Not To Be Trusted With Knives

The Internet’s leading authority on radicalized geese

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Two things have happened recently that really reminded my why I love teaching so much.

First, I got an email from a student who took my course last term.  That course was a seminar-based course in which students all had to do class presentations.  So I gave them a presentation on how to give effective presentations. I admit that I had a bit of selfish motive for this – having sat through more than my fair share of horrible presentations…

This is the type of horrible PowerPoint slides Im used to seeing in presentations.  *shudder*

This is the type of horrible PowerPoint slides I'm used to seeing in presentations. *shudder*

… I didn’t want to have to sit through a whole term of them!  But also because I thought that this would be some valuable information for them – whatever career my students go on to after graduation, skills for communicating clearly, concisely and effectively will not be wasted.

So, anyway, last week one of my students emailed me, out of the blue, to say “thanks” for giving that presentation.  She said she’s already had the opportunity to apply what she learned in other classes and she wished she’d learned that in first year rather than fourth!  As an instructor, I always hope that I have a lasting effect, that my student learn things from me that are practical and that they can apply outside the classroom. So it’s really nice to hear that that’s true!

The second thing happened recently after my class.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m teaching a research methods course and, when I consulted with others who’ve taught similar courses (and read a book on teaching research methods), I’d only heard doom & gloom – “the students hate it! No one wants to take research methods!” ‘How could that be?’ I thought, ‘Research methods rock!’  My belief was that if I went into the class with all the passion and enthusiasm that I have for research methods, and presented students with opportunities to learn actively (rather than passively sitting and scribbling down notes1), and made the information meaningful and relevant to them – well, how could they not like it?  But as I continued to tell myself this, there was this little voice in the back of my head saying, “Why do you think you are so special? If no one else can show students how much fun research methods are, why do you think you can?”  My confidence was further shaken by the first few classes of the term, in which the students sat in *complete* silence.  Even when I tried to engage them in discussion, all I got was dead quiet and blank stares.  Even my tried and true jokes, ones that *always* get laughs, weren’t getting laughs.  In fact, the first time I got the students to crack was a couple of weeks into class, during a long, painful silence that seemed to be inevitably following any question I asked of the class and I said, “You guys are *such* a tough crowd!”  And that made them laugh.  And it seemed like after that, the students warmed up to me.  It wasn’t like the students weren’t paying attention before that – when I eventually picked on someone to answer my question after a long and painful silence, they always had something thoughtful to contribute, it just was that they weren’t volunteering to answer (or ask) questions.  Until I called them a “tough crowd.”  Weird.  Anyhoo, so that was a while ago, but after a recent class in which we engaged in a mock peer ethics review session, students told me that they *liked* the assignment.  Liked it!  They said it was really eye-opening to see how much work goes into putting together a research proposal and ethics application.  So, basically, they are telling me they liked the assignment not even in spite of it being a lot of work, but because of it!  We also talked a bit abou the class and gave me some feedback on what they liked about the way I taught the class. Which is really nice to hear because I do things that I believe are helpful to the students, but you don’t always know that they do.

Now, I know some cynical people are thinking “sure they said they liked it, because you are going to be marking it now!” but I really don’t think that’s the case.  The students seemed quite genuine in their comments. And that was really heartening for a class I kept hearing “the students are going to hate!”

1In truth, I haven’t been able to incorporate as many hands-on activities as I would have liked. Teaching a course for the first time takes an insanely long time and I’m barely keeping my head above water with reading, preparing lectures (both writing the lectures and creating slides), creating assignments/exams and marking (I have no TA! boo!) that I’m only really able to put together about one activity per 1.5 hr lecture. Hopefully I get to teach this course again because I’ll have the content more nailed down and can spend more time creating activities to illuminate the material.

Image credit: Worst PPT Slide Ever posted on Flickr by Michael Sauers.

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Hello Random People From Montara, CA

So, I logged into my blog just now, with no idea in particular about what to blog about today, hoping that staring at the blank screen would inspire me. Or that I’d discover 7/8ths of a blog posting already written which I’d forgotten about1. And, in an effort to further procrastinate on writing, I decided to check out my stats. And this is what I saw:

crazy stats by you.

