Archive for the ‘Nrrd Pwr’ Category

Elf or chemical?

Can you tell which is which? (I’m not going to post an answer key.)

  • Amorolfin
  • Amrod
  • Caranthir
  • Cefaclor
  • Celecoxib
  • Curufin
  • Duilin
  • Elemmakil
  • Elemicin
  • Elurin
  • Elured
  • Enerdhil
  • Enediol
  • Enol
  • Etodolac
  • Fenoprofen
  • Finarfin
  • Fingolfin
  • Furfural
  • Galathil
  • Geraniol
  • Ibogaine
  • Maglor
  • Nylidrin
  • Oropher
  • Sildenafil
  • Sulindac
  • Tadalafil
  • Thingol
  • Threitol
  • Tolmetin
  • Vardenafil
  • Volemitol

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If you (a) are a huge dork, (b) are fairly lazy and have thought of being a “mad scientist or something” for Hallowe’en because you still have that labcoat and goggles from first year chem lying around somewhere, and/or (c) own or have access to a pet, you can quite easily construct a “real” scientist costume that incorporates your companion animal. This is probably only a good idea if you’re going to be staying home and answering the door. It also helps if you can cope with no one knowing what your costume is meant to be—though they should be able to figure out that you’re a scientist, at the very least.

Here are my suggestions. Obviously I’m going to be Schrödinger, myself.

If you are a cat “owner”:

If you are a dog owner (hopefully you’ve trained it well):

If you have a guinea pig:

If you have fish (please don’t take them trick-or-treating):

If you own finches, pigeons, iguanas, or, um, barnacles:

  • Charles Darwin

If you have mice or rats (ideally, as pets, not pests) (also I originally typed “rice or mats”):

  • Pretty much anyone, even just a generic scientist

If you’ve successfully domesticated a giraffe:

If you’re one of those people who insist on having a pet rock:

If you can afford a domestic fox:

If you own an exotic pet:

  • Sorry, you’re a douchenozzle.

If you’ve got a horse:

  • Why would you be a scientist when you could have the best headless horseman costume?

Not recommended as a costume: any fruit fly researcher.



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Improbable etymologies

(via Token Skeptic)

Mysteries of Vernacular is a video series by Myriapod Productions that explains the odd origins of everyday words. Some of them are truly bizarre, and the effects of historical contingency on the rise of different meanings of words is apparent. The used-book aesthetic is lovely, too. “Clue” is my favourite so far:

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Hint: it’s haikus. Especially science haikus. Especially clever, well-written science haikus.

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For those of you who aren’t Canadian, to understand this story, you need to know about Heritage Minutes.

Heritage Minutes are one-minute TV spots about important moments in Canadian history. Every Canadian you will ever meet can quote at least three of them and will wax poetic about them if given the chance. Some of my favourites are the Women in Medicine one, the Bluenose‘s last race, and, of course, Tyrrell discovering dinosaur fossils in the badlands.

But the true gem of this collection is, was, and ever shall be the one about Winnie the Pooh:

Pooh Bear was named after a black bear at the London Zoo called Winnie, who had been brought over from Canada by one Lt. Harry Colebourne. He named her Winnipeg after his hometown in Manitoba. Apparently, Christopher Robin was a fan of this bear and named his teddy bear after her, then prompted his father to write stories about it.

Today I was watching this Heritage Minute because I have nothing else to do when I’m out of the field. And I noticed that at the 0:51 mark, there’s a strange creature with the front end of a donkey and the striped hindquarters of a zebra being led across a cobbled square at the zoo where Christopher Robin meets Winnie. What on earth is a quagga doing in that zoo?

Centre-background, just behind the pony: Is that a quagga?!

The quagga is an extinct relative of the zebra (oh hey, Wikipedia tells me that it was actually a subspecies of the plains zebra! Fancy that!) that was slightly less stripey than its extant cousins. But the last one died in 1883, while this Heritage Minute is supposed to take place sometime between Winnie’s arrival at the London Zoo in 1915 and the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926. And besides, all records of the quagga indicate that its forequarters were striped , while its hindquarters were plain.

A quagga, coincidentally at London Zoo – but long before Winnie arrived there.

What is this creature meant to be, then? It might be some hybrid between a zebra* and a horse or donkey – I’d guess donkey, given its appearance. These have been produced in captivity regularly and are known by various silly-sounding names like zorse, zedonk, and zony. They’re usually sterile, because horses, zebras, and donkeys all have different numbers of chromosomes (so their hybrid offspring can’t make proper eggs and sperm). They, like quaggas, are partially striped, often only on the legs. I can’t find a picture that looks precisely like our Heritage Minute beast, but many resemble it more than the quagga does.

A zorse, circa 1899.

Did London Zoo ever have a zedonk (or something like it)? Apparently yes, as I found this picture from 1936. However, that’s long after the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh. Maybe they had others before it. Or, more likely, maybe someone among the crew who produced Heritage Minutes had access to a zedonk (!!!) and a weird enough sense of humour to insert it into the TV spot. I am, to say the least, intrigued.

