Sunday, November 27, 2011

well why the hell not?

9th November 2011
can you get any cuter? 

ASD and the science obsessed

Last month's Nature had a special on autism exploring where we are with our understanding of the disorder, and included an interesting article  by autism guru Baron-Cohen about his evolving theory on the genetic basis of autism or "The result of assortative mating of two high systemizers". Translated simply this means people who are more 'systematic' rather than 'empathic' are predisposed to having a child with autism. Going further the hypothesis suggests scientists and their ilk (ie. anyone ever obsessed enough about something involving thinking and logic or who has ever been antisocial), are more likely to have a child with the neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by impaired social interaction, communication deficit and repetitive behaviour. And that's assuming these antisocial scientists ever score a date/mate long enough to successfully reproduce!

The evidence supporting the Baron-Cohen hypothesis comes from anecdotal observations of high functioning autists who demonstrate characteristics which are 'scientific'. Being 'obsessive' about particular subjects/hobbies, seeking order and repetition all at the expense of social interaction and 'feeling'.

The argument goes as far as to suggest that notable scientists would have been diagnosed 'autistic' if they were alive today (though the DSM-IV catalogue has enough catagories for everyone to be diagnosed with some mental disorder). In the following clip, he makes the claim that Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein along with Marie Curie and Paul Dirac revealed 'autistic' behaviours as recollected in their biographies.

His critics agree that while the hypothesis is sound it "needs to be tested," (guess Baron-Cohen is not autistic then?). One need only think a certain Baroness and her propensity to make claims without rigorous scientific inquiry (another non-autistic!?) to realise that such statements can be dangerous if left unsubstantiated. Short of testing every scientist, engineer and mathematician- this theory needs further investigation. Perhaps there's something to the hypothesis - if so, then we will be forced to reassess autism as a disorder and maybe even rethink what makes someone a real scientist!

Monday, October 17, 2011

persuasion of the periphery

If you're out and about in Brunswick in the next 2 weeks, check out the Sydney Road 'Window Frames' exhibition organised by the SRBA.  There are many impressive and eye-catching pieces in the storefronts between Brunswick Road and Albert Street.

I'm anxious and excited as this will be my first time exhibiting something. I called it 'persuasion of the periphery' and it can be seen at Cocoa Nation, 365 Sydney Road Brunswick. It's a tough gig trying to compete for attention next to all those good looking chocolates but it's a sweet spot to stop and savour some chocolate treats! 

hmm... is that it? well it's a start!

So what are you waiting for? 
Get out there and check out some local art while you can it's on until October 31st!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

to read list...

The Marriage Plot- Jeffrey Eugenides;  third novel about the complexity of love plots that have lost meaning.
The Darwin Economy- Robert Frank; just finished The Price of Altruism - premise sounds interesting ie. Darwin's theory of fitness in selection is more accurate representation of the principles of economics than the Smith's Wealth of Nations
The Drunkard's walk - Leonard Mlodinow;  historical look at probability

Modernist Cuisine - Nathan Myrhvold; very geeky look at physics of cooking (there's a TED talk where he explains some of the techniques used in capturing the great images)

Perhaps now with a bit more travel time I read more books than last year (only 3- yikes!) Still, it's not that I've stopped reading, rather there are on average 500 posts on my reader per day to sift through, not to mention the journal articles which keep piling up... this week- I'll attempt to catch up, only to realise that the amount of reading to be done will continue to expand exponentially.

Could really do with an app that filters/curates the information I need to know. Lucky scientific papers have abstracts...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Energy and matter spin to reveal the latest in hot universe models.. Workit!!!

I'm excited by the Bolshoi universe simulation which was created by astrophysicists at California High-Performance Astrocomputing Center and New Mexico State University using some impressive brain squishing calculations to capture and render the most accurate snapshots of the evolution of the universe millions of years apart, to date.

While it's aim is to help expand our understanding of cosmic mysteries such as dark matter and black holes, I imagine it will also be employed as a very hip, digital discoball where hot Russian models will expend their energy and matter...

