Category Archives: Curiosities of Nature

Trick or Treat! – Mullerian Mimicry Edition

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Taylor (All Rights Reserved; Used with Permission)

You are never to young for a meta-costume*.

To the untrained eye, it may look like my daughter is dressed as a monarch butterfly for Halloween. To the trained eye, you will recognize that half of her parental set is extremely dorky.

She is actually going as the concept of Müllerian Mimicry instantiated in the form of a viceroy butterfly. This costume is occassionally mistaken for Batesian Mimicry by novices.

Butterfly (monarch) on a Penta by Arturo Yee (CC BY 2.0)

Butterfly (monarch) on a Penta by Arturo Yee (CC BY 2.0)

Viceroy by Rodney Campbell (CC BY 2.0)

Viceroy by Rodney Campbell (CC BY 2.0)

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Screenshot 2014-10-26 19.47.29It has oft been our wont on a Friday to indulge in a bit of sciencing of movie quotes – a practice we have saddled with the Twitter sobriquet #SCInema. This Friday, however, was not like most Fridays. For, on this Friday, my friends at the Science for the People podcast released a show featuring interviews with author Dan Falk and scholar Stanley Wells entitled “Science and Shakespeare.

So, instead of putting the science in movie quotes, we brought the science to the works of The Bard with the hashtag #ShakesPeerReview. It was met with great enthusiasm by science-y folk who were eager to show-off that their knowledge of Shakespeare and their senses of humor (these things do not always go together).

My favorite effort, among many potential favorites, may be this one from Shane Caldwell.

Screenshot 2014-10-26 19.43.13

You can find a storify of #ShakesPeerReview tweets here.

Will the future run out of technology?

If you haven’t seen it, this opinionated, provocative, and forceful essay by Bruce Gibney at Founder’s Fund is a great read. Starting with the question of why venture capital return has generally sucked over the past two decades, he delves into issue of real vs. fake technology, why we’ve been too quick to be satisfied with incremental progress, and whether there is that much revolutionary technology left to invent.

“What happened to the future?”:

Have we reached the end of the line, a sort of technological end of history? Once every last retailer migrates onto the Internet, will that be it? Is the developed world really developed, full stop? Again, it may be helpful to revisit previous conceptions of the future to see if there are any areas where VC might yet profitably invest.

In 1958, Ford introduced the Nucleon, an atom-powered, El Camino-shaped concept car. From the perspective of the present, the Nucleon seems audacious to the point of idiocy, but consider at the time Nautilus, the first atomic submarine, had just been launched in 1954 (and that less than ten years after the first atomic bomb). The Nucleon was ambitious – and a marketing gimmick, to be sure – but it was not entirely out of the realm of reason. Ten years later, in 1968, Arthur C. Clarke predicted imminent commercial space travel and genuine (if erratic) artificial intelligences. “2001: A Space Odyssey” was fiction, of course, but again, its future didn’t seem implausible at the time; the Apollo program was ready to put Armstrong on the moon less than a decade after Gagarin, and computers were becoming common place just a few years after Kilby and Noyce dreamed up the integrated circuit. The future envisioned from the perspective of the 1960s was hard to get to, but not impossible, and people were willing to entertain the idea. We now laugh at the Nucleon and Pan Am to the moon while applauding underpowered hybrid cars and Easyjet, and that’s sad. The future that people in the 1960s hoped to see is still the future we’re waiting for today, half a century later. Instead of Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise, we got the Priceline Negotiator and a cheap flight to Cabo.

There are major exceptions: as we’ve seen, computers and communication technologies advanced enormously (even if Windows 2000 is a far cry from Hal 9000) and the Internet has evolved into something far more powerful and pervasive than its architects had ever hoped for. But a lot of what seemed futuristic then remains futuristic now, in part because these technologies never received the sustained funding lavished on the electronics industries. Commercializing the technologies that have languished seems as good a place as any to start looking for ideas

Protein Folding

I am contractually obligated to discuss the basics, the very basic basics, of protein folding with my class over the next week or so. This strip from Randall Munroe’s xkcd will be appearing in the lecture.

xkcd by Randall Munroe (CC BY-NC 2.5)

I will be watching closely for looks of recognition, which will allow me to evaluate how cool my students are. You decide which direction the “cool” runs on that one.

Home Sweet ‘Shroom

Giving the amount of fungal growth in my yard, I wish I was one of those people who could tell which mushrooms you can eat and enjoy*. In retrospect, perhaps I should have seen the pretty orange color of this one as a bad omen for my St. Louis Cardinals.10409291_10100825667492534_8784579148790602323_n

*No, I will not be trusting any of your opinions on the matter either. I know too many people who comment on blogs to trust any of you.