about a newly discovered nickel-eating plant

metal eating plant1

a new species of nickel hyperaccumulating plant, rinorea niccolifera, was recently discovered in the philippines <specifically in zambales province in luzon>\ by a team of scientists led by dr. edwino s. fernando of the university of the philippines in los banos / the new species can consume, without poisoning itself, 100 to 1000 times more metal than other plants \ nickel hyperaccumulation is a rare phenomenon / discoveries such as this offer exciting possibilities of practical applications: hyperaccumulator plants as green technology \ such as phytoremediation which is the use of hyperaccumulator plants to remove heavy metals in contaminated soil and phytomining which is growing & harvesting hyperaccumulator plants for the purpose of gathering commercially valuable metals

my work colleagues and i were recently pondering what the next advances in technology will be as we discussed the atlanticcities.com’s recent article on google’s driverless car \ my favorite analyst feels that it would be in transportation <love his example of “car drops me off at the airport, i tell it to go home & pick me up later,  i won’t have to pay for parking!” | then we got to thinking, hey car can take us to & from work!  we won’t have to pay for parking!> / i agree that it would be in this realm & also that we will increasingly have mobile-enabled houses & appliances that are also economically viable

and there will always be the promise of new possibilities, cures  & innovations as a result of the global scientific community’s continuing exploration, study & research of the natural world such as discovering nickel-eating plants


a pdf of the journal article is here:


pope francis | a person for the times

poy map geotagged tweets

the map above shows a dynamic timeline* of geo-tagged tweets when pope francis, leader of the catholic world, was selected as time’s person of the year \ i applaud the choice | although i am now just a statistical catholic, i applauded too when jorge mario bergoglio, a jesuit & non-european, was made pope / i saw it as a hopeful sign that the catholic church could be relevant again \ not that it personally matters to me anymore but as an observer of the goings-on in our world

* go here for dynamic rendition:  https://g.twimg.com/blog/blog/image/Screen_Shot_2013-12-11_at_2.35.49_PM.png

pope francis’s relevance was demonstrated to me by his first apostolic exhortation which denounced economic systems that fostered inequality \ “The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption….I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings”


i spent my formative years in the philippines where church & faith were less about personal redemption but rather was channeled towards helping others <love your neighbor as you love yourself> as a young adult, i was exposed to the catholic church’s social teaching that espoused the preferential option for the poor / that made sense to me seeing how the poor in my surroundings struggled to survive day to day and i believed that the role of the church – meaning the institution & its people – is to help those in need \ the practice of faith in the u.s. is quite different and reflects its history & culture / faith is the path to personal salvation & redemption <from what? is my question> \ i simply cannot relate to that expression of faith <i prefer to live my life as a humanist for the here and now>

in my opinion, pope francis is the first modern pope | a pope for the times because he chose to take on the 800 pound gorilla / inequality due to failings of political and economic systems continue to prevail in many parts of the world \ i am therefore not surprised by the mostly positive reaction <especially in the developing world where most catholics are represented> to time’s choice of pope francis as person of the year / i am not surprised either by the labeling of his pronouncements as an attack on capitalism \ it seems that in this country anytime one shows compassion for the poor and less privileged, one is labeled anti-capitalist, socialist, marxist

it would be optimistic to expect a 2000 year old institution like the catholic church to be in sync with the times any time soon or to move the debate away from what to me are less important, luxurious issues such as abortion, gay marriage & ordination of women as clerics\ but will pope francis be the transformational figure that the church needs to be relevant again to people like me? / just a rhetorical question…

the virtue of competitive sports

fast pools

one of the most apparent differences between our educational system vs. asian countries is the greater importance we give to sports than academics / significant time & resources are channeled to sports in schools & colleges \ our society expects no less and parents enthusiastically sign up their children starting at pre-school in at least one sport / on the other hand, i grew up in a culture & educational system that emphasized academics over & above other pursuits \ and so i have had to balance my belief that a strong academic foundation is significantly more important than excelling in sports with the need to accommodate the norm

