Sunday, October 31, 2010

Opencourseware and Textbooks (revisited)

Stumbling across the internet today while taking a break from my Greek history reading, I found a phenomenon called "opencourseware." This is essentially the same idea as the Berkeley Webcasts, but it is up to the jurisdiction of the professor or the school what they post. From syllabi to opensource textbooks, classes post immense amounts of information online to allow students in other places-- or just anyone-- to access information for free. Some examples are certain classes from MIT, Quantum Mechanics from University of Utah, etc. There is even an entire Opencoursewear Consortium.

One of the problems that I have (and I think most people have) with textbooks is their incredible expensiveness. I worked in the bookstore at my alma mater and I remember students returning or deciding not to buy textbooks because they couldn't afford them (and borrowing them from a friend or the library). I know that I avoided buying any books I didn't think I would use again and instead made photocopies, checked the books out of the library, borrowed books from friends, found public domain versions of books, etc. I not know a whole lot about the textbook publishing industry and I do not entirely understand how to calculate a book price, but it seems that there has to be some way that authors can still get paid for their books and books of quality can still be published without forcing students (especially in the sciences) to pay between $100-500 (and sometimes even used copies are over $100). So, are freeware textbooks and online courses the answer? I think they are great, especially for students (both traditionally aged and adults who want to expand their minds) without the access to institutions (or who are too young for universities) but need a place to invest their intellectual curiosity. However, there is no way to replace the knowledge and experience of talking to a real expert in the field. Maybe, just maybe, this could help societies move toward more affordable books and institutions of learning, while still providing benefits and incentives for great teachers. I hope so.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Good Textbook?

In his History 5 lectures, Thomas Laqueur says that there is no such thing as a good history textbook. Since I have lately been reading a lot of textbooks in my attempt to review Greek History, I thought I would explore the issue.

The Greek History class that I originally took in my sophomore had no textbook. Originally I thought this was a better option. Reading primary sources and the scholars that discuss them is a wonderful way to learn. However, for an survey class, when there is no lecture and no textbook, just professor-lead discussion, there is not enough background information for someone not already with a narrative sketch of the subject. I know I became lost and overwhelmed. On the other hand, this was the perfect format for the classes that I had which took an in-depth look at Herodotus and Thucydides.

Laqueur seems to imply the same thing when he says that in the age of easily accessible textbooks, the internet, and wikipedia, students can learn facts and timelines by themselves (especially if the class provide a guiding resource). However, he states, that the professor's job is to provide a narrative that sews these facts together in context. This makes a lot of sense to me.

The Greek history textbooks I have been reading are the following: Ancient Greece: A Political, Social and Cultural History by Pomeroy et al., Early Greece by Oswyn Murray, The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 B.C. by Jeffrey Hurwit, and Archaic and Classical Greek Art by Robin Osborne. I would consider Early Greece and The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 B.C. to be "good" while I consider Ancient Greece: A Political, Social and Cultural History and Archaic and Classical Greek Art to be "fairly decent." The good ones provide an interdisciplinary approach and provide an overarching narrative. The writing is reasonably placed and enjoyable-- it manages to make the reader realize she is learning things. However, this means that the books do not provide the "just facts" [1] approach which allows a professor to provide their own context and narrative for their students. The other problem might be that it would omit a specific instance a student might be seeking to compose a paper or to check a fact. The latter two both provide a less mediated approach and provide a much greater amount of pictures than the others. However, frankly, neither of these books are particularly interesting or enjoyable reading (and the analysis in the Osborne book is quite shallow). So although I like the former two much better, I can see arguments to be made for the latter two.

I think that this sort of problem can be applied to textbooks in almost any subject, although I have not (yet) done an anecdotal comparison (like this one ) on other subjects (as of yet).

Do you think there is such a thing as a good textbook?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mammalian Evolution

A New York Times article, yesterday, reports that an anthropoid ancestor of the primate, may have originated in Asia rather than Africa. Anthropoids, as I found out, were creatures between the about twice the weight of chinchilla but smaller than a marmot. Although they were the size of a large rodent, they looked very much like primates.
Picture from NYT article: Lybia, where the fossils were found

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Great College Stunts

Back when I was in applying to colleges, I heard a lot of stories about various pranks that the students took part in at each institution. The science and technology schools are especially proud of their heritage of practical jokes. However, on these college tours, one never hears about my favorite type of prank: jokes on the students by the professors for the sake of some greater educational purpose.

