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Comment: Re:Inevitable, I Hope (Score 1) 193

by myc (#38599252) Attached to: California State Senator Proposes Funding Open-Source Textbooks

IAABP (I am a biology professor).

For basic maths or physics, I agree with you that open source textbooks would be a great idea. The problem is when you talk about textbooks for more rapidly evolving fields, such as the life sciences. I can see how open source textbooks would be a very difficult proposition for biology texts. If the government wanted to fund such an endeavor it would not be "write once then forget about it", you would have to constantly update and revise it every few years. This means that there would need to be a permanent editorial board with support staff. The editorial board would have to have sufficient expertise in the field(s) to recognize what constitutes a significant advance in biology, as well as be able to decide what is an appropriate level of knowledge to present in textbook format. What with my teaching schedule and research demands, I just don't see me or anyone else in my field doing this, because it would be a full time endeavor that would take me out of the loop of my other professional duties. Unless there is a permanent position created for this (e.g., an NSF directorate with program officers and associated staff), I just don't see anyone risking their career for this.

A completely open and crowd-sourced book in the vein of Wikibooks is also doomed from the get-go, because any dolt can come along and edit things that have been carefully considered and written by an expert in the field (this is why I no longer contribute to Wikipedia). I suppose a hybrid model is possible, wherein edits may be submitted to a transparent editorial board for consideration, but again there is the issue of who would be willing to act as editor?

I suppose a third possibility to hold down costs is the formation of a non-profit publishing corporation that would publish works just as traditional publishing houses would, except that with a non-profit charter it would be able to keep prices low.

Comment: As a biology professor (Score 2) 145

by myc (#38437604) Attached to: India To Cut Out Animal Dissection

Most students who take an anatomy class at the level that requires animal dissection fall into two categories: those who are interested in an allied health profession (e.g., nursing, physical therapy) and those who are either interested in becoming professional biologists or medical doctors. I think you could make a pretty good case that in both cases, real dissections are an essential part of the students' training. Your average college student is not masochistic enough to take what is typically a course much tougher than a garden variety general education class. I don't know how the education system works in India, but I think the vast majority of biology departments in the US would not be willing to use models exclusive of real dissection. That being said, we do use models to supplement instruction, but these are physical models, not computer-based. Unless 3D displays become radically better and give tactile feedback, I don't see computer dissecting simulations displacing physical models either.

Comment: Portal and Portal 2 (Score 1) 480

by myc (#36357940) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Best Adventure Game To Start With?

my 10 year old LOVES Portal, and Portal 2 Co-op mode is loads of fun. It's not quite an adventure game in the pure sense, but the last level of Portal really captured her imagination, especially with the escape into the hidden areas of Aperture Labs. Portal 2 Co-op mode on an XBox is really good, because it's split screen, which makes it very easy to help out when the other player gets stuck.


Auto Incorrect 86

Posted by samzenpus
from the slip-of-the-finger dept.
theodp writes "Combine smartphone auto correction and fat-fingered virtual keyboard typing, writes Rob Walker, and the results can be hilarious and even shocking. The website Damn You, Autocorrect collects the awesomely embarrassing text messages that you never meant to send. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to masturbate some chicken for bisexuals night!"

Comment: What about ATP? (Score 1) 405

by myc (#34420090) Attached to: NASA Finds New Life (This Afternoon)

Phosphorus (or more precisely, phosphate) is used to form the covalent linkages between nucleotide bases in DNA and RNA. You could, in theory, retain the Watson-Crick basepairing of G, A, T, and C while replacing phosphate with something else such as arsenic. That is to say, the nucleotide bases are the bits of information, whereas the phosphate just holds it all together. To use a computer analogy, data is data, whether you store it on a hard drive or a flash drive.

What intrigues me more, is what about ATP? Adenosine triphosphate is not only used for making RNA, but it's also the universal common energy currency for almost all enzymes in all known organisms that catalyze endothermic reactions. If phosphate is not used in this arsenic-based organism, do they still use ATP as an energy source, and if not, what does it use and what kinds of adaptations does it enzymes have to accomodate this?

Comment: RNA editing has been known for a long time (Score 1) 196

by myc (#34169940) Attached to: Central Dogma of Genetics May Not Be So Central

That mRNAs are edited post-transcriptionally has been known for some time now. In mammals, RNA modifying enzymes will act on specific mRNAs to alter their base structures, thereby changing their amino acid encoding. (too tired right now to provide a link, but this happens for mRNAs coding for AMPA-class glutamate-gated ion channels). It's not so much that it happens per se that is amazing; its that it happens at this large scale.

Much of this stuff is based on nex-gen high throughput sequencing technology, which has emerged just in the past 3-4 years or so. Very cool stuff.

Comment: ebooks (and e-music) suck (Score 1) 437

by myc (#33683632) Attached to: E-Books Are Only 6% of Printed Book Sales

why would I want to buy books and music that is tied to either a particular hardware platform and/or DRM scheme, at or above (or even near) cost of the physical media? Whenever possible I buy CDs or dead tree edition books. Occasionally I have bought DRM-free tracks from Amazon (I don't want to buy iTunes tracks because even though you can get DRM-free stuff from there it's inconvenient to move things between different devices), but overall I prefer physical media, which I can chose to sell later in the second-hand market if I so choose.

Its the same deal with e-textbooks. I teach university-level biology, and when the publisher is asking $100 for the e-book and $120 for the hardcopy, how can I recommend the ebook in good faith, especially when the publisher even outsources their DRM technology?

Comment: blame it partly on the procurement process (Score 2, Insightful) 367

by myc (#33348562) Attached to: Los Angeles Unveils $578 Million Public School

I don't know about other states, but in CA once money is earmarked for construction (many times it's so-called "one-time" money, or money that came from a one time windfall), one is prohibited from using it for any other purpose. For instance, at my daughter's school district, the new annex just completed this year at the district office has leather couches, mahoghany accent tables, and marble floors in their reception area. All the money for the construction of this annex was earmarked years ago, when the economy was still "strong". Despite the fact that the actual monetary needs of the district are elsewhere (teachers anyone?), they cannot use the money for anything else, even though it would have made much more sense to go with cheaper materials and use the surplus from construction to fund instruction.

Comment: the summary is wrong (Score 4, Informative) 125

by myc (#29711205) Attached to: An Electron Microscope For Your Home?

On a research grade light microscope, the maximum magnification one can get without loss of resolution is roughly 1500x - 1600x, not 400x as the summary suggests. Also, resolution of the image has nothing to do with magnification; the numerical aperture (N.A.) of the objective lens determines the resolution.

Comment: Re:Where are we with Viral Immortality? (Score 2, Insightful) 187

by myc (#29646373) Attached to: Aging Discovery Yields Nobel Prize

no, engineered viruses are nowhere near that advanced. Most viruses are limited by payload; there is a limit to how much DNA (or RNA) you can engineer into a viral particle. (not unlike a BIOS virus I suppose). Also, the viruses that are able to modify the host genome do so at random locations, so it is hard to precisely control where you want a particular modification to occur. And, the virus only modifies a very small portion of the host genome. Finally, most viruses are highly picky as to what kinds of cells they will infect. For instance, HIV will only target helper T cells in the immune system. Engineering HIV to, for instance, infect cytotoxic T cells (another type of white blood cell that is similar but distinct) will never work, because as far as HIV is concerned a cytotoxic T cell is no different than a kidney cell (that is, it's not a helper T cell).

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.