Field of Science

How to run a university - value of the blanket C

Back in the good old days when you enrolled in a common curriculum course at university, you stood about a 60% chance of getting a C more or less for just showing up and sort of trying. About 10% of the class would be grade gunners and receive As; and the 15% who didn't quite make As but out-distanced the Cs would get Bs. The real screw offs and the academically unfortunate would get the Ds (10%) and Fs (5%).  This was called the "blanket C" and it only required faculty to distinguish those students in the upper and lower groups; everyone else just got a C.  You expected it. Grade expectations of parents, employers, and graduate schools were adjusted to the blanket C and anything on the sunny side of 2.0 was looked upon favorably. TPP will not mention his own undergrad GPA which was sort of embarrassing even in the blanket C era. Let's just say he lived up to the low expectations. Now the point here is that jocks were still jocks, but not one objected when the hulking brute sitting behind you in English passed forward a page torn from a spiral notebook with a couple of paragraphs printed on it in pencil, signed Hulkowski- Football in big, bold letters at the top, which you could not help notice as you covered it with your own page and a half typed essay that you slaved over for at least 2 hours.  When the papers were handed back, your own essay would be covered with red marks and emblazoned with a C, as expected, and as expected, Hulko's paper would also have a C at the top, but it had remained pristine and unmarked. Why should either party bother, because you see, it was OK for jocks to get Cs. Well, grade inflation has just shot the hell out of the blanket C, a grade now reserved for the no-shows, or maybe not used at all. As explained by a dean to a colleague who had the audacity to give no-shows Cs at a Carolina university (Luke, Puke, something like that), "We are a selective school; there just aren't any "average" students here."  Even jocks had to get As, and they had to take more courses than just "Coaching winning fill-in-the-sport 101".  This is the reason for the huge uproar at another university also in the Carolinas, which one doesn't really matter because this could have happened at more than two of them because this is just how things are, and it isn't even limited to those states, but if you want a list, check the national rankings in football. When it was just a blanket C, no one got upset, because the jock-student was actually there to turn in and receive the assignment back, but with grade inflation and rising expectations for better preparation of jocks for the major leagues, jocks could no longer bother any more with even the pretense of being a student. You got an A in certain courses just for existing and playing your sport. Those graduates and students who are actually at university to get their 3.8 GPA even though it has now been greatly devalued because everyone else also has a similar GPA get upset when their GPA isn't higher than that of the non-attending athlete, or anyone else for that matter. Alumni from years before who had a 3.8 in the era of blanket Cs (TPP will not mention Mrs. Phactor here, but he could.) are really upset because this practice just tears the lid off of the higher education, except for sports, problem. It means their prestigious institution of higher education has laxer standards and much higher tuition than the local community college. People are upset at finding out the whole system is broke because some careless people got caught, but it opens the door for the next step in this evolution by just making learning optional for big sports "undergrads" who want to play in the minor leagues hoping to grab the brass ring of a major league contract for millions of dollars paid for the 4.2 years of the average pro career and the physical disabilities there after. Then if they don't make it in the pros, and after they blow their life's earnings in 5.3 years, they can reapply to university with a different attitude about learning.   

One more thing to worry about

That's just swell! The universe could end any time, although the odds are rather low really, but still what a thing to stay awake at night worrying about. After figuring out that the universe was expanding, cosmologists wondered if the universe would end in a Big Crunch, sort of a reverse of the Big Bang, or in a Big Chill, expanding outward forever.  Then the discovery, sort of, of Dark Energy suggested that the universe would end in some sort of particle decay, a Big Rip, something that sounded rather like the show at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. But no, the universe will end up being gobbled up by an expanding bubble of alien (to this universe?) energy, a Big Gulp. What to do?

