Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Gary Corby's Athenian mystery series book # 5

Gary Corby's Athenian mystery series are very entertaining series about ancient Greece. I read all five of them and highly recommend them.  

Gary Corby's portrayal of ancient Greece (~455 BC) is very interesting for educational point of view and easy to read. The series are mostly written for middle school students who are just starting to learn more about world history.    

The series' main characters are fictional private investigator, Nicolaos, his wife Diotima and his young but very bright brother Socrates (probably future famous philosopher).

In this 5th episode, Nicolaos are asked by Pericles to investigate death of metic actor at the time of great Dionysia festival. Great Dionysia was a Athens art festival where famous plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were shown. Metics were called people who came to live in Athens but did not have a formal citizenship (and associated privileges and rights). 

The story itself is kind of ridiculous, especially its ending, but this does not diminish overall quality of the story. When reading the book you are immersed in ancient Athens and learn a lot of details about peculiarities of ancient Athenians and their leaders. 

posted by David Usharauli

Monday, October 26, 2015

Biotech valuation

I tried to read these two books to introduce myself to biotech valuation. I had no clear idea what actually "valuation" meant. I wanted to learn a little bit about biotech investment strategies and how to appraise a company's financial "worthiness".  

I thought these books would be easy to understand for the beginners who are not familiar with professional assessment of biotech stocks [I thought books were about it]. However I was mistaken. Book is filled with all kind of graphs and mathematical equations or formulas that had nothing to do with investment and were more advance than my math skills could handle.

Beyond numbers, however, books contained little useful information for me. I thought I would learn, for example, why a particular biotech pipeline is valued so and so. Real life examples. I found none of these. What a waste of time.

posted by David Usharauli

Monday, October 19, 2015

Harper Lee and american social foundation

I am not very familiar with american classical literature. I have heard about Harper Lee before but have never read anything of hers, so when I found this book in our library I said let me try it. This novel, published originally in 1960, was considered as an important foundation for coming civil rights movement.      

In general, after reading the whole book I realized that is it essentially a book for teens. It is true that book is about complex social issues such as racial and social injustice, misogyny, hypocrisy. But Harper Lee presents these issues to the readers from 9 year old girl's point of view, so the reader is "cushioned" from immediate exposure to harsh reality.

The book is set in 1935, in a fictional small town, in deep south. Racial divide is a fact of life and no one seriously questions it, though there is already some "awaking" to the concept social injustice. Atticus Finch, a girl's father and one of the main characters in this book, is part of this "awaking" but as a lawyer his "awaking" is restricted to the concept of legal injustice, not a social injustice per se.   

However, hypocrisy is a fact of life life too. In one episode a school teacher is horrified by the fact that in Germany Hitler is doing whatever he wants to the Jews, but in the same sentence she shows that she is totally oblivious to the condition of blacks in her own town.   

The most enigmatic character of the book is Boo Radley, a reclusive young man. No one really knows much about him and or thought of him as a "burden" to the town. However, he is a real life "good Samaritan". 

posted by David Usharauli

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Oh, Sarum, Sarum, you are too big to fail

This is really a big book by Edward Rutherfurd. The book's story covers the period between 7,500 B.C. until modern days and focus on fictional characters who lived in Sarum (ancient name for modern day Salisbury), which is located near the remains of the modern day Stonehenge. 

This is basically a historical fiction. The author created several fictional family line with long unbroken lines of descendants who supposedly continue living in or around Sarum for 10,000 years.

The book starts with the depiction of final act of separation of British isles from continental Europe at the end of big ice age when vast amount of melted ice established the strait of La Manche (English Channel).

Later it describes how Stonehenge was built around 2000 B.C. Strangely, the authors depicts local ruler as a despot with arbitrary power. It also reveals widespread human sacrifice for solar or moon gods.

Then, it switches to the period of Roman occupation in the 1st century A.D under Claudius and Nero. Then, to the 5th century A.D, fall of Roman Empire and Saxon invasion of British isles.

and So on. For each period, the authors chooses several characters and show their living conditions and surrounding socio-political environment.

I read this book up to Plantagenet period, but no further. For me this book lacked sufficient details to keep my interest going. Many characters are artificially inserted into the story and mostly distract rather the help the story lines. 

posted by David Usharauli

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"Human trials" in oral [antigen] tolerance by Susan Quinn

I was trying to get hold of this book for some time and in the end I found it at Open Library. I was interested to read it once I realized that it described a biotech company, then called Autoimmune Inc.,[now no longer existing], that have tried an "oral tolerance" approach to treat autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).   

Now, this book was published in 2001. By that time, Autoimmune had conducted two major trials, one in MS, and another in RA, and both of these phase III trials failed. As book described, the main reason for those "failures" was unusually high placebo effect.

Book itself is an interview-observation type of work. It focus is people involved in oral tolerance trials. Its main character is Howard Weiner, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School, whose lab provided the scientific basis for oral tolerance trials. 

Oral tolerance is a classical immunological phenomenon. Basically, it postulates that orally taken antigens induce special type of immune response that can cross-inhibit inflammatory immune response. So, the idea was that if patient with autoimmune disease takes target [MS or RA] antigens by oral route, then these antigens will induce special population of T cells which in turn would inhibit disease causing inflammatory T cells.

Today we know that there are several types of regulatory T cells (such as Foxp3+ T cells, IL-10+ or TGFβ1+ Tr1 cells) that can be induced by oral antigens. However, even today, after 15 years, we still have no clear understanding of exact mechanisms responsible for oral tolerance effect.

The story in this book is a prime example of difference between [bio]chemical and purely biological [drug] approaches. Biological approaches, such as oral tolerance, adoptive T cell therapies, are more complex because they involve live cells whose functionalities are not completely understood and they still store lots of unexpected surprises.

posted by David Usharauli

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Review of "A Canticle for Leibowitz" by Walter M. Miller

On the surface, "A Canticle for Leibowitz" represents a futuristic dystopian novel. But it is misleading. Actually it is about our past, but only about past as seen in the west (from Greco-Roman world's point of view). 

The book comes in three parts. It begins in 26th century with the story about  nuclear holocaust that happened in the 20th century, referred as "flame deluge", that soon was followed by act of massive homicides and cleansing of educated classes, referred as "simplification". Within few years the whole world civilization collapses. 

We can clearly see the parallel with the fall of western Roman Empire in 5th century and beginning of the dark ages.  

Leibowitz is a scientists who is martyred by the mob during "simplification" for collecting and saving books. With the blessing of surviving Catholic church, now located in New Rome, the whole new priestly order is established, named after Leibowitz, tasked to preserve the knowledge. 

Again, we clearly see the parallels with the medieval libraries associated with the Catholic church during dark ages.

In the second part, set around 3200 A.D, there is a renewed interest in acquiring knowledge and we are witnessing advances in secularism but also in empire building. These are references to real life Renaissance in the western Europe starting in the early 15th century.    

In the final, third chapter, set around 3700 A.D, society came full circle and we are witnessing nuclear weapons and space travel capability. Yet again, book is ending by another "flame deluge", this time even worse. One space ship owned by Catholic church, however, manages to escape destruction and leaves for closest star system.

I personally see this book more of "Christian faith" book rather than science fiction. Catholic church is portrayed as a only force whose goal is to preserve and defend humanity. Conceptually, book's first and its final 20 or so pages contain all the the book's "artistic values" and they are quite powerful to read.

posted by David Usharauli