The Longevity Thesis Book Video

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Internet Book Promotion Video

Whew! It's finally done. It took us about three weeks of planning and arranging when and what to do, but we finally have a video for promoting The Longevity Thesis on line.

I've sent the final file to Gwen for final approval, just to make sure all's well before I post it, but I think for the most part, it's finished.

We spent the better part of today recording the music, and then I merged that audio file with the voice clips we recorded two weeks ago. It's almost midnight, and I've just finished fitting the video images to the sound. This was way more work (and fun) than I ever would have expected.

Here's a picture of us hard at work in my little office:

Many thanks to all my friends for their support and help!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Why Not Have a Cigarette?

Hmm. Besides not smelling too good and giving me an asthma attack, cigarettes are scary. I went to a seminar today on "molecular profiling" of lung cancer and was rather surprised by the statistics. I wrote my thesis on breast cancer, and am currently learning the ropes on brain cancer, but as far as lung was concerned, I figured it was an epithelial cell derived neoplasm, so how different could it be?

I was surprised that while lung cancer caused by smoking is so easily preventable, lung cancer ranked in the top four of the most commonly occurring neoplasms. Of these four, it had an alarmingly low 5-year survival ratio -- only ~18%, while the other three top offenders had ratios of 60-90%. Yeesh. When I went to the website of the Canadian Cancer Society to see why there was such a large discrepancy, it seems that early detection of the disease, allowing early intervention, just didn't seem to be happening, as the symptoms seem to develop slowly.

The take home message: If you're going to get some form of cancer, lung cancer is not a good one to get.

As I browsed further through the information provided by the CCS, the list of health problems that could be caused by smoking became more extensive, and the risk of other cancers also increased.

One of the most frightening things, is that mutations caused by smoking can apparently be passed on to children through sperm.

Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that mutate the p53 gene, resulting in a non-functional protein. p53 is a tumour suppressor protein, which means that it normally stops cells that have DNA damage from dividing (and continually dividing in an uncontrolled manner until a tumour forms). This "lock down" of the cell is not lifted until the cell either manages to repair the damaged DNA, so that it can function normally, or a self-destruct program is initiated (apoptosis) so that the damaged cell is destroyed before a tumour can form.

As you may well surmise, if p53 cannot function, cells that have DNA damage will not be stopped from dividing and spreading through the body. Unlike the X-Men, these mutated cells have no idea what they are supposed to be doing, and end up disrupting the function of other tissues and organs, which is why cancer is so devastating.

I am, of course, over-simplifying things to make a point without getting lost in the details: smoking just isn't worth it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

An Interview with Nina Munteanu

First it was Bobby next door. Then it was Gwen Gades. This time, it's the alien known as Nina Munteanu. See her cross-interview of me at

I stayed late at the lab the other day, missed my supper and had a long drive home in the dark. As I stepped out of the Medical Research Building and blearily stumbled to my car, I had a notion that the night was eerily silent, yet I was too tired to discern its portent. At the time, it didn't trouble me that almost every street lamp was out and the traffic signals were constantly flashing yellow in slow, long intervals.

I was about halfway home, out of the city and into the rural areas, when the lights on my dashboard blinked once, then the engine cut out, and my car slowly drifted to a halt, the headlights still reaching feebly for a few metres ahead. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I thought a saw a beam of light flash down from the sky. Damn, I thought, it was only one more week until my next service appointment, and this had to happen now. I was reaching for the glove compartment to see if I had some sort of contact information for the AMA, when the radio snapped on of its own accord. At first it emitted nothing more than a static hiss, then a jumble of sound, like a modem connecting, danced through the speakers. As abruptly as it started, it stopped. Something dark and fast bounced across the hood of my car and disappeared into an empty field at the left side of the road.

My heart pounding, I ripped open the glove compartment, grabbed a flashlight and my insurance policy. Yep, I was covered for collision with aquatic vehicles, falling aircraft or parts thereof, meteoric impact, and damages to the vehicle and/or my person resulting from alien abductions provided I was within 50 metres of the vehicle for which I was the primary driver when the incident first initiated. 51 metres constituted fraud. I got out of the car and entered the field.

Once I crossed the ditch, I was in a corn field, with the leafy plants reaching up past my shoulders. I scythed through the darkness in front of me with the flashlight, looking for something with a too-large head, too-white skin, too-skinny frame, and large, black bug-eyes. I was getting a little twitchy, jerking my beam suddenly to the left or right with each imagined sound, which I could barely hear over my own panicked breathing.

