Weekend Mappy Links: Ancient Landscapes, A Map Library Speakeasy, Forensic Topology, Mapping Disasters, Cymatics

An expert on mapping ancient landscapes explains why Big Oil is his biggest customer, among other things. (interview at BLDGBLOG)

For bibliophiles: a ton of photos from a visit to the Prelinger Library (AKA the “speakeasy of [map] libraries”). (by map wanderer)

Geoff Manaugh in Cabinet Magazine on how criminals “operationalize urban topology”:

In his 2003 memoir . . . retired Special Agent William J. Rehder briefly suggests that the design of a city itself leads to and even instigates certain crimes—in Los Angeles’s case, bank robberies. Rehder points out that this sprawling metropolis of freeways and its innumerable nondescript banks is, in a sense, a bank robber’s paradise. Crime, we could say, is just another way to use the city.

(I note that this perfectly describes how crime *ought* to work in SimCity. Instead, I’m sure crime tracks recycling trucks, or something nonsensical like that).

Thanks for the technology goosebumps, Google Maps: the [recently righted] Costa Concordia looked positively eerie in satellite view, leading Collision Detection to ask what other disasters have left manmade scars visible from space.

Finally, Susi Sie’s “Cymatics” depicts the illusory landscapes created by Lycopodium powder vibrating on a stereo speaker (via Colossal):

Bonus link: Robert McFarlane on urban exploration in the Guardian.

Posted in Blogs and Blogging, Data Visualization, Ephemera, Film, Video & Music, Maps, Neuroscience | Comments Off

The evolutionary history of feathers

If you haven’t already read Brian Switek’s My Beloved Brontosaurus (the New York Times called it “a delight,” and said “[t]his may be the one book for catching up on what has become of the dinosaurs you thought you knew from grade school”) here’s a chapter excerpt on the evolution of bird feathers for your weekend reading consideration. If you have kids, you may find it helpful in fielding their questions about dinosaurs; turns out dinosaur science has changed a bit since we learned it. (Now that Pluto and the Brontosaurus have been displaced from the scientific canon, I have no idea whether ANYTHING I remember from high school science classes is still correct! Probably not; when I was in school, Protista were still their own kingdom.)

My Beloved BrontosaurusChapter excerpt
My Beloved Brontosaurus on Amazon.com

Posted in Biology, Books, Education, Museum Lust, Science, Science Journalism | Comments Off

Friday Frivolity: Concepts in Ant Farm Design

Jeff Schwarting didn’t like the pre-fab plastic look of commercial ant farms, so he designed a farm of his own and put it on Kickstarter. His farm uses “space gel,” which serves as food source, water source, and tunneling medium.

I’m sure “space gel” sounds impressive to kids, but it doesn’t look that exciting unless it is lit dramatically or dyed neon colors. These strategies are used in various commercial space gel farms, ranging from rainbow color-changing farms to cylindrical farms that cast “ant shadows”. I’m pretty sure that if I kept looking, I could find an ant farm lava lamp. That would be quite the desk accessory/conversation piece.

Standing in stark contrast to these ant laser light shows, Jeff’s “jar farm” is a simple glass mason jar containing pebbles and colored gel.  After his Kickstarter campaign concluded, he made the jars available here. Unfortunately, at $40, the jars are surprisingly expensive – the same price point as some commercial illuminated gel farms with ants included.

If your budget doesn’t provide for a $40 ant jar, why not consider the ant jar a form of bio-design DIY inspiration? What other clear containers would the ant gel work in? What might you suspend in the gel for tunneling ants to discover – dinosaurs? A 3D spine? A Han Solo action figure? And who knew ant farm innovation was even a thing, much less a thing requiring a minimalist design response?

I must be old and Luddite: if I were making an ant farm, I’d rather just put dirt in a jar. I’m aware that by doing so, I would just play into yet another DIY trend: the ubiquitous terrarium, apartment-friendly grandbaby of the Wardian case. Why aren’t ant farms getting the same design love as terraria? Has anyone even tried putting a space gel ant farm in a $300 Restoration Hardware geodesic glass terrarium?

