Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Magnetic Poetry - An Advisory

Sometimes we felt like being funny. Sometimes we had to spit out those pithy little sayings that sound great but are hard to actually apply to life. Then again, within the limitations of these words, there was only so much advice we could give.

Don't just back off, please. Let us know what's going on.

This was written for our summer roommate, who was having a little trouble letting go of an old flame.

 For the rest of us, this is probably the best advice. After all:

Although food and water probably should have made it onto that list. Eh, maybe they fall under luck.

But if those aren't enough for you, then you should come ask us in person:

Monday, March 29, 2010

It's Okay

I'm going to reproduce a post by Matthew Knight from the 3six5 project today:
I’m sorry.

I’d planned greatness for today.

I’d planned a trip to the other side of the country and back.
I’d planned a spun yarn of pirates and robbers and sharks and helicopters.
I’d planned a million dominoes clattering after one another around a six mile course of twists and turns and ups and downs and tunnels and bridges.

I’d planned a rodeo.
I’d planned a circus.
I’d planned a perfectly cooked poached egg.

I’d planned to create something so wonderful, wierd, wacky and wicked.
I’d planned to craft and cajole and create and curate.

I’d planned on doing so many things.
But instead, I went out for lunch.

I get easily distracted.
Somewhat like a magpie in a hall of mirrors.

I get distracted by another idea.
I get distracted by the dozen things which float around me in my personal digital cloud.
I get distracted by the thing I was meant to be concentrating on an hour ago.

I’m not actually that sorry.

It was a great lunch, with friends.
Wine, Roast Meat, Potatoes.
There was even cake.

I guess, one should never apologise for simply spending time with friends.

Putting down the laptop, and not writing a blog post.
Putting down the camera, and not taking a photo.
Putting down the pen, and not writing your diary.

It’s okay to not document.
It’s okay to not capture, edit, post, repost.
It’s okay to forget the infinite detail, and remember the fuzzy whole.
It’s okay to go outside and just be.

I’d planned greatness for today
I had a better day by just doing nothing.
I should try and remember that more often.
I think we should all try and remember that more often.

Every time I turn on my laptop, my fingers reflexively move through a familiar sequence of keys. Windows+2 to launch Firefox from my Quick Launch menu, keyword fb to bring up Facebook, Ctrl+T for a new tab, gm to get to Gmail, etc., etc. It all happens in a flash and a flurry of "tap-tap-tap"s

Friday, March 26, 2010

I Can Ride My Bike With No Handlebars

As Kevjumba pointed out in his latest video (please don't play this at work at full volume), the lyrics in songs these days are ridiculous.

I enjoy catchy songs like the rest of the American populace, but smart lyrics are what really hook me onto a song. Lyrics that are poetic, or clever, or that carry a message - those are the ones that stay with me.

I heard the song Handlebars by the Flobots in a store at the mall a couple days ago, and it's been stuck in my head ever since. I looked up the song, looked up the rest of the lyrics, and found the video. The end of the video is sad, in a way, but it's powerful, and in my opinion, brilliant.

I know songs mean different things to different people, but based on my own multiple listenings and a quick google search of the intended meaning, I've come up with this interpretation: People have great potential to be good or bad. We all start out wanting to be good and do good (it's true - abused children still try to help and play with others in the sandbox, but don't know how to do it, and eventually give up when their efforts go wrong), but we can change.

It's easy to get caught up in a feeling of success and accomplishment, but when you start needing bigger and bigger things to feel satisfied, back off a little. Stop and take time to smell the roses, to find happiness in the details.

And most of all, be aware of how your actions affect those around you. Even if your loved ones are not directly affected, other people's loved ones may be within range.

But the whole point is that you have the power to change things. So use it for good.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Magnetic Poetry - The Bio Episode

When 3 roommates (plus one boyfriend who is here quite often) majoring in various areas of biology collide with a green/nature-themed magnetic poetry set, the result is not the Higgs boson, but still pretty nerdy. The fridge has seen its fair share of these geeky sentences.

They put the words in our mouths...err, hands. I mean seriously, why else would you give people photo + synthesis in a green-themed set?
Yes, I would certainly hope so. Or we wouldn't have much left.

Oh no, all that classification stuff...it's like Bio 1B all over again.

While this one is not as directly true, you can make it so by eating the cheese (but not my Brie!).

And finally, they gave us the words for all the others, but you have to be really nerdy to make your own bio terms...
Thank you G. for bringing us back to the molecular and cell side of biology. I like meiosis more than botany.

