Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bubbles Don't Float

And the since a liquid is denser the deeper it gets, there is slightly more molecular pressure on the bottom of a bubble.  This difference in pressure  pushes the bubble up.

The More You Know, the More You Known You Don't Know

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Evolution is Just a Theory - Theory vs. Law

The focus should not be between whether or not evolution is a theory or a law, as in, "I'll take evolution seriously when to goes from a theory to a law." Instead the debate should be between the theory of evolution going from a theory to a disproven theory. The distinction is important and I'd like to briefly outline why.

The usage of the word 'theory' in science is quite distinct from our normal, vernacular usage. In science, the term means 'model' or 'explanation' that incorporates a vast body of knowledge.

Other 'theories' that demonstrate the usage of the word 'theory' in science: cell theory (that tissue is made up of cells), germ theory (diseases and colds are caused by microscopic bacteria, protists and viruses), atomic theory (matter is composed of atoms), theory of gravity (the force of gravity is the explanation for the orbit of stars, planets, galaxies and objects to the Earth), theory of heliocentrism (the Sun is the center of the solar system).

This confusion is the source of some fun internet memes:

A scientific 'law' is not an explanation or model, like a theory, it's a simple statement of this does that. Newton's laws are a go to example--"A body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force". It offers no explanation like a 'theory' would, only a relationship--this does that. If we were to write that law as a theory we'd have to offer some explanation as to *why* it happened that way--something about mass, inertia, Higgs-Bosons, etc.

So in conclusion, the Theory of Evolution could *never* become a law because it could never stop being an explanation as to why biology looks the way it does today. That said, it could become something else--a disproven theory. All it would take for the theory of evolution to be disproven is one fossil, one organism, one anatomical structure, one DNA sequence, one piece of evidence that could definitely disprove common ancestry of life. It shouldn't be shocking that the Theory of Evolution has never become a law, but it should be unbelievably shocking that the theory has never been disproven. The Theory of Evolution has been under constant fire from day one 150 years ago and it has never once shown a sign of weakening. It has only gotten stronger as more evidence has been produced.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Questions to Ask Yourself When Making Difficult Decisions

Below are a list of questions that I have found helpful when making difficult decisions. The contrast in my mind is between this, what I believe to be, helpful list and that of the unhelpful but more common list of questions that we ask our selves such as: "What will make me the happiest?", "What's the right thing to do?", "What does God want me to do?". Here's my list of helpful questions to ask yourself when making a tough decision:

What choice will I regret more not doing?

Over the years, this question has been the most helpful.  The source of its power is that it accomplishes several things. First, it gets you out the moment and into a hypothetical future scenario where you're looking back at your life from a much more objective position than you are in the present, decision-tense moment.  Secondly, it attunes you to your conscience and in a way that is much more in line with how our brain actually works.  Studies have shown that people regret losses and not doing things far more than they regret mistake decisions or things they've done.  In a clinical setting you can set up scenarios where you give people ten bucks or you can give them forty and then take away twenty.  Which do you think people would be more grateful for?  A small gain or a big gain accompanied by a loss?  People hate loss.  We hate missed opportunities, almost successes, relationships that could have been, jobs that nearly were ours.  

I read an article once written by a hospice worker that stated that when death bed patients look back on  their lives they hardly ever regret things that they've done at the end of their life.  They regret the things left undone.  They regret not loving their family more, not smelling the roses, not taking risks, not going out on a limb, not trying new things, not giving more. So, the next time you're making a tough decision, what choice will you regret more not doing?  A day may come when you're thankful you answered that question.

What choice is more adventuresome?

Life's an adventure.  Your either living an exciting adventure or a boring adventure.  Get off the damn couch.

What makes me feel most alive?

Howard Thurman once said,

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What will I be most proud of doing?

I'm a firm believer that there is good pride (and certainly bad, too).  Good pride says, "I deserve better than to compromise.  I'm worth more than that."  Good pride isn't about comparing yourself with other people.  It's about comparing yourself with 'sin' and saying that you deserve better.

What fits with the narrative/story I want to write with my life?

This question, as the first did, gets you to take a healthy future reverse perspective, but it also gets you to think from an other's perspective.  If a hypothetical other were to read/watch my life, would it make a good story?  What would they think of my character?  Did I live according to my values?  Did I try and try and try and try?  Did I love well?  Think backwards, think outside of yourself.

What is the most fulfilling?

