LEVI McPHERSON, a graduate student of analytical chemistry at the University of North Central Florida, is approached by agents of the Homeland Security’s Counter-terrorism Unit. The agency is recruiting Lee to study and expose the loopholes of screening instruments in airports. Struggling financially, he accepted the offer, making him a paid, benevolent hacker of the nation’s gateway. Yet Levi is horrified when an Airbus from Los Angeles disintegrated in mid-air.

At 40, when everybody’s career trajectory is going up, Levi’s still a poor graduate student, struggling financially. His research projects however, are worth million dollars. Researching the highly classified and heavily guarded secrets of detecting traces of explosives, what Lee know was a goldmine. The agency's offer is his financial break . So Levi tackles the problem like a scientist, detailing the loopholes of the aviation security and turning what he knew into a big time money machine.

JIM and JONATHAN of the counter-terrorism unit, where nowhere to be found after Charlotte International Airport, a hub of Delta Airlines closed abruptly because of instrument malfunctions in their security lines. And in a post-Osama Bin Laden’s era, the biggest blow to the United Stated after the 9/11 disaster comes unexpectedly when a passenger plane blew up in the skies of Washington D.C., in the heart of the nation.

Levi knew it was only the start of more troubles, so he recruits his fellow graduate students to counter the future attacks. They have to think like criminals—and scientists too. With the help of FBI counter-terrorism experts, Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency, the team races to close and plug the loopholes Lee identified.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Reversing Reverse Culture Shock

"So you forgot how to live in your own country", my research groupmate concluded, after telling him I experienced a reverse culture shock during my month long vacation in the Philippines.
Psychologists tend to over analyze everything, and I thought culture shock is just a made-up word. (Examples of these words are "overweight", "obese" and " morbidly obese". Can you distinguish the key differences? South Park made fun of these words). These words don't mean anything until it hits you.
Culture shock, in a not so text book definition is a "feeling of confusion and disorientation when one moves from a familiar environment to a new setting where language, food, clothing and even the culture of the people are different".

MY REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK. December of 2007, after 5 years in the US, I experienced first hand the Philippines again. My friend was right, I forgot how to live in my own country. I forgot how bad the traffic was. I can’t even imagine driving in Manila highways. My cousin summed it better: if you can drive in Manila, you can drive anywhere in the world. True.
If in the U.S., red light is a stop, in Manila, it means 3 more cars can pass through. If in Boston, using a signal light to change your lane is a sign of weakness, in Manila, there’s no lane. Every space available in the road is occupied, by vendors in the sidewalk and motorcycles in the middle (motorcycles are called ‘insects’ of the road).
Before, I knew that time in the Philippines warp. I forgot about the concept of Pilipino time when my brother was teasing me for being early for a dentist’s appointment. In the U.S., 5 minutes early for an appointment is considered late, because you have to fill up paper works. In addition, being late is rude, tantamount to showing no respect to other people's schedule. In the Philippines, however, it’s better to be late in order not to waste your time waiting. To paraphrase: It’s better to waste other people time, than waste your time, waiting for being early.
I just stayed in Manila for a month and I’m still in the state of shock, but, I guarantee you, I can recover. Give me a few weeks and I will be driving like Manila drivers do, give me a few months and I will be jay walking in no time (in Pilipino time fashion).
MY CULTURE SHOCK. Rewind five years ago. August of 2002, when I first arrived in Orlando to study for the fall semester. I was amazed how clean the place was—not polluted and less traffic— relative to Manila. Pedestrians follow their lane, automobile respect the pedestrian lanes.
Although I was excited, I started to see the differences between my new environment and my culture.
In general, Americans are unbelievably wasteful: my roommates, more often than not, don't turn off their ceiling fan or TV when they go to work/school. They use automobile all the time, even throwing their trash to the dumpster.
And in the dumpster, especially at the end of the semester, I see a lot of good computer tables, chairs and sofas, ready to be discarded. Americans move a lot, and they often throw away things—even if it’s still reusable—than pay for shipping.
I questioned their eating habits. How can they survive with burgers and fries during lunch time and dinner? I’m so used to rice, vegetables and meat (even breakfast). Is it me or them?
Changing gear to sex, Americans do have an active sex life, at least in reference to my roommates who were college students. There were several times that I woke up in the wee hours of the morning because of the moans from sex at the other room. Picture this also, a bed rocking at high noon. Can they just be discreet?
I’ll campaign (since I can't vote), for senators who are willing to pass a bill requiring college apartments to install sound proof rooms. If they can require smoke alarm to every apartment, they should sound proof the room too. Waking up in the middle of the night from sex moan, squeaking of a bed and a head banging in the head board, is equivalent to slow death.
One peculiar thing to me because it's the exact opposite for Pilipinos, is that Americans worship the sun to, work on their tan. Pinoys pay for whitening products (such as lotion or vitamins) to whiten their skin. Americans consider walking under the sun with an umbrella wierd; I look at Americans lying in the pool side sunbathing as skin cancer.
Before, I have the impression that Americans are so polite, until I realized that "How are you?" or "What's up?" are considered greetings equivalent to "hi" or "hello". It's rude to say "What's up?" and not expect a response. It's hard to comprehend those things being an alien in a strange land.
After 5 years in the U.S., for sure I recovered already from the culture shock. But did I assimilate the American way of living? I don’t know yet.
If eating burgers and fries in your car is a measure of assimilation, then I’m not yet fully assimilated. I don’t do it often. If knowing the rules of American Football or starting to call burger, coke and fries “fine dining” a measure of assimilation, I’m close. I still eat a lot of rice though.
I hate to admit this but I been throwing my garbage using my car, and greeting strangers"what's up?!" without looking at the person and not expecting a response.

