Mar 22, 2007

Some Reasons Not to Read Student Evaluations

For those of you who teach, how would you rate yourself in the classroom? Effective, communicative, witty, clever, knowledgeable... innovative? How would your students rate you, however? And just how reliable are their evaluations?

In "Hemlock Available in the Faculty Lounge, " (March 16, 2007, Chronicle of Higher Education), Thomas Cushman, in self-defense, shows how Socrates would rate as a teacher if he were evaluated by some of today's college students.

"Teaching evaluations have become a permanent fixture in the academic environment. These instruments, through which students express their true feelings about classes and profes-sors, can make or break an instructor. What would students say if they had Socrates as a professor?"

It's really quite funny. See the entire editorial below.

Link: Student Evaluations

Mar 17, 2007

Secrets of Longevity- review

In his new book, a doctor of Chinese medicine, Maoshing Ni of the Yo San University in Los Angeles, gives tips on how to stay healthy through proper diet and remedies, a proper environment, exercise, and "good relationships".


The Secrets of Longevity: Hundreds of Ways to Live to Be 100 is 305 pages long. There are approximately 290 "ways to live to be 100" listed in the book. Many of the tips are well known health facts, some are plain common sense, and others are based on traditional Chinese practices and herbal medicine.

(Insomniacs may be interested in four ancient Taoist exercises to help you fall asleep - pages 249-250. The exercises are done while you lie in bed and are very simple and easy to do. )

Some nutritional tips for living longer and staying healthy include eating foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, pineapple and papaya, any red fruit, and using spices such as ginger and garlic. The book of course explains the specific health benefits of each fruit, spice, or vegetable and the health value of each bit of advice given, advice such as eating less protein and eating less at night than during the day, and so on.

Another tip discusses the negative effects of pharmaceutical drugs.

Some Chinese practices listed include avoiding raw foods in winter, doing Qigong deep breathing exercises - inhaling deeply and slowly to purify and calm - and more.

Other suggestions from the book to keep you on the longevity road: close family ties and good relationships with your neighbors! By the way, Dr. Ni is the 38th generation in his family to practice Chinese medicine.

Mar 14, 2007

Garden mysteries, a list

Now that the snow has just about melted and spring is finally here, women (and men) can happily turn their thoughts to .... the garden, of course.

Armchair gardners who would rather read about gardens than toil in one, however, can put themselves into imaginary gardens by reading the following cozies that blend horticulture and landscaping with a bit of mystery.

There is The Lost Gardens (English gardening mystery) by Anthony Eglin, Death in the Orchid Garden by Ann Ripley, and Deadly Nightshade by Mary Freeman.

My favorite garden mystery writer is Ann Ripley, who sprinkles her early books with tips on plants and landscaping in the same way that author Diane Mott Davidson sprinkles her food catering mysteries with recipes. Their protaganists work hard at what they do - digging, planting, mulching or cooking, baking, and carting trays and platters of food around.

Ripley has her main character working hardest in Mulch, when she goes out to collect bags and bags of raked up leaves that all her neighbors have set out on the curb at night for garbage pick. She wants to add the leaves to the mulch in her wooded back yard, you see. This gets her into some big trouble, but in a way you couldn't forsee.

All the garden work you read about in Ripley's books will either make you tired or motivate you to start digging in your own backyard to plant bamboo or start a water garden.

Other gardening mysteries I have just discovered are Michelle Wan's Deadly Slipper and The Orchid Shroud, and Heather Webber's Digging Up Trouble, not to mention J.S. Borthwick's The Garden Plot, plus A Deadly Bouquet by Janis Harrison.

I hope to enjoy some pleasant spring gardening... I mean, spring reading.

Let me add Anthony Eglin's most recent gardening mystery: see a review of The Trail of the Wild Rose: An English Gardening Mystery

Mar 10, 2007

Throwing Out Books, an Opinion Essay

Throw out books? That's a no-no, in my opinion. I donate books I don't want and will never read to the local library, which welcomes all books in almost any condition. If the books don't go on the shelves, they end up in a 50-cent or $5-a bag book sale and someone else gets to read them.

Tear off the cover of a book and throw it into the recycling bin? Only if it's an old telephone directory!

Here is someone I can sympathize with on everything except for the books he chooses to discard! His "slam-dunk discards" would be my lucky finds. Maybe we should start a book exchange?

