Friday, 16 November 2012

Shatner and his Deep Fried Turkey Fixation

Awhile ago I posted a PSA from State Farm Insurance and William Shatner ("Eat, Fry, Love").  Of course this was timed to coincide with the American Thanksgiving holiday (when such advice is likely to be more appropriate and effective).

Rather than make a whole new message, the clever people promoting safe frying re-mixed the video with an autotuner.  Magnificent!

Chimeras from another dimension

Chimeras are fascinating. They form the basis of a lot of mythology (Medusa was a chimera of a woman and snakes - the latter forming the coiffure to complete a hideous woman whose gaze can turn you to stone).

A graphic artist was intrigued by this concept and collected a bunch of old x-ray films from hospitals.  He pieced together new creatures from the mash-ups and set them to animation.  What resulted is creepy, yet seems like a quite plausible enactment from another world or dimension.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Out of the Box Thinking

I was taking a survey for a publishing company, and they put a lot of videos to explain their product on YouTube.  My eyes wandered to the "suggested videos" column, and I saw these!

10 best you will never lose:
10 bets you will always win:
Wanna bet?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

2 minute history of the Earth

My mother sent me a link to this.  Very cool ... but I didn't like how it all turned out.  :(

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Autotuning Talents of John Boswell

Personally, I'm not a big fan of autotuned music for musicians.   It was new and interesting when Cher did it for "Believe" (Yeah, I like Cher's music.  Sorry for the TMI).  I don't think she invented it, but it was the first mainstream song that incorporated it blatantly in a release.  Since then, I get to hear it every time my daughter comes into the car with me and she's within arm's length of the radio tuning dial.

I can certainly forgive it when it's remixed and particularly when it can bring the voices of the dead back to life in ways they most certainly would have approved of!

Here's "Mr. Rogers Remixed".  This was done by John Boswell, who does "Symphony of Science".

What I really like is how he slid science into the tape recorder scenario.  I never really thought about science that way.  You encounter something you don't really understand, and develop a strategy to look deeper.  An unmarked cassette can easily be played ... well, it could back then.  As the years go by, it becomes a little more challenging to decode the information, even with the advent of brand new technologies.  Science is a way to cultivate the gardens of our imaginations.

The "Symphony of Science" series has a bunch of great songs performed - sometimes posthumously - by interesting people.  The latest one is on climate change:

You can see lots more at

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Non-Newtonian Fluids

Perhaps you've fooled with "goo" or "gack" ... a mixture of water and cornstarch which behaves as a solid or a liquid under different conditions.  I've seen demos of people dipping their hands into, or standing upon, buckets of this stuff. 

The technical term for this property is "dilatant" or a non-Newtonian fluid.

Here's what it looks like when you have a big budget and someone else to clean up the mess!


Friday, 31 August 2012

Evil Dead: the Musical

I'm a huge Bruce Campbell fan (and generally of B movies at any rate).  I didn't like the first Evil Dead movie - I didn't "get it", but really loved Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.

Some time ago I saw a billboard advertising a play.  A musical, in fact.  I found out it was playing at Vertigo Theatre, which is in downtown Calgary, just under the Calgary Tower.  When I checked out the tickets, I found out two interesting things:  this was the first play I'd ever heard of with a "Splatter Zone" (which was $15 more expensive per seat) and that they also had child ticket rates.  My friend Rob agreed to see this with me.  He likes plays and many musicals, but didn't know what this was about.  I also brought Tim and Erin with me, buying them kid's tickets.  I elected to not pay for the Splatter Zone upgrade for any of us.

When we got to Vertigo, there were posters all over the place with a long list of rules for Splatter Zone people.  No going to the lobby during intermission.  No using the bathrooms unless you check with the door staff (after which they laid down a plastic runner from the theatre to the bathroom).  After the performance, people in the regular seats would leave first, and the Splatter Zone people would be lead through the stage and outside, then directed to a meeting place outside to hook up with their lame, normal-seat friends.

When I scanned the playbill, I grew a little concerned.  They listed the songs.  "Stupid Bitch", "What the Fuck Was That?", "Death is a Bitch", and "Blew that Bitch Away" were some of them!  Rob leaned over and said to me "I don't think bringing your kids was such a hot idea."  Well…. yeah.  But I know what they watch on the Internet and on TV, so wasn't too concerned.  I didn't particularly want this to get back to Penny, though, so told the kids to cool it when they got home.

The play was good.   Very good, really.  I wasn't too much into the music, but I grew to like most of the songs after listening to them afterward.  The kids adored it, but were rather put out that they didn't get to sit in the Splatter Zone.  The people there wore ponchos and got shot with blood streams from the stage, from a sprinkler setup directly over them, and from the "big fight scene" where actors came off stage with some kind of gushing apparatus and ensured everyone in that zone got their money's worth.

