I have much to say about Colombia…but this suffices for now.
One particularly fine evening in a wet sclerophyll forest up on the Atherton Tablelands, we went searching for gliders. We hiked out to an enormous Eucalyptus resinifera, dry leaves crunching under our boots as the sun was setting. Just at dusk, we gathered at the base of the tree. Our professor told us to stand in a position that we could keep for three hours without even twitching. The slightest noise could scare the gliders away.
We knew that they would come to the tree because the cuts in the bark were still fresh and oozing sweet sap that attracted honeyeaters and insects during the day. That meant that the gliders were still visiting and making fresh cuts in the bark at night.
As the sky darkens, we see floating shapes glide in swirls from a nearby Eucalyptus grandis. They seem elegant until they hit the trunk with a solid thud and fumble for purchase.
As we watch the gliders (5 Yellow-bellied gliders Petaurus australis and 2 sugar-gliders Petaurus breviceps) with powerful red lights that do not disturb them, our professor tells us in a soft voice that the sweet looking sugar gliders will sometimes eat their smaller cousins, the feathertail gliders. Creepy?
Then he falls silent. All of us are perfectly still, watching the gliders run about on the trunk, enjoying the soft noises of the forest.
It must have been more than an hour later when our professor said, “huh.” We look at him in surprise as he turns his flashlight from the gliders to his own belly, where sits an enormous, fully engorged tiger leech.
This was the point when one of the female students on the trip let out a shriek, and then there was total chaos. We were all covered in the leeches, as it turned out. After all, standing so still for so long, exuding carbon dioxide and heat, we were perfect targets.
If you’re not a banana bender (Aussie from Queensland), perhaps you’re not aware of the existence of terrestrial leeches. They do take one by surprise, a bit.
They’re not so bad, though, as parasites go. I’d much prefer a leech to, say, a paralysis tick. Them’s nasty buggers. I saw a friend laid out sick in bed for seven days after a particularly bad paralysis tick.
A bit of fun writing for Friday.
It was a bright and beautiful morning in early September (early in the summer) in Western Australia. Charlie was a good looking Aussie and, like other good looking Aussies his age, he was out searching for a romantic interest. Of course, there were some ways in which Charlie was not an ordinary Aussie too. You see, Charlie was a wasp from the Thynnid family. Now, if you’re not familiar with Thynnid wasps, then you can’t possibly know how romantic they are. The females of the Thynnid family are unable to fly. They sit on the ends of branches, longing to be free to fly in azure Australian skies. Their pining attracts male Thynnid wasps, who fall in love with the female’s perfume, catch her up in their arms, and carry them away into the heavens.
Charlie cleaned his antennae anxiously, grabbing one with his middle leg and running it through his mandibles, then repeating the procedure on the other. He was young and physically fit, but he had never mated before. He was eager to increase his fitness in a more Darwinian sense. Look out! What was that? A beautiful aroma wafted out across the air. There was a very fine smelling female on that branch over there. Charlie straightened his wings a bit nervously, then flew over to buzz hello. There she was! He could already see that she was a good looking sheila. He buzzed about playfully, trying to get her attention, but she ignored him. In fact, she didn’t seem interested at all in his brilliant aerial acrobatics. Depressed, he sat on a branch for a minute, thinking.
Maybe what she wanted was to fly herself! he realized suddenly. Joyously, he flew up to her and caught her around the waist, lifting her effortlessly into the air…or so he thought. But as soon as had he embraced her, thwap! Something gave him a solid wallop on the abdomen. He spun off dizzily. What just happened?
He landed again and stared at the female, bemused. There was something wrong…she didn’t have a head! Charlie reeled in horror for a moment before he realized…that wasn’t a female at all! What was it…some sort of plant?! He buzzed furiously around the flower. It was releasing the sweet perfume of a female Thynnid. He had been tricked! This flower (an Australian Hammer Orchid although Charlie could hardly have known it) was a deceitful thing. It smelled and looked just like a lady. Well, if that didn’t just push his buttons! He buzzed off angrily, ignorant to the clump of pollen stuck to his underside like toilet paper stuck to someone’s shoe. He landed on a branch to cool off, cleaning his antennae of the false female’s offensive aroma.
