Friday, August 31, 2012

Recombinant DNsnAkes

DNA Snakes.

Last week I had a dream about using snakes to model DNA, and made a plea to Jon to let me buy Yet More Stuffed Animals.

Then, during a grammar lesson about direct and indirect objects, Eric modified a boring sentence into  a silly one: "I threw Sally at the purse." Eyes a-twinkle, he added "Though why on Earth I would want to throw someone named Sally at a purse..."

"Well, if we had a stuffed animal named Sally," I began, and then had a flash of inspiration. My whole family call these my Brilliant Ideas.

"We should get a stuffed rattlesnake!" I said. "And name her Sally. And then use her in my DNA lesson. And then throw her at my purse!"

Granted this only combined two disciplines. --Wait, I mentioned Watson, Crick, the Nobel Prize, and Rosalind Franklin. In passing, but we'll count it. Plus, during lunch, I told the story of baby Hercules "playing" with two lethal assassin snakes in his crib. And the story of The Snakes of Gettysburg. History. That's three! -- Next week we'll manage to integrate all four when I have Eric read a biography of Isaac Newton.

We had fun choosing the snakes. I was trying to keep it down to two, but somehow mission creep and a saleslady offering us a deal conspired to up the number. (But I was good and didn't buy the adorable baby deer! Did you hear that, honey?) As I considered which snakes to choose, I looked at them severely. "Now, no trying to crush baby Jeff," I told the python sternly, and he shook his head. Also "Absolutely no biting Sam if he steps on you!" I admonished the rattlesnake, who also shook his head in humble agreement.

Unofficially, Eric has adopted the python. (Too bad he already has an animal named Pythagoras.) Daniel grabbed the orange "corn snake" and dubbed her Sally. I let Jeff hold the rattlesnake on the way home because of it's baby toy properties. That left the "gopher snake" (most realistic-looking and -feeling) to Sam.

They played all the way home. With, sadly, a fair number of rude hisses. Plus biting and crushing.


Violence aside, today was awesome because Daniel got to participate. (He had a doctor's appointment in the middle of the day, after which there was little point in sending him back to school.)

It took a little while to get everything organized.

"No, no, boys. First we need to study normal double-helixed DNA.
THEN you can invent freaky mutant alien sssextuple-helixed tangles."

I used color-coded paperclips for the amino acids. Secured 'em to the snakes with matching rubber bands. Eric and Daniel helped to "bond" the matching bases...

 "Base Pairsss"

...and then twist them.

"Twisted Double Helixsss"

When it was time to replicate, they "unzipped" (see picture at top), then each took an original snake and a "negative" and raced to see who could get a complete strand first.


Daniel finished slightly ahead but I had helped him. We ruled it a tie.

The boys compressed their strands as much as possible and called them "chromosomes."


The lesson was vastly simplified and riddled with errors, some of which were even intentional.

We also touched on genetic errors--not my fault!--like mutations.


I think DNA works differently now than it did when I was in ninth grade. Or I received faulty teaching (unlikely) or I remember it incorrectly (um). The two sources I pulled off the shelf -- a high school biology textbook and The Way We Work were both excellent. Someday I'll actually read them thoroughly, and try this again, including minor details like messenger RNA. Once I understand what's going on, I can also invent a story about the snakes' struggles and motivations.

One more nice thing about homeschooling -- I can cram remedial biology at my own pace.

Maybe I'll start by borrowing The Cartoon Guide to Genetics from Eric. I got the feeling today that he knew twice as much as I did, and was merely humoring me. (I think it was when he said that he knew how RNA synthesized proteins but he didn't feel like explaining it to his parents.)

Up next: On Monday, I think the whole family will gather to watch highlights of the Republican National Convention. We'll count the number of stuffed animals thrown during each speech and come up with our own ranking of who are the most obnoxious politicians. In fairness, we'll do the same thing to the Democrats. It's like our own personal "Pinocchio" politics.

Speaking of hurling stuffed animals at inanimate objects, as soon as our formal activity was over, Daniel threw Sssally at my pursssse.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Creative Creation "Science"

Yesterday, Eric and I wandered down to the local Christian/education store to select a science textbook for the coming school year. The biology book they had available was terrifying. Their physical science book looked okay to my rapid scan, though. I mean, the pictures looked excellent and the little mini-bios of different scientists were engaging. Their diagrams rendering sound waves, atoms, levers, et al, looked fine. "How much can their agenda ruin physical science?" I reasoned, and hurried to make the purchase so I could pick Daniel up on time.

Caveat Emptor.

Last night I started actually reading the thing.

