Fun science stuff, tidbits tomorrow

I had a very long day doing hard labor, so have some fun with these and I’ll put science news tidbits up in the morning (good thing that on Earth, its always morning somewhere).

Close your eyes and listen to the annoyed cat in this first video.

Is it saying anything? Can you make out specific words? Now play it back and watch the video. It all makes perfect sense with subtitles! If you want to really test this, play it a third time, eyes closed. Did you “understand” the cat now that you are primed to decode certain words?

This is an example of paredolia, specifically, audio paredolia. Your brain is very good at finding patterns, even where they aren’t really there, and if you prime it to pick up a pattern, it can be extremely hard not to notice it later on. We see faces in blobs, shapes in clouds or craters, and we think that certain cats are secretly pirates.

I have also had half of a class close their eyes and just listen, and the other half watch and listen and then poll the students to see if they could understand the cat. Its a great way to show how suggestible the mind is.

Want to show what calories look like? Just ask Dr. Bunhead.

Now aren’t you glad that your body releases that energy in little packets of ATP instead of all at once?

They laryngeal nerve is an excellent example of something you would expect from evolution, but not intelligent design. It runs from the brain, around the aorta and back up to the larynx. It works well for fish, but when you remodel the body a bit, a vital nerve that can’t be cut running around a vital artery that can’t be cut, with both developing early in the embryo means you are stuck with a minor tangle. Take that and apply it to a giraffe…

(giraffe autopsy, not for the squeemish)


Site redesign

I’m trying out a few new themes, so if things look bad, hopefully they will get better.

I’m pretty happy with this, so there should only be a few more minor changes over the next day or two.

Of Noses and Nerves

So I have had nosebleeds since college. For no reason at all, I would just start gushing. It was like I was a character in an anime, confronted with a lust-inspiring image (nosebleeds are very weakly connected to high blood pressure (which I don’t have) and probably not at all to sexual arousal). This isn’t usually a problem as I can just pinch my nose closed and after a couple of minutes, the bleeding stops. The bleed occurs in the front of my nose, so it is an anterior nosebleed. If it happened deeper in the nose, it would be a posterior nosebleed, and pinching wouldn’t help. If either type of nosebleed won’t stop, go to see a doctor. In fact, posterior nosebleeds often require some kind of hospital visit, and likely will need admission. These can be very serious, especially in the elderly. A neat little micro tidbit for you, and one that med students need to be aware of is that the iron in blood, if it is freed from dying cells, is like bacterial fertilizer. Iron is one of those nutrients that is rate limiting for bacterial growth. Your body does a good job keeping iron sequestered, and it has been suggested that this was an early evolutionary step to keep iron away from potentially unfriendly bacteria.

I had put up with this situation for long enough and made an appointment to get something done about it. I was pretty sure about what I could expect, some form of cauterization of the suspect tissue.

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BlagHag Blogathon

Jen McCreight at BlagHag is getting ready for another Blogathon, making this her third annual fund raiser for a great student organization, the Secular Student Alliance. Once an hour, for twenty-four hours, starting 7am PST this Saturday (July 23, 2011), she will be putting up a new post. This won’t be autoposting, but an exercise in Jen driving herself insane.

Run over and donate before midnight tonight if you want to see what Jen has to say about a topic you choose, if you pitch in some serious change, of course.

Though this year I’ll start a new incentive: The people who make the top ten largest donations before 12:01am on Friday the 22nd will get to request a topic they want me to write about.

I’m assuming that the cutoff point for this will be PST, since Jen is enjoying Seattle’s weather, which I am certain is better than Lexington’s right now, so you may still have some time. And if you donate five dollars or more , you will be put in a raffle for one of eight autographed copies of Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain. I don’t know when the cutoff for that raffle will be.

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Apps for the classroom

As an educator, I have two problems in my classroom.

I can’t remember the names of students for the life of me, and taking role is a pain in the tuchus.

I have tried a variety of means of matching faces and names, but it usually comes down to which students catch my attention. Excellent students who are involved in class, I learn their names fast. Students who annoy me via distraction, not following directions, etc, they also make the cut for my memory.

Next up, I usually take role by putting out an attendance sheet for students to sign in on. That works most of the time for most of the students, but some students forget to sign in, and I have to keep printing up new sheets.

Enter the iphone app Attendance. (iTunes store link $4.99) Thanks to one of my colleagues for suggesting the app and to the Chronicle for reviewing the app (and featuring it a second time). Their recommendations were key to my purchasing the app.

With this app, I can scroll through the class roster, with pictures and through this, I have managed to learn the names of most of my 80+ students in my three biology courses in a few short weeks, and I notice not only when a student is absent, I know the student’s name!

Other users have found the “random student” feature is useful for students who want to quiz themselves. I haven’t used that function very often as I found that I was learning student names at an acceptable pace without it.

Setup takes moderate knowledge of how to use a spreadsheet program, and depending on the nature of your school’s bank of ID photos, adding pictures can take a while. I had to download each individual image and upload them to my iPhone in a folder. Since many of my students have changed their appearance since their freshman year when photos are taken, replacing ones that don’t match up is a good idea. This is very easy to do, as you can just take a picture with the iphone’s camera.

It requires a couple of modest tweaks after installation to be useful in courses that meet multiple times in a single day (lecture/lab) and to show the student pictures. Under the main settings tab, scroll down to Attendance, and switch on the “Show Picture” tab and the “Multiple times per day” tab, and you are set.

One of the most useful features, though is that you can sync and backup your roster, log and pictures to (If you don’t have a dropbox account, get one, and feel free to use my referral link. You will never have to carry a thumb drive again.)

I have also found it useful to record class lectures with the HT Professional Recorder app ($4.99). It is relatively common for me to have at least one student that would be helped by having access to a recorded lectures. This app does a very decent job of capturing the lecture as a wav file, and a recent update lets me use the iTunes interface to sync the recorded files to a folder on my desktop. It is then a simple manner to use a free MP3 converter to condense the wav files to MP3s and then upload them to the class website for anybody to download. This also is a big help to students who have to miss classes due to illness, family emergency, etc. They don’t get the entire experience of being in the class, but at least they don’t miss everything.

Neither of these iPhone apps is free, but they have been well worth the price I paid for them. To my knowledge, they are are not available for other smartphone OSs.

Have you found any apps that are useful for the  classroom? Please share.


I’m working on a couple longish posts, but in the meantime, I’ll post something that I’m sure the entire science focused part of the blogosphere is putting up, but I think it is especially cogent here.

Science worship? Don't be stupid, you moron!For the full comic, go to Tree Lobsters. The same goes for evolution.

Science (and any scientific theory, for that matter) are tools that help us understand the world around us. You don’t worship science any more than you worship a hammer. Science helps us understand how humans fit into the world, now we interact with nature. It is the “poetry of reality.”