Monthly Archives: January 2012

Friends, Who Needs Them?

I heard a lot of great talks at the TCM conference last weekend, but a few in particular stood out to me.  One of my favorites, presented by Dan Teague of the NCSSM, was about using network/graph theory to revolutionize existing models of the spread of infectious diseases.

The existing models makes an assumption that all people interact randomly as if they were walking about the earth in a random fashion, bumping into and interacting with people without any pattern.  However, as we’re all aware, we’re more likely to interact with people that we’re friends with, or at least have some connection to.  If you were able to visualize a group of peoples connections, you’d have a graph similar to the one below:

Each numbered node represents an individual, and the line between them represents a connection (relationship).  The more lines connecting you to other people mean increases your popularity, and thus you are more likely to interact with other people.  When talking about the case of the spread of disease, higher rates of interaction lead to (on average) a higher chance of becoming infected.

One interesting fact discovered when you run the numbers here: your friends are more likely to (on average) have more friends than you do.  This is called the “Friendship Paradox” [wikipedia link].  This is actually useful to catch a potential epidemic early.  Here’s an example:

In 2010 Harvard University conducted a study of their student body to see if this paradox could help predict the spread of the influenza virus on campus.  319 undergraduates were selected and asked to name students that they were friends with.  A total of 425 friends were named.  The university then followed these two groups, the selected undergraduate group and the “friend” group.  If the friend paradox were to hold true, the “friend” group would have more interaction with other individuals on campus, and thus be more likely to catch the flu, and most likely catch it sooner than the other group.  Using self reported data, it was found that the “friend” group contracted the flu about 2 weeks prior than the selected group, and almost 45 days before the flu peaked for the season.  (Full story and more at:

Using this method, and continuing to advance the ideas held within the graph, researchers should be able to mathematically determine where and when epidemics might emerge and take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of disease before it reaches a tipping point.  Even better, through theory and simulation, researchers should be able to objectively determine which people provide the biggest gain in overall health to a community if they were to be vaccinated (either very “popular” people who interact with a lot of others, or people that link two large groups together).

Stay safe out there, and just remember, your friends and family will get you sick!


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Filed under Math, Taylor Tuesday

Kittenish Behaviors

Last Saturday afternoon, Luna stopped eating.  It was very reminiscent of when we first got her and she was incredibly sick.  We ended up having to take her to the vet every day from Sunday through Wednesday.  Each time the vet said to us “If you hadn’t told us she wasn’t eating I would have told you seems like a perfectly healthy cat”.  This was comforting but not helpful.  On Tuesday night she finally starting eating again and by Wednesday evening she was back to her normal self.  We think she might have eaten a little bit of plastic because I found a piece under the living room chair on Tuesday night.

We are happy that she is back to normal and also relieved that we decided to get pet insurance.  It only covers emergencies and illness but in this week alone we have made back the money we put into it.  In May she will be one year old and we hope some of these kittenish behaviors, like eating things you should not eat, will go away.  But we hope some of the kittenish behaviors will stay – like jumping up onto a door frame and sliding down like it is a fireman pole.


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Filed under Luna Lunes

The Most Mesmerizing and Creepy Aerobics Video

Taylor and I were perusing exercise videos on YouTube and found this.  You do not need to watch the whole 20 minutes to get the gist of it.  But you may find it’s like watching a train wreck.  Skip to 1:45 for the actual “exercising” to start.


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Filed under Sara Sunday

Give me money!!

I’ve never had a kid but I know it can be expensive with school and extracurricular activities (sorry mom and dad).  Activities like sports teams, school plays, etc. will sometimes have fundraisers that allow you to sell something in order to pay for your supplies (like a uniform).  I think that’s great because it helps the kid appreciate what he/she is getting.  One winter I walked to every house in my neighborhood selling coupon books so that I could pay for part of an orchestra trip to England.  Apparently I was the only kid that did it – everyone else’s parents paid for the whole thing.  But I appreciated the HELL out that trip after walking in snow (2 inches) to sell coupon books.

