Monday, January 31, 2005

First day ...

Today was the first day of the spring semester, and it was rather uneventful as I have no classes on Monday. I spent most of the day preparing for my first lecture and lab, both of which are on Tuesday, and interviewing a student assistant who will likely be helping in our stockroom.

The difference between this semester and last semester could hardly be greater. Last semester at this same time I was, well, panicking; I still hadn't written most of the labs that I would run during the semester, and had only about a week or two of lecture slides created. Now, of course, I've got all my materials from last semester to work with, and thus I can take the time to revise them and actually think critically about what I'm going to say.

From a technology perspective, not much is changing, as I'll still be using InterWrite's in-class response system and Moodle as my online course management system. Why do I somehow feel guilty about not trying out some new technology?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Sick mouse

On Friday we noticed that Rem (aka Mom Mouse) was looking a bit thin and was breathing and walking a bit more laboredly than usual, so we took her to the vet on Saturday morning. The vet diagnosed an unknown respiratory infection (no surprise there), and after cautioning us that recovery rates aren't great for this sort of thing (again, no surprise there), he gave her an injection of an antibiotic (Baytril) and gave us some of the antibiotic to feed her twice daily for the next two weeks. Of course, the infection could very well be viral, but it's the best he could do.

The antibiotic was supposed to be flavored so that Rem would eat it, but she was more interested in trying to climb on the dispensing syringe than lick the end of it, so we went to plan B and are now mixing the antibiotic in with some melted ice cream (Ben & Jerry's ... nothing but the best for our sick mouse). She is now happily licking up the antibiotic ice cream.

Rem's looking a bit better today than she was yesterday, so hopefully the antibiotics and prolific treats are doing the trick, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Apricot scones

While we were in London my SO and I did a lot of cooking, partially because my SO was sick for a week and wasn't in any shape to go anywhere, and partially because we enjoy cooking and wanted to avoid paying for meals at all the expensive London restaurants. However, my SO's brother's kitchen was rather small, and also rather under-equipped (in fairness to him, the apartment came with only limited cooking supplies and he doesn't have much time to cook), so we weren't able to make a lot of our usual dishes.

One dish we did make three times, however, was apricot scones, so they seem like a perfect end-of-the-week recipe blogging post. We hadn't intended on making the scones three times, but by the end of our trip we realized that we had the cream, butter, and apricots necessary to make them, and thus if we didn't make them the ingredients would just go bad.

These scones are relatively easy to make (less than half an hour from start to finish), and they store and reheat well. If you've never had scones, they're basically a sweet biscuit made with cream; they're quite moist and flavorful right out of the oven. As my SO's brother and I like to say, "The secret ingredient is fat."

2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, unsalted, cut into pieces
1/2 cup dried apricots, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
1/2 cup heavy cream

0. Preheat the oven to 425F.
1. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl.
2. Add the cold butter to the flour and mix with either a fork, a pair of knives, your fingers, or (preferably) a pastry blender until the butter is well distributed through the flour, being careful not to melt the butter. I typically work the mixture until most of the butter is in very small bits (like coarse sand), with the largest butter clumps no larger than peas.
3. Add the chopped apricots and mix well.
4. Mix the cream and egg together in a small bowl, add to the flour/butter mixture, and mix until reasonably well combined. The dough will likely not be entirely cohesive (there will probably be some dry mix at the bottom of the bowl and a few large clumps), but if the mixture is not holding together well at all you can add a bit more cream.
5. Knead the dough in the bowl or on the countertop a number of times (I usually do around 10 kneads) to complete the dough mixing and get a single cohesive mass of dough.
6. Roll the dough out on the counter until it is approximately 3/4-inch thick. The dough is usually soft enough that I just press it out with the palm of my hand.
7. Cut the dough into approximately eight to twelve pieces, place on a cookie sheet, and bake until the tops are browned, ~12-15 minutes. If desired, you can brush the tops of the scones with milk and sprinkle them with sugar before putting them in the oven, but I usually don't do this.
8. Serve the scones immediately, with plenty of butter or jam.


Virtually any dried fruit will work well in place of the apricots, such as blueberries or currants, though our favorite alternate is probably dried cherries.

One variant of this recipe we enjoy is blueberry almond scones. To make these, add 1/3 cup of dried blueberries and 1/3 cup of slivered almonds in place of the apricots (in step 3), doing everything else as described above. The almonds add a pleasing crunch, and would go well with most dried fruits.

To store the scones we let them cool to room temperature and then wrap them in plastic wrap or put them in leftover containers and leave them at room temperature. To reheat the scones we put them in a 350F oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until they're heated through.


Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.

[Update July 2007: Added blueberry almond variant.]

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The British Museum - part 1

We visited a number of museums while we were in London, but the most enjoyable time was our two days at the British Museum. The museum was founded in 1753 (the US was still a colony then!), and since that time has been amassing a collection of "art and antiquities from ancient and living cultures."

The museum is gigantic, and has a huge number of items on permanent display. In our two days we saw much less than half of everything; we could have happily spent many more days poring over the items. Like many of the London museums, entry is completely free (though they suggest a three-pound donation).

The museum has artifacts from an astounding array of cultures and time periods, including ancient Egypt (they have the Rosetta Stone), ancient Greece & Rome, Britain & Europe (with a large section on Roman Britain), early and later Mesopotamia (including ancient Assyria), China, Japan, southeast Asia, Africa, and Islamic countries.

The diversity of cultures contained enhances the experience, and encourages comparisons between the different time periods and regions of the world. For instance, while the Egyptians were building huge pyramids and carving incredible artwork in huge slabs of stone, the people of Britain were mostly just chipping arrowheads from rock and etching their artwork on bones.

We focused our time on the Egyptian, Greek/Roman, Asian, and historical British galleries, though we also tried to browse around a few others before we were kicked out by the guards.

