Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tales from the first week

Overall the first week has been going smoothly: no technology failures, my lectures have been going well, and the students are great. However, one of my labs is still severely underenrolled, and now the decision regarding whether to run the lab or not is becoming very political. The students in this lab are all second-semester biology majors who are almost ready to transfer; they need this lab to transfer, and most of them can't take any of the other lab sections we're offering this semester. Because of these constraints, the dean has been leaning to letting the lab run, but now other faculty are beginning to question whether the lab should be run, and they might cause the lab to be cancelled. I get to sit in the middle of all of this, and have the very fun role of trying to explain all of this to the students (minus the politics), many of whom are quite worried about what they'll do if the lab is cancelled.

I also got to inform a returning Iraq vet that they couldn't take my course, which resulted in this vet most likely not being able to transfer (to a school they were already admitted to) in the spring. I'd had this student in my class a few years ago when they got called up mid-semester, and now this student wanted to complete the course. Unfortunately, this student needed a few courses other than mine to transfer, and the course schedules conflicted. The student was begging me to do some kind of workaround, anything to let them transfer, but I had to sit there and tell them that no, there was no workaround. So this student survived the hell of Iraq, only to come back to the states and find some puny rules-stickler prof standing in the way of their education. It didn't feel good.

And then, during one of my labs, I heard a line that nobody teaching a second-semester biology majors course ever wants to hear:

"So, only animals have DNA, right?"

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Summer Reading

During the spring semester I read functionally nothing other than science books; this summer I've been able to correct that trend. So, in the spirit of a back-to-school "what I did with my summer" post, here's what I read this summer (in chronological order):

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson - I actually started this during the semester as reading just before I went to bed; it was decidedly OK (and often was very good at putting me to sleep). I did like the non-cliched start and interesting world Stephenson created, but could have done without all the sex in tubes (among other things).

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury - I didn't like the start of the book (it was a large shift from cyberpunk), but I quickly got into the evocative writing and loved the book. I read this shortly before going to ComicCon and attending a panel that had Ray Bradbury on it.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - A very good story, made even better because I'd recently been to London (where the story is set).

1984 by George Orwell - Still frighteningly realistic; I couldn't help but see some parallels between the Bush administration and the government of Oceania. War is peace.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman - I needed a refreshing change from 1984, and this was it. I'd only seen the movie, and was impressed with the book.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling - My SO read this the day after it came out, and I read it within a few days of that. Good as always, but I liked the 5th book better (it felt less cliched).

xxxHolic by CLAMP (volumes 1-5, English translation) - One of the latest manga by CLAMP (whose work both my SO and I love), I've been enjoying the mix of cuteness and seriousness. The translation (by Del Rey) is excellent: it's not flipped (so it reads right to left, like the original), Japanese cultural references have been left in the text (and explained at the back of the book), and the honorifics have also been kept.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny - I've loved Zelazny ever since reading the Amber Chronicles; the guy can say more with one sentence than I do in entire paragraphs. This book took a little while to get into, but I liked the refreshingly different mix of sci-fi and religion. I already want to reread it, and I'm hoping my SO reads it soon so we can discuss it.

From Eroica with Love by Aoike Yasuko (volumes 1-3, English translation) - A classic manga that's only just now being translated into English. This series is a light-hearted spy caper set (and written) in the 1970's that's filled with non-explicit slash and a surprising amount of plot. I'm anxiously awaiting the 4th volume (which was just released in English).

Monday, August 29, 2005

Genie and Tomoyo

Regular readers know by now that posts containing solely the name of a pet do not bode well. This post is no exception.

Genie and Tomoyo were both daughters of Rem, the pregnant mouse we adopted from my lab last year.

Six day old mouse babies
Genie and other baby mice at six days old

Sadly, Genie fell ill the day before we left for our recent Canada trip. The friend who had volunteered to check on our mice once a week graciously volunteered to take care of Genie 24/7 (including giving her antibiotics) while we were gone. He did his best, but Genie died on the morning of July 26.

