Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Stuff I Learned This Year: Epigenetics Edition

So I’ve been totally slack on blogging about the stuff I’ve learned this year as part of my goal to learn 12 new things in 2017. I’ve been learning stuff, but just not getting around to blogging about it. But I’m on vacay now, so I’ll have time to catch up on all the stuff I meant be blog about! And since I’m on vacation now, I’m also able to read books and finally finished reading the book that my friend Cath wrote: Introducing Epigenetics: A Graphic Guide.

Epigenetics is the field of study that is concerned with how things interact with our genes to control their expression. We all inherit DNA, which contains a bunch of genes, from our parents, but there is a whole bunch of complicated things that go on to control how/when/where those genes get expressed (or not). Back when I last took a genetics course – i.e., eleventy billion years ago in my undergrad – I only remember learning about gene transcription (where a cell reads the code in DNA and makes a copy of it in a similar molecule called RNA) and gene translation (where the cell translates the code from the RNA into a protein, which can then go on and perform some function in the body). I also only remember three kinds of RNA: messenger (mRNA), transfer (tRNA) and ribosomal (rRNA). Now there are a tonne of other RNAs – micro (miRNA), long noncoding (lncRNA), and piwi-interacting (piRNAs), just to name a few1. All this to say – a lot has happened in our understanding of genetics since I last learned about it, so this book was great way to get up to speed on a whole lot of learning in a fun way! Also, my copy just so happens to be signed:

Book signing by Cath

Dr. Cath, doing a book signing just for me!

I’m not going to even try to summarize all the stuff that I learned about epigenetics – the book has a *lot* of information and if you want a solid introduction to the world of epigenetics, you should probably buy the book!

  1. Sidebar: I feel the same way about dinosaurs. When I was a kid, we learned about 6 dinosaurs – T. Rex, stegosaurus, triceratops, brontosaurus, pterodactyl – and then Jurassic Park came out and we all learned about velociraptors,  but now there are dozens of different kinds of dinosaurs and it turns out that pterodactyls aren’t actually dinosaurs and that brontosaurus is actually an apatosaurus, except then more research came out that suggested that apatosaurus and brontosaurus were actually two different kinds of dinosaurs after all. But I digress. []


Thanks, Past Me!

The great thing about having a terrible memory is that when you support a Kickstarter fundraiser, by the time the thing you are funding gets released, you’ve forgotten that you funded it and then you get a surprise package in the mail. It’s like a gift from Past Me to Future (Now Present) Me!

Case-in-point: I got a delivery card notice from Canada Post1 saying that they had tried to deliver a package but I wasn’t home and I could come to the post-office in the Pharmasave after 1 pm the next day to pick it up. But I hadn’t ordered anything, so what could this mysterious package be? After a long and drawn out saga involving some combination of Canada Post being misinformed/incompetent/way  understaffed for the holiday rush of packages, I finally got my hands on my package. As soon as I saw this stamp on the box, I knew what it was:

Zombies, Run! Board Game

That logo is from Zombies, Run! – my favourite app, where you listen to a zombie story while you are out for a run and you are taken on missions where you have to run for supplies, or outrun zombies, or outrun bad people2. It’s superbly written and not listening to these zombie stories is something that I really, really miss thanks to not running in more than a year, thanks to all my stupid injuries. Anyhow, quite awhile ago I got an email about the Kickstarter project by the makers of the app – a board game based on the running app. Given their talent for audio stories, the board game also has an interactive audio component, which you get via downloading an app. The app isn’t quite ready yet, but they wanted to send out all the packages before the holiday mail rush3 and then we’ll get an email notifying us when the app is ready for download4

So now I have in my hot little hands, this board game:

Zombies, Run! Board Game

Zombies, Run! Board Game

… that I can’t play! Who wants to bet that the app will come out when I’m in Toronto for the holidays??

In a related story, I pre-ordered a copy of the book Soonish by Kelly & Zach Weinersmith. It wasn’t a Kickstarter, but it was a pre-order that was far enough in advance of the release date that I totally forgot I ordered it until it showed up:


I heard about this book on Zach Weinersmith’s webcomic page, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which I read religiously because it’s hilarious. When he talked about the book on there, he said that it’s really important to have a lot of pre-orders because it shows the publisher and booksellers there is interest in the book, so they will print more copies, arrange for book signings, and do various other things that will increase the sales of the book. Since I get so much joy out of reading SMBC every day for free, I figured that buying the book would be a good way to support an artist that I like (and assuage my guilt for being such a freeloader.))

