Quote of the Day


From the great PZ Myers at Pharyngula


“Patricia Fitzgerald is a licensed acupuncturist, certified clinical nutritionist, and a homeopath. She has a Master's Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine and a Doctorate in Homeopathic Medicine.”


Words fail me. What is a doctorate in homeopathic medicine? A blank piece of paper taped to your wall?

Just classic. Patrick OUT!!!



I had a little chat yesterday about the perception of atheists in the United States and a particular friend’s family’s reaction to her announcing her lack of faith. Apparently they didn’t take it so well. This is a reaction I suppose I half understand because there is always the implicit statement that when you tell people you don’t believe that you are really saying, “I don’t believe because its absurd.” You question their world view and their faith and people don’t like having their faith questioned because most have trouble (rightfully so) backing it up. I think that this is something that we(atheists) should be careful about. I know that I am all too willing to argue and fight about it and in reality I should be more careful to not be a “militant atheist.” The idea of faith is that you believe without evidence and thus there is no amount of evidence that could be presented that will not seemingly strengthen that faith. We have made it a virtue to believe things that are likely not true in the face of immense scrutiny and evidence to the contrary. This shouldn’t be a virtue but to many it just is. There is no point in trying to convert people…rather the goal should be to win acceptance in society. When acceptance comes then converts will come too because right now…it’s coming out as an atheist that is a tough thing to do. Families might not accept it, friends may feel threatened by it, employers may look differently at you, etc etc. I know that there are a lot of very prominent individuals who are advocating a more confrontational approach to atheism and a less accommodating tone with religion. I think that this approach is often just counter-productive…at least in the interactions person to person. Interactions with governments is really a different story. I think that all atheists, and free thinkers, and agnostics should do their very best to keep religion out of schools and government but beyond that should probably keep their mouths shut. Its not my responsibility to save the religious masses from themselves or their delusions. To do so would be to commit the same sins (can I use that word?) as the evangelicals. Live and let live and it will all come out in the wash. It may take decades but its not something we can rush. I think that the comparisons between the campaigns for atheism acceptance and the gay rights movements are many. In general I think that the gay rights movement was a frank and honest declaration of the need for acceptance by society. A statement of non-conformity that was strong and proud but never demanded a sacrifice of any magnitude from society at large. This is how atheists in America should model their own revolution. A proud statement of existence and an insistence on acceptance with every attempt to pull on the reasonable side of every human. Saying that yes, these people can be good moral individuals who just want to live their lives like everyone else and there is nothing to fear. At all costs we need to avoid the “bible burning” and “faith destroying” imagery that too many in my community seem to live by. I think it all comes down to a consistency of world view in which, in my case, means that you are opposed to any social construct that tries to instruct you on how to live your life by some subjective standard. This of course, implies that I believe in objective morality…which I do. The consequence of all this is that clearly religion is out both based on that previous statement and also by an appeal to my prefrontal cortex. But along the same lines, fascism is out too, racism/sexism is out too, socialism and communism are out with them as well as all of them don’t serve a purpose but control of the individual. What am I left with? Well I suppose a mix of desire utilitarianism and objectivism…these serve me well in most instances and seem to be the only way I can reconcile a desire for any social structure at all. But we come back again to the idea of live and let live. If public perception changes then eventually a reasoned world view may win out and if it doesn’t well than who am I to argue. I can’t force a point or an opinion which I cannot prove. Despite my best efforts…I can’t prove that there isn’t a god or that his son wasn't able to walk on water or that Mohammed didn't ride on a winged horse, or that burning bushes never speak…I just can’t do it. I can say I don’t believe it and I can be consistent in my skepticism and not reserve it only for religious things but I cannot and should not force it on others. Don’t get me wrong…I will continue to point out when religions do crazy things but I will also always defend the individual’s right to pursue those crazy things. Uh…I feel better now. Patrick OUT!!!

p.s. If you’re an atheist or think you might be one…click on the big red A on the right side of the page to join the Dawkins “Out” campaign.

At trivia and new guy looks just like spock...spooky

Quote of the Day

Elsa: You been watching this swine flu thing

Patrick: Yea, we had the first death in the United States yesterday

Elsa: Oh, I heard about that…who was it?

Patrick: It was a baby but he was Mexican not American

Elsa: Oh, I thought it was a human…


Right elsa…I’m not sure what makes them not human…being Mexican or being a baby???

Note to self: Elsa is not allowed to babysit any of my children…ever.


Patrick OUT!!!




I am now an official supporter of the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) which is essentially a semi-political non-profit group determined to maintain high standards in science education with a particular focus on keeping creationism out of public schools. Besides encouraging you all to join I have a particular quote that I think is unfortunately applicable to this particular debate.


