Sunday, June 29, 2008

Just Like Vietnam

Moving an army of men from an affluent nation into a poor one changes the economics of the poor country, especially the economics of living around the bases where foreign troops are stationed. This effect was seen in Vietnam and it wasn't always good. The trade in endangered animal pelts is flourishing in Afghanistan. An intact snow leopard pelt goes for around $900 or more. The locals can't afford that price, but the troops can. The US Army is spreading the word not to buy such pelts. As their numbers dwindle further, the prices will go higher, but what price do you put on such a rare species of cat? Some days I don't like being a human very much.



I was darning some socks today. There were three socks that had holes in them so I decided to do something about it. I thought the hardest part was getting the needle threaded, but as I was about to start on the first one while perched on the end of the bed, I felt a tug on the thread. Bashful was tugging on my thread! I yelled, "Hey!". The next second the needle and thread were pulled from my hand and were gone. Bashful had run under the bed and the needle and thread were nowhere to be found. I searched all around the bed and under it - no thread or needle. After about 15-30 minutes, I gave up and started over. I vacuumed under and around the bed, but no thread spooled around the brushes. Either the needle and thread are in the vacuum, or they're in Bashful. I hope not the latter, otherwise there'll be a visit to the vet and another X-ray. For now, the case of the disappearing gray thread and sewing needle is unsolved.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Corruption of the Government?

This is a setback for solar power proponents and companies. Considering that the BLM lets mining companies pollute ( and they are among the worst polluters ) and oil and gas companies lease public land for drilling, this seems like it's not in the public interest. I wonder who stands to gain from this, electric utilities, perhaps? The weakening of these startups so that they'll be cheaper to buy appears to be the goal here. We are talking desert locations. The limiting environmental factor here is lack of water due to lack of rain. These plants will likely have to drill water wells which won't be cheap. Plenty of Sun for solar array and mirrors. Who really runs BLM?


Future Dystopia

Wall-E looks pretty good. Here's some trailers. Here's the NY Times review. Maybe it'll wake a few people up along the way. One can certainly tell by the trailers that a lot of care, love, sweat, etc. was placed into this artwork. It shows.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

When Spending a Little Money Saves Lots of Money (and Lives)

I was talking to a friend yesterday. He had sent me a spoof video called I'm Voting Republican. It's rather humorous up to a point. A woman consumer talks about being in fear of genetically modified and irradiated foods. I lamented to my friend that people shouldn't fear GM or irradiated foods. He pointed out that people wouldn't have gotten sick with Salmonella contaminated tomatoes if they'd been irradiated first. I'm not sure who spread the rumor that irradiating food or making GM crops is "bad" but this is the "good" kind of progress that people shouldn't fear. The Army developed irradiation of foods to preserve them. Napoleon said, "An Army marches on its stomach". Armies need to stockpile food for times of war and they can't afford for that food to make their combat troops ill.

Before World War II, diseases usually killed more soldiers than bullets. Any time large groups of men were brought together for battle, diseases such as cholera spread quickly among the ranks if care wasn't taken by the commanders to maintain sanitary conditions and sometimes even good sanitation didn't prevent disease outbreaks. World War I ended due to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Too many soldiers were dying to continue fighting the war.

The people who likely complained about the irradiation of foods were likely to be the large wholesale producers because of lost revenues and costs. Irradiated foods have longer shelf lives, so revenues would go down. The irradiation process itself isn't that costly, but you do need worker education and a gamma ray source, so costs would go up a little bit. Well, something's gotta give here because public health is more important than profits and share price. Besides, sometime in the near future, probably in the next 20-40 years, we'll have to waste less food. There will be 8 billion mouths to feed shortly. We've already fished out the oceans with 6 billion people. Obviously, we've found the sustainable carrying capacity of the Earth's oceans which make up 70% of the surface of the planet and surpassed it. We have to make our remaining arable land produce more food. There's likely going to be a fresh water shortage as well so irrigation of crops will have to become more efficient regarding water use. The airlines balked at installing secure cockpit doors on airliners. Look where it got them - 9/11 and its aftermath. Of course, Congress bailed them out. Will Congress bail out the food industry when one hundred people die from eating tainted salad, and consumers quit buying salad for a month or more? As far as I know, no one died from the tomato incident. Likely Campbell's and Heinz bought up a bunch of tomatoes cheap, and turned them into pasteurized tomato juice, and sterilized soups, pastes, and sauces. Will consumers continue to live in fear hoping their produce doesn't kill them or make them ill, or will they make the FDA and USDA do their jobs? Will the Congress draft legislation helping the growers and producers, or will they beef up the regulatory agencies responsible for the public good?


