Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Atheism. Srsly.

Via Terahertz via Friendly Atheist:

How serious do you take your atheism?

Let’s find out.

Copy and paste the list below on your own site, boldfacing the things you’ve done. (Feel free to add your own elaboration and commentary to each item!)

  1. Participated in the Blasphemy Challenge.
  2. Met at least one of the “Four Horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) in person.
  3. Created an atheist blog.
  4. Used the Flying Spaghetti Monster in a religious debate with someone.
  5. Gotten offended when someone called you an agnostic.
  6. Been unable to watch Growing Pains reruns because of Kirk Cameron.
  7. Own more Bibles than most Christians you know.
  8. Have at least one Bible with your personal annotations regarding contradictions, disturbing parts, etc.
  9. Have come out as an atheist to your family.
  10. Attended a campus or off-campus atheist gathering.
  11. Are a member of an organized atheist/Humanist/etc. organization.
  12. Had a Humanist wedding ceremony
  13. Donated money to an atheist organization.
  14. Have a bookshelf dedicated solely to Richard Dawkins. (Not really, but I do own books by him OTHER than The God Delusion)
  15. Lost the friendship of someone you know because of your non-theism.
  16. Tried to argue or have a discussion with someone who stopped you on the street to proselytize.
  17. Hid your atheist beliefs on a first date because you didn’t want to scare him/her away.
  18. Own a stockpile of atheist paraphernalia (bumper stickers, buttons, shirts, etc).
  19. Attended a protest that involved religion
  20. Attended an atheist conference.
  21. Subscribe to Pat Condell’s YouTube channel
  22. Started an atheist group in your area or school.
  23. Successfully “de-converted” someone to atheism.
  24. Have already made plans to donate your body to science after you die. (Considering it)
  25. Told someone you’re an atheist only because you wanted to see the person’s reaction.
  26. Had to think twice before screaming “Oh God!” during sex. Or you said something else in its place.
  27. Lost a job because of your atheism.
  28. Formed a bond with someone specifically because of your mutual atheism (meeting this person at a local gathering or conference doesn’t count). (There are lots of reasons Jess and I got along so well when we met but both of us being atheists was a major one)
  29. Have crossed “In God We Trust” off of — or put a pro-church-state-separation stamp on — dollar bills.
  30. Refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (Or Canadian national anthem)
  31. Said “Gesundheit!” (or nothing at all) after someone sneezed because you didn’t want to say “Bless you!”
  32. Have ever chosen not to clasp your hands together out of fear someone might think you’re praying.
  33. Have turned on Christian TV because you need something entertaining to watch
  34. Are a 2nd or 3rd (or more) generation atheist.
  35. Have “atheism” listed on your Facebook or dating profile — and not a euphemistic variant.
  36. Attended an atheist’s funeral (i.e. a non-religious service).
  37. Subscribe to an freethought magazine (e.g. Free Inquiry, Skeptic) (Nope, but I usually pick up a copy of Skeptical Inquirer when Im at Chapters)
  38. Have been interviewed by a reporter because of your atheism.
  39. Written a letter-to-the-editor about an issue related to your non-belief in God.
  40. Gave a friend or acquaintance a New Atheist book as a gift.
  41. Wear pro-atheist clothing in public.
  42. Have invited Mormons/Jehovah’s Witnesses into your house specifically because you wanted to argue with them.
  43. Have been physically threatened (or beaten up) because you didn’t believe in God.
  44. Receive Google Alerts on “atheism” (or variants). (Not anymore though)
  45. Received fewer Christmas presents than expected because people assumed you didn’t celebrate it.
  46. Visited The Creation Museum or saw Ben Stein’s Expelled just so you could keep tabs on the “enemy.”
  47. Refuse to tell anyone what your “sign” is… because it doesn’t matter at all.
  48. Are on a mailing list for a Christian organization just so you can see what they’re up to…
  49. Have kept your eyes open while you watched others around you pray.
  50. Avoid even Unitarian churches because they’re too close to religion for you.
And the scoring system:
0-10: Impressive, but not too far from agnosticism.
: You are, literally, a “New Atheist.” But you now have something to strive for! Go for the full 50!
: You are an atheist, but babies aren’t running away from you. Yet.
: You are the 5th Horseman! Congratulations!
: PZ Myers will now be taking lessons from you

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Relativity explained in four letter words.

Ever wanted to try and understand relativity but just couldn't get your head around the complicated terminology and somewhat abstract thinking? Then this is for you:

Short Words to Explain Relativity

Brian Raiter has written up a great explanation of relativity, and to the delight of laymen out there, it's written entirely in words that contain four letters or less.

It's a great read. So what are you waiting for? Go read it!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

You think I can get this on a shirt?

