Monthly Archives: April 2009

Ultimate Hulk Vs. Wolverine!

normally i try to add live or acoustic or otherwise non-studio performances by some of my favorite artists, but this video (like all TV on the Radio stuff) is AWESOME and besides that it fits really well with this post.  i also highly recommend checking out their trippy video for Staring at the Sun.  and although i have already mentioned how sweet TV on the Radio is, they also have some facial hair to compete with Jim James of My Morning Jacket (good ole southern face beast), Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (north country winter beard) and Ray Lamontagne (woodsy lumberjack beard).  see also:  Jeff Tweedy in his post-yankee hotel foxtrot revival period

if you know me well, chances are you know im nerdy.  if you havent figured that part out, you will after reading this post.

in march, the ultimate wolverine vs. hulk mini-series comic book started back up.  the first two issues were written by damon lindelof, the co-creator of Lost, and came out a few years back.  once Lost took off he got side tracked for a while, but he has recently written the final 4 scripts and they were illustrated by leinil yu (one of the better comic book illustrators out there).  they were real sweet.  how sweet, you ask?  this sweet.

ultimate wolver vs. hulk

ultimate wolverine vs. hulk

yeah, thats right, wolverine gets torn in half in the first few pages.  then he gets thrown 4 miles through the himalayas, climbs up the mountains with his claws and fights the hulk, who is pissed because his girl dont love him no mo and because the government tried to nuke him.  i mean, if there ever were a comic book series that could appeal to anyone, it would be these 6 issues.  the hulk and wolverine are both real popular and their fight is like that old idiom “an unstoppable force and an indestructable object” – wolverine cant really die and the hulk is pretty impervious to damage.  its worth reading.  i think it would be sweet to have claws like wolverine so you could just cut some crap up whenever.

with that said, i have been pounding through a bunch of zombie movies as of late.  most recently i caught the BBC’s halloween mini-series Dead Set, which i must say was quite good, however i had to watch it in 10 minute clips on youtube and the quality was crappy.  i definitely recommend it though, its not very scary and it takes an interesting approach to the zombie genre.  with the whole swine flu going around, you best be preparing yourself for the inevitable zombie armageddon.

bbcs dead set

bbc's dead set. you better believe this lady is about to be a zombie

im right in the middle of the “… of the Dead” series by George Romero.  i caught night of the living dead, and the famous dawn of the dead (the sequel that takes place in a shopping mall) is next in my blockbuster queue.  living in LA, i pretty much feel like i am surrounded by mindless, blood-thirsty zombies all day anyways so i might as well indulge my free time in zombie movies too.  credit where its due, my good friend ryan from back home in NY has been ruthless leader with a shotgun to my zombie movie outbreak.  interestingly he also got me back into comic books.  respect.

dawn of the dead

dawn of the dead

Medical Fail

Being a graduate student in Biomedical Engineering means that I spend a lot of my time learning about the Federal Drug Administration and how they regulate business.  Any time medicine or medical devices are modified, invented or manufactured – everything from pills to artificial hearts to bandaids – the device must pass through a long and tedious FDA approval process.  Many people who work in the medical device industry feel that FDA regulations are at times overly stringent and expensive, but considering some of the major devices that have made the market in the past (and caused tragic failures) definitely underlines the importance of medical regulation.

Thalidomide – Given (mostly in Europe) to pregnant women to prevent morning sickness, this drug led to widespread birth defects in thousands of children born from 1957 to 1962.  Thankfully, the FDA (which is specific to the United States) blocked commercial sale in the US, citing inadequate test results.  Ironically, the drug is believed to originally have been discovered by the Nazis.

Plutonium Pacemaker Batteries – Obviously, the medical community now tries to avoid inserting radioactive material into the body for prolonged periods, however nuclear batteries could in theory last for up to 14,000 years.  There are still some in existence today, but they can cause pretty big problems if they get cremated along with the body they are implanted in.  Apparently these guys sometimes get hot as crap due to all the radioactivity… Also, the government is paranoid that patients with nuclear batteries could be kidnapped by terrorists trying to get their hands on some dirty bomb material (no joke) and so they are closely watched by the government and their pacemakers are extracted by FBI agents immediately following death, kind of like that guy from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom who rips peoples hearts out.

