Thursday, February 28, 2013

Your Brain in the Cloud

If you think this guy is a joke after watching the above video consider this - Ray Kurzweil is the current director of engineering at Google!

When he speaks of having gateways to the cloud in our brains I can't help think we are already there in many ways.

Let me tell you what I did today and yesterday on my iPhone. Along my daily bike ride into the lab I saw a beautiful flower. I had not seen this flower yet this season and was unaware of its identity. However, I knew that either my mother or my girlfriend or both would know the name of the mysterious purple flower.

With photo-text on my phone and the three characters - ID? - I was able to procure the information I wanted within seconds - common name Periwinkle,  Latin name Vinca minor. While I road my bike past another periwinkle in bloom this morning I again took its photo. This time I was armed with the ID so I posted the photo to twitter and facebook and labeled it with time, date and geo-coordinates. This image has now become a phenological data point in the cloud. I hope it will one day be deposited into a massive data-set and mapped to a model of earth's surface so we can look back at the phenological record as captured by citizen-scientists all over the world. If you are not familiar with the word phenology see my earlier post and video on the topic.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Epic Oscar Moment

I'd like to thank the academy and Waylon Lewis for sharing this, the most epic acceptance speech I have ever seen at any Oscars ceremony.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Heard his skull crumple

Me on my favorite part of the dam-ride; east side of Horsetooth Reservoir - Fort Collins, CO
Today I woke up in a terrible mood and I had no idea why. The regular tasks like making breakfast, taking out the trash or finding my keys just aggravated me. There was no reason to be in a bad mood.  It just seemed to be circumstance; off serotonin levels, bad night sleep, I don't know. When I got on my bike to start the commute to work that bad mood fell away. I feel like a kid and a superhero all at the same time when I'm on a bicycle. There is pure joy in it for me. As my metabolism gets crankin' so do my thoughts. More visions of the illuminated phylogenetic tree burst into my head and plans were made to send out e-mails, assemble a team to make it happen. 

While thinking about my affection for the act of riding a bike I recalled reading an amazing passage in Earnest Hemingway's Moveable Feast last year. In it he describes attending the velodrome races in Paris. I recall getting that tingling sensation you get when you hear a moving piece of classical music of see a painting close enough to notice the brush-strokes.

Here it is. I hope it strikes the same chord with you that it did with me. 

 I have started many stories about bicycle racing but have never written one that is as good as the races are both on the indoor and outdoor tracks and on the roads. But I will get the Velodrome d'Hiver with the smoky light of the afternoon and the high-banked wooden track and the whirring sound the tyres made on the wood as the riders passed, the effort and the tactics as the riders climbed and plunged, each one a part of his machine; I will get the magic of the demi-fond,  the noise of the motors with their rollers set out behind them that the entraineurs  rode, wearing their heavy crash helmets and leaning backwards in their ponderous leather suits, to shelter the riders who followed them from the air resistance, the riders in their lighter crash helmets bent low over their handlebars, their legs turning the huge gear sprockets and the small front wheels touching the roller behind the machine that gave them shelter to ride in, and the duels that were more exciting than anything, the put-puting of  the motorcycles and the riders elbow to elbow and wheel to wheel up and down and around at deadly speed until one man could not hold the pace and broke away and the solid wall of air that he had been sheltered against hit him.

     There were so many kinds of racing. The straight sprints raced in heats or in match races where the two riders would balance for long seconds on their machines for the advantage of making the other rider take the lead, and then the slow circling and the final plunge into the driving purity of speed. There were the programmes of the team races of two hours, with a series of pure sprints in their heats to fill the afternoon, the lonely absolute speed events of one man racing an hour against the clock, the terribly dangerous and beautiful races of one hundred kilometres on the big banked wooden five-hundred-metre bowl of the Stade Buffalo, the outdoor stadium at Montrouge where they raced behind big motorcycles, Linart, the great Belgian champion that they called 'the Sioux' for his profile, dropping his head to suck up cherry brandy from a rubber tube that connected with a hot-water bottle under his racing shirt when he needed it towards the end as he increased his savage speed, and the championships of France behind big motors of the six-hundred-and-sixty metre cement track of the Pare du Prince near Auteuil, the wickedest track of all where we saw that great rider Ganay fall and heard his skull crumple under the crash helmet as you crack a hard-boiled egg against a stone to peel it on a picnic. I must write the strange world of the six-day races and the marvels of the road-racing in the mountains. French is the only language it has ever been written in properly and the terms are all French and that is what makes it hard to write. Mike was right about it, there is no need to bet. But that comes at another time in Paris.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Steven Pinker on Point of Inquiry

