Saturday, December 15, 2012

Putting the Scientist in Charge

Science is the foundation of all human knowledge and yet scientists are often not at the center of business and financial decision making.  I have been racking my brain with this issue and think that if our society is going to have continued success we should make science a central principle that informs all that we do.  So why is it that we don't live in a science-centric society?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Fix the Economic Suck

I won't bore you with the details of how sucky the economy really is.  What I will discuss is one solution for fixing it, by pointing at one of the biggest suckers of all; the public sector.  But briefly; what is the economy and why do we care? Well, in order  to not quote the all powerful Wikipedia, I will simply describe the economy as everything that you do to interact with others in a specific area.  This is a broad definition, because both everything you do; consume, re-purpose, or create, can be included as long as its an interaction. And the area can be a geographic one or even a diplomatic or artificial one; say the internet economy as an example.  Furthermore, we often add some sort of financial or monetary attribute to our definition of the economy, and economics is the study of the distribution of wealth, typically in the form of money; but can be the allocations of goods, resources, or other commodities as well.   One report suggests that Americans are 40% poorer than they were 4 years ago.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Pitch for Parabolic Education

I have been thinking about the state of education again.  This is not surprising since I have spent the majority of my life in one education system or another.  My parents were both educated educators, so they got me started even before preschool.  My dad was a reading specialist among other things and my mom still teaches special ed, probably because I was so special to teach.  I still remember a rather boring book that I sat down to read by myself called "Gregory's Dog,"  pronounced George-ory to me since I had a bit of a deficiency in attention.  But I am not here to debate early childhood education, it is a good thing, and the more of it the better.  Our early brains are like sponges and should be allowed or encouraged to absorb as much as we can before we have to fend for ourselves in the ruthless world of shopping malls and freeways in which the majority of us sadly reside.  What I am here to debate is college.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Part 5: Water, Air, and Other Such Essentials

In the end, survival in the depths of space will require the same things that survival here on Earth does.  That is; success in any hostile environment requires three things; innovation, versatility, and Wikipedia.   For example, you will need to bring objects with the versatility to be more than one thing, you will need to bring your own innovation to turn one or several objects into something else in a pinch, and you will need to bring Wikipedia; the entire encyclopedia of human knowledge, to help you find a solution quickly rather than reinventing the infernal wheel with only five minutes of breathable air left in your dying space craft.  I mean, the Discovery Channel has a lot of shows suggesting that its hard to find water in the desert, but I would hate to be the poor sap trying to find it in the vacuum of space.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Part 4: Galactic Farming Practices

Asteroid Farming, Ady age 7
The grass is getting greener and my allergies are dying down, so that means its time to plant the crops.  I thought since spring had sprung I would discuss the practice of farming and how it will evolve as we spread our metaphorical wings toward the galactic empire in space.  Bearing in mind that what I propose here is only near future predictions and doesn't even touch on the future future of farming that will come after that.  The two types of crops that humans mass produce for consumption are plants and animals, and to a lesser degree fungus, bacteria, and anything else our omnivorous stomachs will handle; including all sorts of chemical non-foods like margarine, Twinkies, and Viagra.  Food production is a trillion dollar industry; namely because every single human is addicted to it.  It's hard to stop eating; I tried it a couple of times (for a few hours.... while sleeping) and I really didn't like it ( I had to break the fast in the morning). Indeed, obesity has been called an epidemic in many parts of the Earth, but hopefully some of the future crop production that I will discuss below will stop all of that, by making food into a bland nutritious gruel that no one would eat for fun.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Part 3: Finding a Room in Space

Sleep Module, Ady age 7
My wife keeps telling me what she wants in her next house.  "I guess I will just add it to my list," she says folding clothes, as she runs down why we need a bigger closet, or another bedroom with a luxury bath.  I tell her that I think we should have a giant tilapia pool in the basement that filters through a subterranean hydroponic garden, that way we can grow our own meat and vegetables.  She roles her eyes.  I say it would also be nice if we had thrusters.  "Thrusters?" she asks, (got her).  "Yeah," I say, "How else will we maneuver in the vacuum of space.  A good low energy ion thruster would be valuable on any space house just in case it needs to be moved out of the way of some space debris or something."  Which got me thinking about other things that are valuable when designing useful space habitations and even how we could test them.  I will discuss some of the subsystems necessary for life in  space in this the third installment of my TIS guide.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A little about this blog

