Sunday, April 26, 2009

Funny and bizarre

They say laughter is the best medicine. I recently came across a site that leaves me laughing hysterically every time I read it.

I also came across this site, which documents the bizarre and unexplainable behavior of russians.


Friday, April 24, 2009


I am the center of the cyclone, so whatever happens around me makes no difference to me. It may be turmoil or the beautiful sound of running water; I am just a witness to both, and that witnessing remains the same. As far as my innermost being is concerned, in every situation I am just the same. This is my whole teaching: that things may change, but your consciousness should remain absolutely unchanging.


Friday, April 17, 2009

the wonder of embryogenesis

As a graduate student studying developmental biology* I try to understand how certain processes happen in the zebrafish embryo. When I started graduate school I wanted to study the genetics of cancer. However I quickly realized that a majority of this type of research involves giving cancer to mice (this is an overly simplified view). I didn't want to spend several years killing and cutting up mice so I explored other options. The first time I looked at a chick embryo under the microscope, I was sure that this was what I wanted to study. Watching an embryo develop over time, from a clump of cells to a living thing with functional organs felt like I was getting a peak into something miraculous. The cells knew what to do, they were following some sort of internal program that made the embryo develop the same way everytime. I really wanted to know more about the program driving this development. Initially my project was studying chick embryos, but about a year and a half ago I switched over to zebrafish. Their embryos are transparent and the whole process can be observed. The video below shows the first 24 hours of zebrafish development.

*developmental biology is the study of how a multicellular organism develops from its early immature form (embryo) into an adult. This is different from embryology, because developmental biology examines the molecular and genetic mechanisms that regulate the development of the embryo, while embryology looks at the structure and morphology of the developing embryo; it is based more on observation rather than experimentation.


Thursday, April 16, 2009


Over the past year as I've become curious about all things Japanese my knowledge of Japanese food has increased a lot. I used to just know sushi and soba, but now my vocabulary has expanded. Words like ochazuke, nikujaga and oyakodon bring up delicious memories in my mind. Oyakodon 親子丼 : おやこどん is one of my favorite and very easy to prepare dishes. Litteraly it means parent and child and consists of chicken and eggs plus onion. Traditional Japanese flavoring is a combination of soy sauce, sugar, sake, and mirin, which is a sweet cooking wine. I don't eat sugar, so the oyakodon I prepare takes a bit different, but still very delicious.

recipe below...

Sasha's oyakodon:
2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 eggs
1/2 sweet or yellow onion
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp water or broth
dash of old bay seasoning
1 tsp olive oil

Heat up olive oil on medium heat. Cut up the onion as fine or course as you like it. Saute for a few minutes until it start to become transluscent. Dice the chicken into small cubes and season with soysause and old bay, add to the pan with onions and let them cook together, covered, for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the meantime, combine eggs, water or broth, a bit of soy sauce and old bay and mix together with fork. When the ckicken looks done, stir the chicken and onion mix, and add the egg mix evenly to the pan. At this point it's up to you when to stop the cooking process. Traditionally, oyakodon eggs are slightly runny. To achive this, turn off the heat and serve soon after adding the eggs. If you cover the pan and let the eggs cook though, this becomes more like a fluffy omlet, which is also good. I like to make the oyakodon different consistensies depending on my mood.

Serve over white, short grain rice, or any rice or grain of your choice. Makes 2-4 serving depending on your appetite ;)

And now for a more traditional oyakodon tutorial look here.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

things I found surprising about Japan

1. people stand on the left side of escalators, and walk on the right
2. fancy toilets with heated seats, bidets, and... um...sound effects
3. there is a little melody that accompanies the opening and closing of doors on subway trains
4. malls had pet stores with walls of tiny puppies in plexiglass enclosures
5. many small restaurants had you order food from a vending machine type device that had the food options listed. You pushed a button next to the meal of your choice, paid the money and collected a ticket, which you gave to the waiter inside.
6. no tipping. Not in restaurants, not in taxis.
7. taxi doors are opened and closed by the driver via a lever next to their seat.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

cute baby animals

Baby animals are adorable, and not just mammals. There's something irresistibly endearing in tiny digits and giant eyes, as this collection of photos nicely demonstrates: link.


groovy tunes

I like listening to music; all kinds of music. Russian rock, latin guitar, american pop, classical, etc. What I'm listening to depends on my current mood. I like discovering new artists and finding out what other people are listening to. I never thought of this a s a hobby. I was taking an intorductory Japanese class in the fall and we were learning how to talk about our interests, music was one of the hobbies we learned how to say. 私の趣味は音楽です。(watashi no shumi wa ongaku desu. My hobby is music.)

Recently I found a great playlist of "cruising music" created by Michele Phan creator of many make-up and beauty tutorials on youtube. This music is great for morning yoga, afternoon relaxation and background to work that requires an extra bit of motivation.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

how many sides does a triangle have?

