Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is Death Coded In Our DNA?

Have you ever wondered if death might be a beneficial thing, in terms of human evolution? I’m not talking about destroying the species, I’m talking about the idea that there is a beneficial side to members of the species dying at prescribed times. If that’s true, is death encoded in our genes?

This sounds really morbid, I know. Maybe it is.

Let me tell you what got me thinking about it, though.

Lately I’ve been seeing different reports about how the human lifespan is increasing. You’d think that this would be the goal with evolution. Long life = healthy species. But, we’ve also been seeing more degenerative diseases cropping up in our society than we ever had before. Some are speculating it’s because we’re living longer than we used to. People of earlier generations just didn’t live long enough to develop them.

I’ve also been thinking about the problems with cloning. The cells used to clone animals seem to know how old they are. The clones develop diseases comparable to the older animals and die earlier than they should.

It makes sense. Some have speculated that aging is simply the result of mistakes cropping in from time to time within our DNA when cells replicate, especially in the mitochondria. Cells are pretty good at catching those mistakes, but it’s not a perfect system.

Now let’s look at forest fires. It turns out that forest fires may not be all that bad for the plants in the forests. Destroying old growth makes room for the new growth that lives below the vertical fire line. They’d be choked out by the older growth, otherwise.

This isn’t a great example, because it’s environmental, but stay with me.

The same hold true with animals. When older animals die, or herds are thinned by predators, there’s less competition for resources. The younger ones have a better chance for survival.

Anything that codes for a mutation in a species’ genome, that allows it to adapt to changing conditions and survive while others die, allows that mutation to be passed on to it’s children. It creates a stronger creature that is better “fit” for survival. If death allows for the younger, stronger creatures to more easily survive, could death be an adaptation that is actually coded in our genome as a tool for survival?

It seems contradictory, I know. But, what if it’s not? Does that mean that our efforts to prolong the lifespan of those who are genetically damaged, or otherwise have been “selected for death,” run counter to evolutionary progress as a species?

The social ramifications of this, if it’s right, are frightening. I can easily imagine the potential horror of governmental policies that could be developed around this idea. Children that are “imperfect” would be left to die. Adults that are “imperfect” could be left to die. Their contributions to our society would be lost. If you really wanted to “go down the rabbit hole” with this, it could lead to a “Logan’s Run” or “Brave New Word” scenario, where "undesirables" aren’t just allowed to die, they are actively killed.

And all by government mandate.

Sometimes I scare myself.

Monday, December 03, 2007

My First Week with Vista

I've had my new Vista (Home Basic) computer running for about a week now. I gotta tell ya', it's not that bad. I was expecting a lot of problems, but to be honest, I only ran into a couple of hiccups, and they were solved pretty simply.

The first is backward compatibility. There were several older programs I've got that I couldn't get to run properly, or even install - like my old copy of Myst and a few of my kid's programs. I was pleasantly surprised with others. Links (1999) and Tomb Raider III have never run better.

The next was my ISP. The software they used simply wasn't compatible with Vista. Not a big deal. They had been bought out by Netscape about a year or so ago and so all I had to do was cancel my regular account and open a Netscape account. Same price, same servers. It took about and hour, and some frustration with the one of the outsourced tech support people (Only one. The others were very good.), but in the end it got cleared up.

The last was my scanner/printer. Again, the drivers just weren't compatible. No big deal, though. With my ISP problems worked out I just hit the manufacturer's website and downloaded new drivers. Now it works like a charm.

If only the ink cartridges weren't so expensive.

But I digress.

There's one thing about it I really like about Vista - the Parental Controls. It was incredibly easy for me to set up my kids with their own accounts and limits as to what kinds of games, software, and even the times of day they can access the computer. It was ten times easier than setting up user access controls under XP.

I got to see it work, first hand, too. I was showing my middle daughter how to get into her account. It was later in the evening, and nearing the time I'd set up as a limit for when she could get on the computer. I clicked on something and BOOM, it came back to her log-in screen and told her she wasn't authorized to use the computer at this time. It turns out the clock had struck 8:00 PM and her account had turned into a pumpkin.

What's even better is that the games and programs I don't want her using don't even show up as options. She can't get tempted by them in the first place.

As a parent of young children, that's pretty cool.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Does Buying Vista Mean I’m Insane?

I don’t know what it was, but I went crazy after Thanksgiving this year. The whole Black Friday bug bit me, and I spent a lot of money on new furniture and toys.

Okay, one new toy. A new computer.

It’s running Windows Vista.

What in the world was I thinking!?

Everything I’ve been reading about Vista tells me that it’s buggy and no where near backwards compatible. I just didn’t think I’d buy anything dealing with Vista until next year, at the earliest. “Let ‘em sort out more o’ them ish-ooos!” was my motto. The Black Friday bug got me instead. That’s my trouble. (My apologies to Jim Hensen.)

Why do they call it Black Friday anyway? The store’s finances certainly operate “in the black” on that day. It makes mine “go into the red.”

Here’s my excuse.

We have a family computer in our house. It’s in the living room so that we can easily monitor what my children are doing on the web. There are two other computers set up in the house (and about three more that aren’t). The computer in my music studio, and my daughter’s computer that we got her to encourage her story writing.

The family computer was getting old and out of shape (much like I am). It just wasn’t doing what we needed it to do anymore, and it was getting harder and harder to deal with its aging idiosyncrasies. Older hardware and newer programs will do that to you.

So we got a new one. I got a pretty good deal, too.

Now, because of backward compatibility issues, I’ve had to change my ISP (I’m not kidding), and less than half of the kid’s programs I’ve tried to install will run on it.

And I’ve only tried installing a few of them.

