Marriage Announcement: rlogan and Lira

Congratulations to rlogan and Lira, who were married on April 7th in a small pool-side ceremony in the Philippines. They exchanged Visayan vows as well as some of their own (Visaya includes Mindanao, Cebu, and other Southern Philippine Islands). Interestingly, Lira’s dad did double duty, performing the wedding as well as being father of the bride.

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Book Review: Barry Hughart’s “Bridge of Birds” – by Karalora

bridgeI am an avid and lifelong fan of fantasy, but rarely indulge this preference with anything new. This is because most fantasy novels seem very much alike to me: young hero who is secretly of royal blood, wise old wizard mentor, cardboard love interest, epic quest to find legendary artifact and/or save the world, repeat ad nauseam until the author gets tired of churning out 800-plus page volumes. So instead of seeking out new fantasy books to feed my inner escapist, I tend to re-read the ones I have grown to love. Ones like Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart.

What keeps this book so dear to my heart even after repeated readings is the fact that it is so different from what I think of as mainstream or “standard” fantasy. It is an exception to the all-too common rules, hinted at above, that seem to govern fantasy writing. For starters, the setting, rather than being an unimaginative Tolkien-inspired faux-Europe pastiche, is explicitly and unequivocally ancient China…as it would have been if the Taoist myths and folk legends were true. The writing style, correspondingly, has a delicious Oriental flavor, with long alliterations, poetic hyperbole, and casual references to Chinese culture scattered throughout the narrative.

There are two main characters, peasant hero Lu Yu, nicknamed Number Ten Ox, and Master Li Kao, a sort of professional wise man whom Ox hires to solve the mystery of a sudden calamitous illness plaguing the children of his village. Now, the concept of a wise-man-for-hire is delightful enough, but Master Li takes it a few steps further into the realm of the unexpected by being not a serene and virtuous monk-like sage, but a drunkard ex-crook who is friends with gangsters and tells Ox things like “I’m afraid we’re going to have to murder someone, and I just hope we can find someone who deserves it.”

Number Ten Ox, for his part, is not your typical fantasy peasant hero. For one thing, he really is a simple peasant, and not the secret heir to a kingdom or a born sorcerer or anything like that. Circumstances, not destiny, drive him to undertake his adventure, and the most unusual ability he possesses is above-average physical strength (and, of course, great courage and purity of heart). Like many a fantasy hero, he is an orphan, but he lives with caring relatives, and rather than questing to broaden his horizons and escape the drudgery of his existence, he is at heart contented homebody whose only goal is curing the village children. He does broaden his horizons in the process, of course, but his experiences serve to enrich his cozy life rather than overshadow it.

The plot is certainly epic—Ox and Master Li ultimately find themselves assaying to topple the reign of a bloodthirsty, supernaturally empowered duke—but instead of rambling on for up to a thousand pages like so many fantasy authors, Hughart manages to tell his story in about three hundred. As a result, there are no scenes that the reader feels comfortable skipping; every chapter is packed with exciting action. Or heart-rending drama. Or witty humor. Or lushly described scene-setting. Or all four, with a little romance on the side. No single mood dominates the story, a feature that makes Bridge of Birds, for all its myth and whimsy, more true-to-life than any gritty detective thriller, and certainly more uplifting.

Speaking of detective stories, Bridge is as much mystery as fantasy, with the protagonists traveling far and wide across China in search of the pieces of the increasingly complex puzzle. They cross paths with a wide assortment of secondary characters, from brilliant scholars to depraved thugs to scheming noblewomen, and thanks to Hughart’s economical storytelling, not one of these encounters turns out to be superfluous to their quest. In fact, nothing in the whole book turns out to be superfluous to their quest; from the most casual expository anecdote to the most profound personal revelation on the part of the characters, it all ties together into an extremely satisfying whole by the end.

I cannot recommend this book enough to fantasy fans who are looking for a change of pace. Try it!

