Breast Cancer Awareness for You and Me!

October 25th, 2018

This past month I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Kristi Funk, founder of the Pink Lotus Foundation, breast surgeon, and author of the book, “Breasts: An Owner’s Manual”.

It was inspiring to hear her personal story of how she came to be a breast surgeon, and how she wants to help women maintain their best breast health.

I was fascinated to hear how the majority of breast cancer is NOT the result of genetics (at least, not specific mutations, that we know of), and that lifestyle choices play a major role in this disease. Isn’t it true for so much illness these days? It seems the “Mad Men” lifestyle is not sustainable or even suggested. Too bad, although I don’t really feel so great after a three martini lunch anyway…

Dr. Funk recommends the usual suspects to stay healthy and avoid breast cancer: exercise, sleep, reduce stress, and diet. All of these are great ideas generally. And, from all that I have read, making these adjustments reduces inflammation in the body, which has been implicated in the development of many health disorders.

Now, while taking steps to lifestyle change can reduce inflammation and improve health, it is not a silver bullet. Some people have propensity to cancers, and that’s just the way it is. We still don’t know enough to say who will get it and who won’t. It’s a game of risk reduction and probabilities.

So, even though I appreciate the advice from Dr. Funk that the best way to reduce breast cancer risk is to become vegan, that is not a dietary choice that works for me, personally. I don’t eat a lot of meat (only chicken and fish, and not regularly), and because of lactose intolerance don’t eat much cheese. I love grains and fruits and vegetables… meals made from foods that people call “whole”. But, I’m going to continue to eat eggs, and the occasional slice of pizza (who am I kidding? The occasional half a pizza) because that works for me.

I want to be healthy, but I’m not going to make myself crazy trying to manage every aspect of my and my family’s diets. Life, for me, is a balance. And, I don’t think the stress of vegan meal-planning is worth the slim percentage of cancer risk reduction that diet might provide.

My favorite advice from Dr. Funk, that I will definitely make a concerted effort to follow, is to spend time with people you love. And even though they may be a source of stress for some, friends and family are a support network. They are a release valve for built-up tensions. They are people who love you in return. And, that in itself, is something to invest in.

The Pivot

August 28th, 2018

I’ve hit a moment in my life where I think it is time to make a change. I look around at the science communications landscape, and it is FULL of amazing people communicating science. The YouTube space is now overflowing with intelligent, energetic young women explaining science. And… I feel aged out.

I’m not old, but I’m not young anymore either. It’s hard to believe that I could be a mom or even grandmother to most YouTube viewers. So, why do I keep doing the same things – producing content that is now being produced by younger voices and faces?

Like I mentioned in my last post, I’ve started a small video production company, and that is part of my pivot. I can use my experience to help others tell their stories. I don’t need to be the face in front of the camera any more.

However, I like to talk with people. I like to use my voice. So, I’m considering working on new shows beyond the weekly science news of TWIS. I want to produce shows that have personal value to me, and that set me apart from the pack of youngsters I no longer fit into. I’d love your feedback on my thoughts and experiments, so that I can really figure out what works and what doesn’t.

First, I’d like to interview more people – scientists, primarily, but I’m also thinking about a focus on women and the various issues that crop up as we age. My concern here is that although this is something that I am very personally interested in, it is a HUGE shift from what I have done historically, and away from the audience that I have built up over many years. Not that it’s a bad thing to do that. It’s just fear-inducing to consider something so different.

And, second, I’d like to do something with my son. I think it would be extremely rewarding to spend time creating a science-based show with him. This would also be targeted at a different audience, but the same amount of fear isn’t there because this show wouldn’t be about me as much as something to experience with my son. He has expressed interest, but seems to like the idea of a gaming channel more than science at the moment. So, we’ll see whether this idea gets any traction.

Finally, as far as helping other scientists tell their stories goes, I’ve also been thinking about putting some videos together about story-telling and video production for science. Maybe a weekly or monthly video workshop would be helpful for people…

Anyway, it’s time to pivot. I have ideas. I just need to start moving forward on execution. And, like I said, I’d love your feedback on what you think will be both useful and enjoyable.

