Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thinking about flight

This morning's peek at the baby finches. They scrunched down into themselves when I came outside (and glared, as I think you can see); earlier, a couple of them were perched on the edge of the nest and giving their wings an experimental flap or two. It seems Flappers 1 & 2 were mainly trying to keep balance while perched. Female Adult bird fed them all while I watched from inside--she doesn't seem to mind that the babies are nearly as big as her. The babies all stand up and stick out their open beaks and she gets around to giving each of them something.

Neuro is down to the last three lectures, now. We'd been on a good roll, staying current with the syllabus, but we're a little behind again, and for the final lecture we have four chapters of reading assigned and are apparently going to cover (in depth!) emotional systems, mental illness, neuroendocrine interactions, the neural linkage between physical pain and emotional pain, the whole autonomic nervous system--is it me, or are we perhaps not going to get to quite all of this? It's nearly time for us all to flutter off and take the final exam. I'm sorry to see it end. The prof was a bit wistful in lecture, too.

It's a beautiful day out, at last. Some of the tomatoes I planted are ready, and I've eaten my first tomatillo - yum! We also have a couple of small eggplant - I can't remember if what I planted was a dwarf variety, but the little purple things, they are small wee beasties. Youngest child still endlessly amused that there is such a thing as an "egg plant." Hilarity all around.

Growth just happens, whether anyone is paying attention or not. Mostly, I'm not. But now and again, I stop and notice: you flirted with that guy; you are euphoric about molecular structure; the tears aren't daily. The night after I took my midterm was the first good night's sleep I'd had since Sept. 13. Re-learning old things, learning new ones, and ever so tentatively, in the middle of it, perhaps, for a moment, thinking about where I might be going.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Not sure why those words seem to fit right now, but they do. Google also turned up this:
Sufficient Unto The Day

By Percy Bysshe Shelley


Is not to-day enough? Why do I peer
Into the darkness of the day to come?
Is not to-morrow even as yesterday?
And will the day that follows change thy doom?
Few flowers grow upon thy wintry way;
And who waits for thee in that cheerless home
Whence thou hast fled, whither thou must return
Charged with the load that makes thee faint and mourn?


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Loose ends

Let's see - I owe a lot of replies to a lot of you, at this point. So, in no particular order, today's knitting up of loose ends:

Yes, Anna-Karin, the silly house finches are indeed in a flower pot. A flower pot that used to have some lovely trailing orange flowers in it, but alas, the kind friend who was watering while we were away didn't want to disturb the nest, so between that and a solid week of 90F heat, the flowers are toast. But the baby birds are looking like, well, birds, now! Take a look:

Ruth, I think the tattoo will be some sort of curly design across my left upper arm, sort of like a permanent painted-on bracelet. Not as daring as Lorena's ink (hi, Lorena!), and definitely nowhere near as amazing as the Tattoo Queen (hi!), but more along the lines of Lynne's (hi!). It occurs to me that the idea of having a small tasteful tattoo is a little contradictory (if not downright chicken). I got no problem with that.

Lucia mentioned a claim that there's no scientific evidence for repressed memory, in something she'd been reading. I am currently reading In Search of Memory, by Eric Kandel, and nothing I've been studying or reading for fun indicates anything like this. I can guess that based on what little I understand of the molecular biology involved and elementary psychology, it would certainly be possible to sequester a disruptive memory, at least partially, especially if it were very distressing--such an action would tend to be helpful to the organism, by making it possible to proceed with normal functioning, and could be a good workaround for a persistent long-term potentiation. It's a bit of "proving a negative," though - how to demonstrate conclusively something that doesn't happen all the time? I think the most one can say is that it is difficult if not impossible to experimentally replicate repression of memory; it seems clear to me, however, that the clinical literature contains overwhelming evidence that the phenomenon exists. Lucia, what were you reading? I'm reminded of a Scientific American cover article (from June, I think) attempting to argue that some famous 1950's experiments do NOT show what they, er, show (which is that amino acids can spontaneously form from the mix of molecules that represents our best guess as to what the chemical makeup of Things In General was a few billion years ago). The guy in the article said, nuh-uh! The rebuttal said rather mildly, gee there's just no substitute for testing your ideas in the lab.

