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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Flash Fiction Effort

Here is my flash fiction effort this week. I ran out of time, so it is a form of speed fiction (3 minutes total writing time):

In matters of life and death, one could not forever rely on the judgment of his fellow man. This much became abundantly obvious to Benjamin as he stared at his computer screen, the tiredness visible in his wrinkled brow and in the severely down turned corners of his moustache and beard.

"Sometimes life is a piece of sh*t!" he cursed as he pounded away on the keys of the keyboard.

Other people sometimes impose their will upon you without you having any say in the matter. The case in point today was related to a damn report Ben suddenly needed to complete because some idiot elsewhere was demanding it.

"What I'd like to do, is to tell the damn *ssh*l*s to shove it up their rear end!" he cursed again.

Our fellow man can never be counted upon, for given push-coming-to shove, damn near everyone will unfortunately screw you over if you let them. The rare exceptions are typically family, and even then that may not always be the case.

Ben got up from the computer, sloop-shouldered and exhausted and called it a day. He needed a drink.

* * * * *

As always, comments are greatly appreciated. I have even screwed up the courage for a barrage of negative comments as well, so if that is your learning after reading the above effort, so be it!


Monday, February 15, 2010

Animal Based Research

I am fit to be tied by the bullsh*t that PETA pulls concerning science and science research. The people associated with that organization are a bunch of yahoos who are extremely hypocritical, unscientific, and anti-science. Instead of ranting more about how foolish they are, I instead will show you this very interesting study from Science News:

Cancer Plaguing Tasmanian Devils Began in One Animal's Nerve Cells:
Genetics Provide a Starting Point for Diagnosis and Potential Vaccines

By Tina Hesman Saey

A contagious cancer has wiped out about 70 percent of the population of Tasmanian devils (one shown). A new study has pinpointed the cancer's origin.

Scientists have discovered the true identity of a contagious form of cancer that is killing Tasmanian devils. The cancer, called devil facial tumor disease, stems from cells that normally insulate nerve fibers, a new study shows.

Genetic analysis of tumors taken from infected devils in different parts of Tasmania reveals that these insulating cells, known as Schwann cells, became cancerous in a single Tasmanian devil and have since passed to other devils, an international group of researchers reports in the Jan. 1 Science.

Previously, scientists had suspected that a virus might be the source of the infection, but the new study confirms that cancer cells themselves are transmitted from devil to devil.

Knowing the origin of the contagious tumors could help conservationists diagnose the disease more accurately and may eventually lead to a vaccine that would target tumor proteins, says Katherine Belov, a geneticist at the University of Sydney who was not involved with the project.

An infectious cancer, known as Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease, passes cancer cells from animal to animal through bites. Knowing the disease’s origin is a foundation for better diagnosis and perhaps, eventually, a vaccine or other treatment.Image courtesy of Save the Tasmanian Devil Program

A vaccine against the facial tumor disease, “while now pie in the sky, in 10 years might not be,” says Gregory Hannon, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y. “Ten years might be enough time” to save the devils from extinction, he says.

About 70 percent of the Tasmanian devil population has disappeared as a result of the disease, and if the current rate of decline continues, devils could become extinct in the wild in 30 to 50 years, says Elizabeth Murchison, now a postdoctoral researcher at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, England. Murchison, a native of Tasmania who grew up seeing devils in the wild, led the project while working in Hannon’s lab at Cold Spring Harbor. “I didn’t want to sit back and let the devils disappear,” she says.

Genetic data about Tasmanian devils has been lacking, says Belov. An effort to decode the species’ genome is underway but is not yet complete. The new study provides the largest genetic data set collected to date for the species.

“It really does move us so much further ahead to have all of this genetic information,” Belov says.

Murchison and her team analyzed patterns of gene and microRNA activity in facial tumors and in healthy tissue. MicroRNAs are small genetic molecules that help regulate the activity of genes.

All of the 25 tumors the team analyzed were genetically identical, indicating that they came from a single source — most likely a devil that lived about 20 years ago.

Researchers characterized microRNA signatures of both tumors and healthy devil tissues. Analyses of these signatures and gene activity patterns indicated that the tumor cells most closely matched Schwann cells, a type of cell that forms a waxy sheath called myelin around nerve fibers. A protein called periaxin, which is normally found only in Schwann cells, is also present in devil facial tumor cells and might be a good diagnostic marker for the disease, the researchers report.

How the cancerous Schwann cells became contagious is still a mystery, though. “Devils are known to be prone to cancers,” Belov says. “I think it was just some sort of freak of nature that allowed this cancer to be stable and transmitted.”

Tasmanian devils are so genetically similar to one another that their immune systems don’t recognize infectious cancer cells from another individual as foreign (SN Online: 1/12/09). Belov hopes to learn whether the infectious cancer cells have also evolved other methods for evading the animals’ immune systems.

