Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hello and Goodbye. And good riddance.

"It's just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I just beat people up."

--Muhammad Ali

What if I don't love what I do to earn a paycheck?

Does the answer depend on:
A) What my field is
B) What was required to obtain the position
C) How much money I make
D) How old am I

I pose this question in this way because it seems foolish to spend five years working toward a PhD and then hate what you do. Truly, I do not hate what I am going to school to learn. And please pay particular attention to the careful phrasing of that statement. I am going to school to learn how to do something which will be useful in a career path later.

I hate school. Thats a fact.

I love kinetics. And, I think, I can like working. I will never lose sight of the fact that I work to earn a paycheck to support my dream of how life should be which I share with wife-person. But in the meantime I create my own reality and I should earn a paycheck doing something halfway interesting, and it happens to benefit human-kind in some way.

I have to honestly state that getting this freaking degree has removed 15-20 years of quality, enjoyable life from my total years previously available. The stress and strain involved in this endeavor have certainly created numerous perforations in my stomach lining and duodenum as well as a semi-permanent, stress-induced eye-twitch. I can only hope and imagine that once I retire from schooling with my PhD in hand (running and screaming from the UW, mind you) I can find gainful, well-compensated employment that I will enjoy. I can only imagine, based on the fact that I enjoyed working previous to returning to this hell-hole, that I will enjoy working again.

But...what if I didnt? Would that make getting this degree a total waste of time, or is it acceptable to invest 5 years towards a degree (which still produced some bodies of data and work that could benefit people at large) just so that I can make as much per year as I would after 15 years of working? Perhaps. People argue both ways.

Muhammed Ali went to work and beat people up, but every once in a while he got beat-up, too. Well, I figure even if I dont get to beat on anyone legally at work, maybe its suitable to just avoid my own ass-whooping.

And thats all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Little Meaning for Breakfast.

"Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting an angry bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian."

-- Shari R. Barr

I sat down to write at 7:10 AM this morning. Now its 8:35 AM and there is no time. I don't know what the hell happened in the last few weeks but, whatever it is? It happened and now I do not seem to have a single minute.

More later, I hope.


It is now 7:10 PM, 12 hours exactly after I originally intended to add something meaningful and thought provoking to this, this collection of crap. I have since forgotten what that meaningful something was/is, so perhaps it isn't/wasn't meaningful anyway.

I handed back the first midterm in the clinical pharmacokinetics class I am co-teaching. I watched the 2nd year pharmacy students descend like vultures to fresh carrion upon the tests which I had taken over 12 hours to grade, comment on and coalate for them. And then one of them, and incidentally she is not a pharmacy student but a first-year student in my department (pharmaceutics), came up to me and was irate that she had gotten 97 and proceeded to argue her point. I told her why I graded it the way I did, to which she replied that there was a past midterm that had given the answer I gave PLUS her (and maybe 15 others in addition) answer to that type of question. Again I explained my point, but she rebutted. I sighed heavily and looked at her in the eyes and said "You got a 97. The most I could do would be to add one more point and that doesn't change anything. I am right, you weren't perfect, and THAT is what bothers you. Be happy with a 97 because in the program you are in, you probably won't see 97s anymore."

Yes it sounds brutal. But she pondered it for a moment and then agreed and went on her merry, A-student way, probably to go play with her abacus or re-write relativity for fuck's sake. It seemed like a brutal thing to say unless you have been in our department for a little while. The pharmacy students have a very tough curriculum, but what they go through is driver's ed compared to the pharmaceutics PhD training. More like PhD flogging. Its hard for me to feel sorry for them after the beating I have personally received, but I do respect them, and I am an easy grader. That being the case, I don't bend on the points I do take away. ESPECIALLY when its something we went over and over, and I even told them exactly that it would be tested. Weird.

I really enjoy being a teaching assistant, especially with all the actual teaching I get to do. I found myself pulling for them while I was grading their tests, and it was difficult not to take it a little personally when those topics I specifically spent so much time reviewing with them were some of the points on the test they missed. How it is.

