Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mispeling ov tha daye

"Peatchry dish"

Half a Billion Year Old Jelly

Researchers report today in PLoS ONE that they have identified fossilized jellyfish that date back to 500 million years. The previous oldest-known cnidarian fossils were "only" 300 million years old. This new find pushes the origin of cnidaria back to at least the middle of the Cambrian. The fact that the fossils show traits that are diagnostic of modern taxa suggest that jelly origin may coincide with (or predate) the Cambrian Explosion (alternatively, modern-looking jellies may have evolved rather quickly during the Cambrian).

This new find should help shed some light on the origin and diversification of a group of critters that are generally not preserved well due to their soft bodies and also adds another piece of the puzzle of rapid diversification during the Cambrian.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Seeking advice on showing "An Inconvenient Truth"

Next week in my Core Science lab we will be watching "An Inconvenient Truth". Core Science is the general science requirement for all non-science majors here at RWU and there are 15 sections of the lab. Lab is a "common experience" for all Core students so the curriculum is already planned out. However there is no real curriculum for this "lab" period other that to show the movie. Obviously, there has to be more to it than this. I'm going to poke around the educational resources over at and plan on attempting to generate some discussion both before and after the movie, particularly about the science-opinion-fact-politics-business-media quagmire.

I'd like the students to see that there is a litany of scientific data about global climate change; that certain trends are evident despite the natural variation inherent in any complex system; that all the science, taken together, point to a particular conclusion. I'd like to have my students attempt to see past the politics as best they can and see the science. I'd like for them to begin to understand that the scientific data is not a matter of opinion, but that how we respond to this data is (e.g. the fact that it is 85 degrees outside isn't debatable, but whether it is better to stay inside with your air conditioner or go to the beach is). I'd like for my students to understand that they shouldn't throw out the facts because they don't like the message (or the messenger!).

I don't know if resistance is going to be an issue this semester (it was last semester), but I've already heard one of my students refer to "An Inconvenient Truth" as "that Democrat movie" and I'd like to be as prepared as I can be going in. So, if anyone out there has any experience with showing this movie, especially to non-science majors, I would welcome any advice. I'd also appreciate being directed to any good resources on using AIT as a teaching tool or to any sites that discuss some of the common misconceptions/issues in the global warming "debate".


UPDATE: well, the showing of AIT went by without much of a hitch. I gave the students a series of questions to answer so they could stay focused on the movie. These questions were all based on the various observations and scientific evidence presented in the movie. Not too much discussion afterward - which isn't too surprising (they just wanted to get out of there) - though a few students commented on the significance of the amount and variety of evidence portrayed. One student thought the movie was too political, (which I agree with - why show all the footage of the 2004 election?) but also thought that the movie helped clarify much of the science behind the issue.

Better late than never

Fall weather is really here now - currently 32.9oF outside (1am - why am I awake?). We had our first frost last night. We'll have our second tonight for sure.

Tomorrow's forecast: Mostly sunny, 59o

I'm afraid to look any further in the forecast. I'm afraid I might see more of that infuriating data. Ignorance is bliss, right? Right?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Happy Hallo-Meme!

Rick MacPherson (any relation to Dick?) tagged me with this meme about the worst science-themed horror movies over the weekend. I was too busy being warmed by the glow of victorious New England sports team to respond until now.

Now that the dust has settled, I'm happy to oblige.

I'm not sure that this counts as horror, but this one certainly is frightful

(update: for those of you who need to replenish some brain cells after watching that, go check out the real deal about fireflies over at the Other 95%)

Seriously now, I have to admit that I was never a fan of horror movies, even the cheesy silly ones, so I really can't pick out a favorite. I do however remember watching the Creature Double Feature on Channel 56 WLVI when I was little. So in honor of those really awful shows, I give you the the following clip:

I think Rick tagged everyone I would have tagged myself (my blogocircle is rather small), so I'm going to pass on passing on this meme.

Maybe I should have more class...

