“Stir-Fried Stochasticity” podcast: pilot episode

Cornelia the Happy Mutt with a tennis ballI’m still not sure I know why I have a desire to push recordings of my voice onto a more or less innocent worldwide population, but I do. And now I have a real theme to wrap an attempt at a podcast (or as I prefer – “oggcast”) around: scientific papers.

I finally got annoyed at press-release-based science stories one too many times, and thought to myself “why does almost nobody who does these stories at least cite the dang thing so I can go look it up and see what’s really in it, if they can’t be bothered to actually read and report on it themselves rather than just the press-release?” The story in question was the recent one about how babies understand dog-language (or something like that). Since I consider the dog to be a philosophical role-model, I wanted to read the actual paper and see if it was as silly as the headlines made it sound or (as I suspected) less flashy but more solid…but even “Science Daily” didn’t cite it.

Finally talking myself out of putting off doing audio recording, I tracked down the original paper, read it, and whipped out a rough show discussing what I found in the paper. I had fun doing it, so I’d like to turn it into a series.

I’ve put up a utilitarian page at http://bigroom.org/stirfry with both a built-in <audio> tag interface and direct-download links for both Ogg Vorbis and MP3 versions.

I’m still deciding exactly how I’m going to decide on the papers to cover – should I pick obscure, forgotten ones that almost nobody else would ever read again without me stumbling on them and talking about them? Classic papers? Papers related to recent news stories like this one? All of the above? Depending on how long I end up trying to make the episodes, perhaps starting with some kind of scientific question and then reporting on a selection of papers I dig up to address the question, or just a selection of papers on the same subject? I’ve already gotten a request for an episode on the theme of prokaryotic extracellular polysaccharides…

The rate at which I can convince myself to try to crank these out (and improve their quality) is directly proportional to how much interest there might be out there in them, so please don’t hesitate to let me know if you think this might be interesting. Please don’t let me slack off! Also, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong about anything I mention in the show or the attached show notes.

If you don’t want to comment here, you can also email me at epicanis at bigroom.org.

Thank you, and good night…

The rightful place of science, and “The definition of an intoxicating beverage”

Advocates for the repeal of prohibition carrying 'We Want Beer' signs

Just a brief point first: President Obama in his inaugural address promised to “restore science to its rightful place.” In traditional fashion, this prompted all manner of verbosity on blogs around the web concerning just what science’s rightful place actually is. Let me just take a moment to settle this question:

Science’s rightful place is kneeling at my feet in supplication and doing my bidding! AH, HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!

But that’s not what I came here to post about. Instead, I wanted to mention a paper I finally got my hands on. You may recall that some time back there were a few stories that popped up about what was said to be a “you can’t get drunk on beer” paper published back in the 1950’s. As usual, the people doing the reporting couldn’t be bothered to actually cite the paper in question, but I figured out which one it was. The paper is this one:
Greenberg LA:”The Definition of an Intoxicating Beverage”; Q J Stud Alcohol. 1955 Jun;16(2):316-25.

I have that paper. And I am quite disappointed in it in much the same way I was with Linus Pauling’s paper proposing a triple-helix structure for DNA. I did, though, learn some interesting things from Greenberg’s paper.

It turns out that the paper actually concerns the legal definition of “intoxication” and whether or not, based on this definition, beer should be classified as an “intoxicating beverage”. Greenberg actually raises some good points…but first, some amusement:

“The average alcohol content of American beers is 3.7 per cent[…]The strongest ale is 4.2 per cent” (page 320, paragraph 4)

Unfortunately, this isn’t quite as funny as it sounds, because the part I clipped out of that quote is where he says “by weight”. It’s still kinda funny though, since that would mean, in mass-market-bladderwash terms, that “The Strongest Ale” is Heineken.


This Alcohol-by-Weight-vs-Volume issue may actually be part of why American beers have a reputation for having watery, feeble beers. It evidently used to be that places like Canada were using alcohol-by-volume, while the US was using alcohol-by-weight on their labels. An otherwise-identical beer bottled in Canada would have a higher “percent alcohol” on the label than the US-bottled version, making it seem as though the American version was weaker. So, evidently it’s not really true…things like “Coors Lite” notwithstanding. (See this recent page at Fermentarium.com for more details.)

