Monday, April 30, 2018

Making Connections. Investigating Invertebrates - Sponges and Jellyfish

From 1990-1996 I worked on with the "100 Schools Project." It was California's implementation of the National Science Foundations grant to integrate science content in a new breed of courses. Monte Vista High School was a leader in curriculum development. I was the editor and primary author of a four textbook series. Titled "Making Connections...", it was published from 1996-2001 by the Grossmont Union High School District. The series is now out of print. 

More often than not over the coming months, I'll be reviving this labor of love. I hope you enjoy learning about science in the way I think makes the most sense. Minor editing has been done to the original text. Additions are in highlighted in this color. My titles for the section of the chapter are this color. Most of the diagrams were retrieved in full color from the Internet since the original books were two-colors only. Content in this series is from Volume 4: Making Connections - Integrating the Science of Energy.
Invertebrate organisms have something supporting their bodies besides bones or bony material. They range in complexity from simple multicellular organisms, like sponges, to animals with complex structures and functions, the crustaceans and arthropods.
Many scientists accept a classification system with five kingdoms.
          Kingdom Monera consists of bacteria and blue-green algae (also known as photosynthetic bacteria).
          Kingdom Protista includes algae and single-celled organisms (protozoa).
          Kingdom Fungi includes only the fungi.
          Kingdom Plantae consists of multicellular land and water plants.
          Kingdom Animalia is made up of all animals, both with and without vertebrae. Every living thing is classified in one of these kingdoms.

The purplish rectangles were added to highlight the content of this blog. The two colors in this volume are black and brownish-yellow. 
Week #1
It's Simple
The least complex invertebrate phylum is Porifera. Phylum Porifera includes the sponges. Sponges are multicellular animals. They have specialized cells. Sponges also have cells which remain unspecialized throughout the life of the animal.
The basic body plan of a sponge is very simple. It consists of a series of holes known as incurrent pores. Water enters the body of the sponge through these pores. Everything the sponge eats and breathes must be in the water that enters through the incurrent pores. The only way out of a sponge is through larger openings known as excurrent pores. Some of the specialized cells in the sponge make up the edges of the openings, others are involved in moving water through the sponge. Other specialized cells, known as spicules, make up the supporting "skeleton" of a sponge.
There are no cells used to move the sponge. Sponges do not move from the spot where they first attach. Animals living attached to a single location are called sessile, or non-moving
A Sponge. A typical sponge has all the parts labeled in this diagram. Note the lack of structures used for movement.

The non-specialized cells in the sponge are of extreme importance to the life of the animal. These amebocytes, as the cells are known, function in reproduction, repair of damaged parts, general growth, and in the protection of freshwater sponges from drying out. The amebocytes have the ability to "become" any type of cell needed by the sponge.
Amebocytes are of interest to scientists as well. If humans had "amebocyte-like" cells, people with heart or kidney problems might be able to grow new organs to replace the diseased or damaged ones. If a finger or arm was cut off in an accident, a new one might be grown from these unspecialized cells. Scientists want to find out why amebocytes do not become specialized until they are needed. Humans begin life as a single unspecialized cell. If some way could be discovered to keep some cells from specializing, a simple sponge might lead to a major breakthrough in human medicine some day.
You might use a sponge while showering. Because the spicules are made of hard material--spongin or a calcium/silicate product, they remove dead skin cells as you rub the sponge on your body. However, you will regret using the same sponge on your brand new Corvette. The spicules will scratch the expensive candy-apple red paint!
This Jelly Ain't For Sandwiches