For more check out more videos and visuals at the HIPACC site.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

self portrait

Cheeky (?) monkey. Oblivious - occupied only with the present action of gratification through consumption.

somewhere in the forest 
Ubud 2008

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Complex social networks in our guts

What's your enterotype?
Well... I'm attracted to open minded guts, those who enjoy the finer aspects of life...

Weekend reading has brought my attention to an impressive large-scale human study announced to by researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA). The aim of the study as stated in the information pack is to:

"Analyse the composition and function of gut microbial samples that will eventually contribute to an improved understanding of the balance between humans and their microorganisms, and its importance in health and disease."
Just scratching the surface: the bacterial social network of your skin (from Wikipedia)

This comes 3 years into the 5-year Human Microbiome Project (HMP) a global initiative by the NIH which aims to characterise the universe of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi and other protoctista) found in healthy human bodies and under pathological conditions.

Estimates of microbial cell numbers to ourselves are 10:1. Whichever way you look at it, we are outnumbered. The HMP is sampling the five 'hot spots' of your microbiome cohabitors: the nose, mouth, skin, gut and urogenital region.

The EMBL project is focusing to identify all the microbiota of our digestive tract. Entitled my.microbe (twitter follow here), Dr. Peer Bock and his crew want to know your enterotype. Their most recent findings (initially 39 Europeans, Americans and Japanese, and now extended to more than 400 samples) suggest we have one of three different gut ecosystems or enterotypes. These have been identified as Type I - III and describe the major population of microorganisms in our gut. What is striking in the findings is there are no links between our enteric ecosystem and age, sex, ethnicity, or health. Now the second phase of the study aims to sample 5000 more individuals' gut microbiomes.

The project is open to the public but with an upfront payment of 1400 euros plus shipping it may be difficult to get volunteers with sufficient disposable income and personal interest to collect a 'specimen' and send it across the world for sequencing and analysis. This is a lot to expect from any person- I wonder if they can find alternatives to reduce costs ie.change method of recruitment, or enlist satellite groups around the globe to perform sequencing (though that will create problems too) and upload to a database.

Is it really so important? Given our symbiotic relationship with microbes and their contribution of almost 2 kilograms of our body mass- the simple answer is yes. We need to understand the microbiome to help tailor better healthcare provision, find better ways to diagnose illness, treatment of disease. There are huge implications from this study and it'll be really interesting once the momentum picks up and helps us to appreciate the complex relationship with the organisms that help create equilibrium with our body.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

what's with skinny genes?

A few weeks ago, a publication in Nature titled: Mirror extreme BMI phenotypes associated with gene dosage at the chromosome 16p11.2 locus by researchers at Britain's Imperial College London and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland (a cast of 100+ authors) unveiled new information that duplicate copies of a portion found on chromosome 16 (16p11.2locus to be exact) have been identified to contribute to extreme thinness (BMI <18kg/square metre), failure to thrive and microcephaly- predominantly in males. They also reported previously that absence of this region/gene is associated with some forms of morbid obesity.

What does this mean?

This is exciting, but not unexpected news. Now with genome wide association studies in full force- we are witness to the explosion of discoveries of genetic factors contributing to a multitude of pathologies. Of course, this isn't the only answer. There are many cases of extreme obesity/thinness with unknown cause. Some will involve other genes yet to be discovered as well as the many epigenetic and environmental factors which influence and regulate phenotype.

Sure, there's promise of something big, but now comes the long, hard slog -  figuring out how these genes interact with their environment to bring about such phenotypes.

 There is much work ahead...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Four legged snuggie prisoners?

near Exhibition gardens, Melbourne
August 2011

Does the owner realise the twin orange Snuggie makes these
guys look like escapees?

Friday, July 29, 2011

classic disorder

view from Acropolis museum
(Acropolis top right corner, smoke rising from Syntagma Square bottom left)
29th June 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

small works 2011 exhibit

If you happen to find yourself near BSG Art gallery in the next 3 weeks, check out the small works art exhibition. Folks are encouraged to enter any artwork in any medium as long as it's dimensions are no greater than 30x30x30cm. 

