Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Who wrote that story again?

An article in the LA Times reports that the US Military is covertly (and anonymously) publishing favorable stories in the Iraq media:
"As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

"The articles, written by U.S. military 'information operations' troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

"Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. ...


"One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A review of four mouse cages

Last year my SO and I got a seven-for-one deal on some mice. In the ensuing time we purchased five cages for our mice, and used them constantly until our last mouse died a few days ago. In this post I will review the four types of cages we bought.

New mouse cages
A setup of four of our cages.

The picture above shows our original cage setup, which includes, from left to right, a CritterTrail Mini Two, a Habitrail Mini, another CritterTrail Mini Two, and a CritterTrail Three. We purchased a set of CritterTrail connector tubes ("Fun-nels") and have hooked all four cages together to create one large habitat. One of the reasons we settled on these cages is that they mix wire sides with plastic tops and bottoms; many of the modular styles of cages are completely enclosed with solid plastic, which greatly decreases ventilation.

CritterTrail Mini Two

CritterTrail Mini Two
A CritterTrail Mini Two.

Of the cages, the CritterTrail Mini Twos are by far the least expensive ($15), but also the smallest and least interesting for the mice. The cage comes with a wheel, a water bottle, and a rather useless food dish (although a few of the mice seem to like sitting or sleeping in the dish). The CritterTrail Mini Two makes a great side cage, and when we had only two cages the mice used the CritterTrail Mini Two as a nest location and exercise room (there was often a line at the wheel), but I'd never permanently keep any number of mice in just one of these due to the small size.

Habitrail Mini

Habitrail Mini
A Habitrail Mini.

The Habitrail Mini is a decent standalone cage; it's intermediate in size and price ($30). The cage has a good amount of floor space, and comes with a water bottle, a wheel, a "MushRoom" climbing toy, and a food dish. The water bottle that came with the cage is of a rather odd design and takes up valuable floor space, so we didn't use it (though it is great for sick mice that may not be able to reach up to a hanging water bottle). Instead, we bought a small hanging water bottle and suspended it from the wire (as you can see in the front-right portion of the cage picture above).

Habitrail wheel
The Habitrail Mini wheel.

The wheel of the Habitrail Mini seems to have a design flaw (besides being hard to install) that could be dangerous: the mice climb in through one of four small holes in the side, which, when the wheel is rotating, pass directly underneath the wheel's support structure. Thus, if a mouse was trying to enter the wheel while another mouse was running on it, the entering mouse could get slammed into the support bar. This didn't happen to us, though we've heard rumors of at least one mouse fatality happening on this style of wheel, so we figured we'd rather not risk it, especially since we had safer wheels in other cages.

The Habitrail Mini "MushRoom".

The Habitrail Mini has two spots to hang accessories from, so we decided to replace the wheel with a second MushRoom that we bought from the pet store's clearance bin. The MushRoom consists of a tube leading from the floor of the cage up to a small platform enclosed by a dome with lots of mouse-sized holes in it. The mice absolutely loved the MushRooms and often climbed from one to the other.

This cage also has the most closely-spaced bars of our four cage types (making it the most escape-proof, especially for baby mice), and the largest door.

CritterTrail Three

CritterTrail Three
A CritterTrail Three.

The CritterTrail Three is the largest and most expensive ($40) of the cages. It has about the same floor space as the Habitrail Mini, but is more than twice as tall, with five levels (the floor, three shelves, and an enclosed area on the top). This cage comes with a water bottle, a wheel, and a food dish. The wheel in this cage is larger than the one in the CritterTrail Mini Two (but of the same basic design), and ended up getting the most running time of all the wheels. The top of this cage has a "Petting Zone", an enclosed area the mice climb into through the long blue tube on the right side of the cage; the "Petting Zone" also has a lid that can be opened by humans.

CritterTrail Three
The CritterTrail Three "Petting Zone".

The "Petting Zone" is marketed as a little area you can use to interact with your pet, but that, of course, assumes that your rodent pet actually wants to interact with you (which many a hamster does not). But at least the "Petting Zone" is a nice retreat that adds complexity to the design, and our mice seemed to like climbing up to it and sleeping there.

The shelves in this cage are solid plastic with a lip around the edges, meaning they can hold a bit of bedding for urine absorption and won't trap feet like wire mesh floors can. The shelves also have tubes that can help mice climb up or down to them, though mice can climb the bars just fine (and we often removed the tubes to encourage the mice to exercise more). While the CritterTrail Three is the most expensive, it is also one of the best cages for the mice, as it has more spatial complexity than the other three.

A problem with the CritterTrail Three is that it is relatively difficult to assemble. The plastic support pieces that run the length of the cage have to be snapped together, and then the wire cage sides must be slid into tiny grooves running the length of these supports. While we were assembling the cage one of the guide pieces in the groove snapped off; this didn't cause anything to fail (the cage was perfectly fine when assembled), but it did make cleaning the cage harder as the wire sides always wanted to pop out of the plastic supports.

CritterTrail Two

CritterTrail Two
A CritterTrail Two.

This cage ($35) has the same basic layout and construction as the CritterTrail Three, except that it is slightly shorter and has one fewer shelf. So, while the CritterTrail Three has five main areas (the floor, three shelves, and an enclosed area on the top), the CritterTrail Two has four (the floor, two shelves, and an enclosed area on the top). This cage also comes with the same wheel, water bottle, and food dish as the CritterTrail Three.

The CritterTrail Two is easeir to assemble and handle than the CritterTrail Three; the CritterTrail Two is shorter, and thus sliding the wire sides into the plastic supports is easier. The shorter height also makes the cage easier to clean, as the plastic supports and wire sides bend less when they are carried to be washed in the shower or with a hose. The flexibility of the cage layout is limited because it only has room for two shelves, but this limitation is not major compared to the other advantages of the cage.

Cage connectivity

What's in there?
A CritterTrail expansion tube.

All four of these cages can be interconnected using either Habitrail or CritterTrail tubes. The ability to connect, and thus expand, these cages is probably one of their greatest benefits, as you can easily expand (or contract) the space available to your mice based on your current needs (and budget). Once our mice matured, we kept the four girls in a three-cage complex (one CritterTrail Two, one Habitrail Mini, and one CritterTrail Mini Two), and the three boys in a two-cage complex (one CritterTrail Three and one CritterTrail Mini Two). Whenever a mouse got sick and needed to be isolated, we separated one of the CritterTrail Mini Two's and kept the sick mouse in that cage. This connectivity also made cleaning the cages easier, as we could lure all the mice into one of the cages and then quickly separate the cages.

We bought one pack of CritterTrail expansion tubes ("Fun-nels"; $10) and one Habitrail expansion tube (a T; ~$2 in a pet store bargain bin), and were quite happy with the ability to connect the cages. The tubes included with the shelves in the CritterTrail Two and Three can also be used as expansion tubes, and we often used them for that purpose. One problem with all of the CritterTrail cages is that it is difficult to attach the expansion tubes to (and detach them from) the sides of the cages, as they fit very tightly.

We liked to rearrange the cage layouts every time we cleaned the cages; this created a more mentally stimulating environment for the mice, and it was fun to watch them explore their "new" cages when we put them back in.

Overall considerations

We had very few problems with the cages in more than a year of constant use: none of them broke, and no mice ever escaped. Probably the largest annoyance was that Rem, the mother of our babies, sometimes chewed on the bars of the CritterTrails, which would often make a very loud "twang"-like sound. Rem never chewed on the bars of the Habitrail, probably because the Habitrail's bars were slightly closer together.

