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Anatomy of an amoeba: why not? I like it.

Anatomy of an amoeba: why not? I like it.

Well I made it this far, and I might not have expected to last four years of blogging but I did last, and I’m very glad. Here is my customary retrospective with some “new” images. I’m glad to see that you’re still here, too: over 3200 blog subscribers (roughly doubled since 2014?) and some regular commenters remain– thank you! Like an undead horror, this blog keeps lurching forward, and it appreciates loyalty.

rick-what-sm

 Stomach-Churning Rating: 5/10- there’s a bit of blood and stuff. Nothing that unusual. If you’re like Rick (above; by /u/epicolllie), that won’t phase you by now.

The past year on the #JohnsFreezer blog felt quiet to me, and that’s largely because I was distracted by numerous things; if you know me (or follow my whining on Twitter), you probably can guess. But there were enough highlights to keep me feeling satisfied. Judging from your reactions, you liked my inside scoop on the T. rex Autopsy documentary that I consulted on, and a distant second place post was, hmm, that’s kinda surprising: my elephant foot dissection post. I’m rather pleased so many of you clicked on that one, actually. That’s a meat-and-potatoes post for this blog, much like my latest one on getting to know M. caudofemoralis (longus). But hey, check out the “Goat to be Seen” post if those are your kind of entries– it seems a lot of people missed that one, and it had a mix of quirkiness, unflinching raw anatomy, and art that still makes me smile.

I was browsing my photos and ran across this NHMUK exhibit of a small ungulate hooved limb vs. a nice honking big padded elephant foot. It elegantly gets across the biomechanical differences between these limb structures.

I was browsing my photos and ran across this NHMUK exhibit of a small ungulate hooved limb vs. a nice honking big padded elephant foot (both abstracted down to their fundamentals). It elegantly gets across the biomechanical differences between these limb structures. Bravo!

My rants about how sometimes it’s helpful for scientists to put the brakes on media coverage of their own research, and on “HONCOs” (honorary co-authors), also brought in the punters, as did the re-post about the not-so-bad aspects of self-promotion in science. Not so many people appeared to read the post about where ideas come from in science but it got a lot of tweets, which is a strange incongruity, yet my thoughts on how to manage a research team didn’t do any better (but if you read in between the lines, there’s a poignancy to that post). Anyway: good ole rants; ahh, it still feels good to have those off my chest, even after all these months. And writing them helps me sort out my own thoughts, if nothing else.

Hindlimb of a sea turtle that we dissected in 2015 after it came in for a clinical postmortem.

Hindlimb of a sea turtle that we dissected in 2015 after it came in for a clinical postmortem.

One of my greatest science heroes, “Neill” Alexander, got his due here, and there continue to be comments trickling in on that post from people who are reminiscing about his influence on their careers. That is definitely one of the posts on this blog that I feel best about, even after four years. It meant a lot to me, much as Neill has meant a lot to others. I also did an homage to museums, which in parallel (oddly, but enjoyably for me) became an(other) homage to avian kneecaps. I like them too, and museums of course, but they’re awesome in a very different way from Neill.

Team Cat is still cranking on our biomechanical and anatomical studies of felids- expect a lot of new stuff from us in 2016! Meanwhile, enjoy this spectacular taxidermy.

Team Cat is still cranking on our biomechanical and anatomical studies of felids- expect a lot of new stuff from us in 2016! Meanwhile, enjoy this spectacular taxidermy– and check out Dr. Andrew Cuff’s blog with the latest science and stories.

I learned a lot about my genome in this fourth year of blogging, and I delved into that with you, as part of my commitment to share what I learn about myself by poking around in my biology. Oh, and I just learned that the image depicting my genomic ancestry was this blog’s most-clicked image this year– that’s cool, and unexpected!

The past year was a big year for dinosaurs on this blog, with a post on the “Giant Dinosaurs of London” and another related to my cameo in the giant titanosaur documentary with Attenborough, but with a focus on dissecting dinosaurs, and a blatant bandwagon tribute to/musing on Jurassic World.

The very, very strange iguanodontian dinosaur Lurdusaurus (forelimb; note the big spiky thumb claw), which I was pleased to see at the natural history museum in Brussels, Belgium in 2015.

The very, very strange iguanodontian dinosaur Lurdusaurus (forelimb; note the big spiky thumb claw), which I was pleased to see at the natural history museum in Brussels, Belgium in 2015.

And finally, this blog had a baby, or a sister, or whatever, this year, and that has been a blast: Anatomy to You was born, thanks to Dr. Lauren Sumner-Rooney’s expert care and dedication to science communication. If you haven’t checked it out, now’s a good time, or offer to do a guest post for our “In Focus” section if you’ve got some anatomical science to share! Speaking of guest posts, Julia Molnar did a fabulous one about our paper on crocodile backbones this year, here on this blog.

