Friday, January 21, 2005

I haven't posted in a week and I kinda like life without the blog. Thinking about whether to continue. The hiatus will continue until at least Feb 1. So, if you are checking, don't bother until then.

Later, taters!

Friday, January 14, 2005

She Blinded me with Science

Here is the cerebral post I promised. Warning: it's kinda long. So, you might want to go get a cup of coffee before you read this... and maybe something to draw a few pictures with (it might help.)

Friends, let's get chemical.

I have been able to explain this basic concept to two people in recent history, and they both found it interesting. I thought you might too. I realize that I am biased because it is chemistry. But, just hang with me. Even if you don't find it interesting, there is a point at the end.

Here we go... (where's my model kit?)

Carbon atoms have the ability to bond four times. Assuming that no double or triple bonds are formed, the other atoms bonded to a carbon are generally evenly spaced around the carbon, in all three dimensions. This forms a shape called a tetrahedron. (I don't have my chalk board, so you are going to have to envision it: it is not flat - picture carbon in the middle, with three atoms below it spread in a triangular shape, and the other atom is directly above the carbon.)

Now, let's say, for example that we bond a hydrogen (H,) a nitrogen (N,) a chlorine (Cl,) and a fluorine (F) to a single atom of carbon (C.) You could put the H, N, Cl, and F onto the C in any order you wish without it affecting the properties of the "molecule." (This would not be a stable molecule, but I use it for sake of simplicity.) So, if you went to the lab and mixed all of these things in a beaker, you would come up with a molecule with a formula something like CHNClF. And, if you added a new chemical to the beaker to react with this molecule, all the other molecules would react exactly the same way.

But that doesn't mean they are all the same. Imagine a specific molecule. If you were looking down (as described above, with carbon in the middle) let's say that these atoms were in the following positions: H at 2 o'clock, N at 6 o'clock, Cl at 10 o'clock. That would leave F in the spot directly above the carbon. Now imagine a second molecule that is identical. The two atoms are superimposeable. Neato. Two of the exact same thing.

Now, take ANY two of the bonded atoms, and switch their locations. This molecule can no longer be superimposed onto the original molecule. No matter how you turn it in space, it just can't happen. The two are now mirror images of one another. The carbon is called a chiral carbon, because it has these mirror images.

In fact, EVERY carbon is chiral if it has four DIFFERENT things bonded to it. And, in a lab situation, where you simply mix a bunch of stuff in a beaker to make a molecule such as this, you will always end up making a mixture of both molecules (the "original" and the "mirror." Such a mixture is referred to as racemic.) The reason you end up with a mixture, is because the bonding atoms will bump into different carbon atoms in different places. One H bumps (and bonds) into a C at the 2 o'clock position, but another H might bump a different C at 6 o'clock.

The mirror-image molecules are called enantiomers. Chemists call one molecule "R" and the other "L." * (Like our Right and Left hand, which are also mirror images.) There are criteria for determining which is which, but it isn't important here.

But, this whole R and L thing is not such a "big" deal, since, as mentioned above, both molecules behave exactly the same way, chemically.


The molecule happens to be a drug in your body. (So as to minimize any panic, what I am about to say is not true of every drug. But it is true of drugs that can be categorized as I describe below.) And that's where this all gets interesting. (Hopefully.)

Now, think back to your high school biology book. They all have a picture somewhere of an antibody or something, binding to a cell. The cell was always illustrated as a "blob" with a "key-shaped" hole. And the antibody was always illustrated as another blob with a key-shaped protrusion. The idea being that this specific antibody could only bind on cells with key-shaped holes. The concept is the same here. Keep this in mind, and I'll get back to it.

Almost all drugs are molecules that are made of a lot of carbon chains, linked into strings or rings, and frequently with branches. And there are tons of things that can be bonded to these carbons. Remember ONLY a carbon that has four DIFFERENT things bonded to it is chiral. But the four things are not limited to single atoms... it could be another branch or ring or something like that. So you might have a H at 2 o'clock, a ring structure at 6 o'clock, a branch at 10 o'clock and another C directly above. (And the mirror image of that as well.)

Anyhoo. Having a chiral carbon in a drug isn't even such a big deal....


