Showing posts from July, 2009

How now, Brown Mouse Fat?

Yeah, I know. It doesn't flow off the tongue as smoothly as the classic "How Now, Brown Cow" But that lack of smooth-ness can be forgiven should some research being conducted at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute pan out.

You see, they're trying to develop a mouse model for having brown fat in adult humans. I know, I know--the phrase "brown fat" does sound kinda gross but it's got a lot of advantages over the more common white fat, the type found in adult humans. Here's some wiki on it:
Brown adipose tissue (BAT) or brown fat is one of two types of fat or adipose tissue (the other being white adipose tissue) found in mammals. It is especially abundant in newborns and in hibernating mammals.[1] Its primary function is to generate body heat, in animals or newborns that do not shiver. In contrast to white adipocytes (fat cells), which contain a single lipid droplet, brown adipocytes contain numerous smaller droplets and a much higher number of mitochondria, wh…


Isn't that a cute little kitty in that picture below?

As you can probably tell, that's the neck of a t-shirt. But before you think I'm getting soft on my anti-cat stance...

Examine the shirt more closely. Here's the shirt, and as you can see--it illustrates birds getting revenge on those mean ole kitty cats, to quote Tweetie-bird. Or at least the birds are trying--so far the cat is only tempted by that fish dangling in the air.

In any case, that's the shirt I'm wearing right now. I think it's important to let everyone else know where you draw the line. And I draw my line at cats.

Speaking of lines, another is Windows. That crappy OS is trying to reboot my laptop and it's really starting to annoy me. I can't wait to replace Windows with Linux on my laptop---but unfortunately as long as I need it the laptop at work I have to stick with damn Windows. At least on my desktop at home I can use Ubuntu.

BTW, does anyone reading this watch the TNT show Leverage? …

Demon Deer

I went hiking today after work. There were thunderstorms rolling through the area so it was kinda dark and since I didn't want my good camera to get wet, I used my backup camera. Just in case.

So, towards the end of the hike I see these two deer pretty far away in the woods. I try to take a photo with my zoom out at 12X but it was just too dark. The picture here was a 1.5 second exposure. Even braced against a tree I couldn't hold the camera steady enough for the shot to work.

So, I decided---what the hell---even though they're pretty far away I'll try my flash. Result? Demon deer.

Hike on the Poet's walk at Ayr Mount

That's a slightly pretentious title but that's the kinda place that it is. Big house, huge estate type grounds, and very well maintained. House tours are $10 and walking the trail around on the grounds is free. Wanna guess which option I took?

This, as you can probably surmise, is a very young deer. The little thing was resting in the grass just short of the forest. No mom around so I guess she came to her senses and ditched the fawn. Call Child Services!

How would you like a nice pond in your backyard? That's what you see below. Way up on that hill above and to the left of the pond is the main house. When you sit out on the back area of the house you look out over the grassy hill and pond. Nice! 

Parasitic worms make sex worthwhile

How's that for a title? That came from the PR department of Indiana University. The actual title of the article that appears in the journal Current Biology is The Geographic Mosaic of Sex and the Red Queen. Quite a bit of difference between the two titles, eh?

The article is based on a very elegantly designed series of experiments conducted on New Zealand's South Island, in Lake Alexandrina and Lake Kaniere. The test subject was snails, similar to the one I photographed on Saturday, but these snails are fully aquatic and often infested with worms. Ewww.

The parasitic worms are a genus of trematode worms called Microphallus, and infest the snails in both lakes. What makes this interesting is that the worms need to be ingested by ducks for the next stage of their life cycle. That can only happen if the snails live in shallow water where the ducks feed. Snails dwelling in deeper water still get infested with the worms, but it ends there. The worms never mature (since they don'…

Hiking Buddies

I got up early this morning to go hiking. I went to Duke Forest this time and wandered about a bit in the misty early morning light.

I found this fellow soon after I arrived. He seemed to be kinda intent on his eating. As you can see, he's done a lot of carving out of that leaf. Not very good company for a hike tho---he's on the slow side. 