Phylum Cnidaria (formally classified as Coelenterata) contains animals with two distinct cell layers. An ectoderm which makes up the outer covering of the animal and an endoderm which covers the inside. Between the two layers is a jelly-like material, mesoglea, which separates them. Examples of animals in this phylum include sea anemones, coral, and jellyfish. Jellyfish have a very thick layer mesoglea ("jelly"). That layer gives those animals their name.
The Two Cell Layers of Cnidarians. The endoderm contains cells used in the digestive process. Ectoderm cells include the stinging cells with their trigger hairs. A nerve network is embedded in the "jelly-like" mesoglea. Without the primitive nervous system, medusas would not be able to coordinate its swimming motion.
All cnidarians have tentacles which they use to bring captured food into their mouths. They capture food through the use of stinging cells in the ectoderm. The stinging cells act like tiny hypodermic needles. They inject a sharp point into the victim. Paralyzing poison is pumped into the hole. When the victim stops struggling, it is pulled through the mouth into the body cavity, the coelom, where it is digested.
The coelom is a bag-like body cavity with a single opening. Lining the inside of the coelom is the endoderm. The endoderm contains digestive cells which secrete enzymes to digest food. Undigested waste pieces exit the coelom through the same opening in which the food entered.
Cnidarians come in two styles. Some live their lives attached to one spot.   All sessile cnidarians are known as polyps. The polyp form of cnidarians includes sea anemones and corals. Other cnidarians are not permanently attached to a surface. These animals have the ability to swim through the water. Free-swimming cnidarians are called medusas. Medusas, like jellyfish, swim by pumping water out of the folds of their bodies—medusas are jet-propelled.

Polyp and Medusa. The two basic body plans of Cnidarians are shown here. Polyps are sessile. The medusa is free-swimming.   
Next Making Connections: Investigating Invertebrates. Worms: Flat, Round, and Segmented

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Observers - A Science Fiction Odyssey C.R.Downing's Book Tour 2018. Book #3 (conclusion)

My publisher is having a sale the e-book version of The Observers.

It's only $1.00.
Laughter guaranteed!

Book #3:
There is a link to Amazon for the title book in the line above this. Additional links are provided to original short stories involved in the development of the title book in the description of each story below.

Elevator Speech
Observers are expected to perform only that role for the Glieseian Ministry of Observation, Investigation, and Intervention (MOII). However, observers Mxpan and Zerpall are imprisoned twice, banished from two solar systems, threatened with selective destruction by targeting their DNA, trapped in android bodies after a faulty brain essence transfer, and forced into an ethically convoluted situation. The Observers is a comic sci-fi trip across the solar system that will keep you thinking and laughing.

Background Information

This story that triggered this book was written in the 1980s. However, it was not a novel. Neither was it science fiction.

It was a short romance story titled Magnetic Attraction.
There were no aliens. There were KGB agents.

The story morphed into what is the fourth mission by Zerpall and Mxpan.

As luck would have it, I found copies of the original story and an intermediate version, which includes Zerpall and Mxpan. However, in the intermediate version, the two observers were from the planet Rigel, not the planet Gleise.
Both versions are included in the PDF for this book. Here’s the link.

Cover contest
My publisher for The Observers was the same as for Traveler’s HOT L, Koehler opted to have a cover contest for this book. Visitors to the website were offered two choices. After about two weeks, the cover with the most votes was given the most serious consideration for use on the book. Here are the choices.

My first choice was the eyeball with the solar system reflected in the iris (right photo). However, the original(shown here) had eyelashes on the eyelids, something Mxpan and Zerpall do not. By the time it was replaced, the other option (left photo) was far ahead. It was the cover choice.
While both are definitely science fiction covers, sunrise over the planet’s edge is mainline. The eyeball cover is dark. That turned off many voters.

Wedding Bells
My youngest son was married soon after the book’s release date. I dedicated the book to the newlyweds and gave them one of the first copies at the rehearsal dinner.

Around Easter 2018, that son told me that cover of The Observers was his favorite of all my book covers.
Doesn’t matter. It is a very cool cover.

Once aliens were added to the cast of characters, I had to make a decision as to the physical features of the aliens, now heroes of the book. At least hundreds of sci-fi books and movies have humanoid aliens as the protagonists or antagonists. I have humanoidish alien characters in the Traveler’s HOT L series.
Version #2 of the original story included a pair of aliens. While there was some humorous banter, it was limited. Mxpan and Zerpall were humanoid. The aliens were too flat and too pat.
So . . .
I had an idea—always potentially dangerous. In this case, it worked well.
First, I thought about famous comedic duos. Nearly all have a straight man and the punchline deliverer. Since that model has a proven track record, Mxpan, the boss in the partnership, became the straight “man,” and Zerpall the zinger.
Next, I wrote a short description of the physical appearance of a member of the alien species. I made them slug-like with massive brains, see-through cranial bones, and a massive IQ. They are asexual, too, a trait drawn upon heavily for the humor of the last mission.
I contacted a former student of mine--Marissa Kay. I sent her the description. She sent back her first draft. We negotiated. Her second draft was spot on! Behold Mxpan and Zerpall.

