Another spot-on comic from XKCD

November 14, 2012 § 1 Comment


xkcd.com/1132.

Nice to see Randall Munroe return to mathematical snark.

For fans of A Game Of Thrones

June 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

this heartfelt video, with the following message:

“George RR Martin, please write and write faster
You’re not going to get any younger, you know
Winter is coming, I’m growing impatient
And you’ve still got two whole damn books left to go
So write, George, write like the wind!”

My favorite lines:

“We don’t mean to dictate how you spend your days
But please, bear in mind, in the time that you’ve had,
William Shakespeare churned out thirty-five friggin’ plays
And if you keep writing so slow,
You’ll hold up the HBO show!”

We need more songs like this.

Note to Hollywood: I’d rather be evil than dumb

August 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

I went to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes this weekend, and I’ve been wondering ever since why the portrayal of the scientist in this movie bothered me so much.  I’m used to bad science in movies, of course; I have a weakness for the cheesy summer movie, and this means that one cannot be too sensitive.  I’ve developed immunity to the “So, Mr. Bond, when the timer ticks down to zero my killer virus will be released!  AhahaHAhaaa…” type of scientific villain, and even to the “give me five minutes… There!  The cure is ready” type of scientific hero (though the latter still makes me wince, a little).  And I fully expected that a movie about the apes taking over the earth would involve some human stupidity/arrogance/evil; it’s more or less a dramatic necessity.  But the character of Will Rodman, the intended-to-be-sympathetic gooey-around-the-edges scientist who sets off the whole storyline with his attempts to cure Alzheimer’s, still made me squirm.  It’s not just that he’s been experimenting on a pregnant chimpanzee without ever realizing she’s pregnant, or even that he wants to rush to clinical trials about 5 minutes after getting the first positive result on a single chimp.  I could probably ignore the fact that he SO wants his experiment to be successful that he’s no longer willing to look at data in an unbiased way.  All of these issues grate, but they’re not the main problem. I finally realized what made me so uncomfortable about this character.  It’s the fact that he’s just not very curious about the hyperintelligent chimp he accidentally creates.

As a result of a number of unlikely circumstances, Caesar the chimp ends up living in Will’s home.  He gets a nice bedroom with lots of things to swing on, a chess set, and occasional trips to Muir Woods to climb the redwoods — but no company, no serious education, and no attempts to help him to understand his situation.  Inevitably, as Caesar hits puberty he begins to get a little dissatisfied with his lot; meanwhile Will is having romantic picnics with his lady friend instead of paying attention.  Now be honest, do you know any scientist who could prevent themselves from giving Caesar intelligence tests until he refuses to do them any more, or who wouldn’t try to teach him everything he could possibly absorb?  Surely it would be far more realistic if the gorgeous lady friend were pouting about Will spending too much time with Caesar, instead of Caesar being the one to feel neglected. Characteristically, Randall Munroe has a much more accurate take on the scientific personality:

I could handle a scientist who was callous about the needs of a developing intelligence, or one who was tortured by the situation (Caesar’s presence in Will’s home is of dubious legality at best, which could have provided an excuse for why Will doesn’t allow him to interact with anyone, doesn’t give reports on his progress at scientific meetings, etc.). But blithely, stupidly unconcerned and unexcited about the tremendous implications of Caesar’s intelligence… that’s hard to swallow.  I guess I find the evil scientist more plausible than the disengaged scientist.  I guess I’d rather be portrayed as evil than dumb.

All that said, the movie is a perfectly good summer blockbuster, with lovely shots of apes swarming over the beautiful Golden Gate bridge.  It made me nostalgic for San Francisco.  You should go.

The problem with retrospective studies

July 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

http://xkcd.com/925/

Be better than ever (and zombie-free), with systems biology

July 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Tami Lieberman* pointed out this flyer for a plasmid prep kit, from a company that shall remain nameless.

Evidently all you need to do is to slap a “systems biology” label on a product to justify the tag line “better than ever”.

The same flyer also has a picture of a happy systems biologist (presumably), happily doing…. something to do with plasmid preps?

I’m sure that the kit is a perfectly fine kit, by the way, and that it will make you very happy to use it.  If you like that sort of thing.

On a related note, I recently ran across the Institute for Zombie Studies. The Institute for Zombie Studies was, apparently “created by the need to secure the future of humanity; from the single most, non-nuclear, threat to the human race. Infection.”  Further, “IZS’s Biology Departments approach is to use model systems, such as yeast and halobacterium, to apply systems approaches to develop an understanding of central issues in medical science—the functioning of the immune system, for instance”.  This is probably unrelated to the CDC’s attempts to make sure that we’re all prepared for the zombie invasion, when it comes.  (Or is it already here?)

*Update: Tami tells me it was actually Adam Palmer who spotted this.  Credit where credit’s due!

Zombie preparedness tips from the CDC

May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Centers for Disease Control have a useful page of advice on how to deal with outbreaks of an infectious virus that causes people to turn into flesh-eating zombies.  The added benefit of being prepared for zombies, they point out, is that you’ll also be prepared for several other types of disasters. Via Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Improbable but true

April 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

xkcd’s comic today is about statistical significance.  Yes, even statistics can be funny.

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