Sunday, February 27, 2005

Light blogging this week

I've spent most of today getting a wiki up and running for a research class I'll be teaching this summer; it's been fun and productive, but time consuming. Unfortunately, my wiki fiddling means that I didn't get any of my grading done (I have a huge pile of exams and labs on my desk), so grading, plus some committee meetings, will be taking up most of my non-teaching time this week. Since my primary blogging goal for the week is to get the Third Skeptics' Circle out on Thursday, that means normal blogging will be light for the next few days.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Recipe link of the week: Roasted cauliflower

My SO found a delicious-sounding cauliflower recipe on The Grub Report:
"Anyway, as Nessa shuffled for our fortieth game of Clue, I took the opportunity to hack up the newly purchased cauliflower head, toss the florets with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and throw it into a 475° oven. I stirred it every so often and let the pale vegetable roast until it got dark and crispy at the tips, about 35-40 minutes.

Wow. Just wow. It was like candy. I shoveled each bite in so fast because I didn't want that taste to leave my mouth. Ever. I think the last time I prepared something so simple that floored both me and my husband so completely was when I discovered roasted fennel.
"
My SO and I just made this tonight, and we agree: this is an amazing way to make cauliflower. It's even better than Mom's cauliflower with cheese sauce (sorry, Mom). The only problem was that our single head of cauliflower didn't make nearly enough to satisfy the two of us. Stephanie's closing sums it up:
"I refuse to understand why this dish isn't on every menu in every restaurant all across the world. You just haven't lived until you've eaten this dish. I don't think I could put this any more plainly: make this. Tonight."

Skeptics' Circle: A call for submissions

Skeptics Circle blutton
Dear skeptical friend,

I apologize for writing so late, but events have transpired to keep me busier than I had hoped.

This coming Thursday (March 3) I will be publishing the third-ever Skeptics' Circle from my home here at Rhosgobel, and I would like you, kind friend, to participate. If you don't know what the Skeptics' Circle is, take a look at the first and second editions; they are both fine collections of skeptical writing from across the blogosphere.

Almost any article that skeptically examines a topic will qualify for inclusion; both Orac and St. Nate have previously described the characteristics they hope to find in a Skeptics' Circle post, and my opinions mirror theirs. Of course, since my interests tend to the study of biology (and education), articles addressing those topics are most welcome, but really any topic will do.

So, pull out your quills, then put them away and sit down at your keyboard, and start writing something sketpical. Once you've got it posted (or if you've already posted it), send me the link and I'll include it in the third edition if it fits the criteria. I've included a moth pupa with this letter, which should eclose early enough to reach me with your return letter before the deadline. Please let me know by other means if you need heavier-duty transport; birds will be no problem to provide.

I need to receive a link to your article by 11pm PST on Wednesday, March 2 if I am to include it in the post; the moth knows this.

Yours truly,

Radagast
Manduca sexta adult
[Note: I'm going to keep this post at the top until the Skeptics' Circle publishes on Thursday. This post was originally posted on Feb. 26 at 4:15pm.]

Friday, February 25, 2005

Now that's an interesting one ...

A recent CNN article describes an unusual ethical situation: while having an affair six years ago, a woman may have saved sperm from oral sex and inseminated herself with it; she subsequently filed a suit for child support and won. The man is now suing her for both theft and emotional distress.

An appeals court has agreed that he can sue for emotional distress, but not theft because
"'She asserts that when plaintiff "delivered" his sperm, it was a gift -- an absolute and irrevocable transfer of title to property from a donor to a donee,' the decision said. 'There was no agreement that the original deposit would be returned upon request.'"

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Posting PowerPoint slides

Every week after I give my lecture (and lab) presentations, I post my PowerPoint slides (unedited) on my course website as PDF files. I do this primarily so that students don't have to worry about copying down all the figures and complex definitions I include in my lectures, and it also lets students correct any errors they've made while taking notes. Posting the slides also provides the students with a handy review tool, and allows me to more freely introduce content that isn't in the textbook, since I know students will at least have my slides as a reference.

I've gotten a lot of positive feedback in response to posting my slides, and have even seen students print out the slide sets, cut out important figures or definitions from them, and tape them directly into their notes. One student even used to leave blank spaces the size of my printed slides in her notebook while taking notes.

At the beginning of every semester, however, I get requests from a handful of students who want me to post the slides ahead of my lectures, instead of after them. This isn't completely unreasonable, as I know a number of my peers do this, and some even sell bound copies of their lecture slides in the bookstore (how those instructors manage to get a full semester's worth of lecture notes finalized before the semester begins is beyond me). While I can understand that this could work for some instructors, I don't think it fits with my lecture style, and thus, during the first few weeks of classes, I get to repeatedly explain why I don't post my slides ahead of time. Here are my reasons:

1) Posting slides ahead of time kills the flow and surprise of a lecture. I try to make my lessons as engaging as possible, and often include neat little surprises or tidbits of information that (I think) spice things up. If the students had all that information on the slides in front of them, the lecture wouldn't be nearly as engaging, and it would also encourage an "all right, just get to the next slide already" mindset.

2) I regularly edit my slides up to a few minutes before I give my lectures, and thus anything I gave my students would necessarily be different from what I actually presented. This could easily cause confusion about what material the students actually had to know, as well as making the lecture more confusing ("But we don't have that slide in our notes!").

3) I like to be flexible in the classroom, able to change topics to follow a tangent if one arises, sometimes jumping ahead to future topics while answering student questions. Having the preprinted slides out ahead of time would restrict my ability to do this ("That isn't in our handout!"), but by posting my slides after the lecture, students have only one clean file to look over.

4) The students would not have to take notes or be active participants in lecture, since they had all the text in front of them. It's my opinion that being forced to take notes helps student recall and attentiveness.

5) One way instructors get around the lack of note-taking with preprinted slides is to remove critical elements from each slide (keywords, etc.). I find this strategy to be annoying, as it turns the lecture into a game of "find the term", where instead of paying attention to the content, students are focused on finding the missing words.

6) I have a number of in-class participation questions embedded in my slides, designed to check to see if students are understanding the content. If the students had these available during the lecture they could easily sketch out the answer to the questions while I was discussing content related to the questions, defeating much of the purpose of the questions (which is often to get students to think back, remember, and apply content we've just covered). An obvious solution to this would be to remove the question-containing slides before posting, although then the students wouldn't have the questions available afterward.

7) It's a minor point, but students would try to take notes on the slides, even though there probably wouldn't be enough room for detailed note-taking.

There is, however, one large benefit of giving out lecture slides ahead of time: the students don't have to frantically redraw complex figures to take notes related to the figures. Thus, if I know there are complex figures that I'll be spending a lot of time on in lecture, I post these as PDFs on my website before the lecture.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Tangled Bank #22

Tangled Bank Blutton
The 22nd Tangled Bank is now online at The Scientific Indian. It's filled with good science posts, as always.

Skeptics Circle blutton
Don't get too excited about the Tangled Bank, however, as the third Skeptics' Cricle will be hosted right here at Rhosgobel next Thursday. Submissions are always welcome!

[Addendum: Thanks to PZ for reminding me that I really meant to say, "Get very excited about the Tangled Bank, even though in a week ..."]

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Tangled Bank announcement

Tangled Bank Blutton
The next Tangled Bank will be posted this Wednesday by Selva at The Scientific Indian. Get your submissions in by tonight if you want to be included.