I live tweeted this event. See the resulting Storify below. I'm still playing with the best way to deliver a "Storify" via blog post. Let me know what you think of the "slideshow" format. Funny, you can hear iPhones vibrating with tweets during the recording :) Glad to know some of those were me!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Bee's Knees!

My Epigenetic Hypothesis

Here is the episode of radio-lab I mention above.

3D Printing an NPR correspondent

If you think this is impressive check out this short documentary on the first functional bicycle to be printed by a 3D printer!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My first embedded Tweet!

Neil deGrasse Tyson measures Mjölnir

Matt Shipman dissects Neil deGrasse Tyson's estimate of Mjölnir's heft.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

When cars drive themselves I'll tweet like there's no tomorrow.

Vint Cerf, the Grateful Dead, and Flying Sea Anemones

"I am not a happy camper when I see the gridlock and I see the polarization and I see the increasing ad hominem character of what should be a deliberation leading to compromise. And I'm not fully capable of analyzing why that's all happening but it is inhibiting rational discourse. In my world cooperation and collaboration is very important because the kinds of things that we do are so signifigantly hard that you need a lot of help and you need people working together. It only works if they respect each others opinions and when they disagree it isn't because the other guy is stupid it's because the other guy is seeing it differently and may or may not be able to justify the position, but you listen and debate and discuss and persuade and try to come to some rational conclusion, believing that everyone's intent is positive and aligned. What we see in the current political atmosphere is that intent is not aligned at all."
  ~Vint Cerf

Listen to the rest of this phenomenal interview with Andrea Seabrook on one of my new favorite podcasts - DecodeDC.

If you have an hour and half to spare the following video discussion from the 2012 World Science Festival panel "Internet Everywhere" will blow your mind. If it doesn't blow your mind please contact me (see sidebar). Now, prepare yourself to see Vint Cirf on camera in all his dapper glory.

Video streaming by Ustream

Sunday, February 10, 2013

#SciO13 - Photo Journal

The conference ended late Saturday night. Though I folded myself into crispy hotel sheets my mind would not allow me fall asleep. Every five minutes throughout the night I got up, flipped open my computer and wrote down another idea. It was the first night since high-school I saw the sun rise without sleeping a wink. All thanks to the most epic conference I've ever attended.

Science Online is an annual meeting of people interested in science on the internet. As you can imagine this constitutes a lot of people. To distill the attendees the conference organizers (first photo below) allow a limited number of participants to sign up each year. Sign-up inevitably turns into a race on Twitter. This year I was one of the lucky 450. Like Charlie and his golden ticket I bounded off to Science Online 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina to take part in a three-day extravaganza of beautiful ideas and new connections.  I met more interesting people in those few days than most people meet in a lifetime. One aspect of the conference I think worth noting was the incredible tolerance that flowed through the entire thing. I was amazed at how rapidly we all connected and immediately formed a large protective family. This was the first time I had been around a large group of people who were all twitter super-users. Indeed part of sign-up required disclosure of our twitter handles. These handles and our names were the only identifiers on our neck-credentials. The speed of connectivity in such an environment is breathtaking. If you have the opportunity to take part in an event like this I highly recommend it.