Like everyone else who visits the museum, we took the obligatory pictures of ourselves standing in front of the Rosetta Stone. Reading up on the history of the stone was depressing (like it so often is with items from human history); apparently it was discovered only after it had been broken out of its original location and used in the construction of a military fortification.

Once we pulled ourselves away from the crowds around the Rosetta Stone, we found the cutest little slug hieroglyph:

Slug hieroglyph
Hieroglyphs on a limestone false door from the fifth dynasty (~2,400 BC)

It was neat to see that 4,000 years ago people actually appreciated mollusks (though I didn't see any snails or cephalopods, sadly). I wonder what the slug means ...

More good (if not entirely anatomically correct) biological-themed sculpture was made by the Assyrians:

Protective sculpture
Human-headed winged lion from Assyria, ~865-860BC

The neat thing about the lion sculpture is the number of legs: it has five. The statue looks anatomically correct (ignoring the human head and wings) when viewed directly from either the front or the side, but not from an angle. Apparently this chimera (and its twin) was supposed to protect the entry to the throneroom of Ashurnasirpal II's palace. There was also a winged bull version, one of which had a little game board scratched into it (likely used by bored guards).

The museum's (now rather controversial) Parthenon sculptures were in a spacious room. Each piece of sculpture (panel of the frieze, statue fragment, etc.) had a detailed description along with it, and it was educational to just walk along the entire length of frieze and read the story that was being told.

Parthenon gallery
The display gallery holding the actual marbles collected by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon

The frieze details a procession honoring Athena, including a wide variety of participants such as riders struggling with their horses, charioteers, women carrying offerings, and even a few gods. There were even marshals positioned between segments of the procession to stop them from appearing to run into each other (or off the end of the building). It was something like reading a volume of manga carved into stone.

What was even more impressive, though, was the amount of detail on the Parthenon marbles. Take, for instance, the image in the picture below – you can clearly see, among other things, the veins on the horse's leg. The detail is especially impressive considering that these frieze pieces were designed to be installed more than 30 feet above the ground.

Parthenon cast closeup
Plaster cast of a portion of the Parthenon's frieze (Elgin made plaster casts of the portions of the Parthenon's frieze that he did not bring back to England, some of these are also displayed)

The museum is chock-full of beautiful things, which often surprised us when we came across them. For instance, when we were trying to get upstairs after looking at the Greek sculptures, we found that the stairway was lined with gorgeous mosaics.

Mosaics in a stairway
Mosaics in a staircase at the British Museum

The face in the mosaic on the left of the picture above was impressively realistically done, with very believable skin tones and facial features created using exceptionally small pieces of tile.

Mosaic face
Close-up of a face in a mosaic

The museum also had some Roman mosaics displayed elsewhere, and this mosaic of seafood from the Mediterranean caught my eye:

Seafood mosaic
Roman mosaic of seafood from ~100AD, including an octopus, lobster, eel, and many fish.

Most of the fish in the mosaic are apparently identifiable down to species, and the museum lists the probable identifications next to the mosaic. Seeing all these mosaics makes me want to do a mosaic in one of the rooms of our house (but then imagining all the work quickly banishes the thought from my mind).

They also had more food in the museum, and not just the kind served in the museum's restaurants:

Food from a tomb
Preserved food offerings from tombs dating to ~1,500BC

Pictured above are loaves of bread, pomegranates, a cake made from dates, and duck (on the basket, along with more loaves of bread), all more than 3,000 years old. With so much detailed art, and even some preserved specimens, it would be interesting to compare the varieties (and species) of food items used in ancient times to those used presently. It would probably be a neat study of the effect of artificial (and natural) selection on plants and animals.

We also saw a number of cuneiform tablets while we were there, but those will have to wait for another post, as this one has gotten quite long.

The Skeptics' Circle - announcement

If you like the Tangled Bank, then you'll probably also love The Skeptics' Circle, a new "carnival" started by Saint Nate's Blog that will be collecting posts from a skeptical point of view on a monthly basis. The inaugural post will be this coming Thursday, Feb. 3; read all about it here.

Friday, January 28, 2005

FSU chiropractic school rejected

The Florida State University board of governors voted yesterday to reject the proposed chiropractic college addition to FSU. I've written about the topic before, and am pleased at the sanity shown by the board (though seeing a copy of the minutes of the meeting would be nice so I could see exactly why they rejected it).
"Legislators last year guaranteed $9 million a year for the chiropractic college at FSU, but the Board of Governors asserted that it alone has the power under the state Constitution to approve or deny any new degree programs at the state's 11 public universities. The board was created by a constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2002.

"The board voted against the college by an 11-3 margin, as a majority of members questioned the need for the program and whether it fit into FSU's mission to become a nationally recognized research university. Board members said they were disappointed that FSU's own board of trustees did not take a stronger vote in favor of the school two weeks ago." - The Miami Herald (note: other reports cite the vote as being 10-3)
To explain the last sentence of the quote, the FSU board of trustrees (which is separate from the board of governors) voted to send the chiropractic college proposal to the board of governors with no strong statement of either support or rejection (read more here, here, or here).

(via both 2% Company and Confessions of a Quackbuster)

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Back from London

It's been a long day, but we are now back home from our two-week visit to London. We were picked up and driven home from the local airport by a colleague, which was quite luxurious. Our house was welcoming and comfortable after 15+ hours of traveling, and it was nice to see that our mice had made it through the two weeks without us, even perking up on our return (a generous friend stopped by to care for them while we were away).

Unfortunately, right now it feels like it's 3:00am (and we woke up at 6:30am), so tales of London will have to wait for another time.

