25 August, 2009

Tactile Ostrich

If we have Wiimotes that make little blurtles and blops when you past them over an icon or button or pick up a sword within a game, making it feel more as if you're actually touching those items and increasing engagement with the medium, then why do we not also have computer mice that do the same for icons and links?

Someone fix that, please.

22 August, 2009

Dear Reader

Dear Readers,

You may have noticed I'm not as engaged as I used to be, that I'm not hanging out on your blogs like I used to, or updating nearly as much. Yes, I have been busy, true, I have not had much time, and yes, also correct that my Internet access has been spotty at best lately. However, none of those are the reason for my scant attention. Dear reader, let me blunt: there's another blog in my life.

It's not you, dear reader, it's me. I've changed. My ambitions have grown larger in proportion with my happiness, and through some persistence I have procured a spot for myself over at True/Slant called Atomic Pudding. Over there I'm going to be writing about science and health and kicking ass, and due to the time it is requiring out of the increasingly rare free time I do have this blog, our special place, has fallen to inattention.

Also, dear reader, I've not been entirely forthcoming with you. I've told you that my name is Toaster Sunshine. My real name can be found here. I am not posting it here because I do not want it to show up in search engine results.

I intend to keep posting here, but my posts will be less frequent, and at least until I get regular Internet back in my life I will not be so active as before on your blogs. In the meantime, however, my good Brother Discord has sworn upon his first child's foreskin that he shall help with the posting here.

Thank you for your understanding,

18 August, 2009

Blathering on Hunger

As I was fumbling contacts into bleary eyes this morning, my stomach untied itself from the knot I had been unaware of and startled me with the ferociousness of its growl. I was hungry. I am often hungry as I tend to skip meals to do more interesting things and frequently go 12 or more hours without any food*. This is a long-tailed habit rooted back 8 years, and it is not likely to change. I don't mind being hungry. I relish it, because it reminds me of the sheer vitality of the human body, its metabolic resilience, and it makes my next meal taste that much sweeter. I sincerely believe that food would not be nearly so appealing if I didn't occasionally let myself get so hungry that the reptilian brain underneath my consciousness begins to wonder how squirrels taste. That being said, this morning's hunger was somehow different. Normally hunger pangs are diffuse, a distant inconvenience upon the sphere of my awareness, but this was sharp and intense and immediate like a rattlesnake uncoiling.

And my hunger made me feel guilty.

I had oatmeal in the pantry and a stove to cook it on. This is a privilege, and it is one that I do not take lightly or for granted. So many people in the world are hungry, even in the West, and we simply don't see them. Sure, we admonish children to finish their peas because a kid in Poor Country X doesn't even have peas, but this nicety conceals an ugly truth: that the kid in Poor Country X really exists, and actually is hungry.

Wrapped up within this is the disgust that the phrase "I'm starving!" evokes from me. It is a terrible hyperbole, and I find it cruel and inappropriate to use when you merely want lunch while someone else in the world may not have lunch, or have had breakfast, dinner, or lunch the day before. Americans claim to be starving at the slightest hint of hunger, but maybe that is just the uniquely privileged perspective that we as a nation have, when we live in a country that has so much food that many are obese even on top of all the food we simply throw out. I suspect that the majority of the people who use this phrase so callously have never really been hungry and I wonder what they would do in a hard situation. So much of our Western society is carried upon the backs of titans treading on toothpick bridges, tenuous and fragile. Entirely dependent upon fossil fuels, yet still incredibly wasteful. The food we, as a country, throw away before even opening the package could probably feed a great many people. Yet somehow, just as the hyperbole of "I'm starving!" or the "Eat your peas because a child in Poor Country X doesn't have them" is part of our culture, food waste is also deeply ingrained upon our national consciousness.

I'm debating whether or not I am too proud to reclaim some of the unspoilt food that gets thrown away. On the one hand, it is there, free to take and perfectly edible, but on the other hand I feel that it is somewhat gross to eat dumpster chicken (if found still cold in an unopened package). I am fairly certain that many of those who are relatively well-fed yet claim to be starving would find it disgusting, but what are your thoughts?

*It should probably be noted that when I do eat, I try to eat 1Mcal+ at a time.

