Lecturing

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Lecturing is a strange thing. I've been doing it for a while now, but I'm still learning a lot. I gave my last undergraduate lecture for the academic year today, so I've been reflecting on the process. Despite the fact that you are -- ostensibly -- just standing at the front and talking (with the occasional bit of laser pointer waving), it involves a surprising degree of parallel processing. I don't use notes during lectures, but I do make sure that the text on the slides is detailed enough to prompt me with points that I might not remember on the spur of the moment (this also helps students on the handouts, or course).

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Reading and writing tools: Papers and Scrivener

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I've been playing with a couple of new software tools recently which are designed to help with either the reading (Papers) or writing (Scrivener) process. Papers is available as a 'public preview' and so has a number of rough edges, while Scrivener has reached a highly polished version 1.0, and has been rightly lauded by many people including Merlin Mann. Papers (which Saltation put me on to -- thanks!) is designed to be an iTunes-like interface to your reading material, and is slanted towards academics.

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Birds of Paradise

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I sometimes amuse myself in idle moments by trying to compile a list of my 'Desert Island Animals' -- those animals I would most like to watch (not eat!) if stranded on a desert island devoid of other life. It's always very hard to choose, but collectively, Birds of Paradise often rank highly (choosing among the Birds of Paradise, however, is nearly impossible). So I was delighted to see some excellent footage of several species on the 'Jungles' episode of Planet Earth.

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Hairy crab

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This is all over the place at the moment, but this newly discovered hairy crustacean is so cute that I had to link to it. Even its name is adorable: Kiwa hirsuta. Appropriate too. But am I the only one who thinks that it looks like a distant albino cousin of the Hug-in-a-Mug blue Hug Monster?

What do points mean?

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Prizes, obviously1. But aside from that, I wrote nearly a month ago about David Seah’s Printable CEO; it's a system for tracking your progress by assigning more points for completing things that progress your career the most. I've been using the sheets to keep track of the things I've done for about a month now, and I decided that it was about time to draw some graphs and have a look at the pattern.

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BSAG revisited: Look out! It’s the flesh-eating beetle larvae!

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[First published 09/01/2003] This week's bravery award goes to the camera people involved in the "Omnivores" episode of The Life of Mammals. First there were the grizzly bears. Big, hungry grizzly bears. I feared for the cameraman on that one, not to mention David Attenborough. I was on the edge of the sofa shouting, "Look behind you - there's a big hungry bear!" David's such a pro that he carried on with his effortless, unruffled delivery while, barely 50m behind him, half-starved bears galloped about after salmon.

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Open science

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I've nearly finished the book The Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin by Francis Spufford1. It's a very involving book, and beautifully written. Francis Spufford manages to explain some rather complex concepts in a simple and engaging way, without 'dumbing down', and he captures the characters of the people involved very well. The chapter on the British Rocket programme ('Flying Spitfires to Other Planets') was very interesting, and I won't quickly get rid of the image of Ray Dommett — one of the main people involved in Britain's nuclear defence programme — taking part in Morris dancing in his spare time:

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Suckered

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Several weeks ago, the Plecostomus fish in our tank at work died (it seems to be a difficult time for fish), and the tank has been getting progressively more obscured by algae growing on the glass. Plecostomuses (or perhaps Plecostomi?) feed on algae by scraping it off with their sucker-like mouths, and are ruthlessly efficient at keeping the tank clean. David has a nice picture of his pleco, George, doing just that here.

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Because you're an idiot

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There's a great article in Thursday's Guardian in Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column about the kind of pseudo-scientific jargon you see on beauty products. I quote: Our noble bad science spotter Carl Brancher sends important news of PO2 Contour Cream from Laboratoires Herzog: it's a "patented stabilisation of oxygen within a cream" that "puts oxygen back into the skin, reoxygenates skin cells, encourages natural rejuvenation". It sounds like bollocks; but it smells like peroxide.

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Buddy, can you spare a pipette?

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I read a somewhat depressing article in the Independent yesterday about the upcoming strike action by AUT members over pay. It reported that 2,000 teaching and research staff are leaving UK Universities every year because of the poor salary levels compared to those in other countries (particularly the US, where salaries are about 50% higher). Most people don't go in to academia for the money (fools!); they love the job and accept job satisfaction and slightly more freedom to do what they find most interesting, in exchange for lower pay.

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