My math-nifesto: Why I love math even though I struggle with calculations

No joy like a well-ordered abacus. (Photo: Crissy Jarvis via Unsplash) When I was nine years old, I came down with a somewhat rare disease that left me hospitalized for several weeks. (Don’t worry, I’m fine now.) One day, I noticed a sequence of numbers printed on the side of my IV drip: 22333 That’s interesting, I thought. There are two twos and three threes, and five numbers altogether. And two and three add up…

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How I learned that a zebra is not a stripy horse

Fig. 1: A herd of definitely-not-stripy-horses at the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. (Photo: Ron Dauphin via Unsplash) Quick: how many animals can you name in a minute? Done? OK, now think about how many of those animals have you seen, in real life, in the past year. Not many, right? Most of us live in a world devoid of wild animals, apart from maybe a few species like squirrels or raccoons. This means…

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I’m back

It is the height of blogging clichés to lead with “Welp, it’s been a while since my last post . . .” But in this case my hiatus has lasted so long — five years, in fact — that I hope you’ll forgive me a bit of metaphorical throat-clearing. Where the hell have you been? Let me answer that question with a photo: Figure 1: Look at these adorable children Aww . . . those…

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Poker robot knows *exactly* when to hold ’em, fold ’em

Researchers at the University of Alberta have built a robot that has ‘solved’ the game of heads up limit Texas hold’em poker. Photo credit: Michael Bowling Last month, Stephen Hawking caused quite a stir when he mused that advances in artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.” Computer scientists quickly shot back, pointing out that today’s algorithms still struggle to recognize kittens, never mind plotting our ultimate doom. Still, with programs like…

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Poker robot knows *exactly* when to hold ‘em, fold ‘em

Researchers at the University of Alberta have built a robot that has ‘solved’ the game of heads up limit Texas hold’em poker. Photo credit: Michael Bowling Last month, Stephen Hawking caused quite a stir when he mused that advances in artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.” Computer scientists quickly shot back, pointing out that today’s algorithms still struggle to recognize kittens, never mind plotting our ultimate doom. Still, with programs like…

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Secrets of the naked mole rat

  In addition to their other talents, naked mole rats can survive under very low oxygen, and may offer clues that could help humans survive damage from strokes. (Photo credit: Roman Klementschitz, via WikiMedia Commons) Naked mole rats — is there anything they can’t do? These wrinkly little critters live up to 30 years, more than ten times as long as other rodents their size. They are essentially immune to cancer (a fact which makes…

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Check email less, reduce your stress?

  #117149403 / gettyimages.com Are you an e-mail addict? I know I am. Every time I pick up my phone the blinking envelope in the corner reminds me that there’s something new to deal with. And while hope springs eternal that it’s a note from an editor assigning me a juicy new story, as often as not it’s just a poorly-spelled forward from an elderly relative, making bad jokes about how life was so much…

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A Canadian message to the stars

Later this fall, Algonquin Radio Observatory in Algonquin Park will be used to send a message to two stars that appear to have earth-like planets. (Photo credit: Keith Vanderlinde, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics) If you could talk to an extraterrestrial civilization, what would you say? That’s the question being asked, in all seriousness, by a group of scientists and science enthusiasts at the University of Toronto. As part of the newly organized Toronto…

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In the skin of a . . . hadrosaur?

Image credit: Canadian Light Source Were dinosaurs dull green and grey like today’s large reptiles, or bright and flashy like their descendants, the birds? For a long time this was considered an unanswerable question, but that may soon change due to a singularly well-preserved sample of skin from a hadrosaur — a duck-billed dinosaur from the late Cretaceous — found near Grand Prairie, Alberta last summer. That sample is currently undergoing analysis at the Canadian…

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The Call of Cthulhu

Cthulhu emerges from the mythical city of R’lyeh. Credit: BenduKiwi via Wikimedia Commons Erick James spends his days investigating the contents of termite intestines, a line of work that you’d think would relegate him to obscurity. But thanks to a bit of clever marketing, James, who works in the biology lab of Patrick Keeling at the University of British Columbia, has garnered attention from countless blogs and even some major newspapers.  His latest discovery —…

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