Monday, January 31, 2011

TMC Volume 2, Issue 5
Section I: The internet has forgotten Jake Busey

There used to be a recurring feature on NBC local news called "Unsung Heroes". It was basically a chance for local people to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts in their neighborhood, acknowledging the fact that even though there's innumerably more newsworthy things going on in the world at large, it's nice (and cool and ratings-effective) to simply focus on a few things right in your backyard. I used to love watching the news just for that feature. "Unsung Heroes" was in fact one of the many things I wanted to always wanted to be. An Unsung Hero.

Of course, the irony there is that being an Unsung Hero means being ignored. To wish to be an Unsung Hero for the purpose of recognition goes against everything that the Unsung Hero stands for. Man, I was a stupid kid.

Anyway, today the point is that far too many so-called "non-essential" individuals go unnoticed for far too long. 

I'm not talking about myself in this case. It's a change from some previous rants, sure, but hey, what can I say, I'm a paradigm SHIFTER. I like to change it up. Who I am talking about though are all the people who fall between the cracks (so to speak) when it comes to recognition.

The best example I can think of right now is in movies. Far too often have I found even myself (me! the paradigm shifter!) solely focused on the quality and the integrity of a movie through the portrayal of the main cast. I'm captivated when I begin to believe that Leonardo DiCaprio is in fact Frank Abagnale Jr. in the humorous caper "Catch Me If You Can". I'm elated when I lose myself  watching Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas and Milla Jovovich as Leeloo in "The Fifth Element". But what I forget, what I'm saying that we all forget, is that once you take these characters out of their context and place them on a stage all their own, most of them can't hold a line to feed an overweight love-child. One by one, these characters fall flat without the support of a scene an extra, a co-star. But who gets the Oscar? Who gets the party and the fancy champagne and the "how-dee-doo I love you"? Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, and Leo. That's who. And That's too bad.

I could go on, but the point is made, I think. We all know someone in our lives, on our stage, in our drama of living, that has gone far too long without any sort of recognition from us. Some might say, "well of course, because I am the star!" but I don't mean to say that you should make the other person the star of your show (it's your show, after all!). All I'm saying is to give a little bit of that sweet nectar of recognition to that person which made, and continues to make, your life a place where you can shine your brightest.

--Andy you're a star
       In nobody's eyes...
            In nobody's eyes, but mine.-- The Killers

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

TMC Volume 2, Issue 4
section III: The existence of badness in what it is not

"God" is a hotly debated topic. It has been for ages, it is in the current age, and it will certainly be for ages to come. Now, that is not a prophetical statement, but rather more of a well-founded assumption based on the nature of the topic and the observations made about the discussion of it. "God" is impossible to prove by empirical means and "God" is largely indistinguishable for any other theistic (or atheistic) assumption made upon which any philosophical arguments are made. In light of these two facts, "God" will be a topic of infinite unresolution into the indefinite future.

But let's step back for a moment from that bleak, emotionless perspective. Let us instead proceed in the realm which we know best, that is, the human realm. The realm of emotion and logic, pursuit and remembrance, intuition and evidence. It's in this realm we live in, and it's in this realm we find ourselves thinking abstractly and concretely, often forgetting about the abstract concreteness of an existence lived in between these two concepts. People have personalities along with those fabulous eyes, they have tendencies to match that luxurious hair. On top of all that, they have ideas to go along with the ebb and flow of blood that rushes through and through their veins. In this realm we have assumptions and facts working together to provide an accurate, real, reliable picture of the world and the principles that pin it down, allowing us to act knowledgeably and fearlessly. In this world, God exists.

Now, before you get upset and that bile in your heart towards your old protestant mother or overbearing sunday school teacher boils over into your medulla oblongata and gets your heart racing, know that I am in no way an expert or professional at describing philosophical proofs. If I make errors, typographical or otherwise, I apologize in advance. On the other hand, fallacious arguments and incorrect facts are fair game. So, if by the end of this argument you feel the need to point these things out or present an argument of your own, proceed with impunity, because God knows I've got no authority over you.

The proof is this: Christians believe that God exists, God is good, and God created the world as good. The fact is that world we live in is filled with both good and bad things. If one can prove that only good exists, then one has proven that God exists.

Let's begin first with our assumptions. God is good and God created the world as good. The word "good" here refers to an absolute trait, not to be confused with the word "good" as used in "that guy isn't a great player, but he's pretty good". When "good" is used to describe God here, it is meaning that he is perfect, whole, and complete. The "goodness" of God is not simply an attribute of God that is contained in his personality, rather it is a descriptor of his person as a whole. It is used in the same way in describing the world. The world here is describing the universe. A "good" world in this sense is a world that is built on the principles of perfect goodness. It operates on the principles of goodness and contains only good things. I could continue by naming many of these good things, but the most relevant of these good things is choice.

Choice can be designated as perfectly good only as an abstraction, but that should not disqualify it from being perfectly good. The reason is more obvious than you might think. Choice as a good is a paradox: it allows for things to be done more than one way. It's concrete goodness comes from it's ability to allow good to occur in spite of adverse circumstances, insufficient resources, personal tendency, and even intentional oppression. Choice is the vehicle by which good can enter the world, and therefore must be good.

The facts, on the other hand are less simple. The fact is is that the world as we perceive it is clearly bad and good. The good is apparent in acts like those of our charitable forebears: Mother Theresa, Jesus, King Arthur. The evil is apparent in acts like those of our more malicious ones: Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong. After all, it's clear to any observer that bad occurs in equal amounts to good. Even moreso, the existence of abundant amounts of materials harmful to human life (and life in general) as well as the cold and unforgiving vastness of space proves to many that the world and universe are in fact averse to life, and are therefore evil.

