Friday, December 31, 2004

It's New Year's Eve!

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

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

Have a happy New Year's Eve all!

More from Ohio

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

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Pretty Pictures

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

(via BoingBoing)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Covering what's important ...

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

CNN swimsuit model headline next to tsunami death toll

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

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Debian Linux install

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 27, 2004

Turkey breakfast sausage

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 26, 2004


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

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Christmas menu

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

Christmas Eve Dinner:

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

Christmas Day:

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve rose

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

Christmas Rose

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

Thursday, December 23, 2004

New Forest Service Rules

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Bee Fountain of Youth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The USPS will be getting its Christmas bonus this year.

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

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

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Roasted Garlic Hummus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Some rearranging

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

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

Friday, December 17, 2004

It's over!

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

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

Recount in Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tangled Bank #18

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

Still busy ...

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 13, 2004

Tangled Bank #18 announcement

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

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

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

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Radagast & SO's Chinese Takeout Chicken Stir-fry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 10, 2004

Done with lab and out to dinner

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Chalk one up for US ingenuity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 06, 2004

Radagast's Avatar

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

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

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

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

Well, back to grading.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

No time ...

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Tangled Bank #17 is online!

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The adults have arrived!

Last I wrote (way back in October), my Manduca sexta caterpillars had all pupated, and I wasn't sure if they were going to diapause or not. Well, it turns out the moths must like our Southern California winters, because over the past few weeks they've been eclosing (coming out of their pupal cases). For those keeping track of time, the first eclosing I observed was approximately November 5, and the moth pictured below eclosed on November 16. See my posts on 1st instars, 3rd instars, 5th instars, wanderers, and pupation, for more information on moth development.

Manduca sexta adult
Classic view of a M. sexta adult.

One of the things you'll most likely notice is that the animal no longer looks like a caterpillar (well, ok, it looks a bit like a caterpillar with wings from the top, but it's a stretch). No longer do we find the soft, hairless body, prolegs, and very hardened, obvious head capsule of the larva. The caterpillar has lost its hardened mandibles that are adapted for consuming leaves, and has instead grown a long proboscis that it uses to drink nectar, which you can see in the image below.

Blue Manduca sexta
A M. sexta adult seen from the bottom/side.

The caterpillars did not have large, noticeable eyes, and realistically don't need large eyes to survive (they live on their food, and do little but eat). However, the adults moths fly, primarily at night, and thus their compound eyes are much larger.

From the top it can look like the moths have only two wings (one pair), but they actually have four wings (two pairs). The picture below shows the two pairs relatively clearly - the larger pair that lies on top are the forewings, while the smaller pair that are held underneath are the hindwings. In the first picture I posted (the top view) the hindwings are visible near the middle two yellow/orange dots on the abdomen.

Bottom view of an adult Manduca sexta
A M. sexta adult from the bottom, showing its two pairs of wings.

After eclosing, the adults would normally find and mate with a member of the opposite sex, and then the female would lay fertilized eggs on suitable host plants. I don't have a setup capable of keeping adult moths happy enough to mate, and thus this post completes my Manduca sexta development series. I hope you've enjoyed it!

Side view of an adult Manduca sexta Closeup of blue Manduca sexta Manduca sexta on a branch Manduca sexta side
More pictures of the M. sexta adult - larger versions are on Flickr.

Note: While I was collecting tomato leaves for my M. sexta caterpillars, I collected some caterpillars from the wild and reared them as well. Thus, it is possible that this moth is a Manduca quinquemaculata, whose range overlaps that of M. sexta in this region; adults of the two species look quite similar.

Monday, November 29, 2004


I just finished riding my bike home, and almost turned into a popsicle since it's a frigid 46F outside. This is Southern California ... it's not supposed to get that cold here! I think I should write a letter of protest to someone.

Making everything better, however, was that my SO had a piping hot cup of cocoa ready for me when I walked through the door, complete with marshmallows. What a wonderful treat!