That chiral carbon holds the "key" that attaches to the cell in your body. Remember the receptor on a cell has a very specific shape. If the receptor has a hole that receives H at two o'clock, ring at 6 o'clock, branch at 10 o'clock, and C above, then only that specific enantiomer will work on the cell.

Ibuprofen is just like that. The part of the molecule that relieves the pain involves a chiral carbon. When you swallow an ibuprofen pill, you swallow both the R and L enantiomers. But only one is actually doing the trick. The other one is just floating around your body doing nothing.

We hope, anyway. Because.....

If there are unknown receptors on cells that just happen to be shaped like the other enantiomer, guess what is going to happen? The other enantiomer will start doing something... though what that is, no one knows.

This was the problem with thalidomide. It was used in the UK in the 50's and 60's as a tranquilzer for pregnant women. While one enantiomer worked to tranquilize the mom, the other enantiomer was busy giving their babies birth defects. (A fun example, I think, of how we can't always refer to chemicals as "good" or "bad" since these were, in fact the *same* chemical.... but now I am off on a tangent.)

So, as of 1995, the FDA has required that all new drugs be enantiomerically pure. In other words, you can only put the enantiomer that "works" into a pill before you market it.

Why did I just waste my time telling you all this? First, because it is interesting... whether you like it or not ;) Second, because, IMHO, I think this can drastically effect the cost of drugs.

Remember, enantiomers have the same chemical and physical properties. Drug companies can no longer make drugs in a way that lets atoms bond wherever they want. If they do, they end up with a racemic product... and how the heck to you separate the R molecules from the L's if they will all react the same way? It can be done, but it requires additional processes, on top of the initial manufacturing. However, I am guessing this is not the preferred option, b/c then they'd be left with a whole lot of the other, useless, enantiomer.

The other option is to figure out how to produce these drugs so that only one specific part of the molecule can bond at a time, and figure out how to get that part to bond in a very specific place on the carbon. (Reason #692 that I did not become an organic chemist.) This tends to increase the number of steps and the number of chemicals used in the manufacturing process. And that ain't cheap.

I tell you all of this simply because I don' think most people know, yet it is an easy concept to grasp (assuming I have taught you well, I suppose!) And, I think it sheds some light on a topic of concern for some (many?) people.

And, not to put the FDA on a pedestal, or anything (we all know they haven't exactly go it all together over there,) but, until I know more about how this kind of thing is handled around the world, it makes me reluctant to jump on the "buying-drugs-from-other-countries" bandwagon.

Thanks for playing. Hope you found it interesting.

Thanks to Nelson Sartoris for supplying the info about thalidomide.

*CORRECTION - enantiomers are labelled R or S, not L, as originally posted. My bad!

For an interesting article related to this (which is not completely impossible to comprehend) click here. It offers some interesting information some of which sheds new light on my understanding and presentation of this topic. (12/15/05)

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

How I have been blessed today

  • It's so warm today that I turned off the heat and opened the windows. I love the smell of the fresh air!
  • I got a 12 page letter from a long lost friend. How awesome is that?
  • God enabling me to remain remarkably calm during Ms. Boo's peeing on the floor incident AND her spilling-hot-chocolate-on-coffee-table-and-carpet-while- attempting-to-transfer-it-from-one-mug-to-another incident. (Calm is not my normal reaction.)
  • Someone at church asked me to do a presentation tonight about my mission trip to Baku in 1998. I pulled out all the old photos, souveniers, and my journal. Wow. It was like I had forgotten what an amazing trip that was. It has been great to go back and remember. I think I have mentioned before that I wanted to post some pics, so here they are. It was hard to choose which to share. Among my favorites that are missing (for lack of decent pics) are: Aytakin - one of the sweetest Azeri girls I met; the Nizami Museum; and the Maiden Tower - built in the second century.

Please note: I cannot figure out how to post more than one pic in the same post, so I had to post them separately. I posted everything in reverse order, so it should "flow" as if those pics were part of this post... and what's up w/ It was taking like 16 years to upload... no thanks.