Golden rain and fall color

Fall color this year is varied and very good this year, but as always fleeting. The area immediately behind our house is under the canopy of two sugar maple trees, one large and one huge, and the light especially in the late afternoon is just perfused with a completely lovely golden glow. And as a bonus, the weather was warm enough to sit on the patio and enjoy the light with a glass of wine.  But then it started to rain, not water, not cats and dogs, not frogs, but leaves, and it
rained for 3 days burying the entire area with inches of golden orange maple leaves.  Several other species have contributed to the fall color too: yellow - bottle brush buckeyes, orange - sumac, red - dogwoods, pinky orange - black haw, red-orange - black gum, and variously peachy yellow, orange, and red - Japanese maples making bright dabs of color here and there in the gardens.  This one (Acer japonicum 'aconitifolium') is fairly new, but what a beauty, what color.

Very depressing trend - decline of collections based research

The decline in collections-based research at universities has been in decline for some time as hiring decisions attempted to track newer, shinier, more fundable areas of biology. We used to say that collections-based research would only persist in museums and botanical gardens, but obviously that isn't so any longer. This is of course very short sighted, but that is actually the nature of science these days. Legislators no longer understand the need or value of basic research, and it's proven an easy target for their ridicule and criticism. Perhaps this is just another facet of the war on science and higher education in the USA, long an area of our strength. Things do not bode well for the future.

Epic battle of wills

An epic battle of wills is shaping up here in the Phactor household.  Mrs. Phactor purchased a small throw rug to place at the bottom of the stairs leading to our basement. Every time she goes by she says, "Who crumpled up this rug?" And she straightens it. Every time a certain cat goes by, she says, "Who straightened out my play rug?" And she crumples it up to her liking. Some things are just more interesting in 3D than 2D. Note the milk bottle ring, always a favorite cat toy. Thousands of them reside under our refrigerator because they usually have a "lost my playtoy" half-life of about 5 minutes. The other toy is flannel blanket that is loaded with catnip between its two layers, a much loved toy too. So far neither party has missed an opportunity to score, and neither seems to have tired of the game as yet. This contest may go into extra innings. BTW, both players take almost exactly the same amount to time change the preferred setting on the rug, but the cat seems to be having the most fun often turning in a prolonged and conscientious effort. 

17 foods Americans like that furiners find disgusting and much needed commentary

This is one of those mostly stupid www click bait lists, but inquiring minds just had to know.  Here they are in no particular order.

 1. Grits – TPP finds them to be tasteless fodder. To be fair, other cultures have their versions of tasteless fodder too.  So don’t be too quick to point your spatzle/dumpling/yuca stained fingers at grits.  Actually TPP likes yucca better than grits.  

2-3. Velveeta cheese/Cheese Whiz – Both of these were counted separately, but they’re really the same thing, a plasticized facsimile of cheese.  As one comic put it, you can be thankful that Cheese Whiz doesn’t contain either.  Although TPP will admit complicity because Cheese Whiz when melted & combined with a hot tomato salsa makes an OK quick chip dip when you badly need some comfort food. 

4. Supermarket (“Wonder”) bread – Helps build bodies 8 (then 12) ways and comes in the white wrapper with the red, yellow, and blue balloons.  Hmm, a bread that must have been heavily promoted during Saturday morning cartoon shows (along with breakfast cereals ).  Soft, sweetish, spongy, a crust in color only, and you can squeeze it into a dough ball without it crumbling. Some people out grow it, but things are getting better of late and even supermarkets are beginning to have some decent bread.

 5-6. Red licorice (Twizzlers, red rope) – Both of these were counted separately too, but they’re both really the same red, vaguely fruity, chewy, sweet plastic confection.

 7. Pop Tarts – Nothing good can be said about these cardboard confections except they’re fast.  They even make grocery store donuts look good.

 8. Casseroles containing cream of anything soup – The casseroles in question probably contain canned green beans, also disgusting, and are topped with crumbled potato chips.  But really people? You think this disgusting? What about Jello, which did not make the list? Or marshmallows!

9. Breakfast cereal – Most of these are actually Breakfast Sugar if labeling were honest.  Sugar may not be the most common ingredient because fructose, corn syrup, and dextrose weigh in separately.  It’s hard to find a breakfast cereal that isn’t sweetened any more. What ever happened to just plain shredded wheat?  Long live Weet-Bix. This is to make nice with the people who won't like what TPP has to say about their bacon.

