Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Answer to Everything

There's a saying in Sunday school that the answer to every question is 'Jesus.' I saw this same phenomenon in organic chemistry class, where the answer to everything was 'resonance.' Why is benzene more stable than cyclohexane? Resonance. Why is any molecule shaped the way it is? Resonance is a safe bet.

I'm beginning to see a sort of answer to every question in medical botany class as well: 'tannins.' Tannins are bitter and astringent plant chemicals, and in addition to tanning leather, they will ripen fruit, discourage bacteria, and much more.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Souper Meal

'Cup Noodle' is a famous microwave-preparable snack used by college students and many others short on time and money. Today, I learned about Cup Noodle's big brother, 'Souper Meal.' It's a noodle product by the same company, Nissin, that makes Cup Noodle, so my guess is that it goes by a different name only because the container Souper Meal comes in cannot legally be called a cup. It's half the size of a loaf of bread and once water is added, the Souper Meal container takes two hands to carry.

Regular Cup Noodle takes a minute to microwave, but Souper Meal requires four minutes and thirty seconds just because of the amount of water that needs to be heated up. If eaten all at once (and who does anything else), one Souper Meal will fulfill 108% of an average adult's daily sodium requirement.

I got a Souper Meal that boasted a 'chicken flavor,' and, wary of artificial chemicals, I examined the packaging to see if there was actually any meat in this claim. I was relieved to find 'powdered chicken' on the list of ingredients, right next to silicon dioxide.

I bought two Souper Meals in today's exploration of new and exotic foods, but after eating the first one, I feel like I need to wait a few days before I'm ready for the next.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sleep and Other Choices

For many, college is a place to ask new questions and think of things in new ways: what is the role of the individual in society, and what authority structures best facilitate this role?

More practically: if the first obligation of the day is in the afternoon, what should you do in the morning?

Class is at 1pm. At 11pm the previous night, the class-free morning is 3 hours of potential work. At 9am in the morning, however, the class-free morning is 3 hours of potential sleep. Two major decisions are in play here: at 11pm, should the student sleep and leave work for the morning, and at 9am should the student sleep or do the work?

The path of least resistance, of course, is choosing sleep in both circumstances. I personally find that my 9am self has less willpower than my 11pm self, so it's usually a better idea to work late into the night and wake up late (but still before 1pm) the next day.

Moderation, however, is worth pursuing. I leave non-essential work for the morning: this provides motivation to get up, but is not so vital that sleeping instead will ruin my day. There's only one day each week that I have a free morning, and it's worked out reasonably well so far.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Snow Day Limerick

There once was a weather prediction
That said it would snow with conviction
The administration
Declared the negation
Of next day's scholastical diction

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Origins of Potato

The word 'potato' followed roughly the same route as the potato itself. The Taino people, indigenous to the Caribbean, used the word 'batata' to refer to sweet potatoes. In the 16th century, the Spanish took the vegetable and the word: 'patata.' The English adopted it as 'potato,' and this later came to refer to regular potatoes instead of sweet potatoes.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Gawain and Lanval

Sir Launfal is a Breton lai (a sort of poem) about a foreign knight, Sir Launfal, in King Arthur's court. A fairy princess falls in love with Launfal and gives him great happiness and wealth on the condition he doesn't tell anyone about their love.

Unfortunately, Launfal tells Queen Guinevere that his fairy princess is much more beautiful than her. With the promise broken, the fairy princess leaves Launfal. Moreover, Launfal is sentenced to death for insulting the queen and therefore the king. His only hope is that his fairy princess will come and rescue him.

When Launfal is about to be executed, ten beautiful maidens are seen on the road, and Gawain, ever the comforter of the downcast, encourages Launfal.

"Tho seyde Gawayn, that corteys knyght,
'Launfal, brodyr, drede the no wyght!
    Her cometh thy lemman hende.'
Launfal answerede and seyde, 'Ywys,
Non of ham my lemman nys,
    Gawayn, my lefly frende!'
To that castell they wente ryght:
At the gate they gonne alyght;
    Befor Kyng Artour gonne they wende,
And bede hym make aredy hastyly
A fayr chamber, for her lady
    That was come of kynges kende."