Taga LB ka kung

(From an email)
Taga-UPLB ka kung...
1. Kilala mo si Mang Pogs.
2. Nalilito ka kung saan nakalagay ang banga niMariang Banga.
3. Tubig na lang ang tingin mo sa gin.
4. Ginamit mong reviewer ang mga old exams para sa mgamidterms, prefi at finals sa math, stat, chem,physics, eco etc.
5. Hindi ka sumasagot ng UP (yupeee) kapag tinanong kakung saan ka graduate.hahaha! sagot mo elbi.
6. Taga-elbi ka kapag kilala mo yung professor nanagbi-bike ng naka-barong na kupas. (Si climax!kalahating albert einstein, kalhating mang pandoy)
7. Ok lang pumasok sa mga klase kahit naka pambahay/pantulog attire ka.
8. Pag nagtanong si manong driver ng "may animal badyan?", at may sumagot ng "meron po" ay di ka natawa.
9. Pag nagtanong uli si manong driver ng "may mens badyan?", at may sumagot uli ng "meron po" ay di kanatawa.
10. Di ka nahihiyang magbitbit ng malaking payong.
11. Taga-elbi ka kung pagkatapos mong magbakasakalikay Mang Pogs, diretso ka na kay Mr. Midnight
12. Bumibili ka ng blue book sa Coop.
13. Alam mong hindi pwedeng ibato ang Batong Malaki.
14. Nung pinanood mo ang movie ni aga at regine nashot at elbi (sa may gaygay gowns) at nagtawag ng taxisi regine e nagtawanan kayo ng mga taga-LB at cluelessang iba.
15. Alam mo kung nasaan ang White House.
16. May tanline ka ng tsinelas.
17. Alam mong mas masarap ang pancit canton na nilutosa 'heater cup'
18. Sanay ka maglakad.
19. Thursday night ang gimik night mo.
20. Alam mo na ang pinakamalaking banyo ay ang Ellen'sFried Chicken, at Sizzler's ang tinitingalang kainan.
21. Kilala mo sina Saniano Boy at Girl.
22. Alam mo kung nasaan ang "Johnson".
23. Alam mo ang kaibahan ng dalawang Flatrocks.
24. Kaya mong pumasok ng hindi naliligo.
25. Alam mong si Carasus at Pegabao ay iisa.
26. Alam mong ok lang na pumunta sa Maahas.
27. Tumatambay ka sa APEC para mag inom.
28. Alam mo kung nasaan ang Fertility Tree, Kwek Kwek Tower, at ang Templo ni Bruce Lee.
29. Tuloy ang klase kahit signal number 3 na.
30. Alam mo kung saan ang pilahan ng jeep papuntang IRRI, Forestry, o kaya ay Jamboree...
31. Hindi ka kumakain ng buko pie.
32. Alam mo na bago pa man nauso ang unli rice sa Tokyo Tokyo, marketing strategy na ito ng SaladCountry.
33. Hinahanap-hanap mo ang chocolate cake saMer-Nel's.
34. Alam mong bawal tumawid sa UPLB Gate(main), mula Guard House papuntang harap ng Carabao Park...
35. Alam mong may oras lang na pwede kumain sa IRRIpag di ka IRRI employee.
36. Sanay ka maglagay ng Knorr Seasoning sa kanin.
37. Alam mong ang hanging bridge ay di talaga nakahang..
38. Alam mong hindi lang dalawang pulgada ang layo ngBayog sa Anos.
39. Kapag nate-take mo na di magpalit ng pantshanggang ilang araw.. hehe..
40. Alam mo kung nasaan ang tatlong Ellen's friedchicken sa LB.
41. Apektado ka sa pagsasara ng ic's
42. Pag may sakit ka, hindi ka pupunta "infirmary"except lang pag kukuha ka ng excuse slip.
43. Marami kang alam na ghost stories, sa ilag's, samen's dorm, sa faculty village, sa may social gardenetc...
44. Pag umihi ka na sa gilid ng SU (tuwing feb fair).
45. Alam mo na ang tunog ng pillbox. (rambol!)
46. Taga lb ka kapag kilala mo si "manang slow"..
