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, July 23, 2009

Raining and Raining and A Computer Program

It is raining extensively here at the moment. It is a good thing, for we have had VERY little rain this Summer thus far. However, it has gotten me to thinking, and it seems to me that the pattern for rainfall in my region has been changing. It used to be that we had realtively mild, but frequent rains. Now, it seems we have much less frequent rains but when they happen, they are much more intense. I would suspect the total rainfall has not really changed, but the pattern of rainfall occurrance has changed the way we do things here. Most everyone now waters their garden plants regularly, whereas it used to be more common to simply let nature take care of it for instance.

On the computer front, I am wondering if any of you have experience with the program called GIMP. It is supposed to offer the same (or at least similar) capabilities as the outrageously priced Photoshop. From what I have been reading, it appears that this realtively new version of GIMP (version 2.6) does a VERY GOOD job of accomplishing the same sorts of photo editing that Photoshop allows.

As I am new to the program, and have no working knowledge of either one, here are some questions:

1. If anyone has used GIMP, what are your opinions?

2. I am a bit worried that my computer may become infected if I download GIMP or that GIMP will somhow not work well and will create problems with my other programs. Has anyone experienced this?

3. Does GIMP really compare to Photoshop?

4. Does anyone have any resources that you think are especially helpful for a novice to learn either program? Please note that I am a NOVICE at GIMP and Photoshop, but I am a reasonably intelligent, fairly computer cognizent, furry-faced gentleman... so books that are fairly imbecelic (such as virtually every "XXXX for Dummies" book I have ever glanced through) are not what I need. I need a book that presumes a general understanding of the computer, a general understanding of photographic technique, and a detailed paradigm of how to utilize the above program(s) to minipulate artistically, the photographs I hope to someday take.

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated. Anyone who helps me will win at his or her discretion, a virtual puff on my pipe filled with a new, delightful raspberry tinctured burley leaf. This even includes you, "Mr. Me".


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day 303

My walk today was my 303 rd day of consistency at walking. It is now such a routine that I am beginning to not even think about it that much. My wife gave me a card on Saturday to celebrate (day 300). My kids drew pictures. It was very nice.

Home renovations are going very nicely as well... at least in terms of their looks. The SPEED of the renovations is slower than I would like, but my own rather plodding and meticulous method of doing home improvements along with a hectic work schedule of teaching and research both have NOT facilitated my "Speedy Gonzales" style behaviors.

Thus far I have three bedrooms repainted (with stripes and new chair rail). I have patched and plastered walls in the living room, family room, and two of the bathrooms in preparation for painting. I have installed new molding on several doors. And, I have purchased a helluva lot of new picture frames and am gearing up to cut matte boards for all of them to start framing up photographs and other decorative images.

My wife and I have been shopping around for a new couch for our family room, and a sofa table for behind the couch in the living room. We have also been shopping around for various metal and iron-work decorative pieces to dress up the walls as well.

So, overall, I seem to be out of my malaise a bit and am geared up for working hard and enjoying life. And, a special note for "Mr. Me" from yesterday's comments... again, I apologize that you find my life dull, especially my pipe smoking habit. But unfortunately that is who I am. You may find greater enjoyment reading elsewhere if all I elicit in you is annoyance.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Stress and Yearnings

I am under an enormous, I mean ENORMOUS amount of stress today as a result of some last minute teaching I must engage in. Today's effort will involve (does involve) 7 straight hours of unrelenting instruction. My mind is in a very different place at the moment, so I am feeling grumpy, resentful, anxious, and tired... instead of the normal enthusiasm I have for teaching.

All of this unrelenting stress has me daydreaming as I sit here while I monitor a brief exam the students are taking. What am I daydreaming of, you may ask? Perhaps daydreaming is a bit of a misnomer. I am yearning for, no, I am utterly captivated by thoughts of, no I am looking for any way to divert my attention from my stress and anxiety, no, I am simply a fool... but what I am so desperately yearning for is my pipe, and an enormous bowl of the strongest, most intensive pipe tobacco I own. I so imagine the peace and tranquility of indulging in this way with the beloved briar wood. The pipe is a vessel upon which a man may take a journey AWAY from his troubles and arrive into a land of serenity and peace. Yet, for me it is probably at least eight hours away.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tired of Work

Everyone feels this way from time to time, but I just wanted to state for the record that right now, I am VERY tired of work. I am not in the mood to accomplish or do anything work related. I want to drift away into a land of fun.

What are my options:

1. Work on some home remodeling projects? Nah, I am not feeling like being involved in precision work that is necessary to accomplish said tasks.

