Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Celebrating Carl Sagan

Carl SaganToday is the tenth anniversary of the death of astronomer and educator, Carl Sagan. All across the globe people, and bloggers, are celebrating his memory. With the impact that this great man had on my life, I would ungrateful if I didn't contribute.

Years ago, when I was just a kid, Dr. Sagan's ground breaking PBS TV series "Cosmos" aired. It was a revelation to me. I had always thought scientists were cool, and I loved looking at the stars and pretending to be an astronaut, but Dr. Sagan brought the wonder of it all home to me in ways I simply can't describe. Science spoke to me as it never had before, and it wasn't the boring set of regurgitated facts my teachers had been shoveling at me. It was full of wonder, adventure, and nobility. It was, as he wrote years later, a candle in the dark for me.

Needless to say I devoured the companion book. The experience prompted me to buy and read more and more books on science in general, and astronomy in particular. My parents noticed this new fire in my soul and bought me a telescope I still use to this day, 26 years later.

This last year I've enjoyed sharing both the show, and book, with my own children. While the science has aged a bit, as all good science will, I can see the glimmer of the spark in their eyes as well - a love of science, a love of learning, and a new-found sense of wonder in the universe around us.

While I can't agree with everything Dr. Sagan ever wrote or said (I believe in God, for example), my respect for him and his work cannot be overstated. Renowned professor and astronomer Yervant Terzian said it best, "[Carl Sagan] was, quite simply, the best science educator in the world this century. He touched hundreds of millions of people and inspired young generations to pursue the sciences."

He certainly touched mine. Thank you, Dr. Sagan. I am in your debt.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's Christmas Charlie Brown

Christmas is coming and I'm starting to look forward to it. Mostly, anyway. I just picked up the soundtrack recording for "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and that's going a long way to getting emotionally ready. Vince Guaraldi has a way of making me smile, no matter what the season.

Normally I'm just not a big fan of the Christmas season. I hate shoveling snow (and we tend to get a lot of it here in the Rockies), let alone driving in it. The bills pile up as more and more last minute gifts need to be gotten. (Begotten gifts? Hmmm.) The family parties don't do anything for me, either. I'm just not a big fan of my extended family. Don't get me wrong. I like them well enough. I just don't like being forced to do certain things with them.

When I was a kid, Christmas was both good, and bad. The good part was all the typical season stuff, singing carols, decorating the tree, making cookies and, of course, getting up on Christmas day to loads of new toys. I always despised the afternoon, though. Just when everything got settled and I could really dig into playing it was, "Okay John, get your coat on it's time to go visit [insert various relatives here]." By the time we got back is was late and my parents were pretty strict about bed time, even during Christmas vacation.

I hated that. I was going to see half of these people a week later on New Years day, why did I have to give up my Christmas day just to visit them early? Now that I'm older I understand that it was really my parents visiting them, not me. Most of those we visited didn't have kids my age, so there weren't many cousins to play with. Even when there were cousins involved, it was all their toys we played with, not mine. Trust me. As a kid, that's not fun.

Christmas is a big deal for my wife's family. Every year there are two big parties, one for her father's side of the family and one with just her parents and siblings. Once in a while we can get out of going to the first party, but never to the last one. What's worse is they've recently decided to move it to Christmas day.

It used to be on Christmas Eve. It was kind of cool. We'd drive out in the late afternoon, visit a bit with her parents, four siblings and their families, eat lots of food, sing songs and watch the kids open presents. There were bits I didn't like, but overall it was okay. On the way back home, we'd pop a CD recording of the Christmas Story performed by a group from the Living Scriptures Company, and listen to it on the way home. Instant family tradition. Once in a blue moon it was rescheduled, but mostly it was on Christmas Eve. That's it. Christmas day was saved for the wife and kids. Unless we had church that day, we didn't go anywhere. It was wonderful.

This year (and last, truth be told) that fickle bitch named Fate is out to ruin it for us. It looks like the party is being moved to Christmas Day, permanently. That sucks. The rest of my wife's siblings love it. "So and so has to work" and "We get bored after Christmas morning. We want to have it on Christmas Day!" are the exuces of the season.

They get bored? How? Didn't you and your kids just get a boatload of cool things and now you can relax and enjoy them? The key word here is "relax" people!

It seems that I'm outvoted, though. Our lovely family traditions must change becuase of a change in my wife's family's traditions. If you think I can make enough of a case for not giving in to everyone else's will, or just not show up, you've either never been married or won't continue to be married for very long. In the meantime, I'll just listen to Vince Guaraldi playing "Christmas Time is Here" and try to keep smiling.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lost Dog

The Newman clan suffered a tragedy last week. Our family dog, Rascal, was run over by a car and killed. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to equate the loss of our dog with the loss of a child. It's not the same. Losing anyone, or anything, you have a relationship with, still hurts.

People who don't own pets may have a tough time sympathizing. Those that do own pets fall into two categories: those who have lost pets and those who haven't.

Only those who have lost beloved pets really understand.

Fortunately for us, one of our neighbors falls into the "understanding" category. It sounds funny, but they sent us doughnuts and a sympathy card. I appreciated that card – and the doughnuts. (Mmmmm . . . Maple bar . . .)

The reason my neighbors knew is that they witnessed the event. It happened in front of their house. My six year old daughter saw it, too. That's the part that really bites. She and my wife witnessed the whole thing. They rushed our beloved pup to the vet, but it was too late. The vet couldn't find a heartbeat. I didn’t find out until I checked my voice mail later that day.

It took a few days, but we're not as teary anymore. Even my six year old is dealing with it, although I think she's having the hardest time. All she could talk about for two nights straight was how she couldn't get the image of Rascal turning in circles, and then lying down to die, after he went under the car. She's doing better now, thanks to long conversations, silent hugs, and our faith.

Yes, you read it right. I said (wrote) faith. I really do believe that there is a "doggy heaven." I just don't think it's called that. I believe that all creatures are created and judged on how well they fill the measure of their creation. It's not doctrine, mind you. It's just my own interpretation of scripture.

If I'm right, and the measure of a dog's creation is how well he takes care of the family he lives with, then Rascal is in good company. He loved our kids. He was very gentle with them. Even when my youngest would steal his rawhide chewy-bone and run around the house, with him chasing her to get it back, he was gentle. He knew it was a game, and he loved to play it nearly as much as she did. He was obedient, quiet, and showed unconditional love for us all.

It's still too early to have all the pain eased, though. That's a truth I'm finding out all too well, even as I write this. So for all of you I had to cancel appointments with because of an unexplained family emergency last week, I apologize. I hope you'll understand. I really hate doing business that way, but my daughters are just too important. They needed me, and I need them. For us all, Rascal wasn't just a dog. He was family.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Of Pell Grants and Library Fines

I've decided to retake Chemistry 1220 this spring. With the hubbub that surrounded my gall bladder surgery and such, I think it's just going to be the best option. So I went online and tried to register only to find a hold on my record. No surprise. I hadn't been in school the last couple of semesters so I needed to do my Perkins exit interview. I didn't think it would be an issue with me returning this spring, but what do I know?

