May 31, 2006

Joining Hexane; Erudition # 2

Chemists have found a way to reuse "leftover" small carbon chains from the processing of hydrocarbon fuels like diesel and ethanol from corn or sugar cane.

A series of catalyzed reactions can reconstitute hexane
into usuable hydrocarbon fuel

Diesel in particular is a mix of nine to twenty-carbon chains (linear carbon chains are commonly refered to as alkanes), and during the processing of the fuel, a number of small chains (six-carbon hexane or four-carbon butane) can turn up, unable to be further processed.

But the recent find has found ways to take two hexane molecules and join them in a series of relatively simple catalyzed reactions, creating a ten-carbon alkane (decane) and a and two-carbon alkane (ethane), both of which can be used as fuel; decane in diesel, and ethane for home heating.

May 27, 2006


I will be in an internet-free zone for the next four days.

Be back Tuesday.

Thanks for reading.

American Lawns: An Extension of Your Carpet?

If I have to see another white middle-aged actor stroking "his" lawn, I'm going to (insert drastic measure here)!

Ortho's latest pesticide claims it will kill over 100 specific insect types on contact.

The problem is, there are a lot of invertebrates that keep a natural lawn in great shape. So how can the pesticide differentiate between the pests and the helpers?

It can't.

Without these organisms, our plants would die. Worms aerate and fertilize the soil, diazotrophs fix nitrogen for plants absorption, bees and beetles spread pollen from flower to flower, and termites (yes, termites) redistribute nutrients from dead plant material back into the ecosystem.

So, natural soil depends on these "pests."

In fact, the entire world depends on the activities of invertebrates. They are the ancient ones; we depend on them, not the other way around.

We are here because they have been here, for hundreds of millions of years.

But don't take my word for it. Take his:

I want to know why lawns have to be so pristine and free of variation. Our aesthetic tastes value pattern and variety above all, so why the vast ocean of non-native invasive grasses?

To waste water?

To cut biodiversity?

To dump excess artificial fertilizers into streams, contributing to the eutrophication of our rivers, lakes and bays (the Chesapeake, for example)?

To display a primitive prowess to others in the ability to control the environment?

Is it a control issue?

Or is it a display of affluence, a show of expendable income?

Does the green of your lawn represent the green in your wallet?

On a Highway to Hell

Well, I'm headed for eternal damnation according to This Holy Test.

Knowing that you are guilty of breaking God's commandments, do you think you would go to Heaven or Hell


Let's see... umm... I want to go to... Heaven!


While it may seem that God's goodness will cause Him to overlook your sins, the opposite is actually true. Perhaps the following illustration will add some clarity: Imagine you're standing before a judge, guilty of multiple crimes. The judge is about to pass sentence when he asks, "Do you have anything to say for yourself?" You stand up, look the judge in the eye and say, "Yes Your Honor, I believe that you're a good man... and because you're good, you will let me go." The judge will probably say something like, "Well, you're right about one thing... I am a good man. And it's because I'm good that I'm going to see that you are punished for your crimes." The very thing you are counting on to save you on the Day of Judgment -- namely God's goodness -- is going to be the very thing that will see to it that justice is done. Because God is so good He will make sure that every murderer, rapist and thief receives justice... but He won't stop there. He will also make sure every liar, blasphemer, and adulterer is punished. While this is something that is extremely tragic and far from God's ultimate desire for any person, the Bible is clear that the place of punishment for those who do not turn from their sins is Hell.

Does the fact that you're headed for Hell concern you?


Man, Yahweh is a spiteful guy.

Nah, not really. I'd rather be tortured perpetually than condemned to worshiping God for eternity. Boring!

Anyway, I'll have plenty of friends there. And I'm sure I'll run into the founding hypocrite of NEEDGOD.COM while riding a particularly uncomfortable fire geyser.

May 25, 2006

Erudition #1

Today's Erudition:

Lessons from the past: Biotic recoveries from mass extinctions (pdf)

This is one of a series of papers from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discussing the future of evolution. It's a nice review of the current understanding of the aftermath of mass extinctions.

extensive knowledge acquired chiefly from books:
profound, recondite, or bookish learning

My EditorShip #2

We just signed on with College Publisher (CP), a company that specifically creates and designs college newspaper websites, especially when the newspaper's staff is limited (like at The Bottom Line). They provide a fully navigable website, smartly designed, user friendly, and all we have to do is place five ads on the site itself, and run their ads in the print version. That's the only catch.

CP publishes major university newspapers such as

Boston University's The Daily Free Press

Brown University's The Brown Daily Herald

University of Notre Dame The Observer

and Harvard University's The Harvard Independent.

I think we'll be in good hands; their sites look great, and on top of it all, it makes our Webmaster's job much easier. All you need to do is sign in, edit and cut and paste.

We faxed off the application yesterday, and should be hearing back from them in a couple weeks.

May 24, 2006

The Effects of Global Climate Change on Antarctica

While polar bears drown in the north from melting ice, the entire marine ecosystem of Antarctica is in real danger of collapsing.

