\ Visualizing Evolution: 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Creature Cast - ep. 2

A claymation demonstration of the evolution of multicellular organisms! No really, look:

CreatureCast Episode 2 from Casey Dunn on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"I Am a Paleontologist"

The new They Might Be Giants album, "Here Comes Science," has a song called "I Am a Paleontologist"!

Look for some iconic imagery at 1:30!

"It's so fun to think about how a species has evolved!"

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Reviving the Lost Art of Naming the World"

I just read this article from August 10th's New York Times and thought it was relevant and eye-opening: Reviving the Lost Art of Naming The World <-- click! click!
"The past few decades have seen a stream of studies that show that sorting and naming the natural world is a universal, deep-seated and fundamental human activity, one we cannot afford to lose because it is essential to understanding the living world, and our place in it."
I am fascinated by this idea that taxonomy is innate to the way humans see the world, and that there are specific places of the brain evolved specifically to organize levels and groupings of living things. Maybe it helps explain why my own brain has always been obsessed with that sort of thing.

Anyway, the article is adapted from Carol Yoon's new book, "Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science," which I will be reading as soon as I can get my hands on it (someone checked it out of the library, darn it!):
I have to add the obvious, of course, which is that the ability to speak in the language of taxonomy is essential, absolutely essential, to learning and understanding the fundamentals of evolutionary biology.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Linkfest: Hiatus-break!

It's time to break this blogging hiatus, so I'm going to start with something easy: a Linkfest!

Link 1: Manuel Lima of Visualizing Complexity was kind enough to send me this link to a featured project, a visualization of "The Evolution of the Origin of Species." The diagrams model each edition of the book as a "literary organism," illustrating changes from one edition to the next down to sentence level! The results are highly organic, beautiful, and undeniably reminiscent of complex phylogenies:
Click the link to see how it all works... the morphs from one edition to the next are worth seeing and make the entire thing clearer.

Link 2: From National Geographic.com: Ancient Birds had Iridescent Feathers!
As someone who desperately wants to be a paleo-artist, any hint of evidence about what color fossil organisms may have been just tickles me pink! Or rather tickles me iridescent black! (On the other hand, part of what has always attracted me to paleoart is the relatively high amount of artistic liberty it can offer, but those are selfish, selfish thoughts!)

Link 3: From BBC Earth News: Axolotle verges on wild extinction.
This is truly depressing. I worked with these guys for two years as an undergrad and they are the coolest critters. Amphibian extinctions around the world have to be one of the scariest and saddest environmental problems we currently face.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Website launched!

I have finally launched my website, after several months of sitting on the unused domain name. Still needs some polishing, but check it out!


I may or may not eventually add a Visualizing Evolution segment to the site. For now it is simply a gallery of (mostly student) illustrations and artwork.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Making a continuous line of circles in Adobe Illustrator

This is a bit off-topic, but I discovered this Illustrator trick at work yesterday and thought someone else out there might find it useful!

Have you ever needed to create a smooth line of circles, perhaps to represent some biomolecule or a string of pearls or something? Here's a quick way to do it.

1. Draw a line. Make sure you are happy with the curve because you won't be able to change it later:

2. Make the line weight the diameter of circle you want. Let's say you want your circles to be 20 pts in diameter:

** Make sure you have the round end option selected! **

Here's the line with a 20 pt stroke and round ends.

3. Dash that line! A 0 (zero) point dash will give you perfect circles. Make the gap just slightly wider than the circles, because if they are touching you will not be able to separate them later. I've given them a 20.2 pt gap.

Here's the line of circles!

4. Here's the tricky part. I don't know why this works, but just trust me and go to Object > Flatten Transparency:

And set the Raster/Vector Balance to 100. Click "OK"

Now the circles are separate object, but it is still technically one line, so...

5. Select Object > Compound Path > Release to make the circles separate shapes.

6. And ungroup them. Object > Ungroup

Now the circles can be selected as individual objects and given colors/gradients, etc...

Or broken up to show the process of a protein being dissolved into amino acids, as I had to illustrate yesterday!

Let me know if you found this useful at all. : )

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Darwinius masillae

Did everyone see the Google Homepage today? It's Darwinius masillae!
Clicking on the image brings up a search for "missing link found" which is just asking for a lot of misleading headlines. It is very very cool of Google to do this, but the search really should have been set to "Darwinius masillae."

I'll have more to say about Darwinius masillae once there is a cladogram or some paleoart to show. In the meantime, I'm going to vanish back into my blog hiatus for now.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Linkfest: Trunked sauropods = no. Feathered sauropods = maybe?