While much of the comedy is dialog-driven, the Gliesian body shape allows for physical comedy as well: Imagine a snail on a staircase. And, the brain capacity is so large that it allows for transferring identities between them and androids AND them and humans.

Science for the Fiction
All science in science fiction must be actual or explained in such a way that the reader is willing to suspend belief and accept the science as written. Two major suspensions are required in The Observers.
Faster than the speed of light travel.
The home planet of Mxpan and Zerpall is Gliese.
Mxpan and Zerpall were from the planet known on Earth as Gliese 581g. The actual name of the alien planet transliterates at best from Glieseian as U77amed M**n. Members of the native population of Gliese581g are known around the Milky Way and neighboring galaxies as Glieseians—after the star that holds their planet in place. Telepathy is their preferred method of communication. Vocalizing thoughts, while possible, is considered primitive and far too slow.

Since G581 is twenty light years from earth, unless beyond light speed is possible, the time to travel from one assignment to another is prohibitive. Therefore, they have hyper light drives in their vessels.
The target planet [Earth] was farther away from Gliese than any of them had journeyed—the trip from Gliese to Earth was five hundred and twenty-two Earth days at maximum velocity.
That’s much better than twenty years. Don’t you agree?

Brain Essence Transfers.
Twice in the book, M and Z swap brain essence with another entity. Italicized print indicates telepathic communication.
Alpha Centauri
“You will be on planet again. Coincidentally, that planet is Alpha Centauri. But this time we will be transporting brain essence from your Survey Craft into the AI systems of two androids on the surface.”
“I was under the impression that brain essence transfer was still in the experimental phases.”
That is correct, Mxpan. Your mission will be the first field test of the adopted procedure.”
“Seriously? That is sooo cool!” Zerpall gushed. “We’ll be footnotes in history books and medical textbooks. Isn’t that  just great, Supervisor Mxpan?”
“I am certain some individuals would have a greater appreciation for the honor than others. For example, I do not share your level of elation for being included in this experimental procedure. Mxpan’s response was measured.
“But we’ll always be the first! No matter how many others get brain essence transfers. Do you call the transfer BET?” Zerpall asked The Overseer.
“Not that I’m aware of,” The Overseer responded with carefully chosen words.
“Can I call it BET?” Zerpall asked.
“I don’t see how you can stop him—especially once we’re en route,” Mxpan transmitted his thought to The Overseer in isolation mode.

“I have located a suitable target population for an essential portion of this mission. An extraction team will be formed. That team will remove four humanoids from that population and return them to this ship. Once onboard, Zerpall’s and my brain essences will be transferred into the brains of two of the humanoids and their brain essences will be stored in the BET unit until our return when the process will be reversed.”
. . .
      Once back at the long-term hotel suite he shared with Mxpan, Zerpall collected his thoughts in preparation for sending his daily report. Partly because of the snail’s pace at which events with Dr. Darnell were proceeding, and partly because of increasing issues with his behavior, Mxpan had returned to the Mother Ship.
The reporting process was routine. He compacted the events of his day into a single, continuous thought, flipped on the long- distance telepathic wave amplification device, and was about to send the three-millisecond transmission when he stopped. He powered down the LDTWA and sat, his brow furrowed in confusion.
“What’s going on here?” Zerpall asked himself. “I’m all alone. My head hurts because, even though the brain in this cranium has plenty of capacity, my essence is literally re-wiring most of the cortex because it’s been so underutilized. I’ve lost my partner to what I thought was a super-cool BET process…”
There was a knock on his door.

You’ll have to obtain a copy of The Observers to learn more about BET, other scientific advances of the Gliesians, and enjoy the abundant humor. Remember, the eBook is currently on sale for only $1.00.

The next stop on this book tour is in “non-fiction land.” Book #4 on the list is Idea Farming A Science Guy’s Read on Writing.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Almanac. Dissecting Conference Attendance

This is the final post of the series on the topic of attending and presenting at conferences. 

Spousal Support
The first conference I remember attending was in Washington, D.C. It was the week before Christmas Vacation in my district. I used some special project money to pay for my trip. I decided to take my wife, Leanne along.