It all goes to explain a little about how every teacher ends up the way they do. Albeit unique, they each have their own "take" on the students and their effort and what it has all meant. Sure, I am industry bound, and it will hardly be the same as standing in front of 100 future Doctors of Pharmacy and teaching them about why the clearance of a drug and the volume of a distribution are completely unrelated but combined create the elimination rate constant and therefore half-life of a drug... It feels good; especially when I realize that after my own beatings, failing so many cumulative exams, feeling like I was worthless for 6 straight months, after my slogging through the lectures and the homework and late night after late night, I can get someone else to listen to me and then say "Oh, yeah, now I see how that is..." and I feel like it wasn't so bad after all.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Responsibility for ourselves.

"Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstance, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstance."

--Thomas Carlyle

What am I responsible for? Am I responsible for driving 45 in a 35, or does my temporary ignorance abolish all responsibility for knowing the speed limit? Am I responsible for my busy schedule which leaves me little free time or is it graduate school's fault? Am I responsible for the life I choose to live or can I blame it on my parents?

A person enters a contest. This contest poses a longshot, but present, risk of injury. The contest organizers provide forms which release themselves of liability in the case such injury should occur. Bystanders even point out the risk, but the participants continue. One participant tragically dies after this contest, as a result of the contest itself.

Any time someone dies unexpectedly from something so seemingly harmless it is tragic and it is a loss to countless people. The family is obviously devastated and nothing will EVER bring that individual back no matter what anyone does or says. This person is a child, a parent, a spouse and for all we know their smile and laughter will never ring in the ears of their loved ones again. Almost every one of us has an experience with losing someone and it may drive to fruition the strongest feelings we as humans experience. It is obviously plausible to vent these feelings toward the easiest target in the case of a sudden, tragic loss. Perhaps I might do the same in such a situation. I dont know.

So here we are. Who is the responsible party? Emotionally it seems so easy to lash out at the contest organizer, the provider of this barbaric ritual who did little to protect the innocent, unknowing contestant. The family is irate, the community is shocked, and by god, a head must roll. The easy target is the organizer and "officiants" of this contest. They provided the means by which someone died, right? There was nothing anyone could do, right? I mean, that person certainly had NO CONTROL over what they were doing.

When I take a step back and separate myself from the emotional loss and tragedy and innate human need for vindication and revenge at what occured, I contend that the individual is the responsible party when it comes to their own well being in this situation. If I consider a situation whereby the result of this contest is that you win a video game console, the prize does not seem high enough to warrant risking my health and life. If the contest prize were that your child would not be taken from you, or your dog would not be put to sleep, or something dire--then perhaps the risk you entertain is more warranted. But who decides the value, the organizer or the individual?

Am I considered a callous, heartless, cold robot without compassion because I feel the need to look beyond the tragedy and examine this issue? I will probably be dismayed to find that most people would agree to that. Oh well.

Just because the option is made available, does this mean an individual has to participate? Is anyone forcing them? Anyone can sky-dive; the risk of death versus the thrill of falling at terminal velocity; why aren't thousands and thousands of people pursuing this?

The world in which we live today is a sensitive place, and telling someone that the consequences they face are the results of their choices is not a popular platform from which to speak. However, it is my humble opinion that our world would be a much better place to live were people more able to accept responsibility for their choices.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Life in a Glass

Sam: What's new, Normie?

Norm: Terrorists, Sam. They've taken over my stomach and they're demanding beer.

There is always something standing between you and that which you so desire...

Beam Me Up

Captain Kirk Has Skills.

Thanks to Jeremy Gerking for this link. I wish I could take credit for finding it, but I really can't.

"In the game of life it's a good idea to have a few early losses, which relieves you of the pressure of trying to maintain an undefeated season."

-- Bill Baughan

Human beings have a remarkable characteristic that I believe to be unique among known life forms.

As a human I can stop at any point and analyze my history to see how I arrived where I now stand. Can any other organism really do this? It's hard to believe they could, but then again crows can make tools for a specific job and dolphins have been shown to do math. I guess nothing surprises me anymore. I think the difference between us and dolphins and crows may be that, even if they are able to look back at their lives and see that the choices they made are directly responsible for where they are, they do not have the reflective moments we have as people. If they do, what are the ramifications? Ah, I am getting off track.

My point is that its really easy to track my life back to some choices I have made. Its astonishing, really, to follow this and find the nuances that now describe and encompass me, Aaron, as a person, doing what I do today, right now. The next question that enters my feeble brain becomes, logically (right brain virgo at work), how do my choices right now affect my future "today?" And does that forethought enhance or diminish my choice making?

