Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Goodbye tiny house

Home gym and shoe rack
There were many things we learned by living in less than 400 square feet for almost 6 years. The (lack of) space will help you realize what is really important in your life (and what you can live without).

I wanted to make a video touring our tiny house, but it was so messy that I was too ashamed to let anyone see how we actually lived.

There were at least two huge piles of clothes on the floor. Usually the oversized dining room table was covered with junk (and stuffed with junk below it in bins). There was no way to clean up because we had nowhere to put things away. 

Every year we gave more and more items away, and didn't buy anything new (except bicycles) but we still couldn't fit all our stuff in that house. We had a storage unit 1/2 mile away for $177 per month, which complicated planning for trips.

If you are considering tiny house living, here are a few photos that show items that made our lives in the tiny house more bearable.

A key rack, mounted to a bookshelf

The spice rack

The coffee cup rack

The vanity bench added extra storage

The hat and coat rack

The lipstick rack + tiny wall-mounted shelf

The sunglass rack

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Car-Free Conferences

I wanted to share a few experiences I've had with attending conferences on my bicycle, using the network of trains and buses that weaves a web throughout Southern California.

On Friday, November 4, 2016 I attended the ALEKS Chemistry Symposium in Irvine, CA.  

On Thursday, November 3rd I took the Ventura County Line Metrolink train #150 from Northridge to LA Union Station and transferred to the Orange County Line train #606 to the Irvine Station for $10.75.  Then I biked less than 3 miles to the La Quinta Inn and Suites.

It’s not that often that you can say you’ve stayed at a hotel listed under the National Registry of Historical Sites. Rooms are former lima bean silos and have a hexagonal shape.  I stayed two nights for $217.78.  Due to the concrete walls, the rooms are super-quiet even though the hotel is right next to the train tracks.

The conference went great, ALEKS employees that ride bicycles had a storage "under-the-stairs" area where there were already a few bikes and a few tools. It was hospitable and secure. It's always nerve-wracking taking your bicycle to a new place, not knowing if there will be bike racks outside or a safe place to lock-up. When you can bring your bike inside, it's always a great thing!

This last photo shows all the modes of transportation I used on that trip.  (1) sweet bike lanes (2) nice sidewalks (3) convenient bus service.  Traveling without a car is even easier when you can use Google Maps and other transit apps to buy tickets and access schedules to predict exactly when your next train or bus will arrive.  There were about 20 people at the conference.

After the conference ended, I took an Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train from Irvine all the way straight to Glendale for $19.  They have roll-on service for bicycles, but you must make a reservation to let the conductor know you are bringing your bike on board.

On Friday, March 3, 2017 I attended the 1st Annual Collaborative Chemistry Conference in Oxnard, CA. 

After work on Thursday, I jumped on Metrolink Ventura County Line train #119 from Northridge out to Oxnard for $11.50.  There was a group of commuters playing some kind of card game on their phones.  One lady was celebrating her 20 year work anniversary.  It's always a party on the bike car!

I stayed at the Flamingo Motel.  It was not too fancy, not too expensive ($65).  It was a short (0.5 mile) bike ride from the Oxnard Transit Center.  The great thing is that there was a taco truck parked next door with fresh, hot food.  The cable and wireless internet were fantastic, and the shower had great water pressure.  It was quiet and I got about 10 hours of sleep!

To get from the Oxnard downtown area to the conference location, it was about a 6 mile bike ride.  I left my hotel at ten minutes to 8am.  Checking out of the Flamingo was easy.  Google Maps gave me turn-by-turn directions for a scenic ride through Oxnard along mostly bike lanes.  There was only one small climb, and the view was so fantastic I had to stop and take a photo.

I arrived at the conference location, Channel Islands Boating Center at 3880 Bluefin Cir, right on time for the continental breakfast.  We got a swag bag from Cengage, which was awesome.  The lunch was sponsored by Pearson.  In total, about 30 people attended the conference.  Again, I was able to bring my bike inside the conference room, it was a great conversation starter.

After the conference ended, I biked the 6 miles back to the Oxnard Transit Center again along mostly bike lanes.  Although a few people shouted out their window, what I choose to believe are encouraging remarks, it was a safe and scenic bike ride.  The Oxnard Transit Center (like the Irvine station) has a great waiting room.  There are restrooms, benches, tables, and a cafe.  

I recommend taking public transportation to conferences.  It is a liberating experience.

I'm preparing to attend the 253rd American Chemical Society National Meeting in San Francisco.  I'm presenting a poster entitled "Comparison of adaptive and traditional online homework systems in a preparatory chemistry course" CHED 157. The poster session will be from 7:00-9:00pm on Sunday, April 2nd in Hall A - Moscone Center.

Instead of taking my bike on a train, I'm taking an overnight Greyhound bus. It's a bit crazy, since I'm going up there on Saturday night (schedule 6862), presenting on Sunday, then coming back Sunday night (schedule 6849). The transportation cost is $85.  The Greyhound operates these express buses that only make 4 stops: LA --> Avenal --> Oakland --> SF.  The Avenal stop is 40 minutes, allowing passengers to get food.

