Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fossil dung reveals dinosaurs did graze grass

Fossil dung reveals dinosaurs did graze grass: "One of the most common 'mistakes' in the prehistoric book is not wrong after all; dinosaurs did eat grass, and a surprisingly wide range of it"

Again, scat teaches us history. Whether it be dung found on the driveway, forest floor, or among fossilized remains, it reveals what the excretor (aka the 'pooper') ate. The cliche "What goes in, must come out" may sound archaic to most, but it reflects the truth, although the form may change between the mouth and the 'back door'.

Three points in the report above interested me:

The 'key evidence' verifying grasses on the dinosaur menu was the silica cyrstals present in plant cells found in their fossilzed feces. These microscopic crystals, called opal phytoliths, are specific to plant taxon and even parts of the plant. Phytoliths, Greek for 'plant stones', are produced by plants presumably in response to injury (mechanical, insect or microbial) but also under normal conditions.

Soluble silica in the soil is taken up with water by plant roots and distributed throughout the plant. Dissolved silica is then deposited within or between cell walls. Identification and association with a plant is based on distinctive phytolith sizes and shapes. They may aid in the structural integrity of the cell wall or in defending the plant against damage by rendering them less palatable for herbivores and insects.

Phytoliths are a paleobotonists treasure trove because the intact particles are left after the plant decomposes. They are not degraded from exposure to high temperatures or methods that breakdown carbonized food. Consequently they pass through the digestive process of animals and are excreted along with other undigested substances. Stable isotopes can be extracted from them and used to reconstruct past environmental conditions as well as typing the plant family and possibly even species eaten.

Why did this interest me? I was reminded of a comment my father, a biochemist, made when I was young. The most likely alternate element on this planet that life could have been based on is silicon. Next to carbon, it is the second most abundant element in the Earth, occuring mostly as silica (silica and dioxide) and silicates (silicon, oxygen and metals). Perhaps the primary reason life revolved around carbon, silicon's chemical analog, is because it is more reactive than silicon.

Marine diatoms (an algae) are an example of that alternate life since they extract silica from water to form their unique protective cell walls (made primarily of polymerized silicic acid, a compound comprised of silicon, hydrogen and oxygen). Diatom populations are related directly to the availability of silicon in the water. They may be more energy efficient as well; the silica cell walls require ~8% less energy to synthesis than their organic counterpart.

Considering the heat stability of silicon, life based on the element might be found in environments with high temperatures. Based on these facts, it's not surprising to find silicon-based life in many science fictions stories (e.g. A Martian Odyssey, by Stanley Weisbaum, even the Star Wars series). However, the chirality (right- and left-handed forms of a molecule) of carbon compounds enriches the biology that we know so well and facilitates adaptation within our biochemistry. As far as we know silicon lacks this feature, or at least to the extent of carbon's potential. The handedness of carbon biology serves as a basis for the many interconnections of reactions that constitutes life on this planet. Silicon chemistry offers less complexity.

Who knows what silicon forms lurk in the heart of Earth? (or the Universe, for that matter)

Dinosaur grass
I was astonished reading that grasses were 'believed' to be relatively new. Until ancient poop recently revealed that dinosaurs ate grass (and several types of grasses), their main meal course was believed to be of flowering plants and tree foliage. 'Experts' believed that grasses arrived long after the disappearance of dinosaurs (the end of the Cretaceous period; 65 mill. years ago). Divergent thinking suggests to me that if larger and complex botanical forms existed, the simple grasses probably did as well.

Couple that with fossilized teeth of mammals and dinosaurs strongly suggests that grasses were in their community and food chain. Some mammalian fossils of that period had teeth typically associated with modern grass-grazers, suggesting grass may have been a food source for them as well as others during that era. Until now, the belief otherwise was 'lack of evidence.' On the other hand (chiral thinking), mammals and dinosaurs with teeth similar to today's grass grazers would strongly suggest that perhaps grass was a contemporary biological component of the food chain.

The author of the study commented that the new 'unambiguous evidence' of grass during that period also demonstrated that grasses had diversified. "That suggests that grasses had been around for a long time even back then." My reaction to that statement was WNSS (Well, no shit Sherlock!).

How ironic that feces should tumble their beliefs. Now new textbooks will have to be written.

Coprolites: ancient scat
By any other name, a rose is still a rose. Shit is still shit. Scatology (or coprology) is the study of feces. Such studies reveal a wide range of information about a creature: diet, health, movements, etc. Living in the woods and as a livestock producer, I learned to 'read' scat. It told me what animal was near, what it was eating, and even when it had deposited its load. It told me much about the health of the animals I raised. Now we can learn not only what dinosaurs ate, but also about their environment. All from their excrement.

Coprolites are fossilized feces (or dung, turds, poop, scat; take your pick of terms). They are a prized treasure of paleontologists. And rightfully so. Fossilized dung may serve as index fossils used to define and identify geologic periods of the planet's history, both on land and in water. Even human coprolites have revealed diets of our predecessors. Not all excrement is naughty toilet humor.

So next time you come upon a deposit of dung, overcome your ingrained aversion to body excrement and learn something about the world around you. Or in the past. Just keep your fingers out of your mouth.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

My other horse is a Honda; Shadow, that is. Posted by Picasa

COJM Part Two: The Motorcycle Safety Course

Like a good responsible person I took the motorcycle safety course. And I’m glad I did. Although being a passenger can reveal the thrills of riding a bike, it won’t teach one how to synchronize hand and foot controls, to blend your body with the balance on two moving wheels, and the dynamics and counterintuitiveness of pushing away to turn, etc. Then again, the thrill of sitting on those two wheels with that motor humming below your seat and between your legs plus the power of a bike’s get up and go can’t be beat.

I quickly adopted the feel of the 250cc I rode after throwing out of my head the reflexive responses of holding the bars and control handles like a pair of reins on a horse and pushing my heels down on the foot pegs sans stirrups. While much of what is reflexive in riding horses carries over to riding a motorcycle, I had to consciously ‘unlearn-relearn’ some motor control reflexes. Holding onto the handlebars and controls with only a few fingers, with wrists up and hand turned down as one would horse reins can spell disaster on a motorcycle.

That night after a series of frustrations the first day of the course, my brain had a talk with my motor control center while I slept. After much yelling back and forth during my fatigued-induced coma, Brain must have won the argument. Back in the saddle the next morning, it all fell into place and I was weaving in and out of the S-shaped course like a breeze. I was really enjoying myself. The “Woohoo!!!” escaping from me was met with a smirk and head shaking by the instructor.

The most carryover from riding horses is riding over obstacles. Finally I could post over bumps and a 2x6-inch timber without having the engine cut off as it does on my tractor when my butt leaves the seat. No dealing with evasion techniques, as with my horse; he detests jumping and trotting over poles, sometimes requiring a well-placed smack on his rear with a crop. I immediately sensed the appeal of dirt bikes and obstacle courses; this was now becoming dangerously too much fun.

I was the only neophyte in the class, and the only female. Neither deterred or bothered me, but I did have to laugh when the instructor apologized for referring to all of us as ‘Guys.’ I thanked him politely but assured him I am “one of the guys.” Despite that all but me were seasoned riders taking the course for insurance discounts (or to finally ride the streets legally), we all came away learning a thing or two.

