Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mask of Biology II: Evolution

Evolution. Survival of the fittest. Darwin and natural selection of the most adaptive traits. If only it were so simple. This was what I once thought as well, despite being a biology major. It's an elegant and beautiful theory, but it's a theory in the same way that gravity's a theory. It has so many subtleties that are just now being explored. In the span of a single semester, I've had exposure to but only a fraction of evolution's complexity.

While I realize that few reading this might find this particular post interesting, I hope those that do can see my appreciation and awe of nature, and the humbleness it brings through my Mask of Biology. I don't know if my words will do any kind of justice to how I feel, but if it conveys even a little bit, I will count it a success.
1. Not always selection of the most adaptive
There is the tendency to think that the traits that are most adaptive and beneficial will always get passed on whereas detrimental traits will be eliminated. This is a rather gross over-simplification. Firstly, mutations are the ultimate source of variation. Most mutations are neutral, meaning that they don't impact the organism or its offspring at all. Some are harmful and some are beneficial.

Neutral mutations are passed on from generation to generation; over time, enough accumulate to make a difference in the genome (complete set of genes) of that organism. There are also varying degrees of detrimental and beneficial. The most detrimental (resulting in death before reproductive maturity) gets purged from the population rather quickly. Then there are some traits that are bad . . . but not so bad as to be worth eliminating. The opposite goes for beneficial traits. Some are so marginally beneficial that they might "accidentally" get lost. Sometimes really beneficial traits get "fixed" in the population, meaning that most individuals in that population will carry that trait.

This has been fairly straightforward so far. Now there's something called "linkage disequilibrium," another is called "positive selection sweep." In linkage disequilibrium (LD) it basically means that 2 traits are almost always seen together because they're physically very close to each other on chromosome. So if a mildly bad trait is next to a really good trait, chances are that you'll see both of them at the same time. Positive selection sweep is a means to detect whether or not positive selection (selection for a positive, aka beneficial, trait) has happened. Like LD, sometimes the trait being selected for is "so good" that it carries along bad traits with it as it "sweeps" across the genome.

Interestingly, it should also be worth noting that just because a trait's good, doesn't mean it'll reach fixation (again, where most individuals in the population carry the trait) on the first try. In fact, many/most such traits must arise independently several times before it can reach fixation. In a way, it's more or less the roll of a die.

2. Order matters
What evolves first and what evolves second matters. A good example is bat wings. 2 things must happen in the evolution of bat wings: elongation of finger bones and maintenance of skin webbing between the fingers. Both require evolution of different regulatory mechanisms, the question is, which came first?

In another paper, scientists "forced" bacteria to evolve from one state to another by making them adapt to a new food source and environment. So let's say the bacteria evolve from Species 1 to Species 2, and it required mutations A, B, C, and D. They went back and painstakingly made each mutation in different combinations (i.e. ABCD, ACDB, BCDA, etc) to see what happened. Surprisingly, they found that only a handful of combinations are able to evolve the bacteria from Species 1 to Species 2.

So back to the bat wings, just a sample of its complexity. The expression of the gene bmp4 increases bone growth, so it increases finger length. However, it also prevents interdigital webbing (skin between fingers). So another set of 2-3 genes are required to turn off bmp4 expression between the fingers. So again, which came first? Repression of bmp4 between fingers, or increase in bmp4 expression all around? No one knows.

3. Large vs. small mutations
There has been a debate between "large" mutations and "small" mutations. Large mutations are mutations that causes a sudden or significant change. For example, the alteration of 3 genes can change cells from growing cells to growing scales or feathers. Small mutations are mutations that on their own don't do much, but the sum product of them create large changes.

This is related to sudden change theories, like punctuated equilibrium or "hopeful monsters," to gradualism promoted by Darwin. There are clearly evidence of both throughout natural history. Sometimes you get a freaky mutation that just so happens to work, so it does. And other times small changes accumulate over many generations, and things gradually change from one thing to the other.

So even in the way things evolve there is no consensus.

4. Canalization
There are several concepts in evolution where diversity is somehow hidden or limited. This seems counterintuitive as generally evolution is thought of a driving force for change, for creating diversity, and not for maintaining the status quo. Why might this be? Well, for some things you really really don't want mutations to occur. For example, if a bad mutation occurred in the formation of the brain, that organism's brains will be scrambled. So you want brain formation to stay more or less the same throughout evolution. There are several biological mechanisms that prevent mutations or at least mask their effects from showing.

One is canalization, which is any genetic mechanism that reduces phenotypic diversity. Phenotype is what's actually expressed and seen. Again, genotype = what the genes actually say, and phenotype = what's actually seen. So a phenotype might be brown eyes when that person really has the genotype for brown and blue eyes.

Canalization acts kind of like a rug that hides things underneath it. What this means is that there's some genotype or genetic trait that acts like a rug. And it hides other genetic mutations under it, so the phenotypes for those mutations aren't seen. But, if conditions are just right, the rug can be pulled aside or shifted. And some of the phenotypes that were hidden under it can be seen.

5. Developmental System Drift
This is one of my favorite concepts. Basically you have a phenotype, but for that phenotype there are more than one genetic mechanisms that create it. At one point there may have only been one genotype for that phenotype, but over time, small mutations occur until eventually, you have 2+ different genotypes that still express the same phenotype.

