Category Archives: Science
Update: My animal won! The night was a sell-out and fantastic fun, thanks to all who came along! It was great to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a while and to make some new ones. The other acts were hilarious (and hideous), and Simon was a fantastic compere! My animal was Promachoteuthis sulcus, which isn’t very well known so doesn’t even have a common name. At the event, I proposed the “human-gobbed squid” or “gob-faced squid” to a large crowd. It was agreed at this event and at the Festival of the Spoken Nerd event on Friday that the animal should be known as the gob-faced squid. With several hundred people from these events now referring to it as the gob-faced squid, it’s the most common name it has as a relatively unknown creature! I’m happy and strangely proud that my animal won the evening. Here is the new mascot for the Scottish branch of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society:
This is a message for all the amazing people who have come to the brilliant Edinburgh International Science Festival. If you’re up for some shenanigans, and don’t have a weak stomach, come along to see us at the Ugly Animal Preservation Society! If comedy and nasty ugly are your things, you’ll be in a disgusting heaven!
As well as myself, you’ll see performers including Helen Arney (Uncaged Monkeys, Festival of the Spoken Nerd), Simon Watt (Inside Nature’s Giants), Steve Cross (Science Showoff), the guys from Punk Science, and more! It will be funny, interesting, and horrific in equal measure.
It’s on Wednesday night, 9pm-11pm. You can get all the details here!
I’ve been asked to speak about the science of lucid dreaming tomorrow (30/7/2012) at Hackney Skeptics in the Pub. It’s been a very popular talk that’s went down well at Skeptics on the Fringe, Winchester Science Festival, and other Skeptics in the Pub groups including Birmingham, Reading, Nottingham, Glasgow, Dundee, and Aberdeen. If you’re in the area, come along and say hi!
Update: Thanks to everyone who came along! I really enjoyed this one, especially the Q&A. Some really thought-provoking stuff! The audience were great, the venue is brilliant, and the organisers were awesome.
I also got Ned Evett to sign his album, Treehouse. All in all a great night. Cheers!
At the end of the week, Winchester Science Festival is taking place from Friday through to Sunday. I can’t wait to see the talks and performances, and I’m fortunate enough to be taking the stage on Saturday morning at 9am to talk about the actual science behind our understanding of lucid dreaming. Do come along if you can pull yourself away from your own dreams that early! All three days are filled with fantastic speakers. It should be a great weekend.
You can find out more at the website: www.winchesterscifest.org
Or follow on Twitter: @WinSciFest
Update: The first Winchester Science Festival was amazing! Well done to James Thomas for organising the entire event! I saw some incredible talks and performances, I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to an awesome audience, and along with Simon Watt I got an extra set as Lewis Dartnell was unfortunately ill on the day of his talk (it’s all good, he’s fine now). I hope to come along for a second one next year!
Homeopathy bugs me more than most alternative medicines because it’s at one extreme. It’s a “treatment” with no active ingredients. Proponents may claim there are still active ingredients, but any are removed during the process of creating the homeopathic remedies. At the opposite extreme we have TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). What are the ingredients in that? Who knows. One serious problem with TCM is that many of the ingredients that go into these “medicines” remain a mystery, and you have no idea what you are consuming. The other problem is that the nonsense, superstitious, and pseudoscientific thinking behind the “special properties” of the specific ingredients mean we have people killing rhinos for their horns, tigers for their penis (actually many species for their penis), bears for their bile (which is extracted through a permanent hole in a living bear’s abdomen), and all sorts of other charming ingredients with no medicinal value (snake oil, sea horses, turtle’s plastrons etc). While TCM carries the same risks as alternative medicines like homeopathy in that they are an alternative to real medicine (great if you want an alternative to health), they also may contain unknown ingredients that could damage your body, and they can do damage to ecosystems and biodiversity.
So, how exactly do you find find out what’s in TCM? Science!
