Cross-Country Connections: Stone

Cross-Country Connections is a Biodork weekly blog entry dedicated to telling stories in pictures of three family members – me, my sister and Mom – living in very different locations across the country. Every week we choose a different theme and then take or contribute a personal photo that fits the theme. This week’s theme is Stone.

From Erin in Bellingham, Washington:

Erin’s stone gargoyle protecting her craft corner.

From Mom in Carbondale, Illinois:

Stone – sometimes its hard to remember where and when you pick one up. But these four I remember with great fondness.  The large smooth speckled one came from a family trip “Out East” – specifically from the rocky beach in front of our hotel in Gloucester Mass (1992 if I remember correctly).  The smooth black stone and the stone in front came from another beach on the Pacific – 2011 – the week before 9/11.  Finally, the last stone near the back was purchased (seriously) from a small shop outside of the Petrified Forest on my first grand road trip to Tucson – 2006 – and up to Minneapolis and back to Southern Illinois.  Good times all.

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

On Friday the Hubby and I took a road trip along the Mississippi and found these stone bluffs in Nelson, Wisconsin. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Mississippi River is flanked by high stone bluffs, and these are just a teensy example of them. The bluffs between Winona, MN and LaCrosse, WI tower above the highway and riverside towns, and are, in my opinion, some of the prettiest in the region.

Upcoming Show: Atheists Talk with Alex Rosenberg

I had (great intentions for conceiving and writing) an awesome post for yesterday, but instead spent most of the evening (you know, after cooking dinner, preparing lunch for today and eating dinner over some Mythbusters with the Hubby; I totally knew those breast implants weren’t going to expand at high pressures!) writing up my first-ever Atheists Talk radio program notes for the MN Atheists website! And then I had to muddle my way through navigating the website for the first time. I admit, there were a few frantic emails between me and the other administrators last night and this morning (frantic on my part, not theirs), and at least one header that included the plea “HALP!”. But I finally got all of the content in the right place and in a format that I’m almost happy with(dadgummed HTML!).

On Sunday we’re interviewing the American philosopher Dr. Alex Rosenberg about his new book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions. I’m currently halfway through it and I’m enjoying his writing style. It’s a lot of science and deep reading, but every so often Rosenberg will slip in some completely unexpected humor and I’m reminded that, oh yeah – this is actually really fun stuff! 

I’ll be interested to hear the interview because there are a few things in the book that I’m not completely on board with, and I’m excited to hear Dr. Rosenberg expound on his ideas. This will only be my second time hosting, so I’m still allowed to be a little star-struck about our guests, right?

If you want to learn more about the upcoming radio interview on this Sunday October 30th at 9am (and see my shiny write-up!) visit mnatheists.org

Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure

On Saturday I participated in the Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure. I posted about the race last week, and since then I’ve had people emailing me for more information. Apparently the race is going to be held in several cities across the U.S., and enterprising individuals are looking for clues or trying to decide if they want to get in on the action. I’m not going to share specific clues that we given here on the blog, but I’ve made a couple of lists about my experience with the Minneapolis race.

Top Ten Highlights

1) It was FUN. I had a really good time.This was an enjoyable scavenger hunt, especially for someone like me who enjoys logic games, friendly competition, a little exercise, and exploring.

2) Well-organized start. The starting location was huge and there was plenty of room for people to leave the park at their own pace when the race opened up. There was no craziness or fear of being trampled as people raced out of the area. Not getting trampled was a nice way to start the day.

3) The clues were really quite well done. I was worried that the challenges would either be too easy or impossible, but the people who were responsible for creating the clues for Minneapolis managed to make them challenging without being frustrating. We didn’t have to know the city to figure out the clues, but it did help to have a general sense of direction of where we were and where we were headed.

4) We got some exercise. My partner and I walked several miles on Saturday, which was lovely because the weather was PERFECT – sunny, a gentle breeze and somewhere in the low 70s.