I've been keen to participate in something like this for a while but never entertained the idea seriously until my friend Dr. B decided to enter some of her wonderful shots in the picture this exhibition last year.

My contribution isn't anything special but I want to try it out and see if anything comes of it (realistically this is very unlikely). However I'll miss the opening night this Friday 17th because of work but will be keen to see all the other 1500+ entries and see where my three little paintings end up.


The best thing about this is that I've revisited some of my old work: sketches, paintings etc and realised that there's definitely some talent but it needs a lot more work and this has helped me to get out the old sketch pads and scribble more often.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

Don't take away my peanuts...

Two weeks ago medical researchers from around the country marched in various capital cities to rally for research against proposed budget cuts to funding for medical research.

There is grave concerns over the proposed cuts to medical research to be announced in this year's federal budget. Many have voiced their concerns across the media. There are many pages and groups to go to find out more. Discoveries Need Dollars If these cuts eventuate (econocrazies put a $129billion tag) this will be to our nation's detriment.     

There are inherent problems with the existing system that need urgent attention - all I need to do is to look at the growing number of peers who opt out - disillusioned because of a lack of support for following a career path in research. This may be a related issue, however clearly something is wrong. We need more funding - not cuts - and more emphasis on retaining quality researchers at all levels, not just those with established track records who still struggle but manage to survive for another 3 years. Cuts to medical research will halt vital research to diagnose, prevent and treat diseases and improve the health of Australians. It just doesn't make sense.

Sprague Dawley encapsulates the frustration
If you want to do something about it- sign this petition and send it to Parliament before the 29th April 2011 and we'll see what happens to the future of medical research in this country.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

How do you perceive intelligence?

Is there a limit to the capacity to absorb, retain and understand information?
(What can I muster?)
Is it just a matter of putting in the necessary effort until you can understand and analyse information?  
(Am I the master?)

I'd like to believe it's a skill that can be mastered as we all learn something  (eg. geography, recall, discipline or ways of avoiding work) from going to school, training, and practicing. However, sometimes there is a  sense of restriction to the amount of information I am capable of understanding, because I can't be bothered doing all the necessary research, or, deflecting the fact that I cannot possibly understand the mechanisms.   
To make things more difficult, the belief may be plastic and perception of intelligence is reflect by mood. That is, under some conditions (confidence and support) intelligence can be attained, while other instances it  is restricted by low self-esteem, distraction and inattention. It may be logical to think like a Vulcan but sometimes you need passion and perseverance to help get you there! 

Check out Art Markman's thoughts on a 2011 study by Miele, Finn, and Molden in Psychological Science.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Who's the only one looking at the camera?


intersection of Louisa & Victoria Streets, 
Coburg 19th March 2011

... top row, sixth from the right?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thoughts on recent seismic events and solar activity

I've heard in passing about the solar flare on February 19th and March 9th this year and it struck me that the recent Haiti, Chile, New Zealand and Japan earthquakes have occurred around the same time plus a few days. It got me thinking. I read other people's similar ideas online and put the few brain cells I have to work to find out if there is anything to it. I used wikipedia and to create a very rough summary of a sample of earthquakes and their related solar events- which follow below.

Now, this may all be unsubstantiated speculation and I'm sure if you pick a random date there will be an earthquake and very likely some form of a solar event. There are small gaps but as a first pass and without sophisticated instruments- I believe there may be something linking the two phenomena. I'm sure others have already made this connection and have published their findings! As a scientist however, I need to remain objective (it's hard because this is such  an interesting observation especially for a nerd like me) and try debunk the hypothesis- 'That solar activity does have an effect on seismic activity of the Earth'.

Anyway here's the table you make your own conclusions.

