Category Archives: science

Forget Kim Kardashian, Alice Bowman is a Name that Should be Famous

When I was a kid, I never learned very few names of women who contributed mightily to our nation and the world. Now, as an adult I am learning for the first time the names of women who were major factors in the world of science and technology and literature, art, engineering, architecture, medicine, research and every other field area. Unfortunately, our own children also learned little of the contributions of women to our world. Hopefully that will change for our grandchildren.

So, while many of us can probably rattle off the names of the astronauts and ever some of the men in mission control for the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle missions, we probably think that there aren’t any women in these field areas (unless they’re fetching coffee or designing cute flight suits).

Well, here’s a name to know: Alice Bowman. If your kids and grandkids aren’t learning her name in school, you need to speak to someone in your school district. And if you don’t know her name, let me share with you. Alice Bowman is the first woman Mission Operations Manager and she led the mission that has glimpsed the edge of our solar system. And she’s not done yet.

Rather than write about her, I thought I’d post this interview with her. Hopefully you’ll read it yourself and to your kids and to your grandkids. And hopefully one day, they’ll be so many women in science and technology that they will be known for their achievements and not for their gender.



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Filed under science, technology, Uncategorized

Brain Work

i never used to worry about brain cells, but now it seems that if you’re not busy tapping away at puzzles on your phone or tablet you need to be worried about your brain function. like i don’t have enough to worry about already…

i’m not much for games, especially when i have to shell out money to play games and shell out a lot of money to play “brain games”. i tried some of those free on-line games but they just didn’t interest me enough to continue playing. to me, just figuring something out or learning something new is enough of a game. i guess i’m just one of those people who has to have a purpose for play.

as i read more about the concept of “use it or lose it” to improve brain function, i discovered that it wasn’t so much that it has to be math games or even games, it’s just that you have to use your brain to learn something you don’t already know. apparently you can even get benefit from just watching educational videos.

okay, so i could just watch educational videos, but i kind of do that anyway. i was searching for some other way to improve brain function and improve myself. one thing i did was buy spanish language cds to play in the car and attempt to learn spanish. it’s very difficult. funny things is that when i’m asked to respond in spanish, the first thing that comes to mind is german since i studied german for 6 years. but i’m going to keep on going because i figure if i can memorize all the words to some dumb pop song by repetition, i can probably pick up some spanish.

but, i found another activity that enhances my brain function and contributes something to the world and to future generations. it’s working on transcriptions of hard copy documents for the smithsonian institution.

the smithsonian is attempting to transcribe every hard copy document in their archives so that they can be electronically searchable. the word daunting doesn’t even begin to describe this task. so, the smithsonian is asking for volunteers to help with the process.

i hear you… you’re asking how typing can improve anything in your brain. first, take a look at the material listed as projects – it might seem as though you could mindlessly tap that out in a hour but look at the actual written pages and you’ll see how difficult these transcriptions can be. and how fascinating.

the first document i worked on was a field guide of a specific coastal area of maine. the detail that the naturalist included was both tedious and spectacular. consider that when this was written there was no such thing as photography so the naturalist had to account for every sight he saw: plants, water, rock formations, rock composition, etc. – all in painstaking detail.

the second document i worked on was the diary of the daughter from a farming family. i was interested at the word diary, but found that it was less of a personal diary as it was a detailed recording of each day’s activities along with the whereabouts of every individuals associated with the farm. unfortunately, it was less about the mechanics of the dairy farm, which was why i chose the project.

right now i’m working on the log book of negatives for all photos taken of every item or object in the smithsonian, which will likely take some time since there are over 3 million negatives.

here’s the thing about participating in this process: you can devote as little or as much time as you wish. figuring out someone’s handwriting is puzzle solving in and of itself. there are multiple people who participate on a project so you don’t have to complete it all yourself and the home page of the website lists your user id and recent contribution.

you can transcribe from the original written word or you can review and check for accuracy what someone else has transcribed. and, every week or so new projects are uploaded for participation. an exciting one that i missed was a series of letters between prominent contemporary artists, so i’m on the lookout for any more of those.

no matter what subject matter you’re inclined toward, there is probably a project for you. there are scientist’s journals to transcribe, accounting log books for the math hearted, entries in a burpee seed contest, there are projects about anthropology, entomology, botany, history and more. and if you don’t find something you’re interested in, check back in a few days and see what’s new.

who knows, the contribution you make today may serve as the basis for new research decades from now. you’re not just improving your brain, but some else’s too.