5) I love group activities. The organizers handed out pale pink shirts with the logos all of the supporters written on the back. When we were walking around the city we’d run into each other and there was a sense of camaraderie. Also, there was a bit of hint-helping – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. No one that we ran into were super-competitive jerks, and most of the teams were smiling and laughing. It felt nice to be part of the group. And one amusing thing about 500 people running around the city in pink shirts was that it confused the crap out the cabbies and other downtown Minneapolis regulars.

6) Seeing the city with new eyes. I’m pretty familiar with downtown Minneapolis, but I discovered new parks, landmarks and stores that I had never noticed or paid attention to before participating in the race.

7) They planned ahead with the no-bike rule. The organizers did not allow bikes or other wheeled transportation (with the exception of medically necessary wheelchairs). There were up to 500 people racing around crowded downtown Minneapolis on a Saturday afternoon. I am so grateful that no one from our group was on bikes; that would have been a nightmare with the pedestrian and car traffic.

8 ) Well-organized ending. When the game was over, the app and text number were disabled. It was a very clear message that the game was over and it was time to head back to HQ.

9) Treats and Prizes! At our game the organizers had a bunch of different kinds of granola bars, fruit snacks, candies and water waiting for us at the end of the race (totally not expected as we hadn’t paid an entry fee). And at our location, one of the local radio stations helped sponsored the event and handed out some swag by random drawing. Finally, the organizers awarded tickets for local events, an MP3 player and a couple of digital cameras to the top eight finishers. I’m not sure what the first runner-up won, but…

10) Someone actually won a freaking car! As I mentioned in my earlier post, the details for the race were quite vague. There was a statement about how participants might win a new Chevy Sonic. My partner and I thought maybe the top winner would get entered into a drawing, or maybe someone would have to hit a certain number of points to win the car, but no. At the end of the race they actually gave away a car to what I’m assuming was the team who ranked the highest in points. That was really neat.

Top Five Disappointments

1) Crowd control during registration. The race was advertised as starting at 11am. We showed up at 10:30 to register and were told that registration didn’t open until 11am (oh, that’s what they meant by starting at 11am). There was no help for queuing up, so at about 10:50 everyone started bunching up and pressing into a huddle around the reg tent. When emcee announced that registration was open the crowd surged toward the table. A couple of orderly lines eventually formed, but not without some shoving, nudging, elbowing, grumbling and generally jerkiness. It took the organizers over an hour to register everyone and we didn’t leave the park until sometime after noon.

2) Runners had the advantage. The name of the game seemed to be hit the most number of clues (and correctly answer them). Those who were able to keep up a steady jog made it to more places. I’m not saying that it was unfair, but those who were used to walking or jogging for long periods of time definitely had an advantage.

3) SCVNGR sucked it up BIG TIME. Don’t get me wrong – the SCVNGR app is really well designed. We pulled it up at the start of the race and all of the  locations were mapped out and the clues were all listed. We planned a route that would cover the greatest number of points in the most direct lines. The app was beautiful. And then the f*cking thing crashed. They weren’t ready for the traffic and we ran into many groups who were having trouble getting the map and clues to refresh or open up. We eventually switched over to the text mode of playing, but we lost a lot of time and a few clues in the process, and…

4) The text message mode of play is at a big disadvantage to the SCVNGR app. The text message mode of play was more reliable than the SCVNGR app for us, but WAY more inefficient. With texting we were sent to one location at a time and we couldn’t pick or choose which location it would send us to. We were sent back and forth across several blocks and had no ability to plan our route. E.g. – it sent us to 7th Street, then up to 10th street, then back down to 8th Street, then to 10th street again. That was frustrating. If they wanted to make the race more even, they would limit everyone to use of text messaging.

5) Battery Life!!! My phone had a 2% charge left at the end of the race. If it had gone any longer we would have had to stop and charge up or throw in the towel. All answers were tied to one phone – not an account that you could log in to from anywhere – so once we had started answering questions, we needed to keep using the same device.

Conclusion: DO IT.

Overall it was a GREAT day and I would recommend the race to anyone and everyone who likes this kind of competitive gaming. The few annoying things were not enough to ruin the overall awesomeness of the event. The thing that made participation a no-brainer for me was the free entry. For $0 from all of us the organizers provided a wonderful afternoon of entertainment, plus a free t-shirt, snacks and prizes.

