Asymptotes get in my way


I know we have a lot of polyamorous people on this network, and people who are not interested in long term relationships, but that’s not me. I’m a devotedly monogamous kind of guy, and today is our 36th wedding anniversary, so I had to do some math. (Isn’t that everyone’s response to important dates?)

Percent of my life spent married to one person: 61%

Whoa. That’s disappointing. That number is just not big enough. So I had to fudge it a bit. We started seriously dating in 1976, so…

Percent of my life spent romantically involved with that person: 68%

That didn’t help much. Only 2/3 of my life? She’s so much more.

But hey, I met her for the first time in third grade, so maybe I can nudge it up further.

Percent of my life knowing that person: 86%

That really feels like cheating. She was just that other kid in class who was better at math than I was, so that shouldn’t count.

I know 100% is mathematically impossible because there were those 8 empty years where I didn’t even know she existed, but I have to strive for a percentage that approximates her importance. At least 99%. I estimate that in order to reach the point where I have spent 99% of my life married to Mary, all I have to do is live to be 2300 years old. And she has to live that long too, or there’s no point.

We can do that. Easy.

Then maybe we can aim for 99.9%.

Does R.K. Milholland spy on me with secret cameras?

I saw this latest comic and started feeling paranoid and checking the ceiling for lenses. It’s been a depressing couple of weeks, and…we’re hosting more cats. My son’s house got flooded by a water main break, he’s sleeping on couches at friends’ places, his gear is stored in various places, including our car, and we had to take in his two cats, temporarily.

It does not ease the situation. Our existing cat is a minion of the devil who hates strangers and strange cats, so we’ve had to wall off the two groups in separate rooms. I still come home to find our satanic beast snarling and hissing at a closed door. We are the only two other creatures on the planet she trusts at all, so far, and it’s a little uncomfortable to be the patrons of the bestial anti-christ.

So don’t do it, PeeJee! Not unless, of course, we can figure out how to translate real creatures into a two-dimensional cartoon world, and you really want a cat that will attack all your patrons on sight.

“hot water, good dentishtry and shoft lavatory paper”

Those are the best things in life, according to Cohen the Barbarian, and I spent most of my morning taking advantage of the middle one. I have been shirking — it has been four years since my last dental checkup — so had a few hours to get a good thorough working over. My morning was spent lying back, getting x-rayed, having my teeth poked and prodded and scraped, getting the occasional metallic taste of blood, being ordered about, open wider, turn this way, bite down on this.

It was terrific. I don’t know why I don’t go more often — probably because I don’t have any pressing dental issues, and it does take a chunk of time — but a good workout at the dentist’s office is so relaxing, and I feel so mellow afterwards, in addition to having a sparkly clean tasty mouth, it’s like a spa day for me. I love the gadgets and the pointy little tools and dental chairs are incredibly comfortable, and it helps to have a bunch of competent professionals I can trust. So I’ve decided to be a responsible adult and made another appointment for the same thing in April.

And now, while I’m all loose and unstressed, it’s a good time to get the next step in my lab prep done for next semester, and finalize those syllabi. I don’t know why Cohen didn’t include a university education in his list…maybe it’s #4, right after the soft lavatory paper.

So, next term I’m teaching our introductory course, Fundamentals of Genetics, Evolution, and Development, and I’m also teaching our Genetics course. I can do these two course in my sleep, so prep is easy, except for the fact that I’m always tweaking something. The challenges I’m facing are:

  • Genetics is horribly oversubscribed. Our enrollments keep going up and up, and this year our required molecular biology course filled up fast (don’t panic for the students, they’ll just take another section in the fall) and everyone who couldn’t get in seems to have signed up, with my permission, for the elective Genetics course. Either that or I’m just incredibly popular.

    So I’m making up extra large batches of flies, and I’m going to be making extra, unscheduled time available in the lab.

  • I’ve taught FunGenEvoDevo many times…but on our weird two days a week, hour and 15 minutes each schedule. This time around it’s on a three days a week, 50 minute schedule. I’m going to have to tweak my timing, but it might actually work better to hit first year students with smaller, more digestible bites.

  • Notice that both courses have “genetics” in the title. This sometimes confuses me: I’m supposed to give the first-years a gentle, conceptual introduction to the basic ideas of Mendelian inheritance, while in the upper level course I can hit them with the wickedly tricky problems and hard ideas. Sometime I might mix the two up, which isn’t good.

Also, so many fly lines. I now have to go up to the genetics lab with my minty clean teeth and spend a few hours setting up dozens of bottles for the first fly lab, in two weeks.

Away in the darkness

There has been a bit of silence here because my mad wife decided she wanted to go camping. In Minnesota. In the middle of January. I know winter camping is a thing, it’s just not my thing, but I went along. So we headed off to Glacier Lakes State Park yesterday, where she’d reserved a snug little cabin for the evening.

Strangely, the DNR link above advertises the place with lots of pictures of beautiful meadows and sparkling lakes and groves of wild flowers. For some reason, they don’t tell you what it’s like in January. It’s like this.