As the following video explains (from the Via Antarctica podcast series), the temperature in the Antarctic has risen by three degrees Centigrade in 25 years, which is causing the sea ice to melt. Sea ice is responsible for insulating the foundation organisms of the Antarctic marine ecosystem, diatoms and algae.

No more sea ice - no more diatoms & algae - no more krill - no more Adele penguins.

Sorry, your browser doesn't support the embedding of multimedia.

Update (5/25): According to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the sea ice has decreased around Antarctica from about 12 to 20 percent in the past 50 years.

This is not only affecting the Adele penguins, as I said before, but is also disturbing the breeding patterns of other sea birds that roost in the area.

May 23, 2006

My Independent Education: A Summer Reading List

The final day of obligation has passed. I am now free to enjoy my summer sans forced education. I thought I would make a list of books and papers that I want to read this summer, and hopefully you can leave me a list of your summer reading plans.

So, here goes:

I started this about mid-semester, so first of all I want to finish A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It's not the complexity that is attractive about this book, but the volume of research the man had to do. As he states in the forward, he knew virtually nothing about science, not even "the difference between a proton and a protein."

I bought Richard Fortey's Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth a year ago or so, just never got around to reading it.

Bodanis is one of my favorite authors of all time. Electric Universe and E=MC^2 were lucid, elegant explanations of complicated science. This is the only book I have not read by Bodanis (he is releasing a new book in October of this year, called Passionate Minds).

E. O. Wilson is one of the great naturalists of our time. The Future of Life is sure to be another strong book from Wilson as he preaches to the choir; the only people that read books about conservation are already conservationists, unfortunately.

Love him or hate him, Richard Dawkins writes a damn good book about evolution. He can be a harsh critic of western religion, but perhaps it is time that western religion needs a critic to cut through the fanaticism.

We just finished watching Dawkins' documentary on religion - The Root of All Evil? (the link will take you to another post where you can download the 2-part series) - in which he analyzes the dangers of religion. I don't entirely agree with the guy, but he does make some excellent points.

Other summer reads:

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Still haven't read this one...

The Foundation Novels by Isaac Asimov: I stopped midway through Second Foundation.

Nightfall by Isaac Asimov: Supposedly one of the greatest sci-fi short stories ever written.

There are also about 10 or 15 papers and essays lying around my office that I have not had time to read in the past few months. I'll post links to the more interesting of the bunch.

What are you reading this summer?

May 22, 2006

Earth to America: Triumph the Insult Comic Dog

"How will you hold Saddam responsible?"

Black Moth/White Moth

I allowed myself to be dragged into an internet argument (on this post about intelligent design) and I should be ashamed:
Orikinla Osinachi. said...

Nothing exists by chance.

Man is the evidence of God.

God bless.

8:41 PM

jbruno said...

This is just bad logic. "The building has to have a builder" argument is sophomoric and entirely unscientific.

This issue has nothing to do with the Constitution and our "rights" to teach without discrimination. You can believe what you want, but there is no evidence whatsoever that there is a "designer" inherent in nature, and such a baseless claim has no place in a science class, period.

Furthermore, if the evidence for design is so "abundant and convincing," why didn't you link it to this post? There's not even a paraphrasing of this evidence. If ID and its clones are so scientific, there must be concrete evidence published somewhere.

I think the proponents of ID & creationism are confused. There is no problem with holding the belief that the universe and everything in it was designed, just keep it to a humanities course.

Evolution is a scientific theory, not a personal philosophy. When science teachers introduce evolution, they are not promoting naturalism, they are teaching the pillar upon which all of biology is firmly planted.

4:06 PM

Dawn Benko said...

And what's your proof of evolution? Oh yeah, man evolved from apes.

2:04 AM

jbruno said...

Dawn: Here is your proof of evolution: antibiotic resistance. Please click on the link; it will explain a lot.

The organism that is the most fit, the most well-adapted to its environment, will live long enough to mate and pass on its genes. That is the essence of evolution.

A textbook example:

During the industrial age in the UK, the factories expelled enough soot to turn the trunks of trees black. There were black & white speckled moths living in this forest. The moths that were lighter colored stood out more against the now black trees, and birds and other predators ate them. The moths that were darker (better adapted to the changed environment) were well hidden from predators, not eaten, and lived long enough to mate. They passed on their genes to the next generation, and those subsequent moths ended up being darker.

You see, it's not strictly about human beings evolving from apes (although that is the problem that most people have with the theory) and it's not necessarily about the origin of life.

Dawn, there is plenty of evidence for evolution if you look in the right place: science textbooks, journals, magazines and websites devoted to research, not to forging a new foundation for atheism.


35 Years of Bad-Learned Behavior Pt. 3

Here is the final part of Richard's story. As he recalled the scenes, it was like a movie in my own head, but so real at the same time, not quite cliche.

I could have written a book with all the material I got from Richard in one two-hour interview. I still might...

After fifteen years of heroin abuse, fifteen years of crime, in and out of rehabs and the like, Richard sat alone in a vacant house. His black and white thirteen-inch television buzzed and faded powered by an illegal tap of the neighborhood electric. Spackle buckets had become furniture, washtubs, and his only place to defecate. A single broken mirror hung on the dilapidated drywall, reflecting a man he barely recognized.