The editorial below appears in The Opinion Journal . The writer starts off with an interesting comment.

Hardback Mountain
Giving my books the kiss-off
by TUNKU VARADARAJAN
February 16, 2007

"I was once told by an old graybeard (was he a teacher at school? an uncle in Madras? alas, I can't remember . . .) that a cultured man should have very few friends but very many books. I must have been a youngish mite at the time, for I feel that I've carried the imprint of those words for as long as I've been sentient."

(Want to read more? The link to the full editorial is below).

Throwing Out Books, an Opinion Essay

Mar 6, 2007

Bitter Sugar by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, a review

Bitter Sugar by Carolina Garcia-Aguilera
Published November 30, 2010; Harper Collins Reprint
Genre: mystery

She drinks mojitos the way other people drink coffee, wears Manolo Blahnik heels, and hangs with the community of elite Cuban exiles living in and around South Beach, Miami.

Lupe Solano is a private investigator, the main character in a series of mystery novels by Cuban-born, Florida-bred author Carolina Garcia-Aguilera.

In the novels, the avidly anti-Castro father of the P.I. keeps a boat ready to return to Cuba at a moment's notice, at the first sign of "Cuba Libre," something he spends his life waiting for. On at least two occasions, Lupe uses his boat to sneak into Cuba, investigating lost or confiscated property, finding people, or recovering valuable artwork for her clients. Needless to say, her secret nighttime forays into Cuba provide some good suspense.

I found out about mojitos (a drink made with mint leaves, sugar, soda water, and rum) and the Cuban American community in Florida while reading these lively mysteries. They include Bloody Waters (1996), A Miracle in Paradise (1999), Havana Heat(2000), and Bitter Sugar(2001).

Mar 4, 2007

Death Shoots a Birdie by Christine Goff, review


Mystery readers may already know there is at least one Birdwatcher Mystery series out there, one written by Christine Goff.

Her latest paperback, Death Shoots a Birdie, ( Berkley Prime Crime Books, 2007) is about a group of birdwatchers (who else?) who travel from Colorado to a birding festival on the Georgia coast to see "prime habitat" for painted buntings, those flashy birds with red, blue, and yellow-green feathers.

The birders discover the area is also home to a rare wooddpecker, and this of course, sets the stage for murder and mayhem. There are even alligators involved in the unfolding of this drama.

Ms. Goff has written four other birdwatcher mysteries. The first was Death of a Songbird, which I also enjoyed reading, followed by A Rant of Ravens, A Nest in the Ashes, and Death Takes a Gander.

Another mystery series involves birds of a different kind.<Murder with Peacocks, originally published as a hardback by Donna Andrews, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. It's one of the funniest books I've ever read, and I think it is her best. Since the plot revolves around a wedding, romance readers might enjoy it as well.


Ms. Andrews' second book, Murder with Puffins, was somewhat disappointing. Her subsequent mysteries might be more rewarding. Her latest, The Penguin Who Knew Too Much, is doing much better.

Watch the Birdie!

Garden Bird

Now that spring is here, the birds have begun their morning songs and you might be curious, as I am, about which bird is making what call. But... can't see the birds for the trees?

The two top suggestions by http://www.birdwatching.com/ for getting birdwatching binoculars are: Get the Best, and Try Them out First.

I have a pair of powerful binoculars that I used the first time I ever went spring bird watching. I got marvelous details of leaves, but couldn't see the birds 10 feet in front of my face. They were just too powerful. Birds were flitting from branch to branch just above me, but I couldn't see them for all the leaves. My binoculars were good for watching objects very far away, like battleships, one outdoorsman informed me.

A birder took pity on me when she saw my problem and loaned me her Steiner birding binoculars for a couple of minutes so I could ooh and aah over the sharp image of a small brown and white bird walking in a brook 15 feet away. With the birding binoculars, I could see the bird clearly even though it was almost camouflaged by brown twigs, brown leaves, and the mud of early spring water.

The binoculars cost her a pretty penny, the birder told me, and the lens were made of crystal. (I looked Steiner up on the Internet and see they do have specially polished lenses).

Anyway, good binoculars for bird watching cost from $300 to $1,000. So, if you buy the best, be prepared to empty your pockets!