Tangled Bank #17 announcement

Tangled Bank Blutton
The next edition of the Tangled Bank will be posted this Wednesday by Leah Penn Boris (lapenn (at) gmail (dot) com), who writes at Penn. Send your submissions directly to Leah, to, or to PZ Myers.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Pear pie with a flaky walnut pastry crust

Our Thanksgiving was a ton of fun – it's been a long time since we spent a day focusing on cooking and eating. One of our Thanksgiving Day recipes that seems to have generated the most interest in people I've talked with is our pear pie (a break from the traditional pumpkin or apple pie), and thus I thought I'd make it this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post. I used to think homemade peach pies were the ultimate pie, but then this pie came along and now I'm torn between the two.

I've included the recipe for both the crust and the filling below. I never use store-bought pie crusts, so I have no idea how it would taste with one of those; I find the flavor and texture of homemade pie crusts well worth the little bit of extra time needed to make them. We make this pie in a 9-inch pie pan (9-inch diameter at the top, 7-inch diameter at the bottom).

Flaky pastry crust with walnuts:
1/2 cup walnuts, shelled & whole or in pieces
2 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, frozen, unsalted (reduce the salt added above if using salted butter)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice-cold water (plus a bit extra)

Pear filling:
5 cups peeled, cored, and sliced pears (~2 1/2 pounds whole pears)
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

Assembly ingredients:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Cool water (enough to moisten the edge of the crust)
Milk (enough to moisten the top of the crust)
Granulated sugar (~2 teaspoons)

To make the crust:
1) Process the walnuts in a food processor until finely ground (walnut butter will likely start appearing on the side of the processor).
2) Add the flour, sugar, and salt, and process until mixed; you may have to scrape down the sides once.
3) Cut the frozen butter into approximately tablespoon-sized pieces, add to the flour mixture, and process in short spurts until largest pieces of butter are pea-sized.
4) Add the ice water and process in short spurts until the dough starts to come together (but it shouldn't form a ball). If the dough doesn't start coming together, add another tablespoon or two of extra water (I usually end up adding about an extra tablespoon).
5) Remove the dough from the processor (it should still be in many small pieces) and compress it together with your hands.
6) Divide the dough in half. If the dough is relatively warm and sticky, put it in the fridge for a short period (~15 minutes) until it is firmer, though I find the dough is usually cool enough to roll right away.
7) On a well-floured work surface use a floured rolling pin to roll half the dough into a circle approximately 3-4 inches wider than your pie pan. Rolling the dough takes practice to do well, though I've found that even when I have apparently fatal flaws they're rarely apparent in the final pie. If the dough develops holes or cracks, you can usually moisten (with water) another piece of dough and press it on top of the crack, then continue rolling the crust as normal. I'll slip a rimless baking sheet underneath the dough every now and then, adding some flour underneath the crust, to prevent it sticking to the countertop. Joy of Cooking has a tremendously useful section on rolling pie crust if you've never done it before.
8) Transfer the rolled-out pie crust into your pie pan (I use my rimless baking sheet to do this; you can also roll the dough around the rolling pin and then roll the dough out into the pan), cover with plastic wrap, and put into the fridge.
9) Roll out the second half of your pie crust (again to ~3-4 inches wider than your pan), cover with plastic wrap, and place on a cookie sheet or other large, flat surface in the fridge.

Pear pie filling:
1) Mix the pears, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature for approximately 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
2) That's it.