But back to the point of the paper…evidently as Greenberg was writing this paper half a century ago, there wasn’t a clear, quantitative scientific or legal definition for “intoxication”. He points out that you can’t just define it in terms of alcohol merely having noticeable effects on the drinker, since the magnitude of the unpleasant effects at low to moderate drinking levels aren’t really much different than that for (for undesirable effects) lack of sleep, distraction [remember all those studies saying talking on the cell-phone while driving is as bad as being drunk?], hunger and so forth. For that matter, I think we can all see the problem of trying to arrest anyone who is being relaxed and amiable for “public intoxication”.

Greenberg solves this problem by looking at the average blood-alcohol concentration of people arrested for “intoxication” (0.21% back in the 1950’s, evidently), and a couple of previous studies from the 1920’s and 1930’s, and he finally settles on 0.15% Blood Alcohol Concentration as a level he’ll use as the line for “definitely intoxicated”. He then proceeds to go through the common classes of alcohol-containing beverages to determine how easy it is for someone to consume enough to reach this BAC.

In summary – For hard liquor, and average person would have to consume 8 ounces plus one ounce per hour of drinking (for example, 9 ounces consumed over the course of one hour). That’s not a difficult quantity to fit into a typical stomach, so hard liquor is obviously an “intoxicating beverage”. Fortified wines (like Port, Madiera…or Thunderbird): about 18 ounces plus 2 ounces per hour – say, a pint and a half in about 4 hours. Still pretty easy to do. An ordinary wine (like, say, a Gewürtztraminer): 36 ounces plus 4 ounces/hour – or a 7-11 “Super Big Gulp®”-sized portion in two or three hours. Getting to be a fairly substantial amount of liquid, but still plausible.

And then there’s beer. Greenberg comes up with a figure of 80 ounces + 10 ounces/hour. That’s roughly three quarts within one hour, which is quite a bit more than the approximately 2 quarts that a human stomach can hold. He goes on to describe several controlled experiments on beer consumption and the resulting blood-alcohol concentration. By pushing one group to consume a gallon and a half of beer over a period of 8 hours, they were able to get up to an average of just under “intoxicated” (by Greenberg’s definition) at 0.13%. The rate of beer ingestion required to pass the “intoxication” threshhold was more than most test subjects could even manage. Therefore (Greenberg concludes) beer should probably not actually be classified as an “intoxicating beverage”

Now for the party-poopery: Greenberg explicitly points out that this is certainly not the same as saying that beer cannot impair a drinker’s performance or judgement, so just because you haven’t consumed anything stronger than beer it doesn’t mean you should be allowed behind the wheel of a steamroller. Nor does it mean that it’d be okay for an alcoholic to drink beer (since an alcoholic is very unlikely to stop with just beer). Furthermore, these days “intoxicated” is legally about half of the level that Greenberg is using – 0.08% in most places in the US as far as I can tell. By Greenberg’s measure, you can easily get that amount of alcohol out of a pitcher of beer consumed over an hour.

So, Greenberg isn’t crazy, and beer can still make you drunk, just as we all would expect. How disappointing. Still, it’s an interesting paper and I’m glad I dug it up.

On a related note, if I can get my hands on an old paper from the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, I may have found my selection for February’s Giant’s Shoulders blog carnival. Stay tuned, more to come…

“A Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids”

Hello again, girls and boys and whatever else may be out there reading. It’s time once again for this blog’s contribution to The Giant’s Shoulders (hosted this time over at “Second Order Approximation“). This month I’m looking at something even smaller than usual. Inspired by my new job in the biochemistry department where they seem to do a substantial amount of X-ray crystallography (which I do not – yet – understand as well as I’d like), I thought I’d drop all the way down to the molecular level and talk about a fundamental discovery that helped make modern molecular microbiology possible: the structure of DNA.

Yes, it was over a half-century ago that an accomplished scientist, working with X-ray images produced from crystallized nucleic acids, published the first proposed structure for for them – the famous Triple Helix.