Nutwatch – by Queen of Swords

Hi everyone, and welcome to the most ephebophilic website you’re ever going to see. The man responsible for it preys on what’s literally a captive audience – incarcerated teenagers, and I’m sure that after meeting him, they’d be begging for solitary. Best of all, he writes in a style so hyper and juvenile that I thought he would lapse into textspeak at any moment. Chris Hanson of Dateline NBC deals with sleazy men who want sex out of teenagers, and I’m focusing on an equally sleazy man who wants teenagers out of sex, because this month’s Nutwatch pwns

Truth 4 Teens

The whole purpose of this website is to convert as many teenagers as possible – quality isn’t half as important as quantity. That’s why Steven Blankenship writes happily of how

FOURTEEN YOUTHS TRUSTED CHRIST FOR SALVATION TONIGHT!!

Maybe he has a good friend who’s also a pastor, a Gimli to his Legolas, and they compete to see who can score the higher count each time they wade into battle.

Blankenship : Twelve! Thirteen!
Other pastor : Hey, I just got a guy who did drugs and had sex and believed in evolution.
Blankenship : Still only counts as one! Fourteen!

Some were weeping on the altar!

But since they were face-down, the tablecloth muffled their cries dried their tears, and they soon grew used to the sensation of being filled by the Holy Spirit. Repeatedly.

We had a very good spirit in the service tonight. The Holy Ghost began moving early in the service!

Did the Holy Ghost usually show up late, unshaven and reeking of spirits?

With tattoos covering his arms, 16 year old Michael kneeled at the old fashion altar and trusted Christ to save him tonight! So sad to see how the Devil gets young men to dedicate their spirit, soul and body to him.

So the tattoo artist’s needle = the bloodstained claw of the Prince of Darkness. Still, maybe Michael will get some tips on tasteful dressing at the old fashion altar.

After the service we ate at Cracker Barrel. The Lord opened the door to speak to the Cashier about her eternal soul.

“Excuse me, but is that your eternal soul outside, the one with the ‘$5000 OBO’ sign on it? Would fifty cents be okay?”

Here is a dear lady who said she was “scared” to get saved! Her reasoning? With Muslims and other wicked people in America, “I would be afraid to say I’m a Christian. You don’t know who you would set off.”

I imagine that each time someone wearing a headscarf or a yarmulke or an ankh gives this nitwit a tip, she washes the poison off the coins before she bites them.

You know, even lost people realize the coming persecution! Be ye ready.

Be ye steady. Be ye go!

While the boys were looking at me, I asked does any one wish to be saved today? James SHOT HIS HAND UP QUICK!

The veins in his arms were too scarred from overuse.

Calvin said, “I can’t pray!” His face was so much in pain. It was obvious that the devils of Hell are tormenting him. A young man who wants to be saved but unable to pray!

“Here I sit, broken-hearted, tried to pray but couldn’t get started.
All the devils had their fun, gave me wedgies one by one.
The pastor stood there doing jack, guess he didn’t have the sack
To make the devils go away, so that I could kneel and pray.”

But don’t worry, folks. The young man’s predicament didn’t last long.

CALVIN WAS SAVED TONIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!

HE BURNED HOBBES! GLORY! Sorry, even in a satire I can’t bring myself to abuse the exclamation mark. When he isn’t collecting the spiritual scalps of teenagers, Brother Blankenship writes articles on interesting and controversial topics, and the first of those is about

Evolution

Let’s take a little time and examine this “theory” of Evolution; basically, it is the belief that the human species evolved from a line of various creatures over millions of years until finally, the modern state of man occurred.

Yep. That was the entire purpose of evolution, to produce a biped which could drive a car, talk on a cell phone and eat a donut at the same time. Its grand design finally fulfilled, evolution looked at its work, saw that it was good and rested on the seventh day, though modern man had to mow the lawn.

And one day those scientists, teachers and everyone else will have to stand before their Creator and be judged for putting their faith in the great lie of evolution.

