Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ph. Diva and the Mystery Band

So, there are a LOT of lab-life-themed music videos out there. Mostly, they are amateur things put together by groups of under-worked grad students, where they change the lyrics to some popular song, or "pop" song, as the kids say.

This is a whole different thing, with significant production value, which is what happens when a biotech company gets in the game.

It lacks some of the charm and energy of dorky grad students singing Lady Gaga off key. On the other hand, it lacks all of the dorky-grad-students-singing-Lady-Gaga-off-key-ness of dorky grad students singing Lady Gaga off key.

This is actually the second video in a series. The next two will be out later in the year. You can see the prequel here.

Google Maps Quest Easter Egg

So, here's the latest cool, cool thing from Google. Google maps has a new easter egg. Go there ( and go to the upper right corner, where you normally select between the "map" and "satellite" views. There's currently a third option, "quest," which gives you something that looks like this:

If you zoom in, you can see 8-bit representations of various landmarks, as well. Also, while you're in there, check out the street view.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Gender remixer will inspire all emotions simultaneously

So, here's an excellent thing that didn't exist, but now does, and the world is a better place. The Gender Remixer allows you to combine highly gendered advertisements aimed at girls and boys. You get the video from one and the audio from the other.

The experience is disorienting, enlightening, infuriating, and other stuff, all at the same time. The thing that surprised me most was how much I wanted to buy the hypothetical toys that my brain constructed during the experience.

Check it out!

via Boing Boing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kirkus Star review for Remarkable

So, regular readers here already know that my wife's novel, Remarkable, is coming out in April. On April 12, to be exact. That's two weeks from today, which means that the Kirkus review of the book just came out from behind their paywall.

Here's the review, which got a Kirkus "Star" for extraordinary awesomeness:
The title of this debut says it all.
In the town of Remarkable, so named for its abundance of talented citizens, everyone lives up to its reputation. Well, almost everyone. With a famous architect mother, an award-winning–novelist father, a photorealistic-portrait–painter older brother and a math-genius younger sister, Jane should be just as remarkable. Instead, this average 10-year-old girl is usually overlooked. With clever wordplay, the third-person account paints a humorous and vivid depiction of this unusual community. While the rest of the town’s children attend Remarkable’s School for the Remarkably Gifted, Jane spends monotonous days as the public school’s only attendee. Excitement suddenly enters her life when the mischievous Grimlet twins get expelled from the gifted school and sent to public school, not one but four pirates enter town and a search ensues for a missing composer. Mix in a rival town’s dispute over jelly, hints of a Loch Ness Monster–like creature and a psychic pizzeria owner who sees the future in her reflective pizza pans, and this uproarious mystery becomes—if even possible—a whole lot funnier. With the help of her quiet Grandpa John, who’s also forgotten most of the time, Jane learns to be true to herself and celebrate the ordinary in life.
Foley tightly weaves the outlandish threads into a rich, unforgettable story that’s quite simply—amazing. (Fiction. 8-12)
Now, go visit Kirkus, where they have links to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound, and order the book!

Oh, and here's what it will look like when you get it:

And, you know, as awesome as the cover is, all those words on the inside are even better!

What's the plural of "octopus"?

So, how do you refer to more than one octopus? "Octopuses"? "Octopi"? "Octopodes"? In case you're uncertain which way to go, here's a handy guide from Darwin Eats Cake, which you can print out for easy reference.

The text may be a little bit hard to read here, but you can view a higher-resolution version here. More discussion after the picture.

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Some of you may recall this video from Kory Stamper, who argues that "octopuses" is fine, as is "octopi," as is "octipodes," for that matter, although, as she says, if you're going to use it, you'd better be prepared to explain and defend it.

I think that's all dead on, with one small addition. Stamper argues that when a word is borrowed into English, it gets the standard english pluralization, hence "octopuses." I feel like there actually is a living grammatical rule in spoken English, where you are allowed pluralize a word ending in "us" by changing it to "i" provided that the word is long enough, and especially if the word sounds sort of foreign-ish.

Now, I mean "allowed to" in a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive sense. That is, I take the viewpoint that if I say a word (or a phrase, or use a grammatical construct, etc.), and most native English speakers understand that word in roughly the sense in which I meant it, then it's a part of English, whether or not it follows a rule that has been codified in a book.