I would like to think that with the internet becoming increasingly accessible to all, people nowadays would be better informed about the world around them. This video implies that this is not the case. Although they probably did pick and chose the answers featured in this video, it is still sad to watch.


Friday, April 10, 2009

full moon - crazy afternoon

The full moon has a strong effect on me. I feel restless, full of energy, creative. I am usually productive in unexpected ways and more decisive. Today it seems I cannot stop writing. I should put this energy into writing a scientific paper, but I guess I have a need to write down my thoughts today.

April started off cool and rainy. At first I dreaded going out in the rain, but I discovered that it was not so cold and the rain was soft. Not like the harsh, chilling rains of fall. It was nice to rediscover this fact, which I must have forgotten over the course of the year. It reminded me of my favorite poem "There will come soft rains", which comes from a chapter with the same title, from the Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And no one will know of the war,
not one will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

This short story was one of the first things I read independently in English, after I first arrived in the US. I was in the 6th grade at the time. I love it still, and Ray Bradbury is still one of my favorite authors.


grad school update

Back in October I wrote about my ambitious plan to defend my thesis by May 8th. Well, that is not going to happen. Experiments take longer to do than expected. Results are ambiguous and need follow-up experiments to be clarified. Procrastination happens periodically. However, my new deadline is August/September. In my current position I think this is a doable goal. I now have real results, I am working on my first paper and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel get brighter everyday.

A few weeks ago I was feeling low and I was having a conversation with one of my labmates. I confessed to her that in my journey towards a phd I've always seen this tall mountain ahead of me that I will need to climb before I can get to my destination. I guess I convinced myself that all the hardest work will come at the end. I felt that as I got closer to finishing, the mountain seemed higher. My labmate said - Why does there have to be a mountain? The more I thought about it, the more the mountain seemed to shrink. Why did I imagine a mountain? I have been working for 6.5 years, I only have a few more months to go. Why would there be a greater amount of work now? Work is just work: certain tasks to be accomplished. I have acquired the skills to accomplish these tasks, all there is to be done to to keep moving forward, one step at a time, until the destination is reached. True, I will have to do writing, which I haven't yet done, but I love writing! That should be the best part. My labmate's simple and profound statement changed my perception of the road ahead of me, and I feel as if I dropped a heavy load and am moving forward with a spring in my step. The past few weeks labwork has become fun. Without the weird pressure I was piling on myself, I can enjoy the process of scientific discovery without anxiety of all that is yet to be done.

Sure I still feel anxious and unproductive sometimes, and I have to keep reminding myself of the flat road ahead. I started meditating every morning, including some visualization of the flat road ahead, and I find that it helps to keep me focused. I am also discovering that things get done faster when I stop expecting perfection and just try.

A few days after this conversation I was talking to a classmate of mine, and I told her about my epiphany moment. She laughed and said "Why imagine a flat road, why not a downhill road? You can go faster and faster..and crash and burn at the end" :) She was joking of course, but I gave the idea some thought. I decided that I like the idea of steady progress that the flat road represents. Although I suppose, a slight downward incline just might hasten me to my goal...


write something

Today I took the day off from going to lab to "work at home", because I really need to make my data into figures. However true to self, I managed to do everything but.

1. I found an interesting video about shortening spoken Japanese phrases (link). おはようございます becomes ~っざいます and ありがとうございます becomes あざっす. Oh, what fun! As if understanding spoken Japanese isn't difficult enough already.
2. I watched a video of a painting elephant.
3. I discovered that the reading room at Widener library has an atmosphere highly conducive to reading and comprehending scientific papers. Must return there regularly.
4. I cooked buckwheat, salmon and green beans (separately). The salmon required de-scaling, but the skin was well worth getting covered in flying scales.
5. I contemplated my life and the reasons for not doing everything I would like to be doing.
6. I played my cello fro the first time in probably three or four months and was delighted to find that I love it as much as ever, and that although my fingers got tired quickly, they remembered what they were supposed to be doing.
7. I mulled over the implementation of my plan to build a website, mostly as an exercise in website building and maitenance, since I am not at all sure about the content.
8. I came up with a plan to stop indecision in its tracks. I sometimes cannot decide on the best course of action or the best way to spend my time and so I can spend hours (seriously) going round and round reexamining each possibility accomplishing nothing. I decided that in such times the best thing to do is to exit that rotary, and so something else entierly. And that something will be writing something, so here I am.
oh, and 9. I learned the meaning of the word polysome, which is just another word for polyribosome. Maybe I knew this before and just forgot.

Today is a beautiful partly cloudy spring day with temperatures in the 60s. I enjoyed a very nice half hour walk from my house to Harvard square, bummed around the library and the science center and recaptured what it's like to be a student. I plan to enjoy an equally nice walk back.