Sunday, September 30, 2012

LOST as a 1987 Computer Game

What if LOST had been a point-and-click computer game like what LucasArts used to do? Admit it, it fits like hand in glove. Go to this link to see more screens from your possible pasts.

The only other option would be an Infocom text adventure. Especially with entering the numbers into the Dharma Initiative terminal. Unless that actually already exists ...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Liquid Nitrogen + a Trashcan Full of Ping-Pong Balls

Oh, I so want to do this. And the beauty of it is, maybe some day I will! Just need to pick up the ping-pong ball jumbo-pack at Costco.

Subtitled: The power of PV=nRT.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Which MacFarlane's Lantern is Better?

It's fun having a last name that comes from a clan in Scotland. Sure, the MacFarlanes are a small clan, but that's only because they stole cows from the Calhouns and all their men kept getting killed off (or so I'd been told). I found plenty of women's names on gravestones in my trip to Scotland with MacFarlane as their middle name ... not so many men. But I'd always thought that MacFarlane's Lantern referred to the full moon when the MacFarlanes would go cattle raidin'.

Today I found this post on Strange Maps about Scottish tartans and history, of interest to anyone with one of those 16 last names, and I saw immediately that it had a different version of history:
(15) Clan MacFarlane
In past, more violent times, the Moon in Scotland was known as MacFarlane’s Lantern, for the clan was famous for its daring night-time raids on the English during Scotland’s Wars of Independence. The last chieftain of this once much-feared clan died in 1886, since which time its chiefship is dormant, although the clan remains armigerous.

So I'm torn -- do I want my ancestors to be brave or rascals? What would you choose? I'll reconcile the two by imagining them raiding British cattle.

When I visited the old clan grounds in my Scotland trip, I was aware of the chiefship vacancy, but I couldn't find out how to apply ... probably involves something horrible like animal sacrifices or caber tosses or, worst of all, eating haggis.

Music as Medicine

As a pre-med advisor who's married to a musician (and as someone who sort of collects inspirational academic speeches as a hobby), I thought this Welcome Address to The Boston Conservatory really nailed a lot of why we do what we do. Read the whole thing by clicking on that link ... or if you really need to cut to the chase, this is the conclusion and heart of it:

"If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft. 

You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives."

I have one problem with the last paragraph (just a little idolatry going on as Barfield might say, nothing too unusual): religion that doesn't do this is not religion, because this healing is precisely the point of God's saving action. See Micah 6:8 + James 1:27 + the whole book of Isaiah (which translated means "God saves" and is one of the more incredible word symphonies ever assembled). 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What If We're All Wrong About Genesis 1?

I spend a lot of my time arguing (with myself as well as with others) about what Genesis 1 means. After all, it's the first words you read in the Bible, and it literally covers all of creation in its scope. Whatever the conclusion, I start from the conviction that Genesis contains multiple layers of truth, and learning to read those words is more complicated than the child's process of learning to read: they're translations from another language, they're thousands of years old, they're more poetic than prosaic, and the ancient texts don't even bother to include the vowels. So it's a problem more complicated than the most complicated Doctor Who episode. Still, both Doctor Who and Genesis are fascinating because they're complicated; it's their puzzle-like nature that makes the best parts the best parts.

But for all the debates about what Genesis says about the events of creation (that happened, at any rate, before any human was around to observe them); for all the sturm und drang about the ancient terms like "firmament" (which, needless to say, implies something "firm" up where we know there is empty space); and for all the people leaving and coming to different faiths from the results of interpreations of these texts, I just heard a talk that made me wonder, what if we're all wrong? Not wrong in content, necessarily, but wrong in emphasis? What if what really matters about Genesis is another point entirely, one that does not negate arguments about creation but rather goes in another direction entirely?

The talk that sums this up best is a half-hour lecture (less if played at 2X) by Paul H. Seely at the recent ASA national meeting in San Diego, titled "Why the Framework Hypothesis Does Not Work and What Does." You can listen to it here.

