What *Is* A Digital Cuttlefish, Anyway?

So I saw on Twitter this morning an announcement of some sort (I didn’t click through) of presentation on how to do science blogging. It got me thinking.

I used to have a science blog, in my specific area, and (oddly enough) in prose. Covered basic concepts, more advanced stuff, examples from real life… I even had some students cite my blog in their papers, without knowing I had written it (it was pseudonymous, but not Cuttlefish).

But… what is The Digital Cuttlefish? I have verses in three volumes of The Open Laboratory, so is it science? I am a member of Freethought Blogs, so is it atheism stuff? Is is social commentary? Art? (seriously?) I’ve seen my blog on blogrolls under “science”, “humor”, “atheism” and more (most frequently, perhaps, “other”).

I looked at the lists I am on, on Twitter. Collapsing similarly-named lists, I see a bunch of miscellaneous stuff:

Gweeks (?)
Freethought Bloggers
Interesting People
Social media

Interestingly, I am also on two lists, by two different people, entitled “USA” and “NotUSA”. I like that. But the big winners (with numbers of lists following the modal title) were:

Science 17 (general science)
Skeptic 13 (publicly exposed skeptic) (realitybasedorskeptic)
Atheists 10 (godless; ungodly)
Something fishy 7 (oceans, Cephalopods, squid)
Bloggers 5
Writers, books 4
Social Justice, Humanism & A+ 3
Science Artists 2

So… What do you think I am? For myself, I know why I write this blog. Not for outreach, not to change the world, although both of those would be wonderful. I write it for fun, and because I can’t help but see the world in rhyme now and again.

Snake-Handlers? In 2013?

For goodness sakes
I need my snakes
Or God won’t know I love Him!
I have to show
Or He won’t know
There’s no one else above Him!

I know my sect
Is more correct
(As well as more exciting);
Among my clues,
We fill the pews
When rattlesnakes are biting!

Though some have died
At least they tried
To do as God commands
It may seem sick–
One serpent’s prick…
Their fate is in His hands

Middlesboro, KY–A pastor wants his snakes back. Middlesboro’s Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name has been in the news before, also for snake-handling. Today’s story is simply that a pastor had some $800 worth of venomous snakes confiscated in Tennessee, and wants them back… in the name of religious freedom and simple property ownership. The story from years ago was of death by snakebite. Actually, in searching for the case I knew was there, I found several others; it seems snake handlers have a tendency to get bitten and die.

The one that springs immediately to mind (I may have found that link, but it might be a different case), which my parents (who lived in the area at the time) told me about, was of a child custody battle between grandparents. Both parents were dead from snakebite, and the grandparents were fighting over the kids. One set of grandparents were snake-handlers, and argued that since the parents were snake-handlers as well, they were the obvious choice to raise the kids as the parents wanted. Honestly, I didn’t have the heart to look to see who won the battle. (They are not the only case of multiple generation snake-handling deaths in one family.)

Thinking of those kids, I am not even tempted to say “give the preacher his snakes back and let nature take its course”. I am glad this is only a fringe sect, but it is outrageous that such a deadly ritual is protected as religious free speech.

Running Out Of Time! (Get Your Cuttlefish Valentines Here!)

Dammit. I intended to space these out, but life got in the way.

I did get to post the Evolutionary Biology Valentine (and its additional verses), but that was it.

Now, all I can do (since it’s already Valentines Day in parts of the world) is a data dump. I suspect, though, that you will detect a pattern. (spoiler: the pattern says I am not a reductionist!)

Science of Love (a Valentine)

A Scientific Valentine

Sonnet 116.1 (a Shakespeare parody, opposing reductionism)

A Reproductive Message (a song, based on an evolutionary psychology paper. Context at the link.)

What do women want? (A valentine) Despite the title, this is far less valentine and far more a comment on a particular article. Again, context at the link.)

Heart In A Jar. Remember when they made a heart (in a jar) out of stem cells and the cellular equivalent of duct tape? I do. These verses took that achievement and used it as a springboard. I don’t recommend these as real valentines, but if you have a special someone these really work for… consider yourself incredibly fortunate.