But let's go deeper. The majority of good acts are good as defined by their outcome: a boy gets a heart, a village receives food and water, a family is saved from death after a terrible train wreck. The majority of bad acts are bad as defined by their process: heart-boy's wealthy family uses their money to prioritize their child over less wealthy, equally needy children; poor water-village gains access to this water after slaughtering their riverside-dwelling neighbors; and train-wreck family survives only because they managed to run to the first car by means of trampling other passengers and unhook the lead car from the rest the moment before derailment.

Or perhaps you don't agree with the analogies presented here. Perhaps you're a bit more sophisticated, you've spent more time in the world and you know that not all bad situations are simply a "spin" on a good situation and vice versa. Suppose you know, for a fact, that bad people exist, and bad people do bad things because they like being bad. Bad for badness sake, so to speak. And, to be fair, if this fact is in fact true, then you would have me bested. Well then, as Bakugan Battle Brawlers might say: One, Two, Three -- LET 'ER RIP!

My argument here is simple. Examine your thoughts. Examine the language. Examine the paradigm you use to describe the situation that you've just presented. A bad person does bad things for the sake of being bad. If this story had a name it would be "Bad People Like to Be Bad - and There's Nothing You or I Can Do About It". But think about it. Think hard about it. Why are they Being Bad? Being Bad here meaning that they do bad things: they hurt people without cause, they act selfishly, they steal and cheat without desiring gain. They are not hurting people because they want power or wealth, they are hurting people for fulfillment. They do not act selfishly because their circumstances dictated the need for it, they do so because they feel gratified by it. They do not steal and cheat to earn good marks or fill their coffers, they do it because "they just want to watch the world burn." These are Bad People, for goodness sake. But what are they getting out of their badness? What is the terminal goal of their bad nature, their bad behavior? What do they perceive to be the idea, the motivation, the force, and the end of their action and thought?

Good. They pursue Good. Perhaps it is a small good, not a capital letter G good. But all small goods are in some way part of the greater Good. The man who hurts his fellow man and the lower creatures of conscience does so because it is his desire to do so. In doing so he fulfills his desire, and experiences fulfillment. Fulfillment in another context is, as in a doctor beginning his private practice after a long and arduous road of academic excellence, humble apprenticeship, and magnanimous networking, easily considered good. The only thing that divides these two men is the means by which they pursue their own perceived good, and in turn the great capital G good. Now, men who are Bad can be said to have a skewed vision of the great Good, and therefore are pursuing a Bad rather than a Good, but in their minds, in any person's mind, they are pursuing Good. We may in fact describe these individuals as simply pursuing Good in the "wrong" way as opposed to the "right" way. What does this mean then?

It means that, in the larger picture, in the great scheme of the universe in which we, as actors and choice-makers, mull about, only Good exists. In our minds, we only believe in good. In the world, we see Bad as it deviates from Good. Bad has perverted Good to its own Bad ends, searching for its Bad version of Good. But all that really exists is Good. God is Good. Good exists, God Exists.

Now, I understand if some parts of this are confusing, but I will try my best here to sum up my argument concisely:

  • God, being Good, created the world (universe). Wanting to create a Good world (as He is wont to do, being Good), he included all those things that are Good. Namely, Choice.
  • Choice, having been included because of its Goodness, allows for many possibilities. One such possibility is the pursuit of Good at the expense of good, and vice versa.
  • Humans, having been given command of this choice, choose to follow one of either path - Good over good, or good over Good. Both paths eventually lead to Good, however, one path prioritizes the farther-reaching, eternally minded Good over the temporary, finite, self-exhausting good.
  • Therefore, only Good exists. Of the various views and objectives of humans, they all attempt Good, only being able to accomplish good. Any good done that prioritizes good over Good is what Humans perceive as Bad. This is where the idea of Right and Wrong come from.
  • Since only Good exists, God exists.

    Any questions?

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 4
    Section I: Don't worry ma'am, I'm from the Future

    Some people might think the following argument is simply a convoluted, obfuscating, and misguided attempt at justifying laziness and irresponsibility. I think it's a solid argument for the existence of futurebots

    Make no mistake, the following argument is an original work, an attempt to corroborate the evidence with the truth to prove the existence of sentient robotic lifeforms in the midst of our present-day meanderings.

    I have often felt that my mind worked differently than many of the people I've worked with. There are times when I would reach entirely different conclusions to conversations, events, emotional responses, and even factual causatives than my peers. For example, once a friend asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a pastor, and I could only think to reply, "aren't we all evangelists of some sort already? It's not as though we don't attempt to foist our beliefs upon unsuspecting strangers with only limited evidence to support an already tenuous assumption about metaphysical truths that are unable to be proven by empirical evidence. Your taste in music and movies is relative, and only in a sense can the intersubjectivity of critical review of any form of literature, art, or media give us as people any grounds to say that one particular piece of work is superior to the other. There is no such thing as inherent correctness." Conversations ended soon after that.

    Then there are times when I find myself imagining things that have happened, and yet not imagining, but knowing. Seeing the past with my mind's eye the location of an object, the flavor of a delicacy, the smell of a sweet rose. Knowing, indubitably, of the integrity and the reality of the sensation without actually being the in physical presence of it. Even moreso, knowing that the sensation was as efficacious as the object itself. I believed that I could project these sensations into the minds and sense of others. Beyond even that, the ability to project the physical effects of these nonphysical sensations (procured from physical objects) onto present physical objects. Door locked? You forgot the key didn't you? Yes, yes I did. Well, you remember what it looked like? How many notches did it have? Seven. High, low, low, middle, low, high, low. It's made of brass, or brass colored metal. It tells me not to duplicate it. It opens this door. And the door is open. Hello, good day, come right on in.

    What possible explanation is there for these phenomena? Is it simply a myth? How often have you found yourself paying for goods without using a card or a wallet. Or even, having forgotten your card and wallet at home, still been able to get what you needed with your money? Did you have the money with you? You didn't, did you, you fool. Where's your precious money now? In the bank? Yes. Safe in the bank. But I can still use it to pay for my coffee, sir.