In this pithy little talk, Paul Seely* argues against the framework hypothesis, which basically says the six days in Genesis are a poetic device to organize nature into heavens, sea/sky, and earth, and then to fill each of those domains with, respectively, stars, fish/birds, and plants/animals. Now, when most people argue against the framework hypothesis, they say that instead, we should read Genesis 1 as a literal sequence of events, organized chronologically (then there's the question of how long the timescale is, what each word means, how X could come before Y when X depends on Y ... ). Interpretations that run the gamut from the framework hypothesis to literal six-times-24-hours creation basically assume that this text is focused on creation itself. Seely changes the focus when he says, what if Genesis 1 is as much about the Creator, and as much about us, as it is about creation? And if Genesis 1 is for us, maybe it's as much about how we should work as it is about how God worked.

It should be clear when we look at the ancient Hebrew terms that we're scratching our head for exactly what they mean. One of the biggest headscratchers is how could light be made, and morning and evening, before the sun and stars were made? Seely's answer is, because when you're working you need light. That's what everyone understood back then. So for God to work, first he made light so he could work. He was showing us how to work, and he put it in terms we (back then) could understand -- just like Jesus came to us using terms we could understand. It's a basic fact about God that he pursues us and meets us where we are, speaking Hebrew to the Hebrews.

If this is so, the most important thing about Genesis 1 is not what these weird Hebrew vocabulary words mean so we can sequence what kind of creatures were here first, although that may be an interesting puzzle. Did the placement of dinosaurs in the sequence of creation really matter to the ancient Israelite? Is the sequence of Genesis 1 supposed to be some kind of hidden Bible code (like a DVD's easter egg), so that only after 5000 years we could finally look back and see, hey, they didn't know what it was about but we do! Or is what science can see (at last) not the most important thing at all? After all, the text gives us five verbs at the end of the sequence in a massive repetition: "God ended his work," "he rested," "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it," "he had rested." Last I checked, none of us can create a universe -- but we all work and we all rest. We all choose how to rest, and we can all choose to rest once every seven days.

What good news! It's a holy thing to rest! This is something to shout from the housetops. And I'm not kidding.

There's good puzzles, and real truth, in knowing that God worked to create creation. Thinking about how the Genesis 1 days are ordered can complement our scientific observation that creation too is organized and ordered. I think this insight is so important that I'm thinking of writing a whole book about how the world was ordered by chemistry, in fact. I believe Genesis 1 contains truth on that level. But the usefulness of that insight is more limited than an insight about how you should organize your work, day in and day out. For those of us not actively writing a book about creation or investigating the science of origins, what we really need to know is that God himself rested after six days of work, so we should too. The other stuff is secondary, or at least more infrequent.

Resting is deceptively hard. Both me and my first-born boy have trouble going to sleep with all the thoughts, memories, even regrets of the day whizzing around through our heads like a little hamster on a wheel. To bring the good Doctor back into it, one of the best parts of yesterday's Doctor Who episode ("The Power of Three") was when the Doctor had to wait -- and ended up driving himself and everyone around him crazy, like a five-year-old with a sugar high. He couldn't wait. Neither can we. But God says we need to when he says we need to rest.

Every time we sleep we die a little death and become completely dependent on what is beyond our control. Maybe that's why the stories of those who die in their sleep are so unsettling. It could happen anytime. We are most vulnerable when we sleep, and we are that way one-third of our lives. Actually, we're that way our whole lives; we just don't always know it.

One of my basic rules is, if we want to understand Genesis, we need to look at Psalms, and Psalms backs me up on this. In Psalm 127 I find that this attitude is at least part of what we should take away from Genesis 1 -- and if we aren't maybe we're reading it wrong. I'll close with these thoughts on dependency and rest:

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.

[More thoughts on rest and Genesis, but from the standpoint of Hebrews, found here.]

