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|Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015|
|Monday, November 3rd, 2014|
|Well, it's been a year, more or less:
Seems like I get round to posting on LJ every year or so whether it needs it or not. Good to see that there are still some of the old fuzzbuckets hanging around here. Current Mood: good
|Monday, December 31st, 2012|
|RIP Carl Woese:
It seems that too often I'm writing about the passing of someone who, though not so well known, has had massive impact in technical areas.
Carl Woese was a biologist at the university I work at. His work didn't fit easily into the categories for Nobel prizes. It was more biological than just chemistry. It wasn't closely related enough to things clinical to be medicine. The Nobel's don't have an actual category for biology. At the time they were established, biology just didn't have the flare and impact that physics, chemistry, medicine, etc. did. It seemed an old stodgey place for obsessive butterfly collectors and the like.
This year, the well known journal Nature called for Woese to get the Nobel. That will never happen now, as it is not awarded posthumously.
What this man did was no less than rewriting substantial portions of even introductory biology textbooks.
Biologists are forever deciding what species are related to what other species, and how much difference there is between them. Usually this had been done by appearance or other somewhat subjective means, though it was a fairly solid part of biology.
In the 60s, Carl started using a methodical chemical method to do this sort of family tree tracing.
He worked out the use of certain genetically related chemical sequences (16s ribosmoal RNA) in bacteria and other cells to be able to determine what was really related to what and when they had split off from each other based on rates of mutation over time.
And, oh my, what a different tale it told than the standard "tree of life"
It turned out that many of the smallest lifeforms we had lumped together in the microscopic world really had very little in common. In fact, a whole new kingdom of life, the archea, had to be defined. The tree of life is still being actively rewritten as more genetic information is used to determine more accurately what and how closely related organisms are.
This was not easily accepted in the microbiological community. Scientists are conservative by nature, and here was someone from outside the traditional field (Woese was a physicist) who was telling them the equivalent of "everything you know is wrong".
This is only one of the areas he touched on. He also came up with the RNA world hypothesis for early life, and wrote heavily on a much larger amount of horizontal gene transfer in the evolution of early life. That last may ultimately have even larger implications to biology than his other work, but it is still a relatively new area of research. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horizontal_gene_transfer_in_evolution
I think history will accord more acclaim to Woese than the Nobel committee did. His contributions and the full ramifications will in time place him in the league of Linnaeus and perhaps nearly to the level of Darwin. That may sound overblown, but in this case, I think it's reasonable.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woese Current Mood: sad
|Wednesday, December 19th, 2012|
|The perspective of medical history:
It's been over a year since my last post. I guess it's about time.
My work puts me in daily contact with quite a number of groups doing medical research at a university. Because of that, I often have a little different viewpoint on disease than many. In this era of medical miracles, it's easy to forget just how terribly difficult and hard won our victories against disease are.
I was walking over to the Illini Union and on the second floor balcony was a banner saying: "HIV. 30 years and still not gone.".
I certainly don't make light of a disease that's killed and sickened people I know, and devastated much of southern Africa (among other regions).
But, the speed of advance against the disease, when compared to many others has been astoundingly rapid.
We've gone from it being a short term (a few years at most) death sentence to being a disease that can be managed in many individuals, admittedly with great difficulty and cost. Our attempts at a vaccine have thus far not been very successful and the virus is a tricky one that seems to elude our best tricks. Programs in many parts of the world have reduced the rate of spread greatly. I've worked with a lot of people who've put in very long hours trying to understand the virus and research on it is funded highly.
For a comparison, how does this stack up against other diseases that kill large numbers of people?
Bubonic Plague. 1470 years and still not gone.
Tuberculosis. At least 5000 years and still not gone.
Malaria. At least 10,000 years and still not gone.
Influenza. All of human history and prehistory (estimated) and still not gone.
And the first three are either bacteria or parasites. They are the sort of organisms that we've had great success in dealing with for other diseases. The last is a virus but one we have at least some ability to predict strains and vaccinate for.
HIV is also a virus so most of our pharmacological weapons don't work against it. Like malaria, it's a tricky disease that vaccines come up short against.