Heres your heart, bitch

here is your flaming heart that i just pulled out of your chest, bitch

Rely Tampons – In the 1970s there was a super absorbant tampon introduced into the market called Rely.  So absorbant, in fact, that Staph bacteria found it a perfect place to set up shop in the body.  Bacteria are nothing new to the body, and staph covers almost the entirety of our skin and hair, however the massive absorption of toxins created by such a large community of bacteria in the tampons lead to many cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome, a very serious illness that led to several deaths.  Rely was pulled from the market in a huge recall that ended up costing several millions of dollars.

Guidant Ancure Endograft Device – Basically, this was a patch put over arteries in the lower abdomen to prevent their rupture (called an anuerism).  However, the company knew that the device had a high rate of failure in many cases but withheld this information from the FDA.  Roughly 1/3 of the 18,000 units sold had to have Medical Device Reports filed (if something goes wrong with an individual device, it must be directly reported to the FDA).  The president of that company has been in jail since 1993.

Fen-Phen – Wyeth (who strangely has been responsible for a huge number of medical device failures) combined two drugs to make this weight loss pill, however scientists estimate that it caused severe damage to heart valves in as high as 30% of users.  The recall and lawsuits cost Wyeth an estimated $18 billion

Vitamin C – This one doesnt really have anything to do with the FDA, but nobody has really proven through blind studies that large amounts of vitamin c taken during illness will help speed recovery or prevent the disease from getting worse.  Some studies suggest that vitamin c may slightly help speed recovery, but there is no additional effect after eating the vitamin c found in roughly 2/3 of an orange for an entire day.  Did you know, pound for pound, that a lemon has more sugar than a strawberry?  Vitamin C will, however, prevent scurvy, the symptoms of which include sunken eyes, pale skin and teeth loss.  All of which are also symptoms that you may be pete doherty.

pete doherty or pirate?

pete doherty or pirate?

Dalkon Shield – A 1970s intrauterine contraceptive.  This case really makes you wonder WTFudge is going on with people.  In the 1970s, this device was being tested for FDA approval by one of the inventors.  Put bluntly, the very person who has power to decide if this device is safe or not stood to make millions of dollars off his own approval, an obvious conflict of interest.  Anyways, he ran some tests showing that the device prevented a lot of births, however he did not test the safety of the device.  Some of the side effects included infections, infertility, spontaneous abortion, serious birth defects, possible cancer and death of the women users.  More than any other, this product has had a serious effect on the medical industry.  Once the details of the corruption in testing and selling this device were brought to light, there were some serious changes made to the FDA, including the Medical Devices Amendment which required very strict testing for medical devices (not just medicine, the only standard at the time).

Upton Sinclair - The Jungle

Upton Sinclair - The Jungle

Anyways, I wanted to make some comments about the history of the FDA.  Everyone knows about turn of the century medicine including coca-cola which contained actual cocaine, as well as drugs that made ridiculous claims like granting eternal life.   The good ole US of A had no real drug or food regulation until Teddy Roosevelt passed the Food and Drugs Act of 1906 a few months following Upton Sinclair’s famous exposure of the corruption in the meat packing industry called The Jungle .  Originally companies were only forced to verify the therapeutic claims made on their packaging, but over the years the regulation evolved to include proof of safety and efficacy, proof of ingredients etc.   Around the passage of this act, Teddy Roosevelt was perceived by many to be an enemy of business and medicine, forcing many companies who made unproven drugs out of business and costing even the legitimate companies huge amounts of money in regulatory studies.  Even worse, politicians jumped on Roosevelt for costing taxpayers large percentages of their paychecks in unnecessary taxes for pointless governmental overhead.   Some of the worst opponents of the FDA claimed that Roosevelt was a detriment to the American Public, and I suspect that had it been a popular derogatory term at the time, many would have called him a Socialist, Communist or other such insult.

