Manuscript Mayhem in Washington, DC!

2014-12-06 15.27.35_Washington, DC, is a hot spot for manuscripts these days with two exciting exhibitions each playing host to incredible examples: one of four remaining 1215 copies of Magna Carta and the uniquely mysterious Voynich Manuscript. I’ve been able to visit both exhibitions and am pleased to tell you why you should do the same.

First up: Magna Carta, which is totally DC’s kind of manuscript (government nerds…). You may be saying, “Wait! Doesn’t the National Archives have its own Magna Carta? Why do I want to look at another one?Continue reading

The Common Era: A Pet Peeve

The problem with being the type of person who regularly reads and talks about events that happened a really long time ago is that you develop pet peeves. Like mine about the terms BCE and CE.

BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) are touted as the politically correct alternative to BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini [Year of Our Lord]). Which is great! By all means, let’s have a common era.

But the problem with the BCE/CE system is that it isn’t any broader than BC/AD. Year 0 is the same. Taking one group’s system and changing some letters doesn’t make an unbiased system, it makes nice wallpaper. If you really want to create a common era, pick a year at random and make that Year 0.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I’ve apparently become the go-to person at my office for questions about anything ancient. [Realistically, I was probably asking for it when I pointed out that a caption describing something as a statue of Julius Caesar (for unclear reasons—the text proper was only concerned with the church behind it) very much should have read Augustus.] But it’s all good, because if there’s anything I like being, it is definitely the go-to person for questions about anything ancient.

At any rate, a few evenings ago an editor asked if I had any idea who an old dead Greek dude named Androstene might be; the author insisted it was correct in Italian and the editor couldn’t find anything on the internet. I pretty quickly figured out it was a transliteration problem and sent the editor to Androsthenes—but by then I was down a research rabbit hole.

Continue reading

The best thing since the return of sliced bread?

The US banned sliced bread in 1943, supposedly to help the war effort. The FDA was serious enough about this to issue the warning “to protect the cooperating bakeries against the unfair competition of those who continue to slice their own bread… we are prepared to take stern measures if necessary.” But after loud and public complaints, the ban was rescinded — after less than a month. (source)

THIS IS A REAL THING, not Wikipedia making things up. Highlights from a March 9, 1943 AP/NYT article headlined Sliced Bread Put Back on Sale; Housewives’ Thumbs Save Again:

“[The ban’s] unpopularity was particularly strong among those housewives who were unable to find a good bread knife to buy,” Continue reading

Stay Cool, Dear Reader

What better way to celebrate(?) August than with a short post on very cool life?

I was inspired by a great post on algae that turn snow pink. This starts out being weird because–pink snow? Then becomes weird because–algae on snow? Then finally becomes weird because it turns out there are more than 60 types of algae that live on snow just in the United States!

This reminded me of recent news of life in Antarctica’s ice-covered Lake Vostok (if that name sounds familiar, you’re thinking of the ice core data that have been used to trace changes in temperature and CO2). To clarify, when I say “ice-covered,” I mean the lake is covered in a sheet of ice 2.3 miles thick. At any rate, scientists recently announced they’d found 3507 genetic fragments and could identify less than half of them. Those they could trace were almost exclusively bacterial, but also included some multicellular(!) critters.

Tardigrade wants to dance with you. Or hug you. Either way, adorable.

Tardigrade wants to dance with you. Or hug you. Either way, adorable. Photo by the Goldstein lab via Wikimedia Commons; creative commons information. Check out their Flickr page for more photogenic microbes!

Which in turn led me to glacier mice. That is a technical term, not for a small rodent, but for a small-rodent-sized ball of moss-coated dust that gets blown around on top of glaciers. Inside of a glacier mouse is slightly warmer and wetter than outside, and it’s a hopping party in there! One dissected glacier mouse was home to more than 1000 individual nematodes (microscopic worm-shaped critters) and 200 tardigrades, a.k.a. water bears, a.k.a. the cutest microbes around.

So when the summer heat gets to be too much, imagine you live in a glacier mouse–if it doesn’t make you feel cooler, it will at least make you feel smarter.

How to Attend a Conference Without Going to a Single Talk

My digs at ICCB2013.

I am spending about half my week this week with about 1500 students, academics, and practitioners at the International Congress for Conservation Biology being held in Baltimore, MD. (One thing you should know right away is that the conference has a mascot, Clawdia the blue crab.) I’m attending as an exhibitor, which means I’m spending most of my time at the booth, but I still wanted to give you a sense of some of the cool ideas being discussed, so I’ve put together a Storify of tweets from Tuesday’s events.

WordPress has apparently decided not to play well with others, so no embed, but check it out at: [View the story “Tuesday at #ICCB2013” on Storify]. ICCB2013 runs through Thursday and is being well-tweeted.

Fabled Ecosystem Services (A Writing Experiment)

One beautiful spring day, a tiger cub was bored. Suddenly her eye was caught by a chubby bee buzzing its way between flowers…and she froze…and POUNCE!

But just as she thought she’d trapped the bee under her saucer-like paw, she felt a sharp burn. Jerking her paw up, she licked it twice.

Continue reading