Link 1: Tetrapod Zoology: Junk in the Trunk: why sauropods did not possess trunks. Too bad though, that would have been awesome.
Robert Bakker

Link 2: A feathered ornithischian dinosaur? No, really!
Tianyulong confuciusi Illustration by Li-Da Xing

The implications of a feathered Ornithischian are that 'feathers,' or rather some sort of fibrous proto-feather, was ancestral to all dinosaurs. What's next, feathered Triceratops? It's too much!
from Zheng X-T, You H-L, Xu X, Dong Z-M (2009)
An Early Cretaceous heterodontosaurid dinosaur
with filamentous integumentary structures. Nature 458:333-336.

Link 3: The spiraling shape will make you go insane! Actually, this is the most awesome representation of the geologic time scale I've seen since Prehistoric Zoobooks, which also used a spiraling landscape. Thanks for the link, Nomad!

Link 4: Carl Sagan's Cosmos is now available to view on Hulu. Watch it! Watch it over and over and over again!

Link 5: Coldplay.com has a flashy new discography with all the lyrics, cover art, sound clips, and even videos!
It's not really relevant. I just had to tell someone... Watch the Lovers in Japan video if you need a pick-me-up.

edit: Aha, I just thought of a way to justify link #5. If you flip through the cover art you can see the evolution of Coldplay's style over time. See how the cover art changes over time, from that loose photographic style of Parachutes, to the technical 3D renderings of aRoBttH, to the highly restrained coded word art of X&Y, to a very loose painterly style for VLV. And the songs follow these transitions, too! Parachutes is fresh but timid, aRoBttH is confident and experimental, X&Y is over synthesized and at times tries too hard to be grand, and VLV is free, unworried artistic expression that is beautiful and as easy to listen to as the art is to look at!

So, all right then!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ultimate Ungulate

I just found the coolest website ever! UltimateUngulate.com!
In addition to being really well designed (every time you refresh you get a new unglate photo in that main circle,) it also has a nice interactive cladogram, in which you can zoom in on say, the Bovids, and then the famliy Hippotraginae...
And look at some oryx pictures, why not!
There's also plenty of information on ecology, behavior, distribution, etc. Check it out if you're a fan of hoofed mammals!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Poetry - Ode to a Microbe

Poetry? On a Monday again?

Well, this Craig Gosling poem sort of goes along with the youtube link I posted in the last entry.

Ode to a Microbe

Consider the poor little microbe an animal very odd
infecting its way through life with the blessing of God.
Not having to worry about death and if there’s a heaven or hell,
superbly designed to infect, and make sure people don’t live well
It doesn’t care if you are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or Jew.
It doesn’t care if you prayed, any warm body will do.
It doesn’t give a damn if its victims live or they die.
It does what it was designed to do, enough to make anyone cry.
It laughs at pitiful tears flowing from suffering eyes
cause it doesn’t have a conscience and loves to ruin innocent lives.
Consider the poor little microbe, an animal very odd.
Perfectly designed as a killer by a merciful God.

-Craig Gosling

And something I made a couple years ago for the Bozeman AMI student... raffle... thing...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Linkfest: Long-neck Stegosaur

Link #1: Long-necked Stegosaur discovered in Portugal!

Miragaia longicollum Photograph courtesy Octavio Mateus/Nova de Lisboa University; illustration courtesy Alam Lam/Nova de Lisboa University (from NationalGeographic.com)

Check out the cladocram... it contains the phylogeny as well as the continents each group is found on and the timescale for each node!
figure from the Proceedings of the Royal Society -- click to embiggen

Link #2: An interactive mass extinction timeline from the Discovery Channel: (Thanks to Harrison for the link!)
Link #3: Atheist now accepts Intelligent Design. Maybe the creationists were right all along! Only a loving God could create something as perfect and useful as a bacterial flagellum:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Pacific barreleye fish knows what's up

I think I'm the only blogger who hasn't posted the recent pictures of the Pacific barreleye fish, so here they are! More on the story here.

Sure, God created this on the 5th day. I'll buy that. ; )

Edit: I haven't been checking Google Analytics for this blog for weeks... because it was just too depressing. But I just signed in and,
Man alive!! Look what happened as Darwin's birthday approached! Most visitors ever. Now I really wish I would have done a real post.

I hereby promise to have something really, really good for the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species in November.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More homology for kids...

This is a passage from Jean Craighead George's children's book Julie, which is the sequel to Julie of the Wolves, my all-time favorite book from my grade school days.

"When Julie and Ellen were alone, Julie came down from the iglek and sat beside her.

Ellen," she said, "our next lesson is about how every beast and plant is dependent on every other beast and plant."