“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

-Max Plank, Physicist


I think this is probably the case with the creationism and evolution debacle that continues to play out to my utter surprise but one can only hope that in the coming years it will no longer be a debate at all. In fact it shouldn’t be a debate at all. We should have science and we should have philosophy and perhaps each is equally important (though I would argue more for the former than the later but that’s a whole other story). Clearly this is a science debate and thus the fanciful delusions of god have no place in it. Rather of folks want to debate the existence of god (if its even possible to debate it) then that should take place in the context of philosophical inquiry and not materialist science classes. The whole point of the matter is the understanding that science as we know it is unified by only one thing, the absence of “faith” in anything, religion or otherwise. In this case I define faith as, “belief without evidence.” Rather as scientists we question everything and believe nothing without convincing evidence of its validity (or at least we try not to). As part of that we can make only a few statements on religion or god:


First is the acknowledgement that we cannot now and will never be able to prove that a god in the judeo-christian sense or otherwise does not exist.

Second is the statement that to date there has been no physical evidence to say that god does exist


By these we can rightly define three groups.


The Religious who likely acknowledge the first statement and still feel comfortable in believing in something they have no evidence for (of course they scoff at belief in unicorns which given the existence of horses and horned creatures seems far more likely to actually exist than god) and unfortunately think they “know” things when in fact they do not know but only believe to be true.


The Preachers who not only believe in something they have no evidence for…actually falsely claim they do have evidence for it and in the most egregious cases claim to now the desires of this unknowable entity


The Atheists who think its all a bunch of junk and find themselves perfectly happy believing in nothing and knowing, at the very least, something.


I proudly count myself a member of this last group and find immense fulfillment in the continual process of eliminating the last remnants of a faith based existence in favor of reason based on rational inquiry into life the universe and everything.  Patrick OUT!!!

Are we there yet

The end of the semester is quickly approaching. There are only 4 class days left for us and I am only teaching on one of them…sweet. Of course exams still need to be graded so that the seniors can graduate…or not. Most of my students in the lab are gone now or will be going soon. For the first time since being here…I will not have an undergrad (at least not one to myself) for the summer. Now I’ll need to do all my own dishes, pick up my own dry cleaning, organize my own post-its, shuffle my own ipod playlists, reverse alphabetize my own file cabinets, tie my own shoes, and sharpen my own pencils…this is going to be one long summer. The nice thing is that I’ll actually be at home for most of the summer…save the trip to Europe which will be a nice change of pace from the previous summers filled with traveling and conferences which really make summer much more stressful than it ought to be. Which reminds me how much I am opposed to the assignment of summer reading for kids in school. Seriously…it sucks. It doesn’t make kids want to read…it makes reading a chore. Summer should be a time when kids actually get a chance to go outside and get dirty and go to camp and run around and be sweaty and gross and not sitting inside and reading “All Quiet on the Western Front” (which is a good book by the way but I had to read it over a summer vacation and thus resented it until much later when I read it again on my own), unless of course that’s what they CHOOSE to do. Seriously…why do schools do this? If you’re going to have a vacation then make it a vacation…not some protracted learning activity that breeds resentment of the very education its trying to further. Moreover…why does reading a book have such a special place. If we are gonna have them do that then how come we can’t have the assignment of summer “acid-base titrations” or summer “physics of inclined planes” assignments? Of course you should all know that your assignment for the summer is to read this blog every day…its good for you, you’ll thank me when you’re older. Patrick OUT!!!


How much time did you say.

So true…in that really depressing sort of way.

Anyone else think those blue points look a little low…wait, this was made by a scientist…my mistake.

Patrick OUT!!!

Climb Your Dorm

I am sooooo jealous of this. I wish I had it outside right now.




Patrick OUT!!!


What I’m Listening Too: Gaelic Storm- Johnny Tarr



Thought of the moment: scali-pear french toast at luckys equals heaven on a plate


Wednesday afforded me the distinct opportunity to see BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN live at the TD Banknorth Garden. I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say it might have been the best concert I’ve ever seen. Lets just put that into perspective. I’ve seen some phenomenal and energetic performers (dropkick murphys, mighty mighty bosstones), some fantastic song writers (james taylor x2, bob Dylan), some excellent musicians (clapton x3, Santana x2, leo kotke) but none of those had the complete package of BRUCE. I never quite understood why he had such a cult following…I don’t wonder about that anymore. Let me first say that he played pretty much non-stop for 3 hours. It started with a set that was close to 2 hours long that included some good stuff from his new album including “Outlaw Pete” which was awesome, dramatic, powerful, and all the rest. He played some old favorites, ballads and driving rock and it was all awesome. The set was punctuated by him taking a few requests from the crowd including, “I wanna be sedated” by the ramones which was awesome and became a veritable sing-along of epic proportions (19,000 people screaming! He played a couple of more requests before going into the most powerful songs of the night, “The Rising” and “Born to Run.” Again these were accompanied by 19,000 background vocalists and more energy than an atom bomb. Bruce and the guys then left the stage only to return for an encore a few minutes later. This time he was joined by a member of the dropkick murphys (tim) and a young woman (tim’s girlfriend). We were then all witness to a proposal at which point a few more members of the dropkicks came out and played with the E Street Band for a few songs before finally ending with glory days and seven nights to rock. By the end, my hands literally hurt from clapping and my voice was hoarse. Absolutely ridiculous. If you haven’t seen him yet…you have to. Patrick OUT!!!



Ok I wrote too soon on the quantification of miRNAs via real time RT-PCR. Apparently it is possible…I’m not sure this is what they did…but I’ll admit when I’m wrong.




