Criticism. Essay. Fiction. Science. Weather.
1Eye design, plant solar cells and
the ape squad culture war. 2CloneBeef: coming to a burger near you
and the new (privatized) Space Race 3The story of sixty cell lines
and how they restricted science 4Why'd they have to make it a pyramid again?
and wastewater pays back 5Monkeys, Peanuts and the Science
of Unrequited Love. 6Throwing pieces of metal at a red planet
and "Its all about the Insulin, baby." 7Skate me to the moon with a rat-on-a-stick. 8Man and Machine lay down the boxing gloves,
joining forces to pursue good 9Bobbing for apples in a giant vat of grape flavoring. 10Do you believe in magic? 11Brain scans on the mind. 12Sex with cats, popping caps
and frying cars. 13The Quarterly Review drops Science;
√9 of the best so far. 14Flying on some sun rays. 15No, it's not the return of that new wave band. 16The rate of warming might be at issue,
but the fuel is definitely running out. 17Sleep your way to victory! 18I wonder how many big macs it takes... 19It's all drugs and giant waves this week 20Holy jumping jeans Batman!
That mouse is a knockout! 21They call Alabama the Crimson Tide...
or is it Maine? 22How much smaller than the head of a needle?
Well... a lot.
23Information nation ablation preservation. 24Do you want fries with that test tube burger? 25When weeds don't obey the rules. 26Two Quarters = One Half 27The things you can't see are much scarier. 28Jeepers peepers! 29It all makes so much sense...
except as good science. 30Another nugget of knowledge from the annals
of forgotten phenomena 31Very small birds and very large mountains. 32The hazelnut graham cracker one was nuts! 33Naming the new fruits. 34Gas is up but laptops are down. 3590ways brings the straight dope on a thanksgiving tall tale. 36I rolled em out on the street, but I've never once seen the old fella do the same. 37An alternative to tatooing UPC codes onto animals and an insatiable lust for rhino horn. 38"Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection..." 39Three, it's the magic number. 40Bivalves gone wild off that bubbly. 41If only there had been an experiment
to bring about the end of Edward Teller 42What's that, girl? Timmy's stuck in a well?
Wait, Timmy has Cancer?? 43Neuron fire beat electric spark. 44What do Penguins, Ostriches, and Earwigs have in common? 45Looking far, far away to find what's right here. 46Bringing some science for your valentine. 47What's so special about 2.5 pounds of gray stuff? 48I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow the house in. 49A million bases ain't no thang. 50Do the robots run this motha? Hell Yeah! 51A dormant giant looms in the Pacific Northwest... 52Cheap real estate to anyone who can
hold her breath for six hours a day. 53Like all the best megalomaniacs,
we can make Science all about us. 54Well, That's the long and short of it. 5599 Bottles of Beer on the pharmacy wall. 56Tortoises may move slow, but Orchids are definitely alive. 57Feeling hot! Lava so big the numbers don't stop. 58Attached at the hip. And a few other places as well. 59The swamp, or the savanna. You decide. 60Mom and Dad are fighting! 61The stress of death. 62N.I.M.B.Y. Well ... maybe ... 63I've got a headache this big! 64Attraction. 65Well, That's the long and short of it. 66Rafting through history. 67Before there was science there was unreason. 68Be careful with the weeds. Use them well. 69Climate change will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. 70Lucy, a public whipping, it could only be ... 71The highs and lows of being high. 72A sign of the times. 73What was that? 74= Poetry 75The Solar System Shuffle 76Biodynamics is not the latest diet plan. 77Pulsatilla vulgaris 78Climate change will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. A reprise. 79People cannot reason outside their own idiom. 80Soda pop or Ritalin? 81What's really up Kim's sleeve. 82Rolling the dice with molecular biology. 83Food so cheap it won't make you sick. 84In the ether with Einstein. 85Watch out for saturation.