"I understand that," she said. "You have taught me well."

Julie despaired. She had been talking to Ellen since the sun had gone down about cycles and the rise of one animal and the fall of another. She had held up her hands and told her how the Eskimo knew they were related to all the animals because they all had the same bones in one shape or another. She had told her that wolves kept the environment healthy, and that when the environment is healthy, people are healthy.

And still Ellen had told her she would kill a wolf to save the oxen and Kapugen agreed with her.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Poetry - Homology

Craig Gosling has sent me some more evolution poems! But I forgot about Weekend Poetry yesterday, so here is one a day late:
Homologous Things and Ridiculous Wings

Homologous structures cry out to me
“Ever wonder how we came to be?”
What does a horse, a bird, and a cat
have in common with a boy, frog, and a bat?
All have two limbs in the front and the rear.
All have three bones in those limbs it is clear.
Are these structures related at all?
From same origins seems a good call.
But what about angels, did god make a mistake?
Where did wings come from? I think they’re all fake.
How did they grow, those feathers and bones?
Are they some kind of fairy-tale clones?
I’ll stick to science and homologous things
rather than angels with ridiculous wings.

- Craig Gosling
Homology really is a fantastic way to introduce students to the idea of evolution. Young kids, too! They catch on right away when they see the preserved skeleton of a bat wing and note how hand-like it is. Craig also sent me this coloring sheet he drew for an elementary school teacher, in which the kids are encouraged to color the homologous bones in each animal (humerus, radius, etc) the same color.

Click here to download a full-size .pdf of this coloring sheet.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin Day!

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin! I had long planned to do something special for VE on this day. But the last few weeks have left me with little time or energy. I feel genuinely guilty about it... like I've forgotten a friend's birthday or something! Don't worry, pal. I'll take you out to Applebee's next week to make up for it. Yes, you can even get the appetizer. Anyway, at least Google is celebrating properly!

Isn't that lovely?

Seed Magazine also has some cool stuff for the day, and click on the Blog for Darwin link on the right to see some blogs that didn't neglect their Darwin Day Duties like this one did.

This here is what it's all about:

"It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

0 for 12

I've been neglecting Visualizing Evolution, I'm afraid.

But with the new month, I do need to point out that the first of my 2009 predictions has (thankfully) not come true.

"January - Oil prices rise again, causing a sudden spike in gas prices"

See, unlike the 'real' psychics, I point out my misses. ; )

Oh, read this over at Pharyngula if you haven't already. It will make your day.

edit: Looks like February's prediction will be wrong as well:

"February - lawsuits abound as ignorant antenna-TV owners suddenly find their sets to be showing nothing but static."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

This is sad...

Found here, originally published in National Geographic. Click to embiggen, and then sigh sadly while slowly shaking your head.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Wow... VisuEvo has been getting a lot of hits from people doing web searches for 2009 celebrity predictions. I guess it's time for a disclaimer. I am not psychic! Then again, neither is anyone else. Except for Hank Yarbo, of course:
Wait... guess that's "phycic." Anyway, I have a real post coming up soon, but in the meantime, here's something cool PZ posted on Pharyngula this morning: Palaeobet!

click to embiggen:
Time for a new banner, maybe?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

"Psychic" predictions for 2009

My friend Harrison at Strange Future has made his predictions for 2009, so I guess it's my turn!

~~~ Predictions for 2009: ~~~

January - Oil prices rise again, causing a sudden spike in gas prices.

February - lawsuits abound as ignorant antenna-TV owners suddenly find their sets to be showing nothing but static.

March - scientists come up against a major stumbling block in stem cell research

April - a record-breaking blizzard surprises the northern midwest US, dumping feet of snow and causing power outages in many areas.

May - a celebrity associated with the Harry Potter movies runs up against some legal issues

June - a well-known religious leader is revealed to have been involved in a sex-related scandal.

July - a multi-state thunderstorm system causes travel delays in several airports. Tornadoes rip through small towns and three states are declared disaster areas.

August - American auto-makers tank yet again. The government debates further bail-out packages.

September - unseasonably warm weather causes issues for farmers. Corn prices, and as a result food prices in general, skyrocket.

October - a relatively well-known, yet extremely old, celebrity dies, causing people around the country to say “That guy was still alive?”

November - Coldplay releases their 5th album, and it is hailed as the ‘best ever!’ by fans. All the Coldplay-haters hang their heads in shame and finally admit just how wrong they’ve been.

December - Jim Davis writes a series of strips in which Jon Arbuckle marries his long-time girlfriend Liz, then finally retires Garfield.