Mike Jobs


I took a job. Like, a real-life, adult, full-time job. I haven’t had one of these things in seven years. What do you do, are you supposed to, like, wear a tie? Do I need to say “synergy” to people now?

I’ll still be working remotely, so the office romance might be more difficult to arrange. I may have to develop a crush on a barista. Or, work on some heavy-duty narcissism. But, like, narcissism that can tragically never be fulfilled. Like, I’m too shy to ask myself out. I just amuse myself by making jokes to myself about the other people in the office (also myself), while being the only one to really support my own artistic ambitions. Then, the whole thing will go on for eight more seasons, gradually declining in quality.

The downside, the worst downside, of this job, a copyediting position, is that I will be contractually obligated to not write for competing science news publications — including Scientific American and Discover, where I had made contacts in the last six months or so. I’ve learned not to promise regular blogging, because I’ve yet to keep that promise, but the loss of that outlet might just make it a necessity. I can write about science here. I’m pretty sure nobody considers EpicDarwin a competitor.

The upside, the best upside, of this job is that I can stop hustling and maybe even confidently sign a lease. Time to live without roommates? Might be nice. But, then again, living on my own while working remotely could be (even more) isolating, so — another reason to blog? Because, let’s face it, Facebook is a gaping maw of empty diversion.

Ok, so, see you at EpicDarwin.


…but the smallest insect

“We can allow satellites, planets, suns, the universe, nay whole systems of universes, to be governed by laws, but the smallest insect, we wish to be created at once by a special act.”

–Charls Darwin

The Florida Museum of Natural History dedicates one corner to a great collection of quotes on evolution, from ancient Greek ideas, to E.O. Wilson. They’re all set in these attractive, glowing fonts. Here’s one from the man himself:


YouTube as Newton’s Apple


“I’m not going to show you the cat part,” he said, a bit disdainfully.

Clive Wynne is a dog person, clearly. The psychology professor spoke at the ScienceWriters2013 conference in Gainseville, Fla., yesterday, where he gave an entertaining talk on dog evolution. Long evolutionary story short, he thinks most of the theories out there (that early humans snagged wolf pups to train as hunters’ assistants, that dogs have uncommon skill in reading humans) are bunk.

“That’s the standard line,” he said. “I’m here to tell you, none of it is right.”

If that sounds a bit puckish, it should. Wynne stalked the stage and used his British accent to full effect. He was there to provoke and entertain. I got the feeling he was auditioning for a TED Talk. And why not?

His contrary theory posits a transformative mutation that produced a scavenging wolf that was highly sociable with humans — but maybe a bit too weird for other wolves to want to hang around with. Most interestingly, this flight of speculation was inspired by…a YouTube clip. This one, to be precise.

If you haven’t seen it before, it’s a (pretty spot-on) illustration of the social differences between cats and dogs. Less stiffly stated, a couple of dudes act like asshole cats or disturbingly friendly dogs. Seeing a human do it, it’s pretty hilarious. Watch the “cat” stalk over its owner’s lap. Witness the “dog’s” pure joy at the mere sight of its human’s face.

I’ve seen this video before. And when I watched it, I thought: “Haha. Cats. Haha. Dogs.” Wynne saw it, and linked up dog evolution to a rare human genetic condition known as Williams Syndrome. This is why he gets to give talks, and I don’t. The syndrome, among other things, imparts what Wynne called a “cocktail personality.” That is, children with the condition LOVE meeting new people and hearing all about them; they show great empathy for others.

Wynne then showed a clip of some kids with the syndrome, culled from a TV report on the condition, and…well, it did resemble the stupid dude-as-a-friendly-dog YouTube clip quite a bit.

I appreciate that at this informal science talk, Wynne felt comfortable sharing this odd spark for his insight/speculation. He could, of course, have just been playing up the YouTube part to maximize the entertainment value for us writers, so easily roped into a good story. But I prefer to believe it was an honest comment about the wide range of places scientific insight can originate.

Maybe the dude-as-a-dog actor can wrangle co-author credit on the paper.


How to Tell If Bees Will Make You Die


Note: Not an author photo. (via brooklynfeed.com)

Last week, some jerkwad bee just up and stung (stang?) me for no reason. It was slightly less than awesome.

I plead my case before the gods of bees and justice that I had done nothing to this bee. And yet, I incurred his wrath. I had attempted to steal no honey. I had not even had any honey in months, because I use honey to sweeten hot tea, and it hadn’t been cold. But I comfort my bruised sense of justice and still-kind-of-itchy forearm with the thought that this is insect karma: I’ve used ant traps. Swatted mosquitoes. Told spiders I’d prefer if they left.

I also told myself that at least now I know I am not allergic to bee stings. Because, despite getting stanged, I did not at all die. Like, not at all!

But I’m told that I need at least one more bee to stick it in me before I can be sure about this. That the first one’s just practice (really, just to sensitize you.) So, NEXT TIME, I might die. This sounded like possible BS from Big Bee, meant to sell us more bee stings we don’t really need. So I decided to investigate:

I went out and picked a fight with a beehive.

