31 January 2008


So the movie Juno has been receiving a lot of hype lately - for good reason, I'd recommend seeing it if you haven't. I managed to go and see Juno just after Christmas and the following scene, mentioning a kraken, left my boyfriend laughing for days.

You should try Adderall.

No thanks. I'm off pills.

Wise move. I know this girl who had a huge crazy freakout because she took too many behavioral meds at once. She took off her clothes and jumped into the fountain at Ridgedale Mall and she was like, “Blaaaaah! I’m a kraken from the sea!”

I heard that was you.

I didn't realize the kraken was featured in so many pop cultural references, but it has it's own wiki page. The kraken is a large sea monster, often depicted devouring boats. Many historians think that the myth of the kraken arose by sailors sighting giant squid in the ocean.

Modern interpretations of the kraken look most like giant squid. Giant squid, which can get as large as 10 meters (~33 ft), were for a long time only known from large tentacle marks on the sides of sperm whales and beaks found inside the whales. Occasional strandings of the giant squid allowed us our first peaks at this deep water dwelling animal, but they had never been photographed in their natural environment until 2004 by Tsunemi Kubodera and Kyoichi Mori.

Either as kraken or giant squid, this is one animal that has fascinated humans for a long time, the list of pop culture references are long and varied.

Of note though Jonathan Coulton, who's a singer/songwriter that writes primarily geeky songs, has a song about a sad giant squid called "I crush everything" - you can listen to it for free on his website (click on the blue play icon). While you're there, "That spells DNA" is also worth a listen.

So while Juno might be the latest mention of the kraken I've heard, I doubt it will be the last.


30 January 2008

Child stars that turned into math/science geeks

For my return to blogging, I'm going to "steal" a blog entry from Eastern Blot, well, I'm going to link to it here and give a summary below. She has a interesting blog entry about child actors who've gone on to careers in math and science.

I watched a fair amount of TV as a child, and I knew that Winnie (Danica McKellar) from The Wonder Years was a mathematician but I just learned that Blossom (Mayim Bialik) from the TV show Blossom is getting a PhD in neuroscience. Both of which are shows I watched in the early 90s.

I also am a fan of The Shining, and it turns out that Danny Lloyd, who plays the child Danny in the movie, is actually a biology professor.

Less shocking than ethnobotanist models, but I'm glad to see not all child stars get pulled into stereotypical lives of drugs and shame.


06 January 2008

Learned fact of the day...Koala Pap

So I was in tourist mode today, and visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary just outside Brisbane. In addition to getting to hold a koala, I went to the koala talk and learned that young koalas when making the transition from milk to eucalyptus leaves feed on pap...

"From about 22 to 30 weeks, it begins to feed upon a substance called "pap" which the mother produces in addition to milk. Pap is a specialised form of faeces, or droppings, which forms an important part of the young koala's diet, allowing it to make the transition from milk to eucalyptus leaves, rather like a human baby is fed "mushy" food when it starts to eat solids. Pap is soft and runny and thought to come from the caecum. It allows the mother to pass on micro-organisms present in her own digestive system which are essential to the digestion of eucalyptus leaves, and is a rich source of protein."
(From the Australian Koala Foundation)

I'm a botanist, so I can't say I think very much about the inner workings of animals. But hearing about koala pap got me thinking about all animals that need bacteria in their guts necessary to digest foods and how they get there. I know rabbits eat their poo as a form of double digestion so I'm sure young rabbits just do the same but I had to look up how baby cows get their bacteria. It seems just through skin/udder contact from their moms. This seems to be how human babies get their gut flora as well.

Just thought I'd share my insights into gut flora, although does this qualify as pop culture? Probably not, though I did learn about pap from a popular tourist destination.


04 January 2008

On Hiatus while Into the Wild

Well the holidays didn't leave much time for blogging, and now I'm on a collecting trip in the land down under, Australia. So, you will have to forgive my lack of postings until the end of January.

I flew Air New Zealand to Australia, and I must say their in-flight entertainment was great, you get your own video screen and you can pick what ever movies and games and music you want to play.

For one of the movies during my 12 hour flight I watched Into the Wild, which is also a book, that recounts the adventures of Christopher McCandless as he abandons society and travels around the U.S. before traveling to Alaska. It's a great movie for the nature lover - there's a great reverence for the beauty and calm of nature. At one point in the movie, armed with a local field guide Chris decides that he wants to learn the names of the plants around his campsite in Alaska and begins to collect and identify them. Which to me, is a great demonstration of why people need leave cities and go exploring - nature has this way of inspiring us to learn more about it.