It will be nice not to have to worry about locking my bike somewhere, no getting the bike on and off a bus or train. I'm looking forward to using my new Cotopaxi Luzon 18L Daypack. I'm going to make some progress on the billion step challenge by doing more walking.  I'm definitely bringing a neck pillow and possibly some noise-canceling headphones to make sure I can sleep on the bus.

The Los Angeles Greyhound Bus Station is a 2 mile walk from Los Angeles Union Station (even though you would think they would be in the same location).  Then from the San Francisco Greyhound Bus Station it's less than 1 mile walk to the Moscone Center.  After presenting my poster, I'll have an hour to walk back to catch my bus to LA, arriving at 5:30am. Then at 6:51am I'll catch our normal train, Metrolink Ventura County Line Train #101 in order to arrive at CSUN to teach my class at 9:30am. I'll let you know how it goes.

Oh yeah, and also, #626GoldenStreets is tomorrow!!!!!!!!!!!!

Plan to take advantage of the opportunity to ride Metro Gold Line between South Pasadena and Azusa.  I'll be in my Bikecar101 T-shirt leading the feeder ride from Glendale.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another Chemistry Lesson

Many times, I've done a "Smell-a-Vision" lesson with my students based on GC-MS data on terpenes from citrus fruits, herbs, and flowers collected from around campus.  This year, I plan to use Mr. Sketch markers as a source of the aromas.  Students will be given either percent composition or combustion analysis data, together with the molecular weight, and asked to determine empirical and molecular formulas.

The implementation could have been smoother, it was really difficult to hand out 36 markers of different aroma and the corresponding papers.  If I had to do this activity again, I would have spent more time preparing the markers and papers (already matched up) and had a corresponding seating chart (plan to distribute).  With a class of ~80 students, there were pairs and groups of 3.  I ended up taking about 15 minutes to distribute the activity which only left 5 minutes for students to work on the problems.  I made it a take-home extra-credit assignment, so there's no telling how students will get the problem solved.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sour Stomach?

The 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was shared between James Black, Gertrude Elion, and George Hitchings "for their discoveries of important principles for drug treatment.”  In 1964, histamine was known to stimulate the secretion of stomach acid, but traditional antihistamines had no effect on acid production. Tagamet was one of the first drugs discovered using a rational drug design approach. 

Hundreds of modified compounds were synthesized in an effort to find a specific antihistamine to decrease production of stomach acid. Tagamet was approved by the FDA for prescriptions in 1976. By 1979, Tagamet was being sold in more than 100 countries and became the top-selling prescription product in the U.S. 

Tagamet became the first drug ever to reach more than $1 billion a year in sales, thus making it the first blockbuster drug.  Before the introduction of the drug, treatment of peptic ulcers relied on extensive bed rest, imposition of a bland diet, treatment with antacids, and often involved surgery if the ulcer recurred.  Tagamet's mode of action is to block the Histamine H2 receptor.

There are 3 types of heartburn medication: 
  • antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta, and Tums
  • Histamine H2 receptor antagonists such as Pepcid and Tagamet
  • proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Prilosec and Prevacid
In seeking a course of treatment for heartburn, it is best to progress from antacids to Histamine H2 receptor antagonists to proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), each more aggressive than the next.  There is a risk of osteoporosis and vitamin B12 deficiency if PPIs are taken over a long period of time, although PPIs are usually more effective than the older Histamine H2 blockers.

Prilosec was the first proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) on the market, in 1988. It was sold as a racemic mixture of R and S isomers. Prevacid was the second of the PPI drugs to reach the market, being launched in Europe in 1991 and the US in 1995. In 2001 Nexium was launched in USA, containing the S-isomer only of the same molecule as Prilosec, providing higher bioavailability and improved efficacy.

Aside from medication, there are dietary changes that can address acid reflux. Limit fried foods and fatty foods, such as butter, mayonnaise, cream sauces, gravies. Try lower fat or skim milk, as this may also help reduce heartburn. Limit foods that cause gas, like rich spicy foods. Sit upright for at least one hour after a meal. 

The Top Pharmaceuticals That Changed The World, Chemical & Engineering News Vol. 83, Issue 25 (6/20/05) http://pubs.acs.org/cen/coverstory/83/8325/8325list.html 

Lars Olbe, Enar Carlsson & Per Lindberg. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 2, 132-139 (February 2003) http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v2/n2/fig_tab/nrd1010_F2.html

Are Heartburn Medications Safe for Long-Term Use? - Everyday Health (2/19/16)

5 Steps to an Effective Acid Reflux Diet - RefluxMD (6/15/16)

Nausea and Vomiting Heartburn: - WIC Works (2005)

Monday, January 16, 2017


Plants and microorganisms produce over 150,000 natural molecules, some of which are bioactive in humans.  I am writing this post in response to the wave of celebrity deaths, some of which may be attributed to drug overdoses.

Figure 1: Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) courtesy of the DEA Museum website
The opium poppy is the source of morphine and codeine. Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin) is a semi-synthetic opioid synthesized from codeine. According to the US DEA, hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the United States and is associated with more drug abuse and diversion than any other licit or illicit opioid. Dextromethorphan (pronounced "dex-tro-meth-orphan") is a molecule that resulted from a search for a non-addictive analogue of codeine that still retained cough relief. Unfortunately, it still carries a risk for abuse.

