August 28, 2014

2:48 AM | Notes from a quantum mechanics boot camp: day 1
I have the good fortune of attending this year’s Nordita workshop for science writers, which is focused on quantum mechanics. …Continue reading →

August 27, 2014

9:51 PM | Toward an Isopach Map of the Cedar Creek Mastodon Bog
Wooster’s Climate Change class is starting the semester by  coring a bog adjacent to a recent Mastodon find in Morrow County, Ohio. The Mastodon work and related excavation is being led by Nigel Brush, University of Ashland.  Above is a photo (courtesy of Nigel Brush) of the original mastodon tooth find. After a fairly extensive […]
2:00 PM | Look there, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a moth! It’s a…. hummingbird moth?
Last week NPR posted an excellent article about what can only be the coolest pollinator. Ever. “like a flip-flop that doubles as a beer bottle opener; an optical illusion; a labradoodle; a frenemy, the hummingbird moth falls into that cryptic category of transformers in life that are more than one thing” – Linton Weeks ” […]
12:25 PM | Let’s Chew The Fat
Biology concepts – lipid, saturation, fruit, vegetable, drupe, berry, mesocarp, cotyledon, tuber, fatty acid, triglyceride To try and get blood from a stone dates back to the 1600’s, meaning to try and do the impossible. It was first used in a book by Giovanni Toriano called The Second Alphabet. As far as the turnip goes, it may relate to a story in the Bible of Cain and Abel making sacrifices – one a vegetable and one an animal. The vegetable sacrifice was not as appropriate […]

Carvajal-Zarrabal O, Nolasco-Hipolito C, Aguilar-Uscanga MG, Melo Santiesteban G, Hayward-Jones PM & Barradas-Dermitz DM (2014). Effect of dietary intake of avocado oil and olive oil on biochemical markers of liver function in sucrose-fed rats., BioMed research international, 2014 595479. PMID:

Musa SH, Basri M, Masoumi HR, Karjiban RA, Malek EA, Basri H & Shamsuddin AF (2013). Formulation optimization of palm kernel oil esters nanoemulsion-loaded with chloramphenicol suitable for meningitis treatment., Colloids and surfaces. B, Biointerfaces, 112 113-9. PMID:

Editor's Pick
9:42 AM | Eggcellent citizen science: evolution of camouflage in bird eggs | @GrrlScientist
How an online video game relies on citizen scientists to test the evolution of avian egg camouflage colours and patterns.Ive been enviously following the events at the recent International Ornithological Congress, held in Tokyo, Japan. One of the many interesting things that I ran across in my communications with the congress attendees was an online video game that challenges the viewer to spot a camouflaged bird egg in a short period of time. This video game, which is entertaining and rather […]
7:52 AM | Slay the syllabus!
Now that TPP’s academic alter ego has retired is it time for TPP to stop pointing out the absurdities of higher education?  Nah! Nada! Not a chance! So how nice is this that a columnist at Slate has taken a major swing at that evil monster – the syllabus. Yes, these days a syllabus is treated by many students and virtually all administrators, both being just about equally distant from any real vision of education, as a contract, and TPP totally agrees that this is a sign […]