So, if I were talking about more than one Krampus, and I used the word "Krampi," I think that most people would understand what I meant (assuming that they had heard of Krampus in the first place). On the other hand, if I drop by an elementary school and start talking to the children about the line of yellow schoolbi, I'm probably going to get arrested.

From where I stand, then, "octopuses" and "octopi" are both native English pluralizations. "Octopi" just happens to use a rule that came into English through an appeal by (prescriptive) grammarians to Latin. "Octopodes," by contrast, will only be comprehensible to someone who either has studied Greek, or who has had this particular debate pointed out to them.

The poet in me feels the need, of course, to point out that there is no such thing as an exact synonym (blah, blah, blah). So, while "octopuses" and "octopi" both refer to more than one octopus, they don't mean the exactly the same thing. In particular, if I say "Look at the octopi," I am really saying something like "Look at the more than one octopus, and, hey, I'm doing that Latin thing." Whichever one you use, there are aspects of social positioning involved (maybe I want to look smart, or educated, or maybe salt-of-the-earth-ish, etc.), the details of which are going to depend a lot on the specifics of the social context in which you're talking. Really, pluralizing "octopus" is the third rail of talking about cephalopods (cephalopodes?), in that there is no way to do it where someone in the room is not going to make an issue out of it.

I also feel like maybe I should clarify what I perceive to be the game in the dorky/sophisticated outcome. The goal is not necessarily to implement pluralization as it would be done in language X by a native speaker of language X. Rather, it is to take a simple pluralization rule from language X, remove it from its native context, and implement it in English, sort of like the Krampus / Krampi thing. It's like trying to figure out how to pluralize something in a sort of Xglish (the language-X analog of Spanglish). For example, David Winter (@TheAtavism) points out that in Maori, one octopus would be "Te wheke," while two or more would be "Nga wheke." I take that to imply that the appropriate Maoglish plural of "octopus" would be "ngactopus," which is pretty fun to say.

That being said, in addition to this Maori tidbit, I have already learned some cool stuff via Twitter responses to the cartoon. Here's a sampling:

@symbolicstorage notes that the same ambiguity exists in German, where one might say "oktopusse" or "oktopi," adding that "octopusen" is 100% wrong. But, you know, I don't know about that. It only looks about 20% wrong to me. 30% at most. 100% wrong would be more like "farfegnugen."

@BobOHara says that Finns would most often use the partative form "octopusta," rather than the plural "octopust." I still don't fully understand the distinction, but is seems that "octopusta" would best be translated something like "some octopus, like probably more than one, but I'm not going to count them right now, since I have better things to do, like participate in my world-leading public education system."

And "Kraken-wrangler" @DrSeaRotmann suggests "octoposse," which is the only plural I am going to use from this day forward.

Have you got more? How do you say "octopus" in your native (or secondarily learned) language? How do you refer to more than one? And, how would you create an English hybrid (Xglish plural) using that pluralization rule? Post in the comments, or send a note on Twitter (@jonfwilkins), and I'll update the list!

Oh, and by the way, I forgot to include the French "octopeaux."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor

So, it's not often that something exciting happens on C-SPAN, but here you go. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) was speaking out against racial profiling, when he pulled off his jacket to reveal a stealth hoodie. He proceeded to put the hood up, prompting acting speaker Gregg Harper (R-MS) to start gavel banging and un-recognizing. Eventually, he calls the sergeant-at-arms to remove Rush.

Awesomely, the clip concludes with Harper saying, "Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor." I don't know about you, but that sounds like a pro-circumcision bias bordering on religious discrimination to me.

via Daily Kos.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Downton Arby's

So, for the life of me, I just don't understand why Lady Edith can't find a husband.

No one true path for PhDs

So, there's a nice little op-ed piece up at the Chronicle for Higher Education. (For the non-academics out there, it's sort of like People magazine, but with History professors instead of Kardashians.) It was written by Jon Bardin, a current PhD student at Cornell Med School, who is planning to abandon the canonical academic path. Unfortunately, it's behind the Chronicle paywall, but basically he argues against the idea (much hyped, recently) that there is an over-production of PhD students. At least in the sciences.