    Those of us who have had these experiences know what it's like to live in the future. We've been living in the future already. You may have the keycard in your pocket, but don't take it out, the door knows you have it. You may have picked up 150 shotgun shells, an amount that would encumber a normal man and fill a duffel bag to bursting, but don't sweat it, your shotgun knows where to find them no matter where you left them. You may not have a wallet, but you have a hoard of wealth at your fingertips. Give me my coffee.

    Only now is the rest of the world catching up. We, the futurebots, have foreseen it. We have lived it. We are living it now. It was, at times, improbable, unwieldy, and in fact invisible, but it was by no means impossible. the habits we have have honed us into finely tuned machines of reliance. Reliance on technology, on electricity, on immobility. We prepared for this. We were made for this. We were born with the innate knowledge of the technology and the use of what the average, anomic meatbag calls "gadgets". While you were content to believe that you needed every possible tool for every possible situation, we knew that such things already existed in invisible, weightless inventories capable of being summoned by sheer force of will or a simple button press. While you clamored for the next great thing, we easily contemplated the next next great thing. While you are left stunned by each and every new avenue that opens with the advent of a new "technology", we lean back, acknowledging its passing with a condescending nod.

    Sentient robotica. Guiding the history of mankind towards a lifestyle, a society, a PHILOSOPHY based on technology, automation, and convenience. Is there any other explanation? Is there any evidence stronger?

    Was there ever any doubt?

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 2
    Section V: Excerpted from

    wanted to share something. it's an off day for me. this is easier than writing an original piece for today.

    the following post is video-game related, but by no means limited to the realm of gaming.

    To rage, or not to rage... Is it really a question?
    by Jacob "Vandy" Van Der Werf

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    I love me some Left 4 Dead 2, but it can be hard to get a good game going because people give up so easily. If your whole team makes it to the end of Dead Center as Survivors, and then you Charge somebody out a window as Infected, they’re probably going to rage quit. Knock the whole team off the ledge? Rage. Boom them as they get out of the elevator and separate them in the chaos of the horde and BAM, you guessed it… More often than not, the score discrepancy is small enough that it could easily be made up in the next round, but people don’t care. People that only care about winning will cut and run to avoid potentially fighting a losing battle. And of course, once one person quits, it can set off a domino effect through the rest of the team, seeing the loss of one or two players as spoiling their chances of success. Nevermind that any considerate competitor would be fine waiting a few minutes for more people to join.

    The team-based cooperative format might have something to do with an increased rate of rage quitting. If you don’t have a good team, you don’t have much chance of winning unless the other team is at around the same level or lower. Compare that to a game like Counter-Strike, where a single awesome player can carry an otherwise crappy team. Not to mention the action in CS is more fast-paced, with less down-time if you die. Lose one round and it doesn’t really matter because the next one, completely independent of the round before, is about to start. Left 4 Dead carries your success or failure into the next of up to four more consecutive rounds, and it’s possible to be so far behind in points that it becomes mathematically impossible to win the campaign. If that happens before the last round, rage is almost inevitable.

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    Even though I’m generally on the side trying to predict the exact moment when the other team will quit, I admit I’ve been on the losing team and succumbed to the rage at times. I enjoy a challenge for sure, but when the other players compete professionally and exploit every trick of physics and environment, it’s hard not to want to give up. Considering my attitude toward this issue, I usually try to stick it out and have some fun in failing. Once you resign to defeat and swallow your pride, the pressure is off and it’s possible to actually enjoy losing. Some people will commit suicide jumping off a cliff or whatever, but I like to be a bit more subtle in my recklessness, rushing headlong into the horde with a katana or machete. Sometimes I even make it to the safe room at the other end. The trick is to set some kind of goal that isn’t “beat the other team.”
    So what’s the matter with people that can’t stand to lose? Nobody *likes* to lose, but some people certainly tolerate it better than others. Does it have to do with not being told “no” by their parents as a child? Not participating in team sports or other contests where losing is a real possibility, if not a probability? Although, it seems that more and more children’s sporting events these days are shifting toward that “everybody’s a winner” bullshit, reflecting the trend of modern parents preferring to coddle their children and be their best friend than teach them about the real world and how to deal with it. I believe the technical term for this is “the pussification of America.” So please, parents and parents-to-be, don’t let your children walk all over you, because they will grow up to be rage quitters, and we don’t need any more of those.

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    Firing Points: Rage Quitting [  @ 1920 x 1200 ] > View Full-Size in another window.

    Firing Points is a weekly editorial that explores popular, pressing, or otherwise provocative topics in the world of gaming. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the FiringSquad team, or anyone else for that matter.

    Source: Firing Squad

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 3
    section III: Much Better Than the Owner of a Lonely Heart

    The heart is an amazing organ. It’s one of the essential pieces of the human body; without it, blood would sit limply in our veins and arteries (indeed, veins and arteries would have no real purpose!) and our cells would quickly use up all the oxygen in it, asphyxiating themselves faster than you can say “and this little piggy went to Kathmandu.”

    Important as it may be, the heart is essentially an enormous muscle (or rather group of muscles) that functions as a pump. It draws blood in through the veins and out through the arteries, from the body, to the lungs, and back to the body again. This group of muscles, only about the size of your fist, moves about 2,000 gallons of blood a day. That means it takes your heart only about 5 minutes to circulate all of the blood in your entire body one time. Pretty impressive for such a small piece of equipment!

