Saturday, July 31, 2010

Why me? Why now? Am I not too old?! (never!)

I have issues.



Stop laughing! God!

Anyway - Just finished season 3 of Doctor Who, (its taken ages - too much real work to do - always in the way!) and will most likely start on season 4 soon (I see it as inevitable really).

I can't even explain myself, nor understand how one can be so happy with things like movie/TV/book characters and realities - I totes (I need to stop using that version of the word - I disgust myself, but its just so damn catchy!) get the 'happier with an alternate reality' thing.

Is the real world so unsatisfying? Not at all - so why is there such a draw to fiction?! Why even have an imagination? There must be some advantage, (I'll not even attempt an evolutionary debate, I'm not that suicidal), some benefit we get from it. Perhaps simple, uncomplicated happiness?!


Had the same thing with LOTR, and HP. I wonder what will be next? For now, I have 2 seasons to look forward to - shall ignore the despair looming when the dream ends at their completion :P

But now - to (real) work! (Yeah, its Saturday, big ups to me) Maybe I'll run into the Doctor on my way...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Grad students, beer and scrabble= recipe for...

Freaking awesome!

Normal scrabble is waaaaay to slow - so we played 'take two', I of course got frustrated almost straight away at my companions obvious mastery of the game:

and switched to more productive employment - building block people.

This of course mutated - nay, evolved:

And then the game turned scientific:

And then bragging:

Which elicited rejoinders:

And shoutouts to absent labrats:

And finally, into places best left un-evidenced, this only started the downward spiral:

I shall stop there.

Newest child

I can't stop looking at it - watching the cogs turn for godsake.

(I have massive magpie issues!)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crazy on my mind

Three things are on my mind – first, the data I need and the talk I need to write – neither of which I can do anything about right at this moment, so have put both out of my mind (for better or worse; can worry about that shit in the morning).

Second – actually, let’s not talk about that one.

Third – Doctor Who. I freaking love that shit! I’m only up to season 3, episode 4 and the going is slow, no time to be watching the Doctor really, but man – more! How have I wasted so much of my life *not* watching this awesomeness?!


Evolve. Evolve!. EVOLVE!!

And that is all.

(I might have just bought a sonic screwdriver flashlight...)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ooooo there's a silicon mold I could get into

Usually anti - will make an exception for these!

NomSkulls - brilliant!

Cool tape!

Now make one with stitches!


But do we trust Merriam-Webster?

Finally a definitive answer (I swear every person thinks they know for sure - and turns out most of them are wrong).

"Kory Stamper, an Associate Editor at Merriam-Webster, talks about the plural version of octopus. She says you can use octopuses, octopi or octopodes."

But the real issue - is it Sharktopusses, Sharktopi or Sharktopodes?!

I want this cake!


My bones hurt

Totally epic weekend: I mowed the lawn, clipped my ornamental grasses, swept the concrete, cleaned out the dog kennel and cleaned his bedding, 3 loads of washing, 2 loads of dishes, washed the dog, cleaned out the fish bowl, cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed the house, folded sorted and put away the 3 loads of washing, scrubbed the mold off the bathroom ceiling, packed up the stacks of newspaper for recycling, walked the dog for an hour and a half, and then went out for a friends Birthday Dinner.

All after noon on Sunday. Made up for sleeping till noon both Saturday and Sunday I think :D

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Some videos to make your day

How can people be so different on TV from 'real life' and yet still the same?!

Consider this a followup to IWTSC S01E01! The CloseUp interview:

And this is Ella, our brilliant winner:

Still blown away.

Photos that make me want to cry Part VI

Every now and again following the Guardian makes me happy.

These phenomenal photos were taken with super fast shutter speed (obviously) and amazing flash-stuff by Scott Linstead, and I am so impressed with the time it must have taken to compile these shots. Amazing.

The last two are totes my fav bro.

Have a look at all of them through the link. Beautiful.

I love it!


By Andrew. I especially like this bit:

Just brill. I can't even explain why it tickles my awesomebone so much. Perhaps the green tinge and the sentiment - " 'is gonna blow...!" (I also kinda want to hug the poohhulk, he looks cuddly!"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


This was first posted on SciBlogs, didn't want to step on any toes!

For the first two weeks in July Tom McFadden was in town to take part in the NZ International Science Festival, care of the Otago Institute and Genetics Otago. You may or may not recognise the name – but Tom is the man behind the glasses in the Science Rap hits on YouTube – indeed if you are a first year at Otago Uni and studying CELS191 you would have been shown the ‘Hi Meiosis’ video already. I highly recommend going for a look – the lyrics are witty and accurate, and the production values are great considering the hobby-nature of the entire venture. A brilliant pick-up for any biology lecture or lab, and an excellent example of a novel Science Communication concept.