The Kandel book is AWESOME. But definitely read Harry Potter first.

I am (apparently repressing?) refusing to accept how soon my neuro course will be over with - I said six more lectures? Ha. It's only FOUR! WAHHH! What will I doooooooooo???? sniff. sob. (Actually, what I will do is get to see all you at Javaroom again.) In that time we will finish up with motor systems, then do perception and sensory systems, hearing, vision, and in the last lecture, emotion - neuroendocrine circuits, autonomic nervous system, and intro to emotional systems. And yes, Double Helix, we are blowing through an enormous amount of material. I pulled out a somewhat out of date medical board exam prep book for neuroanatomy, and we've pretty much done all of it. (Hey, maybe my swirly tattoo can be a DNA strand!) I know my mind freezes up somewhere in the second hour of lecture, and it seems to happen to the rest of the class, too. I watched the online video of Wed.'s class, and NOBODY could answer the professor's questions by the end - even though he'd just told us something! he asked about ten minutes later, okay so where does that neuron go? And we were all just blank. And then started guessing. Wildly. And were all wrong (I think between us, we guessed every other part of the paleocortex EXCEPT the correct one). Wow, it was painful to watch.

Thanks for the music tip, Mel. Kat, I've been craving AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" in the worst way - it's absurd! Yup, Lucia, it's usually WBCN for me, too, mostly because the smaller car doesn't have a cd player. Thanks, Nicole, I'm sure the final won't be as confusing as the midterm - now I know what flavor of deviousness the professor uses, mwahaha.

Hi! to Carole, and to Erica (good luck with the new format, there), and wave to berlinbat, and more large hellos to farm-witch and Carla, and family members and friends, too - you know who you are (yes, you, and you, and you, too).

Here endeth my ridiculously long post (or as wonderful much-missed Jena would say, ricoculous). (Hi, Jena!) Thanks for stopping by, and have a lovely end of your weekend, all.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


The fledglings are beginning to overflow their little nest. At least two of them now open their eyes and are staring when I climb onto the bench to take a peek. Again, male and female adults v. annoyed with me. They fluttered and swooped and sat in a nearby tree and cheeped at me most disapprovingly. (hey, birds? Not a predator!) It’s amazing how fast the little ones are growing.

I did pretty well on the midterm – missed an A by one point! Argh! Oh, the teeth-gnashing! Ah, well. Mostly down to not having figured out what particular variety of professorial “gotcha” game we were playing: several questions had a somewhat outlandish but sort of true option as the correct answer. It’s given the class something to commiserate over, certainly. (Also a number of us did the math on number 17 correctly, thank you, unlike the teaching assistant who did the calculations for the answer key. Ahem.) (ya doesn’t wanna mess with a weasel over math) Pretty darn good, on the whole. There are some things (THREE OF THEM) I don’t know as well as I ought to, and that will be remedied as we hurtle toward the final.

Which approaches! Holy moly! The course only has six more lectures to go! Oh, no! What will I do without neurobiology?!?! Sob! The second half of the course is on systems and functionality, and is chock full o’ stuff, but not conceptually difficult in the way understanding membrane potential was. Is. Suzanne, I don’t think we’re really going to cover consciousness but it did get a mention for about ten minutes yesterday. I am biting my tongue and not posting on the class discussion board all about Hegel and Tolstoy and their philosophical structure for how consciousness comes about.

But I can post it here, can’t I? Mwahhaha!