While you're waiting for more on London, be sure to head over and read Tangled Bank #20, posted by Jasmine Cola.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Observations of London

My SO and I have enjoyed making the inevitable comparisons of life in London with life in Southern California. Here are a few of our observations:

1) If only they'd replace that pound symbol with a dollar symbol when listing the cost of items, everything would be reasonably priced. Unfortunately, however, the exchange ratio is a miserable $1.85 US per pound, so everything is expensive. We saw some KitchenAid mixers for around 300 pounds in a department store; they sell for about the same number of dollars back in the US. While basic foodstuffs seem similarly priced to those in the US, restaurant food is relatively expensive. For example, individual-size pizzas at a small restaurant were about $15 each here, much more than the $5-10 we'd expect back in the US.

2) We've been able to buy Cadbury creme eggs in January, which is odd because the only time we're used to seeing them in the US is around Easter, when they're sold as Easter candy. Cadbury also has vending machines in tube stations.

3) We've only shopped at one grocery store (Sainsbury's), but what we've seen of food labeling has been extremely user-friendly. Bags of fruits or vegetables list what types of cooking they're good for (e.g. potatoes list recommended uses of the variety of potato in the bag, be it chipping, mashing, boiling, etc.). Meat and cheese labels are also more informative, with clear information on storage, expiration (both purchase-by and use-by dates), allergy information, suitability for vegetarians, cooking directions, and contents (e.g. sausages list the percent meat included).

4) Nutrition labels are somewhat different than their US counterparts. I haven't seen a wide enough variety of foods to have figured out the entire system, but it appears that each food lists macronutrients contained per 100 grams, which allows a person to determine the fractional composition of the food without a calculator (and once you know the fractional composition of the food, you can easily calculate the nutrient content of any serving size you may be eating). Separate from those data, they have an area displaying the number of calories and grams of fat for a specified amount of the food (which looks like one serving, e.g. 30 grams of cheese, 1 sausage). The labels don't typically list vitamins and minerals (other than salt), though some do. It appears, however, that not all ingredients are required to be listed in the ingredients field, as one type of cheese we bought did not have any type of milk included in the ingredient list (though it did have a milk allergy warning on it).

5) Fat. Ahh, delicious fat. The grocery stores here are so enlightened: they have single cream, whipping cream, thickened double cream ("good for spreading!"), creme fraiche, sour cream, whole-milk yogurt, multiple types of butter, pork fat, beef fat, and goose fat, all ready for the buying. To get all of these in our area of the US would certainly entail going to a specialty store.

6) I never realized how ingrained it was to look left before crossing a street until I came here, where looking left initially does you no good at all. Thankfully they have instructions painted on the ground at most crosswalks telling us dumb Americans which way to look. Even so, my SO and I have been a slave to crossing-meters, which the majority of people here seem to ignore. Most people seem to ignore crosswalks altogether, though since many of the streets are a measly two lanes wide (one in each direction), jaywalking is significantly safer than it is in the US. Even after more than a week, though, I still can't help but look to my right once I'm halfway across the street.

7) I'm very glad I'm not driving, because street signs seem to be lacking at some intersections, and aren't in the same locations as they are in the US (they're typically on buildings, instead of on special poles). My SO and I have already taken one unintentional walking tour of London due to misreading a sign (I still say the Charing Cross Road sign in Trafalgar Square actually points to Strand Street). I'm very glad that my SO's brother has loaned us a copy of A to Z (a popular map book), which has been critical in finding our way around.

8) Cute cars! I've never seen this many cute small cars before, and I've seen only one or two SUVs in the entire time I've been here, which is refreshing. There are also a ton of motorcycles and scooters, which is great since they're some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles around. I used to think the Mini Cooper was my favorite small car, but it now has a very strong contender:

A contender for cutest-small car
Could it be any cuter?

Even the police cars are adorably small, and some of them are even brightly painted (purples and the like). When the police car sirens echo in the streets, it sounds exactly like the sirens in a Mystery! series on PBS.

9) While the police cars may be cute, the police themselves certainly mean business. I've walked by officers who had submachine guns (or some similar assault weaponry) slung across their chests, which is rather imposing, especially when the officer's index finger is right next to the trigger.

Monday, January 17, 2005

London so far

My SO and I arrived in London Wednesday afternoon (London time). We've focused much of our time on relaxing around my SO's brother's apartment (where we're staying), at least partially because my SO has a mild cold (or other respiratory tract infection) that we're trying to ensure doesn't turn into a major cold.

After arriving at Heathrow we took the tube to the station nearest my SO's brother's apartment. We got a street map of the region from an employee at the tube station (who was probably just taking pity on us poor, lost-looking Americans) and then headed off on foot, suitcases in hand, to find the apartment. While on our way, what should we run across but this nice little building:


Many of you will likely recognize this: it's Westminster Abbey. We knew we'd be staying close to a lot of neat landmarks, but we had no idea we'd be lugging our luggage right by this one. It was quite a pleasant surprise.

We've had a few other, similarly pleasant, surprises. While heading out for some dim sum (meeting up with two old friends of my SO's from the US), we casually walked past a small, heavily-guarded gate on Whitehall Street that a car was pulling into; only after we'd passed it did we realize we'd just walked past the entrance to Downing Street. Also, while walking home after dark one evening we were directed by construction signs onto a large, open gravel area overlooked by a very stately building (of which this city has no lack). The next day we realized we'd been walking across the Horse Guards Parade.

It's been fun to walk around the streets and realize just how old everything is. It's somewhat daunting, especially for this Californian who is used to an "old" building being one built in the 1800's (or even the early 1900's).

One of the most unusual events I've gone to so far was a free organ recital in Westminster Abbey (they're held every Sunday evening). Ever since I took a course on early Middle Ages European history in college I've wanted to see old European cathedrals, and my first time inside one was complemented by thundering organ music.

[Note: For this, and other, posts made while I'm in London, the time-stamp on the posts will be off - add eight hours to the time to determine the local time when I posted.]

