Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lincoln's First Hallowe'en 2013

This year we went to the 'trunk-or-treat' [1] at the Church the weekend before Hallowe'en and then on Hallowe'en day we took Lilli trick-or-treating in the neighborhood south of our apartment complex. It was cold and rainy, so we only went to about ten houses. This actually worked in our favor because the people we visited were afraid they wouldn't get any more trick-or-treaters, so they gave Lilli handfuls of candy. She quickly caught on and started asking for "another person" as soon as she'd gotten her candy from someone.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Learning Numbers

It's been a while since Lilli learned her alphabet and what sounds are associated with each letter.[1] So lately we've been trying to teach Lilli her numbers, but somewhere along the way she got it in her head that they go: "one, two, three, nine…" [2] Despite extensive coaching, that's still what she usually says. I've been focued so much on correcting this issue that I didn't realize that Leann had moved on to higher numbers. So, I was a bit surprised when, while shooting this video, Lilli got past five and kept going!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Morning Fog

Fog is one of my favorite weather patterns. Getting lost in it doesn't bother me at all (driving in it doesn't bother me terribly, either [1]). I like how it dampens sound, making everything seem serene and peaceful (I like the same thing about snowfall). A week after Lincoln was born [2], when we all woke up it was foggy outside. I took Lilli for little walk around our apartment complex and took some pictures. Since I don't really have any comments to give about the pictures, I'm also sharing a poem that I wrote in college about fog.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Little Singer

Lilli has enjoyed music for a long time, now. When we still lived in Provo she became obsessed with "Call Me Maybe" (in particular the version by the US Olympic swimming team [1]). Another example: she hates riding in the car, but she'll tolerate it if we let her listen to a Disney soundtrack (her current favorite is The Little Mermaid). However, it wasn't until recently that she's started memorizing lyrics and singing them herself. It started with The Alphabet Song [2] and has been slowly expanding ever since. Here are some of the other children's songs she's learned:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

See, I Told You So

One of the small conflicts Leann and I had early in our marriage was due to the fact that she incessantly locks the front door. Several times she locked me out when I'd only stepped out for a moment, such as to take out the trash. I found this behavior to be excessive—especially on the night that she manage to lock us both out. We were both in our pajamas. I was forced to go to a neighbor's house and ask to use their phone to call a locksmith.[1] Leann learned this behavior (obsessively locking the front door) from her mother. Even though they live far out in the country she locks the door because she's afraid of weirdos 'out there'. All of that gave me the idea for this story.

NOTE: I've annotated this story, but I recommend you read it all the way through before reading the notes.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hallowe'en Bulwer-Lyttons I

I've previously described the concept behind the Bulwer-Lytton contest [1], but I'll briefly refresh you on the main points. The gist of it is to write the worst possible opening line for a novel. There is a formal contest held every year by the English Department of San José State University [2], but my friends of the former BYU 38th Ward Book Club and I like to hold an informal one every year for Hallowe'en (as part of what we call The Kingdom of Horror). What follows are the worst first lines I could come up with in the inaugural year of the Hallwe'en Bulwer-Lytton (2011). I am only posting my own creations here; however, if you just can't get enough of bad opening lines, you can also read those of my friends.[3] (Warning: Some are not for the faint in heart.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mayan Hieroglyphs VI

It's been a few years, now, since I last drew Mayan hieroglyphs [1], but now that we have a fourth member of our family [2] it's time to draw another. A quick glance at the archives will show that my posting frequency has been in decline. So even though Lincoln was born three weeks ago, it's taken me a while to actually post about it. I finished the drawing for this post several days ago, but I'm just now posting the description.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Henry Villas Zoo

When my sisters Melissa and Ashley were visiting a few weeks ago (when Lincoln was born [1]), we tried to go visit the Olbrich Botanical Gardens and Bolz Conservatory.[2] The website said the grounds were open until 8 PM, so we went around 4:30 PM. When we got there, it looked like it was closed. Unbeknownst to us they had closed early because of a severe storm advisory. But not all of the gates were closed, so we found a way in. We'd only been wandering around the gardens for a few minutes when it began to rain. So we slowly began to make our way back to the car. Then it began to pour. We were all soaked, including Lilli (but she didn't mind because I caught a toad and let her hold it [3]). I thought I could drive around Lake Monona and reach the hospital, but I got lost. We didn't get there until dinner time, so we stopped and bought some pizza from Pizza Hut. Needless to say, the visit to the botanical gardens was a bust: we didn't have time to see very many of the plants or take any pictures. So the next day we went to Madison's Henry Villas Zoo.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Graphical Web Page Representation

Today I stumbled onto this website: It runs an applet (so you must have Java installed) that analyzes the html code of any website you submit (must start with http://) and creates a representative graphical output. The result is pretty neat. Below I'll show you some of the maps I've created using this website.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Unexpected Delivery II

On the last day of my trip to Norwich, England [1], I was blithely sitting in the library of the John Innes Centre doing some DNA sequence analysis when my boss, the director of the Engineering Nitrogen Symbiosis for Africa project [2], and a postdoc who has a lot of managerial responsibilites on the ENSA project all came running up to me to tell me that Leann had gone into labor. (Leann was quick to point out that I appear to have a habit of being incommunicado when she goes into labor—when she went into labor with Lilli she tried to send my then-boss, Dr. Joel Griffitts, to find me because I wasn't answering my phone.) This was something of a surprise since she wasn't due for another four weeks (but it wasn't a complete surprise since Lilli was eight weeks early [3]). When I got on the plane to fly out of Norwich, Leann still hadn't delivered, but by the time I'd landed in Detroit our son, Lincoln had already been born. (My plane was somewhere over the English Channel when it happened.[4]) So, I wasn't there. But my sister Ashley was, and my sister Melissa, who was also visiting, watched Lilli. What follows is Leann's version of the events (transcribed partially by her mother and partially by me).

