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Archive for October, 2009

“Hepped Up on Goofballs”

2009-10-28 1 comment

My comrade at work tendered his Two Weeks Notice and will therefore be passing me the torch, that is, the dubious honor of being the “Most Disgruntled Employee in Show.” We had often contemplated that at the crux of our mutual dissatisfaction lie a dearth of the neurotransmitter and neurohormone 4-(2-aminoethyl)benzene-1,2-diol of the catecholamine family.

Dopamine

Ain't it Dope?!

Dopamine, or Goofballs to you kids, is something that God assiduously spurns from our receptors. I will often liken the one operational dopamine receptor in my prefrontal cortex to the creaky screen door of a lone house on a dusty windswept plain. Comrade envisions greener pastures back in New Mexico, however, before bidding his adieu he seeks to refine our notion of dopamine function and I thought I would likewise share:

New York Times, Science Section (10/26/09)

Science Blog which starts by quoting the above (10/27/09)

Boner-inspiring astronomy

“Who is your Daddy and What does he do?”

2009-10-19 2 comments

If my illegitimate child were posed this question he would be at a loss for words. And that’s assuming he speaks English! All bastards aside, I would like to take a minute to try to articulate my current career, irrespective of how unenamored I may be of it at the moment and how balls the job market is from a hire-ee’s perspective. Specifically, I would like to define what domain I studied to attain my Scientiæ Baccalaureus, what field I am applying to jobs in, and how I, the individual person, might fit into that greater picture. If I have the chance, I will even try to answer life’s deeper mysteries:

  • Why don’t penguins feet freeze?
  • Why does grilled cheese go stringy?

OK, so how the hell do those underlined words relate? Time to talk to our boy, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (check him out at TED). And by the way, dude, have you really been using that thing to fill in forms your whole life? I do not even think I could do write that last name in cursive if you held a Avtomat Kalashnikov 47 to my head (to clarify, his name is actually Hungarian which is in the Uralic family which makes it closer Finnish and Estonian than the Russian of the AK-47 but they both look the same kinda crazy to me). From his book, Creativity:

p.27-28 The first question I ask of creativity is not what is it but where is it?

The answer that makes most sense is that creativity can be observed only in the interrelations of a system made up of three main parts. The first of these is the domain, which consists of a set of symbolic rules and procedures… The second component of creativity is the field, which includes all the individuals who act as gatekeepers to the domain. It is their job to decide whether a new idea or product should be included in the domain… Finally, the third component of the creative system is the individual person. Creativity occurs when a person, using the symbols of a given domain… has a new idea or sees a new pattern, and when this novelty is selected by the appropriate field for inclusion into the relevant domain… So the definition that follows from this perspective is: Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one. And the definition of a creative person is: someone whose thoughts or actions change a domain, or establish a new domain. It is important to remember, however, that a domain cannot be changed without the explicit or implicit consent of a field responsible for it.

Djeah boi!! So the domain is the content (the cultural space to be altered) of a particular field and the field is the discipline or the branch of knowledge which includes the people who have it. Okay so how does this relate to anything? While this excerpt is fairly abstract I would like to think that the perspective of creativity is a good one to take, because if you are not creating, what are you doing? That is meant to be a rhetorical question, but “Having sex with chicks!” is an acceptable answer (gotwavs.com/0085412111/MP3S/Movies/Idiocracy/poundonthat.mp3).

Okay, so let us focus some. Shalln’t we? I will try to define my domain but I’m not gonna lie, it’s a little difficult to pin down…

My Bachelor’s degree in Bioengineering, short for Biological Engineering, came from UCSD which has consistently ranked in the top 5 for such programs over the past 15 years, however, as far as the importance of rankings, I borrow from a post on collegeconfidential.com (member, s1185’s) due to its author’s frank message and organic context, “You go to college for the overall experience, since most of what you learn in class will be irrelevant for work, and your employers will pay little attention to US News Department rankings (as opposed to their unreferenced belief as to which is a better school) when hiring you.”

Okay, so people care enough about it to rank it, to find out what it is, let us break it down into parts (from Princeton.edu):

  • Biological:  Pertaining to biology or to life and living things.
  • Engineering: The discipline dealing with the art or science of applying scientific knowledge to practical problems.

