Friday, December 31, 2004

It's New Year's Eve!

While most people are likely to be out celebrating tonight, my SO and I will be spending the night at home. My SO has recently picked up some piece work from a textbook publisher, and unfortunately the deadline for that project is quickly approaching, so my SO's nose will be to the monitor all evening. I've also got some editing work I need to do for a publisher, so I'll be working on that this evening as well. New Year's Eve / Day has never been a big holiday for us, so neither of us particularly minds.

It somehow seems appropriate to ring out an extremely busy year by working on New Year's Eve ...

Have a happy New Year's Eve all!

More from Ohio

The Ohio recount has been officially completed, with no major change in vote totals (ABC News and Yahoo! posts of AP stories), but allegations of misconduct are still floating around. If you're interested, Lisa Rein has written a summary of events related to Ohio's recount titled "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" (via BoingBoing), and David Cobb's site is full of detailed information on the recount (see especially the county reports page). The Cobb/LaMarche campaign has even started a blog on the topic.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Pretty Pictures

Eye Of Science has some amazing biological imagery. Here's the site's description:
"Our aim as a two-person team of photographer and biologist is to
combine scientific exactness with aesthetic appearances thereby helping to bridge the gap between the world of science and the world of art. Our commitment is to the evidence of scientific investigation but also to the use of color as a creative and harmonious tool to achieve beauty. In the combination of the aesthetics and the science we hope to inspire the public. Day by day, in a world beyond human vision, we explore fascinating forms and structures."
They have a number of images in their gallery (it's frame-based, so I can't link), and also have some posters and a calendar for sale. Many of their images are extremely high-quality false-colored scanning electron micrographs (though they use other techniques as well). Scanning electron microscopes do not detect color, and thus I'd rather the images were also available in their original grayscale state, but I will say that the coloring is very well-done. If only they had more images online (though it appears they do have a book, Der Mikrokosmos, published in German) ...

(via BoingBoing)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Covering what's important ...

Reports of the tidal wave devastation in Asia have been the top headlines at most news sites since the earthquake on Sunday. Jason, who writes on a blog at Rubberslug, noticed yesterday that CNN had the story "Swimsuit model survives tsunami" right next to the lead story on the disaster (their equivalent of placing a headline above the fold). In case anyone missed the placement, I took a screenshot about 2am this morning showing the headlines:

CNN swimsuit model headline next to tsunami death toll

When I took the screenshot they'd even added an article about how the tsunami affected the holidays of celebrities.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Debian Linux install

Warning: this post is primarily about fiddling with a new Linux install. If you don't like that sort of thing, don't bother reading further.

A year and a half ago my primary desktop machine started acting strangely in Windows. The computer worked well with an ancient video card I had on hand, but crashed at random intervals with anything newer, and thus I bought a new machine to replace it. Since then the computer has lain dormant, but recently I decided that it might be fun to try out Linux (I last used Unix in college). So, after reading up on Linux for a while, I dusted off the old box and decided to try installing it this past weekend (a fun Christmas activity, I know).

While I'd seen commercial installations recently, I wanted to try out a version that was completely free, yet well-entrenched, so I settled on the Debian Project's latest stable release (3.0 / "woody"). After figuring out what hardware I had (my previous install of Windows helped with this), I downloaded the latest CD images, burned them to CD, and got going.

A few sources were of critical importance in helping me with the install:
While doing the install I ran into a number of problems that weren't covered by the two sources above, but was able to find solutions to just about all of them online via Google. Below I've included a list of some of the larger problems I encountered, and how I solved them. (Note: I'm a Linux novice; thus if you are encountering these same problems I'd take my solutions with a very large grain of salt. For those of you experienced at Linux, I provide the following as material for you to laugh hysterically at.)
  • The installer didn't recognize my network card (which was an Intel Pro/10+ PCI), and I wasn't able to find that name in the modules list that the installer provided, so I continued the install without any of the optional modules, hoping that the vanilla kernel would have the right modules (bad idea). It turns out that the module for the card is EEPro100, and in order to use the network I had to use "modconf" (as root) to install the module.

  • Probably as a result of the first problem, my network connection wouldn't work even after installing the ethernet card module. I'm connected over a cable modem that uses DHCP; I found pump described online as a DHCP solution, so I installed the package for that (using "apt-get install", which installed it from one of the Debian CD's I'd burned), ran it (using, as root, "pump -i eth0"), and the network worked.