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Airline Movie Reviews

This post consists of reviews of the movies I watched during my trans-Atlantic flights on my recent trip to Norwich, England.[1] And, since I have your attention, I'll throw in a few others, including books I read on the flight/during layovers, and a few other things I've read or watched recently. First up is Prometheus, a sort of prequel to the Alien series of movies. Next up is a new film rendition of The Great Gatsby. Then I review Argo, a film based on the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. After that is Oblivion, a post-apocalyptic film where humans have abandoned the Earth and are harvesting its oceans so they can survive off-planet. The fifth movie I watched on my flights was Rango, but I've already reviewed that.[2] Since I've been back I've also watched Iron Man 3. During the flight I finished three books. The first was The Wind Whales of Ishmael, which imagines that the narrator of Moby Dick accidentally travels millions of years into the future. Then I read one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, King John. Finally, I read Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson, which is about a mysterious artifact that is discovered on Pluto. After that I discuss an English cookie (they call it a biscuit), Coronet Bourbon Creams, and a new brand of rolled tortilla chips, Quitos.

Product Review: Gatorade: Limón Pepino

While riding a bus from Minneapolis back to Madison after the 22nd North American Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation Conference [1], we stopped at a remote gas station somewhere between the two cities. I was feeling rather thirsty, so I was browsing the drink selection when I spotted this drink. I was intrigued because I'd had agua de pepino ("cucumber water") when I was serving as an LDS missionary in México [2], and had enjoyed it. So I gave this one a chance.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Matt's Trip to England

Last week I went to Norwich, England (which they pronounce NORR-idge, mouse over for IPA) with my boss for a conference related to the research I'm doing with rhizobia and cereals.[1] I was supposed to depart at 7 am on Saturday the 14th but I missed my flight because 1. my cab was 40 minutes late and 2. I forgot my passport. T-Mobile service in Madison is pretty shoddy, so my calls kept getting dropped. It was just as well, I suppose, because the first four tellers I talked to wouldn't let me keep the original flights I'd purchased tickets for. They all wanted to sell me new itineraries for an additional $1100 to $2300. The fifth teller put me back on my original flights and just sold me a new ticket from Madison to Detroit. (Leann brought me my passport.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Book Review: The Year's Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection

I've previously read at least one of the The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling: the 7th (1993). I suspect that I've read another, but if I did I don't remember which one it was. Anyway, I generally enjoyed the 1993 edition (with the glaring exceptions of "Dying in Bangkok" by Dan Simmons and "The Last Crossing" by Thomas Tessier—I had to stop reading both of them before finishing because they were so vile), so when I spotted this in a thrift shop I decided to purchase it. I will review each story separately and then the collection as a whole at the end.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Movie Review: The Host

I knew that The Host was based on a book by Stephenie Meyer, the same author who wrote the Twilight series. So when I decided to rent The Host from RedBox I just assumed that there would be a RiffTrax [1] available to help me make it through the movie unscathed. To my surprise RiffTrax hasn't done anything with The Host, yet. But by then it was too late—I'd already come home with the DVD. So we watched it commentary-free.

Movie Review: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 and Part 2 (RiffTrax)

Breaking Dawn [1] was 756 pages long (hardcover) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [2] was 759 pages long (hardcover). Both were made into two movies, each. The Hobbit wasn't even half as long as either, clocking in at a mere 310 pages long. I imagine that when the producers of Breaking Dawn, Part 1 and Part 2 and the producers of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 and Part 2 found out that Peter Jackson was making The Hobbit into three movies, they all facepalmed.[3] As it was, two movies was a lot of Breaking Dawn to take. So let's all be glad that The Hobbit wasn't around to put dangerous ideas into their heads.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Wisconsin Fungi and Slime Molds

Because of its humid, temperate climate, Wisconsin is host to a greater diversity of fungi and slime molds than Utah.[1] Slime molds used to be classified as fungi (hence the word mold in their name), but they are now classified as amoebas. When food is scarce, the amoebas congregate into a sticky mass (hence the word slime in their name) so that they can create a reproductive structure. A few days ago I went on a walk with Lilli around our apartment complex and took some pictures.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Leading Edge, Issue 61

Technically this isn't a book review, it's a review of the 61st issue of the BYU science fiction publication, Leading Edge.[1] I borrowed it from my neighbor who has, in the past, worked on the slush pile [2] and later as a webmaster for the magazine. This particular issue was the "30th Anniversary Edition" and featured special solicited contributions from well-known authors Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, and Dan Wells. I'll give a mini-review of each of the short stories contained therein, but I won't be reviewing the interview, art, book reviews, poetry, or writing tips.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Logo Ambigrams

It's been a while since I posted any ambigrams.[1] That's partly because of how busy I was working on my dissertation last year. It's also because of some of the technical demands in this batch of ambigrams. I wanted to take logos that already existed and convert them into ambigrams. So not only did I have to make words that were mostly legible when read in either direction, but I also had to maintain, as much as possible, the visual style and integrity of the original logo.