* * * * *

By studying this unique system, there is hope that we may learn how to mark and identify a myriad of different cancers across a whole range of species. This could be a landmark finding.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

To My Wife

Without you, I would be so lonely and alone. My life would simply be work, and I would come home and have no one. I love you, although I do not think I show it to you well. I hope that you enjoy the small tokens of my affection I found for you:

1. A DVD of a musical theme you love.
2. 3 different packages of Godiva chocolate.
3. A book about Mother Theresa's writings and thoughts.
4. A small stuffed bear holding a heart filled with Necco hearts.
5. One dozen pink roses.
6. Beautiful pearl ear rings. In this instance, the pearls are surrounded by the petals of a flower made from "mother of pearl". The round pearl is the center of the flower.

Please know I love you. Please know that I wish I was a better person, a person who would work harder, would be more, would accomplish more, would have more fun, would love more deeply, and would live life more fully. I do, so appreciate you.


Saturday, February 13, 2010


I am up and awake and getting ready to go. Yesterday afternoon, I went to visit my elderly father-in-law. It was pleasant and relaxing. I am hoping to have a good day today. Wish me luck.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Darwin's Birthday

Today is Charles Darwin's 201st birthday. His Theory of Evolution is perhaps the most significant and unifying principle in biology. His work has shaped everything from genetics, to ecology, to endocrinology, to physiology, to molecular biology.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Still Rough

I am still having a helluva rough time emotionally. Everything seems to be utter gloom, or I can live in my dreams by sleeping.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Day 507

I am on Day 507 as far as walking. I am also on Day 7 of a prescribed plan for building upper body strength. I am going to try to build this number in a similar way as with my walking. Let us see how it goes.

Hell, I may become so damn healthy, I won't know what to do with myself. Maybe next I will give up my pipe, having a few drinks now and then, and the occasional cigar? I shudder at the thought.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Environment as A Factor

For a long time, the role of the environment in triggering certain genetic diseases was discounted. But below is one of the many recent cases where environmental effects are shown to shape GENETIC diseases.

Lupus not Identical in Twins: Pattern of Chemical Tags on DNA Linked to the Autoimmune Disease

By Tina Hesman Saey
January 16th, 2010; Vol.177 #2 (p. 13)

Lupus can tell identical twins apart by the distinguishing marks the pairs carry on their DNA.

Fewer DNA methylation marks may leave one twin vulnerable to the inflammatory autoimmune disease, even while the other sibling remains healthy, a new study appearing online December 22 in Genome Research shows.

The finding suggests that environmental factors determine whether genetically susceptible twins will contract lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus, which is characterized by the immune system attacking the body’s own cells.

Researchers have previously identified at least 17 different genes involved in lupus. If genes alone were responsible for determining whether a person gets lupus, then every time one identical twin got the disease, the other should too.

But that doesn’t happen. Between 40 percent and 75 percent of the time, when one twin develops lupus the other stays healthy, indicating that some environmental factor must trigger the disease, says Bruce Richardson, a rheumatologist at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

Scientists have looked beyond differences in the genes of healthy people and people who get autoimmune disorders and found that people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis have lower levels of DNA methylation than healthy people. DNA methylation is a type of chemical mark that generally helps reduce how active genes are without changing the genes themselves.

Lower levels of methylation could lead to over-activity of genes, including ones that control immune responses. Environmental triggers can influence DNA methylation levels.

But previous studies haven’t ruled out a genetic contribution for lupus, Richardson says, because the healthy controls and lupus patients in those studies didn’t have exactly the same genetic makeup.

Now, a study of identical twins in which one of the pair has lupus shows that the sick twin has lower levels of DNA methylation on at least 49 different genes than their healthy sibling does, report scientists led by Esteban Ballestar of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute in Barcelona. These methylation differences between the twins don’t appear to be random: The team found that other people with lupus shared the same methylation pattern as the sick twin, and that healthy people did not share that pattern.

The team examined methylation of 807 genes. That is only a fraction of the number of genes in the human genome, and Ballestar plans to expand the search. He expects to find many other genes also have lower levels of methylation in people with lupus.

It is not clear whether twins start out with different levels of methylation, or if something in the environment, such as a viral infection, triggers the changes later, Ballestar says. The discovery also does not prove that methylation patterns alone cause lupus. An underlying genetic susceptibility is probably also necessary to develop the disease, he says.

Because changes in methylation don’t alter genes, the finding may also suggest future treatment possibilities.

“Although it’s really speculative in the context of autoimmune disorders, one thing about methylation changes is that they are potentially reversible,” Ballestar says.

Currently there are no drugs to boost methylation in people.

* * * * *

For a person who studies environmental endocrinology, this idea is not surprising, but it is still shocking for many health care workers, including physicians and surgeons. So, please keep this idea in mind when you visit a health care facility.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Flash Fiction Effort

Here it is... weak though it is. At least I am trying to get back in the saddle:

The End... G(l)ory

His life would have been a lot simpler if he'd just said no. No one will disagree with that. Now, no one was left to disagree with that.