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund

After the election my dad responded to my note of despair by mentioning a few things that like-minded people could do in response to the outcome of the election. I asked if I could share a portion of his letter, and he agreed, but I've been sitting on it for a while because I didn't want it to get quickly buried underneath other posts. Since I'll be on vacation for the next few weeks, now seems like the perfect time to post it:
"[One thing to do] is to donate to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. This organization, headquartered in Oceanside, CA, helps wounded Marines and their families during their recovery. The government provides some support for families who want to be with their Marine during recovery, but the funding is often not enough, nor long enough for the entire recovery process.

"A good friend of mine who was a Marine was badly wounded in Viet Nam, and he was lucky enough to wind up in Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, just across the Bay from home. I was able to take his wife to the Neurosurgery ward see him, but if we had lived far from the hospital, it would have been very difficult for his family and friends to see him, and help him recover. I guess another reason I chose this fund is because one of my uncles was a Marine in WWII, and fought on Iwo Jima*, among other places. So I guess I'm just partial to jarheads. But giving money, or time, to organizations like this help the Americans who are bearing the greatest share of the burden produced by the misjudgments and misdeeds of the Bush administration.

"*(For those too young for the name of this tiny island to have any resonance, check out this site. My uncle was in the second wave of Marines to hit the beach. The photo here is probably representative of what he saw when he landed. He once told me that he was looking at the boots of the guy lying ahead of him, and that all he could do was to 'crawl up into my helmet' and wait to move out.)"

Two of my great-uncles with my great-grandmother during WWII (one of whom is the man discussed above).

Off to London

My SO and I are flying to London this afternoon, where we'll be staying with some family and touring the city for the next two weeks. Unlike most academics in the US, my semester doesn't start until near the end of January, so I get to play in London while everyone else goes back to work (though everyone else gets the last laugh as I slave away the last two weeks of May after they've wrapped up their finals). We have no specific plans for the trip other than to relax and see as much of the city as we can. This will be the first time my SO and I have traveled off the continent.

We're both working on less than four hours of sleep for each of the past two nights as we try to get all our work finished before the trip, so we can't wait to get on the plane and fall asleep.

So, posting will be decidedly intermittent while I'm gallivanting around, though I will try to post updates every now and then. More to come from London!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

London & rain

My SO and I are starting to get ready for a trip to London this coming week, and when we bought our plane tickets I was thinking that we were going to be leaving our sunny, warm Southern California weather behind for cold, wet London.

Well, it turns out that we're getting pounded by rain yet again here today, and since it seemed like we've been getting much more rain than usual I decided to get some data on rainfall this year (data from the LA Civic Center via
  • Average annual rainfall (July 1 - June 30): 15.3 inches
  • Year-to-date rainfall (July 1, 2004 - Jan 9, 2004): 20.25 inches
  • Rainfall in the last 2 weeks (Dec. 27, 2004 to Jan 9, 2004): 14.9 inches
So LA has gotten nearly its average annual rainfall in just the past two weeks alone. Yikes.

map showing LA getting lots of rain
(from the LA Times)

Considering that this is the precipitation map for Southern California from just an hour ago, it looks like we'll be getting even more tonight.

Since London's average annual rainfall appears to be around 32 inches a year, maybe we'll actually be leaving cold, rainy Southern California for warm, sunny London.

Tangled Bank #19 announcement

Tangled Bank Blutton

The first Tangled Bank of 2005 will be hosted at Science and Politics this coming Wednesday (Jan 12); as always, submit your recent science-related posts by Tuesday night for inclusion. You can send submissions, and notes that you're willing to volunteer to host the next Tangled Bank, to PZ Myers or

Prisoner abuse authorized by Bush?

The ACLU recently released an e-mail (PDF, one of many documents) by the FBI's "On Scene Commander -- Baghdad" regarding interrogation of prisoners in Iraq (ACLU press release). This e-mail stated that there was an "Executive Order signed by President Bush" authorizing the use of interrogation techniques banned by the Geneva Conventions. Specifically,
"We are aware that prior to a revision in policy last week, an Executive Order signed by President Bush authorized the following interrogation techniques among others[:] sleep "management," use of MWDs (military working dogs), "stress positions" such as half squats, "environmental manipulation" such as the use of loud music, sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc" (FBI e-mail PDF)
Lest anyone question whether or not these techniques are against the Geneva Conventions, let's go right to the source.

Geneva Convention III (Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War):
"Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information." (Conv. 3, art. 17)

"No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind." (Conv. 3, art. 17)

Geneva Convention IV (Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War):
"Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals." (Conv. 4, art. 4)

"Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity." (Conv. 4, art. 27)

"No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties." (Conv. 4, art. 31)

According to this ICRC PDF, Iraq became a party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions on Feb. 14, 1956, as did the U.S. on Aug. 2, 1955.

A number of groups, including Human Rights Watch (press release) and the ACLU (press release), have called for Bush to explain this discovery. As the Human Rights Watch press release says,
"'The FBI e-mail is not proof of a presidential order to commit unlawful acts, but it strongly suggests that U.S. interrogators thought they were acting with the president's approval,' said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. 'It's no longer enough for Bush to issue a simple denial. A real explanation is needed.'"

Saturday, January 08, 2005

A year of Radagast at Rhosgobel

It's hard for me to believe, but today is my one year anniversary as a blogger - my first post was written the evening of January 8, 2004. Since that time my non-blogging life has been fairly busy, but during it all I've enjoyed writing here and interacting with those around me in the blogosphere.

I've been amazed at the change in readership since I started writing. In the beginning I expected that my only regular readers would be the few friends and family members I told about this blog. In February of 2004, the first full month for which I have data, I got 300 or so unique visits; I was ecstatic. In December I got more than 5,000 unique visits; I can still hardly believe it.

visits for the past year as of December 29, 2004

Thanks to all who've taken the time to visit here, and especially to those who have encouraged me to think and work harder by giving me comments and feedback. A special thanks has to go to PZ Myers (of Pharyngula), who was the first-ever commenter on this blog.

