Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

shoulder pads and Finnish music oh my!

Because this makes me happy.

Look at the shoulder pads! And it's Finnish! And, it was used in the American Cartoon Arthur (as in the aardvark) waaaay back in my babysitting days. Classy.

Virus Battery Update

Obama visited campus last Friday, and boy oh boy was it quite the shakedown. Apparently some of the girls in McCormick got locked down for being in the Penthouse (=top floor) watching the motorcade come in from Memorial Drive. (Secret Service FTW?). Not being of the ruling energy elite here at MIT, I watched the simulcast in the completely-packed 26-100, one of the big physics lecture halls on campus. It was actually almost as interesting to see a cross-section of the MIT student body watch the speech; hear them groan at Obama saying "Innovation is in our DNA!" -- or hear them cheer (LOUD) that MIT was the most prestigious school in Cambridge --- or hear them laugh at the business card Angie Belcher gave him of the Periodic Table.

Part 1

part 2
part 3

But---there is something to be said for the fact that people like the Dalai Lama and Obama come here not because we pay them, or because we have some sort of political alliance going on. It's because we are innovators, and even through our absolutely absurdity** we are going to discover and MacGyver our way to some pretty amazing things. That's why people come here.

**I got rid of my cardboard boxes from moving last night to someone I thought was moving at the end of the month. Nope, just building a cardboard replica of British Parliament to blow up on Guy Fawkes Day. Go MIT.

Additionally, he was pretty amazed by some of work I'll be teaching undergrads in a few short weeks - how to use viruses as a template for making batteries. It sounds space-age, but it is most definitely real.

The guy in the green is "Army John" and my contact in the Belcher Lab for the nanowires project that I'll be TAing. He's wonderful. And, no, labs don't really look like this. All flammable materials, gas cylinders, hazards, etc...were removed before he came, so it was basically like a windowless room with lots of shelves. Not science, but I guess that's what happens when you're afraid of terrorists.

For more coverage on Obama's speech:
Huffington Post
Blogger at Discover Magazine
Cambridge Chronicle
ABC News
Boston Globe

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

a bit off-kilter.

Maybe it's frustrations with research, maybe it's missing people from home, maybe it's stress and changes, maybe it's all of the above, but I just want to be in some no-man's land for a week. A vanilla place where I can just sit and sleep without having to care so much about everything -- work, my family, friends, all of that (maybe a vanilla place, in, dare I say, the Bahamas? Or Iceland?). And no, two weeks of self-isolation for H1N1 doesn't accomplish this...I was hoping it would, but alas...

A friend mentioned to me some time ago, "It's wonderful that you care so much about others. Think of the alternative." I realize I have many things to be thankful for, and that's what I try to keep pushing into my head. My heart and soul need a break, and unfortunately, that's not covered by worker's comp or insurance. The best I can do right now is keep breathing and keep going.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

MIT is turning me into a survey nazi.

So...I've mentioned my aversion to giving useless gifts before. The thought of giving someone else something they cannot use, are allergic to, would rather die than wear, all that...what's the point? I like giving gifts that make a person's day happier, that make them so excited to receive that package that they can't stop smiling for at least five minutes.

So is it kosher to send out a survey that asks about favorite colors, or if they'd wear a scarf or not, or if they are allergic to any foods, or have any particular favorites? Is that weird? I feel like I know many of my friends really well, but that doesn't mean that I've been able to remember which of my friends has pierced ears (twice that's happened to me! ugh), which one is allergic to nuts (and you'd think I'd be able to remember that one) and the fact that one never wears scarves but the reason she doesn't isn't because she doesn't have's because she hates the feeling of things around her neck. So I nuts to think this is an okay idea?

Monday, October 26, 2009

plastic + wildlife

The mix of plastic and wildlife can either be humorous and ironic:

from the show "Plastiquarium" by David Edgar

or it can be overwhelmingly tragic:

from the artist Chris Jordan's "Midway message from the gyre" (he's the same guy who did the running the numbers project depicting things like the one hundred million toothpicks, equal to the number of trees cut in the U.S. yearly to make the paper for junk mail.) can help us save life in the times that we've really screwed up:

from here

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stand back---I'm gonig to try SCIENCE!

from XKCD

FINALLY back to work. Kids, get your H1N1 vaccine. Seriously.

Also, it's a lovely day here...gloomy in the morning as I walked to lab, but now not so chilly and there's a bit of blue sky peeking through. The tree outside my window is a stunning array of yellows and oranges, an unexpected and lucky thing, I think. It makes the 8 am Saturday morning construction not so deplorable.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

again with these dreams..oy

So last night (12 hours, guys! 12 hours!) I dreamed about meeting this girl and her mom.

(she's wearing a vintage prom dress. my kinda girl!)