One possible problem with the CritterTrail Three and Two is that they are probably the least secure of the four cages. There is a bit of extra space around the doors (see this picture) which a small mouse might be able to squeeze through, and the wire bars are able to be pried apart a bit where they wrap around the corner of the cage. We never had any mice escape, but if you have an escape artist on your hands you might want to be a bit cautious.

The wheels included with the CritterTrails were all excellent; they attached to the side of the cage (thus not using up floor space), had solid plastic sides and bottoms (so mouse appendages couldn't get stuck in them), and were very quiet when properly maintained. We placed a few drops of vegetable oil on the axles every time we cleaned the cages - this lubricated the wheels and prevented them from making noise. The only downside of these solid wheels is that the mice would excrete into them, which could cause the cages to get smelly very quickly; to control the smell we often just removed the wheel and quickly cleaned it without cleaning the rest of the cage.

Probably the biggest problem with all of the cages (especially the CritterTrail Three) was setup - it took a lot of time and patience to assemble them properly, and at times it seemed like we were only a fraction of a newton away from breaking the parts. However, we were able to successfully assemble all four without seriously damaging them. If you're looking for easy cage assembly, the CritterTrail Mini Two was by far the easiest of the cages to assemble.

The CritterTrail Mini Two and Habitrail were the easiest cages to clean - both allowed for quick and easy removal of the top without much fiddling. To clean the CritterTrail Two and Three, we had to remove the top (including sliding some annoying snaps), remove the shelves and wheel, unsnap the sides from the base, and finally lift the sides out of the base. It wasn't exceptionally hard, and the extra space these cages give the mice was well worth the extra effort it took to clean them.

All four cages were light and easy to handle, a definite bonus compared with aquaria. None of the cages had wire mesh floors or shelves, which is good since rodent feet can get trapped in wire mesh when they walk on it. The tubes, and many of the plastic components, can be washed in the dishwasher, which is handy (though we typically just washed them by hand).

  • CritterTrail Mini Two
    • Cheap ($15)
    • Too small for use as a permanent home for mice
    • Good choice to expand the other cages
    • Good wheel design, okay water bottle (hard to clean inside)
    • Expansion tubes can be difficult to attach
    • Easy setup and cleaning
  • Habitrail Mini
    • Intermediate price ($30)
    • Included wheel and water bottle are not generally useful
    • "MushRoom" is a huge hit with the mice; if at all possible buy an extra one
      • ("MushRoom" is designed only for use in a Habitrail Mini)
    • Can only handle two Habitrail accessories at at time (e.g., one wheel and one "MushRoom" or two "MushRooms")
    • Narrowest bar spacing - no chewing, and harder to escape from
    • Easiest of the larger cages to clean and assemble
  • CritterTrail Three
    • High price ($40)
    • Good wheel design, okay water bottle (hard to clean inside)
    • Largest cage; lots of floor and shelf space
    • "Petting Zone" is a good nest location for mice
    • Three shelves, plus lots of space, allow for rearrangeable cage layouts
    • Shelves made of solid plastic can have bedding put on them
    • Difficult to assemble, expansion tubes can be difficult to attach, cage feels fragile when disassembled
  • CritterTrail Two
    • High-ish price ($35)
    • Good wheel design, okay water bottle (hard to clean inside)
    • Large cage; lots of floor and shelf space
    • "Petting Zone" is a good nest location for the mice
    • Two shelves can't be rearranged much
    • Shelves made of solid plastic can have bedding put on them
    • Somewhat easier to assemble than the CritterTrail Three, also feels less fragile when disassembled than the CritterTrail Three
    • Expansion tubes can be difficult to attach

Monday, November 28, 2005

One more step closer to tenure

Along with grading 4.9 pounds of papers this weekend, I also finished completing my tenure review form (a self-evaluation). This is the final major task I have to complete this year for my tenure review; after my committee reviews this form and their other evaluations of me, we'll have a final meeting and the committee will come to a decision regarding whether they want to keep me on next year. If they do, then come next August I'll officially have tenure, assuming the district is still employing me.

In the past few weeks I've had in-class evaluations done by all four of my tenure committee members. During these visits each member of the committee comes and sits in on a full lecture or lab; in prior years these caused me great stress, and I'd often write whole new lectures (or create many new slides) just for the evaluation. Nothing like that happened this semester: two of the evaluations occurred with functionally no notice, and I was so busy before the other two that I couldn't stress out much or do anything new.

My final tenure review meeting should be held in the next few weeks - everyone's sending me positive signals, so I'm not overly worried, but it will be nice to have it done with.

Crab dip

This is probably our favorite quick and easy appetizer; we make it to snack on while we're cooking our homemade holiday meals, and it's one of our default items to bring to potlucks. The dip combines cream cheese, mayonnaise, crab, and onion to form the perfect compliment to a slice of warmed bread.

Crab dip
Crab dip on warm bread.

I learned this recipe from my mom, who obtained it (and modified it) from some other source; we've subsequently modified it from my mom's version. Since we just made this for our Thanksgiving dinner, it's one of this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging posts.

This recipe does require that the cream cheese be softened before starting, and also needs a few hours of chilling time after mixing, so can't be made at the last minute. However, it keeps well in the fridge for days, so can easily be made in advance.

1 8-ounce package cream cheese (brought to room temperature)
1 cup mayonnaise
1 can (6 ounces) crab meat, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 7-gram package powdered unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons boiling water
~5 ounces (~1/2 can) condensed cream of celery soup
Mold(s) in which to chill the dip (e.g., small leftover containers)
Bread or vegetable sticks (e.g., carrots, celery)

0. Soften the cream cheese by leaving it at room temperature (probably for about an hour).
1. Put the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat it until smooth. The cream cheese should be relatively easy to stir; if not, give it more time to warm to room temperature.
2. Stir the crab and onion into the cream cheese.
3. Add the mayonnaise and mix until well blended.
4. Microwave the condensed cream of celery soup in a bowl until it is warm to the touch. Do not add water.
5. Mix the boiling water and unflavored gelatin in a cup or small bowl, and then mix into the warmed condensed soup.
6. Stir the condensed soup and gelatin mixture into the cream cheese mixture.
7. Spoon the dip into the mold(s).
8. Chill thoroughly in a fridge (at least two hours).
9. Serve with warmed bread (we put a loaf of artisan bread in a 350F oven for about 5 minutes) and/or vegetable sticks.


This recipe can be easily doubled, and acquaintances have reported that it withstands freezing well, though we've never managed to have leftovers that might need to be frozen.

Vary the amount of onion in this dip to your taste; use more if you want a very oniony dip, use less (or use a sweet onion) if you want a milder dip. Radagast's SO prefers this dip made with sweet onion, while Radagast prefers it with regular onions.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Child's Play

Jerry Holkins ("Tycho"; one of the two creators of Penny Arcade) is now a father, and has written a neat summary of the experience in his regular news post.

This is also a good time to point out Penny Arcade's annual Child's Play charity, which encourages "gamers and geeks" to donate games and toys to children's hospitals. Here's their description:

Child's play logo
For the past three years, gamers and geeks around the world have raised nearly a million dollars in toys, games and cash for sick kids in Children's Hospitals across the globe through a grassroots charity called Child's Play.

