Saturday, December 25, 2010

Gingerbread Man

(Sing to the tune of Jingle Bell Rock)

Gingerbread, gingerbread, gingerbread man,
Circles for eyes and mittens for hand.
Making and baking is dough-tally fun
Now the gingerbread's almost done.


Gingerbread, gingerbread, gingerbread man
Looking delicious like gingerbread can.
Everybody's giving me the "you-ate-it" stare.
No, I didn't, I swear!

What a bright time, it's the right time
To eat those arms and legs.
Gingerbread time - now it's head time!
We go chomp, chomp, chompin' away!

For your karaoke-ing pleasure:


Bonus, a song to be sung by your pet rodent:

Gingerbread, gingerbread, gingerbread house,
Just the right size to be home for a mouse!
When I get hungry, I chew on the wall,
Food is free for all!

Happy holidays :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bananas to Bananas

You can learn a lot about people by playing Apples to Apples. How they think, what they think about how you think...It's a treasure trove of insight into your fellow players. And sometimes, for paying attention, you can win more tangible prizes as well.

I got second place at our lab holiday party yesterday. My postdoc mentor got first place, and chose the mystery prize that turned out to be an iTunes gift card, leaving me with an iPod shuffle. Like mentor, like protege, they said.

I guess I've been trained well!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ms. Fixit

I just transferred my mom's contacts to her new iPhone using an eraser, an earring, and tape. An unlikely-sounding combination of tools, I know, but they worked.

She had the contacts saved on her phone, and the guys at the AT&T store couldn't get them to transfer, even after putting them on the SIM.Her old phone was a Sony Ericsson w300. It has a normal-sized SIM card. The iPhone 4 has a microSIM card, which means she couldn't just use the old one, and the new one is too small for the old phone.
So we came home because it was late, figuring we'd either try using my old M1 memory card (yay Sony Ericsson for not even using standard SD cards!) or have to put the numbers in by hand. Well, my old phone and its memory card are in Berkeley, so that was ruled out.

I did a little Googling this morning, and found that someone mentioned having aligned the microSIM properly in the old phone, allowing them to copy their contacts to the SIM. Okay, I thought, worth a shot. So I traversed the house, searching for things that would work, and laid out my array of tools.
Eraser: The Sony Ericsson w300 has a little indentation where it looks like you should slip your nail under and pry it up. Look at the instructions, and it says it's actually a sliding cover. Trick to make it actually slide open? Put a flat eraser on top for grip. Works like a charm.
Earring: You're supposed to use a paperclip to poke into the hole on the iPhone 4 to eject the little microSIM tray. I couldn't find any, so I just used the back of an earring that was lying around by the pencils (where that paperclip should've been!).
Tape: MicroSIM needs to stay in place? No problem, just line it up and tape it in! It actually took two tries to get it just right.
And then store to SIM/Smartchip (who calls it that?), move it back to the iPhone, go to Settings, Mail/Contacts/Calendar, and Import from SIM.

Ta-da! Now the contacts are in the iPhone with weird semicolons because of Sony Ericsson's strange formatting, but at least they're there!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Politics (n.): many tics

You know, I'm proud of the Democrats. Sure, they lost the House. Sure, popularity is down. But they passed a gigantic health care bill that the country desperately needed. They took a chance that they would lose seats in Congress, that they might lose their own jobs, but they did it for change they believed in.

The whole point of being a democratic country (well, technically, it's representative government) is that power is spread out. We don't like tyranny. We don't like people having too much power. So for a states(wo)man, it should be the case that power is not the be-all end-all. What matters is not holding power, but doing something with it.

People seem to forget that.

People also seem to dislike when they get what they asked for. A giant point in the last presidential election was that the candidates both claimed to be Washington outsiders. Well, here's Obama, being not very good at playing the Washington game. I like it, because he's mostly doing what he thinks is right and reasonable.

Unfortunately, the opposition is not always reasonable. Not that Democrats are always the best role models either, but damn! Congress Republicans are frustrating! Why must it always be about trickery and getting the advantage and spinning things so the other party looks bad?

That would lead me back to a digression about my previous question: can't we voters ever get straightforward information?

But I'll spare you for now. Let's just finish with a quote from Douglas Adams of galactic hitchhiking fame, repurposed for my own, er, purposes:

"...it is a well known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made [Senator] should on no account be allowed to do the job." (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Snowboarding and Thinking

Apologies for the lack of posting, busy-ness, grad school apps, etc. Plus quality is better than quantity. On to the post.

I went to Tahoe with my parents + cousin this weekend. I'm probably at a beginning intermediate level of snowboarding. I still don't usually make it down the hill without falling, though that's often because I'm trying something new, like catching a little air or doing S-turns when I'm riding switch (and let me just say, catching an edge = ouch!). But I must be getting better, because I can't think about it anymore.

Wait, don't I mean I don't have to think about it? Well, yes, but also that I can't think about it. This is the first time this season I've gone snowboarding, and the first couple of runs down the mountain, I was having a lot of trouble getting my S-turns to work. I was disappointed that like last year, I might have to spend a whole day just getting my rhythm back.

And then during my third run, I was watching a skier doing some fancy tricks, and totally forgot to think about what I was doing. When I came back to myself, I realized I was just carving down the (beginner) slope like I had been trying to do, but without trying. All I needed to do was stop thinking about it.

Research has shown that pro athletes inevitably flub their shots when they start thinking about the mechanics of what they're doing. They do much better when they let their unconscious deal with the details. Beginners, on the other hand, do much better when they concentrate on what they're doing. They have to consciously learn the correct habits before they can delegate the motion to their body.

So regular S-turns I can do without thinking. Switch S-turns, with my right foot in front, are something new, and therefore something I need to think about until I've had enough practice with them. The same goes for landing off a jump. Once I've gotten that balanced landing a few times, I'll be able to start thinking about new tricks to go with it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Holy plagiarism, Batman!


I know students cheat, but I don't think any of my friends have ever paid someone to write essays for them. I'd heard rumors of such behavior way back in high school when we were all applying to college, but they seemed like isolated incidents. So how did this come to be so widespread without my knowledge?

Maybe it's because people who made it into Berkeley are just so smart they don't need to cheat.

Nope. I've seen many examples even here of writing that makes my brain ache, and not because of ingenious complexity. There are plenty of people who are unable to form a coherent sentence. To be fair, English is not a native language for some. Yet there are still plenty who mangle other languages with that hard, unsubtle American accent, who have grown up speaking English all their lives. You'd think they would know the language by now.

But why then, haven't I seen it?

Maybe it's just that the majority of my friends are in the biosciences and there are fewer papers assigned. So maybe I don't see it as much as I would if I were, say, a history major.

Maybe it's because I don't cheat and people see that and figure I'm not the person to tell about these amazing services.

Maybe it's because Berkeley is a public university, and the people here are less likely to be able to afford that $2000 per paper.

I don't know the reason. But as for those who (think they) need the service that badly, can't anybody tell from the quality of their other writing that somebody else wrote this paper? In many of the classes where I've had to write papers, our finals included in-class writing assignments. But as a lot of the comments on the article point out, the structure of academic councils and such is not set up in a way that encourages teachers to enforce the rules. It's just too damn complicated to try and prove that a student was not capable of writing something he or she handed in.

