Thursday, December 15, 2005

People see what they want

It looks like the whole “evolution vs. creationism” battle has hit the federal courts. If this article is true to what’s going on, the whole thing is absolutely silly. Bizarre may be a better word.

First off, it looks like Cobb County, Georgia schools put a sticker on their biology books saying, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." Why they felt the need to put this sticker on these books is anyone’s guess. The school board calls the stickers "a reasonable and evenhanded guide to science instruction" that encourages students to be critical thinkers. The stickers seem unnecessary to me, but okay.

Most modern biology texts I’ve ever read (including my latest one) present it as a core theme in modern biology (which it is), explain it’s core process, natural selection, and then show how certain elements of biology seem to coincide with it. They don’t bowl you over and say, “God doesn’t exist and evolution is the only true gospel of creation.” In fact, I’ve never seen a biology textbook that mentions God at all, let alone tries to prove or disprove his existence. They just teach biology as we understand it today; or at least at the time of publication.

Apparently some folks disagree. Some parents, as well as the ACLU (surprise surprise) have sued, claiming the stickers violate the constitutional separation of church and state. U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled that the sticker "conveys an impermissible message of endorsement and tells some citizens that they are political outsiders while telling others they are political insiders."

Huh? Endorsing critical thinking violates the first amendment? Since when? What is this statement endorsing if not careful study and thought? And just who are the political outsiders, here? People who can’t think for themselves? The judge is doing nothing but concocting a condition that doesn’t actually exist. Judge Cooper must think that critical thinking, and forming your own opinions, is dangerous. I wonder what he thinks about bloggers?

This quote from the article is brilliant:

"If it's unconstitutional to tell students to study evolution with an open mind, then what's not unconstitutional?" said John West, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that supports intelligent design, the belief that the universe is so complex it must have been created by a higher power. "The judge is basically trying to make it unconstitutional for anyone to have a divergent view, and we think that has a chilling effect on free speech."

It seems to me that these parents, the judge, and the ACLU, are simply saying “What’s constitutional is what agrees with my position, and anything that disagrees with it is unconstitutional.” Oh, yeah. Way to protect our civil liberties, there. Not!

“Opponents of the sticker campaign see it as a backdoor attempt to introduce the biblical story of creation into the public schools...”

What? Where in this sticker’s message does it mention the Bible? Where does it mention religion? Give me a break, people! You’re seeing ghosts where there are none!

"The anti-evolution forces have been searching for a new strategy that would accomplish the same end," said Kenneth Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University and co-author of the science book that was stickered. "That purpose is, if not to get evolution out of the schools altogether, then at least undermine it as much as possible in the minds of students."

Huh? Since when is thinking critically about something an attempt to undermine biology? What wrong with simply saying that evolution isn’t a proven fact and going on to teach it anyway, along with all the other stuff we do know (more or less) for sure? Heck, we don’t know how prions function but we still teach how we “think” they might and no one bats an eye.  Why is evolution so sacred that we can’t allow students to weigh the evidence and think for themselves? That’s not undermining science, that’s the fundamental nature of science! Question everything and refine our understanding!

But silliness isn’t confined to only one side of the argument. Get this:

In 2004, Georgia's school superintendent proposed a statewide science curriculum that dropped the word "evolution" in favor of "changes over time." That plan was soon scrapped amid protests from teachers.

You think? How stupid is that? Call a spade a spade, a duck a duck, and the theory of evolution the theory of evolution. Don’t back away from it! Teach it! Question it! Show all its holes as well as its wonders! Then let students decide for themselves.  They’re going to make up their own minds, anyway, no matter what you do.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

It is finished

It’s done! I’ve taken my last final for the semester! I even think I did pretty well!

Now I can go back to bed.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Three Down, One to Go

I finished my chemistry final for this term today. I think it went pretty well. I know I learned a lot. I don’t know how physically ready I was for it, though. I stayed up until 3:00 AM this morning trying to figure out a couple of things about titration and calculating volumes of solutions in acid-base reactions. I just wasn’t getting the same numbers in my calculations that the book had. Trouble is, the book has been known to be wrong, so I had the added stress of not knowing whether I was wrong or not. It turns out I could have gotten more sleep. I didn’t have to answer anything about that on the test.

If only I’d known . . . zzzzzzz

*snork* . . . mumble . . . huh?

Oh! Sorry about that. Anyway, now it’s time to study my biology like crazy over the weekend for my final next Monday. Then I get a few weeks off before I start all over again in January. I don’t think I’ve looked forward to the Christmas holiday’s this much since I was a kid.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Good News, No Fast Enough

Well, it turns out that I’m going to be okay with my classes this last quarter. I contacted the grad schools that I’m planning on attending and, with only a couple of exceptions, they’re all okay with the classes I took this last semester, as long as I can get into the upper division ones from here on out. The head of the Chemistry department has given me permission to enroll in the science-major level courses, without retaking the first semester’s course, and so it looks like things are back on track.