Whilst in town Tom toured Primary and High Schools around the region and ran a workshop for kids interested in writing their own science raps. The culmination of this not-inconsiderable effort was seen on Sunday the 11th where 12 boys and girls aged between 8 and 15 preformed their creations on stage at the Fun & Food FIESTA with the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival & Dunedin City Council. I was a ‘guest judge’ for this and was blown away by both the kids’ abilities and Tom’s skill with children.

Tom with a 5th grade student from a class he volunteered with, on a field trip to a biological preserve to do some water experiments (as part of the build up to the "Clouds Make it Rain" song).

Tom will be returning to NZ in 2011 to commence studies under the University of Otago’s new Science Communication Masters degree, and I’m sure run-ragged touring schools and University lectures to spread the good word (that being the shear awesomeness of science in general).

Tom has a background in Human Biology and graduated with a BA from Stanford in 2008. His undergrad studies included a specific focus on neuroscience and behaviour, and he spent two years in Prof. Russell Fernald’s lab completing a thesis on how social status influences GnRH neuron morphology and ion channel expression of African cichlid fish.

Upon the completion of his undergraduate studies, Tom spent 2 years as a full time ‘course associate’ (equivalent to a combination of our tutor/demonstrator and Teaching Fellow roles) for the same degree; doing such things as actual teaching, holding office hours & review sessions, helping to write exams and problem sets, and designing interactive curriculum for the course associates teaching duties. Tom started making the music videos to supplement the classroom teaching – when the students had finished a topic, they would get a video as a review/study-aid. He has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for his studies in 2011 at Otago University.

I selfishly commandeered some of Tom’s ‘holiday’ time post NZ-visit to answer a couple of questions, his answers to which offer a unique insight into what has amounted to unexpected internet virulence, and unique science communication. I find myself continually more impressed with him, and surprised at discovering such a kindred spirit (or so I would like to claim)- I definitely lack any rap-skilz whatsoever, so don’t even ask.
Favourite Science?
Biology. Hard to choose between evolution, genetics, development, endocrinology, and neuroscience. I love the integration of them all.

PC or Mac?

To be honest I was tempted to finish here – such an answer, but I will restrain myself.

Why did you start rapping about science – ie why rap? why about science?
I had made parody songs throughout my childhood and watched a lot of Bill Nye, the great grand-daddy of science rap parodies. When I was hired as a full-time course associate, it was my task to do whatever I could to help students learn. I believe that a big part of learning is one's personal motivation and engagement with the material. I thought music videos might provide a boost of motivation to those students who needed a break from the fairly intense and sometimes overwhelming pace of the class. Why rap? Because growing up that's what all of my friends listened to. And because I can't sing but I do have rhythm, so I'm fairly restricted in my choice of musical genre. I am a big fan of great lyricists like Andre 3000, Black Thought, Talib Kweli, Brother Ali, etc. And I had a ton of fun riffing on some of my favourite beats from the popular hip hop music of my high school years.

Did you think your endeavours would ever meet with such local success?
I was a little surprised that people other than my students enjoyed the songs, given that they were specifically made for an audience enrolled in a high level biology class. But I'm not surprised that people get excited about combining education and music. School House Rock and Bill Nye did it decades ago, and I know countless teachers who make their own music in the classroom. So I guess the biggest surprise to me is that people have been so surprised by the blending of science and rap.

Are you actually ‘famous’ for your videos at home?
Hmm. I don't get stopped on the street much. But if I meet people who study a given topic that I have rapped about, especially people who study Drosophila development, they often have seen a few of the videos.

How many people & hours does it take to get to the final video piece?
It's varied quite a bit, and the number of people and hours has increased with each production. Early songs with no videos I could knock out by myself in a few hours from writing through recording. But more recent ones are much more involved processes that require more of my time on the lyrics and the bulk of the time planning and executing video shoots. Luckily I've been able to work with great video people to do the shooting and the editing and there's no way I could do it without them.

How hard is it to make science rhyme and fit in with a beat?
I'm a huge fan of good lyrics and I've listened to enough good creative rap that it comes pretty naturally. Writing the song is one of my favourite parts of the process. Like anything else I think it's about practice, and I've put in enough hours listening and writing that it's just fun.