Teddy Roosevelt - riding rough

Teddy Roosevelt - riding rough

Although the 2008 election is probably not fresh in anyones mind, I was really troubled by the way the Obama campaign was slandered for its advocation for Universal Healthcare.  First of all, I want to make it clear that while I support the concept of Universal health care, I am not firmly under the impression that Obamas plan is the best.  A good discussion of the health care situation and some suggested fixes are discussed in an Economist article here.  What really bothers me is that Obama has been called a Socialist for his attempts to institute Universal Health care in the US.  I suspect that most people who say this would not be throwing around the S-bomb had McCain and his equally Soviet health care plan were in office right meow.  All unabashed salt-in-the-wound-rubbing aside, I believe that in 2109 many Americans will go through their entire lives with their insurance completely paid for by some system of taxes or regulations that ensure that no matter their social status, income bracket or health, they will be treated with the high quality medical standard that we should all be entitled to.  Hopefully we can realize that (like all good things) this reform may cost us some money, in the long run government sponsored health care will help prevent unaffordable costs of health on the poor and wealthy alike.  Perhaps in 100 years our childrens childrens children will look back on the reforms that our generation had the clearness of vision, the foresight to make bold changes that distinguished our civilization from the primitive foam.  While I will not be so bold as to claim that the name Obama may be one held synonymous with Roosevelt, I believe that President Barry’s efforts to purify the health system of our nation will be regarded with as much importance as President Teddy’s creation of the FDA.  I realize that the criticisms of Universal health care as socialist are probably fueled in equal share misunderstanding of the concept as well as focused attacks by less than informed news sources with an agenda, but it still seems a painfully myopic, misinformed attack of the Obama campaign.  It also pains me that I think this very good cause has been transformed completely into a different, politicalized issue by certain groups looking to create disdain for the Democratic Party.  I understand how politics work, but sometimes it is best to put aside partisan bull jive to attack real problems, not to attack causes as a means of attacking each other.   Universal health care is the right thing to do.  I hope we can be the generation to finally see its enactment.

Rembrandt - The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp

Rembrandt - The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp

Human Clay

Creed

Creed

Ive been in My Own Prison ever since I heard a few years ago that the best Christian rock group ever, Creed, had broken up.  So after hearing the other day that Creed will be making a comeback tour in 2009, I would like to welcome them With Arms Wide Open.  Listening to their music can Take Me Higher in my appreciation of Christian rock.  I am still trying to think of a way to make fun of Alter Bridge but it is too hard.

Barca!

Ah, Barcelona.  If Madrid be the capital city of Spain and the earthly presence on the Iberian Peninsula, then Barcelona is ethereal and fleeting from the mundane boundaries of ordinary cities.  In lieu of fogging up the essence of Barcelona with confusing metaphors, a little history lesson is in order (without getting too rigorous).

Just prior to WW2, the Republican Government of Spain was overthrown in a bloody coup by a terrible Nationalist Dictatorship led by Francisco Franco.  More specifically, this coup took about 3 years and was known as the Spanish Civil War.  Now theres no such thing as a “good war”, but I can only imagine Civil Wars are some of the worst.  Not only are you forced to fight your neighbor, but once the war is over you have to live next to him again.  Probably this is why there is so much resentment on either side for years after the war; can you imagine being a Yankees fan living in Worcester after blowing the 3 game lead in 2004?  All that pent up anger never gets resolved.

Spanish Loyalist at the Instant of Death

"Spanish Loyalist at the Instant of Death"

As Franco swept through the heart of Spain with the aim of unifying the regional cultures of Spain into one Nationals entity, he systematically purged the beautiful cultural pockets sprinkled across the country.  In particular, the Catalonian region of Eastern Spain (where Barcelona is located) found itself on the wrong side of the war, and after strongly resisting for a few years, Barcelona fell to Franco – Madrid and the rest of Spain were soon to follow.  Now, I dont think that Franco ever forgot the trouble Barcelona gave him.  Francos reign would last through WW2 and all the way into the 70’s and during this time he made sure to stomp out the glowing embers of life that still remained in Catalonia.

There are rumors that Adolph Hitler helped Franco with the revolution so that he could hone his army for the blitzkreig of Europe that was soon to come.  Others say that Hitler wanted to awe Europe with the power of his war machine.  Whatever the reason, Franco employed the Nazi’s Luftwaffe to help him shore up the storming of the last outposts of resistance, including the rural city Guernica.  In short, this tiny and relatively unmilitaristic city was ruthlessly firebombed out of existence on a monday (when everyone would be in from the surrounding farms to join in the farmers market) and then strafed with fighters to rub out any surviving civilians.  As military moves go, this was like killing a mosquito with a shotgun.

