Blood! Blood! It’s blood!

For the past couple of years I’ve intermittently tried to acquire a proper microscope, but those I’ve found have either been too expensive or too crappy. Apparently medical researchers have money for equipment, which is priced accordingly. Also, I guess there might be more to it than throwing glass and cast iron together

Since I’m nowadays working as a technician at Akademin Valand, I occasionally hunt the basement to see if there aren’t any technical treasures lurking somewhere. I’d heard that the uni used to have a hologram creation machine, and once I found it there was a microscope right next to it. How neat! It’s a Nikon Optiphot, and I’ve been spending after-work hours trying to get it assembled.

As far as I can tell, it’s more or less complete, but lacking any adapter for a digital camera. Since I have a bunch of dead laptops lying about I’m thinking of stripping the built-in camera out and 3d-print an adapter to stick on top of the scope. Ideally I’d use a DSLR or even one of the Hasselblad bodies on top, so the past week I’ve done an inventory of all the accessories I could find to see if I have anything useful.

For now the only thing for my troubles are two blurry cellphone photos. In the name of science I cut myself and looked at blood; the larger image below are my red blood cells! How cool is that? In addition to a proper camera mount, I need to learn how to calibrate and use the microscope — all manuals I’ve found are geared towards people who know what result they ought to get, so I’m floundering even when I try to follow along. Luckily, it turns out that a colleague at work has a physics doctorate and knows a lot about microscopes, so there’s a chance I’ll get to learn how to use it properly!

Concurrent with my minuscule tinkering, I’m taking an astronomy course at the university (free higher education, hell yeah!) which is likewise rooted in an ambition to find out how things work. Not until now did I realise that all heavy elements in the universe have been created in stars long gone, and having a broad understanding of earths history makes looking at things in the microscope so much more rewarding; You sort of get a bigger perspective, and it’s fascinating.

Also, the Foldscope seems like an worthwhile endevour, and in addition to using the “proper” microscope, this might be a good project to try out. It really goes to the core of what’s driving my ambition regarding microscopy — let’s see if it delivers.

Our intent is to engage a broad group of people to collectively generate the “world’s most awesome biology manual” which is written from the context of open questions instead of historical discoveries. The goal is to bring together a broad range of members from different communities, context, countries and skill level. To participate in the experiment, you will commit to documenting one single experiment (or series) which can be replicated by anybody in the world with access to a Foldscope or other microscopy platform.

→ Foldscope: Microscopy for everyone

Mental health and you: The incentive to exaggerate.

Went to the doctor today to get my anual vegan probing. I get bloodwork done to determin if my morally correct habits have left me with crippling disabilities on the insides; B12 deficiencies, tumours, wheat penis, etc. As usual, I try to pack as many things into this meeting as possible, so I do my best to get sick just before I go.

I’ve had this stabbing pain in one ear for a month, but after much poking and peering, the young Dr. Benjamin folded his arms and did a meh, concluding that since he couldn’t find anything let’s wait until the symptoms become worse, or better. It will be a consolidation if I end up with half my head amputated because of his wait-and-see strategy, but then again maybe it would be even better if the pain would just leave me the fuck alone.

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Also, I thought I’d get some theraphy out of it. As long as you get a remittal from a doctor, you can get theraphy (cognitive, psychodynamic, whatever) rather cheaply. So I figure since I have horrid mood swings during which I consider kicking dogs in the head (not that there’s anything morally wrong with disliking dogs, the filthy creatures) and often stare blankly into space at the slightest provocation, I might get some state sponsored theraphy to deal with it. No can do. The interview was short, and I’m way too normal to be cookoo.

— So, how long are these apathetic attacks that you get?
— Oh, a day or two. I just stare at the screen, worry about wasting my life away.
— Yeah, that’s perfectly normal. How about sleep, is it giving you any trouble?
— Oh yeah, I sleep very lightly and grind my teeth.
— How many hours of sleep do you get each night?
— Lately between four to eight hours.
— Yeah, perfectly normal.
— But can’t you put me on the list? I need some help here!
— Right, I’ll “put you on the list” right away.