I haven’t started reading it yet, because the semester was so busy, but now that that’s over with, I might actually have some time to check it out.

  1. Aside: I feel like being a Canada Post delivery person who has apartment buildings on your route must be the most futile job in the history of jobs. You carry packages to a building where you have to buzz to find out if someone is home but (a) you don’t have a buzzer number on the package and most people don’t list their name on the buzzer directory and (b) it’s the middle of the work day, so of course no one is home anyway. So you carry all these packages to apartment buildings, look at a long list of “Occupied” on the building directory, then write out a delivery card and stick it on the building. And repeat. []
  2. As most zombie stories go, it turns out that the humans are worse than the monsters. []
  3. It came from England, so perhaps it missed the holiday mail rush there, but it definitely got caught up in it here! []
  4. I know all this because they actually do send emails about such things, but they sent it long enough ago that I’d forgotten about it by the time the mail delivery notice card arrived. []



Hey, remember that time that I said I would blog about some of the stuff I’m reading over my summer holidays and then said that I’d probably not actually get around to doing that? Consider yourself proven wrong, Dr. Beth. Proven wrong long time!

FlashforwardEven since the TV series Flashforward was canceled, I’ve wanted to read the novel on which it was based. I quite enjoyed the first and only season of that show, but it ended with a cliffhanger and then the show wasn’t renewed. I mistakenly thought that if I read the novel I could get some closure1, but it turns out that the show was only very loosely based on the novel, so the unanswered questions from the show weren’t answered.

My Review2, Such As It Is – SPOILER ALERT!

The basic premise of both the novel and the show is that there is a global blackout in which everyone on earth loses consciousness and during their blackouts, everyone sees a glimpse of the future at a specific point in time3. The fall out from this then explores the age old questions of if the future is predestined or is it changeable, and do we have free will?

What I want to write about, of course, is much more mundane that that. The novel was written in 1999, set in 2009, and the flashforwards that the characters saw4 was in 2030. One of the challenges of writing a near-future story, of course, is trying to predict what that near future will be like, knowing full well that you will be proven wrong (or right) quite soon. For example, as characters were talking about their flashforwards into 2030, they were marvelling at how they were reading newspapers on a thin screen instead of on paper like they do in 2009 – and I was reading this book on my iPad, with my kobo sitting next to me on my bedside table. Similarly, a character looks up someone’s phone number in the directory of the American Physics Society – a paper directory5. Clearly, the author did not foresee the advances that would happen in technology in a decade.

There were some predictions, however, that were pretty good. For example, the main character in the book was using the Large Hadron Collider to try to discover the Higgs-Boson in 2009 – something that actually happened just shortly before I read the story6! And it was interesting the the author chose “Pope Benedict XVI” as the reigning pope in 2009 – because he actually was the Pope in 2009, but not when the book was written7.

Overall, I enjoyed reading most of the book, but I found the ending to be kind of lame. The ending happens in 2030, when the characters catch up to the visions of the future. I found it rather rushed – the action in 2009 takes up the vast majority of the book and so you spend a lot of time getting into the characters and then they speed through the endings. For example, we spend a lot of time reading about the main character, Lloyd, and his fiance, Michiko. In their flashforwards, they aren’t together and Lloyd is married to another woman. So there’s all this angst about whether they should even bother getting married since they know it will end in divorce – assuming that the future is immutable, which Lloyd believes it is. And then in the last ~15 pages of the book we hear that Lloyd married Michiko, they had a kid, they got a divorce, Lloyd met and married Doreen, the women he saw in his flashforward, and that Doreen was his perfect soulmate, the one he was really meant to spend forever with and we are supposed to care. I mean, we get so invested in Lloyd and Michiko and we know nothing of this Doreen person, so I find it difficult to believe that Lloyd just loves her so much, but we are given absolutely no sense of why that would be. And then there’s this whole rich guy who makes some Nobel Prize winners immortal and their consciousnesses live on as robots. But it all comes within a few pages at the end – not really long enough for me to be invested in it or for the author to really do anything with it.