Oh, well. There is one upside. Vista has some killer parental controls. Now my kids will have a lot harder time sneaking time on the computer if we don’t want them to.

Now if I can just figure out how to get Writer Girl to turn off her computer and go to bed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I feel stuck

I miss school. I really do. Because of family and financial issues I didn't go back this semester. I also missed the financial aide deadline for this year so, I'm feeling stuck.

In the meantime, I picked up an older edition of Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, and an older text book on the pathology of disease, at a library book sale. They've been fun to browse through and read (the pathology book is fascinating), but they're not really getting me closer to my goal.

It's not good to be stuck.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Claudia (Fran) Davila's Post-Oil Survival Guide

I know I've mentioned fellow blogger, Fran Davila, before. She's outdone herself this time.

I'm blown away.

Fran has started a new blog to post her research and efforts in creating sustainable metropolitan living spaces. It's called the Post-Oil Survival Guide for City Living.

The guide isn't complete, yet, and I've not read through everything she's posted so far, either. What I'm seeing is amazing, though. It's well worth the read.

No, it's even better. It's worth starting to implement, now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I am the Candy Slave

Halloween is upon us. Soon, many a youngster will come knocking on my door and shout 'trick or treat' at the top of their lungs. I, being the dutiful candy slave, will open my door and fill their bags with sticky confections designed to make them hyper and send their dentists to Disneyland.

In Scotland and parts of Northern England, the tradition is called 'guising.' The principle is the same. Kids go from door to door dressed up as who-knows-what and beg for the candy. The difference is they're expected to do something for it. Normally the kids will recite a short poem or a funny joke. More talented kids might play the harmonica or sing a song, or do a card trick or something. Most kids get a treat no matter what or how well they do. They certainly would if they came to my house.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It's a great excuse to just step out of our everyday lives and have some fun. I love reading and telling scary stories, watching the old black and white monster movies with my kids, and just generally having fun. My kids get into it, too, and not just for the candy. They like dressing up as their favorite heroes and heroines and parading around to our neighbor's houses. This year I think I'll don a gray hooded cloak, attach some reference to spider webs, and go as the "Web Master."

Trust me. It was funny a few minutes ago.

Outside of all the sugar, I actually think it's healthy. Creating costumes is a wonderful problem solving exercise. The kids get a little exercise wandering the neighborhood. And let's face it, we all need a little more fun in our lives.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

How We Digitized My Daughter

It's Violin Girl's 13th birthday. I'm thinking I need to change her pseudonym, though. She's all but given up on the violin, these days. What she's really been getting into is writing fantasy stories.

She's really good. Yeah, she's still a kid and her writing shows that but, some of her stories have got me and her mom saying, "When are you going to write the next chapter?" Her ideas and characters have really grabbed our attention.

In order to encourage her writing, My Lovely Wife (MLW) and I decided to get Writer Girl (see? I told you I was thinking of changing it) a computer. Actually, we're going to clean up an older one that we're not using for much any more and let her have it.

We're cheap. What can I say?

All last week I've been clearing off old files and making sure she has the software she'll need installed. I've stayed up way too late at night doing this too, I might add.

We've been planning this for some time, now. We got her a roll-top computer hutch for her room a few months ago. She'd wanted a desk to do homework on, so we had a great excuse to get the master computer plan underway without her suspecting a thing.

There was one problem, though. We needed to replace the broken shelf the monitor would sit on. No problem. MLW would measure the desk and get a new one.

Initially, we wanted to set it up and let her discover it when she got home from school, yesterday. MLW cleaned off Writer Girl's desk earlier that day, and was going to move the computer, but ran into a snag. Two snags, actually. The monitor we had for her was too big for the desk, and MLW had measured the shelf size badly. The one she bought was too small.

MLW hurried and put the computer back and called me at work. We'd have to try another plan but, neither of us could deal with it until later in the day because of work responsibilities. Unfortunately, that would be after Writer Girl got home from school.


When Writer Girl got home, she noticed that all of the things she had on the desk were now on her bed. Like all hormone laden teenage girls faced with such situations would do, she confronted her mother.

"Mom! Why is all of my stuff off the desk, and on my bed?"

"Ummm ...." MLW isn't good at coming up with believable lies at short notice. "I wanted to help you clean your room for your party, but I had to quit in the middle and go to work."

"MAW-awm!" Writer girl whined in the way that only young teenage girls can, "That's just rude!" and she stomped down the stairs to her room, promptly putting everything back on her desk.

Fortunately for us, this was the same day as "Young Women's," a weekly group meeting for all the teen and pre-teen girls in our local church. Writer Girl would be out of the house. We had our chance, and we struck.

When I got home from work, later than I'd planned I might add, Writer Girl was already gone to "Young Women's." MLW and I created a new battle plan, which amounted to me running around the city to get a new shelf and monitor, and hightail it back home to complete the "secret op."

It was 8:00 PM. The stores I needed to hit closed at 9:00 PM. Writer Girl would be home any minute. The odds were against us, but you only turn 13 once, and we wouldn't have another chance to try and pull this off.

I didn't make it back in time.

As fast as I was, it still took 50 minutes to get the two different stores I needed to go, secure the goods, and get back to base. I came home to find Writer Girl sitting with MLW in my bedroom, smiling sheepishly.

"I told her she had to stay in here for a while, because you'd gone out to get her a surprise." MLW said.

Okay. Maybe we can do this, after all. Most of it, anyway.

MLW and sprang into action. I went back out to the car and brought in the monitor and shelf, and took them downstairs. The shelf needed to be cut to size, but I could do that.

Yeah, right.