Here's to another good year!

Friday, January 07, 2005

What are your rates?

I got an e-mail today from the photo editor of a (non-biology) textbook asking if I had some photographs of specific biology content she needed. Since I had some photographs that at least somewhat fit her needs, I e-mailed her a quickly made contact sheet and said to let me know if they would work. No fees or payment were mentioned, and I figured what I had probably wouldn't work anyway.

Less than an hour later I got a response implying that some of my pictures might work, along with more details on what she needed (including asking about the possibility of commissioning some custom-shot photos). What's stumped me about the e-mail, however, was her final question asking what rates I charged for the use of my images.

Um, yeah ... let me just open up the ol' rate sheet sitting on my desk here and I'll let you know how much it'll cost ya.

Charge? Presumably I should respond with some sane estimate of what I think these photographs are worth (they're not unique), but in all honesty I have no idea what going rates for scientific photography are (either pre-done or custom).

I've looked a bit online for advice, but most of what I've found is just suggestions on how to get your work in the likes of National Geographic, which is decidedly unhelpful for this situation.

I'll keep looking, but any advice from those who know more would be nice.

Note: For those who are curious, none of the photos this editor is interested in are from my blog, and I do not believe that this person knows of my blogging. There are times when it's nice to blog anonymously.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

More on FSU Chiropractic

I've found more information relating to the proposed FSU chiropractic school since I wrote my first post on the topic, and thought I'd share the wealth:
  • The St. Petersburg Times reports that the FSU faculty feel as though a decision has already been made regarding the chiropractic school, and that they have no say in the matter. The professors are also afraid of retaliation if they speak out against the school, which the school says is ridiculous, but the article reports that a state senator (Jim King) has made it clear that there likely will be some retaliation if the school is fought:
    "Legislators may ask FSU to cut millions from its budget next year to pay back the $9-million allocated last year for the chiropractic school. 'I would also suggest that (professors) evaluate with their department heads what kind of cuts there will have to be,' said King, R-Jacksonville. If professors derail the chiropractic school, he added, 'I think the Legislature would be angry.'"
    So by stopping the state from foolishly spending $9 million dollars a year to educate pseudo-doctors, the school will be financially punished, instead of, say, being given that $9 million a year to improve education in medical fields that have significantly more scientific support behind them.

  • FSUblius, a new anonymous blog dedicated to discussing academic programs (read: the chiropractic school) at FSU, has been posting on the chiropractic school possibility for a few weeks now.

  • University Diaries, another academic blogger, has apparently been following the story for some time as well.

  • PZ Myers at Pharyngula picked up my original post, and his readers left a slew of comments. There are a few too many anecdotes regarding chiropractic in the comments for my taste, but it's a good read.

  • The Two Percent Company and CodeBlueBlog picked up on the FSU Chiropractic story as well, and both provide excellent commentary on the situation. CodeBlueBlog in particular cites some interesting data:
    "Acute LBP is pain that has been present for three months or less. The list of treatments for it is very long. Most are claimed to have about a 90% success rate. However, most people with uncomplicated acute LBP get better within one month, and 90 % recover within three months. This is why so many treatments for LBP appear to work so well." (Mark Rosenthal)
  • A number of people have linked to, a subsite of; both are excellent sites that skeptically discuss questionable medical practices. I linked to Chirobase in my original post about FSU for one point, but the sites are good enough to warrant links of their own.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Breakfast: smoked salmon eggs Benedict

I've been longing for eggs Benedict ever since being introduced to them at the first bed and breakfast we stayed at in Victoria last year (which, by the way, motivated a post on carotenoids). Since I'd baked a fresh loaf of english muffin bread yesterday, my SO and I decided to try to make some eggs Benedict today.


That's our glorious creation: toasted and buttered homemade english muffin bread, smoked salmon, and poached eggs with homemade Hollandaise sauce on top. It was just as good as I remembered it (though significantly more work, since all I had to do in Canada was get out of bed).

If you want to read more on eggs Benedict, Eggs Benedict New York has more information on the dish than you probably ever wanted to know (including, unfortunately, nutritional information).

[Updated to add a link to the english muffin bread recipe.]

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

FSU Chiropractic?

BoingBoing recently linked to a newspaper article that discusses an attempt by the Florida State Legislature to add a school of chiropractic to Florida State University. The article included a campus map drawn by some professors detailing a new school of pseudoscience (including such buildings as the "Bigfoot Institute" and "College of Dowsing"; the map is apparently what got BoingBoing's interest).

According to the article, many of the faculty at FSU are (understandably) outraged at the possibility of a chiropractic school, and a few have even threatened to resign if the school is approved. Apparently the legislature has already approved a budget of $9 million a year to fund this new school, even though the university's board of trustees has not approved the school.

Chiropractors are common, they appear to be doctors, and many people in the US go to them and leave satisfied, so why are professors threatening to resign if FSU gets a chiropractic school?

I've written about this topic before, and the reason why these professors are willing to resign is simple: there is very little evidence that chiropractic manipulation does anything that current medical science cannot, and there is little data available about the risks (especially long-term) of chiropractic treatments. Combine that with the observation that many chiropractic practices are laced with fraudulent and/or negligent activities, and this should be enough to stop the profession cold in its tracks (and also explains why no public university in the US currently has a chiropractic college associated with it).

The Florida state legislature commissioned a number of reports to provide information about the chiropractic field. The most interesting from a scientific perspective is "The Chiropractic Profession and Its Research and Education Programs" (PDF), which attempts to summarize the current body of scientific knowledge on chiropractic, but instead reads more like the advertising materials of your local chiropractor. Part of the reason for this might be that the report's authors appear to be distinctly lacking in clinical medical and scientific experience: the authors include one person with a Ph.D. in higher education finance and an MBA, one with a Ph.D. in economics, one with a Ph.D. in nursing, one with a doctorate in higher education, and one with a D.C. (doctor of chiropractic).