Its turns out I forgot another thing, as well. I forgot to pay the fine on a book I had checked out from the school library. I've returned the book, it's just every time I try and pay the fine I keep finding the offices closed, or I get redirected. I go to a local campus cashier and get told, "Oh, I don't think you can pay for that here. Try this other office."

Once I get to that office it's "Oh, I don't think you can pay for that here, go directly to the library."

So I call the library, "Oh, you don't have to pay that here, just go to any of the campus cashiers."

That's where I was in the first place.

Oh well. I guess that's what you get with bureaucracies that rely on student employees.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Too Much Money

I'm really getting tired of paying out the nose for way too many connection points. I've got an outrageous bill for my home phone, my cell phone, my wife's cell phone, and my internet access. It costs me too much, frankly. Off the top of my head, I'd say I'm paying out $170.00 a month for all this crap.

And I'm still using dial-up.

I can't believe I just admitted that. That's like admitting that you still have a working 8-track tape player (I don't) and a bunch of 8-track tapes (I do).

Man, I'm pathetic.

Anyway, it's time for me to move fully into the 21st century. I'm just so cheap that I don't want to pay an arm and a leg for it. I've been looking into dropping the land line and going with high-speed access and VOIP, but I'm way out of my league. I just don't know where to go or what to do. I've been burned by extra charges from the telecoms that they don't tell you about until you get your first bill. "What? Didn't we mention the charge for the automatic nose-picking device we need for our customer service reps so they can remain truly 'hands free?'"

Does anyone have any recommendations for me? I need help and I just don't have time to research this like I should.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Aggressive Sleeping

Okay. This is getting ridiculous. It seems like my blog is turning into a "I'm a sick whiner" and I don't like it.

Today it's true, though. I'm sick, and I'm going to whine about it. Want to whine about me whining? Get your own blog.

I've got a head cold. I thought it would be over in a day or two, but no such luck. I finally broke down and bought some cold medicine this morning. My plan for the next few days is to lie in bed and aggressively sleep.

I know that many of you will have questions about what "aggressive sleeping" is. As a master of aggressive sleeping I can tell you that while I was born with this talent, it can be learned.

Aggressive sleeping is not a good way to get rest, but it can be a precursor to real sleep. Anyone who lives alone will probably not have a need for aggressive sleeping. Those of us with active spouses and children have probably found themselves participating in aggressive sleeping competitions, without having to go through the bother of actually registering for the event.

To practice true aggressive sleeping, you must first get yourself as comfortable as you can. Usually this involves a nice mattress and a designated sleeping chamber.

For some people, this also involves pajamas. For others it involves getting naked, but I don't recommend this tactic. As you will see, getting naked may interfere with certain aggressive sleeping tactics.

I guess it could enhance a few, as well, but I don't want to go there.

For many aggressive sleep competitors, it's somewhere in between; a place I like to call "underwear land."

Addition aides can be useful. Some may go for blankets and sheets, blankets only, sheets only, or just letting it all hang out. My son questions the need for anything other than a bare mattress. It's all good, though. The number and density of pillows is up for grabs. Whatever makes you most comfortable.

I personally like the blankets and sheets model. I'll explain why in a minute.

The environment in the sleeping chamber is important, too. You can't aggressively sleep if there's too much light. The darker it is in the room, the better. Unless you're afraid of the dark in which case a small night light is allowed. As an adult I'm into the "dark is good" thing, but I still have fond memories of the warm glowing electric puppy dog of my youth. He was so cute and comforting. Sometimes I miss that mutant radioactive dog.

Alarm clocks are strictly forbidden in aggressive sleeping competitions. Anyone caught planting alarm clocks around the room will be shot and removed from the competition. Such artificial sleep hazards are not desired, thank you.

All of this may seem like normal sleeping so far but, here's where the aggressive part comes in. Anyone entering the room is to be considered a natural sleep hazard and should be driven away. Most of these sleep hazards will come in the form of your own children and spouse. Do not be fooled. They are actually demons in human form and should be dealt with on a sliding scale of aggression.

The Roll-Over

Many sleep hazards can be brushed off by a simple rolling technique, such as rolling away from the light now pouring through the door your sleep hazard just opened. This startling realization that you are in the room is generally enough to push the weaker sleep hazards back out the door.

The Non-Committal Grunt

Higher on the scale of aggressive sleeping tactics is the non-committal grunt. A soft and senseless vocalization can raise the level awareness and help drive off would be sleep hazards. This can be combined with the Roll-Over maneuver to maximize the effect.

Light Verbal Confrontation

The next level of aggression comes in the form of a simple question such as, "What are you looking for?" or a comment such as "Hello." This can be combined with the roll-over and grunt maneuvers for additional impetus. In many cases the sleep hazard will respond with its own grunts that sound suspiciously like words, "Sorry" and "Let me just get this and I'll go." Do not be fooled. They are simply trying to lull you into a false sense of security. Remember that the goal is to get them to leave.

Heavy Verbal Confrontation

If light confrontation hasn't been sufficient, it is alright to escalate into the more heavy forms of verbal confrontation. This may involve raising the voice somewhat and using statements such as, "What do you want?" and "I'm sleeping, here!" If the sleeping hazard is particularly persistent, the aggressive sleeper may feel the need to interject various oaths and curses at this point as well. This is okay, as long as you realize that the fallout from such radioactive behavior will linger and may haunt you later.


If the sleep hazards haven't been scared away from the sleeping chamber by now, you may decide to resort to heavier tactics. This is the atomic bomb of aggressive sleeping weapons. If the sleep hazards continue to plague you, it's time to resort to more explosive behaviors. Verbal explosions will generally involve cursing, along with shouting phrases such as, "What the (insert favorite curse word) are you doing in here!?" Physical explosions, such as quickly rising out of the bed, can be great additions to the verbal explosion. (This is why I like the "blanket and sheet" model. The act is much more intimidating with the blanket and sheets flying about the room.)

Hopefully before this point, though, the sleep hazards will have gotten the idea to leave you alone, and actual sleeping can be done.

Fallout Warning

Fallout is not an aggressive sleep tactic and does not involve falling out of bed. You just need to be aware that aggressive sleeping tactics have consequences. I mentioned the radioactive fallout of cursing. This can take the form of hurt feelings and sobbing on the part of your younger sleep hazards. Such behavior will defeat all but the most callus aggressive sleeper. At other times, it will result in a counterstrike from the most powerful sleep hazard in your life (your spouse). Such counter-attacks may take the form of lengthy reminders of all of your faults and a cessation of intimacy. Most people - men anyway - try to avoid these kinds of repercussions. Most women welcome them because it means they'll actually get some real sleep.

The dangers of losing and aggressive sleep competition do not end there, though. For men, it may also involve a forced relocation from the sleeping chamber to the couch. If this occurs, take heart. You may have lost the aggressive sleep competition, but now you are qualified to enter the "I'm sorry, please have sex with me again" competition.

Good luck with that. You're on your own.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Where’s my health?

It occurred to me the other day that I’m a hypocrite. Really. I’m big into preventive medicine, and so on, but I don’t practice it. I can’t even remember the last time I seriously exercised. It really stinks. I’m even getting winded walked down to the convenience store to get a soda.