A pretty neat technique.

Patrick OUT!!!



Project presentation day at wpi. Cute undergrad tells me she can do rt-pcr on a 22base miRNA. Um...no. They make me feel smart.

Spoonful of Jesus

A long but interesting post


A spoonful of Jesus helps the Darwin go down


I’m still a big fan of the NCSE…they do good work and fight the good fight despite occasional fits of accommodationism. Patrick OUT!!!


End of the semester


Its coming to a close…my second to last year at WPI (fingers crossed). Theoretically this is also the last time I’ll have to teach class (at least until someplace is foolish enough to hire me as a professor). I am pretty psyched about all of that. This class is really dragging quite a bit and I’m looking forward to it being over and done with. I don’t typically dislike teaching but being held over a barrel this term has really robbed me of the enthusiasm I might normally have. The other side of the coin is that with the end of the semester means that most of my undergrad help in the lab (read: minions), will be leaving for the summer. I guess this means I’ll have to do my own dirty work from now on. Shucks. It looks like next year in the lab could be just me and some post-docs…kind of depressing. Who am I going to boss around now. I need new blood…people who haven’t figured me out yet. Again, fingers crossed for that one. Patrick OUT!!!


What I’m Listening Too: Into the Great Wide Open – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers


I think i am slowly making my class of 20 people hate me just a little more each week. I keep thinking its wrong that i dont care more but then i get over it.

Spinning My Wheels

This weekend was pretty eventful all in all. I ended up down on the cape doing the cape cod rail trail. The trail goes from dennis to wellfleet and we biked somewhere close to 25 miles or so. I felt surprisingly good and ended up doing another 10 or so back in Framingham for a total of 35 miles on Sunday. I tacked on another 10 on Monday morning and saw some friends who were volunteering or working along the marathon route. After that I began to consider for the first time, the possibility of buying bike shorts…still not sure I want to be “that guy.” Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of the race but I did manage to catch the end of the women’s race which was pretty intense. Two Ethiopian women sprinting to the finish separated by only 2 seconds and then one of them collapsed just after crossing the line. Then just a few second later, an AMERICAN crosses in third place. Not just any American, a fairly fetching young woman from Oregon who was ripped beyond belief. Yikes! The men’s race was pretty much no contest but again there was an American in third place to at least make a place for running in this country (something that’s been severely lacking in years past). After all that, I met up with a friend for a late lunch and some chill time…good stuff to end the day with. More interesting posts tomorrow. Patrick OUT!!!


Sometimes when I think about my research I get a little down because its not particularly sexy…I don’t study cancer or stem cells or any of those other hot topics. Granted, my work has relevance to the 300 million people in the world who get malaria each year but still…not sexy. Then I come across articles like this…actually another blog did and I’m just pointing it out, and I wonder if this is my calling or not.


Penile length is normal in most men seeking penile lengthening procedures. Mondaini, N., Ponchietti, R., Gontero, P., Muir, G., Natali, A., Caldarera, E., Biscioni, S., & Rizzo, M. (2002).  International Journal of Impotence Research, 14 (4), 283-286 DOI: 10.1038/sj.ijir.3900887

Then I think…wow 8 authors on this one…that must have been some study. Of course they need to determine what the actual average length of a penis is before they can make statements about who is “normal” or not. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I haven’t wondered…at some point or another. The answer…well it seems to be around 15 centimeters when erect (just under 6 inches) and about 9 centimeters when flaccid (3.7 inches). There you have it…and we will never speak of this again. Partick OUT!!!

What I’m listening too: Dancing with myself – Billy Idol


Cause Celebre

I realized recently that a lot of the causes that I care the most about don’t affect me at all and shouldn’t matter to me as much as they do. For instance, I am huge supporter of teaching evolution and only evolution in public school classrooms…though I live in a state where this is not at risk. I am a proponent of gay marriage (or I guess I’m for civil unions for everyone and against state recognized marriage for anyone…if that makes sense), though I’m not gay. I’m for legalized abortions though I could never have one. The cause that catches me today is one that I’m also not a player in…yet. Mainly, it’s the “Men’s rights” movement. I know that some of you are probably rolling your eyes right now and think this is a crock of shit and well that’s part of the problem. I’m not going to whine and I’m not going to say that men haven’t had it pretty good over the past couple thousand years in relation to their female counterparts but something is definitely wrong here. The cause revolves around a couple of  key issues, the first (and less important to me) is the one of domestic violence that essentially takes the rights of men away at even the accusation of domestic violence by a woman. In this state, a man has no right to defend himself in court and can be struck with a restraining order without so much as a second look by a judge. This was made even worse by the “Violence against women act” which while having a poor title (shouldn’t it be the “prevention of violence against women act?”), is even worse in practice. Then we have the whole divorce settlement debacles with (at least in Massachusetts) almost automatic custody given to the mother which then necessitates alimony payments, child support, and potential emotional trauma of children being taken from one parent and placed into the custody of someone who has not been shown to be the more stable environment. This is really the thing I take issue with most, the mistreatment of fathers and the denial of their rights to family. The courts should be concerned first and foremost with the physical safety of the children but in the absence of any “EVIDENCE” of abuse or mistreatment they should then be concerned with the emotional well being of the children which almost certainly would not be aided by sole custody of one parent. In Massachusetts, until 2005, non-custodial parents (almost always fathers) were considered by the state to be guilty of battery until proven otherwise. What??? Yea, you read that right…Massachusetts was willing to throw out that whole innocent until proven guilty side of things if it meant the restriction on fathers rights. Luckily a concerned group of citizens fought to overturn this law but it should never have passed in the first place. This is just common sense and the courts that believe they are protecting the rights of the meek are in fact creating a plague of fatherlessness that is quite despicable. Of course the war on masculinity goes further than this…the number of people killed by breast cancer and prostate cancer each year is approximately the same. But the number of diagnosed cases of prostate cancer is lower meaning that in general it is a more lethal form of cancer. Now, given that wouldn’t you expect that we should have equal concern for these two cancers? Funding for breast cancer research is almost four times that of prostate cancer research. Apparently, those years of female oppression means that men deserve some prolonged pain and suffering and that our diseases are less important…quite the punishment, pretty sadistic stuff here. I think just as this country needs more honest and open discussions of the “issue of race” in this country so do we need a frank discussion on the place of gender in this country. If equality is what we all want (most people say they do) then we need to start there and not with punitive laws and policies aimed at the emasculation of men. Patrick OUT!!!