(photo removed by author)
Sabina and Leyla - two of my favorite Azeris. I know it sounds corny, but the city actually seemed prettier when we were with them. Posted by Hello
(Photo removed by author.)
Here I am with Ilahe (I-LA-hay) on what she called the best day of her life. Posted by Hello

This is a bad pic of my favorite building. It turns out it was the Academy of the Sciences. Go figure. Posted by Hello

This wall surrounds the original city (AKA the "old city.") Circa 2nd century. Posted by Hello

The Palace of Shirvanshek, within the old city. You can see the "new" city in the background. Posted by Hello

A view from inside the palace. Posted by Hello

This is a small "market" within the old city where they sell carpets. You can see them strewn about. Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Something more interesting

is on the way soon. I promise. I am working on a much more cerebral post.

But, until it is done, the following will have to do.

My stats say that someone from Chappaqua, NY has been visiting my blog. It's Bill, I just know it. (As in Clinton... not my neighbor and fellow church member.) Great having you, Bill. Leave a comment some time!!!

I went to a HS girls b-ball game on Thursday night. It was at the school where I used to teach. I decided that it is a good thing I am not teaching anymore. One of my pet peeves is having hair on my forehead or in my eyes. So, I can't stand seeing people with hair in their eyes. It makes me think that they must be going crazy to have it there. Seeing it evokes an unnecessary urge in me to sweep hair out of my own eyes... kinda like when you clear your own throat when someone else's voice is garbley.

So, I am standing in line to get a candy bar at half time and I am looking around: all these kids have hair hanging down to their noses. And I am thinking, if I were still teaching, I would be handing out hairbands as my students came into class b/c I'd go crazy looking at them for any extended period of time.

I miss teaching like I miss assigned reading.

Anyway, Paul was working at the game, and he took the kids with him while he did some important stuff. So I sat in the gym enjoying the "alone" time while the varsity teams warmed up, which, at a high school game, can only be accomplished if there is really loud music playing. I was just sitting there, zoned out... when I heard it...

the lead-in on bass...

the two notes on the piano... and...

All right stop. Collaborate and listen...

It's Ice, Ice Baby... and I can't control myself. There I am tapping my feet (and trying, in vain, not to bob my head) when I realize that I am also lip syncing along with Vanilla. I would've busted out laughing at myself, but I didn't want to interrupt my performance as I was curious to see how much of the song I could remember.

I didn't do too bad. (Perhaps I too, am a lyrical poet.)

In other news, we have been laying down the law for the last three nights, trying to get Boo to go to bed without our assistance. She hasn't liked the process and has, understandably, been a bit frustrated with the new rules we are imposing.

Last night, while in bed, Boo decided to remove all the beads from a "candy-cane" that she'd made out of a pipe cleaner. In the dark, she lost the pipe cleaner and started crying. I went in and (firmly) stated that I would not look for it and that I would not be coming back in her room once I left. Being 3 1/2, she lacks the ability to just "forget about it" so she kept asking for me to find it. I kept telling her the same thing and made my way towards the door. Boo was so tired and so frustrated with my responses over these last few nights, that she put her hands up to her face and exclaimed, "you are so NUTS to me at night time!"

Hee hee!

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I was five when this picture was taken. I remember posing for it. I love this picture for several reasons. First, I am wearing what was, at the time, my favorite dress. Second, it proves once and for all that my hair is BROWN, and not black, as so many people insist. Finally, it serves as evidence that I have always been looney. Posted by Hello


Friday, January 07, 2005

I am trying to figure out how to post pictures, so I decided to post one of Boo's paintings. She painted this back in September. I like it because all of the people have eyebrows. Posted by Hello