After all, he thought, there was nothing to do but try again. That was the nature of love…hope and disappointment, trial and error. He was still young, still handsome. But wait…what was that over there? Another sweet smelling female! His lucky day. He thought, this time I will sweep her off her feet immediately and leave her no chance to be coy. He flew straight to her, but no sooner had he caught her up in his arms…thwap!
I think that Colony Collapse Disorder really brought a lot of attention to pollination services, at least in the US, where it is a “hot topic”. It’s hardly a concern in Australia. What about the UK? I don’t know how bees are doing there right now.
In any case, as honeybee populations collapse around the US, managers become more and more interested in the “free” pollination services provided by native communities of bees.
Unfortunately, just as we turn to them to fix our problems, we find that their populations are also in decline, albeit for a different reason. In their case, it is the disappearance of worthy habitat. A lot of my research revolves around the question of how best to support communities of native bees, which all comes down to floral resources.
Flowers pay for pollinators, such as bees, with pollen and nectar, which are actively collected by bees for food. Adult bees need nectar (a sweet solution) to provide energy for flying and foraging. They also collect pollen for juvenile bees in the hive. Pollen has nutrients that growing bees need, such as proteins and fats.
Pollinators choose the flowers they like to forage from and can learn not to waste time and energy on certain flowers if they don’t provide rewards.“A bee in a meadow with many different flowers faces a task not unlike that confronting an illiterate shopper pushing a cart down the aisle of a supermarket. Directly or indirectly, both try to get the most value for their money. Neither knows beforehand the precise contents of the packages on the shelf…But they learn by experience.” Bumblebee Economics, Heinrich 1979
Flowering plants also need pollinators because bees can carry pollen and can thus cause the fertilization of seeds (that’s why it is called a mutualism). Because pollinators are so important to the reproduction of most flowering plants, they compete with each other to attract the attention of picky pollinators.
There is a book, in fact, which details the costs and rewards of foraging for bumblebees. It’s called Bumblebee Economics by Bernd Heinrich. It is an excellent book, and fascinating. Heinrich is another one of my academic crushes. He’s published on topics as widely varying as being beetlized and cuckoos.
From a foraging theory perspective, bumblebees are especially interesting because they regulate their body temperature in a pseudo-endothermic way. Which is to say, they are not actually endotherms (being insects), but they can control their body temperature through a marvelously elegant system of counter current exchange between their abdomen and thorax. They also can shiver the flight muscles in their thorax to generate heat. All this means that they can forage in much cooler temperatures than other types of bees.
Which is why they are so important in alpine and high latitude floral communities, where they provide the majority of pollination services.
Anyway, back to the plants. Which species are the best for pollinators? One of the primary challenges is quantifying the floral resources. I’ve done pollen counts using imaging software (it’s kind of cool to look at pollen grains under a microscope). I’ve also taken samples of nectar from the flowers and compared the different volumes provided.
One thing that I quickly learned is that it is not as simple as I had originally thought. This realization keeps happening to me, in a multitude of different situations and circumstances. Epiphany: nothing is simple.
As it turns out nectar is not just sugar water…it also provides critical micronutrients to the bees. And the dimensions on which its quality varies are many: concentration, quantity, presence of glucose vs. fructose, amount of micronutrients, etc. It is more like Gatorade than sugar water, in fact.
Conclusion? Supporting native bees is complicated, but I’m convinced that we can figure it out. Maybe I’ll get a PhD out of the deal.
An Old Man’s Winter Night
All out of doors looked darkly in at him
Through the thin frost, almost in separate stars,
That gathers on the pane in empty rooms.
What kept his eyes from giving back the gaze
Was the lamp tilted near them in his hand.
What kept him from remembering what it was
That brought him to that creaking room was age.
