Over the past couple years, I’ve put other priorities ahead of maintaining this blog (getting married and school being the big ones). However, I’m still pursuing my education, and consequently may soon have some interesting things to report. I’m no longer working in the software business and have been full time at Towson for the past year. This semester, I’m working on a study of bumble bees in Maryland: looking for declines in abundance and/or species. Within a week or two, I will probably be better able to outline the project here. I’d like to use my blog to keep friends/family/colleagues aware of what I’m doing, so stay tuned! I’m also putting my P.I. search for graduate school into high gear this year, so this blog can be a good record of my research experience to share with people I’m interested in working with.
Have a fantastic February, and I’ll return with more soon!
Why I Do Not Fear Death
To me, the dozen billion years
(a time scale we can’t comprehend)
that passed before my day of birth
give comfort for the coming end.
To know that not one atom in
my body at the age of five
remains within me still today
changes the meaning of “alive.”
And all the billions yet to pass
after my carcass has decayed
are bookends for a single life
so precious, by their vastness, made.
Excellent! Finally, someone with a shred of power really gets it!
I don’t have much more to add at this very moment except to say: kick-ass.
Ohhh riiiight…. I have a blog. No, I didn’t forget about it – but one might wonder why I haven’t posted anything new since last November. Well, let me just make this post into a few tidbits about what I’m up to lately so it won’t take too long, and then I’ll get back to my busy day. (I hope to resume semi-regular updates shortly, though!)
- Work. Shortly after my last post, I left the Great Satan-errr, the United States of America for a couple of weeks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It was a big project for my company, and I was fortunate to be one of a team of three nerds that were sent to install LIS software and train lab technicians at the UAE’s largest clinical reference laboratory to date. It was a bit surreal, as it was my first trip outside North America and it felt more like I was in Las Vegas while a bunch of Arabs were in town. That trip deserved a blog post all to itself, but I missed the last two weeks of the school semester and was therefore trying to keep up with biology and statistics, and then finals and then holidays and… you get it, I’m sure.
- School. This semester it’s chemistry, which is not nearly as hard as it seemed when I took it at age 19, when I was still trying to figure out why I should get up for class if I wasn’t going to miss the school bus. I’m still working 8-5 Mon-Fri, but Tuesday night I have a three hour lecture and Wednesday night it’s a three hour lab. I want to be annoyed with my classmates who don’t understand how much of a privilege it is to be there (they’re always rushing through the lab to get out early), but I’m sure I was just like them once. Plus, I still procrastinate like there’s no tomorrow, so I haven’t grown up that much.
- Farming. I’ve been helping out where I can on the best new community project in Baltimore, the Ash Street Garden (aka Baltimore Free Farm). It’s an inspiring groundswell of sustainability consciousness, DIY ethics, cleverness, and crunk-punk-rap-rock-folk-core anarchy in action — without pissing off the neighbors! If any gardening or sustainability enthusiasts in the Baltimore region read this, you should definitely stop by some day to see what we’ve done with the place. It was just a bunch of tree stumps and garbage piles a mere two months ago; today it is well on its way to the terraformed cathedral of urban agriculture it is bound to become. Anyone is welcome to volunteer and join the fun. If you have any experience in gardening, construction, farming, landscaping, plumbing, beekeeping, integrated pest management, or non-profit law and finance, you are especially needed!
- Vacation. That’s right – Celeste and I spent an awesome week last month exploring the Pacific Northwest, including Whidbey Island (where we stayed with her ‘rents), Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Vancouver, Olympic National Park, the Hoh Rainforest, Rialto Beach, and Port Townsend. Olympic National Park and seeing my cousin Jeremy in Olympia were the highlights for me. . . Vancouver kicked ass, too.
- Training. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration because I haven’t really done that much of it yet, but I’m trying to condition myself to endure 140 miles of bicycling in two days from Rehoboth Beach, DE to Baltimore, MD. Shannon, my brother’s girlfriend, is the organizer of Ride For The Feast, which raises funds for Moveable Feast, a nonprofit organization that provides free meals to HIV and breast cancer patients. So, on May 15/16, Shannon, Mike, myself, and others will ride our asses off (literally, maybe) for this noble cause. If you want to support my effort (please do!), you can make a contribution to Moveable Feast through my fundraising page. Your contribution will help me achieve the $1,200 fundraising goal I’ve set for the event. More importantly, though, it will bring the compassionate gift of good nutrition to our neighbors whose survival depends on it the most, at a time when their ability to provide for themselves is most diminished.
