June 2009


じゃあ、here I am in Tokyo, having an absolutely fantastic time while having no personal internet, soaked books, and vocab lists higher than my own head to memorize. However, that’s beside the point. The city is amazing, and I can’t think of any place I’d rather be at the moment. When I’m closer to fluent in the language, I hope to come back and work here.

Anyway, I have to be brief, since the library closes in under an hour and I’ve a few things left to take care of. Still, now you all now know why I’ve been neglecting blog, email, and comic action for two weeks. It will continue for about another month, so no worries. Actually, I had this great little post pre-written for today that told everybody exactly what they needed to know…and then I left my flash drive at home. Go figure. Perhaps I can post that sometime later in the week. In the meantime, hope everyone is enjoying themselves wherever they are and whatever they happen to be doing.
じゃあ、また。

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Last night my mom and I went to see As You Like It down at the Globe. She’s going with her program next week after I’ve already left for the states, but she kindly agreed to go beforehand with me as a groundling. It was, without argument, the best production of anything that I have ever seen anywhere. Mom, a medievalist and avid theatregoer, agrees. The roles were written for those actors, and really there was never any thought of acting until after the show; they were the parts. I’m going agan tomorrow, and Mom may end up seeing this one thrice.

WOOT!

In other news, I spent a gorgeous afternoon in Regent’s Park wandering around and seeing The Tempest in the open air theatre. In comparison to As You Like It, it was lacking, but it was geared towards a gradeschool audience and had an amazing set, so I can’t complain. Ariel was also an incredible acrobat. He spent a good three quarters of his stage time effortlessly gracing around the rigging and making us landbound mortals jealous. Well, mortals in fact, if not in the context of the play. The entire production was staged as a reenactment for the audience of spirits (that’s us) of the events of the day spirits gained their freedom. Entering the theatre we each got a different colored ribbon with a line of verse on it, which later distinguished which sounds we made in Prospero’s tempests. I was a gold ribbon “Ye Elves of sands with printless foot” and so was charged with making the sound of rushing surf whenever Prospero raised his staff. The professor next to me had to beat her legs to make rain, and the other students were clapping to make hail, I think. We also got to bark like dogs, which was pretty cool. All in all, it was a fun afternoon.

again, Woot!

After wandering the park and meeting some overfriendly and photogenic geese, I discovered the Victoria & Albert museum, which is amazing. Once a week it’s open to 10pm, so Mom and I took advantage of that. It has the best and most accessible collection of Japanese art in the city, and I’m going back just to see the netsuki collection, though in a museum like that tangential exploration is inevitable. If you are in London at any point, I’d highly recommend the V&A tea room, as well. It was done by William Morris, as I recall, and has a good deal in common with the Whistler rooms at the Sackler gallery in Washington, D.C., only on a much grander scale and with stained glass, tile, plaster, and painting. The girl at the till is also an impressive opera singer, if you’re around at closing time.

Here are a few photos that I’ve taken over the past few days. Oddly, the 6.0 megapixel PS A540 is yielding better shots than the 7.1 megapixel PS SD750. How do you figure that?

just a wee bit of juxtaposition humor in a Georgian city

just a wee bit of juxtaposition humor in a Georgian city

I ran into the setup for this concert of Waterloo Sunset when I was just tooling around on the riverwalk last night, so I stayed and was amused at the priority given to the press over the audience. We were shoved behind the walls of the skate park while the press  ran around blocking our views. Ultimately, the best seats went to those who hadn't bothered to come. This fellow, however, was a friend of the chorus and very considerate, unlike his professional companions.

I ran into the setup for this concert of Waterloo Sunset when I was just tooling around on the riverwalk last night, so I stayed and was amused at the priority given to the press over the audience. We were shoved behind the walls of the skate park while the press ran around blocking our views. Ultimately, the best seats went to those who hadn't bothered to come. This fellow, however, was a friend of the chorus and very considerate, unlike his professional companions.

me, my satchel, and the ebbing Thames

me, my satchel, and the ebbing Thames

techs at the Tempest

techs at the Tempest

Obliging goose No. 1

Obliging goose No. 1

Obliging goose No. 2

Obliging goose No. 2

Oooooh, hey! I also started sticking a few things up on deviantart, although I know that’s akin to saying I’ve sold out to the netherworld. I’m just testing it to see if that might be preferable to atpic. We’ll see. If you want to throw in your opinions on the two alternatives (atpic vs DA), I’d appreciate it. After all, I’m doing this to share my work, so the audience’s opinion is important.

