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, June 30, 2011


In yesterday's essay (which I used a secret, "magical" technique to invert), I happened to include a comic of "Gasoline Alley" featuring one of my very favorite characters in comics of all time.... Joel.

I happen to empathize with Joel. In fact I see a fair number of similarities between this cartoon character and myself:

1. There are a variety of physical and behavioral characteristics that are similar including his manner of dress, his proclivity for hats, his hair/beard/moustache, his pipe, the way he tends to clasp his hands behind his back, his pipe, etc.

2. A propensity to be misunderstood.

3. A quiet, thinking demeanor.

4. Most think of him as being a comedic buffoon, but he really is a deeply caring man and thoughtful man.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ǝnɹʇ ʎןǝnbıun sʎɐʍןɐ sı ןǝoɾ

˙ʍouʞ ǝɯ ʇǝן uɐɔ sɹǝɥʇo ǝqʎɐɯ ˙˙˙˙ןɐɔıdʎʇ ɹo uoɯɯoɔ sı ʎʇıןıqɐ sıɥʇ ɟı ǝɹns ou ɯɐ ı ˙uʍop ǝpısdn ǝɹɐ ʎǝɥʇ ɥƃnoɥʇ uǝʌǝ ɯǝɥʇ pɐǝɹ oʇ ǝɯ ɹoɟ sı ʇı ʎsɐǝ ʍoɥ uo ʇuǝɯɯoɔ sǝɯıʇǝɯos ʎǝɥʇ puɐ ɯǝɥʇ uo ʞɹoʍ ʎǝɥʇ sɐ s,ɹǝdɐd sʇuǝpnʇs ʎɯ ʇɐ ƃuıʞooן ɯɐ ı uǝʇɟo ˙ʎɐp sıɥʇ oʇ uʍopǝpısdn pɐǝɹ oʇ ʎsɐǝ ʎɹǝʌ ʇı puıɟ ןןıʇs ı ʇɐɥʇ 'os ɥɔnɯ os ˙ʇı ʇɐ ʇdǝpɐ ǝʇınb sɐʍ ı 'uoıɥsɐɟ ʇɐɥʇ uı ʎןןnɟǝsodɹnd sʞooq ןɐɹǝʌǝs pɐǝɹ ƃuıʌɐɥ ɹǝʇɟɐ puɐ unɟ sɐʍ ʇı ʇɥƃnoɥʇ ı ˙uʍop ǝpısdn sʞooq ƃuıpɐǝɹ ʎןןnɟǝsodɹnd pıʞ ɐ sɐ sɹnoɥ puǝds oʇ pǝsn ı 'uosɐǝɹ ppo ǝɯos ɹoɟ ˙ǝןoɹ ƃıq ɐʌnןןǝɥ ɐ sʎɐןd ʇı ʎɐs ןןıʍ noʎ ɟo ʇsoɯ ʇɐɥʇ ƃuıʇɐdıɔıʇuɐ ɯɐ ı 'ʞɹoʍ uǝʇʇıɹʍ ǝɥʇ uı ʇsɐǝן ʇɐ 'ןןǝʍ ˙sǝʌıן ɹno uı ʎɐןd uoıʇɐʇuǝıɹo puɐ uoıʇsod sǝop ǝןoɹ ɐ ɟo ɥɔnɯ ʍoɥ

:ʎɐssǝ ʍǝu sıɥʇ ǝǝs ʎǝɥʇ uǝɥʍ ǝןdoǝd ɯoɹɟ sı ǝsuodsǝɹ ǝɥʇ ʇɐɥʍ ǝǝs oʇ ƃuıoƃ ɯɐ ı ˙ƃoןq ʎɯ uo ƃuıʇsǝɹǝʇuı (ʎןןɐuıƃɹɐɯ) puɐ ʍǝu ƃuıɥʇǝɯos ʎɹʇ oʇ ʇdɯǝʇʇɐ ʎɯ sı sıɥʇ


Trying Out A New Routine

I have been feeling grumpy as hell the last couple of days because I am teaching a Summer class which I volunteered to do (a long time ago). It is not that I do not enjoy teaching... I do. I am just feeling out of sorts because I was really enjoying the less structured aspects of my Summer vacation.

