Category Archives: Random Rants

Scientia Pro Publica #46

Scientia Pro Publica

Alright you lot, apologies for hibernating for the last couple of months. For those of you who don’t know (ie. who aren’t on twitter), I’ve been working at Australian science magazine, Cosmos, since June, and it’s keeping me very busy and happy. But don’t give up on old RP completely – we’ll be back very soon…

That aside, I’m super-excited to be able to host the 46th edition of Scientia Pro Publica: a rotating bi-monthly compilation of the best blog writing targeted to the public about science, medicine, the environment and technology. And if you a) think taking 5000 bees in a suitcase on a plane is a great but pointless idea, b) think strapping a prawn to a treadmill is a great but pointless idea or c) need proof that chimps are nothing like humans because you hate them and don’t want to look at them ever as much as I do – prepare to be enlightened.

Or don’t, I don’t know, it’s not like it’s going to change anything. Either way it’s just going to end with a, “Huh. Cool.” anyway, which is pretty much ideal if you ask me.

beesonaplane

So first up: BEES ON A PLANE

The team over at More Than Honey – The Making of a Bee Documentary tell the amazing story of German biologist, Max Renner – student of the famous bee expert, Karl von Frisch, – who somehow stuffed 5000 bees into a wooden suitcase in 1955 and boarded a plane from Paris to New York to see how their tiny internal ‘bee clocks’ would cope. Do bees get jetlag? What kind of decor does a Bee Room need?  Click to find out…

So bees can count to four and speaking of counting and segways, The Questionable Authority blog destroys the dreams of school kids everywhere by explaining why Conrad Wolfram’s idea proposal to let computers do the calculations in maths class instead of the kids doing it themselves just won’t work. Fifteen-year-old me is devastated. And continuing on our mini maths jaunt, MarkCC from Good Math, Bad Math explains what obfuscatory mathematics is and precedes to stomp all overits use to argue against the value of vaccination.

Things are getting characteristically philosophical over at Traversing the Razor, where that giant cat overlord oversees a post to celebrate Carl Sagan Day (8th November) with an excerpt from Pale Blue Dot (1994). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an incredible read. The giant cat overlord would also like you to ponder the science versus the products of science question while you bask in his hypnotic gaze.

eleutherodactylus-iberia

THIS GUY.

Look at him. He’s the weeniest. But being weeny doesn’t mean he can’t kill things. GrrlScientist from Punctuated Equilibrium explains how the recently discovered eleutherodactylus iberia – the Cuban mini-frog – evolved to be highly toxic due to its very specific diet.

Meanwhile, not-so-poisonous but a whole lot more deadly if you’re a harbour seal – the Pacific sleeper sharks have been found to be controlling certain parts of its ecosystem with fear. That’s just the kind of thing a shark would do, only sleeper sharks aren’t known for eating seals. Chuck from Ya Like Dogs explains the science of keeping ’em in line – fear style.

Also frightening are chimps. Don’t even get me started. Now, I specifically asked for no chimp-related submissions because I don’t want primates infecting this blog, but Norman Johnson from Watching the Detectives compromises by reviewing Jeremy Taylor’s Not a Chimp. If I’m going to have to read about chimps, it helps that I’m reading about how unlike humans they are.

Emily Willingham from The Biology Files introduces us to microchimerism. And no, this isn’t some awesome condition that makes you develop the parts of a lion, a goat and a snake and then makes you really really small. I know, I’m disappointed too. What it does mean is that we can carry a few cells from someone else around with us, meaning our parents are literally with us all the time. Again, frightening.

Now I hope you all remember THIS:

It gets me every single time. But now thanks to Andrew from Southern Fried Science, we now know why that prawn is unwittingly scrambling for its life. You’ll also find out about other scientific experiments that don’t harm the animals (even the Pigeon’s Obstacle Course of Doom and Baby Seal Waterboarder) but can tell us so much about them.

Meanwhile Andrew Bernardin hits us with some null news over at 360 Degree Skeptic, discussing recent null experimental results involving fish oil and green tea and why they are important, and Bob O’Hara from Deep Thoughts and Silliness takes a look at a paper on research fraud, and find the Americans aren’t as bad as the paper made out. So America: 1, Journal of Medical Ethics: zero.

Last up – Mike McRae from The Tribal Scientist talks about the real education gap – between science and maths communicators and their students – and makes some really important points, and Bill Litshauer from RelativelyInteresting.com explains how the seasons work, in terms that even I can understand. (Shhhh….)

Now I’ll leave you with James Byrne from Disease of the Week!’s post about gut flora. It’s gross. There are gross bodily functions, gross bodily emissions, gross babies eating gross bodily emissions…. but it’s also a great read.