His friends were gone. He had cheated and robbed everyone he knew. He had no money, not even for dope. But he was a survivor.

Three blocks down the street, he sought out a dealer, a young kid on the corner. Richard approached him.

“Can I get one on the arm?” He didn’t have any money.

“F*** you, dope fiend,” the kid said.

Richard turned and walked back to his vacant row home, revenge on his mind. He would stick this guy up. He needed the fix.

He waited a while and returned to the block. There were two lookouts on the corner, both of which disappeared, distracted by two passing hookers. Richard turned into the alley to find the dealer.

He was there, and Richard called out, “Hey let me get one.” The kid turned, walked back to his stash, trying to hide where he was keeping the dope. He was unsuccessful.

Richard took his chance and punched the kid in the face. “Give me the sh*t.”

“F*** you.”

Richard hit him again. The kid relented.

On the way back to the row home, gunshots broke loose between the cops and the dealer, echoing through the neighborhood. Police sirens wailed. Richard ran up the steps, flipped open the cut out trap door to the attic, placed both feet in a bucket secured to a pulley and hoisted himself up to the eaves. He peered through the screen, watching the police, thinking about the vengeance of the dealer if he ever found him.

He sat there for three full hours. The police never found him.

Richard overdosed on heroin that evening while hiding out with a friend outside of Baltimore. He awoke the next morning in Carroll County Hospital. Without him knowing it, his road to recovery had started.

He found an old friend in the hospital, a “biker dude” named Lou with whom Richard used to stick up card games. Lou was now a counselor at the hospital.

“He was the first one to tell me it doesn’t have to be like this,” says Richard. “He said, ‘Tonight we’re going to watch a movie. Its got Sandra Bullock in it.’ I was like, ‘Oh man, she’s a fox.’”

The movie was 28 Days, in which Sandra Bullock plays an addict struggling with realization that she has a problem, and the trials of rehab. This was Richard’s introduction to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Richard was given a structured environment in which he would learn that the problem was with himself, not the rest of the world.

“You really find out how f***ed up you are,” he says. “[In AA] every day you practice being a civilized person with the hopes that one day you won’t have to pretend anymore. I don’t like to change, you know that. I had 35 years of bad-learned behavior to deal with.”

Richard has been clean for five years now. He secured a job at the Main Ingredient Café in Annapolis, Maryland and has risen up to a position he jokingly calls “Kitchen Steward.”

“The steward acts in place of the king. He takes care of sh*t.”

Being a managing chef is a tough job. Richard is up every morning for work early, faced with the difficulties of organization of duties, inventory, and food cost. But he is in control; of his environment, and himself.

“You have to accept that there is a power greater than yourself. I read the Republic, The Art of War, The Four Agreements. I’m not trying to be a saint. You just got to figure out how to play nice in the sandbox.”

May 21, 2006

35 Years of Bad-Learned Behavior Pt. 2

It is amazing that to think that Richard was a farm boy once upon a time. He is so streetwise, so New York, that you would think farm life was furthest from his cultural experience.

Not so.

The grant to intern at the Waldorf Astoria was really an excuse for Richard to move to the city. He did not grow up metropolitan.

Richard was raised in the fertile regions of Connecticut. His father owned a farm, growing everything from potatoes to fruit, and even flowers to sell on Mother’s Day. They had a small stand out in front of the house, and his father would gather the produce for sale at the market in Hartford.

Every summer, his father would hire teens from the city to come out and work the farm for extra money. In his senior year of high school, Richard remembers one of the hires pulling up in a brand new ’57 Chevy.

“This guy was breaking into houses, burglarizing, bringing back reefer for us to smoke. He eventually was promoted to shooting heroin. I wanted to be like that. He was too cool.”

He eventually convinced one of the hires to sell him some heroin, a “cotton shot,” slang for a small dose of heroin. He was told that he would throw up. He didn’t. This was encouraging.

After two weeks of dosing, Richard missed a day.

“I started feeling really shitty, like I had the flu. My buddy said, ‘You got a habit, not the flu.’ I said, ‘Get the fuck out of here.’”

He started hanging out in pool halls, knocking off scrap yards with friends for copper and aluminum, selling it, spending more money on dope. One night the cops even caught up with him, surrounding the yard. Richard and his accomplices raced out of the yard and up a steep road, with the police at their heels. The truck stopped. All three of them had to push the dead truck over the hill, and evade the pursuing police. They made it.

“That was an $8000 hit. Easy,” he says.

35 Years of Bad-Learned Behavior Pt. 1

For the next couple of days, I will be posting, in several parts, an article I wrote this semester on the life and addiction of Richard (last name withheld), one of the very best friends I've made in my 11 years of cooking. It contains some offensive language, which is quaintly unavoidable in normal conversation with the 50-year old.

Enjoy the read.

Richard stands at least six inches above everyone else in the kitchen, black and silver hair controlled, slicked back. Shards of button mushroom are strewn across the area of a heavily scored plastic cutting board. He steadies each cap with a precision only gained from experience, flitting his bolstered chef knife through each mushroom, scraping the neat slices aside into a pile. A single clipboard is propped up against Richard’s toolbox, neatly itemized with the day’s prep.