The only problem is I didn’t do it fast enough. I was planning on taking Human Anatomy this semester but I waited too long to register, trying to deal with all this crap, and now I can’t get into a lab. They’re all full. No worries, though. I’m going to take the psychology course I need this semester, and then hit anatomy in the summer.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Last Semester May Be a Bust

Just a quick note to start the week off right.

Or not.

I went to register for my classes today and discovered that I may have to take similar classes all over again. My first semester back may have been a bust. It looks like I registered for versions of classes that aren’t going to transfer well. I took the “for health science majors” courses in Biology and Chemistry thinking “Cool! That’s what I’m gonna be! Health Sciences!” No such luck. It turns out that there are different versions of those same classes for “science-majors” and so I may have to take those same level courses all over again under a different number, just so they transfer right. Now I’m off to talk to a school counselor about CLEPing them. I need to decide fast so I can get registered for the correct classes for the coming semester.

Crappy way to start a week.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Wind Up My Stomach and Watch It Bleed

School is starting wind down for the semester. Or maybe it’s winding up? I don’t know. I finished my last Chemistry lab last Saturday, so that’s one class I’m done with for the semester. I’ve only got one more Biology lab this coming Saturday. After that my Saturday’s are mine again for a while.

Finals are coming up in about three weeks. As much as I’m feeling good about my labs being done, I’m also getting nervous about my finals. I’m not sure why, exactly. I’ve done well so far. Maybe it’s just because they’re so . . . well . . . final.

My health has been giving me fits, too. I went to the hospital last Sunday afternoon in a lot of pain. It felt the same as when they had diagnosed me with gall stones, only worse, so I was thinking that was still the issue. Trouble is the ultrasound showed no such problems. Clean gall bladder, no signs of inflammation.

So why on earth was I in so much pain? I was sweating like a dog on hot sidewalk, and becoming dehydrated because of it. The doctor came back, much to my disbelief, with a diagnosis of gastric reflux. What I thought was gall bladder trouble is turning out to be something that has me more worried. They haven’t ruled out an ulcer, either. Because where I hurt, if I do have an ulcer (which wouldn’t surprise me at this point) I suspect it’s a duodenal one. Just because of where I hurt.

I’ve still not completely recovered. I need to get an appointment with my regular doctor and follow up with him. With finals looming, though, it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I'm a health hypocrite

I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a health hypocrite. I talk a lot about healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle. It’s an important topic to me. I read up on all kinds of things about food, sleep requirements, and exercise.

But I’m a hypocrite because I don’t always do them.

I’ve been trying to lay off the sugar and caffeine, but when I don’t get enough sleep, I’m over to the convenience store buying an energy drink chock full of both of them. The fact that I’m not getting enough sleep in the first place is an example of my hypocrisy. It’s not that I’m not home in time. On many days it’s not even a matter of me staying up late to study. I’m just up watching DVD’s or bad late night TV.

I know I should exercise, too. I started doing it before I went to school, but now I’m trying to figure out when I can find time. See? More hypocrisy. If I really wanted to, I’d do it while I was up late watching bad television.

Now I need to figure out how to walk to talk again.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Surly John

I’ve really been feeling overwhelmed lately. I’m still doing well on my tests, just not as well as I’d like to. Mostly that stems from not studying as much as I should, and letting other things get in the way. Family things have gotten pretty tight, too. I find myself being more surly and argumentative of late. I think I need to take a break, and find some stress relief. Good thing I’ve got plans to go play with friends this weekend.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

How do we know what we know?

In an online musician’s forum I participate in, a vocalist asked for recommendations on getting over her cold. I’m sure you can imagine that she got as many different opinions as we have members in the group. This group is no slouch, scientifically. The group includes a medical doctor and a biology professor with a Ph.D.

Our respected M.D. mentioned treating the symptoms and getting plenty of rest and fluids. Several others (including myself) mentioned herbs and other natural preparations. Still others mentioned colloidal silver, and so on.

The discussion that ensued was interesting, to say the least. I think the alternative folks were more vocal than our good doctor. What was funny was how they tried to support their opinion, and start an argument with the MD, by making claims such as “I live with a bunch of microbiologists” and so on. The MD had never discredited them; they just started in on the MD and tried to justify their position. In our good doctor’s defense, our resident biologist mentioned that he would rather trust a person who has studied, trained, and become licensed in medicine than any number of less studied (or even unstudied) recommendations.

It brought up an interesting question for me, as a proponent of SOME natural and so-called alternative medicines. How do we know that any of these things work? How do we know anything? It’s hard to discount a positive result in our own lives when using an alternative therapy, even if some people shake there heads and roll their eyes at us, telling us it was “just a coincidence.”

People on both sides of the alternative vs. traditional argument site study after study, in some cases denying that such studies exist. I can’t count the times I’ve been told, “There hasn’t been any research on such and such a remedy,” when I’ve seen and read them myself.