After fiddling with two different saws and spreading sawdust all over the floor, I discovered that my carpenter father was right - measure twice, cut once. Apparently carpentry skills are not genetic because I'd cut the shelf way too short for her desk.

I'm just glad my daughter wasn't downstairs with us. I let loose with a string of vocabulary words that stretched well beyond the limits of what's proper around young women.

It was beyond the limits for most adults, too. And I had served in the Marine Corps, so that's saying something.

MLW remembered that we still had another shelf we'd used in another area of the house, but weren't using anymore. She found it (I have no idea how) and we got the shelf cut to the proper size this time.

Things got a bit simpler from here on out. Moving the computer over and installing it on her desk wasn't too difficult. A power cable had become lost in the process but it didn't much time, and more stretched verbiage, to find it.

The whole thing was so nerve wracking for me I swear I'm going to need therapy.

We fired up the computer, and made sure everything was still working right. I'd searched the 'net and found some pictures of horses to use for wallpaper (Writer Girl loves horses), and left it turned on so she could see it when she came down.

MLW went upstairs to get a camera and Writer Girl while I mopped the sweat off of my forehead, and tried to keep a straight face.

Writer Girl came downstairs, turned the corner and peered into her room. She stood there for several minutes, speechless and smiling.

New shelf and used monitor? - $20.00

One session of stress therapy? - $200.00

Look on your 13 year old daughter's face when she realizes how much you believe in her, and want to support her in developing her talents? - Priceless.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What Do You Get a Pregnant Gamer?

A good friend of mine just popped his head into my office to tell me he's expecting a baby. Well, his wife's expecting, anyway. Early spring of next year.

This is exciting news! He's excited to become a father, she's excited to become a mother, and I'm excited for them both. Lots of 'excited' goin' on here.

After congratulating them, my first thought was some of us in the office should pitch in and get them some kind of congratulatory gift. That's what you're supposed to do in this sort of situation, isn't it? I'm just not sure what to get them.

Both of these folks are rabid adventure gamer geeks. They love Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, Munchkin, and all sorts of weird and fun games like that. His newly pregnant wife loves Manga on top of it.

I like all those things, too, so you'd figure I could come up with an idea for a good gift.

The trouble is I can't. What do you get a pregnant Manga loving gamer chick to celebrate her ... um ... pregnantness?

I don't recall seeing any fantasy titles like "Conan the Babysitter," or "Lord of the Diapers." I’ve certainly not seen any Manga titles like "Ghost in the Womb," "Cowboy Babybop," or "Goo Goo Hakusho,” either.

Hmmm. I wonder if “Kiki’s Delivery Service” counts?


If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rice that Survives Floods

My friend Mark sent me to a news article about a new strain of rice that can survive flood waters. It was developed in the Philippines, but it was a group of scientists in Bangladesh that were singing its praises.

According to the article, about a fifth of Bangladesh disappears under flood waters every year, causing all kinds of havoc with their crops. This new strain of rice could be a god-send for them.

As Mark and I were talking, though, neither of us could help wondering why they would keep planting in fields that are destroyed by water every year.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An Apology to Anyone Who Cares

Sorry I've not updated the blog for a while. I've been incredibly busy at work, and I've just not had time to write much beyond what I do for my day job.

It doesn't look like it's going to end in the near future, either. I've got at least a couple more weeks of darkness and insanity to wade through before I'll actually get to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

So, it looks like I'm going on temporary hiatus for a while. If anyone wants to 'guest blog' I'd be happy to entertain them.

See you on the other side.

Monday, July 30, 2007

How I Fell in Love with Danica McKellar

I came across this by way of WWdN: In Exile, Will Wheaton's wonderful blog. Danica McKellar, who starred in "The Wonder Years" as 'Winnie,' has just written a book called 'Math Doesn't Suck.' (I've used Will's link here, so if you buy it from this link, he'll thank you.)

Danica wants to encourage girls to do math. She wants to show them that being smart is infinitely better than being stupid. What a wonderful break from the images and ideals mass media is throwing at us!

I may have to pick this up for my daughters. They already know that 'Dad' thinks math is cool, but is someone as smart and beautiful as Danica says it too, it may give them extra incentive.

Then again, maybe I'm not doing that bad. My oldest daughter brought her near failing grade in math up to an "A" by the end the last school year. Kudos to her!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Who's Got Your Back?

I found a really cool chiropractic blog the other day, Dr. Shiraki's Blog. He's a chiropractor out in Hawaii, and he's got a great site. It really got me excited about working to become a chiropractor again.

He seems like a really nice guy, too. He even emailed me over a couple of comments I left. I think I was a little too forthcoming with him in my replies, though. In retrospect, my responses to him probably sounded a little creepy.


In any case, one of his policies is absolutely inspired. He calls it the Honor Box. You really do need to check it out. He's even got his own theme song.

"Who's got your back ..."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Decisions - No Decisions

I feel like I've been in a blogging funk, lately. I'm not in school right now so, what's to blog about on a student blog? My whole life feels like that, actually.

Thinking about all this, I've discovered that what I'm really be doing is avoiding making decisions, and/or acting on them. So I offer you, gentle readers, the following:

Nine things that stop me from making decisions and acting:

1. I'm interested in way too many things to pick just one.
2. I've sacrificed enough to get started on many things, only to have my life get in the way and shut me down.
3. Fear of failure.
4. Fear of success.
5. Lack of money/resources.
6. Lack of motivation.
7. Being overwhelmed by everything else in my life.
8. Laziness.
9. I don't really want what I think I want, but I keep lying to myself that I do.

Take your pick.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Not Worth Reading

This post is not worth reading, so I won't bother writing it.

