Posts Tagged ‘statistics/obfuscations’

Dude : 0.5 Decades with microecos

4 April 2011

Technically this is called a "cluster-amplexus."

Were this blog a human child its (his?) head would be nearly adult size. Visual tracking would be well developed. Little microecos would be learning to skip and ride a wheeled toy with “speed and skillful steering.” He would be getting a handle on verb tense and object classification. He would get jokes and boast about his accomplishments. We’d be gearing up for kindergarten and shopping for kid-friendly cellular phones.

Of course, if this blog was, in fact, a human child, I would probably be in jail given the last few months of patent neglect, and, anyway, let’s be frank, dubious guardianship up to this point. I mean the standing borderline fugue state you have come to expect from this blog clearly betrays some deep-seated emotional trauma, right?

So yeah, five years.  So many broken links, spoiled references, disintegrating flimsy jokes, curious earnest comments. Half a decade on it seems this blog doesn’t need new content – it needs a freaking curator. And a new domain. And a companion Tumblr.  And a Twitter account. And a Twizzler. And a Bublé. And a Twickle. And some Audioblasts. And some new weekly features that I keep up with for a week, at least. And moar thalattosaurs. And more original music videos:

Maybe I’ll finish that bird meme I started in 2006.

I am five-years old. I am a tree. I impel my rolling steed with speed and skillful steering…


20 November 2008

B0006459 A diatom frustulePhoto Annie Cavanaugh – Wellcome Images Creative Commons 2.0

2Diatoms are dynamite.  They are also deeply rad and, one might say, totally protarded.  As a person interested in the evolutionary trajectory of marine ecosystems I follow the diatom evolution beat with great zeal.  So I was excited to see this paper pop up in Nature last week.

It’s an interesting paper, documenting exceptionally high rates of genomic evolution among diatoms and pervasive lateral gene transfer from bacteria to the diatom genome, though I must admit that many of the genetic details are above my head.  Once sentence (or rather, parenthetical clause) gave me pause however:

The more rapid evolutionary rates of diatoms compared with other organismal groups (for example, the fish–mammal divergence probably occurred in the Proterozoic era earlier than 550 Myr ago) is consistent with previous observations — Bowler and friends (2008)

Uh is it just me, or is that a, er, liberal estimate?  The authors cite the Clinton-era classic: Kumar and Hedges 1998 for that divergence date.  (You might remember the film adaptation, Kumar and Hedges go to HOVERGEN, where Neil Patrick Harris goes crazy and snorts coke off the electrophoresis tray).

Rereading that paper, it seems that the Bowler and co. are referring to the proposed timing of the Homo/hagfish split. The date they are looking for–the split between sarcopterygians (e.g. Homo) and actinopterygians (e.g. Takifugu)–is probably more like 450 Ma, at least based on Kumar and Hedges (1998), that date may have been updated since then I don’t know.  100 million years might seem like a trivial matter, but you know, 100 million years here or there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real time.  In this case, the disparity in genomic evolutionary rates between vertebrates and diatoms is reduced somewhat relative to what the authors report, although their overall point that centric and pennate diatoms have experienced relatively rapid genomic divergence over the past 90 Ma or so holds.

One wonders how a mistake like that (albeit not one of tremendous importance to the central thrust of the paper) slipped past all sexillion authors (seriously, check out the author list), the reviewers and the Nature editorial staff.

Whatever, diatoms are still totally toothpaste bro.


Bowler et. EVERYONE (2008) The Phaeodactylum genome reveals the evolutionary history of diatom genomes, Nature 456:13 doi:10.1038/nature07410.

Kumar and Hedges (1998) A molecular timescale for vertebrate evolution, Nature 392:30 doi:10.1038/31927

Jello shots don’t cure chlamydia…

13 November 2008

but they might provide temporary relief.  Of course you should always talk to your personal care provider before beginning any treatment program.


Some weeks ago, I wrote about using Google Trends to track natural phenomenon via search term proxy (See: Dust, Wind, Dude).  Unsurprisingly, those clever folks at Google were way ahead of me  and have recently unveiled Google Flu Trends a tool which tracks flu-related Google searches state-by-state as an index for the intensity of influenza activity.