Now, Jane is about as far removed from my life as you can possibly be...but she has some pretty rad things going for, not in the least her AMAZING shoe collection. She's a high schooler that has some pretty great high fashion genes and somehow owns a plethora of reallly expensive designer articles that are They're great.

But I suppose it speaks to my exhaustion that we didn't go shoe shopping or thrifting. Oh no...we went to a spa. Me and Jane and her mom. And they let me wear a pair of wonderful black platform boots for the trip (there was a train involved, I guess). And then somehow the color-coding of sea-cucumber organs came into play, but I don't really remember why. Ahh sickness-induced are ever-so-confusing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meeting Phil Sharp

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity go to a Science Policy Initiative-sponsored lunch with Phil Sharp, a Nobel Prize winner (1993, discovery of gene splicing). He talked about his connection with public policy and a new initiative for cross-disciplinary research...something that MIT pioneers and hopes that the rest of the world will take note of how it's done here. In particular, he's helping to push legislation that views four pieces of technology essential to the world's survival in the next century:

-personal medicine
-producing clean energy
-agricultural concerns and feeding 8.4 billion people that will live on Earth in the next 20 years
-carbon sequestration

All are interconnected, and that is exactly the point. Between improving the educational system, reforming health care, introducing bills which encourage sustainability...all of it ties into these goals, and why Obama has quite the few years ahead of him.

Some other interesting tidbits: John F. Kennedy wanted the headquarters of NASA to be in his hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, so a large parcel of industrial land was razed right next to MIT's campus. Then he was assassinated, and Lyndon B. Johnson became the president...a president from Texas. Houston became the new home to NASA.

This left a lot of land open near what is now the area around Kendall Square, something that became the new home to the biotech industry. Actually, the other reason biotech flourished here in Cambridge was due to the genetic revolution and ensuing public panic about DNA and genetic engineering and creating super monsters, etc...because of this, Cambridge, home to both Harvard and MIT, realized that it had to create a means for the public to be heard and for official city-based policies to be put into place regarding research which dealt with DNA and cloning. This resulted in a comprehensive understanding of what was permitted, what was not, effectively regulations that were far ahead of their time. Thus, when start-ups began appearing, Cambridge became a natural home since all of the policies were in place and ready to be followed. Since then, it has become one of the top cities in the country for biotech. As given by Forbes:

San Diego (number 1, which surprised me)
Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill
San Jose
Washington DC
San Fransisco (also surprised me...I thought that Boston and SF were pretty close)
Los Angeles/Long Beach

Also---why doesn't MIT do plant research? A core concept is that private universities like MIT require 60% overhead, while public universities only require 25% overhead.

So, if you're at MIT and awarded a 1 million dollar grant from, say, the National Science Foundation, the total check would be for 1.6 million. The other $600,000 would be allotted for operating costs, environmental safety, and facilities. If you were at a public university and awarded that same grant, the total check would be for 1.25 million (with the 250,000 going towards operating costs).

The difference between grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Agriculture is that agricultural grants only pay 25% it is left to the person who applied for the grant to give up some of their winnings to pay the difference.

So...if you were at MIT and awarded an agricultural grant for 1 million dollars, you would have to give the university 350,000 to make up for the lost overhead charges, which makes the grant less worthwhile to try and apply for. If you're at a pubic university (which is more than likely also a land grant institution), this isn't a problem...which is why all plant things are done at land grant universities. Or they're done at places like Cargil and Monsanto. Interesting, isn't it?

ha! in my dreams!

So I was sitting here, still H1N1-stricken and bleary eyed, getting sick of trying to listen to my T cells fight off infection so I can finally get back to WORK when I thought about science. As much as I can think about science right now, which, let's be serious, isn't all that much. Anyways, I was pondering the interesting conundrum of scientific information and bioinformatics..and mostly how difficult it is to organize scientific information. Sure, we understand that the genome is a series of genes in different combinations and different reading frames and ooh..I lost you. Well, frankly, I lose myself in this sort of thing. The interfaces of current programs are mostly useless (more to come on that in a later post), and researching the relationships between different genes, different genera, different everything is just plain difficult.

So. My grand idea is facebook for science. No games, no apps, but yes...there will be profile pictures of protein structures, relationships between different species of arachnids and a way to connect different human physiology components all at once. Now, between wikipedia and the Encyclopedia of Life (a fantastic EO Wilson-sponsered site), science is trying...but the usability just still isn't there. Too bad I can't code or try and figure out what to do about such a problem. Maybe one of my H1N1 dreams will help (ha! right. Last night's dream was about saving the world with mashed potatoes...and yes, that is all I remember about it)

Friday, October 16, 2009

still sick. still miserable.

I have to's a curse to feel sick, sleep so much, and feel like so little was accomplished. I hate that. I want to be doing things..and this week has been the antithesis of "doing things."

