Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dog Food: Stuffed Kongs

Our dogs officially consume three things: food, cookies, and kongs. I shall address these in a completely random order over the next few days. I concede most of our homemade dog food mania is insane. However, the one thing that I really do think a lot of dog owners don't do that would really make a difference in the quality of life of their dog is providing a stuffed kong, or stuffed kong analog, before you leave the house for any considerable length of time.

Stuffed Kongs

OK, technically they shouldn't "consume" the kong. But they do consume whatever we stuff inside the kong. And it wasn't always a kong.

This particular aspect of our DIY dog food mania started with our dog walker in Maryland. She said our dogs were bored out of their minds when she came to walk them in the middle of the day and we should provide some sort of stimulation for them whenever we left the house for long periods of time. She suggested marrow bones. Once the dogs cleaned out the marrow from the center of the bones she suggested we refill them with something and freeze them (the bones, not the dogs - the refilling part they'd enjoy, but the freezing, not so much). At first we refilled them with straight peanut butter. This turned Augie and Izzy into fat little spheres of fur with chubby little appendages. Cute, but not healthy. So we switched to a mixture of peanut butter and rice. They lost some weight, but were still pretty chubby. Then I discovered PB2.

PB2 is made by Bell Plantation in Tifton, Georgia. It is, essentially, powdered peanut butter. You mix it with water to make it creamy and spreadable. In two tablespoons it has 1.87 g of fat and 53.2 calories. Compare that to your traditional peanut butter at 16 g of fat and 200 calories for the same two tablespoon serving.

There are three reasons why we switched to PB2 from regular peanut butter for the dogs' kongs' stuffing. 1. The powder of the PB2 mixed straight into cooked rice makes a really lovely paste that, once frozen, the dogs find challenging. 2. The dogs were becoming obese on regular peanut butter. 3. We were becoming obese on regular peanut butter. If there's regular peanut butter in the house, I will eat it. And I don't mean on the occasional sandwich. I mean with a spoon until the container is empty. While PB2 is awesome, it is not eat with a spoon until the container is empty awesome. And that is a good thing. Enough about me and my peanut butter addiction.

The transition from bones to kongs was the latest step in this journey. Just as we were leaving Indiana our vet noted that Augie has lost some teeth and Izzy has chipped some of his teeth. The culprit: marrow bones. So we switched to stuffing and freezing kongs instead of marrow bones. Now we're pretty settled on PB2 and puffed rice (generic Rice Krispies) for the stuffing, though I occasionally use regular peanut butter diluted with water when we're between PB2 shipments. I also occasionally substitute real rice for puffed rice when we have PB2 because the powder mixes so easily into the rice and it doesn't lose any volume.

Stuffing content aside, we've found that Augie and Izzy have expressed zero separation anxiety since we started giving them stuffed kongs before we leave the house for long periods of time. When we had the dog walker we had two sets of frozen treats. I'd give them one when I left for work. The dog walker would give them one when she left after walking them. When I came home from work four to five hours later, they were calm as Hindu cows. Now that I work from home, I give them kongs before I go out to do errands. If I don't go out, I give them a kong about halfway between their morning meal and their evening meal. The midday snack postpones Izzy's whining for dinner (he grew up on the mean streets - food is VERY important to him). And when David works at home he finds the kongs a great way to get the dogs to leave him alone to do his work. Especially since we've switched from bones to kongs, they spend hours working on them and will often return to them later in the evening even though the filling is gone.

So while you may find the rest of our canine cuisine laughable, please consider a stuffed kong for your pooch.

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Furrday: Kissy Face

To quote the gleeful squeal we heard from one of the vet techs the first time we took Augie to the vet, "This one gives kisses!"

So much so it can get a bit out of hand.

I am reminded of Pepe Le Pew.