So…putting it together, that means, Bioengineering is the discipline dealing with the art or science of applying scientific knowledge to practical problems in living things, or more simply, any type of engineering applied to living things. From a department webpage (University of Toledo):

Bioengineering is the application of the life sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and engineering principles to define and solve problems in biology, medicine, health care and other fields. Bioengineering is a relatively new discipline that combines many aspects of traditional engineering fields such as chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering.

The UCSD Bioengineering Department actually offers four tracks/majors for undergraduate students:

  • Bioengineering: Biotechnology – Biotechnology deals with the implementation of biological knowledge in industrial processes.  From Wikipedia: “Modern use of the term usually refers to genetic engineering as well as cell- and tissue culture technologies. However, the concept encompasses a wider range and history of procedures for modifying living things according to human purposes, going back to domestication of animals, cultivation of plants and “improvements” to these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection and hybridization.” Sex with sheep?
  • Bioengineering: Bioinformatics – Bioinformatics can be considered a branch of Biotechnology, it may be referred to as computational biology. This is a crazy domain that involves a lot of gnarly programming to apply information technology to the field of molecular biology. Sex with computers?
  • Bioengineering – So we tried to define this one already. Also from Wikipedia: “By comparison to biotechnology [see above], bioengineering is generally thought of as a related field with its emphasis more on mechanical and higher systems approaches to interfacing with and exploiting living things.” Sex with sex toys and robots?
  • Bioengineering: Premedical – This is the one I was in. A lot of overlap with the Bioengineering track above, this track contains all the courses a medical school would hope to see taken by an applicant. From what I understand, the UCSD medical school adds something to an applicant’s GPA for being in the Bioengineering department, something like .2 or .3 which is significant (too bad I do not plan to go to medical school). Sex with nurses?

To add to the confusion, some schools do not have Bioengineering but rather Biomedical Engineering. MORE CLARIFICATION! Wikipedia again:

Biological engineering (also biosystems engineering and bioengineering) is a broad-based engineering discipline that deals with bio-molecular and molecular processes, product design, sustainability and analysis of biological systems. Generally, bioengineering encompasses other engineering disciplines when they are applied to living organisms (e.g., prosthetics in mechanical engineering). Bioengineering is often synonymous with biomedical engineering, though in the strict sense the term can be applied more broadly to include food engineering and agricultural engineering. Biotechnology also falls under the purview of the broad umbrella of bioengineering.

So generally, biomedical engineering is the medical application of bioengineering, but the terms are often used interchangeably. Whew! So, I think I have done something to clarify domain and the fields within it. Here is a cursory glance at some of the applications:

  • Agricultural Engineering-Harvesting genetically altered wheat with a combine.
  • Aquaculture – Also known as aquafarming.
  • Artificial Biospheres – Yes, even Pauly Shore helped out.
  • Biosensors – Think a machine that reads your fingerprint.
  • Bio-based material-Simply an engineering material derived from living matter
  • Biomaterials – Natural or man-made that comprises whole or part of a living structure.
  • Drug Delivery-Ask a junkie.
  • Industrial Fermentation
  • Industrial Enzymatic Reactions
  • Life Support Systems-Like when Tom Hanks & Brian Boitano had to do the C02 filter modification.
  • Metabolic Engineering-Often involved in producing beer, wine, cheese, pharmaceuticals.
  • Production and Purification of Biopharmaceuticals
  • Prosthesis

Do I know how to do all this stuff? The answer is unfortunately an emphatic, no. But I am not an entirely useless individual. No really! Let me explain. Back to our first definition of bioengineering: “any type of engineering applied to living things,” we basically focused on Mechanical Engineering applied to the Human Organism. We studied math, chemistry, physics, physiology, basic programming, biomechanics, circuits, biochemistry, genetics, bioinstrumentation, statistics, biomaterials, yadda yadda yadda.

All of the above is good, but as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (copy and paste, I refuse to type that shit) said in his lecture at TED, it takes 10 years for someone to build up enough technical knowledge to change a domain. Likewise Dr. K. Anders Ericsson and Malcom Gladwell , both referenced in the most recent season (7) of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit might tell you that the difference between genius and mediocrity is about 10,000 hours of practice. So basically what my degree earned me is the chance to enter a field such as medical devices as I have (to some extent) as well as pursue more degrees, in the hopes of reaching that 10 years of technical knowledge or 10,000 hours of practice even further down the line, garnering at least a pittance in the process.

