Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thoughts from a room on the 13th floor

Photo: elevator buttons © Shane Adams via CC BY 2.0

 Last month I went to my favourite conference (the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution), and checked into the conference hotel.  The desk clerk gave me room 1310, and I headed for the elevator and pressed the button for the 13th floor.  And then I did a double-take.  The 13th floor?  I don’t remember ever staying on a 13th floor; in North America, at least, buildings usually hop from the 12th floor to the 14th with only a mysterious lacuna in between.

Nothing untoward happened to me on the 13th floor, of course.  But my stay in room 1310 made me think about the 13-is-bad-luck superstition, and what it says about the human concepts of the universe.  What kind of thinking is behind our usual no-13th-floor convention?  First, we have to believe that the universe is constructed such that the 13th of something is disfavoured.  Second, there has to be some agency (whether natural law or supernatural) omniscient and omnipotent enough to keep track of what things are the 13th of something (floors, days, whatever), and to punish us for being on those things.  And third, that same omniscient and omnipotent agency has to be dumb enough to be hoodwinked by our labelling the 13th of something “14”.* Continue reading

A shelf of writing books

Some OTHER good books on scientific writing

If you’ve been hanging around Scientist Sees Squirrel, you’ve surely notice that I’ve written a guidebook for scientific writers.  I’m biased, of course, but I think The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is pretty good – and if you write at all, I think reading it can help.  (Why not go buy yourself a copy?  I’ll wait.)  But if you’re serious about your writing craft, I hope The Scientist’s Guide won’t be alone on your shelf.  It isn’t alone on mine.

Here are a few books that I think could profitably keep The Scientist’s Guide to Writing company.  (UPDATED: see the Replies thread for reader suggestions!) Continue reading

About last week

There’s not much to say about recent global events that hasn’t been said already, and better.  But:

I believe each of us has just one important job: to make the world a better place for others (especially, of course, for those less privileged or less fortunate than us).  We do this in large ways and in small ones; we do it at work and at home; we do it locally and around the world.  It’s why we do science; it’s why we teach; it’s why we parent; it’s why we sing Happy Birthday. It’s why – or it should be why – we do pretty much everything.

Sometimes, events (or our own actions, or those of others) make this job a little easier.  Sometimes they make it a little harder.  Sometimes they make it a lot harder.  None of that changes what our job is, and we all need to go on making the world a little bit better tomorrow than it is today.

© Stephen Heard ( Nov. 14, 2016, licensed CC-BY-4.0

Conference nametags mostly suck

I’ve been to a lot of conferences, and at every single one I’ve been issued a nametag.  I don’t know how those nametags get designed, but I’m guessing it’s mostly an afterthought.  That’s because they’re mostly terrible.  If you think about it, that’s pretty astounding – because as easy ways to improve a conference go, better nametags are such low-hanging fruit they’re practically lying on the ground.

Here’s a good place to start: what’s a nametag for?  Continue reading

Summer flashbacks

Has anybody asked you yet how you spent the summer you had “off”?  Did you see red?

My summer was busy.  I went to three major conferences (a major feat for someone who conferences as an introvert.  I read and commented on an endless river of thesis chapters and manuscripts.  I did some writing of my own.  And finally, since it was the summer “break”, I took two weeks of vacation – during which, controversially, I did a little bit of work.

I also posted a few things on Scientist Sees Squirrel, and if your summer was as busy as mine, you may have missed some of them.  Here’s a selection.

Welcome to the new academic year!

© Stephen Heard ( September 8, 2016

Graphic: Fisher's model of software updates

Fisher’s geometric model of software updates

Images: Fisher’s model visualization, own work; update progress bar by Jeff Attaway, somewhat dubiously CC BY 2.0.

Last month, the Toronto Star newspaper launched a “new and improved” website, which is nothing short of awful. The other day, the only game app I keep on my phone pushed an update, and now it’s noticeably harder to use than it was before. I’m nursing my laptop along because Windows 8 and Windows 10 are both worse than Windows 7. Why do “updates”, “upgrades”, and “new and improved” products so often seem worse than what they replace?

R.A. Fisher knew*. Continue reading

Searching for squirrels again

Image: flying squirrel, Offended-by-light via CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Inspired by similar exercises from Small Pond Science and The Lab and Field, I present a few of the more interesting search terms by which Scientist Sees Squirrel has been found.  These are all real, I swear – and they’re only the tip of the iceberg.  About 95% of searches are encrypted, so I don’t see them.  Imagine what gems are buried in the encrypted searches!

If you like this sort of thing, here’s the first installment.


why the people’s quirel? scientific reason Continue reading