I think I've used this analogy before. Let there be two genotypes "Shawn" and "Sean." Both are spelled differently but have the same pronunciation (aka, the same phenotype). Now, "Shawn" and "Sean" are considered two different species. So if they interbreed, the offspring would be an infertile or inviable hybrid. This is one way different species similar for a particular trait(s) speciate, or become different species from one another.

Developmental system drift (DSD) also allows the appearance of different phenotypes arising from a single one. For example, from "Shawn" you can get to "Shown" and from "Sean" you get to "Dean." Each only requires one "mutation" to get from something that's pronounced the same to two things that're different.

6. Genetic Constraint
There's a concept that there are simply limits on life. That there are only so many ways to develop along a path once it's been established. There are constraints on how things develop and constraints on what develops.

For example (and this will be a bad example) the evolution of legs favors even numbers. Once the evolutionary path to create legs has been established, legs will always be created in even numbers. This is a limit on what can develop. Then there are limits on how something develops. For example, the brain must develop in a certain way and a certain order. If it goes out of order, bad things happen. So nature constricts how a brain forms.

This leads to an interesting thought-experiment. If we were to back in time and restart the Cambrian explosion, would life on Earth today look the same? Or, if on another planet, conditions were exactly the same as they are here, would life look similar? This concept may not answer these questions. But what it does say is that, once a path has been laid out, there are only so many places it can go. So if life had favored a different set of beginning traits, things might've looked different.
So yeah, don't know how much of all the above people actually understand. But, if you got through it and even if you don't understand a word of it, I hope you might still be in awe of what the hell it could mean. Of course, this is nothing. "You ain't seen nothing yet" when it comes to evolution. We live in a world of constant change, and I think it's always good to see where things came from and how far they've come (or not).

Anyway, this is all the free-flowing biology for now. If you have any questions about evolution, or something biology, don't hesitate to ask. I may not know the answer (and many times I simply won't), but I think my B.S. in Biology affords enough knowledge to at least make a damn good guess. It's weird to be a graduate now. More on that later!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mask of Biology I: All I Know

The great philosophers had it right when they said "The one thing I know is that I do not know." Truer words never before said of biology. How long ago was it when we discovered DNA? How long ago did we think that, once we had the human genome sequenced, we'd know everything about ourselves? How long ago did we classify things by the 5 kingdoms rather than the 3 domains?

It's an exciting time for the field of biology. It may be difficult to think, but each year something truly revolutionary in the field of biology emerges. I'd like to now extend the philosopher's statement: "The one thing I know is that I do not know, but I will sure attempt to find the answer." I am a biology major and in a couple days I will graduate with my B.S. in biology; I proudly wear my Mask of Biology.

I've often wondered what I learned these last 4 years of undergrad, what would be useful. I take for granted all the knowledge I did acquire (useful or otherwise) and all the skills I've developed (again, useful or otherwise). It's now almost hard for me to view nature the same way as a non-biology, or even non-science, person.

For example, let's take the model organism Drosophila melanogaster (aka, the fruit fly). I can tell you how it develops from an embryo into a larva. I can tell you some of the major genes controlling its development. I can tell you how their reproductive genetics is different from ours, how sex development is different. I can even tell you how to get legs to grow in place of antennae, or eyes to form on legs. While this sounds impressive, I'm always humbled by how much I don't know. One might incline to think, given the last section, that we biologists can "play God" with these organisms. However, what we do is like comparing kids with Legos to professions architects. We know so much, yet oh so little.

I have two groups of friends: a group consisting of largely biology majors like myself, and another group where I'm pretty much the sole "resident biologist." This latter group consists of poli-sci, Asian studies, history, computer sciences, and various engineering majors. I only truly appreciate how much I actually do know when I attempt to answer their questions about biology. For example, tonight I went through a gamut from plant speciation to the human genome project to gene regulation to stem cell research to viruses to mutations and cancer to how our immune systems work. Let's take, for instance, the immune system. I've long known that it consists of more than the "stereotypical" white blood cell. It contains B cells, T cells, macrophages (the stereotypical WBCs), and esinophils, amongst others. But my friend didn't know this, and I was somewhat stunned.

I know I will leave this university with, if nothing else, a deep appreciation and respect for nature and its vast complexity (that, and the ability to read biology papers and de-cypher its esoteric writing). My roommate, DvF-M, believes that in 10 years a computer programmer can completely decode genetics and know exactly what does what and how. His argument is that "it's only a code, we just have to crack it." Well roomie, this code is something the likes you've never worked with because it doesn't follow the rules as strictly as you would like to think.

Biology is "divine" territory. It's beautiful and logical, yet at the same time completely random and irrational. One day we may able to know everything there is to know, this I believe. Yet I also believe that day is a long long long ways away. Even though each year revolutionary papers are published, we're still barely scratching the surface. We're still limited a handful of "model" organisms that we understand well, and all other are mysteries.