What do you do when thinking about what was and what you wanted to happen when it has irreparably gone another way? I tend to find a way to blame myself, and spend a long time hating myself for whatever happened. I also think about all of the alternative decisions that might have led to a different outcome, and how I really should have taken one of those courses to be much happier and ignorant of the current regret. I wish I could say I think in the same way whenever I have a stroke of good fortune (or just for the daily bits), but bad luck, pain, guilt, and regret all seem more consuming. I guess on the bright side, I could really push the sketch to a finish and repurpose it as a statement on graffiti and temporal contrast, but that’s just not what I wanted it to be, and the pseudo-intellectual artistic crap always gets on my nerves. I’m going to go sulk for a bit.

Well, I’m a little bushed to write anything substantive at the moment, but I thought I would go ahead and slap a few pictures from yesterday and today up here. I’ve heard more organ music in the past two days than in the total of my stateside life, but that’s what you get for living down the street from a cathedral and spending your holiday in the country’s two ecclesiastical provinces.

The forecast was for heavy rain, but that wasn't quite the case.

The forecast was for heavy rain, but that wasn't quite the case.

Trinity Sunday was at York, and in addition to one of the most impressive evensongs I’ve ever experienced it contained pub lunch, teddy bears, ruins, hospital, tea, and one of the more enterprising squirrels in the county.

There were at least four ranks of boats, each with her name emblazoned on the top.

There were at least four ranks of boats, each with her name emblazoned on the top.

Today was in Canterbury, where I kid you not there was a guinea fowl wandering about making a racket in the cathedral’s herb garden. Thomas a Becket (the original patron saint of my college) was martyred just inside, and has some beautiful tributes, including the corona chapel and some of the most beautiful stained glass anywhere.

view of the High Altar and the Corona Chapel from the Quire (this does not do the cathedral justice at all)

view of the High Altar and the Corona Chapel from the Quire (this does not do the cathedral justice at all)

However, much of the cathedral was damaged or destroyed in the bombings, and it is currently struggling to keep up repairs, which is an absolute shame.

a modern image of St. Thomas made from glass salvaged after the bombings

a modern image of St. Thomas made from glass salvaged after the bombings

Some of the glass, like the above panel, has been restored, but several of the huge windows stand clear and bleak. Especially against the rich tones of the preserved glass, they serve as uncomfortable reminders of what we have lost artistically and culturally, and they mirror what we have done to other nations. The glass is of course not all that was damaged.

blown away

blown away

While whether the effigies were imitating their flesh counterparts or vice versa remains open to debate, there were also some less forbidding sights over the weekend, which I will briefly cite below before crashing. It’s still difficult to realize that I don’t have to spend hours every day in the library. Whenever one has the freedom to exhaust oneself in enthusiastic and athletic pursuits, it’s worth taking advantage of the circumstances.

just minding my own business when a romanticist bashed me over the head here...

just minding my own business when a romanticist bashed me over the head here...

some of the better graffiti in Kent

some of the better graffiti in Kent

old friends

old friends

the Dane John (donjon) burial mound, Canterbury

the Dane John (donjon) burial mound, Canterbury

Inspired by my revision of regenerative medicine, molecular medicine, protein structure, and parasitology these past few weeks, here are some things I would like to see in the future:

First, a return of well-run trials for GDNF infusion into the striatum for Parkinson’s Disease. GDNF (glial cell line derived neurotrophic factor) is effective at reducing neuron death following axotomy, making it potentially useful for spinal injuries, as well as slowing neural decline in Parkinson’s. The first trial was fantastic, but bad management by the second trial led to funding withdrawal. This would be helped by a tighter definition of PD, which is currently defined only pathologically. Partly because of this, diagnosis is wrong about 10% of the time, making trial results misleading (if you don’t have at least 10% failure, something aint right). It would also be helped by a natural model of PD.