The potential public health applications and, more amusingly, misapplications of this technique boggle the mind….


Seriously though, can’t they just release Picasa for Mac OS already?

Dust. Wind. Dude. Or, the comparative social phenology of Girls Gone Wild and Socrates

4 October 2008

If you have ever taken an introductory ecology course, you will no doubt remember C.S. Elton’s classic study of the periodic fluctations of lynx and hares.  In a textbook* case of Lotka-Volterra predator/prey interaction, Elton found that lynx and hare populations in northern Canada followed an astonishingly regular 9-10 year cycle.  Several years of steady increases in both lynx and hare numbers culminate in a dramatic crash and a brief lull, before the pattern repeats.

You may have forgotten however, where the original data came from.  Elton did not sit out in the Canadian Arctic with a notebook and a bottle of brandy counting animals.  Instead, he reviewed several decades worth of trapping records from the Hudson’s Bay Company (which happened to be his employer at the time) and noticed the pronounced periodicity in the number of lynx furs reported in the company’s annual inventory.

I noticed a striking periodicity in a very different sort of proxy record a few weeks ago when Alex Wild of Myrmecos fame posted a comparison of Google Trends data for the search terms “ants” and “flies”.  It appears that web search activity for “ants” hits a consistent annual peak around May and a consistent annual trough around Christmas, at least for the past four years.

When I commented on this on his blog, Alex pointed out that search records for many insects show a similar pattern, with search popularity seeming to peak sometime during the northern hemisphere summer.  Naturally I spent the rest of the night searching for biologically significant patterns in Google Trends.  Sure enough, interest in certain insect groups appears to show some interesting seasonal trends:

Phenology, the observation of regular seasonal patterns in nature, especially among animals and plants, lies squarely at the roots of natural history.  Humans have undoubtedly been tracking these patterns as long as we have relied on the seasonal availabilty of forage and game (and later crops and livestock) to survive.  That is to say, forever as far as our species is concerned. 

Google Trends allows users to explore a sort of “social phenolgy”–tracking rhythmic fluctations in public interest which, in the case of web searches for natural phenomenon presumably have at least some connection to the natural rhythms themselves.

Needless to say, I am now obsessed with exploring these patterns, searching for interesting patterns in the interest in birds, flowers and vegetables:

There are some other funny correlations out there:

I could do this all day!

* Of course as with any “textbook” example the truth is likely a bit more complex, and a debate about the nature of and mechanisms behind this pattern continues almost a century later.  Sunspots, disease, weather, fire, petroleum futures and the popularity of the name “Madison”, have all been proposed as important factors (see Stenseth et al. 1997 and Zhang et al. 2007[open access .pdf] for recent analyses).

Maybe I should go into Proctology…

20 December 2007

given my apparent inordinate fondness for colons. Despite my (clearly fictitious) loathing of auto-metabloggery, I’m going to jump on the whole first sentence of each month meme-wagon ‘coz well…I suppose I like self analysis as much as the next typer. So here are the first lines (or so) from the first microecos post of each month in 2007:

J’s a squirrel?


We’re still stalling on phugoid fliers, not to mention most beautiful bird #5.


To all in the Davis CA vicinity: Sunwise Co-op (my home) is having an Open-house/Naomh Pádraig memorial fest beginning mid-morning and (hopefully) extending past mid-night.


Forget about vertebrates: the salamanders that I could not find in Amador County were heavily outweighed by the arthropods that I did.


I wasn’t even aware that I actually knew any dirty limericks, but when I saw this PLoS One paper one popped from the depths of my subconscious like a roach emerging from beneath a rock:


Apologies for all of the accumulated leaf litter around here.


Perhaps some important linking source has expired?


A few days ago, in the post about vampire bat breath, I pondered: Oh those stable istopists what will they drop into the mass spec next??


Boneyard #5 is up at The Ethical Palaeontologist (oh, fine. I plugged that extra vowel in).


