Friday, March 31, 2006

School translocates to my blog

So I'm writing this term paper about nanoparticles. These are teeny tiny particles of around a billionth of a metre long. In some ways they're really cool becuase they have wierd and wonderful properties that make them useful in industries like aerospace, computer, electrical, and of course, cosmetics. (If you use sunscreen that goes on clear, you have put nanoparticles onto your skin.)

If they get into the air, they are not-so-cool because they seem to be able to create more inflammation in your lungs than bigger air pollutants. In general they're kind of scary because they can translocate out of the lungs and into the bloodstream, thereby reaching every organ in the body. They have also been found capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier and the blood-testis barrier in mice. And to top it off, they seem to be able to get into cells as well.

So theoretically, they could do a lot of damage. Or be really useful in developing drugs that targeting diseases like Alzheimers.

Most nanotech industries aren't producing huge amounts of these things yet - they're still in the R&D/preproduction phase of things. But the future is coming... and these things are also not regulated yet. At all. Anywhere.

It all feels a bit sci-fi...

Leah stole my post

Today in the Globe and Mail, Leah McLaren clearly expressed exactly what I was thinking last night while I was watching the news:

Stephen, what the heck are you wearing?

I mean, honestly dude. Look at yourself:

(photo stolen from some Mexican website)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

What on earth were they thinking?!

Apparently Reebok decided a while ago that it would be a great idea to do a giveaway with some of its shoes... so they gave away this cute little charm bracelet:

What's very not cute about this is that it's 99% lead - and a four-year-old boy recently died in Minnesota after swallowing the heart piece of the charm. The bracelets are apparently "only dangerous if kids chew on them, suck on them, or swallow any part of them." Well gee, isn't that the sort of thing kids usually do?

Yeurgh. What were they thinking? Lead is a well-known neurotoxin. That's why we got rid of lead-based paints and why we've been trying to switch to unleaded gasoline, y'all!

And young children will actually absorb 50% of ingested lead whereas us adults only absorb about 10%.

Reebok has recalled the bracelet and says they're going to try and find out what happened. I'm not sure if that's good enough in the face of such obvious risk and stupidity.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I'm addicted

I think I might be developing an internet addiction. OK, maybe I'm past developing it. Maybe I have a full-fledged addiction. Is it a bad sign that I check my email before breakfast sometimes?

Or that I've posted a thread in a message board about the time I spend online and googled "Internet Addiction"?

It turns out that there are even such things as help and resource centres for online addiction - although when I read the descriptors of addiction, they seemed to relate more to people who spend endless hours searching for pron, rather than people who maximize their internet outlook screen every five minutes and click on "send/recieve"... (in case you weren't sure, I would fall in the latter category!!)

Oh, excuse me. I have to go now and check my email.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Boob-related, but not mine, by Toutatis!

Apparently a young Newfoundland girl recently died of toxic shock after having her nipple peirced. According to Marla Shapiro's article in today's Globe and Mail, fatal outcomes from bacterial infection of piercings are rare, but I was surprised to learn that nipple piercings can take up to 16 weeks to heal.

Not that I'm planning on piercing either of mine, thank you very much.

Despite the disturbing main content of this article, what caught my attention was actually the sentence, "In ancient Rome, for example, centurions used piercings through their nipples to hold their capes in place."

Um... OWW!

Okay, admittedly, my only knowledge about centurions' capes comes from Asterix comics (perhaps not a great reference book for actual facts), but weren't those capes HEAVY? They were long enough to reach the ground behind the centurions (what if they snagged on something..?). And they probably blew in the wind..!?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Good-bye, old turtle

Last week a tortoise that might have been 250 years old died.

It was in a zoo in India - they can't prove that it was actually more than 150, but have bits and pieces of information from what they term "authentic sources" indicating that it might have been around for quite a bit longer. It must have been an imporessive old creature, since these turtles often weigh in at about 265 pounds.

Before coming to the Kolkata zoo, it was the pet of Robert Clive, a famous British military officer in colonial India around the middle of the 18th century.

Its name was "Addwaitya" meaning the "The One and Only" in Bengali.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


This has to be one of the most ironic headlines in a while:

How 200 soldiers saved 3 pacifists

The article appears in today's Toronto Star and is about the rescue of three members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who were captured and held hostange in Iraq. They were captured on November 26, 2005 and were rescued on Thursday of this week.

The Christian Peacemakers Teams are committed to non-violence. And soliders... are usually well-trained in the art of war.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

my boobs ...

So I've been checking out my boobs lately.

Apparently having asymmetrical breasts is a predictor of breast cancer. By the way, I think we're talking in terms of size here, not location

A recent study predicted that the risk of getting cancer rose by 50 per cent for each 100-millilitre increase in breast asymmetry. According to this study, pretty much every woman has asymmetrical breasts to some degree... and of course, we don't know what the baseline risk here is - which has huge importance for what this actually means at a population level.