In conclusion, whether as a novel or a TV series, Flashforward builds me up only to let me down in the end.

Image Credit: Posted by Open Eye on Flickr

  1. Like what was the deal with the kangaroo hopping through the streets?? []
  2. I never promised a thorough review! []
  3. 6 months later in the TV show, and 21.5 years in the novel []
  4. As well as the ending of the book []
  5. I’m sure there were many more examples, but it’s been a few weeks since I read it and now I can’t remember the rest! []
  6. So this prediction was only a few years off. []
  7. I wonder how he knew that Joseph Ratzinger would chose the name Benedict? Or did J.R. read the story and then when he was elected pope think “You know what would be funny?” []


My Brain at… oh, something shiny

Yesterday was day #2 of the conference that I mentioned in my blog posting on Thursday and at said conference I won one of the book draw prizes. Oddly, given that there were hundreds of people at this conference, three of six people at my table won book draw prizes over the course of the two days, but I’m not going to complain about that!

The book I picked was this one:


Your Brain At Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock.

My job involves running several projects at any given time and I find it very easy to get distracted from working on one project when something pops up for another project, so this book totally caught my eye. I think I could really use some strategies to help me focus. After picking it out, I ran into a project manager colleague who told me that she’d read it and that it’s quite a good book, so I’m looking forward to starting it. It will be a nice distraction from the four other books I’m in the middle of reading. 🙂

In far more childish news, I was very pleased with the spot I got on the sign up sheet for one of the sessions at the conference:


#23 – Guest Posting: Stuff Books Taught Me – War is Hell

Here’s a guest posting from the lovely Sarah, my Resident Historian and Chief Political Correspondent.

Stuff Books Taught Me – War is Hell

File:Rilla of Ingleside.jpg

That title is a bit sensationalistic, and not entirely accurate. But I’m going to be writing about the first book that haunted me, that made me bawl, that really stimulated my interest in Canadian history (especially the First World War). Surprisingly – it’s Rilla of Ingleside, the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery.

WARNING: I am about to spoil the plot of this book. It was published almost 90 years ago, though, so you’ve had your chance to read it. Plus, certain plot points are vital to the life lesson the book imparted. You have been warned.

RoI is the 8th book in the series chronologically, though the 6th one written (Maud wrote the 4th and 6th books – Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside, respectively – during the 1930s due to pressure from her publisher. They fill in gaps in the Anne narrative). It focuses on Anne and Gilbert’s youngest daughter, Bertha Marilla Blythe, who is 15 as the novel opens in August of 1914. It follows the Blythes through the entire war until beyond the Armistice, ending in early 1919 when Rilla is about to turn 20. It is far more serious in tone than any of the other books in the series and is painstakingly accurate with respect to dates and battles of WWI. This tone shift and accuracy are deliberate; I’ve since read Maud’s published personal diaries and she not only recorded these events with the focus of an archivist, she also mined her personal writings for components of the novel.

RoI is the only Canadian novel about WWI on the homefront written by a contemporary author. And is it ever sad. All the boys you’ve grown to love in the previous novels head off to war. Virtually all are injured or worse. It’s horribly realistic, and that’s the worst part. And Anne’s son Walter, the beautiful dreamer who is the best friend and older brother of the protagonist, is killed in the Battle of the Somme.

So, it’s the summer of 1987. I’m nearly 10, and I am flying through the Anne series. I catch a reference to a grave marker in the 6th book (the last one written) but it makes no sense at the time. Into Rilla I plod. She’s flighty and 15 and a bit boy-crazy; she’s not so much older or different than I am. She idolizes her older brothers has a crush on one of their friends. She, and all those around her, have no idea of the emotional upheaval that will be contained in the subsequent four years.

Walter, one of her older brothers, has just survived a horrible case of Scarlet Fever and is unable to enlist. He has taken a leave of absence from University (he’s an author and he’s becoming successful) to convalesce and over this time Rilla and he (and the reader) become close. Circumstances and his influence transform self-indulgent Rilla into a sensitive and selfless woman. Walter, an old soul with an incredible imagination, harbours no belief in the glory of war. He knows that it’ll be hell on earth and he’s TERRIFIED. He’s also thankful that he’s unable to fight and is shamed at the admission. But, as time goes on and the war continues, he realizes that he must enlist. Rilla (and the reader) spend the novel hoping that he won’t have to, hoping he won’t go, then hoping he’ll be alright. All of this is shattered in the summer of 1916 when he is killed. Then, Rilla receives a letter from him, written the night before his final battle; he’d sensed that the next day would be his last. Dude. DUDE. I am getting choked up just thinking about it, over 20 years since the first time I read it.