I would suggest getting a bunch of teams together that all know each other. My teammate and I didn’t know anybody else, so we were our own little world of two. Teams were strictly limited to two people, but there were a couple of larger groups of two-person teams who all sat together before and after the race, and I imagine they had fun running into each other downtown and competing against each other.

And, you actually have a pretty decent chance of winning a car. In Minneapolis the challenge was limited to 250 teams, and one of those teams won a car. If you consider that some of the groups that pre-registered probably didn’t show up, that means each team had a better than 1:250 chance of winning the grand prize. Those are better odds than most of us will probably ever have of winning a car in other types of contests (radio call-in contests, raffles, etc.).

There are photos and video of the event over at the official Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure website. And knowing what I know now…there are some clues about the types of questions and answers you might expect if the Chevy Sonic Adventure comes to your town!

Cross-Country Connections: Curly

Cross-Country Connections is a Biodork weekly blog entry dedicated to telling stories in pictures of three family members – me, my sister and Mom – living in very different locations across the country. Every week we choose a different theme and then take or contribute a personal photo that fits the theme. This week’s theme is Curly.

From me in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

From Mom in Carbondale, Illinois:

The feathering was what I thought of when the challenge was presented.   This is part of the steampunk hat I made for Halloween this year.  

From Erin in Bellingham, Washington:

Lyme Disease – Always Learning.

If you’ve ever been camping or hiking or hunting or had an outdoor pet or gone anywhere near a tree or have a TV or know anyone who fits any of these situations, you’ve probably heard of Lyme Disease. I live in Minnesota, land of forests and lakes, big-ass mosquitos and lots and lots of ticks. I think it’s only natural and healthy for me to have an interest in the subject.

Disclaimers: I am not a doctor, nor an infectious disease researcher, nor a specialist on Lyme Disease or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PLDS). I do have experience with serological testing, immunoassays and laboratory science. This blog post was inspired by a press release about antibodies linked to long-term Lyme symptoms. I welcome and appreciate any comments, corrections or conversation that are expressed with respect, and in the case of claims, with references. Also, I hold up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the gold standard for dissemination of accurate and reliable public information on infectious disease. If you think that the CDC or “western medicine” is misguided or intentionally evil, or that all American physicians are controlled by the mob (hat tip to an earlier commenter), you should probably stop reading here.

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The Way Things Used to Be

This one is going around teh Facebook today.

I like the reminder that we were not founded on Christian values as I’ve heard people put forth (e.g., “This country was founded on the Ten Commandments!“), and that our government documents used to reflect our shared secular values.

I’m not so much of a fan of the idea that we should adhere to the original values because they are the original values that were agreed upon around 200 years ago. As a progressive I understand that change is necessary as our interactions with and understanding of the world around us evolves. We should adhere to the secular values implied in the image below because only by keeping the divisive religious dogma of hundreds of different religious ideologies out of our government – the one thing that unites most of us in this country – can we live together in something that approaches harmony.

Text Reads:

Did you know?

The original Constitution of the United States that was ratified in 1789 had only one reference to religion: [Article 6] No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

The de facto motto of the United States, adopted as part of the Great Seal of the U.S. by an Act of Congress in 1782 was E. Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One). Congress changed it 174 years later (1956) to “In God We Trust.”

The original ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ was written in 1892 by Baptist Minister Francis Bellamy who DID NOT INCLUDE the words “Under God.” Those were added by Congress 62 years later (1954).

The U.S. didn’t issue Paper Currency until 1861, and ‘In God We Trust’ didn’t appear on it for 96 years (1957).

Just after the Red Scare in the 1950’s, CONGRESS CHANGED the Pledge of Allegiance and our Nation’s Motto over the FEAR of COMMUNISM.

In a time when fear is traded like a commodity, and the word SOCIALISM is being used to create the same fear as the old word COMMUNISM, let’s REMEMBER that our country was NOT founded on fear. NO, OUR NATION was founded out of HOPE for a better world where all people were EQUAL – that we were ONE from MANY.

Let’s not let fear change our nation’s great tradition & direction again.