The fact that I drink way too much soda doesn’t help either.

I took a free test over at Real Age and it scared me. Here I am, forty years old, but based on my habits and lifestyle I’m really 55.

Trust me. That sucks.

I can’t say it isn’t true, either. I feel 55 some days. The trouble is I don’t know that it scared me enough to overcome the “inertia of slacking” that I’ve gathered around myself.

So I started wondering, where did my health and vitality go? In my twenties I used to work out up to two hours a day doing marital arts. I ate good foods and took longs walks. I enjoyed my life and the feelings of youth and good health.

Now I’m doing good to walk 100 yards and not get winded. I eat too much and I sit in front of a computer or TV screen for 8+ hours a day. I’m so busy at work on some days that I barely have time for the bathroom. Maybe I should install a porta-potty in my cubicle.

Where did it all go?

Wait. I think I just found the answer. It didn’t go anywhere. I gave it away.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Trumpets and Demons

I miss my trumpet. I really do. I’ve been so busy with work and family and (insert favorite time sucker here) that I’ve just not had much time to play.

My trumpet, that is.

Part of the problem is that the most “free time” I have is at night, after the wife and kids go to bed. I really don’t want to wake them up. My Lovely Wife turns into Monster Mom when she doesn’t get enough sleep. My children, being her offspring as well as mine, have inherited this species trait. Instead of being angry, though, they get whiney. “Dad, you woke me up,” they whine and then, instead of going back to bed, putter around until I have to turn from ordinary Dad into Demon Dad. This self-transformation is important. I have to do it to communicate effectively enough that they actually go back to bed. Normal human languages have no impact on my children one they have been disturbed from sleep.

Maybe you’ve discovered the same thing with your children.

I’m about ready to buy a “Silent Brass System” from Yamaha. It’s a mute with a mic pickup that you stick in the end of your trumpet. It dampens the sound from the horn, and funnels it through the mic so you can hear yourself on a set of headphones. I’ve just not convinced myself to fork over the $150.00 it lists for. I mean, “Hey, I’ve gotten away without it for the last 30 years, why start now?”

Of course when I started 30 years ago it was my parents saying, “John, get in here and practice.” (I got my own demonic traits from them, you see.) That only lasted about a year, though. Then it was “John, quit practicing and go outside.”

I miss those days.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lost Without the Internet

I’ve lost my internet connection today. Some technical glitch with my service provider has caused me to revert to the time of my childhood where computers were really nifty things, but the internet was the stuff of science fiction. No big deal, right? I should be able to go on about my day secure in the knowledge that I can work on other things and all will still be right with the world. Besides, I’ll get my connection back soon, right? Won’t I? Please?

Why are my hands shaking? Why do I feel like I can’t get anything done? I can’t get the information I want at the click of a mouse. I don’t know what to do with myself anymore. Oh no! No internet! My life is without meaning and direction! I think I’ll go jump off a bridge now.

All silliness aside, this experience has taught me just how dependent on the ‘net I’ve become. Anytime I wanted to find some information, or a quick diversion, it was off to Google for a quick search and suddenly a “new exploration into worlds of hitherto unexplored media!” Now I can’t do any of those things. I can’t check my email, I can’t update my website, I can’t even blog. (Well, I can still write. I’m doing that now. I just can’t syndicate myself until my connection comes back.)

I’m not the only one. It amazes me how many of us have come to rely on the net for information, services, products, and entertainment. What’s even funnier is that I know there are things I can do, projects that I can work on. I just don’t.

As ubiquitous as the ‘net is becoming these days, a recent meme thread I came across asked about the future of the ‘net. Some say it will disappear, sort of. It will fill so much of our daily living that we just won’t notice it any more. It could be. As video and computer technology get better we may a near zero loss of information.

Wait a minute. Isn’t that what we call “reality?” Hmmm . . .

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

MDs Get Chiropractic Technology

I was watching TV last night and came across an infomercial for a new medical device, the DX9000. It seems that the device is designed to treat lumbar and cervical back pain, instead of surgery.

I just started laughing. Isn’t that what Chiropractors have been doing for years?

The even funnier part is that it’s not a device you can buy, as a regular man on the street. You have to be a doctor. The infomercial wasn’t to sell the device to doctors, though, it was to sell patients on the device, and let them know which doctors in their area used it.

Reason with me for a minute. For years, many MD’s and various medical organizations have given Chiropractic lots of heat. They make wild claims that (contrary to many scientific studies and tons of clinical evidence) that chiropractic manipulation (which sometimes includes heat and traction therapy in addition to manual spinal adjustment) doesn’t work, hurts people, and that the only way to treat back and neck pain is through drugs and surgery. They complain chiropractors as scam artists who just want to treat you over and over again, using multiple treatment sessions, in order to get more money.

But now that they have a machine they can capitalize on, the MD’s are okay with something other than drugs and surgery. From what I can see, the DX9000 is an advanced traction machine, designed to provide localized traction of the spine in order to take pressure of the discs, and allow them to realign themselves and heal. From what I can see it may even include an infra-red light source to provide localized heat during treatment. There are two versions of it: one for low back treatments, the other for cervical treatments. According to the infomercial, you need to come back to the doctor’s office (paying for another office visit) to get treatment five times the first week, three times the second week, an then one or two times the third week. It’s effective in 80% of cases. It’s also got a built in DVD player so the patient can watch his favorite movie, or receive instruction about the treatment, while he or she is being treated. Long term use was hinted at as being needed by the patients they interviewed.

What’s even funnier is that the infomercial claimed it was FDA approved. Since when did the FDA get involved with medical devices? Maybe I’m wrong, but I thought they were solely concerned with pharmaceuticals and food.

So here we have a machine that an MD can purchase, strap a patient on, bring that patient back for at least three weeks worth of treatments (nine or ten office visits), and charge up the nose for (gotta pay for the machine, after all), that mimics certain chiropractic techniques.

I have to admit, it is a great alternative to surgery. But tell me, how is this kind of spinal manipulation new? Chiropractors have done it for years and have been considered suspect by MDs and all kinds of media campaigns.

Oh yeah! MD’s can make a buck on it, it must be okay!

(John shakes his head and moves on.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

My Uncle Jack

My great Uncle Jack died the other day. He was my mom’s uncle, but he was a pretty “young” uncle. It was one of those deaths that was for the best. He was suffering a lot, and couldn’t get out of bed or recognize his family in the last few days. That’s no way to live.

To be honest, I didn’t know him all that well. I have only a few recollections of him, but I always remember he was kind to me. He would always smile when my Mom and I would visit. Even though I was a kid, and usually sat in a corner reading books until my Mom was done visiting, I felt comfortable being in his home, and above all, welcome.  

I doubt it every dawned on him how good, important, and respected, even as a ten year old, he made me feel. It never dawned on me how I’d miss his memory.

Thanks, Uncle Jack.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Today is Perfect

My life has been very interesting of late. It’s been a strange sea of both chaos and order, financially, professionally, and within my family. It’s odd, though. I had a strange epiphany within the chaos. The past is memory. The future is hope. The present is perfect.

