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Stranger Things

There`s a new series on Netflix called Stranger Things; my kids have been bugging the hell out of me to watch it.  They say it’s awesome but I can’t really write about it because I haven’t seen it.  I just wanted to mess with your mind for a second and make you think that I was going to write about it.   I’m actually going to write about the effects of the recent total eclipse, because there is lots of eclipse-related weirdness out there if you take the trouble to look for it.

For example, animals are known to go weird during a total eclipse and some of this weirdness is outlined on a site I found called World Book:

“4. Unnerved animals.

Many people around the world have noted unusual behavior in some pets and wildlife during solar eclipses. Animals may appear to be restless, “spooked,” or simply confused by the sudden midday twilight…Researchers in Zimbabwe have noted that hippopotami and impalas exhibit alert and anxious behavior following an eclipse. You may notice that the birds stop singing during the eclipse, or that your pets behave in unusual ways.”

I don’t have a pet hippopotamus, but I found this image of a young hippo who was undoubtedly extremely anxious during the eclipse, until it was comforted by its Therapy Oxpecker  It doesn’t look very anxious to me; it just looks a bit sly, like maybe it’s thinking about biting your head off if you so much as look at it sideways.

hippo and bird
Oxpecker (upper right) comforting young hippo during total eclipse

It’s not too surprising that animals might be disturbed by eclipses, since they tend to be more in tune with cosmic forces, but many authorities (some of them residents of Earth) believe that eclipses can also exert profound and lasting effects on humans, such as fatigue, weakness, feeling off-balance, increased shoe size, an urge to switch to a different brand of toothpaste and sudden fixation on some of the crazy stuff found in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue.

All I know is that some weird things  have happened to me just before and since the eclipse and I feel like I should tell you about them.

Weird Thing #1: I develop a sudden inability to read labels with font size 4 from three metres away

We’re doing renovations at the lab, including installation of large tanks for outside storage of liquid nitrogen and liquid argon.  So recently I found myself standing about three metres away from these tanks with my friend Dave, who has a great Scottish accent and also happens to be Scottish.

two tanks
Large tanks meant for storage of liquid gases including nitrogen and argon
Dave and GG
Me (at right) and Dave (at left)

 

 

 

 

 

I innocently asked Dave which one was the argon tank and which was the nitrogen tank, and he impishly said,” The one labeled ‘Nitrogen’ is for nitrogen and the one labeled ‘Argon’ is for argon.”  Then he started slapping his thigh and rolling on the ground laughing, and saying ,”I thought you were supposed to be smart,” or words to that effect. But I have to admit, it was kind of hilarious at the time.

In my defense, here are closeups of the tank labels.  Even from less than a metre away, they’re still mighty hard to read.  Darn that eclipse.

Ar
Closeup of label bearing the word ‘Argon’ in size 4 font
N2
Closeup of label bearing the word ‘Nitrogen’ in size 4 font

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weird Thing #2: New information about the Earth’s magnetic field comes my way

Just before the eclipse I got this email alerting me to a paper that had been published in Frontiers in Zoology entitled: Dogs Are Sensitive to Small Variations of the Earth’s Magnetic Field.  (Hart et al. Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:80)  This got my attention right away so I checked it out.  The authors studied 70 dogs over a two-year period during which they observed 7,475 separate instances of defecation and urination (involving the dogs) and took careful note-follow me closely here-of the orientation of the long axis of their bodies (note that I am once again referring to the dogs) during said defecations and urinations.

For what its worth, over 37 breeds of dog were studied including a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a German Shepherd-Schnauzer cross, a Transylvanian hound, and a Wis Poopski or maybe it was an Oobah Poopoo.  I forget.

This is an actual photo of one of the study subjects, a young male Copo Fahrtima, which has apparently had a large wire frame complete with compass needle surgically-implanted on its back, squatting to do its business.

1742-9994-10-80-5 I’m kidding.  The dog is definitely squatting to do its business but the compass motif has been digitally superimposed on the image strictly for emphasis, like one of those phony shark- debate images you see everywhere these days.

phony shark attack
Navy SEAL allegedly debating shark

This image is obviously fake because the shark in the photo is a female.  No Navy SEAL in their right mind is going to get into this type of situation; everyone knows you can’t win a debate with a female shark.

But in any event, the data from the dog study is definitely not fake.  It clearly shows that when the Earth’s magnetic field is quiescent (as in the “0%” circle below) dogs have a definite tendency to  poop facing Magnetic North, but when the Earth’s magnetic field is wandering around like crazy (as in the “>2%” circle below) dogs tend to perform their eliminatorial duties facing in random directions.

tileshop.fcgi

I’m currently trying to see if my dog Mickey is following this pattern but I only have a dozen or so data points.  I might need another year or so.

