Archive December 2009

Christmas presents aimee whitcroft Dec 23

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A quick note on the Christmas (or otherwise) gift front.

sciblogs hoodie

While I’m sure everyone has by now completed their Christmas shopping, I thought I would direct your eyes to this site. Because yes, Sciblogs has indeed made up some merchandise!

You can get hoodies, t-shirts and stickers, and if there’s interest in anything else (bags, etc), then that can be done too.

We do make a small commission on each product sold – a commission which will be plowed straight back into the running costs of Sciblogs (rather than that yacht we’ve been eyeing).

Happy hunting!

Season’s greetings aimee whitcroft Dec 22

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Well, it’s that time of year again.  Christmas.  New Year’s.  The extremely aptly-named silly season.

christmas baubles 2

So we thought we’d take the opportunity to say thank you to all our Sciblings.  Since its humble beginnings in September/October of this year, we’ve seen over 600 new posts written (to total over 1,100).

Our stats have climbed steadily – we’re seeing some great numbers already, and our cunning plans to improve this dramatically will start being seen in the New Year (evil laugh).

What we’re most proud of, though, isn’t the number of posts, or the stats, but instead the content itself.  The last few months have seen some truly fantastic content, with both established and new bloggers really rising to the challenge of building a science blogging community this far down south.  We’re proud to know you, and happy you’re a part of this project.

So Season’s Greetings to you all, and a Happy New Year!

aimee & Peter

Christmas mouse

The cost of Christmas dinner aimee whitcroft Dec 15


In more of the spirit of things festive, Stats NZ have released a series of data looking at the cost of two different types of NZ Christmas dinner, both this year and in previous years.

christmas bunny(No, rabbit is not on the menu)

And, because I enjoy graphing, I thought I’d take some of the data and make pretty pictures with it.

(Note: data based on consumption of a family of 4 – two adults, two kids – and prices are based on weighted average retail prices collected for the Food Price Index).

(If you battle to read the words, no worries – simply click on the ‘full’ button on the bottom left of the presentation)

Slide 1

First up, let’s look at the cost of the two types of dinner – one a traditional dinner, and the other a ‘kiwi barbecue’ (as a foreigner, I have yet to assess any quantitative difference between Kiwi barbecues and, for example, South African braais, but yes).

As you’ll see, there’s not been much difference between the two – while there’s been a bit of toing and froing over the years, the race for price supremacy is currently neck and neck.  Meaning that you’ll have to decide for yourselves which you prefer.

There’s been a $13.50 increase in the price of this dinner since 1999, mostly due to rising prices for lamb and whole chicken.

Slide 2

This shows a breakdown of the costs involved in putting on a traditional Christmas dinner. If you have a look at the data (Slide 4), you’ll see that much of the savings this year have come from a drop in the price of whole chicken and kumara.

Not surprisingly, mains comprise the largest single cost, mostly because of all that meat.

Slide 3

Savings this year came from a drop in the price of potatoes. Again, the mains comprise most of the cost, although it’s a bit cheaper than for the traditional dinner.

The $11.50 increase in cost since 1999 is due primarily to increases in the cost of steak and, amusingly, pavlova.

Slides 4/5

For anyone who’s not all that interested in popping on to NZ Statistics’ website (although I’d suggest you do, as they have fun numbers for all sorts of things), I’ve also included the data set behind the graphs.


Whichever dinner you choose, I hope it’s a fantastic one!  The prices above obviously don’t include wine/beer etc (too variable, I guess), but a toast to everyone :)

P.S. When buying chicken/pork, I’d encourage everyone to buy free range and happy…

I have moved to Sciblogs aimee whitcroft Dec 15

Hello everyone :)

As you may or may not be aware, I’m also part of the stable of bloggers to be found on Sciblogs. For the moment, I’ve decided to be lazy and rather than syndicating/double posting (which always requires a little extra work), I’m simply going to blog on Sciblogs for now. I can be found under the same blog name: misc.ience.

Hope to see you there!

Note: we reckon Sciblogs is actually Australasia’s largest science blogging network (possible even the Southern Hemisphere’s!)

Nano ho-ho aimee whitcroft Dec 15

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In the spirit of Christmas, I’d like to share with you all the world’s smallest snowman.

(Click on image for link to site)

Credit: NPL site
The snowman was developed by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, and is a marvel of festivity-inspired nano-jollity.

According to the website, it’s 10 µm across, which equates to roughly 1/5th the width of a human hair.

It wasn’t made out of snowballs, of course, as these on average measure about half an inch, and we have yet to develop the ability to do the whole ‘Honey, I shrunk the snowflake’ thing.

Instead, it was made out of two tiny little tin balls. hilariously, they’re normally used to correct microscope astigmatism, which brings to mind wonderful images of a microscope with glasses, peering at the objects/tissues it needs to focus on.

I’m looking forward to tiny Christmas trees with even tinier tinsel. Of course, a treetop angel on this scale might also bring whole new answers to the classic question involving angels and the heads of a pin…

Introducing Shady, or, how to get a robot to do what a blind can aimee whitcroft Dec 11

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The last couple of days have felt particularly roboty.