Shooting Systm

October 9th, 2008

A little bit of the fun that was had shooting an episode of Systm at the TechShop with Danny Fukuba. Distributed by Tubemogul.

11_Science Word 08_08_16

August 22nd, 2008

Persistent Free Radicals – Chemists have discovered a new class of air pollutant, persistent free-radicals, which form and last on fine airborne particles indefinitely, and might contribute substantially to cardio-pulmonary diseases.

Flesh-eating Bacteria’s Weapon Figured Out – Flesh-eating bacteria release a special compound called Strep pyogenes cell envelope protease or SpyCEP for short, which inactivates white blood cells and blocks the body from defending itself against the necrotizing infection.

Memory of a Robot Brain – Scientists are figuring out how the brain works by using rat brain cells to control a robot.

How to Stop Addiction – Researchers kept mice from becoming addicted to cocaine by blocking glutamate receptors on dopamine producing brain cells.

Eyes Do More than See – Mice were switched from night to daytime activity by messing with the amount of light in the room and the sensitivity of their eyes to light suggesting that they eyes play a major role in setting the body’s internal clock.

Depression is Bad for Driving – A study of 60 individuals found that people who were depressed and taking anti-depressant medication performed worse on simulated driving tests than both medicated and unmedicated individuals who weren’t depressed. So, don’t be depressed and drive.

Humans Like Pretty People – Analysis of contestant behavior on a Dutch game show called Shafted supports the idea that humans have a bias for beautiful people.

Beer Goggles – Beer goggles are for real! Drunk students rated pictures of people of both sexes more attractive.

A Reason For Sexual Preference? – Homosexual and bisexual men had female relatives with more children than heterosexual men. So, whatever makes women like men and have more children might make men like men as well.

Smell What You Like? –If you’re a woman on the contraceptive pill, you could be with the wrong partner. Women preferred different body odors before and after beginning to take the pill. It’s thought that women use smell to choose an immunologically compatible partner.

09_Science Word_08_08_12

August 21st, 2008

Science news headlines from the week of 08/12/08 with Dr. Kiki Sanford. Distributed by Tubemogul.

Formats available:Quicktime (.mov), Flash Video (.flv)

Tags: , , , ,


Show Notes:

Arsenic-eating bacteria found – Arsenic isn’t usually thought of as delicious and nutritious, but a new species of bacteria found in hot pools at Mono Lake in California thrives on the stuff, using it instead of water in the process of photosynthesis.

Cassini Takes Pictures
– The space probe Cassini imaged giant cracks in the surface of Enceladus to investigate the source of giant geysers of liquid water that shoot from the moon’s surface.

Where For Art Thou Meteorite? – Meteorites that landed here on earth are more like the space rocks in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter than like low metal content LL chondrite asteroids found closer to the earth.

Something Like a Comet – Researchers using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey reported finding a comet-like object in a 22,500 year orbit around the sun. It doesn’t have a comet tail because it never gets close enough to the sun.

How to Get There – Theoretical physicists have come up with a new idea for space travel. They suggest manipulating dark energy through another dimension of space, shrinking space in front of a ship and expanding it behind. The trouble is that it requires a quantity of energy equal to converting something like the planet Jupiter into pure energy.

Entangled particles really are “spooky” – Nothing travels faster than light, but two entangled particles separated by 18 kilometers and located in two different Swiss towns were able to communicate with instantaneous precision, thereby validating quantum mechanics and spooky action at a distance.

10_Science Word 08_08_14

August 21st, 2008

Science news headlines from the week of 08/12/08 with Dr. Kiki Sanford. Distributed by Tubemogul.

Formats available:Quicktime (.mov), Flash Video (.flv)

Tags: , , , ,


Show Notes:

Best Thing About a Big Laser – The Advanced Tactical Laser will give the United States plausible deniability, says the chief engineer of the Directed Energy Directorate in describing its benefits.

Nanotubes Are Strong – Experiments at Northwestern University proved that carbon nanotubes really are as strong as calculations predicted, and that radiation makes them even stronger. I’m still waiting for that space elevator.

A Limit to Tall –  Physics imposes a limit on the height of trees. The maximum height to which Douglas Firs should be able to transport water is between 131 to 145 meters. That’s also the limit of their height.

