This is the most boring video ever

It’s an accurately rendered flight through space at the speed of light. You start out at the surface of the sun, and then hurtle out at 300 million meters per second. It takes 3 minutes to reach Mercury. It takes 45 minutes to reach Jupiter. This is basically a video of empty space centered on a very slowly shrinking bright star, with an occasional rocky ball whipping by.

Man, lightspeed is slow, and space is awfully empty.

I did not make it to the end of the video.

How an embryo is like a meatball sub

I’ve only just noticed that I have a fondness for food metaphors when talking about development — gastrulation is a peculiar way to make a jelly sandwich, neurulation is like rolling up a burrito, and somite formation is a meatball sub. They sort of illustrate the arrangement of the tissues involved, but of course they all have shortcomings…but then explaining how the metaphor doesn’t work can be just as informative as the metaphor itself.

For instance, early in its development, the vertebrate embryo consists of two epithelial sheets, the epiblast and hypoblast, pressed against each other like two slices of bread. That’s easy to visualize. It also allows me to explain the core idea of an epithelium — a layer of cells tightly linked to one another to form a continuous more or less two dimensional sheet. A lot of animal development is about epithelia folding and contacting other layers. But another important concept is that some cells are not in sheets — they’ve dissociated and are moving in a loose mass surrounded by an extracellular matrix. This is called mesenchyme. Mesenchyme would be the gooey jelly between the two sheet-like bread slices.

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Bad science books still get published


Wasn’t it enough that I read Nessa Carey’s terrible Junk DNA book? It scarred me, it did. But there’s another one out, John Parrington’s The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye, and no, I REFUSE TO READ IT. I have been reading Larry Moran’s multi-part evisceration of Parrington, though. It’s spectacularly gory. There are bits of Oxford lecturer in pharmacology spattered all over the place.

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Now what?


NASA has announced the discovery of a distant earth-like planet, Kepler-452b.

Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.

“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

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It’s good to have your identity shaken up now and then

Remember Rust, the video game that randomly assigned a skin color to players? Some people found that horribly objectionable.

Now the game is provoking people more: it also randomly assigns a sex. As you might guess, once again, some refuse to play.

As a further twist, the player avatars are anatomically correct, and they randomize penis size. This is going to be an interesting experiment in human psychology!

It’s science! #Gamergaters are bad gamers

This is amusing. A simple study watched people playing the game Halo, and correlated skill at the game with how they treated other men and women players. It turns out that losers tend to be more disparaging of women.

As they watched the games play out and tracked the comments that players made to each other, the researchers observed that — no matter their skill level, or how the game went — men tended to be pretty cordial to each other. Male players who were good at the game also tended to pay compliments to other male and female players.

Some male players, however — the ones who were less-skilled at the game, and performing worse relative their peers — made frequent, nasty comments to the female gamers. In other words, sexist dudes are literally losers.

A chart from the Halo study that shows how nice male gamers were to other males (dotted line) and females (solid line) during gameplay. Men always treat each other about the same. But the better a player gets, the more likely he is to be nice to ladies. (Kasumovic et al)

A chart from the Halo study that shows how nice male gamers were to other males (dotted line) and females (solid line) during gameplay. Men always treat each other about the same. But the better a player gets, the more likely he is to be nice to ladies. (Kasumovic et al)

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