Archive for: March, 2012

Friday Weird Science: The Urinal Problem

Mar 30 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

It is a truth universally acknowledged that people dislike peeing next to each other.

Ok, maybe it's just a Western thing. Or an American thing. Or a thing for people with large senses of personal space. But no matter what, there is a little dance you do when you go into a multi-stall bathroom. You casually glance (no bending over to check, that's rude) to see if other stalls are occupied, and if so, how many. If no other stalls are occupied, you pick your favorite stall, maybe because it's the one that always has toilet paper, maybe it's the one with a slower automatic flush, maybe it's got interesting graffiti. Do your thing, come out and all is well (please don't forget to wash your hands!).

However, what if other stalls are occupied? Then, quick math takes over. You need to pick the stall that is the furthest from other people's pooping. Sometimes this is easy and you can pick a stall two over, with a single stall barrier in between you and your peeing partner. Sometimes it's harder. Of course when it reaches maximum capacity you just take whichever one is free, but that mid-capacity occupation is a delicate balance.

And it's about this time that you begin to wonder...what is the POINT of all this. Most bathrooms are tile, so it's not like whatever sounds you make will be muffled in any particular stall. Unless you are master of the silent pee, someone will know you're peeing. And...why does that even MATTER? You're in the BATHROOM!! What else would you be doing?! (Don't answer that...).

And of course, I'm a GIRL. Apparently this problem is magnified for men. I have been informed via Twitter that it's more than just an issue of homophobia or space...

[View the story "Bathroom Preference: A storify" on Storify]

So there you have it. Homophobia, personal space, and "splashback". Yep. Suffice it to say the Twitter hilarity continued, but we've got science to get to.

Anyway, it turns out that men will go to great lengths in partially occupied restrooms to make sure there is adequate urinal spacing between peeing patrons. They will do this SO carefully...that some guys wrote a paper about it. With algorithms and models.

Like this:

(From XKCD, who basically covered this paper...only with less complicated math. Check it out. It's AWESOME)

Kranakis and Krizanc. "The Urinal Problem" Proceedings of the 5th international conference on Fun with algorithms, 2010.

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On Networking: A rant.

Mar 29 2012 Published by under Academia, Uncategorized

It never fails. Every professional development seminar I go to, one of the big bullet points is "NETWORK!". I see seminars on "Networking: let us maximize your LinkedIn Potential!". I just read a post on women succeeding in science and one of the bullet points was "network, network, network!".

What. IS. "Network".

From what I can tell, it's meeting people confidently, knowing people magically, and being able to contact those people and get favors without making them hate you. While we all would like to believe that one can remain and proceed successfully in academia based only on your merits...we all really know better. It's far more about who you have worked with, and who you KNOW. Then you get the position in which you can prove your merit.

That's all well and good, but HOW do you DO IT? How do you get to know these people? And more importantly, how do you do it in academia? Because you guys, I am getting seriously FRUSTRATED.

Am I all alone here? I have been to seminars on networking. From what I have learned at those seminars, we are all supposed to have business cards and hand them to each other, while smiling smoothly and saying things like "I'll be in touch". We then follow up via email, referring to where we have previously met the person and...saying something, though it is never clarified exactly what. From what I can tell of people in my academic field, they look on all people with business cards as being immediately suspect as being a possible "tool" or in the pocket of pharma (even more suspect), and phrases like "I'll be in touch" are reserved for people selling you something (yes, Bio-Rad, we KNOW you'll be in touch). Business cards and petty smooth phrases ring incredibly false. Email later referring to where you've met someone and get mocked, because most likely the person will not remember you.

On the other hand, from what I have heard at academic seminars and from profs on the internet, I am supposed to follow my boss around like a puppy (but not ingratiatingly, or non-smoothly, because that would just be annoying), and allow them to introduce me to all THEIR peeps. I would be totally into this...except my boss doesn't go to conferences. Or at least, they don't go to the conferences I go to, they go to the prestigious ones in Switzerland that I'm not invited to, and send me and my work to the national conferences.

Ok, then! I am told to go up to the people I am interested in meeting, and INTRODUCE MYSELF! We all have name tags! I'm sure it'll be fine! And I'll just go up and say who I work for and drop some pithy comment that they will think is totally cool and in line with current perspectives on the field. Then I will smoothly invite them to my poster.

