28 June 2006

Physics for Future Presidents

Oh man, if only they actually did have to take courses like this! I'm going to start working my way through the podcasts of the lectures. Like I needed more things to do this summer...

23 June 2006


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the first generation "superbug" that evolutionary biologists are always harping about. We're pretty sure that it first developed its resistance in hospitals, where patients are continually bombarded by antibiotics, the most common class of antibiotics being penicillins (including methicillin). Following the rules of natural selection, most of the staph in patients got killed off, except for a few bugs that could survive the methicillin. This property is called "resistance," and the bugs then procreated and propagated - hospitals are full of MRSA.

Staph, of any form, isn't all that dangerous for the average person. It tends to crawl around on our skin all the time - you've got it, believe me. It only gets into your body when you get a cut or other skin injury, and even then, you can fight it off most of the time. Even if it's MRSA, you can usually fight it off - MRSA isn't stronger in any way but against antibiotics. Which is where the problem comes in. If you can't fight it off for some reason, like you've been having a lot of stress lately, or you have AIDS, or you're elderly, or there's some other reason you have a compromised immune system, then doctors turn to antibiotics. These take out normal staph for the most part (though if you overuse antibiotics you will create MRSA within yourself), but MRSA can't be killed by simple antibiotics, and doctors have to turn to more expensive drugs, that have more side effects. Of course, unless you have a history, doctors won't think of MRSA first, so if you are immunocompromised, MRSA is quite dangerous to your health.

Now-a-days, they've started fighting MRSA with vancomycin - penicillins (including methicillin and amoxicillin) and vancomycin all act to weaken the cell walls - but apparently some VRSA strains have started appearing. In addition, MRSA was at first constrained to hospitals, but has started appearing in the "wild" - in people not in hospitals. Today the CDC issued an alert that a string of cases have been found connected with illegal tatoo parlors - I'm guessing their needles became infected from someone who already had MRSA, and then they reused the needles without proper disinfection. This is yet another reason why tatoo regulation is important, and why you should go to a reputable tat artist (AIDS being the primary reason)!

On a personal note, I actually have some form of resistant bacteria myself. I have a skin condition called hidradentis suppurativa (HS) which affects my apocrine sweat glands. What happens is my body's immune system overreacts to the bacteria normally present there (in my case, a resistant strain of bacteria) and becomes significantly inflamed. I've been taking antibiotics periodically since it first developed around age 13 - so I've been on antibiotics between 2 and 8 weeks out of each year for the majority of my life. Is it any wonder that with this continual dosing of antibiotics that I've developed resistant bacteria in my own body? While I don't have the details of what specifically the strain is, I really expect that it evolved within me, rather than being something I contracted from outside. This is part of why I'm such an advocator for evolution education - it's happening inside me, to my own detriment. Basically none of the traditional antibiotics work for the bacteria in my armpit skin anymore (not amoxicillin, which is part of penicillins, which is part of the class of beta-lactam antibiotics; not cephalexin which is another β-lactam), so we use levoquin, which is in the class known as quinolones - these act by preventing bacterial DNA replication (and hopefully don't stop my own DNA replication). Interestingly, apparently there are a few quinolone-resistant staph strains as well, but thankfully I do not appear to have those in me, though chances are I'll create them eventually. Whee.

21 June 2006

The Mysteries of the Universe

According to Hawking, the mysteries of the universe are "how the universe began, what happens inside black holes, ... how can humans survive the next 100 years," and "I would also like to understand women."

Pseudo Planet Pluto

Just a super-brief post so y'all know I'm alive. It seems the hullaballoo may be true: the IAU is planning to announce an official definition of "planet" this August. I kinda wish they'd have a period of public commentary, rather than just handing down a decision from on high - it'd raise interest in astronomy, if nothing else - but I doubt that'll happen. I may update this post with more info about what I feel the definition of planet should be and what others kinda use; if so, it'll replace this post.

16 June 2006


sadly, my bird peeper didn't make it through the night. when i woke to give her her medicine this morning she didn't respond to her name, or move when i touched her, then i realized she was cold. i think i'm going to have her cremated and keep her ashes until i can find somewhere nice to scatter or bury them, since i don't have any property and neither do my parents.

