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.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Emilio Version 2.0, The Upgrade Story

BY: Emilio version 1.0

Emilio version 2.0 was introduced to the world, late May of this year. It was an upgrade that was long overdue. Unlike the long awaited Windows 95, the upgrade for the outdated Windows 3.1, Emilio 2.0 came without a media hype. There were no rock bands gracing the event or Jay Leno hosting the fanfare. Instead, Shands Hospital Delivery room 3519 resembles that of a war zone -- blood where everywhere. When the smoke cleared, there were no casualties, just a newborn baby crying. It was already Thursday morning and rush hour outside was slowly building

Several hours before, our Wednesday afternoon was just like another day in paradise. I wasn't expecting the baby yet, since the doctor calculated a June birth date (now I have to believe doctors and nurses are not good in numbers). In addition, it was still an irregular contraction. I was watching the UEFA soccer championship, when my lady interrupted, it was time to pack and go to the hospital. It wasn't a drill. It was the real thing. Luckily, I can TiVo the soccer match and watch it later (or weeks after).

After signing some papers, we were ushered to our room. By 19:00 Hrs. (7 PM), she's dilated around 5 centimeters. The requirement is 10 cm for the baby to pass through. It was progressing to 10 cms slowly and contraction was becoming regular. It’s an understatement to say that the contraction without an anesthesia was very painful. Joy was in so much pain that she can grab a golf ball and smash it into pieces. Our nurse Kristen admitted that she would rather run 80 miles than give birth, a fair comparison.

Here's the subplot to the painful delivery:

The assigned anesthesiologist came around 21:00 Hrs (9 PM) to administer the injection of the epidural. Epidural injection is like that of dextrose but a little bit complicated. While dextrose’s needle is attached to your veins in your arms, in child birth, the anesthesia is attached to the lower back of the mother, a small, sweet spot in between the two discs of the lumbar spine. There is a very tiny room for error.

Another difference is that nurses control the flow of the dextrose, but in epidurals, it can be controlled manually by the patient, just in case you need more of the juice to alleviate the pain. In reality, it is pseudo-controlled by the mother.

I remember during the labor when Joy was asking for more epidural shots. Like a shaking addict asking for more of the booze, she was begging me to increase the flow of the chemical by pushing the control button more often. Unknown to her, the flow was preset per hour, so you can’t exceed the calculated volume. Many times during the 3-hour labor, the monitor said that I can’t pump more of the juice but I always told Joy I already pushed the button, hoping for a placebo effect.

It was a tense moment during the injection of the fine epidural needle since the anesthesiologist was having a hard time finding the right tiny area. Added to the burden was that Joy’s spine is a little bit crooked due to scoliosis. The older, more experienced resident anesthesiologist was called to the rescue. The pressure was on since damaging the spine can lead to devastating effects. The room calm down after the anesthesiologists successfully administered the anesthesia. End of the sub-plot.

Around 22:00 hrs (10 PM) the head commander of the operation, Dr. Ross, surveyed the battle field once again. She told us she is fielding her trusted lieutenants for the rest of the evening because she needed to sleep; she has a conference to attend to the following morning.

By this time, Joy looked like a medical specimen, with 2 wires and the epidural tube. One of the two wires monitors her contraction and the other wire measures the baby's heart rate. So you can imagine the room resembles that of a hi tech war room where Generals track the inputs and reconnaissance pictures fed by spy satellites, but instead of the RADAR monitor beeping, you can hear the regular sound of the baby's heart beat and a regular spike of contractions.

24:00 Hrs (12 AM Thursday), Dr. Ross' trusted Lieutenant ordered to break her water bag. I was half asleep when I heard the water splashed. The two nurses, Kristen and Natalia, the two loyal sergeants, cleaned Joy's bed sheets.

Between 1:00 to 4:00 hrs, doctors came in probably twice, checking on the vital signs of the mother and the baby.

3:00 hrs, I heard screaming from the other room, with people encouraging to keep on pushing. There was a loud scream from the mom. I likened the mom’s screaming to that of a neophyte being smash by a paddle in a fraternity initiation. The neophyte just scream at the top of his lungs like there’s no tomorrow. Can Joy eclipse the scene? Who knows and we’ll see.