2. Cut the grass? Nah, it seems too strenuous to gear up for.

3. "Service" my wife? While very appealing, she is not near at present, so I do not have that option currently.

4. Drinking of strong drink (such as gin or whiskey)? While appealing at first glance, I really am not in the mood at present to go in that direction.

5. Read a novel? Nah, at this point in the day, it would feel similar to work.

6. Take a nap? Nah, while I would enjoy it during the nap, I know I would awake and feel aggravated at myself for "wasting" the time.

Oh well, I have no idea what to do at the moment.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ignoring the Drama In Me

If I let myself think... think deeply about how I feel as a person, it really seems to do me not a damn bit of good. If I let my mind wander, and I have done so on numerous occasions, I typically get very sad, almost to the point of crying heavy, salty tears into my mustache and beard. I typically cry for the following reasons:

1. I miss so many people that I love who have died. My mother, my father, my niece who committed suicide, my Aunt A, my Uncles C, and K. My major professor, R. My cousins, E and D.

2. I worry about my own impending death. It seems like I am barely getting a chance to figure things out and all too soon I will be dead and gone. It scares me to leave my family, and I worry about it nearly any time I examine my emotions.

3. I cry for all the things I could, should, and am capable of doing that I have not done and likely never will.

So, my strategy is akin to being an ostrich, and burying my head in the sand. There simply is no point in thinking about my feelings. It is easier to avoid the issues and go on with a typical day.

This feeling in me, the desire to avoid much in the way of introspection, seems to have started about the time my mother passed away. I recall then feeling akin to an orphan, as both my parents are now dead. This disinterest in self examination has lead to another, unexpected consequence as well...

I used to be an AVID reader of biographies of all sorts of people of the past. I have, for example, in my library, over 40 different biographical texts about Ernest Hemingway, an author for whom I have been a big fan for many years. I have collections or partial collections of biographies of MANY other individuals as well. But, almost like a light switch, my interest in biographies rapidly became null and void shortly after my mother's passing. Now, I would rather read just about ANYTHING other than historical tomes or historical biographies.

I do miss the old me, but he is dead and gone. The new me, the non-introspective me is the current "King" of this "hill".


Monday, July 13, 2009

Drink Soda Pop & Beer In GLASS Containers

This recent work examines much the same sorts of materials I study from an endocrine perspective in my research. It is a helluva shame that we converted to primarily plastic containers for all our food and beverages about 25 years ago. We are creating a horrible legacy for our future. Read on:

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Concerns Over Bisphenol A Continue to Grow: New Studies of Plastics Chemical Measure Effects, Exposures

Posted in Science News

By Janet Raloff
July 18th, 2009; Vol.176 #2 (p. 5)

Seeping through the cracks, Bisphenol A can leach into foods and drinks, especially when polycarbonate cracks, as shown in the cup above.

Women may want to reconsider that popular style accessory, certain hard plastic water bottles available in fashion-coordinating colors. New animal studies link the chemical bisphenol A, which leaches from such polycarbonate plastics and food can linings, with heart arrhythmias in females and permanent damage to a gene important for reproduction. Other recent research suggests that human exposure to BPA is much higher than previously thought.

In animals, fetal exposures to BPA can be especially risky, sometimes fostering brain, behavioral or reproductive problems (SN: 9/29/07, p. 202). Canada and some states are moving to ban polycarbonate plastic in baby bottles for that reason. But the new heart data suggest that even adult exposures to BPA might cause harm.

In one new study, researchers treated mice with BPA during the middle of their pregnancies. All female offspring of the treated mice suffered an irreversible genetic change in one of the “master regulatory genes” of fertility, Hugh Taylor of the Yale School of Medicine reported in June in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.

This gene, HOXA10, orchestrates the activity of “hundreds — if not thousands — of downstream genes,” Taylor says. Through the genes it controls, HOXA10 helps synchronize the timing of uterine changes and ovulation. Without that synchrony, “you won’t get pregnancies,” he explains.

The HOXA10 gene lost a methyl group (a carbon bound to three hydrogen atoms), permanently altering its activity and rendering uterine tissue hypersensitive to the effects of estrogen.

That’s probably not good, Taylor says, because “many diseases we see in adults owe their origins to fetal exposures” — when genes become inappropriately modified.

In another study presented at the endocrine meeting, Scott Belcher of the University of Cincinnati and his colleagues reported that BPA boosted “pro-arrhythmic activity” in isolated muscle cells from mice and rats.

Arrhythmias, or heartbeat irregularities, are blamed for a higher mortality rate after heart attacks in premenopausal women compared with men, Belcher says.

