Thursday, April 26, 2012

Buried in Junk- is there a packrat gene?

[image credit: Lewin Lab, Max Delbruck center for Molecular Medicine, Berlin-Buch]

 After moving last month, I'm still unpacking. The house is littered with boxes and books and all sorts of things. I unfortunately possess a daunting amount of random crap. This stuff has quietly built up for years, and now the sheer volume could bury me many times over. It's like my belongings own me.

  Somehow I justify keeping all this junk. Sizing up a heinous leopard print skirt, I think to myself "Oh, I could wear it for halloween next year" and into the "keep" pile it goes. What's with that? Why is it so hard for some of us to part with inanimate objects? Is there a packrat gene?

One 2008 study from the OCD Clinical and Research Unit of L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain suggests there just may be. The development and survival of your nervous system depends in part on proteins called neurotrophic factors. Mutations in the gene encoding one such neurotropic factor (neurotrophic tyrosine kinase receptor type 3 (NTRK3)) have been correlated with obsessive compulsive hoarding in patients. Findings suggest that the NTRK3 gene may be an interesting target for further research on the genetic basis of obsessive-compulsive hoarding.

 Granted, hoarding associated with OCD is on the extreme end of the spectrum. I do not imply that sentimentality over knickknacks is comparable to a potentially devastating mental disorder. However, if there is a genetic basis for extreme hoarding, it seems reasonable to suppose there may be a genetic basis for its more benign manifestations. That leopard print skirt doesn't inspire nostalgia. It's ugly as hell and I don't need it. Yet, I impulsively justify keeping it. I could chalk that up to a frugal upbringing or to prudence, but maybe, just maybe, it's hardwired.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Camping Coachella

It's eight am and the heat is already punishing. Bare limbs, tanned brown in the desert sun, sprawl haphazardly out of open sleeping bags and across inflatable mattresses. An occasional groan rises up: gentle resignation to the morning.


Welcome to Coachella 2012, a three-day celebration of art, showcasing major names in music and exploring the boundaries of sculpture and interactive visual media. Our crew opted for car camping this year, setting up house April 20-22. 

Temperatures heralded the beginning of summer. Soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the heat left festival goers sweating in the shade. A layer of dirt and grime greeted us at the gates and remained a fixture throughout. Even after the rare (and heavenly) shower, the filth returned with zeal.


 But the shit and dust and grease were integral. They fueled the reckless abandon that made this three day party so epic. Camping, I dare say synonymous with suffering this weekend, was the only way to go. Sure there were moments when I teetered on collapse, but pushing boundaries was half the fun. 

In fact, I would say Coachella is designed to push your boundaries, whether or not you choose to camp. With simultaneous sets on five stages from 11am to midnight, endless interactive exhibits, food and booze, a ferris wheel, and plenty more, it's really impossible to do everything. The conflicting awesomeness forces you to choose between  a great spot for a headliner like Radiohead, and mediocre proximity if you want to bounce between shows. It's built-in crowd control. 


So, here's the nitty gritty on camping: eight of us (4 boys, 4 girls) rented 2 car companion spots, and shared that space comfortably. Car camping (basically tailgating) was great because we could lock up our valuables during the day, and there was no schlepping  of heavy equipment between the car and the campsite.

Our absolutely essential equipment: 
-Four large canopies (covering the whole site)
-coolers full of Beer (no bottles allowed, only cans) and ice ($10/bag at the festival)
-Hot dogs and pasta were big hits for communal meals
-Water!!! (about 7 gallons/person). I brought extra to wash my face and to brush my teeth. Sounds small but boosted morale tremendously. Don't rely on showering.
-Baby wipes
-Toilet paper and individual wet ones for porta potty adventures (the potties really weren't too bad though!)
Camping Coachella allowed the festival to become it's own logistics-free little world. For a few days, music, art, good friends, and a rare awareness of one's own physicality materialized from the desert's red dust. It's an experience not to be missed.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Missing the Sea

Today I'm homesick for Santa Cruz. Coastal California means flip flops and hoodies and the ocean's roar. It means tacos and beer, bonfires, bikes, and longboards. The salt air infects with an endless summer mentality, even beneath a steely gray sky.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Public or Private? More college advice

Specimens from my school's natural history collection. The natural history department is just one of many groups offering internships, independent studies, and other opportunities outside of the classroom!
Continuing with the "what I wish I'd known six years ago" theme, I've written a bit more for the college-bound high school student. Hope it helps!

So you've decided you want a bachelor's degree from a four year college. Now, what kind of place is right for you? A large public university or a small liberal arts school? Well, I went the public route so that's really what I can speak to.

