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January 20, 2009

prescience

Sometimes the Onion is frighteningly accurate, and no longer a humor magazine. For example, this piece was written in January of 2001.

we have a new president

There is so much that I want to say at this, but I think that he is his own best advocate, and so I will let the man speak for himself.

these days

"We are young despite the years, we are concern.
We are hope despite the times.
All of a sudden, these days
Happy throngs: take this joy wherever, wherever you go..."

R.E.M., These Days

January 19, 2009

in the name of love

"Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride."

- U2, Pride (in the name of love)

January 13, 2009

keeping myself busy

I spent the latter part of this afternoon converting excerpts from my thesis' literature review into the Wikipedia entry for Scirtothrips dorsalis, so now the truly bored can learn more about this critter than they ever possibly wanted to know. I am probably going to continue to expand the article, adding sections on management of the thrips - but converting all of those citations makes my eyes want to bleed, and I keep finding things that should be linked into other things. I mean, I can't leave a section on putative Tospovirus transmission in S. dorsalis without first improving the page for Tospoviruses, now can I?

Please feel free to contribute to or to vandalize these articles as necessary. This information needs to be shared, and right or wrong, Wikipedia has gradually become one of the most prominent references for common knowledge. It is amazing what ten minutes of expert opinion can do to improve an article, and conversely, what ten seconds of vandalism can do to ruin it.

January 8, 2009

tailgatoring

Last night was also the NCAA college championship between UF and OU under the politically fraught and controversial bowl system. While I am not a fan of the lavish attention that college football receives at the expense of academic programs and other sports, it is interesting to see the madness up close and personal.

Since the championship game was being held in Miami, and I receive no other benefits for attending the University of Florida so far from Gainesville, I sort of felt obligated to attend. Of course, getting tickets was near impossible. As a student of the University of Florida, I can enter a lottery to win permission to buy tickets to the game. Had I won one of these tickets, I could have paid $175, and would have had to pick them up at the ticket office in Gainesville - after presenting two forms of picture ID and a valid credit card. I later learned that OU students paid only $110 for their tickets. These were tickets discounted for students in the nosebleed seats. I'd hate to think how much seats in the front or middle tier might have been worth.

Still, lacking for entertainment in Homestead, I figured it was worthwhile to attempt to crash the game, or to go tailgating in the parking lot. Parking was supposed to have cost my small party an additional forty dollars, but we were fortunate to arrive a little late to the opening ceremonies. I say fortunate because the person responsible for collecting money for parking had run off to watch the game, and his staff told us to just park and to enjoy the game.

While we never got inside the stadium, there were more big screen televisions in the parking lot than there usually are at a sports bar. There was considerable food about as well. While we did not so engage ourselves, had we wanted to, we probably could have stepped into one of many drunken lines and taken some barbecue and booze from someone watching the game. We ended up circling the stadium most of the night, just watching the people watch the game - until we found an ideal spot outside of the VIP lounge where there were three giant screen televisions.

I was not entirely surprised to find that local fans were not as enthusiastic as Texas football fans, but few people are. You can usually hear a Aggie or Longhorn game long before you see it. Still, whatever their level of enthusiasm, these were still southern football fans. Some folks were friendly, and enjoyed the game. Others were more bellicose. We watched a drunken skinhead pick a fight in front of four police officers. We watched a man in MSU green (and not much else) bicycle by. Our celebrity sightings outside the VIP lounge included the Miami chief of police, former President Bill Clinton's heavily armed security detail, and the wrestler Mankind. We saw a lot more people in Oklahoma red than I normally expect to see in Miami on any given Wednesday. I got to try and explain the "Sooner" nickname to South Americans.

After a tense first half, Florida won it in the third quarter.

Then we all went back to our trailers.

December 16, 2008

done and done

I feel that I am finally done with the preliminary writing for my literature review, and with any luck I will not feel the need to drastically revise or add to it again in the near future. Of course, barring a miracle, someone else will probably have a few suggestions for improvement. It currently masses in at approximately thirty and a half pages in length when double spaced at twelve-point "Times New Roman" font, and is followed by a little more than eleven pages of single-spaced citations and references. It will probably still undergo some trimming and slimming in places, and some expansions in others - but for the most part the whole of the thing is written and done and out of my way. Now I just have to avoid plagiarizing myself while I finish writing chapter introductions to experiments and then in discussing my results.

