Saturday, January 20, 2007

Biking and my ice-block thighs

Biking the last week in Boston when the roads were clear and dry and the temperatures in the low 20s, I learned some things about the different terrains that are my body.

When people see the bike propped against bookshelves in my office, they are either curious or incredulous. "You bike -- in the winter?" They may ask, "Isn't it cold?" I am annoyed at this answer. People ski, and its cold. So being cold doesn't stop us from our sports, does it?

But still.... During some winters I've been so cold while biking that I moaned out-loud as I rode.

Winter 07 hasn't been that bad so far. But what is interesting to me is how differently from each other the parts of my body feel. One's body usually feels coherent. Your limbs register a unitary comfort signal. You are cold in an overly air-conditioned room, you're hot out in the blazing sun.

But as soon as I'm flying down the alley on Emerald Eye's high seat with gloves, leather jacket and two layers on my legs, neck warmer up to my nose, my body parts are a clamoring medley of different complaints.

As you start your ride, the wind has stabbed under your helmet, and cold licks your head on either side of your head band. On your wrists you wear bracelets of pain. But unless you're not wearing a warm enough jacket, your trunk is always warm. As you bike, the exercise heats up your chest and it glows toasty warm.

The pain spots rapidly evolve during a 20 minute ride. By 10 minutes the early complainers are silent, indeed, doing just fine. I tried to analyze these according to blood flow patterns generated by high motoric activity. No more cold bracelets because even though wind can get in the opening between jacket-arms and gloves, my trunk and arms are generating enough heat and blood flow, after 10 minutes, to keep the wrists warm enough. Head no longer cold? Well, like the neurophysiologists say, your brain consumes up to 30% of your body's oxygen and your head radiates more heat per surface area than any other body part. So the heard warms up. Your ears would be vulnerable, but your helmet protects them from beginning to end of your ride.

After 10-15 minutes a major new complainer has arrived. Ice-packs have been strapped to my thighs and buttocks. But why? Aren't the thighs generating body heat? Yes, but the ice-packs line the inner thighs. The pain is precise enough, on a 23 degrees, windy night, that I feel as if some sculptor had outlined in pen exactly the area of my fleshy inner-thigh fat, had excised the fat, and replaced it with an equivalently shaped a block of ice.

So the map of my body has some new countries on it. I can feel my inner thighs as a distinct voting block in a way I never have before. I feel just its pain, clearly demarcated from frontal and dorsal thigh.

As I ride, I meditate on my inner thighs, bereft of blood-enriching muscle. They are inert lard, the food stores my body has cleverly laid in to get me and my nursing offspring through the famine. My teen-age girl-children laid in their fat also. "Sorry," I tell my husband," but you and the boys won't make it.

Not all my fat is cold. Breasts remain a moderate temperature. They don't have muscle, but they benefit from proximity to the pumping heart. And then there's that heat radiator that is a belly. Because I have her, I've been able to dismount, undo a button, and plunge naked fingers into her fat reservoir, panting in gratitude with my fingers warmed by the fire.

Arriving home, I strip. "Feel my cold spots" I urge my husband. He runs his hand across my body, feeling the familiar warm flesh and then the sudden shifts to cold terrain. He marvels, "You're coldest where you're most female!"

Friday, January 19, 2007

I wouldn't want to be in the lifeboat with you...

"The bed covers slide more on to my side because of physical dynamics of the our positions, the down filling getting squished on this side, and who rolls over more!"

My husband snorted,"Yeah... but I'm not gettin in the life boat with you, baby".

"Well, the evolutionary psychologists say that that for women, its 'Staying Alive' that really matters -- there's an entire target article in Behavior and Brain Sciences defending this idea." (Readers: just google three words, Staying alive evolution)


"Men can do acts of heroism that have some probability of ending in death. If they die, their heroism will cause the community to heap rewards on their family members. Or they may need to attempt heroic acts to get a mate in the first place. But in life-or-death situations, women have to focus on staying alive, because mothers' direct caregiving is usually essential for ensuring their children reach reproductive maturity."

"Ha ha. That was then. Now, no way. Get out of that lifeboat bitch, I've got books to write!"

This made sense to me and I mentally entered a "score 1" for my husband. "I see. You're focused on an entirely different type of posterity -- the success of your memes, not your genes!"

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Beginning my science blog

There's a lot of wonderful science writing out there. Is there a need for another science blog? Aren't we drowning in information? Are there science papers that aren't getting talked about or exposed to the public?

What can I do that is unique?

I've decided to respond to a plea by Dr Vaughan Bell posted on MindHacks,, for scientists to discuss their own work.

In working with graduate students and far-flung collaborators, there's plenty of room to write down notes that could be of interests to other science lovers. My method wil be a short paragraph about a paper, a link to the published version, ideas for future research, and possibly comments such as what I had hoped would happen when I conceived the project.

But I'll also write about 'anything'...