A long haul day

It was a busy day today. After the last week of ISO meetings and having deadlines for other things, I had two things I needed to get done today.

Firstly I started by making some Irregular Webcomic! strips, since without new ones the buffer would have run out today. I didn’t have time to write and photograph my usual batch of over 20 strips in one go, so I had to just write three strips to last until the end of this week, photograph them, assemble them, and write annotations for them. Fortunately I didn’t suffer any writers block and managed to get the whole lot done within a couple of hours. But that will only last until the weekend, and I’ll need to get another batch going in time for Monday.

After picking up Scully from my wife’s work at lunchtime, I brought her home via the slopey park again, where we did some ball fetching and lying in the grass for a bit. She was very good for me this afternoon when we finally got home, just sleeping in her dog bed until my wife arrived home from work.

This gave me time to work on the next thing – my ethics lesson for the new week of classes this evening. This week we’re talking about enhancing sports performance, in particular the ethics of performance enhancing drugs. We get there via a route starting with high altitude training – in which athletes live in mountains for several weeks while training, to increase their red blood cell count, which gives them an advantage when they return to lower altitudes. It’s a common (and legal) method that athletes have been using for many years. Then we go to low-oxygen tents, which simulate altitude training by let the athlete sleep in a low oxygen environment – it’s cheaper and easier and produces the same effect: higher red blood cell count. And it’s also legal in sports training.

Then we go onto blood doping – removing blood from an athlete, then a few weeks later transfusing the red cells back into the same athlete. This produces the same effect—increased blood cell count—just without the low-oxygen training. The result is exactly the same, but I ask the kids if it’s still acceptable.

And then we hit erythropoietin, or EPO. An artificial copy of a protein secreted by human kidneys, that regulates red blood cell production. If you inject it, you end up with more red blood cells. Again, the same result as altitude training, but by a different method. And the kids need to decide if this is okay or not. All the way along this path they need to justify their answers with explanations.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow, where I don’t have any hard deadlines for things I need to get done. I might even relax a little…

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