Welllll whaddya know, I procrastinated on posting this too.

When I first heard of the term “senioritis”, I just laughed. Clearly it’s just a term people use to make excuses for laziness. We joked about having “sophomore-itis” back then because it just seemed appropriate for times when motivation would just fail us.

But here’s the thing: it’s an actual affliction. It’s more than just being lethargic, unmotivated or lazy. It’s more than just “not trying” or procrastinating.
Senioritis is REAL.

It really is the ultimate manifestation of complete and utter complacency, jaded-ness and detestation of school and anything schoolwork-related. And I am a victim. With the worst symptoms, right up to the end of the semester, which is now.

It’s even harder when you’ve been a “good student” your entire life – never missed a deadline, never skipped class, never not overstudied for a test. All of a sudden, you’re just physically incapable of doing any of these things. And you procrastinate. (What’s your favourite method of procrastination? Mine is currently watching Parks & Rec and solo dance parties in my room).
And when the time comes to face the consequences… you couldn’t even care less. Apathy.
You just want to be DONE.

A definition. Taken from Student Life & Leadership.

A definition. Taken from Student Life & Leadership.

Back home in Malaysia, we ended high school with the hardest national exam – actually a series of exams that took place over the course of a month. Those results were extremely important as a gateway to tertiary education, scholarships, and all that jazz (that’s how I ended up here). Senioritis or anything similar did not exist. It would NOT have been an option. We had to be on our game till the very end.

Here, on the other hand, senior year was draining. Well, all the years were, but you feel the cumulative effects in your last year. For me, it was terrible because of grad school applications and a rough schedule in the fall which wore me out. And then the grad school interview process, actually getting into grad school and the easiest workload in my entire college career during the spring semester.
The worst “stage” of senioritis is the justification – falling prey to the “oh you’re graduating!”, “oh you’ve already been accepted!”, “oh you’ve already gotten a job; you deserve it!” and so on.

I haven’t really dealt with it all that well this entire semester. But some things have worked better than others, and I’ve been able to get things done – even doing pretty well in schoolwork. And it’s never too late, especially with finals just starting, oh, tomorrow.

But really, the lessons learned are for life. And I have no regrets.

1. Come to terms with it. No, I don’t think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s just being realistic. If you know you’re going to succumb to senioritis, if you admit how fatigued and indifferent you are, you’re in a better position to deal with it.

2. Plan ahead. If you know you’re going to procrastinate, be prepared (even if you know you won’t stick to it). Allocate extra time for homework. Force yourself to start early. Have library study parties – with dance breaks. Make to-do lists – they’re fun.

3. Reward yourself. I’d motivate myself with anything from truffles to Facebook breaks to episodes of Friends/Parks & Rec. We’re humans. We need incentives for things. Especially when you know a good grade or the pure satisfaction of a well-done assignment isn’t going to cut it at this point.

4. Do things that matter. You’re obviously procrastinating because you’re not passionate about the things you are doing right now. Go out and have adventures. Spend lots of time with people you love. At least you can look back and say “all that work that I didn’t do was so worth it”. After all, graduation is about being nostalgic and knowing that this won’t last forever.

5. Don’t be hard on yourself. Senioritis isn’t terminal. You’ll recuperate and rediscover your mojo. Right now, just power through.

Finally:  know that you will be fine. You’ve made it this far. It’s a good time to celebrate your accomplishments. Somehow with a lot of will and courage from God-knows-where, you’ll make it to graduation.

And that’s what I’m telling myself, as my heart is pounding from being over-caffeinated and my jaw becoming increasingly tighter as the night goes on (I have stress-induced TMJ). With my first insane final (which I am totally unprepared for, by the way) tomorrow at 10am.

I’ll be ok.


So they caught him.

And he is the one.

As investigations continue, it’s hard to believe that the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings only happened a week ago. I remember the disbelief, heartbreak and rage I felt when I heard the news, continuing as the week went on. I remember the immense relief and admiration when the two bombing suspects were cornered in Watertown, Massachussetts, ending with Tamerlan Tsarnaev killed and his younger brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev captured by the police. I’m positive all of you can relate.

Latest news releases report that while Dzhokhar has been charged with using “weapons of mass destruction” from his hospital bed, he has also told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack. According to these officials, Dzhokhar said that his brother was the driving force behind the bombings to “defend Islam”.

Yep, this is where you can imagine the Twitter feeds blowing up with “I told you so” racist comments.

Why do people seem to jump to conclusions so easily when it comes for looking for someone to blame? The general public weren’t alone in this profiling; even the police immediately suspected the Saudi Marathon Man – “was it just the way he looked, or did he, in the chaos, maybe call for God with a name that someone found strange?”

The aftermath. Taken from NY Times article.