December 8, 2008

Proposition 8: the musical

I'm starting to feel like a clearinghouse for other media, but hey - this is for a good cause.

November 5, 2008

and their reactions

I suppose I'll just let the candidates say it for themselves in their own words.

We'll begin with John McCain's honorable and eloquent concession speech:

And we will conclude with Mr. Obama's embracing acceptance:

Huzzah for America.

October 9, 2008

wandering free, part II: fleuve Seine et monde

I have several hours to kill in Paris before my friends get off of work and can join me in frivolity, and so of course while wandering down the Seine, I eventually wind up in a library. I am ever slave to the written word, even if it is not in my own tongue. I figure that even if I am on vacation, I can afford to spend some time looking through the entomological section of the library for a French perspective on les thysanoptères. This rapidly proves to be a moderately amusing exercise in futility: thrips are no more popular in French than they are in English. Out of thousands of pages dedicated to les insectes, I can find perhaps two pages on thrips. My spanish is good enough to make a rough translation of what I read, and it seems that the same problems plague researchers in France as elsewhere: thrips may be incredibly diverse and a significant crop pest, but they're just too damn small to work with.

The rest of the library is of course, more thrilling. This is a building that was constructed around a small forest, and which is flanked on its sides by apartment-building sized towers, all full of books. They have resources in many different languages, and I run through the science section, stopping here and there to flip through a volume on DNA or paleontology. More wonderful is their display of the truly impressive Coronelli globes. This pair of two-ton globes were originally constructed for Louis XIV, the "Sun King". At this, my inner musketeer is awakened, and my ongoing love-affair with globalization continues. They were objects of science as much as they were objects of art, and they expressed the Sun King's power in a very explicit and clear fashion.

I would have taken more photos, but flash photography was forbidden in order to protect the pigments on the star and earth globes. I respect the preservation of such art and science, but one of these days I am going to have to remember to bring a tripod for long exposures in low-light conditions.

by Toutatis!

Hey - an early childhood experience in globalization!

Paris names her streets after her favorite citizens, as well as for some "honorary citizens"; famous persons the world over who might once have called the artistic, intellectual, and democratic spirit of France a home. Native son René Goscinny is no exception, and this street that bears his name also features an additional piece of flair quoting one of his favorite creations.

Food is not the only currency for world peace - so is humor. I stumbled upon Asterix during my first weeks in Singapore, and found myself introduced to a world of snarky puns, the occasional political or moral commentary, magic potions, and goofy (but often positive) stereotypes tied to a puffed-up sense of nationalist pride. It was a time when the invading roman legionnaires lived in terror of being assigned to a small corner of occupied Gaul, and when the only thing those selfsame Gauls might fear was the sky falling while they were abed. Those comic books have since been translated into hundreds of languages, and even made into several movies and video games. I have learned that whoever performed the translations into other languages did so with much care, and managed to preserve much of the intent behind the laughter to be found in the original French. Like some other forms of media, they either followed or preceded me around the world, and they have always been there ever since: a source of home for the homeless, no matter what language they are currently written in.

September 30, 2008

a quick review

A Wordle of my literature review for Scirtothrips dorsalis. I am amused to note that et al displays with as high a frequency as it does.

September 25, 2008

dispersal

Today, I scored my second photo credit. This time, a representative from Catalpha Advertising & Design contacted me on behalf of their client, "DM Health Systems", and requested to use the above image in promotional materials and packaging for their insect-screening product. While it isn't fame and acclaim, and it certainly isn't a paycheck that will convince me to give all this up to become a full-time nature-photographer, at least it provides another line on my increasingly diverse CV.