- That’s it! I have no other excuses not to be blogging. We’ll see what happens…
150 years ago today, on November 24, 1959, the most important book in the history of biology was published. Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species was, and still is, the foundation upon which all of modern biology rests, with its myriad applications in medicine, ecology, philosophy, and beyond. I’ve sort of let blogging take a back seat now that I’m busy with school in the evenings and working to get my foot in the door of the academic world, so even at the momentous anniversary I will probably be content to just remind everyone how important biological science is, and ask that you consider making a charitable donation to an organization that supports scientific research and/or education. Perhaps there’s a cancer research foundation whose work saved the life of a loved one, or a college scholarship fund that helps low-income students in your community pursue higher education in biology. I am personally a fan of the National Center for Science Education, which is constantly waging the legal battles to protect our public school science cirricula from an ongoing, organized assault by creationist groups who seek to replace the discipline of biology with their dishonest and ignorant religious agenda. You can contribute to NCSE here. Lastly, I’ll mention that the National Science Foundation has put together an excellent resource in celebration of the Origin of Species anniversary, which can be found here. I highly recommend checking it out!
I’m leaving on a business trip to Dubai on Saturday, which will be my first real adventure outside of the United States (except for the 51st state, aka Canada)*. I hope to have some cool pictures and stories to share from the UAE next week, so stay tuned.
* Just kidding, ay? I love you, Canucks.
Last night, President Barack Obama delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress with a boldness and clarity that I think has been lacking since the end of his campaign. His address laid out his proposals for health care reform in clear, concise language. He clobbered the atrocious lies and distortions that have been spread in the media lately as well as the anti-reform ideologues that started them. He also achieved the important goal of framing health care reform as a moral issue, and as a fundamental economic security issue:
“Put simply, our health care problem is our deficit problem. Nothing else even comes close.”
-President Barack Obama
The address was also masterful political theater, clearly crafted to assert the President’s authority before the assembled chambers of Congress on the issue which may define his presidency. Even reform opponents played their part in the spectacle: at a moment in his speech when Obama clearly asserted that his health care proposals would explicitly exclude coverage for undocumented immigrants, the traditionally quiet decorum of the event was punctuated by South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, who loudly shouted “You lie!” at the president. President Obama could not have illustrated the vapid thoughtlessness of health care reform’s enemies any better than that.
Now, while I certainly found much to commend in the president’s speech, it wasn’t all rainbows and whiskey. As a progressive who favors a single-payer health care system, I can’t say that I agree with all of President Obama’s proposals. In particular, I feel that private, for-profit health insurance companies represent a fundamental conflict of interest between investors’ expectation of profit and patients’ need for medical care. Obama is pushing for new laws that will limit insurance companies’ strategies to maximize their profit, which appears to be a nuanced, measured compromise — but in practice, it will be the federal government that bears the burden of enforcing these laws, and that means it will take time for insurance companies to comply with the new laws. We can nearly rest assured that their compliance will be grudging and constantly in search of loopholes. Put simply, the new laws Obama proposed would not fully resolve that fundamental conflict of interest. I realize that Obama’s proposals are a political and practical solution rather than an ideal one, and I encourage everyone to support any legislation that accomplishes the goals he set. My criticism is only meant to serve as a reminder that the fight for equity, fairness, compassion, and justice in the U.S. health system will not end with the passage of health care reform. I think that Bad Astronomer Phil Plait expressed a similar point regarding Obama’s education speech on Tuesday very well, and with all due tribute, I will repost the image here that he used to do so:
In case you haven’t heard, the STS-128 mission has been postponed three times now – the first was due to weather, and for the last two nights the delay has been due to a faulty liquid hydrogen fill and drain valve on the shuttle’s primary propulsion system. The launch is now targeted for 11:59 PM tomorrow, Friday, August 28th. Stay on top of the latest news at NASA’s main space shuttle mission webpage. I’ll be watching the site tomorrow eagerly, hoping that it doesn’t get delayed again! The weather forecast tomorrow calls for a 60% chance of favorable launch conditions at midnight, which means clear skies within 11.5 miles of the launch pad, with ENE and NNW winds < 39mph, and SSE and WSW winds < 23 mph… among other things. Not that I looked it up
On another note, I just dropped almost $300 at the Towson University bookstore today – for just two classes. Sigh. School starts Monday, and I’ll be officially back on the academic bandwagon. Here’s to progress!