47. Hindi mo na naabutan ang Vega mall at Robinson's.
48. Taga elbi ka kapag mas gusto mong tumambay pag feb fair kesa manood ng kung anuman sa stage.
49. Kaya mong i-identify ang specie at subspecie ngbawat punong nadadaanan mo.
50. Alam mo na ang shortest way sa papuntang st.therese from Hum ay ang dirt road...
51. Taga-elbi ka kapag alam mo kumbaket maramingnatatalisod sa raymundo gate.
52. Hindi mo kailangan ng rason para uminom ... hindimo na rin keilangan ng mesa pag iinom (... hindi mona rin minsan kailangan ng baso ).
53. Alam mo kung nasaan ang Soils.
54. Mas trip mo mag-redhorse kesa mag San Mig Light.
55. Kung di man natuloy ay binalak mong umakyat ngpeak two.
56. Taga elbi ka pag nakakita ka ng snow pag summer(yun yung bulak na nagkalat sa campus... kapok).
57. Taga-elbi ka rin pag handa mong gawin ang lahatpag nag-peprerog ka makakuha ka lng ng slot sa subjectna yon (lalo na pag GE).
58. Alam mo kung saan makakabili ng masarap na provenat chicken skin--> dun malapit sa white house.
59. Alam mong ang devcom ay dating under ng ca.
60. Mas enjoy mo ang gimik sa apartment compared tobars and restos.
61. Alam mong ang "audi" at DL Umali Hall ay iisa.
62. Alam mong may gasolinahan sa loob ng campus (salikod ng CEAT).
63. Sineryoso mo na kailangan may kasama kang date pagdrill night.
63. Alam mo kung nasaan ang Ilag's, Raymundo's atCatalan.
64. Dismissed ka na pero sa elbi ka pa rin nakatira.
65. Alam mo kung nasaan ang Batcave.
66. Gusto mong pasabugin ang PhySci building.
67.Alam mong ang LB Square ay dating vacant lot napuro talahib.
68. Nakapanood ka na ng sine sa Agrix.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


One of my committee members*, who make a living doing Mass Spectrometry, once told me that one of his hobbies is scour the internet for definitions of 'mass'. He dealt with mass all his life and wants to know what really mass is. Pretty geeky but real. (On the other hand, one of my friends look for other variations of the Murphy's Law from the net.)

Honestly, have you ever wondered what causes the scale to read 150 lbs or so at your bathroom scale every time you stepped into the platform? It is adeceivingly simple question but science hasn’t really pinpointed what causes mass. Our definition of mass is primitive. Newton relates mass to force and acceleration (F=ma), while Einstein's famous equation relates mass to energy and speed of light (E=mc2) . Schrodinger has a complicated and intimidating equation butstill the equation still relates mass to something.

So what is mass? Mass is a mess (1). According to Ernst Mach, we only measure mass as ratios and one scientist jokingly concluded that "mass is what makesthe large sofas hard to push" (2). Again, we still didn't answer the question "what is mass?". I likened that question to a scene in the movie "Anger Management", when Jack Nicholson, the therapist, posed a question "Who are you?" to Adam Sandler. Sandler answered " I am Dave Buznik...." then Nickolson interupted "I didn't ask for your name". When Sandler continued telling the therapist he's a businessman, Nicholson interrupted "I didn't ask what you do". Sandler was irritated.

