Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Autistic Spectrum

Autism has fascinated me ever since I first learned about it in middle school. Why? Because at the time I was able to see a little bit of myself there. Autism comes on a spectrum, and so it was possible for me to see myself near the top, high-functioning enough that I could pass for normal.

I constantly questioned myself as to whether I was really on there, or whether I was being a hypochondriac, or whether in the back of my mind, I really wanted that gift that comes with being a savant, even at the expense of a normal life.

I don't think so anymore. Nowadays, I think I can say that the last bit is probably not true, but what about the first two? I mean, sometimes I think I fit, but I don't know where to draw the line.

How wide is the autistic spectrum? What does it cover? On the far extreme, it can be pretty obvious. Those children who cannot bear the onslaught their senses throw at them, who are unable to interact with others, who feel emotion but cannot empathize and catch others reactions. The ones who spend their days rocking, drawing, solving puzzles, all while locked in their own heads.

But what about the other end? How brilliant does one have to be in order to be placed on the spectrum? How much geekish, nerd-like, or introverted behavior is necessary to push you in that direction?

Saturday, February 27, 2010


“Interesting” is such an uninteresting word.

I try to avoid it when I write, especially in formal settings, because “interesting” tends to be used when the speaker or writer cannot think of anything else to say. As such, its meaning has become very ambiguous, and is hard for the reader to decipher.

I use it as a placeholder while I type, but I inevitably return to change it to something more interesting expressive, specific, and fitting.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why I Do Science

"There's real poetry in the real world. Science is the poetry of reality." - Richard Dawkins

To me, science is indeed poetry.

Grace, beauty, and harmony, the characteristics that define poetry outside of literature, abound in nature.

For a scientist, as for a child, the world is a puzzle to be fit together, and the beauty of that lies in the ways these complex four-dimensional pieces join.

It shows in physics -
Atoms are made up of protons and neutrons, and if you can characterize those, you can attempt to decipher the behaviors of these tiny particles, despite having no way to sense them directly.

It shows in chemistry -
In high school, you learn that certain chemicals react. As you delve deeper and deeper, you begin to see how the orbital distribution of electrons not only affects but effects those interactions.

It shows in biology -
Enzymatic interactions require not a simple lock-and-key fit, but rather, a spatial positioning that can become a lock-and-key fit, which helps to drive the reaction. Cells and organisms have complex feedback pathways for regulation that work based on the activities of these enzymes.

It shows in the way those fields fit together, in how you find chemical reactions happening because of physical properties, and biological reactions happening because of chemical properties, and psychological reactions happening because of biological properties.

Could there be anything more beautiful?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Speech to Remember

As I was walking up Bancroft St. this afternoon, I found my way blocked by some policemen. They were allowing nobody to cross the street behind Zellerbach Hall. After I waited for a few minutes, a motorcade turned into the street. Police cars at either end flanked a couple of SUVs. I looked into the silver one and saw...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are You Noteworthy?

Don’t worry, I’m not calling your worth into question.

Noteworthy is a UC Berkeley a cappella group (i.e., their vocals act as the background instruments) that somewhat recently went viral on the nets for their antics in their rendition of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face.

At any rate, one of the members is my roommate’s friend from Taekwondo (and boyfriend of our possible future roommate). And I only knew him from the context of Taekwondo. So imagine my shock when I saw him on Sproul, performing this:

I'm going to leave you hanging on which one he is, but to make up for that, I'll give you another video. They've got a few other gems, like this slightly-difficult-to-hear version of my favorite song from Mulan:

According to my inside sources, until the sudden spike in popularity of Poker Face, the boys were working on an arrangement for Bad Romance. So keep an eye out for that, and I'll let you know when they start performing it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Into Another Dimension

Thinking in three dimensions can be tricky. For whatever evolutionary/social/biological reason, spatial visualization tends to be easier for males than females.

As a bio major, the main thing I visualize in 3d is molecular structure, for proteins and organic chemistry reactions.

But artists do much more. Kumi Yamashita brings people out of the shadows in ways you’d never suspect. Matthew Albanese creates entire worlds – and then shows us how he does it.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Posting every day is currently a fail.

I’m busy, but I could do better.

For instance, after the Bollywood dance class, I didn’t have to spend an hour talking to my friend.

And then after helping out with the Hustle lesson, I didn’t have to stay for the Salsa workshop.