"Recent evidence uncovered by a team of researchers suggests that sometime in the earth's past there was a brief, intense period in which the half-lives of all radioactive isotopes were very short. This period could have produced most of the decay products measured in the earth's crust today. It also would mean that half-lives cannot be assumed to be constant for the purpose of determining the age of the earth and its rocks."

Translation: An unnamed group of researchers, probably working for the Creation Science Institute, cherry picked some data to support their presuppositions that the world is not more than 6,000 years old. Based upon this single iffy data point, we are now speculating that all radioactive dating science is wrong.

See, I'm fine with saying "Sometimes science is wrong" or "I don't believe in carbon dating" or "here is the evidence for and against; I acknowledge the evidence for my belief is slim, but that's where faith comes in."

I am not fine with publishing speculation and innuendo and calling it an authoritative science textbook.

I absolutely believe that God created the world. I do not believe that humans randomly evolved from apes. I also agree that even the most brilliant scientific minds of our age cannot compare to God's understanding of the cosmos.

I just don't write down that opinion and publish it as fact.

Further gems:

"There are many scientists claiming to believe the Bible who say some dating methods are valid. They have various theories to reconcile old-earth estimates and the Creation week described in Genesis 1. However, those who compromise a straightforward reading of Genesis to accommodate deep-time dating methods undercut the very authority that establishes the major doctrines of the Christian faith."

Translation: If you don't interpret the Bible as being word-for-word literally true, you're not a real Christian. Symbolism, transcription errors, and problems in translation are impossible. Subtext: Our interpretation of the Bible is true; yours is wrong, wrong, wrong, you vile sinner!

What's wrong with thinking that a "day" might symbolize a creative period? After all, 2 Peter 3:8 says "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Maybe God exists outside of time, or has a super-nifty relativistic time-stretching machine.

If they don't believe in a latter-day prophet, why are they so convinced their interpretation is the Absolute Truth?

Further, most members of any faith community say "God is perfect; humans aren't." Many Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Mormons, Buddhists and Hindus all manage to maintain their beliefs even when failed by a religious authority. The priest gets drunk. The pastor, who preached amazing sermons, suddenly runs off with his secretary. The LDS Bishop says something offensive.

If human representatives of God can be fallible, why can't human renderings of God's word also be fallible? Hypothetical examples:

* An Old Testament prophet sees a vision of helicopters. Lacking the words to describe them, he stumbles to a symbolic "locust."
* Some scribe writes down his historical account of the days of ancient Hebrew prophets. He includes a folktale about naughty children getting eaten by a bear. Someone else comes along a hundred years later and assumes it is Scripture.
* A priest in the middle ages who can't even read is copying the marks he sees on the page before him. He accidentally copies a marginal notation into the text.
* Someone innocently mistranslates a word. The error is compounded as the Bible moves from Greek to Latin to English. Eventually people to decide to translate directly from Greek to English, but can't agree on which texts to use. The originals were lost a century after being written; a century after that, church fathers decided what to include in the official cannon and what to exclude; we now have a copy of a copy of a compendium and several fragmented copies of copies. Which is older? Which is more accurate?
*  Do we include the Apocrypha or not?
* And, finally, people with a decided Agenda delete, add in, or deliberately mistranslate to fit their own view of the world. Perhaps it was not even done maliciously; perhaps they honestly thought they were being helpful.

Oy. This is why we need a living prophet.

Final quote from the textbook:

"The Bible should be allowed to take its rightful place as the foundation for all scientific investigation and thought. Its teachings need to be used as the presuppositions that guide scientific study. Many claim that if science and the Bible are joined in this way, science will become pseudoscience ("false science"). Elevating Scripture to its proper place will force a person to reject scientism, but rejecting scientism will not destroy science. It will make science truly useful, and it may help to turn our culture from its current course for ship-wreck."

Sigh. Now I need to return the book (unless I keep it for entertainment value) and search for a real curriculum for the coming homeschool year.

Maybe in my search, I'll find an excellent text with a perfect blend of spiritual grounding and actual fact. It would be lovely to have a section on astronomy which quotes "The Heavens declare the Glory of God" without also saying "And if you believe that while the Earth was under construction, it might have been lit by industrial generator-powered heat lamps while the Sun was still coming online, you are a heathen! Only WE are allowed to speculate about random and crazy ideas."

Of course, the idea that I can find such a gem is slim. Likely I will need to settle for an overtly secular book with it's own amoral agenda.

Or, if I'm very creative, perhaps I can simply write the perfect text--in the next 144 hours.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Our dodeca-tetragonal matrimonialunaversary!

Today is my dodeca-tetragonal matrimonialunaversary!

See, when Jon and I started dating, I was a teensy *hack, cough* bit...skittish.