This was the first time a character I’d loved had died (well, besides Matthew in AoGG, but he was old). A character with whom I’d identified, one who had such amazing potential and, had he lived, who would have gone on to do incredible things. I remember being gobsmacked when I first read those chapters, then absolutely bawling. It took me a good day or so before I could steel myself to pick up the book and go on.

The rest of the book is excellent; Rilla’s transformation is a triumph. It’s filled with moments of humour and happiness, and I have read it more times than I can count. But Maud’s intention – to make the horrors and loss of war real to readers – sure resonated with me. The death of fictional Walter represented the all too real loss of tens of thousands of other young Canadians, full of potential and greatly loved. What a cruel, vicious waste. Reading about WWI is still terribly painful for me, but I feel compelled to do so in order to pay tribute to these kids. And kids they were – when I visited Ypres at the age of 24, NOT ONE person in the Ramparts cemetery was older than me when they died.

Other books have affected me, have made me sob (HPatDH, I’m looking at you for a recent example) but every time one does I think back to Rilla. And say a little prayer for all the Walters lost on both sides of conflicts.

Image source: Wikipedia

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#8 – Book Review: Getting To Yes

And speaking of books I’ve gotten out from the library, now I think I’ll review of a couple of them!

At my new job, everyone  has to put together performance plans to plan and track their performance.  The majority of the plan revolves around planning the projects you are working on, but there is also a part for planning your own professional development. There are a number of suggested “leadership competencies” on which you can work and they even provided suggested resources (e.g., online modules, courses, books) to help you develop in your chosen areas. In the area of “communication skills” – something I like to think is one of my strengths – one of the books on the list caught my eye: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Because although I’m fairly strong on communication generally, I suck at negotiation. I hate it. The thought of it stresses me out. My image of negotiation is two opposing sides that hate each other, each trying to screw the other over to get as much as they possibly can for themselves. Yuck. My strengthes in communication, I feel, have to do with things like active listening, respect, fairness, objectivity and caring for other people.  I don’t want to screw other people over, but I also don’t want to let them screw me over.  You can see where my distaste for all things negotiation-y comes from.

But since the point of professional development is, well, development, I added reading this book to my list of things I will accomplish this fiscal year in pursuit of more skillz (This was the book I found on CD at the VPL that I mentioned earlier).

Much to my surprise, I really liked the book!  It wasn’t about trying to screw over the other guy at all!

What I learned, in a nutshell, from this book was:

  • separate the people from the problem – remember that the person/people you are negotiating with are people and you have to take their feelings/motives/interests into account. And if you separate the people from the substance of what you are negotiating over, you will be able to deal with both the people and the problem in a more effective way
  • focus on people’s interests, not on rigidly defending a position – Getting to the heart of what each side wants (i.e., focusing on interests) allows you to come up with creative solutions that can address both sides’ interests because it opens up possibilities that you would not even consider if you were strictly saying “I want this” and “you want that.”
  • have objective standards, because they are much harder to argue against than arbitrary positions.  Trying to negotiate a pay raise or a house price? Find standards of what other people get paid for comparable work (or paid for a comparable house) and what would make another job (or house) comparable and that will make it easier to defend your offer and reason with the other side.
  • know your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) – think about what the alternative will be if you can’t come to an agreement with this party.  Will you be able to easily sell your house to someone else?  Get another job?  Knowing what your alternative is will help you decide if you want to keep negotiating or not.

And, if you can believe this, before I even finished reading1 the book, I had used its principles to negotiate a contract! By focusing on interests instead of positions for a contract I was in the process of negotiating, I was able to come up with a creative solution that satisfied both my interests and the client’s interests, despite us being quite far apart in our intial proposals (and if we had merely tried to negotiate from those positions, we either never would have come to an agreement or one of us would have had to make major concessions to the other and been quite unhappy about it). Also, I knew what my BATNA was (as I have a full-time job, I didn’t need to have the contract, so my BATNA was to decline the contract unless I was happy with the offer), which helped me to know what I was willing to accept.