12 August, 2009


The 4 GREATEST words in human language are, undoubtably and irrefutably:





So much of our daily tedious lives are consumed so much by the "what", the where we're going and what we've gotten done and what we've yet to do in any given day. We rush and we careen through each day, blindly numb to the absolute wonder that simply being alive allows us to experience! So many of us fumble through every day, finding nothing but monotony when all around us there are secret lives of insects and rodents playing out tragedies that the Greeks couldn't've even begun to fathom. Each day the grass bending under the weight of a squirrel and ruffling in the new nuances of a fresh breeze is different!

And all so many of us do is go home to bask in the banal glow of the television, consuming aspartame shovelware with no analysis or reflection thereof. To me, this is a catastrophe! Sure, we've dissociated ourselves from the intricate and minute rhythms of nature and congregated in cities, but that nature still flourishes underfoot whether we want it to or not. The stubborn tufts of grass clawing out of the asphalt, the clever raccoons who persist amid our concrete monuments to our own aggrandized sense of self-worth*. Nonetheless, there is wonder bursting all around us, and all we have to do is notice it!

Too often, we're too breathless, too tired, too distracted, to find the simple awe that is captured in every bubble that the dish soap sprouts. And at the same time, we're not asking why, we're not wondering if, we're not trying to figure out how, and we're not imagining. If we let ourselves fall into this shallow pattern, then we fail the full realization of our evolutionary endowment and I wonder if we can truly say we have lived and not just merely existed.

This is all born out of the manic and inescapable conviction that if I could just crack open my mind and let you see inside, let you peer into the window of my imagination, you might understand, you might realize just how absolutely wonderful the feeling of midnight rain and the lovely contrast to a warm pillow at night is, how exquisite the sharp pang of a bit of hunger and how it sweetens one's meal may be, and just how much MAGIC exists in the world. As if I could shake you laughing like Jello until your spine was marshmallow and your mind was flooded with the brilliance of what the world is and how it came to be and how it works and what it might be someday if suchandsuch does thisorthat.

This is also wrapped up in my frustration with the limitations of language itself. I could shout "IMAGINE IT!" at you until my vocal cords tried to strangle me in protest and it would do nothing to help you realize the pure depth of the inner vision I am trying to communicate to you. There exists SO MUCH potential in the world, so much burgeoning awe that it stings to know that so many people prefer to wrap themselves up in soporific entertainment, hate, or blind ignorance.

I know that there's no such thing as ooga-booga-hocus-pocus magic, but I remain convinced that the world is thoroughly magical. All we need to do is see it.

So, tomorrow, go outside, or stay inside, or fall asleep with a tea cup over your eyes, and look in the corners of the world and of your mind. Instead of waiting to see a Wunderkammer, find your own instantly and for free. Seek out the dust bunny that reminds you of your Aunt Matry, find the chord that rings back the sweetest memory to roar back through your senses clearer than the moments it happened. Notice the glinting halo of light around the glimmering rain as it splatters across the pavement in aggregated fluid dynamics (that you're observing almost in REAL TIME!) and sing a song that only you know but will not remember in 5 minutes! Ask WHY, let yourself IMAGINE, question HOW, and wonder IF!!! And, most of all, teach it to others and spread this joy of wonder!

*That isn't a condemnation of the human ego. We have, collectively, wrought great, terrible, and beautiful things upon the face of the Earth. The decaying industrial rust towers of Detroit are exquisite in their intricacy! The rudely squatting chemical factories of Saint Louis are brilliant works of art in the loaming glint of the fading sun piercing through foggy humid air! The oil refineries of Toldeo and Maumee bellow upon the horizons, belching red underglow into Cheerio snowstorms (I once lived in Toledo across US-23 from a cereal factory), give the entire short little city a Monet-like quality! The sheer patched-togetherness of Gary, Indiana is an awe-inspiring exercise in ret-conning! And all of this has been wrought by human hands and human minds, to bend the Earth itself to our will! How is that not marvelous?

10 August, 2009

How to Explain the Senses?