Today marks another landmark scientific anniversary – the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first telescope. It was on this day in 1609 that Galileo presented his prototype 8x-magnification telescope to the assembled Senate of Venice. It was not the first telescope—that forgotten honor belongs to Dutch astronomer Hans Lipperhey who built a simple telescope just one year earlier, in 1608—but it was the one that captured the attention of the Venetian merchants (who were most interested in its practical applications for shipping and navigation) and lit the candle of modern astronomy. Galileo’s telescope allowed him to make precise observations that confirmed Copernicus’ heliocentric hypothesis and dispatched the notion of an Earth-centered universe. Galileo’s published defense of this view in 1632 led directly to a papal trial in 1633, in which he was declared “vehemently suspect of heresy” and, after recanting his scientific views under threat of torture, his imprisonment sentence was commuted to house arrest. Galileo remained in home near Florence (he was allowed one trip to seek medical advice near the end of his life) and was closely watched by church authorities until his death in 1642. For a laugh, you can read the Catholic Church’s position on the Galileo controversy.
I, for one, am overwhelmed with humility by the science that Galileo’s telescope revolutionized. It has brought us the likes of Carl Sagan, Maria Mitchell, Giovanni Cassini, and Stephen Hawking. It brought us NASA and the space program, which will launch the space shuttle Discovery (STS-128) tomorrow at 1:10 AM EDT on a mission to the International Space Station. There are no words that can, for the casual observer, capture the immensity of the expanding universe that telescopes have uncovered. There is, at least, an image that comes close. I am referring to the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which is a composite image of a tiny region of space in the constellation Fornax, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope between 2003-2004. It looks back over approximately 13 billion years, showing in just a tiny speck of sky that appears dark to the human eye the multitude of galaxies that existed only 400-800 million years after the Big Bang. Every spot, blur, smudge, and speck on the image is an entire galaxy containing millions or billions of stars. I will say no more about it, for if you’ve never seen it, this image deserves quiet reflection. You can click on this small image to view the entire high-resolution version (18.1 MB). In honor of Galileo, and without further blabbering from this blogger:
IMPORTANT: Even if you can’t go with me tomorrow, please read this article about the Perseid Meteor Shower, and try to find the most promising way to see them near where you are. And if you happen to read this before 5AM ET/2AM PT this morning (I’m looking at you, California kids!), try to go out and take a look now!
So – who wants to join me to see the best meteor shower of the year – the Perseids?! It was too cloudy tonight to see very much, and even when some clear spots in the sky opened up, our very brightly lit urban environment overpowered all but the brightest stars. I’m taking C in my car, so I’ll have room for up to three others. I’ll drive some place dark, outside the city (suggestions welcome), and lay back to watch the show for at least 1 or 2 hours. Bringing a folding cot, sleeping bag, hammock, or blanket is recommended for prolonged viewing comfort. Binoculars, cameras, tripods, and telescopes are also great ideas if you have any of these available to you. Food and drink never hurt anyone, either (hah)! I will cancel this mini-trip if the weather doesn’t co-operate… as it turns out, unfortunately, I can’t see the sky with my naked eyes through total cloud cover.
Hooray for death from the skies!
This fall, I’m going back to school. I’d been weighing options for graduate school and finally determined that my best prospect for getting into a good ethology/zoology PhD program would be to get a B.S. in Biology first. My first bachelor’s degree was a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Maryland-College Park; I focused on biological anthropology, but I decided I need more experience in research methods and applied math to really hack it as a doctoral candidate. So, I’m about to embark on what will probably be at least a ten-year-long odyssey of learning and hard work before getting that Piled-higher-and-Deeper piece of paper. I couldn’t be happier about it, however, because I’ve always dreamed of spending my life in the pursuit of scientific advancement, even if the work is tedious, repetitive, unrecognized, and doesn’t pay well.
On another note, C and I just returned from our vacation to Niagra Falls and Toronto, Ontario. The falls were even more amazing than I remembered from a short visit around age 8. And what a great city Toronto is! It’s too bad I got a nasty virus (influenza or something similar) and spent much of the time suffering through fever, aches, congestion, cough, and fatigue – but we still managed to ascend the CN Tower, ride Segways, and catch a Blue Jays game among other things. I’d certainly go back there again when I have more time and better health. I’ll conclude this post with a few pictures from our Canadian excursion.