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Container Garden: Seed Starting

Now that I've settled on the three plants I'm going to focus on in my container garden it's time to get started with seeds. I thought about buying heirloom organic seeds. I saw some on Burpee's website, for example their Brandywine tomatoes. Seeds of Change sells only organic and has 15 heirloom tomato products. But then I was in Home Depot with a gift card burning a hole in my wallet and the seeds were right there and my carbon footprint would not be enlarged due to shipping since I was really there to buy a shovel. So I bought three seed packets: tomatoes, parsley, and basil. All three are Ferry Morse brand. The sweet basil and the beefsteak tomato are organic and cost $2.27 each. They didn't have organic parsley so I got conventional Italian parsley which cost $1.59.

The parsley packet suggested soaking the seeds overnight in warm water to speed germination. I figured if it's good for parsley it probably can't hurt basil and tomato. I placed four of each type of seed into a different depression in an old metal palette. I labeled each depression with the first letter of the plant. I warmed up some water and spooned it into all the depressions so the pan as a whole would be a little warmer. Then, I soaked a dishtowel with water, put it in a bowl, and microwaved it for a minute. I put the palette on top of the dishtowel to keep it warm.

I left this setup uncovered on my kitchen counter for 24 hours. Occasionally I lifted off the palette to reheat the wet towel. This was probably entirely unnecessary - definitely the reheating, and probably the soaking.

Meanwhile, I washed out a plastic clam shell container that once held a super yummy Uptown Turkey sandwich from the Corner Bakery to use as an indoor seed starting greenhouse just like Re-Nest suggested, because sometimes I really do follow through on all those random ideas I post here.

And I took that re-used action one step further by using the dubiously named "PotMaker" to form newspaper into small containers for dirt.

I bought the PotMaker AGES ago and used it to make a TON of seed-starting containers at once. So long as you cut the strips of newspaper the right size (about 3x10") and immediately fill them with dirt, it works awesomely. If you try to make all the paper pots, then fill them with dirt, some of your pots might undo before you get them filled. But once they have dirt in them, I've never had a PotMaker-made paper pot fail. And don't worry about wrapping the paper around the form tightly - it'll come off easier if it's not and the pot will be just as stable.

Also in the theme of re-use, I placed one of these little shaker tops from old spice bottles underneath each paper container to facilitate drainage.

Given the low weight of the containers and the curve of the bottom of the clam shell container, this isn't strictly necessary as they would probably drain just fine. When I watered them the excess immediately drained to the moat around the edge of the clam shell. But I just happen to be sowing the seeds on the counter next to my spices and saw all these little shaker tops and couldn't help myself.

Put it all on the the shelf next to the sliding glass door in the kitchen and we are GO for seed starting!

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cookie Update

If you think I've moved on from my New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie obsession, you would be wrong.

In fact, I took advantage of the reduced crowds afforded me by Super Bowl Sunday to journey to the Whole Foods in Tustin on a hunt for the elusive fèves. I didn't find any Jacques Torres fèves, but that might be because I was distracted by the bulk bin of Peruvian Dark 65% cacao behemoths (pictured above with a puny, measly 60% Cacao Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chip). For $14.99 per pound they probably cost less than having Jacques Torres $12 2 lb bag overnighted from NYC to NOC, barely.

So how did the cookies turn out? Well, I only used a pound because a certain chocolate eating monster, who we'll just call David for the sake of argument, ate four ounces. But I've been pretty happy with 11.5 ounces of the 60% Cacao Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, which were a whole 8.5 ounces short of the 20 ounces the recipe calls for.

The verdict: if you like whole bites of cookie containing nothing but chocolate, these are the chips for you. But my independent taste tester preferred cookies made with the 60% Cacao Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips because each bite had a better balance of chocolate and cookie. I don't think reducing the amount of chips would help this problem as the size of the chip is the problem. You can see from the overhead picture of the cooling cookies that the chips tended to stay in the center of the cookie as opposed to spreading evenly throughout. Also, my independent taste tester thought the cookies looked "weird." More specifically, he thought they looked as though someone was trying to hide something under a rug. The cookie part was very thin and the chip parts were giant mountains - as you can see in the side view.

So I think we're going to stick with the much more economical and easy to procure 60% Cacao Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips.

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Help me!

So, Mom sent me a clipping that includes this very interesting editorial about apparently little things with big impacts in education.