*Note that there are several species of zebra; apparently all of them have produced hybrids with horses, ponies, or donkeys.

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My job requires me to spend a lot of time literally wandering in the wilderness, if the presence of a GPS, map, and compass allow me to call it wandering, and as a result I spend unhealthy amounts of time alone with my own thoughts. (Or, in other words, alone. Har har.) Recently those intruding thoughts have, for some reason, had a lot to do with The Lord of the Rings.

It’s self-evident that Tolkien’s writing has a gender problem. I mean, there are four female characters in LotR*. They are totally kickass characters, and I wouldn’t change anything in LotR for the world. But still. Four characters. One of whom is an evil giant spider.

I used to attribute this lack of women to a combination of tradition—after all, warrior and adventurer are pretty traditionally masculine roles—and lack of awareness—Tolkien wasn’t writing to create female role models. But I think there’s something more pernicious going on. Consider. Theoden’s wife? Dead. Denethor’s wife? Dead. Elrond’s wife? Sailed to the Undying Lands. Sam’s mother? Probably dead too, or he would’ve been pining for her in Mordor. These are opportunities where a female character could easily have been inserted, even in a tiny, nonspeaking role. Instead they’re conspicuously absent.

Gimli’s father Gloin is present at the Council of Elrond. Presumably Gimli has a mother; where is she? (We find out in one of the appendices that Dwarf women are rare, and some Men think they’re actually a myth.) Legolas’s father Thranduil appears in LotR and The Hobbit, but his mother is never even mentioned; has she gone Grey Havens-ward already?

Was Tolkien even aware of this pattern? Was he subtly affected by the “conveniently an orphan” trope? Or did he just think these female characters were unnecessary? Or, like most things Tolkien, is there some subtle underlying meaning?

Is Middle Earth simply more dangerous for women? Celebrian, Elrond’s wife, is the only one of these women whose fate is ever reported, and she left Middle Earth because she never fully recovered from the trauma of an orc attack. If women were disproportionately affected by the growing power of Sauron, it (a) makes the bad guys look nastier, (b) plays into the “weaker sex” stereotype, and (c) makes Eowyn look even more badass. And what does this say about the valiant men who are supposed to be defending their womenfolk?

At least some of Tolkien’s characters have noticed the male-biased sex ratio: the Ents have an entire song about how all the Entwives disappeared. Maybe the same thing that happened to the Entwives is now occurring to female elves, hobbits, and humans. Maybe the Entwives never left—maybe they were killed off. Or maybe the non-Ents are following in the Entwives’ footsteps. After all, it’s never explicitly stated that the absent wives and mothers are dead.

One last thought: I meant this to be a serious line of inquiry, but I also can’t help thinking that “where are Tolkien’s women?” would be a great plotline for a Thursday Next novel.

*Excluding Rose who eventually marries Samwise, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, the matron in the Houses of Healing whose name I forget, and Goldberry. And I like to think the Nazgul’s creepy pterosaur mounts are female.

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Have I accumulated enough taxonomy-related links for another roundup? Am I too exhausted/lazy from field work to do any proper blogging? Yes and yes.

First, and most importantly, the NCSU Insect Museum has announced the winners of its awesome annual Hexapod Haiku contest. My favourite among the runners-up:

all the insects
I’ve killed–waiting
in the other world

The new species in this instalment are a UV-reflecting scorpion, a monstrous fossil that may or may not be called Godzillus, and a shockingly purple crab.

A short collection of goofy scientific names. I don’t understand why so few people want to do taxonomy. Think of the power you’d have, naming tiny primitive insects after Tolkien characters!

Random, related thought: describing a new species is like developing a DnD character. Except that you’ve lost your set of dice and your Player’s Handbook. (Actually, I think someone’s already indirectly made this parallel, viz. the Phylo, formerly Phylomon, card game.)

I’ve saved the best for last. This list of dinosaurs that “aren’t what they were” is frakking great. When I was just starting to be obsessed with dinosaurs, the idea that they were warm-blooded and related to birds was just becoming widely accepted. My childhood collection of dinosaur books was thus a mixture of those with illustrations of plodding stupid heavy-tailed brutes and those with lean and nimble, even graceful, beasts. But by the time I was in high school, things had changed even more: people had found fossil feathers. A lot of them. Now virtually every theropod (the predatory dinosaurs from which birds evolved), and even many non-theropods, is illustrated with at least a proto-feathery covering. The quill-like things on Psittacosaurus and Triceratops are pretty wicked. (A funny thing to note is that the Jurassic Park movies have always tended to be ahead of the mainstream idea of dinosaurs, first with the warm-bloodedness, then with the feathers and badass Spinosaurus.)

Okay, one more link, because the last one reminded me of it: T. rex trying, my favourite thing on the internet these days.

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