Tag Archives: autobiographical

Back to rambling

13 Nov

You know when you haven’t blogged for a month due to a cold that was probably in reality the plague and all of your midterms happening at once and the unwise but totally necessary decision to spend a weekend in Disneyland and then Halloween evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer and a couple hundred close friends? And THEN you know when it’s your birthday and your grandparents call you up to sing to you and your grandma chides you for not blogging after she told everyone about your blog?

I mean, sure. I think we all know the feeling.

This semester has been insane. Mostly with the neurobiology. But here’s the thing: I’ve been learning amazing things that I should so totally be telling the world about. Like, for instance, you know the temporal lobe?

Now you do. (It's green.)

Apparently, at least according to one of my professors, it was so named because it corresponds to the temples, where people tend to go gray, denoting the passage of time — hence, temporal. And somehow I’ve gone four years without learning this, or making the connection between temporal lobes and temporal anomalies and Temporal Dominoes. It’s wonderful and ridiculous and makes me feel slightly dense.

Or, did you know that your olfactory bulb (responsible for your sense of smell) has no direct input to your frontal lobe, which is why you can’t reconstruct a smell in your memory the same way you can a face.  (Try it.  When I say “Think of Abraham Lincoln,” you can see Abraham Lincoln in your mind’s eye — or most people can.  When I say “Think of the smell of apple pie,” you can come up with various sensory cues, but you can’t reconstruct it in the same realistic way.  No, you can’t.  Even if you think you can, you can’t.  Trust me.)

Anyway, I’m actually still here and alive and all, and the world is an amazing place, and there is snow and a Soyuz launch in Baikonur tonight, and I am graduating in six months. And that about sums up the past month of my life. Hopefully I’ll have slightly more time to write up real science-y things going into winter break and my final semester.

(Hi Gram and Papa!)


Speak Out With Your Geek Out, Part IV: Nature vs. Nurture

15 Sep

No, this isn’t another biology post. This is a post about family — specifically, my family, and what they’ve taught me about being a nerd.

Let me start with a story. When I was around 8 years old, my grandpa lent me his copies of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. I guess in and of itself, that wouldn’t be much of a story, but the real point is, I didn’t see anything at all unusual about that. Reading mid-twentieth-century science fiction was just what you did, whether you were 8 or 70.

My mother and father, they taught me that reading is fun. I know. It’s ridiculous. In other words, I had no choice in the matter: I was always going to be a nerd.

That baby will be a neuroscientist someday. Also, a major nerd.

It took me a long while to realize that not everyone reads for fun. (High school, to be honest. And even now, sometimes I think it might all be a hoax. I mean, what do you do in those spare hours that you’re not reading? Just stare at things? Watch youtube videos? But if that’s the case, what did people do in the 90s? I sincerely want to know, and I’ve always been too embarrassed to ask.)

Being a nerd means being passionate about things. My parents may have missed out on a few life lessons (“how to change a tire” and “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” stick out), but they did teach me that when you care about something, care about it. Even if it’s not cool, even if it’s not important — what matters is that you care.

And on that note: Happy birthday to the only Dad in the universe who is cooler than Rory Williams & Bill Adama combined.

Two Months

8 Sep

It’s been two months since the STS-135 launch and tweetup, and this morning I woke up at 5 a.m. to watch a (scrubbed) GRAIL launch. The lack of sleep and the anniversary have led to an emotional state that finds me walking down the street to class and suddenly realizing that I am grinning like an idiot because I just remembered that I have actually met astronauts.

So far, no one has asked me to explain why I would wake up at 5 a.m. to watch a launch from ~2,500+ miles away on a small computer screen (granted, my roommates were all asleep when I left this morning), but that dopey smile and the memories of rain and pre-dawn parking lots and the last five seconds of the countdown go a long way towards explaining it.

So, dear #GRAIL #NASATweetup attendees:  you are now a part of an amazing alumni group who can understand just what it feels like to drive up to this view in the morning:

This must be the fifth time I've posted this picture; but it's so worth it.

The Natural History Museum

4 Sep

Given a three-day weekend, relatively little homework, only moderate pressure to get my grad school apps done rightthisinstant, and free admission to a museum that has a brand new dinosaur hall, I think the odds were very low that I was going to do anything else today. And considering how I basically lived there last fall, before my spring courses took over my life.

Adult? Sure. Do adults really spend their weekends looking at dinosaurs? Because I am totally on board with that.

The dinosaurs, they were nifty. I think, as someone who was raised to value nerdy things like this, there is always the possibility that I might take seeing dinosaurs for granted. It is, after all, kind of a big deal that scientists are able to reconstruct, with even a modicum of certainty, dinosaur skeletons from the fossils found, let alone reconstructing lifestyles, diets, etc.

As with chemistry, paleontology is not my thing, but if it’s yours, more power to you. One sign struck me as somewhat odd, however:

Reads "We know them as skeletons, but dinosaurs were once living, breathing animals much like us."

I’m not sure what it was, exactly, but something about “We know them as skeletons” makes me laugh. Maybe it’s the idea that this point needs clarification — that someone (hopefully a child), reading this, suddenly realizes that dinosaurs weren’t just skeletons when they were alive. You never know. Stranger things have been believed.

Anyway. The new dinosaur hall was the star of the day, but of course I couldn’t pass up my Fin Whale Passage. I love that room. The whale sounds, the giant skeleton suspended from the ceiling, the low lighting, the benches. Honestly, I could live there.

Architecture -- like chemistry and paleontology -- is another discipline I can appreciate, especially when it comes to suspending something that heavy far above my head.