  • One of the abilities I wanted to have was to use the Linux box as a Windows file sharing and print server, and thus I set about configuring Samba. Samba was already installed (I'd selected the package option on install), so I used the Samba Howto to learn how to configure the files (primarily /etc/samba/smb.conf). Even after getting the configuration files set to what I thought was proper, I couldn't see the computer from my Windows machine. It turns out that the Samba daemons weren't started; after running both "nmbd" and "smdb" as root I was able to see the machine from Windows.

  • Even after I'd gotten Samba running, I still wasn't able to log in from my Windows machine. The problem was that Samba wasn't using the Linux password file, so I had to add myself as a user to Samba using the "smbpasswd" program (as root, with the -a option to add a user).

  • Samba and the network still wouldn't start automatically after rebooting, though; I had to manually run pump, and then the two Samba daemons to get the server to start. After reading this post I added the lines "auto eth0" and "iface eth0 inet dhcp" to my "/etc/network/interfaces" file, which got the network starting automatically, but Samba still failed to start. I found out that the DHCP-client package was installed as well as pump, and was being used as the default program over pump. Since I couldn't get DHCP-client configured correctly, but pump was working properly, I uninstalled the DHCP-client package ("apt-get remove" as root), rebooted, and everything worked fine.

  • I also wasn't able to get SWAT (Samba's graphical configuration interface; available via http://localhost:901/) working initially, and thus I configured everything by hand. Eventually I got SWAT working by using the SWAT howto (the primary change was adding a line about SWAT to the /etc/inetd.conf file, I believe).

  • A concurrent problem was that X-windows also refused to start, giving me an error like "no screens found". GDM was set to act as a graphical login on boot, which was nice except that it kept running into errors and thus asking if I wanted to run a configuration program (xf86cfg?) every time I booted. The configuration program looked quite useful, except for the fact that it didn't recognize my mouse, and while they had keyboard alternatives for the mouse, none of them let me click and drag a menu item, so all I could do was quit the configuration program.

  • Undaunted by the lack of graphical configuration programs (this is Linux after all!), I discovered xf86config, a program that walked me through the setup of a configuration file (the proper version of which needed to be moved to /etc/X11/XF86Config-4). After this failed to yield a setup that worked (the mouse didn't function) I found this page which led me to install (using apt-get install) the "discover" "mdetect" and "read-edid" packages; of these, mdetect allowed me to determine where my mouse was connected ("/dev/psaux"), and I manually reconfigured the XF86Config-4 file to include this (in the "InputDevice" section's "Device" line).

  • After getting the mouse's /dev location right, it still didn't work properly; it was jumping all over the place. I have a two button mouse with a clickable scroll wheel in the center, and after much browsing (solution found in this useful manual) I figured out that the "protocol" should be set to "ImPS/2" (again in the "InputDevice" section). To get the scroll wheel to work I had to have "ZAxisMapping" "4 5" as an option in the same section.

  • I also figured out that "dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xfree86" (as root) started an easier configuration program than xf86config. Unfortunately, I selected the option to enable frame buffering, which apparently didn't work with my old Matrox Mystique video card (which, btw, requires the mga driver), and the server wouldn't start. So, I had to comment out the "Option "UseFBDev" "true"" line to get the server to start again.

  • I also found that X-windows was only recognizing the lowest resolution screen resolution I included in the XF86Config-4 file; even ctrl-alt-+ / ctrl-alt-- and the quick resolution changer applet (the quickres-applet package) wouldn't change it. I believe this was caused by my listing the screen resolutions in ascending order in the configuration file ("640x480", then "800x600", etc); once they were reversed I was able to select various resolutions normally.

  • Only about three-quarters of the way through this configuration process did I finally learn how to shut down and restart the X-windows system without restarting the computer (gdm started automatically on startup, as I desired). To shut down gdm I now just switch to another console (e.g. "ctrl-alt-F1"; "alt-F7" returns you to the X-server) and run the command "/etc/init.d/gdm stop" as root. To restart gdm I simply run "gdm" as root. Learning this has saved me many reboots.

  • To upgrade my packages I used the apt-get howto to update my /etc/apt/sources.list file to include the debian http servers for the stable release, and then ran "apt-get -update" followed by "apt-get -upgrade".