Crowdsourcing: to open up the development process of any given project to the public in a meaningful way that allows the public to impact the course of that project's development.
Ann Arbor, Michigan is about to have a mini-Makers' Faire (as opposed to a Gigantic Makers' Faire). This entails a large gathering of creative people showing off the products of their creativity and ingenuity in a public forum. Typically there are demonstrations, learning, and sharing as most everything is open access. Basically, it is a gathering of nerds who like to make stuff teaching other nerds of similar aptitude, and the curious public, about the stuff they made. The purpose is to share, awe, inspire, educate, elucidate, demonstrate, and possibly also confuse.

I've gotten in on this, and a project is rapidly coalescing. In the Sensory Augmentation Devices booth, we're trying to demonstrate the electrical properties of nerves. However, to do this live and in real time, we must also tread carefully to avoid disgusting the public. Listed below are the ideas so far, and they are open to your comments and criticism.

1) Brain-ablated Xenopus (frog*) with thoracic cavity open connected to electrical leads at each limb in a physiological solution of potassium chloride. Each electrical lead will be run by a robotic sensor glove such that movement of the glove will induce neuromuscular contraction in the frog limbs. In effect, this is a frog puppet. We hope that the physiological potassion chloride solution will allow passive diffusion of ions back into nerve cells and allow for repeated contractions.

2) Similarly, brain-ablated Xenopus with thoracic cavity open and heart connected to an LED through a tranformer. The blinking LED will demonstrate to observers that the heart does indeed contract due to pulsed electrical impulses.

3) Petri dishes of rat or mouse neurons with silica implants connected to a computerized output to show random electrical activity of cultured neurons. We have a source of cultured neurons, but we still need a way to get a signal amplified out of them.

4) Brain model, either preserved real or plastic so that we can get the neuroscientists among us to explain the structural functionality of the brain and how it relates to neonatal development in humans, as well as anatomical siting of neural pathologies.

5) Setting up some of the basic sensory tricks, such as the Wet Illusion. In the Wet Illusion you place 2 cold metal bars against someone's bare skin with a warm bar sandwiched between them. Although all bars are quite dry, the brain registers the unusual temperature gradient as wetness. If you have other sensory tricks to use, let us know.

6) Electrode-based EEG interfaces hooked up to a sound synthesizer to allow the audience to "hear" the wearer's "thoughts". Getting the EEG output to interface with the sound synthesizer is the easy part, but getting a hold of the EEG/electrodes will be difficult.

7) 8-bit imager, where the audience may flip any of 64 switches to light up one of 64 LEDs in a board to explain how rhodopsin in the eye's cone cells converts light (the audience's hand) into an electical signal (the LED) by way of altering its molecular conformation (the state of the switch).

Any and all of this is completely open for your comment, criticism, and input. In fact, all 3 of those things are explicitly welcome! New demos may also be suggested, but the general theme of this is simply that we show how nerves and sense work.

*We figured that frogs are uncharismatic enough that no one, save the hard-core animal rights' activists, will have a major problem with using them for education purposes.


I am unsure about the structural stability of this hat, but I do not doubt its awesomeness.

Night Owls

The world begins at midnight. As the stroke of midnight is called out from bells, we herald the dawning of a new dusk even as most others melt away to wrap themselves in the comfort of their beds and late night television. At 1a the people stop leaving and the rushing cars become more sparse. The streets empty of people and the ranks of the half-sloshed bar-dwellers dwindle just a little more. Underneath the frowning street lights, we emerge, fresh-faced and laughing, full of energy, piss, and vinegar. At 2a we stand laughing delighted in our odd suits at the ashen-faced last call stragglers as they come creeping out of their dens, just drunk enough to question whether we are real. By 3a the streets are mostly clear, populated only by a lone bicycle wending its tired way home or a tight knot of quietly moving people with shoes in hand. We remain alert, alive, forming circles around fires, computers, in the cracks of the world that most people that don't even notice. 4a rolls around on the dour clock faces and we launch new adventures, setting out into the clean, abandoned parks, reveling in the crisp thunderstorms roiling along the rivers and the sheer scope of the wonder in the world. When the cities are crowded, they seem mundane due to everpresent companionship, but in the night each and every one of us could well be the last person alive, the lone witness to the absolute joy of the moon gliding from clouds to shine down on vociferous arguments and manic productivity. By 5a we begin to wonder whether our wakeful watching through the march of dusk has percolated into the snoring minds of those who comfortably slumber around us. At 6a, the Eastern sky begins to wash away into the first barren hints of the coming day, and we realize that the dread Morning People will soon awaken and disturb our revelry. So we end our projects, dry our war paints and clean our tools, then wend our ways homeward, hissing over dew-drenched asphalts for one last snack before drawing the heavy curtains and rolling ourselves into the brilliance of our dreams. We are night owls, and we are watching.