The Joy of Tech

Via Orac I've discovered a new (to me) online comic that I'll be putting right next to Penny Arcade on my bookmark toolbar: The Joy of Tech.

Here are a few favorite strips from the archive:

LA Times registration policy

I registered for the electronic edition of the LA Times ages ago, and have their login stored as a cookie. Thus it was a bit odd to find the LA Times asking me for a login after I'd reached one of their articles via a Google search, especially since my old login didn't work.

Even more baffling was that even after creating a new login and logging in, the LA Times still didn't show me the article I was looking for, instead they just gave me an error message saying that the article couldn't be found. This seems like the essence of sleazy web design: forcing a user to register before telling them that the content they're looking for doesn't exist.

Here's an example of what they're doing to some of their new users:

Let's say a user is looking for information on the recent California budget. The user googles for articles on the 2005 California budget in the LA Times, and finds a few articles of interest.
LA Times Google results
Some of the articles, such as this Jan. 6, 2005 article detailing how the governor is reneging on his promise to fund education properly, are freely available without registration (the LA Times does have some taste, I will admit). No problem here.

However, some of the articles, such as an interesting-looking article from Feb. 8 talking about the GOP and the state budget (the second purple link in the image above), bring the user to a page asking them to register:

LA Times login screen

Assuming the user doesn't have a login, they have to go through the LA Times's full registration process, which asks for the following information:

LA Times registration screen

After the user has confirmed their e-mail (by following a link the LA Times sends them) and logged in, the LA Times boots the user to the Times's homepage, which is useless if the user is trying to get to the article they had googled for. Now that the user has logged in, following the Google search link gets them the following screen:

LA Times error screen

So, the LA Times forced the user to hand over lots of (very accurate, I'm sure) personal information, and never once bothered to tell the user that the page they were looking for wasn't available anymore.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Debian troubleshooting - shutdown problems and a static IP

It turns out that I missed one problem caused by my upgrade to Debian's testing (3.1) release when I wrote my prior post on the upgrade: on shutdown my machine froze after printing the line "Deconfiguring network interfaces". This meant that I had to do a hard power-down every time I wanted to restart the machine, causing mandatory disk checks on startup. Even though one of the benefits of Linux is that the machine hardly ever needs to be rebooted, this was still annoying, so I set about trying to solve the problem.

Unfortunately, the system log daemon terminated before the system lock was occurring, so there was no log of the freeze. Thus, my first step in diagnosing the problem was to add "-v" to the ifdown command in the /etc/init.d/networking file on the line after the "deconfiguring network interfaces" echo command (causing the ifdown command to print verbose output). After shutting down in a terminal window, I discovered that the machine was freezing after printing the lines "run -ports /etc/network/if-down.d" and "pump -i eth0 -r". I looked all over, and got help on the Debian IRC channel, but couldn't find what would cause Debian to freeze after this pump line.

I then found this message on an e-mail list describing a nearly identical problem. The message's suggested hack was to try deleting the components of the /etc/network/ifstate file before shutting down. I tried this, it worked, and thus I did as they suggested and added the line "echo -n > /etc/network/ifstate" to the /etc/init.d/networking file just before the ifdown command that was being run on shutdown. After making the change the system rebooted multiple times without a hitch.

A few days after enacting this workaround I decided to look into pump to see if it could use a static IP, and realized that since I was behind a router I likely didn't need pump (or any dhcp service) at all. To get rid of the dhcp service I removed the "iface eth0 inet dhcp" line from the /etc/network/interfaces file and replaced it with "iface eth0 inet static", following it with configuration options to use a static IP I knew was available on my home network (192.168.0.x); the man/info page for "interfaces" lists the various options. Since I already had pump running, I was able to use "pump -s" (which gives the status of pump's connection) to discover the proper settings.

After configuring the static IP address and restarting the network, I was able to remove the line I'd added to the /etc/init.d/networking file, and the system rebooted without problem.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Crepes with a savory chicken and cheese sauce filling

This week has been a good one for food here at Rhosgobel; chocolate tortes, truffles, jambalaya, and crepes were all on the menu. My SO hasn't divulged the recipe for the truffles yet, so this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post will feature the crepes.

I first learned about crepes in a junior high school class called "Introduction to Languages." The class covered Japanese, French, Spanish, and German (if I remember correctly), and during the French unit we watched a video on French food that featured a recipe for crepes. I scribbled the recipe down, made it at home with my folks soon afterwards, and have been making variants on it ever since.

The recipe I now use for the crepes is modified from Joy of Cooking, and the chicken filling I include below is a modified version of the one I learned about way back in junior high. The chicken sauce is nothing fancy, but both my SO and I agree that it makes a great savory filling for the crepes.

Included below are recipes for the crepes and the chicken filling, along with detailed cooking instructions for the crepes.

Crepe batter:
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
4 large eggs
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, melted
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch salt

Filling:
1 pound chicken (we use boneless skinless thighs)
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
Salt and pepper (~1/4 teaspoon each), plus some salt to sprinkle on the chicken
2 cups grated cheddar cheese

To make the crepe batter:
1) Add all the ingredients for the crepe batter to a blender or food processor and blend or process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary.
2) Refrigerate the mixture for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

To make the filling:
1) Bake your chicken as appropriate for the cut you have on hand. We typically use frozen boneless, skinless thighs, and bake them according to the package directions (30-35 minutes from frozen at 400F, covered with foil for the first 20 minutes). I like to sprinkle the chicken with a little salt before it cooks.
2) Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into small cubes (approximately 1 cm^3).
3) Make a white sauce with the butter, flour, and milk, using your own method or following the directions in steps 3a, 3b, and 3c.
3a) Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then add the flour and stir until it forms a paste-like consistency.
3b) Cook the flour-butter paste over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until it smells a bit nutty and gets a bit browner (but doesn't burn).
3c) Add the milk in several small increments, stirring constantly and not adding more milk until the milk from the prior addition has been fully incorporated. At the end of this you should have a thick, creamy sauce; if you want the sauce to be thicker, let it simmer for a bit. One of the fun things to observe is that the butter and flour mixture should actually get thicker after adding your first bit of milk, not thinner.
4) Add the chicken, grated cheese, salt, and pepper to the white sauce, mix until the cheese is melted, and check the salt level. Maintain over low heat until ready to serve.

To cook the crepes:
Cooking crepes takes a bit of practice, so don't worry if your crepes don't look like a professional chef's on the first try; what's more important is that they taste good, aren't burned, and can be filled with tasty fillings.
0) Get out your supplies and arrange them around the stove. You'll need a pan, the crepe batter, a measuring device for the batter (a 1/8 or 1/4 cup measurer works well), a spatula to flip the crepes with, a plate to put the crepes on once they're cooked, and a paper towel or two to clean up the inevitable drips of crepe batter.
1) Heat a small to medium non-stick pan over medium or medium-high heat, adding a little butter or oil to the pan before cooking the first crepe.
2) When the pan is warm, add about 2 tablespoons (1/8 cup; half of a 1/4 cup measurer) of crepe batter to the pan, then rotate the pan to distribute the batter into a circle. To do this I have the crepe batter on my left, and my pan on the stove to my right; I hold the crepe pan in the air with my right hand while simultaneously pouring the batter into the pan from the 1/8 cup measurer in my left hand. Then I swirl the pan using primarily my right wrist and put the pan back on the heat to cook. All combined, this step should take only a few seconds.
3) Once the top of the crepe is no longer liquid and shiny, flip the crepe with a spatula; the crepe should be nicely browned on the first side. I find it often helps to slide the edge of the spatula under the edge of the crepe around its entire circumference before attempting to flip the crepe.
4) Once the second side is lightly browned, slide the crepe out of the pan onto a waiting plate. Look the crepe over to see how it turned out, and adjust the cooking time and the stove's heat level based on this inspection (e.g. if they're browning too quickly, turn the heat down). I have an electric stove with only a few heat settings, so I often find myself switching between two heat levels on the stove to maintain the optimum cooking temperature.
5) Continue cooking (steps 2-4) until you've made as many crepes as you want.
6) Bring the cooked crepes and the sauce to the table, and let everyone fill their crepes as they desire. Having preheated plates can be nice, as the crepes are thin and cool quickly.

