Ph. Diva and the Mystery Band

So, there are a LOT of lab-life-themed music videos out there. Mostly, they are amateur things put together by groups of under-worked grad students, where they change the lyrics to some popular song, or “pop” song, as the kids say.

This is a whole different thing, with significant production value, which is what happens when a biotech company gets in the game.

It lacks some of the charm and energy of dorky grad students singing Lady Gaga off key. On the other hand, it lacks all of the dorky-grad-students-singing-Lady-Gaga-off-key-ness of dorky grad students singing Lady Gaga off key.

This is actually the second video in a series. The next two will be out later in the year. You can see the prequel here.

Google Maps Quest Easter Egg

So, here’s the latest cool, cool thing from Google. Google maps has a new easter egg. Go there ( and go to the upper right corner, where you normally select between the “map” and “satellite” views. There’s currently a third option, “quest,” which gives you something that looks like this:

If you zoom in, you can see 8-bit representations of various landmarks, as well. Also, while you’re in there, check out the street view.

Gender remixer will inspire all emotions simultaneously

So, here’s an excellent thing that didn’t exist, but now does, and the world is a better place. The Gender Remixer allows you to combine highly gendered advertisements aimed at girls and boys. You get the video from one and the audio from the other.

The experience is disorienting, enlightening, infuriating, and other stuff, all at the same time. The thing that surprised me most was how much I wanted to buy the hypothetical toys that my brain constructed during the experience.

Check it out!

via Boing Boing.

Kirkus Star review for Remarkable

So, regular readers here already know that my wife‘s novel, Remarkable, is coming out in April. On April 12, to be exact. That’s two weeks from today, which means that the Kirkus review of the book just came out from behind their paywall.

Here’s the review, which got a Kirkus “Star” for extraordinary awesomeness:

The title of this debut says it all.

In the town of Remarkable, so named for its abundance of talented citizens, everyone lives up to its reputation. Well, almost everyone. With a famous architect mother, an award-winning–novelist father, a photorealistic-portrait–painter older brother and a math-genius younger sister, Jane should be just as remarkable. Instead, this average 10-year-old girl is usually overlooked. With clever wordplay, the third-person account paints a humorous and vivid depiction of this unusual community. While the rest of the town’s children attend Remarkable’s School for the Remarkably Gifted, Jane spends monotonous days as the public school’s only attendee. Excitement suddenly enters her life when the mischievous Grimlet twins get expelled from the gifted school and sent to public school, not one but four pirates enter town and a search ensues for a missing composer. Mix in a rival town’s dispute over jelly, hints of a Loch Ness Monster–like creature and a psychic pizzeria owner who sees the future in her reflective pizza pans, and this uproarious mystery becomes—if even possible—a whole lot funnier. With the help of her quiet Grandpa John, who’s also forgotten most of the time, Jane learns to be true to herself and celebrate the ordinary in life.

Foley tightly weaves the outlandish threads into a rich, unforgettable story that’s quite simply—amazing. (Fiction. 8-12)

Now, go visit Kirkus, where they have links to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound, and order the book!

Oh, and here’s what it will look like when you get it:

And, you know, as awesome as the cover is, all those words on the inside are even better!

What’s the plural of "octopus"?

So, how do you refer to more than one octopus? “Octopuses”? “Octopi”? “Octopodes”? In case you’re uncertain which way to go, here’s a handy guide from Darwin Eats Cake, which you can print out for easy reference.

The text may be a little bit hard to read here, but you can view a higher-resolution version here. More discussion after the picture.

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Some of you may recall this video from Kory Stamper, who argues that “octopuses” is fine, as is “octopi,” as is “octipodes,” for that matter, although, as she says, if you’re going to use it, you’d better be prepared to explain and defend it.

I think that’s all dead on, with one small addition. Stamper argues that when a word is borrowed into English, it gets the standard english pluralization, hence “octopuses.” I feel like there actually is a living grammatical rule in spoken English, where you are allowed pluralize a word ending in “us” by changing it to “i” provided that the word is long enough, and especially if the word sounds sort of foreign-ish.

Now, I mean “allowed to” in a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive sense. That is, I take the viewpoint that if I say a word (or a phrase, or use a grammatical construct, etc.), and most native English speakers understand that word in roughly the sense in which I meant it, then it’s a part of English, whether or not it follows a rule that has been codified in a book.

So, if I were talking about more than one Krampus, and I used the word “Krampi,” I think that most people would understand what I meant (assuming that they had heard of Krampus in the first place). On the other hand, if I drop by an elementary school and start talking to the children about the line of yellow schoolbi, I’m probably going to get arrested.