What the?? What did I write on Feb 262 that would garner such attention? And the thing is – I can’t tell! When I had my big spike previously, it was pretty obvious what happened as almost all the hits were on the Hockey Hotties post and that post had been linked to on a Yahoo sports site.  But this time, there doesn’t appear to be any single posting that got the bulk of the hits.  In fact, if you add up all various pages that were visited on Feb 26 according to WordPress Blog Stats, one posting got 12 visits, another got 11 and then many, many, many postings got 7, 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1 visits.  And if you add them all up, you only get 316 visits, yet the graph tells me that there were 1181 visits.  Huh?

So then I thought I’d visit Google Analytics to see if it could shed any light on this. Now, I installed the Google Analytics plugin when I migrated my blog to this site, but I haven’t really spent any time playing with it, so quite possibly I’m just missing the key thing on there that would explain it all, but I can’t figure out from Google Analytics why the hell I had this huge blip in blog visits.  My blog doesn’t appear to have been linked to on some popular site, as was the case last time, and there aren’t any keyword searches that had gone through roof, as was the case with the Sheldon Souray posting.  The numbers from Google Analytics don’t exactly line up with those of WordPress Blog Stats (I’m assuming that Google Analytics is using Pacific Time rather than G.M.T.), but I do still have a big spike (848 visits and 716 “absolute3 unique visitors”) on Feb 25 and I still can’t figure out why.

What I was able to find out was that 806 visits came from the US, 794 of which were from California, 793 of which were from Montara.  And then the next day (Feb 26) there were another 85 visits from this same city.  And those visits weren’t concentrated on any one page – they were distributed around to pretty much all my pages.  Like someone read my entire blog.  As far as I know, I don’t know *anyone* in Montara, CA, so I am utterly and completely befuddled!

If anyone happens to know how to use Google Analytics to figure out something like this and/or if you are the random (or randoms) from Montara, CA who was reading my blog – give me a shout in the comments section, k?

Update: Many thanks to Darren who worked his Google Analytics magic and figured out that all these hits are coming from something called “Kintiskton LLC,” which, according to a Google search, was running a “naughty” spider that doesn’t comply with robots.txt files.  Figures.  You know how I feel about spiders.

1Which happens more often than you’d think it would, actually.
2Or 25th – as WordPress stats uses G.M.T. so a lot of the hits I get on a given day (Pacific Time) are registered as being on the following day.
3Shouldn’t that be “absolutely”?

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Dr. Beth Snowshoeing

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Hey, so remember how I won a romantic fondue & snowshoe tour? So that tour was yesterday.  And since Tod was out of town, I took my friend and half marathon training buddy, Alicia, in his place.

Also, it turned out that the tickets weren’t just for the three hour chocolate fondue + snowshoeing tour as I originally thought, but for the four hour cheese fondue dinner + chocolate fondue + snowshoeing tour.  Which was an extra good thing, because Alicia gave up chocolate for Lent (which started yesterday), so if it had only been chocolate fondue that would have sucked for her!

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First of all, we got there way super early because I’m paranoid about driving up the mountain in the snow and there were rumours of a blizzard in Chilliwack moving swiftly towards us and 20 cm on fresh snow on the North Shore mountains, so we left really early to make sure that we got there on time and instead the roads were completely clear on the way up and we were an hour early instead of the required 30 minutes.  The upside of all the fresh snow was that we had awesome conditions for snowshoeing in – amazing, fresh fluffy snow!

Now, when I hear snowshoeing, I always think of this kind of snowshoe:

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I’m pretty sure my dad had a pair like that when I was little (although I don’t remember him ever going snowshoeing).  Anyway, apparently that’s not what people wear to go snowshoeing; these days, they look like this:

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If you’ve never been snowshoeing before – it’s pretty much like walking. But through a gorgeous forest on fluffy white snow that you can actually walk across rather than fall into (and the snow up on Cypress is so deep that in places your feet are level with the roof of cabins!)

