David and Goliath Book Review

David&Goliath

I recently finished listening to an audiobook version of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. The nonfiction piece focuses on how being an underdog can occasionally confer advantages that the “overdog” doesn’t expect.

The book uses a wide-range of examples of underdogs overcoming their disadvantages and actually using them as jumping off points to topple bigger and stronger opponents.

This isn’t a new idea to me or the world. Scholars were peddling this theory at least 1,500 years ago when the Roman Empire fell. I first read about it in Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece, Dune, where the fictional race of Freman are hardened by their desert homeland and are able to overcome the forces of the Padishah Emperor. Continue reading

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Sacramento Underground Tour

This weekend my wife and I went to Old Sac to take one of Sacramento’s Underground Tours.

Old Sac is a historical neighborhood in Sacramento that has turned into a bit of a tourist trap.

All the old buildings from the Gold Rush in the 1850s and 60s are still there, converted into restaurants and gift shops instead of hotels and supply stores.

(I also feel a personal responsibility to warn you about La Terraza restaurant in Old Sac. Food’s bad! Don’t be tempted by the spectacular view! Stay away!)

Bunch of old buildings, right? What can we learn from the tour?

Tour comes with everything you see here!
Tour comes with everything you see here!

Our tour guide, Schoolmaster Mrs. Appleton, told us the basics of Sacramento history first that every Californian knows. Continue reading

HCl Spill in the Lab

I had an interesting day in the lab. I spilled a large amount of concentrated HCl on the floor!

I would’ve taken a picture of the damage zone, but my first thought was, “Oh shit!” not, “This would look good on my blog.”

HCl is the strongest acid used in most labs. If you’re familiar with the pH scale it goes from 1-14. Water is 7. Orange juice is 3 and stomach acid is 1.

Concentrated HCl is -1. the pH scale is a log scale so that means concentrated HCl is 100 times stronger than stomach acid.

HCl is used all the time in lab work, but often in a more dilute form. I had the concentrated stuff out so I could dilute a small amount of it in a large bottle of water.

I got the amount I needed and then I dropped the large bottle on the floor as I was putting it away. SPLOOSH! CRACK! Glass and acid everywhere!

It started eating away at the floor immediately, BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

HCl is composed of Hydrogen (H) and Chlorine (Cl) in water. In concentrated HCl the acid is so smooshed together that it starts falling apart into its component parts of Hydrogen and Chlorine gas.

Chlorine is a deadly gas! Hurray! -_-

I closed off the room and put a warning sign on it before rushing upstairs to contact my PI (boss).

He came down and we agreed that we needed to call Environmental, Health, and Safety (EH&S). They’re the guys who handle spills in the lab that my labmates and I can’t deal with.

EH&S didn’t come by themselves though!

First five firemen came up. Two cops as well, but they left after I told them I wasn’t injured. Some of the acid got on my shoe but nothing serious.

The firefighters stuck around until EH&S arrived. Three people from EH&S came to assess the situation and after doing so they sent two more people to do the actual cleanup work.

So a small spill of a nasty chemical attracted a dozen emergency response personnel.

Meanwhile I took off my shoe just to be safe and am now wearing a bootie for the rest of the day.

The bike ride of shame awaits me when I go home. EVERYONE WILL KNOW!!!
The bike ride of shame awaits me when I go home. EVERYONE WILL KNOW!!!

The cleanup crew removed all the broken glass and chlorine gas as well as most of the acid that was still on the ground.

Supply cart. The crew is inside cleaning up my mistakes.
Supply cart. The crew is inside cleaning up my mistakes.

After they finished up I came in with Sodium Carbonate (grainy baking soda) to clean up the rest of the acid.

I still managed to work with the dilute acid I made, but what a day!

-GoCorral

The Division: Game Feasibility

I posted a review of The Division earlier. The game plays quite well and if you’re looking for an FPS to play with your friends then The Division should fill that hole nicely.

The plot though!

The plot is barebones, with most of it being shown to the player in hidden conversations between NPCs throughout the game instead of directly telling you what’s going on (a good story device!).

In the game an evil scientist has altered the small pox virus to be extremely lethal and resistant to treatment. Continue reading

Thesis Proposal and Homework

Some of you may be asking, “Where, oh where, has GoCorral gone? Where is the weekly update of his blog? There hasn’t even been a picture of his toenails to tell us he’s still alive!”

Well, I am still alive, I’ve just been rather busy with school these last few days.

Among my many responsibilities I have had:
1. A massive final project on homologous genes to the C. elegans myosin gene, unc-54, that is rapidly approaching 50 pages in length.
2. A final paper on intron retention being the first sign of speciation.
3. Scheduling and preparing my thesis proposal presentation.
4. Grading essays for the basic biology class I am teaching this semester.
5. All the usual stuff I have to do.

I’m keeping a good handle on #1 and #5. #4 is a slow truck that keeps on going.

Due to all the other stuff I’ve been doing #2 did not turn out as good as I would’ve liked. I loved the thesis of that paper, but I wish I’d used more time to find additional supporting evidence and described the supporting evidence in a better fashion.

