Monday, February 27, 2006

Biology links

Deep-spied fish: Atlantic expeditions uncover secret sex life of deep-sea nomads: Secret sex lives of fish? What more do you need to hear to be motivated to click on that link? (via Deep-Sea News)

Undersea microbes active but living on the slow side: A press release summarizing research showing that archaeans are extremely prevalent in deep-sea sediments. The populations appear to be so large that "[t]he microbial ecosystem in deeply buried marine sediments may comprise a tenth of Earth's living biomass" (via Deep-Sea News)

Gardens-in-a-petri : A post with some pictures of artistically-shaped bacterial colonies growing on agar plates; many of the images come from this discussion of fractals in nature.

Ah, if only ...

Last Friday PZ Myers posted that he's all caught up. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of your host.

In the (seemingly chronically recurring) vein of warning my dedicated readers when imminent workloads threaten posting frequency, here's a rough outline of my major projects for the next three weeks: write and submit another NSF grant, serve on a full-time faculty hiring committee, start recruiting and meeting with students for my summer field course, attend the Innovations conference in Atlanta, work with another instructor to plan a new course for the fall, do a whole bunch of departmental administrivia, and, somewhere in there, teach my courses.

I'm really going to need my spring break.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Elegant chocolate frosting

My SO and I discovered the recipe for our lemon butter frosting when we were just starting to bake cakes; we like it so much that we frost more than half the cakes we bake with that frosting. Sadly, we haven't had as much luck with chocolate frosting. Over the years we've tried a number of different recipes, but most were either too gooey, too hard, too granular, or just not chocolatey enough.

All of our trials and tribulations ended, however, when we made Joy of Cooking's chocolate ganache frosting: it's easy to make, tastes like it was made from chocolate truffles (which it functionally is), looks shiny and smooth when frosted onto a cake, and is the perfect silky texture at room temperature. It even holds up to refrigeration well. Since we just baked a cake and frosted it with this frosting tonight, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces (we use chocolate chips)
1 tablespoon flavorful liquor (optional; we used rum this time)

1. Bring the heavy cream to a boil in a non-stick pot over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Remove the pot from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted into the cream.
3. Let rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
4. Whisk until smooth, and then whisk in the liquor. Let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until it's the proper thickness to frost. In our ~70F kitchen this took about 45 minutes, though it will depend on the surface-area-to-volume ratio of the chocolate in your pan.
5. Frost the cake. Be sure the cake is close to room temperature when you frost it; if it's too hot, the frosting will melt and run off, but if it's too cold, the frosting will congeal instantly.
6. Serve the cake at room temperature.


This recipe makes enough to thinly frost and fill a cake composed of two 9" rounds. It would easily cover a 9" x 13" sheet cake.

Joy reports that you can use either semisweet or bittersweet chocolate for the frosting; we've only used semisweet. Joy also reports that you can use either butter or heavy cream; we've used either all heavy cream or a mixture of heavy cream and butter with good results. This frosting can also be used as a glaze if you pour it onto the cake while the frosting is still quite warm.

I'd suggest frosting the cake while the frosting is still a bit more liquid than a typical butter-based frosting, as then the frosting will flow just a little after you spread it, removing most of your tool marks and leaving your cake looking smooth and shiny.

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

Game copy protection opens security holes

Boycott Starforce is a webpage encouraging users to boycott copy protection software that's used by a number of modern PC games. The problem with this copy protection software is that, like Sony's rootkit DRM software, it can wreak havoc with your computer and open up security holes:
The Starforce drivers are often linked to system instability and computer crashes. If these problems occur, the end-user would be unware as to the cause of the problem, and would be helpless to solve the problem.

For example, here's one of the common problems brought by Starforce: under Windows XP, if packets are lost during the reading or writing of a disk, XP interprets this as an error and steps the IDE speed down. Eventually it will revert to 16bit compatibility mode rendering a CD/DVD writer virtually unusable. In some circumstances certain drives cannot cope with this mode and it results in physical hardware failure (Most commonly in multiformat CD/DVD writer drives). A sure sign of this step down occurring is that the burn speeds will get slower and slower (no matter what speed you select to burn at). Starforce, on a regular basis, triggers this silent step down. ...

Moreover, the Starforce drivers, installed on your system, grant ring 0 (system level) privileges to any code under the ring 3 (user level) privileges. Thus, any virus or trojan can get OS privileges and totally control your system. Since Windows 2000, the Windows line security and stability got enhanced by separating those privileges, but with the Starforce drivers, the old system holes and instabilities are back and any program (or virus) can reach the core of your system by using the Starforce drivers as a backdoor.
There's a list of games that use Starforce here; thankfully Civ IV isn't on the list, but I'm saddened to learn that Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich (which I bought a few months ago) uses the copy protection system.

You can read more about Sony's rootkit DRM debacle at Sony DRM rootkit roundup IV (on BoingBoing; the article links to all previous roundups they've written)

(via BoingBoing)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

See? Biologists can do math too!

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

(via Pharyngula)

Political links of the week, take 2

[See also: political links of the week take 1.]

Bush and Blair have brilliantly done Bin Laden's work for him: An editorial in The Times arguing that Bush and Blair have done nearly as much damage as Bin Laden himself.
... The 9/11 “changes everything” mantra began as an explanation of a national trauma and a plea for sympathy. It was hijacked to validate the latent authoritarianism of democratic leaders.

America asks the world to believe itself so threatened as to require the kidnappings of foreign citizens in foreign parts, detention without legal process, the curbing of free speech and derogation from all international law. It asks the world to believe that it must disregard the Geneva conventions and employ foreign dictators to help it to torture at random. It uses the same justification for occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. The world simply refuses to agree. Only cringeing Britain appeases such actions and calls them merely “anomalous”. There are madmen aplenty, but they do not constitute a war.

Even America’s most robust champions plead that this is all grotesquely counter-productive. What is frightening is not the evil of much American foreign policy at present but its stupidity; the damage it does to its own objectives.
New Documents Provide Further Evidence That Senior Officials Approved Abuse of Prisoners at Guantánamo: An ACLU press release reporting on documents they recently obtained.
The May 2003 memo specifically names Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who was then Commander of Joint Task Force-Guantánamo, as having favored interrogation methods that FBI agents believed "could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information." The memo states that FBI personnel brought their concerns to the attention of senior Defense Department personnel but that their concerns were brushed aside.