Today is a perfect day. Sure, life is messy. But this very moment, this very point in which I actually exist is perfect.

The essence of human perfection is in our ability to look at ourselves and accept what we see as perfect in the present moment. Even though we are constantly changing and growing into very different things than we were in the past, we are still perfect. Why is it that we can think of other animals as perfect but deny that quality in ourselves?

Why is it that we feel imperfect? We’ve got it all mixed up. We’ve convinced ourselves that the real purpose of life is to try and outdo everyone else. We chase endlessly after goals that elude us. Some of us not only want to “keep up with the Jones” we want to outdo them to the point where they will give up and concede that we are just “so much better than they are.” In doing so, we hunt for external objects of one kind or another so fervently that we forget to take time to simply enjoy our lives in the very moment we live them.

So here I am. Do I have to get moving and retake chemistry? Yes. That’s the (near) future. Does the bumps in my life mean that I had to delay a few things for a year (or may be more)? Yes. But so what? Today, this moment, and the next, and the next, can be perfect.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ambien Wakes Some People Up

A new use, for an old drug, that is “waking up” people suffering from a “persistent vegetative state” (PVS). 60 % of PVS patients that have been given the sleeping aid Zolpidem, (sold here in the U.S. as Ambien) are regaining enough cognitive functions, while on the drug, to be able to speak and interact with their environments. The sad part is that it took seven years to get this effect noticed enough to get people to do some serious research and go to trials.

This article at the Guardian is amazing. Go check it out.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

I, Pluto

In case you live in a cave, Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. I don’t know if this is similar to “gender reassignment” or not, but now it’s been demoted to “dwarf planet.” It’s lost its full planet ranking.

I wonder if that means a reduction in pay as well? Hmmm.

I’m always curious about how perfectly good planets get reassigned. What happens? Do they fall out of favor like so many Soviet leaders? Has Pluto been delinquent in its planetary duties? Just what the heck are planetary duties, anyway?

It’s not a new trend, though. This kind of term reassignment has been going on in biology for years. Every year the powers that be change anatomy terms. It’s no longer the mitral and tricuspid valves in the heart, they’re left and right atrioventricular valves (in some texts). What was so awful about mitral and tricuspid? Did some important anatomist have a lisp?

I think I know who’s behind this sort of nonsense, though — authors and publishers of text books. Think about it! In a science as dead as gross anatomy (not a lot of work is getting done in the field, these days) what else are you doing to do? Sell more books! If we can con the powers that be into changing the names, all the text books have to be changed, and we get to sell new editions to unsuspecting college students and school boards!

Hey, this happened at my school. One of our top anatomy and physiology professors helped put together an (admittedly cool) anatomy text book and voila! The school makes them a required text for all anatomy classes. Better yet, it’s the fist edition. Next year, when they fix all the typos, they can sell the second edition and kill the secondary textbook market.

Okay, so I’m being a bit facetious, but hey. How do you think Pluto must feel?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Decisions Decisions

I’ve pretty well decided to got ahead and retake my chemistry classes. It solves a lot of problems and . . . to get all freaky on you . . . it just feels right.

I can’t explain why, it just feels like the right thing to do. I know, I know. “John! You’re too much of a scientist to just go on your feelings!” Maybe, but I’m also a big believer in intuition and the divine. In this case, I’m just gonna go with my gut.

So I headed over to my school’s website to register for Chem 1200 this fall. Whoops! Did I pull a bone-headed maneuver! I had checked a book out of the college’s library last semester and didn’t bother to return it. In all the hub-bub about my gall-bladder and everything else, I forgot. Rats. Decision making leads to financial aide hold. Crap.

So, I’ve gotta get over to the library with the book and fork over some money so I can have the wonderful opportunity to spend even more money on tuition. These guys have got you coming and going in terms of paying fees and what not.

I wonder . . .  how can I get in on some of that action?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Pot and Fat Mice

File these under “food for thought.”

According to at least one BBC article, smoking marijuana may help prevent conception. If this is true, how do college students reproduce?

Just something to make you wonder.

About me, probably.

Here’s another. Some scientists in California have developed a vaccine to stop obesity in mice. I didn’t even know mice cared if they were fat or not. Here’s another solution for fat mice.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Shameless Plug . . . and other voices

I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but over on the left-hand-side of this page are several “sponsors” links. As part of my theory of shameless self-promotion, I’m going to invite you to click on those if they look interesting. See, if you click on them, and in some cases participate a bit (like snag free music), whether you send them money or not, I get paid. Or I get free advertising. Either way it helps. It’s not much money, but it does help pay the electric bill. All proceeds go to the Newman Children Shoe Fund. Or the Newman Family Mortgage Fund. Or the Help John Newman Buy More Soda Fund. Soon it may go to the John Newman Memorial Tuition Fund. Wherever. It’s all good.

Okay, enough shameless and obvious money grubbing.

The more I try and get my head wrapped around Chemistry for my final, the more my mind unravels. I’m seriously thinking of taking it over again. That solution does offer some benefits. First, not all of the grad schools I want to attend will accept my first semester Chemistry class. It wasn’t at the 1200 level (that was a “specialized” class for health science majors) and I had to get permission from my school to go on to 1220 anyway. It also allows me to get my head back into the game more fully.

The downside, of course, is that’s going to add an extra year onto my time, and more costs in tuition. Hey, I’m forty years old. I’ve waited this long, what’s an extra year? On the other hand, hey! I’m 40! I’m getting too old for this! I don’t know. I can’t decide if having extra voices in my head is a good thing or not.

What? You don’t have extra voices in your head talking to you? I think you’re just jealous that they don’t talk to you, too.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Stem Cell Research

This morning on my way to work I was listening to the Doug Wright Show on KSL radio. He was talking about stem cell research. The question placed before the audience was what to do with the frozen embryos we’ve already got. Do we throw them away, because doing research on embryos is wrong, or do we just trash them?

While I understand people fears that what we are doing is tampering with life, and by doing this research we are destroying potential life, potential humans, trashing them is doing the same thing, we just don’t benefit from it. Some say we shouldn’t.

I disagree. We’ve already got them; why let them go to waste? If you want to think about it in terms of human development, human life, why let these potential lives be wasted when we can honor them, and let them contribute to society?

One of the various concerns that people have had is that we don’t want to create stem cell factories. The idea of people buying and selling human embryos is pretty vile, in my opinion. This gets worse for me when you couple if with abortion. I certainly don’t want people to profit from abortion. I’m against abortion as a form of casual birth control. I don’t want to encourage it by attaching stem cell research to it.

One man called in that made me think, though. He and his wife had difficulty conceiving and decided to go the in vitro fertilization route. Several eggs were harvested and then fertilized. The doctors who performed the procedure asked if they could use the unused eggs for research. The couple was happy to say yes. (They went on to have a set of twin girls, by the way.)

This gave me pause. If in vitro fertilization is a potential source for embryonic stem cells, why not make that the norm for the acquisition of new lines? Do just what happened here: leave the choice to the couple involved. If they say yes, used those already harvested cells rather than destroy them. If they say no, respect their wishes and destroy the cells. Let NONE profit from it, in terms of money anyway . . .

