Archive for: December, 2012

Happy New Year! What are your resolutions?

Dec 31 2012 Published by under Synaptic Misfires


Happy New Year's Eve to everyone!!! Well, Happy New Year's Eve from the lab. Because there's where Sci is. Rodents don't really care if it's a holiday.

Does anyone have any New Year's Resolutions? Sci's always involve publication numbers...but I'd like to hear yours. What have you got?

13 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: Slime Molds take it to the highway.

Dec 28 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

We humans really like to think we are rational planners. In some examples, we are. Carefully designed modern suburban communities, with walking distances to stores and parks, etc. Require some careful planning. So do the stamped grids of many modern cities. But what about the routes between? You could always just take a straight line from A to B, if you wanted. But if you never accounted for the lay of the land, you could come up with some really unfortunate roads. So when it comes to laying highways and larger roads, many take advantage of roads that where there before them. Now a highway, once a dirt road, and before that, a track. Many transport networks therefore evolve organically, taking into account the lay of the land and things in between.

But how "organic" is it really? Is it really efficient? And can a slime mold tell the difference?

Yes. A slime mold. These fascinating creatures (I want one for a pet) have been featured here before laying out the train map of Tokyo.  But that's not the only city to receive the benefits of a slime mold's expertise!


Adamatzky, et al. "Are motorways rational from slime mould's point of view?" arXiv:1203.2851v1, 2012.
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2 responses so far

2012 book list

Dec 26 2012 Published by under Blog Carnivals, Synaptic Misfires, Uncategorized

For the past...oh my, for the past FIVE YEARS, I've been recording, every year, the books I manage to read. Five (gulp) years ago, this was because I was trying the then popular idea to read 100 books in a year. Then I started a blog. 100 books did not happen (though I did get past 60!). Since then, I've set more modest goals, trying for 30 books each year. This year I BARELY made it. Usually they are somewhat punishing and self-improving, but I have some fun ones in there too. And then every year I post them, and ask for you, my friends and readers (some of whom may well not be my friends and I just don't know it) to give me book recommendations.

And this year I ask again! Are there any books you particularly recommend? Great works? Fantasy? I do like fantasy. Science? As you know I LOVE me some science! Leave them in the comments, and if I haven't read them, I'd be glad to give them a try!

2008 List
2009 List
2010 List
2011 List

And now, This year's book list!!! *fanfare*

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10 responses so far

Merry Christmas!

Dec 24 2012 Published by under Synaptic Misfires




We...don't actually celebrate Christmas, but I know there will be no readers today. But for those of you who ARE around, let me take this opportunity to say thanks. Thanks so much for reading, for picking on my typos, for giving me feedback, and for keeping me writing! Have a happy day wherever you are!



2 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: The evolutionary psychology of the romance novel

Dec 21 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

The handsome stranger clutched her shoulders, supporting her as she swooned. The suddenness and violence of the robbery and her rescue disoriented Beverlee, and for a few moments she did not know where she was. But as she began to be conscious of her surroundings, she was increasingly aware of the tall, firm man she leaned against, of his  big hands clasped around her shoulders, warm through the thin linen of her chemise.

She looked up hesitantly through her lashes, and into the dark, deep eyes of her rescuer. As their eyes met, a shock seemed to pass through them both. He leapt backward, and for an instant Beverlee felt the loss of his touch, the coldness where his hands had touched her.  But the moment passed, and gathering himself, her rescuer spoke.

"Christmas" he said, flatly. "Bride baby cowboy doctor secret lady." And each word sang deep in Beverlee's spirit, tapping something deep in her she hadn't known existed: the desire to find a long term mate that would provide food and shelter while she had loads of babies.

-from the romance novel I will someday write.

Ahh, romance novels. Can't live with 'em, don't want to live without 'em.The genre of romance, of bodice-bustin' babes and their brawny bonafide boytoys, has been around, well, for at least as long as the written word, and most likely long before that. Tristan and Isolde, Guinevere and Arthur/Lancelot (I hope there was middle ages slash-fic of that, btw), Scarlett and Rhett, and the many improbably named men (my personal favorite was "Devilyn") and women (I bet there really IS a "Beverlee" already) of 18th century style bodice rippers.

Romance novels are incredibly popular, despite their often hilarious covers (and heck, if you've got a Kindle, no one ever needs to know!).  If you go by the definition of a romance novel as "a romantic relationship is driving the story forward", then everything from 50 Shades of Grey to Twilight to Jane Austen counts.

And boy do we love them all. So much so that in 2007 we spent 1.3 BILLION US dollars on them (other genres didn't even crack a billion). Lots of people read them, estimates are that at least 1/3 of US women have read at least one (even if a good number of us, myself included, mostly do it to point and laugh). .