After the loud scream next door, then came a baby crying and people cheering. I imagined the scene with full of fanatics screaming loudly while the mom giving all her strength and scream. When child birth did become a spectator sports? Whatever the case, I said to myself we were next. I wish I never heard and imagined what was coming. Ignorance is bliss.

4:00 hrs, one of the generals ordered to prepare for missile launch. She's reached 10 cm.

I’ll pay more just to make child birth as accurate as a missile lift-off, a procedure that follows a countdown. Child birth is very primitive, the duration of the labor heavily depended on how strong the mom pushes the baby out. Besides, pushing a baby out is not second nature. Mothers don't push babies out everyday. Pushing is a learned response.

My spotter instinct came into play. Remember when you helped somebody in the gym to push a heavy bench press. The spotter ensures the safety of the lifter and the same time encouraging to push more. Encouraging my wife to push was like exercising. Lifting weights is partly psychological. I don't know if my encouragement helped.

6:00 hrs, the sun begun to rise and the two sergeants were encouraging Joy to push more because they wanted to see the baby before their shifts end. The pushing has been going on for almost 3 hours already. I don’t know if the nurses really want to see the baby or they just wanted to go home without rendering overtime (their shift ends 7 AM). Natalia jokingly branded the baby as “trouble maker”, since my little one was suppose to come out June, and insisted to get out early. And now he has the opportunity to come out, he’s bailing out.

6:30 hrs, Dr. Ross came in and asked for updates, just like how any good General operates. Sensing it was taking long and stressing the baby, she ordered the vacuum, to suck the baby out. At the same time, Natalia heated the little elevated bed for the baby (Koji’s profile picture of this blog was taken on that small bed). The baby is coming out no matter what.

Then the General ordered to remove the second half of the bed. She took a stool and sat down at the end of the bed as the baby's head come in an out. This time, the head is getting bigger, with the hair covered with blood.

The vacuum came in and the General assessed the situation again. She hesitated to use the vacuum and pondered on what to do next, a bewildered commander. The two sergeants were waiting for orders. Then Dr. Ross' decided to let Joy do the work since the baby's heart rate was around 150 beats per minute, an indication that the baby is still strong and capable to handle the stress. Joy doubled her exertion to push.

The most efficient way to push the baby out is with the aid of the contraction. Since the anesthesia numbed her lower body, she can’t feel the contraction. She asked me when the contraction is coming through the monitor. When one was coming, she was like the other mom on the other room, 4 hours ago. Her mighty shadow came out.

10 minutes before 7 Am, there was chaos. Emilio version 2.0 came out and Dr. Ross catched the healthy baby in her arms. Blood were everywhere, it was a blur.

Minutes later, I followed the baby to the nursery. Just like in the movies, you watched the newborn baby outside the room, behind the glass window. Back at the delivery room, a Filipina nurse was assisting Joy and cleaning the blood sputter in the floor. I called my parents and texted my friends.

10:00 hrs., I took the baby out of the nursery so Joy can breastfeed her. Suddenly, the alarm sounded and the door in front of us closed. The monitor attached to mini-Emilio triggered the commotion. It was the hospital’s precautionary measure to prevent babies from being stolen.

Well, this is my baby, I said to myself while pushing the baby cart back to the office. My blood runs in his veins. This is my Emilio version 2.0, an upgrade, with better and slicker design, more memory storage and processing power.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Careful What You Wish For

Before, my life (or the lack thereof) was an 8-5 rat race. After finishing college, I was ready to climb the corporate ladder. It turned out, the ladder was not for me (or should I build a ladder?)

The office hours brought my diversions to a halt, my soccer and reading. After school hours at UPLB, I played soccer, and being a student, you have access to the library to read the newspapers. I like to read. One of my favorite was PDI's Young Blood section. When I came to NEC to work, reading wasn't part of the job description. So, most of the time, I took the discarded newspaper from the janitors. It wasn't even a local newspaper, it was the Wall Street Journal, Asian version. But who cared, there was still sports and other sections to read.

Today, I do read---a lot, since I'm preparing for my Ph.D. oral qualifying exam after downing the written part early this year. Preparing for this kind of test is overwhelming. Digesting and absorbing a lot of information in three months is mind boggling.

Graduate school is a life of its own. Preparing for the processes to be a full pledge doctor is difficult and nerve wrecking. Here's how he process goes: The committee members ask you questions after presenting your research proposal, and they ask you things from the very basic to the very complicated related to your field. Then after a barrage of questions, they decide if you are ready for Ph. D. The only way out is read and read and read again months before. You aren't called an expert for nothing.