Personally, I recommend buying this kit, adding it to an ant farm of your choice (if you go with gel, please use red gel), and watching “giant” ants battle a zombie horde.* Now that would be an awesome ant farm.

FaerieNest Zombie Horde
Zombie Horde Terrarium Accessories from FaerieNest

*This type of recommendation is one of many reasons I have not been given my own HGTV design show.

Posted in Biology, Conspicuous consumption, Education, Ephemera, Frivolity | Comments Off

Michelle Schaefer: Encaustic Nebulae

The Constant Observer

Michelle Schaefer
The Constant Observer

Michelle Schaefer‘s booth caught my eye at a recent art festival. From across the street, I was immediately drawn to the strong contrast between deep darks and fiery reds and yellows in her work — contrasts that convey an impression of enormous variations in space, temperature, and size.

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A few design links: curvilinear copper bird feeder, spiny vodka, and type hunting

This gorgeous copper birdfeeder, which is hands-down the most elegant bird feeder I’ve ever seen, was designed “by a Swiss-trained metal craftsman. Together with his wife, he developed the piece’s unique curvilinear form by using cardboard paper.” (seen at Better Living Through Design and NOTCOT.)

From the always surprising and delightful blog She Walks Softly, here is a vodka bottle containing a 3D spine, so you can appear to be drinking preserved specimens from a medical museum. (Euw.) Tragically, spine specimen vodka is only a design concept right now – but there’s always Kickstarter, right?

And I love gazing at the simple vintage logos at Type Hunting.

Posted in Artists & Art, Blogs and Blogging, Conspicuous consumption, Design, Medical Illustration and History, Photography | Comments Off

Jewelled skeletons: how Damien Hirst was scooped 500 years ago

Remember when bad-boy artist Damien Hirst got all that press for covering a human skull in diamonds? According to a new book by Paul Koudounaris, Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, he was about 500 years behind the curve. Apparently many skulls — in fact, entire skeletons — were similarly bedazzled in the wake of the Reformation.

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Posted in Artists & Art, Books, Medical Illustration and History, Museum Lust | Comments Off

A Chemical Imbalance: Gender equity in STEM education

A Chemical Imbalance is a documentary project about gender inequities in STEM and academia. It explores the reasons for gender disparities and the “leaky pipeline” – i.e., the gradual attrition of female scientists as their scientific careers progress. Today, only 27% of female STEM graduates in Scotland are working in the field for which they trained, compared to 52% of men.

The book project (which is downloadable) focuses initially on the experience of women at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where female medical students fought for acceptance in the late 1800s, and women undergraduates were only accepted in 1892. Several female scientists now hold faculty positions in the School of Chemistry; the school won an award in 2012 for promoting gender equity.

The short film project, by Siri Rødnes & Marie Lidén, complements the book by presenting interviews with part-time and full-time female scientists at the University of Edinburgh. The interviewees discuss their experiences in STEM academia, including some oft-cited challenges, like the need for childcare, that have traditionally affected women to a disproportionate degree. But the film makes clear that gender disparities are more complex than that, in that they persist even among childless women, and suggests that unconscious bias plays a role in perpetuating the problem.

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Posted in Blogs and Blogging, Education, Film, Video & Music, Gender Issues, History of Science, Science, Science in culture & policy | Comments Off

Goodbye, Google Reader; Goodbye, Missing Friends

The Friendly Express

You probably know that Google Reader is shutting down. It makes me grumpy; I don’t find Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Flipboard, or anything else to be an adequate substitute (I’m trying Feedly at my fiance’s behest).

Even worse, this unwelcome development has forced me to go through the long list of blogs to which I have subscribed at one point or another, weed out those I know have been shuttered, and in some cases, make a troubling judgment call about whether the curator of a derelict blog will ever return.