First off, I love the world 'fulfilling'.  I love its imagery--fill so full that your life is brimming over and spilling its abundance and wealth.  And I love how much better it is at capturing that than other synonyms--it's such a better word than happy (sounds like a painted on smile for a photograph) or joy (a little to saccharin for me).  Fulfillment is about feeling good way, way, way, way deeper than superficial happiness can ever reach.  It's about living according your conscience.  It's about making a difference.  It's about giving and loving well.  Fulfillment sleeps easy at night.

In my mind it's entirely possible to live a fulfilling life and not be happy.  I think of a single parent I know.  She works a ridiculous amount of hours at minimum wage; takes care of two kids and an ailing elderly mother; and pours her heart out for students at a church I used to go to.  I can tell by the way she loves people, talks about her job and the way she worships her God that she finds fulfillment in what she does even though her life is often very painful and difficult.  Life is tough, happiness is distant, but she is living life damn well and it's because she's living for fulfillment.

What will bring the most balance to my life? 

It's all about balance.  Between work, social, romance, pastimes, being tough, being soft, working, resting, breathing in, breathing out.  Answer this question and you'll be living rightly.

To which side do I err?

Instead of thinking in terms of actions (Do I do this, or do that?), think in terms of values (Which is more important?).  Recent examples in my life: Question: Should I go out with friends or study more?  To which direction should I err? Answer: err on the side of relationships. Question: Should I donate to this organization even though my budget is tight?  Which choice is better to err on the side of caution with?  Answer: err on the side of generosity and helping others.Question: Should I reach out to this estranged friend or not? Answer: err on the side of building potential relationships.  Values clarify and this question can help suss them out.

I recently realized that I should do a blog on this when it struck me how often I revisit this list of questions I had put together on a Google doc.  I hope they help you as much as they have helped me.  Best of luck with your next difficult decision.  :)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Limiting Factors - Can There Be More Than One?

Limiting factor: a resource or component that constrains a population's size.

Examples: food, water, nesting sites, predators, parasites, reproduction rates, finite chemicals (iron, phosphorous, nitrogen, potassium, etc.)

Considering all those examples, doesn't it seem like there's more than one limiting factor at a time?  Don't they all affect the population at once?

Can there be more than one limiting factor at a time?

The answer, counter-intuitively, is no.  Liebig's Law of the Minimum states that there can only be one limiting factor and uses an analogy of a barrel:

The lowest slat prevents the water (which represents the population) from increasing any higher.  If that resource were to become much more abundant then the population could rise again to create a new limiting factor.  

Video illustrating this: 

I hear you objecting: Yes, but aren't all those factors acting at once on the organism's population?  Say, aren't predators and limited food both keeping the population low?  Both are acting on the organism's population, but the strongest force is the one keeping the population at the suppressed rate that it currently is.  If you were to change that one most limiting factor the population would rise.  Change anything else and it would stay stationary (in theory).

The below illustration is something I played with to also add time into the equation showing how that limiting factors can change and how there are secondary effects of either too much or too little of a factor.  For example, too little sunlight and a plant can't photosynthesize well, too much and the plant becomes scorched; too little water and the plant desiccates, too much and it drowns.  

To use a plant as the example again (because their needs are simple), an understory plant's population is limited by a lack of sunlight.  Say a tree dies, falls over and opens up the canopy.  The aforementioned plant's population will now rise to a new level.  That level will soon be constrained by a new factor, such as limited water.  If rain came, then the population would be constrained by limited space or a chemical necessary for photosynethesis such as nitrogen.  The assumption is that a species will always produce more offspring than survive and that it is in a constant battle of increasing its population and then having it constrained.

There are some scientists that would like to play around with introducing iron into strategic locations in the ocean to boost marine productivity (since it's a limiting factor for phytoplankton) and possibly offset global warming by absorbing an abundance of CO2. More here. 

This idea of the weakest link breaks the chain also has been used in many other systems scenarios, such as management, economics, health, government, et cetera.

Pix and vid:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why Women are Chimeras and Sex Determination

Genetically speaking, what makes a male a male and a female a female?  There is no uniform answer in nature:

Mammals (and some insects), as you well know, use a XX and XY system.  Essentially, if you have a Y chromosome you become a male...right?...

