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.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pipe Tobacco Sampling

I have plans to go shoot the breeze with Jim this afternoon and sit around in his shop sampling a variety of different leaf blends he is planning to have available starting in June. I will bring at least three different pipes with me for the sampling session.

After spending time in the pipe shop, I will likely go visit my father-in-law and while away the afternoon in talk and camaraderie... and libations and pipes.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lack of Unstructured Time

Perhaps one of the things I wish I had that I have VERY LITTLE of in the current stage of my life is unstructured time. By this I mean time where I have no tasks or duties or responsibilities for a time and I can do with as I please. It is not that I DO NOT have occasional bouts of this type of time, but when I do, I almost always end up using the time for more SLEEP.

In earlier times, these unstructured times were filled with exploration and adventure, and were wholly invigorating. Now they are used for sleep. I wish I could figure out how to either get back or train myself again to use those times in that way.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 248

If someone had asked me back in the Fall if I *really* thought I would still have been walking at the end of May WITHOUT MISSING A SINGLE DAY, I would have had to answer "no'. But here it is. I have clocked in over 1000 miles and I will hit the milestone of 250 days in a row, God willing, on Friday.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jon & Kate Plus 8

Some of you may know and watch the television show, Jon & Kate Plus 8. The show has been on for four "seasons" (two seasons a year), and has been a delightful show about some of the joys and difficulties of raising very young kids. The reason why this show is on the air and is a hit, though is because of its unique aspect:

The eight kids the couple has are from two sets of multiple births. One set of twins who are roughly 8 years old and one set of sextuplets who are now 5 years old.

The show has been a favorite in my household since its inception. The parents seem to be very nice and the eight kids are all quite nice as well. They footage tends to focus on day-to-day life, small trips the family takes, etc.

Unfortunately, over the last few weeks, there has been an upheaval in the press about this family. They have even made the covers of several tabloids and even semi-legitimate trashy celebrity magazines like People and US. The basic story line is that Jon *may have* had some sort of an affair or Kate *may have* had some sort of an affair, and that their marriage is in peril.

Tonight, their 5th season opened on television, and the strain of the problems they are having were the focus. It was very sad to see, and the beauty, joy, and happiness their show used to bring a viewer has nearly vanished.

I do not know what will happen to the family or the show, but if I were Jon or if I were Kate, I would think long and hard, each of them, about the ways they may have hurt each other during this recent time span and think about what they need to *do* for each other to EACH to earn forgiveness. Their life and their family NEEDS to have each of them behave as unselfishly as possible.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Down's Syndrome & Cancer

I had known for a number of years that individuals with Down's Syndrome reported extremely lower rates of cancer than the public at large. However, it was not known the mechanism of "why" they had such lower rates. Many presumed it was due to a rather "pure" lifestyle led by the Down's Syndrome patient (no vices). But the article below points to a very different idea... the duplicated portion of the chromosome that causes the most common form of Down's Syndrome, may actually INHIBIT the growth of cancer. This report was published in Science News:

How Down Syndrome Works Against Cancer: An Extra Dose of Protein Limits Blood Vessel Formation That Tumors Need

By Nathan Seppa

Surplus production of a cancer-suppressing protein may explain in part why people with Down syndrome seldom get cancer, a study in the May 21 Nature shows.

People born with Down syndrome have an extra copy of chromosome 21, instead of the usual two copies — one from each parent. The third chromosome causes genetic aberrations that result in the mental retardation and telltale physical traits that define the condition.

But chromosome 21 carries 231 genes, including some that may well suppress cancer. In the new study, researchers provide evidence that the protein encoded by the RCAN1 gene reins in the rampant blood vessel growth that a tumor needs to thrive. Scientists theorized that having an extra copy of the gene would result in more protein being made and add to an anticancer effect.

Scientists have long suspected that such genetic benefits might accrue from having an extra chromosome 21. A recent study found that people with Down syndrome are only about one-tenth as likely to get a solid-tumor cancer as are people without the syndrome.

A tumor needs veins and arteries to nourish its rapid growth. So tumors fashion a haphazard cluster of new vessels that mimic a legitimate body process called angiogenesis. The late Judah Folkman of Harvard Medical School in Boston saw angiogenesis as the Achilles’ heel of tumors and suspected that cancer suppression in people with Down syndrome could stem from extra copies of propitious genes on chromosome 21 that thwart angiogenesis.

In the new study, Folkman’s colleagues tested the antitumor effect of RCAN1, alsocalled DSCR1. The researchers compared two sets of mice, some with a third copy of the RCAN1 gene and some with the usual pair. When the mice were surgically implanted with melanoma or lung tumors, animals making the additional RCAN1 protein had less than half as much tumor growth and substantially fewer blood vessels around those tumors as did mice with a normal RCAN1 complement.