One observation from the instructor was that nearly all riders, beginner and even many seasoned, have more difficulty with tight turns to the right. I questioned why but he had no explanation. I wondered aloud if it may have to do with handedness, but that seemed counterintuitive. Most humans are right-handed, thus one would expect left hand turns to be problematic. I posed this question to my VSSO, a seasoned rider and he confirmed that tight right corners are ‘uncomfortable.’ After riding alone myself, I thought about this again and wondered if this phenomenon was because the throttle was controlled by the right hand. It was for an answer which I had to pursue.

After passing the course and chatting bikes with the others about their bikes and bikes they lust after, I started the search for my own pair of wheels. Let the fun begin!!!

Confessions of an Old Juvenile Motorcyclist: Part 1

This is a series of posts relating new discoveries. Remember everything in life is relative to the individual. Yes, all our individual realities overlap, influencing others’ realities and now we are only several degrees of separation from dolphins* (why are we all linked to Kevin Bacon?). Regardless, our lives are a journey of discoveries, of our selves, other selves, other living beings, and inanimate objects. As a creature of curiosity more than habit sometimes even the smallest discovery is personal and exciting for me. Perhaps the child inside that refused to wither away influences my reality too strongly. And like any child, I like toys and adventures!

My recent endeavor is riding a motorcycle. Exploring the back roads of Maine as a passenger decades ago, the attraction and thrill never left me. Then Life got in the way while obtaining college degrees, building houses and raising an offspring. Raising and training horses, raising sheep and child and working full-time tends to exhaust the mind and body, leaving those older aspirations behind like arthritis in a finger on a cold day.

Little by little and much later, the advent of riding a motorcycle crept up on me. One morning a few years ago, a client of mine (when I worked part-time personal training) announced at the beginning of her appointment that it was her 45th birthday and she just bought a new shiny Harley Davidson. Partly shocked and mostly jealous, I applauded her adventure. A friend and well-seasoned rider served as her mentor after she took the motorcycle safety training course.

When a self-important male (notice I did not type ‘man’) whom I was seeing at the time arrogantly ridiculed several older couples riding by on their touring bikes, I defended them strongly, commending them for their adventures. They were actively enjoying their lives which can be said more than he would ever chance. I also added that if I was younger and had a better paying job, I would be out there on a bike, too. Silence occupied the space in the car the rest of the way home.

Later I was seduced to the Bright Side by my VSSO (Very Special Significant Other), first as a passenger riding behind him, then as a rider myself. I also met a growing group of people whom all share not just a passion for the road on a bike, but also a parallel appreciation of life.

Of course, along this path of exploration I should also mention the parallel roads of my family:
My daughter is currently enrolled as a motorcycle technician at the country’s most respected institute for motorcycle repair and service.
My sister is involved with a motorcycle veteran who has been active in local and regional motorcycle activities, including teaching the MSF courses, coordinating charitable rides as well as recreational group rides.

Posts in this thread are my own observations, confessions, rants and reflections of riding motorcycles as a neophyte. And once again demonstrating that not all scientists are boring as Hell.

* David Lusseau, from the University of Aberdeen, UK, researches the social world of dolphins, to find out who knows whom and how often they meet. For the 130-member community living off the east coast of Scotland, he found it takes an average of just 3.9 steps to link any two dolphins by the shortest possible route through mutual friends.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Dear Dairy (No.1)

(The prattlings of foolishness or silliness are sometimes a route for the mind to vent and relax, especially when enduring a broken ankle encased in a fiberglass cast. Also with the aid of a glass of fine Australian red wine. Hence, the first post in a series dubbed "Dear Dairy".)

Dear Dairy,

If I could milk a cow right now, I would enjoy drinking the warm unadulterated milk. How did we discover your wonderful white liquid anyway? Did Ug the Caveman happen to have an urge to suck on an udder after a year of abstaining from the breast of a warm woman? (He was so ugly and deformed, no woman would have him). Was Ooog’s family the discoverers when during a famine they watched the pups of the clan’s dogs nurse at the teats of their bitch and noticed how they grew?

Did The Antler Hunter discover the greatness of milk when he killed a female deer that was still suckling her young? Since his family utilizes every part of the animal he kills, his children tasted the dead mother’s milk meant for her own offspring and they prospered. Or was it Lizzie Bordan’s father and mother whose secret for the white ‘gold’ was passed down for generations. When their cow went dry, Lizzie was pissed and killed her folks with an axe.

Oh, and that rancid milk that curdles and, when rinsed, tastes as good as the fresh liquid. Cover it in cloth, pile it into a box made of boards, and press it down to squeeze out the liquid and let it age. Some call this ‘cheese’, but we call it ‘moon milk’. We know that cow’s milk turns solid after it jumps over the moon.

Which leads to the question: is our Moon made of cheese? If so, it is Wenslydale, Havarti, or Limburger? Thus a trip to our Moon will be necessary to extract a piece to eat, taste and type it. Perhaps we will discover a new taste and brand of cheese. We could persuade the sexy SpaceShip One to schedule excursions to our Moon. We can watch and wait for a full Earth to howl at and admire.

Anatomy of the Female Orgasm

Scientists recently proclaimed to discover the gene for the female orgasm. Ah, a perfect example of Darwinism. Thus the eminent battle of nature vs. nurture, and the many faces of sociobiology and culture.

To Darwinians all sexual behaviour ultimately serves a procreational end, reminding me of Victorians with their utilitarian view of sex. Whereas, in contrast to Victorians, the Hindu perspective is very different, exemplified in the Kama Sutra, which includes even homoerotic couplings. Is sexual behaviour that appears to be gratuitous problematic, as the Darwinians suggest?

The function of the male orgasm may be obvious; it is part of the ejaculation process, and ejaculation is an integral part of reproduction. But the female orgasm is not required to reproduce. So why do they exist? What is their evolutionary function? Maybe that's the wrong question to ask.

There are many diverse hypotheses proposed, from both the androcentric and gynocentric view. Desmond Morris' 'bonding' hypothesis, John Alcock's 'the good father' hypothesis, Sarah Hardy's 'paternity' hypothesis, etc. In common, they are all adaptationist explanations.

Perhaps the adaptionists, Darwinians and mostly Western biologists (even some psychologists) are also victims of "life by design", another element in the ancient Great Chain of Being. Harking back to basic evolutionary evidence and depicted in a famous plate by Haeckel (1870) that appears more recently in Ernst Mayer's book What Evolution Is, let's consider that the female orgasm has no adaptation, it has no designed function, it just 'is.' Fortuitously, I might add.

In this instance, I agree with Kinsey, the famous celebrator of human sexual behaviour, who came to that same conclusion: the female orgasm, for all of its significance, does not reflect design.

Here's one reason why:
Consider first the homogeneity of anatomical features between the early embryonic stages of most vertebrates and invertebrates: fish, salamanders, turtles, pig, cow, rabbit, and human. At the very earliest stage, we all look alike. Through recapitulation, ancestral anatomical structures follow development throughout growth of one embryo and the same structures disappear throughout development of another embryo.