(well, unless you count watching an ENTIRE SEASON of Stargate doing something. I mean, the show is distracting, yes, but I wouldn't consider it a feat to be proud of).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I'm sitting now at home, stricken by some gawd-awful throat sore achy everywhere, stuff spewing from my nose, sore brain illness. MIT Medical says it's flu, but is it swine flu? (cue scary organ music with inter dispersed oinks)

Lucky me - the tests only give a specific diagnosis as to the type of flu, not whether it is swine flu or just a seasonal influenza (based on the subtype of sugars found on the virus coat---Ram Sasisekharan's lab here at MIT ftw!) I'll likely never know. But for now, I am enjoying the awkward vivid dreams that come with so much sleep (I won a bed on Price is Right! For bidding $1000 after the crazy hippie wearing neon next to me bid $1999). Now - another nap? Yes please.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shopping - Minnesota style!

One of the lovely ladies I lived with my senior year in undergrad moved up to the Twin Cities for grad school (masters in cello performance; let's just say she's amazing). She asked me for a list of thrift stores and other fabulous shopping here in the Twin Cities, and I am all too happy to put something together!

Maplewood/White Bear/Roseville

Dress for Less (White Bear Avenue, near Hillcrest): a resale shop which has slightly higher end prices

Valu Thrift (Sunray on Hwy 94): ...and it's right next to a Culvers!

Goodwill (White Bear Avenue and Highway 36): redone a couple of years ago, I found some of my best linen napkins here.

Savers (Beam Avenue next to Maplewood Mall): pretty typical, clean for a thrift store

Thrift Store (Little Canada Avenue and Hwy 35E): Yes, it's called just that. It opened while I was in high school and this one and I found some pretty epic deals here. You never know what you'll find...

Unique Thrift Store (Rice Street and Larpenteur): No dressing rooms - but I've found great cheap pyrex, a tags on Ralph Lauren gown (clean and beautiful!) for $30, and all manner of other wonderful items. It's not the cleanest, but you can bet you'll find something great.

Rosedale Mall (Highway 36 between Snelling and Fairview): yeah, yeah, it's a mall. I hate malls. I usually wear scrubby clothes and look like I'm picking my nose just to avoid all of the people trying to get me to buy perfume. It's just not my scene. Yet, there are sometimes some great deals hiding inside Macy's (aka Marshall Fields aka Daytons), Ann Taylor Loft, DSW, Gap, Herbergers, JC Penney, and New York and Company).

Turnstyle and Turnstyle Home (Fairview Avenue on the Frontage road): I love these stores. My mom does, can find great shoes and clothing, as well as some great dishware and housewares.

Garment Mentor (behind Rosedale): Brand new, but my peek looked promising!

Goodwill (County Road B and Snelling Avenue): lots of good deals to be had! I found my mermaid Halloween costume here my junior year of high school. Thank you, 80s prom dresses.

Tuesday Morning (behind Rosedale Mall): homegoods store that is fairly cheap and full of all sorts of interesting things

Things to eat on the way: Good Earth is a sustainability-friend store right near Turnstyle, and there's also Snuffy's Malt Shop (a personal childhood favorite) on Lexington and Larpenteur.


Everyday People Clothing Exchange (Hennepin and Lagoon): things are in very good shape here, and the price reflects it.

Ragstock (Lake and Hennepin): hit or miss. But sometimes you find good stuff!

Urban Outfitters (Lake and Hennepin): I'm a complete sucker for their dresses on clearance. They sometimes get on my nerves (their policy to shred all returned merchandise and the poser-y staff that sometimes works there) - but my love of dresses keeps me coming back.

American Apparel (Lake and Hennepin): I love me some cotton jersey! (and U of M kids, if you want bright gold tights, they're here!)

Tatters (Lyndale and 29th): never been there, but it's supposed to be good!

Buffalo Exchange (Lyndale and 27th): My favorite designer pieces (two shirts by BCBG) have been purchased in Buffalo Exchange. Some of the vintage is also exceptional!

Cheapos: if you're a CD or LP buyer, go here. There is an amazing selection (especially of classical or local stuff)

Via's Vintage (Hennepin and 24th): Haven't been here either, but it looks great!

Places to eat on the way: Pizza Luce is delicious, as is. Also, just parking somewhere and walking around Lake Calhoun is highly reccomended. There's also La Société du Thé, a tea shop that sells the most amazing loose teas right on Lyndale (the shop owner is absolutely wonderful!). Also, there are two movie theaters absolutely worth checking out: The Lagoon, and The Uptown Theater.

St. Paul

Goodwill (University Avenue): a newly-renovated store

Lula's (Snelling and Selby): the vintage women's clothing here is fantastic!

Elite Repeat (Randolph and Hamline): a consignment store

Swank (University and Fairview): 1950's - 1970's furniture and clothing. = Amazing.

Up Six (Snelling and Selby): great vintage.