NOTE: to pause the animated .gif images, simply hit the ESC key on your keyboard. To resume, hit the refresh button on your browser.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: Pirate Latitudes

Michael Crichton died in late 2008 of throat cancer.[1] Several months later, in 2009, his publishers (HarperCollin) reported that they had found two manuscripts that he was working on before his death. One was a novel technothriller about fringe technologies, called Micro, which was published in 2011. The other was a novel about pirates [2] that Crichton had been working on sinced the 1970s.[3] This one was given the title Pirate Latitudes and was published in 2009.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Matt Gets Published! III

When I started my Ph.D. at BYU, in 2007, the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology [1] had a loose, unwritten rule that Ph.D. candidates needed to publish two scientific papers before receiving their degree—the first to prove you could do it and the second to prove that the first wasn't a fluke. My first publication towards my degree [2] concerned several plasmids (extra, but expendable, pieces of DNA carried by some bacteria) that interfered with the symbiosis between the soil bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti and it's legume host (plants in the genus Medicago, which includes alfalfa). My second paper towards my Ph.D. didn't actually appear in print until this month (even though I've already graduated [2] and moved to Madison, Wisconsin to work on a post-doc [3]). Since it was written and ready to sumbit, my Ph.D. committee felt I was ready to defend.

The End of Procrastination IV

Last year, as the deadline for my dissertation began to loom, lots of my personal projects got put on hold. A few weeks ago, when I went to Minneapolis for the 22nd North American Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation Conference [1], I had lots of time on the bus. There was supposed to be wi-fi, but it was out more often than not. So I took the time to touch up some of the photos I've been meaning to upload to Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book Review: The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology

After I graduated, my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Joel Griffitts, presented me with a book. When other students have departed the lab he gave them copies of David McCullough's 1776 or the autobiographical John Adams, by the same author. So when he threw a going-away party for me following my dissertation effense, I expected to be given one of those two books. But, to my pleasant surprise, I received The Eighth Day of Creation, by Horace Freeland Judson. The book is touted as the history of the origins of molecular biology, but it's actually two histories because Judson often takes time to describe the interviews he conducted with all of the major players in said origins. So it's a history of molecular biology and a history of Judson's meetings with the very scientists whose work he was curating.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Distribution Maps XI: Actinorhizal Plants

I've mentioned before my interest in the symbiotic association between a specific type of soil bacteria, called rhizobia, and legumes.[1] However, this isn't the only symbiosis found in nature where a bacterium fixes nitrogen for a legume host—it's not even the only symbiosis where the plant host forms a root nodule for the bacteria to inhabit. Besides rhizobia, there is a genus of bacteria, called Frankia, that form root nodules on several non-legume plants. These plants are known as actinorhizal plants. I've made distribution maps for some of the actinorhizal genera.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Lilli has been able to sing The Alphabet Song for quite a while now. She can also sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; I Am a Child of God, several nursery rhymes, and a few songs from Disney movies…but never when the camera is on. If she sees Leann or me taking a video the song immediately degenerates into silliness and babbling. We've tried for a long time to get a decent video for Lilli's admiring public, but in vain.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


The night I got back from the 22nd North American Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation Conference [1], Leann had to come pick me up at the bus station. I didn't get in until after Lilli's bedtime, so we had a friend come over and babysit (read: watch The Singles Ward while she slept) while Leann came to get me. While bringing my luggage into the apartment I spotted a medium-sized American Toad (Bufo americanus) hopping across the sidewalk. Of course, I had to catch it. The next morning I showed it to Lilli and then we let it go.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Last week I attended the 22nd North American Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation Conference.[1] This time it was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota (my first venture into that state). I've also attended the 21st North American Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation Conference, which was held in Colombus, Missouri in 2010 [2] (I brought back two ticks with me from a day trip we took at that conference) and the 16th International Congress on Nitrogen Fixation, which was held in Big Sky, Montana in 2009.[3] I presented a poster at the meeting based on the research I've been doing since I started a postdoc in Wisconsin earlier this year.[4][5] There were lots of interesting topics covered, including identification and characterization of key plant and bacterial genes involved in the development of root nodules, genetics of rhizobia, genetics of legumes, genomics, and a fascinating talk from a fellow who is part of the N2Africa project funded by the Gates Foundation.[6]

Friday, July 19, 2013


There are several things we don't like about Wisconsin [1]: the winters are wet and slushy, the summers are humid and muggy, most of our friends and family are far away, ceiling lighting doesn't come standard, there are no mountains, etc. But…

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Petting Farm

As part of Lilli's birthday celebration [1], we took her to Eugster's petting farm [2], which is about 20 minutes southeast of us in Stoughton. The staff was very friendly and inviting and so were the animals.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Lilli Turns Two!

