Archive for: January, 2013

Will fresh cranberries play well with pancake batter? Preliminary findings.

Jan 26 2013 Published by under Blogospheric science, Food

As I was trying to get motivated to crawl out of bed and make breakfast for my family, I tweeted:

Of course, I got a variety of opinions in response:

As you might expect, I set some limits on how far I was prepared to go with this:

But, in the interests of science, I committed to sharing what I learned:

So, as promised, here's the report.

I started with my standard pancake batter.

Beat together:

2 cups buttermilk (or you can use 4 teaspoons of lemon juice and/or vinegar to sour 2 cups of milk, or 2 cups of plain soymilk)
4 eggs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Sift together:

2 cups flour (I use "white whole wheat" flour)
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.75 teaspoon salt

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well incorporated, but don't over-beat. (It's OK if the batter is a little lumpy.) Add a bit of milk or water to thin it if it's thicker than you like to spread the way a pancake batter should on the griddle.

While the griddle is heating up, melt 4 tablespoons of butter (half a stick). Cool it slightly, then pour into the batter and stir to incorporate it.

Now, the usual procedure for pancakes at Casa Free-Ride is that half of the batter is made into plain pancakes and the other half gets blueberries added to the pancakes when they're on the griddle.

We've been using Trader Joe's frozen organic wild blueberries. They are teeny tiny little things. I pour a bunch into a custard cup, thaw them with tap water, then pour the water off.

The very best tool for getting them from the custard cup to the proto-pancake without too much residual water/juice being slopped along is a bar-spoon.


The little holes at the end of the bar-spoon get the draining done.

I decided to try three distinct approaches to the fresh cranberries.

Option 1: Halved

Obviously, this was the easiest preparation. I just rinsed some cranberries, cut them in half, and then added them to the proto-pancakes on the griddle before they were flipped in the same way I typically add blueberries.


The predictions here were that maybe the cooking time would be insufficient, leaving the cranberries too raw and tart, or that they would make the pancakes too soggy on account of juice coming out of the cranberries as they cooked.


However, it's worth noting that the raw cranberries are notably not juicy. They're actually pretty dry. And, on the griddle, the halved cranberries didn't have any observable effect on the texture of the cooking pancakes.

Option 2: Chopped and sugared

Here, I rinsed some fresh cranberries, chopped them coarsely, and stirred in a bit of granulated sugar. Then I used a wee little spoon to distribute the cranberry fragments to the proto-pancakes on the griddle before they were flipped.


There was some suggestion that chopped and sugared cranberries might lead to better results because the smaller fragments would have a better chance of cooking sufficiently by the time the pancakes were done cooking, and the extra sugar would balance any residual tartness from the cranberries not having all that long to cook.

However, I observed that the pancakes with the chopped and sugared cranberries did become a bit soggier on the griddle. That extra sugar was drawing the juice out of the cranberries!


Raising the flame under the griddle seemed to take care of this problem, though.

Option 3: Sauced

Finally, I rinsed a bunch of fresh cranberries, halved them, and put them in a tea cup. I squeezed in the juice of a small navel orange, added a few tablespoons of granulated sugar, and popped it in the microwave.

I had planned to microwave it for a couple minutes, but it just about boiled over before a full minute of cooking. It looked and tasted like a cranberry sauce.


It was thick. If you want a pourable sauce, probably adding some water or additional orange juice would thin it nicely.

So, how did they taste?


I liked option 1 the best, and not just because it was the easiest. The pancakes had a nice tart kick to them and the same pleasing pancake texture that our plain and blueberry pancakes have.


My better half preferred option 2. The ones cooked on high enough heat had a good pancake texture (although the ones cooked at lower griddle temperature were just a little soggier than optimal). The cranberry flavor was very prominent in these pancakes, but the tartness of the cranberries was toned down by the sweetness of the sugar.


The sprogs were big fans of option 3. For very little labor, it's a good fruity sauce that plays well with plain pancakes (as well as with pancakes that have blueberries or cranberries cooked into them). For my own tastes, it was just a little too sweet; I might back off on the granulated sugar. The sprigs, on the other hand, might have included just a bit more sugar in the preparation. This is the kind of thing you have to fight out with your fellow breakfast eaters, I guess.


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An open letter to our county transit agency.

Jan 24 2013 Published by under Environment, Passing thoughts, Personal

Dear county transit agency,

I appreciate that you run "school route" busses in our town to help students who live quite a distance away get to the junior high and high school. In these times of woefully inadequate school funding, when school district-run school busses are a misty watercolor memory, lots of kids depend on the school route county busses to get to and from school -- including my kid.

I reckon someone at your agency appreciates that the school route busses present an outstanding opportunity to groom future generations to be enthusiastic mass-transit users. Before most of them have drivers licenses, you have a window to convince them that busses are a fast, reliable, and affordable alternative to cars. These kids have been raised as tree-huggers, so they're receptive to this message. Heck, the car line of the damned in front of the junior high, every morning right before school and every afternoon right after school, is doing yeoman's work to make that case for you.