I had originally decided to write this blog as a way of showcasing my writing ability to potential publishers and editors at peer reviewed journals of science, as such I wrote from a perspective of a hard hitting science writer, aiming my arguments at a crowd of fellow scientists interested in such topics.  That does not seem to be my audience, (if I have an audience).  Furthermore, I wished to propose a world view that I discuss further in my introductory post (see The Transductionist).  All of my posts thus far revolved around this world view and continuing posts will as well, but in the future I will write with a more general audience in mind.  What you have seen if you have read this blog, is a group of articles that span my interest in understanding our universe and exemplify one piece of my persona or another; the cynic, the scientist, the scholar, and the joker.  I will still focus on science and technology and how to integrate it into our future world, and I will still try to relay information about complex topics, but now I will  hopefully do it  with all of the elements of my persona combined (A bit like Captain Planet).  Perhaps, this will be a better interpretation of my true voice.  And if editors and publishers have viewed this blog or do so in the future, they can look at some of my previous posts as evidence of the range of my work and send me a message if they want to offer me a job.  Not holding my breath though, It's hard to break into writing as a career, and I've got a good job as a graduate student and don't intend to give it up, because its also hard to break into science  (and if you don't think 'grad student' counts as a job, let me assure you that I work 6 to 7 days a week for peanuts and no pension plan; its a job).
Thanks for reading and let me know what you like because I'm looking for feedback, I'm looking to grow as a writer, to expand my mind, and perhaps to make someone else think like a transductionist.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Systems Should be Designed with Biology in Mind

It has not escaped my notice that a new election year has come; which brings to mind politics and government in general.  The world political systems are a mess; that much I think we can all agree on.  From there the schools of thought begin to differ.  Briefly, as I (and others) see it, there are two schools of thought about how governments should be run at least in American politics; to care or to be fair; also known as the left and the right.  Another source of contention, of course, is the fight between the 'haves' and 'have nots'.  This debate can be seen in the U.S. between the outraged wall street protesters who demand we tax the upper 1%, and those who invoke the Boston tea party and oppose any new taxes.  Once again in history, each side has been misdirected to point their fingers at the other.  However, there is no individual that we can hold accountable for the national debt, nor can we hold one group culpable for our economic instability; instead I posit that it is the system that has failed.  Below, I discuss an idea that may fix it. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide, Part Two: How to Settle Space

In my last post, the first part of my planned survival guide to the galaxy, I discussed the human resolve to leave the planet Earth in search of new frontiers in space.  In this post I will discuss some suggestions as to what to look for in our destination.  In order to shorten the title of this guide I have decided to remove 'The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide', from the official title of  future posts to make the topic more discernible, but will include the meta tag, 'TIS Guide,' with each post in the series, which makes me glad that I didn't choose the alternative title 'The Transductionist's Intergalactic Travel Guide' because of the wrong crowd it might attract.  Enjoy.

Spaceship, Ady age 7
 The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide, Part Two: How to Settle Space

National space organizations around the world have consolidated a lot of their efforts into exploration of the solar system and maintaining a space station in low Earth orbit.
Both of these goals are vital to our survival in space.  In the second part of this guide to survival in the wastelands of space, I focus on one of these goals, which is also the first priority in colonizing space; namely the destination.  Most individuals and organizations must have a directed goal in mind, to keep spending in check and to keep from slipping into oblivion.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide, Part One: Why We Need Space

Rocket, Ady age 7
 In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the galaxy by Douglas Adams we follow the exploits of earth man Arthur Dent who travels through the universe in his bathrobe after the Earth is destroyed to make way for a bypass; because bypasses have to be built.  If you haven't heard of the book you probably haven't traveled much in the western spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy, and if you haven't read it, then you should.  Its a quick read, full of satire, and is at least good for a laugh.  The idea that the Earth could be destroyed for any reason, including to make way for a bypass, is the reason we all strive so hard to figure the universe out.  The unknown is what will eventually kill us.  So while Adams ultimately had a good idea to write a survival guide to the universe, he never really lets us see more than bits and pieces of it.  But in this, the first part of a series, I will try to show how the technologies and know-how collected every day right here on planet Earth, might ultimately serve us well when we abandon this rock.  To begin, I will explain why me must leave the Earth and perhaps convince you that we will.  In future parts, I will address the all important how.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Putting the Reductionist Back Together Again

For the past century, at least, a debate has raged in the poster pinned halls of scientific institutions over two methods of investigation; namely, top down or bottom up.  These two methods can be seen in the text books published in many scientific fields.  In my own field of neuroscience the text books are divided into molecular neuroscience and systems neuroscience.  The bottom-up approach, also known as the reductionist model of investigation, focuses on sub-cellular and cellular mechanisms in order to describe biological phenomena from cilia dynamics in the gut all the way up to group behavior patterns.  However it is limited in many ways by the techniques used in these investigations and is criticized for an inability to predict complex systems accurately. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