My next post will be the long-awaited "evolution" post. And I hope to show how evolution is not a simple concept of "survival of the fittest," but rather something so much more, all-encompassing, and far-reaching in every branch of biology.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I finished my last final exam yesterday! That's a good feeling - the last final of my undergraduate career. I'm pretty sure I did pretty well on it too, so I should get an A in that class. I'm having a somewhat rough time believing that in a few days, it'll be graduation and many of my friends will be leaving very soon thereafter. That's rather sad. There's always the reunion . . .

Anyway, after my exam I went to where JW-M works and just watched an episode of Top Chef, haha. I was inspired to cook something "real." So when I went back to my apartment, I cooked a side of "herbed" fried rice. Basically, fried rice with the requisite white rice, scrambled egg, mixed vegetables, and soy sauce. To that, I also added garlic powder, black pepper, and parsley.

The main dish was a kind of new pork based off of a pork dish I'd made before. Basically, marinate the pork in soy sauce, rice wine, black pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and thyme overnight. Those flavors soak in rather nicely. Next day, chop up a little ginger and a whole onion. Saute the ginger briefly in a wok (or pan, but I use a wok because that's all I have) then add the pork. Cook the pork evenly on both sides, add in the remaining marinade. Then add the chopped onions. Saute the onions around a bit. Add a little chipotle ranch dressing and ketchup, mix it around, and it creates a nice saucy glaze on the onions.

Then serve and eat. Mmm . . . it actually made my pork taste a little like steak. The oils and fats drain rather well on a plate, so it stays put and not on your pork or onions. Pork was rather tender too, so that's good. So that's my recipe. I don't measure out exact amounts, only what "looks" to be right, haha.

So I was browsing the news yesterday, and I came across an article about how masturbation reduces prostate cancer risk. Well, I suppose I'll get on that (and I'll enjoy it too, haha).

Also, when I was looking at my 100th Post post about 2 days ago, Blogger did something weird where it erased everything partway through #34 on my list. Grrr. I've since gone back and re-entered #35 to #100, but I couldn't remember all that I wrote the first time. So some of them are new, many are repeats from the first time, and those are almost certainly out-of-order.

If you have time, you're welcome to go back and read what new random stuff I added, haha.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Final Stretch

I can't believe this semester's almost over! It's kind of surreal to think that in a week or so, many of my friends will be scattered far away. It's truly been a short 4 years. I can't say I'm exactly ready to graduate - I feel as though there's so much I could still learn, so much left to do, and I'm not emotionally ready to let go just yet.

My last final is this coming Tuesday. I've already earned a solid A in all my other 4 classes (yay!). My grade in this one is probably at the A-/A borderline, so this final may in fact determine my grade. With this last A, this would be my only semester in which I have earned straight solid A's. I wouldn't care so much, if I weren't me. You may have noticed that I have this tendency to care too much about things, big or small. I can't just let go and accept a "passing" grade, which would be all too easy to get. No, I must get that A. Besides, I need to send my final transcripts to med schools in hopes the scales tip in my favor.

At the same time, I also care too much about my mini-course, which has been over for about 2 weeks or so. I took the time to actually read through all of their final assignments and give my comments. My friend and co-instructor, JW-M, won't put in nearly as much effort as I. I feel that's unfair, but he has a point in that this is a pass/fail mini-course, so even the students may not care too much about what happens when they know they're going to pass. Still, I can't let that go. I had to actually put in effort (perhaps way more than I needed to or should have).

My friend RZ-F is still taking her breakup with DC-M pretty hard. She's been drinking a lot this last week and her appetite has been quite suppressed. Then again, my appetite has been suppressed too for some reason. Yet when I do eat, it's generally unhealthy and full of calories. Sigh. I feel emotionally numb for some reason, but maybe that's the result of stress. In about a week or so, I will workout "hardcore" and eat super-healthy for about 2 months and see what kind of body that earns me.

I'm also trying to tie up loose ends before the semester ends and I graduate on Saturday. I need to have my plans, at least for the first half of summer, planned out and ready to go soon. Nothing particularly exciting for the first half, the second half is still to be determined.
Now I'm going to digress completely. I must admit, I still have a celebrity crush on Wang Leehom (王力宏).Also, some YouTube vids.

1. 爱错 (Wrong Love)

I don't actually like this song that much, but he's just so hot in the MV.

2. Can You Feel My World

I really like the lyrics to this song. In fact, you can find them here.

So yeah, that's all.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

100th Post

Ready?! Okay, a couple things first. I got accepted to the HME (Hospital & Molecular Epidemiology) department at the School of Public Health at my university here! Yay!! I have something to do for the next two years if med school doesn't pan out (which I still sincerely hope it does, especially at MCW). Now, for the 100 things about Aek that you may/may not know, as some things may have been written about in previous entries. So here we go!

