Terence Tao Teaching Real Analysis at UCLA this Fall

Holy cow! I discovered on Friday that Terence Tao, a Fields Medal winner, will be teaching a graduate level Real Analysis class this fall at UCLA.

 ttao2006-scaled500

Surprisingly, to me, it ony has 4 students currently enrolled!! Having won a Fields Medal in August 2006, this is a true shock, for who wouldn’t want to learn analysis from such a distinguished professor? Are there so few graduate students at UCLA who need a course in advanced analysis? I would imagine that there would be graduate students in engineering and even physics who might take such a course, but perhaps I’m wrong?

Most of his ratings on RateMyProfessors are actually fairly glowing; the one generally negative review was given for a topology class and generally seems to be an outlier.

On his own website in a section about the class and related announcements we seem to find the answer to the mystery about enrollment.  There he says:

 I intend this to be a serious course, focused on teaching the material in the course description.  As such, students who are taking or auditing the course out of idle curiosity or mathematical “sightseeing”, rather than to learn the basics of measure theory and integration theory, may be disappointed.  I would therefore prefer that frivolous enrollments in the class be kept to a minimum.

This is generally sound advice, but would even the most serious mathematical tourists really bother to make an attempt at such an advanced course? Why bother if you’re not going to do the work?!

Fans of the Mathematical Genealogy Project will be interested to notice that Dr. Tao is requiring his Ph.D. advisor’s text Real Analysis: Measure Theory, Integration, and Hilbert Spaces. He’s also recommending Folland‘s often used text as well, though if he really wanted to scare off the lookie-loos he could just say he’ll be using Rudin‘s text.

A lovely bit of satire on Evolution vs. Creationism… what will they come up with next?

Watched Christian Groups: Biblical Armageddon Must Be Taught Alongside Global Warming from The Onion
Constitutional debate continues over whether public schools should include biblical Armageddon alongside global warming in end-of-world curriculum.
http://v.theonion.com/onionstudios/video/1368/640.mp4

In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That

Bookmarked In Law Schools, Grades Go Up, Just Like That (New York Times)
In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have made their grading systems more lenient to give their students a better chance in a soft job market.

Is GPA tampering and grade inflation going too far with changes like this?

Baum’s Point Set Topology

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Elements of Point-Set Topology (Dover Books on Advanced Mathematics) Elements of Point-Set Topology by John D. Baum

Commenting only after reading to page 11, but having skimmed some other parts/sections, it’s a nice and condensed volume with most of the standard material on point set topology. It reads somewhat breezily, is well laid out, and isn’t bogged down with all the technicalities which those who haven’t seen any of this material before might have interest in. It seems better for those with some experience in axiomatic mathematics (I’ve always enjoyed Robert Ash’s A Primer of Abstract Mathematics for much of this material), but in my mind isn’t as clear or as thorough as James Munkres’ Topology, which I find in general to be a much better book, particularly for the self-learning crowd. The early problems and exercises are quite easy.

Given it’s 1964 publication date, most of the notation is fairly standard from a modern perspective and it was probably a bit ahead of it’s time from a pedagogical viewpoint.

View all my reviews >>

Information Flow in Hollywood is Changing Rapidly as Alyssa Milano’s Representation Drops the Ball

There are many in the industry who have Twitter and Facebook accounts, but generally they shy away from using them, particularly when it relates to their daily workflow.  Naturally there are instances when representatives and business affairs executives will post the occasional congratulatory emails, but typically nothing relevant or revealing is ever said.

But tonight Twitter began to change the landscape of how Hollywood, and in particular the representation segment, does its day-to-day business.

It began with the news that Alyssa Milano’s ABC series ROMANTICALLY CHALLENGED, which premiered on April 19th earlier this year, had been cancelled. Michael Ausiello of the Ausiello Files for Entertainment Weekly broke the story online at 7:44 pm (Pacific) and tweeted out the news. Alyssa Milano saw the news on Twitter about an hour later, and at 8:45 pm, she tweeted out her disappointment to the world.

Her agent/manager is going to have a fire to put out tomorrow, if it doesn’t burn itself into oblivion tonight!  If anything, her agent typically could have or should have been amongst one of the first to know, generally being informed by the studio executive in charge of the project or potentially by the producer of the show who would also have been in that first round to know about the cancellation. And following the news from the network, Alyssa should have been notified immediately.