There may be a few more here and there, but those are all I can recall.

Happy Valentines Day to you and yours!

There It Is! Oxytocin!

Just in time for Valentines Day, Scientific American has an article on oxytocin and long-lasting love.

If cupid had studied neuroscience, he’d know to aim his arrows at the brain rather than the heart. Recent research suggests that for love to last, it’s best he dip those arrows in oxytocin.

This article is better than most; oxytocin isn’t seen as the cause, but the mechanism, of one facet–an important facet, but just one of many–of love.
Back in ’09, it was the BBC reporting on other research, but it was oxytocin again.

In animals, scientists have observed that a chemical called oxytocin is involved in developing a bond between a mother and her young.
Professor Young believes it is very likely that a similar process is going on in humans.
“It’s just that when we experience these emotions they are so rich we can’t imagine that they are just a series of chemical events,” he said.
But even if that is true of maternal love, is romantic love simply down to a squirt of oxytocin and a few other love chemicals at a timely moment?
Professor Young thinks it might be.

I responded at the time, but since nobody pays any attention to invertebrates, I suppose it’s once more into the breach. These verses are an addendum to the Evolutionary Biology Valentine (most recently posted just a few days ago). They’d go between verses 2 and 3 of that poem.

The latest suspect, oxytocin,
Floods the brain when we draw close (in
Some perfumes they’ll add a dose, in
Hopes of that reaction)
The chemical increases trust,
So hopes are that it may, or must
Produce a love that’s more than lust
Or “animal attraction”

But oxytocin, too, controls
The bonding seen in prairie voles
Which act as if they pledge their souls
To one and only one;
Their cousins, though, the rats and mice
Behave as if they don’t think twice
And if some nearby rodent’s nice
They’ll surely have some fun

The differences twixt vole and mouse—
Why one’s a catch and one’s a louse—
If chemistry you would espouse
As why, I disagree—
The chemistry’s not why, but how
One rodent keeps its marriage vow
And one seeks out new fields to plow
Not why at all, you see.

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin!

In honor of his birthday today (sorry, Abe Lincoln, I don’t have one for you):

On the newsstand at the station
There it was, a publication
With a bold prevarication
Where it asked “Was Darwin Wrong?”
Darwin stands among the giants
Of our modern view of science
So, in answer and defiance
I’m replying in this song:

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin, take a look around today—
You might recognize the path we took, cos you showed us the way.
We will celebrate your influence with unabashed delight;
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin, you were right!

Variation in the features
Of all sorts of nature’s creatures
Was a sign of God, for preachers,
But you thought you’d take a look
It’s descent and not creation
That explains the population
So we start the celebration
For the guy who wrote the book

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin, take a look around today—
You might recognize the path we took, cos you showed us the way.
We will celebrate your influence with unabashed delight;
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin, you were right!

From the South Pacific Islands
To the bonny Scottish Highlands,
In the oceans and the dry lands
We can see the evidence.
From diversity most splendid,
We infer that we descended;
It was you who comprehended
And your impact was immense!

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin, take a look around today—
You might recognize the path we took, cos you showed us the way.
We will celebrate your influence with unabashed delight;
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin, you were right!

Well, the theory you created
Has, for decades, been updated,
But it shouldn’t be unstated
That it all began with you
That’s the way with any theory
Though detractors may grow weary
As they try to make folks leery
But they can’t deny it’s true

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin, take a look around today—
You might recognize the path we took, cos you showed us the way.
We will celebrate your influence with unabashed delight;
Happy Birthday Charles Darwin, you were right!

A Good Cartoon

When our local, right wing publication
Shows a doodle that leads to frustration
I’m hopeful, real soon,
That “A Good Cartoon
Will provide me the proper translation

I should have shared this ages ago; with luck, I’m the last one to this party and you already know about “A Good Cartoon”. You see, the two most thorough newspapers available in Cuttletown are both very right-wing: one in both stories and editorials, the other mostly just in editorials. They both seem to have a contract specifying that they run the most knee-jerk extreme right wing wingnut editorial cartoons. And, dog help me, I am a compulsive cartoon-reader.

