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Cabinet Of Curiousities

I started reading this great book a couple of days ago about what the author learned by interviewing people who had lived past the age of 100 and also happened to be alive at the time of the interview. (Clarity is everything.)

What really caught my attention was how the author described the somewhat-wrinkled interviewees: ” Most of the centenarians were models of perseverance and positive thinking. They had open minds and open hearts. They were curious and generous and fun.”

These sound like people I would like to hang out with, that’s for sure. But I also thought that curious and fun were excellent words to help us glide into the rest of this post, which basically consists of some curious odds and ends that might even be funny…

CONTINUE READING

Pecking Order

Things have been especially hectic here in The Department Of Expecting Flaming Debris To Come Raining Down Out Of The Sky From Nowhere In Particular And Land Directly On My Head Any Second Now. Again.

I’ve been so busy looking over my shoulder-not to mention looking straight up- that I haven’t had the time to write about some important findings that have emerged from The Masculinity Report: a 2018 study on the factors influencing emotional, physical and mental health and the overall well-being of American men.

The study was funded by Harry’s-a New York City-based men’s on-line bespoke shaving and grooming supply company. (Motto: Let the genealogists tend your family tree. We’ll help you groom your facebush.) The research itself was undertaken by Dr. John Barry, Honorary Lecturer at University College London and co-founder of the Male Psychology Section of the British Psychological Society. (Motto: Trying to work out whether Men are from Mars or maybe some other planet since 1746.)

As it turns out, the study revealed that job satisfaction turns out to be the strongest predictor of men’s happiness and well-being (aka Positive Mindset) by quite a large margin.

Contributors to Positive Mindset of American males

The next most important predictor of men’s happiness was health, with mental health outranking physical health by a few percentage points. Good grooming was right up there as an important physical health concern although the role of having a regular supply of bespoke shaving supplies wasn’t specifically addressed in the study.

What are we to take from this?

Well… it appears that the notion that men’s happiness revolves around status, power, money and physical prowess is outdated. Men really aren’t all that concerned about where they fall in the social dominance hierarchy or “pecking order” or how big their pecs are. They want to enjoy their work and maybe also keep a bit of an eye on how well-groomed they are compared to other dudes.

Rooster’s sizing up each other’s neck ruffs

But since job satisfaction outstripped the other factors so convincingly, let’s unpack that as the saying goes. Or maybe we could just look at it in more detail. Take your pick. Turns out that the key component of job satisfaction for men is feeling enabled to use their unique skills and talents in the workplace. Examples of this might include mindreading, calculating orbital mechanics in your head, and sword-swallowing, depending on where you work.

Other important contributors to job satisfaction that were uncovered included being surrounded by diverse perspectives, feeling that one’s opinions are valued, feeling inspired by colleagues and having the opportunity to chat freely with them.

So in the interests of promoting job satisfaction and general well-being, I’m going to give you some diverse perspectives you can share freely with your co-workers tomorrow morning or any other morning. Freedom of choice is important. These satisfaction-boosting perspectives include new insights into eagle-owls, chicken husbandry and my cat Zoe. Here goes:

A fellow named Jos Baart who lives in Geel, Belgium made the news in May 2020 when it came to light that a family of Eurasian eagle owls took up residence in a planter on the balcony outside his livingroom window. Personally, I think this is just great! Mostly because of the headline: “Man befriends giant, TV-loving owl family nesting outside his window“. But I just wonder if it might also have been worded: “Man befriends TV-loving family of giant owls nesting outside his window“.

Here we have Mr. Baart interacting with the owlets.

A giant TV-loving eagle-owl chick roosts on the head of its sibling-who apparently occupies a lower rung on the ladder of social dominance. The other sibling looks on, hoping it isn’t in line for head-roosting or worse-a thorough pecking.

Jos says this about the whole situation:

“When the television is on, they are seeing the movements,” he said. “They [are] all three before the window for [a] half an hour or more to look at television. Their favorite program is ‘So you think you can hoot?’. And also Hitchcock’s 1963 horror-thriller: The Birds. I myself also am quite liking this movie.”