On the other hand, I get concerned when people start talking about natural and alternative medicines as being completely safe, when it’s simply not true. I know people who swear by colloidal silver. I’ve taken it, but I didn’t notice a real helpful result that couldn’t be achieved through taking some other herb or medicine much safer than a heavy metal solution. I’ve heard the claims that a colloidal solution of gold or silver is safe, but I’ve never seen the real studies to back that up. Maybe one of my readers can point me to one.

But the problem continues in that some studies are designed to give a specific result, rather than actually test a hypothesis. That’s why peer review is so important in the scientific community. To cut down on scientists pursuing an agenda that leads to bad science. The problem is that some studies get published before going to peer review because they support a publisher’s specific agenda.

To me, that means that we need to quit believing that science and medicine, from any modality, is some kind of sacred cow; that it’s solid and can’t be questioned. We need to question everything. As a people we used to believe that atoms were the smallest particle in existence, now we know about protons, electrons, quarks, gluons, and all those other sub-atomic particles. People used to believe the earth was the center of the universe. Now we know better. We used to believe that Neanderthal man was part of the evolutionary chain that leads to Homo sapiens. Now, with increased understanding of genetics, we’ve proven that to be false. According to modern evolutionary theory Neanderthal man and Homo sapiens both evolved from a common ancestor, but are not directly related.
I’ve had this discussion with several of my professors, now. While we may differ in opinion on certain points, there are a few things we are in agreement with. The questions should constantly be, what is the data showing us? What can be claim with some certainty, based on what we see?

What do we really know? I think that understanding how we know what we know is just as important.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Adventures in Urine

This has been an interesting week for me. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, emotionally. My daughter has been sick and, due to a compromised urinalysis, we were in and out of the hospital for a couple of days. The “stick test” at the doctor’s office kept showing elevated glucose levels, but the battery of blood tests and additional urine tests at the hospitals read normal. We ended up taking her to Primary Children’s Hospital, the top pediatric hospital in the area. After several hours of various tests, they concluded that she had intestinal flu and sent us home. That certainly distracted me from school a bit, but I’m doing my best to get back into the swing of it.

One highlight for me though was in my biology lab. We had another teacher substituting, and we were doing experiments with enzymes under various conditions, including pH. One group of students was having difficulty with some of the pH tests, particular the acidic ones. I made the off-hand comment that we do the acid test if someone wanted to go pee in a cup. You know; uric acid and all. The sub got a weird look on her face and said, “That might be interesting. I’ll be back.”

I can’t believe it. I never thought I’d be able to say that I got a professor to go pee.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My Body Says No

I feel like crap.

I don’t know if I’m burning the candle on both ends, or what, but I just don’t feel good. I think I may have had another bout with my gall bladder early Monday morning, and I’ve just not recovered. I just don’t have any energy, even a day later. I missed my Monday classes, not to mention work, and I’ve got another chemistry test coming up Wednesday. I’m thinking I may need rest right now as much, if not more than, I need study.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Affirming Meeting

I just got back from a meeting at BYU with Dr. Christopher Lepisto, ND. He was acting as a rep for Bastyr College, a college of natural medicine in Seattle. While the meeting was mostly what I expected, a Q & A session and presentation geared at recruiting students to Bastyr, it was also very informative.

The biggest part of it, though, was how it helped affirm the path that I’ve chosen, going back to school in pursuit of a medical career. Oddly enough, it helped me affirm my choice in doing Chiropractic first, and then pursuing an N.D. second. I’m not sure why, but it really did.

It really reminded me why I’m drawn to so-called “alternative” medicine, even though I’ve got a bit of a scientist lurking in my make-up. I firmly believe that our current medical system is broken. These poor MD’s are being asked to do too many things these days and, in too little time. To top it off, much of their continuing education is provided by pharmaceutical companies that have their own agendas. Medicare and Medicaid are broken, as is the medical insurance industry.

Something needs to be done that is more cost effective for patients; a medical model that helps people to improve and maintain their health, so they can reduce their chances of having to deal with major pathologies later on. I believe that a more holistic approach, one that integrates prevention with crisis management, is the answer.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Curious Professor

Dr. S., my chemistry professor, must have gotten curious about me. After class he called to me and asked, “John. What work do you do?”

Now, I really don’t like my current job. In fact, it’s kind of embarrassing to me in some ways. So I told him, “I work in Sandy.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “but that doesn’t answer my question.”

“I’m an internet business mentor. I call people on the phone and help them set up business websites. I really don’t like it, though,” I sheepishly replied. “I’m curious, what made you ask?”

“Well, I guessed you are about 38 years old, and must have been working for several years.”

“Good guess. I’m 39. I’ve already got a Bachelors degree in music composition, I’m just changing careers.” I left out that this was the second career change for me.

“Really? Well, we’ve got to keep our dreams alive. Was my question to personal for you?” he asked.

“Not at all, I’m just curious what makes people think, ‘I wonder what makes this guy so weird.’” I joked.

“Oh, no! I don’t think you’re weird. I just wondered. Like I said, we need to keep our dreams alive.”

I like Dr. S. He’s a good teacher and he knows his stuff. He’s done some pretty important health science stuff in his career as a chemist, and I’ve learned a lot from him.