We try to be polite.

07 August, 2009

How To Make Greens

I have been missing Southern cooking rather sharply as of late. I need a massive Southern feast to recharge. Fried catfish or chicken, okra (fried or gumbo), home-made macaroni and cheese, cornbread, green beans, greens, field-fresh sweet corn, wild rice with bacon, biscuits, yams, and a side of Jello. Maybe peach cobbler with walnut ice cream and watermelon for dessert. I would eat enough to distend my stomach* and then some. Crap, now I'm drooling...

Anyway, of all the delectables that I list above, it has been greens that has drawn the greatest consternation from the Northerners I now live among: "What are greens? What do they taste like!?"

Well, dear culinary n00bs, allow me to explain:

1) Greens are indeed green.
2) Greens are leaves and stems of leafy edible plants.
3) Greens are simmered down for at least an hour in broth and spices until they are delicious.
4) Greens go well with anything.
5) Greens are a recycling dish.

I now impart unto you my recipe for greens.

Toaster's Greens:
1. 1 large potful mixed greens, washed. This typically includes collard greens and mustard greens, but can also use common lettuce (if you must, but I do not recommend this), beet greens, even dandelion or nettle leaves (be sure to blanch the nettles first!).
2. Broth. I like to use chicken, but you can use whatever stock broth you'd like.
3. Mustard.
4. Hot sauce (smoky hot sauce better).
5. Seasoning salt.
6. Black pepper.
7. Bacon grease.
8. Ham hock.
1. Wash greens, dice coarsely if needed, and load into pot.
2. Pour in broth to 1/3 the volume of greens.
3. Turn heat on low, cover.
4. Add bacon grease and ham hock (these are optional, but very useful for recycling leftovers).
5. As greens begin to wilt, add spices. 1 tbsp mustard, generous hot sauce and black pepper to taste, light on seasoning salt.
6. Simmer at least 1h, covered, until you are left with a delicious mass of wilted greenery and spice. Add broth as needed for desired soupiness.
7. Serve with cornbread and a side of awesomeness, garnish with bacon.

You will enjoy this! Greens can be had very cheaply at local farmers' markets, and Trader Joe's even sells them, pre-mixed and pre-cut, by the pound.

*This isn't uncommon. When you're as scrawny as Toaster, any food in your stomach is visually apparent.

New Moral Compass

I think I have decided that this song is my new moral compass:

If ever I find myself questioning whether a given action is correct, moral, or ethical, I will play this song in the back of my head. It'll be like a Magic 8 Ball, not even I will know the mechanism of how exactly it works, but the answers it gives will just magically be correct.

This strikes me as a particularly good idea.

However, that could also be due to 3h of sleep from having to change a blown-out tire at 2am*, not arriving back at home until 4am, and trying to wash all of that down with vodka. I did, however, procure a large tube of industrial-strength epoxy and a ball of string last night, so that makes me happy. Dear readers, I am curious now what you think of me in the regard of: which do you think I will wind up getting into more trouble with? The epoxy or the string?

My new roommate also bought epoxy, although instead of string he opted for a lot of fake shrubbery. You can count on some guest blogging from him in the near future.

Roommate (left) and Toaster (right, wrapped in cape). Trust us, we know what we're doing: WE'RE SCIENTISTS!

*Yes, Roommate helped. Toaster tried to repay him with an apple fritter today, but he wasn't in his lab, so Sister Doom got it instead.

05 August, 2009

Why Science Needs Dinosaurs

1) Dinosaurs are cool.
2) Little kids (and adults) think dinosaurs are cool.
3) If we use dinosaurs as a vehicle for communicating science, more children become interested in science at an earlier age, which is a net win for both science and the kids.

