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Our office view

We are enjoying Day 1 of my research group’s semi-annual writing retreat, this year at the visually inspiring Wildflower house at the Sundance Resort.  Besides finally getting all the papers done we have been meaning to do all year, the retreat also gives us an opportunity to do some group professional development with an outside expert.

This evening, that expert was my spouse and science journalist Genevive Bjorn, who led us through a discussion of the Nature article “Initial sequencing and analysis of the human genome” (Lander et al., 2001, Nature, 409, 860-921).  This is the famous “first human genome” paper produced as part of the Human Genome Project.  As a group of astronomers dissecting the 62-page foundational article of the field of genomics, we experienced the frequent perspective of scientists outside our field trying to understand our work.

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Last month we celebrated the first birthday of the daughter of one our dear friends on Maui, Anuhea.  The first birthday is a cause for celebration in traditional Hawaiian culture, accompanied by an ahaaina palala which has evolved into the modern day “baby luau“.  Part of the palala includes gifts (pule), chants (mele) and dances (hula) by friends and family to express their aloha for the child (see The Polynesian Family System in Ka u, Hawaii by ES Craighill Handy & Mary Kawena Pukui).

As our pule to Anuhea, my wife and I composed the following “name chant”, or mele inoa.  It was modeled from the mele inoa written for Barack Obama, “Hiki Maila Ke Ali‘i Ho‘oulu” by (Kumu Hula) Manu Ikaika.  The child’s first name, Anuhea, means cool, gentle rain, so part of our mele refers to her as the gentle rain that nourishes our hearts and outlasts even the strongest storms.  Her second name, Pomaikai, means wisdom, good fortune and prosperity, which we of course wish for her in her life ahead.

If anyone could help translate this completely (and properly!) into Hawaiian, we’d be very grateful!

Kaikamahine o Maui (Daughter of Maui)

Look at our daughter, gentle and soothing
A child who brings joy to all around her

A gentle rain that nourishes the land
And helps the seed of love spread in our hearts

Her voice is a sweet melody that lifts the spirit
Her strength is her gentle way

Oh child of the land
Allow the goodness in your heart to flourish

Take courage even as the tempests come
Knowing they too return to the gentle rain

May you grow to be a wise, joyful and creative woman
Infused with the love of your ohana

E ola mai
Ka pono o ke ao
E aloha e
He inoa no Anuhea Po
maikai Fortune

Boy or Girl...or both?

I’m currently reading “The Polynesian Family System in Ka’u, Hawai’i” by ES Craighill Handy and Mary Kawena Pukui.  Kawena (her full name is Mary Abigail Kawenaʻulaokalaniahiʻiakaikapoliopelekawahineʻaihonua Wiggin Pukui) was a very notable and respected author on Hawaiian culture, having written over 50 scholarly works including “the” Hawaiian-English dictionary and “‘Olelo No’eau“, a collection of 3000 Hawaiian proverbs.  If you have any interest in Hawaiian culture or history, pick up anything and everything written by Kawena.

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I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and I need to put my Nigerian fortune in your bank account

My blog has (barely) garnered enough hits to get seriously targeted by comment-spam; comments that almost sound like someone is interested but clearly is meant to sell something.  While WordPress is very good about catching these spams, and I generally ditch them without a thought, the most recent one caught my eye as it seemed to provide just about every possible permutation of comment-spam I’ve ever seen.  Reading through them, I realized that while they are hideously repetitive, abysmal in their spelling and grammatical structure, and offensive in their obvious lack of context, they are nevertheless subtly appealing in their effusive compliments and positive reinforcement.  Indeed, I would love if one of my blogs forced someone “to try and do therefore” (whatever that means), and only spam would thank me not once, but three times in a single comment.   If we were to shed the buy-me links, are we left with context-free ramblings or psychologically therapeutic mantras ala Stuart Smalley?  Is this mechanized gibberish or literary art for the 21st century?

I’ve trimmed the massive spam to the 10 “themes” that seem to repeat themselves.  Read for yourself and decide if Deepak Chopra should be worried for his career.

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tempThe past few weeks I’ve been laid up by a knee injury (bad timing for the winter surf season, sigh), which has forced me to figure out things to do while immobile.  Fortunately this period coincided nicely with my recent infatuation with the French language.  While on travel in Paris in late November I realized how much I love the sound and expressiveness of French, and really wanted to be conversant in it.  Being stuck in bed, I turned to that seemingly limitless resource, the internet, to see what was available.  Here’s a review of some of my favorite FREE online resources, and my personal grade ranking.

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