  • All of this manual file editing was done using vi, which I had never used before (I was an emacs guy, but it wasn't installed); I found a very useful command summary here. I was also familiar with pico, but couldn't find it; apparently Debian installs nano by default, which functions identically. I'm now using nano for its relative simplicity.

  • At one point in the X-windows configuration process I managed to make both my mouse and keyboard non-responsive once I'd logged in graphically (preventing me from doing anything locally on the machine). From this I learned that I couldn't telnet into the Linux machine from my Windows box, but I could connect using SSH via a SSH client (I found and used PuTTY, which is free for Windows). Unfortunately, at the time I only knew of the telnet protocol (it's been a long time since I've used Unix), and thus after trying to telnet in, and failing, I did a hard-reset. If I'd used SSH to log in remotely, I could have stopped gdm and prevented a reboot. Next time I'll know better.
I'm happy to report that after three days of fun-filled fiddling my new Debian Linux box is now completely up and running; in fact, I wrote this entire post using AbiWord (a free MS Word-like word processor) and Mozilla in my Gnome desktop environment.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Turkey breakfast sausage

This is our favorite homemade breakfast sausage, and since it made for a delicious start to Christmas day I thought I'd post it here as last week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post. This sausage is extremely easy to make: all it takes is some ground meat, a few spices, and a little time for the sausage to sit. The cooked sausage is very flavorful and goes well with toast or hearty pancakes.

2 pounds ground turkey
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh parsley, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
some oil for frying

1. Mix the ground turkey and all the spices in a large bowl.
2. Form the sausage into two cylindrical logs (~3 inches in diameter), wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate or freeze until needed (I'd suggest at least overnight).
3. Cut the sausage logs into slices (~5/8 inch thick is what I use) and fry in a bit of oil until both sides are nicely browned and the middle is cooked. This last time I used a griddle set at 350F, though I've also used a frying pan over medium or medium-high heat on a stovetop.

If you don't have all the spices I wouldn't panic; the sausage would probably be fine if you left out a spice or two.

I believe my mom found and modified this recipe from an Amish cookbook a number of years ago, but I no longer have the original reference.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Earthquake

A 8.9 9.0 magnitude earthquake occurred today off the coast of northern Sumatra, causing tsunamis throughout the region. The USGS reports that this is the fifth fourth largest earthquake in the world since 1900. See the USGS event page for more information.

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Christmas menu

My SO and I will be spending this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home with just the two of us, and like other holidays, food will be a central element for us (though presents will, of course, play a role as well). So, continuing in the theme of my Thanksgiving dinner post, here's an outline of what we'll be eating this holiday:

Christmas Eve Dinner:

We'll be following in the tradition of my SO's European family and having cold cuts and sausage for dinner. We stopped by a German deli today to pick up the cold cuts, and got some good crusty bread to go along with them.
  • Hungarian salami
  • Turkey
  • Provolone cheese
  • Both smooth and coarse liverwurst
  • Landjaeger (smoked sausages)
  • All the usual sides (mayonnaise, mustard, onions, etc.)

Christmas Day:

For breakfast we'll be having some homemade country sausage (and probably more of our good bread from the day before), and for dinner we'll have:
  • Salads (exact composition undetermined at this point)
    • Radagast will likely be having greens mixed with tomatoes, feta cheese, olives, and sweet onions, with an olive vinagrette dressing.
    • Radagast's SO will likely be having greens mixed with feta cheese, toasted pecans, and apples, with a traditional vinagrette dressing.
  • Ham
  • Braised cider glazed turnips with apples and bacon
  • Mashed potatoes with wasabi
  • Cran-raspberry-pineapple gelatin conglomeration (you just can't have a holiday meal without it)
  • And, for dessert, a lemon tart.

And now, it's time to stop blogging and start eating, as they must say somewhere.

I'll likely be taking a break from posting over the weekend - happy holidays to all!

[Updated Jan 2, 2005 to link to recipes that were posted subsequent to this post.]

Christmas Eve rose

I love living in Southern California, and one of the best things about it is that I get to look at things like this on Christmas Eve:

Christmas Rose


I just took this picture today; it's one of more than two dozen rose blooms that I have in my front yard right now. The weather has been great here: sunny and clear, probably around 70F / 21C, so after finishing our food shopping my SO and I opened up most of our windows and enjoyed the fresh air.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

New Forest Service Rules

The LA Times reported today that the US Forest Service has changed some rules regarding how forests are managed (link, registration possibly required; same article also appears to be here). Here are a few excerpts:

"The 160-page document outlining the new rules contains two major revisions to forest planning regulations. The first drops the 25-year-old requirement that managers prepare environmental impact statements — a cornerstone of public involvement in environmental decisions — when they develop or revise management plans for individual national forests."