Nature is the Best Teacher – Scientists mimicked photosynthesis in the lab, and were able to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using the power of light.

Asphalt into Energy – Hot asphalt roads and parking lots may produce energy one day. Scientists are experimenting with the idea of adding a heat exchanger that would convert the heat absorbed by asphalt into energy.

Planet Friendly Paper Coating – A replacement for the waterproof wax coating that’s used on paper products like drink boxes has been created from the lignin of sugarcane, which unlike wax leaves the paper it coats completely recyclable.

The Effect of Climate change – A recent study found that 9 out of 10 tree species measured in the Santa Rosa mountains of California have increased the elevation of their habitat by 213 feet. The change in growing range was linked to changes in local climate.

Antarctica is not Alone – Ice cores revealed that West Antarctica is highly affected by atmospheric and oceanic changes in the tropics of the Pacific Ocean.

Dead Zones of the World – The number of oxygen poor dead zones in the world’s oceans has doubled to 400 in just the past two years. These dead zones are linked to algae blooms fed by fertilizer run-off, sewage, and the burning of fossil fuels.

This Week’s Science Word Videos Are Out!

August 14th, 2008

I’ve published another set of Science Word videos… the science headlines in brief. Here’s the first of the set of four:

Hubble Space Telescope – What’s up in space, travels 5 miles per second, and has offered us an unparalleled view of our universe? The Hubble Space telescope, which just passed 100,000 times around the planet.

Size Doesn’t Matter – In nanotech, it’s apparently not the size of the particle that determines cell penetration, but the shape. Rods do much better than spheres.

Invisibility? – Harry Potter might have worn invisibility chain mail instead of a cloak if J.K Rowling had been paying attention to science. Researchers have created a new metal material that bends light backwards through electromagnetic interactions with the light istelf.

Large Hadron Collider – The Large Hadron Collider will officially begin operations on September 10th, but won’t get to full strength until sometime next spring.

Bicycle Saddles and the Police – The results are in… bike seats without noses keep bike cops frisky. Cops testing the special saddles had less genital numbing and better penile sensation.

Is Infertility Treatment Worth It? – Intrauterine insemination was only 6% more effective in producing a live birth than no treatment at all in a group of 580 women experiencing unexplained infertility. However, women who had insemination felt more reassured during the process.

Females Are The Same – Sexual harassment doesn’t just bother human females. It also bugs female guppies who tend to prefer the risk of being eaten to hanging out around pushy males.

Complete Neanderthal Mitochondrial Genome
– The most complete and accurate Neanderthal mitochondrial genome to date was produced from a 38,000 year old fossil. Whether or not humans and Neanderthals ever got jiggy wid it is still in question.

A Pill For Alcoholics – Researchers in Oregon are testing a drug called CRF 154,526, which blocks all of the good, but none of the bad effects of alcohol– none of the euphoria, and the hangover’s still waiting. They say CRF is meant for treating hedonistic dysregulation.

Gene Link to Smoking Addiction
People who say they got hooked on the first puff of a cigarette are likely to have a gene variant called CHRNA5.
You can find this video all these places:

YouTube, MySpace, Metacafe, Google, DailyMotion, and Viddler

The Science Word – Episode #3

August 8th, 2008

First Star in Universe Grew Fast – Computer simulations suggest the first stars started small, but grew 100 times larger than our sun in just 10,000 years.

Duck-Billed Dinos Outgrew Predators – Best predator defense? Grow fast and make babies. That’s what the duck-billed hadrosaur did as it grew up to 4.4 tons in 2-3 years. Gives a new meaning to “eat my dust.”

Moss, Insect Fossils Evince Once-Living Antarctica – Researchers found freeze-dried moss, crustaceans, insects, and pollen trapped in the glacial ice. 14 million years ago Antarctica was much warmer.

Hostile-to-Life Substance Found in Martian Soil – NASA thought they could grow vegetables on Mars, but then discovered perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel, in one of their tests. They have decided to perform more tests.

Dark Energy’s Fingerprint Found in Distant Galaxies
– Researchers have made one of the most statistically probable measurements of dark energy to date, but they still don’t know what it is.