1. I'm left-handed and damn proud of it. My right hand's useful too.
2. My favorite number is 5, followed by 7 then 3.
3. My favorite colors are blue, green, black, orange, and grey (in that order).
4. I can't stand to watch most sports on TV, though I don't mind playing most of them.
5. I don't make promises lightly as I sincerely try to keep them.
6. I almost never use deodorant (no, I don't smell and no one's brought it up).
7. I really like to cook and I think I'm pretty good at what I do cook (which is limited).
8. I like the taste of alcohol and I don't have the infamously low Asian alcohol tolerance.
9. I've never been kissed by a non-family member.
10. I've never had any kind of romantic/sexual relationship with anyone.
11. I've never broken a bone and I hope to keep it that way.
12. I've never had any part of my body removed or modified.
13. If I had one superpower, it'd be the ability to clone myself into multiple me's or the ability to shapeshift.
14. I hate shaving. I also have more than the "stereotypical" Asian facial hair (it just grows slow).
15. I used to not like being the last one awake and having to close all the lights, as I feared aliens would abduct me.
16. I can't stand there being lights on if no one's using it. I will turn off lights not in use.
17. I don't like people on (and especially in) my bed, particularly if their feet touch my bed.
18. I listen to NPR. And I like it.
19. I feel that smell is the most under-appreciated of the 5 senses.
20. I believe that there's something "divine" in the universe - something that's both a part of and simultaneously separate from all in the universe.
21. I'm usually a very neat and organized person. Sometimes I enjoy cleaning and organizing.
22. I used to be a very insecure person. In some ways I think I still am.
23. I'm the kind of person who showers at night instead of in the morning. And I can't fall asleep comfortably unless I know/feel that I'm clean.
24. I like drinking tea when I do, but I often forget I have tea.
25. I've never had braces.
26. I didn't have my first email address until my senior year of high school.
27. My ideal height is 5' 10". I'm currently 5' 7". Sigh, hoping for that mid-20s second growth spurt, haha.
28. I've never had a pet but I've never really wanted one.
29. The only places outside the US that I've been to are Canada and Hong Kong.
30. Before I'm 35 I want 2-3 kids (but no more than 3).
31. I was going to make a mural with colored condoms my freshman year of college (with the free condoms we're allowed to take from the university health services). I've since abandoned that endeavor, but am now left with so many colored condoms . . .
32. I've way too much porn on my computer that I don't watch. I should just delete them.
33. I think on average I masturbate a little over every other day, and I tend to do so with my right hand.
34. I'm uncircumcised and I love my foreskin. It's a lot of fun to have and I would miss it terribly if I were to get circumcised.
35. I like my eyebrows, not really sure why.
36. While I'm not exactly ashamed of my body, I'm not entirely comfortable in it.
37. I don't like Macs, for whatever reason, all of my computer problems have been on Macs.
38. I know more about plants than most (if not all) of my friends.
39. I really like to swim, though I haven't really swam in over 6 years.
40. Every time a person throws away a plastic bottle, I resist the urge to tell that person to pick up the bottle and recycle it, or pick it up myself and recycle it.
41. I hate politics. It's slower than microbial evolution (It's true!).
42. I don't like apple pie or most pies really. But sometimes I'll get an overwhelming urge to eat some pie.
43. I have a deck of "Magic: The Gathering" cards. Nerd, I know.
44. I speak English and Mandarin Chinese fluently. I can also understand Cantonese. Although I learned some Spanish, I can feel it slipping away.
45. My favorite days of the week are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
46. I often bottle up my emotions, and sometimes they explode (you don't want to be there when it does).
47. I tend to pay close attention to details when I read something. Sometimes it gets in the way of me seeing the the big picture.
48. I love the Magic School Bus. Always have, always will.
49. Sometimes I wish I had a close gay friend/roommate. Always wondered what that'd be like.
50. Continuing from #49, people who "act really gay/ flamboyant/ feminine" bother me. I don't have anything against them personally, it just bothers me a bit.
51. I love the smell in the air right after it rains (but before the worms come out).
52. I hate shopping, especially for shoes.
53. I've had glasses since 4th grade. And I don't intend on getting contacts or laser surgery.
54. I intensely dislike philosophy.
55. Sometimes I think being a science major makes me a bit aloof.
56. When I was little, knowing Chinese was like a secret code language that only a couple of people I knew were privy to.
57. I tend to keep many of my opinions to myself. I'm trying to be more vocal/open.
58. I've often wondered what it'd be like to be someone else.
59. My favorite fruit is probably the orange. My favorite berry is either the strawberry or the raspberry.
60. I used to hate vegetables. I tolerate most now.
61. When I buy my own house I want to do the landscaping.
62. I'm the kind of guy who'd lay back and stare at the clouds, looking for shapes in them.
63. Sometimes I feel like I'm bipolar, like there's 2 of me in one body.
64. I dislike combing my hair. I don't like short hair but long hair feels weird.
65. I think I've become more liberal since attend my university.
66. I like making friends, though I don't really have someone I'd call my best friend.
67. I hate talking to people over the phone who I don't know, can't see, and probably never will.
68. I sometimes have a hard time maintaining eye contact with the person I'm talking to, especially if he/she's in a position of authority.
69. I wear briefs, boxers, and boxer-briefs. Of them, I like wearing boxer-briefs the most, though I have boxers the most.
70. Five careers I never wanted to be: fireman, nurse, policeman, anything military, and anything government.
71. Five careers I've wanted to be: artist, astronomer, biologist, doctor, and writer.
72. I prefer to be the main support in a group, the one that people rely on or the glue that holds the group together.
73. Regardless of what anyone says, I believe dreams are reflections of our inner minds.
74. Every person I've ever had a "crush" has been "taken" in some way.
75. My ideal temperature (inside or out) is between 60F and 85F.
76. I like the "half-light" of day (aka, dawn and dusk) and I also like shaded areas.
77. I value responsibility above all other traits. I also value (in no particular order): honesty, reason, tolerance, humor, wisdom, and respect.
78. My current motto is: "Few people mature, most are simply conditioned."
79. I think I'm addicted to my computer/the internet. Le sigh.
80. I wish I had a soundtrack to my life. Or at least a theme song.
81. I can be a romantic at heart. I believe in "the one." Still waiting on that.
82. I don't mind if the ending of something's spoiled. I'm more interested in beginnings and how they develop to the ends.
83. Though I don't show it, I can be quite envious, jealous, and vengeful.
84. I sometimes feel awkward in public places with lots of people. ::insert self-image issues here::
85. I feel that hugging/being hugged is one of the best feelings ever. Too bad I often feel awkward when hugging others.
86. I snore when I'm really tired. Or so it seems.
87. I try to sleep in the nude when I can. Usually I'd have to masturbate before I attempt this, otherwise an erection would keep me up all night.
88. I've had several R-rated (porn-like even) dreams. I usually forget these very quickly.
89. I often "care too much" about things and get consumed by them.
90. I hate smoke and smoking, and the smell of.
91. Some day I want to travel the world and taste delicious foods.
92. Of all foods, I like Chinese and Italian food best.
93. I love learning about different cultures and different languages.
94. I often wake up finding myself stroking/fondling my "morning wood."
95. I have a "some day" list of books that I intend on reading some day.
96. I'm an obsessive email checker.
97. I used to hate running, though now I've learned to like it more.
98. If you ask me a serious question, I will give an honest and serious answer.
99. I've tasted my own semen before and it's kind of sweet (doesn't taste bad). It's hard to bring myself to do this though, for whatever reason.
100. I can function on 5-6 hours of sleep for several weeks at a time. I won't feel happy about it though.

