Archive for May, 2008

Fruits from a Fruit

Here’s another ridiculous scientific list. This one categorizes the different types of fruits. OMG strawberry dachshund costumeIt may come as a surprise to you that the tomato is a berry, or that those whirlibirds that fall off of maple trees are in fact fruits! In a botanical sense, a fruit is a ripened ovary containing seeds and a variety of surrounding tissues. How these tissues are arranged determines how the fruits are classified. There are two fundamental categories of fruits, fleshy and dry, which most people think of as fruits and nuts, respectively. I’ve laid out the details of how each category gets broken up. This is pretty much useless information, but there’s some pretty cool words in here. I heart Pepos. I also heart dachshunds wearing strawberry costumes. Brody, I hope you’re ready for a new outfit!


Simple Fleshy Fruits (derived from only one pistil)

Drupes: Single seed enclosed by a hard endocarp (pit)

e.g. peaches, cherries, olives, almonds, coconuts

Berries: Derived from a compound ovary, often have multiple seeds

True Berries: thin skin and soft pericarp (tissue surrounding the seeds)

e.g. tomatoes, grapes, peppers, blueberries, bananas

Pepos: thick rind

e.g. pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons

Hesperidium: leathery skin containing oils

e.g. oranges, lemons, limes

Pomes: Flesh derived from ovary’s receptacle

e.g. apples, pears

Aggregate Fruits (derived from single flower with many pistils)

e.g. raspberries, blackberries, strawberries

Multiple Fruits (derived from several flowers in a single inflorescence)

e.g. osage oranges, pineapples, figs


Dry Fruits That Split at Maturity

Follicles: Split along one seam

e.g. larkspur, milkweed, peony

Legumes: Split along two seams

e.g. peas, beans, lentils, peanuts

Siliques: Split along two seams, but seeds are held along a central partition

e.g. broccoli, cabbage, radishes

Capsules: Split any other way

e.g. irises, orchids, poppies

Dry Fruits That Do Not Split at Maturity

Achenes: Single seed is attached to the pericarp at the base

e.g. sunflower seeds

Nuts: Same as achenes except thicker pericarp, cluster of bracts at base

e.g. acorns, hazelnuts, chestnuts

Grains: Pericarp and seed are inseparable

e.g. corn, wheat, rice, oats

Samaras: Specialized pericarp extends out as a wing to aid in dispersal

e.g. maple, ash, elm

Schizocarp: Twin fruits

e.g. parsley, carrot, anise, dill


I cleaned the basement

Okay, I mostly cleaned the basement. Over the five years we’ve lived in this place, the basement has flooded with sewage at least twice. It’s an unfinished basement, so it’s not really a major problem except for the stuff we had stored down there (and the fact that sewage is revolting). Most of the important stuff was off the floor, so it’s fine, but there was a lot of junk, A LOT of junk that was in various stages of stinkiness and decomposition. I’ve been afraid of cleaning that stuff up for a long time but Jason was working Memorial Day and it felt wrong to do nothing all day. Now it’s done! Well, there’s still a lot of empty boxes in the back part of the basement to sort out, but the light bulbs in that part were burned out and it was scary and spiderwebby back there, so I saved that for another day. You know that age-old problem of whether to keep or toss your junk becomes so much easier to deal with when you junk has been soaked in sewage. You should try it!

Anatomy in the news: Obstetric Fistula

Okay, let me just start this one off with a disclaimer. This is probably a subject many people would find unpleasant, so if you’re eating lunch, maybe come back after you’ve finished. Nonetheless, it’s a significant health issue worth talking about and it’s all about anatomy, so I feel like I have something to say about it.

You may have recently seen or heard something in the news about a condition called Obstetric Fistula. It’s a complication usually seen in cases of prolonged or obstructed labor. What happens is the walls of the vagina (or birth canal if the “v word” is too much for you to handle) tear during delivery. The rectum and bladder, situated behind and in front of the vagina, respectively, can then also tear. Then when they heal, they heal together creating an artificial opening from the bladder to the vagina or from the rectum to the vagina. Check out the illustration of a midline cut pelvis for clarification, courtesy ADAM.

This is not a significant medical problem in the developed world where perinatal and obstetric medicine is sophisticated and freely available. However, in undeveloped countries, such as many in Africa, obstetric medical aid is often not available and when it is, there is usually a lack of basic tools that would allow the physician to do their job to the best of their ability. A recently released documentary called A Walk to Beautiful does a great job of telling the story of four women from Ethiopia who deal with this debilitating condition. I caught it on PBS, but it comes out on DVD soon. After their traumatic deliveries, which almost always result in stillborn infants, the women do not have the option to get surgical repair, so they are forced back into their communities with no bladder or fecal control at all. I’m not just talking leaking during coughing, like stress incontinence (which affects millions of women after childbirth, here and everywhere else in the world), I’m talking constant flow of urine with no regulation whatsoever, or even worse, the same scenario with feces. It’s not hard to imagine that these women are completely cast out of their societies. They are perceived as filthy and broken, often useless to even their husbands.