The report includes a lot of the typical arguments in favor of chiropractic, including the much-overused "The AMA hates chiropractic and is just trying to steal our customers" statement, along with other blather about how the vast majority of people are satisfied with their chiropractors (the vast majority of people were probably satisfied with their snake-oil salesmen, too).

After discussing how satisfied customers are with chiropractic, the report goes on to do a literature review. The report's authors focus a lot of their time on two of Shekelle et al.'s 1992 papers (a and b below), which are part of the oft-mentioned 1991 & 1992 "Rand Reports" on chiropractic. The peer-reviewed paper (Shekelle et al., 1992b) in this series is probably one of the papers most cited and most misrepresented by backers of chiropractic. It was a meta-study that reviewed published literature on chiropractic manipulations relating to lower back pain, and it came to the following conclusion:
"Spinal manipulation is of short-term benefit in some patients, particularly those with uncomplicated, acute low-back pain. Data are insufficient concerning the efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic low-back pain." (Shekelle et al., 1992b)
In other words, the study looked solely at studies that evaluated lower back pain, and was only able to come to a conclusion with regard to patients with short-term (acute) lower back pain. This is not the ringing endorsement of chiropractic as a whole that much chiropractic literature makes it out to be. A more recent study (Assendelft et al., 2003, which I believe includes the lead author from the Shekelle et al., 1992 study), reviews even more literature on chiropractic manipulation related to lower back pain, and comes to a more concrete conclusion:
"Thirty-nine RCTs [randomized controlled trials] were identified. Meta-regression models were developed for acute or chronic pain and short-term and long-term pain and function. For patients with acute low back pain, spinal manipulative therapy was superior only to sham therapy or therapies judged to be ineffective or even harmful. Spinal manipulative therapy had no statistically or clinically significant advantage over general practitioner care, analgesics, physical therapy, exercises, or back school. Results for patients with chronic low back pain were similar. Radiation of pain, study quality, profession of manipulator, and use of manipulation alone or in combination with other therapies did not affect these results.

"Conclusions: There is no evidence that spinal manipulative therapy is superior to other standard treatments for patients with acute or chronic low back pain." (Assendelft et al., 2003)
Lest we bias ourselves by looking at just one meta-review paper, a separate paper (Cherkin et al., 2003) was also published in 2003 looking at the same topic:
"A meta-regression analysis of the results of 26 RCTs evaluating spinal manipulation for acute and chronic back pain reported that spinal manipulation was superior to sham therapies and therapies judged to have no evidence of a benefit but was not superior to effective conventional treatments." (Cherkin et al., 2003)
The Florida report for the state legislature says on numerous occasions that there is evidence that chiropractic manipulation is superior to standard medical treatment; these two reviews make it clear that when one analyzes the majority of the literature on the topic, chiropractic manipulation is not superior to standard treatment.

It is critical to remember that these studies are only looking at chiropractic manipulation relating to lower back pain; they say nothing about chiropractic treatment of other conditions, even though chiropractors regularly attempt to treat other conditions.

The Florida state report also uses some horrible analyses in their report, for instance,
"There have been at least 18 randomized trials for manipulation with head and neck pain complaints. Nine favored manipulation and eight found manipulation equal to other treatments, although conventional levels of statistical significance were reached for only some of the outcomes in some studies."
They start off by saying that nine of 18 studies favored manipulation, which makes it sound as though chiropractic has incredible effects, but only after that do they say that not all the results were statistically significant. For those not up on their statistics, common practice in science is to assume that if some treatment is not shown to be statistically significantly different from some other treatment, than those two treatments must be assumed to be the same. In other words, if there is no statistically significant difference you cannot say, "Treatment 1 was higher than treatment 2," because statistically they are the same. Thus the report's statement that nine trials favored manipulation is most likely deceptive and incorrect.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to determine the extent of the report's misrepresentation. Two papers are cited for neck and head results (Hurwitz, 1996; Vernon, 1999), but the Vernon (1999) reference is missing from the literature cited section (only Vernon, 1990 is listed), and while I can't get the full text of the other paper (Hurwitz, 1996), it appears from the abstract to base its conclusions primarily on three studies.

The Florida report concludes its research review with a section showing that chiropractic manipulations are safer than conventional medical treatments. Here are the data on chiropractic injury rates that it includes:
"5 to 10 per 10 million manipulations vertebrobasilar;
3 to 6 per 10 million for major impairment;
fewer than 3 deaths per 10 million manipulations; and
about 1 per 100 million manipulations for complications involving
canda equina (Hurwitz, 1996)."
Here's what some recently published literature has to say about the injury rates of chiropractic:
"The most valid studies suggest that about half of all patients will experience adverse events after chiropractic SM [spinal manipulation]. These events are usually mild and transient. No reliable data exist about the incidence of serious adverse events. These data indicate that mild and transient adverse events seem to be frequent. Serious adverse events are probably rare but their incidence can only be estimated at present. Further prospective investigations are needed to define their incidence more closely." (Ernst, 2001b)
Cervical spinal manipulation is generally considered to be more dangerous than other forms of spinal manipulation, and actual rates of injury from cervical spinal manipulations are currently unknown. While many chiropractors state that these manipulations are safe, there are suspicions that the injury rates are higher than currently believed. For instance, a group of neurosurgeons in Tulsa OK wrote a paper on a number of patients who had suffered neurological problems after cervical spinal manipulation (Malone et al., 2002); at the end of their paper they estimate the rate of injuries based on the population of their geographical area, the number of cases they've seen, and the approximate prevalence of chiropractic care:
"Based on these data, with our local 20 patients who experienced CSMT [cervical spinal manipulation therapy] related complication during the study period, and assuming that 17,000 patients had undergone cervical manipulation during the study period, then the complication rate was approximately one irreversible complication per every 850 patients undergoing a series of manipulations in the local region of the study. If the mean number of manipulations per patient is assumed to be 10, then the risk of complication in this study would be one in every 8500 cervical manipulations. Using other published data to estimate the number of cervical manipulations in this regional population, there could be up to 180,000 procedures annually, yielding a complication rate of one irreversible per 45,600 cervical manipulations. This does not take into account that our group represents only one third of the neurosurgeons in the geographical region around Tulsa." (emphasis mine, Malone et al., 2002)
Ernst, the author of the first paper on injury reports I quoted above, provides more details on evaluations of chiropractic injury rates in a comment published in Stroke (Ernst, 2001a):
"The best way to arrive at such information [figures on the incidence of major problems] is to prospectively study large samples of consecutive patients. Five such investigations have been published, and none reports a single case of a serious complication. This apparently confirms the assumption that complications are extreme rarities. Vis a vis the many thousand manipulations carried out daily, 200 or 300 complications in 5 years could be almost negligible. While we all hope that this is true, one must consider underreporting: if a patient suffers a serious complication after spinal manipulation, her chiropractor is unlikely to see her again, and the physicians who do might not think of a link between manipulation and the adverse effect. And even if they consider an association, are they likely to publish this as a case report? Moreover, none of the prospective studies available to date have enough power to detect events that occur less frequently than 1 in approximately 500 patients. Interestingly, most of these studies agree that mild, transient adverse effects (eg, local discomfort) are experienced by roughly every second patient who receives spinal manipulation.

