July 24, 2014

2:40 PM | The owl who liked sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow | Book Review | @GrrlScientist
A gentle and moving memoir by a man who shared his seventh-floor London flat with an unlikely companion; a tawny owl Unless you are Harry Potter, you probably don't live with an owl in your house. But historian and writer Martin Windrow lived with his "one true owl" long before Harry met Hedwig, as we discover in the charming book, The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar [Bantam Press, 2014; Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK; Amazon US/kindle US]. Written by a British historian and military expert […]
2:33 PM | Evolutionary costs, ecological currency, and baby fish
[ This post is by Darren Johnson; I am just putting it up. –B. ]I’m just going to say it – I like cute, baby fish. As a longtime SCUBA diver, I’ve spent countless hours on reefs throughout the world, and one of my true delights is noting the arrival of baby fish. Yes, they are often adorable, but one of the most fascinating things is that sometimes there are giant schools of baby fish, and other times there are few, if any, to be seen.  The future population of […]
1:25 PM | Our visual system predicts the future
I am reading John Coates’s thus far excellent The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind. There are many highlights and interesting pieces, the below being one of them. First, we do not see in real-time: When light hits out retina, the photons must be translated into a chemical […]
10:24 AM | Humans among the primates
It is not in the least bit controversial to picture humans* within the context of the placental mammal group that we belong to, the primates. Nor is it unusual for primatologists, anthropologists or... -- Read more on
9:00 AM | Random Natural History: Valley Oaks and their Galls.
Ok, time for a short bit of natural history. I live in the Sacramento Valley in northern California. The dominant tree species (outside of urban areas) seems to be the Valley Oak (Quercus lobata). Now, there aren’t a whole lot of trees in the valley, so it’s pretty lucky that Valley Oaks are fairly spectacular. They […]
7:37 AM | The Multiverse is a Done Deal
That title is somewhat facetious, of course, but I do think the multiverse is far more than an idle speculation. I think it is an idea that is sufficiently well-supported that it is those who deny it who should be on the defensive. I would make an elaborate argument in defense of that claim, but…
7:08 AM | Beyond Quantification: Digital Criticism and the Search for Patterns
I’ve collected some recent posts (from New Savanna) on patterns into a working paper. It’s online at SSRN. Here’s the abstract and the introduction. Abstract: Literary critics seek patterns, whether patterns in individual texts or patterns in large collections of texts. Valid patterns are taken as indices of causal mechanisms of one sort or another. […]

July 23, 2014

11:01 PM | Job: Evolutionary Ecology of Plants or Fungi – Oregon State
The Department of Botany and Plant Pathology seeks applicants for a 9-month, full-time (1.0 FTE), tenure-track faculty position in Evolutionary Ecology of Plants or Fungi. The successful candidate will be expected to establish an innovative and competitive research program that pursues scholarly work in the area of Evolutionary Ecology. The research specialization within evolutionary ecology is open […]
9:01 PM | Tracks Hint at the Social Life of Tyrant Dinosaurs
What’s scarier than a tyrannosaur? Three tyrannosaurs. That’s simple, undeniable math. The question is whether or not the …
5:56 PM | Peculiar Jurassic Parasite Discovered
The fossil of the fly larvae Qiyia jurassica has been found amongst the rubble of China’s Daohugou rock beds.
3:22 PM | Fundamentalists try to set those godless Unitarian-Universalist heathens straight
In a total and absolute reversal of the golden rule, a group of fundamentalist Christians (they come in other flavors) invaded a UU church, well known to be a “Synagogue of Satan", during a service to "witness" to that congregation of godless heathens that they were all bound for Christian hell (hell comes in other flavors too).  This is sort of sadly amusing.  Amusing because TPP can readily imagine the confusion and bewilderment such an intrusion would make upon a UU […]
2:49 PM | That's one strange Thai temple
TPP has been to Thailand several times, and in the process traveled the country from top to bottom and side to side. Somehow TPP missed (?) this temple, Wat Rong Khun, a contemporary religious study in white with some pretty strange features. It's one of those things that you simply have to say is "interesting".  Another "interesting" modern place is the aptly named Ancient City (now called Ancient Siam) outside of Bangkok, which is a huge (couple of hundred acres) outdoor museum […]
2:44 PM | Computer Viruses… as art
Computer Virus Catalog, provides us with an illustrated history of the worst computer viruses in history. It also has an artistic interpretation of each virus, which look really cool! Below are some of my favorites!  
12:00 PM | Let's Get Loud
Biology concepts – vocalizations, mechanical sounds, sonar, decibels, stridulation Today it seems that truth is more complex than ever. van Goethe was a German statesman and a very successful writer. He wrote novels, scientific treatises, lyric poems, as well as dramas. Born in 1749, one might say that his quote was true for his day; it was a simpler time. But think how simple our time will seem to those who live a hundred years from now – unless we’ve found our way back to […]