Reptiles/amphibians/some insects, on the other hand, use a system where if you have a different chromosome than the 'normal' you become a female.  In the lingo, you're male if you have WW chromosome and you're female if you have ZW.  *Note, the letter has zip to do with the shape.  I was told growing up that the mammal Y chromosome gets its name from the fact that it was shaped like a Y.  Not true.  It's a tiny 'x' and behaves the same as every other chromsome does, by crossing over during meiosis.  The 'x' terminology began because in early genetics they needed to give it a name and 'x' sounds cool.  ha

Some other insects have no sex chromosome, but instead the lack of an 'X' determines the sex.  They're either X or XX.

Plants, fungi, protozoans and inverts don't even use sex chromosomes altogether.

Exceptions within humans:

47 XXX - female
48 XXXX - female
47 XYY -- so called supermales
48 XXXY - Extreme Klinefelters males (a male with partial female development, like breasts, etc.)
48 XXYY - Extreme Klinefelters males

Then there's even more exceptions!  You can have XX males and XY females!  How's that?  Well, I kind of lied earlier when I said that it was the Y chromosome that make a male.  It's actually a few genes on the Y and those genes can get mutated or moved over to the X chromosome.  The most important controls testes development.  As embryos we're all females.  Then, if you have the right genes, the sex gonads get told to turn into testes.  If you don't have  that gene, then you develop as a female.

It gets even more awesome!

So, how do mammals deal with the problem of females having too many X chromosomes? If they displayed both of the chromosomes there could be some pretty dangerous developmental differences between males and females.  Well, they turn one off!  In fact, they don't just turn it off, they glom it into a blob on the side of the nucleus wrapped up in RNA and proteins in tombed so that it doesn't express.  What makes this awesome is that which X is randomly chosen.  It could be the one from the father or it could be the one from the mother.  

Translation: female mammals are mosaics!  Some of their cells use one X chromosome and some cells use the other!  Mammal males are roughly all the same genetically across their cells, but females aren't!  Their cells use different DNA!  In fact, you can have whole patches that use one X and other patches using the other.  This is called mosaicism, for obvious reasons.  In kitty cats this produces some fun fur patterns that are -only- in the females.  Basically, the dad had one color X and the mother another X and the baby displays both at once, but in different patches!  (Why patches?  Why not a blend of different cells?...Dunno.)

Barr Body in nucleus: 

Mosaicism in kitties:

This one could have happened other ways, but most likely was due to mosaicism.  One hint could come from if this cat is female.

Humans still have this.  For us the patches don't usually manifest as a calico/tortoiseshell appearance, but instead can have effects like ectodermal displaysia, which is the patching of working and nonfunctional sweat glands: 

There are other kinds of mosaicism, like that of so called chimeras, which are the result of fraternal embryos fusing together.  What makes this particularly wild is that this has been an issue with welfare genetic testing and for organ transplants.  One mother was accused of being a surrogate mother for someone and committing welfare fraud when a DNA test showed her as not being the mother of her kids (another article).  Another instance showed that a kidney transplant couldn't go through since the relatives weren't close enough genetically.



Saturday, May 5, 2012

What Makes Something Sticky?

Bare bones answer: electrons being attracted to protons.

Molecules are collections of atoms.  Within that molecule the distribution of protons (positively charged) and electrons (negatively charge) is not even.  Often, but not always, there are more negative charges on one side and more positive on another.  The negative side wants to stick to another positive sided molecule and vice versa.  Broadly speaking these are called van der Waals forces or intermolecular forces  if the attraction does not share electrons (well, for the most part...).

Chemists and physicists further break those broad categories into dipole-dipole forces (between molecules of differing charge distribution), hydrogen bonding (also a dipole molecule, but with a higher contrast between positive/negative), and ionic interactions (between ions), London dispersion forces (temporary redistribution of electrons resulting in charge asymmetry) and others shown below.

You can see these forces in action with tape.  Stick some tape on a substance and then pull it up and some of whatever it was stuck to will invisibly now be on the tape in the form of stolen electrons (this shows there was at least some electron sharing, but not to the level of covalent or ionic bonds).

These two pieces were stuck together so that they now have the same charge and therefore repel each other

One piece was stuck to something and then removed taking some electrons with it.  It's attracting to the tape that wasn't stuck to anything and because of that didn't pick up any extra electrons and therefore has more of a positive charge.
Cool animation of all this:
Pic from:
Pic from:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How the Freak Does Dry Cleaning Work?!

You've been lied to this whole time.

Dry cleaning is not really dry at all.