 10. Hershey chocolate – Too sweet, too milky, too soft.  Nothing but kid stuff; grow up. Our local purveyor of chocolate puts finely ground dark roast coffee beans in a dark chocolate, a confection that will give you a real buzz. Keep away from children who wouldn't like it anyways.

 11. Snow Cones – Shaved ice and sweet syrup.  OK, but you have probably never had freshly made maple syrup drizzled on snow. Snow & shaved ice with sweetening was the original sorbet. So this confection has a bit of heritage, a bit of legitimacy, especially on a hot day.  But why can’t they have a mango syrup?

12. Root Beer Float – Root beer, birch beer, sarsaparilla are a North American thing, but a good sharp root beer combined with vanilla ice cream, sorry, this isn’t disgusting. Up to this point TPP had no arguments with the list.
13. Beef jerky – TPP has had some good Caribou jerky, but good jerky isn’t what is sold in wrappers in quickie marts.  Pemmican apparently was an invention of native Americans, so people should have some respect.

 14. Corn dogs – Let’s start with the obvious. The basic hot dog in the USA is disgusting, and then you coat it with greasy corn meal, which is not considered edible in most places outside the USA.  Lesson: two wrongs don't make a right.  The Phactors were given about 25 kilos of avocados by  Queensland friends, but holy guacamole, try to find a corn chip.  Here's an iconic bit of Americana to provide some color. It's a hot dog riding a banana?

15. Meat Loaf – These concoctions run a tremendous gamut of edibility and best can be pretty good, but in general meat loaves are sort of like a hamburger roast, something to do with cheap ground meat. But one wonders what kind of restaurant people were in where meat loaf was on the menu?
16.  American bacon – Described as thin, crispy, tough, but it’s also smoky, so it has to be someone from the British Empire who is thinks their uncooked slabs of greasy fat are better.  However TPP has dumped on turkey bacon.

 17. Biscuits and Gravy – The author of the original piece (sorry lost the link) doesn’t even know enough to know that biscuit is singular!  Biscuit and gravy, period.  Now there is nothing disgusting about good, hand-made, fresh biscuit. Foreign guests to our home have always loved the Phactors' buttermilk biscuit. So the gravy is the thing, and it can be bad or good, it depends upon the sausage and how much is used.  Hint for foreign travelers: the quality of biscuit and gravy falls off quickly as you travel north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Anybody who puts baked beans on toast for breakfast has their own burden to bear.  Urp.
Mostly then TPP agrees, but these foods do sell, so someone likes them as appalling as that may be.

Feel free to augment this  list, readers. Or argue if you like. TPP would have put light/lite beer on the list.

PHLOX news tells it like it isn't

PHLOX news tells it like it isn't because conservatives prefer to hear conservative ideology and rhetoric rather than facts, and as a result the political debate is getting more polarized because the other end of the political spectrum prefers more factual reporting of the news. Too bad this means conservatives are ignoring reality, living in their own Reaganland, itself a fantasy construct. Perhaps you suspected this, or else you think this another conspiracy by the left-wing media elite, but Pew research has the data, which interestingly enough will only be believed by half of the political spectrum. Dang, but this is why the election season is so gloomy. As an example, our local political Rauner-round is telling people it's class warfare to attack him for having made millions of dollars and being very rich. That's the rhetoric. Here's the reality. What this very rich guy doesn't get is that he is totally, completely, magnificently out of touch with ordinary people, let alone the very poor. The only surprise so far is that he hasn't said, "Let them eat cake." 

Wild life? OK, so why is it just animals?

Apparently the Wildlife Photography of the year contest is only open to people who suffer from plant blindness.  Plants apparently are neither wild nor alive. Maybe these guys used to work for the Department of Natural Resources here in Lincolnland who told TPP's academic counterpart that the wild life preservation grant program wasn't going to fund any grants to preserve tall grass prairie because native plants aren't wildlife!  Even though there's less than 1% of the prairie left in our state, and where do you suppose the REAL wildlife, you know prairie chickens, prairie dogs, etc. used to live?  Nonetheless some of the photos are amazing, especially the penguins and blue ice. 