"Where does this leave us when trying to critically evaluate the safety of spinal manipulation? We know that serious complications do exist. We also know of plausible explanations of how spinal manipulation might lead to serious adverse events; eg, sudden rotational and hyperextensive head movements can cause a traumatic dissection of the extracranial arteries. The incidence of life-threatening complications, however, is unknown, and previous estimates have all been based on assumptions which may or may not be true." (emphasis mine, Ernst, 2001a)
Thus chiropractic is a profession which has very little research behind it (relative to the medical profession), and what research it does have shows that it is not any more successful than other, far better-researched medical practices. Combine this lack of research regarding clinical usefulness with the lack of good data regarding the safety of chiropractic treatments (even for those treatments where there is some evidence of patient benefit), and this makes chiropractic unacceptable for medical care. Would you follow the treatment your doctor prescribed if she said, "We do not know the frequency of adverse effects of this medication"? I certainly wouldn't – that's why I go to a doctor, to get the best available treatment based on the most current research, including extensive research on the risks of the treatment (or, if the risks of the treatment are unknown, this is made clear).

Considering that the majority of chiropractic treatments have never been shown to have any significant benefits, what few treatments have been shown to have benefits with regard to placebos still do not improve on current medical practice, and that the risks of chiropractic treatments are unknown, it seems fair to say that virtually any chiropractor making a claim that they can safely provide treatment that is better than current medical practice is misrepresenting the truth.

Thus, that a state-sponsored school would consider opening up a college to train chiropractors is ridiculous; state schools should not be in the business of supporting such misguided professions, even if the public is satisfied with them.


Assendelft, W.J.J., S.C. Morton, E.I. Yu, M.J. Suttorp, and P.G. Shekelle. 2003. Spinal Manipulative Therapy for Low Back Pain: A Meta-Analysis of Effectiveness Relative to Other Therapies. Annals of Internal Medicine 138(11): 871-881. (abstract, full-text PDF is free)

Cherkin, D.C., K.J. Sherman, R.A. Deyo, and P.G. Shekelle. 2003. A Review of the Evidence for the Effectiveness, Safety, and Cost of Acupuncture, Massage Therapy, and Spinal Manipulation for Back Pain. Annals of Internal Medicine 138(11): 898-906. (abstract, full-text PDF is free)

Ernst, E. 2001a. Life-Threatening Complications of Spinal Manipulation. Stroke 32: 809. (full-text)

Ernst, E. 2001b. Prospective investigations into the safety of spinal manipulation. J Pain Symptom Manage: 21(3):238-42. (abstract)

Hurwitz, E.L., Aker, P., Adams, A.H., Meeker, W., Shekelle, P.G. 1996. Mobilization and manipulation of the cervical spine: a systematic review of the literature. Spine 21: 1746-60. (abstract)

Malone, D.G., N.G. Baldwin, F.J. Tomecek, C.M. Boxell, S.E. Gaede, C.G. Covington, AND K.K. Kugler. 2002. Complications of cervical spine manipulation therapy: 5-year retrospective study in a single-group practice. Neurosurgical Focus 13(6): 1-8. (full-text PDF)

Shekelle, P.G., A.H. Adams, M.R. Chassin, E.L. Hurwitz, R.E. Park, R.B. Phillips, and R.H. Brook. 1992a. The Appropriateness of Spinal Manipulation for Low-Back Pain. Indications and Ratings by an all Chiropractic Expert Panel. Santa Monica, CA: The RAND Corporation, R-4025/3-CCR/FCER. (list of Rand papers)

Shekelle, P.G., Adams, A.H., Chassin, M.R., Hurwitz, E.L., Brook, R.H. 1992b. Spinal Manipulation for Low-Back Pain. Annals of Internal Medicine 117(7):590-8. (abstract)

“The Chiropractic Profession and Its Research and Education Programs” December 15, 2000. Report for Florida State University by MGT of America, Tallahassee, FL. (PDF)

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Return of the King: Lists

Warning: Those not interested in Lord of the Rings movie nitpicking need read no further.

After watching the extended edition DVD of the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King movie New Year's Day, my SO and I couldn't help but make a few lists to summarize our thoughts on the movie (we've tried to be careful with spoilers, but there's only so much we can do):

Best additions to the extended edition of RotK (we last saw the theatrical release a while ago, so may have missed some)
1. The Houses of Healing.
2. "The king has his crown again".
3. The Mouth of Sauron.
4. More on the siege of Gondor.
5. More cute orc armor on Frodo and Sam (and even marching with orcs!)
6. More time with Pippin in his Gondor armor.
7. More time and detail on Cirith Ungol.

