Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Excerpt from THE STITCHER FILE - available on kindle, nook, and iBooks

THE STITCHER FILE is a sequel to the first Gideon Marshall Mystery Series e-book, BE CAREFUL, DR. RENNER. Both are set in a small, upscale, liberal arts college in Iowa.
It’s a very neutral male voice. Regardless of whatever behavior you might see on television, I have yet to meet a discourteous law officer. These two are standing just inside our front door, dripping snow melt on the mat Mykala puts there in the winter. For some strange reason, I find myself worrying about their cold weather gear. None of the officers I’ve encountered in the past few hours have been wearing truly Arctic-quality parkas, although the ones kneeling out on the UP tracks, trying to get Stitcher’s body up before the train obliterated it, had on heavy jackets. Both of the men now inside our house are standard uniformed law enforcement types, all covered in blue, leather, patches, name plates, clubs, TASERs, Glocks, and microphones clipped to epaulettes. Both are physically intimidating, obviously in great shape, broad shoulders.
“Good morning, Dr. Marshall,” says the taller one. His name tag reads Matthew Grimes. “We’d like for you to come with us, but before you do, we need to make sure you’ve been told your rights.” He takes out a card, holds it up in front of his chest, and reads.
“Any person taken into custody has the right to remain silent and must be informed that anything that he or she says may be used against him or her in court. You have the right to consult with an attorney and that attorney may be present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint one for you at no cost.” He returns the card to his shirt pocket. “Do you understand your rights, Dr. Marshall?”
“I’m being arrested and taken somewhere for questioning?”
“It’s just a precaution, Dr. Marshall. Would you please sign this receipt?”
The other officer hands me a small clipboard with a form. By signing it, I’m acknowledging that I have indeed been read my Miranda rights. I sign and return the form; the officer, Michael Bradshaw, according to his name tag, signs it, passes the clipboard to Grimes, who also signs, then rips off the top copy. Mykala reaches around me and takes it. I didn’t realize she was standing there, listening.
“Do I get to put on my shoes?”
“One of us will accompany you, Dr. Marshall.” This is Grimes speaking. “Sorry about the snow, sorry about tracking water through your house, Mrs. Marshall, but we really don’t have a choice. We need to stay with you now. We assume you will come with us without having to be restrained.”
“He does not need to be restrained,” Mykala assures them, but then can’t resist adding “except maybe when he starts talking.”

(Watch for the third Gideon Marshall Mystery some time in spring, 2015.) 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


“Why would you want an autopsy?” I ask, mainly to see detective Branch’s response.
“Ever seen a bedbug, Dr. Marshall?” The question is quite unexpected.
“No.” I answer truthfully. I’ve never seen a bedbug, and hope to never see one, although we did have a problem with them in the dorms not long ago.
“His place was crawling with bedbugs, Dr. Marshall.” Leonard Branch is staring at me, almost as if I were a bedbug myself. “We looked on Google. They suck your blood. We’re suspicious that Dr. Renner might have died from some disease.” He’s serious, still staring at me. “There’s always the possibility of an epidemic on campus.”
“Now that would be a problem, wouldn’t it?” I’m sympathetic, sort of. Maybe instead of Google, later today I’ll check the real scientific literature on bedbugs, just to see if there’s any evidence that they transmit dread diseases—HIV, Ebola virus, or something else that will turn your insides into a hemorrhaging pulp.
“Did anyone ever say anything to him about bedbugs?” Another strange question from detective Branch.
“Why would anyone in a geology department say anything to anyone about bedbugs?” I pause, looking straight at Branch. “In fact, why would anyone in a geology department even know anything about bedbugs?”
“I don’t know,” replies Branch; “I really don’t know. But someone must have said something to him.” It’s his turn to pause. “You can get bedbugs anywhere. We found that out on Google.”
“Really? Why do you think somebody might have talked to him about bedbugs?” An image flashes through my mind: three officers over in Campus Security, between rounds looking for expired parking meters, hunched over their computers, deeply engaged in Facebook, Twitter, and Google, supposedly learning about bedbugs but actually learning whatever somebody somewhere in the world wants to put up on the Internet about bedbugs, disease, deadly viruses, blood pouring out of all your bodily orifices, or anything else that the average person believes might be creepy.
“Because we found this in his house.” Branch reaches into his briefcase and pulls out a thick file. I notice dark splotches on the paper, splotches I now know are dried bedbug feces containing blood. Had I known that at the time, I would never have handled it. But I laid the file on my desk and opened it. Page after page of information on bedbugs. Renner had been doing research, if you can call it that, on bedbugs, ostensibly in an effort to get rid of them without anyone knowing his place was infested.