Weird Thing #3: I am once again gobsmacked by something I spot in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue

I was sitting in a certain room in my house, facing North, and perusing the latest  Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue (Motto: “There Are Definitely Too Many People Out There With More Money Than Brains”) when I saw something that just about knocked me off my perch.  Here it is:

pub 1.png

So many thoughts ran through my mind that I can’t begin to put them all down, but here’s a brief sample:

“What the $%^!!*&# is that?”

“Which way is North?”

“What idiot would actually buy one of these?”

Turns out that any idiot with $5,000 can buy one.  (You can get an optional air pump for $79.95)  The Inflato-Pub has a spacious 75-square foot interior into which you can place your “preferred bar accessories, garden gnomes, lounge chairs or other decorative accents.”  If I were you I would leave the dartboard outside.

Just saying.

Well, I think that’s enough strangeness for one total eclipse. I’m thinking about going to watch the next one on July 2, 2019, visible from Easter Island.  That’s a long way to go though. I might save up for a Skyrunner instead.

On sale now at Hammacher Schlemmer.  (Other Motto:”We Also Sell Life Insurance”)

skyrunner
Since you asked, this is an ATV that is FAA-cleared to fly to 10,000 feet

 

 

 

 

 

Man vs Voles

Alert readers know that I haven’t posted a column since early June.  The reason I haven’t written anything this summer is that I’ve been distracted with the voles that seem to be overrunning Calgary this summer.  Not only do they seem to be overrunning Calgary, they actually are overrunning Calgary-at least the part of Calgary that my back yard is in.

OK I’m stopping here for a second because I think that overrunning looks really weird with those double r’s and double n’s.  I think maybe it should be over-running…

I just checked online.  Nowhere did I see any support for using over-running instead of overrunning.  But now I’m starting to wonder whether I should stick with online or maybe use “on line” or maybe even “on-line”…

I’m back. I went online again to resolve this new issue.  Lo and behold I’m not the first person to have wondered about online and its variants. It turns out that online is OK.

But where was I?  Oh yeah, vole-induced distraction.

The first thing you need to know about voles (aka Field Mice) is that they’re quite cute and mysterious.  That’s obvious from the picture of that vole floating mysteriously in midair on a disembodied hand (see above).  But the damage voles can do to your lawn is NOT cute. Left to themselves, voles can effortlessly create networks of dead grass “runs.”  Well maybe not effortlessly.  There’s a bit of chewing involved.

Vole_damage
Man smiling because this is not his lawn

The second thing to know about voles is that they aren’t mice.  Voles have shorter tails, smaller ears and blunter snouts relative to mice.  They’re compacted, almost as if they’re traveling  at or close to the speed of light.  But although I said voles are mysterious, they aren’t THAT mysterious.

(Editor’s Note:  Einstein figured out that a yardstick or a vole zipping past you at light speed will look shorter.  UNLESS you too happen to be moving at light speed.  More on that later.)

I dunno.  The two animals pictured below look like they’re about the same size.  It does look like the vole had part of its tail airbrushed away to make it (the tail) look shorter but I could be wrong.  Anyway, who would do that?

mouse and vole
Vole squinting into cosmic headwind above mouse with dorsal fur ruffled by cosmic tailwind

 

And I resisted the impulse to go online to see whether airbrushed should actually be air-brushed, just so you know…

Hah!  Caught you didn’t I?  You just went online and found out that there aren’t any sites addressing this issue, didn’t you?  I could have told you that.  But wait a minute!  Let’s think this through.  You’re already online!  Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this column!  What was I thinking?

Clearly, I’m distracted and also a victim of my own logic, because here I am online too, typing stuff like: “I went back online to resolve this new issue.”

Anyway, the third thing about voles is this: certain breeds of dogs, such as Border Collie-Lab crosses, will gobble up dead voles with relish (and maybe mustard).  One dog in particular, whom I’ll call “Mickey” for the sake of argument,  has been having a field (!) day this summer snacking on the voles that have succumbed to the feral cats in our neighborhood, including one I’ll call “Zoe” for the sake of argument.  More on that some other time.