But why DO we like them so much? Why do people crave cheesy serial romance? Some have suggested that it's because the stories reflect our desire to nurture. Some have suggested it's an acceptance of patriarchal bondage.  Some have suggested outlets of female resentment. No one has yet suggested the appeal of cheesy stories combined with nice dresses and soft-core porn. The authors of this paper, however, think it's because these book "address evolved, sex-specific mating interests". In other words, it's evolution, baby.  Evolutionary Psychology.

Cox and Fisher. "THE TEXAS BILLIONAIRE’S PREGNANT BRIDE:  AN EVOLUTIONARY INTERPRETATION OF   ROMANCE FICTION TITLES" Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2009.

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23 responses so far

Welcome the latest Scicurious Guest Writer: Satchal Erramilli!!

Dec 19 2012 Published by under Scicurious Guest Writers

The Scicurious Guest Writer series is BACK! And for our second guest writer, I am pleased to present Satchal Erramilli, with a piece looking back at the last 100 years of X ray crystallography! Head over and Check it out!

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The dopamine side(s) of depression, part 2

Dec 18 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Yesterday, I talked about the first of the two Nature papers that have come out looking at the role of dopamine firing in depressive-like behaviors and stress.  Today, I talk about the other. Similar stimulus...opposite effects. Why? Well it turns out that not all stress is created equal, and the dopamine neurons can tell the difference. Head over and check it out.

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The dopamine side(s) of depression, part 1.

Dec 17 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Nature recently published two papers on dopamine and depression in the same issue, both of them using optogenetics to look at the role of the dopamine system in depression, and both of them found...very different things. I like them both (and Ed covered them both really well), and I'll be covering them both over the next two days. The first is already up at the Scicurious Brain, and the other will be up tomorrow, then we may be playing compare and contrast. Head over and check it out!

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Book Review: This Is Improbable!

Dec 12 2012 Published by under Book Reviews

Have you ever wondered how the ideal bottle of liquid would glug when you tried to pour it out? How the sound of a potato chip's crunch changes how crispy you think it is? How stuffing your bra could influence your hitchhiking skills?

What, you never have? Well, fear not! Because no matter what weird you've wondered, there's probably a scientist who has, as well. And where scientists wonder...scientists do SCIENCE.

And some of the craziest of this science has been collected over the years by the incomparable Marc Abrahams, he of the fabulous hat and the wonderful yearly IgNobel Prizes, which celebrates the odd, outre, and often awesome in science every year. Sci got to cover the Ignobel Prizes this year and last year, and Marc is always quick to send me the latest in weird science for your Friday Amusement.  So I was very pleased to receive Marc's latest book on all the wild, weird, and improbable "This is Improbable: Cheese string theory, magnetic chickens, and other WTF Research".

The goal of the Ignobel Prizes, and of Marc's Annals of Improbable Research, is to show off research that makes you laugh...but also makes you THINK. And the research presented in this collection definitely makes you laugh. It may also make you think, even if that thought is just "why the heck would ANYONE study this".

Examples abound. Open this book to any page. Do you know why older style washing machines tended to "walk", or move across the floor? Someone studied that. Did you know some tree dwelling lizards actually tend to fall out of trees? They do, and someone's studied that. Did you know that someone has studied the measurements of Playboy centerfolds over time, whether dogs know, or need to know, calculus, and how people space themselves on the beach? People have studied all of these, and Abrahams has collected them into a hilarious pile of pithy science.

This book (perhaps appropriately, given some of the subject material) is ideal for keeping, say, in the bathroom (speaking of which, has anyone studied the preferred types of bathroom reading material and what percentage of people prefer to read on the loo? I bet Marc Abrahams knows this), where any time you like, you can grab this book, open it to any page, and find out how often adults skip or about the physics of falling cats (no cats were harmed).

Sure, why WOULD people care about the physics of falling cats, or how lions respond to recordings of other lions. But if you think a little harder, you begin to realize that a lot of this strange stuff really does contain useful knowledge. Knowing how people behave in a laundromat can tell you a lot about people in groups of strangers. Finding out how people REALLY feel about chocolate can help people sell chocolate, and determine things about taste and experience. As for a study on "blood and tissue spatter associated with chainsaw dismemberment"...well I'll leave that to the imagination.

But whatever your question, no matter how improbable, you might find the answer to it in this book collection. Or if you don't, you'll definitely find the answers to a lot of other questions you never thought to ask. It's a fun collection with a lot of great cocktail party conversation material, and Abrahams covers it all with a dry wit that let's the hilarity of the work speak for itself. Abrahams has always been one of my weird science gurus, and I hope that some day I too achieve his mastery of the weird science genre. But until I do, I'm going to be pouring over this book, and I definitely recommend that you do, too.


Conflict of interest note: I got this book for free, and Marc is a friend of mine.

2 responses so far

Knowing what I know now: The carnival!

Dec 10 2012 Published by under Academia

Over at the Molecular Ecologist, there's a great carnival up of posts on "knowing what I know now". What advice did you wish you had given your past self? I and many others have a TON, and we hope it will benefit you! So head over and check it out!

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