December 26, 2007

A Man of Principles

Perhaps it is because of the intersection of my free time, my "expertise" in the health field and my selection of friends, but I had multiple encounters with the charged topic of politics today.

#1) I was in a chatroom with some friends on AIM and someone linked to a blog entry discussing Christmas. In it, the author (a friend of my friends) said "if I were rich, I'd like to take in lonely people and feed them to let them know that not every rich person is a cold-hearted bastard" (or something to that effect.

One of my friends replied (with some degree of underlying hostility, probably fanning the flames of some old argument) and quoted the author's position on universal healthcare and said "no wonder there are depressed and lonely people; they don't have access to mental health services! rich people prefer to buy them dinners to feel better about themselves rather than pay taxes to help them." Whoa!

#2) While I read this exchange, my mom knocked on my door and said "your brother wants to talk with you about healthcare and tell him why Hillary has a good plan (and Rudy doesn't.) Obviously she doesn't have an opinion on the issue. :-\ I'm completely incompetent on this issue, so I talked about basic principles of governing with my brother to feel out his position on capitalism, its values, the role of government in serving its people, what society should do to support itself and the questions he should be asking.

A few things emerged from these conversations.
I boiled it down to two questions:
"If you had money and power, who would you help?"
and the follow-up question: "who is 'not deserving' of this help?"

What I look for in a leader is someone of principles. What does that mean? To me, it means someone who can tell me what their philosophy of governance is and is consistent with my own views. Someone who would answer question 1 with "Everyone!" and #2 with "I don't know."

I'm going to go out on a huge limb here and tell you my idealistic, blazing future for America that fixes all of our woes as I know them, in my completely zany worldview.

First of all, I think that capitalism plays up the wrong traits for a functional society. It breeds smart, cutthroat people who care about success and sneak by with as much as they can get away with. People who don't buy into this philosophy don't rise to power, whereas a true democracy would speak out for the rights of the impoverished and disadvantaged over those of the rich and powerful. Everyone deserves a chance at an equal footing and in this day and age, that applies to healthcare!

Secondly, I think we've got the priority of our National Budget all wrong. A large chunk of our spending goes towards "Defense" when it could be better spent on Education, Health Care and Science/Research, in that order, with defense and everything else following that. Having a core of healthy, well-educated individuals would go far. What would we do with our military that would suddenly be out of a job? I'd make them part of our new Peace Corps. They'd be "invading" other countries with education, like missionaries without the religious agenda. It'd be a share-the-wealth-and-spread-the-goodwill-agenda. Building up relations, networking and if necessary, make a few bucks here and there.

Immigration policy would be relaxed because I'd like to have people cycle through to become trained. They might even be inspired to become a part of the Peace Corps so they can return home and better serve their friends and family back home.

Social security is a difficult subject ethically because the better that our health care gets, the more of a burden we develop with this. I don't think we should ignore senior citizens and delegate them to the "useless waste of money" category. They have proven their worth to our society and they can still provide value! We just need to find more ways to keep them connected with society so we don't see them as a burden on our tax dollars.

I've got more insane ideas. They need to be better honed, because I feel like I'm starting to spout off garbage already...

December 22, 2007

Goo-ey game

This game sort of reminds me of an amoeba battle. It makes sense, since that's the name of one of the skins the goo can wear.

If I had any programming skills, I'd make a game that mirrors the microscopic environment. It'd be cool to play a game based on immunology for example... it has all the classic elements! You've got your alien invaders (bacteria) that you have to detect (via antibodies and the complement cascade), and destroy (via lytic enzymes and free radicals released by neutrophils and macrophages.)

Besides, the more elements of immunology you add in, the more realistic and educational the system would be.

I'm not sure what the controls would be though. It's a completely autonomous system within our bodies (despite whatever Airborne or other immune-boosting products claim)... aside from the simple factors of nutrition, rest and stress. Perhaps the whole point could be to construct a reliable immune system that can fight off a variety of immunologic stimuli without getting any autoimmune diseases. Ooh! There'd be special levels for TB and HIV for sure. Maybe a few penalties if you accidentally induce lupud following an EBV infection.

Yeah, I'm a total dork. Gamers are dorks too... maybe it'd give a pre-med an excuse to kick it and play Immunology! for a few hours every day to unwind.

Stumbled upon through:
(home of the awesome crayon game!)

December 14, 2007

Hypnotic Wasp turns Cockroach into a Zombie

As an undergrad, I worked in a bug lab working on gene sequencing of very rare moths, indigenous to Hawaii (found no where else.) In my searches for press releases on one of our projects announcing the discovery of a carnivorous caterpillar, Hyposmocoma molluscivora, I stumbled across the wealth of science information found on blogs like Pharyngula (the top hit for H. molluscivora) and The Loom. Carl Zimmer posts about nifty parasites and I always felt that this story takes the cake.

