Tuesday, January 31, 2012

mineral crystallization "meet cute"

While discussing about mineral crystallization and surface dissolution, my co-worker R came up with this analogy:
One particle is flying around wildly looking for another particle to bump into. When they are roaming around in solution, they're not probably not going to meet each other. But if one sits down at a park bench (a surface), there's a good chance another one is going to come by.
Come by and say hello. Picture
This is why you need a seed crystal to grow rock candy or why Kurt Vonnegut's ice-nine is genius. Devouring an entire loaf of bread from Angela's Oven while wrapping up extra-things at work- mmmm.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

fixed action pattern to the Olympics.

Today at 6:40AM, I hopped out of bed and zipped over to Oyster Creek (45F means a perfect morning on out the water). Since we didn't race today, I was spared that traumatizing experience.

Our quad warmed up first with isolated movements- moving only the arms then arms with the back- which I found extremely difficult. I felt like a sloppy turtle; I couldn't just do just one thing. Once we started actually rowing (using the entire legs-arms-back sequence of motion) I was fine, but it was either all or nothing for me. I had to activate the entire sequence of fluid motions... just like a FAP (I couldn't think of this term for an agonizing five minutes!).
Fixed Action Pattern(FAP) is a sequence of coordinated movements that are performed together as a "unit" without interruption. Each FAP is triggered by a unique stimulus variously known as a sign stimulus, a key stimulus, or a releaser. A praying mantis striking at prey is a typical example... Once initiated, the mantis cannot change direction in mid-strike or abort the mission if the prey escapes. (ENT 425 site from NCSU)
Or just watch this video:

I am extremely proud of myself because:
1) I didn't catch any crabs.
2) I hardly have blisters= I was using "monkey fingers" like I'm supposed to instead of gripping the oars too tight.
3) I decided to train for the Olympics.

Good morning, you!
Okay, the third one is a joke. One of the coaches told me, "Hey, keep coming out to practice and you will compete in the Olympics... in 2100." I don't think that would be such a "S.M.A.R.T. goal", but I did sign up for my first 5k for March. It will be a fun 5k with a bunch of friends, but at least now I have a goal + a deadline to train to, plus a way to quantify my achievements (number of blisters, Olympic trial offers, mile split time).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

onchocerciasis in west africa.

Children leading the blind Photo Source
In certain regions of West Africa, onchocerciasis is a more important cause of blindness than trachoma. In some villages it is common to see young children leading blind adults; in highly endemic areas the blindness rate in men over 40 years may be 40% or higher. 
Transcribed from the Atlas of Tropical and Extraordinary Diseases, p. 373. Photo contributed by WHO. Selected by Kathleen
Our group is studying Wolbachia, an endosymbiotic bacteria that live in nematodes that cause these diseases. Current developments involve studying the nematodes' dependence on Wolbachia to target Wolbachia for more effective drugs that kill adult worms.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

$300 for your dignity: "diarrhea doozies"

It's no secret that I like food. But the ones I love, I will never get sick of: bagels and pretzels.
This morning I found a box of cupcakes at the bottom of my stairs. After eating one for breakfast, I told myself that was my one sweet indulgence for the day. Then at work I went downstairs to our kitchen and found a beautiful chocolate cake from the best bakery ever: Ruggles.
You make me an irresponsible woman.
After this literally-sweetest day, I had to burst out laughing while reading this textbook about a clinical research study on the bacterial structure pili and its role in human diseases. I believe it is time to switch our textbook out for this one with more humor:
Alcamo's Fundamentals of Microbiology
I really hope they weren't just being witty about the local supermarkets' emergency sales. Oh, what people would do for $300. It reminds me of that time in high school when a friend didn't read the package and ate one too many cough drops.

Monday, January 23, 2012

brazos bend state park re-visited.

Picture us seven chitter-chattering girls, walking along these huge lakes and yelping every time we spot an alligator lying in the swamps.

"Because the world is round..."
View from the observation tower.
Hi there little muddy one.
I love this place. I want excursions like this throughout my dental years... which makes me almost sure of my decision.

Friday, January 20, 2012

sulfur mine workers: 30 years for $10/day.

In class today we watched "Ring of Fire" which my professor noted doesn't draw that much of an emotion out of an audience today as it did when it first came out decades ago. Since then, we've watched more natural disasters play out on the news: the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the earthquake in Japan less than a year ago and Grimsvotn in Iceland causing massive air traffic delays... are we becoming de-sensitized to such events?

One part of the video that stood out to me was about Kawah Ijen volcano in Indonesia. In the video, Indonesian workers were shown carrying up loads of sulfur on their backs amidst fuming sulfuric dioxide gas, with only a cloth covering their mouths. What struck me as shocking was the statement that these workers have an average life expectancy of 30 years and they accept this fate.
Picture Source
This largest sulfuric acid lake in the world may look beautiful with its gleaming emerald waters, but the lake is a deadly solution of hydrogen chloride and sulfuric acid.

The workers make channels where the solution leaks out and hardens. They then carry more than a hundred pounds of these columns over 4km's of steep rocky paths, repeating the grueling trek several times a day. Paid per weight of their load, they earn the U.S. equivalent of $10 a day, sustaining respiratory problems. Their teeth often rot from breathing in the fumes.
Also note this from Demotix:
The ph acidity of the lake water is 0.5, which is similar to the strength of a car battery. Birds have been reported to drop dead from the lake's fumes and to fall into the waste as they fly overhead.
Um.... wow. This sounds like a place where robots should do some work.

