28 April 2006

Protecting marine life in a way

I've written before in this journal about the question of whether lobsters experience pain, and the silly things that get said in support of one position or the other. I'm not entirely sure of what to make of this story, however. See here.

25 April 2006

Senator Zen

I just found out this morning I got elected to my institution's faculty senate. I think I'm pleased, but am too busy right now to know if I am or not.

14 April 2006


I am a big believer in using online resources to enhance my teaching. I want to emphasize that word, "enhance." Not "do." My general biology classes are about one-third online, and about two thirds traditional lecture. Given that I recently put up my Brain Awareness Week presentation, you might look at that and think I'm getting ready to digitize all my lectures into Flash presentations, and could go totally online with my class.

And I'm greatful to Kathy Sierra for articulating so clearly why I'm not going that route, here.

Of course, a more immediate reason I never started to push to completely online teaching was that when I went partially online, I surveyed my students. I got very strong agreement with a statement like, "Seeing a professor face to face on a regular basis is important to me." So on some level, people seem to realize that interaction with an actual person in the same room is important.

It's also why we still go to conferences and give actual presentations in addition to just writing refereed journal articles. Storytelling is deeply, deeply ingrained in the human psyche.

13 April 2006

A beautiful white elephant?

I've written from time to time about the RAHC (pronounced "rack," like the instrument of torture). Construction is pretty much done now (top). I've been inside, and it is indeed a very beautiful facility.

As as you can see, they have a very nice sign (middle).

It's just such a pity they're having problems finding people willing to work in it.

Joni Mitchell once famously said that they would pave paradise and put up a parking lot. UTPA is now trying to prove that once you put up a parking lot, you then rip that up and put in a new athletic center with tennis courts and swimming pools. That's the hole in the ground seen in the third picture. If you look in the back, you can see the white buildings. Those are new student residences being constructed. So the construction and growth of my university continues unabated. In fact, though I don't have a picture of it, there's construction going on in my building as well. New office and lab space is being finished out now, and in theory, a new wing should be in the works very soon.

09 April 2006

Weird week

As you can see, I decided to spruce up the joint a little in a fit of mild boredom.

Not been a great week in a lot of ways. The online learning system for the entire university went down Thursday afternoon and is still not back up. Was kept busy by another job candidate visit and a guest seminar speaker. Next week: two more job candidates. Week after that: job candidate and seminar speaker. And the seminar speaker is mine invite, Jim Belanger from Louisiana State University.

Meanwhile, saw a lot of stuff that was depressing. Like the kafuffle here in Texas about Eric Pianka (documented over at Panda's Thumb). A couple of members of my department are prominent members of the Texas Academy of Science. I'm a member myself, but wasn't at this year's meeting, where Pianka was honored for his research, and where he gave the talk that precipitated the current tempest. So this story is closer to home than I'd like.

Also was somewhat worried to learn 60% of America's fresh vegetables come from one valley in California. And was extremely depressed to learn that about 30-40% of Americans don't know where food comes from. (These last two from this week's Science Show; specifically here.) When about a third of people are so divorced from anything biological that they don't know that meat requires killing an animal, is it any wonder why we can't convince people of more subtle biological theories like evolution? Or why people don't understand the ecological principles like carrying capacity that Eric Pianka talks about?

And the Dees have lost two in a row. Dang.

The announcement of the discovery of the ancient Devonian fish Tiktaalik in Nunavut was quite nice, however. I was listening to a radio interview with one of the authors on Quirks and Quarks, and was rather surprised when they said that their fossils ranged from over 1 meter to almost 3 meters! I knew they were impressive in some of the details of their limbs and neck, but I didn't quite appreciate how... you know... big they were. That said, I was a little irritated (again) when watching the CNN news ticker at the gym about the story. It read something like this fish was a link "leading to land animals with four legs and a backbone." Which implies that fish don't have backbones, which they do.

05 April 2006

Brain Awareness Week lecture

I've created an online version of my talk, "Brain Scans and the Magic Lasso," originally given for Brain Awareness Week last month. It's big -- nearly 50 megabytes, and an hour long -- so don't be trying to look at this with a slow connection. You can find it here (Flash format).

I hope that this is huge, full-blown multi-media science presentation will make up for my being quiet the last week or so. Been very busy with job candidates, among other things.