At research-based universities the undergrads are often ignored in favor of graduate students. The reputation of the school itself is based much more on its graduate curriculum than on anything you'll likely see in the next four years. Here hard work and the ability to be proactive will determine your success. There are boundless opportunities for undergrads, but it's unlikely anyone will spoon feed you that information. Find your career center, visit your departmental advising office regularly, and get to know your professors!

It  is up to you to seek out the classes you need and to find the things you want to try.

 The photo above is an example of self-motivated students finding opportunities outside of the classroom. These birds are specimens from the University of California's natural history collection presented annually to the public. The event is a a two-day exhibit curated by undergrads, sponsored by the library and the environmental studies department. There isn't a class on curation, but interested students can volunteer to maintain the collection throughout the year, or can take on other independent studies through the department.

Regardless of the school you attend, college is about learning to make your own decisions. Small private universities are the same way. No one is going to tell you what to do. However, I would expect that larger schools can feel more impersonal and that resources can be harder to find. On the up side, there are likely many more opportunities for undergraduate internships, volunteering, and research experience before entering a competitive job market.

I'm glad that in the relative shelter of my undergraduate years, I learned to seek out my own interests and to dig for opportunities. That skill gives me just a little bit more confidence in the post-college fray.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Applying to College- What I wish I had known


This past week has been spent reinventing my room. The posters and magazine clippings had to go. They will forever represent the bright-eyed enthusiasm of adolescence, but it's time for a more adult space. While exfoliating my walls, I wondered what I would tell my sixteen-year-old self if we could speak. After some deliberation, here it is- the advice I wish I'd had six years ago:

Yes you are unique, but so is everyone else! The only thing that will set you apart is hard work. As you stare down the barrel of the college application process, remember that it's all about selling yourself. Unfortunately good grades and interesting extracurriculars don't guarantee admission anywhere. Rather it's the way you communicate your accolades that matters.

Play to your strengths. Even if you don't have a stellar academic record, focus on the positive. Realistically, even if you'd volunteered every weekend since you were born, won every award your school has to offer, or hell- cured cancer, it wouldn't mean diddly-squat without a compelling argument for admission. Especially for the overachievers, DO NOT make the mistake of thinking that hard work throughout high school replaces hard work and strategy on your college apps!

Please also remember that failure breeds success. Learn from this process even if things go horribly awry. It's harrowing, but throw yourself in and you'll be the better for it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Evo / Devo

A new page on evolution by natural selection

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Diggin' Gotye (Go-tea-ay)

 Hopping on the bandwagon with this one. Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" has me hooked. Not only is the song catchy as hell (seeming to sneak up and then explode across US radio), but its content is also universal. 

De Backer's voice is haunting. Paired with the quick creep of his rhythm I easily slip into memories of tender indignity. I'm lost in the gentle melancholy of old lovers and lost friends. The art comes alive in tandem with the rhythm and with the lyrical content simultaneously. 

As this video evolves De Backer's mouth is a strange lynchpin for me. Its colossal size and toothiness are almost as intriguing as his voice. Paired with his sadly sincere eyes and those little eyebrow gestures, I feel his pain man. He drives it home: we've all been there. 

 The addition of a partner's perspective is also important. It introduces balance to the piece, and reminds me that these things are never as straightforward as they feel. We've accepted one side of the argument, and then must face giving ground to another character. There is no right or wrong, good or evil- just people and situations. I'm glad this song is popular because it's evenhanded and it's fair. This is the first semi-accurate representation of human relationships I've seen in popular media in a while. That, and his mouth is just wonderful.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Post-Move Phenomena

Back home in LA and abuzz with ideas. There are about 1,000 things I'd like to do, and even though there's no rush, I want everything right now. Patience is a virtue, but my mind has a lead foot on the accelerator. Too bad the parking break's on. 

 So in the spirit of (semi)tangible progress, lets talk physics. There is nothing like a fun fact to make everything better. 

 Question: Why are your eyes green? or blue? or brown? or hazel? 

 Well, you do have your DNA to thank, but heredity gets complicated when it comes to eye color. Lets skip the genetics and assume the eye already exists. 
 Now, when light shines through a suspension of particles in liquid, the path of that light becomes visible. This happens because particles scatter light. Intensity of the scatter depends on the frequency of light, with blue scattered most strongly (known as the Tyndall effect). Physically, this determines the color of your eyes. 
 The iris contains a thin suspension of particles, including the light-absorbing pigment melanin. Yep, that's the same pigment that dictates skin color. The less melanin you have, the more light your eyes reflect. Brown or black eyes have more melanin than blue or green eyes. As a result, more light is absorbed (less is reflected back to the observer) so the iris appears darker. Since blue light is reflected most strongly, blue is the dominant eye color perceived in individuals with little melanin in the iris. Neat!