So, although it often is disheartening to hear about HIV or other recently emerging diseases still killing us, when looked at in comparison to others, the history is a fairly bright one. And, with the incredibly more effective research tools that are coming online (cheap, fast sequencing, FT mass spectrometry that lets a soup of proteins be identified and quantified so rapidly it would have been a scifi dream in the 1990s when I was directly involved) I expect the advance to get even quicker. Current Mood: hopeful
|Wednesday, October 12th, 2011|
|RIP Dennis Ritchie:
His name isn't known to the masses the way Steve Jobs was, but this man had a massive influence on our computer and network infrastructure. The C programming language not only is the backbone of much of the code that runs our modern infrastructure, but the ideas incorporated in it have influenced even languages not directly based on it.
The Unix operating system likewise was the source for many of the ideas common to current operating systems as well as being the operating system of choice for much of the infrastructure of our modern information age. Linus may have created Linux, but it was only because Unix was there first.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Ritchie Current Mood: sad
|Thursday, September 22nd, 2011|
|Wall Street and CBOT:
The fed announces even more stimulus via securities jiggering but aren't sufficiently upbeat in justifying it. The markets head for the doors.
"Operation Twist"? Is this the Chubby Checker stimulus strategy or is it just telling us it's time to say screw it and go get a chocolate and vanilla ice cream cone?
This is getting too often to just keep putting up Major Kong riding the bomb down no matter how much I like that clip.
"I'll get them bomb doors open if it hare lips everyone on Bear Creek!"
Oh, and don't hold your breath for the widely (and wildly) reported superliminal neutrinos. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We don't have it yet. A timing issue seems a lot more likely even with a previous experiment showing some weak data for something like it. This is probably a case of two wrongs don't make a right even with 6.1 sigmas. Current Mood: crazy
|Monday, August 8th, 2011|
|The Bear Cavalry Charges:
Today, I think we can sum up investor sentiment on the worldwide stock exchanges, thusly: Current Mood: indifferent
|Tuesday, May 17th, 2011|
|Another time around the sun!
Well, I've made it to 49. Feels a lot like 48. :)
Thanks to all of those who sent/posted birthday greetings.
The birthday was uneventful. I didn't do anything special for it this time.
But routine is often a very satisfying thing for a work day. It's those "interesting" ones that I try to avoid. ;) Current Mood: satisfied
|Friday, March 18th, 2011|
|Thursday, March 17th, 2011|
|Hold on to your hats:
The UN Security council has authorized military force to be taken against the Gaddhafi regime in Libya. This goes well beyond just a no fly zone and can include air strikes and even ground forces.
It's not clear which forces will be doing what in this. It's possible that US forces will be directly involved in a matter of hours as well as UK and French. Who else will be involved is not yet clear.
The US already has a heck of a lot on its plate. Not just militarily, but in general. Things like Japan's crisis and a dozen others all take up diplomatic effort, logistics, and attention in many parts of government. There's only so much of that to go around.
No one really can say for sure just how this will turn out, but regardless I don't expect a smooth ride. And I very much don't expect it to be over in a few days.
Even in the best cases, it rarely turns out that way. Operations in Bosnia and Kosovo have kept on going for long periods, and didn't always achieve completely clear results (Though Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic are certainly out of power). We still have some forces there (under a thousand, I think, but still there).
When military actions start, even for the best reasons, unintended consequences pile up very fast. Things you never expected you'd end up doing or have happen quickly come to pass. Witness Somalia.
All we can do is hope for best. Whatever that is.
Personally, I support the decision, but as I alluded to above, I have few illusions of easy or fast or good. I hope that it turns out to be the right policy, or if it turns into trouble, it will be the least it can be. I certainly have supported some military interventions that didn't turn out very well. Current Mood: determined
|Wednesday, March 16th, 2011|
|A minor distraction of little import:
In the conflict that everyone has forgotten about:
The Red Cross is now pulling out of Benghazi, Libya. Gaddhafi's forces are advancing on it at a disturbingly fast pace. It's estimated that it's too late for foreign intervention like a no fly zone or trainers to make any difference.
The administration is now circulating a draft that calls for bombing advancing armor and artillery positions, but it is very likely that at least two security council members, Russia and China, would veto such a measure.
Last week, James Clapper, chief intelligence official for the US was taken to task for saying that Gaddhafi had taken the initiative from the rebels and might well win due to the better arms and training of his forces.
I guess the problem is taking care of itself, isn't it?
Now you can go back to the important things like the Japanese nuclear crisis.