What is your opinion of science communication? ie. a worthwhile endeavour – to be talking about our science to the public?
Science communication is absolutely critical but I haven't yet made a big distinction between communication (to the general public) and education (in a formal school setting). I think the two are both necessary for the ultimate goal of having a society that can have a reasonable discussion about the role of science and technology in our society. Communication is clearly imperative when scientific findings inform legislation and public health - things like genetic testing, vaccinations, global warming, and risks from environmental toxins. However, I think it is equally important to convey the broad principles of scientific thinking and basic science so that the general public is equipped with doubt, curiosity, and an appreciation for open discussion about the world they live in.

What about to the newest generations? Science from a young age?
Maintaining excitement among young students is key. Most are naturally inquisitive and excited by the messy, hands-on, beautiful activity of science that allows them to engage with their questions about the world. Most also become frustrated and disillusioned by science when it becomes too memorization-oriented, too overwhelming, and perceived as being too hard. So you wind up with people who learn to impulsively dismiss science, a trait they hold onto as adults which prevents them from engaging in topics they are actually well-equipped to think critically about.

This final sentence is so insightful I want to have it framed. I have not come across the point so blatantly written, but it is so true, I have to take a few moments to just think about it...

Is Science important?


Do you want to stay in academic science?
I would like to spend a few more years in academic science. I think that communicating the activity of science is as important as communicating the results. Getting a PhD would provide the opportunity to be thoroughly trained in research, statistics, and gain a deeper understanding of how science is conducted, all of which will me a much stronger communicator and educator.

Where do you envisage yourself in 20 years?
At a small liberal arts college in the states, teaching a wild adventure of an introductory biology class and a neuroendocrinology seminar. When I'm not doing research or teaching, I'll be presenting in secondary schools and translating findings into plain English for the general public. I'll also probably be quite embarrassed by a series of rap videos I've made 20 years before, and trying to encourage my students to one-up me with whatever they think is the proper way to make a science music video in the year 2030.

If you could change one thing about tertiary institutions & how we teach our undergrads, to make them better, what would it be?
Coming from an interdisciplinary program, I would try to institutionalize creative cross-faculty interactions in order to create a more integrated learning experience for students. It's often just a matter of making time in people's insanely busy schedules and motivating faculty to put in that extra bit of work to make a compelling integration. Secondly, increasing the role of hands-on lab experience and demonstrations. Luckily I think improving interactive technologies will make "virtual" labs much easier to incorporate into classes. Lastly, I think it makes sense to put a larger emphasis on training and rewarding professors who are great at teaching and not just research.

I cannot even express how happy it makes me to hear someone else extolling the virtues of this course of action – academics rewarded for better teaching, not just paper outputs. Especially when so much depends upon their influence of undergrads – well-taught graduates for starters, plus the next generation of researchers and science communicators inspired.

And finally- an opinion on Dunedin/Otago Uni/New Zealand/your visit in general?
Dunedin was great. I loved the proximity of things, and how close you are to tremendous outdoor adventures. I am most excited by the strength of the research coming out of the university, since one of my goals while I'm there will be to stay on top of the cutting edge of neuroscience and genetics and innovative ways to bring that to the public and students. Can't wait to get started.


I have spent a bit of time contemplating why Tom’s particular talents and brand of Science Communication is so fascinating and delightful to us – indeed everyone I have observed watching him perform these two weeks has been quite enraptured, and I get the distinct feeling his notoriety in NZ came as a wee bit of a surprise.

I have decided it comes down to cultural differences. Very few New Zealand youths – let alone Science-studying youths would have the confidence or motivation to perform in such a manner. Which is just ridiculous – why is the association between a confident personality type – and science as a study choice; distinct categories of students in my mind? I am perhaps biased due to my love for Science, and the teaching of the science subjects (Yeah, I claimed it – geek, and proud of it: without the stereotypes; I’ll have you know I have perfect vision and have never needed glasses) – but I think everyone should have a decent science background. I also think all adults should have some semblance of a political awareness and psychology background – so my critique of the education system and society in general is perhaps unfair, if not highly unrealistic.

I have seen a glimpse of the NZ Science-Youth possibilities at the Otago Hands-On Science summer-camp style program. I have helped run the Genetics workshops for a couple of years now, and attended the camp in my 6th form – a million years ago. I did the Microbiology project due to Genetics not having one established then – it was brilliant. I was inspired by the new clarity of what studying science at Uni was like, and was ahead in my Bursary (NCEA Level 3) studies – I had actually done some of the techniques we later learned about in class. And I am definitely the kind of person to revel in knowing things before others – or indeed, just before I ought to...