Feel free to comment.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sweat and Roses

It's amazing to me just how powerful smell is as a memory trigger. The smell of fresh bread takes me back to my mother's kitchen, and the memories associated with it. On a more grisly note, the smell of concentrated Lysol reminds me of my nights studying the cadaver in anatomy lab. Blood has a remarkably metallic smell. That smell reminds me of my days training as an EMT, when our teacher alternately poured old blood from the blood bank on the floor of the classroom to simulate venous bleeding, and pumping it across the room to simulate arterial bleeding.

As grisly as that sounds, it was amazing training. We learned very quickly what blood smelled like, and how to estimate blood loss simply by looking at the amount around the patient.

Today I'm having weird smell triggered memories as well. I lit a rose scented candle in my office. It's pretty strong, and now my whole office, and the space just outside, smells like waxy roses. It's a hot day, and the air conditioner is set badly, so the roses are mingling with the smell of B.O.

I'm not sure the rose candle was a great choice, because now my mind has turned to memories of being a kid and visiting my grandmother (my father's mother) in a nursing home. She smelled just like that after her stroke. Sweat and roses.

It was more than thirty years ago, I was probably about eight or nine at the time, but this candle has taken me right back to her side. I'm holding her hand, and hoping she'll get better soon.

It took her a while, but she did recover enough to start walking, and talking, again. Unfortunately, it wasn't too long afterwards that she died.

I never did get to know her very well, being so young and living in a different city. Even so, smells are a powerful thing. I wonder what she'd think of the person I've become.

I miss you grandma.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Heat to Sound to Electricity

I found this nifty bit of technology via Boing Boing. What's even cooler, for me, anyway, is that it was developed by a guy at my first Alma Mater, the University of Utah. Check this out from Science Daily:

University of Utah physicists developed small devices that turn heat into sound and then into electricity. The technology holds promise for changing waste heat into electricity, harnessing solar energy and cooling computers and radars.

"We are converting waste heat to electricity in an efficient, simple way by using sound," says Orest Symko, a University of Utah physics professor who leads the effort. "It is a new source of renewable energy from waste heat."

How cool is that? Probably not cool at all. It's hot. At least it has to be hot to work.

It's got me wondering, though. How hot does it have to be? If we can turn heat into sound, and sound into energy, couldn't we use this to capture ambient heat in hotter climates, like the one I live in? I'd love to be able to help power my AC with the very heat I'm trying to fend off.

What about using sound waves directly? If we could create a way to capture ambient sound waves in the middle of a noisy city street or construction zone, to create a static standing wave, couldn't we take advantage of the very noise we create to help power the technologies we create it with?

I'm sure there are all kinds of "it won't work yet because . . ." excuses, and I'm certainly not proposing it will be some kind of perpetual motion device. I feel the same way about home based solar panels and windmills. They aren't (currently) complete energy replacement solutions. Let's think about this, though. With enough small "streams" of electricity in place, even if they aren't continuous, won't they still contribute, reducing our overall reliance on fossil fuels, and other climate damaging power production methods?

Now that's hot.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


My kids get out of school for the summer at the end of this week. With my own school activities on temporary hiatus, we should be able to spend a lot more time together this summer.

At least that's the plan. Plans never seem to work out the way you intend them to, though.

I can remember when I was a kid I would come up with some amazing plans for what I wanted to do during summer vacation. Ride my bike, see movies, and play games with friends, to name a few. Mostly what I ended up doing, however, was watch TV and complain about having to work in the yard.

Not that I actually got much work done in the yard, I just complained a lot about it. Ask my parents. They'll tell you all about it.

Interestingly enough, as an adult I don't find that I'm much different. I've got all kinds of things I want to do: write stories, compose music, expand my online businesses, play games with my friends (some things never change), and goof off with my wife and kids, to name a few.

Then I look out my window and reality kicks in. My yard looks like a weed farm, I've got moss killing my grass, my car needs some work done on it, and my house needs some basic maintenance.

Not that I'll actually get much of that done. Mostly, I'll just post here and complain about it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wherever You Go

My friend Mark Hanen, at Mo' Boy blog, mentioned a tool he'd come across (from yet another blogger) that could create a map of all the states that you've visited in the U.S. I had traveled a bit while I was in the military, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Here’s mine.

Wow. I didn't expect to see that much of the country covered. Several of them, admittedly, I didn't spend much time in. I was really just traveling through them by train. Still, I got to see a lot of the country as I rode by.

One thing I learned from my travels is that every place is different. I know that sounds really lame but, they all have their own forms of beauty, and ugliness, in landscape, buildings, people, and culture.

Many times I’ve heard people tell me, "Oh, I hate this place because . . ." and then they list something that annoys them, "Living in [some other place] is so much better than living here."

I usually keep quiet (I’ve quit asking why they don’t move), but I can't help thinking, "Every place has good things and bad things about it. I think the secret is to find the good things, and make sure you take time to enjoy them."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Boron No More

I just looked up my grades from last semester. I am Boron no more.

Woo Hoo! I got an A in Chem 1220!

Well, it's really an A-, but hey, I'm very pleased with myself.

The only downside is that I forgot to fill out the financial aide papers on time, so unless I can figure out another way to pay my tuition, I'm going to have to wait to start organic chem (and physics, and psych and . . .)

But for now, I got an A!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

End of Gen Chem

My Chemistry test went pretty well, I think. Sort of. Mostly. Kinda, in a good sort of perhaps way.

I was having trouble with my calculator and Dr. OH was kind enough to give me some extra time. He also helped me see that multiple choice questions are as much about eliminating the wrong answers as it is finding the right one.