During pregnancy, vulnerability to heart arrhythmias rises with higher estrogen levels. Belcher’s team found that in these cells, BPA’s effect on arrhythmia risk was nearly identical to estrogen’s.

In whole rat hearts exposed to BPA or estrogen, pockets of cells refused to beat in concert with others, his group showed, setting up potentially life-threatening arrhythmic events. The problem escalated dramatically when female hearts were exposed to both estrogen and BPA.

Belcher’s group traced the effect to a certain type of estrogen receptor called the beta form, which is more active (and more abundant) in women. The scientists linked this receptor’s activity to a leading cause of arrhythmias — a leak of calcium from a part of heart cells known as the sarcoplasmic reticulum.

These data suggest that at estrogen levels typically found in premenopausal women, the addition of BPA would probably spike vulnerability to arrhythmias, Belcher says. In postmenopausal women, where estrogen levels are naturally low, it’s possible that BPA might also boost arrhythmia risk. “We’re doing studies in whole animals to address that,” Belcher says.

Although a broad host of animal studies have linked BPA to adverse health effects, comparable human data do not exist. Any human risks would depend on how much BPA actually gets into the body.

To probe one BPA source, Karin Michels of the Harvard School of Public Health recruited 77 undergraduates to consume all their cold drinks for a week out of stainless steel bottles. The next week, the participants drank from polycarbonate alternatives. Michels’ team sent students’ urine samples to a lab at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assay BPA levels.

Even in the first week, when drinking from steel bottles, most students showed measurable levels of BPA. Those concentrations rose by 69 percent in the second, polycarbonate week to 2.0 micrograms per gram of creatinine, a waste product in urine, the researchers report online May 12 in Environmental Health Perspectives.

“I went in expecting that we’re so overwhelmed by BPA from other sources that this one variable would not make a difference,” Michels recalls. “But it did. That’s just amazing.”

A Canadian government study found another source of BPA — jars of baby food. They traced the BPA, present at levels of only parts per billion, to the resin that coats the underside of lids, Health Canada scientists report in the June 24 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. BPA-based resins line most food and beverage cans.

Studies have indicated that food is the dominant source for most people and that any BPA ingested from food should peak in blood within four hours, then quickly be excreted. However, there are growing suspicions that previous studies have underestimated how long BPA lingers in the body.

“By 12 to 18 hours [after eating] it should be practically gone,” says Richard Stahlhut of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. “For years that‘s been almost a mantra.”

But when his group looked at residues excreted by participants of a recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — 1,469 adults who fasted for five to 20 hours before giving urine — there was still about as much BPA excreted 12 to 20 hours after a meal as just five hours after eating, the researchers reported in the May Environmental Health Perspectives.

This finding could mean there are major sources of BPA contamination other than food, Stahlhut says. More likely, he now suspects, a substantial amount of the BPA that enters the body may temporarily collect in fat, then slowly empty back into blood and become excreted. His team is now exploring this possible explanation.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates typical daily human BPA consumption at roughly 0.1 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight. But when Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri-Columbia and colleagues administered 4,000 times that much to 11 rhesus monkeys, BPA blood residues in the spiked monkeys ended up only one-eighth as high as seen in a German study of pregnant women, he reported at the Endocrine Society meeting.

If these monkeys metabolize BPA at rates comparable to people, vom Saal says, then “humans would have to be exposed to over 1,000 micrograms per kilogram per day in order to achieve the kind of [blood] levels that are seen in multiple studies, not just the [German] one.” The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have estimated that a safe upper limit for daily human consumption of BPA is only 50 µg/kg of body weight per day.

Based on such data, House Committee on Energy and Commerce chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) sent a letter on June 2 to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. It asks FDA to “reconsider the Bush administration’s position that BPA is safe at current estimated exposure levels.”

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The above highlights why we need MORE funding for science research. The need to put our money into study of the ecology and environment as well as alternative fuels is enormous and sorely underfunded.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Day 290

A significant exercise milestone is fast approaching... if I can keep my consistency, that is. I hope I will do so, and I can reach 300 days.

