Friday, March 21, 2008

Beads for Bears

Squeee! I've been so excited waiting for them, and they're finally here!

Terry went to the giant bead show in Arizona, and, as she always does, she asks us for our shopping lists so she can find us what we're looking for. I told her I was looking for bears, as I want to make earrings to sell as a fund-raiser for the sun bear repro biology informatics project.

Terry's been back and traveling again--it's school recruiting season--and between her and my chaotic schedules, it took a while for us to connect up. I've been on pins and needles waiting to see the bears she got me. They're wonderful!

I had asked her to look for some golden bears for me, and she came through! She found some lovely golden bears in the shape of black bears, as well as some black bear fetishes, and a selection of polar bears in different colors.

I am going to have such fun making these into earrings, and selling them to raise funds to support the research. The tricky bit is going to be parting with them, but Terry tells me I am not the first artisan to struggle with that.

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More details on Mother Bear's Day fundraiser, Part II

As I was saying before I interrupted myself, the details for the fundraiser are shaping up. For the motherhood of the bears, we're going with a Mothers' Day Brunch theme. It will take place the day before Mothers' Day, though, so that it won't get in the way of family plans on the day itself.

Below is the invitation to a Donor Appreciation Dinner to celebrate Mother Bear's Day. The donors who contribute to this fundraising campaign at the $250 and above level will be honored at the brunch, and I'll be reporting to the donors on the progress of the research over the last year, and projecting what we'll get done in the next year to promote sun bear reproduction.

We've still got room at the brunch--if you care about bear reproduction, love a good meal, and are going to be in Seattle on Mothers' Day weekend, you should consider joining us!

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More details on Mother Bear's Day fundraiser

It is shaping up, and details are falling into place.

UPDATE: Oops! I hit "Publish" instead of saving a draft, and now Mr. thalarctos needs the computer for a while, so I'll be back to finish this post in a bit.

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Requiescat In Pacem, Sir Arthur

Sad news of the passing of an author, a scientist, and a mensch.

Not only was he one of the formative influences of my childhood and early adolescence; he was--much more important--an all-around good human being. He will be missed.

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The bats and the bees

Another mystery die-off has begun:

A mysterious malady is killing thousands of hibernating bats in New York and Vermont, with yet another outbreak reported in a Massachusetts mine. Scientists are working desperately to unravel the cause. The disease is called “white-nose syndrome,” because a fungus appears around the muzzle of some affected bats. Researchers do not know whether the fungus is causing or contributing to the deaths or is merely a symptom of another problem.

Bat Conservation International has established a fund that is accepting donations to help finance this critical research. BCI is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other agencies to help find solutions to this critical problem.

Like the bees, the bats are an integral part of our ecosystem, no less for being mostly unseen. I wonder how this die-off is going to affect things, and if we'll notice it here as much as back East.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the descriptive name given to the disappearance of bees all across North America at least, and possibly related disappearances world-wide, observed since late 2006. There is some evidence that it may be related to Israel acute paralytic virus, but as far as I know, that is still speculative. So CCD is really just a name, not an explanation.

My friend Emma, who is very generous with donating the fruit from her garden for a number of projects, observed in early 2007 that she thought it would be a poor year for her fruit trees, due to the lack of bees. Her prediction was borne out--when Terry and I came over to collect fruit for jam for the Medicine Wheel Society Elders' Dinner, there was barely one tree-full of ripe plums the entire season. By contrast, the year before, we had gone back many times and filled up buckets, boxes, and bags (hey, alliteration!). At Terry's, we had made over 100 jars of plum jam; Emma had made her own batch of jam, too; we had eaten plums all summer long; and we had packed boxes of plums to donate to the zoo, where the sun bears and gorillas had feasted on them. Even at that, we couldn't keep up with the plum tree's fecundity--the very last time we went over there to get plums for the bears, fruit had fallen off the tree and was beginning to spoil underneath. We decided it was no favor to the bear keeper to bring in fruit that might get the bears drunk and give them diarrhea, so we missed out on the last batch because we simply couldn't keep up with the tree.

While this anecdote has a severe n of 1 problem, of course, it was consistent with what we know about the bees' role in pollinating fruit. So it will be very interesting to see what happens this year, both with the bees and with the fruit. I think I won't explicitly seek out bee news before the plum harvest, just in order to not bias my observations about the quantity of the fruit.

With the bats, I don't know how the effects of a die-off would show up--more insects, maybe?