Seems like a lot of us are certainly slaves to what we call the availability heuristic in social psychology – the tendency to judge the frequency or likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. Other factors which play in include how salient or noticeable the event is, or even how recent it is. Basically, the easier it is for you to think of something, the easier it is to form a judgment on the matter. As stereotypical and small-minded as it is, why would people immediately suspect that the Boston marathon bombers were Middle Eastern Muslim terrorists? Well, the last large-scale bombing incident in the US was 9/11. Salient, to say the least. People’s beliefs, consciously formed or not, are always affected by how easily they recall information on similar events.

Things like this make situations even more complicated for the law enforcement involved. Should they act on their availability heuristics and search/arrest someone based on their potentially misguided instincts (and apologize later if they are wrong)? Should they attempt to rise above such psychological fallacies and risk being mistaken? You can see where the Boston police are coming from, using mere cost-benefit analysis. It certainly is a shame that the bombers allegedly committed the crime in the name of Islam after all – it doesn’t help diffuse people’s availability heuristics and obviously is not representative at all of the rest of the Muslim world!

Even when trying to break down or understand the persona of a bomber, people often already have established schemas about what they are like. People think of terrorists as religious extremists most often, yet there is no special association between religion and violence; in fact, many terrorist groups since WWII have had no religious roots. People think of terrorists as crazy, suicidal or psychopathic, yet according to Clark McCauley, thirty years of research has found psychopathology and personality disorder no more likely among terrorists than among non-terrorists from the same background. Think about it – would terrorist groups want someone in their group suffering from some psychopathology, making them out of touch with reality and therefore unreliable?

The worst villains are often compared to The Joker – having no motive, just a penchant for complete and utter chaos.

I do think it’s only natural for people to make assumptions and build on stereotypes in a feeble attempt to figure villains out, especially large-scale ones like bombers and mass shooters. We continue to construct these ideas of what they are like as individuals, what their motives are, because the alternative is scary — a villain having no motive at all. Doing these terrible things as an end in itself. Doing wrong simply because it’s wrong. Some men just want to watch the world burn, right?

Or an alternative even scarier —  facing the fact that normal people can be terrorists, that we ourselves are capable of terrorist acts under some circumstances. Truth is, the psychology of these criminals sometimes isn’t all that different from the rest of us.

But it is something we have to rise against, holding our ground.
Having faith in the goodness of the rest of humanity.

How do you think these investigations will pan out? The brothers are from Russia, not the Middle East, and were not associated with any foreign terrorist organizations, “suggesting” that they both fall into the category of self-radicalized jihadists acting alone. Officials are now saying that Dzhokhar was unarmed when he was captured.

Comment below!

Such a troll post hahaha. In case you’re wondering, THIS is why we name proteins. 😀

I’m really wondering though, did a man actually spend three hours pronouncing this?

Dear Lord.


A man has been recorded spending more than three hours to pronounce what is supposedly the longest word in the English language.

‘Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyl…isoleucine’ is the chemical name of ‘titin’ (also known as ‘connectin’) – the largest known protein. It has 189,819 letters.

However, in the past it has been disputed whether or not it is a real word – proteins are named after the chemicals involved in making them.

Below is the full 189,819-lettered word for ‘titin’:

Methionylthreonylthreonylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamylserylleucylphenylalanylalanylglutaminylleuc yllysylglutamylarginyllysylglutamylglycylalanylphenylalanylvalylprolylphenylalanylvalylthreonylleucylgl ycylaspartylprolylglycylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylserylleucyllysylisoleucylaspartylthreonylleucylisoleu cylglutamylalanylglycylalanylaspartylalanylleucylglutamylleucylglycylisoleucylprolylphenylalanylseryla spartylprolylleucylalanylaspartylglycylprolylthreonylisoleucylglutaminylasparaginylalanylthreonylleucyl arginylalanylphenylalanylalanylalanylglycylvalylthreonylprolylalanylglutaminylcysteinylphenylalanylglu tamylmethionylleucylalanylleucylisoleucylarginylglutaminyllysylhistidylprolylthreonylisoleucylprolylisol eucylglycylleucylleucylmethionyltyrosylalanylasparaginylleucylvalylphenylalanylasparaginyllysylglycyli soleucylaspartylglutamylphenylalanyltyrosylalanylglutaminylcysteinylglutamyllysylvalylglycylvalylaspa rtylserylvalylleucylvalylalanylaspartylvalylprolylvalylglutaminylglutamylserylalanylprolylphenylalanylarg inylglutaminylalanylalanylleucylarginylhistidylasparaginylvalylalanylprolylisoleucylphenylalanylisoleuc ylcysteinylprolylprolylaspartylalanylaspartylaspartylaspartylleucylleucylarginylglutaminylisoleucylalany lseryltyrosylglycylarginylglycyltyrosylthreonyltyrosylleucylleucylserylarginylalanylglycylvalylthreonylgly cylalanylglutamylasparaginylarginylalanylalanylleucylprolylleucylasparaginylhistidylleucylvalylalanylly sylleucyllysylglutamyltyrosylasparaginylalanylalanylprolylprolylleucylglutaminylglycylphenylalanylglycy lisoleucylserylalanylprolylaspartylglutaminylvalyllysylalanylalanylisoleucylaspartylalanylglycylalanylala nylglycylalanylisoleucylserylglycylserylalanylisoleucylvalyllysylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylhist idylasparaginylisoleucylglutamylprolylglutamyllysylmethionylleucylalanylalanylleucyllysylvalylphenylal anylvalylglutaminylprolylmethionyllysylalanylalanylthreonylarginylacetylseryltyrosylserylisoleucylthreo nylserylprolylserylglutaminylphenylalanylvalylphenylalanylleucylserylserylvalyltryptophylalanylaspartyl prolylisoleucylglutamylleucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinylthreonylserylserylleucylglycylasparaginylgl utaminylphenylalanylglutaminylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanylarginylthreonylthreonylglutaminylval ylglutaminylglutaminylphenylalanylserylglutaminylvalyltryptophyllysylprolylphenylalanylprolylglutaminy lserylthreonylvalylarginylphenylalanylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosyllysylvalyltyrosylarginyltyrosylaspar aginylalanylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucylisoleucylthreonylalanylleucylleucylglycylthreonylphenylalany laspartylthreonylarginylasparaginylarginylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylvalylglutamylasparaginylglutaminy lglutaminylserylprolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamylthreonylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginylarginylv alylaspartylaspartylalanylthreonylvalylalanylisoleucylarginylserylalanylasparaginylisoleucylasparaginyl leucylvalylasparaginylglutamylleucylvalylarginylglycylthreonylglycylleucyltyrosylasparaginylglutaminyl asparaginylthreonylphenylalanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltryptophylthreonylserylala nylprolylalanyltitinmethionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamylserylleucylphenylalanylalanylisoleucylcyst einylprolylprolylaspartylalanylaspartylaspartylaspartylleucylleucylarginylglutaminylisoleucylalanylserylt yrosylglycylarginylglycyltyrosylthreonyltyrosylleucylleucylserylarginylalanylglycylvalylthreonylglycylala nylglutamylasparaginylarginylalanylalanylleucylprolylleucylasparaginylhistidylleucylvalylalanyllysylleu cyllysylglutamyltyrosylasparaginylalanylalanylprolylprolylleucylglutaminylglycylphenylalanylglycylisole ucylserylalanylprolylaspartylglutaminylvalyllysylalanylalanylisoleucylaspartylalanylglycylalanylalanylgl ycylalanylisoleucylserylglycylserylalanylisoleucylvalyllysylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylhistidyla sparaginylisoleucylglutamylprolylglutamyllysylmethionylleucylalanylalanylleucyllysylvalylphenylalanylv alylglutaminylprolylmethionyllysylalanylalanylthreonylarginylacetylseryltyrosylserylisoleucylthreonylser ylprolylserylglutaminylphenylalanylvalylphenylalanylleucylserylserylvalyltryptophylalanylaspartylprolyli soleucylglutamylleucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinylthreonylserylserylleucylglycylasparaginylglutami nylphenylalanylglutaminylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanylarginylthreonylthreonylglutaminylvalylglut aminylglutaminylphenylalanylserylglutaminylvalyltryptophyllysylprolylphenylalanylprolylglutaminylseryl threonylvalylarginylphenylalanylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosyllysylvalyltyrosylarginyltyrosylasparagin ylalanylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucylisoleucylthreonylalanylleucylleucylglycylthreonylphenylalanylasp artylthreonylarginylasparaginylarginylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylvalylglutamylasparaginylglutaminylglut aminylserylprolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamylthreonylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginylarginylvalyl aspartylaspartylalanylthreonylvalylalanylisoleucylarginylserylalanylasparaginylisoleucylasparaginylleu cylvalylasparaginylglutamylleucylvalylarginylglycylthreonylglycylleucyltyrosylasparaginylglutaminylasp araginylthreonylphenylalanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltryptophylthreonylserylalanyl prolylalanyltitinmethionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamylserylleucylphenylalanylalanylisoleucylcystein ylprolylprolylaspartylalanylaspartylaspartylaspartylleucylleucylarginylglutaminylisoleucylalanylseryltyr osylglycylarginylglycyltyrosylthreonyltyrosylleucylleucylserylarginylalanylglycylvalylthreonylglycylalany lglutamylasparaginylarginylalanylalanylleucylprolylleucylasparaginylhistidylleucylvalylalanyllysylleucyll ysylglutamyltyrosylasparaginylalanylalanylprolylprolylleucylglutaminylglycylphenylalanylglycylisoleucy lserylalanylprolylaspartylglutaminylvalyllysylalanylalanylisoleucylaspartylalanylglycylalanylalanylglycyl alanylisoleucylserylglycylserylalanylisoleucylvalyllysylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylhistidylaspa raginylisoleucylglutamylprolylglutamyllysylmethionylleucylalanylalanylleucyllysylvalylphenylalanylvalyl glutaminylprolylmethionyllysylalanylalanylthreonylarginylacetylseryltyrosylserylisoleucylthreonylserylp rolylserylglutaminylphenylalanylvalylphenylalanylleucylserylserylvalyltryptophylalanylaspartylprolylisol eucylglutamylleucylleucylasparaginylvalylcysteinylthreonylserylserylleucylglycylasparaginylglutaminyl phenylalanylglutaminylthreonylglutaminylglutaminylalanylarginylthreonylthreonylglutaminylvalylglutam inylglutaminylphenylalanylserylglutaminylvalyltryptophyllysylprolylphenylalanylprolylglutaminylserylthr eonylvalylarginylphenylalanylprolylglycylaspartylvalyltyrosyllysylvalyltyrosylarginyltyrosylasparaginylal anylvalylleucylaspartylprolylleucylisoleucylthreonylalanylleucylleucylglycylthreonylphenylalanylasparty lthreonylarginylasparaginylarginylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylvalylglutamylasparaginylglutaminylglutami nylserylprolylthreonylthreonylalanylglutamylthreonylleucylaspartylalanylthreonylarginylarginylvalylasp artylaspartylalanylthreonylvalylalanylisoleucylarginylserylalanylasparaginylisoleucylasparaginylleucylv alylasparaginylglutamylleucylvalylarginylglycylthreonylglycylleucyltyrosylasparaginylglutaminylaspara ginylthreonylphenylalanylglutamylserylmethionylserylglycylleucylvalyltryptophylthreonylserylalanylprol ylalanyltitinmethionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamylserylleucylphenylalanylalanylisoleucylcysteinylpr olylprolylaspartylalanylaspartylaspartylaspartylleucylleucylarginylglutaminylisoleucylalanylseryltyrosyl glycylarginylglycyltyrosylthreonyltyrosylleucylleucylserylarginylalanylglycylvalylthreonylglycylalanylglut…