#3 is the most exciting one! My thesis proposal presentation happened on Friday and was probably the most important moment in my career up to this point.

I got super nervous before giving the presentation and made a few mistakes in the preparation and delivery, but it still went quite well.

Every presentation should have at least one picture of a confused panda.
Every presentation should have at least one picture of a confused panda.

I passed the proposal which means I can continue on with my project! Woohoo! I do have to update my abstract to reflect my definite research goals which were outlined in the meeting.

That’s what I’ve been up to. There’s still more to do! I predict I’ll be done with most of it by the end of next week. After that, regular blog updates will resume.

-GoCorral

NASA is Hiring

I am soooo jealous.
I am soooo jealous.

NASA made an interesting announcement, they’re looking for new astronauts!

This came as a surprise to me as I’d thought NASA had discontinued all manned missions.

As far as I know the halt on manned missions happened for two reasons, funding is tight and NASA is an obvious thing to cut and we already did the man on the moon thing so why go again?

As to the funding, I’m not sure what’s going on there. Regardless, the missions NASA is planning are scheduled ten years out so the funding situation could be entirely different then.

But what are the new missions?

Not going to Mars like Mark Watney in The Martian, but almost as good!

NASA will be landing an astronaut on an asteroid.

There are a group of asteroids called “near-Earth asteroids” that have orbits around the sun pretty similar to Earth’s orbit.

A couple of the near-Earth asteroids are as big two kilometers across (about a mile).

Before landing a person on an asteroid, NASA plans to land a rover like what they did with the Rosetta space probe on a comet. Then a manned mission will commence in 2025.

I don’t know which asteroid NASA will be landing an astronaut on, there are a whole bunch to choose from. Regardless, this appears to be the next step in manned space exploration.

NASA hopes this will be a stepping stone to manned missions on Mars.

In addition to the work on the asteroids, astronauts are spending longer amounts of time on the ISS. They’re doing this so we can see what precautions need to be taken when someone is in space for years at a time.

A mission to Mars would take a year or two, so we need to be prepared for how someone’s mind and body reacts to being in space for that long.

So enough about why NASA is hiring astronauts, how do I get the job?

If you’re like me, upon hearing the news that NASA is hiring you immediately looked up the qualifications they’re looking for.

They want someone with at least a Master’s degree in science or engineering. I’m working on that, so good so far.

The next big qualification is 1,000 hours of logged jet plane fight time.

If you’re paying for lessons and rental time on a plane that amount of logged time would cost upwards of $50,000. So you either have to be really serious about flying jets recreationally, a commercial flyer, or a member of the airforce.

There are a few other qualifications, but nothing as big as those two.

Obviously I don’t meet that requirement, but maybe some kid is reading this and is thinking, “If I get a Master’s in physics and learn to fly a jet then I’d be ready to apply to be an astronaut by the time NASA starts doing missions to Mars.”

That’s the word from the space world!

If you want to read more about the process for hiring astronauts check out these two links: NASA’s Info Site, NASA’s Hiring Site

-GoCorral

Cool Stuff from Last Semester

I did some cool stuff last semester in my science classes that I’d like to show you guys.

The gist of it is… This picture:


This is a picture taken by my lab group in my basic lab technique class last semester of a mouse fibroblast cell moving into a simulated wound on a glass slide.

Fibroblast cells are kind of like the contractors of your body when you get a scratch or wound. There are your first responders to the “disaster,” your immune system, and then fibroblasts go in to start the process of rebuilding your tissue by laying the foundation for other cells to move in.

A lot of scientists are interested in wound healing. How can we make it faster? How can we make it better so people don’t have lingering problems after the superficial injury has healed? How can we prevent infection? How can we prevent scarring?

Those questions are tested with a variety of experiments but one of the msot common is the scratch assay.

A bunch of fibroblasts are grown on a glass slide until they practically cover it. Then the slide is scratched.

The fibroblasts move into the scratch, thinking it is a wound. Their movement into the scratch is measured in a couple different ways and those measurements can tell us a little bit more about how wounds heal.

Which brings me back to the picture my lab group took. Obviously its got a lot of color and is very prety, but what are all those colors? What’s going on in that picture?

My lab group scratched the space above the big cell in teh picture. The cell is now moving into the scratch.

The red lines are called actin. Actin is the support structure of your cells. Cells move by extending actin filaments where they want to go and breaking them down behind them.

The green parts are called vinculin. Vinculin is spread throughout the cell and localizes into spots where the cell is attached to a surface to assist in adhereing to that surface. All those bright green spots are where the vinculin is helping the cell hold onto the glass slide.

The blue parts are cell nuclei. Each cell has one nucleus and I’ll bet you can pick out the one that belongs to all the actin and vinculin in the middle of this picture.

I did a lot more stuff on scratch assays in this class and leaarned a few new techniques, but the best part was definitely getting this picture.

Oh and apologies to any color blind people. I have no idea how to spearatae out the red and green things for you. Enjoy!

-GoCorral