Tests on human fetal tissues also showed that Down fetal tissues had nearly twice as much protein encoded by RCAN1 as did normal tissues.

The RCAN1 protein dampens vessel growth by inhibiting the actions of vascular endothelial growth factor, preventing it from instigating a cascade of vessel-growth orders, says study coauthor Sandra Ryeom, a cell biologist at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Ryeom and her colleagues report that another chromosome 21 gene, called DYRK1A, also encodes a protein that can subvert this chain of events.

“This is a very interesting study,” says Kelvin Davies, a biochemist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Davies’ lab has found that people with the movement disorder Huntington’s disease have a shortage in the brain of RCAN1-1L , a form of RCAN1. That finding suggests that increasing RCAN-1L activity might ease the condition, he and his colleagues report in the May 1 Journal of Biological Chemistry. Also, Davies’ team reported in 2007 that brain cells of people with Alzheimer’s disease have too much RCAN1-1L activity, he says, suggesting that gene may be implicated in that disease.

“It seems we can now add cancer to the growing list of ailments in which RCAN1 is integrally involved,” Davies says.

Perhaps the best-known gene found on chromosome 21 is Endostatin, which also thwarts angiogenesis. Folkman saw Endostatin as a potential anticancer weapon, and a drug derived from its protein is currently being tested in cancer patients.

Meanwhile, another gene on chromosome 21 called ETS2 encodes a protein that seems to hinder cancer by other means. Its role is still being deciphered, says Roger Reeves, a geneticist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

“Chromosome 21 appears to contain a variety of genes that, when over-expressed, inhibit the growth of tumors,” Reeves says. Ultimately, the best therapeutic approach might be a cocktail of drugs derived from the proteins encoded by these genes, he says.

The RCAN1 gene is activated in a variety of cells, Ryeom says. A drug derived from its protein would work best if it specifically targeted the blood vessel cells called endothelial cells, she says. “We would be putting a tag on it, like a zip code, that sends it directly to the surface of endothelial cells,” she says.

* * * * *

Such an interesting notion. To think that a gene that decreases vascular development may hold the key to halting cancer is wonderful. It could be that this particular finding, which is a result of the Human Genome Project, may lead to a "cure" for cancer... more actually a treatment to suppress and manage the disease long term.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Just the Facts

Time flies. I am in the midst of a helluva lot of house renovating projects at the moment. While time seems to move at lightning speed, my abilities at the projects approaches that of the tortoise from the adage. It may be that I take the idea of "measure twice, cut once" far too much to heart. I seem sometimes paralyzed into inactivity in my quest to do the job right the first time.

I am redecorating and remodeling one of the bedrooms in our home. Amongst the things I am doing are:

1. Removing all the old nails and screws from the walls and plastering each hole, and priming each hole.

2. Gutting the old closet hardware (traditional shelf with a pole) and replacing it with a highly stylized, modular system.

3. Painting every bloody inch (closet included).

4. Putting up a chair railing.

5. Painting the walls in a striped pattern.

6. Removing the old closet doors and replacing them with new, and newly painted doors.

7. Removing the trim from around the door and the closet and replacing it with a new, more attractive design.

8. Installing a medallion in the ceiling.

9. Installing a ceiling fan.

10. Installing a decorative shelf.

11. Reinstall the furniture.

12. Make new holes in the walls to hang new art work.

After this bedroom is complete, I have the same exact task to do in a second, then a third, and finally a fourth bedroom. Additionally, I am set to paint/redesign our living room and also the family room. This in addition to some significant out-door yard projects I should accomplish as well.

I wish I could be fast at these tasks like they are on the myriad of shows about home improvement such as the wonderful, but now defunct "Trading Spaces", "Design Star", "Top Design", etc.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Trial of Embedded Video

Here is my trial of an embedded video. Let us see if this works.

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

">Push This Button


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Light At The End of the Tunnel & Day 234

I have been away from posting the last few days because of an exciting grant opportunity that has come my way. The challenge is that the grant had a VERY tight deadline (It is due this Friday... roughly only a two week time frame from announcement to deadline.). Yet the chances of obtaining the grant are much higher than average (probably as high as 25%). Most granting agencies receive so many applications for research monies that at best the award rate may be between 3-5%, so this was not an opportunity I wanted to miss. The grant itself is a smallish grant (in the neighborhood of $10,000), but with it I would be able to fund summer employment for two of my research students, buy two small pieces of equipment my lab needs, and purchase some animals. I am going to get the submission in electronically today, and will keep my fingers crossed.