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This week alone, I had experienced the two most incredible music adventures of my lifetime thus far.

The first one was Snarky Puppy in Baltimore on Wednesday while the second was Steven Wilson in DC yesterday.

Both groups could not be any more different in terms of sound. Snarky Puppy is a collective of extremely talented musicians who play “an infectious mixture of jazz, funk, and world music”. These guys embody the perfect fusion of jazz/rock musicians from white America and RnB/gospel musicians from Black America. Their energy onstage, coupled with dynamic musicianship and pure virtuosity, is superlative. Snarky Puppy exude a “garage band” vibe with their performance – small venue, lots of bandmember interaction with musical duels onstage, overall a very raw and down-to-earth showcase.

Steven Wilson, on the other hand, comes from a very experimental/psychedelic conceptual progressive rock background. He is an absolute musical genius, the mastermind of a bunch of projects (Porcupine Tree, No Man, Blackfield, his solo works and so on). His productions are of epic proportions, featuring the highest quality visuals and quadrophonic audio as well as extraordinarily skilled musicians.
Steven’s projects and shows are musical journeys in themselves.

As different as these two acts are, watching them live in the same week made me realise the common ground they share. Aside from playing ridiculously good music (brain food for audiophiles like myself), both groups use a large amount of jazz influence in their music, not just in chords and progressions but in solos. Here, improvisation plays an integral role.

Snarky Puppy (taken from Soundfuse Mag) and Steven Wilson & band (taken from Caroline Traitler Photography)

Snarky Puppy (taken from Soundfuse Mag) and Steven Wilson (taken from Caroline Traitler Photography)

Improvisation is an aspect of music that has fascinated me for a long time. This interest deepened after taking a Jazz Improvisation course at Hopkins last spring. I improvise on the drums all the time but it’s an instrument built for improvisation; it seems like such a different process for melodic instruments, a process I don’t quite understand.

I was reminded of a talk by Dr Charles J. Limb on the science of improvisation. Dr Limb is a professor of otolaryngology (uhh… head and neck surgery for people like me who didn’t understand) at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an adjunct faculty member at Peabody. He wanted to unravel the secrets of human creativity. He wondered how jazz musicians could improvise music for hours, producing masterpieces without any preparation.

How do you answer a question like that? With science of course! And by science, I mean putting jazz artists into a functional MRI machine, making them improvise on a special mini keyboard, and observing their brain activity.

And that’s exactly what Dr Limb did.

He had these musicians play memorized music and then had them improvise to recordings, under conditions of low and high complexity. Lo and behold, brain scans showed that during improvisation, the brain turned off areas linked to self-monitoring, inhibition, and conscious evaluation of behaviour, namely parts of the prefrontal cortex. The brain also seemed to activate regions linked to self-expression as well as neocortical sensorimotor areas, indicating a heightened state of awareness. Some aspects of the scans even looked similar deep REM sleep.

The brain deactivates the area involved in self-monitoring while cranking up the region linked with self-expression. Taken from Dr Limb’s original paper.