Except it doesn't go like that at all. You go up to the person you want to meet at a conference or seminar? They WILL be talking to someone else. You can hover and looking annoying or weird, or try to butt in without interrupting and look annoying and weird. They will give you a sideways look to inquire WHY you are interrupting, and inform you with that look that you are annoying and weird. If your courage has not yet failed you, you can try to drop the name of your boss. IF you are very lucky, they will have heard of said boss, and ask whether they are here. If your boss is not there (and presumably they won't be because otherwise they'd introduce you and this whole thing wouldn't be awkward as hell), they will then wonder why you are wasting their time. You can invite them to your poster. Usually your poster is on the last day and afternoon of the conference (I have personally been cursed with this three times now), and they are leaving two days before, because the vast majority of big profs in my field stay for a net total of 48 hours of any given conference, and that's on the central two days. And of course, that's if you're lucky. If you're UNlucky, the person you're trying to talk to will have never heard of your boss. If they are nice they will deal with you for a minute or two anyway, but I have been literally walked away from with a dismissive gesture more than once.

I am supposed to research the type of people I will be meeting beforehand so I can comment intelligently on what they are doing...but not make it sound creepy like I've been internet stalking them. Ideally, you will have read (and be able to immediately recall) all their recent papers. This should go for all of the 20 people you are hoping to meet. Sadly, I don't have this kind of memory, and I'm not sure anyone does.

All of the advice I have received on networking in academia, in short, has not worked out like I had hoped. My best bets currently have been to talk to people at their posters (where you have something RIGHT THERE to comment on, this helps a lot), and at talks, where you ask a question or two, getting yourself in the person's good graces, or at least as a recognizable face. You can then follow up on those talk questions after the talk in the general mingling.

I've been to all the seminars. I've looked for networking advice. I really WOULD like to learn how to network effectively in academia. And so I ask you guys...what do you do? How do you approach someone without looking like a creeper? How do you remember all the pertinent details? And how do you transition from the work talk to things that will make them more likely to remember you, stay in touch, and maybe collaborate? How the HECK do you make it to getting invited along to dinner or to drinks at a bar after the poster session? Anyone? Sci (and I imagine, the rest of the masses) really wants to know. And I'm not exactly learning from the networking seminars. Academia is an intimidating place. You need to be prepared to defend everything about what you do, who you work for, the models you use. But you don't even get a chance to do that if you can't get your foot in the door. Anyone have any advice?

87 responses so far

At #sciam Blogs: Running and Thermoregulation

Mar 28 2012 Published by under Physiology/Pharmacology

I get cold after I run. Really, REALLY cold.

I’m sitting here, preparing to write a blog post on thermoregulation. I finished a good run a while ago. The temperatures outside weren’t too extreme (50ish degrees F, so comfortable for a good run), and I was sweating freely when I finished. About an hour later, here I am, in fleecey pants, shirt, socks, hoodie…and sleeping bag. And afghan. And cat.

I’m freezing. Really, seriously cold. My nailbeds are almost purple, my hands are like ice, and I’ve got goosebumps all over. I’m almost too cold to shiver.

This happens every time I run more than about 5 miles.

Of course, being a scientist, I have to find out WHY! And I got in touch with Ollie Jay at the University of Ottawa to find out. Go over there and check it out!

3 responses so far

At #sciamblogs today: Chronic stress and phosphorylated tau

Mar 26 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm blogs today, talking about a brand new study on chronic stress and possible connections with neurobiological symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease. It's an interesting finding, and an interesting mechanism, but we'll need a lot more information and experiments to understand it. Head over and check out why.

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Friday Weird Science: The Social Psychology of Flatulence

Mar 23 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

With many of my Friday Weird Science posts, it starts with a random thought. I like to think that most people have thoughts like this and just don't tell polite society, thoughts like "Do people all have a favorite bathroom stall at work or is it just me? Did dinosaurs have penises? What did they look like? Why do some women claim sexual pleasure from working out at the gym? How does that work?"

Please tell me other people have these thoughts. If not...I think I'm much more alone on this planet than I thought.

Anyway, today's post started with the following thought:

Quoth Sci to Mr. S: Did you ever notice that you need to fart less when you're in public?
Mr. S: What...
Sci: No really! Is there such a thing as social inhibition of flatulence? Do people generally fart more alone?