Just in time for Halloween

Yes, it's Tom Tomorrow's Right Wing House of Fear!  Be afraid, be very afraid, and of course, vote accordingly.

Sex? Sex? Oh, please. It's copulation.

In higher organisms, sex, gender, and copulation are all neatly tied up together such that to the less well informed (read science correspondent) they are one and the same. So when some science reporter says "Sex emerged in an ancient Scottish lake", and it turns out to be fossil fish copulating, it just sends the wrong message.  To be fair it's the headline that's wrong. The article clearly states this is about copulation. Sex is when parents of two different genotypes combine their genes in offspring, and it's much older than fish. There are algae, phytoplankton, that have sexual reproduction, and to some extent bacterial transformation might be considered a form of sexual reproduction, however, in this case, two parents only result in one offspring. TPP has a colleague in psychology who says he studies sex, but he really studies gender, where the two sexes are differentiated. That's not the case, at least not obviously, among many sexually reproducing organisms and we often use the term mating types designated by +/- signs. Then it gets really strange. Consider Ulva, sea lettuce, a green seaweed that looks like a limp leaf of lettuce. When you pick up a "frond" of Ulva, you don't know what you've got; it could be a plus, a minus, each with one set of chromosomes, or it could be a spore producer with two sets of chromosomes, all three physically identical, but parts of an alternation of generation life cycle. So let's be careful about throwing around the term "sex", besides the organism's name (Microbrachius dicki) makes for an even better joke regarding copulation.

Systematic fiscal abuse of public universities

Higher education especially the USA's systems of public state universities has been one area where our country truly excelled, and now this educational success story is being denigrated and gradually being killed by a thousand little cuts.
Those of us who have worked in higher education over the past 40 years know this so very well. A recent essay expresses TPP's understanding of the situation quite well.  "Emerging evidence from the Delta Cost Project (as well as other studies) has shown that the exploding costs of higher education are not primarily caused by a heavily tenured faculty and their “big” salaries. Indeed, over the past decade or two, as the faculty had been reconfigured, total institutional expenditures for instruction have declined — offset by increased expenditures for administration, student support, and auxiliary enterprises. American higher education has not put itself on a diet. Rather it is being starved by state governments."
Over TPP's entire academic career his salary has increased just a tad over 400%, which sounds pretty good until you realize how low his salary was way back then and that inflation went up 254% over the same period.  In particular raises have been little or none over the past 12 years. Of course, this is not by way of complaint, but just to illustrate that increases in costs have not been to support the lavish life styles of us faculty.  When TPP started his career here in Lincolnland some 40 years ago, the state was paying something over 60% of the cost of higher education, and it was quite a bargain. Now state support is about 17% of the cost of higher education, a decrease put into effect by simply gradually withholding support, year by year, and no legislative action was needed to do it either in the sense of having to pass an "increasing the cost of higher education" bill. (And the most brilliant part of this politically, is that then these very politicians put the blame for rising costs on the universities!) Lately science is being denigrated as just one more "opinion" or "bought and paid for results" because otherwise politicians might actually have to pay attention to science in forming policy. A lot of the products of higher education are being appreciated a lot less. And now, having priced higher education out of the reach of many, having transferred the cost to the students, those very politicians are arguing that well maybe higher education just isn't worth the cost and you're better off without it any who. How's that as a way of dealing with rising costs of higher education? Convince people they just don't need it!  None of this bodes well for our future and people had better begin to get pissed at such blatant disregard for education.  

Eeek! Dozer blight!

Wow, these developments outside of Las Vegas are so remarkably vile. This is some of the worst dozer blight TPP has ever witnessed. This is what happens when you have government by development speculators, where everything is available for transformation into someone's profit. Of course, no one is going to pay for the environmental cost. You can quite imagine that part of the argument for doing this was "nothing is out there, just desert."  Hard to believe, but Las Vegas just seems to get more and more artificial as time goes on. Well, there's always the nuclear option. "Sorry, man, we were aiming for Yucca Flats." 

