March 17, 2023

Link dump from "Back to Work" podcast (episode 605)

I've listened to the "Back to Work" podcast since it started. If you have never listened to this podcast, it's a bit hard to explain. Initially, it was about productivity at work. Over time it has become less about that and more about all sorts of issues related to existing in the varied environments that we all exist in. The topics cover a wide range: work, home, online, offline, hobbies, Apple, markdown, and productivity.  This particular episode had a great set of shared links that I wanted to remember. My favorites from the episode were:

March 15, 2023

Why does Rice play Texas?? A podcast episode about Kennedy's moon speech.

This episode of the podcast "It Was Said" has been in my playlist for months now.  I've listened to pretty much the whole episode, and I think it's great. I'm biased, though, as a complete fan of Kennedy's "We choose to go to the moon" speech. I just wanted to be sure I could find this episode for sharing with students in physics or astronomy class.

March 14, 2023

Cover of the book "Sundown Towns" by James LoewenCover of book titled "I alone can fix it" by Carol Leaning and Philip RuckerCopy of book titled "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson

I'll admit up front that I'm over three months past when most people do a year-end review. But it's spring break for me, and I almost feel like I have time to think about things like this for a few seconds. 

I like to read books. I'm certainly not the fastest reader out there, nor do I end up reading a huge amount of books each year, but usually, I'm able to finish at least 25 books a year. Last year, I only read 17 books.

As the end of the year approached, I looked back at the books I had picked and noticed that the lengths of books I was reading were trending upward. In 2020, the books I read had an average length of 314 pages. In 2021 it was 337 pages. Last year it was 342 pages. 

The longest book I read was "Sundown Towns" by James Loewen. Not only was that book long, it was also a slow read for me. I can't exactly explain it - the book never seemed to drag, but yet it was the type of book that took more deliberate reading.

Another long book was "I Alone Can Fix It" by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. This was about the last year of the Trump presidency. I try not to read too many contemporary political books, but in 2021 I had read a book about the first three years of the Trump administration, so I figured the Leonnig and Rucker book would be a good way to finish the story of what happened in the White House.  In retrospect, I'm a bit ambivalent about my decision to read both of those books. I think they were fine choices for what they were, but I'm not sure how much they will stick with me long term.

The last specific example of a long book I read was "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson. Out of the 17 books I finished in 2022, this was the book with the highest average rating on Goodreads. I enjoyed this book, although there were some chapters in the middle which I felt dragged a bit. Wilkerson wrote about an event that happened to her at an unnamed business in Chicago towards the start of the book. I am positive that I had either heard her tell that story on a podcast or in a radio interview well before her book was published, but I couldn't find where I had heard it before. I definitely recommend this book even though it was a bit long and had a few slow parts to it. There is a reason it was so highly rated by many people.

I think another reason I ended up finishing fewer books than I wanted was that I am mostly reading books that I check out from the library as ebooks. Often times, I don't finish a book before it is due and then there is a hold on the book while others read it. I end up with a number of books-in-progress that I'm always planning to come back to after finishing the library books. 

So far this year, I've only finished three books. I'm probably already behind in my goal for finishing 25 books this year. That's okay, though. I still like reading whatever I can.

March 13, 2023

The value of doing science - a podcast recommendation

I listen to a lot of podcasts - so many that I'm usually weeks (or months) behind on several that I subscribe to. A fairly recent episode of Radiolab definitely caught my attention, though.

This episode started by introducing listeners to the "Golden Fleece" Award, a made-up award by a long-time senator from Wisconsin. The premise of the award was that there were scientists squandering taxpayer money on frivolous research. Having seen and heard politicians do this for as long as I have been involved in science, I was bracing for bad news. At best, I figured that the episode would debunk the idea of frivolous studies but then go back and say that the politicians have a duty to make sure the money is not wasted.

The episode was so much better than that. 

I don't want to spoil it for you if you haven't heard it already - just go listen to it! There's stuff to share with your students if you teach or your family if you do (or just love) science. I learned about a type of snail I had never heard of, the cone snail, which is just super fascinating! 

March 11, 2023

Bioacoustics of whales in the news!

Last week I caught this article in the Washington Post about how whales can use "vocal fry" in some of their sound production. The Washington Post article definitely used the hook of vocal fry as being associated with something that (often, young) women face criticism for. I have never understood why so many people seem to have extreme opinions about how people's speech sounds in terms of the creakiness or register of the voice. I am just not sensitive to it, and although I have heard people with distinctive voices, I guess I default to trying to judge them by what they say rather than how they sound as they say it.

Anyway, back to the science presented in the article. The source of the research was a recent paper in the journal Science. I don't have access to this journal, but I did poke around a bit on the page enough to read the abstract and "Secrets of whale vocal anatomy" paragraph. I downloaded the videos included in the supplementary materials. If you're a fan of seeing how science is done, it's always interesting to get a peek into the process by watching videos like these. The footage is raw and different from what you might expect in a science documentary. I love stuff like this! 

I also skimmed through the references and noted several citations to articles from JASA - I'm sure there were several ASA members pleased to see their work cited in Science.  

Anyway, bioacoustics is a really fascinating field and I'm happy to see it get noticed by these publications. I sort of wish the fraught topic of vocal fry in humans hadn't been used to make the science seem catchier, though.