Simmer down now

It feels like all we are going to hear about in the news now is pirates. I guess its somewhat expected because really they are the only people in the world in conflict with the US that don’t seem to have some redeeming factor to their names. They are so universally despised (mostly because they extort money…a little because they threaten lives) that even countries that are usually cold with one another are willing to cooperate in rooting out pirates. That being said, I was a bit disturbed and continue to be a bit disturbed about the reaction to the rescue of captain Phillips. On more than one occasion I have heard people celebrating the fact that the pirate were killed. Well lets hold on just a minute, we should be celebrating that a brave American who was willing to sacrifice himself for his crew is now able to return home safely. Celebrating the death of 3 teenage Somalis, no matter how heinous their actions, is wrong. I can remember quite vividly the horror and disgust I felt watching footage within the muslim world after 9/11 of people cheering the deaths of those thousands of people. It was disgusting not because they were our enemies stomping on our flag and taunting (they weren’t really) but rather because they showed such disrespect for human life. I’m not one to make excuses for terrorists or pirates (they really are the same thing one is just more honest about their intentions), but these people were leading an impoverished life in a horrible lawless theocracy and made the unfortunate but perhaps necessary choice of turning to piracy. I’m not sure this means they deserved to be killed but their deaths certainly do not warrant celebration on our part. Rather we should feel immense sadness that such a situation exists and that it came to such a gruesome end for 3 young men. No one should be glad that the standoff ended in death…that is a situation that should be avoided at all costs, and if public sentiment means that it is not avoided in the future then how will we reconcile these killings from murder.  Patrick OUT!!!

Genetic Fallacy

An excellent article for my atheist readers on avoiding the genetic fallacy.


Theism, Atheism, and the Genetic Fallacy


-Patrick OUT!!!


FCC Warning

Today in the lab I spent a good deal of time preparing for some experiments down the road that will include a LOT of plant tissue culture. Plant tissue culture is kind of an interesting thing to do that I used to really hate but now find somewhat relaxing and don’t mind so much anymore. In short, it’s the sterile propagation of particular plants in hydroponic media. Preparing samples and cultures is VERY slow and meticulous work and requires a good deal of concentration (at least until you get a lot of practice). You are dealing with absolutely sterile cultures in a tissue culture hood (like the ones you always see biologist working in on the news) and extra care must be taken to ensure that all sources of contamination are minimized. To make things a bit easier on my brain while doing this, I usually listen to the radio. My normal classic rock station was not coming in this afternoon for some reason so I switched over to the only other station I could get which is typically “soft rock” from the 80s and 90s. Not my favorite but tolerable. I spent a total of around 5 hours in the flow hood today which meant I heard a lot of music. Before lunch, “Total Eclipse of the Heart” played and then not even 4 hours later is played…AGAIN. This should be cause for a station losing its license. Of course hearing it twice meant I had to look it up on Wikipedia and I was shocked. First off, apparently Rick Deringer plays guitar for this cut…the same Rick Deringer from “Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo (which is a great song)” and also Max Weinburg plays drums, as in Max Weinburg who plays for the E street band and Bruce Springstein and also plays for conan o’briens house band. Wow…why would these two do such a thing. Even more shocking…the song was originally slated for Meat Loaf…imagine how different that might have been. Anyways, I’ve reached my crappy 80s song quota for the week now. Patrick OUT!!!