There's lots of intriguing stuff in there, but let me draw your focus to one alluring comment:

Black students also perform better on an exam when it is presented as a puzzle rather than as a test of academic achievement or ability, another study has shown.

Unlike most of the other cited research, this is all the detail Professor Nisbett gives about this.

Your task, should you aspire to SUPER COOLNESS: find me this study, or a citation of it, or really ANYTHING more about it. How do you present an exam as a puzzle? Did nonblack students perform better on puzzles than exams? What, in short, is he talking about here?

Richard Nisbett, the author of the editorial, has written lots of intriguing books, and has his own website, including a list of selected publications. I've looked over these, but none of them say something like "Narrowing the Achievement Gap through Assessment Restructuring", let alone "Puzzle Tests".

And thus, my first web puzzle, which I pose to you. Find me the puzzle exam study, and treasures will be yours. If you don't, the princess will be lost! Help!

Update: Waiting to hear back from Joshua Aronson, one of the "stereotype threat" researchers featured in the editorial (Nisbett forwarded my email to him.) Therefore, there is STILL TIME to submit your candidates for puzzle style examinations (Raven matrix tests seem possible) and other puzzle-based education studies. Find the research, save the world!

Update II: Aronson promptly and helpfully got back to me, with copies not only of the source for Nisbett's comment, but also another similar paper. And the results will SHOCK YOU! (Well, maybe.)

The referred paper is "The Difference Isn’t Black and White: Stereotype Threat and the Race Gap on Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices" by Ryan Brown and Eric Anthony Day, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 2006, Vol. 91, No. 4. The study contrasts, as Nisbett said, the way a test (in particular, "Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices") is presented. When the participants were told it was an IQ test, African Americans underperformed whites. But when they were told it was a set of puzzles, and the researchers wanted the participants' opinions, African Americans performed just as well as whites. The test itself was unchanged.

The related paper is the seminal work on stereotype threat by Claude M. Steele and Joshua Aronson: "Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans", published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1995, Vol. 69, No. 5. This paper is the source for many of the other results in Nisbett's editorial, including the striking result that asking participants to specify their race on a form before administering a test created an achievement gap between blacks and whites; without the race question on the pre-test questionnaire, there was no achievement gap.

Here's some answers to questions that came up (from colleagues and myself) regarding these studies:

  • These were psychological studies; in a classroom setting, claiming a test is just a set of "puzzles" (that constitute part of the class grade) wouldn't have the same effect.
  • On the other hand, if I were to present students with "math puzzles" that begin as not counting for a grade, on which students achieve well, they will surely exhort me to count them (after the fact) for a grade. This would achieve the aim of assessment disguised as non-assessment, as well as students thinking I'm super-nice and giving me good evaluations.
  • "Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices" are not nearly as exciting or puzzle-like as they sound. The appropriate Wikipedia page includes a link to a website that mimics these test questions; they are pattern-matching, nonverbal questions that might be familiar to you from IQ tests you may have taken in the past. Disappointingly for me, one can't present typical algebra content in this form.
  • White students performed better (though not very significantly) on tests described as measuring their ability, while black students performed better on tests that were described as puzzles or research not meant to assess their ability. (You can imagine the white students "slacking off" when there's no pressure to achieve.) However, black students' performance on "puzzles" was as good as white students' performance when the test was presented as measuring IQ (their best category.)
  • It seems to me the biggest take-home message is that we can, perhaps unwittingly, draw students' attention and promote their anxiety, which can have a big (negative) effect on their test performance.
  • As Rebecca pointed out, there is a vicious assessment cycle; the people writing tests are those who did well on prior tests, and thus see nothing wrong with the conventional test structure. Students that might be otherwise good at math, but who perform poorly on tests, suffer the consequences, and do not continue in math far enough to be in a position to write different tests for the next generation.

This does not mean the challenge is over, although the KNOWN sources have been found. I welcome ANY citations of research on the topics of puzzle tests and games, if such things exist. (And yes, you should feel free to write your own paper on the efficacy of "puzzle tests", then send me the citation and demand a gold star.)

