Thursday, April 26, 2007

Quotes to remember

Tom Tomorrow has posted a bonus comic over at Huffington Post. Here's a snippet:

Tom Tomorrow Cartoon, cropped to four panels

Go here to see all 12 panels, and to get a free bonus quote!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sometimes being a biologist is just cool

Every semester I rear my lab tech rears dozens of Manduca sexta caterpillars to use in an experiment for one of my classes. The caterpillars aren't harmed during the experiment, and thus they're also a great demonstration of insect life cycles: I buy them as eggs, and then show the students what they look like throughout their life cycle (much like this series of posts I made a while back).

Well, today was pupa display day, and as I was transferring the pupae to a larger cage I noticed that one of them felt different. A few seconds later I noticed that it had a little crack in it. Less than five minutes later I had an adult moth running around on my hands1.

Even though I've reared these guys for years, this is the first time I've actually watched a moth emerge from its pupal case. The cute little fella did end up excreting all over my hands2, but the whole thing was just far too cool to let a little uric acid get in the way of the fun.

I didn't have a camera handy, sadly, so there won't be any pictures.

1 Note that I'm using the verb "run"; as soon as the moth was out of the pupal case it was able to walk extremely quickly. In fact, the moth wasn't just walking randomly, it was trying to walk as high up as it could; it was probably trying to find a nice high branch to cling to while its wings expanded.
2 And shirt. The moths save up all the nitrogenous waste they produce while they're pupae, and then excrete it all shortly after eclosing.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friday food fun

Here are two links to keep you amused: Suicide Food and Fast Food: ads vs. reality. The first is a blog that highlights food ads that portray animals cheerfully waiting to be killed, and the second compares advertising photos of fast food with the real food (both via BoingBoing).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Ubuntu release!

Ubuntu desktop with application menu open

The newest version of Ubuntu, Fiesty Fawn (Ubuntu 7.04), was released today. The new version promises to be even easier to use, coming comlete with utilities to facilitiate downloads of media codecs, conversion utilties for Windows users, a restricted drivers manager (making installing proprietary drivers easier), and much more. See these two posts if you want more on the new features.

I've been using Ubuntu daily for the past year, and I love it (see my illustrated tour of Ubuntu for more on what Ubuntu looks like). Since I'm now using a version that's almost a year out of date (Dapper Drake, 6.06), I plan on upgrading to Fiesty as soon as I have some spare time1.

You can order free CDs here, or download the latest version here (and probably eventually get it from here). The CD you order (or download) is a live CD, so you can just pop it in your CD drive, reboot your computer, and give Ubuntu a try without installing anything on your machine.

And, unlike certain other operating systems, this one is completely, 100% free.

1 Yeah, I know, I'm funny. I haven't even had time to post, much less consider upgrading my operating system. Have I mentioned that I can't wait for summer?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Corals on dry land

National Geographic has pictures from an island in the South Pacific whose elevation was increased 10 feet by a recent earthquake. This probably won't harm the terrestrial organisms too much, but has wreaked havoc with the sub-tidal organisms, as many of the large sessile ones (e.g., corals) are now poking up out of the water. Poor corals. (Via BoingBoing)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Measure distances in Google Maps

My SO recently found Gmaps Pedometer, an applet that allows you to precisely measure the distance you walk (or bike, or drive) using Google Maps. It's easy to use (just find your starting position, click "start recording", and then double-click to add waypoints), and allows you to collect some pretty neat data. Especially cool is the ability to plot your own path; for example, if you cut through a park on your way to the store, you can map that out and calculate the distance.

I now know how far I have to walk to check my mail on campus (too far), and exactly how far it is to the grocery store (nice and close!).

(Oddly enough, Jill just linked to this as well, though I only read her post after writing this one.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Testing for mad cow

I've written about bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE; mad cow disease) testing in cattle before. As the disease is extremely hard to detect in cattle (see here), and we don't know how easily it is transmitted to humans, it was thus somewhat surprising to learn that a few months ago the USDA decided to drastically reduce the number of cattle being tested for the disease.