Assembling and baking the pie:
0) Preheat the oven to 425F.
1) If the pie crust has been in the fridge for a while, I like to take it out a few minutes before assembly to allow the dough to soften a bit.
2) Pour the pie filling into the pie pan that's been lined with pie crust.
3) Cut the 2 tablespoons of butter into small pieces and sprinkle them over the pie filling.
4) Moisten the edges of the pie crust in the pan with cool water (I use a 1-inch brush to do this), and then slide the top crust onto the pie pan.
5) My pie crusts are usually rolled out far too wide for the pan, so at this point I take a pair of scissors and trim both the top and bottom crusts so they overhang the edge of the pan by approximately 1/2 to 3/4 inch.
6) Seal the pie crust. There are many ways to do this, so use whatever technique you know. Personally, I take the overhanging pie crust, press the top and bottom pieces together, and then fold them under the pie crust that is resting on the edge of the pan. I then use a fork to crimp the edge, and use scissors to trim off any bulging pieces of dough.
7) Cut vent holes in the top of the pie, brush the top of the crust with milk, and then sprinkle with some granulated sugar (~2 teaspoons).
8) Put the pie into the preheated oven. Bake at 425F for 30 minutes, then slide a baking sheet underneath the pie (to catch drips), reduce the heat to 350F, and cook for another 30 minutes. The pie is done when the crust is nicely browned and thick juices are bubbling out of the top. If the crust is getting overly browned before the pie is done, cover it loosely with a piece of foil.
9) Let the pie cool on a cooling rack until it is close to room temperature. This is the most difficult part of the whole process, because the pie will be tempting you with its delicious smell.

While this recipe looks long and complicated typed out, it can be done relatively quickly with practice (having a cooking partner can also help). The dough can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen. I regularly make my pie crusts by hand (mixing with either a pastry blender or my fingers), and the steps are exactly the same as described above (except use cold, not frozen, butter).

The ingredient amounts in the pie filling are relatively flexible – increase or decrease them to suit your tastes. The runniness of the filling will, at least partially, depend on the amount of cornstarch you add, so if you want a super-solid filling add more.

Brushing the top of the pie with milk makes the crust brown more. You can use this to create painted effects by brushing only a portion of the top crust with milk; coordinating the milk-brushed patterns and vent holes so they make a single image can be fun.

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

Saturday, November 27, 2004

I donated blood again today

According to a Red Cross donor card, less than 30% of first-time donors ever return to donate blood again. You too could be part of this elite group! The benefits of membership are many: every 56 days you can get free juice, free cookies, a snazzy colored armband, and, if you're really lucky, a free t-shirt.

Red cross image

Friday, November 26, 2004

A mouse Thanksgiving dinner

Our Thanksgiving has been quite enjoyable so far - we slept in until noon and spent most of the day cooking (and talking with parents). We couldn't leave the mice out of the fun, so we prepared them some little plates of food once we'd had our fill. After a bit of cautious sniffing, they dove into their feast:

Mouse Thanksgiving dinner
Rem and Meryl enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner of mashed yams, turkey, and mashed turnips.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving dinner for two

My SO and I will be spending Thanksgiving at home this year, a nice contrast to the past few years when we were living in different states and had to drive to spend the holiday together. We plan on spending much of the day cooking, and the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying our gluttony. We have no family locally, so it's just going to be the two of us (and the seven mice).

Here's what's going to be on our table:

Yes, even though there are only two of us, we're making certain dishes specifically for one of us. My SO loves yams, while I love sweet potatoes (there is a difference), and I can't stand stuffing while my SO adores it (I'm a heretic, I know).

[updated 11/28/04 to link to the pear pie recipe.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Lab flexibility

Some instructors I've taught with seem to view uncertainty in a lab setting as a bad thing. They want every student in lab to be able to collect data that clearly support the hypothesis in question, and then talk about the lab as having "failed" if some students didn't collect the "correct" data.

This mindset has always baffled me. <soapbox> How can we expect to train our students to do science if we never let them do science? One of the primary goals of any science lab should be, at least partially, learning how to implement the scientific method, which includes coming up with questions, hypotheses, and tests for those hypotheses, in addition to simply carrying out experiments and interpreting data. By restricting students to following well-known protocols that are guaranteed to produce specific results, we prevent students from practicing critical portions of the scientific method. After all, deciding how to approach a problem is as big a part of science as actually performing experiments. Having a lab where everything fails would clearly be frustrating for all involved, but as long as the general techniques are sound, why not give the students the freedom to try a few things that might not work? </soapbox>