Many adult organisms have structures that are fully functional or not functional at all. The appendix in humans is one example, and I suspect this is the path of the tonsils. Consider also the eyes in many cave or dark-habitat-dwelling animals. These remaining anatomical structures are vestigial, remnants of structures fully functional in their ancestors but now reduced due to changed utilization in their habitational niche. Just as embryonic similarities, recapitualation, and vestigial structures raise questions for the creationists, so do they challenge certain aspects of Darwinian biological determinism.

Keep in mind that until some moment within a few weeks after DNA from both the egg and the sperm merge, the default 'sex' (and gender) of the developing embryo is female. For a length of time in our development from the merging of the two packets of DNA, we are sexless, or as we now define it: female. Then a molecular switch happens, through the wonders of RNA activation and silencing, whereby a gene on a Y chromosome activates a cascade of sex determination.

During the development of the now sex-determined embryo, certain RNAs are silenced, others are activated influencing the development of anatomical structures. One such well-known and coveted structure is the penis. That structure still remains in the female: the male penis and the female clitoris are homologous. The latter has the same circulation and neural circuits as the penis, unless there is some alteration in development or maturity. So we can expect the clitoris to respond to stimulation in the same manner as the penis, and it does. Some women are even known to ejaculate fluid during a powerful orgasm.

Similarly, males (human and all primates) have nipples because females require them. Considering the homology of male and female nipples, males will have nipples unless an overwhelming functional fitness consequence culls that particular structure from the male phenotype. Additionally, in the same manner of the penis and clitoris, male nipples can be stimulated and sensational for men, just as they are for women. In fact, if their mammary glands developed in the right hormonal environment, they too could have potential to produce and secrete milk.

Here is where the modern evolutionists, such as SJ Gould and Elisabeth Lloyd, argued against Dawinism adaptionists: the capacity for orgasms in females is a byproduct of selection for ejaculation in males.

So women possess a 'freebie'. Really, no teleological explanation exists for female orgasms; they are an evolutionary byproduct. Instead of asking the conventional "Why-biology?", we ask the "How-biology?" question. And, of course, given our deep ingrained philosophy of design and determinism, the Western Great Chain of Being dogma, there is much resistance to the 'how-biology'; explanation. But if you dig further and think outside your Western box, you will find other 'accidental side effects' of selective forces.

"Such tricks hath strong imagination
That if it would apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy."
-William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

So, don't ask 'why' or even 'how', just enjoy the female orgasm. It just 'is'.

Now, considering what I have proposed here, think about the context of "The Gene(s) for the Female Orgasm". Think about 'brain', psychology, culture, and gender expectations.

I propose that required reading in senior year of high school should be the Kama Sutra. I wonder how it would influence divorce statistics, the sale of Viagra, and the women's lament of 'orgasmlessness.'

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Motorcycle Porn

Picked up Motorcycle Cruiser one night to read while enjoying a java at the cafe. Opened it up and lo.....
I was captured and thrown into a world of awe and lust. I wrote this after visiting the website and with the advert in front of me.

On the double-spread pages lies an ethereal vision of darkness and fog. I am drawn into that world with giant tree trunks with contorted naked limbs. A helmeted creature in chainmail, broadsword and shield sits astride a magnificent black Friesian horse. In the foreground is a dark angel; chrome gleaming with light bespeaking its innocence, but caressed by black liquid metal. It is the Rune.

The liquid-like surface of the black metal embraces and reflects the light from the chrome, the juxtaposition of innocence and lust, good and evil. As if it was a teardrop frozen on its side, the tank above the power source holds the food to feed this demoness. A mouth opens wide at the end of the long exhaust throat to expel the sounds and breath of its spent efforts.

Ride the beast on a saddle seat as if astride the black horse. Wrap your thighs around the engine and feel it purr, the power under your body. The forks reach up and forward, reaching towards the rider to hold and clutch him to her, like a lover as her man leaves her bed. “Don’t leave me; stay.”

Caressing the swollen rear tire, liquid blackness drapes over the back, cloaking its passing and protecting the rider from the elements. A large eye with brow sits watchful in between the forks, as if it was a head of some beast between its crouched arms: watching, waiting, lighting the way. Soft black wheels with inner circles of chrome turn on roads of time immortal through the Universe.

I am transfixed by its compelling dark beauty and play of light, its sleekness like a black jaguar, sleeping magnificent power, dead cold but hot with life.

I ask the Creature astride the horse “How can I possess this?”

Without sound I sense its answer “Give it your soul and it will possess you.”

This, this Rune, this Stealer of Souls.

It is mine, I am it.

The Rune.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Motocycle Face

Most of us take our anatomical structures for granted. Until we lose a limb or organ, our bodies are one united tangle of cells, bone, skin and senses. Even after losing a piece of our body, our central command system still ‘thinks’ it’s there. Phantom limbs are more a reality than a movie feature. I tend to think the same applies to our senses. Do we have Phantom senses?

What does this have to do with motorcycles? Be patient. It’s coming.

After spending several days as a passenger on a bike, I am seduced to the Dark Side. Sitting on two wheels with only the basic guts powering them forward, exposed to the elements, gives a thrill that only riding a horse can equal. A motorcycle has more horsepower, can cover more distance and isn’t as temperamental as a horse. Nevertheless, the sensations are nearly the same.

Nothing can best covering ground while in such close contact with the elements: the heat, sun, rain, wind, smells, sights, colors, sounds, the feel of the ground under your seat and feet. You are exposed to everything that you pass by: other vehicles, bystanders outside their houses or businesses, variances in temperature created by changes in topography and surfaces, the smell of cows in the field, the dead skunk on the side of the road, gravel road obstacles and moving hazards on the highway. The colors, smells, shapes, temperature fluctuations, wind, rain, sounds…… All while hundreds of horsepower rev under your seat and between your knees, controlled only by shifts on the handle bars and foot pedals. It is candy to a sensory junkie.

Unlimited amounts of clothing can protect you against the wind, rain, and sun. It shields against bugs that persist to commit suicide against your body. A June bug colliding with your face at 50 miles an hour is not a pleasant experience. But all these protective measures sacrifice sensory reception, and each rider must weigh what he or she is willing to sacrifice to experience it all.

Helmets protect your face and head from trauma, terrorist bugs, and wind. But it also shields that which you want to experience from most of your sensory organs: your eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Although wearing a helmet you can still see, unless you are riding for the blind with an automatic pilot implanted in your skull, the rest of your senses are deprived of the very essence that riding a bike imparts its thrill.

Riding behind the Pilot on a bike for many hours over several days allowed my mind to wander, as it is prone to do anyway. Riding a bike doesn’t prevent that at all. As a passenger I had the luxury of isolating my senses and their associated anatomical parts on my face and body as they interacted with the elements.

Eyes: I confess my eyes are wind weenies. Simply wearing my normal prescription glasses did not adequately reduce the buffeting wind against my poor wet naked eyeballs. Eventually my vision became distorted parallel with the speed of the bike and the wind in my face. Despite the old-timers’ testimony that “Aw, you’ll get used to it!”, I learned quickly that I would not. On the advice of my motorcycle-experienced daughter I tried on several pairs of goggles, finding a vented pair that covered half of my face, dark enough to avoid permanent squinting and even accommodated my daytime prescription glasses. I looked like I stepped out of the movie Predator , but I could finally enjoy the scenery without it looking like a Picasso painting.

