Power Mac dream machine on its way

I've been comtemplating my jump into Mac OS X for a long time now, and I've recently decided to go for it. My dream machine should arrive this week to the office where I'll use the Power Mac G5 and its 30" display as my principle work station, in between my Windows XP box on one side and Red Hat Linux on the other.

I wasn't planning on the 30" display, but after spending a lot of time in the Apple store getting the feel of the displays, I couldn't get myself to part with the motherload of all displays. I mean, hey, I'm in front of a monitor for the better part of 50 hours a week here, so I'd better start making it a better experience than a 17" CRT on top a Wintel workstation that's bulging under the load.

Here's the full spec:

  • 2GB DDR400 SDRAM (PC3200) - 4x512
  • Dual 2GHz PowerPC G5
  • 160GB Serial ATA - 7200rpm
  • ATI Radeon 9650 w/256MB DDR SDRAM
  • Apple Cinema HD Display (30" flat panel)
  • 16x SuperDrive double-layer (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)


scienceNow - Special PBS Series

The PBS program NOVA has produced an innovative, educational science program called scienceNow, which started airing this spring. I think the series is absolutely fantastic, not only because of the content, but because the host Robert Krulwich is able to convey the complex topics through his antics as well as serious discussion.

What's best about the actual shows is that they are available for viewing on the internet, so if you weren't able to watch it or record it on your Tivo, no problem. Just go to the site and watch the streaming video there!

Each show covers about 3 or 4 topics, and the most recent edition had a great section about stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.

Massachusetts Passes Bill to Strengthen Stem Cell Research

The Boston metropolitan area of eastern Massachusetts has perhaps the highest concentration of biomedical and life sciences research institutions in the world. State restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning have been overturned this week with a bill that was overwhelmingly passed in both the Massachusetts Senate and then the House of Representatives. Had the margin of approval been less, Governor Mitt Romney would have been able to veto the bill which he regards and distorts as a "radical cloning bill". Previously, investigators wishing to conduct such research had to obtain permission from their local district attorney. This bill removes that barrier to scientific research while simultaneously maintaining or even strengthening regulations that ban reproductive cloning.

Harvard's President Lawrence Summers writes in this article that this bill gives scientists the tools they need to help make Massachusetts "a global center in the life sciences revolution". Harvard's Stem Cell Institute (more) was formed last year to conduct the ground breaking stem cell research with private funds since the current federal government's anachronistic policies continue to ban funding of research done with new stem cell lines, limiting scientists to continue to use the aged cultures from the 60 existing embryonic stem cell lines. I can tell you from my own experience maintaing neuronal cell cultures, cell lines that have been maintained for long durations and divided over and over become observably aged and are often retired.

Michael Sandel, professor of political philosophy at Harvard, examines the ethical questions that fuel the controversy surrounding stem cell research in this article from the Boston Globe, where he considers the two primary debates to be a "right to life" objection and a "brave new world" objection.

Despite the Governor's challenge to the stem cell bill, he claims to be trying to increase Biotechnology jobs in Massachusetts, and has even fought to add Science to the MCAS test which determines if high school students may graduate or not. Some sources speculate that the Governor's mixed messages and weak position on stem cell research indicate that he may have ambitions for the next presidential race.

TalkingTree Blog joins up with GalaxyGoo Blog

I've recently had the honor to be invited as a guest blogger on GalaxyGoo which emphasizes the unique nexus of web technology and science. Today I've made my first introductory post to GalaxyGoo Blog. Since I've never had an "About Me" section on TalkingTree.com, I'm reposting my GalaxyGoo blog entry here to serve just that purpose.

About Me
Hello, my name is Steven Erat and I'm the new kid on the GalaxyGoo block, er..., blog. I've been invited by Kristin Henry of GalaxyGoo to contribute blog entries based on my experience in both scientific research and software development. You might even know me already from my blog on TalkingTree.com or through my employer Macromedia.


Wired Magazine on Motor Neurons From Embryonic Stem Cells

Wired Magazine has a brief overview of the importance of a new paper published in Nature Biotechnology. The significance of the article centers around how coaxing stem cells to grow into specific cell types is governed not only by their immediate chemical environment but also the transient nature of that environment. So its all about the timing of what chemical signals are presented to the stem cells.