Below you see two fellow travelers on the path I took. Not the proverbial least traveled one, I guess. In any case, they didn't stick around for long. The Mom seemed to think I was a bad influence. No doubt she was right.

Irony and Politics

The ironic thing I refer to is the meeting I went to today. We were reading a paper that had recently been published in Nature on the topic of ubiquitin-dependent pathways and calorie restriction---essentially how starving, under strict control, leads to longer life. How was this ironic? We were doing this while gnawing through 6 boxes of pizza and drinking several 6-packs of Coca-cola.

Let me tell you, we all felt sorry for the starved subjects in the study. The mice and C Elegans might live longer, but a full belly of pizza is happiness. Short term, I admit. But who wants to wait 50 plus years to reap a benefit? I can get my pizza-bliss in 15 minutes.

In case anyone is curious, the normal life span of a mouse is 2 years and C Elegans is around a month. Though in some studies they have Elegans going out to 80 days. That's over double the normal life span---but no pizza. Just not worth it!

On to politics! Yesterday I was commenting about Dr Gates, President Obama, and Officer Crowle…

National Healthcare

Interesting speech last night by the President. I'm not sure if I'm on board with this set of national healthcare ideas but I think it's something that needs doing enough that we should just get the process underway.

I can't say that I'm in the mainstream on why I want national healthcare though. Personally I think way, way too much money is spent on those last few weeks of our life. Heroic measures, extraordinarily expensive meds, around the clock care, etc. Spending all that money only extends life a few hours, days, maybe weeks. Is it worth it? In this country the answer has usually been yes---anything needed to keep someone alive is worth it. I don't agree.

There's only so much money available for healthcare. Ugly? Perhaps, but true. I think that money would be better spent on lifestyle measures. Adequate prenatal education and care, nutrition programs like WIC, education and support for lowering weight, cholesterol, smoking, salt intake, etc.

An enormous …

Horn Blowing

How tired are you of boasting? I've gotten so tired of it that every time I hear the slogan “Best political team on television” I switch the channel. CNN sucks so bad these days that it's embarrassing to hear them boast about their political coverage. The morons can't even cover basic news anymore.

Just the other day I heard a CNN segment covering the new spate of healthcare reform ads as if they were news. Come on, guys--these are ads being paid for with PAC money. It's not unbiased. There's no need to analyse the ads if they were actual news. It can make you wonder if the PAC money is just going for ads. Maybe buying some air time on a national news cable network is within their budget too.

From what I've read, there's a lot of PAC money on both sides of the issue but so far I've only seen ads smearing the Obama Administration's healthcare reform efforts. Of course since I routinely zap commercials, I rarely see any.

But getting back to CNN bashing,…

Second Day in a Row

I went hiking again today but this time I went by myself. Julie decided she wanted to have breakfast instead of tramping around in the woods. Silly girl!

I wanted to get pictures of some deer today and for that you have to either get an early start---or a late one. Since I was having trouble sleeping and woke up at 3am I decided to read for a few hours and then go after those deer that hadn't gone to sleep yet.

Isn't that first picture pretty? I love the green of ferns contrasted against dark shades of brown and black. The fallen log adds some contrast in this picture--as does the path though not quite as well.

Since I wanted to get a picture of a deer, I was walking fairly quietly---and I was lucky enough to approach this doe before she realized I was around.

She was quite a ways away and I had to use my camera zoomed all the way out. The only reason the shot worked was that the doe was standing in a bright spot in a clearing. Had she been in the shaded woods I'd never have b…

Early Start

We got off to an early start today. Woke up at 6am, out the door at 6:15, and on the trail at Duke Forest at 6:35. That's very early in the morning for us on a weekend.

The deer like that time of the day a lot more than we do. I take small country roads to cut across Alamance and Orange County to get to the Duke Forest trail. I have to drive slower but it's a much shorter route.

Well, in the weak predawn light, the deer are still out in force and I had to drive even slower than usual. We had deer bound across the road in front of us six times on the way there. And not even once on the drive back, when it was after 8am. Apparently once the sun comes up and traffic increases those deer make themselves scarce. Go figure.