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Filed under addiction, age, science, technology, work

Why Jenny McCarthy (and other Idiot Celebrities) Should be Charged with Murder (or at Least Child Endangerment)

you’re familiar with the expression, “everyone’s an expert”. turns out that a whole lot of people who have a platform because they are entertainers or naked in public think they are experts too. worse, people read b list celebrity nonsense and then declare themselves experts. here’s a nice tidbit on delusional thinking that kind of defines more and more people today

it’s one thing to think of yourself as an expert on climate change, the consequence of which is just a whole lot of dinner table arguments. it’s quite another to think of yourself as an expert on immunology and disease, the consequence of which can kill or seriously injure your unimmunized kids (not to mention those around you who are immunocompromised).

these two recent events are why celebrities like jenny mccarthy and their anti-vaccine diatribes are just plain dangerous.

there are still a lot of us alive today who remember the bad old days without a lot of vaccines. we knew kids who were paralyzed from polio, we knew families who had an iron lung in the house, there were kids in our classes who had leg braces to help them walk after a bout of polio.

i remember when the polio vaccine was widely distributed. we lived next door to a hospital and there was a huge iron gate that opened up to the physician parking lot next to the front of the hospital. on the day the polio vaccine was distributed those gates were opened and there were crowds of people lined up from the front door of the hospital through that parking lot and down the street next to our house. entire families waited for hours, excited and grateful to be receive a little paper cup with a sugar cube infused with the polio vaccine. (i actually met dr. jonas salk of polio vaccine fame and it was quite a moment.)

tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) were the only vaccines administered when i was a kid, so i had the measles, mumps and chicken pox, thankfully i did not have polio. there is some family lore that one of my sisters had polio as a child, but i never really got confirmation of that. back in the day when someone in your household had one of these diseases, the city would come out to the house and tack a bright orange “quarantine” sign on the front door, or in our case the front picture window, to warn the neighbors. i still remember looking out the window past the sign and out at the neighborhood kids laughing and playing in the street and being stuck in the house for what seemed like eternity. what i very much remember was how utterly miserable it was to be sick with the measles — high fever, itchy skin, gunky eyes and just feeling very, very tired. i also vividly remember how awful it was to have the mumps, glands swollen worse than when i had mono in college. thankfully, i made it through all of those diseases without long term consequence, but i can tell you that i know kids who did not — kids who found out as adults that they had fertility problems, eye problems, heart problems or other issues related to childhood diseases for which kids now can be vaccinated.

i never had the german measles (rubella) which i only discovered when my obgyn tested me when i was pregnant with my first child. she was practically panicked to find out that i was not immune to rubella since it’s harmful to a growing fetus. she told me to stay away from children, people who have children and anyone i thought might not have been vaccinated for rubella. yeah, well that was kind of impossible. minutes after giving birth, a nurse marched into my room and gave me a rubella vaccine. the next day i went home from the hospital with a distinctive rubella rash on my hands and feet but healthy baby girl.

like so much else in life, generations grow older and the stories of “what life was like before …” fall on deaf ears. every generation wants to re-invent the wheel. what’s the expression? you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own set of facts. as intelligent as people think they are, many fall back on such a failure of historic knowledge and context coupled with a primal “well, i’ve never seen it” nonsense. oddly though, many of them believe in some kind of deity and i guarantee you haven’t seen a god…

the reason very many of the diseases for which children are inoculated today are not seen in this nation is because of vaccines. the vaccines prevented the disease from proliferating. what part of this is so hard to understand?

i can figure what someone like jenny mccarthy gets out of linking vaccines to autism and that is that her fabulousness cannot be questioned if she blames what looks more and more like a genetic mutation on the evils of vaccines that were perpetrated upon what must be perfect offspring because it came from her. interestingly, mccarthy’s silicone breast implants do not cause her any alarm…

here’s the irony: “uneducated” parents in impoverished nations who have little access to consistent medical care clamber to get vaccines for their children while middle class, “educated” parents in a wealthy nation sit around and pontificate and send their children into the world at risk.

how smart are you if you take your marching orders from the likes of jenny mccarthy?


Filed under crimes, death, Fitness, Illness, medical, science

The Democratization of Fact

now that this newfangled internet thing has been around awhile, we’ve all gotten pretty used to reading our journals and magazines on-line. you might even read the comments at the end of the article. and that’s when you’ll find the same old diatribes, same old screeds, same old trolls commenting with the same old stuff. Now, we’re all free to avoid the comment section, but the question is: does it change your perception of the information in the article?

if it’s an opinion piece, comments are probably part of a lively debate, but when the article is publishing results of a scientifically conducted study, do comments matter?

that’s what university of wisconsin – madison science communication researcher dominique brossard decided to study.