August 26, 2014

4:00 PM | Overselling the Microbiome Award: The Microbiome Diet Book
Well, umm, I do not know what to say: The Microbiome Diet: The Scientifically Proven Way to Restore Your Gut Health and Achieve Permanent Weight Loss: Raphael Kellman MD: 9780738217659: Books.  I got pointed to this book by Dorothy Timmermans and she wondered if this was a case of "overselling the microbiome" or not.  I guess I don't know because I have not read the book.  Nor will I most likely.  But I think almost certainly it is a case of "Overselling the […]
2:40 PM | The #IcedBudgetChallenge: Tell Congress to thaw out funding for NSF and NIH!
So a friend nominated me in this viral scheme to raise funds for ALS research, about which you may have heard lately. I’m all in favor of finding a cure for ALS—my grandfather died of it—but I’m also pretty skeptical … Continue reading →
2:24 PM | The #IceBucketChallenge, with a twist
I was nominated in this viral fundraising scheme you may have heard about, and I did it my way.
2:00 PM | The #IceBucketChallenge, and iced-up budgets for scientific research
Well, it had to happen some time, I guess. A friend tagged me on Facebook in the “ice bucket challenge” to raise funds for the ALS Association. It’s gone massively viral: post a video of yourself getting soaked in ice water, donate to ALSA, and nominate more folks to do the same. So far, it’s […]
10:32 AM | Statistics workshop
A quick note here to say that I shall be helping my PhD supervisor, Luc Bussière, teach a week-long workshop entitled ‘Advancing in R’ at the SCENE field station (on the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond) in December. The course is aimed at biologists who have a basic to moderate knowledge of using R […]
10:14 AM | Botanical Geek Tour - Italian edition continues
Our Italian Botanical Geek Tour continues with a changing cast of characters, some not so garden oriented, so the Phactors soldiered on to visit the Giardino Boboli and Giardino Bardini, which are right next to each other, almost.  Both gardens are of the formal nature, and in places both provide panoramic views of Florence, especially Bardini.  Giardino Boboli is the formal gardens behind the Palazzo Pitti.  From the Palazzo entry, the Boboli is all up, and fairly steep; it has […]

August 25, 2014

10:54 PM | Nuthatch Empire
Today I’d like to focus on passerine birds again, and this time on a group that I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about before: the certhioids. Scrap that. This article ended up being devoted entirely... -- Read more on
10:51 PM | The Agricultural Bioscience International Conference #ABIC2014 run by @ABICFoundation: where you can hear lots of talks by men #YAMMM
Well, here is this week's YAMMM (yet another mostly male meeting) alert: The Agricultural Bioscience International Conference in Saskatchewan.Male Speakers: 40Female speakers 4Marc AlbertsenRobert CarberryDavid FischhoffMaurice MoloneyFrédéric SeppeyJuliana AlexandreTom CarratoMichael FrodymaCarlo MontemagnoTim SharbelSimon BarberDavid ChalackRichard GrayGiuseppe NataleRoman SzumskiRoger BeachyRaju DatlaWayne HunterMatthew O'MaraAlbert VandenbergSuzanne BertrandSwapan […]
1:55 PM | Requiescat: Richard Attenborough
Richard Attenborough died Sunday, aged 90. Most of my generation probably know him best for Jurassic Park, but I’ve always favored his role as the mastermind of the Great Escape:
1:32 PM | Birdbooker Report 334-5
SUMMARY: Books, books, beautiful books! This is a list of biology, ecology, environment, natural history and animal books that are (or will soon be) available to occupy your bookshelves and your thoughts. “Words in leather and wood”. Bookshelves in the “Long Room” at the old Trinity College Library in Dublin. Image: Nic McPhee from Morris, MN, USA. 2007. (Creative Commons.) Books to the ceiling, Books to the sky, My pile of books is a mile high. How I love them!... Read […]
12:34 PM | The Need for Speed Constrains Evolution in Mammals
Despite the seemingly limitless potential of mutation and selection, evolution i...
11:55 AM | Toyota, WSJ, and Computers: An Update
Back in 2010, I wrote about the sudden unintended acceleration problem (SUAP in the earlier article here, UA in the source I’m about to link) in various Toyota vehicles. Drivers would find their cars accelerating out of their control and braking was unresponsive. People died. Survivors spoke of their unsuccessful attempts to get their car […]
9:07 AM | Classic Italian botany
Here’s some historical Italian botany; an illustration by Jacopo Ligozzi on display in the Palazzo Pitti and photographed without flash in keeping with museum policy.  Always impressed by how well this camera does in low light conditions. The interesting thing is that this lovely illustration (ca. 1577-1567) of mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis – Nightshade family) is pretty accurate (flowers aren't quite right) while illustrations of an earlier era portrayed this famous toxic […]

