Friday, September 16, 2011

Apparently, it is now fall.

Hey! I almost forgot this was here!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Schrödinger's Boss

I heard an odd little snippet of a conversation today on campus.

It happened, as it usually does, when I was walking by the library cafe to get my daily bowl of noodles.

"Well," said one student to the other, "it all sounds nice in theory, but everyone knows the government can't create jobs."

At first, I just disregarded the statement as something I misheard. For instance, a few weeks ago I could have sworn I heard someone say "I'd much rather buy a bag in Paris than some freaky mushroom-thing here in Charlotte." Probably a mistake on my part (I hope).

But this time, I heard that phrase quite clearly. "[E]veryone knows the government can't create jobs."

The implications of this statement are staggering. My first theory was that there was some Law of Conservation of Jobs I didn't know about, which states that for each unemployed person hired by a government, some private firm fires some poor schmuck to balance things out.

But that would be ridiculous.

So the only other option is that if you are paid by the government to do something, you are not actually employed. Think about it! If the government can't create jobs, and the suggestion that jobs are conserved is asinine, what other explanation is there?

This is terrifying. Suddenly, all the grad students I know who are supported on NSF grants are unemployed.

The friendly lady at the DMV? She has no job!

The construction workers I saw replacing the median barrier on the highway? Shiftless, jobless, hobos.

Oh, no.

I work for a state university.

Since my job is new, and it is paid for with public funds, and the government cannot create jobs, I myself must be uneployed! Quid pro facto! Ipso nunc ergo!

If you'd like to help me through the stress of my sudden philosophical unemployment, I accept cash, checks, and major credit cards.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Dr. Seuss, et al.

Elsevier publishing has just released a list of upcoming books authored and edited by the Seuss group at Dartmouth College. Titles include:

Applied Combinatorics and Problem Solving in the "Multiple Hat" Problem of B. Cubbins.
If I Ran the Zoo: Biodiversity in the Age of Genetic Engineering
Yertle the Turtle's Social Theories of Revolution and Rebellion
HoP on POP - Catalytic Holmium Phosphines and Degradation of Persistent Organic Pollutants
Case Studies in Subspecies Overlap and Horizontal Gene Transfer in the Asian Star-Bellied Sneetch
Horton Heard A Who - Vestibulocochlear Nerve Degradation in Loxodonta africana pharaonensis

These volumes can be found wherever fine literature is sold.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Digs

"You can date students," the lawyer said. "You just can't date your students."

So concluded another session into my orientation into the world of the modern university, further ushering me one step closer to becoming, according to a radio host I tuned into on Thursday's commute, an official card-carrying, Volvo-driving, latte-sipping, arugula-munching member of the liberal elite.

That's right; after five years of toiling in the science mines, I have now attained the lowest rung of a brand new ladder! I am now a real live college professor. How weird is that?

Before you answer - keep this in mind: my primary (and indeed sole) responsibility is now to shape the minds of America's youth, many of which may one day perform tasks from designing artificial blood for a new generation of killer robots, to surgery - perhaps on you - to remove shrapnel from a killer robot attack. So, yeah. Weird.

Do I feel adequately prepared for this awesome task? No, but I'm totally psyched, anyway. Besides, if grad school taught me two things, it's that:

1. Feeling underprepared is normal (normal? more like necessary).


2. Always keep a change of clothes in the lab.

So, I'm doing what I did when I first taught in grad school - skimming the book, and crossing my fingers. The difference is that now, the entire course is mine - I'm writing the syllabus, I'm writing (and grading) the exams, and I have no higher authority onto which I can shift questions, concerns, or calls from parents.

The orientation, unlike the one I attended for grad school, was only really two days long. The first day, we learned about the university offices, administrative support, and various facts and figures about the school.