He stood with barrels round him — at a loss.
And having scared the cellar under him
In clomping there, he scared it once again
In clomping off; — and scared the outer night,
Which has its sounds, familiar, like the roar
Of trees and crack of branches, common things,
But nothing so like beating on a box.
A light he was to no one but himself
Where now he sat, concerned with he knew what,
A quiet light, and then not even that.
He consigned to the moon, such as she was,
So late-arising, to the broken moon
As better than the sun in any case
For such a charge, his snow upon the roof,
His icicles along the wall to keep;
And slept. The log that shifted with a jolt
Once in the stove, disturbed him and he shifted,
And eased his heavy breathing, but still slept.
One aged man — one man — can’t keep a house,
A farm, a countryside, or if he can,
It’s thus he does it of a winter night.
Guys, I just figured something out. Long before zombie ants were cool, a band named The Cranberries wrote a song about them.
Go on then, have a listen! See if I’m wrong! The lyrics are perfect.
The Cranberries are actually nature geeks?! The world may never know.
The night was young and the moon was full and there was bioluminescence in the ocean. Every time a wave crashed against the shore, it burst into brilliant sparks. I had never seen bioluminescence in the ocean before and I was amazed.
Jenny, being a marine biologist, had seen plenty of bioluminescence in her time, but I think my naive enthusiasm was contagious. She and I decided to go for a midnight swim so that we could pretend to be wizards, sparks trailing after our fingers like magic. She promised to meet me in the water after finishing up a few tasks, and I dashed down to the beach, unable to contain my excitement.
Jim, the lead professor on the trip, stopped me just as I was about to jump in the water. He didn’t want me to go out alone, but reluctantly agreed on the condition that I would leave my light on so that he could watch me from the shore. I shrugged and turned it on, tying it to my wrist and swimming out with long, strong strokes.
With the light on, I wouldn’t be able to see any bioluminescence anyway, so I moved into deeper water, swimming back and forth across the mouth of the bay. The light swung around as I stroked, slicing through the water like a razor, swooping in great arcs until it vanished in the depths.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, Jenny flashed a light from the shore and I swam back in, turning my light off. She and I danced around, sparkling and giggling, splashing glowing water on each other.
Eventually, we called it a night and went to our beds. The next day there was a hubbub among the ticos…who was swimming in the night? Didn’t they know that there were big fish out there? Didn’t they know that the fish were attracted to the lights? The students looked at each other with big eyes. Who had dared to swim alone with a bright light? Who had been so stupid?
Jim shot me a look and, well, what could I do? I just started laughing.
It wasn’t the first time I have flirted with sharks, and it probably won’t be the last.
Today, I give you an adorable owl story:
The tiniest chameleons:
Two music videos from one of my favourite bands (that makes the best videos).
An old one (possibly the best music video of all time):
And a new one:
And, finally, a silly poem:
Sarah Byng, Who Could Not Read And Was Tossed Into A Thorny Hedge By A Bull
Some years ago you heard me sing
My doubts on Alexander Byng.
His sister Sarah now inspires
My jaded Muse, my failing fires.
Of Sarah Byng the tale is told
How when the child was twelve years old
She could not read or write a line.
Her sister Jane, though barely nine,
Could spout the Catechism through
And parts of Matthew Arnold too,
While little Bill who came between
Was quite unnaturally keen
On ‘Athalie’, by Jean Racine.
But not so Sarah! Not so Sal!
She was a most uncultured girl
Who didn’t care a pinch of snuff
For any literary stuff
And gave the classics all a miss.
Observe the consequence of this!
As she was walking home one day,
Upon the fields across her way
A gate, securely padlocked, stood,
And by its side a piece of wood
On which was painted plain and full,
BEWARE THE VERY FURIOUS BULL
Alas! The young illiterate
Went blindly forward to her fate,
And ignorantly climbed the gate!
