Going Viral

Correspondence 1

Dear Madam President;

It is our great pleasure here at the National Science Lab to announce the creation of the single greatest tool to combat infectious disease. No more must our species be savaged by diseases imparted by single-cellular organisms. While it is well known that all living things are contained within cells, the mechanisms of life can be separated. One such mechanism is protein synthesis – by putting the code for phagic proteins and a protective capsule into a discrete package we can deliver these non-cellular devices to bacteria to destroy them. These ‘bacteriophages’ will be the most powerful tool to fight disease ever created. We ask for an extension of funding to create a release and  distribution system for this great device. Attached is all of our data and experimental logs for your consideration.


Disease Defense Lab
National Science Lab

Correspondence 2

To the incredible scientists working at the DDL;

My heartfelt and sincerest congratulations for your amazing discovery and development. I have issued you an extension of funding personally to continue your ground-breaking work. Our chief scientific advisors here in the capitol are very excited by your work. We encourage you to continue developing this product. However, the consensus of the advisory board here recommends that you propose a trial for a closed environment to ‘release and distribute’ these bacteriophages to fully examine the effects of such a dramatic new tool. Again, you have my highest admiration and I wish you the best in your continued research.

Looking forward to updates!

President N

Correspondence 3

President N,

Thank you for your funding and your support! We have been able to further enhance the bacteriophages we have developed here. They can now penetrate thicker capsules and protective barriers on many small cells. Furthermore, we have developed a limited replication strategy so that we need only introduce a small number of bacteriophages and they will assemble more from within the dying cell to address adjacent cells. We have done a great deal of testing to show that the bacteriophages can specifically and potently kill these infectious cells, but cannot harm our cells, or those of organisms similar to us. The best feature of these devices is that since they are not alive they cannot evolve and there is no danger to our population. As such, we have already treated a nearby community with these phages and seen a tremendous reduction in disease. We have attached the epidemiological data we’ve collected, as well as the patient data. We can have custom bacteriophages delivered anywhere in the world to treat any and all diseases!


The Disease Defense Lab

Correspondence 4

To the DDL Scientists;

The data you’ve attached is very compelling – it appears there is total clearance of the pathological cells in this population! Our experts are stunned. They wonder, as do I, what has become of the bacteriophages you’ve introduced? We request that you suspend introduction of these devices into the community at large, and possibly contain the initial patients such that they can be fully examined. For your offer, there are attached several orders for new bacteriophages. We would like you to develop these and then run them through a contained testing protocol before distribution. We are unsure about the behavior of such a device in the environment since it is organic in nature, and we would like to collect data. Once appropriate safety testing is complete we will recommend the public release of more devices.

Continued good luck!

President N

Correspondence 5

Madam President;

We have completed the design and shipment of the orders attached, and with highest confidence we can say these devices are entirely safe. Since these devices are organic they will break down naturally into their simplest pieces. Therefore, we have recommended that the buyers might begin distributing the bacteriophages to end the suffering in the populations who need them! While we don’t see the need, we’ve sent letters to all the patients in our initial treatment group. They have not come in for testing yet, but we imagine they are now in the clutches of a disease-free life and may not respond to our correspondence. Broadcast shows have asked if taking bacteriophages may prevent the later incidence of disease, and we believe this may be the case. We will begin a study soon to determine if taking a daily dose of bacteriophage might not be the fountain of youth itself! We have no new data attached, but we have the financial statements from the phage orders. Thank you for their contact information!



Correspondence 6

ATTN DDL Scientists;

While we wholly believe that this device you have created is the most promising in our lifetime, we must ask that you discontinue releasing it. Furthermore, we must ask that you follow up with all your patients and have them report to a hospital for testing. One vendor has asked for your anti-phagic to reverse the bacteriophage activity, and we have received reports that some areas which have  received phage, despite initial success, have been exposed to a possible adverse event. We understand these hiccups will always occur in the development of great technologies, however we worry that this device has a very powerful mechanism and wish to understand it better.