For there is no god but Young Earth Creationism, and Hovind is its prophet. And even with a ten-year sentence in federal prison, he’s still going to come back before Jesus does, unless he actually learns some science in there and commits honorable seppuku in shame at what he’s done with his life. But speaking of messed-up lives, one aim of this website is to instill a Victorian horror of sex into teenagers. That’s what happens when abstinence-only folks live in mortal fear of scientists and teachers; they never realize that they’re working against millions of years of evolution and losing. They do put up an entertaining effort, though, and here’s Brother Blankenship’s take on

Sex

What a wonderful God we serve! A God who will not leave anything to human reasoning.

God must get pretty tired of telling this man what clothes to wear each morning.

God has instituted the wonderful pleasure of sex to populate the earth.

Poor God, he never realized that people could obtain this wonderful pleasure whether they were a-populatin’ or just a-copulatin’.

THE FIRST MARRIAGE WAS CONDUCTED BY GOD HIMSELF!

After their marriage, which was conducted by God Himself, Adam and Eve got evicted and one of their kids killed the other. They and/or their descendants also resorted to incest in order to populate the earth.

God is not known to have conducted any further marriages.

When unmarried couples begin to touch, IT WILL LEAD TO FORNICATION!

When married couples begin to touch, it leads to either domestic violence or CPR. Both of which are preferable to sex, of course.

Holding hands; putting your arm around each other; hugging; etc. All touching should be avoided… When God loving Teens begin to touch, the flesh begins to ignite its lustful flames.

Man, these teenagers must be pretty scared from all their “God loving”, because when I was that age, I could reach the “lustful flames” stage from just thinking – no touch necessary.

Wait, I said “thinking”, didn’t I?

When you fornicate, you are creating a freak of nature (spiritual freak of nature)…

What is a spiritual freak of nature? Is it the same as a natural freak of spirit?

Spiritually, you are adding members to your body. In other words, you are creating a spiritual freak of nature that has many added on members to the body.

Ohhh, I think I get it now. Each act of sex, for Brother Blankenship, gets an invisible intangible member attached to you like a spiritual dog tag. Without this handy-dandy means of identification, God might find it difficult to tell the difference between those who fornicated and those who didn’t, and he might end up destroying everyone in a fit of frustration.

When you fornicate, you will never forget about it. You live with the memory of it till the day you die!

I agree. That’s why I made sure it was with someone I liked and found very attractive, and it was warm and sweet and sensual and… excuse me, I’ll be in my bunk.

Who wants to marry a girl who has had spiritual members added unto her? Or a girl marry a boy who has many members added unto him that was never intended?

Now I have a mental image of a teenager with spiritual members sticking out all over him like a Hindu god’s arms.

This world says, “If two people love each other, it doesn’t matter what gender you are, what race you happen to be, or anything else. Love is the deciding factor.”

I was really hoping Brother Blankenship would expand on his or God’s views on interracial marriage. For instance, what would he consider suitable marriages for “mixed” people – should they only be permitted to marry others like themselves, or since they’re evidently sterile mules, is marriage a moot point? But Brother Blankenship doesn’t elaborate on this point, so alas, he got me interested and failed to deliver. The former is probably a rare occurrence for him with a woman, but the latter must happen only too often.

Two men may be legally married in some States, but God Almighty never recognizes it! God has ordained marriage to be One male and One Female. Period.

So when Jacob married Rachel, God punished him. Oh, wait. Still, I suppose one guy with four women after him, all trying desperately to get pregnant, was punished enough without God having to take a hand.

God destroyed entire populations for the sickening sin of sodomy.

Don’t you mean the thickening thin of thodomy, girlfriend?

God’s Word clearly speaks volumes to the ears of His children. When we obey His words, He dumps over the “honey buckets” into our soul.

God’s version of golden showers? I have no idea what Brother Blankenship actually means by this bizarre statement, and the bible clearly contradicts him on this point – Job obeyed God, after all, and what God dumped on him was more of a divine chamberpot than a honey bucket. But that’s a common theme in this website. For all the author’s protests and pretensions of religion, he seems to be curiously ignorant of his own holy book, and no section of his website highlights this better than the one about

Harry Potter

CHOOSE YOU THIS DAY… HARRY POTTER OR THE HOLY POTTER?

