Beeing an Atheist

Yesterday afternoon, it was my privilege to teach a class about bees to a group of young after-school students at the Eagle Heights community center on the UW-Madison campus. Ariela and I taught the same class last year, and although she was not able to make it this time, it was just as fun as ever.

First, the kids sat down (give or take) for a half hour discussion about bees, as I showed them pictures of bees doing various things with a PowerPoint presentation. I taught them how to tell a bee from a wasp, I showed the three different bee castes and what they do, and talked about how important bees are and how they make honey. It was not only a visual presentation but also tactile and olfactory experience. When it came to talking about beeswax comb, I passed around a large piece of natural comb I pulled out of one of our hives. The kids got to smell some beeswax candles, and I showed them the tools we use out in the apiary and all about the frames that make up a hive.

When we were done with questions, we adjourned to the community center’s stainless steel (yes I am jealous) kitchen where my pressure-cooker-turned-steam-generator had already been warming up. The steam powers an uncapping knife to slice open the combs and release the honey. As the layer of wax cappings dripped off, the glowing, golden cells of sweetness awed the group – who lined up to take a turn at spinning the frames in the centrifuge. After showing the gathering pool of honey in the centrifuge, I lifted it up onto the counter to let the honey flow out through the filters and into the waiting bucket.

I kept some honey from the last harvest in the bucket, so it had already settled and lost its bubbles. And one by one the kids filled their little 1/2 cup jelly jars from the spigot, excited to have a treat to take home.

Many of the kids wanted to see the bees themselves, which wouldn’t have been possible this time around, but next year, we might be able to arrange that. Ariela and I look forward to doing more classes about bees for kids – it’s great to see and hear their excitement about something that we as beekeepers are perennially privileged to experience, and I always delight in sharing a little knowledge. We were almost going to have a second bee class this year. Almost. Which is what this post is about. Continue reading Beeing an Atheist

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Enjoying my 3-day weekend

I’m two-thirds the way through my 3-day weekend, and I’m loving it. Plenty of time to work on stuff in and around the house, write furiously, and make grand plans for the near future. Yesterday I finished digging out a trench to add some drainage to a planter, and I got a start on a scratching post for the cat. Today I will be painting a bee table and putting a second coat on some recently-bare concrete, and maybe a little filming if I can fit it in. Lots of things related to the Haus Haro von Mogel to keep me busy.

But there’s something else I’ve been busy with as well. Over the last few days I have written a few posts about genetic engineering over at Biofortified:

I have a pile more to write, some half-finished in drafts, but they are taking a backseat position to an entry I am writing for th Ashoka Changemakers. They’ve got a contest about educating the public about genetic engineering, and although they have gone to a great effort for this contest, but as I point out here, there are a couple issues. Nevertheless I’ll make a showing later, but first, a bucket of paint and a powerdrill awaits!

Finito! Sort of…

Right now, the moment this post has become available on the blog, I will be sound asleep. After 26 straight days of getting up early to make controlled pollinations with corn plants, I, along with a dozen and a half of my fellow field crewmates, are enjoying our first weekend day off. This field season has not been too bad, though, perhaps the most enjoyable of the three that I have experienced.

Could I be getting used to this whole plant breeder thing? Am I finally able to get to sleep at a reasonable time with regularity so that I’m not tired and groggy all day? Or am I instead sticking to a rigorous schedule of washing my long-legged and sleeved field clothes and applying sunscreen religiously every day while also wearing a wide-brimmed hat to keep from toasting my outer layer of cells with UV radiation? The answer to all these questions is Continue reading Finito! Sort of…

The Way I see it

A few days ago, field pollination season started for the field corn labs at UW-Madison. At first, it’s out in the field every day at 8 am, next week it will be 7 am, and no one goes home until everything is done. For new grad students, the first summer pollination season can be quite the shock. Last year, in addition to our own nurseries, we had a huge field known as the NAMs (Nested Association Mapping) that made field season seem interminable.

This year I have about 560 rows of plants to manage, which isn’t a lot when you get down to it.

Anyway, this morning, however, I’m up at the crack of dawn to dilute something in the lab before heading out to the field. It has to mix in a shaker for a good two hours before I get out there at the regular time. Many people would be annoyed at leaving the lab at 6 pm only to be back in less than 12 hours later. But this is the way I see it:

It’s not every day that a guy gets to make mutants!

(Muh huh hah ha ha haaa!)

Will this story impact Madison pedestrians?

Forgive the pun. But I have a little local news to complain about. Ever since I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, I have noticed the awful behavior of pedestrians in the downtown area. Citizens, many of them students, cross high-speed, major streets when they are not supposed to. In particular, the parallel one-way streets of Gorham/University and West Johnson, especially where they both cross State Street – the backbone of downtown Madison.

When driving through town, I often see pedestrians starting across the street, crosswalk or not, and they may or may not be paying attention to oncoming traffic, which is often going at 25-35 miles per hour. Sometimes pedestrians are walking along State Street, a pedestrian/bike/bus-only mall, and instinctively start across a street that crosses it, only to catch themselves as they remember that 2-ton hunks of metal are bearing down on them and they forgot to look.

Considering that kindergarten was not that long ago for some of these people, you’d think that they would remember the simple lesson of looking both ways. Continue reading Will this story impact Madison pedestrians?

Matt Nisbet in Madison tonight

I’ve been so busy the last few days, I forgot to put up this post. Matt Nisbet, who blogs at Framing Science, is a professor of communication at American University. He will be giving a free talk tonight in Madison on science communication.

His talk is titled What’s Next for Science Communication? Promising Directions and Lingering Distractions. It will be in 1100 Grainger Hall, from 7-9 pm TONIGHT June 25, 2009.

The description:

Despite recent innovations in science communication such as deliberative forums, the application of framing research, and partnerships with the arts and humanities, these approaches are still all too commonly defined as simply novel ways to persuade the public to view scientific debates as scientists and their allies do. Instead, the question should not be how to “sell” the public on science and emerging technologies; but rather how to use communication research and its applications to empower greater public participation in the governance of these issues.

Elaborating on much-discussed articles published at Science, Environment, The Scientist, Nature Biotechnology, and other leading outlets, Nisbet argues that the sophistication of these emerging communication strategies needs to be complemented by an equally sophisticated view of public engagement. In particular, in areas such as biotechnology, evolution, and climate change, Nisbet emphasizes the need to use framing, partnerships with the arts, and new forms of digital journalism to generate “participatory conversations” with diverse publics and stakeholders that result in meaningful input on policy choices and decisions.

This lecture is part of a series on science communication hosted by the Life Sciences Communication department.

I’ll be there taking notes, pictures, mugshots, etc. If you are in town and can’t make it, I hear that it will be videotaped for both online viewing and rebroadcasted by Wisconsin Public Television. Hopefully, Matt will be available during his trip to “one of [his] favorite cities” to do a little interview…