Typically this type of news is treated like pure commodity within the representation world. If a competing agent, particularly one who wanted a client like Alyssa, to move to their agency, they would dig up the early news, call her at home, break the bad news early and fault the current representative for dropping the ball and not doing their job.  Further, the agent would likely put together a group of several new scripts (which the servicing agent either wouldn’t have access to or wouldn’t have sent her) and have them sent over to her for her immediate consideration.  Suddenly there’s an unhappy client who is seriously considering taking their business across the street.

The major difference here is that it isn’t a competing agent breaking the bad news, but the broader internet! Despite the brevity of the less than 140 characters Ms. Milano had, it’s quite obvious that she’s both shocked and a bit upset at the news.  We cannot imagine that she’s happy with the source of the news; it’s very likely that her representation got an upset call this evening which they’re currently scurrying to verify and then put out the subsequent fire.

Beyond this frayed relationship, there is also the subsequent strain on the relationships between representation and the overseeing studio executive(s), studio/network chief, and potentially further between the Agency and the Network over what is certain to be one of the more expensive television talent deals in the business right now.

We’re sure there will be a few more agents, managers, and attorneys who sign up for Twitter accounts tomorrow and begin monitoring their clients’ brands more closely on the real-time web.

[As a small caveat to all of this, keep in mind that the show was picked up in early August last year and only aired four episodes premiering in April of this year, so from a technical point of view, the show’s cancellation isn’t a major surprise simply given the timing of the pick-up and the premiere, the promotional push behind the show, or the show’s ratings. Nevertheless, this is sure to have an effect on the flow of business.]

Stem cell treatment goes from lab to operating room | CNN.com

Bookmarked Stem cell treatment goes from lab to operating room (cnn.com)
Imagine having your back cut open, part of your spine removed, a stabilizing device that resembles a mini oil rig mounted on your back, the outer membrane of your spinal cord sliced open and experimental stem cells injected into it -- all for the advancement of science because it's not expected to benefit you.
Another article announcing the first stem cells being transplanted into a human patient in the United States. I worked with the researchers and surgeon in this experiment and built the microinjectors that were used in the lead up experiments as well as for this first patient.

Atlanta, Georgia — Imagine having your back cut open, part of your spine removed, a stabilizing device that resembles a mini oil rig mounted on your back, the outer membrane of your spinal cord sliced open and experimental stem cells injected into it — all for the advancement of science because it’s not expected to benefit you.

John Cornick, 51, did just that earlier this month as part of a groundbreaking clinical trial.

Almost a year ago, Cornick was told he had ALS — better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The diagnosis left him “fairly devastated,” he says.

He knew the prospects were grim because there is no cure.

But John wasn’t giving up so quickly, nor was his wife, Gina.

“I knew he was a fighter from the beginning and he really wanted to do something,” Gina Cornick says. She found information about a clinical trial on online and immediately signed him up, even though she had no idea where it was being held.

ALS destroys the nerve cells in the brain and spine which control muscle movement. When the brain can no longer tell muscles to move, they eventually die, depriving the patient of the ability to move arms and legs and eventually breathe.

The goal of this phase 1 trial is to determine whether fetal stem cells can safely be injected into the spinal cord. Ultimately, researchers hope to show that these cells may slow or halt the progression of the fatal disease.

But for now, the only goal is establishing safety.

Clinical trial

The Cornicks live in North Carolina, just a few hours from Atlanta, Georgia’s Emory University, the site of the trial. It is the first FDA-approved clinical trial to inject fetal stem cells directly into the spinal cord of an adult.

Dr. Jonathan Glass, director of Emory’s ALS center, is overseeing the trial. Cornick and two previous patients in the trial are heroes, says Glass, because at this point, the trial will likely produce only information, not results.

“In reality what do these patients have? Time, families and their life and we’re putting all of these at risk,” says Glass.

Dr. Lucie Bruijn, science director of the ALS Association, says the progress being made in this clinical trial is exciting. “We’ve been able to move it forward … from animal testing now into actual patients.” The treatment had not been tried in humans before.