X-rays reveal Van Gogh portrait
– A particle accelerator was used to blast a Van Gogh painting with high intensity x-rays. A second painting was discovered beneath the outer surface of paint.

‘Laser jumbo’ testing moves ahead
– The US Air Force has begun fuel tests of their Airborne Laser system, which is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles from the inside of a 747 aircraft.

The Science Word

August 8th, 2008

I’m trying out something new, and hoping that it will compliment what we do on This Week in Science. Check it out!

If you’re interested in any of the stories referred to in The Science Word, here are the links:

The Cassini space probe confirmed that a lake on Saturn’s moon, Titan, is filled with pleasantly chilled liquid ethane and methane hydrocarbons, molecules thought to be building blocks for life.

NASA got past a sticky dirt problem, and identified water in the Martian soil.

After 30 years, the guitarist for Queen finished and published his doctoral thesis.

According to Australian research, playing outdoors might be good for a child’s developing eyes.

A US CDC study found that national annual HIV/AIDS rates are underestimated by 40%. Regardless of this new data, the director of the WHO, Kevin De Cock, still thinks current global estimates are good. Yes, he does.

A study doubled population estimates of the Western Lowland Gorilla, an endangered species. A report recently warned that human activity puts almost half of the world’s primate species at risk for extinction.

People weigh less in neighborhoods with sidewalks.

Opposites might attract, but Germans stay married if they are similarly agreeable and conscientious.

Blue sharks taste bad, but people are developing a taste for them because other fish are in short supply.

Hot, black smokers were found venting supercritical seawater on the bottom of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean.

Unlike freshwater turtles, the epaulette shark goes blind when oxygen levels go down.

The Russian Experience

July 28th, 2008

So, the following basically consists of my journal entries for the past month. I visited Russia, and loved it. The words that follow don’t come close to capturing everything about the experience. Unfortunately, I’m not a good enough or dedicated enough writer to get all of my thoughts down and recorded for posterity. But, it’s a start. I hope you enjoy my tales of Russia. There may be more to come. I do have hours of video that I still need to edit and upload.

Journey to Russia

I’ve wanted to travel to Russia for years. The opportunity simply has never been presented. That is, until now. Thanks to a chance email and a few conversations I am finally here. For the next three weeks, I’m teaching English to Russian science students just outside of a town called Tambov.

The program is run through a government affiliated organization called the Civilian Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), which was originally created by an act of Congress, but now gets its funding from private organizations. The goal of CRDF is assist other countries in their research needs, and in particular to help foreign scientists collaborate with their American counterparts.

Here, we (I and 8 other teachers – four scientists, four language specialists, and one director) are working with 64 students from Russian universities to improve their English language aptitude. I’ve developed my own syllabus around the idea of contemporary issues in science. Each class will focus on a different topic: “The Hobbit”/Homo floresiensis, Epigenetics, Robotics, Climate Change, and Cosmology. The flow of ideas centers around our perception of ourselves as humans and our place in the universe… pretty deep, right?

I think there is more than enough fodder for discussion within these few topics. I just hope that I can get the students talking. I’m by no means an ESL teacher, and I have relatively little training in teaching foreign students. Yet, I do have a passion for science and teaching. I hope that that will make up for what I lack in experience.
Past experience aside, this trip in itself is quite the experience so far, and promises to continue to be for the weeks to come.

I left San Francisco and the comforts of home early on a Thursday morning. The plane trip took just five hours to reach Atlanta, and thankfully I slept through most of it. I deplaned in the Atlanta airport, grabbed a bite to eat and a coffee, and headed to my connecting flight. At the gate I met a few of my fellow teachers. Everyone seemed a bit tired, but ready to get moving.

We got on our plane, and soon were on our way across the north Atlantic Ocean. The flight took about 11 hours to get to Moscow. I was entranced by the way we seemed to have the sun on a leash off the left wing of the plane. It followed us for hours, slowly inching toward the horizon. It finally hit the horizon with the most spectacular display of reds and oranges I have ever seen. It was also the longest sunset I have ever witnessed. I couldn’t take my eyes from it.

When the sun finally dipped below the horizon, the glow from the great furnace never really left the sky. Perpetual dawn/dusk was the view from my little window. I napped some, but spent many hours enjoying the rare view of such a polar experience.

