Monday, July 09, 2012

My Bees are without a leader...

I started this year with two beehives.  I ordered 2 packages of Italian honey bees that have to this point been going strong. 
One hive is quite strong, I have a good queen and the population is robust.  These bees are putting away honey for the winter and have a regular population of workers.
The second hive is weak to say the least.  The hive swarmed a couple weeks ago and the queen that was raised doesn't seem to be laying any eggs.  This hive had issues from the beginning with a lot of drones being raised.  I have yet to check the hive into which the swarm was moved, but all indications are that the hive is healthy. 
As a matter of management, I need to functionally requeen the weak hive today.  I will find the non-laying queen and kill her.  Tomorrow, I will move several bars of eggs, brood, honey and bees from my strong hive into the weak hive hoping that the bees will raise one of the eggs into a queen who will then re-populate the hive.  I just hope that it is not too late.  A strong fall nectar flow may be required to save this hive, but time and good management are required to put the hive in a position to be successful.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Democracy vs Independence

On the door of a shop, I saw the following note yesterday: "We will be closed on July 4th in honor of our democracy."
Where to start with this?
On July 4th 1776, the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia ratified a declaration of independence of the American Colonies from the rule of the King George and the English Parliament.  The United States of America celebrates this occasion as Independence Day.
However, the Declaration of Independence is not a governing document, does not imply a governmental structure and certainly does nothing to enshrine democratic principles as the basis for an American nation.  The Constitution of the United States of America signed on September 17, 1787 and effective on March 4th, 1789 established the American Nation as a democracy.
The use of "our democracy" could be extended to honor each and every day- thus why would the shop ever open- as democracy is a concept.  If the author had used "Our Democracy" an argument could be made that making proper nouns out of the words would strongly imply the United States of America, given the location of the shop.
I urge any readers to reflect on the meaning of freedom, the men and women who put their lives and fortunes at risk to create and maintain our freedom.  Ask how our daily actions contribute to the well-being of all Americans.  Take action on this the anniversary of American independence to celebrate our freedoms and liberties, just be aware that this day is just one step in an ongoing American Experiment, or, Our Democracy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Lessons from the Past: Gettysburg to Occupy

149 years ago today, the high water mark of the Confederacy was set and the tide of the American Civil War turned as Union soldiers repulsed Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.  Ostensibly the war was fought over slavery, however the economic systems of the North and South were at the root of the causes of the war.
149 years later we are facing a new division in our country, a division of economic prosperity.  The Occupy movement has brought this to light with the 99% slogan.   We, as citizens, allow ourselves to be governed by an elite group who exploit our lives and inhibit our personal advancement, generally to their economic  advantage. 
Let us not forget that in death we are all equal.   In life, our success or failure, our happiness and legacy is not the money we make, the profits we generate, but in the lives we touch.  If business leaders put people before profits, took a long-term view of their success and took the opportunity to reaffirm the lives of all people, our American Experiment will continue and American society will continue to flourish. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Earning an honest living

The Occupy Movement of last fall, which is still smoldering around the country, brought to light a glaring discrepancy between the pay rates of CEOs and high level management types in big corporations versus the boots on the ground, average employee.
While earning a living and providing for ourselves and our family should be the goal of every person, the trend away from real, honest labor and towards an "information economy" has devalued and distanced the average American from good, old fashioned work.  I wonder how many members of what the Occupy Movement calls "The 1%" have, in their adult lives made an attempt to earn a honest day's living.
In the classic movie Caddyshack, Judge Smails dismisses Danny's attempt at conversation with the quip, "The world needs ditch diggers too."  While the line is used to degrade and demoralize the young Danny, a strong comparison can be made between the attitude of the elite "Masters of the Universe" and those employees working for them.  Unfortunately those "Masters of the Universe" have never dug a ditch, much less spent much time trying to live off the salary they offer to their employees.
However, there is a peace and a contentment to actually accomplishing a physical task and being compensated for it.  Whether that is assembling a guitar, raising chickens, digging a ditch or putting a roof on a house, the ability, knowledge, skill and patience necessary to accomplish a given task is under-appreciated and certainly under-compensated.  I wonder how many CEOs started in the trenches with their company versus coming out of law school or business school and getting hired into a management track then bouncing around having never actually produced something themselves.
In recent months, I started raising chickens, ducks and bees, partially as a hobby and partially to augment my income.  To this point, I've invested in equipment feed, construction of coops, hives and feeders, and my time.  The work hasn't been hard, but it takes time and requires a great deal of patience.  The start-up costs are all mine.  Of course this also means I spend time shoveling chicken shit, mucking out make-shift duck ponds and getting stung by bees.  None of which is pleasant, but it is real honest work.  At the end of the day, I feel I've accomplished something, which ultimately is more valuable than any 6-figure income.  In the end, these endeavors may be experiments that are successful, they may not be, but at least I'm working, I'm happy about it, not degrading, abusing or demeaning any other creatures.  If one day I am fortunate enough to be in a position of influence, I will be able to say that I have done a day's work, made my money through my own sweat and blood, and hopefully will consider those who through their efforts allow me to be successful.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thx, Mgmt.

