Thursday, 19 April 2012

Contagion Through the Eyes of A Microbiologist

Last year a movie came out that I've been avoiding like the plague. That movie is Contagion. I have not been avoiding it because I dislike Matt Damon or I heard about Jude Law's incongruous accent (it's something between Australian and cockney and I don't like it). I have been avoiding it because I am a microbiologist. I studied microbiology at university and I currently work for big pharma as one so I've been worried that this particular film may just wind me up because Hollywood thinks science is magic. It also likes to make movies that oversimplify things to a point where laypeople think they can understand science.
Those people like to talk to me about stuff like this (just like I do to my physicist friends, sorry guys) as if we are on a level playing field. I have to smile politely and nod as if they are making interesting points then try to explain to them that they have to go to university for at least 3 years and get into shit loads of debt if they want to properly comprehend how stupid they sound.
As this picture suggests, my educational arrogance prevents me from having that many friends
So I've been avoiding Contagion because I don't want to embarrass myself during tedious conversations with know it alls, in this case ignorance is bliss. This week however I figured I'd give it a go because what the hell, if I can't be slightly arrogant about my own opinions on the internet, where else can I do it?

First of all film makers need to stop using foaming at the mouth so much. Its as if they assume we're all to stupid to understand someone is dying of poisoning or a seizure unless they look like they've just crunched up a mouthful of refreshers.
He's been poisoned... by some kind of tablet... and he's having a seizure! What monster would do this?
So Contagion is about a super virus that is transmitted by surface contact and is absorbed through the respiratory tract from which it makes its way to the brain and proceeds to fuck shit up causing encephalitis (swelling around the brain) and foamy seizure death. It spreads around the world and kills a bunch of people causing widespread panic and general bad times. This is not a new story but the extra elements that Contagion brings to the table are exemplified by two characters: the Star Trek Microbiology techno-babble spouting Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle) and blogger, contrarian and all around ass hole Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law). Both of these characters bug me for different reasons:

Dr Hextall is a Superscientist who Appears to have Missed out on Most of her University Education

This is quite a specific gripe for me but it would appear that the driving scientific mind of Contagion doesn't appear to actually know much about vaccine production. She's used by the writer to be a font of exposition and knowledge but she doesn't seem to use much of it in her research. For example half an hour into the film she's worked out the exact protein alignment of the region where the virus adheres to host cells leading to penetration, replication and host cell destruction (that's what kills you).
At this point I figured she was going to use this information to maybe find a way to synthesise a receptor analogue that binds preferentially to the viral ligand vs the real one on our cells preventing viral uptake and subsequent host death. That's what a scientist would do. Hell I don't even have a PhD and I managed to work that out. Actually she just continued on her merry way killing monkeys with rubbish vaccines until she stumbled on a cure, by which time millions were dead. Good work lady. Where did you get your doctorate? Was it the University of Deus Ex Machina?

Alan is Clearly an Idiot but Everyone Takes him Seriously

So this guy thinks he's a writer/ journalist because he has a popular blog... I'm already not really on his side. He's apparently some kind of truth speaking champion of the people but he spends the whole movie taking about homoeopathic viral cures, referencing ridiculous conspiracy theories and being a smarmy cock.
This but with a dubious Australian accent
He says a few useful things but is mostly a cock and yet everyone loves him. He even gets arrested for fraud and the public bail him out. How is this guy being taken seriously? Here on earth we recently drove a man insane because we disagreed with his motives and methods (the Kony 2012 fiasco) so there is no way that a similar man would be lauded as a voice of the people, even in desperate times.

Contagion was not a bad movie it was just stupid, but not in ways that I expected it to be; the world that the film takes place in is so warped and ridiculous it worries me that anyone could think it has anything to do with the real world. It's message is diluted and bland as well, coming across as some kind of ineffectual teenage anarchist's notebook critique of corporate America and web culture.

Also the science was shit. No one even picked up a micro-pipette.