Hair. Sure, we all love the wind whipping through our hair, but not the aftermath. I learned what my daughter meant by ‘bike hair.’ I saw more of my forehead than I’ve seen since most of my front hair was burned off by an exploding oven. My hair was permanently pushed back into contortions that a perm would rival. I previously thought the skull caps were faddish until I experienced their utility. The added perk was soaking it in cold water before tying on my head on a hot Texas summer day ride. I also acquired a border of sun-induced pink and white under the hem of the rag on my forehead. My forehead acquired a seam with no stitch lines.

Ears: The sounds of a bike can be thrilling, just as the roar of the muffler on your truck when it acquires large holes. I learned quickly the myriad of sounds that bellow forth from some of the custom choppers to the whisper of the BMWs. Blue (a blue Harley Dynaglide) was relatively quiet. It’s comforting hum reminded me of the brass section of a quintet, a solo up and down or a constant accompaniment.

What bothered my ears was the wind blowing in them, diverted off the skull cap on my head. It was if an invisible giant was trying to stuff a fist in each ear. “Dude, get those fists out of my ears!” A simple solution: those little squishy earplugs. Compact, fits easily in your jean pocket, and quick to insert. Hint: don’t put them in your back pocket. They tend to conform to the shape of your buttocks while you sit and won’t fit into your ear canal.

Mouth: There’s little sense in trying to talk audibly over the sound of the bike and the wind. Except for an occasional giggle at the cows, an exclamation at the insulting stink of a roadside kill, a frequent "Woohoo!!", or the grunt escaping you when the rear tire under you bottoms out in a dip or pothole, there’s no need to utter anything sensible. No one will hear you.

At high speeds on the road, if you relax all of those hundreds of tiny muscles that involuntarily hold your mouth in place, the wind will catch your skin and flap your lips and cheeks. Invisible fingers grab and contort your face into a myriad of fanciful expressions. I admittedly had fun with that. I may have looked like a salivating dentist patient just out of a root canal and several shots of novacaine, but I was confident in my disguise that no one would recognize me to taunt me later. My loose lips and cheeks flapped in the wind so much that after awhile I was afraid that my lower face was permanently stretched out like the Africans that insert disks in their lips. It’s a good way to air out the gums, but you take a chance of getting a suicidal bug in your teeth.

Lips: The wind and sun tend to dry out the sensitive mucus tissue that gives us our characteristic smile. A tube of chap stick the size of shotgun would protect our lips, but not very handy. A strong UV inhibitor is required to prevent lips from eventually becoming two dried wrinkled pieces of leather attached to your face. Maybe many of the veteran cyclists refrain from smiling because their lips crack and bleed down their chins.

Skin: When I see folks in the South with brown weathered wrinkled faces, my first suspicions are that they ride horses, tractors, or motorcycles. Usually their clothing completes the association with their image. You don’t typically find a horse rider or farmer dressed in black leather and Harley Davidson apparel. However, motorcyclists wear many hats: computer geeks, store managers, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, even an occasional equestrian/scientist.

Unless the rider always wears a helmet and completely covers him or herself with protective gear, the weather elements leave their mark on exposed skin. In the South where the sun doth shine with fury, shades of brown suggest hours of exposure to the hot sun. Although the wind provides some relief while riding, the laws of physics don’t apply to blowing away ultraviolet rays. Applications of sunblock at regular intervals is a common occurrence with bike riders.

Each rider has to consider and weigh the trade-offs in their decision on what degree to separate themselves from the environment through which they travel. Enclosed in a 4-wheeled vehicle, that is less of an issue, if one at all. Riding on two wheels and exposed to all that Nature and man-made provides on the way presents a challenge that can also be a thrill. The impact can be immediate or accumulative, and each one of us has to decide what we are willing to risk on any given day, on each ride we take.

Risk is an inherent side dish to life. We can shield ourselves from everything but never live. So before you start your bike, or sit behind a Pilot, consider what you are willing to feel today at the risk of tomorrow. What are we willing to sacrifice to avoid the risks?

If we don’t go out into the forest, we may never know. And we may never live.

Ah, it’s a good night to see, hear and smell the night of a full moon.
Let’s ride.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

My Reality

"Any path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you……Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try is as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question……Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use." - Carlos Casteneda, The Teachings of Don Juan.

This has resided in my mind, in my heart, for most of my adult life. Not only to guide me in my personal life, but also in life in general. To help resolve the factual with the unsolvable, the real with the abstract, the pragmatic with the ideal. It was my early exploration into the duality of reality, the physical and the metaphysical that allowed me to accept that a balance between the two is possible. And indeed does exist. In each of us, in our 'own' Reality. How could I harmoniously position the physical and submicroscopic world with its hard realities of chemical interactions, mindless particles of matter which we all share, animate and inanimate, in relation with the world of thought processes that transcends time, lacking substance, intuition married with future projection, love of a mate or a baby, sadness that feels like we will break apart inside, overwhelming joy at the sight of colored canyons, hate that buries our reason, even the stealth of a wolf as it stalks it prey?

My exploration began with a dear friend: Albert Einstein. Here was a social misfit, who did not like to wear socks or comb his hair, failed miserably in school, yet presented humankind with the Theory of Relativity. Even he never fully understood or appreciated what he gave us. In fact, he renounced his Theory later in life. Too late, my friend. You penciled in the abstract, condensed the confusion into a simple yet vastly complex formula, representing not only the hard material and abstract world but also the balance between those of the material and immaterial. It was with he that my journey began and forced me, all of us, to see the world with a very different perspective.

I realized in my journey that the parallels between physics and mysticism are too striking to lightly dismiss. The most obvious are recounted in two books written by a German physicist, Fritjof Capra. The preface of his book The Tao of Physics recounts the moment of enlightenment when he discovered that the world is more, and less, than vibrating molecules and atoms. What struck me was that my own enlightenment was similar, except mine was aided by the hand of a hallucinogen, mescaline.

My journey took many paths. Along the way I was guided by Taoism, Zen, the great philosophers, the poets, the composers, and even the neuroscientists, and discussions with others lasting long into the night. Reading and discussing Casteneda, Einstein, Whitman, Whitehead, Ramachandran, and even the Bible. Humans by their nature are an inquisitive species, searching and probing. Many of us may be on a never-ending quest for the elusive 'truth', or the meaning of life, a purpose for our being. I suspect this is the function of religion and why it has persisted down through our civilization; it fulfills that quest for many.

But there is no 'truth', no 'meaning', no 'purpose'. We just 'are.' Just as there is no purpose in the ordered and random collision of atoms, the pulses of chemical reactions that we see and that are us, the ordered creation and destruction of particles of energy, there is no purpose in our existence. We are who we are, existing and occupying a small segment in space and time, interacting with other segments occupied by other humans and creatures and substances, segments that overlap and intertwine, fade in and fade out.