The last thing I think you should know about voles is that the damage they cause is often blamed on moles, so let’s clear this up right now.  Moles leave ridges in your lawn, not bare strips.  The moles HATE taking shade on account of voles.  They have enough problems of their own such as bad eyesight.  They also spend a fortune on nail care.

black mole vertical
Mole in need of manicure staring balefully at vole (not shown)

I think I need to regroup at this point.  What I really wanted to talk about today is the potentially sub-optimal practice of walking while texting.  The Employee Health and Safety division of the company I work for, which I’ll call “LifeLabs” for the sake of argument, just issued a whole blurb about this topic, under the heading “The Walking Distracted.”

distracted walking

The following picture illustrates some of the hazards associated with walking-whilst-texting including missing your cab, dialing a wrong number, failing to notice a weird black oval on the sidewalk which incidentally looks nothing like a manhole, having half your head sliced off by a green thing sporting a suspicious bulge, and wasting data by texting your friend who is only two feet away from you.

blurb

But this got me to thinking about all the other potentially sub-optimal scenarios arising from texting, such as:

Distracted Archer:  What could go wrong? Really.

archery phone

 

 

 

 

 

Distracted Philospher: “I drank what?”

the death of socrates.jpg
Socrates accidentally drinking hemlock .  Cellphone not shown,

Distracted Barista:

“Did you want that no-foam, no-water, no coffee, triple-caramel scammarato to be at 187.32 °F or 187.23 °F?”

distracted barista

Distracted English Major:

students

Symptoms of Texting While Sitting in English Class:

-Non-sequiturs e.g. voles do not understand English

-improper USE Of capitalS

-Overuse of “literally” e.g. “I was literally blown away by her talk” (incorrect usage) vs “I was literally blown away when that 100 megaton nuclear warhead accidentally detonated down the street” (correct usage).

-Missing deadlines

Well, that’s about it for now.  The voles are beckoning me with their tiny, mysterious paws.

vole nibbling something
Vole holding mystery object in its tiny paws

But one last thing: should that have been “deadlines” or “dead-lines” a few lines back?  You could always go online and check.

 

Next Column:  The Eclipse, Relativity And Maybe Some Octopus-Related Anecdotes

 

 

 

Thanks, Steve

Before we get going here I just want to run something by all you readers:

Q. “Therapy Bee Colony Collapse Disorder May Lead To Cascading Failure Of Democracy And Maybe Even Civilization As We Know It.”  Fake News or Real News?

A. Fake

Next question:

Q. “Daytime Headlight and Tailight Use Prevents Traffic Accidents And Saves Lives And Should Be Mandatory And Enforced.”  Fake News or Real News?

A. Also Fake.

I made up the bee thing, but that other thing is an actual rant that I found inscribed on -of all things – a toilet paper dispenser in a public washroom.  I swear on a Charmin Mega Roll pack that I am not making this up.  I even wrote some notes about the rant in a little book I keep with me, before I left the stall.

Charmin

The thing about that rant is that I also took a picture of it with my phone as I silently intoned the words: “Thanks Steve.”  Actually, I didn’t intone those words.  That would have been just plain weird.  I’ll show you the picture of the dispenser in a minute but my point here is that this whole thing is a great example of the profound impact that technology has had on our lives.

Since Steve Jobs woke up one morning and insisted on shrinking the optics for a camera down to the point where he could stick it (the camera) on a phone, we now have several generations of people spending between 97 to 99% of their waking hours taking pictures of themselves, exchanging them (the pictures) with friends, strangers and probably advanced beings from other planets for all  I know, and also occasionally committing heinous violations of basic rules of grammar such as “Composeth  not, the run-on sentence.”

Whew!  That was a long sentence in case you didn’t notice.  But I’ll bet E.B. White noticed.  I’ll bet he’s rolling  over in his grave as I type, along with Ayn Rand, who by the way, is hardly one to talk since she probably penned the longest soliloquy known to Mankind.  (It was John Galt’s 80-page speech in Atlas Shrugged.)  Hamlet had nothing on her.  I mean it.

But meanwhile back at the rant (!), here’s the picture I took:

toilet paper dispenser
Admonition inscribed on toilet paper dispenser

Now don’t get me wrong. This is a great sentiment as far as sentiments go, and clearly this is a deeply concerned individual who happens to carry a Sharpie marker at all times and also appreciates the value of a captive audience.  I’m still grappling with the placement of the hyphens though, not to mention all those capitals. Plus  I think Tailight is misspelled.  I feel like the spelling is either “tail-lights” or maybe it’s two words “tail light”, but I’m not sure.  Let me go check…

A few minutes later…

Dang!  It’s: “tail lights.”

tesla-model-s-p85d-2015-taillight
Grammarian puzzling over correct spelling of “tail light”

The first thing that popped into my mind after I read that cautionary inscription was a  picture of the International Space Station, serenely rotating through space as it orbited the Earth majestically.  And once every rotation, somewhere on the body of the thing, this message would roll into view, no doubt written by advanced beings from other planets who were lured here by Snap Chat:

“Running lights OFF, Earth. You’re wasting a shit-ton of electricity.”

space-station-live

earth from space

And finally, here’s a picture of the notes I wrote when I saw the sobering toilet paper dispenser.   I took the picture with my phone, of course.

rant notes

Thanks again, Steve.

