Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Prius Flat Tire

Work has kept me so busy lately that I haven’t had time to do much of anything, so imagine my frustration when I heard that tell-tale “pop” noise coming from my rear right tire as I drove down I-405 on my way home late last night.  But the car still rode okay, so it wasn’t till I was home that I discovered this tire was not repairable.

Flat tire

Immediately I checked PriusChat and found that the best tire for a Prius is the Nokian WR, which goes for something like $160+ each at places like the Tire Factory in Redmond.   Turns out that my Prius Touring Edition has 16” wheels, which are not terribly easy to find in stock in any case.  Other people recommended the Michelin Pilot Primacy (also sold at Costco), but at $163 it actually costs about the same as the Nokian and doesn’t get as good gas mileage.  Didn’t matter, cuz it wasn’t in stock at the places I called.

Argh.  Long story short I ended up going to my favorite tire place, Les Schwab, who sold me the Toyo Proxes T1R, for about $350 for two of them, installed.  It’s a sport tire, so supposedly I’ll get better handling, but I really wanted better fuel economy.  I guess that’s the down side of the Touring Edition Prius—you end up with sport tires because nobody keeps anything else in stock.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Confidence in Fred Jarrett

I think there are at least two kinds of politicians: the "populists" and the "wonks". Too many politicians are populists, who treat government like a popularity contest: a grown-up version of the Homecoming King and Queen (come to think of it, a lot of politicians are former homecoming kings).

We need more wonks, which is why I'm voting for Fred Jarrett. Meet him in person like I did this weekend and you'll see why: he is knee-deep in the details about the issues that matter to him (and me): like education  and transportation.

Here are a couple of areas where he changed my mind:

  • Vote no on I-985: I'm partial to cars--it's far and away the most important way people get around, and I disagree with the do-goodies who push ultra-expensive mass transit that won't help a bit. I figured there's enough opposition to I-985 that it won't pass anyway, but I want to send a message that cars are important. Not anymore. Fred thinks it's likely to pass, unfortunately. I agree with him that it would be a disaster (micromanage how traffic lights get synchronized? Puh-lease)
  • It’s possible to get bad teachers to quit, through policy changes that don’t have to upset their union.  Best example: make pensions portable.  A lot of middle-aged teachers would love to change jobs but the golden handcuffs of their generous pensions are keeping them there.  What if we could make their pensions portable?  through defined contribution (like the 401k that I have) or through something else…  I think that’s the single best way to improve schools.
  • Tolling on I-90.  Fred’s opponent, Bob Baker, talks like it’s a simple matter of “just say no”, but in fact Bob Baker’s naive stance would make matters far worse for Mercer Island.  [this deserves its own post, like the one from Surrounded by Water]

I'm not surprised the non-partisan Municipal League gives Fred the highest rating for our district.

Stop by the Education Funding blog he runs with several other legislators for more wonky details.

Vote for Fred Jarret, Washington 41st Legislative District

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kenmore Airlines to Camp Orkila

As far as I know there’s no law forcing us to do it, but for some reason it seems like all Mercer Island fathers enroll in the Y-Guides program of the Lake Heights Family YMCA, a highlight of which is when we dutifully schlepp our kids to Camp Orkila, in the San Juan Islands each October.  Usually they try to schedule it on a cold and rainy weekend, but this year it was absolutely beautiful.

The fathers in my tribe were too busy at work to take the 4+ hour trip via ferry, so instead we did something different: we flew on the Northwest’s own Kenmore Airlines, which has a fleet of seaplanes that take off from Lake Union.  I can’t believe I haven’t done this before!  Instead of a long, roundabout drive up I-5 and over a ferry, we were at our destination in only 40 minutes.

Camp Orkila from the air

The prices are pretty reasonable, considering the time saved.  For about $100/person each way, we saved about a day of our weekend in travel time.  The plane literally landed us right on the beach of Camp Orkila.

Kenmore Air at Camp Orkila beach

Getting there is half the fun, of course.  Nothing like flying around the Space Needle in 9-seater airplane.

I haven’t had this much fun in the air since last year when a friend took us up in his private plane and we flew over Mercer Island.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Seattle Times Endorses Steve Litzow

The Seattle Times endorsed Steve Litzow in the race for 41st State Legislative District. You have to chuckle at their follow-on comment

His opponent, Democrat Marcie Maxwell, a member of the Renton School Board, is passionate about education but doesn't seem to have an original idea about the topic.


Their rejection stings even more when compared to the kinder comments they made when they passed on Fred Jarrett’s competitor, Bob Baker, who they at least encourage to “stay in local politics”.  It’s clear they agree with the Municipal League’s non-partisan assessment that Marcie just isn’t as qualified.

Note how quickly Steve added the Seattle Times endorsement to this brand new campaign video:

Compare it to a similar one released by Marcie’s team a few weeks ago:

I think the Seattle Times assessment is accurate.  I don’t know any Democrats who are enthusiastic about Marcie.  If you are, and you really think she’d be a better legislator, especially on education issues, please let me know in the comments.  Do original ideas matter in this race?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Last day this year for Farmers Market

mi farmers mkt

The Mercer Island Farmers Market closes for the winter after today, so my six-year-old and I rode our bikes there one last time to stock up on fresh butter from Golden Glen Creamery,  just-picked apples from Jones Creek Farms and (my daughter’s favorite) pluots from Tiny’s Organic.