Friday, June 20, 2008

Virtual Human Drug Model

This probably won't work. There's too many variables to make the computer model accurate enough. The computer model will be as accurate or inaccurate as the assumptions built into it. Hopefully, it will be calibrated using past unbiased drug trials data. However, corporations are known for skimping on computer code testing. Garbage In, Garbage Out. Consider this a baby step. By the way, innovation in the pharmaceutical industry means that the CEO or President heard about the "new" drug in the hallway. Academic biomedical research is where most innovation comes from since academics risk only losing their time on an idea. Pharmaceutical firms apply the successful academic ideas by scaling up production or by buying pharmaceutical firms started by academics who can't afford the expense of clinical trials. This is one reason why pharmaceutical biotechnology didn't really blossom in the early 1990's. One could say that the early 1990's biotech bubble was purely a speculative bubble created by Wall Street and VCs. Out of 1500 biotech startups, I think maybe 15 had viable products. Biotech wasn't anywhere near like Silicon Valley in maturity. Consider also the financial implications of curing someone with a single or short term treatment versus keeping someone alive with a chronic condition via a lifelong medication or treatment. Which option gives you the steadier income over time? One has to have a disease or condition which everyone gets eventually to make money in the first case. If you are a small percentage of the population with a disease or chronic condition, like HIV, bipolar disorder, etc. the second case applies. I'm not saying that this is always a conscious choice by executives, but this is how the incentives are structured.


Doing What's Right

Saving a life is more important than making money.


Observation and Detachment - Watching One's Thoughts Instead of Being Those Thoughts

In a pellucid ocean, bubbles arise and dissolve again. Just so, thoughts are no different from ultimate reality. So don't find fault; remain at ease. Whatever arises, whatever occurs, don't grasp -- release it on the spot. Appearances, sounds, and objects are all one's own mind; there's nothing except mind.



Amur (Siberian) Tiger Cub Adopted by Dog

A dog was brought in to wet nurse an Amur tiger cub (Siberian tiger).How come Exxon Mobile isn't donating a minute percentage of their wealth to save their advertising symbol? $1million doesn't even qualify as minute when you make almost $40 billion per year in profits. One million dollars is a pathetic, practically cynical, sum for a Save the Tiger Fund. One thousandth of $36 billion is $36 million which if spent per year would save a lot of tigers by creating parks and breeding programs (creating parks and nature reserves is the most economical). Besides, ExxonMobil's advertising budget must be in the $100 millions range. But then, this is a company known for not caring about the environment. The Supreme Court will rule shortly on whether ExxonMobil should pay $2.5 billion in damages for the Prince William Sound 1989 oil spill which had been reduced from $4.5 billion in damages. Hopefully, the Justices are driving SUVs at their own expense.


