“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.


  1. cartomancer says

    Cohen wasn’t much of a one for universities. His erstwhile travelling companion Rincewind, on the other hand, found them very relaxing. The best part being, of course, the Big Dinners. Followed by seven daily portions of coal.

  2. numerobis says

    1h15 twice a week is eerily similar to 1h20 twice a week that we had at the two universities I’ve been a student at.

    I hate it: after 45 minutes my attention noticeably flags, on either side of the lectern. But at least it isn’t the 3h monstrosity that universities in Canada seem to love.

  3. Becca Stareyes says

    75 minutes is rough because it’s long enough to notice that the class is longer than the typical 50-minute ones, but not long enough to include a break. I’m teaching our 110-min three-times-a-week studio physics* courses this term, and I can throw a 5 minute break in when I reach a good pause point mid-lecture and not lose that much class time. Also, then I can sit down or go outside to get some water.

    * The idea being to integrate lecture and labs.

  4. Nick Gotts says

    So I’ve decided to be a responsible adult and made another appointment for the same thing in April.

    Good move! Apart from anything else, dentists check for any signs of possible oral cancer, which is something you most certainly want to detect as early as possible.

  5. blf says

    SPLAT, the Stone Persons League Against being-Taken-advantage-of, is rumoured to have considered filing a complaint against Mr Cohen: He took a tooth from Old Granddad and had it made in a set of denchewers. A clear case of taking advantage of someone bigger, older, and nastier.

    However, this is Cohen and they thought better of it. It is said anyone who now raises the subject gets melted down. Can’t be taking any chances…

  6. frog says

    I’m glad to hear someone else likes going to the dentist. Whenever people do that whole “Oh, getting my teeth cleaned is awful!” thing, I wonder what the hell their dentist does.

    I’ve had the same dentist for more than 20 years. I relocated 120 miles away a few years ago, and I still go to him. (I have to go home to visit my family anyway.) I’m convinced the people who hate going to the dentist need a different doctor.

  7. Athywren - This Thing Is Just A Thing says

    I have to agree, dentistry is vital. That said, I think you’re a major freak for actually enjoying dentist visits… I like my dentists, they’re lovely, lovely people, and I feel incredibly at ease with them… but… no. They make a very unpleasant situation bearable, and I’m truly grateful for that, and so resist the urge to immolate them for invading and occupying my personal space quite so thoroughly, but it’s not a spa day. You’re obviously just weird.
    That said, I have an appointment with mine tomorrow to get my second ever filling* which I expect will make me feel a lot less tense and grumpy (My advice? Never ever get a cavity when your entire dental surgery’s on holiday for two weeks. Seriously, don’t. It does not make for a fun winterval.) so I can’t complain too much.

    *Twenty-nine years with zero cavities, and then two in three months… urk. I know exactly why they both happened, though, and I have no reason to expect I’ll have any others to “look forward to” in the near future… might have to cut down on the coke, chocolate, toffee, cake, biscuits and general sugar products of happiness and glee, though.

  8. Athywren - This Thing Is Just A Thing says

    Actually, thinking about it, I don’t really like spas either… maybe I’m the weird one?

  9. Rick Pikul says

    I’m glad to hear someone else likes going to the dentist. Whenever people do that whole “Oh, getting my teeth cleaned is awful!” thing, I wonder what the hell their dentist does.

    Well, in my case it’s mostly due to my jaw and how tight my teeth are to one another. No matter how good the dentist or hygienist is, I’m left with teeth that hurt and a sore jaw.

    That I seem to have a knack for finding the ones who react to you saying anything about discomfort by intentionally jabbing you in the gums and/or insist on lost of unnecessary procedures, (either from them or with a periodontist that I’m pretty sure was giving kickbacks), doesn’t help.

  10. says

    The nice thing about dentists is that they can almost always improve your situation in the span of an hour or two. That rarely happens with other medical doctors. Like with the hot water and soft lavatory paper, it’s an immediate gratification.

  11. Vivec says

    I mean, dentists are useful, and mine are certainly nicer than I’ve come to understand to be the standard. I think I just have a hangup about fingers/implements not directly controlled by me being in my mouth.

  12. Lofty says

    Good dentists are worth their weight in something really valuable, but a visit to them is hardly relaxing. As someone with a relatively small mouth it’s all a bit of a pain putting up with a barrage of whiny equipment and sausage sized fingers to match. Oh, well, I’m back to annual visits and I have pretty good teeth so it’s usually not too bad. As for shoft toilet paper, if someone could redesign the stuff to not have strength deficiencies in one or more directions, then life would indeed be worth living.