It is stupid of me to get grouchy about this, so I have been devising a plan in my mind. Basically, what I am trying to do is to use this teaching time in a way that I will (hopefully) teach MYSELF something as well....

My goal is to teach myself to improve my a) patience, b) my acceptance of what is, and c) to put into action more of the PROACTIVE goals I have for myself. "A" and "B" are philosophical constructs that I wish to improve in myself. I think if I can make some headway on these I will be a better person for others and will be more content with myself. "C" is a more direct goal... in which I am aiming to think ahead (in a carefully prescribed fashion) so as to garner more time outside of work and inside work. I will try to flesh this out more in tomorrow's essay.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Not Alot

Not a whole helluva lot to say this morning. Just going about the routine of the day. I jogged, I ate breakfast, I showered and shaved my neck, and trimmed my moustache and beard. I smoked my pipe. I drove to the U. Now I will teach all day, and then I will go home.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Using Light as An On/Off Switch for Disease

In my continuing quest to bring you interesting new discoveries from the fields of neuroscience, endocrinology, and biology in general, I come across a lot of research. But this new research line is ESPECIALLY promising in my opinion. It is using our existing nervous system as one would use the wiring in a house when you want to add some new gizmo like another lamp. Read it an see if you are as excited as I am. It is from Science News.

Blue Light Used to Treat Diabetes:
Engineered Cells in Mice Make Protein that Controls Blood Sugar

By Tina Hesman Saey

Blue lights activate specially engineered cells implanted under mice’s skin to make a protein that helps control blood sugar levels. The new technique employs a light-sensitive protein from the retina to manipulate the biochemistry of the cell and might one day be used to help treat diabetes or other metabolic diseases.Image © Science/AAAS

Attention, shoppers: The latest blue light special could help combat diabetes and some genetic diseases.

Scientists have harnessed a light-gathering protein usually found in the eye to turn on the production of a protein that controls blood sugar. Researchers in Switzerland and France rigged kidney cells to make the blood-sugar control protein when exposed to blue light and then implanted diabetic mice with tiny capsules containing the engineered cells. Shining a blue light directly on the mice’s skin or through an implanted optical fiber brought blood sugar levels back to normal, the team reports in the June 24 Science.

Other researchers have switched nerve cells on and off with light-activated proteins (SN: 1/30/10, p. 18), but this is the first time such a system has tackled a metabolic disease in a mammal, says Edward Boyden, a neuroengineer at MIT who was not involved with the study. “They offered a compelling clinical demonstration that you can change the physiological state of an organism,” he says. “It leads to some powerful thinking about what this could lead to.”

The new technique could be used to spur the manufacture of proteins lacking in patients with rare genetic diseases such as phenylketonuria, in which an inability to make an enzyme can lead to brain damage. Modified versions of the system might also help scientists figure out which biochemical processes are going haywire in a wide variety of diseases, Boyden speculates.

Conceptually, the system is simple. Researchers start with human embryonic kidney cells engineered to make a protein called melanopsin and then insert a gene for whatever other protein they want to produce into the cells. Melanopsin is a light-harvesting protein normally found in the retina of the eye. It responds to blue light and sets off a biochemical chain reaction that sends nerve signals to the brain. Instead of sending nerve signals, the scientists harnessed a chain reaction already present in kidney cells to turn on the inserted gene.

In the new study, shining a blue light on the melanopsin-carrying kidney cells turns on production of a protein called glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1. That protein, in turn, governs production of insulin and other proteins that help control blood sugar levels.

“From the ground up we designed this to be all human,” says study leader Martin Fussenegger, a bioengineer and synthetic biologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, located in Basel. Using human cells that make human proteins helps reduce the risk that the immune system would attack the proteins if the technique is ever developed to treat people.

