Thursday, March 31, 2011

Comment Response

The following is a comment from a reader of the greatest blog ever, Mikepedia (no bias, I swear), in response to the post 'the epidemiologic transition.'

Do you know what's expected in Phase 6? Will our birth rates continue to decline, or level off... It's kind of scary to think it could continue along the current trends :s

Great question. Assuming no migration of people, the developed world would eventually die out in phase 6 using this model (as death rates would be higher than birth rates). This isn't going to happen because of immigration- the developing world (formally known as 2nd/3rd world countries) is still in phase 2- where birth rates are higher than death rates. The rise in global population in the most recent decades (and likely in decades to come) can be attributed to developing countries, not places like Canada, US or EU.

In short, thank goodness for immigrants :)

As for our national birth's a toss up. I expect that they would naturally decline as people are having less and less children. However, advancements in reproductive technologies, such as in-vitro fertilization, may actually assist many couples in having children where they would not be able to otherwise. Overall, I think the national birth rate will decline, but the reproductive biotech industry may balance some of this out.

As for death rates...this too is a toss-up. In the developed world, an aging population will likely skyrocket the death rates. However, the death rates of developing countries are generally much higher, and as medical and technological advancements reach these people, we may see a decline (somewhat) in their infant mortality rate, and perhaps an increase in life expectancy, thus contributing to a decreased death rate.

Overall, the global population will continue to grow. Overpopulation is said to be THE largest threat to human survival...not global warming, not nuclear warfare, and not availability of food or water...overpopulation will have an immense impact on our planet (and our species) by the end of generation Y's lifetime.

Global Intelligence

Is the intelligence of the average citizen of the world decreasing? With all of our great scientific and technological advancements made in the most recent century, I suspect that most would reply "no, we're definitily getting smarter." Maybe...

The idea is one of relative birth rates. In the past half-century (give or take...probably give) the most intelligent people have been having fewer children, in some cases no children at all, while the least intelligent people have been having more children. Thus, the number of 'less intelligent' people increases, while the number of more intelligent people decreases.

Obviously there are some problems with this, such as:
How do we define, or even measure intelligence? For estimates like this, level of education and relative income are used to generate a psuedo-chaste system to rank people.

To assess the relevance of level of education (ie/ high school, Bachelor's degree, etc), we turn to the infamous biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamark and his theory that the offspring of an organism can inherit traits derived from the environment of the parent. For example, if a parent loses an arm in an enviornmental accident (non-genetic), the offspring will be born without an arm. To make a long story short- thank God for Gregor Mendel and Charles Darwin. Obviously, one's level of education throughout life does not make one's children genetically more intelligent- it would be quite Lemarckian to say so.  To be fair...the idea relies on the observation that more educated people will be more likely to educate their offspring and they will become more educated throughout life.

BUT- who is to say that education makes anyone more intelligent?

The idea also has it that more intelligent people generally make more money. Although this might have some merit, it certainly doesn't hold up against the millions of intelligent people who don't make millions at all. I understand that more income may allows parents to purchase more opportunities for their children...but does this make them more intelligent? I for one know too many young people who have not worked a day in their life...and I find them to be quite un-intelligent when speaking with them.

In sum... this idea is not that it's based on genetics, it's based on environmental factors that seem to predict one's relative level of education. I think what this idea is trying to get at is intelligence, but all it really gets as is level of education.

The point:

Education does not equal intelligence. Yes, educate yourself and your children, but remember that most things learned in life are not learned in a classroom. The classroom may be efficient, but its not necessarily effective.

What are your thoughts on global intelligence?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The epidemiologic transition

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mikepedia Fact #5- Why can a baby T-rex be more dangerous than an adult T-Rex?

Here's a good fact...

Did you know that infant/youth T-rex have a mouth full of deadly bacteria. Their bite would not be all that dangerous to the majority of dinosaurs, but if they pierced the skin and allowed the bacteria to enter the bloodstream...a painful septic death for the unfortunate attacker.

2 points:

-Think twice about attacking small animals- they haven't been eaten yet for a reason.
-Infants are not just little adults, they are often very different in their physiology (yes...this includes humans too- topic for another post)


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

As requested by popular demand...

I asked for topics to blog about, so here goes:

What's in my linen closet?

Well...linens, firstly. Tools, and grocery bags (for lunches) make up the bottom part. Linens, spare light bulbs, kleenex boxes and and laundry dusting roller are on the second shelf. The third shelf is nothing but blankets, towels, dish cloths, and bags. Finally, on the top shelf there are travel bags and spare pillows for the pull-out couch.

Nothing even close to 'memory lane,' as one of our readers suggested of her linen closet (see 600 Views blog post).