A week ago yesterday Lilli turned two years old. While I was at work, Lilli helped Leann make the cupcakes for her birthday. Well, maybe she just helped lick the frosting off the beater… I came home half an hour early just for the occaision. When I walked through the front door I saw that the apartment had been transformed during my absence. There was yellow crêpe paper strung all over the kitchen—including streamers attached to the blades of the ceiling fan (which is actually pretty cool when you turn it on). Lilli was running around with two punch balloons (Leann prefers these because they're less likely to pop). And there was a big pile of presents in the living room. For dinner we ate her favorite food: beef pot pies.[1]

Monday, July 8, 2013

Horsey Ride

I've been waiting for a long time to post this video because I expected to accumulate more. It's me pretending to be a horse with Lilli riding on my back. She also likes to crawl around with me pretending to be kitties or bears. But the weeks are stretching out and we still don't have videos of the kitties or bears. So here's the horsey video.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Matter of Scale

This morning I began wondering how a bacterium living on a human being would compare, in scale, to a human being living on the Earth. Before I present you with the actual comparisons, first we need some dry facts:
  • An average cell of E. coli is 2 µm long, 0.5 µm in circumference, and 0.6 µm3 in volume.[1][2]
  • An average adult human being is 1.7 m tall [3], 96 cm in circumference [4], and 0.07 m3 in volume.[5]
  • The Earth is (on average) 12,742 km in diameter; 40,075 km in circumference; and 1.08 trillion km3 in volume.[6]
And for fun:
  • The moon is (on average) 1737 km in diameter; 10,921 km in circumference; and 22 billion km3 in volume.[7]
Now for the calculations:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Television Review: Once Upon a Time…, Season 2

The first season of Once Upon a Time…[1] was intriguing because it took the LOST formula of developing characters through flashbacks and applied them to fairy tale characters before and after they were cursed into our world (and simultaneously had their memories wiped). In this season the curse has been partially lifted and the characters all remember who they are. However, there are still some fairy tales that the show hasn't tapped.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Television Review: Elementary, Season 1

I must admit, when I first read that in this incarnation of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries that Dr. Watson was going to be played by a Chinese-American woman (Lucy Liu), I was skeptical. However, I felt like they've handled that alteration of the basic storyline pretty well. Leann and I got sucked into this series pretty quickly and it was one of our favorite shows during this last fall–spring schedule (along with Arrow [1]).

Movie Review: Skyfall

I don't think I've watched any of the James Bond movies made before 1995 (Goldeneye) all the way through. So my major experience with the franchise has been with Pierce Brosnan in the role of James Bond. But he was always a little bit cheesy in the role. Casino Royale, a reboot of the franchise with Daniel Craig in the main role, was a breath of fresh air. It was edgy and made James Bond a character instead of a caricature. This is the third film to star Craig as James Bond.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Many Movie Reviews III

In this round of concatenated movie reviews I'll be discussing the chamber play-like film, Arsenic and Old Lace. After that is Ballet Shoes, a BBC production of a popular story about three plucky orphans adopted by an old fossil collector. Next is The Black Stallion, which is about a young boy and his horse. The Bourne Legacy follows, which is kind of a "side-quel" to the Bourne trilogy. After that is Dinosaur Wars, a documentary about the so-called "Bone Wars" between the paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope (and to a lesser extend Joseph Leidy).[1][2] Then I review Flawless, a 2007 thriller about a daring diamond heist concoted by a janitor and an underappreciated female executive. This is followed by I Am Number Four, a film about a refugee alien hiding on our planet. Strangely enough, the film rights were bought a year and a half before the source material (a book by "Pittacus Lore") was even published.[3] After that is Ink, an independently-produced fantasy film that actually became commercially succesful as a result of illegal sharing on peer-to-peer networks.[4] In succession I consider the merits of the time-travel romance Kate & Leopold. Next up is The Secret of NIMH, an animated feature that I was quite fond of as a child. Then we have Skyline, a low-budget rip-off of Battlefield: Los Angeles.[5] In fact, the guys that did the special effects for Battlefield: Los Angeles were the directors of this movie. And, taking a cue from The Asylum [6], they whipped out this 'mockbuster' four months before the release of Battlefield: Los Angeles. Next up is the comic book adaptation, Thor. This is followed by my thoughts on the  steampunk western action-comedy film, Wild Wild West. Last we have The Woman in Black, ostensibly a ghost story but really just an attempt by Daniel Radcliffe to escape his Harry Potter past.[7]

Warning: There are a lot of spoilers. Rather than hide them all, I'm warning you here. Proceed at your own discretion.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Movie Review: Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus

I used to see this film (by The Asylum, who usually specialize in spitting out 'mockbusters' a few months before the blockbuster they're intended to capitalize on) hanging out in the RedBox machine. (It's been a while since I patronized RedBox, so it's possible that it's still there.) But I never got around to renting it. Then signed up for Netflix. Netflix had it, too, so I put it in my queue, but never got around to watching it. Then we got cable television. And I found it again. So, I recorded it and (hopefully you've guessed it) this time I watched it.

