Monday, June 23, 2008

R.I.P. George Carlin

I just heard today, with great sadness, that George Carlin died. I would have had a lot cleaner childhood had it not been for this foul-mouthed comedian, and for that I am deeply indebted to him. So with that, I'd like to say a few words:

Shit, Piss, Cunt, Fuck, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, and Tits.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Christian Natural Selection

I was just thinking the other day, what if suicide was not a mortal sin in Christianity, punishable by an eternity in hellfire? Just think of the implications: Wackos would be killing themselves left and right to leave this sin-filled world and join the "kingdom of god."

Meanwhile, here in the real world, presuming these people ended their lives before they could procreate, Christianity would be selected against, and logical freethinkers would prevail. Sadly, this is not the case, and so we must live with them.

While pondering this for a while, however, a scary thought entered my mind. What if one of these kooks decided to take it upon himself to deliver a whole lot of people into heaven by suicide bombing himself on a crowded subway? That would certainly not be good. Perhaps it is a good thing that suicide is the sin that it is. I guess we'll have to come with other schemes to get rid of them, such as, for example, education.

Word of the Day 19 June, 2008

Today's Word of the Day is

defenestrate:
To throw out of a window.

A goal of mine someday is to get into a debate with a creationist and make him so angry that he defenestrates me. That would absolutely make my day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Word of the Day 11 June, 2008

Today's Word of the Day is Patrician:

1.
A member of one of the original citizen families of ancient Rome.
2. A person of high birth; a nobleman.
3. A person of refined upbringing, manners, and taste.

Damn, this is a hard one. . .

Some members of the Roman Catholic Clergy believe themselves to be such patricians that they can get away with anything. Shameful

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Word of the Day 10 June, 2008

When I started this blog (three days ago) I promised myself that I would write at least one post a day. I was trying to think of something I could write daily that wouldn't get old, and that at the same time would benefit me. So I settled on a "Word of the Day" post, where I'll take Dictionary.com's word of the day and write anywhere from a sentence to a few paragraphs using that word. Hopefully, a few weeks or months doing this will get me in the habit of writing and also improve my vocabulary to boot!

Today's Word of the Day is surfeit:
1.
An excessive amount or supply.
2. Overindulgence, as in food or drink.
3. Disgust caused by overindulgence or excess.

There is a surfeit of religious fanatics in this world. One may say that there is no problem with meatheads believing in fairy tales, but more often than not, these beliefs negatively affect others, frequently innocent bystanders. Consider the conflicts going on in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, or the poor girls from the Texas polygamist ranch, or the gay and lesbian folks in states other than California or Massachusetts who just want to get married, or . . . The list goes on and on. Something must be done, and that something, while perhaps not easy in practice is simple in theory. That something is EDUCATION!

What it Means to be a Physicist

I just graduated from the physics program a month ago, and as one of the top two students, I had to give a speech. That may sound pretty impressive, but when you consider that there were only thirteen of us, it's not too great an achievement. Regardless, I never actually wrote my speech down, and I'd like to before I forget it completely. I can think of no better place to do so than here, so here goes.

These speeches always have to have some kind of clear message with a big meaning, so I thought I'd try to tackle the biggest of them all: what it means to be a physicist. So I sat down and thought about what it really means, and I didn't come up with anything. I think I have it now, but I can't take credit for it myself. The credit actually goes to some girl whose name I can't even remember. Here's the story

Four years ago, back when I was a naive freshman, I was sitting in a classroom waiting for English class to start, and I was making small talk with the other students. Well, of course the subject of majors came up and I told this girl that I was a physics major (this was before I added microbiology. Her reply was,

"Oh. . . Why?

I didn't really have a good answer at the time. I just said something to the effect of "I dunno, I guess I'm good at math." But now I realize that she answered her own question. You know what that answer was? "Why?" It may sound odd that a question can serve as an answer, but it really is the best possible answer.

"Why?"

Ok, so it's not exactly complete, and it needs explanation, but that's what I'm here to do. What makes a person a physicist is that they never stop asking the question "why?" We're like those obnoxious kids that follow up every explanation you throw at them with "why?" but the only difference is that we never never grew out of it. That and we have made a few improvements on our attempts to get the answer.

To illustrate, let me give you a hypothetical progression into physicism. A child is out in the back yard at night and he sees a lightning bug. It sparks his curiosity so he asks his parents, "why does it glow like that?" His parents aren't sure why so the tell him "I dunno, go ask a biologist." So he asks a biologist, who gives the explanation, "certain enzymes and molecules interact with each other inside the bug's abdomen, and these interactions produce light." This satisfies the child for a little bit, but eventually, curiosity gets the better of him, so he asks, "Why do the enzymes and molecules interact like that?" So the biologist, not remembering his biochemistry very well says, "I dunno go ask a chemist."

So the kid goes to a chemist, whose reply is, "Well the molecules are made up of atoms and they are arranged in such a way that these parts are attracted to those parts, and when they get close to each other, energy is released in the form of photons." Again, this explanation is not entirely satisfying so the child asks, "Why are the parts attracted to each other, and why is energy released when they meet?" The chemist replies, "I dunno go ask a physicist."

So the kid goes to a physicist, who tells him, "Well some of the parts have a positive charge, and some of the parts have a negative charge and positive and negative charges attract each other." On a roll now, the child immediately asks, "Why do positive and negative attract?" To which the physicists says "I dunno." "That's all?" says the kid, "You're not going to refer me to anybody else?" The physicist tells him, "There isn't anybody else."