  13. Bill Buckner says

    I’m teaching our 110-min three-times-a-week studio physics* courses… The idea being to integrate lecture and labs.

    I would be interested in hearing about how well that works.

  14. Athywren - This Thing Is Just A Thing says

    @Bill Buckner
    I had a number of courses with 120 minute sessions split between the lecture hall and lab in my first year. It actually worked really well. A little less than an hour of theory followed immediately by an hour of practice really helped it all sink in properly.

  15. says

    One reason for the relaxation may be the contrast. I’m used to using dental drills to rip through bone, and dental picks for tearing through tissue, so knowing that they aren’t being used for those purposes is a relief. Also, I had many happy moments popping open crania or sticking electrodes into brains with those tools, so there are some pleasant associations.

    But also I’m willing to trust experts. I have no illusions that I could repair teeth, and I am fully aware of my incompetence in that job, so I’m very comfortable turning over all responsibility to someone with demonstrable skills. See also airline pilots, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, automobile mechanics, etc.

    It may also be why I’m horrified at the thought of idiots in positions of responsibility. See also Trump, Carson, the entire goddamned Republican party, etc.

  16. says

    In the past, I’ve tried lecturing for 50 minutes, and using the last half hour of the 75 minute class for discussion, group exercises, and so forth. It’s not enough. Students just get rolling and then it’s time to tell them to stop.

    I’m actually thinking that what I may do is lecture & demos for 2 of 3 days in the week, and then use the 3rd hour for group work. It’s enough time to get something done.

  17. Athywren - This Thing Is Just A Thing says

    One reason for the relaxation may be the contrast. I’m used to using dental drills to rip through bone, and dental picks for tearing through tissue

    ….I should not have read this comment 9 hours and 39 minutes before I’m booked to have a dental drill within my head cavities. O_O;
    Good night everyone… if you hear terrified whimpering coming in on the breeze, don’t worry, it’s only me having nightmares.

  18. inquisitiveraven says

    I have to say that I developed quite the appreciation of “shoft lavatory paper” after encountering what passed for toilet paper in English public restrooms in the early 1980’s. I rather suspect that Pterry had his own encounters with the stuff. I’m sorry, but I do not want to apply something with the texture and absorbancy characteristics of wax paper to my nether parts.

  19. Nick Gotts says

    “Oh, getting my teeth cleaned is awful!” thing, I wonder what the hell their dentist does. – frog@7

    The difference may be in you and not the dentist. Whatever dentist cleans my teeth, it tickles almost unbearably, and that only stops when it actually hurts.

  20. Nick Gotts says


    I’m glad to say that seems to be a thing of the past. It was a most bizarre form of torture, since as you imply, the paper did not perform its intended function.

  21. frog says

    Certainly I don’t find the dentist relaxing like PZed does, and the scraper thing is annoying (though I rather like the Cavitron buzzing thing). I also can totally understand not liking someone so up in your space that they are literally in your face. :)

    But I do know several people who are all “I never go to the dentist because it’s so painful!”

    And I’m like, 1. Your dentist sucks, and 2. Maybe if you go more often it will hurt less since there will be less to do.

    Or maybe I just have built up tolerance over the years. My family’s genetic profile is for horrible teeth. Other kids are born and the family starts a college fund. In my family you start a fund for the dentist and orthodontist.

  22. Matt says

    Good dentists are hard to find, in my experience. I hate going to the dentist, not because of any unpleasant sensations, but because I always feel like I’m being taken advantage of. I had a dentist who refused to administer procedures my insurance would pay for in leiu of his expensive recommendations. I had another who tried to sell me expensive treatments while I was under anesthetic. Too many instances of “see this vaguely dark shape. That’s $1000.”, completely debunked by a second opinion. One dentist responded to my protestations of continuing pain after a procedure he administered by referring me to an endotontist. Again, a second opinion resolved the issue with no fuss. I think hygienists are great, but why must they work under a dentist’s supervision? Answer: rent seeking. I don’t trust dentistry as an evidence-based profession. (It’s a surprisingly understudied field.) I don’t trust cheapo chain dentist shops like SmileCare. I don’t trust that every dentist these days calls themselves as a cosmetic dentist. (Try to find a dentist who’ll work with kids anymore.) I hate dentistry; it’s patent medicine and snake oil. I feel like it was more reputable 20 years ago, but I only go now when I absolutely have to.

  23. Callinectes says

    Make sure the flies are disposed of properly. My university was mysteriously visited by one of the Plagues of Egypt after our stint with houseflies.