The kitchen is blazing in August, bustling with activity. Twenty prep cooks assemble platters of tumbling cheese, pineapples bristling with skewers of steamed shrimp, and rows upon rows of thinly sliced flank steak.

Richard is at the helm, conscious of every detail.

Most of his staff is Latino, originally from Mexico or El Salvador, but for Richard, the language barrier is easily breached.

“Hey, Bambino! Necessito dos cahas de fruitas,” he bellows, pointing dangerously with his blade. His Spanish is rough, tinged with a thick New York accent, but the staff gets the idea.

“Yeah, yeah, that sh*t. The pinga or whatever.”

The entire kitchen bursts open with laughter at his blunder. Piña is Spanish for pineapple, and what he had meant to say. Pinga is slang for penis.

Richard shakes his head and smiles, unabashed. “You know what goes on in my f***in’ head. They think they got problems?” He returns to his piles of mushrooms.

Richard’s career in hospitality started after receiving a grant to intern at the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria hotel in downtown Manhattan back in the 1970’s.

The grant did not cover the tuition, and although he was paid for his work as a cook, Richard turned to a more unconventional means to pay for the remainder and live the life he thought was ideal – the life of a hustler. Spanish Harlem was a hub for narcotic sales back in the late sixties and early seventies, and it happened to be where Richard lived during his stint in New York City.

The Strip, from 116th to 126th Street, was lined with Brownstone homes, every stoop occupied by bodyguards, henchmen, and dope-fiends, every trashcan filled with machine guns ready to engage the police or rival thugs. The police, however, would never come.

Richard picked up his dope at the top of a three-story row home. The entire transaction was made through slot in the door.

“You’d have sixty people in front of you, all dope fiends and dealers. Each package had thirty bags of heroin, at two dollars a bag. You could always get a deal if you bought in bulk, $200 for five packages. I’d make a run every now and then back to Connecticut and sell each bag for ten bucks. I made a lot of money.”

But the entire time Richard was dealing, he broke a cardinal rule of drug dealing. He used his own product.

“You could just go into one of the bodegas and ask for your ‘tools’ or ‘gimmicks.’ They had an entire kit assembled for you to shoot your dope. This was before the days when you could get your own hypodermic needle.”

A “gimmick” was distributed in a shoebox and contained assorted pieces for assembly, paper, a glass eyedropper, a pacifier, and syringe. The paper was wrapped around the glass eyedropper, and the syringe attached at one end and the pacifier at the other. The pacifier would create a vacuum, the rubber mouthpiece could be squeezed to draw up the heroin. The syringe, obviously, would administer the drug.

“There was a place on the corner of 126th Street called the Royal Flush Hotel. You’d walk in to that place, and the lobby was filled with every derelict you could imagine,” he says, stopping to drag on his cigarette. “I was there picking up a package and I saw this guy in the lobby sitting in the lobby with no sole in his shoes. He ran out of veins to tap and was shooting the sh*t in the veins of his feet. His whole body was swollen with so much fluid, his hands were like boxing gloves. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’ll never be like that.’”

Years later, Richard would have to sit in a tub of warm water just to bring his veins back to a point where he could shoot the heroin in the veins of his feet without them collapsing.

May 20, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth:

I have to work from noon to about 11 p.m. But I did catch the trailer for An Inconvenient Truth at

Dave Guggenheim's latest movie follows Al Gore in his mission to bring global warming, and the evidence that we are causing it, to the general public. Guggenheim basically took Gore's touring lecture, complete with Powerpoint, and spiced it up liberally.

I'll bet you more students would show up to class if Guggenheim produced their professor's Powerpoint lectures.

I'm going to see it, keeping in mind that it is at least partly sensational and things will be exaggerated in the flick (it's Hollywood). The process of predicting climate changes is sketchy at best. Our best meteorologists can't even predict tomorrow's weather accurately, there are too many variables.

Whether you believe that we are causing global warming or not doesn't matter. It is happening and we need to brace for impact. Hopefully this movie will shed some light on the issue and not polarize our country even further.

Have a peek at the trailer:

May 19, 2006

A Tip to Anyone Who Cares

Don't see The Producers after working in a kitchen for 11 hours. I'll explain tomorrow morning. Briefly.


May 18, 2006

To Be a Vegetarian

I am becoming less and less comfortable in my relationship with meat. My week is beef and pork-less for the most part, with perhaps two or three turkey/chicken main dishes thrown in, both of which are cheap and generally healthier on the whole.

My unconcious decided that it was time to ponder the situation, so I had this dream:

Long, endless conversation. So boring I cannot remember a smidge. I'm in a normal space, some anonymous room in someone's very normal, nondescript house.

A wild boar passes by, in the middle of our conversation.

Without realizing what I am doing, I pounce at once on the large, prickly animal. I beat on it with bare fists, feeling it crumple under me. With each blow it becomes smaller, less formidable, until I am man-handling a mere baby.

I wake up, feeling monstrous. It is definitely in my top ten list of worst (and weirdest) dreams.

