Sunday, September 14, 2008

Science and shit

Teaching English to preschoolers and hanging around with non-native speakers has taught me to examine my own language use. I’ve realized that I have two really bad habits. I slur my words together so that the final sound in one word tends to sneak into the beginning of a word that begins with vowel, for example “I’m going out” turns in to “I’m goin gout.” If there’s a hard sound, I tend to drop it. I want to be more precise, but actively thinking about what I’m saying makes me 1) sound unnatural and English Teachery, and 2) probably more restrained in what I say since it slows me down and forces me to think about what I’m about to say. I can’t figure out why exactly speaking more clearly and thinking about what I’m going to say is a a bad thing, but for some reason it turns me off.

The second habit is that I use far more profanity than is usually called for. I’m sure there are more words that I can use for emphasis than “very” and “fucking,” and I intend to find out what they are.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I speak because I suspect it will be a big factor in my upcoming interview for a teaching job with Nova, the once-giant, then fallen, and now rising up again English teaching giant of Japan. It’s a job that is mostly to help me stay with my fiancee until finally her American visa is approved and we can live happily ever after in suburbian USA, but while I’ve been looking for jobs in Japan for the meantime I’ve also been firing apps all over the globe for something that lets me use my science background but outside of the lab. I discovered that lab work is tedious and shitty and boring, and after years of experience I can’t help but think that the only reason undergraduates are allowed to work in them is because the robots to do the work are too expensive or haven’t been made yet. Anyway, I don’t want to work in a lab anymore, and between actually applying for jobs and continuing my Japanese studies, I have been quietly imagining what it might be like to actually be interviewed for one of the jobs that I actually want.

That leads me to more science. I am an extremely lazy person, so if I was someone hiring for the positions that I want, I would probably ask a couple of throwaway/character analysis questions like “what do you see as the future of medicine,” or something like that. Judging by my progress thusfar, I don’t have much of a chance of getting these jobs, so I am going to share my secret answers with you.

Just so you know, I’m applying mostly in the world of information retrieval for big databases and stuff that make papers accessible for smarter people than me.

It’s going to go very, very fast. Education inflation (a painful subject for me, I kind of resent that I can’t get a job with a supermajor like biochemistry and wish that someone had told me early on that I really need to add an -engineering suffix to my major to be in demand) means that people are going in to the job force with a lot of knowledge. Lots of these people are crossover computer-whatever people who are going to harness increasingly intelligent, untiring, and independent computers to do the “grunt thinking” (like taking raw data and churning it through some of the easier but time-intensive calculations for the most obvious conclusions) for them.

There are two technologies to watch over the next 10-15 years, long enough to make a real difference but far enough that the business-educated folks can’t touch them just yet. There’s Dr. Craig Ventner, a guy who has a kind of weird place in my respectometer for kind of stealing half of the data from the government-financed Human Genome Project and setting up his own company to start working on sequencing lots and lots of different creatures’ genomes. He’s since then done a lot of amazing things, the biggest and most exciting one being that of making significant steps on making customized life. Still in its early phases, it will before too long result in cells that people can build with their own experiments in mind. People doing proteomics or genomics or toxicology or the laaaaarge majority of life science will be able to reduce all of the nasty side-effecting stuff out of their cells and work one piece at a time to give them more predictable and stable systems. Not Real Live Cells, but though you can’t quite call it in vivo I think it will merit a new Latin phrase’s introduction into the common academic lexicon. In synthetica I guess. I don’t know Latin, but that feels right. His work also will lead to easy-to-control bioremediators with off switches. Good for the environment for several reasons.

There’s also some other guys, whose names I don’t know and the source for which I don’t care to google right now, who have just gotten diabetic mice to switch some of their cells to insulin-producing ones. This will, eventually, spread out to incredible tools for non-infectious diseases (diabetes for example) that will, I guarantee you, freak out the pharmacy industry like nothing else has. This means that the pharma guys are going to have to watch reeeeeally carefully what happens to the group of scientists who have done this and those who are influenced by them, and either buy them up really fast or work superdoubletime to catch up. It also means they are going to have to find a way to make the currently less-profitable but more prevalent diseases profitable.

And that brings me to the less-profitable but more prevalent diseases. I saw on one of the TED talks a speech by a guy who was promoting fairly traditional control measures against malaria. Malaria is spread by mosquitos, and in its more virulent form leaves you sick and bedridden for quite a while before it finishes you off. Thinking from the eye of the disease, he realized that the form it takes hijacks the bedridden state by making the victims vulnerable to mosquitos biting the immobile patient, then the mosquitos spread it around more. The disease LOVES people when they’re sick. But if you can keep mosquitos from biting people in bed, by putting some nets around the places where people sleep, the strains that keep people in bed won’t be as successful in reproducing. Put some nets around, and the strains that don’t make you so nasty, that let you move around freely without severe symptoms, are more successful. By keeping the poor saps that are super sick from being bitten, they promote the less deadly strains of the virus. Disease not cured, but god damn if that isn’t an improvement. He did something similar with diarrhea in South America.

So there you have it. Anybody want to hire me?