30 June 2007

Employing bacteria to do our housecleaning

The NYTimes reported a really interesting breakthrough today:

"Scientists at the institute directed by J. Craig Venter, a pioneer in sequencing the human genome, are reporting that they have successfully transplanted the genome of one species of bacteria into another, an achievement they see as a major step toward creating synthetic forms of life....
[Dr. Venter's] goal is to make cells that might take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and produce methane, used as a feedstock for other fuels. Such an achievement might reduce dependency on fossil fuels and strike a blow at global warming....
Booting up cells with new genomes is a major limitation in synthetic biology, Dr. Venter said. With that hurdle now crossed, it will be possible to 'design cells in future to manufacture new types of fuel and break our dependency on oil and do something about carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.'"

This is really cool, sensationalist genetic engineering--but why are we going through the trouble to make bacteria that will do our greenhouse cleaning for us? Shouldn't we be doing it ourselves? Granted, we are trying--but it's always so much easier for us to devise some convenient way to make something else do the work.

29 June 2007

A Word on Harry Potter

An excerpt from a recent Time magazine article:

"On June 18 a hacker calling himself "Gabriel" announced on a website that he had done exactly what the Harry Potter brain trust most feared: stolen the text of Deathly Hallows. Explaining that he had gained access to a Bloomsbury employee's computer using an e-mail-borne Trojan-horse program, he posted what he claimed were key plot points from the book (which won't be repeated here). He framed his actions as a Christian counterattack against a work that promoted the "Neo-Paganism faith." Quoth Gabriel: "We make this spoiler to make reading of the upcoming book useless and boring."

The spoilers are almost certainly fake. Gabriel didn't offer a shred of evidence supporting their authenticity, and anyway, boasting about things that you haven't actually done is pretty much what hacker culture is all about. But even if the spoilers were genuine, it wouldn't matter.

On this point, both hacker and publisher share a key misunderstanding of what reading is all about. People read books for any number of reasons; finding out how the story ends is one among many and not even the most important. If it were otherwise, nobody would ever bother to read a book twice. Reading is about spending time with characters and entering a fictional world and playing with words and living through a story page by page. The idea that someone could ruin a novel by revealing its ending is like saying you could ruin the Mona Lisa by revealing that it's a picture of a woman with a center part. Spoilers are a myth: they don't spoil. No elaborate secrecy campaign is going to make Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows any better than it already is, and no website could possibly make it useless and boring."

I can't wait for July 21st, and no hackers can ever ruin the experience for me (anyway I'm one of those readers who gets impatient and starts flipping through the book to glance at what happens at the end--but I keep reading anyway).

28 June 2007

Stuck in a rut

Lately I've been spending a lot of time sitting around the house and staring off into space, thinking and worrying about far too many things for my own good. There are times when your thinking gets beyond you, to the point where you feel immobilized by all the questions that your mind has managed to scavenge from who-knows-where. Summer break is always one of those times.

On top of trying to figure out what to do with myself for a gap year after I graduate from school next year, I am also struggling to focus on studying for the test of all tests. Aggggg. Days begin shortly after noon, once I've mustered enough energy to boost myself out of morning stupor (I start the summer waking up early, and slowly, somehow, I always end the summer waking up well into mid-day). After a few hours of re-learning all the concepts I learned in all my general science courses, I get frustrated for the day and end up on the couch reading a novel instead (I've read some really good ones lately, like The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and am now reading The Namesake. Can't wait for Harry Potter. Ohhh books). Then after several hours of reading, I realize it's already evening, and I've wasted away most of the day without thinking about my post-grad plans, or even thinking about thinking about them. And then I sit and stare, stuck in a feeling of immobility, until the TV provides me with a welcome distraction for the rest of the night.

Maybe it's too early for me to be worrying about what I'm going to do after I graduate (it really isn't, at least not for the track I'm headed on--premeds are expected to have everything planned out to the umpteenth degree, that's just how the application process works. Blah AMCAS.). Anyhow, the things I really want to do require that I apply within the next two months.

If I can get through this summer with some MCAT scores I can be satisfied with, and an idea of what I am doing after I graduate, I will be so ecstatic.

15 June 2007


Why couldn't I be one evolutionary step ahead and not have had wisdom teeth in the first place? So much numbness, puffiness, drooling, blood, money, and pain, for four tiny little things in my mouth. I guess I'm just glad my appendix hasn't threatened to rupture.

11 June 2007

Why the MCAT will make me crazy

Ever since I started studying for the MCAT four days ago, I've been going through a cycle of intermittent phases. Panic, calm down, feel horribly inadequate, feel a little too confident with myself. And then I quit and watch 3 episodes of Lost.

I need to stop this war with myself and just concentrate on studying.

10 June 2007

Summer Reading

I just finished reading My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, a book that my friend recommended to me, and also the summer reading assignment for last year's freshman, class of '10. There is something about the summer books that Duke assigns (last year it was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini) that make me overly emotional--with the exception of the reading for my own freshman class, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, which had its merits because it was about Paul Farmer, but was far less stimulating as a book.

My Sister's Keeper is about a topic that I am somewhat familiar with through my time volunteering at the pediatric blood & marrow transplant unit. Maybe because I recognize the terms "blasts" and "acute myelogenous leukemia", or because it reminds me of the time when I went to my friend's funeral mass and saw the faces of parents who had lost their child to leukemia, or maybe just because it was some pretty good fiction, I found myself crying at the end. For some reason the older I get, the easier I cry at movies and books. I wonder why that is...emotional maturity? Or maybe you just see more and more grief as you grow up, so that all of these storylines begin to resonate with something inside you.

Well, I recommend it to anyone who is looking for a book to read. I'm also on a hunt for the old fantasy books I used to read as a kid. Every time I come home from school, I get this weird irrepressible nostalgia that I can only satisfy by watching old family movies and reading old books.