Embryology: The Biology of Development

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Brilliant video from Edge.org.

Lewis Wolpert, Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London, gives a brief walk-thru of some of the latest developments in embryology.

Cell biology is among the most mysterious and fascinating areas in science. So how do cells know to grow a hand instead of an elbow? Wolpert suggest a “buffer zone” that directs anatomical construction based on timing. The experiments referenced in the video support the hypothesis – just amazing!


Walking in New York City

Friday, August 22, 2008

I have one supernatural ability. Known to only a few close friends and my family, but revealed to you now. Whenever I am walking on the streets of New York City, I am able to attract, like gravity, people who are walking in front of me.

As you might guess, this power is more than a little frustrating, but works, like gravity, without exception. The old, the obese, the infirm, the tourists, and everyone else all drift directly into my path as I try to pass them. What makes them do so? I have long wondered, but now accept this power as a simple metaphysical fact. The people in New York City are just going to be in my way.

They can walk straight, but cannot resist the strength of my gravitational pull. It’s as though they sense me coming up behind them and say to themselves, “oh, look, here he comes, I’m going to get in his way and make sure that he has to stop, slow down, or, at least, change direction.” I’ve come to realize that they are helpless to resist. And I have accepted my power and hope, one day, to channel it for good.

I certainly will never knock anyone over, however tempting that might be. No, there is a reason for this power and I must find it. So get in my way New York. Together we can get to the root of a supernatural mystery.

P.S. I meant to write about this last week when I read this brilliant op-ed piece by David Rakoff. I felt that he might understand my plight.

Is Google Making Us Stoopid?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nicholas Carr’s article in the Atlantic Monthly has got a lot of people talking about the changes Google, or, more accurately, the Internet (they’re practically synonymous), is making to the way we think. There is the usual hand-wringing that accompanies any new technology or medium, and worries that some part of our basic makeup will be lost forever. Others dismiss these concerns and cite the existence of this kind of worrying whenever society changes.

In truth, they’re both right. The Internet has and will continue to change the way we live, work, and think. And as a result, some part of the way we’ve done things in the past has changed. Biologically speaking, it is certain that routine use of the Internet will shape our neural circuitry and continually reinforce those pathways. Short attention spans, browsing, and what-have-you might be a natural result, if, in fact, the Internet is the prevailing medium through which you extend your brain.

But wherever you fall in this debate, there is an important point that should not be overlooked. Humans (and life, in general) are amazingly adaptable. It has only been a dozen years or so since the Internet really became deeply entrenched in our lives. In that time, many people have gone from the old way of doing things to so pervasive a new way of doing things that articles can appear that question the new way. 12 years!

This ability to adapt ensures that nothing is really lost forever. These abilities are just dormant. The human brain is constantly pruning old and reinforcing new neural pathways. If all the electricity disappeared tomorrow, I exaggerate only slightly by writing that within a few years we’d see a renaissance of long-form journalism and the return of the 19th century novel.

In the meantime, the use of Google and the brain functioning that it encourages are simply a new form of intelligence. Is it an advance? Sure. Like the first monkey to pick up a rock and smash a nut, it will likely be built upon and new modes of thinking and communication will come into existence. Is it ultimately good?

My guess is yes. But one thing is for sure, Google (and the Internet) is not making us stoopid. It is simply making us different than before. And that’s what evolution is all about.

Here’s a number of thinkers on this topic from Edge.org

Ranking the Best Restaurants in Rome

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I have been hesitant to post this list because it has always been a kind of insider secret that I have passed along to a few friends who were visiting Rome. Having lived there, I experienced all of these restaurants first hand, multiple times and I can tell you that the list is, arguably, the best extant guide to Roman dining (or, at least, a pretty good list). You will not go wrong with any choice here.

10. Al Pompiere – #38 Via S. M. dei Calderari. Walk-up to this large well-lit restaurant in an old palazzo. Nice menu with the usual suspects and excellent service. Great dinnerware. Never had a bad meal here. Probably English. Mid High-priced. Rating 9.5

9. La Taverna degli Amici – #36 Piazza Margana – Great looking place. In the center, near Campo de Fiori. If it is warm enough, eat outside under the vines. Traditional Roman cuisine. Very romantic. The #1 date place in Rome. No English. Mid-priced. Rating 9.5 (Stroll over to the Campo and admire the Dante statue and large crowds)

8. Al Moro – #13 Vicolo delle Bollette. In the city center, behind Via Corso. Classic Roman trattoria famous for hosting the famous. Italian politicians, movie stars, etc. Small and tightly packed. Noisy. If you can afford it, ask the maitre d to order for you. Spaghetti al Moro (special carbonara) is delicious. Carciofi alla Romana. Succulent pork. Probably speak English. Mid High-priced. Rating 9.5 (Afterward walk to the nearby Trevi Fountain and throw a coin over your shoulder for good luck. Then go to Giolitti for a gelato.)

7. Giggetto – #21 Via de Portico d’ Ottavia. This place is great for lunch. It’s in the Jewish ghetto near the ruins of the Portico d’ Ottavia and Piperno. Great, if spicy, cacio e pepe. Delicious baked eggplant parm. The usual fried judeo-roman specialities. Good veal chops and cannelloni. Be careful with the wine on the tables. Order something you like instead. For red, a ’97 Barolo goes with just about everything and is smooth and inviting. Dine in or out. Probably some English. Mid-priced. Rating 10 (After lunch, it’s a short walk across the river to Trastevere.)