Finally I did hear something, a high-pitched squeaking sound. Straining my ears to catch the direction of the noise, I finally realized it was coming from my feet. I turned the beam downwards. There, was a two-inch-high, green bug-thing waving a ray gun at me. I hunkered down for a closer look, and felt an evil grin stretch across my face as I recognized the wee mite. It was The Alien Sometimes Known as Nina Munteanu. I pulled an empty CD spindle from my satchel, scooped her up in it, and twisted on the base. She was my prisoner.

Before you judge me too harshly, dear reader, you should know that my abduction of the little, oh, let's just call her Nina, was not my first encounter with this entity. Shortly before this, she had assumed a human guise, lured me aboard her mothership with false promises of anime on large-screen, and instead had me brutally interrogated. It was payback time.

I ran back to my car, chuckling with malicious intent as I mercilessly tossed the CD spindle into the back seat and raced home. Once there, I twisted the key in the lock and dropped it down the drain before finally twisting open the spindle and letting Nina tumble into my kitchen sink. The clear plastic was dotted with burn marks where she had tried to blast her way through.

She gasped a few times, having nearly run out of air inside the plastic prison, then tried futilely to scale the stainless steel walls, and finally tried to ray-gun me to death. It was of no use. She had completely wasted the charge trying to escape the spindle.

"Jen, we don't have time for this!" she squeaked.

"Oh?" I countered. "What's so important? Or are you just trying to distract me from turning on the taps?" I grinned maliciously.

Nina suddenly straightened up as tall as she could make herself (she is pretty short, even in her human form). “Without a doubt I’d say ignorance and its cousin, apathy.” To my puzzled look, she added, “I think that most environmental problems currently faced by this planet are largely due to our own lack of knowledge: of how we relate to our environment, what we are doing to it (and to ourselves) and how we are really affecting it. Without knowledge of consequence, we’re incapable of feeling the compassion needed to drive us to altruistic acts. If I were to point to a single environmental issue that reflects this the best I’d have to say ‘Global Warming’. And the price of wine.”

"Wine?" I was momentarily derailed. “Don’t you mean oil?”

“What’s oil?” asked Nina.

"Oh, right. You drive on plutonium."

"I do not!" said Nina hotly. "I collect photons from the sun and run them through chloroplasts in the skin of my spaceship to produce biodiesel!"

"Even if that's true, no one will believe you," I said. "Not after you participated in that ridiculous event … tsk … oh, what was it again?"

“I think it’s this interview.”

Now she had me really worked up. I began digging through one of my kitchen drawers, looking for a spatula. “Where was it that you were born? Maybe you should return there!”

“Well, thanks to my older brother, I grew up for a long time thinking I was born in the city zoo or the garden field behind our house (his story kept changing; which should have alerted me to his sophistry) and my father—who is in the habit of rescuing strays—found me and took me home, like a puppy. I’ve since discovered irrevocable evidence that I’m an alien. I might return [to my homeworld] someday but I’m having too much fun right here…although,” she glanced with a sour frown at the sink walls, “not right this very minute…”

I had located my spatula and was now putting a frying pan on my stove. I turned on the burner and put some oil into the pan. Nina was waving a small book at me. I picked up a magnifying glass and peered through it into the sink. On the cover, I saw the title: Darwin's Paradox.

"Do you know what this is about?" she asked me. "Hope, cooperation and faith in oneself and in others. The main character begins as a somewhat controlling mother with a natural distrust of traditional entities of suspicion. By the end of the book, she is forced to think outside the box, trust herself—and her ‘worst enemy’—and give in to faith. Essentially, she must enact a paradox: surrender to be victorious. I think that’s a hard but valuable lesson we can all learn.”

“Are you trying to be David Suzuki, or something?”

“I think he is an amazing scientist and story teller. I think he is one of the most courageous scientists I’ve met and I respect his controversial decisions to help humanity. Essentially, Suzuki decided that it was worth being branded an environmentalist and radical by the scientific community in order to get an important message out. He survived the wrath and ridicule (much like Lynn Margulis, James Lovelock and many other scientists who walked out on a limb and persisted in their staunch beliefs) and has earned back that respect.”

"Yah," I said, trying to regain the upper hand, “But what does your Mum think of your writing?”

“While several of my short stories have been translated into Polish, Greek, Hebrew, and Romanian, nothing has gotten off the planet yet…that might be a good thing.” She grinned like an urchin with something to hide.

That passed right over my head. She wasn't giving away any secrets. I decided I had waited long enough. It was time to start frying. I raised the spatula.