Continue reading “A Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids”

FoodTV’s new “Food Detectives” show…

That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more! I had intended to try to come up with another post for this month’s “The Giant’s Shoulders” anthology, but I’ve just encountered such an appalling concentration of disappointing un-science that I cannot restrain myself any further. Guess I’ll have to settle for one post in the anthology this month.

FoodTV’s new “Food Detectives” show sounded so promising. I thought to myself “‘MythBusters’ meets ‘Good Eats’!?!? That would be pure, refined, pharmaceutical-grade WIN!” Then I saw their premier episode. The “experiments” appeared blatantly and badly staged, and in some cases shockingly badly designed. For example, their “experiment” with refrigerator deodorants involved showing a guy sticking his face into a ‘fridge allegedly full of smelly stuff and filming him making faces while they timed how long he pretended to be willing to keep his face in there.

Continue reading FoodTV’s new “Food Detectives” show…

What really counts as a “microbe”?

Just a brief pre-post before the main one I’ve got brewing now (which will be posted either later today or tomorrow).

A tapeworm: Since when does 30-36 feet long count as 'micro'???Microbiology is the dominating topic of this particular blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever addressed what I consider to really count as “micro”biology. This isn’t necessarily an obvious topic. My old “Microbiology” book from 8 years ago, plus the textbook from last year’s “Pathogenic Microbiology” class both contained large sections discussing organisms that are visible without a microscope. Heck, the “Pathogenic Microbiology” text even had a whole section on spider and insect bites. And, tapeworms? Since when is “over 30 feet long” considered “micro”? As I like to say: It’s time for Microbiology to grow up and move out of Medicine’s basement.

So: Here are the defining features of what I consider to be a “microbe”, at least for purposes of what I tend to discuss here on the blog:

  • Obvious: the organism cannot be effectively examined visually without a microscope and individual organisms can virtually never be observed by the “naked eye”.
  • In nature, a full normal population of a microbe can and will develop from a single live cell, and isolated individual cells are reasonably commonly observed.
  • Microbes do not “eat”.

It’s that last point that prompted me to write this post, mainly because it’s such an important part of why microbes work and how they affect their surroundings, especially when it comes to food microbes. What I mean by “do not eat” is that they are incapable of taking large (microbially speaking) chunks of material into themselves to use. Any cell nutrient for a microbe must be in the form of small molecules, like sugars, small peptides or individual amino acids, and so on that can be easily transported across the cell membranes and through the cell wall where applicable.

The importance of this is that for a microbe to grow on a complicated substance like meat or bread (for example), they have to excrete specialized enzymes that break down the substances out in the environment into simpler components like sugars or small peptides. If a microbe cannot secrete a protein-digesting “protease” enzyme, it can be surrounded by tasty, nutritious proteins and still starve to death. If a microbe can’t secrete an amylase (starch-digesting) enzyme, it doesn’t matter that starch is made of nice yummy glucose molecules because they’re all wadded up into long chains of starch that the microbe can’t get at.

And that, finally, is important because it brings up issues of growing multiple microbes together to accomplish something. Sake, for example, is made by fermenting rice, but rice is made primarily of starch. Saccharomyces yeasts don’t make amylases, so in order to make sake, you also have to add a kind of mold (Aspergillus oryzae, one of the types of white-mold-with-little-black-specks that you may see growing on the bread you’ve left sitting around for too long). A. oryzae is also a microbe and therefore can’t “eat”, but it does produce amylase. Since the amylase is breaking down the starches outside of the cells, this means the released glucose is also available for the yeast to use.

Admittedly, my definition above isn’t perfect. On the one hand, it leaves out protozoa (like amoebae and the well-known Paramecium, both of which actually do take in “chunks” of food, but both of which most people would normally consider to be “microbes”. It also leaves IN things like mushrooms, which are not usually thought of as being “microbes” by people who aren’t microbiologists. And, of course, it leaves me with no excuse not to go and learn something about eukaryotic (“plant”) algae (as opposed to bacteria-algae, a.k.a. cyanobacteria) and diatoms. Suggestions for updating my definition may be left in the comments…

Just something that came up while I was assembling what will be the next post. Stay tuned.

Do Not Want: Celestron LDM

Back in Idaho for the moment. The trip was somewhat exhausting, but I thought a followup to The previous post on the Celestron LDM microscope was in order, as I finally got a reply back after almost two weeks.

