Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday's trip to Plymouth

The Plymouth Rock of popular imagery.

The Plymouth Rock we saw.

Here's what Miles recalls from the visit:
- Plymouth Rock is "so small there's no way the Pilgrims could have landed on it..."
- Climbed on a cannon in Plimouth Village
- Held a real Native American battle club
- Watched a man in Native American clothing use a bow drill (which Miles had learned about in Wilderness Awareness Camp)
- Stood in a replica of Miles Standish's home and held replica wooden toy sword
- Arrowheads in the gift shop are cheaper than at Harvard museum gift shop

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Phone call from home

Miles was most excited today to get a phone call from his good friend Nicky, back in Seattle.

Thanks for calling Nicky, you really made Miles' day!

RiverSing 2007

On Sunday night, Keith Miles and I walked down to the Charles River to welcome fall with RiverSing. RiverSing is an annual event that marks the Autumnal Equinox with th ecommunity gathering on the shores of the Charles River near the Weeks bridge and singing along with the musicians, singers and puppets performing on the bridge. Miles took all the photos of the event and happened only to capture jet contrails in the sunset (he's not a fan of vocal music). So please take a look at the FLickr photos that others took of RiverSing 2007.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Understanding neurons - a Eureka moment

Finally, a Eureka moment in my pursuit of how the neuron works. Much of what I’ve been studying, through lectures and reading, is actually pretty straightforward, and pretty much anyone who has time to sit in class and read textbooks could get the gist of it. But I’ve always been stumped by the electrical part. Electricity is what kicked my butt out of physics back in my freshman year, and it’s been befuddling me this fall. I could always see the logic in the equations that represent current and voltage. But it’s so hard to visualize what’s actually happening. Neurons function by creating an “electrical potential.” And tonight I finally can see how and why that happens. I’ve re-read the textbook chapter several times, and I’ve even taken to reading other textbooks on the topic, to see if they explain more clearly, and one of them did, by going into greater depth (instead of trying to simplify and gloss over the details).

Basically, the complexity of neurons (and all biology, really) comes from a series of chemical reactions that happen in chain-reaction form, cascading one after another. For example, you end up with: the 12 steps to transform molecule-A into molecule B; or the seven steps in moving K ions and N ions. I’m not attempting to memorize all of these, or any of them really. But it is exciting and rewarding to understand what’s involved. It’s sort of like learning how a car’s engine works: If you don’t work on it regularly, you won’t remember the details, or even all of the vocabulary, but you’ll retain a general sense of how it works, and an appreciation of what’s most critical and what can go wrong. And if something does go wrong or needs to be changed, you have a context to at least discuss it. That’s how I’m starting to feel now about neurons and synapses.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How hard is it to open our front door?

See for yourself. We always need to add a few minutes to our departure time to allow enough time to open the @#*! door!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Problem Sets, Assignments, Exercises...

No matter what you call it, it's just homework. It feels vaguely familiar and foreign at the same time. Sort of like finding an old pair of shoes in your closet that you didn't remember, then putting them on your feet and finding they still go on the feet, but they aren't quite comfortable. Were these really my shoes?

It's not that I don't like doing the's just that I'm a bit slower at it than I used to be. Rather than breezing through the texts with laser focus, I find myself reading all the footnotes, looking up terminology, and exploring random sidebars (i.e., Dewey's education theories or Piaget's notion of assimilation), even if it's only minor background for the main ideas of the reading. And then, of course, pausing to blog about it instead of working on my assignment.

I wonder if the professional students have these problems.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Can Keith handle med school?

Today in my Neurobiology class, I had my first episode in a long time of squeamishness over medical topics. The guest lecturer was a neurologist (who is currently working at a local biotech co.). He brought with him a man in his 40’s who has Multiple Sclerosis. And they walked through the man’s medical history, starting with the onset at age 38 of some mysterious symptoms – numbness on one half of his body. His primary care doc couldn’t make any sense of it and thought it was probably nothing, but sent him to a specialist. He went to three specialists, including an ophthalmologist, before seeing a neurologist. They ran him through an MRI and found signs that “might” be MS. He says he was in denial for about six months, hoping they just had it wrong. But the episodes kept recurring. I guess MS tends to flare up every few months. It’s a disease that hits certain spots in the nervous system, almost like a bruise. If the spot is in your neck, you get numbness below that point. If it’s in your brain, it may affect your vision. He’s been taking drugs that prevent new occurrences, although the existing ones keep getting worse. MS causes the insulating layer of cells around nerve connections to decay.