I'm still cleaning up specimens from the freezers: here, some "emu butts" (tails) from a collaboration with Michael Pittman and Heinrich Mallison, and PhD student Luis Lama's past thesis work.

I’m still cleaning up specimens from the freezers: here, some “emu butts” (tails) from a collaboration with Michael Pittman and Heinrich Mallison, and PhD student Luis Lama’s past work. Something about these vertebrae fascinates me.

I didn’t deliver on some plans for this year, such as a komodo dragon anatomy post, but I did finally do the “better know a muscle” and “dissecting dinosaurs” posts I planned, and a few other things, so the year worked out well enough.

What’s coming in year 5 of this blog? I have no bloody idea; I have not gotten that far. I think we’ll all be surprised. Let’s make the most of it! (I will consider requests)

"We'll always have elaborate models of gorilla muscular anatomy in Paris."

“We’ll always have elaborate models of gorilla muscular anatomy in Paris.”

 

 

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Claws for alarm

Claws for alarm

Happy Third Blogoversary, WIJF blog! I am thick in some paper-writing, so I can’t write my usual detailed summary of the past year. Or so I thought, then I started writing and finished it, so here it is! I didn’t feel I needed to post this, but I like retrospectives and writing this helps me recall what happened here and gives me new ideas for the future (or things to avoid!). I continue to enjoy blogging here and you’re still here too, so that’s enough for me, regardless.

 Stomach-Churning Rating: 8/10; some unpleasantness in the images ahead…

Indeed, this year saw an odd leap in blog subscribers, from about 200ish to now >1500 since around August 2014; an astonishing sevenfold increase in about as many months! I did not see that coming. I’d love it if some of the new folks could speak up in the Comments and say what brought them here (this WordPress recommendations link? BBC Dinosaur story link?). Otherwise, Twitter won the social media “war” again against Facebook for bringing people here.

The top post of this past year was easily, and unsurprisingly, the evil takeover of the blog by my Sith nemesis. May she remain in her galaxy far, far away and not trouble us again. “Aren’t Adaptations Special?” (my ode to the 35th Spandrelversary) and “Co-Rex-Ions” (my chronicle of correcting a paper and reflecting on that experience) both did nicely, too, in terms of readers.

Insanity claws

Insanity claws

The latter post had parallel threads with others exploring my career and my role as a research manager/mentor, and pondering (with your input) research data “versus” conclusions as well as an awkward day earlier in my career involving crocodiles and karaoke. A recurrent theme that you may have noticed is that I am using the blog to explore my tolerance for humiliating myself (or at least self-effacement), and exploring why we humiliate others, which still fascinates me.

It was also a deeply introspective year for me, for reasons made clear by this post, which links to other posts like it exploring my experiences jousting with mortality and its reverberations. It has been an… eventful year. Leading to many thoughts bouncing around my head like happy little blood clots.

And then my crossover Conversation UK article was posted in full length here, “Anatomy: Dynamic, Not Defunct“, which was for me a highlight of the year on this blog (and my sci-comm efforts). I followed up on this big-picture anatomy motif in related posts on “In the Name of Morphology” and an ode (it was a year of many odes!) to anatomist Richard Owen.

My two-post stroll through the British Museum also got me writing about how animal anatomy plays a physical or at least visual role in human art and culture; that was fun for me. Likewise, I did another anatomically-focused museum exhibit review for the NHM’s mammoth exhibit, and yet another on my visit to another “home of anatomy” in Jena, Germany‘s equivalent of the NHM. That post’s ontogeny-phylogeny theme, echoed in my Owen post, also tied into a long-form version of a Nature News & Views article I wrote but also posted here, on “plastic fishapods.” Expect more evo-devo from me in the future; it has become part of my research programme to tie together form, function, development and evolution in my team’s work.

Ontogeny havoc

Ontogeny havoc: teratologies

In other, more random anatomy-based posts, there was an early one on cat dissections, another on the lives and deaths of penguins (there will be more on this topic soon!), and the most recent post on mammalian tails. Finally in 2014, as one of the highlights of my career lately, we published 3 papers about bird legs/knees on one day, in the open access journal PeerJ, right before Crimbo. I’m proud of the work my team put into those papers. 2015 looks to be at least as productive and fun!

This blog still has legs!

This blog still has legs!