That precedence was repeated several times over the twenty-plus years I presented sessions. Leanne and I traveled to New Orleans, Boston and environs, Seattle, and Honolulu. She spent her time sightseeing on every trip. She’s seen plantations outside NOLA, Fenway Park, and the White House at Christmas. Together, we experienced a variety of cuisine while having fun together.

Meeting relatives and friends
Several conferences were in or near cities where former colleagues or students or friends lived or worked. As a result of that
  • I stayed for free with a friend in at least two cities.
  • I ate dinners with both relatives and friends.
  • I went with a friend to a diner that was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
  • Had a guided tour of Indiana Wesleyan University by my friend, Dr. Keith Newman, one of the VP’s there.
  • I shared a table with teachers I’d never met for lunch or dinner on occasion. I know this is an outlier for the category, but it did happen.

This is me at a conference at the vendor's booth for the lab manual I co-authored. It has to be around 2010. As cool as that was, publishing the book did not keep the publisher from going out of business. They still owe me a couple hundred dollars in royalties.
I do not drink alcohol. Ever. As a result, my extra-curricular activities revolved around working on projects I had in the hopper.
More than once, I had my way paid by a supplier of biology materials or a project I was associated with. In those cases, one night was always dinner in a place that was more expensive than I was used to . . . gratis!
One of those gratis meals occurred in Boston at
The Union Oyster House, located on the Freedom Trail, near Faneuil Hall, enjoys the unique distinction of being America's oldest restaurant. This Boston fixture, housed in a building dating back to Pre-Revolutionary days, started serving food in 1826 and has continued ever since with the stalls and oyster bar, where Daniel Webster was a constant customer, in their original positions.
Lobster was the menu item of choice that evening. Of course, the company I worked with provided oysters on the half-shell, too. I don’t like oysters. I’ll eat lobster, but it’s not my go-to seafood.
Leanne and I make it a point to eat at places we don’t have in San Diego when we travel. We also try the local version of Mexican food frequently.
I ordered Nachos Grande as my entrée after the server raved about the size and taste. The item is not on the current menu. I’ll try to describe it.
Imagine an entire family size bag of high-quality tortilla chips layered with shredded cheese, hamburger, sliced jalapeño peppers, onions, olives, and salsa. It was over twelve-inches tall and had a dinner plate as the base.
I shared some with the others at the table.

Would I do it again?
There’s something in watching the faces in an audience light up when they realize that they can do what I’m describing with their students. I can’t adequately describe it, but it lifts my spirits every time. As a speaker, I made sure to talk with every person that stayed after the session to ask questions, give an example of their own, or thank me. That meant that many of those people missed getting a seat in another session.
How can anyone not appreciate that kind of effort?
GREAT group of people attended my "Tricks from an Old Dog" session 12/5/14 at the NSTA/CSTA conference in Long Beach, CA. Seating for 50. SRO with a dozen in the doorway as well. All 100 handouts and over that many business cards handed out. I'm very thankful for the graciousness of my fellow teachers. Thanks to my colleague, Ryan Garcia for this shot. He was a door-stuffer! This is the only photo I have of me during one of my presentations.
Final comments
Once, while attending a session that sounded intriguing, I received a printed packet of materials. As I thumbed through them, to my surprise, I found one of my handout pages from a session with similar content. I always put my name and contact information in the footer of all my handout pages. That footer was gone.
I stayed behind and talked with the speaker. She was shocked to learn that it wasn’t original to the speaker that handed it out. 
If you are asked to speak, and you want to use another speaker’s materials, please ask for permission to use those materials question form. Then give credit where credit is due!

While with student teachers, I encouraged all of them to go to a conference if it’s within driving distance. Once there, find one idea and work on implementing it.

Two comments by attendees of my sessions will end this blog post and the series.
“I’ve taught for over twenty years and never knew why my students were so bad at answering open-ended questions. Now I know why and what to do about it. Thank you.”
Community College Teacher after the session Open-ended Questions are Fine for Some Students, but Mine Can’t Do Them.
“As soon as you started talking, I recognized your voice, but I knew I’d never seen you until today. Then it dawned on me. You’re the voice of Kinesthetic Protein Synthesis! I use it every year to ensure that my students understand the process.”
High School Teacher at a session on the importance of including whole body movement to learning steps in a process.

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