Relationship Success

This was originally posted by worldmegan on Branch, which I apparently can't use. So I'm posting her text here, followed by my response. Feel free to join in!

Growing up, I learned that the standard for a successful romantic relationship was simple: He asks you to marry him. Get hitched, have kids, buy a house... etc. The be all and end all of mainstream monogamous pairing.

Of course, this doesn't work for everybody. Besides which, it's ridiculous; obviously marriage has nothing to do with whether a relationship is successful or not (except for folks who want to cap off their successful relationship with marriage). But when you take away marriage as a necessary result, or sign of, a successful relationship... what do you use to gauge the success of your romantic relationships?

I have been working this out for myself in the last few days, and I'm very interested in what you think, too!

As someone whose marriage ended up not working, I don't think marriage is a good barometer of success even for so-called traditional relationships. So, what is?

First, it's important to remember that all relationships are dynamic, as are all people. Your "successful" year-old relationship will be different from your "successful" ten-year-old relationship, even if it's with the same person, and even if it isn't romantic in nature.

So the question isn't "Have we reached success?" but "Is this relationship fulfilling its purpose?" Relationships of all types have some sort of purpose, whether it's companionship, business partnership, child rearing, sex, some combination of these, or something else entirely. They are also not time-limited. You can have a successful relationship that lasts just a few days, or one that is never successful but persists for years.

Ask yourself, "What is it that I want from this relationship?" Are you getting it? If the answer is yes, then ask yourself, "What is it that the other person in this relationship wants from it?" Are they also getting that? Then your relationship is successful.

It's vital that you continue to ask these questions of yourself and each other, to ensure you both (or all) continue to get your needs met. If ever the answer is no, you must decide whether the relationship can be salvaged and if you are willing to do that, or if it's better to end things.

I'm reminded strongly here of when I first met Marty. I was hesitant about dating someone who was polyamorous (ha!) but considered my situation. I wasn't committed to anyone, so I wasn't worried about damaging any other relationships by dating someone who dates other people. I was also mostly concerned at that time with meeting people, building connections, and enjoying time with people who made me happy. I considered whether being with Marty fit these criteria, and the answer was, resoundingly, yes. Whenever I was with him, I had a great time. Through him, I was meeting people I enjoyed being with. Because of him, I was learning to challenge my ideas about relationships. And it didn't hurt that I found him incredibly sexy. So I decided to keep seeing him until that stopped working.

Since I made that decision, things with Marty have continued to work (sometimes, admittedly, better than others). Certainly, at this point what I need from that relationship is dramatically different from what I needed from it when it was a week old. A successful third date typically looks nothing like a successful anniversary, after all.

But this is an ongoing process, if not always a conscious one. Keep questioning whether you're getting what you need from each of your relationships. If your needs change, expect your relationships to change. The same is true if your partners' needs change. Should you move from friends to lovers? Coworkers to friends? Lovers to acquaintances?

And there's no need to regard a relationship that has ended as a failure. Perhaps you are more successful in your current roles than your previous ones (say, if you went from lovers to friends). In fact, many romantic entanglements end this way, with both parties being better friends than they ever were lovers or spouses. This is not a sign of failure, but of a change in needs. As lovers, they didn't fulfill each other's needs. As friends, they do. Success!

Why anti-piracy measures encourage piracy

A funny thing happened today. I turned on the PS3 and logged in to play a bit of Ratchet & Clank. Actually, Ratchet & Clank downloadable content. My husband played the game when it was new, and downloaded the extra content after he finished the game. I've been playing and enjoying it for the past few days.

But when I tried to load my saved game, it said there was no data. I restarted the system (because that fixes a great deal of computer-based problems) and most of the downloaded games were gone! Including, of course, the one I've been playing.

Thirty minutes on the phone with PlayStation support flushed out the root of the problem: apparently, I was never supposed to have access to that content in the first place. System maintenance that was run today has found these "problems" and addressed them.

And therein lies the real problem. Why wasn't I supposed to have access to my husband's downloadable content? Yes, he bought it on his account, but it's our system. The full game, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, is on a disc and thus we can each play it on our own accounts any time we like. The downloadable content, however, does not exist on physical media, and is therefore susceptible to "copyright infringement protection".

All this protection of digital media is supposed to deter piracy, but I think it probably has the opposite effect. After all, analog media isn't protected in the same manner, and when's the last time you heard of a bootleg copy of Gone With the Wind? If I buy a book, I can read it anytime I like. I can loan it to a friend. I can read it out loud to a group of friends. I can donate it to a library. I can even sell it to a bookstore, if they're in the market for used books.