Fussenegger wouldn’t speculate on how long it might be before light-activated cells are treating people with diabetes or other diseases, but says “it’s the first step in a new direction for treatment.”

Engineers may have a few kinks to work out first, though. Bright sunlight or light sources that contain blue wavelengths might activate the system when it’s not wanted. Covering implants with a patch might solve such a dilemma, says Fussenegger. “We’ve never done the experiments at the beach,” he says, but normal indoor lights did not turn on unwanted protein production in the lab.

* * * * *

This is (in my mind) even more revolutionary than was the human genome project.


Sunday, June 26, 2011


"Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love."

"No one is to be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves."

The above two quotes are especially relevant to me. I have felt they represented pretty well some of my own personal philosophy on how to live life. Please do not get me wrong... I am not suggesting in any way that I am good or being grandiose. I am saying that philosophically these are some of the ideals I would wish I could uphold more in my daily life. Fr. Assisi lived a life of service and I hope to continue to work to be more like that in my own life.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pipe Dreams

For the last few years (since around 2007 or so) it is RARE that I recall any of the dreams I have while sleeping. The few that I do recollect typically dissipate quickly upon the first few minutes of awakening. I think there are probably 10 or fewer dreams that I vividly recall since about 2007.

I used to have a much better retention of the dreams I have while sleeping at night. I miss that. However, I guess there is somewhat of a silver lining to this decrease in awareness of dreams... it is also associated with what may be a decrease in awareness (or perhaps occurrence?) of nightmares as well.

This morning, however, was different. I remember vividly my dream, and it was an interesting dream indeed. I was about 20 years younger than I am now, and I had somehow inherited a pipe and pipe tobacco shop in a small village in Northern Germany. It happened to be late Spring, and so I went over there to live in the small apartment above the store and figure out what to do... my conundrum was whether to a) stay in my role as Professor at the U and sell the tobacco shop, b) chuck it all here at the U and take my family to Germany to run this shop, or c) keep my job here at the U and be a long-distance owner of this tobacco shop who only visits during Summers and break periods.

The shop was located in an ancient but well kept up building. The apartment was nice as well. My mercantile neighbor to the right of me owned a quiet beer garden and to the left of me there was a used book store. Across the street were a bread shop, a cake bakery, and two restaurants.

My wife told me to go to Germany and figure out what is best for us to do. The pipe shop was beautiful and quaint. The stock was of good quality and the customers were ample and every friendly (note: Germany currently has a much higher percentage of pipe smoking gentlemen than are seen in the United states. In my reading about this subject perhaps a year or two ago, I believe only country with a higher percentage in the Europe was Poland.). While my German was extremely fractured and grammatically poor, the people I met were friendly and helpful and often would assist me by switching over to English when I was having an especially difficult time communicating. Even though I still wore my beard and mustache, I had started to let my mustache grow longer with visions of attempting to grow something more startling like this Bavarian looking fellow.

I kept exploring the city, kept working at my pipe shop, kept smoking wonderfully rich and pleasant pipe tobacco in my pipes and was trying to figure out what to do. Unfortunately, my alarm went off then and I awoke, but happily the dream was still in my mind with clarity.


Friday, June 24, 2011


I am oddly having significant hunger pangs for a turkey sandwich right at the moment (yes, I know it is too damn early to be thinking about lunch, but it is where my mind is at). My very favorite rendition of the turkey sandwich is as follows:

toasted rye or toasted pumpernickel bread
4-5 ounces of extremely thinly sliced, oven roasted, smoked turkey
sliced tomatoes
sliced kosher dill pickles
very thin slices (julienne style preferred)of fresh cucumber
a teaspoon or two of finely ground cranberry relish
a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard MIXED with a 1/4 teaspoon of curry


Thursday, June 23, 2011


No, not the kind that a lot of the kids are talking about for after they complete their finals.... although it does sound appealing. My buzz is to symbolize a busy Apis mellifera going about its tasks.