He mentions the common complaint that graduate school has become a sort of pyramid scheme, where huge numbers of PhD students enter, with the implicit promise of a tenure-track position waiting at the other end of the tunnel, while there are not nearly enough such positions available.

This is true, but he argues that we should look at the situation from a different perspective.

First, he argues that there are many alternative careers for PhDs. Of course, we all knew this already. After all, Starbucks is almost always hiring. But, actually, he argues that the skills that you develop in grad school are widely applicable. He talks specifically about the humbling experience of having his first manuscript rejected:
Through this and subsequent experiences, I learned to absorb the sting of harsh rejection, to ingest criticism, to accept its value, and to turn it to my advantage. These are life skills, not scientific skills, and rejection was only the beginning. Since then, I have had to devise and adopt quick, practical solutions to unexpected problems, to communicate clearly and concisely in front of crowds, to think on my feet in response to an unexpected question, and to pick my battles within my own research group. Perhaps most important, I have learned to approach problems by reducing them to their component parts and solving them one by one.
These are experiences and skills that will carry me through many dark days as a writer. But the same skills would have benefited me if I were leaving for the pharmaceutical industry, or for consulting, or to open a microbrewery. Everyone needs a problem solver, an articulate communicator, a thoughtful arbitrator. If graduate students can learn to approach their education as a series of learning opportunities rather than a five-year-long job interview, I think many who choose to leave would find that they had not wasted their time but rather that they had learned a great deal in a safe environment, while being paid, to boot.
These are great points. Now, the availability of funding varies a lot from field to field, but, at least in the sciences, I think the typical graduate student stipend is somewhere on the order of $30,000 per year. Now, that's not huge money, but it is enough to provide a comfortable living. Add in the fact that grad school is a great social environment (at least, it is if you're a dork, and you like hanging out with other dorks, which, if you're reading this, you probably are, and probably do), and you've got the makings of a pleasant and rewarding five years.

The trick, of course, is to find an advisor who's not a jerk, but that's a topic for another post.

The other point that Bardin makes is that the problem is not one of the availability of a certain type of job, but of the perception that the tenure-track path is the only honorable one. What is needed is a change in attitude, from the students themselves, and from the advisors responsible for them. In Bardin's words:
Such a change in attitude should start with graduate advisers, who must fulfill their role as true mentors, helping students explore the range of opportunities that their training has enabled, both inside and outside the box. Crucially, they must make it clear that leaving academe does not suddenly brand them a waste of their mentor's time; graduate students—and their older siblings, the postdocs—by virtue of being cheap, productive labor, are anything but a waste of time.
In a way, maybe we need to start viewing graduate school more like undergrad. After all, professors don't resent teaching undergraduates who are smart and engaged, but who are going to do something other than academia.

Or, rather, most probably don't. I'm sure there are some who do. (Those are also the ones you want to avoid when choosing an advisor.) But, they probably also resent the students who are going to follow in their footsteps, just for different reasons. What are you going to do? Resenters gonna resent.

Reposted from the Ronin Blog.

h/t to Ronin Kristina Killgrove.

Candy Candy will put you in a diabetic coma

So, here's a little something from Japan. In order to facilitate your close reading of the lyrics, I've provided a transcription of the Chorus:

candy candy candy candy candy
sweetie sweetie girls love
chewing chewing chewing chewing chewing
cutie cutie XXX chewing love

candy candy candy candy candy
sweetie sweetie girls love
chewing chewing chewing chewing chewing
cutie cutie so candy love

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lessons from a 40 year old

So, this was posted on Boing Boing last week, but I only just got a chance to watch it. This is a talk at "Webstock," by Matt Haughey, the guy who started Metafilter. (He also has a cool blog called A Whole Lotta Nothing.) He talks about the value of maintaining work-life balance, and avoiding the pitfalls that come with the raise-huge-money-and-grow-really-fast model that everyone in the tech industry seems to want to pursue. Instead, he favors a model where you work reasonable hours, build a quality product, and focus on a long-term strategy.