So, back to my boobs. It's hard to picture what a 100 mL difference in volume would actually look like. But I think I'm probably okay...

Friday, March 24, 2006

A light at the end of the tunnel...

Yesterday my PhD advisor told me he thinks I've done enough analysis and can start to write up my results!

So now all I have to do is compile and make sense of the hundreds of figures and graphics I seem to have filed all over the place... and, um, wite a bunch of text to go before, in between, and after them all. It will be a big job and it will take a while, but man, oh man, I feel GOOD!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

I'm awake! (and still no free TV)

I just learned that there's more caffeine in a regular cup of coffee than in an espresso! I always thought that the liquid in those cups looked so opaque that it must be absolutely loaded with the stimulant.

Perhaps this explains why I've been having trouble sleeping ever since Tim Horton's started their "roll up the rim to win" contest.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

We suck

Humans Spur Worst Extinctions Since Dinosaurs

'nuff said.

Fun with words II

Ever troll the internet and wonder how some people hear the world? You know - sometimes people who write expressions that either don't use real words... or do, but they aren't actually the words that normally go into the expression?

Some examples I've seen recently and my personal interpretations:

"I had just been in to get my new hair due..."
yup, it was really time to get that haircut

"My husband has such holy underwear"
It's so venerated that it would be impossible to consider throwing it out
(ok, that one was probably on purpose)

(in support of something previously said on a message board) "here! here!"
Me!! Me!! I'm the one agreeing with you!

"The causes of low back pain have tended to be illusive"
Figure out why your back hurts and you might feel inspired

Monday, March 20, 2006

Fun with words

A friend was telling me last night that he has a list of favorite words - two of those words are "mellifluous" and "gazebo".

I have since been trying to figure out what my favorite words are... somehow it's tricky although I know there are some good ones. So here's a start to my own list:

  • cavalcade
  • superfluous
  • kvetch
  • misanthrope
  • debauchery

This is mostly based on the sound of the words and how much fun it is to say them, by the way...

Any other suggestions?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Creepy new technology

I just linked through the New Scientist to this article about computers that are controlled by thought alone.

Apparently you wear a little cap and sort of "train" with the computer for a bit and it learns to recognize activity in different parts of your motor cortex (the part of the brain associated with movement). I can see that this would have amazing implications for people who are paralyzed... or who have prosthetics.

The idea of remote thought-based operation of a computer or robot, or any kind of machinery, really, is downright creepy.

(as visions from various sci-fi-robots-take-over-the-world movies danced in her head...)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Girl Power!

Apparently some Japanese researchers have collected some stem cells from menstrual blood and found that they might be useful in repairing hearts! Sounds like the stem cells come from the uterine wall but could be persuaded into being heart cells...

Wierd and crazy stuff. I love it!

BTW I'm getting this straight from inkycircus , so if you want their original take on it visit them.

Cold Feet

Nah, don't worry - I'm not backing out of anything I've committed to ;)

The ice was breaking up on lake Ontario and these two ducks seemed to be happy just hanging out in the evening sun.

(photo'd in Kingston, March 2006)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Turkmenistan's ice palace

This sounds really really odd.

The head honcho in Turkmenistan wants to plant a massive cypress forest (planned to cover 1000 square km) - claiming that it will be a way to change the country's climate. (?)

I'm normally all for actions that mitigate climate change... but this guy's also busy building an artificial lake in the middle of the desert and an ice palace somewhere near the capital city. Oh yeah, and he'd like a ski resort too.

Now I don't know much about Turkmenistan but Wikipedia indicates that there's widespread internal poverty. Seems like building stuff like ice palaces is not the most helpful use of national funds?

Beware the Ides of March - or the calender it's from, anyway

Hey, today is the Ides of March.

Which means that this is the anniversary of Julius Ceasar's death. I think a lot of people think it means that it's a day to be wary of, but that's not really true. Unless you think that Julius' karma is reaching out to you across the centuries.

Apparently calling March 15 the "Ides of March" is part of a rediculously complicated calender that might have been devised by Romulus, mythincal founder of Rome.

So see if you could ever decipher a date with this system:
  • Kalends (1st day of the month)
  • Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in the other months)
  • Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months)
To figure out what to call the other days is oh so straightforward - count backwards from Kalends, Nones, or Ides. And include the date you're counting from (huh??!).

So March 3 would be V Nones—5 days before the Nones.

Let's see - so Christmas would fall on - what, VIII Kalends January?

I'm so confused.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I can't even recall what I was doing this time last week...

Imagine if you could remember everything that ever happened to you. This woman can - apparently she has an encyclopedic memory of her life - and for any date that you can think of, really. And she has undergone extensive testing to make sure that she isn't cheating. That must have been fun.