. . . or maybe we should let them. If it became an optional procedure, and the harvested cells were being sold to researchers, the cost of the in vitro procedure would come down and more couples who want children, but can’t have them, would be able to afford in vitro fertilization as an option. This might take away from the attraction of adoption, but that’s the only downside I can see.

Think about it. Instead of researchers buying stem cells from abortion clinics, profiting and supporting a culture of death, they can buy them from in vitro clinics, and support a culture of life.

And the research can go on.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I think I'm going to faint . . .

I just got an email from my Anatomy professor. After sweating myself silly over how badly I thought I did on the final, she tells me I got a “B” in the class.

Now, I know that in most circles getting a “B” is nothing to get crazy over but I’ll tell you the truth: the blood rushed out of my head and into my toes when I read it. I’m shocked and amazed. Most of the people I talked to said that in order to get a decent grade I’d probably have to take it twice.

Oh, my head is swimming with possibilities. Literally. I need another soda.

I think I’ll go lie down now.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Chemistry shmemistry, I want a drink!

What’s wrong with me? For some reason I can’t seem to get myself to get back to my chemistry so I can take the final and get it over with. It’s getting ridiculous. I mean, here I am. My chemistry text is a mere three feet away, snuggled quietly in my red backpack. My chem. notes are there, my scientific calculator, a couple of pencils . . . and what am I doing? Instead of studying chemistry I’m blogging about not studying chemistry.

The only thing I can think of is that I’m either avoiding it (because I’m afraid I won’t do well), or my sub-conscious doesn’t think I have enough guilt in my life. There is a part of me that keeps saying, “Come on, John. Get it together. The longer you wait the harder it’s going to be. The more time that ticks away the less chemistry you’ll actually remember and then you’ll really be in a world of academic hurt.”

I want to listen to that voice, I really do. But there’s another voice that just keeps saying, “Screw chemistry! Let’s get a soda!”

Maybe I can make a deal with them both. I’ll take a walk to the corner market and get soda as a bribe to myself to do chemistry.

Hmmm . . .

Monday, June 12, 2006

Anatomy is History

For better or worse, I finally took my anatomy final. (Hmm . . . I finally finaled. Ick.) I think it was mostly for the worse. Have you ever had an experience where you’re taking a test and thought, “When did we cover that?” I sure did. Oh, well. At least it’s over and I can focus on taking my Chemistry final.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back to Finals

Now that I’m starting to get back into the swing of things, I’m facing the problem of taking my final exams. In some ways I’m lucky (if you can call having part of your anatomy removed “lucky”). I’ve had more time than my fellow students did to study. On the other hand, I’m not so lucky. Mostly I’ve been drugged and not thinking about school (or anything else) and so there’s more distance between me and they subject at hand.

The other side of this is that since I came back to work, my work schedule has gotten nuts. I’ve got more responsibility and a larger client load than ever. Okay, not “ever.” Just larger than it’s been in a long time. It’s been harder for me to carve out time in my schedule to study and take my tests.

In any case, I’ve promised myself that I’m going to take my anatomy final this week It’s waiting for me at the assessment center, I just have to go take it. I had originally planned for tomorrow but (work again!), it’s looking like it will be Thursday instead.

Wish me luck. Come hell or high-water I want to get this done.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

First Week without a gall bladder

The day after my surgery was weird. Not that the three days I had before that weren’t weird. In many ways, I guess, the day after was really just a continuation of the weird. They started giving me solid food, sort of. I mean, if you can call colored gelatin solid. Maybe it was just less liquid. Mostly they just checked me out and sent me home.

To be honest, that day, and most of the next week was a blur. I do vaguely remember arranging for incompletes with my professors. Mostly I just took lots of narcotics and stayed on the couch. I think I watched more TV that week than I have in the past several years.

One thing I learned that week, though. When you’re recovering from surgery, DVD rental means never having to say, “What should I do today when I’m not asleep?”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Let's play operation!

So, there I was in the hospital. I didn’t want to be, but who does?

At first I tried to study my chemistry. I had a final coming up and I was hoping to make it out by my final test. It’s amazing the kinds of delusions that pain and morphine will lead to.

One astute nurse, finding me struggling with my chemistry, said, “So, with all the stress in your life right now, don’t you think that may have something to do with you being in the hospital? I think you probably should put the chemistry away for tonight and get some rest.” At first, her comment annoyed me. What was I supposed to do? I was confined to ice chips for two days and had finals coming up. My work had sent me to Vegas so I’d already lost two critical days of cramming. How was watching crappy TV and sleep supposed to help me? It wouldn’t change anything. I was still going to get cut on and have a small part of my anatomy removed.

In the end though, she was right. I was exhausted. I had pushed myself too far and my body had rebelled. In the end I didn’t get much chemistry done. Mostly I just slept and watched crappy TV for two days.

Monday rolled around and I realized that it was already noon, and I had no idea when I’d being going in for the surgery. It was supposed to be that day. My previous experiences with surgery had convinced me that surgeons were morning people of the worst sort and so I had expected to have gone under the knife by now. Or at least by 1:30. Didn’t happen, though. Even the nurses weren’t sure until the last minute.

After sitting around worrying for a few more hours, I was finally wheeled in, bed and all, to the pre-op area at about 4:00 PM. Remember how I said that surgeons are morning people? If you can help it, never schedule a surgery for the afternoon. Not only are surgeons morning people, so are operating room staff. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of more exhausted looking folks in a hospital and not have them be patients. Honestly, I was a little concerned. Mostly I just had to pee. One of the most surreal moments though, was when one of the staff came over to me with what looked like a magic marker and wrote the word “yes” on the right side of my belly and “no” on the left side. “That’s to make sure the surgeon knows which side of you to cut on,” she said with a smile.

Okay. I was officially freaked out. I’d been studying anatomy this last semester, right? Even I remembered that my gall bladder was on my right side. Why did the surgeon need a reminder? Didn’t they go to school for this sort of thing?

Too late to back out, I was wheeled into the operating room, and subjected to abuse only a fraternity could think up. I woke up later with half of my stomach shaved and four rather large band aides on me. Oh yeah. I hurt. More morphine was given and I did little but sleep through the rest of the night.

Monday, May 08, 2006

When Push Comes to Shove

Hey everyone! Long time no update. For those of you who don’t know, I ended up in the hospital last week having my gall bladder removed. Take it from me, it’s not a good way to get out of taking finals.

I had planned on this surgery the following week. Or rather, today, so I could take my finals. I had a severe attack last Sunday, though, and ended up in the emergency room for the 37th time.

Okay, I really have no idea how many times I’ve been to the ER before over my gall bladder, but it’s a lot, all right?

I got to freak my niece out, as well.

My Good Wife and I had just come home from a business trip to Vegas at about 3:30 AM Sunday morning. (Yes, it really was business. Quit smirking.) GW had the good sense to go directly to bed (do not pass Go) when we got home. I tried, but my gall bladder had other ideas. It had been vying for my attention for the last couple of hours of our trip home. I thought about asking GW to drive, but she doesn’t see very well at night.