Chemical Warfare Against Top Predators and Scavengers

Kenyans are using carbofuran, an organophosphate pesticide, which is essentially a nerve agent similar to Sarin on predators and scavengers. Nerve agents inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine by acetylcholinesterase. Numerous lions, eagles, vultures and hyenas have died. The antidote is administration of atropine. You combat (actually compete) one poison with another poison. Insecticides kill birds almost instantly due to their high metabolic rates and likely due to the fact that their acetylcholinesterases are evolutionarily closer to insects. My father was a cropduster pilot and I worked for cropdusters, both my father and another man. Believe me, genetically engineered cotton and other pest-resistant GM crops are safer if one doesn't have to spray them with organophosphates. Most natural foods are not natural any more. They've been bred for 100-2,000 years by Mankind to produce more seed, more fruit, etc. They could not exist in the wild as they are because they spend too much energy making seed or fruit. Genetic modification is a misnomer in a sense. Breeding crops for new traits is a crude form of genetic modification. Genetic engineering is just a more exact or finer version of this ongoing breeding process. People object when an insect toxin gene is inserted into crops, yet they don't know that many plants make their own insecticides and that plants are capable of lateral gene transfer. Eating an unripened potato will kill you due to ingestion of the insect toxins in the green skin. Eating tomato leaves will make you ill since tomatoes are members of the nightshade family of plants. Most chemical insecticides need to go away for the most part. They are crude chemical compounds of the past that poison the environment. We can do better.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Meme of Seven

"The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker." Albert Einstein

I've been tagged by Pete.

Here were the rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
5. Present an image of martial discord (partially picture above) something more relavent to my blog from whatever period or situation you’d like.

I had trouble sleeping after getting off from work. I got home around 0500, slept for about an hour. I suppose this tag bothered me a bit because there are only a few blogs I frequent whose authors might respond. Being curious, I decided to trace this tagging back to see if I could find its originator. I seem to be the 20th person in this chain. Since you tag seven people, it's a power of seven function. By now, this blog chain should have reached everyone on the planet. 7 to the 20th power is 7.98 x 10^16 people which is absurb because there are only 4 billion people (4 x10^9) on the planet. My calculations don't take into account nonresponses, loops, etc. The chain started among women artisans who run their own businesses and who keep in touch via It seems to have started in the US and bounced back and forth between the East and West coasts. It finally circled the world at least once and maybe twice before I got it. The womens' blogs are full of love, warmth, arts and crafts. The Morristown, TN blog is beautiful - full of wonderful photographs of flowers. If you follow the link, you'll find that a blogger called Peachtree tagged her. Peachtree's blog/store is well done and the photos are high quality. The men are generally more intellectual, focusing on facts and opinions. The contrasts are stark.Here's the parts of the chain that I could track:

Andrea and Clara (female, locations unknown) -> Hoganfe (female, location unknown) -> Organidog (F, Texas) -> Tatyana (F, Brooklyn, N.Y.) -> F, Portland, OR -> F, Madison, WI -> Peachtree ( F, Brooklyn, NY) -> F, Morristown, TN -> F, Maine, USA -> F, Portland, Maine, USA -> F, Portland, OR, USA -> F, France -> F, France -> M, New York, USA -> M, Vermont, USA [Soob adds a fifth rule and changes the flow to the Dark Side (martial/human conflict)] -> M, Wisconsin, USA -> M, California, USA -> M, Maryland, USA? -> Pete, Australia -> Me

Andrea's husband suffered carbon monoxide poisoning (seems to be work related). He's apparantly suffered minor brain damage since she's noticed a change in his personality. I'm glad he survived, but it's sad that he's changed. She doesn't say if it's a good change or not. Tatyana is looking for a home for Maya the cat. She's a cute cat, but Tatyana is a dog person, so Maya can't stay. The chain seemed to start around mid March. It made it around the world at least by today.

Now, the dreaded seven facts (weird or otherwise):

1. I am a curious, introvertive, contemplative person. Probably why I trained as a scientist. Many scientists are first born. I am one of those. Had to leave Science to earn a living.
2. I was born on the same day that the Russians dropped the Emperor Bomb, a 50-megaton thermonuclear bomb. It was the largest manmade explosion the planet has thus seen.
3. It's a miracle that I am even here. I was born prematurely, weighing somewhere around 2 pounds, 2 ounces. I was not expected to survive and I was not given to my Mother for about a week. Because of my premature birth, my eyes are in horrible condition. I nearly went blind at 19, and I had cataract surgery before my 44th birthday.
4. I am half English. I am the first Ph.D. in the family on either side of the Pond. Both families are working class. My doctorate is in Molecular Biology.
5. I used to brew my own beer, although I pretty much made barley wines. I have a fondness for British Bitters, brown ales, certain lagers. Mass produced American beer is like making love in a canoe (It's f*cking too close to water.).
6. I am a seeker. I seek wisdom and knowledge. I ultimately am seeking "the peace that passes understanding". So, I am on a spiritual journey.
7. I am inordinately fond of cats - the furry Zen masters that they are. I do not wish to see the fastest cats on the planet go extinct in the wild after they barely made it through the Megafauna Extinction. I do not wish to see the Tiger and the Amur leopards go extinct either. It's taken 15 billion years to make all the life forms on this planet. If they go extinct because of us without evolving into something else first, then we are all the poorer for it. If Mankind does not become a better steward of this planet then we will likely be damned by our own foolishness, shortsightedness, and stupidity. Nature has dynamic checks and balances. If Mankind pollutes the Earth too much, the pollution will kill Mankind. The planet has essentially become our island and Mankind has a poor track record living sustainably on islands.