Genie stretching for food

Tomoyo (formerly known as Wide Stripey) was doing fine until last Thursday when we noticed that she was having trouble breathing. We took her to the vet, who gave us three different antibiotics: we had to force feed Tomoyo two of them using a syringe, and put one of them on her nose. She disliked being given the medicines, but she seemed to be getting used to it, and even appeared to be on the mend yesterday. However, when my SO woke up this morning we found that Tomoyo had died.

Tomoyo exploring

Genie and Tomoyo were both tame, good tempered mice who were a pleasure to be around. Like all of their siblings they loved to crawl on us, never attempted to bite or escape, and were a joy to watch as they rearranged and explored their cages.

Meryl is now the sole surviving girl from Rem's litter; she is alone in the girls' cages.

To see more pictures of Genie and Tomoyo, see my adult mouse set on Flickr, which contains pictures from back in June.

The semester starts

The fall semester started today, so summer is now officially over. Monday is a light teaching day for me; the real stress starts tomorrow, when I have both a lecture and lab for my primary course. I still don't know whether one of my labs will be cancelled; the dean is waiting to see how many petitioners I have and whether we can reschedule students to other lab times.

Teaching my field course late in the summer has made the summer seem very short; preparing for the course ate up most of my early summer, teaching the course took a lot out of me, and now it feels like the semester's starting up again right after I've gotten back. I loved the course, and the vacation around the course, but If I were to do it again I'd rather teach the course early in the summer, allowing me to have more of a true summer break.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Creamy Brussels sprout gratin

Brussels sprouts are one of those vegetables American kids hate; they're the butt of jokes, the threatened meal when a kid misbehaves, and are generally considered to be awful. I think I had them once (boiled and plain) when I was a kid, and I hated them.

Forget everything bad you've ever heard about Brussels sprouts: none of it applies to this recipe. These Brussels sprouts are roasted for half an hour, giving them a delicious browned outer layer, but that's not it: after they've been roasted, they're covered in breadcrumbs, cheese, and cream, and then broiled so they end up with a browned crust on top. This recipe ranks right up there with roasted cauliflower, roasted asparagus with garlic and olive oil, and garlicky creamed spinach in my book. Since we made this recipe last weekend and my SO's mother wanted the recipe, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

Even if you think you hate Brussels sprouts, you should try this recipe - you (and your mother) might be pleasantly surprised.

2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons butter, melted
7/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Ground black pepper
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely grated Dubliner Irish cheese (the original recipe calls for Gruyere)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

0. Preheat the oven to 425F.
1. Wash the Brussels sprouts, peel off any damaged outer leaves, and trim the stem end.
2. Slice the Brussels sprouts in half, and place in a glass or ceramic baking dish that is large enough to hold them in a single layer (a 9x13" standard cake pan should work).
3. Spread 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, a moderate sprinkling of ground black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter over the Brussels sprouts, and mix well.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes (or until the Brussels sprouts are tender and starting to brown), stirring twice.
5. Meanwhile, mix the breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon butter, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cheese in a small bowl, and set aside.
6. When the Brussels sprouts are tender, pour the cream over them and bake for another 5-7 minutes ("until the cream has thickened to a saucy consistency and coats the sprouts").
7. Remove the dish from the oven, and turn on the broiler.
8. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the Brussels sprouts.
9. Broil (~6" below the heat source) until the top begins to brown, ~1-2 minutes.
10. Serve hot.

Keep a close eye on the dish as it broils in step nine - it can go from nicely browned to burned in only a few seconds. If you don't have Dubliner Irish or Gruyere cheese on hand, try some other cheese that you like (Emmentaler or a sharp cheddar would probably both work well).