Other documents released by the ACLU today provide more evidence that abusive interrogation methods used at Guantánamo were endorsed by senior officials. One FBI e-mail, dated May 5, 2004, states that "hooding prisoners, threats of violence, and techniques meant to humiliate detainees" were "approved at high levels w/in DoD." Another FBI e-mail states that certain techniques alleged to be abusive by some FBI agents were "approved by the Deputy Secretary of Defense."
Privacy Guardian Is Still a Paper Tiger: An article in the LA Times reporting on a government board created to protect civil liberties.
For Americans troubled by the prospect of federal agents eavesdropping on their phone conversations or combing through their Internet records, there is good news: A little-known board exists in the White House whose purpose is to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are protected in the fight against terrorism.

Someday, it might actually meet.


Foot-dragging, debate over its budget and powers, and concern over the qualifications of some of its members — one was treasurer of Bush's first campaign for Texas governor — has kept the board from doing a single day of work.
U.S. Reclassifies Many Documents in Secret Review: A New York Times article discussing a secret program to reclassify thousands of previously declassified historical government documents.
... because the reclassification program is itself shrouded in secrecy — governed by a still-classified memorandum that prohibits the National Archives even from saying which agencies are involved — it continued virtually without outside notice until December. That was when an intelligence historian, Matthew M. Aid, noticed that dozens of documents he had copied years ago had been withdrawn from the archives' open shelves.

Mr. Aid was struck by what seemed to him the innocuous contents of the documents — mostly decades-old State Department reports from the Korean War and the early cold war. He found that eight reclassified documents had been previously published in the State Department's history series, "Foreign Relations of the United States."


National Archives officials said the program had revoked access to 9,500 documents, more than 8,000 of them since President Bush took office. About 30 reviewers — employees and contractors of the intelligence and defense agencies — are at work each weekday at the archives complex in College Park, Md., the officials said.
Declassification in Reverse - The Pentagon and the U.S. Intelligence Community's Secret Historical Document Reclassification Program: A detailed report by The National Security Archive ("the world's largest non governmental library of declassified documents") discussing some of the documents that have been removed from the National Archives by the secret reclassification program discussed in the New York Times article (above). The National Security Archive article also includes scans of some of the documents that have now been reclassified.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why do people like sunrises?

Whenever I see a sunrise it means that either I've stayed up way too late, or am up way too early. In either case, it's not a welcome event.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Two good ways to start your day

1) Watch something that'll have you singing along in no time: Pinky and the Brain describe the brain. (caution - cheerful video; via Pharyngula)

2) Read something to angry up the blood: Autism alties propose chemically castrating autistic children, even though Orac's thorough rebuttal make it clear there's no evidence that chemical castration will help them. (by Orac)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Keep e-mailing me, please

Both PZ Myers and Timothy Burke nicely summarize my views on a New York Times article that attempts to cast student e-mails as the evil of modern academia. The article is ridiculous; even the "outrageous" examples of student e-mails they cite (such as a freshman asking which school supplies to purchase) seem perfectly reasonable. At the very least these faculty should grow spines; if you don't want to give out your lecture notes to students who miss class, then just respond and explain your policy. If you don't want to reply to a midnight e-mail, then don't (or, even better, explain that you only respond to e-mail during business hours). And finally, if you don't want to receive criticism regarding your lectures, then what are you doing giving them to an audience in the first place?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Long days and zombie roaches

Fourteen-hour days are just not much fun. What's even less fun is when the majority of those 14 hours are spent not teaching, but administering and doing other miscellany. In the last few weeks I've found that even though I'm working nearly constantly during the week, I end up with only a few minutes to review my slides before rushing off to lecture or lab. In fact, thanks to the Qwizdom debacle last week, I walked into lecture one day without even having reviewed the second half of my lecture. Considering that I chose to teach at a community college precisely so I could focus my entire professional effort on teaching, this is extremely frustrating.

But enough complaining; here's some cool biology for you to enjoy:

Carl Zimmer has a detailed report on Ampulex compressa, a parasitic wasp that turns roaches into zombies:
The wasp slips her stinger through the roach's exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently uses sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach's brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it--in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex--like a dog on a leash.

And it only gets better from there - go enjoy. Biology's so damn cool.

(via BoingBoing)

Monday, February 20, 2006

American potato salad - Radagast's SO's style

While I'm on the topic of potato salad, I might as well post a traditional American potato salad recipe. My SO prefers a relatively basic American potato salad, and since we had some extra potatoes last night after making our German potato salad, we also made a batch of my SO's favorite (very oniony) potato salad. Radagast even enjoys it despite it lacking hard-boiled eggs and pickles. This recipe is this week's second end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

3 pounds potatoes, whole, with skins
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 medium onion, finely chopped (~1 cup chopped)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 medium clove garlic, finely minced or pressed with a garlic press
3 tablespoons buttermilk (or milk)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Wash the potatoes and trim off any bad spots.
2. Add the whole potatoes (skin on) to a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil.
3. Simmer the potatoes until they are tender throughout; test by piercing with a fork or knife. This will likely take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the potato; we check the potatoes about every five minutes once they've been cooking for 20 minutes. Remove any small potatoes that finish cooking before larger ones.
4. Drain the potatoes and let cool to a comfortable handling temperature (but do not refrigerate).
5. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces and put into a bowl.
6. Mix the mayonnaise, onions, parsley, garlic, buttermilk, salt, and pepper in a separate bowl.
7. Add the mayonnaise mixture to the potatoes, and mix gently.
8. Refrigerate for at least a few hours to allow the flavors to meld; we serve it cold.


Vary the amount of onion to suit your tastes; we prefer it very oniony, but if you want it milder, use less onion or use a sweet onion. If at all possible use fresh parsley, as dried parsley isn't nearly as flavorful.