For instance:

There are approximately 22,500 undergraduates here, 3187 of which are new incoming first-years. 99.1% of the overall population are full-time students, and 4.6% are international. The mascot of UNC-Charlotte is "Norm the Niner," as in "fourty-niner." confusingly, this date does not refer to the gold rush of 1849, but to the year 1949, when UNC-Charlotte was absorbed into the UNC system. He's a miner because of Charlotte's history of gold mining, which (doubly confusingly) dates back to 1799, 50 years before the California gold rush.

Also, UNC-Charlotte is on highway 49, which is probably just a coincidence.

At lunch (free AND delicious!), we all divided into tables for a semi-interactive exercise. Each table was given a form with a scenario on it, and we had to discuss it and then share our table's opinion with the room.

Our table got the first (and easiest) scenario, which was about a student calling the course we taught "bullshit" after having received a graded test on which he/she did poorly. Our solution: ask him or her to speak with us after class, and always return tests at the end, not the beginning, of class. The rest were similar, dealing with behavioral problems or mental illness. At the end of lunch, everyone was careful to point out that the student population was wonderful, and not generally enraged or depressed.

A recurring theme during the orientation (and commencement) was parking: parking here, according to everyone, is a nightmare. And really, really expensive. My faculty parking permit cost me three hundred and thirty five dollars, a 558% increase from what I paid before. The traffic and capacity problems come from the course schedule, which shoehorns nearly all the classes on campus into 8 AM to 2 PM, Monday through Thursday. What I found out after I had already paid for my permit was that I could have paid $40 to park at a local movie theater that shuttles faculty to campus. C'est la vie, perhaps next time.

Then we talked about benefits. The highlight of this session was the speaker getting to a section in his PowerPoint slides titled "Leave and Vacation Time." He asked if anyone in the room was hired on a twelve-moth contract, and no hands went up. He said, "oh, well, then, that's easy. None of you get vacation or leave time, so we'll just skip over this." Shortly he realized what he had said, and let us know that, as nine-month faculty, we pretty much had the same amount of time off as the students, so it all evened out.

And will it all even out? Will your dear author survive his encounter with the undergraduates of Charlotte? Will he ever find a parking space? For these answers and more, stay tuned!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Close Encounters

Weirdness has always been my bread and butter.

I wept inwardly when the Weekly World News went out of business. During my many drives across the country, I've found nothing as invigorating as tuning in to the dystopic nightmare that is the Midwestern AM radio band. I guess that's not surprising, since much of talk radio is pretty much just the auditory version of the Weekly World News. Who wants to listen to homogenized corporate rock when you have some blowhard cloistered away in a soundproof box ranting about how the government encourages vegetarianism so that our children will eat more soy byproducts and turn into french-speaking tree-hugging socialized-health-care-having pantywaisted liberals, soft enough that the U.N. will have no problem coming in their black helicopters, stealing our guns, and sending all remaining red-blooded Americans to work in their acid mines.

Why? To mine varous acids, of course! They have thousands of uses, but are usually used either to fluoridate our water or to dissolve American flags during pagan same-sex mass marriage ceremonies.

I mean, come on - rants about the powers of the shadow government, patriots haunted by soundless black helicopters, and spooky theories about blue-helmeted UN shock troops? It's no more accurate than Red Dawn, but it's also no less entertaining.

Ah, and at night you had Art Bell/George Noory. If the great Midwestern conspiracy theorists measured a seven out of ten on the weird-o-meter, Art Bell took it up to eleven. Insidious soy products, meet tape recordings taken from a Russian mine that drilled all the way... TO HELL.

No, seriously.

And I haven't even mentioned Kent Hovind.

In my personal life, however, I don't think I've conversed with anyone that ranked above a three or four on the trusty weird-o-meter. In fact, it's been a really long time since I've encountered classic, sincere, over-the-top weirdness.

Until yesterday.

It came in the most innocuous form; the phone in the lab rang. It was from the office downstairs.

"Hey, I have a woman on the phone with a call about a chemical she saw on TV, and she's sort of concerned about. I was told that you might be a good person to call about it."