I was listening today to the sixth lecture from the History 5 class (Fall 2010). Even in the video, one cannot see the lecturer but only the slideshow. So, listening to it, this practical joke (and I use this in a loose sense) might have been funnier than in person. Thomas Laqueur (the lecturer) is speaking about the divisions in the early protestant church. He stops; there are some rustling noises. Then he says "is that a Berkeley homeless person?" Another long pause ensues in which presumably some unknown person moves through the audience. Then he says, no, it's Ulrich Zwingli (and the slide changed to a portrait of Ζwingli). I presume, again, that the "homeless person" is dressed like the portrait of Zwingli that Laqueur shows in the slideshow at this moment. Everyone laughs. Zwingli, played by emeritus professor Thomas Brady [1]. "Zwingli" explains the theological contention he has with Luther and the connection between religion and politics of the period. Laqueur interjects frequently with after jokes about Zwingle's death and the protestant conception of the afterlife. Finally, the stunt ends and Laqueur returns to his lecture, now focusing on the Catholics.
German Histories in the Age of Reformations, 1400-1650 

This reminded me of an instance at my own university in which a math professor played my number theory class. And I know it sounds totally weird, but this is a true story. So it was 11am and I was standing in the vestibule outside my number theory class. I had been up late the night before working on my qualifying paper, and I was very tired. The door opened to the lecture hall and a thin man with scruffy brown hair, wearing-- I thought-- round spectacles and pushing a cart full of pineapple. I blinked for a moment, just to make sure, and then stepped aside to let the outpouring of Linear Algebra students exit the classroom.

Our lesson that day was on the mathematics of the Fibonacci sequence. The lecture was interesting and fun (and, as it turned out, very similar to the Linear Algebra lecture from earlier that day). At some point, my professor, whom I will call James for the sake of convenience, stopped the class for a moment, explain that he forgot something. He proceeded to call 411 on his cell phone and ask for the number of Quimby and Dimby's Singing Pineapple Delivery Service.

This bizarre moment may need some context. In most classes, a stately math professor doing something like this might seem like it would require the Infinite Improbability Drive from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. However, James was a little different. A specialist in surreal numbers and the coauthor of a textbook that included fake biographies of the Ancient Greeks and cartoons, James was stick skinny, gangly, sporting a full beard, and often covered head-to-toe in magenta chalk. He was brilliant and exuberant, but also comical in, among other things, his obsession with brightly colored chalk. So the mid-class cell phone call was certainly unusual and pushing the boundaries of his usual eccentricities.

So he finished his 411 call and told the class that he had to make just one more call before he got back to teaching. He called Quimby and Dimby's Singing Pineapple Delivery Service and appeared to have some difficulty explaining to the person on the other end of the line that his class was in the same room as before in order to have them do the show. At this point, my morning already appeared very strange and I was open to almost anything to happen next.

About ten minutes before the lesson ended, a man entered the room with a cart full of pineapples and something that resembled a violin case. Although he looked like the same guy as before, he was not wearing glasses. He greeted the class cheerfully. James said to him, "aren't you going to sing the song and show them how to count the pineapple [2]." The man, who was presumably Dimby, explained that his brother, Quimby, had come to the previous class, but was unable to return due to "too much Maui Wowi." He said he would show us how to count the pineapple, which he did, but he told James (who looked rather concerned and dishearted at the news) that he could not sing. He explained that he could accompany James if James wanted to sing, and he handed James a untidy pile of papers that were presumably the lyrics to the song. He then proceeded opened the violin case, which turned out to be a ukulele case, and the two of them put on a rather strange performance of a song. I don't remember any part of the song except the chorus, which was made up of the list of the Fibonacci numbers up through around 6000. It was pretty funny. We all joined in on the last chorus.

That evening when I got home, I googled Quimby and Dimby's Singing Pineapple Delivery Service. There were no results matching that phrase. The whole thing was an elaborate prank.

  1. Brady is credited in a slide at the end of the stunt. According to Laqueur, Brady wrote a book on this splintering in the protestant movement.
  2. The pattern of growth on a pineapple matches the Fibonacci sequence, as does the pattern of growth on many plants.