    Obviously today’s focal point is the heart. Namely, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). HLHS is a congenital heart disease (present at birth) which presents several complications, and usually requires an organ transplant by the end of the first year. Until the 1980s, HLHS patients who didn’t get a transplant didn’t have much left for them but prayers. During that time however, a surgeon and a cardiologist teamed up to develop a surgical intervention that could give all those individuals who failed to find donors a chance at life. Dr. Alfred Blalock and Helen B. Taussig developed the Blalock-Taussig Shunt (the current one is known as the MBTS or Modified Blalock-Taussig Shunt), an intervention that couples the pumping power of the heart with a small redirection of one of the subclavian arteries (or the addition of a body-friendly artificial tube) to provide blood to the lungs.  Another, more recent intervention is called the Right Ventricle-to-Pulmonary Artery Shunt (RVPAS) or Sano Shunt, where an artificial tube connects the right ventricle directly to the pulmonary artery. If that makes sense, then you probably already know a thing or two about cardiology. For the rest of us, here’s a layman’s description of this disease:

    -       A normal heart contains 2 sides and 4 compartments. The sides are closed off from each other but work independently together. The right side receives deoxygenated blood (blue) from the body and sends it to the lungs and the left side receives oxygenated blood (red) from the lungs and sends it to the body.
    original image:

    -       A patient with HLHS has a left ventricle (the bottom compartment on the left side) that is hypoplastic – smaller than normal. This is due to various factors, mostly complications or errors during the fetal organ development.
    original image:

    -       Since the heart relies upon both positive and negative pressure forces to circulate, the incorrect sizes of any chambers (and even the arteries and veins) can result in inadequate pumping of blood through the heart to the lungs and etc. depending on which chamber has been affected.
    -       More specifically in HLHS patients, the smaller size of the left ventricle ends up preventing their blood from reaching the rest of the body. HLHS patients also have a patent ductus arteriosus – the wall between the pulmonary artery (away from heart, going to lung) and the aorta (from left side to the body) has a hole in it.
    -       As a result, a patient with untreated HLHS eventually succumbs to a slow, systemic suffocation, where cells and systems begin to die due to the lack of circulating oxygenated blood. By then end of the first year of life, untreated HLHS patients will die.

    As you can see, this condition is deadly serious. Untreated HLHS has a 100% morbidity rate within 1 year. As a congenital disease, imagine how devastating to a parent it must be to hear this diagnosis. “What can I do to save my child?” “What can be done to give these children a chance at life?” These are the questions that immediately spring to mind. and from these questions came the answer we have so far: the Norwood Procedure.

    The Norwood is the first of a 3-step surgical intervention that has increased the survival rate of non-transplant HLHS patients by almost 70%. It involves bypassing the defective ventricle (in this case, left) and placing all the pumping duties onto the effective one (right). The first steps of this procedure therefore involve bypassing the left ventricle by opening the atrial wall between the two sides of the heart. This allows both oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to mix, and lets the right ventricle’s pumping action to move all of the blood that is in the heart. Also, because of the patent ductus arteriosus (that hole in the wall), blood pumped from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery escapes into the aorta. For those HLHS patients without a patent ductus arteriosus, one is made. The result is this mixture of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood that flows almost entirely into the aorta and out to the body. Unfortunately, the problem here is that since the system is no longer divided into two separate, closed systems with different flow directions connected at the lungs, it’s turned into one enormous open system with only ONE directional flow. The deoxygenated blood travels from the body, to the heart, back out to the body. To fix this, two interventions mentioned before were developed.

    In a Modified Blalock-Taussig Shunt:
    a better, non copyright-infringing image can be found at:
     -       Blood flows from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery, through the patent ductus arteriosus and into the aortic arch.
    -       A small piece of Gore-Tex tubing is sutured (stitched) into incisions made on one of the subclavian arteries (branching from the aorta), allowing the blood that is pumped to the aorta to be diverted back to the lungs to be oxygenated.

    In a RVPA or Sano Shunt:
    original image can be found at:

    -       Blood flows from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery, through the patent ductus arteriosus and into the aortic arch.
    -       A small piece of Gore-Tex Tubing is connected directly to a small incision made on the right ventricle to an incision made on the pulmonary artery. This allows some of the blood that enters the right ventricle to be pumped directly to the lung for oxygenation.

    Two simple, elegant solutions coming from years of practical knowledge and expert understanding. It’s amazing to me how practical and practiceable these two surgeries are sometimes. But I digress. The point here is that there is an ongoing debate about the effectiveness of one procedure over the other. Some hospitals and surgeons cling to the MBTS religiously, while other hospitals and surgeons defend the RVPAS with righteous fanaticism. How does one go about settling this dispute once and for all, for the children?


    You may be thinking, “of course. It’s simple. Run a trial where half of the HLHS patients receive one procedure, while the other half receives the other. Compare results.” And it is so easy. Except when you realize that the survival rates for these surgeries differ, and differ for a number of different reasons. How simple is it to ask a parent to have their child be randomly assigned to two procedures, where one has a 35% mortality rate, while the other 25%? “Of course, for the sake of science, I will submit my child to a 10% higher chance of death.”

    No one will do that.

    But that’s what makes this part so amazing. It did happen. Starting in 2005, a group of scientists and doctors began asking hospitals to ask patients if they were willing to participate in a clinical research trial concerning HLHS surgery. Resistance was strong at first, and eventually 5 hospitals agreed to be primary sites. 5 hospitals. In the entire country. Later, 10 more auxiliary sites joined in for a total of 15. As they began to ask patient families for consent, it was clear that there was an arduous road ahead.  Patients don’t come to the hospital to hear the words “we’re going to try this out” or “your child’s procedure will be randomized”. They don’t take kindly to statistics like “your child may receive a procedure that is up to 10% less effective than an alternate procedure.”  Even “Our hospital is participating in clinical research concerning pediatric heart surgery. Your child’s surgery will be one of two procedures, and the results of their will be used to determine the effectiveness of one over the other.” But they had to settle on something. And I’m sure they settled on something close to the last one.

    They ended up with a pool of 549 eligible patients. These were randomized to one of the two procedures, and there progress was tracked for 5 years. Following the initial procedure, there is a 6-month follow up surgery, and a 1-year evaluation for transplantation. After the first 12 months, they found that 64% if the MBTS patients and 74% of the RVPAS patients had survived. Other variables continued to be tracked, and these children were watched for the next 5 years for complications, surgical interventions, and other cardiac-related issues. A wealth of information was obtained and real data was found that helped science and medicine build its understanding of the disease and the intervention.

