The Evolution Of A Cup O Joe

If you look in my basement (you’d think I’m a pig)
As a sort of an archaeological dig
You’d uncover a history, of husband and wife
And the coffee we had in our life.

Automatic drip brewers? We’ve got them galore
And espresso machines—there are two on the floor
There’s the time we decided to try a French Press
Now an artifact, there in the mess.

There’s a pot for unfiltered—that’s Turkish or Greek
In a pile of old pans, playing hide and go seek;
And a ghastly device that’s a microwave cup
Whose inventor was truly messed up.

Through the decades of methods we’ve tested and tried
There are some that we modified, some that just died—
It’s not like a problem we tackled and solved,
But rather, our method evolved.

There’s an art to it—no, what I mean is, a science—
Not simply a hunt for the perfect appliance,
But a test of each variable, to see what you find
That persists when you test double-blind

Now the people who’ve taken the trouble to test
Have agreed that my method is really the best—
A little more effort, one cup at a time,
But really, the coffee’s sublime.

Via Scicurious and others (via twitter), a delightful little essay at the Scientific American guest blog on “science in the neighborhood: how to make a really good coffee”, in which the co-owner of a coffee shop applies experimental methodology (controlling some variables, manipulating others, double-blind taste testing) to really understand the process of brewing coffee. The resulting method, I note with pride, is exactly how I’ve been brewing my morning cup for years now.

I tell my students that there is precious little in their lives that cannot be systematically examined through science–and that the more important something is to you, the more reason there is to use this incredibly powerful set of tools. The morning cup of coffee is an extremely important thing.

Is it possible to just stumble upon the same solution that scientific investigation will give you? Of course! Orgel’s Second Law (“Evolution is smarter than you are”) tells us that with replication, variation, and differential success, and a whole lot of time, evolution (in this case, coffee is a parasite, depending on us for its reproduction) will find solutions. The fossil record in my basement reflects this.

But science is powerful. The barista in the article “spent well over fifty hours perfecting his technique”. Took me over 20 years to stumble upon it. But the good news is, we stumbled upon it quite some time back, so we have had many years of excellent coffee, using a method that the experts are now “discovering”. If I could wrestle with this metaphor a bit, it’s odd to have a cup of coffee remind us of the importance of preserving ecosystems. Evolution has been solving problems since long before we were here; in our rush to clear land and tame wilderness, we are most assuredly obliterating treasures. If only for selfish reasons, it is imperative that we look where we are stepping.

The Rest Of The Story

When our family toured
Your creation museum
With cool dioramas
Where children could see ’em,
My dear little boy–
My angel, named Liam,
Was hoping he wouldn’t be bored

I thank you today
Dearest Sir, or Dear Madam–
See, after we saw
Your fine show, “The Last Adam”,
My Liam grabbed a card
From the stack where you had ’em
And converted himself to the Lord!

At first, at his school,
He confronted his teachers
By showing them how
All the fossilized features
Of dinosaurs, show
They are God-designed creatures
Which shows evolution is wrong!

In most of his classes
His grades began falling–
His father and I
Found the whole thing appalling–
But Liam, our angel,
Had found his true calling,
And asked us to keep our faith strong!

So now, when we ask
How his classes are going,
He tells us his brain
And his heart are both growing,
And school is obsessed
With a poor way of knowing:
He’d rather have Biblical knowledge!

He says Darwinists lie,
And they won’t get their hooks
In him, not if he shuns
All biology books–
I can’t disagree,
But it certainly looks
Like our boy won’t be going to college.

But I thought you might like
To observe what you’ve done
To my angel, my Liam,
My dear little son;
His heart has been changed*
And a new life begun,
And for that, we’re eternally thankful.

And we pray with our hearts
That it soon come to pass
That our boy, who was once
At the head of his class
Finds his faith is repaid–
But for now, he pumps gas,
Praising Jesus with every tankful

*”His heart has been changed” is the title of a post at Ken Ham’s “answers in genesis” site, in which a mother writes the creationist liar to tell a heartwarming tale (my mistake–just a bit too much mustard on my salami–I meant a tale likely to cause heartburn) of her son’s trip to the “museum” and his subsequent conversion to christianity. I just continued the story.

