May 2009

All I can say at this point is that there will be more posts after exams are finally finished, I have a visa, and I’m no longer so anemic that I fail the malaria thumb test. See you then.


I would enjoy studying regen med a whole lot more if I had any idea of the level of detail expected on the exam. There aren’t any sample questions, and our only guideline was about peanuts. I’m assuming that means this is a broad spectrum theory exam. Anyway, I’m going to stick up some thoughts for the day to compromise between complete mental isolation and neglecting my studies.

  • Dr. Anthony Hollander and the Claudia Castillo Consortium are my idols. How often do you have a bunch of genius, bleeding edge researchers who can whip off a never-before-performed treatment in just a few weeks and know two surgeons who 1) are amateur aviators, and 2) are willing to make an international incident out of saving someone’s life? Well, that’s the everyday life of a regen med researcher.
  • This is the sort of counterargument I’d like to note in response to last week’s Nature article about scientists being “boring.” Evidently that author has been spending a little too much time in the EB hood. He should get out and smack down Ryanair once in a while.
  • NIF rocks my socks. It rocks my socks right off.
  • The potential opening of NIF is another counterargument to that article, and it’s offering me hope that the approach to experimental science hasn’t been dulled in all fields.
  • Why doesn’t parliament create a new oversight agency for admix embryos? Having HFEA take care of it for now will work, but it has the potential to get legally very messy as the field progresses.
  • Having a bioethics question on tomorrow’s exam would be so sweet. An hour wouldn’t be long enough to really cover the issues, but I think I could manage to offend (or make very happy – I’m a little fuzzy on that distinction when it comes to philosophers) Dr. Harris. As noted earlier, he and I disagree somewhat on the definition of communication, as well as on the basis for morality and value.

Well, I’m now off to take a proper break by visiting Parliament. Then it’s back to the library to study, drink coffee, study, get tea, study, trudge home at 10pm, study…my laundry just isn’t happening this week, is it.

じゃあ、今日はちょっとおかしい日だ。まあ、昨日もずっとずっと長かったけど、終わった。When I have a little more time, I’ll have to go back to the Barbican to hang out in the astounding greenhouse…or just outside in the central court. I’m not sure whether to describe the place as post-apocolyptic or Babylonian or awesome – perhaps a bit of all three. Seeing the Le Corbusier exhibit right beforehand brought up some interesting architectural parallels and questions, and it helped that we had two architects along. とってもおもしろかったよ!

As you can tell by now, I haven’t quite fully switched my brain back into English mode from writing 渡辺さん。It will be a little while yet, especially because of the occasional kanzi in my regen med notes, which I really should be reading instead of writing this. Que? The truth is that olfactory glia, Schwann cells, Shh*, Nanog, omentum grafts, and portal hypertension are more Latin than English, making it easy for me to never quite get my thoughts back in line when I switch tasks. to be fair, though, there’s a respectable smattering of Latin, German, and draft-speak in these notes, too. Doodles are often a crutch, but mostly this is a concerted effort towards laziness. Et is shorter than and, der or l’ is faster than the (if I even bother to use an article), and 人 is the pinnacle of ink economy. In a field like medical biochemistry, if we used everything’s proper names we’d be all day on the first paragraph. I suppose I just like taking our congenital brevity to new levels.

Code switching has me thinking about another sketch I did after turning in my 30th page of Mayan history papers that week. It’s on the backside of a notebook page with I think four or five different languages involved in the composition, including Mayan. The picture itself has several visual code switches on it, although the scanner (typically) thought the colored rules were more important than my inkwork. Next year I’m rooming with two art majors, so I’ll ask them to induct me into the cult of selective bluescreening, but for now, I’ll put this up as is. Although the image quality is low, those of you with a smattering of Mayan may be able to pick out the most blatant pun. It’s not great, but it amused my exam-flogged brain at the time.

The ix witz knows the way...

The ix witz knows the way...

What’s this? Four hearthstone design? Well, yes, but 1) it wasn’t intended to be a Mayan brazier, and 2) we can always assume that it’s on a scaffold. Also, the two guys are wearing no Mayan fashion I’ve ever heard of, but have a heart – that was intentional. I was actually very pleased with this despite the occasional flaw in perspective, since I drew the entire layout and figures on one hour of sleep and in pen. Over the last few months I’ve put in a few minutes here or there to finish up the wood grain or the thatch, and it finally came together sometime last week. It’s weird seeing something you assumed was going to be a perennially unfinished project actually come together. If I ever get the lines mucked out, I might still give them some outdoor setting, but for now the inkwork is over. It was fun.

*that’s Sonic hedgehog to you. No kidding.

