Tuesday, March 24, 2009

43 Things

Thanks to Jaima and Claudia for tipping me off to this website: www.43things.com. It’s basically a site that gets you thinking about your lifelong goals. You create a life list (“bucket list” is the term currently in vogue), then track your progress. You can also connect with other people who have similar goals and find out how they went about or are going about achieving them. The site isn’t perfect—I was annoyed that I couldn’t search for another specific user; you can only search for other goals—but it is fun and thought-provoking. If you decide to sign up (it’s free, of course), let me know and I will follow your progress. Or, feel free to leave some of your own life goals in the comments.

Here is my list so far:

See Bruce Springsteen in concert
Complete a Master’s degree
Learn to dance
Visit all 50 states
Become a solid Class III whitewater kayaker
Live in a foreign country for at least 3 months
Learn to scuba dive and dive the world’s best reefs and ship wrecks
Go whale watching
Summit a big mountain
See Africa—including the wilder parts
Write a book
Explore South and Central America
Volunteer more for the environment
Become good at yoga
Start taking at least one international trip per year
Organize my photos
Go to Antarctica
Visit the California National Parks
Go to Carlsbad Caverns
Do a multi-day solo hike
Explore Alaska
Read more of the classics
Floss regularly
Learn to be a better networker
Fill up a whole passport before it expires
Plant a garden
Cook more international cuisine
Spend more time outdoors
Take my parents to Yellowstone National Park
Go on one of Dad’s summer high country adventures
Make my own beer and wine
Get a bike and use it.
Memorize all of the countries so I have a mental map of the world
Go back to Isle Royale
Learn to knit
Sail across an ocean

Sunday, March 22, 2009

OMG Oatmeal Cookies!!

What better way to follow up a post about dental hygiene than with a recipe for a sugary treat? These cookies are INCREDIBLE. Make them, eat them, love them.

1 c. butter
1 c. peanut butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 c. old fashioned oats
1 c. flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c. semi-sweet mini choc. chips

Cream butter, peanut butter, vanilla and sugars. Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Combine oats, flour, soda and salt. Once mixed, add dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Roll into 1" balls, place on greased baking sheet. Bake at 400* for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow cookies to cool a moment on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire cooling rack. Makes about 5 dozen. Eat, share, enjoy!!

(Thanks, Mom!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Interesting Dental Hygiene Stuff

As many of you know, I work in a Dental Hygiene setting, however, I have no previous experience or interest in that area. The job is a good one and I like it, but it is not at all what I expected to be doing. I’ve learned a lot about the field of dentistry and am finding it more interesting than I ever thought. Today, for example, we had a faculty and staff in-service in which a few of our students gave presentations on a variety of topics related to the field. Here’s a sample of what I learned:

1. Reversing Anesthesia
Dentistry has a new tool—Phentolamin Mesylate. This drug has been in use for a long time for other things (hypertension maybe? I didn’t take good notes!), but was only recently approved by the FDA for use in dentistry. Basically, it reverses the effect of the anesthesia, cutting the length of time you are numb in half! In fact, if the injection is timed just right, you could leave the dentist’s office without being numb at all. Generally, when you are numbed for a dental procedure, the numbness lasts about three hours (it depends on the type and amount of anesthetic used). With this new drug, you could have the option of only being numb for one and a half hours. This is especially helpful in children and mentally-handicapped patients who are more likely to accidentally bite themselves when they are numbed up. Also helpful if you are heading out to a real estate showing or business presentation right after your dental visit.

2. Maxillo-facial Prosthetics
There have been some incredible advances in facial reconstruction and prosthetics in the past ten years. You may not know about it because the prosthetics are so good, you can’t tell them apart from a natural face! People generally need these prosthetics due to oral cancer or throat cancer. Both the cancer and the therapy can weaken or destroy bones, which would then need to be replaced. We looked at pictures of some people who had lost their noses and had prosthetic noses attached—very cool stuff. I love science!! One of the faculty members is also a maxillo-facial prosthodonist. He told a story of a girl he worked on awhile back. She had two different noses made for her: one for winter and one for summer. This way her nose will match her face whenever she gets a tan : ).

3. Stem Cells and Oro-Facial Regeneration
Scientists are making huge advances in a wide variety of health care fields with the use of stem cells, so why not dentistry? Researchers are currently working on using adult stem cells to regenerate gum tissue and even re-grow entire teeth! This research is still in the animal-testing stages but has been highly successful in pigs. We haven’t managed to re-grow an entire missing tooth using stem cells yet, but we can re-grow a healthy root, which can then be completed with a crown. Obviously, we have a way to go yet with this research before anyone tries it on humans, but it is probably not more than ten years off. There is already at least one company that provides a kit for harvesting cells from your child’s mouth to be frozen for use later, if needed.

I hope you find those as interesting as I did. And remember: FLOSS! : )

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My Weekend in Books

It's been a long time since I've taken the time to sit down and absorb some good books, and my "to read" pile was getting pretty out of hand, so I spent most of this weekend catching up. And I read some wonderful things! Some quick summaries:

1. "Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallway.
I heard about this book through eavesdropping on my boss. Her office is across the hall from mine and she was on the phone with someone, telling them about the book. I went to the university website right away and requested it from the library. The book is basically a how-to book for tennis players, but is more about the psychology of the game than the actual tactics. As such, it is widely applicable in other areas. The thing that my boss said that made me go out and order it right away, is that even though it is a sports book, it is being assigned in Dental Hygiene classrooms (oh, btw, for those that don't know, I work in the Dental Hygiene department at Eastern) to help first-year students build confidence, focus, and visualization skills. Sounded like just the thing I needed for my kayaking! I am about half-way through the book and it is wonderful. Gallway talks about how we need to learn to trust our bodies and not second-guess ourselves so much. He also talks about the disconnect between our mental "self" and our physical "self". The mental self likes to take charge of the physical, but often the physical self performs better without the mental interference. The book is really about learning to calm yourself and get that kind of focus that can only come from having a clear mind. I really recommend this book for anyone trying to learn, well, anything. I will let you know if it improves my kayaking :).