Where are you going now, American educational system? Off to test the Coriolis effect, perhaps?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sleep

So I'm taking Psych 133, on the psychology of sleep.

Right now, I'm working on a project for that very class.

If you have 5 minutes to spare, help me out by taking our survey on sleep myths.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

*Chomp*

4 out of 5 dentists recommend sugarless gum. What about the other one?

7 out of 8 mice recommend sticking your nose between my fingers while exploring and then curling up in my hand. What about the other one?

The other one recommends biting my thumb. Twice. Either the taste of blood + latex is addictive or he was just vindictive.

I suppose that's my fault for holding him too loosely as while trying to apply something to his paw. But I'm too soft-hearted and would rather err on the side of being bitten than hurting the mouse. Ah well, that's a price I will continue to pay (every now and then - this was my first bite all semester).

Googling "mouse bite" gave me this picture of a viper and its deadly little killer. You go, mouse!
(Story here: Telegraph)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Applications

I'm really glad I've been writing this blog for the past year and a half. It's definitely helped me get better at starting writing projects, which is especially important this semester.

None of my personal statements for the various neuroscience graduate programs can be quite the same. Columbia asks for everything in under 500 words, Harvard in 1000, and UCSD in 2500 (the others don't have word limits, so I can just go with the best version for those). Right now, I've got 970 words, and a little bit more to add. So I can hit 1000 easily. But paring it down to 500 is difficult because all the transitions and the flow will be gone from my piece. I'm going to have to completely rewrite my statement for that one.

Today, though, I'm working on a completely different application. It's for TeachForAmerica. I was planning on applying, but it seemed far away in the future. And then I had a meeting with one of the recruiters on Monday morning, and he reminded me just why I wanted to apply in the first place. So now I'm weighing whether I should try to get it done by today's deadline, or wait for the December deadline. The latter would lead to interview weeks coinciding with interviews for grad schools. It would also be nice to find out by January if I'm in or not.

But then again, my career goal involves going to grad school and doing research. It's not as though TFA will just be a hobby, because I'm very interested in education, but my contribution to the field in the end is probably not going to be from the level of the teacher. So I would also have to decide by January, before I found out whether the grad schools that would allow a 2-year deferral have accepted me. All in all, I'm thinking now that I should probably go with the December deadline.

It'll take longer and be more busy, but at least I'll be able to see all my choices when I decide.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Berkeley Project

One of the (many many) things that's been keeping me busy lately is something called Berkeley Project. I've written about it before. It's a community service event, but with a flashmob-like twist. No, there's no surprise, and (usually) no dancing, but it does all happen on a single day. Well, to the public anyhow. Those behind the scenes work their fingers off setting this up.

Basically, what happens is that we get some 2000 volunteers to all come out on one day and go all over the city to various sites. They work with the city and members of the community to make things a little bit better. There's gardening/tree-planting/weeding in public areas, removing graffiti, painting murals, and even clearing trails up in the Berkeley Hills. Whatever the city needs.

Some criticize us. They can't deny that we get a lot of personpower to get projects done that might otherwise be difficult, but they argue that it's only one day. However much you do in 1 day, there's still at least 364 more every year.

But we're pretty upfront about that. The goal isn't to get people into long-term volunteer positions. The goal is to draw attention to volunteering, to get people to volunteer who might not otherwise have the time or the desire. Maybe they'll find they like it and pursue the interest. Maybe not.

As I see it, though, the biggest thing is just to get Berkeley students more involved in the community. Even those living far from campus spend a lot of time in the company of other students and little with other community members. Berkeley Project Day leads to interaction between these two groups that don't usually intermingle. It gets students to notice that there are other people in the city besides themselves, and that even some of those who are not homeless and out on the street have poor living conditions. Getting people to venture outside their normal lives and into those of others is, I think, a project worth working for.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

GRE

This morning, I took the GRE Subject test in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology. It was much harder than the one practice test the ETS gave us. The test is supposed to reflect what undergraduate coursework looks like, but the ETS's idea of what that was in 2005 seems more similar to what I actually learned these last couple years.

When I take tests, I tend to use my intuition a lot. I analyze it and see if it might be wrong for any of the usual reasons (which I've learned from taking myriad tests - always mark up/write your thoughts on the paper so you can see what you were thinking when you get it back), but for the most part, I trust it. And I do pretty well. As long as I was paying good attention when I first learned it in class, it sticks with me. The details don't necessarily remain as they are, but their place in my understanding of the topic is preserved. To put it more simply, I have a map in my head. Sometimes, the names of the towns along the route may be missing, but their locations are still marked.

That's the way my intuition works. Because of this, some days it's really good, and some days (particularly if I haven't slept soundly/enough)...not so much.

The problem with this is that I don't know how I did on a test until I get it back. This time around, there were many questions where I could narrow it down to two or three choices, and then I had to choose based on what I was leaning toward. So I'll just have to wait (6 weeks!) and see.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

My first semester at Berkeley, I took 19 units. Sounds like a lot, but it wasn't really, because Chem 1a was easy after AP Chem, and Elementary Telugu - well, I could already speak, read, and write a little. It was nice, and I had time to go hang out with friends, explore the city, etc. Second semester was much the same, but with the addition of organic chemistry. But it was still okay.

Fall of sophomore year, I only took 17 units. Thing is, those 17 units comprised OChem, Bio, Physics, and Global Poverty. You know, easy classes that don't require you to spend multiple hours per class in lab and don't have much homework or reading or difficult midterms. Not at all.
...
Well, that plus all the time I had to spend for the ballroom dancing team meant I was constantly doing homework or reading or practicing cha cha or studying for a midterm.

"This porridge is too hot!" exclaimed Goldilocks.

So the next semester, I only put the porridge in the microwave for 13.5 seconds/units (the minimum). I quit ballroom as part of the mass exodus that occurred with those who joined our year (many factors, including politics, were involved here). 'Yay,' I thought. 'I have time to join a new club!' But now I had more time than I knew what to do with. I took the yongmudo P.E. class to replace the martial arts I had left at home. I did community service-type stuff with CalPIRG and the Berkeley Project. And still I was bored.

"This porridge is too cold," Goldilocks complained.

At some point, I managed to strike a balance. I realized that I'd much rather be busy than bored, and that I in fact work more efficiently when I am busy. I procrastinate more when I'm not, which leads to more stress even though I don't need to be stressed.

"Ahhh, this porridge is just right," sighed Goldilocks.

But this semester, my porridge is boiling again. And this time, I'm not sure I can get through it with swimming colors like last time. Two languages at the intermediate level, a neuroanatomy class with lab, psychology, and a reflection course for my practice, along with research for an honors thesis, yongmudo club, arranging sites for Berkeley Project day, and helping out with the salsa class. Oh, and by the way, I'm trying to take the General and Subject GRE tests and apply to grad school. You know, in my free time.

"Ouch, I think I burned my tongue!" cried Goldilocks.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We Really Aren't Smart

We're human. As such, our brains tend to look for patterns in everything we see. That is, after all, how we survived back when ancient leopards were hunting ancient men. We had to be able to (ahem) spot a small pattern of spots in the wilderness surrounding us.

Now, though, we have so much information constantly raining down on us that we can't help but make patterns from things that really are unrelated. We don't like coincidence because it's just not quite as satisfying as a conspiracy.