Is improvisation somewhat like being in a dream? Musicians like Peabody’s own Michael Formanek have described improvising as “going into a zone”. Maybe what makes these musicians so good at what they do is the ability to disinhibit themselves in order to enter the creative state of improvisation that much more easily.

But then again, Mark Meadows, a jazz pianist also at Peabody (one of my Jazz Improv teachers) says that music improvisation is like everyday speaking – you learn musical phrases and riffs just like you learn words and phrases in language, and when the time is right, you string them together in a manner that feels best. Maybe these musicians are simply phenomenal at treating music as a sort of language, despite music and language having very distinct functions from a neurological standpoint.

Indeed, improvisation pervades life, not just through music but also actions and conversation.
The fact that there is a science behind it makes it that much more spectacular.
More studies like this can bring us closer to elucidating what makes us creative, what makes us human.

Thoughts on the creative process? Comment below!

 Why do I feel like we just had a Monday seven days ago?

It’s the beginning of the week again.
Not just the beginning of any week – it’s the beginning of the week right after the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair, arguably the best weekend on campus.

Knowing how students here work hard and play harder, there’s bound to be a lot of recovery/recuperation from the weekend going on today, what with the excessive eating, parties and the Beer Garden. Let’s face it: no one wants to end up in Hangoverville but it’s certainly a road many of us take during party season. Most of all, I hope everyone had good fun while being safe  the entire time.

If you are a Hop student getting over a hangover or you just want tips in general on how to deal with drinking too much, there are benefits to knowing the science behind alcohol breakdown and remedies to excessive alcohol consumption.

An alcohol (or more accurately, ethanol) molecule. (Taken from The Lol Yard)

The breakdown, or oxidation, of ethanol molecules in the body takes place in your liver. An enzyme  called alcohol dehydrogenase converts alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is more toxic than alcohol itself. Another enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase, then converts the acetaldehyde, in the presence of oxygen, to nontoxic acetic acid, the main component in vinegar. The aldehyde dehydrogenase works together with glutathione, a substance containing high amounts of cysteine, an amino acid (see previous post on amino acids/proteins and egg dyeing). 

All these chemicals. Which one is responsible for hangovers? Well, acetaldehyde is the culprit for most hangover symptoms – fatigue, headache, dizziness, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, depression… the list goes on. Usually the alcohol breakdown process occurs relatively quickly so the acetaldehyde is removed in a short amount of time, but when one partakes in excessive drinking, the liver’s stores of glutathione quickly run out as large amounts of alcohol enter the system. Thus, acetaldehyde hangs around for longer and builds up, resulting in nasty hangover symptoms. Acetaldehyde is a dangerous toxin not to be overlooked; in fact, heavy drinkers are at risk for acetaldehyde-related cancer.

Well, you can’t cure  a hangover (sorry for the misleading title :P) but there are ways to make the recovery path easier.

1. Lots and lots of good ol’ H2O. Alcohol has a high affinity for water, so it removes water from your body as it undergoes breakdown (that’s why you pee so much when you drink). Unfortunately, frequent urination also results in expelling of necessary salts and nutrients, so drinking fruit juice or an electrolyte sports drink works really well too. Be sure to drink a few glasses of fluids before you sleep so you don’t wake up with crazy dry mouth too (another effect of the dehydration).
If you throw up, you may not have a hangover because the alcohol has probably been mostly removed from your body, but you’ll still experience dehydration, so watch out.

2. Remedy foods. Cysteine-rich foods – as mentioned before, cysteine is the main component of glutathione which is needed for the alcohol breakdown process – help ease the recovery process. One great example which has worked for me personally is eggs, so make an omelet the morning after! Other foods include those rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that relieves tissue damage and mops up free radical products floating around in the body post-alcohol breakdown.
Other general “strength”  foods, such as bouillon broth, are also excellent.

3. Avoid coffee the following morning. I know, it’s tempting to want a stimulant to pick yourself up when you’re feeling crappy, but coffee is a diuretic that will NOT help with the dehydration the alcohol has already put the body through. It doesn’t do much else either, so you’ll just be a wide-awake drunk.
Other things to avoid: acetoaminophen (an analgesic) before bed. The liver is already busy metabolizing alcohol that adding more drugs for it to break down is not a good idea (read: liver inflammation). Ibuprofen works better – pharmacodynamically more effective as a painkiller- but be sure to take it in the morning instead of the night before as its activity peaks in 4 hours.

Of course, prevention is better than curing or treating, so drink responsibly! And have fun.

Do you have any hangover remedies that work well for you? Found any that turned out to be complete myths? Comment below!

“A sequel is an admission that you’ve been reduced to imitating yourself.” – Don Marquis

“The only reason I would write a sequel is if I were struck by an idea that I felt to be equal to the original. Too many sequels diminish the original.” – Dean Koontz

“With all due respect, nobody knows anything.” – William Goldman

Hollywood loves churning out sequels, much to the chagrin of movie critics everywhere.  Most of the time, sequels betray a lack of imagination and originality (unless you’re Christopher Nolan, of course). And all of the time, it’s really a ploy to make money (surprise, surprise).

