Yearly Archives: 2014

Reading List for 2015

In 2012, making a to-read list had the interesting effect of dramatically increasing the amount of miscellaneous reading I did, even though I only polished off half of it. So I’m trying it again. Some of these are professional (Simon, Berentson, Campbell-Hunts), some the books-of-today (Macdonald, Hager, Gibson, Link), and some classics I’ve always meant to try (Powell, Bulgakov, Gosse). A mix of fiction and non-, but only 7 female authors out of 26. They’re collected from the year’s best-of lists, some recommendations of well-read friends, and the enthusiasms of strangers on Twitter.

  • Nina Simon | The Participatory Museum
  • Meg Wolitzer | The Interestings
  • Javier Marías | The Infatuations
  • Simon Rich | Spoiled Brats
  • Anthony Powell | What’s Become of Waring
  • Anthony Powell | The Afternoon Men
  • Joe Sacco | Bumf
  • Helen Macdonald | H is for Hawk
  • Mikhail Bulgakov | The Master and Margarita
  • Nicky Hager | Dirty Politics
  • Quinn Berentson | Moa
  • Ryan Reynolds et al. (eds.) | Once in a Lifetime
  • Mark Miodownik | Stuff Matters
  • William Gibson | The Peripheral
  • Marilynne Robinson | Gilead
  • Stefan Zweig | The Society of the Crossed Keys
  • Charles Stross | Accelerando
  • Edmund Gosse | Father and Son
  • Mary Renault | The Last of the Wine
  • George Saunders | Tenth of December
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald | The Crack-Up
  • Svante Pääbo | Neanderthal Man
  • Randall Munroe | What If?
  • Diane Campbell-Hunt & Colin Campbell-Hunt | Ecosanctuaries
  • Andrew Mack | Searching for Pekpek
  • Kelly Link | Get in Trouble

Latin Names 101 for Journalists

Newspapers always get Latin names wrong. Over the years, I’ve submitted lots of correctly-formatted copy to editors and watched it get mangled. No more. Here are the rules (rules! not guidelines!) for using scientific names; share them with a journalist you care about.

Genus and Species

Latin names are in two parts, the genus and the species; sometimes there’s a subspecies or variety tacked on the end. “Species” is both a singular and plural noun, by the way.

The New Zealand dolphin, Cephalorhynchus hectori, has a North Island subspecies, C. hectori maui.

Capitals

The genus always starts with a capital letter; the species never does, even if it’s named after a person’s proper name (like Cephalorhynchus hectori).

This is the first solid evidence that “modern” humans—or Homo sapiens—interbred with their Neanderthal neighbours.

Italics

Scientific names are always (always) written in italics. Higher-level groups (which have names like family, class, and order) are never italicised.

Nikau (Rhopalostylis sapida) is the only New Zealand member of the Arecaceae or palm family.

When you’re talking about a whole genus of plants or animals, like Brassica, it’s also italicised. (Once a newspaper told me it’s “not AP style” to use italics and stripped them out, but set my byline in italics.)

Abbreviations

The first time the name’s used, genus and species are spelled in full. Subsequently you can abbreviate the genus.

Homo sapiens and H. neanderthalensis share 99.7 percent of their DNA.

If you don’t know exactly what species is referred to, or you want to talk about more than one, you can use sp. or spp. (plural) after the genus. Note: no italics.

Campylobacter spp. commonly contaminate food, and five species cause gastroenteritis in humans.
On New Year’s Day, Heaphy noted in his journal that he had shot and skinned some kind of kiwi (Apteryx sp.).

Articles

Journalists often wrongly refer to species with a definite article. It’s better to think of a Latin name as a name, like Dave Smith or Sauron.

The Anomalocaris was a large shrimp-like animal that lived 540 million years ago. [WRONG]
Anomalocaris was a large shrimp-like animal that lived 540 million years ago. [RIGHT]

Special Cases

  • The fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, beloved of geneticists, is just referred to as Drosophila. It’s become the vernacular name, so doesn’t need italics.
  • The gut bacterium Escherichia coli is almost always referred to by its abbreviation, E. coli, for obvious reasons. Note: italics.
  • T. rex is the dinosaur, T Rex is the band.
  • Economists sometimes talk about the supposedly “rational human” homo economicus, which is really just a Latin phrase, not a proper biological name, so doesn’t need a capital.

Test

How many things are wrong with this quote?