From where I stand, then, “octopuses” and “octopi” are both native English pluralizations. “Octopi” just happens to use a rule that came into English through an appeal by (prescriptive) grammarians to Latin. “Octopodes,” by contrast, will only be comprehensible to someone who either has studied Greek, or who has had this particular debate pointed out to them.

The poet in me feels the need, of course, to point out that there is no such thing as an exact synonym (blah, blah, blah). So, while “octopuses” and “octopi” both refer to more than one octopus, they don’t mean the exactly the same thing. In particular, if I say “Look at the octopi,” I am really saying something like “Look at the more than one octopus, and, hey, I’m doing that Latin thing.” Whichever one you use, there are aspects of social positioning involved (maybe I want to look smart, or educated, or maybe salt-of-the-earth-ish, etc.), the details of which are going to depend a lot on the specifics of the social context in which you’re talking. Really, pluralizing “octopus” is the third rail of talking about cephalopods (cephalopodes?), in that there is no way to do it where someone in the room is not going to make an issue out of it.

I also feel like maybe I should clarify what I perceive to be the game in the dorky/sophisticated outcome. The goal is not necessarily to implement pluralization as it would be done in language X by a native speaker of language X. Rather, it is to take a simple pluralization rule from language X, remove it from its native context, and implement it in English, sort of like the Krampus / Krampi thing. It’s like trying to figure out how to pluralize something in a sort of Xglish (the language-X analog of Spanglish). For example, David Winter (@TheAtavism) points out that in Maori, one octopus would be “Te wheke,” while two or more would be “Nga wheke.” I take that to imply that the appropriate Maoglish plural of “octopus” would be “ngactopus,” which is pretty fun to say.

That being said, in addition to this Maori tidbit, I have already learned some cool stuff via Twitter responses to the cartoon. Here’s a sampling:

@symbolicstorage notes that the same ambiguity exists in German, where one might say “oktopusse” or “oktopi,” adding that “octopusen” is 100% wrong. But, you know, I don’t know about that. It only looks about 20% wrong to me. 30% at most. 100% wrong would be more like “farfegnugen.”

@BobOHara says that Finns would most often use the partative form “octopusta,” rather than the plural “octopust.” I still don’t fully understand the distinction, but is seems that “octopusta” would best be translated something like “some octopus, like probably more than one, but I’m not going to count them right now, since I have better things to do, like participate in my world-leading public education system.”

And “Kraken-wrangler” @DrSeaRotmann suggests “octoposse,” which is the only plural I am going to use from this day forward.

Have you got more? How do you say “octopus” in your native (or secondarily learned) language? How do you refer to more than one? And, how would you create an English hybrid (Xglish plural) using that pluralization rule? Post in the comments, or send a note on Twitter (@jonfwilkins), and I’ll update the list!

Oh, and by the way, I forgot to include the French “octopeaux.”

Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor

So, it’s not often that something exciting happens on C-SPAN, but here you go. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) was speaking out against racial profiling, when he pulled off his jacket to reveal a stealth hoodie. He proceeded to put the hood up, prompting acting speaker Gregg Harper (R-MS) to start gavel banging and un-recognizing. Eventually, he calls the sergeant-at-arms to remove Rush.

Awesomely, the clip concludes with Harper saying, “Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a pro-circumcision bias bordering on religious discrimination to me.

via Daily Kos.

No one true path for PhDs

So, there’s a nice little op-ed piece up at the Chronicle for Higher Education. (For the non-academics out there, it’s sort of like People magazine, but with History professors instead of Kardashians.) It was written by Jon Bardin, a current PhD student at Cornell Med School, who is planning to abandon the canonical academic path. Unfortunately, it’s behind the Chronicle paywall, but basically he argues against the idea (much hyped, recently) that there is an over-production of PhD students. At least in the sciences.

He mentions the common complaint that graduate school has become a sort of pyramid scheme, where huge numbers of PhD students enter, with the implicit promise of a tenure-track position waiting at the other end of the tunnel, while there are not nearly enough such positions available.

This is true, but he argues that we should look at the situation from a different perspective.