Some hours later the sun decided to peek back up over the edge of the earth, and begin its climb back into the sky. We landed in full sunlight at 10:30am in the Moscow morning. From there, our little crew made it through baggage claim and customs with little trouble.

A van was waiting for us outside, which took us as swiftly as possible through the traffic jungle to central Moscow and our hotel. We met a few more team members at the hotel, rested and freshened up a bit, and then headed out into Moscow.

We drove past a few monument/memorial sights taking in everything in its Russian grandeur. Our destination for the afternoon, however, was the Red Square. St. Basil’s cathedral towered over us with its beautiful, colorful minarets. We walked through the Square and, finding an outdoor café on its perimeter, shared an hour over tasty beverages taking in the incredible location. I couldn’t help but have a glass of Prosecco. It just seemed decadent to sit on the edge of the Red Square people watching with a glass of bubbly in hand.

After the Square we headed to dinner at a Georgian restaurant. Since none of us were familiar with Georgian food our director, Stuart, ordered for us. We ended up with an amazing feast consisting of delicious dips and bread, fresh vegetables, eggplant wraps, and meat skewers that stuffed even the hungriest among us.

We left the restaurant with full bellies and emptier wallets to grab our bags from the hotel. After reloading the van with all of our bags, we headed to the train station with a stop along the way at some big giant cathedral, the name of which I can’t remember. It was big though. The story goes that there was once a giant cathedral in that same location, but it was destroyed. Then something else, I think it was a swimming pool, stood in its place for many years, until the government decided to rebuild the cathedral to its original grand design.

Now, it is a hulking figure with grand gold domes on its roof, and larger than life sized bronze figures lining its walls. We spent some time walking around this place until we couldn’t put off the train any longer.

The train station was busy as any station would be on a Friday evening. People coming into the city for a weekend of excitement, and going away from it to leave behind the constant activity of the place. We found our train (thank goodness for the Russian speaking individuals in our group. I would have floundered on my own.) with relatively little trouble. Two to a sleeping car, we distributed ourselves among the reserved bunks in our car on the train to Tambov.

Within the hour we were on our way. The Russian beers came out, and everyone seemed relaxed and happy to be traveling again. Moscow is quite a marvelous city. However, it is expensive, and not really a true representation of Russian culture. Everyone I spoke with about it agreed that getting out of Moscow was something they looked forward to.

Exhausted, we fell into our bunks around midnight. I slept fairly well considering the noise and movement of the train. I know that not many others fared as well. I woke up feeling fairly refreshed at 6am. Not able to sleep any more, I sat and read and looked out the window for the last hour or so of the ride.

We arrived in Tambov at 7:30am. Everyone in the group looked pretty haggard from the journey, but good spirits prevailed as we maneuvered our baggage off of the train and into the morning bustle of the station. Our Tambov contacts loaded us into cars and vans, and we hit the road for the camp.

The drive took us outside of Tambov into the countryside. Thirty or forty minutes later we rounded a corner that took us into the confines of a pine forest, and the facility came into view. It turns out that where we are staying is known as a sanitorium, or health camp. Good. I was just about due for a healthy retreat.

I lived in a little room at the end of a long hall on the third floor of the sanitorium. Three flights up a set of uneven stairs I turned left several times a day to head back to my space in Russia. It wasn’t much, but it was mine while we were there.

So, the rooms were dormitory style, but thank goodness I got one multiple occupancy room to myself. The students had to bunk four to a room. Some of the teachers were given nicer rooms with air conditioning, but I enjoyed my little suite. I think it was only at the end of the camp when the temperatures began to rise that I wished I had an AC unit. Aside from that, I was quite content with my balcony to the forest, my decrepit little shower (should I say orange water dispenser?), my twin bed, and the smell of sulfur and mildew.

In between classes I would come back to my room to work on class planning or to edit videos that I had taken, to read, or just to sleep sometimes. I got used to staring at the nice shade of greenish blue on the walls and ceiling. The sun coming in through the sheer floor length curtains added a certain amount of pleasant under the sea feeling to the place.

