Archive for the ‘Miscellany’ Category

Commercial Break: DNA Day Sale Now Underway

Friday, April 18th, 2008

And now, a word from our sponsor. If you’ve ever wanted to learn or thought that maybe you should learn what the structure of DNA really looks like and how DNA actually works in our cells to make us who we are and keep us going, then you have a chance to do it in a very thorough and enjoyable way for the lowest price ever. OnScreen DNA, the virtual model programmed by the On-Screen Scientist himself, is on sale at a 70% markdown, in honor of DNA Day and the original discovery of the DNA double helix fiftty-five years ago. The price? Just $19.53 (where’d that number come from?), instead of the usual $69, through April 25, 2008.

What’s DNA Day? It’s the day we celebrate both the historic publication of the Watson and Crick paper that elucidated the double helical structure of DNA and the completion of the Human Genome Project. April 25 has been chosen as the day. I may feel moved to say something about the discovery one of these days, maybe even before DNA Day, but for now I wanted to alert my many readers to the sale.

The software runs on Macintosh OS X or Windows XP/Vista. Download the free OnScreen DNA Lite first if you wish to see the quality of the model. But you don’t really get the full how-DNA-works story in the Lite version, just a detailed guided tour of the structure, including the essential molecular components and chemical bonds. The on-screen tutorials explain everything you’re seeing, and practically no prior knowledge is assumed.

Can you spot the many (roughly 50% it seems) inaccurate popular depictions of DNA as a left-handed helix instead of the proper right-handed type? Well, you’ll be able to after a few minutes with OnScreen DNA (or even the Lite edition, for that matter). It would be so easy to tell the artists hired to make all these nifty DNA double helix logos and designs the difference between left-handed and right-handed DNA, but it seems no one does, even scientists. Witness the many backward examples. I think the professor that was maintaining the left-handed-DNA web site finally got tired of it, but I imagine the archives are still up in any case. Just Google it. New examples appear all the time. The Boston Globe had a doozy that occupied about half a page just last week. Left-handed DNA does exist in nature, but it’s a small percentage and is not the genome molecule of our chromosomes.

Anyway, the animations of DNA and RNA chain-construction in OnScreen DNA are a lot of fun. I still enjoy them after having seen them countless times during programming, debugging, testing, and just playing around. You really need to see the three-dimensional structure of DNA, not just the two-dimensional ladders which animations encountered on the internet seem to invariably fall back on. Having programmed the OnScreen DNA animations, I can see why. It’s a pain to do the three-dimensional programming. But it is worth it. Just go to <> to purchase online and see for yourself. Or get the free version from the link in the upper right. Amaze your friends by pointing out the next picture of left-handed DNA you come across! That’s almost as good as ordering in French at the French restaurant.

Some Thank Yous and More on Ronnie Knox

Monday, April 7th, 2008

I started this blog February 27, 2008. I’ve actually had more people drop by or stumble in than I expected, and I’d like to say thank you to a few folks, as well as adding a little more information on Ronnie Knox, the Proust-reading football player I talked about in the previous post for April 1.

The first email I got (via the link near the top right) was from Jamie, who had come across The Perfect Italian Woman after it had triggered a Google alert she’d set up for any web pages relevant to a book she was writing on French women. She enjoyed the piece and was generous in her compliments. Thank you, Jamie, for the encouragement.

That was just one example of the funny ways people can end up here. The story of my unusual free-lance physics job Why Gamble? Hire a Physicist lured people that had made Google searches on “Lawrence Berkeley Lab salary negotiation,” “physicists for hire,” and “postdoc scientist.” I don’t know Valtrex how long they stuck around since I suspect they had something more practical in mind, but it’s interesting to see the unexpected directions people are coming from.

The biggest spikes in visitors to the blog occurred after I posted the long accounts of my troubles installing Windows Vista on my MacBook Pro using Apple’s Boot Camp. Most of the traffic was due to the MacSurfer’s Headline News site’s having linked to the posts. It’s nice to be able to measure traffic in the hundreds instead of in single or double digits. I still get people coming by every day to check those computer-related posts out, which is not too surprising since I dealt with a number of issues that can come up when you’re installing Vista on a Mac.

I am grateful to two Proust-related bloggers that have made less ephemeral links to the Ronnie Knox, Marcel Proust, and I post along with appreciative comments. These are Antonia of The Laws of Night and Honey and Judy of Reading Proust in Foxborough. I’ve also had an enjoyable email exchange with John of the blog Thinking It Through.

Now to more on Ronnie Knox. I found some Google excerpts from a book published in 2003 called Beyond the Xs and Os: My Thirty Years in the NFL, an as-told-to book by the pro football coach, Jim Hanifan, who had been a teammate of Ronnie’s at UC Berkeley. Jim was a junior when Ronnie was a freshman. About Ronnie’s ability he has this to say:

Ronnie was a superbly talented football player. If his old man had not fouled him up, everyone in the country, even today, would know who Ronnie Knox was. That’s how good a player he was and could have been.

Hanifan fills in some painful details of the way Ronnie’s stepfather caused problems Cytotec with every coach Ronnie had. I’ll just move on to later in the narrative, which finds Ronnie starring at football in Toronto and, according to Hanifan, also starring on a weekly television show. He provides a new slant on Ronnie’s decision to quit football.

Without any warning Ronnie just walked off the field one day and quit football. He had gotten serious with a young lady, and the two of them took off and went to Mexico.

Then, after telling of his regret at having years later missed a phone call from Ronnie, who never called back, Hanifan continues.

I heard he ended up living in Los Angeles and was homeless when he died a few years ago. I thought the world of him, and it hurts to see him gone.

I’d like to think that Hanifan might have just heard a false rumor of Ronnie’s death, but this sounds pretty definitive. I’m glad to hear how highly Hanifan thought of Ronnie, but it somehow makes me all the sadder. I’d still like to see an obituary or something just to be sure he’s really dead and possibly to fill in a little more of his last forty years. A strangely tragic figure, that Ronnie Knox.

A Humble Beginning

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

onscxreen presidentI know, I know. That picture makes me look as batty as the Archbishop of Canterbury. I mean as batty as he looks, not that he really is batty, so far as I know, any more than I am. At a certain age, you just start to look that way if you sort of bug your eyes out, which I happened to be doing when Photo Booth snapped me. The picture must be a little scary too. When I had it at the top of the OnScreen Science home page, for about two days, nearly every visitor left the site immediately upon landing there. But the other snapshots in the series made me look like Steve Wozniak. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, except I don’t look like him. I am a physicist, a developer and marketer of science education software, and a Little League coach, or have been all of those recently. I’m also a husband, grandad, and son; and the parent of two teenagers, as well as a grown daughter. I’m shooting for one entry a week. We’ll see how it goes.