The Eurasian eagle-owl is reputedly the world’s largest owl, with an average length of 66 to 71 centimetres, a weight of 1.6 to four kilograms and a wingspan of more than 1.5 metres. Baart says each owl chick is about 30 centimetres tall, or “as big as a big chicken.”

To paraphrase E.B. White1 that’s: “Some owlet.”

Speaking of chickens and chicks, my son and his wife decided to keep four laying hens in their yard this summer. They (the hens) star in the feature image for this blog. I can never tell them apart but their names are Dirty Bird, Lazy Bird, Adventure Bird and Dorothy. The hens have a nice fenced run complete with a coop that has a tasteful laying-alcove complete with its own curtain. One by one, led by Dirty Bird if memory serves me, the avian creatures dutifully lay their eggs every morning, singing their rhythmic egg-laying “songs” in the process. The “songs” go something like this:

“Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, squaaaaaaawk! Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, screeeeek! Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck, yeeeeeeeeks!”

In your spare time, you can peruse the vast chicken husbandry literature to your heart’s content. There are all kinds of theories about why hens “sing” when they lay. My wife, a Nurse Practitioner specializing in Women’s Health with extensive experience looking after high-risk perinatal patients and with fairly extensive personal experience giving birth, most likely pecks the owl right on its proverbial head with this translation:

“Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, yowie! Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch! Feathers! This thing is big! Get it out of me! Now! Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch! Just wait until I get my talons on that rooster!!”

Let’s face it. These birds are making a ruckus because they are basically in labor. End of story.

When asked what she thought of the feathered additions to her family, my little grand-daughter Maxine simply opined, “They’re beautiful. They’re happy!”

Long live two-and-a-half year-olds. Innocence is bliss. So are fresh eggs.

And last but not least, long live cats. This is a recent photo of my cat Zoe, doing her Great Horned Owl impression while investigating a large bowl that mysteriously appeared in our livingroom a few weeks ago:

And here we have a photo of Zoe as a kitten, after mysteriously appearing amidst a parliament of baby Burrowing Owls:

Zoe and her adoptive family of Burrowing Owls. Counterclockwise from center: Zoe, Spooky, Pouty, Grumpy, Anxious and Gordon

At this point, I feel like I’ve given you enough here to boost your Positive Mindset score by a few percent. So exercise your unique talents! Talk it up with your colleagues at work! Inspire others! Trim your eyebrows!

Just make sure you don’t run out of razorblades.

  1. “Some pig” was one of the inscriptions the spider Charlotte wove into her web in reference to Wilbur, the famous pig in E.B. White’s classic story: “Charlotte’s Web.”

Natural Laws

My buddy Geoff Nesbitt (not his real name) sent me a link recently alerting me to a disturbing cosmological finding reported by Professor John Webb of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The disturbing finding was that the fine structure constant-known as alpha- may be not the same everywhere throughout our universe.

According to Webb: “We found a hint that the value of the fine structure constant was different in certain regions of the universe. Not just as a function of time, but actually also in direction in the universe, which is really quite odd if it’s correct … but that’s what we found… This may mean that there are actual regions of the universe in which the inhabitants don’t need twelve or more different remotes to operate their various entertainment devices. “

Webb also reported another disturbing finding, noting that some of his socks were going missing after doing loads of laundry in his new high-speed washing machine.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Alpha-the fine structure constant. Alpha is denoted by the Greek letter α, oddly enough, and it describes the strength of the interactions between charged particles like electrons, protons, pelotons, antipelotons, democraticons and republicons. Alpha was discovered by studying the emission spectrum of hot atomic hydrogen gas. These hot gases, referred to by some lay people as “hot air”, are also a very common characteristic shared by both stellar objects and politicians. “Spin” is another shared property.