...

"The second change drops a mandate, adopted during the Reagan administration in 1982, that fish and wildlife habitat in national forests be managed to maintain 'viable populations of existing native and desired nonnative vertebrate species.' Instead, managers will be directed to provide 'ecological conditions to support diversity of native plant and animal species.'"

Speaking as an invertebrate biologist, I like the thought behind the second change. Vertebrates make up less than 5% of the named animal species on the planet, and even though they are often keystone species in habitats, it still seems ridiculous to focus our conservation regulations on vertebrates.

However, while I like the taxonomic thought, I don't think that a directive to maintain species diversity will provide as much protection to the organisms in our national forests as a directive to maintain viable populations, primarily because many species diversity indices are relatively unaffected by the complete loss of some species under many circumstances. Additionally, the requirement to "maintain diversity" seems extremely vague. Calculating species diversity is not a trivial task, and there are many possible methods of doing so that all have different assumptions and goals. Which are they using?

The rules (PDF, see page 148, §219.10) specify that project managers are to look at "ecosystem diversity," and at "species diversity" in some cases, but does not specify how these are to be quantified or exactly what either entails. Without seeing more specifics about the science behind the rules, it seems likely that this rule change is designed primarily to "vague-ify" the species protection requirement of the planning process, and thus to quietly make it easier to log and use the forests for industrial purposes without regard to conservation. The LA Times article does point out that the current head of the Forest Service is a former timber industry lobbyist.

The primary argument cited in the article (and the Forest Service PDF) for eliminating the environmental impact statements is that the reports are hard to complete and that eliminating them will save significant amounts of time. Maybe it's just me, but isn't making sure that we (both the Forest Service and the public) understand the impacts of proposed changes in forest management worth spending time on?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Bee Fountain of Youth

One of the primary ways to distinguish honeybees in a colony is by the type of work the bee usually does. Young worker bees typically stay in the nest and help rear the brood (larvae) of the colony, as well as performing other in-nest colony maintenance activities. As the workers age, they get tired of staying at home with their mom and sisters, so they head out into the world to explore, free from the confines of the nest (i.e. they become foragers, and focus on out-of-nest activities).

This change in general behavior has motivated a great deal of study, both to document when the changes occur, and to determine the factors that regulate the changes. The change is physiologically mediated by levels of juvenile hormone in the worker bees and influenced by genetics (this American Scientist article has more background). Overall colony characteristics have been observed to change the age at which bees mature into foragers, so we know that the change in behavior is not completely controlled by genetic factors. For instance, in colonies without many foragers, young worker bees mature into foragers faster than in colonies with lots of foragers.

Considering that bees use pheromones for many other colony-level tasks (see my earlier post on bees and pheromones for more background), it seemed to make sense that pheromones might be involved in this process. However, no pheromone controlling this change in behavior had been identified until this month, when Leoncini et al. (2004) published a paper reporting that ethyl oleate appears to be a chemical (pheromone) produced by foraging bees that inhibits young bees from maturing into foragers.

Since the presence of foraging bees appeared to inhibit the maturation of young bees into foragers, the researchers looked for a chemical present in foragers at high concentrations but not in workers, and tested those chemicals to see if they inhibited worker maturation (see table 2 online for some examples; Science News reports that the research took more than 10 years).

Leoncini et al. ended up finding ethyl oleate at higher concentrations in foragers than in nurse bees (3x the level when their entire bodies were analyzed). When they analyzed the amount of ethyl oleate in specific body parts, they found an even larger difference: the crops of foraging bees had ~30 times the amount of ethyl oleate than the crops of nurse bees (levels in all other body parts were statistically similar).

But what are bee crops? A foraging bee collects nectar from flowers to bring back to its hive, and stores the nectar in its crop, a large sac near the front of its digestive system designed for temporary storage of fluids. When the foraging bee returns to the hive, it regurgitates the nectar from its crop, both feeding it to other bees and placing it in cells in the hive so it can be turned into honey.