"You can't do this, Jen!" shouted Nina. "How will you explain it to Gwen Gades? She's the publisher of my book!"

“What? How? Why did you end up with Dragon Moon Press? That's MY publisher!”

“Isn’t it obvious? For the cool Dragon Logo, of course! I am, however, extremely pleased that Dragon Moon Press is publishing my book because they are a very reputable Canadian publisher and Darwin’s Paradox is set in Canada. It’s actually a very Canadian story.”

Nina snapped open the little book she was holding and began to flip through the pages.

"Listen, you might like this bit:

“Her father’s hands were pale and smooth like her mother’s, with slender fingers. They were the hands of a scientist who wrote intelligent words. Secure in his firm grip, she was convinced that her father and his words would protect her against anything…”

Oh, wait, here’s another fav:

“Julie listened to the carillon of the birds and let her gaze stray to where the heath melted into sky. Five hundred kilometers beyond that shimmering horizon lay what used to be home.”

Then there’s this one:

“Don’t get your shorts into a knot,” the man growled in a basso voice. “I’m not here to torture you or anything. I think you did a fine job on yourself already, jumping on my gun.”

And this one:

“A universe in which a daughter and a mother, miles apart, could talk to one another through a virus. A world that fed into an eternal cycle of altering form…nano-soup…the cell of a beating heart…the suspended dust upon which bloomed the blushing sky. In her father’s universe you took it as far as you could, then let nature’s wisdom take care of the rest: stable chaos.”

Oh, and how about this one—”

I grew impatient. “Maybe you should be trying to find out what the heroine of Darwin’s Paradox would do if she were trapped in a sink by an evil scientist,” I growled.

“She would contact SAM, her AI friend (through veemeld), and have him shut your place down then have the AI-assisted vacuum cleaner tie you up and rescue her. I’m assuming you have an AI-assisted vacuum cleaner…you look like the type.”

"Bwa ha ha ha ha! No such luck Nina, Wal-Mart doesn't sell AI—" I gasped, suddenly remembering that I had purchased my vacuum cleaner at London Drugs.

“Help!" Nina shouted. "I’m trapped in a sink by an evil scientist, I’m out of ammo and I need to be rescued!”

My faithless, dastardly vacuum cleaner roared from the broom closet, zipped up into the sink and for a moment, a allowed myself a brief glimmer of hope that it would entrap Nina in the HEPA filter, but no! I watched helplessly as the dust catcher transformed into a cockpit, the beater bar folded back into a turbo nacelle, and wings burst out from the sides. Nina jumped in, fired up the tau-lepton rockets and blasted the roof off my condo. She engaged the particle accelerator engine and soared up into the night sky.

I stood there, shaking my fist in futility until I realized she had turned the vacuum cleaner around and was preparing for a dive-bombing run. Well, I wasn't about to take that sitting down. I ran to my IKEA sofa set and pressed the secret button on the side of the tastefully machined wood frame (the button that the Swedes don't want us to know about) and had a minor panic attack as I imagined the sofa would not transform into a combat chassis quickly enough. However, as practical and utilitarian as ever, my sofa came through and I leapt into its reorganized frame, appreciating the pillowy softness of the transformed cushions as I did so. The retro rockets fired, and I was propelled into the sky just in time to avoid being blasted to smithereens by a massive dust bunny that Nina had fired at me. I reoriented the gun turrets that had evolved out of the armrests and let fly a series of small metal assembly tools (and you thought they had no use after you put the sofa together! Tch!)

Unfortunately, small metal assembly tools are not very aerodynamic, and only work as projectile weapons in the vacuum of outer space. I completely missed my target. Nina had popped out the circular saw attachment on the vacuum and was coming at me with horrendous speed. I dodged.

I was fast, but not fast enough. The power cord whipped out of its retractable holder and wrapped around one of the protruding sofa legs, holding firm. Nina swung around me like a Rebel Snowspeeder around the legs of an Imperial Walker and buzzed me with the saw, nearly taking my head off. I punched the retro rockets into reverse and snapped her off. Now it was time to retaliate. I shot several rounds of white glue-covered wooden pegs into Nina's engine nacelle at the same time as she aspirated all of my rocket fuel into the vacuum's HEPA filter.

Our eyes met.

We both underwent motility failure simultaneously, and fell spiraling back to Earth. I wondered if the contents insurance I had on my condo would cover this. Nina shouted curses at me for cheaping out and not buying the deluxe model vacuum cleaner that came with a parachute attachment. Alas.