Like Dr. S., I wonder about me, too. Am I really keeping a dream alive? I’m not sure. Maybe going back to school is a knee jerk reaction to the events of my life these last few years (getting laid off, finding my career outsourced overseas, and my annual income cut by one third). I think the truth may be more that I just got scared about losing one career path, and have decided to rekindle a path I had started when I first started going to college, not believing I could make a career out of music. I’m also pretty passionate about health care, though, so maybe there is more of a driving force than just fear.

Maybe I’m not keeping a dream alive as much as I’m resurrecting one.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lastest Test Report

I got the results back from my latest Chemistry and Biology tests. I’m rather pleased with myself, I have to admit. Sure enough, I bombed the last question in my chemistry test (I only got half of it right), but I think I can pat myself on the back a bit when I say that I got every other question on the test right. So I still got 94%. I did better on my biology test than I expected, as well. I only got docked a few points (I missed two questions on the multiple choice because I didn’t read the question thoroughly, and I only got 8 out of 10 on one of the essay questions) so I’m sitting at 96% for that test as well. Not bad for a guy who was scared out his gourd he’d do badly. Of course, maybe it was that fear that led me to study as hard as I did.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution – Get ready to laugh

I originally posted this at my other blog but, since it deals with biology and school, I thought I’d republish it here.

I’ve tried to avoid blogging about this, but I just can’t bite my tongue any more. It’s too sore as it is. This whole “intelligent design” thing is just too funny. The Dover PA school district doesn’t think so, but maybe they’ve just lost their sense of humor.

Let me start out my saying that I am a person of faith. I believe in God, and most people would consider me a Christian. I’m also studying biology in college. While I don’t think that evolutionary theory is complete and correct, I’m not above talking about in a science class because it’s one of the core themes of biology. It’s only uniformed religious bigots that like to try and use it to prove that God doesn’t exist. In fact, there are a lot of biologists who don’t see a conflict between evolution and their faith in God.

I also don’t support the idea of teaching intelligent design in schools. It’s not science; it’s metaphysics. Save that for the philosophy and religion classes, please.

These quote from the Dover PA trial just made me shake my head, though. The star witness for the defense is Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist. Get a load of this:
The statement read to Dover students states in part, "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered." Miller said the words are "tremendously damaging," falsely undermining the scientific status of evolution.
"What that tells students is that science can't be relied upon and certainly is not the kind of profession you want to go into," he said.
"There is no controversy within science over the core proposition of evolutionary theory," he added.

Cough . . . choke . . . sputter. What? Since when? First off, it may be damaging to Darwin’s theory, but it’s not damaging to kids thinking about biological sciences as a career choice. And since when is there no controversy in biology over evolution? Saying there’s no controversy is like saying Swiss cheese doesn’t have holes.
The double talk gets thicker, though.
During his cross-examination of Miller, Robert Muise, another attorney for the law center, repeatedly asked whether he questioned the completeness of Darwin's theory.
"Would you agree that Darwin's theory is not the absolute truth?" Muise said.
"We don't regard any scientific theory as the absolute truth," Miller responded.

Okay. Let me get this straight. We want to teach science, but we don’t regard science as truth? We don’t want to question the validity of evolutionary theory, even though science is all about questioning what we know, and don’t know? That sounds like religious dogma to me. Don’t question Darwin, but go ahead and question God? Isn’t that a double standard? I think Mr. Miller is just having a tough time explaining it because for him, and may others proponents of evolutionary theory (whether they wants to admit it or not), evolution is a matter of faith.
Go put that in your pipe and smoke it for a while.

Ever have one of those days?

This last weekend was a stressful one. I’d been very worried about a biology test that I had coming up, and so I was taking every free moment I could find to study. When I’d get tired and need to take a break, I studied my chemistry instead. (I had my second chemistry test this morning.) When my brain started to bleed I’d take a break, and mess around with my kids until they either got tired of me, or the bleeding stopped. Once I was ready to resume it was back to biology.

Monday morning went pretty well. I got up at a reasonable time, had breakfast at home (instead of in the car on the way to class) and generally had a good day. We had a review in chemistry for the upcoming test, and things seemed to go well. I wasn’t too worried about the chemistry test because I’d done well the last time. Frankly, I was too busy worrying about my biology test to worry about anything else.

The day went pretty well, too. I was able to sneak some more study and review for biology in during the day, and the test was relatively stress-free. There was only one question I raised my eyebrows on and that was because I had neglected to study that particular topic. That was okay, though, it was only a small part of an essay question so I’ll still get some points for the rest of. Feeling pretty good about my biology test I went home, screwed around with my two oldest kids (who hadn’t gone to bed yet) and then reviewed a bit of chemistry, watched a bit of TV to wind down, and went to bed. A good day was had.