No doubt, the question "What is mass?" irritated the science community. So once and for all, they collaborated and try to find the "Higgs Boson", The "Higgs Boson"is allegedly responsible for mass. The Higgs came about from the ideas of theoretical physicist Peter Higgs. Theoretical physicist makes a living by making upsome things, and since "Higgs Boson" is a made up thing supported only by beautiful mathematics, everybody is hoping that it exist and can be detected experimentally.

Using particle accelerators to smash particles into pieces, the race is on to find the Higgs Boson. Fermi Lab and CERN were given the responsibility to finish the job. We are left hoping that this piece of the puzzle can answer basic questions such as "What is mass?", or "Are there mini-black holes?" And most importantly, the findings will answer the question why John Lennon was assassinated.

* Dr. Powell gave a presentation, of the same title as above, last year, Oct. 29, 2007, in a mass spectrometry class . The materials came from his discussion.
(1) K.D. Padgett, Physics Essays 3, 178-82 (1990)
(2) K.C. Cole "The hole in the Universe"

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Strange (Gym) Rats

"Lab rats can produce data and scientific reports, I don't know about gym rats"-unknown

It was my first time to be back at the gym after a month, and it made me realized that the gym is a peculiar place to be.

The first strange thing that bothers me inside the gym are those guys wearing sleeveless without muscles to show off. These guys, to make it worst, wear Nike dry fit body-hugging shirts to show muscle definition. There's one problem: it defines the bulge of their stomach. Times had change, times had change. If you don’t have something to show, don’t show it off. You don’t get ‘muscle points’ and a beach body by wearing those kind of apparels.

Same thing to ladies too, when they try to show off their abs, but it's not flat. Are they trying to show their back tattoo or belly piercing? It doesn't matter since the disgusting bulge of their stomach steals the thunder.

You may have noticed this before, when people leave their towels on the floor. I hate that because it’s so unhygienic. In rare cases, some dumb ass do their bench presses without a shirt, which is equally unhygienic! Does it make you stronger when you take your shirts off? One good thing though when you are work out in the gym, is that it's a place to rub shoulders with superstar athlete. One time, I saw somebody in his flip-flops. I thought slippers are not safe, and then realized that the guy was Tim Tebow, the prized quarterback of the school, working out somebody. I pardoned him already for his mistake.

When I was working in the gym before behind the desk, I thought the only requirement is that you know CPR and AED. I was wrong. Technical questions didn’t escaped me: heart rate monitor acting up, a question if Chinese food are healthy, ACL and spine injuries, the difference between decline vs. incline press, what’s a METS, a phone call inquiring for a test for AIDS and a guy asking about a rare genetic disorder called celiac disease, because he has one (eat gluten free food man).

In some instances, you find wierd of the wierdests, such as a half-blind student walking in a treadmill but his’ seeing/guide dog is sleeping beside; person doing a lat pull down while talking to a phone; a guy kissing his bicep muscles after a hard bicep curls. Here’s the best: a university that invented Gatorade but banned people drinking Gatorade inside the student gym.

In the end of the day, you go to the locker room. Then you hear this guy bitching about exercise challenging people around him, “who said exercise is fun, people who said that are hypocrites, I just finished and it was not”.

That’s weird. Ask a triathlete why he loves to burn calories and sweat it out, they're not hypocrites.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Philippine Daily Inquirer's 'Young Blood' Compilation

In any given Sunday during my college years at Los Banos, my pan de sal breakfast was most likely with The Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI). And there's no doubt that I was reading the ‘Young Blood’ column. To make the lazy sunday complete, I lie in my bed or the sofa to read. Life was good (and still good to me).

Young Blood column changed the way I read PDI. After checking the sports page, I flipped the pages straight to the editorial section. Reading the Young Blood column connected me with other people of my age. Although you don’t follow a plot, I read the column just like following a story line. But having a morning paper everyday is a premium for a college student, so most of the time, I read the paper from the library. My roommate was resourceful; he took the column page (only the column page) from papers ready to be discarded by store owners, at the end of the day.

During my Philippine vacation last December (2007) after five years in the US, I went to Power Books and went straight to the Philippine section. Asking my cousin what’s the best book from the Philippines, she advised me to read the "Young Blood" compilation (and some Bob Ong books, an Eraserheads anthology and the compilation of Pilipino Scientists and Pilipino Entrepreneurs).