It’s an odd trait of the blogosphere that we so readily decamp from one host or site to another, and that such movements make so little difference to the experience of the blog itself, but can so easily make us invisible to those we care about. In my feeds, there are many, many blogs that appear to be derelict. Sometimes I am surprised, to my delight: Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half recently posted her first update in about a year and a half – a great relief to those of us who had been following her painfully funny, poignant tales of depression, and wondering how she was doing. (Turns out she was writing a book. Yay!) On the other hand, a blog friend who visited me once – wunx – has gone totally silent. (Are you out there, wunx? I hope you are well!) And there are always sad stories: a truly kind and optimistic self-taught artist I encountered online ten years ago died of cancer shortly after I left that community. I felt sucker-punched when I found out, many years too late to say anything of use to her. Such is the fallout of interacting with hundreds of people I’ll never have the chance to meet in person, or perhaps meet only once: I only know you through your words or art, on a screen late at night, and we often go months or years without crossing paths.

Some 250 of you out there are still subscribing to BioE through Google Reader. How many of you are actually checking Reader at this juncture, I don’t know; nor do I know how many of would catch this post among thousands. Those who never updated their feeds when I left Scienceblogs are not reading this. I would certainly understand if many who followed assumed we had gone dark, given the terrible lack of updates. I’m still here; like everyone, I’m just swamped with a career change, a move, a new job, and less-than-perfect health. Hopefully someday these things will sort themselves out, and I’ll get back to posting odds and ends sometimes. It may be worth moving BioE over to your new feed reader, or not. Your call.

Since this may be goodbye for some of you, I’d like to say, in what appears to be the twilight of the blog heyday, that it was nothing less than grand to be one little hub in a sprawling and constantly shifting network of curious, articulate, clever, creative scientist/artist/journalist-type friends. Some of us have moved on to Bigger and
better and curiouser endeavours and success. Some of our blogs are now ghost towns; without the time or bandwidth to maintain a tumblr- or twitter-paced infrastructure, intimidated by the challenge of out-journaling the Self-Aware Roomba, or simply having chosen to pursue new challenges, we bow out gracefully. Others find ourselves lackadaisical proprietors of backwater blogs with negligible traffic, like small Western towns left to dwindle when the interstate bypassed us by fifty miles. (I hear it goes right through Brain Pickings.)

BioE? We’re a twenty-four-hour diner manned by a single frazzled and unreliable waitress, with boiled-down hot chocolate acrid as coffee, glowing dimly in the dark under an arrow-shaped EAT sign. Stumble upon us at 3am; we are weird but delightfully so, and we hope you enjoy your visit, even though we assume you most likely will not come back again.

Blogs are ephemera. Now that Google Reader is dying, I assume there will be even fewer 3am patrons, because heaven only knows why people will stumble off the self-reinforcing, high-speed highways of faster-paced media. But that’s okay. We’ll make up some hot chocolate every couple months or so, and see who stops. You never know.

Posted in Blogs and Blogging, Department of the Drama, Ephemera, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Should fictional narrators stop to explain basic science?

Full disclosure: I like the New Yorker. I’m always up for vocabulary-stretching escapism, even if I have to wade through irrelevant front matter (newsflash: the Goings on About Town are mostly useless to readers in the flyover states) bordered by ads for Swiss hotels, Thai resorts, and personalized jewelry.

Every once in a while, however, the New Yorker really pushes my buttons. Sometimes I think it’s little more than a venue for injokes or endless games of one-upmanship, meant to shame any poor soul using split infinitives, forgetting their Oxford commas, admitting they have not read Proust, admitting they only know what a “madeline” is because they did read Proust, or worst of all, using “their” as a convenient gender-neutral singular possessive. At such times, I feel like I’m reading a snarky newsletter issued by a self-selected collective of snooty grammar trolls who live in a bubble and worship a giant umlaut.

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Posted in Biology, Book reviews, Science in culture & policy | Comments Off

Murmurations are so hot right now

Murmurations are so hot right now, they’re showing up in federal economic working papers. Which is probably more than you can say for steampunk.

More links on the ever-fascinating murmuration phenomenon:

Pop culture: How hot were murmurations in, say, 1936? (ask Google n-grams)
Article: “A Darwinian Dance” by Grainger Hunt
Science: Current Biology short review on murmurations
Eyecandy: photos and videos of murmurations

Posted in Ephemera, Science, Science in culture & policy | Comments Off