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Round Up

In this round up: Cap City compost bin discount, green home in the ATL, White House solar panels, pharm animals, studio organization, sheep to shawl, kangaroo rescue, K.C. Cole on math, non-hierarchical management, and high-yield produce is less nutritious.

Re-Nest has a very informative post about discounts on compost bins for Richmond, Virginia, residents. Well, OK, it's for all of central Virginia, but I know a few readers of this blog happen to live in Richmond, so I'm trying to appeal to them specifically. Did you catch that Bob and Rebecca? No pressure.

Jetson Green posted about a green home in Atlanta, Georgia. I wish it were mine. Via Re-Nest.

Re-Nest also has an informative post about the history of the solar panels on the roof of the White House.

David saw the cute goat pictures in the paper this morning and DEMANDED that I blog about Andrew Pollack's article F.D.A. Approves Drug From Gene-Altered Goats. Most importantly I am to direct you to the goat graphic.

Whip Up is posting a series about craft studio organization that is quite inspiring. I'm particularly enamored of the functional storage examples collected in this post. My studio will get there, gosh darn it!

I few weeks ago I heard a great report on NPR's Day to Day about a sheep to shawl competition. Definitely worth a listen.

Due the horrible fires in Australia apparently there is an spike in the number of orphaned baby kangaroos, a.k.a. joeys. Apparently these orphans need pouches. Whip Up has a nice post with a super cute picture of a joey in a pouch and a link to an organization collecting pouches.

I just heard a piece on Marketplace by K.C. Cole about the human brain's inability to comprehend large numbers. Apparently Ms. Cole has written a number of books on math and science for lay people. The mini-bio at the end of the Marketplace piece mentioned The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and Beauty. At first I thought it might have to do with math and art, but from the descriptions on Amazon, not so much. Anyone read her books and feel like recommending one?

Rebecca has been sharing a lot of awesome stuff through Google Reader so I thought I'd pass them on. First, Kottke's post about non-hierarchical management in the workplace. Rebecca noted, "It'd be interesting to study this in the classroom too. I think that often it takes more than one, but certainly there can be an effect."

Seconding what I've posted about, Kottke posted about how high-yield produce has been found to be less nutritious. Rebecca noted, "I guess paying twice as much for organic vegetables is justified because I don't have to eat twice as many." Which is pretty much word for word what the Organic Consumers Association concluded.

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Arguing about arguing

Lately, I've surfed across several blog posts about political debate, some more closely connected than others. In particular, this article by John Judis was relayed and amplified by Glenn Greenwald and Matt Yglesias; it argues that the stimulus bill wasn't more progressive because "there is not a popular left movement that is agitating for him to go well beyond where he would even ideally like to go."

This is the technique, common at flea markets, of taking an insincere position, with the idea that after the haggling, the settled-on price will be near the midpoint of the initial offers. So (thanks to our insincere starting bid) we end up at a price closer to what we wanted to pay. The natural consequence is polarization -- following this approach, the Republicans would offer some crazy massive tax-cut, no stimulus bill as their starting position. Preposterous, I know.

Contrast this with Dr. Strangelove's exhortation to keep up the bipartisan tone. These are not, strictly speaking, opposing arguments, but they aim to produce opposite consequences.

More bloviating about metadebate, along with links that I (and possibly only I) think are also relevant at the link below.

More directly opposing Judis's argument is this one from Nate Silver, although it's referring more to the banking problems than the stimulus. He's not explicitly opposing the insincere position idea, but rather arguing that the debate should be (at least temporarily) left to experts who actually understand enough to have an informed sincere position. The consequence -- starting from an expert consensus -- theoretically precludes an insincere starting position.

A further corollary to the insincere position strategy is to hide the insincerity, of course. This means insisting that a position you know is irrational is the position you choose to take. Are Rush, O'Reilly, and Jack Thompson (Who's he? Scroll down here) really crazy like foxes?

Now, maybe I'm just a bit priggish, but this tactical lying thing doesn't seem right to me. So I'll try to argue against it.