Time for your flu shot!

I got my flu shot yesterday. Have you gotten yours yet?

This time of the year is becoming a bit of an annual tradition for the Biodork blog: The posting of Dr. Mark Crislip’s A Budget of Dumb Asses. Dr. Crislip wrote A Budget of Dumb Asses to answer some of the most popular excuses that people often give for not getting the annual flu vaccine.

In 2010, Dr. Crislip added a bit of a caveat – he says that this list is specifically directed to health care providers, and not at patients. Perhaps it wasn’t P.C. for Dr. Crislip to be calling patients dumb asses; I don’t think he’s had qualms about that in the past. But listen up: I don’t care if you work in health care or not – the reasoning below is sound. If you glance through the list and see a phrase that you’ve uttered as an excuse for not getting vaccinated then you need to keep reading.

So, off you go to to the 2011 edition of A Budget of Dumb Asses

I wonder if you are one of those Dumb Asses who do not get the flu shot each year? Yes. Dumb Ass. Big D, big A. You may be allergic to the vaccine (most are not when tested), you may have had Guillain-Barre, in which case I will cut you some slack. But if you don’t have those conditions and you work in healthcare and you don’t get a vaccine for one of the following reasons, you are a Dumb Ass.

1. The vaccine gives me the flu. Dumb Ass. It is a killed vaccine. It cannot give you the influenza. It is impossible to get flu from the influenza vaccine.

2. I never get the flu, so I don’t need the vaccine. Irresponsible Dumb Ass. I have never had a head on collision, but I wear my seat belt. And you probably don’t use a condom either. So far you have been lucky, and you are a potential winner of a Darwin Award, although since you don’t use a condom, you are unfortunately still in the gene pool.

3. Only old people get the flu. Selfish Dumb Ass. Influenza can infect anyone, and the groups who are more likely to die of influenza are the very young, the pregnant, and the elderly. Often those most at risk for dying from influenza are those least able, due to age or underlying diseases, to respond to the vaccine. You can help prevent your old, sickly Grandmother or your newborn daughter from getting influenza by getting the vaccine, so you do not get flu and pass it one to her. Flu, by the way, is highly contagious, with 20% to 50% of contacts with an index case getting the flu.  However, Granny may be sitting on a fortune that will come to you, and killing her off with the flu is a great way to get her out of the way and never be caught.  That would make a good episode of CSI.

4. I can prevent influenza or treat it by taking echinacea, vitamin C, oscillococcinum or Airborne. Gullible Dumb Ass cubed then squared. None of these concoctions has any efficacy what so ever against influenza. And if you think oscillococcinum has any efficacy, I would like you to invest in a perpetual motion machine I have invented.  None of the above either prevent or treat influenza. And you can’t “boost” your immune system either. Anyone who suggests otherwise wants you money, not to improve your health.

5. Flu isn’t all that bad of a disease. Underestimating Dumb Ass. Part of the problem with the term flu is that it is used both as a generic term for damn near any viral illness with a fever and is also used for a severe viral pneumonia. Medical people are just as inaccurate about using the term as the general public. The influenza virus directly and indirectly kills 20,000 people  (depending on the circulating strain and year) and leads to the hospitalization of 200,000 in the US each year. Influenza is a nasty lung illness. And what is stomach ‘flu’? No such thing.

6. I am not at risk for flu. Denying Dumb Ass. If you breathe, you are risk for influenza. Here are the groups of people who should not get the flu vaccine (outside of people with severe adverse reactions to the vaccine): Former President Clinton, who evidently doesn’t inhale. Michele Bachmann. Wait, that’s the HPV vaccine.  And people who want to be safe from zombies. If you don’t get the vaccine you do not have to worry about the zombie apocalypse, because zombies eat brains.

7. The vaccine is worse than the disease. Dumb Ass AND a wimp. What a combination. Your mother must be proud. Unless you think a sore deltoid for a day is too high a price to pay to prevent two weeks of high fevers, severe muscles aches, and intractable cough.

8. I had the vaccine last year, so I do not need it this year. Uneducated Dumb Ass. Each year new strains of influenza circulate across the world. Last year’s vaccine at best provides only partial protection. Every year you need a new shot.

