Wednesday, August 29, 2007

An awesome birthday, and I'm still a geek

Wow. No, not *my* birthday. My friend S. turned 40, and astonishingly cool personages that she and her husband K. are, to celebrate, they rented out Passim last night and booked a private concert. This guy played. He is amazing. Zowie. That's some guitar, there--he sounds live like there are about three guitars going, but it's just him.

Oh? you ask, where is the neuroscience in this post? Other than yes, I did express regret in person at the party/concert to other people who've been subjected to the endless neuroscience raving? (Speaking of which... um... sorry about that, everybody at Javaroom tonight. Hope I didn't scare Rebecca off.) Fret not! When I got home from the concert/party/thing, I caught an episode of Eureka, and there was a whole subplot about people suddenly & mysteriously getting silly & stupid. Boy, is it annoying when random neuro gets tossed into something. I suspect the show would bug me more often if I were a physicist.

I was going to go into this whole ridiculous explanation of what GABA does and why what happened in the episode made almost no sense, but upon re-reading, it's too absurdly geeky even for me. (The show was correct that bicuculine is an antagonist for one of the GABA receptor subtypes, but not about much else.) I don't wish to assume that anybody a) watches the damn show, or b) really gives a crap what the specific scientific inaccuracies are. It's fiction, Weasel; get over it.

(Weasel quietly gnashes teeth in corner)

More fun and games coming! It is nearly September, and all kinds of things are starting up. The new season at ART begins on Friday with an opera, which I'm going to - yay! I'm taking the kids to see the performance event co-hosted by Amanda Palmer at ART, too. Such a busy house of weasel we are.

Next courses for me will be molecular & cell biology, which I'm looking forward to (I <3 molecules!), and a required writing course. I'm going to be working with some kids at the coop on neuroscience, drawing mainly from this site, which is amazing, plus a bunch of things from what I learned this summer. Yes, I will be careful not to frighten the children. I will. Really. I'll be singing a song at the coop's coffeehouse in a couple of weeks. And, well, that's about all there is to report.

How're things your way?

Monday, August 27, 2007

When in doubt, ask

I got my grade! I got my grade!

Official online posting is on the 29th, but as you probably noticed I was overwrought. So I emailed the teaching fellow.

And I got 107.5 points out of 117 on the final exam, and an A for my final grade.

(Crazed weasel now spends rest of afternoon dancing around the house.)

Oldest kid says, "Mom, you do realize that everyone except you knew you would get an A, right?" Ah, but only I know how shaky my knowledge of the auditory system really is. And how terrified I was that I had somehow fundamentally misunderstood a whole slew of questions. Apparently the only stuff I got wrong is the stuff that is burning in memory as "oh, god, how could I not know that...shoot me, someone..."

Good heavens, there are still days where I wake up, mentally run through the agonists and antagonists for the four neurotransmitters (two subtypes each) we covered, and I *still* get stuck.

But...gee. And Alberto Gonzalez resigning, too. Today is a good day.

Cheers, all!

Friday, August 24, 2007

When geeks go out

No, I *still* don't have my grade yet. Put me out of misery, already, dude! Aargh!! I know it's either a B or an A; and yes, I will certainly be posting what it is when I know, in addition to calling my family and all sorts of other scandalous behavior. The trouble is that the scores will be plotted and then curved, such that about half the class gets a B, a fourth gets an A, and a fourth gets a C. Typically, this puts the cutoff...oh, god, nobody cares about this; enough already.

Thanks for the GRE result congrats, you guys - yuh, I'm a smahty-pants - large grin. Most of you are, too - yes, you, Mel, and you, too, Jena and Ruth and Tattoo Queen and Nicole and Rosana and on and on - I mean, really, this is not a coincidence.

The kiddos and I went into Harvard Square yesterday and the parking gods smiled upon us: on-street parking spot right near Church Street. Awesome! Grumpy teenager, eager middle child, and youngest and I headed into Black Ink, which is...just way fun. Something for everyone, provided the "everyone" involved is fairly geeky and as charmed as I am by such things as wrapping paper with 19th century human anatomy engravings printed on it. There was a birthday shopping to do. Also I haven't been in there in a while. Everyone found something fabulous, of course, no small thing considering how different we are: Japanese notepaper with little cartoon tofu cubes, an iron filing & magnet thing (where you put iron filings onto a face and make hairy eyebrows and stuff), oo it was terrific. I made a quick stop in the Coop to get my biology textbook, because it's just impossible to find the correct bundle of crap I need with it at a reasonable price online. New edition (2005) of 7+ pound book, student guide, CD with more stuff, online access codes, yadda yadda - feh. It does help with upper arm toning and strengthening.