So the genius (I say this sincerely, not ironically) behind “A Good Cartoon” is welcome relief. The translations of what the cartoons really mean are just wonderful. (Well, most are wonderful; just enough fall short to remind me that what is being done is not easy.) Take some time, and read back through the cartoons you probably saw first during the presidential campaigns. There is a special deliciousness to those once you no longer have the anxiety of “but this idiot could be President!” lurking around.

If you tend toward right-wing politics yourself, you might enjoy these just for the sheer artistry, but if you tilt to the left, you get both the artistry and a very welcome dose of unabashed liberalism.

The Pope Is Stepping Down

So in his honor, a verse that speculates on what really goes on in the college of cardinals as they go about the business of selecting a new guy to wear the funny hat:

We struggle in vain to distinguish a Mass
From your typical Zombie behavior
As they guzzle down red by the bottle or glass
And delight in Filet of Our Savior.

Perhaps it’s a matter of what’s on the menu;
Your Catholic is more of a snacker,
But if you feel teeth on your shoulder, why, then you
Know zombies want more than a cracker.

When Jesus said “This is my blood that you drink,
And this is my body you eat”
Did something he knew of their tastes make him think
They were zombies, and lusting for meat?

Did the Catholic Church, from the time of Saint Peter,
Rejoice in the words that he said,
And at least once a week, become Zombie flesh-eater
And feast upon Jesus Undead?

I worry it’s some sort of slippery slope
Where they struggle ‘gainst gravity’s chains
And I wonder if Ratzinger got to be Pope
By eating the Cardinals’ brains.

Image by the wonderful Jessica Hagy.

Code Blue Limerick Emergency Alert!

Ok, people, this one is serious. Spread the word to anyone you suspect might help, or anyone you suspect knows people who might help.

One of the cooler projects in the history of humankind is the OEDILF—the Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form. I first wrote about them here. Their goal is

to write at least one limerick for each meaning of each and every word in the English language. Our best limericks will clearly define their words in a humorous or interesting way, although some may provide more entertainment than definition, or vice versa.

Seriously. Think about that. Every word in the English language. Suddenly I don’t look nearly so obsessive, do I? And, to top it off, they are doing this in alphabetical order. They won’t get to “Nantucket” until maybe 2020. And these are limericists! There are contributors with thousands of limericks to their credit—one author with over ten thousand submitted!

Anyway… I just got an email: for whatever reasons, their limericists are slacking off. (Full disclosure: I’m at least partial author on… wait, really? … on over 100 limericks. I honestly thought it was at least a score fewer. I stopped in 2009 or so because I started this blog instead. So, yeah, I am one of the slackers.) They are currently well below their historic levels of limericks.

You can help. If you read my blog, you are a rare creature. And you are likely to hang around with other rare creatures. So please… spread the word.

Join the OEDILF movement. Start writing limericks. Tell your friends. Especially the ones who have fun with limericks.

I mentioned above, the OEDILF team are moving through the dictionary in alphabetical order; they don’t open up a new set of letters until they have completed a certain percentage of the previous words. Thing is, a substantial number of the uncompleted words happen to be highly specialized—scientific or philosophical terms. You know—the stuff my readers eat for breakfast.

So you are the perfect solution.

You can save the OEDILF.

And you should. It’s worth saving. It is the very definition of a quixotic crusade (they may not get to “quixotic” in my lifetime; that should tell us something).

Ok, a bit of backstory. A good many of my early proposed limericks… were terrible. The people at OEDILF are the best of the best. Their limericks are not forced. Their rhymes are not “close enough”. They have a workshop process that winnows out bad limericks, and improves good ones. Like I said, these people are the best.

When I started submitting limericks at the OEDILF, I arrogantly assumed my verses were good enough. No. My limericks included some forced rhymes, and some metric no-no’s. They’d have been fine for Carl Kassel to read on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me’s “listener limerick challenge”, but those tend to be really clunky limericks serving a different purpose.

So anyway, don’t do what I did, and just assume that the workshopping process will fix your limericks. Take the time to polish your work before submitting it, and take pride in being part of a really cool global act of obsession.

And hey, it’s fun!