We typically don't worry about the variety of potatoes we use, though in general waxier potatoes hold their shape better. Last night we used "Butter Golds" and they were very good.

German potato salad

The perfect potato salad is most likely the one you ate while growing up. For instance, my mom always added chopped hard-boiled eggs and pickles to hers, and thus I find that any American-style potato salad without those ingredients is just, well, lacking. My SO, however, believes that adding pickles and hard-boiled eggs to American-style potato salad is pure heresy, and prefers the classic with just mayonnaise, onion, and parsley.

We have, however, found a potato salad that circumvents these silly debates: Joy of Cooking's German potato salad. Instead of slathering boiled potatoes in mayonnaise (or other creamy fats), German potato salad is made by mixing hot potatoes with fried onions, bacon, vinegar, and spices. The salad is warm, refreshingly tangy, and a nice change from the constant barrage of variations on American potato salads. Since we just made this for dinner Sunday night, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

2 pounds potatoes, whole, with skins
1/4 pound bacon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock (or water)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or to taste; plus an extra ~1 tablespoon for the potato cooking water)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Cooking the potatoes:

1. Wash the potatoes and trim off any bad spots.
2. Add the whole potatoes (skin on) to a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil.
3. Simmer the potatoes until they are tender throughout; test by piercing with a fork or knife. This will likely take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the potato; we check the potatoes about every five minutes once they've been cooking for 20 minutes. Remove any small potatoes that finish cooking before larger ones.
4. Drain the potatoes and let cool to a comfortable handling temperature (but do not refrigerate).
5. Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces and put into a heat-proof bowl. Have the potatoes chopped by the time the bacon and onion mixture is finished.

Making the dressing:

We often start cooking the bacon immediately after the potatoes have finished cooking.

1. Cook the bacon in a frying pan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the bacon has become firmer in texture and the edges are well-browned (a stage where you'd be comfortable eating it).
2. Add the onions to the bacon, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and have started to turn golden (~5 minutes).
3. Add the chicken stock, vinegar, sugar, paprika, mustard powder, salt, and black pepper to the bacon and onions, mix well, and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat.

Final preparation:

1. Pour the bacon mixture over the potatoes, and stir gently to mix.
2. Top with chopped parsley, if desired, and serve warm.


Vary the amount of vinegar to suit your tastes; Radagast often likes to add a little extra vinegar to his bowl. We use rice vinegar (4.5% acidity), primarily because it's what we regularly have on hand. Cider or wine vinegar would probably work just as well.

We typically don't worry about the variety of potatoes we use; it seems to taste good with every kind (though in general waxier potatoes hold their shape better).

Slightly modified from Rombauer et al. 1997 (our primary changes were removing pickles and celery greens, as well as changing the cooking order).

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

Friday, February 17, 2006

Political links of the week

Since I'd rather not turn this into a completely political blog, I'm pondering trying to combine my politically related posting into a single weekly post. Here are this week's links:

The Trust Gap: A scathing New York Times editorial on the Bush administration. It's well documented, and the opening paragraph sums it up:
We can't think of a president who has gone to the American people more often than George W. Bush has to ask them to forget about things like democracy, judicial process and the balance of powers — and just trust him. We also can't think of a president who has deserved that trust less.
Bill functionally bans third parties: The Green Party reports that Democrats are pushing a bill in Congress that would all but eliminate third parties from elections:
HR 4694 ("Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act") would grant nominees of parties (i.e., Democrats and Republicans) that had averaged 25% of the vote for House races in a given district in the last two elections would get full public funding.

All others (i.e., third party and independent candidates) would be required to submit petitions signed by 10% of the last vote cast for partial funding, and 20% petitions for full funding.

Furthermore, candidates who don't qualify for funding would be barred from spending any privately raised money on their campaigns.
Government may waive near $7 billion in oil, gas royalties:
The government may waive up to $7 billion in royalty payments from companies pumping oil and natural gas on federal territory in the next five years, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing administration officials and budget documents.

The royalty relief would amount to one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in U.S. history ...
UN inquiry demands immediate closure of Guantanamo:
A United Nations inquiry has called for the immediate closure of America's Guantanamo Bay detention centre and the prosecution of officers and politicians "up to the highest level" who are accused of torturing detainees.

The UN Human Rights Commission report, due to be published this week, concludes that Washington should put the 520 detainees on trial or release them.
Lawyers: Many Gitmo Detainees Not Accused:
More than half of the terror suspects being held at Guantanamo Bay have not been accused of committing hostile acts against the United States or its allies, two of the detainees' lawyers said in a report released Tuesday.

Compiled from declassified Defense Department evaluations of the more than 500 detainees at the Cuba facility, the report says just 8 percent are listed as fighters for a terrorist group, while 30 percent are considered members of a terrorist group and the remaining 60 percent were just "associated with" terrorists.
The photos America doesn't want seen - An Australian TV show has released more pictures of torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. There is a gallery here; BoingBoing has linked to a number of sites hosting the Australian pictures here. Subsequently, Salon released a different set of pictures, which BoingBoing links to here.

Iraqi insurgency more confident, coordinated: A report ("In Their Own Words: Reading the Iraqi Insurgency"; available here) by the International Crisis Group analyzing communication trends of the Iraqi insurgency.
In Iraq, the U.S. fights an enemy it hardly knows. Its descriptions have relied on gross approximations and crude categories (Saddamists, Islamo-fascists and the like) that bear only passing resemblance to reality. This report, based on close analysis of the insurgents’ own discourse, reveals relatively few groups, less divided between nationalists and foreign jihadis than assumed, whose strategy and tactics have evolved (in response to U.S. actions and to maximise acceptance by Sunni Arabs), and whose confidence in defeating the occupation is rising.
Republicans Block Investigation of Domestic Spying Program: A blog post by Representative Conyers describing how House Republicans blocked his proposed investigation into the domestic NSA spying.
You may recall that a few weeks ago I introduced a resolution of inquiry to obtain Justice Department documents about the President's domestic spying program.


Today, the House Judiciary Committee considered my resolution of inquiry on the domestic spying program. The Resolution was rejected 16 to 21, with all Democrats and one Republican (Congressman Hostetler) voting for it.