Although we as reasoning creatures tend to egocentrically place our selves as the focal point in the Great Chain of Being, we are but sand in the expanse of time, itself a human construct which enables us to comprehend our existence. We are multidimensional, overlapping, dynamic, constantly moving and interacting with other boxes of being. We are Venn ‘boxes’.

Thus the analytical and critical part of me made peace with the spiritual and mystical part of me to become one. It was this peace and marriage between the two that enhanced my perspective as a scientist and an interactive human being. The parallel paths of science, both physics and biology, and many of our philosophies provide us with a framework to understand our world, our existence and each other. This is especially apparent in Eastern religions, which Fritjof beautifully describes in his books. However, even the Indians of North America realized this in their own religion and lives. This is illustrated in the writings of Casteneda, Peter Matthiason (The Snow Leopard) and John Gneisenau Niehardt (Black Elk Speaks).

Unlike many partaking this quest throughout their lifetime only to be tormented by no resolution, such as Nietzsche, I embraced the harmonious complexity many years ago and continue to travel that path. Nor is that path stable; it is dynamic, constantly shifting, challenging my beliefs with new questions and dangling explanations. It is my 'awakening from a dogmatic slumber' (Kant).

This theme of realities is present in the posts on this blog. This is but one reality among many.

"A relativistic view of time is adopted so that an instantaneous moment of time is nothing else than an instantaneous and simultaneous spread of the events of the universe. But in the concept of instantaneousness, the concept of the passage of time has been lost. Events essentially involved this passage." (Alfred North Whitehead, Principle of Relativity)

This is my path of science and metaphysics, this is my Reality. Welcome to it.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Zen of Fencing

The biological science lab is a world of preciseness, detail, tedium and long thankless hours. Expensive equipment used to tease out complex patterns in molecular interactions, endless experiments, data sorting, charts and graphs. Composing the entire history convincingly to appease fickle reviewers is sometimes less than rewarding for that passionate idea that hatched over a glass of wine at the dinner table. The chance of making a slam dunk in the basket of a high impact journal is more elusive than reaching Magic Johnson’s scores.

Some of us scientists have hobbies that provide us with periods of relaxation. Where we can breathe slowly, allow our minds to wander at will, conduct internal dialogues, fantasize about retirement, or just sing a favorite tune. There are no emails to sort through, no phone calls to field, no buffer recipes to double check. We enter that private Zone where we are reminded that we exist for whatever purpose we choose at that moment.

My current focus of relaxation is also work, but of a different color. The conditions strikingly contrast the environment of the scientific lab: it’s hot, dirty, sweaty, requires a great degree of physical labor, using less expensive power and hand tools, preciseness is flexible and forgiving, and the results are long lasting. There is no recipe or instructions. But just as at the lab bench, the process is most important.

Recently having dismantled the chaotic mess of a fence around an acre plus of pasture, the replacement is a long and laborious project. Stubbornly dedicated to constructing a better and stronger fence than its predecessor, all the post holes were precisely measured and dug. Now the process of putting in the new posts commences. That process is enabled by intuition and faith. It is the Zen of fencing.

Fencing is no stranger to me, having fenced in many acres of sheep pasture in Oregon. But this is new territory; this is Texas. The soil type changes nearly every 50 feet, ranging from grey river bottom loam, to red hard clay under six inches of orange sandy loam. The most challenging is what locally called “black gumbo”: blackish alkaline clay that resembles dyed hard sticky putty when wet. The local wild vegetation varies, but in the undergrowth of the oak trees are sharply barbed vines, the most irritating nemesis. Gloves are a necessity. The battle scars at the end of the day are welts and scratches on any exposed skin. Separating proteins in a gel by electrophoresis is eating chocolate cake compared to this.

The holes in the ground wait patiently for their mates. Each hole is different: too shallow, too deep, roots to trim off, crooked. But they are all forgiving and surrender to the post hole digger as it scoops, straightens and cleans the hole. After confirming the proper depth of the hole, the pressure-treated post is sized up and down for flaws, bends, knots, checking, and general sunny attitude. And the process moves forward to the next step.

The pasture face of the post must align with the string stretched across the entire fence line. Just like any good soldier, the posts must also be plumb up and down. Temporarily attaching stakes to support the floppy 4-inch diameter posts in a 9-inch hole, I systematically check the little yellow bubbles on my level on all four sides of the post. Adjust here and there, and stabilize it with the supports.

Now comes the fun. Carefully open pour a bag and a half of dry premixed cement into the hole without disturbing the post. It’s an acquired art. Fill the hole with cement, recheck the pole for plumbness, and stab a stick into the hole to settle the cement around the post bottom. Then slowly pour in a bucket of water. Wallah! Another soldier set in it’s bed of concrete, joining the ranks of The Sentinels.

I step back and scrutinize my work with pleasure. Then start on the next hole and post. Meanwhile, as I pause to swat the mosquitoes or swipe away the rivulets of sweat and sun block running down my chest and arms, the growing sense of satisfaction fills me. And I look at the line of soldiers that will guard the pasture for the next 25 years and wonder if the next person will swear at me like I did at the former occupant who slapped up the fence I tore down.

Time and creatures are my peer-reviewers. The landscape is the journal and I am the publisher. The impact factor is how well the fence withstands storms and scratching horses. All the wood and steel posts are my colleagues and their common fabric will be the mesh wire attached to their bodies. These are The Sentinels, the soldiers and my friends. We share the Zen.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Night Before Deadlift

(Introduction: I lift weights. It is a passion, not a past time. Some people have drugs, some have each other, I have The Iron. The following is a poem I wrote during a full moon, the night before before my deadlift session.)

The Night Before Deadlifts

The night is thick
and the moon is full
Tomorrow I deadlift
I can feel the pull.

On the floor
like a woman in wait
the long bar lays
ready for her mates.

The warm iron calls
eager to mount
slide over bar ends
inattentive of count.

Caress the bar
Squat down deep
stretch thigh muscles
place my feet.

Sit in the hole
Close my eyes
Tighten the back
and start to rise.

The legs push
through the floor
the back waits
till the legs say "More!"

Arms are levers
Traps tighten all
Push through the hips
and stand up tall.

Please forgive me
I'm not the same
There are a million ways
to feel nothing
or a million ways
to be free
But when I lift you
Everything I am
will be me.

Tis the night before deadlift
and the moon is full
Wolves are in the night
Hear the weights sing
my soul is in the pull.

I love the full moon and The Iron......
Proving to myself that I am still alive.


Monday, May 02, 2005

The Language of Cells

“For all those who are fascinated by the magic of the infinitely small, hidden in the bosom of the living being are millions of palpitating cells whose only demand for the surrender of their secret, and with it the halo of fame, is a lucid and tenacious intelligence to contemplate them, to admire and to understand them.”
-- from Cajal's autobiography, Recuerdos de mi vida: Historia de mi laborcientica, Tercera edicion, 1923.

Cell signaling: a language between and within cells. Perhaps the most basic language in existence, it evolved, and still evolves, long before we were even a mote in a God's eye. The language of life and death, of sex and asex, of stop and go.