* = I realize that many others have indeed made this argument, but I'm speaking from my own experience, which has heard those other voices but not really heard them till listening to Seely's argument all at once.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Favorite Astronomy Photo of the Year

Since this link has the Royal Society's best astronomy photos of the year, and this photo below is my favorite of the Royal Society's album, then it must therefore be the best astronomy photo of the year. I see no problem with that logic. Enjoy the photo. (The green is oxygen, which may mean oxygen is my favorite element?)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Simplifying the Cell

This is a wonderful video that teaches students about a different way to look at the contents of a cell. Looking at something differently is the first step of education, after all. Perfect for the first Biochem lecture of the year (coming up on Monday). There's a multiple choice question ... can you get it right?:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Galaxy for a Driveway

No, this isn't about Rainbow Road in Mario Kart. It's about glow-in-the-dark pebbles you can scatter on a gravel driveway so at night it looks like this:

I'm thinking this could be useful for dark paths at a campground, too. The possibilities are endless. An "easter egg"-like hunt after the sun goes down? Cosmic-Bowling-style fish tanks? Kitchen countertops for midnight snacks? Feel free to develop your own...

[via Discovery News]

Written With the Heavens

The site at this link can turn any message into a collection of galaxies that appears to spell out that message. Even, for example, a certain blog title:

My first reaction was to spell out Sam's name since he was the birthday boy yesterday. A nice (and free) gift.

For some reason, about 2% of the messages arrange the galaxies to spell out swear words ...

[via Popsci]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: Reading Isaiah: Poetry and Vision

Reading Isaiah: Poetry and Vision by Peter D. Quinn-Miscall is my "textbook" in a way. My university is reading Isaiah together during the Fall Quarter and I took a day-long class in Isaiah (given by my theology department colleague) about a week ago. I've always been fascinated by this sprawling, vivid and even contradictory book, and Quinn-Miscall's "textbook" is a good introduction.

Quinn-Miscall translates big bunches of text himself anew and resists the temptation to split up Isaiah into parts, instead looking at how different images are used throughout the book. This ties the book together rather than forcing it apart, and it's how I choose to look at it, too. The juxtaposition of the different images and parts of Isaiah is one of the powerful things about the book. I have the meta-image of a large stained glass window, with jagged chunks of glass, some blood-red, some sky blue, and some the green of a new tree; some faces from history painted in there; and the sun blazing behind it turning them to jewels and painting the reader with colored light. The fractal pattern of judgement-desolation-return is a useful pattern to see at all levels of Isaiah.

Quinn-Miscall's insistence on focusing on the poetry and only the poetry leads him to not even speculate about the speaker or referent at some points when I think he could go more out on a limb, so I think he could have loosened his own rules a bit for the benefit of people who want to know, "but what do you think?". But perhaps the whole point is that Quinn-Miscall himself fades away and when all's said and done, you're left with the vision of Isaiah itself. That's a good thing. This book helps you see it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

When is a Mistake Not a Mistake?

Writing science journalism is hard, and is bound to include mistakes, but even the mistakes are illuminating. The act of condensing and translating complicated science invariably lets in half-truths and downright errors that spell out hidden assumptions. I undoubtedly made a few in this article. So mistakes are not always simply mistakes, if they still let the truth in through the cracks.

One such mistake I'd like to point out involves the term mistake. (Hopefully I can write this without creating an infinite regression of self-referentiality a la Douglas Hofstadter.) The headline reads 
"500-Million-Year-Old 'Mistake' Led to Humans." The article describes an organism without a backbone that is ancestor to all organisms with backbones. Right before the backbone appeared, the genome doubled, not once, but twice. Now there were four copies of every protein, so that one copy could keep doing its protein thing but the other three could gradually start doing something else and the organism would survive. In the sense of now having four genes instead of one, there is more "space" for the proteins to try to do new things and pick up new attributes. This expanded genomic space allowed new signaling networks of dozens of proteins to evolve. Ultimately, a backbone resulted because of the duplicated proteins.

This is a great example of how creation-by-evolution doesn't have to take small steps. It can take big steps -- a whole genome duplicated, twice! -- and then can move forward from there. Whole systems can duplicate, and that redundancy is like having a computer backup of files. The old files are still there, and then the new files can change. If the system crashes, bring out the old files. If the system works better, keep the new files and charge on ahead.

