"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Escherichia Computii?? 

Princeton researchers have programmed E. coli to do variety of things that involve pretty pictures:

This may or may not lead to synthetic biocomputers, as is the hope, but it's still cool. Ultramodern art, anyone??

Automatic Beer Goggles 

Male students primed with alcohol-related words rated women more attractive, but not more intelligent, than those primed with control words. This only worked the ones who think alcohol makes them hornier though, and the ones who feel they'll be sick or fail to perform rated the women less attractive. As usual, the placebo effect is as powerful as the real thing.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Random Procrastinatory Post 

The thing about massively complicated Excel spreadsheets is that, once you know what you're doing with it - that is, once you have it all mapped out in your head and know what should go where and how it all relates to everything else - there is something very zen about doing it.

Code. Copy. Fill. Edit. Check. Annotate. Repeat.

Welcome to my life.

Mixed Bag Quickie 

Despite the huge amount of work I have right now, I am still going to Ann Arbor this weekend for my sister's graduation. That means I have no time to write about the following things, all of which are hugely interesting. Perhaps later, but for now, Quicky-linkey:

Pollution seems to increase the proportion of Y-chromosome sperm. Presumably, with more Y's, you get more baby boys than girls, who (usually) require X-chromosome sperm. Population control??

Wouldn't life be nice if you could seriously get by with only 2 hours of sleep, in the long term? For starters, think of all the extra pr0n you could watchbooks you could read. Scientists have found a mutation in fruitflies that allows them to live just as well on 1/4 'normal' fruitfly sleep, and to function better when further deprived. Gene therapy please!!!

Hypnosis for allergies
?? Apparently, but obviously there are some methodological questions before I'm convinced.

Moderate alcohol consumption has been found to increase adult neurogenesis over time. The release doesn't give much detail, like what kinds of neurons and where, but this is interesting nonetheless. I'm also not clear on why the authors think this neurogenesis must be tied to addiction. Then again, that might be due to their funding source.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

For My People 

Well, not really. I do know that some of my friends variously suffer from shoulder injuries and severe hangovers, so these seem relevant, if not especially groundbreaking.

The article's details are sketchy, which probably means the study doesn't exactly say what the reporter wants it to mean, but it seems that people most afraid of hangovers are most likely to over-drink. Self-fulfilling prophecies, anyone?

A new study has found that exercise training is no less effective than surgery for rotator cuff injuries. In this case, 'no less effective' means 'superior,' because it costs and risks less.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

More Cures 

Last week, Japanese doctors announced that they had 'cured' type I diabetes by transplantation of living islet cells. The procedure, however, required a living donor to put him or herself at increased risk of developing diabetes him or herself; a better source of islet cells is needed. In today's PLOS Medicine, Stanford researchers report that they have coaxed neural stem cells into becoming insulin producing cells similar to islet cells, and when they were implanted in mice, they worked as islet cells would be expected to do.

This is a long way from being a real solution in humans, but is exciting not only as a prospect for treating diabetes, but also as evidence of how progenator cells can be programmed to differentiate in useful ways - and, as the cells in question maintained some neuron-like properties, how this may not be entirely as simple as proposed. Fascinating work.

Monday, April 25, 2005


Opera's CEO, Jon S. von Tetzchner, said that if his newest product, Opera 8, was downloaded a million times in its first four days, he would swim from Oslo to the US. It was, and he has begun his journey. If M. von Tetzchner was a trained athlete, this might be the most brilliant PR stunt ever; however, he is not an athlete, and thus it is definitely the boldest PR stunt ever.

I haven't used Opera since version 3 or so, when Mozilla/Firefox became my browser of choice, but I must admit, I'm now tempted to give 8 a whirl...especially if he makes it!

Dear Denizens of The Internets 

Jake has a lesson for you. Bloody learn it and bloody don't forget it! Everyone makes a typo now and again - and yes, we should well be embarrassed about it - but the kind of constant misuse of language and orthography that goes on, especially in IM and chat, is unacceptable. Every email program I can think of has spell check. If yours doesn't, get another. USE IT!

And if you IM me, please take the time to spell things as well as you can, and use at least marginally decent punctuation and capitalization. If you're in too much of a hurry for all that, it can probably wait.

Mind Control, Cyborgs, Sex and Disease 

I've got too much to do this morning, and am running late because breakfast during Passover (click the link!) takes longer to prepare. There is much afoot in the world of science.