My interest in Cell Language goes so far back I can't remember.
What 'tells' leaves to turn red and fall off trees?
Years later: How do cold temperatures or shorter days tell leaves to turn red and fall off trees?
Decade later: What signal(s) induced at ~40 F tells vascular tissue in the base of leaf stems to thicken causing the leaf to fall off the branch (abscission), and why does anthocyanin predominate in senescing leaves?
Decade later: The Answer (TM): molecular signals cascading down a highway of stimuli, an evolutionary Russian roulette, adaptation and reproduction by survivors, a game of dominoes between biochemicals in a large organism. The language of birth, life and death. It is the Cycle.

Plant hormones intrigued me, but mammalian hormones caught my attention and never let me go. They are responsible for the differences between men and plants, and men and women. Hormones, the poetry of signaling molecules on a grand scale.

No one portrays this better than Robert Sapolsky, the bard of hormones. A neuroendocrinologist at Stanford University, Sapolsky studied the interplay of hormones in baboons: how environmental stress influenced their hormonal changes and how hormones influenced their behavior. His and similar studies have served as models for hormones and humans, which Sapolsky relates so eloquently in his two books, "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers" and "The Trouble with Testosterone."

Hormones are the language between tissues and organs in our body. The world around us talks to us through our hormones and our hormones talk to our brains, influencing how we act. But it works in reverse as well. However, this is Cell Language on a grand scale. What we see and hear less of are the little innuendos and nuances in that language. For at the smallest level other molecules are the translation of those hormones. The rug and smoke signals on the hill. red and green lights, sign and body language. Cells signaling back and forth, inside and outside. Overlapping, redundant, and compensating.

It reminds me of a Beethoven symphony, or Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto. In fact, those orchestrated signaling molecules transmit the sounds from the instruments through my ear canals, strumming the lobe hairs, and caressing the neurons in my brain, ligands coupling with receptors and playing the cords of the music in my brain, so that even the hairs on my arm tingle with the pleasure of a violin concerto.

Is it any wonder when I see people strolling by as if they were large mobile test tubes churning with chemical reactions, flinging ATP here and oxidizing lipids there, small bursting free radicals quenched by antioxidants. And it amazes me when I see the impact we have on each other, our surroundings, and our ability to reason, to think, to be able to understand all that we are. But do we comprehend all that we do?

This is my reality. I find beauty in these most minute intricate details. They are precious, magical and amazing. This is the ultimate unknown in the smallest scale. The universe is equally fascinating, in the grandest scale. Life is inspiring and passionate.

This is science.

Wait, I hear a symphony......

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Full Moon, Full Day

Full moons are magical. Moon light becomes a transition between daylight and darkness. Night shadows play surreal patterns on everything. The moon bathes surfaces in luminescence while the hidden surfaces are cloaked in empty darkness. The juxtaposition is breathtaking.

The night animals prowl waiting, while day animals dare to tread into the false light. Owls taunt animals that otherwise cling to cover, and coyotes yip and play in packs. The night becomes busy and alive.

Gazing upward, searching the lit globe to discern large craters. Realizing that the body of mass orbiting our home is only reflecting the light of our source of life, the sun.

Day breaks with no clear delineation. And the tide of dishevel begins.

One tire is flat on the tractor cart.

The new hose doesn't reach the fence post holes. Have to haul water by buckets.

The stillcock spurts more water than flows through the hose bib.

The toilet won't stop running and the fill hose bursts spraying water all over the floor, the walls and my face.

I find more canine turds in the driveway.

The carefully-laid fence posts by their holes have to be moved to the back line: about 300 feet. One by one.

The mosquitoes are ravenous and I am their meat.

Three posts are set in their concrete beds and they stand tall like the soldiers that they are. They are perfectly plumbed and should cure to resist rubbing by horses, cows and deer.

The cattle egrets are becoming brave and waddle by me with their necks swaying side to side. They give me an odd joy.

BBAB lays down with his women and the calves play hop-scotch.

A great white heron lifts up from my pond, stopping by for a brief visit.

The long-eared owl sitting on the top branch over the pond is silhouetted against a pink and darkening blue sky.

It rains.

And all is good.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Anatomy of Life

A Canadian coldfront snuck in last night. It's windy and cold - in the 50's. I'm procrastinating starting work outside on the ranch by gazing out my window as I sit here caressing my hot coffee cup (ahhh, the elixir of coffee....)

I'm watching the white egrets on the grass. There are dozens of them, several under my window. Their heads and necks bob back and forth and sideways. Suddenly the head and beak dive down to the grass and grab an insect (I hope they eat fire ants). Gotcha! Waddle and bob on to the next victim.

While observing them so closely, I tried to imagine their musculoskeletal system as if I had x-ray vision. Do they have numerous tiny little vertebrae throughout their neck? Their necks flex side-to-side and undulate like a snake. I wonder what the shape and insertions of the neck muscles look like to facilitate the undulating flexibility. When the wind gusts, they draw their necks down close to their pectoral (chest) body region for balance. Conversely, when they run, their necks are extended up and out to balance their forward motion.

They are such interesting and pretty little creatures. I hesitate to disturb their meal gathering, so I'll procrastinate a bit longer.

At the other end of the scale, I had the opportunity to personally introduce myself to BBAB (BigBadAss Bull) living next to me. As I picked up my mail on the main road, BBAB grazed next to the fence separating my private road from his pasture.

What a supreme example of muscle! His reddish-brown coat shines tautly over his musculature. A real-time movie of muscles under the skin reveals the form and function of muscle, tendon and skeleton. The left glute and hip muscles contract while the left rear leg extends forward, the synchronous contraction/extension of the spinal and torso muscles, a brief pause before the left shoulder and neck muscles extend the front leg. The dance of muscles and bone during his gait.

The effect of his size and potential strength and power is almost hypnotic. I stood there and watched in awe as he slowly moved towards me, only once gazing up, chewing, to note my presence. At that moment I was very glad to have several strands of barbed wire between us. But I also realized that it would not stop him if he insisted on going through.

Yes Sir, Mr. BigBadAss Bull. You may have all the space you want. In this time and reality, *you* are Mr. Macrobe.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Doomed by DOMS!

(Introduction: The Blog Experiment is primarily to help me overcome my writer's block. I write free-lance articles on fitness, sports and biology and have been working on a book project. But I have suffered a serious case of the infamous Writer's Block (TM) over the last four months. I was inspired to write this recently.)

Doomed by DOMS

My forearms ache; I can’t grip or squeeze. Typing makes me wince.

Yesterday they were sore, today I’m doomed; doomed by DOMS.

What is DOMS? No, it’s not a demented onset mental state. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is what most athletes and Weekend Warriors experience after participating in a new exercise, a long marathon, or the first weekend of the season in the garden. Generally, 12-48 hours later, muscles are typically tight and sore, joints are stiff, and some swelling may occur. This time lapse is why it was named “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. The severity and duration depends on the individual’s basic conditioning and the nature and intensity of the activity.

Although I am a recreational and competitive weight lifter, I have a bad case of DOMS in my forearms, lats and traps. But not from picking up a loaded barbell. Instead I spent five+ hours stabilizing a tractor PTO-driven auger to drill holes in Texas clay soil. Then rocking it back and forth and helping to pull the auger up out of the bottom of the hole after it cratered itself. The two of us were exhausted after 28 holes.