Something about the cover of Carl Zimmer’s new book looks a tad familiar…


Waiting in the lobby of the Austin Hilton, I glanced at my feet.


Web 2.0: boon or deathtrap for middling talent?

Well, I suppose we known the answer to that last question at least…

The Squid and the Bus

8 October 2007

Okay, I’ve been sitting on this one for awhile, waiting for:

a) BBC to run another squid story, and

b) The chance to stage a photo holding an uncooked calamari squid against one of Davis’ infamous (and hazardous!) double-decker buses

Lo! Much as Darwin was forced to rush his theory of natural selection to publication after a few short decades of musing, I’ve been goaded into action by an irresistible outside force that demands my immediate attention.

So in honor of the First Annual Cephalopod Awareness Day (!) please enjoy this ‘brief abstract’ of which I will someday provide a deep and thorough elaboration upon more befitting the quality writing you’ve come to expect here at microecos. Just think of it as my personal Origin .

Without any further ado, then, let us explore the evolution of the BBC’s celebrated Mesonychoteuthis v. London Double-Decker Bus diagram or as I like to call it, “The Incredible Shrinking ‘Colossal’ Squid”:

BBC NEWS, 2 April 2003 — “Super squid surfaces in Antarctica

That Sperm Whale looks freaked out.


BBC NEWS, 8 January 2004 — “New giant squid predator found

Oooh-look a border! Hey, where’d the whale go? Oh, eaten by a sleeper shark no doubt.

BBC NEWS, 28 September 2005 — “Live giant squid caught on camera

Wait, maybe the whale ate the shark. Giant and ‘Colossal’ both get downsized, and makeovers. Who’s the little guy?

BBC NEWS, 28 February 2006 — “Giant squid grabs London audience

New color scheme! Whale shrinks, Colossal grows back to ? size. Ominous caption: “Scientists admit they know little about the largest of the squid”

BBC NEWS, 14 February 2007 — “Large squid lights up for attack

Little guy’s back…actually mentioned in the text this time. What he lacks in brawn he makes up for in special effects, apparently swimming the wrong way though.

BBC NEWS, 15 March 2007 — “Colossal squid’s headache for science


BBC NEWS, 22 March 2007 — “Microwave plan for colossal squid

“Arghhh! They microwaved me down to shark bait!” Shouldn’t the mass figures be expressed in elephant equivalents?

And just to prove that everything is scarier in Russian:

Hmm, so if ?=20 and ???=25 then ??=uh, carry the one … invert the denominator … cross multiply. Damn, I never was any good at algebra.

Fortunately there’s a handy online calculator that allows me to convert any length into london-bus equivalents: the Size of Wales calculator!

An inky Cephalopod Day to all, go check out the tentacley goodness over at Cephalopodcast.

I Blame Sunspots or, an interval amidst Death Throes

21 July 2007


Perhaps some important linking source has expired? Or, possibly I have just jettied myself into a corner. The blogosphere may not be the place to attempt to test a reader’s patience across months. I could attempt to fake my own death, like Darren, but I’m afraid no one would know the difference 1.

We didn’t even turn up Indet. in the first survey of the Boneyard, which is nevertheless an exciting and interesting start to a new paleo Carnival. Thanks to Brian at Laelaps for getting the bones rolling. Issue #1 contains virtually everything you need to read about the current Dinosauromorphomania, short of the original paper including the original paper for those lucky enough to have web access to Science.

Admittedly, my submission on Argentavis was a bit more cursory than GrrlScientist’s. Well, somehow lumbering and cursory at the same time really. It also contained two mispellings of the taxon-in-question, as Google is quite happy to point out:

picture-6.png picture-7.png

Oh well, there’s always next week! As a consolation prize Brian did include a link on the Boneyard info page, which hopefully means he expects to see something worthy of inclusion sometime soon. And it’s already generating traffic.

1 – I should probably point out the baseline is set at 40, which I would once have considered a very respectable day and the peaks just barely pop above 250, which must be a dismal attendance at many blogs.