How to make money in science

Ha.  You can't make money in science.  At least not in the system in which science currently resides (for a business perspective read Peter Kissinger's article at ddn), but bare with me and I will walk through some policy changes and some personal considerations that may make the pursuit of science into what it should be; the main outlet for innovation that drives the economy of the world and your pocket.  Right now, companies are mining the data that is gathered by technicians, graduate students, post-docs, and yes, sometimes, principal investigators (P.I.s) in academic institutions in order to pull forth gold from the dredged up lesser rocks and sediment spewed forth in journals every week.   They take that information and make drugs out of it, or make leaner beef, or genetically modify your corn and then they make money from it.  And the P.I.s, the post-docs, the graduate students, and technicians, well, they mostly don't.   They do, however, get to bask in the glow of a job well done, holding their head up high, knowing that they have done their part for mankind while convincing themselves that they have no need for fancy things; like a working automobile or gourmet macaroni and cheese.  Is it any wonder why the US has seen a decreasing interest in math and science? Any well adjusted parent would be wise to steer their children into athletics or acting because it has at least the same odds of making nothing and much better odds of making a lot [a good discussion of this at Jeff Selingo's Next post at the Chronicle].

Monday, February 27, 2012

You (and your children) are what you do:

The Soft Influence of Lamarck
Increasing evidence suggests that your environment and behavior in life may affect the lives of your children and even your grandchildren.  The meme that suggests that all genetic information is passed through genes may be wrong, or at least incomplete.  But even when heredity was first being described there were at least two schools of thought on the issue.  The first school is the one in which we all know and love; Darwinian evolution, in which information is passed from one generation to the next via some genetic material, which it turns out was DNA.  The other less well examined idea of heritable evolution was proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a French biologist, who suggested that traits were passed from one generation to the next, not by packets at the genetic level, but through use or disuse; a term often called soft inheritance.  I.e. giraffes have long necks because their predecessors stretched their necks more to reach leaves on tall branches.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Training for our Future

The education system, by its very nature, is rooted in the past.  But when it comes to advanced educational degrees particularly in the sciences, where the typical entering graduate student may not be in the real job market for another decade, a curriculum that is focused on the future may be more advantageous.  In the last few decades we have seen an explosion in technological advancement, which the futurist; Ray Kurzweil, calls the singularity.  This singularity is characterized by an exponential curve in the rate of technological advancement that will eventually get to a point where we as humans will no longer be capable of predicting the future.  It also suggests that in past generations, predicting the future was not the necessity that it may be today, due to the slow rate of change.  Therefore, an education system did not have to direct much effort toward explaining to students about the rapid changes that would take place in years to come.  For example, farming practices may have changed gradually over time, but the mainstay of a farmer’s education could be focused on learning the tricks and techniques of their fathers.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Working Hard Isn’t Enough:

Hard work is necessary in life and in many employment sectors in order to stay afloat.  The scientific red queen hypothesis in which ecosystems keep each component in check via an evolutionary arms race is a case in point. This idea, stolen from Lewis Carroll’s fantastic satire Through the Looking Glass, in which Alice must run as fast as she can just to stay in one place, is the classic illustration of hard work not paying off.  Indeed, when someone posted a picture of women in Africa carrying bundles with the caption that quoted George Monbiot which said, “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire,” my first cynical thought was, Of course not, you need to work smart not just hard.  (see Women andGirls Lead, a non-profit who promotes networking and education for women).  Given that the adage ‘Work smart not hard’ is one I follow, I thought I would delineate how this adage really works by discussing three principles that allow for working smart.  The principles I will discuss are novel discovery, bolus energy expenditure, and specialization. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Transductionist

Transduction, if one simply looks it up on Wikipedia, is most simply a transfer from one source to another.  Specifically, it can be used; as it is in my line of work as a molecular biologist, to describe the transfer of a molecular signal from one source, say outside a cell, to another source, say the inside of the cell.  In physics it is the transfer of a donor electron to a recipient and in psychology it is used to describe extrapolation from a single case into the general case.  This blog will be an attempt at transduction.  I will attempt to ‘transduce’ the information that I find in the scientific and popular media into my own set of prose on specific topics regarding science, science policy, and scientific theory.   Furthermore, I wish to herein coin the term ‘Transductionist,’ to describe an individual that believes that they; like all living things, are the culmination of experience and the source of its passage.