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Here Comes Mr. Starling

We’re pleased to announce the successful run of our stage play Here Comes Mr. Starling, our theatrical bio-pic homage to Eugene Schieffelin! If you don’t know who that is, he’s the guy you have to thank the next time a flock of Starlings craps on your car.

And if you were in the New York area and had a chance to catch the Q&A after final performance with writer/director Gulivur Stranuss, you’ll be happy to know that Mr. Stranuss is planning on releasing his DIY bird mimicry book later this year.

Excerpts from the play are featured in the Encyclopedia of Life Podcast this month. You can also listen to the episode here:


Lose Weight Like a Bird!

Forget triathlons or Ironman workouts, if you really want to get in shape, you need to do what the Bartailed Godwit does: fly non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand in 9 days. This incredible land bird should be an inspiration to all birds and not only breaks the record for non-stop long distance migration but is also the focus of the first installment of our new cartoon series, “Meanwhile in the Animal Kingdom.” The original NPR link also provides some background on our avian athlete who goes by his New Zealand moniker: the Kuaka.

To commemorate the Ides of March (and Caesar’s untimely but apparently not unpredicted death) here’s a piece on the awkwardness of Roman numerals. Yes, there’s a connection because Brutus and the rest of the senators who presumably knifed Caesar in the Theatre of Pompey, were Romans and therefore used Roman numerals.  So how awkward are these numerals that are actually letters used as numbers? Try singing “99 Bottle of Beer on the Wall” using roman numerals (letters).

The great marine poet Thomas Dylan has a special place in his heart for even the tiniest sea creatures – dinoflagellates. Which is why we were thrilled to work with him in celebrating these under appreciated sea creatures in our first live musical event: Dinoflagella. Microscopic and coming in all different weird shapes, Dinoflagellates serve as food for most of the ocean’s animal life. But when they get together in large numbers they do things you can actually see…some of which are toxic. Here is a piece done for the Encyclopedia of Life that excerpts some of the show and features Dylan’s poetry.

Here’s a proof-of-concept we threw together for a segment about the naming of genes. The background: fruit fly geneticists display signs of humor by sometimes come up with joke names for the genes they discover. A gene that increases the lifespan of a fly, for example, is called the INDY gene (short for I’m Not Dead Yet – an almost quote from Monty Python’s Holy Grail) and a gene that produces fruit flies without external genitalia: “Ken and Barbie.” We thought this would make a great vaudeville act (yes, we know, it’s way too hard hitting and in-depth for a science segment).  Some people find that gene jokes are not as funny as we did. The NPR segment makes this clear. We still think genes are funny. Genes. Heh.

If you’re a lobster, death can come in many ways. You might, for example, get eaten by an octopus, smashed into rocks, or get caught by humans and pressurized to death in the Big Mother Shucker. One thing you don’t have to worry about, though, is dying of old age. Apparently, lobsters show no signs of aging; their metabolisms don’t slow down, they don’t get weaker, and they don’t lose reproductive ability – they just get bigger and bigger. In fact, the only indication of a lobster’s age is it’s size. So in theory, there could be a HUGE lobster that has survived simply by being careful enough to live a long, happy life, uninterrupted by sudden death. In theory he could then share his wisdom through song, and, in theory, be called Leroy. Here’s the NPR piece featuring the song and here’s a totally anticlimactic video of a lobster molting (molting of course being THE KEY to getting really big).

Table Scraps I: B-Flat

If you were wondering what’s missing from the original B-Flat song, then this is probably what you’re thinking, “I wonder what’s missing from the original B-Flat song?” Well here’s a short list: all the bits that are missing. These missing bits are generally referred to as “everything that’s missing from the bit that made it on NPR.” Not everything makes it into the final radio piece. Here is some of what we had left over, unredacted. Enjoy.

The World cup has ended and so too has the annoying drone of the Vuvuzela. Now the question is what to do with all these spittle encrusted instruments? Some ideas can be found here. But really who cares? What’s really important is that the real Vuvuzelas only play one note: B-Flat.  And that makes them special. B-Flat is the MOST special note because male alligators think it sounds like other male alligators, there’s at least ONE star (a pulsar) that vibrates at the same frequency, and there’s a stairwell somewhere near Cape Cod that resonates in B-Flat (no other note is THAT universal). Here’s the piece we did for NPR that celebrates this phantastic phenomenon.

DNA is the answer

Yes, it’s the 199th birthday of Franz Liszt today BUT it was Craig Venter‘s birthday 8 days ago and he’s only 64 (which is 8 squared). Since 8 is good luck in China and to commemorate the birth of a guy who spends all day playing around with DNA we’re revisiting a piece we did for Radiolab’s show on the possibilities and perils of artificially creating life. If messing with DNA really IS the answer to all our problems then bio-engineers deserve as much fanfare as we can give them. So here’s our salute to all of you genetic modifiers out there!

Featured this time around are members of the Friends-of-Higher-Mammals Master Chorale (they are: Kendra May, Kysa Christie, Maura Reilly, Tove Finnestad, Wendy Roderweiss, Nicholas Longobardi, JonPaul Burkhart, Frank Hayn III, Reid Swanson, Kate Ivanjack, D.J. Pick, Jason Major). I’d rather be swapping genes!

To help our friends at Radiolab out with their episode about stochasticity, we put together this catchy song (trust me, you’ll think that’s less funny when you’re humming it later), then went completely nuts and made a video for it. What is stochasticity, you ask? Click away.

When you have some more time check out Radiolab’s archived show for a few head-scratching stories of stochasticity at work.