After the trek through the beautiful forest, made all the more beautiful by the softly falling snow, punctuated by, imho, far too many stops where the guide talked about trees and public service-like safety tips and games with stupid names (which I may or may not be saying are stupid due to being one of the first teams eliminated in said game)1, we arrived at Hollyburn Lodge for dinner.

First up was a cup (or three) of hot apple cider.  I *love* apple cider.  Also, we discovered through this photo that Hollyburn Lodge has a ghost who looks not unlike the V for Vendetta guy:

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Now, I’ve never had cheese fondue before and, as it happens, cheese fondue = a hellava lot of cheese!  It was tasty, to be sure, but I just could not keep up with all that cheese!  Especially knowing that chocolate was on its way!  (Alicia, on the other hand, decided to fill up on the cheese so she wouldn’t feel so deprived when the chocolate appeared on the scene).

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I’ve had chocolate fondue before and last night’s fondue reminded me of a very important fact that I learned the first time I had chocolate fondue: there aren’t that many fruits I like dipped in chocolate.  When it comes to chocolate, I’m something of a purist – I like my chocolate dark and unadulterated with fruits or nuts or nutty fruits or random flavours.  Our chocolate fondue came with a number of dipping options: bananas, grapes, pineapple, apple, orange, angel food cake and marshmallows.  I would *totally* have loved marshmallows dipped in chocolate, but you know my policy on marshmallows.  So I tried all the other options, but really, I would have been happier if I’d just been able to eat spoonfuls of the chocolate. I know, I know – I’m totally sexy.  Anyway, I decided I liked the bananas dipped in chocolate the most.  Mmm… bananas dipped in chocolate.

At dinner, Alicia and I got to chatting with some of our fellow snowshoers and found that some of them were planning to wait for the shuttle bus down the mountain and since I had room in my co-op car, I agreed to give them a lift.  And it’s a good thing I did because it turned out that so much snow had fallen over the four hours that we were out in the woods that my car was stuck in the parking lot and they had to push me out!

Anyway, a good time was had by all!  Props to Raul, on whose blog I won the tickets for this, and to Cypress Mountain, who gave Raul the tickets for his contest!

1Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked our guide. He was pretty nice and all, but I just would rather have done more snowshoeing and less standing around.

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Decor HELL

When I first heard about the Decor Hell contest over on Monica’s blog, I knew that I *had* to enter.  The contest involves sending in a photo of your fugly furniture, something that I have in no short supply!

When I moved into my current place (which was meant to be a summer sublet but somehow it’s going on 3 years later (!)), it came fully furnished.  Which was nice in that I was in the process of getting divorced and really didn’t want to have any of what had been “our” furniture.  What was maybe not so nice is how the furniture actually looked – I mean, it’s all fully functional, it’s a just a wee bit… old. As in older than me.  When people see my place for the first time, I get a lot of comments about the “funky retro” style.  The thing is – it’s not retro. It’s actually been here since the 70s!  So, yeah, I decided to enter some of my finer pieces in the Decor Hell contest.  And now I can’t resist sharing them with you!

The World’s Ugliest Chair:

World's Ugliest Chair

And how much do you love my love seat?

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Seriously, that thing’s been here since the 70s. I’m sitting on it as I type this.  And trying not to think about what else has been on it over the past 30+ years. *shudder*

I’ve known for quite some time that this “lovely” and “decorative” fan covers up a gaping hole in my bathroom wall:

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What I didn’t realize is that this “lovely” and “decorative” fish is also covering up a gaping hole in the wall opposite the gaping hole being covered by the fan:

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Honestly, I had no idea there was a hole there until I took that picture.  In my defence, the angle at which I see this fish in the course of my everyday life, the hole is completely hidden, so it wasn’t until I viewed it from the angle shown in this photo that I could see the hole!  And, yes, I did say I’ve lived hear for nearly 3 years!

These fish hang directly below the big fish and perhaps they are what distracted me from noticing the hole.  They always look so sad and one of them has a broken fin. Poor fishies!

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The door to the befished bathroom is bright orange.  Which goes sooo well with the bright green door next to it:

My door is orange

And to round out the bright colours theme: check out my kitchen.  I titled this particular photo ” We All Live In A Yellow Basement Kitchen”:

 We All Live In A Yellow Basement Kitchen

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Vancity BoD Elections – Time To Vote!