happily, my favorite young athletes who are passionate about swimming are also good students and well-rounded, really nice persons / the swim season started last month \ they’ve already gone to away-meets in cleveland and a “fast” meet is upcoming this weekend at the university of pittsburgh trees hall / they attend swim practice 5 to 10 times a week | one is at the pool at 5:30 a.m | impressively, they swim 5 to 7 miles on a typical practice day! \ on top of that, they are violinists in the school orchestra and their grades are mostly A’s / an aside:  they are not unique in what they do, their peers in school pretty much carry similar loads of activity 

competitive swimming has instilled in them virtues that some adults would take a lifetime to acquire or not / self-motivation, self-confidence, determination, perseverance, strong work ethic \ moreover, the demands of being an athlete have all encompassing benefits to their physical and mental well-being & health <a plus with swimming is the lower chance of serious injuries compared to other sports>

our dismal performance in international academic tests* does not bother me as much as it used to / because i know that there are many factors that contribute to our youth’s success \ it will not hinge solely on academic prowess / equally important are creativity, innovativeness & independence of spirit <fostered by rich & challenging experiences> and the virtues that participation in competitive sports bestow
* subject of 12/4/13 blogpost much ado?

much ado?

much ado?

the latest results of the programme for international student assessment < pisa > once again reminds us that we suck in math and science / while my colleague who is asian like me gets riled up in frustration with news such as this, i have resorted to creative pondering | are we placing too much stock on these tests?  \ despite our youth’s mediocre performance for the past 50 years, the u.s. has driven the digital & information technology innovations of the past decade | with profound consequences to the world or to be more dramatic, to humankind / the atlantic article below expresses similar sentiment


there is an indomitable creative & innovative spirit in this country that is unparalleled elsewhere \ i do not mean to rationalize our mediocre performance and it’s imperative that we radically improve our educational system / but we should also recognize that equally, if not more important, are the qualities of creativity and innovativeness that has served us so well \ formal schooling alone does not bequeath these qualities / rather our culture of individualism & independence engenders this bold, pioneering ethos that continues to propel us forward despite our academic failings

and my proposed short-term solution as a hedge to our math/science problem:  grant u.s. citizenship to newly minted phds in the math | science | engineering fields and provide incentives for them to live & work here

my space going the way of myspace

open workspace

my architect rowmate has unknowingly agitated me by reminding me that my happy days of having an office in the workplace are numbered / his firm’s latest project was to design a prominent accounting firm’s new corporate headquarters \  the trend in recent years has been open workspace and low walled cubicles < if there are cubes at all > rendering workers with little or no private space in the name of “collaborative work” / ugh | doesn’t management understand that open space is not for everybody?

being an analyst and researcher, most of the time i spend working requires focused concentration <reading papers, writing code and analyzing data>   \  i have a little over two years to enjoy my space <and my view of pnc park and the allegheny river>  / though pictures of open workspaces look nice, search results show much negative sentiment among workers  \ there probably is not much that workers can do to reverse this cost-savings trend / but if privacy becomes a perk, maybe it will soon become a part of job negotiations…



jan 2014 new yorker article on the detrimental effect of open workspace:


google=nefarious cookie monster


i could have titled this post “the price of information” or “the cost of your digital life” but google’s actions that i had not known before today galled me / the news was about google’s $17mm settlement with the attorney general for bypassing the privacy settings of safari users / they installed doubleclick <ad server> cookies without informing users \ safari to me is like a safe haven from google eyes / and this revelation is disconcerting

since google changed its privacy policies more than a year ago, their placement of highly relevant, well-timed banner ads wherever i go in my non-apple devices is not helpful but creepy and annoying / i can fend for myself, thank you \ it’s like the obtrusive salesperson tailing you when you just want to be left alone / and how much do they know? \ coincidentally, i had just deleted my facebook account / though i kept mostly to myself, facebook is still too loud and too intrusive of my space \ i find the newsfeed too pushy and on the whole, this facebook thing is too social for me

so in exchange for information and a digital life are bits of yourself | the onus is on the user to keep these bits private as one desires / i have made it a practice to regularly delete cookies and to use in-private browsing in explorer, incognito window in chrome and private in safari \ but all these precautions are probably moot / google won’t need, doesn’t need cookies \ they can already track us with our omnipresent devices

google’s iphone tracking


the total settlement is a trivial $40mm