...but then again, I am a Masshole

PS this is why the rest of the country hates New England sports fans

So good. So good. So good.

And here are some more images (and songs)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bowdoin gets it too

While perusing Sierra Club's top 10 list of Schools that "Get it"(meaning their campuses are environmentally friendly - you know, they recycle, have "green" buildings, don't allow students to gillnet for dolphins, etc.), I was happy to see that my alma mater, Bowdoin College, made the "honorable mention" category.

It would have been nice to see it in the top 10, like Kevin Z's Penn State, but honorable mention is a good start. Now if only RWU would follow suit.

Everyone say" OOOHHH" and "AHHHHHH"

Speaking of bringing the campus into the 21st century and getting a small glimpse of RWU... the math and science websites I have been designing are now officially online. There are still holes to fill, but if I waited around for the cooperation of 25 faculty the sites would never get online.

Anyways, if you want to have a look, I suggest starting at the "central" Marine & Natural Sciences website. From there you can check out the individual departments of Biology & Marine Biology, Chemistry & Physics, and Mathematics. A new Environmental Science website is coming soon.

Bringing campus journalism to the 21st century

The Department of Communications at RWU has initiated an interesting program called the Feed. Essentially, this is a hands-on approach to broadcast journalism that is utilizing YouTube as their distribution venue. I really like this idea and am impressed with the production quality on the videos I've seen so far (except for some hard-to-hear audio on a few of them).

To see some of their videos and to catch a small glimpse of life on RWU, check out The Feed

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's not about helping those in need...

See, no good deed goes unrewarded.

I was part of the movement that managed to stop Craig from blathering ad nauseum about the need for science supplies in our kids' classrooms (I mean, 'our kids' as in 'the school children of the United States', not as in 'Craig and I are raising kids together', though I am sure Craig and I would do a top-notch job of it). Apparently, the overlords at Seed agreed that shutting Craig up was a good thing too, and have rewarded my efforts with a brand new t-shirt. Though to avoid any controversy, they're calling it a randomly drawn "prize":

Hi there,

Congratulations! You've won a prize in the ScienceBlogs DonorsChoose Challenge Contest.

Your generous donation has helped to increase science literacy in a public school classroom. As if that weren't reward enough, you're soon to be the proud owner of a

Seed Hearts Threadless tee shirt (,

courtesy of Seed.

To claim your prize, please send a valid mailing address (and, if you've won a 'Seed Hearts Threadless' shirt, your tee shirt size and gender – S/M/L/XL, guy's style or girl's style). We will pack up your winnings and get them to you shortly.

If you've won a Seed subscription and would like to send it to someone else as a gift, that can be arranged; just send us the giftee's name and address.

Thanks again for reading ScienceBlogs and giving to DonorsChoose through our blogger challenges. You're wonderful.

Best wishes,

The Seed Team

The t-shirt has a cool design, but (and I hate to sound ungrateful) it's yellow. Banana yellow. Yellow is right up near the top of the list of colors I do not wear. It's a fine color. Just not on me.

But, damn it, I won it. So damn it, I'm wearing it.

It's not about the charity, it's about the loot.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I've got a green northern sea urchin

Thanks to Kevin Z over at The Other 95%, I've been immortalized in song, forever tied to the green Northern sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis.

You see, I am partial to S. droebachiensis as they were my first research subject, the impetus for my undergraduate Honor's thesis, which resulted in my 1st publication. Besides, they're pretty cool in their own right - from their anatomy to their ecology.

Anyways, thanks Kevin! If I had any musical talent, I'd return the honor.

Check out the studio recording of "Jim's Got a Green Northern Sea Urchin", as well as the rest of the great spineless songs and science over at The Other 95%

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

Dale over at The Meming of Life has tagged me with this convoluted experiment started by PZ Myers. It took me a while to figure it out, but I think I've successfully maneuvered my brain around it, so I'll give it a shot. Besides, my memetic legacy hinges on my successful completion of this challenge.


There is a set of questions below, all of the form , “The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…”.