Very few sequel announcements actually make me happy. Recently, Ellen DeGeneres announced that Finding Dory, the sequel to Finding Nemo, would be released in 2015.
My immediate thought: Well, ABOUT TIME!

So why do movie producers make sequels and why are they so selective about which movies get to make a “comeback”? Well, for one, there is a demand for sequels when a first movie is successful, a hunger among fans that needs to be addressed. People naturally want to experience more of what they enjoyed the first time. As for selectivity, the movie business in general is risky and there are definitely strategies producers used to reduce risk, especially when it comes to making sequels.

According to Vany and Walls, there is a science to the movie industry. Hollywood can be as strategic as possible with screens, budgeting, marketing, hiring of quality producers, directors and actors, but really, what determines a movie’s success is the audience. The audience decides if a movie is hot or not; no amount of marketing or “star power” can change that.  The real star is the movie.

A study by Vany and Walls comparing movies with and without stars.

A study by Vany and Walls comparing movies with and without stars.

Deciding whether to produce a sequel of a movie really boils down to the “survival function” of a particular movie franchise, which in turn really is a stochastic process independent of the number of stars in a movie. The trend seems to be that if producers decide that a movie is “successful enough”, they are likely to go ahead and make a sequel. Each movie has a different probability of  continuing its “run” and moving on to higher revenues with sequel releases. Again, this is a process that can be extremely random. As an example, check out the graph of the run profiles of the series of Batman films (I just really like Batman okay). Successive Batman films cost more to make, opened more widely, played out more rapidly, and earned less at the box office.


Run profiles for the old Batman series

But why do movie makers still choose to make sequels of some movies and not others when the success of the sequel is so non-deterministic? And why do they abstain from making sequels to some quality movies which garner excellent ratings?! The sequel to Finding Nemo certainly took long enough.

My theory is that a movie’s success has to fall within a certain range for it to “qualify” for a sequel – and this range is completely up to its producers. Below this range, the movie is not successful enough and not worth the risk to produce a sequel. Above this range, the movie is deemed as “too good” that a sequel might retroactively damage it, which is what may have happened to Finding Nemo for the longest time, being one of Pixar’s best. 

As Ellen said in the video, anything is possible if you’re patient and beg hard enough on national television.
Are you excited for Finding Dory? Thoughts on movie sequels? Have a favourite/least favourite movie franchise? Comment below!

It’s that time of the year again – Easter bunnies, Easter eggs… hopefully the resurrection of Jesus Christ somewhere in there too.

The tradition of Easter egg dyeing is a fascinating one. It has roots in both Christian and pagan culture. In fact, most of what people associate with Easter is pagan in origin, with the rest being commercial – yet another religious holiday that has been secularized.

In Christianity, eggs have been dyed red to represent the blood of Jesus that was shed on the Cross, with the egg symbolizing the sealed tomb he was placed in when he died. Besides that, the egg is a symbol of new life since new life emerges from an egg; it parallels what Christians believe about Christ’s dying for their sins affording them rebirth. In pagan culture, eggs were often associated with spring festivals, symbolizing the “newness” of the spring equinox.

Easter egg dyeing can get very intense.

There are definitely many theories on the origin of egg dyeing. Whichever one works for you, it’s still a wonderful tradition and a fun activity for all ages to participate in.

There’s some interesting yet simple science behind why eggs can be dyed in the first place. Eggshells are mostly made up of calcium carbonate, the same material as marble. But try to dye marble chips and you’ll find that they do not take up dye at all. What?! 

Bird eggshells (in this case, chicken eggs) are calcium carbonate crystals stabilized by a protein matrix. For the non-science folks, proteins are made up of subunits called amino acids – termed such because they contain an amine group and an acid group. The amine group is made up of a nitrogen and two hydrogens, with a lone pair of electrons on the nitrogen. When vinegar/acetic acid (a key ingredient of egg dyeing) is added to the dye, it releases hydrogen ions. Hydrogen ions are basically free protons that are positively-charged and need electrons, thus they are added to the nitrogen atoms, sharing the unused pair of electrons with nitrogen. This is what we call protonation, one of the core things that happens in a variety of reactions in chemistry.

When the nitrogen is protonated, it becomes positively-charged and attracts the negatively-charged dye molecules, causing the dye to adhere to the eggshell surface. Regular marble chips are unable to do so because they lack the protein surface that bird eggs do, or any sort of functional group that can be protonated to become positively-charged.

Check out the video below brought to you by the American Chemical Society.
It’s interesting to see what changes occur with more or less acid used in the dye solution!


Do you have any interesting egg dyeing methods? Or perhaps other Easter traditions?
Share them in the comment box below!

… Not to be confused with this Science Pope (a great page on climate change y’all should check out.)