To me, this is one of the most serious problems with one-party, Republican rule: there is no check and balance of Executive Branch wrongdoing. The refusal to assert basic prerogatives to obtain documents and engage in oversight is dangerous and disheartening. We are not giving up -- we, meaning every House Judiciary Democrat, have sent our own questions to the Chairman and asked for a series of hearings on this issue.
25 Representatives want impeachment inquiry: The initial sponsor of the bill is none other than Representative Conyers.
25 US Representatives–including two members of the Georgia delegation–have now signed on as co-sponsors of H. Res 635, demanding a probe which could recommend Bush’s impeachment ...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Qwizdom: a very negative first impression

[This post reviews Qwizdom's Q4 RF in-class response system, comparing it with Interwrite's IR in-class response system.]


This semester I'm trying out a new (to me) brand of in-class response system. Today was the first day I used the system live in my class, and things did not go well. Before I talk about what went wrong, let me give readers some background.

In-class response systems are great for encouraging participation in classes. To use the system each student in the room buys (or is given) a hand-held transmitter that wirelessly sends the student's response to a receiver at the front of the room; a computer collects all the answers and then displays a histogram of the students' responses. I absolutely love using in-class response systems, and have written a number of posts on them (see my archive here, or just skip to my summary post of the negatives and positives of the systems). I use these systems primarily to encourage participation and quickly evaluate whether students are understanding the material. My grading is very simple: each question the students answer (correctly or incorrectly) is worth one point.

For the past two years (four semesters), I've used Interwrite's PRS system. Interwrite's student transmitters use infrared (IR) to send signals to the computer's receiver (the transmitters are glorified remote controls). Using infrared to send signals has two big drawbacks: each student must have a direct line of sight to the receiver (and thus multiple receivers must be installed in large rooms), and there is no possibility of two-way communication (e.g., the student transmitters can't confirm that the receiver has received the signal).

Qwizdom's RF unit:

The new system I'm using is made by Qwizdom, and it transmits signals via radio frequency (RF), allowing for non-line-of-sight two-way communication. RF transmitters hold much promise for the future of in-class response systems, if only because installing the system in a large room is as simple as plugging a small receiver into the USB port of a computer.

Qwizdom's Q4 transmitter (seen here) has lots of useful buttons; it comes with a 10-key numberpad complete with dash and decimal point, allowing instructors to ask both multiple-choice questions and numeric questions (which would be great for math or physics classes). Other transmitters on the market (eInstruction's RF unit and Interwrite's IR unit) either offer only multiple-choice answers (A-F; eInstruction) or have a numberpad but lack a decimal point (eliminating many possible numeric answers; Interwrite). Interwrite is coming out with a RF unit that does have a full numberpad with decimal point, but I have not used it.

While RF may be the wave of the future, Qwizdom's product has some major problems:
  • Price: the student transmitters are sold to bookstores for $49 each; after the bookstore marks them up they'll probably sell for well over $50, making them prohibitively expensive (if I hadn't been able to give each student a free transmitter this semester, I wouldn't be using the system).
  • Student ease-of-use: I spent more than 20 minutes in lecture today trying to show the students how to use the system and ask my first two questions. Students have to enter both a session ID and a student ID to use the system; many students had trouble doing this.
  • Software: Interwrite's software was bad enough that I complained about it in this post, but Qwizdom's (Qwizdom Interact v2.1) is far worse. In fact, I'd say it's awful. I spent hours this week attempting to beat it into doing an extremely simple task, and even with tech support's help it still failed.
Qwizdom's Software:

By far the largest negative about Qwizdom's system is the software (though the price of student remotes is also far too high). In-class response system software has two basic tasks: to facilitate asking questions during a lecture (or other meeting) and then collate the data gathered and display it in a graphical form in class (e.g., a graph of student responses) and in a textual form after class (e.g., transfer it to a grade book or allow it to be exported to be analyzed by other programs). Qwizdom's software does none of these well.

The first problem with Qwizdom's software came when I attempted to try it out in my office. It became apparent that if I wanted to record the answers each transmitter submitted (and associate them with some ID number) then each user of the transmitter needed to log in with a user ID. Each user had to have an ID created in the software before the user could log in. The software does have the ability to import data from csv files, but only in a very defined format (about a 10 column-wide spreadsheet, one of whose required columns is gender), and thus I had to convert my roster into their format.

The requirement to have each user of the system already in the program's database before they can use the system is extraordinarily annoying. First, it absolutely prevents use of the system in the first week or two of the semester, as students may not even be officially enrolled in the class, and thus instructors wouldn't know to add them to the system. Second, it means that instructors have to tediously enter student data into the system. It would be much better if users could key in their ID numbers and names whenever they joined a session that they weren't already users in.

There is a way to allow an audience to not have to log in with user IDs, but if this method is used, each transmitter is assigned an (apparently) random ID number; this ID number varies between sessions, meaning that there is no way to track each student's use of the system and thus no way to evaluate student performance.

As a side note, Interwrite's system gets around this entire user ID problem by assigning each transmitter a factory-specified unique ID number that is always stored along with the answer the transmitter submits (so even if you never know who was using the transmitter, you can at least track that transmitter's answers between different sessions).

But getting student IDs into the program was only the first headache. After I did that, my next goal was to figure out how to ask a quick question in lecture. To give a little more background, I have embedded my in-class response system questions into my PowerPoint lecture slides; I go through around 25 to 35 slides per lecture, with maybe 2-5 question slides. This adds up to more than 800 slides over the course of the semester and more than a hundred individual questions. In other words, I've put a lot of work into my PowerPoints, and I'm not about to change programs anytime soon. But that's exactly what Qwizdom's software mandates - their program is designed solely to ask questions that users have presented using their in-program presenter (a complicated-looking clone of PowerPoint). To ask questions you have to make a slide for every question, and specify on that slide exactly what the answer is.