Have you ever experienced the feeling that you're psychic? As in, you're thinking about somebody and at that very moment, they call your phone? Or you're talking about someone and they pop up out of nowhere - speak of the devil, right?

Well, the two events really had no causal relationship. How often have you been in a situation where you were thinking about somebody when somebody totally different called? You probably don't remember, because your brain simply doesn't take note of such a mundane event. You only remember the times when there is a connection to be made.

A lot of the patterns we see in the world only exist because we assign meaning to them. It's not always 11:11 or 12:34 when you look at the clock. You tend to forget the times that seem less interesting. These two times are simply more noticeable because of the way our number system works. The chances of you looking up at 12:33 or 11:12 are probably just about the same as the "make a wish" times.

David McRaney over at You Are Not Smart has an excellent post on the way we find patterns where there are none, a behavior known as the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Go give it a read.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Circadian Rhythms

Umm...so I was going to write something about circadian rhythms in research, but I keep putting it off because my own circadian clock and homeostat have been doing battle. Once I get a little more sleep, I'll update this.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the 3six5

The 3six5 is a chronicle of one year. 365 days, told by 365 people in less than 365 words each.

Today is my day.

Check it out here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Brainzzzz

Last Thursday, I had my first lab for my Mammalian Neuroanatomy class. We got some human brains to look at, touch and play with a little, and then sheep brains to begin the dissection. Well, it was mostly preparation because it was the first day. We cut off the dura mater (the outer meninge, or membrane, that covers the brain/spinal cord), and took a peek at the pineal gland (in olden days, the purported seat of the soul) before returning the brains.

The term dura mater literally means "tough mother", and it really is a tough mother of a membrane. The pia mater, the innermost of the three layers, is soft and sticks to the brain. The arachnoid mater is a spider-webby network of membrane in between the two, through which cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows. But the dura (from what I could tell through my gloves) feels a bit like tightly woven cloth, and is not very stretchy.

See that stuff peeled off to the side and labeled "1"? That's the dura mater. That's really how thick it is.

The dura dives into the gap between the two hemispheres of the cerebrum with a clever little move called the falx cerebri ("4" in the above picture). In the human brain, the separation goes quite deep, but even the millimetric depth of falx cerebri in the sheep brain made it extremely difficult to cut (it was hard to get the scissors under it without poking into the brain tissue).

All in all, it was a pretty cool lab, except for the pungent odor of formaldehyde. We didn't realize just how thoroughly we had to wash our brains to get rid of it before we began, and fumes from the remaining formaldehyde stung our eyes whenever we leaned in for an extended period of time. That of course meant three out of every four minutes, because our tasks involved things like identifying tiny little cranial nerves and cutting off the dura mater while sparing as many of those tiny little cranial nerves as possible.

Don't worry though, my dearies. That was only because we didn't prepare well enough. Next time, the brainwashing will be complete! Muahahaha!

Phone Trouble

I have a bumblebee-colored Sony Ericsson w760a. It's great. But I think that ever since my India trip, it's been angry at me. Since my phone is locked, I couldn't just grab a new SIM there and drop it in my phone. I did get a SIM card, but I borrowed my uncle's new phone (since he didn't really want to switch from his old, simple-to-use phone).

This new phone was a Nokia. It had lots of games and held a charge for more than 1.5 days, and I was playing with it all the time. Diamond Rush, City Bloxx, and that game with the cute little bouncing red ball were all very addictive ways to pass the time.

Well, I think my w760 felt betrayed. No matter how much I explained that the situation was not what it seemed, and that it was purely a work relationship, it still thought I was cheating on it. After we came back, it acted normal for almost a week. And then it started throwing tantrums. The center button (you know, the one that you need to press to select basically any option) has conditionally stopped working.

What do I mean conditionally? Well it still works - but only when the slider is closed. It refuses to work when the slider is open. And now, its intransigence (see, I'm actually remembering some of those GRE words!) has spread to the "C" button as well.

At any rate, we're going to the therapist, I mean, the AT&T store, today to see if we can't work this out with a little help.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fate of the Updates

We played this song in band in middle school, and for some reason, I remembered it today. It's pretty epic, and pretty too. I don't remember if I played first or second flute, but I think I still have a copy of it in my music folder at home.



Now that I have bribed you with a song, I apologize for the infrequent posts of late (please put down that tomato!). I have returned to the USA, but my frequency of posting is still not very high. Mea culpa.

Right now, though, I'm trying to focus on studying for my GREs. I have a month before the General test and 6 weeks before the Biochem subject test, but I have a whole lot of material to cover for the Biochem test and I'm pretty sure I won't have nearly as much time a week from now.

Hell, I'm busy already. School started Thursday and I had a Japanese vocabulary quiz on Friday. Not review, but new words. Tomorrow (Monday), I have a kanji quiz, with a whole new set of kanji as well. Once we get into the listening quizzes, oral quizzes, written quizzes as well as reading homework, grammar homework, and kanji homework, it's going to get even busier.

Plus, because I can't bear the thought of dropping either one, I'm taking two language classes! Intermediate Telugu and Intermediate Japanese. This, in addition to Mammalian Neuroanatomy, the Psychology of Sleep, the Global Poverty reflection course for my practice (which only meets every other week), research, yongmudo, and salsa is probably a bit much...

It's okay, I'll take Telugu P/NP.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This is the Final Countdown!

I went to Berkeley to move my stuff back into my apartment, and it was a seriously gorgeous day. I finally reunited with my roomie and another friend after 2.5 months, which made me very happy. I got to meet our new roommate, who seems very sweet, so I'm excited for the year to come.

More than anything, though, it's difficult to believe that I'm a senior. I mean, has it really been 3 years since I was one of those clueless freshmen registering at Unit 2 and struggling to get all my boxes onto a cart and up the elevator? 3 years since I first began living away from home? 3 years since I left high school and a little bit of my shyness behind?

Has it really been 2 years since I moved into an apartment and had to start cooking (or microwaving) food? 2 years since I started living with my friend from middle school and her two high school friends who I had never met?

Do I really only have one more year with all these wonderful people before I go off to grad school or TeachForAmerica or a year working at Genentech or some other company?

I guess so.

Better make the most of it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hippocampus

In the brain, the hippocampus is the center for memory. This is where memories are first consolidated and stored, where associations are formed and activation of a few cells in the pattern can evoke the whole memory.

The Latin root for the word hippocampus is sea horse.

So, naturally:


The brain, languages, and puns (notice the brain coral?) all together in one beautiful shirt? I would've bought this, but unfortunately it didn't make it past Honorable Mention status on Woot.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Home Is Where My Comfort Is

I miss home.

I miss Berkeley.

I miss my friends.

I miss sleeping in my bed.


I miss wearing jackets and not having mosquito bites and eating pasta.

I miss being able to lock my door, walk out the gate and go wherever I want to go.
 
Just a week and a half and I get to go back to my life. Like I said, being here is a relief in some ways, but it's difficult in others.

It's Been More Than Two Weeks...Sorry!

I have been rather negligent in keeping up with this blog for the last few weeks. Well, the reason for that is that I've been traveling/vacationing with family (still in India) now that my project is done. With all that and studying for the GRE and trying to read/skim a chapter every two days of the Lodish text because there's no way I'll actually get it done once school starts, it's pretty difficult to keep up with two blogs. So once again, I will redirect you to my project blog, Hands-On Science.