"Of course! I'd be happy to help," I said.

It started innocently enough. Her son had DVR'd an episode of House for her to watch - one where House infects a patient with malaria, presumably to treat his cancer.

I was gearing myself up to give the "that's-not-my-field" speech, when she asked her question.

"Does that have anything to do with the additives that they've been putting on the food supply?"

That caught me off guard. I was momentarily speechless, wherein the mystery caller felt that she should clarify.

"You know, for the last 60 years there's been aluminum and persulfate added to the food, and that coats our organs."

As I was still silent (trying to find a reference point), she let her momentum carry her.

I heard about an experiment that was conducted with a plastic container and salt from a chain store (it stuck to the sides, just like it coats the organs), about how people with coated organs can't reproduce, and that was a eugenic plot to keep certain groups of the population from breeding, "if you know what I mean" (I didn't). The mining of bauxite (a natural source of aluminum) was a sign of what was going on. Because certain genetic conditions can cause the body to become inhospitable to malaria (true), drinking water with a rusty nail in it (because it is rich in iron oxide) can cure cancer (false).

Tutankhamen, former king of Egypt, had malaria and a bone disease. "If only his organs had been coated."

Then, to my surprise, she expressed the belief that perhaps the additives in the food supply were there to keep people healthy.

"Well," she reasoned, "because of the malaria, maybe coating the organs keeps them from being cancerous. I think that's wonderful, people shouldn't be dying of cancer with all this medical science nowadays."

I agreed that the proliferation of cancer was undesirable.

"Well, do you know why House would give that patient malaria?"

I told her I was sorry, it wasn't my field. Perhaps it had something to do with the immune system, being encouraged to fight off the cancer?

She thanked me for time, and hung up.

I think this might be the first time I've ever heard a conspiracy theory about how the government is putting stuff in our food to secretly help people.

It's a strange world out there.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

How to Make Kona Coffee Marshmallow Truffles

This is cross-posted from my Instructable.

There are few things I enjoy more than crafting chocolate truffles at home. they make great gifts, it makes your kitchen smell like chocolate, and nobody can ever believe that they're home-made.

There are many excellent chocolate-based confectionery procedures over on (one of my favorite websites) Instructables. I particularly like simplicity and ease of Scoochmaroo's Easy Truffles , the ever-updating recipes in Ian's Anatomy of a Chocolate Truffle , the artistic humor of Mousewrites' Dung Beetles , and Raving Mad Studios' Velveeta Cheese Fudge , because it's fudge with velveeta in it .

The two drawbacks of hand-rolled truffles are that you have to hand roll the centers (which can take a while and be messy), and that it's difficult to produce multi-flavored and multi-textured candies. So, if you wanted to make a peanut butter and jelly truffle that had separate layers of peanut butter and jelly , it would be quite challenging, if not impossible.

The solution to this is to produce the truffle fillings in slabbed form. Slabbed ganache is exactly what it sounds like - ganache, set into a slab. It's an easy way to make truffles that contain multiple types and flavors of filling together to produce a most interesting chocolate-consuming experience. In this instructable, I'll be showing you how to make kona coffee/marshmallow truffles, but the procedure can be used for all sorts of fillings.

The drawback to slabbed ganache is that it calls for some additional equipment.

I learned how to do this (and more) from Peter Greweling's unmatchable book Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner . The method I use to make marshmallows and to temper chocolate are both from this book.

If you're starting out and want a less pricey introduction to chocolate-making, Andrew Shotts' book Making Artisan Chocolates has a fantastic selection of recipes and a nice, straightforward introduction to tempering. If you want a book that has a good number of recipes for truffles and also an explosion of other chocolate desserts (and dinners!), Jan Hedh's appropriately-titled Chocolate will not disappoint, and is only $2-3 for a used copy.

Required Equipment:

A selection of equipment.

- A kitchen scale, with a resolution of 1 gram.