In the suite were two bedrooms; one on the left and one on the right. In the beginning, the staff had made up one bed in the bedroom on the right, but when I walked into the room I was immediately drawn to the room on the left. It was interesting to look at the two nearly identical rooms to try to discern what could possibly be the difference that made me prefer one to the other. In the end I decided that it all came down to the shade of green-blue on the walls and curtains.

In the end the room on the left was the winner. It could also be that Zoolander made me turn that way.

Oh, the cafeteria. The thing I loved most about this place was the feeling of community that it gave our camp. There really is something to be said about the sharing of food with people. It builds relationships where there were none to begin with.

I wonder how much we have lost as a society with so many living alone and eating alone. My many dinners in front of the television are a testament to the loss of communication in preference of artificial sociality. I can sit with my dearest friends and share nothing more than what we view. Each person absorbed in their own thoughts reactions to the box, ignoring the real people next to them because the person in the box is so much more entertaining.

My meals in Russia really made me stop to reconsider family, friends, and sharing of experiences.

That said, the meals themselves were very simple. Good for a carnivore, but not so good for someone who doesn’t eat meat or milk products. I waited with baited breath for eggs in the mornings, and was rewarded once or twice a week. The rest of the time it was bread, butter and cheese, and kasha (hot cereal from any number of grains).

Lunch consisted of soup and bread, and whatever starch and meat they decided to serve. Lunch was definitely the heartiest meal. But I often left it craving something more. Most likely because I was missing out on the protein front.

Dinner left me feeling like a child sent to bed without dinner most nights. I ate the bread, and I ate the potatoes, and I drank the tea.

I ate so many potatoes in Russia. Please, no more potatoes for a while. I’ll even cut down on the bread. I can’t believe that the carb addict has carbed out. I can’t wait to get home and eat red thai curry and brown rice, or a good spicy Mexican burrito, or a great Indian dinner. Yummmmm!!!

One of the best things about the sanitorium was the river. The camp was located on the banks of the river Sna. It was beautiful and peaceful; loaded with wildlife the sunsets took on a life of their own.

One of my favorite things to do was to visit the beach (they trucked in sand from somewhere the day after we arrived to make it a nice beachfront property) during the class periods I had off. All the other teachers and students were in class, but I was free. I would go to the river, lie in the sun, and swim with only my own thoughts to distract me. The quiet of the river made me smile with a simple contentment for the place I was experiencing and the life that brought me to it.

Other times at the river were more active with the students out of class or volleyball matches trying to beat the sudden Tambov heat wave of the last week of our stay. The students were all so young and lithe, bikinis and swim-trunks made me shy away from the exposure of the beach. As their teacher, I didn’t think hanging out in bikini beachwear was very appropriate.

Two days after our arrival classes began, and I was struck by the disparity between my expectations of the student proficiency level and the actuality of the situation. The students were broken up into 6 groups, A-F, with A being the highest level and F being the lowest in terms of proficiency.

I think I was lulled into a bit of a fairy tale by the people I spoke with prior to the program. They called the students scientists, but they were just students. Yes, science students, but still just students. I will reserve my consideration of the term scientist for people who are paid and practicing in the research field, or with credentials proving their experience or training.

I can’t remember if I was told the students would be working at a higher level or if I just expected them to be what with the moniker of scientist attached to their descriptions. Either way, after the first class I realized that my syllabus would have to change. The students would never be able to deal with all the work that I was expecting of them even though it would be nothing to a high level speaker/reader.

Group A was fantastic for the large part with highly functioning English speakers throughout the group. At our first meeting I realized that they would be able to converse on the most esoteric levels, which excited the scientist and theorist in me. Group F, however, was the lowest performing group as a whole. I was scared that I would not be able to perform my duties as an instructor the first time I met with them. It was like pulling teeth to get them to talk.

So, I dumped a few expected readings and added a couple of in-class activities. I think in all the changes were successful. The students responded well overall. They seemed to like my lessons, and they talked more and more as the weeks progressed. However, to do it again, I would be more prepared for the low proficiency levels with more in-class activities to get them talking and using more vocabulary words. I’m not sure if I would change my expectations for the higher level students. Maybe. There are likely to be many things I could do to get even the high level students working at an even higher level. Hmmm… for consideration in the next year maybe… 😉

The lack of internet access was both a blessing and a curse. I know that me at the distant end of a Skype connection is not what people want to listen to, but there wasn’t much else I could do. Also, the podcast was unreliably posted as a result of the computer difficulties, which I’m sure has annoyed more than a few listeners.