We also went to the Mendon Drive-in. Youngest has been wanting to go for weeks. He'd been thinking, oo Underdog for the third time! (um, Underdog is okay, but once is definitely enough) but we managed to get consensus on Hairspray. Which was great! Whee! More car dancing! Highly recommended, and not just for Travolta in drag.

Now, there should be an olfactory system discussion here. It's a cool system, not least because it's poorly understood--the direct pathway straight into the brain is pretty interesting. I have some affection for it because olfactory bulbs are among the few gross anatomical features of the brain that I can reliably identify. According to my textbook, it's not certain (that I can tell) what the composition of the cytosol is for those receptor cells--"there must be a high concentration of Cl- ions because chloride depolarizes them" - not something anyone's gotten around to checking? well, geez, okay. if there's already a lot of internal chloride, then I wonder what the effect of GABA is on the system? if those neurons are even GABAergic? 'cause the type A receptor protein is a direct chloride valium acts to increase chloride influx does it do anything odd to your sense of smell, either making it more or less acute? brain now freezes as I contemplate what an inhibitory neurotransmitter does in a rapidly habituating system... but that's not one of the ones that gets released diffusely, I don't think, so maybe it doesn't do ANYTHING...erk. Ack. Gahhhh.

I miss my course. Sniff. (No pun intended. Really.)

I hate not knowing everything.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Still scary after all these years

No, I *still* don't have my grade yet. I keep checking. Then I check again. Sigh.

Well, apart from reading the chapters in the neuroscience book that we didn't cover in the course, which is FUN! oh, yes! I mentioned that I'd signed up to take the GRE. This is a requirement for applying to grad school. Today was test day! OH, the fun.

I hadn't taken a standardized test in, oh, twenty-seven years or so, so I figured I'd just do this one cold, to see how it went, and then when it's actually close to when I'll be applying to grad school, take it for real and prepare and all that.

The computer version of the test scores it RIGHT THEN, right when you're all done (unlike some neuroscience final exams we could mention), so I already have my scores for the verbal part and the math part. The writing takes a couple of weeks, I guess. Anyhow, I did very well, to my amazement. It was pretty hard, and I began to despair on the math sections ("oh, god, no, not more proportions of different populations! argh!"), to the point where I was relieved when I just had verbal sections (so restful). I got: verbal 800; quantitative 710. Well. I guess I won't take it again, then.

Brief but fervent happy dance.

No, I didn't know what the scale was, either. It is (I checked when I got home) the same 200-800 scale we know and love from the SAT way back when we were folks who took SATs. So, go, me! Yay!


Hey, I went to knitting tonight! Apologies to Nicole and Rosanna for going a little too far into reminiscing about calculus class and logs and why IS it that the area under a hyperbola can be see, I'm still doing it. Good grief. I still need to work on that "appropriate conversation" thing. Thanks for bearing with me, you guys. I'm trying, I'm trying. Sigh.

Ruth and Rosanna - yup, amblyopia is related. What the neurons do is pretty interesting, and correction can be in a whole range of things depending on how far out of kilter things are, and age of child, and all sorts of stuff. So, no, the exercises were not a bad thing; there is a range for critical period; and the worst case scenario here is that depth perception is not so good. Mine isn't, actually - I didn't get glasses until I was 19, and never developed depth perception for distances greater than about three feet. Made the seventh grade science lab on the topic kind of interesting - my lab partner thought I was joking. I can sort of fuse the images for distance if I really concentrate, but it doesn't come naturally.

Mel - okay, olfactory coming. And I fully understand why.

Onward we go.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Still waiting; film at eleven

No, I don't have my grade yet. Sigh, sigh, sigh.

