Today's PhD comic: the appearance of productivity

Oh gosh, how many times have I done this... carrying around papers (I do intend to read them at least), to group meetings, lunch, coffee breaks, on planes, sometimes even on busses... not into the bathroom stall... like maybe if you just had a minute you might read it... maybe...

PhD comics: The "Carrying papers" phase


science news: nano patch-up, here's to winter

Two articles in ScienceNOW caught my attention today:

Nano-bio takes heart... or heals it at least. Samuel Stupp of Northwestern has published a paper in NanoLetters on the use of self-assembled nanofibers to increase the concentration of growth factors in injured tissue (specifically, corneal and heart tissue in mice) helping to stimulate blood vessel growth for healing. I've seen some of Stupp's work before and I have to say it was very impressive... that time he was presenting work he did using self-assembled nanofibers to recreate the scaffolding needed for nerve regrowth in spinal injuries. In terms of safety of such a treatment, I'm sure there is much to be done, however, the concept seems like it should be safe as these nanofibers consist of biocompatible molecules, and the fibers themselves are broken down over time, or can be induced to essentially fall apart.

Check out the ScienceNOW article. For those of you with access the article contains a link to the NanoLetters paper.

ScienceNOW: If I Only Had a Nano-Heart

Let's raise a glass to winter. Ok, this article is just kind of general interest, and struck me as kind of fun. Seems that the same systems in our bodies which help to regulate temperature are related to those which are responsible for ethanol detoxificaton. The jist? Cooler climes means higher alcohol tolerance... maybe... at least in fruit flies. Well, that's enough for me to drink to as winter prepares to blow in. :)

Check out the ScienceNOW article for more details (maybe someone who actually knows some bio or physiology would get more out of it...).

ScienceNOW: Hot Flies, Good Times



to balance all the heavy thinking of the previous post, here is a picture of one of my morning glories from about a week ago. they have more or less given up blooming as i fear they have already met the frost.

the tragedy and my state of mind

I live in Montreal. I think pretty much the whole world (actually, I am surprised how many international news outlets have carried the story) has heard by now that there was a tragic shooting at Dawson College (a CEGEP) in the downtown area here just this past Wednesday. A young man, with no apparent connection with the school, walked up with three guns, one a semi-automatic rifle, all of which were registered, legally obtained weapons, and started shooting at random.

I have been wanting to post something about this since... but where do I begin...

When I first heard, about 1pm on Wed, I had the normal reaction I think when hearing such terrible news... a combination of relief and thankfulness that it was not where I nor anyone I am close to works/studies, a twinge of sadness for those who may have been effected, and a curiosity about what was happening (causing me to spend much time looking for any news stories I could find). However, emotionally, I basically shrugged it off. In the days since, I have not been able to do so. Somehow, this event has brought forth a very much unanticipated flow of emotion. Fear and sadness... though not quite in the way you might think.

First I will explain "fear". Not fear that a gunman will come to McGill and the same type of tragedy will occur here. Fear that I am not appreciating and taking advantage of my time. There are so many things which can happen... there was a bomb found on a train in Germany just days before I arrived, there were terror threats at Heathrow which I flew through in both directions for my trip, there are much more common things like all those near misses with cars we've had on Montreal streets. How quickly life can change.

I like my life.

No, I love my life.

I enjoy my work, I have a rich variety of things which I (try) to do, I love my husband and the life we have created together, I love my parents and all that they have given me, I love how the future looks from where I stand now... and I am afraid... I am afraid something will happen to take it all away from me just when I feel like it is getting really good, and just as I have the maturity to recognize how good it is. As cliche as it sounds, I want to live each day to its fullest... but most of the time I feel like my life is on fast-forward and all I can do is just try to keep up, when really I want to slow it down to savour it. The problem is, to make more time, I would have to give up some of the things which are making me feel life is so rich. I don't want to go back to where I was three years ago, updating at my C.V. and wondering where the heck all the "life" went from it.

Now I am happy, and I just hope and pray that life can stay this way. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to balance everything and until then I'll just muddle through and do my best to appreciate all these things which make things a bit crazy from time to time.

Sadness. Like everyone who reads of Anastasia De Sousa, the young woman whose life was cruelly taken from her far too early, I feel sadness for her family and friends. Also for all of those who were injured, those who were present and will have difficult times ahead dealing with the tragedy.

But there is a deeper contemplativeness and sadness which the event has somehow brought forth. I'm not exactly sure where it's coming from.

The event has quite strongly highlighted another event in my life which at the time seemed... well, insignificant isn't the right word, but I certainly didn't expect it to have any lasting impact. I met a young man on the plane returning from Germany. For whatever reason we started chatting... hey, it's a long flight, might as well make the best of it. He had spent a month in Austria, so we joked about German words we learned, and schnitzel-everything. Turned out he was from New Brunswick... another maritimer! :) 16 (and a half... when's the last time I added that??) years old. For whatever reason he started telling me a bit more about his life. I must admit I was not prepared for what was to follow. As he tried to tell me he had lost his girlfriend just a little over a year before, and I joked thinking this was the usual story of a teenage breakup and the heartache to follow, I found myself listening to a description of how she died in his arms after he saw her be hit by a car. I couldn't imagine how I would be able to deal with such an event now in my life, much less how I could have dealt with it at that age. Needless to say he had suffered through some difficult, dark times. I got much of the details. He talked. I listened. Though perhaps admittedly careless with his own personal safety, he seemed to be doing as well as you might expect anyone in that position to be in. But he was also admitedly violent with his peers who dared to cross him, and more so with those that might take advantage of young girls... a sort of crusade it seemed on behalf of his girlfriend who he could not protect. I tried to encourage him to perhaps seek other channels (other than violent behaviour?) without seeming scolding. And I tried to encourage him to look out for his own safety if not for himself, then for these girls he wants to protect and all those he might help in the future... it seemed to at least give him pause for a moment, so I hope he considered it seriously.

