This is the best photograph I’ve ever seen

Obviously, it’s not one of mine. First off, that would surely be the best photograph I’ve ever taken (although I suppose that technically it could fall into both categories if I was feeling particularly boastful) and secondly, it’s laughable anyway because mine aren’t anywhere near this standard. I am merely a microbiologist with a camera.

And I didn’t come up with this title on a whim, either. Sure, I was wowed when I first saw the photo, but it’s taken me a while to realise that I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen anything better.

So, step forward Steve Ward, nature photographer, and his mind-blowing photo of a diving gannet (Morus bassanus) just microseconds before it hits the water:


Just. Wow.

What you might not realise is that this guy (the gannet, not Steve) is moving at anywhere up to 100kph. That’s 27.78 metres per second. And so I really wasn’t joking when I said that it was literally microseconds away from entering that glassy ocean. That’s what makes the photo all the more incredible for me: it’s not like the bird saw the camera and was like:

A photo? No, sure, that’s fine. Happy to help. I’ll just defy the forces of gravity for a while until you get your setup absolutely right. Must I smile? No? OK. Any time you’re ready then.

Because gannets are known to be particularly uncooperative in that regard.

That link above will take you to much more of Steve’s amazing work, lots of birds (some amazing owl pics) hares, voles and some lovely landscapes too. But this gannet still stands out as something rather special.

Many thanks to Steve for his permission to share this photo.

Scientific breakthroughs reimagined for twitter

A Guardian piece suggests how historic scientific breakthroughs would have been reported were twitter around at the time. Most aren’t really very good, but this one amused me:


Yes, very good.
The rest just seem to be Facebook style insults and arguments. Some of them don’t even stick to 140 characters – rookie error.

AP ‘crash lands’ missing comma error

Punctuation matters: punctuation, matters.

The official Associated Press twitter account just tweeted this:


to their 3.54 million followers, when what they actually meant was this:

Dutch military plane [comma] carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash [comma] lands in Eindhoven.

Thanks to Jonathan Hitchcock (see comments)

Someone then realised that the missing punctuation gave the sentence a wholly different meaning, and quickly (9 minutes quickly) issued a clarification:


Which itself is hardly an example of perfect punctuation either.

Sharing is caring

You know that, right?

I was talking about Facebook (and bubonic plague, but that’s not important right now) earlier today, and I feel that it’s important that I bring another positive change to the blog to your attention in this regard: a Facebook share button on blog posts.

Yes readers, your repeated requests have finally been answered.

I had been using the Jetpack plugin for my social media sharing buttons, but astoundingly (to me at least) this otherwise lovely service allows for a Facebook LIKE button, but not a Facebook SHARE button. Googling this glaring omission gave a couple of rather complicated workarounds, but nothing that seemed to work for everyone. Like I have the time (or skill) to be poking the back the blog in this way with no guaranteed positive outcomes.

Forget it.

I’ve plumped instead for the WordPress Social Ring plugin. It’s free and it does the job just fine (see below). I going to see how it goes for a while and if I like it, I’m going to keep it. If I don’t like it, I’m going to get rid of it and try something else. Such is life in our throwaway society.

In the meantime, please feel free to SHARE ALL THE THINGS!!!!


It wasn’t me…

Incoming, this message on the Facebook page:

Thought of you immediately!

Now, usually, I would be flattered to be thought of immediately on many occasions; it’s nice to be at the forefront of people’s minds. However, having said that, I’m not sure that the death of a man from bubonic plague and the subsequent sealing off of a city of 30,000 people in China is one of those occasions.
And I want to make it absolutely clear that I had nothing to do with this incident.

What is interesting is the publicity that this story has got. As I write, it is the most read article in the World News section of the Guardian website in the last 24 hours. And, given the pretty stiff competition (MH17, Israel and Gaza, Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough trying to buy another striker), that’s fairly impressive stuff. Yay microbiology.
The thing is, sporadic cases of bubonic plague are actually fairly regular occurrences all over the world:

Updated Plague Map 2010 with Country lines

With even (as you’ll have noted) a handful of cases in the USA each year:


And yet, no-one has ever – to my knowledge, anyway – thought of me immediately in any of these situations. Perhaps because they haven’t made the international headlines, which makes one wonder why this one has. True, it’s a rather draconian reaction by the Chinese authorities to one death, but then it’s not like they’re not renowned for that sort of behaviour. It does rather leave one wondering if the Guardian journalist in question saw BLACK DEATH! and didn’t do any background reading before breaking the story before anyone else got chance to. But then, I can’t believe that a journalist would put sensationalism before research.

Either way, I’m always happy to hear about microbiology stories in the news (it is, after all, the best Science in the World) and what better place for you to share it with a willing audience than via the Facebook page, which you can like by visiting it (the blog facebook page, that is) here.

Thanks Debra

UPDATE: Sky News finally catches up with the story, add nothing.