Unfortunately it's also a great example of how assumptions can color headlines. The doubling is repeatedly referred to as a "mistake" in the news story, and by the original scientists. Kind of funny that a mistake could happen twice in quick succession like that. It starts to look like a pattern, as in "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Sure, the doubling could have been brought on by a random event, if that's what they mean by mistake. But in a community of organisms even unlikely random events are bound to happen. Someone's going to win the lottery, somewhere, eventually, and someone's going to get a backbone.

More than that, the "mistake" terminology neglects the possibility that genome doubling events may actually be intentionally regulated by the organism. Maybe it meant to do that! This is the main thrust of Shapiro's Evolution: A View From the 21st Century (my review here), that regulation plays a role in evolution. Shapiro documents cases where environmental stress causes genome remodeling, specifically mentioning that organisms can undergo genome duplications deliberately (more precisely, as a response to conditions). The increased "space" for genes to change and morph that results in changes in the organism is an amazing thing, and a lot of words could be used to describe it, but the best word for it is clearly not the word "mistake."

Ultimately, the real damage is done to the people who may have otherwise read that article who turned away as soon as they saw the word "mistake." I used to be one of those people, and it was science journalism like this that actually got in the way of my understanding the science, because it jumped to the conclusion that something is a mistake simply because we don't entirely understand it. That's a philosophical conclusion, not a scientific one. And, yes, it's a mistake.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Return, Rabbit, Return

I never thought I'd see the return of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit as he is right now. For those who don't know this Trivial-Pursuit-level tidbit, Oswald was the first significant cartoon character Walt Disney came up with, but was essentially taken from him by a studio contract or something like that. Oswald shows up in the early days section of the Walt Disney Museum in the Presidio (trust me, the whole museum is very much worth it). Then Walt came up with Mickey. Cue the rest of the museum.

But now Oswald is returning to Disney with expanding roles in the Epic Mickey video game series, and he can be spotted on Buena Vista Street, California Adventure's new entry land, which recreates the California that Walt stepped into, suitcase in hand.

Which leads to the thing I really thought I'd never see, shown below. Who's the leader of the club not made for you or me? O-S-W-A-L-D:

More things to buy (or better yet, look at and enjoy but not buy) here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Video Games, for Science!

If my childhood was any example then I spent many hours developing the dexterity of my thumbs and the ability to plan any number of jumps across moving platforms floating in mid-air while collecting golden coins. But for some reason none of that got on my resume. Is there any way to make video games actually educational?

Today's New York Times has a profile of Valve, makers of the video games Half-Life and Portal. Portal I can vouch for as a video game good enough that it's worth playing even with my first-person-perspective motion sickness. ("Portal: Worth the Headache").  Portal has such a detailed physics engine behind it, and such simple controls, that you can use it to teach physics. This article links to lots more articles about how that can be done, for instance, turning Portal's cube into a harmonic oscillator. Maybe someday one of the required texts for physics will be a copy of Portal?

Video games can be used to teach immunology, too, although the case of Immune Attack is different because gameplay follows education, and it's clear that results in a different kind of game.

I didn't know just how unusual (that is, absent) Valve's corporate structure is. It's fascinating that they can get that to work to make these great games.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Isaiah's Prophecy: Three Times True

Anybody who's read enough fantasy novels knows that there's Tolkien and then there's the writers who react to Tolkien. Maybe some of the latter category are better than Tolkien at some things, but Tolkien was a founding father to the entire genre in a way no one else was, or ever will be. One of the biggest rifts between Tolkien and his followers are in how they treat prophecy. His followers (and I include J.K. Rowling in this) make prophecies into some kind of message from the future that is vague enough to be applied to lots of different things, usually in a self-fulfilling or completely obscure manner, till some previously unknown bit of info is revealed. Prophecies, to be honest, aren't much help in most fantasy novels except in hindsight. They serve to give a puzzle and a mystery and maybe at best a philosophical point about fate vs. free will (the prophecy in Tad Williams' Memory Sorrow and Thorn is one of my favorites, but I still categorize it as "not the way prophecy really works").