Neuroscientists have made two big steps towards creating our future army of mind-reading cyborg drones: remote controlled rats for bomb sniffing and a mind-reading brainscan. My feelings are of course that these are both REALLY FREAKIN COOL, but also kinda scary.

Did you know that about 1 in 5 people has Herpes? There is no cure, although treatments can make it fairly mild, as chronic diseases of the privates go. A study in mice has found a small interfering RNA (siRNA) vaginal gel effective in blocking the virus for up to 10 days in mice. This is great news, since this is a technique that women (particularly in the third worldplaces where condoms are less used) can do long before intercourse and be protected. It's also hopeful because a similar technique could be used against HIV.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Dim-Witted Statement Du Jour 

"E-mails hurt IQ more than pot." The research sounds shakey; for starters, IQ tests are highly dependent on things like, well, mental state, which famously declines as the workday goes on. Email may well affect productivity more than pot - more people use it every day and while at work, certainly - but to say that it lowers your IQ is kinda stupid. Or is this wishful thinking on my email-addicted part? Not that I have *ever* interrupted a social outing to check my email. Let alone my work email!

UPDATE: Regardless of what you think of this study, my sister points out, it's something to think about next time you want to pass on the grass!

About Bloody Time 

Finally waking up to reality and taking note of appallingly high STD/STI and unplanned pregnancy rates* among sailors and marines, Navy medical officers are now actively encouraging condom distribution and use promotion, recklessly casting themselves into the 'reality-based community' so reviled by the current Bush administration, who seemare clearly desperate to ensure that as many people get AIDS and are born to single, unprepared mothers.

Don't National Security and Protecting The Homeland (am I the only one who's really disturbed by the use of that word?) require healthy troops, Mr. Bush?

* I don't know the exact figures, but a source in the higher levels of military medicine tells me that about 65% of US active duty service members have hepatitis B or C, so extrapolate from there.

The Not-Quite-As-Big Sleep 

Hibernation chambers and such have long been mainstays of science fiction, allowing adventurers to bridge huge gaps of space without carrying excess supplies and keeping victims alive until a cure can be found. In the April 22 issue of Science, a team of researchers reports findings that could start turning this fiction into reality. The group found that when mice are exposed to a mere 80 ppm of hydrogen sulfide in air, they quickly dropped into a hibernating state, something mice do not ordinarily do. It doesn't say, but I wonder what the brain activity is in this state - would people similarly treated dream, or simply 'dead-head?' I'm very interested to see more!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Play Ball 

So I went to see the Nationals play the Braves last night with my parents, who have very good seats and, unlike me, can afford $6.50 hot dogs and beer. I am not a baseball fan (at all), but I could become one if the games continue to be as much fun as last night's. The Nationals won, the weather was perfect, and the game was exciting.

"Screech" may be the stupidest mascot ever. For starters, it's a chubby bird: chubby birds don't fly. When it came over to do whatever it is it does near us, my father commented, "Oh look! It's fluff the magic mascot."

Our seats are in excellent foul ball catching territory, and the guy next to us caught one in the second inning. At the break before the third, a kid (probably about 8 years old) came up to him:
"You caught the fly ball right?"
"Can I have it?"
>chuckles< >pouts< "Uhm, no." "Oh. Ok." I guess it never hurts to ask. It was a fun game. My only real complaint is the crappy beerfood selection. Blah.

Sex Today 

Some people would have us believe that homosexuality is a disease. As usual, science has discovered the opposite: a disease is homosexual. Said people are still assholes.

Speaking of sex and diseases, a crucial part of sex today is wearing a condom. Some people apparently find the putting-on step of this requirement disruptive to the mood, and a Senegalese inventor has, uhm, come to their rescue, inventing an automatic condom fitter. I'm kinda confused here: if people are so inept that putting on a condom takes that much trouble, how are they gonna learn to use a tool? I've never had any trouble getting the condom on, and I'm famously uncoordinated. And why would I ever have sex with someone who was that dumb?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Slow Death By Confinement 

The weather today is Perfect. The Dupont Circle thermometer taunts me through the unopenable glass walls of my office - ninety degrees. I am not sure I can live through many more days of this confinement...to waste such a day (low humidity in DC!) inside, central AC bearing down and LCD aglow, is criminal. Perhaps I should become a vagrant?

Fatty McOversized Health? 

