Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Noodly Appendages

Flying Spaghetti Monster
Originally from FSM Site.
Tonight there's a pucblic lecture at my University about the concepts of Intelligent Design and Evolution. Some people in my lab were discussing it, and I was told about the Flying Spaghetti Monster website.

I can't describe the amount of hysterical laughter that ensued from this. A bunch of us spent an hour or so just going through the website, reading hate mails, and changing all the lab computer wallpapers to FSM motifs.

If you're wondering what kind of crack I've just started smoking, let me explain: "The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the subject of a satirical religion which protests the decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to biological evolution.

On the site, Henderson (the founder) professes belief in a supernatural Creator entity that resembles spaghetti and meatballs and suggests that Flying Spaghetti Monsterism should be taught in science classrooms, essentially arguing a reductio ad absurdum against the teaching of Intelligent Design" (from

The guy who started all this, Bobby Henderson - an unemployed 25 year old Physics graduate, has unsurprisingly received a plethora of hate mail. It's pretty funny how big of a following Pastafarianism now has.

I think it's clever and amusing, if not a result of an unemployed university graduate with far too much time on his hands. But best of all is the pirates and global warming graph.


Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Irish and an Englishman

This weekend was full UK-edness.

First was St-Paddy's Day - well, St-Paddy's Weekend, really. It's hard to describe to people the madness with which St Paddy's is celebrated around here. Even some Irish people (i.e not Americans calling themselves Irish, but an actual person born and living in Ireland) are surprised by the extent of the craziness that happens here. Montreal has one of the larger St Patrick's Day parades in North America. Even the Jewish Genereal Hospital had a float. heh.

It has such a great buzzing energy, there are tons of people, loads of drunkenness, and just general excitement in the air. Not to mention the Worlds Largest Leprechaun.

Friday at the lab we had an Irish Coffee party. One of the girls is Irish, from Kilkenny actually, so she brought all the fixings and invited everyone - Irish whiskey, Bailey's, coffee, and whipped cream. We all brought a mug and got collectively buzzed.

Sunday was the actual day of the parade. In the evening I went to see the James Blunt concert. It was a terrific show, and the venue was fairly small and intimate. Concerts are always better when the venue is smaller.

Blunt is a great performer, he sounds better live than recorded. He's funny and cute and British. Triple threat! It was worth the pain of having to stand for 2 hours in line, and 3 hours for the concert - all the while shoving stupid freakin tall people out of the way. I should have brought a phone book to stand on.

All in all, great weekend. I did absolutely no work, and loved every second!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Well, duh

You Are Guinness

You know beer well, and you'll only drink the best beers in the world.
Watered down beers disgust you, as do the people who drink them.
When you drink, you tend to become a bit of a know it all - especially about subjects you don't know well.
But your friends tolerate your drunken ways, because you introduce them to the best beers around.
What's Your Beer Personality?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Brain Pet Peeve

Next week is Brain Awareness Week, and I've volunteered to help out this year.

I'm going to give a presentation to a class of high school kids to talk to them about brain related and neurological issues. Thankfully I didn't have to make the presentation, it was all done for us.

The talk is going to be about how certain drugs of addiction affect the central nervous system, which is something I already find interesting - and is important for high school kids to know. We're encouraged not to be judgmental, but just to explain to them the neurological consequences of drug abuse. Plus, we have a cow brain to show them that they'll be allowed to touch - even though we were carefully instructed that "the children may not hold the brain, grasp the brain, or throw the brain. They are allowed to pet the brain".

What should be even more fun is taking the metro with a tupperware container with a brain floating around in it.

This whole thing has brought up the "we only use 10% of our brains" bullcrap. That myth is one of my biggest pet peeves, I get really annoyed when people spout it with utter confidence.

There is absolutely NO scientific evidence that even remotely supports the 'theory'. We always use 100% of our brain. Evidence for this is seen in functional magnetic resonance imagine (fMRI) - all of the brain is active at all times. Loss of even a tiny area of the brain from a stroke or another neurological injury/disease can result in really devastating consequences, like the inability to speak, understand language, remember, move, see, or even think/reason properly.

Where the confusion might arise is that we often are using certain areas of our brains more than others, depending on what we're doing. If we're trying to remember what we studied during a test, the memory areas of the brain like the hippocampus and the cortex are probably being used more than other areas devoted to motor movements, for example. But those motor areas are still being used, even if to just move our eyes or tap our pencil on the desk.

fMRI images can look like this:

This is a subtraction, meaning the baseline activity of when that person was not engaging in any particular activity (just laying in the scanner) was subtracted from a scan of when the person was doing some specific task. The areas that are not lit up are still being used, they're just subtracted out so the researchers can look at the activation patterns for specific tasks/behaviours.

Cool, eh?