Thursday, January 06, 2005

Truly Random Thoughts

  • when you have a stuffy nose, how does your nose know to "switch sides?" Does anyone know what I mean? Like, you can only breathe out of one side, then for about two minutes you can breathe out of both sides while your nose is in the process of "switching," and then you go back to being stuffed up, only it's the other side of your nose that is now not working.
  • if your nose can figure out how to let you breathe out of both sides for those two minutes, why doesn't it just stay like that?
  • I have noticed all these "new" toys being marketed lately, particularly around the holiday gift season. My Little Pony, Rainbow Bright, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears. Smart, those marketing gurus... if you can't get the kids excited about the toys, get the PARENTS excited, that'll sell 'em. I can just hear some mom shrieking "AAAaaaaaaaaaw... I had one of those when I was a kid..."
  • I think it is funny that I am 31 years old (I had to count back... seriously, I forgot) and I have only made a whole chicken once in my life. Today I am baking whole chicken number 2. This is big news. It isn't even chicken week.
  • I can't figure out why we keep getting credit card offers in the mail. Credit card companies have probably made a combined total of $20 off of me and Paul in the last 10 years. We just aren't where the money is at, yet we still get an offer in the mail every day.
  • my daughter has more energy when she is tired than I do when I am fully awake. bonkers is a good description for her at just about any point in the day.
  • my back is hurting mucho mas.
  • mucho mas is Spanish for "and I don't know why."
  • I played a game called "Apples to Apples" the other night. Simple. Fun.
  • Our TV is now black and white. I have no idea how it got this way, it just slowly faded out over about a week's time. It may have something to do with the magnets that Boo has been playing with. Just about the time we lost all color, I found her in the living room, holding the magnets up to the screen. All the color was arching around the magnets. This probably wasn't good.
  • It's okay though, we aren't the most technological folks around. One of these days I am sure we will replace it, but I am too cheap to want to rush out and find a new TV just to have the color back.
  • Now, everything we watch is like a classic.
  • We also don't have a cell phone. I think I'd rather have a spike in my head than for people to be able to reach me everywhere I go.
  • And what did people do before cell phones? I can't tell you how many people I see in stores who are having this frantic convo on their cell phone, saying stuff like, "Do you want the cobalt or the navy?" please.
  • That is all. I told you these were random...

Monday, January 03, 2005

A Little Late

But I had to find the writer of the song before I could post it.... This song struck me. Here is part of it:

Baby born in Bethlehem
Come be born in me again.
Since you don't mind dirty stables
Here's my heart, not fit or able
To Receive such majesty.
Still, you humbly come to me.

O come, be born again
O come, be born again
O come, be born again
O come, be born again.

Chosen One who chose to be
Suffering servant, Savior, King
Since you don't despise the broken
Here's my heart laid bare and open.

-From O Come, Be Born Again, by Jennifer Martin

Saturday, January 01, 2005


I remember once, when I was a kid, my mom cleaning up after one of my emotional break-downs. I have no idea what it was about, but I remember her suggesting that maybe I should stop watching 60 Minutes.

I have never watched the movie Titanic, and I have never seen Saving Private Ryan, or Schindler's List, or The Passion of Christ. I started reading The Hiding Place, and I had to stop.

Stories of real-life tragedies, especially on a massive scale, paralyze me, emotionally.

I read an article, a while back, about a woman in Sudan whose home was invaded by the JanjaWeed while her whole family was asleep. Her husband was killed. She and her children ran and were separated in the ensuing chaos. The woman, who was interviewed in a refugee camp, said that she didn't know where her children were, but hoped to find them.

I read the article because I thought I needed to be informed. It haunted me for weeks. I kept trying to imagine what that would be like. The problem is, I am a wanna-be empathizer AND a perfectionist. So, I had to KEEP imagining, thinking, and reenacting in my mind, because I knew that whatever I came up with would fall woefully short. Result: depression and despair.

So, I just can't look at this stuff anymore - including all this tsunami stuff. Especially those friggin' pictures of little boys Bug's age, who stare at the camera like "what the hell is going on?" I feel guilty for not looking, or reading the gorey details - like somehow I am making light of what has happened, but I just haven't figured out how to "get around myself" and take this stuff in without becoming depressed. (There is a voice in my head saying "what is a little depression compared to all that these people have suffered?" But I don't think that is a rational voice, since my depression won't accomplish anything.)

But, I am trying to turn my neuroses into something productive.

So, I have been thanking God, lately, a little more for all I have. There are no words for how blessed I am. I am loving on my kids more... they are so indescribably precious... and trying to fend off the thoughts that bombard me at times like this, about how completely grief-stricken I would be if I lost one of them, or how difficult it would be for them if they lost me.

And, I pray for all these people in Asia. This is hard too, because I have always tried to imagine the situation so I can pray more effectively. I've cried a few times to God about it (which, I guess, is more productive than crying to myself.) There are definitely some obvious, concrete things to pray for. But when it comes to healing the people's pain, the only thing I can say is Please, God, please..........