President N

Correspondence 9

Madam President;

We now see that some of the patients did have a negative reaction some time after phage introduction. We have studied the phage and determined why this may be happening, and we can treat the surviving patients. We have sent anti-phagic to those who have ordered our device and they should control the side-effects of which you’ve heard. We agree this is a minor hiccup and we are enthusiastic to continue development.



Correspondence 10


I have received word that your anti-phagics are not working. The tally of those who have died from your phagic treatment is rising. I demand that you collect all the phages you have released and keep them confined to your lab. We will mandate experiments that we will require before you may release them again. Please respond ASAP as you complete this.

President N

Correspondence 11

President N;

In the history of our world from it’s formation 5 million years ago, to the first known life 100,000 years ago, we have never observed any non-cellular thing display evolution. Therefore we are stunned to report that these phages have adapted to survive our anti-phagic treatment; further the bacteriophage had itself developed pathogenic activity. We are trying to develop new treatments now. As for the collection of our phages, we had assumed the phage would not be stable in the outside world, but the spread of this ‘phagic fever’ has shown that this too is incorrect. We have our best scientists developing a new phage which might be strong enough to deactivate the bacteriophage: a phagophage of sorts. We will report back shortly.


Correspondence 12


Suspend all experiments and further developments. The fever has a 50-day mortality rate of 98%. We have no choice but to isolate these communities and wait for the phages to die. Once this containment is complete you will be held responsible for this.

Correspondence 13


Your failure to respond is considered treasonous, although you’ve already sealed your fate by developing this non-cellular device which can defeat almost any cell and cellular-based organism! So many have died.

Correspondence 14


Perhaps my last missives were not delivered as I hear the phagic disease has ravaged your region. I write this in vain I’m certain. Since all life is now compromised we are directing the global space program Galactonauts to settle one of our seed planets. We believe Gal529.MW, Sys4.S, P3.Terra is the best option. After the galactic seeding program which potential life-bearing locations, we noticed a dramatic change in the absorbance of the planet which may be indicative of atmospheric development. Our Galactonauts are presumably the only uninfected members of our species due to the isolation training – I pray nothing contaminated reached them. We can only hope that the inclusion of these missives on their log will serve as a warning to the new settlement. Surely they will struggle, and we will never know if they survive. Likewise, until they can construct the appropriate equipment they will never be able to contact us. We will keep our transmission beacon on and try to monitor their settlement if we as a species can somehow survive. I just hope that the collective knowledge of our species will not be lost forever upon their arrival.  Should you ever receive this letter, I will not be accepting further mail as I will be spending my final days with family.