August 24, 2014

5:00 PM | Extinction Level Events
I spent 5 days in Washington, D.C. last week with my family. We biked the mall to see the various monuments. We selectively toured some Smithsonia (or is it Smithsonians?); check the Facebook page for that album, including the Hall of Human Origins exhibit. We hadn’t really inherited anything recently, so we slept on the floor of one of my wife’s grad school buddies. Oh, and my son attended the World Pokemon Championships, not as a contestant, but as a fanboy […]
2:54 PM | Organisms before questions: a case for restructuring talks at academic conferences
I’m a relatively novice conference-goer, having been to a total of five conferences in my time in academia. Three were when I was an undergrad, and found everything interesting. Two have been as a third/fourth year grad student, where I’ve … Continue reading →

August 23, 2014

10:44 AM | True Facts About Marsupials | @GrrlScientist
A snarky caturday video by ZeFrank, who spoofs Morgan Freeman talking about Australias marsupials Just in time for Caturday! Fans of the talented Morgan Freeman, the witty ZeFrank and of course, all of the worlds amazing animals, can indulge all three passions at the same time in this delightful, and somewhat irreverent, video that shares (some) facts about (some) Australian marsupials. Continue reading...
10:03 AM | Friday Fabulous Fern - A botanical resurrection
Any tourist to Florence Italy will get their fill of resurrection because of the abundance of religious-themed art.  But there’s another kind of resurrection that is very common in these parts; so called “resurrection” plants or desiccation tolerant plants.  Many ferns, clubmosses, mosses, and leafy liverworts are capable of desiccation and rehydration, sometimes quite rapidly.  In this part of Tuscany, the agricultural and urban landscape is composed of […]
9:39 AM | True facts about anglerfish
SUMMARY: To the female anglerfish, the human male is a very loud, annoying and unnecessarily complicated pair of gonads. Antennarius commerson (Latreille), 111 mm SL, UW 20983. Photograph: D. B. Grobecker [doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-58] Caturday has arrived once again, so it is time to watch some animals doing stuff! Today's caturday animal is the anglerfish, an ancient taxonomic order of bony fishes that arose sometime between 100 and 130 million years ago. (In contrast, humans are mere […]

August 22, 2014

9:12 PM | Don’t Call Me Tarpan: Seeking the Origin of Elusive Horses
Where did the tarpans - wild horses - really come from?
3:18 PM | Want to prevent someone from taking copyright on something- have it be made by a monkey
Well, this is both strange and surreal and fascinating: Who Owns A Monkey's Selfie? No One Can, U.S. Says : The Two-Way : NPR.  Turns out the UC Copyright office says a photo taken by a monkey cannot by copyrighted because apparently copyright is reserved for humans (and I guess human corporations).  NPR implies that an Ars Technica article by David Kravets is what caught their attention as well as that of others.I wonder - if one could teach a monkey to type maybe one could […]
3:00 PM | This spider is doing very well in an urbanized environment, thanks for asking
Urbanization is one of the most dramatic changes humans make to natural habitats. Cities are concentrations of tall buildings, paved landscape, air pollution, and everything else that we do to make life easier for ourselves. But some living things do quite well in these highly altered conditions—think rats and cockroaches, but also red foxes and […]
1:35 PM | Fiat - now and days of yore
The Phactors rented a Fiat 500L diesel, and it's been an impressive car to drive, not at all what TPP expected, but then he hadn't driven a Fiat since a friend had a Spider way back in the mid-1970s there abouts. While parking the rental, TPP was surprised to notice that the tiny car parked in the next space was also a Fiat 500L from about the late 1960s (sorry, really don't know Fiats well at all).  It looked to be in very good shape and probably had the classic, whomping, stomping […]
1:00 PM | Stuff online, rare genetics and bees edition
Essential reading on Ferguson: Jamelle Bouie’s detailed recounting of the events following Michael Brown’s killing, and just how much it would take to make things right; Ta-Nehisi Coates on the historical historical context; Dahlia Lithwick on the laundry list of … Continue reading →
1:00 PM | What we’re reading: Genetic diversity and life history, evolutionary rescue, and scientists on social media
In the journals Romiguier, J., P. Gayral, M. Ballenghien, A. Bernard, V. Cahais, A. Chenuil, Y. Chiari, R. Dernat, L. Duret, N. Faivre, E. Loire, J. M. Lourenco, B. Nabholz, C. Roux, G. Tsagkogeorga, A. A.-T. Weber, L. A. Weinert, … Continue reading →
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