Tip of the cuttlecap to Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

BART Bugs!

When you make your seat selection
Note the coffee-colored stains,
Which were found, upon inspection,
To contain resistant strains—
A bacterial infection
Which the Transit man explains
Is a function of the fabric
That’s a feature of these trains.

You could start your own collection
Of the stuff beneath the seats
Crumbs of crackers or confections
Little scraps of luncheon meats
It’s a sample of perfection,
What a hungry microbe eats
In a perfect little petri dish
That runs beneath the streets

For the customers’ protection
Every night they try to clean,
And to figure a correction
For the problems that are seen
But keep up with your injections
Of all relevant vaccines
Cos these buggers are resistant
And they’re cunning, and they’re mean

One of the features of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system is the (comparatively) luxurious, wide fabric seats. But this feature has a bug–potentially, a superbug. Swabs taken from BART seat cushions have tested positive for all kinds of nasty creatures, including (subject to further testing) MRSA–methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus.

BART are working on the problem, and are keeping the public informed.

Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself, Caller!

Good morning, all my listeners,
There’s a caller on the line!
An American expressing what he feels!
It’s an honor, folks, to share with him
This microphone of mine,
Since he shares the same American ideals!
With the honesty of Washington,
Who could not tell a lie,
Here’s a citizen to tell us what he thinks
Just a normal, random caller
Just the same as you or I,
Here to tell us the administration stinks.
There’s an eloquence of honesty—
When honest folk speak out,
It can sound like they are reading from a script!
Their opinions on the radio—
They call up just to shout—
Show the balance of the powers has been tipped.
In a democratic nation,
We must heed the people’s voice
And the people call the radio and shout
On the issues of small government,
Gun ownership, and choice,
On conspiracies, and global warming doubt!

These prominent conservatives
Lay claim to speak for masses—
Though they fan the flames, they didn’t start the fires—
Take away their authenticity,
They’re merely braying asses,
Influential, yes, but merely common liars.

From Crooks & Liars, a completely unsurprising story of radio hosts and grass-roots conservatism. These particular grass roots–callers to radio programs–are actors, hired to read scripted rants that fit the program’s narrative.

This is actually very good news. It was extraordinarily depressing to listen to these radio shows, not because the hosts were liars (that much was transparently true and vaguely amusing), but because the people who called in seemed so unaware of it, and so divorced from reality. I did not want to believe that these people existed (although I do have relatives who were big fans, so I really should know better). And, it seems, some of them did not exist! Not, at least, outside the imagination of the show’s writers!

Go U (Kinky) Northwestern!

Dear Mom, You were saying you missed me a lot
And were hoping that maybe I’d write—
But my classes were boring, and really there’s not
Much to write about … up till last night.

When a guest gives a talk for psychology class
On a topic that’s really complex
It’s often a genuine pain in the ass
But for our class, the topic is sex!

So, Hail to the Purple!
I’m swollen with pride,
The love for my school
Leaves me tingly inside.
And Go, U Northwestern!
Hit hard and hit low!
It’s sex education,
So on with the show!

The subject this evening was sexual response
And it featured a live demonstration
(With such a large audience, such nonchalance!)
Of a power-assist masturbation!

The guest presentation was simply displayed—
Just a towel on the stage set the scene
And a sawzall, with dildo instead of a blade,
Creating a fucking machine.

So, Hail to the Purple!
I’m swollen with pride,
The love for my school
Leaves me tingly inside.
And Go, U Northwestern!
Hit hard and hit low!
It’s sex education,
So on with the show!

The students were warned—they were over eighteen,
They were able to leave if they wanted.
But none were offended by what they had seen
Or the action the class had confronted

But now, a week later, the class hits the news
And we’re playing the media game.
And I hope we can hear the presenter enthuse:
“All in all, I’m just glad that I came.”