And after coming home, I didn’t have to watch the Olympics (roommate consensus: figure skating men have nice glutes) while trying to do Japanese homework.

Jeremy Abbott, though the US champion (he even beat Evan Lysacek on the US stage), didn't do so well in the short program.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What's Up With All The Hearts?

Up until today (technically yesterday) I completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day. I didn’t really care, although I would rather have Clementine’s Day.

This year, it didn’t bother me to see everyone coupled up, my roommates returning to Berkeley early (despite the 3-day weekend!) to spend time with their boyfriends.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been keeping myself busy this semester with the things I love: neuroscience, labwork, martial arts, dance… who has time for boys?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The War on Cancer

I just watch a TED talk by David Agus on the next steps in the war on cancer, and it reminded me of a class I took last semester.

What I learned in my Bio of Cancer class last semester is that we’ve pretty much got clinical cancer diagnosis and classification all wrong.

Because we didn’t initially (and to some extent still don’t) have the tools to do much else, we look at the symptoms – a tumor in your lung, a lump in your brain, an overproliferation of white blood cells.

But that doesn’t help in treating the cancer. One breast cancer may have the protein HER2 amplified, while another may not. You can’t use Herceptin for both.

It’s true that certain mutations show up more often in certain cell types or body parts, because the pathways involved are the ones expressed in those cells. Still, there are usually plenty of other mutations that show up in the same cell types and even the same cells.

Just classifying cancers by their mutations isn’t enough though, because just as in real estate, location matters. The environment around the cells (extracellular matrix, blood vessels, neighboring cells) can help determine whether the abnormal cells can grow. There are carcinoma (epithelial cell cancers) cells that are provided with growth factors by the cancer-associated (but not cancerous themselves) fibroblasts surrounding them.

Look at all the cell types and growth factors involved in the tumor microenvironment! 
(I stole this picture from the Pittet Lab at the Center for Systems Biology)

So what we need then is some integration of our current form of diagnosis and our knowledge of the cancer genome. I'll link to Agus's TedMed talk again, since it's pretty informative. Take a look.

Also, HTML does not show up on titles in a Google Reader. Oops.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's the Buzz?

Google Buzz looks pretty cool. More useful than Google Wave at least, since it’s connected directly to your Gmail, rather than being a separate website.

It feels like a mix of Twitter (quick short posts) and Facebook (links, videos, etc.).

My Gmail is only for class/work stuff, so the “automatic follow” list is professional contacts and groupmates. The people I know best I talk to in person, on the phone, or on Facebook. Kinda useless.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Try To Feel Again

Are pictures of suffering still effective in raising emotions in our society? Have we all become desensitized by the images of violence and death and victimization we see everyday, on TV, on the internet?

Yes and no. I think pictures can still affect us. A picture of a single starving child is still much better at encouraging people to be generous than figures on the debilitating reach of malnourishment throughout the world.

But I think our attention spans have shortened to the point that we no longer think about what the pictures mean (I mean, this is why I use short paragraphs). This is not to say that we think or feel nothing. We feel our initial reaction, our gut instinct of awe or sadness or pity as our mind processes the situation represented by the picture. Look at this photograph:

What was your reaction upon seeing this photo? Mine was initially, 'Oh, another starving child, how sad.' My attention was divided between this and the text and what the professor was saying, but it still seems to provide support for the "we are desensitized" theory, right? As the picture continued to stay up on the Powerpoint, however, I kept looking at it. And then I saw the vulture

I was transfixed by horror. All I could think was 'Oh my god.'

But if the professor had put the picture on the screen and flipped to the next slide with a few words, leaving it up only for a few seconds, I wouldn't have understood the context. Then again though, isn't that the kind of environment we usually see these pictures in? On TV, with the anchor or a narrator speaking, and some sort of text every now and then, a quick flash of a picture in between to highlight the subject? Or online in an article, surrounded by text and flashing click-me ads?

Maybe we don't really look at the world around us anymore, and the same applies to these photographs. We're too engrossed in ourselves and the people around us, and even the world around us - but all in the form of our mental construction of these things. You could argue that everything we see is a mental construction, that's true, but my point is that we see what we expect to in pictures, not what's actually going on.