But I'm pretty sure my girlfriend will be impressed that I know exactly where everything goes...especially since I'm on the 6th floor of Morisset Library studying biochemistry!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Baby Emerson?

Apparently this video of a baby from the Soo went viral late last week. It depicts a young baby's reaction to his mother blowing her nose...truly hilarious :)

How scary new things can be :)


Monday, March 21, 2011

December, January, February, April...did I forget a month?

Seems to me the greater half of the month of March has come and gone without even bothering to re-introduce itself.

Where has the time gone? Last I knew it was winterlude and the canal was packed with Ottawans. Throw in a couple of exams, a trip to gravenhurst and one to north bay and....bam! It's March 21st...what a life I tell ya.

I fell especially grateful today for the good fortune that has been bestowed upon me, and that for which I have earned. I feel lucky to have the opporunity to learn such wonderful things.

A professor of mine once told us that we should get excited about exams. She told us that it is our way of expressing all of the material that we have learned in a creative way. I would like to see an exam where my creativity is evaluated, but I suppose that's besides the point.

The Point: enjoy what you do, because you're the only one in the world doing it!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

600 viewers!

The view-count for my blog is up to 600!  Thanks everyone for reading my posts and for commenting.

If there is something that you would like to write about, please comment on this post!

Thanks everyone,


To all military personnel

I would like to extend my gratitude and best wishes to those brave North American and European men and women who have recently begun operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya.

Your hard work and dedication is not unrecognized by your fellow coutntrymen and women.

God Bless.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How much radiation is that?

As I'm sure everyone in the developed world knows by now, Japan was hit with an earthquake and a tsunami that damaged one of their nuclear energy facilities. Anyone who is following the story closely may wonder, how much radiation has 'leaked' from the facility- and how much of this affects the people around the facility. Depending on the news source, you may get a value in different units, such as gray, sievert, rem, rad, becquerel, or curie (most likely the milli-sievert, but news stations have been picking and choosing at their leisure).

What the heck do all of these units mean? How much radiation is that??

The Gray is the SI unit of absorbed radiation dose, and is defined at the absorption of one joule of ionizing radiation by one kilogram of matter. The key here is that it is used to measure the strength (amount of energy as defined by the Joule) of radiation that is absorbed by matter.

The Sievert is the SI unit which measures the dose equivalent radiation. It is used to measure the biological effects of radiation. Simply, the sievert measures the amount of absorbed radiation that is absorbed by a person. Often, the unit sievert/hour (or other unit of time) is used to estimate the cummulative effect of radiation.

A curie (named, of course, after the very famous Marie Curie- the discoverer of polonium and radium, the creator of several techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, the first woman to earn a Nobel prize, and the only person in the world to hold Nobel prizes in multiple sciences- physics and chemistry) is a measure of radioactivity based on the activity of 1 gram of the radium isotope Ra-226.

A REM is the customary unit (American, or "english" unit) for the Sievert. 1 rem= 0.01 sievert.

A RAD is the customary unit (American, or "english" unit) for the Gray. 1 rad= 0.01 gray

and, a Becquerel is the SI unit that replaces the curie.  1 Bq = 2.70×10−11 Ci

So, when we're talking nuclear meltdown, there are only two you need: the gray and the sievert. The gray tells you how much radiation is released into the surrounding environment. The Sievert tells you how much radiation is absorbed by people. And now you know :)

Just to put things into perspective...the highest level of radiation detected throughout the recent Fukishima nuclear problem is 0.4 Sieverts/hour. The highest level during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster...300 Sieverts/hour. The threshold for acute radiation sickness is somewhere around 1 Sievert/hour.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mikepedia Fact #4- 1% of the static on your television is caused by the big bang

Cosmic background microwave (CBM) radiation is a form of thermal radiation that exists everywhere (as far as humanity can tell) in the universe. Why? One strong theory says that it is from the big bang.

The guys who found this in ~1965, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, hated it- they were trying to use a large antenna owned by Bell Laboratories in Holmdel, NJ when they were pestered by this annoying background noise. Oddly enough, about 30 miles away at Princeton University, Robert Dicke and his team were doing everything they could to identify this mysterious CBM...they eventually met up and published two papers on the subject. To give credit, the idea was originally postulated by George Gamow in the 1940s. Penzias and Wilson received the Nobel Prize in 1978 for their work.

But back to the why- or perhaps the how, rather. A quick refresh on radiation. The electromagnetic spectrum measures radiation based on its' wavelength (which determines its' frequency). I've posted a quick link to a video that explains this much more elegantly, but it's basically this: radio waves have a long wavelength and x-rays/gamma rays have short wavelength and the light that we see- virtually everything we see- is in the middle (energy increases with decreasing wavelength- this is why some rays are more powerful- and harmful- than others).