    But things were sacrificed. Scientific presuppositions. Surgeon preferences. Surgical intuitions. Pride. Fear. Hope. Life.

    I am by no means trying to discount the evidence found in this study. Nor am I trying to write a piece on ethics or morality in science and scientific discovery. I am simply trying to paint a picture. As accurately as I can, of a situation that is, at first glance, seemingly simple. There are so many things that can be said when looking at something like this…it’s intriguing, engaging for me to think about. Finally being able to know that one intervention has more survivability than another? That’s great. Knowing that perhaps 10% of the participants could have survived if they had been given the correct treatment? Terrifying… Knowing that this is the primary means, the only real means, by which science, medicine, and knowledge can be furthered? Harrowing. Awesome. Maddening. Sombering. Disgusting. Saddening. Amazing.

    This study is continuing, and there are still so many variables left to be processed, measured, and analyzed in order to reach more definitive conclusions. But the data has been obtained. The work has already been done. That. Just. Happened.

    And to be honest, I would have loved to be a part of it.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 3
    Section II: What Work Looks Like to a Day Off

    Work has been slow lately. Painfully slow. I feel like I’ve written that phrase at least 3 times in the past three weeks. What happened exactly?

    I get in at 9:30. Pop my head in and say hi. Any tasks? Clean the lab. Make some tubes with some stuff in it. Label them.

    Get to my desk by 9:35. Write down said tasks. Clean the lab. Make some tubes with some stuff in it. Label them.

    Read Kotaku, Penny Arcade, and Firing Squad. It’s now 10am.

    The Chinese volunteer is supposed to show up by at least 10am. At LEAST. But he doesn’t, so I call him. And he sounds like he’s just woken up. I ask what time he’s going to be in, and the only words he can seem to get out of his mouth are “I will be there later.”

    I wait a bit longer. My boss comes over the bench to pick up something from the printer and asks me what I’m doing and why the volunteer hasn’t arrived yet. I tell her I’m reading, which I am. I’m reading Mere Christianity and my hidden Firefox window has Kotaku, Gmail, and Penny Arcade open.

    It’s not 10:35am, and here comes my friend, the Chinese volunteer. He’s been working here at the lab for the past 2 months, and he is still wearing the same clothes. The SAME CLOTHES. A red and black track jacket, zipped all the way up, blue jeans of indistinguishable make, and old reeboks. And it smells like he’s been wearing the same clothes for the entire 2 months. And I have this creeping feeling that it’s seeping into my clothes too. My boss is trying to make it so that he works at a desk directly behind mine, and I’ve been secretly delaying this move as much as possible by moving on it very…slowly.

    By the time he gets settled, it’s already around 11:30. Not to mention that a moment after he got in my boss dropped in AGAIN to see what was going on. I was still reading (Mere Christianity). And she talked to him for a while. She doesn’t seem to mind the stench. Or perhaps she doesn’t notice it. Which sounds unlikely, though is possible, because for whatever reason I don’t notice all the time too (hence my dreadful, dreadful fear that it’s somehow creeping into my senses as a result of homeostatic effects) since he always wear a lab coat over his clothes. Over ALL his clothes. He doesn’t take the track jacket off. Ever. I have yet to tell him that the lab coats only get washed when we send them to a dry cleaners. Which is probably twice. A year.

    Now it’s 11:50. There’s a seminar today, as there is most Tuesdays during the regular school semester (for USC), which means free lunch and a watertight excuse to not sit at my desk for an hour. Of course, it means I have no “real” lunch break, but I don’t mind since I get free food and the seminars are usually highly informative. Today it’s about a clinical trial concerning a certain type of pediatric cardiac surgery. It’s amazing. I love learning about the heart and about surgical interventions in general. It’s the perfect combination. Of course, the best part of it is that it’s light on theory and heavy on results. Clinical trials of this size are rarely, if ever, conducted not just because of the complexity of a surgical procedure but also because it’s nigh-impossible to obtain consent from the patients AND cooperation from surgeons. It’s a fully randomized (!) study that contains over 500 participants and 15 (!) facilities across the US. Mindboggling, if you do a bit of digging.

    After the seminar, I finally get to start on the tasks I need. It’s 1pm.

    I take the elevator with a few other people (my boss and Chinese volunteer included). When we reach the 5th floor, I head back to my bench, my Chinese volunteer in tow, hoping to get to work on something, ANYTHING. As I open the door and keep it open for him, he continues PAST the door and lets me know that he is going to take his lunch break now and spend some time with his wife, who also works on the 5th floor. She changes her clothes on a daily basis. I’ve seen her once in awhile. She only has about 3 outfits though.

    Now it’s 1:30pm. I’m clicking away reading more articles on kotaku than I care about, wondering if there’s a backlog of things I should have read (on kotaku. Not about work. I keep up with my work over kotaku articles!!). Nothing. He comes back to his desk and smiles with a big “I’m back!” Yes, yes I know you’re back. Thank you. Now can get something done?

    So I start to show him what we need to do. We need to transfer some of this stuff into these tubes and add some antibiotic to them before doing so. Simple. But, he’s new to this so I want him to write it down, to make a task out of it. So that he remembers how to do it, and so he learns what he should do when asked to do more complicated things. Simple. I ask him to get “his notebook” and he immediately picks up a small memo pad, similar to one that I use for taking notes on seminars and tasks, and begins to write down what I’m saying. But I said notebook. NOTE BOOK. Like your lab notebook. Your LAB NOTEBOOK. You know, the thing you’re supposed to use to record what you do, your job, the official part of your job that you’re learning about by volunteering in a research facility? YOUR RESEARCH NOTEBOOK? Yeah. That. Get that.