It's not the killing of animals that bothers me. It's the way they are processed, like products instead of living, breathing animals.

Herds of cattle are prodded into curved tunnels, throats slit just around the corner, carcasses treated and pushed further down the line. Endless droves of chicks are dumped on conveyer belts, beaks burned, claws removed, doomed to spend years feeding on genetically and chemically treated grain. They are stuffed in cages, unable to move, to breed or to sleep. Functions that, like humans, they are entitled to perform as living creatures - as heirs of evolutionary history.

I understand that there are alternatives to the conventional meat industry. Companies like Whole Foods and Trader Joes provide the meat of "free range" and organically grown animals in their respective stores, but many of the products in these stores are many times the price of conventional meats, and at this point in my life, I am unable to afford these products.

So conventional products end up in my fridge, and I have to forget the suffering that went into my chicken breast.

Which brings me to the alternative: vegetarianism.

It wouldn't be too much of a switch. My family would raise a collective brow (Italians like their pork) and Western Maryland is not exactly conducive to the lifestyle, but something needs to change. I don't like feeling like a hypocrite (too much, anyway), and I will have to change my habits long before the conventional meat industry changes theirs.

With Vegetarianism, I'm still up in the air. With the meat industry, I am not. But, finals week is not the best time for a major life overhaul. Maybe next week I'll decide whether or not a diet without meat is the type of lifestyle that suits me best.

May 17, 2006

The Secret [Beautiful] Lives of Garden Slugs

Slugs and beauty in the same line? The nighttime denizens of overturned flowerpots and toppled trashcan lids have hidden complexities of which most have no clue, including myself. Until recently, that is.

The leopard slug (Limax maximus) can be found in any American garden (though it's not a native species), so we tend to overlook just how striking their behavior can be.

This video, from David Attenborough's newly released, Life in the Undergrowth, depicts two leopard slugs mating. It sounds completely unappealing, I know, but have a look for curiosity's sake. I'll bet you come away less repulsed than you would think.

Keep in mind that slugs, like most mollusks, are hermaphroditic, and the exchange of sperm between two animals is normal; they have both male and female reproductive parts. The beautiful translucent curls (which seem to artfully mimic body-form*) are the slugs' male organs.

Even in the most unattractive creatures we can find beauty, if not in appearance, such as the leopard slug, then in pure natural complexity.

*This is not a scientific claim, but an artistic one. Repeating themes are not requisite for evolutionary design, though humans like me would like to think so, if just for kicks.

May 16, 2006

The Day that Never Ends or The Joy of Na'an

Today was the last day of classes, which should have been a joyous occasion, preparing for the onset of summer. Unfortunately, it was one of those days. You know, those days. Well, maybe you don't.

9:30 am: Finished writing a reflection on my "internship" with The Bottom Line. Assemble remaining elements of portfolio - e-mails, articles, and letters from the editor. I downloaded about three interesting research papers, including a study of the oscillation of action potentials, but will not have a chance to read them for at least another week.

10:30 am: Struggle with Stat homework. Leave incomplete.

11 am: HEED. My professor is a great guy, and I got some info on research that is being done among the exercise scientists (including a study of dehydration and intoxication), but its a freshman health class. I neglected to take it until now.

12 pm: Stare at Stat homework in the TBL office. Chat with my music editor instead.

1 pm: Further inspection of Stat homework. No progress.

2 pm: MATH 209 - Stat. Turn in half-assed copy of the fully analyzed but incomplete final homework. Sigh.

3 pm: Back to my apartment. Putz on internet, eat some pretzels, watch some crazy Oprah-vision.

3:45 pm: Meet with my ENGL prof. Go over final paper (an investigative piece on fuel in Western Maryland). He offered an independent study of investigative journalism next spring, and I may just take him up on it.

3:50 pm: Fill out student evaluation form (why aren't they called professor evaluation forms?)

4 pm: Back at apartment. Make dinner - veggie lentil soup and homemade Na'an* (Middle Eastern/Indian griddle bread, see recipe below). Grumble about my meeting in three hours.

7 pm: Semester wrap-up meeting. Getting the editorial board on the same page, as it were.

8:30 pm: Eat dinner. Watch Le Sacre du Printemps - We thought it was the ballet, but no... just the orchestra. Still, not bad. Stravinsky was an amazing composer. I can't help but think of volcanoes and dinosaurs when I hear it though.

9:30 pm: Stare at the "create" screen on Blogger. Write boring post about what I did today.


4 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder

Dump flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Add your yogurt and slowly add milk, mixing steadily with a fork. When thoroughly mixed, dump contents on a clean counter. Knead dough for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until pliable. Let it sit for two hours covered in a warm place.

Take the risen dough, cut it into 10 segments and roll each out to a thickness of 1/4 inch, patting each side with flour. Turn your oven on broiler and heat up a cast iron skillet to medium-high. slap each na'an in the pan, cooking for about 30 seconds or until it starts bubbling on the raw side. Quickly insert the pan in the broiler for another 10 seconds, or until little brownish-red spots appear on the top.