Next column: The Worst Sound In The World

Fake Owls

Fake news is making headlines these days although outrageous, bogus news stories are nothing new.  For example, the National Enquirer, famous for fake news, dates back to shortly after the signing of the Magna Carta, as shown by the July 5, 1215 woodcut (below right).

mermaids
Mermaids Negotiate Peace Treaty Between France and England

(Actually I’m lying.  The National Enquirer started in 1926.)

You have to admit though, that there have been some great fake headlines over the years.  One of my personal favorites is “Face Of Alfred. E. Neuman Appears In Slice Of Toast On  Pope’s Breakfast Tray”  Or maybe it was “Face Of Pope Appears In Slice Of Toast On Alfred E. Neuman’s Breakfast Tray.”  I forget which.

toast face

OK, maybe I made that headline up.  Nobody even knows who Alfred E. Neuman is any more.  And I have no idea who the guy in the toast is.

But  here’s  a real fake headline that appeared in the Weekly World News in 1937.  The tipoff that it’s fake is that Hilary was only eight years old in 1937.

alien baby

Speaking of aliens, how about the whole Bigfoot On Mars thing that hit the news in late 2007?  OK, maybe the shape in the picture below sort of looks like it has the torso of a Sasquatch, but the rest of it looks more like a seal, or maybe a walrus.

20130529_sasquatch
Bigfoot en route to potato field

 

 

 

 

 

But while we’re talking about fakes, let’s talk about this whole business of using fake plastic owls to keep pigeons from crapping on your roof or balcony.  There’s this gigantic fake owl industry (well, pretty big fake owl industry) built on the premise that pigeons are stupid, and can’t tell an immobile owl-replica from the real thing.

But this isn’t true.  The gigantic fake owl industry is built on the fact that humans can’t tell the difference.  I know this because there is a grassy expanse  on the other side of the parking lot just outside the window of my office.  There’s a fake owl tacked on to a post at the edge of that grass.  Every time I look out my window, I do a double-take and think to myself, “Dang!  Look at that owl!  What the heck is it doing over there?”

IMG_1328
Fake owl mocking me with its immobility

The pigeons figure out that the immobile plastic object is no threat after a couple of days, tops.  Then they start laughing at us humans.  To my point, here’s a little  vignette I ran across on a fake-owl debunking site which says it all:

“I remember telling my wife when we were first dating to get a fake owl to scare the pigeons away, she pointed over to the next balcony where a fake owl was covered in pigeon shit.”

And from the same site:

“I think the fake owls work better if you have a lot of real owls around your place. Nesting boxes, tall pole perches, mowing your orchard, leaving a light on near your garden/orchard and playing owl calls over the stereo are good ways to attract screech owls and barred owls. (Horned owls, too.) When you get a bunch of real owls, the other birds can’t always be so sure that the owl decoys are fake. (It helps to move the fake owls around a lot, too.) ”

So these people went to the trouble to attract a bunch of real owls to their orchard or whatever, but they still spent money on fake owls.  Plus, it sounds like they spent a lot of time moving the fake owls around.  What was wrong with the real owls?  It just goes to show you that you can fool a couple of pigeons all of the time and you can fool all of the pigeons for a couple of days, but you can fool all of us humans as long as you have a healthy supply of fake owls, especially the ultra-realistic ones that flap their plastic wings, move their heads and hoot convincingly.

I think that people should just quit diddling around with stupid fake owls and move on to something like this:

IMG_1331 (2)
Unretouched photo taken near my house

That bad boy probably cost a fortune, but this next picture puts it all into perspective:

IMG_1330 (2)That, my friends, is a Porsche Cayman.  And there was a Maserati parked on the street in front of that house.  I am not making up so much as a single syllable of any of this.  There wasn’t a single femtogram of pigeon poop anywhere on those vehicles, either.

I wouldn’t shit you about this.

Next column: How to scare away car thieves

 

Einstein’s Last Thought Experiment

Well it’s been more than two months since my last column and for lack of a better excuse, I’m blaming it mostly on the fact that things have been stressful at work lately and I don’t have a Therapy Dog.  As we all know,  Therapy Dogs are specially trained to provide comfort to a wide range of people these days including shut-ins, sick people,  disaster survivors and accountants.  When things just get too tough, a therapy dog is there to well…mostly just be there, and maybe lick your face once in awhile.