A Confidence About Confidence


by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

I ran across this poem for the first time in a while today (thanks Maura Kelly!). The last time I read it, I was not as self confident as I am today. I thought, 'Well of course I determine my own fate. I make the choices, after all.'

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I Love My Parents. Sorry.

No matter how I build myself up (or down), my parents can break me with a word, a breath of air. When there are things bothering me that I'm not showing, that I'm maybe even ignoring in my conscious mind, a few words from my mom can have me crying in her arms. Crying is healing, it's amazingly cathartic.

And it goes the other way too. I don't get angry at most of the people in my life, but I can blow up at my parents with small provocation sometimes. I think they are my emotional outlet. They are the only ones around who I am comfortable enough to show everything. Even my best friend doesn't usually see my anger directed at her. But it often strikes me that this is a horrid way to treat my parents, though it means that I trust them implicitly.

There are certainly situations when I get angry at them and realize they are right later. For instance, when I’m trying to forget something, and they keep bringing it up. I’m trying to think of happier things and not dwell on the problem. But they’re trying to help me deal with the problem instead of running away. There has to be a balance.

I take that into account nowadays, and I argue with my parents a lot less than I used to. Even when I argue, I remember to take their advice later. I guess I’ve gotten past that rebellious teenager phase? Well, it only exists in America and the West anyways, so with my being perched on a hyphen, I guess I only ever made it halfway there. Either way, I'm glad I have a good relationship with my parents, even if it doesn't always show.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Magnetic Poetry - The First Steps

The Scientist in the Yellow Hat, now with new and improved features! Or a singular feature, anyway:
I've decided I will post some magnetic pearls of wisdom from our refrigerator each week for the next couple weeks (and then wait until I build up a large pile of pictures again, lather, rinse, repeat).

At the beginning of last summer, my roommate and I went to Games of Berkeley - the game store in downtown Berkeley. While there, we decided to get a magnetic poetry kit for our plain, boring fridge. Now, most of the kits also have plain white word magnets, but there were a few color-themed sets.

We immediately ruled out pink, which left green and blue. My favorite color is blue, while hers is green, so after asking the store clerk which color he liked (green) and taking into consideration the color of the furniture (blue), we flipped a coin. She won. Ah well. I guess I like green too.

Here are some of our original creations from that first month. We'll start with the slightly more poetic (yes, my camera's phone is myopic and cannot focus well close up):

The life story of a were-cookie?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day!

Sorry, I'll get back to posting soon. I've been really busy, and now I'm sick. Actually sick, as in cough, fever, body aches, etc.

But I have a reminder for any of you in countries/time zones that follow Daylight Savings time - change your clocks. Spring forward one hour!

Also, it's Pi Day. 3/14.
So I will post this at pi time (3/14 1:59:26).
Have a nice Pi Day, and try to eat some pie!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Explore Your World

I love exploring the campus. Freshman year, I tried to take a slightly different route to class each day (when I wasn't late, though that happened quite often). I could probably even list finding new spots to eat lunch as a hobby.

Having lived only on Southside in the dorms and in Downtown Berkeley (to the west of campus) in my apartment, I have little experience with Northside. The residential areas in general are quieter, greener, and prettier, and the north side of the campus (which, not being an engineer, I rarely visit), seems to follow that trend.

And you know what? There are a lot of things to see in Berkeley. Odd things, pretty things, weird things are strewn all over the campus (photos after the jump):

 Odd statues...

 Rainy courtyards...

Sunny courtyards with lovely trees...

Other trees transformed into lampposts...

And even, as per my most recent discovery, abandoned houses! Or at least, the front sides of abandoned houses.

So if you have a little time, maybe 10 minutes before class or after work, use it to explore the area around you. Take note of the little things, the odd things, the beautiful things. Bring some spice into your life!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Scientists Study Band-Aid Removal

Science is often misreported in the media because it doesn't work the way news is supposed to work. Scientists don't always get clear, obvious results, and even when they do, they are not supposed to draw conclusions beyond what they see. Hypothesizing is fine, but when the media reports such things, they tend to state things as cold, hard facts. The subtleties, things like the reliability of the data or the characteristics of the sample used or the caveats given by the researchers as they explain their findings, can often be ignored. An experiment should give a simple, single answer, actual science be damned!

This representation of scientific conclusions means that when the results change, or when the findings of other groups of scientists are at odds with the first, people stop believing in science. Never mind that the initial experiment may have been conducted under different conditions, or that better equipment may have come around since the first time.

And then there are the cases where the reporters say something completely different from what the scientists are saying. This tends to happen mainly when reporters try to create sensational headlines that don't match what's actually in the story.