Location Date Event
Earthquake Magnitude Solar Flare Solar Prominence Solar wind Magnetic Filament Coronal Mass Ejection  Geomagnetic storms Coronal holes
Tōhoku region 11/03/2011 9 300km/s Y Y Y
Japan 9/03/3011 X1.6
Christchurch 22/02/2011 6.3
New Zealand 19/02/2011 M6.6 490km/s Y Y
Kraljevo 3/11/2010 5.3
Serbia 1/11/2010 C 312km/s Y Y
Sumatra 25/10/2010 7.7
Indonesia 17/10/2010 C 608km/s Y Y Y
Canterbury 4/09/2010 7.1
New Zealand 1/09/2010 C 352km/s Y Y
Maule/Biobío Region 27/02/2010 8.8
Chile 24/02/2010 N 396km/s Y Y N
Port Au Prince 12/01/2010 7
Haiti 10/01/2010 Y 298km/s Y
Sumatra 30/09/2009 7.6
Indonesia 26/09/2009 N Y 319km/s N
Sixuan Province 12/05/2008 8
China 10/05/2008 N Y 363km/s N
San Martin region 25/09/2005 7.5
Peru  20/09/2005 C Y 406km/s Y
Sumatra 28/03/2005 8.3
Indonesia 25/03/2005 C Y 669km/s Y Y
Sumatra 26/12/2004 9.1
Indian Ocean 24-25/12/2004 C1 400km/s Y Y
Bam 26/12/2003 6.6
Iran 23/12/2003 C6 488km/s Y Y
Hokkaido 25/09/2003 8.3
Japan 23/09/2003 C1 518km/s Y Y
Kunlun 14/11/2001 7.8
Tibet 13/11/2001 C8 364km/s Y
San Salvador 13/02/2001 6.6
El Salvador 10-11/02/2001 C3 395km/s Y Y
San Miguel 13/01/2001 7.6
El Salvador 10/01/2001 M2 430km/s Y Y

UPDATE: The evidence in the above table does not implicate solar flares. It suggests they may be involved. It suggests coronal holes and subsequent geomagnetic storms in which solar wind is blasted to Earth are the culprits behind seismic events.

Of course this idea is nothing new, however I'm having trouble locating similar literature or finding it as accepted idea. I'll keep looking...
2007 Bulletin of the Russian Academy of Sciences: Physics
Volume 71, Number 4, 593-595, DOI: 10.3103/S1062873807040466
From the Proceedings of the XXIX All-Russia Conference on Cosmic Rays
Solar activity and global seismicity of the earth
S. D. Odintsov, G. S. Ivanov-Kholodnyi and K. Georgieva

Results of studying the character and possible succession of cause-effect relations (in going from a disturbance source on the Sun to a response in the lithosphere in the range of periods from several days to the 11-year solar cycle) have been presented. It has been indicated that the maximum of seismic energy, released from earthquake sources in the 11-yr cycle of sunspots, is observed during the phase of cycle decline and lags 2 yr behind the solar cycle maximum. It has been established that the maximum in the number of earthquakes directly correlates with the instant of a sudden increase in the solar wind velocity. 

This is my own (scant/incorrect) analysis and thought processes so these observations need to be confirmed, however if you see something worthwhile in following up- please contact me regarding using any this information, however inaccurate it may be. Thank you

MORE UPDATE: 20TH March 2011 Have continued to come across more literature online which uses more sophisticated methods of analysis to show the relationship between geomagnetic storms and seismic events. For more detailed information check out: M.A. Vukcevic's post on Tallblokes talkshop.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

a force to be reckoned with...

the tumult of existence
bestowed and accrued as experience
granted to be,
taken as much-
and left with
what is left,
when everything else has gone.

~ ~ ~
This is not well constructed but makes sense, but applies to so much at present.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

premium beach side properties available

Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island 
5th February 2011

Walking along the 2.5km stretch of sand filled with homes for many a crustacean reminds me of the issues issues with trying to afford a place to call your own. Yes they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, locations and specs. The thing is, I am happy in any place I find myself, if I can share it with the one who makes me feel loved. Perhaps that is what home is?

yes. bless the words of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Home

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Want to be sweet? Don't mix your Ziziphin with your ziziphus...

Ziziphin is a compound derived from the leaves of Ziziphus jujuba and possesses taste modifying properties that makes things taste less sweet.
Interestingly, fruit of the Ziziphus plant is similar to plums and dates and is extremely sweet.

