Archive for: July, 2011

Brew you!

Jul 31 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I asked the "barista", "Why does the small iced coffee cost more than the regular coffee for the same amount?"

She said, "Well it's brewed separately."


"We brew them at separate times."

"Yes but then the regular coffee is also brewed separately."

"Um, well it's also the cost of refrigeration."

"Which I presume costs more than keeping the hot coffee hot?"

"Well we both have to heat it first and then cool it down."

"I see, then by that logic, your 'cold-brewed' coffee should be even cheaper, since it is never heated up, yet that costs even more."

"Well that one is brewed separately, too."

"Separately from the hot coffee and the iced coffee?"


"And that's why it costs more."

"Yes, they are all brewed separately".

6 responses so far

Pomp and circumstance

Jul 20 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Woohoo! So yesterday my first PhD student defended his thesis. He did a great job although I screwed up the introduction. After doing my little introductory shtick about the student, complete with little embarrassing anecdotes and the like, I handed over the podium to him. Then everyone in the audience just stared at me blankly and oddly, and I'm like "What?". Until somebody chimes in, "You forgot to read the official introductory words." And then I remembered, that my university has a little paragraph you are supposed to read before every PhD defense to make it truly "official". Fortunately I had printed out a document sent to me earlier in the day from the department entitled "official papers for PhD defense", so I took it out and looked for the "official" words. Unfortunately, the "official" words were not in there, just a bunch of other useless stuff and a note saying that the introducer should read the "official" words. Fuck. "Now what?" I said. Everyone stared blankly, the student looked like he was starting to panic, I got all red and sweaty. Finally, another faculty member starts cuing me the words from the back of the room, as I repeat after him, filling the specific blanks with the help of the student ("where was it you went to college?"). By this point everyone is shaking their heads, either laughing or making little remarks about amateur hour and such. Eventually we got through it and his defense started – and unlike me, he kicked ass.

8 responses so far

Take the A train

Jul 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Today, fellow blogger Dr. Isis was commenting about this graph in the New York times regarding the "problem" of grade inflation. It basically shows that since 80's the number of A's given in college courses has increased by about 50%, while the number of B's and C's has decreased. In the 80's it seems like A's made a total of about 30% of all grades, while now they make up a total of 45% of all grades. The article attributes this to higher education being more consumer oriented and to the pressure on faculty to give more A's, since this will improve their student's ratings and increase their chances for tenure.

I have to agree with the article that students do tend to expect A's. But mainly because they work hard, and the expectation is that if you work hard and learn the material, you should get an A. I don't really see this grade inflation as a problem. To me, an A grade means you learned the material and showed proficiency in it, not that you performed better than XX% of your classmates. Grades are not a ranking tool, but an indication of proficiency. I think that having a clear expectation of what you need to do to get an A makes it more likely that students will work harder to meet these requirements and learn the material better.

When I went to college, my school had a curriculum such that you had the option of taking any and all of your classes pass/fail. The idea was that you could explore parts of the curriculum that you might normally not otherwise do. Or challenge yourself without harder classes. Plus having no grades fosters cooperative learning where students become work together to learn the material rather than compete against each other. I liberally made use of this pass/fail policy and often found that I worked harder and learned more on the courses that I took pass/fail than those I took for a grade. Students will work hard when they know you are expecting them to do so, and learning becomes much more enjoyable when your peers aren't also your competitors. To grade on a curve is a disservice to the students, by making them compete against each other, rather than work cooperatively.

FInally, this idea that professors give more A's in order to get better student reviews for tenure is silly, and they show no evidence to support this. Is it true then that more difficult classes get worse reviews? I don't know. Also, at least in my school, students write their reviews before the final exam, so they don't know their grades yet. Furthermore, only a certain percent of courses will be taught by pre-tenure faculty, and it is probably unlikely that these account for the increase in the number of A's.

I give out quite a lot of A's, but that's because my students work pretty damn hard and are pretty fucking smart, and I wish administrators would give them credit for this, rather than think of grade inflation as a problem.

So, let's get on the A train:

3 responses so far


Jul 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Oh no! You just got back from a day at the beach, the kids are cranky and hungry, you have nothing to cook because you did not go to the grocery store (because you were at the beach), and its getting late. Or — you've been out drinking all night, you get home hungry and all you have are some stinky leftovers and an old zucchini. What to do?!? Make risotto? Screw that shit! Well, mis amigos, the answer is… make quesadillas! Quesadillas are an often misunderstood form of Mexican fast food, also known as "antojitos". In essence, a quesadilla is a tortilla filled with stuff, folded in half and heated through. Probably the initial filling was cheese, thus the name quesadilla. They can be heated on a griddle called a comal, or deep fried. The tortilla can be either corn or flour and often, if they are to be fried, tortilla dough is filled with stuff, sealed and then fried.

Some ingredients fresh from the garden and farmer's market, ready to be turned into filling for quesadillas.

