The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

A comment was made by Jonathon concerning my essay yesterday about pipe smoking. I quote part of Jonathon's comment below:

"Much of the working poor are seen smoking cigarettes. The intellectuals and upper class are sometimes seen with pipes in there hands."

It is a very interesting comment and one that deserves further discussion. Pipe smoking is an unfortunately rare activity today for several reasons. First and foremost, the rise of the cigarette culture via the tobacco companies extensive push especially between 1940 and 1965 on advertising and sales of cigarettes (because they offered a greater profit margin (in terms of unit mass of tobacco) compared to pipe tobacco and cigars). This advertising push was successful and transformed our nation. Prior to 1930 or so, cigarette smoking was a less common indulgence than either pipes or cigars by males in the US. Again, prior to 1930, cigarettes were priced in such a manner that they were rather expensive given their small size. Many types of pipe tobacco and many types of cigars were more reasonably priced in comparison. During this period all economic classes indulged in pipes and cigars, with cigars skewing more towards the "elite, showy" crowd, and the pipe skewing more towards BOTH the intellectuals and the working-class folk.

It was only when the cigarette culture became the "norm" via advertising (to repeat, this came into full force sometime around 1940 or so) that pipes and cigars experienced their decline. Cigar consumption dropped rapidly (perhaps because the cigarette became the new "elite, showy" method of indulgence), but pipe tobacco consumption declined in a much more gradual manner through the early 1960s. By the 1960s, perhaps in part due to the enormous dominance of cigarettes and cigarette advertising, but also perhaps due to the start of a bit of "anti-intellectual sentiment" in the working-class folk (likely due to a mix of apathy and distrust towards the beatniks and hippie factions of intellectualism), many of the remaining pipe smoking men in the working classes switched to smoking exclusively cigarettes, and there was a significant decline in use of pipe tobacco. By the late 1960s and early 1970s the transformation was complete, and pipe tobacco began to be viewed as an avocation of the intellectual or the egg-head... the few die-hards who kept their pipes aglow while not part of the intellectual society were viewed as historical artifacts and hence lost the ability to attract any of their sons, nephews, and grandsons into the hobby.

Today, the anti-tobacco fervor has made it difficult for indulgence in any sort of tobacco, but perhaps because of the nature of the pipe, it may be able to benefit from the demonization of the cigarette in particular. Much like cigars were in the last 10 years or so, it seems pipe tobacco use may be ready to return to a bigger (and in my opinion, more delightful) role in society.

I hope it is so. I think that pipe tobacco is a far more congenial activity. I feel that indulging in a pipe promotes friendly interactions. It is a hobby I greatly enjoy and find mentally, emotionally, and aesthetically pleasing.

Perhaps there will be more in another essay tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

As I Suspected All Along [GRIN!]

In the life of a professor, one of the things you never have enough time for is reading the current literature in your field. Below I post an abstract of an article published last year that I find quite valuable [also see my specific comments on the article, below]:

Abstract of:

Kurup,R.K., and Kurup, P.A., 2003. Hypothalamic digoxin, hemispheric chemical dominance, and creativity. International Journal of Neuroscience, 4:565-577.

The human hypothalamus produces an endogenous membrane Na(+)-K+ ATPase inhibitor, digoxin, which regulates neuronal transmission. The digoxin status and neurotransmitter patterns were studied in creative and non-creative individuals, as well as in individuals with differing hemispheric dominance, in order to find out the role of cerebral dominance in this respect. The activity of HMG CoA reductase and serum levels of digoxin, magnesium, tryptophan catabolites, and tyrosine catabolites were measured in creative/non-creative individuals, and in individuals with differing hemispheric dominance. In creative individuals there was increased digoxin synthesis, decreased membrane Na(+)-K+ ATPase activity, increased tryptophan catabolites (serotonin, quinolinic acid, and nicotine), and decreased tyrosine catabolites (dopamine, noradrenaline, and morphine). The pattern in creative individuals correlated with right hemispheric dominance. In non-creative individuals there was decreased digoxin synthesis, increased membrane Na(+)-K+ ATPase activity, decreased tryptophan catabolites (serotonin, quinolinic acid, and nicotine), and increased tyrosine catabolites (dopamine, noradrenaline, and morphine). This pattern in non-creative individuals correlated with that obtained in left hemispheric chemical dominance. Hemispheric chemical dominance and hypothalamic digoxin could regulate the predisposition to creative tendency.