9. The vaccine costs too much. Cheap Dumb Ass. The vaccine costs less than a funeral, less than Tamiflu, and less than a week in the hospital.

10.  I received the vaccine and I got the flu anyway. Inexact Dumb AssThe vaccine is not perfect and you may have indeed had the flu.  More likely you called one of the many respiratory viruses (viri?) people get each year the flu.  Remember there are hundreds of potential causes of a respiratory infection circulating, the vaccine only covers influenza, the virus most likely to kill you and yours.

11. I don’t believe in the flu vaccine. Superstitious, premodern, magical thinking Dumb Ass. What is there to believe in?  Belief is what you do when there is no data. Probably don’t believe in gravity or germ theory either. Everyone, I suppose, has to believe in something, and I believe I will have a beer.

12. I will wait until I have symptoms and stay homeDangerous Dumb Ass.  Despite often coming to work ill, especially second year residents, about 1 in 5 cases of influenza are subclinical, hospitalized patients are more susceptible to acquiring influenza from HCW’s than the general population,  and 27% of nosocomial acquired H1N1 died. And you wil never realize that you were the one responsible for killing that patient by passing on the flu.

13. The flu vaccine is not safe and has not been evaluated for safety.  Computer illiterate Dumb Ass.  There are 1342 references on the PubMeds on safety of the flu vaccine, and the vaccine causes only short term, mild reactions.  All health care requires weighing the risks of an intervention against the benefits. For the flu vaccine all the data suggests huge benefit for negligible risk. And as a HCW, it could be argued that we have a moral responsibility to maximize the safety of our patients.

14. The government puts tracking nanobots in the vaccine as well as RFID chips as part of the mark of the beast, and the vaccine doesn’t work since it is part of a big government sponsored conspiracy to keep Americans ill, fill hospital beds, line the pockets of big pharma and inject the American sheeple with exotic new infections in an attempt to control population growth and help usher in a New World Order. Well, that excuse is at least reasonable. Paranoid Dumb Ass.

So get the vaccine.  And pass this essay on to someone else.  The life you may save may be your own. Or be a Dumb Ass.

And if you and yours are admitted to the hospital or visit a HCW during the flu season, ask if your provider has had the vaccine. If not, ask for a new provider.  Who wants their health care provided by a Dumb Ass?

Ack! I need a teammate!

I signed up for a treasure hunt that’s going on this Saturday. It’s called the Chevy Sonic Adventure, and the big prize is a new Chevy Sonic Sedan 2LT. I have no idea how big or difficult the event is going to be, but I had a free Saturday and I like scavenger/treasure hunts so I thought, why not?

Here’s the description of the event from the Minneapolis Chevy Sonic Adventure Facebook page:

Chevy Sonic Adventure is a one-day, real world treasure hunt throughout the city. Teams of two answer riddles and complete challenges via standard text message or SCVNGR app for iPhone and Android. Score the most points, and someone could drive away in an all new Chevy Sonic Sedan 2LT!

Oooo…pretty new car. Hey, you never know until you try, right?

So, now I need a partner! An oddball fascination with general or car trivia may be useful. Cheverolet knowledge specifically may be good too. And it might be helpful if you have a grasp of downtown Minneapolis geography. Maybe we can do a little research beforehand. You know, stratergize?  The website is annoyingly vague about what kind of questions will be asked, although the facebook page does promise to drop some clues prior to game day. They’re also a little cryptic about how much distance we might be covering, although the website does say that everyone must play on foot/wheelchair – no bicycles allowed.

The hunt starts at 11am at Loring Park, so all of my friends who like to sleep in on Saturdays – no worries! There’s plenty of time to roll out of bed, eat some cereal, drink some coffee, walk the dog and still make it down to the park on time. Also, the event is completely free.

Here’s the website. Take a look, decide if you might be up for a good ol’ scavenger hunt dealeo with your buddy, Brianne. If you’re interested, you can contact me here in the comments, or by email at bio_dork – at – hotmail.com, or on twitter @abiodork or on Facebook. Let me know soon, though, because we totally have to come up with a team name.

