Monday, January 27, 2014

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Deep water rave: Biofluorescence in fish

From the magical glow of fireflies at night, to the mesmerizing orb of the deep sea angler fish designed to lure prey, most people are familiar with nature's glowing creatures. This is due to a process called bioluminescence. These animals create their own light by producing a chemical called luciferin, which chemically reacts with oxygen to release energy in the form of light.

A similar process called biofluorescence occurs when one wavelength of light is absorbed, and then converted into a lower energy and higher wavelength, resulting in a different color of light. Recently, it was found that  more than 180 species of biofluorescent fish swimming in the waters. Fishes from the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, and the Solomon Islands were imaged and scanned for fluorescence using special LED light sources and filters, and the results presented a wide variety of patterns and colors.
Diversity of fluorescent patterns and colors in marine fishes.

A, swell shark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum); B, ray (Urobatis jamaicensis); C, sole (Soleichthys heterorhinos); D, flathead (Cociella hutchinsi); E, lizardfish (Synodus dermatogenys); F, frogfish (Antennarius maculatus); G, false stonefish (Scorpaenopsis diabolus); H, false moray eel (Kaupichthys brachychirus); I, false moray eel (Kaupichthys nuchalis); J, pipefish (Corythoichthys haematopterus); K, sand stargazer (Gillellus uranidea); L, goby (Eviota sp.); M, goby (Eviota atriventris); N, surgeonfish (Acanthurus coeruleus, larval); O, threadfin bream (Scolopsis bilineata).doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083259.g001
 In deep sea waters, red, yellow, orange, and green light gets filtered out, leaving only the wavelength of light that we perceive as blue light. Using biofluorescence, these fish species absorb the blue light, and convert it back to a lower energy of light, thus re-emmiting the red, yellow, orange, and green colors seen above.

Scientists are currently studying this broad diversity of biofluorescence to determine it's evolutionary advantages and adaptations to marine life. One hypothesis is that the variations of color and patterns may be used to attract a mate, similar to the way a male peacock will flash his patterned feathers at a female. Another possibility is that different colors and patterns are suited for camouflage within biofluorescent coral reefs. There have also been studies about using biofluorescence as a type of "hidden communication" between the species; they flash their light to one another to signal that a predator is nearby. This silent communication is possible because the light emitted is at a wavelength that the predator itself can't see.

While most of us will never get to see these beautiful creatures for ourselves, we can close our eyes and envision ourselves swimming in the dark surrounded by glowing flashes of reds, yellows, and greens - nature's version of a dance rave in your imagination!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club

Last year, I was introduced to the International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club (or IGGPPC) through several bloggers/Twitter friends, and I was quite intrigued. Wanting to get back into the lost art of written communication (something I am still working on!!), I signed up and started on an amazing journey of friendships with a group of awesomely geeky women (most of whom I have never not yet met in real life).

What started out as a simple idea born out of the brilliant minds of Leslie (aka Stewie) and Emily (aka Farquharson or Frogmella) quickly became an internet phenomenon. The goal of the club is to pair up like-minded individuals based off of their "Top 5 Geek Loves" and encourage friendship building through sending letters, postcards, and care packages - often to the other end of the globe! My first pen pal I was paired with is an amazing artist from the Netherlands and my second pen pal now runs a blog with me.

In addition to the pair-ups, the online community is very strong. A few days ago, the IGGPPC launched a brand new website with interactive forums, a leaderboard for achievements to unlock around the site, and of course, registration to be paired up with a pen pal who shares your geeky interests. The are currently in their 10th round of pair-ups, and according to their official press release, nearly 10,000 people have been hand matched through nearly 50,000 geek loves!

The IGGPPC is on a mission to maintain the lost art of letter writing in the technological age, inspire new friendships, and spread geeky awesomeness around the globe. You can sign up NOW for Round 10 of pair-ups, and within a month, you'll be sending and receiving goodies from the long lost friend you never knew you had. What are you waiting for?!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Underneath as white as snow

Snowfall is always beautiful.

The delicate white powder, gently falling from the sky. A peaceful silence as the freshly laid blanket absorbs sound. The symbolism of purity and something being made clean. Like the old hymn (one of my favorites) says, "Jesus paid it all / all to him I owe / sin had left a crimson stain / He washed it white as snow."

Today is not one of those beautiful winter days, however. After the Great Freeze of 2014 earlier this week, the slightly warmer temperature has turned snow into freezing rain, mushy roads, dismal fog, and an overall sense of seasonal despair.

I found myself thinking of today as another grand metaphor for our spiritual lives. A lot of times, Christians put on a mask of being 100% happy and bright and shiny, because they have Jesus in their heart and their sins have been washed away!! But the reality is that like the fresh blanket of white snow, underneath there is still a melted mess of muddy muck; we are still sinners, still mess-ups, and we will inevitably say something we regret or act on bad decisions. I can guarantee you that the Christian who looks like they have a perfect life does NOT have it all together.