Skies like spilled milk. The lakes are sheets of ice, covered with snow. The trees are barren and skeletal. Which isn’t unlovely, in its own way, but it’s not how I picture camping (which is more gray, with constant drizzling rain, and bears.)

It wasn’t bad. We settled in, we later went to bed, and we turned off the lights, and discovered something else about the experience.

Total darkness and silence. We were far from anywhere, there were no other campers, the heavy cloud cover meant the moon and stars weren’t shining through at all. I held my hand up to my face, and saw nothing. I waited an hour, for my eyes to adjust…still nothing. There was no wind, and no animals were crazy enough to be out and about, so there was no sound, either. So this is what a sensory deprivation tank might be like.

It turns out I do not cope well with sensory deprivation. I was lying there awake all night, my brain churning away trying to find something outside itself to latch on to, and refusing to go to sleep until it heard a little noise or got a faint glimmering of something. I don’t know whether it was claustrophobia or agoraphobia, but something about being swaddled in dark emptiness was unsettling.

So next time my wife demands that I share her madness, I’m bringing a metronome and a night light. I’m kind of wrecked for the day now, too, and am suddenly noticing more acutely the tick of the clock here at home, the occasional distant swish of a car driving through the snow, and all the clutter in our house.

Old family

I’m not from Minnesota, but my mother’s side of the family is, and my sister just posted this antique photograph of my ancestors living in Fertile, Minnesota in the early 1900s.


I knew that tall young man in the center at the back — that’s my great-grandfather, Peter Westad, and I recall him as a tall, lean, very old man with a thick Scandinavian accent and a magnificent mustache, apparently inherited from his father, Jens, the wonderfully bearded fellow sitting in front with his wife, Marit. I can see a bit of a family resemblance, but mostly I want to get a suit just like old Jens’.

This reminiscence brought to you by a brief break in my current grading/teaching hell. We’re in the last two weeks of class. I have to stuff so much stuff in their heads, and there is all this administrative stuff rising to destroy me, too. The life of a Minnesota farmer is looking awfully appealing right now…

A fabulous feast

Like many of you, we just finished a fine vegan meal assembled by my daughter, Skatje. Except most of you didn’t have the vegan part. And really, no one else had my daughter cooking for them. So we just have the meal part in common, but that’s enough, right?


I tried to start up that other fine Thanksgiving tradition, the fight over politics or religion at the dinner table, but was completely stymied by the fact that my entire family agrees on everything. No grace, and ugh Trump ick talk about anything else OK we hate him but this pumpkin pie is delicious.

I thought we’d avoid that other Thanksgiving tradition of the football game in the background, but for some reason, Skatje has gotten into handegg and has told me we must watch Green Bay vs. Chicago tonight. So that’s ahead of us.

Thank you all for the nice present!


Oh, you didn’t know you got me a present? You did! I’m in the Amazon Affiliate program, you see, and occasionally I include a link to that evil empire in my blog entries, and you click on it, and maybe you buy something, and then I get a tiny cut of what you spent. Once a month I get a little gift certificate from Amazon. I’ve been saving them up for about 8 months so I could splurge on a toy, and last week the total finally reached what I needed to cover all of the costs, so you got me an early Christmas present. It’s very nice.

I got myself a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced Quadcopter Drone, because every mad scientist needs devious surveillance equipment. Also, when I was a kid I used to lust for RC airplanes that I could never afford, and now I can get something even better.

It’s slick and easy to fly, and the software is reasonably sophisticated. I did have a bit of concern when I first set it up and it told me I needed to update the firmware…and the stupid installation procedure failed utterly. I thought for a while I was doomed to have a plastic brick that could sit on the table and buzz, because DJI has a notoriously terrible reputation for customer service, but fortunately they released a brand new software update the day after I got it that worked perfectly.

So that’s how I spent Thanksgiving morning: I took it up for a couple of flights and went spying out the local neighborhood.

Here’s an ugly example. I just went across the street to the UMM parking lot and zoomed it up to a 100 meters and fumbled about with the controls. It was fun! It’s hard to get smooth movies that show what I want — partly because there were a few times I was wiggling the wrong joystick, and because when it was high and drifted away on this blustery day, I sometimes lost track of the orientation and had to scan around to figure out where I was and what way I was pointing. Don’t feel obligated to watch it — it’s just me noodling about in the sky.

Practice makes perfect, though, unless on one of these practice flights I crash it and then have to save up gift certificates for another 8 months to get a new one.

Now I just have to figure out how to mount lasers or a missile launcher on it, and I’ll have everything a boy could want, a real stress-reliever.

A vegan Thanksgiving

Surprise! My daughter Skatje decided to join us for Thanksgiving on the spur of the moment, so she’s in town with plans for dinner tomorrow, which makes this cartoon particularly appropriate.

Except, unlike Lio’s dad, I’m not at all glum about this — vegetarian food is really good, and she mentioned a few of the things she’s planning to fix, so I’m looking forward to it.

She also promised to conjure up Ol’ Scratch, Satan, himself. Or was it that she was going to show us how to make saitan, from scratch? Either way, it works.