The software does have the ability to ask spontaneous questions that haven't been entered in advance (which eliminates the requirement to use their presenter program), but using this option has its own problems. First, the program doesn't store spontaneous question responses in the gradebook, and doesn't make them available anywhere for review. The only place the responses are stored is a csv file in the program's system directory tree, but even in that file the responses have been separated from the student IDs. And, even worse, when the spontaneous question option is used, the program's control window (which takes up the top 1/6th of the screen) is hard-coded to show up in front of all other Windows' windows, including full-screened PowerPoint slideshows. In short, the spontaneous question portion of the program is functionally useless.

The only solution I could come up with to allow me to ask the questions built into my PowerPoint lectures was to create a dummy presentation in Qwizdom's system with blank questions in it. I showed my PowerPoint slideshow in front and ran Qwizdom's software in the background, but even this worked poorly. Qwizdom's software wanted to run full-screen; when I shrunk it down so it only filled half the screen, the font in Qwizdom's screen distorted awfully, and the response graph was created off-screen. So, what I had to do today in lecture was ask the question in PowerPoint, then alt-tab out to Qwizdom's screen, un-maximize Qwizdom's window and resize it so that it only filled half the screen, wait for students to respond, re-maximize Qwizdom's window, click on a menu item to show the student response graph, click on another menu button to close the response graph, and finally alt-tab back into PowerPoint to continue my lecture. Clunky, slow, and stupid.

Even more hilariously, Qwizdom has a built-in timer that counts down when you start a question; when the time reaches 0 a big "Time's up!" gray window pops up for a few seconds. However, students can still answer the question after "Time's up!", and the time is not adjustable at all during the presentation (it's set only when the entire presentation starts); there is no way to pause, extend, or otherwise change the time per slide during a show. I asked Qwizdom's tech support about this and they reported that it was just a dummy timer that I should ignore. Useless.

In contrast, while I still had to run Interwrite's software in the background behind my PowerPoint slideshows, it didn't require me to make a dummy presentation, didn't need to be un- and re-maximized for each question, had an extremely easily adjustable timer (time for each question could be adjusted by 15-second increments both before a question was asked and while the time was counting down), and the response graph auto-popped up when the timer hit zero.

Even after I clunked my way through the lecture, I still ran into one last problem: the software requires that each question have one right answer worth some set value of points and some wrong answer worth fewer points. Since I want every student to get a point for the question even if they didn't get the right answer, this means that I can't even use my grading scheme with this software. The program did allow me to leave the answer to a question blank (not set), but whenever I did that the question became worth 0 points, and so the gradebook showed 0's for every student in my course, regardless of how many questions they answered. The program won't even tell me how many questions each student answered.


On the surface, Qwizdom's system appears to be extremely polished. The hardware looks very modern and is very functional. However, Qwizdom's software is atrocious. The software might be OK if you were doing some pre-programmed corporate spiel and didn't mind using Qwizdom's built-in presenter, but it utterly fails when presenting with PowerPoint or whenever you want to do anything even slightly out of the ordinary.

In fact, this week's experiences have been so bad that I have no hesitation whatsoever in giving Qwizdom's product my first-ever Radagast Stamp of Disapproval.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Growing ferns

I'm going to start this honestly: I have no idea how to grow ferns from spores. This probably explains why I'm crazy enough to try to figure out how to do it with my class.

Why would I want to bother rearing ferns in class? Well, ferns (like all other non-seed plants like mosses and liverworts) don't reproduce via seeds; instead, they produce haploid spores that fall to the ground and grow into little haploid plants called gametophytes (termed prothalli in ferns). These haploid gametophytes produce gametes (sperm and eggs), and just like in animals, the sperm swim to the egg and fertilize it. Once the egg is fertilized (and thus diploid), it grows into a sporophyte, the leafy part of a fern most people recognize.

As a quick side note, most folks (reading this blog) probably know that animal gametes (sperm and eggs) are produced by meiosis, a process wherein a diploid cell divides and becomes four haploid cells. However, fern gametes are produced by mitosis, not meiosis. The reason fern gametes are produced by mitosis is that they're created by gametophytes, which themselves are haploid (have only one copy of each chromosome), so going through meiosis would be impossible for the cells in the gametophyte. In ferns, meiosis is used by the diploid sporophyte to produce haploid spores (which grow into the gametophyte that eventually creates the sperm and eggs).

Non-seed plant life cycles are pretty cool, but unfortunately teaching about them is generally dull. I show my students a few figures, they look at a few slides of cross-sections of plant reproductive organs, see the sori (which contain sporangia that produce spores) on the underside of fern fronds, observe a little preserved gametophyte, and we all agree that we've learned how non-seed plants reproduce. But that's always seemed somehow insufficient.

So, what I'd like to do is have the students actually rear ferns. It seems as though it's at least possible; these three sites have good summaries of how to rear ferns in layman's terms, and from what I can tell it primarily requires spores, sterile soil, and lots of time (anywhere from two months to a year). Assuming we could go from spore to small sporophyte in two months, I could fit that into a single semester; the students could plant the spores at the beginning of the semester and then, if we're lucky, see mature sporophytes popping up at the end of the course. Maybe the students could even take home their little sporophytes at the end of the semester. Watching the gametophytes grow wouldn't be quite as dramatic as watching the caterpillar Manduca sexta going from a 1-mg egg to a 5-g pupa in three weeks (see my series of posts on that here), but it'd still be cool.

The American Fern Society has a spore exchange that supplies spores to people, and even has its own detailed set of rearing instructions. Unfortunately, however, I haven't been able to find any estimates of the time it takes specific species to go from spore to gametophyte to sporophyte, and thus don't know what species would be best to use. Looks like I've got some research to do.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Colorblindness in heterozygous females?

Nelumbo, of Biology Educators, has a good genetics question:
1. Red/Green colorblindness can be a x-linked trait.
2. If my husband has this type of color-blindness, our female child would have his 'mutant' X chromosome.
3. Let's assume I do not carry the trait and donate an 'normal' X chromosome for the trait.
4. Our daughter would be heterozygous for the trait, or a carrier.
5. One of each of her X chromosomes would be randomly inactivated in each cell


Would about half of her optical cells show the normal protein? Or is the inactivation early in development, so all her optical cells would be the same ( either all maternal or paternal X inactivated)? Or even weirder yet, could she be colorblind in just one eye?
I'm no expert in developmental genetics (PZ, where are you?), but I can at least take a stab here. X-chromosome inactivation is the name of the phenomenon wherein one copy of the two X chromosomes found in a female's cells is inactivated by turning the chromatin in the chromosome into heterochromatin, preventing gene expression. X-chromosome inactivation occurs in both insects (e.g., Drosophila) and mammals.