*Note* For some reason, blogger deleted the list partway through #34. So everything after that is either in a different order or new from this original post, as I can't remember everything I wrote originally and so this may be more random.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


It means the same as "penult" meaning "the next to last syllable in a word, or the next to last item." But "penultima" sounds cooler. So, this'll be the 99th post, which makes it the one before the celebrated 100th post! How I do look forward to that post, haha, if for no other reason than to post 100 random things about me.

There's not much to say in this post, so it's kind of filler. I have 2 finals when I wake up. Not fun! But that's okay. I had an epic 2+ hours study session with some people today for my "evolution, development, and genetics" class. Let me tell you, those scientific papers are NOT easy to read. Especially the 2-page ones. Which is kind of ironic, but they cram so much in so little room, that every word counts (and consequently, every word seems to be some scientific jargon that I may/may not have already learned). On the other hand, it's pretty cool to be able to go through such esoteric writing and actually be able to make sense of it, and to read such landmark papers in such an interesting field of biology.

In other news, I think a part of me is sort of falling for a bisexual female friend (she's debating whether or not she's actually lesbian, but does this in a joking manner that makes me question her). It's weird. I know her through a mutual friend (JW-M) and she's such an interesting and cute person. She's not the "stereotypical" bisexual/lesbian in that she actually still looks like a woman. I think I'm somewhat attracted to her personality, and the funny movements she randomly makes sometimes. She's also Asian. Taiwanese, to be more precise. In any case, I already see absolutely nothing coming of this (in a romantic/sexual sense). So whatever. Just something random.

So yeah, soon I'll make a proper post. A 100th post! I don't know why I'm amused by this . . . perhaps I need more sleep.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bouts of Happiness

So even among my depressive mood and general malaise (yes, it's still going on), I do have bouts of happiness, fun, and laughter interspersed about. Let me share some.

1. So, a couple weeks ago, I was going home from the mall after returning my tux. And in the parking lot, as I got to my friend's car, this little kid sitting on top of his dad's shoulders saw us. He said, "Hi!" and waved at us. I responded with "Hi!" back. Then he asked, "What are you doing?" His dad was like, "He's not shy, haha." I told him, "I'm going home!" Then he waved again and said, "Bye!" To which I waved and said the same thing.

Kids are so cute! I want one, or two, or three . . . but no more than three . . . some day. Not today. They're so innocent and straightforward. They have no tact, no hidden agendas, no false faces. They're just pure fun and curiosity (until they cry). Kids are so predictable and it's so easy to keep their attention, once you realize they have like permanent ADHD. They're also like a blank slate. You can tell them anything, teach them anything, and they'll just absorb it with awe. Yeah, I personally think kids are awesome. Teenagers less so - they get grumpy and weird, and sometimes mean.

2. Bread pudding! I made bread pudding last night. I think it was the best one yet. It had the right consistency - not too runny, not too dry. It was sweeter than usual, though I added the same amount of sugar. It was the variable ingredients - aka, the fruit I add. This time it was raspberries, blueberries, and mango. It was delicious. Next time I make bread pudding, I'm sticking to this combo. Usually I add in apples, bananas, and cinnamon.

3. I really like reading the books (in the English translation) in my Chinese literature class. I was talking with SR-F last night about our respective "some day" list. In other words, books that we want to read "some day." Books like Monkey (more commonly translated as Journey into the West) and The Story of the Stone (more commonly translated as The Dream of Red Chamber) have been on my list for quite some time, and I like taking classes that "forces" me to read them.