The family Delphinidae, known commonly as the oceanic dolphins, are a clade of toothed whales (Odontoceti) within the order Cetacea. Most people have a decent understanding of what dolphins are, being smaller than most whales, and entirely carnivorous. Like all Cetacea, the dolphins are marine mammals with terrestrial ancestors. DNA sequence data and fossil evidence indicate that millions of years ago, these ancestors (Artiodactyl – even-toed ungulates) made the transition from a land-dwelling to aquatic lifestyle. The extreme change of environment resulted in selection pressures forming a diverse range of adaptations that allow the Delphinidae and close relatives to survive in the oceans. Some of these adaptations are quite well understood, while others are currently the subject of intense research and debate among scientists. Read the rest of this entry
Update: Thanks to everyone who came along, and to the organisers for creating such an enjoyable and unique night! I thoroughly enjoyed the dancing, the drinks, and the company. I hope this “experiment” of mixing science and a ceilidh will happen again.
As we approach the end of British Science and Engineering Week, what better way to celebrate than with an event all about dancing, stovies, and science? This Saturday 17th, the Chaos Ceilidh will be taking place at Elphinstone Hall. The event is from 7pm until 11pm and involves food (included in the ticket price), ceilidh dancing, a quiz with great prizes, and science/comedy sets from the likes of myself and St Andrews lecturer Dr Alun Hughes. Should be a brilliant night!
Tickets are £6 (£4 concession) and booking is recommended. For a ticket, call TechFest on 01224 274348.
Event details here: Chaos Ceilidh
March is an exciting time! Not only do we have QEDcon in Manchester, but British Science and Engineering Week takes place between the 9th and 18th of March. I’ll be performing/speaking at a few events during this time, including a Science Ceilidh in Aberdeen on the 17th of March.
In conjunction with British Science and Engineering Week, March will also bring us the 2012 Ig Nobel Tour of the UK, visiting Edinburgh on the 16th of March. I’ll be providing a reading alongside other science/comedy types about previous Ig Nobel prize winners, strange and improbable research “that first makes people laugh, and then makes them think”.
In an attempt to advance our knowledge of dinosaur biomechanics, and apparently thrill my not-so-inner-child, scientists are using the latest 3D printing technology to create robot dinosaurs with the intention of answering many questions regarding their locomotion, reproduction, and behaviour.
A fantastic discovery has been made in early Jurassic strata at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa. The area has previously revealed many excellent fossils, including skeletons of prosauropod (early dinosaurs preceding Sauropods, and often bipedal) Massospondylus. In 1976, a block of siltstone was found to contain a partial egg clutch of this species with in ovo embryonic remains. A study led by Prof. Robert Reisz (University of Toronto), began in 2006 to investigate the site further and has uncovered a nesting site with several complete nests and fascinating evidence of complex reproductive behaviours. The nesting site is approximately 190 million years old, making it the oldest vertebrate nesting site of its kind, and 100 million years older than the previously oldest known nesting site with in ovo embryonic fossils. Read the rest of this entry
Update: Thanks to everyone who came along. I had a wonderful night and thoroughly enjoyed the other performances. Feel free to tweet or FB message me if you want a copy of the slides from the presentation.
Londoners! The date for this month’s Science Showoff has been changed and it just so happens I’ll be in the area on the day (21/1/12). If you want to see me stand on a stage and link taxonomy, Darth Vadar, a rigid penis, and Boris Becker, then come along! It’s at the Wilmington Arms, from 1930 until 2200. Don’t worry, I’ll only be on for a little while.
More info can be found on the Science Showoff website.
Also, the blog is now 2 years old. Huzzah. I’ve been taking an enforced break from blogging, but this place will be active again from February onwards.
As part of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, NASA sent two rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) to Mars. They landed in January 2004. The following video shows some of the most memorable snapshots taken by Spirit. The mission was designed to last 92 days. Spirit continued to function for 2269 days. A ridiculously successful mission, and a fantastic short video. I am shocked it still has less than 14000 views.
Video by JPL, California Institute of Technology.
Throughout modern history, scientists have had to create countless names for the litany of natural phenomena discovered. Naming systems have been required for galaxies, planets, rocks, molecules, plants, diseases, and some scientists have built careers around classifications and naming what we observe around us. Classification plays an important role in science, allowing us to keep track of what is known, and organize this knowledge in such a way that makes sense. As vital as classification and naming systems are for scientific knowledge, they are also hated by school children throughout the world. When asking people (especially children) what they dislike about science, the response I often receive is; “having to remember all the boring names”. But are they all boring?
From now on I’ll be keeping a track of guest blog entries and podcast appearances here on this blog. So here’s a link to my most recent article, hosted over at the brilliant Birmingham Skeptics blog.