Well, the play was a hit.  The response was so good that it came back to Calgary recently.  This time it was in the Pumphouse Theatre (a great name, considering the gushing blood signature of the play).  When I asked the kids if they'd like to go, they were all over it.  They also made sure that the Splatter Zone would be an option.  I also allowed Tim to bring a couple friends who are also big-time into Bruce Campbell flicks.  I offered to take Rob, but he decided it wasn't really "his cup of tea."  Fair enough!  I bought four Splatter Zone tickets in the back row of that area (Section 'b', R4, Seats 3-6), and one ticket for me right behind them (Section 'B', R1, Seat 4).  I noted the nice gap between the Splatter Zone (red) and the main floor seats behind them.  The kids dressed in their "bad" clothes, and I wore a pleasant collared shirt and my good jeans.   It's the theatre, after all!

In reality, the Pumphouse has an interesting layout and not quite as depicted.  It's smaller than I thought it would be, and there is NO SPACE behind the Splatter Zone.  Worse, my seat was prepared just like the Splatter Zone seats:  it was covered by a clear plastic garbage bag.  It was right behind the Splatter Zone, with aircraft-like seat spacing (if I stretched out my legs, my feet went under the chair in front).  The kids all got ponchos.  Not me.  I grabbed a garbage bag in preparation for the show, hoping to stave off the majority of collateral damage.

The first act was very good.  The actors were fine, and their campy jokes really held up.  The singing was incredibly good, and I enjoyed it all the more because I got into the songs since the first time I saw the performance.  Unlike the first time we saw the production, there was no spraying of blood into the audience before the intermission.  There was lots of blood on stage though, and they really pulled off the segue from the first act where Ash is chainsawing a demon's head when the cabin's owner walks in:  "It's not as bad as it looks!"

After the short break where people got their drinks, snacks, and grips with the restroom, we got back to our seats and ponchos were offered to the Splatter Zone people and, thankfully, to people in the first two rows of the green seats after a little negotiation.  I protected my shoes under my daughter's seat.  The second half was very good and "Do the Necronomicon" was incredibly raunchy.  They saved the blood shower for the final fight scene (unlike the Vertigo production which spurted and squirted in both acts, but really opened the flow during the battle).  The actors did most of the "painting" by wandering amongst the Splatter patrons and gushing on them with some kind of a pumping device.  I was thankful for the poncho and got a fair amount of castoff.  My arms, which stuck out of the short poncho sleeves, looked like I had just performed surgery.

The kids loved the show.  I was let out first.  They emerged shortly afterward out the back of the theatre.  It was a cool scene because it was dusk and the path was lit by yellow, dim streetlights.  The Splattered Patrons came out, covered in a corn syrup based blood, which made them sticky, and they tended to walk with their arms extended (to avoid sticking to their clothes) with stiff, slow steps.  VERY zombie-like!  I tried to take a video of that and messed it up, unfortunately.  The experience was really excellent and I'll remember it forever.  Tim, Ethan, Kasden and Erin were all back against a brick wall, trying to get their ponchos off - they were absolutely covered and that stuff is really sticky.  But the "blood" is very realistic!  Even without the ponchos they were still quite covered, and they found that nodding their heads gave them a strange sensation because of the goo they were covered with.  It took me about 10 minutes to line the seats with plastic to get the kids home.

On the way home, the kids kept trying to get the attention of other drivers when were stopped at traffic lights, and were delighted when I stopped at a 7-11 for a snack.  We really creeped out the cashier!  Here's a compilation of my photos - good and bad because of variable lighting, and the flash bleached out most of the detail when I tried to compensate for the dim lighting.

We loved the show.  I would have liked to see more blood shooting onto the people in the Splatter Zone throughout both acts, but it was well worth the money.  Erin let me know that every time the production comes back to town that I'm to buy her a ticket, and it must be in the splatter zone.

Friday, 24 August 2012


Although I deal with a lot of genetics and genomics issues for my class, I am fascinated with proteins.  They are three-dimensional tools that have, through evolution, become optimized to carry out their functions effectively.

Here's a simulation of a substrate's point of view about what it's like to be transported into the nucleus through a nucleopore!

You can see the effect of nucleopores in this video.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Final Performance of "Video Games" for CRUB!

This is the last-ever performance of "Video Games" for the Round Up Band.  They competed in the finals for the World Association of Marching Show Bands in Calgary 2012.  The finals were done at the Stampede centennial.

We're so proud of CRUB for their magnificent work!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Video Games!

This is the Round Up Band's performance for the World Association of Marching Show Bands.  This is the second day of competition.  The Band earned a score of 82.7 which is a Silver Medal performance.  They will again play on Tuesday night and will make some adjustments based on the statements from the judges.