The reason I'm writing about this is that today's lab was, for those with the data-focused lab mindset, a failure. Last week the students transferred three species of bacteria and one eukaryote (yeast) onto agar plates that were subsequently exposed to different environmental variables (e.g. temperature, UV light). Unfortunately, the media had some moisture on it when the students were doing the plating (it had only been mixed up that morning by our lab tech), so the bacteria ended up growing in smears instead of well defined colonies on some plates. I had intended to have a thermophilic bacterial species in lab (one that prefers to grow at higher temperatures than most bacteria), but that culture had been misplaced before lab, so the first lab section wasn't able to grow it. And, finally, something went wrong with our yeast cultures (or the yeast wouldn't grow on our media), because we got all of about five yeast colonies across over a hundred plates.

So, to summarize, the plates the students saw today weren't anything close to how they "should" have looked. However, the students didn't know this, and I never said that anything had gone wrong in my intro to today's lab. Instead I directed them to collect as much quantitative data as they could (without specifically telling them how to collect the data), and they went right to work trying to figure out what effects their manipulations had.

The groups came up with a variety of different methods to collect data. Some groups whose microorganisms had low survival rates (e.g. UV light) counted the total number of colonies growing on their plates. Most groups, however, found that their colonies had grown together into large masses (confluent growth), and thus colony counting was impossible; these groups set out to estimate the surface area the bacterial colonies had covered. A few groups created grids on clear plastic sheets to help them estimate the growth (counting the # of squares or line intersections with bacteria under them), though one group measured how much surface area they had initially covered with bacteria, and then measured how much surface area the bacteria were currently growing in. I could have provided each group with a detailed handout telling them exactly how to quantify bacterial growth on agar plates, but doing so would have done little except prevent the students from having to apply their scientific reasoning skills.

While the students were collecting data, they independently figured out that something went wrong with the yeast, and after a while they all came to conclusions regarding what their data told them about the variables they had tested. Each group presented their data to the class (each group tested only one environmental variable), and we wrapped up the lab with a short discussion of why they saw the effects they did, complete with some comparative data from species we hadn't used in lab. Sure, some groups saw odd peaks or spikes in their data, but everyone seemed to leave with the main ideas the lab was trying to introduce. Nobody complained that their yeast cultures didn't grow, and nobody seemed to mind that some of their bacteria weren't growing in discrete, easily countable colonies.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A thankfully short week

I've been getting further and further behind on my grading and lecture/lab planning, so having Thursday and Friday off this week is a much-needed respite. After Thanksgiving I only have four more lectures left to give before finals week, so I'm finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

On one hand I'm relieved to know that my work is almost done, and I can't wait to be able to get a good night's sleep free from worry about planning and grading, but I know I'll also miss my current group of students.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Some links

I've spent most of this weekend both writing my own test questions and evaluating other people's test questions for a side project I'm working on, so I haven't had much spare time. However, I have run across a few topics of interest:
  • Kevin Sites, a reporter and blogger who has been covering the war in Iraq, is the cameraman who recorded the widely discussed footage of a marine shooting an unarmed Iraqi who had surrendered the day before. Yesterday, in a post titled Open Letter to Devil Dogs of the 3.1, he discussed the incident in thoughtful detail on his blog. (via BoingBoing)

  • BoingBoing links to some stunning pictures of the G-Cans project, a massive underground water drainage project in Tokyo. "The underground waterway is the largest in the world and sports five 32m diameter, 65m deep concrete containment silos which are connected by 64 kilometers of tunnel sitting 50 meters beneath the surface. The whole system is powered by 14,000 horsepower turbines which can pump 200 tons of water a second into the large outlying edogawa river."

  • Keith Olbermann is one of the only major journalists who's been regularly discussing the election fraud/error issue. His most recent blog post, "Relax about Ohio, Relax about the guy tailing me," is a well-done piece summarizing many issues. Here's one interesting observation: "The Ohio newspaper coverage suggests that even the mainstream media is beginning to sit up and take notice that, whatever its merits, the investigation into the voting irregularities of November 2nd has moved from the Reynolds Wrap Hat stage into legal and governmental action."