Created by Penny Arcade, no "Administrative Fees" or other nonsense is collected; all gifts and donations go directly to the hospitals for distribution to sick kids."
To donate items, select the hospital to which you'd like to donate, and then you'll be directed to that hospital's wishlist (from which you can order as much or as little as you'd like; items go directly to the hospital).

Child's Play's main page has a list of participating hospitals, and they've got even more information (including a FAQ) on their about page.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Senate bean soup (or: how to use up all that extra ham)

You bought a 15-pound ham a week ago, and have now made three dinners, five sandwiches, one pasta dish, and a couple of breakfasts from it, but you've still got a few pounds left. Don't you dare ponder throwing away those last few pounds of meat and bone: they're the perfect starting point for possibly the tastiest classic American soup.

Senate bean soup is apparently served daily in the US Senate restaurant, and it seems like there are a few dozen different versions of the recipe (including an official one on the Senate's website). My SO and I first found this recipe in Joy of Cooking, and have been happily making this soup ever since when we buy a ham. This soup is hearty and savory, and it makes great lunches or dinners on cold winter days. The soup also freezes well, so making a large batch can supply you with meals for months to come.

We made this soup last weekend, so it's this week's first end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

4 cups dry navy beans
Leftover ham, including the bone (we used 5 pounds, including bone, of an approximately 12-pound ham)
22 cups water (not including water to soak the beans in)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 stalks celery, with leaves, washed and sliced
4 large onions, diced
4 potatoes, washed and diced into ~3/8" cubes
8 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed with a garlic press
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Salt to taste (we used ~1 tablespoon kosher salt)

0) Cover the beans with at least 2" of water in a large bowl, and leave them to soak overnight in the fridge. If you're in a hurry, you can heat water to near boiling and pour it over the beans and soak for about an hour. If you're really in a hurry, you could probably get away without soaking the beans, and just increase the cooking time in step 1.
1) Drain the beans and put them in a large pot with the ham and water. If all the water doesn't fit in the pot initially, that's OK (as long as the ham and beans are covered). Bring to a boil and simmer until the beans are tender (~ 1 1/4 hours).
2) Remove the ham from the pot (caution: it's hot, and will be falling apart) and set it aside to cool.
3) Mash the beans slightly with a potato masher; this is optional, but makes the soup a bit creamier in texture.
4) Add the carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and garlic.
5) Once the ham is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone and cut into bite-sized pieces. Our ham often ends up very irregularly shaped (torn in some places, neat cubes in others), which adds a rustic note. If you left out any water above (in step 1), add it now.
6) Cook the soup for ~20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft.
7) Add the ham pieces and pepper, taste the soup, and adjust the salt level. If the ham pieces are cooler than you'd like, simmer the soup for a bit to heat them up.

Joy of Cooking recommends garnishing the soup with parsley.


This recipe is scaled up to use a large amount of ham (and could probably feed the entire US Senate); if you have less ham (or want to buy a small ham hock), just scale down the recipe. Don't worry if you can't evenly divide the number of carrots and other vegetables if you scale the recipe; just pick a number and go with it.

The amounts (and even type) of ingredients in this recipe are relatively flexible. For instance, the original recipe omits carrots and uses more celery; we've made it both ways. We also rarely measure the amount of ham we use - we just take a ballpark guess and choose amounts of the other ingredients that seem to match. Sometimes the soup is extra hammy (as this version is), and sometimes it's more beany or vegetabley; it's always good.

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

Civ IV

A friend recently told me that the newest release of the Civilization series (Civ IV) was reputed to be a great version of the game. I downloaded the demo (FilePlanet), tried it out, and think I'm addicted (even though the demo is limited to 100 turns). The last Civilization game I played was Civ II, and I'm happy to see that the game still has the same strategic focus (and has stayed turn-based, preventing it from becoming an RTS click-fest). It also looks like the game has more victory conditions, meaning that players no longer have to take over the world to win (as I seem to recall was functionally the case in Civ II).

Civilization Fanatics has a lot of information (and news) on the game, including a good overview of the changes to the game from earlier versions, and an HTML-based leader picker (which helps players choose what leader they want to be based on the leader characteristics they're looking for). They've also linked to the Blue Marble mod, which changes the in-game graphics so they better match satellite images of Earth (based on NASA's Blue Marble Project).

For those of you who've played earlier versions of the game, the Civ IV website has a historical comparison of the graphics in each version. And, if you're looking for more information about the game in general, the Wikipeida has good background information for the series on the Civilization page, as well as a detailed page on Civ IV.

If you see my posting frequency drop precipitously in the coming weeks, you'll know I've gotten a full copy of the game.

Friday, November 25, 2005

If true, this is a terrifying tale

Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a resident of New Orleans, has a very long post about his experiences after Hurricane Katrina. He stayed in New Orleans for nine days after the hurricane hit, spending much of this time canoeing around and trying to help neighbors by checking on their property, getting them medical attention, and feeding their pets. His reward for this was to be arrested by the military and held for more than three weeks on charges of looting, all the while being refused medical treatment for his injuries. It's a terrifying tale; read it.

Thanksgiving feast

Here's a picture of our Thanksgiving feast:

Thanksgiving dinner 2005

Going clockwise from the roast we have: a bacon-wrapped stuffed pork roast, mashed turnips and potatoes, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar, and garlicky creamed spinach. The cran-raspberry-pineapple gelatin conglomeration is featured on the small plate to the right.

A picture of my SO's meal is on Flickr; it has mashed yams with orange juice in place of the baked sweet potatoes.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Vash and D'Artagnan: last of their line

Vash or D'Artagnan Vash or D'Artagnan
After Meryl died a few months ago, Vash and D'Artagnan were the last two mice from Rem's litter left alive.

Vash up close
Vash sniffing the camera

Vash was the first to fall ill; in early November he started having trouble breathing (much like his siblings). We put him on antibiotics and fed him lots of ice cream, but within a week he had died, leaving D'Artagnan alone.

We tried to keep D'Artagnan company as best we could; he was still the same chubby, slothful, amazingly friendly mouse, and he'd beg for sunflower seeds whenever we walked by.

D'Artagnan eating
D'Artagnan eating a Rice Krispy

On Sunday we made some roasted cauliflower, and D'Artagnan excitedly wolfed down some extra cauliflower. However, on Monday night we noticed that he was breathing noisily (wheezing), and had started losing weight. We fed him some antibiotic-laced ice cream, which he seemed to have some trouble keeping down. On Tuesday we gave him another batch of antibiotic ice cream, but this time he couldn't keep it down at all: he'd lick at it a little bit, then turn around and regurgitate it onto the bedding. He kept trying to eat the ice cream, but finally gave up. We then force-fed him the antibiotics (using a syringe), which he didn't like at all.

Last night D'Artagnan actively avoided being picked up, something he's never done before. We finally picked him up and fed him his antibiotics, and then held him for a long time. He seemed to perk up, and even shakily explored us (including crawling up onto my shoulder for a while).

Vash or D'Artagnan

This morning D'Artagnan was breathing (and asleep) when we woke up, but when my SO checked on him an hour later he was lying still on the bedding, not breathing. Thus passed the last of Rem's litter, on Thanksgiving Day; none of her litter lived to see a second Thanksgiving dinner.

Three of the six day old mouse babies Three of the six day old mouse babies
Rem's entire litter at six days old. From left to right: Deuce (D'Artagnan), Wide Stripey (Tomoyo), Narrow Stripey (Meryl), Ace (Athos), Genie, and Runt (Vash).