In fact, let me start you off with a recent post to give you a little background on just how well the educational system is working here. This is the reason I chose to do this project, though at the time it was more based on a general knowledge of my cousins' experiences. I didn't have such fine stories to tell until now.

And if that's not you cup of tea, then bear with me for a couple more weeks. This blog will be back to normal when I'm back in the US (and have gotten over my jet lag).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Oh Standardized Testing...

So I signed up for the GRE. Two of them, actually. I'm going to take the General test at the end of September, and the Subject test in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology in October. Fun stuff. I bought myself a Princeton Review book for the General test (since that's what worked best for me with the SATs), but there are a total of 0 books for the Biochem test.

Seriously.

Kaplan makes a book for the Biology GRE, but there are pretty much none for Biochem. Apparently, it is meant to cover what you would normally learn in undergraduate coursework. So that means I need to go back through my Lehninger and find some textbooks on molecular biology and genetics (especially genetics, because I have yet to take a genetics class - that's scheduled for next spring).

At any rate, this means I have more work to do than I realized, so I'd better get started...
. Lucky for me, the e-book is still working even though it's been more than 1 year. I just need it to work for 1 more month until I can get home to my actual, physical version of the book.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

This is Halloween

The 25th Challenge showed its face a week or two before Halloween, so the theme was obvious. The story/poem required a jack'o'lantern, full moon and haunted house. The catch? You could not use the word "Halloween" at all.



Really, Officer, I Swear...
Midnight comes and goes around,
The moon in full, entirely round.
Shadowed on the porch I see
A pumpkin, carved...or could it be...
A glowing ghost, emerged to haunt me?!
No, just the children out to taunt me.
Really, I am completely sober,
On this, the last night of October.



Ingredients: Sugar, Craziness
"…then, when the moon’s full, he turns into a pumpkin! The Great Pumpkin!"

“So he’s a…were-jack’o’lantern?”

“Umm…yeah…Joey, you’re definitely mixing up a couple different stories there.”

“Seriously, just keep watching the haunted house! He’ll show up, any minute now.”

“Joey, you should probably stop eating that candy.”



Who You Gonna Call?
"Hey, it’s old Jack O'Lantern! Heard ya changed jobs. Whaddaya do now, Jackie?"

“I’m a Ghostbuster.”

“...Oookay…”

“Sounds odd, yeah, but I’m on a haunted house call right now. Tag along and watch.”

“Nah, I don’t believe in ghosts. Plus, it’s a full moon, so the werewolves’ll be out hunting.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Loopholes in the Rules

I try to take advantage of the rules of these challenges sometimes, and interpret them in ways other than the intended. Actually, I try to do that almost every time, not sometimes. That's the kind of thing that sparks my kind of creativity.

Challenge 24: The story must  involve a crossroad (literal or figurative) AND 'contain' the words North, South, East and West.

It must 'contain' the words? Hmm...




We're Where?

Another party of hikers passed the couple at the crossroads.
“Ask directions!”
“No need, Minerva, I have a map and compass.”
“Okay, Jeff. So where are we?”
“Okay, north is… Well, um, according to the map…” he looked up and pointed across the valley, “we’re on that mountain over there.”
Well, obviously a compass will contain all the cardinal directions ;)


World War III
June 3, 2010.

One nation, not under the UN, already divided, with liberty and justice for none.

North Korea stood alone against the might of South Korean, Western and Eastern civilization.

War.

June 3, 2010.

A day to go down in world history – had the world not ceased to exist.
Obviously, I am not Paul the Prognosticating Octopus, as June 3, 2010 came and passed a year after I wrote this (fortunately). But hey, I never claimed to be a cephalopod.


The CSC (A Post-War Story)
He scuttled through the house’s crevices turning north here, west there, staying inside the walls despite the lack of people.

Eventually he arrived at a crossroads: it was either south or east, he remembered.
Glancing at his written directions, he decided.

Ahh, there it was, the annual Cockroach Survival Conference.
 This story was written in response to the question of who wrote the previous one if the world ceased to exist.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

23 in 50

23rd Challenge: The story must include a dog digging up something on a Sunday morning.



Countdown
Sunday morning, rain is falling –

SMACK!

Damn radio alarm’s too good at waking me up. At least the song is appropriate.

Shower. Okay, actually awake now.

Downstairs for breakfast, look out the window.

Oh no. Buster is unearthing the neighbor’s flowers again.

Countdown to angry call:

Three.
Two.
One.

RIIING!

Monday, July 12, 2010

50 Words x 3

The 22nd Challenge (the next one I actually participated in) was actually rather similar to the 18th. The prompt was as follows:

The story must be mirrored - i.e., beginning, then conclusion in the middle and then end with the beginning again - and must include a goldfish.


 Save Her!

"Doctor, can you save it?"

“To be honest, it’s not the type of patient I usually treat…”

“Please, doctor, just try for us?”

“Okay, for you two.”



“I’m sorry, CPR just doesn’t seem to work on goldfish. It’s dea-”

“Our fish! Urk! My heart!”

"Doctor, can you save him?!"


Splish Splash

Leaping onto the table, she glanced around furtively. Nobody near. She dipped a paw into the water, aiming for the annoyingly fast orange sushi.

“No, Lindy! Get away from that goldfish!”

Oops, there was ownerman. With an irritated twitch of her whiskers she leaped off the table and trotted away.


 Temporary Fish Tank


Susie exuberantly toddled into the den. "Mommy, mommy, look what I got!"

“Not now, Susie, I’m writing,” replied her mother.

“But I caught fishy!”

“What?”

Smiling, Susie reached into her diaper and pulled out a goldfish.

“Put him back into the tank!”

Fin in hand, Susie dejectedly waddled back out.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Back to the Roots

You know what? Maybe I don't have to be gone for two more weeks. I can schedule some posts to amuse you. I think I'm going to go back to the roots of this blog. I started out writing posts in exactly 75 words over a year ago. Since that was inspired by the "50 Words - No More, No Less" project series over at WeBook, I figured I'd repost all of my 50-word stories here. I'll post them all - the good, the bad, the funny, the sad - with no changes.

It's kind of in honor of cindi_greene, who has decided to leave WeBook for a multitude of reasons. She encouraged me with every microstory I wrote, which led to me continuing to write, and eventually starting this blog.

So without further ado, I'll start with my very first entry for Challenge 18 - The story must begin and end the same way.



Flip?
"Flip a coin?" he suggested, placing a quarter on his thumb.

"No! That is a completely, utterly irresponsible way of making a decision!" She snatched the coin away.

He pointed out, "Well, three days of deciding 'responsibly' hasn't worked." Prying the coin from her grip, he repeated. "Heads or tails?"

Twice the Writing, Half the Time

Writing one post a day was tough enough, and it's even harder to write one a day for two separate blogs while teaching science experiments/English. So I'm going to just redirect you to my project blog for the moment. Regular posting (instead of this sporadic nonsense) should resume presumably in a week, but more likely will take `2-3 weeks, since I've been posting the GPP stuff two weeks behind. Thanks for bearing with me!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

3D Without Glasses

So this may sound a little geeky, but I'm kind of excited for Nintendo's 3DS. I've got a DS Lite, and it's worked great for me, so I didn't bother with getting a DSi, but the 3DS is something completely different.