I received my voter card for the Vancity Board of Directors election in the mail today!

I’m a big fan of Vancity – I do almost all my banking with them (except for my student loans, which I can’t take out of the RBC without them losing their “student loan” status1 and some savings with ING2).  I have my chequing and my main savings account with them, plus my RRSPs (through their ethical mutual funds).  Should I someday be in the position to buy a place3, Vancity is where I’d be looking first to get a mortgage.

So, given my love of Vancity and my love of voting for things, I’m excited to be voting for the candidates on the Action slate for Vancity Board of Directors: Tod Maffin, Jan O’Brien & Hugh Legg.  You should check out their website!

1There’s two benefits to keeping the loans as “student loans” – one is that the interest you pay on student loans is tax-deductible. The second is that if you fall on hard times and can’t make your loan payment (and with so many people losing their jobs lately, it’s not unimaginable), you can apply for Interest Relief from the government (where the government pays your interest for you until you can get another job).
2ING had a promotion where they paid out double the interest from Oct-Dec 2008 if you put money into what would become a tax-free savings account effective Jan 1, 2009. And that deal was just too good to pass up!
3You know, like when my dad wins the lottery as he keeps telling me he is going to.

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Things I Wish I Were Eating Right Now – A List

  • gulab jamun
  • chocolate chip cookie dough
  • chips
  • poutine

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Canucks v. Leafs

My dad is a big time Leafs fan. Big time.  Despite growing up in Montreal, where it would have made a lot of sense to be a Habs fan (you know, given that the Habs win once in a while), he’s always been a fan of the Leafs.  He moved to the Toronto area in the early 70s and has lived there ever since, faithfully cheering for his Leafs through thick and thin.  Mostly thin.  (Or thick… whichever of those is meant to be the bad times).

Now I – and you may not have known this about me – am a wee bit of a Canucks fan.  So last night’s showdown between the Canucks and Leafs took on extra significance for me (beyond just the general hating of the Leafs that all Canucks fan have).  The Canucks, being in the Western Conference, and the Leafs, being in the Eastern Conference, only play each other once per season (if that), so whichever team wins, either my dad or I get bragging rights for a year!

Adding additional fuel to the fire, it was Mats Sundin’s first game against the Leafs since leaving Toronto. My dad refers to Sundin as a “double liar” – apparently Sundin, before the start of this season when there was all sorts of speculation about which team he would sign with – said he didn’t want to play only half a season and he didn’t want to be a “rent-a-player1.”  And then he signed with Vancouver halfway through this season as a rent-a-player. “Double liar!” my dad says.

And was last night’s game ever a good one!  It went to a shootout!  And guess who scored the winning goal in the shootout?

And guess who immediately called her dad to ask, “So, how ’bout that game?”  Let the yearlong taunting begin!

1A “rent-a-player” is someone who signs on with a team for a short period, the idea being that they just swoop in because the team is doing well and the player can help them in the short term, as opposed to signing a longer term deal and really becoming part of the team.

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DNA Dating

In addition to a dating site for finding someone to have an affair with (which, apparently, is actually just a front for a prostitution site), you can also use science to find your perfect match:

scimatch by you.

My favourite part of the site is this:

scimatch2 by you.

Only $995 for a lifetime membership.  Why would you need a lifetime membership if they are able to find your perfect match using DNA tests?  Isn’t that pretty much telling you their system doesn’t work?

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Nature Meets Nurture

So, yesterday I went to that talk by Dr. El-So-hottie1 that I mentioned the other day.  His research in in the area of nutrigenomics – the field that applies genomics (i.e., studying the genome (i.e., all the genes in an individual)) to nutrients.  What I really like about his lecture was that he talks about how neither genetics nor environment operate in isolation.  We are past the time of talking about nature vs. nurture (although you will still often hear people debating this false dichotomy) and really need to think about how genes and the environment interact with one another.