Katz, Eva. 2004. Fall's Overlooked Vegetables. Fine Cooking 67: 44-49.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

King Tut exhibit - impressive, crowded, and expensive

My SO, my SO's mom, and I went to the Tutankhamun exhibit at LACMA yesterday. The exhibit, which is in Los Angeles until November 15, 2005, has dozens of original artifacts from Tutankhamun's tomb, as well as many other artifacts from slightly before Tutankhamun's time. The artifacts included in the exhibit were extremely detailed and well preserved; we could get up to a few inches away from most of the items (which were behind Plexiglas), and it was great fun to gaze at the intricate carvings and attempt to decipher what the artist was trying to imply. One of our favorite finds was a carving on a gold chest depicting an animated ankh running behind Tutankhamun's chariot; the ankh had cute little legs, and was holding an ostrich fan to protect the pharaoh.

The problem, however, was that the exhibit was packed with people. We had bought tickets in advance, and arrived well before our scheduled time of 5pm. We were told that we should start lining up at 4:30 in a tent outside the building, and when we lined up at 4:30 (in the 5:00 line) we were already behind a hundred or so people (and by 5:00 there were at least another hundred behind us). We didn't get through the security check at the door of the museum until at least 5:30, and then waited in line in the entry hall of the museum until after 5:45 before we finally got crammed into a little standing-room-only theater to see a 90-second overview film. After more than an hour and a half of waiting, the film was not very impressive.

The theatre exited into the exhibit halls, which were arranged as a series of rooms that each focused on a different aspect of life in ancient Egypt. Each exhibit hall had about 6-10 stations, and while each artifact in the stations had detailed explanatory text, the text was only placed on one side of the artifact, forcing people to clump around the front of the station. Every single room, and every station, was packed with people; we were constantly dodging around and squirming through tight spaces in an attempt to see the items. I felt bad for the few people there in wheelchairs. We finally settled into a pattern of looking at the unlabeled backs and sides of most artifacts first, while keeping an eye on the front of the artifacts to see when there were openings near the front we could slip into so we could read the signs.

The commercialism of the exhibit was also somewhat disheartening. The tickets were $25 per person, which seemed rather high compared with other museum admission fees (e.g., the British Museum). There was absolutely no photography permitted in the exhibit halls, and the security guards at the door were ensuring that all cameras and cameraphones had been left at the coat-check ("for security reasons"). The gift shop, however, was selling illustrated guides to the exhibit for $50.

Even with the crowds and the commercialism, though, all three of us were happy that we went; it just felt like it could have been better.

As a final note, one of Radagast's favorite pieces from the exhibit was the "wishing cup", which had a touching inscription around its rim (translations appear to vary slightly):
"May your ka [life force] live, may you spend millions of years, O you, who love Thebes, sit with your face to the north wind, your two eyes beholding happiness."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Not up to date on the Plame/Wilson/Rove/Libby scandal?

The LA Times article A CIA Cover Blown, a White House Exposed provides a very detailed history of the events surrounding the Bush administration's leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. The article is a long read, but it ties together many events related to the scandal and puts them all on a single timeline.

Debian package upgrade problem solved

One of the benefits of Debian is that it is very easy to upgrade, both between distributions (i.e. upgrading to a completely new version of Debian) and within distributions (i.e. updating to the most recent version of a program). All it takes is two little commands ("apt-get update" followed by "apt-get upgrade"), and Debian automatically auto-detects what packages (programs) have newer versions available, and whether installing any of those newer packages would break or conflict with any of the packages already on your computer. Debian then shows you a list of the programs it will upgrade, and assuming you approve, Debian downloads, configures, and installs all the new packages.

The big advantage of Debian's package management system over anything I've seen for Windows is that this routine upgrades every single program on the computer (assuming the program was installed via a Debian package, of which there are thousands). You don't have to go to a separate website to update the operating system, the virus scanner, the office suite, etc; it's all done via the same single command.