Now happily the Bull that day
Was rather in the mood for play
Than goring people through and through
As Bulls so very often do;
He tossed her lightly with his horns
Into a prickly hedge of thorns,
And stood by laughing while she strode
And pushed and struggled to the road.
The lesson was not lost upon
The child, who since has always gone
A long way round to keep away
From signs, whatever they may say,
And leaves a padlocked gate alone.
Moreover she has wisely grown
Confirmed in her instinctive guess
That literature breeds distress.
- Hilaire Belloc
It was a balmy, perfect day. Jenny and I left the field station at dawn for a morning of data collection in the ocean. We hiked the trail to her field site at a good clip; it was challenging, with more obstacles than a military training course. Old, half-rotted ropes and roots were the only assistance to scale rock faces, slippery boulders were the only path across rivers with rushing white waters. It was beautiful, but difficult with bags full of sampling gear.
At the head of a long curve of sandy beach, we stashed our clothing and heavy hiking boots in a copse of heavy vegetation up a small rocky cliff. I scaled it barefoot and pulled branches and leaves over the things we were leaving behind before jumping down. We continued a few more kilometers, barefoot in our bathing suits on the sand.
I stayed on the shore to watch over our sampling equipment while Jenny swam out to set up some cameras on the coral. It took her much longer than she expected and, while she was gone, I entertained myself by climbing into the canopy of a nearby tree.
Almost magically, a group of four Scarlet Macaws landed in my tree, feeding on seeds all around me, almost close enough to touch. I’m not sure how long I watched them, mesmerized by their stunning colours, deafened by their screeches, but eventually they flew off, leaving me to the pulse of the ocean waves hitting the shore and a faint cool breeze in the leaves. Completely at home, I drifted off to sleep in the branches.
I was woken some time later by a call from below. I woke with a start, glad for the arm I had looped around a branch that prevented me from tumbling to the ground. I jumped to a crouch and peered groggily down at the owner of the voice.
I should mention at this point that I was wearing nothing but a bathing suit.
The tourist below me waved and repeated his, “Hey!” I was feeling a bit vulnerable, so I responded to his hail with a wary nod.
“Are these waters good?” he asked and, when I hesitated, he added, “Are they clear? Lots of coral? Lots of fish?”
I was still sleepy and wary and barely managed a, “Yes, very clear. Today.”
He was American and he kept chattering at me. He had left his snorkeling gear in his hotel. He had tried snorkeling elsewhere but the water was not clear and the waves were too rough. He jabbered on and I shifted uncomfortably, not speaking but nodding occasionally.
I think I must have seemed very unfriendly now that I look back on it from the comfort of my own home, but that was in fact the message that I wanted to communicate. I was alone, kilometers from my clothes and shoes, and even farther from help at the biological station. Here was a stranger who wouldn’t leave me alone.
After an eternity, he gave up and left. I watched him go and waited a while before climbing down to check on the sampling gear I had stowed in a hollow tree trunk. It wasn’t long before Jenny came back and we headed out together to sample the coral and record mussel damage.
A few hours later, I had to head back to the biological station to set up a bait for Euglossine bees. Jenny was supposed to come back with me, but she wanted to get more sampling done. I didn’t want to leave her alone, but she insisted and I reluctantly gave in. I promised to return as soon as possible with food, as she had neglected to bring any.
I hiked the long stretch of beach back to my stored clothing, clambered into the dense thicket, and peeled off my wet bathing suit, which had rubbed several awkward spots raw. I pulled on a shirt and shorts over my bare skin and hurled my boots out of the brush before shimmying ungracefully back down the rock face.
Imagine my surprise when I heard someone exclaim, “You again!”
I turned. My feet were bare, my hair wild with wind and sea, my skin salty from the ocean, and my knees bloody from kneeling on sharp rocks. It was the same friendly tourist from earlier.
I was, again, feeling vulnerable. After all, not long ago I had been naked in the bush above where we now spoke. I pushed my glasses back up onto the bridge of my nose and looked at him unhappily, keenly aware of the way my shirt stuck to my wet skin. He stood between me and my boots.