So why can't I do the same thing with my downloaded films, songs, and video games? I paid for it, after all. If I like it, I'm likely to want to be able to enjoy it in many different places (after all, who limits themselves to reading their favorite books, say, only in their bedroom?). I'm likely to want to loan it to my friends, so they can enjoy it too.

But the companies that produce this media think maybe, just maybe, I'm going to share it with the entire world and they're not going to make any money. So, rather than have faith that people will continue to buy video games, just as they continue to buy books, they make it so that, even if my family has paid for a copy, we have to buy another one so each of us can enjoy it.

And this is why this "protection" encourages piracy. What I am absolutely NOT going to do is buy a second goddam copy of a game we already own just so I can play it under my account. What I might do is play on my husband's account, which unfortunately erases all his saved data and means we'll have to each play all the way through if we want to share. But what I might do is crack the content we already own, or obtain some cracked content from someone else. The companies who set up these ridiculous "anti-theft" devices make it so impossible for those of us who aren't pirates to actually enjoy the media that we have no alternative (other than amply lining the pockets of the media execs by purchasing multiple copies of digital files). By attempting to protect their media, these idiots are actually creating a market for bootleg material.

So here's a message for the people in digital media: learn to work for your consumers, not against them. There are more pirates than there are of you, and, on probability alone, they're likely smarter. You imagine we're all greedy enough that we'll refuse to pay for your products. Keep up your miserly tactics, and you'll find you're quite right.
QI Letters

Are young-adult sci-fi writers inventing a new genre?

I recently finished Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood, and was astonished by its format. When you think of young adult sci-fi/fantasy, you probably think of Harry Potter, right? I did too.

But Hexwood threw me a real curve ball. The story isn't just non-linear, it's multi-linear. The main character, Ann, experiences four separate events more or less simultaneously, and we're right there with her, repeatedly passing the pretzel bag in the tree on her way to meet Mordion. Ann's friends in Hexwood forest might be any age when she meets them, but, judging by the cut on Mordion's wrist, only a few days pass for them as well as for Ann. Then, suddenly, we discover Ann isn't 15-year-old Ann, but 21-year-old Vierran, who we are introduced to about halfway through the book. To be honest, it's a bit hard to keep up.

But that's sort of the fun of it, isn't it? Trying to keep pace with a book that throws convention to the wind. The postmodernists discovered this decades ago, and changed the face of fiction. It seems sci-fi/fantasy is catching up, and it's the authors who write for children who are leading the way.

Even C.S. Lewis dabbled with this sort of format in his Narnian chronicles. Although the Pevensies grow into adulthood in Narnia, they emerge from the wardrobe only moments after entering it at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When they return not long after in Prince Caspian thousands of years have passed in Narnia, and they find their castle lies in ruins and their names are the stuff of legend, much like our King Arthur.

Ursula K. LeGuin employed this sort of device in her short A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, in which Hideo devotes his entire life to the study of time travel just so he can rewrite his own biography. Granted, not all of LeGuin's work is for children, but a great deal of it is, and I think this story is one children can easily enjoy.

Upon reflection, it seems sci-fi/fantasy authors are the logical choice to begin to play with the structure of a story. The genre lends itself well to manipulations of time, perception, and reality. It does seem surprising, though, for the children's authors to be the trailblazers in this respect. Perhaps children are more receptive to their notions of reality being smudged? Perhaps the things that inspire authors to write for children inspire them to bend the rules?

At any rate, I couldn't be happier.

Non-coding RNAs

Stumbled across this post from my OKCupid journal from about a year ago, and decided it was still fascinating. What do you guys think?

After I've been drinking on a Friday is not the best time to blog about major scientific paradigm shifts. However, this is what I'm doing.

So, here's the thing: ever since DNA was discovered to contain heritable material, scientists began to endeavor to discover what mechanism translated genes into phenotypes (characteristics, for you laymen). Years ago the scientific community coined the phrase "central dogma" to describe the process, and it states, simply: DNA -> RNA -> Protein. And this is largely still true.

However, this has been interpreted as DNA -> mRNA -> Protein, with structural changes in proteins providing feedback and thus regulation of DNA. Now, this interpretation is true in most prokaryotes, but in eukaryotes it breaks down. Eukaryotes are incredibly complex, and yet contain hardly more (if as many) protein-coding genes as prokaryotes. The question becomes, if these organisms are so much more complex without containing a larger number of protein-coding regions, what accounts for this complexity?