Another home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner

Both of our families live in other metro areas (and we're quite tired of holiday traveling), so my SO and I will be spending this Thanksgiving together, cooking at home. We're both looking forward to being able to relax and spend a day in the kitchen.

Our meal this year will be similar to last year's dinner; here's our current plan:
Have a happy Thanksgiving; eat well!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

No fried turkeys for me

This UL video of turkey fryers igniting has convinced me never to buy one. If you do happen to own one (and want to use it for some crazy reason), the UL has a list of safety suggestions. (via BoingBoing)

This is how intelligent design should be taught ...

From an AP article in the San Francisco Chronicle:
A course being offered next semester by the university [of Kansas's] religious studies department is titled "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies."

"The KU faculty has had enough," said Paul Mirecki, department chairman.

"Creationism is mythology," Mirecki said. "Intelligent design is mythology. It's not science. They try to make it sound like science. It clearly is not."


Mirecki said his course, limited to 120 students, would explore intelligent design as a modern American mythology. Several faculty members have volunteered to be guest lecturers, he said.
Of course the intelligent design camp is not at all happy, as this Kansas City Star article shows. The article had some great lines, including the following:
What worries John Calvert, an attorney and managing director of Johnson County's Intelligent Design Network, is whether the course instructor will be educated in the science behind intelligent design.
Could someone tell me just what science one should be educated in to teach intelligent design? Clearly not the science that involves testing hypotheses by collecting and analyzing data ...

Recipes and Echinoderms: what more could you want?

My hits have increased by more than 50% in the past few days, thanks almost exclusively to searches for recipes. This motivated me to do some checking, and I'm surprisingly highly ranked for some things: I'm in the top 10 for creamed spinach, creamed brussels sprouts, mashed turnips, and cranberry/pineapple/raspberry gelatin salad. In addition, I'm #1 for how to make homemade butter with reddi whip (no, I don't know how to do that; I'd start with regular heavy cream, personally).

You know you blog about diverse topics when searches for "creamed spinach" and "mashed turnips" bracket things like "torture prisoners" and "why are echinoderms important". No good invertebrate-focused biologist could ever leave that last question unanswered, so here goes:
  1. They have a very cool water vascular system.
  2. They have mutable connective tissue, meaning they can dynamically vary the rigidity of their skeleton.
  3. They're deuterostomes, meaning that their embryonic development is very similar to chordate (e.g., human, bird) development, and thus they're useful for developmental-biology research.
  4. Many are keystone species in intertidal and marine communities.
  5. They're terribly cute, what with their tube feet and all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

PZ gets press!

The City Pages has a detailed article on PZ Myers, titled appropriately enough "The Mad Scientist." It's nice to see a science / biology blogger getting media coverage!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving recipes

That quintessential holiday of American cooking is quickly approaching, and my SO and I are looking forward to a peaceful, home-cooked meal (our menu is still undetermined; we might even forsake turkey for some other meat, or just have no meat at all). To help those who are still looking for ideas on what to cook, here are a few recipes:

Cran-raspberry-pineapple gelatin conglomeration
Two salads (Apples, pecans, and feta cheese in a feta vinaigrette, V, and olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, and onions in an olive vinaigrette)
Mashed turnips and potatoes (V?)
Mashed potatoes with bacon and cheese
Garlicky creamed spinach (V)
Creamy Brussels sprout gratin (V) - hard to scale up, but good for a small meal
Roasted cauliflower (V*, qe) - also hard to scale up
Flaky biscuits (V, qe)
Pear pie with a flaky walnut pastry crust (V)
Cranberry upside-down cake (V)

And, if those don't help, see the recipe archive for even more ideas (or just cook your family favorites).

(As in the recipe archive, V stands for vegetarian, V* for vegan, qe for quick and easy, and ? indicates that the recipe can fit into the given category with minor modifications.)


I turned on the TV this morning to try to distract myself from being sick, and what did I find but Michael Behe spouting his nonsense on C-SPAN's Washington Journal (the Nov. 21 program; clips should be online for a few weeks). I'll admit I was trying to find some bad TV to watch, but yeesh, I was trying to make my headache better, not worse.

Behe made many ridiculous statements during the program, but I'll focus on just one. In response to a question asking why there were no journal articles supporting intelligent design, Behe talked about Meyer (2004), an article published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (a peer reviewed journal that focuses on taxonomy). The Panda's Thumb has a huge set of links on the article, but suffice it to say that even the journal that published the article stated, in hindsight, that the paper should never have been published in the journal. Behe tried to make the incident appear as a though a smear campaign had occurred against the journal's editor; the truth of the matter is that the article contained awful science (if one can even call it science), and should never have been printed in a peer-reviewed journal in the first place.

Meyer, Stephen C. 2004. The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 117(2):213-239.

Friday, November 18, 2005

I'm being used

Some viruses have decided that I make an excellent incubation chamber, and are happily thriving in their new home. My immune system doesn't like the new houseguests, and is making a rather large fuss.

I'm going to let those two fight it out while I stay on the couch and watch season 2 of Due South. Hopefully I'll be back in a few days.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why I love Southern California ...

Today is a gorgeous Southern California day: sunny, warm, just a hint of a light breeze, and not a cloud in sight. It was a perfect day for biking to work. And, even better, the National Weather Service is predicting the highs in Los Angeles to be around 80F for the next five days. Just a bit nicer than certain other places.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Applying for a community college job: The grand conclusion

[This is post 9 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

After I've written so much, it feels as though this series needs some sort of conclusion. I've explored everything from the basic outline of how a hiring committee works to details of how to ensure that committee members who think a particular applicant is qualified can justify that belief to other committee members. However, there are probably two pieces of advice that I feel are the most important, so I'll repeat them here:
  1. Read the job ad thoroughly, and base your entire application on demonstrating that you have the qualifications asked for in the advertisement.
  2. Make your application very, very easy to read and use, yet detail-rich.
If you do those two things (and are qualified for the job), you'll drastically increase your chances of getting an interview, which is where you can finally show the committee what you're made of, and blow them away with your amazing teaching skills and vast stores of knowledge.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Applying for a community college job: The interview

[This is post 8 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

Interviews are a much more transparent process than the rest of the job application ordeal, and thus I won't go into as much detail on them in this series. While interview styles and details will vary with each college, it's relatively easy to figure out what will happen in the interview (people will ask you questions, you'll answer them), and academic interviews share many traits with other kinds of job interviews.

However, there are some things to keep in mind when planning for a community college job interview. First, you will almost certainly be interviewed by the entire committee at once, and the committee will probably be working from a list of scripted questions. There will probably be a relatively short time limit (~1 hour), and you will be expected to give a short teaching demonstration on a topic the committee has given you in advance (usually in the letter informing you of the interview).

The primary advice I have for job interviews can be summed up in one word: prepare. Go back over the job ad, and read the letter inviting you to the interview, and figure out exactly what they're looking for. As with the application screening process, the interview will likely be looking to see if the applicants meet the minimum and desirable qualifications, and at the end will be ranking candidates on how well they fulfill all of the desirable and minimum qualifications. So, when you're interviewing, try to discuss how you meet the desired qualifications; the only way you can do this is to have studied the application materials thoroughly before the interview.

Look through the interview announcement and see if the committee has given you any clues about what will be covered in the interview. If they've given you a topic on which to do a lecture, prepare as much as you can for that lecture. Be sure that your lecture attempts to address the entire topic (or make it clear why you're not addressing the entire topic, e.g., time constraints), and for goodness's sake be certain that everything in your lecture is accurate. The committee will be evaluating both your teaching skills and your technical knowledge of the field during your lecture; don't include anything that lets them rank you badly.