Why can’t I have both?

Pontius Pilate : Crucio!
Jesus : …
Jesus’s friends : Mobilicorpus!
God : Wingardium Leviosa! Accio Jesus!

J.K. Rowling has a degree in Mythology from Exeter and was a treacher.

She traught evolution! Also, she’s a single mother, which means she must have had S-E-X. Truly, this is a sign of the End Times.

The Potter books promote a disturbing view of death. An animal is sacrificed in order to drink its blood.

“And he brought the second ram, the ram of consecration. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram, and Moses killed it. And he took some of its blood and put it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.” (Leviticus 8:22-23)

However, here the blood was clearly for cosmetic purposes rather than gustatory ones, so that makes all the difference.

Voldemort exhorts his followers to kill.

“Thus says Voldemort the Lord of hosts : ‘I will punish what Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Samuel 15: 2-3)

Since diatribes against Harry Potter are fairly common among the more deluded fundamentalists, Brother Blankenship needed some way to distinguish his corner of the Web from the rest, and he found it in this cute little picture.

nutwatch1

This is a picture of a real brain scan.

I wish they had scanned the little guy’s brain too. He might have an even tinier head inside his own, like the cranial version of those Russian dolls.

This is an Emergency Room in NC, where a man came in complaining of Voices in His Head!

Because every emergency room is equipped with an MRI that is immediately used on anyone who hears voices. Too bad it isn’t used on anyone who capitalizes Nouns as if doing a Translation from the German.

After viewing his brain scan… The Doctor on Duty said that this was common with people who had “voices in their heads” He had seen this several times.

What, the man with the homunculus in his head was discharged, just like that? No head transplant? No demotherapy? What a letdown. Plus, if the man heard voices (as in, the plural) in his head, why did only one little demon head show up in the scan? Was that demon a ventriloquist?

In conclusion, this is one of the sillier websites I’ve had the pleasure to browse, though I’m less delighted at the idea of teenagers being forced to listen to diatribes against books, science, sex and everything else that makes life worth living. On the plus side, no one who actually reads this site is likely to do anything but laugh heartily. Fundamentalist literature isn’t usually produced for or by people with any in-depth knowledge of the bible, but anyone writing seriously about spiritual members or the Holy Potter is also unfamiliar with the concept of unintentional self-parody… and probably goes to a proctologist for a brain scan.

Till next time, everyone!

Queen of Swords

Book Review: Paul Broks’ “Into the Silent Land” – by Don Alhambra

broksThis month I was going to review a book on sleep, but when I tried to find it to write the review it had vanished under one of the piles of stuff that tend to accumulate in my room. So instead, I bring you a book I bought and read some time ago, and chanced upon as I was looking for the other one. It’s called Into the Silent Land, by neurologist Paul Broks. Sleep can wait for next month.

The premise of the book is simple: the brain is a vastly mysterious object, and when it goes wrong it very much affects our idea of what it means to be human. While techniques such as neuroimaging have enabled us to see more clearly than ever what is going on inside our heads, the brain is a closed book to most of us – a black box, to use a behaviourist metaphor, where stimuli go in and responses come out. But this simplistic explanation does not take into account the fact that in between stimulus and response there are many internal brain states as sensory information is processed and transformed into action by complex and intricate machinery. When that machinery stops working properly, it is the job of the neurologist to tease out the problems and, where possible, recommend treatment.

Broks is such a doctor, and in this book he not only explains what it is like when brains go wrong but also tackles some of the deeper philosophical issues that a non-dualistic worldview brings up. In an opening chapter that gets straight to the meat of the problems of brain injury, he describes two patients with damage to the frontal areas of their brains: Stuart and Michael. Stuart has damage to his left frontal lobe, and his neurological problems are characterised by lack of drive, the inability to get started on tasks and his emotional coldness. Michael has damage to his right frontal lobe, and his problems are quite the reverse: an inability to inhibit himself, especially emotionally, and he is also unable to stop himself saying inappropriate things in social situations.