I have, however, entered a bizarro mode in which all things become reasons to bring up neuroscience. I went to brunch Saturday (thanks, Double Helix! hi, folks!), and I actually said "lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus" in conversation. I think I've crossed some sort of line, here.

It wasn't totally out of the blue, at least. One of the lovely knitters there mentioned strabismus and wondered what treatment would accomplish and why, and for the second time in two weeks, I launched into the Crazed Weasel Strabismus Summary.

What? You missed it? Never fear; you knew I'd tell you, didn't you? (I can't tell if you skip ahead from my tracking software, by the way. Just sayin'.)

Strabismus is that condition you see from time to time where both eyes do not look in the same direction. When I was a younger and smaller weasel, this did not often get corrected until a child was older. Nowadays, corrective action (often surgery) is recommended as soon as possible. Why? Well, here's why! The neurons that carry the signals for the right and left visual fields synapse on the lateral geniculate nucleus in a big mosh pit at first. As a small person grows, input from the eyes reinforces the physical connections for the two visual fields and non-reinforced connections go away (this is called Hebbian synapsing), and the normal result by the end of the critical period of development is neatly alternating bunches of synapses for left, right, left, right (etc.), which the rest of the brain keeps sorted neatly. The differences between the two fields give you depth perception. If the LGN only gets consistent reinforced input from one eye, by the end of the critical period, the neurons for that eye take up all the available physical space for synapsing on the LGN, and there isn't any room any more for anything from the other eye to go if it should be corrected later. So the sooner this condition gets fixed, the better. Critical period for this in humans ends about age 10.

Aren't you glad you asked? Wait - you didn't ask, did you? Oh, well.

I told the saleslady at the toy store about motor coordination in the cerebellum, too.

Yes, the children are thinking of prohibiting me from speaking when we are out in public.

On the topic of tiny clothes sizes that fit me: I was getting really grumpy about what the hell was going on, so I dug up a pair of pants I used to wear in about 1987. They are a 1987 version of size 8. I was in a very thin phase then. No, you will never see a picture of me in the pants; a brief perusal of fashion of the era will illustrate why. I will just say, "poofy through the legs, narrow at the waist and ankles;" for some reason the 80's brought us not only cocaine and Pee Wee Herman but clown pants for everyone. I can get them on, and even fasten them, but they are smaller than the size 4 jeans I bought this week and the size 4 Ann Taylor skirts I bought, too.

Just so you know, I'm not getting preposterously skinny; the clothes are getting preposterously large.

'Til next time, all. Here's some film (another fan-produced anime music video):

Friday, August 17, 2007

Some silly cheer

Found this via Kat - interesting (to me) that I come out as INTJ on both this one and the Harry Potter test, on which I'm apparently Snape (which does not surprise my children).
Click to view my Personality Profile page
According to the more in-depth personality description, "They expect perfection from themselves as well as others and are comfortable with the leadership of another so long as they are competent." Geez, is that ever me...

And this is an acoustic cover of REM's "The End of the World" done by Great Big Sea. Yes, it's something that would not be considered metal of any kind! Zowie! For some reason I find this song cheerful. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Slightly weird

No, I don't have my grade back yet. Sigh. Maybe next week. Sigh, sigh, sigh. I did have a very nice discussion with an advisor at Harvard Extension - very helpful, huzzah, saving me from myself (which is a good thing - yes, probably adding the graduate seminar in neuropsych isn't a good idea); she thinks I'm "one of those" who is probably getting an A and just obsessing because I can't stand to not know EVERYTHING. I am in fact obsessing for aforementioned reason, but I also really think I'm borderline on the A/B dividing line. The suspense, oh how it kills me. Please, please, please finish grading soon, guys. The worry isn't false modesty, folks. I did the math, and I'm pretty borderline, but it's possible to pull this off, based on what I recall of the questions and what I gave as answers.

Did I mention that I'm a little weird?

I took middle child and youngest to Old Navy this evening to try and find some jeans that fit me and middle, and perhaps some underwear that fits littlest. All three of these are somewhat challenging tasks. We succeeded, but it was disorienting.