Copy the questions. Before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

> You can leave them exactly as is.

> You can delete any one question.

> You can mutate either the genre, medium or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change “The best timetravel novel in SF/ Fantasy is…” to “The best timetravel novel in Westerns is…” , or ”the best timetravel movie in SF/Fantasy is…, or ”The best Romance novel in SF/Fantasy is…”

> You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form “The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is…”.

> You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions.

Please do include a link back to the ‘parent’ blog you got them from, (e.g. FROM ARCHAEA TO ZEAXANTHOL), to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers.

Remember though: your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate, and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.


My great-great-grandfather is Pharyngula.

My great-grandfather is The Flying Trilobite.

My nonna is Leslie’s Blog.

Daddy dearest is The Meming of Life


THE MEMING OF LIFE’s mutation:

*The best romantic movie in scientific dystopia is: THX 1138

*The best sexy song in traditional is: “Chan Chan” by the Buena Vista Social Club

*The best satirical movie in comedy is: Life of Brian

I'm taking some risks here - "dumbing" down the memetic pool as it were - it's either a brilliant move or memetic suicide. I'm banking on the former - have you seen "Idiocracy"?

*The best romantic movie in comedy is: The Princess Bride

*The best sexy song in 80's hard rock is: "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard

*The best satirical movie in comedy is: South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

Passing on the meme:
(Hopefully I don't have any MTDs)
  • the Other 95%
  • Deep Sea News
  • Aardvarchaeology
  • Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets

    I'll stop there. I don't want to get a reputation for being promiscuous.

  • Thursday, October 11, 2007

    You might be a Masshole if...

    This is more accurately "You might be a Bostonian if..." There are definitely nuggets of truth in here. Also, there is a reason, beyond the fun of it, for me posting this...stay tuned.

    1. The Red Sox World Series win was, and will always be, one of the greatest moments in your life
    Wasn't it for everyone?

    2. The guy driving in front of you is going 70 mph and you're swearing at him for going too slow
    Only if the speed limit is 35

    3. When ordering a tonic, you mean a Coke
    No, but my grandmother does

    4. You went to Canobie Lake Park or Water Country as a kid
    Of course

    5. You actually enjoy driving around rotaries
    Guilty. I hate it when they re-engineer old rotaries into non-rotaries.

    6. You do not recognize the letter 'R' as a part of the English language
    Actually, I disagree with this one. We just think it has a different sound than most folks

    7. Your social security number starts with a zero
    I'm actually a little bummed that my son's doesn't (but then again, he has the added intrigue of having been born on the Navajo Indian reservation)

    8. You can actually find your way around the streets of Boston
    Not fully, but I know HOW to drive in Boston

    9. You know what a 'regular' coffee is
    It's NOT the opposite of "decaf"

    10. You keep an ice scraper in your car year-round
    You never know

    11. You can tell the difference between a Revere accent and a Dorchester accent
    No, but I've driven through Revere and Dorchester

    12. Springfield is located 'way out west
    Actually, it's 'westa Wista'

    13. You almost feel disappointed if someone doesn't flip you the bird when you cut them off or steal their parking space
    And you get pissed when someone doesn't wave 'thanks' for letting them through

    14. You know how to pronounce the names of towns like Worcester, Billerica, Gloucester, Peabody and Haverhill
    not to mention Leicester and Leominster

    15. Anyone you don't know is a potential idiot until proven otherwise
    True beyond a doubt.

    16. Paranoia sets in if you can't see a Dunkin Donuts or CVS Pharmacy within eyeshot at all times
    Standard directions include the statement "You know, it's next to the Dunkin Donuts and across the street from the CVS". Unfortunately for unsuspecting out-of-staters, this describes pretty much every location in the state.