And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you'll only hold me tight
We'll be holding on forever
And we'll only be making it right
Cause we'll never be wrong together
We can take it to the end of the line
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight




A real boost to the economy



So according to the NY post, home-grown marijuana operations are in full force. The NYC police have busted 5 grow-houses with one housing more than 800 lbs of pot (4.15 million dollars worth). Wow! This is the kind of American innovation that we need to get this economy back on track. We have numerous people taking personal risk, setting up complex hydroponics growing systems to grow high potency weed which sells for more than twice the stuff that comes across the border from mexico (because it’s a better product). Screw locking these people up…they should be hired by GM and Chrysler. Now I’m all for marijuana  legalization, I think its just absurdity that we put people in jail for this stuff when you can get completely wasted on beer and do much worse. This is the modern era’s prohibition and now we are seeing the resurgence of bathtub pot (literally…this is hydroponic growing). It also makes me wonder…I’m a pretty bright guy. In my regular job in the lab we focus on a whole hosts of ways to get a plant (not unlike cannabis) to make a particular kind of drug (quite similar to THC) in large quantities and in small areas. The only difference really is that our plant cures malaria and doesn’t get you high. That being said…with a quick switch in species, I could run the best grow-house this side of Snoop Dogg’s mansion. Why not…grow a little and sell my product for $5000/ pound. Alas, the threat of prison is still very real for those growing the stuff. Massachusetts has taken a good step forward in the decriminalization of possession but if you start selling it then you are still up shit creek. If they decide to go the rest of the way…well then, maybe I’m in business. Patrick OUT!!!


easter is such a happy time



So here we have again people in the phillipines crucifying themselves…the article describes it as “one of the most extreme displays of religious devotion”. Yea, I would call it something different...but i’ll hold back. This kind of stuff doesn’t even deserve my criticism...should be pretty clear whats wrong here. I will however point out a quick quote from one of the devotees/victims

Inaje, a house painter, told Reuters he made a decision to have himself crucified after escaping death after a fall from a three-story building in the mid-1980s.

"I believed God was using me as an instrument to show the world the Filipinos' devotion to God," he said, showing his bandaged bands at a medical station after the crucifixion.

"I will never get tired doing this every year. This is my personal devotion and I will continue this until the Lord allows my body to endure the pain."

I think the reasoning here is just beyond me…fall from building…survive so that means god loves me so much to keep me from harm…in response I will nail myself to a cross MULTIPLE TIMES, to thank him…god looks down and smiles at what’ve I’ve done to the body he saved


Uhhhh??? Right…


Patrick OUT!!!


What I’m listening too: Whiskey Lullaby – Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss

Spring is in the air

Its feeling like that time of year again. Spring is back (though it looks like it took a bit of a hiatus today). In contrast to most of my posts where I am content to bitch about things that bug me, here will be the exact opposite. First off, in light of recent events at work…I feel pretty good about what I do and I have a new found appreciation for what I’ve got here. Sure I don’t make enough money and have kind of a stupid boss but all in all, it’s a pretty sweet deal being paid to be a “student” and tinkering in a lab with things that probably cost more than my first home will. Summer is approaching and my results have been pretty good recently, more than a few publications are on the way now which is great for me career wise. Plus the upcoming trip to finland has me motivated all the more to produce a lot before then. Of my students that remain, the one that needed the most help is graduating and the one that doesn’t is staying on as a grad student which is great because she will likely continue with some of the work I’ve been doing. PERFECT! My birthday was just a few days ago which normally has me in a bit of a melancholy mood but this year was different. I’m not sure why, I wasn’t really nervous about it or overly reflective it just kind of happened. Another thing that’s been brightening my mood is the prospect of my trip to Memphis in May and hopefully biking the length of cape cod (most of it anyways…maybe Barnstable to provincetown ~50mi.) over patriots day weekend. Got a new student coming to the lab from Egypt that needs my help which will hopefully get my name on a couple of papers there as well (shitty but publishable so its ok by me). I just marked my first full year of going to the gym regularly which has been absolutely great…better than I could have ever hoped. The lab has had a bit of a fire sale on students recently so we are losing a lot of familiar faces which is somewhat sad but it also gives us a good opportunity to build up perhaps a better community environment that I think we’ve been lacking the past couple years.  Of course it looks like I’ve only got another year left before I finish the old degree which is somewhat stressful but again the motivation to get the hell out of here kind of trumps that. I’m also looking forward to setting off on my own a bit more in the future. Maybe going someplace really different for a post-doc, so many options to explore there. April has been good so far, may is looking better, and summer is just around the corner. Patrick OUT!!!