When I cook the crepes I use two pans simultaneously, to help speed up the process, but I'd recommend sticking with just one pan until you have the technique down.

These crepes are good with both savory fillings (like the one above) and sweet fillings (e.g. jams or preserves); we'll often finish our meal by having a few crepes with a jam filling. If you want to fill the crepes with only sweet fillings, you can make sweet crepes by increasing the sugar and decreasing the salt in the crepe batter.

This recipe makes enough crepes and filling for my SO and I to have two full meals. We'll commonly cook up about half the crepe mixture the day we make the dish, and then save the rest of the batter to cook the next day.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Who says scientists read only science books?

PZ Myers posted this, via ProfGrrrrl:
  1. Grab the nearest book.
  2. Open the book to page 123.
  3. Find the fifth sentence.
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.
I'm on my Linux box, and the closest book is actually a graphic novel: Cardcaptor Sakura: Master of the Clow, Volume 3.
"He's very kind to her."
And that was the last sentence on the page, too. Of course, a lot of the page is taken up by art, primarily Tomoyo and cherry blossoms. For those who know the series, Tomoyo is talking to Syaoran about whether Eriol likes Sakura (sheesh, when I put it that way it sounds like a soap opera).

Why I hate brick and mortar stores

My SO and I were planning to tile our bathroom floor this holiday weekend. There's a cold joint in the concrete floor we're going to be tiling, so we need a crack isolation membrane to go under the tile. Through discussions on a message board we've discovered a highly recommended crack isolation membrane (Schluter Ditra), which we planned to purchase this weekend from one of the many local dealers the manufacturer listed on their website.

So, yesterday I called a number of the local dealers to see if they had the membrane in stock. Most stores either didn't have the membrane, didn't know what I was asking for, or stocked it in 100-foot rolls (we need about 10 feet). I finally found one store that sold the membrane by the foot, but it was closing shortly after I called so I couldn't pick it up until today. The Ditra membrane also requires a waterproofing strip (Schluter Kerdi-band) that covers the joints between the Ditra sheets, but the store that sold the Ditra didn't sell the Kerdi-band, so I had to continue calling around until I finally found a store that had a 100-foot roll of that in stock (nobody sold Kerdi-band by the foot).

Most of the stores closed by noon today, so I got up early and headed out to the two stores in the rain. The closest store on my outing sold only the Kerdi-band, and I was able to get that without incident. The second store was significantly further away; when I finally arrived, I had the following interaction with the young woman busily playing solitaire behind the desk:

Me: "Hi. I'd like to get 12 feet of the Schluter Ditra membrane."
Unhelpful clerk: "What company are you with?"
Me: "None."
Unhelpful clerk: "Are you a contractor?"
Me: "Nope. Just working on my bathroom."
Unhelpful clerk: "We don't sell to the public. You'll have to go somewhere else."
Me: "I only need 12 feet of this, and you're the only nearby store that sells it by the foot."
Unhelpful clerk: "We only sell to contractors and companies. You'll have to find someone who can buy it through us. Try calling a few places."
Me: Growl.

Nobody from this company had bothered to mention that they didn't sell to the public when I called them yesterday.

There was one other store in the area that sold the Ditra membrane by the foot (even further away, and more expensive), so I drove home and gave them a call to check that they still had it in stock (which they had confirmed yesterday) and get directions. Today, however, it was a different story. The employee I talked to said that they were out of stock, they didn't know when they'd be getting more stock in, and, to add insult to injury, they quoted me an even higher per-foot price than they'd given me yesterday. Oh yes, and they close at 3pm and won't be open until Monday.

A quick search online has found two stores (TileExperts and InstallerTools) and one eBay seller who are happy to sell Ditra by the foot to the public (and in rolls shorter than 100 feet). All the stores are quite conveniently open right now, tell me the exact price they're going to be charging, and will likely be more than happy to take my money. They're also cheaper than any of the local brick and mortar stores for the amount I need, including shipping.

I think I'll go place an order right now.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Skeptics' Circle #2

Skeptics Circle blutton
The second Skeptics' Circle is now online at Respectful Insolence / Orac Knows. It's written in a great style, is filled with neat articles, and yours truly even plays a part in the post.

I will be hosting the third Skeptics' Circle here at Rhosgobel in two weeks. Submissions are welcome anytime until the evening of Wednesday, March 2.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The anti-juice campaign?

OK, this is ridiculous. In less than a week, CNN has featured not one, but two articles bashing fruit juice for children. The first CNN article focused on a recent journal article, and I've already described how deceptive that report was. The second article, "Doctors say kids should lay off juice", doesn't focus on any particular studies, but instead uses quotes from three doctors to show how awful juice is for children. The introduction of this recent article is just about as good as the introduction to their first article:
"Soda in a sippy cup?

"Most parents wouldn't dream of it. But researchers say that when a baby's bottle or cup is filled with juice -- even the 100 percent, all-natural, no-sugar-added stuff -- parents might as well be pouring Pepsi.
"
This is at best sensationalist, and at worst completely inaccurate. Those who've read my recent review of Welsh et al.'s paper (2004; the subject of the first CNN article) know that the study found differences between juice and other sweet drinks, and didn't even show that sweet drinks were bad for all children.

More specifically, Welsh et al. found that children's consumption of any sweet drinks (soda, juice, Kool Aid, etc.) was related to the likelihood of overweight and at-risk-of-overweight children remaining or becoming overweight, but was not associated with normal-weight or underweight children becoming overweight. When Welsh et al. looked at just 100% juice consumption, they found no statistically significant associations between children's weight and juice consumption for any weight class of child. So, not only is there not a strong link between sweet drinks and weight gain (normal-weight children didn't demonstrably gain weight), but the study also shows that there is some quantifiable difference between juice and other sweet drinks. Thus, pouring a glass of juice is not the same thing as pouring a glass of Pepsi.

The article only gets worse:
"'All of these beverages are largely the same. They are 100 percent sugar,' Dr. David Ludwig, an expert on pediatric obesity at Children's Hospital Boston, said recently. 'Juice is only minimally better than soda.'

"The trouble is that parents who are quick to limit a child's soft drink consumption often overlook or even encourage juice indulgence thanks to the beverage's good-for-you image.

"But that image can be overstated. Though healthy in moderation, juice essentially is water and sugar. In fact, a 12-ounce bottle of grape soda has 159 calories. The same amount of unsweetened grape juice packs 228 calories.
"
There are a number of problems with the statements above; I'll go through them one at a time.