I am now officially freaked out by Old Navy's new sizing that they sort of sneaked in there, that I've read about on other blogs. Because, dudes, I'm wearing size 4 long now. Now I have no real objection to being in better shape; I feel good, the reduced weight helps my knees not hurt, and I save money on wine because it only takes one glass to pretty much do me in. And, yeah, 23 pounds or so will drop at least a size, but ... this is ridiculous.

One thing I'm noticing is that although I'm not consciously trying to, I am drifting toward re-creating what I was physically when I met dh. Hair-do, body shape, etc. I have no idea what my subconscious has planned for me. I'm mostly grateful that the cognitive impairment is fading, or at least in remission. It's probably some level of "okay, back to the starting point, maybe we can re-wind and have a do-over."

I got to Javaroom to see people last night! Yay! So hi! I worked on the endless scarf project, still going strong - I just haven't been knitting much at all. A design submittal package came in today, so I don't know, maybe I'll do something. I'm not too optimistic about how I'll do with a firm publication deadline at the moment, owing to being basically weird, still, but we'll see.

Oh, also, the hard drive I have isn't really wrong for my laptop; it's going to be fine. And I discovered Harvard Tech Support will not allow a person to order a hard drive to install herself; they insisted (!) on doing the job for me. Yeah, right, like I'm going to turn over my poor hosed little hard drive to a perfect stranger? In its weakened condition?? I don't think so. I've fixed everything on this little munchkin myself (apart from replacing the motherboard), and I'm not about to let a random dude mess around with it. Especially when I don't think he's even cute.

If it had been the other guy, with the mohawk he's growing out and the pirate earring, then maybe we'd be talkin'...

Just a random, cheering thought: Karl Rove is resigning.

and more Linkin Park (aren't I annoying with this??):

and here's some Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, if you're interested.

And yes, I hope my camera doohickey works again, soon, too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Final exam is DONE. I have had some REST. I have had some BEER. Not in that order. I think I did well; it remains to be seen whether it was well enough to get an A in the course. Sigh. I did check a bunch of things right afterwards that I'd been a little unsure about, and most of them, I got right. I was incorrect on whether it's a Ia sensory afferent or a Ib sensory afferent in the myotatic reflex (it's Ia, dammit); I have no idea what the hell the particular mechanical mapping strategies are in the ear for different sound frequencies, though I do know what for a 15000 Hz signal it would NOT be; and I mixed up the functions of the pontine and medullary reticular formations. At least I think I did (that one was a mental coin toss). So that's six points off at least, out of around 110. I maight have lost one or two on the full diagram of the ventral auditory pathway, because I forgot to specify the auditory nerve (duh) and which lemniscus (though I did put "lemniscus here" in the correct place).

Anyway, the stuff wrong looms rather large in my mind at the moment, but I'm also extremely pleased that on almost all the questions where I took an uncertain stab, I was right (proprioceptors! dopamine and norepinephrine! deep cerebellar nuclei! Yeah!). ALSO very pleased that this time, no deviously sneaky questions like on the midterm--much more straightforward.

Our final lecture last week went over emotional systems (among other things, like, oh, the entire autonomic nervous system - hard core, this has been). Anyway, the professor talked about the effects of drugs - the prescription kind and the illegal kind. Considering how calm he usually is, what he had to say about cocaine was profoundly angry; he approaches everything from a personal perspective in lecture - that's one of the wonderful things about the course - but this was different. He wasn't specific, but he clearly watched someone wreck themselves.

Cocaine was one the things about the 80's that truly sucked. It was all over the place. Brilliant, talented people destroyed their lives with it. Moronic assholes did, too, and did so under the mistaken impression that the cocaine made them brilliant and talented. It got old. I once had a bizarre argument in a restaurant with an actor friend, who was high at the time, in which I insisted that yes, cocaine does damage, and he insisted oh no it doesn't ("Cocaine had nothing to do with Len Bias' death!"); he concluded loudly and bitterly that I must have some psychological problem with people doing cocaine, and that must be why I was saying what I was saying.

Thank god all that shit is over with; I suppose we now have heroin instead. At least this time around, the mainstream media don't seem to be gushing over how cool it all is, which is something.

Off soapbox now. Hey, I have time to knit again!

I'll see everyone who's there at Javaroom Wednesday!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Study, study, study

Quick one just to say hi, no I haven't dropped off the planet (at least not that I've noticed) - neurobiology finished up with the last two lectures this week and I have the final exam on it all at 6:15 on Monday night. Gulp.