“Where are you staying?”
I tried stepping around him to get to my boots, but he stepped in my way. “The biological station,” I replied, ducking in the other direction and scooping up my boots and socks.
“Biological station?” he tilted his head to one side, “Where is that?”
“Down the trail…a few kilometers,” I gestured vaguely at the nearby trail. He stepped closer and I stepped back, sitting down a little too quickly on the prop roots of a coconut palm to put on my socks.
“How many kilometers?” he asked, sitting down next to me. “I hiked that way and didn’t see a station.”
I shook my head, “I’m not sure.” I didn’t make eye contact, trying to appear cool and calm, though my heart was pounding.
“Are you a student?” he asked.
“What university are you from?”
The questions continued. I tried to respond as shortly as possible.
I stood up abruptly once I had my boots on. “What’s this in your hair?” he asked, reaching out to touch my hair. I stepped quickly out of his reach and put a hand to my hair, pulling out a leaf from the brush.
“Just a leaf,” I said unsteadily.
“I thought it might be a decoration.”
I shook my head and waved mutely goodbye, trying not to run into the forest. His eyes followed me, but I don’t think he did. I could feel my heart pounding as I hiked along stiffly. After a moment, a thought occurred to me.
Jenny, doing field work alone in the ocean was gorgeous, a blonde-haired blue-eyed beauty. I am homely at best…if he would bother me that way, how would he react if he ran into her?
I ended up sprinting the four kilometers back to the biological station, scrambling back up cliff faces, bounding recklessly over the slippery boulders in my rubber boots, thumping along through the understorey with both hands holding tight to my backpack’s straps.
I arrived back at the station flushed and sweating. Danny, whose job it was to look after the students, was concerned, he wanted me to rest and drink water. I obliged by grabbing a bottle of water before I sprinted off again, this time heading up onto the rainforest ridge to set up my Euglossine bee bait.
With that done, I dashed back down from the ridge, grabbed some food for Jenny and shoved it into my bag before sprinting back alone the shoreline trail to rescue her. I didn’t want to tell anyone else about my unfounded fears. She was capable and competent, she had traveled alone. And the tourist wasn’t evil, just friendly.
But I didn’t stop running until I saw her heading slowly back along the beach, hauling the sampling gear. I breathed a sigh of relief and traded her the food I had brought for the gear. “Let me carry that,” I said.
“Are you sure? You look exhausted,” but she was too grateful for the food to question further.
I felt nothing but relief as we hiked back at a slower pace. She hadn’t run into the friendly tourist.
The encounter must have bothered me more than I realised at the time. I had no appetite for dinner that night. And, clearly, I am still thinking about it now, weeks later.
Why was I so afraid of him? He didn’t really do anything wrong. Then again, why didn’t he pick up my clues to leave me alone? Would you bother a person who was so unfriendly to you?
I guess I am still trying to understand it, and that is why I wrote the whole story up. I am wondering if I am just paranoid, whether my avoidance of interaction was a phobia or well founded. I don’t think I’ll ever know.
I must admit that humans are still the only animal I truly fear.
Also, an excuse to show off some of my hummingbird photos.
When I was taking exams to get into university, one section of the exam was dedicated to reading comprehension. This was usually my favourite part because I love reading, but also because the exams somehow seemed to find the most obscure essays on the most esoteric topics. I once took a Spanish comprehension exam that had an essay on the history of chocolate. I learned so much from that essay (but got a very poor grade on the exam, desafortunadamente).
One of the essays in the reading comprehension section of the university entrance exam was about hummingbirds. Hummingbirds have an extraordinarily high metabolic rate, so much so that they are on the brink of starvation at any given moment. Their food choices are critical to their survival.
The essay explained that when hummingbirds go to sleep at night, they have to lower their metabolism so that they don’t starve while they are sleeping. But if they don’t have enough energy stored at the end of the day, they cannot wake up in the morning. They just don’t have the energy to speed up their metabolism to a waking state.