(20080329:Quick update. I am surprised to see this post is getting more interest that I’d anticipated. I’ve added a brief summary to the end of the post to help clarify my opinion since it seems people may be interested.)

I had asked them if it was possible to replace the objective lenses (so as to be able to use an oil-immersion lens to get 1000X magnification – pretty much a neccessity for decent bacteriological work – such as examining yogurt cultures) and whether the camera could be swapped for a regular eyepiece. Larger yeast cells used in brewing might be okay in 400X, but even there it’d be nice to be able to zoom in adequately to get better detail – like watching conjugation or budding of yeast cells.

The answer:

“The answer is ‘no’ to both because of the sizes, etc. are specific to this unit.”
Email ID: ZZR-372549
Department: Technical Support
Priority:
Status: Closed

I guess there’s no point in asking about getting a darkfield condenser for it. On the plus side, they did actually give me a reply at least.

I’ve got to say I’m seriously disappointed that Celestron has evidently intentionally engineered this microscope product (and their other offerings as well, perhaps?) to Not Play Well With Others. Why else go to the trouble and additional expense of coming up with your own special specifications for the parts when standard parts are readily available?

This seems especially absurd in a product aimed at science enthusiasts, who strike me as very likely to be strongly aligned with the “Maker” attitude…at least if they’re any good at Science Enthusiasm. I think the “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it” concept meshes very well with the investigative attitude necessary for science. So, we want “internet”, and they give us “AOL” instead. A sad, sad fate for an otherwise great concept, and on this basis I must render a verdict of “Do Not Want”.

Find me a version of this product – from any vendor – which can accept standard oculars and objective lenses and I’ll sell blood plasma and beg on the street to raise money for it. (If nothing else, it’d give me an excuse to finally start up the “science begging” blog-post series I’ve been threatening for a while now…) Of course, it’d be nice to have an ordinary “real” microscope, too…this blog still doesn’t have enough pictures.
(P.S. Dear Celestron: although I doubt anybody at Celestron will ever even see my obscure blog, and in that respect my previous post’s comment about sending me one to review was just a joke. Despite this, I was sincere, so in the unlikely event that someone out there sees this post and has the authority and inclination to do so, feel free to send me one to review anyway. And a pony.)

SUMMARY (in my opinion):
Good:

  • VERY nice, highly desirable concept overall.
  • Self-contained, platform-neutral design, should work with anything that can support SD cards or USB Storage devices.
  • Potentially a nice field microscope? (Probably not hard to hack together a battery pack that could be used in place of the AC adapter)

Bad:

  • Does NOT appear suitable for bacteriological or similarly high-magnification applications
  • Non-standard components prevent upgrades.
  • Non-standard components mean vendor lock-in problems (if Celestron gets tired of making replacement parts and some kid scratches your objective lenses or cracks the viewscreen, you’re out of luck.)
  • Digital camera and viewscreen appear to be integral, so if the camera or viewscreen dies I’d guess the whole device becomes a useless lump.

My recommendations for Celestron or other microscope manufacturers (should any of them care about the opinion of some nerd on some obscure blog like this one):

  • Please, please use standard parts wherever possible – it makes your device a much safer bet for anyone thinking ahead towards possible upgrades or replacement parts.
  • Don’t ignore bacteriological applications.
  • Easily replaceable parts make for graceful failures. For example, if the camera on this model could be swapped for an ordinary ocular, the microscope would at least be usable while the camera portion was being sent in for repair or replacement.

All this week: A topic important to secular and religious people alike

It’s not midnight here yet, I’m still on time!

Hello, “Just Science 2008” subscribers and everyone else. My life is insane at the moment but dagnabbit I’m going to do my best to get at least one post up on a scientific topic every day from today (Monday, February 4th) until Friday…

Today’s post is in the form of a gedanken experiment.

First, imagine the following:

  • Some “entities” existing somewhere
  • It doesn’t matter what “entities” you are imagining, whether they are products in a market setting, or data structures in a computer program, or topics of discussion on a news broadcast. All that matters is that there can be more than one of them.