When I was 7 years old I made the choice to cut a popsicle stick down the middle with a brand new swiss-army pocket knife. This choice resulted in slicing my thumb wide-open from nail to wrist, veins and tendons hanging out for the world to see. My next choice was to dash into the bathroom so that my family would not notice this 5 inch bleeding mess that was my little hand. Stitches and the pain of healing taught me a lot, as does the fine scar that will forever remind me not to do such a stupid thing. I suppose that's called "learning." I look back now and shake my head at that stupid kid who, in all honesty, knew better. I made a choice and it still affects my decisions. And after many choices since then resulting in bodily harm and mangling of appendages and my face I now have little fear of injury or pain, which may or may not be a good thing.

I made a random choice when I was 21 to get a new apartment in Bellingham. I was making enough money to support the change from my 350 sq. ft. masterpiece, and I was nervous about the neighborhood. Whatever the reason, I moved to this nice little place with a view on the other side of downtown and this choice led to my meeting Scott. Scott ended up playing a very pivatol role in my life, introducing me to the Oil and Gas mineral leasing business and generally being a darn good buddy, to this day, almost 8 years later. Truly inflluential point in my life, all because of the choice to move. Scott rang the ships bell at my wedding in 2005, even.

When I was 23 I made the choice to leave my successful job as a software developer and return to the world of science, in the form of drug development. This meant moving from my beloved town of Bellingham to Seattle (Bothell) which had, at that point, a much higher cost of living. It also meant a pay-cut and inevitably was going out on a huge limb. I did not put the amount of thought one might assume goes into a decision with such weight (read as, i was dropping everything in my life for something brand new and untested) but inside I remember convincing myself that successful people take chances at the right times. I decided to take a chance. I started at Sonus Pharmaceuticals soon after making the decision and the unfolding of events was dramatic and has ultimately been the driver of where I am now. It didnt start out easy; I was confident but ignorant, my long-term, long-distance relationship ended very shortly after, and I was not making much money. However, the confidence and willingness to do whatever they asked of me paid-off well and soon I was making good enough money to support a fine bachelor/tri-geek lifestyle and was learning new skills that eventually drove me to make another enormous decision--the return to school for my PhD.

Moving to Bothell for work would be a lie. I was moving AWAY from Bellingham to explore. I knew then I did not have a destination; perhaps destinations are our greatest limitation. I truly believe I would not be married to the best woman on Earth right now if I had not moved. I would not have a beautiful house and the chance to earn my PhD (because it never appealed to me before I went to Sonus). Along the way it was difficult to change so much so quickly, and there were moments I didn't know where I was going and if I would like it when I got there (isnt that all of our fear, really?). I can only take comfort in knowing that I am still not there.

But the journey is terrific.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Importance of Collaboration.

I have just received an email from Dr. Terri Brentall that she will be a collaborator for my doctoral thesis regarding the involvement of nucleoside transporters in Gemcitibine treatment of pancreatic cancer. Dr. Brentnall has been a featured scientist in the media for the recent confirmation that her teams have found one genetic link to inheritable pancreatic cancer, a mutation that can be screened in cases of familial pancreatic cancer history.

The position I am in will be to have access to her human pancreatic tissue samples and RNA/DNA samples whereby I would like to investigate the proposed link between the expression level of human equilibrative nucleoside transporter 1 (hENT-1) and the effectiveness of Gemcitibine treatment.

Gemcitibine is currently a front-line treatment for Pancreatic Cancer and it is hypothesized that the more hENT-1 that is expressed the more Gemcitibine will have access into the cell, a necessary phenomenon for successful cancer-killing, and thus extension of survival. The issue could be that pancreatic cancer cells have a lower expression of these transporters for some patients, which serves as a built-in mechanism of defense for the cancer to survive in th face of treatment.

If it can be showed before a person begins treatment that they have less of this transporter, and therefore less chance of Gemcitabine being effective, then maybe the person can immediately have alternate treatments scheduled instead of wasting precious time with an ineffective drug.

A few references:

"Transcription Analysis of Human Equilibrative Nucleoside Transporter-1 Predicts Survival in Pancreas Cancer Patients Treated with Gemcitabine."
Giovannetti, et al, Cancer Res; 66: (7). April 1, 2006

"Functional Nucleoside Transporters Are Required for Gemcitabine Influx and Manifestation of Toxicity in Cancer Cell Lines."
Mackey, et al, Cancer Res; 58: pg 4349-4357. October 1, 1998

"The Absence of Human Equilibrative Nucleoside Transporter-1 is Associated with Reduced Survival in Patients with Gemcitabine-Treated Pancreas Adenocarcinoma."
Spratlin, et al, Clin. Cancer Res; 10: pg 6956-6961. October 15, 2004

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Most Difficult Path

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.”