September 1, 2008

one born every minute


This rather extraordinary piece of advertising comes from the Ringling Museum of the Circus in Sarasota, Florida. It makes the exotic claim that the:

Ringling Bros' $20,000.00 Animal Feature: Last of his kind, human eyes will never behold another. Last chance to see the last specimen - when he is gone, the giraffe will be extinct. [The] only giraffe known to exist in the entire world. Secured at the cost of a fortune, shown at each exhibition of the largest menagerie on Earth.

Aside from an interesting display of poor font-spacing and selection that will probably never be seen again in modern advertising, this poster made a preposterous assertion - even for the days of PT Barnum. Needless to say, it followed through another very American tradition, and ended up in litigation instigated by the Ringling Brothers' competitors. Rather unsurprisingly, it lost on the grounds of false advertising, and the judge ordered all copies of the poster destroyed. Miraculously, three copies managed to survive the purge, and this print remains on display - an exciting memento of the ridiculous excess of a bygone era.

After all - snake-oil like this would never sell today.

And if you believe that, I've got a rare investment opportunity in the Brooklyn Bridge that I'd like to sell you...

July 9, 2008

love and cryptozoology

“An old Sherpa once observed: ‘There is a yeti in the back of everyone’s mind; only the blessed are not haunted by it.’”

I am proud to announce that another one of my good friend Germ's stories has been published by the Escape Artists network of podcasts. Maybe I am biased, but I think that this is one of his better tales, full of the ambiguity of the human heart - and more than one of my beloved allegedly extinct creatures. I strongly suggest that you either read the original publication or download the episode and listen.

April 10, 2008

publication?


"Greenhouse Canada has requested permission to use your image. This photo will accompany a May feature by Graeme Murphy, IPM specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs."

Well, while I am not certain that this constitutes a traditional scientific publication that will go on my CV or resume, I do have to admit that I am thrilled to hear that someone is making use of the photo. I took them so that someone might make use them. Kudos to the University of Georgia and their Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health for hosting and sharing the images, and kudos to the Creative Commons licensing that helps to make such sharing possible.

All of this just makes me want to take more and better photos.

March 25, 2008

speaking of science fiction...

If you spend a lot of time at your job performing endlessly monotonous and dull things, like counting the number of flowers produced by a plant (or the population of thrips crawling inside those same flowers), you will often find yourself turning to some sort of interesting background distraction just to keep your mind awake and focused. The music served up by my iPod has always been great, but sometimes I need something a little different. Something to make that brain time that is spent hanging while counting a little more useful, more refreshing.

As such, one of my recent favorite distractions has been Steve Eley's Escape Pod. Graduate school has not left a lot of time or energy leftover for pleasure reading, and I miss my occasional dose of speculative fiction. Mr Eley's podcast gives me a chance to escape from my humdrum surroundings for a slightly longer than half an hour, and provides the perfect accompaniment to mindless labour or car rides into the distance.

The quality varies, and is mostly dependent upon your individual preferences, but I haven't found or heard anything that I really disliked, and thus far there has been much to enjoy. The tales range in nature from fantastic WWII adventures in (meta)physics to cynical comic books, traditional tales of Area 51 skunk-works, and the alien quest for identity and meaning. Santa might even be able save Christmas from the heat-death of the Universe.

And hey, my old friend Jeremy Tolbert might even have a story or two on there to listen to.

Check it out.

March 23, 2008

a very lightsaber sequel

Okay, I've mentioned these guys before. It seems that since last we spoke, both Fanboys Productions and RvD have unleashed a sequel to their earlier projects upon the web. Both sequels would have been impossible without the community of support that they have developed since releasing their products out into the wild. The creative endeavors of these guys survive entirely upon the generosity of their fans.

Six in the Morning continues to emphasize both aspects of responsibility as well as unadulterated geekery as their tale stretches on. While not entirely sophisticated drama, it is a thoughtful analysis of what it means to have power - and to be legally liable for the use of that power. It also delights in toying around with whirling and glowing sticks. RvD2 does not bother with the pretense of story. This is solely a display of fight choreography distilled to its purest. Both pictures are strong at what they do best, and while both remain far less polished, they are also inarguably better and far less disappointing than any of the last three Star Wars films.

