A Sorting Hat Spider!

A new spider has been discovered in India. It not only looks like the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter books and films, but it’s been named after it, too!

Photos courtesy of Javed Ahmed et al., Warner Brothers, and Mentalfloss.com

The spider has been named Eriovixia gryffindori, after the character Godric Gryffindor, who gave the magical hat to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

How awesome is that?!

The spider is only 0.3 inches long, so it’s a very mini sorting hat. Its body looks like a curled, shrivelled leaf, so it can camouflage itself during the day.

Can you spot the Sorting Hat Spider hiding on this leaf? Photo courtesy of Javed Ahmed et al., and Mentalfloss.com

What’s just as awesome is the authors’ enthusiasm published in the Indian Journal of Arachnology. They call J.K. Rowling a “wordsmith extraordinaire” and state that naming the spider after Godric Gryffindor is, “an ode from the authors, for magic lost, and found, in an effort to draw attention to the fascinating, but oft overlooked world of invertebrates, and their secret lives.”

The authors even tweeted their discovery to J. K. Rowling, and she tweeted back! You can read more about that here.

Little bits of awesomeness. Just what the world needs.


Some very unfortunate comments (to put it mildly)

I attended the recent ArcticNet conference in Winnipeg. It is a conference showcasing all varieties of Arctic research being conducted by researchers from across the country. Ice, snow, glaciers, hydrology, Arctic foxes (yay!), polar bears, caribou, Inuit literacy, and a whole lot of other topics within the natural, biological, and social sciences.

There was a banquet on one of the evenings of the conference, and it was quite a spectacular affair. Awards were handed out, and there was a speech “honouring” one of the founders of ArcticNet. I say “honouring” because in that speech the speaker poked fun at the recipient, and in the process made some very unfortunate comments. 

They were sexist and offensive. I won’t repeat them here. If you’d like to read more about it, the story was picked up by CBC News and Nunatsiaq News.

I was shocked by the comments. There is a long line of decision-making that goes into choosing words for a speech. Did it not occur to the speaker that the “roast” might rub people the wrong way? And if it did occur to him, well, he decided to say them anyway. How sad.

What also shocked me was when the speaker referred to his comments as “Trump-isms.” Oh, so because it is something Donald Trump might say, that makes them okay?!

I wasn’t going to say anything about the speech. My blog is generally for other (more fun) purposes. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I didn’t say anything at all, silence could be construed as acceptance. Or indifference. 

And I feel anything but accepting or indifferent.

The comments were unacceptable. The speaker should have known better. A lot better. It is very disturbing when people in a position of power (the speaker and especially Donald Trump) make it okay or even acceptable to say sexist and misogynist statements. I know it is very eye-rollingly cliche, but with great power comes great responsibility. It concerns me greatly that an atmosphere of “locker-room talk” has been made mainstream.

Thank you to the students and professors who spoke up against the comments. It was very brave. And the right thing to do.

Cool light bulbs and fox poop

The conference is over and I’m waiting at the airport for my flight home. 

I attended the talks on Arctic foxes, but I had to run to a business meeting so I couldn’t ask the fox researchers my 398453984983745 questions. And I couldn’t find them anywhere afterward.


I will have to stalk them online. Kidding! (Or maybe not…)

But here are some things I learned about Arctic foxes:

  • Their poop is excellent fertilizer. You can easily spot Arctic fox dens in the tundra because the grass and other vegetation around them is so green, thick, and lush.
  • Arctic fox researchers sometimes store fox poop in the fridge do they can do DNA analysis on it at a later time.
  • In some areas, Arctic foxes compete with red foxes. 
  • Lemmings sometimes build nests on top of Arctic fox dens, which is weird, because Arctic foxes eat lemmings.

As I leave Winnipeg, here are some random thoughts–most of which are bathroom-related:

  • There are cool lightbulbs in the hotel rooms:

  • The person in the wheelchair looks like they REALLY have to go…

  • There are TV screens at the bathroom sinks…

And on that note, I gotta go!

Winter-peg and confessions

It’s 4:53 am and I can’t sleep. There’s a blustery snow storm outside and its whooshings and wailings woke me up.

You probably can’t see it very well, but there’s a blustery snow storm in this photo.

It’s easy to hear the wind and snow when you’re on the 18th floor.

Welcome to Winter-peg. They are calling for 10-15 cm of snow today.

Christmas spirit, anyone?

Speaking of hotels, I am staying at The Hotel of the Funky Chair:

Random fact about Downtown Winnipeg: there are lots of sirens.

And I have a confession to make. I’m here at the ArcticNet conference to represent my organization, to help give presentations, to attend side meetings, schmooze, yadda-yadda, but you know what I’m most excited about?

Meeting Arctic fox researchers!

My son and I love Arctic foxes. They’re like the ninjas of the North.


