Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Trick or Retreat

Trick or Retreat
-the Hendry Lab Halloween escape-

Uprooted from its Celtic origins of celebrating the harvest and the end of the growth season, Halloween has evolved over the centuries. For some folks, Halloween nowadays seems to be all about porches filled to the brim with rubber arthropods and absorbent wadding tangled up in fences to signal free sugar to young parents. Well-organized costume contests attract wallflowers and daredevils of all ages alike to thrive in flamboyant displays of recent horror movie themes or social media excrescences. Hours and hours are spent on carving exercises that leave behind disfigured pumpkins waiting in vain for the ghosts they were originally intended to scare away. Modern Halloween has become dominated by ominous competitions. Competitions for neighborhood reputation, party attention, and candy bars… Everybody scurries around between dollar stores and front yards to accomplish as much gory decoration as possible before the turmoil begins. Everybody? Well, not everybody. The Hendry Lab, a small group of indomitable bon vivants, decided to take it easy this year.

Over the hills and far away from all the scars and skulls of the big city, there lies a small wooden cabin northeast of Montreal. It's there the Hendry Lab tends to retreat. Busy with bonfires and hikes, they quickly forgot about all the fuzz in the city and had a great time.

The tin ghost of competition, however, had followed them up into the woods and into the cabin where it manifested in the 'Obscure Booze Festival', a boozy ballot to nominate the most obscure alcoholic beverage of the weekend.

Subset of our sample collection with some dude in the background
And thus, while the Ricciardi Lab grimly sharpened their carving tools and made plans filled with bitterness to showboat around at the yearly McGill pumpkin carving contest, the Hendry Lab explored the unsung liquors of the world. For the sake of completeness, we here report the outcomes in an ordination biplot based on people’s votes for the respective categories.
Ordination plot of the Hendry Liquor Space with category vectors overlain in red; click to enlarge
As the third day dawned over the cabin in the woods, the Hendry Lab - refreshed and brisk - set course for the big city again. Word on the street had it that old Stewart was gathering his faithful from the three wings (and the Redpath Museum) to his yearly fruit-slashing contest in order to anoint the most obedient lab of them all. Such a foreseeable circus never really appealed to the denizens of the Hendry Lab. Previous years had left them without accolade, and it wouldn't be different this year; genius is rarely recognized in its own time. What would be different this year, however, was the mark their work would leave on the souls of bystanders and judges alike – this year’s take-home message would be too scary to take home...

And so the carving began. At one extreme, the Ricciardis with their Bodum® carving set and their neatly assembled 'animaux plastique' – on the other extreme, smelling of guppies and stickleback, the Hendrys, prepared to give everything to restore Halloween’s original meaning and scare away the pagan ghosts. Well, the rest is (micro-)history. Of course, the docile Ricciardis outnumbered and displaced the ardent Hendrys and took the lead with a 'pumpkin arrangement' that might be best described as 'the potpourii of triviality'. Made from polished action figures, sponges, and cheap sparkling bogus, they presented a front-yard altar upon which creativity was laid to rest with much ado.

This kind of 'forced perspective architecture' has already been invented by bower Birds. Nice try, Ricciardis...
The Hendrys were not amused – but also they were not really paying attention. Their mission was to dispel the ghosts of the past, to save the harvest, to drive away the dark clouds that ever gather above their precious liquor cabinet. And they knew that they had to break the rules for this: Over the past centuries whenever harvest season was coming up, people have made straitlaced use of their Cucurbitas and mostly carved rectangular inlets into the fruit. No wonder harvest ghosts aren't scared anymore!

The Hendry Lab changed all that. By deconstructing their pumpkin into elementary pumpkin-subsets and reassembling it inside-out they re-invented fear as we know it – the evil, treacly menace that forces us to question the very foundations of our existence. It is inherent to these existential foundations that we engage in a constant struggle to harmonize our inner- and outer-world relationships, to somehow achieve peace of mind. But what if inside and outside were no longer where they used to be? What if things from deep down inside us would crowd out our shiny, phony fa├žades, pullulating in the pyic cracks of our tanned skins? Behold a glimpse into these dark times that hopefully will never rise.

Take this, harvest ghosts!

Note how the dauntless Hendry himself dares to go eye level with the daemon
We might have gone astray when it comes to old Stewart’s decoration ceremony but at least our pumpkin was actually scary, unlike some we could mention. Also, besides the all-encompassing conspiracy against us, the judges were bribed. Goodnight.

This picture shows a visiting Bridge Club from Ontario who got picked up lost on Docteur Penfield & Peel

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Carnival of Evolution #53

Carnival of Evolution #53 is up!  As Max Headroom would say, ch-ch... ch-ch-ch-check it out.  (Yes, I have just dated myself.  :->)

The theme seems to be sorting.  Luckily, there's a hat that's well-adapted to that niche!

What journal does this paper belong in?  Hmm, it's about snakes...
so perhapsssss... The Journal of Herpetology?  No?  Are you sure?
Their editors are very powerful... they could help you get published...

A 25-year quest for the Holy Grail of evolutionary biology

When I started my postdoc in 1998, I think it is safe to say that the Holy Grail (or maybe Rosetta Stone) for many evolutionary biologists w...