Keep wearing layers of clothing. I’ve got plenty more freezerness in store on this blog; freezerburnout has been avoided. Expect posts on dissecting dinosaurs, that promised komodo dragon post, more cats and penguins and then definitely more bird (and lizard, and mammal!) knees, and something special about genomes. I also have some changes in mind for the blog, with a new flavour of regular, short posts. I’ll save the explanation for later.

What are your memories of the past year in my freezers?

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Hey I almost forgot, it’s the blog’s second anniversary! What the hell happened this year?

Stomach-Churning Rating: there’s an 8/10 photo of ostrich guts here; otherwise 2/10ish.

I bring you tidings from the past and future!

I bring you tidings from the past and future!

This was the Year of the Rant, and I enjoyed ranting to you on this blog. Sometimes you ranted with me, and that was even better. It kicked off with that cat documentary that spurned me in a feline dismissive fashion, then I lit off on documentaries in general and how they should give more back to scientists (what a discussion in the comments!!!!). Ooooh that felt good. And helped me sort out my thoughts about the topic. And after then, I got paid more often and still did a lot of documentaries– if you haven’t been watching Secrets of Bones on BBC4, you should be weeping bitter, bitter dregs (and be scrambling to get access). Catch me tomorrow (Tues) night with some of our emus! They paid me reasonably and in return I worked hard for them; before, during, and after filming, and I think we all felt good about it. Or I did anyway. The show is excellent, so I feel even better!

Sneak peek from BBC4's Secrets of Bones episode 3... recognize anyone?

Sneak peek from BBC4’s Secrets of Bones episode 3… recognize anyone? (from their website)

But no ranting palaeo-related blog would be complete without a good T. rex rant, and I did that this year. Took a big dump on the scavenger-predator non-troversy. That went over so well, Slate picked it up– I never had expected that to happen! I also appreciated how many colleagues joined in to condemn the senseless perpetuation of this dead issue by the media and a few scientists.

There were also some posts on more introspective things, like the feeling of being lost that pervades both visiting a strange foreign city and doing science. And like how science needs both the qualities of a Mr Spock and a Captain Kirk. Those were fun experiments in combining  a personal, internal experience with a broader message.

Darwin greets Chinese visitor Microraptor in my office.

Darwin greets Chinese visitor Microraptor in my office.

When I asked for suggestions last year, you wanted more coverage of other people’s stuff, and so I did that to a degree, reviewing the All Yesterdays and Unfeathered Bird books. And then I fell off that wagon, which I may come back to. But along the way I realized I don’t enjoy writing about papers that other people have already published because, generally, I then lack the personal experience of doing the science and showing it in progress, which is what this blog tends to be about and what excites me on a personal, visceral level. Once the paper is out, I feel like the cat is out of the bag and it’s not as fun to talk about unless it’s totally mind-blowingly (A) cool or (B) idiotic. Anyway, I might do a solicited post if someone gets me excited about a paper before it comes out, or who knows, I may change my mind.

Entirely unfeathered Indian peafowl in matching views.

Entirely unfeathered Indian peafowl in matching views, with Unfeathered Bird’s author-illustrator.

I also posted on a fabulous blog that more people need to hit, because you may be surprised just how fascinating it is- Veterinary Forensics. I get the feeling often, both on my blog and from scientific colleagues, that veterinary anatomy/pathology issues are seen as “lesser science” than basic, even descriptive anatomy. Somehow, insanely weird diseases or pathologies don’t excite people as much as insanely weird “normal” anatomies. I know there are exceptions to that generalization, but I think it’s a common (mis)perception people have, and part of it is likely because those fields (veterinary medicine and zoology, for example) are historically separate, and people tend to see anatomy and pathology as separate things- as opposed to points along a continuum. Since coming to the RVC, I have come from that kind of a misperception to one in which pathology enormously enriches my understanding of form, function and evolution. I also love the “applications of basic science to helping animals live better lives” angle. We should all be trying to do that as scientists, but from time to time I notice that it isn’t taken seriously (I even get reviewers’ comments bluntly stating that it’s none of our business as basic scientists, or for anatomy/experimental biology journals to mention!). Whoops better stop there or I’ll be writing a new ranty post!

Can't get enough of this -xray GIF, so here it is again.

Can’t get enough of this x-ray GIF, so here it is again.

Darwin Day got into some of the vet-y issues regarding feet, in a post on hooves and then another on pigs’ feet.

Toward the end of the year I got some guest posts going, by two main people from my team: Sophie Regnault on rhino feet, and Julia Molnar on crocodile spines. I liked those posts a lot, and so did you, it seems, so there will be more of those coming in year 3. Quite a few are planned already.