Kudos to the independent filmmaker.

I wish them well, wherever their respective futures carry them.

March 20, 2008

in his own words:

Until a few minutes ago, I had only heard excerpts and soundbites from Mr. Obama's speech on race. The chattering classes had provided summaries and commentaries on the event, all of which completely failed to capture the power and intelligence behind the text of his announcement:

Whoever wrote this piece was brilliant, placing Mr. Obama's words within a compelling historical context. One way or another, I would like to believe that this man will change America - and for the better.

March 10, 2008

driven to the water's edge

I have long believed that one of the major advantages of being a geek is that it is much easier to come into contact with your heroes. As an example, this Monday, I drove off to Mote Marine to listen to science writer Carl Zimmer speak on recent developments in cetacean evolution. The talk itself was a quick layperson's review of thirty or forty years of work on the evolution of whales. Much of it focused on the developments of the last ten years, and it was well-expressed for a non-technical audience.

Of course, that wasn't really the point.

The point was getting to meet an author whose works I've been reading for a great many years, and who is good at getting his own point across. In this, the talk was another expression of his writing: to take sometimes complex and arcane science, and to boil it down to its most interesting and exciting elements. It has been fun to follow his keystrokes as he moves from subject to subject in science, first exploring evolution at the water's edge, moving on to parasites, then exploring the social history behind the discovery of the brain, and most recently, our relationship with the ubiquitous E. coli. His blog and his science columns and commentary for the New York Times and Wired Magazine are even more diverse summaries describing the state of the art in a number of different fields.

Science needs more folks like this who are capable of expressing such discoveries in a manner that is at once both entertaining and informative. The entertainment is important, for while the thrill of discovery or the intuitive leap that results in new understanding is the real joy of science, much of the everyday work is like any job: dull, repetitive - full of endless monotony as you grind towards results and conclusions that you hope will be revolutionary and new... but will probably do nothing more than continue to support existing data. Science can also be intimidating, with the primary literature full of needlessly specific technical jargon, sometimes requiring much reading through diverse and obscure papers and journals to understand a single subject.

His writing keeps science fresh, cutting through all of the hard work to the conclusions at the end of a long day (or decade) that are what really inspire scientists to keep moving. This kind of writing may go on to inspire another generation of scientists, and to develop an appreciation for and an understanding of science outside of the technical community in the same way that folks appreciate the work of a farmer, or a mechanic, a dot-com tycoon, or even a lowly politician.

That, and as a lark, he now keeps track of all of the really cool science tattoos. How can you get any more awesome than that?

February 6, 2008

kicking ass for science

Ah, Henry Rollins, a man of many talents. Former Black Flag frontman, sometime actor, motivational speaker, and apparently activist in favor of reality based education:

December 15, 2007

open ended

This weekend, some lucky cads found out quite by accident that the UF graduate student insurance information listserv had been left open and unsecured, and that anyone replying to it could be heard and read by all recipients. This security failure eventually resulted in an amusing series of postings from the very diverse graduate student community. It certainly resulted in an undue amount of what could be considered "spam" in many persons' mailboxes, but it also showed a strong desire among the graduate student body for some sort of forum or mailing list where we could find common cause and to try and connect with one another as just another oppressed minority outside of our own departments.

The messages received contained humor, a request for volunteers at the local homeless shelter, the complete text of Beowulf, an offer for a slightly used Suzuki Bandit, suggestions for Christmas presents, and a recipe for baked potatoes that I will now share with you:

The Perfect Baked Potatoe

"This baked potato has a crisp, golden skin, and is light and fluffy on the inside. Great comfort food!"

PREP TIME 1 Minute
COOK TIME 1 Hr 30 Min
READY IN 1 Hr 31 Min

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium baking potato
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Scrub the potato, and pierce the skin several times with a knife or fork. Rub the skin with olive oil, then with salt.
  2. Place the potato in the preheated oven, and bake for 90 minutes, or until slightly soft and golden brown. Slice the potato down the center, and serve with butter and black pepper. Sprinkle shredded Cheddar cheese over the top, if desired.