Glass hopes this trial will lead to a new form of treatment for people with ALS. “We’re testing multiple things: We’re testing the safety of the surgery; we’re testing the cells; we’re testing immunosuppressants[because scientists do not know whether the body will reject the cells].” They are also testing how well Cornick handles this major surgical procedure, says Glass.

“After we’re finished with the first 12 or 18 patients we will know whether this is surgery that patients can tolerate.”

As he was prepped for surgery, Cornick was hopeful but realistic. “Well, of course you’d like to get up and walk … but I know that’s not going to happen.”

Stem cells

The stem cells used in the surgery are shipped overnight from Maryland, where Neuralstem, the company funding the trial, is based. The stem cells’ source is donated tissue from the spinal cord of an 8-week old aborted fetus, which was donated to the company. The company has developed a method that enables growth of millions of stem cells from this single source of human nerve stem cells.

Before the surgery can begin, a technician at Emory has to verify that a majority of stem cells made it to Atlanta alive. At least 70 percent have to be viable. In this case three samples under the microscope showed 85 percent of the cells arrived alive.

Lead researcher Dr. Eva Feldman, a neurologist at the University of Michigan, designed the trial just four years ago. After a lot of animal testing, her team determined that using fetal nerve stems rather than human embryonic or adult stem cells (such as bone marrow stem cells) was most effective, she says.

Stem cells have the ability to turn into different cells in the body. However, human embryonic stem cells, which come from 4- or 5-day-old embryos, also been found to sometimes turn into cancer cells. Fetal stem cells, such as those used in this trial, are a few weeks older and have already taken on a specific identity — in this case nerve cells.

Feldman says the fetal stem cells used in this trial did not become any of the unwanted cell types. “That’s very, very important,” she says.

Surgery

Animal testing also proved very useful when it came to figuring out how to actually inject the stem cells. Emory University’s neurosurgeon Dr. Nicholas Boulis invented the device that holds the needle that injects the stem cells. The goal is to inject the cells without injuring the spine and causing even more paralysis. He practiced on 100 pigs before attempting the procedure on a human.

Boulis says it’s critical that the injection be done in a very slow and controlled way.

“If you inject quickly, you’re going to create pressure at the head of the needle and that can cause damage,” Boulis says. That pressure can also inflate an area in the spinal cord which could cause the stem cells to seep back out of the cord when the needle is pulled out, he says. “So by pumping [cells] in slowly you have more security that you are not going to have reflux and you’re not going to have damage.”

Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein, who heads the ALS research center at Johns Hopkins University and is not connected to this trial, said work on this method is a big achievement. “This is purely about how to surgically deliver cellular therapy to spinal cord,” he says. “It’s never been done before.”

After the spinal cord was exposed, the injections began. Cornick got five — each one contains about 100,000 stem cells.

The four-and-a-half hour surgery went smoothly, Boulis, says. “There were no surprises.”

Post-surgery

A day after surgery, Cornick was lying flat in a hospital bed, chatting and laughing with some friends from North Carolina.

One week after surgery, he says he felt amazingly well and was still hopeful the cells would do some good for him.

Two weeks later Cornick’s stitches were removed and he was able to drive home. But he will be making frequent visits back to Atlanta as Glass and his team continue to monitor him.

Neuralstem’s Chief Scientific Officer Karl Johe says after the trial’s safety board reviews all existing data, including Cornick’s results, a fourth patient can be treated with the stem cells.

“Patients Four, Five and Six will receive twice as many [stem cell] injections,” Johe says. They will get five more injections on the other side of the spinal cord compared with Cornicks’s surgery.

Cornick expects the researchers will follow his progress for a long time. He says he understands the need for people to be willing to participate in experimental research like this.

“For me it just seemed like the right thing to do. I almost felt I had an obligation to do this,” he says. “To help other people and myself.”

Source: Stem cell treatment goes from lab to operating room – CNN.com

First U.S. stem cells transplanted into spinal cord | CNN.com

Bookmarked First U.S. stem cells transplanted into spinal cord (cnn.com)
For the first time in the United States, stem cells have been directly injected into the spinal cord of a patient, researchers announced Thursday.
A recent article announcing the first stem cells being transplanted into a human patient in the United States. I worked with the researchers and surgeon in this experiment and built the microinjectors that were used in the lead up experiments as well as for this first patient.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — For the first time in the United States, stem cells have been directly injected into the spinal cord of a patient, researchers announced Thursday.