The committee may also send you questions, or hints about questions, ahead of time. If so, prepare as much as possible for these. For instance, when I was applying for jobs, one campus I got an interview at told me (in their letter) that they were going to ask a question about how I would design a lecture and lab sequence for a particular course. I created two different syllabi that demonstrated different approaches I could take to teaching the course, complete with sixteen-week lab topic outlines, and brought copies of them to the interview. I got the job (while I can't attribute that solely to these syllabi, I'm sure they helped).

I'd also recommend researching the members of the hiring committee. If the campus doesn't tell you who the committee members are, ask (the same goes for any other questions you have – ask!) The worst they'll say is that they can't tell you. Once you find out the committee members' names (or if you can't figure out their names, just assume it's the entire department), learn basic details about them. If you're low on time, you can ignore this (it is admittedly a low priority), but walking into the interview room knowing who you're going to face, and what they do, can only help. For instance, if you know the committee is formed solely of ecologists, you know to talk about ecology a lot. And, at the very least, you'll have an easier time remembering people's names.

Finally, during the interview, try to speak primarily about your own experiences. Try to avoid overly broad generalities and absolute statements (e.g., “Dissections are never useful,” or “Non-majors textbooks are always low-quality,”) primarily because you may offend faculty members who have spent a long time working on the exact things you are criticizing (e.g., what if a committee member who primarily uses dissections has just authored a non-majors textbook?) Be positive with your discussions, not negative. If you don't like dissections, talk about your research finding that students learn more via your cool, new non-dissection teaching technique than they do from dissections. If you don't like non-majors books, say that the books you've used haven't been perfect, and so instead you've written your own mini-textbook and distributed it as handouts to your students.

Once you've gotten though the first interview and have been invited to a second interview, you're on your own. I've never sat in on one of those as a hiring-committee member, so can't tell you much, other than that it seems as though the interviews are much more free-flowing. It also couldn't hurt to research some of the campus's administrative details (enrollment trends, long-term growth plans, budgets, etc.), since that's what the higher-level administration works with on a daily basis.

Cue the Final Fantasy victory theme!

In a desperate attempt to catch up on my grading I decided to stay home today (Monday) and grade. My top priority was grading more than three and a half pounds of journal articles; it may have taken all day, but I did it. They're graded. Finally. Phew.

[For a cheesy version of the theme referred to by the title, go here.]

Monday, November 14, 2005

Applying for a community college job: Dealing with problems & minor application points

[This is post 7 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

Dealing with problems

You may have something in your past professional experience that could be viewed as a negative. Maybe you got exceptionally bad grades in your field as an undergraduate, maybe you were let go by three different institutions, or maybe you don't have much teaching experience. In any case, something is wrong.

There are two potential paths to take: attempt to hide the problem, or deal with it openly. If you can put a positive spin on your potential problem, I'd recommend the latter approach, primarily because someone on the committee may either already know about the problem, or may discover it by reading your application carefully. Once someone discovers the problem, they'll likely talk about it with the other committee members, and speculation will become rampant. This speculation can easily overshadow (or taint) your other qualifications, even if it theoretically shouldn't. But if you describe the potential negative, and then explain it away, it will (hopefully) be a non-issue, and your other qualifications will shine through.

Minor application points

There are also some minor points to keep in mind while filling out the application. Human resources (or some administrative person) will likely collate everything, and after being collated your application will be put into a folder with all the other applications. To facilitate this step, try to ensure that all the materials you submit are a standard size (8.5” x 11” paper, or whatever the application specifies, if anything). Using a different size of paper will make your application stand out from the rest, but not for good reasons, as it will mess up the folder, make all the applications difficult to handle, and make your application much more difficult to read. For instance, including legal-size paper with your application will force HR (and all faculty that read your application) to fold the paper so it fits into a folder designed to hold 8x5” x 11” paper, entailing more work and likely messing up your application. The last thing a committee member wants to do at 1am as they're reading over their fiftieth application is fold and unfold odd sizes of paper.

Also, human resources will probably black out any personal information that technically shouldn't be considered (e.g., marital status, age, religion), so don't bother including them except where they're explicitly asked for.

Wherever possible spend time trying to show that you've spent time on the application, as that may be important to some faculty. Many community colleges have standard forms that you must fill out; if at all possible, type your answers on these forms. Most forms are now available as PDFs, which can be written on using the full version of Adobe Acrobat. If you don't know how to type on the form, either learn how or use a typewriter. Make sure your entire application is neatly formatted and printed on good paper, and don't hand-write anything unless required.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

More from the AAAS multimedia awards

A few weeks ago I posted a link to a cicada lifecycle video that won an AAAS multimedia award. I just spent some time browsing around the other submissions, and was pleasantly surprised at how much other good material was submitted.

Transpiration: Water Movement Through Plants (a flash animation) is an honorable mention in the interactive category; it walks the user through the effects of changes in various elements (temperature, cuticle thickness, etc.) on rates of plant transpiration. Even more interesting, though, is that the animation provides details on root, shoot, and leaf transport of water that are useful for introducing the basics of those processes (the root animation is the most detailed of the three).

The Synapse Revealed (medium image) is a beautiful drawing of a synapse that won the illustration category's top prize.

The Essence of Fluorescence (large image) is the winner of the information graphics category; it provides an elegant pictorial reference for the many fluorescent dyes available.

[Update Nov. 14: Added new links - the original links were all based on the 2005 Visualization Challenge slide show (dead link), which the AAAS has apparently removed from its site. The original, currently dead, links were: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

Saturday, November 12, 2005

A peek out of the closet ...

It was not without some trepidation that my SO and I met PZ "Paul" Myers of Pharyngula tonight. PZ was visiting Los Angeles for the Future of the Book symposium, and had invited readers to meet him at a museum on Saturday; I couldn't make the museum trip, so he kindly invited me to dinner (along with a few other pals of his - Don Frack, Troy Britain, and Andy Groves I'll hold off posting their names until I know they're not anonymous).

This was the first time that I'd met any of my readers offline, and only the second time that my SO and I had met online acquaintances offline. Meeting PZ meant that I would be breaking my anonymity a bit, but how many times do you get to go out to dinner with the biggest biology blogger out there? It was odd realizing that PZ probably knows more about me than anyone I work with.

Once at the restaurant, however, it was like any other gathering of good geeks; the conversation wandered among such topics as regeneration of hairs in the human inner ear, part-time teaching at community colleges, developmental processes of grasshoppers, creationist nonsense, and PZ's trash volume (which was more interesting than you might expect). PZ even looked just like he does in all of his pictures.

Probably the most humorous portion of the evening (for my SO and I) was when PZ admitted (jokingly) that, based on the number of not-exactly-healthy recipes I post, he expected me to be closer to 300 pounds.

[Update: PZ's got a summary of his Saturday in LA posted here.]

Friday, November 11, 2005

Applying for a community college job: Remember where you're applying

[This is post 6 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

While many university research faculty teach around 1.5 to 3 contact hours (~units) a semester, community college faculty teach about 15 contact hours a semester. This high teaching load means that community college faculty focus almost their entire professional lives on teaching, and they have very little time to run a research program. Community college campuses almost never have research labs available for faculty to use, and never have graduate students to help with research; many don't even give faculty individual offices.