Most mangled additions to the extended edition of RotK
1. Saruman's fireball: Magic is subtle in this world. Subtle!
2. Just about the entire conference with Saruman at Orthanc, especially the ending.
3. Gandalf's chat with the lord of the Nazgul.
4. The end of Aragorn's conference with the Mouth of Sauron.
5. Even more time spent on Arwen dying due to Sauron's power (or something).
6. The Indiana Jones sequence in the Paths of the Dead.
7. Aragorn seeing the corsairs from the end of the Paths of the Dead (he had to travel across a great amount of country to get to the river).
8. Eowyn talking to Merry on the road to Gondor with her helmet off (anyone could have seen her!)
9. The drinking contest.

Most glaring non-additions to the extended edition of RotK
1. The scouring of the Shire.
2. Gimli and Legolas talking about the Glittering Caves of Aglarond and Fangorn Forest.
3. Sam tracking orcs in despair after Frodo's encounter with Shelob.

Most mangled bits from the theatrical release of RotK:
1. Frodo and Gollum's fight at the very end.
2. Lack of scouring of the Shire (yep, it's big enough to mention twice).
3. Frodo telling Sam to go away.
4. Denethor's fiery leap.
5. That the "last ship" is leaving for Valinor (Sam, and others, enter Valinor decades later).
6. Pippin "dancing" with the palantir (subtlety, people, subtlety!)
7. Pippin lighting the signal fire.

Most mangled characters (in the entire series)
1. Denethor: A noble and keen-witted (if despairing) leader gets turned into a gluttonous, dimwitted, stereotypically ineffectual leader.
2. Treebeard (and all ents): The caring shepherds of the forest have no idea that their flock is being slaughtered.
3. Faramir: The noble man of the line of Numenor gets turned into a son whose only goal in life is to do something to make his father love him.
4. Gimli: He was so much more than comic relief.
5. Elrond: Wise, noble, helpful elf turned into unhelpful, domineering father.
6. Legolas: He could be so much more than Captain Obvious, the pretty killing machine.
7. Arwen: Why was she even in the movies as anything but a bit part?
8. The rangers (Dunedain): Where were they?
9. And, of course, how could I leave off my namesake (Radagast) from this list? He was deleted entirely (not that he doesn't deserve it, but still)!

Most improved characters (in the entire series)
1. Boromir: We both hated him in the books before seeing the movies, but now feel bad for him, even when rereading the books.
2. The Ring.
3. Gollum.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Two salads

My SO and I tried out some new salad recipes for Christmas dinner, based on an article in the most recent edition of Fine Cooking. The salads were very flavorful, and contrasted with each other nicely, so I'll include them both in this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post. For both salads we got the ingredients ready and then brought them all to the table, allowing us to add as much of each as we desired.

Salad 1: Kalamata olives, tomatoes, onions, and feta with an olive vinaigrette dressing
Salad 2: Apples, toasted pecans, and feta with a feta vinaigrette dressing

Salad 1: Olives ahoy!

Salad ingredients
Whole, pitted, kalamata olives (or whatever kind you prefer)
Fresh tomato, sliced
Sweet onion, sliced
Feta cheese, crumbled
Mix of greens (we used spinach, romaine, and a mix of other greens)
Olive vinaigrette

Olive vinaigrette (from Fine Cooking)

3 anchovy filets, rinsed, dried, and chopped (we used ~1 tablespoon anchovy paste)
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced or pressed with a garlic press
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
ground pepper (to taste, we used a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon)
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

To make the dressing
1. Mix the anchovy filets, shallots, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and pepper. Let rest for ~10 minutes.
2. Add the chopped olives and parsley, mix.
3. Slowly add the olive oil while mixing.
4. Let the dressing sit overnight in the fridge, or at room temperature for a few hours, before using. Let warm to room temperature, if you have time, and whisk the oil back in before serving.

To make the salad
1. Mix the salad ingredients together, add as much dressing as you prefer, and serve.

Salad 2: Apples and pecans!

Salad ingredients
Apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into ~2 cm^3 chunks
Shelled pecans
Feta cheese, crumbled
Mix of greens (we used spinach, romaine, and a mix of other greens)
Feta vinaigrette

Feta vinaigrette (modified from Fine Cooking)
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 teaspoons whole-seed mustard (or Dijon mustard)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Ground black pepper (a few grinds)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled

To make the dressing
1. Mix the shallots, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper together and let sit for ~10 minutes.
2. Add the olive oil and whisk together, then mix in the feta cheese.
3. Let the dressing sit overnight in the fridge, or at room temperature for a few hours, before using. Let warm to room temperature, if you have time, and whisk the oil back in before serving.

To make the salad
1. Toast the pecans by putting them in a dry frying pan over medium high heat. Shake or stir them frequently until they smell fragrant / toasty and begin to brown.
2. Peel and chop the apples just before using.
3. Mix the apples, pecans, feta, and greens together, add dressing, and serve.

My SO substituted peeled, sliced fresh oranges after we ran out of apples, and the salad was just as good.

Sinskey, M.H. 2005. Creating Elegant Winter Salads. Fine Cooking 69: 52-56.

[Updated December 2007 to add a link to our homemade mustard.]

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year!

I couldn't resist taking this screenshot last night:

1/1/2005 at midnight

Neither my SO nor I had finished as much work as we'd wanted to by midnight, but after banging some pot lids outside we came back in and decided to start the new year on a good note by watching the entire LOTR: Return of the King extended edition movie on DVD (which my aunt, uncle-in-law, and cousins gave us for Christmas, thanks!) We took a short break for a snack during the movie, then went to bed at the crack of dawn, and barely woke up by the crack of dusk.