  • A mechanism by which these “entities” are copied (and, optionally, also sometimes removed)
  • Products are manufactured or recalled, data structures can be copied or deleted, additional news anchors can be added to comment on a topic or conversely may shut up about them…

  • At least one mechanism by which changes can occur between or during copies
  • Product designs can be changed, a computer program may consult a “random number” generator and use it to make small changes in the data structure, scriptwriters may alter the news anchor’s teleprompter messages…

  • Some aspect of the “entities” that affects the rate at which they are copied (and/or, optionally, removed).
  • Demand by buyers in the market results in ramping-up of production, a computer program may perform some test or comparison of a data structure and use the result to determine how many copies of it to make (or whether or not to delete it), news topics that result in more people watching are repeated more often while those that people tune out from are dropped from the schedule…

What happens to this group of “entities” over time should be obvious. Taking the example of products in a market, producers introduce a variety of products (the group of “entities” in this example) and buyers examine their characteristics and, based on which ones they like, buy some of them. The producers observe which kinds of products are selling more and make more of those, while reducing or outright eliminating the production of those that aren’t selling well. Over time, a few of the kinds of products in this group which best fit the preferences of the buyers and the ability of the producers to make them. These products will dominate the market until the preferences of the buyers or the ability of the producers to produce them change [example: a shortage in the price of a particular material needed for a popular product].

You have most likely observed this process in the “news topic” context yourself, where it tends to happen much faster as “cheap and easy” news stories are happily picked up by news agencies to broadcast until people get sick of them and tune out.

This can all, hopefully, be understood as a purely logical outcome – a conclusion that universally and necessarily follows from the premises given. There should be nothing supernatural or even surprising here, is there?

So, now that you understand why and how evolution works (if you didn’t before), I can move on. (Incidentally, the part of the example above that describes a computerized system is actually referred to as a “genetic algorithm”.)

My purpose in starting with this is because it really and truly is fundamental to the topic that I expect to spend most of this week posting about, and which has been of vital importance to human culture and intellectual development for thousands of years. This most important subject involves such notable figures as Charles Darwin,St. Thomas Aquinas, Noted American Science-guy Benjamin Franklin, New England Puritan Cotton Mather and Quaker William Penn ,Hardcore Catholics like Pope John Paul II, Hardcore Athiests like PZ Myers, even famous religious figures like Jesus.

I refer, of course, to wine (and beer and other examples of ethanol production).

Okay, here’s the background: I just graduated with my B.S. in Microbiology, and I’ve got this whole “Hillbilly Biotech”/”Do-it-yourself”/”Practical Science” kind of thing going on in my interests. That being the case, I wondered what it would take to isolate, culture, and maintain my own yeast (and bacteria – more on that later) stocks from the environment rather than buying “canned” cultures – or at least play with the “canned” yeasts to create my own stocks. As I was poking around, though, I kept running into the same attitudes – namely that it’s “too hard” to do this, and although there are a number of people who advocate re-culturing canned commercial yeasts for a short time to save money, none of them think it’s feasible to do this for more than a couple of generations, at which point we are assured that you have to go buy it again or else “mutations” will inevitably appear and scary and mysterious “off-flavors” will result and the brewing police will come and throw you in jail for deviating from the archetype of whatever pre-defined style of wine or beer you’re trying to make. Or something like that. In any case, it’s because of this fear of “mutations” that I am starting out with this “evolution”-related post: in biological evolution, various forms of alterations in the genetic material are the “changes before or during copying” in the gedanken experiment above.

I didn’t buy it when people were telling me that it was “too hard” to learn how my computer works so that I could run Linux and should instead leave deciding what my computer should do to the “professionals”, and I’m not buying the same argument about commercial yeasts, either. If I felt that way, I might as well leave the rest of the complex technology of brewing to the “professionals” too, and consign myself to “Lite Beer” and “Thunderbird” for the rest of my life.

I’ve been spending much of the last few weeks perusing books, online articles, and scientific papers on subjects related to brewing in general and brewing yeasts in particular, and this should form the bulk of this week’s post topics, of not well beyond this week. Tomorrow I intend to start in on the actual process of culturing yeasts. Meanwhile, feel free to correct my no doubt horribly over-simplified explanation of evolutionary processes in the comments.