Fitchburg Days

Before Leann's parents came to visit and then take her and Lilli on a two-week trip to Texas [1], we took Lilli to the Fitchburg Days fair. Fitchburg is a suburb of Madison that lies to the South. We live so close to Fitchburg that we can walk to the boundary between the two cities in a matter of minutes. Strangely, according to the boundaries drawn by Google Maps we don't live in Madison or Fitchburg. Anyway, Fitchburg Days ran from May 17–19 and that Saturday we took Lilli because there was going to be a free 'animal interaction' put on by the Heartland Farms Animal Sanctuary.[2]

A Brief Return to Bachelorhood

A few weeks ago Leann's parents came up to visit and then when they left they took Leann and Lilli with them. They were in Texas for two weeks, but I had to stay in Madison for work. Here are some of the things I did while they were gone (and when I wasn't working).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Product Review: Nestlé: 和苺 (wa-ichigo) Kit-Kat

The Japanese word 苺 (ichigo) means "strawberry".[1] The package says 和苺, but 和 (wa) means "peace"/"harmony", "sum", or "Japanese".[2] A similar-looking character, 味 (aji), however, means "flavor" or "taste.[3] So I'm unsure what to think. Are they trying to say this a harmonious strawberry Kit Kat? A Japanese strawberry Kit Kat? Or did someone mess up and it's supposed to say strawberry-flavored Kit Kat? Interestingly, the first two options could refer to the fact that a specific Japanese variety of strawberry, the Tochiotome (とちおとめ) strawberry, is used. According to enthusiasts [4], the Tochiotome strawberry has a perfect harmony of sweetness and tartness. So maybe this is a Japanese harmonious strawberry-flavored Kit Kat?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Television Review: Arrow, Season 1

The CW's Arrow was written and filmed to have a gritty, urban realism like Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. In fact, there are too many parallels with Batman: when Oliver Queen (a.k.a. the Green Arrow) isn't crimefighting, he's a rich playboy; he has an underground lair; he uses technology, but not guns; it looks like he's about to pick up a young, metrosexual sidekick; his decision to become a crimefighter is informed by the death of a parent; and in the comic books he even has an Arrow-plane (yeah, they went there).

Television Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 5

Well, thanks to Leann and Lilli going to visit family in Texas for two weeks, I'm finally caught up on Star Wars: The Clone Wars.[1] It has been announced that all the episodes for a sixth season were completed before the Star Wars franchise was sold to Disney and those will somehow be made available (possibly by being broadcast on a Disney-owned channel), but there probably won't be a seventh.[2] However, there is a hint that a new animated Star Wars series will be produced.[3] I certainly hope to see the sixth season of the current series, but I'm also willing to acknowledge that this season left things at a reasonably decent stopping point (see below). So if this season ended up being the last hurrah, I wouldn't be disappointed to see it end here.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Book Review: Ishmael

[This is a guest book review from my dad. The footnotes are mine.]

I read the book, Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, at the suggestion of a colleague of mine who had read it. The quick-and-dirty substance of the book is the angst of a lost child of the 1960s whose desire to change the world was not realized. In a hard-to-believe scenario, he falls under the spell of a telepathic gorilla.[1] To wander further down the path of unbelievability, the monkey has been educated by a wealthy Jew who has purchased him. The Jew dies and his surviving spinster daughter continues to be the monkey’s patron until she dies, at which time he is sold to a circus. The storyline, as dictated by the gorilla, is that through the evolutionary process, from the lightning strike in the primordial ooze to present day, everything was all right until a faction of the Homo sapiens line decided to abandon the wandering tribal life (the “leavers”) to form an agrarian society. This society then proceeds to destroy the whole system in their quest for stability. The endgame of the book is that the unfulfilled, lost, 60s throwback fails again to find fulfillment in saving the world and the bad guys (the “takers” [2]) win again, only to face the specter of the telepathic monkey’s prophecy that they will self-consume as a society.[3]

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Television Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 4

Those of you who know me know that I am a big fan of Star Wars. When this cartoon series began, I was quite excited and diligently watched each new episode as it came out.[1] But since then I've fallen behind, and since then the series has wrapped up. Apparently there is more material, but further work on the series has been cancelled following the sale of the Star Wars franchise to Disney.[2] It is unclear how that material will be made available to the public.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Distribution Maps X: Bearded Manakins

Bearded manakins are small birds found in Central and South America. I learned about them by reading a scientific article entitled "Comparison of Species Tree Methods for Reconstructing the Phylogeny of Bearded Manakins (Aves: Pipridae, Manacus) from Multilocus Sequence Data."[1] Within the article was a map representing the ranges for the four species of bearded manakins. I redrew the map as an .svg, separated it into indivual maps for each species, and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons. And, of course, I inserted them into the appropriate article over at Wikipedia.

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The filmmakers of Star Trek Into Darkness played coy with us (and in a few cases outright lied to us). They said the villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock [1] fame) would be "Harry Mudd, or Trelane, or Gary Mitchell, or the Talosians or the Horta."[2] Later as trailers, screenings, and interviews began we were given the name for Cumberbatch's character: John Harrison…which wasn't any of the three we were originally told. Then things really started getting fishy. One of the new characters was revealed to be Dr. Carol Marcus. And there was a trailer with some highly evocative scenes reminscent of a previous Star Trek movie.[3] If you haven't already figured it out, I reveal the identity of the villain below. Proceed at your own risk.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Product Review: Neal's Yard: Ticklemore cheese

My in-laws are in town this week and a few days ago we all took a trip up to Capitol Square. We wandered around for a while and entered a few shops.[1] One of the shops we hit was a cheese shop, called Fromagination. They had a decent selection and an impressive amount of cheeses out for sampling. Ostensibly one of the purposes of our trip was so that I could buy a goat cheese or a sheep cheese. So I did. (This one is a British goat cheese.[2]) After that we went to a Japanese restaurant for dinner and then, after Lilli went to bed, Leann and I went to a movie (Star Trek: Into Darkness).[3]