So, Hail to the Purple!
I’m swollen with pride,
The love for my school
Leaves me tingly inside.
And Go, U Northwestern!
Hit hard and hit low!
It’s sex education,
So on with the show!

Professor Bailey’s Human Sexuality class is, by all accounts, very popular, with nearly 600 students enrolled in a given semester. One reason for the popularity, it appears, is the optional add-on lectures, discussions, and demonstrations, which give the students exposure to a bit more than a textbook provides. Professor Bailey’s description of the class makes it clear that these add-ons are an important part of his course–including the now-contraversial add-on of February 21st.

Of course, once the story hits the news, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro has no choice, politially, but to be “troubled” by reports of the evening. The Daily Beast reports that Northwestern is defending Bailey, but it looks like it will be difficult to please everybody in this case.

I seriously considered quoting from each of these sources, but instead I’ll just say that this story is worth clicking through and reading. I guarantee something like this would get me fired at Cuttlefish U.

I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

Fetal Testimony

Republican Congressmen sat in committee
And called, as their witness, young Tommy.
His presence was purely an act to draw pity;
The lad was still stuck in his mommy.

Their witness, unable to swear or affirm,
And unable to raise his right hand,
Looking less like a baby and more like a worm,
Reluctantly took to the stand.

“I’m glad you had time in your schedule to meet us”
The first representative smiled,
“Your perspective is needed; because you’re a fetus
We value you more than a child.”

The congressmen heard him, so loud and so clear,
Though Tommy, of course, had no voice;
(That’s the reason young Tommy was called to be here–
His mother, of course, had no choice.)

Tommy’s Mommy was there as a baby container–
What’s important is, Tommy was there–
If she’d spoken up, they’d have had to restrain ‘er
Cos Mom’s voice? We really don’t care.

You can’t make this stuff up. All over the news, a committee of the Ohio house of representatives was to hear “testimony” from a fetus. A real one, not a doll like New Hampshire’s Bob Smith used to bring to the US House. It appears, though, that the witness was not cooperative.

Civil Discourse

We’ve got to acknowledge the different opinions,
The views of the people from differing sides;
Respectfully bow to PZ and his minions
As well as the targets he often derides.
We’ll see eye-to-eye with the paranoid birthers
Whose ravings are worthy of utmost respect;
The young-earth creationists, even flat-earthers,
Since all are god’s children, the last time we checked.
The True Libertarians, common flat-taxers,
Tea Party candidates, all of them civil!
Alt-med practitioners, rude anti-vaxers,
We’ll keep turning cheeks like our head’s on a swivel!
Some may believe in a hell or a heaven;
We have to respect such a reasonable view.
Some think the Jews are behind 9/11,
Clearly deserving civility too.
Ravings of lunatics? Watch what you’re saying!
There’s no earthly reason we can’t get along!
With none so unbalanced they don’t deserve weighing,
We’ll all be all right, because none can be wrong.

Cuttlecap tip (and context) to PZ

Critical Mass

The man in the car
Couldn’t get very far
Cos the road was blockaded by bikes
A deliberate slight
To his god-given right
To drive fast, and wherever he likes.
When a critical mass
Is a pain in the ass
To a man in a car in Brazil
Just remember, the car
Is much bigger, by far,
So just step on the pedal, and kill.

Warning–the following video may be a bit disturbing, especially if you ever ride a bike.

I’ve seen critical masses in Athens, Greece and here in Cuttletown, and they have been cheerful occasions. Yes, I have seen drivers a bit irritated; always, though, the cyclists were obeying the laws of the road. I’ve also ridden behind these drivers in traffic jams when I could have illegally passed them easily. Not all bike riders disobey the laws. Bikers have every bit as much legal right to the road as drivers; both populations should follow the rules.

If you watch the video, there is a clearly wrong party here. There is simply no justification for the behavior of the driver. But, as long-time readers may know, my hobby is reading the comments. I saw this story on NPR’s two-way blog, and it surprises me that the comments there are far more (as of my most recent reading) critical of the cyclists and defensive of the driver, than the comments at youtube!

Update–the man has been arrested: details are scarce, but here.