Some of the kids taking part in the program have this spark of brilliance – that intangible link between good communication/social skills and intense science passion. Every year we get comments about how normal we are – that real scientists wear normal/cool/pretty clothes, are easy to talk to, have fun in the lab and so on. So the potential in NZ students is there, for sure; we need to isolate and encourage that spark in all our scientists, young and old.


Tom proved to be a delightful, enthusiastic and intelligent young man and I look forward to seeing him back at Otago next year (it is after all the best University), and I hope his attitude and insight will inspire Otago Scientists to greater efforts with regards to the communication of their science.

Oh god, no...

How is this ok?!

Oooo blue and stars!

"This time-lapse photo was taken in eastern Victoria, Australia, and features Noctiluca Scintillans, a type of algae that naturally produces a light-emitting chemical reaction. You can't see it during the day, but, at night, the algae glow electric blue, illuminating portions of the shoreline where wind pushed the blooms during the day."

From article here and photos here. Story here. Amazing.

I want to go and see it!

Pretty cool

Cool shit. Instructions on how to make them, or where to go to find said instructions included. The bookshelf is my fav! Want! and maybe the axe in the wall - though I would probably just put an axe through a wall...

How do you stop from doing this everywhere?!

road zip!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Yeah, I like carpet

Attended a symposium yesterday "Nature, Nurture & You" - held at St Margarets College, which has beautiful carpet in their main common room.

Just gorgeous. The symposium was good too - more on that later.

Such elegance

I am astounded that a. he is comfortable, and b. he is secure enough in his domination of the dog that he can even relax like this.

Awwwww - don't you just want to tickle his fluffy belly? (I did - he woke up and yoweled at me :D)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reviews all over the show

Brilliant stuff. I might have an unnatural (and unhealthy) obsession - but I am just loving all these hating reviews on the Twilight movies.

"Bella continues to mope over her abusive, controlling boyfriend Edward. She wants more than anything to be turned into a vampire so Edward can control her forever and ever…"

"But Bella is pretending to be conflicted because Stephenie Meyer signed a contract for FOUR books and we need some bullshit padding here, so she tries to make us think she loves the werewolf, too, because he has taut manboobs."

"This was pretty much the point where I died inside. I’m dead inside now. Deader than Kristen Stewart’s eyes when she’s supposed to be expressing passion or humor or kindness or… well, anything."

"In the end, of course Bella picks Cedric Diggory"

Nice work Skepchick. Also goes on to detail "Five Things That Are More Important to Rage About Than Twilight"

Are you impressed that I can both love and hate the some thing simultaneously?! Really, really want to see it again - and also rail against the bad morals and lessons for young girls and the abusive, controlling relationships?!

Lovely stuff. Manboobs. 'Nuff said.

Further proof - that I am, indeed, insane.

Somehow, I have agreed/been persuaded/decided to walk the half marathon in 8 or so weeks.

Not a big deal - I know. It seems like most of my peeps are running the full for godsake (why do I like these people?!), and I figure if I have to do it - the few left not taking part should have to as well. Lab team! Team t-shirts! Fundraising?! I feel some organising coming on...

Anyway - it has certainly provided a source of motivation to walk the dog for longer and longer each day, and is having a delightful side effect:

Completely exhausted. A beautiful thing.

In unrelated news - caught Trouble using his kennel today. He has refused to spend any significant time in it up until recently (apparently), I think due to his not wanting to miss anything going on. Also - caught him chewing something he is actually allowed to chew, also something he has refused to do until recently (also apparently). I gave him treats :D

A proud moment.

The great bee photoshoot

My lab dabbles in 'the bee research', and our wee minions needed some photos for conf posters and promo purposes - so we waited for some good weather, and took the amazing lab camera out to the hive fields.

It was a smashing day - but rain and the stream flooding recently made for some...adventures.

Had to abandon the car (which I had cleaned the weekend before - typical) and walk the final stretch. Cows (beautiful ones, good old AgResearch - loving their research subjects) had made a lovely mess:

Precious was wearing some amazing shoes - a hazard of being both awesome fashion-wise and science-inclined, so we solved that wee dilemma with plastic bags. (Like my handbag - my car has everything you could ever, ever need - Thanks Dad :P) My own boots will never be the same. Luckily enough - I don't give a shit, and they scrubbed up OK.

It was a completely beaut day, and hives prove a most captivating subject. We also worked out the timer, and generally revelled being out of the lab - and in the sun, for an afternoon.

Would you believe I went the entire excursion without throwing even one mud pie?! I must be coming down with something...