Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Kona winds on the high seas

The weather doesn't change much here. The Kona, or southwest winds, are fairly uncommon, as the typical winds, the trades, blow from the east probably 300 days of the year. So, when I rode my bike to work yesterday morning, it was quite surprising to have a tail wind pushing me up the hill. Welcome, Kona winds!

Now, on the leeward side of the island, where we reside, the winds were around 15mph. But yesterday, my lab mate and I had to go out collecting on the windward side. One would think that the east side of the island would be protected from the winds coming from the west since there is a huge mountain range in between. Not so. Our little vessel was tossed back and forth on the open seas as 30mph wind gusts tossed waves over our bow, water spouts surged from all sides, and our poor little precious copepods were jostled to death by the swaying of the boat. I thought poor Agnes was either going to get sea sick or fall off the boat every time she had to pull in a tow. We finally called it a day, with few copepods and even fewer spots of dryness on our sea- and rain- soaked bodies. Fritz, our boat driver, calls the rain a "fresh water rinse". I like that euphemism a lot.

The good news? Kona winds bring volcano smoke from the Big Island. Actually, this tends to cause allergies in people, but it makes for beautiful sunsets. So, today I plan on going down and enjoying the weather after work. If you would like to read more about the winds, or see pictures of the "devastation" look here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

What do your genes say about you?

This week, the University of Hawaii had the honor of hosting arguably one of the most famous scientists in the world, J. Craig Venter. I went to his talk on Wednesday afternoon, entitled, "Genomes, Medicine, and the Environment". I was pretty excited about the event; it's not everyday you get to be in the same room with a scientist that receives over $100 million in funding every year. A real businessman, which is why I really like this picture. Dr. Venter and Mr. Hyde...

The introduction to the talk, given by our interim med-school dean, Gary Ostrander, summarized Venter's various awards, papers (33 pages in total for his CV), but also interesting tidbits like how Venter is on the Sci-Fi channel advisory board. When Venter finally got to speak, he began with a history lesson of every genome he has ever sequenced which includes a bacteria, a fruit fly, a mouse, his dog, and himself. It turns out he is more related to his dog than a mouse; of course, he used this information to break out the ol' "I look like my pet" joke. Perhaps he will enter in the contest next year, but instead of a photograph, he'll send the DNA sequence alignments.

In the "environment" part of his talk he summarized his new task of taking water samples all over the globe and sequencing whatever he finds. He does this by traveling around the world on his sloop, putting a bucket in the water, size-filtering said water on the boat, freezing the samples, and then fed-exing them to the sequencing facility in Maryland when he reaches a port of call. What a life! The results so far are kind of interesting: there is a lot of genetic diversity that has likely evolved as a result of the environment in which the animal resides. For instance, things that live around the turquoise blue waters of Bermuda have different photoreceptor genes than things that live in the fresh, green water of the Panama canal. Pretty neat.

Eventually, Venter would love for everyone to be able to sequence their own genomes, and we would all be in a data base showing all our sequence alignments. Thus, we could determine which part of the genome is responsible for X and Y diseases by looking at what sequences people with those diseases have in common. It's probably not this simple, but the implications of the way we address disease with designer genetic tools are very exciting. At this point, everything Venter is doing has been determined to be ethical and lawful, but who knows what the future holds. I think our generation will probably be treated with designer genetic tools. Will we live longer? Venter addressed the question from the "youngest" member of the audience (>65 year old man) with the statement, "We are not directly looking for longevity genes, no". Too bad.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Our one year Hawaii anniversary!

K, G, and I have been here one year now. Living in Hawaii has been both amazing and amazingly frustrating, but after one year we are finally getting a grip on island living. So, in honor of the year in paradise:

The top 5 amazingly frustrating reasons not to live in Hawaii:

1) The streets are too narrow for our large automobiles!!! As illustrated in this picture, taken at Bellows Beach after my unfortunate run-in with an ill-placed garbage can on a narrow street last Wednesday night (note the passenger side mirror):

2) The ticks are relentless....poor Gaffney
3) It is the most expensive place you will ever live. Ever.
4) We can't go for long drives on the island. First, it is an island, so there are no long drives. Second, the traffic is here is miserable since every family has an average of 2 cars and it is an island with not many roads.
5) It is 2,500 miles to our nearest friends and family.

