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All People Be Happy

What do you feel will lead to a world where All People Can Be Happy, and what contribution will you make?

Everybody’s voice matters, and I believe by listening to each person’s voice, we create an environment of support that fosters individual and community growth. I currently tutor with the East African Community Services, where I visit the homes of refugee families to tutor their children. I value this opportunity to help people who are at a disadvantage improve their lives through education. Below, I’m tutoring Jeanine from Tanzania in reading and writing. Watch her progression of drawings!

 

1.  Jeanine’s drawing of my name the first time we met.

 

2.  Jeanine’s most recent drawing.  Notice the spelling!

 

3.  Here is Jeanine, now working on her cursive!

 

Learn more about the All People Be Happy Foundation here.

Science Friday: Upgrade your grey matter, cause one day it may matter

MRI brain scans of 5 to 25 year olds show that brain density decreases over that time period. Seems backwards, right?  Think of the trimming of the adolescent brain as the trimming of the monster HBO package that my parents bought when they first set up cable. Eventually they had to pick out which channels they didn’t use and get rid of them to reduce expenses. Similarly the developing brain contains many more brain cells (tv channels) than any person uses. So the unused brain cells are removed to reduce expenses on your body. The decrease in brain density seen in MRI scans is due to the death of unused brain cells.  It’s use ‘em or lose ‘em.
The pruning of unused neurons happens mainly in the brain’s gray matter during adolescence. The thought patterns used during adolescence are crucial to long-term personality, as the circuitry carries over into adulthood — it’s more than habits, it’s hard-wiring. This finding places an even greater weight on understanding and combating addiction, anti-social behavior, and depression in teens.  The most highly hit areas are in the forebrain, which is responsible for reasoning, logic, and decision-making. It’s not using this logic to get good SAT scores that concerns me, but rather having a solid foundation with which to make informed decisions and take solid risks. This is why we need to invest in research. Education is not like a car — it never depreciates.

Raise high the roof beam, carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man.

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I’m an adoring fan of J.D. Salinger’s stories with the Glass family. They are filled with intricately quirky images about love and identity and how the two can conflict, especially in the young. They are my reminder that humans have an often unmet capacity to love. “Franny and Zooey” is my favorite, but as “Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters” is due back at the library next week, I’ve copied a few quotes that caught my attention before I return it. “Franny and Zooey” has more in common with “Raise High the Roof Beam” than the characters. It features haikus, seemingly nonsensical statements and ramblings (perhaps influenced by Zen), and the Hindu belief Vedanta, which holds that human nature is divine, and that the aim of human life is to realize that human nature is divine.

Here are some quotes to savor~

“There is evidently one rather terrible hallmark common to all persons who look for God, and apparently with enormous success, in the queerest imaginable places — e.g. in radio announcers, in newspapers, in taxicabs with crooked meters, literally everywhere. (My brother for the record had a distracting habit most of his adult life of investigating loaded ashtrays with his index finger, clearing all the cigarette ends to the sides — smiling from ear to ear as he did it — as if he expected to see Christ himself curled up cherubically in the middle, and he never looked disappointed.)”

“Seymour once said that all we do our wholes lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next.”

“A line exists in Kafka’s diaries — one of many of his, really — that could easily usher in the Chinese New Year: ‘The young girl who only because she was walking arm-in-arm with her sweetheart looked quietly around.'”

“I found out a good many years back about my general reader; that is to say, you, I’m afraid. You’re a great bird-lover….You’re someone who took up birds in the first place because they fired your imagination; they fascinated you because they seemed of all created beings the nearest to pure spirit — those little creatures with normal temperature of 125 degrees. ‘That goldcrest, with a stomach no bigger than a bean, flies across the North Sea!'”

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“I was an egregiously charming, able fellow, and it was at once a marked and curiously unimportant reflection on anyone’s taste if he thought otherwise.”