As I mentioned before, this is not a significant problem here in America and in other similar countries, because when this happens here, the physician immediately repairs the tears and the mother can heal in the hospital before returning to her normal life. In Africa, the supplies and staff it would take to perform the fistula repair are cost-prohibitive for many of the obstetric clinics, so the surgery is not even an option. And when I say cost-prohibitive, let me be totally clear, the total cost of the surgery is $300.00. Crazy world! Thankfully there are a growing number of “doctors without borders” who are bringing this surgery to the women of Ethiopia and other countries in Africa for no cost. Hopefully their compassion can relegate fistula to the fringes of medical concern in these places.

I could probably go on for days about the anatomy of the pelvis and how delivering a baby is a unique anatomical challenge for humans. Did you know that we are one of only two species of mammals that has difficulty delivering babies? This is because of two things. First, we walk on two legs. Walking on two legs requires a narrow pelvis, so the center of gravity can easily shift as we step from one leg to the other. If we had larger pelvises to make deliveries easier, we would tip over when we walked. Second, we have larger brains for our body size than any other mammal, which is probably not a surprise when you think about all of our abilities to process complicated thoughts and emotions into decision-making. Interestingly, we’ve already evolved to reduce brain development as much as possible until after birth to accommodate for our mothers’ smaller pelvic dimensions. Consider the relative brain development of a newborn baby and a newborn horse. The newborn horse is running around in a matter of hours, walking alongside its mother. The newborn baby can’t see colors or discriminate complicated sounds, has little motor control and most certainly can’t walk alongside mommy for many months. It’s funny that even that adaptation isn’t enough to counteract the narrow pelvis-large brain dilemma.

Incidentally, the other mammalian species that has difficult deliveries is the squirrel monkey. They are a dwarf species that gradually evolved smaller bodies but neonatal head sizes did not diminish similarly over time. Squirrel monkeys lose something like 30% of their babies in delivery, so obviously it’s a big problem for them. How significant is this problem for women? According the World Health Organization, over 500,000 women die each year in childbirth. And in Africa alone, as many as 3 million women a year are permanently handicapped by obstetric complications.

Some people have said that women have been having babies without obstetric help for thousands of years before doctors came along and ruined it with drugs and hectic deliveries. First of all, people have been helping women have babies for all of those years, only they weren’t called doctors, they were called midwives. And unfortunately due to rampant sexism in the middle ages, we have a rather spotty historical record of the science behind their amazing work until the physicians in the 17th century “medicalized” it. Second, those drugs and hectic deliveries have no doubt saved countless lives of mothers and their babies.

The home birth issue has been hotly debated in recent years. Do I think having a baby at home is irresponsible? Not if the attending midwife is aware of the facts and able to deal with a dangerous situation. If I had a uterus and it was my choice? I’d probably be at the hospital, although I tend to favor medical solutions over natural, homeopathic or faith-based ones in general, and I’m not a woman anyway, so I’m not sure what my opinion really means.

It’s an interesting thing, having babies. Me Mom and Santa ClausIt’s one of my favorite things to teach about in class. We’ve all been born and many of us will have babies of our own, so it’s immediately relevant and captivating to an audience. Everyone can imagine what their own mothers went through, and we should all thank them for taking on the challenge. There’s mine at right trying to make me not fear Santa Claus. I think we also owe a debt of thanks to the medical professionals who helped out our moms, and to the many others who continue to take on this uniquely human issue.

On the subject of my diet…

Last night I had a delicious dinner prepared by Jason in the smallest kitchen in America (our kitchen). The new big kitchen is near the top of the list of things I can hardly wait for in the new house. Anyway, he made these great salads with portabellos, feta, garlic and all kinds of balsamic-y olive oil goodness. I cut the mushrooms and crumbled the cheese, so I guess you could say I helped. Cooking together is one of my favorite things that Jason and I do. Usually there’s good music in the background, lots of sampling and complimenting each other on how good we are in the kitchen, and a really wonderful sense of camaraderie in making something as a team. It’s those moments that give real meaning to that coldly clinical term “partner.”

Generally, we eat pretty healthy food. Jason makes food way better than I do, but I try. And I think I try harder when both of us are eating together. If I’m left alone to make myself dinner, the results are usually pretty sad. Witness at left my gourmet meal from last thursday night. Jason had to be at a late work meeting so I was flying solo. Now, I do LOVE Cheezits and I could hardly have grown up between three reservations without gaining an appreciation for Orange pop, but 2 plain hot dogs without so much as a little dill relish?! What’s wrong with me?

