Tuesday, March 27, 2007

UCLA Visit

Other than one particular interview with a professor, my UCLA visit went well. I blame anything other than myself for the following transcript of some of the conversation had during our one-on-one:

Prof: Draw the structures in your project that you're referring to.
Me: Oh, ah, sure... *pencil stutter*
Prof: *waits*
Me: *pencil stutter*
Prof: *waits*
Me: Ahh...
Prof: *looks at paper, then at me, then at pencil*
Me: ...*pencil stutter*
Prof: *picks nose*
Me: *draws a particular rendition of structures*
Prof: Really?
Me: ...*pencil stutter*


Prof: So how many DNA molecules are in a human cell?
Me: Umm... millions?
Prof: ...What?
Me: I mean, uhh, billions?
Prof: ...*narrows eyes and motions to floor*
Me: Oh... ahh... 100,000?
Prof: Oh for fuck's sake it's 46.


Prof: Do you know [insert any scientific topic here]?
Me: No! *cries and waves white flag*

For the most part I liked the visit and did well, despite the painful encounter above. I met a couple really nice professors that are doing some fascinating work, and I'm growing fond of the campus and the city. We'll see what happens!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Break Update

I'm currently at a friend's home in LA, visiting and preparing for a grad school interview. I'll let you know how it goes.

How is your spring vacation going?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Quotation #3

Franklin M. Harold is Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and author of a book in which he connects the power and mystique of life to its many uniquely individual and underlying interactive facets. Simply stated, he argues that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. This quote is from his book's preface:

“The quest for an answer to the riddle, “What is Life?” is one of the grand themes that resonate through the scientific conversation of this century—a period whose science is also its singular glory. That riddle embraces and transcends the subject matter of all the biological sciences, and much of physical science as well. A physics that has no place for life is as impoverished as would be a biology not informed by chemistry. The study of life as a natural phenomenon, a fundamental feature of the universe, must not be allowed to slip into the black hole of departmental tribalism.”
-Franklin M. Harold, The Way of the Cell: Molecules, Organisms and the Order of Life, 2001

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Pangs of Spring Break-itis

...have pointed me in the opposite direction of my to-do list, so here's a video of belligerent frat boys.

"It's quite funny because it's like, what the hell is there to fight about at Cal."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Something's Rotten in the State of Cal

ASUC election seasons are not an acquired taste. Having gone through 3 in the past, I'm not exactly squealing with delight to be dragged into another. There's always a vile scent of deception that overwhelms the senses throughout the month of April. Sure, maybe it's partly due to the curious soaking wet remnants of Telegraph, but it's mostly the ASUC campaigns.

Another month of deception. Deceiving hall staff by sneaking materials into the residence halls. Deceiving passing students walking to class with campaign literature that skews reality. Deceiving all of us even through Facebook, a testament to their alignment with Satan himself, no doubt. C'mon future political leaders, by what standards are we judging our friends when we have 1000+ 'friends' on the Facebook 2 years into our college experience?

Don't get me started, Presidential Candidate #1 and others like you.

To know the names of other phonies that will be representing the student body next year, check out Beetle's candidate list.

Monday, March 19, 2007

AutoRoll Widget

I added a new widget to the sidebar: AutoRoll is "the blog roll of my readers, a widget that displays links to blogs my readers are visiting the most often." Let's see how this one works.

Another Milestone: CSET

I took the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET) just this past Saturday. I needn't really specify the time frame of the test because it literally engulfed Saturday. 5 hours of it. Straight.

To teach secondary biology (grades 7-12) in California, one must pass 2 general science subtests and an in-depth biology subtest. While I gave a warm welcome to the multiple-choiced, single-'a'-through-'d'-answered, penalty-free guessing test format I haven't seen since high school, the test was still difficult. For instance, I haven't taken geology since never, and yet there I was, trying to justify plate tectonics using paleomagnetism as evidence. That will be a fun essay to grade.