1) Grape juice is not 100% sugar. In fact, its macronutrient breakdown is 96% carbohydrate (including 0.3 g of fiber in an 8oz serving), 3% protein, and 1% fat, though actually a glass of grape juice is mostly water (~84%). Grape soda's macronutrient breakdown, on the other hand, is indeed 100% carbohydrate.

2) CNN got their Calorie counts correct, but they failed to mention that grape juice is one of the highest-Calorie 100% juices available. 12 ounces of orange juice and 12 ounces of grapefruit juice have 168 and 152 calories respectively, right in the range of grape soda (see Table 1).

3) A major difference between fruit juice and soda is that 100% fruit juices have many vitamins and other nutrients, while soda does not. All four fruit juices I acquired nutritional data for (see Table 1) have decent amounts of many vitamins (e.g. thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6) and minerals (e.g. magnesium, phosphorous, potassium), whereas the grape soda had no vitamins and very few minerals (and was lacking in all the items I've listed here). See Table 1 below for a full comparison of the nutrients in soda versus the nutrients in a number of common juices.

The CNN article also oversimplifies the regulation of hunger:
"Part of the problem is that the calories in juice are so concentrated. Just half a cup (4 ounces) of apple juice has 60 calories, the same as a whole apple, but without the fiber that makes fruit filling."
This post is not the place to delve into the regulation of hunger and feeding behavior in humans, but suffice to say that there are plenty of studies showing that hunger is regulated by a far more complicated system than one that simply measures the amount of fiber in the intestines at any one time, as this statement implies.

The article also has a sidebar, which gives this deceptively titled summary of the juice literature:
"JUICE ABUSE
Science: Contrary to the healthy image of unsweetened juices, research increasingly links sweet drinks of all kinds to childhood obesity. Doctors say juice isn't much better than soda.
Reason: Like soda, juice is mostly water and sugar, and it doesn't have the fiber of whole fruit.
Advice: Children under 6 months should never have juice, and there's no nutritional reason to give it to kids before their first birthday. Kids under 6 can be allowed about a half-cup; plump children should avoid it altogether.
Source: Associated Press
"
The "science" portion of the sidebar yet again confounds juice with all sweet drinks (a common problem in both CNN articles). Notice also that there's not a single reference in the sidebar (there are no references in the rest of the article either). What studies are they citing? My guess is that the article's author is probably including the 10,000-child Welsh et al. study in their research category, which, as I've said above, doesn't support their implications that juice causes overweight in children.

Where can we find actual research into the topic of juice consumption and overweight? The Welsh et al. introduction nicely summarizes some of the research into sweet drinks' and juices' effects on childhood weight. Welsh et al. list six studies that all show a link between sweetened drinks (sodas, Kool Aid, etc.) and overweight in humans. However, Welsh et al.'s section on the link between 100% juice and overweight paints a less-certain picture:
"Among preschool children, previous studies have focused on the association between consumption of fruit juice and overweight. Dennison et al [1997], in a cross-sectional study, found that children who were aged 2 and 5 years who consumed ≥12 oz/day of fruit juice were more likely (32% vs 9%) to be obese (BMI ≥90th percentile) than those who consumed less. However, longitudinal studies reported by Skinner et al [Skinner et al. 1999 and Skinner and Carruth 2001] and Alexy et al [1999] suggested that juice consumption has no association with the incidence of overweight."
So, based on this introduction, we have one paper that shows a link between juice consumption and overweight, and four papers (including Welsh et al.) that show no association between juice consumption and overweight. In fact, the one study (Dennison et al. 1997) cited as showing a link between drinking juice and overweight did not take total Calorie intake into account, so it is possible that this observed link between obesity and juice consumption is solely due to overweight children consuming more Calories, some of which came from juice. In sum, these studies constitute good evidence that juice by itself does not lead to overweight, and most certainly do not justify the statement that juice is equivalent to soda. In fact, one of the papers (Skinner and Carruth 2001) found that "As juice consumption decreased, intakes of less nutritious beverages increased", indicating that parents are most likely not substituting milk or water for juice, as the CNN articles suggest they should.

But ignoring the deceptive writing and possibly bad science, the article does have some good points. The article suggests that parents should have children drink milk or water instead of juice and sweet drinks. Milk is certainly a very healthful drink for children, and it's hard to go wrong with water. The pediatric association's recommendation not to give nursing children juice also makes perfect sense; juice is no substitute for breast milk or formula.

However, the article fails to clearly delineate a number of key conclusions that can be drawn based on the literature summarized above.

1) If your child is overweight, it may be worthwhile to look at how many Calories they're getting from juice. If the child is getting a large number of Calories from juice, then consider switching the child to drinking milk or water. However, the same goes for any food or drink that overweight children are consuming, so there's no reason to single out juice for special attention (e.g. drinking milk in excess could easily lead to overweight).

2) 100% juice in moderation will not harm your child, so if your child enjoys juice there's absolutely no reason to cut it out from their diet. Even for overweight children, the Welsh et al. study shows no statistically significant relationship between juice consumption and remaining overweight, and for normal or underweight children there's not even a statistically significant relationship between consumption of all sweet drinks and becoming overweight.

3) 100% juice is a more nutritious choice for children than juice "drinks", juice "beverages", Kool Aid, lemonade, or soda. So, if a parent has a choice between any one of those drinks, they should almost always choose 100% juice over the alternatives. About the only more nutritious drink for a child is milk, and the ideal low-calorie drink for a child is water.

Unfortunately, parents don't get these messages from the two CNN articles, and thus it's likely that they'll just settle on soda or Kool Aid as drinks for their children, since juice is more expensive and, after all, just "soda in a sippy cup."


Table 1: Nutrition data for 12 ounces of four 100% fruit juices and grape soda. Units for most numbers are in the column to the left, and percent daily values (%DV), where available, are in parentheses after each value. %DV are for "adults or children aged 4 or older, and are based on a 2000 Calorie reference diet." (Data for canned or bottled grape juice, orange juice from concentrate, pineapple juice from concentrate, grapefruit juice from concentrate, and grape soda)

Orange juice (%DV) Pineapple juice (%DV) Grapefruit juice (%DV) Grape juice (%DV) Grape soda (%DV)
Calories 168 195 151.5 231 160
%carbs 94% 97% 92% 96% 100%
%fat 1% 0 3% 1% 0
%protein 5% 3% 5% 3% 0
-




Protein 2.55 g (4.5%) 1.5 g (3%) 2.1 g (4.5%) 2.1 g (4.5%) 0 g
Tryptophan (mg) 7.5 - -
0
Threonine (mg) 29.85 - - 60.75 0
Isoleucine (mg) 26.1 - - 26.55 0
Leucine (mg) 48.6 - - 45.6 0
Lysine (mg) 33.6 - - 37.95 0
Methionine (mg) 11.25 - - 3.75 0
Cystine (mg) - - - - 0
Phenylalanine (mg) 29.85 - - 45.6 0
Tyrosine (mg) 15 - - 11.4 0
Valine (mg) 41.1 - - 37.95 0
Arginine (mg) 168 - - 178.5 0
Histidine (mg) 11.25 - - 26.55 0
Alanine (mg) 52.35 - - 327 0
Aspartic acid (mg) 268.5 - - 83.55 0
Glutamic acid (mg) 119.55 - - 417 0
Glycine (mg) 33.6 - - 45.6 0
Proline (mg) 157.5 - - 60.75 0
Serine (mg) 48.6 - - 49.35 0
Hydroxyproline (mg)
- -
0
-




