Monthly Archives: February 2007

Otto Frank Papers

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, one of the five Partner organizations that make up the Center for Jewish History where I work, has been in the news all over the World today, because they finally released the Otto Frank papers for public viewing. It’s kind of a big deal — it even made the front page of today’s New York Times: In Old Files, Fading Hopes of Anne Frank’s Family.

These papers were accidentally discovered in YIVO archives’ off-site storage facility in New Jersey in 2005, but it took until yesterday to clear the copyright and ownership issues sufficiently for the papers to be released.

Sleep Study II

Last night I had my second sleep study, to ascertain whether I still suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition usually (but not necessarily) associated with snoring, and it can cause a variety of health problems, not to mention general fatigue. It can also be a problem for whoever the sufferer happens to be sleeping with!

I had my first sleep study some years ago (probably 2002) at a place in Queens, and was diagnosed with mild to moderate sleep apnea.

After the first study, the ear, nose and throat specialist recommended a surgical procedure called an uvulectomy, which I had (see blogs passim; Uvula removula, Uvula No More, Uvulectomy: Before & After and Gagging). I’d also had an operation called septoplasty in the UK in 1998, and a tonsilectomy as a kid.

I was supposed to go back for a second sleep study after the uvulectomy to see if it had worked, but due to a career transition, I lost my health insurance and it never happened. I finally got around to doing the second test last night, more than 3 years later!

The procedure was much the same as last time, but at a different hospital: I arrived at the NYU Sleep Disorder Center in the Bellevue Hospital around 9pm, changed into sleeping clothes, and then a technician (actually a doctor from Kerala in India working as a technician while waiting for his U.S. medical license) attached lots of electrodes to various parts of my body.

Tony Gill Sleep Study, 2007-02-13. All Rights Reserved

Once I was wired up, I went to bed in a grim, airless and windowless room, and performed various exercises as instructed by a disembodied voice coming from an intercom (I was also being monitored by some kind of infra red CCTV camera). The instructions were things like “look left,” “blink 5 times”, “take a deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds,” “breathe deeply through your mouth” etc., and were designed to calibrate the measuring devices and ensure that all the sensors were working OK.

And then I was told I could go to sleep — so I did. But not for long, because it’s pretty uncomfortable sleeping with lots of wires stuck to you and a tube sticking in each nostril, plus I had perhaps the worst foam pillow I’ve ever slept on in my life. It felt like I woke up every 20 minutes or so.

Nonetheless, they woke me up at about 6:30am and told me I’d had 7 hours sleep. They also told me that I hadn’t snored at all throughout the entire night, which was a surprise, and that, according to the monitors, I’d slept fairly well — but that they also weren’t allowed to give me any detailed information, because the data would need to be analyzed by a specialist later that day.

So I showered to rinse out the stubborn conducting gunk they’s put under the electrodes, dressed and went out into a dark, snow-covered New York in search of bacon and eggs for breakfast.

Evisu Show at New York Fashion Week

I went to my first ever fashion show last Friday: Evisu Fall 2007 show at New York Fashion Week. My friend Johnny (see blogs passim), who just moved to New York about a month ago, was the creative director for the show.

It’s hard for me to judge a fashion show because it’s pretty much outside my usual frame of reference, but it certainly seemed like the real thing to me; stick-thin androgynous models walking up and down in exotically-strange clothing while loud music plays and hundreds of cameras flash. It was quick, though — the whole thing was over in 10 minutes.

The party in the studio later that evening was a lot of fun, too.

Apartment Reconfiguration

I recently reconfigured the way my apartment is laid out with lots of help from my friends Claudia & Scyld, and it’s a HUGE improvement; what was previously the almost unused living room is now the bedroom; the former bedroom now has my desk and laptop (thanks to the freedom of wireless networking); and the room at the back that used to be both the dining room and workspace is now a combined dining/living space.

I also turned the unusably small bedroom into a giant walk-in closet, and spent almost $1,000 at Ikea — and you can get a lot of stuff at Ikea for a grand! I got a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, two dining room chairs, a bedside cabinet, a bookshelf, a rug, and numerous other nicknacks like lamps and a mirror and picture frames etc. etc. I bought so much that we couldn’t fit it all in the car, so I had to return some things. I was building furniture every night for a week!

But perhaps the most exciting thing for me was a kitchen cart to put just outside my tiny kitchen, which has effectively tripled the amount of food preparation surface I have, AND allowed me to get this funky little “digital” toaster oven!

The Selfish Gene

I just finished the 30th anniversary edition of Richard Dawkins’ seminal book The Selfish Gene, which apparently caused quite a revolution in thinking about evolutionary biology when it was first published. It was fascinating — although there were a couple of chapters that were a bit of a slog, there are lots of really interesting ideas in there, and Dawkins writing style is clear, interesting and often very witty.

While still firmly rooted in traditional Darwinian natural selection, Dawkins posits a way of thinking about evolution that imbues genes with a metaphorical and singular sense of purpose — their own survival and replication.

He argues that the fundamental engines of life — any life, anywhere in the universe — are what he calls replicators. A replicator is simply any entity that is capable of copying itself with a reasonable degree of fidelity. However, no copying process is completely perfect, such that over time, copying errors — mutations — will occur. Such copying errors give rise to diversity in the population of replicators, Some variant forms will be ill-suited to their environment and will perish before being able to replicate, whereas others will be better suited, and will survive long enough to successfully replicate.

In the case of life on Earth, the replicators are known as genes, and the massive biodiversity of life on our planet has evolved simply to provide vehicles for those genes. The most successful genes — those that have been able to survive and replicate themselves — are the ones that have unwittingly engineered, through natural selection, the most successful vehicles in which to survive until they are able to replicate.

Dawkins also suggests that replicators don’t necessarily need to be confined to organic life; he coined the term “meme,” now in common usage, to describe ideas and concepts that replicate by traveling from mind to mind.

The other beauty of the book is that Dawkins illustrates the utility of his model by explaining and, in most cases, correctly predicting or at least explaining the behaviour of some of the many bizarre and fascinating species on our planet.

Anyway — recommended.