Posts in Category: Humor

The Onion Takes Aim at the Birding Establishment

Posted May 4th, 2007 at 11:16 am in Birding, Humor | Comments Off

I came across a three week old story in the Onion that takes aim at birders, particularly the Sibley Guide. It’s an absolute riot!

Here’s a brief taste, but if you know anything about birding, you’ve got to read the rest of the article.

I don’t understand it. How could it have happened a third time? They’ve had two opportunities to correct it. But there it is, once again. The Sibley Guide To Birds, third printing, page 488: “The dark-eyed junco, a familiar visitor to wintertime bird feeders throughout much of North America, is a species of the junco genus of American finches.”

Mr. Sibley, once again, the dark-eyed junco is not a finch. Its a sparrow. A sparrow.


Apparently the 42 letters I sent Mr. Sibley, his publisher, and his literary agent either went unread or now line the nests of Carolina wrens. I’m not sure what the mans afraid of, especially since I larded these letters with all kinds of reassurances like “its a common mistake” and “I get all those seed eaters mixed up, too” and other things I didn’t really mean.

And if you’re not laughing, me thinks you need a brief primer on what the Onion is…

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Homozygotes find Jesus, Heterozygotes Play Hopscotch

Posted May 1st, 2007 at 7:51 am in Evolution, Humor, Science | 2 Comments

So I’ve been extremely busy the last few weeks trying to get everything wrapped by the deadlines that always come with the end of the semester. I just completed working on a paper for Molecular Biology about cystic fibrosis. Before I go any further, let me define just a few genetic concepts using the analogy of shoes, so that I don’t have to worry about readers being completely lost. Thirty seconds of biology won’t kill you, I promise.

  • allele – alternative version of gene. If shoes are a gene, then cowboy boots, sandals, and tennis shoes would be alleles. For any given gene, you’ve got two alleles – one from mom and one from dad.
  • homozygous – you’ve got the same two alleles for a given gene. You’re wearing matching tennis shoes.
    • homozygous dominant – both of your alleles make the same working protein. You’re wearing matching tennis shoes.
    • homozygous recessive – both of your alleles either don’t make a protein or make a protein that doesn’t work. You’re not wearing any shoes and have two bare feet.
  • heterozygous – you’ve got different alleles for a given gene. You’re wearing one cowboy boot and one sandal, or one cowboy boot and one bare foot.

Cystic fibrosis is a homozygous recessive trait. You’ve got to get two CF alleles that don’t work right to get the disease.

Enough of the background information. I was focusing on one thing in particular. The allele that causes CF is a lot more common in European populations than one might expect for such a seemingly detrimental allele. In fact in Caucasian populations, the frequency of carriers can reach as high as 1 in 25 people! That’s pretty darn high when you consider that if two copies of those alleles end up in a child, that child’s dead before they’re three years old. How do you explain that? The likely explanation is what’s called heterozygous advantage, where heterozygous are better fit for their environment than homozygotes.

The classic example of this is sickle-cell anemia and malaria. It turns out that heterozygotes are much less likely to get malaria than homozygotes. I was looking on the internet for a reference to the scientific literature that discusses heterozygous advantage with sickle-cell anemia, when I came across this page from the website of a medical doctor at Harvard. (Incidentally, it’s a nice lengthy discussion if you want to learn more about natural selection favoring a detrimental allele through heterozygous advantage.) But it contained one little illustration that immediately caught my eye and made me laugh out loud.

heterozygous advantage

Figure 2. Schematic representation of the effect of the sickle cell hemoglobin gene on survival in endemic malarial areas. People with normal hemoglobin (left of the diagram) are susceptible to death from malaria. People with sickle cell disease (right of the diagram) are susceptible to death from the complications of sickle cell disease. People with sickle cell trait, who have one gene for hemoglobin A and one gene for hemoglobin S, have a greater chance of surviving malaria and do not suffer adverse consequences from the hemoglobin S gene.

Oh, okay. I get it. But still, it’s a rather odd and comical choice for the illustration. It tickled my funny bone so much that I had to share.