I found that so touching. I was in the middle of this exam, completely wound up in a story about hummingbirds. Very moving. (Unfortunately, I lost track of time and had to rush through the maths section.)
Did you know that hummingbirds have the largest heart (proportionally) of any animal? If a hummingbird were the size of a Blue Whale, its heart would be the size of a two-car garage.
There is a species, the Ruby-throated hummingbird, that flies all the way across the Gulf of Mexico on its migration twice a year. Without stopping. The distance is more than 800 km (500 miles), and it takes them approximately 18-22 hours.
When they leave, they weigh 6 grams and when they arrive they weigh 2.5 g. That means they’ve lost more than half their body weight!
NB: I had the opportunity to see the Australian species of penguin myself a while back! Check it out here.
I hinted that I wanted to write something about penguins a while back. I don’t have a good reason for going into it today, just that this is very important, for you to know the facts about penguins. I feel.
Common misconception numero uno: penguins are not birds.
Let me first be perfectly clear: penguins are a type of bird. You already knew that, right? We’re clear? Cool. I wouldn’t mention it except for that, whilst I was ranting about some obscure penguin fact to my mum, she stopped me and said, “Penguins…those are…birds, right?”
To be more descriptive, penguins are flightless birds of the family Spheniscidae. In fact, they make up their own order (Sphenisciformes), which contains nothing but penguins. (Very aloof, penguins.) Their nearest cousins are the Procellariiformes, or the tube-nosed seabirds, like albatrosses and petrels.
Common misconception #2: penguins can breathe underwater.
Well, they can’t, sorry. They are air breathers, like you (I assume you breathe air, but I guess I can’t really know for sure…you could be some sort of bony fish, after all).
But! They are supremely adapted for swimming. Streamlined, which, as we all know, is critical for speed under water.“Where R = 1 / 2DpAv2 D is the constant for the viscosity of the fluid, p is the density of the water, A is the surface area of the body traveling through the water, and v is the velocity of the body. Because the velocity is squared, the resistance will exponentially effected by the value of velocity, which is why it is important to minimize the surface area as much as possible.”
Common misconception #3: penguins don’t have feathers.
Not true, my friend! Penguins have feathers, just like any other bird. In fact, they have an extremely efficient insulating layer of down beneath a slick, water resistant layer of top feathers.
They maintain an internal body temperature between 37.8 and 38.9 C (that’s 100.4 to 102 F), even the ones that live in Antarctica, which leads me to the biggest misconception about penguins….
Common misconception #4: all penguins live in Antarctica. (or worse, all penguins live at the north pole)
That’s a bare-faced lie! In fact, the twenty-some species of penguins are distributed throughout the Southern Hemisphere (there are none in the Northern Hemisphere), and there is even a tropical species in the Galapagos. In terms of sheer numbers of species, New Zealand probably beats out Antarctica, although Antarctica has the largest species (Fig. 1).
This makes sense, given that penguins probably originated in New Zealand in the Cretaceous era.
The Australian penguin (the Little Blue Penguin), is pretty adorable. Here’s a video of Cookie, the Little Blue Australian Penguin. Poor thing has bumblefoot, which somehow makes him even more adorable.
Do you need more penguin videos? All you need is love!
Among my friends, I am (in)famously ignorant of popular culture. I haven’t owned a television in over a decade and I do not listen to pop music on the radio, nor do I read popular culture magazines. I somehow missed out on many of the “iconic” movies of our times. I’m not sure if this is related to my faulty memory or my obsession with the outdoors. Maybe both.
I like to tell them that I am like milk before yoghurt: uncultured. No?
Well, I think I’m hilarious.
Anyway, it is very easy to make your own yoghurt. Have you tried it? It really is a very worthwhile endeavour. Here are some of the things I have tried, some of the things that have failed, and some of my tips for making great homemade yoghurt. It makes you seem a little more cultured.
What do you need to make yoghurt? Well, milk! And maybe a tablespoon of…yoghurt (or yoghurt culture). This is symbiosis at its finest, my friends.