Doctors injected stem cells from 8-week-old fetal tissue into the spine of a man in his early 60s who has advanced ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was part of a clinical trial designed to determine whether it is safe to inject stem cells into the spinal cord and whether the cells themselves are safe.

ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes the deterioration of specific nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called motor neurons, which control muscle movement. About 30,000 Americans have ALS at any given time, according to the ALS Association.

There is no cure for ALS, which is better known as Lou Gehrig’sdisease, named after the New York Yankees’ first baseman and Hall of Famer who retired from baseball in the 1930s after being diagnosed with the disease.

As the illness progresses, patients lose their ability to walk, talk and breathe. Patients usually die within two to five years of diagnosis, according the ALS Association.

Neuralstem Inc., a Rockville, Maryland-based biotech company, received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct the clinical trial in September. The company is fully funding the research and provides the stem cells that are being injected into the patients.

Neuralstem announced the start of the clinical trial in a news release Thursday.

Longtime ALS researcher and University of Michigan neurologist Dr. Eva Feldman is overseeing the first human clinical trial of a stem cell treatment in ALS patients.

“We are entering a new era of cell therapeutics for ALS, and in my opinion, it is an new era of hope for patients with ALS,” Feldman said.

At least 12 patients are expected to participate in this early research. They are to receive the stem cell transplants at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

“This is the first study to see if the invasive injection into the spinal cord is safe for the patient,” said Lucie Bruijn, science director of the ALS Association.

This first patient in the clinical trial received several injections of stem cells into the lumbar region of the spinal cord, the area that controls leg function, because most ALS patients first lose muscle function in their legs, according to Karl Johe, Neuralstem’s chairman and chief scientific officer.

Bruijn says there have been a few other occasions outside the United States in which fetal stem cells have been injected into a patient, “but not necessarily using a very [rigorous] trial design.” She adds that there were also a couple of small studies in Italy that injected other types of stem cells into a few patients but that this is the first FDA-approved trial in the United States.

“Our biggest hope for stem cells is to significantly slow the progression the disease,” Bruijn said.

The ALS Association is not providing funding for this clinical trial, but it has supported the work of Dr. Nick Boulis, the Emory neurosurgeon who developed the surgical technique used to inject the stem cells.

Johe invented the technology that allows the company to manufacture billions of copies of stem cells that are taken from a single source of spinal cord cells: cells that were extracted from fetal tissue, which was donated to the company.

“The cells are human neural stem cells,” Johe said, acknowledging that the introduction of stem cells is a very invasive procedure.

“What we are attempting is a novel approach by directly injecting them into the middle of the spinal cord, which to our knowledge has never been done before,” Johe said.

Researchers plan to follow this and future patients participating in this trial for a long time to determine the safety of the procedure.

These particular stem cells — which came from the spinal cord of an 8-week-old fetus — are neural stem cells, which have the ability to turn into different types of nerve cells. These are not the same stem cells as the controversial human embryonic stem cells, which destroy the embryo when the stem cells are removed.

Johe says that once the safety of this type of transplant is determined, he and his colleagues hope to see whether this is a possible treatment for ALS.

“This is not a cure. We are not replacing those motor neurons [nerve cells which tell muscles to contract]. These stem cells don’t generate motor neurons. Instead they protect the still-functioning motor neurons,” Johe explained.

Bruijn says that injecting stem cells into the spinal cord — in the region where the motor neurons are located that affect ALS — is a breakthrough. But she cautions that this is only the first step in the first part of this clinical trial. It’s too early to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of this treatment, especially since the trial has only just begun.

She notes that everyone involved with the study and other ALS patients have to wait and see what the results of the clinical trial will be.

The FDA granted the first approval for injecting human embryonic stem cells into humans to Menlo Park, California-based Geron Corporation in January 2009. Their trials were expected to start last summer but have yet to begin.