Lectures were both, as ever, detailed, engaging, and really dense with information. Monday was the whole visual system, and Wednesday we did the autonomic nervous system. Now that we're all experts (cough, cough) on neurotransmitter action, the information that the sympathetic nervous system's postganglionic transmitter is norepinephrine and the parasympathetic system's is acetylcholine is supposed to generate much "aha"-ness and understanding of all sorts of drug interactions and such. Ahem. Personally, I'm just pleased I remember what the hell any of them are. Synthesizing the pieces of information is just past the limit of what I can do right now. But I'm getting there.

Monday feels like a month ago, and Wednesday feels like a week ago. But it was all this week. We gave the professor a round of applause at the end, much deserved. And then shook hands and quietly went off to have our own private nervous breakdowns over how much fricking material we need to be in command of.

The lectures are on streaming video, thank god, so I can watch the professor explain things as many times as I like. At the moment I've paused the motor system lecture, because I simply MUST share with you all the entertaining etymological tidbit I found.

Which is: (background first) Muscle cells have bits called sarcolemma (the equivalent of the plasma membrane we all know and love in neurons), sarcoplasmic reticulum, sarcomere - and I really really need to understand the words generally or I'm screwed. So I looked up what the hell the "sarco-" part means. Turns out it's Greek for "flesh." AND - this is the cool thing - a sarcophagus is called that because to the Greeks and Romans, it was indeed a "flesh-swallower," ("sarco-" = flesh, "-phagus" = swallow) because it was made of limestone, and the limestone reacted with the flesh of the dead body placed inside it. Isn't that amazing? Who knew?

Okay, back to the lecture and the ever-so-patient explanations of five hundred thousand very simple things that make perfect sense only I just can't seem to hold all five hundred thousand in my head at once just yet. I keep feeling like, well HE knows all this like the back of his hand; I should, too.

See you after the exam!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Think, think, think. (This is my thinking spot.)

First things first: thank you, Double Helix, for the warm welcome to a lovely brunch. Some of the cool kids (read: not me) who're already cavorting Ravelers got together for brunch in Brighton this morning, and S. was kind enough to post "come hither" info on her blog, so I, um, assumed that meant me, too. Ahem. Thanks, ladies. It was fun. I even did some knitting, AND put the Charlotte's Web shawl back onto the needle from whence it had mostly fallen.

And thank you so much for the further explanation, Lucia--okay, so it's the whole recovered memory thing you're primarily talking about. Most heartily agreed, and debunked eloquently by wiser heads than mine. The hypnosis part is what gets me--I know that there are memories the hippocampus doesn't have an organized way to retrieve (and so, can't), and see no reason to believe that something that has been irretrievable for this reason can be intentionally recalled by any means at all.

Thank you, Lynne and Jena - for lots.

The limping but still functioning laptop is manifesting a new stage of its machine dementia: it no longer recognizes the photo doohickey. Which is really annoying. Must bring laptop to tech wizard dudes this week. Once I get something to work, I have the last shots of the baby birds before all flew off to sing in other trees.

I brought littlest to see the Transformers movie tonight, while oldest was at a gathering of anime-lovin' teenagers at her friend's house. Transformers is--well, silly. But there's a Linkin Park song for the final credits, so it's all good. Embarassing Moms R Us - crazed weasel doing some chair dancing in the movie theater, there. (Oh? What Linkin Park, you ask? same one as before; Youtube to the rescue, again:)

Let mercy come.

I also apparently embarassed my oldest child when she and her compatriots took a long time to be ready to leave, and the parents were left to talk amongst themselves, and, well, I've been memorizing the catecholamine synthesis sequence today, and I mostly have it nailed, and I find it rather interesting and exciting, frankly, in the car, I mentioned that I'd talked about it, and child groans. "Oh my god. You didn't." (yes, I did) "So that's why they were all giving me such funny looks. (sigh)" Oh, the things our children suffer. Then we got into a disagreement about population density. Then I started laughing, because really, if you're arguing with your teenager about population density, things are probably okay, on the whole.