Most interesting to see was not the test but the people signed up to take the test. Since one never needs to retake these exams (given passing scores), only those who want to start their teaching careers will take it. Given that fact, I was astonished to see so many older folks scratching their heads in the same room as me. Learning the ropes of teaching with other novices twice my age will engender a vastly different dynamic than I had imagined.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hawking's Visit

Another quick note, just to make sure everyone remembers: check out a full webcast of Stephen Hawking's Berkeley lecture from this past Tuesday, on the origins of the universe. The man is truly incredible for the feats he has achieved.

And here's an inspirational look into his life. Choice words:

One's voice is very important. If you have a slurred voice, people are likely to treat you as mentally deficient: Does he take sugar? This synthesiser is by far the best I have heard, because it varies the intonation, and doesn't speak like a Dalek. The only trouble is that it gives me an American accent.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Quotation #2

Claude Bernard's main drive was to establish the scientific method in medicine, and to insist upon the use of experimentation and existing scientific laws--and not assumptions--to derive truths. We can see that through one such line of his below:

"If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory."
Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, 1813

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Happy 3.14(15926535897932384626...)!

Today is Pi Day, a day to honor a mathematical constant and math education, and to celebrate nerds (which is a set of all sets that likely contains you).

Check out some ways that you can party with Pi!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Naked Lessons of Self-Expression

A Florida high school teacher runs (naked) into opposition from his school district for his artistic anatomy lesson:

A part-time Florida high school music teacher has run afoul of the school district because he is baring his bottom in a community theater production of "The Full Monty."

Jason Brenner, 28, said Tuesday that he refused to quit the show at the Venice Little Theatre despite receiving a letter from the school district last week with the ultimatum that he either cover up, withdraw from the show or resign his job at Lemon Bay High School.

It's easy to understand the district's prime motivation for this, that teachers are role models for their communities and their impressionable students, and ought to be held to higher standards than others, but I'm not too convinced that stifling this teacher's creativity and chosen form of expression is the right thing to do.

Inside of the classroom, Brenner's bare bottom act will have little impact on his lesson plans and his ability to teach. After all, teaching musical theory is independent of a teacher's proclivities to wearing underoos in public. Unless there were a real concern that a teacher's outside activities were preventing effective teaching, such as by contributing stress and mental/emotional distress to his lifestyle, the district should not be making an issue out of the situation.

As a role model in his school, what is the harmful message he is sending his students? Follow your passions and refuse to let social norms tie up your ambitions? Self-expression is an ongoing lesson in the life of a teenager, and just as it is important to encourage creativity in writing, teachers need also encourage creativity in action, and expression in movement. Having a unique voice and the courage to express oneself is exactly the kind of lesson students need to be hearing, to promote future self-aware citizens that are willing to speak up for their values, and teachers like Brenner are apt to give it to them.

Outside of school as a community role model, Brenner deserves some praise. He's willing to follow his passions and expose himself on stage, figuratively as an actor and literally as a naked, naked man, despite his job: he hangs around teenagers all day long. Teenagers that would likely find it very, very humorous to see their teacher prancing around naked. This man chose to endure possible ridicule by the sneers and jeers of his students for months, and he took a big chance with the trust of his students' parents, as trust does not come easy for teachers. Yet he is still taking that chance. His passion and determination are exceptional traits for others to emulate.

Teachers like Brenner, who passionately indulge in productive hobbies and know the importance of self-expression and the virtue of motivation, need to be supported and rewarded for their influence in our communities. Music lessons only go so far--encouraging character development impacts students for life.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Berkeley Marina Clean-Up

I participated in a service project today at the Berkeley Marina, and spent part of the day cleaning up the shoreline, being introduced to the ocean's toilet bowl and the power of plastics, and learning about a house made of straw.