according to the report of the study published in university of wisconsin-madison news, “the study, now in press at the journal of computer mediated communication, was supported by the national science foundation. it sampled a representative cross section of 2,338 americans in an online experiment, where the civility of blog comments was manipulated. for example, introducing name calling into commentary tacked onto an otherwise balanced newspaper blog post, the study showed, could elicit either lower or higher perceptions of risk, depending on one’s predisposition to the science of nanotechnology.”

brossard reported that “the results of a study showing the tone of blog comments alone can influence the perception of risk posed by nanotechnology, the science of manipulating materials at the smallest scales.”

so, what does it matter?

according to brossard, an estimated 60 percent of the americans seeking information about specific scientific matters say the internet is their primary source of information — ranking it higher than any other news source. for on-line news outlets or journals, comments have been an issue for quite some time, mainly because of trolls.

some sites, wishing to extricate from the intensive process of policing comments, have employed various strategies, most popularly, forcing the commenter to connect through their facebook or twitter account. the thinking is that lack of anonymity will encourage more civil behavior. well, maybe. Others have tried to solve the problem in another way by moving comments to a completely separate section of the site in addition to requiring a login. this blogger has some interesting thoughts on the topic, not the least of which is the misperception that people go to news sites to feel like a part of a community. it would be safe to assume that people visit news sites to read the news. Shocking, I know. We may be able to extrapolate the same of people who visit an on-line science site.

but the bigger question is whether comments are necessary at all in the context of a science journal.

for this, and many other reasons to be sure, popular science is ending comments in its on-line format. jacob ward, editor and chief of “popular science” magazine says “we had three deciding factors that it came down to. one is the rise of trolls, which is a pretty well-understood term these days – basically, people who come into a comment section of a website to be abusive or unpleasant. second, we had bumped into on our own site, and then had seen it sort of confirmed in other places – and seen, also, studies about this – we discovered that troll behavior – that being unpleasant, being uncivil, sort being really fractious in a debate – can cause readers to actually misunderstand things that are scientifically validated.”

There is, and has long been a long-standing war on actual science in lieu of ideological belief or agenda and this, even in the context of free speech, is not servicing anyone.

“when people encounter an unfamiliar issue like nanotechnology, they often rely on an existing value such as religiosity or deference to science to form a judgment,” explains ashley anderson, a postdoctoral fellow in the center for climate change communication at george mason university and the lead author of the upcoming study in the journal of computer mediated communication.

again, why does it matter? it matters because in our ability to access vast amounts of unfiltered information, we are losing the ability to access the validity of the information and in so doing, we fall back on our lizard brains.

You might be able to think of some current day examples of this. Fact is, when lizard brains are allowed to rule, we all lose.

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Filed under communication, politics, religion, science

The Jonas Salk(s) of our Day?

if you have not looked at the latest issue of philadelphia magazine, you have to grab one asap either on newsstands or on-line. and not why you think. i know, i know, the cover story is the best of philly, the most popular issue of the year and as if that weren’t enough, the cover picture is of a pile of doughnuts (very good doughnuts from what i hear). but that’s the not the reason to see the issue.

read the article titled, “has carl june found the key to fighting cancer?” you will hardly find better summer (or anytime) reading. kudos to writer jason fagone for the masterful way in which he tells this story and bigger kudos to carl june, david porter, bruce levine, and michael kalos who are the stars of the story.

dr. porter, one of the physicians whose work is profiled in the piece, is L’s oncologist at penn’s abramson cancer center and he, together with carl june, an expert in immunotherapy, bruce levine in vaccine production and michael kalos professor of pathology may just have found a cure for cancer.

pause and consider that.

they would never say they’ve found a cure, in fact, i’m considered unscientific for saying that. but the work is so exciting and the results of their trials even more exciting that i’m going to say it anyway.

in short, what they have done is figured out how to extract a person’s t-cells (a type of white blood cell that play a central role in cell-mediated immunity), essentially hop them up, multiply them, infuse them back into the patient and wait for the patient’s own cells to attack the cancer. which they do in a big way. so big, that the team almost lost a couple of patients when their body’s immune system went into overdrive.

it’s a simple yet elegant solution to fighting cancer and, oh by the way, brilliant. this team is not the only team of researchers working along these lines. every major cancer center has clinical trials in this type of gene-therapy as a cancer treatment.


ucsd (my alma mater)

md anderson

make no mistake, these trials are revolutionary. i would call them miraculous but that discounts the brilliant thinking and hard work of these professionals. chances are these therapies will be fast-tracked by the fda and become standard therapies in the next decade or so.

i try not to think too much about how L may have been able to skip the tough road of a bone marrow transplant if she had been diagnosed when this gene therapy was standard treatment.

instead, i’m imagining the number of lives that will be saved, the children who will live to be adults. i’m imagining the patients who will no longer have to endure the rigorous road of chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant. i’m imagining what it will be like for legions of patients to hear a diagnosis of cancer and not think that it’s a death sentence.

i’ve said it before and i continue to repeat it: it’s a bright new world.