In any case my General Chemistry career is more or less over. I certainly think I did well enough throughout the class that I'll be able to go on to organic chemistry next year (assuming my life doesn't take another turn) and do just fine.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


I have my Chem 1220 final tonight. It was supposed to be in two more days, but the school, in it's infinite wisdom, decided to change the date.

I should be studying (cramming) for my final. Guess what I'm doing, instead? Blogging, of course!

I am soooooooo pathetic.

To my credit, I studied my brains out over the weekend. For all of my readers who are zombies, sorry. I left my brains somewhere between the chapter on thermodynamics and the chapter on electrochemistry. If you find them, please do not eat them. I need them back for my test.

What I really need is a nap.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Just Call Me Boron

My test went better than it should have. Once again, I got a B+. That seems to be my "modus operandi" for this class. I have to admit though, the only reason I got a B+ was because Dr. OH grades on a curve. I was ill prepared. I was just less ill prepared than the majority of the class.

If I get a B+, does it mean I’m a boron anion? Of course, that would mean I would have gotten a B+++, but whose counting?

If you were to put me in close proximity with 3 clones of my chemistry professor, would we create boric acid [B(OH)3]?

Never mind. (Apparently I’m not paying any attention to my mind, why should you?)

By the way, if you can’t tell I’ve got chemistry on the brain, you just missed something. Here’s why I’m feeling obsessed. Counting today, we've got four more class sessions to cover three chapters and review for a comprehensive final on May 3.

Can you say, "feelin' the pressure?"

Knew ya' could.

Oh well. At least it will (should) be my last semester of General Chemistry. Then I'll get to enjoy a year of organic chem.

Insanely, I'm looking forward to that.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Random Chemistry Thoughts

I'm getting ready for a chemistry test coming up next week. Right now, I'm reviewing the chapter on Acid-Base equilibrium. Suddenly it occurred to me that, in chem lab, the term "dropping acid" takes on a whole new meaning.

Probably not something you want to do, either way.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Why Global Warming Doesn't Matter

One of the huge talking points these days is the existence, or lack thereof, of global warming, and whether or not humans contribute to it. Al Gore has his movie, and movement, and others are fighting against his data and saying that it's still up in the air.

What all these eco-kibitzers don't understand is that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter whether or not global warming is real, natural, or man made. The bottom line is we're polluting the air. It makes it harder to breathe and creates all kinds of long term health issues, not to mention the rising cost of these older energy models.

Quit arguing about global warming! Let's just clean up the air, and regardless of where we stand on global warming, we'll all be able to breathe a little easier.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Move Over ,Buddha

One thing I've absolutely been struggling with in chemistry is the study of kinetics. Part of the problem is that it's riddled with higher mathematics. I'm no slouch when it comes to algebra but, much to my disgrace, I've never taken calculus. I want to, mind you. I've just not had to do it, yet.

Now, according to the class syllabus, and the text book, I can use algebra to figure this stuff out. It's harder and weirder and they're not going to explain where it all comes from (they all derive from calculus), but I should be "just fine."

Yeah. Right.

Because I was sick all last week (and still have a cough), I missed the classes where we covered all of this, so I've been playing catch-up with the text book to figure it all out. One of the equations that's just been giving me fits is this:


f is the frequency of molecules in a sample at temperature T, having the species required energy of activation (Ea) to start a reaction. R is the gas constant (8.314 J/mol-K).

So far so good, right? So just what the heck is this lower case "e" all about?

Racking my brains, and the text, for far too long, I skipped that bit and went on to study the rest of the chapter.

When I went back to class last night, I was met with quiz on, you guessed it, the kinetics chapter! I actually did very well (I only got one wrong - stupid trick equation), in spite of my misgivings. When I was looking at the assigned homework questions, though, I was stuck with something that completely threw me:

Calculate the fraction of atoms in a sample of argon gas at 400 K that have an energy of 10.0 kJ or greater.

Say what, now? How the heck am I supposed to figure this out? I'm guessing it has something to do with the equation above, but how? I asked one of my classmates, a bright young kid destined for medical school.

"Oh! Yeah, that one threw me for a minute, too. It's really simple, though. You just plug the numbers into this equation." he said.

"What? But how do you know what the energy of activation is?" I asked.

"It's given right here, in the problem." he replied.

"How do you know that's the energy of activation?" I persisted.

"Well, I guess you don't. It's just the number given." he said, sheepishly.

Finally Dr. OH stepped in. "It may not be the energy of activation, but you can still use the equation. You're just finding a percentage of molecules with a certain level of energy, it doesn't have to be the energy of activation."

"Okay. I get that, now. But what the heck is this 'e' in the equation?" I asked.

"That's the energy of activation." Dr. OH tried to explain.

"No, that's 'Ea.' What's this 'e' thing?"

"That?" he asked, giving me a quizzical look. "That's just the inverse log function."

I sat down. Fast.

I couldn't believe it. I knew what an inverse log was, but I had been looking at the bloody equation and thinking it was a variable all this time.

My built up world crumbled around me and I saw the face of God.

Okay, not really, but the light did go on for me. Finally, I got it.

"I can't believe I'm that stupid." I told Dr. OH.

He smiled and said, "Don't worry. Bring it up in class next time. I can't believe you're the only one that was confused."

And now I am enlightened.

You can find the solution to this problem, here.

Unwanted Houseguests

Sorry I've not updated for awhile, folks. I've been sick. My oldest daughter, Violin Girl, brought some very impolite viruses home from school and they've overstayed their welcome. My whole family is infected. None of us have been able to fully shake these nasty bugs.

It just goes to show you the havoc that unwanted houseguests can inflict, doesn't it?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Doctor Hydroxide, Away!

I did pretty well on my first chemistry test this semester. B+. Not an "A," (as in anal retentive) but that's okay. Not the top score in the class, but well above the class average.