I am changing the rules slightly to steer the meme away from the Dark.

Here are the new rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
5. List as one of your facts if you can, your Bliss - that which makes you content and fulfilled.

I now tag:



Monday, June 16, 2008

Lost Dreams and Utter Foolishness

When I was a grade school kid, I dreamed of going into space and being an astronaut. I remember watching one of the Gemini flights launch on a black and white TV screen and I remember watching Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon. The whole family stayed up and watched that moment in history. I watched every Moon shot after that. I can't remember Apollo 7, 8, 9 and 10. I probably watched them, but for some reason I have no memory of them. I would have loved to be a pilot, and I could have been, but not a military pilot. At some point, I knew it was all a fantasy due to my poor eyesight. The best I could hope for was mission or payload specialist on the space shuttle. The shuttle got farther and farther behind schedule and it didn't launch until 1981. I was into my first year of college by then. I've been watching the Discovery Channel program When We Left Earth. The show brought back all of those feelings of pride and loss. Pride in what we Americans had accomplished and loss when Nixon crippled, if not killed, NASA.

Nixon started his War on Drugs and War on Cancer, wasting mammoth amounts of money on the DEA and National Cancer Institute. To be fair to NCI, the money wasn't entirely wasted, research got done that led to breakthroughs, but we are only now making progress due to molecular biology, genomics and computer science. We cured cancer in mice multiple times only to see the treatments fail in humans because our immune systems are different than mouse immune systems. So, a great deal of money was wasted. And cell biology isn't cheap. It takes a lot of money to keep cell line cultures going. The money might have been better spent going to Mars. I would love to try to cultivate cyanobacteria that survive and grow in a Martian environment, but NASA doesn't do great biological research. It takes too long to get the experiments into orbit, and space is limited. There was talk about crystalizing proteins in microgravity environments in orbit, but that was before the crystallographers got their own Human Genome like project and they learned to crystallize diverse proteins quickly and efficiently here on the ground, so all the previous talk was a fantasy.

Government seems to have pretty much failed us as citizens since the 1980s. I suppose if you are a businessman you don't see it this way, or if you are interested in becoming wealthy, you'd disagree as well, but I never wanted to be a salesman or wealthy. I wanted to be a scientist and an explorer, and explore another world. I loved the ARPANET when I was introduced to it in 1992. It was a fantastic fount of knowledge. Now, it's mostly used for selling people goods and services, mostly pornography. I came to the conclusion a while back that perhaps we turned inward away from space in order to grow up as a race. After watching the show and seeing all of my heroes as old men, and hearing the disappointment and sadness in their voices, I feel that I might be wrong. Perhaps we Americans are just utter fools, especially after the last seven years of violence and watching oil prices go up as I knew they eventually would. (The oil business is boom and bust - even my brother knew that and he didn't graduate high school.) What have we to show for our war on terror? We don't seem to be any safer, and we've lost 4,000 men trying to bring democracy to the Middle East, while the people who supported the terrorists who destroyed The World Trade Center in New York are slowly reclaiming Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the people who sold us Get-Rich-Quick schemes by telling us to buy houses and flip them during the Housing Boom are now selling us Get-Rich-Quick schemes by telling us to buy foreclosed houses and resell them - repackaging the same crap. It's not just late night television commercials either. A lot of politicians spout the same old crap. We are bombarded by people trying to sell us something all the time, be it goods and services, or themselves and their public or military service record. I despair because everywhere I look things could be better if we'd just be kinder, or try harder, or think the problems through instead of slap band-aids on them and ignore them.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Allergies and Unnecessary Pain