Variation

For a treat, try slicing the very top of the potato off rather than slicing it in two, forming a 'lid'. Scoop out the fluffy contents of the potato, keeping the skin intact. Mix the potato in a bowl with butter, grated cheese and black pepper, then spoon the mixture back into the skin. Replace the lid and serve.

December 5, 2007

keeping a positive attitude

(but only for now...)

November 30, 2007

instant movie

So lately my roommate and I have been taking advantage of Netflix's "watch it now" feature. It is a great idea, and works surprisingly well for what it is. The movie is streamed directly to your Windows-compatible computer, and usually starts after only a minute or two of buffering. The video and sound quality aren't bad, and the picture looks much better on my roommate's monitor than it does on the awful and ancient VHS-compatible television that came with the trailer. You can add subtitles (for those frequently depressing foreign films that appear to be the staple diet of outlandishly classy graduate students living in squalor), and fast-forwarding really isn't much more than selecting a section slightly farther ahead in the stream and waiting for the buffer to reload. I'm not sure if the system will handle six-channel surround sound, or an HD-signal, but the future is coming.

Given the convenience of this model, I am fairly certain that this will eventually supplant traditional hard-media as a form of temporary distribution. Discs and the like will remain in one format or another for more permanent storage of media... but the ease and quality by which film could be distributed over legitimate channels may eventually grow to compete with those currently offered by the free pirate networks. Any media company not working on a method to distribute their content through such a mechanism is taking the slow road to extinction.

Which is not to say that there are not hiccups or problems with the extant system. My roommate and I are kind of borrowing our network signal from a neighbor, and streaming video does seem to take up a chunk of the bandwidth. That, and if your access is interrupted by any of a number of third-world power and cable failures that seem to plague Miami and Homestead with frightening regularity, you may lose your place in the film and spend your Netflix minutes reloading the same film twice.

Apple provokes further personal irritation. Apparently they consider Netflix a competitor to the digital distribution of film that their iTunes network could provide, and as such have not made it any easier for Netflix programmers to design a platform-independent video-player. Time will tell if this competitive strategy works or not, but in the meantime it means that I have to use my roommate's computer or boot mine up with Boot Camp.

October 3, 2007

gather ye rosebuds while ye may

As you can see, I am making as much of Time as I can. The thrips seem to be making better use of such time, as their populations are recently rebounding on my rosebuds.

September 1, 2007

gator bait

That was quite the experience, shared with approximately ninety thousand of my close personal friends. It was good to see the game in the flesh, and such a thing could prove habit-forming if I had the time and the money to attend. I was constantly amazed at how much better the picture was in reality when compared with watching the game on television. Well, almost any television - and that problem and my scratched glasses should be repaired by Wednesday. It was still fairly disconcerting to be looking for and never see the handy lines that most networks overlay on the video, directing your eye to the ball or to the first down or even the most recent slow-motion replay. Whatever did people do before the creation of the Jumbotron?

The Florida Gators were rather loud and enthusiastic. And orange and blue, apparently. Not quite as crazy as some universities, but still... very enthusiastic. The Gators were also victorious - which was actually somewhat disappointing. I'd rather have seen an amazing game between two equally matched opponents, but while Western Kentucky provided a few amazing feints and a good short passing game, they never claimed the yardage they needed, and their defense might as well have been made of Kleenex for all the good it did them. The game was called with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter "due to rain", but it was a mercy-killing for the drowning Hilltoppers.

While the Gators walked through this game without much effort, it will be interesting to see how well they respond to a real challenge. On the bright side, Tebow continues his extremely promising career as quarterback. I am surprised that the University did not rely on him more last season, as he actually knows how to pass and run when the opportunity strikes him. I expect this year's successes will be harder earned, but also more worthwhile.

Time will tell.