Slather with butter and wrap them all in a stack in a clean towel. Best with curries and lentils.

May 15, 2006

Striking Stats from the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science published an article this month discussing the relatively recent "partisan takeover of science." The article details some interesting statistics, including the following, perhaps the most striking of all:
To measure public acceptance of the concept of evolution, Miller has been asking adults if human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals since 1985. He and his colleagues purposefully avoid using the now politically charged word "evolution" in order to determine whether people accept the basics of evolutionary theory. Over the past 20 years, the proportion of Americans who reject this concept has declined (from 48% to 39%), as has the proportion who accept it (45% to 40%). Confusion, on the other hand, has increased considerably, with those expressing uncertainty increasing from 7% in 1985 to 21% in 2005.
This confusion is perhaps the result of political dichotomy spinning pure scientific theory into philosophical absolutes that one or the other side rejects/accepts. Many Americans want to stay moderate, but are pushed one way or another by the extreme stances taken by sects of Republicans or Democrats. I find myself defending liberals more than conservatives recently (in defense of the advance of science), and I am a registered independent.

Scientific terms like "evolution" and "embryonic stem cells," (of which most people do not have a solid understanding in the first place) have transcended technical definition; they stand for oppospoliticaltcal stances.

Americans are crafting new stereotypes for our society, further distinctions upon which to segregate groups of people. If we begin to move apart in smaller, like-minded communities - like with like - we will uproot our nation's very foundations, nullifying the historical significance of the United States.

May 14, 2006

Weed is Not Killing the Kids

In a preliminary study [full article, PDF], researchers have found that in cannibus users MRI scans detect no neurological damage to the brain.

From the study's abstract:
While differences existed between groups, no pattern consistent with evidence of cerebral atrophy or loss of white matter integrity was detected. Frequent cannabis use is unlikely to be neurotoxic to the normal developing brain.

More Front Page Uploads

May 13, 2006

A Father's Nursery

Long antennae inspect the harvestman's nest constantly.

Male harvestmen, (Opiliones or daddy-long-legs if you like) guard small depressions on the forest floor, hidden carefully from passing predators. Females visit during the night, appraising the keep for one reason: These depressions are nests - a harvestman's nursery.

If a female is satisfied with the nest & its owner, they mate with the male and deposit a fertilized egg within the depression. The male harvestman tends these eggs, hefting them from shallow nooks, rolling each carefully within adept pedipalps and brushing them free of debris.

Throughout the animal kingdom the male is forced to take a role in the rearing of offspring. Not only in arthropods like harvestmen, but with seahorses (the male carries the young) and Emperor penguins (males protect the chicks from the bitter Antarctic winds for months while the female retrieves food).

May 12, 2006

A New Piece of Flare for FSU

This weekend marks the compilation of the very last issue of The Bottom Line, and I am looking forward to the break.

I'm taking over as editor in chief of the paper, and attended my first President's Student Advisory Council (PSAC) meeting. A familiar topic was covered last night: the elusive Center for Natural History.

FSU administration and science faculty have been talking about turning the first level of the Compton Science Center into a museum, incorporating the $2 million collection of zoological specimens (gifted to the university by a Mr. Cavallaro). The space was designated for a museum when the building was constructed, it has taken this long to accrue resources.

The biology department detailed the renewed need for the exhibit in their Department Strategic Plan Update at the end of last year. Its nice to see some progress; the exhibit should at least bring local high schools and perhaps some tourists to campus.

I have a sneaking suspician, however, that many a "function" (as they call it in the catering business) will be held in the room, sipping martinis with the wild boar and guarded alumni.

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May 11, 2006

Scientific = Liberal

It is interesting how the words "scientific" and "liberal" are used interchangeably in 2006.

The "embryos" used by scientists in stem cell research are actually "blastocysts," balls of undifferentiated cells. NIH has an entire textbook in PDF form on their website describing in detail what stem cells are and where they come from.

Genetic research falls under the title "euphenics" nowadays (focusing on phenotype), making the field distinct from the Nazi overtones of "eugenics." Some may call it a simple renaming, some not.

I think people forget just how much pressure researchers are put under from "moral advisory boards" and such, and forget that they too are human beings and wish to seek alleviation of human suffering while answering the call of science.

Scientific progress is a living, breathing entity on its own. If we allow Christian moral tenants to direct a government decision, we risk breaching the church/state separation, falling behind in the world, and losing the chance to discover the truth about how life functions.

Morality will never provide that answer. Slow, careful research can.

Education is the key. Without it we all speak blindly. I think it is time for Americans (perhaps the human world, as Lilize has mentioned) to stop being fearful and become more educated.

Creationism: "A Discredited Enterprise"

The NY Times just posted a "Q and A" with their science and exec editors, and by far, the best question is:
Q. I noticed that when the Times reported on the recent discovery of the transitional fossil between fish and amphibians (the "fishapod"), they asked a creationist for comment. As an evolutionary biologist, I was dismayed by this. Creationism is simply a discredited enterprise, and asking a creationist to comment on a new fossil is like asking a faith healer to comment on a medical advance, or an astrologer to comment on a new discovery about human behavior. I respect the newspaper's desire to be objective and give opposing viewpoints, but don't see the need to do that when the "opposing viewpoint" is simply a form of quackery.