The finding that foragers have high ethyl oleate levels in their crops suggests an extremely simple mechanism of transfer for the pheromone: when returning foragers transfer collected nectar to other workers, they also transfer the pheromone. Thus, if there are lots of foragers collecting lots of nectar, young bees will be exposed to high levels of ethyl oleate and will delay their maturation into foragers. However, if there are not lots of foragers, or those foragers are not successfully collecting nectar, then young bees will not be exposed to high levels of ethyl oleate and will more quickly turn into foragers to remedy the problem.

To directly test whether ethyl oleate controlled the maturation of the bees into foragers, Leoncini et al. acquired a number of beehives containing bees of known age, and then fed them “candy” (honey and powdered sugar mixed together) laced with either ethyl oleate or nothing. In hives that were fed candy with ethyl oleate, young bee maturation to foragers was delayed by approximately 2 days compared to hives fed candy that did not contain ethyl oleate (from ~18 days to ~20 days).

This is a good example of how bees are able to control a colony-level activity through completely decentralized means: there is no central authority telling which bee when to mature. Instead, individual bees sense their environmental conditions (including ethyl oleate concentration, which is in turn controlled by other individual bees), and respond to them via genetically controlled pathways (e.g. maturing into foragers or not).

Reference:

Leoncini, I., Y. Le Conte, G. Costagliola, E. Plettner, A.L. Toth, M. Wang, Z. Huang, J. B├ęcard, D. Crauser, K.N. Slessor, and G.E. Robinson 2004. Regulation of behavioral maturation by a primer pheromone produced by adult worker honey bees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101: 17559-17564. (abstract)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The USPS will be getting its Christmas bonus this year.

One of the downsides of academia is that it's relatively rare to land a faculty position where your family lives, and thus every year come Christmas my SO and I get to wrap up presents for both of our respective families and mail them off. We just finished the mass-mailing today: eight relatively heavy packages sent to eleven groups of people. I'm sure the USPS is happy tonight.

One nice change from prior years was that we were able to pay for and print most of our postage and mailing labels from home via USPS's "Click-n-ship" service (see USPS.com if the link doesn't work). It's quite easy, assuming you have a scale to weigh packages on, and free delivery confirmation is included with some options.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Roasted Garlic Hummus

I was first introduced to hummus by my undergraduate biology advisor, but didn’t start ordering it in restaurants until graduate school. Within the last year or two my SO and I finally figured out how to make hummus easily, and only today did we try to make a roasted garlic version (which makes it a perfect end-of-the-week recipe blogging post). The roasted garlic has a mellower flavor than the raw garlic in the standard version, so more can be used without making the dish too sharp in flavor. The roasted garlic was so good that this will now be our standard hummus recipe.

For those not familiar with hummus, it’s a traditional Middle Eastern spread that is very tasty on warmed pita bread or raw vegetables.

1 whole head garlic, to be roasted
2 15 oz cans cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed with water
1 cup tahini
2/3 cup lemon juice (~2-3 lemons)
2 medium-sized cloves raw garlic, finely minced or pressed with a garlic press
salt to taste (~1/2 teaspoon sea salt is what we usually use)
water (~7/8 cup is what we usually use)
extra virgin olive oil, sweet paprika, and kalamata (or other) olives, for serving

1. Roast the head of garlic in the oven. To do this, slice off the top 1/3 of the head (to expose the tops of the cloves), place in a small oven-proof dish (e.g. a ramekin), fill the dish with water so that the bottom ~1/3 of the head is immersed, drizzle with a little bit of olive oil, cover with foil, and bake in a 325F oven for 1 hour (until soft). Let cool before using to make handling easier.
2. In a food processor combine the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, raw garlic, roasted garlic, salt, and enough water to start the mixture blending (~1/2 cup).
3. Process the mixture until it is mostly smooth, adding water until it is the desired spreading consistency (we use ~7/8 cup total, but it varies). It typically takes us a couple of minutes of processing to get to the right consistency; it should be spreadable but not runny.
4. Taste to check for salt and consistency.
5. Spread on a plate or in a bowl, sprinkle some paprika on top, drizzle with olive oil, and place some whole olives on top (if desired).
6. Serve with warm pita bread (or whatever you desire).

If you don’t want to take the time to roast the garlic, you can omit the roasted garlic and increase the raw garlic by 2 cloves to make standard hummus, which is what we’ve done in the past. Eliminating the roasting allows this dish to be made quickly (all the ingredients store well), making it a great snack.