Although it's been a while since I posted, some things stay the same.  Much has changed in my life but some things, namely poor management don't.

I picked up some part time hours at a retail establishment a couple months ago, just enough to help pay the bills.  I never thought I'd say this but the management techniques and the communication between management and employees there is even worse than I experienced while in graduate school.  At least in grad school, I was trusted and the management was geared towards the overall success of the individuals and the lab as a whole.  Communication was bi-directional and the input of all group members was valid, considered and openly debated.  The power structure was diffuse, employees were trusted.  In this new part time situation, my first experience working retail, management is quite hierarchical, communicates poorly, is very closed to criticism and punitive.

During the interview process, I was asked if I could commit to working for the company for 2 years at quite meager pay rate.  A rate that neither fits my experience in the area nor acknowledges my education and abilities.  I enjoy the work but I feel neither challenged nor full-filled by it.  Nor am I asked to contribute to the overall advancement of the company.  I'm of the opinion that if you, as a manager, are interested in recruiting top quality people to work in your company, you need to give them incentive to work for you.  Utilizing talents and skills of your employees is critical to effective management, IMO, and I have yet to find a situation in which any manager even has a clue on how to do this.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is graduate education a good choice?

Immediately after college I worked at a major Pharma company for about 18 months. With my BS I was makign $37K a year. I had decided that I would go back to graduate school to get my PhD before I even started that job.
Now I am a post-doc. I am less appreciated by my boss, I make the same salary I made with a BS, have more responsibility and work much longer hours. I believe that my thought processes have been refined, but my world view is drastically skewed by my experience in graduate school.
I found the following infographic this AM that summarizes my experience fairly well. If you are considering graduate education, take a look at this and really think it over whether pursuit of a PhD is really what you want to do for the next 5-10 years.

The Long and Winding Road to a PhD
Via: Online PhD Programs

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mitochondria, Aging and Exercise

Mice are useful scientific research tools. In world of basic scientific research, mice are easy to handle cost effective to maintain as a colony, they share many of the same biochemical pathways as humans and are readily manipulated in the lab. Sure, some of the research is difficult to stomach, and mice are not perfect analogs to humans, but for understanding the basic science in human life, mice provide the one of the best, most relevant models of mammalian biology available to basic life sciences researchers.

Most people learned in high school biology class that mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. Mitochondria the bulk of the energy that our cells use to maintain their normal functions, whether that be repairing themselves, communicating, responding to communications, growing, dying or other essential functions. In order for energy to produced, the mitochondria rely on a small piece of DNA known as the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA.) This DNA encodes genes that make proteins that are parts of the protein complexes that help make energy in the mitochondria.

Just like the any DNA, the mitochondrial DNA is subjected to stress which can impair the intergrity of the information contained by the mtDNA. In many cases, DNA damage can be repaired, but if not repaired, the DNA can be mutated. Mutations can change the information in either a small way or by wholesale deletion of the information. Over the course of a lifetime, mutations in the mtDNA can accumulate and have been associated with aging and disease. Whether mutations in mtDNA cause or are caused by aging has been an open question.

A couple years ago, two groups independently developed transgenic mice strains that had a tendency to accumulate mutations in the mtDNA. These mice showed an extremely accelerated aging phenotype. Over the course of two years, these mice had all the hallmarks of a 3-4 year old mice (normal lifespan.) The theory was that the mutation of the mtDNA caused the mice to age in an accelerated fashion. In subsequent years, research has shown that the aging phenotype was due to the wholesale deletions of the DNA rather than the point mutations.

Today, some new research was brought to my attention. A group took one of these mice strains that mutate their mtDNA and subjected them to repetitive endurance exercise. The mice showed decreased symptoms of age-related phenotypes.

Why is this important? If mutations in mtDNA can cause aging in humans just like it can in mice, which plenty of circumstantial evidence suggests that it may, the importance of lifestyle factors may be more critical than previously considered. Sure, smoking can cause cancer, but the importance of other factors, like diet, exercise, sleep patterns and micronutrient intake may be involved in maintaining proper cellular metabolism, endocrine functions, maintaining a healthy population of mitochondria and limiting the accumulation of mitochondrial DNA mutations. Given the average American lifestyle, largely sedentary at home and at work, high glycemic, nutrient bereft diet and a pharmaceutical industry more interested in treating conditions than preserving health and longevity. If by making some compromises in our lifestyle, we can life longer, healthier lives maybe we should consider those compromises. Moreover, if the FDA, American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association recommended diets are not working, as Americans continue to get fatter and suffer more chronic health issues, maybe we should consider some outside the box compromises.