Category: Science

Wild Animal Sex

| April 18, 2014 | Reply

I’ve studied sex in the wild, at least somewhat, but I learned more than a few thing during this entertaining talk by Carin Bondar.  Most bizarre is her description of the hectocotylus, a detachable swimming penis of the paper nautilus.

After watching this talk, I followed up by reading more about unusual animal genitals. 

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New on PBS: Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish.”

| April 10, 2014 | Reply

Back in 2008, I read Neil Shubin’s book, “Your Inner Fish.” I posted on it here. PBS has worked with Shubin to present a documentary that covers and expands on Shubin’s work. What a great compliment to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. You won’t want to miss this. It’s a story about plasticity, about how your body is bursting with evidence of your animal ancestors.  Another reason to watch this: Shubin’s enthusiasm is contagious.

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We create technology and technology changes us.

| April 6, 2014 | Reply

I played guitar at a local coffee house last night ( Hartford Coffee ) In my haste to pack up to go, I forgot my electronic guitar tuner. Last night, then, I realized how dependent I have become on the tuner. I’ve played for many decades and, until 5 years ago, tuned by ear. I’ve fallen out of habit since then because these cheap tuners are incredibly accurate. All you need to do is watch the read-out–you don’t even need to hear the guitar while tuning (one of my tuners attaches to the head of the guitar and picks up vibrations). I made it through the night, of course, but I found myself having to focus on what exactly the tuning problem was (which string or strings was out of tune, and which direction). People who don’t play stringed instruments don’t realize that even when you get the guitar tuned, it might not last for long. Even two songs later, it could require another adjustment.

My point is that I had offloaded a skill to an electronic device. This is a common phenomenon these days. A lot of us don’t know the phone numbers of our friends–no need to, with smart phones. Many of us are terrible spellers, but no problem, because the word processor will signal problems. My Google calendar and smart phone seem to organize me, rather than me organizing them. I find myself shooting out short texts and emails to get right to it, rather than calling, which requires some social graces–younger folks avoid calls like the plague, it seems. This makes me wonder whether they are thus losing some conversational skills. Robin Dunbar has researched the number of friends we have in our social group (it tends to be close to 150), but people who watch a lot of TV have fewer friends, and they might be losing the skills necessary to maintain a robust social group.

This is not a criticism of technology. It can be immensely useful. For instance, I’ve used Meetup.com to connect with folks with keen interests in photography and urban exploring, people I would never have encountered without technology. My misplaced tuner last night reminded me that we create technology but that technology also changes us, for good and bad.

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A reminder: Corals are animals. Watch them move

| April 5, 2014 | Reply

Would you like to see corals on the move? They are animals and they do move. Check out this extraordinary photography.

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Orchid Show at Missouri Botanical Garden

| March 23, 2014 | 1 Reply

I visited the Missouri Botanical Garden today, not knowing that it was the last day of their annual orchid show. After I found this out at 4:30 pm when I was at the entrance to the show. I ended up staying 15 min after closing time–I was the last one out.

IMG_2315 orchids

Looking at the wide variety of orchids reminds me of Charles Darwin, who extensively studied orchids, along with finches and everything else he could get his hands on. Just on aesthetic level, viewing these living beings is phenomenal. Just last night I watched Episode 2 of the new version of Cosmos, a broadside attack on creationists, where Neil deGrasse Tyson commented that many people are unnerved when compared to the other primates. Then he mentioned trees, asking how it felt that we are related to them too. I immediately knew how I felt, because I’ve written about the fact that trees are my cousins. That idea is a wonderful idea, that we are all one big (capital D) Diverse family. I had that same feeling today looking at the extraordinary variety (and beauty) of orchids. It didn’t help things that some of the orchids have what appear to be faces (see the first photo).

IMG_2340 orchids

 

IMG_2274 orchids

While I was trying to photograph some of the orchids, a woman asked me, “Do you grow?” I hesitated for a second, to figure out what she was asking, then confessed, “No, I don’t grow.” She said, “You should. They are surprising easy to grow.”

For more photos, click the title and then visit the thumbnails on the gallery at the bottom of the post.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson advocates peaceful coexistence between believers and non-believers

| March 20, 2014 | Reply

Neil deGrasse Tyson begins this by mentioning that he noticed a “Atheism” book section at Borders.

I agree with NDT on the issues he discusses. There’s no need for cultural wars over religion. Perhaps some people are biologically wired to make them prone to religious beliefs. He is against scientific ignorance rather than against religion. Einstein’s view on “God” is restated toward the end.

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Cosmos

| March 18, 2014 | Reply

Are you watching the new version of “Cosmos,” hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson? Excellent work so far. You can get the episodes here, at least for awhile.

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Collapse of industrial civilization

| March 15, 2014 | Reply

As reported by the U.K. Guardian, the unsustainable ways of modern societies is posing a serious threat:

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

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How Tigers Get their Stripes

| March 15, 2014 | Reply

Alan Turing was an amazing man. London researchers have recently substantiated one of his theories regarding repeated biological patterns:

[The] study, funded by the Medical Research Council and to be published online in Nature Genetics, not only demonstrates a mechanism which is likely to be widely relevant in vertebrate development, but also provides confidence that chemicals called morphogens, which control these patterns, can be used in regenerative medicine to differentiate stem cells into tissue.
The findings provide evidence to support a theory first suggested in the 1950s by famous code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing, whose centenary falls this year. He put forward the idea that regular repeating patterns in biological systems are generated by a pair of morphogens that work together as an ‘activator’ and ‘inhibitor’.

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