Also, by total random coincidence, just the other day, while searching for some mind mapping software, I came across this mind map that summarizes the book:

Anyway, I totally think this book is worth the read.  It’s called Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton.

1Well, listening to it, since it’s on CD.

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2008 – My Year in Review

Wow, it’s the last day of 2008. How did that happen?  Seems like only yesterday that it was New Year’s 2008 and now New Year’s 2009 is upon us!

So, in a blog posting that fits perfectly into my “rampant narcissism” category, I give you my personal 2008 summary:

The Good

  • I moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress
  • I got to hear Gloria Steinem speak
  • Got laser eye surgery
  • I saw Madonna in concert
  • I saw Chris Rock live
  • I taught two courses at UBC (Nutritional Assessment & Topics in Food, Nutrition & Health)
  • I got hired to teach another UBC course (Research Methods) and my first SFU course (Human Anatomy) for the upcoming term
  • Tod got the greatest cat EVER1.

The Bad

The Ugly



Books Read3

  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
  • The Pleasure’s All Mine by Joan Kelly
  • What to Eat by Marion Nestle
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  • The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
  • Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (just started)
  • Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti
  • Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind The Pay Gap-And What Women Can Do About It by Warren Farrell


  • Principles of Nutrition Assessment by Rosalind Gibson
  • Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches by John W. Cresswell
  • Best Practices for Teaching Statistics and Research Methods in the Behavioral Sciences, edited by Dana S. Dunn, Randolph A. Smith, Bernard C. Beins
  • Philosophy And The Sciences of Exercise, Health And Sport: Critical Perspectives On Research Methods, edited by Mike McNamee
  • Brain-based Teaching For All Subjects: Patterns To Promote Learning by Madlon T. Laster. (only a bit, because it turned out to be about elementary school teaching, whereas I was expecting it to be about university teaching)
  • Conducting & Reading Research in Health & Human Performance by Baumgartner & Hensley (only partway through)


And what year in review blog posting would be complete without some nerd stats:

Nerd Stats 2008:

  • Blog postings: 423
  • Tweets: 2,2274
  • Visits to my blog in 2008: 32,4104
  • Average number of blog visits per day: 934
  • Most popular blog posting: Hockey Hotties (1062 views)
  • Busiest day on my blog: Friday, September 26, 2008 (460 views, thanks to the Hockey Hotties posting)
  • My first guest posting on a blog as a correspondent for Miss604 at BlogHer

1OK, I realize that *I* didn’t get the cat and this is supposed to be *my* personal summary. But he’s the best freaking cat ever and he’s sitting on my lap as I write this, so it counts.
2A “letter of intent” (LOI) is an application to be allowed to submit an application. Anyone can submit an LOI, but only the people whose LOIs get accepted are allowed to submit the full application.
3I’m sure I’ve read more than this and am just forgetting some of them. This list is based on ones (a) I can actually remember without prompting, (b) appeared on my blog and so I saw them when I went through my blog to write this year in review, and (c) I still have out of the library, so I saw them when I checked what books I have out of the library.
4At the time of writing this blog posting.


My First Book!

Just received this in the mail the other day1:


That sounds like an interesting book, yes? I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about prenatal alcohol and bone development?

And wait, what is that there?


That author’s name looks awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

Yup, that’s my thesis2, in handy book form!

Back in the summer, this publishing company contacted me about publishing my thesis (which they’d found online). At first I thought it was some sort of scam (like they’d require all my banking account and credit card numbers, my passwords, my PINs, my SIN3 and my first born), but I checked into it and it seemed legit. They are a print-on-demand publisher and if anyone buys it4, I get royalties and I also retain the right to publish up to 80% elsewhere5. You can even buy it from Amazon. For the low, low price of $107.53. Seriously.

1Before I left for my trip. I didn’t have time to blog about it, but did have just enough time to snap the pics.
2Technically, it’s my “doctoral dissertation.” I’ve been given hell for referring to it as a thesis before, but I just can’t bring myself to say “dissertation.” It just sounds so snooty.
3for my non-Canadian readers, that means my “Social Insurance Number.”
4Which I am 99% sure won’t happen.
5And since I’ve already published all of my thesis data in scientific journals, I’m not anticipating being able to re-publish anyway.