Tuesday, March 31, 2009

we're not strangers anymore

Last week I stopped and talked to a man painting the walls in the Chemistry building, Ed. I asked what he was working on and he told me about the miniature renovations they were doing - fixing up some of the wear and tear around the building. I saw Ed again today, and we talked for nearly half an hour about life, kids, work, family, all sorts of things. It was really great. Ed has two kids, a boy and a girl, has been with his wife for 13 years, married for 7, and (although he didn't say this, I can tell) he is a wonderful dad. His eyes just lit up talking about his kids, and how nervous he is about his oldest starting kindergarten.

I think it's good for every child to hear a parent (not their own) talk about his or her kids, and also for every parent to hear a child (not their own), talk about his or her parents. It puts everything into perspective. It helps you to realize that everyone makes mistakes, but that, in general, everyone wants to be a good parent. Everyone thinks the world of their children, and no matter how much you think you might mess up, most kids turn out alright. Parents should also know that, after adolescence and angst, kids remember the good things our parents taught us. We hold on to fond memories, and hold them up as examples of the kind of parents we hope to be some day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

tasty breakfast

I made some tasty cinnamon whole wheat scones by altering the recipe here. Didn't have any blueberries, added two teaspoons of cinnamon, and used whole wheat flour. I also sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on top. They're delicious!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Knit pick

My first knitted scarf! I used this beautiful "Pure Peruvian Cotten Kettly Dyed" yarn from Manos del Uruguay.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Earth hour misses the mark

So, tomorrow night, at 8:30pm your local time, there is a movement for every person to switch off the lights for one hour: http://www.earthhour.org/home/.

Fine. It's a good idea - just in general. I try to be aware of when the lights are on, and when they don't need to be. For example, I love opening the curtains for natural sunlight instead of electricity, and I am constantly walking over to the general room across the hall from me to turn the lights off. It is easy, with a seemingly endless supply of energy, to just leave lights on, computers on, chargers plugged in - all habits we need to break.

While turning the lights off is a good start, I think it is completely ironic that the same organization is encouraging people to turn off lights for an hour is also encouraging people to take pictures, video, post to a blog or twitter during the same time. Doesn't that defeat the purpose?

At the very least, this movement will get people to think about being less wasteful. And maybe that is where I differ from the creators of the Earth Hour - I view this as an opportunity to take stock of how many resources each person uses every day and how even small changes, on everyone's part, can make an tremendous impact.

Speaking of not being wasteful, my friend just sent me this clip, and it fits perfectly with this theme:


Lunar Sea, performed by Momix, washere last night. Pretty amazing contemporary dance. I have to admit, my most favorite part was at the end when we could actually see the dancers performing their little solo bits, but the whole thing was fantastic. I don't know that I'd go see this same presentation again (some parts were a little too artsy for me to appreciate them), but I would definitely recommend that everyone see it at least once. I especially liked the way the silk screens were used to allow the dancers to create the illusions of floating (in reality our depth perception was distorted and they were only moving backwards and forwards on the stage).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brain declines at 27 ?!

So, recent work in the UK indicates that "the first age at which there was any marked decline was at 27 in tests of brain speed, reasoning and visual puzzle-solving ability," but that then stays in tact for the next ten years. Alternatively, "abilities based on accumulated knowledge...increased until the age of 60."

I'm curious to see if this research divided people into classes based on education level, or whether or not people participated in ongoing challenging mental activities (e.g. are people who constantly stimulate their brains academically more or less likely to score well on the memory test at each age group, when compared against a those who do not use critical thinking skills on a daily basis?).

Who knows, maybe brain decay is something that, on average, hits us all the same. Or, maybe it depends on gender?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


So for friends and family that hear what I do (Bioinformatics and Genomics) and automatically tune out - here is a short introduction - I'll add more later:

I study changes on the sex chromosomes (X and Y in mammals) and the autosomes (non-sex chromosomes). All humans have two copies of each of the 22 autosomes. In addition males have one X and one Y, whereas females have two X chromosomes. Below is a picture of the chromosomes from a human male:

The X and Y chromosomes used to be identical, but as you can see from the picture above, they are now very different in size, the X has about 2,000 genes, while the Y has fewer than 100. Many features are different between the X, Y and autosomes including the rate of nucleotide substitution.

More about nucleotide substitution:
There are 4 nucleotides, A, T, G, and C, that make up a DNA sequence and a substitution occurs when on base is substituted for another. For example, for two species, if one sequence is AAAG, and the second sequence is AAAT:

Human: A A A G
Chimp: A A A T

then we can infer that either there was a substitution from G -> T or from T ->G. By using a third species, called an outgroup, we can determine what is the most likely case:

Human: A A A G
Chimp: A A A T
Mouse: A A A T

Because the Mouse sequence also has a T, it is most likely that there was a change in the Human sequence from T -> G.