It is at this moment that the child knows he will become a physicist because he needs to find out the answer to this question, "Why?" and that is really the only way to do it. So that is how a physicist is made. It has nothing to do with being good at math (though that certainly helps!) or seeking the bragging rights of successfully completing a quantum mechanics course. It has only to do with relentlessly asking the question "Why?" and never settling for the explanation received.

Ok, so I have to admit, I wasn't nearly this eloquent at the podium. To be quite honest, I threw this together the day before, and I was pretty hungover when I gave it, but I felt like I owed it a good rehash. So consider yourselves lucky for getting the new and improved version.

Now, I just need to work on getting the degree that I'm actually going to use. . . I've only got one more semester left (and then, of course, 6 years of grad school)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Italy just got Orange Crushed

The Netherlands beat Italy 3-0 today in both their first matches of the European Cup. This is the first time Netherlands has beat the Azzurri since 1978 with two goals in the first half by van Nistelrooy and Sneijder, and one in the second by van Bronckhorst. Also, this is the first time Italy has conceded three goals in any European Cup match.

Now I'm not necessarily a crazy Netherlands fan, but this made me really happy today because I absolutely hate Italy. I can't stand their dirty bullying combined with flops every time they get touched by another player. You can imagine my disdain when they won the world cup two years ago. So, though this definitely does not count them out of the tournament by any means, I'm still glad to see it getting off to a bad start for the Italians.

with that said, check out my team, Portugal playing against Czech Republic on Wednesday at 12:00 PM EST.

Never Trust Anything with a Nuclear Envelope

Ok, I may be a bit biased, being a microbiologist and all, but I really believe that prokaryotes are the superior form of life on this planet. Sure they may be referred to as the "lower organisms" and sometimes (somewhat misleadingly) as "less evolved," but these little guys are truly amazing pieces of work.

For one thing, bacteria and archaea have evolved to live in just about every environment imaginable. Now I know what you're thinking: Visions of horny toads in the desert and penguins in the antarctic are floating through your mind. And these adaptations are nothing to ignore, but they can't hold a candle to the prokaryotes' roaring bonfire. Consider the acidophiles and alkaliphiles. These "bugs" live at opposite ends of the pH spectrum, the very low (1-3) and very high (10-12), respectively. Then take a look at the hyperthermophiles who have an optimum growth temperature above 80 degrees Celsius (175 degrees Fahrenheit).

All of these adaptations are impressive in and of themselves, but prokaryotes didn't stop there. No, instead, some have evolved to live in areas of both extremely high temperature and extreme pH. Simply Amazing. And the extreme environments don't stop there. There are organisms that can live in extremes of salinity, oxygen content, and even ionizing radiation. If you look at any corner of the world, you'd be hard-pressed to find one where no prokaryotic life existed.

Another interesting tidbit is eukaryotic dependence on prokaryotes. As you read this, there are bacteria in your intestines synthesizing vitamins that your body can't for you to absorb. Ok, you may say that we don't need them; we can just take multivitamins every morning, but consider this: cows, indeed all ungulates, are incapable of breaking down the cellulose that makes up cell walls in the grass they eat. So how do they digest it? They have special organs in which cultures of microbes break down the cellulose into smaller molecules that the cow is capable of digesting.

If those examples don't impress you much, try this one on for size. Each and every eukaryotic cell depends on its own "domesticated" prokaryote. In humans and all animals, this "domesticated prokaryote" is the mitochondrion. Plants have mitochondria too, but they also harbor chloroplasts, which have prokaryotic cellular origins as well. It is thought (and generally accepted) that these structures began as free-living prokaryotic cells that were engulfed by their larger, nucleus-bearing brethren.

So the next time you reach for the Lysol, take a moment to reflect on the awesomeness of these organisms you are about to wipe from the face of the planet. Don't bother feeling bad though, they wouldn't think twice (or at all in fact) about doing the same to all of us. The difference is, when it comes to one of us wiping the other out completely, they could do it, and we wouldn't stand a chance.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Guilty Pleasure

I have to tell you about one of my guilty pleasures. I am an atheist, but I love reading creationist literature and finding the errors in logic. I suppose it makes me feel better about myself, knowing that there are so many people out there that are stupider than me.

The other thing I like to do is read the blogs of other atheists because they manage to find lots of examples of the stupidity of creationists. One such example is PZ Meyer's blog Pharyngula. He has a really nice mixture of real science and exposition of creationist inanity.

Hopefully, I can provide a similar service to you and provide some fun creationist propaganda. In fact, check out the new Chick Tract. Evidently, evolution leads to a complete lack of morals and a desire to become a god. I guess I'm still waiting for these delusions to get to me.

My First Post

Hello!

I imagine I'm writing this to nobody at all, seeing as I am the only person who knows about my ambition to start a blog, but just on the off chance that there is somebody out there who will waste enough of their time to read this, this is for you.

I have kind of been thinking about starting a blog lately, and I finally broke down and did it. My vision for where this will go is kind of reflected in the title: Ramblings. I don't feel like I have enough expertise to blog on a specific topic, so I'll try to get a well-rounded group of topics. However, that being said, I don't want this to turn into one of the teenage-girl's blogs where they go on and on about what they wore yesterday and what they had for breakfast this morning, so I'll spare you all the boring details of my life and stick to mainly the exciting things like. . . well, like. . . well more exciting things than meals and clothes at least.

So with that, please enjoy!