About a month ago, I ran out of Drixoral, an OTC allergy medication. All the local pharmacies ran out of it as well. I had hoped to make do without any until they restocked with a reformulated version with an ephedrine derivative that can't be cooked into methamphetamine. Unfortunately, my allergies triumphed. Last week, my tonsils and throat swelled so badly that the back of my tongue swelled. Benedryl didn't work. Damn stuff just made me sleepy. So, in pain and out of desperation, I bought some Claritin-D. After three days, I was almost back to normal. The swelling started subsiding within a day. Throat and tongue are healed. I still am having inflamed sinuses which affect my sleep. I'll find a nasal spray and pray. Claritin-D has so much ephedrine though, that it affected my sleep. I slept much less due to the stimulant. It's also three times more expensive than Drixoral. A 20 tablet box costs essentially $20 at Wal-Mart whereas Drixoral costs around $6.50. I really hate the DEA, the Controlled Substances Act, and the stupid law that forces pharmacies to keep all ephedrine OTC medications locked away, and lets you only buy one box at a time. I hope that immune system shot comes out soon that resets your immune system and eliminates allergies. I'd try it for sure. In the meantime, I'm sure the meth addicts have figured out other ways to cook meth since Texas shares a border with Mexico which hasn't outlawed ephedrine or ephedrine base.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Actions Speak Louder than Words

The DOE has given $30 million in grants for hybrid plugin research. Who is in charge? How do we fire him and get more money and an energy policy that will get us off of foreign oil pronto? Where are our vaunted leaders? Oh yeah, in France.

Is DOE only good for designing and making thermonuclear weapons?


Stupid Moments in War

Where do you start? This should never have succeeded. Here was an opportunity that was lost. Had the Taliban failed, they would have lost more experienced fighters. Instead, they just doubled their army's size. It appears that the US and NATO are losing the initiative in Afghanistan.

Another stupid moment was the Battle of the Somme for the British. For Australians, it would likely be the Battle of Fromelles or Gallipoli.

For the Germans, it could be Dunkirk, the loss of North Africa, Stalingrad.

We Americans have lost Vietnam due to a misunderstanding. We shouldn't have gone there in the first place, but the past is done. Besides, we still have Iraq and Afghanistan to lose. Our lame duck President is spinning his version of history in Paris. I don't know whether he's sincere or cynical. More like delusional.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Seasons and Remembering Rodney

There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven --

A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to love ...

Remember the rhythym of the seasons and of Life.
Such a one as you who appears so beautiful, wise, and centered need not worry.
Your wishes shall be granted if they be heartfelt and you will know your soulmate when you meet him or her.
Look beyond appearances because what is inside is ageless and beautiful and truthful.
Let your heart and your intuition be your guide.
Never give up your dreams.

I thought Ecclesiastes' poem was too good not to share, and for some reason I miss Rodney Dangerfield. (I sent this to a woman who will likely never reply, but for some reason I felt it important enough to write her. I, also, think it's good enough to share with any one who reads it.) He fought depression most of his life and like Lincoln was better for it. He certainly made people laugh. He never gave up his dreams either. Here's the rest of his Carson Show appearance

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Just When You Thought It Couldn't Get Any Worse...

It did. Oil prices have surged higher then they did when I was a teenager. The roughnecks, oil drillers, etc. will be happy in West Texas. Of course, there's 6 months of oil floating on the high seas and demand is dropping, so why are prices climbing through the roof? Someone needs to count barges on the Mississippi.

It might be time for the U.S. to actually develop an energy policy that gets us off of foreign oil. It turns out that Chevron owns Cobasys, the company that makes NiMH batteries for automobiles. Is there a conflict of interest there, or just shrewd business?