I guess I’ve been avoiding writing about the biggest news story over the past few days (except maybe the $3billion in profit that’s being reported by wells fargo) the pirate capture of the maersk Alabama. This news story is so just so chock full of drama and politics I think its about as close to media gold as one can get. Let me lay it out for you in case you haven’t been paying attention. First, pirates have been causing havoc in the gulf of aden and off the coast of Somalia for decades. They work from well armed speed boats and take over oil tankers and hold hostages for ransom. It usually works…really well. Most shipping companies are willing to pay out a few million dollars in ransom money for the safe return of their hundreds of millions in cargo. Its been 200 years since a US ship was taken by pirates (mostly because most ships fly flags of other nations for tax and treaty reasons). Now, we get a US ship that is taken over by Somali pirates. What is the ship carrying??? Perhaps oil drills for haliburton? Maybe terror suspects being shipped from Guantanamo? Iraqi children forced into slave labor? Nope…food aid to Africa. Starving Somalis hijacked a ship of food aid. We were just going to give it to them anyways and they go off and hijack the ship. Perfect…just perfect, this is US PR gold. Of course, this ship has government purchased supplies on it and you can bet your ass we aren’t going to paying any ransom to these thugs. What do we do instead…we send a guided missile destroyer. Imagine you’re a pirate and you spot a big American ship to take over. You think to yourself, “we have totally hit the lottery here…they’re gonna have hotdogs (all beef hopefully…these folks are muslim), Budweiser, HBO, and probably some hookers on board.” Of course then you meet the unarmed American crew who eventually take the ship back before you get anything and relegates you to a lifeboat that’s out of gas. Bad day for the pirates. Of course you think…well not all hope is lost, “we have the captain still.” Then you see, at first, a navy plane…followed by a destroyer sitting and waiting. Then a couple of navy seal teams…they must be shitting themselves. Of course, the real problem here is that these people have nothing to lose now. They can do whatever they want and nothing looks good. And now we get escalation…more pirate held ships coming to the area, pirate mother ships coming in too, and a couple more navy destroyers en route. Its time for a showdown. Patrick OUT!!!

What if god was one of us

It was brought to my attention last evening the possibility that god might come down to judge us all and what would he do with me. Now, being that I doubt the very existence of god…I find this a highly unlikely scenario though, I admit, not impossible. The proposal harkens back a bit to pascals wager, i.e that there are two possibilities for the existence of god and two possibilities for belief in a god thus yielding four possible combinations:

1.       You believe in god and he exists – you win

2.       You believe in god and he doesn’t exist – you gain nothing and lose nothing except time

3.       You don’t believe in god and he exists – eternal damnation awaits

4.       You don’t believe in god and he doesn’t exist – you gain nothing and lose nothing.

Thus, Pascal surmises that since the two options associated with not believing in god have no benefits…your best bet is to believe in god. Of course, I would ascribe a definite benefit to scenario 4 in that you have lived a rational life full of meaning and free of the fear and control of a dictatorial deity. Also, this whole exercise assumes that God view’s hedging one’s bets as a moral activity. If this is so, shouldn’t we add a disclaimer to prayers. “Now I lay me down to sleep…pray to you my soul to keep…because I think that’s really the best move in light of all other options presented and not at all because I honor your immense power and authority over my existence.” Furthermore, pascal makes the false assumption that all four scenarios are equally likely to occur…not quite right there either. If we look at all the gods that have ever existed what is the chance that you have picked the correct one. Thus, we have many more scenarios to consider that all focus around you believing in the wrong god which is far more likely than you believing in the right god. So if we re-evaluate our statements we have now the most likely scenarios assuming that any gods exist as being a 50:50 shot ( I think I’m being generous with this when we have no real evidence for god). We can also assume that you have a 1 in 50 chance of picking the right god (really there have been so many “one true gods” that this is also being generous)

1.       God exists and you picked the right one – you win the lottery woo hoo (1 %)

2.       God exists and you picked the wrong one or don’t believe at all – he gets pissed and you lose (49%)

3.       God doesn’t exist and you believe in him – you’ve just wasted a lot of energy which you could have used helping people or having fun (25%)

4.       God doesn’t exist  and you don’t believe in him – you lead a satisfying life without the guilt of belief following you around (25%)

No we can look and see that of our two good outcomes that are possible, 1 and 4…you have way better odds if you go with the not believing in god route than the beliving in god one because you’ve got at least a 50:50 shot of being on the money. So if we return to the question of…what if I’m wrong about there not being a god. Well, the scarier question is … “what if you’re right and there is a god?”  Then we are both screwed. I’m gonna keep my fingers crossed on this one. The great Bertrand Russell (who has since become something of an atheist luminary) was once asked what he would say if ever confronted with god. His reply, “'I should reproach him for not giving us enough evidence.” Most certainly right. Patrick OUT!!!

Voting Rights

A state rep from my town (actually not my state rep…but mine isn’t much better) took action to try and change the state’s democratic party platform to support the allowing of towns to count the votes of illegal (she calls them undocumented) immigrants. I’ve always liked the term undocumented immigrants…I kind of think that if you steal candy from a drug store that you are just an undocumented customer. Anyways, I should probably get out there that I am for major relaxation of immigration laws in this country but not for relaxation of enforcement. You say… “WHAT?” Yea, I think it should be totally easy for people to legally come to this country but I want records and I want them to follow the same laws that I do, get drivers licenses, pay taxes, all that good stuff that the government makes me do. BUT…if you still decide to come here illegally then there should be little to no leeway in the way that the law is enforced. OK, that being said…our state rep wanted to give voting rights to people that are not here legally. OK? Let me get this straight…they break the law and have no documentation and you want to let them vote. We can’t verify an address or age. My youngest sister can’t vote because she isn’t yet 18…if she was an illegal immigrant would we give her the benefit of the doubt and let her. What about all the people in town next to mine that might want to influence our politics…it would be illegal for them to vote but if they lost their documentation…could they then give it a shot as well. Luckily, our state rep in her immense wisdom realized (with the help of pissed off constituents) that she was a total MORON. A new adage: “Those who can…do, and those who can’t become state reps.” Patrick OUT!!!