(click here for the website "St. Paul Retro Loop" - a consortium of vintage stores in St. Paul. Can you tell I love vintage? Really? Well...let me tell you. I love vintage!)

Turnstyle (Ford Parkway and Cleaveland): lovely store in a small strip mall

Hopechest (Snelling and University): a fairly high end consignment shop

My Sister's Closet (Grand and Lexington): I found my prom dress here for $28. It's amazing. Arlene (the owner) and I - we go way back.

Foraging on the way: Chocolate Celeste on University Avenue, Cafe Latte on Grand Ave, pizza at Punch Neopolitan Pizza (Cleaveland), or Turkish at Black Sea Restaurant on Snelling Avenue.

Down South and way far west

I profess to knowing the least about this area, as it is far from where I live.

Mall of America (Bloomington): SO overrated. But - they do have Nordstrom Rack, Rybecki Cheese shop (free samples!), H&M, pretty much whatever you'd need...and then there's the whole amusement park + Ikea + aquarium in the basement thing.

Value Village (Richfield, Brooklyn Center, and New Hope): I love Value Village. Always a bargain, always great stuff.

Brides of France (Edina): I've never been here, but if you're in need of that sort of thing, this is the place to go.

Nu Look (Minneapolis): Haven't been here, but I've heard good things about it.

Food to eat: Fat Lorzeno's Pizza on Cedar Ave near Lake Nokomis is GREAT. And you can't beat Ikea meatballs.

Some scattered thoughts

I arrived back in Boston Monday morning, Kemps ice cream bucket filled with my grandmother's Christmas ornaments in hand. It's the first time I've been home in the fall since 2003, and boy I ever miss raking leaves and the colors of my yard. Sure, Illinois and Massachusetts have beautiful colors during the autumn --- but they don't have the colors of the trees in my backyard or for that matter, a dog that loves you unconditionally no matter what.

I also watched six hours of BBC's Pride and Prejudice on the plane (thank goodness for a computer that has a working battery!) It's amazing how at different points in your life you can define your feelings by a character. Today, for me, I'm a Jane Bennett. I usually tend to be Eliza Bennett, as I'm a bit on the opinionated side (ha! according to my mom, this is why I'd make a terrible trophy wife). But right now...I'm feeling a bit helpless about those people I care about. But as a friend reminded me, think of the alternative...and I've realized that not caring about others is simply impossible for me. It's not going to happen.

But at the same time, I wish there was more I could do. And then, of course, those helpful people remind me that "oh but difficult times are how you GROW and figure out who you really ARE." And it kind of makes me want to shoot them in the face.

But they mean well, and the rational side of me accepts their thoughts and knows that they're right. Still want to shoot them in the face, though. Or at least give them a taste of this growth they know is such a good thing. I know I'm all of, well, not old, but I feel like I don't need problems to tell me who I am.

Also - I read this today:

"Brigitte, one of Germany’s most popular glossy women’s magazines, announced on Monday that it will no longer use models in photo spreads in response to changing ideas about beauty.

Instead, the Hamburg-based title published by Gruner+Jahr plans to choose from readers who register online and staff members based on their meaningful qualities other than their dress size.

“Attractiveness has many faces,” editor of the bi-monthly Brigitte Huber said in a statement. “Whether they are actresses, musicians, first ladies or women on the streets of big cities – they all affect fashion and beauty styles.” "

I like it. Nice choice of name, too.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Masterclass with Gustavo Dudamel

picture from here

Gustavo Dudamel is a rock star. And on April 16, 2010, I will be playing under his baton. He is a 28-year old from Venezuela, and just became the new music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He grew up as the child of musicians, and enrolled in El Sistema, Venezuela's state-financed music education program. After learning violin, he took up conducting and became the conductor for the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (the top youth orchestra in the country). He is now starting to implement a program patterned after El Sistema in Los Angeles, encouraging youth to become involved in music. Public service and music? And that goodness. Too bad he's married. To a ballerina/journalist named Eloisa. It give me hope that I can be a scientist/educator when I grow up (otherwise known as, of course, the perfect combination of Bill Nye and Mrs. Frizzle).

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel is the recipient of the 2010 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts at MIT. Dudamel, one of the country's most in-demand conductors, is music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He joins a select list of distinguished recipients of the Eugene McDermott Award, including architects Diller + Scofidio, writer Junot Diaz, architect Santiago Calatrava, playwright Suzan-Lori Parks, and artist Isaac Julien. In addition to $75,000 cash prize, the recipient is offered a campus residency. (As part of his residency next April, Dudamel will visit the MIT Media Lab and conduct an open rehearsal with the MIT Symphony Orchestra on April 16, where President Susan Hockfield will present the award.) Said Dudamel: "You cannot imagine how excited I am to visit MIT and see the wonderful music program and the Media Lab first hand -- the next generation in music and technology all in one place!""