It just isn't water wet.  In the 1855s Jean Baptiste Jolly, an industrial dyer, noticed that his table cloth became cleaner after his made spilled a kerosene lamp on it.  The use of petroleum based cleaners continued  until enough cleaning facilities had exploded that after WWI cholorine based cleaners were being used.  By the mid-1930s, perchloroethylene, commonly called "perc," became the standard solvent.  It had the advantage of not occasionally erupting into deadly and costly fires.  The down side was that it was the first substance to be classified as a carcinogen by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  While it is still in use, other methods have growing popularity.

Some of the cooler new methods (but not the only, at all):

  • Liquid carbon dioxide--it doesn't explode and isn't going to give you cancer.  However, it may heat up the atmosphere a little...The machines are 90k more than conventional ones because of the high pressure they need to keep the gas out so that it  doesn't turn into a gas.
  • Liquid silicone (decamethylcyclopentasiloxane) - twice as expensive as the traditional perc, but it breaks down into silica, water and carbon dioxide.
  • More:
Many dry cleaning machines use huge quantities of solvents--as much as 200 gallons.  Since the washing machines also function as dryers they reclaim, re-condense, filter and recycle as much as 99.99% of the solvent.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Meaning of Life Personality Test and Video

Below is a test I made to determine what you think the meaning of life is. See more here.

Five Meanings of Life Questionnaire
Rate yourself for each. ‘1’ is strongly disagree, ‘3’ is neutral and ‘5’ is strongly agree.

• Causes
• I often donate time, money and talents to organizations that I believe in.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help change the world for the better.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• My biggest heroes are people that tried to change the world.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• My deepest sense of identity comes from the activities I participate in to help improve
humanity and the planet.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• Life is about serving a cause greater than myself.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• Experiences
• I spend a lot of time planning and pursuing new experiences, adventures, interesting
vacations/weekends, the next thrill.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I consider myself a connoisseur of certain items.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• It’s important that I surround myself with beauty and the finer things.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I focus a lot of my time on hobbies.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• You only live once, experience as much as you can while you can.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• Challenges
• I spend a lot of  time thinking about how I’ll accomplish the goals that are important to me.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I can easily look back on my life and name important accomplishments I’ve reached.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• My biggest heroes are those that succeeded in achieving difficult personal objectives.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• A large portion of my identity centers around significant achievements I’ve accomplished.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• Life is about reaching meaningful goals.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
Personal Growth
• I spend a lot of time thinking about how to improve myself and/or how I can model my life
off of exemplars.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I often read about how to grow as a person or in a certain field.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I care very deeply about how I’ve improved personally.  
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I regularly engage in personal growth activities like prayer, meditation, exercise, reading to
learn, developing better habits, self- and other-directed education.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• Life is all about becoming the best person you can.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• Relationships
• I spend a lot of time connecting with family and friends in person, via phone, Facebook, and email.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I plan activities/vacations around other people.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• My deepest sense of identity is from the relationships I’m connected to.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• I experience a strong sense of loneliness when separated from others for extended periods of time.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5
• Life is all about meaningful relationships.
1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5

Total for Causes:  ______.   
Total for Experiences:      ______.  
Total for Achievements:______.  
Total for Personal Growth:______.  
Total for Relationships: ______.

Note your dominant and next most dominant ways to find meaning.  What thoughts come to mind?

This is a video I edited compiling people describing how they add meaning to their life through the above five methods.

How Do Magnets Work?

Update: This video explanation is wonderful:

You're probably within 10 feet of a half dozen magnets--speakers, fans, hard drives, etc.  They're everywhere, but how do they work?  You've probably gotten supperficial answers before, but if we keep pushing the question a step further and a layer deeper what can we find out?  Well, I wasn't satisfied with the answers I had gotten and set out to find some answers on how magnets really work.

A piece of metal is a magnet because the atoms within the magnet are also tiny dipole magnets and their charges, since they point in the same direction, add their forces together.  (This is the lame non-answer answer that we're usually force fed.  Bump that.  I want to really get it!)

Well, why are atoms dipole magnets?  Why wouldn't their charge be emitted equally in every direction?  Because the electrons have a constant spin orientation.  You see, electrons come in two types--up spin and down spin.  As far as my understanding extends, this really is the kind of spin that we think about, like a globe spinning on its axis, but in completely alien ways--electrons are point particles that have no three dimensional structure.  Weirder yet, they always spin at the same exact speed, even though they can change spin direction.  (Edit: I no longer am confident that magnetism is caused by the spin of electrons.  It may be due to  the spin of protons or an interaction between the two or something else entirely.  I am not a physicist, only a curious biologist.  I welcome you insight, input, and points in the right direction.)