So I have an assignment for you. It's probably easiest to do online, when you have some control over the pictures you see. Next time you see a photograph that invokes some kind of gut reaction in you, stop and look more closely at it. Notice the details, ask where this was taken, who it was taken by, what the situation was, who the people are. Find out not just what the photographer took a picture of, but what she meant to show.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I haven't forgotten about this blog, just so you know. But I've been sick and busy and our internet has been spotty of late (not because of the router this time!), so you see, conditions have not been conducive to my posting daily.

I will try to be back once the internet connection has been fixed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Must Be Midterm Season

I'm sick.

I bought some Kleenex today (along with medicine). I came home, peeled off the plastic, tore off the perforated paper hole, and pulled out a tissue.

I put it to my nose and inhaled, ready to blow my nose, and was hit with the strong, pungent aroma of Vicks.

I mean, they make Vicks-scented Kleenex now? That's an amazing idea! I never knew.

Anyways, I'm gonna read and rest until Bollywood Berkeley. Later!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lost - The Season Begins!

Naw, I don't watch Lost. I tried, when my roommate tried to get me hooked. I almost got through the entire first season, but it just didn't hold my attention. But this post isn't about the show, it's about the last couple days

Yesterday, my roommates and I systematically searched the fridge for some lost (new) Brie cheese that nobody had eaten. The search was fruitless (apples and pomegranates not included).

Today I lost my keys sometime as I was dashing to my classes between 9 am and 12 pm, and only realized it at 5 when I left the lab. I retraced all my steps, went to the lost and found in each of the buildings that was still open. No luck.

In the lab, before my epiphany of keylessness, I lost a pen to the microscope table. I knocked it toward myself and it disappeared into a crevice at the table’s edge. When I told one of the grad students, she said, “Oh, it’s gone then. You’re never going to get that back.”

But then I obtained a pen from the office supplies cabinet. I accidentally dropped it on the ground near the microscope table, and this time, as if to make up for the loss of one of my favorite pens, the table offered me the twin of the one I had just dropped. I looked down there again later when I scoured the area for my keys, and found their triplet sibling.

So I suppose there was some “found” in my day.

The last thing I lost today, though, was my temper. It was a long and frustrating day for multiple reasons, not the least of which was that I haven’t had quite enough sleep the past couple nights. I know my mom was just trying to help, so I’m sorry Amma.

I think I found my (still-fragile) composure again, though. Konstantine by Something Corporate is the song I always turn to when I need comforting. The lyrics aren’t really that happy, but I think it’s the heartbeat bass beat that does it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Being Busy Can Be Relaxing

I always think I like being busy until midterms hit. And then I always wonder, 'Why do I do this to myself?'

But the truth is, the busier I am, the more productive I am and the happier I am. Counterintuitive, neh? Let me explain. When I'm busy and I know it (clap my hands! *clap* *clap*), I procrastinate less. I know that I have way too many things to do and can't try to finish everything at the last minute.

I usually make a schedule of activities and homework and whatnot lest my God-like (read: holey) memory lets something slip. The difference when I'm busy is that I actually look at it. And then I follow it! Well, mostly. I usually build in some extra time for when I suspect things will not quite get done. So I get work done without waiting too long.

My memory is like this, but in my brain. Anyways, this is actually a fistulated cow. The hole allows scientists to study digestive and other gastrointestinal processes.

What about the happier part? Well, part of my busy-ness is due to extracurricular activities. This semester, I'm doing as much as I can of the two I most enjoy - dancing and martial arts. On a more academic note, I'm doing research in a lab that works on a fascinating topic and is full of nice, fun people. So I get some social interaction and fun and I don't have to feel guilty about taking time off from studying because it's planned into my schedule.

The same applies when I finish tasks on time. I no longer have to feel guilty about spending some time with friends because there's nothing else planned in my schedule for the day. Unfortunately, I haven't done that yet today, so off I go to read some neurobiology and practice some kanji.

(See you tomorrow!)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Owl City

Have you heard this guy? You’ve probably heard Fireflies, but listen to some of his other songs as well. Critics say they all have a similar sound, and I have to agree with that. But for me, it’s really the lyrics and imagery that make it worth it.

Owl City is simply awesome. As a scientist though, I should back that up with evidence.

  • “I’ve been to the dentist a thousand times so I know the drill –“
  • “We’ll take a long walk through the cornfield, and I’ll kiss you between the ears –”

Who can resist such clever punniness? And it just makes you feel happy – I don't need realistic (i.e., depressing) songs all the time.