Thursday, January 22, 2009

But it's too hard...

Last Wednesday, I attended and event hosted by the Hart House Debate Committee on the friction between science and religion. The format was good, and I might steal it for a future events I plan, but otherwise it was boring. One of the two speakers on the religious side, Yiftach Fehige, was possibly the most vacuous person I have ever heard speak. Seriously, he had about as much content as cotton candy (i.e. sugar and air, lots and lots of very warm air).

From what I understood, the event was not planned as a debate, but even as a discussion there was way to much backing down and nothing remotely provocative was said by the speakers. The audience was a bit more daring in regards to provocative questions. When to topic came to the curriculum and what should be taught in schools, everyone agreed that science should be taught in science classrooms. One audience member, however, suggested that maybe when it comes evolution the topic is to "complicated" to teach in schools and so we should just stick to easier topics in science.

Personally, I call bullshit. School and learning, in general, are not about what's easiest. Yes, evolution is not the simplest topic, but that argument could be used for not teaching anything harder than arithmetics. In fact, I've seen it used to argue that calculus, amongst other topics in math and sciences, shouldn't be taught in high school.

Furthermore, I don't think the problem is that it's too hard to teach the basics. In my experience, the problem is that many teachers are ill equipped to teach evolution. If you don't understand it yourself you're hardly in a position to teach it, right? But then the solution to this type of problem isn't to take the subject away. Not teaching evolution in primary or secondary schools will just mean that the next batch of teachers will know jack shit about it too.

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Monday, January 19, 2009


Dear self-centred asshole in an SUV,

I know you you equate pedestrians to a telephone pole. They're there and you'd rather not hit them, but otherwise who cares. That makes you self-centred. What makes you an asshole is your insistence on driving REALLY fast, REALLY close to the curb when there are pedestrians nearby (possibly waiting for a streetcar). I know you might not understand how this is possible, but this pedestrian is not a telephone pole and actually minds having to dodge the tsunami of slush you direct at her. She also mind the fact that even after dodging most of it, her nice pants were covered in disgusting brown water from the knee down.

Next time, please try to drive further away from the curb. But if you must have one wheel dragging in the puddle of muddy slush, please slow the fuck down.

Sincerely pissed,


Now that I've vented, here's an awesome two board scrabble game I played on Saturday.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

I should be asleep now, but....

I've been out drinking with friends tonight*, and here are some though from a brain transitioning from intoxication to moderate sobriety:

  • 20 below zero weather and drinking is not a fun combination. I wore so many layers of clothes that when I had to do my bathroom run I was worried that I'd burst before getting my wool tights off.
  • I love talking about science with people. I spent a large portion of my 30 minute taxi ride home talking to the cab driver about the cool research I do at work. I was a bit drunk and may have forgotten a few details, but it was fun.**

*If you're in Toronto and feel up for a drink sometime the University of Toronto Secular Alliance has pub nights every once in a while and you should check them out
** For some reason I often get into interesting conversation about my work or what I'm studying with complete strangers. I don't know why.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pie-napple Recipe

Due to Scienceblogs' temporary downtime PhysioProf has been hosting a party to keep the Sb addicts happy which somehow became a "post your pasta recipe" party. I've already posted a pasta recipe, but since some people have started in on dessert I decided that everyone needs to know about the awesome pie-napple (not to be confused with pie-nipples) my friends and I baked for Christmas.

So here is edited copypasta of my friend's recipe recipe:

* 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 2 Tablespoons sugar
* 3/4 cup (a stick and a half) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
* 1/2 cup of all-vegetable shortening (8 Tbsp)
* 6-8 Tablespoons ice water
  1. Mix flour, salt, and sugar. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture. Toss to coat the butter with a little of the flour. Cut butter into the flour mixture. Add shortening (a tablespoonful at a time, not one big hunk of shortening) and cut into mixture.
  2. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over flour mixture. Fold into dough until it sticks together. Add up to 2 more tablespoons of ice water if the dough will not come together. Divide the dough into 2 balls and flatten each into 4 inch wide disks. Dust the disks lightly with flour, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days before rolling out.
  3. After the dough has chilled in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, you can take it out to roll. If it is too stiff, you may need to let it sit for 10 minutes at room temperature before rolling. Sprinkle a little flour on a flat work surface and the top half of one of the disks of dough. Roll out one of the disks so that it's big enough to cover the bottom of the pie dish.
  4. Put the rolled out dough in the pie dish.
  5. You'll have a second disk of dough left over, which you can either use to cover your pie (not recomemnded as the pineapple filling is better if it gets a bit brown on top) or you can make another pie and/or decorations (like we did).
* 3/4 cup brown sugar
* 3 tablespoons cornstarch
* 1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. In a medium saucepan combine sugar, cornstarch, and pineapple with juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened, then allow to boil 1 minute.
  3. Cool slightly and pour mixture into pastry-lined pie pan. Place in preheated oven and bake for 35 minutes.

Last step: cool, cut, and eat.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Learning from other people's mistakes

Lessons learned from mistakes have always stuck around in my memories the longest. A lot have been mistakes I made, but seeing other people screw up is also a great source "what not to do"s. This is especially true when you have to work with the results of the fuck-ups.

I spent most of my summer at Research Organization trying to clean up the ugliest database ever because the person who made it was really, really incompetent (Seriously guys, if you're collecting data electronically you should never, ever let people enter whatever they want. Even [Especially?] if said people have an MD). I managed to clean it up well enough that we've already got 2 abstracts accepted for a meeting and there was talk of writing a manuscript. Along with these easily quantifiable achievement I also learned a lot of shit. I learned how to work with a particular statistical package that isn't SPSS, ethical data cleaning, and how to politely tell people that they're fucking nuts. However, the things I will remember forever and will hopefully never repeat in my own work include "Why yes, enter whatever you wish for the units" and "Hmm...contradictory information, nobody would ever enter that so why should we create measures against it?".

Over the break, I started and almost finished making data entry forms for a different study. They're nice, shiny and they are made to be as idiot proof as possible. But again other people screwing up is fucking with my work. This time it's not the kind of mistake that leaves me with lots of interesting work and amused frustration at incompetent people, it's the kind of fuck up that will most likely render 3 weeks of work a complete waste of time.

The gist of the problem: pretty science isn't always practical science.

The study is a clinical trial looking at a novel use for a very common medication. The scientific justification is so simple and sensible that even a person with just a little background on the disease (me) can understand it easily. The study is also well designed for the most part. However, the problem is that the protocol requires a super strict time frame that allows for very little time between an occurrence of the medical event in question and seeing a specialist. This makes some sense as it would make the science better. However, the time frame is so ridiculously ludicrous that at the rate the PI is enrolling patients we're probably going to have a case study rather than a clinical trial.

God, I hope that if (when?) I ever have to plan studies or even simple projects I'll have the foresight to be able to tell when my plans are fucking impossible.

P.S. If none if this makes sense or follows a logical progression, I blame anger and Jagermeister.

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