To answer Nelumbo's question, the matter of when the X chromosome inactivates is important. If the X chromosome is inactivated early in development, then large patches of cells should have the same X chromosome expressed; if the X chromosome is inactived late in development, then each cell might express a different copy of the chromosome than its neighbor. I dug out my old developmental biology textbook (Gilbert 1994), brushed off the dead Drosophila, and found this experimental answer to the question:
One of the earliest analyses of X chromosome inactivation was performed by Mary Lyon (1961), who observed coat color patterns in mice. If a mouse is heterozygous for an autosomal gene controlling hair pigmentation, then the mouse resembles one of the two parents or has a color intermediate between the two. In either case, the mouse is a single color. But if a female mouse is heterozygous for a pigmentation gene on the X chromosome, a different result is seen: patches of one parental color alternate with patches of the other parental color.
So, the X chromosome inactivates early (within 10 days of the start of gestation in mice), and thus large patches of cells have the same X chromosome inactivated. The same type of system is responsible for the pattern of female calico cats.

This means that it's likely that large patches of Nelumbo's heterozygous daughter would have the same X chromosome expressed, and thus it seems at least possible that her daughter could be at least partially colorblind. This conclusion is backed up by this website:
Red-green colour blindness is hereditary and is passed via the X chromosome. Women, who have two X chromosomes, are usually not colour blind. But about 15% of them are carriers (i.e., they inherit an X-chromosome carrying an abnormal photopigment gene array from one parent) and may share in part in the colour blindness that they pass on to their sons, owing to a process of dosage compensation known as X-chromosome inactivation of lyonization.
This wikipedia entry also confirms that X-chromosome inactivation does change the color vision of carrier females; it implies that there is variation in the receptors present in each eye, and thus the female shouldn't be completely colorblind. However, I haven't found a good reference clearly explaining the range and frequency of clinical symptoms observed in females heterozygous for red-green colorblindness.

So, I leave it up to the rest of you great geneticists (and medical folks) to provide more details.


Gilbert, Scott F. 1994. Developmental Biology 4th edition. Sinauer Associates, MA.

Wikipedia being edited by congressional staffers

Wikipedians recently noticed that Congressional staffers appeared to be editing Congress members' Wikipedia entries. Normally this wouldn't be a bad thing, except that at least some of the staffers weren't editing according to Wikipedia guidelines (e.g., including only documented facts). The Wikipedia has a request for comment on Congressional staffers' edits (linked to by slashdot), and this newspaper article has more. WikiNews also has an article detailing many of the edits, as well as how wiki investigators discovered who was editing what (via DisinterestedParty and BoingBoing).

Orac moves to a new home

Sheesh, it seems like all the cool bloggers are moving over to ScienceBlogs. Orac, who blogs at Respectful Insolence, has moved from his old blogger blog to a new ScienceBlogs blog; his new url is: Orac discusses the move here and here.

Reagular readers should have no fear: I'm in no danger of going over to ScienceBlogs anytime soon. This is partially because I'm most certainly not cool, but also because I'm not sure that I like the idea of turning this into a commercial venture with ads all over the place. Oh yes, and then there's that little detail that, even though I'm a scientist, I often get distracted and don't post about science.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Homemade applesauce

A few years back (before we lived in Southern California), I got extremely ill on a trip to the area. We ended up heading to a friend's house, where I was miserable and couldn't keep any food down for about a day. Once I was feeling a little better, my SO and friend headed out to a local grocery store to buy something inoffensive for me to eat; they chose some generic applesauce. They put a little bit in a bowl for me to try; it was the best-tasting food I have ever eaten. It was like someone had hand-selected the most flavorful apples ever grown, mixed them with the most delicious sugar, and then used some sort of magic to top it off.

Of course by the next day the applesauce tasted just like any regular applesauce, but I've always wanted to have that perfect applesauce again, and today I came about as close as I suspect I ever will. We had about three pounds of apples just sitting around getting old, so we decided to make some applesauce with them (based on a recipe in Joy of Cooking). After a few minutes of peeling, and about half an hour of cooking, we had a pot of absolutely delicious applesauce. Since the applesauce was so good, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

3 pounds apples (cored and, optionally, peeled)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 to 3/4 cup apple juice or cider
1 cinnamon stick (~3" long)
Scant 1/2 cup sugar (Joy reports you can also use 6 tablespoons honey)

1. Slice the apples into 1/2"-thick slices.
2. Put the apples, lemon juice, apple juice, and cinnamon stick in a pot and bring to a simmer, covered, over medium-high heat.
3. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes (or until the apples are soft), stirring occasionally.
4. Add the sugar and stir to mix; remove the pot from the heat once the sugar is dissolved.
5. Mash the apples to whatever consistency you desire; we stirred it with a spoon until we had a coarse applesauce, but you could also mash it with a potato masher or put it in a blender or food processor for a finer applesauce.
6. Serve warm or cool (we loved it warm).


Joy of Cooking recommends using a mix of apple varieties for the best flavor; we used all Golden Delicious and it was, well, delicious. Joy says to vary the lemon juice amount with the tartness of the apples, and the apple juice amount with the juiciness of the apples; it also suggests that you can add extra flavorings if you desire (1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground mace, and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground ginger).

See the notes of this post for more information on buying apple juice.

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

Happy Birthday, Chuck

Pharyngula reminded me that today is Charles Darwin's 197th birthday (aka Darwin Day). PZ has a nice picture posted, as well as a few other posts (young Darwin and Eldredge on Darwin); The Questionable Authority has a list of other posts.

Unfortunately, my SO and I have no celebration planned. I spent the day upgrading my TWiki install to version 4.0 (a much easier-to-use version, from what I can tell; read about how I use it here), and will be spending the evening at work.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Weekend humor

Biology Educators had a brilliant idea to make a quick million, discovered that you can supposedly buy a hernia on eBay, and also offered a few good answers to the eternal question of what's a weed?