I'm currently running the testing distribution of Debian (see here for a discussion of the distributions), which means that while I am able to use relatively new development versions of most programs, some of them might be a bit buggy. I haven't run into many problems while updating, but after I upgraded all the packages on my system last week I discovered that the latest version of Firefox in Debian's testing distribution crashed when I did just about anything.

But there was nothing to worry about, as the Debian package management system came to the rescue. All it took was one command ("apt-get install mozilla-firefox=[insert-prior-version-number]") and I was back to my nice, stable version of Firefox. There was no complicated uninstall and reinstall, no worrying about my configuration files (all plugins, bookmarks, and other configured items were left unchanged), and very little stress. I even found that bug reports had already been filed (at, so hopefully the problem will be fixed in the next testing release.

In fact, if I'd been really smart, I would have checked the bugs list first, seen that there were grave bugs filed for this latest version of Firefox, and decided not to upgrade. But I'm not that smart.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Governor Schwarzenegger's nonprofit groups

The LA Times has an article showing how Gov. Schwarzenegger is using nonprofit groups to accept large, undisclosed donations from corporate (and other) groups to help him pay for certain expenses.
Other elected officials also raise money through nonprofit groups. But Schwarzenegger campaigned on creating an open government answerable to the public. His use of the nonprofit groups has the opposite effect, ethics watchdogs said.

State and federal laws allow groups performing a broadly defined "public benefit" to operate tax exempt. But the lack of disclosure requirements means potential conflicts of interests between the governor and his contributors remain hidden, allowing powerful donors to curry favor with Schwarzenegger behind the scenes, they said.
The reporters investigated the nonprofit groups, and were able to obtain lists of donors from three of the five nonprofits Schwarzenegger is using; these donations had not been made public before this article was published.
One of the organizations, the California Commission on Jobs and Economic Growth, has raised $1 million from corporate donors and staged events in California and abroad featuring Schwarzenegger as a way to boost economic development. ...

The $1 million came from a variety of firms affected by state actions. Wells Fargo Bank, which regularly lobbies the government on mortgage issues, student lending and identity theft, gave $100,000. This year, Wells Fargo is pushing for or actively opposing two dozen bills in the Legislature, state records show.


In another case, last September, Schwarzenegger's aides said the governor would not accept contributions from Pacific Gas & Electric and other utilities -- to avoid any appearance of conflict as he drafted a state energy policy. But the jobs commission took a $100,000 donation from PG&E a month later. The commission also received $100,000 from Southern California Edison.
The article states that Gov. Davis raised "at least $2 million" in this fashion, while Gov. Deukmejian and Gov. Wilson also benefited from nonprofits. The problem with these contributions to Schwarzenegger's nonprofits is that Gov. Schwarzenegger campaigned, at least partially, on the basis that he wouldn't be beholden to large corporate donors and special interests*. However, now that he's governor we see that Schwarzenegger has redefined special interest groups to mean nurses, teachers, and public safety employees (see this article), and is now accepting millions of dollars in donations from the very corporations and special interest groups to which he promised not to be indebted.

* See, for instance, this article on Schwarzenegger's inauguration (full speech here), where he says, "I enter this office beholden to no one except you, my fellow citizens. I pledge my governorship to your interests, not to special interests" and "I did not seek this office to do things the way they've always been done. What I care about is restoring your confidence in your government."

Tangled Bank #35

The 35th Tangled Bank has been posted by Dave Munger at Cognitive Daily.

Google Talk is live

Google has launched an instant messenger service (Google Talk), using the open source Jabber protocol. They have a client available for Windows, but since they're using Jabber, Mac and Linux users can use Jabber-compatible programs (e.g., GAIM) to connect to the service. There's already a (very short) review of the Google Windows client here.

