Monday, May 30, 2011

Gender, Sex, and Sexual Orientation

Pansexual, third gendered, intersex – there’s a lot of terminology out there to describe how people identify themselves. To make things a little less cloudy, today’s post explores the terms surrounding gender, sex, and sexual orientation.

Biological sex is determined by an individual’s chromosomes and genitals. The vast majority of men have an XY chromosome pair, while women have XX. However, there are intersex individuals, whose chromosomes and/or genitals don’t develop in the expected way. Chromosomally, a person may be XXY, XXX, XX male, XY female, or several other variations. Physiologically, persons with chromosomal syndromes and non-chromosomal developmental differences might express few (if any) overt symptoms, have slightly feminized or masculinized features, or be sterile with ambiguous genitals.

Friday, May 27, 2011


If you’re reading, clicking, and breathing right now, odds are you’re the proud owner of billions of neurons. Why not show some neuronal pride by learning a little about the cells that make your world go round?

Neurons are specialized cells in the brain and throughout the body. Because they are electrically excitable, neurons can relay signals through electrical impulses. Like all cells, neurons have a cell body or soma that contains the nucleus, which holds the bulk of the cells genetic material (here’s an actually helpful link). One end of a neuron’s soma has branch-like dendrites, used to receive signals from other neurons. The other end tapers into a long, pipe-like axon, which allows the neuron to relay electrical signals longer distances. The axon ends in the axon terminal, where more branch-like arms form synapses or connections with the dendrites of neighboring neurons or other kinds of cells.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Latin Phrases

If Latin words and phrases have always seemed like Greek, then let today’s learnalittle post be an addendum (something added or to be added) to your personal education.

For starters, let’s consider the case of id est (that is; abbreviated i.e.). The abbreviation i.e. is used to give clarification about the statement in casu (meaning: in this case), i.e. it explains an idea in another way to make it more clear. This contrasts with exempli gratia (meaning: for example), which is used to provide specific examples of a category, e.g. primary colors, odd numbers, etc. (et ceteraand the rest; used to imply or replace additional items in a list). Ergo (therefore), i.e. is used to introduce a clarification, while e.g. introduces a specific example. Interchangeable use of these two phrases is somewhat status quo (the current state of things; literally the state in which), but is often incorrect.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Marsupials and Monotremes

In case being a mammal hasn’t made you an expert, today’s post covers two of this Class’ underrepresented members: marsupials and monotremes.

In general, mammals are air-breathing vertebrates characterized by three traits: hair, mammary glands in mothers, and three middle ear bones for hearing. After these universal traits, birth method distinguishes the three different groups of mammals.

Placental mammals are by far the biggest group and include humans (along with almost every other mammal that comes to mind). During fetal development, this Group employs a placenta – an organ that connects a gestating fetus to its mother, to supply nutrients and oxygen and eliminate waste.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The End of the World

As today might prove regrettably penultimate, why not inform yourself on what the world’s major religions think of The End of the World?

The general term for the study of the end of the world and/or the ultimate destiny of humanity is eschatology. Let’s start with the Christian take.

Most Christians believe in a common set of events involved in the End of the World, drawing from passages throughout the Bible (including the apocalypse-focused Book of Revelations). Eventually, certain signs will arise, including the conversion of Jews to Christianity; natural disasters; and the reign of the Anti-Christ, a charismatic leader who enacts Satan’s will.  Eventually, Jesus returns in the Second Coming to defeat the Anti-Christ in The Battle of Armageddon and judge all humanity – living and dead. The wicked are sentenced to eternal damnation, heaven and earth are destroyed, and the righteous enter the perfect World to Come with God.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Statue of Liberty

Spangle your banners and don your tricorne hats, because learnalittle is getting patriotic. Today’s post gives a glimpse at America’s favorite Frenchwoman: the Statue of Liberty.

As legend has it, New York’s Lady Liberty was first conceived of at the 1865 dinner party of French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye. Laboulaye made an off-handed comment suggesting a US monument to freedom built by both nations, which struck home with young sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi. Bartholdi imagined a tremendous lighthouse styled as a torch-wielding ancient Egyptian peasant, based on the Colossus of Rhodes in the Suez Canal of Port Said. Luckily for America (sorry, Egypt), this initial plan never got off the ground.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Carnivorous Plants

To celebrate the second week of learnalittle, today’s post spotlights one of my favorite things: carnivorous plants.

Although popular culture seems a bit preoccupied with the idea of man-eating plants, true carnivorous plants feed mainly on insects and microorganisms (with the occasional unfortunate amphibian for some of the bigger species). What’s more, these plants aren’t feeding in place of standard photosynthesis, but supplementing necessary nutrients – especially nitrogen – that can’t be obtained in their native highly acidic bogs or barren rocky outcroppings.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Break out the Holy Rollers jackets: today’s learnalittle post is Christianity.

Christianity is a monotheistic religion that most centers on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the belief that he is the Son of God, humanity’s savior, and – in the majority of denominations – God as part of a Holy Trinity, along with God the Father, the God of Judaism; and the Holy Spirit, a divine force through which God acts and inspires. Christians don’t see this Trinity as three separate gods, but one God with three distinct yet unified natures.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Have you ever worried that sloppy syntax would make you the laughing stock of your local grammar rodeo? Do you succumb to fearful suspicion at the mere mention of semicolons? Then send a prayer of thanksgiving to the Grammar Gods for Punctuation, Part I: the semicolon.

Let’s hit the ground running with the most misunderstood and intentionally avoided squiggle in all of the English language: the semicolon. And yes, I just used a colon to introduce a semicolon. Get over it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Learning to Walk

For the inaugural learnalittle post, let’s start at the beginning: learning to walk.

After learning to crawl, sit-up, scoot, and cruise, most babies begin to walk anywhere between 9 and 18 months. This basic but vital skill emerges as infant muscle strengthens and motor cortex function refines. But what explains the big age range in which a child might take their first steps?