Fall color finally arrives

Fall has been rather slow developing this year probably because of the ample rain and mild temperatures. Today really felt like fall, a bit cold with a possible frost tonight, and finally fall color is beginning to develop in our gardens. This is a favorite Japanese maple positioned at the north end of the lily pond in a clear line of sight from our breakfast nook. Not only does this tree develop some great fall color, but then it gets reflected in the lily pond when the light is just right. The sumacs, bottlebrush buckeyes, black gum, sassafras, and dogwoods are all turning color and by next week things should be quite colorful. 

Friday Fabulous Fungus - Oyster mushroom

It's been a wet, cool fall, a great season for fungi, and this is just the right time of year to spot oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus. And you urban dwellers don't need to miss out, a walk around almost any well-treed neighborhood should result in success. Oyster mushrooms grow on wood and they are pretty easy to identify, especially given the season, and they are very tasty, very choice, highly recommended by many. The caps are asymmetrical and around here sort of a pale silvery gray color on top, white gills beneath, firmly fleshy. There were enough growing on the side of just this one maple tree to feed a lot of people. 

Nothing to fear but the daily news keeps trying

Our morning newspaper led off with a headline "Ebola crisis in USA continues". Yes, the number of cases of ebola in the USA doubled, a 100% increase; now there are two. Now in west Africa there is a crisis, but here in the USA?  Not so much. To put this in some perspective, you have a better chance of getting bubonic plague than ebola at present, especially if you go camping in the western USA.  Yet you don't hear alarmist headlines, "Black death still alive".  If this is naught but a sales gimmick, then it's pretty unethical to scare the crap out of people to boost sales. And if it's just a journalist's alarmist take on the situation, then it's poor journalism. And if people begin staying cooped up in their houses as a result, and demanding cities or countries be quarantined, then it's pretty poor thinking. This is a sad and desperate feature of our culture these days, and at this time of year, it goes beyond sales as fear mongering is being used as a political ploy as well. Pathetic all the way around. 

Durian - Love it or leave it

Unless you have traveled and delved into the culture of SE Asia, you probably don't know a thing about durian. Durian is often called the stinkiest fruit in the world and my Thai friends tell me durian "tastes like heaven, but smells like hell".  Here's what TPP knows based on his experiences with durian. It is true the fruit has an odor that can best be described as similar to the smells wafting out of a sewer, a not uncommon smell in SE Asia. The fruit is a big spiny capsule about the size and shape of a smallish rugby ball, and this isn't the part you eat. The largish seeds are surrounded by a thick, creamy yellow-colored fleshy aril, the reward for seed dispersers, presumably primates and other arboreal mammals. Not sure who among our family tree finds the odor attractive? Apart from the fruit, the fleshy aril is not all that unpleasant to eat; it has a firm custardy texture with a sort of mild cheesy flavor, but rather insipid. It is not as horrible or as disgusting tasting as many people have made it out to be, but it is not on TPP's list of preferred tropical fruits either. TPP has seen durian for sale just once in the great Midwest, frozen (and no idea how it holds up to that) at the famous Jungle Jim's grocery north of Cincinnati. So TPP thinks that durian isn't as divisive as people make it out to be, although my Thai friends truly relish it and were happy to eat my share.   
 Image courtesy of Yun Huang Yong, Wikimedia Creative Commons. 

You're all wet

There's a lot of stuff out there that TPP doesn't think about very much if at all. But every now and again something gives you pause, and so it's a very good question to ask, "Why does wet feel wet?"  You would think a long time rain forest biologist would have thought about this, but no. TPP can say that you just don't know wet until you've done rain forest work, but just the other morning, as the Phactors were leaving their house, the exceptional dampness from a night of rain and lingering misty fog, combined with a warmish temperature, particularly for October, together with the smell of wet vegetation and decaying leaves, gave us both the same sensation; it smelled and felt like early morning in a Costa Rican rain forest. At any rate, here's something thoughtful from Discovery magazine on why wet things feel wet. Next week they'll explains why wet dogs smell like wet dogs.