Yay for grownups playing!

Academic Animal Dissection, FY!

This morning I saw one of my Facebook Friends showing off a t-shirt that really annoyed me:

Image shows a cartoon frog with the words “cut class, not frogs!” and “Don’t dissect.” “peta2″

Of course it’s a PETA shirt, which is one mark against it, but it’s the joyous anti-intellectualism of the message that first slapped me in the face. The cutesy message about cutting class makes me want to take a shower. Remember this summer’s marketing disaster for  JCPenny –  the “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me” t-shirt? Same sort of thing, but more gender-inclusive; Everyone can be anti-learning with this shirt! 

I’m making a lot of assumptions in these next couple of sentences, but they’ve held true in my experience. Don’t skip class – you miss out on interesting, important information. I’ve found that when I skipped classes, it was harder to grasp the big picture, and so the subject seemed more out of my grasp. Once this downward spiral starts, it’s easy to just pretend that the material is boring or irrelevant because you’re missing an entire hour’s worth (at least) of facts or information! Also, whatever you’ve missed is probably going to be on the test, and you’ll feel a lot less stressed and like more of a superstar if you do well on the test…you know, rather than failing it.

Second – do dissections! It’s not gross, it’s not weird, it’s cool as hell! You are looking at the internal workings of the machinery that drives a living being! The National Science Teacher’s Association supports animal dissection and believes that it can help students develop skills of observation and comparison, discover the shared and unique structures and processes of specific organisms, and develop a greater appreciation for the complexity of life.

The wet lab portions of my high-school and college A&P classes were amazing! Seeing how fine the nerves were, how intricate the cardiovascular system, with all of the tubes going into and out of the heart and through the lungs, and understanding how long the small and large intestines really were as they moved through my gloved hands for a length of time that seemed to go on forever – these experiences fueled my interest in anatomy and inspired me to ask questions in ways that I doubt a computer program would have. So much of what we do these days is digital, and I suspect performing a necropsy on a computer screen would be just another game for me.

So, I was feeling a little grumpy about the “cut class, not frogs” shirt. But this morning on Twitter I found a perfect way to raise my spirits. A teacher at Gaffney High School in Gaffney, South Carolina is requesting donations to help fund dissections in her classroom:

My Anatomy and Physiology students attend a high poverty school that has limited resources and monies available. They are juniors or seniors who have identified their career path to be in the health science field. Some have set goals to be lab technicians while others strive for their doctorates. All of them want to learn and are interested in the structure and function of the human body. We have an enormous amount of fun learning and utilizing the limited resources we have.

My Project: Future nurses, health care professionals, and doctors will be inspired to pursue their dreams by having hands on experience with preserved specimen dissections. Dissection tool kits, virtual dissection tutorials, and basic specimens of sheep eyes, hearts, and brains will create a curiosity of the structure and function of the human body that will last a lifetime.

Science is a difficult and intimidating subject to many teenagers. My goal is to remove these obstacles by providing lessons that motivate my students to learn and strive for a college degree. Hands on activities and labs are the pathway to see my students excel not only in science, but also in their life.

If you can spare $5 (or a few $5!) and you’re feeling sentimental about your old frog dissection days, why not stop by her website and help out? At the time of this posting, Mrs. Greene is only $109 away from meeting her goal.

Cross-Country Connections: Cute Overload

Cross-Country Connections is a Biodork weekly blog entry dedicated to telling stories in pictures of three family members – me, my sister and Mom – living in very different locations across the country. Every week we choose a different theme and then take or contribute a personal photo that fits the theme. This week’s theme is Cute Overload.

From Erin in Bellingham, Washington:

Hand-knit creations by Erin.

From me in Minneapolis, MN: 

I didn’t find anything particularly cute to photograph this week, but I remembered this picture which I took at the Twin Cities Gay Pride Parade this summer. This little girl is walking with her mom and handing out Human Rights Campaign stickers. Look at her shirt sleeves!

From Mom in Carbondale, Illinois: 

When you have Kittehs you have cute overload – I’m just sayin’.