Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Making your iPad a laptop with the Incase Origami Workstation

I’ve previously blogged about my frustration when trying to use a iPad for much in the way of text input, even when using an external keyboard. The problem is that even though the pairing of the iPad with the keyboard through Bluetooth works really well, you still need to physically interact with the iPad. (A wireless trackpad will not work.) I have the standard folding iPad cover, so this means that I either have to lie it down, which is not very useful/practical, or stand it up and press the screen very gently so as not to topple it. What I really needed was something that would give some back support to the iPad whilst using the keyboard.

This week I got myself an Incase Origami Workstation, having seen it used successfully on a iPad training course. Like all the best ideas, this is a really simple but well executed piece of kit. As the name suggests, it folds out from a flat, lightweight keyboard cover to a stand that keeps the iPad and keyboard securely in place. The velcro makes the switch quick, easy and painless.

Perhaps surprisingly, it actually does a pretty decent job at turning your iPad into a literal laptop. Although the hinge of the Origami Workstation is too flexible to move it about much whilst the iPad is slotted in, once in place it is pretty stable; when using it on a table it is very sturdy and does the job superbly.

Thoroughly recommended! (Cheaper in the Apple Store than Amazon at the moment too!)

Monday, 29 July 2013

OMICS Group Conferences - Sham or Scam? (Either way, don't go to one!)

I want to preface this post by saying that it’s been one of the harder ones to decide whether to write. On the one hand, it feels a little unprofessional and self-sabotaging to criticise a conference at which one was an invited speaker. On the other hand, my recent experience of an OMICS Group conference was so poor that I feel compelled to warn others. One thing I want to make clear from the outset, however, is that I do not want to denigrate any of the speakers; despite the shortcomings of the conference itself, there was nothing wrong with the contributions of those in attendance. (I wish I could say the same of the OMICS Group organisers.)

Earlier this year, I was invited to speak at the OMICS Group 3rd International Conference of Proteomics and Bioinformatics, held in Philadelphia earlier this month. It sounded like it would be a fairly big conference - the topic was broad, the website listed 24 conference organisers (including scientists from renowned Universities), eleven thematic tracks and venue pictures featuring a conference room of reasonable size set up for a talk. Although I am not generally a fan of massive conferences, it is good to present at one; I recognised a couple of names of confirmed presenters, one of whom was a friend, and after weighing up the costs I decided to accept the invitation. With hindsight, I was rather naïve and/or gullible in accepting the invite. The conference website, it seems, is very misleading - it lists four front-page “Renowned speakers”, for example, of whom only two actually spoke at the conference. At the time, though, I had no particular reason to be wary.

There were a few bad signs before even turning up to the conference, included poor information regarding the speaker guidelines and even the hotel in which the conference was taking place. The big one that worried me most was the timetabling of the conference when the full scientific programme was finally released. Despite 11 “tracks”, the conference was organised into a single stream. This is not so bad in itself - parallel sessions often cause problems of clashing talks of interest; the issue was that the resulting programme was so crammed full, there were hardly any breaks.

As anyone who has been to conferences knows, many of the most productive parts of the conference are the conversations over coffee, lunch and evening refreshments. This conference had scheduled two 15 minute coffee breaks and 40 minutes for lunch in the context of days of 9-6 talks. A one hour “cocktail” (beer and wine) session was listed for each day but there was no conference dinner or other activity to promote extended interaction. Not only was I worried about the lack of interactions - particularly for someone a bit introverted like me who is a bit slow to warm up - from past experience, there was a chance that talks would over-run to the point that breaks would disappear and/or it would take longer than the coffee break to get everyone out of the auditorium and lined up for coffee.

(As it happens, concerns about breaks were ill-founded. The reason for this is that the disorganisation of the conference at the event and the alarming no-show rate of speakers meant that we often ended up with extra time for breaks. The exception to this was Day 1 but I’m getting ahead of myself and will come back to that.)