I would love to be able to remember some things (when I was ten I used to concentrate very hard on what it was like being ten. I thought for sure that I would remember what it was like to be ten when I grew up - unlike all the adults I was surrounded by who, it was quite clear to me at the time, had never ever been ten. Unfortunately that's all I can remember now about being ten years old.)

I still think that my idea having it all in some kind of reference is better. Maybe not a printout though - maybe a set of searchable DVDs. Closely password-protected!

Because seriously,

I think it would be awful to have this kind of archival information about your life constantly spooling through your brain. And so distracting. How would you ever dream about the future? That poor woman.

Thanks J + C for the link!

Monday, March 13, 2006

The red planet

So, I was googling something today (we'll say it was probably for something related to my doctoral research) when I noticed that today's Google banner included some odd green creatures hanging out on what looks like an orange... and a telescope standing on a teeny earth. Unclear as to what this was in reference to, I clicked on it - and found this: a way cool elevation map of Mars.

I was thinking that I must be even more uninformed than usual: I often have some sense of what the Google pictures are about - so I checked the news. And learned that NASA has a spaceship wayyy up there getting ready to orbit around Mars.

Then I figured out that the banner had actually led me to "Google Mars" - yet another Google spinoff. Very cool stuff... but I liked it better when I thought that the Google banners were more of a light reflection of major current events rather than a venue for advertising their own stuff.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

My inner princess... I have one?

So I'm getting married this year, and apparently you're supposed to get dressed up for this kind of thing...

Last week a friend and I ventured forth into the land of bridal and not-so-bridal gowns looking for something that might be appropriate. Now, in case the list of links at the sidebar here hasn't given this away, I'm probably more of a "crunchy-granola" type than "fashonista-chic".

So I totally didn't expect to fall in love with a $1200 dress at an uppity bridal store. But I did.

So aside from the basic fact that this was just a teeny bit outside my original budget, I'm having real trouble with the idea of spending that much money on a pile of fabric I'll wear for one day.

Especially when, according to Unicef, each of those dollars (OK, well, if they were US dollars, but let's not get picky here) could immunize a child against polio for life... or looking at it another way, that dress is worth eight small wells to provide clean water in eight villages!

Of course, $1200 is actually well within the realm of "normal" wedding-dress prices. What does this say about us as a society? I'm quite sure of what the logical part of my brain thinks. So, surely, I can fall in love with another, more reasonably-priced dress.

But damn it, I can't stop thinking about that first one. How did this happen to me?

Poor Luna

Luna the killer whale died yesterday after getting sucked into the current of a big tug's propellor.

The poor whale got separated from its pod in 2001 and has been a resident of Nootka sound, in British Columbia, ever since. The whale was apparently very friendly, even rubbing up against boats - and sometimes breaking bit of the boats off!

A couple of years ago a group of scientists were going to try and reunite Luna with his pod, but a local First Nations community - who believe Luna embodied the spirit of their dead chief - lured the whale away from the scientists.

Seems funny to me that they would do this: after all, (I might be making sweeping, erroneous assumptions here) - I thought First Nations would be more in tune with the cycle of life and death, and would be less likely than the rest of us (materialistic, self-centred?) North Americans to believe that manipulating someone's spirit to get our way is possible. Besides, if he really was the spirit of the chief, wouldn't he have found his way back to Nootka sound despite any scientific efforts?

I wonder how they're feeling now?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Free publicity... and look, I'm on the bandwagon

So either there's a master marketing genius working at Tim Horton's or they have had some coincidental luck leading to extra publicity:

Last night on the National, I saw a story about two school-aged girls (10 and 12) who found a Roll-up-the-rim-to-win cup that somebody threw out (Ok, first of all - who throws one of those away?! If you drink any Tim's coffee at all you know there's a decent chance of winning at least a cookie/biscuit). Anyway - they rolled up the rim and found the SUV. Wowee. So now the parents are in a rediculous squabble about who should get the vehicle/money. I can't believe they aren't just happy to share the proceeds. Sheesh.

And then there's the story of the Tim Horton's that's going to open up in a trailer on the Canadian base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Way cool... I notice though that Tim's isn't sending staff as well - the forces personnel will have to learn how to make that delicioso coffee themselves.

So, not that Tim's needs any more help, but here I am, writing about them. Actually, I'm the one who needs help. So far I'm 0 for 8 in their @#$ contest.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Happy International Women's Day

Today is International Women's day.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Canada's ratification of the most comprehensive international treaty on women's rights, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Thank goodness - apparently us girls still need a lot of help: last weekend in the Globe and Mail, an article described how smart yourng girls pretend to be dumb at school in order to fit in better socially. This is so wrong. Canada could probably also do better when it comed to violence against women, women living in poverty, aboriginal women, disabled women, and single mothers.