This morning the universe decided I’d had enough good days, I think. I got up late, rushed to get out the door. Tried to cobble together some breakfast and ended up spilling vegetable juice on my shirt. After changing shirts I couldn’t find a clean glass that I could take in the car, and ending up spilling more stuff on my second shirt. Not having any other clean shirts I could wear, I cleaned this spill up (thank goodness it wasn’t bad), and headed out the door without breakfast. A glass of orange juice, a half a glass of vegetable juice, and my blood pressure medication would have to do.

I got to chemistry on time, thank goodness, and got everything ready to take the test. The test started out quite well. Nothing too fancy and I was prepared for it. Or so I thought. The last question was to identify ten elements according to a graph showing their atomic number vs. their atomic radius. No problem, thought I. Then it hit me that the ten elements he wanted us to identify weren’t on listed on the graph. The graph was there, but which ten? Fortunately I wasn’t the only student to figure this out and someone got up to ask the professor about it. He explained which ten he wanted, apologized for screwing up the test question, and I proceeded to fill everything out.

My lab partner (Lab boy) finished about the same time I did, so as we left class we chatted about the test.

“That went better than I expected,” I said.

“Yeah, I was surprised. I know I got a few wrong though.” LB replied.

“Oh? Which ones?” I asked.

“The one where you had to determine the unknown elements charge, considering it was bonded to two sulfur ions with an ionic charge of 2- each. I forgot to consider the number of sulfur ions and put 2+, instead of 4+.”

“The only one I had trouble with was the last one.”

“Yeah. I didn’t think it was too bad, though. I remembered that the noble gasses have the smallest atomic radii.”

“What?” I exclaimed. “I thought it was the other way around.”

“I’m not sure.” LB said. “It might be. We’ll have to look it up.”

And look it up I did.  Crap and nonsense! LB was right, and I had screwed the pooch. The question was worth quite a few points, too, and there was no way I could get partial credit. I really did screw it up that bad. What else did I mess up, I wonder? Here I was obsessing over my biology exam and I mucked up my chemistry test instead. I hope this isn’t a portend of finals.

Why has it gotten suddenly warm, and what am I doing in a hand-basket? I just hope the rest of the day is better.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mad Scientist

This last weekend was a rough one for me. I ran out of gas on the way home from school, my wife’s grandfather died, and just about everyone on the roads decided they were going to act like jerks. In spite of those, and other problems, I still got to have some fun in my science labs.

Biology was great. We learned about how to use a light microscope, and a spectrographic one. Most of it was just getting used to using one, but finally we got to do a wet slide prep of some kind of water plant (I forget the name of it) and check it out. It was cool! Even under the spectrographic scope we could see real cell structures along the leaves of this plant.

Chemistry was even more fun. Not from any grand, “look at me I’m doing real science” kind of way. More in an “I’m still a kid again and pretending to be a mad scientist” sort of way.


Anyway, we got to mix up a bunch of chemicals in test tubes and then figure out if they were undergoing physical or chemical changes. It was fun to mix clear chemicals and get cool colors, or mix other substances and watch them bubble and boil, and make all kinds of cool smoke!

It was a good break in the action. Now I have to go prepare for my next round of tests. Oh, well. Back to the student grind, I guess.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Test Results

I got my results back from my first chemistry test. I did pretty well. 95%. You may remember that I blogged about one of the questions here a bit ago, where I was asking about units and significant figures being screwed up. Well, it turns out that I was right. The professor had screwed up the answer. He’d actually messed up a couple of questions and, because a few of us caught him, he’s giving us extra points. Yup. He said, ‘the test was a little hard, so I’m going to give each of you an additional 5%.” Cool news for me. Can’t beat 100%.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Science Blasphemy

I’m about to commit a blasphemy against science. I’m going to uncover the truth behind a secret plot perpetrated by school teachers everywhere. I’m going to get flamed for this, I just know it. I don’t care. The truth must be told! Bring on your Bunsen burners and beakers you filthy scientists!

Okay, I’m getting carried away here. It’s interesting how perceptions and knowledge change, though. This morning during chemistry class I became disillusioned about scientists. Okay, not really disillusioned, it was just driven home to me that scientists are people, and that people are imperfect, even scientists. I knew that before. Today was just a great example of it.

Of course, you’d never hear such a thing in a high school science class. Theses folk always say, “This is the way it works! Science only gives us correct answers because it’s self-regulating! Scientists are the new gods!” Sorry, gentle readers, this is simply not true. In fact, scientists can’t agree on what science is, what terms mean what, what is real or not, and so on. More importantly, they can’t figure out how much of it to teach you.

There are some pretty good reasons for this. Science students would become terribly overwhelmed if we tried to teach them everything we know, or don’t know, about any given subject. Instead of learning anything they could apply, they’d walk around in a mental daze, unable to function on any meaningful level. They’d become unemployed because they’d question the existence and meaning of everything. In the end they’d just starve to death. It’s kind of like what philosophy majors do.

Let me back up to last night, and my Biology class. We were talking about the basics of the chemistry of life. More specifically we were talking about atomic structures, molecular bonding, and measurements so that we could eventually talk about the chemistry of life.