Update on Free Unicode Polytonic Greek for Windows

For those of you still looking for a free Polytonic Greek solution for windows, I have found one that does not require a dead-key (see my recent post). I discussed it in detail earlier today on my classics blog, Platonic Psychology.

Sorry for not posting as frequently recently. A new post (which is longer than I had anticipated) is in the works.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Simple Family Recipe for Apple Pie

I have been making apple pie since I was about 3 years old, although back then all I did was mix the cinnamon and sugar. Unlike the average person, I do not like pie. However, my dad's favorite dessert is apple pie, so I have been making it for him on special occasions. About 6 months after Cerinthus and I started dating I found out apple pie was his favorite dessert (although this has since been toppled by my mom's angel food cake with strawberries and homemade whipped cream). Today he asked me for the pie recipe so that he could make it for his host family in Florence.

I have never thought of apple pie as requiring a recipe. Although I realize that the crust needs a delicate touch, my family often does not make the crusts from scratch because our homemade crusts tend to be very bland. If anyone has a fabulous crust recipe (preferably one that does not include lard) I would be very grateful if you would comment or email it to me (my dad would be very happy!).

There is a fabulous episode of a lovely British TV series, Pie in the Sky, that involves the problem of the perfect pie crust. I believe that at the end of the show they discover that the best pie crust involves layering two different types of crust (and also massive amounts of lard). However, the series is charming. It is about a principled and mild-mannered semi-retired police officer who runs a runs a restaurant and consults on police cases. I highly recommend it for foodies and people who like light-hearted police drama.

At the moment this is my recipe for apple pie. I apologize for the store-bought crusts:
  • 7-8 apples, preferably pippin, granny smith, or gravenstein (I also once made a great pie with some locally grown organic mutt-apples in Oregon. In general, my family likes tart pies).
  • 1/4-1/2 cup mix of cinnamon and sugar. My suggestion is about just slightly more sugar than cinnamon so that the mixture is a very light brown color, but obviously this mixture should be to taste. I usually use around 1/3 cup of sugar to ensure the pie is not too sweet.
  • 2 pre-made pie crusts
  • 1 tbsp melted butter, to ensure a flaky crust
  1.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Core, peel, and slice the apples very thin. This is a great task to do with friends or while watching a movie or a TV show.
  3. Roll out the pie crusts. Ensure they do not get warm. My mother has a wonderful glass hollow rolling pin in which one can place cold water to ensure that the dough stays cold. If you don't have something like this, just make sure that you don't leave them out too long. 
  4. Sprinkle the bottom of your pie pan with flour. Then place one of the two crusts on the bottom, and sprinkle about 1tsp of flour over it and spread it around. This will ensure that your bottom crust does not vanish because it has been liquefied by the hot juices from the apples.
  5. Place apples on top. I usually try to place the apples in circular layers, leaving as little space as possible between apple slices. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mix periodically. I usually sprinkle about 1tbsp each time the layers of apple get 3 slices high.
  6. Place the top pie crust over the top and fold the edges of the bottom crust over it. For the aesthetically pleasing pie, use a fork or your hands to make designs in the edge of the crust. If you have any crust left over, you can trim it and make it into letters or designs.
  7. Brush the butter over the top of the crust. Poke holes in the crust with a fork. If you do not do this, your pie may burst.
  8. Put the pie for 15 min into the 400 degree F oven, then turn the oven down to 325 degrees F for the remaining 45 minutes.
  9. Depending on how you like your pie, you can eat it warm or let it cool or even serve with ice cream or custard.
For my dad's birthday my family and I made a pie. I decorated.
Before Baking
After Baking

Monday, October 25, 2010

More on Self-Guided Education

I have been reading Horace (selected poems in Latin, see my reading list) and Euripides' Medea with friends. Although I do not read as quickly or as well as I would like, it is a wonderful and enjoyable experience and it's amazing that skype has enabled me to talk and coordinate with people in totally different places.