BE CAREFUL, DR. RENNER is available as an e-book. Send me an e-mail if you'd like to do a review and I'll try to get you a copy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Excerpt from a set of essays on our Botswana trip, February, 2012

6. Ornithology
Like, you can’t do a story on bird watching.
—Stephanie Foo
The sound is haunting, constant, repeated. It comes from far off in the bush, then closer, as if answered in kind.
Work harder,” says Fausto, smiling, interpreting. Work harder. Work harder. Work harder.
The command takes me back forty years, to Los Angeles, at Disneyland with our two daughters and my aunt. We’re not working harder; instead, we’re sitting in a small open train car, or maybe it’s a boat, moving through a dark tunnel. Puppets dance in the scenes as we pass through, smiling, happy, singing, puppets. The tune and lyrics enter my brain, sort of like some infectious worm, never to leave: It’s a small world after all. Even as Fausto translates the incessant call, that music, those words, and the happy puppets move through my head as if I were once again a young parent with kids in tow. What is it about certain sounds, I wonder, that makes them so infective, so memorable, rather like your mother’s voice, reading a nursery rhyme as she held you on her lap? Or an African dove telling you you’re not working hard enough?
Drink lager,” Fausto says, providing an alternate translation. “In the morning, it’s work harder; as you get into the afternoon, it’s time to drink lager.” Drink lager. Drink lager. Drink lager. Now that’s more like it, I think. The doves have their daily schedule down pat. Of all the sounds collected during this brief time in Africa—far-off lions in the night, hippos snorting, also in the night but not so distant, that elephant’s ears slapping back against her head as the dust billows up—it’s that dove’s command that joins my mother’s voice and Disney’s notes as one more never-ending tape playing constantly, even as I’m over the Atlantic Ocean, heading home, or driving across the prairies, going somewhere American. Work harder then drink lager. Makes sense. The keys to success and happiness delivered by a dove.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Quotes about parasitism (found on a piece of recycled paper)

The mind lives on the heart/Like any parasite – Emily Dickinson (c. 1876)

He that lies with the dogs, riseth with fleas – George Herbert (1651)

Take of London fog 30 parts; malaria 10 parts; gas leaks 20 parts; dewdrops gathered in a brickyard at sunrise 25 parts; odor of honeysuckle 15 parts. Mix. The mixture will give you an approximate conception of a Nashville drizzle. – O. Henry (1910)

Edible, adj. good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm. – Ambrose Bierce (1906)

Oh - and all my parasitology exams and lab exercises, along with five years of my BIOS 101 and 103 exams, are all free downloads on smashwords. Know a college student? Recommend OUTWITTING COLLEGE PROFESSORS, 4th ed., also on kindle, nook, smashwords, and as a nice paperback from createspace.

Monday, September 1, 2014

First exam advice - multiple choice

Here is an excerpt from OUTWITTING COLLEGE PROFESSORS, 4th Ed (order from createspace.com):

(2) Remember that multiple choice tests are actually more exercises in reading than in whatever subject the class concerns. Students tend to forget this principle, and as a result, end up losing points unnecessarily. So whatever course you’re taking, study it the same way you would a foreign language first, then deal with the subject matter itself. That is, you have to know the words in order to understand the language. To illustrate this point, here are a couple of multiple choice questions from one of my recent exams. The subject is embryological development.
     1. In Protostomia, you would expect (a) the blastopore to become the anus (b) the anus to become the blastopore (c) the mouth to become the blastopore (d) the blastopore to become the mouth (e) the mouth to develop from mesoderm.
     2. In radially cleaving embryos (a) fate of blastomeres is established in the first cell division (b) the fate of the blastopore is established by the 4-cell stage (c) the fate of blastomeres is not determined until at least after the first few cell divisions (d) the archenteron develops from mesoderm (e) none of these.
     Now, here are the same questions but with the vocabulary words (= the foreign language of biology) replaced with gibberish:
     1. In wnitlnlcy, you would expect (a) the xclapic to become the ipxhp (b) the nmnm to become the xclapic (c) the trtrtz to become the xclapic (d) the xclapic blastopore to become the trtrtz (e) the trtrtz to ghjklnm from cvbzoupwty.
     2. In prritzx rucbwyx eicvbasms (a) the ewrt of hklwuciths is plknytxcvb in the first pgksl rycbnqtzx (b) the ewrt of the xclapic is plknytxcvb by the 4-pgksl wtxvnqm (c) the ewrt of hklwuciths is not etdsytpmlk until at least after the first few pgksl rycbnqtzxs (d) the tcbnsxuiqb ghjklnms from cvbzoupwty (e) none of these.
     Obviously there is no way you’re going to be able to answer such questions, or even to guess intelligently, until you learn what those words mean and can use them in sentences in the same manner as does the writer of such questions.
     There will be some classes in which multiple choice questions actually require that you solve a problem of some other kind in order to find the correct answer. Chemistry and physics courses are notorious for these kinds of questions. Depending on how long the exam is, such tests, and multiple choice tests in general, may place a real premium on the speed with which you work, regardless of your intelligence or preparation. This premium on speed is especially evident in large classes.

Lots of other test-taking help in OUTWITTING COLLEGE PROFESSORS, 4th Ed, on kindle, nook, and smashwords, and as a nice paperback from createspace.com (amazon). Get the 4th Edition.