Coming out day: A few more things

Yes, National Coming Out Day was “officially” yesterday, but these are worth following up with:


Happy National Coming Out Day

Photo by massdistraction.

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, a day for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered folks to come out, and to recognize the importance that coming out and being out has had in the our progress towards full civil equality.

Being open about our lives and loves is an everyday task, but it has real political implications—straight people who know they have a queer friend or family member are much more likely to support treating us like full and equal citizens, and queer kids growing up in a far from queer-friendly world need all the positive examples and encouragement they can get. For more in the way of the latter, there’s It Gets Better, and the Pride Month Diversity in Science Carnival, hosted right here at Denim and Tweed. For more on the political side, let me suggest the national campaign Freedom to Marry, the kick-ass folks at the ACLU; or Minnesotans United for All Families, the campaign to stop an anti-marriage amendment to the state constitution.

Oh, and if you happen to have just come out today—congratulations! ◼

Science online, whales’ teeth and hand driers edition

“… all they’re doing is shooting a blast of hot bacteria full force onto your hands.” Photo by eatmorechips.
  • Much like my transition to regular coffee drinking. Ancient proto-whales’ transition from terrestrial to aquatic life is recorded in their teeth.
  • Non-anthropologists should also take note. Anthropology gets a dressing down, from an anthropologist.
  • So is it possible to get high on fake weed? The placebo effect may work through the same biochemistry as a marijuana high.
  • Pretty fast, all things considered. The path of a publication, traced from initial observation to acceptance, over a mere three years.
  • Hot-air driers: gross as well as ineffective. The disease-fighting possibilities, and failures, of public restroom design.
  • Science writers commemorate teachers who got them started.
  • I, for one, etc. A new brain-machine-brain interface gives monkeys prosthetic limbs with a sense of touch. (See also.)
  • Eventually. Tortoises are not social animals, but they can learn by watching other tortoises.
  • With nuance. Charles Darwin, animal rights advocate.


It’s that time of year again!

The Portland Marathon two years ago. Looks fun, right?.

This weekend I’m flying out to Portland for the 2011 Portland Marathon, my third. It’s been a bit tricky keeping up with my training on top of moving to a new town and starting up a postdoc with a whole new study system, but I think I’ll be ready. While I pack, why not check out my post on the occasion of last year’s Seattle Marathon, in which I discuss what I’ve learned over a couple years of long runs and leg cramps. It all still applies.

I can make it through even a half-marathon on a good breakfast and carefully-judged pre-race hydration, but to go much longer I need more food (and water) mid-run. The long-term exercise involved in a long race is fueled by a combination of fat reserves and glycogen stored in the liver and muscle tissue. Glycogen is the more efficient fuel, so as exercise intensity increases, muscles draw on it more heavily.

For far more detail on evidence-based endurance training approaches, I suggest Dave Munger’s great science-based running. See you in 26.2 miles! ◼

The best chocolate chip cookies I know how to make

Cookies! Photo by jby.

It’s been ages since I posted a recipe, but I’m still doing lots of cooking. So, here’s another staple in my personal recipe book: chocolate chip cookies. I found the recipe on, but I’ve incorporated a couple of stylistic quirks from the New York Times food section.

First, I refrigerate the dough at least overnight, or up to 48 hours, before baking. This lets the liquid (mainly eggs) integrate with the flour, for better texture. It also breaks up the work so it doesn’t take a whole afternoon at once.

Second, I make them big. I form balls of dough a little less than the size of a golf ball, so the entire recipe makes exactly 24 cookies, at a rate of six to a cookie sheet-ful. Big cookies end up with a range of texture from a crisper edge to a chewy center, which you can’t get if you make them too small. And I can tell you from personal experience that big cookies make a serious impression when you bring them to a lab meeting, or (as I did with these) your dissertation defense.

Follow the jump for the recipe!

  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup white, granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, tamped down
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (emphatically not optional)

Blend together the shortening, butter, white and brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. (Go ahead and soften up the butter and shortening in the microwave, if you’re blending by hand.) Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt; mix this into the wet ingredients until they’re well blended. Finally, mix in the nuts and chocolate chips—I find this is most easily done by hand. Cover the dough and stick it in the refrigerator at least overnight, or up to 48 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Pull the dough out of the refrigerator. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment, which makes cookie removal and cleanup much easier. Form the dough into not-quite-golf-ball-sized spheroids, and place about six on a single cookie sheet. Bake for about 14 minutes, or until the very edges of the cookies turn brown and dry.

I’ve come to feel strongly that you need nuts in your chocolate chip cookies, for crunchy contrast with the melted chocolate chips and chewy dough. Pecans are my preference, but go ahead and substitute walnuts if you must, or use no nuts at all. You Philistine.

You could also make the recipe vegan, just by substituting more shortening (and a little water) for the butter, and using vegan chocolate chips—but I haven’t tried this, so I can’t vouch for it. I do know that spelt flour works perfectly well with the recipe, in case you want to reduce gluten.

Finally, I like to use Ghiradelli’s 60% cacao chocolate chips, which are a bit flatter than typical chocolate chips, and nicely bittersweet. They’re pricey, but these cookies are an indulgence anyway. This kind of baking is absolutely part of a balanced, healthy diet, especially if you bake them to share. ◼