So we were learning all kinds of fun stuff like how to measure atomic weight through daltons, what a mole is, and so on. Not the furry ground animal, mind you. This mole is Avogadro’s number in molecules. In case you were wondering, Avogadro’s number is 6.02 x 1023. Its’ kind of like eggs being sold by the dozen. Molecules get sold by the mole.

This morning in Chemistry we start talking about the same things. (Good. I can always use a review.) The trouble is we don’t use the same terms. Instead of a dalton, my Chemistry Professor (Chem-Man) starts talking about Atomic Mass Units (amu). It turns out they’re equivalent. They’re both equal to 1/12 the mass of a carbon atom.

Why don’t they use the same terms? Was there a coup? Did all the older “pro-daltonites” and the newer “pro-amu-ers” duke it out with urinometers or something?

And they don’t give the same answers, either. My biology professor (Bio-Man) said, “The mass of a proton and a neutron are the same.” Chem-Man says, “The mass of a proton and a neutron are slightly different.” Bio-Man says, “Electrons have virtually no mass, so we don’t bother with counting them.” Chem-Man said roughly the same thing, except he added that the weight of an electron was 9.109 x 10-28 grams. Apparently someone has bothered counting them.

The whole atomic mass vs. atomic weight thing is weird, too. Atomic weight is “the average mass of an atom of an element, usually expressed relative to the mass of carbon 12, which is assigned 12 atomic mass units.” Atomic mass is “The mass of an atom, usually expressed in atomic mass units.” It also seems that the atomic mass is the same, regardless of the number of neutrons in an isotope of a given elements, but the atomic weight is different, because it takes into account all those extra neutrons in isotopes.

Wait a minute . . . (or is that weight a minute?) We just got done being told that weight is linked to gravity and so scientists measure things in mass, which is independent of gravity. Something has got to be done about this misleading terminology!

Anyway, it’s just one example of how scientists can’t agree with each other. It’s as bad as putting rabid atheists and Christian apologists together in the same room.

In other words, scientists are people, and science is a social pursuit. They’re not perfect, and so science isn’t either. Get used to it. It's the best we can do. Some scientists several hundred years ago thought the Earth was the center of the universe, too. Now we know better.

If someone tells you, “This is a scientific fact,” just remember, what used to be a scientific fact, is now a history lesson. Chances are, everything we hold to be true will become history in a few hundred years, as well.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Test Bad! Answers Good?

Well, I got back from my first Chemistry exam just a few hours ago. I think I did okay, but it was a little weird. I know I screwed up on the last answer a bit. We had to circle which elements were metals, non-metals, and metalloids, on the periodic table. I got most of that down pat, but I think I screwed up on some of the metalloids. I remembered they made a diagonal pattern between the metals and non-metals, but it’s not a perfect diagonal. It’s more like a diagonal with exceptions (does that make it an exceptional diagonal?). It’s too bad, too. That question was worth more than any of the others.

There were two questions that threw me, though. Not because they were hard, but because what I think are the correct answers weren’t available. One was determining the specific gravity of a substance. They listed the mass and volume, so I could figure out the density, and then the specific gravity. The problem is that with specific gravity all of the units cancel, and so you’re left with just a number. No units. The mass and gravity were given with three significant figures. The correct number, with three significant figures, had units listed by it (g/ml), and specific gravity doesn’t have units. There was another answer that had no units, but not the correct number of significant figures. So which was right? I called my professor over and asked him about, but all he said was “If you think that’s the right answer, don’t worry about the significant figures.” That’s sort of like saying, “One of us screwed this up, but I’m not going to tell you which one.”

The other question that threw me was when we were asked to show the function of certain trace elements in regards to human health. It was a sort of “mach the element with the function” kind of thing. Trouble is he gave one element that didn’t have a matching correct answer, and one answer that didn’t have a corresponding element. I crossed off all the functions as I matched them up with the elements, and I was left with the element Molybdenum and the function “essential element found in body fluids that supports nerve function.” According to my crib sheet, Molybdenum is useful in enzyme metabolism. Potassium supports nerve function. I made a note of it at the bottom of the sheet, but I’m worried I may just have annoyed my professor. Either that or I got it wrong, and I don’t think I’m wrong.

Maybe I’m just becoming arrogant. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

My First Exam

I’ve got my first test coming up tomorrow. It’s in my Chemistry class (Chem 1110), and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m a little nervous, and a little not. On the one hand, I think I’ve done a fair amount of study and prep work. An additional benefit is that the professor is letting us use a single 3x5 index card as a crib sheet. We can write whatever we want on it. He’s not going to tell us what to write, and it has to be handwritten. On the other hand, this is the first college level exam I’ve had to take in years. I’m a bit out of practice.

This test is going to be on basic chemical issues such as the states of matter and its classifications, chemical reactions, chemical elements and symbols, and the periodic table. It’s also going to cover basic factors in the measurements of chemical properties and the math behind them. Because this is a class primarily for health science students, it’s also going to cover some basic functions of the various elements essential to life: the major four (Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen) as well as 21 different trace elements.

It’s that last bit that has me worried, so you can guess what kinds of things I’ve scribbled on my crib sheet!