When I read in the conference program that there will be talks by Arctic fox researchers, I felt small internal fireworks go off!

I promise not to be too creepy as I track down the Arctic fox folks and ask them 398453984983745 questions…


Airports and anticipation 

Today I am on my way to…Winnipeg, Manitoba! 

Or, “Winter-peg,” as it is affectionately known.

I’m travelling for work, specifically to attend a conference, and it looks like I have a busy week ahead.

But for now, I will enjoy the ambiance of the airport.

So many people, airplanes, going here and there. Vacations, meetings, conventions, reunions…you can feel the anticipation swirling at the departure gates. There are so many flavours:

  • Excitement
  • Nervousness
  • Trepidation
  • Longing
  • Loathing
  • Anxiety
  • Optimism
  • Pessimism
  • Relief
  • Relaxation
  • …and so many more.

The Baskin Robbins 31 flavours of airport anticipation??
For now, I am anticipating lunch! And a week’s worth of conference sandwiches. So I’d better order something a little out of the ordinary before my plane leaves…

Mmm…chicken tikka masala…

Not bad for airport food!

See you soon, Winter-peg!

(Excitement, optimism, a dash of nervousness…)

What if academic journals included comics?

Yesterday I received copies of the journal in which I was recently published (hooray!). It is an article I worked on with several colleagues at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Waterloo about the personal influenza (flu) immunization rates of Ontario pharmacists. Basically, of the 780 pharmacists who took our online survey, 70% said they were vaccinated against the flu.

We decided to include an advocacy piece to encourage more pharmacists to get vaccinated. We worked with Sante Communications Group and they suggested designing a comic. Here is the finished product that ran alongside the article in the journal:

(The fact that Jenny looks a lot like me is purely coincidental!)

It was very cool of the Canadian Pharmacists Journal to publish our comic. And it got me thinking: what if academic journals ran more comics like this? Although they are expensive to print, they could certainly provide online versions. And some academic articles lend themselves to visualization more easily than others. It would take more time to publish the research as well, considering the effort involved in illustration and design.

But would readership be affected in any way? Would the public be more interested in perusing the journals? 

Would academics welcome some comics in their reading? Like a graphic novel version of the journal? Or would it be mostly interpreted as “dumbing-down” their research?

I’ve always valued presenting science in a form that is easy to understand for the public. It really forces you to identify the key points and bottom line(s) of the research.

Just some things to think about. In the meantime, kudos to the Canadian Pharmacists Journal for going out on a limb! 

Now perhaps it’s time for me to work on a graphic novel. 🙂

Academic Writing: Feeling the Love

Today I received in the mail copies of a journal in which I recently had an article published. And the article is mentioned on the front cover! Woohoo! (Bottom left-hand corner of the photo–the story about pharmacy students.) 

I’m on a roll with publications lately! But this is after quite an extensive dry spell.

I was excited to have this article published, but I wasn’t nearly as excited as I was about my article about the Cecropia moth in WILD magazine. I think it’s because for me, academic writing always felt much more like work, whereas writing “plain language,” be it fiction or non-fiction, is much more fun. Academic writing doesn’t come naturally to me; plain language writing does.

I’ve held a number of university contract research positions, and in each case part of my job was/is to write articles for academic journals. I admit it, I struggle with it still. It feels slightly…foreign. Where’s the creativity? Where’s the beautiful-sounding prose? Where’s the story? And then one day I realized that academic writing is just like all other forms of writing: there’s creativity, there can be beautiful-sounding prose, and there definitely is a story…I just need to look a little harder. In academic writing, compared to other writing, it just comes in different flavours.

One big breakthrough I had in my writing occurred at a conference when a speaker gave a talk about writing with “heart.” (My apologies to the speaker…I can’t remember your name!) She was speaking within the context of writing fiction for children, and advised that your story, your characters, your words, everything should come from your heart. Pour your heart onto the page and fill what you write with love. Readers will notice and feel it.

So, I tried it with my fiction writing and my non-fiction writing for children. I tried to write as much from my heart as I could. And I noticed a big difference. A HUGE difference. Even if I’m exhausted and I can hardly type and my brain is chugging along trying to find words, I try as hard as I can to dig deep, deep down and write what’s in my heart. Because if I write just for the sake of putting words down, or to just “get it done,” I can tell the difference when I later read what I wrote (and cringe).

And then one day at work I was re-reading a draft academic article I wrote and I thought, “Wow, this sucks.” I realized I hadn’t cared about what I was writing. I wrote just to “get it done.” And it was obvious. So I dug deep down, renewed my interest in the subject matter, and thought about my readers. I started to write with heart. Wow, what a difference. 

Lately I’ve been trying to embrace academic writing. It can be creative, it can be beautiful, it can have a story, and it can be filled with heart. And as my husband suggested, “Think of academic writing as cross-training for your other writing.”

Time to lace up those cross-trainers.