It's interesting that the professor keeps saying how different Chinese fiction is compared to Western fiction. It's true, but it doesn't read any worse, or even really different sometimes. Western fiction utilizes heavy character development and tends to focus solely on the main character(s), with the other characters just being there. Chinese fiction delves into all the characters in depth, so you have their background and their whole personalities. However, Chinese fiction doesn't really have much in terms of character development. The development tends to be the development of a group of people on the whole.

For example, there are 4-5 main characters in Monkey. Each of them has their unique story, unique personality, and represents a part of a person in the allegory. But, each character doesn't develop much, but as a whole, they do. So the parts of the individual don't develop much, but the individual as a whole does. If any of that makes sense. In The Story of the Stone, there are about 400 characters in total. And for each one you learn about their background, their relations, and their personalities. Yet the whole story really centers on 3 characters.

It's said that Chinese fiction isn't so much "linear" as it is "circular" in a sense. Linear is basically cause-effect, where an event causes something that causes something else in a linear fashion, contributing to the development of the character. Chinese fiction focuses on the network and branches of relationship between each character and the next. These relationships change and evolve, though each of the characters not so much. Also, every detail counts. Something you read in chapter 1 might come back or be fulfilled like 10 chapters later.

4. So I've been good at running every day this week (today not so much, but I played basketball). I've lost like 4 lbs this week, yay! Too bad I just ate out tonight with several friends at a German restaurant, consisting of lots of meat and starch (potatoes), and some desert. Sigh, haha. More running and working out tomorrow!

5. Now, for the final (and most meaningful part). I had lunch with ES-M. To jog the memory, he's the guy from Malaysia in my Chinese class last semester that I had a crush on. While he's taking Chinese this semester as well, we're not in the same class because our schedules conflicted. He did want to be in my class because I've helped him out a lot in Chinese (though, I probably couldn't have helped him much this semester - the vocab's much harder).

Anyway, I waited for him to meet me. Apparently, he overslept and was very apologetic. I kept telling him last semester that he should sleep more regularly, and not in the middle of the afternoon (or morning, in this case). But, that's a habit he's not likely to change soon. When I saw him, he looked much thinner (he was originally pretty lean). I asked him why. He reminded me how he got the chickenpox a month ago or thereabouts. That was kind of funny, to think that he had never gotten chickenpox before, and hasn't been vaccinated, and then got it in college.

So we had lunch at a noodle place. It was good. We only had about half an hour to talk and catch up, since he overslept. But that was still good. He's staying in town for the summer, and I'm almost certainly staying for about 2 months over the spring/summer. Before he went to class, he told me that if I were doing something (concerning the gym/running/whatever) that I should call him. That's pretty cool, it'd be a good way to hang out.

Lastly here, though rather unrelated, I saw my RA (resident adviser) from my freshman year. He's a med student here at the university. I had a mini-crush of sorts on him. He has such a great body. And he's so smart. He just has very piercing eyes, and a mind that's equally piercing. All the same, he's a pretty good guy. Eccentric too though - wears an emo/goth-like attire, but detests both such groups . . . yeah.

Anyway, enough randomness. I'm done. ^_^

Friday, April 11, 2008

In Vino Veritas

A lot has happened in the last several hours between me and RZ-F.

She was having a bad day. We went to get Nutella crepes (which are amazing, btw) and then went to a bar nearby to get drinks. We both got Long Islands, which were pretty good. It had about 3-4 shots in it (of vodka, I think). Then she got a Long Beach and chugged that down. Yeah, something had to be wrong.

We went back to her apartment, where she took another 2 shots. She had a total of about 10 shots in a very short amount of time. I had about 4. I was surprised it didn't hit her as hard or as quick as it "should have." But, she has high tolerance (especially for an Asian) and I could just barely feel the 4 shots I had after about half an hour. Soon she got tipsy, and here's where it all began.

After SN-F (her roommate) and SP-M (my friend from high school, now all our mutual friend and SN-F's boyfriend) left, RZ-F held me behind to talk to me. She and DC-M broke up today. I would be lying if I said that I didn't feel at least a little bit happy at this. But the breakup affected her quite deeply. And we talked for about 3 hours on this (hence why this post is posted so late). Everyone she's talked to took her side, and rightly so. She can do much better than him, and she knows it. And yet, it affects her so.

But we also talked about many other things. There was a point last year when we could've dated, but I stopped it before we got to that point. In retrospect, we both decided it was for the best. And now, one of my deepest fears arises. We had become such good friends in these last couple years that there was no way we could date. And I knew this, as this has happened with anyone I had any interest in. But at the same time, we could've made it work. We had so many similarities, shared so many of the same views and values, lived through the same culture, etc. On paper, we looked almost completely compatible.

And then she asked me why I was so awkward last year, and why I said I needed time to think and such. So I told her. I came out to her. I said I was bi. She was surprised and kept maintaining that she thought I wasn't bi, that it was a result of hanging out with girls a lot and not being "connected" to guys (in a sense), and that I was confused. That once I started dating and had sex, then I would know for sure that I was straight and not bi. But of course, in my mind, none of this mattered. I knew where my attractions lie, I knew that (at least right now) I could easily see myself sleeping with and having sex with either a guy or girl some day.