  • Nader's recount of New Hampshire is currently underway (via

  • And, to end on a cheerier note, PZ Myers recently linked to The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, a site that sells, among other things, stuffed dolls of notable thinkers. Of specific interest for me is their adorable doll of Darwin; it would go great with those Giant Plush Microbes that I'm still hoping to get some day.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Cran-raspberry-pineapple gelatin conglomeration

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, so I absolutely have to post something Thanksgiving-related for my end-of-the-week recipe blogging. Thus, this week I present to you one of my family's most prized traditional Thanksgiving foods: Cran-raspberry-pineapple gelatin conglomeration. This dish is more affectionately known as "Cran-raspberry salad" by my mom, though I find a dish entirely lacking in fresh ingredients to be the antithesis of a salad.

This recipe is straight out of the 1950s: it's made from raspberry jello ("ooh, look, it gels!"), canned pineapple, canned cranberry sauce, and sour cream ("it's like cream, but sour"). This dish has started every home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner that I can remember, and every other Thanksgiving dinner I've eaten has seemed incomplete without it. Even my SO, who didn't grow up eating it, finds it delicious and would be disappointed if we didn't have it every Thanksgiving (which is just one of many things that makes my SO the perfect one for me).

This takes a few hours to set properly, so give yourself time to make it.

6 ounces raspberry gelatin powder (sugar-sweetened)
1 3/4 cups water, boiling
20 ounces crushed pineapple, in juice
16 ounces cranberry sauce, whole berry type
1 cup sour cream

1) In a large bowl dissolve the gelatin in boiling water.
2) Add undrained pineapple and cranberry sauce, stirring until the cranberry sauce melts.
3) Pour half of gelatin mixture into a 6 1/2 cup ring mold (we always use this Vintage Tupperware 3-Piece Jell-o Bundt Mold, which wasn't "vintage" when it was bought).
4) Chill gelatin in mold in the fridge until almost firm. Almost-firm gelatin will appear to be set, but should feel sticky to the touch. The mixture should also flow slightly when the mold is tipped to one side. Leave remaining gelatin at room temperature.
5) Stir sour cream until smooth, then spread evenly over the almost-firm gelatin in the mold.
6) Gently scoop the remaining gelatin mixture on top of the sour cream.
7) Chill until firm. Unmold onto serving plate.

The main problem with this dish is layer separation; the top often tries to slide off as it warms up and is sliced. One trick I use is to not spread the sour cream to the edges of the mold, which allows the gelatin to form a solid bond around the entire circumference of the mold, reducing slippage.

If you don't have a ring mold, you could probably make this in a shallow bowl.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Friday night nap blogging

Friday nights used to be filled with gaming, relaxing, or doing something generally fun and non-work-related (like driving out of state to see my SO). This semester, however, I get home on Friday night and, assuming I don't have anything work-related to do, I tend to fall asleep on the couch within an hour.

Yep, that's the exciting life of a full-time faculty member teaching a new class ...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

More election links

More and more keeps getting written relating to errors or fraud in the 2004 election, so here are a few more links for those who are interested.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Tangled Bank #16

Tangled Bank Blutton

Welcome to Rhosgobel, home of Radagast. I've been rather busy recently, so haven't had time to clean up properly for your visit. But hey, you're here, so come on into the living room, push those papers off the couch, sit down, and enjoy another edition of the Tangled Bank.

It's hard to believe that we're up to edition number 16 already, and for this magical sixteenth edition we've got a grand total of eight submissions. If I'm remembering correctly, I'm the first blogger to have hosted the Tangled Bank twice, other than our esteemed founder (and hey, 16/2=8). How exciting!

Well, here goes:
  • Leah at Penn submits The theory of it all, in which "the author outlines the difference between a scientific theory and the colloquial use of the word. As well, she briefly walks through the process of taking a hypothesis (the colloquial theory) toward a theory." (Thanks, Leah, for summarizing your post so nicely!)

