Archive for February, 2007

While the cat’s away…

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Robin’s in Lee’s Summit for a Foreign Language Educators conference until tomorrow night.  I have her midlife crisis sportscar, since she took my grandpa car as the more comfortable ride.  I’m watching a rerun of Crossing Jordan, having just had some homemade pizza.  I am a wild and crazy guy.

Floyd looking better all the time

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

So I’ve been following the Floyd Landis doping case ever since the Tour de France; the best place for extensive information on it is in Trust But Verify.  The case against him has been looking worse and worse — the sloppiness of the lab testing is pretty unbelievable.  Now the LA Times has just published a story detailing even more problems with the lab protocols.  I never really believed that Floyd was dirty — he seemed so honest and straightforward in interviews (and maybe I just wanted him to be, as well).  Maybe I’m biased, but I think he’s going to be cleared, and back in the TDF this year.

Do tanning beds cause cancer?

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

In genetics class today, we were wrapping up the discussion of mutations, and I said something (again) about how caucasians should stay the hell out of the sun. A student said “but there’s no evidence that tanning beds cause cancer.” She was quite vehement on this point, saying that her mother works for cancer doctors, and they told her that there was no study that showed that exposure to UV in a tanning bed caused any skin cancer. I disagreed, but when I got back to my office I couldn’t resist looking it up (again).

Call me compulsive, but I wound up making this little public-service page about the risks of tanning beds. I don’t want to spoil the suspense, but the answer is, yes, there is strong evidence that connects indoor tanning UV exposure to melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Does that tell you that a specific cancer was caused by a specific visit to the tanning salon? Of course, you can’t ever tell that for sure. Nor can you be sure that smoking caused a particular instance of lung cancer, but that doesn’t mean that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer.

My take-home messages? 1) I am sort of compulsive and 2) use the spray-on stuff if you just can’t stand being white.

Amazing idiocy in Arizona

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

My former home state, Arizona, is now considering a bill, misnamed the “Academic Bill of Rights,” that would ban any teacher in any public learning institution at any level from taking any position on a controversial subject. I’m serious; you can read the proposed legislation here. There’s a nice blog post about it at College Freedom.

Take this excerpt:

An instructor at a university under the jurisdiction of the Arizona board of regents or at a community college under the jurisdiction of a community college district who is acting as an agent of or who is working in an official capacity for a university or community college shall not … (various things including)…Endorse, support or oppose any pending, proposed or enacted local, state or federal legislation, regulation or rule…Advocate one side of a social, political or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy…etc.

Pretty amazing stuff — so a professor couldn’t tell a class that she approved of, say, the 13th amendment banning slavery (an enacted federal regulation or rule? Maybe constitutional amendments are exempt) or legislation against sexual predators. As for advocating one side of a “cultural issue” about which there is “partisan controversy” — does this include evolution?

I suppose that the chances of passage aren’t too good, but it did make it out of committee. I can’t help feeling a little schadenfreude here; it’s nice to see another state making an ass of itself.

I have a temper

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

So yesterday morning I decided to call computer services about the weird error message I get every time I open Outlook.  (Outlook is in recovery mode. Do you wish to log on, work offline, or cancel?)  The guy VNCed to my computer, reinstalled Outlook, and proceeded to import my archived emails onto the server again.

Turns out this filled my space on the server, and I was then unable to email anyone.  I got a bit frustrated while trying to respond to a student in my online class, and when I called computer services back, about halfway through my explanation of the problem I found myself screaming profanities at the hapless computer services guy.  Not even the one who screwed it up in the first place.

Eventually he got me to the original guy, who after quite a bit of messing around was able to move all the old files back to the archive and free enough server space for me to work again.  Later, I called back, asked for second guy at whom I’d blown up, and apologized.  I felt like a dick.

Now my email works more or less properly, although it’s lost my autocomplete file, so I have to type in people’s whole addresses.

Advance Winter Loopers at NUT Junction

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Advance Winter Loopers at NUT Junction

Originally uploaded by Allen Gathman.

The Advance Winter Loop finally came to fruition today — two weeks after the original date planned. I was doubtful Saturday morning, when I saw the snow on the ground and more falling. This morning, though, it was sunny and by noon it was over 40 degrees. The southern part of the county didn’t get that much snow anyway.

As you can see from the photo of the gang at NUT junction, it was a beautiful day. We had a great ride all around. People who skipped this ride must be regretting it now.

The ride was a total of 54 miles. We started at Dutchtown, rode out A to Whitewater, then on to U. Took U south to NUT junction, where we continued south on T. This got into the hilliest part of the ride; there are a couple of short but very steep stretches in there, and some beautiful views from the ridge.