Except, here's the thing: you can only persuade these kids that mass-transit is the way to go if the school route bus actually comes when it's supposed to before and after school rather than disappearing without a trace and leaving a whole lot of kids standing at the bus stops wondering if they will ever make it to school, or if they will ever make it home.

Honestly, for all of their typing with their thumbs and talking like LOLcats, these kids are smart enough to connect the damn dots.

With extreme irritation on behalf of my stressed out kid standing in the rain waiting for busses that never came on multiple occasions,

Dr. Free-Ride

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What I gleaned from the start of the semester faculty meetings.

Note that "gleaned" might suggest more in the way justified true belief than I actually acquired; at least some of these bullet points have all the tannins you'd expect from tea leaves. Also, there's maybe a little sarcasm, but I'm trying to get most of it out of my system before my first class meeting tomorrow. You have been warned.

Anyway, in no particular order:

  • Our university president and the governor of our state are super-excited about MOOCs. They're the wave of the higher ed future, y'all! And that excitement extends to entering a partnership wherein faculty at our university will develop MOOCs and the university will pocket a whopping 51% of the proceeds! The other 49% of the proceeds will go to a private company that will do ... something to add value to what our faculty build. No reason at all for California taxpayers to worry that this amounts to converting public funds to private profits!
  • Also, no need to worry that the University of California's bold initiatives MOOCward in UC Online have been much less successful than hoped. Because the California State University system will be able to figure it out!
  • Some faculty with an awareness of history pointed noted that, in the 1950s, precisely the same bold future of revolutionizing college education and broadening access to it was predicted, only with television as the delivery method. Remember how classroom instruction at colleges and universities had totally disappeared by the end of that decade? And this is why history departments must be phased out immediately!
  • So, our campus is phasing in its fourth "Learning Management System" (with which we develop and deliver content and interaction with students online) in 10 years. Faculty are scrambling to work out kludges to get the functionality with the new system that they had (but will be losing) with the old system. It combines all the hassle of a new prep with none of the intellectual thrill of a new prep. Bonus: Owing to the partnership with Udacity to develop and deliver MOOCs, there is absolutely no guarantee that the campus won't end up ditching this new LMS in favor of a (proprietary) LMS that Udacity prefers (and could yank out from under us in the event that the partnership founders). This is awesome incentive for those who have never used online tools in their pedagogy to start!
  • Faculty can reach a stage where they are so battered by directives from administrative levels beyond their department that they will hear their chair's proclamation "We will be doing [X] over my dead body" and ask "When must we implement [X]?" (I assure you, these are faculty who sincerely desire their chair's continued health and well-being.)
  • Administrators who think that they can appease disgruntled factions of the administrative units they oversee by making sure those factions are heavily represented on key committees and then listening to their concerns sometimes discover that listening to those concerns is not sufficient to appease the disgruntled factions.
  • Indeed, sometimes the disgruntled factions will make and distribute hundreds of fliers trying to rally the support of the less-disgruntled factions of their administrative units, including agitating for what could maybe shape up to be a coup against the administrators who listened to grievances but did not acquiesce to demands.
  • Such attempts to rally support from colleagues might be more successful if they showed awareness of the real challenges those less-disgruntled factions of the administrative units face, and especially of ways giving the disgruntled faction everything it wants might impact the resources and effective functioning of the less-disgruntled factions.
  • I have what feels like a memory that at least one of the first few start-of-semester faculty meetings early in my career here saw faculty generally gruntled. It's possible that this is baseless nostalgia, though.
  • You know what we hear that area employers are looking for in recent graduates? Good critical thinking skills. You know what core component of our General Education package the powers that be are seriously considering eliminating? Critical thinking! Of course, the proposal on the table is to fold the existing critical thinking requirement into another required course (the second semester freshman composition class), but some of us are fairly certain that student papers with solid mechanics but lacking critical thinking are going to end up being a horror show to grade.

I hope the rest of you in academia are experiencing a smooth start (or continuation, as the cas may be) to your term.

14 responses so far

2012 in review: 12 months of Adventures in Ethics and Science.

I thought I was too late for the 2012 edition of the year-in-review meme (for which DrugMonkey has been keeping the flame alive), but Pascale, and ProflikeSubstance, and Bashir, and Dr. Becca all done did it too, so who am I to resist it?

The rules: Go to your blog's archives. For each month of 2012, link the first post, and follow it with the first sentence of that post. (Including the title of the post is totally optional; my sense is sometimes it's more fun to stare at the first sentence for a while to try to come up with a hypothesis about what the post was about without a title there to give it away.)

If you have a blog and haven't done this one yet yourself, consider yourself tagged! (That will teach you to go reading meme-ish blog posts!)

January: Happy New Year! As I type this post, only 18 days remain until the official start of ScienceOnline 2012, which means soon it will be time to pack.

February: Or, maybe my mother did tell me about this particular reason to "clean up" images from deep space and I just wasn't paying attention?

March: Apropos of the discussion here, I offer some general thoughts on pursuing partner, career, family, or other aims one deems important:

April: Do you have an ethical dilemma?

May: I have long maintained that bodies are suboptimal vehicles with which to schlep minds around.

June: Two Fridays ago, I was poised to jump into what I hoped would be a very productive summer.