But today a fell in love again with the Berkeley webcast website. Today I have listened to the first four lectures of "History 5: European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present" (well, I'm listening to the fourth one right now). Although his voice is kind of annoying, Thomas Laqueur, the professor, is thoroughly engaging and intelligent. He seems to be a Foucault-influenced scholar with an interdisciplinary approach that involves finding the narratives of power and legitimacy in history an analyzing their progression. I wanted to listen to this for the most part because Cerinthus and I have been debating over Romanesque verses Gothic architecture (he likes Romanesque, I love Gothic) and specifically of the historical quoting and power of religion built into the architecture itself. If anyone wants to share their thoughts for one side or the other for the debate feel free to comment (we would love to have some new ideas to discuss)

Unfortunately, most of the courses do not have any links to their course material, since the material is now contained on b-space, which I believe is a Berkeley-students-only website. A few of them do and the lectures do provide a vast amount of the information so it is still an effective teaching tool.

One other thing that I found recently is a set of free e-books "sold" by Amazon that cover high school math and science from the CK-12 Foundation. This is not very advanced, although the math does go through calculus, but I think it's incredible that a company it making them accessible to students who want to get ahead, review, or just learn on their own. The coolest one is CK-12 21st Century Physics: A Compilation of Contemporary and Emerging Technologies, which intends to introduce high school students to the marvels of modern physics rather than forcing them into only learning the advancements of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. I have not read much of the book itself, but the purpose looked great.
CK-12 21st Century Physics: A Compilation of Contemporary and Emerging Technologies CK-12 Calculus
I am continually amazed at the resources out there for self-teaching. It is very cool. It reminds me of the food blog network, from which I taught myself to make bread. It is amazing that people are willing to provide their experience to a public and talk about the techniques for cooking. That is very cool.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Giddy Astronomers: A Collection of Awesome Science

Continuing the theme of my Virgin Galactic post from yesterday, I thought I would mention some of the achievements in astronomy about which scientists are so excited. The weather is cool, beautiful, and moist here so I think it's time to bake some bread soon...bread recipes forthcoming.

Water on the Moon
The first is about usable water on the moon. So remember when Lcross slammed into the moon last year, lacking the visible plume which was supposed to be so exciting? Well, although it was a disappointment for the public, scientists discovered a number of different elements-- including water-- were thrown up by the invisible plume, confirming suspicions of ice in the crater. According to a New York Times article, the water on the moon is usable for both drinking water and fuel-- if scientists separate the hydrogen and oxygen. However, the crater is also a "cold trap," and has an average temperature of -370 degrees Fahrenheit, so I would be concerned with the feasibility of accessing such water. However, I am not an astronomer, so maybe they will find a way.

Oldest Galaxy
The second science article that I found talks about the oldest galaxy yet. The galaxy is from 13.1 billion years ago. Looking at it, astronomers are essentially able to look back in time becaus ethe light takes so long to get to earth at the incredible difference. Check out the New York Times article.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Virgin Galactic

Virgin airlines is opening Virgin Galactic, a commercial space program. Seriously. If that was not SciFi enough, they are opening a space port in New Mexico and it looks like this:
The Spaceport from the Virgin Galactic webpage.
My grandmother was one of the 99s, a group of women pilots. She died when I was in college, but she would have been so excited to see this. Watch the video of the VSS Enterprise's first manned glide flight on the Virgin Galactic website or from Youtube or here:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Bookstores of the West

One of my favorite things in the world is shopping for books. I love books. I love the way they feel in one's hands, the way they smell, the differences in paper, binding, and cover art. Even though I also own lots of electronic books and a Kindle DX, I will always love and own lots of books.

I do a lot of shopping for books online, partially because books are often cheaper from Amazon or Half than in a store, and partially because it is convenient. However, nothing compares to browsing a bookstore. My job on campus when I was in college was at the bookstore and I bought a lot of books because of the discount.

Two of my favorite bookstores in the world are in the Northwest. I splurged, with the remainder of a gift-certificate, and bought six books today because one of them was having a sale. So, I thought I should profile these two great stores:

Powells, and specifically the immense location on Burnside, is one of the greatest places ever. The store is two stories tall and takes up about half of a city block. It includes a coffee shop and a rare book room. The books are organized by subject and color coded by room as well as given a Dewy Decimal number. It's amazing. Used books are interspersed among the new books and rare editions are displayed in glass cases. It's awesome. Right now, they are having a set of sales to celebrate the 16th anniversary of their founding. They also sell books online.