Picasso - Horsehead Sketch for Guernica

Picasso - Horsehead Sketch for Guernica

Of course, the world was appalled.  Picasso, a native Spaniard who spent a great deal of his professional career in Barcelona and the other Republican regions, based one of his most famous pieces on the firebombing of Guernica.  I dont mind pretending I know something about art every now and then, but I cannot justify explaining the genius that is Guernica in words and I dont think its fitting that I show it in a stupid blog.  Look it up, not just online, but in an art book and try to understand the pain and sadness that this represented for not just a culture, a country, or a group of people, but to the whole world who were still reeling from WW1 and maybe, maybe knew that they were on the brink of another world war.  I urge you to go see it at the Reina Sofia in Madrid if you ever get a chance.  There is literally a whole floor of the museum dedicated to this painting, with a historical preface to the Spanish Civil War and bombing of Guernica as well as Picasso’s preparatory sketches and paintings.   It was one of the most powerfulexperiences of my life.  Sometimes I wonder what genius takes.  Somehow I imagine Picasso never doubted what the final painting would look like; he just knew in his mind.  I see him smearing paint, swirling his brush with tears and acrylic.  You know that scene in “No Country For Old Men” when Josh Brolins character comes across the drug deal gone bad, and there is one survivor who is mortally wounded but still alive and begs for water, but Josh Brolin just says “I aint got no water”.  But then later that night, Josh Brolin lies sleepless in bed and finally gets up and goes back to the desert to give the dying man water?  Somehow I think thats what it was like for Picasso.  Written in the blood of men is a code of honor that demands a certain respect for another, especially those toeing the cold edge of death.  I imagine Picasso had many of those sleepless nights, tired and dinnerless, where he painted for those who died, and every burning building, screaming face and shattered perspective weeps in comfort beside the city of Guernica.  As an interesting aside, the Guernica painting is replicated in a giant tapestry that hangs in the United Nations building as a memorial to the toll of war.  When the Bush Administration announced the beginning of the war in Iraq from the UN building, they covered the Guernica tapestry with a blue cloak… I will let you piece together that irony yourself.

Picasso - War and Peace

Picasso - War and Peace

The point of this little aside is to develop some sort of understanding Spain and the of the city of Barcelona today.  The tyranny of Franco ended with his death in the mid-1970s (any opposition to the State before his death was violently stomped out).  After so many years of gloom under the Franco regime, Barcelona still celebrates life reemerged from the abyss.  Barcelona is very much a city of brightness and color, basking in the mediterranean sun.  To me, Barcelona is a revival, a symbol of youth regained despite terrible violence and repression.  Nothing represents this liveliness more than the architecture of Gaudi – some of his most famous works are pictured below.  These were all taken by me in late June/early July 2008 in one of my favorite cities in the world.

Gaudi - La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi - La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi - La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi - La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi - La Sagrada Familia - The Kiss of Judas

Gaudi - La Sagrada Familia - The Kiss of Judas

Gaudi - Casa Milo

Gaudi - Casa Milo

Gaudi - Casa Milo - Interior

Gaudi - Casa Milo - Interior

Gaudi - Casa Milo - Roof Sculpture

Gaudi - Casa Milo - Roof Sculpture

Gaudi - Casa Milo - Roof

Gaudi - Casa Milo - Roof

Gaudi - Casa Milo - Roof Smokestacks (fact - inspired storm troopers)

Gaudi - Casa Milo - Roof Smokestacks (fact - inspired storm troopers)

Gaudi - Casa Batllo - St. George Slays the Dragon

Gaudi - Casa Batllo - St. George Slays the Dragon

Montjuic Park At Night

Montjuic Park At Night

Non-Newtonian Fluids

Non-Newtonian Fluids are materials that act (not surprisingly) in a Non-Newtonian manner.  For anyone who isn’t into dense physics, basically this means that as you increase the speed and force with which you try to pull, push or tear a material, you change the strength of the material.  That probably doesn’t make sense either, but think of silly puddy.  You know how if you pull on it a little bit and let it hang in the air, it will slowly droop and stretch out?  Now if you take that same silly puddy and try to pull it really fast, it will either tear quickly or resist the motion.  Silly puddy is a type of Non-Newtonian fluid called a Dilatant, which gets stronger the faster you try to move it.  On the other hand, something like water should act the same whether you act on it fast or slow.  And there is another type of Non-Newtonian fluid called a pseudoplastic, like paint.  When you try to roll paint on to a wall, it becomes  softer which makes rolling easier.  Once the paint is on the wall, it thickens again and will not drip off.