And now....The top 5 amazing reasons to live in Hawaii:

1) You can camp on the beach, any time of year. The picture to the right was taken at Bellows this weekend. I would have taken more pictures, but the battery in the Cannon Powershot died (has anyone else had this problem with their Cannon battery? It doesn't hold a charge anymore.)
2) The food is incredible. I mean, just incredible. Japanese noodles (udon) are my current favorite thing to eat ever.
3) The people we work with are amazingly nice and accepting
4) The weather is perfect. You get to wear slippers (flip-flops) to work everyday of the year.

and finally,
5) It is amazingly beautiful here. I feel like we have just begun to discover all the intricate details of this place, but I am not concerned. It took about 4 years of Tucson to appreciate all the back country, all the twists and turns of the light during the different seasons, etc, etc. We will be in Hawaii at least another year, and I hope in that time, we will grow to love this place and ignore the top five frustrations! Aloha!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sometimes I miss the desert

Snowed in Tucson, ya heard? The picture is from the Computer science webcam, on top of Gould-Simpson. I bet the skiing on Mt. Lemmon is superb today. Some of my favorite days of playing hooky from grad school involved driving up Mt. Lemmon to play in the snow, ski, eat pie and drink cider, even mountain bike. I miss you Tucson!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Colt doesn't bolt!

The big news in Hawaii this morning...University of Hawaii quarterback, Colt Brennan, decided to stay and play his senior year! Taking advice from his old high school teammate, Matt Leinhart, Colt decided that $25 million dollars was tempting, but not as tempting as the glory that will come when Hawaii beats Boise State next year for first place in the WAC. I guess this was really a hard decision for him, as you can tell from this picture where he is CRYING! Now, I am sure it is a bit disappointing to turn down money. But don't worry, Colt. Next year is going to be fun! Maybe K and I will actually dish out the money for season tickets to see the glory!

Not much else going on in the Aloha state. It snowed on the Big Island a week or so ago, but from the sounds of it, y'all have been going through actual winter so I will not bore you with the details of our camping on Bellows beach this weekend. Pictures to follow if you so desire!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Home again

Aloha, everyone! I hope your holiday season has been as amazing as ours. I will indulge with you some details, and try to reassure you that K did not spend his whole holiday putting together the "Best of Christmas songs" YouTube video list. Don't worry, there's always next year...

Christmas eve was spent on the North Shore with the straggler Sally crew (our frisbee team). Lisa (the girl in the Santa hat below) rented a condo up there and invited all the people who stayed on the island for a nice pot luck dinner overlooking the beach. It was an amazingly good time full of Secret Santa surprises, rubber band balls, and lots and lots of cookies. (Thanks to Buffy (green shirt) for the picture).

K and I had a nice Christmas morning with our newly acquired gingerpeople ornaments made by Megan, complete with Ultimate frisbees. They were hung nicely on our "Christmas tree", which was actually some pine branches I found on the side of the road. Christmas trees are ridiculously expensive here.

On the 27th, Kyle dropped me off at the airport for my big trip to Georgia to see my now 9 month-old niece, Megan. I took a red-eye to Dallas, via Maui, and then landed in Atlanta at 11:30am. I met up with Chuck Derby, who works at Georgia State. We toured his lab and downtown Atlanta, since I had never been there before. My brother, Sam, picked me up around 6pm and we attempted to leave Atlanta. After two hours we finally passed the first exit for Jonesboro, Brian's hometown (me thinks!), which is probably 10miles south of Atlanta. Our bellies and bladders finally got to us a half hour later, and we got off at the next exit in Jonesboro and we looked for the Chick-fil-A advertised on the side of the road, which unfortunately we could not find otherwise I probably could have eaten in, if I'm not mistaken, one of the first places B ever worked! Ah well, maybe nextime! The slow traffic was due to a burning truck we found out much, much later, but eventually we arrived at Sam's house, south of Warner-Robins.

I spent the week playing with the baby and all the neighbor's kids as well. My parents came down for a few days, so it was nice seeing them too. I'll post pictures later, when Cheryl, Sam's wife, sends them to me. Kyle apparently spent the week actually working. Oh, and watching a lot of football too. And Arizona Wildcat basketball. In case you hadn't heard, the Wildcats are amazing this year, minus the Wash State loss of last evening, in overtime. Bear Down!

I arrived home last night at 10pm. No problems with luggage, and all the Bermuda rum and ginger beer (yum, Dark and Stormy's, yum) I bought made it home safely. And then I got to see Gaffney's super wiggling, squirmy smile greet me in the car. When I got home, Kyle had another surprise, waiting in the recess lighting in the kitchen:

Isn't it beautiful?
It's nice to be home again.