This blog does not exist

I say that because in order to exist I must have used my computer to type it in, but George Berkeley “proved” that material things don’t exist. No pictures either this post, because after all my camera doesn’t exist, either.

Okay, the fact that I’ve got a whole cluster of time-sucking school stuff last week and this week to deal with is also a factor in keeping the posts here sparse at the moment. Berkeley just happens to be one of them.

Berkeley was what I would call a “philosophical” Empiricist (whereas I would describe myself as a “practical” empiricist – hence the “Applied” in this blog’s “Applied Empirical Naturalism” subtitle. Put simply, empiricism means that knowledge comes from observation via the senses. I’m a practical kind of guy, and I don’t think this in any way invalidates the use of the intellect to infer additional (testable) knowledge from one’s observations beyond what is directly observed. Berkeley, on the other hand, is a solipsist: he claims that nothing exists unless it is perceived – or is a perceiver.

His argument is a little hard to follow. As best I can tell, he’s starting with a Descartes-like observation that the only thing we ever actually experience are sensory perceptions. In other words, we can experience and know about the sensation of “heat”, but this sensation is just an idea in our minds. Even if there were something “behind” the sensation of heat that was causing it, we could not know anything about it directly, since we only ever experience the sensation.

In a way that is still not entirely clear to me, Berkeley then seems to take the leap from Descartes-style “the only thing I can be certain of existing from my direct observations are ideas, and my mind which contains them” to “since there is no direct empirical basis for claiming the existence of anything else, matter cannot be said to exist”.

Berkeley then goes on to claim that since only minds and ideas exist, and since there are some ideas that seem to be imposed on him (like if he sticks the idea of a red-hot-poker up the idea of his left nostril, he will have the idea of excruciating pain whether he wants to or not), that therefore there must be some other mind from which these ideas come. From this, he makes the leap to claiming that there must be an “infinite” mind which contains all these other ideas, by which he means Godô.

This also gives him a convenient explanation for things existing when nobody’s looking at them. See, God is always looking at everything, so nothing that exists is ever not being perceived.

Personally, I’m finding myself wondering if his argument also leaves open the possibility of an animistic reality instead. He claims that everything we experience (including “sensible things”, i.e. things we see, feel, smell, etc.) is just an idea, and an idea existing without a mind is absurd. Instead of postulating the existence of an “infinite” mind, though, wouldn’t the notion that anything that exists actually does, itself, have a mind (or “spirit” if you prefer) also satisfactorily explain how things can continue to exist even when nobody is observing them? Berkeley makes the claim that inanimate objects don’t have minds…but he gives no justification for this claim. I mean, he admits that he can’t directly observe other people’s minds (or the “infinite” mind either) and therefore can’t prove that anyone but him exists, but he never claims that other people don’t exist. So why couldn’t the continued existence of the fork that I ate dinner with be due to the fork’s own mind?

That “thump” you may have imagined hearing was probably Berkeley turning over in his grave. Berkeley was, after all, a Bishop, going through this whole philosophical exercise out of hatred of “skeptics” and “atheists”, and it amuses me to imagine how appalled he’d be to have his arguments used to support something that he probably felt only “heathens” and “savages” would consider…

Yeah, I know, not much of a post, but I’m a bit overloaded at the moment. Nonetheless, more to follow this week over the next few days, at least.

A short update…

I’ve got an Art History exam in the morning which has been consuming my time, but I wanted to get some kind of post up. Especially since it almost looks as though I just don’t post on Thursdays. I swear the recent several weeks of “no post on Thursday” is purely coincidental.

I’m still waiting to hear if This Week In Science got the audio file I sent them and whether or not they liked it. I did manage to find a legally-free embeddable flash-based audio player that I can use, so I’ll probably post it for listening to online or for downloading soon.

Meanwhile: One of my competitors in the College Blogging Scholarship 2007 competition had an interested post up the other day. Famous neuroscientist Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle posted about a bunch of computer people getting together to have a “hackfest”, where they all work on their projects and exchange ideas. She wonders if something similar might not be possible for scientists.

I have regularly found myself thinking about the possibility of a similar gathering for scientists. I wonder – would an international society of Peripatetic Scientists be feasible? What I envision would be a combination of “Science Cafe’” and “Semi-spontaneous field trip” (or even perhaps a “Flash Mob of Nerds”).