Today is day 234 in my walking journey. The physical effort of walking is a very important part of my daily routine now, and I look forward to it probably 90% of the time.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Writing & Writing

Not a great deal to report today, for I have been deeply immersed in writing a grant application for an Allen Foundation grant. I hope to have more interesting stories tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Birthdays & Walking Days

Today has been the 227th day in a row that I have walked 4-5 miles, all of these walks have been out-of-doors, be it raining, snowing, sub-zero temperatures or thunderstorms. I am proud of this accomplishment and it has allowed me to develop a normal BMI. I am approaching a milestone of sorts that *may* occur by the end of this month. If things continue along the path they are currently on, by the end of May, I will have possibly lost 100 pounds (45.5 kilograms) from my heaviest weight. Do not think I should have been on a television show like the Biggest Loser, for this has been a slow process for me. I can tell you the following time line of my weights:

1. When I graduated from high school, I weighed 222 pounds (100.9 kilograms).

2. I gradually gained weight and stayed around 230-235 pounds (104.5-106.6 kilograms) through college, graduate school and my early teaching career.

3. For reasons related to significant stress in my life, I ballooned up to 282 pounds (128.2 kilograms) between 1997 and 1999.

4. With effort, I regained some composure and focus and lost roughly 50 pounds in 2000, keeping my weight between 220-240 pounds (100-109 kilograms) from 2000 through 2008.

5. Beginning in the Fall of 2008, I adopted two behaviors... a new, more holistic view of food (looking at food as nourishment for my body, not a mechanism to cope with stress) and consistent walking EVERY DAY regardless of condition (again, today is day 227)) that have me where I am currently. Today, I weigh 192 pounds (87.3 kilograms) and if things stay on track, by the end of May or sometime in June, I may weigh 182 pounds (82.7 kilograms). If I get to that number, I will have lost 100 pounds from my heaviest and my BMI will be 23.4, which is comfortably in the NORMAL WEIGHT category.

For me, this is a big accomplishment. My body feels so very different without all the extra pounds hanging from it. I feel very good physically.

* * * * *

Today is the day that Amy (Amygdala), our cat would have been 22 years old. It has now been roughly 2 weeks since her passing. We miss her. Additionally, our diabetic cat, Toby would have been 22 years old today as well. He died at the age of 18 after over 5 years of insulin injections administered by me every day.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Remberances & Emotions

It must be noted that yesterday marked the 39th Anniversary of one of the most tragic events to befall an academy of higher education. Yesterday, on May 4th, the tragic unfolding of social and political events lead to the shootings at Kent State University occurred. This event was a horrific event spawned by political unrest, frayed nerves, miscommunication, and governmental scare tactics. A good summary of this tragedy can be seen here, but for a more complete look at the events that was written in the era itself (and therefore not an impression altered through the passage of time), I would strongly recommend the excellent synopsis offered by Michener. Although not completely bias-free, his writing represents the best "journalistic" synopsis of the events I have ever found.

* * * * *

Emotionally, I am feeling nominally "even-keeled" at the moment. I feel a significant weight has been lifted off my shoulders by having the semester conclude, and I feel a sense of hope at being able to wrangle my emotions and my mind into a submission so as to direct myself to accomplish things of merit.

Saturday marked the date my wife and I began a 30-day experience with a vegan food plan. I am a willing participant, although I am very happy with my prior diet as well. This 30 day change to a true vegan diet was brought about by my wife's concerns about the risk of acquiring diabetes (which runs rampant in her family). The book she is basing this 30-day food plan upon is House et. al's 2008 book "The 30 Day Diabetes Miracle". The foods are terrific, and we have found many new recipes we will incorporate even after the 30 days. Since I typically only eat meat perhaps 2-3 meals a week under normal circumstances, the vegetarian part is pretty easy. The loss of eggs is also easy as I do not eat eggs often. The most difficult part for me in terms of the food we eat is due to the absence of dairy. I miss my yogurt and ice cream. The second part that is a bit of a challenge is that the meal structure (to help diminish diabetes risk) has us eating most of our food at breakfast and lunch, with dinner being VERY small and with no evening snack. For me, this topsy-turvy pattern of eating (I am used to medium sized breakfasts and lunches, a large dinner, and a snack.) is tough for me. But I am persevering and doing well. I am very willing to participate in this healthy eating plan to support my wife as she strives to accomplish an important goal for her. It should make my own efforts to continue to get more trim easier to accomplish as well. The food at breakfast and lunch is excellent, and fortunately, my pipe tobacco, being a leaf, still fits into the vegan diet (grin).


Monday, May 04, 2009

The Neurobiology of Rhythm

(Brief Notice: I am not going to go through the "bootstrap" discussion again. Suffice it to say I am over most of the wretched emotions that have kept me from posting, and I am planning to resume regular posting.)

I am not sure if this video clip has reached your neck of the woods yet, but it has made an impact at many universities because it is relevant to a key question in neurobiology. Namely, the study published in Science News on April 30th, shows that birds (namely parrots) have the ability to discern and follow rhythms. This seemingly "silly" finding is actually monumental in neuroscience and helps us see that PERCEPTION of rhythm is not only a human attribute.