Certainly most plant sugars are stored in fruit, but it is interesting that a plant would have evolved an 'antidote' for overindulgence of one too many sweet fruits.

I'd really like to try out both and experience the change in taste perception. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The weight grows...

Musings of an aging body, growing tired and not as physically or mentally alert. What to do when most of my waking moments are spent in front of a glowing rectangle - and not with the one who keeps me- fit? One form of exercise I find myself involved in is juggling... yes work, relationships and all those predictable things. Sometimes it's okay. When I don't ignore reality, those moments of clarity bring paralysis in thought. 

I wrangled my way to go OS and attend a conference (without presenting!) because I believed it to be most valuable to anyone wanting to keep abreast of research in neuroscience (and I needed an excuse for a holiday- albeit too short!) This week another 'opportunity' arose and now I am to give an oral presentation at said conference.

The short-lived excitement now in lies in knots of frustration and dark shadows cast on my face. There is a tortuous task ahead of bringing together other people's work. Though I played my part in the research, I lack faith in my understanding (or lack) of the method of analysis.

And now there is a primate of sorts on my back, a throbbing headache and heavy shoulders which control hands that orchestrate hands to type in procrastination (and then go back to edit the draft).

I spent the better half of this day sorting through hours of footage to create one video (it better work properly!) and an amazing technicolour image. Now for the guts. Finding the words- or spinning the BS.

How appropriate...

Let's see what the next 3 hours of my Saturday night offer in terms of productivity.

Friday, January 14, 2011

tickets booked...

How does this turn out?
Check back in early February I guess. 

Need a break and can feel it coming- but afraid it will be the wrong kind.
I've lost my sense of wonder and adventure.

What happened?

Monday, January 10, 2011

in bloom + in depth

Carlton, 2nd January 2011

I like this photo.
The flower is sharply in focus and each petal is distinct, yet the background looks dreamy - blurred and slightly out of focus, colours washed out with the glow of the late afternoon sun. The trio are deep in discussion, oblivious.

the courage of your own disatisfaction prompts...

Cloudy thoughts to doubt what you have
Fantastic deceptions to gnash at with emotion -
Forge ahead!
Time creeps forward, and opportunities slip by.
Wring hands and sigh deeply 
Relief that these thoughts are just so
And night brings peace to conversations with the loved.

- Stream of consciousness rabble and late night creative drivel

Sunday, January 9, 2011

beyond the glass ceiling

 Melbourne Central station- Elizabeth Street, 28th December 2010

What do you see when you look up? 
A clear, glass ceiling reinforced with steel.
Light streams through and is reflected off windows from the tower above as it stretches out into the sky, beyond your reach.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hypothetical to do list for 2011

Technical skills
Actually learn some other research techniques (molecular, histology, etc)
Perform proper analysis of observations
Become well versed in areas of current research (for starters read those 6 papers)
Work through sketch software & tutorials for designs 

Novel territories
Travel to Germany, Greece, Japan, USA, Brazil, NZ?
Learn new language skills: Chinese, German, Korean or Japanese
Invest in an electric bike or conversion kit
See a new town every week (either local or interstate)
Change in career direction (don't actually have a direction)
Return to study part-time (but what could help me become more employable?)

Strengthen relationship with love, family, friends and work folk
Get back into swimming
Publish that damned paper
Find work that is challenging and interests me - don't let another year pass without testing self
Develop and draw something every day... doesn't matter what? 
Think, analyse and evaluate effectively

Don't expect much. Try anyway. Aim for more

As suggestions go these seem vague yes, but it's a start and some more specific goals need to incubate before being voiced.


Wildly enthusiastic and/or irregular in form...

Just like me. Sometimes

where it's at...

Sometimes here, I hope.
Sharing information and on occasion trying to process and make sense of it all.
There is an infinite amount of knowledge and opinion to read.
Much, which I believe is beyond my capacity to understand at present.
This I hope to act as the forum for dissection and analysis.

I need it.
But do I need to share it? Not really. Indulge me.