Thus ends my part. And now I’m going to read something really really stupid to balance all of this out. Or watch cat videos. I’ll just do that. If you want to get involved in the next Scientia Pro Publica, keep an eye on the website for submission details.

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Insects, New Species!, Random Rants, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

Thanks To Snowboarding…

Ra Stall

I didn’t grow up as a Milo kid skiing or snowboarding every weekend, I don’t do back-to-back seasons and I’m not a particularly skilled or ‘stylish’ rider. However, none of this detracts from the fact that I am one hundred per cent completely addicted to the shred. I could spend hours watching videos, reading magazines, trawling through photos and blogs, talking about and thinking about snowboarding. As an aside, the only other thing I could possibly spend more time being as unproductive on is football, but I support a sinking ship that shall only be referred to as Titanic United for want of saving myself from the taunts of supporters of other rather more successful clubs, so no one really wants to listen to my rants about that.

My boss once asked me if the only reason I came to work was to have enough money to go snowboarding and, as much as I hate to admit it, even to myself, when I think about where I have been over the past few years, the answer is probably, no definitely, yes.

Remarks Mist Nay

Holidays, by definition, should be time of rest. Kick your shoes off, grab a cocktail and lounge by the pool for a couple of weeks. I haven’t taken one of these relaxing, summer type holidays in years, and given the choice between four weeks on an isolated beach with non-stop mojitos, sunshine and blue waters or a frenzied ten days of driving hundreds of kilometres, early starts, late nights, freezing cold weather and incredibly sore muscles*, I know what I would choose. And one of the main reasons I love it so, apart from the fact that goggle tans are far more attractive then full-body tans, is the places snowboarding has taken me and the people I have met.

Now, I am no sybarite, but seasons and even extended trips really make you appreciate the comparative luxuries of home. If you don’t live in a two-bedroom apartment with five other people, count yourself lucky. And if you have your own room – win! Sharing confined car spaces, hotel rooms, beds and sometimes, even toothbrushes, brings you very close together, very quickly. And although I may only see some of these people once every couple of months, or every six months or once a year if I’m lucky, they are my family. The bond created is pretty unique. It is a crazy love we share for something that drives you ever closer to the poverty line and that is probably causing some irreparable damage to your knees and back, not to mention your liver, that can only be understood by those who have experienced it in one way or another. It’s amazing how you can pick right up where you left off with someone you may have met a few years ago and not seen since. Or how random, repeated brief encounters can eventually lead to life-long friendships.

Sakka

It is not just the people that snowboarding has introduced me to that deepens my love for it, but also the places I have been because of it. I recently spent some (very limited) time in Japan and it is one of, if not the, most fantastic places I have visited. You can read about a country and study the language and listen to stories from people who have been there, but you can only really gain a deeper understanding and respect for the mores of another culture by being a part of it. My childhood was spent all over South-East Asia but everything about Japan was completely different from anywhere I have been to. The language, the art, the fashion, the people, the food, the way of life. But it is not just a clashing culture that you can learn something from. Somewhere like Canada or the US, which on the surface does not appear to be that different from Australia, is resplendent with cultural gems, if you are willing to take the time to look. Immersing yourself in the culture – whether that means sake with a dinner dish that you’re not quite sure of, but you eat anyway despite the disturbing moving flesh-looking bits on the top, or downing beer after beer in some dive of a bar while watching hockey, a sport you know nothing about, but yell at the TV when everyone else does anyway – this, to me, is what travelling is about. And if it is snowboarding that has got you there, maybe it’s time to take a sec and say thanks.

So, thank you snowboarding. Thanks to you, I have: two bung knees, a never-ending snow debt with the Bank of Mum and Dad, sent a thirteen year old boy to hospital for stitches, hung out with snow monkeys in onsens, fallen in love (or maybe just lust), had my heart broken, taken $80k rental cars for spins in the icy car park, an ever-recovering coccyx, had ridiculous fights about powder day etiquette, learnt how to converse with a Japanese doctor while my delirious and broken sister yelled for painkillers, a family that spans the globe and a million memories, good and bad, that I wouldn’t exchange for anything.**

*I use this word quite loosely when referring to myself.

**This is negotiable. What have you got to offer?

Ra  xxx

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For My Sydney Wish List

Design Festa Gallery

After my recent three week jaunt, I’ve come to the conclusion that Japan is the single most awesome place on the planet. Even the Natural History Museum can’t compete with this corner of the world. Heated toilet seats to keep your bum toasty warm, vending machines EVERYWHERE selling anything and everything you could possibly imagine, insane fashion and technology, a polite, honest and friendly population and more culture oozing out of every temple and crack in the road that in a ten litre tub of yoghurt. God, I could holiday in that place forever. Sadly, reality is a bitch and the holiday is more than over. Luckily I have an infinite supply of memories and one of the highlights of the trip was definitely Tokyo’s Design Festa Gallery.