Given that people are worried about the disease, one might expect that private beef companies would step in and start voluntarily testing their cattle before selling it (labeling the resulting beef as "mad-cow free" or some such). You've probably noticed that no such products are on the market.

Why? The USDA has threatened to sue any company that tests for mad cow separately from the government program (most notably Creekstone Farms). Just a few days ago this ridiculous prohibition was stopped by a federal judge, and, assuming that the government doesn't appeal the decision, private companies will now be free to test their own cattle for the disease.

Here's an excerpt from the New York Times article that has a bit more background on the specific case:

Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, a meatpacker based in Arkansas City, Kan., wants to test all of its cows for [mad cow] disease, which can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. Larger meat companies feared that move because if Creekstone tested its meat and advertised it as safe, they could be forced to do the expensive test, too.

The Agriculture Department currently regulates the test and administers it to less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows. The department threatened Creekstone with prosecution if it tested all its animals.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled that the government does not have the authority to regulate the test. Robertson put his order on hold until the government can appeal. If the government does not appeal by June 1, he said the ruling would take effect.


The Agriculture Department argued that widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry. Robertson said he was concerned by that possibility but noted that Creekstone sought to use the same test the government relies on.

Where have I been?

Unfortunately this semester's heavy workload (I'm in the classroom 7 hours a week more than I was last semester, and am chair of a committee that has a large project to complete by June) is keeping me extremely busy. Many work days recently have been in excess of 12 hours, and it doesn't look like that's going to get better anytime soon. So, while I'm going to try to keep posting regularly, I'd expect quiet periods to occur sporadically from now until the end of the semester (which is about seven weeks away). Sorry.

On a separate note, I've been asked how things are going with my new guitar. Sadly, things aren't going. I ordered a guitar and two hard cases1 from Musician's Friend two weeks ago, and everything did indeed arrive last week. However, the two cases (one of which had the guitar in it) were shipped in the same box, with no padding to protect them from either the other items in the box or the elephants in the UPS facilities. So, long story short, virtually everything in the shipment was damaged, and thus my guitar is now on its way back to the Musician's Friend warehouse. A new one will hopefully be arriving (with better packaging) in a few weeks.

1 No, I don't need two cases; one was for a friend.

Curry yogurt mayonnaise

My SO greatly enjoys artichokes, and has been trying to find a complement to them that will make me greatly enjoy them as well. Homemade garlic mayonnaise was a good start, but this past week we made curry yogurt mayonnaise, and now that I've had some I may well start thinking of artichokes more often.

You'd hardly know this was mayonnaise from the look or taste of it; it's colored like mustard, has a bit of a yogurty tang to it, and is filled with a strong flavor of curry spices. We've enjoyed this on both baked potatoes and artichokes, and Joy of Cooking reports that it goes well with virtually anything (vegetables, meats, etc.). Since we plan to make more of this in the future, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons beaten egg
1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
3 teaspoons fresh lime juice (lemon juice would also work)
1/4 teaspoon salt (plus extra, to taste)
Pinch ground black pepper
3/4 cup plain yogurt (we used whole-milk)

We make this mayonnaise in a food processor with the metal cutting blade; it can also be made in a blender or by hand, but the processing times will be different.

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a pan over low heat until hot, add the curry powder, stir continuously until the curry powder is fragrant (about 30 seconds), and then remove from the heat and let cool.
2. Process the egg yolk, beaten egg, and mustard powder together in a food processor for about 30 seconds.
3. Add 1 teaspoon of the lime juice and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and then process for 7-8 seconds.
4. With the food processor running continuously, slowly pour in the oil. You're trying to make an emulsion here, so the slower you pour the better (within reason, of course).
5. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remainder of the lime juice, pepper, and enough salt to make the mayonnaise tasty. Process to mix.
6. Add the yogurt and process to mix.
7. Add the cooled curry powder and oil mixture, and process to mix.
8. Check the salt and lime levels, and serve.