A short visit to the northland

This weekend I had a much-needed break from the routine. The semester finally ended last week so I’m untethered by students’ intellectual and emotional needs. For a week.

Anyway, I made a 4.5 hour drive up to Minneapolis to visit Jenna and Arjun and their baby girl Sofie. Jenna is my best friend from college and Sofie is my god-daughter! We have been each other’s emotional touchstones over the years, and each visit usually results in lots of talking, some reality TV, and plenty of relaxation. We’re both in a busy and somewhat relentless period of our lives, so we always have lots to talk about. I thought I’d just post a couple of unbelievably cute pictures of me and Sofie. Maybe some other time I’ll write a post about being a god-father, but I’ve only been one for less than a year so there’s not much to write about. All I can say is she is literally the cutest little girl I’ve ever seen and I’m so glad to be pseudo-related to her so I get to watch her grow up.

The Entire Animal Kingdom

Have you ever wondered how all of the animals in the animal kingdom are organized? Well, I did once, so I wrote it all down. I just found this in my “personal” folder at work. After reading this, it is clear I might have OCD. The details at each organizational level are limited to principal characteristics of that level (in layman’s terms for the most part), then further subclassification is provided in mostly just the lineages that lead to humans. Sorry all you fish lovers out there, I know this is kind of anthro-centric, but this would be a million miles long if every lineage was included out to the families. This is already ridiculous. So enjoy! You should be able to find your favorite animal somewhere in here. Although perhaps not the popular cat-frog hybrid shown above right. (Note the heading styles have to reset themselves a couple times for the multiple levels of organization.)

**Note: when I assembled this information long long ago, this was pre-genomics revolution. Genetic studies have significantly impacted the taxonomy of animals, so there are several “newer” phyla not represented here. One day I will attempt to update and correct this post accordingly. Don’t hold your breath though.

Kingdom Animalia:

  • Multicellular eukaryotes that characteristically ingest their food.
  • Cells are usually flexible
  • Except in sponges, cells are organized in tissues
  • Cells move during embryonic development forming a blastula (hollow sphere of cells)
  • Most animals reproduce sexually
  • Gametes (sperm and egg) fuse to form a zygote, and do not divide by mitosis (as happens in plants)

Subkingdom Parazoa:

  • Animals that lack definite symmetry, no tissues or organs

Phylum Porifera:

  • Sponges

Subkingdom Eumatozoa:

  • Animals with definite symmetry (radial or bilateral), definite tissues and organs

Phylum Cnidaria: 10,000+ species

  • Coral, Jellyfish, Hydra
  • Radial symmetry
  • Two body forms (polyps and medusae)
  • Digestive cavity with only one opening (things go in and out the same hole)
  • Stinging cells are unique to this phylum

Phylum Ctenophora: 90 species

  • Comb jellies and sea walnuts
  • Radial symmetry
  • Digestive cavity with an anal pore

Phylum Platyhelminthes: 13,000 species

  • Flatworms
  • Bilateral symmetry
  • No circulatory system
  • One-opening guts
  • Hermaphroditic

Phylum Nematoda: 500,000 species

  • Nematodes, Eelworms, Roundworms
  • Bilaterally symmetrical and unsegmented worms

Phylum Mollusca: 110,000 species

  • Snails, Slugs, Clams, Octopuses, Squids, Nautilus
  • Bilateral symmetry
  • Coelomate animals (containing body cavities)
  • Visceral mass and muscular foot

Phylum Annelida: 12,000 species

  • Earthworms, Leeches
  • Segmented, bilaterally symmetrical, protostome coelomates
  • Segments are divided internally by septa
  • Brain is developed
  • Closed circulatory system
  • One-way digestive system

Phylum Arthropoda: ~1,000,000 species

  • Bilaterally symmetrical protostome coelomates
  • Segmental body, chitinous exoskeleton
  • Digestive tract, Brain and paired nerve cord, Jointed appendages
Class Arachnida:
  • Spiders, ticks, mites, scorpions
Class Crustacea
  • Lobsters, crayfish, crabs, shrimps
Class Chilopoda
  • Centipedes
Class Diplopoda
  • Millipedes
Class Insecta
  • Complex mouth parts, three part body, six legs, trachea

Phylum Echinodermata: 6,000 species

  • Sea stars, brittle stars, sand dollars, sea cucumbers, sea urchins
  • Deuterostome coelomates
  • Radially symmetrical