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Blast from the past

This post at Home of the Brave took me back in a very unexpected way:

The spectacle of Siegelman, whom I briefly met about 40 years ago in Huntsville, Alabama, being in federal prison on this bogus case is nothing short of overwhelming. And the obtuseness, if not hostility with which the district judge and the Eleventh Circuit have met his requests for bail pending appeal sets some kind of high water mark for politically motivated vindictiveness. This is the kind of judicial hostility I encountered all too often during the civil rights era. It is utterly shocking to see that kind of callousness resurrected for Siegelman.

It's about the imprisonment of a former Alabama Democratic governor, and, as an example of the vindictive dealings of the Bush government, shocking, although not especially surprising. But that's not what struck me the most about this post.

When I read this:

All too ironical and upsetting is that the conviction was in the Middle District of Alabama, a court formerly presided over by Hon. Frank M. Johnson, one of America’s great jurists of the mid-twentieth century.

I was suddenly taken back to many a fractious dinner-time conversation with my family. Judge Frank Johnson was my mother's sworn enemy, or rather, she was his. I doubt he even knew her, although I suppose it is possible.

In many ways, I am very proud of my mother. In a day when women, especially in Alabama, didn't usually go to medical school, she struggled against the culture, and insisted on becoming a doctor. She had to fight ingrained sexism to do so, and she had at least one professor who refused to teach her because she was a woman. I am very proud of the obstacles she surmounted to get to her dream--it was harder than it was for many other people, and she persevered.

Here's the thing, though--somewhere along the line, in her struggles, she lost empathy with others in theirs. She was unbudging in her opposition to the civil rights movement, for example. One of my deepest fears is that when I am old, and my mind is waning, all the work and study and growth I did on these issues will be for nothing, and I'll just be babbling out the poison that was poured in my ear when I was too young to know any better. I hope that is not my fate, but it is definitely my fear.

Her emnity to Judge Johnson was, I think, related--what I remember made his name a swear word around our dinner table was his ruling that patients could no longer be involuntarily committed to a mental institution just on the physician's authority. My mother was a psychiatrist, and she had worked hard to get where she was--fair enough. But somewhere, she took on the mantle of authority that had traditionally been part of the psychiatrists' practice at that time and place, and she deeply resented the erosion of her authority that Judge Johnson represented.

As I said, I am proud of what my mother did to go to school against all the social pressure to dissuade her from it. But I can't defend all her attitudes and her politics, and I don't know how much of that struggle hardened her and her positions to what they became.

And I haven't thought about any of this for a very, very long while, and I don't know when I would have again, except for that mention of Frank Johnson as one of America's great jurists. Now, it makes me curious to do a little bit more reading about him. But the name was such a highly-charged epithet in the home I grew up in, that I wanted to get my thoughts down first, to avoid Heisenberging them by reading other accounts.

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Chapter 7 just went to the publisher!

Which means, in the space of the last week, I have written and delivered the following:

  1. Revised Preface (massage research literacy textbook), incorporating all editor's changes;

  2. Revised Chapter 1 (massage research literacy textbook), incorporating all editor's changes;

  3. Research literacy article for Massage & Bodywork magazine, introducing the Introduction section of a research article, and the concept of statistical significance, located in the context of massage for pregnancy (actually, this was a rewrite; I had delivered 5000+ words, forgetting it was supposed to be ~2000, so had to do a major rewrite to make it fit without destroying the continuity);

  4. Incorporated major reviewers' changes to a journal article based on my dissertation; if they accept it, I'll mention the name of the journal, but not until/unless it's accepted;

  5. Revised Chapter 7 (massage research literacy textbook), incorporating all editor's changes.

With such an unholy convergence of deadlines, no wonder my adrenals are the size of grapefruits!

On the other hand, the first draft of the book's almost half done, the dissertation journal article is out of my hands for now, and the material I culled from the magazine rewrite is almost enough for the next column all by itself.

So, it progresses. :)

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Happy Mother Bear's Day!

The first fund-raising campaign to mark the new direction I'm going in to support my research is a small one to raise some immediate funds for the sun bear reproductive biology informatics project.

While the details remain to be nailed down, the concept is already taking shape--a traditional Mother's Day brunch-style celebration with the donors, to toast the prospect of possibly helping the sun bears to become mothers themselves.

Of course, we can't have it on Mother's Day itself (Sunday, May 11, this year), because people already have plans with their own families, mothers, and spouses. So we'll create a new holiday just for this purpose, Mother Bear's Day, and celebrate with a donor appreciation brunch on Saturday, May 10, instead.

