The new semester kicks off tomorrow & right now I'm adding resources to my first-year bio moodle page & running through the powerpoints for the week's lectures. After a couple of introductory sessions we're diving into the section of the class that focuses on plants, and I'm giving some serious thought to how I present that material given that it looks like more than half the class didn't study the relevant year 12 Achievement Standard.
So among other things I've looked around for some engaging short videos on plant biology, and I found this one (part of what looks like a great sequence, which I've bookmarked for future use):
OK, I know the humour might not appeal to everyone, & he does speak rather fast at times, but the presenter's engaging, the graphics are good & the key points are emphasised and repeated – a nice little primer for my class to watch for homework as preparation for making sense of plants.
Some of my fellow Skeptics have been discussing a homeopath who offers courses in ‘homeopathic first-aid for the home’. Might work for dehydration, I suppose, given that a 30C dilution (that’s a 1 in 100 dilution, repeated 30 times) will have nothing in it but water… But I rather think that homeopathic arnica - recommended here for acute trauma! – would have been worse than useless the time that the Significant Other’s leg interacted with a heavy, sharp, falling object – give me real-world first aid any day!
Whales – competing with us for food, or helping to sustain the phytoplankton production on which most life in the oceans depends? The story and video at this link make a good case for the latter.
Then there’s the wolves – their return to Yellowstone Park in the US has led to a whole cascade of environmental changes: changes that are very much for the better. Because the wolves keep the elk population moving around & to some degree under control in terms of population size, the vegetation has had a chance to recover from overgrazing. Forest regrowth along the riverbanks has stabilised those banks and contributed to an improvement in water quality. Beaver populations have bounced back & their activity has further altered the landscape in ways that have seen other species return or recover. The wolves have benefited the park’s ecosystem in ways that nobody had predicted.
As for the final topic, well… I have occasionally been asked by much younger, smaller persons how hedgehogs “do it” (the answer being, “carefully!”). In fact Nanny Ogg had a hum’rous song on that very topic. Brian Switek discusses the issue as it might relate to stegasaurs in My Beloved Brontosaurus. And then there are porcupines, animals for whom it seems all coitus must be consensual (unlike ducks, bedbugs, & dolphins, to name just three). Because anything else really wouldn’t work…
I must admit, I’d never really thought about this one (although I suspect littlies would find it amusing). However, it does appear that silence, in this case, is definitely not golden (and it’s got a lot to do withe the mixture of gases produced during bacterial fermentation in the gut).
I have spent a lot of time lately advising students on their programs of study. (This is one of the reasons my blogging has been sparse of late: I have been filling in while we are ‘between’ registrars & as a result have almost nil ‘spare’ time.) One of the things we often talk about is which major(s) a student should study, where a ‘major’ is the subject that they will devote most time to over the second & third years of their degree.
This is an important decision for first-year students as it pretty much determines how they’re going to spend much of their study time in the ensuing years, and so we take quite a bit of time to talk about the various options, and I often find myself asking ‘where do you see yourself in in 5 years’ time? It’s serious stuff as you don’t want to get it wrong, and sometimes I encounter someone who is just a bit confused by the various majors on offer & how they’re structured – but happily I have yet to meet anyone with the views parodied by the good folks at xkcd :-) (Thanks to my friends at Number8Network for passing this on, and yes – someone has already had a go at singing it!)
Scientists, like everyone else, have a sense of humour. (It’s just that sometimes their ‘in-jokes’ may come across as somewhat incomprehensible.) And taxonomy seems to offer fertile ground to indulge that wit. What else can you think, when there’s a tiny tiny snail with the genus name Ittibittium; a fly called Pieza kake (say it out loud); and a trilobite with the binomial name Han solo (yes, seriously!). And yes, there’s more – you’ll find a more extensive list here (thanks to Mark Willoughby for sending me the link). In fact, such punny names (sorry, couldn’t resist it!) turn out to be surprisingly common.
It’s not just the biologists; chemists seem to have enjoyed coming up with funny names for new chemical compounds. Moronic acid, anyone? You’ll find a lengthy list at Molecules with Silly or Unusual Names – but you may wish to exercise a little discretion as to whether you wish to call some of the names out loud :-)
So, it seems that Harold Camping is back – this is the man who said the world would end in May this year. Apparently he Got It Wrong, and the deadline is now 21 October ie Friday next week. Given where NZ sits relative to the dateline, I’m sure we’ll be among the first to know.
Except, of course, that he’s not the only purveyor of doom-filled prophecies. According to those who buy into the significance of parts of the ancient Mayan calendar, we’re to expect Extremely Bad Things on 21 December 2012 (all based,it seems, on substantial misinterpretation of said calendar). Oh noes! Who to believe?
Well, since there’s been a plethora of such predictions, mostly proved wrong after the (non)event, I’d say, none of them. They lack evidence, or even a firm basis in scientific concepts; you might as well go with the lolcats…
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