6. Remo – Pizza Joint. Testaccio. Any cab driver will know where it is. This is arguably the best pizza in Rome. Like most Roman pizza, it has a thin crust. Delicious with mushrooms, eggplants and sausage (Pizza Remo). Crowded. No reservations. Arrive early (before 8:30) and you won’t have to wait. Drink beer and have mouth-watering crostini as an appetizer. No English. Low-priced. Rating 10

5. Al Callarello – Atop Via Aventina – End of Via Santa Rosa (Near FAO): Romantic atmosphere, but crowded. Classic Roman trattoria. Dine in or out. Neighborhood place with no tourists. Just Romans and internationals working at the FAO. Wonderful antipasti, delicious pizza, and great main dishes. This place has a big menu. Recommend spaghetti with white clams and the veal with lemon. Also, try the fried calamari – light and mildly spicy. No English. Low, Mid-priced. Rating 10

4. Da Benito – Via Flaminia Nuova: This place is outside the traditional city center up past the Olympic Stadium, but it is the best fish restaurant in the city. It is upscale but there will be very few tourists. This is a Roman restaurant. Let the waiters choose for you (orata, sea bass, trout) but make sure you have the fresh (the fried is good too, but the fresh is outstanding) mixed fish appetizer. Have a delicious white wine and relax. This place is absolutely worth the trip. Outstanding! No English. High-priced. Rating 10

3. Antico Arco – Piazzale Aurelio: At the top of the Gianicolo Hill above Trastevere. Nouvelle Romana. Warm ambience. Cacio e pepe (pasta w/ cheese and black pepper) is stunningly good. There is nothing bad on the menu. Appetizers are delicious and change often. And the desserts are fantastic. Try the apple tart and the molten chocolate cake. They speak English. High-priced. Rating 10 (After dinner, walk along the Passegiata Gianicolo and check the great views overlooking the city.)

2. Piperno – #9 Via Monte de Cenci: In the heart of the old Jewish ghetto. Upscale Judeo / Roman specialties. Filetta di baccala (fried cod), Carciofi alla judea (fried artichokes), Fiori di zucca (fried zucchini flowers) and the best spaghetti with white clams in Rome. For fun, try the dessert Palle del Nonno (Grandpa’s Balls). They speak English. Medium High-priced. Rating: 10 (Stroll in the area to see some of the oldest working buildings and fountains in the city.)

Rome’s Best:

1. Perilli – #37 Via Marmorata (Testaccio): The number one best restaurant in Rome for authentic Roman cuisine. This is a neighborhood place (décor very simple, noisy) and has very few tourists. No English, but they’re very friendly and will understand you. Best dish: The carbonara – this is pasta with raw egg and cheese. It is peppery and so mouth-watering good, you will probably go back twice. Also great: Porcini mushroom, rabbit, oxtail, strachetti, amatriciana, artichokes alla romana, veal cutlets, and eggplant parm (only in season). Low, Mid-priced. Rating: 10 (This is a classic, delicious Roman trattoria) P.S. Check out the food shop Volpetti next door. Stock up on cheese and olive oil.

Notes: Avoid Trastevere for dining – it is over-priced and over-rated. Some of these places will be in the guide book, some won’t. For wine, it depends on what you’re having, but in a pinch, a crisp Orvieto white usually serves one well. And for red, a ’97 Barolo (if you can afford it) is maybe the best wine ever. Tipping isn’t expected or required but it’s nice to round up on the bill.


Obama’s Father’s Day Message

Monday, June 16, 2008

Barack Obama delivered an important Father’s Day message at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago on Sunday. His call? Fathers need to step up and take responsibility for their children.

From his remarks:

“But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

This is a vitally important message for Americans to hear. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC) website:

  • 24 million children (34 percent) live absent their biological father.
  • Nearly 20 million children (27 percent) live in single-parent homes.
  • Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.
  • Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.
  • In particular, this is a crisis among blacks. According to a 2003 House Ways and Mean Committee report, a stunning 68% of black children were born to unwed mothers. 7 in 10! Just read the facts above and calculate the damage this is doing to the black community.

    There are a lot of people who will find some reason to be offended by Obama’s speech. He’s attacking the victims, they’ll say, or, rather more likely, they’ll dispute the statistics (or the slant) in an effort to advance a political agenda. The bottom line is that this is an important message for all Americans. A lot of intelligent people might loathe parts of the “family values” lobby, but this is one area where that crowd is right. Fathers are important. Intact families are important.

    And this was an important message; one that he should continue to espouse to all Americans until men begin to accept responsibility for fatherhood. I urge you to read his speech and pass it on. From Obama:

    “We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one.”

    Prehistoric Tribe in the Amazon

    Friday, May 30, 2008

    This fascinating photo is published as part of a series by a group called Survival International to support the claim that there are uncontacted tribes living in the Amazon rainforest. If accurate, you’re looking at mankind 10,000 years ago. Apparently, they have had no direct contact with the modern world. Truly astounding. They’re shooting their bow and arrows at the airplane!

    New Mars Mission

    Monday, May 26, 2008

    I know, ho-hum, right? If you’ve seen one dusty, rock-strewn photo from the red planet, you’ve seen them all. The difference here is in the mission of NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander. This device has landed on Mars’s northern arctic plains with the tools to dig beneath the surface and analyze the ice there for signs of (or the conditions necessary for) microbial life.

    This journey is amazing for a thousand reasons: One, the thing landed on Mars Sunday night and it’s already sending back photos. Two, the whole thing is solar powered. Three, the Lander will conduct “sophisticated scientific experiments” on the soil and ice on the spot (this thing isn’t coming home). Four, the goal of the mission is to “(1) study the history of water in the Martian arctic and (2) search for evidence of a habitable zone and assess the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary.” Five, the strong possibility that there will be some evidence of life on Mars will redefine how we view the universe and, for me, reaffirm a sense of the universe as an organic entity.

    And so on. Go to NASA for more.