Lab Notebooks

* Always in pen

Your goal is not to preserve the outcome of your thoughts — that’s your code. Your goal is to preserve the process of your thoughts. So no erasing, no blacking out. You can put a single line through anything spelled or written incorrectly.

* Always during

Write down what the problem is, what you’re about to do, and what you expect the result to be. Treat your work as an experiment! This is especially valuable for junior developers who are still in a “try everything until something works” frame of mind. Forcing yourself to hypothesize what’s actually wrong is really valuable; and there’s nothing wrong with expecting a negative result (“I don’t think the problem is X, but it’s easy to prove it, so…”) If during the actual process, you deviate from your written plan, write down the deviation, and why you’re doing so. Don’t wait until after you’re “done” — because “done” might mean six hours from now.

* Always forward.

If you write something on Monday and realize you were wrong on Tuesday, write the correction in Tuesday’s entry. This is a lab journal — from the French “daily”. If you had a misconception, you want a record of that, as well as a record of why you were wrong. You can (and should) add a small note to the original entry pointing to the page where you correct yourself — but don’t obscure what you originally wrote.

* Keep a table of contents

The first pages of your notebook should be a table of contents; with a few words summarizing what is on each page. Make it easy to answer questions about what you did, and why, even if years have passed.

* Keep a habit

At the start of each day, read yesterday’s pages. Write down what you intend to do today. At the end of each day, read through today’s pages, and add an entry to your table of contents.

* Summarize when necessary

If you’ve spent a messy week going round in circles, and you lab notebook has become hard to follow, feel free to take a page to summarize what you’ve learned and where you ended up. Flag it specially in your table of contents.

* Store safely

At the end of a project, label the spine of your notebook, and store it safely with your others. It should be easy to access if questions ever come up.”

—Sam Bleckley, “Lab Notebooks.” SamBleckley.com.

OKIDO Magazine

“OKIDO’s philosophy is a simple one: every child is a creative scientist.

The OKIDO world immerses young children in a spectrum of playful activities and media, all intelligently designed by science and education experts. 

Whether watching the TV show ‘Messy goes to OKIDO’, engaging in family events and school workshops, or reading high quality publications and products, OKIDO children learn through play.

At the heart of it all lies STEAM learning (that’s science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics). Everything in the OKIDO world is designed by science and education experts to encourage collaboration, curiosity, exploration, discovery, creativity and critical thinking.

WHERE DID IT ALL START?

Messy grew up on the pages of OKIDO Magazine. An independent publication started by parents from a kitchen table in Brixton in 2007, it was designed to fire up young imaginations and spark a life-long love of art and science. Today its founders, scientist Dr Sophie Dauvois (PhD BSc PG Dip.) and artist Rachel Ortas, are still every bit as passionate about engaging young kids in the scientific world around them using play, art and fun.

FOR WHO? EVERYONE, OF COURSE!

OKIDO’s fun and games are for all genders. The OKIDO world is a stereotype-free zone, because we believe in promoting equality for all children.

OKIDO

CRISPR Enzyme Programmed to Kill Viruses in Human Cells

“Many of the world’s most common or deadly human pathogens are RNA-based viruses—Ebola, Zika and flu, for example—and most have no FDA-approved treatments. A team led by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has now turned a CRISPR RNA-cutting enzyme into an antiviral that can be programmed to detect and destroy RNA-based viruses in human cells.”

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, “CRISPR enzyme programmed to kill viruses in human cells.” Phys.org. October 10, 2019

More Confounders | Slate Star Codex

“So why did they get such different results from so many earlier studies? In their response to Kripke, they offer a clear answer:

They adjusted for three hundred confounders.

This is a totally unreasonable number of confounders to adjust for. I’ve never seen any other study do anything even close. Most other papers in this area have adjusted for ten or twenty confounders. Kripke’s study adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, marital status, BMI, alcohol use, smoking, and twelve diseases. Adjusting for nineteen things is impressive. It’s the sort of thing you do when you really want to cover your bases. Adjusting for 300 different confounders is totally above and beyond what anyone would normally consider.