As these questions were being pondered, the race to decode the human genome reached its end. We sequenced the entire genome, only to find that most of it is "junk". So much genetic material, but only 2% of it makes proteins! What's going on with that other 98%?

Perhaps it's structural, providing the scaffolding to hold the coding sequences in place while they are transcribed or regulated. Perhaps it's evolutionary leftovers, remnants from our ancestors who no longer needed certain genes, or who contracted non-lethal viral infections that took up residence in the genome. Or could it serve some other purpose?

Evidence points to the last of these hypotheses. It has long been known that few genes exist as one long, sequential element, transcribed perfectly in a neat strand. Most initial transcripts are spliced, modified, and edited in numerous ways, leaving only bits of the original sequence to go on to be translated into protein. Many of the bits that are cut out of these regions are, in fact, opposite to the regions themselves, or to other regions nearby on the DNA strand. Would junk be so specific? It's unlikely.

Furthermore, this junk isn't just sitting around. In vivo and in vitro studies have shown that this genetic material is ubiquitous in all eukaryotic cells, and that certain material localizes in a predictable manner in many types of cells. Much of these non-coding RNAs are developmentally regulated, highlighting the fact that they are not discarded by the cell as "junk" material.

Possibly most interestingly of all, the regions of the human body where these ncRNAs are most evolutionarily active are the brain and testes. What have humans prided themselves on as long as they've recognized it? Their brain, and its enormous capacity that far outstrips that of less complex animals. It's our most recent adaptation, and our most complex. Thus, it's not surprising that it's undergoing the fastest change.

And here's something fun for you network nuts: a functionally integrated network requires that the number of connectors increases as a square function of the number of nodes ([R] = aN^2). In fact, this is the exact pattern of increasing proportion of ncRNAs to coding RNAs that is observed in living things.

What all this points to is that ncRNAs are serving quite a specific regulatory function in the cell. In order for organisms to obtain high degrees of complexity they must evolve a regulatory system that can handle a lot of inputs and connections. Eukaryotes have done just this, utilizing the specificity built into the DNA strand. Rather than rely on cumbersome proteins and structural changes to provide feedback about the environment, eukaryotic cells create specific RNA sequences that can form RNA-RNA, RNA-DNA, and RNA-protein interactions. This provides potential for a very high degree of regulation within the cell without relying on an analog system like structural changes.

I learned about the regulatory functions of ncRNAs from Dr. John Mattick of the University of Queensland, who recently gave a phenomenal presentation at my work. Check out his publications for more eloquent explanations of my ramblings here. In fact, if you're really interested, he'll probably share his slides with you. Send him an email!

Lessons I Learned During Recovery

For the past 11 days, I’ve had a physical disability. I had a torn meniscus, and had arthroscopic surgery to remove it. While I recover, I have limited strength and range of motion in my knee, but it is recovering quickly.

But my days of walking with a cane, and slowly working my way to unassisted mobility, have shown me some surprising (and frequently disappointing) facets of the people I encounter day to day.

My first surprise came early last week when I decided to go to Best Buy. I had spent most of my time on my couch since the surgery, and was running out of entertainment. For my first solo venture out of the apartment since surgery, I went to buy some DVDs and a burger for lunch.

I was in the checkout, having my purchases rung up by a kid no older than 20. I paid with a credit card, using one of those swipe machines that are in nearly every store. Now, I’m no stranger to Best Buy, nor was it my first time to use such a machine, but this kid felt the need to give me instructions every step of the way. It seems my physical impairment, to him, implied a mental deficiency as well. Why? It’s anybody’s guess.

Not to say that everyone was insulting that day. The folks at Fuddruckers treated me as just another customer, which I sincerely appreciated. They clearly understood that I was a fully functioning human being, and that I knew what I could do and would ask for assistance if I needed it. I appreciated that.

But the next day it was time for me to return to work. In some ways, I’m grateful for this experience, because it has shown me something about the true nature of a few of the people I work with. My immediate coworkers, as well as my boss, are all quite easygoing about my knee. I have asked some of them for help when I needed it, which they gave uncomplaining, and they in turn have inundated me with questions about what it feels like and how long my doctor thinks my recovery will take. In short, we treat each other as the friends we are.

But the people I pass in the hallway are frequently nearly intolerable. I accepted that I would be explaining my condition to ten or twenty people a day, and I don’t mind. People are curious. What I didn’t expect was the interaction I get when walking down the hallway.