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Lucky Cat

This kitten got lost. I hope he or she has a nice life in captivity. If it were a tiger cub, I wonder if the old joke (see below) would apply - would the animal be farmed out as Chinese medicine?

What do you call a Chinese family with one tiger?
What do you call a Chinese family with two tigers?

Though you could call the ranchers pharmers as well even though tiger parts are folk medicine and probably just a placebo.

Labels: ,

The Best of Intentions?

High grain prices, the economic downturn, and the closing of slaughterhouses are leading to the slow deaths of a lot of horses.


To Be Respectful and Artless

The wise people of old who
Took goodness as their way
Possessed marvelously
Subtle powers of penetration;
They were so deep that
None could plumb their mind,
And, on this account, if forced
To describe them we can only
Say that they moved cautiously
Like people fording a river;

The wise people of old who
Took goodness as their way
Were retiring as though shy

Their conduct to all was
Respectful as though to
Honored guests;
They could adapt themselves
Like ice melting before a fire;
They were artless As blocks of uncarved wood.

Lao tzu


A Damocles Sword Problem

I am writing this post for two reasons. The first reason is to test my right to free speech. The second reason is to educate. One person's vaccine is another person's bioweapon. The word vaccine is derived from the Latin word for cow. This is because Edward Jenner used the cowpox virus to immunize people against smallpox.

Now then, the Russians created a Legionella pneumophila strain which contained and expressed a peptide derived from the human myelin protein according to Dr. Serguei Popov. The Legionella successfully infected test animals. They cleared the infection and developed antibodies to both the Legionella and the peptide. In as little as a few days if not a few weeks, the animals died from allergic encephalomyelitis. Scientists can induce the same disease in mice and rat (though abstract says mouse).

If I were to reproduce the Russians' results, I'd have to write away for Legionella strains and materials. I'd start with this paper. I would create a vector based on the Chinese scientists work and this commercial protein expression vector. I might be able to get away with the latter vector just by selecting for growth on growth medium supplemented with ampicillin due to the antibiotic resistance gene/marker on the pMal plasmid. Strains could be obtained from the Chinese group or the American Type Tissue Collection, though I believe that the ATCC must notify the FBI when certain strains are sent overseas or to suspicious addresses, but this could be evaded by using a proxy.

The silly thing is that the same strain engineered with a different peptide gene, such as a gene coding for a peptide derived from the HIV nef gene sequence, might confer a protective immune response to HIV. Or, one could insert the cholera phage into Legionella pneumophila and see if that strain would make a decent vaccine against Vibrio cholera. Maybe not, since the immune response would need to be through the GI tract or Legionella might not express the phage proteins without help. Legionella pneumophila infects via the lungs whereas Vibrio cholera is ingested, and cholera kills by dehydration, but the lungs and GI tract have mucus membranes, so the correct immune response might be programmed any way. Because a prophage (phage living inside a bacterium) is the disease vector, this is why until 1996, there was little progress made in making a cholera live vaccine. It's kind of the same situation with HIV. It lives inside T cells which are the cells that tell the body to mount a response to some bacterial or viral threat.

I hope I've shown that it is the application of knowledge that can be for good or ill. Everything I've written about is from the public record or is commercially available. Any molecular biology undergraduate with $10-20,000 or less could do this research which likely took millions of dollars in the late 1980s. You could probably scale it up for $100K in order to make a biobomb or make enough vaccine for a country. The benefits outweigh the downside, however. It's easier to protect people from a natural disease than protect them from a bioweapon. One reason bioweapons are probably not deployed is the possibility of the bioweapon destroying the instigator's own population. Pathogens are indiscriminate - they kill indiscriminately. They do not respect sect, creed, beliefs, nationality, or any other artificial human thought boundaries. Bioweapons may be the perfect cheap Doomsday Machine. The problem with Doomsday Machines is that you can't keep them secret for them to be effective.

Dr. Strangelove: Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you *keep* it a *secret*! Why didn't you tell the world, EH?
Ambassador de Sadesky: It was to be announced at the Party Congress on Monday. As you know, the Premier loves surprises.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?