Thursday, May 22, 2014


On 24 June 2012, Lonesome George -- the last member of his subspecies of giant tortoises of Galapagos island -- died. The last years of his alone-ness attracted quite a bit of news coverage -- see, for example, this and this.

Lonesome George has been on my mind for several days since our 13-year old son has been researching the Galapagos tortoises for his holiday homework project (what a shitty concept!). And along comes this moving piece by Robert Krulwich the lone known survivor of a plant species in Namibia:

So What If It's Ugly? It Just Keeps On Going ...

Far, far, far away is a great place to be — if you want to stay marvelous. There is a plant, called Welwitschia mirabilis (mirabilis being Latin for marvelous), found only one place on Earth. You can get there, as artist/photographer Rachel Sussman did, by driving through the vast emptiness of the Namibian desert, the Namib Naukluft, in Africa.

Welwitschia, when you finally get to see one, sits apart. It's very alone. All its relatives, its cousins, nieces, nephews have died away. It is the last remaining plant in its genus, the last in its family, the last in its order. "No other organism on earth can lay such a claim to being 'one of its kind,' " writes biologist Richard Fortey. It comes from a community of plants that thrived more than 200 million years ago. All of them slowly vanished, except for Welwitschia. It has survived by doing very little, very, very slowly — sipping little wafts of dew in the early mornings, otherwise minding its own business, as the big, busy world goes by.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What the 2014 Elections must have been like for Congress

this video (trigger warning: graphic, but stylized, violence) sums it up. Especially the stuff starting at 5:05:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Value of Academic Stars

I already posted a link to the working paper, but the authors -- Ajay K. Agrawal, John McHale, Alexander Oett -- have posted a nice summary of their work on why hiring of stars is worthwhile:

Stars have direct impact on local economies. They can also indirectly affect growth in a positive way. This column examines the effect of academic star arrivals on the departmental knowledge productivity. Department-level output increases by 54% after the arrival of the star. The post-arrival quality of the joiners is also positively affected, displaying an increase of 68%. These star effects are largest at mid-ranked institutions.


Thank FSM the elections are over! Any guesses on who will head the HRD ministry? And the S&T ministry?

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In an on-going effort to keep this blog going, let me start with a link.

An informative Q&A on the state of science behind helminthic therapy, or "the deliberate infection with helminths, or parasitic worms, by swallowing them or letting them crawl through the skin."

Caution: the article is infested with gross pics of worms.