All these topics interest me but I am not sure I want to spend 10,000 hours on medical devices. Excuse me. Where are my manners? I should say what a medical device is (from Wikipedia):

This is an extremely broad category — essentially covering all healthcare products that do not achieve their intended results through predominantly chemical (e.g., pharmaceuticals) or biological (e.g., vaccines) means, and do not involve metabolism.

A medical device is intended for use in:

  • the diagnosis of disease or other conditions, or
  • in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease,

Some examples include pacemakers, infusion pumps, the heart-lung machine, dialysis machines, artificial organs, implants, artificial limbs, corrective lenses, cochlear implants, ocular prosthetics, facial prosthetics, somato prosthetics, and dental implants.

This industry is highly regulated and very conservative (like Aerospace apparently) and is thus difficult to “break into.” It is also said to be a smaller more incestuous group than one might expect and thus one is advised to “never burn a bridge in medical devices.” A friend who works for a company that makes endoscopes told me that the best and brightest are in the medical device industry. I do not know how that claim could be supported but I am just giving you the word on the street. Unfortunately, the regulated and conservative nature that makes it so well “protected” from other job seekers would seem to make it less pleasant to work in. While computer engineers and programmers at Google sit in bean bags and take time for reflection and stretching, people in the medical device industry must cater to a series of auditors and make sure that they are always seen walking briskly and with purpose. Granted, I can only present my view from a very lowly position in a particularly bureaucratic office.

The industry has a development side (Research and Development, Product Development), a production side (Sustaining, Manufacturing, Growth), and an oversight side (Regulatory and Quality). It also needs Marketing and sales people to get the product out and Clinical Research to test the effectiveness and get things to market. Beyond that it has all the basic office and legal functions (Document Control, IT, Maintenance). What is true for me (some of which you may have gleamed from this blog) is that I like to understand how things work in the physical world, I like to create, and I like to stimulate peoples’ minds in creative ways. The kind of position I am looking for as a next step, in this industry at least, is on the development side, to up my scientific knowledge, and I could see myself continuing in that fashion or moving over to Marketing because it affords the opportunity to coalesce the needs of physicians, the technology limitations of the developers and scientists, and the capability of production, all the while requiring a well spoken and intelligent presentation. Regulatory deals with government bodies, Quality tells people they need to do more tests to make sure they do not make bad product, and Sustaining/ Manufacturing keeps those assembly lines running and tries to find ways to standardize, improve, and cheapify the process.

So while I can see some opportunity for engagement and learning, it would seem that jumping into a job that sounds interesting without a higher degree, without lots of experience, without awards, without a big penis, takes a lot of schmoozing and “being professional” day in and day out which is not easy when you have a restless mind and are in an office setting. I will say, however, that being in a place long enough to get acquainted with the people there does make it seem less abrasive but at the same time you can get complacent and the only thing that really matters is if you win the respect of the gatekeepers. That is, those you would interview with, if you applied to a better job. I guess that does not matter too much because my company has all but killed its Research and Development department so I am looking elsewhere (still in Southern California).

I still say that educating people on a grand scale sounds like more fun. But hey! The teamwork skills and Medical Device, Bioengineering knowledge could still be applied to developing educational products (game) down the road! Right?! I hope so. I am keeping myself open to a form of creation that would reach a customer in the form of an audience rather than a patient, to aid in the process of discovery, because that is what I seem to enjoy the most.

Oh yeah, here it is. From “Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze? And 114 Other Questions:”

  • “Two mechanisms are at work. First, the penguin can control the rate of blood flow to the feet by varying the diameter of arterial vessels supplying the blood. In cold conditions the flow is reduced, when it is warm the flow increases. Humans can do this too, which is why our hands and feet become white when we are cold and pink when warm. Control is very sophisticated and involves the hypothalamus and various nervous and hormonal systems. However, penguins also have ‘counter-current heat exchangers’ at the top of the legs. Arteries supplying warm blood to the feet break up into many small vessels that are closely allied to similar numbers of venous vessels bring cold blood back from the feet. Heat flows from the warm blood to the cold blood, so little of it is carried down the feet.”
  • “The uncooked cheese contains long-chain protein molecules more or less curled up in a fatty, watery mess. When you heat cheese, the fats and proteins melt and if you fiddle with the fluid, the chains can get dragged into strings.”

