25 November 2007

Answers to Prayer

I am back in New York this evening. Wednesday morning I flew to Salt Lake City to spend Thanksgiving weekend with the fam. I sure had a great time. It was a strange feeling to be in Utah with family again. It is a feeling I suppose most people have felt if they have lived away from home for an extended period of time. After the initial reunion with family, it soon felt as if I never left. Thursday evening, after Thanksgiving dinner at Dodee's, I went up to spend the day with Trent and Amy at their home. It was just like old times. We played with their kids, watched football, and watched a movie. Trent commented once, "It is weird, it is like you never left."

The weekend was a great break from the grind of school. In fact, this morning I was sad that I had to leave and come back to New York. However, now that I am here, I am ready to get back to work and finish the semester strong. In only a few short weeks I will be back with family in Utah for Christmas and New Years. I am looking forward to it.

On the flight I passed the time by watching the movie Evan Almighty. I really enjoyed the show. In most cases I would advocate against portraying God as a character in a movie. In fact, maybe such a thing should never be done. However, I thought the writing in this movie was right on. Several lines spoken by Morgan Freeman's character (God) teach great lessons.

First, early in the show God tells Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) to do something which sounds entirely ridiculous - build an ark. In the course of the conversation, God assures Evan, "Whatever I do, I do because I love you." Such a perspective in life provides the understanding and strength to cope with any circumstance.

Later in the movie, Morgan Freeman has another line that lends understanding to God's workings with His children. "If you pray for patience, do you think God just… gives you patience? Or does he give you opportunities to be patient? If you pray for courage, do you think he just gives you courage, or opportunities to be courageous?" Certainly this is how God answers prayers. He allows us to work for what we need and want. That is the only way the plan can work.

17 November 2007

A Midievil Castle in New York

I do know if you have ever heard of The Cloisters. I hadn't until I moved to New York. It is a museum located uptown on Manhattan. However, it is not just an ordinary museum. A museum usually houses artwork, sculptures, etc. for display. This is true about Cloisters. But there is more. In addition to the midievil tapestries, statues, and books, the building itself is a display of architecture of the same time.
Doorways, hallways, pillars, arches, stairways, and even entire rooms throughout the building are actual pieces of European edifices built in the first millenia A.D. They are not replicas, not patterns or likenesses of the real thing. They were recovered in ruins, transported to New York and integrated into this museum. It is incredible!

The museum was impressive, but the park it is located in is, in my estimation, more enjoyable. I suppose my own biases and interests are manifest here. I have always preferred the outdoors to any other attraction. The park is called Fort Tyron. At this time of year yellow, red, and orange foliage covers the solid rock hillside overlooking the Hudson river. It is nice to feel like I am out of the city and in the mountains.


Ahh, the joys of research...

My experiment failed today. It is really not a big deal. It just means I lost hours of time I invested in prep and planning - not to mention the cost of supplies I used up in the whole process. It is amazing how quickly things can go wrong when working with cells and biological material. One bad step, one bit of bacteria, or even a bit of bad timing and everything is done. Because of the nature of the research, every step is like a point of no return. Meaning, there is no fixing mistakes. It is like the idom, "You can't unscramble a scrambled egg."

Two weeks ago I submitted an outline of my proposed research to my faculty advisor. A week later he returned it to me with the objective to complete the necessary experiments and have the paper ready to publish by Christmas. By Christmas!? Additionally, he expects the first round of experimental data before Thanksgiving. With this expedited timeline, I scheduled and prepared for today's tests. I spent all afternoon and evening yesterday and the whole morning today laying the groundwork for the experiment. Finally at 6 p.m. today everything was set and the experiment underway.

Interestingly, once the experiment actually begins, there is very little to be done. I just leave it under a time lapse microscope for data acquisition. The test was planned to run for nine hours. After I was sure all was well (or so I thought), I went home to get some dinner. Before long, I returned to the lab (now actually getting back into a building on campus after dark on a Saturday night was quite an undertaking - Columbia's campus can be like a fortress). When I got back to the microscope and looked at the cells I could tell something was wrong. Upon further inspection, I realized the entire system had dried up. The cells were dead; the experiment was over. I cleaned up and headed home. We'll see if I still have enough time to meet my before Thanksgiving deadline...

09 November 2007


Yesterday evening I saw the movie Dan in Real Life. I enjoyed it. I will refrain from analyzing the film here to avoid ruining the show for those who have not seen it yet. Not that there is any big twist to be expected - it is just more enjoyable to see a show for the first time without preconceived notions.