I do read now. Not much newspapers, but some blogs and books, and numerous scientific journals. You just be careful what you wish for.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Meeting with The Boss II

Technically, my graduate adviser, my adviser in papers, is going to retire before I will finish my Ph.D. So I have two adviser, the younger one that I met yesterday and the older one that I met today.

The older more experienced adviser basically wanted to check on my progress and the problems encountered on my research. Meeting with experts is like having somebody open a flashlight in a dark trail. This light-bulb-eureka moments made me think of different avenues to pursue, since research is a venture to the unknown. The more unknown avenues you visit, the more likely you have results. But with the help of expert ideas, you are hoping to nail down the best avenue in the least possible time.

Next week, my advisers will be going to the Netherlands, at the FOM-Institute for Plasma Physics, to do some experiments. Why go there? Because one of the best LASER is found in the Netherlands (one in France and Japan). It's the Hubble Telescope of Infrared Spectroscopy.

I'm hoping (and praying) I will be going to that place to do research next year. Hoping. Right now I'm thinking of doing some experiments at the National High Magnetic Field Lab, just 2-hour ride from my school. It's a nice facility at our own backyard.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Meeting With The Boss

photo from wikipidia

Being a graduate student means you are free to do and implement your ideas for experiment, sort of an independent research. But there's no such thing as independent research, at least in my opinion. You still need to meet with your graduate adviser to discuss your progress and check if what you are proposing is feasible in the realm of science and the latest technology. Besides, your adviser is the expert, his line of thinking is very different from the student.

I been working with an expensive (expensive over-all and its maintenance, a superconducting magnet that needs to be cool down 24/7) instrument for over a year now, and I thought I know most of the tricks. In turns out I don't. My boss told me about signal to noise ratio, the resolution, the nyquist criteria, zero filling and apodize. I know it sound like a different language but I'm blogging this to remind me that education is a continuous process.

You learn new things everyday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I bought this book during my visit back to the Philippines, as recommended by my cousin. The book is funny, detailed and very interesting. The book is, in my humble opinion, the Filipino version of "What I learned in school, I already learned from kindergarten". No offense to both authors.

After reading the book, it made me wonder how I survived those years: The elementary school years when we ate ice candies during our recess, or the college days, when I went basically AWOL and dismissed from the premiere institution of the Philippines. Instead of a regular 4-year course, I took the long way. My only on-time classes were P.E. and CMT. My roommate once said, "the more you stay in college the more you appreciate life". I found comfort and wisdom to those misleading words.

After a dismal semester, I went back with a vengeance and earned my degree. 7 years after, who would believe I'm now pursuing a Ph.D. You'll never know.

During my lackluster college days, lackluster in terms of grades, I traded off the classroom knowledge with things never taught from the books, increasing my street IQ ;). Those where my bulakbol days.

Now I can relate to my students, students who doesn't want to study chemistry. They are just taking the class because it's required. They will soon grow up, just like me. You just don't want to end up in their operating table in the near future when these guys become doctors. Or don't want to pass through a bridge or stay in a building they will build as an engineer.

But honestly, after those years in school, we did ok right? Read the book reminisce the old days of schooling.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Tipping Point's message

After reading the book "Tipping Point", I made myself a summery of what I learned from the book.

1. Tipping point is part of the umbrella science of epidemiology, of how a virus spread such as epidemics of cholera or TB. Instead of hard medical science, it's part of a soft science such as psychology.

2. Smoking, a viral video, HIV, fashion I believe is a complicated science. There are many variables to consider, not adding the hidden variables.

3. The spread of smoking is like the spread of a viral video. You just need to know the variables involved. So if you are in the business of marketing, a viral video will be a good platform for spreading your ad. But how many viral videos succeed? The reason why viral ideas don't spread can be attributed some hidden variables.

4. Tipping point or a spread of idea will always be a part of civilization. We've seen the spread of smoking epidemics. Here's I believe are the things that the book didn't mentioned the spread of Columbine style shooting. It was followed by Virginia Tech. How many more are coming?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Revenge of the Nerds

I was sporting a shirt which has a print in front saying "NERD" and in the back of the shirt is booger and the number 69.