That is to say,

Then said Gawain, that courteous knight,
"Launfal, brother, fear you no man!
    Here comes your courteous loved one."
Launfal answered and said, "Indeed,
None of them are my loved one,
    Gawain, my beloved friend!"
To the castle the maidens went directly:
At the gate they dismounted;
    Before King Arthur they went
And bid him make ready quickly
A fair chamber, for their lady
   That was of a king's kin

The maidens, already more beautiful than Guinevere, are merely the messengers of the fairy princess, who finally arrives and takes Launfal away to live in fairyland with her.

What impacted me about this passage is the second line: "Launfal, brodyr, drede the no wyght!" One can imagine Gawain putting an arm around Launfal and pointing out across the road. The knights of the Round Table display unity in battle, but watching out for each other in day to day life shows another level of friendship.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy is a way of breaking down the stages of education in any given subject. The first level is Remember. Remembering is reciting or identifying things just learned. Next is Understand: paraphrasing, describing, and so on. Third is Apply, which involves reporting and constructing. Fourth is Analyze, comparing and categorizing, and fifth is Evaluate, critiquing and concluding. The last level is Create, which is to take elements from the other levels and compose something new.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Film Critique and Feverish Delirium

Over the weekend, I finished watching the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, a TV show about a time-traveling alien called The Doctor. I also fell sick with a fever that seems to be going around Emory. Fortunately, the following delirium helped me clarify my views on the seasons where Matt Smith acted The Doctor.

When I get sick, I often semi-consciously tell a story with my symptoms as I feebly toss and turn. In this case, having also just completed a reading for my Introduction to Teaching class, I imagined a workforce of teachers moderated by Matt Smith's Doctor. Without spoiling the show, let me say that this Doctor thrives on paradox and changing not only the future, but the present as well by going into the past, sometimes even crossing his own timeline (one of the rules the previous Doctor follows is to never visit events earlier in his own life.)

The more paradoxical a teacher's life got, the sicker I felt. This isn't The Doctor's fault, since I was feeling sick anyways, but the irritation I felt when The Doctor seemed to break laws of time and space was mirrored in my feverish discomfort. As I see things, the main problem with interacting with a past self is that almost any present conflict becomes meaningless. I came to the same conclusion as many of The Doctor's enemies-- for me to feel better, I needed to take away The Doctor's Tardis (his time machine). That seems to have worked at least long enough for me to write this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Science Facts: Stevioside

Stevioside is an alternative sweeter that's pretty much as natural as regular sugar. It comes from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, an herb native to South America. Now, something being natural doesn't mean that it's safe, but one would probably have to ingest roughly 1kg of pure stevioside to suffer adverse effects. Eating this much stevioside is unlikely because it is roughly 300 times sweeter than sucrose.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Digging for the Desktop

I wanted to look at my computer's desktop today and was surprised at how many windows I had to minimize before I reached it. Keeping lots of different programs open at the same time may not be the best idea, but it's a convenience-based habit I've developed. At any one time, I usually have open:
Three tabs in Chrome: two email accounts and Pandora
Steam (the platform I use for computer games)
iTunes (for podcasts, not music)
Two or three word documents, usually homework I'm in the process of doing
One wordpad document that contains my to-do list
One pdf in Adobe Reader, usually an application I'm working on
An MS paint or project I'm working on

It's worked out reasonably well so far.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Legal Deposit Libraries

Legal deposit libraries have a legal arrangement to receive a free copy of every book published in the country in which the library is located. This practice seems to have begun if France, where a law written in 1537 declared that no book could be distributed without first being deposited in the king's library.

The first English language library to have this arrangement was the Oxford University Library which, in the early 1600s was curated by Sir Thomas Bodley. Bodley established a policy with the Stationer's Company to have a copy in the university library of each book published in the UK. This library was renamed the 'Bodleian Library' in his honor.

The United States currently has the Library of Congress as its one legal deposit library.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Instant Oatmeal

Given that it takes at least a minute to cook, does the name 'Instant Oatmeal' count as false advertising? I suppose 'Relatively Quick Oatmeal' doesn't have the same ring.

I shouldn't be complaining, though-- after months of microwaving hot pockets for two minutes, a one minute hot meal is like a drink of cold water in a desert full of not quite as cold water.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Science Facts: LD50

The toxicity of a chemical is often defined by its LD50-- the dose at which 50% of a population of test animals dies. LD50 is often determined using mice, which are much smaller than humans, so to make this data more useful, LD50 is expressed in grams or milligrams of chemical per kilogram of body weight.