So, one of my research interests is to study how many substitutions there are on the X, Y and autosomes, across all nucleotides in the human genome (about 3 billion), how they differ, and why. That is where the Bioinformatics comes in.
Bio (for biology) and informatics (for large amounts of information). So, I study biology using lots and lots of information, more than was available even 10 years ago.

Next week's lesson: Genomics. :)

Monday, March 23, 2009


So, being a hopeless romantic, I fell in love with the Plain White T's song, 1234:

But I couldn't help but be reminded of another song I used to play on repeat with a very similar title, by Coolio:


Because my critical thinking during a news broadcast shouldn't include teasing apart what the actual news story is:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quality of Death

I thought that you might appreciate a recent blog post by one of my favorite evolutionary biologists, PZ Myers. The article he talks about is particularly interesting because it points out some of the differences those of you who work in the healthcare industry might observe between patients, and maybe give a reason to think about how to approach them in end-of-life situations.


As you will be able to tell, this guy has a pretty set opinion on religion, which can be a bit difficult for some people to hear. Still, I think the article itself provides some interesting insight into how different religious views, or at least the people who adhere to more fundamental and restrictive religious views, tend to cope with the ends of their respective lives.

From the article, "Patients also were asked if they would choose treatment intended to extend life as long as possible, even if it meant more pain, or if they wanted care that focused on easing pain even if it meant not living as long."

I've had a hard time answering this question. If I were alone, and not concerned with anyone else's feelings, hands down I would choose care that focused on easing pain, over a longer life. It's just one life - and what is the use in living it if you're miserable, unable to bring joy to other people and are certain it is only headed downward? Might as well be able to face each day with a smile, pass on what ever knowledge you can in the limited time you have and really make it worth it. However, I now consider whether the people around me would benefit from my living longer, even if it meant more pain. I suppose, that depends on when, during my life, this terminal disease would strike, and what responsibilities I had to the people who love me (young children vs grown, spouse, close friends).

Still, to the few people who have been around me when I'm sick, you know what an AWFUL, TERRIBLE, NO GOOD patient I am. So, I suppose that would have to play into the equation also. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Catching up

I finally downloaded some pictures - these are all from January - and decided to give an update:

This is the amazing sunrise I caught one early morning - outside our front door:

Here is my happy birthday present from my Dad! Yay for evolution!!:

And, finally, some (nearly) fat free german chocolate muffins I made. They weren't the real thing, but they were pretty darn good:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Who does she think she is?

This movie looks amazing. The movie website is here: http://www.whodoesshethinksheis.net/

The trailer on youtube is different from the movie website:

It is pretty interesting to see this about artists. I'd also like to see something similar made about scientists.

too many questions?

No such thing.

Today we decided to walk down to Webster's Cafe to get an after-lunch drink. I ordered a hot tea and decided to try something new. They had a house blend called Garuda Chai. It smelled good - spicy with ginger - so decided to get it. I then asked the question of the day, "What does 'Garuda' mean?". No one behind the counter, nor anyone with me, nor any of the surrounding customers had any idea. The main reason I found this odd was because the tea was blended locally, so someone, at some point in Webster's history decided to name it "Garuda". After an easy web search - and asking my Hindu labmate, the conclusion is that Garuda, in general, means "eagle" in India, but that eagle also refers to one of the Hindu, and subsequently Buddist, gods. Neato. Now, while the tea is pretty good - smooth and mild with a little hint of spice - I wouldn't say that it is god-like.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ich bin ein Berliner

Why don't we have kids shows like this? I think it is great to encourage kids to be proud of being educated, to question authority, and to teach one another. On that note, I think adults should do the same thing!

Monday, March 2, 2009


Actually, it's an albino dolphin.

This weekend at the Voices conference, Nina Jablonski gave an amazing keynote address in which she focused on her research concerning the evolution of skin pigmentation. We now know that both light and dark skin pigmentation have evolved multiple times, most likely in response to two conflicting forces: UVA and UVB light. The relative intensities of UVA and UVB light differ based on global location, and so human skin has evolved to find a balance between being dark enough to protect against the harmful effects of UVA light (think skin cancer), but being light enough to allow a sufficient amount of UVB to promote the formation of folic acid (vitamin D). Deficiencies in folic acid are known to cause neural tube defects in developing fetuses and rickets, as well as a host of new malign effects that are only now being discovered, including immune system deficiencies in adults.

After seeing the article today on the albino dolphin and attending Dr. Jablonski's lecture, I am curious how studies of albinism might yield more insight into the evolution of skin pigmentation, because, to my understanding, it seems to afflict people, regardless of the concentration of melanin in their skin. Thoughts, comments, ideas?