Food delivery by solar tricycle

Amsterdam - is there anything they won't try first? Here in the great Midwest new ideas are the things people in Seattle now yawn about. Foodlogica is using solar-powered cargo tricycles are providing an off-the-grid, green solution to local produce distribution replacing diesel powered delivery trucks. Yes, it's flat in the Netherlands, but it's flat here too. HT to Treehugger

Improving science education in grade school

Research has shown that many kids begin to think science is dull, or just for smart kids, which means those who can memorize lots of stuff, or just for boys, way back in grade school. TPP remembers that his own F1 had the worst science/biology teacher in junior high, one who had the audacity to tell TPP that "plants just aren't very interesting"! And of course the "plants aren't interesting" meme is another huge problem in science education too. For all of these reasons, TPP is flogging the crowd funding of PlantingScience, a proven winner in science education that uses social media to connect kids to botanists. Now if all of you who read last week's appeal had just given $5 each, you'd have contributed well over $500 by now and wouldn't be reading this. For those couple of people who generously contributed much more than $5, TPP gives you enormous thanks.

That's a lot of stars; That's a lot of galaxies

Unless you've had a chance to get away from civilization, way away from civilization, you don't really know what the night time sky looks like because of light pollution. Years ago TPP found himself in the outback of northern Queensland at a quaint place called the 40-mile Scrub. So no lights, no clouds, no humidity, and it was amazing what you could see of this unfamiliar night sky. The scope of our galaxy and the universe it occupies is quite mind-boggling, the more so that this is a Monday morning when the mind is more easily boggled. At any rate here's a link to a photo essay about how many stars compose the Milky Way Galaxy (which BTW means milky). Personally, you should check the accuracy of this report because 200 billion sounds a bit off. And if that isn't enough, then here's a computer generated image of our local galactic super cluster, called Laniakea, and the tiny little dots aren't stars now but galaxies. The bright lines show more densely clustered galaxies, and remember the nearest similar galaxy, Andromeda, is 250 million light years away (and yes, that's not counting the 20 or so smaller galaxy like clusters of stars that are satellites of the Milky Way, e.g., Greater and Lesser Magellanic Clouds). See the nice little comforting "you are here" dot? My Garmin just melted down.

When is a pumpkin not a pumpkin?

TPP knows where the pumpkin capital of the USA is located.  Morton, a little town right here in Lincolnland. And very few pumpkins are grown there. The reason for this is that the jack-o-lantern pumpkin is not the pumpkin of pies, and it never has been. Usually the news media get this wrong, so what a surprise to read a correct and well-informed article about pumpkins, in the HuffPo!  Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are a very watery fruit, not as watery as a tomato, but watery none the less. The pumpkin of pies are from a different species of Cucurbita, basically big orange squashes. There is a variety of pumpkin/squash called a "sugar pumpkin" that are smaller, denser fruits, sometimes called "baking pumpkins", but TPP is not even certain if this is a C. pepo or one of the other species. In addition to jack-o-lantern pumpkins, this species includes all ornamental gourds, summer squashes, acorn, delicata, and spaghetti squashes. C. moschata includes the butternut and similar orange winter
squashes, but not all. The large Hubbard squashes, all the "giant pumpkins in the news", turban squashes, banana squashes, and a number of other varieties are C. maxima. So Cucurbitas can be pretty confusing.
Here's a cleverly carved "pumpkin". Do you know what this pumpkin is going to say? If not, then you don't know jack(o-lantern) about Who. 

PlantingScience - creating tomorrow's scientists today

As you may or may not have noticed, no ads, no commercial pop-ups sully the pages of this blog. Yes, you get the wisdom, knowledge, and wit of TPP for free, and it's darned well worth every penny, too. Endorsements are far and few between. Here though is an educational program in botany called Planting Science, which is worthy of attention.  PlantingScience teaches science via inquiry, which is how it should be done. And has it been successful, wow! Unfortunately you can be hampered by your own success, so the Botanical Society of America is seeking help to greatly increase the capacity of the website and the program. There are classrooms full of kids just waiting to sign up. You can read all about PlantingScience and see a very nice little video at the link provided. Maybe you're a teacher and you'll see this as a great opportunity to change your science classroom. The most remarkable part of this program is that kids get mentored by over 800 members of the Botanical Society! Can you imagine that? Professional botanists taking time to help and encourage kids doing science! So if you can, lend a hand. A donation of any size will help things out, and if you want us to name a plant after you, the BSA only needs $75,000 to accomplish its educational goals. Please do pass this along to others. Post it on your blog or on your social medium of choice. Thank you.

