Crafty Vacation

Interestingly, I ended up doing a lot of creating during this winter break.  Knife.  Wallet.  Dog collar.

The Knife is something I’ve been working on for weeks, under the tutelage of a friend, Jesús, who is a professional bladesmith (click to check out his website).  It’s supposed to be a Seax, a type of knife that was widely used mainly by ancient Germanic cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxons, Vikings) both for fighting and for mundane, everyday tasks.  The blade was forged, ground, and polished by hand.  The pattern on the blade is made using a special technique during hardening–the steel is actually of a different crystalline structure in the contrasted areas.  The handle is made of copper and wood from a walnut tree that had been cut down on his property.  We also made the sheath using copper, and with leather we hand-stretched and dyed.  The following show at least some of the steps to how we made it.

Forging the rough shape of the blade:


We then put a type of clay on the blade in a pattern that will appear later.  Heating up to temperature one last time before quenching in oil (to harden it):


Jesús demonstrating quenching with the blade he was working on (you have to pull it out of the forge and put it in the oil within seconds, so it doesn’t cool too much in the air):


Tempering the blade in a relatively cooler oven so that it isn’t so hard/brittle that it will shatter easily:


The blade has been ground to give it an edge and smooth surfaces.  Next is to start the handle, chiseling a recess in some walnut:


Fitting a copper plate for the hilt piece:


Shaped the handle and epoxying the copper plate to the top:


Looking good so far!


Stitching the sheath’s stretched leather for reinforcement:


Also, made a copper inlay for the butt-end:


Added decorative coiled copper, and the blade is ready for polishing:


Spent about 18 or so hours polishing (up to 2000 grit), and burned runes into the handle (my name on one side, the name of the knife [“niedscyld”] on the obverse).  Final steps were using acid etching to bring out the “hamon” pattern we created during quenching, coating the handle with tung oil, and epoxying the blade into the handle.


I had so much fun with all the skills I learned to make the knife, that I got some leather working supplies of my own, and made a couple of simple items.  First was a new, slim card-wallet.


Next, I thought a great thing would be a new collar for Penny. Used the woodburner tool to give it a flower pattern.



Making things with your hands is super satisfying!


As most of you know, Sharell and I did the 23andMe genetic test. We did it before the FDA shut down their ability to give health-related reports on genetic samples, so that was fun! But one of the other great parts about 23andMe is that you can actually download the raw output data that their analysis generates. With this data in hand, you can then run additional analyses with other services. So we took mine and Sharell’s data, and used some of the analyses on a free ancestry-related website called GEDMatch.

One of the more interesting tests you can run are the admixture tests, which attempt to describe what portions of a person’s genetic background come from where. Keep in mind that by just looking at raw genetic data, we can only discern ancestry in broad terms–DNA unfortunately doesn’t have little flags on it if you look at it really close with a microscope.

Here are some pie charts that describe each of our deep genetic ancestries.



You can see that both Sharell and I have large “North Sea” and “Atlantic” ancestries. What does that even mean?  Today’s political borders are not really helpful, since genetics is more of a consequence of older migrations of people. A slightly better way to think about it might be using linguistic groups. The North Sea group, for example, is predominately peoples who speak North and West Germanic languages. This includes the English, Dutch, Germans, and Scandinavians (Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, Icelanders). The Atlantic group are peoples who would have at one point spoken some sort of Celtic language. So this would be the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Bretons (people from Brittany in France), and some Spanish peoples.  Basques are sometimes included in this group too.

The actual numbers for these charts are below.


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Though the raw genetic data can only be assigned to broad groups of people, you can get a little more specific by analyzing the patterns of this data. One way to do this is by least-squares analysis, where you arrive at probabilistic distances of an individual to the typical pattern of certain groups of people. What this means, is that a shorter calculated distance makes it more likely a person is from a given group. Here’s our data.


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Of course, this above type of analysis is basically saying: “If I have to pick one group a person is part of, which do they fit in?” The problem is, most people’s backgrounds are not that homogenous. You can see the problem this method runs into by comparing my top result with Sharell’s–at 6.21 from Southeast English, I’m nearly twice as far as her distance to West German (3.69). This is probably due to the Native American ancestry I have mixed in there, making it harder to fit me into that Southeast English mold, while Sharell is from all European stock. So if you do a similar analysis, where instead you are measuring the probabilistic distance to pairs of backgrounds, you get something like this.


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For my results, you can see that this brings my top match’s probabilistic distance much closer (3.21). Sharell’s is a mixture of German and Scandinavian, which is not surprising given what we know about her Danish ancestry (these countries border one another), and this is also probabilistically closer at 2.56.

Unfortunately these analyses can only tell us a certain amount about a person’s background, and are mainly useful in painting a picture with broad strokes.  You also have to keep in mind what we actually know about a person’s genealogy when interpreting the data.  For example, in my pie chart above, it indicates that I have ancestry from Oceania–unlikely.  Instead, what appears to the analysis as being Oceanic is probably a Native American sequence that represents overlapping similarity between those groups.

First Year of Medical School: Done

Above: Valentino “The Doctor” Rossi.

I’ve gotten some requests to write a “Casey’s Medical School Experience: First Year Edition” post. So this is me taking a stab at it.

The whole experience began with us arriving in Appalachian Virginia’s city of Roanoke last July. We showed up at our duplex in a quiet, suburban neighborhood called Crystal Spring. It was the first time we had seen our new home in real life, and we were pleasantly surprised by how big it felt inside. We used our phones for internet service, and slept on the floor for several days while waiting for our furniture to arrive via Amazon Prime.