It’s a tough job and not all dogs are up for the task, given the long list of characteristics of a good Therapy Dog.  You can check them (the characteristics) out if you want, but basically a Therapy Dog has to be friendly, tolerant, confident, mature, healthy, self-controlled and focused.

My dog Mickey is a good boy, but he would make a lousy Therapy Dog; he falls a bit short in the focus department.  For example when we’re out playing fetch, he will get the ball and be making his way back toward me when he suddenly stops dead, stares off into the distance with a vacant expression on his face, and lets the ball drop out of his mouth to the ground.  Then I have to go over to him, interrupt his reverie and say, “Mickey!  What the heck are you staring at?  There’s nothing out there.”  Then he’ll blink, give his head a bit of a shake, look up at me in surprise and pick up his ball.

But where was I?

Oh yeah, I need to talk to you about a new trend in veterinary psychiatry: Therapy Dog Burnout.  Apparently Therapy Dogs can burn out, just like human caregivers.  So if you have a Therapy Dog, there are some things you need to be doing to make sure it can continue to perform its service to Humanity in general, and college students in particular.  You need to make sure your dog stays in good physical condition and gets lots of chances to do all the stuff regular dogs do such as wallowing in the decomposing carcasses of badgers and maintaining a healthy stool microbiome by nibbling on random pieces of dog poop.  You also might want to make sure your Therapy Dog flosses regularly, with all that face-licking it will be doing.  Just saying.

badger2

Every dog has a favorite toy or two, and Therapy Dogs are no exception.  Mickey, for example, has a bee, and also a spider (not shown).  I don’t know what’s up with the insect theme here; if it was left up to me, I would never buy a stuffed bee or spider for my dog.  But at home, these types of decisions are above my pay grade.

Mickey's Bee
Mickey’s Bee

 

Brinkley, the dog on the right, has possibly just been arrested (note Police Officer on phone in background).  But that’s not my point; my point is that Brinkley too, has a favorite toy that looks like it might be some kind of weird fish.

comfort-dog
Brinkley cuddling unidentified toy

And look at that other dog, up at the start of this column.  It has a teddy bear.  It also needs a pedicure.

So it’s pretty clear that you need to make sure your Therapy Dog has at least one toy on hand at all times, to stay at the top of its game.

 

And while we’re on the topic, apparently there are other Therapy Animals,  including horses, cats, guinea pigs, snakes and parrots already out there ministering to people.  The concept of a Therapy Parrot got me thinking, I have to admit.

image03
Therapy parrots currently not on speaking terms

You: I am so stressed out today.

Your Therapy Parrot:  Awwwk! You’re stressed?  I’m stuck on this perch all day.  Lucy won’t talk to me.  My neck is killing me.  I’m only 5 years old and I’m probably going to live at least another 50 years!  Awwwk!

You: Buck up Polly.  Things could be a lot worse.  You could be a land tortoise.

The idea of a Therapy Cat also works for me, and apparently others, too.  For example, here is an unretouched photo of a  Black Ninja Therapy Cat (on left), hard at work comforting an infant afflicted with Pink Baby Syndrome, by probing its head.  The baby seems to be OK with it though.

cat soothing baby
Black Ninja Therapy Cat in classic soothing/probing pose

But nobody seems to be talking about the possibility that maybe Therapy Dogs should also have their own special Therapy Animals to turn to for comfort, to de-stress and avoid burnout. This is not as far-fetched as you would think. Why couldn’t all these Therapy Animals help each other out?  They could!  Things could get really complicated though, as demonstrated by the following Thought Experiment.  (Remember that Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity was developed when he started thinking about what would happen if you happened to be riding a beam of light.)

Anyway, here goes:

Say you have a Therapy Horse…

Mr. Ed

It eventually starts to show signs of burnout such as obsessively watching Mr. Ed reruns and repetitively neighing a bizarre rendition of  Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze,” so you bring in a Therapy Dog.  hendrix

The Therapy Dog burns out, not only because it’s no picnic babysitting a horse, but also because it hates Jimi Hendrix.  You know all this because the dog has lost  interest in badger carcass-wallowing and poop-gobbling.  Plus it’s laying around all day with its paws over its ears.

Undaunted, you bring in a Therapy Cat to backstop the Therapy Dog, but it too eventually succumbs to the unrelenting stress and starts yowling more-or-less in tune with the horse.  In desperation you recruit a Talk Therapy Parrot.  A Talk Therapy Parrot is pretty much like a regular human therapist but a lot funnier, as it has no filter.  And it’s only a matter of time until the parrot loses it and starts cursing away like a drunken sailor.