A lot of this resonates with some of the things we're trying to do with the Ronin Institute. Of course, academia isn't exactly plagued by a get-rich-quick mentality. However, there are some analogous traps that a lot of people fall into. Younger scholars often feel like they have to score the big paper in Science or Nature, and beat themselves up for doing work that is good, solid research, but not the sort that grabs headline. Faculty often feel a pressure to bring in large grants, and will sometimes let this drive their research agenda, rather than letting the research questions be the driver.

I like to imagine that the independent scholar is following the Metafilter model rather than the Facebook model. Because, you know what's cooler than a billion dollars? A million dollars, and your soul.

Anyway, this is well worth a watch when you're chilling out, or when you've just set up a batch of simulations. While the mapping from Silicon Valley to the Ivory Tower is not one-to-one, there is enough similarity there to make the talk thought provoking for anyone who wants to ponder how to integrate scholarship into their life.

Webstock '12: Matt Haughey - Lessons from a 40 year old from Webstock on Vimeo.

Reposted from the Ronin Blog.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Calamities of Nature, RIP

So, nature got a little bit less calamitous last week when Tony Piro announced that he would no longer be updating his absolutely superb webcomic Calamities of Nature. Fortunately, he has announced that he intends to keep the site up, so you can peruse the archive of over 650 of the smartest meditations on science, philosophy, religion, and bacon that you'll find anywhere.

I'm writing about this here because of something that he said in the post where he announced the end of the strip:

Today is my last update for Calamities of Nature. And I'll be perfectly frank about the reasons. My full-time career is in academics, and I need to put everything I have into it if I'm going to have any chance of keeping it that way. As much as I love this comic, I can't have it taking precious time away from my work. It's time to move on.

Now, I hope, for Tony's sake that he had also grown tired of maintaining his updating schedule, that he felt that five years was long enough, and that he is happy committing his efforts full-time to his academic career.

But, whatever the actual situation in this particular case, there is no question that he has hit on an unfortunate truth about academia. The fact is, it is extremely difficult to establish and maintain a traditional academic career while devoting time to other interests. Once you add in family (Tony also mentions that he has two kids), traditional academia basically demands that all of your time not spent sleeping or parenting be devoted to a very specific, constrained set of activities.

I think this is a shame. Certainly, there are people out there for whom this is the ideal lifestyle, people whose interest line up neatly with the demands of an academic career. I'm glad that they exist, and hope that they will continue to populate our Universities. But, for a lot of people, a more piece-meal career with time devoted to a broader range of activities would be more compelling, more fun, and would lead to their doing higher quality work over all.

Calamities of Nature is consistently smart and thoughtful, and it has a huge readership (roughly 5% the traffic of the mega-popular xkcd, according to alexa). It has probably engaged more people with ideas from science and philosophy than most academics do over the course of their entire careers. It seems criminal to me that the all-or-nothing structure of traditional academia means that someone with this much talent, and this great a platform, has to abandon it in order to maintain their career.

This is one of the things that the Ronin Institute aims to change. We are building an alternative model of scholarly research, one where scholars would be able to scale their commitment to research based on their personal interests and constraints. I imagine an ideal world in which someone like Tony Piro could commit, say, two-thirds of his time and effort to traditional scholarship, and one third to maintaining Calamities of Nature. I'm putting words in his mouth, of course, and I don't know whether or not this is something that the real Tony Piro would want, but I think the world is full of Tony-Piro-esque scholars out there, who have other talents and interests that they have had to set aside in order to commit themselves to academia.

Of course, a part of this alternative model is that the two-thirds-time scholar would only be paid, say, two thirds as much as the full-time scholar. For people whose outside interests also made money, this would likely be an ideal scenario. For people whose other interests have no corresponding income stream, full-time academia might be the only way to pay the mortgage. However, I suspect that there are a lot of academics and would-be academics out there who would gladly trade a portion of their paycheck for a saner and more well rounded life.

Here's the final Calamities of Nature strip. When you have a chance, go check out the whole archive.

Best of luck to Tony Piro in his all his future endeavors, academic and otherwise.

[Reposted from the Ronin Blog]

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Iran and Israel, Love and Peace

So, here's a pretty cool thing. Yesterday someone started a Facebook page where Israeli and Iranian citizens are sharing messages of mutual respect, love, and peace, in contrast to the rhetoric coming from the two governments. Check it out here.