Despite these warning signs, I really wasn’t ready for the shambles that was to come. Having had breakfast on Monday in the wrong room due to lack of information, I went to the conference suite to register and make my way to the conference room. The conference pack itself set the scene for the conference, being mostly advetising for OMICS Group activities with precious little regard for the science. (No lists of attendees, or places to write notes that I could see.) This was then reflected in the venue.

For one thing, it was tiny. I mean tiny. The venue image that I previously interpreted as the one of several parallel sessions turned out to be twice the size of the venue for the entire conference. This is partly because the room had been divided and the other half was being used for another OMICS conference. (There were three in the hotel plus one or two other meetings not organised by the OMICS Group.)

Not only was it tiny but the layout was awful - half a dozen large round tables surrounded by ten or so chairs each. Given that there were 52 speakers on the programme plus four keynote speakers and one workshop presenter, this was not encouraging. A conference with 24 listed of conference organisers having not much more than double that number of participants tells you that there is a problem somewhere. The biggest thing in the room was the banner advertising the OMICS Group and its sponsors.

Things did not get any better once the conference began. The schedule included a rather intriguing 30 minute(!) slot for an "opening ceremony", which again added to the pre-conference illusion of grandeur. In reality, it was five minute introduction by an unfortunate member of the keynote forum who seemed to have been volunteered for the role not long before. Furthermore, the absence of formal organisation was such that agreeing to this role seemed to land him with the unenviable task of essentially organising and managing the rest of the speaker lineup for the rest of the conference. To add insult to injury, this was someone who was not even on the organising committee.

The rest of the day was odd, bordering on farce. Things started OK. Thanks to the “opening ceremony”, we were running ahead of schedule. One of the keynote speakers had substituted a junior member of their lab in their place - a good move, I now see - but the keynotes were generally interesting and I was beginning to think “maybe this won’t be so bad”. At that point, the conference organisers made their only detectable organisational intervention - the group photo.

Quite why you want a photo showing how embarrassingly tiny your broad International conference is, I don’t know, but they did - enough to not only obliterate our time cushion but (thanks to some comically bad preparation and organisation by the photographer) also eat into the scientific schedule. This for me summed up the whole endeavour: science taking second place to OMICS Group publicity. The photo is now up on the website and reproduced below. I count 48 people. There were 57 listed speakers. (I will come back to that!) Remember, this is for a conference with an alleged 24 organisers!

I now suspect that essentially everyone at the conference had been invited to speak and that the “organising committee” had no role in the organisation or speaker lineup - indeed, I wonder if they all even know that they are being listed as organisers. Nevertheless, after a now-delayed coffee, things picked up again with some interesting talks, although there had clearly been little or no instruction (and sometimes little thought) regarding the technicalities of getting talks ready and computers switched over etc.. (There wasn’t even a clicker for advancing slides - I had to use my own!) Thanks to a few hiccups compounding the photographic nonsense earlier, we were late for our 40 minute lunch break.

Lunch. This should be one of the best times in any conference - a time to discuss the science of the morning and look at what’s on offer in the afternoon. After a couple of interesting talks, I was looking forward to a bit of discussion. Instead, lunch was a buffet affair on the mezzanine floor, shared by all the conferences and with insufficient tables and seating to be able to sit even with the two or three people you were just chatting to in the lift. On one occasion, I stood up to get a coffee after lunch and found my seat taken by members of another conference before I could return to it. Later, we were even asked to leave our table to make room for the next conference when I was still eating. (On that occasion, we were still well within the allotted lunch time on the programme.) The food itself was pretty nice but lunch, thanks to shoddy organisation, was one of the worst conference lunch experiences I have had.

The rest of the conference bumbled along in much the same vein. I’ve been at a few conferences where the schedule has been re-jigged slightly on the day but never before have I been at a conference where speakers were AWOL and nobody appeared to know. Before each talk, there was a hopeful appeal to the audience for the speaker to come forth and show themselves - or, as in a few cases, not. The first couple of times, I thought it a bit rude to just not show up but I fear that the real reason might be a bit more sinister - the OMICS Group, it seems, have a reputation for not refunding people who decide to pull-out of their activities; given the small size, I would not be surprised if they kept those that withdraw on their programme. As far as I can tell, the OMICS Group simply do not care if conference is a disaster, as long as they can spin it as a success. The packed programme quite possibly exists only to maximise the number of names they can associate with their conference for some credibility.