Hegel and Tolstoy use the same basic framework. Yes, that Tolstoy. His version is easier to follow, because he decides to talk about two separate people, whereas Hegel keeps going on about the consciousness of the self-consciousness and about four layers deep, you kinda lose him. Imagine that I am waving my hands as I try to run through this, pantomiming a zig-zag. It will amuse you.
The Crazed Weasel Explains the Nature of Consciousness (or as much of it as she can remember) According to Tolstoy and Hegel
Step 1: Servant does thing. (Hegel’s first moment of dialectic) (each step is a Hegelian “moment”)
Step 2: Master tells servant to do thing (H’s 2nd)
Step 3: Servant notices that there is a separate person saying “do thing!” Hm!
Step 4: Master notices that servant is looking at him – hey, what’s he lookin’ at? Oh, yeah! It’s ....me!!
Step 5: Servant realizes that master is seeing that servant is looking at master, that servant’s existence is acknowledged by the master, and ... hey, servant realizes he exists!
Now, isn’t that fun? Now you, too, can speak of the movement through the moments of the Hegelian dialectic. Be sure not to leave out the hand-waving. (Tolstoy rather sneakily makes the point that the servant is the one who achieves the highest level of awareness, and also that the master gets nowhere without the servant.) It can go on from here, but the fun has to stop somewhere.

Oh, I know you’re all thinking, “but, Liz, how is that relevant to neuroscience?” Well, I’ll tell you! (everything is relevant to neuroscience!) There are two basic sensory-motor systems: cortical and um... wait...oh, here it is! Cortical and reticular formation. “It is hypothesized that the mutual reflection between these two systems may give rise to consciousness,” my notes say. Now, wouldn’t you, too, be all “oh gee! That sounds so familiar”?? Of course you would.

Sometimes it gets a little crowded in my head.

Little teeny boo-boo, um, thing: I still have a hosed hard drive, because....I ordered the wrong size replacement hard drive. When I went to install it, I discovered the tragic wrongness. I was stunned, but am heartened by access to Harvard Tech Support, and will haul my trusty (hosed) laptop in and order a correct new drive with a university discount and everything and then will rapidly be depolarized—oops, no, that’s a neuron in the beginning of an action potential. I will be rapidly good to go. That’s what I meant. Fledged and ready to fly, even.

Which isn’t at all a bad thing.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Just a small bit, mind you, but...sheesh. My SP10 spoilee, Anna-Karin (hi, Anna-Karin!) and I had an email exchange last night about neuro and how cool and hey she was just doing a project on myasthenia gravis and immune system pieces sticking to neurotransmitter receptors, and I was like oh wow that would screw things up, and then I did some more reading for class 'cause we're doing motor systems (all of them! this week! for Wednesday!), and, well...

Class was fun last night. Honestly, though, there are huge amounts of stuff to learn about every single lecture topic--last night was the cellular mechanisms for learning and memory. I mean, jeez, you could spend YEARS on just that. We get our exams back Wed. Gulp. I had a horrible dream that I scored about 40% on it. Small happy bit: professor actually pleased with me for once, for asking intelligent question. Yay.

Chez Weasel's finch nursery is going along fine. See?

They're still quite fluffy, but are growing real feathers, which you can just about see in the picture. Teeny tiny feathers! Whee! Mother bird continues to have help from at least one other female, and the modus operandi is still apparently sit on nest at night, leave during the day to find food (or whatever), and get mad at human who keeps nosing around. There's usually some bird on the nest for part of the day, but I always thought birds stayed on their nests constantly, and apparently this is not the case. They just sit there some of the time. And I guess rely on ambient temperatures to keep the babies warm enough. Tweet! Tweet!

'Til next time, all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I think I did pretty well on the midterm. I went blank on something really easy - areas of the spine, for heavens' sake! (kicks self in frustration) (won't forget that ever again, at least: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral) (I couldn't think of the word "cervical") (AARGH!) - and there are one or two other things I messed up, but hopefully good enough to still be in "A" range. I did not expect to blow it on the easy part. Sigh.

I am also needing to listen to loud music this week - The Killers, some Slayer I think, ancient AC/DC ("Back in Black," of course). For a person who normally listens to stuff like Mozart and, well, Enya, this is a bit surprising. Something about loud guitars, and how hard I've been working, and the visceral emotional readjustment - it just all goes together, somehow.