Figure 2: Most widely used (and abused) opioids
This year, the musician Prince is said to have died from a fentanyl overdose. A structurally similar molecule, demerol, is primarily used in labor and delivery. Demerol was the first wholly synthetic opioid developed, in 1939. Fentanyl was discovered in 1960 by screening demerol analogues. To my eyes, it isn't easy to see the structural similarity between the plant-based opioids (natural and semi-synthetic) and the synthetic opioids.

Figure 3: Red region of the molecules mimics the endogenous ligand for opioid receptor, a GPCR
There are multiple types of opioid receptors: mu (MOR), delta (DOR), and kappa (KOR) among them.  The drugs mentioned here mimic the endogenous morphine, also known as endorphin.  There are multiple types of endorphin peptides, but one endorphin peptide met-enkephalin (structure not shown) shares a common substructure with the plant-based opioids (shown in red in Figure 3).

Figure 4: Selectivity of opioids for three classes of opioid receptors
Different opioids have varying degrees of selectivity for the different classes of opioid receptors. This selectivity may explain why distinct substructures can have a similar effect.

Figure 5: A set of structurally related anti-diarrheal compounds in current use

Orienting the fentanyl molecule differently reveals its structural similarity to other anti-diarrheals, Immodium and the combination drug called Limodil. A side effect of opioids is constipation. Everything I know about opioid abuse, I learned from the movie Trainspotting.


John Wiley & Sons, 2007.

Chahl, Loris A. "Opioids - mechanisms of action" Australian Prescriber, 1996.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Central Coast Trip

We had a wonderful 5-day (4-night) vacation in Grover Beach this New Year's.  My panniers weighed about 26 pounds.  The raingear was not used, but rain was in the forecast so it was good we had it just in case.  The most valuable items were the windbreaker, yoga pants, and a zip-up hoodie.

It was easy to catch the Amtrak from Glendale.  The Holiday Inn Express provided continental breakfast, of which we used to make lunches of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.  This helped keep the cost of our trip low.  Our walks and bicycle rides were completely free.  We considered seeing a movie, but there wasn't anything we could agree upon.

I am providing our modest itinerary and detailed packing list for our own documentation, but also I would hope it would help you consider what you would bring if you had to carry everything.  There are things I missed, but I used everything I brought.  It felt really good to simplify our lives if only for a week.

It was really fun to be able to take the bus.  The 5-cities transit was awesome!  We bought a $5 all-day pass for the day we went to San Luis Obispo, since we took two different bus lines.  Even though we were early for the bus (which runs only once per hour) we took the opportunity to do some "Bus Stop Calisthenics." Analogous to my favorite passtime, "Train Yoga."  When you consider the urban landscape one big playground for adults, and stop caring what people think, life can be more fun!


Day 1: Fri. Dec. 30

Boarded train at 3:17pm
Arrived at 7:54pm
Biked to hotel
Dinner at Carl's Jr

Day 2: Sat. Dec. 31

Bike ride to Grover Beach beachfront
Viewing of Monarch Grove
Bike tour of Pismo Beach downtown
Walk to 5 Cities Center, Branch Street
Bus ride back to K Mart
Dinner at AJ Spurs

Day 3: Sun. Jan. 1

Bike ride to Avila Beach
Walk to Grand Avenue
Dinner at Round Table Pizza

Day 4: Mon. Jan. 2

Bus ride to San Luis Obispo
Tour of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Shopping at Phoenix Books

Day 5: Tue. Jan. 3

Lunch at Station Grill
Boarded train at 1:55pm
Arrived at 6:50pm
Biked home

Packing List

Raingear + Stocking cap
Light jacket + Windbreaker
Sun hat + Cycling cap
Scarf + Headscarf
Bicycling gloves
Undershirts (1 camisole, 3 t-shirts)
Long sleeve cycling jersey
Boxers or panties (5+ pair)
Socks (5+ pair)
Bras (1 sports and 2 regular)
Hoodie (zip up)
Sunglasses + case + cleaning cloth
Bicycle helmet
Safety vest
Hiking pants (Convertible)
Yoga pants
Dress pants
Cycling shorts
Face wash, lotion, eye cream, serum
Contact lens case/solution
Chapstick, face SPF 50, body SPF 30
Comb, headband, tampons, medication
Phone + Charger
GoPro + Charger
Lights + Charger
Computer + Charger
Music player + Charger
Resort Dress
Cycling & Walking shoes 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Zion NP Packing List


Coat (heavy)

Jacket (windbreaker)

Hat (stocking)


Gloves (ski/waterproof)



Long Underwear

Undershirt (camisole, t-shirt)

Performance shirt (long sleeve)

Boxers (briefs or panties)



Fleece (zip up)

Backpack + water bladder


Sun hat


Thermal socks

Performance socks (2 pair)

Hiking pants

Hiking boots

Flip-flop (sandals, thongs)



Snacks (Clif bars)