As a scientist that researches skeletal muscle biology and pathology and a weight lifter, my interest in DOMS could pass as borderline obsessive. What causes it and why? Why are some athletes always sore while others rarely experience soreness? What mechanism(s) reduce soreness from subsequent bouts of activity? How does all this relate to adaptations in strength, endurance and size? Is there a gender difference in DOMS?

Over many years, these questions prompted me to read as much literature on DOMS as I could find, starting with the first hypotheses and models proposed by several authors during the 1980’s and ‘90’s. An accepted ‘theory’ was considered the classical model for DOMS: damage to the cell membrane (sarcolemma) and to the contractile units (called sarcomeres), followed by a series of events that ultimately result in tissue regeneration.

Leakage of proteins from injured cells into the immediate areas outside the cells and into the circulation induces the next stage, inflammation. Immune cells invade damaged cells, clean up debris and also release chemical signals. Thus starts the cascade of steps that repair and regenerate damaged tissue.

The sensation of soreness is thought to be caused by several factors. First, some of these various chemical signals sensitize and activate nearby pain receptors. Secondly, fluid leaks into the damaged area and causes the tissue to swell. Blood is pumped into the tissue, all increasing the volume of the muscle inside its surrounding cocoon of connective tissue. Thirdly, connective tissue also has pain receptors. When tendons and ligaments are traumatized, even stretched too much, it hurts. These all contribute to the soreness sensation upon palpitation and use of the muscle.

Because of misinterpretations of earlier studies (especially extrapolation from animal models), this ‘theory’ has been stretched to fill in holes lacking answers associated with muscle and exercise adaptations to stresses.

“Increases in muscle size occur only when the muscle cell is necrotic (dead) or severely damaged.”

“Damage to the muscle membrane is a prerequisite for increases in muscle cross-sectional area [size].”

“People should not train or exercise again until they are no longer sore.”

“Soreness means poor recovery.”

“A weight trainee will gain more strength and size if he/she lifts to fatigue at every workout.”

“Train ‘till you are sore! No pain, no gain!”

Interpretation: The messenger must be injured or killed in order for the message to be delivered and read.

In many cases, the classical DOMS theory has served as a thumb stuck in a dam in which a crack allows unanswered questions to leak out. But it doesn’t seal the crack. With several recently published studies, specifically from two research groups, that thumb is being extracted and good silicon caulking is being used to seal the crack.

I’ve always had my doubts about the validity of this accepted hypothesis ( I was skeptical despite its universal acceptance, so I always referred to it as a ‘hypothesis’ rather than a ‘theory’. It’s all relative to my Reality, right?)

Imagine my excitement when I read, and reread five papers and a PhD thesis over the weekend that challenges this model and the reductionist interpretations and conclusions in dozens of exercise studies. All while my forearms and lats are stiff and sore.

A series of published studies from labs in Sweden and Denmark demonstrate that muscle cell damage is NOT a prerequisite for muscle cell regeneration and adaptation. These elegant imunohistological and immunocytological studies demonstrate that satellite cells and the contractile ultrastructure are activated and increased, respectively, without necrosis, inflammation, and membrane damage. Satellite cells, the muscle cell precursors required for muscle repair and regeneration of muscle tissue, proliferated after mechanical stress in the absence of cellular damage after one bout. Even after 210 repetitions of lengthening contractions, considered the most damaging to muscle tissue, there was no membrane damage. An extensive series of histology and cytology studies demonstrated that new proteins are synthesized and incorporated into the cells’ contractile machinery in the absence of cell damage. The authors propose that the term ‘remodeling’ be used to replace the historical ‘damage’ based on the lack of evidence for the latter. These studies also offer mechanistic evidence for the Repeated Bout Effect (the observation that muscle soreness is alleviated and eventually disappears during sequential bouts of the same activity).

This is indeed exciting!

Regardless, many questions remain:

How does this relate to total and myofibrillar protein synthesis and degradation? New contractile-associated proteins are incorporated into the additional sarcomeres, but does this correlate with hypertrophy (increase in muscle cell size)?

These studies were performed in subjects unaccustomed to the exercise stress. Does training status alter this process in trained subjects?

In relation to the previous question, what is the temporal nature of this process during and after subsequent bouts of the same stressor?

What chemical signals are involved?

Do protein level changes correlate with those of their corresponding mRNA?

Is this process the same across all exercise modes: resistance and endurance?

All these studies used lengthening contractions only compared to shortening contractions. Is this process altered in movements that involve both types of contractions, which better reflects the ‘real world’ of athletes and recreationally active people?

What is the threshold intensity where morphological damage is induced and how does the same process compare to lower intensity or volume with no myofiber damage?

Can we extrapolate anything useful from this to the loss of muscle tissue in denervation and atrophy?

Oh, so many more questions. Perhaps we have only traded thumbs.

Meanwhile, I’d like to be the smallest nanoparticle equipped with a miniature video injected into my forearm muscle to watch and record what happens over time.

And if I eat my spinach, will I have forearms like Popeye?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Mr. Bull with white cattle egrets. Posted by Hello

Conversations With a Bull

Macrobe:"Hey, why don't you stay home? This isn't your home!"

Bull: [looking up slowly, chewing]"There's green grass here. I like it here. You gotta problem with that?"

Marcrobe: "Well, yes. You're leaving cow pies all over the place. They'll be petrified cow frisbees and smother the grass underneath."

Bull: [still chewing]"So. What goes in, comes out eventually."

Macrobe: [sighing] "Hey, you're shedding. You look like you have a skin disease or something."

Bull: [reaching back to scrath his side with his teeth]"Yeah, I itch. Oh, I was scrathing myself on that fence post over there and pushed it down. Sorry about that."

Macrobe: [rolling eyes and big sigh] "Great. I've been renovating an acre of fencing and you have to contribute to more repair needs. And don't scratch yourself on my trees; you'll push those down."

Bull: "Hmmsshss...sshdeessshh...." [emitting glutteral sounds while chewing off my grass]

Macrobe: "What's with these big white birds hanging around you? Are they your buddies, or your stooges?"

Bull: "They're cattle egrets, silly human. My shuffling feet stir up insects in the ground and these guys eat them as fast as they appear. The slower I move, the more they like me. They eat mice, too, so don't complain."

Macrobe: "If they eat fire ants, I'll pay them. Or you can stay here forever."

Macrobe: "I'm not complaining. I find the companionship fascinating and even pretty, considering the stark whiteness of the birds against the dark grass and color of the cows."
[whispering so as not to offend the nearby egrets]"Why do they sway their heads back and forth when they follow you? Are they dancing? or have mites in their ears?"

Bull: [sighing] "No, silly human. Look at how their eyes are placed. Insects are fast. Swaying their heads not only helps them see but, according to one wise egret years ago, it also helps their balance."

Macrobe: "Okay. Well, lets agree to respect each other's space. You stay there, and I'll go about what I have to do."
"Oh, and by the way, I highly recommend you stay away from the cows next door. The bull that lives there is nearly twice as big as you. He will kick your ass."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Macrobe and counting

What's in a name?