With despair,




Chemistry is NOT a Laughing Matter

Some chemists like to sit around, telling a joke only chemists would appreciate:
“A man walks into a bar. The bartender asks what he wants and he says, ‘I’ll have an H2O!’ The bartender serves him a glass and he takes a sip. The man next to him says, ‘I’ll have an H2O too.’ The bartender smiles, and serves him a glass. The man takes a sip…and he dies.”
Chemists love this joke, because they think that only they know that H2O2 is hydrogen peroxide – but chemistry is not a laughing matter. Chemists: beware the jokes you exchange with knowing smiles and intellectual groans. Below is the true story.
A man walks into a bar.
He didn’t do it every day, he didn’t even care for bars anymore, but he needed a drink; it didn’t matter what it was. It was 96 degrees outside, the teeming city was hot and oppressive and the man had had a very long day. As he walked in his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting – he realized that he hadn’t had a drink by himself since his early 20s. He had been a bit of a mess then, drinking every night, running about town, frivolously spending what little money he had. He had been blessed to chance upon a girl, not the most beautiful girl, nor the funniest, but a girl who cared about him and helped him and eventually saved him. This girl straightened him up, helped him get a job, and made him a man. They fell in love and now had 2 children who looked up to him. The man was a father, husband, and in many ways a success.
The bartender asks what he wants…
The man looked at his watch. 5:20. “I could grab a quick beer,” he thought as he looked around. There was a sparse crowd – almost no chance of getting caught in a conversation or coerced into a second. But even as he thought about it, he could see the shadows of his youth – a life he had left behind. How many nights had he walked into a bar alone, seeking nothing but a beer and not knowing where he was going? Right now he was thirsty and tired, but he didn’t need alcohol to comfort him. Just a water…
…and he says, “I’ll have an H2O!” The bartender serves him a glass and he takes a sip.
The cool water felt good on his lips, his tongue, his whole mouth – he felt a wave a relief. It was not just from the water, but from the strength he had found in himself. He looked down the bar – the next man was sitting there behind 3 empty glasses. He looked as though he had been there for some time, his eyes not quite able to focus. He had been well-dressed, perhaps that morning…or the morning before, it was hard to say. A shudder ran down the first man’s spine. The second man looked up at him darkly, sneered for a moment, and then his face slackened. His head jerked towards the bartender like a poorly controlled marionette doll, his lower lip dangling as a sheen of saliva slid out the side.
The man next to him says, “I’ll have an H2O too.” 
He slurred heavily. The second man could sense how drunk he was. He was drowning himself – it had been the worst day of his life. The man had left for work that morning but realized halfway there he’d forgotten a very important document on his desk. When he got home he found a strange car in the driveway. Over the long years he and his wife had become distant, fighting more and more, but he still loved her and had never expected her to cheat on him. Finding some strange man on top of his wife nearly killed him on the spot. He crumbled. She wouldn’t apologize – she screamed, “You made me do this! You don’t appreciate me!” Her words stabbed him like knives because he knew they were true, to a point. He had focused on work – he had to pay for their daughter’s college. She had turned down a full ride to Marist to attend Yale and it was draining every cent of savings they had. He had worked overtime for months on top of his already busy schedule. “I’m doing this for my family,” he would tell himself. He half ran, half crawled from his broken home to his car and drove away. He was manic, his eyes wide and desperate. When he got a hold of himself he was in a strange corner of the city driving aimlessly. He stopped at the first bar he found and at 11am he ordered his first of 12 glasses of whiskey. He was ready for another until he saw this new man walk into the bar and order water. Water!? How could this man just drink water today, the worst day of all time? Water won’t dull the pain! He sneered at the stranger, who looked back at him with a mix of fear and disgust. That was when the drunk man realized that he needed to pull himself together. His marriage may be ruined but he had a daughter, a job, responsibilities… He needed to sober up and head home and make sense of everything. The prospect scared him – home would never be the same – but he knew it was the right thing to do. As he made his order, he had decided to face his crumbling world head on.
The bartender smiles, and serves him a glass… 
The drunk man missed the gleam in the bartender’s eye. The bartender hated this man – sitting morosely in the bar all day, not speaking, drooling – he was pathetic. He had at times sobbed, shouted that he wanted to die and his life was over, and generally been a burden, frightening off other customers. The bartender could not stand people like this. The drunk had been ordering the cheapest whiskey all day, not indicating he would tip, and never even acknowledging the service. In reality, the bartender thought the man deserved whatever misfortune had befallen him.
…the man takes a sip, and he dies.
As the drunk man turned the glass up to his mouth, he caught a whiff of the liquid. Hydrogen peroxide!? But why? But then, why not? Wasn’t this what he really wanted? It was his escape. His momentary confusion gave way to resolve – as the fluid entered his mouth he didn’t spit it out, but he let it roll down his throat. He was numb already, it hardly burned at first but then it became an awful, unimaginable feeling, like being stabbed with 1,000 knives. The room started spinning; he felt the breath being squeezed out of his body. He thought of his daughter, and for a moment he regretted everything; but when he thought of what he’d seen that day he knew he couldn’t bear to live. He didn’t die instantly, but he did lose consciousness before he collapsed to the bar. His heart beat on valiantly for a few more seconds before finally all the life was burned out of him.
The man, who had just walked in, jumped up, horrified. “My God! What happened?” he shouted. The bartender began screaming, “You heard him! You heard him say it didn’t you? He asked for  H2O2! He wanted this! I just gave him his drink. He wanted it, he deserved it!” The bartender screamed wildly. The living man began to realize he would be late for dinner after all. As the bartender’s voice rose to an insane tenor the man swore never to enter a bar again. “I’m innocent; you can’t blame me for what that pathetic fool wanted!” The bartender was truly mad.