    17. You have driven to New Hampshire on a Sunday just to buy alcohol
    Not a problem anymore, but blue laws used to prevent alcohol sales on Sunday

    18. You know how to pronounce Yastrzemski
    and what number he wore

    19. You know there's a trophy at the end of the Bean Pot
    more so, you know what the Bean Pot is

    20. You order iced coffee in January
    and February, March, April...

    21. You know that the Purple Line will take you anywhere
    except 'westa Wista'

    22. You love scorpion bowls
    never had one

    23. You know what they sell at a Packie
    Wouldn't you like to know

    24. Sorry Manny, but number 24 means DEWEY EVANS
    There couldn't be two more different guys

    25. You know what First Night is
    and have froze your ass off attending one

    26. You know at least one guy named Sean, Pat, Whitey, Red, Bud or Seamus
    And can pronounce 'Seamus'

    27. McLobster=McCrap
    really, McAnything=McCrap

    28. You know at least 2 cops in your town because they were your high school drinking buddies

    29. You know there are 6 New England states, but that Connecticut really doesn't count
    CT = NY lite

    30. You give incomprehensible directions to tourists, feel bad when they drive off, but then say to yourself 'Ah, screw them'
    see #s 15 and 16 above

    31. You know at least one bar where you can get something to drink after last call

    32. You hate the Kennedys, but you vote for them anyway
    hate's a pretty strong word

    33. You know holding onto the railing when riding the Green Line is not optional

    34. The numbers '78 and '86 make you cringe
    much less so now

    35. You've been to Goodtimes
    fortunately, no

    36. You think the rest of the country owes you for Thanksgiving and Independence Day
    You do.

    37. You have never actually been to 'Cheers'
    Actually, 'Cheers' is 'The Bull & Finch'

    38. The words ' WICKED' and 'GOOD' go together
    As do 'WICKED' and 'AWESOME'

    39. You’ve been to Fenway Park
    'Good times never seemed so good'

    40. You've gone to at least one party at U Mass

    41. You own a 'Yankees Suck' shirt or hat
    Not actually in my wardrobe

    42. You know what a Frappe is
    NOT the same as a milkshake

    43. You've been to Hempfest
    no clue what this is

    44. You know who Frank Averuch is
    see #45 below

    45. ADVANCED: You know Frank Averuch was once Bozo the Clown
    see #44 above

    46. You can complete the following: 'Lynn, Lynn…' of sin...

    47. You get pissed off when a restaurant serves clam chowder, and it turns out to be friggin' Snows
    sacrilege I know, but I don't like clam chowder

    48. You actually know how to merge from six lanes of traffic down to one
    without using my blinker

    49. The TV weatherman is damn good if he's right 25% of the time

    50. You never go to Cape Cod,' you go 'down the Cape '

    All right - there's too many of these to comment on. If you've made it this far and want to see the rest of the list, click below

    See the rest

    51. You think that Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon are more evil than Whitey Bulger

    52. You know who Whitey Bulger is

    53. You went to the Swan Boats,House of Seven Gables, or Plymouth Plantation on a field trip in elementary school

    54. Bobby Orr is loved as much as Larry Bird, Tom Brady and Ted Williams

    55. You remember Major Mudd

    56. You know what candlepin bowling is
    And enjoy it!

    57. You can drive from the mountains to the ocean all in one day

    58. You know Scollay Square once stood where Government Center is

    59. When you were a kid, Rex Trailer was the coolest guy around

    60. Speaking of which…You can still hum the song from the end of Boom Town

    61. Calling Carrabba's an 'Italian' restaurant is sacrilege

    62. You still have your old Flexible Flyer somewhere in your parents' attic

    63. You know that the Mass Pike is some sort of strange weather dividing line

    64. The only time you've been on the Freedom Trail is when relatives are in town

    65. The Big Dig tunnel disaster wasn't a surprise

    66. You call guys you've just met 'Chief' or 'Boss'

    67. 4:15pm and pitch black out means only 3 more shopping days until Christmas

    68. You know more than one person with the last name Murphy

    69. You refer to Savin Hill as 'Stab 'n Kill'

    70. You've never eaten at Durgin Park, but recommend it to tourists

    71. You can't look at the zip code 02134 without singing it

    72. You voted for a Republican Mormon as Governor just to screw with the rest of the country

    73. 11 pm? Drunk? It means one thing: Kowloons!