Google appears to be pushing the voice-over-IP capabilities of their client, but I'm more excited that the client is ad-free, cleanly designed, and integrates well with Gmail. I'll definitely be adding Google Talk to the list of IM clients I use with my students this fall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Gov. Schwarzenegger isn't reforming

Shortly after being elected, Gov. Schwarzenegger commissioned the California Performance Review, an independent commission intended to analyze California's government and suggest reforms to "restructure, reorganize and reform state government to make it more responsive to the needs of its citizens and business community". The commission created a report that suggested hundreds of changes (including such novel ones as "Make higher education more affordable by reducing the cost of textbooks"), and now that the report is a year old, the LA Times has published an article analyzing how many of the recommendations Gov. Schwarzenegger's administration has enacted.
To gauge the administration's progress, The Times examined 39 specific recommendations the task force made. For those recommendations, the task force had predicted substantial costs or savings in the fiscal year that ended June 30, indicating that the report's authors believed those changes could be quickly initiated.

The task force predicted the state would have seen $1 billion in savings through 28 of the recommendations, which range from the specific (use digital photos instead of film) to the grand (make state employees more efficient through better technology, training and management). Of those, eight have been completed, eight are underway and work has not begun on the other 12, according to the governor's office.

The administration also appears to be behind on implementing changes that, in the short run, would cost the state more because of start-up costs.

Of 11 task force recommendations that carry substantial first-year charges, only one, allowing drivers to renew their licenses over the Internet, has been completed, the governor's office said.

Conyers on 2004 in Ohio, and 2006 everywhere

Rep. Conyers has posted a long piece discussing the 2004 Ohio presidential election, as well as what progressives need to do in the 2006 congressional election. His discussion of what happened in 2004 in Ohio is excellent:
I know that many of my fellow progressives think the official margin of victory for Bush in Ohio, well over 100,000 votes, is too large a margin to be entirely reversed by proof of fraud or malfeasance. For them to believe that to be the case, they need to see some reasonable quantification of the actual voters who were disenfranchised and, in turn, the actual votes that were lost. After all, unlike the Republicans who still think Saddam Hussein possessed WMD when we invaded Iraq and believe we are winning the war, who think that tax cuts for the wealthy will grow the economy and reduce the deficit, who think a grieving mother and an Ambassador's wife are "fair game," and who think that the way to fix Social Security is to destroy it, we progressives are a "reality based community."

The problem with answering my fellow progressives' challenge for numbers is that so much of what happened in Ohio centered on unquantifiable events that makes counting the number of disenfranchised voters impossible. How can we determine exactly how many Kerry voters turned around and went home facing hopelessly long lines at the polls? Or how many voters were never registered, and were turned away on election day, because of bizarre and conflicting Ken Blackwell edits about the weight of voter registration forms? Or how many votes were lost because of machine defects or manipulation?

What I can say is what the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff said best in the Conyers report: "We have found numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousand of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards."
But his piece is not about rehashing the 2004 election; it's about looking forward to the 2006 election, and realizing that positive change can occur. For instance:
Republicans find themselves with plunging poll numbers and an uncertain electoral landscape in 2006. Failure for them in their drive to keep control of the House of Representatives, and one party rule in Washington, means that, if reelected, I will become Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Waxman will become Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, Louise Slaughter will become Chair of the Rules Committee, Charlie Rangel will Chair the Ways and Means Committee, and Nancy Pelosi will be the first woman to be Speaker of the House. That means accountability for this Administration with a stiff dose of the truth.

Monday, August 22, 2005

A few quick updates

I've started a lot of topics without resolving them recently, so here's a post with a few updates for those keeping track of recent events here at Rhosgobel:
  • My course's enrollment is still not high enough, and it looks like one of my labs will probably be cancelled in a day or two. In order to maximize enrollment in one of my remaining labs I might be forced to have it start before 8am (to minimize conflicts with chemistry courses), even though I'll be teaching until after 8pm the prior night. Ugh.
  • Our contractor neighbor kindly propped up our fallen fence last Friday, though now it creaks disturbingly at seemingly random intervals. We're currently in the process of getting quotes to replace the fence with a block wall, but work probably won't be able to start until the end of September at the earliest.
  • Since finding the electrical wiring problem in our kitchen we've been living without power in that run of cabinets, and plan to do so until we remodel our kitchen (no start date on that project yet). As a result of this fun escapade (and the ridiculously bad phone wiring in the house), we're seriously considering having the entire house rewired.
  • It's now official: the lab tech that sets up my course will be leaving after the third week of the semester. I predict chaos around that time.