Taken from Komplexify:

Botox: If they only knew...

Humans are vain creatures. Perhaps only cats can tie humans on the vanity scale. And because we're so vain, we (or at least a select demographic) have become accustomed to poking, prodding, nipping, tucking, and injecting to make ourselves look younger and more beautiful. I'm talking, of course, about cosmetic surgery. It's reported that in the U.S alone, 11 million cosmetic surgeries were done in 2006. It's hardly a small industry.

But of all the different procedures which have become commonplace in the world of cosmetic augmentation, one has become particularly popular in the recent years: Botox.

Botox is a treatment used to get rid of unwanted wrinkles. Supposedly, it works well, because I doubt it would be so popular if it didn't. But there is one important fact about Botox that I don't believe many people who undergo the treatments ever ask themselves: what, exactly, is Botox?

To answer that, first we have to take a look at the lovely bacterium Clostridium botulinum (see the lovely image to the right), or rather what C. botulinum is best known for: it's toxin. If you or your parents or grandparents have ever made canned or jarred preserves, or if you have ever bought any from a farmer's market, then you are probably familiar with one big danger of eating such foods - botulism. If canned/jarred foods are not prepared correctly, you run the risk of contamination by C. botulinum. When ingested, the bacterium produce a toxin known as botulinum toxin, leading to botulism. Botulism is no simple food poisoning, either. Botulism is deadly. It causes a paralysis of the muscles and is very often deadly. It's so deadly that a 12oz glass of botulinum toxin is enough to kill every single person on the planet.

To understand the mechanism by which botulinum toxin (BTX) works, I should first explain a bit about how neurons work. When a signal is transferred from one neuron to another, it relies on the function of a neurotransmitter called acetlycholine (ACh). In general (and this is pretty general; I won't go into action potential polarization/depolarization), when an impulse travels down the axon of a neuron, it allows for ACh to be released across the synapse (the synapse is the space between the axon of one neuron and where it touches another). When the ACh reaches the surface of the next neuron, it binds to cellular receptors which signal to the neuron to continue the impulse, and the process continues from neuron to neuron. The whole process hinges on ACh being released and passed on to the next neuron down the line.

Inside of a neuron, ACh is stored in "synaptic vesicles". Think of them as little membrane-bound spheres that hold ACh until it's needed. In order for the ACh to go from inside the synaptic vesicle to the outside of the neuron, the vesicles bind and fuse to the axon membrane, releasing the ACh into the synapse. This process of binding and fusing is facilitated by two key proteins: synaptobrevin and SNAP-25. Synaptobrevin is a VAMP, or Vesicle-Associated Membrane Protein. In other words, Synaptobrevin sits on the outside of the synaptic vesicle. SNAP-25 sits on the cytoplasmic face of the axonal membrane. These two proteins interact with each other; synaptobrevin latches on to SNAP-25 to form what's known as a SNARE complex. The formation of this complex is what allows the synaptic vesicle to bind and fuse with the cellular membrane.

If all of that confused you, then let me put it in simpler terms. Synaptobrevin on the vesicle anchors onto SNAP-25 in the axon, allowing the vesicle to attach to the cellular membrane. The two fuse and ACh is released into the synapse. The nerve impulse is allowed to continue.

This is where botulinium toxin comes in. The BTX toxin is actually a protein consisting of two chains: the light chain and the heavy chain. The heavy chain is responsible for getting BTX into neurons; it binds to structures on the surface of the neuron, whereby it is internalized by endocytosis. Next, it's the light chain's turn to do it's dirty work. The light chain of the toxin actually works as a protease (that is, it cleaves proteins). The protein of choice of the light chain actually depends on the type of BTX toxin in question. BTX-A will cleave SNAP-25, whereas BTX-B will cleave synaptobrevin. Either way, the consequence should be obvious. With one of the components of the SNARE complex missing, the synaptic vesicles cannot bind and fuse, and ACh can no longer be released into the synapse.

This is bad news. With ACh being trapped inside of the neurons, neuronal impulses cannot be sent from one neuron to the next. This means that you can no longer send signals to your muscles telling them to relax or contract. You become completely paralyzed.

But what does all of this have to do with Botox, you ask? Well, Botox is simply a brand name for none other than botulinum toxin. It's actually botulinum toxin that cosmetic surgeons inject into your skin to make those wrinkles disappear. Wrinkles are caused by overactive muscles, and by injecting Botox, one can force them to relax and *poof*, no more wrinkles.

It is perfectly safe: the amount of toxin used is very small, and poses no significant health risks.
Nevertheless, I can't help but think that the popularity of Botox treatments would be on the rapid decline if more people knew that they were actually injecting the world's most toxin protein into their faces.