Patients Bill of Rights


Yesterday I had my first experience with the UMass Memorial Emergency Room. Not for myself but for a friend who was having some thankfully not life threatening issues which I will not divulge hear due to patient confidentiality issues. This brings me to my first surprising experience while being there. The Patient’s Bill of Rights. While I suppose I am generally in favor of such measures, I was surprised at one of the items in particular. For those who haven’t experienced this, the patient’s bill of rights is a set of just under 30 “rights” that you have as a patient in any hospital in the state of Massachusetts. Some of these rights are federally mandated and others are state initiatives. They include some fairly standard items like, “you have the right to an itemized bill” and you have the right to “life saving treatment without discrimination due to economic status.” One of them, however, caught my eye. “You have a right, if suffering from any form of breast cancer, to complete information on all alternative treatments that are medically viable.” Ummm…ok. This seems awfully odd to me. It’s the only place in the whole thing where a particular disease is mentioned. Is this to imply that if I get prostate cancer that I have no such rights. Would I want those rights? Is this even a positive thing to have in there at all. Anytime I hear the phrase “alternative treatments” I get a little nervous. Usually I’m nervous because “alternative” has become synonymous in the medical profession with bullshit. So lets rephrase in more accurate terminology, “If you have breast cancer (one of the most treatable and survivable forms of cancer) you are free to consider all sorts of lame-ass ineffective treatment options you want so that you can second guess your highly trained oncologist with bullshit information you found on the internet from some kook who doesn’t know a tumor from a tomato.” I guess I should feel pretty good about the fact that if I ever get cancer in this state my doctor will be able to tell me straight out that my ideas for treatment suck big time and he will not be violating any of my rights. Patrick OUT!!!

Why bother?

Italy suffered its worth earth quake in decades. Our response…50,000 dollars in emergency aid. Ummm…does this seem a little ridiculous to anyone else. First off, does Italy need the money? If they do…is 50,000 gonna cover the need? I mean lets consider that 30-50,000 people have lost their homes. This wouldn’t even buy them a small cup of espresso. I just don’t get the point of it all. I know it might be symbolic and a good will gesture but it doesn’t even make it there. We just spent 2 trillion to bail out corporations that ran themselves into the ground and now we spend 1 millionth of 1 percent of that on people that could have maybe used the money to do some good. If I was an Italian I would be just a little insulted. Go big or go home I always say. Ok, I don’t say that but I think it fits here. It all just seems a bit off. Patrick OUT!!!



Elite Education

A really nice post on the problem of elite education. It made me smile as a proud graduate of a state university who now rails against the ineffectiveness of an elite private institution.  : )


Biases of Elite Education


Patrick OUT!!!


This past Saturday I had the opportunity to experience my first Passover seder in almost 20 years (formerly catholic atheists don’t get invited to jewish religious traditions very often…so I’m glad I took this opportunity). It was somewhat of a surreal experience that included a bevy of different religious and areligious affiliations that I think would rival most any other seder. Of the 10 people, we had 3 jews (talking religion here not cultural), 2 atheists, 1 agnostic, 1 almost methodist, 1 catholic, 1 christian/Buddhist/whatever, and 1 guy who I’m not sure on. That all being said the tradition of reading from the torah or at least reading parts of the torah transcribed elsewhere was in full effect…even for me. To spice things up, we even had a play. Everyone had a part to play to retell the story of moses and the pharaoh and the ten plagues of Egypt. At first I wanted to be god because that would have been the most ironic, I settled for the burning bush because that is not only a stand-in for god but also just absurd and also a bit ironic. Other parts included moses and his brother , aaron, and of course pharaoh. I attempted my best dramatic effect, trying to channel incendiary shrubbery the whole time…though method acting is tough when you play a bush. Anyways, after all that was the traditional matza, bitter herbs, egg, and wine. The meal requires that participants drink a total of 4 glasses of wine which to me means that we are perhaps not celebrating the exodus of the jews but really the inebriation of the jews…just as good if not better that way I think. I started with the traditional Manischewitz, a small but potent glass. The second glass I decided needed to be cut a bit with grape juice...the third a little more...and the fourth was Manischewitz free for me. “Man O Manischewitz” is right. After the readings and the acting and the drinking, I was building up quite a hunger which was convenient because the meal was coming. What was on the menu you ask...beef brisket which is a meal that I think only jews and rednecks should be allowed to make. I’ve had brisket on a number of occasions made by northeastern goy and it just does not compare. A large brisket and a jewish mother are such a stunning combination that I would almost give the whole religion a pass if it guaranteed that the recipe would continue to be passed down. A couple of side dishes were thrown in too for good measure including some roasted dill potatoes that I was a big fan of. All in all, quite satisfying which forced me to ward off a food coma for at least an hour post meal. Well worth it though, L’CHAIM!!! Patrick OUT!!!