One of the saddest things - and one of the reasons for this post - is that a little more research on my part would have warned me off. The Scholarly Open Access blog had an article from January this year: OMICS Goes from “Predatory Publishing” to “Predatory Meetings”. (My wife emailed me the link at the meeting but I wasn’t brave enough to read it until at the airport to come home!) The title says it all really but some of the content within resonated with me quite strongly.

Now new evidence has surfaced revealing that OMICS, which is also in the business of organizing scientific conferences, has been 1) using the names of scientists, oftentimes without their permission, to invite participants to their meetings, 2) promoting their meetings by giving them names that are deceptively similar to other well-established meetings that have been held for years by scientific societies, and 3) refusing to refund registration fees, even if their meetings are cancelled.

First, OMICS implies that its editorial board members are conference organizers by placing their names and photographs on their conference web pages, and by sending email invitations to their meetings which are “signed” by members of the editorial boards. However, many of these people never agreed to be meeting organizers, and some have never even agreed to be become OMICS editorial board members.

The rest of the post - and the comments (to which I have now added) - do not make comfortable reading. The author ends by saying:

I strongly recommend, in the strongest terms possible, that all scholars from all countries avoid doing business in any way with the OMICS Group. Do not submit papers. Do not agree to serve on their editorial boards. Do not register for or attend their conferences.

I find myself having to agree. Despite the small size, lack of focus and crappy organisation, I did actually get some useful outcomes from the conference but these were despite the efforts of the organisers rather than because of them. Some of the science and individual presentations were of good quality but this was the worst scientific conference that I have attended by a long stretch - and I let them know as much in my feedback form! (Of course, visiting the conference website now shows a bunch of supportive quotes of praise, making it look like an unmitigated success. Either these individuals were at a different conference to me, have not experienced a good conference, or are way too polite.)

The whole thing left me feeling a little violated, to be honest. The delusions of grandeur portrayed by my “Certificate of Recognition” does nothing to ease this sense:

OMICS Publishing Group and Editor (s) … enjoy special privilege to felicitate [me] for his/her phenomenal and worthy oral presentation…

Even worse is what happens if you click “View More” following the “Renowned Speakers” on the front page. Another page is opened listing 42 “Executive Editors”. I am dismayed to find myself listed among them. I am not sure what qualifies someone for the list - as far as I can tell, not all those listed spoke at the conference and not all of the conference speakers are listed - but I want to make it quite clear that I have made no executive and/or editorial contribution to the OMICS Group. I have contacted them about this error, so hopefully it will be rectified. (I am not holding my breath.)

I am not sure whether they are fraudsters but, either way, I also strongly advise boycotting OMICS Group activities on the basis that they are scientifically bankrupt beyond anything that individual attending scientists bring to that activity. It is possible that I was just unlucky. Given the Scholarly Open Access comments and the apparent lack of embarrassment - and total lack of apologies - at the utter shambles that was the OMICS Group 3rd International Conference of Proteomics and Bioinformatics, I highly doubt it. For this reason, I feel the need to warn others.

Conferences are not cheap, so save your money and use it to go to a conference organised by scientists, for scientists, with science and not money/prestige/publicity as the primary motivator. Based on my experience, this will not be one organised by the OMICS Group.

There is one other thing I have learnt from this experience: if you are invited to present at a conference, do your homework.

[NB. I have made the OMICS Group aware of my thoughts and concerns. I will update this page in the light of any responses.]

[Update 4/12/13: Although OMICS Group never responded to any of my emails, it appears that they have modified their conference homepage and I am no longer listed as an “Executive Editor”. Doubly so, in fact, as they have corrected the title to read “Renowned Speakers” instead and removed me from the list!]