Most quesadillas use corn tortillas, and the ones made with flour tortillas are sometimes called burritas (probably a precursor to the American burrito). A flour tortilla with ham and cheese is called a sincronizada, a "synchronized" quesadilla, for reasons too obscure to figure out. Fillings can range from simple (cheese) to exotic (corn fungus) to totally fucked up (brains). We usually use leftovers to stuff quesadillas. To make a quesadilla start with a corn or flour tortilla. I prefer corn. But if you live in an area with a low hispanic population, it is unlikely that you will find decent corn tortillas. So if you can only get crappy tortillas, then go with flour, they will be less crappy. Heat the tortilla on a hot griddle or large skillet, don't use any oil or grease. Put some filling in the tortilla and fold it in half. and heat well on both sides until filling gets hot/cheese melts. And that's it! While you can fill your quesadilla with pretty much anything, here are some of my favorite variations:

1. Flor de Calabaza - Squash blossoms. If you have a zucchini plant, you can pick several of the male flowers and give them a quick rinse. Sometimes you can find them at the farmer's market. Saute the chopped blossoms with finely chopped zucchini, onions, a small tomato and corn. Add oregano, salt and pepper. If you want add a thin slice of queso fresco.

2. Papa con chorizo - potato and chorizo. Cut up a potato into small pieces and boil. Saute some finely chopped chorizo sausage and add the potatoes once they are soft. Heat up thoroughly.

3. Hongos - Mushrooms. Sautee some chopped mushrooms with onion, salt, pepper and oregano.

4. Frijol con queso - beans and cheese. Use any beans, home cooked or canned, and any melty cheese. I like black beans. For cheese, look for Oaxaca cheese, but if not provolone or cheddar work well.

5. Rajas con queso - Roasted peppers with cheese. Take a fresh poblano pepper and use the direct flame from the stove, broiler or bbq  to char the skin until it is black. Put in a paper bag for 15 min. Under cold running water remove most of the charred skin. Remove core and seeds and slice thinly the pepper into strips. These are your basic rajas. You can either saute rajas with onion or use as is. Combine with cheese to make your quesadilla.

So there you go. Eat with some green salsa or your favorite other salsa (to make salsa put some tomatillos or tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime juice and several jalapeños in the blender, then heat in a small saucepan until it boils). Serve with beans and rice on the side if you wish.

Buen provecho!

Delicious 'dillas ready for eating!

11 responses so far

One year!

Jul 09 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

So here we are! Today is my first blogoversary! And I have to say this has been an interesting year. A year ago when I started this blog I was also embarking on the tenure review process, and wanted to write about these experiences as well as to have a place to write about all things sciency and non-sciency. I wrote about my experiences in academia, about living with Tourette's, about my family, about being a minority, about pencils, about James Brown and about my experiences as a Zombie. Also, how to make carnitasOne of my posts was even selected for the best of science blogging book thingy. Unfortuately I also got very sick this year and this put a bit of a damper of things, to put it mildly. OK, it was hellish. Now that the year is ending things are looking much brighter. Healthwise I'm feeling much better, certainly better than in a very long time. I got tenure! We had some fairly high profile publications come out of my lab. I got to know better a wonderful community of science bloggers and commenters, all of whom have been very supportive during this process. And things are certainly feeling a lot more settled.

As folks often do in their blogoversaries, I have a few questions for my small number of readers. Tell me a bit about yourselves, why do you read my blog? Do you have a blog? I look forward to writing more and exciting posts and hopefully continue to be entertaining (and keep you from your work).

For now, gimme some POPCORN (huah!):



7 responses so far

Let my inspiration flow

Jul 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

So, you are starting a new graduate program, or postdoc or even your very own shiny new lab. The world of science is at your fingertips. Pools of knowledge await to be discovered. Clouds in the horizon look puffy and white, reminding you of all the wonderful papers that you will publish. The lab benches gleam with rainbow-colored rays. Unicorns dance around your Pipetmen. Music from the Mojo Banjo fills the air. You're ready to kick some science butt!!

But…what the fuck are you going to work on?! Sure, you picked a lab or wrote a grant that more or less indicates the area you are going to study. Your PI might suggest some stuff, or you have some stuff left over from your postdoc work. But this is YOUR project, how do you find ideas for new projects?

When I started graduate school, I joined a lab in which my advisor did work that was very interesting to me, and stayed since we got along well. When it was time to pick a project, he said "Well, I was just reading this somewhat crappy paper from an even crappier journal which, if true, would be a very interesting finding. Why don't you replicate this properly and use this as the basis for your PhD." Naively I said, "Sure!". Of course this turned to be a rather obscure brain nucleus with very few papers showing how to do electrophysiological recordings from it, and most of the labs that had worked on it had since moved on to something else. When I asked my PI for help he said, "Well your guess is as good as mine, I've never worked with this part of the brain." So I had to ask an older, bearded neuroanatomist upstairs to show me on his dusty old brain slides how to locate this nucleus in rodents and how to best prepare brain tissue for this. And it took me the better part of a year to figure out the experimental preparation and to do experiments reliably. But then after that, I managed to properly replicate the findings of the original paper, and expand them onto several high-profile papers which stemmed from the original experiments. Not only that, but I was one of a handful of people who could record record from this nucleus, so we didn't have to worry about much competition. At least at first.

This approach of reading even the lowliest of papers in your field, I think is a good way to get ideas. Not because you are stealing someone else's (they are published after all), but really to use them as a basis for coming up with better and creative ways to re-do experiments that were interesting, yet perhaps not conclusive, or sloppy. Also, sometimes in a paper there will be one obscure figure, that is somewhat beside the point of the main paper but shows an interesting finding. These sort of side findings are also often sources of good ideas. That is why its important to really read widely in your field and beyond. Not just focus on papers in fancy journals, because you may be missing out on a treasure trove of good ideas, even from crappyish papers.

How about you, where do you get your ideas for new projects?


4 responses so far

Pet peeve

Jul 04 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I hate people who show up in the middle of the 4th inning and kick you out of their good seats.

2 responses so far