Published in today's JAMA, a large study indicates that what we all think we know about fat and body weight and whatnot may be less than useful. Using a methodology developed for breast cancer research, the authors examined BMI and mortality data from three runs of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a large, nationally representative sample. Unlike most (all?) previous studies, this group controlled for age, smoking, race, and gender - all potential confounds. The statistics look robust to me, though I still have qualms about BMI as a particularly useful measure: it is calculated as weight divided by height squared, which could easily place a bodybuilder in the same category as a champion couch potato. The findings are fascinating nonetheless.

They found that being a little bit overweight - with 25<>35 tended to increase it. The New York Times shockingly, blows these data way out of proportion.

Gratifyingly, the relative risks in the 25-59 age group were comparable for the underweight and severely obese (BMI>35) groups.

So: if a BMI between 25 and 30 is optimal for health, can we now stop calling it overweight??? Also, since having a BMI of less than 18.5 is unhealthy, can we please start feeding our supermodels???

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


In preparation for Passover, Cory dug this up. I really have no words...

Finally A Cure? 

Japanese doctors are claiming to have cured type 1 diabetes in a 27-year-old woman by transplanting islet cells from her mother into her liver. This follows a similar procedure done last year, and is very promising indeed. The surgery is as risky for the donor as for the patient, however, as losing half of her islet cells puts the mother at significantly increased risk for developing diabetes herself. If other work comes to fruition, then the problem will be more or less solved. A real cure for diabetes would remove an amazing amount of burden from our health care system.

Another expensive, debilitating disease, haemophillia, may soon be curable. Washington University researchers have used gene therapy to cure the X-linked condition in newborn mice and puppies. This kind of treatment is very risky, especially in newborns (for the same reasons it's more effective in newborns), but if perfected would again take a load off many people's lives.

Go science!

Monday, April 18, 2005


If you parents expect you to grow up and be a doctor, but you go to art school instead, how do you ever chase off their you-should-be-helping-people guilt trips? Deborah Adler redesigned the prescription drug bottle, using elements to improve safety and usability. Target (pronounced "tar-HJAY," bitches!) picked up her design and will soon begin to use it.

The design is pretty, and does address a number of the problems with the traditional pill bottles. Some of its features - the color-coded neck ring, in particular - probably won't get used as well or as effectively as possible, but the idea is frankly brilliant. I could probably look up the number of medication errors per year in the US due to poor or misread labeling, but I'm lazy so take my word for it: "lots."

Super Cool Toy 

The AirScooter. It can fly up to 2 hours at 55 mph at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Not exactly a good place to run out of gas, but still a damn cool proof-of-concept. CBS News has the scoop, but I think it'll be a good while before anything like this gets, erm, off the ground, especially what with our (understandable) national obsession with things flying into buildings.
(via Slashdot)

Method of Attack 

In the ever-escalating fight against HIV/AIDS, most of the focus has been on attacking the virus itself. A UK group has come up with an exciting proof-of-concept by taking a slightly different approach: killing infected cells before the virus can replicate from them. The side effects of such a treatment are likely to be severe, especially if no way can be found to target the effects only on lymphocytes. Still, another way to kill this mutherfucker is a good thing.

Also, more cancer-fighting goodness from chocolate. It is, of course, the perfect substance.

More Cosmic Bling 

I posted before about a rock for the Ultimate Engagement Ring. It seems that it is perhaps not such an anomaly after all...a new theory suggests that many extrasolar planets could be largely or wholly made of diamond. Sounds pretty, but I'm not sure lying out to sunbathe on a field of diamond (one of the hardest substances known) would have the same appeal as less condensed forms of carbon.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Atomic Dog 

Fark has already scooped this, so it's brief. A dog (of some sort) has apparently been living in a Montana Superfund site for the last 16 years. A dog to living more than 16 years is an impressive feat unto itself; a dog living for 16 years on a toxic waste dump is rather moreso. And we used to joke about my dog's toxic doggie-breath...oy!

So Much for Peer Review 

I may be a bit late on picking this up, but c'est la vie. That a pair of pranksters got not one, but TWO gobbledegook papers accepted to a professional conference too spectacular not to mention.

I have to say I wish they'd waited and actually read one of the papers at the conference - I've been to these things and the only people who pay attention most times are the students, who would probably just assume it was all over their heads. heh.