And what about oppression and barriers in other parts of the world?

I'm proud to be an active member of WAGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) - the largest female organization in the world. WAGGS continues to support and encourage young women around the globe, and to celebrate their achievements.

We obviously need this.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The easiest research I ever did

Want to take part in the biggest climate change experiment ever undertaken?

The people over at the BBC are running a model for climate change on people's computers all over the world. It's a process called distributed computing which allows then to use your processor when You aren't takeing up its time and energy.

You get your very own climate model which will simulate the climate for the world from the year 1920 right through to 2080. You can check on the status of you very own world - either by downloading the screensaver that comes with it - and shows you your very own spinning globe as it's being modeled, or by going through the programs toolbar. Here's my screen this afternoon:

There are already over 125,ooo hosts all over the world!!

Once it's finished, all your modelling info will get sent back to a bunch of scientists in Oxford. And if you're lucky enough to have access to BBC four, you might get to see the TV show they're making that will air sometime this summer.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Lessons in Conflict Resolution?


I just read about these Congolese bonobo chimps that resolve conflicts wayyy differently than us humans (usually) do:

Apparently, "The animals are known for greeting rival groups with genital handshakes and sensual body rubs. Bonobo spats are swiftly settled -- often with a French kiss and a quick round of sex. "

Well, I'm not exactly sure what's involved in a "genital handshake", and I'm not really confident that it would ever work for our world leaders, rivals or not!

They are obviously peace-loving, friendly creatures. Sadly, these chimps might soon be extinct... Impoverished Congolese are killing and selling their meat, which is considered quite tasty.

This isn't just biodiversity going down the drain; we're losing social diversity here too. And I feel sad.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Blatant Misrepresentation and the Seal Hunt

Ooooooooh, this makes me so angry:

Today, Paul McCartney and his wife posed with a baby harp seal in an effort to protest the seal hunt.

In my opionion, anyone should feel free to agree or disagree with the seal hunt, but celebrities should not be blatantly misrepresenting the facts.

The McCartneys posed with a snow-white baby harp seal, and the article implied that the young seals are often skinned alive. Heather Mills-McCartney said that the seals are killed before they have a chance to eat a solid meal or swim.

In fact, Canadian government regulations state that seals cannot be killed until after they have undergone their first moulting - this means that "whitecoats" have to shed all their white fur before they're eligible. Young seals cannot be killed until they are weaned, self-reliant, and independent.

The seals are still pretty young - they moult when they are ~3-4 weeks old. While about 90% of seals are shot these days, some seals are still clubbed using a hakapik. However, if you are willing to accept killing of animals in general (which I think we can assume any non-vegetarian is), reputable research shown that the method can be considered humane.

I'm also curious about how people feel about all those fish the seals eat - by saving the seals you consign tons of poor little fishies to death. But they aren't so cuddly, are they?

So believe what you like, but be properly informed.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Ethanol and Emissions

I read today that the EPA is going to let plants that process ethanol emit more air pollution. This seems ironic to me since one of the benefits of using ethanol is supposed to be reduced emissions from the car's tailpipe.

Brilliant thoughts are elusive

I always seem to have my best thoughts when I'm in the middle of something... like carrying the groceries home or when I'm out for a run. Ages afterwards, I can only ever recall that it seemed like a brilliant thought! - but not what it was. (Hmmm... maybe that means it wasn't that great in the first place...)

I've often thought it would be interesting and scary if we could somehow have a record of every single thought we ever had. I picture it as a huge, real-time scroll of paper that just keeps on getting longer.

Aside from the fact that it would be mostly not all that revelatory... and probably contain a lot of repetition (especially when something's worrying us)... and a lot of boring stuff (like grocery lists), I would love to be able to go back and find out what was on my mind when I was, say, ten - or when major events were happening in either my personal life or in my community.

And figure out what it was that I thought was such a good idea when I was on my way home this afternoon.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bad Publicity for Cancun

OK, this whole fiasco with the Canadian couple that was murdered in Mexico is totally bizarre...

They were found dead in the room where they were staying at a resort in Cancun with their throats slashed.Tthe Mexican authorities are claiming that two Canadian women may be responsible. These women, who are back in Canada, are young mothers and sure don't strike me as having much of a motive.

Although I suppose you never really know, most people around here seem to think that the Mexican authorities are just trying to avoid bad publicity - as in, if it turns out that a Mexican did it, then people won't want to come to Cancun to vacation in case they get murdered.

Seems to me that the Mexican authorities are getting worse press in Canada this way - I would guess that Canadians are among those important tourists who come and spend dollars - but everyone here is talking about how strange the Mexican handling of this case has been and why. If they had done a normal and adequate investigation right away I bet the whole thing would have flown under the radar for most Canadians.

(Click here for the latest from today's Toronto Star)