We crashed through the roof of a nearby Baskin-Robbins.

When I came to, Nina was already digging her way through a three-scoop serving of Cherries Jubilee, a deep cut over her right brow and a look of utter contentment on her face. The smashed vacuum cleaner rested in pieces around her stool, wisps of smoke rising from the burnt plastic shards. My sofa had not fared much better, and I saw that it had been foolish of me to ever have worried about the mustard stain on one of the cushions.

I pulled myself up to the counter and ordered a triple scoop of Pistachio Almond. As I let the cool flavours melt over my tongue, I turned to Nina and asked, "Same time next week?"

She was holding the handle of her spoon in one fist, with the top of it pulled back by the fingers of her other hand, catapult style. A hefty payload of ice cream rested in the bowl of the spoon.

"Why wait?" replied Nina.



You can order Darwin's Paradox from!

Saturday, July 14, 2007


The first I heard of the "live action Transformers movie" was while watching Clerks II. I seriously thought it was a joke. Even when I found out it was for real, I still thought it was a joke. I mean, why? I was in my mid-teens when the first run of the anime series was aired, and since it was thoroughly targeted at boys under 12, I was completely uninterested. Optimus Prime? Decepticons? Bwuch.

So of course I went to see the movie.

Several things within this movie surprised me. I thought it was going to be a dumb movie, and it was. Extremely dumb.

But . . . here it comes . . .


Here is a short list of surprises:

1) It had a plot. An involved, convoluted, *interesting* plot.
2) When an alien robot uploads or downloads files from the Terran internet, it has to wiggle its head at a rather high frequency.
3) All obnoxious people pick their noses.
4) All extremely beautiful young women (even the shallow ones) are extremely well versed computer hacks and car mechanics, and like to date weird looking guys who are socially inept.
5) Alien robots shop on eBay.
6) There were several jokes that made me laugh out loud.
(Fat guy running down street with video camera during a meteor storm that turns out to be the Autobots and Decepticons plummeting to Earth: "This is ten times cooler than Armageddon, I swear to God!")
(Chaz: "Oh, you want a piece of me?"
Megatron: "No! I want two!" rips Chaz in half.)
7) When there are many, extremely large, high-tech, battle-ready Autobots just standing around, it makes more sense to have a wimpy human try to outrun Megatron and take the Allspark cube to the top of a building to hand it off to the US Military.
8) Alien robots are completely familiar with human social customs, to the point where they know how to play cupid and make cheese-ball wisecracks.
9) A tow truck has enough juice to drag or push an Autobot around town.
10) You can buy an Autobot at a used car dealership for $4000 US.

Overall, this movie (even if you weren't into the anime) is pure entertainment. The CG was unbelievably realistic, the humour was well placed, and there were lots (and lots) of explosions. Even the soundtrack was good -- I know, not what you'd expect from this kind of movie. Perhaps my reactions to it were not what the movie makers intended, but I still had a lot of fun.

Rating: 10.5 out of 5.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Defining the Nerd

I was abducted by an alien last week (more on that later), and a rather surprising topic thread arose from it. What is a nerd?

I'm a little taken aback that such a question could be asked. Perhaps I'm taking things too literally, and those making the query are quite simply making the point that there is no distinction between the general population and the subtype of human known as the nerd. Or perhaps there are different regional terms for nerds, and they were quite simply unfamiliar with this particular term (hard to believe, I know). I opened up the comments section of Blogger, and prepared to type in the obvious definition, then realised I had nothing to say. In the fragment of society that I exist in, the definition would be nerd = everybody. Was this true elsewhere?

Being a nerd, I immediately turned to the internet for relevant discussion. Now, it's not at all surprising that the most definitive internet entry was found on Wikipedia. What was surprising were all the inaccuracies in the article, which surely must have been written by members of nerd society. The following sections in quotes are from Wikipedia.

"Nerd as a stereotypical, archetypal and frequently used informally as a derogatory designation, refers to somebody who passionately pursues intellectual or esoteric knowledge or pastimes rather than engaging in social life, such as participating in organized sports or other mainstream social activities."

Hmm. I don't think anyone is insulted anymore by being called a nerd. I certainly am not. And while I have spent most of my adult life in academia, I completely disagree that nerds are not social. We get together all the time to do all sorts of social things, like go to screenings of the live action Transformers movie, discuss the graphics coding of Baldur's Gate, or just engage in a good ol' RPG. As for organised sports, I would like to point out that the realm of martial arts overlaps with the realm of the nerd. There are several examples of this to be found in manga/anime, as well as games like Street Fighter. And yes, many of us have bulked up a bit as we actually try to do these things for real.