So, how magnetism works is there are electrons spinning in a certain stationary direction all the while buzzing around the nucleus of the atom.  So...why aren't all elements magnetic?  Couple reasons.

First, not all atoms have a balanced ratio of up and down spin electrons.  It turns (o, pun!) out that up spin electrons like down spin electrons (or, they don't repel like those with a similar charge do).  Another seemingly arbitrary rule that physics follows is that up spin electrons move in to open orbitals within electrons subshells up spin first (it has to do with being a lower energy state).  Down spin electrons get pushed to the back of the line for entrance to the electron cloud ride.  It's these imbalances that create a situation  that can cause a directionality to the magnetic field of the atom.

We still have a problem.  A very large, glaring one.  There are plenty of elements that have more up spin than down spin electrons--so called paramagnetic because they are attracted to a magnetic field (their up spins want other down spins).  Ferromagnetism, or the magnetism that we think of, only happens in a pitifully few amount of elements (and depends on what temp you're at)--typically we only really think of iron (hence the 'ferro' prefix), nickel and cobalt.  There are others like gadolinium and dysprosium, et al, but we typically just think of three as magnetic.  Think of it...just three elements out of roughly one hundred and twenty.  Wth?

I must plead your help in finding more answers than this.  I've reached the limit of my knowledge and time constraint to further research why magnetic substances can have their individual magnetic fields align when you place a magnet next to them or run a charge through them while heated.  Could it have to do with a crystalline lattice structure of the atoms?  Could it have to do with the way that the metallic atoms share outer valence electrons?  Do they maintain their spin orientation while moving across atoms?  Could it have to do with an additive effect that the various layers of shells have that work together within a Goldielocks window (Iron, cobalt and nickel all have roughly half filled d orbitals within the first row of d orbitals and the other magnetic metals have roughly half filled f orbitals within the first row of f orbitals...Coincidence?  Not likely.)?  My reading seems to suggest that it is stability of the way the molecules orient in a crystalline structure...And that has to do with the odd and quirky shape of orbitals, which is a whole other blog!  (More like 10 blogs!)

I'm pretty sure that the red is the iron, the neodymium is blue and boron is green.  Together they  make the world's strongest permanent magnet.

We're also still left with the problem of why having 'spin' causes this magnetic field to start on one end and then cycle around to the opposite side of the electron...I have no answers there.  We've reached the frontier of knowledge.

Electrons aren't the only thing with spin.  Nucleuses have spin and MRI machines use the interactions of these spins to make an image.  Photons do, too.  That's what polarization is all about--a particular orientation of photon spin...So much to learn in this field!!

Curie Point demonstration below.  This is the temperature when the atoms become so hot that their bouncing around negates all magnetic domain orientation.

Pix cred:


Saturday, April 7, 2012

School Update - Back to Bio

I'm back to bio and I couldn't be more thrilled.  It's been quite an adventure and there have been many times that I've considered changing the subheading of my blog because I haven't been in school for a bit.  Now I don't have to.  Let me fill you in on some details in brief.

