Monthly Archives: December 2019

Blogs are dying; long live blogs

Happy Boxing Day!  Which is also the Feast of Stephen, and although that’s obviously named for a much earlier Stephen, I do approve of feasts.

Anyway.

You hear a lot about how blogs are dying.  You’ve heard that for many years, actually, and to some extent it’s probably true: I gather that there are fewer “big” blogs than there were a decade ago, and the ones that are left worry about declining readership.  Among other things, some of the discourse that happened on blogs now happens, with obviously reduced quality, on Twitter* and other shorter-form social media.

You will not be surprised to hear me argue that there is still tremendous value in blogs – both in writing them and in reading them. Continue reading

Insects are incredibly cool (or, a whirlwind tour of my Entomology course)

When I’m not writing Scientist Sees Squirrel (or writing books about the lovers, heroes, and bums commemorated in the Latin names of organisms), I have a day job.  I’m a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, Canada.  Over my years at UNB I’ve taught first-year biology, introductory ecology, population biology, biostatistics, scientific writing, non-majors biology, field ecology, and more.  But I’ve just finished teaching the course I might love most of all: entomology.

I don’t really know what I am, scientifically, but I’m often mistaken for an entomologist. And it’s true, I know some stuff about insects.  The most important thing I know about them is probably that they’re just about endlessly diverse, endlessly beautiful, and endlessly fascinating. Continue reading

Wonderful Latin names: Liriomyza ivorcutleri

t’s been a while since I’ve added to my Wonderful Latin Names series – posts celebrating Latin names that strike me as interestingi, or beautiful, or just fun to say.  I guess that’s mostly because I’d been writing a whole book on the topic of Latin names – eponymous ones, in particular.  That project is in the hands of the printers now, but of course I wasn’t able to pack every Latin name I like into the book.  So now I can celebrate some of the others.  Today: the leaf mining fly Liriomyza ivorculteri.

I love leaf mining flies. Continue reading

The misplaced responsibility of the outside-work-hours email

Warning: I’m a bit cranky today.

Late last month, I dashed off a quick email to someone I work with – and was a bit chastened to get an autoreply “I’m out of the office for Thanksgiving”.  It was just another Thursday afternoon for me, but I’d forgotten that it was Thanksgiving in the U.S. (Thanksgiving comes six weeks earlier here in Canada; by the end of November, there isn’t much left in the fields to harvest and be thankful for.)  It’s not hard to find people arguing passionately that one should never email people outside work hours.  The argument is that it shows disrespect for work-life balance, suggesting either that the sender doesn’t manage their own work-life balance, or that they expect the recipient not to manage theirs.

I think the argument is wrong.  Not because work-life balance isn’t important – it is!  But proscriptions on when you send emails are neither a necessary nor a possible way to encourage it. Continue reading

Close calls in fiction, and the value of advice

Image: “A Close Call for Six Citizens of Calais”.* Public Domain.

Spoiler alert: “Outlander” plot spoilers.  Except they aren’t really, which as you’ll see is the whole point of the post.

I occasionally offer advice here on Scientist Sees Squirrel.  I’m here today to give you some meta-advice: be wary of my advice (but not too wary). Here’s why.

I recently read (and greatly enjoyed) Diana Gabaldon’s time-travel-historical-romance-adventure novel Outlander.** Several times through the book, one of the two protagonists has a close brush with death.  Each time, the skillful storytelling had me on the edge of my seat, but whether it’s Claire Beauchamp or Jamie Fraser, the imperiled one is rescued or recovers.  In the most extreme incident, Jamie has received last rites and his skin shows the greenish pallor of the deathbed, and I found myself wanting to read late into the night so I’d know whether he survives.  But then I realized: of course he does.  There are eight more books in the series!

More generally, protagonists in fiction almost always have close calls (with death or with other unpleasant, if less final, outcomes) – and they almost always survive them.***  After all, the storyline in which the protagonist doesn’t survive their close call is an unsatisfying one,  unlikely to be written, or to be published if it is.  You can think of this as the Anthropic Principle of Fiction, if you like, but I found myself thinking of it instead as a form of survivorship bias.  We only hear the stories of survivors, simply because those make the best stories.

And that brings me to advice. Continue reading