MY COMMENTS: The above article is not surprising, but a comforting addition to what is already understood. Namely, nicotine is a compound that helps to promote creativity! The related compounds that are produced in the brain are at higher levels in those deemed more creative than in the less creative.

This work further confirms the old psychological/physiological work that suggests tobacco indulgers are more creative than in the abstainer, and helps to show how the endogenous system works and how we may exogenously encourage further creativity.

And, also keep in mind that pipe tobacco is the purest, least processed, and most pleasantly robust methodology for ingesting nicotine (and is a helluva lot of fun to boot) and you also get further confirmation for the high correlation (even in these days of rabid anti-tobacco furvor) between male professors and pipe smoking!

Ta dah!


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

A sad day. The "Grumpy 'Old' Man" blog has been taken down. The owner of the blog has decided to stop publishing. The location of where the site was is:

It is indeed a sad day.


Monday, October 25, 2004

Todays entry has four seperate parts:

1. An open letter to residents in Ohio and Florida:

Today on CURRENT ELECTORAL VOTE [ ], the electoral college vote seems headed toward Bush because of two new polls of voters in Ohio and Florida who are leaning slightly towards Bush. Please... all of you in Ohio and Florida... please reconsider your vote and give it to Kerry. The idea of another four years of "W" makes my soul weary and my mind feel curdled.

2. In thinking the other night as I was enjoying a last pipe before bed, I began to imagine how nice it could be if our lives could be akin to a deck of cards.... meaning that given there is a sequential order to our lives.... birth through death, just like cards have the ace through the king... it would be wonderful to be able to shuffle the days of our lives much like one can shuffle a deck of cards. In my mind I envision having the cards represent the days of our lives so we could have different days at different times. It would be fun to be able to have a day back when I was eight or ten to experience that time fresh and new, and likewise it would be enjoyable to jump ahead a few years for a day to see what is in store.

Undoubtly this is not a new idea, and probably numerous science fiction books have been written with this idea in mind, but it would be entertaining to be able to pick an age to live at each day instead of having it be sequential in experience.

3. As I was stepping out onto my front porch yesterday morning at ~6:00am to wait for the paper boy to bring me the Sunday paper, I decided to sit in my pajamas and robe with a large mug of coffee as I had my first pipe of the day. As always, the pipe was the purest form of mental nourishment for my neurons and likewise my coffee was harsh and deeply satisfying to my corporeal being. As I gazed into the distance (the paper boy was a tad slow yesterday), I could see the first tendrels of light filter through above the horizon in the distance and I saw some of the light strike a beautiful poplar tree and its leaves shimmered the most vivid and robust yellow I have seen in quite some time. Its pure beauty brought a tear to my eye. I then thought a bit more about color and again wondered why it was that in most surveys people identify red as their "favorite" color with blue being a close second in terms of favorites followed a bit further back by green. Why is it that my two favorite colors... yellow and orange... typically never make it even into the top five prefered colors in any survey I have seen? A world without yellow and without orange would be drab and dull and listless in my opinion.

4. The Grumpy "Old" Man site is down... does anyone know what is happening with the site? It has been down on Sunday and today. I hope everything is ok.


Thursday, October 21, 2004

Hello Friends:

A very thoughtful and well spoken Internet friend of mine, Dean, wrote to me in my comments section about [paraphrased] "why is it important that I reconcile with Kevin?"

There are several reasons, which I shall list in brief form here:

1. As a scientist, it gnaws at me when I do not understand something, and I do not understand why Kevin has such rancor for me. I honestly cannot recall anything I said that I would have expected to make him so upset. I try to pursue a dialogue with Kevin to either a) resolve the situation so that we may be able to discuss subjects, or b) at least have a real understanding of what it is that Kevin believes I have done that is so upsetting to him. If I could at least understand what it is that happened, it would give me some sort of complete picture.... as it currently stands the situation feels nebulous.

2. Another reason why I continue to try to figure this out is that it was Kevin's blog that first exposed me to the world of blogging. Without the exposure to his site and the creative ideas it instilled in me, I would not be aware of this alternative world of communication... other than in a hazy sort of "yeah, I have heard about blogs, but they sound too faddish, too technological, and too geared towards only the young for an old fellow like me to even bother looking into" sort of way. I would not have my own blog now, nor would I have met any of the wonderful blog authors such as "Grumpy Old Man", "Plark", "Dweeb" nor many, many others (Reminder to myself... a future essay should focus on identifying the aspects of what I find so valuable about perhaps the top 20 blogs I read). As Kevin was the first blog I read, and due to the fact that it has been written so well and spoke such a strong message, I feel it is very important for me to figure out what happened here that caused this rancor to develop. It does not make sense.

3. Perhaps another reason why I would like to "mend fences" with Kevin (again, please keep in mind, I do not even understand why the fence is broken) is that his writings about physical homelessness struck a chord with me because there are many times in my life (for a long stretch during graduate school and occasional, short term bouts to this day) where I feel what I could call an "emotional homelessness".... a saddness or meloncholy about life and my place in it that does not jibe with either my physical world nor my spiritual/philosophical world. In my physical world I am very fortunate. My job is pleasant, my income satisfactory, my home comfortable. In my spiritual/philosophical world my family is a joy, my religious beliefs a support and comfort, and my philosophical view a reassuring logic. Yet, the emotional side of me is often at odds with how I perceive my physical or my spiritual/philosophical world to be. At times I feel emotionally adrift, akin to my emotions not having a place to reside. In this way, I find a link with what Kevin writes. Although he mostly writes about his physical homelessness, I can read an undercurrent of emotional homelessness there as well that I find insightful and helpful when he writes about it.

4. A final reason why I would like to be able to talk with Kevin through his blog is that I feel my research background helps me to see that it may be this bit of illogic (meaning... this particular turn of events where Kevin is put off by me for no reason that I can discern) that may keep Kevin homeless. The rancor he has shown towards me seems similar to the rancor he has shown others in a variety of situations he has written about.... the people who governed the loft space he had, people who were in charge of the shelter, etc. I think that if Kevin could figure out why this sort of response occurs in him, it could transform his life for the better. Therefore, if I keep trying to figure out the "why" of what made Kevin rancorous towards me, and if I can perhaps find a positive resolution to this situation, I think I may be able to help Kevin work towards his goal while at the same time help me in my own (the three listed above)interests as well.

This is at least a good overview of the reasons I have tried to mend fences with Kevin. Again, I do not understand what caused the fence to breakdown, and that in itself is confusing. Dean, thank you for posing the question.


Monday, October 18, 2004

Hello Friends:

I am feeling very sad and blue today. Worries about family and friends that I love and care about deeply weigh upon my mind. Sometimes I feel like a cruel and nasty person because I do not devote 100% of my time and energy to being with those that I love. Sometimes I feel like a huge ball of crud because sometimes I actually look forward to being at work because there is a sense of order and predictability... this feeling is especially strong today because this past weekend was one from hell indeed.

There is a logical side to our minds and an emotional side to our minds. Most people tend to favor one over the other... either they tend to be driven more by emotions or more by logic. For me personally, I tend to have my logical side be the driving force in my life because my emotional side is rather excessive and I fear that if it were the driver, I would eventually drive myself into a ditch or a ravine much like a drunk on the highway. My emotional self feels happiness, contentment, and pleasure so strongly (which is nice) but also feels the pits of sorrow, anger, or fear equally as strongly (which is horrid) that [taking the analogy further] my emotional self would surely cause an accident or injury if allowed to drive. Therefore, instead of having my emotional self create havoc and behave as if DUI, I instead have my logical side be my "designated driver".

For the most part this works well, because I can use my logical mind to reason through things but it is not always capable of handling the emotions of others. This weekend, two of the dearest women in my lives both experienced their own wrath of emotions. Neither female wanted to cause harm, neither female would intentionally create grief and sorrow in me, but unfortunately because both of these women are strongly based in their emotions, and both of them had a rough emotional weekend, my own psyche is battered and bowed and is in severe need of bandaging and comforting. It is as if my body were eviscerated and my emotional "guts" were laying upon the operating room floor. I feel battered and bruised and in pain.

Sometimes I weep as I fall asleep during times like these, because I do not understand how to fix the problems to help us to live a happier, more loving life. If I could, I would wave a magic wand and eliminate this past weekend from my mind, but it is simply something I must try to solve.

* * * * *

One other bit of information.... a few days ago, I saw that Kevin (the homeless guy) had put up a discussion board where he wanted questions. I registered and logged into the discussion board and wrote a question which I will paraphrase below. Unfortunately within 24 hours, Kevin decided to expunge my question and banned me from the discussion board. I truly do not understand Kevin's anger and malice towards me, and I wrote him a letter trying to see if we could somehow find a way to fix this situation. Thus far there has been no reply. I think perhaps I will post the questions I would like to ask Kevin on my site instead. If anyone is so moved, you may wish to cut and paste these questions on his board as if they were your own.

My first question to Kevin on his discussion board (removed by Kevin):

(This first question is paraphrased as I do not have a copy of the exact wording as I posted on his board.)

Hello Kevin:

A question I have concerning your homeless situation is to ask you how your art affects your situation. I have seen a few of your photographs and find them very interesting and creative. I presume that your art helps you to keep a sense of wholeness about life, and is especially valuable for you given your situation. I would very much like to read your ideas about your art. I look forward to your reply.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

An interaction with a student today is the inspiration for my essay....

In my neck of the woods, today was a very beautiful, fall day. The temperature was cool but comfortable and the sun was shining vibrantly. Leaves of the various woody trees and shrubs were showing a rangy pallete of colors for our amusement. As I had an hour or so break between my early morning class and a late morning class, I ventured out to a quiet, out-of-the-way patio area on our campus and sat outside. I brought two fine books to occupy my time (one a detective novel, the other a research tome on this history of endocrine research involving rodents). I also had a large mug of strong, black as coal coffee, and my beloved friend, the pipe (today: a Peterson full-bent filled with a robust burley mixed with just a hint of vanilla). I was enjoying my pipe, coffee, and books when a past student of mine came and we had this brief dialogue:


"Hey Dr. *******, how have you been?" said the student.

I replied, "Hello Dylan, I am just enjoying the pleasant weather before I go back in to teach A & P." as I placed the stem of the pipe back into my mouth and drew in a small plume of the rich pipe smoke.

"That's not good for you." stated Dylan.

Not wanting to encourage more conversation of this nature, I stated, "Perhaps it is not the most healthful hobby for the body, but it is a delight for the mind."

Not taking the hint, Mr. Dylan then stated, "You must be addicted to the stuff."

Instead of replying to his statement, I said, "So, how may I help you today, sir?"

To which he replied, "Oh, nothing really, Dr. *******, I just took this short-cut on my way to my next class. I'd better get going anyhow."


I often hear people talk about the addictive power of tobacco, but I am not convinced that it is true for all or any of us. A common dictonary definition for the term "addiction" lists a "compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance." Unfortunately, this very definition is rather tautological. Scientifically, addiction is far more precise.... it is a physiological need for a compound, that if not obtained will result in harm or injury due to its absence. But even the scientific definition is not perfect.... oxygen would fit into scientific definition, but I hardly think our need for oxygen fits the intended meaning for an "addiction". Therefore, since the definition is somewhat vauge itself, I shall try to discuss my own use of pipe tobacco, and you can let me know if it matches your definition of that word.

There are days when I willingly and gladly indulge in my briar pipe hobby, 14-16 times... meaning I will smoke 14-16 bowls of a variety of very fragrant pipe tobaccos... each of which has its own charms. Likewise, there are days when I may smoke only one or two bowls of the fragrant leaf. Even occasionally, I may go a day or two without a pipe because of one need or another. I must admit, on the days when I do not indulge in even one bowl of pipe tobacco, I tend to think about the hobby more and I may "pine" a bit for the beauty of that reddish ember in the wooden bowl, but in no way do I feel or believe I am addicted. It is a difference between enjoying and appreciating and wishing to engage in something (not addiction) versus needing to do something even if you mentally would rather not (addiction).

On an average day, I typically have 5-6 bowls of beloved tobacco, but that is only because I have a lifestyle and occupation where I have the time to enjoy fully those 5-6 bowlsful. If my lifestyle/occupation were different, I do not feel I would languish away in despair if I had a need to reduce.

But, on the other hand, I truly relish and enjoy, and feel true delight when I do indulge in my pipe. In some ways, the pipes I smoke are akin to a mistress to make passionate love to.... and fortunately a "mistress" my wife *will* tolerate [grin]. I can and have gone weeks without having a pipe... without worry or distress, but at the same time, if I were to tell myself I was banished from EVER having another briar pipe of tobacco, I would feel very sad, perhaps even quite isolated and alone. I likely would shed tears as a result of such a horrible notion.

Some times I will purposefully refrain from smoking my pipe for a few weeks so as to make my return to the pipe more intense and beautiful, much like it was when I was a young boy and first started the hobby. I often return back to those early days when I was just a little boy and first indulged in the pipe... it was and still is a very cherished memory.

I do not think I am "addicted" to pipe tobacco. I am "in love" with pipe tobacco. Any comments or further questions or ideas will gladly be answered.


Monday, October 11, 2004

Hello Friends:

I am in a melancholy mood and seem to have lost my muse in terms of writing more artistic and crafted sentences. Instead, it seems my mind is focusing on the brief details, and hence all I see in my own mind are lists. Here are some of them:

Sadness in Life:

1. It is hard when a dearly loved member of the family begins to have mental changes due to age. It is of course hard for the elderly person, but it also hard and harsh for those that love her.

2. Time is such a precious commodity, and it feels as if I keep losing any sort of grasp on time. It feels as if I used to be able to perceive the movement of time in ways that was helpful for me doing life activities. Now, however, especially in the last 3-4 years, it seems as if time is a vicious and rapidly moving rope that I am pulled by and cannot fathom.

3. I feel a looming presence of doom around me. As I watch my family and friends, I often become teary-eyed as I have all too graphically displayed in my imagination that each and every one of those wonderful family and friends that I love will be dead, be it relatively soon or at the very least in the next 100 years or so. The ache in my heart about this eventual outcome debilitates me at times. I know it is simple reality and is simply the way life is.... but sometimes, in certain mindsets, the glaring harshness and horror of this impending death is beyond my capability to keep in the logical part of my brain and it spills over to the emotional side. My emotional side has little to no skill in coping with the sadness, horror, and pain of the death of loved ones and all that happens is my mind grows fearful, my body grows tense and bowed from despair.

4. I feel a sense of pointlessness in me, in my role, and in my place in this world. I have always hoped to leave an important and significant mark on society. In my mind's eye I have always envisioned that with enough work and preservatives, I would be able to produce something of myself beyond the corporeal that could show that I was here. One thing of merit that would survive the ages. Perhaps it is too much to ask.

Happiness in Life:

1. Of the very few things that seem to be hopeful, the most significant is that John Kerry (as of this writing) seems to be 3% ahead of Bush in the polls. Of course this one tidbit of good news is overshadowed by the overwhelming Electoral College Vote lead that Bush still maintains. It appears it will be another "Gore" election.... Kerry may get the majority of the popular vote and still lose the damn, asinine, election to Bush.

Final note of sadness:

I have just learned of the death of Christopher Reeves. He passed away due to cardiac arrest as a result of massive, traumatic, systemic infection that arose from a poorly treated pressure wound (bed sore) he developed. It is so sad, he was 52 years old. I shall try to write more about Mr. Reeves later.


Tuesday, October 05, 2004

An Open Letter to John Edwards.....

Sir... the positive momentum that John Kerry has created is wonderful yet fragile. Please, please be careful and yet be strong at the debate this evening. We need for the Kerry/Edwards team to be victorious in November! Again, Mr. Edwards.... be strong, clearly spoken, thoughtful, and also careful.


Friday, October 01, 2004


I believe there is once again hope! You did an excellent job and showed us a well-spoken, thoughtful man. We as a nation need your leadership. I am so glad you were able to present yourself so well!

Do you feel motivated?

I often wonder if this time of year causes actual physiological malaise in me or if it is just my imagination? Every year, beginning around October, the following symptoms arise in my visage:

a) feeling tired as hell

b) wanting to sleep more in the mornings

c) a lack of motivation to accomplish or do work

d) a stronger desire to eat poorly (lots of chocolate, lots of fries, etc)

e) a lack of focus

There are several factors that occur regularly at this time of year that could induce such symptoms in me:

a) the start of a new academic year where the initial excitement has worn off

b) the change of the season in terms of temperature

c) the change of the season in terms of daylength

d) feelings of chaos because of so many students needing advising help

e) more errands for various relatives that are too old or in challenged health to drive

f) the dread of winter

So here is the way my last 24 hours had gone:

1. Taught my upper division physiology course until 3pm.

2. Advised eight different students on their majors until 4:30pm

3. Read e-mail and answered letters until 5:30pm and went home.

4. As it was Thursday, my wife and I split up that evening and each take one or a few of our relatives from our respective sides of the family out for dinner and "one-on-one" time.

5. I returned home to my wife and family around 9pm

6. We had time to talk and to play a bit.

7. Everyone of the family other than me went to bed by 11pm

8. I read the newspaper, endocrinology journals, and thought about the next large scale research strand I want to develop.

9. I watched "American Chopper" on Discovery at 1am.

10. I finished a beer and a last pipe and headed up to bed at 2am.

11. I woke up (to the alarm) at 6am.

12. Ate breakfast, exercised (walked ~5 miles), had a few pipes, showered and shaved (my neck only of course) and made it to the University by 8:30.

13. Drank three cups of coffee before 9:00am

14. Attended various committee meetings all morning until now.

So, that is it in a nutshell... my last 24 hours. To be frank, that is a very typical 24 hour day for me on ANY Thursday noon to Friday noon throughout the year.

However, if I were to change item number four to "4. Arrived home and had dinner with my family ~6:30." and change item number five to "5. Talked and played games with the family and finally leave number 9 blank to fill in with whatever late-night show I prefer on a given day... the above would represent my typical Monday-Friday routine.

Why is it that a good 4/5ths of the year I enjoy and relish my life, but for a period every fall and each early spring (February/March) I feel a wretched sort of melancholy that is difficult to shake and aggravating as hell. Even though I have no specific evidence, I suspect that the day length change may be the most likely culprit... although I think that any of the six possibilities listed above may contribute.

Comments and/or suggestions anyone? I would GREATLY appreciate them.

I think I may end up playing hooky for the remainder of the day (avoid the grant writing work I had planned) and see if my elderly father-in-law wishes to visit the tobacconist for new leaf with me and then we can perhaps chat away the afternoon and drink ourselves mildly silly.