My Lovely Niece had been staying with the kids over the weekend. She’s 18 now, and getting ready to go off to college (full ride scholarship, no less) this coming fall. All in all, she’s a capable young woman. MLN was sleeping on the coach but started rousing about three hours after we got home. I, on the other hand, had been drifting in and out of exhaustion induced sleep alternating with bouts of increasing pain in my gut. When she, and a couple of my kids, started moving around the house like the little morning zombies they are, I finally gave up. GW was fast asleep and dead to the world. No joining the undead for her. So I turned to MLN and said, “I’d like you to put your shoes on and take me to the hospital, please.”

The look on her face of utter horror and concern was worth the price of admission. Not really, but it sounds good.

MLN did not let me down. In spite of her shock she did just as I asked, and within just a few minutes we were in the emergency room. The doctors did all of the right things, poking and torturing me in just the right ways to make me scream, and then giving me morphine to make me feel better about the abuse. About this time GW had roused herself to consciousness and joined me.

Not in the abuse, just as a witness. You guys really are sick, aren’t you.

Now, I was hoping to feel better and go home. We had scheduled this very surgery for the following week so I could take my finals. As the morphine started wearing off, though, it was clear that this attack was much worse than anything from before. I was still hurting. Not as bad, mind you, but I could still feel it. I talked with the doctor about my concerns and asked him what he thought. My would-be torturer said, quite frankly, “I think you should let us cut it out now. Your surgeon has agreed to do it tomorrow.”

How could I argue with that?

But you’ll have to wait until later for the rest of the story.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Lab + Final = Final + Lab

Last night was my anatomy lab final. It was the last night I had to sniff formaldehyde and trace blood pathways . . . at least for a while.

Okay, everyone. Sing with me, “No more dissection! No more gook! No more cadaver’s dead eyed looks!”

Man. You’d think I’d have grown up by now. Guess not. I’m not getting more mature, I’m just getting more morbid.

[shrug] Oh, well.

I’m not sure how well I did on the test, though. There were at least two questions I know I guessed on, and two I just flat out couldn’t answer. That really disturbs me. If there were four questions I know I botched, how many did I screw up that I don’t know about? The thought scares me. It should scare my future patients, too.

On the plus side, I’m also done with my Chemistry lab. Want to sing another song with me? Sure you do! “No more beakers! No more flasks! No more acid and broken glass!”

There, see? I can be less sick sometimes. Still just as twisted mind you, just less sick.

Of course the semester’s not over so I’m not quite off the hook, yet. I’ve still got a week of classes and two lecture finals.

Now go do your homework.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Two Weeks to Doomsday

Finals are coming up in two weeks, and I am woefully unprepared. I predict one of two things will happen.

  1. My head will explode.

  2. The apocalypse will occur.

Oddly enough, I’m alright with either one of those things right now.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Indecisive Me

As many of you know, I consider my life to have been a perfect example of taking nearly every fork in the road imaginable. In my nearly 40 years I’ve had jobs as diverse as newspaper carrier, retail store clerk, substitute teacher, business mentor, website business owner, studio musician, printing professional and consultant, U.S. Marine, and private music teacher. As the rest of you may know, I’ve been back to school for last year studying biology and chemistry with the idea of applying to chiropractic school. I just can’t seem to make up my mind when it comes to “what I want to do when I grow up.”

It’s gotten worse.

With my recent set-backs in chemistry, and my new music studio, I’ve started seriously thinking about music education full time, instead of Chiropractic. As I look at the path ahead in both directions, I’ll be missing out on a huge chunk of my children’s lives if I pursue the chiropractic side. My oldest son will be 19 and ready to move out by the time I start practice, for heaven’s sake! With all the time I’m devoting to school and work I already feel like I’m losing my children, or at least their childhood. And if I continue on this path, it’s only going to get worse. It’s a cost I thought could deal with by making sure I spent more time with them on the weekends, but it’s not working. The cost is becoming too high.

So anyway, I’m in the middle of my continual “life path re-think” again. A Masters degree in education doesn’t look too bad, and should only take me two or three more years, not six or seven. I’ve tried looking at various scenarios, including trying for an endorsement in science (science teachers are in demand), but in the end I think I’d just be fooling myself. In many ways, I may have been already.

When it comes down to it, I’m a musician. I like all aspects of music: performing, composing, arranging, producing, and teaching. The farther I get away from that, as much as I enjoy medicine and helping people, the farther it seems I’m getting away from myself.

It’s just that when I think about trying to build a career in music, the “security hungry” side of myself starts screaming.  I fear that I’ll never make any real money with it, and may end up with a crappy retirement as well. Then how will be children feel?

I hate balancing myself against my children’s future needs. When I do, nobody seems to win.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The world (of chemistry) keeps turning

Chemistry has become the focus of my life, and the bane of my existence. Fortunately for me, my chemistry professor, Dr. G, has given us a way of upping our scores from the midterm. What we can do is go back through all the questions we missed, work out detailed calculations and explanations as to why the correct answer is the correct answer (this is all open book, now), and then get half credit for them.

Good news for me, except it’s due this Thursday. That’s the same day that my chemistry lab, and all its work, is due.

Here’s how the lab assignments work. The day we do the experiments, we turn in a pre-lab assignment. Pre-labs consists of a series of questions geared to letting the instructor know that we understand what’s going on with the lab we’re going to be doing, as well as a data sheet to collect and organize the data from the experiment on. After the experiment is over, we have the following week to work up a detailed report of the experiment, including all calculations needed to create the report and support our findings. We also do a post-lab assignment, much like the pre-lab in that it is a bunch of questions designed to test that we know what’s going on. On top of that, we’ve got to prepare the pre-lab for the following week.

Doing all this has been taking me way too much time. I’ve only got the lab report done from last week, and I’ve not even touched the chemistry “re-test.”

And it’s all due in two days.

Any guesses as to what my life revolves around this week?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Get back to class, you!

Spring break has sprung, and now it’s gone. Back to the ol’ grind am I.

I got a lot done last week, though. Not on school, but on my music studio. It’s up and running, and so far everything works. I haven’t tried everything, though. I never did get any studying done over the break, though. Now I have to hustle my butt off to get ready for an anatomy test this Friday.

I can’t decide which is more pathetic, though: to not take advantage of a break to study, or to actually study during spring break.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Spring Break

Spring break is here! This week is really going to be nice for me. It’s not quite a vacation (I still have to go to work), but it’ll be a nice change to not have to go to classes for a bit. It’s weird, though. I had planned on using this week to catch up on some of my reading and such for my classes, but for some reason I just can’t bring myself to do that just yet. Instead I’m goofing off and building a music studio in my basement. Maybe I’ll get excited about catching up on my homework before the week is over.

But probably not.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Two Words

Next week I will partake in two of the most wonderful words to be had in a college student’s academic career.

Spring break.

Ahhhhh. I feel so much better now.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Morning Vacuum

This morning was horrible. Really. It sucked big time. This is no piddely little suckage, this is full blown outer space is a vacuum suckage. Actually, it started last night.

I got home late from work, and so I didn’t end up getting to bed until about 1:30 AM this morning. Then my middle daughter comes in to my bedroom at about 6:00 AM and wakes me up to tell me that she needs to “get something for Mom.”  This happens again about 10 minutes later because she didn’t get the right thing the first time. About 20 minutes more and my wife comes in and putts around, instead of just getting what she needed and getting out.

