Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fun With Tutorials

The tutorial system at Oxford involves students meeting one on one with professors and discussing a particular area of knowledge. In the biology program, among others, the student will write an essay in advance of the tutorial, and in the meeting itself, the professor will give feedback and bring up areas or angles the student might not have considered.

Different professors, of course, have different styles. Some have done fieldwork all around the world and use lots of examples from their personal experience. Others like to take the conversation to areas not covered in the reading (I see you've written about global warming; what's your favorite type of sustainable energy and why?). I've had tea to drink during exactly two tutorials, which was nice.

It's not a bad system.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Mystery of Pesto

During my first year in Atlanta, it became apparent that pesto was the fashionable condiment on the block. Getting a sandwich at Subway? "Oh, can I have pesto on hat?" Cooking up some pasta in the dorm kitchen? "Yeah, just some pesto on it, it'll be like a real meal!" At the time, I didn't know what pesto was, but I did know what relish was, and making assumptions is a lot easier than looking things up.

Just recently, I bought a jar of pesto for myself to finally crack the mystery of this green substance. I found, as many people might, that pesto is generally a mixture of basil, pine nuts, and olive oil, but more importantly, it may just be the most flexible condiment I know (behind mayonnaise and butter). Ketchup and mustard can be overpowering, but a bit of pesto could go well on anything from a hamburger to a breakfast bagel.

Pesto also made a good base for the buffalo worm sandwich I had today. I've been trying for the past two weeks to write a blog post not about insects, but it looks like that will have to wait for another time.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Second Language Descriptions

Many cultures around the world eat insects, so any study of these practices involves reading research from a great variety of locations. Fortunately for me, English seems to be the main language of research; many of the papers I'm reading were either translated into English or written in English by people for whom it is a second or third language. I very much enjoy reading these papers because while they have the same tendency towards facts and the scientific method, the language used is often less clinical and more engaging than in papers by people used to reading and writing boring things in English such as this explanatory paragraph.

My favorite quote yet comes from an Indian researcher: "Although man suffers and benefits from the insect legions ... the suffering outweighs the benefits." I personally would have never thought to describe insects as legion, but it gives the paper's introduction an exciting sci-fi feel, and the dramatic discussion of man's suffering doesn't hurt either. Given the technical correctness of the actual content of this paper, I don't see why science writing can't be a little less frigid.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fun With Insect Names

From an aesthetic point of view, I'm generally happy that taxonomy is done in Latin. Learning plant names in an herbarium gave me a few favorites (Juncus, Carex, and Quercus come to mind). In my current insect-involving project, I've found the same bounty of fun names. Bombyx mori sounds much more dignified than 'silkworm', and the cricket family, Gryllidae, rolls of the tongue and is perfect for a group of largely edible insects.

My favorite so far is Bombus, the genus of bumblebees. I can only think of them as bombulbees now.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Research and Modding Programs

Over the next few weeks, I'll be working on a paper about various aspects of insect farming. Among other things, this involves a lot of online research: looking up papers, saving them to some sort of reference bank, and citing them properly in my paper. It's a task that takes a lot of time and effort, especially if it's not done right.

Fortunately, I spent a large part of last weekend modding Skyrim-- searching the internet for good mods, downloading them to a mod organizing program, and making sure files are where they need to be and are used properly. It's a lot of work, but it's the only way for me to meet Frodo and his companions in every compatible game.

There's a great satisfaction that comes from installing several dozen mods and managing to not have the game instantly crash on startup. Time and effort are rewarded, but also careful planning. In a similar (but hopefully less complicated) manner, I got great satisfaction from setting up a reference-managing program and being able to save papers and their metadata with just one click, as cliche as that is. I'd like to thank the creators of both the mod-organizing program and the reference-managing program for making the technology so accessible.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Smiling Muscles

It's often said that smiling takes more muscles than frowning-- an interesting possibility, but not a great reason for smiling because it probably takes even fewer muscles to hold a completely neutral facial expression. A more encouraging interpretation of this saying is that smiling is easier than frowning because we tend to do it more often.

When I go outside on a cold morning to walk to a lecture or to the grocery store, I sometimes find myself moving my face as little as possible just to see how neutral an expression I can keep. This is best paired with my generic t-shirt, jeans, and jacket, and a 10-yard stare, the municipal alternative to the 1000-yard stare. It's my idea of what might blend in with the crowd.

After a minute or two in neutral, I kick things up a notch-- 1 second smiling, then 4 seconds rest, and so on. I sometimes smile at people, but I hear that in some cultures eye contact with strangers is supposed to be like staring into the sun, so I generally just smile at pigeons instead. I don't know if this blends in with the crowd any more or less-- when you're looking at pigeons, you can't see what other people are doing.