  • Fall 2008 I dropped out of seminary with no intention of returning.  Life felt very dark and like I was drifting in an unknown ocean far from land.  What was I going to do with my life?  I had no idea.
  • Fall 2009 I joined the Peace Corps and got a commission to teach English in a Central Asian country (Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kurdistan, etc.).  After research and soul searching I declined the offer.  This was my experimental, feeling trapped phase where I just wanted to run away from people's disappointment and judgement for dropping out of seminary and changing my beliefs.  Still working at the Christian ministry, Ligonier Ministries, that I'd worked out for 6 years, but feeling chokingly claustrophobic. (There were great times, though.  And wonderful, wonderful coworkers.  Sincerely some of the best people I know, but doctrinally very condemning of my beliefs.)
  • Fall 2010 I moved to Tallahassee, FL to take courses at FSU and the local community college TCC.  Found out there were rules that prevented me from taking courses at both institutions at once.  So, I took the maximum amount of courses I could at TCC on federal loans since my parents refused to cosign on a private loan.
  • Mid-Fall 2010 - My savings were drained and I attempt to transfer the federal loans to my bank account online.  Was unable.  Called the school and they said, "Let me pull up your account...O...I see...How about you come to campus to discuss this."  So, I did.  I talked to a low level adviser, then his boss, then her boss.  Finally I was told that I should wait to get a phone call from one of the VPs.  I was enrolled at the school, but the courses I was taking didn't fit within a degree at the school and couldn't count as electives for me since I had a bachelors already.  I spoke the VP on the phone and he said that there was nothing that they could do and that the federal loans would not be able to go through.  I had just moved to a town that I knew no one in, had no job, no money and no loans.  I literally started crying on the phone with the VP.   I don't think I've ever done anything like that before.  I was scared.  He felt so bad that, and since they were somewhat culpable for helping me get into the situation (although, I should have known better, but I've never done any of this before and had no clue what I was doing.) that they offered to refund my money.  I took the offer.  I had to.  So, more than half way through the semester with all 'A's I dropped out.  The next day I showed up at TCC with a resume in hand and asked, "Is there anything else we can work out?"  Waiting to hear back on the job I remember staying in bed for several days.  I was crushed.  Turns out, however, that it pays to cry since I ended up getting a job working in their advising department functioning as a secretary.  It ended up being one of the best jobs I've ever had.  The people were so gracious and a joy to be around.  I still keep up with some of them (I'm dog sitting for one of them in 2 weeks).
  • Spring 2011 - I couldn't afford any courses, so I tried for the next best thing--jobs in bio.  Picked up a lab tech job at TCC because I knew the lab manager through the Unitarian church in town.  I picked up two marine education jobs at FSU working with local elementary and middle schools either bringing touch tanks to the school or taking students out on boats at the FSU marine lab.  I applied to UCF's science education master's program.  Got accepted, but got zero financial aid since I applied past the deadlines.  Decided I would apply again and meet the deadlines.
  • Summer 2011 - Got a job as a teacher's aide at a local science center's summer camps (Challenger Learning Center).  Later worked my way up to being a teacher there.
  • Fall 2011 - I finally had enough money to pay for one course--chemistry.  I started taking that and working as a teacher's aide in a science classroom at a school for kids with emotional and behavioral conditions.  I also reapplied to UCF's sci ed master's program.  I would have applied at FSU, but due to budget cuts their master's program was open only to internal students doing a double bachelor's/master's degree simultaneously.  The program director said they couldn't make any exception for me.
  • Spring 2012 - Got accepted to UCF's sci ed program.  Didn't want to go.  In desperation I emailed the -new- director of FSU's sci ed program at the beginning of March.  They said to come in to discuss the program.  I did.  I got accepted pretty much right then.  Two weeks later they hear of an opening in a related department - The Center for Advanced Learning and Assessment - for an assistantship that would completely cover the cost of my tuition and give me a salary that would exceed anything I've ever made in a year.  So, I spend hours and hours working on my resume all the while inundated in lesson plans for teaching at the Challenger Learning Center spring break camps.  I send in my resume on Sunday night and get an email back Monday morning asking to set up an interview.  They say they'll call me to nail down an interview time.  I get a phone call the next day at the time they said they'd call.  Unexpectedly, I pick up the phone at the time they set and it was a friend from swing dance, which I do weekly.  I was taken aback to hear from him and, honestly, a little disappointed to be tying up the phone with social stuff when I had a phone call that I was so nervous about waiting.  Anyway, he wasn't calling as a friend--he was calling as someone that was going to be interviewing me for the position!!  I had an 'in'!  
  • April 4th, 2012 - I got the full ride assistantship!  I'll be studying what I came here to study--biology--for FREE and I'll be getting paid to do it!  I'm pinching myself to believe this!  I came willing to get into a small fortune of debt to pursue a career in biology, I was completely road blocked from doing it and now I get it handed to me completely free and with a handsomely paying job!  I still can't believe it!
  • Summary of how I think I've gotten this far: I've been dogged about getting recommendations on LinkedIn for years, being involved in a church got me several tiny science jobs by knowing the right people, writing this silly blog shows that I can communicate and that I care deeply about science, keeping a ridiculous amount of Google doc entries of random ideas, living by a to-do list, texting to myself ideas/to-dos so I don't forget them, running a few marathons--gives me energy and respect points in an interview, being open about dropping from ministry--people want to help me make the career transition that I'm in (at first I was embarrassed as heck, but I think it's actually helped me), and knowing the right people (which means I need to know a lot of people--going to church and other social events, like swing dance).
  • Then I got the AFCEA scholarship which will help me pay for school when I'm doing my full time internship.
  • I also had my degree requirements change the first week of classes such that I could graduate a semester early and the only reason that worked out is because I HAD LEFT 1 RANDOM CLASS ON MY SCHEDULE THAT I DIDN'T NEED.  No reason.  Just had it on there.  It was totally full with a waiting list but I had it.  And now I get to graduate a semester early because of it. :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mystery Sermonette

Sermonette delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee on 3/25/12.

