Don’t count the feathers: Dan Mangan, nature study and a surprise Charley Harper reference

This is an updated version of a post written as Song of the Week at The Finch & Pea on February 25, 2012.

Dan Mangan‘s “About as Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All”, from his 2011 album Oh Fortune, has more than a few layers to peel back. The mysterious title is crying out for interpretation, but that’s not nearly the most interesting thing about the song. Read the full post »

The blink comparator and The Rural Alberta Advantage’s Barnes’ Yard

It’s been two months now since I started writing regularly about science and music as the DJ at the online science pub The Finch & PeaIt has quickly become one of my favourite things to do each week. To celebrate I’m posting a few of my favourites here at Boundary Vision. These are the ones that most represent to me the intersection between science and culture that I aim for here. Enjoy!

With rich dark wooden curio cabinets and a narrow book-filled balcony accessed by a steep staircase, the Rotunda at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff feels like a natural home for the distinguished early 20th century scientist. Feeling the warm glow of scientific discoveries past, there was one thing in the room I couldn’t take my eyes off: the glass plates and elegant brass eyepiece of the blink comparator used to discover Pluto. Read the full post »

Talking about theories with David Dobbs on Skeptically Speaking

“What is a legitimate theory? How do you know a legitimate theory when you see one? How do you generate a legitimate theory?”

During our April 1 interview on Skeptically Speaking, David Dobbs pinpointed these as the heart of his 2005 book “Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral.” It tells the gripping human story of Alexander Agassiz, growing up in his father’s shadow and dedicating himself to an evidence-based quest to disprove Darwin’s coral reef theory.  I often teach undergrad classes that ask similar questions. Next time, I might just send my students to read his book instead. It is a fascinating account of several scientific giants and those around them trying to sort of what science is. You can read the great serialized excerpts he has been posting on his blog at and find my interview with him at Skeptically Speaking.

#BoraZUofA Linkfest: A collection of the sites and posts referenced in Bora’s talks

Scientific American blog editor Bora Zivkovic‘s visit to the University of Alberta was a wonderful whirlwind of talks on science education, science communication, open science, peer review and the scientific publishing industry. I’ve summarized his talks in an overview of the week. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look, Bora has also shared a list of links to the sites, posts and people he mentioned or used in his talks (or intended to use in some cases). It’s a terrific guide to exploring these issues online. Read the full post »

#BoraZUofA: A thought-provoking week with Bora Zivkovic

Enjoying some Tim Horton's treats while visiting Joel Dacks's lab

Just a few weeks ago I waved goodbye to Scientific American blogs editor Bora Zikovic and thanked him for a wonderful week of talks at the University of Alberta. Somehow in just a week we’d managed to chat about science teaching, science blogs, the history of academic publishing, open-access, post-publication peer review, science on Twitter and so much more. It was exciting and exhausting, and my ideas notebook is completely full.

As part of the University’s Distinguished Visitor program, a small group of faculty from cell biology (Joel Dacks), anthropology (Bora’s brother, Marko Zivkovic) and science education (me) brought Bora to town to speak with students and faculty. No matter what the topic, the theme seemed to be: keep an open mind. Be willing to consider new ways of doing things but also remember that they might not be as they first appear. Read the full post »

My interview with Deborah Blum author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

“I had been thinking about the best way to communicate chemistry. I’m a failed chemistry major from way back when and I wanted to find a way to kind of subversively write about chemistry, to tell stories that I would weave chemistry into without being a tutorial. Just like ‘this is a really cool story and along the way you’re going to learn some chemistry’ and I thought well, there’s no better way to do that than to tell a murder story. ”

And so began my conversation last week with science writer and journalism professor Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook. I was honoured to take on guest hosting duties for Skeptically Speaking (a science radio show normally hosted by the wonderful Desiree Schell) and to have the chance to talk to Deborah about chemistry, poisons, and writing compelling stories about science. Spoiler: the first thing Deborah says is “It makes me sound so creepy” Now that’s good radio!

You can listen to or download the interview at Skeptically Speaking.

Do scientific explanations have to ruin wonder? Stargazing and more with songwriter Jim Fitzpatrick

Jim Fitzpatrick and I met on an airport shuttle from Phoenix to Flagstaff. It’s not a particularly interesting place to meet someone, but an accident on the highway left us stranded at a gas station with lots of time to chat. Somehow the topic fell to music and it turned out we have a lot in common. Jim’s a musician and song writer who even expressed enthusiasm for Canadian music. We bonded over a shared love of Built to Spill and he patiently listened to my stories of interviewing bands when I was younger. Jim’s also a teacher and was traveling with his dad to a science writing conference. I could hardly imagine a better match to chat with on a long shuttle ride.

Read the full post »

Beyond 42: How science can use stories to explain life, the universe and everything

I’m thrilled to be welcoming Scientific American’s blog editor Bora Zivkovic to the University of Alberta, March 5-9, 2012. As part of his visit, please join us Friday, March 9 for a special night of story telling and music where we’ll find the people, places and things that make science what it is.

Featuring host Bora Zivkovic, musical story telling with Robin Woywitka and the Super 92, and local story tellers from Edmonton’s science community.

Read the full post »

Role modeling through personal stories isn’t as easy as it sounds

I got very brave a few weeks ago and participated in a storytelling event as part of Science Online 2012, an annual science communication conference held in North Carolina. Instead of the usual guest speakers and awards ceremonies that haunt most conference banquets, this was a partnership with The Monti that brought members of our own online science community together to share intimate and often funny parts of their lives. It was a nod to the spirit of the conference, which encourages open sessions and audience contributions over slide presentations and lectures. That’s why it’s my favourite conference of the year, and it works because it’s a conference filled with fascinating people: science writers, researchers, bloggers, artists, programmers, physicians, teachers, and librarians all interested in science in the online world.

Read the full post »

First post as DJ at The Finch and Pea

It’s been a busy month away from the blog. I’d offer an explanation beyond being swamped but I could never live up to the classic of the genre: John Rennie’s The Nudge from Management. There are a couple new posts almost ready to go but for now I’ve got exciting news.

I’ve always had a secret dream of being a music writer, and it’s something I’ve started writing about a bit here at Boundary Vision. I’m thrilled, therefore, about a new gig as DJ at the online science pub The Finch and Pea. I’ll be posting and writing about a weekly song with some sort of sciency theme. The first one went up this weekend: Stargazing to Randy Described Eternity. Come and hang out!


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