  • Richard at The Friends of Charles Darwin submits Are you calling my fox terrier stupid?, a post examining the scaling of brain size and body mass with regard to Homo floresiensis.

  • Mike submits a webpage, not a blog, (gasp! I didn't even known people wrote those anymore ...) titled On Evolution and Creation. He discusses the evolution of creation theory from, well, creationism to evolutionary theory as we've gained more scientific knowledge.

  • PZ Myers of Pharyngula submits Rhabdomeric and ciliary eyes, a very detailed post looking at the evolutionary history of photoreception in animals. PZ puts it best himself: "It's a solid story that ties visual system history in protostomes and deuterostomes together, resolving the differences between them into a convincing evolutionary account."

  • Jacob of Eternal Recurrence submits The Mystery of the Five-Inch Bull Balls, in which he introduces bull mating behavior by looking at nothing other than prosthetic testicles.

  • Sya of Syaffolee submits Not Just Another Passive Bacterial Paradise, "a short summary about how extracellular pathogens are detected even though all the sensors are located inside the cell." (Thanks, Sya, for the summary!)

  • Mike of 10,000 Birds submits a Puerto Rico Trip Report, which, as you might guess from the title, is a report of the birds he saw in Puerto Rico. The best line is quite possibly: "Despite the nagging sense that this 'vacation' might be more relaxing if we actually slept a bit, we rose early to embark on a brief rainforest tour."

  • Your host has, unfortunately, been rather distracted with baby mice, election results, and teaching, so doesn't have anything nearly as interesting, or as detailed, as our other submissions. However, I recently did write a brief bit on a field lab I did with my students, and talked about eating insects, so those will have to do for now.
The host of the next Tangled Bank will be Leah Penn Boris (lapenn (at) gmail (dot) com), who writes at Penn. Send your submissions directly to Leah,, or to PZ Myers. As always, the Tangled Bank is looking for hosts for future editions; send an e-mail to PZ if you're willing. Your blog gets traffic, you get e-mails from people you've never met before, and, best of all, you have the ultimate power that comes with compiling the world's preeminent biweekly science blog compendium.

Oh yes, before you leave, I must be a typical host and swamp you with pictures of the new family members. If you haven't done so already, take a look at my recent one-month old baby mouse pictures, their birthday post, and their new cage (and you absolutely have to see them at four days old).

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Mouse birthday pictures

My SO and I realized that we couldn't let our baby mice's one-month birthday pass without some pictures, so we had a photo shoot the day after their birthday. We've also finished renaming the mice, so I've also included their new names. Click on any of the small images to see a larger version.

Genie - 1 month old
Genie says hi.

Athos - 1 month old Athos - 1 month old Athos - 1 month old
Athos, also known as Ace.

D'Artagnan - 1 month old
D'Artagnan, also known as Deuce.

Genie - 1 month old Genie - 1 month old
Genie, the one mouse whose name hasn't changed. On the left you can see her name-inspiring pattern, and on the right Genie is playing her favorite game of "What's between these two fingers?"

Meryl - 1 month old Meryl - 1 month old
Meryl, formerly known as Narrow Stripey.

Tomoyo - 1 month old
Tomoyo, formerly known as Wide Stripey.

Vash - 1 month old Vash - 1 month old
Vash, formerly known as Runt.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Getting outside

I've spent most of this semester inside, either working at my computer, teaching in a classroom, or blogging. Since the topic of my new course is diversity, I figured there was no better way to demonstrate diversity than to lead a class field expedition to the rocky intertidal zone.

The rocky intertidal zone is the shoreline area that is alternately covered and uncovered by the tides. The bounds of the zone are the portion of land that is covered by only the highest high tides, and the portion of land that is only uncovered by the lowest low tides. An amazing diversity of life can be found in this narrow strip of land: in less than an hour into each trip my students had found examples of all the major types of algae (brown, red, and green), and representatives of at least six phyla of animals (cnidarians, annelids, arthropods, mollusks, echinoderms, and some invertebrate chordates).