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Distribution Maps IX: Hammerhead Sharks

One day I was reading about hammerhead sharks on Wikipedia.[1] There are two genera of hammerhead shark: Eusphyra and Sphyrna. Eusphyra has a single species, while Sphyrna has eight species. The characteristic shape of their heads improves their peripheral vision and their ability to detect electrical charges (electroreception). As I was reading, I noticed that they had distribution maps for the different species, but they were all ugly, low-resolution .png images. So I created new, crisp .svg images and inserted them into the appropriate articles. You can see them below.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Many Movie Reviews II

This is my next round of mass movie reviews. We'll start with The Adjustment Bureau, a tale about a Democratic [1] presidential candidate who discovers that there is a secret (and supernatural) organization trying to put him in office. After that is The Big Year, a film about competing birders that is loosely based on the real Big Year competition of 1998.[2] This is followed by my thoughts on Captain America: The First Avenger. Then we have The Conspirator, a film by Robert Redford about a woman, Mary Surratt, accused of involvement in the plot to assassiante Abraham Lincoln because the conspirators assembled at her hotel. Next up is Dante's Peak, a thriller about a man whose dire predictions of an impending volcano are ignored. This is followed by my thoughts on Jeremiah Johnson, a film loosely based on the real-life mountain man, Liver-Eating Johnson. Then I review Legend, a fantay film from the early 1980s, which draws a lot of imagery from the Bible (Garden of Eden, Fall, Redemption). Following this is Alfred Hitchcock's classic film, Rear Window. After that is Return to Oz, an attempt by Disney to start an Oz film franchise. Next up is Season of the Witch, about a woman accused of causing the Black Death. And I wrap things up with a review of Star Trek, the recent reboot of the series by J. J. Abram.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: The Alchemy of Air

I was given this book by my postdoctoral advisor as a gift. One of the graduate students in my lab recommended it to him and after he'd read it he decided to buy a copy for everyone else in the lab.[1] It is primarily a biography of two men, Fritz Haber (1868–1934) and Carl Bosch (1874–1940). Fritz Haber was a German chemist who developed a chemical process to convert inert atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into ammonium (NH3), which can then be used to make fertilizer or explosives. Carl Bosch, a chemist employed by the German chemical company BASF, perfected this process and scaled it up to industrial levels. Thus this process is usually refered to as the Haber–Bosch process. For their work they each received a Nobel Prize, Haber in 1918 and Bosch in 1931.[2] This book also details the role fertilizers played in world history before the development of the Haber–Bosch process as well as the involvement Haber and Bosch (and their process) had in World War I and World War II.[3]

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Easter 2013

Well, I must apologize. I had every intention of posting about our Easter this year within a few days after it happened. But for some reason I forgot. I only just discovered the pictures and videos on the camera. So I've quickly thrown together a little post showing some of the highlights of Easter this year.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cheese and Cracker Reviews

This year for our anniversary (we've been married for six years, now), Leann let me pick out a few new cheeses to try. I decided to go with Roaring Forties Blue, which is made by King's Island Dairy. It gets its name from the Roaring Forties gales, >100 kmph westerly winds that hit the King's Island, which lies between Australia and Tasmania on the 40th parallel south.[1] I also chose a cheddar-style cheese made right here in Wisconsin, called Pastures (shown to the right), from Saxon Creamery.[2] The third cheese I chose was Caerphilly, a crumbly white cheese from Wales.[3] To go with these I bought Milton's Crispy Sea Salt baked crackers.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Many Movie Reviews I

Well, dear readers, things have intervened in my life here and there and I now have a huge backlog of review posts. In order to trim this down I'm posting several at once. This saves me time because I'm not writing a full intro for each one. Hopefully you can still get something out of them. In this post I'll share my thoughts on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is about a kid who is just starting middle school and wants to improve his popularity—at almost any expense. After that is Driving Miss Daisy, a movie about an aging woman who has to start using a chauffeur even though she doesn't want to. Incidentally, it is also the last PG-rated film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture (in 1989). This is followed by a review of L'Illusionniste (The Illusionist), a 2010 French cartoon about an out-of-luck magician (not to be confused with the 2006 American live-action film about an audacious magician). Then I review I.Q., a romantic comedy about Albert Einstein's neice and an auto mechanic. This is followed by Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a road-trip comedy about incompatible traveling companions. Next we have Pries☩, a 2011 post-apocalyptic film about vampirse and the Catholic priests who hunt them, based on a Korean comic book. After that I review the 2010 film RED, which is based on a comic book about a retired CIA black ops agent (the title of the movie stands for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous."). Next up is S1m0ne, a film about a down-and-out movie director who tries to pass a digital actress off as a real person. Then there's The Social Network, which tells the story of how Facebook came to be, followed by Unstoppable, which is based on the CSX 8888 incident of 2001.[1] The last review is for Yogi Bear, a live-action/computer-animated version of the classic cartoon show.

Video Game Review: LEGO The Lord of the Rings

After getting to play awesome LEGO versions of Star Wars [1], Pirates of the Caribbean [2], and Harry Potter [3], I (and probably many, many others) began to fantasize about what other movie franchises would make great LEGO video games. Among my favorites were Alien, The Chronicles of Narnia, Jurassic Park, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, The Mummy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Terminator, and X-Men.[4] But the one that absolutely just had to happen was LEGO The Lord of the Rings. I mean there's a character named Legolas, for crying out loud! On top of that, Warner Borthers owned the licensing rights and they'd already licensed several other properties to Traveller's Tales (Batman and Harry Potter) for LEGO games. But even though I was sure it was going to happen I was still pleasantly surprised when the announcement finally came out. Leann gave it to me for my birthday last year.

