Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I'm in miami beach*... plus key west!

I saw these shirts when I was in Miami and since every time someone says Miami I want to add a certain word at the end (is this a song? -yes.), I thought about getting one! Oh well. Our Christmas vacay to Miami and Key West was fantastic! Long hours driving with Christmas music on & the glittering blue ocean on both sides of the one-lane road... just beautiful.

Along Miami Beach- there are many 2-3 story pastel-colored buildings which are motels on top and chic bistros on the first floor.
Miami beach! Look at the water- incredibly beautiful, and there were people swimming in the water that day. Seagulls and baby ones walking along the beach. 

We visited Hemingway's house in Key West, where there is a plethora of 6-toed cats. I caught this one grooming itself on the balcony outside and look at its toes! 

The picturesque house from the outside. 

Inside the writing studio on the second floor, where Hemingway woke up in the mornings and walked across the catwalk from his bedroom.

There's many chickens (and chicks) wandering the streets at Key West. Here this one waits for the car to pass before crossing the road.
Here we are at the Southermost Point in the U.S.! 90 miles to Cuba. There is actually a line of people waiting to take their picture at the point. The buoy on the right corner marks the spot now, after a sign marking the spot kept on being stolen.
Sitting at the most "legally"-ok Southernmost point. If I could wade across the ocean, I could have been the southernmost person in all of U.S.
 We grabbed lunch at this seaside restaurant above the water near the boat dock. 
Over my fish tacos I could see boats/ships/jet skis on the water. People were walking around without shirts on in December. Welcome to winter in Key West!
 One of the many amazing street performers in Mallory Square. 
 We visited a key lime shop that was even painted yellow-green.
A skyline view of Miami downtown before our drive back up to Tampa. 

I had a lovely vacation with the two cousins, whom I hadn't seen for years. Since they're my age, it was fun chatting with them and hearing all about New Zealand and their university lives! I feel extremely lucky for living in such a beautiful place and being able to visit other warm-sunny-oceanside places during this vacation. I feel rejuvenated & recharged for the new year and the new semester already! 

flowers for algernon.

This has to be one of my favorite books ever. It was recommended to me by my roommate/ Cake Duchess last year. Written by Daniel Keys, this book narrates the story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded adult who is chosen to be the subject of an operation that makes his IQ skyrocket. The operation had been conducted on an animal model, a mouse named Algernon, and Charlie, chosen because of his high motivation and desire to learn, undergoes the surgery. After a successful surgery, Charlie does indeed become smart, but he changes-for better or for worse- with his newfound intelligence. In addition, Algernon begins to display signs of lower intelligence & frustration/aggression why worries the researchers and Charlie who investigates himself. 

I love this book for two reasons. First, it's beautifully narrated. Charlie, as the narrator, writes a series of progress reports for the experiment which show gradually his increasing intellectual capabilities (through grammar, punctuation, and word choice) , other characteristics that come along (questioning authority, desiring women) and subsequently his decline mirroring Algernon's. His realization that this Charlie will soon "die" and will revert back to the old Charlie who has been laughed at and ridiculed, in addition to the fact he will lose and forget his former teacher/love Miss Kinnian, as told by him is heartbreaking.
Charly(1968) movie based on the book focusing on the romance between Alice&Charlie

Second, it makes me think about the meaning of "intelligence" in our society. The researchers in this book have ulterior motives and do not treat Charlie as a human when he is retarded, hinting that he did not even exist before he became smart. Charlie, when he had an IQ of 68, did not realize that people had been mean to him, believing they were his friends. Charlie has been abandoned by his family as well, especially by his mom who tortures Charlie for acting on his native urges without the societal control to suppress them and refuses to believe Charlie can't become "normal" like the other boys. Also, the discrepancy in intellect and difficulties in conversation between C & Alice as Charlie progresses is especially interesting to me, because I experience this on both sides, attending college with some brilliant people.

I love books written from non-traditional view points, and this is one of my absolute favorite books because it is so fascinating and lingers on long after you've read it. Also see: "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Matt Stein, written from the perspective of an aging dog named Enzo. "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" by Mark Haddon from the eyes of Francis, a 15-year-old with autism, is fascinating as well.