December 12, 2007

Stedman28 review

My parents got me an early xmas present ... a new phone/PDA! I'm thrilled about it; it has a camera and email and all that jazz my original nokia block phone did not have. It also means new programs! I'm shopping aroung to find medical software for my Windows mobile and I noticed a lack of critical reviews on a lot of things. Reading reviews like "THX SO MUCH OMG" and "I love this program! Keep up the great work!" are nice and all... but very uninformative.

I thought I'd do my blogger duty and contribute my opinions to the all-powerful google cache.


My first review is on my most-used program on my old PDA... Stedman28. It is the 28th edition of Stedman's dictionary and I purchased a cool combo of hardcover book, PDA software and accompanying spellchecker last year. I don't remember the price, but it was WELL-WORTH it. Just having the spellchecker makes you seem more intelligent; spelling out words like chondrocalcinosis or progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy with autocorrect is beautiful.

The nice thing about Stedman28 is the simplicity of use. Just write out the word and it flips through the index until it finds the one you're looking for! The definitions usually match up with those from the electronic Stedman's Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing 1.0... so the hardcover book had a few more details (and pictures!) of items not included in the e-version.

Now for the critique.
Stedman28 takes too long to use. Here's the steps I have to go through to get my definitions:
Since my 1 year subscription expired, I get a message that says:

"Stedman expiry status: your subscription expired on 06/27/2007. Please renew
now for continued access to product updates and Skyscape support.

I have to click a red x to move through that alert message. I don't like the renewal model... when I buy a textbook, the first page I open up to doesn't say "sorry, you've owned this book for more than a year, please buy our new version"... why should it be any different with an e-book?!? I don't want my programs to harass me.
Then I have to select the correct word list index. As you can see from the above graphic, the menu is split between the A-L and the M-Z list. If you are in the wrong index, i.e. searching for the word "neuron" in the A-L section, it chirps at you a bunch of times as it scrolls all the way to the end of "L."
If I search for a word like "NANC neuron" or "motor neuron," it takes me to the broader definition of "neuron" and then I have to scroll down the list until I find the correct word. Sometimes this can take a long time because of the number of words clustered in the list.

I give this program an B+. I have never had any technical difficulties and the word list is impressive. There are a few eponyms that it misses, but those are easily caught by the Eponym program (review to come.)

December 10, 2007

All done!

After a few months of grueling studying (and a week of being completely BURNED OUT and neglecting studying), I finally finished my week-long set of exams.

The tests were challenging and fair... in the sense that we were given advance warning about the material we would be tested on (unlike the year before us who found our mere weeks before their final that the first 10 chapters of Robbins was going to be on the exam.) I got high marks in all sections, which pleased me. Apparently taking a few days off to just veg out right before the exams didn't hurt me as much as I feared... in fact, it probably reinforced my knowledge-base. I didn't dig out my notes or learn new materials during the past week. Instead, I kept reviewing the things I already knew. It was a good feeling to be so prepared; even though the written essay exam threw a bunch of curveball material that I had to struggle to recall to get partial credit on.

So, where do I find myself during the first weekday of my three-week long freedom?

At school, of course!

Gah. It's not as bad, nor as shameful as it may seem. I have put a research project on hiatus during my finals studying and the lab assistant who was helping me out recently left the lab. I've got to pick up my old project again! How horrible. ;)

Today we had a seminar by a visiting professor on Alzheimer disease, focusing on beta-amyloid proteins effects on neurons. The cruz of the matter is that people with Alzheimers get these plaques of junk (aka beta-amyloid) that cruds up in our brains and messes up with the connections. The professor made the argument that beta-amyloid had a normal neuro-modulatory function in the brain and cautioned against treatments that would reduce levels of beta-amyloid.

This was a big surprise to me. I don't know much about the molecular pathology of Alzheimers... but I thought that amyloid was a waste product, an abnormal process. beta-secretase function predominates over alpha-secretase function for the dysregulation of neurotransmitters in AD!

I asked him a question about the normal function of alpha-secretase and he said that the protein produced is much smaller and it doesn't have any effect. To me, that seems to imply that the normal brain doesn't use amyloid-precursor protein for any positive function, but hey. I'm not a researcher in his field and I didn't want to say "huh? why do you think it has normal physiological functions then?"

I'd like to poke around and do some research on this, but judging by the crazy slides of graphs and his talk about knockout mice missing different nicotinic receptors having strange dose-response curves... I'm not sure I could follow that level of technicality.

One of the things I've learned through my research experience is that I enjoy asking the big questions. Research is something I admire, but I don't really have the lab skills and temperament to enjoy it on a long term basis. Still, I'll be coming in this week to summarize my lab results thus far and start finishing up my experiment. Wet labs are fun, but my goodness! They are SO stressful too! I had an experiment get pushed back a full MONTH because of difficulties with malaria parasites and blood and the lab equipment... it felt like the whole chain of protocol was breaking down piece by piece and we chased after it until everything died and we had to start all over again.

Sorry about the long post. It's been a while since I last wrote and I have a lot to say. I've got more thoughtful things on queue, but these are the things that have been on my mind.