There is one girl, who I know to be an otherwise good person, who makes a pouty face at me every time we pass. All she can see is what I can’t do, never how far I’ve come. Today was my first day walking unassisted, which, admittedly, makes me slow and laborious. However, it’s a major step toward walking normally again, and I’m quite proud to have achieved it. Every time she makes that face at me, she shows me that she has no idea what I’m going through, nor how much she belittles my accomplishments.

Then there’s the guy who asked how I can drive (a question I’ve frequently encountered). I responded as I always do, telling him that it’s my left knee that is healing, and I drive an automatic, so my driving is unaffected. His response? “Well, that’s one thing at least.” Indeed, that is one thing, which we can add to the dozens of positive things that have come about as a result of the surgery, which actually have affected my daily life. I mean, if we’re going to look on the bright side, let’s start with the fact that I no longer have debris floating in my knee joint causing me pain and difficulty walking. How about the fact that I have made significant improvements in my range of motion in the past week by working with my physical therapist?

The truth is that these people truly don’t understand the challenges I face and the hurdles I have overcome. Their misplaced sympathy is, to me, worse than apathy. I don’t need them to feel bad for me; I don’t feel bad for myself. In fact, I’m quite pleased with my progress, even if the road is difficult.

And this has enlightened me about how I imagine people who are permanently handicapped might feel. I will never understand what they have endured, and what they face every day. They don’t need my sympathy. Sometimes, they might need my help. They can certainly use my respect. But what they really need is to be treated as people, the same as anyone else. They’re not less, nor are they more. Some of them are nice, and some are them are, I’m sure, quite rude. There’s no need for me to be overly friendly or accommodating. As I knew how to ask for help when I needed it, I’m sure they know also.

So here’s my message for you: if you encounter someone you don’t know who has a disability, it’s probably best for you to just treat them as you would anyone. If you don’t regularly make conversation with strangers, leave them alone. If you’re the type to engage the person next to you in conversation, then go ahead and strike one up with them. If you spit at everyone you meet, well, spit right on them. The more you treat them as special, the more they will resent your highlighting the differences between you. The more you treat them as humans, the more they will appreciate you for it.

Knee surgery

I had my knee surgery yesterday. It was over quickly and I didn't have any nausea from the anesthesia (a huge improvement over my last surgery, which left me puking for the whole first day).

Yesterday I wasn't in any pain, but this morning it's starting to hurt. That's probably why I'm up right now, at 4:30. I hope it's not swelling. I "iced" it all day yesterday, but it was hard to actually get it cold under the several layers of bandages I'm not supposed to remove. Oh well.

The doc ended up taking out my entire meniscus. That was a surprise. I thought he was just going to carve away the middle part. Maybe it was a mess once he got in there, so there was nothing to be done. I dunno. But it looks like I'm guaranteed some arthritis in the joint later, since I don't have a cushion between the bones anymore. That sucks.

On the other hand, it's better than a torn up cushion and a giant cyst under my kneecap. So I guess I'll take what I can get.

John has been an absolute doll. I feel bad calling for him every half hour or so, but getting up and moving around wears me out like you wouldn't believe. He even brought me a box of chocolates when he went to pick up my pain meds. He calls them my "feel better treats". Aw!

Your tax dollars at work

Congress is hard at work making the BCS ranking illegal.

The country is in the depths of a recession that is putting families out of their homes. Businesses are failing left and right. War continues to rage in Iraq. And what are our legislators deciding? Whether the BCS is fair.

What the hell, congress? Is this seriously a good use of your time and our money? I mean, I understand some people think the BCS ranking and decisions about championship games are unfair. Sure. Maybe they are. But is it such a threat to peace and order in society that we must pass laws about it?

Sports are dumb. Our government is dumb. No wonder the rest of the world thinks we're a bunch of idiotic, fast-food eating, consumer-driven morons. We kind of are.


I saw another tampon commercial today in which the company proclaimed that their tampon "opens outward like a flower".

I'm about to get graphic, so if you're not up for a tampon discussion, stop now.

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Erm... no.

You know... I've heard a lot of Twilight fans styling themselves "nerds". I take issue with this. Twilight is one of those lowest common denominator sorts of things. I skimmed through one at the bookstore recently, and it's about the same quality as Ann Rice fanfic written by an eighth-grader. I'm not convinced it's not actually Ann Rice fanfic written by an eighth-grader, come to think of it.

At any rate, I protest that Twilight fandom does NOT count as nerdy. Princess Leia hairdo at the prom? Nerd. Fluent in Klingon? Nerd. Proud owner of an original copy of the first Superman comic, in the package and everything? Nerd. Big fan of trashy, badly-written vampire romance drivel? NOT NERD. Just adolescent.