Man, this is a classic movie but some of my friends don't know the movie, specially my students in my lab. Checking the profiles of my students from Facebook, their birthdays explained why. Most of my students were born 1987-89, and Revenge of the Nerds came out 1981.

You are getting old if the movie you watched before are classified classic already. Remember when you first heard the music of Frank Sinatra from your Grandpa's collection? You gave your grand pa the weird look. That's probably what happened with my students also. What the hell is the connection between nerd and booger?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Quote from Facebook

Most of my friends in Facebook were former students of mine here at UF.
Here's one of the cool quote I read after browsing their personal pages.

“A guy and a girl can be just friends, but at one point or another, they will fall for each other...Maybe temporarily, maybe at the wrong time, maybe too late, or maybe forever”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lessons in blogging

I've been following a blog of a venture capitalist for sometime now. In his blog days ago, he said,

"in order to win in blogging, you have to show up everyday"

Reading blogs is my way of connecting to people I don't know and absorb their ideas, just like reading the Young Blood section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I blog because I like writing, and I promised myself today that I will try to write a blog everyday.

Let me rephrase that, I will blog everyday. They said it is either you DO or you DON'T, there's no in between such as "try".

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bjorn Again

Bjorn Again is a concert and at the same time the name of the band. Bjorn was one of the original member of the up beat Swedish band known as ABBA. I watched it with my dad at the Philips Center here at the University of Florida.

I'm an alternative music type kind of guy that listen more of the '90s Extreme, Mr. Big and Matchbox 20. But in the end, the show was still nostalgic and fun. I do believe Abba's a genius and here's my point: if you take for example this lyrics from the song Mama Mia, it is a classic love-hate relationship written in a poem but actually it's music.

Mamma mia, here I go again
My my, how can I resist you?
Mamma mia, does it show again?
My my, just how much I've missed you
Yes, I've been brokenhearted
Blue since the day we parted
Why, why did I ever let you go?
Mamma mia, now I really know,
My my, I could never let you go.

Here's another point, the music was made into a movie this year, 30 years after they disbanded.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Manny Pacquiao

My foot hurt last week and went to the infirmary. As I was waiting for the Physician, I read a "forwarded email" type description of our school's mighty quarterback Tim Tebow. I adapted it for Manny.

What color is Manny Pacquiao's blood? It is a trick question, the Pacman doesn't bleed.

Pacquiao's tears can cure cancer ---but he's never cried

The primary ingredient of Red Bull is Manny Pacquiao's sweat

Omega pain killer too weak for Pacman, he goes underneath the magma of the earth

Life doesn't give Manny Pacquiao lemons, life ask what fruit Pacman wants

Manny Pacquiao doesn't bowl strike. He just hit one pin and the others faint

When Manny Pacquiao does a push up, he's actually pushing the earth down and not pushing himself up.

Some people wears superman pajama, superman wears Pacquiao's pajama

There are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Manny leaves in the Philippines

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Tipping Point Tidbits

"Have you ever thought about yawning? Yawning is surprisingly powerful act. Just because you read the word 'yawning' in the previous sentences --and two additional 'yawns' in this sentence--a good number of you will probably yawn with in the next few minutes. Even as I was writing this, I've yawned twice. If you're reading this in a public place, and you've just yawned, chances are that a good proportion of everyone who saw you yawn is now yawning too...

Yawning is incredibly contagious"

I read this book in the mall, and I yawned too. This will be my fourth book to read this year.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday America

I'm not an American, but stayed here for 8 years now as a student. Being a graduate student of chemistry, my inclination towards history is slim. But, I learned a lot of American history through watching stand-up comedians joked about the American history.

My history 'lessons' are of course backed up by watching History channels. Learning should be fun, that's why I remembered the facts of history through stand-up comedy. And after some thoughts, I realized, America is still a very young country, compared to its European counterparts.

Happy Birthday America.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Blackberry or iPhone

(my old Palm Zire 72)

I'm contemplating of retiring my Palm Zire 72 as my Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and replace it with a Blackberry or an iPhone. My Palm was mainly used as my reminders and writing my thoughts. But lately, the Palm batteries are dying so fast and needs a longer life battery.

Lately also, I been reading ebooks and mainly journals from chemistry in the dark. This what happens when you are watching your baby in dimmed lights and you need to catch up with some papers to review.

Blackberry or iPhone?