    74. 2 am? Drunk? It means one thing: Kelly's Roast Beef! The one on Revere Beach not the one on Route 1

    75. 5 am? Drunk? It means one thing: You wish you had a blanket in your back seat

    76. You know that P-Town isn't the name of a new rap group

    77. People you don't like are all 'Bastids

    78. You took off school or work for the Patriots first Super Bowl Win Parade

    79. You've called something 'wicked pissa'

    80. You'll always get razzed for Dukakis

    81. Saturday afternoons meant Creature Double Feature with Dale Dorman

    82. Sunday mornings meant the Three Stooges on Channel 38

    83. You've slammed on your brakes to deter a tailgater

    84. No, you don't trust the Gorton's Fisherman

    85. You know that Papa Gino's usually has a jukebox

    86. You think Aerosmith is the greatest rock band of all time
    Not so much

    87. Your town has at least 6 pizza and roast beef shops

    88. You know at least three Tony's, one Vinnie and a Frankie

    89. 20 degrees is downright balmy as long as there's no wind- then it gets wicked cold

    90. You were very sad when saying goodbye to the Boston Garden

    91. Thanksgiving means family, turkey, High School football, and the long version of Alice’s Restaurant

    92. You know the guy who founded the Boston Pops was named Athah Feedlah

    93. You know what the Combat Zone is

    94. You actually drive 45 minutes to New Hampshire to save $5 in sales tax

    95. You've pulled out of a side street and used your car to block oncoming traffic so you can make a left

    96. You've bragged about the money you've saved at The Christmas Tree Shop

    97. You've been to Hampton Beach on a Saturday night

    98. Playing street hockey was a daily after school ritual

    99. Hearing an old lady shout 'Numbah 96 for Sioux City!' means it's time for steak

    100. You remember Jordan Marsh, Filene's, Grants, Bradlees, Caldor, Zayres, or Ann & Hope

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    No Eugenie for me :(

    Well, looks like I've lost my opportunity to meet Eugenie Scott. I was scheduled to meet with her this afternoon before her lecture this evening, but she needed a break from the constant attention from her sycophants admirers, so went back to her hotel room. It's understandable. I guess.

    Unfortunately, I also have to miss her lecture this evening to bring my daughter to her Brownie troop meeting. Damn kids.

    Friday, October 05, 2007

    Rewilding revisited

    I'd like to redirect attention to a post I made back in July about Pleistocene Rewilding of North America. In it I offer my opinion that this is a bad idea. Recently, a reader has brought a good discussion to the table and I'd like to see if I can open it up even more. Please jump in with us.

    I'd hate to have a discussion that I think could be interesting, educational, and useful be buried under months of newer posts.

    Thursday, October 04, 2007

    Only you can prevent Craig from ranting again...

    Craig McClain over at Deep Sea News keeps going on and on and on and on about how some teachers out there are trying to make their students' science education better yet they can't afford supplies for some really great hands-on, interactive, engaging, science projects that will certainly do wonders for these kids. Blah, blah, blah.... What's wrong with slipping in some VHS tape from 1985 and giving them a worksheet?

    Anyways, I'm getting really tired of reading Craig's ramblings and spineless pleas for help. I'm not sure I trust him, but he promises to stop if he gets enough donations to get these teachers the supplies they so desperately need. So, please, for the love of Todd, help me shut him up. Go to Deep Sea News, click on the Donors Choose Challenge on the left and donate $10. Quickly before he he whines again and forgets that he's supposed to be doing something more important like writing about the latest designer submarines or how the newest flash drives are decapod-resistant

    It's October, right?

    The average high temperature here for October 4 and 5 is 61o F, the record high for both days is 78o F (both set in 2001)

    Today's forecasted high temperature? 84o F

    Tomorrow's forcasted high temperature? 85o F

    And it's humid.


