Presenting HORG, the Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group

Dr Bruce Ragsdale, of the Central Coast Pathology Laboratory, encountered a plastic bread bag fastener in a patient’s colon.  What followed was a creative explosion in abiological taxonomy.


Tip from Language Log.

Busting the myth of Genius

Truer words were never said:

The cult of genius tends to undervalue hard work and the productive persistence that psychologists nowadays like to call “grit”—not to mention creativity, perspective and taste, without which all those other virtues may be wasted on pointless projects.

I purely wish my students weren’t intimidated by the myth.

Tip from Gary Jones.

Here’s to Toast!

OK, so I sometimes succumb to fads.  While munching on toasted pan de xocol with crunchy peanut butter for breakfast, I mentioned to my lovely wife that we were honorary hipsters, indulging in the latest bistro trend, fancy toast. “You’ve gotta be kidding,” she said.  “Toast? Toast?!  What happened to muesli and quinoa and cupcakes and kale all that other hippy-dippy stuff?”

I assured her that cupcakes were passe, kale was s-o-o-o yesterday, and tapas were, well, toast.  I confess, toast is a trend I can get with, mainly because it’s always been with us*–who doesn’t like toast?–now it’s just more so.  And now my oversized bagel toaster is vintage hipster gear.

*In her fractous childhood, my baby sister (the oncology nurse) subsisted entirely on toast and chocolate milk for about two years with no ill effects.

Obamito Goes to Washington?

Rumor has it that San Antonio Mayor and Democrat Latino Heartthrob Julian Castro is being considered to become the next Secretary for Housing and Urban Development.  Naturally, there’s already speculation in the Alamo City corridors of power about who will replace Little Obama when he leaves.

Aren't I a clever boy?

Or is really leaving?  The Internet has made opposition research cheap and easy, so Castro’s financial ties and lackadasical management of federal funds have already been exposed beneath the nearest rock.  Who knows what another week may bring?

Check out the mugging when Spurs Coach Greg Popovich had lunch with Castro, Henry Cisneros, and Bill Clinton.  A perfect opportunity for the older heads to give some good advice: “Keep your eye on the ball” and “Don’t let your little head do the thinking for your big head.”

Update: It’s semi-official. If the comments are any indication, there will be many a dry eye when he leaves.

Let’s take a day off on our day off

I see the IWW is calling for a general strike on May Day


Which is very convenient for students at my university, where May 1st and 2nd are Student Study Days, with no classes, labs, or regularly scheduled office hours.  What a bunch of tossers.

The Chickens (and Pigs, and Steers, and Lambs) Come Home to Roost

Could eating too much margarine be bad for your critical faculties? The “experts” who so confidently advised us to replace saturated fats, such as butter, with polyunsaturated spreads, people who presumably practise what they preach, have suddenly come over all uncertain and seem to be struggling through a mental fog to reformulate their script.

Joanna Blythman summarizes all that is dodgy about current nutritional advice both here and in the UK.

It’s not just butter vs margarine, either.  Red meat, salt, and eggs have been slandered, while the government emphasis on cereals and grains appears increasingly to have been a conspiracy to keep us fat and stupid.

The crucial phrase “avoid processed food” appears nowhere in government nutritional guidelines, yet this is the most concise way to sum up in practical terms what is wholesome and healthy to eat. Until this awareness shapes dietetic advice, all government dietary guidance should come with a tobacco-style caution: Following this advice could seriously damage your health.

Amen, Sister, to the advice on processed foods.  A quick read of their ingredients (sugars, flour, and some kind of cheap grease) should be sufficient to put you right off them.

Tip from Gary Jones.

How many significant figures should I use?

That question gets asked dozens of times every semester in my statistics classes; it’s pretty clear that most of my students have no sense of scale or proportion about numbers.

But now I have Dr Rhett Alain’s short answer in his Dot Physics Measurement and Uncertainty Smackdown, wherein he refers to the (extremely) long answer in John Denker’s excellent Uncertainty as Applied to Measurement and Calculation.  Why we’re not teaching this in our service courses for science majors, I have no idea.  The Monte Carlo approach described by Alain is a simple application of what statisticians call “bootstrapping,” so perhaps I will start.

Second hand tip from the Geek Press