I can't say enough good things about cooking by weight. Once you get even a little experience with a scale, you'll be amazed at how fast everything gets. Fast... and accurate!

- An instant-read digital thermometer

Temperature control is critical in candy-making. You'll need a fast-reading digital thermometer for making the marshmallow, the ganache, and tempering the chocolate. I have this thermometer , which I like quite a bit.

- Two 12x12x¼ inch confectionary frames

Confectionary frames can be anything that keeps poured liquid or semiliquid centers confined and shaped. Also suitable are caramel rulers, heavy metal bars that are cheap and resizeable.

I had my confectionary frame (which I use in this instructable) laser-cut from acrylic by Ponoko because I like the stability a one-piece frame offers. (Read: I'm too much of a bonehead to keep from knocking caramel rulers around)

... and because I have always wanted to use Ponoko. Laser cutters are awesome .

- A stand mixer with a balloon whisk attachment

This is for the marshmallows. If you're using a hand mixer, make sure to use a durable, stainless steel bowl. Sugar syrup is hard enough to clean up, and you don't want to add molten plastic into the mix.

- A very long offset spatula, a ruler, or something else that can smooth down surfaces.

After pouring the fillings into the frame, they'll need to be smoothed out. A heavy 18 inch metal ruler works perfectly for this. I've lost my ruler, so I had to use an offset spatula.

Forewarning: I lack skill with an offset spatula. You'll see.

- Parchment paper

Parchment paper, like laser cutting, is awesome. It's the perfect surface to spread confections on, as it imparts no flavor to the mixture and is non-adhering.

It has a million other uses, too. You can use it to store cookie dough , to bake cookies on , or even to cook delicious fish inside.

List of Ingredients:

Ingredients. Yay, food!

For the marshmallows, you will need:

Unflavored Gelatin (15 grams)

This gives the marshmallow its desirable properties by trapping the air that will be whipped into the sugar syrup. Of course, this means that strict vegetarians (and vegans) will be unable to enjoy your treats! If you'd like to try making a vegan marshmallow instead, instructables user Randofo has your back .

I have no idea if vegan marshmallows are compatible with trufflemaking. If anyone happens to try it, please leave me a comment!

Water (60 + 80 grams)
Vanilla extract (10 grams)

Vanilla has the power to enhance the other flavors in the marshmallow.

Sugar (240 grams)
Corn syrup (140 grams)

Glucose syrup (combined with invert sugar) is what you should be using, in an ideal world. For those who live in an area where it is difficult (if not impossible) to find pure glucose syrup in grocery stores, corn syrup is an acceptable substitute.

Honey (40 grams)

Honey adds both sweetness and flavor to the marshmallows. Don't skimp on the honey! I used wildflower honey for this batch.

Agave nectar (20 grams)

This ingredient is optional, but I like the flavor. If you omit the agave nectar, add an extra 20 grams of corn syrup.

Nutmeg (1 tsp)

Other spices can be substituted for nutmeg. It is difficult to know how intense the flavoring will be at the end of the process, so be cautious with it. I have made this recipe with 1 tsp of both nutmeg and cinnamon, and found the resulting flavor (in the marshmallow by itself) ideal for my taste buds. In this particular truffle, 1 tsp of spice is overwhelmed by the coffee flavoring in the ganache. Your mileage may vary.

For the ganache, you shall require:

Heavy cream (206 grams)

Use high-quality heavy cream. I use Organic Valley heavy cram if I can get it, because it is thick and delicious.

Bittersweet chocolate (396 grams, tempered + extra for dipping)

Make sure you get a good quality chocolate of at least 60% cacao content. Most professional recipes recommend Valrhona or Callebaut, but I use Ghirardelli. The price is right, and I can buy it in local stores.

You might want to shop around for the chocolate. In my area, there is a shocking price difference between stores: for a 326 gram (11.5 oz) bag, prices here range from $2.50 to $6.50.