I have not been doing much of anything exciting. Yet, I have been productive, preparing numerous lectures and research items the last few days. I have been willing and able to focus on these mundane tasks all this week, which is good for me, for usually I am either unable to focus on them due to time constraints, or unwilling to focus on them (because they can be rather dull at times).

One interesting thing that happened yesterday, was involving exercise. I ended up sleeping through my alarm on Wednesday morning and hence got up later than I had intended. So, instead of my normal, very early morning walk/jog... I went to work figuring I would find some time later in the day. I did... but in a way that was quite different for me. I ended up jogging for four complete miles WITHOUT a break... and this is the best part... I jogged all around and throughout campus. Some of you may be thinking.... "So what?". But, many of you know and/or realize that I have traditionally been very self-conscious about exercising or doing just about anything non-professorial while on campus. So, this has been a good and productive step for me. I am working on being less self-conscious about many things in life.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

The above is the name of the day for today that I learned while at Mass. I offer the following as a reflection of mine related to today:

From Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9

Early in the morning Moses went up Mount Sinai
as the LORD had commanded him,
taking along the two stone tablets.

Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there
and proclaimed his name, "LORD."

Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
"The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."

Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, "If I find favor with you, O Lord,
do come along in our company.

This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own."

* * * * *

The passage above guides me to be especially appreciative of the following statement: "slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity". This is what I believe very strongly that I need to strive to be more like in my daily life. I feel it is perhaps the most valuable thing I can *do* as a person to be able to be more helpful to others in my day-to-day life.

It is and has always been an extreme challenge to be slower to anger, striving for being kind, and to exhibit true fidelity... but deep in my heart, I know that is the one way that I can attempt to make a true difference in life. I may be able to find actual meaning FOR my life if I work to be truer and kinder and more gentle in my life.

Also, a very, very happy wish for a beautiful Father's Day up in heaven for my beloved Dad. I miss you greatly and I wish you were here physically with me here on Earth so that we could sit and talk, and go out to eat Coney Dogs, root beer, and have a few pipes together. I miss you so, so very much. I will be smoking several of the pipes of YOURS that I have today.


Saturday, June 18, 2011


This is an unbelievable milestone for me. I am happy that I have been able to be this consistent in my efforts. I walked regardless of temperature (range from -21 Degrees Fahrenheit (-30 Degrees Celcius) to 113 Degrees Fahrenheit (45 Degrees Celcius)), weather (snow, rain, ice, blizzard, blazing sun, etc), holiday, or illness.

My next major goal is to reach day 1111. :)


Friday, June 17, 2011


Today is the 999th day in a row that I have walked outside each and every day consistently without missing a single day. Here are some updated statistics:

Today's outside walking number: 999

Weight (as of last Sunday): 178 pounds (loss of 104 pounds)

Typical Time of Day Walked: starting at 5:00am or 5:30am

Rate: Usually I am jogging roughly 40% of the distance each day.

Distance: Typically 4 - 5 miles

BMI (as of last Sunday): 22.9 (Normal Weight)

Shirt size: Medium

Pant waist size: 34

Shoe size: 13 (I had been an 11 for decades, but I guess the pounding of my feet from all this walking and jogging as well as natural aging has caused my feet to elongate.)

Tomorrow (God willing that I am able to do it) may be a very fun day!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Neural Development

In my continual reading of the literature about neuroendocrine research developments, I stumble across some articles that I think more people, even outside the research community, will find especially interesting. Thus, today, I wanted to bring your attention to this developmental article. It examines and shows how there is an age related developmental difference in math reasoning that can be demonstrated. All parents can recall how they intuitively knew this, but the specifics are what is striking. The ability is there early and late, but that the later ages have the brain becoming MORE EFFICIENTLY able to do the same tasks. This is logical of course, but the evidence is more important than just for confirming what is logical. Instead, it gives us insight into HOW to look at the process of learning from a nerual region and even neuron-to-neuron perspective. I hope you enjoy:

A Year Adds Up to Big Changes in Brain

By Laura Sanders from Science News

Neuroscientists have confirmed what any kid knows: Third grade changes everything. Compared to kids just out of second grade, recent third-grade graduates use their brains in an entirely different way when solving math problems, a study in an upcoming NeuroImage finds.

