I was on CNN – Talking Ebola, Dogs, and Bats

I appeared on CNN last night to help give context to the euthanization of Excalibur, the pet dog of the Spanish nurse who has contracted the ebola virus. My CNN interview is here:

I thought it might be helpful for me to follow up with some more thorough explanations:

Can animals get Ebola?
Yes Absolutely. Ebola affects humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas.

What animal first gave ebola to humans? Continue reading

Working with TV crews: A guide for scientists/researchers

50641096Summary Huzzah! You’ve been approached by a group of TV people who want to highlight your work! Congrats! Making your science accessible is a great thing to do, because it helps to make you a better communicator for grant applications and conferences, and because it also makes the world a better place. But doing TV can be unnerving, and can sometimes cause frustrations that might leave you wondering why you ever bothered to do TV in the first place. I was once a full-time scientist, but now I work as a TV producer/host trying to make your science accessible by interviewing people like you. I’ve written this article as advice, to help you have a positive experience when you work with people like me. If nothing else, I suggest that you keep in mind that TV crews will usually have different objectives than you will. Below, I explain that concept further, and then offer some suggestions that you, as a scientist interviewee, can use to feel a sense of control through the process. Continue reading

Congrats co-author Jorn!

Jorn Cheney is a grad student at Brown University in the lab where I once worked as a postdoc. Some work we did together has finally come out the other side of the peer review process, and is now offically accepted. Congrats, Jorn! Here’s the full citation:

Cheney, J. A., Ton, D., Konow, N., Riskin, D. K., Breuer, K. S., and Swartz, S. M. (In Press). Hindlimb motion during steady flight of the lesser dog-faced fruit bat, Cynopterus brachyotis. PLoS One. Accepted April 30, 2014.

(I’m also happy for myself, since I haven’t had a paper come out in a while.)

It’s been a while

I can’t believe I haven’t updated in so long. The book is out in the US and in Canada. It’s selling well. The reviews have been pretty kind. I guess I’ve just been so busy I haven’t updated, but I thought I’d just put this up so you’d know this website is still active. Now you know.

The Venus Flytrap Adventure

 Tim Reid played Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinatti. He has nothing to do with this post, though.

With my first book, Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You, coming out this March, I’m looking for any possible way to help it get noticed. To that end, my literary agents at Folio suggested that I consider a gift to go along with galleys sent out to buyers by the publishers. The best gift, they said, would be something unusual that fit the theme of the book. There would be a few hundred, so I should be careful about price, since I would be paying for these gifts out of pocket.

I brainstormed with some people at work. The first suggestion from one of our interns, Oakley, was scorpion-filled lollipops. I loved the idea, but those turned out to be too expensive. Then one of our star producers, the brilliant Seonaid Eggett, suggested little envelopes of venus flytrap seeds. Perfect.

The plan was to put ten to an envelope, so I contacted Matt and Leah at The www.FlyTrapStore.com, and arranged to have a few thousand seeds sent to me in Toronto. They’re based in Oregon, but apparently shipping flytrap seeds across the border isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, when the seeds arrived, they looked like this:

This is what 2,000 venus flytrap seeds looks like.

They’re smaller than poppy seeds! Can you imagine searching an envelope for ten tiny specs?

Thinking quickly, my wife Shelby and I decided we could put them into Eppendorf tubes so that they would at least be visible. The smallest size I could find was 0.5 ml tubes. Here’s how it turned out.

Ten Venus Flytrap seeds in an Eppendorf Tube
Ten Venus Flytrap seeds in an Eppendorf Tube

It only took one evening to get the seeds dispersed into tubes. I ran a bunch of those tubes over to the good folks at Simon & Schuster Canada, and they took over from there.

Here’s what the final product looks like:



To be clear, I’m not saying the book comes with Venus flytrap seeds for people who buy it in the store. This is just for the early promotion.

And here’s a look at what the Americans got:photo 2 photo 1

Cool, eh?