I was a little surprised that we didn't see a single deer while hiking in the woods. On the other hand, we aren't exactly quiet when we walk...

That picture at the top was taken near the concrete bridge in Duke Forest. You can see how misty the air still is a…

Just not the Same

There's an interesting press release from McGill University today. Apparently some of their researchers (Dr. Morris Schweitzer, Dr. Bruce Gottlieb, Dr. Lorraine Chalifour and colleagues) have a paper coming out in the journal Human Mutation today which suggests that the DNA in white blood cells isn't the same as that of normal tissue.

"So what?" you say. Well, you have to understand that when we do research on genetics we usually don't have access to tissue since living people don't want their parts cut into. So we take a vial of blood, spin out the red blood cells which don't have DNA, and then extract DNA from the remaining leukocytes (white blood cells). Up to now it's been assumed that DNA in one cell of the body would be the same as in any other. So this puts into question any research or medical treatment that depends on genetic information from blood. Assuming the McGill University group is correct, of course.

Here's a quote from the press re…

Wordless Wednesday


If I Could

Last night Julie was talking about her kids and their journey on a train from NYC and she used the phrase "If I could, I would..." and I piped up "That's a song!" Julie then asked what song it was, and I blanked. I knew it wasn't the title but all I could remember of the song was that it played during a poignant moment in a made-for-tv movie that I saw in the early 1970s. And that the word "hammer" was used at least once.

So... in the past I'd never had a chance of finding out what song it was. No doubt I'd be cursing my memory for days before I finally gave up on trying to figure out what song it was. But today, with search engines like Google, anything is possible.

I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail.
Yes I would, if I could, I surely would.
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail.

Yes I would, if I only could, I surely would.
It turns out that the movie was titled "Voyage of the Yes", made in 1973 and it starred Desi Arnaz Jr an…

Royal Pains is a pain

Anyone watch the USA Network show Royal Pains? It stars Mark Feuerstein, who I liked a lot in a show a few years back, Good Morning, Miami, as ER doc Hank Lawson who, due to some bad luck, becomes a concierge doctor for the rich and famous in the Hamptons. Also on the show are Paulo Costanzo (his annoying brother), Reshma Shetty (the cute PA with a great accent), and Jill Flint (the annoying love interest with no chemistry).

My take on this show is that while Mark Feuerstein is very endearing, he's just not enough to save the show for me. It's full of cliches, annoying characters--particularly the brother, and bad writing. Julie and I were making a game out of finding inconsistencies in the plotlines. It's like the writers don't read their own scrips! For example, they have the physician assistant, Divya (Reshma Shetty), supposedly hiding her interest in medicine from her parents. You see, they want her to marry well and be a trophy wife---and not be working or overly e…


I was watching a rerun of House the other night and it struck me that the guest star (Christine Woods) reminded me a lot of the actress (Robin Tunney) that plays Senior Agent Teresa Lisbon of the CBI in The Mentalist. The pictures of the two actresses are below.

The episode of House that I was watching was Dying Changes Everything, which opened the 5th season. That's the 3rd time I've seen that episode and each time it impresses me. The title also struck me as funny, in the coincidence way, because I happened to be reading a novel titled Everyone Dies that day. The book, written by Michael McGarrity, was pretty good. I'm reading his current novel now, Dead or Alive. The titles aren't thematic, it's just another coincidence that both are death related. Most of McGarrity's titles have a New Mexico theme, which is the location where his detective novels are placed.

Privacy and your social security number

Pretty much everybody in the USA has a social security number (SSN) and much of the private and public data related to us is attached in one way or another to that SSN. Not a bad system, you might say. After all, a more-or-less random 9 digit number is fairly secure.