Vitamins




Vitamin A (IU) 399 (7.5%) 37.5 (0%) 33.3 (0%) 30.3 (0%) 0
Retinol (mcg) 0 0 0 0 0
Retinol Activity Equivalent (mcg) 18.75 3.75 0 0 0
Alpha Carotene (mcg) 11.25 0 7.35 0 -
Beta Carotene (mcg) 63.45 22.5 14.85 19.05 -
Beta Cryptoxanthin (mcg) 340.5 0 3.75 0 -
Lycopene (mcg) 0 0 0 0 -
Lutein+Zeaxanthin (mcg) 429 0 37.05 132.9 -
Vitamin C (mg) 145.35 (241.5%) 45 (75%) 124.8 (208.5%) 0.45 (0%) 0
Vitamin D - - - - -
Vitamin E (mg) 0.75 (3%) 0 (0%) 0.15 (0%) 0 (0%) -
Beta Tocopherol (mg) 0 - - 0 -
Gamma Tocopherol (mg) 0.15 - - 0 -
Delta Tocopherol (mg) 0 - - 0 -
Thiamin (mg) 0.3 (19.5%) 0.3 (18%) 0.15 (10.5%) 0.15 (6%) 0
Riboflavin (mg) 0 (4.5%) 0.15 (4.5%) 0.15 (4.5%) 0.15 (9%) 0
Niacin (mg) 0.75 (4.5%) 0.75 (3%) 0.75 (4.5%) 1.05 (4.5%) 0
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.15 (7.5%) 0.3 (13.5%) 0.15 (7.5%) 0.3 (12%) 0
Folate (mcg) 165 (40.5%) 41.25 (10.5%) 14.85 (3%) 11.4 (3%) 0
Food Folate (mcg) 165 41.25 14.85 11.4 0
Folic Acid (mcg) 0 0 0 0 0
Dietary Folate Equivalents (mcg) 165 41.25 14.85 11.4 0
Vitamin B12 (mcg) 0 0 0 0 0
Pantothenic Acid (mg) 0.6 (6%) 0.45 (4.5%) 0.75 (7.5%) 0.15 (1.5%) 0
Vitamin K (mcg) 0.3 (0%) 1.05 (1.5%) 0 (0%) 1.5 (1.5%) -
-




Minerals




Calcium (mg) 33.6 (3%) 41.25 (4.5%) 29.7 (3%) 34.2 (3%) 11.2 (1%)
Iron (mg) 0.3 (1.5%) 1.05 (6%) 0.45 (3%) 0.9 (4.5%) 0.3 (2%)
Magnesium (mg) 37.35 (9%) 33.75 (9%) 40.8 (10.5%) 37.95 (9%) 3.7 (1%)
Phosphorus (mg) 59.7 (6%) 30 (3%) 51.9 (4.5%) 41.7 (4.5%) 0 (0%)
Potassium (mg) 709.5 (21%) 510 (15%) 504 (15%) 501 (15%) 3.7 (0%)
Sodium (mg) 3.75 (0%) 3.75 (0%) 3.75 (0%) 11.4 (0%) 55.8 (2%)
Zinc (mg) 0.15 (1.5%) 0.45 (3%) 0.15 (1.5%) 0.15 (1.5%) 0.3 (2%)
Copper (mg) 0.15 (7.5%) 0.3 (16.5%) 0.15 (6%) 0.15 (6%) 0.1 (4%)
Manganese (mg) 0 (3%) 3.75 (186%) 0 (3%) 1.35 (69%) 0 (2%)
Selenium (mcg) 0.3 (0%) 0.45 (0%) 0.3 (0%) 0.45 (0%) 0 (0)


References:

Alexy U, Sichert-Hellert W, Kersting M, Manz F, Schoch G. 1999. Fruit juice consumption and the prevalence of obesity and short stature in german preschool children: results of the DONALD Study. Dortmund Nutritional and Anthropometrical Longitudinally Designed. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 29: 343–349 (abstract)

Dennison BA, Rockwell HL, Baker SL. 1997. Excess fruit juice consumption by preschool-aged children is associated with short stature and obesity. Pediatrics: 99 : 15–22 (abstract, PDF)

Skinner JD, Carruth BR, Moran J III, Houck K, Coletta F. 1999. Fruit juice intake is not related to children's growth. Pediatrics 103: 58–64 (abstract, PDF)

Skinner JD, Carruth BR. 2001. A longitudinal study of children's juice intake and growth: the juice controversy revisited. J Am Diet Assoc 101: 432-437 (abstract)

Welsh, JA, ME Cogswell, S Rogers, H Rockett, Z Mei, and LM Grummer-Strawn. 2004. Overweight Among Low-Income Preschool Children Associated With the Consumption of Sweet Drinks: Missouri, 1999–2002. Pediatrics 115: e223-e229. (Abstract, PDF)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A post in praise of truffles

Today was a rather hectic day, made worse by the fact that my lab was not properly set up, forcing me to delay the start of lab (and skip lunch) while I frantically found what was missing. The day, however, ended about as well as a day can when my SO gave me my belated Valentine's Day present:

Valentine's Day truffles
Oh yummy!

These aren't just any truffles; they're handmade by my SO. From top to bottom we have milk chocolate blackberry truffles rolled in granulated sugar, milk chocolate blackberry truffles rolled in cocoa powder, dark chocolate hazelnut truffles rolled in powdered sugar, and dark chocolate hazelnut truffles rolled in ground hazelnuts. They taste absolutely marvelous.

I've got to be one of the luckiest guys around ...

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day

I don't teach on Mondays this semester; instead, I typically spend the day in the office preparing for the week ahead. However, since it was Valentine's Day, I stayed home and have been cooking and relaxing with my SO.

The highlight of the day so far has been watching Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust for the first time. My SO and I have drooled over art from the movie for quite a while, but had never gotten around to actually watching it; the completed movie did not disappoint. The art is some of the most beautiful and detailed I've seen in anime (possibly excluding Studio Ghibli's work), very textured and moody.

Another highlight of the day, however, was learning from Wolverine Tom that there's a recipe for trilobite cookies available online. My SO and I have got to make these for a biology gathering at some point.

Lest you be too envious of my day, I have to spend much of this evening editing labs (as I've been doing most of the weekend), so it won't be a completely relaxing day (though there is a rumor that a chocolate hazelnut torte might be on the schedule as well ...)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Skeptics' Circle Announcement

Skeptics Circle blutton
The second Skeptics' Circle will be coming out this Thursday, and Orac wants to know who's interested in participating. To be included, send your best skeptical writing to orac_usa at hotmail-dot-com; see here and here for guidelines.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Roasted asparagus with garlic and olive oil

Several years ago my SO decided to try roasting asparagus in the oven, instead of steaming it as we had always done in the past (probably inspired by Joy of Cooking). We added a little garlic and olive oil for flavor, and soon discovered that we had a new favorite way of preparing asparagus. The garlic pieces crisp up and take on a wonderful flavor, accentuating the natural flavors of the asparagus.