Commercial chocolate is always pre-tempered.

Honey (63 grams)
Unsalted Butter, softened (55 grams)

Don't forget to take your butter out of the fridge in advance! Slabbed ganache requires softened butter, so that the chocolate in the ganache remains tempered and workable. Using cold butter will drop the temperature of the ganache too fast.

Coffee (10 grams)

You can either use whole coffee beans cracked in a mortar and pestle, or ground coffee. I'm using Kona coffee (ground) for my batch.

Got everything together? Let's make some truffles!

Step 1: Hydrate the Gelatin

You want to have everything ready to go before you start preparing the marshmallows.

Prepare your first set of confectionary frames. Oil the parchment paper well, or your marshmallow will stick and you will be sad.

Prepared frame, with oiled paper.

Attach the balloon whisk to your stand mixer.

Weigh out 15 grams (about one and a third packets) of powdered unflavored gelatin. Mix this into 80 grams of water in a microwave-safe cup, and set it aside to let it hydrate. Don't worry about timing it, it'll be fully hydrated by the time the sugar syrup is cooked.

Fully-hydrated gelatin.

Step 2: Cook the Syrup

Into a saucepan, measure out:

240 grams sugar
140 grams glucose (corn) syrup
40 grams honey
20 grams agave nectar
60 grams water
1 tsp ground nutmeg

This is what you'll need for the marshmallows.

A quick note: In the picture above, I've laid out all of the ingredients separately. When you prepare these marshmallows for yourself, it is much easier and more accurate to measure them all directly into the bowl.

Weigh out 10 grams of vanilla extract, and set aside.

Mix everything but the vanilla together, and heat it over medium-high heat on the stove. Your goal temperature is 252 °F (122 °C). Stir the mixture occasionally to ensure uniform distribution of all the ingredients.

It begins to boil...

... and it smells delicious.

When the target temperature is reached, pour the syrup into the bowl of the stand mixer and allow to cool (WITHOUT whipping) to 212 °F (100 °C).

Don't get it on you! It's hot!

Step 3: Whip the Marshmallows!

While the syrup is cooling, put the hydrated gelatin into the microwave to melt it. Keep an eye on this! You don't want it to foam over.

A second or two of boiling will leave you with a clear solution.

Fully hydrated gelatin.

Add the gelatin solution to the 212 °F sugar syrup, and begin whipping at high speed. As the mixture is whipped, it will begin to turn from a saucy tan to a lighter pasty white color. Whip it for about 4-8 minutes.

At the start of whipping...

... and about three minutes in.

Remember that vanilla extract you weighed out before? Add it in at the end of the whipping time. Make sure it's mixed in thoroughly.

Once the whipping is complete, pour the marshmallow into the prepared frame. Level and smooth it, then cover with a well-oiled piece of parchment paper. The marshmallow must be allowed to cool fully before you begin to prepare the ganache. In my 63-degree (F) kitchen, this took about three hours. I gave it an extra hour to be safe.

Thick, but still fluid.

Smooth it out.

This would be a good time to clean the kitchen. If you got marshmallow or sugar syrup on something, 10-15 minutes soaking in hot water will dissolve it right off.

Clean up! A clean kitchen is a happy fiancé.

Step 4: Prepare the Cream for the Ganache

Now, it's time to move on to the ganache.

First, prepare the second frame. Peel the parchment paper (carefully!) off of the top layer of the marshmallow, and set the top frame in place. Now you're ready to go!

The finished marshmallow.

To start out, make sure you have two microwave-safe containers, your ingredients, and a mesh strainer on hand.

Ganachey goodness.

Weigh out 20 grams of heavy cream into a microwave-safe container. Mix 10 grams of coffee into the heavy cream, bring to a boil in the microwave, and allow to steep for 5-7 minutes.


Into the other container, weigh the 63 grams of honey. Tare (zero) the scale with this container still on it.