The program and details are still taking shape, but I need to finalize them soon, as April's already on the horizon. But I do know we'll be raising a champagne toast to the prospective mother sun bears over a Mother's Day-style brunch, accompanied by a program that shows the donors how their funds go to help our research to promote these efforts.

If you're going to be in Seattle that weekend, and you're interested in more details about this event and the research it supports, I'll have more details up right here in the next couple of days. Of course, I can always be reached in the meantime by email at , as well.

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A new direction

What does a newly-fledged young* scientist do to avoid leaking out of the "broken pipeline" and getting lost, in a stagnant funding environment**, where grant money to support research is getting harder to obtain?

She becomes an entrepreneur! (Actually, there is precedent: Benjamin Whorf supported his linguistic work with a day job as an insurance agent, so I'm in good company.)

I'm actually taking a three-pronged approach to building financial and logistic resources to support my research, in order to diversify and minimize risk:

  1. Donations. Since I am not a financial or legal specialist myself, I am currently working with grants administrators at a variety of appropriate philanthropic organizations (depending on project) in order to ensure full compliance with all state and IRS regulations regarding philanthropic donations.

  2. Purchases. I am developing an offering a wide variety of products and services whose proceeds go to support my research. I'll post a catalog here when it's ready.

  3. Investment. This is the part about which I will probably blog the least, simply because the state guy I am working with cannot provide guidelines for what is appropriate and what is not. There are a number of rules which a Small Corporate Offering Registration (SCOR), such as I am preparing for continuing education classes I am developing, fall under. I am preparing a microcapital offering with all relevant documentation under relevant state and SEC regulations.

    One of those regulations is that all advertising for the offering has to be approved in advance. I asked about blogging about my SCOR, and the guy I spoke to didn't know what a blog was. Needless to say, the policy has not been set, and since the last thing I want is the SEC coming after me, I'll only blog about my experiences putting together a SCOR if I can get assurance that it won't be an issue. If not, then not a peep--I'll talk about it only in meatspace, in Washington state, as per the residency requirements. So you may hear about it here, or not, depending on what they decide their rules are (or are not) about SCOR blogging.

All of these income streams converge to support my commitment to Research Projects, Education, Service, and Outreach in three areas:

  • Basic Science Informatics: Sun Bear Endangered Species Reproduction Knowledge Representation (KR) Project (culminating in 40% Full-Time Equivalent [FTE])

    1. Knowledge representation and computerized reference ontology of bear anatomy. Develop and publish natural history of organ development in hibernating vs. non-hibernating species. Research questions: do these differences provide any information re: development of hormone-resistant cancerous tumors in those organs (breast and prostate) in humans? What are the medical implications of the different kinds of cells in bears and in humans?

    2. Anatomical atlas-—publish second edition of reference atlas for sun bear cytology, and make it freely available to wildlife conservationists in limited-resource areas.

  • Clinical Informatics: Evidence-Based Massage (40% FTE)

    1. Best Practices in Massage: What are the information needs of the stakeholders in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and what information-gathering, information visualization, and information-presentation methods fit those needs best under what circumstances?

    2. Research Literacy for Massage Therapists textbook—finish contract (almost halfway through now!)

  • Public Health Informatics: Information Access (20% FTE)

    1. What are the information needs of practitioners, patients, and software developers in the development of an open-source electronic medical record (EMR) in Haiti and other low-resource locations, and what information-presentation methods best meet those needs?

    2. What are the information needs regarding neonatal skin barrier development and biochemistry of traditional remedies of mothers and caregivers of newborn infants in Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan? What information would they require in order to synthesize the beneficial aspects of traditional infant oil massage with what we know about best practices for which oils build up the skin barrier against infections and hypothermia, and which oils hinder that barrier development?

    3. What information about massage and other self-care could improve the quality of life of Haitians living with the effects of gross lymphatic swelling caused by worms, as well as giving their caregivers and families effective ways to support them? What are the best ways to provide that information in such a resource-limited area?

As this is my job now (though I may take other day jobs as appropriate to support this initiative), I'll be blogging about it more regularly here. That means kibitzing at other blogs less, but for now, that's ok.

* 49 years old, actually; 50 on May 1. But the term "young researcher" doesn't refer to chronological age, but rather to how long it's been since the scientist finished her degree. Since I graduated in August 2006 with my PhD, I'm a "young scientist", academically speaking.

** Actually, I agree with Orac that the problem isn't just as simple as blaming the NIH and the Bush administration. No matter--I'm not talking about why there is a problem, only about what I'm going to do to solve its impact on my end.

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