So, when you're applying for a job at a community college, do not discuss your plans for a research program unless you clearly explain how you plan to carry it out at a community college, in your spare time, with no institutional support (unless the job ad specifically requires research plans). While it may be important to talk about past research experience (especially if it is relevant to the minimum or desirable qualifications in the job ad), remember that you're not being hired to do research, so there's no need to go into extraordinary detail.

On the other hand, since you're applying to a community college and will be teaching constantly, you need to spend a lot of time detailing your teaching experience and style. It's also likely that you'll be designing, developing, and revising courses during your tenure, so it's important to show that you've not only passively taught courses, but have been actively involved in designing and revising courses and their content.

The combination of these points means that if you're applying for both university research and community college teaching positions, you'll need to write two very different cover letters and CVs. If you send a research-based letter and CV to a community college, the hiring committee will immediately come to the conclusion that you do not know what teaching at a community college is like, and they'll rate your application poorly.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Attempting to keep everyone happy ...

My department has been filled with turmoil in the past week. I can't go into details, but suffice to say that I'm very quickly learning what it means to be chair: everyone wants to talk to me, and everyone wants me to adopt their views as my own. Unfortunately, when a vast majority of the department wants one thing, but a very vocal minority wants another, things become "interesting".

The most frustrating thing for me personally is that all of this turmoil is taking away from my teaching. In the past week I've had almost no time to prep: papers aren't getting graded, and my lectures have slipped into being virtually identical to what I gave last semester. Even when I sit down to do grading or lecture prep, I often get distracted by departmental events.

By Wednesday I was exhausted. When I arrived home I told my SO that I'd be ready to head out and help with an errand in a few minutes; I promptly lay down on the couch and fell asleep for the next four and a half hours.

Applying for a community college job: Describing your experience

[This is post 5 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

Assume that the faculty reading your application are not familiar with anything you've done. Even if you're applying to a campus you've worked at before, assume that the committee know absolutely nothing about you, the schools you've taught at, the courses you've taught, your style of teaching, or the conferences and committees you've participated in. Include details on all of those items, and anything else the job advertisement asks for, in your application.

Never, ever say anything like “Taught Biology 132 at PU”, as this type of sentence leaves committee members with dozens of questions, including:
  • What is Biology 132?
  • What does PU stand for?
  • How many times did the applicant teach this course?
  • Is this course a lab or lecture course, or both?
  • Is this course aimed at biology majors or non-majors?
  • Did the applicant teach this as an adjunct or as a full-time instructor?
  • Did the applicant teach the entire semester of this course, or did they team-teach it with someone?
  • Did the applicant teach this using someone else's notes and tests, or did the applicant write their own lectures, tests, or other items?
  • Was the applicant involved in any planning meetings for the course? Did the applicant help design the course?
Your job as the applicant is to answer all of these questions, but succinctly and in an easy-to-read format. Yes, this is difficult, and will take a lot of space and time, but doing it successfully will significantly improve your chances at getting an interview.

For instance, let's look at a hypothetical rewrite of the above Biology 132 sentence:
  • Bio 132 (Entomology for majors) – five semesters (10 sections) at Podunk University (CA)
    • Taught four hours lab and two hours lecture per section per week
    • Wrote and implemented four new inquiry-based labs
    • Helped prepare instructor's manual for the lab
    • Trained new instructors in weekly meetings
This doesn't answer all of the questions, but it's significantly better, and other questions (e.g., was the applicant part-time or full-time) could be answered in other portions of the application.

Remember: if you don't include it in your application, the committee won't be able to consider it. So, if you have specific skills that are relevant to the job, be sure to include them, even if it's in a list at the end of your CV. However, don't go into excruciating detail – if I know someone taught an entire lecture and lab series, I can assume that they administered tests, gave lectures, took attendance, and came to class on time. Or, at the very least, I don't want to see bullet points stating all those things over and over again in an application.

When it comes time for the committee to decide who they'll interview, there will almost certainly be disagreement. Thus, one way to look at your CV and cover letter (and application in general) is that you are giving committee members ammunition they can use to defend you if another committee member questions your qualifications (or likes another applicant better than you). If you don't give committee members anything they can use to say, “Yes, this applicant really is better than that one; just look at what she did here ...” then your chances of getting an interview are much, much lower.

If at all possible, give your application (especially your CV) to friends and professional acquaintances and ask them for feedback. Encourage them to be harsh; if they've never sat on a hiring committee, explain what's involved to give them perspective.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Applying for a community college job: Filling out the application

[This is post 4 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

When filling out the application, keep one thing in mind: make it easy to use. Multiple people, all with different backgrounds, will read over your application and search through it for evidence that you meet both the minimum and desirable qualifications of the job ad. They will be doing this with both your application and with the dozens of other applications they must read through. They'll probably be doing this late at night, close to a deadline, and all at once. Yours might be the first application they read or the eightieth. The harder you make it for these faculty to read through your application and learn about you as an educator, the less likely it is they'll rank you highly.

While ease of use is critical, length is not (unless specified in the job ad); there is no reason to try to fit all of your experience onto one page. In fact, doing so will likely harm your chances, as you can't possibly fit all relevant details onto a single page.

Your task in filling out the application is to provide documentation that you meet all the minimum and desirable qualifications of the job. You also need to provide evidence that you not only meet the requirements, but you excel at them. Therefore, cover all your prior experience in as much depth as possible; having a CV that is ten pages long is (generally) not a bad thing. The only thing to keep in mind is, as I said above, that you must keep your entire application (including CV) extremely easy to use. If your CV is ten pages long, it absolutely must be easy to flip through (gleaning all the key points of your experience) in only a few seconds. Thus, use headers, bulleted lists, and bolded fonts to highlight key points you want faculty to read.

Assume that faculty will spend about two to five minutes reading over your application before they rank it and move on to the next application. That's precious little time, and if they can't find experience relevant to the advertised qualifications in that time, they'll assume that you don't meet them and will rank you accordingly.

Good news, bad news

It was a bit more than four hours after the polls closed in California, and it was looking like I could go to bed happy:

But then I flipped over to Pharyngula, and found this: the Kansas school board has given in to ID proponents and included statements in their science standards that "the basic Darwinian theory that all life had a common origin and that natural chemical processes created the building blocks of life have been challenged in recent years by fossil evidence and molecular biology."

Pharyngula responds:
"For the next few years, a lot of schoolkids are going to get taught slippery twaddle--instead of learning what scientists actually say about biology, they're going to get the phony pseudoscience of ideologues and dishonest hucksters. And that means the next generation of Kansans are going to be a little less well informed, even more prone to believing the prattlings of liars, and the cycle will keep on going, keep on getting worse.


"Goodbye, Kansas. I don't expect to see many of your sons and daughters at my university in coming years, unless the teachers of your state refuse to support the outrageous crapola their school board has foisted on them. I hope the rest of the country moves on, refusing to join you in your stagnant backwater of 18th century hokum.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Applying for a community college job: Minimum qualifications

[This is post 3 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

The first thing every applicant should do is read the job ad and campus's application packet thoroughly. Assume that lots of thought went into writing the announcement, and (if possible) attempt to decode what the campus is looking for. Looking through the department's course offerings and catalog can often help with this. Analyzing the job announcement is critical, because virtually the entire application process (up to the second interview) is centered around this ad.