I’ve been out of the current USA science policy loop in the past few weeks because of exams, thus the lack of comment on the dubious new emissions capping bill that is bumping around in the House right now. If it survives, I’ll get back to that. However, the most exciting news I’ve had this week was the news release about NIH’s new fund for the Treatment of Rare and Neglected Diseases (TRND). Although the target diseases are not yet defined, this opens up an incredibly important door for research that the private sector won’t touch. Notably, cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s are covered in the “rare” category, and “neglected” includes all of tropical parasitology and bacteriological infections. My immediate response to the press release would best be described as :)! Granted, most of the drug repurposing trials will be dead ends – that’s what we get for using library trawling as a ‘design’ technique. However, an interesting statement under the FAQ section detailing TRND’s goals is this:

“TRND will seek to advance the entire field of drug development by encouraging scientific and technological innovations aimed at improving success rates in the crucial pre-clinical stage of development.”

Does this mean that they will return the field from scanning discovery to reasoned design? Not necessarily, but any significant methodological advances they do make could have a profound impact on the structure of drug development and the pharmaceutical industry. With luck, the next decade could initiate a natural overhaul of drug development and the availability of treatment for many of the 3rd world diseases that top WHO clinical burden charts but remain unaddressed.

Once again I should mention how much I love my country.

Okay, first off, I took down the excerpt from the last post, since nobody seems to even notice it. Honestly, even I admit it was pretty boring out of context, and I’d rather you guys forget you ever saw it. It was just experimenting with character dynamics anyway. The rest of the story is all about biological paradigm shifts, time-traveling smartasses, intergalactic schism and all sorts of fun and interesting things. Maybe I’ll write those parts down someday.

In the meantime, I’m trying not to let relief over one exam distract me from studying for the upcoming ones. It’s a lost cause. I sit here looking at an article on doxycycline-induced lentiviral vectors in iPSC generation, and all I can think of is: “huh, I didn’t know dox could do that. Maybe this could illuminate its function as an anthelmintic…” Hopeless, I tell you. That exam was the only one out of my four that I was looking forward to, and it was also the one I’ve been most concerned about. When you have fantastic professors, you’d rather do anything than let them down. Still, apart from saying Chagas transmission involved amastigotes on the conjunctiva rather than trypomastigotes on the mucosa in one of the essays, it went pretty well. I actually enjoyed all three hours of the exam and finished all of my essays more or less exactly to my satisfaction.  Of course, I’m sure that having a full desk and a comfy chair in an airy, quiet hall with 30′ windows had a lot to do with that. I wonder if I could petition to take more exams here.

Other things I’ve learned this week:

  • the rose-cardamom-almond ice cream at Borough Market is to die for. We should use it as a bargaining chip in the Afghani peace talks: “extend the observation period another month and we’ll make it two scoops in a waffle cone.”
  • exams here are fun!
  • BBC Weather is about as accurate as a St. Louis forecast (although this could be due to the anti-Chaak syndrome).
  • the tourist season has begun.
  • it’s true: tourists do walk aggravatingly slowly.
  • London’s sidewalks were not designed to accommodate tourists.
  • I…I think I may have met Twoflower. Hawaiian shirt, hat, and delusional confidence in my capability and everything. Whoah!

Hey, so my masked men were up on Kaspall today along with another, creepier incarnation of the Veritarc. I’m quite flattered! In case you haven’t seen the earlier post about Kaspall (or if you simply haven’t gotten around to checking it out yet), please head over. It really is an excellent story with inkwork that makes me go green with envy. For those of you who have linked here from Kaspall, welcome!

On to today’s study break:

Possibly out of a masochistic impulse, I decided to put up a bit of a brainbarf from a story that’s been rocking around in my head for years but I’ll probably need my MD PhD to pull off. It’s the same story from which yesterpost’s sketch guy comes, but these are quite different characters at a very different point in time. Any comments about the style and whatnot would be much appreciated.


Note: due to epic unpopularity, this bit has been removed. I am also now embroiled in a law suit over killing my readers through unannounced acute boredom. My defence is that they were reading my blog, and that should have been warning enough, but the prosecution seems to object to the reality of free will. Apparently boredom is more addictive than coke. While this explains soap operas, golf, and accountancy, it leaves me facing potential charges for underage dealing.

As nifty as GABA receptor inhibitors are (how does DEC work, anyway?), I still have to work in the occasional half-hour break to keep up steam. As studying season wends into its final stretch, these breaks seem to be needed more and more frequently; I think the more I think about how much I need to understand something, the harder it is for me to absorb it. Frelling psychology. Anyway, this guy’s been part of my breaks and is progressing quite nicely into the coloring phase.

The bookshelves are modeled on my lab's and mine, so they're heck to draw.

The bookshelves are modeled on my lab's and mine, so they're heck to draw.

I’ve been trying out some new pencil techniques with it, and they seem to be working out quite nicely. You can’t see too many of them in the crop, but I was pretty happy with the desk, at least. The carpet and bookshelf are currently driving me nuts. Good thing I decided against a wood floor or persian rug! Hopefully this will be finished before the end of the exam season, and the full sheet will go up on atpic. That may be a bit ambitious, but we’ll see.

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