Initially, I couldn't even imagine it was possible to have a 3D image on a 2D screen without using glasses. In order to see in 3D, each eye must receive a slightly different image. When you are looking around you, objects are actually present in three dimensions, and so each eye can see a slightly different angle. In order to make a flat image seem 3D, you need to have two images in one, and specifically show one to each eye. Normally, this is done by using glasses.

In the early days, the glasses had one red and one blue (or green) lens.

Everything, including red-colored things, looked red through the red filter, so the eye behind it only saw the image in blue. The opposite was true for the blue filter.
Pic from 3dglassesonline, linked above.

Next came glasses that appeared almost clear, but with a slight grey tint, like sunglasses. This technology was used mainly in movies. These lenses were polarized perpendicularly with respect to each other. Both images were projected onto the screen, but one with horizontally polarized light and one with vertically polarized light. If you tilted your head to the side, you would see both images with both eyes.


Pic also from 3dglassesonline.

That problem has been fixed by the current set of glasses, which use circularly polarized light (one lens clockwise, the other counter-clockwise). The projector switches between the images for the left and right eyes, and a filter in front of it switches polarity at the same time. The theater then requires only one projector. This is what is used in most movie theaters today.

The 3DS doesn't require any glasses at all. While Nintendo has been keeping mum about exactly how it works, chances are it uses the parallax barrier LCD developed by Sharp, which has "windows" at certain intervals that let light through. The distance between the windows is set so that each eye sees a slightly different image. Granted, the viewing angle is small, and this wouldn't work for movies, but it's still pretty cool, and it opens up doors for new ideas and games for the DS. Nintendo is pretty damn innovative, eh?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Internet

So...the internet connection here is neither fast nor reliable. Not fast I can deal with, but sometimes it just stops working. You'll have to bear with me. I think what I will try to do is write my posts while I am here, and post them next next weekend when I go back to Hyderabad for a couple of days. I can schedule them so they show up once a day or something like that.

I want to include a bunch of pictures of the school (on my project blog), but this connection won't allow it. I'm taking field notes (kind of) in a notebook, so hopefully I won't forget anything. And hopefully you won't forget about me!

I'll try to post short things like this, but if you want the filling of the sandwich instead of just the bread, you'll have to come back in a week and a half. Sorry!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This is my 150th post, so I want to talk about something meaningful. I just finished reading a book I started sometime in the middle of spring semester. I got about halfway before my mom borrowed it to read. I brought it on the flight to India knowing I would have plenty of time to read, but I ended up sleeping for a large portion of that time.

At any rate, I finally picked it up again yesterday, and I want to tell you about it because it affected me strongly. It's called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.


In it, Rebecca Skloot (who signed my book!) tells the story of the woman behind HeLa cells, as well as her descendants and family. HeLa cell lines all originated from a cervical cancer tissue sample taken from a black woman named Henrietta Lacks. As the first human cells found to be immortal (able to survive infinite divisions rather than stopping at 50 like normal cells), they were - and still are - used in research on pretty much everything. They are the lab mice of the cellular biology field. They could be cultured easily, and are (relatively) genetically identical. Experiments can be done with the knowledge that other researchers would be able to replicate the results (which is necessary to get rid of bias in science) because they can use the same cells.

Yet Henrietta Lacks never knew what was being done with her cells, and her family was never informed. What they were told was made difficult to understand by their lack of education. Nobody bothered to explain exactly what cells were, and how Henrietta herself was not being tortured by all the things being done to the cells. Researchers took blood samples to study the genetics of the cells, and the family thought they were being tested for cancer. When no results were forthcoming, they lived in constant fear that they would develop the same type of cancer and die. Entrepreneurs cultured and sold HeLa cells, but not a cent went to the Lacks family, which was left with no knowledge of this business, still living in poverty.

The story is eye opening. The only cells I have worked with are Chinese Hamster ovarian (CHO) cells, but it made me realize that when working with anything human, you really have to think about the patients. The purpose and possible good that could come from you research may be obvious to you, but to someone who has not dived as deeply into the subject as you have, it can be terrifying.

Biology has advanced to the point that scientists have to narrow down their focus and specialize in order to discover anything new (or so we usually think). This means that understanding most breaking news in the scientific world requires a grasp of a wealth of previous knowledge. So we get a little lazy and stop trying to explain all of our results.

Even I was caught up in this. Science has too many subtleties for the general public, I thought. People want absolutes, and every one of the "maybe"s that is part of the essence of science decreases their belief that science works, I thought. What could I do to alleviate that? There's not really much hope. But that's not true and what is is not all their fault. Science has come to be seen as something elite, something that is not relevant to normal people's lives. Compared to the decades of the Space Race, it's become unimportant. But scientists are partially to blame for not reaching out to make themselves understood.

I honestly think that this book should be required reading for any students interested in going into a biological field. Whether it's research or medicine that that fills up your time in your imagined future, this book will remind you to not forget that even while working for the greater good, you need to give a little time to the smaller good.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Home Away From Home

It's like coming home. I only come here on average once every couple of years, but after all, home is where the family is. The thing that surprised me a little, though, was how much it felt like I'd found a part of myself that was missing. Being Indian is something I don't get enough of while I'm at Berkeley, and that's dangerous, because it really is an integral part of my identity.

I am very Indian in some ways, and less so in others. In a lot of circumstances, my values are similar, but the reasons behind them different. I am very close to my parents, and I dearly value my family, but I'm not religious. I'm too Indian to wear short skirts in Hyderabad and too American to wear a salwar in Berkeley. The most Indian thing I've done there is to eat the food my mom gave me with my hands instead of a spoon because I felt rebellious (and tired of trying to eat something that wasn't made for a spoon with a spoon).

Here, I get to show off my Indian side and speak Telugu most of the day without a second thought. I don't think I could be this person all the time, because the American half of me is just as important. But the American half is usually the one that gets to go out and play while the Indian half sits inside, staring wistfully out the window.

Being here is also a relief from some of the pressures I face in American society. I'm sure being on summer vacation and not having much work to deal with is a major factor in my current relaxed state, but there are other things as well. For instance, I'm 20 and I've never had a boyfriend. But here, it doesn't matter, because there's no expectation that I should have a boyfriend. Of course, it also goes the other way. There are social pressures here that aren't present in America. It's just nice to deal with something different for a while.

And seriously, salwar kamizes are so much prettier than pants and shirts.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Design

You might've noticed that this blog looks a little different today. Well, as I was creating my blog for my Global Poverty and Practice project, I found that Blogger has a new Template Designer feature. It's awesome, because I can finally change the width of my blog without having to sift through all of the template code!

I'll probably be playing with it for a while, until I settle on something I really like, but for now, I'll stick to this pre-made template. It's much prettier, isn't it?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I'm Here. No, My Here, Not Your Here.