What bothers me is when the parent doesn’t want to pay for it so they bring the fundraising stuff to their workplace and try to get ME to buy stuff.  If you don’t want to pay for it – fine.  But get your kid to go door to door instead of forcing me to have to look through a magazine of CRAP and say “oh that’s a cute case…too bad I don’t have an iPhone” or “well I bought gifts for everyone already since it was just the holidays” or “oh you need the money today? I don’t have my checkbook”.  I feel like I’m out of luck paying for my activities since I don’t have a child.  I’m going to start selling wrapping paper to my coworkers so that I can go on a snowboarding trip.



Filed under Soap Box Saturday

Oatmeal Bars

I’m a creature of habit, particularly when it comes to my weekday breakfast: a smoothie (made by Taylor), oatmeal, and a hard-boiled egg.  The problem with oatmeal is that it doesn’t travel well and I often end up having to carry it into work in a mug because I didn’t finish eating it at home.  It also is a pain to clean a bowl that had oatmeal in it 10 hours later.  So I found this Oatmeal Bar recipe and adapted it to my liking.  They freeze well and I just pop one in the microwave for a minute in the morning.

4 cups quick oats

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups dried raspberries

Mix everything together and press into a greased 13 x 9 dish.  Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.  Makes about 16 bars.

This is where I typically would put a picture.  But we ate them all so you’ll have to imagine what it looks like.  It looks good, doesn’t it?



Filed under Foodie Friday

20 MPH

Taylor and I have noticed something surprising about Texans: they are obsessed with school zones.  Everywhere else we have lived people seem to take the school zone speed limits as merely a “guideline”.  If there are children nearby a person will typically hover about 5 miles above the speed limit and count down the seconds until they can go 45 mph again.  If no kids are in sight and you can’t even see the school they won’t slow down at all.

But not in Texas.  In Texas you actually follow the school zone speed limits.  I’m not sure why this is the case because I’ve never seen anyone pulled over for not following it.  But maybe that is because everyone does follow it.  You’ll be going 40 mph and suddenly it looks like everyone has stopped in front of you.  You slow down and realize that you are actually just entering a school zone and everyone is going 20 mph!  Sometimes even slower.  It’s great to see everyone following the law but we find it completely baffling due to other Texas driving behavior.  Since I moved here I have seen more cars swerve across 5 lanes of traffic to get off the highway at the last minute than in the last 25 years of my life.  School zones are apparently a holy place though where rules cannot be broken.  We must think of the children.


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Filed under Texas Thursday

And I could see for miles, miles, miles

This past weekend I jetted back home to throw a baby shower for my BFF with my other BFF.  For the 4th grader out there debating whether or not you can have more than one BFF I am here to tell you that you can!  Caroline – the pregnant one – and I met in 5th grade Sunday school class.  I found her annoying because every week she would ask  for us to pray for her mom who was pregnant with her baby brother.  It took us awhile to become friends.  If I was still going to Sunday school I would probably be asking for prayers for her every week so I guess she finally showed me!  Meanwhile two years later, Katie was new in school and was assigned to my 7th grade lunch table.  She told me years later that she thought I was popular.  I wore overalls, was trying to grow out my bangs, and cried if I was assigned “silent lunch”.  You decide if I was popular.  We became friends and she started attending the same church Caroline and I went to.  We rocked it out in youth praise team – oh yes – and have been the best of friends since.

2004 - but our sunglasses make it look like the 90s

Caroline is pregnant with her first child.  Also the first child for any of the three of us.  I think we are all still in shock that one of us is actually responsible enough to have a baby and, you know, take care of it forever.  Katie giggled uncomfortably at the old-timey breast pump stories while I had a mild panic attack over the prices of baby items during The Price is Right game.  I remember our friendship when we were all 16 years old.  It has been unwavering so it seems the same to me but then I realize it’s ten years later and we’re having a baby shower.  And talking about our careers.  And paying student loans.  At some point we grew up.



Filed under Walkabout Wednesday