I had to leave before further discussion of his case, to make it on time to my Biology class. But I was ready for a break anyway. Why did this bother me in a visceral way? I think I was empathizing deeply, and imagining myself having a sudden and mysterious onset like that. Whenever I get squeamish, it's because I'm imagining myself being the victim.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Brazilian Independence Day

Over the weekend we went to the Brazilian Independence Day celebration. Large portugese sausage was enjoyed by all

Swinging in the Willows of Boston Commons

We went to Boston Commons a few weekends ago and rode the swan boats. Miles found that the willow trees there are great for swinging.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Keith's first week of classes

The first week of classes (at MIT; Harvard starts two weeks later) had all the nervous excitement you may remember from being a freshman, except moderated (thankfully) by a little maturity. I was happily uncaring about all the social aspects that fight for your attention as an adolescent. And I really didn’t care much if anyone wondered what this old guy was doing in their classes. I could just sit back and purely enjoy learning. It’s like having a full-time job of going to City Arts and Lectures events. Already, the biology and neuroscience classes are filling gaps in my knowledge, even though they’re undergraduate and introductory. Part of me feels they could move a bit faster, that I’m more advanced than the undergraduates, and hey, I don’t have to worry about mastering all the equations and vocabulary. But I’ve met some resistance from the graduate neuroscience program at MIT; the course director (Earl Miller) doesn’t want any outsiders, since it’s meant for incoming doctoral students. I guess it’s their big bonding moment. Anyway, he was quite dismissive and that annoyed me. I am participating in a graduate course at Harvard Medical School. It’s an intro to neurobiology, where half the class is second-year med students and half is incoming PhD candidates through a different neuro program. Those lectures were great – very meaty, but I was able to follow. But the class meets for three hours, three times a week, and it overlaps with the Biology class that I think is really fundamental (since the only biology I got was as a 10th grader). So, I’m attempting to go to the first 40 minutes of the med school class, which is held on a different campus, across the river in Boston, and then hop a train-bus combo to get to MIT in time for the biology lectures.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Walking home from school takes hours

Today was Miles first day at Baldwin School. He seems to like it so far. He made a few friends (four to be exact) and was anxious to introduce me to them after school (I think he had playdates in mind).

It's kind of neat that Miles is going to the same school EJ went to when his family was there (though it was called Agassiz at the time). It took us 2.5 hours to walk home.

Why so long? Well along the way home we found lots in Harvard Square:
- water/washroom break at the Harvard Law School student center (very nice!)
- stopped for some Gelato at Cardullo's
- peeked into the Coop
- got a "first day of school in a new city" gift (a small Totoro plush) at a fun store called Black Ink
- browsed books at Curious George
- purchased key caps and poked around in Urban Outfitters
- sipped Iced Tea at Peet's Coffee & Tea
- purchased printer Paper at Staples
- cruised through Tokyo Kid
- stopped at the Farmers' market on the Harvard Campus
- purchased a few groceries at Broadway Market

Whew!!! Such fun to have so much to do and see on the way home from school.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

How did we get so lucky?

For the past two weeks, I have been overwhelmed by how kind and generous everyone has been. My Mom took time off work to pull a marathon packing and cleaning session. My neighbor Jan treated me to an amazing breakfast and strong black tea after the last cleaning marathon. Rosa and Michael let Miles and me stay at their place (and catch up on Flight of the Conchords). Kelly Jo and Chris let us stay at their place spa for five nights. Hans pulled together the nicest send-off I ever saw in my 12 years at MSNBC. Jen, Ryan, Tessa, and Vashon helped me get out of my office (have you ever packed up an office you've occupied for 10+ years?). Travis and Kim had dinner delivered to our apartment in Cambridge tonight which was a real Godsend. And then there are the kind words and good wishes of so many wonderful friends, people from the neighborhood, and friends from work. I don't think we could ever thank everyone enough for all they have done. I'm left wondering how Keith, Miles, and I got so lucky to have so many wonderful people in our lives.