Free to Play, Pay to Win

2009-10-18 4 comments

My illustrious video game career came to an abrupt halt, or at least a slow C Walk, a year or so ago when a temp agency found me a J-O-B that I D-O-N-‘-T L-I-K-E V-E-R-Y M-U-C-H. Though I am still a man of the people, I don’t really play. How did I go from Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt to Halo 2 and Warcraft 3 Frozen Throne to nil? The same way alcoholics shake their crippling addiction: another addiction; but this time it would not be Jesus who freed me from the controllers’ reins (metaphor in obsolescence due to technological advancement), but rather information (Dan Rather’s information?). I reasoned that while there are spillover benefits in that I can improve hand-eye coordination and communication skills whilst gaming, it is not often, while I am outside the house, that I employ the word “N*#(@%!!!!”  1,343 times per hour while concomitantly twiddling my fingers between my legs. No, indeed, those two things happen at different times.

The infotainment on the many internets as well as books that I have trouble finishing has appeased the region of the human brain responsible for the desire to “Level Up.” I have effectively tricked my brain into thinking that the real world is a game (perhaps a boring one like The Sims) and that by knowing things I have some kind of “Power Up” that those other newbies or noobs don’t, excuse me, n00000000000000bs. While I still have strong and at times desperate cravings for mana, I deem my personality too addictive for even casual or Wii-like gaming (though I have dabbled in Gears of War, Halo 3, Mario Kart, and some internet crap i.e. addictinggames.com).

So it may be my out-of-the-loop-ness that made it interesting to talk to another gamer yesterday: Amongst the disbursing hoards of the Santa Barbara Beer Festival his smart dressing school teacher girlfriend invited me to attend an afternoon house party (kind of like a soiree, only earlier). I should add, the fact that I had a neon pink, “Designated Driver” wristband on did not keep me from stumbling on my way out.

Anyways, beyond sharing with me all his projects and knowledge in the way of home brewing as others were watching inning # 5 of fucking 13 of the Angels/ Yankees series game 2, he showed me a couple games which require nothing to play initially but you can gain a competitive advantage by shelling out some cash. Again, someone else learned how to take advantage of the “Level Up” part of the brain. A very interesting monetization strategy and the games are not half bad. In fact, said Beer Brewing Gamer explained to me that he dropped about 75 bucks between the two games and likewise praised their technique.

Just remember, “The key to victory is the element, of surprise…SURPRISE!” (www.gotfuturama.com/Multimedia/EpisodeSounds/2ACV17/Sound1.mp3)

Battlefield Heroes: Play with a client in your web browser, 3 different unit classes, and fun cartoony graphics. The nice thing about this one is that you can be everything that the elite players are without paying, however, paying money can let you do things like leveling up faster.

BattleForge: This one merges RTS (Real Time Strategy) with a card collecting component. The Beer Brewing Gamer, who, I am sure, would rather be referred to as a Chemical Engineer, said the Magic the Gathering player in him, made him play this one. I didn’t realize they were still gathering. He said that to be elite in this one, you need to shell out money; the most expensive card goes for a whopping 23 bucks. If that sounds like a lot I am sure that the US Treasury has a bailout plan for troubled virtual mythical armies.

Another little delight I found independently is “Jump Gear 2.”  With a flash player and you can design your own levels. Microsoft/Yahoo it! (it’s gonna catch on)

Finally, is this educational? I cannot tell, Molecula.

//

Categories: Entertainment, Video Games

Tools of Education

In an ongoing quest to continuously educate myself I find it paramount to take note of any new educational tools.  The most accessible of these tools is undoubtedly the internet.  Staying congruent with Jon’s post regarding a union between education and videogames, I feel that that which is most engaging is most likely to stick in one’s memory.  Using the fantastic firefox add-on Stumble Upon I have come across so far two of what may possibly be hundreds of such websites that are capable of teaching via intriguing flash animations and short bursts of information that are easy to inculcate and process.

Physics concepts


Introduction to Biology


Hodge Podge of Science

If anyone else has anything to add to the list, feel free to post it in the comments.

Dawkins is at it again

I took a break from reading The God Delusion, flipped on the radio, and heard a familiar voice; Richard Dawkins was talking to conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager about his latest book that just came out The Greatest Show On Earth.  Soldier on, Dawkins.  Soldier on.

Science Knowledge Quiz

2009-10-07 4 comments

Here’s the quiz:  http://pewresearch.org/sciencequiz/quiz/

Here’s the article:  http://pewresearch.org/sciencequiz/

Categories: Science Tags: , , ,
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