Since my class is relatively large I led two separate trips, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The goal of the lab for the students was to quantify the species diversity in the different intertidal zones, as well as testing previously developed hypotheses about a specific species. Each group spent about three hours at the interidal zone, and everyone seemed to have fun, even the ones who got their shoes soaked and got splashed by waves (actually, they seemed to have even more fun).

The day was especially nice for me, however, because I got to spend two afternoons in the intertidal soaking in the sun and fresh air. The students did a great job of finding new and unique specimens for me to ID, which kept me happily engrossed the entire time.

Most of the organismal biologists I know decided to study biology because they love the organisms they study and enjoy spending time outdoors. It's a shame that so many of our labs have to be taught inside, often with non-living materials. Since introductory courses are often large, organizing field labs can be difficult, but watching my students today made it clear that there's no substitute for the real thing when it comes to teaching biology.

Mashed turnips and potatoes

My SO and I have recently discovered the tastiness of the underappreciated turnip. Last night we made some mashed turnips and potatoes based on a recipe from Joy of Cooking (our all-time favorite cookbook). They turned out great, so I thought I'd post them up as my end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

For those of you who aren't initiated into the cult of the turnip, it's a root vegetable from the cabbage family. Turnips are firmer than potatoes, similar to broccoli stalk or kohlrabi (which makes sense since they're all in genus Brassica). Turnips have a pleasant, mildly peppery taste (with a hint of sweetness) that mellows upon cooking. If you're looking for something new for Thanksgiving dinner, this dish could make a lighter, more vegetable-y alternative to traditional mashed potatoes.

All ingredient amounts are somewhat flexible (note that some ingredients are listed twice).

2 1/4 pounds turnips, peeled (and quartered, if large)
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled (and halved or quartered if large)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-3 scallions, finely chopped
Ingredients to add to the mashed potatoes - we used some butter (~2 tablespoons), cream (~2 tablespoons, or milk), sour cream (~2 tablespoons), and salt (to taste, maybe 1/2 teaspoon?)
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1. Add the turnips to a pot of boiling water and boil for 6 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, add the chicken stock to another pan and bring to a boil, then add 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, stirring to mix.
3. Remove the turnips from the boiling water (save the boiling water to cook the potatoes in) and add them to the chicken stock pan (the turnips should be mostly covered). Simmer, covered, until the turnips are nearly tender throughout (~10-20 minutes).
4. Meanwhile, add the potatoes to the pot of boiling water and cook them until tender throughout (~15-30 minutes depending on the size of the pieces).
5. When the turnips are close to done (we just approximated), add the scallions to the turnip mixture and simmer for a few minutes more (until the scallions are cooked and the turnips are completely tender).
6. When the turnips are done, remove them from the cooking liquid. Reduce the cooking liquid until it is reasonably thick (a few minutes of boiling).
7. Puree the turnips with the reduced cooking liquid until smooth; we used our Cuisinart food processor. (We also added a bit more butter here, but it's probably not needed.)
8. Mash the potatoes with their ingredients (butter, cream, sour cream, and salt, or whatever you desire) in a large bowl.
9. Fold the turnips into the mashed potatoes, add parsley, and serve.

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

[Update: A reader named John added the following in the comments: "In Scotland where turnips are known as swedes or neeps this mixture is called Clapshot and is often associated with the Orkney Islands."]

Tangled Bank #16: Call for submissions

Tangled Bank Blutton
EXTRA! EXTRA! Radagast to post on science, not politics!

The 16th Tangled Bank will be hosted right here at Rhosgobel this coming Wednesday, November 17th. If you'd like your recent science-related post to be included (see the Tangled Bank page for all the details), just send the link here to me at or to PZ Myers. Just think, with only one simple e-mail by Tuesday night, you too could join the exclusive ranks of the Tangled Bank posters!

As always, the Tangled Bank is looking for hosts; if you're interested, drop PZ Myers a line.