Thursday, May 31, 2007

How it all started.

My cloning worked. Looks like sacrificing all those mice to the cloning Gods worked after all.

While waiting for said cloning to work, I found this very interesting Nature article about our innate mathematical ability. It essentially shows that our nonsymbolic arithmetical capabilities (i.e. manipulation of, say, dots) precedes and even dominates over our symbolic capabilities (manipulation of actual "numbers"). They showed that preschoolers with no training in arithmetic were able to complete addition and comparison tasks better than chance, and that their performance in nonsymbolic tasks followed a similar pattern to adults. They concluded, or at least suggested, that once we learn arithmetic, we form a mapping of the arithmetical symbols (i.e. numbers and operators) onto real visual arrays of objects. In other words, we don't do math in our heads; we move dots around.

I've always been interested in the roots of math. It's become such an important part of our culture and education that we sometimes forget what it really is. As was said in an excellent and famous book about the origins of math, math originated from our ancestors' realization that three dots and three oranges and three mountains and three days are really just manifestations of the same abstract concept: three. So perhaps we evolved some sort of number recognition software. When you think about it, it's a pretty impressive trait. Dots, oranges, mountains, and days aren't remotely related, and yet we, as well as other higher animals, have the ability to recognize the link. And then to think of all the wonderful discoveries about our view of the universe have been made because of this link. It's astounding.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why does he have such big teeth?

So naturally, the one positive clone among the 200 I screened had the insert in the wrong orientation. Now I'm stuck screening 400 more tomorrow.

Anyway, Check this out: they recreated Pac Man's skeleton. Yup. I guess they didn't use fossils. Although maybe this will start a trend: video game anthropology. You could trace the evolution of Italian plumbers, optimal rotational speeds of talking blue hedgehogs, and make life-size panoramas of space wars. I'd totally see that exhibit.

Sharks with Frickin' Laser Beams on their Heads

As a fan of Austin Powers and DARPA, I was delighted to see the very first step towards Dr. Evil's dream of LASER-SHARKS, not to be confused with the hilarious SNL skit : "Laser Cats".
What this will mean for the future? More JAWS movies.

Human = Bacon?

One can always count of the extreme innovation of Japan.
A robot capable of identifying cheeses, meats and hors d'oeuvres will recommend wines to go with them. However, there is one problem: It thinks we are delicious.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Even this blog entry is false.

Seed Magazine, the greatest magazine on Earth, has a short summary article about the work of John Ioannidis, most specifically his article in PLoS Medicine entitled "Why Most Published Research Findings are False" . I haven't read the whole article yet, since it's quite long and involved, but it implies some interesting ideas; essentially, that almost all research is actually false because of bias on the part of the researchers, a scientific culture that demands publication, and most importantly, abuse or ignorance of statistics. Since I haven't read the whole thing, it's hard to analyze, but I like the part about misinterpreting p-values. The 0.05 p-value is the gold standard of statistical significance. But Ioannidis proposes a new measurement of significance that more directly measures the probability that the findings are true. The new measure, PPV, is similar to p-value in that it depends on alpha and beta (the probability of type I and II error, respectively), but also the probability before the study that the relationship exists, as well as the bias from the researcher in the form of selective reporting and distortion of data.

It's an interesting report, but it's hard not to ask the question of whether or not it is true itself, given its own findings. It seems a little Godelian to me; it's like saying "this statement is almost certainly false." Maybe he stumbled upon a new proof of incompleteness, or at least a real-world application!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

They should contact Dreamworks

Man, I love this video. I'm not sure why it was made, other than to look cool, but it sure gives me the tingly feeling. I'm impressed by how authentic it is, like the ribosome assembly on the mRNA: first the 40S binds, then it scans to the start codon, then the 60S binds. Or the lipid raft at the cell surface. Everything is so damn well put-together. They should make another one of a viral infection like poliovirus, showing it hijacking all the translation machinery until the cell is just a bag of virions.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Want to be the ultimate exhibitionist? Frame your DNA. These guys are awesome. You send them a cheek swab, they prep it and, I guess, either digest it or PCR some variable tandem repeats, run it on a gel (or, as they call it, a "gel"), and take a photo with a geldoc (or, as they call it, a "special camera"). Here's the artistic part. They open Photoshop, click Image--->Adjustments--->Hue/Saturation. Then they move the little scale bar. Next, they give a creative name for the colour, such as "firesky." The final step is convincing people to pay 450 dollars for it. I must say, they do a good job with the whole "yah dude, science is like, art in its, like, most, uh, basic form . . . dude" schtick. Maybe I can hire them as marketing consultants for my science restaurant.

