Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Cool video

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

I’ve probably shown this to lots of people, but this video of cell biology is just really damn cool. Everything in it is consistent with the best models supported by current research, including the little kinesin proteins walking along the microtubules pulling vesicles. If you know some cell biology, it’s fun to watch and figure out what all the things are. If you don’t, it’s still pretty fun to watch.

My only caveat is that some stuff is too directional — when the tubulin proteins assemble to form a microtubule, they don’t swim toward the tip of the growing microtubule. They’re all in there bouncing around randomly, and when they HIT the tip of the growing microtubule, they stick. There are several examples in the video of this kind of directional movement that should actually be random. Easier to animate, I suppose.

This weather sucks

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

I shouldn’t complain.  We have electricity, and there’s no difficulty driving anywhere.  But it’s been raining almost nonstop for a week, and the temperature continues to hover right around freezing.  Add to that the cold that I have, and it’s not very pleasant.

On the plus side, I’ve got all my exams and papers graded.

Oh, and I was going to look for a Christmas tree today, but I’m just not up to it in the “wintry mix” weather.  Maybe Monday, when it’s supposed to clear up.

Really cool toy I used to have that your kids will never have

Monday, October 29th, 2007

This morning I was walking by one of the labs, and my colleague Lucinda and some students were in there preparing a bunch of planting pots.  This procedure consists of poking holes in the bottoms of plastic cups such as one would have at a kegger.  They were using a soldering iron to do this, as it melts neat holes in them.

The thing was, the smell immediately brought back memories of this toy I used to have.  It was a Mattel Vac-U-Form.  You heated up a sheet of colored plastic on this metal block, then flipped it over onto a platform where you could put various forms.  Then you pumped a handle that created a vacuum, pulling the soft plastic down onto the form.  You could make all kinds of little cars and boats and stuff, and also little signs with raised letters.  I’d forgotten all about this thing.

I immediately asked Walt if he’d had one, and of course he had — we were very similar geeky little kids.  We were marveling at what a great toy it was, and also at the fact that this toy could never be sold today.  We were lucky enough to be around at just the right time — they had invented lots of cool stuff, and nobody had yet started worrying about whether we would burn our faces off with it.

I’m more or less back to normal.

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

Today is my second day back in the office.  Yesterday I was here about 4 hours, and got a fair amount done.  I wrote a letter of recommendation for a former student, went through a few hundred emails, cleared off my desk, and printed out the study guide and schedule for Molecular Genetics.  Now I have two other courses to put together, including Science and Religion, for which I have to decide what readings I want to use.   Actually preparations for both that course and my Biological Reasoning course involve getting together with someone else and negotiating course content.  Still, it looks like I will at least have handouts to give the students on the first day.  I find this is almost as good as being prepared for class.

Still packing, but now on vacation.

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

5I’ve got everything back on the table in the living room. Actually, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how small a pile the stuff that is actually going makes. The list is so long, it’s easy to forget that a lot of the items are very tiny. I’m still having trouble grouping stuff and figuring out how to get in packed so that it

  1. Doesn’t rattle
  2. Is balanced side to side
  3. Has most of the weight in the back

And still allows me to get at stuff that I need easily when I need it.

Meanwhile, I washed and waxed the bike, and in the process discovered that the spoke lengths are printed on the side of the rims.  Naturally, the ones that I got yesterday were the wrong lengths, and I’ll be heading back to Cape Bike again tomorrow.  I also realized that the mini-chain tool that I’ve had for years (Park CT-5) doesn’t have a “shelf” for loosening tight links, although the new version of the same model does.  I’m going to get a new one, what the hell.

I fueled up the backpacking stove and tried it out.  Surprisingly, considering how long it’s been since I used it, it’s working fine, so I packed it away.

Yesterday I highlighted my route on three copies of my set of county maps and gave one set to Binnielula.  One goes deep in the packed stuff as a backup, the other goes into the handlebar bag, to take one page at a time out and put in the map holder.

Oh, yeah, and this morning I graded the last set of assignments from my online course — my buddy Walt takes over for the second half of the semester, so I’m officially on vacation now.

No more pencils, no more books…

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Hooray!  I’ve finished my four-week summer presession class.   Of course, I am teaching the first four weeks of an online course now, but this does mean that I don’t have to be at work at 8 AM every day.

In my online course there are 18 people enrolled, and all 18 have logged on to the web site already, before the first assignments are due.  This is a first.  Every other time I’ve taught it, there have been from 2 to 5 people who just never got around to doing anything, including dropping the course, despite repeated emails.  I know, some people don’t read their email very often.  But you would think (if, unlike me, you didn’t know better) that a person who signs up for an online course would, particularly around the time the course is supposed to start, read his or her email.