It gets worse. About 7:00 my wife is getting ready to leave to take the oldest two kids to school and, low and behold, my youngest decides to throw a fit. She’s screaming and crying and from what I can tell, no one is doing anything about it. By this time I’ve had enough and resigned myself to the fact that I’ve gotten to bed about two hours late and been woken up about two hours early. So much for my beauty sleep. I get up to take care of my youngest to be greeting to chaos as everyone is trying to get there stuff together so they can leave, and ignoring her. As soon as everyone leaves I turn on the TV to Sesame Street and, miracle of miracles, my youngest shuts up, having been hypnotized by Elmo.

A few minutes later my wife comes back, and I putter around the house trying to get my morning exercises done, take a shower, and get prepared for my day. Only I run into a snag about the laundry not being folded and put away, so I have to hunt through a few barrels of clean laundry to find a shirt.

Eventually I get out of the house and on my way to school. On the road out of town I see an old silver and white (and rust colored in spots) truck that about broadsided me last weekend in the grocery store parking lot. My oldest daughter was with me, or I would have had a harder time not removing the smile the driver had on his face (it looked like he though it was funny to endanger me and my oldest daughter) with my fist. I took the license plate number down to report it to a couple of friends of mine. One is the chief of police in town and the other is a county sheriff. I’m not sure what they can do about this weirdo, but it was the only highlight in my morning.

At school I’ve got a chemistry midterm and I screw it up. I just can’t get the numbers to work right. I don’t know why. I did fine with the practice problems the night before. I run out of time before I can even finish the darn thing. Now I’m questioning whether or not I’ve got what it takes to even take on the sciences. I’ve never thought of myself as stupid, but when something like this happens, you start to wonder.

So now I’m at work and I get an email from a guy I bought a used laptop computer from saying he’s just shipped the laptop, but he thinks the batteries might be dead. I’m not talking just needing to be recharged here. I’m talking may need replacing. He’s promised to replace them if that’s the case, but it’s just one more annoyance added to an otherwise vile day.

There’s nineteen more hours until tomorrow morning. If I didn’t have to work, I’d want sedation.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Me study hard now.

No time to blog. Must study. Anatomy lab midterm coming up Wednesday. Must study bones and muscles. Tubercles and spines and foramen, oh my. Grammar going to pot. Writing in fragments. Brain melting. Can’t think. Must study.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Time Curve

Do you remember back in your college days when the rule of thumb was spending two hours outside of the classroom on homework and study for every hour you’re in the classroom? I’ve bounced that curve to the moon when it comes to my chemistry lab.

Class is scheduled for two hours a week. Theoretically I should be able to get everything I need to do outside the lab within four hours. Guess what? It ain’t happenin’. I think I spent four hours on Saturday and then another four hours on Sunday working through my lab assignments. It’s been grueling work, too. In some cases, the information I needed wasn’t available through the web resources we were told to look in. Fortunately, I’m smart enough to look at Wikipedia when I can’t find what I need.

I can’t believe I’m actually paying money to work this hard.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dead Bodies

Last week in anatomy lab we got to see the cadaver for the first time. We’re not medical students, so we didn’t do any dissections or anything. This is just the body of an old woman that donated her body to science. Presumably this was done after she died. If it had been before she died I don’t think she’d have been very happy about it.

The body was prosected (that means they cut her into parts, but left most of them attached at certain points so we could move them around) by some of the professors at the college. Then they slathered her with fixatives and dropped her into a chemical bath to keep her from decomposing.

When I was a boy I visited my brother when he as studying animal science up at Utah State University. It was pretty interesting. I got to go with one of the vet’s on their rounds and that was pretty cool, especially for a fourteen year old from the suburbs. When she started drawing blood for various tests, though, the world started spinning a bit and I about hit the floor. Something about watching that needle go in and the blood come out I guess. Years later, when I was in my early twenty’s, I was trained as an EMT. During one portion of our training they showed photographic slides of actually emergency patients. “This woman has just had her lower jaw blown off by a shotgun. What are you doing to do?” Well, what I did was ask to be excused before I threw up.

Given that history, I wasn’t sure how I was going to react when I saw the cadaver. I mean, I knew we’d be studying her at some point, I just wasn’t sure if I’d pass out or not.

Well, I guess all the intervening years of working as a nursing assistant, and cleaning up after my children, have strengthened my stomach. Cleaning up round after round of blood, spit, and vomit from various sources does that to you, I guess.

It turns out that I’ve changed. Looking at the cadaver for the first time was really interesting. It was a combination of intellectual interest and grisly fascination. Part of my brain kept saying, “This is really cool! Look at that! So that’s how that works!” Another part of me couldn’t help but remember that the history of anatomical study hasn’t always been a “socially acceptable” one. There was a time when “anatomist” was a euphemism for “grave robber.”

Truly it was life changing experience for me, though. I felt both in awe of the elegance of living things, and the grisly horror of dead and damaged bodies. It took a few days to not look at any form of meat and not remember some structure on the cadaver. I cooked a roast last Sunday and couldn’t help but think, “This is what people are made of.”

At least I’m not up at the anatomy lab at the University of Utah. There you can dissect cadavers to the smell of microwaving Chinese food.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hitting MEGO

My Chemistry professor this semester, Dr. G, has a really interesting way of dealing with quizzes. They’re online. When we get done, we are given immediate feedback as to which questions we got right, and which we got wrong. What’s cooler is that we can make three attempts at each quiz. That means that, if you’re smart and understand the technology, you can make one attempt, print the test out, and then fix the problems you ... well … had problems with.

I got stuck on this last quiz, though. Here’s the question.

Calculate the fraction of atoms in a sample of argon gas at 400 K that have an energy of 12.5 kJ or greater.

Cough, choke, sputter. Say what? We’ve been studying kinetics, and moved into equilibrium topics but, I have to admit. I had no clue how to even approach this question. So I had to go to Dr. G this morning after class and say, “I have no clue how to even approach this question.”

Fortunately for me, Dr. G is very keen on his students learning so he clued me in and the light went on for me. He went on to explain a few things about it though, and I hit MEGO.

Are you familiar with MEGO? In addition to being a toy company, it stands for “my eyes glazed over.” That’s what happens when you suddenly lose comprehension. Your eyes literally glaze over. Watch what happens next time you’re explaining something complex to someone.

I don’t think I’ve every hit the end of understanding faster in my life. At least I know how to approach it now. I need to brush up on the Arhenius equation describing rates of chemical reactions. It actually takes into the frequency factor related to the frequency of molecular collisions having the proper orientation to react.

Wait. What’s that look in your eyes? Did you just hit MEGO?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Why I'm not a scientist

This is why I’m not a scientist. I spent several hours yesterday working on my chemistry lab. We’re studying reaction times and rates. We’ve done an experiment or two (or three or six or 14), and were using our measurements to determine rate laws for the reactions, and so on.