You can’t stand all the neighing, moping, ear-covering, slightly off-key yowling, probing and cursing.  You need some peace and quiet.  Logically then, you bring in a nice Therapy Flower such as a Therapy Honeysuckle, to sooth the foul-mouthed Therapy Parrot.

flower

Sooner or later though, the Therapy Honeysuckle needs to be pollinated, so as a last resort you bring in a Therapy Bee.

This turns out to be a genius maneuver; Einstein himself couldn’t have done better.

 

 

Therapy Bee:  Hi Honey! (pun intended)  Bzzz. I’m home!

Husband of Therapy Bee:  Bzzz.  Bzzz. How was your day? Bzzz.

Therapy Bee:  Horrible!  Bzzz. My head is so full, it’s buzzing.

Husband of Therapy Bee: Awwww… Bzzz.  Here, let me groom your antennae.

Therapy Bee: Hell no! Bzzz.  I need a drink!!!  Do we have any mead?

Well, quite frankly, this is getting pretty ridiculous so I want to close now, but I’ll leave you with this simple piece of advice about coping with stress:

“Therapy Animals come and go, but just remember that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.  Especially in the hive.”

Next column: Negative Mass

How To Live To Be At Least One Hundred Years Old

Before I get started it’s probably worth listing some of the loose threads that have been lying around from previous columns.  Bear in mind that listing some of the loose threads might simply be a way to get started without actually saying I’m getting started.  But by then it will be too late to stop.  Anyway…

Some Of The Loose Threads That Are Lying Around From Previous Columns:

-How to tell if you have a Komodo Dragon problem when you’re not a deer

-How to establish yourself as a successful Body Part model

There are lots of ways to tell whether or not you have a Komodo Dragon problem.  First of all, are you more than 985 feet from the closest bush, forest, stand of grass, Quonset hut or anything else that could conceal a 10-foot long lizard?  If the answer is yes, you currently don’t have a Komodo Dragon problem because I read the following gem on a Komodo Dragon fact site: “They are able to see prey and other objects as far as 985 feet away.”  So even if there is one lurking out there somewhere, it can’t see you because you’re too far from it’s lair-unless it has a telescope (or binoculars).  This is unlikely.

Secondly, if you happen to see a Komodo Dragon at close range (say 700 feet), does it look like this?

komodo-skeleton

If so, you can relax.  Despite the sly grin, this is most likely a dead Komodo Dragon.

Are you currently located on any of the Lesser Sunda Islands, namely: Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang or Padar?  If not, you don’t have a Komodo Dragon problem because they don’t live anywhere else except maybe in zoos.

where-to-find-komodo-dragons

Have you recently (in the last 60 seconds) fallen into the Komodo Dragon enclosure at a zoo?  Are you contemplating climbing into a Komodo Dragon enclosure for some obscure reason known only to you?  If the answer to both these questions is no, once again, I think you probably don’t have a Komodo Dragon issue.

Do you bear any resemblance at all to a juvenile Komodo Dragon? No?  Congratulations!  Your chance of being eaten has just dropped substantially, as adult Komodos routinely eat their young, including nieces and nephews.

baby-komodo-peering-out-of-egg
Komodo hatchling wondering if it’s more than 985 feet from Mom or Dad or maybe even Uncle Louie.

Finally, do certain aspects of your body stand out? Do you consider your legs, hands or feet to be among your best features?    Do you already lavish inordinate amounts of time on some of your body parts, regularly coating them with expensive lotions and suchlike and protecting them from things like penetrating injuries and the harsh rays of the sun?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, venomous 10-foot lizard carnivores are the least of your concerns.  Instead you need to start worrying about all the time you may have  wasted by NOT already having become a Body Part model.

Q: What is a Body Part model?  Is it something from Forensic Files?

A: No.  A Body Part model, also known as a Closeup model, is like a regular, anorexic model except that he or she only models isolated parts of their body that might have a special quality.  Body Part models appear in ads for things like shoes, fingernail polish, rings and socks.

Q: What about ads for parrots?

A: No.  That’s a ridiculous question.

Q: OK, sorry.  So what are the special qualities we’re talking about here?

A:  We’ll get to that.

Q: (Sigh)  So how do I get started?

A: Take the advice of the good (but marginally literate) folks at UK Models:

“Approach an agency who specialise in this area to understand if your feature is photogenic or not. There is no harm in asking as you could make a living off modelling this body part. Have a look at campaigns that use isolated features and compare the body part to your own to gauge if you will be considered in the niche.”

I am not making this up.  Top Body Part models, secure in their niches, can earn thousands of dollars a day.  It’s a highly-competitive business though, with lots of rules:

Hands –  Flawless, smooth skin with evenly shaped nails.  Hand shape is important.  Male hands should have minimum hair.
Legs  – Smooth, long and shapely.  Skin free of veins, blemishes.  Not overly muscular.
Feet  – Evenly shaped toes and nails.  Free of corns, bunions or other foot blemishes.
Shoe size Should range from size 6-10 for women, and 8-12 for men.
Body – Even skin tone and well-toned, nice muscularity.