And watch out for 2048. 86The wonderful thing about science is ... ? 87Silent or not, the truth is the truth. 88Playstation 3 or Science Olympiad? Now middle-school kids don't have to choose. 89From watch making to watch repair to Mars. 90We remember when this week seemed but a distant fantasy. 91The end of the quarter is here! 92What would they have done with Photoshop™? 93Modern minds can handle three questions. 94NAND the gardener said, "Let there be quantum tunneling." 95Get off The Pyramid. The traffic is terrible. 96Creeping to a shoreline near you -- neurodiversity. 97Baking soda vs. Baking powder - Scientific Subsitutions 98No jokes about Ice Cube allowed... 99What would your ancestors eat? 100A few rules of thumb for green ones. 101The proof is in the video. 102To those a definition for what life is. 103No, not the Stan Lee creation. 104What would they have done with Photoshop™? 105DNA is nothing but double-sided tape, essentially 106All the colors of the stage. 107Human and a monkey sittin' in a tree,
A Day in the Life of Ritalin
"... a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin ..." - Green Day
I'm an academic research scientist and thus have been trained in the art of self-motivation. But lately I had been having no motivation whatsoever. I'd attempted several times to write a long delayed paper, but would always find some excuse to get up and wander around the lab. Or I'd trawl the internet and check my email gazillions of time. I needed to discipline myself, but it's never that simple. There's always something that seems just as important to attend to.
Sounds like I have ADHD, right? Well, I'd never done so badly in school that it warranted a trip to the doctor but I always wondered. In grade school, I was the prototypical spacey kid, the one who never knew what was going when called on in class. But I was always smart enough to figure out the answer after the question was repeated. Smart enough to get by with okay grades, but could I have been more successful if I had been taking the ADHD drug Ritalin?
One of my good college friends also had a problem focusing. Whenever we studied together we would get maybe about ten minutes of work done in about 4 hours. She couldn't help looking up from her books every other minute with some random thought. We had some extremely fun study sessions but we always did badly on the exams the day afterwards. But as usual we managed to scrape by with passable grades. But passable grades weren't going to be good enough for her to fulfill her life-long dream of a being a doctor. So her parents, both doctors themselves, put her on Ritalin during the summer she was studying for her MCAT's. And it worked like gangbusters.
"I'd study 12 hours every day and not even stop for lunch sometimes," she told me, after receiving her very impressive MCAT scores. "I wasn't even hungry, because the Ritalin makes you lose your appetite. I was too jittery to eat. And that was what was so great and so unbearable about it -- you'd become a better, more efficient person, but you wouldn't feel like yourself."
"But what's so bad about becoming more efficient?" I had asked her. "I've been trying to get focused all my life!"
She just looked at me the way people do when they try to describe a drug experience that defies words. "I really, truly was not myself. I was like a machine that just sat and read. It was hard to have fun because having fun, at least for me, requires that I lose focus, that I just relax. I suppose studying became my fun because it came so naturally, there was no reason to stop and do something else because then I wouldn't be focused. I'd just be jittery."
I was so intrigued by these stories that I begged her to give me the Ritalin left over from that summer.
She agreed but first warned me to take it only in the morning because it would be hard to sleep if I took it later. "And don't drink any caffeine!" she cautioned. "Since you'll feel crazy jittery anyway."
I kept the Ritalin for years but never used it since my job was interesting enough that I could make myself focus through sheer will. Only now my motivation was flagging. So that Monday, with my paper still unwritten and my boss getting peeved, I swallowed some Ritalin after breakfast, then I got my bike and rode to work. I didn't think the Ritalin would start working for at least forty minutes but then, right when I was going up a hill, my heart started beating super fast. Even more disturbing, the scenery around me suddenly looked more real and overwhelming. It was as though a magnifying glass had surrounded me that not only amplified vision, making buildings and people look brighter and more detailed, but also made street noises sound simultaneously more lush and raw.
I was scared I was going to have a heart attack so I biked as slowly as possible. It didn't help. Ten minutes after I arrived at the lab my heart was drumming like I had just run a race. How was I going to get any work done like this?