If there's one thing that we UUs ought to do this morning to fulfill our compulsory stereotypical quota, it's find the commonalities among all religions, right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? So, to oblige that duty this morning I'll ask, what's fundamental to every religion? Below all the vast differences, where's the bedrock lie?

Well, ask 5 Unitarians and you'll get 50 answers, but I'll add one more to the pile. A religion can't make it, can't function, can't hack it without one thing--mystery. Like some kind of perverse addiction, humans desperately seek out mystery. No where is this fascination with mystery more evident than in four fundamental aspects of the human experience: sex, stories, science and religion.

First off, sex:  Cognitive developmental psychology explains that one of the mechanisms that drives the formation of our sexual attractions is an affinity for difference (I’m told this is true for homosexuals as well). We look for differences and are drawn to them. We seek out mystery in romance. We want a tease. As it's said, if you want sizzle, you've gotta leave something to the imagination. Mystery lights up our brains and our romance.

Stories:  Have you ever thought about how weird our fascination with stories is? Why do we spend billions and billions and billions on movies, books and TV? We, "Just gotta know how it ends!" We despise and yet are addicted to cliffhangers. Good writers know this. They know that it's often what you /don't/ say, don’t show that is more important than what you do say--the monster you never see the face of, the whodunit, the love that may or may not find consummation. We're desperate to solve a mystery.

Science: Some of science is solving practical problems so that we can fix everyday life problems, but a huge portion of science has been and always will be just for the sake of knowing, because we're curious--mysteries of consciousness and how the brain works, the uttermost stretches of outer space, the existence of extraterrestrial life, the inner workings of the quantum realm, the pageantry of our planet's evolutionary history. Each unanswered question draws a deep part of ourselves that doesn't just want to know, but wants to find out; to search and not just to obtain.

Religion's no different: German theologian Rudolph Otto gave us the term 'mysterium tremendum' to describe the sense of 'holy' or 'god', a 'tremendous and terrible mystery' that we desperately seek out in life to worship. Our religious preoccupation with the mysterious abounds in the form or paradoxes and secret knowledge in religion--the nature of the Trinity, the path to Enlightenment, the paradox of free will, the duality of spirit and matter, prophecy, secret incantations, hidden codes, the list continues.

Einstein said it best:

"The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery--even if mixed with fear--that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms--it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this alone, I am a deeply religious man---Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavor to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature." --Einstein

Mystery inspires, inflames, enlivens, seduces, captivates, fascinates, terrifies and brings us to tearful awe. Mystery is religion at its deepest core because mystery is the fundamental response of the universe to our most basic questions. As the songwriter Iris Dement put it,

"Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Convenient Truth - Another Perspective on Global Warming