Filter the coffee/cream mixture into the honey container using the strainer. The weight of cream will have decreased; add additional cream to bring it back up to 206 grams.


Bring the coffee-honey-cream mixture to a boil in the microwave; stir until uniform. Allow the mixture to cool - the target temperature of the cream component is 104 °F (40 °C).

Step 5: Mix the Ganache

Make sure you have everything on hand; your soft butter, the coffee-honey-cream mixture, the thermometer, and your prepared frame.

The key to tempering chocolate is to proceed with caution. I like doing this in the microwave, because it is easy to finely control the amount of heating the batch of chocolate gets.

The method used here is known as "incomplete melting." The goal is to carefully melt out the unstable cocoa butter crystals, seed the remaining batch with a small amount of reserved chocolate.

Weigh out the 396 grams of chocolate. Remove about 20% of it (~80 grams), chop it into smaller pieces with a knife, and set it aside.

Use short (10-20 second) bursts of microwaves to heat the chocolate. Between each period of irradiation, stir the chocolate around to make sure there are no hot spots forming. Do not let the temperature of the chocolate rise above 97 °F (36 °C).

Warm it up...

... but don't get it too hot.

If the temperature of the chocolate rises above 97 °F, it will lose its temper. Angry chocolate is bad chocolate.

Once the main batch is uniformly melted, mix in the chopped "seed" chocolate. It should melt in, seed the batch with the proper form of cocoa butter crystals, and bring the whole lot down to the proper working temperature. You can test the chocolate by smearing a bit on a piece of aluminum foil - it should set quickly, and without white streaks.

Massage the butter into the chocolate, until no lumps remain. Pour the 105 °F cream over the mixture (heat it up if it's cooled too much), and stir in a figure-eight motion until you get a smooth, uniform ganache.

Stir stir stir.

Pour the ganache into the frame and smooth the surface. Allow it to cool a bit, cover with parchment paper, and leave to crystallize overnight.

Puddle of ganache atop marshmallow.

And the prepared layer.

Step 6: Precoat and Cut the Slab

Before the slab is removed from the frame, the ganache layer needs to be precoated (or "bottomed") with a thin layer of tempered chocolate. This keeps the ganache from sticking to the dipping fork, which makes it much easier to dip.

To precoat the bottom, melt and temper a small amount of dark chocolate. Pour it onto the slab, and spread it with the offset spatula (or ruler). Be quick! It will crystallize very fast. Let it rest for an hour or two, then you're ready for cutting.

Now there's chocolate on top. Hooray!

A professional chocolatier would probably have a guitar to cut the slab with, which would make the process fast and easy. In the absence of a guitar, I'd imagine that some sort of MacGyvered contraption with piano wire would work.

In the absence of piano wire and MacGyver, a lightly oiled knife is an acceptable substitute. I bet a pizza cutter would work well, but I have never tried that.

Remove the slab from the frame by working a thin metal object (like your offset spatula) around the sides. The frame should be able to be lifted cleanly off. Flip the slab over (carefully!) so that the marshmallow layer is up.

Work it free...

... remove the frame...

... admire your work.

Cut the slab into pieces with the knife. You can make them as big or as small as you want! I made some big ones for people I really like, and some small ones for people I really like that are on diets.

Some caveats: The knife will need to be cleaned and re-oiled regularly, so that adhesion doesn't ruin your day. This is especially a problem with a marshmallow layer. Also, the knife will crack the precoat layer on the bottom as you cut. Without using a wire cutter, this is inevitable. When you coat the pieces in the last step, the extra chocolate will hide this.

Don't worry, you can always eat centers that turn out looking funny.

I ate about five of these.

Step 7: Dip, Finish, Enjoy.

After all that, the final step is somewhat anticlimactic.

Temper some chocolate.

Dip the centers.

The most time-consuming step.

If additional finishing is desirable (say, if you wanted to press a coffee bean into the top), do it before the chocolate sets.