“Speech is a form of human activity and, like every other human activity, is subject to change and modification. It is not more surprising to find changes in our speech than, let us say, in our fashions in dress or our method of dancing, which we can see developing new features from year to year. Speech, which reflects life, has to keep pace with life...." - Henry Alexander, liguist (from The Story of Our Language, 1969)

Names are part of our language. They serve as identifiers. We all have a name, maybe more than one name. Our name was given to us by our parents or similar persons serving in that capacity. Names hold power: they may be a connection to a family member or treasured friend. The name given to a child may be in honor of a well-respected person. Whatever it is, we all have names.

All objects have names. Even 'things' have names, although they may elude us for the moment. Hence the common usage of 'thing':
"You know, that 'thing'".
Sure, I know what you mean, but I called that thing over there 'thing' yesterday and they aren't the same thing, so are you stealing my name or making fun of me?

My name, here in this reality, is 'Macrobe.' Why 'Macrobe'? Because 'Mircobe' is already taken.

No, I am not a new-age earthling who eats a macrobiotics diet or hugs trees. But I am an earthling. I'm not the smallest, and certainly not the biggest.

One of the smallest earthlings is called a microbe. In case you haven't met microbe, allow me to introduce you to Hilaire Belloc's description of the Microbe:

The Microbe
The Microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all
But many sanguine people hope
To see him through a microscope.
His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teeth;
His seven tufted tails with lots
Of lovely pink and purple spots,
On each of which a pattern stands,
Composed of forty separate bands;
His eyebrows of a tender green;
All these have never yet been seen --
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us that they must be so...
Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!

- The Bad Child's Book of Beasts, verses, 1897

I'm much bigger than a microbe. I am unaware of the threshold size that delineates a microbe from a macrobe, but it must be smaller than I.

Size is relative. "Larger than a bacteria, I am, but smaller than an elephant I be." (in my best Yoda voice). The parameter of size is body mass.

Now, let's look at position on the evolutionary food chain. I can eat a microbe, I can eat an elephant (not that I want to), and I can eat the largest mammal on this Earth, a whale. In that context, I am *the* macrobe.

If we classify all living things according to these criteria, with an arbitrary threshold body mass size of 5 feet and position on the evolutionary food chain, any living entity over 5 feet that can eat any other living entity (without gagging) is a 'macrobe.' This is, of course, relevant to my own reality.

So I assume the name of the classification in which I belong: "Macrobe."


Shit, scat, feces, frass, whatever you want to call it, everything has it. Why are we so fascinated with it?

As the proud new parent of five acres in Rural Texas (versus Urban Texas, the 'other' habitat), and an ex-grandmother of a 20-A sheep/horse ranch in Oregon, I keep and eye out for..... yes, shit. Am I sick? No.

An animal's feces reveals alot about the excreter (is that a new word?). Sheep normally excrete perfect little balls of brownness. They pop out like little underpowered bullets, falling to the ground in a indiscrete mound of round little pebbles. A sheep eating lush green grass, as Oregon is best known for, excretes blobs of runny greenish-brown poop. Not that dissimilar to that of a small calf. They also retain a small portion of that on the wool under their tail and on their butts if it is not sheared away. When it dries it forms poop-cement. There's nothing worse that trying to pry away a lamb's tail that has been cemented to their butt by runny poop. In some cases if it is left to build up, it can actually plug up their anus and they become constipated.

Because I have an insatiable curiousity and I'm a scientist, I asked my fellow organic chemistry buddy, who was also a sheepwoman, why sheep feces is excreted in perfectly round little pebbles. After one of her weird looks at me and shaking her head (anyone else, she'd expect they were being silly, but she knew me better than that), she thought about that and offered a hypothesis: sheep have evolved to extract as much fluid from their food as they can. Possibly, as the undigested portion moves through the colon it is compacted into little balls by smooth muscle action. It certain seems easier to excrete.

Then why haven't cows evolved the same? Or horses? I would ask my vet but she's an exceptional vet and I don't want to scare her off.

As any land owner out in the country can relate to (or any veteran backpacker in the wilderness), feces on the ground can tell you what and how many animals (or birds) have been in the area. The area around the ranch in Oregon was overpopulated with coyotes. Sheep are a favorite coyote food item. I always looked to see if there was any coyote scat near or inside the pastures and always found it around the perimeter. "Hmm.. lots of seeds; they're eating the blackberries." "Wow, look at all that hair; that one ate a rabbit."

I recently met my new neighbor: a red Angus bull. Since I tore down one of the perimeter fences, he visits every day, eats my grass, and deposits cow pies everywhere. "Well, at least he's fertilizing your ground," a colleague said. Well, maybe, maybe not. Here in Texas, everything dries out quickly. Unless rain leaches the nitrogen out of the cowpies, the only thing they are good for are cow frisbees. They dry hard. Unless I use them as fuel to cook my dinner like they do in Africa, they are only token "Thanks for letting me eat your grass, human."

What prompted this story? As I got out of my truck today, I found two canine-like turds in my driveway. I don't have a dog. Where did these come from? Is there a dog visiting me, or did one of the elusive coyotes decide to leave a deposit? Other than the prolific deer droppings, and the more recent cowpies, this is the first scat I've seen with no explanation.

Hmm..... will the real pooper please sit down?

To Blog or Not to Blog....

what was the question??

I'm a writer. I've had the dreaded writer's block, with a deadline looming. I sit there and look at the monitor and nothing happens. It's like "I have no mouth and I must scream." I don't know how to overcome this.

I carry on a running dialogue in my head most of the time. When I'm asleep, I live another life. After recounting one of my recent 'in-house' dialogues to a friend, he suggested while shaking his head "Dude, why don't you start a blog?". I looked at him like he was insane. He said it would be good therapy for the block in my head.

Blogs, like tattoos and pierced eyebrows, seem to be the new 'in' thing these days. Like TV reality shows, I never understood the fascination with them. People hang out their laundry and wear their hearts (or other body parts) on their sleeves on blogs. I don't see the fascination of parading your private life on the Internet. I suppose it has some therapeutic benefit for some, much like group counseling. Or maybe it serves to fill an empty spot in an otherwise empty life. Perhaps it provides a public canvas for would-be or wannabe writers to paint with their words.

Ironically, I read one blog this year which altered my perspective of blogs. It belongs to a soldier serving in the war in Iraq. For the first time I looked through someone else's eyes on what transpires over there: uncensored, unpolished, and unpolitically correct. It was a personal and observational account that is not available from any public media source. *This* is what blogs are for.

A close friend and colleague recently started a blog. She's enjoying it and I read it weekly. I enjoy reading it. I see a part of her that is full of wonder and life, despite the daily trudging through various levels of dirt and grease (another definition of life).

So why did I start one? I'm still asking myself that. I'm a macro-microbe on this planet. A singular soul who has no claims to fame (and doesn't want any), a relatively private and reserved individual; the only war I'm a veteran of is 5 decades of life, and is probably only writing for one audience: myself. Because I like to write, and sometimes read.

We shall see how this experiment progresses.

BTW, do these things have spell checkers???......