No, I’m talking about the most recently elected leader of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

As a Catholic (albeit a very liberal one), I always found it mildly humourous how everyone, including many Catholics, makes fun of the Catholic Church all the time but when it is time to elect a new Pope, it’s ALL everyone can talk about for a while (well, in all two of the elections I’ve witnessed in my lifetime).
I guess choosing a leader for 1 billion people is a big deal.

But seriously, this new guy, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio or Pope Francis, seems like he could really be a big deal.

1. He’s the first pope from the Americas and the Southern Hemisphere (also the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years).
2. He’s the first Jesuit pope.
3. He has a Master’s degree in chemistry (besides studying philosophy, theology and other pope-y stuff of course).

CHEMISTRY. Well, as a chemistry major myself, obviously I got excited.

I couldn't resist.(Taken from Creative Minority Report)

I couldn’t resist. (Taken from Creative Minority Report)

Contrary to popular belief, the Catholic Church has had a history of being incredibly science-friendly, a tradition that Pope Francis will hopefully continue. The Catholic Church founded many schools and universities dedicated to scientific research for centuries. Many Catholic scientists have been credited as being the “fathers” of various scientific fields: Galileo, Mendel, Lavoisier, Lemaître… the list goes on. Not to forget, the Church strongly supports Darwinian evolution (yeahhh creationism… ain’t nobody got time fo dat). There have been science popes before (like Pope Sylvester II), but Francis remains the first one specifically from chemistry.

There have been a lot of opinions about how Pope Francis being a Latin American and a Jesuit will hopefully lead to a lot of changes in the Church, but the scientist part always seems to be just added in as an interesting soundbite. I agree, his background will bring a refreshing sense of diversity to the Church. Although he has made statements opposing gay marriage and gay adoption (I mean… were you surprised? He’s Catholic after all), as a cardinal in Argentina, he publicly supported civil unions. I know that’s not the same thing as  gay marriage but it’s a step closer, I’d say – check out this article on the Pope possibly being pro-gay. And as a Jesuit, Pope Francis may be able to rejuvenate the Church’s commitment to mission work and issues of poverty, inequality and globalization. In any case, he’ll definitely lead a more modest lifestyle than some of his predecessors – who knows, he may not even ride in the Pope-mobile!

I think (hope) Pope Francis’s scientific background could be just as important in his influence as a leader.
I think (hope) he will be practical and rational in his decrees, and base his decisions on empirical evidence. This could be interesting when it comes to issues like contraception (and how it is not the same as abortion, nor does it necessarily lead to abortion). It could also be fascinating if he addresses, say, the Catholic belief of transubstantiation, the view that the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ, or other traditional beliefs.
As science is the pursuit of truth, I think (hope) he will work towards more transparency in the Vatican, especially in light of the recent sex scandals and the ongoing corruption.
I think (hope) he will be able to increase any and all dialogue between science and faith. Jesuits have a history in scientific investigation. I love this quote by Guy Consolmagno, a well-known Jesuit scientist at the Vatican:

“Doing science is like playing a game with God, playing a puzzle with God. God sets the puzzles and after I can solve one, I can hear him cheering, ‘Great, that was wonderful, now here’s the next one.’
It’s the way I can interact with the Creator.”

All these qualities are highly valued and essential in practicing science.
Maybe the scientist in Pope Francis will put them to good use.

I hope.

Thoughts about what Pope Francis might have to say regarding science or how having a chemist as a pope might affect Vatican policy? Leave a comment below!

This past weekend, I had the grand opportunity to go to a dubstep concert – mind you, I have been meaning to go to one for the longest time so a special shoutout to my dear friend Josh Temple for making that happen! (Incidentally, he also produces dubstep/electronic music; check it out here)

For many people, I know what you’re thinking: why, OH WHY would I subject myself to that? Dubstep has somehow managed to garner a lot of haters over the past few years, thanks to, in my opinion, a few mainstream electronic artists who overuse the same kinds of robotic fluctuations and general modem-connecting-to-telephone-using-dial-up-Internet sound effects.

I’m relatively new to dubstep, but I enjoy the genre particularly because there is a lot of play with dynamics. Some of the hallmarks of dubstep are the sparse, often syncopated drum rhythms, heavy bass and plenty of tension building and release. A variety of instrumentation, timbres and rhythms are made use of to create different atmospheres, from ethereal and melancholic to heavy and aggressive. Bass drops are crucial – it is when the music builds up slowly up to a climax point, and everything pauses for a couple of seconds before coming back full-on. Besides that, dubstep makes for great song remixes because it almost always follows the same formula of starting out quiet, building up to a climax and leading into, with a bass drop, a heavy or very melodically “full” chorus (refer to my earlier post on humans’ love for inserting their own variables into ready-made formulas).

But that’s just me and why I like it. I still know many people who would rather listen to marbles in a blender but point is, there is good dubstep and there is bad dubstep. Personally, I tend to prefer the non “robots-having-sex” kind.
Like the kind that was played at the concert.