Tahini (sesame seed paste, aka tahina) is a critical ingredient of hummus, and should be available at most specialty markets that carry Middle Eastern food; I’ve also found it in stores that focus on organic / bulk foods like Whole Foods Market. Specialized Middle Eastern markets will likely have the supplies cheaper than other stores (especially pitas; our local Middle Eastern market sells a package of six for $0.40).

Modified from Scott, David 1983. Recipes for an Arabian Night: Traditional Cooking from North Africa & the Middle East. Pantheon Books, NY pp 15-16.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Some rearranging

I was finally able to sit down and work on a few changes to the site that I've been wanting to make for a while now. The biggest change is that I've added a "recurring features" area on the sidebar with links to archive pages for some of the topics I post on regularly. I've been frustrated by how hard it would be for a reader to see all the posts related to some topics (e.g. finding all the Manduca posts), so hopefully this will help folks sort through the posts to find what they want.

I also made a number of more minor changes, including moving the Flickr random pictures higher up in the sidebar, removing my old search feature, and adding in two links to programs I'm now using (Firefox and Filezilla, two good open-source programs).

Friday, December 17, 2004

It's over!

Today I just finished:
  • Turning in six plagiarism reports to the dean for five plagiarized papers that I discovered in the last 72 hours.
  • Writing and mailing letters of recommendation to ten schools for a student.
  • Finalizing and hand-delivering the letter the committee I'm chair of wrote.
  • Attending a meeting of my full tenure committee. They signed off on everything, meaning that I'm now done with all evaluation-related activities for this academic year.
And, most importantly,
  • Turning in my grades to the registrar.
Yippee!

Now it's time to jump on my bike, ride home, and relax. Adios, fall 2004!

Recount in Ohio

If you were reading only mass media (or were buried in grading) you'd hardly know it, but all Ohio counties are performing a hand recount of the presidential election votes this week. The recount was initiated by the Cobb and Badnarik campaigns. Here are some links for those looking for more information:
  • There's a summary on Daily Kos of the recount's progress to date, including reports from many counties and some of the problems that have been encountered.

  • Votecobb.org has a Daily Update section on their website that is providing, well, daily updates on the recount.

Making things more complicated, there are accusations of fraud/misconduct within the recount itself:
  • David Cobb testified in front of a congressional forum in Ohio that he had a witness who had observed workers from Triad, one of the companies that manufacture voting machines, modifying machines just before the recount.

  • Sherole Eaton, Deputy Director of the Hocking County Board of Elections (the witness Cobb was referring to) has an affidavit describing her experiences, including:
    "He [the Triad company repairman] advised Lisa and I on how to post a "cheat sheet" on the wall so that only the board members and staff would know about it and and what the codes meant so the count would come out perfect and we wouldn't have to do a full hand recount of the county." (more documents related to this)

  • A motion was filed on the 16th of December asking the Ohio Supreme Court to order that voting equipment used in the election not be modified. Included with the motion was testimony that equipment was being modified, including Ms. Eaton's (described above), and an account from Catherine Buchanon that "establishes that the Diebold OptiScan machines were being re-programmed. The re-programming involves deleting information from the memory cards in the central tabulating machine." (from page 3 of the RawStory post)

  • The motion above was dismissed on December 16th (PDF of actual decision), though it appears to have been dismissed for what amounts to a technicality (it contested two elections rather than one), and there are plans to refile it.

  • The state counsel for Kerry/Edwards has sent a letter to Kenneth Blackwell requesting a formal investigation into the Hocking County issues described above.

  • The Green Party is also reporting that many counties appear not to be randomly selecting the 3% of the vote that they initially recount by hand, as they are required to do (e.g. Washington County, scroll down to it, see also Cobb's Daily Update page).

  • And, wrapping things up, the New York Times has an article on the Ohio recount that includes statements from the Triad president discussing some of the events above.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tangled Bank #18

Tangled Bank Blutton
The eighteenth edition of the Tangled Bank has been posted by Dr. Boyle; go take a look to find some of the best science writing in the blogosphere. The Tangled Bank will take a break over the holidays, so this is the last new post of the year for the fledgling carnival.

Still busy ...