If a mouse, for example, weighs 25g and 50% of a mouse population is killed when each mouse is given 0.1g of a chemical, the LD50 for that chemical is 4g/kg. This means that while 0.1g might kill a mouse, it would probably take around 240g to kill a human weighing 60kg.

Mice, of course, aren't exactly the same as humans, so the LD50 of a chemical isn't the final word in chemical toxicity.

Water, one of the least toxic substances known to humanity, has an LD50 of 90g/kg in rats. The estimate for a 60kg human, then, is that 5.4kg (5.4 liters). I'm not sure how bad drinking 5 liters of water is, but I don't imagine it's lethal (I suppose it depends on how quickly the water is consumed).

The most toxic substance (lowest LD50) on Wikipedia's list is botulinum toxin, otherwise known as botox, with an estimated LD50 in humans of 1 nanogram (10^-9) per kilogram. Isn't that something.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Gaming Gnames

I've played multiplayer computer games using a lot of pseudonyms through the years. Here are a few of the ones I've used most:

Ediblefungus- this is a name I used in my early high school years. It comes from Homer Price, in which a town celebrates the 42 pounds of edible fungus that was the foundation of local commerce. I probably stopped using this name because it doesn't match my behavior in most games.

I Hate Art- this is a name I used playing DotA in later high school years. I don't actually hate art; I heard this phrase in a podcast and the poetry of it struck me. I liked the idea of having an independent clause as a name, but I discontinued this name because 'I Hate Art' wasn't accurate and 'I Like Art' just doesn't sound right.

Mnicholas- this is the name I've used for most of my gaming in college (so far, at least). I got the idea when reading about mnemonics in a book-- the section title was 'Mnemonics you Mneed to Mknow.' I enjoy words like gnu that start with silent consonants. I chose Mnicholas in particular because it's slightly similar to my real name, containing all the letters of 'Micah' jumbled up a bit.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to Sanitize an Herbarium Cabinet

Herbarium specimens (dried plants on pieces of paper) can last for hundreds of years. This apparent immortality, however, is like that of the elves of Middle Earth-- they can still be cut down in battle or slain by disease. The big problem is insects.

To prevent insects from eating specimens, the herbarium archive room is kept at low temperature and humidity since bugs thrive in warm, moist, environments. Insect traps are placed in strategic locations. Most recently in the case of the Emory herbarium, the metal cabinets that contain the specimens are sanitized-- vacuumed with a powerful vacuum, sprayed with a 90% ethanol solution, left to sit, then vacuumed again.

That'll show those insects.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Ewain and Idrus

Sir Ewain is a relatively unknown member of King Arthur's Round Table; Ewain is the son of Morgan le Fay and the father of Sir Idrus. In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, both Ewain and Idrus are with Arthur in his final battle against Mordred. Idrus fights beside the king:

"'Idrous,' quod Arthur, 'ayer thee behooves!
I see Sir Ewain over-set with Sarazenes keen!
Redy thee for rescues, array thee soon!
Hie thee with hardy men in help of thy fader!
Set in on the side and succour yon lordes!
But they be succoured and sound, unsaught be I ever!'

Idrous him answers ernestly there-after:
'He is my fader, in faith, forsake shall I never--
He has me fostered and fed and my fair brethern--
But I forsake this gate, so me God help,
And soothly all sibreden but thyself one.
I broke never his bidding for berne on life,
But ever buxom as beste blithely to work.
He commaund me kindly with knightly wordes,
That I sholde lely on thee lenge, and on no lede elles;
I shall his commaundment hold, if Crist will me thole!'"

That is to say,

"Idrus," said Arthur, "you should go!
I see Sir Ewain beset by eager Saracens!
Ready yourself for rescue, get ready soon!
Go with strong men to help your father!
Attack on the side and help those lords!
Unless they are safe and sound, I will always be troubled!"

Idrus answers him earnestly thereafter:
"He is my father, in faith, who I shall never forsake--
He has raised and fed me and my fair brothers--
But I forsake this mission, my God help me,
And all kinsmen except you alone (Arthur is Idrus' great-uncle)
I never broke his bidding for any man alive,
But was ever happily obedient to follow.
He told me kindly with knightly words,
That I should stay with you, and no one else;
I shall keep his command, if Christ will allow me!"