--Ambrose Redmoon

Mike Holmgren is the head coach of the Seahawks. I have watched and listened to him for 8-9 years now, a tenure that seemed to have just started yesterday with much anticipation.

Coach Holmgren is not generally regarded as a great man in the sense that the men of history are judged. He is not, to my knowledge, a household name anywhere but Seattle--and probably not here in Seattle, either. Yet despite these things, his reluctance to rely on the running game and his wacky "what were you thinking" 3rd and short play calling, he inspires me and makes me feel "good."

I am fortunate enough to be able to tap into the inner circle of Seahawks information overload via a blog written by a enthusiastic newspaper journalist from Tacoma. He records and provides, for people like me, via his blog, the press conferences with Mike Holmgren in their entirety. Unedited and uncut.

We are now at the end of the regular season and into the second round of the playoffs. The Seahawks are doomed every game they play by the pundits and know-it-alls and ESPNs of the world, but somehow, they find a way to win. The team has been described as underperformers, as inconsistent, and as just plain bad. Yes, if you do not know the circumstances that have faced them this year,and you compare them to the 2005 team that rode an astonishing 11 game win streak into the Super Bowl, then you might also just deem them as a poor football team in 2006.

However, whether you care about football or not doesn't matter if you take a moment to understand what it takes for a pro football team to win every week, or even just half of their games. If you understand a bit of what it takes to have 11 celebrity-like, well-paid athletes concert their physical prowess with schematics and technique, all while staying healthy and travelling and learning in a classroom a couple days a week, you would see how, with the cataclysmic events of this season, its actually more impressive where the Seahawks are this year -- regardless of how they finish. And they do it in large part because of the atmosphere that Mike Holmgren has established and the people who he has helped put in place to surround them. He inspires these men -- men who could be just like the other loud-mouths we see on the TV all the time -- to play beyond their ego for the benefit of something bigger than themselves. We never see anything in the media about the Seahawks having locker-room issues. We never hear players on the Seahawks complaining they don't get the ball enough.

By the end of this year I have come to believe that Holmgren is a wise, loyal-to-a-fault man who truly believes in what he does. And although he will never be looked at as anything but a football coach by anyone but a few of us who wish to believe all men, in any profession or belief, have the capability to be great, he has made an impact on me as a person. He has inspired me because he is a man who sees that, in his own words, "its too bad we are often judged by where we end up, rather than by our journey."

Monday, January 08, 2007

We're number...ONE!

Ok, we didn't win a wild-finish wild-card playoff game against one of the truly EVIL teams in the sporting universe.

We didn't just utterly ANNHILATE the favorite team in the College Bowl Circuit.

But what we did do is establish a number 1 rank of graduate pharmaceutical sciences and medicinal chemistry programs. Here is the link to the new rankings. Pretty sweet.

Now if I can just finish.


I set out with this Blog to write a little bit, more often than not. Now I am finding myself so busy trying to get my project rolling and teach PK to pharmacy students and pass classes and train for Ironman and walk the dog and spend time with my wife and cheer the 'Hawks on that it doesnt seem to happen. I need to sleep less.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Trail of Crumbs.

"For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin--real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life."

-- Alfred D. Souza

Sometimes in life you walk The Path with confidence. Other times you walk away from The Path and become lost. Still there are other times where you walk near The Path such that you can see it, but you don't know how to get back to it.

How do we get back to what we know to be true once we have venutured away? Why is it so hard?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Grass is Greener?

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

--Sir Winston Churchill

Something startled me, today, as I made my way through the unusually drab, dirty-gray, abandoned-hospital-like hallway back to my office. This was after my Drug Metabolism cranial drubbing and I was feeling rather, well, beaten and walked slowly. I was heading towards the stairwell and I noticed a brand-spanking new incubator, still in the box, loaded on a pallet just at the base of the stairs. Being an opportunistic graduate student only truly interested in self-preservation and the propogation of my thesis to all science-deprived souls of the world (along with the end of oppression and world hunger, of course), I stopped to check it out. That's when I realized something odd about our world.