Stay Crunchy Internet 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Conversations with my Cat

Well the last few weeks have been very serious haven't they? First God then relationships and heartbreak, I'm starting to become dangerously preachy and we can't have that! So this week I'm hoping to be less serious. This week I shall be posting some transcripts of conversations I have had with my family's cat Paddy
He's a 15-16 year old slightly mad rescue cat we got when I was but a wee nerdling and we have grown up together. My mother has always joked that I'm his favorite and we definitely have a deep connection. He tends to follow me around alot and likes to play hide and seek with me (even at his current age of about 80 in cat years). We also like to watch the garden together on rainy days when I'm back at home while he talks to the birds. 
Or when the snow is as deep as he is tall

Basically he's my cat bro and I talk to him a lot. I noticed recently that I've anthropomorphised him so much that I've stopped putting on a cutesy cat talking voice in respect of his old age (which is weird). This has inspired me to transcribe some of our conversations.

Transcript 1, Early Morning

Paddy enters the kitchen while I'm eating a bacon sandwich and proceeds to sit and stare at me from the foot of my chair.
Paddy: Meow
Simon: Morning cat, this is person food not cat food.
P: ... Meow (he sniffs a bit and paws the chair leg)
S: Yes I know you want some but it's mine.
P: Murrr (he jumps up onto the chair next to me and continues to stare)
S: Look you've got food of your own, just go eat that.
P: Meow? (he cocks his head to one side)
S: Your own food? Next to your water? In the bowl? 
P: Murr (he doesn't seem very impressed by this suggestion)
S: Look this is my breakfast you can't just sit there looking all cute and expect to get some.
P Sits down and looks forlornly at the bacon.
S: You're too good at this.
Needless to say he got some bacon.

Transcript 2, Evening

I am playing League of Legends when Paddy comes into my room.
Paddy: Mew
Simon: Hi Pads, I'm kind of busy right now, We're nearly at their Nexus and I'm doing really well as Heimerdinger for once.
P Gives me an evil stare.
S: Don't look at me like that! He is totally a good character! Especially with Zonya's Ring as a first item.
P: Murr (he starts to clean himself as if he's not interested)
S: What, you think I shouldn't rush Blasting Wand as my first item? What do you know? you're just a cat!
P Jumps up onto my lap and stares at the screen.
S: See we're right outside their base and I've set my turrets up to cover the team in case of ganks.
P walks all over the keyboard
S: Oh you stupid cat! That's not how you play LoL!

Transcript 3, Afternoon

Paddy is sat at the patio door watching birds. I sit down next to him and stare out the window.
Paddy: (to the birds) Nyan An An An An An.
Simon: you make some weird noises sometimes.
P: Nyan An An An An An.
S: What are you even saying to them? They can't hear you, you know that right?
P: Nyan An An An An An.
S: How is this helping you catch them?
P: Nyan An An An An An.
S: This is probably why you only ever bring mice in, you need to up your game!
I point at him and my sudden movement scares the birds off, P looks at me as if I've shat in his water bowl.
S: Oh sorry did I ruin your hunting?
P walks away and ignores me for the rest of the day.

My cat is stupid but he doesn't realise it and that's why I love him

Stay Crunchy Internet

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Damage, Deceit and Dating: The Great Game

Due to the interests and subcultures I have talked about on this blog it may come as a surprise to no one that I am currently a single man with a messy room and a wardrobe full of t-shirts printed with obscure pop culture references that no one normal would understand.
If you don't get it, I'm officially better than you
Surprisingly enough it wasn't always this way, in fact up until a few months ago I was in a relationship with a girl (a real one) and had been for four years. We had moved in together last year. Everything was going well and I was planning to marry her. Then I found out that she had been cheating on me with one of my best friends from university. I found out while she was at his (he was a mutual friend who I though I could trust) by stumbling across pictures and videos she had made for him as a valentines day present on her laptop.
This is a dramatisation, I am not actually a cat. Also I was crying more.
I'm not going to bore you with the details of the shitstorm that followed but suffice to say we are no longer together, the dream is over, I don't trust her any more and I love her less and less each day. The advice -  some good and some crazy ("you should shit in her bed" being a personal favourite) - and condolences I've received have helped me and soon I will be out of our house and she will be out of my life. Good times. The crowd goes wild. Everybody laughs.
Now this isn't another livejournalesque first world problems rant about how women are bitches and how she never deserved me or that she was holding me back. Actually I wanted to share some personal revelations I've had recently as a single person about straight relationships and dating as a twenty-something. Obviously anything I have to say is indicative of the position I'm in at the moment and I'm still re-building the lego house that is my psyche (as opposed to stepping all over the pieces and hurting my feet) but our wounds define us so I hope I still have some interesting things to say in spite - or maybe because of - this.