Let's see what my current stats are:

At 290 days walking, I have:

a) walked approximately 1160 miles (1867 kilometers)

b) walked through a myriad of weather conditions from temperatures as low as -24 degrees Fahrenheit (-32 degrees Celsius) to as high as 96 degrees Farenheit ( 36 degrees Celsius)

c) changed my weight from a start of 242 pounds (110 kilograms) to that of 184 pounds (83.5 kilograms)

d) changed my Body Mass Index from a start of 31.1 (Obese) to that of 23.6 (Normal)

e) changed my pant waist size from 40 inches to 34 inches

f) changed my shirt neck size from 18 inches to 16 inches

g) given myself something I can hold on to even when I am sad


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Emotionally Tired

I am very emotionally tired today. I feel as if I am a hamster spinning on a wheel in life much like this image. I am not completely sure why I feel this way. Granted, I am busy as hell, but I am often busy like I am currently. It just seems as if I have no time to catch my breath, or to think creatively. All of life at the moment is about meeting deadlines.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Litter and Offspring Size and the Environment

Today's new information in biology I wish to bring you concerns the role of the environment on litter size and offspring size. While this information is very interesting, it is really most valuable for its help in supporting a widely held theory in biology relating environmental pressures and litter size and offspring size. Enjoy! This article was featured in the current issue of Science News.

Climate Change Shrinks Sheep: The Size-Reducing Effects of Gentler Winters Overwhelm Evolutionary Trends

By Susan Milius

Shrinking sheep Wild Soay sheep on the islands of the St. Kilda archipelago in the North Atlantic have been measured and monitored by scientists for decades. All this data now explains why females have been slowly getting smaller with generations.Arpat Ozgul

Climate change now hits home for tongue twister fans. Shorter, sweeter winters shrink sheep, scientists say (slowly).

Female wild Soay sheep on the remote North Atlantic island of Hirta have shrunk by about 5 percent during the past two decades, says Tim Coulson of Imperial College London’s campus in Berkshire. To see what’s driving that change, a weight loss averaging 81 grams per year, Coulson and his colleagues applied a new analytical approach to a mountain of data. It turns out that evolutionary forces favor the opposite trend, toward bigger sheep. But environmental changes have softened winters, overwhelming those evolutionary effects, the team reports online July 2 in Science.

For climate change, “the effects people tend to focus on are the ecological ones,” Coulson says. Studies have documented creatures shifting their ranges or changing the timing of migrations or blooming. “We’re showing that the effects extend beyond the ecology, down to individual attributes,” Coulson says.

The results show that influences on size are complex, says Kaustuv Roy of the University of California, San Diego. “We urgently need more case studies like this to really make sense of how populations and species will respond to ongoing warming,” he says.

An overall trend for shrinking sheep comes mainly from milder winters, researchers say. More of the small, weak lambs survive until spring so there are more mouths competing for food and thus slower growth rates.

Thanks to detailed monitoring that began on Hirta in 1986, Coulson and his colleagues could figure out why females in this population are shrinking. Soay sheep, with brown coats and curling rams’ horns, resemble early forms of domesticated sheep and have roamed for several thousand years on the St. Kilda archipelago, “a group of godforsaken rocks halfway to Iceland,” Coulson says.

To parse out what governs body size in such a harsh climate, Coulson and his colleagues started with basic equations that population biologists use to describe how traits change over time. The researchers combined and refined these equations to create a type of bookkeeper’s ledger that mathematically describes all the factors that in theory could cause a trait to vary.

After plugging in detailed sheep data, the researchers found conflicting forces at work.

The evolutionary force of natural selection favored bigger body sizes, the researchers concluded. Size is partly inherited, and larger youngsters survived better than smaller, weaker ones because sheep need to draw on fat reserves during the winters.

A quirky effect of milder winters, however, drove body size toward the diminutive. Over the past 25 years, spring has shifted two to three weeks earlier in Northern Europe. In years with shorter winters, more of the small, weak lambs survived. With more sheep competing for food in spring, growth rates slowed among the surviving youngsters. Environmental factors linked to less-violent winters were the most important determinant of body size and overcame the evolutionary effect, the researchers say.

Fossil studies of other species such as deep-sea crustaceans called ostracods also show climate and body size changing together, says paleobiologist Gene Hunt of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. These patterns show on a long time scale what the sheep researchers saw on a short one. “Of course, they are able to dissect the body size into genetic and environmental effects in a much more sophisticated manner than is possible for fossil data.”

That ability to parse effects makes the sheep study especially interesting, says evolutionary geneticist Mark Rausher of Duke University in Durham, N.C. Biologists have been working on ways to distinguish genetic from environmental effects for decades, often by comparing the specific form, or phenotype, of individuals of the same species at different altitudes.

“What’s nice about this new study is that it may be the first that convincingly shows that a change in phenotype over time is driven by the direct action of the environment on phenotype,” Rausher says.

More studies using this type of model could follow since “the method is very, very general,” Coulson says. He’s even considering applying it to people, whose body size is definitely not shrinking.

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While not too surprising to research biologists in the field of physiological ecology, this study is interesting in offering support for long held suppositions.