My son Tim is the gamer wearing an orange shirt.  Jordan, his friend, is Bowser and he's wearing a heavy costume on a *very* hot day.  My daughter Erin plays the saxophone in the right hand side of the field.  Congratulations, CRUB!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

"The Legend Continues…"

The Stampede Band killed on the first day of the World Association of Marching Show Bands (WAMSB).  There was excellent competition - particularly from a High School band from Taiwan - but the Calgary Stampede Band won by about five points.  Their score was 93.3, which merited "Gold with Honours".

We in the stands aren't sure about the scoring.  There were about five golds that went out, along with one gold and one silver.  The finals are on Tuesday July 10 at 6pm at the Stampede grounds.  Perhaps the scores just indicate who goes forward and who doesn't?

The Round Up Band plays today - first up at 10 am.  I'll post that show as soon as I can.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Well, it's the 2012 Stampede - the centennial year for the festival.

The parade this year drew around 400 000 people.  Tim and Erin were part of it.  Erin is the Drum Major (DIT, actually:  Drum Major in Training).  We're so proud of both of the kids!

Here's them performing "Build Me Up Buttercup" (one of my favourite marching pieces).

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Diamond Valley Parade

… and so it starts!

We just filled out the calendar for all the rehearsals and performances for the Round Up Band and it's really looking busy.  I was thrilled to hear that Erin would be one of the Drum Majors for the June 2 Diamond Valley parade (a joint venture between Black Diamond and Turner Valley, two towns that are very close together.

It was a rainy day but it settled down before the parade.  It turned out beautiful, as a matter of fact… not too hot and not wet!  The only mistake was that we made was getting on the wrong side of the street.  Erin was the Drum Major farthest from us.  The Drum Majors wear black tops and carry a mace, while the regular band members wear blue tops and carry their instruments.

I didn't see Tim when I was filming.  He plays the tenor saxophone and we later found out that he wore blue plaid underwear instead of the "official" gray undergarments.  The white pants are semitransparent so this kind of faux pas can lead to being pulled from the marching order.  Maybe you can spot him in this clip (again, I think he was farthest from where we were sitting … but I don't recall seeing him).

Friday, 1 June 2012

Evolution of a Field Show

Both my kids are in Calgary Round Up Band.  Erin is a Drum Major-in-Training (A D.I.T.) and Tim was selected to do some of the "motion" elements on the field.  The clips I have here don't highlight Erin much (she spends a lot of time on the right hand side of the field and is carrying a Tenor Saxophone) but Tim is easy to recognize:  he has his pyjamas on!  You'll see him fight Jordan (who's not recognizable as himself:  he's wearing a full-body "Bowser" costume).

The first clip shows the field show in its more-or-less raw state.  It's the first public performance and was done in Red Deer in early May.  There are some elements where they just stood and played.

This next clip is of the more polished show that was done on May 27th.  If you don't want to watch both clips, this is the one to see!  I'll have even more practiced versions online after they become available!

Tim was also asked to help out the Stampede Band with their 100 Anniversary show.  He's the teenager in their field show:

(And if you want to see the less-polished version of the show above, watch the link below).

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Higgs Boson

I'm not a physicist, but I love to read about physics... the popular media, that is - not the actual journals. I enjoyed Brian Greene's work with string theory (though I don't think it's science) and liked a lot of the work that Hawking has done. The debates about various theories are neat to watch. In physics, science seems quite pure: they have data that are usually quite precise but get mixed up when you have to deal with quantum effects. Then the debates start. Each side is very articulate and does a great job with defending their positions. I'm sort of like a spectator in a boxing match. I go "ooh" and "ah" as each contender puts forward their ideas.

 I have been intrigued by the Higgs Boson or "God Particle" mostly because I don't understand it. I know that finding it will make one side very happy and the other side very sad. I'm also astounded by the manpower and money that's gone into finding it - it's a high-stakes endeavor!

 This animation did a great job consolidating the ideas about how science is done.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Explore IT today!

This is a great program to show grade 9 girls from the Calgary area all about careers in information technology.  My section is called "Gene Hunter".  I guide them through it using a website:

Feel free to check it out!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Multimedia. Within multimedia! Wooo!

For my Faculty Learning Community (FLC or "Flick") we're exploring next-generation technologies.  We've been challenged to see how we can integrate the newest technologies to reimagine exercises, delivery methods, ways to keep in contact with students, and even ways to grade student work.

The obvious use of an iPad or Asus tablet is to hook it up to a projector and show a room full of people what's on it.  That can be interesting, and if you've got a special app that only runs on that tablet, then it's somewhat innovative.

One thing we've been less successful at is in changing the way a class of people can interact.  We already have clickers (so they're NOT next-generation, at least in my own opinion).  There are smart phone apps that double as clickers... new-ish, but it won't set the world on fire.  One thing we wanted was peer-to-peer connectivity so that students could update the teacher's device, perhaps showing up on the screen.  The iPad/iPhone app "Whiteboard" can do this, but only when peer-to-peer is working (so, not at MRU, but it works great in my house on its wireless connection).