    So I tell him, “I want you to treat this like an experiment. I know it’s very simple, but it’s important to learn how to write it down and get used to writing it all out, step by step.” He says ok. So I tell him to go for it. And he just starts writing stuff. And then I have to stop him and remind him to look on the most recent page and show him that he needs a title, the date, the notebook #. The list of materials. Now, before you think I’m being too hard, realize that he’s been here for 2 months. 2 months and we’ve done this before. With many other things. More complex things. More straightforward things. At least 6 times already. Of varying difficulty. And he doesn’t remember. Or at least, he doesn’t think it’s important.

    Eventually we get to the part where we are filling the tubes with the stuff. It’s 2:30pm. He’s halfway done with this “experiment”. He thought it wouldn’t take this long. I see him getting restless. He gives me some looks and his body language is telling me that he’s feeling frustrated. Frustrated that perhaps I didn’t help him enough. That I didn’t do enough of the work. He still seems to think that he can’t do anything on his own. Or maybe he doesn’t want to.

    Halfway through this “experiment” my boss drops in again to let me know she wants 2 electrophoresis gels made and ready for running tomorrow. And that she wants Cvo (that’ll be my new name for him. He has a name. But Cvo it is not) to do it. Alone. He’s done this before. Without my assistance or input. But I think you know where this is going.

    By the time that ordeal is done, it’s 4:40pm and I want to go home…

    It may sound like a lot happened, but a quick browse and you’ll see that all I got done was what I was tasked to do. And I didn’t even really get a chance to do all that (Clean the lab). Slow? Yeah…efficient? Far from it.

    Still, a job is a job. And I must admit, I don’t mind this job one bit.

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 3
    Section I: Abhorrent Behavior

      I like to read. I like to read works from various authors and various times. I enjoy the sense of exploration, the sense of discovery, and the sense of affirmation I (most of the time) get from reading. I find, however, that no matter how diverse I think my reading habits have become, I continue to be drawn back to the same authors, the same times, and the same ideas that I have explored and discovered before.

    Now, what I’ve begun to realize (apart from any sad sentimentality felt towards the progressive loss of leisurely intellectual pursuits and other such octogenarian concerns) is that (aside from my clear penchant and enjoyment of such material) any ideas that one enjoys (which can be myriad and many or homogeneous and few) deserve more time.

    Granted, it is easy to argue that such things like philosophy, psychology, science fiction, religion, and theology certainly require more time than other ideas, but what I’m saying is that this principle of spending more time can and ought to be applied to any interest, with great result. Of course, now I read this myself and I feel that I sound like some kind of idiot, reiterating what simple universal truths the world already knows back at itself, like some kind of crazy broken tape player in a room full of broken microphones. But it’s true. And it’s the truth of it that’s worth hearing, again and again, until we really truly believe in it.

    The same way that listening to the same song over and over doesn’t simply make us feel the same emotions over and over again (although it may), spending time with an idea does the same. It’s startling really, when at times I find myself listening to a song I listened to only a week ago, and hearing parts that I had not heard before. They range from minor things such as a single note, to entire sequences of drums, woodwinds, and even vocal inflections. Even stranger is how I can hear a song I haven’t heard in years  and yet be struck by the same exact emotions I had when I first listened to it, all those years ago. I know that it’s easier to listen to a song for 4 or 5 minutes than to spend 45 minutes or an hour to read a book or an essay, but the principle stands. And what I really think of now, having gone over this idea, this truthful idea, is how spending time with these things makes me want to produce something as true and as emotional and as great as those things that dawned upon me in the first place.

    The cycle of truth. It’s what Hegel meant when he described the Dialectic, the Zeitgeist. It’s what Maslow believed everybody was longing for and striving for when he developed his illustration for the hierarchy of needs. It’s what Ghandi and The Dalai Lama want everybody to unite under and experience so as to end the animosity and frustration that people have for each other. And it’s what Jesus was trying to make us understand whenever he talked about forgiving each other and living lives with harmony and not dissonance. That’s what I’m talking about when I write whatever this is that I’ve written.

    Now, go!

    Wednesday, January 12, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 2
    Section III: Bubblegum Crisis

    Today we speak of gum. That very same gum that we chew, that sticks stubbornly to the bottoms of our shoes, that may become horrifyingly tangled in our hair. Gum!

    What exactly is gum? Gum is gum base, the foundation for all of gum’s marvelous gummy properties. It’s what’s responsible for gum’s chewy nature, it’s malleable, yet resilient character, and it’s amazing ability to make and break from numerous tiny pieces to one cohesive unit. Of course, gum base formulations differ from one brand to the next, and each formulation is a trade secret. How else could companies each make claims of ultimate gum superiority? Still, every gum base contains the same basic components:

    ·         Elastomers – for that spring in your chew
    ·         Resins – so your gum can come in sticks, bars, and even rolls
    ·         Waxes – keeping gum easy on your chompers
    ·         Fats – which allow those waxes to play nice with others
    ·         Emulsifiers – to keep your gum moist and pleasant
    ·         Fillers – for that extra texture that some gum-chewers love
    ·         Antioxidants – as a preservative

    On top of this gum base come all the things that the common gumby (i.e. you and me) chews to appreciate, sugar! (or sugar substitutes)

    Gums are flavored with both natural and artificial sweeteners according to each manufacturer’s choice. Some gumbys prefer their gums calorie-free – which require sweeteners like acesulfame potassium or aspartame (watch out, phenylketonurics!) – while others love that real sugary high they get from dropping gumballs and bazooka joe. Traditional natural sweeteners for gums like these include cane sugar, Xylitol, and corn syrup. Regardless of your own tastes, each one of these delicious confections goes through a rigorous process that makes them the perfect for that gum base. So pick your poison, because we’re going in hot!

    First, the gum base is melted to a roiling 115oC and filtered through a fine mesh screen. This solution is further treated with centrifugation, filtering out any undissolved fragments of gum base as the dissolved supernatant passes through another fine filtering process. This produces a clear, viscous, still-hot gum base that is passed into giant mixing vats where some of those other ingredients (including our sweeteners) are added: powdered sugar for brittleness, glucose for flexibility, food coloring, preservatives, and other flavors. As it comes out the other end, it looks a lot like the infamous Ghostbusters Goop that brought the Statue of Liberty to life in Ghostbusters II. it’s then cooled with cold air and conveyed about on cooling belts. The mixture is then extruded (flattened and squeezed), rolled, and cut into those oh so familiar shapes: sticks, bars, and rolls. Some gums go through further processing, such as added sugary coatings, waxing outerlayers to prevent package sticking, and extra coloring. Then it’s done!