Being able to focus stem cell growth towards a specific cell type enables scientists to generate new cells to replace damaged or deficient cells of the same type. In this case, the creation of motor neurons from stem cells is a big leap towards solving spinal cord injury.

A former acquaintance Ole Isacson, a Harvard Neuroscientist, comments on the research in the report.

A good review of the state of stem cell research can be found here: Stem Cells - Hype and Hope

What's up around Concord?

This week the Concord Public Library launched it's new website. Some of the new features on the website include access to the Special Collections including original survey diagrams by Thoreau, as well as a Brief History of Concord.

Since April or May of this year the library has been closed while under renovations and additions. It's expected to reopen in January, and I supposed the new and improved website is part of the PR to build anticipation for the reopening. I for one have been anticipating the reopening for quite a while. I live just a couple blocks from it, and I can't wait to start spending my weekends there in new reading rooms. For me, the library has been particularly difficult to concentrate in because of the creaky floor boards.


IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences Newsletter

I've just got my email notification that the quarterly IBM Life Sciences Newsletter is out. Here's the new articles produced for this newsletter. Some of them require that you register (free) with IBM first before viewing...

Information You Can Use

o New report forecasts seven key technologies that will revolutionize pharmaceutical industry by 2010

o Complimentary Seminars on Clinical Genomics

o Web Lecture: "Corporate Information Asset Management"

Customers and Business Partners in the News

o IBM and Affymetrix team to deliver tools to accelerate information-based medicine

o Axeda and IBM: Keeping the life sciences enterprise up and running with a total service solution for device relationship management

o Matrix Science and IBM deliver affordable turnkey package for high-throughput protein identification

IBM Life Sciences in the News

o IBM Announces University Grid Computing Projects

o IBM Launches New Software for Healthcare and Life Sciences

Monster Resume Writing Service

I'd like to recommend the Monster resume writing service. Recently I decided it was time to update my resume, especially since my entire career history before Macromedia was in Biology, and I had nothing to reflect the professional computer skills and web-related technologies I've learned in the last 4 to 5 years. I've come a long way since my first BASIC program in 1981 or my first HTML page in 1994.

The service requires that you first complete one of 4 resume wizards, depending on which type is appropriate for your industry or career level. That wizard entails a very lengthy and highly detailed battery of questions requiring not only details and facts but short answers or essays. These questions address your professional career, educational background, certification levels, and has a variety of customizations. I spent 6 hours on a Saturday afternoon completing a wizard because I put a lot of thought into how I responded to questions such as:


Towson State University Biology Honor Society

Towson State University Beta Beta Beta 1993. [L-R] Steven Erat, Paul ?, Tom ?, Wendy Berry, Lori Losh, ?, Emily Schmitt, Kim MacAuthurTSU Beta Beta Beta 1993 Officers - Emily Schmit, Lori Losh, Kim MacAuthur, Steven Erat, Dave Shuppert

Digging through my archives this weekend, I came across these photos from my junior year in college at Towson State University, Towson Maryland. These are members of the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society. The left picture was taken April 2, 1993 at the Initiation Ceremony for new members, and the photo includes the 1992 and 1993 officers. The photo on the right is of the 1993 officers.

Towson State University
BBB Biological Honor Society
Initiation Ceremony
April 2, 1993


Amazon BookKit CFC

I'd like to give proper credit and thanks to Cameron Childress of Sumo Consulting for the ColdFusion CFC that interfaces with Amazon's Web Service for Associate referals. Cameron has dubbed it the "BookKit CFC" and distributes it for free from his website. The books displayed in the Recommendations panel on this page are rendered using BookKit CFC.

The CFC is really a piece of art and I enjoyed reading the code and following the logic. The CFC queries Amazon's webservice, generates the HTML behind each book view rendered, and then caches the HTML result for some interval (controlled in a config.xml file). Each call to the method getRandomASID( ) pages through the cached result list, yielding a new for every page hit.

To enhance your experience here on TalkingTree.com, I've written a wrapper around the CFC that provides category-specific book recommendations based on which blog category you are viewing, although the main blog page displays a default set of recommendations, and categories such as ColdFusion, Flex, Linux, and Biology display a narrowed list of books. To implement this I use a csv text file to hold the list of book ids, then I filter on the blog category, and finally call the CFC while passing the filtered book list.

Thanks Cameron!

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