You can use any kind of milk: whole, skim, or milk from a powder, but I can tell you that the best is whole milk. Especially whole milk with 1/3 cup of dry milk powder added.
Bring the milk to a boil over medium heat, stirring continuously. Then take it off the heat and let it cool to about 32 C (~90 F). At this point, add either your yoghurt or yoghurt culture and mix well.
At this point, you need to incubate the culture at about 32 – 37 C (90 – 100 F) for 10-12 hours. There are a couple of different ways of going about this. If your oven has a low/warm setting, you can leave it in there. (but make sure to put a sign on!)
You can also put it in a slow cooker at a low temperature.
Or you could be creative. You could put it in a container sealed tightly and sleep with it under the covers (get to know your friendly Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus and Streptococcus salivarius ssp. thermophilus bacteria in a more intimate fashion).
If you’re not culturing it overnight, you could put it in ziploc baggies and tape them under your arms and on other various warm places on your body. Just don’t forget about them and accidentally sit on one, or embrace a family member too tightly.
Orrr…you could go to a second hand shop and pick up one of these 1970′s beauties:
What doesn’t work? Don’t put the culture in when the milk is cold or above 37 C (100 F). Don’t forget to mix well after adding the culture.
I know modern society (culture!) is fat-phobic, but whole milk is really best. And get milk from a dairy farm if you can (if you’re really sneaky, try to find some unpasteurized milk). Unpasteurized cultures work best too.
While you’re waiting for your yoghurt culture, you can culture your brain. Here is some popular culture that my friends have taught me about.
“The Boss” is a nickname for Bruce Springsteen, who is an American singer.
Chuck Norris is really tough for some reason. People like to make up jokes about him being impossibly tough. For example, “Not even Houdini can escape Chuck Norris.” These are referred to as “the facts”.
- Chuck Norris was here? photo courtesy of http://www.7coollist.com/2011/03/top-seven-chuck-norris-facts-and-jokes.html
Charlie Sheen is an American actor who has “Adonis DNA”. (Adonis is the Greek god of beauty and pleasure.)
Done with culture? ME TOO. I have a low tolerance for popular culture. Back to yoghurt.
I’ve had some problems with my yoghurt being a little runny, but if you’re really keen, you can easily make yoghurt cheese by straining it through a cheese cloth (or a double thickness of coffee filter). Yoghurt cheese is also called “strained yoghurt”…it is thick and tangy and creamy.
This is my kind of culture.
Beside the Point
The sky has never won a prize.
The clouds have no careers.
The rainbow doesn’t say my work,
The rock in the creek’s not so productive.
The mud on the bank’s not too pragmatic.
There’s nothing useful in the noise
the wind makes in the leaves.
Buck up now, my fellow superfluity,
and let’s both be of that worthless ilk,
self-indulgent as shooting stars,
self-absorbed as sunsets.
Who cares if we’re inconsequential?
At least we can revel, two good-for-nothings,
in our irrelevance; at least come and make
no difference with me.
- Stephen Cushman
Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks
I am the blossom pressed in a book,
Found again after two hundred years….
I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper…
When the young girl who starves
Sits down to a table
She will sit beside me…
I am the food on the prisoner’s plate…
I am the rushing water to the wellhead,
Filling the pitcher until it spills…
I am the patient gardener
Of the dry and weedy garden…
I am the stone step,
The latch, and the working hinge….
I am the heart contracted by joy….
The longest hair, white
Before the rest…
I am there in the basket of fruit
Presented to the widow…
I am the musk rose opening
Unattended, the fern on the boggy summit….
I am the one whose love
Overcomes you, already with you
When you think to call my name….
- Jane Kenyon
This is pretty perfect.
So much I’ve forgotten
the close insects
the shoot—the drip—
the spray of the sprinkler
the heat of the Sun
the flush of your face
the high noon
the high grass
the patio ice cubes
the buzz of them—
the weeds—the dear
like alien life forms—
all Dr. Suessy and odd—
here we go again¬—
we are turning around
again—this will all
happen over again—
and again—it will—
- Tim Nolan
This post is cool because it features molten metals. Truly!