“I think this is really fascinating,” says cognitive neuroscientist Daniel Ansari of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. “Anybody who doesn’t believe that development is important needs to read this paper, because it really shows how dynamically the brain changes as we learn.”

Cognitive neuroscientist Vinod Menon of the Stanford University School of Medicine and his colleagues recruited 90 children, aged 7 to 9, who had just completed either second or third grade.

The youngsters calculated easy (3 + 1 = 4) or more complex (8 + 5 = 13) addition problems while Menon and his team scanned the children’s brains using functional MRI.

Third-graders’ brains behaved very differently than second-graders’, the team found. “It’s not a minor change,” Menon says. “At this point, what’s clear is that the brain and brain function is undergoing major changes.”

Overall, second-graders’ brains tackled the easy and hard problems about the same way. Third-graders’ brains responded very differently to the easy and the hard questions. This may reflect a cognitive strategy shift as third-graders grow more adept at handling the easy problems.

Third-graders showed heightened activity in a brain region important for working memory, which keeps relevant info handy. Earlier studies of older children found that this region, the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, was less active with age while doing math, so the new results may reflect an age-specific approach to math that later gives way to something else, the authors suggest.

Connections between the dorsolateral prefrontal region and regions in the back of the brain, some of which are involved in vision, were also stronger in the third-graders as they crunched numbers, the team found.

It’s not yet clear whether the differences were actually caused by math classes. Normal development may cause some of the changes, but training and skill acquisition probably play a role, too, says developmental psychologist Ann Dowker of the University of Oxford in England. “A lot of it will be due to the fact that the children are receiving instruction, practice and exposure to arithmetic.”

Ansari says that researchers need to figure out what these brain changes actually mean. “School changes your brain, but what do we do with that?” he says. “That’s the next big question.” So far, scientists don’t know whether these changes correlate with stronger math performance, particular kinds of math training or how good a child will be at math in the future.

Studies like this may ultimately help educators figure out the best kinds of math instruction, Ansari says, though the science isn’t strong enough yet. “It’s very risky at the moment to say you can get definite answers from brain imaging about how to teach children math,” he says. Yet one day, brain scans might serve as a means of testing the effectiveness of competing instruction methods, such as rote memory learning and more concept-based approaches.

* * * * *

I wish they made a miniature version of an MRI or Cat Scan that I could write a grant for to use on rodents. Some people have successfully bought time for rodents at their local hospital settings, but I have investigated that possibility here, and it is highly unlikely.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Try to Become Better

Every morning during my walk, for the last year or so, I have used that time to focus on prayer and reflection by contemplation and reciting of the rosary. It has been a good addition to my walking/jogging, as it is a patterned way to force me to reflect and contemplate on how I wish to become.

Between each decade of the rosary, I contemplate a particular mystery and think of the potential fruits of that mystery. Then I go through an array of prayers for friends, family, and myself that is often something like this:

1. I pray for the immediate members of my family that we may be able to live a happy, healthy, joyful time here on Earth as a family for as many years and decades as possible.

2. I pray for the immediate members of my family that we may be able to live forever in happiness and joy as a family eventually in Heaven.

3. I pray for each of my kids, specifying precise details about each of their needs, hopes, and aspirations.

4. I pray for my wife so that she may attain her goals.

5. I pray that my wife and I continue to strive to be better spouses for each other and that we continue to strive to be better parents for our children.

6. I pray for various family members and friends who are experiencing difficulties at this time (death of a loved one, illness, they have a family member who is ailing, etc.).

7. I pray that I may be forgiven for my sins. I ask forgiveness for all my sins, those I recognize and those that I do not.

8. I especially pray for me to not be an angry, sarcastic person.

9. I pray for the victims of Japan's nuclear incident, especially for those who are still being exposed to the radiation.