Fun and Games with new maps of the USA

This article is just a lot of fun. What would the USA look like if all 50 states had the same population?  Or perhaps some other number of states?  Or whatever! TPP is annoyed because it's Lincolnland not Land of Lincoln. You'd think they'd know.  Or in another option, posting to you from Sangamon. And it's fun to know that if they were states, North and South Manhattan, divided at 186th and 187th streets, each would have more people than North and South Dakota. New Jersey has 15 times as many people as Wyoming, but is just one tenth its size. No room for buffalo to roam there in the east. And there will be more to come as the series continues. In particular you have to like the four state option, One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State, which has the making of a really good children's' book.  Enjoy.

What does it take to be an expert?

Someone somewhere came up with the idea that it took 10,000 hours of “practice” to become an expert.  However this is in part a quite silly idea.  TPP could devote 10,000 hours practicing the violin, and at the end of that time, he would not be a violinist of any sort although maybe turkey in the straw would not be out of reach. A certain amount of talent and aptitude are also required at the starting point, meaning that if you have already shown that you are pretty proficient and capable as a violinist, then it takes maybe 10,000 hours of practice and time spent with able teachers to elevate yourself to the entry level of what could be considered an expert. 10,000 hours is a lot of time. That’s 2000 hours a year for 5 years, the amount of time it took TPP to earn masters and PhD degrees. So TPP entered into that 5 year period with a reasonable aptitude and ability to learn science and an undergrad knowledge of biology.  And if you continue with the math, you can get to 2000 a year with 40 weeks of work at 50 hours per week.  This is not an unreasonable number for being a half time student, a half time scientist-in-training, and a half time teacher (yes, that is one and a half.).  So, yes, after 10,000 hours of “practice” TPP had reached the expert level of botany at least in his field therein. Now it really doesn’t stop there, and the “practice” has continued ever since, and yes, sadly, 50 hour weeks are not all that unusual for active biological faculty. And undergraduate students wonder, or can’t figure out, how it is that faculty know so much. It’s because students with only a few exceptions haven’t put their foot on the first rung of the ladder of expertise as yet. And don’t get TPP started about those “master gardeners” who think their modest educational efforts elevate them out of the amateur status into experts.

Curried squash apple soup

Give yourself a treat and try this soup.
Ingredients: 1.5-2 pound butternut squash, peeled & cut into 2 cm cubes, 2 somewhat tart medium-sized apples, peeled & cut into pieces, 1 TBSP cooking oil, 2 cloves garlic minced, 1 medium onion diced, 2.5 to 3 TBSP good quality curry powder that look yellowish (heavy on the turmeric), 6 cups vegetable broth, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground pepper, 1/2 cup orange juice. 
Saute the onion & garlic in the oil in a heavy bottomed pot until it just begins to brown. Add the curry powder and stir for a minute being careful not to burn it. Stir in the broth. Add the squash and apple chunks, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 min. Let the soup cool briefly until it can be handled. Take the chunks out of the broth and process them until smooth and creamy. Return to the broth.  Add orange juice, salt, & pepper. Simmer until desired thickness, which may not be necessary. Adjust seasonings. Serve with a dollop of sour cream in the soup. Careful, this soup can turn anything yellow.