Van Belle S, Estrada A & Garber PA (2014). The function of loud calls in black howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra): Food, mate, or infant defense?, American journal of primatology, PMID:

Sueur J, Mackie D & Windmill JF (2011). So small, so loud: extremely high sound pressure level from a pygmy aquatic insect (Corixidae, Micronectinae)., PloS one, 6 (6) PMID:

McDonald, M., Hildebrand, J. & Mesnick, S. (2009). Worldwide decline in tonal frequencies of blue whale songs, Endangered Species Research, 9 13-21. DOI: 10.3354/esr00217

Anker A, Ahyong ST, Noël PY & Palmer AR (2006). Morphological phylogeny of alpheid shrimps: parallel preadaptation and the origin of a key morphological innovation, the snapping claw., Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 60 (12) 2507-28. PMID:


July 22, 2014

6:38 PM | Great mid-summer flowering - bottle-brush buckeye
A native to south-eastern North America, the bottle-brush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is hard to beat for summer flowering.  The Phactors have several growing as part of a semi-shady border, and they are a great plant.  The specimen shown is from our university campus where several shrubs (possibly a clone) hides a dirt bank.  Even in closeup the flowering is quite lovely and attracts a big diversity of insects, including, unfortunately Japanese beetles, who last year really […]
6:21 PM | Bad news
Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry after reading or watching the news. There's the middle eastern living laboratory for demonstrating that tit-for-tat (or is it tit-for-TAT?) is always a loosing strategy.  You'd think they'd learn, but for some reason, probably a historical deafness, leaders of nations don't.  Our country doesn't seem to have learned anything about our "big stick" foreign policy since the Vietnam war because people keep listening to old, dead-wrong, […]
3:48 PM | Feeling the stress of an academic career? Think happy thoughts!
A recent study published in the journal Stress & Health surveyed the mental health and coping strategies of 200 postdocs at UT Austin and found that individuals who thought positively were better able to cope with the stress of an academic position. “Thinking positively can do more than bring a transient smile to your face. […]
3:00 PM | Functional Anatomy of Tatooine Megafauna (Hyperspace Transmission Received)
SupraHoloNet Transmission Year 277 ABY, Fourth Imperial Age Hoth System (location classified) From: Dr. Zhonav Diphyryzas, Imperial Corps for Yesterday’s Misplaced Information; Knowledge Harvesters Unit; New Imperial Science Department To: Dr. John of the Freezers, Unaligned World Contact #1314, Terran system Subject: Functional Anatomy of Tatooine Megafauna   Dear Terran Science-Invigilator Dr. Freezers, I write […]
6:02 AM | Israel
There’s plenty of science and religion stuff out there, but I think talking about anything else right now would be to ignore the elephant in the room. There’s a basic moral principle that I subscribe to that goes like this: When your neighbor is relentlessly firing rockets at you in an attempt to kill as…