So this time, big improvement on that score.  Now if I could just break people of the habit of writing for an online course as if they were text-messaging.  I give clear instructions about using standard punctuation, capitalization, and spelling, but some people just can’t manage it.  One semester I had a student whose first several assignments were written ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE I GUESS WRITING FOR THE WEB IS KIND OF LIKE SENDING A TELEGRAM.  I explained to this person that this is the equivalent of shouting.

One thing that always annoys me is people who won’t capitalize the word “I”.  It always feels like false modesty to me.

Okay, enough bitching.  Like I say, this group has managed an historic first by all actually logging in.  Maybe they’ll all turn in the first two assignments, too.  Stay tuned.


Thursday, June 7th, 2007

Well, if anybody new wrote a comment to this blog over the past couple of days, I just deleted it.  I had 1055 comments to moderate, and I just couldn’t face going through them all.  (Comment #1055 had the subject line “church tits”, to give you an idea of the general, ahem, thrust of them).

Meanwhile, I haven’t blogged much this week because not much is going on.  I’m still working on plans for the New Orleans trip (BTW, I plan to leave on July 13, so this is still a ways off).

I injured myself somehow doing squats yesterday — I have a sharp pain on the left side of my upper back.  It’s probably a muscle pull, although it could be a cracked rib for all I know.  I’ll wait and see if it continues to bother me.  It already feels substantially better today, so I’m guessing it’s nothing too major.  I’m still riding my bike to work, and it doesn’t hurt when I’m on the bike.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is the final exam for my presession Molecular Genetics class — I’m glad to get away from the set schedule, anyway.  I do start teaching an online course next week, but it’s only 4 weeks, and I don’t have to show up anywhere at any specific time.

End of the semester

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

I have graded all of the Cell Biology and Genetics finals, and am halfway through the Molecular Genetics finals, and the Biological Reasoning online finals are due by midnight tonight.  Tomorrow I’ll finish grading.  Friday I’m going to St. Louis to help out at the Regional Fleadh Cheoil (Irish music competition), which goes Friday night and all day Saturday.  Tuesday I start teaching Molecular Genetics again in the 4-week presession.

End of the semester.  Hah.

More idiocy in the Missouri legislature

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Genetics Exam 2:

1. Explain the process of rho-dependent transcription termination in E. coli.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster pulls the RNA off the template with His Noodly Appendage.


If the legislature gets its way, I won’t be able to count off for this answer.

The state House has given initial approval to an “intellectual freedom” bill that would require all state educational institutions to establish policies to ensure that students aren’t coerced into beliefs they disagree with.

Here’s an excerpt from the bill (HB213):

2. The coordinating board for higher education shall require each public institution to report annually to the general assembly detailing the steps the institution is taking to ensure intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas.

(1) The report required in this subsection shall address the specific measures taken by the institution to ensure and promote intellectual diversity and academic freedom. The report may include steps taken by the institution to:

(e) Include intellectual diversity concerns in the institution’s guidelines on teaching and program development and such concerns shall include but not be limited to the protection of religious freedom including the viewpoint that the Bible is inerrant;*

Now, I teach a science and religion class in which I work very hard to be respectful and accommodating of different beliefs, but I insist that students deal with the scientific evidence in a reasoned way.  With the legislature breathing down my neck, I don’t know that I could teach that class.  For that matter, the introductory course for biology majors is an evolution class.  Can we set any standards at all for intellectual rigor, or is “diversity” going to trump everything else?

I’ve taken the liberty of writing a draft University policy to meet the requirements set out in the bill explicitly.

*Yeah, I know that (e) has syntax problems. The least of our worries, OK?

Why historians wait a while before writing about history…

Monday, April 9th, 2007

In the interests of the historical record, I reproduce here an email I received exactly 4 years ago. It was the day that the Marines stage-managed the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad.:


From: <######@###.###>
Sent: Wednesday, April 09, 2003 6:04 PM
Subject: Re: Peace Movement


Hey allen,

Are you depressed now that the idiot peace movement has been shown to be such a sham? Depressed because we have won the Iraq war so easily.? Depressed because George Bush has been vindicated? You and your fellow travelers in the Biology department have been shown to be such idiots. I encourage you and mr. journet to keep speaking out. You are just helping the conservative cause every time you are shown to be so wrong.

I am laughing at you…


Enjoy the war (whats left of it)

[Name removed]*


US soldiers killed prior to May 1, 2003 “Mission Accomplished” photo op: 140.

Total US soldiers killed to date: 3282

News today: Mass protests against US in Najaf, “Surge” shifts violence out to the provinces.


*The email came from a local high school history teacher who has a grudge against me — I was on his thesis committee, read his thesis repeatedly and critiqued it in detail, and signed the approval form when he defended on his scheduled date. Who wouldn’t be pissed?