A place of mostly science, art, writing and occasionally Chewbacca, all lovingly archived by Dave Ng. For recent highlights just scroll down, but also note the handy tag system (for finding that piece of media for your next science talk) just below. Enjoy!
“P for Pterodactyl was written by Raj Haldar, also known as Lushlife, and Chris Carpenter, with illustrations by Maria Beddia. The color illustrations help demonstrate the context of each word, while clever sentences filled with alliteration make for a fun read. For instance, “The gnome yells, ‘Waiter! There’s a bright white gnat nibbling on my gnocchi!,’ ” accompanies “G is for Gnocchi.””
(By Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, and Maria Beddia, link to book, and via My Modern Met)
“It is worth asking why such an apparently simple device as the bicycle should have had such a major effect on the acceleration of technology. The answer surely lies in the sheer humanity of the machine. Its purpose is to make it easier for an individual to move about, and this the bicycle achieves in a way that quite outdoes natural evolution.
When one compares the energy consumed in moving a certain distance as a function of body weight for a variety of animals and machines, one finds that an unaided walking man does fairly well (consuming about .75 calorie per gram per kilometer), but he is not as efficient as a horse, a salmon or a jet transport. With the aid of a bicycle, however, the man’s energy consumption for a given distance is reduced to about a fifth (roughly .15 calorie per gram per kilometer).
Therefore, apart from increasing his unaided speed by a factor of three or four, the cyclist improves his efficiency rating to No. 1 among moving creatures and machines.” (S.S. Wilson from Scientific American, March 1973)
“The 28-foot piece pays homage to the Coral Triangle, a Pacific Ocean-based site that spans the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and Solomon Islands. Almost 600 different species of reef-building corals exist in this 4 million-square-mile space alone, making it one of the most important under-the-sea stretches in the world. Unfortunately, however, these coral reefs are increasingly threatened by overfishing, pollution, and a changing climate.”
In case, you don’t know what I’m referring to, check out this link.
“The THX logo theme consists of 30 voices over seven measures, starting in a narrow range, 200 to 400 Hz, and slowly diverting to preselected pitches encompassing three octaves. The 30 voices begin at pitches between 200 Hz and 400 Hz and arrive at pre-selected pitches spanning three octaves by the fourth measure. The highest pitch is slightly detuned while there are double the number of voices of the lowest two pitches.” (From the US Trademark registration).
“Spanish photographer Xavi Bou (previously) tracks and records the flight patterns of birds, combining their repetitive movements into elongated shapes that twist through the sky for his series Ornitographies. The images are inspired by chronophotography, a Victorian era photography method that combined multiple images to create movement, and edited digitally in Photoshop.”
Full Title: A Snapshot-Based Mechanism for Celestial Orientation
Abstract: In order to protect their food from competitors, ball-rolling dung beetles detach a piece of dung from a pile, shape it into a ball, and roll it away along a straight path . They appear to rely exclusively on celestial compass cues to maintain their bearing [2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8], but the mechanism that enables them to use these cues for orientation remains unknown. Here, we describe the orientation strategy that allows dung beetles to use celestial cues in a dynamic fashion. We tested the underlying orientation mechanism by presenting beetles with a combination of simulated celestial cues (sun, polarized light, and spectral cues). We show that these animals do not rely on an innate prediction of the natural geographical relationship between celestial cues, as other navigating insects seem to [9, 10]. Instead, they appear to form an internal representation of the prevailing celestial scene, a “celestial snapshot,” even if that scene represents a physical impossibility for the real sky. We also find that the beetles are able to maintain their bearing with respect to the presented cues only if the cues are visible when the snapshot is taken. This happens during the “dance,” a behavior in which the beetle climbs on top of its ball and rotates about its vertical axis . This strategy for reading celestial signals is a simple but efficient mechanism for straight-line orientation.
From 1965 to his death in 2011, Roman Opałka painted whole numbers starting from the number 1 and in sequential order on a series of canvases entitled “1965 / 1 – ∞.” He would declare, “All my work is a single thing, the description from number one to infinity. A single thing, a single life.” He made it to 5607249.
Note: For those, familiar with the game (note that there’s many other decks you can also download or purchase at revenue neutral prices), this game is slightly different in that the home cards are replaced by a voyage map, as well as each organism being coloured tagged according to where Darwin observed them during the voyage (i.e. in the dominoes game mechanic, you also have to make sure connections are matched geographically).
So, usually around Christmas time, my family and I play a lot of games – card games, board games, party games, and even on occasion, RPG type games. But because some of them are not that keen on the whole Dungeons and Dragons RPG thing, this year, I decided I would try to design a game based on D&D rules (5e) that would place the players in the world of Harry Potter. Partly because J.K. Rowling has done such an amazing job of world building, but also because my more D&D skeptical family members happen to be huge Harry Potter fans (i.e. maybe this “world” would better get them immersed).
Anyway, I have an edit ready to share. It’s not finished, and to be honest, I’m not sure when it will be finished, but there’s a good amount of play here (about 2 to 3 hours or a mini adventure) for those that might be interested. There’s probably a few issues with game balance (i.e. maybe some of the spells are too powerful or too easy, etc), but I think the nuts and bolts would hold up fine for a good session.