Earlier today, a crew of 20 of us swarmed parts of the coastline at the Marina, picking out trash accumulated on and around the rocks. I'd like to be exaggerating when I say this, but in an hour we literally removed a total of 10 heavy bags of flotsam from the shoreline. Plastics made up the bulk of what we found, mainly food packaging and assorted bags, along with the occasional hypodermic needle.

Our coastline is sometimes referred to as "the rim of the toilet bowl" due to proximity to the North Pacific Gyre, a phenomenon of the Pacific Ocean's currents that traps floating waste into a large swirling swath of area between Hawaii and the West Coast. Waste accumulates in its large center, and occasionally spills out onto nearby coastlines, such as ours, and deposits presents for motivated college students like ourselves to pick up.

Normally waste stuck in this never-flushing toilet bowl will, over time, biodegrade.

[Enter, Plastics]

Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead break up into smaller and smaller pieces, until their likeness to small foodstuffs that the lower food chain prey on is uncanny. They enter the food chain, and bring with them a number of health issues, such as introducing toxic pollutants attached to their surface. In this swirling toilet bowl the issue is most prominent: in the gyre in 2001 it was shown that the mass of plastics exceeded that of zooplankton (the dominant animalian life in the area) by six times.

Today we were also lucky enough to check out the Marina's Straw Bale Building. A "green house", it was made from recycled materials, and is even insulated entirely with straw bales. It is an environmentally-friendly answer to some environmental concerns:

* Forests in the world are declining, lumber costs are high, construction and demolition waste accounts for 20-25% of solid landfill volume.

* Rice straw bales--the primary building material, unlike many other agricultural byproducts, do not decompose quickly under natural conditions. Farmers have had little choice but to burn the leftover material. Over a million tons of rice straw are burned annually in California, releasing 47,000 tons of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere (2nd worst air polluter in California; 1st are cars).

* Energy conservation: the building is fire resistant and provides exceptional insulation, saving heating and cooling costs throughout the year.

All in all today was very productive and educational, not too mention friggin' gorgeous. How 'bout that weather?

Friday, March 09, 2007

TFA Parents

Some thoughts from TFA corps members' parents about their children and teaching:

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Not another to-do list

My attempts to write creatively produce nothing but to-do lists. I need a break, a drink, something of inaction and inebriation.

And this cartoon of fantasy beaten into the ground by reality strangely resonates with me:

Monday, March 05, 2007

Quotation #1

Let's try something new. Every now and then I will be posting a famous quotation from a famous scientist for the single purpose of exposing readers to some scientific history and culture. There's a ton of inspiring writing that is otherwise lost on the science crowd, and I hope to channel some of that here.

"We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities... still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." -Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 1871

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Plea from our Lecture Notes Service

I like transcribed notes. I like them and I like the option to use them as a study aid. I like them so much I'd like to see them continued next semester even when I'm not in Berkeley to benefit:

Dear Subscribers,

Thank you very much for subscribing to ASUC Lecture Notes Online, formerly Black Lightning. We appreciate your purchase and thank you for not sharing your subscription. Note taking will definitely continue in this course through the remainder of the semester.

We have not, however, reached the number of subscriptions needed in this course. We need more and desperately need your help in getting the word out about how great our notes are. The note taker in this course is doing a fantastic job of producing high quality notes each lecture, and our editing team is delivering them consistently to you, our subscribers, by 5 pm the day after lecture.

This ASUC non-profit business does not make money and merely is required to break even each semester. We're not there yet for Spring Semester '07. Each additional subscription we get brings us closer to that goal, and keeps us from going out of business.

Additional subscriptions mean:

- We can take notes in MORE classes next semester.
- We can improve our web site, which was built in 2000 and has many flaws and needs
to be upgraded.
- We can provide more good-paying jobs to Cal students, both graduate and

To help us out you can do the following:

1. Please tell your friends about our great service
2. Direct them to our website, lecturenotes.berkeley.edu
3. Purchase archived notes (there's a list on the site and these are a great study
aid for other classes)
4. Please don't share your subscription.