Next topic- the Doppler effect. This is when waves can become longer or shorter based on the distance that they are projected from, more or less. Think of a fire truck moving towards you with its' sirens on - at first you hear a very long siren, but as it approaches the sounds begin to increase in frequency, and thus become higher in pitch (called blueshift). If the fire truck were to be moving away from you, it would decrease in pitch (called redshift). Blue and red just refer to the direction of the shift on the electromagnetic spectrum. Wikipedia has an awesome video on the main page describing this.

Finally, here we go. This is a simple version of how CBM came to be. When the universe began, it was much smaller, denser and hotter- not to mention there was a lot of very bright light. The theory has it that Earth is always moving away from the big bang (please don't ask me to explain this- maybe I'll post another entry on this soon). As the universe expanded, it began to cool and the same photons of light had to occupy a larger space. So, if the Earth is moving away from all of this hot, bright light and cooling, we will perceive this light as being redshifted as we move away. In fact, if we move away for billions of years (how old do they figure now, 13.7 billion years or something?), the redshift can be enormous! We may actually perceive this bright light as radio waves. Low and behold, the vast 'emptiness' of space that surrounds the Earth is filled with radio waves in the form of cosmic radiation from the big bang.

The next time you turn on the television, try tuning to a station that you don't recieve a signal for. About 1% of the static that you will see is cosmic background radiation. In the words of Bill Bryson, the next time you complain about there being nothing on TV, just sit back and enjoy watching the birth of the universe.

Finally, a favorite quote of mine about the development of the universe by Edward P Tyron.

"In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time." Although the creation of a universe might be very unlikely, Tryon emphasized that no one has counted the failed attempts...


Monday, March 14, 2011

Familar cuisine

It looks like there will an Italian restaurant across the street in the next couple of months- part of the Trainyards expansion. I love living near an area that is growing so quickly, it makes me feel like I live in a dynamic world. I used to live downtown, where the buildings were pretty much the same (excluding the fact that the University has been under construction all but 2 semesters throughout my undergrad).

There are really only a couple of good Italian places here in Ottawa. Johnny Farina's has some really great food, and I really like Gabriel's pizza. Most of the pizza here in Ottawa is...well just horrible really. Who knew that you could put poutine on a pizza??

It's nice knowing that a place is opening up across the street- I hope they'll be good! If not, I'm sure blacklisting is in my genes somewhere, I would just have to go looking for it!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The weekend/what the heck am I going to do for the rest of my life!?

The snowmobile speed runs were completely cancelled this weekend, due to weather. It looks like they should start them a week earlier in the year instead of trying to do it in mid-march.

So we went bowling instead. I got my highest score ever of 155...ok it was 5-pin but I'm taking it!

With convocation a mere 3 months away I am sitting here wondering what I will doing 3 months from then. I'm grateful for the opportunity that I now have- I get to search around for something that I think I may like doing. I could be interested in epidemiology, law, physics, health research...the list goes on.

I'll be sure to update if I get any news soon.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oh Rideau Canal, another year of injuries...

As many of you may know, the canal has been closed for the season.  This year was probably warmer than the last two, but we did have a couple of -30 days. The ice was fantastic this year, which I think was because of the new zamboni (or ice-resurfacing machine).

Part of our job as patrollers is to record the data from the stair-counters that come onto the canal. In this way, the NCC can determine how many people use the canal. This was particularly difficult this year as many of the counters were missing or broken for the better part of the season. This, combined with multiple counter readings per day and a strict schedule to complete them, made this the toughest part of the job this year.

As for the injured skaters, we were lucky enough to not be involed with any life-threatening events throughout the year. The most popular injury of the year, at least I would say, is the dislocated shoulder. In past years, broken wrists have outnumbered every other injury by a factor of 10:1...and at least 2:1 for all other injuries combined. This year, I think dislocated shoulders may give the wrists a run for their money.

I had the opportunity to meet some new people this year on the canal, and I enjoyed it very much. Our new coordinator was truly a blessing, given our experiences with others in the past ( particular other anyways). I only hope that it will be open next year, and that I may have time to get involved again.

So long for now Rideau Canal, until we meet again,


My Battle with Coffee (finally, a not-so-serious blog post)

Here's the deal: coffee makes the world-go-round. Coffee helps people get out of bed and power through the work day, it picks them up after lunch, gives them that boost of energy for the drive home and may even delay bedtime an hour or two so that they can watch the news. Let's face it- coffee plays a significant role in the productivity level of those in the workplace in the western world. Where would we be without it? Here's a summary of my ongoing (ahem...2 weeks in the making) anti-coffee craze.

It has been close to two weeks now since I have vowed to decrease my coffee intake. It has left me less awake, but more alert. I find that I can focus much better on everyday tasks, and I think my memory has improved (caffiene can inhibit learning and memory through modulation of noradrenaline...but that one is for another post- point: drinking coffee while studying = poorer grades?).