Love the loud on the chorus for this one (Linkin Park) (kind of an annoying video--I just listen on the radio, really):

I have become one of those annoying drivers listening to loud music with the windows open. Good grief.

The house finches have been having guests come look at the baby birds. It's fun to watch. The female sits on the nest, the male flits over and perches on the crosswire, then a couple of other females fly over and perch on the edge ("tweet, tweet, oh they look just like you, Diane.").
Then they all glare at me, fly over to the telephone wire, and chirp very angrily for a while. Another male joins them. More angry chirping. ("tweet, what we should do, guys, is PUFF UP OUR FEATHERS! tweet! yeah! that'll show her!") Then they all puff up their feathers and glare at me some more.

Here are the little guys:

Cute, eh? Fluff balls with beaks.

Have a good day, all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

More Macbeth, neuro, and stuff. A lot more.

I've finally nailed the neurotransmitter receptor subtypes and agonists and antagonists that I need to know (including the delightful tweedledum and tweedledee of Baclofen and Phaclofen) (and I will just guess that we are all pleased the first one isn't called Buclofen). I think I've got a fairly clear idea of the g-protein cascades, apart from a slight fuzziness over exactly what the guanosine triphosphate runs off and plays with. Exam tonight--bring it on. The professor said he expects none of us to get 100% on this thing--alas, them's fightin' words, for at least 25% of the class, I suspect. Some of us have been hearing "but you shouldn't be able to do that!" our entire lives. So I hope the guy in the front row (who reminds me of my high school chem lab partner) and I aren't traumatized if we (gulp) get something wrong.

Now, to continue with Macbeth at the RSC in Stratford-on-Avon: Lady Macbeth is one of those classical roles that is nearly impossible to pull off. She's got this problematic "unsex me now!" speech, and she's so bloodthirsty, that it's really hard for any actress to be both plausible and faithful to the text. This actress (Derbhle Crotty) manages to do it. Another wonderful thing is the relationship Macbeth (Patrick O'Kane) and his Lady get across - the audience can see the attraction between them (at one point I thought they were about to have sex in the middle of the scene), the balancing between frustration with each other and love, the pain of not having kids/heirs when they do want them - so that when Macbeth has his "she should have died hereafter" speech, you really understand that he is grief-stricken. I'd forgotten that speech was in this play, but once the cue line came ("the queen, my lord, is dead."), the actor was sort of bracing himself, and there was one of those weird moments in theatre where you know every word the actor is about to say, and most of the rest of the audience does, too, and the actor knows you all know, and we all entered into a shared savoring of the speech completely separate from the context of the scene. Then we got back to the play. Very odd.

Patrick O'Kane looks physically very powerful (reminded me of a leopard or a panther), and his Macbeth is essentially a formidable predator who's very conscious of his own strength. His cockiness in the final duel with Macduff is a thing of beauty; even after he finds out he's vulnerable, he's also still one hell of a warrior, and at this point in the play, has nothing to lose, so he doesn't give a crap if he's killed. Great, great stuff.

This is what it looked like from the doorway of our rented house at ten pm last Thursday. I never get used to how short the nights are in the summer in the UK.

A more typical view, with sheep (in the village of Loxley) (yes, as in Robin Hood) (and no, no Robin Hood dude in evidence at present, just the sheep):

No, Lorena, I didn't get any yarn. Shocking. It was strange. I was freaked out by the driving. And I had no internet (with which to locate great yarn shops) for most of the trip. I did grocery shopping, and managed to get us to where we were staying and a couple of outings, and that was it (well, I was studying every day, too). We watched tv, which is always fun - Big Brother UK is a summer thing that I've followed for several years now, and the news is a distinct pleasure, as it's real news.

We saw baby swans:

And we hung out in the pedestrian-only town centre in Stratford:

That's extremely cool and fabulous Jill in the foreground, and our various teenaged children behind her. Also random tourists.

More random thoughts: The guy ahead of me in the security line at Heathrow decided to chat me up, which was oddly nice--I felt like part of the human race again. It's hard to put into words, but I've felt very much apart for months and months most of the time.

