Thursday, April 30, 2009

VYSW: Rest in Peace

I'm sure that someone will miss you...

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I have created no Vent Your Spleen Wednesday (VYSW) postings in quite a while and it doesn't seem like the internet is exactly overflowing with people who want to join. Despite being #2 on Google for a search for vysw, I think it's time to like the mangey dog rest in peace.

The good thing about doing this that I can always have a "Back from the Grave!" style posting or a Halloween special :-)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

BYBS: Reasoned Discussion

Copyright (c)

I enjoy being able to talk seriously every once in a while about stuff like the nature of consciousness, whether honesty and accuracy are the same thing, and other, ultimately pointless topics. I'm grateful that there are other people that I can talk about this stuff with and that they discuss it least some of the time.

Part of the problem with such ruminations is that they tend to make me feel isolated. A lot of times other people are simply not interested in talking about such things at that instant, or maybe their attention is focused on other questions. The net effect on me, however, is that I feel very much alone.

When I can speak to someone about my ramblings, I do enjoy striving to communicate my point of view (i.e., that I'm right goddamn it!), but something else about discussion surprised me recently.

I was trying to explain something and got the "blank stare." In another situation I might have just written it off as the person not being interested in the topic, but, because it was such a serious topic, I realized that the problem was that my wonderful explanation wasn't.

The surprising thing was that the process of trying explain it better, and the experience of seeing the other person strive to get it made me feel less isolated, whereas I would have thought it would make me feel more isolated. Watching another strive for understanding made the whole "aha" moment for them much more satisfying than just pummeling another person's argument.

It also helped that they had brownies where we talked. Not that I ate one. Instead I had 3.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Impossible Dream

Is striving towards an impossible but desirable and worthwhile goal a waste of time?

For time out of mind there have been people who strove towards perfect meditative state, achieve world peace, or total knowledge. From a practical standpoint, these people know that their goal cannot be attained, or perhaps attained by them, yet they strove all the same; and what's more, people continue to quest for these goals to this day.

So what do you think? It this a waste of time or is it a worthwhile activity? Should people only work on things that, while they cannot hope to achieve, they may contribute towards the achievement of (a great work)?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

BYBS: Symbiosis

Symbiosis usually describes a situation where organsims of different species coexist for mutual benefit. For example, bees and flowers: the bee gets food and the flower gets pollination.

At least according to Wikipedia, this is actually a "mutualistic" relationship. At one end of the spectrum is parasitism, where one participant benefits and the other is harmed. The next step in the range is "commensilism" where one of the participants benefits and the other is not harmed, but does not benefit either. The other end of the spectrum is mutualism, where both participants benefit.

The interesting thing is that these relationships can change as time goes on. A relationship that starts out as parasitistic can evolve into one that is at least commensalistic and from there to one that benefits both partners.

There are many species of bacteria that when allowed into our digestive systems can become parasites. But other organisms that may have once been parasites have changed so that what currently lives more or less without trouble that we see today. There is even evidence that such "guests" may supply vitamin K. One possible explaination for the appendix was that it provided an area for "friendly" strains of gut flora to stay while the digestive tract is purged due to diseases such as choloera.

I find this ability to change from parasite to partner encouraging when I look at problems that we face with groups of people that are currently hostile to one another. If things in the natural world can change from fierce enemies to fast friends, then maybe there is reason to hope that various groups can eventually work out their differences.

Our wars and conflicts are nothing when compared to all out and total war that is often seen in the natural world. If they can make peace, then how hard can it be for us, whose conflicts are so much simpler.

Thursday, April 16, 2009're sure about this, right doc?

I recently heard about a rather...unexpected medical therapy being used: using organisms that are commonly considered parasites to help treat certain conditions.

I'd like to ask those of you who are easily grossed out to stop reading now.

OK, I expect that most people, easily upset or not, are still reading, but just remember that I warned you!

I am talking about the medicinal use of maggots and leeches. Now aren't you glad that I didn't put up a picture at the start of this article!

Much to my surprise these approaches are actually being used today, and for very good reasons. In the case of leeches, the critter is very good at getting rid of blood that can accumulate in a reattached limb, such as a finger.

When something like a thumb is reattached, the artery (a very small one I guess) that carries blood to the digit is reattached, but the veins that carry blood away from the finger take a bit of time to reattach on their own.

Enter the leech! Rather than draining the reattached thumb of excess blood several times a day using a syringe, one can use a leech instead. The advantage here is that you don't end up with multiple syringe wounds, that are more likely to become infected.

The leech is very good at keeping blood from coagulating, which is the reason why you would have to create multiple syringe wounds to accomplish the same thing.

The maggots (yes, fly larvae) are used in some conditions where you have dead tissue that needs to be removed from a patient. One problem with such tissue is that it can be infected by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Such situations are becoming more common because more people are finding themselves with diabetes. Apparently, people with that disease can end up with limbs that have dead tissue, hence the problem with infections.

Maggots were used more commonly in the past, but were abandoned in favor of antibiotics when such chemicals became available. Because strains of resistant bacteria are becoming more common, doctors are turning to novel therapies that do not rely on anti-bios.

Regardless of the benefits of such approaches, I find the idea of partnerships between species --- symbiosis --- to be an interesting one. Furthermore, it's something that seems to pop up again and again in biology. Finally, I'm a lazy person and I realized that my topic for the coming BYBS might need some more lead-in; hence the value of this posting :-)

P.S. Since we're at the end of the article, I can now show pictures. Actually, I don't think this one has a lot of "gross me out" value, but your mileage may vary.

P.P.S. This was taken from a very interesting article from Wikipedia.

A wound cleaned by maggots

Sunday, April 12, 2009

BYBS: A Contribution

My blessing for the week is being able to make a contribution to something that I feel has been of benefit to me.

Over the years I've been able use the web to solve a number of problems. Many of these have been the sort of hair-tearing, swearing and gesticulating at the monitor sorts of things that cause people to question my sanity even more than they usually do.

The other day, I posted something that I hope will reduce the amount of hair- pulling and swearing that someone else may experience. I'm going to try and post a number of these articles over the next few weeks.

I'm also going to try sending some feedback to people whose pages I have used in the past to let them know that I appreciate the time they took to document solutions and that they helped me out.

Given the size of the internet, I don't think anything that I post is liable to be of much or indeed any help to anyone. This is more to see if it makes any difference in the way I feel about having "given back" to a community that has helped me.

I'll post a followup on this in a few weeks. If I don't then post pointed and guilt-inducing comments reminding me to do this :-)