Even though most people are at least as neurotic as I, and the fact that one in ten Swedes is on psychoactive drugs, it can’t possibly be good to feel this way. Goddammit, I want to concentrate my self-centeredness to one session every two weeks, not have it as my main hobby. There are no two ways to go about this I guess: Some dogs are going to wish they never barked in my direction…

Pirates, pirates all around!

I’ve linked to NPR:s Planet Money before. This time they have an eye-opening story on the pirates outside the coast of Somalia: A ship belonging to a Danish company is boarded and what ensues is a straightforward business negotiation. It’s the most educational 25 minutes you’ll have this week. You’re welcome.


Also, in regards to what Žižek and others have said about capitalism being the superstructure onto which democracy or tyranny is latched:

Once they get online unsupervised, do we expect Chinese Internet users, many of them young, to rush to download the latest report from Amnesty International or read up on Falun Gong on Wikipedia? Or will they opt for The Sopranos or the newest James Bond flick? Why assume that they will suddenly demand more political rights, rather than the Friends or Sex in the City lifestyles they observe on the Internet?

→ Boston Review, Texting Toward Utopia: Does the Internet spread democracy? By Evgeny Morozov.

blod och pingpong

A couple of days ago Philipp Rode from LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science) held a lecture at Chalmers on the sustainability of cities and changes we’ll be forced to make. Ana invited me to the dinner afterwards, and rather soon we were talking about what might be the driving force behind such changes.

Philipp seemed to suggest that economic incentives might be enough for private enterprise to adopt a greener stance and long term goals rather than focusing on next years dividends; I don’t buy it, but it’s a majority view and a model of change that most people prefer right now to Earth Liberation Force.

My political analysis is very traditional: It’s class war all the way, baby, and the changes for public good (eight hour workday, voting, right to trial, etc) have all come about with the implicit or explicit threat of violence or revolution. Nothing is ever given, only taken, which posits that whatever economic measures that governments would have to put in place would be met with tremendous resistance.

The objective must be to create a model for and mode of co-operation where radical ecological direct action as well as large scale economic systems can be included as viable routes. How to bring together actors in a way so progress is made in an inclusive and progressive way, one small step at the time? How can a largely uninformed and busy public ever take responsibility and charge of their societies in the long run?

Maybe alternative reality games (ARG:s) can be seen as a method for co-operation? Check out all the smart stuff that Jane McGonigals has to say; She’s is creating ARG:s and thinking about games for a living. As opposed to a traditional game, where little is at stake and there’s no ambiguity as to the puppet masters role, think of harnessing our collective intelligence in search of a solution to a particular problem. I don’t know how far you can abstract “reality” or parcel it up so that people with little knowledge could play with it, but if you could turn the tedious task of long term planning into something fun you’d actually have people who’d want to participate:

As the leading edge of research, industry, politics, social innovation and cultural production increasingly seek to harness the wisdom of the crowd and the power of the collective, it is urgent that we create engaging, firsthand experiences of collective intelligence for as wide and as general a young audience as possible. Search and analysis games are poised to become our best tool for helping as many and diverse a population as possible develop an interest and gain direct experience participating in our ever-more collective network culture.

→ Jane McGonigal, Why I love bees: A study in collective intelligence gaming. [pdf]

Remember how Internet used to be something that you thought only geeks would ever use? Or when email seemed like a fad and you never thought you’d own a cellphone? Well, if you want to be ahead of the curve you really should read what Jane has to say.

Case in point:, a game where you muck around with protein in search for a cure for cancer. You learn the rules of the game, and then you’re doing science. For real.

Hi mom!

Once a year I try to get my bloodwork done. I check for vitamin or mineral deficiencies, what with being a vegan and all. At one point in my life I’d like to do a Michael Jackson test – a battery of doctors and shrinks prodding and pushing and asking me about everything. The impulse to get to know oneself through the eyes of others, and also through a material analysis, makes this very tempting.

The criminally insane (or those suspected of being such) often get a large or small psych test, to determine if they’re actually loco or merely pretending. If I ever get a chance, I’m going for the big test. Until then, I’ll settle with having two vials of blood drawn and a doctor knocking on my back with a small hammer.

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