Am I supposed to feel like I have left behind the hoards of people lining up at starbucks, Tim's or second cup? Like I've handed off the jitters to those who truly appreciate their $7.90 mocha-choca-frappa....whatver- latte? If so...I'm not feeling it. I'm missing coffee ever-so-much. On the bright side, I'm sleeping like a grizzly in January so at least this craze is good for something.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why I didn't vote for the SFUO elections...

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO)- and in I suppose in French too- recently had their executive elections for the next school year. Below are my thoughts on the election, the SFUO and student in voting general.

Dear SFUO electoral candidates, it's not's you.

I know it's not me, because I love voting. I've voted for the federal elections, my high school student council, hell...I've even voted for the school board elections in a neighborhood that I haven't even lived in for a full year. I know it's not me, because I love to vote...but typically when something is only worth voting for.

I know it's you because in order for me to feel that it's worth voting for, I need to be inspired. You did not inspire me to vote for you. Not with your cliche electoral-ad poster, not with your grandau-speeches about how you intend to change the world as VP finance, and certainly not with your original ideas...but to be fair I can only assume that you didn't inspire me with your original ideas, as I don't recall ever hearing any.

It's not me. It's you. You settled for mediocracy when the stars were in your reach. You sat down, instead of rising up. You even blissfully biased your opinion on the issues that matter most to students, while we were starring at you waiting to tell you what they are. Some of you even promised to ignite school spirit by making sports events free, yet you failed to realize that they already are.

SFUO electoral candidates, the list goes on. There are so many things you did 'textbook' gave great speeches, had posters everywhere, and promoted yourself everywhere you went...yet you didn't take the time to explain who you are, or HOW you are different from the others. This campaign lacked emotion, competition, and passion which is simply reflected in the less than 10% voter turnout.
And so your moment of zen. My advice. It's not difficult. The next time you are in the running for VP whatever (I've jokingly forgotten what you were even running for at this point...), I would like to hear who you are (not just your name and your slogan), what your previous experiences are and what you bring to the table, how you can use these experiences to prosper in the position, your weak competencies or skills and how you have taken steps to address these weaknesses, and how and why you can work as a member of a team with equally passionate, involved, opinionated, and strong-minded people- not to mention how you intend to cope the day you find out that one of these people is more passionate, involved, opinionated or strong-minded than you. Finish off with 3 reasons why YOU are the person for the job, and not anyone else (yes, anyone else, not just the other candidates- no straw men arguments) and you have my vote.

SFUO electoral candidates, it's not's you.


The other ~30 000 students who you failed to inspire to vote for you.


Friday, March 4, 2011

The mystery of the frozen water bottle

This youtube video is circulating the internet via e-mail and depicts a St. Joseph Island man experimenting with water bottles that have been left out in the cold but have not been frozen. He flips the water bottle upside down, and it freezes instantly.

This is a really cool example of a concept known as supercooling. Simply, this is when a liquid can be cooled to a point below its' melting point (or freezing point- depends on how you look at it!).

Ice is a crystal of water, and crystals often need to be seeded by some sort of initial crystal or impurity. I remember trying to get some of my products to crystallize in organic chemistry was almost impossible without scratching the sides of the glass (which creates an impurity for it to grow onto). I think that the type of water used in water bottles is perfect for this experiment because it contains very few impurities or dissolved ions/minerals. I'm not sure that this would work with tap water, as a mineral (such as...oh I don't know, calcium let's say) would be a good site for crystals to form.

Also, I think that in order for this experiment to work, the water bottle must be left completely undisturbed from the environment (such as in a truck). I think if the wind were able to move the air molecules around within the bottle it would freeze close to 0.

Any other thoughts on the experiment?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Just a quick thought...

What are houses made out of? Wood, right?

What is wood? It is a processed tree.

While driving back to Ottawa two days ago it kind of scared me think that we make our houses of dead trees. DEAD trees that were once living!

Humanity has a false way of looking at our ability to survive- that we are self-sufficient, sustainable, and independent. We do not possess any of these qualities moreso than any other organism- in fact, there are likely organisms that are more independent than us! We eat other organisms, without them- no food; we use other organisms to build our houses- without them, no shelter; and we use the fossilized remains of ancient organisms for fuel- without get the picture.

Point: as a species we are dependent on our environment and its' inhabitants. This isn't an argument for environmental change- rather an argument for the re-thinking of our place in the world. Until humanity can fully comprehend the concept of inter-dependence with our environment, there is no hope for a sustainable future.

Remember- if the entirety of earth's history (4.5 billion years) is condensed into one day, humans would arrive on-scene at 11:59:56pm... seconds before midnight.