Why, you ask? Well, I shall be posting one some of the things that came across my tech-strewn desk, and I’ll introduce the mini-topic with this one. Shady.

Cast your mind back to a hot, sunny day. For those of you living in Wellington, I might suggest a quick video search on teh intertubes, just to refresh your memory.

Right, now add to that image an image of you, sitting in a chair somewhere indoors (where exactly I shall leave up to you), with the sun blazing in through the window. Does the glare bounce irritatingly off your screen? Can you feel asymmetric bits of yourself burning?

Ok, now, what would your solution be? A blind, or possible a curtain? Moving said chair/screen? Leaving the indoors to go frolick in the outdoors (particularly given that vitamin d is apparently good for mood, and might also fight diabetes and food allergies)? To scream ‘aarg, I’m melting’?

Well, some very clever lads at MIT (of course) have come up with an alternate solution. One that probably makes sense if you’re robot mad, but otherwise tends to hike the eyebrow somewhat heavenward. Yes, they have built a robot, called Shady.

Basiacally, if someone is feeling a little over-exposed sunwise, they simply tell the little robot where to go, and it potters to that point and then unfurls a very solar wind sail-looking fan. Which shades said controller.

Credit: Shady’s website

What makes it interesting, though, is the way that it does this. It really is actually quite clever, all comments aside. Basically, it pulls itself along trusses (reminding me in the process of some strange toy from my childhood, of which I have only the dimmest of memories, except this is obviously much more clever). It’s very clever robotics, in fact. Now, why would we car about something that can haul itself around trusses? Well, because they form the skeleton of large proportions of the built environment, is why, and so there are applications for construction sites, inspections of sites, and perhaps even building or forming a truss itself.

Interestingly, I just started having flashbacks of a graphic novel read many years ago (Tom Strong Issue 2, by genius and hairy-guy Alan Moore, in fact) where small, modular machines gained sentience, got their act together (literally), and had to be defeated by superheroes because they were eating the city in their quest to make more of themselves.

For those of you interested in more details, have a look here. And see here for a vid of it being cute and useful and stuff.

To anyone who builds one: I shall be most impressed, and might send you a virtual beer or something :)

PittConnect and online scientists aimee whitcroft Dec 11

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Ah, social networking for scientists. Hooray!

PittCon, which describes itself self-effacingly as the “world’s annual premier Conference and Exposition on laboratory science”, has gone one step further than simply bringing together some 20,000 people together in the name of laboratory-inspired joy.

After all, a few days simply isn’t enough if one really wants to build connections, make other geeky science friends, and indulge (no doubt) in many impenetrable conversations. And so PittCon is proud to announce that it has set up a social networking site as well (well, online scientific community).

And, in one of those joyous occasions when naming new stuff is an evolutionary process, the new site is going to be called…can you guess it?…PitConnect.

Which makes me wonder whether all major (or minor) conferences should spin something like this off, just because it’s so perfect. Or perhaps an uber-’Connect’ might work.

Anyway, I digress. The press release says the following: was created to provide an online resource for scientists from all over the world to connect with each other to discuss problems, techniques, research, etc. In addition to listing the 1,936 technical sessions that will be presented at Pittcon 2010, Pittconnect provides contact information to enable users to communicate with colleagues, Pittcon 2010 speakers and exhibitors prior to and after the event. Once a participant has completed a short profile, he or she can begin to network by viewing the map displaying the sessions, exhibitors, and other users related to one’s specific interests.

Also, the site intends to add functionality to allow profile links to LinkedIn and Twitter, and expanding the number of available groups.

Happy conferencing, everyone!

Absolutely stunning: 100 days in Glacier National Park aimee whitcroft Dec 10

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I came across this stunning set of photos while trawling teh intertubes earlier today.
(Click on picture to go to website)

Western Tanager (Day 50)
Credit: Chris Peterson 2009

It’s a series of photos taken over 100 consecutive days in Glacier National Park (in the US). The photos were taken by Glacier Park Magazine editor Chris Peterson, and are quite something.

Says the blurb:

“When the project is complete, it will be a traveling show in 2010 to commemorate Glacier’s Centennial. I’m using a mix of film and digital cameras, including an 8 by 10 field camera, a Kodak Pocket Vest camera, circa 1909, and a Speed Graphic, among others. The idea is to use the cameras that would have been used over the course of the Park’s 100 years. Day-to-day work is done primarily with a Nikon digital camera, since I only process film about once a week due to time constraints (I have a regular job on top of this project).”

I guess I’m posting them up having been inspired by fellow Sciblogger (and ardent wildlife photographer) Brendan Moyle.

P.s. I reckon your photos are just as awesome, Brendan…

World leaders, 20 years on and sorry aimee whitcroft Dec 07

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This is really quite interesting.

(Click on link to go to website: once there, click on picture for slideshow)

Greenpeace is running an ad campaign in Copenhagen airport, featuring world leaders who are 20 years older (‘though many look much more) and apologising for not having done enough…


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