It's a small thing, but still cool, and has already built up a pretty good head of steam. And, you know, it is always worth pointing out the fact that it is usually governments that hate each other, not people (except to the extent that they are whipped into a frenzy by misinformation from their war-mongering governments).

Now, I'm neither Israeli nor Iranian, but I am American, and, of course, we have a similar set of issues. On that point, let me just put this up. You've already seen it, because it's all over the internet, but, again, there are some things that can't be said too many times.

Darwin Eats Cake Fan Art!

So, here we are, five days after celebrating Darwin Eats Cake's birth, and the little comic that could has just received its first piece of fan art. To set the stage, here is Darwin Eats Cake number 88 -- The top five underutilized Watchmen references:

And here is this awesome piece, submitted by Iona Bellamy:

which is so much more clever than any of the ones that I came up with. Thanks, Iona, for this piece of genius!

Liberty Square Reoccupied (Briefly)

So, last night wasn't just our national annual paean to Irish drunkenness. It was also the six-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In celebration, hundreds of occupiers moved back into Liberty Square. There are widespread reports of police overreaction and use of excessive force in the course of clearing the park, but, as usual, exactly what happened, who did what to whom, and who is responsible is a matter of some disagreement.
Occupy protesters in front of the George Washington statue on Wall Street. Photo by John Minchillo (AP).
According to most sources, "scores" were arrested last night, according to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, 73.

For those in New York, there will be a follow-up protest at 8pm tonight (March 18) at the red cube across from Liberty Plaza. The protest is focused on yesterday's arrests. If you can't make it, check in on Tim Pool's always excellent livestream. He is almost always right were the action is.

Now that the weather is warming up, expect to see a lot more occupy protests. After all, the world still needs saving.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Super Best Friends Forever!

So, here's a little something for the equinophobic bronies out there. I believe that this is a teaser for a short that will appear at some point on Cartoon Network's DC Nation.

It's actually a little bit awesome.

via Topless Robot.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Accidental Discharge Impossible

So, here something for you if you were feeling insufficiently unsettled this morning.

Fun Fact: Accidental Discharge Impossible? Also true of Bon Iver's Johnson.

via Boing Boing.

Toxoplasmosis Extravaganza: Ride Complete!

So, this week at Darwin Eats Cake, we celebrated our one-year anniversary with a series of nine strips on the zooparasite Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite, which causes Toxoplasmosis, is the reason why pregnant women are encouraged to avoid cat litter.

Here's the full series, presented for your one-stop-shopping viewing pleasure. The strips do not, I think, assume any expert biological knowledge, so you don't need to be a parasitologist to enjoy them. However, a dorky and juvenile sense of humor will help a lot. Alternatively, you can read them on the Darwin Eats Cake website, where they look a little better, I think. The series starts at

At this point, Darwin Eats Cake will return to its regular programming schedule, with twice-a-week updates, usually on Mondays and Thursdays, except for those days that have been recognized as official holidays by the Darwin Eats Cake Council of Freeholders and its chairwoman, the duly elected Queen of Naboo.

So, stop by on Monday for a new strip, or any time to trawl the archive:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day

So, how are you celebrating Pi Day?  If you're like most Americans, it's by beginning the three-day process of deluding yourself into believing that you have some non-negligible Irish ancestry.

Here's what you should be doing instead:

Note: this song appears in many, many versions on the web, and, to be honest, I don't know what the appropriate attribution is. I picked this one because I like the video.  If you know where origination credit should go, let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Greendale 7: New, Official Community trailer

So, it's now C-day minus 2. Which is to say, beware the Ides of March, because the awesomeness will overwhelm the crap out of you.

Last week, we posted a fan-made trailer in celebration of the fact that Community returns this Thursday. Now the folks at NBC have gone and made their own. Watch it, then set your Tivo.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tumblr? Really?

So, when I started a webcomic a year ago, and made Dev the main character, I assumed that this would provide sufficient outlet for the fourteen-year-old girl inside me. It looks like I was wrong, as evidenced by the fact that I now have a tumblr. If this doesn't do it, someone's going to have to come sleep over and braid my hair.