Hey, was there an earthquake there or something? Current Mood: pessimistic
|Sunday, February 20th, 2011|
|Nicolae Ceaușescu, anyone?
Samuel Gummere, US Ambassador to Morrocco:
"Well, I certainly would like to see that old son-of-a-bitch at bayonet point."
(Quoted from the movie The Wind and the Lion)
I think that pretty well covers my feelings about Colonel Moammar Gadhafi.
A lot of people have died at the hands of his goons in Benghazi and other Libyan cities today.
Edit: It looks like Col. Gadhafi and his cronies may share a lot with the marketing division of Sirius Cybernetics. i.e:
"A bunch of mindless jerks that will be the first ones up against the wall when the Revolution comes." Current Mood: discontent
|Monday, November 22nd, 2010|
|My Typically Brief MFF Report:
Con went well. The new hotel presented a few challenges, but mostly was excellent to work with.
Lots of ideas for next year.
Pardon me now while I go fall down for a while. ;) Current Mood: weary, but good
|Saturday, November 6th, 2010|
|Writer's Block: Life Unplugged
How long can you survive without mobile or Internet access before you break into cold sweats?
I'm a geek. I love the internet. I've been on it since 1987 (yes, I've sent "bang" address mail).
When I'm not connected, I miss having wikipedia and am less effective at work.
But how long I could survive without it without losing it? *snicker*snort*
Let's be real here, people. Current Mood: amused
|Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010|
The day that ends all those unwanted mailers, ads and robocalls.
But, regardless of the minor annoyances, it's important. Get out there and vote. Current Mood: good
|Monday, October 4th, 2010|
|State of the Hartree:
It's getting to be fall weather here. I fired up the furnace for the first time this fall.
Things seem to be going pretty well with me lately. I'm enjoying working for the university again. There's a fair bit of variety in the lab equipment I work on. It's mostly vacuum pumps so far, but with a leavening of balances, mag stirrers, ovens and such. Nothing all that special. Just bread and butter stuff. But, there's a lot of bread and butter to be served in this world.
The people I work with are good. That's a biggy. Coworkers can make or break a job more than anything else.
Preparations for MFF are going fairly smoothly. Still lots to do, but that's usual for this time of year.
I'm using the commute to and from work to take audio classes. So far, I've done a history of Africa course and am working on a historical philosophy course. Audio courses while driving lend themselves to nontechnical subjects.
Still working on reviewing chemistry via a solid state chem course that MIT has online. Between the free online material and Better World Books (Shameless plug. They're one of my fave booksellers.) and the like for inexpensive copies of texts, it's amazing how economical and effective self learning has become.
So, nothing overly exciting, but a lot of solid positive things going on. We remember the highs and lows, but in truth, our lives are mostly the mundane things. When those are going well, we're doing fine. Current Mood: content
|Saturday, September 11th, 2010|
'Effing crystallography. How can something so simple be so "By Our Lady" confusing? Current Mood: confused
|Wednesday, September 1st, 2010|
|Writer's Block: Ground Control to Major Tom
What kind of craft would you design to travel through time and space? How would it work? What would it look like?
I already have one. Me. I've been traveling through time and space quite successfully for 48 years so far.
The space part is a little slow at times. I have helper systems to speed that up. Currently a Dodge Ram pickup truck.
The time part is only in one direction (and largely at only one speed, but different observers will differ on it.) I don't have very high hopes of changing that. I'm siding with Kip Thorne and Stephen Hawking that time travel will turn out to be largely prohibited by the laws of physics. Causality would get a bit messy otherwise.
Oh, you mean a fictional one. Well, a Tardis like the Doctor's would be fine then. Current Mood: okay
|Sunday, August 29th, 2010|
|Inspec you are now mine!:
I'm now three weeks into working for the University of Illinois again (I was a sysadmin for them 8 years ago). I'm enjoying it thus far. The people I work with are ones I get along with. My particular job (fixing mechanical vacuum pumps) is fairly greasy and grimy, but that's old hat for me. I've been doing various forms of mechanical repair for a long time.
I actually repair a broader array of equipment than just the pumps, but there is a backlog of them, so that's the main work for a while.
I've already started making use of some of the bennies of the job. I have online access to a wide array of online research databases and the libraries of the University. I pretty regularly go chasing down research articles and have often been blocked by paywalls from getting the full text. No more. *muwahahaha* Current Mood: good