The first time I heard about deoxyribonucleic acid, it was from a film within a film, enthusiastically described and explained by an animated firefly that the lead character scientist grudgingly sat through. I was 7 years old at the time, and I had to forfeit a loose but stubborn milk tooth in order to get to go see it at the local AMC theater. I'm fairly certain that my mother quickly regretted taking me to see it at all as the proportion of sentences involving dinosaurs that poured from me in an unstoppable flood increased dramatically. I'd been previously building wooden models of dinosaur skeletons, and I had several inflatable dinosaurs in my room. I knew many of the dinosaur species by name, although I've now forgotten, and I was fascinated by the sheer scale of them. When I was 4 and again at 5, I'd gotten to see a fully articulated Brontosaurus skeleton in the Smithsonian, and even been allowed to revertentially touch a real dinosaur bone that they had on display. When my mother tried to tell or read me bedtime stories, I firmly rejected any story that didn't involve a dinosaur of some kind. In fact, I was so utterly obsessed with dinosaurs that my little brother, who became self-aware just at the peak of my obsession when I got Jurassic Park on VHS and as a game for the Sega Genesis, later developed a crippling phobia of dinosaurs. He was sincerely terrified that a Tyrannosaurus rex was going to come back to life in the middle of the night, sneak between the houses, break into his 2nd story room, and summarily eat him. He was not reassured when I pointed out that the Ozarks had been an ocean at the time such dinosaurs roamed. Come to think of it, he also was not convinced when I showed him the coral, sea shell, and worm trail fossils that the local stream beds were chock-full of.

As an adult, my obsession with dinosaurs is gone because immunology is much more complex and chaotic and therefore much more interesting to me. The evolutionary dynamics of bone morphology are still damn cool, though, and the prospect that we might one day recreate an extinct species through the Dark Arts of our biological sciences is absolutely captivating.

But that's not my point.

Imagine if this creepy, feel-good hippy marshmallow fluff excuse for a dinosaur

Had instead been a smart, endearingly disheveled scientist dinosaur instead?

Even if he was incredibly annoying, Barney was also incredibly popular and he taught an entire generation of American children...something. He did teach stuff, right? Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that the singing purple dinosaur generated huge viewership and made a tremendous impression upon young children as well as some deep product marketing for PBS. Imagine if instead of peddling self-esteem, there had been a relatable dinosaur mascot dishing out some awesome, intelligible science! Consider the depth of the impact that that might have had! Instead of a smarmy self-confident generation of young adults now, we'd have a science-literate generation of young adults who found self-confidence through knowledge and understanding instead of songs and dancing! And that would be incredible! Not just for us as scientists, but for society as a whole because even some basic familiarity with the principles of scientific thinking and research structure can make tremendous impacts upon the operations of very diverse fields.

And yes, Bill Nye the Science Guy was indeed on simultaneously as the blobby excuse for a dinosaur, but he never got the kind of veneration that the dinosaur did, even though he did have a talking rat for an assistant. Dinosaurs are alien enough to children that they hold a distinct appeal, while children already know that rats are bad.

So why couldn't we have a talking dinosaur educating youngsters about science now? I can't think of any reason we cannot, even if cartoons in general have been shifting in favor of robots and monkeys. Maybe if the dinosaur professor had a robot monkey assitant we could grab both demographics in one fell swoop?

03 August, 2009

The Culture of the Internet is Permeating Science (TRANSLATION)

[Recently, Spektrum der Wissenschaft published an article (Die Internet-Kultur sickert in die Wissenschaft ein) citing Dr. Bora Zivkovic of PLoS and A Blog Around the Clock. I found the article by Lars Fischer, of Fisch-Blog, to be quite interesting, so with permission I have translated the article and am posting it here. UPDATE: Lars Fischer has posted the original English-language transcripts of the interview with Dr. Zivkovic.]

The Culture of the Internet is Permeating Science
by Lars Fischer
translated by Toaster Sunshine

Open Access is changing scientific communication through both online periodicals such as the successful PLoS ONE or the increasing diversity of classical publishers’ online offerings.