— Jerry Coyne, Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolution, The University of Chicago
Excellent analogy. But, Science Editor Laura Chang did an great job defending the choice to print a creationist's response:
Generally, I don't believe it's a good thing to suppress ideas that we might strongly disagree with. I would like to think that a false premise is its own worst enemy, and if readers are exposed to the positions and statements of those who champion mainstream science and those with a different agenda, they will make their own intelligent choices.

May 10, 2006

Bush Droppings and TBL Praise

A strange day:

According to the NY Times, Bush's approval ratings are dropping even lower. Shocker.

Today I actually received a complement on an article I published. That makes it the first one all semester. It's usually things like:

"You guys forgot to put in my ad."


"The Bottom Line is a secular liberal rag!"


"Why don't you have a fact checker?"


"You need a proofreader. 'Father' is spelled with an 'F' not an 'L.'"

Which are all good statements under the notion that any feedback is good feedback; it's just nice to receive some praise occasionally.

To Kill Without Thought

A true story.

A girl sits in ART 157, hunched over her slide notes. The projector buzzes and clicks Mondrian, Picasso, Calder endlessly. A small black beetle, perhaps Pterostichus melanarius, the common black beetle, crawls up the back of her white linen shirt. The girl cannot feel the insect through her shirt. In fact, if it wasn't for the student behind her, she would have never known the beetle existed.

The student behind her, another female, goes to brush the beetle from her classmate's shirt. The first girl whips around at the second's touch.

"What's wrong?" the first girl asks.

"Nothing, just a bug," says the second girl.

"Ew." The first girl searches the rust colored carpet for seconds, stomps the carpet, and turns back around to her notes.

"I was going to take it outside," says the second girl.

"Why?" says the first girl, indignant.

"You didn't have to kill it."

Why is it such an automatic reaction to kill things of "lower intelligence?" An insect has to do nothing else but exist to warrant human retaliation, it seems.

But the bug is alive, just as any human is. Just because it is not graced with the gift of intellect does not mean its life is purposeless. It is alive, and deserves to be alive because it is alive. Circular logic, right? Maybe.

Pterostichus and other members of Coleoptera, the beetles, almost always serve a vital purpose in the environment. They even keep agricultural pests like aphids at bay.

I suppose it's just sad that there is no hesitation, no consideration - not of the animal's "feelings" necessarily, but of the actual necessity of the act. Why is it necessary? Does it improve your life? Or is it more about dominance and the right to act, to make choices?

Every day we seem further and further away from nature, much of which E.O. Wilson considered to be our friends.

May 9, 2006

I'm Always a Step Behind... PBS Evolution

What a great series. Heather and I just finished watching all seven episodes, ending with the frustrating depiction of "anti-evolutionists," in an episode entitled "What About God?"

What about Him/Her/It? It all comes down to education. People who do not know the principles of evolution should not be condemning it. People who do not understand the tenents of Christianity should hesitate to toss those ideas aside as invalid.

Time for class. I'll talk about it more later.

May 8, 2006

Front Page Uploads

For the TBL Blog:

New Weather Forecasting Tool?

Recent research published in Science continues the study of the use of cell phone towers to predict weather patterns.

It has been shown that rain and other atmospheric disturbances can reduce and even interrupt signals, which may be used by meteorologists to forecast and analyze weather.

The lead researcher, Hagit Messer, told, "We get this information for free."

I wonder how long that will last...

May 7, 2006

A Natural Consequence

It's one of those moments you hate being a human being. I killed a robin with my car the other day.

I was driving with Heather down Rt. 40, right outside of Frostburg, windows down, breathing fresh air for the first time in what seemed like months. Out of the corner of my eye - the narrow cranny, really - something fell.

The robin dropped in a controlled arc, curving down as if on an imaginary track. It shook on the current, wings wobbling to compensate for the cross winds. It was young, perhaps born just this spring. Maybe I had seen it out on the patchy field in front of my apartment complex picking at loose seed with the crows. Maybe not. Maybe I just want to think that.

I wonder what the chances are of hitting a small bird with a car. The collision was almost magnetic; the robin was literally sucked into my car.

There was a price, just as I was hoping. I hope people never get away with killing anything scot-free. You kill a bee, it stings you. You kill a man, you're imprisoned.

Kill a robin, and you have to pull its crumpled little body from the nook under your grill.

Back at the apartment, Heather ran up to grab some paper towels. I hoped it was dead. I prayed that I wouldn't have to "put it down" or "put it out of its own misery."

I picked the robin up, and cradling it gently in my right hand, dug a deep hole with my left. Heather returned with paper towels a bit late, but just in time to lay a bouquet of dandelions over the robin's grave.

I still wonder if I robbed a nest of a mother or father. Robins are nurturing birds, showing great care in raising their chicks.

Maybe I'm being stupid, but here's the deal: we face death every day. I hope someone takes the time to pick me from my nook when the time comes.

No guarantees though, right?


My EditorShip

It's sailing in 15 minutes.