The basic explanation of why Dilatants (like the corn-starch water mixture in the youtube video) act so weird involves polymer chemistry.  Cornstarch forms long molecules which can move in water.  When they are pulled quickly, the molecules snag up on each other and get tangled, making the solution seem more like a strong solid.  When they are pulled slowly, however, they can slide past each other like spaghetti.  In the youtube video, the cornstarch is vibrated rapidly and harmonically, bringing out the Dilatant properties.

Non-Newtonian!

Non-Newtonian!

Illusions, Michael – tricks are something whores do for money… or candy.

-after reading this post about the relationship between what your eyes see and how your mind interprets it, your head may collapse and theres nothing in it, and you will ask yourself, where is your mind?  ok ok it had to be done…

much of this post was derived from a really cool article i had to read for a class about image processing in medical devices.  the article is called “The Medawar Lecture 2001 Knowledge for Vision: Vision for Knowledge” and was presented by Richard L. Gregory and published in The Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society.  it can be found here

one thing that i think is really interesting is how things evolved into existence.  of course most the time we don’t really know how things came from point A to B, but we can make pretty good guesses.  for example, we have a rough idea of how eyes evolved.  first of all, it would be really helpful for an organism to be able to know, for example, if it was in the light or the shade.  probably the first “eye” was just a serious of receptors on the skin of some animal that could sense either light or dark.  of course the skin does a lot of other things, so its not really efficient to have a bunch of sensitive receptors all over, so to increase the space efficiency of the eye, perhaps these receptors began to form shallow pits to increase the surface area without taking up the whole skin layer.  now maybe these little pits collected lots of junk, so some clear surface was made to allow light to pass but to keep junk out.  maybe these surfaces worked better if they were shaped like lenses to focus more light into these pits.  now these pits could become very deep with very small openings – like a camera aperature.  just like you may remember from high school physics or camera aperatures, really small openings and lenses cause the image to get inverted (see picture below).

lens inversion - the image appears upside down after traveling through a lens

lens inversion - the image appears upside down after traveling through a lens

so, all of a sudden, our brain that has become used to seeing things right side up now sees it upside down, but also left is on the right and vice versa.  something needed to be done – either our brain needed to receive an inverted signal from the eyes, or the brain needed to learn to coordinate all of its movements upside down.  it turns out that inverting the image for the brain is pretty easy, it just requires a little cross over of nerves (called the optic chiasm) and doing this is much easier than reversing all the nerves to the muscles etc.

optic chiasm

optic chiasm

interestingly, we can track the evolution of our eye by the distance from the center.  at the very edge of our vision, we can barely see color or shape, but we can see really good with black and white (due to high concentration of rods – dont worry about it) and we can tell movement, but not the specific direction of movement.  in the center of our vision, we can see really well with color and shape and specific movement directions (due to high concentration of cones) but interestingly we have worse night vision in the center of our vision.  it seems that night vision is more “primitive” and the center of our vision has selected away from that trait in favor of better day time vision.

irrefutable proof of evolution

irrefutable proof of evolution

many scientists think that one reason that brains became so developed was due to the quality of images produced by the eye.  while it was nice to know you were very close to something that might be food or might be dangerous, vision wasnt that helpful unless it could help you get a meal or help you get away safely.  thinking on this level involves remembering what danger or food looks like, recognizing it when you see it, understanding what consequences  follow food or danger in the near future and finally planning a course of action.  hence the brain, and hence cognition.  soon to follow in the history of brain adaptation  are complexities like socialization, tool-making etc.