Contrast this with Galadriel's mirror. It's different -- images instead of words, not just predicting the future but mingling it with the past and present. The main event in Tolkien with the ring is there but strangely subsumed by other events such as the Scouring of the Shire. It's poetry and juxtaposition, pain and healing, and it shows not some key to the future but a deep insight into how the world works. This is prophecy the way the Bible does it.

Here's what I mean. Take the famous Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah 7. To the doubting King Ahaz, Isaiah says, "the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the [young woman] shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel ['God-With-Us']. ... before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings. The Lord will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house ..." The child is more an adverb than a noun here; he is a timer, a sign of immanence that things will happen soon.

Some people find this problematic because the Hebrew text uses the word for "young woman" and the word "virgin" is used in the Greek translation only. Matthew quotes the Greek (and presumably secondary) version when he says that Jesus fulfills this promise. Isn't Matthew stretching the case and reading something that wasn't originally there? It would be if the prophecy was a legal word-for-word prediction. But it's more than that. To see how, you just have to read the next 2 chapters of Isaiah.

Isaiah 8 has an echo of Isaiah 7, when it reads "Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz; for before the child shall have knowledge to cry ‘My father’ and ‘My mother,’ the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away before the king of Assyria.” " Again, a timer, a sign of immanence, and an omen that judgment is near. That, in a very real sense, God is with us. The only real difference here is the name of the child. Later in the chapter Isaiah reiterates that the point of these signs is that God should be trusted more than political alliances or pseudo-scientific soothsayers: "Here am I and the children whom the Lord has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion."

And then Isaiah 9 ups the ante, to say the least. Read it in the light of the two previous signs: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever." You thought those other passages were prophecies? Now, this is a prophecy. But it is enhanced because it is part of a pattern: a child is promised, the child comes as a sign that God is with us, that despite appearances He's doing what He said. And this child really means, literally, God is with us, because he is God.

When you look at the three prophecies together it becomes clear that this is the way God likes to work. He gives life miraculously (every conception a miracle); He nurtures and sustains that life; and He uses that life to show everyone that He is here, with us. He does this all the time, but in these three cases He did it with specific names, to specifically show Himself. The pattern of the prophecies is as important as the details, and they are poetic repetitions, with the third a case of glorious hyperbole. He did the first two, and He promises the third.

Hundreds of years pass, and then one night the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will have a son, though she is a virgin, the son of God (a term used for kings like David in the OT, another similarity to Isaiah's kingly prophecies). Yeah, she's a "young woman," too, but the virgin part shows God's power to an extreme extent -- just like the Isaiah 9 prophecy shows God's intentions to use his power to an extreme extent. Matthew is saying that Jesus fulfills Isaiah's prophecy in a way consistent not just with Isaiah 7 but also 8 and 9, and to an extent that may have been inconceivable (is that a pun?) even to Isaiah. Isaiah is showing the way God works, not once, but three times, and it is fulfilled in Immanuel, and in the second kid (don't want to type out that name), but most fully in Jesus, just like the promises are made most fully the third time. The prophecies that apply to Jesus run throughout Isaiah like a river, and they all came true at once. That's why Matthew's so flabbergasted at it all. I think he counts on us reading past Isaiah 7 to get to 8 and 9 to see the whole picture here. We're missing the point by reading out of context.

The Resurrection is like that too, a combination of a huge web of prophecies made even more true by the combination. It is the miracle of miracles, a re-creation by the creator in the middle of time, and the fulfillment of a whole slew of prophecies about how God gives life when we can do nothing else for ourselves. The three days thing from Hosea, the promise of removing the veil of death from the nations in Isaiah 25, the "sparks" verse in Daniel, the "sign of Jonah" as quoted by Jesus himself, they all came true at once. The ultimate in futility and injustice is death; God showed his power and justice in reversing it. It's entirely consistent with the way He works, and with passages His spirit inspired throughout the 17 prophets, in the Torah, and beyond.