The other great Northwestern bookstore is Elliot Bay.I fell in love the second I set foot in this store. Most of the books are new, but there is a huge used book room and when I was there the coffee shop walls were lined with shelves of $1 books. It is absolutely fabulous.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sulpicia Joins the 21st Century

So all of the kids in the classes I teach have smartphones. My most recent phone, a fairly basic LG model from 6-7 years ago. It looked like a joke compared to the phones that I saw in the classes I was teaching and the microphone was beginning to die.

For my birthday, my parents got me a new phone. I wanted an Alias 2-- a sort of transitional smartphone. I got it. Although I know I am finally catching up the to 21st century, I feel like I've moved into Star Trek's 24th century because I essentially have a little computer that I can fit in my palm. Here are a few pictures:

Not the greatest quality pic, but the phone.

For Calling
For texting and email.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I am watching the last episode of Rubicon. In general, I am a sucker for spy and espionage type shows. This one was thoroughly enjoyable. Although each episode was slow, the characters were fascinating, each episode left me wanting more. Even as the daughter of a writer and having grown up analyzing narrative structures, pieces of the story were surprisingly unpredictable.

In the first episode of Rubicon, the premise is set: Will Travers, a brilliant but tortured analyst, discovered a pattern in the crosswords of the big ticket paper. In investigating the lead, he finds connections leading everywhere.

If you have not seen the series yet, I highly recommend it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The End of the Humanities?

My favorite French Literature professor once told our Literary Theory class that the humanities were going to die out as a field of study. One of the theorists that we read, who it was I sadly cannot remember, said that the world is placing value on efficiency and production. The humanities do not fit into this schema, and will therefore be eliminated. I did not realize that it was coming so soon.

Stanley Fish's New York Times article appeared a few days ago and demonstrated that the end of the humanities is being realized. SUNY Albany, according to Fish, is abolishing the following departments: classics, French, Italian, Russian, and theater. I could not believe it. I was stunned that a school would rid itself of these departments. I understand the lack of direct production of technology that comes out of these departments, but I somehow cannot imagine even those for whom this is the only value, eliminating the distinct ways that people think because some of the non-traditional thinking is what leads to the greatest innovation.

On the other hand, these are probably the same people who would scrap the idea of a particle collider because of its lack of practical application.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Heart of the Dauphin

I had never been particularly interested in the revolution until I saw the Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour, Ian McKellen version of The Scarlet Pimpernel.The movie was fabulous, but it also fostered some interest into what happened to the Dauphin, the young Louis the XVII, who was held in the temple prison.
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Over the centuries, many importers have come forward claiming to be the Dauphin or one of his descendants. However, about 10 years ago geneticists determined that the boy who died at the age of ten from tuberculosis and neglect was at least a close relative of Marie Antoinette (whose hairs have yielded a DNA sample). The story, told in the 1999 New York Times article Geneticist's Latest Probe: The Heart of the Dauphin, explains that the heart of the boy who died was preserved by the doctor who carried out the autopsy. Although the preservation was not perfect-- the container in which the heart was kept had been smashed at least twice and the alcohol keeping the heart moist dissipated and the heart now resembles the consistency of a piece of wood-- scientists were able to take thin slices of the heart for genetic testing. The tests were sent to two, unaffiliated labs, one in Germany and one in Belgium. About six months later, the follow-up New York Times article reported that the labs conclusively determined that the heart belonged to a close relative of Marie Antoinette. So after more than 200 years, concrete evidence surfaced that the boy who died in prison was the Dauphin.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tuxedoless Penguins

Recently, scientists discovered a gigantic penguin from millions of years ago. According to the NPR piece, this penguin is from the Eocene period and did not have the traditional penguin tuxedo markings that we know today. Scientists believe from little modules on the feathers that they can determine the color patterns on some parts of the penguin including the flipper.
"These giant penguins have quite elongate, prominent beaks. And, of course, their size is striking. Would you immediately recognize something that's twice the size of a living penguin and had a different beak morphology and was differently colored as a giant penguin on first seeing it? I think - I'm not sure we would've. " (NPR)
The story is pretty cool.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cerinthus Reports: The Secret Bakery

It has been a very long weekend so far. I spent 7 hours today teaching a mixed class of 6th graders and high school sophomores algebra and English. It was a long day. However, I shall write a short "Cerinthus Reports" and get back to more substantive posting tomorrow.

