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!