Something startled me on the box. The words "Round Euro Styling" was written in fancy font on two sides of the box. Apparently, for scientists in the US and other Non-European countries (yes there are others that value science)the styling of one's incubators is an important consideration.

This fact ALONE leads me to a plethora of concerns about the future of scientific discovery in the world. For example a concern that someday the value of my work will be diminished because my incubator did not have EURO styled corners. (And that, I know now, is round.) In addition to plots and data and pages of intelli-speak regarding my discoveries or proofs, I will have to submit a floor plan of my workspace with visuals of my equipment. Style points is now not only a measure of College Athletics Bowl Potential, but also a measure of our abilities to contribute on the global scientific stage.

Ok, so my real question is this:
Since we seem to have a fixation on Euro styling, do the Europeans driving around in Audis and BMWs gaze at billboards of Chevys and Fords and just think "Wow, that is the style I wish I had!" or "That US style is really where Europe should be!" Dream on. Who on earth tries to emulate the US anymore in style?

Do the scientists in Europe even CARE about the shape of their incubators? I would be willing to bet they do not. I would be willing to bet their incubators don't really have round corners. I would be willing to bet the results they get from their incubators, however they are shaped, are remarkably similar to our incubators. Sure, we Americans are infatuated with trying to be trendy or even up-to-date with technology, style and fashion (will never happen). Science certainly is not immune to this. There is "trendy" science all around us, and the hot topic will certainly change.

In my eyes, it is a poor musician who blames his instrument. Or, a poor scientist who cares about the styling of his incubator.

And when the scientists pull up to their offices for another day of whipping their graduate slaves, they are thinking "Man, I sure am glad I drive a non-american car."

And thats anywhere in the world.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Watch People, Watch...

I can’t think of a better way to get a handle on people than to just sit and watch.

It’s probably as addicting as coffee, cigarettes or making stupid, sarcastic one-liner jokes around friends. When you people watch, you get to witness a large repertoire of human characteristics and dysfunctions with the added benefit of not feeling guilty for paying copious amounts of hard-earned cash. That, and it doesn’t involve damaging anyone's fragile self-esteem which, as we all know these days, is one of the biggest problems when finding suitable means of self-entertainment.

Granted, people watching for me DOES NOT consist of sneaking up to windows at night and filming the poor, unsuspecting occupants therein. In which case I am sure the topics for discussion would increase both in number and in controversy, probably resulting in a much shorter essay -- in jail ones computer time is strictly limited. Or so I hear. No, my people watching is more like bird watching but not as holistic and not involving birds. Follow these simple steps and you, too, are on your way to fun.

Find a nice, open, public place where folks congregate or pass through in large numbers. It is important to avoid staring and following, as this draws unnecessary attention from the local law enforcement agencies who don't share your amateur interest and is generally thought of as strange. Simply observe the passers by and enjoy the free show that will inevitably ensue.

When we observe people in their native habitat a fascinating thing happens: an overwhelming feeling of normalcy within yourself after witnessing such a large amount of strangeness. When you people watch you hear conversations about things you never thought it would be possible to hear a conversation about.

An old man at the airport points at something in the distance, nudging Edith, his wife of 56 years.
"Edith, there's one right now."
"What? What are you looking at?" She scans the area blindly as though the lights just went out.
"That, there. Remember? We were talking about those."
"I don’t know what you're pointing at." Frustrated, her shoulders hunch and her arms wave madly.
Pointing becomes more vigorous, his brow creases. "That-- there! You can’t see anything, can you?"
"Well, not when you talk to me like that, I cant."
"Well, Jesus, never mind, its gone anyway."
"Good, I guess I don’t have to listen to you insult me anymore."

We can see from this example just what kind of entertainment people watching can bring. You actually find yourself becoming engaged for miniscule amounts of time while people fumble through small slices of life right in front of you.

A more advanced form of people watching involves having someone you know drive you around and actually people watch other drivers. Its as if they don't realize people can see them through their windows!! You will be shocked and awed as the most hilarious and disgusting displays take place in broad daylight behind the safety of their auto-glass, for the world to see.

I find it hard to believe that reality TV is gripping the general populous when there is reality all around us, and hundreds of times more interesting. But then again, the same people watching those hours of reality are the same folks providing me with my unique form of entertainment.