"But isn't that the case for us all? What is life? What is love? What is the meaning of it all?" thought Maurice, as he brought the handgun to his temple.

He stood before the mirror in the facilities bathroom as he took aim. He needed to try to see himself during the last moment. He was not sure why, but he did.

Quite tall and lanky, Maurice had a full, bushy grey moustache, and full eyebrows that were so thick they appeared to be fuzzy caterpillars. He looked a bit like an aged characature of Groucho Marx. He had strived to foster that look during the last 12 months.

Yet, for all the comedic look, there was nary a glint of lightness nor humor in his eyes, for he now knew, that when he agreed, he had sealed his fate for eternity. It was a death sentence.

During the first two years, all had been bearable, and there had even been a few very good days. Like the day that they watched the cheering crowds on the monitor as they marked the first anniversary of their journey.

However,the very next day Captain Richard had a heart attack, and he lived for only four hours. It was only days after his death that Claudia, in a fit of despair, opened the door to the hatch and never returned.

Although he felt their loss, he was consoled and comforted by the monitor, his lifeline, his assurance that there was a reason.

Two more years passed. By the fifth year, Maurice watched in horror as the monitor showed the end, the end of his past, the end of his future. It showed the end of his hope. Maurice lost even that minimal illusion of life. He had only his own thoughts left to entertain him. The war to end all... had begun.

That was not enough for Maurice, nor for any man. If only, back then, he had said no.

"Will you take the challenge, sir, and be on our first manned mission to Mars?" said President Obama.

"Yes, I would be honored, Mr. President." Maurice replied in his rich baritone voice.

He should have said no. He wished he would have said no. He wish he did not know.

He pulled the trigger.

* * * * *

Be gentle, yet prolific in comments please. I am hoping to be back every week from now on. I will get my writing back up to snuff, I promise.


Sunday, February 07, 2010


Today was my Mother's birthday. The melancholy I felt was quite strong. I miss her so much.

I asked my wife and our kids to write with me notes of the things we would like to tell Mom. We attached these notes to a large balloon, and released it in the back yard. We all watched as the balloon lifted higher, and higher in the sky. Eventually it was so far away, we could no longer see it. It is my hope that the notes reached her.


Saturday, February 06, 2010


Even though the upcoming Olympics are of the WINTER GAMES, I wanted to mention here how much I enjoy watching the various gymnastics competitions in the SUMMER GAMES. The agility and skill the gymnasts have is very wonderful to watch.

Do not get me wrong, I enjoy the winter games enormously as well. I tend to prefer the following events the most:

Downhill Skiing
Ski Jumps

I think the Olympics will be a good thing for me, as it will likely encourage me to further enjoy the out-of-doors this winter. I have been doing so already with my walking, but there are so many other avenues to pursue.


Friday, February 05, 2010

Visiting My Father-In-Law

I am going to head out from the U early to go visit with my elderly father-in-law. I think it will be quite enjoyable to sit and talk idly about life instead of working this afternoon.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Day 501 & No Jeans

I am not really thinking of much interesting to say at the moment. But, one of the things I have been doing during my "blue" period this past few weeks is drifting around the Internet looking at vehicles. Here are the vehicles I have been especially enamored with:

Jeep Patriot #1
Jeep Patriot #2
Jeep Liberty #1 (2006)
Jeep Libtery #2 (2008)

Perhaps my "blue period" has been a mixture of seasonal affective disorder and spring fever? Who knows.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Day 500

Even though my spirits are low and my workday is filled with strife and frustration, I have to list one very positive accomplishment that I attained today.... I walked for the 500th day in a row.... 4-5 miles.... outside.... regardless of the weather (last week's below zero weather made for longer icicles hanging from my mustache and beard longer than I have ever seen on myself before).

So, it is a very, very significant accomplishment for me. To be that consistent is something I am proud of, for while I crave consistency in my day-to-day world, I am not always so capable of maintaining consistency in my own actions, especially in the field of exercise.

To be a bit ironic, I brought in four dozen doughnuts for the faculty and staff of my Department to eat as a form of celebration.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Trying To...

I am trying to pull out of the abyss. Something must have changed a little bit, for I feel able to write again. I had been so blue, so forlorn, and so sub-melancholy that I did not have the ability to get through a day adequately, let alone write on top of it.

I do not know what to do other than struggle, and struggle mightily against this abyss, this pit of despair. It is all one can do. A person I know, actually an in-law relative of my sister, attempted suicide a week ago with alcohol and medication. From what I have gleaned, he was roughly 10-15 minutes away from not being able to be revived when he was found. His status is still shaky.

I shall force myself to write something, even if it is only a single line, everyday. I would appreciate any comments and supportive thoughts you may have. The only way that I know to feel better is to work myself to the bone and through accomplishment and exhaustion, and sheer, damnable cussedness and determination, eventually the feelings of gloom will subside.