I'm in India. I've got some posts about the journey and the like, but they will wait until I can get wireless access for my netbook. That's mainly because I wrote them on my netbook, and I can't post them from this computer in my cousin's house. And now I get to sound like a TV announcer:

Stay tuned, I'll be right back after the break with breaking news about my education project blog’s location. ^_^

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Society Inside You

My last post was about a racial problem at a school in Prescott, Arizona. People in the community who were against having dark-skinned kids on the school mural drove by yelling racist slurs at the artists and children. The principal asked the artists to lighten the skin color (of paintings of actual kids who go to the school) on the mural.

This is how discrimination perpetuates itself.

It's not just white kids who learn that white is good and black is bad, stupid, mean, etc. Black children learn it too, and they learn that society is against them. Black parents have to have discussions about race with their children all the time because it comes up again and again in their lives. White parents have the privilege of not doing that. They probably even think that not mentioning it is better, because then their children won't notice it in the first place. But that's not true.

Children learn what they see happening. They internalize the status quo, even when it is against them. A study by CNN replicating the doll study initially done at the time of Brown v. Board of Education showed that, sadly, nothing much has changed since the time of de jure segregation.

As a parent, I think you have a responsibility to society to actively teach your children to fight racism. Unless we do that, we're going to have this ugly discrimination that contributes to the cycle of poverty. If you've been told all your life that you're not worth as much as a white kid, and that you will always be poorer, dumber, and meaner, would you really believe that you could do better with your life?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Whitewashing

The term "whitewashed" is often used today to describe someone who acts like a white person (whatever that's supposed to mean, considering that Caucasians can come from multiple cultures as well). In the days of Tom Sawyer, it used to refer to white paint made using chalk and lime that was often used to paint houses.

Well, now that old definition has some new meaning. A mural painted on the wall of an elementary school in Prescott, Arizona included the faces of children who actually attend the school. The school has a diverse ethnic mix, and the mural as a matter of course included white, black, and brown faces.

Some members of the community (beginning with a city councilman) apparently took offense to that. While the artists and the children helping them were painting the mural, they drove by the school screaming racist slurs for two months. Don't forget, this is an elementary school. Since when has shouting racist slurs at children become the best way to exercise your right to free speech?

In the end, the principal of the school decided the best way to handle the matter would be to ask the artists to lighten up the color of the children's skin. Make them more white, in other words.

And also don't forget that the faces in the mural are those of real kids. Isn't that a great message to send to your children? We don't like the skin color you were born with. If you manage to make it a little bit lighter, though, we might tolerate you a little better.

It seems like nowadays I'm reading about racism and discrimination every day. I live in the Bay Area, where most people respect other skin tones, at least in public. So I haven't been as exposed to this. And it sickens me that these problems are still out there. I thought we'd gotten past slavery and Jim Crowe. Hell, I thought we'd even gotten past World War II and Hitler and the Nazis, where we were fighting on the side of equality (kind of) and justice. What happened?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Saving the World

I usually try to post at least every couple days, but I've been AWOL for a little while. Let me tell you the reason. Within a week's time, I'm going to be leaving for India. I'm going there of course to visit family, but I have a second reason as well.

We have a minor at Berkeley called Global Poverty & Practice. It's not like most minors. You do take your 4-5 classes, but that's not enough. You have to do a practice. Something in real life. You're supposed to go out into the world and help alleviate poverty (or at least learn about it first-hand so that you can do the real work soon in the future with knowledge of what kinds of things are going on). They encourage you to go abroad, and that's just what I'm doing.

The students in the minor are involved in a diverse range of projects, from self-led to student-run to NGO-directed. From creating crops for sustenance farming to helping medical teams service remote villages to fighting disease in urban slums. And me? I'm going to be working in education. My practice project is going to be improving science education in a couple of rural schools by making it more interactive.

Sometimes when I hear myself talk about it in comparison to all these other things people are doing, I wonder if it seems like my project is much too narrowly focused. But, to paraphrase and contextualize the Pareto principle, 80% of the problems come from 20% of the causes. You just have to pick the right 20% to fix. There was a study done in rural China that showed how the presence of a science lab in a school, even after controlling for financial differences and student self-selection, was correlated with students attending school for 1.8 more years. If a little science lab can encourage some interest and keep students in school, isn't it worth having?

At any rate, I've been working on finding/modifying/writing lab protocols, lessons, and questions for some of the simple experiments I've picked. I'll go into more detail later, but I should also let you know: I'm planning on creating a new blog for me to talk about my project while I'm there. I won't abandon this one of course, but all posts to do with that experience will probably go there (and possibly be duplicated here). More info will come when I've decided what exactly to do. Ciao for now!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Maker Faire 2010 (pt. 3)

Other coolness included a video game table with 6 sets of roller ball + 4 buttons surrounding the screen. There was a tank vs. tank game, as well as 6-player (two teams of 3) Pong. It was quite fun to toy around with, and play against the random people who happened to be there at the same time.

Next, we went back outside, got some food (I haven't had a churro in a long time!), and walked around out there before it got too cold. There were multiple guys on stilts, and a couple themed areas (I caught a Renaissance vibe from one and a Steampunk vibe from the other). They had workshops for soldering, and providers of all the supplies and services you might need in your future making.

There was a pool, where apparently some battleships were set to battle in a while (like BattleBots, but in water!). The Western Warship Combat Club also put up a sign next to the bleachers deeming it a low-velocity projectile area. A waiver wristband was required to sit there (despite the line of frames of bulletproof glass separating pool and bleachers). We didn't think we would have time, so we missed out on the battle.

Picture from the WWCC website linked above - those ships seem to handle pretty well too.

At least 4 different strange-looking vehicles drove past us. The ones I remember are the guy sitting on top of and riding what looked like a giant pillbug, a wagon that looked as though it should be pulled by horses once the metal frame was covered with upholstery, except that it appeared to have neither horses nor driver, but only passengers and a camera in the front. There was an old-looking car, and a little kid driving a go-kart with a solar panel on top and a sign on the front saying "Science Wiz." Oh, and of course, the muffin lady. She was riding in a giant plush muffin.

Not my pic. Photo credit to Willivolt on Flickr.

Then we went into the Expo Hall, where there was too much stuff to remember. Near the entrance was a pneumatic calliope, whistling its merry way through multiple tunes.



Other things that pop to mind are of course the Pulse pen, the Utilikilts (why use a utility belt when you can have a whole utility kilt!), the cute little solar-powered DIY cars that had no battery or on-off switch so they would just sit under the light until they were charged, then spontaneously zoom off in whatever direction they were pointed until they ran out of power and built up their charge again, and the sewing lessons. MAKE magazine also had some tables with things made from the instructions in the magazine (and possibly some workshops earlier in the day). We only got halfway through that hall and completely missed the Ok Go performance because it was almost time to go. That was regrettable, since they apparently performed underwater...

 

That would've been a nice end to the day, but it's okay. I got to spend the day checking out cool, artistic, random, fun, cute, and techie things. Most had multiple of those characteristics, and some were even all of the above. If you are ever in the vicinity of a Maker Faire, I suggest you go check it out. Spend a whimsical day in a whimsical way. Maybe you'll see a reflection of yourself as a child.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Another Failure

Aww man, BP...

The top kill operation has failed too. Next up is another try at capping the tube, but that first requires slicing off the bent portion that is currently restricting the flow of oil. If they slice it off and fail to put the cap in place, the leak will be even worse. Considering the last 6 tries have ended in failure, I don't hold out much hope that the cap will work this time, and I think it's extremely risky to do something that could so easily increase the amount of damage done.