I'm not sure how I feel. Sad that things between us could go no further? Happy that it could've been? And relieved that I'm out, even though she doesn't quite believe me? All the above? Whatever, sleep now.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Evolution Class

I am a biology major. I believe in evolution. I think it's an amazingly beautiful and elegant concept. It's also very mysterious because we know very little about it. I will write a separate post on the amazing-ness that is evolution, but this one is dedicated to one of my professors.

I'm taking a class this semester on genetics, development, and evolution, and how these three things tie together. My professor for that class is so cute! She's so accomplished and established in her field - she knows all the big shots in the evolution-development (henceforth called evo-devo) field. She's also a great human being - in fact, many of the girls in my class aspire to be like her. That says something.

After class she sometimes randomly emails us things. Like this:
I can't help but wonder, how did we got here from speciation again? Nonetheless . . .

7 legged, hermaphrodite lamb

"Bhagat, they discovered, had one of the world's most bizarre medical conditions - fetus in fetu"
Or this other time:
Walking back from class, I finally thought of a good example:

Given the name "phenotype" we discussed, possible "genotypes" are Sean and Shawn. If a mutation is a change of one letter, it is much easier to get to a new phenotype of "Dean" if you start at Sean rather than Shawn.

Have a nice weekend!
Okay, this email requires a bit of background. Genotype is what our genes actually are, and phenotypes is what's actually expressed or seen. The two don't always go hand-in-hand per se. For example, you may have the genes for blue eyes but actually have brown eyes. Your genotype includes the genes for blue eyes, but your phenotype is brown eyes.

Now, this email refers to a phenomenon called "developmental systems drift" (or DSD for short). Way back in the 1990s, people thought that similar developmental pathways used the same genes. For example, the development of the complex eye from a handful of cells only used a certain set of genetic mechanisms. But under DSD, a developmental pathway could result from 2 or more different genetic mechanisms.

So in her example, the names Sean and Shawn are pronounced the same. The pronunciation of these words is the phenotype, while the actual spelling of the names is the genotype. We were talking about how DSD could lead to phenotypic variation. So, a new phenotype would result when a mutation caused both the spelling and pronunciation to change, such as when Sean changed into Dean and the pronunciation along with it.

So that's that. It's a really cool concept, because it's totally contrary to logic and makes you go "wtf" when talking about evolution. Oh! She went to a "fly meeting" in San Diego last week (She studies the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, btw). Anyway, she met the person who created PLoS (or the Public Library of Science), and she got a T-shirt from him that says "Drosophila loves PLoS." She was like, "I wasn't thinking of ever wearing this outside my house . . ." We making her wear that to class on Tuesday. Apparently, this guy rented a beach house for his lab during the meeting. And someone there was from Austria and knew how to make sausages from scratch.

That's all for now. One of the next posts will be on evolution. And how sweet it is.

Dating Limbo

First, some good news. I've ran every day this week since Sunday! After gaining like 5-7 lbs in less than 2 weeks, I'm determined to shed off that weight and much more, and so have endeavored to attempt to run every day. Only time will tell how successful I am. But, I ran about 2 miles on Sunday, over 3 miles on Monday, more than 2 (but less than 3) miles yesterday, and about 1.5-2 miles today. So I'm feeling pretty good about that. Oh, and I've also re-installed breakfast, albeit a very small and quick breakfast.

Now, on to the topic at hand. I feel like I'm in some kind of dating limbo where I've made neither forward progress nor backwards regression. I had thought that during my undergrad years I would figure out for sure my sexuality, explore dating (guys and/or girls), and maybe even find that one person to spend my life with. Clearly, none of this has happened. I'm just as inexperienced as when I started 4 years ago, and not that much closer to figuring things out (though this blog helps).

And I can't help but think, what is holding me back? I had attributed it to my low self-esteem and body image. Freshman and sophomore years I didn't do too much to address this, but last year and this year I've made some progress. My legs are more muscular from all the running I do, and my arms now have significantly more muscle and less flab. However, everything between my arms and legs hasn't changed all that much, despite all my attempts. Maybe I should try harder? For at least a flat stomach if a six-pack isn't achievable in the next couple months. In any case, I still feel insecure about my body but that bothers me less so these days.

Someone also told me once that something about my inherent nature makes it more difficult for some people to see me as a romantic interest. In a sense, I become that "really good friend." I'm non-threatening, thereby allowing me to make good friendships rather quickly if I wanted. This is also a double-edged sword as it's difficult for me to get much further than friendship. Do I lack a sense of danger? A sense of mystery? Some kind of sexy vibe?

Lastly, I also find it difficult to tell if someone's interested in me. I'm actually woefully bad at this. I just found out that RZ-F is dating DC-M, a friend I knew way back from elementary school. DC-M and I used to live a street over throughout elementary school, and then I moved towards the end of middle school. Although we attended the same high school and now the same university, we hardly see each other due to our course selection. RZ-F can do better, he can't keep up with her intellectually and their interests don't seem to match too well. Clearly, this affects me.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I don't know how to read, or even recognize, these "signals" people talk about. I don't know how to ask someone out, what to say, what to do. I don't even know if the opportunity is at hand or if it's already passed, like with RZ-F (this would be like, the 2nd or 3rd time this has happened between her and me). I also don't know what to say to make a person interested in me, or keep a person interested in me.