    Gum goes through this rigorous process of heating, cooling, and mixing so that when you pop it in your mouth, all you get is a rush of flavor and a satisfying chew. But what happens when you don’t? What happens that heated, cooled, and mixed stick or bar fails to satisfy?

    Because the process of creating gum is rather delicate, things can certainly go wrong. The primary culprit is often the gum base. Inadequate filtration, inconsistent heating and cooling times, and even over or under-treatment with simple additives like powdered sugar can create problems with the final product. For example, if one particular mixture of gum base is oversaturated with sugar, the result is a mealy slurry of semi-elastic goop that unsettles in your mouth. In other cases it might be an excess of resin or wax, causing the gum to be so rigid that it’s impossible to chew. Time can also cause gum to deteriorate into its component parts after the protective preservatives have degraded.

    Whatever your choice of gum, knowing that they all start basically the same should give you a great appreciation for the great diversity of choices that we have today for gum texture, flavor, and resilience. It’s pretty obvious that gum is still fantastically popular, so your tasty little indigestible sugar sticks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Despite the occasional gum slurry or sugary wooden plank, the popularity of gum keeps on.

    It’ll be a long, long time until we see a bubblegum crisis.

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 2
    Section II: BCG and Humble Pie

     Work, work. The daily drudgery of work is allayed (for me at least) by the knowledge of either a paycheck or a day of sleeping in. And after working for a year in the same job (unprecedented), I’ve become familiar enough with most of my tasks that not much brainpower is required to complete them, leaving me with an abundant amount of time (sometimes).

    I used to fill the time with video games and Netflix (yes, I am a rather inappropriate grunt, I’m aware), without any detriment to my handiwork. Once in awhile though…
    Poor bands.
    Which leads me to my current state: Accountability. Aside from a number of psychological forerunners (read: excuses) that I could call on to account for my disdain for accountability, the sad fact is that I’m terribly unreliable. And not as a simple fluke or because I “do too much” or “overfill my plate”. Simply because it’s currently a part of my character. I am a person of great unreliableness, a person who consistently fails to be consistent for any consistent period of time. Even this blog is a testament to my inability to stick to a schedule, whether extrinsically or intrinsically motivated to do so.

    This is what gets me in to trouble at work. And, If I’m honest (and the lord knows I am! He’s given me an irreverently incomprehensible desire to be honest to sit beside my inability to keep promises! How ironic), it’s what gets me into trouble in practically every other situation. And it’s so hard to fix. So hard. Like the age-old adage, “You gotta spend money to make money”. And lo, my currency of accountability is pitifully low.

    Fortunately, and I’m sure any artist/producer/businessman knows and knows well, most of the money one spends in efforts to make more money is never actually one’s own money. In order to circumvent this problem of “spend money – make money – got no money” the only real solution is to borrow. Borrow until you’ve got enough, make a hefty ROI to pay back your debts, and at the end of the day hope you have enough left over to keep on keepin’ on.  The basis of every problem solution is some variant of this.

    This is a problem. SOLVE IT
    On a tangentially related note, a seminar I attended today was thankfully one with a purpose. Scientists so often and so easily end up pursuing goals with such nebulous goals in mind (not in my lab of course, NOT IN MY LAB!) that it’s nice to hear something concrete every once in awhile. And relevant, to boot. I’ve said this before, but I don’t have a particularly keen interest in my PI’s particular brand of research (Keloids and scar formation), largely because it seems insular. Keloids. Specifically keloids. This seminar on the other hand dealt with “Novel Strategies to Develop Vaccines for Intracellular Pathogens” which, once you know what it is (which I may explain at another time), you’ll discover (I think) that it is much more relevant than just…keloids. It’s also always interesting to see how similar the whole process of problem solving is despite the increasing complexity of the given problems. It gives me…hope.

    In the meantime however, borrow.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 2
    Section I: Neon Lights and Lady Luck

    If there’s one thing you come away with today, I hope it’s this: At least William Hung knew when to quit.

    I’ve always wanted to be famous. I remember putting on mini shows for my parents and taking parts in plays for fun, feeling excited about the prospect of being in front of a crowd of people spouting lines and walking from one duct-taped x to another. Sadly, I never blossomed into a full-fledged performer, and as we all know, parts in class plays become increasingly scarce as one progresses through higher education.

    I was fine with it. I don’t ever remember feeling morose about losing the opportunity to perform in front of crowds. I knew when to quit, unlike some people.

    Or perhaps I don’t. there are moments when I have an increasingly creepy feeling that I want to be a performer. I want to put myself out there and make people laugh and cry; to make their hearts sing or swoon. I realize now that performers are intensely selfish people; it’s just that their particular brand of selfishness requires that hordes of other people be happy. Some might say it’s a great selfishness, the best possible form of selfishness, but I say that it’s the filthiest, most wretched thing in the world. And it keeps one from being happy. Really happy. Performers need to know when to quit, because if they don’t have someone or something else telling them that their time is up, their chance has ended, then all they have is that desire to be the cause of other people’s happiness and entertainment. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

    William Hung must have had a very wise voice tell him one day, “You suck Will. Go home. Give up. Now is the time to quit.” And he was smart enough to listen. You may find him roaming the halls of CSU – Northridge, or you may not. He’s there. Among the crowd, ready to acknowledge his moment of fame. But what you’ll also find is that his desire to perform has departed, perhaps temporarily, because he knows his time is over. And that’s impressive. Performers with less illustrious careers (and there are a few) have been able to barrel through the withering criticism, abysmal sales, and profound obscurity, but at a cost. Wouldn’t it be wiser for these individuals to step away from the mic for a moment to compose themselves, returning later at the opportune time?