Monday, December 27, 2010

haircut and a cortisol stress test

I read about this new stress test where they can take a sample of your hair and assess how much stress you've been under for the last 6 months. How cool is this? Since I am due for a haircut, maybe I can send a hair sample to the lab and figure out how much stress I've been under during the last semester.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland and can be tested with a blood, saliva or urine sample. It is released in response to stress, suppresses the immune system and increases the blood glucose level. Caffeine, lack of sleep, trauma can increase cortisol levels, and laughing(!), tea, and massage/music therapy can lower cortisol levels. Previous methods of cortisol tests can only assess cortisol levels secreted during the last hours/day, but this new method of cortisol hair tests can reveal stress levels over a longer period of time, six months and possibly more. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario measured cortisol levels from the hair of heart attack patients from an Israeli hospital and compared it to cortisol levels from that of non-hear attack patients from the same hospital. Over the past few years, hair cortisol has been found in additional studies to be a useful marker of how much stress/pain the individual is under, rather than using individual self-assessments of stress, which are not as reliable. See links here, here, and here.

Happy Monday! Back in home, sweet home after a long relaxing vacation looking at the sea. If I could swim 90 miles I would be in Cuba...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

cruisin to t-town.

Finals are o-v-e-r, and I'm heading back to Tampa. It's been a long, dragging finals period but I am so glad to be done! I packed light this time, so hopefully I can survive in Tampa, which has been getting somewhat of a freak weather lately (40F? In Florida? I've gone swimming on the beach on New Year's Day before!).

Seriously, this is the least I've packed for any break ever. 
The $25 per baggage is a good incentive for me to pack less.

Here's some last leaving shots of our beautiful campus:
In front of the Sallyport

 The Academic Quad and Fondren Library in the back, through the arch

 It's so windy outside! In the quad.

Between Brochstein Pavilion and the library, where the leaves are actually yellow. Doesn't this place look so zen? I should use it more often instead of sitting inside the library.

Fountain at the Baker Institute with the Jones Business School in the back.

My flight leaves this afternoon, and I'm spending the last few hours in Houston watching Nikita (I am seriously addicted!!!!). It's been a great semester and I got to take some amazing courses with incredible professors. I got to learn in great detail about topics that intrigued me and thoroughly enjoyed living in a suite with my favorite girls. We bonded over cockroaches (screaming about cockroaches found in bathrooms, drawers, and coffee machines, shopping for Raid, and thinking about hiring cockroach-exterminators). Oh, and the promiscuous tyrosine kinase was on my immunology final!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

promiscuous tyrosine kinase

Last day of immunology, and Dr. N. didn't fail to leave us with a lasting impression.

Discussing cancer and chronic myelogenous leukemia, Dr. N. mentioned that the fusion protein produced by the "Philadelphia" chromosome  goes around and becomes a constitutively active tyrosine kinase. She proclaimed it a "promiscuous" tyrosine kinase, a "slutty" protein which "turns on" all these other proteins. 

Everyone laughed for a good while. I love it when neutral/biological objects are described with human-verbs and adjectives: "helps", "wants", "recruits" are common ones that come to mind! 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

part of a pack: herd immunity.

Interestingly, the first time I heard about the concept of herd immunity was in Game Theory. We discussed a scenario where for each person, getting vaccinated meant a certain risk: mathematical probability of getting sick/dying from the vaccine, and your chance of getting the disease depended on how many people got the vaccine. I thought the idea was fascinating- so you can risk whether you want to get the vaccine or not, which although it carries a certain danger, and if you get the vaccine, you are probably going to be a-ok. On the other hand, even if you were lazy/scared and didn't get the vaccine, but enough people around you had gotten the vaccine, you might be protected.

Since no vaccine is 100% effective, some individuals in a population, even if they are vaccinated, may not be protected against the pathogen. Or they may not be vaccinated, period. However, if enough people are vaccinated in the population, the pathogen can't find a host, and won't get around to infecting those who are even susceptible! This is called herd immunity. Neat, right?

It means that a population doesn't have to be 100% vaccinated in order to eradicate a disease. However, we like to leave those unvaccinated percentages for those who are immune compromised or have otherwise similar conditions that would make vaccination unwise.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

caryophanon latum 318.

This is what I've been spending my last 7 weeks working on, in the smelly lab for my microbiology class.

Our assignment was to each identify a different bacteria from a water sample our professor collected around Houston & finally:
 Note the pale-yellow, glistening surface.
 Older colonies grow a deeper orange... and,
Gram-positive, motile on the wet mounts, multicellular & straight to slightly curved.

Caryophanon latum. Found in cow dung in 1940 by Pershkoff! Thank you, Bergey's. We did motility mounts, grew them in 36 degrees, 30 degrees, and room temperature, ran catalase/oxidase tests, Gram-stained, Methyl-red/VP tested... and here it is, finally identified and named. For our final paper we need to write a mini monograph about the species & I'm done done done!

This semester is almost over. Also meaning, finals period is coming close. This week it's been impossible to find a desk in the library!