The artists we caught were KOAN Sound, Gemini and Bare Noize. It was dubstep like I’d never heard before. It blew my mind. They made such great use of different genre overlaps, especially KOAN Sound – they had superb funky rhythms interlaced smoothly with the “regular” dubstep features. The music was absolutely spectacular to dance to, except for once in my life, I was challenged.

I love dancing. I dance with abandon. I grew up having disco and karaoke sessions with my extended family every time we had a reunion. I pride myself with being able to be the first one on the dance floor and last to leave but this dubstep concert was a lot to handle. I later realized that it was the structure of the music that made it that much more of an endurance test to keep dancing.

With “regular” dance music like pop, electronica, disco, hiphop etc, the dancing intensity is more or less a constant throughout the night with some buildups where everyone goes insane, always dropping back down to this plateau. Now let’s get scientific for a moment and graph things out (’cause scientists love graphs and plots). The dynamics of your typical club music and consequently the dancing intensity that follows would look like this, where the increases represent the “buildups”:

A plot of variation in dynamics for typical club music. Obviously this cycles through many many times in a night of dancing.

A qualitative plot of variation in dynamics for typical club music.
Obviously this cycles through many many times in a night of dancing.

Because dynamic play, bass drops, buildup/release is such a huge part of dubstep music, this is what it would look like:


The same plot for dubstep music. The many ups-and-downs make dancing an endurance test!

See the difference? I honestly believe it’s natural for us to want a sense of constancy, even when it comes to something like partying, so anything that shakes things up by introducing more climaxes and resolutions than we are used to is likely to cause some difficulty in keeping up. Yes, even for a dance-machine like me.

Thoughts or other explanations? Hate dubstep? Love it? Comment below!

I just visited Nashville (a.k.a. MUSIC CITY) over the weekend for a graduate school interview. Sightseeing activities are customary of most graduate school recruitment weekends; it really is quite an experience to be able to get to know another city, even if you do not end up attending that school after all.

As we went on a bus tour of Nashville, we passed by Taylor Swift’s apartment complex – NOT that I cared. I was completely and utterly uninterested (if you can’t already guess, I don’t fancy Ms Swift’s music all that much). Still, it was fascinating to be passing by the homes of all these celebrities, mostly country stars of course. Nashville, as abundant as it is in all genres of music, is still first and foremost the country capital of the United States.

Being in Nashville and instantly being enveloped by all the COUNTRY around me made me think of the sociology/anthropology of country music.  Country music definitely has a strong culture and ideology associated with it. A whole perspective on life itself, if you will. Belief in true love. Strong faith and family values. Growing up in a small town and never forgetting where you came from – even after exploring all the outside world has to offer, nothing beats a-comin’ home to Momma’s delicious cooking and that spot by the river where you used to fish. Long and winding roads (could explain why country music is so good for road trips). The lyrics can be cheeky and coy, but they are free of profanity and vulgarity for the most part.

Here’s one of my favourite country songs – you’ll see what I mean by “cheeky”:


Or this one about country women being proud of being strong, independent, rough-and-tumble and still confident in their sexiness – maybe a lil’ something in there for feminism too.

Will Wilkinson of Big Think
wrote about two psychological traits which were relevant to country music: Openness to New Experiences and Conscientiousness. These traits are part of the Big Five framework of personality traits that is often reference in psychology. Will says that country music is the most “upbeat and conventional” genre of music, which seems like strange combination, but what this basically means is that country music tends to appeal to people who score low in “openness” but high in “conscientiousness.” These are people who are unlikely to travel to other countries, try new things and so on. It is true that country music constantly reassures the listener that the pleasures of a simple, conservative, small-town life that is rooted in faith and family is superior to any other exciting, whirlwind alternative. One quote from Will that I loved is:

“Country music is a bulwark against cultural change, a reminder that “what you see is what you get,” a means of keeping the charge of enchantment in “the little things” that make up the texture of the every day, and a way of literally broadcasting the emotional and cultural centrality of the conventional big-ticket experiences that make a life a life.”

Maybe that’s what also keeps Taylor Swift so associated with the genre of country despite her moving further and further away from it to assume a much more “poppy” sound with each new release. It’s not just her physically being in country central Nashville, but also the fact that her music really exemplifies this ideology and identity of country – first loves (also really young love), exploring the dangerous outside but always coming back to the safety and warmth of familiar ground. Still not my cup of tea – I prefer more variety in my song themes. Or maybe I just score high in Openness to New Experiences and low in Conscientiousness?!

According to one of my best friends, Jackie Rose, Taylor Swift is simply “the pizza and beer of the music industry, or like a candy bar – not super good for you. Honestly, who doesn’t want a bit of candy in their life? People who don’t like her… They’re just bitter. *z-snap formation* Maybe that’s all she is – sugar and sweetness. But that’s all you need sometimes.”

What does you think is the ideology behind your music taste? Leave a comment below!