My first encounter with fellow VTC students happened at a welcome barbecue that was held in Mill Mountain Park, adjacent to The Star. It was a nice, student-run event where I was able to meet a lot of my new classmates and upper classmen.

The official start of classes was really a week-long orientation to the school. I wore a suit every day, and it was frankly a little exhausting. Basically 8am to 5pm days all week, where we would sit through a barrage of lectures on how things were done at the school, what to expect, and how to behave. Although many of these were very boring, a lot of the instructors who gave talks seemed genuinely excited to see us. We heard from various Deans and Directors, and the Mayor even came one day. And we got free lunch for the whole week. I will admit that all the attention sorta made me feel like a celebrity in our little mountain town.

Below: Medical students displaying their Friday plumage.

We hit the ground running after orientation week was over. We began the routine of what is a “Mixed Systems- and Problem-based learning” type of curriculum. What that means is that we meet for “PBL” sessions in small groups of seven students and a faculty facilitator three times per week (for several hours per session) but also still have traditional lectures other times throughout the week.

PBL is an interesting concept, and definitely one of the cornerstones of our basic science learning here. Each week we work on a case that is based on the experiences of real patients and physicians, with the intent of us reliving the whole thing from the patient’s first appearance in the clinic, to the conclusion—whatever that ended up being. While we progress through these timelines of events, there are points where we pause and are tasked with making our own prioritized lists of possible diagnoses, as well as coming up with what tests we would’ve hypothetically liked to have ordered, and stuff like that. And when we come across a new concept—a new disease, drug, or anything else we’re not familiar with, we put that in our list of learning objectives for the day. At the end of the session, we dole out learning objectives to each group member, and each of us makes a 15-20 minute powerpoint presentation to give to the group at the next session. In PBL you quickly learn to think critically and communicate effectively. At the end the of the week, we conclude each case by having a “wrap-up” session where the real patient (or at least a similar one) from the case comes in with their doctor who treated them, and they have an hour-long Q&A session.

PBL and lectures are definitely what takes up most of my time here at VTC. But before I get ahead of myself, I should explain that what I’ve mentioned so far are things that I do as part of the “Basic Science” domain, and that there are actually three other domains that are a part of the overall curriculum here. The others are Clinical Science, Research, and Interprofessionalism. If the stuff we learn in Basic Science describes the nuts and bolts of how things work (or don’t) in the human body, Clinical Science describes how to actually approach that as a doctor would in real life. In Clinical Science we learn how to interview and talk to patients, how to perform examination techniques, and (eventually) how to do certain procedures. We generally learned how to do all this stuff in various lab sessions, practicing on each other, and then once we developed at least some level of proficiency, with professional actors (known as “standardized patients”) in mock examination rooms.

The Research Domain might be my favorite, and to me, is what really sets VTC apart as a medical school. Evidence-based medicine is what makes modern medicine work, and sound science is obviously the foundation. But this is no easy task—even if you can understand some of the jargon of a scientific paper, critical flaws in the study design might result in inaccurate conclusions and bad decisions in the clinic. It’s more important than ever for physicians to be able to be fluent in this language of science. To learn how to be “Scientist Physicians,” we read scientific papers, debate their merits and flaws, and eventually conduct our own scientific studies (a capstone research project is required). I’m going to be working with an endocrinologist, and we are going to study the interaction of hormones and types of macronutrients in normal-weight and obese people. My readings for this project have also lead me to develop a keen interest in a special place where the body stores some of its fat—the heart. I’ve talked with a cardiologist, and might also start up a side research project relating to this topic.. stay tuned for updates on that one.

The last domain is one that this young school is still trying to flesh out: the Interprofessionalism Domain. Basically, the point of this domain is for us to learn how to play nice with nurses and physician assistants. We learn about team science and are put into small groups with students from the RN and PA programs. We do team-based healthcare simulations and community service projects. The four domains are supposed to be four equal pieces to the puzzle, but I think most would say Interprofessionalism is still trying to find itself.

This first year flew by in a blur of lectures, standardized patient encounters, and PBL presentations. Over the course of four, eight-week-long blocks, we learned about biochemistry, immunology, and the musculoskeletal system (block 1); cardiopulmonary physiology and embryology (block 2); gastrointestinal, endocrine, renal, and reproductive physiology (block 3); and lastly, neuroscience (block 4). Next year I get to learn about all the things that go wrong with all of those parts of the body.

TL;DR: .25*MD.

P.S. I am happy to elaborate on anything if anyone has any questions in the comments section below.

Below: The Author and the Dean.

Happy Easter!

 We spent this gorgeous day visiting my brother! 
We headed to Avila Beach to have a picnic lunch by the pier.

I made cheesecake stuffed strawberries for dessert. So good.

The dogs had a blast hunting for eggs in the yard and eating the treats inside 🙂

The first time painting my nails in months! Loving the beautiful weather!

A Fun Sunday

Casey had been pretty sick and bed bound for the last few days, but today he felt MUCH better and had an appetite again. So today he and I spent some much needed fun time together. Here is a peak at our day!

Our yummy lunch date

I was ecstatic to catch this little guy on our hike!

We made meatloaf and rice together for my family dinner.
While it cooked, Casey flew his helicopter around.
I am SO glad he is feeling better 🙂