That, or I could make polyacrylamide sculptures such as these. Note the avant-garde (read: corny) titles. Photos courtesy Karen Yam.

Forgotten Controls

Overreaction Coupling

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Visa-14 Dating?

It seems I've inadvertently created quite the procrastination tool. I should probably be studying for the MCAT right now, but whatever. It's only, you know, my future.

Apparently the Brits are trying to be all environmental now, with the Labour proposing this absolutely wacky idea for carbon rationing to cut down on pollution. I don't know the first thing about British politics, but this really doesn't make any sense. It seems more like a Jack Layton-style let's-say-ridiculous-things-to-sound-innovative initiative, except without the rather offensive moustache. The logistics and cost of this project would be absurd. Imagine trying, from scratch, to set up the entire Visa network; they would have to use something along those lines in order to keep it secure. This thing has fiasco written all over it. If I were President of the World (or at least Prime Minister of the UK), I'd start with a carbon tax. There's virtually no infrastructure to set up, and it's easily subject to modification.

Did you hear? Jesus was a shark. Or at least Mary was a shark. Or sharks gave rise to humans. Or something. Somehow I get the feeling the creationists are going to try to spin this as proof of the immaculate conception. The argument would go like this:

Creationist: "Sharks are capable of parthenogenesis. Therefore, Jesus was conceived without a mortal father."
Rational Person: "How do you make that conclusion?"
C: "Well, you see, the Bible says Mary was impregnated despite being a virgin. And sharks are a present-day example of that possibility."
RP: "So..."
C: "So the Bible said so. Ergo, it's true. Asshole."

And so on. I'm sure R-Dawk would have a better version, but it's the best I could think of. And has "asshole" in it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Inaugural Post

As creator of the blog, I'm giving myself first post. Sorry Aaron. I got the idea from some folks at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, who run a science blog called Bayblab, and essentially post interesting news articles and stories. Then I started my addiction to ScienceBlogs, an offshoot of Seed Magazine. There are some amazing blogs there. I especially recommend "The Daily Transcript," written by a post-doc from an RNA lab like mine; "Good Math, Bad Math," written by a (gasp!) sane mathematician; and, if you really like atheism and all that jazz, "Pharyngula." So I guess these blogs sort of inspired me to convince Aaron to do this. Right, Aaron? You're inspired, right? . . . Aaron?

I'm not entirely - or even partially - sure what we're going to talk about. I guess I just want to have somewhere to put all the crazy ideas we come up with (like " reverse suspenders" - stay tuned), or to share news stories or articles we find. That, and I finally want something to put in the "website" slot on Facebook.

Anyway, Karen from my lab sent me this article about chefs who do pseudo-scientific experiments to make wacky dishes served on things like pillows. I say good on them; if people are really willing to pay fifty dollars to inhale the vapours of a spoonful of icing sugar heated over a flaming cornish hen doused in huckleberry liqueur, then let them. The idea of experimenting with our sense of taste is interesting, though. We're at a point where, if we're not already there, we could figure out exactly what molecules or functional groups taste good and in what context. It can't take that much screening. Then we could design super-tasty molecules. Maybe even undigestable ones that go right through you, and therefore contain no calories. I'm sure it would cost a ton of money to develop, but I bet Coca-Cola or someone would totally shell out the clams.

The Star article (Starticle?) also brings me to my life-long (well, at least one-point-five-year long) dream of opening a restaurant or bar (or perhaps, restobar) where all dishes are served on scientific ware. Think about it. Beverages served in beakers. Shots out of 25 ml Erlenmeyers. Pipette chopsticks. Scalpel knives and fork-ceps. It can't fail. Right? Right? . . . Aaron?

Well that's enough for tonight. I have to bone up on osteoclasts (hiyo!). Well, not really - I just wanted to make that joke.