“Open Access”, says Bora Zivkovic, “is just a stage of the process through which scientific communication will change as a whole.” He should know, because as Community Manager for PLoS ONE, currently the most successful Open Access journal, he is directly involved in this change. PLoS, founded in 2001 as the Public Library of Science, is financed by money from an endowment and authors’ dues, and makes all articles it publishes available on the Internet for free.

While the copyright of published works in Germany is still debated philosophically, international publishers are preparing themselves for the time after their abolishment. “The next step is that the journals abandon printing their articles on paper,” said Zivkovic. As a result they would be compelled to conform to economic reality: “Because the biggest costs in publication houses have nothing to do with their content. The preparation for printing, the printing itself, the paper, the ink, the truck and driver, the distribution system, all these are enormous costs.”

Pioneering in the Industry

That’s why even scientific publishers are working diligently to cooperate with the new digital world. Elsevier, with headquarters in Amsterdam, is currently developing a far-reaching, paper-free publication model. The “Article of the Future”, as the project is called, is strongly organized around the technical opportunities and demands of the Internet: individual article sections are laid out next to each other in the same page view, with valuable video and audio data embedded and all bound up in links. Naturally, readers’ comments also receive their own section.

Other industry leaders, such as the Nature Publishing Group in Britain, are going even farther. Admittedly, their journals continue to be available on paper. However, Nature has also already established a broad spectrum of online communities and services tailored to scientists, which is ground-breaking in the publication industry.

All of this does not signal the end of published articles. “The printing process simply shifts itself from producers to consumers”, says Zivkovic. This is a pattern seen across many industries: “It is like a supermarket, where one places what they want into their cart and take it to the cash register. For the past 50 years we’ve had someone putting the products onto the shelves for us.”

“A doctor in Chad cannot afford to purchase research”

Zivkovic is convinced that current developments in Open Access will eventually prevail in scientific publishing. “If everything online is available, then it is only natural that everything will somehow also be free. A doctor in Chad who wants to learn more about the symptoms of his patients and potential therapies cannot afford to pay $60 per article when he finally find what he was looking for. The pressure of consumers on journals to open their content for free access will grow strongly.”

As demand increases, publishers will have to greatly alter their business models. Through digitization, printing and distribution costs, which make up the lion’s share of the journals’ prices, fall sharply. Accordingly, remaining costs must be covered by other sources of income. “Open Access journals have diverse opportunities to cover their costs and simultaneously utilize others.” Currently the most widely known opportunity is that the authors themselves pay for the publication of their work, which constitutes only a small portion of the hosting costs under PLoS.

When applicable by individual circumstances, PLoS also waives author’s fees to reduce the hurdles faced by less cash-flush researchers and institutions. However, this raises the possibility that, barring conflicts of interest, editors and reviewers will perceive articles for which no fees were paid as being of poorer quality. To protect against this, Zivkovic is strenuous on the rule: “As to what was paid for, only the accountant knows.”

In any case, Open Access has established itself in the publication scene. For example, the Open Access model is apparent when scientific articles are published traditionally and later made freely accessible on the homepage of the journal. In the meantime this “Green Path” has also received official sanction: the NIH now stipulates that all research works produced from NIH funding must be made openly available within 12 months of publication. Despite this regulation, “golden” Open Access has also grown: approximately 4000 journal titles are now freely available online, the trend is increasing and demand is also growing. This is certainly due to practical reasons: “The culture of the Internet is permeating science”, says Zivkovic. Many also push for the free posting of their research on the Internet as a political and ideological action. It also applies, that: “They who pay for something on the Internet expect that it is absolutely fantastic, absolutely necessary, and absolutely inimitable.”

Publication determines who may ultimately consume data

In the long term the practical reasons for Open Access easily outweigh any costs. Many fields of research are already relying upon widespread sharing of digital data. “Publishing makes examples of those, the physical chemists or bioinfomaticists who are unfortunate that their search mechanisms and data crawlers cannot fully utilize the data on the Internet. In bioinformatics this stymies the development of new medicines, when their search mechanisms cannot access the necessary databases and calculations of other researchers.”

The trend to Open Access will take on classical publishers themselves. The subscription costs of journals in particular have increased immensely in the last few years. “That has nothing more to do with supply and demand,” grouses Zivkovic, “it’s a pure rip-off.” In 2007, Norwegian scientific libraries and the German Max-Planck-Gesellschaft threatened to boycott certain journals for this very reason.