Cody made the top of the hills first, despite a sore knee.  Collin would have been right in there, but he broke his chain trying to make a big sprint.

Coming down off the ridge, we met up with 91, which we took into Advance. From there we took O east to P, and P north through Perkins to Delta. In Delta we picked up N to the west a few miles, then turned north to Allenville on county roads, and from there north to A. Then we retraced our path a couple of miles on A back to Dutchtown.

Ah, Texas

Friday, February 16th, 2007

It would be easy to laugh at idiocy in the Texas state legislature, except when you remember that Texas, as one of the largest markets for textbooks in the US, exerts significant influence on the content of school science texts used throughout the country. Here’s the latest (ganked mostly from Daily Kos):

Republican representative Warren Chisum is chair of the Texas House Appropriations Committee. He recently circulated a memo opposing teaching evolution in Texas schools. That in itself is no big surprise. This memo, though, which was written by Georgia legislator Ben Bridges, includes a link to the web site You have to check out the site to believe it. I’m pretty sure it’s not a parody, although the line would be hard to draw.

To summarize briefly, the Copernican “fiction” that the Earth moves is the cornerstone of a Jewish plot to destroy the Bible, promote evil-lution, legitimize perverted sex acts, and generally impurify the precious bodily fluids of our nation’s youth. Act now! Stamp out this vile, moving-Earth anti-Biblical lie!

Nota Bene:

Just in case, I don’t want anyone to think that I think all Christians, Conservative Christians, or even Biblical Literalist Christians are like the evil wack-job who wrote the fixed Earth site. I know plenty of Christians who have no problem at all with the findings of modern science.

I know some other, fairly literalist Christians who are intelligent and highly ethical people, even if I disagree with them on some fundamental points of world view. My major problem is with people who want to teach religion as science in schools that my tax dollars support, and I have an even worse problem with people who want to flavor that religion with anti-semitism.

Binnielula’s Valentine, 2007

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

Binnielula’s Valentine, 2007

Originally uploaded by Allen Gathman.

Traditionally, I make a valentine for Binnielula every year. Here’s this year’s entry, a paper picnic basket (the weaving took me a while to figure out), and paper goodies including wine, bread, cheese, chocolate, grapes, olives, prosciutto (far right) and a slice of cantaloupe. And a valentine card, of course, with a slightly mangled quote from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

Yes, I did get some other things done during the day at work.

The Limits of Omnipotence

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

Me in Genetics class today:

“Here’s how you can tell if an abnormality in DNA is a mutation or a lesion.  First, imagine that you’re God.  Now, can you make a protein that would fix the problem?  If you can, it’s a lesion.  If not, it’s a mutation.”

My student Hannah:

“But if I were God, I could do anything I wanted!”


“Could you make a cheeseburger so big you couldn’t eat it?”

Why you have to write in my genetics class.

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

I discovered recently MySpace’s version of, and naturally I looked up my own rating.  The most recent post, from last semester, reads like this:
Me on MyProfessors

I like genetics but I will never write a scientific paper so I will drop this class. I just wanted to learn enough for MCAT. Did not in my wildest dreams expect to write five papers in a upper level biology class. Dr. Gathman is a neat guy, highly intellegent and pretty fair about everything…just wish he would teach biology and leavethe english to the english department. Only my opinion, it’s his class to teach as he wishes and on balance he has the ability to be a really good teacher.

Now, I know better than to take this sort of anonymous criticism to heart, but I was sort of surprised to see that this person was writing 5 papers in my class, since only 4 are assigned.  Of course, the “papers” referred to are responses to some questions about four scientific papers the students read in class, and the average length is about 2 pages typed — a total of 8 pages of writing, which strikes me as pretty minimal.  Now, if all you want is to take the multiple choice part of the MCAT, then my class may not be very good preparation — no multiple choice tests.  On the other hand, I think the most important thing that I do in my genetics class is teach students to read scientific papers.  If you do get to be a doctor, where are you going to find out about new developments?  From the drug company reps?  You have to be able to read the scientific literature, and it’s not easy.

How do you come to understand the scientific literature?  How do you come to understand genetics, or any complex topic, for that matter?  I strongly believe that you don’t really understand a topic unless you can explain it.  And the best way to focus your thoughts into a clear explanation is to write it.  Not necessarily in English, but it’s the only language I’m really fluent in, so that’s what I have to use.
So, sorry to lose you, anonymous dropper of my class, but I think that courses in the sciences at our institution probably need more, not less, writing.   I suppose this means you won’t be taking my science and religion course, in which students write three 2-page and three 5-page papers?