I have a ton to grade, so have been trying to focus exclusively on that, but unfortunately the world is conspiring against me. First, the committee I'm the chair of has decided that we need to send an informative letter to most of the campus administration by the end of the semester. <whine> Yours truly got to write most of the letter, collect most of the data contained in it, and then coordinate revisions, all in the last week.</whine>

Then I got a very short note from our tech department saying that the server hosting my faculty web page was going to be shut down, and thus they were going to remove my FTP access entirely and force me to use an ancient template-based site to rebuild my page on (I'm simplifying this a bit, but you get the point). To give you some history here, only a handful of faculty members at my college even have FTP access to our sites, and we all had to fight for it (apparently we used to have a website committee that reviewed every single page of a site before the committee chair personally uploaded it to the server). The few of us who actually have FTP access have gotten all riled up over this change, and have fired off a few dozen e-mails and had a few meetings; all, of course, within the last week. Whether or not I retain FTP access to a campus server to host my faculty webpage is still in doubt right now (though it's looking like they'll cave in, at least for a few of us). That our entire faculty doesn't have easy access to web space is ridiculous.

Topping things off, we're having a number of retirements this fall across the campus, and thus I'm going to a number of obligatory retirement and other social gatherings. Today I have both a potluck lunch and a retirement dinner on the schedule, yesterday there was another retirement gathering, and there are rumors of yet another event coming up soon.

My last class meeting is tomorrow, so I need to get all my grading done if my students are ever going to be able to see their graded papers and talk to me about their final grades. I still have two large stacks to plow through (the final exam's essay portion and a lab report), and a ton of data entry to do, before things will be ready for them.

Well, off to bed, and then back to work.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Tangled Bank #18 announcement

Tangled Bank Blutton
The penultimate Tangled Bank of the year will be hosted by CodeBlueBlog this Wednesday; send your submissions to Dr. Boyle or PZ Myers.

Unfortunately I won't be submitting a post for this edition, so that means we really need a submission from you, kind reader, to make up for the lack of baby moth and baby mouse pictures. Or, if you can't do a submission this week, why not give PZ an early Christmas present and volunteer to host?

[updated 12/15/04 after learning that the Tangled Bank was taking a break over the holidays.]

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Radagast & SO's Chinese Takeout Chicken Stir-fry

I can't let two weeks go by without an end-of-the-week recipe blogging post, so here's a recipe for the week.

We loosely based this dish on a recipe from Ken Hom's Quick & Easy Chinese Cooking, and were pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. This dish has a garlicy, savory, slightly sweet flavor and just the right amount of sauce to flavor some steamed rice. The name of the recipe comes from our observation that this tastes somewhat like a typical Chinese takeout dish (except fresher).

Some oil for the pan (~2-3 tablespoons)
8 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed with a garlic press
1 pound chicken (we used boneless skinless thigh meat), sliced
1 large yellow onion, cut into 16ths
1/2 pound green beans (we used defrosted frozen beans)
1/3 cup oyster sauce (find a brand that has oysters as the first ingredient)
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons sesame oil

0. Start some rice cooking.
1. Get all ingredients prepared (as above). Mix the oyster sauce, water, sugar, and sesame oil in a cup or bowl.
2. Heat up the oil in a wok or frying pan until almost smoking.
3. Add the garlic and stir until it just starts to brown (a few seconds).
4. Add the chicken, and stir-fry until it is nearly cooked (~3 minutes?).
5. Add the onions, and continue cooking for a few more minutes (~2 minutes?).
6. Add the green beans, and cook until the vegetables are almost done to your preferred texture, and the liquid has almost all evaporated (~3 minutes?).
7. Add the sauce mixture, and cook for a minute or two longer.
8. Serve over steamed rice.

This recipe is very flexible, and we've made many variants on it. Instead of chicken we've used tofu or no meat/protein at all, this was the first time we made it with onions, and we've also used green onions and/or snow peas as vegetables.

Hom, K. 1990. Quick & Easy Chinese Cooking. Chronicle Books, San Francisco. p. 106.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Done with lab and out to dinner

I've worked every day since I posted my "no time ..." post last Thursday, and have racked up at least 65 hours of work in that period (I normally don't keep track, but figured I would since I posted on it). The days have been hectic, too: I only took an actual non-working lunch break on one day (today).

I taught my last lab section of the semester today (the students were taking their final lab exam); the only major course meeting I have left is my lecture final exam next week (which I still have to write ...).