Here's the point: it's not about the prophecies, it's about the faithfulness of God. Even prophecies can turn into idols if we focus on them. God gives us more than we expected in a way we did not anticipate. It's bot about proving the prophecies or even the prophecies proving God. It's about the God-with-us proving his character through the prophecies, altogether and all at once. Jesus trusted God through death and beyond, the God revealed in the prophecies, but the prophecies are just words without God. A true prophecy is known by its fruit: the true prophecy itself fades away because it is eclipsed by the incredible steadfastness and faithfulness of the God who made it.

[For more thoughts on how prophecy works in Isaiah, see this post.]

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I just finished reading Harry Potter #6 aloud to the boys, and since all 607 pages of text passed through my eyes, brain, and speech, I figured I should review it like everything else. Then I realized, who cares what I think? Let's ask the boys!

Apparently what stands out is the ending. Aidan didn't like that the locket was fake and not a real Horcrux (oops, spoilers! Oh, and Dumbledore ... um, never mind .. although it's been in a Simpsons episode for about 5 years now). Sam says it was not his favorite, but his favorite was The Goblet of Fire. The sad ending got to him too.

But I think they'll agree it's worth it when we read onto book 7, so much of book 6 is really a set-up for that. They'll find out once my voice has time to recover.

My Chapter is Published

Faith Seeking Understanding is apparently available online now! (Just saw the cover for the first time and I like it.) I contributed Chapter 15, which is the one about biochemistry, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Job, titled "The Tree of Life." Here's the proof:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Vitruvian LEGO

Brothers Brick posted this great illustration of a LEGO minifig as good old Leonardo might have drawn him, actually drawn by Kevin Hinkle:

It seems strangely unnatural ...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Harry Potter and the Genetic Hypothesis

So if you're a best-selling author, by the name of, for example, "J.K. Rowling," and you create an incredibly detailed universe of hidden magic, and you want to link that universe to our real universe, then you may be tempted to explain the magical universe in semi-scientific terms. I understand the temptation ... but the results can cause Pottermaniacs great consternation.

Case in point: Rowling described the wizarding gene as "dominant," which explains why Tom Riddle is a wizard (with one Muggle parent), but runs into big problems because it does not explain why Hermione Granger can do magic (with two Muggle parents) or why Argus Filch cannot (with two wizard parents).

What to do? Deploy the science wing of the Pottermaniacs! They will produce a detailed, footnoted explaination involving trinucleotide repeats that will establish once and for all how Rowling is right but Hermione and Filch can still exist. Whew.

Now, we just need some DNA from a few wizards to track down this gene, and a few gene therapy events later we can all be wizards. And maybe someone can fix poor Filch.

By the way, if someone can write a similar guide to Quidditch strategy that explains how Quidditch could actually be a strategic game and not just a vehicle for exciting writing (150 points for one event in the game? Come on!) ... well, I'd read that too.

[UPDATE: Thanks to Deanna from Deanna's Corner for the link.]

The Invisible Embryo, Explained (Sort Of)

Last year researchers announced that they could turn mouse embryos transparent with a potion ... um, make that scientific reagent ... called "Scale." In terms of the picture above, you'd soak the thing on the left and get the thing on the right. I could go in my lab and mix up some Scale right now, it's just a common lab detergent and the common chemical urea with a few other things (you know, eye of newt, etc.).

If this seems like being Harry Potter going down to Snape's dungeon to mix up a Transparency Potion, that's not far off. But of course the big difference is, if this is chemistry and not alchemy, we can find a mechanism for the change.

What Scale does is changes the refractive index of the embryo as it soaks through it, changing all the different refractive indices of cell membranes and proteins and organelles into one refractive index. Uniform refractive index + disordered arrangement of stuff = no scattering of light, so the light shines right through. From the reagents involved I'm guessing this involves unfolding proteins and disrupting membranes gently. There are limitations, in that Scale transparency-izes dead embryos, not live creatures for example (Scale is NOT one of the Deathly Hallows), but it's still very cool and lets us see things clearly that were formerly obscured.

Still, if you want to live magically, going into the lab to mix up a transparency potion from common chemicals is pretty close.