So getting back to cystic fibrosis, the main evidence for heterozygous advantage comes from a study1 which showed that the bacteria which cause typhoid fever use the protein that the cystic fibrosis gene creates. Thus, if you’re heterozygous (one good copy, one bad) then you have less of that protein on the surface of your cells lining your digestive tract. Using mice as a model, they showed that typhoid bacteria are 86% less successful at infecting cells of heterozygotes. They also showed that mice containing two bad copies of the CF gene were not infected by any typhoid bacteria. Thus typhoid are using that protein as their entries into the cell.

As typhoid is a disease that has ravaged Europe for many years in premodern time, it now becomes understandable why selection would increase the frequency of the CF allele in European populations.

1 Pier, G.B., M. Grout, T. Zaidi, G. Meluleni, S.S. Mueschenborn, G. Banting, R. Ratcliff, M.J. Evans, W.H. Colledge. 1998. Salmonella typhi uses CFTR to enter intestinal epithelial cells. Nature 393: 79–82.

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The Joys of Being a Math Teacher

Posted Oct 7th, 2006 at 8:19 am in Humor | 1 Comment

Do they give extra points for creativity?

(Via Pharyngula)

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Somebody Can’t Do The Math

Posted Sep 20th, 2006 at 8:55 am in Humor | Comments Off

Okay, this one’s just creepy. I posted the Mentos / Diet Coke thing yesterday. Today, I awake to find that JM O’Donnell, over at Immunoblogging has posted this, two days earlier.

Not only had I not seen his post, I hadn’t even seen this video until last night, when a commenter left a link to it on yesterday’s post… Someone should investigate the possibility that we were twins, separated at birth. There could be a huge conspiracy going on.

Still, either Ocellated or Immunoblogging needs to go back to elementary school for a refresher on the rudimentary principles of math. Everyone’s family with the commutative property of addition, yes?

Adding 1 + 2, is the same as adding 2 + 1.

Well, in my case, Mentos + Diet Coke = Fun. But when Mr. O’Donnell does the math, he gets Diet Coke + Mentos = Awesome. Someone is clearly wrong.

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Mentos + Diet Coke = Fun

Posted Sep 19th, 2006 at 9:46 am in Humor, Photography, School | 9 Comments

What do you get when you take The Fresh Maker ® and The Real Thing ® and put them together?

Mentos + Diet Coke = ?

My wife and I heard about this recently on the popular show Myth Busters, and after seeing it, we had to try it out.

Lucky for me, I had a professor that needed a 3 liter bottle. After stopping at four different stores to secure a package of Mentos, the experiment was ready. A biology party was the perfect setting.

So what does it look like?

Diet Coke geyser

Here’s a closeup of that same shot:

Diet Coke geyser closeup

Also, I’ve added a series of photos in the gallery showing the progression as the eruption occurred. The whole thing is extremely fast. It’s over within one to two seconds.

So how does it work?

Upon adding three or four Mentos to the Diet Coke, what happens is that virtually all of the carbon dioxide is released from the Diet Coke in an extremely short amount of time. The resulting pressure forces the liquid out of the bottle with surprising force, resulting in the geyser.

More specifically, the tiny holes on the surface of the Mentos serve as a nucleation site, facilitating the rapid formation and release of tiny bubbles of CO2.

Wikipedia has an article on the subject, with more detailed information on the science behind it.

It’s fun, it’s cheap, you should try it. Just not inside.

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Making the World a Better Place, One Computer at a Time

Posted Sep 11th, 2006 at 9:57 am in Humor, Odds and Ends, Technology | 2 Comments

I have a friend (I won’t say who) that recently came across a serious problem. Their workplace wouldn’t allow them to install Firefox. According to IT, Firefox would make the computer more vulnerable to viruses. Yeah, and engaging in abstinence is a risk of AIDS transmission.

Well, as it turns out, this friend could install other programs on the computer. They just couldn’t download certain things due to a filter. So we put Firefox on a flash drive, it installed just fine, and then I got a little creative so that Firefox wouldn’t stand out on the desktop… :)

a new look for Firefox

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Let Me Share This Funny Story

Posted Jul 25th, 2006 at 3:33 pm in Humor, Life in General, School | 1 Comment

If you’ll indulge me, I have quite a story to share. It’s about life and what we want from life. It’s about what we find important, what we really value, and what we’ll do without in order to get it.