2. "The Invention of Air" by Steven Johnson
Steven Johnson is one of my very favorite writers. He is the author of "Mind Wide Open" and "The Ghost Map" and "Everything Bad is Good for You", all of which I love. "The Invention of Air" is his newest. In it, he tells the story of Joseph Priestly, a contemporary of founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and John Adams and the man who discovered carbonation, among other things. He was the first to discover that air is a collection of gasses and not just blank nothingness. He then worked tirelessly to discern the different gasses. As a child he had put a spider in a closed jar and noticed that after a time, the spider died. He supposed there was something about the air in the jar that became polluted after awhile. Later in life, he tried the same experiment with a plant and was shocked to discover that the plant never died. This is how he discovered that plants create air. It's a fascinating book. I am about half-way through.

3. "God Laughs and Prays" by David James Duncan
Finally, here's a book I actually finished! DJD is one of my very very favorite authors in the whole entire wide world amen. He wrote "The Brothers K" which is, without a doubt, the best work of fiction ever penned. This book, however, is not fiction. It's a collection of essays about religion, the religious right (particularly under the Bush Administration), and nature/fishing/rivers. I have dabbled in all these areas myself, so I found the book fascinating. There are too many great parts to mention, but I will say that his ideas about organized religion are astounding and refreshing. He talks about a back-to-basics approach focused on love, peace, respect, openness, and forgiveness--directly following Jesus' example, rather than following the example of Jesus' less-than-godly followers, preachers, and apologists. DJD is not Christian himself. He is widely read in the great Wisdom literature of the world and sees the good and bad in all of those. His prose makes me laugh and cry. Seriously, read this book :).

4. "How Soccer Explains the World" by Franklin Foer
This book expounds on theories of globalization, using the international soccer phenomenon as an example. Foer took an 8-month sabbatical from a reporting job and traveled to all the major soccer stadiums across the globe, meeting fans, players, owners, mob bosses, and many others along the way. The original theory of globalization that was popularized in the early nineties is that the world would become more and more homogenized as it became more interconnected, until finally we would just have one single global culture. This hasn't happened. Foer explores why this is and why, in some cases, the opposite has happened, with people going back to the old tribal rivalries and divisions. It's good so far; I will let you know how it turns out.

5. "The First Word" by Christine Kenneally
My sister Jaima called me on Sunday morning and told me I had to go out ("right now!") and get this book. She stumbled upon it at Hastings on Saturday and has been unable to put it down since. I of course obliged. I've only read the first couple chapters, but I am loving it so far. Kenneally is a linguist and she is writing about the evolution of language, or how we got all the way from grunting to Shakespeare and the OED. She is an excellent writer. I have been very interested in language ever since I read Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way." This book traces that arc even farther and wider by talking about all languages and going back to the very origins. Very exciting.

I have a couple other books still waiting in the wings, but, really--how many books can one girl handle at once? Still, I should try to get them in before I start grad school in two weeks :).

Monday, March 9, 2009

Making the Masses Useful

You know those word verification thingys that everyone hates? They show up on websites where you can leave comments or on sites where you can purchase event tickets. A lot of times it’s nonsense words like inquive or jublut or sisupfix. The technical term for these things is “captcha” which is short for (and I’m not making this up) "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart." They serve several purposes, but are primarily to ensure that a living, breathing human is behind the comment or purchase, not a computer or automated spamming system. With captchas, a company can’t go online and buy all the Dave Matthews Band tickets for annual shows at the Gorge and then resell them at higher prices, because the captchas slow them down. But sometimes, you’ll notice, the captchas aren’t nonsense words at all; they are real words that are just difficult to read. In those cases, it’s not a captcha, it’s a reCaptcha.

reCaptchas are the brainchild Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh He invented captchas in 2000, but was willing to admit that, while they served their security purpose, they also seemed a huge waste of time for most people. So in 2007, he had another great idea. He teamed up with the Open Content Alliance, an organization out of San Francisco that aims to scan all public domain printed material into one giant, free, online library. They mainly scan older books that have outlived their copyright protections. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a grueling process to scan all the pages into the system. The process is made harder by the fact than in many old books the type is small, smeared, faded or otherwise difficult to read. If the computer can’t make sense of a word, then it is flagged to be checked individually by a staff member, which slows down the whole process. So von Ahn came up with a brilliant way to speed up the process. When a word is flagged as unreadable, it is sent out to a captcha system, to be used on the web as a verification tool. In a regular old captcha (still in use by some sites), a random nonsense word comes up on the screen for verification. With a reCaptcha, two words come up. The first is a control word that the computer already knows. The second is one it can’t decipher. Once several people have typed in the word the same way, that spelling is taken as correct and is sent back to the Open Content Alliance where it is placed back in it’s proper place within the digitized manuscript. The system’s accuracy rate of 99.1 percent is about the same as professional human transcribers. It’s a brilliant use of manpower, with each person on the web contributing a tiny amount of their time.

One of the Open Content Alliance’s latest projects was to digitize the entire catalogue of the New York Times. It is estimated that over 400 million people helped with this project, whether or not they knew they were helping. That is about 6% of the world's population!

More on reCaptchas here.