The amount of salt, pepper, and lime juice are very flexible; add however much (or little) you desire. Joy of Cooking reports that you can add more oil (during the emulsion step) if you want a thicker mayonnaise.

If all you want is standard homemade mayonnaise, just follow steps 2-5 (omitting, of course, the curry powder and yogurt). We enjoy making basic mayonnaise with straight extra virgin olive oil, but wouldn't suggest using extra virgin olive oil for this mayonnaise because the spices would mask the oil's flavor.

We used Penzey's Spices Sweet Curry Powder for this; any good curry powder should work.

This recipe is based on one from Rombauer et al. (1997); we switched from lemon juice to lime juice.

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

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Regular readers will know that I've been a long-time user of But She's A Girl's Tracks program to manage my to-do lists. While I love Tracks, I must now admit to having found a better program, written by none other than Semantic Compositions: iNag. SC is only releasing news of the product today, but I've been lucky enough to have seen a trial version.

While iNag is ostensibly a contact and calendar-management program, its intuitive interface, elegant use of language (it's written by a linguist, after all), and customizable reminders make it the perfect to-do list manager. For instance, my committee meetings now use the nagging-department-chair theme ("Radagast, you're the best one for the job; we need you on this one," followed by "But Radagast, we need someone to go," and finishing with, "But English will steal all of our funding if you don't go, and it's coming out of your lab budget!") and my letters-of-recommendation automatically use the "nagging student" theme for reminders (hourly popups saying "Mr. Radagast, I know I only just gave you the form, and you told me it'd take two weeks, but do you have my letter done yet?"). It's a pleasure to use, and since it's written all in Java, it's entirely cross-platform.

So, head over to SC's page and read all about it!

[Update: Take a look at the date of the post. But She's a Girl should never have worried; Tracks is still near and dear to my heart.]

Buttermilk pancakes

While my SO and I often don't have "breakfast foods" for breakfast, there are indeed some days when we crave pancakes for the first meal of the day. We've made Joy of Cooking's standard pancake recipe for years, and have been quite happy with the results. However, just a few days ago we made Joy's buttermilk pancake recipe, and immediately fell in love with the thick, fluffy pancakes that resulted. We liked them so much that we made another batch yesterday morning. Since these will now be our standard pancakes, they're this week's second end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

1 1/2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

0. Start heating a nonstick pan (or griddle) over medium heat (see notes) a few minutes before you'll be ready to cook the pancakes.
1. Whisk the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) together in a large bowl.
2. Mix the wet ingredients (melted butter, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla) together in another bowl.
3. Pour the wet ingredients onto the dry ingredients, and whisk until just mixed (the mixture should still be somewhat lumpy).
4. Pour about 1/3 cup of the batter into the preheated pan; shake the pan gently to spread the pancake batter out a little, if it's not spreading much. Flip the pancake once a number of bubbles rise to the surface and pop (and/or the bottom of the pancake is getting nicely browned), and continue cooking until the bottom surface is nicely browned.


This recipe makes approximately eight five-inch round pancakes (that are about 1/2" thick); plan on two to three pancakes per person.

These pancakes are very thick, and thus take a while to cook. We've found that, at least in our pans on our stove, if we use medium-high (or higher) heat the pancakes brown excessively before cooking inside. Thus, we use medium heat, on which the pancakes take maybe 2-3 minutes a side to cook. The patience you exhibit while cooking over this lower heat will pay off a hundredfold once you taste the fluffy goodness that you'll create.

Cooking with multiple pans simultaneously (or a large griddle) will help speed cooking drastically; we typically use two pans at once.

Depending on your pan, you may or may not need to use butter or oil when you cook the pancakes. I use nonstick pans, but out of tradition I always start the first pancake frying with a little bit of butter in the pan (but then don't add any more butter for the remaining pancakes). I suspect I could get away without adding any extra butter.

We've modified this recipe slightly from Rombauer et al. (1997) by adding a bit more buttermilk.

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