Our local vegetable market recently had asparagus on sale, so we picked up a few pounds and roasted some for dinner, making this a good end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

1 pound asparagus, rinsed and patted dry
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed with a garlic press or finely minced
~2 tablespoons olive oil
~3/8 teaspoon salt
~1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

0. Preheat the oven to 500F.
1. Snap off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus. Arrange the spears in a single layer in a shallow baking dish (we use a rimmed cookie sheet lined with foil).
2. Mix the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a small dish or cup.
3. Brush the olive oil mixture onto the asparagus, distributing the garlic pieces across the vegetables.
4. Put the asparagus in the oven and roast until the spears are tender and the tips are getting crispy, approximately 8 minutes (be careful of overcooking, as the garlic can burn).

Having some fresh bread on hand can be a good way to soak up any leftover oil and garlic on your plate or in the pan.

The proportions of ingredients in the olive oil mixture are flexible; vary them to your taste. This dish can produce a lot of smoke in the normal course of roasting, so be prepared for that (though we've never had it burn, even when smoking a lot).

Friday, February 11, 2005

Ah, rain ...

We've had yet more rain here in Southern California these past two days, which was great (I love rain) except that I had a field lab scheduled. The idea of the lab was to have students test hypotheses relating to microclimate variation across campus. Yesterday's night lab got drizzled on while they were working, but everyone stuck it out. This morning it stopped raining just as the students in my first lab section of the day finished designing their experiments, so I sent the groups out with the instruction to come back if it started raining.

Of course, 20 minutes after the students left it started pouring, so I soon had a bunch of very wet students returning to the lab (though one group stuck it out and finished collecting all their data). I apologized profusely, and let the students out early as a reward for their soggy work. It was still raining for my afternoon lab, so after the students in that lab designed their experiments I gave them a choice: they could either do the lab during the rain, or wait and do it next week. This seemed to work quite well, as some groups shot out the door for the parking lot, ecstatic at getting out early, while other groups were excited by comparing a rainy to a non-rainy day, so they slogged out and got some data which they will compare to data they get next week.

So, despite the best attempts of the weather to foil my lab plans, all worked out well. In fact, the students were generally surprised by the amount of variation in climate variables (e.g. air temperature, soil moisture) that they were able to observe even though it was cloudy and raining.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

No, fruit juice will not make your children fat

A recent study that got a lot of media coverage was billed as showing a link between fruit juice and obesity in children. The study, by Welsh et al. (2004), was published in Pediatrics.

A typical article on the study was the CNN (via AP) article, "Study links juice, chubby children" (Feb. 7, 2005). The article starts off by summarizing the findings of the study:
"Sweet drinks -- whether Kool-Aid with sugar or all-natural apple juice -- seem to raise the risk of pudgy preschoolers getting fatter, new research suggests.

"That may come as a surprise to parents who pride themselves on seeking out fruit drinks with no added sugar.

"'Juice is definitely a part of this,' said lead researcher Jean Welsh of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"While fruit juice does have vitamins, nutritionists say it's inferior to fresh fruit. The new U.S. dietary guidelines, for example, urge consumers away from juice, suggesting they eat whole fruit instead.

"The bottom line, though, is that 'children need very few calories in their day,' Welsh said.

"'Sweet drinks are a source of added sugar in the diet.'

"She said preschoolers were better off snacking on fruit or drinking water or milk.
"
The article goes on to discuss some of the study's results in more detail, but it is this introduction that is particularly worthy of note. After reading this, it sounds as though juice has been shown to be just about one of the worst things you could give your child to drink, as it's equivalent to Kool-Aid (functionally uncarbonated soda), and is just added sugar that will cause your child to gain weight.

The study's results are quite different. In their study Welsh et al. acquired height, weight, and diet data on more than 10,000 2-3 year olds, re-sampled the same children a year later, and then looked to see if there was a correlation between weight gain and sweet drink consumption. Note the terminology - the primary correlate that Welsh et al. examined in their study was not juice consumption, but instead sweet drink consumption, which they define as
"all sugar-sweetened and naturally sweet drinks listed on the HFFQ: 'vitamin C juice (orange juice or juice with vitamin C added),' 'other juices,' 'fruit drinks (Hi-C, Kool-Aid, lemonade),' and 'soda (soda, soft drink, pop [not sugar-free]).'"
It is true that Welsh et al. also examined the correlation between weight gain and sweet drinks excluding soda, and just pure fruit juice, but the CNN article focuses on the sweet drink results.

One of the methodological problems in Welsh et al.'s study is that children who consume more juice are likely to consume more calories, and thus any weight gain observed might be due solely to the excess calorie intake, not due to juice intake by itself. Welsh et al. did, in fact, find that children who consumed more juice consumed more calories overall in their diets: "Energy intake increased as the consumption of sweet drinks increased with mean calorie consumption for those who consumed 0 to <1, 1 to <2, 2 to <3, and ≥3 drinks 1425, 1596, 1771, and 2005, respectively (data not shown)." To control for this possible confounding effect they used a logistic regression analysis that included many possible variables, including (in their most controlled analysis): "age; gender; race/ethnicity; birth weight; and intake of sweet foods, high-fat foods, and total energy." With this analysis they found:
"Normal or underweight children who consumed 1 or more sweet drinks daily were 1.3 to 1.5 times as likely to become overweight as the referent group (<1 drink daily), but these results were not statistically significant. Children who were at risk for overweight at baseline and consumed 1 to ≥3 sweet drinks daily, however, were significantly more likely to become overweight than the referent. ... Similarly, overweight children who consumed 1 to ≥3 sweet drinks daily were more likely to remain overweight"
As I've mentioned before, when a result is not statistically significant you must say that there is no effect of the treatment. So, a translation of the above paragraph would read, "Sweet drinks had no significant effect on the liklihood of normal or underweight children to become overweight, but children at risk for overweight and overweight children were more likely to become or remain overweight if they consumed sweet drinks." So, only if your child is overweight or at risk of being overweight does consumption of sweet drinks have a demonstrable effect on their weight.

The CNN article does include this result, saying,
"The link between sweet drinks and being overweight showed up for all three weight categories, although it wasn't statistically significant for the normal and underweight children."
However, the CNN article does not translate the statistics for their readers anywhere nearby in the article. Thus, anyone not well-versed in statistics will likely not understand the last portion of that sentence, and may erroneously come to the conclusion that sweet drinks cause weight gain in all weight categories of children.

Remember, however, that the authors define sweet drinks as being any sugary drink, including sodas, Kool-Aid, and the like. Thus, this result has no bearing on the consumption of fruit juice alone. So, what did the authors find regarding fruit juice?
"With fruit juice only, we found no significant associations for at-risk or normal/underweight children (odds range: 0.8–1.2). Among children who were overweight at baseline, the association with overweight was positive, although the strength was diminished (odds range: 1.3–1.5), and the results were of only borderline significance."
Generally, when something is statistically significant, authors say so, so "borderline significance" can probably be translated as "not significant" for our purposes. Thus, the results of Welsh et al.'s study when examining solely fruit juice consumption are exceedingly simple to summarize: consumption of fruit juice was unrelated to the risk of children of any weight becoming or remaining overweight. Alternately, if we wanted to be generous with our statistics, we could say that fruit juice may have had a difficult to detect effect on the weight of already overweight children, but no effect on any other weight class of child. In either case, pure fruit juice has not been shown to be correlated with children becoming overweight.

The CNN article ignores this distinction, however, and goes on to discuss how a school banned fruit juice (implying that it was a good thing), and to discuss why drinking sweet drinks might cause overweight:
"Sweet drinks are high in calories and low in fiber. Nutritionists believe that calorie-dense, low-fiber foods may lead to overeating because those foods are quickly consumed but less filling than foods higher in fiber.