I worked for a while at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. I was working with one of my favourite myrmecologists, Walter Tschinkel. I have a huge academic crush on Dr. Tschinkel, among others, but he’s also a really interesting person and he has the most melodic whistle I’ve ever heard. That man should whistle in a symphony, like an instrument. (Cue the French horns, now the whistler!)
He’s also an artist. His illustrations of plants are gorgeous and line the halls of the old biology building at FSU, and he also does woodwork. His house is filled with fascinating trinkets from all over the world.
You shouldn’t be surprised to see how common it is for scientists to also be artists; science is just another form of art, in a way. I’ll try to convince you of it today.
Dr. Tschinkel is not famous for his wonderful illustrations, nor his whistling (sadly), but for his work on the architecture of ant and termite mounds and his unique methods of representing this architecture in 3 dimensions.
I’ll show some pictures of when I was working with him to illustrate the process:
After finding a nest that we would like to cast, we set up our equipment. There are three different types of material we would use for casts: dental plaster (if we want to recover the ants), zinc (for small nests and foraging tunnels), or aluminium (for long term, large, or nice looking structures).
If using a metal, we have to melt it first. Zinc can be melted using a titanium crucible above a petroleum heater (like a camping stove), but aluminium has a higher melting point. In order to melt it, we must stuff a metal garbage can full or charcoal, pump air through it until they are white hot, and melt the aluminium (scraps of scuba tanks) in a titanium crucible.
After removing the impurities that separate from the aluminium when it is molten, we pour it into the nest hole.
Which is kind of cool because you can see where the foraging tunnels are (that run close to the surface of the ground) by where the grass catches on fire.
Then, after it has cooled (which happens pretty rapidly), we must dig it out. I can tell you that it is a lot of hard work to dig a hole 4 m (~14 ft) down. It is hard to throw shovelfuls of soil above your head.
But the hard work is definitely worth it. After we get the nest out, we solder any broken pieces and examine the architecture.
Ant nests are pretty complicated, but they also have species specific patterns that are recognizable. That’s Pheidole morrissii above, here’s Wikipedia’s photo of Dr. Tschinkel standing next to a Pogonomyrmex badius nest.
And here’s a fire ant nest.
And Dr. Tschinkel’s ant nests are even featured in museum exhibits. While I worked with him, we were preparing a nest for a museum in France.
So have I convinced you that science is a form of art yet?
I’ll keep trying.
*That’s a deliberate misspelling; fair warning that I’m going to make a pun.
Whew, what a week. It has certainly been a week. Have you had a week as well?
Here’s a story and a pun for your Friday reading pleasure.
I’ve been a bicycle commuter for a few years now and there are all sorts of crazy stories I could tell you about my adventures on bike, but it’s February and there’s snow and I was reminded of a strange thing that happened a couple of years back in February, with snow. (See how my logic works today? I’m very sorry about all that.)
I was riding home in the evening after work, and the roads were still fairly clear. It was dark, as it usually is in February in the northern hemisphere, and it was cold, perhaps -15 C (5 F).
But, there was a weather forecast for a heavy winter storm that night, and through the next day. Perhaps 25 cm (9.8 in) of snow accumulation.
As a result, there were huge trucks driving about, spraying the roads with a chemical mixture to prevent the formation of ice. They are called “anti-icers” and they operate by decreasing the temperature at which water freezes. There are a few different mixes, but typically they use magnesium chloride and brine.
Well, one of these pretreatment trucks blew past me, on my bike, in the bike lane, and completely covered both of us (my bike and myself) in the pretreatment liquid. It was awful, truly horrible stuff. I had chunks of salt on my face, and the chemicals corroded my cables so badly that I had to replace the whole set of brake and gear cables.
On the plus side, now I have this terrible pun for you:
You could say I was “assalted”.