I checked out some professional body model images and I have to say that you can certainly tell the difference between an amateur Body Part model and a highly-trained professional Body Part model.

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Professional Hand model featured in recent ad for iPhone
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Amateur Hand model badly in need of a manicure (and glasses)

All I can say is that there are a lot of strange things going on in this world.  Even if you live to be at least one hundred, you won’t see half of them.

How To Live To Be At Least One Hundred:

Choose healthy parents.

Avoid falling asleep outdoors on any of these islands: Komodo, Rinca, Flores, Gili Motang, Padar.

Don’t tell any of your descendants how much money you’re going to leave them in your will.

Move to the island of Okinawa; there are more centenarians per 100,000 people on Okinawa than anywhere else in the world.

“Eat like a raw egg or something every day.”

-longevity tip from anonymous fifteen-year old

Laugh regularly.  Research has shown that adults who see humor in life are 35% more likely to live a longer life than those who do not.

If you don’t have a sense of humor, get one.  And if you don’t have a sense of humor,  why are you even reading this column?  Go read The Economist or something.

Get a therapy dog.

Keep your hands and feet perfectly groomed at all times.  You never know!  Your Body Part modeling career might be waiting for you just around the corner…If a Komodo Dragon doesn’t get you first.

Next column: How to have a successful career as a therapy dog.

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Therapy dog taking a break from its stress-relieving duties to scan perimeter for large lizards

The Mesentery

2016 was a big year in many ways: The Cubs won the World Series after a drought spanning more than a century, SpaceX landed a rocket on a barge in the middle of the ocean, Matt Damon ate a lot of potatoes (and I mean a lot) but the most startling news came from the world of organ politics, where the Mesentery was voted in as the newest human organ.

According to a press release from the Department of Keeping Tabs On Electing New Organs To Membership in the Human Body:

“The Mesentery came out of nowhere in the primaries last summer, to become the darling of the Undiscovered Endocrine Organ party and then continued on to startle the world in November by defeating Undiscovered Exocrine Organ party candidate, the Nasal Mucosa, considered by many to be the odds-on favorite in the thrilling race to be the newest human organ.”

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The picture on the right, which appears to be some kind of inter-dimensional spacetime portal is actually a picture of the inside of someone’s nostril.  The owner might be a professional Nostril Model, since that is quite a fetching tract of nasal mucosa if you ask me.  The thing on the left is a drawing of one of the three Mesenteries which all of us, professional Mesentery Models included, carry around inside our abdomens at all times.  In that drawing, the Mesentery is the yellow membrane fanning out to attach to the pink knobbly thing, which happens to be a sigmoid colon.  So this particular Mesentery is a Sigmoid Mesocolon Mesentery.

Right?  Repeat after me: “Anatomy is easy!”

The Mesenteries are layered membranes which perform a lot of functions including anchoring, secreting, storing and supplying.  That sounds like a pretty full dance card for any tissue, especially one that has just achieved organhood.

By the way, organhood is not a word. Google was pretty definite on this point, asking me if instead I was looking for: 1) orphanhood, 2) Organ Mood, 3) organoid or 4) organ food.  A couple of these options need further explanation.

Option Two:  Organ Mood is the name that a couple of really avant-garde guys from Quebec named Mathieu Jacques and Christophe Lamarche gave to themselves when they decided to create live audiovisual performances in which the audience could also participate.

Here they are (well, one of them anyway), hard at work creating a live audiovisual performance:

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I guess you probably need to be there to fully appreciate this.

Option Three:  An organoid is a great name for what you get when you try to grow a little three-dimensional baby organ in a Petri dish, starting with a few stem cells.  It could also be a great name for a planet:

Organoid Alien:  “We are from the planet Organoid.  We have come here to listen to some of your avant-garde music.  Which way is Quebec?”

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, the Mesentery.  So like I said, the Mesenteries (all three of them) have a lot on their plates , keeping busy all day anchoring some of the intestines to the back wall of the abdominal cavity, secreting mucus to help some of the other intestines slip and slide past each other as they digest our food, storing fat and last-but-not-least, providing a scaffold for the blood and lymphatic vessels to travel to and from the intestines.  Busy, huh?  But like I always say: “If you want to get a bunch of metabolic functions performed, ask a busy collection of cells to do it.”

Below we have Dr. J. Calvin Coffey, a researcher at University Hospital in Limerick, Ireland, holding up something that looks like it might be a mesentery.