I’m also crappy and remembering conversion rates, like Celsius to Fahrenheit and pounds to kilograms as such. Metric and SI units are so much easier to deal with than Standard Imperial units. It makes me wish I was studying in Europe so I wouldn’t have to deal with the conversions.

It’s ironic, though. I thought the test was today, so I had all this planned in advance. It turns out that we had a review today, instead. Good thing, too. I hadn’t thought to include the functions of the various trace elements as part of my crib sheet. To be honest, I didn’t think we’d be tested on them. Turned out I was wrong. Of course all that does is leave me an extra day to stress over the test.

As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools. Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

First Impressions

I’ve just finished my first week back in college, and my first impressions are that it’s going to be a good experience. I had some doubts (still do), but I think I’m going to be okay.

This semester I’m taking a beginning biology class, and a beginning chemistry class, along with the labs. There’s no way I can go full time. I have to work full time. These classes are interesting in that they are specially designed to emphasize how these subjects impact health care. Most of my fellow classmates are enrolled in the nursing program, with a smattering of others (like me). On the one hand that’s nice. I get to hang out with a number of very bright young people, including a lot of young woman that are rather pleasing to the eye (and the spirit of an older fart like me). On the other hand, there are relatively few who are my age, except for the professors.

It’s not completely true that I’m the only “mature” person their. Talk to my wife and you’ll wonder how I can get away with use the word “mature” to describe myself at all, but that’s another story. There are a few others closer to my age, and life experience, and I’ve hit it off with a few people already. My lab partner (Lab-boy, or LB) is at least 15 years younger than me, but he’s a great guy and I think it’s going to be good working with him.

Last Saturday, when I was waiting for my first Chemistry Lab class to start, I met a woman my age who is also returning to school (the Enjoyable Matron, or EM). The EM and I started chatting, and swapping stories. I told her I was worried about coming back after so many years. I had taken some chemistry and biology classes years ago when I first went to school, back when I was still stupid, and didn’t do very well.

“You weren’t stupid,” EM replied. “Just young.”

I said, “I’m not sure there’s much difference at that age.”

Of course this got the attention of a younger man waiting with us. This was my first meeting with LB. Even though we were bashing his age group a bit, we did eventually hook up and become lab partners anyway.

Inevitably the conversation turned to our teacher for the course. “I’ve hear she’s really not very nice,” EM said.

“I don’t know. I’ve found that if you just meet them on their terms, it usually turns out okay.” I replied.

I’m not sure I was right in this case

The teacher (Weird-Woman or WW) seems a little strict, but not too bad while she was introducing the class, but this next bit was a little weird.

She asked, “What other resources do you have when you need help with something?”

EM said, “You are.”

WW’s eyes got wide, and she said very seriously, “Noooooo! I’m not available. I don’t even have office hours. Don’t ask me for help.”

It was then that I knew that, at least for this instructor, I was wrong. The class was in deep, deep trouble.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Textbook Prices

It’s been about fifteen years since the first time I went to college. Oh … my … word. Prices have really gone up. Even accounting for inflation, textbooks are insane these days.

The most expensive textbook I bought during my first college go-around was about $75.00. I picked up my books the other day and paid $135.00 for my Biology text, and another $40.00 just for the lab book. Ouch. I ended up paying around $300.00 this semester just for books, let alone tuition and lab fees.

It gets worse for me when you factor in how much the printing costs are on these things. I used to work for a printing company, and so I happen to know something about that. If I had to guess, I’d say the actual printing costs for my very large, hard-back biology text was between $8 and $15 per book. To be honest, that’s on the high end. For some reason the text book publisher decided they needed to use expensive glossy coated paper on every single page. They could have cut costs by going with a decently weighted matte paper instead, and the books would have been just as effective.

The lab book is the real shocker, though. It’s done using a quick-printer like Kinko’s Copies, and then spiral bound (that’s the plastic spiral on the side). That probably cost around $5.00 or less. Even if you factor in the payments to the writers, print buyers, and other folks in the chain, that’s a huge markup for a book.

Maybe I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I should be a text book publisher. At least, until relatively inexpensive downloadable PDF textbooks become ubiquitous.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Permits and Self-Possession

The other week I went to get a parking sticker for the student parking lots. Not a big deal, I’m used to having to hurry up and wait in long lines when it comes to bureaucracies, and I expected a lot of silly forms and delay.

It seems that younger students don’t expect any of that. I don’t think they know what to expect. They just don’t want you to know they don’t have clue.

Here’s what happened. I found a window in my work schedule, clocked out, and drove over to the main Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) campus. I found a place to park approximately 150 yards from the front door (that was as close as I could get and not pay for parking) and walked in. (Remember that number. There will be a test later.)

The information desk is right next to the front door and it turns out that’s where they were selling the parking stickers. I found a stack of forms, and clear directions, on two separate tables, of the various forms that were required. One of those forms was a current copy of your car’s registration. I knew that before I came, but in my efforts to get this over with I’d forgotten it in the car.