Just kidding, I Googled it. Most of the major medical sites don’t talk about needing a first sting, but this article that is overrun with pop-up ads has an MD quote that does: “Most people must be stung at least once before having an allergic reaction the second time around. You have to have that initial exposure that sensitizes you to the venom.”

So, it’s possible I’ve simply been set up for my eventual face-balooning death.

Reputable website MayoClinic.com tells me, however, that only 3 percent of people who suffer insect stings will experience the severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.

And this is not to say that everyone must necessarily experience an uneventful first stinging before succumbing to bee-ish wrath the second time. Again, from Mayo, “People who have a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting have a 30 to 60 percent chance of anaphylaxis the next time they’re stung.” So my lack of a severe reaction the first time out at least means I’m less likely to go down come round two.

However, contrary to the image of bee-sting vulnerability you may have from “My Girl,” adults face a greater risk than children, even those representing the innocence of long-lost days in coming-of-age stories. From Mayo: “Adults tend to have more-severe reactions than children and are more likely to die of anaphylaxis than are children. ”

So, in conclusion, my chances of death at the hands (or abdomens) of bees will only increase. I’ll be sure to let you know if I die. But winter is coming, so the little striped marauders will soon freeze. That gives me another good 6-8 months to live. Let’s make it count. I’m buying a sled.

Suns Down, Puns Out


I like puns. This used to be a mild source of embarrassment, something you wouldn’t readily admit, like possessing a rock collection past age 10 or knowing too much of the X-Men backstory.

I think puns have attracted at least a slim leather-jacket covering of cool, recently, though. This may be a consequence of where I’ve lived the last few years — hipster-nerdy Brooklyn and college town-nerdy Madison — but there’s also Twitter as evidence. Goddamn, do people like to tweet puns. And I’ve seen the raucous crowds at “Punderdome 3000″ in Park Slope (which I’ve covered — repeatedly – here).

So, it perhaps surprised me less than it might have surprised others that Madison’s first amateur pun competition, this week’s “Pundamonium,” drew a sizable crowd. Nerd Nite, a celebration of geekery, does well here (at the same venue, to boot, High Noon Saloon). Pundamonium’s host, Art Allen, seemed pleasantly surprised so many Madisonians decided to proudly fly their Dad Joke flags. Art brought the show, to test it out, from Minneapolis, where he hosts it regularly. He hopes to make it regular in Madison, too. Here’s my review, with some unsolicited and probably annoying advice on how to make that happen:

* The Good: Pundamonium works similarly to a poetry slam: punners pun their puns, and judges selected from the audience judge the contestants via whiteboards held aloft. The contestants go through several elimination rounds, whittling things down to the punniest of them all. Each round, punners get a prompt, and must play violently with the language from that springboard.

Pundamonium keeps things fresh each round, though, by mixing up the format. First round, punnists get their prompt while in the audience and have some time to mull it over. Second round, they receive a prompt on stage and get a mere half-minute to prime the punp (get it?). Final rounds, two contestants share a mic and a prompt — it’s open season and each one can jump up to the mic when they have an idea. This, for the best punners, turns into the Dozens, but with puns. Some attitude-laden insults spice up the dork humor nicely.

Also, each round had its own flavor and rhythm, unlike other pun shows (ok, THE other pun show) I’ve seen, in which the rounds got repetitive.

Some folks had some good runs of puns (or pruns, if you will, which you probably won’t). My fave: a punndanista got islands as a prompt and showed an impressive knowledge of world geography, basing all his puns on actual island names. (“If you get a drink, don’t worry, they can make it a Virgin…Hey man, you look sick. UK?”).

* The Bad: This is an amateur contest, and the shorter time periods made some of the contestants go blank. It’s no coincidence the two finalists were members of the same Madison-area improv comedy team. To make this thing sustainable, it needs to offer a chance to more than just semi-pro comedians — particularly in a city as (relatively) small as Madison. That 30-second round should go at least a minute to give those less accustomed to the stage more time to think and not freeze up. If I just want to see some improvers do their thing, I’ll go to an improv show.

But I hope it comes back. Nerdy Madisonians, tell someone you liked the show. Tell Pundamonium. Tell High Noon. Tell Scott Walker. Yeah. That sounds right. Tell Scott Walker.





Tonight, I went to “Pundamonium” in Madison. And, no, Pundamonium is not some new wonder drug for constipation. It is, in fact, a pun-slam competition.

And Pundamonium and Epic Darwin, the blog, are going to break their cherries together.

Because: this was the Minneapolis-born Pundamonium’s first show in Madison.

And this will be the first major post of Epic Darwin: a review of said nerdery.

Stay tuned. I met Pundamonium’s fearless, beardful leader — Art — and he will tell me all about why puns must rule your damn brain. Review coming tomorrow .

–Mike “Epic” Dharwin