The problem is that our SSN is anything but random. In fact, apparently it's pretty predictable. In a new study conducted by Alessandro Acquisti, associate professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, has shown that public information readily gleaned from governmental sources, commercial data bases, or online social networks can be used to routinely predict most and sometimes all of a person's SSN. The study findings will appear this week in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS)

Carnegie Mellon views this news as sufficiently serious to merit setting up a website solely for the purpose of educating people about security and SSN.

Acquisti and…

Evening Hike

I went hiking for a couple of hours this evening at Duke Forest. I started around 6pm and got back to my car just after 8pm.

It wasn't all that hot, low 80s, but it was very humid and I wasn't wearing clothes for hiking. On the other hand, wearing long pants, socks, and collared shirt probably helped keep ticks off me---and that's a good thing. The woods are full of ticks though not quite as bad as last year.

The first picture is from a descent that leads down to the river. The second picture is of the river about a half mile away from where I took the first picture.

It was so humid that by the time I got to the river I was pretty damp. Hell, within the first 20 minutes of hiking I was soaked with sweat and it probably never got much worse. The excess sweat just dripped off me and onto the trail.

You'd think a hike like that would have been unpleasant---but it wasn't. The mechanics of keeping the sweat out of my eyes was annoying but the hike itself was very nice. It&#…


Have you ever been seeing someone for several months only to find it was all due to pretense?

That's what has just happened to me. The culprit? Julie, over there on the left, of course. Women are devious.

I had been under the impression that Julie had been spending a lot of time at my house due to her wanting to be around me. But no, that's not the case. Today, in a unsettling development, Julie revealed that a semi-permanent guest at her house is living in her study/sewing room. And she wants to use my study and sewing machine!

The pattern below is what she started on today but according to Julie, she'd like to use my sewing machine a lot in the next few months. Apparently our time together up to now was just setting the hook. Now that she thinks that she's got me where she wants me, her real motives are being revealed. It's my space and toys that she's really interested in.

You can see her perfidious fingers below as they lead material along, shepherding it to wh…

Peppers and Glory

Happy 4th of July to y'all. It's a lovely sunny morning here in eastern NC. Just hitting 70 degrees at 8am with clear skies and lots of potential for a nice day.

I took these two pictures this morning. The morning glories on my deck are just starting to bloom. In a week or two the entire side of my house will be covered in these beauties. It's worth having to clean up after the vines to have so many lovely blooms around on summer mornings.

The bell peppers in the picture below are starting to get big enough to be considered food and not just cute ornaments. Unfortunately some of the insect life agrees with me. Damn but I hate to share my food with others!

Where's the Air?

My A/C broke down some time last night. I started noticing that it was humid around 10pm but figured it had cooled off enough outside so that the unit wasn't coming on very often. No such luck. Around 11pm I dropped the temp on the thermostat and nothing happened. Tried the manual control on the fan. Nada. Now it's around 84f in here at 1am and that's not nice.

Tomorrow after work I'll try the circuit breaker out on the electrical panel and if that doesn't work then the two breakers that I know about on the part of the A/C unit under the house. If that doesn't do the trick---then I guess I'll have to wait a while. Holiday weekend now and this is the busy time of year anyhow... I'll be lucky to get a repairman here by next Thursday. After having been without A/C for a week, I bet I'll be very glad to have it once more.

Maybe this would be a good time to visit the area where I grew up. This time of year they have temps around 65-70 as their high of the …

Science and Rodents

People involved in research often spend time with rodents. My first research job involved lots and lots of mice, some rats and some rabbits. As a result, I can see the truth and humor in this T-shirt from Threadless.

Needless to say, the rodents never survived the experience though the ones we used for antibody production often lasted for quite a few months. Pretty easy duty, actually. We'd inject a rabbit or rat with some antigen, wait for the antibody titer to grow, bleed the rodent a few times, maybe every other week, and then, in the end, we'd say goodbye to our rat or bunny.

Not much different than being an animal on a farm or some such where the animal is being raised for eventual slaughter. We don't eat the flesh but we do use the blood products in various ways.

You can see why this T-shirt is funny. After all the use we put to rodents, it's not surprising that they'd want a little payback on us scientists. One of those "You will rue the day" type th…