Phylum Chordata: 45,000 species

  • Bilaterally symmetrical
  • Deuterostome coelomates
  • Notochord is present at some point of development
  • Pharyngeal slits, hollow nerve cord on dorsal side, and a tail

Subphylum Urochordata: 1,250 species

  • Tunicates, marine chordates that have notochord only in larval stage
  • Get food by ciliary action

Subphylum Cephalocordata: 23 species

  • Lancelets, permanent notochord, nerve cord, no internal skeleton, food by ciliary action

Subphylum Vertebrata: 43,700 species

  • Notochord is replaced by cartilage or bone (backbone)
  • Distinct head with skull and brain
Class Agnatha: 63 species
  • Lampreys and Hagfishes
  • Cartilaginous fishes, no jaw
  • Parasitic
Class Chondrichthyes: 850 species
  • Sharks, skates and rays
  • Cartilaginous fishes, sex organs present
  • Small pointy scales (denticles), no air bladders
Class Ostheichtyes: 18,000 species
  • Bony fishes
  • Bony skeletons, efficient fins and scales
  • Most have air bladders (regulate density to regulate depth)
Class Amphibia: 2,800 species
  • Salamanders, frogs and toads
  • Tetrapod, egg-laying, ectothermic
  • Gills as larvae, lungs as adults
  • Incomplete double circulation (non-closed ventricular system)
Class Reptilia: 6,000 species
  • Lizards, snakes, turtles, crocodiles
  • Tetrapod, ectotherm vertebrates with an amniotic egg
  • Lungs, covered with scales
  • Incomplete double circulation
  • Four legs are absent in snakes and some lizards
Class Aves: 9,000 species
  • Birds
  • Tetrapod, endothermic vertebrates
  • Forelimbs modified into wings
  • Amniotic eggs
  • Lungs, complete double circulation

Class Mammalia: 4,500 species

  • Tetrapod, endothermic vertebrates
  • Complete double circulation, often hairy skins
  • Monotremes: Lay eggs (Platypus)
  • Marsupials: Retain young in a marsupium
  • Placental mammals: Nourish young in the womb by way of a placenta (modification of amniotic egg)

Order Insectivora

  • Shrews, Moles, Hedgehogs

Order Chiroptera

  • Bats

Order Rodentia

  • Squirrels, Rats, Mice

Order Carnivora

  • Dogs, Cats, Bears, Weasels, Raccoons

Order Proboscidea

  • Elephants

Order Cetacea

  • Whales

Order Primata:

Suborder Prosimii

  • Lemurs

Suborder Anthropoidea:

Infraorder Platyrrhini
  • New world monkeys (South and Central America)
Infraorder Catarrhini
  • All other monkeys and humans
Superfamily Cercopithecoidia
  • Old world monkeys (Africa and Asia)

Superfamily Hominoidia:
  • Family Hylobatidae (Gibbons)
  • Family Pongidae (Orangs, Gorillas, Chimps, Bonobos)
  • Family Hominidae (Humans)

Idol semifinals

Oh for the days when Sindel was still in the competition

Okay, two posts in one day, I’m clearly out of control, but I had to post this today or it wouldn’t be timely. Last night was the AI semifinals. I have to say I don’t like any of the final three really, but I think it’s weird how dismissive the judges were of Syesha as the least likely contender. I think Randy even said something like “you’re peaking at the right time and that allows you to stand here as number 3.” Um, thanks? Since when were the two Davids the anointed finalists? I guess since they have the most insane cultish fan bases they’ll probably be the finalists, but isn’t that the dark secret about AI that the judges at least pretend doesn’t exist? If I had a nickel for every time they say “this is a singing contest” I wouldn’t have nearly as much credit card debt.

I just don’t think that the Davids are that much better as singers. David A has some kind of anatomical gift so his tone is perfectly round all the time, but the pint-sized wonder can’t sing anything rhythmic to save his life. And David C has all kinds of vocal style talents and ridic range, but takes the smarm and facial theatrics to a place I never want to be. Of course Syesha is a predictable diva singer without a whole lot of obvious soul, but she sings her style of songs really well. Why did the producers have her sing that ridiculous Gia Farrell Hit Me Up song? So that she’d suck and get voted off so they could stage the “showdown of the Davids” and pump up the publicity for an already poorly watched season. I’m sure they want to avoid another Daughtry elimination and backlash from the fans. Personally, I’m longing for the days when Sindel was still tearing her vocal cords apart weekly (see above).

In other reality news, I was glad to see Marissa get the boot from DWTS. Now I’m pulling for Christian as the underdog. Plus he’s smoking hot (IMHO) and I’d love to see another Latin lover take the title. Screw Kristi, she never figured out how to express passion on the dance floor after all these weeks.