Thursday, September 26, 2013

My Brain in GIF

My name is Kristopher Hite and this is my brain. I present it here on my website as Tom Paine's Ghost was, once upon a time, conceived up there among the folds. The above animation is a series of images captured by MRI on April 27th, 2013 at Harvard University as part of the Personal Genome Project headed by George Church. I made this GIF using Photoshop and 22 DICOM files given to me by the researchers. If you want to donate your living genome to science you too can have your entire genome sequenced by signing up, passing the informed consent test and coming to Boston for the annual Genomes Environments Traits conference that happens each year around DNA-day April 25th to commemorate the discovery of the double helix. If you want to have your genome sequenced but can not make it to Boston you can still get on the list but I think going to the GET conference expedites the process.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bill Nye Dancing with the Stars! [VIDEO]

I do not generally watch Dancing with the Stars. However Bill Nye the Science Guy is a contestant this season so it seems worth checking out. His debut was criticized by both the judges and the internet. I say keep plugging away Bill! Seeing as you are now on a show with the word "Star" in the title perhaps an homage to the Cosmos is in order.

Carl Sagan has your back...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Word of the day - Bricolage

Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available: "Even the decor is a bricolage, a mix of this and that" (Los Angeles Times).
[French, from bricole, trifle, from Old French, catapult, from Old Italian briccola, of Germanic origin.] [source]

I found this delightful word while bopping around the Wikipedia page for the word "tinker."
An exemplary body of bricolage has come from the mind of the still-active Belgian artist, Panamarenko (example above)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What happened to the Flavr Savr Tomato?

Carl Zimmer recently suggested checking out a newish series from the New York Times called Retro Reports. The video series revisits old news stories that have since faded from the headlines. The digital-short-film format makes it readily accessible and I appreciate seeing the faces of the interviewees.

One of Carl's suggestions is a piece on the defunct Flavr Savr tomato, a timely subject for me as I now work in a plant biology lab using genetic engineering to study epigenetic factors at play during development.  Recently we had a departmental conversation about the controversy surrounding genetically modified crops. With that conversation in mind and after watching this clip I have formed an opinion on initiatives to label genetically modified food.

I am for labeling genetically modified food. Promoting transparency may help us embrace things worth embracing and discard those things that may be harmful to our health. George Church has argued that science ought to be more resilient when faced with ethical dilemmas.  I would like to apply this logic to labeling GMOs. The tool of genetic engineering can be equated with a "hammer." A hammer can be used to build a house or clobber someone over the head. The consequence is not the hammer's fault in either case.

The potential good that may come from genetic modification is overshadowed by the profit motives held by companies like Monsanto that now fuel 95% of the genetically modified crops in production throughout the world. There are under-reported cases like Rainbow Papaya in Hawaii, or Golden Rice where genetic modification has been the hero, not the villain.  It may be naive of me to think that the American public is science-savvy enough to decide for themselves whether a genetically modified plant is beneficial or not. However, I think science could exercise resilience in this case by allowing genetically modified foods to be labeled.  If in the long term some of those foods that are genetically modified prove beneficial to society, then the economy will carry them into wider markets, but if some GM crops prove over time a detriment they will be selected against.    

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bike Lasers!

Emily Brooke has come up with a brilliant product that could save lives by making riding a bicycle more visible to the auto-aucracy. The idea: a front headlight combined with a LASER that projects an image of a bicycle street blaze a few meters in front of the rider. Combine this with inventions like the "invisible bike helmet" and we are on our way to widening the ranks of the urban-cyclist army. Ride on!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Harrison Ford: still a bad ass.

At age 71 Harrison Ford is still shooting first. Grist reports Ford has been threatened with deportation from Indonesia because of his stern questioning of the forestry minister there about illegal logging activity and climate change. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

GMO OMG! ~ a new film from the director of "Dive"

Director Jeremy Seifert is hosted by Josh Zepp to discuss and debate the public furor over genetically modified food crops. A public discussion that needs to happen.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Origins of "Bleeding Heart Liberal"

I was asked today what the definition of a "bleeding heart liberal" is.  I have heard this term referenced thousands of times in political commentary and conversation.  The term can generally understood to mean someone with extreme empathy. It is often used by right-wing political pundits as a disparaging descriptor for a person with unrealistic liberal ideals. But I have never stopped to ponder the etymology of the term.

According to several web-forums and blogs the term was popularized in the 1930's and 40s by a conservative columnist named Francis James Westbrook Pegler.  Pegler was a vehement opponent of the New Deal and Labor Unions. One of his primary targets for political criticism was Eleanor Roosevelt.  The deeper roots of "Bleeding Heart" are said to surround a semi-religious medieval organization called the "Order of the Bleeding Heart" members of which supposedly honored the Virgin Mary and her 'heart pierced with many sorrows.' Though I can not find any solid information about this organization on the internet.

In any case, in the future if I am refered to as a "bleeding heart liberal" I'll take it as a compliment of the highest order. Whenever I hear this term used I automatically think of Jimmy Stewart's character George Bailey in the classic film "It's a Wonderful Life" and I think of my father.   I'll take being compared to the Virgin Mary and Eleanor Roosevelt to a disgraced early 20th century journalist any day.

Cheers to the bleeding-hearts of this world!