Sulpicia asks: are there any interesting quirks of nightlife in Florence?

Cerinthus answers: I really want to try one of Florence's secret bakeries.
This, of course, prompted me to ask, "isn't being a secret bakery a bad marketing strategy?" Apparently, there is some rule in Florence that food cannot be sold-- or maybe it is hot food cannot be sold-- after around 11pm. Secret bakeries fill this gap. They function illegally between around midnight and 4am or so. Apparently, a person finds the unmarked door and knocks. They then specify whether they want a pastry or bread. The door closes and opens again to exchange the item for the money.

The whole thing sounds pretty sketchy to me, but it also sounds like a wonderful quirk of Florence. I think I may have to try one when I some day get there?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Paleoblogology: Feathered Theropods Part #2

I confess: I spent a lot of last night reading dinosaur blogs. Seriously.

The reason that I spend a large portion of last night reading dinosaur blogs is because they are both interesting-- for someone who enjoys general science and paleontology-- and often very funny. It seems to me that the paleobiologists and the paleontologists of the blogosphere have the acerbic scholarly opinions and bizarre and biting sense of humor that I find characterizes classicists in general, so I felt oddly at home reading about taxons and morphology.

One of the things that I thoroughly enjoyed was a series of commentaries on a television show called Jurassic Fight Club created and/or financed by a guy named "Dinosaur" George and shown on the History Channel. The show used dinosaur fights hypothesized from bite marks and other signs of distress on bones, and employ CG to recreate dinosaur fights, and then has paleontologists comment on these recreations. I came upon the show while reading Nick Gardner's Blog. This entry pointed me to Sean Craven's blog Renaissance Oaf, which provided a hilarious three part commentary on the TV show: Part #1, Part #2, Part #3.

I have no idea whether ever responded to Craven's incisive attacks, but an earlier criticism by another dinosaur blog apparently raised an extreme response from "Dinosaur" George.

If you're interested in this ridiculously melodramatic and scientifically quetionable [1] but enjoyable show, you can watch the first episode here:

  1. Even with my limited knowledge, I can tell that some of the assumptions are treated as fact and that the fact that all the scientists are portrayed as being in agreement is bogus (scientists rarely agree this strongly on anything, even Time Team acknowledges that).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Feathered Theropods

Until three days ago, I could not identify a theropod. According to an article about the Dilong paradoxis, theropods are two-legged, meat-eating dinosaurs (see the article). However, listening to an NPR piece, I heard mention of a feathered tyrannosaurus. I decided to investigate. It turns out that the Dilong paradoxis is a tyrannasaurid, who roamed in China about 60 million years before the T-rex (rather than North America, the home of the Tyrannasaurus rex [1]).
This picture is from the slideshow that accompanied this National Geographic article.
According to both the National Geographic article and the American Natural History article, the Dilong paradoxis was covered with protofeathers, which were presumably to keep the dinosaur warm. Unlike the Dilong paradoxis, the Tyrannasaurus rex, because of its large body mass, would have more difficulty expelling heat than generating it, so it is reasonable to suppose that the T-rex did not have feathers. However, according to the American Natural History article, it is plausible that the young Tyrannasaurus rexes might have had protofeathers for warmth which they molted as they matured.

There is a great NPR piece on the Dilong paradoxis. Also, if you were like me and you grew up reading about dinosaurs and watching Walking with Dinosaurs over and over again there is apparently a paleontological blogging community (I love the internet!) that is out there. As I was doing research, I stumbled across the blog of a Marshall student named Nick Gardner, called "Why I Hate Theropods." I immediately decided to find out what a theropod was (see the top of this blogpost). He wrote an blogpost on the subject, which illuminates some of the scientific debate on the subject. Overall, I am sorry to say, that Nick's terminology is too technical for my classicist mind (although I once had some aspirations of becoming a paleontologist, those went by the wayside when I realized that I neither have the patience nor the complexion for the incredible and painstaking art of uncovering dinosaur bones), but his blog is quite fascinating nonetheless and even disregarding the jargon of biological classification his overall points are generally clear.