Anyway, Miss AR isn't in my class anymore so I don't have to deal with her.

We went over the test in class (why do I forget the stupid little things when I take tests, but remember the big weird things?), and had about 30 minutes left over. Nobody wanted to start the next section - kinetics. Cool and important subject, but in an icky sort of "holy crap I've got to do what?" kind of way.

I think we all must have had a long week. Even the prof (Dr. H) looked hammered, so we broke early. Frankly I was glad to get home a bit early. I needed the sleep. Still do.

It just occurred to me that my professor's initials are OH. Maybe I'll have to start calling him Doctor Hydroxide.

That's kind of cool. It sounds like he's a superhero or something. Doctor Hydroxide! Defender of Science!

Either it's really cool or I'm more tired than I think.

I'd bet on the "tired."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Test Anxiety, or Cabin Fever?

I've got my first chemistry test this semester coming up tonight. I feel mostly prepared. I've been trying to study but I just can't seem to stay focused. Maybe it's test anxiety. Nah. More likely it's cabin fever. I soooo want to get outside in the sunshine today!

Intermolecular forces . . . materials classification . . . solubility factors . . .zzzzz

Mommy? Can I go out an play, now?

Wish me luck.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Goofing Off

I took a day off from work and school the other day. Well, a half day off work. My day job involves calling people up and helping them understand what to do when they build websites, and market them. I had enough cancellations that my late afternoon unexpectedly opened up. Rather than sit around work (although there were things I could have done, I have to admit), I took the rest of the day off. The plan was to go home for a while, enjoy my family, and then go back to my chemistry class that evening.

That was the plan. Really.

As with all "best laid plans of mice and men" it didn't work out that way. Instead of going to class, I ended up goofing off with my wife and kids until well past the time for me to leave for class. Now I've got a bunch of reading to catch up on before my next class.

So much for "the plan."

You know what? I don't feel guilty at all. In fact, I'm looking forward to the next time. I think I need to find more days to goof off. Goodness knows I don't have enough days that are earmarked for working, the paid kind and the home kind.

Still, it's an interesting idea for me to gauge my quality of life on the number of days I can afford to goof off.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Surreal Life

Part of my day job is acting as a copy-editor for our company's online magazine, e-Shop Talk. It makes me sound like I'm one of several editors, but the reality is I'm it. I'm not only a copy-editor, I'm the chief editor and one of the contributing writers. Wednesday mornings I've set aside time in my schedule to deal with these duties. Today was particularly grueling. Lots of articles to edit, coupled with a few writers who forgot what punctuation and grammar were, made my morning busy, and miserable.

The reason I'm miserable is that I'm a coward, and a hack. Compared to real professional writers and editors, I'm just not up to par. I'm a wannabe when it comes to writing, and I know it, so I hate editing others. The trouble is that some of them are worse than me. How do you tell your fellow hacks that they suck more that you do? It's not pretty. In any case, after a near non-stop four hour "sit and edit" fest in front of my computer, I finally got a reprieve. I could stand up and take a break.

Let me tell you something about my desk. For better or worse, when our department moved I volunteered to be in the crappy spot. It guaranteed (at the time) that I'd pretty much be left alone. I like that sort of thing when I'm working so it seemed like it would be a good thing. Now I share the space with two other people. So much for a good thing.

My workspace doesn't have much light. The only window is on the other side of the room, blocked by a cubicle divider. The overhead lamps need to be replaced so the only real light I get is from the CRT screen and the small fluorescent light attached to my desk.

After four hours I needed to see some sunshine. I needed to see the outside. I needed variety. There's a door right behind my desk that leads to one of the entranceways for my building. It's a small 4'x6' vestibule with a glass door on one side, leading out, two doors on either side (one leads to my department, the other to a stairway). There's another door, opposite the outside door, but it doesn't count. It's closet.

Anyway, I got up from my desk and went into the entranceway. The air outside was cold, and made the glass feel cold as well. The sky was clear and blue. Everything looked crisp and bright. The shock between sitting in the dark, enclosed space of my desk, and the glass door leading to the bright outdoors left me feeling like I was in an airlock. I consciously knew there was air on the other side of the door, but I couldn't help but wonder if I should find a space suit to put on. It was an amazing, and surreal experience.

So what did I do? I turned right around, returned to my desk, and started blogging about it.

I'm pathetic.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm Robert Heinlein

Funny, I always thought I was John Newman. According to Paul Kienits, though, if I were a sci-fi writer, I'd be Robert Heinlien.

That's so sad to me. I've never been a fan of Heinlein.

I am:
Robert A. Heinlein
Beginning with technological action stories and progressing to epics with religious overtones, this take-no-prisoners writer racked up some huge sales numbers.

Which science fiction writer are you?

I, Smarty Pants

I got to be the cool know-it-all student in my chemistry class the other day. We're talking about the different kinds of materials, conductors, semi-conductors, polymers, nanomers, and the like.

Anway, the question came up, "What chemical process in the body that has to do with polymers?"

"They're all over the place," I answered.

"True, but what's the most important?" he continued.

"Probably protein synthesis," I replied.

"That's right! Amino acid production."

So, I got to be the smarty pants, even up against some students prepping for pharmacy and med school.

How fun is that?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In which all is made right.

I've got a chemistry teacher! What a concept. Pay tuition for a class and actually get a teacher to . . . well . . . teach you stuff!

Here's what happened. There were two Chem 1220 classes being taught at roughly the same time. Right after the semester started, there were so many people dropping from each class that the powers that be decided to combine the classes. They just didn't bother telling any of the students.

