This is what I meant by "it's a trivial exercise in orbital mechanics, so maybe all of you do this instinctively". I got there empirically. :)
What an "aspiring chemist" should do depends a lot on age and where they are in the educational process. For children below high-school age, I think there are lots of great experiments you can do to illustrate principles of chemistry. Lack of originality isn't a bug there, it's a feature. In high school, if you think you like science, take chemistry! There should be a lab component in most schools, so you can at least get a flavor for what working with chemicals is like. Access to equipment like this is an underrated component... (read more)
There are a few problems with DIY organic chemistry. The first one is that many of the reagents are toxic. Some of those are volatile or readily absorbed through the skin. Others will spontaneously burst into flame when exposed to air. Sometimes the dangers of working with chemicals is overstated, but sometimes it's very much not. In academic or industry labs we solve mitigate those problems with fume hoods and personal protective equipment (and no, the exhaust fan above your stove is not an acceptable substitute). The s... (read more)
My visual imagination is pretty much constantly on when I read chemistry papers. There's a stereotype that you read a synthesis or catalysis paper by (1) carefully looking at the figures, (2) reading the experimental procedures, and then maybe (3) reading the text if you need clarification on a point or two. Lots of areas of chemistry (organic, biological, materials science) benefit greatly from visualization because of the fundamental idea that structure determines function. If you can't visualize a catalyst in 3D, it becomes much more difficult to explain things like stereoselectivity or reaction mechanism.
If covalent vs. noncovalent bonds are something you're not familiar with, it sounds like you'd benefit from reading the chapter(s) on chemical bonding (every gen chem textbook should have one). I'd also infer from that that you won't have much of a background in thermodynamics, which rears its head when you try to understand the energy-storing and energy-releasing reactions of metabolism.
When I was an undergraduate we used Atkins and Jones' Chemical Principles: the Quest for Insight (link is to a slightly older edition because it's not a field whose basic principles have changed much in the last few years). If memory serves, it was pretty good. I'd also recommend checking out the MIT OCW site for 5.112 (that course will do a better job of preparing you for organic chemistry than 3.091, which is more materials focused).
It is certainly possible to start with an organic chemistry textbook as long as you have a good grasp of... (read more)
Wow, that was more vehement than I was expecting. I remember reading 1984 and Brave New World near one another, and thinking that Brave New World was significantly better. I guess I wasn't as put off by the pro-traditionalist vibes in BNW as you were, and I remember thinking that the government in 1984 was way too capital-E Evil to be very interesting. I'd argue that BNW is about the way things can still go wrong even when you get a lot right (ending sickness and poverty), while 1984 just seemed like Stalin's USSR with better surveillance tech.
I know it's not perfect, but "achieve human potential" sounds like a reasonable moral axiom to start with. A big "no thank you" to the wireheading for me.
I really enjoyed this post! Look wistfully at pictures of Welwitschia, indeed! I got to see some in person a few years ago when we went to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, and my wife was very forbearing with my gaping at the unassuming piles of green straps.
If you're interested in learning more about what the plant developmental toolbox looks like and how it's been deployed throughout plant evolution, I'd recommend David Beerling's Making Eden. It's a pop-science book but pitched at the upper end of that range. Merl... (read more)
Thanks for the pointer. There's more there than I remembered. I originally bounced off that sequence after this post, where EY spends a lot of time worrying about whether there will be enough math puzzles to go around after the singularity. I remember thinking that his conception of fun was so far from mine that there wasn't much point in continuing. Maybe I should revisit that conclusion.
Thanks for your thoughts! I think you've put your finger on an important difference between how an individual experiences a society and what a society is capable of accomplishing. It's the stunting in the second category that makes Brave New World a clear dystopia for me. As for the islands, their influence on the remainder of society is clearly told to be carefully limited and controlled. I think Huxley's inclusion of the islands as havens for the dissatisfied greatly increases the ambiguity in how the society appears to a modern r... (read more)
I don't have any inside information about what exactly prompted the publication of these pieces, but I don't think it's unusual for practicing scientists to have some idea of what's possible if things go very, very right with their research. They're often wrong, of course, and important discoveries are often important precisely because of unforeseen ramifications. The Acc. Chem. Res. papers are just speculations about potentially awesome destinations for existing lines of research.
I think that the resistance to Hamming's line of questioning cam... (read more)
Thanks for this post!
To me, the early retirement option has always seemed like it was better suited to people who had unrewarding jobs that paid better than any of the jobs they would like more (for MMM, this was programming). On the other hand, even if you like your job it's hard to see how having substantial savings in case of layoffs or unforeseen circumstances could be a bad thing (see Richard Meadows' post on this point). Thus, like you, I've started leaning toward the "retire in your mind" option. I also find that the parts of my jo... (read more)
For biochemistry, I think the Roche Biochemical Pathways chart is awesome, if a little overwhelming:
I don't recommend using it to learn biochemistry but it's pretty great to see it all laid out in one place like that.
For the field of chemistry, I nominate The Periodic Table of the Elements. I know it's old but it really does capture a surprising amount of information in a visually pleasing format.
I disagree with your assessment that structural biology is useless. Knowing the shape of a protein can be pretty important if you want to perturb the protein's function by, say, finding or creating a small molecule that binds to it. Crystal structures or cryo-EM structures can shed a lot of light on how a molecule binds to its target, which in turn can suggest further modifications to try and make a tighter binder. It's not clear to me yet how easy or hard it will be to simulate ligand-protein binding using AlphaFold. I'd lean toward 'hard' but maybe molecular dynamics simulations would dovetail well with a structure determined by AlphaFold.
I'm very glad to see that you're learning organic chemistry! It's a great subject for the type of exercise you've described, as it's a very visual field of study. As you mention that visualization is a skill you're working on developing in parallel with your organic chemistry studies, I'd recommend that you get ahold of a molecular model kit. It may sound silly, but having a physical model of a molecule in front of you can make a big difference in how long it takes to grasp why, for example, SN2 and SN1 reactions give different stereochem... (read more)
"Don't screw future self" is one that has served me well for more than a decade.