Hey, speaking of the catecholamine synthesis sequence! It is so cool! First you have tyrosine, then an enzyme sticks on an OH (in its incarnation as tyrosine hydroxylase), then (presto!) you get L-dopa, then another enzyme rips off a COOH group (as a decarboxylase), then (presto!) you get dopamine, then another hydroxylase sticks on an OH (of course) and (presto!) you get norepinephrine, then there's somthing methyltransferase that sticks another thingie on and you have (WHOO HOO!) epinephrine. Voila! You can even dance to it. Really!

For some reason I find this interesting. Never fear, gentle reader, the course is almost done. I will need to take more neuro if only to have other people to talk to who don't wish to run screaming from the room.

Oh! Muscle cells and motor neurons! oh! How they work is awesome. There is a compound called troponin that Ca++ sticks to. I keep thinking of Trigorin from The Seagull and imagining little round Ca++ ion children jumping on his legs. This may be unique to me.

Hi! I'm kind of weird! How are you?

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Okay, non-grief content time.

There's this (via farm-witch):
Your Life Path Number is 7

Your purpose in life is to find truth and meaning

You are very spiritual, and you are interested in the mysteries of life.
You are quite analytical and a great thinker. You have many theories and insights.
A life of solitude is perfect for you. You need time to think and do things your way.

In love, you are quite charming. You attract many with your confidence and wit.

While you enjoy being alone, sometimes you take it to an extreme.
You can become too isolated, shutting out loved ones and friends.
Express yourself a little bit more, and you'll be surprised where it takes you!

(I'm not so sure about most of that, but, hey, who am I to argue with Blogthings...)

And there is rock & roll!

And there are the birds. Three have flown. Good journey, little dudes!

Good journey, all. (and thank you, Lynne and Suzanne and Carole; I wait until I can get up again, then I get on with it.)


grief post – please skip if you’re not in the mood; I would.

Lucy holds this football for Charlie Brown, and he knows every time that she’s going to pull it away and he’ll fall flat on his back, but he still runs at it. Every time.

Last night I dreamed that there had been an elaborate kidnapping and that S. was really alive, and that he came back. Even my subconscious found this improbable—the conversations my brain manufactured within itself were, “but it’s been seven months, why didn’t I hear anything?”; sub. hasn’t absorbed that it’s been nine and a half months, and invented a quite ingenious scheme whereby he’d been kidnapped by Chinese organized crime and held for ransom (“but why didn’t I even hear about a ransom?”) and, oh! his company was dealing with the negotiations! and nobody could say anything because they’d kill him otherwise. So his co-worker N. was in the dream, apologetic but relieved that he’d been released at last. By the Chinese kidnappers. Uh-huh.

So I was involved with practicalities, we were at a few events all mixed up together, some sort of gigantic Christmastime picnic and a theatre evening where half the audience also was performing – not an anxiety thing, there, more familiar. There was the odd detail that S. looked kind of grayish, in fact very much like he did at his wake. And he wasn’t talking much. I had a slightly resentful conversation with him, “I was almost ready to stop wearing my wedding ring, you know;” good thing I didn’t; of course I still love you, dear.

“Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds/Or bends with the remover to remove.” That feels like a desperate trap to me sometimes, like now. I’m still locked inside this love, and I can’t seem to get out, and I don’t want to, really, but maybe I’d like to at least leave the cage for a while now and then. How the hell do I get out, anyway?

I thought in the dream, okay, all those people I wrote thank you’s to are going to have to be told, where’s my phone list—and random people were in the dream and I told them, thank you, but it’s okay now, he’s not dead after all, he’s back; kidnapped and held incommunicado for months in China; yeah, weird, huh. Faintly embarrassed about what to do with memorials. Told a few neighbors, and Monique (who wandered by), and started to think about how to tell the kids. Told the grief support center, hey not grieving! He’s really alive! Yeah, similar to that story one of the other kids made up to cope with his dad’s death—but this is real! He really WAS kidnapped!

And then I woke up, certain that I had a whole list of things to do and a marriage to resume.

But he really did die. I checked. The warmth left his body; his eyes were still green, but not lit up any more.

So it’s going in waves, where I build up some strength and then get knocked over again. I know the knocking down is coming when I start to feel pretty good, but it still surprises me.