"The authors suggest that limiting sweet drinks may help solve the growing problem of childhood obesity. One in five American children is overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health.
"
To be fair, by this point in the article, the article's author has mentioned that sweet drinks were defined to include things other than juice, but the article never clarifies that when examining solely juice there were no significant effects. So, while what the article says here is true, by failing to clarify that these results don't apply to juice alone, they leave parents with the implication that even drinking pure fruit juice is bad for their children. Then the article reinforces this erroneous conclusion with its ending anecdote:
"But Dr. Rebecca Unger, who evaluates overweight children in private practice and at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said the study backs up what she sees in the real world.

"'We do see kids do well when we cut out juice,' she said. 'Sometimes that's all they need to do.'
"
So, even though most of the CNN article is technically correct, the implications that permeate it regarding drinking pure fruit juice are entirely without basis in the published paper. Children have to drink something when they're thirsty, and this study shows that 100% fruit juice is likely a better alternative than many of the other drink choices out there (<100% juice, lemonade, Kool-Aid, soda, etc.). I doubt many parents will get that take-home message from this article, though.

As a final note, I find the nutritional proclamation to eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking fruit juice to be nonsensical. When I'm thirsty, I want a tall glass of something liquid, not a crunchy, solid piece of fruit.

Citation:

Welsh, JA, ME Cogswell, S Rogers, H Rockett, Z Mei, and LM Grummer-Strawn. 2004. Overweight Among Low-Income Preschool Children Associated With the Consumption of Sweet Drinks: Missouri, 1999–2002. Pediatrics 115: e223-e229. (Abstract, PDF)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Tangled Bank #21

Tangled Bank Blutton
Tangled Bank #21 is now online at About Town, posted by Xavier.

I haven't had a chance to read all the posts yet (lots of multi-part ones this time), but I found Orac's post on the time commitments of an academic surgeon to be quite enlightening. The post reminds me much of the time constraints put on academic teaching faculty at many "Research I" universities; these faculty have to pull in grant money and publish papers to get tenure, but teaching sucks up as much time as they'll give it, often to the detriment of their research program. It is true, though, that life or death does not usually rest on the academic teaching faculty member's proper allocation of time ...

Tangled Bank Announcement

Tangled Bank Blutton
The next Tangled Bank is coming out tomorrow at About Town, so get your submissions to Xavier or host@tangledbank.net by tonight if you want to be included.

Monday, February 07, 2005

A relatively painless upgrade to testing

Over this past weekend I decided to upgrade my new install of Debian from the stable 3.0 (r4) release to the testing release. While the stable release is supposed to be "rock solid", it also happens to mostly include programs last updated in 2002, and thus I was finding myself unable to install much of the software that I wanted (R commander for a statistics GUI, Firefox, AbiWord's latest version, etc.). The name of the testing release implies that it's rather unstable, but since packages have to go through some testing before they get to the testing release, it's actually supposed to be quite reliable for the average user.

The upgrade itself was very easy to do. I updated the sources.list file to include the testing release, updated apt.conf (in /etc/apt) to include the line "APT::Cache-Limit "25165824";" (since without some specification of a cache apt-get failed), and then ran "apt-get update" followed by "apt-get dist-upgrade". After a long download, and a few configuration screens of slightly confusing questions, the machine was ready to go.

The primary problem I encountered was on reboot; the machine didn't auto-reboot (failed to finish the shutdown process), and then on restart stopped at the Lilo bootscreen showing just "LI". I discovered that this meant something was wrong with my boot loader/record, so I booted into Linux using one of the stable release 3.0 CDs as a rescue disk. As a side note, I was happy to find that even though the Lilo loader was freezing, I appeared to have access to everything on my system by booting via the rescue disk. I reran lilo, which rewrote the boot loader/record, and since then have been able to boot just fine.

The only other problem I encountered was that printing stopped working. To fix that I upgraded CUPS using apt-get (it had not been upgraded to the testing release's version), put a new PPD file from LinuxPrinting into the proper directory (/usr/share/cups/model/), and then had to restart ("/etc/init.d/cupsys restart") and reconfigure CUPS (using http://localhost:631/admin) to use the new PPD file.

The difference between Debian's stable and testing releases is quite large; I can now use Firefox 1.0, the Gnome desktop environment is much cleaner, and the newer versions of the office-suites (Abiword, Gnumeric) are more professional. The speed is also quite impressive - I'm using an ~3 year old box with an ancient video card, and the system is very responsive. The more I use Debian on this old machine, the more I can see using Debian as the operating system on my primary machine at home (though I need to explore how the Word and PowerPoint replacements interact with my lecture files and work versions of the programs). That all this professional-grade software is open-source and available completely free of charge is extremely appealing.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Teff - a whole grain breakfast

Teff is an extremely small a tiny grain native to northern Africa; the seeds are oval and typically measure only 1mm x 0.5mm. For comparison, millet with the hull removed is a sphere approximately 2mm in diameter, and wheat berries are an oval approximately 7mm long and 3mm wide (note: measurements are from grains I had on hand; I have no idea how typical these are for these three species).

My SO and I enjoy trying various whole grains, and so when we first saw teff (which can apparently also be spelled tef) in the store a few years ago we couldn't help but give it a try. Handling teff can be somewhat challenging, as it has the consistency of fine sand, but other than that it can be treated like any whole grain. Teff cooks up into a soft porridge, and has a pleasant whole-grainy taste. To be honest, when simply boiled and eaten plain teff isn't very impressive, but once you doll it up a bit it's quite delicious (much like oatmeal, in my opinion).

This past week we broke out our teff and made a quick and simple breakfast with it, and thus I thought it would make a good end-of-the-week recipe blogging post. Here's the recipe we used to make enough for the two of us for breakfast.

3 cups water
3/4 cup whole teff (I don't even want to consider how many seeds this is)
Pinch salt
Brown sugar and butter, to taste

1. Bring the water and salt to a boil
2. Add the teff and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes (less if you want it chewier, more if you want it softer)
3. Transfer into bowls and serve with butter and brown sugar.

We topped each bowl of teff with a few slices of butter, and then mixed in a few spoonfuls of brown sugar to make a somewhat sweet and hearty breakfast. You could easily mix in whatever toppings you wanted (treat it like oatmeal or cream of wheat).

Being a whole grain, teff is inherently healthful. A single serving (3/8 of a cup) of plain teff has
  • 240 Calories
  • 7.5 Calories from fat (no saturated fat)
  • no cholesterol
  • 2mg sodium
  • 50g of carbohydrates (not for the low-carb eating diabetics among us)
  • 9g of fiber (36% of your day's fiber)
  • 9 grams protein
  • 30% of your daily iron
  • 12% of your daily calcium
Of course when you add in your toppings (e.g. butter and sugar above) you will increase the fat and carbohydrate content respectively.

Teff is typically available in specialty markets; we've often found it produced by Bob's Red Mill, which has an online store you can order it from (or, if you live near Portland, you could probably just drive to their store).

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Lamenting the lack of pedagogical training

PZ Myers has a post describing the lack of teaching-related training he received in graduate school (and some commenters have echoed the sentiment). When I entered graduate school there were a few professors who encouraged new students to teach well, but the majority of faculty were clearly of the opinion that teaching was a necessary evil. The acting head of my department when I entered graduate school even went so far as to say something to the effect of, "Don't spend time on teaching; it doesn't get you anything" in his first talk with new graduate students. I went into graduate school with the mindset that my primary goal in academia was to be a researcher, so I thought that this was relatively sane advice.