My original professor got dropped in favor of my new one. He was supposed to come down to our classroom (which was just down the hall, it turns out) and let us know what had happened. When he got there, he looked at us and thought, "This looks like a class that has a teacher. I'll have to check on this." Later, when some of us complained, they finally put a notice on the door that our classroom had changed.

None of us knew until a week after the fact.

The difficult part is the new professor had already prepped his class for a quiz covering two different chapters they had reviewed from the previous semester. We were just so elated that we actually had a teacher you could have stuck dynamite in our shorts and we wouldn't have minded. The teacher decided to postpone the quiz until the following week (tomorrow) so we could review. All was right with the world.

Until reality sunk in.

I've been pouring over two chapters of material this last weekend. It's not been fun. While most of it I had already gone over a year earlier, there are some things here that I don't remember covering (like exceptions to the electron "octet rule" when it comes to predicting molecular structures). Without a teacher in front of me to ask about it, it's been kind of confusing. I don't like confusing. Confusing makes me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

In any case, there is some light in all this. While we're going to be having 15 different quizzes, five of them get dropped. Guess which quiz will be my first one. Oh, and that "high school" issue? Gone. No graded homework.

Now I feel like I'm actually back in college.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Not Good.

School's been interesting so far. We've had three classes so far, and the professor has only showed up to one of them. The first one. The class I blogged about earlier, where we discussed the coming semester for twenty minutes and then went home.

If I were in still back in high school, this might have been a good thing. I was so bored in high school that any excuse to not see the teacher would have been a good one. Trouble is I'm not in high school anymore. (Some of my younger classmates act like they still are, but that's the subject for the future.) I actually care if I learn something and get a good grade. Amazing what growing up and having to pay your own tuition does for you, doesn't it?

I'd like to transfer to a different section, but I'm facing a few problems. The last day to add classes was five days ago. There's not another class I can transfer to that fits my schedule, anyway. That's why I chose this section in the first place; it fit my schedule. I'm thinking about signing up for the online course, but I've heard that web classes are really hard and, again, the last day to add was five days ago.

In all my time at various colleges and universities, I've never run into this situation before. I'm not even sure who to contact about it. The head of the Chemistry department, I suppose. I don't like complaining, but then again I spent a lot of money on tuition and books. I should get something out of that, don't you think?

I'm not the only one that's upset about it, though. I've got the rest of the class, as well. I'm a little concerned, though. Only about half of us showed up last night. I'm wondering if the other half knew something we didn't. The only good excuse we could come up with for the teacher was that he was either injured, or dead. If that's the case, and we were complaining about him, it would make me feel like a dirt-bag. Then again, I'm getting old enough to have made peace with my inner dirt-bag, so I don't feel so bad about complaining.

This is not good. Not good at all.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Back to School

Last Tuesday I started back to school. I'm retaking that Chemistry course I've talked with you about, before. It's a night course, two nights a week. I can't say that our first class was much of a class. It was basically twenty minutes talking about what we would be doing, and then breaking. I expect it to be that way with day courses, but when you're supposed to be meeting for two hours, twenty minutes is a pretty early time to let out. Oh, well. I wasn't feeling too good so I'm alright with it.

I did run into one thing I'm not happy about, though. I have to buy a new text book. Normally a text book change in a subject like chemistry isn't such a big deal. Just use the last edition and you'll be fine. The trouble is the professor is giving us specific graded assignments out of it. I feel like I'm back in high school. Now I get to dump another $150.00 on a second general chemistry book.

So much for saving money.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Bad Dog

All the talk and hope about our new beagle took a terrible turn this weekend. When we first met him he was friendly enough, but after we picked him up and brought him home, things started getting ugly.

His first night was ruff (sic), but we expected that. He had just gotten "fixed" that morning and he couldn't have felt very good. He absolutely hated the dog crate we have, though. He wouldn’t go in at first, and then he just whined and howled most of the night. He settled down after awhile, but I woke up with a splitting headache later on, and he started whining again when he saw me come out. I gave up and let him out, petting him and sitting with him in the living room for a while before going back to bed. When My Lovely Wife (MLW) got up later on, he had claimed one of the plush chairs in the living room. Neither of us were thrilled, but we knew this was going to be an adjustment period for everyone, including the dog. MLW and I don't like the idea of sharing our furniture with animals. Well, not the cushy recliners anyway. The sofa’s okay. We prefer to get pet’s their own furniture.

As the days went on, things just kept getting more and more weird. He'd be resting happily or playing fetch with us and then suddenly he'd get jump around crazily, like a junkie on speed, bark a bit, and then go do something else. It was as if a switch turned on in his brain, and then turned back off moments later.

He also started getting aggressive with our kids. We had been told he wasn't food aggressive, but our experiences made us think otherwise. He started getting more and more aggressive in trying to steal food from our littlest ones, and even nipped at my middle daughter when she wouldn't let him have an apple she was eating. Who knew dogs liked apples?

MLW gave him some food and then started pulling on his ears a bit, and he seemed fine, although he has his nose buried in the food dish. When she put her hand in front of his eyes though, he growled and lashed out at her. Sure signs of food aggression if you ask me.

What sadder is that my eldest daughter, Violin Girl, had initially created the best relationship with him. She trained him and treated him and he started following her around for the rest of the day. The next day, though, he started getting aggressive with her. She saw that he'd gone downstairs. From the top of the stairs she called to him, trying to get him to come back up. He started growling and barking at her, really raising a fuss. After she left his field of view, though, we got him to come back upstairs and he seemed perfectly happy, wagging his tail the whole way.

My youngest daughter, the Munchkin, had the worst time. She used to run and play with our previous dog for as long as we'd let them. They were the best of friends. When she tried to pet the beagle, though, while he was eating, this dog growled at nipped at her. From that time on it was all she could do to avoid contact with him, she was so scared. I just hope this hasn't put her off all dogs.

That was, of course, the last straw. As much as I wanted to be patient, and believe most dogs can be trained if handled well, I wasn't going to take a risk with my children's well-being. The dog had to go.

We called the rescue service and told them we had to return him. To their credit they took the dog back and completely refunded our adoption fees. They apologized profusely, although I don't really hold them at fault. The dog didn't act like this at all when he was at the kennel. Even when we first met him there was no clue that this kind of behavior would manifest itself.

If that wasn't enough, though, there was another incident on the way back to the kennel. Violin Girl called me on my cell phone and told me the story.

My wife and the other girls were taking the dog back in our van. Violin Girl sat nearest the dog, for obvious reasons. When she noticed that the plastic cone he was wearing (remember the surgery?) was coming off, and he was chewing on it, she reached down to fix it. As soon as she got a hold of the collar he reached up and bit her, hard. He didn't break the skin, so I don’t know how much he intended to hurt her, but he wouldn't let go either. Violin girl immediately grabbed the scruff of his neck and pushed him down to the floor of the car (a maneuver we learned from Barbara Woodhouse, the famous dog trainer), trying to get him to let go. He wouldn't. Violin girl shook his neck as best she could without hurting her captured hand (a submission move that adult dogs use on puppies), and he finally let go, but when she removed her hand he turned and bit her arm, as well. Then he went back to being happy and wagging as if nothing had happened at all.

Violin girl is okay. She got shaken up a bit, but her coat absorbed most of the second bite and so she's physically unharmed. I'm not sure this dog wasn't mentally deranged. I've done some reading on dogs of late and this kind of behavior is one of the signs of schizophrenia in dogs. I don't suppose I'll ever find out exactly why the dog behaved so badly, though.

All I know for sure is that the dog is no longer in my house and my wife and daughters are safe. In fact, I'm really proud of Violin Girl. She handled herself well in a ruff (sic) situation. She didn't panic; she just did what needed to be done. I sent her a "pic" message after hearing about all of this showing a picture of a "thumbs up" and told her she did a good job. I told her she was my hero.

Why? Because she is.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Dog

In spite of our recent pet trials, it looks like it's time for the Newman's to get a new dog. Over the holidays we visited several shelters, and even put our name on some lists to adopt some of the dogs we met, but no dice. Everything we had looked at, in terms of animal adoption, fell through.

I'm a big believer in animal adoption. There are so many good animals out there, and already-trained adult animals, that would be so good in a home, and just can't be with their former owners for some reason.

The puppy mills don't do us any favors either. They keep breeding, and in-breeding, dogs to make various pure-bred strains available. In many cases the buyers abandon them for one reason or another, and so there are still way too many dogs out there. Many pure-bred dog owners fail to get their dogs "fixed" in the hopes of breeding them later, only to have them get out and create a litter of mixed breed dogs with some neighbor's dog, exacerbating the problem. Most of these would-be breeders really don't have the ability, or mindset, to pull of a good breeding program, but that doesn't stop them from dreaming about it.

Don't get me wrong. I've personally always wanted a beagle. I like their temperament. They're a great balance between "independent curious confidence" and social adeptness. They're normally great with kids, too. As a father of four that's a big deal for me. I'm not willing to go to a dog breeder and pay hundreds of dollars just to get a pure-bred beagle, though. I'd just as soon hit the shelters and adopt a dog from there.

Many people look down on mixed breeds, for some reason. They don't think they're as "good" or something. They think they might have some indefinable problem because they're a mix. Interestingly enough, the opposite is true. Pure-bred dogs can be in-bred a lot, and can suffer from all kinds of well documented medical issues, including heart problems, digestive disorders, and retardation. Mixed breeds are more genetically sound, and tend to be healthier and live longer because of it.

Even the beagle isn't free of these problems. One of the big problems beagles face is a form dwarfism that results in bowed legs, and heart problems. I'm willing to deal with that, but the chances of me getting a pure-bred beagle through a shelter are pretty slim, anyway.

Or so I thought.

I was checking the web, on a whim, and found a beagle rescue site. There was an adult beagle up for adoption through a pet rescue service about 70 miles from my house. I called them. I sent them emails. Yes, the dog was good with kids. Yes, he was still up for adoption. Wanting to verify the "good with kids" thing, we set up an appointment and my family and I went out to meet the dog.

The kennel they rented space from was a bit hard to find but, eventually we made it and made it on time. We got to meet and play with "Bugsy" in a small fenced in area. Being a beagle, and finding all kinds of new smells in this yard, he flittered between us and following his nose. He didn't respond to his name, but the woman at the kennel told me they weren't sure that was his name. The rescues probably gave it to him when he came in. He would respond to "dog" and "boy," though. Even though his nose took him all over, he'd come running back as soon as we yelled "Come here, boy!"

He passed all the "kid safe" tests, as well. He didn't protest when we pulled on his ears or tail, manhandling him a bit.

He did protest a bit when we tried to leave, though. He's definitely a beagle. Their distinctive baying howl can't be mistaken for anything else. On a whim, I decided to try an experiment. I turned around and used my command voice. "Quiet," I said, and he shut up. I reward him with a, "What a good dog!" and turned around. After taking a few steps he called after us again. "Quiet," I turned and repeated. Again he followed my command, sitting down and closing his mouth. "What a good dog!"

I think he will be a good dog for us. He needed to be "fixed" before we could take him home, but I got the call this morning. He's ready. We can pick him up today. I really think this will be a good fit for my family.

Now he just needs a new name.