Part of the changes included modifying how spells would be cast, as well as a tweaking of the wizard character class so that it would seem a little more in line with how things are done at Hogwarts. I’ve put some of the spell card details below, just so you can get a glimpse of some of the changes I’ve incorporated (as well as where some of the details were referenced from)
Anyway, here are the links to the campaign document, as well as just the sheet containing the spells. I’m going to be playing it with my family tomorrow, but if you get a chance to try it out, let me know how it goes! It would also be cool, if there are others who would like to add to it (if so, let me know by leaving a comment – I could easily set up a google doc or something). Cheers, Dave
But at least on the science front, I am still hopeful – although that might be because my own personal echo chamber happens to be optimistic in nature. Still, a lot of this has to do with the good work done by many of my science communication colleagues out there. Important, engaging, and often breathtaking efforts that continue to add enormous value to the knowledge ecosystem. The challenge, I suppose (as always) is how to get these pieces to reach outside the proverbial choir. This is a task that probably needs some careful thought and a degree of feistiness to power through, but that’s o.k. – science folks tend to rationalize everything and feistiness is something in high supply right now (myself included).
In any event, I thought I’d take the time to highlight a few of these excellent science communicators: specifically, folks I recently had the privilege of meeting in Massachusetts at the New England Biolab’s campus (this was under the rubric of NEB’s Passion in Science Awards). And while I’m of mind, I should mention that I was really impressed with NEB overall. It sounds like a company that has really worked out its priorities in a responsible way (not just on the work satisfaction piece, but also on the development and environmental front).
Anyway, in this space, I’d like to focus on a couple of these award winners, specifically those that are producing some very cool science media. As this is the internet, I’m only going give you a brief taste of the awesomeness they’re creating (a soundbite really), but would really encourage everyone to explore further.
First up, we have Christine Liu at Berkeley (who, with Tera Johnson, is one half of Two Photon art). Christine is a neuroscience PhD student, who also happens to feel quite strongly about her science communication and art work with “zines.” (according to wiki: that which is most commonly associated with a small-circulation self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier).
You would be too, if you checked out her work, and more so, if you chat with her. She envisions it almost like a “movement,” part of the DIY sphere, and possibly even a great pedagogical tool for inquiry base learning (and I would weigh in here with full agreement – in fact, I totally need to follow up, as this dovetails perfectly with some of the hackathon work my lab has been doing). I mean, who doesn’t like zines? And who wouldn’t like zines that talk science? Anyway, do check out, and maybe even buy a few. Her passion is contagious.
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Next, we have Dana Simmons, also a PhD student in neuroscience at the University of Chicago. Her photography work is sort of a Venn diagram where neurons, microscopy and Andy Warhol might inhabit. Really lovely stuff and her portfolio is definitely worth checking out.
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Scott Chimileski, a post doc at Harvard, is all about the microbes. Well, in many ways, many would argue that the foundational aspects of life is itself pretty much all about the microbes, but Scott has taken this love and melded his photographic prowess in producing some awe inspiring photos. So much so, I think that these wouldn’t seem out of place, if you had Sir David Attenborough narrating about them for the BBC. Many of these photos will also be put to good use for an upcoming exhibit at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History.
We also chatted a little bit about potential collaboration. I’m also hoping that his work could translate well as a microbe deck for the Phylo Trading Card project. Microbes are currently under-represented right now in that game system, and this would be a lovely way to bring more of this form of biodiversity into the fold. How cool would the cards look if this became a thing (see below for a few mock ups)?
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Moving on to the realm of video production, the work of the next three folks would make excellent viewing. I’ve also highlighted an example of each of their work, and I can say that watching these would be a lovely way to spend your time.
We’ll start with Sabah Ul-Hasan, another Doctoral student at UC Merced, who has spearheaded a project that creates documentaries with a mind to spotlight the symbiotic relationship between humans (especially underrepresented communities) and the environment. The project (Biota TV) received Kickstarter funding, and are set to release a few episodes in the future. Here’s a promo to check out.
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And who here remembers those Schoolhouse Rock videos? Well, if you’re in the (ahem) older demographic, you might remember them fondly, and can even sing back some of the classic lyrics. In many ways, Wilbur Ryan, from Florida State University, is betting on this infectiousness, as he adapts this flavor of educational videos for content on environmental science (and by way of ECOmotion Studios). I dare you to watch the below video (about Robert T. Paine’s famous intertidal study in 1966) and not be convinced.
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Finally, we have Chris Martine, a Botany professor at Bucknell University PA. Someone should give this man a science host gig! (seriously) His videos on botany are brilliant and fun, which I can tell you is a combination that is pretty rare. I’ve highlighted one of the episodes below, but there’s 8 in total (so far) that you can merrily watch (and in the process slowly convert into a plant nerd if you’re not one already).
Actually, Chris and I chatted a fair bit at this event – I think it was partly because we were both folks who were further along their careers than most of the other award winners. But this is what makes it all so hopeful. It was kind of outstanding to see how so many of the award recipients were so young – and already doing amazing things. It certainly makes me feel better about the future.
Anyway, do check out all the award winners (the others that I didn’t get a chance to highlight were all great and largely under the categories for research and/or environmental endeavours). You can see their short presentations by visiting this link here. The trip was really wonderful and invigorating overall (and it was a treat to finally visit Boston). Kudos to NEB for arranging this, and fostering an environment where science communication is valued. It really was much appreciated, and (I think we can all agree) something that is very much needed right now.
“Zoo animals that had met their demise lived on as their bills, horns, and antlers were shipped to Ted’s New York apartment to become exotic beaks and headdresses on his bizarre taxidermy sculptures. The result was an astounding 17 sculptures—created during the 1930s—which remain today as some of the finest examples of his inventive and multidimensional creativity.”