[Update 18/8/15: ABC have a recent exposé of predatory publishers (including OMICS), which is worth a read or listen.]

Making e-Books with Wikipedia

One of the many interesting things that I learnt at the recent iPad training course was not actually iPad-specific: generating e-Books with Wikipedia for offline reading.

Hidden away in plain site on every page is the Print/export section. One option is to simply Download as PDF but a far more interesting and useful possibility exists: Create a book.

Clicking the Create a book link will open up the Wikipedia Book creator, with the option to start a book with the current page or create an empty book.

Once you Start book creator, you then get an Add this page to your book button on each page you visit.

Alternatively, you can right-click and Add linked wiki page to your book to add pages without visiting them. (This is great for those people - everyone? - who gets easily side-tracked by links within Wikipedia pages.)

If you have got yourself a bit side-tracked by adding pages, or just need some inspiration, you can also get Wikipedia to Suggest pages:

Once you have finished adding pages - or want to remind yourself what pages you have added - you can click on Show book and Manage your book. This allows you to rearrange (or delete) your pages and download your book when ready. There are a few options but the best is probably e-book (EPub) format for iBooks.

After selecting a format, click Download and Wikipedia will render the book. Once ready, you can download the file. If doing this on a iPad, you can Open in iBooks, otherwise save it to Dropbox or something and open it in iBooks that way. You then handily have all of the Creative Commons content to read off-line, complete with a nice linked table of contents.

The nice thing about this format is that text will adjust as it is resized etc. Any links between Wikipedia pages that are in your e-book will be included and enable internal navigation. Likewise, any external URL links are kept. Links to Wikipedia pages that are not in the book are not included (i.e. there will not be lots of links out to Wikipedia webpages).

Because any copyright-protected content is not included, the e-book should be OK to distribute - but you will probably want to double-check that before doing it!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Using an iPhone for real world shopping

It’s official - I have become an Apple fanboy. Despite my irritation at their policy of charging seemingly excessive amounts for cable/adaptors to connect their devices to the rest of the world - I nearly wrote “unashamed fanboy” but I am slightly ashamed - they keep finding new ways to blow my mind. (And make me feel old at the level of excitement and amazement it stirs in me.)

Shopping on a mobile device is pretty old school and Apps for online stores abound. What got me really excited recently, though, was the ability to shop in the real world using my phone. The first step on my journey was at Starbucks. I’ve had a Starbucks card and the Starbucks App for some time and finally took the plunge a couple of weeks ago to try and pay with the App - simply tap Touch to Pay and a barcode pops up that can be scanned at the till (if you have credit on your card). No messing about with cash and wallets - indeed, no need to carry my Starbucks card in said wallet. (Not sure why I still do!)

Today, however, I experienced something beyond that, which really took things to the next level. At the iPad training day on Tuesday, the instructor had an Incase Origami Workstation, which I rather liked the look of. (I have posted before that “When it comes to writing, it’s more of an oPad than an iPad” and this could be a solution - a future post will report!)

A quick browse found it cheaper in the online Apple store that at Amazon, so I thought I’d pay the physical Apple Store in West Quay a visit and see if they had it too. They did, so I grabbed one. I wanted to ask about the pros and cons of having an iMac versus Mac mini plus external monitor, so I loitered and ogled/coveted all the beautiful things in the shop for a while. Unfortunately, all the iStaff were busy, so I gave up and brought my potential purpose up to the desk to pay.