Yet, this is why my faith is still so important to me. Because Christ spoke of this thing called grace. That despite our failures and our persistent sinful nature, He will unconditionally love and forgive and "wash it white as snow" again and again if we believe and follow Him.

And that is truly beautiful.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Oh My Darling Clementine

"WOW. So there are only a few movies that will guaranteed make me cry, but other than that, I rarely cry during movies. Well, The Walking Dead video game had me BAWLING by the end. I can see why it won Game of the Year for so's less of a "game" in the traditional sense, and more an interactive story/movie. And wowza, do they get you emotionally invested. Whew. Wow."
I wrote this status update after playing through The Walking Dead: Season One video game in December 2012. It was one of my favorite gaming experiences and left me excited to continue the adventure in TWD: Season Two. I finished playing the first episode yesterday, and am glad that the game picks up where it left off and continues to bring the player into the story in a creative way.

via TWD wiki
The plot follows a young girl, Clementine, though this time instead of playing a character protecting her, you play as her. She is one of my favorite video game characters because she is such a sweet innocent child, but yet she also is determined and will do whatever it takes to survive and to help those she trusts.

Gameplay is the same, more like an interactive movie than an action based video game. You have various dialogue options and decisions to make, and every choice you make really matters. The thing I find so intriguing is that the developers have you perform these simple actions (by doing things like pressing "A" repeatedly) which in any other game would feel like button mashing...but they purposefully combine it with emotional storytelling so that you actually FEEL the tension of the situation, even if all you are doing is pressing a button.

The game is also so visually unique, like a comic book come to life.

Both Season One and the first episode of Season Two are available to play on pretty much every gaming platform, so if you are looking for a unique game experience, definitely check it out! This game series will win you over, even if you aren't a huge zombie fanatic.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Dogs poop in alignment with Earth's magnetic field

Call me crazy, but I think watching my dogs poop is hilarious. The way they sniff about, scurry and circle around the perfect spot, to finally awkwardly hunker down into position. A recent study suggests that there may be a method to this madness, and the explanation is magnetism.

70 dogs of varying breeds, age, and sex were observed for two years while they took care of business (defecation and urination). The alignment of their body axis was analyzed in conjunction with the magnetic field conditions of Earth during the observation period. Geomagnetic conditions fluctuate depending on time and location, and magnetic declination occurs when magnetic north is deviates from true north (the physical direction moving towards the North pole). When magnetic declination is at 0%, compass north and true north are the same and the condition of the magnetic field is considered stable. When there is deviation from true north, the magnetic field is considered unstable. What researchers found was that under stable "calm magnetic conditions", dogs preferred to align themselves with the north-south axis when dropping a deuce.

It is still unclear exactly why this response occurs only when the geomagnetic conditions are stable and why the dogs assumed a north-south alignment (as opposed to the east-west direction). The study also mentions that female dogs assumed this alignment while urinating as well, whereas male dogs aligned themselves slightly angled at north-west, possibly due to the "leg lift" position. Domesticated dogs are also dependent on their owner's calls and commands, which may have an influence on responding to natural instincts and sensitivities to their surroundings.

The subject matter may be strange and begs the question, "WHY?" Yet, the implications may lead to further understanding on how geomagnetic sensitivity affects animal behavior. Similar studies have also been researched in other mammals, such as deer, cattle, and foxes, in regards to grazing/feeding, hunting, homing, and other navigational behaviors in the wild.

Just the other day, I observed both my dogs doing their thing while facing toward the same direction. Is it because of their innate sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic field or just pure coincidence? I should invest in a good compass to figure it out.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

All Things New

Why do we invest so much in celebrating the new year? It's just another day. It's just another planetary rotation around the sun. We are still the same people that we were in 2013. But yet we throw big parties, make resolutions, and celebrate the start of something new.

image source: EOL/JSC/NASA - ISS007-E-10807
We want to have purpose. We want to be better. We want to make a difference.

But we don't need a new year to do those things. Our desire to make a change can start at any moment - the instant we decide to take action. We don't need a countdown to midnight to ring in this new start. It happens when you let it happen. When you invite that opportunity to become a part of your daily life.

I have a tendency to think big thoughts, plan big plans...I get right up to that point of actually doing, but never do. I have so many ideas in my head, but never make the effort to act upon them. I feel like I let people (and myself) down because I am willing to brainstorm ideas, but don't take action.

The new year gives us pause to think about these things, these thoughts and ideas and plans, but it requires so much more. The truth is that we can't make these changes on our own. We need encouragement, we need love, we need hope, we need a promise that a fresh start can actually make all things new.

How will you strive to be made new? Where do you look for hope and help? I know I need help and strength and courage to do all I want to do. I need to seek out strong relationships with my family and friends. I need to commit to having a heart of faith even when I struggle and doubt.

Let's not make our new year's resolutions about what we can do for ourselves, but what we can do for each other and with each other. Are you in?