Both Sir Ewain and Sir Idrus die in this battle, loyal to the very end.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Origins of Pen

'Pen' comes through the Old French 'penne' from the Latin 'penna,' which means 'feather.' I suppose that 'pinion' comes from the same root.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Gawain and Mordred

Most of the Alliterative Morte Arthure tells of King Arthur's war against Rome, but Arthur and his knights rush back to Britain when they hear that Sir Mordred has usurped the throne. Arthur's fleet crosses the English Channel but waits until high tide to land.

Sir Gawain, not wanting to wait, lands on the shore immediately with a handful of men. Mordred's army is 60,000 strong, and as Gawain is surrounded on the beach, his only regret is that he has led his men to their doom. Gawain and his men fight with surpassing skill, but their strength begins to give out as the battle drags on.

Gawain seeks out Mordred on the battlefield and engages him in combat. Mordred wounds Gawain twice, and finally kills him, leaving his body lying on the ground. The King of Frisia, one of Mordred's allies, asks him who the knight is that he killed. Here I quote (Mordred speaks):

"'Had thou knowen him, Sir King, in kithe there he lenged,
His cunning, his knighthood, his kindly workes,
His doing, his doughtiness, his deedes of armes,
Thou wolde have dole for his dede the dayes of they life.'

Yet that traitour als tite teres let he fall,
Turnes him forth tite and talkes no more,
Went weepand away and weryes the stounde
That ever his werdes were wrought such wandreth to work!"

That is to say,

"Had you known him, Sir King, in his native land,
His wisdom, his knighthood, his kind works,
His actions, his strength, his deeds of arms,
You would grieve for his death all your life."

Yet the traitor (Mordred) at once tears lets fall,
Turns away quickly and talks no more,
Goes weeping away and curses the time
That ever his fate was set such misery to work!

In showing Mordred mourning, the Alliterative Morte Arthure paints a very different picture of the traitor than many other works. It should be noted that in some versions of Arthurian legend, Mordred is Gawain's half-brother. In Alliterative Morte Arthure, Mordred is Gawain's cousin.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

A Gnu Way of Doing Cereal

I bought the most environmentally friendly cereal today. It's made by Nature's Path Organic and is called 'Envirokidz Peanut Butter Panda Puffs'. Instead of the usual simple puzzle or maze on the back of the cereal box, there's an assortment of facts about Pandas and their habitat, along with the encouragement to 'be an envirokid'.

That's not all. Not only is this cereal gluten free, it's entirely wheat free. The whole grain corn, peanuts, and soy that did go into the making of these puffs were not genetically modified and are free of synthetic herbicides and pesticides.

There's a hearty endorsement on one side of the box that I thought was from a satisfied customer, but it was merely the founder of Nature's Path Organic recommending his own cereal.

The nutrition facts, required by the FDA for packaged foods, are calculated using skim milk as the supplement to the cereal.

The box, made of 100% recycled paperboard, is small as cereal boxes go, containing approximately 10 servings. With all the organic goodness contained within its cardboard walls, though, the price sits at a cool $6.19. That's no need for concern, though-- 1% of the cereal's sales go to 'help the planet'.

Frankly, I'm impressed that one product can hit so many health food cliches. I may not make Peanut Butter Panda Puffs a regular part of my diet, but the fact that such a cereal exists brings a smile to my face. It's the best purchase I've made this week.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Science Facts: Quinine Fluorescence

Quinine apparently glows blue in UV light. I'll have to try it next time I get my hands on a bottle of Schweppes.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pipette Tip Prices

I wrote a research proposal for the first time this weekend and it was a generally positive experience. One has to plan for every detail. How much will pipette tips cost? We went through pipette tips like nobody's business in Biology 141 Lab, but it turns out they can cost as much as $0.25 a piece. Research seems to get expensive very fast.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Survey Compensation

As an undergraduate in research-intensive institution, I get lots of emails about different studies and surveys that could be participated in. There are surveys put together by undergraduates and graduate students that offer no compensation at all, depending only on the goodwill of fellow students for completion.

At a slightly more rewarding level are raffle surveys, where all participants are entered in a raffle for an iPad mini. It's always for an iPad mini. This is all well and good if you're the one person who wins, but I've never actually heard of anyone getting an iPad mini from these things.

The surveys to really watch out for are of the Amazon-gift-cards-for-your-time model. Surveys with good compensation will often yield better results than surveys with bad compensation because a survey where only willing volunteers with lots of time on their hands bother to answer will most likely biased. If students are being offered money, a more accurate demographic distribution would probably occur.