Gaining Entry 

The first thing that diseases have to do to infect you is gain access to whatever part of your body they affect. In the case of HIV, that is mostly your CD4 T cells. Berkeley researchers announced Wednesday that they found a key to why some CD4 cells are impervious to HIV but others are not. They found that inactive CD4 cells contained a smaller form of the potent antiviral protein A3G, which is able to deactivate HIV, while activated CD4's contain a larger, crippled version. This is fascinating research, and will hopefully lead to more effective treatments of HIV.

Another nasty little virus, Ebola, also recently gave up its secrets to cell entry to NIH scientists. An enzyme group critical to Ebola's entry, the cathepsins, are already well known to cancer researchers, which means that development of putative antiviral drugs based on their inhibition will hopefully move more swiftly. It would be nice to have one less easily spread biological weapon floating around with no cure.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Delayed Reaction 

Well, it's almost a week since I've been back from Japan, and it occurs to me: there is something entirely dismaying about returning from a long vacation to find ones office not in shambles. What do they think they're doing, being able to get by without me for two whole weeks??? While I am not exactly saying I'd enjoy coming back and having to put out everyone else's fires as well as catching up on my own portfolio* of crap, it would be really gratifying for things to properly fall apart due to my absence.

I'm just saying....

* Portfolio, for these purposes, should be roughly translated as pile.

Bored, and a Meme 

Hot Toddy's Meme: Because I'm bored and Toddy is amusing. Pass it on.

Which song reminds you of when you worked in a drugstore in high school?
"Old Mother Reagan" by the Violent Femmes

What is your saddest memory of being in a cult?
When the pigs stormed the compound and took my roommates away - back to their evil mediocre parents and "ivy-league-colleges."

What was your most embarrassing moment that happened when lube fell out of your coat pocket?
I was at my younger cousin's bar mitzvah, and just as I'm about to slip outside 'to get some fresh air' (the air was to be shared with a ridiculously hot catering guy), a giant bottle of lube fell out of my coat pocket and I had to explain to my grandmother what it was and why I had it.

When you were kids, why did you call your little sister "Margarita" instead of her real name?
Because she was more fun when she was alcoholic.

What was the strangest thing you ever ate in Africa?
Bushman meat.

Do you ever think about that time you slept with your friend, the gymnast, in high school, and you were both drunk and messed around together?
*That* time? We were in school together for four whole years!!!

Do you ever wish you had taken things further?
Well, I mean, once he's done the splits bending any more than that approaches grossness!

When was the last time you came home drunk and watched a taped episode of "American Idol" and then decided to watch it backwards too so that the people who performed later got a chance to go first?
Last night

Were you surprised when the judges were just as harsh regardless of the performance order?
Not really. It's all rigged anyways and I know the Man Behind The Curtain.

"We Have the Same Drug Dealer - m4w" 

Possibly the best worst MC ever.

I was ovr at Slobby's smoking a joint and playin Grand Thefy Auto when you stopped in to buy some coke. Damn girl you where beautdiful! Where you been all my life! We shoud be togetyher forever. C U around at parties or at Slobby's, hopefully sooner rather than latter.

Nitwit(s) or comic genius(es)???


New technologies and advances almost always seem like a good idea at the time. Starting from the premise that bacterial infection causes illness, it's easy to see why people started putting antibacterials in everything, particularly in soaps. Well, a new study has found that triclosan, one of the most common topical antimicrobials, which is probably in every antibacterial soap on the market in the US, reacts with the chorine in our water supply - also put there to kill bacteria - resulting in chloroform. Which, among other things, is a carcinogen. Oops!

On the other end, a group of recent college grads in the US are developing an EEG alarm clock, which will monitor your sleep cycle and wake you at the ideal phase (light sleep) before your wake-up deadline. This is a really cool idea. I did this the old-fashioned way in college - after determining that my sleep cycle was about 83.5 minutes, I would set my alarm for an interval of that time to wake up the most refreshed - but having a computer do all that for me, since your sleep cycle length changes slightly from night to night based on various factors, would be great. As long as the 'headband' doesn't make me uncomfortable!!
What will the side-effects be???

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Fat and Cholesterol 

New research indicates that a protein responsible for the regulation of cholesterol levels in the body, the liver X receptor (LXR), is also key to fat storage and metabolism. Further study of this system will hopefully lead to improved treatments of both hypercholestremia and of obesity. Cool.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Geriatric medicine is becoming a bigger and bigger deal: soon, an unprecedentedly huge proportion of the population will be aged 65 or older, presenting numerous new problems for our already-troubled health care system.