Lately, I've felt like I'm re-taking ownership of my own body--okay, that sounds really strange, but I spent nearly 14 years married and in a very physical way belonging to my husband, as he belonged to me, so owning myself is new. I like it. I might get a tattoo.

'Til next time...

Monday, July 16, 2007

Notes from the journey

First of all--dudes! my professor does not look like this version of Christian Bale. More like this version of Christian Bale. Sheesh. Y'all are really fun about it, though.

One of the things we did was see Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-on-Avon. I brought the kids, as they were all very interested in going, and after reassuring the ticket office lady that yes, I know the play has lots of murder and mayhem and horribleness, and youngest will definitely hide his eyes for some of the evening, in we all went. Now, this production has warnings posted outside, about it being violent, sexual, and containing some very loud noises. I warned youngest kid, and covered his eyes a few times--for example, the witches scene with Macbeth where they put a noose around his neck, string him up for a while, lower him, and (with the noose and hood still over his head) lift his kilt, and back up to him to force anal sex while one of the other witches whacks him on the ass with a sceptre. Macbeth is freaked out by this. As one might imagine.

The production has some really good ideas. It opens with INCREDIBLY loud banging noises, that made the whole audience jump - yes, visibly - over and over again, then Macbeth comes out in--well, just a kilt, really, and proceeds to murder some women and children pretty horribly. These women then become the three witches. The same performers also appear as various servants throughout the show. This solves several problems, and worked very well indeed. The witches had a reason to be pissed off at Macbeth; their presence is constant so we see why Macbeth would be driven nuts by this. Perhaps most brilliantly, in the "double double toil and trouble" scene, the women set up an actual fire pit (which was scary) and have suitcases with them, and when Macbeth wants their master to speak, the voice of the devil comes from the charred bodies of the women's murdered children, which the women manipulate like puppets (they're baby dolls) via knives they insert into the backs of the dolls. Some child actors provide the babies' voices. While the witches are chanting, "eye of newt" and all that crap, what they're really throwing into the fire is mementos taken from their suitcases of their dead children. It was amazing. It made some of the weirdest-ass stuff in the play really make sense.

Gotta go, but more to come.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

We're baaaaack

Well, then.

We went to England! (Hi, Jena! I have some of that stuff you wanted!) First trip to the UK without dh, which was potentially really, really hard, what with reminders and inlaw visiting and all. It was okay. Partly because I clamped down any intimations of "I-think-I'm-gonna-cry", and partly because the UK just isn't that familiar for me, period. All about the functioning.

I know you're all waiting with bated breath for the latest neurobiology rant, but I will make this a little .... tangential. I only had internet access for the very start and very end of our trip, so what with missing two lectures, I spent a lot of time last night (um, this morning?) watching the lectures online. The professor is really, really, really good. The odd thing is that he looks really, really familiar. It could just be a confluence of generic "Irish guy" face types, like one sees now and then (cough, cough) here in the greater Boston area, but I feel like I know him from somewhere and yet I KNOW I don't.

I watched "The Prestige" on the flight home...a couple hours ago, I guess. One must watch Hugh Jackman, mustn't one? Of course. Well, there I am, watching the Hughster, and the other dude, Christian Bale, well, holy shit, he looks a lot like my neurobiology professor. So I spend the rest of the movie going, whoa, Hugh Jackman in a different fake mustache! Whoa, my neuro professor is pissed off at Hugh Jackman! Whoa, why is Scarlett Johanssen coming on to my neuro professor, and isn't she still in Japan someplace? Hey, Hugh Jackman without a shirt! Hugh Jackman remembering that he's supposed to pretend to have a limp! Hugh Jackman is pretty much the bees' knees, but he's shooting my neuro professor, and that is just not cool. Also any minute now, this 19th century magician guy is gonna say "oligodendrocyte."

I think it's the jet lag.