Big mistake, really showing my ignorance, that one! You don’t pay for stuff at the desk in an Apple store - it’s just for repairs, as I was informed. I could take it to any of the roaming staff instead. I actually felt a bit annoyed at this and my face might have fallen at that point, for I had been waiting for one of the roamers to become available for a while. But then:

“Or… you could just do it yourself on your iPhone…”


But yes, it’s true. For fellow ignorami in the futuristic ways of the Apple store: you can buy things in the shop by using the Apple Store App on your phone. No need to even speak to any of the staff unless you want a bag. You just log on to the store WiFi, go to Stores in the App and pick EasyPay, then scan the barcode of your purchase. Confirm with your Apple ID password and you’re away! Your receipt appears on your phone (and gets emailed to you) and the staff get a notification of the purchase, whilst you go on your merry way. Modern technology! Mind blown.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Saving your iPad's home button with Multitasking gestures

Today, I attended an iPad training day run by Joe Moretti, which focused on using iPads in education. We explored a bunch of interesting and useful Apps, which I am sure will be the subject of few future posts. One useful thing I learnt, however, was just about the iPad itself.

I often have multiple apps open at once and copy/paste stuff between them or otherwise want to switch from one to another at reasonable frequency. Most people know that you can use double-press the Home button to reveal a bar of recently-used apps that you can swipe through. What you may not know (and I didn’t) is that you can use a single four-finger gesture to reveal this, saving time as well as wear and tear on your Home button. Likewise, a single gesture will return to the Home screen. You can even switch apps directly and bypass the Home screen or multitasking bar altogether. The gestures are in the iPad user guide:

You can use multitasking gestures on iPad to return to the Home screen, reveal the multitasking bar, or switch to another app.

Return to the Home screen: Pinch four or five fingers together.

Reveal the multitasking bar: Swipe up with four or five fingers.

Switch apps: Swipe left or right with four or five fingers.

Turn multitasking gestures on or off: Go to Settings > General > Multitasking Gestures.

It makes me wonder what other useful gems I have missed!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Help the Tigers with Whiskas and WWF

Shockingly, there are about 10,000 tigers being kept as pets worldwide, which is more than three times as many as there are in the wild. Some sub-species are already extinct in the wild. To help, Whiskas has teamed up with WWF with their “Catservation” project. If you are a cat owner, you can upload a moggy mugshot and Whiskas will donate a £1 to tiger conservation. Pick a territory and your cat will contribute to a tiger mosaic in the shape of that country.

Below the picture, you get some tiger facts for the area:

Although it’s possible to add a cat on the mobile site, the desktop version has the added bonus of being able to choose the square, which makes subsequently relocating your kittie much easier.

Warning: you will be asked to leave a message, “My cat is a catservationist because…” - I wasn’t prepared for this, hence the rather lame message above. Some of the others are better!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Visiting the Liberty Bell

I didn't get round to visiting the Liberty Bell during my time in Philadelphia. I did, however, see the Lego version in the airport, which surely counts for something.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Wagamama for breakfast!

I know it’s a but cliché to take photos of your food and blog about them but sometimes you just feel compelled to - and this is one of those times! I did not realise that Wagamama did breakfast until I was passing through Heathrow Terminal 5 this morning, looking for some sustinence. It turns out that not only do they do breakfast but they do a wide range of interesting and tasty dishes.

I had the okonomiyaki:

a japanese-style egg pancake filled with bacon, chicken, prawns, shitake mushrooms, red cabbage and leek, served with aonori, katsuobushi, spring onions, wasabi mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce.

It was amazing - as pretty as it was delicious!

Next time we're considering brunch in Southampton, I'm going to hope that Wagamama is serving its breakfast menu!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Senseful Solutions: iPhone Email Image Sizes

I often set up draft posts by emailing pictures to my blog to add text etc. later. If, like me, you sometimes email multiple images from an iOS device and wonder what happens to the resolution if you resize it to Small/Medium/Large. Happily, a post at Senseful Solutions on iPhone Email Image Sizes has the answers, some of which are summarised below:

SizePicture (JPG)Screenshot (PNG)
Small320 x 239213 x 320
Medium640 x 478426 x 640
Large1296 x 968
Actual2592 x 1936640 x 960

iPad screenshots are 768 x 1024 PNG files.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Hugh's pasta with new potatoes, green beans and pesto - a one pot classic!

We’re fans of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Every Day cookbook in our house and yesterday saw another fine discovery from within its hallowed pages. If you are after something quick, easy and delicious, look no further than Hugh’s “Pasta with new potatoes, green beans and pesto”.