Naturally the problem with high subscription costs has yet to be resolved. Because of this “the libraries [are] important patrons of Open Access. Because of the enormously increased prices they are able to afford ever fewer journals, which further hampers the researchers and their institutions.” Open Access journals demonstrate that it can be done differently, yet established print journals have not entirely committed. At least not all publishers raise their prices so casually: “On the other end of the scale are journals such as Nature, which are not nearly so expensive and are consequently prepared for the new, digital world.”

02 August, 2009

Blather Fragments

1) Has any research been done on the viscoelastic properties of instant mashed potatoes? I cannot help but wonder if they'd undergo wave-form or blunt deformation from wind resistance at high velocities. At the same time, could you efficiently pump mashed potatoes through a tube at similarly high velocities or would such an endeavor necessitate the use of gravy to reduce the frictional coefficient? Dr. Isis has already told me how to get the mashed potatoes into a balloon, but it remains to be seen whether those balloons are efficient projectiles. I am concerned that the deformability of mashed potatoes may inherently make mashed potato ballistics very difficult to aim. And if anyone knows where I could get 20kg of instant mashed potatoes, please let me know.

2) I think I truly need one of these, although I'm not sure what for. Anti-bear defense?

3) I have recently found that when you say to someone, "Yeah, I can fix that, just let me go get my gun," it is best to clarify that you mean a soldering gun first.

4) Volleybadminton is a most excellent game. Volleybadminton is, essentially, badminton played with volleyball rules. There are no back-bounds to the court so you can hit the birdie as far away as you'd like and laugh as the other team sprints backwards to try to get it, but beyond the sides of the net remain out-of-bounds. You may pass up to 3 times on one team to get the birdie back over the net, and if you're venal you may spike. Volleybadminton is best played at dusk when it is difficult to see where the birdie is. I play volleybadminton with more grace than skill. Credit for its invention goes to this deranged old professor.

5) What do you suppose the volume of a shopping cart is?

6) In the course of the Scientists' Duel that Hermie and I fought, we have tied to win PLoS Blog Pick of the Month when Coturnix's attention fell upon us. I wonder if he would have noticed our scrap without Twitter? Anyway, we get T-shirts (one each, luckily we do not have to share)! Unfortunately, they do not say "AWESOME BADASS SCIENTIST!" They do, however, say "PLoS", which is just as good. Those two terms are practically synonymous.

7) In a recent local Mad Scientist meeting*, which involved a Godzilla costume, it came up in discussion that I was the least massy of everyone in attendance, weighing even less than Sister Doom. This makes me sad because I'm 10cm taller than everyone there. I have been trying to gain weight for the past year, and although I've had some limited success it is also really difficult to eat 2.5-3Mcals/day without resorting to cake. The problem is that I don't particularly care for cake.

8) Ever since I bought a cape and awesome goggles to play Superhero Tag, I have been having a difficult time resisting the temptation to wear them everywhere (I am using the goggles as sunglasses, though)! I know it isn't entirely rational, but I cannot help but to feel that my experiments would just work so much better if I wore a cape while doing them. In reality, though, it'd probably mean I'd just spend 3X as much time walking to where I need to go because I'd wind up optimizing my routes based on the prevailing wind direction so that I'd always have a head wind. I'm not sure if this would increase or decrease my scientific credibility. I suspect I need tenure before I'm allowed to be eccentric.

9) I've not been cursing as much here as I usually do lately, so instead I'll post something a little bit racy to make up for it (NSFW, contains pasties):

10) I'm very intrigued by the answers that are coming in to the poll on the left of your screen. I hadn't figured that anyone would pick psychologists as holding their own in a fight against molecular biologists. I mean, what would they use as weapons? Therapy couches and hurtled copies of the DSM-IV?

11) This is something well worth reading, if you read German. Spektrum der Wissenschaft interviewed Bora Zivkovic of PLoS and A Blog Around the Clock notoreity fame and did a very thorough job explaining the breadth and relevance of the Open Access publishing movement. For those of you who don't read German, let it be known that I am waiting for permission from Spektrum to post a translation.

*Yes, for reals. We meet monthly.