“Even in the dark I could sense that she felt the usual estrangement from me when I don’t automatically love what she loves…I mentioned to her R.H. Blythe’s definition of sentimentality: that we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it… And she sat stirring her drink and feeling unclose to me. She worries over the way her love for me comes and goes, appears, and disappears. She doubts its reality simply because it isn’t steadily pleasurable.”

“S. was, in the usual tiresome terminology, an Attractive Ugly Man. (It’s a very suspect tag in any event, most commonly used by certain womanfolk, real or imaginary, to justify their perhaps too singular attraction to spectacularly sweet-wailing demons or, somewhat less categorically, badly brought up swans.)”

“Please accept from me this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: (((()))).”

“I dread saying anything to you tonight, dear old Buddy, except the trite. Please follow your heart, win or lose….Keep me up until five only because all of your stars are out, and for no other reason…Were you busy writing your heart out?”

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me, somewhere along the california coast

Mr. and Mrs. Lighthouse *June 9*

  Lighthouse Love

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This Week’s Whimsy: On the power of brainstorming

By me
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Science Friday: Prions

Ribbon representation of a protein in its normal (left) and prion (right) forms

Ribbon representations of a protein in its normal (left) and prion (right) forms

Humans long believed that disease was caused by witchcraft, the moon, or the humors. In 1890 Robert Koch postulated that infectious disease is caused not by evil eyes or evil woman, but by microorganisms that live in our water and homes. For the next eighty years, biologists held that infectious disease is caused by the spread of nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) in the form of viruses or single-celled organisms that contain DNA as their genetic material, such as bacteria like streptococcus. In 1960 the infectious disease paradigm was again smashed when a biologist and a mathematician proposed that DNA isn’t the only offender — protein can also act as an infectious agent. Their idea is revolutionary in more than one way — proteins are the building blocks of life, but they do not contain the information for life, so how can a protein, without any instructions, spread disease?

Just like your hand needs a certain conformation to undertake a task, such as picking up a teacup, so must a protein take a specific conformation to perform its task in the cell. Sometimes though, like a hand with a broken finger that can’t pick up a teacup, a protein “breaks”  by becoming misfolded and is no longer helpful to the cell — it cannot do its task. Even worse, it can hurt the cell. These deleterious infectious misfolded proteins, called prions, propagate not by creating more of themselves de novo such as the case with replicating viruses or spreading bacteria, but instead convert healthy protein in the cell to the misfolded and harmful form. Misfolded proteins expose unstable surfaces to the cell, and to minimize that instability, will convert and aggregate with other proteins like itself. These aggregations themselves are harmful, and they are the current explanation for Alzheimer’s Disease, although that link remains tenuous.

Now you might ask, “How does a protein become misfolded in the first place?” No one knows for sure, but once a protein misfolds, its unstable state is literally infectious. Prions are responsible for Mad Cow Disease, Crutzfield-Jackob Disease, Scrapie, Kuru, among others. Scientists are taking several approaches to study prions diseases. One such approach is the model organism approach, where an animal (or worm, fungus, fly) is used in environmental and genetic studies for which we can’t use humans — plus model organisms tend to be simpler than humans, so using model organisms is like learning addition before moving on to algebra.

Recently one of my favorite biologists Eric Kandel postulated that some prions may occur naturally in the body, where they to help the body function normally. Our brain cells have billions of connections, and part of what makes us unique (and helps us learn) is the strength and identity of these connections. One brain cell talks chemically to multitudes of others, and each of these connections is distinct. But how are these connections, called synapses, made distinct? One hypothesis is that the protein composition at each synapse is unique. However, molecules diffuse to areas of lower concentration, thus destroying the heterogeneity of synapses. A possible solution: prions — prions accumulate into non-diffusable aggregates, thereby maintaining unique synapses, allowing memory, personality and unique, beautiful snowflakes.

On a personal note, I used to work in a lipids (e.g. fatty acids) lab that studies membrane structure, and my Nobel Prize-winning idea was infectious lipids. Believe me, they’re out there. Making us sick. Making us fat. Tasting delicious.

Finally, a cautionary reminder: Prions, prions everywhere and not a brain to eat!