As the name suggests, the main ingredients are new potatoes (about 75g per person), pasta (about 75g per person), green beans (about 50g per person) and pesto. He has instructions to make your own pesto but we just used Sacla and it was delicious enough. The final ingredients are a handful of green olives, a good grating of parmesan and a healthy dose of black pepper.

One of the best things about this recipe for me is that it is all cooked in one pot and can be prepped at a leisurely pace as you go. Simply set a large pan of salted water boiling and chop the spuds while you wait into “thin chip” sized pieces. Bung in to boil with the pasta (10-12mins) and chuck in the green beans about 4 minutes from the end after trimming and halving them. Drain, allow the steam to evaporate for a couple of minutes and then mix in the pesto and season with black pepper to taste.

To finish off, roughly chop the green olives and sprinkle on top, followed by some parmesan. Delicious! (And only one pot to clean!)

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Science blogging is hard!

My last post was number 400, which has caused me have a reflective moment about my blogging. (And the 87 drafts in various states of incompleteness!) One of my New Year’s aspirations was to blog more original science papers. Half a year on, I’ve not really done that well, to be honest. (Nor on my other aspirations, to be honest: Mystic Mog and the Exploding Tortoise has been on hold since Jaunary!)

Part of the reason is the impending move to Australia and all the organisation and house-selling that goes with it. A bigger part of the reason, though, is that (for me, at least) science blogging is hard! I have a lot of respect for those who can do it well, like Jacquelyn Gill and her ecology & climate change blog, The Contemplative Mammoth. (Her most recent post, The many scales of climate change, part 1: Tectonic timescales is well worth a read and I am looking forward to the parts to come.)

I consider science communication to be an important part of my job and I really want to get better at it. Happily, it is not too late. We are about half-way through 2013 and so there are 25(ish) weeks left. The only way to improve is to practice and rather than risk upsetting anyone by getting their science wrong, I have therefore decided to aim to blog one of my own papers each week to see how that goes. It may not happen but by making a public declaration of sorts, I am hoping I will get the extra motivation boost needed to make it happen. (Embracing Markdown should help too!)

Monday, 8 July 2013

When will the UK do something about its primate pet trade shame?

UK Primate Pet Trade petition

Much as I enjoyed my visit to Monkey World and really like what they are doing, it is nevertheless sad that a primate sanctuary is needed at all. With their work in South-East Asia, it is easy to forget that many of the animals rescued by Monkey World actually come from the UK. Monkey World clearly does not forget this and one of the things the keepers ask of visitors is to sign their petition against the UK pet trade. It’s not just that primates in the UK are being kept in wholly unsuitable conditions - it’s entirely legal do to so. Caring organisations like zoos (including Monkey World) have to provide standards of care that private owners simply do not. This is a legal loophole that must surely be closed.

Following our visit, I started looking for additional online petitions on this issue, as I figured there must be some. Looking on HM Government’s e-petition site, I did discover one that closed in February 2012 to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which was actually created by Monkey World founder, Alison Cronin:

Primates as Pets Petition

I would like to state my opposition to the LEGAL trade in primate as pets in Great Britain today. We believe that is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that any captive monkeys receive a standard of care that meets their behavioural and physical needs regardless of whether they are kept in private homes or pet shops. We are asking the British Government to issue guidance to local authorities, responsible for granting licences for these exotic pets, to use the same standard of duty of care as they would for primates kept in zoo or wildlife parks (the Zoo Licensing Act 1981). If a monkey is deserving of a certain standard of care in a zoo or wildlife park, by definition it is deserving of the same standard of care in a private home or pet shop. We would like our concerns addressed by the Goverment and Select Committee immediately.

Number of signatures: 4,229
Created by: Dr Alison Cronin, MBE
Closing: 29/02/2012 12:04

Just as disappointing, a “Primates should not be kept as pets” petition on the Petition Site earlier this year garnered a measly 3,057 signatures.