  1. Tyrannasaurus Rex more or less translates as "the tyrant king" which is pretty amusing considering that tyrannos, tyrant, was set in oppositition to basileus (and in Latin rex) because tyrants were considered to be those who did not inherit the thrown, whereas a king came to the position by birth.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cerinthus Reports: a Fairytale Day on the Acropolis

The Acropolis
The jealousy continues. This is a picture that Cerinthus took when he was at the Acropolis. It looks like a fairytale land (especially because the light shifts slightly due to the stitched-together nature of the panorama). I cannot wait until I can visit Greece and see all of these wonderful places myself. At the moment, I have to be content with pictures.
Acropolis at night

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Philosophy of an Omelet

I love breakfast food and I will eat it at any time of day. I find it to be friendly, comforting, and energizing. However, a lot of times making hot breakfast food (e.g. omelets, waffles, pancakes, french toast, etc) can be a daunting task first thing in the morning. So for breakfast I usually have some whole-grain toast (with almond butter, brie, or butter) and half a cup of vanilla yogurt to ensure that I have protein and nutrient-rich carbohydrates to start my day. To ensure energy for studying or to replace energy after the gym, I make myself an egg-white omelet or scramble for lunch almost every day.

When I first started eating omelets, I started eating cheesy omelets using whole eggs and cheddar cheese (and nothing else). I ate these for years and they were a heavy and highly caloric. When I changed over to eating egg whites while trying to cut down my daily calorie intake, I found that plain scrambled egg-whites were too bland. So I started to add cheese to it and make egg white omelets and scrambles. They were great. A few weeks later, Cerinthus and I went to the omelet bar that was open some mornings at the school cafeteria. he ordered an omelet with bell peppers and green onions. I took one bite of his omelet and realized how much I liked them. So, I added green onions to my own omelets that I made and home and found them fabulous.

The omelets I make are light and airy. They pack a large protein punch-- about 15g or so per omelet-- but they taste delicate. I hardly ever eat whole eggs anymore because I find them to be heavy, although I understand that there are good nutrients (as well as fat) contained in egg yokes. I am sure that this is not proper foodie style, but I love the balance of tastes between the sharp cheese, the spicy cheese, and the onion that my omelets afford because these flavors are not overpowered by the heaviness of whole eggs. This provides a delicacy that I find lovely and refreshing, especially on a summer day.

My Favorite (low calorie) Omelet
1-2 green onions, chopped finely
0.5 oz jalapeno or habanero jack cheese
0.3 oz sharp cheddar (this ratio can be switched or changed to tast)
3 egg whites
tiny bit of grapeseed oil for the pan

  1. Put a little grapeseed oil onto a paper towel and wipe it over the inside of a nonstick pan. Heat the pan at medium. Beat or whip egg-whites so they incorporate air and will provide a fluffier omelet.
  2. When the pan is hot enough that the egg white will begin to whiten as it touches the pan, but not so hot that it bubbles or sputters, add in the egg white.
  3. Before the egg white begins to cook, add the green onions in. This was a trick that one of the cooks at my school cafeteria taught me-- this allows the green onions to evenly distribute through the egg white which means they are in every bite and the egg-white has green spots, which looks pretty cool. Stir the egg-white to more evenly distribute the onion.
  4. Use a heat-resistant scraper to loosen the egg-white from the sides in preparation for flipping. When the egg-white begins to bubble, do a final loosening with the scraper. Rock the pan a little to ensure that the egg-white moves as a solid mass. Then flip (good luck)!
  5. After flipping, sprinkle the cheese over the egg-white and let it sit for about 20 seconds. Then fold the egg white over and ensure each side is cooked through.
  6. Serve hot! (and perhaps with toast)

These omelets can also hold a number of other vegetables, depending upon your taste. I find bell peppers, sweet peppers, and broccoli to be best.

The Joys and Pitfalls of Self-Directed Education

In May, I graduated from college with my BA in Classics. I decided to strike out on my own for a year (and looking increasingly like two years) in order to solidify my education, gain some work and teaching experience, and choose my path forward into academia. Exploring education on my own, and teaching my own classes, continues to provide me with a new perspectives on the benefits and drawbacks to institutionalized learning and also on educational resources.