Filed under health, medical, science

Let’s make stuff!

ahhhhh summer. time to relax, lounge, read a good book, watch a movie, catch up on correspondence and, if you’re a parent, try desperately to keep the kids from driving you crazy.

i always went to summer school as a kid. when i say that, most people look at me cross-eyed since summer school now is widely recognized to be school for kids who didn’t do well during the school year. my summer school was a time to take enrichment classes that weren’t taught in catholic school – sewing, art and science. i especially liked science because this was hands on cool stuff kind of science that nuns would never have any part of. i remember one summer school teacher hitting a tuning fork on the side of a desk and putting the end in a tray of water so we could “see” sound. another helped us build water rockets that we shot out in the field behind the classroom.

that was all it took for me to most summers setting things on fire with a magnifying glass, building model rockets and finding ways to blow stuff up.

i was lucky enough to stay home with the kids when they were little and i always made it a point to structure part of the day with music, crafts, reading and science stuff.

so in the spirit of summer fun for you and the kids, here are a couple of websites to inspire you to build stuff, make stuff and hopefully, blow stuff up.

instructables – kind of a compilation website that gathers instructions and videos from people who’ve tried things already. – you’d better be very much up on your game to try some of the stuff on this site. You can find directions to build your own 3d printer!

P.S. the original title of this post was “Let’s Blow Stuff Up!” then i wondered what the NSA would make of that title and i changed it.

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Filed under family, hacking, Parent, science, tips, vacation

Not enough thanks

It’s a shame that a frenzy of shopping makes more headlines than a holiday with a concept as simple as giving thanks.  The whole crazed shopping thing is not my deal, and I couldn’t care less what people do on their Friday after Thanksgiving, but I very much do not like the idea of Thanksgiving being co-oped by shopping nonsense.

Thanksgiving may have passed, I’m still thinking about giving thanks.

First of all, I am thankful for family and friends.  I am thankful for how fortunate we are that we employed, relatively financially secure and of a means to enjoy a celebratory feast and generously share our resources with those who have challenges.  Most of all, we have our health.

It’s been almost four years since L’s diagnosis and two years since her bone marrow transplant.  Her health is stellar.  She had a rough road and more daily issues that any of us care to think about, but now she is healthy and almost completely free of the lingering effects of transplant. I’m sure for all the medical practitioners, researchers and technicians this is somewhat commonplace, but to me it’s a miracle of the best kind because it hinges on research, knowledge and practice.

Thanks to those who spend their lives working on treatments and cures for our medical conditions, our world and our future have changed for the better.  And, this is just the beginning.

Researchers at Jefferson announced that they may have discovered that a hormonal imbalance is the cause of colon cancer.  So far the research has been confined to rats, but their testing shows that virtually 100% of human patients diagnosed with colon cancer shared the same hormone deficiency.  They are testing whether supplementing the hormone alerts the body’s immune system to attack the cancer cells and prevent future tumor growth.

Then there’s this news from the Abramson Cancer center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania:

“The Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) made a major breakthrough in cancer immunotherapy, which was recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine. “What we’re doing falls under the area of personalized medicine in the extreme sense – using a person’s own white blood cells or tumor cells to develop a personalized vaccine,” says Carl H. June, M.D., Director, Translational Research at the ACC, who is overseeing the development of these vaccines.

Dr. June, widely regarded as one of the world’s leading cancer immunologists, has spent years conducting research at the ACC with modified T cells, cells in the body that are capable of recognizing, attacking, and destroying foreign invaders, and assembling a team of physician-scientists to advance immunotherapy for many types of cancer.

During immunotherapy, the patient’s cells are removed and modified. The altered cells are infused back into the patient’s body following chemotherapy. “This isn’t a drug in a bottle or a vaccine in a vial,” Dr. June says. “This is more like a next-generation blood transfusion.” – Abramson Report, Winter 2012

Doctors at MD Anderson believe that “dying from cancer can eventually be as rare as dying from pneumonia.” Researchers are closest to finding cures for five cancers:  lung cancer,

melanoma, triple negative breast cancer and ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, acute myeloid leukemia/myelodysplastic syndrome and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (blood cancers).

Those are just a few examples of what’s going on in the world of cancer research, I’m quite sure there are dedicated medical professionals around the world working every day.

Thanks to them we can all look forward to a brighter future and that’s light years better than any dumb sale.









Filed under holiday, medical, science