Pharyngula has linked to excerpts from the new Christian science textbook.

BoingBoing has linked to an anagram map of tube stations in London.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Botanical Girl's in trouble

I've been fuming ever since I read Botanical Girl's post Bridges Burned. Unfortunately, only now could I sit down to blog on this. Here goes:

A few days ago I linked to a post by Botanical Girl (a pseudonymous blogger) titled "What not to do on a faculty interview" (link no longer works; Botanical Girl has deleted the post), wherein Botanical Girl reported on shortcomings in a recent job candidate's talk. The post briefly summarized the situation, and then went on to outline some of the mistakes Botanical Girl felt the speaker had made.

Unfortunately, as one can read about in Botanical Girl's latest post, this has turned into a huge mess. As a result of her post, Botanical Girl was outed to her department and the job candidate, and is "now in the unenviable position of being the cause of an embarrassing situation for [her] entire department."

It's clear from her post that Botanical Girl is in a great deal of trouble; she says that her graduate school advisor "may wind up taking heat for [her] actions", reports that her original post has been taken to be "insulting", and as a result of all of this she's not sure that she'll continue blogging.

I believe very strongly that Botanical Girl has done nothing wrong in this situation; the post should never have been deleted, and she has nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. All Botanical Girl did was write a critique of a public talk; she did not include any personal attacks or smears of any kind, and simply related what she felt could have been done to improve the talk. That's it.

Making the situation even more interesting, Botanical Girl was completely anonymous until this event; she never used her name on her blog, and the only identifying information easily available on her blog was that she lived in California. Botanical Girl also never named the candidate; it's hard to smear someone you don't name when you write anonymously. Yet apparently some in her department believe that she has soiled the department's reputation. This view seems to be strong enough that Botanical Girl feels she must add the disclaimer "the views and opinions expressed here are solely my own, and do not reflect the views of my department and my school" to her blog. The idea that such a disclaimer might be needed is ridiculous; how could an anonymous blogger's opinion be considered to represent the department she's working in when she doesn't even say what school she's at?

But the issue of Botanical Girl being anonymous is actually beside the point; even if Botanical Girl posted under her true name and listed the name of the speaker, the post would still have been perfectly reasonable. Here's an example of the comments Botanical Girl made:
[Thing not to do #3].Make negative comments about your assistants
This is the one that really bugged me. Candidate put up a slide with some preliminary data: GUS localization on other genes in the same family. The images were quite intriguing and seemed to fit with the presentation. Until candidate remarked that "these were done by an undergrad and well...(big pause)....I'd really like to re-do them." Honestly I can't remember if they said they thought they were bad or just that theyd like to repeat, but the intention was there. Clearly this person does not trust the work done, and yet they put the images in a presentation for an interview. Either you stand by your work or you don't. Don't waffle around. If you don't trust the results you should have confirmed them before you left, or at the very least kept your mouth shut. I can't tell who stained the tissue from the picture. If you're knocking your colleagues now, why won't you do it to your post-docs and grad students when you get a professorship?
There's nothing personal in that statement; all that's there is a statement of what Botanical Girl believed to have occurred in the talk, and her response to that occurrence in terms of how she feels talks should be given. It may not be written in the exact style I'd use, but how is this embarrassing to the department? Is it somehow wrong to give someone negative feedback? It shouldn't be, but it sure feels like that's the reason Botanical Girl's in trouble.

When I re-read Botanical Girl's original post yesterday evening I noticed that the original speaker had posted a reply to Botanical Girl's comments. The reply was professional and attempted to clarify the speaker's intentions in the talk. While Botanical Girl may not have been intending to get a reply from the original speaker, this reply could have been the start of a very interesting discussion. Instead, now the discussion will not occur because it has been killed by departmental criticism of Botanical Girl.

Unfortunately, Botanical Girl has not passed her oral exams, so she's in a very tenuous position politically. It's unclear what the best course of action for her in this situation would be, but I think it would be a shame if she were to be forced to stop blogging simply for posting honest feedback about a public talk.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Snails are faster than ADSL

Researchers at KinnerNet have developed a snail-based data transfer protocol (SNAP), and have proven beyond a hair of doubt that snails do indeed transfer data faster than both carrier pigeons and ADSL. This summary article is hilarious, as is the full paper (PDF) that details the new protocol (both include great pictures).

(Via BoingBoing)

Today's outline

Time spent teaching: 3 1/2 hours
Time spent in meetings and otherwise being department chair: 6 1/2 hours

Oh well ...

A few links

I once again have very little time on Tuesday and Thursday nights to blog (thanks to late-night Tuesday and Thursday classes followed by annoyingly early Wednesday and Friday classes), so here are a few links to keep you occupied:

Orac has two good articles on alternative medicine: Ineffective alternative medicine is not always harmless and Coretta Scott King: A victim of alternative medicine?

PZ Myers linked to a Carl Zimmer article about the wonder of leeches. Having seen leeches in a lab that reared them, I must agree with PZ that they do have a sleek beauty to them.

BotanicalGirl talks about what not to do on a faculty interview, while profgrrrrl discusses what not to do in your tenure packet.

And, regarding the newly proposed federal budget, PZ Myers reports that Bush is proposing the ridiculous with education, EduWonk has even more details on proposed education spending, Respectful Insolence reports that the proposed NIH budget is frozen, and the House Democrats have a page contrasting Bush's 2006 State of the Union Address claims with the reality of Bush's actions in 2005.

[Update Feb 10, 2006: BotanicalGirl's post has been deleted and she's now in trouble with her department; see this post for more details.]