The Mirrored Wilderness Forces us to Build Castles

Love is pain I hear you say, love is a cruel and bitter way to pay you back for all the faith that you've ever had in your brain. This is a perspective many of us have adopted as single young adults and it's as dangerous as it is sadly often correct. Most of us have been burned before so we erect emotional fortresses in our minds and protect out feelings behind self defence mechanisms and portcullis' of passive aggression. It's a common tragedy to meet someone who you feel you could have a real connection with if they would just let down the drawbridge once in a while.
No I don't mean like that, dirty Internet!
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we should knock down the castle and set out without protection, it's just important to make sure you know the way out or in should the right person come calling. If you don't know the layout of your particular stronghold I suggest you have someone help you write a map.

There is no Such Thing as a "Soul Mate" and you Would Hate them if There Was

The concept of a Soul Mate is one that has bugged me ever since I've been having lasting meaningful relationships for one simple reason. It's a form of dehumanisation on par with sexual abuse. Now I understand that's a bold statement and it would be remiss of me not to explain myself. We can dehumanise our mates in two ways; by can dismissing their feelings or idolising them (an interesting thing to note is that pornography does these two things simultaneously). 

No one is that perfect for anyone else and everyone has their fair share of issues. Take me for example; I'm sensitive, empathetic, articulate and creative but I am also prone to bouts of extreme self doubt, misanthropy, social anxiety and blunt stubbornness. I will never be perfect for anyone all the time and I don't want to be. 
Seriously, fuck this guy. He probably has a sex dungeon. And Syphilis
Constantly seeking a Soul Mate leads to the same form of emotional wanderlust that destroyed my last relationship and hypothetically if you met yours your wouldn't like them. We need the little imperfections in our relationships because otherwise there would be nothing to overcome or use to define the good times against. Acceptance is one of the most important things we can give another human being and it's selfish to constantly seek unrealistic perfection. Speaking of which...

Guys: we Need to Learn that the best Solution is Often not Trying to Fix Things

As men we like to fix things. As a boy I would take things apart just so I could fix them again. Sometimes we can fix things for our girlfriends for example: 
  • There is a spider in the bath.
  • I can't put up these shelves.
  • No one has checked out my ass as I've left a room recently.
But what's more important than this is learning a sense of stillness. Sometimes women just need you to relax, make them a cup of tea and watch Buffy re-runs with them. Surprisingly enough actually attempting to solve the mysterious 'problem' that is causing her apparent bad feelings by interrogating her will actually make her feel worse. Maybe this will lead to her being passive aggressive and possibly even an argument about something neither of you really care about. Maybe you might think you are winning that argument but that will make her cry. Then you will loose because lady tears are magic. 

It's ok, just don't listen to her sobbing. Be strong. Be str- oh man I've seriously F-ed this up
My dad has always told me to make sure that a battle is worth winning before you try and we as men need to be an anchor for our partners. Anchor's don't do anything apart from sit there and weather the storm but without them ships would get smashed to bits on rocks.

Women: You Need to Learn That not Talking to us About Things will not fix Them

The last point I made may have seemed slightly sexist to all the ladies that read this blog (of which there are many I'm sure) and that's because I'm stupid. In-fact many men are. Sometimes we do things and say things that piss you girls off. We would probably apologise if we knew but often we don't notice. 

It seems the general modus operandi for many girls I know is to not tell their significant other about these instances and instead tell me about it (I guess I have one of those friendzonable faces) and that's unfortunate; we would love to talk about the crazy shit we do because it helps us grow as men. If we think you're being petty we will tell you but generally your criticisms will help improve us and our lives with you. This has to be tempered with respect and the ability to pick your moments but keeping things from us only leads to damage in the long term.

So these are the things I have been thinking recently. Are they revelatory? Probably not. Are they original? Definitely not. I know I'm probably treading old ground for some of those older and wiser out there but I hope someone somewhere finds this useful. 

Hey at least I'm not still banging on about God and that.

Stay Crunchy Internet