Secondly, I would like to see a replacement drug for praziquantel (PZQ). Although having such an effective broad spectrum drug for all digenean and cestode diseases continues to be of immeasurable worth, some natural resistance has been discovered among schistosomes in Senegal and Egypt. There is currently no alternative drug for many of the platyhelminth infections (including schistosomiasis), so determining the mechanism of PZQ and either creating functional derivatives or a new line of drugs is essential. Not only will it put eradication of certain human infections on our can-do list, but it will be necessary to preventing epidemics in the not-too-distant future.

Of most clinical importance, I would like to see a shift in the experimental approaches to both drug design and therapeutic development. Funding issues and politics these days curtail many trials that could lead to excellent treatments, given a little more practice and good management. The truncation of so much work has really led to a reluctance to explore things, and that’s the same as cutting out the heart of science. As one of my lecturers noted, the extensive work and experimentation that went in to bringing organ transplantation into use wouldn’t happen today. It would be scrapped after the first failed operation, with no one trying to figure out what needed improvement. Today there are some fields that tend to try to be thorough, but they are, unfortunately, not in the majority.

As for drug design, in the attempt to lose as little time and money as possible in the research and development stages, much of pharmaceutical research consists of throwing random chemicals in dish and seeing if it kills the cells you’re looking at. While some of the greatest discoveries of the world have been accidental (penicillin, doughnuts), most medical progress is achieved by figuring out what needs doing and detailing possible pathways for getting it done. TRND may help us refine the process, but trusting to chance isn’t usually a good substitute for knowing your biochemistry, and Mr. T would surely have a few select words for the industry.

In terms of protein analysis and application to medical concerns, it would be useful to determine the infective agent of prion diseases, which evidence suggests (to me, at least) is not the pure aggregate. In fact, it seems quite possible that the protein aggregates are a side effect of genetic or steric inhibition of, say, chaperonins. In a more academic vein, I would appreciate a revised model for cooperative binding in hemoglobin. Really, it seems to me that the most likely accurate model would involve the a-ß interfaces, and I think there would be a fairly simple experiment to corroborate that, if I had tools and a lab on me, that is. Then again, that may be thesis level work that just doesn’t fall under my lab’s specialties.

At any rate, in order to not go into scientific withdrawal after my last exam, I will have to diligently read Science or Nature even while I’m in Japan and trying not to speak English. The wonderful thing about science is that you’re never through with it, even when you think you understand something. That said, I’m ecstatic to be finished with exams! This morning we dealt with a table saw on the glass roof and two bouts of recess fromt the adjacent primary school during the two hour test. But it was the last day of exams, and I subsequently went and did this with my afternoon:

New York won by just one point! Tomorrow we'll see if they can level London.

New York won by just one point! Tomorrow we'll see if they can level London.

As the title suggests, my last exam is tomorrow, and I’m cramming. I’ve been cramming for days. If I don’t write something, even something horrifyingly pointless, I’m going to break; already once today I vented (politely and articulately, which was a miracle) at two fellow students who were interviewing random people in the canteen about abortion. The poor guys were probably expecting a little more along the lines of “an abortion doctor was gunned down in the states. is this okay Y/N,” but they got a good 5 minute detailing of the public health ramifications of anti-abortion legislation in (especially) tropical and 3rd world countries, along with the pitfals and upshots to legally defining the moral status of the embryo and fetus. They then proceeded to ask questions like “do you think there is a gender divide in the UK? Worldwide? How so?” and “thousands of women in S. America die every year as result of illegal abortions. Do you think abortion should be made legal there? What should be done?” Open questions like that are dangerous, especially when the interviewee has been writing timed essays on these topics for the past month. The moral of this episode was to never interrupt a biomedical student during exam season unless you are ready to take notes. Alternatively, always carry cookies to shut us up.