Saturday, November 30, 2013


In October I completed my longest race: 13.1 miles. Scott and my dad raced also, and Little Bear came along for the ride (a good friend watched her while we ran).

All ready to go before the race.
I did pretty well for the first half. In fact, I must have been doing a pretty good pace for me (as you'll see at the end). Most of the time I was trading places, forward and back with these two (If you haven't heard of you it, you can read more about The Blerch):

The people in front of me most of the race. 
Then, after the half-way mark I felt a strong *pop* in my left knee, and a lot of pain. I couldn't run without extreme shooting pain in my knee, but I could walk. I could even walk quickly. So I did. I speed walked the rest of the race. Luckily there were people like this to keep us motivated:

I finished with a 13 minute per mile pace. At the end of the race I got some ice for my knee

It took a few days before I could use stairs without pain. Three weeks after the half-marathon I ran a 10k race, but had quite a bit of discomfort. Then we ran a family 5k for polio research, with some pain in my knee for the last mile. Over the last several weeks I haven't run much, because of travel, so I was hoping everything would be healed.

Today we accomplished half of our family Thanksgiving traditions; we ran our annual family Turkey Trot, a 5k. Everything felt good (except for being a little out of practice), until the last couple blocks. So, I'm not completely healed yet, but on my way.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Platypus, platypus, platypus, platypus!

Platypuses at Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology

The platypus is currently tied for my favorite mammal (along with hedgehogs and manatees). Platypuses have a lot of unique characteristics, but one of the features I find most fascinating is their sex chromosomes. Before a post about their chromosomes, there's a few things we need to clear up.

1. The platypus is not a "cross" between a duck and a beaver.
Because of its unique features, there is a lot of confusion about the platypus. The platypus is not some strange hybrid. A duck and a beaver cannot produce an offspring together. The population of platypuses evolved, like all other living organisms.

Upon closer inspection, looking at the picture above, the platypus bill looks very little like a duck bill at all. The platypus bill is wide and flat, and appears to be more leathery than the hard duck bill.

Spot-billed Duck RWD6
By DickDaniels ( (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
And, even though popular cartoons continue to draw its tail as if it were beaver-like, the platypus tail is relatively short, and is covered with soft brown fur, not at all like a beaver's large hairless tail:

American Beaver
The beaver has a large, flat, hairless tail. By Steve, Washington, DC via Wikimedia Commons

2. The platypus is not the ancestor of modern mammals, it is a modern mammal. 
Although it lays eggs, and doesn't have breasts or nipples, the platypus is still classified as a mammal. Platypuses are part of the group of egg-laying mammals called "monotremes." These are not "proto-mammals." Nor are they "primitive". Monotreme mammals have been evolving for the same amount of time as all other mammals. As humans we share a common ancestor with platypuses, approximately 220 million years ago. That doesn't mean that it isn't useful to understand more about the platypus, but interpretations should be careful not to assume the platypus has maintained the ancestral state of all mammalian traits.

3. The platypus is not the only egg-laying mammal. 
In addition to the platypus, there is another group of monotreme mammals that lay eggs: Echidnas. Echidnas and platypuses diverged from one another about 64 million years ago. While they share some characteristics that are unique to monotreme mammals (relative to other mammals), such as egg-laying and oozing milk out of mammary pores instead of having nipples, the two groups of species have accumulated many differences. Perhaps one of the most notable is that there are at least four species of echidna, and only one species of platypus.

Other cool echidna features include their body covering which includes a mixture of course hair and dense, pointy, spines.

Echidnas at Berkeley's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
Echidnas also have long durable nails that they use for digging in the sand and dirt.
Check out those nails.

4. Platypuses are about the size of a house cat
I don't know why, but when I was growing up, I always imagined that platypuses would be fairly large critters - not unlike a recently discovered branch in the platypus tree that went extinct 5-15 million years ago. Turns out, modern platypuses are actually about the size of a house cat. You can see the pictures below  with my hand next to them.

Not so giant platypus.
If you want to see a live platypus (which I really, Really, REALLY do!!), check out this video of some people hand feeding a platypus.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

All the (super) cool kids are doing it

One of the super-fun properties of water is that, under certain conditions, and without many impurities, you can cool it slightly beyond its freezing point (called "super cooling"), then perturb the system, and instantly freeze the water.

What you need for this experiment:
1. Filtered water (some tap water will work, but bottled waters generally work well).
2. Salt and ice water mixture (ice made from tap water is fine) in a 3/4 ratio of salt/ice water
3. Large bowl/container

1. Mix the salt and ice water so that it is dense with ice, and will support your bottles of water.
2. Open lids on filtered water (Opening lids after the bottles are super-cooled could lead to instant freezing. You can leave the lid on loosely, or just take it off.).
3. Sit bottles of water in the salt and ice water mixture for approximately 40 minutes. You may need to check on them slightly before. It is good to have a "tester" bottle of water that you can check to see if the water is super-cooled.
4. After water is super-cooled, pour onto a substrate (ice works well). This will perturb the system and lead to instant freezing of the super-cooled water.

You can find alternative instructions here


Science is awesome.