10. I pray for guidance on how to deal with my pipe smoking.

11. I pray that I may walk the path that God, Christ, and Holy Spirit wish for me to walk.

12. I pray for guidance on how to be a better, kinder person.

The above prayer guided by the rosary typically takes me 45 minutes or so during my walk/jog each morning. After I have finished the five decades of the rosary for that day, I will typically finish my walk/jog by listening to NPR during the last 15 minutes.

The above image is that of the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. It is where I attended Mass this past Sunday. It is a beautiful structure. And, as always, I love how even though I did not "know" anyone other than my family members, I still felt as part of a big family. Being able to visit other parishes/dioceses/cathedrals during my travels always is so very comforting and reassuring.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Walking the Path

Friday in Chicago was the primary day I spent with other researcher friends in talks, discussions, plenaries, etc. And, it was also the primary evening spent with these researcher friends indulging in ample libations and food. When I awoke to take my walk on Saturday morning (5:00 am as usual), I left the hotel room and rode the elevator down the 47 flights to the entrance to the hotel. Turning to the left I strode for a few blocks while I stretched my legs and arms and shoulders as I worked up to my normal walking speed. I had reached the "Magnificent Mile" in Chicago, which is a region near the water that is jam packed with all sorts of shops of all sorts, many of which are open 24 hours a day.

As it was so early, there were only a relatively small number of folks out an about... numerous shop owners using power washers to clean their little piece of sidewalk, a few homeless, some people still staggering around from the bars, a few early shifters at the Northwestern University Hospital. I felt very good, albeit a bit thirsty from too much salty food and from the many libations, so I decided to exercise in the 10-5 pattern (jog for 10 minutes, walk briskly for 5, repeat and repeat) for the hour.

As luck would have it, just as I was finishing my hour, I ended up being near an "Einstein's Bros." bagel shop which had just opened. I bought the largest coffee they had (their hazlenut flavored coffee is one I enjoy quite a bit). I took the coffee to their outdoor seating area, bought a paper, and relaxed with a pipe. Being the only person outside as the sun was rising was enjoyable. I had two refills on the coffee and a second pipe while I read through the paper.

When I had finished, I dropped the paper off inside so someone else could read it, and then started to walk the several blocks back to the hotel while I enjoyed another pipe. I opened the door to my hotel room at 10 minutes to 8 and heard the beginnings of rustling of others in my family.


Monday, June 13, 2011


I returned to home late last night, after attending a research meeting in Chicago. It is always nice to be in a large, metropolitan city for a few days, because it is so very much different a lifestyle than in my normal, sleepy, college town. My research talk went very well, and I had a large cadre of people stop and ask me questions and want to talk for quite a while afterwards. It felt good. I truly think I am onto something "big" in regards to my research... I will keep my fingers crossed as I continue to work.

Yet, attending the conference is about a whole lot more than the science. In some ways, the science is actually secondary. Being in the new environment, with family, and enjoying each other's company is the most important part of these adventures.

Being away from the day-to-day requirements, and going to "the big city" for a few days forces me to adapt to the new environment quickly and in doing so, gives me reason to contemplate my current life in new ways.

A few of the things I remembered/recalled from my contemplative, reflective time in Chicago... I want to focus more and more deeply on having joy and happiness be the goal that I have for myself, my family, and also as the goal I want to try to provide (or at least help in) for others. I want to feel an inner peace and harmony with all the things I do. I have found that unless I focus on that idea of working on harmony within myself for me, my family, and my community, it stays tantalizingly just out of my reach.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

My Apologies

To all my friends out in the Internet Community, I apologize for my absence. A few issues have nearly every moment of my time here at work since my last post. The issues are FORTUNATELY not problematic or troublesome.... just time consuming. And, as I still have not "bitten the bullet" so-to-speak to get my home system operational (yes, Billy, you are right and I encourage you to keep telling me to get the damn thing up and running), I have not been here.

I do, however, see the light at the end of the tunnel. I suspect that Monday, I will be free and clear of all the yokes I have upon my shoulders and my free time will increase again.

So, I miss talking with all of you, and expect to be back on Monday!