and vision led to other complexities like gurl

and vision led to other complexities like gurl

another cool thing about our eyes – the cones towards the center that give us our color vision come in three types: red green and blue (trichromatic).  some people have genetic defects that do not allow them to see red or green; we call this colorblindness.  a very few people in the world have a genetic trait that gives them four types of cones (tetrachromatic).  normal trichromatic vision allows us to see maybe 10 million colors, but people with tetrachromatic vision can see perhaps 100 million or even a billion different colors.  some scientists say that the difference between having normal vision and this extra color perception is like the difference between a regular TV and an HDTV.  how sweet would that be to have ultra-high definition vision!

they dont make a 10million box yet

they dont make a 10million box yet

another cool eye trick i read about once involved putting glasses on different people that made everything appear upside down.  these people were never allowed to remove the glasses during the course of the experiment and so they would stumble around all day because their brain was really confused.  but after a few weeks they would wake up and everything would seem right side up.  their brain had learned how to see inverted.  if they took the glasses off, everything would look upside down again, however they were able to regain normal vision very quickly – their brain had learned how to adjust to being upside down and right side up.

but of course the image we see with our eyes is not always the image we see in our brain.  over the years we have picked up a few little tricks to help us process things faster, or in other cases make things really confusing.

  • exhibit A: hollow vs convex.   one of those faces is protruding from the surface while the other is molded into the surface, yet it still looks like it sticks out.  our brain has learned to recognize faces, and we know faces stick out, not recess in to the skull, so we “believe” a hollow face is really convex.  similarly, it can be nearly impossible to distinguish the protruding spheres from the recessed spheres.

    hollow face illusion

    hollow face illusion

  • exhibit B: the Ames room.  this one blows my mind.  the room pictured below does not contain one identical twin who is a midget and another who is a cave beast.  instead, the scales of the room have been altered so that they appear normal when viewed at the correct angle, creating an illusion that whatever is inside the room is out of proportion
ames illusion

ames illusion

ames illusion explanation

ames illusion explanation

  • exhibit C: motion illusions. these are not actually moving snakes. i think this one has to do with poor color vision out of the periphery but i dunno?
snake illusion

snake illusion

  • exhibit D: Kanisza Triangle.  When you look at this shape, it seems like there are twos triangle there, but there arent any triangles.  our brain has all of the evidence to believe there should be triangles – the lines necessary to make a triangle match up perfectly in the circles missing a slice as well as the A frames, but assuredly, they are not there.
Kanisza Triangle

Kanisza Triangle

  • and finally exhibit E: Neglect Illusions.  these three images are complete on the left but obviously not on the right, yet we know what each one of those images is supposed to be despite their faults.  our brain is able to put together the visual pieces of an incomplete puzzle.  some people with brain damage to the part of their brain that assembles these pictures would not be able to identify the images on the right even though they are very nearly complete.
Illusion of Neglect

Illusion of Neglect

Hagfish are Gross!

since i seem to have a strange prediliction for writing about animals, i would like to continue on with probably the ugliest and weirdest creature on God’s green earth… im talkin about the hagfish, people.

hagfish in a knot

hagfish in a knot

ugly hagfish face

ugly hagfish face

  1. the hagfish secretes a small amount of very dense, balled up protein when “grabbed” or startled.  tiny amounts of this protein are secreted through the skin, but can create up to 20 liters of slime nearly instantaneously as it reacts with sea water.  it seems that the balled up proteins are REALLY attracted to water molecules, and once those bad boys get together they make a jello party.  this slime can completely trap the predator attacking the hagfish and suffocate it by clogging its gills… which sets up the next crazy point.
  2. hagfish have learned to escape their own slime by tying themselves into an ordinary overhand knot, and then slipping through their own knot to free themselves.
  3. hagfish also have learned to use their slime for other purposes.  in particular, hagfish are well known in cape cod for ruining fish hauls from trawlers.  hagfish will prey on fish captured in nets, however they dont have jaws or sharp teeth to cut into the tough fish scales.  instead, they have learned to swim into the mouth of captured fish, eating its way out through the entire intestinal tract and finally exiting where… well, where things exit the body.  so sometimes fishermen will pull up a haul with sevearal fish that are nothing but skin and bones.  gross!

    finally, here is a cool video of hagfish slime.  remember, a hagfish can make up to 20 liters of this stuff almost instantaneously! nature is crunk!