She took the photos this time.  Can’t wait till it opens again next Summer.

Flights around the world

Whenever I’m on a flight, I like to imagine how many people must be in airplanes at the same time all around the world.  My favorite flight info site,, has excellent information in real time about everything related to current flights, but what does the world as a whole look like?  The answer is in this video, a simulation of all flights worldwide over a 24-hour period.

I love the way you can just watch the traffic spill from east to west as the world wakes up.

[via Air Traffic Worldwide 24HR from kouko a on Vimeo.]

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What’s in my genes? Results from 23andme

My DNA test results arrived much sooner than I expected. They tell you six to eight weeks, but it was more like two or three. The company that I chose for the test, 23andme, recently dropped their price to only $400, making it much more affordable. (By the way, I paid the original $1,000 price, but they generously refunded the difference--a hint that they care about good customer satisfaction).

I hope to post much more about this as I get time to analyze my data, but meanwhile enough customers are out there now that it's possible to get a sense for the direction this technology is headed. Mark Fletcher is an early user who posted his experiences, and there are several others who have even posted their entire results on line. One of my readers suggested I check out Promethease, a Windows/Mac program that will run through your results and tell you everything that's known about your SNPs. Since my test shows 500,000 SNPs, there is a lot to analyze and I'll need as much help as I can get.

So let's open the envelope, please, and tell me the results!

First, no surprises on my ancestry. Although I found out through the $99 Genographic Project's test that my grandmother is likely descended from native Americans, no such traces exist on either my mitochondrial or Y-chromosomal DNA. I am about as pure-blooded a north European as the test shows it is possible to be. For example, here's a distribution of the people who share my haplogroup, H1*, the one I got from my mother.


On my father's side, R1b1c9, the results are similar:


Note that these results are consistent with the very different conclusion from my Indian grandmother, who gave me 1/4th of my overall genes, but not the ones from this test. Remember, my mitochondrial DNA comes exclusively via my mother, just like my Y-chromosome DNA comes exclusively from my father. Since Grandma (a female) had no Y to pass down, my Y comes from my father and grandfather. Similarly, my mitochondrial DNA is 100% from my Lithuanian mother's side (as you can clearly see from the diagrams above).  All the more reason to test your own grandparents while they’re still alive.

Okay, so that’s ancestry.  What about the rest?  23andme provides some basic analysis on (as of today) about 90 specific genetic conditions, with varying degrees of scientific certainty or idle interest, depending on how well-studied these are.

In my case the following areas turned up good:

  • Very low chance of Parkinson’s Disease (unlike Google co-founder Sergei Brin)
  • I have the same mutation as that Jamaican Olympic sprinter!
  • No Crohn’s, no Celiac, no lupus, no gout.
  • No male infertility (hmmmm)
  • Higher odds of living to 100
  • IQ:  breast-feeding would have raised my IQ 4-5 points.  (thanks for nothing, Mom)
  • Heart disease:  lower than average risk.  (14.5 out of 100 versus 17.7 out of 100 for other white males)
  • Arthritis:  lower than normal (1.1/100 vs. 4.2)
  • Diabetes: almost no chance whatsoever of getting Type I and lower than normal odds on Type II (13 vs. 21/100)
  • Lactose tolerance:  what do you expect from a farm boy like me?

Biggest worries:  [note to insurance companies: please stop reading here]

There are many more mutations covered by the test, but these are the most relevant to me.  As you can see, the results are mixed: some “good” news, some “bad”.  But look more closely and you’ll see why I’m not sure yet if this really tells me much.  For example, I have a mutation (rs1051730) associated with nicotine dependence.  Okay, guess I better not smoke.  Same thing goes with similar mutations associated with heroin, HIV, and noroviruses:  I’m at risk.  Big deal.  My mother tells me these things even without viewing my genetic results.  Did I pay $400 for this?

Of course, if some of these results had gone the other way – and I’m less susceptible to addiction, HIV, or other preventable conditions – would that make me consider taking up different behaviors?  No, of course not.  There are lots of good non-genetic reasons to avoid these things.

I also question the reliability of some of the science.  For example, one of my mutations is associated with higher-than-normal risk of becoming obese if I eat more than 30% of my calories as fat.  That’s absurd to anyone who knows me and my eating habits: I’ve been skinny since childhood, seemingly regardless of what I eat.  But if I were overweight, I’d look at the same result with a big “aha” and think I know something revealing about myself.

So my bottom line is that although this is fascinating to somebody like me who is willing to invest the time and skeptical energy to interpreting these results, I’m not sure others will benefit much yet.  A cursory glance will tell you a few things, but it will take much work and analysis to uncover whether the results are truly interesting, or whether they merely confirm your own preconceived biases about yourself.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Mercer Island Meetup on Fri Oct 10

It’s time for us to meet face-to-face.  Anyone who reads this blog is welcome to meet me at the Tully’s on the north end of Mercer Island on Friday morning, October 10th.  I’ll be there starting at 7:30 or so, staying until we get bored (or have to go to work, whichever comes first).

Everyone is welcome.  I look forward to meeting you!