One of my favourite papers I’ve ever done came out this year, by Vivian Allen et al. on dinosaur body shape/postural evolution, and that went nicely as a blog post with tons of extra context and stuff. Digital 3D dinos, what’s not to love?

I was on sabbatical for much of the year, so I was posting a lot about patellae (kneecaps) and how fun they are to study, which led to posts about basal bird skeletons and more, like Darwin’s chickens and a joke about cake that only I seemed to find funny, and ending with a grand summary of avian kneecaps. I also reported on some new (post-sabbatical) research, still ongoing, with Dr. Stephanie Pierce and Dr. Maedeh Borhani at the RVC, on how salamanders walk. During Freezermas, I plugged our new comparative cat project.

The mesenteries are so gorgeous!!!!!!

The mesenteries are so gorgeous!!!!!!

Speaking of Freezermas: It happened, it was terrifying, and we’ve all grown from the experience of surviving it. I had a blast dissecting that ostrich, and the x-ray pics were a hit with everyone, too!

Then there was random “freezer love” and assorted posts to give insight into the daily life of a freezer manager, such as doing an inventory and reflections on childhood. I snuck in a tour of Dublin museums and the amazing Crocodiles of the World near Oxford. I meant to do more of those “anatomy road trip posts” and still aim to.

And we ended the year by ending the ongoing drama of the Mystery Anatomy competition, starting off a new year with a new scoreboard. We got more poetic and lyrical in 2013 with the answers to those mysteries, and that will continue (groans from those who are poetically challenged).

Elephant skull mystery x-ray

Elephant skull mystery x-ray

Some brief numbers: view-wise the blog has been pretty close to last year; about 87,000 views in the past 12 months for a total of almost 200,000, wow! This year, Twitter just barely edged out Facebook for bringing people to the blog (3,134 vs 3,022 clicks) but then geenstijl.nl bizarrely brought 2,732! There was no big Reddit or other social media site moment this year, but various sites and links continued to bring in a steady flow of visitors to add to the Google-search-firehose’s. Thanks to folks who linked here!!!

What google searches brought people here the most often? The top 3 are the most interesting; the fifth one just makes me laugh because I’ve never discussed Deepstaria enigmatica anatomy here, but will continue to promote people finding the site by searching for it, if only to annoy cnidariologists:

rhino 83
giraffe 76
camel anatomy 62
what’s in john’s freezer 60
deepstaria enigmatica 56

I’m a little surprised “elephant” and “dinosaur” don’t bring as many searches here, but there are probably more sites about those animals and hence I get fewer of the hits. Looking forward to more hits on “ostrich anatomy”…

My two top rants were the top posts this year, and that’s no surprise given the comments and other attention they got. Thanks for helping by participating! Those were nice group-rants. Healthy and vigorous. Shockingly, a poetry round of mystery anatomy came in 3rd! People just liked the chickens + bones + poetry. Those, and some hits from year 1, broke the 1000-views marks.

Americans came here in a 3:1 ratio to Brits, which means that Brits punched above their weight per capita (~5:1 ratio)! Canadians, you tried, too. Here, have some back bacon of dubious provenance. 🙂 Saint Kitts and Nevis with 670 views, wow! Very unexpected- you beat Italy and many others!

Most importantly, the blog has been about sharing my passion for anatomy (as preserved via freezers). I shared a conference talk about this subject here, using the blog as a prime example, to a warm reception. I want to try experimenting in new ways to use the blog to share things this year. I think you will like what I (we!) have lined up. Thanks for showing up and staying with me!

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MYSTERY ANATOMY RULES: 5 pts for correct, spot-on and FIRST right answer, 4 pts for very close or second, 3 pts for partly right or third in line with right answer, 2 pts for a good try, 1 pt consolation prize for just trying, or for a good joke!

Poetry rounds have special rules as described there, but the general rule is that cleverness gets more points.

If you post as “anonymous” name then it all goes into the same tomb of the unknown anatomist.

If you change your answer, you may lose ~1 pt if I feel frigidly cruel.

Answers posted via Twitter, Facebook, email or whatever do not count! No appeals. I am a frigid dictator.


FINAL 2014 SCORES- In order from top, ice-cool score to lukewarm ones; congratulations to our winner!

14 = Lorna Steel— coasts into a win without needing to comment in the final round; well done Lorna!

12= Jaime Headden– so close!!

11 = Casey Holliday

10 = filippo

9 = AnJaCo

7 = darkgabi,  Reno Hates Me

6 = Brian Speer, Robin Birrrdegg, Heinrich Mallison, Mark Robinson

5 = Olle Håstad, Crispin (@brainketchup), Brand van Sittert

4 = thebadlizard, Cat, Alejandro Otero

3= Stu Pond, Nick

2 = Henry,  pakasuchus, hypnotosov, Ida Wakely, Richard Forrest, hypnotosov, Andy Farke, Dennis E, Brooke, Lisa Buckley, Jan Prochel, Chris Thomas, Mieke Roth, Michael Doube (All in good company here!)