There's a number of assumptions to justify this insincere starting position:

  • the hassle of haggling costs you less than the gain it provides.
  • the end result will shift toward your desired result, because of the shift in your initial position.
  • adopting an irrational position won't cause a breakdown in dealmaking, or the risk of a breakdown is not costlier than the advantage provided.
  • the opposition won't adopt the same strategy, or at least can't be as irrationally extreme as yourself.
  • the negotiation is essentially one-dimensional and zero-sum: there are a spectrum of possible final results, in some sense "between" the two starting positions, and final results that are closer to some ideal value are better.

Clearly a lot of these assumptions depend very much on the situation being talked about. For Dr. S's hopes for depolarization to work across a broad range of issues, the incentives favoring polarization have to be changed in general. Changes that apply to any situation include making haggling cost more, and the related point that extremism has to be made less effective at shifting the final result.

Which is not to say that the crazy ideologues aren't insincere, just that it might not work as well as they think.

I would be very keen to know, for example, if Jack Thompson's extremism:

  • shifted the final result toward more regulation of videogames by moving the "center of mass" of the argument,
  • rallied otherwise uninterested people to the cause of videogame regulation, producing a more pro-regulation result more indirectly,
  • provoked opposing extremism from anti-regulation parties, resulting in little shift of the final result, or
  • failed to have any impact.

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Container Garden: Plant Selection

In the depths of winter here in southern California, the only thing that keeps me going is the thought of planting my container garden come spring.

OK, that's just nonsense.

According to Burpee's Zone Finder, I'm in Zone 10 which means the lowest temperatures are between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and my last frost date is sometime in February. Winter, what's that? So I should probably start starting my seeds inside in anticipation of an early April transplant to the great outdoors.

I've had a hard time focusing on what to plant this first year. As I've discussed before, I think basil and parsley are musts. I go through a lot of rosemary and given it's penchant for dry heat and sun to mixed sun and shade, it might be well-suited to our patio. I use a lot of sage, but Burpee lists it as suitable only up to Zone 8.

Other than herbs I'm also seriously contemplating tomatoes. We eat at least one a day and we'd eat more if they were around. Also, they're on the list of foods you should buy organic if you can because industrially grown they are so heavily laden with pesticides and fertilizer evilness. Finally, the hybrid high-yield monsters available at the grocery store are less nutritious than the heirloom options I could grow at home.

I also don't want to overreach. I totally lack a green thumb. It must skip a generation or something because Mom is like a horticultural wonder. So I'm thinking I should focus my initial efforts on only a few plants: basil, parsley, and tomatoes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Federal Fair Use Statute

This following isn't legal advice.

If you want to read the text of a federal statute about fair use, click here.

The preceding wasn't legal advice.

IP Law: Inspiration Photos and Intellectual Property

Full disclosure: I know nothing about intellectual property law. I didn't take IP in law school. I only squeaked by in my Law in the Information Age class because I knew the origin of the computing term "bug." None of the following may be construed as legal advice.

Yesterday Randy Kennedy's article Artist Files Lawsuit Against the A.P. Over Obama Image in the New York Times directly addressed a concern that artists, particularly quilt artists raise constantly. If an artist uses another person's photo as inspiration for a work, what sort of permission do they need from the photographer?

Mr. Fairey’s lawyers, including Anthony T. Falzone, the executive director of the Fair Use Project and a law lecturer at Stanford University, contend in the suit that Mr. Fairey used the photograph only as a reference and transformed it into a “stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that created powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message” from that of the shot Mr. Garcia took.
The suit asks the judge to declare that Mr. Fairey’s work is protected under fair-use exceptions to copyright law, which allow limited use of copyrighted materials for purposes like criticism or comment.
“Fairey did not do anything wrong,” said Julie A. Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project and another of Mr. Fairey’s lawyers, in a statement on Monday. “He should not have to put up with misguided threats from The A.P.”
While the average artist isn't threatened with legal action, even amateur artists are issued such vehement, and probably inaccurate, warnings by their instructors.