August 15, 2007

globalization

"For me, a symbol of that state is a Bedouin mounted on a camel and clad in traditional robes under which he is wearing jeans, with a transistor radio in his hands and an ad for Coca-cola on the camel's back. I am not ridiculing this, nor am I shedding an intellectual tear... I see it rather as... proof that SOMETHING is happening, something is being born, that we are in a phase when one age is succeeding another, when anything is possible."
- Václav Havel, The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World

July 18, 2007

and then some

Those of you who have known me for entirely too long (and who are the inquisitive sort of female who goes through the loose clutter of my belongings in a possessive sort of way) have reminded me that there are other bottle caps from other tea beverages lying around my car, including the following gem:

#34: If you keep a goldfish in a dark room it will eventually turn white.

This particular factoid has been lying in the change-nest beneath the dashboard of my car since at least sometime early in 2003.

July 6, 2007

weird, but good

Today has been one of those sorts of days where you occasionally need a spot of spontaneous cheer. It is good then, that CAKE's latest CD, "B-sides and Rarities" chose today to arrive. I haven't actually listened to the disc yet, and as something of a careful collector - I already have some of these tracks, but I am already pleased. In order to sell more discs over digital downloads, this album includes "scratch and sniff" packaging, which smells preposterously of "yellow rose".

June 19, 2007

death cab for you and me

A month or so ago, Ben Gibbard, frontman for Death Cab for Cutie, played unplugged and solo at the 9:30 club in Washington DC. Normally I would have had no opportunity to listen to such a thing, but fortunately NPR's Bob Boilen was there for All Songs Considered to cover and record it.

If you're already a fan, or just happen to be interested in finding out more about a band named Death Cab, you can find the real-audio version at the NPR link above... or you can just download the MP3 formatted version from me here. Last but not least, feel free to subscribe to the All Songs Considered podcast, and experience a weekly sampling of the latest in new music and the occasional live concert.

September 11, 2006

again

Sometimes love is all you have against the dark.

August 31, 2006

today's fun fact

Just in case you were curious: Florida is full of crazy people. The mascot of the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team is the Thunderbug, an unusually large thrips. While I can not speak to the species, its large size and absent wings lead me to believe that it is an offshoot of the predatory Phlaeothripidae of suborder Tubulifera from Australia, but I would be willing to listen to arguments that cite its relatively large femora in the fore and hind limbs and zipper-like sutures on the pronotum as evidence that it comes from family Merothripidae in the Terebrantia instead.

May 11, 2006

the daVinci Code vs. Christianity?

So -

Would anyone like to explain to me how "the greatest threat that Christianity has faced in over two thousand years" (a little bit of hyperbole I heard on the radio this morning - I certainly believe that the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, and the Protestant Revolution were more significant threats, and even the Protestants only represented a challenge to the orthodoxy - not the faith itself) basically amounts to a very popular Clive Cussler or Ian Fleming novel, and not a particularly good one at that...? I mean, the substance of the Conspiracy described is certainly nothing new or even original. Its inception may even originate in a difference of opinion as to the Divine nature or Messiah status of Jesus of Nazareth that probably began during his lifetime, and would flare up among the faithful every few hundred years or so - frequently to be brutally repressed by whichever hierarchy relied upon Jesus' divinity as part of the legitimacy to their scriptural and temporal authority. Most recently, this particular Conspiracy has popped up in no less than three separate fictional novels (the best of which remain "the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles"), a comic book (Alan Moore's "from Hell" on the Ripper murders mentions it as a possible justification for Freemason involvement), a videogame (the Gabriel Knight adventure, "Sins of the Father"), two television series ("ALIAS" has a thinly veiled 'Rimbaldi' pushing prophetic code and technology into this century through his ancient arts and science, and of course, there is "the X-Files"), and tangentially in at least two movies ("the Matrix" series touches upon the Gnostic heresies describing the physical aspect of the divine, and daVinci's secrets are the touchstone of the comedic "Hudson Hawk").

So why is it only now that the Gnostic 'Heresies' have lately become so popular? I mean, popular again. It isn't like anyone is getting rounded up in the streets and burned at the stake as a witch... but why is this silly little story by Dan Brown so threatening - or any more convincing than anything mainline Christianity has produced? Are most folks really that unquestioning of their own faith - or perhaps more importantly, so blind or unconcerned that they will accept any old prophet who comes along?

I am so confused by our little society.