    October in New England is supposed to be cool and crisp with nighttime temps in the low 40s, not hot and muggy with nights in the high 60s.

    I'm getting seriously cranky.

    If I see a mosquito out there, I'm going to be downright pissed off.

    Wednesday, October 03, 2007

    Me, me, and more me

    As Archaea seems to be coming more personal and less science-driven, I figured I'd delve briefly into things I am currently working on. Forgive my self-indulgence.

    Things currently on my plate, in no particular order:

    1. Helping to write a proposal for the Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Science Research Program. This program awards $20,000 a year for 3 years to support undergraduate students involved in research that showcases the interrelationship between chemistry and biology. Not simply biochemistry research (not that biochem is simple, mind you), but research that involves collaborative work between biologists and chemists. A lot of the work we do here is of this collaborative nature (e.g. examining the amount of heavy metals in the food chain in Narragansett Bay or using LCMS to analyze the fatty acid content in the eggs of marine organisms). This award would really benefit a number of our students.

    2. Redesigning the departmental websites for Biology & Marine Biology, Chemistry & Physics, and Mathematics. These three departments make up the Marine & Natural Science Division, so I am also designing a central Marine & Natural Sciences website that will link all the departments and information about our research program together. The division director would like me to have something ready for the next divisional meeting and the Dean of the College of Arts & Science would like me to present the new websites at the next department chairs meeting. No pressure though.

    3. Teaching two courses. Thankfully both are labs and not lectures this semester:

      • Principles of Biology lab
        Principles is pretty standard - microscopes, cells, diffusion, pH, enzyme kinetics, macromolecules, respiration, photosynthesis, etc. What I really like about it though is the emphasis on the process of science and the inclusion of weekly open-ended experimentation. In addition to the regular, "canned" portion of the lab, every week the students are required to develop hypotheses and design and run a small experiment to help them test their hypotheses. I've been emphasizing process over products at this point, but hopefully as we move forward I can start to expect better end results.

      • Core Science lab
        Core Science is a general science course for non-science majors and fulfills the University's science requirement. We cover a wide range of topics, from measuring the acceleration due to gravity to testing Charles' and Boyle's Laws to measuring the energy content in various fuels to investigating photosynthesis and discussing climate change (this is the course where some students were upset about watching "An Inconvenient Truth"). I'm not a huge fan of this class. I don't think the labs are engaging enough or stress the process of science enough. I bet many students leave this course saying, "Yup, just as I thought, science sucks." I do what I can, but this course needs an overhaul. But I digress...

    4. Running the Undergraduate Center for Marine Life Sciences. Basically, as part of the Rhode Island Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (RI-EPSCoR), the Center is charged with providing opportunities for research in the marine life sciences to students and faculty in the state. The idea is to foster collaborative research and to provide access to facilities and equipment that other in-state institutions do not have (and thus, cannot engage in marine life science research). It's hard to pin down how RI-EPSCoR as a whole is supposed to function, but after 7 months on the job and a successful summer research program (that included a weekly seminar series and culminated in a student symposium), I'm beginning to see the potential of the Center.

    5. Making my kids' breakfast, making my kids' lunch, putting my daughter on the bus, driving my son to daycare, picking my son up at daycare, being home for my daughter when she gets off the bus, driving my daughter to and from Brownies, driving my son to and from hockey (actually Learn to Skate), cooking dinner, doing dishes, putting the kids to bed, watching the Sox and Pats (hey, it's my duty as a full-fledged Masshole, so lay off), etc. I by no means want you think that I do this all alone (I'm not nearly that crazy) - none of this would be possible without my wife right here running around crazy with me. And having in-laws that live 15 minutes away and willing to help with the kids has been nothing short of stupendous.

    This litany is not intended to show off how busy I am - there's nothing unique about what I do (see, I'm humble too!). I just figured it was time to tell folks a little more about me, just in case people thought I drank rum, sang sea chanties, and pillaged all day long.