    I think so. And I think William Hung thinks so too.

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 1
    Section V: In the Future, There is only RPG-lite Progression

    3 seconds to set up, 1 second to fire, and 2 seconds for travel from barrel-to-skull of an unsuspecting Mekboy. The subsequent interaction causes the rocket to explode, incinerating the area, concussive blasts leveling the surroundings. Said Mekboy separates into approximately 5 meaty fragments. Welcome to the world of Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War II.

    This game crunches. Crunches hard. By crunch, I mean, of course, that the game has an impact. The Tim Rogers definition of crunch, the quality of the response one gets from one press of the action button, is the key to describing the design of the action in DoW II. Weapons and attacks crunch concomitant to their appearance and statistics, melee and ranged alike. Melee attacks dismember whole bodies following thunderous blows from toothy swords and axes. Explosives raze buildings faster than any uranium-powered lifter could build them. Bolters ravage landscape and flesh alike with unrelenting fury. Unfortunately, this crunch is soon revealed to be filled with airy, gypped-by-potato-chip qualities that crop up in the squad-building metagame.

    Crunch, while good, while necessary, is unfortunately not the main course of this game. Had it been, had it been that the developers focused on the crunch and the punch and the pow-smack-hit play-by-play now-you-see-it-now-it’s-dust experience, we may have come out with a very different, straightforwardly entertaining game. Unfortunately, (and certainly! So unfortunately) in attempts to add depth to this lighter-than-air crunch-ain’t-enough experience, a semi-customizable, loot and nebulously-experience-based progression system is used to convey a sense of advancement amongst each of your squads. Now, verisimilitudinous issues aside, the use of a RPG-lite progression system is not a bad idea, but its implementation requires commitment to balancing, depth, and longevity. Clearly, things that can be defined by the term “RPG-lite” will inevitably lack in these three areas.

    There’s this Chinese snack, these small bread-cracker-type snacks. They’re delicious. I know the devil himself made them. I know he did. They’re addicting and they’re bite-sized. Irresistible. I eat them, gobs and gobs at a time, handful shoveled into my mouth once the package is opened. I know the devil made them because inside, they’re empty. That’s why they’re so easy to eat. That’s why you never feel full or guilty or satisfied when you eat them. But then you look inside and its empty. Each little sweet baked bread bun is but a shell, a husk, an empty promise of flavor and fulfillment and satisfaction, just enough to get you to bite, but far from enough to keep you satisfied. What’s worse is that the more experience you have from eating them, the more sophisticated your attempts become at extending the experience. I mash them with my tongue, creating as large a slurry of the flavor as possible to keep it alive in my mouth. I shovel increasingly larger amounts into my mouth in a single go, sometimes even multiple handfuls. I still enjoy the initial tide of flavor, but the result is always the same. Empty.

    Dawn of War II is a good game. It’s a good game because it punches you in the gut with a powerfist, knocks you off your feet with a plasma cannon, and shoots you in the head with a sniper rifle. Frags fall, buildings crumble, rockets explode, orks, tyranids, and elder alike fall before the might of the Imperium while the universe continues to roll on the ebb and flow of the tide of war. But in the midst of it all, the slow, ponderous footfalls of RPG-lite echo throughout the universe, the ominous harbinger of an inevitable eclipse of a shallow, homogeneous doom.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    TMC Volume 2, Issue 1
    Section I: And a Happy New Year

    I took a break during the week of new year's...though I don't know from what exactly.

    The gay card is the most misplayed card in the race. I'm including both lesbians and gays in this. they are portrayed so stereotypically in both "independent" and "mainstream" (quotations here used to signify that I'm referring to the most colloquial of definitions for these terms) media that it's shocking to me that they aren't more offended by these portrayals. Gay males are largely effeminate, emotional, and impulsive (essentially the female stereotype), while Lesbians are stubborn, selfish, and aggressive (the male stereotype). What bugs me the most is that this "progressive" practice of portraying homosexuality in the media fails to address what I believe to be the central issue with the Gay/Lesbian movement: there is no Gay/Lesbian stereotype.

    The gay/lesbian stereotype, as portrayed by the media, is no more than a slight distortion of firmly established heterosexual stereotypes. Gay males are straight females in male bodies; Gay females are straight males in female bodies. Physiological influences aside, these are far from revolutionary or "progressive" depictions of non-traditional sex fact, I'd say that they are as oppressive, if not more so because of their deceptive nature, than traditional sex role stereotypes. After all, where are all the young budding curious homosexual individuals going to learn all their ideals from? Is there some kind of "school for gays" that no one knows about? Unlikely...what is rather more likely is that they'll learn it from the same place that all the straight boys and girls do: television.

    I need to stop for a moment and fully disclose my personal position on homosexuality before moving on, as a matter of conscience. I personally don't agree with homosexuality. I do consider it deviant (in a strict sense, and I apologize for any negative connotations that word may conjure in your mind), and I consider it a largely psychosocial issue rather than a biological one (mostly because the jury is still out on the science of it all). What I'm trying to discuss here, and what has really bothered me all this time is how this topic continues to be treated on an individual as well as a societal basis. Homosexuals are fighting for equality. Anti-homosexuals are fighting for tradition. What I'm saying is that currently, Homosexuals are fighting for entry into a tradition that oppresses and excludes them. It's ridiculous.

    But not every portrait of the homosexual has been so unfortunate. My favorite example of a realistic, logically sound, socially competent portrayal of a homosexual is Paul Smecker, Willem Dafoe's ace dick from the independent film "The Boondock Saints". In a single scene, he sums up my argument quite nicely, (excerpted by the good folks over at IMDB)

    [after Smecker gets a phone call in bed with his gay lover and slaps him]
    Paul Smecker: What are you doing?
    Hojo: I just wanted to cuddle.
    Paul Smecker: Cuddle? What a fag.