I think one of the most frustrating things about newspaper layout & being a multi-tasking editor (managing, design, writing, etc.) is not any of the things that involve my tangible contributions to the newspaper. The most frustrating thing is the lack of material.

A prediction: the layout will not be finished until this evening. I hope I am wrong.

May 5, 2006

3's Wake Pig Dodges Categorization

When I found 3’s Wake Pig on my desk, I was perplexed; no affected indie art, no sentence for a band name, just a big “3” against a black cover. I don’t know how many CD’s I’ve received where the design of the album cover is better than the insipid emo within.

I was wary. One of the guys is wearing an ear-flapped hunting cap in the press photo, bearing his teeth. There is big red 3 on a black album with weird translucent threads (neurons?).
I was thinking metal. I was wrong.

Well, nearly. 3 owes some of its sound to metal (what new rock band doesn’t), but the music itself is mutable and unpredictable. Wake Pig is one of those albums where track one doesn’t have to sound like track two, and yet still comes off as a cohesive unit, one full album.

Wake Pig was recently re-released on Metalblade, after its first incarnation on Planet Noise.
“We needed a label with more outreach and marketing muscle,” says Joey Eppard, vocalist and guitars.

The band started in Woodstock, New York, nationally known as a music town for decades.
“There are a lot of heavy musicians, producers and engineers in this town,” says Eppard. “You stop to get some coffee and end chatting with ‘Clip’ from P-Funk, you run into Doctor Know from the Bad Brains in the produce section of the grocery store, Jerry Marotta at the gas station.”

3 is not the only band to come out of Woodstock recently. Joey Eppard’s brother Josh is the drummer for Coheed and Cambria, another band to find success out of the area.
Both Coheed and 3 have been categorized in the catchall progressive label, which is unfortunate. The bands may share similar characteristics, but the sound is different. Eppard’s vocals are more Ozzy than Geddy, yet soulful and controlled. The band’s sound is more funk than punk, so to speak.

Eppard recognizes music categorizing for what it is: a marketing tool.

“Although, when business principles supercede artistic ones you have to wonder what the effects on our cultural evolution might be,” he says. “For a while I suspected there was some sort of emo handbook these bands were all reading. Move like this, twirl mic like so, throw in some screams, cut your hair like your an anime character etc, etc...”

“We end up in the progressive category mostly because it is a broad genre within which we can play intricate, melodic, musically and compositionally ambitious songs,” says Eppard.

Intricate is the right word. Eppard’s mastery of the guitar (especially the acoustic) is brow raising, and if anything, a respectable accent, never the focus. 3 avoids the pretension commonly associated with prog rock while maintaining the feeling that these guys know what they’re doing.

“We don't try to be complex, really we strive for balance,” says Eppard. “For us the song comes first, but if you grace a good song with skilled musicianship then that is the ultimate.”
The band’s Purevolume site is the best place for a sample, offering free downloads of both cuts from Wake Pig and live performances.

Joe Stote of 3: on Secular Spirituality

The following is an excerpt from an e-mail interview I did last week with the Woodstock, NY band 3 (article appeared in 5.3.06 TBL).
Joe, you had a journal entry recently analyzing the fragility of life. Was that something that came to you at the time, or are these feelings you've had for a while? Do you think American society is ready for secular spirituality?

[You] know I seem to draw some inspiration/strength from the realization that our lives on Earth are truly limited by the natural rhythm of life and death. We really have so little time to live our dreams and realize the potential we have. So little time and so much we want to do.

When you are in a band like any human relationship one tends to take it for granted. Human nature seems to have a built in disregard for how important our time is at the moment. Bands are so fragile and like everything else in life should be treated like a spiritual gift. The interaction between the band members and the music we make is a gift from a place very few get to visit. It is truly a link to something so ancient and spiritual that modern life has begun to doubt its existence at all. It is not religion as we know it in modern times but a part of the thing that binds us to each other and the world around us. Sure, we can live our entire lives and never need to experience the non-physical other places, but if we try, with what is right before us and let ourselves wander into the spiritual world, there are things there that are so beautiful and meaningful that even if we experience them in a small way can make all the difference within ourselves and the people around us. The more people realize this, the more it will effect the course of Human history. We can save ourselves by looking into ourselves and therefore right

All the wrongs and someday actually be in place to be deserving of the Heaven we inhabit called Earth. America like the rest of the world is on a slow but direct course to realize the ancient non-secular one-ness with everything that is life. This is all evolving on Earth time which does not have 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. It can not even be referred to as time. It is not infinity either. It is close, but surely not in our lifetime as we know it. But we will be and are a big part of the change. So, what we do right now is what the future will be.



May 4, 2006

Oops... Mu Isn't Always Constant?

Damn. Physicists, astronomers and cosmologists might have a hell of a lot of work to make up.

They have found that mu (the difference in the ratio of mass between proton/electron), has not always been constant.

Let me repeat that: the constant, mu, may not have always been constant.

This, if true, will have huge repercussions. Just about everything we know about cosmology will have to be reconfigured, even the actual age of the universe, which is determined largely by radiation.

In the immortal words of big oil: hell, it'll create jobs.