(Read that as "like a cat being leaving claw marks in the carpet as she's dragged, spitting and hissing, on a sixteen-month trek to the vet.")

I pretended I didn't even notice when we'd been formally dating for a month. (Jon did the same.)

When month two came around, we very casually acknowledged it had been two months. 'Nough said. ("But I'm going on a mission so don't get serious about me and I'm absolutely not going to kiss you so don't go getting any ideas!!!!!!")

Poor Jon.

Month three rolled around. Other couples in our ward were starting to tally up their relational durability. ("Today is our six-month anniversary!") This annoyed me enough to overcome my natural reluctance to use any word (such as "anniversary" or "baby") which might remotely be connected with marriage. I pointed out to Jon that "anniversary" implies a YEARLY event. "A couple might celebrate their half-year anniversary," I argued. "Or their semi-anniversary. Or even a semi-annual anniversary. But a single digit number of months coupled with the word anniversary sounds idiotic. Especially if it's a prime number."

I proposed suggested the creation of a word which denoted a monthly occurrence. "Monthaversary" sounded stupid, too, so we agreed on "lunaversary." (Given that I was as mercurial--oops, wrong astronomical body, try again--as completely FREAKING LOONY as tradition has long associated crazy people with the moon, it seemed fitting.)

Happy lunaversary.

Next month: "fourth lunaversary" was okay, but still lacking a certain ring. Cheerfully cannibalizing (often inaccurately) Greek and Latin words, we celebrated--cautiously--our quatra-, quinta- and hexa-lunaversaries. (Also septa-, octa-, nona-, deca-, and undeca.)

Our twelfth lunaversary presented further problems. By now I was wryly mocking myself for my verbal peculiarities, but still entered into the spirit of the occasion. I absolutely refused to use the word "anniversary," even though it was appropriate in this context. Therefore I insisted that we simply mark it as yet another lunaversary. (See, if we were counting in months, that implied that it wasn't, necessarily, going to turn into years.)

I'd always liked dodecahedrons (twelve-sided dice), so I stole that. In the happy spirit of "English doesn't just borrow words; no, English chases other languages down dark alleys and beats them up, then rifles through their pockets for loose vocabulary."

We celebrated our dodecalunaversary!

Granted I was fighting a rearguard (but still valiantly stubborn) battle with the Holy Spirit the whole time, because God was telling me to marry Jon and I, foolishly, thought that maybe that wasn't the best idea.

(Yes, yes, I long ago admitted that God really is smarter than me. And apologized to Jon.)

Well, there was further drama. I ended up not serving a mission. I finally calmed down enough to consider marriage. Then I had to coax poor Jon into proposing to me, since he was (understandably) scared to utter the word "ring" or "commitment" within a four-mile radius of me, lest I run shrieking into the woods like a rabid rabbit.

(Naturally, I had to coax Jon into proposing to me without being tooo obvious about it; I considered it unladylike to do it for him. Or even drop too many hints.)

In retrospect, I wish I had relaxed and enjoyed my courtship a little bit more. Ah well. Youth. What can I say?

Sixteen-odd months after we started dating, Jon carefully,  cautiously, timidly broached the topic of maybe thinking about possibly getting [bracing himself] engaged some day?

He was rather surprised when I responded by giving him a job interview rather than hitting the rafters. ("Theoretically speaking," I said, "If we got married and had a sixteen-year-old daughter who got pregnant, how would you handle that?" "Before or after I killed her boyfriend?" Jon queried, and I laughed, acknowledging that was a perfect answer.)

Then, another problem: He formally proposed on February 12th. Our wedding date was set for precisely six months after that. Heretofore, we had celebrated our lunaversaries on the 25th of each month. So which date reigned supreme? Was this a large enough landslide to shift the calendar, as with B.C./B.C.E. changing to A.D./C.E.?

Should we count the lunaversary of the day we started dating, or when we got engaged, or when we got married?

We settled on different terms: courtalunaversary (when we started dating), trothalunaversary (when we formally became engaged) and mari- or matri- or matrimonial (depending upon my whimsical mood) for when we got married. It was awesome saying things like "We've been dating for nineteen months, engaged for three, and married for negative three. Our Demotrimarilunaversary!"

Well, today, August the 12th, 2012, marks the twelfth anniversary -- I can say the word, now -- of the day we got married. That's twelve times twelve months, or twelve squared.

We celebrated by going out yesterday and running errands. For five hours. WITHOUT CHILDREN!!!! It was sooooo romantic. It felt just like being in college again! Except without the "Gail is a maniacally skittish mouse who ought to be medicated" part.

Therefore, I am pleased to join my sweetheart, my adorable, geeky, long-suffering Jon, in celebrating our dodeca-tetragonal matrimonialunaversary!