What follows are pictures and brief descriptions of just a few of those interactions. Over the next few weeks, as my mind mends itself from the internal combustion, I hope to bring you more descriptions and flesh out more ideas born at Science Online.
Karyn Traphagen                                                            Bora Zivkovic                                      Anton Zuiker

The organizers of Science Online welcome participants to Raleigh at the North Carolina Natural Science Museum - free to the public and a marvel to behold.
Carl Zimmer - Writes The Loom at National Geographic. Some T.Rex feathers were ruffled among scientists during the #explain session when Carl told the scientists in the room not to unload a textbook on anyone if asked to explain scientific concepts... unless they happen to be writing a textbook. I later unloaded his textbook on him. Carl's comment was taken poorly by scientists as it sounded like he was saying - "you do the science we'll do the journalism." He was later paraphrased by Karen James as saying "Wait, allow me to #journosplain."  I respect Carl and Karen both.  I hope we come to a time in the future when good scientific explanations come about organically from scientists in situ and are not the product of incentives in the publishing biz but then again I am just a naive scientist.

Karen James, who I mentioned above,  is a research scientist and educator. She and I had never met before but bonded while tweeting the Mars Curiosity landing in parallel last fall. I will never forget that night; my enthusiasm for science was set aflame once again. So, I was happy to make her acquaintance in person at Science Online 2013, I even got the chance to have dinner with her and Jonathan Eisen. Listening to them exchange stories about their first trip to the Galapagos Islands and their shared affection for Darwin made me want to buy a plane ticket.

Ed Yong is a renegade science journalist gone legit. He writes a brilliant blog I've followed for years called Not Exactly Rocket Science. NERS recently migrated from Discover Blogs to Nat. Geo.  I wonder how he feels about all the shuffling about that happens as the result of procuring "branded content" as it were. (I always begin writing with a British tone when I think of Edmond)

Kate Clancy is a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to Kate I am now more sensitive to the way I might phrase my explanations of science. #Mansplaining is a pitfall to avoid at all costs. Maintaining self-awareness of how one comes off as a writer and educator is extremely important.  Kate Blogs at Context and Variation. Put her and the rest of this lot up there in your bookmark toolbar!

Mark Henderson is the head of communication at the Wellcome Trust in the UK. He Blogs at the Geek Manifesto. What Can I say, Mark is a hero of mine, up there with Jonathan Eisen and Stephen Curry as crusaders for open access to all knowledge great and small. Bully to the bunch!

Michelle M. Francl was new face for me in world of online science-writing. I am certainly privileged to be connected to her and her brand of writing. She is professor of chemistry on the Clowes Fund for Science and Public Policy at Bryn Mawr College and Blogs at the Culture of Chemistry. Michelle had a phenomenal piece in Slate recently. The piece outlines the perils of irrational fear of "chemicals" it undoubtedly resulted from a session we both attended on #Chemophobia.  I was going to write a piece on this topic and I may still conjure up something of my own but I really do recommend her piece in the interim.

Seth Mnookin is a best-selling author and journalist and is currently co-director of MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing. He is a contributor to Vanity Fair and blogs with PLoS. I like Seth. We first met in New York City at the 2010 World Science Festival at a panel discussion on Blogs and science-journalism. I sense he is becoming comfortable with his status inside the establishment of science-writing.  Wish time would stop washing revolution from our minds.
I know Jennifer Ouellette because of her presence on the Google+ social network though she is famous in her own right as an author and science blogger. She blogs at Cocktail Party Physics, part of the Scientific American blog network. It is funny how people you've never met before and are not paying any attention to you become like family on the internet. It was through Jennifer's Google+ channel that I first saw the Gangnam Style video.  Ha! She is pictured above inspiring us to use science fiction to explain real science. She encouraged us not to get hung-up on the short-comings of science fiction but to go with it and take liberties to get the audience into a mode of thinking where they can think about big scientific concepts like black-holes or alternate dimensions. I asked her if I could use the tree of Yggdrasil from Norse Mythology as an analogy for the phylogenetic tree of life without running the risk of getting in a creation vs. evolution debate. She gave me the go-ahead with Gusto.  I appreciate her style and hope to stay connected.

