Talking about death and not dying on stage: Keith does Science Showoff!

A few weeks ago I performed a short stand-up comedy set as part of Science Showoff, a regular series of events which are billed as 'chaotic cabaret for science lovers'. Science Showoff is the wonderful brainchild of Steve Cross, who is to science and comedy what peanut butter and jelly is to sandwiches (well, American ones anyway). The idea is to make science fun, entertaining, and (hopefully), funny.

I love presenting and I've always considered myself to be someone who puts a lot of humour in my presentations and I always try hard to make my talks engaging. So Science Showoff seemed like a logical thing for me to do. However, there is a big difference between a science presentation with hints of comedy and a comedic presentation with hints of science.

In addition to having presented at a variety of levels (from lab meetings up to to international conferences) I've also played several gigs in various bands. So I'm not particularly nervous about the idea of getting up in front of strangers. Initially, the idea of performing stand-up comedy didn't really faze me at all, but as the date of the gig came closer, I felt much more anxious than I was expecting to feel.

The most challenging aspect of Science Showoff is that, as a newcomer, you get a 9 minute slot. This goes by very quickly and if you want to tell some sort of story with a beginning, middle, and end, there is very little room for making on-the-fly alterations.

I found myself rehearsing my material in more detail than I have for most presentations that I have given. There is very little room for 'chaff' in a 9 minutes! My original version of my talk probably ran to about 30 minutes and I had to just keep cutting more and more material to hone it down (maybe they'll end up as deleted scenes on the DVD version).

I feel I made things harder for myself by deliberately choosing a topic which initially might seem bereft of any humour potential. My title was: 'Seasonality of Death'. When I first volunteered for this, I knew that I would be doing a slide-driven presentation but I dramatically cut back on how many slides I would normally present and I chose slides that were strong on visuals and kept text large and legible.

The result of my efforts is included below. I'm pleased with how I did, especially with respect to the timing of all of my content. I'd certainly consider doing this again if the opportunity arose and I think it is a great exercise in making you think about all aspects of your presentation skills.

Thanks again to Steve Cross for the opportunity.

The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs — or do they?

According to this video testimony from musical performers The Be Good Tanyas, ‘the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs’. If we take their claim at face value, one might presuppose that ‘size of bird’ and ‘prettiness of song’ might be connected in some form of linear relationship where smaller birds sing prettier songs:

Littlest1However, as they fail to clarify the nature of the relationship between ‘size of bird’ and ‘prettiness of song’ one could postulate that the following examples also satisfy their description:



Thus we feel that — in the absence of supporting data — their observation that smaller sized avians produce more pleasing vocalizations, should not be regarded as a relationship which necessarily suggests that larger-sized birds sing notably less pretty songs.

Regardless of whether there is a relationship between these two metrics, we might still expect to find supporting evidence for the notion that diminutive avians produce trillings, warblings, and other chirruping-like sounds that are of a fetching nature.

One might therefore assume that the songs of Hummingbirds should be among the prettiest of all bird songs. However, according to the Hummingbird-themed site World of Hummingbirds:

“the sounds of hummingbirds are not exactly considered music…it would be more appropriate to call them chirps then it would be to call it music.”

This testimony, along with the audio evidence provided on their site, suggests that the claims of The Be Good Tanyas should not be taken at face value. Further undermining their claims is this list of the top ten song birds from ‘Bird On! News’. While some of the entries on this list also feature in’s list of small-sized birds (those birds 5–9 inches in length), the top 10 list also includes the mute swan which can grow up to 1.5 meters in length, a size described by Wikipedia as ‘impressive’.

Without published data in a peer-reviewed journal we find the evidence to support any claim that ‘the littlest birds sing the prettiest songs’ to be lacking and we humbly request that The Be Good Tanyas ‘show us the data’.

Please do not read this

Reposted from my older blog that is about to disappear.

This is a test, a little psychological play thing. I’m just curious as to how many people will proceed with reading this even though I have (kindly) asked that you refrain from doing so. Most people will come across a link to this blog post from Twitter or and therefore will see nothing more than the following text: ‘Please don’t read this’ along with a shortened web link.

And yet…and yet you are here, reading these very words which I asked you not to read. You disregarded my instructions and if you are still reading this then you have thrown caution to the wind and are willing to risk the possible destruction of your computer in order to see what I had to say (have you people never heard of clickjacking?). From a psychological viewpoint, you might be interested to know that you are now a victim of my (successful) attempt at using the Pique Technique.

Of course it is entirely possible that the brave souls who have clicked on the link to arrive here actually know me (at least in a virtual way) and therefore trust that I would not do something so malicious as to cause them (or their computer/internet device) any harm. However, who is to say that I am not a sleeper agent that has been recently ‘activated’ to carry out a mission of inflicting chaos and mayhem on an unsuspecting world?

Okay folks, here is your final test. If you scroll down to the bottom of this page you will find three words waiting for you. However, I strongly suggest with all of the urgency that I can muster, that you DO NOT READ THOSE THREE WORDS! I can take no liability for what damage, psychological or otherwise, may arise from the reading of those three words. These three words have been carefully chosen for their potential to cause grave offense and so I will end this post by once again urging you that you should not, under any circumstances, scroll down to the bottom of this post to read those three words.

Moist muffin flaps.

10 rival social networking sites that may spell the end of Facebook

  1. Farcebook - people recount hilarious episodes of their crazy lives
  2. Acebook - Veterans of aerial combat recount their tales of dogfights in the sky
  3. Faceliftbook - exactly the same content as facebook, but with a new, younger look
  4. Twofacebook - sign up to praise your friends (and then bitch about them when they log off)
  5. Plaicebook - where people write their own recipes that feature everyone’s favorite fish
  6. Facecook - only for people who resemble TV chefs
  7. Macebook - people hook up to discuss their experiences with tear gas
  8. Faceoffbook - each week two site members pair up to battle to death in unarmed combat
  9. Visage de livre - Facebook for French people
  10. Face2facebook - people actually leave the computer behind and meet people in real life (not sure if this one will ever catch on)

Reposted from my older blog that is about to disappear.