Illustrated guide to making a peach pie

I took some pictures of the pie-making process yesterday, and thought I'd turn them into an illustrated guide showing how to making a covered fruit pie from scratch. The guide isn't complete (I've left out most of the crust rolling and baking), but should give the uninitiated an idea of what's involved in the whole endeavor.

If you want to go bake a pie, I've got both peach pie and pear pie recipes posted in my recipe archive.

1 - Rolled pie crust
1 - Rolled pie crust with the pie pan on top for scale.

2 - Using a rimless sheet to lift the crust
2 - Using a rimless baking sheet to lift the crust.

3 - Crust in the pan
3 - Crust in the pan.

4 - Peeling a peach
4 - Peeling a peach after boiling it for two minutes.

5 - Filling going in
5 - The peach filling going into the pie crust after sitting for 15 minutes at room temperature.

6 - Filling in the crust
6 - The filling in the crust, topped with pieces of butter.

7 - Trimming the crust
7 - Trimming the crust so that it overhangs by around 1/2 to 1".

8 - Folding the crust, pt. 2
8 - Pinching the two layers of crust together and getting ready to fold it underneath the top crust.

9 - Folding the crust, pt. 1
9 - Folding the overhanging crust underneath the top layer of crust.

10 - Trimming the crust
10 - Trimming the excess crust away.

11 - Crimping the crust
11 - Crimping the crust with a fork.

12  Brushing on milk
12 - Brushing on milk so the crust browns more.

13 - Sprinkling sugar on top
13 - Sprinkling sugar on top; I find this gives the crust a nice texture once baked.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Peach pie with a flaky pastry crust

When I was in high school, my stepmother took me to a friend's orchard that grew O'Henry peaches; we loaded up with crates full of fresh, tree-ripened peaches, and I've never been the same since. While I love to eat a good ripe peach, my absolute favorite way to eat peaches is in homemade pies. I baked my SO's mom a peach pie today, so it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

As I've said before, a critical part of a homemade pie is the crust: it's relatively easy to make with practice, and is well worth the effort. The flaky pastry crust I make is similar to the ones I included with the pear pie and plum galette recipes, though in this version I describe how to make the dough by hand (without a food processor). I usually make my pie crust doughs by hand, but if you prefer the food processor method just use frozen butter and follow the directions in the other recipes.

Flaky pastry crust
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, cold (not frozen), unsalted (reduce the salt added above if using salted butter)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice-cold water (plus a bit extra)

Peach filling
5 cups peeled, pitted, and sliced peaches (~2 1/2 pounds whole peaches)
1/2 cup sugar (up to 3/4 cup if the peaches aren't very sweet)
1/4 cup (4 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) Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and mix. I typically use a pastry blender to do this, though a fork or whisk also work.
2) Cut the butter into approximately tablespoon-sized pieces, and add to the flour mixture. Use a pastry blender, fork, knives, or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour, stopping when the largest chunks of butter are pea-sized and most of the butter is in very small pieces. Be careful not to melt the butter.
3) Add the ice water and cut the water into the dough with a spatula (or table knife) until the dough starts to hold together. If there is still a lot of dry dough in the bowl, add another tablespoon or two of extra water (I usually end up adding about an extra tablespoon).
4) Compress the dough together with your hands, divide it in half, and pat each half into a disk. If the dough is relatively warm and sticky, wrap it in plastic wrap and 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.
5) Use a floured rolling pin on a well-floured work surface to roll half the dough into a circle approximately 14 inches wide (or a few inches wider than your pan). Rolling the dough takes a bit of 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, press it on top of the crack, dust it with flour, and 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 from sticking to the countertop. Joy of Cooking has a very useful section on rolling pie crust if you've never done it before.
6) 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) and trim the crust so it overhangs the edge of the pan by ~1". Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and put into the fridge.
7) Roll out the second half of your pie crust (again to ~3-4 inches wider than your pan), place on a cookie sheet or other large, flat surface, cover with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge.