Source: First U.S. stem cells transplanted into spinal cord – CNN.com

Twitter Changes Rules on Users. No Auto-Follow. | Kyle Lacy

Replied to Twitter Changes Rules on Users. No Auto-Follow. by Kyle Lacy (kylelacy.com)
(hat tip to ZDNEt and Chris McEvoy for the lead) From ZDNet: “With no notice, Twitter yesterday “pulled the rug out from under its developers” one developer says, by discouraging auto-following and imposing 1,000 person-per-day following limits.” Now… this is not news to me because of the “pulling the rug out from under its developers” thing or the 1,000 person-per-day following limit… The news to me as a Twitter user… I don’t really remember getting a message or alert that the new limits were going to be enacted. I use Twitter on a daily basis. It seems fairly odd that I would not know about the change.
I’m personally glad they’d be implementing something like this and wish they had done it about a month ago. Eventually without any controls the site would have become a waste land. In the spirit of using it as the tool it has become, they needed to implement changes like this as the site scaled up to more and more people. It’s very similar to the changes they instituted in the fall of 2008 when they created a cap of being able to follow more than 2000 people when your own number of followers wasn’t commensurate with that number. As a game theorist, I’m sure that people will somehow find some other way to artificially game the system.

As a separate note, who really wants to waste the time building thousands and thousands of followers when none of them are really going to ever pay attention to you? Yes, it’s great to have a high number, but really what is your ultimate reach? How many people are you engaging?

Vintage Tanker Desk Hobby

I had always wanted a nice McDowell & Craig vintage executive dual pedestal tanker desk, but the $2,000-$3,000 price tags for the ones in excellent condition or that had been refinished was way too steep for me. Some of the others I’ve seen for sale at lower prices were in mediocre shape and were in such ugly institutional colors, I couldn’t imagine having one at home.

Unfinished Desk

Unfinished Desk - Rusted Top

Late last year, I found a couple from the 1950’s and 60’s that were in horrible physical shape that were going to be scrapped for their steel. I got both of them for $10 bucks and did some research on how to refurbish them myself.

I stripped off the corroded, stained, and torn linoleum off the tops, took them to a local place that does sandblasting to have them stripped and then sanded down the heavily rusting portions. (These desks are usually made of heavy 20 gauge solid steel, so they’re literally the “tanks” of office furniture.) Both were in relatively good condition structurally and didn’t have any significant body damage aside from some significant rust, so I decided not to bondo the couple of dings they had, which in the end I think just adds to their vintage beauty.

Jr. Tanker Desk - Unfinished with rusted bottom

For the blue/gray one I found an industrial paint shop to do an old style enamel process. For the smaller red one, I sandblasted and painted/sealed the undercarriage and inside drawers and then used a special brushing process to obtain a nice brushed steel effect followed by a 5 layer clear coat seal to give it a high shine while still having the brushed steel visible through the clear coat.
Partially refinished tanker desk chair with blue upholstry

Finally, I tried to find a place to recreate the original linoleum desktops, but there really isnt’ a supplier who does this and some of the alternatives were prohibitively expensive as was the process of redoing the metal trim to hold it on after the fact. I contemplated doing some various laminates and even formica, but ultimately decided that the bare metal top was too pretty to cover up. I finally gave a local glass shop a template for the top of the desk and had them cut out custom 1/4″ glass tops with rounded corners to match the desk shape and then bevel the edges slightly.

Finished Executive Tanker Desk in gunmetal grey with blue highlighted drawers

At long last they’re now both finished!  They are truly beautiful and it’s nice having a desk about the size of a compact car and certainly as heavy! When I originally got the desks, Sonia refused to let me keep them they were in such terrible shape, and I spent a while convincing her to let me keep them. Once the first one was done she forbid me to “hide” it in our office and insisted that I put it in our living room because it was so pretty. I finally got the second one finished and gave it to her for her birthday in September.

Jr. Executive Tanker desk with clear coated metal and red highlighted drawers

It’s been an interesting enough process with such a beautiful end result, that I’m in the midst of acquiring a few additional desks including one that may be from the 30’s/40’s with some nice art deco design touches.

So I suppose I’m calling it my “hobby” at the moment.

I’ve posted a gallery of additional photos of the desks on Flickr.