So I'm at a loss. All I seem able to do is get close, or as close as a friendship could get, and pine away. And I sit here with that longing and yearning in my chest. I feel so old and not having had any romantic relationships. Forget sex, that can wait, some other things must come first.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


It's warm! Like, I can wear a T-shirt outside without being cold warm. It was around 65-degrees F today. Weather and sun like this makes me happy, no matter how crappy things actually are. But today was pretty good anyway.

First, I ran about 3 miles outside with RZ-F. Again, it was SO nice out today. I've NEVER ran that much in a day before, let alone in a single bout. That was epic. It was like 85+% running, and the remaining walking as we walked across streets and such. I actually somehow managed to keep up with her (she runs about 7 miles a day), so I was proud of myself for that. I had also somehow managed to gain like 5-7 lbs in the last 2 weeks (crappiest weeks of the semester) from eating out a lot. This run ought to have made a dent in that gain.

Next, I got on the waitlist at MCW! I don't think I've ever been so happy to be placed on a waitlist. Now, to send them a letter of intent/interest because this med school is currently my top choice. As a side consequence of this, my parents have actually been rather nice today when they called. That's a nice change; they also seem optimistic as opposed to oppressively pessimistic.

Things are starting to look up. Hopefully this continues and I'll get into public health and med school.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

That was Intense

Today I had the most intense animal physiology lab ever.

We we looking at cardiac contractions in frogs. So, it was a rather delicate procedure to euthanize the frog and then examine its heart without damaging it. Our GSI (grad student instructor, aka TA) added ice to slow them down, then poured lots of benzocaine (frogs absorb chemicals through their skin) to anesthetize them and overdose them, to ensure they didn't move around. Now comes the intense part.

My lab partner first stabbed a needle probe into the poor frog's brain to destroy it, so it's brain dead and can't move. It took a while because we couldn't find the easy spot to poke the probe into, and our GSI said it was difficult to find and that we should expect a "crack" sound. Well, my lab partner did that and moved the probe around. The GSI watched to make sure we did it correctly. Then I tried to stab the probe down its spine to paralyze it further that way, but I couldn't find the hole my lab partner made. So she just did that part too.

We then flipped over the frog so we could cut open its chest cavity and expose the still-beating heart. She cut off the outer skin, which was difficult because frogs are really slippery! We managed to do it with me holding the skin out with forceps and she cutting with scissors. After she cut away the outer skin, I cut the inner tissue, being careful to not cut the abdominal vein. I cut around to create a flap, and ended up having to cut off part of the jawbone. I then manged to (carefully!) cut away the pericardium, the sack that holds the heart. I must say, it's really really cool to look at its still-beating heart.

We then did our experiments and such. Every now and then, our frog would twitch one of its limbs. The first time I was startled, because it's not supposed to move at all. I've heard horror stories where people didn't properly scramble their frog's brain, and towards the end the frog started to move about with its insides falling out. My partner and I were like, "Please don't move!" throughout the entire lab.

The group sitting across from us were having twitchings of their own. The guy accidentally dropped his frog in the beginning, and his lab partner was trying to contain her nervousness and keep from shaking. They managed alright in the end.

Anyway, back to us. Towards the end of the lab, with the second to last experiment, our frog twitched in all its limbs and even moved its back a little. I nearly jumped out of my seat as I thought it was trying to move. It settled down. Earlier, I had discovered that its ovaries (frogs have huge ovaries) were sitting on top of a nerve that controlled its right arm and left leg, so if I moved the ovaries just so, both those limbs twitched. But this was different, it looked like it was actually trying to move a bit. Maybe it was a full-body twitch, but when we called our GSI over, she said it looked like more than just a muscle twitch.

I was about ready to decapitate the thing to ensure it didn't move, or at least stab the probe all the way through the head and pinning it to the bloodied foam. I didn't realize how much blood was in a frog till I saw a "halo" of blood around its body as it laid on the foam. Kind of reminded me of the cat from the movie Boondock Saints, except the frog didn't explode to a shotgun. Anyway, at the very end, the frog started its whole body twitch again then settled down. At this point, my lab partner and I were so relieved that we were done. The GSI came over and disposed of our frog for us.

Well, I'm pretty convinced that I don't want to go into surgery now. I don't like things twitching while I'm cutting into it, and I don't like the oppressive pressure of not making mistakes, as a nick in the heart would've meant restarting the lab with another frog.

That, folks, was intense.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dear Reader

Dear esteemed and august reader(s),

If you've actually been reading my blog, you surely haven't failed to notice the tone of late. I sincerely apologize that my blog has degenerated into a med school-obsessed whine-fest. As of this last Monday, my med school fate is no longer in my hands. My fate now rests solely in the hands of the powers that be (aka, the admissions committee).

I assure you all that my current sad and depressive mood is bound to dissipate soon. And a couple days ago I got a fortune cookie that said:
"The coming month shall bring you much happiness."
I'm holding it to its word.