There is one aspect I do want to share. The movie's final scene includes a voice-over of the main character Dan Burns (played by Steve Carrell). He reads from a column he writes for a local newspaper. I wish I could quote verbatim what he says. He addresses the notion of having a life plan. We all have a plan in one form or another. We have hopes and dreams. We look forward to certain events and experiences. Children and teenagers are especially encouraged to have a plan, with regard to a career, etc. However, as the saying goes, 'things don't always work out according to plan.' Instead of fretting about creating and fulfilling our individual plans, the final line of the movie suggests that maybe we should all just "plan to be surprised."

How many people truly live their life plan? How many 3rd graders have you known who said they wanted to be an astronaut, and when they grew up, they actually orbited the earth? Or those who said they wanted to be a professional baseball player later donned the cap and stirrups for their favorite ball club? On the flip side, how many terminally ill cancer patients planned and prepared for such a disease to rob them of years of healthy living. Or what individual who suddenly looses a loved one in a tragic accident knowingly said their final goodbye before the tragedy?

I certainly do not imply that we should not have hopes and dreams, nor should we plan for inevitable sickness and misfortune. Contrarily, we should dream big. We should set big goals. We should work and fight to achieve what we desire. But despite our best efforts, despite the strength of our will to follow the plan we have charted for ourselves - sometimes, in fact oftentimes, we end up somewhere entirely different than where we originally intended to go. We enjoy or endure experiences which we never anticipated. Such is life. And that is a good life.

Have you ever watched a movie when half way through the show you figured out how it was going to end? Have you ever guessed who the 'bad guy' was early in the show, then to your disappointment learned at the end of the movie that you were right? Such a movie is unexciting, mundane, and boring. There is no thrill. There is no surprise, no spontaneity, no captivation. Is that what we want in our life? What adjectives would you rather choose to describe your life: unexciting, mundane, and boring, or thrilling, surprising, spontaneous, and captivating? I choose the latter.

"Plan for surprises." When we consider where we want life to take us, we should plan for the best, hope for the best, look forward to the best. But we cannot be too shocked when the best does not always come our way. And when we are down, when we feel the weight of disappointment, sorrow, failure, mistake - in those moments when nothings seems to be going right and there is no indication of change anytime soon... remember, "plan to be surprised."

The Ultra-Marathon Man

If anyone ever needs motivation to go running... read this book! This guy is insane, in a good way. On Dean Karnazes' 30th birthday he found himself on the border of a mid-life crisis. He lived a good life. He had a successful job in the Bay Area. He had a family whom he loved. But he felt unfulfilled. Something was missing. Was this all life had to offer?

Feeling somewhat depressed, he went to a bar with some friends. A woman made advances on him despite the ring on his finger - and on hers. Feeling sorry for himself he played along for a few minutes. Before things progressed too far he excused himself, walked out the back door, stripped down to his boxer shorts, and began running. He ran all night! 17 miles later and the next morning he stopped at a pay phone, called his wife and asked her to come pick him up. His feet were blistered and bleeding. His shin splits lasted for weeks. But he had found his passion.

And he hasn't stopped running since. Running provided an out for him. It fulfilled him, completed him. In the years since turning 30, Dean has completed seemingly un-human feats. He ran a 135-mile race in Death Valley in the middle of summer. After the pavement melted one pair of shoes, he had to be sure and run on the white traffic lines for the remainder of the run. He has also run a marathon to the South Pole. Most recently, he completed the Enduro50 - running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days. And these are just a few of his accomplishments - in addition to regular races of over 100 miles (who does that?).

Here are some quotes from the book which I particularly liked:

“Most dreams die a slow death. They’re conceived in a moment of passion, with the prospect of endless possibility, but often languish and are not pursued with the same heartfelt intensity as when first born. Slowly, subtly, a dream becomes elusive and ephemeral. People who’ve let their own dreams die become pessimists and cynics. They feel that the time and devotion spent on chasing their dreams were wasted. The emotional scars last forever. ‘It can’t be done,’ they’ll say, when you describe your dream, ‘You’ll never make it.’” (Pg. 139)

“If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not constantly demanding more from yourself – expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.” (Pg. 263)

“The greatest rewards of high achievement are intrinsic” (Pg. 161)

“In running, the muscles work a little harder, the blood flows a little faster, the heart beats a little stronger. Life becomes a little more vibrant, a little more intense.” (Pg. 276)

And my favorite:

“Immerse yourself in something deeply and with heartfelt intensity – continually improve, never give up – this is fulfillment, this is success.” (Pg. 262)

This last passage is what makes Dean Karnazes such a compelling person. He found "something" which he not only loved, but had been blessed with a talent and an ability to succeed at - and he ran with it. He cultivated it, dedicated himself to it. He found fulfillment. He inspired others. And, most importantly, he does this without loosing sight of his ultimate priority - his family.