Sugar

In his talk, he discussed a few of his recent lines of research – specifically, research on sugar and research on coffee.  Through a strange anomoly in one study (and then a systematic investigation to what the heck was going on2), he and one of his grad students discovered that a particular variation in one gene (called GLUT-2) resulted in people with that version of the gene eating more sugar.  Not in the lab and not under some special diet – just in their every day lives.  And it wasn’t that they taste the sugar less than people with the other version of the gene – but that their brains sensed the sugar less, leading them to eat more.  Interestingly, people with this version of the GLUT-2 gene have a higher risk of diabetes.  And so this research illustrates an interesting point:  If you studied these people and just looked at their sugar intake (without looking at their genetic makeup), you would conclude that higher intake of sugar caused (or at least increased their risk of) diabetes.  But if you looked at their genetic makeup (i.e., which version of the GLUT-2 gene they had) without looking at their food intake, you would conclude that the version of GLUT-2 they have causes (or at least increases the risk of) diabetes.  But when you look at the whole picutre, you see that the relationship is more complex than that.  So what increases the risk of diabetes in people with this version of GLUT-2?  Maybe that version GLUT-2 has some action in the pancreas that leads to diabetes (as GLUT-2 is in the pancreas as well as the brain and, I believe, other places).  Maybe it’s the sugar.  That still remains to be determined, as this research is still quite young.  But very cool, eh?

Caffeine

His research on caffeine was equally fascinating. There’s lots of conflicting research on whether regular caffeine intake increases risk of heart attacks.  Some research says yes, other research says no3.  And it appears that the reason behind these conflicting results may be – you guessed it – genetics.  There’s a gene related to the body’s ability to break down caffeine – some people break caffeine down quickly (we call them “fast metabolizers”) while other people break down caffeine slowly (not surprisingly, we call them “slow metabolizers”).  And if you look at caffeine intake and risk of heart attack while also looking at their genetic status (i.e.,  fast or slow metabolizers), you find something very interesting: people who are slow metabolizers have an increased risk of having heart attack if they regularly consume even 2 or 3 cups of coffee per day; meanwhile, fast metabolizers do not have an increased risk of heart attack even if they consume 4 cups of coffee per day – what’s more, fast metabolizers who drink 2 or 3 cups of coffee per day actually have a decreased risk of heart attack compared to those who don’t drink any coffee!

So What?

So, all this is pretty freaking cool, but I should point out (as did Dr. El-So-hottie), that this type of research is really in its infancy.  Perhaps down the road we’ll be able to scan your genome and tell which diet (or other lifestyle factors) will work for you in particular, but we just aren’t there yet. And we won’t be for some time.

Not that this stops companies from trying to profit by selling you a DNA test, of course.

1Props to my friend Alicia for coming up with that name!
2This reminds me of the Issac Asimov quotation “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I’ve found it!), but ‘That’s funny…’
3And yet other research says “wtf? I have no idea, yo.”

Image credits:
Sugar image credit: Uwe Hermann on Flickr.
Coffee image credit: Omar MK on Flickr.

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Now I’ve Seen Everything

An online dating site for extra-martial affairs.  Their tagline, and I’m not even making this up, is “LIFE IS SHORT. HAVE AN AFFAIR.”  That’s right – that’s trademarked!

From their own filthy, filthy mouths:

Are you Married but Looking? Ashley Madison is the place for Married Dating.

Feeling neglected and in need of some excitement? You came to the right place.

Ashley Madison is the world’s #1 Married Dating service specifically for ATTACHED men and women who are looking to have an Extra-marital Affair.

Meet People Just Like You, in Absolute Confidence!

If you’re looking to have a Discreet Affair use Ashley Madison – the ONLY certified Married Dating service that’s been featured on Oprah, Larry King, FOX News, 20/20, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Phil and Howard Stern.

Certified? Really?  Who exactly certifies such an organization?  Is there some sort of extra-marital affair online dating service accreditation board?

Absolute confidence, eh?  Best hope you remember to clear your browser history after visiting THAT site, adulterers!

For the record, I saw this site in a video posted on Feministing.  Where I also saw a video of Bristol Palin saying that sexual abstinence before marriage is “unrealistic.”  Really, you think?