All this is all very clinically interesting, but Broks brings the tales of Michael and Stuart and the other patients he describes to life. He writes in the way I love to read: in a flowing, often whimsical manner that is interrupted occasionally by tangents that take the train of thought somewhere else, and perhaps return it to the main thread with a different cargo. Not to mention his habit of jotting down conversations he has with people in his head. The book is alternately poetic, clinical, full of human warmth, fascinating and terrifying. To think that so much of what we are capable of as humans is down to the squishy mess in our skulls. It boggles the mind to think about it, even for me, and I think about the brain every day.

There are other stories of interest too. If you ever wanted to know what happened to Einstein’s brain, Broks tells all in his characteristic style. If you were to wake up one morning and suddenly be unable to remember the last 23 years of your life, what would that do to you as a person? And what would happen if Star Trek-style teleporters became a reality? If you stepped into a box, were annihilated instantaneously, and the information about the configuration of atoms and molecules in your body was beamed elsewhere to be reconstructed? What happens to you? More worryingly, what happens if something goes wrong, and you’re not annihilated after all, but your information is still reconstructed at the other end…? In an entertaining fictional thought experiment, Broks explores this last question quite carefully.

I highly recommend this book for all those who are interested in the inner workings of the brain. As I mention above, Broks not only explores neuropsychology and what happens when the brain goes wrong, but also delves deep into the philosophy of mind and even touches on some religious issues concerning where modern neuroscience is taking us – issues of souls and consciousness that I am sure Nexus readers will be aware of. I doubt that many will be as perturbed as theists are likely to be when they stop focusing on evolution and really understand how little scope there is for the soul in the machinery of the brain, but having these issues laid out explicitly still gives one pause.

All in all an excellent book, and I very much urge you to let Paul Broks take you into the silent land.

Don Alhambra is a Research Fellow in Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham, UK. He can be found mainly at the Heathen Hangout or the Heathen Hub.

Watercolours – by judanne

Cotton

Cotton

Dawn

Dawn

Greensboro Woman

Greensboro Woman

Hay Wagon

Hay Wagon

Plants Crack Stone

Plants Crack Stone

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace

The Power of Magical Thinking – by Brian P. Hudson (Writer@Large)

On the day that my daughter was born, my joy was tinged with anxiety. Dawn was a healthy baby, if a bit small, and she had no problems in the days following the birth; but because of an unplanned ultrasound four months earlier we knew that she had a kidney blockage, and if it hadn’t resolved itself in the womb she was going to need surgery. My little girl, barely 5 pounds at birth, was set to go under the knife before she was six months old.

Mutant or Miracle? You decide...

Mutant or Miracle? You decide...

I’ll spoil the ending for you now: she did not end up needing immediate surgery. Through a series of fortuitous events, her blockage has become a manageable condition that has put off surgery for a couple years or more. What fascinated me during this whole experience, though, was the magical thinking–that torturous logic the deeply religious use to find God in everyday events–reared its head in those around me.

In order to see “God’s hand” in events, I’ll have to flesh out the story a bit. I work for a college that trains ultrasound technicians, and as part of the training our students must scan an actual pregnant woman. My wife volunteered for scanning, and during the course of the training scan, the student discovered that our baby’s bladder wasn’t properly draining. The instructor in charge assured us that it was probably some sort of temporary ureter blockage, but that we should alert our midwife about it anyway. We did, and a subsequent professional ultrasound confirmed the blockage. We were informed in no uncertain terms that if it was a permanent blockage our baby would need surgery after birth.

At this point, people said we were “lucky.” It was lucky we had that second ultrasound, they reasoned, since our first hadn’t caught the blockage. After all, a blocked kidney can lead to kidney failure; better to know about it ahead of time and not when the baby got sick.

So the birth comes and goes. A few weeks later we take our little newborn in for a postnatal ultrasound, where they confirm that the blockage is still there. They also note that our daughter is a mutant; she has an unusual anomaly called a double ureter, having two tubes draining the right kidney instead of one. The blockage is in one of the doubled ureters. A complete blockage could have shut her kidney down, but because the blockage is in one of the double tubes there’s still drainage in the kidney. Surgery was still necessary, but the need was no longer urgent.