Nevertheless I still needed to get this paper written. So I opened up a new document in Word and started typing. It was amazing. All the frenetic feelings that had taken over my body were now channeled into frenetic typing. For once in my life I knew exactly how to convey my ideas and supporting arguments. For once I didn't feel like getting up or checking my email. I was actually enjoying writing about serotonin receptors and viral vectors. I became so involved in my writing that when a colleague came up to chat I could barely force myself to listen to him. I kept looking longingly back at my computer screen, already concocting my next paragraph even as I made cursory responses.
Hours flew by and the next thing I knew people were heading to lunch. But I told them to go without me. I was too engrossed to stop writing. Not only that, I didn't feel the least bit hungry.
After a couple more hours the 15 page paper was done. I was elated. Normally writing even a few paragraphs took me hours. Just to make sure I wasn't writing some Ritalin-inspired drivel I gave the paper to a colleague to read over. Meanwhile I performed a few basic lab duties, feeling amazed how focused I was on the job at hand. I even had to tear myself away after the task was complete. It made me think of a friend who would compulsively clean his house while high on methamphetamine, because he was simply unable to sit down and chill out. I knew Ritalin worked in a way to similar amphetamine, by blocking the transport of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Jittery as I was already, it made me feel even worse as I noted the similarities in my experience to accounts of crystal meth highs. But then my colleague came up to tell me that the paper I had written was very well done and my reservations about Ritalin fell away. From now on I would never have to worry about writing paper ever again.
I left work around five to play my weekly soccer game. I was excited to see if my athletic performance would also show improvement from Ritalin. In the end, I played much worse than usual since I couldn't seem to be able to react as quickly to all the different things happening on the field. And it didn't help that my heart was still beating much faster than usual.
It was only when I arrived home that I truly appreciated what my friend meant about not feeling like one's self. Usually I liked to fool around with my son for a while before reading him bedtime stories but that night I just couldn't relax. Instead, I felt stilted and irritable. I couldn't get into the silly mood necessary for playing with a six year old. And it was only after 2 AM that I finally fell asleep.
The next morning I decided to take Ritalin only when I had a paper to write, since the non-work parts of my life seemed to suffer under its influence. And so I didn't take it again until a month later when another paper needed to be written ASAP. Only it didn't work out the same way as the first time. I had eagerly opened up a fresh Word document expecting words to flow out of me but instead found myself confused about almost every sentence I wrote. After three or four hours I had only written two pages, and I hadn't even taken time out for lunch. After a while I began to realize what was different. For the previous paper I had done a lot of background research. I had a good grasp on what I was going to write for that paper, the only problem had been that I couldn't seem to sit down long enough to get the words down. With the paper I was presently trying to write, I had done very little research and thus had to look up certain key references while in the middle of a sentence. It was so hard to switch my attention around that after awhile I started getting a headache. Finally I decided to spend the rest of the day doing basic lab work.
Thinking back on my two disparate Ritalin experiences, I now understand firsthand the benefits and drawbacks of Ritalin: how it could be used as a crutch for self-motivation and how it worsened multi-tasking ability. At first it had seemed like a miracle drug but gradually I realized that Ritalin has the problem that all drugs have: side effects. Ritalin made me focus better but it also made my attention span too narrow to enjoy the more unfocused aspects of my life. Still, I knew the dose I had taken was ten times that of the dose prescribed for a freshly diagnosed ADHD case. Briefly I wondered if taking a smaller dose would give me all of the benefits and none of the annoyances, but then I realized that I would rather try to focus on my own rather than depending on a drug to do it for me. I know I can focus quite well when I'm interested in a subject and thus it makes me wonder if ADHD is just another word for boredom. Don't get me wrong, I'm aware that ADHD is a legitimate disease but, it's still important to find drug-free ways to enhance an ADHD-prone mind. My research in the neuroscience of depression is interesting enough that most of the time I'm excited to get my ideas down. And during the times I do find myself losing focus, I can always go for the old stand-by: caffeine.