It is critical that you do everything that the job announcement requests, no matter how unimportant or ridiculous it might appear to be. Read every sentence, and pore over every word. Why? Paper screening. In this step, a few overworked faculty members will read skim over every single application and confirm that the applicant meets the advertised minimum qualifications. There are usually dozens and sometimes hundreds of applications turned in for each job. Thus the work involved in searching for minimum qualifications is time-consuming and tedious; this might be just a rubber-stamp step, or it might involve faculty members aggressively trying to whittle the field. The faculty probably realize that they'll have to read over all these applications again (when they rank the candidates), and they may be looking for excuses to eliminate applicants. Don't give the committee any reasons to cut you; if you dot every i and cross every t (and are actually qualified for the job), you should be able to get through this step easily. If you fail to submit even one piece of documentation, or leave even one question blank, you may be eliminated from the pool of candidates.

A large problem with meeting the minimum qualifications is interpreting the requirements, especially when the job announcement includes “or equivalent experience” for certain qualifications. Applications often include specific forms for applicants to detail their prior experience and explain how it is equivalent to the minimum qualifications; if you think it is at all possible that you might need to qualify via the equivalent experience clause, obtain and fill out any required equivalent experience paperwork. If you don't fill out this paperwork, you might not be able to be considered under the equivalent experience clause, and thus may be disqualified even if you do meet the minimum qualifications of the position.

For example, if the application lists that having taken a zoology course is a requirement of the job, and you have worked as a vet for thirty years and also volunteered at the local zoo, but have never taken a course titled “zoology”, you will likely have to file as having equivalent experience and explain how your experience is equivalent to taking a zoology course. The reason is both technical (you haven't taken a zoology course) and also more general, as committee members may take the worst possible view of your experience: they may assume that as a vet you worked (and were trained) on only cats and dogs, and that you distributed fliers at the zoo, and thus clearly don't have experience equivalent to taking zoology. If, instead, you've worked as a vet specializing in invertebrates, and treated every animal in your local zoo, you need to say that.

Another example is that if the ad requires a degree (Masters, PhD, etc.), and you do not have that exact degree in hand at the time you turn in the application, you should probably fill out an equivalence form (if one is available).


Governor Schwarzenegger's special election is being held today in California; the polls will be open until 8pm. The official voter's guide is online, and the California Green, Democratic, Republican (PDF), and Libertarian parties have all posted endorsements of the various propositions.

If you're specifically looking for information on propositions that affect education, I've posted on Proposition 76 (which removes some funding guarantees for education), and the California Federation of Teachers has a discussion of Proposition 74 (which reduces K-12 teacher employment rights) and Proposition 75 (which restricts how unions can use member dues for political purposes).

Monday, November 07, 2005

Applying for a community college job: The general process

[This is post 2 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

Successfully applying for a full-time job at a community college typically entails a number of steps on the part of the applicant:
  1. Locate an open job posting – this can be done at the college, district, or state level, or through nationwide science and education publications (e.g., Science, Nature, Chronicle of Higher Education). The Chronicle of Higher Education often has ads from community colleges nationwide, and even has a customizable job search service.
  2. Complete the application packet and submit it to the proper office.
  3. Wait for a letter in the mail or a call to schedule an interview.
  4. Attend an in-person interview, which typically includes a short (~15 minute) teaching demonstration and lasts about an hour total.
  5. Wait for a call to schedule a second interview.
  6. Attend the second interview, which typically lasts about an hour and involves the upper levels of the administration on campus (president, vice president, dean).
  7. Wait for a call offering the position.
  8. Negotiate terms of the job (applicants usually have only limited abilities to do this, as many terms are set by the district or state).
  9. Accept the job and go out for a celebratory meal.
From the perspective of a member of the hiring committee, however, the steps look quite different:
  1. Receive a memo from the dean or department chair asking for volunteers to serve on the committee.
  2. Volunteer to be on the committee – departmental politics often play a large role in deciding who will be on the committee.
  3. Write the official job announcement. This may have already occurred (being completed by the dean or department chair), as hiring deadlines are often very short.
  4. Wait for the applications to arrive and be collated by human resources. During this time the committee often writes the interview questions.
  5. A subgroup of the committee reads over all the applications to determine if the applicants meet the minimum qualifications. Any applicants who don't demonstrate they've met the minimum qualifications are immediately rejected; this step is often called paper screening.
  6. Read over all the applications and rate them based on how well the applicants meet the minimum and desirable qualifications.
  7. Meet as a committee, compare rankings, and choose a subset of applicants to interview.
  8. Wait for interview day.
  9. Attend the interviews, typically asking the same questions to all interviewees; usually, rank the applicants' answers quantitatively.
  10. Meet again as a committee, again compare rankings, and submit the committee's favorites to the administration.
  11. Celebrate, because the hiring committee's duties are largely over.
  12. The administration holds the second interview, often involving at least one member of the original hiring committee.
  13. The administration decides who will be hired.
The community college full-time faculty application process is rather different from that of four-year research and teaching institutions. Research and teaching institutions' faculty interviews often last for days, and involve the institution paying for most of the costs of the applicant (meals, hotel, etc.). Research and teaching institution job interviews also typically involve extensive one-on-one discussions with department faculty members; nothing like that occurs at most community college job interviews. Community colleges rarely pay any of the applicant's expenses; all travel expenses are the responsibility of the applicant. For example, when I applied for my current job from out of state, I had to pay for my own travel (and lodging) for both the first and second interviews; this can be a significant impediment to doing a nationwide search for a community college job.

Bush administration wants authorization to torture prisoners

Both Amnesty International and the ACLU are running a campaign to support the McCain anti-torture amendment I blogged about recently. The amendment passed in the Senate (90-9), but is now being fought in the House, and a vote is expected soon. There's more at:
Amnesty International's Denounce Torture Blog

Why do Amnesty International and the ACLU feel the need to run a campaign to support an amendment banning torture? The title of an article in the New York Times says it all: "White House Seeks Exception in Abuse Ban"
"Stepping up a confrontation with the Senate over the handling of detainees, the White House is insisting that the Central Intelligence Agency be exempted from a proposed ban on abusive treatment of suspected Qaeda militants and other terrorists."
In other words, the White House is publicly saying that it wants the CIA to have the authority to torture people.

I can't believe it.

I am happy, however, that (according to this article) McCain is not letting the administration get away with this:
"The no-torture wording, which proponents say is supported by majorities in both houses of Congress, was included last month in the Senate's version of a defense spending bill. The measure's final form is being negotiated with the House, and the White House is pushing for either a rewording or deletion of the torture ban.

"At the urging of Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), the Senate by a voice vote added the ban to a related defense bill as a backup.

"Speaking from the Senate floor, Mr. McCain said, 'If necessary - and I sincerely hope it is not - I and the co-sponsors of this amendment will seek to add it to every piece of important legislation voted on in the Senate until the will of a substantial bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress prevails,' Mr. McCain said on the Senate floor. 'Let no one doubt our determination.'
I may not like everything McCain does, but I strongly support him in this.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Applying for a community college job: Series introduction

[This is post 1 of 9 in a series exploring how to apply for a full-time community college teaching position. See this page for links to all the posts in the series.]

Back in the spring I was on a hiring committee for a new full-time, tenure-track biology faculty member at my campus. The experience was eye-opening, as prior to serving on the committee I'd only seen the application process from the other side of the table (as a nervous, stressed-out applicant).