Reading between the lines, one of the P&a co-authors was Robert Glynn, a Harvard professor of statistics who helped develop an algorithm that automatically identifies massive numbers of confounders to form a ‘propensity score’, then adjusts for it. The P&a study was one of the first applications of the algorithm on a controversial medical question. It looks like this study was partly intended to test it out. And it got the opposite result from almost every past study in this field.”

—Scott Alexander, “More Confounders.” Slate Star Codex. June 24, 2019.

Open question: Are sleep aids bad for you?

Open question: Are confounders one of the central problems of reproducibility in science?

Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe

“According to string theory, all particles and fundamental forces arise from the vibrational states of tiny strings. For mathematical consistency, these strings vibrate in 10-dimensional spacetime. And for consistency with our familiar everyday experience of the universe, with three spatial dimensions and the dimension of time, the additional six dimensions are ‘compacted’ so as to be undetectable.

Different compactifications lead to different solutions. In string theory, a “solution” implies a vacuum of spacetime that is governed by Einstein’s theory of gravity coupled to a quantum field theory. Each solution describes a unique universe, with its own set of particles, fundamental forces and other such defining properties.”

—Anil Ananthaswamy, “Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe.” Scientific American. March 28, 2018.

Note to self: read Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe.

Reuters Investigates “The Body Trade”

“Each year, thousands of Americans donate their bodies in the belief they are contributing to science. In fact, many are also unwittingly contributing to commerce, their bodies traded as raw material in a largely unregulated national market.

Body brokers are also known as non-transplant tissue banks. They are distinct from the organ and tissue transplant industry, which the U.S. government closely regulates. Selling hearts, kidneys and tendons for transplant is illegal. But no federal law governs the sale of cadavers or body parts for use in research or education. Few state laws provide any oversight whatsoever, and almost anyone, regardless of expertise, can dissect and sell human body parts.

‘The current state of affairs is a free-for-all,’ said Angela McArthur, who directs the body donation program at the University of Minnesota Medical School and formerly chaired her state’s anatomical donation commission. ‘We are seeing similar problems to what we saw with grave-robbers centuries ago,’ she said, referring to the 19th-century practice of obtaining cadavers in ways that violated the dignity of the dead.”

—Brian Grow and John Shiftman, “The Body Trade.” Reuters. October 24, 2017.

The Cookbooks of Nathan Myhrvold 

“If you are not passionate, a 2640-page cookbook [Amazon cost: ~$500] is not for you…

…I ask Myhrvold for a simple example of how the knowledge of cooking he has developed might help ordinary home cooking.

‘If you have a steak that is twice as thick as the one you cooked the last time,’ he asks me, ‘how much longer is it going to take to cook?’

I say I don’t know exactly. Somewhat longer.

‘Most chefs can’t even tell you exactly,’ he says, ‘because even though it’s a really basic question nobody taught them. The answer is four times. Heating in a steak works by conduction, and conduction has a scaling law that goes by the square of the depth.’

So is there then no intuition or fingertip knowledge to cooking?

‘Sure there is! A Japanese chef cuts fish more quickly and deftly than I can. But if you talk to the guy at the local steak house, he may have an intuitive sense of how long it takes to cook a steak, but it’s from long experience.’

What’s wrong with that?

‘Three things,’ Myhrvold says. ‘First, learning from experience means that you’ve screwed up a lot. That guy has ruined a lot of steaks! Second, learning from experience doesn’t help teaching people. Why not speed things up by telling learners the principles? Third, sometimes the right way of doing something is counterintuitive, as it was with sous vide, and you’ll probably never find it from experience. Active research can uncover new things.'”

—Nathan Myhrvold, “The Physics of Bread.” Physics World. October 2017.

Modernist Cuisine at Home, at just over a $100, might be worth looking into for those folks with the means and lack a public library option.