July 21, 2014

7:30 PM | Museum of Western Colorado Unearths a Jurassic Record-Breaker
Apatosaurus was an enormous dinosaur. That’s something easily said, but can’t be understood without spending time in the …
7:21 PM | Weeds, weeds, weeds!
The Phactors don't want to talk about weeds; it's been a very bad year.  Black nightshade, poke weed, wild lettuce, lambs quarter, and Oxalis (Not sure about the species, probably O. stricta; too busy pulling it to ID it.) have been plentiful, robust, and aggressive, some growing to impressive sizes. In an effort to prevent them from producing more seeds, weeding has been a primary garden activity this year.  But even after weeding one area, you return to an earlier area, and […]
6:43 PM | Turning down an endowed lectureship because their gender ratio is too skewed towards males #WomenInSTEM
Just got this invitation.  I have edited it to remove some of the identifying factors since I think the specific details do not matter.Dear Dr. Eisen: I am writing to invite you to present a lecture in the endowed XXXX Lecture Series at XXXX Univsersity.  The XXXX Lecture is a platform to allow leaders in the areas of XXXX to communicate research advances to a general audience.  Recent speakers include XXXX and XXXX and XXXX.  For your talk, we were hoping you could […]
3:41 PM | Footage of the 8th International Congress in Genetics! (Stockholm, 1948)
While searching for information regarding Åke Gustafsson, a plant breeder who practiced mutagenesis (and cited by Stebbins as providing experimental data for mutation studies), I stumbled upon an amazing video: footage from the 8th International Congress in Genetics held in Stockholm in 1948! Bengt Bengtsson and Anna Tunlid of Lund University digitized and annotated the video (the […]
1:00 PM | SURVEY: How bad was that Science cover and do you care?
The July 11 cover of Sciencegot a lot of press coverage last week. You can read about the variety of responses here, here, here, here or here (to name a few). But if you haven’t heard, Science chose to feature transgender sex workers from Jakarta on the cover of their “Staying a step ahead of […]
8:51 AM | Friends Are Genetically Similar
You and your friends are surprisingly genetically similar, according to a study ...
4:31 AM | Iron Flows and Camera Blows
Guest Bloggers:  Sarah McGrath (’17) and Chloe Wallace (’17), both members of Team Utah 2014   EPHRAIM, UTAH — No longer rookie bloggers Chloe and Sarah here, coming at you from the sweet comfort of our couch in Utah. Before collecting pounds of oncolites and encountering countless kill sites, we were just two inexperienced field […]
4:27 AM | Oncolites and Kill Sites
Guest Bloggers:  Sarah McGrath (’17) and Chloe Wallace (’17), both members of Team Utah 2014   EPHRAIM, UTAH –  Rookie bloggers, Sarah and Chloe, coming at you from beautiful Ephraim, Utah! We’ll admit early on that are blogging skills are not the most proficient, but we’re giving it a shot (mostly because we are being […]

July 20, 2014

10:09 PM | Sunday Chess Problem
My renewed interest in chess has not just extended to tournament play. I am composing chess problems again as well. Here’s one I came up with recently, and which will eventually be published in The Problemist magazine. In the position below, white is looking for selfmate in thirteen moves: Recall that white is always moving…
10:04 PM | How to kill an iZombie
Sometime back TPP commented on iPhone zombies, but a similar affliction can also occur due to ear buds and whatever they are delivering from an iPod, so the result is an iZombie. Like all zombies, you have to know the right way to kill them, but based on recent events that may not be too difficult. You turn an ordinary person, often a student around here, into an iZombie by giving them a smart phone and a set of ear buds either attached to the iphone or an ipod, either or both […]
7:40 PM | Robert Kennedy's Anti-Vaccine Craziness
Robert Kennedy is obsessed with the notion that vaccines cause autism. He’s particularly obsessed with the discredited idea that thimerosal, a preservative used in some vaccines, causes autism. Now Kennedy is about to publish a new book on this topic, and he’s promoting it both in the press and, as described in today’s Washington Post, in the halls of Congress. He’s recently had personal meetings with U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Bernie Sanders to try to convince […]
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