I picture groups of scientists, engineers, and other interested people converging on relatively short notice (say, no more than a week or so) to explore something together, whether it’s a section of a national park, or an observatory, or a grocery store, or even to just wander around in a public space discussing some topic. Rather than a carefully planned and organized event where people take turns “giving presentations”, I tend to suspect a more spontaneous exploration by a group of diverse people like this would result in much better horizontal meme transfer potential. It’s so much easier to participate and listen when one isn’t busy focusing on one’s own presentation material…

How many of you reading this might be interested in participating in this sort of thing?
(UPDATE: TO clarify, I mean how many of you, if you heard something like this was happening where you are, would be interested, not how many people are so incredibly impressed by me that they would travel across the world to be where I am…)

Yatta! I Fail to Reject the Null-Scholarship!

(Oops, got so excited I got carried away with the title. Fixed now.)

I am thrilled to notice this morning that I am in the running for the College Blogging Scholarship, honestly, if this even attracts a larger population of active readers, I’ll consider that alone an excellent “Runner-Up” prize.

Not that the scholarship money wouldn’t be much appreciated…but more about that later.

For the moment though: Hello, current and new readers, to the internet’s self-proclaimed foremost authority on Expired JellO, among other things. I suppose that since I’m asking people to vote for me, I should probably give a quick description of myself and this blog. I’ll keep it short for the moment:

My actual name is Sean Clark; the explanation for the “Epicanis” handle deserves a post of its own. I am a “non-traditional” student at Idaho State University, working on finishing my long-overdue B.S. in Microbiology. This is actually the 5th college institution I’ve attended. It’s not that I’ve been kicked out of the others or anything, just that I keep having to move and start over. I’m finally in one place here long enough to actually finish the degree. Where I end up doing my graduate work depends on where (and if) we end up moving next year – I’ll post about this if anybody’s interested.

My primary interest is in “applied” microbiology, particularly non-medical biotechnology. I’ve been convinced for many years that non-medical applications of microbial biotechnology are underappreciated and somewhat neglected, and I’d rather people not have to get sick before they can benefit from whatever I might come up with…

Incidentally, Hillary Clinton agrees with me (“we should increase investments in non-health applications of bio-technology” – see paragraph 23). Whether that helps or harms my position no doubt depends on your political opinions, but still, I appreciate that someone with some kind of official authority agrees with me. And, hey, maybe this means I’ll be able to find a decent job during or after graduate school. Anybody think the Office of Technology Assessment will be hiring again soon?…

This blog itself is primarily concerned with sharing some of my education, and science in particular, as an exercise in communicating science. I, for one, think I’ve gotten better as the blog has progressed.

A couple of important points: This is a blog, not a magazine: participation is encouraged. If nothing else, the voting for the scholarship looks like it goes on for a couple of weeks, so if you are thinking to yourself “Gosh, I’d vote for you, but you don’t talk enough about X” or “you talk too much about Y” or “I hate the background color of the webpage” or whatever, now’s your chance to speak up. You do not need to be logged in to comment (but I do screen comments, so spammers: you’re wasting both your time and mine), so please do. Also consider subscribing to the RSS feed, found in the upper-right area of the page.

I try to update at least a couple of times each week, though lately I’ve managed to maintain a nearly daily pace. Participation helps here, as comments from readers helps me come up with additional topics to post on. I’m getting a lot of enjoyment out of blogging, so I’ll post as often as I reasonably can…

One last quick note on using this blog: I try to put title tags on most special bits of posts, like images and links. And…bits of text like this, which you might think of as “inline footnotes”. If you hover over anything with that thick-dotted-underline, you should see some additional information. As of a week or two ago, if you click on them, the entire extra text will pop up in a separate box where you can read it all, assuming you don’t have javascript turned off. I haven’t yet gotten around to going back and doing this to the previous bits like this, but I will eventually.

So, again, welcome. Comments, questions, and suggestions will help me improve the blog, and are therefore strongly encouraged. Oh, yes, and please vote for me. Otherwise, I’m going to have to resort to selling blood plasma and begging outside of scientific conferences. Thanks.