of the world. But, more importantly, stem cell research may possibly cure ailments such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, chronic heart disease, liver failure, cancer, spinal cord injuries, burns, stroke, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The amount of suffering these maladies cause is reason enough to further investigate cell-based therapies.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site, and in this case, beatlesfab4fan, a proponent of science alleviating human suffering. We all know how we suffer with one of Trupiano’s “way back” calls.

April 1, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Fooling the Fire

My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.
Ursula K. LeGuin

I’m as jocular as the next guy, so it should come as no surprise that April Fool’s Day, originally named All Fool’s Day and called Poisson d’Avril in France, is one of my favorite days. Like baseball, however, the origins of this day are disputed. Some say that in the conversion from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1582, the hidebound people that didn’t convert to the new calendar were mocked and sent on fool’s missions. Others say that its genesis was in the Roman festivals of Saturnalia or Hilaria (held in the winter and spring respectively), the Indian celebration of color called Holi (where participants threw multi-hued powders at each other), or the Northern European fete of Lud (the Celtic god of humor). At any rate, it’s a day where people can loosen up around each other, although some folks, like my teammate Kevin Millar and his semi-nude jumping jacks, hardly need an excuse.

Here are some of my recommended pranks:

  1. Tell your friends that you solved one of the Millennium Problems and that you’re going to share the prize money with them.
  2. Write an amusing paper for the Annals of Improbable Research, perhaps something about insomniac cats with eating and/or attachment disorders.
  3. Claim that you’ve downloaded Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and will have a viewing tonight. Show Spaceballs instead.
  4. Develop and design a website showing that Star Trek: Enterprise wasn’t canceled. Send the link to your mailing list.
  5. Fiddle with Theo Epstein’s laptop, adjusting my stats so that I’ll make the 25-man roster.

Enjoy the day, gang. Unfortunately, this will be the last “Dave’s Diegesis” for a while, as I’m working on a knuckleball and that will take up a lot of my time. I’ll try to drop in as often as possible, however.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

Continue reading “Dave’s Diegesis: Fooling the Fire” »

March 25, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Dark Matters

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians xiii. 12.

Earlier this year astronomers found evidence of a dark matter galaxy. At first it was thought to be a mass of hydrogen atoms, but on closer observation it was much more massive and fast moving to be merely hydrogen. (Incidentally, hydrogen is the only element whose isotopes have different names. The simplest and most abundant form of hydrogen is known as protium. Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, has a nucleus of a proton and an neutron. Finally, tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen with a nucleus of a proton and two neutrons and a half-life of 12 1/4 years.)

Although originally detected in 2000, it has taken five years to rule out other possible explanations for this unseen matter. The dark matter galaxy was named VIRGOHI21. Dark matter makes up approximately 85% of the mass in the universe, and the existing mass matters because it will ultimately determine the fate of the cosmos.

I often discuss astronomy with my teammates. They’re always telling me that I’m really into space and that they like that I’m out there. I give them constant updates about such pressing issues as the cosmological constant. I mean, everyone wants to know if the end of the cosmos will be the Big Crunch, the Big Rip, or the Big Chill, right? Just yesterday I was explaining to Millar the Friedman equation:


If we knew the value of Omega (Ω), we’d know how it all ends. If the average density of matter is greater than the critical density, then the gravity attracting all extant matter would reverse the expansion of the universe and cause the Big Crunch. If this density is below the critical density, and recent evidence of the increasing speed of the universe expanding bears out over the course of the next 2x1010 years, then the Big Rip comes into play. Finally, if the average density is equal to the critical density, then the universe expands forever at a constant rate until everything is the same undifferentiated temperature.

Kevin was blown away, and then mentioned how he’d prefer the Big Chill because of the swinging. I went back to the whiteboard and tried to show him the laws of thermodynamics, but he got pulled away on urgent grooming issues with the Fab Five. We set up an appointment to talk more next week.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

March 18, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Saints’ Days and Dehydrogenase

MccartycrestForgive me if I’m not entirely coherent. I’m a bit hungover from my St. Patrick’s Day festivities. I broke out the old McCarty family crest (argent with a red stag) and imbibed a few frosty ones to honor St. Patrick. The man that became the patron saint of Ireland was actually born in Wales with the name Maewyn Succat around 385 CE. Suffering Succat-ash! Heh, heh. Although born into a pagan culture, a vision sent him to France, where he became a priest.

(I have a massive headache. Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) is the enzyme people have to break down alcohol. If this enzyme didn’t exist in our livers and stomachs, alcohol would act as a poison causing flushing, syncope, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, headache, tachycardia, anxiety, and confusion. Or perhaps that was me watching too much Riverdance. ADH first converts ethanol to acetaldehyde, which is further broken down into harmless acetic acid by aldehyde dehydrogenase. Acetaldehyde, or ethanal, is more toxic than alcohol and is the cause of many hangover symptoms. Stupid ethanal.)

St. Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the populace to Christianity. He used the three-leafed shamrock to symbolize the trinity, founding a long tradition of Irish people trotting the globe being holier-than-thou. Did I say that? I didn’t mean it, it’s the ethanal talking. I love U2. How is it that U2 is getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already, anyway?

Every March 17th, people celebrate St. Patrick’s day by wearing green, drinking beer, having parades that exclude gays and lesbians (even though he is the saint of excluded people), and pondering the fact that there are chefs that specialize in Irish cuisine. And then being even more befuddled by the existence of a sentence that unironically uses the words “Irish” and “cuisine” together.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site, who carries the Asian phenotype of low-activity aldehyde dehydrogenase.

March 11, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Knee Deep In It

MeniscaltearsYou may have heard that my teammate Roberto Petagine will be undergoing surgery for a partially torn meniscus. The menisci are the shock absorbers of the knee. They assist in centering the knee joint during activity and minimizing the amount of stress on the articular cartilage. Both menisci and the surface cartilage in your knee produces a nigh frictionless gliding surface, making the knee the most mobile joint in the body. Such mobility introduces the higher probability of damage, however.

Typically, a meniscus will tear due to a twisting injury. Roberto can expect to feel pain at the side or in the center of the knee, depending on where the tear is. He should able to walk, although swelling will increase over 2 to 3 days. If he overuses the knee, he may further injure the knee, so it is likely he won’t be making the 25-man roster.

It has been said that the knee is the most vulnerable part of the body. An equivalent would be two steel bars being held together by a couple of rubberbands. For average people, the knee is used over a million times a year; as you can imagine, a Major League baseball player uses his knees considerably more. Roberto’s unfortunate happenstance might give me a spot back on the roster. The wise Bill Watterson said, through Calvin, “If your knees aren’t green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously re-examine your life.”

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site. He thanks Pine Tar Helmet for her idea to induce injury to Petagine...err, explore the marvel that is the human knee, that is.

March 3, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: White House Visit

Dave McCarty and Mark Bellhorn were miked up for the visit to the White House on March 2, 2004. The tape was confiscated by the Secret Service immediately after the visit.

DM: Err, testing? Testing, one, two, three....

MB: Testes...?

DM: What’s that, Mark? The crew was saying something at the same time.

MB: ...

DM: Okay, well, greetings, folks! We’re here live at the White House on a gorgeous March afternoon. It’s a significant day, not only because the Boston Red Sox, your 2004 World Champions, are visiting the White House, but because this is the 169th anniversary of Texas independence.

MB: Sixty-nine. Heh.

DM: One hundred sixty-nine, actually, Mark.


MB: Sure.

DM: Anyway, you’ll recall that this proclamation set the wheels in motion for the standoff at the Alamo. Since it was such a bloody conflict, there’s a lot of discussion and revisiting of the issues surrounding the event. It was the nexus of American expansion and expression of identity versus the established Mexican government. I can’t wait to talk to President Bush about this historic occasion. I’m sure he doesn’t have penetrating analysis of the topic, but I’d like to see how his handlers prepped him.

MB: I was talking to him earlier. Out in that garden.

DM: Really? In the Rose Garden? Frankly, I’m a little jealous. So, uh, what did you talk about?

MB: Not much really. Plants.

DM: There are quite a few intriguing botanical specimens in the Rose Garden. Did you see the magnolias, or the crab apple trees? How about the hyacinths...what’s that smell? It’s a little smoky around here.

MB: Not sure.

DM: It’s coming from you, I think.

MB: Nah. You’re imagining things.

DM: I do have an active imagination, this much is true.

MB: I’m hungry. When’s lunch?

Special thanks to Pine Tar Helmet for the Dave/Manny dialogue idea, although Mark Bellhorn had to pinch hit for Manny. (Something that would never happen in real life. Isn’t the blogosphere cool?)

February 25, 2005

Dave’s Diegesis: Synesthetes Unite

MccartyIt’s been fun down here in Ft. Myers, but if I work out too hard, I get winded and start feeling chartreuse.

That doesn’t make sense you say? Well, to a unique group of people called synesthetes who have oddly entwined perceptions, that statement could be true. This condition, called synesthesia, causes a person’s sense of hearing, touch, taste, and smell to be associated with color. Although once considered an overactive imagination, this has an actual basis in neurology. Neurologists theorize that we are all born synesthetes. However, in the course of normal development, people’s neural connections gradually process sensory inputs into more and more discrete categories that eventually become the five senses. In synesthetes, it is believed that the separation of senses is not completed. So, each letter of the alphabet is tangibly associated with a color, or chicken tastes like chicken, but also like puce.

All of my teammates are just as fascinated by synesthesia as I am. Why, just yesterday I think I diagnosed Jason Varitek as synesthetic. I asked him if he could smell Alex Rodriguez’s fear at the plate, and he said, “Yep, by the blue of his lips I can tell he’s scared.”

Well, I hope you enjoyed my first appearance here. I certainly did, and I’ll be here before next Friday. I can’t say much more than White House visit... live.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site.

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