Leave them alone for 24 hours.

Well worth the work.

It's important to not disturb the dipped and finished chocolate for a while, so that the cocoa butter is allowed to crystallize fully. Touching or moving the chocolates will almost always result in unsightly defects.

Remember to share!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I'd look up the definition for "overreaction," but...

Books are dangerous things. Terribly dangerous things. Which is why children must be monitored very carefully when they encounter books to ensure that they do not incur any irreversible damage. As Edgar Allen Poe said, "Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality." I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds absolutely terrifying.

Over the course of history, certain elements of society have seen it necessary to prevent children (or, in some cases, other adults) from accessing certain literary repositories of exquisite horror. I'm sure you're familiar with their reasons; kids shouldn't be learning about homosexuality, they're too young to read about sex, there's too much sex in this book, damn this book is sexy.

So, whether it be Harry Potter's graphic depiction of "snogging" (Wizarding slang for "getting freaky"), or 1984's inclusion of the Ministry of Love (think Studio 54 on a busy night), some books earn themselves a place on various lists of shame.

Until now, however, I had not realized that there was a gaping hole in this crusade to protect our nation's children. A loophole big enough that you could throw a dictionary through it. A loophole that is, in fact, the dictionary itself.

Where could any child, if he or she so desired, go to parse all of George Carlin's "seven dirty words" sketch? A dictionary. Where could a child go to learn that "genitals" are, and I apologize for the filth: "The external organ or organs of generation?" The dictionary.

And if that wasn't bad enough, children are particularly vulnerable to the lexophilic agenda of dictionary publishers, which fuels an addiction to word-filth.

For example:

I go to look up "organs," which leads me to "a pair (also set) of organs: an organ. Obs. Cf. pair of bagpipes, pair of virginals."

I look up "virginal," and where does that lead me? "b. virginal generation, parthenogenesis. 1879 tr. Haeckel's Evol. Man I. ii. 28 The so-called parthenogenesis, or virginal generation, of Bees."

Curiosity piqued, I follow "parthenogenesis" down the rabbit hole. "Reproduction from a gamete without fertilization, occurring most commonly in invertebrates and lower plants. Formerly also: asexual reproduction, as by fission or budding."

Asexual reproduction. Asexual reproduction. Filth leads to filth, and we should not have it in our schools.

Fortunately, a brave citizen in Southern California has set the precedent for me.

A parent complaint that a dictionary in her son’s classroom at Oak Meadows Elementary contained the term and definition for "oral sex" prompted school officials in the Menifee Union School District to pull all copies of the book from its fourth and fifth grade classrooms last week.

Extra bonus! The offending book was pulled before a single child had to suffer from its sinful content. This is how the system should work. Parents, next time you're volunteering at your child's school, look up "oral sex" in the dictionary. You know, just to be safe.

Since I do not have access to a paper dictionary, I looked the term up in the Oxford English Dictionary online. Not only did it fail to warn me that I was going to be viewing potentially objectionable content, it also gave me free access to a filthy limerick. Parents, shield your children.

Said an airy young fairy named Jess,
"The oral requires some finesse,
While in method the anal
Is terribly banal,
And the trousers will get out of press."

Really, OED? Really? Is this necessary?

Of course, there are some token objectors.

"It is not such a bad thing for a kid to have the wherewithal to go and look up a word he may have even heard on the playground. To me it is brilliant," he said.

You read that right. It's "brilliant" for a child to look up words on his own, unsupervised. Next thing you know, they'll be shooting heroin, because Webster tells them that it "produc[es] intense euphoric sensations."

Kids these days. Honestly.

As an aside - if you want to waste a morning giggling like a twelve-year old, read some of the usage examples that the OED has selected for some of the famous four-letter words.

1568 D. LINDSAY Answer Kingis Flyting 49 in Wks. (1931) I. 103 Ay fukkand lyke ane furious Fornicatour.

Tee hee.