1 = Stella, William Pérez, zoe

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This is pinned to the top of the “Mystery Anatomy” page, where it shall stay for easy reference.

MYSTERY ANATOMY RULES: 5 pts for correct, spot-on and FIRST right answer, 4 pts for very close or second, 3 pts for partly right or third in line with right answer, 2 pts for a good try, 1 pt consolation prize for just trying, or for a good joke!

Poetry rounds have special rules as described there, but the general rule is that cleverness gets more points.

If you post as “anonymous” name then it all goes into the same tomb of the unknown anatomist.

If you change your answer, you may lose ~1 pt if I feel frigidly cruel.

Answers posted via Twitter, Facebook, email or whatever do not count! No appeals. I am a frigid dictator. :-)


CURRENT SCORES- In order from top, ice-cool score to lukewarm ones:

(to be reset with start of 2014 game)

END OF 2013 FINAL SCORES FROM HOLIDAY SONG ROUND!!!

The Ice-Cool Eight:

Mark Robinson [38]– 2013 WINNER!

Michael Doube/mdoube [25]

Heinrich Mallison [24]

Jaime A Headden [23]

Stu Pond [20]

Filippo [20]

RH [17]

PaoloV [15]

The Rimey Runners-Up:

hypnotosov [13]

Anath Sheridan [9]

Darren Naish/Eotyrannus [9]

Casey Holliday [8]

Henry Astley [8]

Robin Birrrdegg [8]

Lisa Buckley (@ShamanSciences) [8]

Carolyn Eadie DeBoer [7]

Chris Thomas [7]

Jason Anderson [7]

Mieke Roth [6]

Check out the 5-point Gang of Awesomeness: Chris K, Olle Håstad, 220mya, Jason, Coherentsheaf, nick gardner.

Ever-persistent 4-pointers: William Perez (vetanat), Diane Kelly, Amy Beer, Colleen, Martin Brazeau, Richard Dearden.

Zoinks, 3 points! brooke, Thomas R Holtz, Jr, Christopher Taylor, Andy Farke, dobermunk, .gabi.sobral. (@darkgabi), Dave Hone, Ryan Marek.

And in the still-in-the-running, chilled out 2 pt sector: Nicola newton, Alejandro Otero, Joy Reidenberg, unknown anatomist (oh noes! don’t let them win!), Aldo Matteucci, Dan, Bruce J. Mohn, gingerest, John Collins, Carol, cromercroxHenry, AnJaCo, Ben, pakasuchus, Lorna Steel, Sandra N, Eric Morsschauser.

Finally, the 1pt hoary horde– keep trying! protohedgehog,  mcarnall, rebecca fisher, edward ayton, Welmoed, heather, Jenn, palaeosam, Carol Robbins, Old Geezer, A Person, rjm, Robyn, Morgan, Fiver, Colleen, Amber Alink, himmapaan, AnJaCo, J Gentry, Federico “Dino” Degrange, henstridgesj, smg, Jason Poole, Roger Close, Stephanie Pierce, VIvian (Allen).

Thanks for a good game of Mystery Anatomy!  A new game will begin afresh (afrozen?) in 2014!

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Hell Freezes Over

I confess to hipsterism or some other fatal disorder; I’m no Luddite but I am hesitant to jump onto popular techy trends. (Although I was writing webpages for www.ucmp.berkeley.edu as early as 1995!) Back circa 2006, I maintained I’d never board the bandwagon and sign up for Facebook, then I relented. Even into the spring of 2011, I was a staunch non-Twitterer, then I caved.

But all along, I’ve maintained I have no great idea for a blog and don’t have time to blog. So here I am. Maybe both those things are still true! But we shall see what crystalizes here…

Aside: the “frigorific” in the Links section is a real word, and refers to extreme coolness. Bear with me. I’m gonna milk the limited set of puns that this blog’s theme relates to, even if only tangentially so. Some freezer-burned puns may result.

In celebration of my first blog post, cue the thematic music! (I am aware of its photographic, not frigorific, context, and there are plenty of alternatives, but I like the celebratory tone here– please sing along while sporting hideously outdated fashion choices!)

Awright, let the Blogging Begin! Hopefully not at a glacial pace… First up: Giraffe-a-Thon! And be sure to check out the “Welcome to My Freezer” tab at the top, for important WIJF information.

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