As many readers can guess by my current choice of teaching at a community college, my research mindset didn't last long. I quickly found that I enjoyed my role as a teaching assistant (TA), and eventually decided that I wanted to focus my career on teaching rather than research.

There were two major influences that changed my mind regarding teaching as a career, and both are instructive regarding the teaching of pedagogy in graduate school (a convenient pretext for some navel gazing). The first influence was that I had stumbled into a department where there was a top-notch biology education professor in charge of the non-majors introductory biology course that all new TAs got thrown into. This instructor was (and still is) the best teacher I have ever seen; he truly cared about helping students learn biology, and had an excellent grounding in research-based pedagogy. All new TAs were required to take a three- or four-day workshop on pedagogy with him before they taught, and throughout the semester we had weekly meetings where we discussed pedagogy and how to deal with the classroom problems we were all encountering. It was during this first semester that I started to learn how to teach.

However, many of my fellow graduate students despised this pedagogical training, actively voicing their criticism of both the instructor who led it and his pedagogical ideas. Many tried to avoid using his ideas in their sections, and virtually all tried to get away from this instructor as quickly as they could, many saying that their time was being wasted.

A number of the faculty who taught pedagogy were from non-science disciplines, and thus a common complaint used by my peers to dismiss learning about pedagogy was, "Sure, maybe those techniques work for the humanities, but they'd never work for teaching science. They just don't understand science." Personally, I've never gone to a lecture on pedagogy where I didn't find at least something I could use (or something I should avoid using) in my own science teaching, regardless of the discipline of the lecturer.

The second influence was that my graduate school had a very active Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program. Preparing Future Faculty is a nationwide program that introduces doctoral students at research universities to faculty roles at a variety of academic institutions (community colleges, private universities, etc.), and also discusses practical things like pedagogy and how to look for an academic job. The PFF program at my campus met weekly for a year, and through the PFF program I was introduced to community colleges. Before PFF I generally thought of community colleges as the backwaters of academia, but after PFF I realized that the community college faculty role perfectly fit my preference for teaching, and that community colleges had the potential to be the best and most innovative higher-education institutions in the country. The PFF program also brought in guest lecturers who discussed pedagogy, including a talk by the best peer-instruction / group-work instructor I have ever seen.

So, at my campus there was this incredible opportunity available for graduate students to learn about pedagogy and faculty roles. Since the program was somewhat space-limited, students had to apply to get in; as far as I know I was the only member of the graduate student cohort from my department to even apply, and I was the only member of my department from my year to attend. I think there were fewer than five or ten science students in the entire program when I took it, out of probably thousands of potential students.

The lack of participation in PFF was likely due to the conflicting demands of teaching and research. The PFF courses took up hours of precious time that could be spent doing research, and since most students were already spending more hours a week on teaching than they felt they could afford, nobody wanted to participate. Additionally, since teaching was rarely an acceptable goal for graduate students in my department, I imagine that some students didn't want to appear as though they were too interested in teaching (I had one committee member tell me that I should not teach at a community college, and that he was certain I'd be back within a year or two wanting to do research).

So, the problem with training science graduate students in pedagogy is not necessarily that the training is unavailable (though this may be the case at some institutions), but rather that there is little incentive for students to avail themselves of such training. Most science graduate students know that to keep a faculty position at many institutions you must be a productive researcher pulling in grant money regularly, yet you need be only a mediocre teacher. As long as that mentality persists, it seems as though pedagogical training will never be predominant in graduate programs.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Rem is perking up!

I'm happy to report that Rem, our sick mouse, appears to be on the way to recovery. She's been gaining back some of the weight that she lost, probably helped by having ad lib puppy chow, sunflower seeds, and twice-daily doses of our special antibiotic ice cream.

A few days ago we started to notice that she was becoming more active, including coming out of her nest area to explore on her own, a behavior that had stopped while she was sick. Last night we even let her back into the cage with her daughters, and within a few minutes Rem was being lovingly groomed. Afterwards everyone curled up to sleep together, as before.

Here's Rem eating ice cream from the comfort of her nest a few days ago:

Breakfast in bed
Breakfast in bed ... what more could a sick mouse want?

Department heads

Jill/txt has just been elected to be the head of her department (congratulations!), and she's been blogging about her time commitments in the new position. In yesterday's very cute post she showed that becoming a department head doesn't give you some magical power of self-confidence and protocol knowledge, which is slightly reassuring to this untenured professor.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

The first Skeptic's Circle

St. Nate has posted the Skeptic's Circle #1, a collection of recent skeptical blog posts, including my FSU Chiropractic article. It's a great idea for a carnival.

The Nasonex bee

While collapsing on the couch Tuesday night after my first day of teaching (and burning my hand while making dinner), I caught the tail end of an ad for Nasonex, an allergy medicine. The ad caught my attention because it was using an animated honey bee as its spokes-organism, though, of course, it didn't catch my attention for the right reasons: what stood out were the glaring errors in their animated hymenopteran. The first problem is that the bee in the ad was talking with its mouth. This would be very difficult physiologically, as the bee respiratory system (the tracheal system) is not connetected to the mouth at all, and thus the bee could not easily pass air over structures in its mouth to make noise.

A quick visit to the Nasonex website found two good images of the bee to critique.

Nasonex bee flying
Nasonex bee hovering

1) The eyes are clearly vertebrate-style eyes. Insect eyes do not have an iris, pupil, or sclera, and instead have compound eyes containing many ommatidia.

2) The legs are in the wrong place. All insect legs and wings arise from the thorax (the middle tagma), but instead this bee has been drawn with two pairs of legs coming off the abdomen. Only certain other arthropods (e.g. crustaceans) have appendages on their abdomens.

3) The mouth is wrong, wrong, wrong. Insects do not have teeth and do not have a jaw (both of these are uniquely chordate characteristics). Bees also do not have chordate-style tongues, which it appears that this bee has. Instead, bees have both mandibles and a tube that protrudes from their head and contains a tongue-like structure (formed from modified arthropod mouthparts; two maxillae and the labial palps wrapping around a glossa). The jaw and teeth this bee has been drawn with would be decidedly useless in consuming nectar and honey, two of a honey bee's primary food sources.

4) The bee is alternately drawn with one or no pairs of wings. When the bee first loads on their site, it somehow flies across the screen with a complete lack of wings. When the bee reappears, it has only one pair of wings. I'm sure the bee would be highly insulted by this, as the primary insect lineage that has only one pair of wings is flies (not that I have anything against flies, but I suspect bees would); bees and most other insects have two pairs of wings.

5) Whatever they've drawn over the eye: it looks like it's supposed to be an eyebrow, and I could see it as a Pitot tube, but it sure doesn't belong there.

6) There're no pollen baskets (corbiculae) on the hind legs; bees use these baskets to carry pollen back from flowers to their hive. Considering that the bee is busy visiting flowers during the commercial, and thus is most likely a foraging worker, it should definitely have pollen baskets.

For some great closeups of what honey bees actually look like, take a look at these SEMs or these videos of a bee feeding. Aren't they far cuter in real life?

Coming up next on Rhosgobel: rabbits don't really clamor for sugary cereals.