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

I hated the 2002 Spider-Man movie almost from the instant it began. The voice-over narration at the beginning was cheesy and having Tobey Maguire be the actor to read it only made it worse. What a terrible case of poor casting. To make matters worse, the power went out halfway through the movie so we had to come back another day to re-watch it.[1] However, Spider-Man 2 was good enough that it redeemed the first movie enough that I now own them both. We do not speak of Spider-Man 3. The Amazing Spider-Man is a reboot of the series. Unfortunately that means that we have to rewatch a lot of Spider-Man's origins (the fateful spider bite, Uncle Ben's demise, etc.) as well as rewatch him discovering his new powers and learning to use them.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Movie Review: John Carter

I first saw a trailer for John Carter when I went to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 3D.[1] I thought it looked pretty awesome and I was eager to see it. Leann and I don't make it to the movie theater that often, anymore, so it's taken me a while to actually watch this film. But in the meantime I read several of the books in the 'Barsoom' series. This one is actually based mostly on A Princess of Mars.[2] but also incorporates a few elements from The Gods of Mars.[3]

Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Review: The Master Mind of Mars

The Master Mind of Mars retreads the "super brain at the expense of everything else" vs. "average at everything (but really super brawn)" theme from The Chessmen of Mars.[1] In that book there are creatures, called kaldanes, which are little more than large-brained heads that can switch bodies (which they call rykors) at will. The kaldanes didn't care what gender of rykor they assumed; it just had to be humanoid. In this book, a mad scientist has been experimenting with swapping brains between the bodies of different creatures, but he has no reservations whatsoever—a woman's brain into a man's body, a man's brain into an ape's body, two halves of different brains into the body of a third, and so on. An Earthman (not John Carter, this time [2]) discovers this scientist and helps him with his gruesome work for a while until he falls in love with one of the female subjects. He inevitably defies the mad scientist and the rest of the novel ensues.

Book Review: The Chessmen of Mars

Despite the title of the book, the Earthly game of chess is never played by any of the characters. Instead, Edgar Rice Burroughs invented a new chess-like game for the Martians to play, with its own unique pieces and rules: jetan. But that left Burroughs with a conundrum: to entitle the book The Jetan-Men of Mars might be confusing or even offputting to potential readers but to entitle the book The Chessmen of Mars would be inaccurate. He finally went with the latter. Jetan is supposedly a representation of the ancient animosity between the Yellow Martians and the Black Martians. However, the reason it appears in the title is because at one point a giant jetanboard is introduced and live players are forced to take the place of pieces and fight to the death to capture a given square. As far as I can tell, Burroughs was the first to write such a scene.[1]

Book Review: Thuvia, Maid of Mars

After three books about John Carter, Edgar Rice Burroughs finally decided to try writing about another character in his Barsoom series.[1] This time we're reading about Carthoris, John Carter's son (though the apple doesn't fall far from the tree). Burroughs also switched from the first person narrative he used while telling about John Carter to third person with an omniscient narrator. So in a few instances we actually get to see some scenes from the point of view of the titular character, Thuvia, who first appeared in the second book, The Gods of Mars.[2]

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sulfur-containing Amino Acids

I was recently working on a submission for a pass-along story [1][2] I've been writing with some of my friends for a few years now, which we call Blood Faith.[3] It concerns a secret world of vampires (no relation to the creatures found in the Twilight books and movies [4]). It is written in epistolary fashion, much like the famous vampire novel Dracula or C. S. Lewis' novel The Screwtape Letters. The first several letters are pedagogic, explaining many aspects of the vampires' secret society, while the later letters transition into a narrative about several vampires who discover additional secrets that the rank-and-file vampires are unaware of. Even though we're far into the narrative at this point, I decided to go back and write another pedagogic letter about the effects of garlic on vampires. While researching various chemical compounds found in garlic, I discovered that the chemical structures for several of these compounds weren't available on Wikimedia Commons. So I made them myself.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Thorny Crown

Leann and I were asked to speak in Church Last Sunday.[1] Leann was asked to speak on how the Atonement of Jesus Christ helps us to overcome our trials and I was asked to focus my remarks on how the Atonement of Jesus Christ helps us to love other people. What follows is the bulk of my talk with a few improvements made here and there. I've also included references and some annotations.