Tucked away in the back streets of Harajuku, this gallery only adds to Tokyo’s um, radness. Every single space in the gallery’s two wings and courtyard is an exhibition space, even the toilets. Everything is a canvas – the walls, vending machines, bins, ceilings, staircases…

Design Gallery Fiesta Recycle (Ra Lake)

The gallery was opened as an off shot of Design Festa, an international art festival held biannually at Tokyo Big Sight, that boasts to be the biggest event of its type in the world. 7000 artists and 2600 booths – quite large. Anyway, back to the gallery. There are 29 art spaces spread between the older West Wing, which used to house traveling gaijin like myself, until 1998, and the East Wing, which opened in 2007. The gallery also features 77 Wall Art Piece spaces. The cost for the artist varies depending on the size of the space and the length of time they wish to show, but the gallery takes no commission on any sale. You may not pardon the cliche, but this place really is an artist’s paradise.      

After wandering up and down stairs, in and out of exhibit rooms, conversing with the artists as they cooked with friends to the sound of a little bit of J-Pop and drawing us as egg people, we sat down for an Asahi and a short chat with Nigel, who wanted to find out about our experience at Design Festa Gallery. He quizzed us about Australia, what brought us to Japan, how long we were staying and how five girls from Australia even knew how to snowboard. At one point he may have asked us what we thought about the gallery. We even made it on to the gallery’s blog. Yes, I’m on the Japanese interwebs, I must be famous. What do they say? I’m big in Japan.

This rant really only leaves me with one question. Why is there no place like this in Sydney?* 

Egg People

* Correct answers will be rewarded with cupcakes. Or penny farthings. Whichever I have more stock of at the time.

Ra  xxx

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Filed under Art, Free Stuff, Japan!, Random Rants

“Twilight” Conquers Earth, Invades Sea

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So I know Twilight is all like super-important to the kids these days, and that it’s the most popular badly-written fiction in the history of the world or something, but I didn’t really think the whole “stoner (/emo) vampire” thing would actually permeate to Under the Sea. Totally didn’t see that one coming. Is nothing immune from this wildly overrated drivel? Nothing? The Natural History Museum of London have just announced the discovery of yet another new species of fish, the Myanmar-native and aptly-named, Danionella dracula or Vampire Fish, a resident zoologist, Dr Ralf Britz, declaring,

“This fish is one of the most extraordinary vertebrates discovered in the last few decades.”

The Museum had kept their D. dracula in captivity for over a year, only recently coming to realise their status as an undiscovered species when they suddenly started dying, the microscopic autopsy treatment on their tiny 15mm minnow-carcases revealing the true glory of their ridiculous fangs. But alas, it wasn’t to be:

“When I preserved them and looked at them under the microscope, I thought, ‘My God, what is this, they can’t be teeth.'”

Turns out they’re just ridiculous “protuberances of the jaw.” Still pretty emo though. I can totally imagine what it would be like at dinnertime with a family of Danionella draculas

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Filed under Museum Stuff, New Species!, Random Rants, Sea Creatures

So Bees Can Count. We’re All Doomed.

bee

Results recently reported in PLoS ONE of a study conducted by the ANU have revealed that honeybees can be taught how to count to four. They attempted five, but then they exploded, and tiny segments of leg and honey flew all over the place and things had to be dry-cleaned. Stage two of the study will involve an investigation into whether they can be also taught to perform simple arithmetic. You’re probably thinking, “Awww imagine all the tiny honeybees doing elementary division,” but don’t. If we teach them arithmetic, do you really think it will end there? Oh no, pretty soon they’ll be asking us to teach them how to read, write and forge signatures, and we’ll be like, “hehe okay,” because who amongst us can deny something so little?*

When I was about tenish, I was pretty obsessed with insects, and the only one I hadn’t really kept as a pet at some point was a bee. So I caught one in a jar and watched in horror as it manically bashed itself against the walls and the lid until it was dead. It took about two and a half minutes. And we want to teach these reckless, nihilistic villains the value and beauty of knowledge. Really? It’s all well and cute until they figure out how to commit fraud and suddenly everyone starts receiving credit card bills for over $15,000 and eight dozen overdue library book notifications. Don’t think it can’t happen. And if bees can successfully learn that shit, you’d want to bet that all their insect brothers and sisters can too. We’ve already had the Bubonic plague, outbreaks of malaria, the deaths of hundreds of innocent Lakertyans and one tragically allergic eleven-year-old, and that was before they could accurately draw an angle bisector through an isosceles triangle. DON’T TEACH THINGS THAT CAN KILL YOU MORE THAN THEY ALREADY KNOW.