One little girl, running into the room, yelled, “It’s a wooly mammoth!” Her parents corrected her (thankfully). I guess maybe when you’re that small, the lower jaw might look like tusks? But that wasn’t even my favorite overheard of the day. That honor had to go to a girl talking with her mom about an exhibit on how different animals walked based on their varying body conformations:  “But I’m not in my body, I am my body!” I don’t think she was old enough to know quite how hard she was kicking poor Descartes, there. Nevertheless, it works.

And finally, with no segue: shades of Cary Grant’s character in Bringing Up Baby —

But where's the intercostal clavicle?

People Like You

26 Aug

That’s generally not a good phrase, is it? “People like you,” I mean. Implying, as it does, people not like me. If someone starts a sentence with “People like you,” odds are it won’t end well. It also tends to pick out one characteristic of an individual and generalize it to a group, which is rarely useful and even more rarely a reflection of real-world conditions.

So today, after my first week of classes, when I was waiting in line at CVS to buy milk, I had a conversation that subverted my expectations on so many levels. An older man was waiting in line ahead of me — not older older, but older than I am — and there was one girl at the register for about six of us in line. The man must have noticed that I was wearing my typical it’s-Friday-I-don’t-care college shirt, because he asked me how I was enjoying school.

It’s great, I said, because honestly, I just wanted to buy milk, go home, have some lunch, and read Blue Mars (I know, it’s Friday, but it’s a good book.)

Then he asked me if I was a freshman, which was kind of weird, but again, the Friday-I-don’t-care-buying-milk thing was not so grown-up looking. Still, it was enough to make me glance toward the self-checkout machines, half of which were nonfunctional.

So I told him I was a senior, and he said that was good. I agreed. The Yeah, one more year response has become instinct with me anyway.

Then he asked me what my major was, which was at least a more natural progression of the conversation. I told him neuroscience, and he said, That’s good, curing diseases. I couldn’t help but smile then, but I didn’t bother contradicting him or clarifying, because, when it comes to biology, it’s all interconnected, anyway.

Then, the kicker: My daughter beat leukemia because of people like you.

I managed to stammer out some sort of congratulations and expression of admiration at his daughter’s accomplishment, or something, probably. I think. It was difficult.

Because what I really wanted to say was this: It couldn’t have been people like me. People like me take nothing seriously, and will ignore the real world in favor of a good book, and drink coffee way too late in the evening. People like me get the giggles anytime someone else is being particularly Serious-with-a-capital-S. If the Earth depends on people like me, then, sir, we are in trouble. People like me call other people “sir” in mental dialogue because they have watched too much military sci fi and read too much George R.R. Martin. People like me would rather listen to TED talks and bake banana bread than do real work. People like me are a mess.

But upon further reflection, I guess that’s the human condition — not the GRRM or the banana bread in particular, but being a mess in general. There are probably exceptions — astronauts, Steven Moffat, I mean, people who really have things together. But mostly, people like me are the ones that get people through leukemia, and build rockets, and heroically contend with befuddled CVS customers on a Friday afternoon. People like me do cure diseases, after all — and so, therefore, do people like you.

10 Things I Learned This Summer

15 Aug

Classes don’t start for another week, but for me, leaving Chicago for Los Angeles always signals the end of the summer. I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on how–cool?  brilliant?  amazing?  rad?  ace?  brilliant?–this summer has been. So here are 10 things I know now that I did not know in May.

1) No matter what Google Maps says, this is not SpaceX.


2) Camera lenses got just as fogged-up in Florida humidity as glasses do.

Also a testament to my photography skills.

3) Elmo is sassy in person.

And astronauts are cool.

4) Ned Stark does not always make the best life choices.

Par for the course.

5) Watching an EVA (spacewalk) during a power-and-internet-outage sans car is worth a half-hour trek to the nearest Starbucks.

I couldn't dry my hair in the morning, but I could watch people working in orbit.

6) Space Corps Directive 1694 states that, during temporal disturbances, no questions shall be raised about any crew member whose timesheet shows him or her clocking off 187 years before he clocked on.

Also that it's cold outside, there's no sort of atmosphere.

7) During a shuttle launch, the heat will kill you at 400 feet away.  At 800 feet away, the sound will kill you. (Also, by consistently telling this to people as a “fun fact,” I have learned that I overuse the phrase “fun fact.”)

Obviously, we were not this close on launch day.

8) Tim Minchin is both really nice in person and really funny live.

"I mean, I think you're special, but you fall within a bell curve."

9) Embroidery is fun.

Possibly too much fun.

10) It is possible to get goosebumps in 90-degree heat.

Photo courtesy of NASA.

Cassini and the James Webb Space Telescope

14 Jul

I’ve asked on Twitter and on Facebook, and I will ask now and again at the end of this post:  Please contact your representatives and ask them to restore funding to the James Webb Space Telescope.  My Congressperson has yet to reply back to me.

There are many excellent articles out there already describing the reasons why the JWST should not be axed.  Because it’s the successor to the Hubble.  Because of all we will learn from it.  Because the cost, in comparison to other budget costs, is not that great.  Because we’ve spent time and money and jobs on it already, and stopping it dead in its tracks would leave an utter void.  For the future of space exploration.  For science.  (As I write that, I can’t help but think of the little girl from Up  saying “Adventure is out there!”  And if that isn’t reason enough by itself to study space, I don’t know what is.)

So I could try to go over all of those reasons again.  But I think all of you know that space exploration is important, for all those reasons and more.  So instead, I have a personal story about why I kind of need this telescope to happen.

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