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Dr. Coffey inspecting his new toupee

Based on research he conducted over several years, Dr. Coffey laid out his arguments in favor of elevating the mesentery to organ status in a November 2016 article in The Lancet, in case you’re interested.

Needless to say, this turn of events generated a storm of controversy and induced many prominent individuals including actress-cum-Kleenex spokesperson-cum-political commentator Meryl Streep to hold forth, denouncing the election results, as she received a lifetime achievement award at the recent Nasal Mucosa Awards.

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Meryl Streep sans Kleenex, holding her award, and some flowers

She may have said something like the following (but don’t quote me):

“This just isn’t fair. No one appreciates the role that the Nasal Mucosa-all 384 square metres of it- plays in health and well-being.  For example, everyone has heard of nitric oxide (NO for short) but how many of us realize that NO is actually a body-wide signaling molecule with roles in vasodilation, inhibition of platelet aggregation, prevention of neutrophil/platelet adhesion to endothelial cells, inhibition of smooth muscle cell proliferation and migration, regulation of programmed cell death (apoptosis) and maintenance of endothelial cell barrier function. NO generated by neurons acts as a neurotransmitter, whereas NO generated by macrophages in response to invading microbes acts as an antimicrobial agent.

If all that doesn’t make the Nasal Mucosa a great candidate for human organ status, I don’t know what will.  I think the Mesentery should be impeached immediately.  In fact I’m going to ask President-elect Donald Trump to intervene.  After that I plan to rip out his Transverse Mesocolon Mesentery with the handle of a butter knife.  Then I’m going to move to Sweden, or maybe  Canada.  If any country knows about the Nasal Mucosa, it’s Canada.  I hear they get a lot of colds up there.”

Well maybe she didn’t say all that, but prominent researcher Marinella Rosselli did say some of it in her 1998 article entitled: “Role of nitric oxide in the biology, physiology and pathophysiology of reproduction.”  If you don’t believe me you can check out her paper yourself.

It’s a great review article, as far as review articles go.  I plan to read it as soon as I finish reading a charming children’s book by Rebecca Sampson, entitled: A Frocodile Ate My Socks, which once-and-for-all, solves the “universal phenomenon, mystifying laundry enthusiasts for decades – where are the socks going?”  It received a five-star rating in a new book by Dave Barry.com: “Dave Barry’s Guide to Sorting Your Laundry.”

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But clearly, I need to get back on track here.  I just remembered that I forgot to explain exactly what an organ is, back at the beginning, so now is as good a time as any to do that, plus it will be a good way to wrap up this column.  An organ is: “A grouping of tissues into a distinct structure, such as a heart or kidney in animals or a leaf or stamen in plants, that performs a specialized task.”

Most of us are no doubt familiar with common household organs including the following:

Kidneys:  Shaped like kidney beans, these fist-sized organs do a lot of stuff like regulating the balance of sodium and potassium, activating Vitamin D and reminding you that they exist as you’re halfway up a long chairlift at the ski hill with a full bladder.

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Kidney Bean (not to scale)

Thyroid: A butterfly-shaped organ in your neck responsible for regulating your metabolic rate but also responsible for generating literally hundreds of self-help medical books, many of them urging you to eat seaweed on a regular basis, and also to stand in a cold shower with the water playing directly on your throat.

Parathyroid glands: Four pea-sized glands which flank the thyroid gland, with their main purpose being to allow ENT surgeons to bill extra for taking them out when the thyroid needs to be removed secondary to hypothermia.

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One thyroid gland and four, count ’em four parathyroid glands

Adrenal glands: Two acorn-shaped glands about the size of small mice, which sit atop the kidneys, regulating just about everything including your political preference but also responsible for generating another several thousand self-help medical books urging you to meditate frequently and breathe through your nose (thereby generating copious amounts of NO).

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Pancreas: Most of this elusive and independent organ about the size of a 6-inch long python, happily resides behind the peritoneum (so it doesn’t need a mesentery to anchor it, thank you very much).  It helps regulate your blood sugar levels, so just remember that when you’re stranded on Mars eating a potato-based diet.  (Actually, if you’re stranded on Mars, your pancreas is the last thing you need to worry about.)

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Anatomist holding a small, curled-up pancreas

I could go on, but I won’t. Instead I’ll leave you to ponder why I chose to describe all these organs in terms of various vegetables, animals, other human body parts, reptiles and insects.  There must be a name for this particular literary device, but I don’t know what it is.

But at least now you know where to look if you’re missing some socks.

Next column: How to establish yourself as a successful Body-part Model (and also How to Live to be at least 100 years old)

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Body-part Models