One of the ways that the global warming prevention advocates lose some credibility among skeptics and conservative young Earth creationists is that they exaggerate, slant, spin or fear monger.  A little balance about alternative views and information, in my opinion, builds credibility.  Yes, putting 10 gigatonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere every year is going to affect our climate, but that isn't the full story.  Things might not be so awful after all.
  • Yes, we're warming up, but historically we are on a warming trend.  Ice ages are cyclical and have happened every 40-100 thousand years for the last few million years.  We're just coming out of one of the worst about 20k years ago and we should expect that things would continue to warm for a while.
  • Fossil fuels may be putting an unusual amount of CO2 into the atmosphere within a geological blink of an eye, but we aren't the only contributing factor.  Of all the CO2 that entered our atmosphere last year, how much do you think was man made from mostly fossil fuels?  About 2%.  The other 98% comes from natural processes such as the decomposition of organic material.  (source:  Super Freakonomics)
  • The worst predictions of our future, if we burn every last drop of oil, gas and coal is a global average temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius.  This would cause our sea level to rise about 2 feet.  Historically that's not so bad.  During the Cretaceous period temperatures were 10 degrees Celsius and deep water temperatures were as much as 20 degrees warmer with sea levels 550 ft higher.
  • Prior to industrialization CO2 occupied 280 parts per million and now, largely due to our actions have increased that to 380 parts per million.  That seems like a lot, and it is, but 80 million years ago the CO2 levels were at a 1,000 parts per million.
  • Carbon dioxide is not all bad.  Plants love the stuff.  Wood is made mostly of carbon and that carbon comes from our atmosphere.  Studies have shown that if you double the amount of CO2 in a greenhouse you can increase the growth of plant by 70%.
  • What's the strongest greenhouse gas?  Before you say methane, which is 20 times more potent than CO2 as a green house gas, the real winner is water vapor.  There is an enormous amount of water in our atmosphere and it does a marvelous job of both trapping infrared radiation (the cause of much of the greenhouse warming), but also as a very white, fluffy reflector of solar radiation.  How, in the end, an increase in temperature and possibly increased water vapor and cloud cover could affect our future climate remains to be seen.
  • Trees are darker and therefore absorb more solar radiation than do desert and grasslands (but not necessarily city scapes).  Less trees, oddly enough, might make a very minuscule global cooling.
  • There are ways of defanging the worst case scenarios:
    • We might be able to bust hurricanes by using wave motion to pump hot surface water down and cold water up. 
    • Agricultural advancements are making famine less and less of a concern (though still important in certain areas).
    • CO2 scrubbers exist that can absorb the gas from the atmosphere.  No, there not cheap, but nevertheless what we're doing is reverse-able.  Or, we could just plant a bunch of trees...
    • The largest fixer of CO2 is algae, not trees.  Some have considered putting iron fertilizer (a limiting reagent for algae) into the ocean to create blooms that would capture CO2 from our atmosphere and, eventually, sequester it to the bottom of the ocean once they die.
    • As for ocean levels inundating coastal cities, don't forget that places like the Netherlands are as much as 23 ft below sea level.  We just may have to construct more levees.  They're not a perfect solution, but flooding isn't the end of the world, that's all.
    • Sulfur dioxide:  It's long been known that there are global cooling events after large volcanic eruptions.  One  such eruption, Mt. Toba, very likely played a pivotal role in our human evolution.  Some 70k years ago this super eruption significantly cooled the Earth changing weather patterns so as to cause severe famine and drought in our home, Africa.  Based on genetic data it's been hypothesized that the diversity of humanity all came from perhaps as few as 10,000 individuals during this period.  Around the same time there was a veritable explosion of human culture.  Put the two together and it'd make sense that maybe only the smartest survived this cooling drought--hence us.   Anyway, the reason the Earth cooled so much was because of all the ash that soared into the stratosphere, particularly sulfur dioxide.  It's kind of like dimming the lights basically since it reflects back into space a considerable amount of solar radiation.  And fortunately, other than cooling the atmosphere it doesn't do a whole lot of other negative things.  That being the case, there's nothing stopping  us from replicating the same event--pump sulfur dioxide into the air and cool the  Earth back to a manageable temperature (the book Super Freakonomics says this could be down with helium floating tubes with as little cost as 10 million dollar a year with a 20 million dollar initial infrastructure cost).
However, as it's been said, this isn't our world, we're borrowing it from our children.  That being the case, take care of her.  We just have one.  Reasons to take heed of the global warming warnings:
  • What we do might be irreversible.
  • It might cause a cascade effect--for just one examples: heat up the northern permafrost and we may release a frightening amount of methane.  The scales may tip in a huge way.
  • We just don't know the effects.  We're essentially running a massive experiment with the one and only planet we have.
  • Yes, global temperatures fluctuate cyclically, but never this fast.  If we change weather patterns and temperatures, ecological catastrophes are quite likely.
Be wise, be cautious, act long-sightedly, but also be informed.  Things might not be so awful after all.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Human Scrapbook

I wanted to put into pictures the idea birthed here.    When we look in the mirror a myriad of generations and strange ancestral creatures peer back, if only we have the eyes to see it.  It's fun to think this way!  Examples abound and I post it now quite incomplete in hopes that I'll come back to it here and there and continue to amass great examples.

Teeth -  Possibly from small dermal plates

Jaw - You chew with a rib.

Hair - Well, hair had to come from somewhere.  Reckon it was modified scales.

Fingernails - More modified scales.
Arms and Legs - It's a different way to look at gymnastics as dancing on fins...
This dude's 73.  

Tail - I sit where my ancestors swam.

Ears - It should be a little weird to think that my ancestors breathed through the equivalent of my Eustachian tubes coming from my ears.

Nose - Fish have noses; they just don't go anywhere.  Amphibian evolution involved those pits deepening and finally opening to the palate.

Pix picked: