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.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sad & Pathetic

From The New York Daily News:


A Wal-Mart worker died early Friday after an "out-of-control" mob of frenzied shoppers smashed through the Long Island store's front doors and trampled him, police said.

The Black Friday stampede plunged the Valley Stream outlet into chaos, knocking several employees to the ground and sending others scurrying atop vending machines to avoid the horde.

When the madness ended, 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour was dead and four shoppers, including a woman eight months pregnant, were injured.

"He was bum-rushed by 200 people," said Wal-Mart worker Jimmy Overby, 43.

"They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me.

"They took me down, too ... I didn't know if I was going to live through it. I literally had to fight people off my back," Overby said.

Damour, a temporary maintenance worker from Jamaica, Queens, was gasping for air as shoppers continued to surge into the store after its 5 a.m. opening, witnesses said.

Even officers who arrived to perform CPR on the trampled worker were stepped on by wild-eyed shoppers streaming inside, a cop at the scene said.

"They pushed him down and walked all over him," Damour's sobbing sister, Danielle, 41, said. "How could these people do that?

"He was such a young man with a good heart, full of life. He didn't deserve that."

Damour's sister said doctors told the family he died of a heart attack.

His cousin, Ernst Damour, called the circumstances "completely unacceptable."

"His body was a stepping bag with so much disregard for human life," Ernst Damour, 37, said. "There has to be some accountability."

Roughly 2,000 people gathered outside the Wal-Mart's doors in the predawn darkness.

Chanting "push the doors in," the crowd pressed against the glass as the clock ticked down to the 5 a.m. opening.

Sensing catastrophe, nervous employees formed a human chain inside the entrance to slow down the mass of shoppers.

It didn't work.

The mob barreled in and overwhelmed workers.

"They were jumping over the barricades and breaking down the door," said Pat Alexander, 53, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. "Everyone was screaming. You just had to keep walking on your toes to keep from falling over."

After the throng toppled Damour, his fellow employees had to fight through the crowd to help him, police said.

Witness Kimberly Cribbs said shoppers acted like "savages."

"When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling, 'I've been on line since Friday morning!'" Cribbs said. "They kept shopping."

When paramedics arrived, Damour's condition was grave.

"They were pumping his chest, trying to bring him back, and there was nothing," said Dennis Smokes, 36, a Wal-Mart worker.

Damour was taken to Franklin Hospital and pronounced dead at 6:03 a.m.

Hank Mullany, president of Wal-Mart's northeast division, said the company took extraordinary safety precautions.

"We expected a large crowd this morning and added additional internal security, additional third-party security, additional store associates and we worked closely with the Nassau County police," he said in a statement.

"We also erected barricades. Despite all of our precautions, this unfortunate event occurred."

The 28-year-old pregnant woman and three other shoppers were taken to area hospitals with minor injuries, police said.

In a news conference after the incident, Nassau County police spokesman Lt. Michael Fleming described the crowd as "out of control" and the scene as "utter chaos." He said Wal-Mart did not have enough security onhand.

Fleming said criminal charges were possible but that it would be difficult to identify individual shoppers in surveillance videos.

Items on sale at the Wal-Mart store included a $798 Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28 and Men's Wrangler Tough Jeans for $8.

The Long Island store reopened at 1 p.m. and was packed within minutes.

"I look at these people's faces and I keep thinking one of them could have stepped on him," said one employee. "How could you take a man's life to save $20 on a TV?"

* * * * *

I have not heard something so revolting and pathetic in a very long time. Perhaps the last such idiocy I recall was in the stampede that killed nearly a dozen people back in 1979 as they tried to storm into a venue holding a concert by the rock band "The Who" in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coming Soon... Woolly Mammoth

This is a very interesting article I read from eFlux Media:

Sequencing the nuclear genome of extinct species has always been a challenge for scientists, and so far, only short sequences have been obtained due to the fact that ancient DNA is usually very fragmented and damaged. But in the most recent study of the kind, scientists presented data on several mammoth specimens, however focusing on one in particular, the woolly mammoth, from which they obtained a sequence 100 more extensive than any other previous dataset.

The study, published in the journal Nature this week, is authored by Stephan C. Schuster, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn. State University, and Webb Miller, from Penn. State University’s Center for Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics, who lead a team made up of 21 researchers.

“Previous studies on extinct organisms have generated only small amounts of data,” Schuster explained, pointing out that this unprecedented achievement demonstrates that ancient DNA studies can be brought up to the same level as modern genome projects.

The woolly mammoth at the center of this study originated from Africa millions of years ago, but came to populate much of Eurasia and North America until approximately 10,000 years ago. The ice age periods that characterized the northern hemisphere hundreds of thousands of years ago triggered specific changes in these mammoths, such as the shape and size of their bodies, the thick coat, the enormous tusks or the 2-inch layer of insulating fat tissue.

With the help of next-generation DNA-sequencing instruments and a novel approach that reads ancient DNA very efficiently, the Penn. State University scientists assembled data from hair shafts collected from permafrost remains, which according to them, permitted a highly efficient decontamination protocol, leaving the keratin-encased endogenous DNA unharmed.

In this research, the nuclear genome was extracted from hair samples belonging to a mammoth mummy which had been buried in the Siberian permafrost for 20,000 years, and the hair samples of a second mammoth, believed to be at least 60,000 years old. The scientists explained that the hair shaft protects the remnant DNA from degradation and exposure to elements, increasing the chances to extract unharmed DNA.

Out of the 4 billion DNA bases scientists suspect comprise the full woolly mammoth genome, only 3.3 billion DNA bases have been assigned to the mammoth genome, scientists explained. The rest of them could also belong to the mammoth, but the chances are that they belong to other organisms, such as bacteria and fungi, that have contaminated the samples.

The team of researchers used the draft of an African elephant’s genome, which is one of the mammoth’s living relatives, to make a distinction between the sequences that belong to the mammoth and those that belong to other organisms. “Only after the genome of the African elephant has been completed will we be able to make a final assessment about how much of the woolly mammoth’s genome we have sequenced,” Miller explained.

By combining the new-yielded data on the mammoth’s nuclear genome, which comprises the genetic factors responsible for the appearance of an organism, with previously obtained mitochondrial genome, which codes for only 13 of the 20,000 genes of the mammoth, the scientists concluded that the woolly mammoth separated into two groups 2 million years ago, groups that eventually turned into sub-populations. One of these populations became extinct 45,000 years ago, but the other one lived until after the last ice age, 10,000 years ago.

The analysis also revealed stronger connections between modern-day elephants and woolly mammoths than previously believed. As Miller explained, mammoths and modern-day elephants separated 6 million years ago, around the same time humans and chimpanzees separated, but their subsequent evolution occurred at a slower pace.

The next phase of the woolly mammoth project is to try to establish the causes of its extinction. So far, scientists have excluded the human presence as a possible cause, since there were no humans living in Siberia 45,000 years ago. The fact that woolly mammoths were so genetically similar to each other suggests they were susceptible to being wiped by a disease or a change in climate.

While trying to figure out how woolly mammoths went extinct, scientists also explained that deciphering the genome could create the premises to one day bring extinct species back to life.

In this respect, earlier this month, a team of Japanese scientists reported a major breakthrough in cloning, which suggested resurrecting extinct species is not exactly impossible. According to their report, they’ve managed to successfully grow healthy clones from mice frozen 16 years ago in -20C conditions. The experts explained that by using brain nuclei as donors, scientists could one day resurrect animals that have been frozen for long periods of time without cryopreservation.

* * * * *

I feel confident this will happen in the relatively near future, but I am not really sure of the outcome. I suspect the Mammoth will simply be a specialized "boutique" style experiment, but of course... if the general public likes the idea, I could see business trying to wring a few bucks from the process in whatever way possible. So, if there *is* public demand, there could easily be an explosion of these creatures and who can then say their impact on the ecosystem.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Rum Drum Crumb

It has been a bit more than hectic since my return from the sanguine experience at deer camp. A deadline for an important grant has been looming and it has been occupying most of my work related time. Time away from work has been hectic as well, with my wife having a myriad of illnesses to attend to, fortunately none of which have been too serious. I hope to have the grant application off my desk by Wednesday at the latest. Then I will have to wait several months to see if I have been deemed worthy. The grant request is rather minor (~$10,000) but its cache in terms of regional value is large. But with it off my plate, I am hoping to work on another, much larger grant (~$190,000) that is due in February.

On the first day back at work following deer camp, I decided to bite the bullet and get my annual flu shot. It has become standard practice for most of us professors as we come into contact with hundreds of sniffling, mucousy, students almost daily. As usual, I was not looking forward to the vaccine, as I know how there can be side effects (most typically, the symptoms can be pseudo flu-like). Fortunately, I had no noticeable effects.

I have accomplished 64 straight days of walking, an amazingly satisfying sense of consistency and stick-to-it-iveness envelops me and helps me get started on these below freezing mornings.

I have been thinking about my mother and father a great deal this past week. Today is my father's birthday. He would have been 85 today. I miss him and I miss my mother as well. I took out one of his favorite pipes today and thought of him while I smoked a bowl of his favorite burley.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Helluva Lot Of Fun

Deer camp was a wonderful, relaxing experience. As I suggested, I did not hunt at all this year, but I did go out on a long walk each day which was very cold and yet also very beautiful.

The poker games were raucous and rampant all during my stay. I brought $30 in quarters with me and when I arrived home, I found my blue velvet Chvas Regal bag now had $87.75 inside. I guess I did pretty damn well for only playing poker once a year at deer camp.

For those of you who are not aware of the tradition, Chivas Regal is a brand of whiskey that often comes packaged in a blue velvet bag (to signify its high quality). It is our tradition at deer camp to use these bags (after we have consumed the whiskey, of course) as holders for our poker money. Most of us have several of these bags and most of use bring them every year to the poker games at deer camp.

Food was ample and excellent. Gallons of chili, mountains of bread, vats of boiled dinner, all manner of cakes and rolls and doughnuts. I also made a huge amount of my scrambled egg medley (it has sausage, peppers, onions and hashbrowns in it) and it was consumed faster than a cricket jumping off a hot griddle. We were happily stuffed to the gills the whole time.

Beverages were flowing amply as well. Whiskey, rum, tequila, gin, brandy, and schnapps as well as enough beer to fill Bavaria kept us all "well-lubricated" during our stay. And, of course, you all know alcohol is an important medical disinfectant. Therefore, we all thought it was important to "cleanse and disinfect our innards" just in case we might have gotten exposed to a cold bug. So, we did not take any chances and made sure to liberally use all the available alcohols to acquire greatest medicinal benefit.

An interesting new feature was seen when one fellow (smoking a cigar) had a new "smoke ring" trick that was very impressive which he demonstrated for us. I have been practicing said with my pipe ever since seeing it, but to no avail. I am particularly adept at such acrobatics.

My old steed, my trusty truck handled the journey north and back very well. She is a grand old beast, and simply driving her in the North Country itself is a form of vacation.

I have other stories that I shall attempt to regale you with in the next several days as well.


Friday, November 14, 2008

I am Off!

I am off to experience life in the North Woods. Overindulgence in food, drink, and all manners of fun will ensue!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Packing List for Deer Camp

Thus far, the following are the items I am taking with me up to camp this year:

1. Rifle (yes, I am taking it, but I strongly suspect it will be only for show and will remain in my pickup truck the entire time). It feels sacrilegious to not take it with me to deer camp, even when I do not plan to hunt.

2. 3-4 Gallons of Water (I dislike the flavor of well water in the region of camp so I am taking my own supply.)

3. A fresh 1 pound can of Sir Walter Raleigh Pipe Tobacco (Although please note that my own variety is non-Aromatic (slightly different from the image) and is more beautifully potent.)

4. A fifth of whiskey

5. A fifth of tequila (I am not overly fond of tequila, so I am bringing this in hopes that others may enjoy it, as it is a bottle that was given to me in April as a gift by a student thanking me for a letter I wrote him that helped him get into medical school).

6. A case of beer (bottles, not cans)

7. Two dozen eggs

8. Italian Sausage

9. Green Peppers & Tomatoes (the above three are to cover my responsibility for one of the breakfasts).

10. Three decks of cards (we may need more than one deck depending on the game of choice).

This is a work in progress. Perhaps I will add more to it tomorrow as I think about this more.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

51 Days

I had forgotten to mention here yesterday, that I had passed a big milestone for me. Yesterday was the 50th consecutive day of walking 5 miles (~8km). The accomplishment is multifold for me. First, the biggest aspect is the utter consistency I have shown in actually walking that distance EVERY DAY for 50 days. This may sound insignificant to others, but 50 days of consistency in exercise is remarkable for me. Second, I am feeling much better emotionally and I attribute much of this improvement to how I feel as a result of my walk. Third, I am acclimating myself to the cold, harsh winter in a way that I believe will allow me to embrace MORE fun outdoor winter activities. With the early morning walking, I have already walked at least 10 times in sub-freezing temperatures (roughly 29 degrees Fahrenheit (about -2 degrees Celsius). In the last several years, I have shunned much that is available in the winter because I did not want to "brave" the cold. Now I am again being comfortable in the out-of-doors in the Winter and it is a very good thing. Hopefully, if I keep up the walking every day, when we have a long bout of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees Celsius) weather in December and January, I will be fully acclimated and still be able to enjoy the out-of-doors.

So, overall, a good turn of events. I did complete day 51 today, and have great hopes of continuing walking on day 52, 53 and much beyond.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Enough Politics

Enough discussion about politics. Even when decent people are elected, they will undoubtedly disappoint to a degree. So, politicians are best discussed in very small doses in my opinion.

With deer season opening on Saturday, I will be heading to deer camp on Friday. A good time should be had by all. It is doubtful I will even bother to take my rifle. I think I shall enjoy this deer season primarily indulging in overindulgences of food, pipes, drinking, poker, sleeping, and taking long walks in the cold winter air. It should be grand.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Upcoming Agenda

"george w boosh" and "Tim Crowder" both seemed a bit taken aback by my previous essay in which I stated I was happy that my preferred presidential candidate, Barack Obama was elected, but that I was not anticipating as much valuable change, growth, development, and philosophical advancement as so many others seem to feel is "guaranteed" to occur. Let me explain in a numbered list:

1. I voted for Obama because I think he will do a decent Democratic job as president. That is a very good thing, especially in light of the very poor political leadership of the last eight years.

2. I do hope Obama proves me wrong and DOES accomplish very great things for our nation and the world as a whole.

3. He (Obama) will be better for our nation and our world than John McCain. That said, John McCain would have been a drastic improvement over our current "leader", George W. Bush. Thefore, Obama will also be a drastic improvement over our current "leader".

4. This is probably the point of contention, but *I believe* that Obama *may* likely do only an average Democratic job as president. I do not have a sense of a great VISION in him on how the nation should grow and develop. Most of the great things he has suggested during his campaign felt a bit like "Cliff Notes"... they say the right things, but the depth was not portrayed.

5. I could be very wrong, and perhaps Obama WILL WORK DOGGEDLY to get the things our nation needs done, such as universal health care, a true reformation of the public schools, a sweepingly large increase in funding for science research and an equally large increase in funding for the arts/humanities, an end to the war in Iraq, and significant funding and promotion of alternative fuels. I HOPE I AM WRONG.

6. But, what I BELIEVE is that while Obama may tend to agree with the above changes (expressed in #5), I feel he is very much primarily a pragmatist, who will abandon those truly visionary goals relatively easily if they are no longer seen as politically popular. I think he will more likely than not gravitate and migrate toward whatever is popular for the moment, and shift his positions to best utilize the trendy and popular.

7. Being a PRAGMATIST is not a bad thing. It is very much in keeping with a role of an arbitrator. But pragmatism is not VISIONARY, and it is not going to allow Obama to be a Kennedy, nor an FDR, nor a Theodore Roosevelt, nor a Lincoln. Obama will be more akin to Carter, Clinton, and Truman. These latter three were good presidents, and are good for our nation, but they are not true VISIONARIES like the first four I list.

8. So, I am simply lamenting my belief that even though we got a good Democratic leader in Obama, we missed out on getting a GREAT, VISIONARY leader because she did not win.

* * * * *

One other thing I am rather tired of hearing about... Obama being lauded because he is "African American". If I were Obama, I would bristle at those who kept ranting and fussing over his "ethnicity". If Obama's accomplishment is to be TRULY meaningful, it will have nothing to do with his ethnicity (he is multiethnic, by the way, not simply "African American") If his accompliments are to be truly meaningful, it will be because he did a wonderful job at LEADING OUR NATION, not because of his ethnicity. His ethnicity and/or the melanin content of his skin cells is of absolutely no consequence to me. It is his LEADERSHIP of ALL of this nation's citizens that will determine for me his worth.