14 June 2006

Ice cycle

The online class I'm taking is now shifting towards the rock cycle, and one of my classmates posted something about glaciers. This made me start pondering about what would happen on icy bodies such as Pluto and Titan. The rocks types of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic might be carried out by different types of ice! ("Ice" = H_2O, CO_2, or CH_4 methane) To make matters even more interesting, on Titan they've suggested methane rivers - in other words, when the body heats up, the ice changes to liquid and perhaps vapor, so that the "ice cycle" is realy an intermixed "rock cycle" and "water cycle."

Try and wrap your head around that one! :)

Hawking steps outside bounds

In another sign of how the news likes to create controversy, Stephen Hawking commented publically (in Hong Kong) that humanity's best hope for survival is space colonization (he specifically mentioned the Moon and Mars), and CNN immediately quotes back some MIT profs who say he's talking outside his area of expertise, and it'd be better to build a shelter underground, underneath Antarctica.

Ugh, the way they're trying to undermine him sickens me - the point of the statement was to say that humankind needs to band together, and even if we don't kill ourselves, the universe will so we need to do it NOW. We would be better off starting to pursue mulitple avenues than to fight over which one single way is THE right way. I admire Hawking (even more) for finally stepping forward and saying these things. It is the duty (I feel) of public figures to be role models to the rest of the people, and showing us the folly of our ways is a wonderful way to do so.

You go, Hawking!


You may have noticed the infrequency of my posts lately. For the most part this has been due to this summer kicking my butt! Remember all those things I said I'd be doing this summer? Well, turns out the 6-week summer course is actually 10, and putting that on top of everything else has kept me busy. The class is not the most interesting to me either, as I find it concentrates on the effects of/on life on the Earth, which I am not interested in (academically) and do not teach, and it is at a low level of science which I do not find challenging or stimulating. Oh well, the credits will give me more pay.

Then on top of it all, Peeper went into kidney failure on Sunday night. Peeper is my cockatiel whom I've had since I was 12. The expected lifespan of cockatiels is 15-20 years, and seeing as she's 16 I thought it was the end. It was really devastating, I cried all Monday - humans with kidney failure will be given dialysis until a transplant can be found. Not much can be done for birds but hope - and it seems to have worked. She's going to be coming home this evening, though she still has gout (buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints, usually of the feet, often caused by kidney problems) so bad that she cannot perch. I'm not sure if it is expected to improve on its own, but there's no medicine to treat it directly, so either she'll improve or she won't, we can't do anything else. The vet says she's eating well, which is a sign she's not in excruciating pain, but the not gripping with her feet shows there is some amount of pain. Unfortunately, any pain medicine we could give her would only damage her kidney more. But she's coming home, so I'm glad.

07 June 2006

Worst Science Test Evar

Thanks to galbinus-caeli for pointing it out.

You Passed 8th Grade Science

Congratulations, you got 7/8 correct!

Errors in the test include

Q1) skies = skis
Q2) nuclues = nucleus; also has two correct answers (it's the one I got "wrong")
Q4) tell = cell
Q6) neuron = neutron; depends upon the units used.
Q7) Depends on if you take GR into account.
Q8) causes = causes most of; and if you're picky it's the gravity differential.

Moreover, Q1 is not actually covered by 8th grade according to the National Science Education Standards, it's covered in grades 9-12.

06 June 2006

When politics meets science: Bush vs. Gay Marriage

Bush has been pushing a Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. It's probably a good thing that it won't garner the 60 Senate votes to go forward, because the amendment hasn't clearly defined "man" and "woman."

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman. (CNN)

Biologically, there are males (XY), females (XX) [1], and other (XXY, XXX, XYY, etc., sometimes called intersex), but the terms "man" and "woman" are social constructions. If we tried to define marriage by the genes, then up to 1% of the population [2] would be entirely unable to marry because they don't fit the combined biological definition and social construct of "man = XY" and "woman = XX".

I guess we could instead define it by birth certificate, which actually is the least of many evils, since you can get your birth certificate gender changed after a sex change operation (so a MtF transexual can marry a man [3]), but you don't have to (so a MtF can also marry a woman [4]).

Ah, the amusements of loopholes. Bring on the lawsuits!

Three-armed baby amputated

In follow-up to this story, doctors chopped off one of the baby's arms. So now we have a normal-looking person with dysfunctional left arm. Absolutely wonderful.

05 June 2006


What'll they think of next? Apparently a guitar with y-shaped strings, three necks, and that sounds more like a percussion instrument. So everything I said about overtones before goes right out the window! :-P