Here's what I've got that's a bit new.  Using a blog with multimedia assets.  And now I've created the Frankenmovie.  It's got the Mac's Screenflow program displaying iPad's ExplainEverything on it!

I'm going to have some fun with this, I think!


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Technology test drive

Three I'm standing in front of a bunch of people were wondering why am talking to my cell phone. This is an example of how we would use the technology test drive to disseminate ideas about teaching theory.

Monday, 5 March 2012

RNAi video

I'm about to go to class and found this really great video!  It's about RNA interference.  I'm going to embed this here so that I can more easily find it during class.

Friday, 24 February 2012


I've always loved the diversity course I taught.  I was able to get really excited about the strange evolutionary connections between us and other creatures.

One of the most fascinating is the connection between the tunicates and us.  We're clearly vertebrates.  But roll back the evolutionary paths and we converge with a group that retained primitive characteristics.  They look like jellyfish - but are anything but!

Here's a video my friend Lex passed along showing examples of tunicates:

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Descriminating pathogen gene origin

I wasn't sure where to put this, so this page seems like a good one.

In class we were looking at how to distinguish the pathogenicity of an E. coli bacterium responsible for "hamburger disease".  This shows you how to use the software.

To see more detail, click on the YouTube logo in the bottom-right corner and view this full-screen from the YouTube site.  Unfortunately full-screen doesn't seem to work in Blogger.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

My News (shameless)

Some time ago "Mount Royal College" became "Mount Royal University". At that time, we had to try to act "university-like" and take on some activities that recognized our contributions. Although we try to promote our faculty according to what they've accomplished, "proper" ranking is part of our transition from C to U. This means establishing a hierarchy.

All faculty were given the title of "instructor". What I liked about that was there was no distinction between educators: you established your reputation and lived with it. We were colleagues and equal in title and pay based on years of service.

I earned a doctorate and although I rankle when called "Mr. Nickle" by students, I don't insist on "Dr. Nickle". It's kind of a quiet amusement when a student emails me with the former salutation (80% of the time looking for a favour like an extension or extra credit). I respond with my full signature text block (Dr. Todd Nickle...). Subsequent emails usually persist with "Mr. Nickle" showing a lack of attention to detail (evidenced by the original issue). As Mount Royal faculty, my PhD didn't give me special standing, and that was - and is - fine.

With the new system, we are now allowed to be recognized as "professor". It's cool, and helpful on occasions when I've been a guest author with other panelists. Being "instructor" in a field of "professors" is awkward. But "professor" isn't always the full title.

Pre-tenure faculty are "assistant professors" (PhD or not) and upon tenure become "associate professors". I think there's work to indicate a different title for non-tenure track folks that isn't a version of "professor", but I don't recall it off-hand ("lecturer", I think).

This year, 2012, marks the first time MRU has had the title "Professor" awarded to certain faculty. It's not a distinction that students would (or should) notice, but it is recognized by colleagues. Like I said at the start of this entry, it doesn't make a faculty member better than another. It should, though, serve to recognize a rigorous process that acknowledges contributions to the field (of education -especially for MRU) and substantial service to the university. For some recipients it includes recognition of scholarship. In all cases the applicant must prove an international reputation. This might include the ability to identify several external (outside of MRU) referees. They evaluate a dossier of the applicant's work and make a recommendation.

My news: I am now a member of the first cohort of (full) Professors of MRU. I'm thrilled and I feel humility-I worry that new ranks will damage our amazing culture here. I must say, in honesty, that it feels good to have what I've done recognized.  I can't control the culture here and I know that I didn't support ranking strongly when it first came up.  I guess I'm a bit of a hypocrite as I'll take the promotion since it's offered!

My news came today when the dean (actually his secretary, my friend Karen) called to ask for me to come in for a meeting. Although I was optimistic about the promotion, I *seriously* hadn't anticipated the substance. I thought it was about plagiarism or maybe a student complaint (I use a lot of "colourful" language because I'm under the impression that it makes me more interesting).

Let me say how classy I think it is to get a welcomed letter pressed into your palm by such a busy person. Dean Jeff Goldberg doesn't have a lot of time in his schedule, but when you're with him, you've got his whole attention. I'd been thinking a lot about the promotion, and this was great.

But what's this fly in the ointment? I still need to exercise more and not all of my students idolize me. I still miss deadlines and think petty thoughts. I've reached the highest level I can think of-for now. I don't think I'll slack off in teaching, but my annual reports are likely to be thinner! I'll have to move on to other goals. Maybe more guitar practice. I don't worry that *I* will destroy MRU culture with this newfound title, but I'm concerned that the new hierarchical titles might.

But I'm thrilled with this recognition all the same.