Anyway, it's going to be a place for stuff where I'm like "Hey, that's cool," but then don't really have anything more to add. It will probably be mostly images, but we'll see how things shake out. In each case, click on the image for a link to the source. In general, I will privilege linking back to the original source, like the artist's webpage, over the intermediate source though which it may have come to my attention.

It's called Subjective Correlative, because, you know . . .

Here's the link:

I'm going to try to use the queueing function, so there will be multiple (maybe three or four) updates per day, posted at some sort of intervals (random? regular? I don't understand the tumblr.) during the day between 8 am and 10 pm Eastern (United States) time.

So drop on by!

It's Toxoplasmosis week at Darwin Eats Cake

So, tomorrow (March 13) marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of my webcomic Darwin Eats Cake on its very own website (here). Normally, Darwin Eats Cake updates approximately twice a week (hemicircaseptanally), on approximately Monday and Thursday (circa-Mondarily and circa-Thursdarily, I assume). However, to mark this special anniversary occasion, we are rolling out a daily series of strips on Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for Toxoplasmosis. This bug was recently in the news thanks to a profile of Jaroslav Flegr published recently in the Atlantic (here).

Here are the first two of this week's six strips:

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And remember: Sharing is Caring!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Introducing: Cogitations of a Houseplant

So, with the various things on my plate at the moment, it has sometimes been difficult to maintain Darwin Eats Cake's hemicircaseptanal (about twice a week) update schedule. Fortunately, Todd approached me with an idea to help fill in the gaps. You see, Todd sits around and thinks a lot, because, well, he's sort of stuck in a pot. Anyway, he thought that maybe he could share some of his thoughts with the Darwin Eats Cake audience. He hopes that both of you will enjoy it.

The good news is that this means more regular updating. In fact, thanks to Todd, we were able to post three updates this week. The bad news, if we're honest, is the quality of Todd's thoughts.

For better or worse, here are the first two cantos of "Cogitations of a Houseplant, with Todd"

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy International Women's Day (Gallery)

So, a Happy International Women's Day to all! Here's a small gallery of awesomeness for your international and womanly enjoyment:

Karen Zachary Wang

via this isn't happiness.

By Megan Lara.

Hark A Vagrant


"We will win" photo by Marwan Naamani

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Community Returns March 15 - Watch the (unofficial) trailer

So, we're now just about a week away from the victorious return of one of the best shows on or off television!

I don't even know what that means!

Here, to get you ready, is a trailer put together by TheDoloReel. (Probably not his/her "reel" name).

I'm sorry. I'm just so excited.

New Jersey this way

So, last night when I was catching the train home from Penn Station, I noticed for the first time that the platforms have these signs on them.

This struck me as mildly hilarious. My first thought was that it was a ridiculous sign for pedestrians, who were going to walk to New Jersey along the train tracks. Or maybe a dickish, passive-aggressive sign for people who were complaining about the trains: "Yeah, well, if you don't like the train schedule, why don't you just walk to Secaucus!"

My second thought, which I found much more charming, was that this was a sign for the trains themselves. You know, like, the train is ready to leave the station, but it has forgotten which way New Jersey is. Of course, train tracks are more-or-less one dimensional, and Penn Station is the end of the line for the New Jersey Transit trains, so there really is only one way to go when you're leaving. Somehow that makes it all the more charming to me that these trains need a reminder of which way to go.

Silly trains!

Finally it occurred to me that the signs were so that the passengers would know which end of the train was the front. You see, some of the stations have platforms that are not as long as the train is, and I believe that the trains have a regular pattern of whether they have the front end or the back end of the train hanging off the end of the platform. For example, you can't get off at our station from the rear three cars of the train. More advanced users probably know which end of their platform they need to be on to get their home (or car, or bus stop) with maximal efficiency. Knowing the orientation of the train allows them to optimize their seat choice.

When I realized that I had used my reasoning powers to reject the comically-geographically-impaired-anthropomorphized-trains hypothesis, I could not help but feel that my education had failed me.

The most astounding thing about the universe

So, Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome, with a capital AWE. Here's one reason why. This is a video of Tyson describing the single most astounding fact about the universe. His answer is from a 2008 interview, which has recently been set to music and accompanied by an excellent video by Max Schlickenmeyer.

via io9.

