Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Judgement Day

I finally got around to watching the Nova documentary Judgement Day, investigating the attempt to introduce Intelligent Design to the classroom. There was a lot of hype about the program. While Intelligent Design advocates claimed that the show contained errors and was biased, the anti-ID camp reveled in how stupid it made the creationists look.

In fact, I thought it was a refreshingly balanced piece of journalism. Several members from each side of the case, including individuals from the Dover School District, members of each council, expert witnesses and the judge himself were given opportunities to express their point of view. The narration never ridiculed or belittled any contributor, expect perhaps towards the end when it was clear that the ID proponents had lied, held misguided opinions of science and were motivated by religious zeal, despite continuing to claim that their aim was the improved scientific education of American children.

Really this whole debate highlights the scientific community's failure to educate the general public about our understanding of genetics. Unfortunately, some of the best explanations for the lay person were penned by Richard Dawkins, who has unhelpfully assumed the role of self-proclaimed anti-Christ.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

I'm still working on how best to link from this blog to one of my albums on Flickr.

[edit]I've added a link to my Flickr photos to my sidebar. Enjoy! [/edit]

Keeping up with information technology

There are many options for managing digital information, and I am resolving to find the best solutions and use them properly. I have several criteria.

I know this sounds shallow, but in my experience, if I don't like how it looks, I'll never be happy with it. Things seem to work as good as they look; if the designers couldn't get it to look good, they probably couldn't get to to work either. I recently had some soft saddle bags stolen off my bike, but I'm not in the least bit bothered because they looked a bit crap, and thus didn't work very well. I hope the new owner enjoys them. I'm going to buy hundreds of dollars of Givi hard luggage instead because the Italians design things that look sexy.
I don't mind spending a lot of time on IT, since it's an important aspect of my life. But I'm not going to waste any time. I want to be able to designate shortcuts. If I have to perform a task repetitively (like renaming photos) I want to be able to do it easily.
I don't mind spending some money on IT, and I'll willing part with cash to do what I want to do, but hate having to spend moolah to have something I didn't want in the first place. In fact, I'll even pay money to not have things I don't want. Which brings me on to the final point.
I'm a messy person, but when I decide to clean up I demand the right tools for the job. I want to be able to turn off the things I don't like. I want to organise items by dragging them to my desired location.

The good:

  • Flickr
  • Panasonic DMC-FX01

The bad:

  • Photobox, Snapfish etc - too many special offers, not enough organisation
  • LG Chocolate - bought it cos it looks good. Hate the menus, broke the touch-buttons and the sliding mech, camera quality, music and in-call sound quality all poor.

Certain things are on my brown-list. Blogger, because I think there are probably more suitable platforms out there for my style of posting. Hotmail, because it has become over protective. iTunes seems to have a lot of the same annoyances as Windows Media Player did (I thought it'd be a lot better), but since I despise Media Player 11, I think iTunes will survive.

Flickr Account

I have decided to invest in a Flickr Pro Account so that I can try to keep my photographs more organised. Windows XP explorer isn't really designed to allow tagging or long descriptions of pictures, and won't easily organise by time taken. Plus a hard disk isn't sufficiently permanent for me. No, I don't back-up my files.

So far, I'm enjoying Flickr. It's a pretty interface, which I think is important for displaying photographs. I'm finding it easy to use so far, but there are obviously a lot of features still to investigate. I noticed Blogger will let me create slideshows from a Flickr account, so I'm going to try to set that up. WTS

Friday, November 23, 2007

Science Post - Stem Cell Research

My Uncle was asking me about the recent breakthrough in transforming adult skin cells into embryonic stem cells. Specifically, what is the role of retroviruses in performing the transformation.

To answer the query, I'm going to first direct you to pharyngula for a comprehensive summary of the latest article.

If you don't have time to wade through that posting, here's the short version:

The researchers have discovered the 'reset switch' for cells. This switch consists of four genes. To activate the switch, the researchers used retroviral transfection to insert multiple copies of these genes into a cell, along with 'promotors', which ensure that the genes are activated. As pharyngula explains, is not a particuraly elegant solution, but allows the researchers to demonstrate the effect of the genes. A better solution will involve a technique to activate the natural copies of the 'reset switch' genes already in the cell.

Retroviral transfection has been the foundation of gene therapy and other gentic research since the early 1990's. The technique itself is not new, just it's application.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Asheville, NC

Kristal and I took a long weekend vacation to Asheville to check out her old college and generally enjoy the mountains. For some reason, Blogger isn't letting me upload photos right now. On one hand, this is a shame, because I took some stunning photos of awe-inspiring mountain landscapes (the leaves were beautiful), but on the other hand, I have so many photos it's almost impossible to choose which to post!

We stayed at the Inn on Mill Creek. We got a free upgrade to a room with a jacuzzi tub, which was the most relaxing experience I can remember. The innkeepers are a young couple who have owned the property less than a year. They have fostered an atmosphere that is less stuffy than many B&Bs. We really enjoyed staying with them. The place is about two miles down an gravel track in the woods - great for star gazing. They have a dammed lake which runs a fountain a mile down the hill. Cool place.

We crammed a ridiculous amount into a two night stay. On Friday night we hung out in Black Mountain, having dinner at the Cellar Door (Kristal had fresh mountain trout - I had Ostrich!), then moving on the the Town Pump for a few local beers and music by a ridiculous Heavy Metal/Blugrass band.

On Saturday (after Belgian Waffles for Brekky), we went to check out Warren Wilson Collge. It's a crazy place. This small campus is nestled in small valley with acres of fields for crops and livestock, and fantastic views of the mountains. The students help on the farm, plus run recycling schemes, bike shops, blacksmiths - you name it: they do it themselves. Kristal took a look around the science building (nostalgia alert -- university science labs!), and we even broke into her Tardigrade lab to see what was up.

After that we hit up Chimney Rock and Mt Mitchell. Chimney Rock was crawling with school parties, so we did the main event and peaced out. The observation tower at Mt Mitchell was closed for refurbishment, so we didn't get the best view, but it was cool to be up that high (6,578 ft) where it got icy.

In the evening we headed into Asheville town centre. Everyone was pretty laid back, which I thought I would find refreshing, but instead I was annoyed at the lack of efficiency in the restaurant! What have I become!! In the end I chilled out (a Metropolitan helped), and we went to see Darjeeling Limited (funny Wes Anderson flick) at the local two screen theatre.

Finally on Sunday we caught Linville Falls and Grandfather Mountain on the way out. We didn't really know anything about Grandfather Mountain, and even asked the Assistant and the gate why we should pay $14 to get in! But it turned out to be a highlight. Halfway up they have a nature exhibit with Black Bears, Cougars, Deer and Eagles and a good museum showcasing the flora, fauna and geology of the area. Then at the top there is the 'Mile High' Swinging bridge, which was built at almost exactly one mile above mean sea level. Once over the bridge the 360 degree view is breathtaking. So, it was totally worth it.

Overall, it would've been nice to do some more hiking at the places we stopped at, but in the end, time didn't allow. Hopefully I'll get my photos online at some point. Western NC is definitely worth seeing.