Saturday, May 30, 2015

That. Was. Epic.

I loved Bill Nye the Science Guy when I was a kid. He's engaging, funny and just plain fun. Turns out, he can be funny to adult audiences too, and this skit was just perfect.

Bill Nye the Science Guy, always a boss. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

On How Awesome Gecko Feet Are

When my colleagues are not totally sick of hearing me talk, we have an occasional segment in the office known as "this week in Zoology". I work with people who have a background predominantly in Neuroscience, Molecular Biology and Genetics, whereas I got my degree in Zoology. Given this, I know quite a few random and awesome facts about animals, permanently stored in my brain, so I figured why not repeat a few of them here? The very first thing we talked about was the fractal feet of geckos.

Lets start with talking about what a fractal actually is. A fractal is a mathematical concept which is often observed in nature, in which a pattern is maintained at every scale of resolution. This can be seen in branching of biological structures, in which one branch has many branches, each of which has many branches, each of those having other branches etc. This is how gecko feet are structured, which is the secret to their success with climbing virtually any kind of surface.

A snarky way to learn about fractals

Researchers noticed that, among creatures who could crawl on vertical surfaces, geckos are pretty much the best at it. Trying to pull a gecko off the wall can result in ripping its legs from its body, rather than removing the whole animal. So, how do they manage to stick to a surface so well, and at the same time crawl over it so rapidly? Is it suction cups? Electricity? Attempting to coat the surface with oils, changing the materials or passing electrical currents through them led to no changes in the gecko's ability to climb. Finally, they looked at the gecko's toes, and therein was the answer.


It turns out, a gecko's toes are structured like a fractal, they are branched into smaller and smaller structures, until ultimately they can squeeze between the molecules of the surface, taking advantage of the molecule-to-molecule interactions of the surface in order to stick to them.

How amazingly cool is that??!! They are actually penetrating the molecular structure of your wall!

Any random animals you don't think can be cool? Name them in the comments and lets see if I can scare up any ancient memories of weird facts about them!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Respecting Your Parents, But As Equals

My father is coming to visit me tomorrow, kind of spur of the moment. Woop! Given that he lives half way around the world I only get to see him once a year, and even then usually just for a couple of days, so I'm happy he's coming to visit, to see my new place and to just hang out for a bit.

I have not spoken about my father much on this blog, and that is primarily because we do not have any real conflict, especially compared with the tension I have with my mother. However, given his upcoming visit, it reminds me of a weird moment I had when I was visiting my mother's side of the family in the States, and highlighted a deep seeded cultural difference that may go a long way to explain why I clash so badly with my mother. 

So I was sitting in the living room with my uncle, my cousin and her boyfriend. It was a little awkward, we don't really have so much to say to each other, but my uncle used to be really good friends with my father and is always curious to hear what he's up to. Given that my father now lives in Brazil, he was kicking it under the sun while I'm freezing my butt off in December in Seattle. He teases me by sending me the occasional picture of gorgeous palm trees, beaches and crystal blue sea while I'm curled up on the couch inside. So I say to my uncle "hey, look where my dad is now! He just sent me this picture. What a dick! I'm so jealous". My uncle's reaction was one that I would have never anticipated. His face dropped, he gave an awkward laugh, turned to his daughter and said "[daughter], don't you ever ever call me a dick. No matter how much time passes or how far away we are from each other, I hope we don't ever reach a point in which you think you can disrespect me and call me a dick". She looked terrified at the mere thought of it. "No dad, I would never do such a thing, no way". 

She's 20, by the way.

Well, that lighthearted conversation-starter just got hella intense. I was not trying to disrespect my father, far from it. I tried to explain it, saying that if anyone sends you a picture from a remote gorgeous sunny place while you're freezing and wishing you were there, don't you call them a dick? Like teasing? He dismissed it, saying "I know you have a weird relationship with your father, but I would never tolerate something like that". 

This is where I realized that, as much as I love my US family, we just cannot see eye to eye about basic human interaction. 

I'm 28 years old. As such my father has, for quite a few years now, treated me like an adult, like an equal. He will tell me about the drugs he took, a dirty joke he heard, or a funny embarrassing situation he got himself in. We are adults, and we are equals. The idea that my uncle will forever hang on to this parental reverence, this respect me because I'm your father no matter what or else, that my cousin will forever fear calling him out on anything because respect, is heartbreaking to me. When I repeated this story to my Italian grandmother, who is 92, she was just as ready to call my dad a dick for sending me that picture and just as puzzled at my uncle's reaction.

I was raised by an Italian family which believes that parental respect is earned in adulthood. One that has never uttered "do this because I said so" to a child, because children need to understand why certain actions are wrong, not just blindly follow authority. My mother, clearly, was raised in a completely different culture, which is probably why she had so many problems battling with me as a child, and why we still clash to this day. 

Yes, I called my dad a dick, and I wouldn't trade the relationship I have with him for anything, especially not for the one my uncle has with my cousin. The fact that I can talk to him like a person, like a peer, is infinitely more valuable to me than forcing myself into a paradigm in which I am expected to revere a paternal figure which is obviously just a fallible, flawed human like everyone else. Being forced to ultimately respect someone without question because blood, because family, because parent, to me is something that is putting a heavy strain on their relationship.

And for my relationship to be called weird, given that alternative? Fine, I'll take weird over normal any day. In the meantime, I plan on having a bitchin time with my dad this weekend!

Hey Guys! I'm Not Dead!

Hello again,

Of course it happens that, just when I think I have found the time to keep this blog up to date, life happens. Science is crazy work: there are some weeks when you're thinking "what am I doing here? Why do I have nothing to do? This is odd..." and then, the world explodes. I found myself buried under such a workload these last couple of months, but I amazingly found time to go to the International Atheist Conference in Cologne last weekend. 

Thanks to PZ Myers (whom I managed to nervously meet there and have a brief chat with) I had an unbelievable time. It was, in short, AWESOME.

I'd like to blog a bit about the various talks, but I am also anxiously awaiting the videos of them to come out. I might talk a bit about them before, and can always add in the videos of the talks later (if they are made publicly available, but I assume they are), but I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, let me just say that I am so happy I decided to take the chance and go to the conference on my own.

I have also decided to become an individual member of Atheist Alliance International. They really do amazing work, they operate on volunteers, and $30 a year is really nothing given all the good they do. I really suggest you all check it out and see for yourselves.