Muses: Parasite of the Day

If you’ve read other blog posts here or followed us on Twitter, you’ve likely noticed that we kind of like parasites. A lot. And whether or not you can muster up the same fascination, it’s kind of hard to argue against their importance; roughly 40% of species on earth are parasitic, and as many as 75% of relationships in all foodwebs involve a parasitic interaction of some kind.

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Tirelessly working to inform the world of every last one of these amazing lifeforms is the brilliant blog Parasite of the Day. Writing up the unique behaviours of nematodes, hookworms, flukes and wasps with equal clarity and care, authors Tommy Leung and Susan Perkins have created what might actually be the best resource of its kind. I think what I like most about it is that it takes the appeal of its subject matter as implicit. There are no attempts to downplay the grossness or apologize for the squeamishness that might result from reading the posts.

Another extremely admirable thing about Parasite of the

Design style guides: Why you need one and how to make one

Whether you’re in the initial stages of building your brand or you’re well established and undertaking an overhaul, a design style guide is well worth considering.

Although it’s a non-trivial outlay in terms of both time and money, the headaches and expenses a design style guide can save you later on (starting pretty soon, actually) are tremendous. And beyond providing a template for consistent visual representation across the various media in which your branding will appear, creating a style guide will force you to make conscious decisions about exactly how every part of your company identity looks in every context—and why it looks that way.

A style is more than your logo, Check out this Stasi Museum style guide for seat cushions. © Anagoria 2012 (CC BY 3.0)Why go to the trouble of doing all of this? Because chances are, your brand identity is going to be handled by different people at different times. In addition to good file management and annotation, having a single comprehensive guide will make it much more likely that your website, social media profiles, print materials,

Treasures: Natural nuclear reactors

I don’t know how other people are taught, but for a long time I thought that nuclear reactors generated energy through some borderline-mystical atomic process that I could never really comprehend. And that’s partly true. But if you skip the details of how fission actually works, its role in a power plant is actually pretty simple to understand: the reason we can use nuclear decay to generate power is that it releases heat. So it’s not really the mystical atoms as such that make nuclear power possible, but the comparatively mundane process of using heat to make steam to move turbines.

Cherenkov radiation in Idaho National Laboratory's Advanced Test Reactor. © Argonne National Laboratory, 2009 (CC BY-SA 2.0)Humans finished building their first nuclear reactor in 1942, under the bleachers of an abandoned football field. Seriously, this happened. It was crude, but still required the careful assembly of uranium blocks and graphite rods. Assembly was executed under the close supervision of Enrico Fermi and his team—each one of them among the greatest physicists of their time (or

Typesetting matters

Typesetting and layout aren’t just important to how a document looks. They can also be vital to how easy it is to read. Content creators now have many options for handling these things themselves—everything from default themes in MS Word and Pages all the way up to TeX if you’re in a scientific field. But at Talk Science to Me, we still get a fair amount of work doing typesetting and layout, so I thought it would be worth explaining what you’re really paying for when you hire someone for these services, and what you can reasonably expect to get for your money.

A hand-lettered Latin Bible from 1407. Unsurprisingly, aspiring Bible owners were not encouraged to do their own calligraphy. Adrian Pingstone, 2005 (Public Domain)First of all, there’s a lot more to typography than laughing at Comic Sans and hating Papyrus. And while you probably do have some preferences of your own, as Seth Godin points out, “Typography in your work isn’t for you.” It’s for

Treasures: Stellar Nucleosynthesis

Most of the things in our “Treasures” series are living organisms. I think this is partly because lots of living organisms are easy to identify with: they exist on a scale similar to ours and are easy to categorize as discrete entities. Phenomena are a little harder to sell, for the most part. Stellar nucleosynthesis has had some help though, in the form of Carl Sagan’s wildly popular and surprisingly durable “star stuff” monologue. And it’s true: we’re literally made of atoms that came here from dying stars. Of course this is equally true of centipedes, norovirus and Rob Ford, so admittedly the magic relies on a bit of anthropocentrism.

But while the original is now nearly a quarter-century old, the basic process still holds more than enough wonder to power a brief voyage on the Ship of the Imagination™ (length of voyage largely determined by your choice of refreshments). The key, which is basically omitted from every version of the Sagan quote that I’ve heard, is that all the naturally occurring elements don’t just come from