It was an uncommon mutation that helped mitigate an unfortunate condition, which meant my little girl’s kidney wasn’t going to fail anytime soon. The doctors wil wanted to remove it, but the urgency was diminished. Again, friends and coworkers told us that we were lucky, and they were right.

Of course, blockage still meant improper drainage and risk of kidney infection, which meant my little girl still needed to go under the knife. They sent us to a pediatric urologist to determine when the surgery should take place. He put her through more tests, one of which involved inserting a catheter into her bladder. During the course of this test, the catheter slipped up the blocked ureter … and promptly punctured the blockage.

A one in a million chance? Not exactly. The doctor told us that catheters can easily slip up the ureter during insertion. He also told us that she would still need the blockage removed at some point, because it was sure to return. But in the short term, the puncture meant that urine would flow more freely through the blockage. Better flow meant a low risk of problems, which meant that we didn’t need to rush a newborn infant into surgery. We could wait until she was a stronger, healthier toddler or pre-schooler.

This is the point where I had my encounter with magical thinking. What had up until now been “lucky,” all of a sudden became divine. “You should thank God for that one,” a coworker told me. “God was definitely looking out for her,” said another. Some of the comments were just in passing, the sort of “thank God” reactions one gets when anything unexpectedly good happens. But some were definitely more involved then that. One woman told me that she had said a prayer for my daughter, as if she’d somehow commanded God’s attention to my daughter’s plight. I had it suggested to me that the deceased family member that my daughter was named for must be “watching over her from Heaven.” One person who knows I am an atheist even said to me, “It kind of makes you reconsider, doesn’t it?”

The people I know and work with don’t normally come across as very religious, so this sudden spike in magical thinking caught me off guard. How was it that “lucky” had suddenly become supernatural influence? Detecting a condition early was just lucky as was having a useful mutation; heck, even the punctured blockage, by itself, they might have seen as happenstance. But somehow, the sequence of events—detection, mutation, and puncture—was not just a dodged bullet for my family, but some sort of divine guidance. I should be thanking Him for letting her avoid infant surgery.

At this point, I wonder: which part should I be thanking God for? For causing the catheter to puncture the blockage? That seemed to be the point that many people stopped seeing “lucky” and began seeing “God.” The doctors clearly stated, though, that catheters in this process routinely slide up the ureter, so can we really attribute it to supernatural influence? I think not.

Maybe I should be thanking Him for giving her a double ureter to minimize the danger of the blockage in the first place? I don’t see why, since fully 10% of the population has it already. And from what I’ve read since learning about her condition, a double ureter brings a higher risk of blockages anyway. If God wanted to help her avoid a kidney-damaging blockage, this generally pointless mutation would be a poor way of doing it.

What about thanking Him for “blessing” us with the additional ultrasound? After all, without that second scan, the blockage might have remained undetected until she began having health issues. But since that was a purely coincidental happenstance that resulted from my place of employment, I don’t see how a deity could have his hand in it.

Perhaps we should be thanking God for blocking her ureter in the first place, so we would be made aware of all his other little “miracles”? Somehow, I don’t think my religious friends would agree with that one.

In the end, it seems I should be “thankful” for the whole process—the miracle, in effect, of my daughter avoiding kidney failure. But if some meddling deity didn’t want her to get sick or die, why didn’t he just give her a normal, blockage-free ureter in the first place? After all, my son has never gone into kidney failure, either, but because there’s no dodged bullet in his medical history, no one’s attributing his survival to an interfering spirit.

In reality, my daughter caught a break, plain and simple. According to the National Kidney Foundation , one in 500 babes are born with some kind of kidney or urinary tract problem. Many of those problems are not detected until the baby becomes sick; many of those babies go under the knife; some even die. Due to fortuitous happenstance, my daughter was not one of them. That wasn’t any sort of divine intervention; it was luck, pure and simple, helped along by modern medical care.