First, he argues that there are many alternative careers for PhDs. Of course, we all knew this already. After all, Starbucks is almost always hiring. But, actually, he argues that the skills that you develop in grad school are widely applicable. He talks specifically about the humbling experience of having his first manuscript rejected:

Through this and subsequent experiences, I learned to absorb the sting of harsh rejection, to ingest criticism, to accept its value, and to turn it to my advantage. These are life skills, not scientific skills, and rejection was only the beginning. Since then, I have had to devise and adopt quick, practical solutions to unexpected problems, to communicate clearly and concisely in front of crowds, to think on my feet in response to an unexpected question, and to pick my battles within my own research group. Perhaps most important, I have learned to approach problems by reducing them to their component parts and solving them one by one.

These are experiences and skills that will carry me through many dark days as a writer. But the same skills would have benefited me if I were leaving for the pharmaceutical industry, or for consulting, or to open a microbrewery. Everyone needs a problem solver, an articulate communicator, a thoughtful arbitrator. If graduate students can learn to approach their education as a series of learning opportunities rather than a five-year-long job interview, I think many who choose to leave would find that they had not wasted their time but rather that they had learned a great deal in a safe environment, while being paid, to boot.

These are great points. Now, the availability of funding varies a lot from field to field, but, at least in the sciences, I think the typical graduate student stipend is somewhere on the order of $30,000 per year. Now, that’s not huge money, but it is enough to provide a comfortable living. Add in the fact that grad school is a great social environment (at least, it is if you’re a dork, and you like hanging out with other dorks, which, if you’re reading this, you probably are, and probably do), and you’ve got the makings of a pleasant and rewarding five years.

The trick, of course, is to find an advisor who’s not a jerk, but that’s a topic for another post.

The other point that Bardin makes is that the problem is not one of the availability of a certain type of job, but of the perception that the tenure-track path is the only honorable one. What is needed is a change in attitude, from the students themselves, and from the advisors responsible for them. In Bardin’s words:

Such a change in attitude should start with graduate advisers, who must fulfill their role as true mentors, helping students explore the range of opportunities that their training has enabled, both inside and outside the box. Crucially, they must make it clear that leaving academe does not suddenly brand them a waste of their mentor’s time; graduate students—and their older siblings, the postdocs—by virtue of being cheap, productive labor, are anything but a waste of time.

In a way, maybe we need to start viewing graduate school more like undergrad. After all, professors don’t resent teaching undergraduates who are smart and engaged, but who are going to do something other than academia.

Or, rather, most probably don’t. I’m sure there are some who do. (Those are also the ones you want to avoid when choosing an advisor.) But, they probably also resent the students who are going to follow in their footsteps, just for different reasons. What are you going to do? Resenters gonna resent.

Reposted from the Ronin Blog.

h/t to Ronin Kristina Killgrove.

Candy Candy will put you in a diabetic coma

So, here’s a little something from Japan. In order to facilitate your close reading of the lyrics, I’ve provided a transcription of the Chorus:

candy candy candy candy candy
sweetie sweetie girls love
chewing chewing chewing chewing chewing
cutie cutie XXX chewing love

candy candy candy candy candy
sweetie sweetie girls love
chewing chewing chewing chewing chewing
cutie cutie so candy love

Lessons from a 40 year old

So, this was posted on Boing Boing last week, but I only just got a chance to watch it. This is a talk at “Webstock,” by Matt Haughey, the guy who started Metafilter. (He also has a cool blog called A Whole Lotta Nothing.) He talks about the value of maintaining work-life balance, and avoiding the pitfalls that come with the raise-huge-money-and-grow-really-fast model that everyone in the tech industry seems to want to pursue. Instead, he favors a model where you work reasonable hours, build a quality product, and focus on a long-term strategy.

A lot of this resonates with some of the things we’re trying to do with the Ronin Institute. Of course, academia isn’t exactly plagued by a get-rich-quick mentality. However, there are some analogous traps that a lot of people fall into. Younger scholars often feel like they have to score the big paper in Science or Nature, and beat themselves up for doing work that is good, solid research, but not the sort that grabs headline. Faculty often feel a pressure to bring in large grants, and will sometimes let this drive their research agenda, rather than letting the research questions be the driver.

I like to imagine that the independent scholar is following the Metafilter model rather than the Facebook model. Because, you know what’s cooler than a billion dollars? A million dollars, and your soul.

Anyway, this is well worth a watch when you’re chilling out, or when you’ve just set up a batch of simulations. While the mapping from Silicon Valley to the Ivory Tower is not one-to-one, there is enough similarity there to make the talk thought provoking for anyone who wants to ponder how to integrate scholarship into their life.

Webstock ’12: Matt Haughey – Lessons from a 40 year old from Webstock on Vimeo.

Reposted from the Ronin Blog.