But, I have had a freedom from the shackles of TWIS that has been rare in the last 8 years. In Tambov am free from all the internet stuff that I’ve been working so hard on, and it has been wonderful. I have to say that I haven’t been so content in a very long time.

I wasn’t striving for anything. I wasn’t reaching for anything. I was just being and doing something I felt was worthwhile, and for the brief period that it lasted I was truly content.

The first week I did feel as though I had lost something, or that I was missing something, but once the feeling of missing faded away I was just me and my life and it was good.

I’ve been striving for some undefined thing for years. I don’t know anymore whether it’s because I want to strive or because I feel like other people expect it of me, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just something that I do. I have this thing that I want to do, but I don’t know the best way to do it, so I do everything and I work really hard at it all the time and feel really terrible that I’m not living up to this undefined goal of success. And, that’s no way to be. And, being away from the internet for the past few weeks has really made that apparent.

The internet is my soporific and my potential. Something needs to change in my relationship with technology because it is sour.

Movies and Games
The students loved all my American movies. I hosted a couple of movie nights in a large room on the second floor of the sanitorium. One of the students had the responsibility of the LCD projector, and we put together a fairly good approximation of a private movie theater with surround sound and big screen. I had a good time watching the films with the students. I wonder though how much of the movies the students understood. I’m fairly sure that they barely understood Snatch. I have a hard time with that film. They all seemed appreciative for the movies, and wanted to copy them from my hard drive. I am now an international movie pirate.

The students were from all over Russia. I had a difficult time imaging what they would be like before meeting them, but the experience taught me that Russians are as varied as Americans in their tastes, experiences, and beliefs.

Interestingly, the majority of the Russian students weren’t “Christian”. Many of them don’t even believe in God, which makes the number of Americans on Christian missions that I met in the airports and planes in my travels there and back make a bit more sense.

The students were all younger than I expected them to be. It took some adjusting to, but in the end was great. It felt good to interact with young Russia, and to know that I was helping to teach them about both science and America. Maybe my work will help our two countries get along better in the future. I know, a little pretentious thinking, but who knows.

The students were very serious about the program, which made the whole thing better for me in the end. I think that I would have been much less content if the students hadn’t been serious.

The teachers were a great bunch of people: Serious Stuart who led us all with a professionalism I didn’t know was possible; Steven who brought us all together and really was our glue; Michelle the linguist; Wes the Republican; Don the Quaker; Joanna the poet; Eric the sporty lawyer; Mike the color scientist who never failed to surprise; and me, the internet and science news junkie.

We all got along, which was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t spend time with everyone equally, but I did have some good times with everyone. Beers with with Wes, Mike, and Don; coffee with Stuart and Steven; walks and champagne with Michelle; beach with Joanna and Eric.

And then there was volleyball. I haven’t played v-ball in years. And here in the forest of Tambov I was on a team because they needed two girls on the team, and Michelle didn’t want to play. It turned out to be fun even though every fiber of my brain and body wanted to run away from the team involvement.

I didn’t want to be so attached to something here in this place in the middle of Russia, but I was. It was fun, too, so what was my problem? We played well, not great, but well. I made some good plays. We made it to the finals in our camp tournament beating every other team at least once.

That felt good, but I couldn’t help but be on the side of the students. We gave the students homework, and then we beat them at sport in their freetime. What a downer. I was secretly happy when one of the student teams finally beat us in the final set. And, it was group F’s team. How great that the lowest of the English speaking groups could totally own us on the sandy volleyball court?!? It made the students so happy to win.

I couldn’t relate to the competitive streak in the other teachers who actually wanted to win against the students. What would that have accomplished?

Day in Tambov
Two weeks into the routine of our English camp we had a break for a day, and got to go into Tambov for some sightseeing. Unfortunately, the Tambov State Technical University found out that we were coming to town, and scheduled the teachers for a tour of various departments at the University.