To make the filling:
1) Remove the skin and pit from the peaches, and then slice into 1/4 to 1/2" thick slices. The easiest way to remove the skin is to place whole peaches into a pot of boiling water for 1 minute; once removed from the water and cooled, the skin often peels off in very large pieces. If the skin doesn't come off easily even after a short boil, I use a paring knife to slice off the skin.
2) Mix the sliced peaches, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Assembling 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 trim off any large clumps of dough overhanging the edge (with scissors), use a fork to crimp the edge, and then use scissors to trim off any remaining 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 about 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.

When buying peaches, make sure they're as ripe as possible (they should smell peachy, and ideally be somewhat soft), and try to get freestone peaches - they're much easier to slice. If your peaches aren't ripe when you buy them, place them in a paper bag at room temperature to hasten ripening.

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.

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 runnier filling add less.

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.

We make this pie in a 9-inch pie pan (9-inch diameter at the top, 7-inch diameter at the bottom).

This recipe is based on two recipes from Rombauer et al. (1997).

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

Flying insect photographs

To study (and photograph) flying insects, most entomologists glue fine hairs to an insect's thorax and then hang the insect in front of a fan. However, Make linked to a website detailing one photographer's home-built setup for taking pictures of flying insects in the field. The site has ten pages describing how the unit was built, and then eight pages of insanely good pictures of flying insects.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Rhosgobel the magazine

Rhosgobel the magazine
Look! It's a first edition cover!

I was going to work on posting some of my trip pictures this evening, but then BoingBoing went and linked to a very fun magazine cover generator. Something tells me my future isn't in magazine design ...

Update: See more covers at the Flickr Magazine Pool.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Two carnivals

Since I'm busy playing host to my SO's mom, and frantically preparing for (and stressing out about) giving a talk at our annual new faculty orientation, here are some links to keep you occupied with good bloggy reading:

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Skeptics' Circle needs submissions

Orac and Pharyngula both report that Austin Cline of Atheism Guide needs more posts for this week's Skeptics' Circle. Send submissions to; the deadline for inclusion is 7pm Eastern tonight. See Austin's post for more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The fence: it has fallen.

My SO and I were sitting in our living room this afternoon, enjoying the pleasant weather and comfort of being home, when we heard a loud scraping noise followed by a crash in our backyard.

Great fence ...
At least our yard looks more spacious now ...

There was no wind, it hasn't rained for weeks, and nobody was in the yard. I guess the fence just finally decided to give up.

Our house has been doing well, hasn't it?

Fire danger: high

Our kitchen has a block of counters that divide it from the dining room; this entire block of counters has only one set of electrical outlets, which are mounted on the bottom of a row of cabinets that hang from the ceiling.

This evening, after we made some almond/rice milk with my SO's new soymilk maker (plugged into one of the above-mentioned outlets), my SO pulled some brown sugar out of one of the hanging cabinets, idly noting that the bag was warm. It was only a short while later that a realization kicked in: brown sugar stored in a cabinet should never be warm.

My SO investigated and found that the brown sugar had been sitting on this very hot extension cord:

Overheated cord
Yikes! (Note the holes melted in the insulation around the plug.)

Upon further investigation we discovered that the electrical outlets in the run of cabinets were not directly wired into the house's electrical system, but instead were plugged into that puny extension cord. The same puny extension cord also provided power to some under-cabinet lighting the prior owners had installed. We're not electrical inspectors, but we figure this has got to violate building codes.