Here are some of the great things I have found while learning on my own:
  • Skype is awesome. 
    • Although Cerinthus is away, I can still ask him questions and get answers from the experts he has access to in Greece and Italy (see Cerinthus Reports on both Fragments of Sulpicia and Platonic Psychology).
    • Propertius II and I work on Horace together over skype as well and we can share screen, send information, and interact.
    • On a broader educational level, Sugata Mitra's work which he explained in his TED Talk (which I highly recommend if you have not seen it) employs Skype through a method known as the Granny Cloud. This employs British grandmothers to watch over and encourage students using internet resources for the purpose of education and has proved to be an effective tool
  • I can read and research whatever I want, which leads me to exciting new areas of research.
    • As I was doing some more in-depth research on grave monuments to solidify work on my thesis, I stumbled across Ian Morris' Burial and Ancient Society: The Rise of the Greek City-State (which can be downloaded for free if you have access to ACLS and some minimal computer skills). The book is awesome so far, but I realized I have almost no background whatsoever in archaeology. This lead me to find another book, An Archaeology of Greece, by Anthony Snodgrass, which is currently public from University of California Press.
  • There are a number of websites and blogs that provide immense amounts of information and there are even more under construction.
    • The UC Berkeley Webcast website has some fabulous classes by incredible professors that one can listen to via podcast. They also have campus events and speakers. A truly phenomenal resource.
    • I have a whole list of classics resources under "Interesting Links" on the left-hand side of Platonic Psychology.
    • Wikimedia Commons provides images for people to use. I employed these to find examples of for myself and then to provide examples to me readers for Proto-Corinthian pottery.
    • There are also some unfinished resources which may still be valuable:
      • Wikiversity (and its Classic Department) attempts to provide class outlines and resources to individuals who want to learn from the teachers who are willing to make them. Wikiversity says on its main page: "Wikiversity is a Wikimedia Foundation project devoted to learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all levels, types, and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning. We invite teachers, students, and researchers to join us in creating open educational resources and collaborative learning communities."
      • The Homer Multitext is an incredible resource put together by the Center for Hellenic Studies, which, according to the website, "seeks to present the textual transmission of the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey in a historical framework. Such a framework is needed to account for the full reality of a complex medium of oral performance that underwent many changes over a long period of time. These changes, as reflected in the many texts of Homer, need to be understood in their many different historical contexts. The Homer Multitext provides ways to view these contexts both synchronically and diachronically." This is an incredible resource for Homer scholars.
  • Everything you do is directed toward your needs (or the needs of those with whom you study).
    • Something I really need to work on is my Greek and Latin reading fluidity and pronunciation, as well as building my vocabulary. Although all of my classes in college attempted to do a little of this, none of them focused on it. After ascertaining from those who I considered experts in each area what resources I should be using, I have been able to at least begin to work on these areas.
    • Furthermore, I can use old syllabi to review precisely those assignments I did not quite understand (or wanted to look into further).
 Burial and Ancient Society: The Rise of the Greek City-State An Archaeology of Greece: The Present State and Future Scope of a Discipline (Sather Classical Lectures) Vox Graeca: The Pronunciation of Classical Greek
However, there are also inevitable problems with learning on my own:
  • There are no teachers and no deadlines. I have to be ready to set firm deadlines as well as find resources among friends, books, and the internet to provide instruction. It is incredibly easy to slip up or procrastinate. I have slipped up a number of times, but I remind myself that cheating only hurts me, which motivates me to work harder.
  • I have to create my own evidence of my efforts. Unforuntately, I cannot get a degree from Sulpicia University and I am not graded in my endeavors, even when I use resources like UC Berkeley Webcast, so I have to demonstrate my knowledge effective and produce something. Blogging has been one thing that provides a certain amount of accountability and shows some amount of my effort, but I need to also work on getting something published so that I can show it to a graduate school.
  • There are no school facilities. Although I can drive to my local university library to check out books or search for information (and I do), I do not have the same incredible facilities that I had in college, e.g. I cannot use an inter-library loan program nor do I have campus visiting lecturers nor easily-accessible students and professors in other disciplines. However, Skype, email, and access to my parents has helped ameliorate this, because I can contact scholars and peers as well as having greater access to cars and trips to concerts, lectures, conferences, museums, and even out of town to find wonderful opportunities.