Now, the experiments in question were done over a period of about 2.5 hours. I spent at least three hours yesterday trying to interpret the data and do the required calculations. Guess what? In all that time I came to discover that I had done the math wrong about three times (I couldn’t get the units to line up right) and now I get to start over from scratch, almost.  So much for me knowing what I’m doing.

I keep trying to tell myself, “Oh, now I know how NOT to do it!” but it’s not much consolation. While I know that (theoretically) we learn to know what something is by first knowing what it is not (such as, “I know this is a pencil because it is not a grapefruit.”), I’m still frustrated. Oh well. At least in the lecture class I’m having fun.

Oh! I almost forgot to tell you. I got my grade back from my first anatomy test. 94 out of 100! Not bad, if I do say so myself. Of course the teacher gave everyone and additional ten points for one reason or another but hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Driving on Campus

I’ve found a strange thing going on at my college. It’s getting so pervasive that I’m wondering if the college enrolments standards have gone down. People on campus simply don’t know how to drive.

I’m not kidding, here. In order to get out of the parking lot, and sit in line at the light for who knows how long, people are tooling through the parking lot at high speed, only to have to sit in their cars for several minutes at the street light. I guess they like to hurry up and wait.

Not only do I not understand this obsession with getting “just that extra car length ahead” but I wonder how many of them actually look out their windows when they drive. Did they not see me coming up on their left, or hear me slam on my brakes and shout a string of obscenities as they cut me off? Maybe they’re trying to study their textbooks and drive at the same time.

Now, I can understand the college wanted to let them in. It’s a matter of economics. The more students they have enrolled the more tuition they collect. What scares me, though, is why society lets them do this. Don’t you think that at some point people would figure out that if you’re too incompetent to drive, you’re probably too incompetent to vote? I’m constantly wondering why some people I meet are allowed to vote and drive cards.

Wait. Maybe that was the problem with the last U.S. presidential elections in Florida. Nobody checked their driver’s licenses before letting them into the voting booth.

Some of them make me wonder why we allow them to continue stealing our oxygen supplies. If they would just stop breathing, we could put that oxygen to good use. They’re certainly not doing much with it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I can only see what I know

There’s an interesting theory that states that “we can’t see what we don’t know exists.” The story goes that the natives of North America couldn’t see Columbus’ ships on the horizon until their medicine man figured out what the ripples in the water were, and told them that ships exist.

I had an interesting experience in my anatomy lab that may support this idea. We were looking at epithelial tissues and identifying their cell types. This is the first time most of us had done this, so it was new to many of us. It was certainly new to me. As I looked at these strange pink-tinted structures under the microscope, at first I couldn’t make heads or tails of them. I was told that the darker dots were the nuclei of the cells. I could see several other pinkish lines and such, but I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. They seemed fuzzy and out of focus somehow, even though I knew the microscope was in focus.

As I started trying to find landmarks, such as the cell nuclei, I shifted my sight to the cell walls, trying to determine the individual boundaries of each cell. I started looking at the different colors and patterns to figure out which were epithelial cells, and which were connective tissue. After a few minutes of this, suddenly my mind finally grasped the patterns I saw, everything was made very clear in my vision. It’s as if I had changed the focus on the microscope, even though I had done no such thing. I could see the tissues with great clarity, and understood what I was seeing.

Why did I suddenly see what was there, why did it suddenly come into focus, even though I had been looking at the same slide for several minutes, without adjusting the focus on the microscope? I believe that my mind had finally grasped the concept of the individual cell patterns. I had taught myself that epithelial tissue cells existed.

Mad Scientist

The semester is turning out to be interesting. The chemistry is a bit of a challenge, but not as bad as it could be. Dr. G is a thorough teacher, so that helps. It’s been a nice math refresher for me as well. We’re studying kinetics right now (speed of chemical reactions). It’s been several years since I had to deal with logarithms, let alone natural logarithms, and the math involved with determining rates through initial rate experiments requires them. I’ve had to dig through the attics of my mind to figure out what mental trunk I put my college algebra in. In spite of that, it’s been fun. I feel more like a scientist again.

Anatomy is going to be interesting, and is a completely different story. In most schools they teach anatomy and physiology side by side, over two semesters. Not here. Instead, anatomy and physiology are two separate classes. That means I’m getting just enough physiology to ask questions about anatomical structures, but not enough to really know what’s going on. It’s almost like biological geography. I’m learning to read a map.

The anatomy lab is going to be interesting, though. It’s being taught by a very talented woman from Georgia, and I don’t mean the southern U.S. state. Her accent is pronounced, but I’ve not had any difficulty understanding her. I just can’t pronounce her last name.

I’ve enjoyed learning to identify certain epithelial tissues by their cell types, though. What can I say? Playing with microscopes is fun. I had a real “biology” moment (read “surreal”) when the instructor started talking about smells of the “preserved tissue” (which smell horrible) vs. “fresh tissue” which has little smell at all.

Fresh tissue? I couldn’t help it. I just started thinking about Jack the Ripper, Dr. Frankenstein and grave robbing. I can just see it now. My instructor will turn to me in class and say, in her heavy Georgian accent, “Newman! Get me a brain!”

Yes, master.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Scared Stupid

School’s back in session! Yup. The heebie jeebies and I are on a first name basis. After all kinds of weirdness, I was able to get into the classes I wanted, Chemistry 1220 (Inorganic Chemistry II) and Biology 2320 (Human Anatomy). They both give me the willies.

Chem’s not going to be so bad. At least I think it won’t. It’s going to be a bit more work than last semester, but I think I’m up to it. We do have one annoyance, though. Dr. G (the head of the Chem dept. no less) wants us to read a non-fiction college level book (350 pages minimum) about science in the real world. We then have to write a report about it and talk about the chemistry of whatever subject the book is about. We’ve got to give him a proposal paper so he can approve the book first, though. Just when I was trying to finish up some fiction . . . darn it.

The class that’s got me freaked is human anatomy. It looks like a ton of information with just waaaaay too little time to cover it in. Not only that, I screwed up on my first day. A couple of girls in my chemistry class are also taking anatomy this semester, so I walked with them from chemistry over to anatomy. I had written down room 107 in the technology building, but their schedules said 207, so I figures I was wrong and went to room 207 instead. Stupid me. It turns out that there is another anatomy class (the one I’m actually enrolled in), in the very same building, at the very same time, in room 107.


I emailed my professor, and she pointed me to some web-versions of the syllabus and other handouts she had (thank goodness).

I’m still scared, though. Between an increasing workload, and some very difficult classes, it’s going to be an interesting semester.

Got my grades

I got my grades back from last semester! Straight A’s in Chemisty and Biology. It just goes to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Curses, Batman!

Cursin’ flippin’ foul filth foul creeping crud creepy crud! I’ve been trying to get into a human anatomy class. I hadn’t been able to do it. All classes full. On a whim, I checked again and low and behold there was an anatomy lab available! Rushing to check my schedule I found several conflicts, but conflicts that could be worked out! I talked with my wife and boss about the potential ramifications of it. I did my job (it’s time based. I have to make my appointments). I got back into the colleges website and register and . . .

. . . some other young fool has taken my spot!  What’s their rush? Don’t these young kids know I’m gonna die before they do?

Fecal matter!