Finding that Mr. S had no scientific data to offer on this point, I took to the Twitters, which is where many of my random thoughts end up. I would make a storify of what resulted for your amusement, but unfortunately Storify only goes back so far. Suffice it to say that I scoured the internet looking for someone, ANYONE, who had studied farts. It turns out that 1870 people on Pubmed have published on flatulence, but none of them had really looked at the PSYCHOLOGY of the fart. I was in despair, until Jason at The Thoughtful Animal found me a citation. Lippman, 1980. I searched some more, but no one seemed to have the paper. Finally he and I tracked down the elusive Lippman, who is on the Editorial Board of the Annals of Improbable Research. Given that his 1980 paper was titled "Toward a social psychology of flatulence: the interpersonal regulation of natural gas", I figured this was the right guy.

I was right. Email contact established, Dr. Lippman was kind enough not only to snail mail me the hard copy of the paper (which I will, I promise, scan and produce in PDF for posterity), he also was kind enough to answer many of my questions. Questions like "Did you REALLY do a FART STUDY?!?!?!"



Lippman, LG. "Toward a social psychology of flatulence: The interpersonal regulation of natural gas". Psychology: a Quarterly Journal of Human Behavior, 1980.

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38 responses so far

Overeating and Obesity: Should we really call it food addiction?

Mar 21 2012 Published by under Addiction, Behavioral Neuro

Nature Reviews Neuroscience came out with a perspectives article today on overeating and obesity, and the evidence behind the food addiction model that is gaining popularity. It's an issue that I myself have given a lot of thought to: is there REALLY such a thing as food addiction that's just like heroin addiction or cocaine addiction? And if there is...what IS it? What are the criteria?

Ziauddeen et al. "Obesity and the brain: how convincing is the addiction model?" Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2012.

(I suppose I could insert the mainstream media obligatory demeaning headless photo of an overweight person here. But you know what? It's demeaning. Source

EDITED: I have now replaced the sloth picture. I thought sloths were just adorable, and it didn't even occur to me that some people might interpret a baby sloth as "slothful" or "laziness" in this context. I really didn't mean that. Just wanted adorable. This kitten will do instead. Sorry, I really didn't mean to be offensive!)

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39 responses so far

Next at the Guest Blog, Neuropolarbear!!

Mar 20 2012 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Our next occupant of the Scientopia Guest Blog is Neuropolarbear, of the Giraffes, Elephants, Baboons blog. Head over there, check out his stuff for the next two weeks, and say hello!!

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At Sciamblogs today: Think that's not fair? Check your serotonin

Mar 19 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today talking about a new study looking at serotonin transporter densities and how people behave in the ultimatum game, where you can punish reject unfair offers. Head over and check it out to see what I think of it.

One response so far

Friday Weird Science POETRY SLAM!

Mar 18 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

As Friday was winding down, the awesome Michelle Banks (make sure to check out her brain art! I've got one in my office and get loads of compliments!) and I got to tweeting about my recent alligator penis post. And EPIC PENIS POETRY SLAM was had! Michelle was kind enough to Storify the results. Read and LOL!

[View the story "The Epic Alligator Penis Poetry Slam " on Storify]

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Friday Weird Science: Alligator Penis, Alligator Penis

Mar 16 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

When I was a kid I owned a book called "Alligator Pie". It was a book of whimsical poetry, which has stuck with me to this day:

"Alligator Pie, alligator pie,
If I don't get some I think I'm gonna die.
Give away the green grass, give away the sky,
But don't give away my alligator pie!"

Alligator soup, alligator soup,
If I don't get some I think I'm gonna droop....

These verses will stay in your head. I first heard them when I was maybe 3. Fast forward some 26 years, and Laelaps handed me this paper. And my first thought?

Alligator penis, Alligator penis,
It's the part of the gator that sends a girl to Venus
Take away my species name, take away my genus,
But don't take away my Alligator penis.

Or maybe...

Alligator dick, alligator dick,
If you put some in my soup, I think I will be sick!
Throw in all the spinach, or maybe a fish stick,
But DON'T throw in some alligator dick!

Heeee. 🙂

What're YOU looking at?

(Source It's an albino, I just thought it looked awesome)

Moore et al. "Morphology and Histochemistry of Juvenile Male American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) Phallus" The Anatomical Record, 2012.

with loads of pictoral support from:

Ziegler and Olbort. "Genital structures and sex identification in crocodiles" Crocodile Specialist Group Newsletter, 2007.

(Pics below the fold are NSFW, needless to say)

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