“[The forestry worker] discovered a large native spider from the stanwellia species.”
(NZ Herald, August 14, 2014)

(Answer: four. “from”, missing italics, genus and species confused, and not capitalised)

Corrected version:

The forestry worker discovered a large native spider belonging to the genus Stanwellia.

or, better,

The forestry worker discovered a large native trapdoor spider (Stanwellia sp.).

Another Test

How many mistakes?

“A 24-cm-long giant amphipod, the alicella gigantean, has been found in the Kermadec Trench.”
(modified from Stuff.co.nz, 23 Oct 2013)

(Answer: four. It should be Alicella gigantea, so missing italics, no capitalisation, needless definite article, and a species name which should look dubious even if your Latin is a bit rusty.)


Does it matter that newspapers get all this wrong? Yes. Geranium and Geranium aren’t interchangeable. The rules are set up so it’s as clear as possible exactly what plant, animal, or bacterial infection you’re referring to. Mess up the Latin name, and you end up talking about something else entirely, and cause confusion or even harm. Journalists pride themselves on getting things right; Latin names are easy to get right.


What the Heck, While I’m Here

CO2: No.
Co2: Nope, that’s two atoms of Cobalt.
CO2: Ugh, seriously no.
CO2: Correct! But almost never seen in a newspaper.

See also: H2O, O2, and so on.

And At No Extra Cost

Phosphorus (n.): the element.
Phosphorous (adj.): Full of phosphorus; compare with sulphurous.

Further Reading

Making a Better Conference

Next week I’m going to a two-day professional meeting, a chance for all my peers to get together and compare notes, discuss burning questions in our field, network and arrange collaborations for the coming year, and so forth.

At least in theory. whale1 In practice, it’s:

  1. Two solid days of PowerPoint presentations, most just ten minutes long
  2. Forty-five minutes for lunch, two 15-minute tea breaks, and a generous 10-minute “stretch break/discussion time” each day, rather like primary school kids get to stop them fidgeting
  3. No informal get-togethers, poster session, dinner, or excursions at all
  4. A few “panel discussions” but with only one participant listed

I’m getting a bit weary of this model of conference organisation: packing as many unrelated one-way infodumps into the day as possible so everybody can get credit from their institution for presenting. In most cases they’re not sharing any actual new research or findings, it’s just a status update. Despite most of the presenters being curators of visual arts, I predict there will be lots of bullet-pointed text.

I’ll be talking about our moa project for ten minutes, just enough time to mention the 3D-scanning Kickstarter we’ll be doing but not enough time to answer more than one question about it. I’m at the end of a block of ten-minute talks which will inevitably go over time, so will have to choose between dropping the questions or stealing people’s tea break. (Telling people to keep to time in these things is useless; it requires the MC to actually cut people off before they’ve finished, which never happens, does it?)

Please, can we just toss this entire mode of professional interaction in the bin and set it on fire? whale2 2 I know it’s easy to come up with suggestions, and good ideas tend to fall apart when subjected to the brutal realities of conference planning. Nevertheless, here are some possibilities:

  • Six-minutes-forty-seconds pechakucha talks would be one way to keep people to time. And you actually have to rehearse for a pechakucha, which would be a nice change. Yes, it’s a bit more stressful, but (horrible statement coming up) people who don’t feel confident enough to give a pechakucha shouldn’t be giving public talks, or rather should be sharing their ideas in some other way.
  • An unconference with no scheduled talks and spontaneously-assembled sessions would be a better alternative for this small group. Everyone says what they want to share, the schedule is put together with Post-It notes or on a Google-doc spreadsheet, and people gravitate to what interests them. Everybody participates.
  • Having a particular goal: in my area, it might be thrashing out a joint statement on the trade in moa bones, collectively developed from discussions as a Google document, with everybody signing their names at the end. For others, it might be developing the initial concept for an app, or brainstorming an object list for a collaborative exhibition, or adding to a tips/trick list for Vernon, our database software. The idea is to produce something tangible at the end.
  • Panel discussions that are actual discussions, where people argue with each other, rather than deliver mini-lectures in parallel. The chairperson should be actively stopping people, inviting contributions from the audience (comments, votes, thrown objects), intervening with questions of their own, and grilling panel members. Even the conventions of a formal debate would be an improvement: yes/no to a stated proposition, time allocated for rebuttal.
  • Half the conference time—no less—devoted to networking, with empty rooms and projectors available for meetings and spontaneous workshops.
  • Adventurous use of Twitter: questions taken from the projected twitterstream, sessions formed in response to questions using the hashtag, Twitter handles first and largest on conference badges.
  • No conference pack stuffed with junky fliers and jellybeans, no comb-bound conference book. The programme should be a dynamic website, viewable on a mobile device (and loaner tablets should be available for people without sufficiently-smart phones).
  • Sketchnoting for every session, by volunteers or even a professional, collected together as a PDF and sent to all the attendees as a memento.
My sketchnotes from Hans-Martin Hinz's talk at ICOM in Auckland.