And Finally I come to Annalee Newitz. Annalee is editor-in-chief at the best blog in the universe - iO9.  I had only become aware of iO9 over the last year by using a personalized magazine app called Zite. Let me just say, my goodness is iO9 fucking awesome.  I had just read this article on the Evolutionary Biology of Star Trek a few weeks ago and had no idea Annalee wrote it and would be at this conference. How cool is it when you read someone's work before you know you will know them? Really really really cool I say. We got to talk while waiting of for the bus about our favorite TNG episodes. (Mine - Measure of a Man, Annalee's - Darmok, maybe... others were discussed). On top of all this I think the most thought-tastic moment of the whole conference came for me during the #SciFiSci session when Annlee described one utopian/dystopian vision of the future. A vision in which the earth is engulfed by an ever-expanding sphere of technology melded with human consciousness. A physical description of the singularity that sent my frontal lobes swirling into oblivion for several days thereafter. And thus you see why I have had such a hard time writing this first post to summarize my experience at Science Online 2013. It will take me awhile to get it all out there but I hope you stick with me while I try. Thanks for reading and happy Bookmarking!

Invisible Changes Made Visible

The coolest thing about this video is that you can use the algorithm to amplify footage of your own - visit this web page to learn how.

Glowing Fish Brains!

Dr. Carin Bondar and Bad Astronomer Dr. Phil Plait bring to you This Week in Science and Technology (TWIST)

the Unbelievers

Richard Dawkins has been branded a sexist in recent months by prominent bloggers I hold in high regard. A new film titled "The Unbelievers" is not helping his image much. In it, Woody Allen is cast as an advocate of the scientific world-view. How is this advancing a scientific perspective? How is putting a near-pedophile out there as a front-man for science helping? Come on.

 Despite all this I can not deny the impact Dawkins has had on my world-view through his writings. If nothing more than convincing me to read the Origin of Species cover-to-cover my intellectual interactions with him have been worth it. This coupled to my positive encounter with Lawrence Krauss this past summer at Chautauqua Institution leads me to share this preview with you all. As an unbeliever myself I predict this film will be a gateway to many stimulating discussions and stimulating discussions are what I live for.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Bruegel in Brooklyn

Frog Wars Part 1-1. watercolor on paper, 20" x 28" together .2012
蛙蛤大戰 1。 2012 - painted by Mu Pan
Brooklyn-based Mu Pan paints with incredible attention to detail. Appreciating "folk-art" his work echoes Pieter Bruegel the elder and Hieronymus Bosch. Coming of age in the Bush-era and watching my country execute pre-emptive war gives me a similar sense of bitterness and, like Mu Pan, the enduring desire to remain independent. I created this blog as an unhindered outlet for me and I hope to maintain it as such until I am no longer able to control it. Thanks to iO9 for sharing his work!

Such Great Heights: beauty in bryophytes

Found this gem thanks to Jennifer Frazer over at Scientific American. Thought it a lovely way to start the weekend.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I met a wonderful artist named @Artologica at Science Online 2013. I purchased two gloriously geeky silk scarves from her; each with cells depicted at progressing stages of mitosis. I was even lucky enough to get the exact scarf worn by Jonathan Eisen for most of the conference. Below, I decided to play with her art and try to make a meme. Atologica painted the background in blue, I photoshoped in the memey bits. Feel free to insert any word above - Geology, Chemistry, or Climate for starters.

Alya Red: Science really does have a heart

I am still reeling from my participation in the 2013 Science Online Conference. The number of friends made and stories told has my cup overflowing. Much more on the after-haze to come. While I have some people's attention I wanted to point out that many I met at the conference were about to head up to Boston for the AAAS meeting. I am quite jealous. On the drive back from Raleigh to Atlanta I listened to the Science Magazine podcast and was just floored; driving along enraptured in science-soaked awe. This week's Science is essentially the published results of the 2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge. The video below is just one example of many awesomes in there.