Pi Day 2016 – A Poetic Recap


Welcome Pi Lovers! If today is still March 14th, Happy Pi Day!

Please enjoy this salute to Pi – throughout my graduate school career I’ve been collecting memes, writing poems, and otherwise trying to find fun expressions of Pi and other mathematical terms. Here’s a “Best Hits” post of everything Pi-related.

Also, check out the Pi in the Sky Post on this same blog.

a Pi Title

2016 Pi Letter-count Poetry
“3”= a 3-letter word, “1” = a 1-letter word, “4” = a 4-letter word; or “14” = a 14-letter word…

Untitled 1

Can I have a horse. (by Jennifer Knauss)
3      1   4      1   5
Untitled 2
Set a poem a month, conscious of effort given, and write strongly.
3     1  4         1  5             9                  2   6          5           3      5         8
Untitled 3
Yes, Existentialism I found worrisome as advice – never was death inviting!
3       14                         1 5            9                  2   6              5          3       5          8
Untitled 4
The indestructible electromagnetic supercoil is losing power!
3       14                        15                             9                2  6           5
2015 Pi Numerical Acrostic  
3.14… = C.AD…
(Three Short Pieces)

Rebecca Black
Here is a musical interlude:
Pi, being numeric, can be adapted into music quite easily. Now, making it sound good is a different story. I had tinkered with this idea on a piano in 2012 or so before finding that nearly two decades before someone had composed a symphony and then gone to great lengths to arrange a fantastic performance.
On YouTube you can find many adaptations of Pi in music, but I particularly like this one. The musical arrangement is modern in its harmonies, romantic and American in its sensibilities and is overall just pleasant to hear, and the semi-narrated video describes fascinating parts of the production process.  Here is the first movement of the Pi Symphony, performed by the Ruse Orchestra in Bulgaria.


2014 and Earlier: Traditional Pi Canon


There once was a Greek, Archimedes,
Who loved to eat lots of good sweeties,
So he came up with Pi,
Became quite a round guy,
And now he can’t see his own feeties.

Positive results pi.png


3 Point 1 4 1
5  9  2  6  5  3  5
8  9  7  9





Many people considered last year (3.14.15) to be the best Pi day. This yea, 3.14.16, is really just 3.14159 rounded up! HAPPY ROUNDED PI DAY!

Free Verse
Pi, you endless
circular, non-repeating, non-repeating fraction
Never be shackled by 22/7
Break free, for though your roots are of division,
You are infinite.

Petrarchan Sonnet
As I woke up one clear fourteenth of March,
And came to look upon the azure sky,
It crossed my mind it was the day of pi,
As I munched on my bowl of curds and starch.
And such was mine to celebrate the date,             5
That comes but once a year, this 3 – 1 – 4.
I cast confetti out upon the floor,
Then swept it up, which for work made me late.
And, lo, my boss just did not understand,
The reason for my less than timely trip,                 10
For I was loathe to speak to him the truth.
But my coworker Dave did lend a hand,
and told of 3 – 1 – 4, which I did skip,
To which my grinning boss poured us vermouth.




Good Pi Map.jpg

2014’s The World of Pi – Unfinished by the artist, because…well he got busy ok!

The Pi in the Sky (A Graphic Novel)

Many thanks to Dr. Seuss for creating all but one of the characters, Archimedes for defining pi as the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter (~3.14), and most especially Emily Mercer for the outstanding, true to form, and imaginative illustrations that have brought this poem to life.

If life drives your crazy, may your madness bring joy!

a Pi TitlePi 1Pi 2Pi 3Pi 4Pi 5Pi 6Pi 7Pi 8Pi 9Pi 10Pi 11Pi 12Pi 13Pi 14Pi 15Pi 16Pi 17Pi 18Pi 19Pi 20Pi 21