My sketchnotes from Hans-Matin Hinz’s talk at ICOM in Auckland.

These ideas wouldn’t solve all the problems of the traditional conference format, but in a small meeting, where collaboration is more important than formal presentations, they’d make for a more valuable use of everybody’s time.

Tweetdump

As a kid I thought the aristocracy were battle rankings: a Duke beats an Earl, unless the Earl’s on his home ground or has special powers. If a Viscount beats enough Knights he levels up, and evolves into a Count. Like Pokémon. • Tangerines, tangelos, mandarins, tambourines, clementines, satsumas. One of these isn’t even fruit. What a mess. • NZ Home magazine seems convinced all new houses should be grey shoeboxes with sliding glass walls. Like Baby’s First SketchUp. • Can a novelist still write about jigsaws, or are jigsaws now symbolic, incurring an automatic Metaphor Penalty? • There are 10 types of people in the world: those who have heard that binary joke 1 to 9 times and… scratch that, 9 types of people. • Poor Taylor Kitsch: going from lead in John Carter to lead in Battleship is like getting an awful haircut which then catches on fire. • Labelling something a First World Problem, then feeling guilty and taking it back. #firstworldproblems • A “soul patch” is just a toothbrush moustache grown on the other lip. Nobody would have one if they were called “underhitlers”. • NZ syndrome (n): “Gold! Woo! We rule! Give ’em a taste of Kiwi! And now adjust all the rankings for population because we’re so little.” • I think of the Olympics as a video game: events are levels, the medals achievements, there’s no boss fight, and somebody else is playing. • “Synergy” is when a combination of items is much greater or more terrible than the sum of its parts, as in the phrase “classic Dutch rock”. • @adzebill

Tweetdump

If The Bourne Legacy had breathed new life into the franchise the two-word review would be Bourne Vita. • “Have-you-read?” lists let you count books read when your brain was pink and ill-formed; ones you’ve forgotten; ones you never understood. • Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth ends with Lily Bart spending her last $20 on a derringer and gunning down everyone who did her wrong. That’s from Funhouse, the Quentin Tarantino script Tony Scott was supposed to film. It concludes with a shootout on the deck of the Titanic. • I’m trying the Paleocene Diet: it’s based on ancestral adaptive nutritional needs. Every meal is fruit or insects and I only eat at night. • Plain burlesque is getting tired. I predict hot new trends: burlesque on stilts, canine burlesque, and, inevitably, canine stilt burlesque. • Snobby Evelyn Waugh would pretend to think Julian Huxley (then head of UNESCO) was still at London Zoo and ask, “How are the giraffes?” Arthur Evelyn St John Waugh was his full name. Cannot understand why he went by Evelyn Waugh. He could have been St Waugh. • Coffee smells great and tastes nasty; it’s the anti-durian. In fact if you mix coffee and durian they are annihilated in a huge explosion. • “You can’t go past Meryl Streep”, opines the person behind me. But she’s a master of disguise! You probably have, unbeknownst! • Oscar Wilde really needs to work on his aphorisms. Some of them are longer than 140 characters. • My old high school is merging with its hated arch-rival. The resulting bloodshed should solve any overcrowding problems. • Chatham Island time is 45 minutes ahead of mainland New Zealand. There’s just one other time zone with a 45-minute offset: Nepal. • The ancient Greeks imported their papyrus from Byblos; hence bibliography, bibliotheque, and Bible. Now that’s successful branding. • The great tonsure debate was resolved, in favour of the Anglo-Saxons, by the Synod of Whitby in 664. Anglo-saxon monks shaved the crowns of their heads, whereas Irish monks shaved all the front half. Like the world’s most extreme mullet. • Nostradamus successfully predicted the date and place of his own death! Less impressively, it was: “Tomorrow, right here in my sickbed.” • Wilfrid Blunt, in the preface to his history of italic handwriting, includes a shoutout to his homies Sir Sydney Cockerell and the Marquess of Cholmondeley. (While Blunt was writing Sweet Roman Hand, his younger brother Anthony was busy upstaging him by spying for the Russians.) • @adzebill