* I can, because I don’t get the luxury of free tertiary education like they do.

– bec

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Filed under Insects, Random Rants, Science

Fuck Off With Your Shitty Display

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Okay look, I don’t want to be a downer, because you guys have obviously put a lot of effort into it all, but seriously, this would never actually happen. Your shit’s all askew. Like for starters, Lamby, how did you even get up there? Your hooves aren’t made for rock climbing, they’re made for trotting around a grassy meadow like a tiny puff of downy cloud with a very loud voice. Clouds don’t belong in some dreary half-arsed cave. And neither do you, Parrots, you’re far too pretty for this mixed-up fuckery. Get out while you can, and while you’re at it, pick Lamby up by his cloud-shoulders and haul him the hell out of there too, bearing in mind that you might want to go your separate ways once you’re in the open again. You can’t really expect Lamby to want to hang out with you in the trees all that much anyway, which is probably a good thing because did I mention that he talks real loud, like all the time? The other treetop creatures won’t put up with that bullshit for long, even if you two naive bastards think you can.

What? No, no, Wallabies, you’re fine where you are. You too, Bower Bird, just go about your business, I’ve got this. You might want to lay low for a bit though, till I sort out Snarly McSnarl over there. Wait, this was your idea, wasn’t it, Mountain Lion? You think you can just invite a whole lot of your delicious friends over for drinks and whatever, and they’re not going to get suspicious at some point? That water isn’t even real! And it’s appearing as if from nowhere! That poor Duck is plenty confused, and will probably smash his little face into it if he’s not careful. Oh and a peacock, Mountain Lion, seriously? You just got cocky with that shit, obviously. Yeah, good idea, Peacock, off you go, I’ll meet you in the tearoom in five. See, Mountain Lion? The rest of them are eventually going to pick it up too, and then all you’ll have is a bunch of weepy, sad-faced delicious friends on your hands. You don’t think Unidentifiable Tiny Mammal over there won’t bust out the cute as soon as you tell him he’s lunch, do you? Exactly.

Oh yeah, go on, Goat Features, laugh it up. Just because you’ve got horns and you’re kinda tall doesn’t mean Mountain Lion isn’t going to lunge at you the minute you check out that Fake Pond of Deception. And don’t think your weird voodoo zombie ritual is going to help you, because Mountain Lions don’t believe in that shit. And just so you know, you’re going straight to hell for all those reindeer you scalped, you hairy douchebag.

Oh, hey Frogs. What, a song? For me? Well I was going to meet this peacock for lunch about nowish, but okay, I guess one song can’t hurt. Where do you want me to sit? Up here? It’s awfully close to – hey, Mountain Lion, don’t mind me, I’ll be out of your hair in a minute.  A drink? Sure, umm, I don’t know, a water or something, maybe?

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Museum Stuff, Random Rants

The Drums, The Drums, The Drums, The Drums…

Animal!

Before I started playing the guitar, before the flute and before the piano, but probably after the recorder, I longed to play the drums. Unfortunately, due to my mother’s definition of said instrument as “noise, not music,” I was confined to sporadic sessions at a friend’s house, where her older brother would teach me simple beats. The standard bass, hi-hat and snare beat was as far as my drumming ever got, but since then, my obsession with the band’s heartbeat has never waned.

For me, it’s always been about that frantic dude at the back of the stage. Maybe it’s those incredibly quick hands. Or the ability to keep rhythm so well. Lord knows how coordination has always made me swoon.

So here, in no particular order, are the eight drummers that I think kick almost as much ass as Liam Neeson in that revenge film that left me with too many questions at the end. Like, how did he escape France without the entire force of le police nationale coming down on him? Or, whatever happened to the girl’s dead best friend?

 Anyway, I digress …

 Travis Barker – Blink 182

Dave Grohl – Nirvana

Keith Moon – The Who

Mick Avory – The Kinks

John Bonham – Led Zeppelin

Topper Headon – The Clash

Maureen Tucker – Velvet Underground (Girls on drums. Even Better)

Stewart Copeland – The Police

 Ps. I’m not entirely sure what this post has to do with Sydney (or anything really), but there will be an awful lot of drummers playing at the Big Day Out this Friday. Yes, segue FTW. 

Ra  xxx

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Filed under Music, Random Rants