This should have stopped at the first try - why didn't those blowout preventer valves work? Were they never tested under realistic conditions (i.e., the equivalent of 5000 ft under the ocean surface)? That seems highly irresponsible to me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Maker Faire 2010 (pt. 2)

Previously on The Scientist in the Yellow Hat: I went to Maker Faire 2010, and saw musical lightning, a pen full of R2-D2s, and much more!

Still within the confines of Fiesta Hall, we next ran into a life-height mechanical giraffe with funny glowing eyes, a busily chewing mouth, waggling ears, and a neck that moved up and down. These makers were also selling a (much more miniature) robotic giraffe kit. This one was a little longer than the palm of your hand, mostly plastic, yellow, and kind of cute. The cool thing was that this battery-powered figure you could build yourself could walk. Simple and sweet, it seemed a nice gift for a mechanically-inclined little girl or boy (no, I'm not being paid to advertise!). I apologize for the background sound and the unfortunate lack of waggling ears in the video, but hey, it blinks!



The Cardboard Institute of Technology had a cool tunnel in the corner. It was at least 10 ft. tall and 2-3 people wide. Well, at the beginning anyway. After passing through the cardboard city, the only way to exit was on your hands and knees, scrambling through like a kid in the McDonalds (or Chuck E. Cheese, which I prefer) playplace.

Then my mom saw these Playaflies chandeliers. They were actually made to mount on the back of a bike, but she really liked the idea and the fact that it was DIY (do it yourself). They involve nothing more than LEDs, Ping-pong balls, wires, and a little soldering ability, all of which we have or can easily acquire. Yet they certainly are pretty in the dark, especially when moving.

There was also a digital graffiti wall, to which all the kids were attracted like mosquitoes in India to my poor, defenseless body. The controller was shaped like a small can of spray paint, and you could apparently have up to 10 of them working on the wall at one, though I only glimpsed one being wielded by a child of 7 years or so.


YrWall Digital Graffiti Wall 2010 from Lumacoustics on Vimeo.

That's enough cool stuff for one post. Check back for the (perhaps not-so-)exciting conclusion tomorrow...or maybe the day after...!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Maker Faire 2010 (pt.1)

Maker Faire 2010 occurred at the San Mateo Expo Center. Now, San Mateo is a little suburb on the Peninsula, about 1/3 of the way from San Francisco to San Jose. Nothing ever happens here. Except for this. The Bay Area Maker Faire. This was the original, the first, and people still flock to it in droves despite the $25 ticket ($20 if you buy it at one of the participating local businesses - yay Whole Foods!).

We got there around 1pm, and parking was ridiculous. The city of San Mateo had set out parking enforcement officers, who very kindly gave us maps to 7 nearby parking lots where we were allowed to park mostly for free. Those maps had everything - the location of the railroad tracks, the Expo Center, the extra parking lots, the names of important streets...everything except the lines that represented the streets. Umm...what? You mean you're not going to show me one of the things I need to understand where I am on the map? It was okay for me since I knew where the K-mart was, but for anyone from out of town, it would've been a bit difficult.

At any rate, once we got inside, we started in the Fiesta Hall, where our attention was drawn to the guy in the chain mail/Faraday cage suit playing with the lightning to the music. Maybe that's not quite the right way to put it, since it was actually the lightning that was playing the music. ArcAttack's musical Tesla coil performance was...dare I say, electrifying?



We then walked around a little, looking at some battlebot type robots. One was named Ethel, and appeared in her magazine article to breath fire. Apparently, she also likes music and dancing and having a good time. Well, judging by the scandalous way she was dressed, I suppose that was not unexpected.

But I believe Ethel can hold her own if any cretins decide that the way she is dressed makes it her fault for tempting them and think that they have to succumb to their own supposedly unstoppable impulses. She's packing some firepower (which they did not demonstrate while I was there, fortunately or unfortunately).
 Pictures from the Team K.I.S.S. website - all credit goes to the builders, especially because I totally forgot to take my own photos here.

Nearby was a booth with the people who make Pixar stuff. There was a replica of the steering wheel-eye robot from Wall-E, as well as a Pixar logo, complete with real-life lamp. The cage next door held a multitude of R2-D2s. I got some pictures and videos of them, because they were ultra-cute, though sadly not real. They were being remote-controlled by their owners, who were lounging about in the R2-D2 corral.



I'm not a hardcore Star Wars fan, but I think Artoo is one of the most recognizable figures George Lucas created - and I doubt there are more than a few people who don't like cute little robots that beep and whistle and can only be understood by Luke Skywalker.

Anyways, I've hardly gotten through the first bit, so stay tuned for more posts about the Maker Faire!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

People Who Know More Than You

Okay, so the Maker Faire story is taking a while. I was only there for 5 hours or so and there was still a ton of stuff to write about, and I'm being slightly lazy.

In the meanwhile, let me fill the gap by talking about presentations, since one of those is the reason I was in Berkeley the last few days. Basically, I had to make a little presentation in lab meeting on Wednesday about what I've been doing. A little background about the project and the techniques, a quick recounting of my various failed attempts, and the display/explanation of the data from the one trial in which things did work, followed up by a short list of where to go from here.

I'm not usually nervous about presentations, but this one had me worrying a little bit. I've realized that it's quite nerve-wracking to give a presentation to people who know the subject better than you. Hell, the main paper involved was written by my PI. Who knows it better than she does?

Two days before, I was still figuring out thresholds for comparing the experimental and control data, turning my huge tables in Excel (240 rows x DW columns is no joke) into pretty graphs, and figuring out the best way to show off my awesome-looking results.
Negative control on the top left - no response. With the thing  I'm testing - huge response. Inhibiting the thing I'm testing - no response again. Woooo, the assay works!

That lasted up until the evening before the meeting. Now it was time to start on my Powerpoint.
...
...
Yeah, a little late, but I actually don't procrastinate unless I know (unconsciously) I can make the deadline without too much stress. And this is something I've been working on for a whole semester, so I've got a pretty good understanding of it. Making the outline and the Powerpoint itself didn't take long.

The thing was, though, I'd seen some of the grad students in the lab presenting at lab meetings as well (one was practicing for her quals). They got asked a lot of tough questions. When I started, it was background, and nobody asked any questions. They all knew the stuff back and forth (I did mix up an important part, but my post-doc mentor was the only who caught it, and he waited until afterward to tell me). So I thought I was off the hook.

As soon as I got to my results, though, it was like a frenzy of (rather friendly) sharks. Most of the questions I got were on my data. How did I analyze it? Did I do this particular statistical analysis? Did I compare those two things? etc. Oh man. There were plenty of things I still had to do, so I couldn't answer everything, but apparently I still did a pretty good job.

So even though I'm not usually nervous about presentations, I've got to say: Whew. I'm glad that's over. For now.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Exciting Story!!1!one!! ...Except Not Yet

I went to the Maker Faire on Sunday, and I was going to write about what I saw and post some cool pictures and videos, but I have returned to Berkeley for a couple of days, and I realized that I don't have the cable to connect my phone to my computer. For whatever reason, I took it home. Oops. I don't want to write about it without the videos, because they show the coolest thing ever.