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Plitvice Lakes

Over the weekend I saw a Nature program highlighting Croatia's Plitvice Lakes National Park; it's a UNESCO World Heritage site, and appears to be very biologically diverse and picturesque (do a Google image search to see for yourself). The Nature program (as usual) focused overwhelmingly on the vertebrates; I'd love to get a chance to see the invertebrates (not to mention organisms from the other five kingdoms) that were there.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Yogurt braised chicken (Dahi murghi)

This past week was filled with the usual start-of-the-semester stress, but it had two additional components that made it even more stressful: a contractor was building a new block wall in our yard, and my mom came into town for a short visit. My mom arrived Wednesday night and I wanted to make her a tasty meal, but I didn't have much time, and many of our standard quick recipes didn't work due to my mom's dietary restrictions.

We're still on our Indian food kick, so I eventually settled on Sahni's (1980) yogurt braised chicken. The dish is made by simmering chicken in an onion- and spice-rich yogurt mixture, and it was extremely flavorful, yet very easy (for Indian food). It took me, working alone from scratch, less than an hour to do all the prep work and initial cooking, and then the dish just simmered for 45 minutes while I did a little bit of last-minute cleaning.

When my mom arrived, she enjoyed being greeted by the delicious smell of the dish simmering, and after dinner reported that she loved the meal. So, this is this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 cups finely chopped onions
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced or pressed with a garlic press
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon roasted Indian poppy seeds (they should be small and white, not the blue ones typically found in American stores; likely optional)
1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or ~3 pounds bone-in chicken pieces)
Cooked rice, or Indian bread, to serve over

0. Plan on having some rice or Indian bread cooked by the time the dish is ready to serve.
1. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick pot.
2. When the oil is hot, add the onions to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown (~10 minutes).
3. Add the garlic to the pot and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.
4. Add the coriander, cayenne pepper, garam masala, and poppy seeds, and cook, stirring frequently, for another minute.
5. Add the yogurt, sour cream, and water, and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.
6. Remove the yogurt mixture from the pot and blend until smooth; we used our immersion blender in a small bowl, but a blender should also work well. There's no requirement to do this quickly, as it won't be needed for another 5 or 10 minutes.
7. Wipe the pot you were using so that it's somewhat clean (or use a new pot), add the remaining 1/4 cup of oil, and heat over high heat.
8. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until it is browned on most of the sides (~5-10 minutes).
9. Add the blended yogurt mixture to the pot, mix in the salt, and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Sahni states that "the [sauce] should have thickened to a velvety smooth white sauce, and a glaze will be coating the chicken pieces"; you can simmer the dish for additional time, or add water or milk, to adjust the texture to your preference.
10. According to Sahni, the dish tastes best after it has rested for a while; we let it sit, covered, for about an hour, but it would probably be OK to eat right after simmering.
11. Reheat the dish and serve over rice or with Indian bread.


We have no idea how much the Indian poppy seeds add to the dish; if you don't have them, try making the dish anyway. If you can't find Indian poppy seeds at your local store, Penzeys Spices has them (here). To roast raw poppy seeds heat them in a pan over medium heat until they begin to turn brown and become fragrant.

The amount of oil included in the recipe is the full amount Sahni specifies; I suspect you could cut out a tablespoon or three of oil and the dish would be just as good.


Sahni, Julie. 1980. Classic Indian Cooking. William Morrow & Co, NY. pp. 211-213.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Some Saturday humor

A parody of what different skeptics (and not-so-skeptics) would write about why the chicken crossed the road; the parody of Respectful Insolence is great (and located near the bottom of the post; via Pharyngula).

And, speaking of Pharyngula, go read a description of an event he did not attend.

A parody of Bush's 2006 State of the Union address (via DailyKos, posted before Bush's speech).

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bush's NSA spying defense doesn't hold up

The New York Times has written an editorial thoroughly debunking the Bush administration's justifications of the NSA's warantless wiretapping.
A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years. Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies.
The full editorial is a good summary of the situation, and it ends with a strong call for Congress to take action:
The Senate Judiciary Committee is about to start hearings on the domestic spying. Congress has failed, tragically, on several occasions in the last five years to rein in Mr. Bush and restore the checks and balances that are the genius of American constitutional democracy. It is critical that it not betray the public once again on this score.
(Via Representative Conyers's blog and my SO's mom, who made me aware of the editorial within about five minutes of each other.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Police arrest Cindy Sheehan for wearing a T-shirt, then say it was a mistake

The Capitol Police arrested Cindy Sheehan last night before Bush's State of the Union Address for wearing a T-shirt listing the number of soldiers killed in Iraq. This MSNBC story, when read yesterday, included the following summary:
Sheehan, who was invited to attend the speech by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., was charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building, said Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. The charge was later changed to unlawful conduct, Schneider said. Both charges are misdemeanors.

The T-shirt bore the words "2,245 Dead — How Many More??" in reference to the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, protesters told NBC News.

Police handcuffed Sheehan and removed her from the gallery before Bush arrived. Sheehan was to be released on her own recognizance, Schneider said."
However, the MSNBC story has now been edited to reflect that the Capitol police made a mistake and that Cindy should never have been removed from the building. Reuters has left up an unedited version of the story, and the MSNBC story now reads:
Capitol Police dropped a charge of unlawful conduct against antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan on Wednesday and apologized for ejecting her and a congressman’s wife from President Bush’s State of the Union address for wearing T-shirts with war messages.

"The officers made a good faith, but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol,” Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said in a statement late Wednesday.

"The policy and procedures were too vague," he added. "The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine."


"Neither guest should have been confronted about the expressive T-shirts," Gainer’s statement said.

Quick reads

My mom just arrived today for a short visit. That, combined with the wall construction that is still ongoing (and waking us up every morning at 7am), is making the first week of the semester busier than usual. However, to keep my dedicated readers occupied (and continue on my recent political posting streak) here are a couple of quick links:

John Conyers reports:
In what has been described as "highly irregular," email correspondence from vice-president Cheney's office during the period of the Plame leak appears to have been deleted. Correspondence generated in the official duties of the President and Vice-President becomes the property of the National Archives and does not belong to the chief executives.

While Special Prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, has not accused the Vice-President's office of wrongdoing, Steve Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists government secrecy project has called the destruction of this specific subset of communications "highly irregular and invites suspicion."
Pharyngula takes a close look at the scientific implications of just one small bit of Bush's State of the Union Address and finds that Bush is proposing policies that would drastically hinder progress in medical research.