So I have a new found interest in nuclear power. I know this is a bit weird but the next generation of nuclear power is just cool. Two pieces of technology are really coming to a head now that could make all this renewable energy stuff moot, at the very least we could put a big dent in foreign oil dependence. The first one of these technologies is the thorium reactor. This is a somewhat standard fission reactor but instead of using uranium it uses thorium, which is still radioactive but a bit different. The problem here is that thorium doesn’t maintain chain reactions the way that uranium does but we are close to solving that problem (its actually only half a problem because it eliminates the problem of “meltdowns”). The advantages to getting a workable design are many. The first is that these thorium reactors could take in nuclear waste produced from the decommissioning of nuclear weapons and incinerate it. In the process, this fuel would be burned and converted to energy that could be used and the waste problem is eliminated or at least reduced. Here’s the deal, waste from a nuclear reactor needs to be dealt with on a time scale of hundreds of thousands of years to over a million years. This of course means that we need to plan into the future that far and being that most people have trouble figuring out what they are going to have for dinner…this is a bit too long for us to do feasibly. Thorium reactor waste would be quite different, waste products there would be around on the order of just a  thousand years (still a long time but WAY better than a standard fission reactor). Furthermore, thorium reactor waste could not be reprocessed into weapons material which means that its safer from a security standpoint too. So why aren’t we already doing this…well, we are still waiting on some technology to efficiently maintain the thorium reactors in a fissile state. But it is in the works and companies are predicting that within a few years we might see some old reactors converted to a thorium fuel cycle. For those who are wondering, “where are we gonna get all the thorium?” Well, its actually almost 10 times more abundant than the uranium we use now. What could be better than that…actually there is something better…fusion.

Normal fission reactors split nuclei and release high energy neutrons that collide with other subatomic particles to produce heat. Fusion reactors seek to overcome the normal repulsive forces between nuclei and fuse them into one which also releases enormous amounts of energy (ya know…E=mc2). To get an idea…H Bombs and the Sun both work on fusion power. That’s a lot of energy. Just this week, a major step forward was completed. The United States has been the primary funder of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a 2 billion dollar project to perform experiments with nuclear fusion and to achieve “ignition” of deuterium and tritium fuel. If successful this could pave the way for a revolutionary new power source that essentially creates a miniature sun on earth capable of producing extraordinarily abundant and clean electricity. The fuel for this would be naturally occurring isotopes of hydrogen that we get from sea water. That’s right…water. Now its not as simple as just filling a bucket but the ability to get fuel to most of the planet with little in the way of transport is key. Also, we are not going to run out any time soon and the waste factor is almost nill. Of course, now the technology is still in its infancy and the process is still very expensive but we are paving the way to a new century when electricity supply will be an afterthought and greenhouse gas emissions from power plants will be unheard of. Amazing stuff going on. Patrick OUT!!!

Grits and grana has now gone mobile woohoo! Sarcasm and typos in real time

New lows

Afghan law that 'legalizes rape'


Next time someone says I’m over reacting to legislators who use their religions to inform their voting, I’m going to point to this story about what can happen when religion and government mingle. Disgusting.

Patrick OUT!!!



Wink Wink Nudge Nudge

Yesterday we had a graduate student poster competition. These things are the bane of my existence. For those who have not experienced academic posters they are not what you might expect…the best word to describe them would be…boring. They tend to be full of charts and figures (mine included) with equations and all the junk without much frill or interest. But of course, the university determined that it would be great to get all the grad students together to show their research in one place…perfect. In my almost four years here, I’ve presented posters at 7 academic meetings…I don’t need this, but of course, its mandatory for the department. I oblige and explain my poster to computer science students who have no idea what I’m talking about and then some physicist can lecture me on the intricacies of field theory and the design of wi-fi receivers (while I contemplate what I might have for lunch). Its all really quite useful. To put things in perspective, the woman next to me studies mouse reproductive biology and a certain math PROFESSOR stopped her in the middle of her talk with the brutally insightful question… “Mice have EGGS?!?!?”


Yes sir they do…and so does your wife…just ask her. Anyways, in the process of all this, my department head showed up for a brief visit. He is somewhat akin to a used car salesman. In that you know he is lying to you and he is trying hard to hide the fact that as soon as you turn your back he will screw you over with a wink and a smile. All in all, a born leader that we are lucky to have…or not. He mentioned off hand that he heard my upcoming  conference was in finland. I said yes and he asked if I was going anywhere else. I said I was planning on Amsterdam and elsewhere. The conversation that followed was (paraphrased for convenience and clarity…it might have been a little different in reality)


Department Head: Amsterdam eh…

Me: What are you Canadian??? I mean, yes…Amsterdam

DH: I’ve been there a few times (winks at me)

Me: Please don’t wink at me it freaks me out. Anyways, how did you like it.

DH: Oh, I liked it very much…you make sure you stop by my office before you go and I’ll show you a few things

Me: Are you a catholic priest in your spare time??? I mean, OK I’ll be sure to do that

DH: I think you’ll really like it if you know where to go

Me: Ummm, I’m not sure I know what that means but if you are referring to hookers or elicit drugs then I might need to go throw up

DH: Oh you know what I mean (winks again).

Me: Gotta go…I think I hear my goldfish calling


So yea, I have a new contender for the most awkward faculty  award. I figure by the time I finish this degree I will have a good pool of data to draw on and determine a winner but I would say that the department head is now a close second to my advisor. Time will tell who wins this tight race. Patrick OUT!!!