So, back to car another 150 yards (that’s 300 so far), get the registration from the glove compartment, and walk the same 150 yards a third time (that’s 450 yards in a matter of just a few minutes, in case you can’t do the math). By this time I’m a bit winded (hey, I’m fat and out of shape, okay?), but that’s okay. There’s a long line at the front window, so I trudge along to the back window where there are less bodies hanging out, my registration in tow.

I sit down at a folding table and start filling out the registration form. This is a weird form. It’s like an SAT answer sheet. It’s got little circles I have to fill in, along with my regularly printed name and such.

Two younger men (early 20’s, I’d guess) are nearby. One is sitting next to me at the table (Table-boy), and the other is having an animated conversation with a young woman (on work study, I’d guess) at the information desk (Desk-boy).

The guy at the desk comes back, and in an exasperated tone, says to Table-boy, “Do you have your registration with you?”

“No, why would I?” Table-boy replies in disbelief.

“I don’t know. They say they we need it” says Desk-boy.

“Pffft,” says Table-boy, and they get up and leave, clearly outraged.

It’s about this time that I start wondering, did they not read the same letter about it that I got, saying you needed your car registration when you went to get your parking permit? Did they not read the signs very clearly stating that they needed it, before Desk-boy even became Desk-boy? How did they figure that they were above following simple directions? Maybe they’re selectively blind.

Then I remembered. I used to be that self-absorbed when I was their age. I wasn’t sure what was going on in my first year of college (back in the Bronze Age) and I tried to cover my ignorance and fear through arrogance and self-possession. Just like these two were. What a humbling thing to realize that I used to be just as much of a jerk as these two were.

Anyway, I finished filling out the form and stepped up to the desk.

The two women working the desk, an older woman closer to my age (Wise-woman) and a student on work study (Prima-Donna), looked busy, so I quietly waited. After several minutes, and several direct gazes (eye contact and everything) with Prima-Donna, she comes over and says, “This side is closed. You’ll have to go around.” Minor frustration to have it close in the amount of time it took me to stand up and walk four feet, but okay. I went around the other side and got in line.

As I stood there, waiting with all the other student-cattle, I noticed that Wise-woman was working her butt off helping students, and Prima-Donna was acting like she was getting ready to leave. It turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. Someone else had just left, and Prima-Donna was getting on. She didn’t want to open up her till, though.

Prima-Donna started with, “I don’t know. Do you think I should log in and open it up?”

“Yes,” Wise-woman replied, “Ask anyone standing in line and they’ll give you the same answer.” (I was beginning to like Wise-woman.)

“But the count is screwed up,” whined Prima-Donna.

“It can’t get any worse than it already is,” replied Wise-woman, in-between getting the line of harried students what they needed.

“Yes is can,” protested Prima-Donna.

“No, it can’t. Just open it up and get to work.”

“Well, I’m not logging in under my name.”

“Whatever. Just do it, now.”

It turns out that the till count wasn’t right, and Prima-Donna was more concerned with covering her ample butt than doing her job. Another wonderful example of post-high school self-possession was played out right in front of my eyes.

When I finally got to the front of the line to be helped by the wonderful Wise-woman, it was a relief. It took less than two minutes and I had my parking ticket in hand, walking back along that same 150 yard stretch to my car, (That’s 600 yards, total. Did you keep track?) and then back to work.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

39 Years Old (Really!), and Going Back to School.

Salutations, true believers!

Yeah, it’s just me again, starting yet another blog. Why did I start a new blog? It’s not like I don’t have a couple of others to deal with, already.

Well, after nearly ten years of NOT being in college, I’m going back. I thought it would cool to chronicle what it’s like for a fat, 39 year old male with a receding hairline, and married with children, to go back to classes with a bunch of idiots younger than me.

Let me give you a bit of a back story on this. I’ve got a B.Mus. degree in Composition (with an emphasis in electronic music technology) from the University of Utah. After deciding that a life as a musician wasn’t going to cut it (at least not and take care of my family), I’ve decided to go back to another of my many loves, medicine.

When I first went to college (over 15 years ago) I was a human biology major. I wanted to be a chiropractor. After failing miserably (I just wasn’t ready for school, and the University of Utah is a research school, not a teaching one), I took a hiatus for a couple of years, and then went to Salt Lake Community College to get my generals done. I finished an A.S. in General Studies, and then went back to the “U” to pursue my music degree. By that time I had gotten married and Her Loveliness and I started a family.

After that I took several forks in the road that eventually led me to a good job with good pay, a layoff when the economy went bust, and now a mediocre job with crappy pay.

My experience getting laid off has really changed my feelings about employment. Gone are the days of “get a good job and stick with the company for a few years and you’ll be fine.” I don’t think it’s worked that way for a while now.

Anyway, in order to pursue my insane desire for financial independence and a good life for my family, I’m going back to school, and back to the path I first started ten years ago. I’m getting some hard sciences classes out of the way in preparation for applying to chiropractic school.

Today is my first day back! Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know how it all turns out.