I have been to England enough times to not be able to donate blood, but until this trip, I never drove there. I always navigated--and got anxious, and dh would get all mad about me not knowing where the hell we were--but the driving part? Nuh-uh. So that was pretty terrifying. No sleep on flight over, customs and immigration, pickup rented car, then BAM onto the M25 and let's try and find our way to Cambridge University, shall we? Oh, let's!

On the wrong side of the road. Did I mention no sleep? In a country that doesn't get the whole "caffeine" thing.

The surprise was that it wasn't so bad. If you've done the westbound merge onto Storrow Drive from Berkeley Street at rush hour, and survived, you're pretty much good to go. UK drivers are not insane. They do not actively seek one's death, unlike drivers in Boston. The roads are quite good. There are signs everywhere (well, at crucial moments sometimes not). I learned to love roundabouts--they mean I don't have to turn right! whoo hoo! I love me them roundabouts! Our car got like a bezillion miles to the gallon, so I never put gas in the car for ten days. It got, like, 445 miles on the one tankful. Europeans have got it all over us on the fuel efficiency, people.

Many stories, and some pictures, to follow. Right now, I'm glad to be home, and also needing to study neurotransmitter receptor types and the neurotransmitter agonists and antagonists--I'm good on acetylcholine, and norepinephrine, but after that I'm kinda toast. Um, also ion channel types and what blocks 'em--okay with the big Na (sodium) (TTX and STX), little Na (neither), big K (TEA, and um cobalt and what was the other one?), but, crap, kinda not so much on the other five K (potassium) types and the Ca (calcium) ones.

Huge class tomorrow, exam Wed. I love this.

See you later, all.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Geeking out, again

This is probably going to get very tiresome for some of you ("going to"?? ha! it already is!), but I am loving my neuro course. Love, love, love it. We seem to be getting a wee bit behind the syllabus, so not all the material from the reading gets covered that same week in lecture (we pick it up in next one, though). So I was all excited about learning more about the mechanism for saltatory conductance down the axon! Wow! How cool! But... we didn't get to it. Sniff, sob. Sigh.

Anyway, this morning's profound excitedness is that I figured out that once I finish the undergrad requirements, I can apply directly to a Ph.D. program. Which would be so damn cool I can barely contain myself. In fact, I can't; my kids have been dealing with Mom and Her Neuroscience Obsession all morning. I'm going to take the GRE in August, just to see how I do--why the heck not. (Is this wayyyy premature or what?)

The geekiness goes on: Massachusetts seems to actually have a budget by the start of the fiscal year, which almost never happens, so the Dept. of Revenue released revenue and assessment estimates for cities and towns. I'm still on the email list for that stuff. It's interesting comparing the data for different communities, and the slight changes year to year in what information gets included. I'm not sure, but I think my town had a fight a few years ago about one of the assessment figures...oh, good god, there really isn't anyone on earth who gives a crap about this, is there?

Um, so, I'm having a pretty geeky day. I'm gearing up to finally swap in my new hard drive. Gulp. I bought a Mac OSX disk set, using my brand new handy dandy student discount, so if it all goes to hell in a handbasket, I can at least boot up from the CD drive.

Let's see if I can think of more geekitude...nope, I think that's all for today. Cheers, all!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Some good, some bad

Well, this sucks. My youngest's best buddies in kindergarten were her sons. Lovely, lovely woman; lovely, lovely children. I last saw her at my husband's wake.

This came to mind. Should've made it for her.

GOOD news: Oldest child's AP exam results are now in. The scale is one to five. She got fives on all three of the tests she took. This is a seriously good thing. I am tremendously proud of my brilliant, brilliant girl. Rock on, kiddo. We shall probably have a celebratory outing to - where else? - a bookstore, kiddo's favoritest place ever. Some things are not so surprising.

The finches left one egg in the nest, and now there are two--this despite a gang of little boys running around the front yard yesterday afternoon having (foam!) sword fights. Didn't faze those finches, nope. They seem to spend the night on the nest, and then leave for most of the day. Interesting. They do seem to be getting on with things. Guess we all do.

'Til later, then.