So, I am hoping to be proven wrong about the guy I voted for. I hope he does create true value for his nation's citizens through his actions. Yet, I still believe he will be like most politicians by chasing after popularity.

* * * * *

My basic agenda for the next several days:

1. A helluva lot of meetings on Friday, including a b*llsh*t Department Meeting.

2. A possible drive to my father-in-laws late in the afternoon to chat and relax.

3. More mulching (if it is dry) of the lawn to get the leaves to disappear.

4. Significant amounts of writing of my NaNo novel.

5. Continued walking.

6. Cleaning the home and yard in ways to prepare for winter.

That is about it.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Won

Well, Barack Obama won the election. I wish I felt incredibly excited and enthusiastic. I feel ok... any Democrat is better than no Democrat when push comes to shove. But my lackluster attitude is due to:

1. I anticipate Obama will be just a run-of-the-mill, average Democratic president. This means things in general will improve for most of us, working-class folks. It also means that there will be less gouging of our pocketbooks by greedy fat-cats looking for a quick profit. Both nice things. But, I wanted so much more. I wanted this presidential race to elect a TRUE visionary.

2. I suspect that four years from now, not a whole helluva lot of significance will have changed. I suspect that fuel prices will be high, little substantial alternative energy development will have occurred, little to no substantial health care reform will occur, public school funding will not be significantly improved and science research funding will be pretty much the same limited level it has been.

Obama is a nice enough guy, but I do not think he is a VISIONARY. He is a basic politician who is smart, who has charisma, but who is also very much looking out simply for what is politically/economically good for Barack Obama. That is the sense I have of him, and is the sense that is exuded by the vast majority of politicians. It is really very understandable, given the nature of the career choice.

I so desperately wanted someone who was more focused on changing the country and world for the better in a SUBSTANTIAL way. I so desperately wanted a president who saw the potential we have and wanted to push us to get there. I wanted a president whose dream wasn't to BE ELECTED, but instead a president whose dream it was to make a positive impact if HE DID GET ELECTED.

Some may say... "Barack IS all that and a "bag of chips"" as the kids say now. But I truly do not feel that magic from him. I read people exceptionally well, and again... Barack is nice, genuine, and will be a better president than what we currently have, and I DID vote for the man. But, in my read of him and his goals and ambitions, he will simply be an average Democrat (which is a helluva lot better than 95% of other parties). But, and this is the big but.... I WANTED MORE.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Speculative Fiction

I have decided that my NaNoWriMo writing effort is actually a work of "Speculative Fiction". This is a form of writing that encompases traditional aspects of science fiction, but allows a more focused idea of my emphasis. Here is the Wikipedia definition of speculative fiction:

Speculative fiction is a term used as an inclusive descriptor covering a group of fiction genres that speculate about worlds that are unlike the real world in various important ways. In these contexts, it generally includes science fiction, fantasy fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, alternate history, and magic realism.

The term is used this way in academic and ideological criticism of these genres, as well as by some readers, writers, and editors of these genres.

The Vote Is In

I performed my civic duty today and voted. The turnout in my region appears to be MUCH higher than usual as the voting process took roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes for me whereas the typical time frame is roughly 10 minutes.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Please Vote

Tomorrow is election day here in the U.S. And, while I am NOT overly enthusiastic about either major presidential candidate, my vote will be given to Barack Obama because I think he has a better chance of acting in a way that treats people kindly, and equitably. I think he may actually help make national health care possible, and I suspect he may try to make the educational system better. He may even try to support science research funding more.

I suspect Barack Obama will be a generally adequate president who will perform some reasonably positive tasks for the nation. John McCain, while a nice fellow, would likely not make any noticably beneficial change in the IMPORTANT issues to most people.

It should have been Hillary Clinton running on the Democratic Ticket. That would have been a helluva lot more inspirational. She is an amazing and great leader and I wish we would have had her for a nominee. But, alas, it is not to be. Therefore, my tepid endorsement is for Mr. Obama.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Start

I published the first part of my novel in "2021 - Biosphere Down" site. Please let me know (good and bad) what you think. To follow NaNoWriMo guidelines, it had to be fast and pretty much free form.