The inspiration for this post was this silly little article: "Fast is best for Band-Aid removal". The reporter begins by stating the raw data:
A study at Queensland's James Cook University used 65 medical students who removed Band-Aids either quickly or slowly, and ranked their pain reaction from zero to 10.

Quick removal returned a pain score of 0.92 in comparison with 1.58 for those who chose the slow approach.
That sounds simple and obvious, right? But there's more to it.
Researcher Dr Carl O'Kane says the research found the cause of pain to be more of a psychological issue.
"It's fascinating that if you had a preconception that slow was going to be more painful in fact it was, so it also suggests that pain is not just what you perceive but what you think you will perceive when you get the painful stimulus," he said.
Wait, so what they really found was that it's not simply the speed of Band-aid removal that matters, but your expectations? So maybe the pain numbers really reflect the prevalence of the thinking in the sample population that faster removal is less painful. Either way, it's nowhere near as clear as the headline says. Fast is best - but maybe only if you already believed it to be.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Berkeley Project (Pictures Added!)

I think most people would agree that community service is a worthwhile endeavor. Helping people, cleaning the city, improving others' quality of life - it can be a very altruistic act. Even those who are forced into it as punishment for wrongdoing are performing valuable services.

At the same time, however, it is one of those subjects that brings up in people the old crowd mentality. For the most part, no single person is responsible for the common areas in the neighborhood. When there is somebody in charge, she or he is unlikely to have the manpower (or peoplepower, rather) to get large-scale projects done. The members of the community who could provide that power are much too busy trying to live their own lives and solve their own problems. They simply don't have the time to volunteer.

The Berkeley Project tries to address this concern. It is a short-term (i.e., one day) mobilization of students to fix things all around the Berkeley area. In the fall, on BP Day, they get over 2000 volunteers divided up into teams with specific tasks at specific sites scattered throughout the city, where they work together with employees of the city and various service organizations.

This method provides the manpower for large tasks like repainting public buildings, or weeding and planting trees on road dividers, or even clearing trails in the Berkeley Hills. It allows students who wouldn't be able to make weekly commitments to not rule out community service as an option. Mainly, being so big, it raises awareness of the issue of service and the state of things in the community outside of the university area.

BP Month in the spring, on the other hand, is not quite as big. It's split into three weekends in March, with about 100 volunteers each Saturday. That's where I went today. Our team went to South Berkeley, where we weeded. And weeded. And planted some lovely plants. And ran into a variety of wildlife, including ladybugs, spiders, roly polies (pill bugs), swarms of ants, and even some centipedes. I don't think I've ever seen a centipede in America before.
Before: Pretty flowers can still be weeds, especially if they're overgrown. (All credit for the lovely photo goes to Catherine Lai)

Despite the multi-legged horrors, a bush stump that was as thick as a small tree, and the ridiculously obstinate grass in one corner (isn't grass supposed to have short roots?), we managed to efficiently extricate the weeds, to boldly go where a few centipedes have gone before, and even to save a few poor earthworms in the process. For all this work, we were paid in burritos, cookies, smiles, and thank yous from the passers by. Well worth the effort.

After: all weeded and ready for orderly growth, as befits a city planter. If I remember, I'll come back next year and take a photo after all the plants have grown out a bit. (Photo credit: Catherine Lai)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Put A Sock On It: How Seals Follow Fish

How do you think seals catch fish?

Well, let’s guess. Humans rely greatly on vision to catch prey. Sharks can smell blood in the water from a mile away. Or since they’re in water, it could be taste.

How would anybody find this out?

A couple of scientists from Germany blindfolded seals and had them follow and find a small toy submarine. The blindfold ruled out tracking by vision, and the plastic of the submarine meant that no fishy smells could come into play.

Even when the submarine turned a corner before the seal was released, the seal followed the path of the sub exactly. If they had been listening, they would have gone straight to the sub.

The yellow curve is the path of the submarine, the red curve the path of the seal. The green (straight) line is the expected path of the seal if it were using sight or sound. The picture in the paper was much better, but I am rather proud of my seal despite its slight turtle-like appearance.

So what’s left is touch. That’s right, touch. The highly sensitive whiskers of seals can follow the trail of turbulence left in the water by a swimming fish. Covering a seal's whiskers with a sock prevents the animal from being able to find the sub (or fish).

It's difficult to think of seeing your world in touch, but many animals rely on senses other than vision. I wonder how it would feel to echolocate...

Original paper:
Dehnhardt, G. et al. Hydrodynamic Trail-Following in Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina). Science 293, 102-104(2001).