As I've previously mentioned [1], Lilli is pretty good at imitating new words that we teach her. One time, while filming her, I asked her to say "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." Of course, she was unable to:

But then I decided it would be fun to get her to say the syllables separately, on different occasions, and then crop all the videos and stitch them together. She's so cute in each of the videos that I wasn't satisfied to only upload the finished product. So you get to watch the uncut videos for each syllable, first.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cute Little Curls

When I was born I was a little baldy. Soon my hair came in (though now it's on its way out) and for a while I even had a fringe of curls but eventually those got clipped. As far back as I can remember I haven't let my hair get long enough to see if it still curls. My sisters' hair doesn't curl anymore, so I suspect that it was just a thing of childhood. Lilli finally has enough hair that she has that same fringe of curls (so I guess it's heritable). Throughout the day the curls get kind of limp but right after she takes a bath they really pop.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Making Piles

Lilli has recently developed a penchant for making piles. She usually does this with her stuffed toys. She'll throw them in a corner, in the hall, on the couch, into her crib, etc. A few "not like the others" toys find their way into these piles, including a baby doll and her piggy bank.[1] And sometimes, just to stir things up, she'll also throw a handful of puzzle pieces or bead necklaces over the top. But sometimes (and we think this is the funniest variation) she'll stuff them behind a folding chair we keep in her room. And she's very particular about where the toys fall. If the pile of toys is on the floor, it's not complete until she throws herself on top and rolls around in it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reading (with Help)

Lillian is really quick to repeat new words.[1] And more often than not she's able to remember them. When we read books to her, now, we can leave out the last word on each page and she'll fill it in. Since she's so willing to repeat what we say, we've started teaching her how to pray. We say something to ask for or be grateful for and she repeats the last word. (Sometimes she does this in Church or when we have guests, too, which is adorable.) We also recently started reading a verse or two from the Scriptures with her before she goes to bed. An example follows. The text is 2 Ne. 4:28–29.[2]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Movie Review: Love Story

The pretentiously-named Love Story was the highest grossing film of 1970. It garnered seven Oscar nominations and five Golden Globe nominations. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to Patton, but won the Best Drama Golden Globe.[1] It is listed as the ninth best romantic film by the American Film Institute in their 100 Years…100 Passions list.[2] It is probably best known for the last line of the film, "Love means never having to say you're sorry", which also earned a spot in an AFI list.[3] The lead actor in Love Story, Ryan O'Neal (who later appears in Bones [4] as Temperance Brennan's father) later starred in the screwball comedy, What's Up Doc?, where he mocks that same line.

Movie Review: Family Plot

Family Plot was Alfred Hitchcock's last film.[1] When I prepared to watch it, I assumed that the title referred to a conspiracy involving a family. But in reality the title has two meanings—a conspiracy against a family and a plot in a cemetery owned by another family. The conspiracy involves a fake psychic, Blanche, and her boyfriend, George. But, in what I thought was an interesting take, Blanche isn't bilking her mark, an old woman looking for her lost nephew. Blanche actually locates the lost nephew, Arthur, instead of providing a convincing actor. Arthur, as it turns out, also leads a life of crime. He kidnaps important people and demands ransoms in the form of expensive jewels.[2]

Movie Review: xXx: State of the Union

Based on my experience with the first xXx movie (which, thanks to its title is difficult to research on the internet [1]), I went into this one with low expectations. Vin Diesel, who generally isn't known for his ethos as an actor, plays a thrill-seeking criminal who is recruited by the NSA. That's the MacGuffin. In reality the movie is just an excuse for Vin Diesel to pretend he's awesome. In the sequel Vin Diesel is replaced (because he's not extreme enough) by Ice Cube. Consequently, this movie was little more than a 2-hour-long rap music video.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


We've taken Lilli sledding twice now. The first time was before we left Utah. We met up with some of my buddies from high school to say goodbye before our move [1], and went to John Adams Park in Brigham City. The park is mostly a depression and there were spots to sled all the way around the bowl. Lilli and I were feeling fearless, but Leann needed to be reassured. So we started out near the bottom of the hill and once Leann was soothed, we worked our way up to the top of the hill.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Let's start with a little background. First, Lilli has recently developed enough hand–eye coordination and pattern recognition that she can do puzzles and the like.[1] Second, when Lilli was born [2] her Reed greatgrandparents gave her $25 to start a savings account. When we opened the account they gave her a piggy bank. Third, when we moved last month [3], we rediscovered the piggy bank. Leann gave it to her to play with and I decided to show her that, besides being pink, a pig, and saying oink oink, it also accepted money through the slot on its back. We still have to keep an eye on her so she doesn't stick a coin in her mouth and accidentally choke on it, but now she loves playing with her piggy bank and asks for money. Since she's saving it and not spending any of it, it's hard to say no.

Little Learner

A few months ago, during my hiatus from blogging, Lilli taught herself the letter i. Since i and eye are homophones and the jot above the i is drawn the same way as the eyes on the cartoon characters in some of her books, especially Dr. Seuss's ABC [1], she initially thought they were the same thing. This inspired us to draw some letters on cardstock and tape it to the wall. It didn't take Lilli long at all to learn the first batch, so we added more. Then more. And then we took them down for the move to Wisconsin [2], and we haven't put them back up. But since then Leann has found an app for the iPad, called Endless ABC, that is helping Lilli learn all of her letters, both capitals and lower case. She's surprised us several times by identifying a letter we hadn't taught her. So here are some videos of Lilli playing Endless ABC.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Move to Wisconsin

Well, dear readers, it's been over two months since I last posted, but with good reason. I was spending my time wrapping up my research and writing a >200-page dissertation for my Ph.D. And Leann was busy packing and making arrangements to move to Madison, Wisconsin, where I had arranged a position as a postdoctoral fellow. My timeline was contracted [1] so I ended up renting a moving truck the morning of my defense, packing for a few hours, and then getting ready for my oral presentation and closed-doors meeting with my committee. After that I finished cleaning up my bench in Dr. Griffitts' lab, went home for the last bit of packing, and then drove the truck to my parents' house where we stayed the night.