For example, a couple of Mondays ago I took a quilting class with renowned fiber artist Katie Pasquini Masopust. We used pictures she had clipped from magazines as the jumping off point for every exercise in the class. Then she warned us that if we made any quilt based on a photograph we needed the photographer's permission. Of course, she had removed all identifying information from the images we were given so we couldn't track down the publication it was printed in, much less whoever held the right to the photo. If this were one of those law school exam essays where you're supposed to find all the potential parties and causes of action in a fact pattern the instructor who clipped all the pictures and used them in a class for which she was paid may well have been the property rights infringer. Certainly she was the Napster to each student's individual download. But I digress.

Ms. Pasquini Masopust's class was all about abstraction. The point of each exercise was to transform an image of a real thing into a design with varying degrees of abstraction. In other words, the whole point was to make a final design that was NOT a copy of the original. To paraphrase Mr. Falzone, each student "used the photograph only as a reference and transformed it into a 'stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that created powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message' from that of the" inspiration photograph. Here are my examples from the class:

This was supposed to be one step from realism to abstraction. I can definitely see a resemblance between that photo and my design. My design in some ways owes its composition to the eye of the photographer.

This was a few more steps from realism to abstraction. If I didn't tell you I based this design on this photo, no one would know. Now, just because you wouldn't be able to prove I infringed on someone's property rights doesn't mean I didn't. But if degree of transformation is a factor, I think this one passes that test with flying colors.

Now, for Ms. Pasquini Masopust's purposes there is an easy work around: base your work on your own photographs. This is fine, to the extent that you have access to the subject matter you'd like to depict. The point of Ms. Pasquini Masopust's designs is not to comment on appropriation.

But the point of some art is appropriation. The best example of an Appropriation Artist (this Wikipedia article has a nice summary of appropriation in art throughout history) I can think of is Richard Prince (here's his homepage and here's a Wikipedia entry). Prince actually took photographs of photographs from magazine advertisements. According to Wikipedia,
His image, ‘Untitled (Cowboy), a rephotograph constructed from cigarette advertisements, was the first ‘photograph’ to raise more than $1 million at auction when it was sold at Christie's New York in 2005, despite violating numerous copyright laws.
This type of art, while not heavy on the transformation factor of fair use is pretty heavy on the criticism or comment factor.

Now back to Shepard Fairey's Obama portrait. Unlike Prince, Fairey's intent did not seem to be to comment on the act of appropriating itself or any of the myriad intentions that artists have put forth to justify appropriation in their work. His intent seems to be straight forward support of Obama's candidacy for President of the United States. Now, if we hold to the Katie Pasquini Masopust (and I'm just using her as an exemplar - I've heard the same advice from lots of other instructors) school of art, Shepard Fairey should have taken his camera and photographed Barack Obama himself. Now, Mr. Fairey probably had the means to do just that. But what if a poor, cameraless artist in some political backwater where the Obama campaign didn't visit wanted to make a portrait of Obama? Does their inability to capture the subject in person render that subject out of bounds? I hope not.

While I understand art teachers feel a need to protect their students from unwittingly breaking the law, a little information can be a dangerous thing. In the world of intellectual property I hear they call it a chilling effect. A teacher's good intentions lead to students' self-censorship which hampers their perfectly legitimate free expression.

Free the Quilters!

Just a Reminder: I know nothing about intellectual property law. None of the preceding may be construed as legal advice.

Click here to see the rest of this post...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Homemade Crackers: Bittman Reads Mind Again

As I've mentioned before, the only processed foods I buy are bread, crackers, and David's cereals. Yesterday Mark Bittman's article in the New York Times proposed a homemade alternative to processed food #2: crackers. He developed a nice little recipe for Parmesan Cream Crackers which I plan to try very soon.

I've been contemplating homemade crackers ever since I read Amy Karol's post over on her Angry Chicken blog about making homemade Wheat Thins (with links to a couple of recipes). But I was somewhat reluctant because Ms. Karol makes her own deodorant, so I thought DIY crackers might be on a similar level of self-sufficiency that I'm not ready to embrace just yet . . . . anyone want to take bets on how many days from this post until I post about making my own deodorant?