My stopover on my way back to Florida included a long stopover in Chicago. In a crisp Chicago morning, while waiting for my connecting flight, I sat in an isolated table with my bagel (America’s pan de sal) , my Young Blood compilation, and a hot coffee. I was wishing I was lying in my bed, for old time sake.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Chemistry of Eraserheads

My neighbor back in UP Los Banos, whose brothers were studying in UP Diliman, introduced me to " Ultraelectromagnaticpop". And although the "technical" part of the music was not the best because it sounded like "Combo lata", still, it was appealing to me. It's like eating a buko pie in a box, the box is not the best technical presentation of the product, but the product is way good.

I hailed from the south, and Superferry is the popular transportation for us students from Mindanao visiting families for the Christmas breaks. The nauseating swell of the ocean and the boring 24 plus hours at the sea were countered by playing cards, ordering bubbles of beers and some intellectual discussions. You might know already that intellectual discussions under the influence of alcohol leads to nowhere, jumping from topic to topic. Out of nowhere, injected to the discussion was Eheads, and this person I don't know told the group he heard the music. The music was new and revolutionary; however, the band needs to pass the acid test for the second album or else Eheads will be a one-hit wonder.

(Acid test of a solution in chemistry is a litmus test. Just a side note, the mnemonic for the test is BRA, when a Blue litmus paper turns Red, the solution is Acidic and my students remember this always).

The second album definitely passed the test since their music was everywhere. Even the third album, which I thought they will label it "Star Witness", was a huge success. In a popular afternoon show, the band was telling the audience that their third album is on its way, and they were planning to name it "Star Witness". It was inspired by Jessica Alfaro who was the star witness of Vizconde Massacre. For some reason they changed it to " Cutterpillow", probably in respect to the on-going investigation.

Eraserheads brought the underground Pilipino music scene to the mainstream popular culture. Alternative bands sprouted everywhere just like mushrooms, after an overnight rain. I was lost in the pile of alternative bands during my college days. Then after a family reunion in Bicol, it reunited me again to the music of the band. My trip back to LB was long, and after watching "Crimson Tide" at the bus' television set, I grabbed my walkman, inserted the long lost Eheads first album. I could feel the goose bumps: this is how Eheads music was all about.

In 2002 I went to graduate school overseas, the same year E-Heads disbanded (or disbonded). I don't blame them for disbanding. When the popular Eagles band re-appeared probably ten years ago after almost 2 decades of hiatus, they toured the U.S. again and apologized to their fans, explaining that they "never broke up, only took a 17-year vacation". Again, I don't blame them. Even rock stars deserve a rest, a very long rest. In the process, Eagles produced an album titled "Hell Freezes Over".

Eheads crystalized into an icon and a representative of my generation. It may be a by-gone era someday just like Frank Sinatra's tune (remember your lolo's music), but the music will definitely stay and will not dissolve.

E-Heads will rebond. When? I don't know. Some rebonding processes take long, and others, shorter time. My guess is that the book " Tikman and langit" will be a catalyst (an enzyme) to make the reunification faster. My guess is that the band will tour the Philippines again; make an album from the tour titled "The return of the comeback strikes back again, part 2" . If " Ultraelectromagneticpop" is Voltes V inspired, the comeback album will be from Star Wars.

C’mon Eheads, don’t “shake your heads and walk away” from your fans.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tikman ang Langit

This is the anthology on the Eraserheads. Honestly, if I didn't paid a visit to, I may never know what anthology means. By the way, the word means "a book or other collection of selected writings by various authors, usually in the same literary form, of the same period, or on the same subject".

Mostly, the authors wrote about their first encounter of E-heads’ brand of music. Others detailed their argument why the band is the best group who ever graced the Philippine music scene. One author made a different way of paying tribute to the god of Philippine music; by searching the web for stories. Some contributors described the Philippine underground music scene, before E-heads made it to mainstream. Reading a part of the historical accounts of the underground revolution was nostalgic and exciting. History class will probably bore you to death, but reading past events that you know you are a part of it is pure nostalgia.

I have my own account of the E-heads and I do agree to most of the writers, although some part of the stories were too long. It bored me to read long stories related to the managers and promoters of the band. In those instances, I can’t follow the characters involved. Some contributions where well written and polished, some where not. Over all, it was nice to view the different angles of E-heads, as recounted by the fans-- regardless of affiliations-- a jolog or a conyo.