"The stereotypical nerd is intelligent but socially and physically awkward. A typical nerd will probably get an "9" for his master thesis and do one or two C-functions in his member years at the choir. Furthermore they tend to end up driving volvo station cars, having a golden retriever and a wife which they met in the basement of the choir . . . Many traits associated with the nerd stereotype, in particular an unusual penchant for accumulating highly specialized or technical knowledge, impaired social ability and/or occasionally poor motor coordination, are characteristics of Asperger syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder. The existence of the nerd concept in popular consciousness might be attributed to a tendency for certain behavioral and cognitive predispositions to covary, which at the extreme results in forms of autism. In support of this possibility, studies using a measure of autistic tendencies, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) developed by Simon Baron-Cohen, find that occupations commonly linked to the nerd stereotype, especially fields of science and engineering, are associated with elevated AQ[15], with the highest average AQ seen among computer scientists, mathematicians and physicists. Other studies have found associations between heightened AQ and prenatal testosterone exposure[16] as well as genetic factors[17], suggesting a distinct genetic and developmental basis for traits associated with the nerd stereotype."

Excuse me? This is very masculo-centric, and most likely only applies to a subtype of a subtype, yet it is a major part of the Wikipedia entry. I think this section needs a serious overhaul by people who actually walk the walk, not by someone who thinks s/he knows what a nerd is. There were, however, some interesting nerd facts in the article, that were previously unknown to me:

"The word "nerd" first appeared in Dr. Seuss's book If I Ran the Zoo[1], published in 1950, where it simply names one of Seuss's many comical imaginary animals. (The narrator Gerald McGrew claims that he would collect "a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too" for his imaginary zoo.)

The first recorded use of the "nurd" spelling appeared in 1965, in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Bachelor[9]. Oral tradition at RPI holds that the word was coined there, spelled as "knurd" ("drunk" spelled backwards), to describe those who studied rather than partied. This usage predates a similar coinage of "knurd" by author Terry Pratchett, but has not been documented prior to the "nurd" spelling in 1965. A spelling variant "gnurd" was in wide use at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by 1971 and continued at least until the mid-70's."

So after all that, I wondered if I could now come up with my own definition of "Nerd". I suppose I would apply a very broad definition to it, and say that a nerd would be anyone who thinks academics is fun and/or rewarding and actually pursues it as a pastime. I would drop the "socially inept" part of it completely. We've gone mainstream.

I'm sure there are others who feel differently. I invite your comments.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Talking to Plants

Years ago, I saw a documentary, I think it was on The Nature of Things, where a room full of potted trees were hooked up to polygraphs, and changes in what I assume were the plants' "electrodermal activity" (if you can measure that on a plant) were recorded. Apparently, if you take a lighter and threaten one plant in the room with it, all the other plants in the room send out signals of agitation on their polygraph recordings, and the reaction spreads throughout the room from the initial "upset" plant. After a quick internet search, it seems that all of this started after a preliminary test by Cleve Backster.

Recently, The National Geographic Society published an article on how plants recognise siblings, and will not compete with them for shared soil as aggressively as they would with unrelated plants. The article goes so far to say that "plants, though lacking cognition and memory, are capable of complex social interactions."

A lot of people talk to their plants and swear that comforting words can ease an ailing eater of photons. Many cults and religions hold trees in high spiritual regard.

So before this turns into something all tree-huggy, I should get to the point of this post.

Earlier today, I had a freaky experience. A friend of mine was had a set of divining rods, and was reading the energies (positive or negative) of all sorts of objects, including bottles of vitamins and me. I had never actually seen divining rods except on TV, and had to try these things. The most surprising thing, is that the damn things actually move on their own. I can't explain it. As I walked around the room, querying the benign-ness or malignancy of a coffee mug, other bottles of vitamins and a bookshelf, the owner of said divining rods told me to ask the plants if they were thirsty. The rods twisted in my hands more than they had for anything in the room, moving outwards until each rod pointed just past the edge of each pot on the ends of the row of plants sitting on the shelf, thus encompassing all of the pots with the spread. My friend asked me which plant was thirsty, and I said "All of them!" She retested this question and got the same answer, which had apparently been different earlier that afternoon. All plants were subsequently watered. And we found that the shrubbery outside was also in need of hydration.

That was the weirdest thing I have ever encountered. Now I'm afraid of ouija boards.