Yet worry not, dear readers! I shall endeavor to get these videos to my computer in some other manner. And if that doesn't work, you'll have to wait until Wednesday at the earliest. Sorry!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Chomp Chomp

If you haven't been to Google's homepage today, check it out! The logo for today is commemorating the 30th anniversary of the arcade classic Pacman. It's one of those iconic games that has stood the test of time.

Guess what else? The logo art isn't just art - it's a fully functional Pacman game!

Here's a secret I accidentally discovered with the help of my mom: if you insert two coins ("Insert Coin" replaced "I'm Feeling Lucky"), you get a two-player version. Ms. Pacman is controlled with the W-A-S-D keys.

Have fun returning to your childhood (or discovering Pacman anew)!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

So Cute I Could Eat You

Mochi is yummy. I may not have tried it filled with red bean (yet), but I have had it on my frozen yogurt and surrounding small balls of ice cream.

This is what non-colored mochi looks like:

And this is a picture of a baby harp seal my friend sent me:


It looks like a giant ball of mochi! So cute!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Pale Blue Dot

This is the "Pale Blue Dot" that is our Earth as seen from the edge of the solar system:

 Picture from the NPR article linked earlier.


I only read about this today though the 20th anniversary of the photo was in February. But Carl Sagan's words still gave me chills:

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
I couldn't have put it better myself (seriously, I couldn't have). Let's listen to him, yeah?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New Toy!!!

My dad got me a netbook! Except, I don't really get to keep it. I'm going to be using it while I'm in India this summer for the month I'll be in a remote village away from my parents doing a volunteer project (I'll tell you more about that when it gets closer).

The thing is, my normal laptop has too much weight (both physical and informational) and too little battery life to take with me. I need something I can work on when the power is out. Before we leave, though, we're going to give it to my grandparents so that they have a simple, light machine to chat with by webcam.

The Acer Aspire One in Midnight (or Onyx) Blue is such a cute little thing. If I were to buy my own, it would be white and perhaps a different brand, but it's cute nonetheless.And it's amazing when I look at the battery meter and it says "8 hr. 50 min." remaining. Woah.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Facebook Games

I've been playing this game on Facebook, and it's kind of addicting...

No, not Farmville! I'm talking about Bejeweled Blitz.

Every time you don’t beat your high score, you think, “Oh, I was so close! If I’d just moved that gem instead…”

Each game is only 1 minute, so it doesn’t feel long. You just keep clicking that innocent little “Play again” button, and it stretches out to an hour before you know it. Oops.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Little Perspective

With the Gulf oil spill, attention is being brought to the other indiscretions of oil companies. Spills happen routinely in other countries that don't have even our level of legal protection for the environment. Guess where all these countries are? In the "developing" world. Where our media fails to pay attention.
Kazakhstan, for one, had no comprehensive environmental laws until 2007, and Nigeria has suffered spills equivalent to that of the Exxon Valdez every year since 1969. (As of last year, Nigeria had 2,000 active spills.) Since the Santa Barbara spill of 1969, and the more than 40 Earth Days that have followed, Americans have increased by two-thirds the amount of petroleum we consume in our cars, while nearly quadrupling the quantity we import. Effectively, we’ve been importing oil and exporting spills to villages and waterways all over the world.
Ah yes, Nigeria. I remember seeing a film about oil in Nigeria in one of my classes. Beyond the violence and huge rich-poor disparities it causes, it leaves behind a lot of environmental problems. Oil pipelines are constantly leaky, and the people who live near them in the Niger Delta deal with a lack of clean water all the time (along with a preponderance of dead fish).

In Nigeria, the oil has been leaking for so long that it has spread everywhere. Doesn't "oil everywhere" sound like a bit of a fire hazard to you? Well, it is. How do you deal with fires springing up around your house all the time if you don't even have non-oily water to put it out with? I don't know, but to the villagers there, a leaky pipe might even be a good thing despite the fire, because it gives them a chance to tap some oil for themselves and even out the inequality a little bit.

And back to the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf, I've found you a little video (you'll have to click through to the actual post if you're using a feed reader):

A Hug From Mom

You know how a hug from mom can cure pretty much anything (emotional, that is)? So can a couple of words. If you're a college student and you live away from home, give your mom a call. It's comforting and will de-stress you (unless you're having a fight with her, although I still think it would be unconsciously comforting). Plus, the more often you call, the less likely you will be to miss Mother’s Day!

Greasy Hands

It's always about oil and money. Can't corporations look past that for a minute to think about their effect on the environment around them? Corporations are made up of people, right? Those people have to live in this world same as we do. Throw off the mob mentality a little.

If you haven't heard of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, well, that's what I'm talking about. It's not even a spill, really, but a leak from the underwater oil well. This is worse, because it means that it's not just however many barrels of oil the Exxon Valdez or some other ship was carrying, but a continuous gushing of oil into the sea until the hole is plugged, which, over 3 weeks later, has still not happened. It is an ongoing spill, and it has been ongoing for 3 whole weeks. However much oil has made it to the surface of the water is barely the tip of the oil iceberg. There will be plenty of problems with things like tar balls on the sea floor, as there were in the San Francisco Bay in 2007.

It's nice that people are all ready to help out and BP is taking responsibility and all, but it would have been much better if we could have prevented this disaster in the first place. Perhaps if those extensive safety regulations that the oil companies fought so hard against had been put into place, this wouldn't have been a problem.

And damn it, water is not supposed to be black:


The effect on wildlife will be devastating.


Just, oh my god.

Pictures from Boston.com's Big Picture series.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Obviously

"Needless to say" is a ridiculous, pointless expression. It is always, unfailingly, inevitably (redundantly, tautologically) followed up by an explanation of what was so needless to say. Seriously, if it's needless to say, don't say it. If you have to explain it, then it's not needless, but necessary.

You don’t have to use idioms that make no sense (“Head over heels”? Isn’t that the normal state of affairs?). Just say what you need to say.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Testing Day Again

Having about 10 black belts in a panel judging you and a bunch of other white and yellow belts in one half of the room is not so bad. Having every single black belt in the room on the panel watching you do trips of rolls and strikes across the room is much much more unnerving. Four tables worth of black belts got to watch me do not-very-good barrier rolls. I was sick all last week, so I didn't get to practice, and while I felt like I knew what I knew pretty well, I didn't get to practice it very much. I don't feel that confident after this test. I guess this is how everyone else usually feels, so I guess that's good for me, if nothing else >.<

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rocking on the Top

After being sick for a few days, today was a relief. No fever, much much less cough, and nice weather! Well, my body probably had little to do with that last, but it did make the day a bit happier.

And yet, I was trying to rest so I won't get hit with another virus while I'm weak during finals. But lying in bed and sitting around for three days is not easy for an active person like me. So today, I decided I should continue taking my self-taught classes in dancing.

I've been trying to learn a little bboying (or bgirling, in my case) from Youtube. The fancy acrobatics are attention grabbing, but I've found myself admiring the toprock. Now that I've been exposed to so many other types of dance, I can see the swing and latin influences in here (Slide step? You mean cucaracha?). Maybe I'll get to the windmills and air flares eventually, but for now, I'm working on my basic kick step, hip twists, and shuffle step:



Once I've got the basic toprock footwork down, I can give it my own flavor. Strawberry, perhaps? Or maybe pomegranate...