In fourth grade upon hearing about earthquakes in our soon-to-be-new home in California, I asked my mom why we don't predict/control these. It seemed crazy to me at the time that people were dying from some natural cause when we had airplanes and spacecrafts and the Internet. But I guess humans feats are nothing compared to what the Earth can do.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Legality vs. Morality (inspired by a DMV book rec)

Someone behind me in line at the DMV recommended The Teachings of Don Juan when he saw I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He promised me I would love it, and I picked up the book soon afterwards.

The author Carlos Castaneda who was an anthropology graduate student at UCLA recounts his meetings with Don Juan- a Yaqui Indian- initially to learn about peyote, a hallucinogenic mushroom. Castaneda soon becomes an apprentice of some sorts, gaining deeper insight into Don Juan's world. Turns out Castaneda's series of books about Don Juan are topics of a heated controversy regarding their actuality. But magical realism! You have to suspend your reality and dive into the world you are reading about. Castaneda's accounts are vivid, detailed, fantastic. And they may scare you away from drugs for life. But the way Don Juan uses these hallucinogens as "allies", a way to enhance his thinking and perception reminded me of nootropics a la Aldous Huxley.

Even my favorite store (Costco) sells brain-boosting pills which are really vitamins and omega-3's. We run to the coffee shop for 3PM caffeine pick-me-up's. I can't run without music, and good running shoes may shave an extra minute off my 5k. These are "artificial" advantages our ancestors or our counterparts in third world countries don't have, so does that mean these extras are morally wrong? What guideline can I look to in making this judgment?

I remember an aha! moment in Ethics in 8th grade. Yes, we took Ethics in Korean middle schools and I loved it. In addition to standard etiquette, we learned names to address different relatives, discussed traditional Korean holidays and customs, and held philosophical discussions about social issues.

Our teacher had asked us to draw a Venn diagram depicting the relationship between "morally correct actions" and "legal actions". Most of us drew this, remembering "that policeman will get angry if you don't  share your cookies with your brother". All laws enforce morality and that is their purpose.
The teacher drew this instead:
And further drew this, what is Conventionally accepted:
Relationship b/t what's Moral, Legal, and Conventional
So sometimes laws are there for artificial reasons, not to enforce morality, sometimes they are not even ethical. Ditto for tradition. Some ethical actions are not enforced by laws or even convention/tradition.  Laws aren't the golden standard when it comes to deciding if an action is right or wrong. You can only make that judgment for yourself.

Oohahala, my laptop is dying, but the point may be made clearer with me quoting this poem my best friend gave me upon graduation:
If you feel a law is unjust, you may work to change it.
It is not true, as many people say, that
That is just the way things are. Or, Those are the rules.
Immutably. The rules can be changed, although
It may be a slow process.
~"Some General Instructions" by Kenneth Koch

Monday, January 9, 2012

tornado warning, flash floods, heavy rain.

I thought tornadoes only existed in Kansas. But this morning, we had a tornado warning for Fort Bend County and eventually Harris County. The radio was interrupted from regular programming with the three long beeps and everything! I fortunately made it to work before it began pouring. Remember that scene from Big Fish when Edward is driving and it begins raining, really pouring, then plain ridiculous buckets of water falling from the sky? The front side of my shorts were a different color by the time I came into the office.
New pond in front of my building
Inner loop completely flooded
A little rain would have been nice, especially with this year being so dry, but this weather was unbelievable. Little Brother almost got trapped in downtown since the lightrail was down, so Kasey and I braved through the rain to save him. (mini-celebration at Chipotle complete with lime chips!)
Definitely staying in. Picture
A kayak would have been handy:
In Seaside Park, NJ March 2010
And now it's crisp and quiet in Houston like this monsoon never happened. Houston weather.

Friday, January 6, 2012

religion and/vs science.

With prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens taking center stage, I feel there is no room for believers or even agnostics in the science community. Being religious shouldn't take away from your credibility as a scientist (or even just a rational person) but campaigns by politicians flaunting religion as their reason for being anti-whatever are not helping. (Anyone think it's interesting how politicians play up their religious views while scientists seldom discuss theirs?)

And sometimes the sky isn't blue.
Here's something I read years ago I keep coming back to: Eric Cornell in his letter to Time "What Was God Thinking? Science Can't Tell".
"Why is the sky blue?" I offer two answers: 1) The sky is blue because of the wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering; 2) The sky is blue because blue is the color God wants it to be.
The religious explanation has been supplemented- but not supplanted- by advances in scientific knowledge. We now may, if we care to, think of Rayleigh scattering as the method God has chosen to implement his color scheme
Stick with the plainest truth: science says nothing about intelligent design, and intelligent design brings nothing to science, and should be taught in theology, not science classes. 
How beautiful is this? Science and religion do not have to clash but rather co-exist (ha), with religion answering the "why's" to science's "how's"... if I choose not to take religion at face value.

Can I pick and choose what I will accept about my religion? (There is a term for this!- cafeteria Catholicism, so clever.) Take evolutionary vestiges, the appendix, the backward eyes, humans' bipedalism, "junk DNA"... or maybe we're acting on incomplete knowledge? How will we ever know everything?

In "god is not Great: how religion poisons everything", Christopher Hitchens addresses the argument that religion consoles our awareness of the unknown, by suggesting we can appreciate the unknown without religion explaining this void.

...the most educated person in the world now has to admit... he or she knows less and less but at least knows less and less about more and more.
If the universe was found to be finite or infinite, either discovery would be equally stupefying and impenetrable to me.
Once we know everything in the world there is to know, will we may be fazed by nothing? But we discover that knowing more only adds to our amazement about the world.