Blah, blah, blah… I can appreciate all the work they are doing to make their university more of a world-class institution (They were the first to bring internet to that local area in Russia), but it felt like one of those time-share seminars you have to sit through to get a free dinner or trip to Hawaii. But, instead, we just got to be in Tambov, and had to miss most of the free day for the seminar.

I think I would have rather gone with the students to see Hancock in a bad Russian dub instead. But, no luck, it was a morning of the Russian insititutional system.

In the afternoon we got a taste of Russian pizza. Kind of like focaccia bread with stuff on it, but it was good. Then we wandered around the streets of Tambov, viewing the sights, and buying tchotchkies for friends and family at home.

At one point we wandered into the park and came across the first gypsies of our time in Russia. They are so beautiful and pitiful, and I wanted to give them everything I had. The childrens’ eyes pleaded with us as we walked past, but I had nothing to give. Nothing that they wanted anyway, so on I walked feeling the pain of their needing and my own remorse that people have to need at all.

Last day in Moscow
The last day in Tambov was definitely bittersweet. So many students were so sad at the fact that the program was coming to an end. Many of the girls were driven to tears when people started the process of filing onto the buses that would take us to the train.

The awards ceremony on the last day was the sweetest moment of the three week program. I never really understood before those last moments how much the camp meant to some of the kids. It really was the only experience of that kind that they had ever had. Most of the students had never left their home villages or towns and were studying at a local university. The idea of “going away” to college had no meaning for them. This camp was the furthest they had ever been away, and maybe ever would be.

I can only hope that the itch to experience more from life has been planted, and that I might see them again someday as fully realized scientists on the international scene.

The train took us overnight to Moscow. I had originally planned to spend time with some of the students in Moscow, but the situation didn’t work out as planned and we all ended up going our separate ways in the early morning hour of our train’s arrival into Moscow.

The stark morning lighting matched the mood of the separation. But, it was good to sever the cord and let the students go. I will see who stays in touch and who does not.

I spent the day wandering through Moscow with Michelle. We both had flights out the next day, so it seemed natural to share these last moments in Russia together. We visited the Darwin Museum, and I got to look at beautifully preserved bird specimens. It seems like such an arcane way to study animals; kill them and stuff them and put them in a glass case. Anyway, I did enjoy the museum. Then we ate at a Russian cafe, and bought vodka to bring home as gifts. I fell asleep for a couple of hours back at the hotel, and then Michelle and I shared a glass of champagne in the late evening. Michelle and I wandered around a bit more, and finally turned in for the night. I couldn’t sleep, so I went back out for more walking. The streets were dark and deserted at 11pm on Sunday night. It was a little unnerving to be out alone in this strange city, so I headed back to the hotel and to bed.

I woke up early so that I could try my walk again. This time it was much better. People were just heading to work. Some people were out for their morning runs. Just like any other city. But, not like any other city. The morning light is different this far north. The signs on the buildings, the advertising banners, the street signs; all of these things are different. The sounds in this city are different. Car horns, cell phones, the voices sound different.

I soaked up the similarities one last time, and then went to the hotel to catch my cab to the airport.

And Home
I guess the question is whether knowing what I know now about the program would I return next year? I don’t know. It was good for me as a person and as a teacher, but not so much for me as the video/radio personality.

So, on the plane I’m struck by the distance between the USA and Russia. Culturally there are some but not many points of discrepancy. Mainly, I’m struck by the language barrier. That one thing plus history remains a major factor in the future of relations between these two amazing countries. The dollar is low these days, so it’s pretty much the same experience in Moscow as in San Francisco if you’re out for a night out. If you want to be a high roller, it’s the same anywhere.

Checking the price of gas on the way out of Moscow, it was 25.00 rubles per liter. That’s about the same as a 4-5 dollars for a gallon of gas. We have officially caught up to (slowed down so others could reach us?) the rest of the world.

People want the USA to stay ahead of the rest of the world with an amazing exchange rate and luxury exports, but the reality of our planet is finally catching up to us. We need to pay for what we use. And, we use a lot, so lets ante up.

The moral of the story is that people are people, wherever you go. Nobody wants to give up what they have, but if we don’t do something who will have anything in the future?

24 hours of travel and I’m home, jiggety-jig.