If I should be thanking anyone, it should be the student whose sharp eyes noticed it in the first place. Or perhaps I should thank her instructor who taught her that a distended bladder was something to look for during an ultrasound. Or maybe I should thank the college who bought the ultrasound machine and allowed the class to offer free scanning. Or I could even thank George Ludwig , the man who founded the field of medical ultrasonography in the first place. Without his pioneering medical work, we wouldn’t have even been able to look.

But that’s the power of magical thinking for you: take fortuitous happenstance and apply its occurrence to a benevolent outside agent. I could just as easily say that the “miracle” occurred because being born a Scorpio on the cusp of Sagittarius blessed my daughter with luck and health in life, and have the same amount of evidence to support my side. Both explanations carry equal weight, and that weight is nil.

The honest truth is that my kid just got lucky–really lucky. Statistics tell us that in the same time frame as my daughter was being diagnosed, there were probably a lot of other newborns who were not; some of them probably even died from their undiagnosed kidney conditions. And it’s not like my daughter has avoided troube altogether. She’s currently on a nightly “therapeutic dose” of antibiotics to reduce the risk of kidney infection, and she still needs to have the blockage removed at some point, and no matter when that happens it’s going to be nervewracking, and it will carry the risk of complications or even death. She’s a healthy, happy little infant now, but at some point in the future she’s going to have a bad day. No amount of magical thinking will ever change that.

So You Want to be a Scientist? – by Shake

But I’m not a molecular biologist!

I don’t even play one on TV, nor do I own a supercomputer. Neither do you? That’s fine, you don’t need one to be part of the Folding@home project.

Folding@home is a distributed computing project run by the Pande Group at Stanford University’s Chemistry department. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to science research and education. Data is shared with others and over 50 academic papers have already been written discussing the results of the project.

For anyone not familiar with the term ‘distributed computing’, it’s being able to put hundreds of thousands of processors (far more than the roughly 5,000 processors found in a typical supercomputer) to work on a very large, complex problem such as protein folding, the focus of this project.

From their FAQ:

Proteins are necklaces of amino acids — long chain molecules. Proteins are the basis of how biology gets things done. As enzymes, they are the driving force behind all of the biochemical reactions which make biology work. As structural elements, they are the main constituent of our bones, muscles, hair, skin and blood vessels. As antibodies, they recognize invading elements and allow the immune system to get rid of the unwanted invaders. For these reasons, scientists have sequenced the human genome — the blueprint for all of the proteins in biology — but how can we understand what these proteins do and how they work?

However, only knowing this sequence tells us little about what the protein does and how it does it. In order to carry out their function (eg as enzymes or antibodies), they must take on a particular shape, also known as a “fold.” Thus, proteins are truly amazing machines: before they do their work, they assemble themselves! This self-assembly is called “folding.”

What happens if proteins don’t fold correctly? Diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cystic fibrosis, BSE (Mad Cow disease), an inherited form of emphysema, and even many cancers are believed to result from protein misfolding. When proteins misfold, they can clump together (“aggregate”). These clumps can often gather in the brain, where they are believed to cause the symptoms of Mad Cow or Alzheimer’s disease.

To get involved and help towards better understanding of these diseases, all you need to do is download a small piece of software, and install it on your computer. Download and setup takes only a couple of minutes and then you’re off and folding! The software uses spare CPU cycles and runs in the background at whatever priority level you set, so it won’t interrupt your other work.

Points are awarded to you under your username and they’ll count toward your team total if you’re part of a team. I fold for The Godless Ones (team #34395). There are teams out there representing companies (such as Microsoft, who we passed last year), universities, websites (like Fark), and all sort of others. Points are based on the size of each work unit (WU) which you complete as well as how long it takes you to complete each one. This site handles statistics for 3,000 teams and over 600,000 individuals. Our team is currently ranked 218th.

So what are you waiting for? Get folding!

Current message board F@H teams:
If your forum doesn’t have a Folding team, why not start one?