The thing that concerns me a bit though was that his violent behaviour seemed to have isolated him at school (and I tried to convince him that high school is a strange environment where teens seem to lose any sense of humanity they might have been raised with in favour of their own tribal coolness). It seemed also that he may not have been getting much support from his parents. Now I wonder, should I have done more? Should I have given this young man some way to contact me? For whatever reason he felt comfortable spilling his guts to me... what if he has no one who will listen? or who he can tell without being judged? I don't think this somewhat troubled young man is capable of such a thing as the young man here was... but doesn't it fit the profile everyone seems to come up with? Isolated, depressed/troubled, sometimes violent, possibly lacking a support network? A normal kid, who does well in school, but is hiding this dark other side?

Of course, it's possible too that he made up the whole story... he asked me if I believed him. I said I did because I had no reason to distrust him, but the question made me wonder after the fact. But I have to say I'm a bit haunted by this kid and his dead girlfriend. I hope that my listening helped, and that maybe some things I said made sense and made him see that there is hope for his future. I hope that I didn't say anything wrong that might have made things worse. I hope to God that I don't hear there was a school shooting in his town.

I'm sad that there are people out there who find themselves isolated, unable to find help when they need it. I'm sad that our society doesn't even see it most of the time. I can't believe I just met someone only a couple of weeks ago who seemed to be suffering this same affliction of being alone while being amongst so many.

Needless to say with all these things running around in my head already, that rainy Wednesday evening as I walked to the bus stop (avoiding the metro which had been closed all day due to suspicions of second or even third gunmen) and could see the police lights from the area cordoned off around Dawson college, and thought about all those kids who had such a terrifying experience, I found myself struggling to keep all these emotions in check... at least until I got home. The past few days I'd best describe my mood as meloncholy as I've tried to figure out just where all this is coming from. Yesterday as I walked along rue Mt. Royal, I noticed a great many people who seemed to be really trying to enjoy the beautiful day. So that is what I did too, and today I will go skating with some friends, and tomorrow my husband comes home from a 10 day trip to Switzerland, and he will get the biggest hug he's ever gotten... but until he lands in Montreal, I will worry just a little.

... ok, so i went skating before posting this... it was worth having to stay later at work. :)



Sigh... I can't seem to find any reason why the comments wouldn't be working... I'm going to post this and then try to comment on it. Anyone who happens along, can you try posting a comment? Just a "testing testing 1-2-3" kind of thing? Thanks.

Blogs, Blogging & one-sided friends

So, as I sat here at my desk eating my lunch and downing a quick coffee before my first hockey class of the season (yay!!! hockey's back! ... note: the only reason I might possibly look forward to winter rapidly approaching) I read a few blogs that I occasionally read. It's really only recently that I got into this whole blog thing. I never thought I'd become an avid blog reader, or blogger myself.

I was first really introduced to the concept by Josh (found over here at life's propagation, aka quarem.blogspot.com) when I worked in a lab with him in Victoria. When I left there I found myself checking in on his blog just to see what was up and really enjoy reading his posts on whatever he's doing/thinking/reading etc.

This got me a bit interested in blogging, and I had some ideas for things I might put out there to share. I tried my first blog shortly after but it didn't get very far... abandoned after 1 post... I still feel bad for it. Then I tried using a blog format to communicated with my 1st year physics tutorial students, and actually that more or less worked out, though I think there are probably better ways. I maintained a little election blog with some friends last year, but that had kind of a limited life span anyway and is silent for now. Then I decided it was time to try a personal blog again... this one. I figured it would mainly be a way for me to post my goings-on while away on trips and interesting stuff about my life in Montreal, and that maybe friends and family would read it. So far, that's about what's happening... but there are also quite a few people who visit who I'm sure I don't know.

So this brings me back to the reading end of things. I was just reading this blog that I stumbled upon in a totally random fashion while looking at some photos on Flickr's "interestingness" page (because I'm getting into photography now, and I find it fun to see what other people do with their cameras, what lighting they catch/create, what angles look interesting, etc). So now I find myself reading this blog about this girl from Oregon (you can catch her over at lylium.org), and I'm suddenly so happy and excited for her starting College! And it occurred to me... this is a bit weird. I mean, here's this girl I have never met, have no connection to, and yet I find myself really, genuinely excited for her. At the same time I feel a bit strange because she knows nothing about me... at most, I am a few pageloads and maybe she knows where from. I could post a comment, but I don't have anything really to say other than "Hi, I've been reading your blog, you don't know me, but have fun at college!"

Anyway, despite this strangeness, I still like the idea of blogging. I also find it intriguing to think that someone might randomly stumble upon my blog ramblings and read for awhile and feel some connection (though one-sided, and a bit strange) to me.

So on that note, I hope I will post a bit more than I have since getting back from Germany (yes, I'm back now). I still have things I've meant to write about and post pictures of from the trip, so hopefully I'll get to that soon, but work is getting in the way as I have made a pretty good plan of things I must do to finish this PhD thing, so now they must be done.

(ps - for some reason, it seems that comments are not working here... I will try to resolve that and post again asking for test comments.)