The cord was even hot enough to melt the insulation around another cord running next to the plug:

Melted wire
The cord is melted near the upper-left corner of the picture.

Our wrath towards the moronic prior owners of our home (and the house inspector who supposedly inspected our house before we bought it) has grown to new levels.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Not the greatest first day back ...

The final project for the students in my field course was to write a summary report of their work. Unfortunately, I spent more than three hours this afternoon finding the websites one of my students used to plagiarize their paper. My report on the plagiarism ended up filling 10 pages (most of it comparing the student's report to the text of more than a dozen different websites), and I still have more to do.

After turning in my grades for the summer session (yay!), I got the bad news from my dean that my lab sections for the fall semester are underenrolled. This appears to be a worrisome trend covering our entire biology majors program. We have little information as to the cause, but it's possible that a shortage of classes in our chemistry program is preventing students from getting the prerequisites needed to take our biology courses (one commonly required chemistry course filled up within hours of the start of registration last semester). Other possible causes are that our class schedules (which have been slightly shifted) are conflicting with other courses, or that demand is going down.

Regardless of the cause, if more students don't enroll in my lab sections, at least one of my labs will be cancelled, meaning I'll have to find another lab or course to teach this semester, or teach an overload next semester. I've already sent out an e-mail to some of last year's students to see if they have any ideas about what is causing the decline; hopefully we can get some good data from them.

And, to top things off, it looks like the lab tech who sets up my course (as well as some others) may not be available starting in a few weeks, and thus we're going to have to scramble to find more help (or I'll get to set everything up myself).

And I've only been in town less than 24 hours ... sheesh.

We're back!

While we both loved the vacation, it's very nice to be home again. I'll post more about the trip in the days to come, though right now it's time to sleep (and tomorrow it's time to turn in grades and get the house ready for a visit from my SO's mother, who is coming to stay with us on Tuesday).

As a side note, we've discovered the perfect time to drive on Southern California freeways: 2am. No traffic, and barely any other cars on the road.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Tea at the White Heather Tea Room in Victoria

My SO and I are relaxing for a few days in Victoria, attempting to recuperate from my recent field course (see the Gym for details). Thus we only had two things on our schedule for today: breakfast and afternoon tea.

In Victoria, tea seems to be synonymous with The Empress. However, The Empress is also synonymous with pricey, as they apparently charge $55 per person for the pleasure of dining there. We looked for alternates.

We ended up at the White Heather Tea Room, a highly recommended, cozy little restaurant a little ways from downtown Victoria. The White Heather has three teas: the Wee Tea, the Not so Wee Tea, and the Big Muckle Giant Tea for Two (the names alone were enough to get us to go there). We couldn't resist the Big Muckle Giant Tea for Two, which lived up to its name, as it included two big scones (which came with Devonshire cream, lemon curd, and raspberry jam), cheesy tarts, mini quiches, a number of tea sandwiches (including cucumber and cream cheese, egg salad and chive, and ham salad), smoked salmon in split cheese and herb scones, lemon curd tarts with whipped cream and berries on top, lemon cake, savory wafers with cream and apple on top, Scottish shortbread, and blueberry bars. They also had a good selection of loose-leaf teas, which came in teapots covered with very cute tea cozies. Everything appeared to be homemade, and was delicious. As the service was also excellent, and the price only $36 Canadian for the two of us, the White Heather Tea Room gets the Radagast Seal of Approval.

Friday, August 05, 2005


My field course is over, and I'm exhausted. I spent six full days at the field site and was busy teaching, including hiking around rough terrain, more or less from 7am to 11pm every day. Suffice it to say it was a lot of work, and while it was incredibly enjoyable, I'm ecstatic that we're staying in a bed and breakfast tonight in Victoria. I'm looking forward to the only items on my schedule being a nice long soak in a big bathtub tonight, and breakfast cooked for us tomorrow morning.

[note: This post was backdated because I was too tired to post it on Friday]