It’s not just Monkey World calling for this. The RSPCA have also called for a ban:

Dr Ros Clubb, senior wildlife scientist for the charity, commented: “We must stop this growing trade. It has become far too easy to pick up a monkey over the internet, especially since you don’t need a licence to keep many of them.”

How can anyone look at these creatures and think that keeping them “in tiny, indoor cages, in solitary confinement” is OK? Please, sign the Monkey World petition.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Hanging out with the cousins at Monkey World

Monkey World

Continuing the ape theme, back in May we paid a visit to Monkey World in Dorset. It was a visit that was long overdue, as we became quite avid followers of Monkey Business (since superceded by Monkey Life) when we were in Dublin and it had been on our list of places to visit since moving to Southampton. As often happens, I think, the impending move to Australia has motivated a flurry of postponed activities and a birthday provided the final excuse for a visit.

Monkey World is a fantastic place, providing sanctuary for a large number of rescued primates - a shocking number of which come from the shameful UK pet trade - in carefully crafted enclosures.

Glorious Gibbons

Fox sitting Fox hanging out Nike the Lars Gibbon Some of my favourites are the various gibbons and the keeper talk was really interesting as they all have quite distinct personalities. Fox (I think it was), for example, is a real show-off and liked to brachiate back and forth at speed in between hanging out at the public end of his enclosure whilst the keeper talk was going on. Fox is a Mueller’s Gibbon - all furry limbs and muscle (above). As anyone who has seen the TV programmes knows, many of the tales of the individual animals are quite touching. If I remember correctly, Nike, a Lars Gibbon (left), for example, was prone to panic attacks following whatever ordeals he experienced in his former life. His mate in Monkey World, however, will come over and give him a cuddle until he feels better.

Watching these animals and seeing how similar to humans they can be in terms of their poses and behaviour (not to mention anatomy), I simply cannot conceive how anyone can seriously doubt that we share ancestry with these magnificent animals.

Lovely Lemurs

Lemur enclosure One of the best bits of Monkey World is the lemur enclosure. (Ironically, perhaps, as lemurs are not monkeys. Purists will argue that apes are not monkeys either, which is taxonomically true but not really evolutionarily true - monkeys are “polyphyletic” and apes sit in the middle of the two main monkey lineages - Old World and New World. In other words, apes and Old World Monkeys are more closely related to each other than either is to New World Monkeys - so I have no problem in being called a monkey or comments that we descended from monkeys! Anyway, lemurs are actually prosimians and split off from monkeys around 75-80 million years ago.)

Ruffed lemur

The great thing about the lemur enclosure is that you are in there with the lemurs - clearly something that you cannot do with apes - which allows for some really close encounters and views. When we were there, for example, the ruffed lemur (above) was quite happily walking along the fence next to the path, whilst a troop(?) of ring-tailed lemurs were in the trees overhead.

Ring-tailed lemur nomming Ruffed lemur Ring-tailed lemur nomming

A great day out

Other things that really impressed me about Monkey World were the keeper talks (we went to three!) and how child-friendly the whole place was - they have some awesome playgrounds! The only real disappointment was the food, particularly after visiting Dublin Zoo in the meantime and experiencing their top-notch nosh. There’s a lot of space for picnics and I think that this is the recommended option for a visit - a visit that itself is highly recommended!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Great thinkers of the Ape world

My recent post about Dublin zoo featured the Orang utan, Sibu, in a meditative pose:

It reminded me of an earlier favourite captured by my wife at Durrell Wildife Park (a.k.a. Jersey Zoo) of the resident silverback having a good think:

I wonder what they were thinking about.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Kudos to 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour logo designer

Yesterday's Lions match against Australia was a great one, even if it was the Lions' turn not to win with the last kick of the game. It's all set up for a great deciding match in Sydney. As well as some good rugby, one of the highlights of the tour for me has been the logo of the lion's head shaped like Australia (below, pinched from the Fantasy Rugby Scout website). I'm not sure who designed it but I love it!