Apple quest

After a week of unseasonably warm weather, a dousing of nearly three inches of rain, the weather has turned a bit unseasonably cold. Yes, you can average our weather, but the great mid-west of North America never gets average weather. So Saturday was going to be a bit cool and maybe a bit wet, and this is a university town, so football, and homecoming, so best to get out of Dodge. All in all, a good day for an apple quest to southeastern Michigan. Locally the early varieties of apples did well, and the Jonathons and Jonagolds were excellent, and the Phactors recommend you try Crimson Crisp if you get the chance, but the later varieties just did not fair so well. Thus if the Phactors were to have Northern spies, it would take a quest to the Tree-Mendus fruit farm in Eau Claire, MI. They have over 200 varieties of apples under cultivation, quite amazing diversity, and you get tastes! The Phactors managed to beat the homecoming parade out of town, and then it drizzled on us all the way to Michigan. Hungry and hoping the rain would let up, the Phactors stopped for lunch in an Applebee's. But it didn't. Still you don't drive 4 hours to get your favorite apples and just give up. Perhaps you have gathered that most of the apples are U-pick, and nothing quite like a cold, drizzle to make it an adventure. The dear woman working the orchard outpost should get a medal for remaining cheerful doing a rather miserable job while someone else got to make the mulled cider by the barn's fireplace. Not to be deterred by the cold and rain, the Phactors picked apples, 4 half-bushels and fortunately northern spies are largish apples so you don't have to pick so many to fill a bag. Now here is the question. If you were picking some of these apples for friends, how much above the purchase price do they owe you for the transportation and picking in miserable weather? As the trip neared it's end the rain finally stopped. So checking the score, the Phactors are squashed up (from a field trip 2 weeks ago) and appled up for the fall and winter. Next up, what you do with this bounty.

Election politics in Lincolnland

As the election season heats up here in Lincolnland, citizens are getting the old GnOPe Rauner-round, promises bereft of any plans or details, as if the how such things will be done were unimportant. Now where is it written that somebody who has made a lot of money in business (He’s rich. Get over it.)  knows anything at all about how to run a government?  These local Trumpettes (There is also Overwhite, the milk magnate.) do have better hair, but apparently no realization that a state government doesn’t work anything at all like their businesses, although the state government can and may go bankrupt, and that’s something they have probably experienced.  Please wait until TPP manages to extract his retirement funds from the state’s coffers before doing anything rash. (Yes, the fight with the retirement bureaucracy continues.)  One recent Rauner-round promise was to improve the administrative efficiency of state universities. Now this is something that TPP knows quite a bit about, and it’s a double whammy, a rich businessman who wants to be a politician who wants to tell educational professionals how to run a university.  Sure.  It’s bad enough when professional politicians try to run universities, let alone an amateur politician.  What happens when administration is made more efficient, i.e., smaller, is that the necessary functions performed by said administrators get pushed off onto faculty as if they had nothing else to do. Been there, done that. TPP has no love of university administrators, but he doesn’t want their job as part of his. Most of the Rauner-round is standard GnOPe sound bites, almost, but not quite as tired, but every bit as defunct as trickle-down economics. Voters let the GnOPe try all of this out in Kansas, their noble experiment, and the data is now in and everyone can see just how well it all worked. In case you didn’t know, it failed miserably.  (“Far from giving Kansas a bright new future, Brownback plunged it into chaos.”  Details at 11.) No question Lincolnland is a poorly run state, but at times you have to consider carefully the alternative, and with the realization that things actually can get worse, TPP will just have to hold his nose, and vote for the incumbent; if you don’t you just may get the change you asked for, just not the change you wanted.  Or you could move to Kansas and just try it out for awhile.

Market Apartment Complex that obviously is not in the USA

Little by little markets, particularly farmers' markets, are working their way back into the thinking of people in the USA. But markets like you see all over Europe remain rare in the USA although some dandy ones still exist in some cities, e.g., the Reading Station Market in Philadelphia and the City Market in Kansas City. This is an amazing market apartment complex (in Rotterdam), and it makes so much logistical sense for urban living. How convenient! You won't need a great big huge fridge if you are buying fresh almost daily.  And you won't need a car to bring home a week's worth of groceries either.  Everything about this concept is smart except you don't see such ideas being put forth in the USA. Our country is not very good at acknowledging that just maybe somebody somewhere else has a good idea and has figured out how to do things better than the USA does. TPP would like to see a sky-light down the center and more "green" space below, a tree-lined promenade for example, but hard to argue with otherwise.

Fear of terrorists put to good use

Oh, boy, does TPP love Tom Tomorrow! One of the worst aspects of USA culture is its fear of what might happen, no matter how remote, or how unlikely they are to be harmed.  TT nails it.