With so much coverage of obesity as the current scourge of health and health care, it's easy to overlook a very common problem for old people's health: malnutrition. An article in today's New York Times discusses this problem, and offers some [overly complicated and too-expensive-for-most-people] suggestions. This is yet another area where the family really has to take responsibility: calling your grandparents, asking them what they've been eating, and if they're local, eating with them now and again.

While you take care of grandma, try not to think about how her smoking when pregnant with your mom may have doubled your risk of childhood asthma, leading to all those humiliating inhaler breaks during middle school P.E. Too bad we don't inherit genes directly from our grandparents like plants do!

False Hopes 

It's almost a cliché: one of the loftiest goals in all of modern medicine has been to cure cancer. Now, UK scientists are claiming that goal is a mere five years away. While their work looks promising, and it is possible that they are right, I can't help but be put off by the assured tone of the Beeb's article: we've thought we were this close a hundred times. We shall see.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Bronze Winning Gold 

In water-carrying, that is. Research done in Britain and India has validated traditional beliefs that bronze pitchers protect against illness: the copper in these pots leeches slightly into the water, dropping e. coli contamination to undetectable levels in just 48 hours.


Google Maps Wins! 

Screw those other mapping websites. This is the coolest gizmo EVER!!!!

This is a map from the 4000 Wisconsin movie theater to DuPont Circle. Geektopia!

For Your Own Good... 

...Big Brother is Watching. As if red-light cameras and IP logging weren't scary enough, now a Japanese company has come out with an electric kettle which not only boils water, but monitors its owner. Ostensibly a Good Thing, to help monitor elderly living alone, this concept really bothers me. It's a short step to putting a video camera on the thing, and then on more gadgets bought by wider populations. I don't think I want my appliances tattling on me when I don't drink my tea.


I'm back from Japan; I will, at some point hopefully soon, blog the rest of my trip at another location, with pictures and all.

Later today there will be science. I swear.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Travelogue, 2 

My friends have internet here, so I post again.

I'm now in Kyoto, which was cold yesterday but absolutely gorgeous and warm (like 21 degrees C) today. Last night, we stayed with Sarah's host parents from her study abroad here junior year. They have this beautiful old-style house, and were so awesome to put us (especially me) up. When we arrived, the mother - whom we'll call Okasan - was like (in Japanese, this was related to me later by Sarah), 'oh my, you didn't say he was a boy, you can't stay in one room together!' Little does she know, heh. We had dinner (Okasan is a great cook), which was some kind of fish, pretty much whole, in a sweet-ish sauce, a soup with cabbage-wrapped meat, rice, and salad. It was all fantastic, though I don't have any idea what it was.

During the meal, our hosts said they liked how I eat - that I was very neat and had excellent manners, 'especially since it was my first time in Japan.' I was pretty impressed with myself for this, especially since the fish was whole and required deboning with only well-polished chopsticks, and the rest of the meal was soup. In (slightly delayed) response to this compliment, of course, I later dropped an apple slice on the living room floor. Score one for me: no stain!

We got up early and spent today walking and biking around Kyoto, visiting all the major temples and shrines. There's something about a zen garden that sounds utterly twee, until you visit one and realize that it really is so calming and peaceful.

Biking here is a trip too. You ride on the sidewalk. You don't wear a helmet. You dodge heavy pedestrian traffic, other bikes, and cars in the crosswalk. Tons of fun, actually.

I really wish I'd learned katakana and hiragana before I got here; there's only so far "アイス コーヒー" will get you, you know.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


Well, I forgot to bring my camera's transfer cable, so the photos I want to post will have to wait. I've never been anywhere before where I have absolutely no entree into the language...all my previous travels have been places with either Romance or Germanic languages, so at worst (Germanic) I could at least get by. Here, however, is another story.

The language part of my brain is totally in gear though, and I really do love the challenge. I'm slowly picking up bits and pieces -not really any full sentences, but phrases and key words. I would love to really get to spend time here to learn it.

The food is great. It's not as universally healthy as I'd expected from Japanese restaurants in the states, especially in Kyushu (where I was until yesterday), where one of the specialties is "chicken nanban" (barbarian style chicken): it's essentially fried chicken covered in mayonnaise. Yum!

I guess I don't have much more to say since I was really planning to photoblog this trip. Also I don't want to spend much time on the internet, since I can (and do) do that at home!

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