To celebrate the end of lab, my SO and I are going to head out for some Indian food, and then spend a relaxing night together; I'm going to ignore my huge pile of grading until at least tomorrow, if not Sunday.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Chalk one up for US ingenuity

I was just reading the CNN homepage a few hours ago, and noticed this picture of some soldiers standing in front of a sign in Kabul, Afghanistan:

sign with english text behind soldier
AP photo from Kabul (original can be seen here)

I cursorily noticed the sign, then saw that it had some text, and then read the text and thought to myself, "Hmm, that's a well-done sign. It promotes a positive outlook, and tries to engender a feeling of togetherness in the people." Then I realized that, wait a second, that sign is in Afghanistan.

A quick check of the CIA World Factbook confirmed my suspicion: the languages spoken in Afghanistan are "Pashtu (official) 35%, Afghan Persian (Dari) 50%, Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%, much bilingualism."

So, why is there a giant banner sitting in the middle of Kabul written in a language that few of the local residents can read?

(more pictures of the same banner can be seen here, here, and here)

[Update: Sepoy comments, both here and at BoingBoing, that the banner is apparently by Afghan Wireless, and is likely one of a common genre of signs (and ads) produced by companies congratulating the newly elected leader. Still doesn't explain why it's in English, however.]

Monday, December 06, 2004

Radagast's Avatar

Pharyngula, via Feministe, has linked to a wonderful time-absorber: the hero machine, a web applet that lets you create a character using premade templates (also available for purchase here). I knew I shouldn't have followed Pharyngula's link when I saw it, but I did anyway, and soon was sucked into creating my own avatar.

Radagast's avatar
The closest thing to a picture of me you'll likely get.

It would probably be a fun exercise in personality psychology to analyze people's avatars, especially comparing their creations to their actual selves. I've created one that is reasonably similar to myself, though with a few additions [ed. note: Flaming torch, staff, tie, poofy purple pants, muscles ... yeah, just a few changes]. I couldn't resist the horde of dragonflies ... what could possibly be cooler?

There are a ton of other bloggers out there creating avatars, and it's neat to compare and contrast them: Pharyngula, Feministe, Arete, Rox Populi, Majikthise, Serenade in Blue, and scribbilngwoman.

Well, back to grading.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

No time ...

Life has become much more hectic around Rhosgobel recently. The semester will be over in just about 15 days (nope, nobody's counting here), and like Pharyngula I have far too much student work being handed in that I need to grade (two lab reports, a lecture paper, and a lab exam across two weeks), as well as final exams to write (lab final is next week, lecture final is the week after), grades to compute, and final lectures to plan (how does one summarize all of sensory system physiology, reproduction, growth, and locomotion in two lectures ... oh, that's right, one doesn't).

Course work is not all that I have to do in the next few weeks. The chair of my tenure committee is retiring at the end of this semester, so I've been asked to write my self-evaluation by the end of the semester (I normally have until February to write it). The good news, however, is that all of my faculty evaluation visits are now over (the final one was Tuesday), and they all went well. In the past few months I've managed to get myself on two committees (and I'm now the chair of one of them), both of which are trying to meet before the end of the semester. Oh yes, and the department website needs updating before the end of the semester as well.

I'm also starting to plan a student field research trip to a site in Canada for the summer of 2005, and since I want my students from this semester to participate, I've been working on getting the details of the trip drafted out. I just gave my students a presentation about the trip today, to gauge their interest, and more than 20 of them are interested, which made my day. Of course, this means that I now need to get them more information by the end of the semester, as well as start working on officially planning the trip (which will include getting our community college district board's approval).

But, of course, that's not everything. The publisher I'm working with needs me to get some work done by the end of the semester, so that will suck up a few hours. On the home front, my SO and I are starting to seriously plan for the remodeling work that we're going to do over winter break; we hope to finish our master bathroom and make significant progress on our hall bath. We absolutely have to start ordering supplies and scheduling contractors now if we're going to make progress in the six-week break, so it can't wait. We also just learned that my SO's brother, who is currently living in England, will likely be moving back to the US soon, so we may try to schedule a quick trip over there to see London before he leaves (neither of us has ever been to England).

So, in summary, I'm insanely busy right now, and thus if you're a regular reader who has noticed that my posting frequency and length have both decreased recently, you now know why. I'm going to officially stop trying to post on a regular basis until my current workload decreases, which will probably be in a few weeks. There's a lot of interesting stuff I'd love to write about, but I just don't have time right now. Sorry :(

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tangled Bank #17 is online!

Tangled Bank Blutton
Leah has posted this week's Tangled Bank, so skip on over there and read the latest and greatest science blog posts from the last two weeks.