My wife is a waitress this summer. The other day at work, she had a table that was particularly annoying. The moment they walked in, a man in the party did something so bizarre, so shocking, it defies belief. Because it’s the punch line of the story, I’m going to save it till the end. So you’ll have to read the whole post (or just skip to the bottom) to find out what happened…

Now my wife is very slow to get angry. It’s almost annoying how nice, tolerant, and mild mannered she is! But even she has her limits, and they were met and exceeded with this table.

To set the scene, it was a table with an older couple. They quickly became frustrated with the menu. They were trying to order the senior special, but complaining endlessly that the options weren’t comparable to the full menu. Perhaps they had a point. In offering an unequal menu for the seniors, perhaps society was unappreciative of their great contributions. The senior meals come with fries, which separately cost $2.50. Yet they could substitute only one order of vegetables, worth a mere $0.75. “Why the discrepancy?,” the gentlemen wanted to know. Indeed, a great injustice may have been occurring.

But an injustice at my wife’s hands it was not. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that she serves the food rather than makes the menu, they bitterly complained. My poor wife had to finally throw down the gauntlet. “I’m really sorry that your upset, but I don’t make the menu and have no control over these decisions. You can order a regular meal and get what you want, or the senior meal for the reduced price.”

Once the food was out of the way, the real point of contention surfaced. They asked friendly enough personal questions — Where are you from? What are you doing? Oh you’re married? What’s you husband doing? — etc. Friendly enough, that is, until they bluntly decided to share what they thought of our plans…

My wife wants to be an elementary teacher and I a college professor. “Are you independently wealthy?” the women asked with an incredulous scowl upon her face. “How do you expect to pay for any of this?

My wife tried explaining that since you spend most of your adult life at work, we felt it was important to pursue things we were passionate about. That when the day was done and our lives were lived, we would be far happier with a job we cared about than a job we didn’t but which paid us more. This seemed to be lost on them, and they continued insulting her for being so stupid as to help support a husband in grad school. With the excuse of “other customers” my wife walked off, a wee bit ticked off.

So, what’s the surprise waiting for you at the end of the post? The punch line of it all? Well get this. When they walked in, the man had a tape measure. He required at least 14 inches in between the booth and the table to accommodate his stomach. His wife also required the same. And he measured to ensure that he had it.

Yes indeed. When times are tough, and I reflect on the decisions I’ve made in life and the endeavors I’ve decided to pursue, I’ll surely think back to this guy and his wife, squabbling over a few cents on a senior meal, and measuring their booths to make room for their stomachs. And I’ll reflect on the life I never had.

Something tells me I won’t miss it very much.

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John Stewart on The Brink of War?

Posted Jul 22nd, 2006 at 10:15 am in Humor | Comments Off

John Stewart had a recent piece where he took the news media to task (especially CNN) over their reporting on the middle east conflict.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it on YouTube or Google Video to include it in this post, but it is online at Comedy Central.

It’s hilarious, and I think you’ll get a big laugh from it.

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There Are Days I Have No Faith In Humanity

Posted Jul 13th, 2006 at 8:16 am in Humor | 1 Comment

And today is one of them.

pink poodle

Pink Princess, a 1-year-old toy poodle, enjoys a walk around Oakland, Calif., with owner Unique Hildreth. Hildreth, who says she has worn pink everyday for the past five years, dyes the poodle about once a month to maintain her pinkness.

On Which My In-laws Undoubtedly Concur

Posted Jul 6th, 2006 at 9:32 am in Humor, School | 1 Comment

Upon my return home from thesis work, my wife had to share a quote she’d gotten a laugh from. It’s from The Simpsons, the modern purveyor of truth that it is.

Bart [after watching a foreign film] : I was so bored I cut the pony tail off the guy in front of us. [holds pony tail to his head] Look at me, I’m a grad student. I’m 30 years old and I made $600 last year.

Marge: Bart, don’t make fun of grad students. They’ve just made a terrible life choice.