* * * * *

Birds Bust a Move to Musical Beats: Parrots Display a Flair for Moving in Time to Music, a Skill Usually Attributed Only to People

By Bruce Bower

New research shows that Snowball the sulfur-crested cockatoo moves in time to musical beats, an ability long attributed only to people.

Don’t begrudge Snowball his hankering for boy bands. The sulfur-crested cockatoo with a spiky haircut bobs his head, sways his body and stomps his feet in time to the beat of pop songs such as the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody.”

Two new studies, published online April 30 and slated to appear in Current Biology, indicate that he and members of many other parrot species can synchronize head bobs and other rhythmic movements to musical beats. Until now, most researchers thought that only people align physical movements to timed sounds, a phenomenon known as entrainment.

“This is the first evidence that there could be an animal model of rhythm perception in music,” says neuroscientist Aniruddh Patel of The Neurosciences Institute in San Diego. Patel directed one of the new investigations.

In 2006, Patel proposed that brain circuitry for vocal learning gets co-opted to support musical-beat perception and synchronized movements to music. This would explain why humans and parrots can imitate sounds and move in time to a beat. But animals that can’t imitate sounds, including chimpanzees, monkeys, dogs and cats, can’t keep the beat. If Patel’s right, then other vocal mimics — including songbirds, dolphins, elephants, walruses and seals — should be able to get their groove on.

Music’s origins remain a mystery. Some researchers regard music as a pleasurable by-product of other mental skills, such as language. Others suspect music arose as an evolutionary adaptation to Stone Age life, perhaps to promote social cohesion. Whatever the case, even newborns recognize rhythmic sequences (SN: 2/14/09, p. 14).

“Even if entrainment emerged as a by-product of vocal mimicry, other parts of music perception and cognition may easily be adaptive,” says Harvard University’s Adena Schachner, a psychology graduate student who directed the other new study.

Evidence of what amounts to a kind of dancing to music by at least some parrot species “comes as a big surprise,” remarks psychologist W. Tecumseh Fitch of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. “Scientists have claimed that this capacity is uniquely human for several decades.”

Fitch says the parrots can serve as an animal model to probe brain mechanisms involved in synchronizing movements to musical beats. The new findings also underscore the need to examine how parrots use vocal mimicry and, possibly, entrainment in the wild, Fitch says.

The fact that Snowball and other bopping birds exhibit entrainment without making music themselves supports the idea that “the ability to entrain is a side effect of brain mechanisms that evolved to support other functions in humans,” comments neuroscientist Josh McDermott of New York University.

But parrots won’t provide an animal model of entrainment if further work shows that they perceive sound rhythms using different brain mechanisms than people, McDermott adds. Such a finding would suggest entrainment evolved at least twice. It’s also unclear to what extent training or encouragement by others affects the ability of either parrots or people to move in time to music, he notes.

Patel’s team studied Snowball after seeing a YouTube video of the cockatoo’s deftly synchronized moves to a pop song. Now 12 years old, Snowball was given to a bird-rescue facility almost two years ago by his owners.

In experiments Patel and his team conducted at the bird-rescue service, Snowball perched on the back of an armchair and listened to his favorite dancing tune, the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody.” The music sped up or slowed down across a range of tempos on different trials.

Snowball frequently adjusted the tempo of his dancing to stay synchronized to the beat, Patel says. Bouts of synchronized movement were interspersed with periods during which Snowball danced more slowly or quickly than the beat. Experiments conducted by other researchers have found a similar pattern of intermittent entrainment among dancing preschool children.

Schachner’s group played familiar and unfamiliar musical pieces to Snowball, to an African gray parrot named Alex and to eight human volunteers. Alex was studied before his death in September 2007.

When listening to the same music, the birds synchronized their movements to the beat about as accurately as volunteers tapped a button to the beat.

The researchers then analyzed thousands of YouTube videos showing several hundred animal species moving to music. Signs of entrainment to a beat appeared only in vocal mimics, represented by 14 parrot species and Asian elephants that moved their trunks or legs in time with music.

Patel suspects that, as with people, some parrots have rhythm to spare and others can’t pick up a beat with a forklift. Snowball’s dancing, it seems, has more in common with boy band *NSYNC.

Snowball, a sulfur-crested cockatoo, bobs his head, sways his body and stomps his feet to a percussive musical tune. Experiments indicate that Snowball is able to synchronize his movements to a musical beat, challenging the longstanding belief that only people can dance in this way.

Alex the African gray parrot takes a cool, head-bobbing approach to moving with the music, whereas Snowball fiercely stomps out the beat to Queen’s "Another One Bites The Dust."

* * * * *

A very interesting article, indeed. It has gotten my own creative juices about research going.