In this series I'll primarily discuss what occurs during the application process prior to the interview, a step that most applicants never see. I am (obviously) barred from discussing specifics of what occurred on the committee, but I can talk about the general process, and will do that here. Keep in mind that my experiences come from serving on one committee at one California community college; I am certainly not an expert on the process, and my generalizations may not be applicable to all situations. I do hope, however, that getting a glimpse of what can occur on the other side of the table will be of some help to those applying for full-time jobs.

Flexible Thai curry

One of the great things about Thai curries is that they're extremely flexible - they can be made with whatever meat(s), vegetables, and other flavorings you want or have on hand. Asian markets often carry a wide variety of Thai curry pastes; we usually stock up on a variety of styles so we can choose whatever suits our fancy when we're in the mood for a curry.

Here we provide a generalized Thai curry recipe that we've used on many occasions; at the end we include a specific example of a fish-based curry. Our Chiang mai curry is an example of this type of curry made with chicken (albeit with a few more ingredients). Since we just made a Thai curry last weekend, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 medium garlic cloves, pressed with a garlic press or finely minced
3/4 pound meat (or firm tofu), cut into bite-sized slices
1/2 or 1 4-ounce can (3 1/2 or 7 tablespoons) curry paste (1/2 can if the curry paste is spicy; 1 can if it is not: check the proportion of chili in the ingredients)
1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
1 cup water or stock
1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce (depending on the saltiness of the curry paste and your own personal taste)
3/4 pound vegetables, cut into bite-sized pieces
Juice of 1 lemon or lime, optional

0. Start some rice or noodles cooking (we typically use jasmine rice). Get all the above ingredients ready and lined up on the counter in order of use before you start cooking.
1. Heat the oil over high heat until it's very hot, then add the garlic and fry until golden brown (a few seconds).
2. Add the meat (or tofu) and stir-fry until a little browned.
3. Add the curry paste, mix, and cook for a few seconds.
4. Add the coconut milk, water or stock, and fish sauce. Stir, and bring to a boil.
5. Add the vegetables and simmer until the vegetables are tender (~10 minutes). Add dense, slow-cooking vegetables (e.g., potatoes, carrots) first, and quicker-cooking ones (e.g., green beans, peas) later.
6. Add lemon or lime juice to taste, if desired.
7. Serve over rice or noodles.


Most curry paste cans will have suggestions for recipes on the packaging; feel free to either follow or ignore these instructions.

If you like your curries especially hot, add the full can of a spicy curry paste. We imagine you could also add diced hot peppers or cayenne, but we've never tried it.

Vary the proportion of meat(s) and vegetables to suit your own taste, but try to keep the total mass of solid ingredients somewhere in the range of one and a half to two pounds. You can leave the meat out entirely to make a (mostly) vegetarian curry. We frequently use frozen vegetables (e.g., green beans); we defrost these in the microwave before adding. If you're using delicate fish or scallops, add them towards the end of the simmering.

Here are some ideas for meats and vegetables (our default additions are usually chicken and green beans):
  • Meats: Chicken, pork, fish, shrimp, scallops, beef
  • Vegetables (and fruits): Green beans, onions (yes, they can be treated as a vegetable in a recipe), eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, peas, carrots, turnips, cauliflower, tomatoes, pineapple
  • Additional flavorings: Minced fresh ginger (add with the garlic), turmeric (especially for yellow curries; add after the curry paste and fry briefly), pickled garlic (add towards the end of the simmering), basil (especially for green curries; add towards the end of the simmering)
Interestingly, of all of the recipes we've posted, this is probably the most representative of our style of cooking. While we follow basic recipes most of the time, we often vary the ingredients and proportions to suit our current whims.

Fish curry example:

Here are the amounts of the variable ingredients we added to make a Thai fish curry last week:

7 tablespoons (1 4-oz can) Leang curry paste (40% fish, 16% shallot, 10% salt, 10% rhizome, 8% shrimp, 5% water, 5% sugar, 5% pepper, 1% MSG)
3/4 pound fresh tuna
~3/4 pound green beans
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime

Cook as above (with the ingredients specified above).

[Updated Jan 28, 2006 to add a few more possible ingredients and suggestions for making it spicier.]

Friday, November 04, 2005

Medical links

I'm exhausted from a long week, and especially from the more than five hours I've spent on department-meeting-related items today, so there aren't going to be any long posts tonight. To keep everyone happy, though, here are a couple of medically related links:

US leads way in medical errors: study
"Patients in the United States reported higher rates of medical errors and more disorganized doctor visits and out-of-pocket costs than people in Canada, Britain and three other developed countries, according to a survey released on Thursday.

"Thirty-four percent of U.S. patients received wrong medication, improper treatment or incorrect or delayed test results during the last two years, the Commonwealth Fund found.

"Thirty percent of Canadian patients reported similar medical errors, followed by 27 percent of those in Australia, 25 percent in New Zealand, 23 percent in Germany and 22 percent in Britain, the health care foundation said.


"U.S. patients also stood out for shouldering more medical expenses than those in the other countries. More than half said they did not take their medicines or see a doctor because of costs.

Under-the-skin ID chips move toward U.S. hospitals
"The Federal Drug Administration issued a ruling Tuesday that essentially begins a final review process that will determine whether hospitals can use RFID systems from the Palm Beach, Fla.-based company to identify patients and/or permit relevant hospital staff to access medical records, said Angela Fulcher, vice president of marketing and sales at VeriChip.

"VeriChip sells 11-millimeter RFID tags that get implanted in the fatty tissue below the right tricep. When near one of Verichip's scanners, the chip wakes up and radios an ID number to the scanner.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Schwarzenegger prevents California from collecting taxes

At the same time that Governor Schwarzenegger is asking voters to support Proposition 76 (a measure intended to restrain government spending; I've written about it before), the LA Times reports that Schwarzenegger has vetoed a number of bills that would have helped the state collect billions of dollars in unpaid taxes.
"The governor blocked efforts to increase penalties on retailers who filch the sales taxes they collect, and on companies that don't collect taxes when they should. A proposal to help authorities garnish wages of convicted tax evaders for as long as their debt is unpaid also was vetoed.

"State tax officials said another of the governor's vetoes could allow some people snagged by the Internal Revenue Service for dodging taxes to avoid coughing up California's share, costing the state tens of millions of dollars.
The state Franchise Tax Board has already reported that as a result of one of the vetoed bills (that would have required taxpayers to pay the state when the IRS forced them to pay the federal government) "the state would be unable to collect $30 million from known tax cheats."

So the governor doesn't want to raise taxes, and wants to limit government spending because we have a large deficit, but doesn't want to collect taxes legitimately owed to the state?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Singing mice

Holy and Guo have an article (2005) in the latest PLOS Biology demonstrating that male mice sing to female mice. The sounds are considered song because they "includ[e] several syllable types organized into phrases and motifs." Sadly, the singing is in the ultrasonic range, so humans can't hear it, but the journal article includes slowed down (or pitch-shifted) versions of the songs that humans can hear (see the supporting information section).

The article also includes some background on mouse vocalizations, including the observation that "pups produce [ultrasonic] 'isolation calls' when cold or when removed from the nest". This, of course, makes these guys seem even cuter:

A handful of 10 day old mouse babies
10-day-old baby mice, hopefully not vocalizing that they're cold or lonely.

They've even got a table of the most common mouse syllables; maybe Semantic Compositions can help me learn to speak mouse-ish.

Holy TE, Guo Z. 2005. Ultrasonic Songs of Male Mice. PLoS Biol 3(12): e386 (full-text; synopsis; press-release)