July: Overheard from the backseat of the Free-Ride hoopty as we were driving the Free-Ride offspring home from a visit to the Grandparents Who Lurk But Seldom Comment:

August: The Fall semester is now upon us, in much the same way you might imagine a ton of bricks or a locomotive would be upon us.

September: At my fair university, we are in the brief window of time between "drop day" (the date by which students need to drop a course if they don't want it to be listed on their transcript with a W, for "withdraw," next to it) and the "late add" deadline (after which, for all intents and purposes, you can't add a class).

October: On the Twitters, becca pointed me to this post which raises an interesting evaluative question:

November: We're coming into the home stretch of our annual DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students drive:

December: It has been eleven years since I was last on the market for an academic job, and about six years (if I'm remembering correctly) since I was last on a search committee working to fill a tenure-track position in my department.

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Please don't beg me for mercy (a professorial rant).

I'm starting to twig to the fact that a small but significant portion of my students has no idea whatsoever as to what my motivations might be for going into the line of work I have gone into (i.e., being a philosophy professor at a teaching-focused public university). And indeed, it's possible that my own motivations may not be totally transparent even to myself. (Life is, after all, full of mystery.)

But, I can state for the record, with absolute certainty, that I did not go into the professorial biz so that people could beg me for mercy.

Seriously, I didn't.

I recognize that people learn differently. I understand that some people are good at mastering material before a midterm, while others only really understand the material after they've flubbed it on the midterm. You know what? As long as they can demonstrate that you understand it by the final, I'm happy (which is why I give positive weight to improvement when I assign final grades). If we could engage in this teaching-and-learning transaction without grades, it would make me happier than you can imagine -- even if it meant that I had to write evaluative letters for 150 students each semester. I know that the grading pen can make me appear permanently judgmental, but the judgments I make are focused on how well my students demonstrate their understanding of the material (including how well they can identify and explain what it is they don't quite get yet, since this seems to be an important stop on the way to getting it).

I do not look at my students and see their midterm scores. Neither do I believe that one's grades in my class are a reliable proxy for who's a good person.

That said, since grades are part of the landscape, there are some basic expectations about academic integrity in play.

One is that students do their own thinking and writing. Connected to that is the expectation that if they draw on the words or ideas of others, they will properly cite the source of those words and/or ideas. Moreover, if they enter into an explicit agreement that they will only use certain sources for particular assignments, I expect them to abide by that agreement -- because I think it's fair to take adults (including the adults who are my students) at their word.

And, when I discover students violating basic rules of academic integrity (and especially when they violate explicit agreements about what is in-bounds and what is out-of-bounds), they receive an F for the course and a referral to the Office of Student Conduct and Ethical Development. This is exactly the outcome promised in my syllabus, and in the explicit agreements I secure from my students about ground rules. My students should be able to take me at my word, too.

Hypothetically, if you're caught transgressing the rules and if I deliver precisely the consequence promised for that kind of transgression, pestering me to not deliver on the promise is not a good call.

Would it be just for me to make an exception to the rule just for you when your classmates have, variously, made the decision (possibly influenced in part by the promises embodied in my academic integrity policy) to live within the rules, or have been caught transgressing the rules and delivered the promised consequences? (Especially in the context of an ethics class, I expect you to have given a question like this serious thought.)

In the case that I were to give in to your demands that I treat your cheating as something other than cheating, what kind of obligations do you suppose it would place on me with regards to other students caught doing the same thing, now or in the future? What kind of obligations do you suppose it would place on me with regard to students who do not cheat? How would you suggest I update the language in my syllabus to reflect the kind of action you would like me to take on your behalf?

I expect you to be familiar with university policies on plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of academic dishonesty, but if you run afoul of the rules and complain enough, we'll pretend it never happened. Plagiarism or cheating will result in a failing grade in this course, and offenders may be subject to further administrative sanctions, but if you're caught and you make a huge deal about what a bad outcome this will be for you, I will totally ignore the requirement that I report all infractions to the Office of Student Conduct and Ethical Development.

I don't see that happening.

I guess my hypothetical cheater-who-doesn't-want-to-accept-the-consequences has already shown significant disrespect for our teaching-and-learning transaction by opting to cheat (rather than, say, opting to do the assignments according to the rules and learning something by so doing), and significant disrespect for my intelligence (in assuming that I am unable to detect blatant cheating when it's right in front of me).

But I'm also really bothered by the premise that I have the life and death power over the hypothetical cheater, to be cruel and crush a young life or to be merciful and let the hypothetical cheater go on to do many good things. That seems to disrespect the student's role in our teaching-and-learning transaction. I have the power to explain expectations clearly. I don't have the power to keep students from making bad calls, nor to go back in time and undo bad decisions for them. I don't want that kind of power.

The power I'm interested in is power to communicate ideas clearly, to give students feedback that helps them develop their competencies in reading and writing and thinking and argumentation, to convey to students what's interesting or important about the issues and ideas we discuss. This is a kind of power that can change lives (for the better, I hope), but whose exercise lets me interact with my students as autonomous adults rather than as petitioners begging to be excused from the consequences their own choices have wrought.

16 responses so far