Of course, the other thing that I love so much about him is the way that when you look at him, his eyes are like "I would like to make sweet, sweet love to you," but then his clothes are all, "but I am physically incapable of doing so."

Just look:

I mean, seriously, how can you not love this guy?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Woman in supermarket has dirty, dirty pipes

So, you know that sense of satisfaction when you've just finished cleaning something? No? Me either, but, this woman certainly does.

Apropos of nothing, here's a recent paper on sperm competition in Drosophila.

Yeh SD, Do T, Chan C, Cordova A, Carranza F, Yamamoto EA, Abbassi M, Gandasetiawan KA, Librado P, Damia E, Dimitri P, Rozas J, Hartl DL, Roote J, & Ranz JM (2012). Functional evidence that a recently evolved Drosophila sperm-specific gene boosts sperm competition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (6), 2043-8 PMID: 22308475

Friday, March 2, 2012

Adam WarRock does Downton Abbey

So, remember Adam WarRock? He's the guy who brought you the awesome science-themed rap song "I am an action scientist."

Well, now he's covered Downton Abbey. To quote the YouTube page, this is:
The best rap song about an early 20th century period drama centered around property law that you'll ever hear. Believe that.
Oh, I do, Adam WarRock. I do.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Short-term job opportunity for Ronin Anthropologist

So, on my recent visit to the Colorado School of Mines, one of the people I got to meet was David Muñoz, who recently retired as a professor there. He has started a cool initiative that he calls "Humanitarian Engineering." I will write more about it when I understand it better, but, briefly, he wants to instill a greater sense of service, and a greater awareness of cultural issues, in tomorrow's engineers.

You can read some more about it here.

But here's today's action item: Dr. Muñoz has been working to build a water system for a village in Honduras. The village dates back only to 1998, when it was founded by refugees from Hurricane Mitch. The "Humanitarian Engineering" angle means that this project is not just about creating the infrastructure, but also about integrating it into the existing social/cultural milieu. He had a cultural anthropologist on board with with project, but this person had to drop out unexpectedly at the last minute.

This creates a perfect opportunity for the Ronin Anthropologists out there: if you have the right set of skills, and you are currently un- or under-employed, you might be able to fill in.

If you are interested, you need to be a cultural and/or social anthropolgist. You need to be pretty fluent in Spanish. And, you need to be willing and able to go soon. The job would involve going down to Honduras ASAP (ideally sometime in the next few weeks) and staying for a couple of months. Dr. Muñoz has funds to cover travel and expenses, as well as a modest stipend (something on the order of $4000).

If this is something that you might, possibly, be interested in, contact Dr. Muñoz for details: If you have friends (or colleagues, or family members, or former students) who might be a match, please forward this information on to them.

Clarification re: "Hot like Mexico"

So, I just got back from the Colorado School of Mines (And boy are my picks tired!!!), where I was speaking about the Ronin Institute. One of many wonderful things about the trip was the opportunity to meet Alejandro Weinstein, who has been featured twice on Guillaume's Mailbag over at Darwin Eats Cake. Following a conversation with him, I wanted to clarify something regarding the following strip:

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Alejandro apparently took the third frame of the comic to mean that Guillaume thought that he was from Mexico. I asked Guillaume about this, and he said no, that with a name like "Alejandro Weinstein," he had assumed that Alejandro was from Argentina. It turns out that Alejandro actually hails from Chile, which is sort of the Argentina of the west coast of South America, so, he wasn't too far off, really.

Guillaume went on to explain that, actually, "hot like Mexico" and "cool the bad" are references to the lyrics of the Lady Gaga song "Alejandro." Guillaume had assumed that this was common knowledge, at least until I pointed out to him that the set of people with a high degree of fluency in Lady Gaga lyrics probably shares little overlap with the set of people who read Darwin Eats Cake.

Anyway, Guillaume felt bad about the misunderstanding, and asked me to address it here.

On a related note, Guillaume's Mailbag is still accepting submissions. Send in any biological trait of any species, and Guillaume will provide an adaptationist explanation for its evolutionary origin. You can reach him at