Friday, September 30, 2011

Read my lips: "Save a pretzel for the gas jets."

And from the same channel, a musical Dadaist Obama speech:

It's odd how well this "bad" lip reading maps onto the original footage-- perhaps, as this poster speculates, there's a sort of reverse McGurk effect involved, making the lip movements appear to sync better to the audio than they really do. (Incidentally, I do not seem to experience the McGurk effect, but I find BadLipReading's dubs almost entirely convincing.)

[Update, 10/4: "I whisked like two or three eggs, and then I changed my Facebook pic to boring seagulls."]

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Silbo Gomero

On the Spanish island of Gomera, people sometimes encode their speech in whistling to communicate over long distances:

They aren't the only language community to use whistling as an alternate communication channel. Whistled languages have been documented in widely separated parts of the world-- including among the isolated Pirahã tribe of South America (whose language is better known for what it allegedly lacks, namely recursive grammar).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sea apple

This is a type of sea cucumber popular in the aquarium trade; I spotted it in a tropical fish/aquarium supply store.

Monday, September 19, 2011


These are microscopic sections of a sedimentary rock containing spherical grains called ooids-- which are formed of concentric layers like pearls.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dinofeathers in amber

An amazing find from Alberta, Canada:
Feathers believed to be from dinosaurs have been found beautifully preserved in Alberta amber.
The primitive, hair-like feathers known as protofeathers likely belonged to theropods — dinosaurs similar to tiny Tyrannosaurus rexes — that roamed the swampy forests of Alberta 80 million years ago, said Alexander P. Wolfe, a University of Alberta earth sciences professor who co-authored the research published Thursday in Science.
...The feathers are preserved down to the pigments that show what colour they are and microscopic details of their structure.
Based on the fact that the protofeathers were just single filaments or clumps of filaments, just two centimetres long, the researchers concluded "these had nothing to do with flight," Wolfe said.
Instead, he believes they were used to keep the dinosaurs warm.
Another of the Canadian specimens. Image source.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lake sharks of Triassic Kyrgyzstan

Several 230-million-year-old teeth and egg capsules uncovered at a fossil site in southwestern Kyrgyzstan suggest hundreds of young sharks once congregated in a shallow lake, a new study says.
Called hybodontids, the animals were likely bottom feeders, like modern-day nurse sharks.
Mothers would've attached their eggs to horsetails and other marshy plants along the lakeshore. Once born, the Triassic-era babies would've had their pick from a rich food supply of tiny invertebrates, while dense vegetation offered protection from predators.
Image (showing a beautiful fossil egg case) and information from National Geographic.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Eoandromeda octobrachiata

Near the roots of the tree of life, we find a living spiral:
A 580-million-year-old fossil is casting doubt on the established tree of animal life. The invertebrate, named Eoandromeda octobrachiata because its body plan resembles the spiral galaxy Andromeda, suggests that the earliest branches in the tree need to be reordered, say the authors of study in Evolution and Development.
The researchers, led by paleontologist Feng Tang of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing, believe that Eoandromeda is the ancient ancestor of modern ocean dwellers known as comb jellies — gelatinous creatures similar to jellyfish, but rounder and with eight rows of iridescent paddles along their sides. If they are right, it would be the oldest known fossil of a comb jelly. And that would support a rewrite of the animal tree. 
From Nature, via The Book of Barely Imagined Beings.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


This colorful, rare gemstone comes from the fossil shells of prehistoric ammonites. Sometimes there are found whole shells composed of ammolite.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Feathers of Humming Bird, Brittle Star Fish, Fossil Tooth of Shark"

These slides have cover slips of thin glass, which was very expensive and difficult to produce before the 1840s—early mounters more often used sheets of mica, which was far from transparent. The use of Canada balsam sap (which preserves structures and eliminates air and water from samples) as a mounting medium also vastly improved the view.
From a SEED Magazine slideshow of Victorian microscope slides. Those shown above are from the collection of Howard Lynk, who has many more; the arranged slides of diatoms and spicules are quite lovely.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Flowery nest

This is the flower-petal nest of Osmia avoseta, a Turkish solitary bee. It is about half an inch long, and holds a single egg; under the petals is a thin layer of mud.

Further information and more pictures at NPR.