Here is one of the more common definitions of alpha, where e is the decimal fraction of honest politicians in the universe relative to the total number of politicians in the universe and ħc is short for “Hanging Chad” or maybe “Hilary Clinton” depending on what region of the political universe you are currently located in:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mathematical-definition-of-alpha.jpg

Don’t get me wrong. I think The Fine Structure Constant is a fine (!) name for a mathematical constant. And maybe even an OK name for a string quartet ensemble. I just feel like maybe we shouldn’t go calling something a constant when it doesn’t remain constant. And that’s exactly what Professor John Webb at the University of New South Wales is saying.

astrpjysicist string quartet ensemble
University of New South Wales astrophysicist ensemble practicing their newest composition: String Quartet No. 137 in Ursa Minor

Professor Webb was recently interviewed by Kepler Hubble Jr. III, a reporter for the Sydney Daily Parabolic Reflector, located in Dubbo, New South Wales for some strange reason.

welcome to Dubbo

Kepler Hubble III: “So Professor Webb, what exactly are you saying about the variable nature of the fine structure constant?”

Professor Webb: “I’m saying that this is something that is taken very seriously and is regarded, quite correctly with scepticism, even by me, even though I did the first work on it with my students. But it’s something you’ve got to test because it’s possible we do live in a weird universe.”

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “How weird?”

Professor Webb: “Very weird. Imagine the State of Florida but with a diameter of 93 billion light-years.”

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “Wow! How many metres is that?”

Professor Webb: “About 8.8×1026 metres or 880 yottametres.”

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “That’s a lotta metres!”

Professor Webb: “No, I said ‘yottametres’ not ‘a lotta metres’. Honest mistake on your part. Think nothing of it. But y’oughta try writing out all the zeros in that number some time.”

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “Right, then. Two more rapid-fire questions coming your way here. How on Earth did you figure out that there might be a problem with the fine structure constant? And also, should I get a tattoo like the person in this photo?”

man with Finse structure constant tattooed on his arm

Professor Webb: “Firstly, cosmological constants like alpha are often determined by peering at distant objects through powerful telescopes and then earning a PhD in Astrophysics after doing a bunch of math. Secondly, I would only get a tattoo like the one in the photo if I were currently in prison. And had rather large guns.”

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “Would those distant objects you peer at include the Chukchi Peninsula currently attached to Russia?”

Professor Webb: “No, we mostly like to look at quasars. The Chukchi Peninsula was reserved for Sarah Palin to keep an eye on.”

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “Fair enough. Is there anything else you have learned that you’d like to share with us Professor Webb?”

Professor Webb: “Absolutely! One of the other things that my grad students have determined is that you should NEVER press the “Escape Velocity” button on your Tesla.”

Dad said: “Do NOT press that button”. Good thing I happened to be wearing a spacesuit.

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “Thank you very much Professor. One last question here: what’s next on your research agenda?”

Professor Webb: “I’d like to find out where my socks went. I have a theory that due to the high rotational velocity of the spin basket in my new washing machine, a sort of temporary tiny black hole might be forming inside of it and sucking my socks into a parallel universe.”

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “Hmmmm…What does your wife think about this theory?”

Professor Webb: “I wish I knew. She disappeared a couple of days after the washing machine arrived. My grad students are looking for her right now.”

Recently-discovered parallel sock universe

Florida Wood Rat Crisis!

Many of us have excess time on our hands these days and some of us are even putting it to good use doing all kinds of things. These things would include picking up musical instruments, playing them in some cases, trying to buy paint (assuming you don’t live in the State of Michigan), painting things, taking note of the fact that zoo animals are now fornicating at an alarming rate because nobody is gawking at them, and last but not least, figuring out that “Social Distancing” is just a pretentious way of saying “Don’t get too close to other people.”

After all, you could be right beside someone but remain mute and/or generally uncommunicative. To me, that would be an example of being socially distant but still physically proximate. Meanwhile you would remain square in the genetically-modified nano-gunsights of any stray viruses that might happen to be wafting your way from the other person. If the viruses had genetically-modified nano-gunsights, that is.

Basically, I don’t think Social Distancing is a very precise name for a behavioural constraint.

Socially distanced couple immediately after a fight over toilet paper. (She won.)

I thought maybe I was the only one who had a Social Distancing bone stuck in my throat until I saw this poster put out by the Department Of Thinking Up Things You Can Do With A Hockey Stick. Or maybe it was from the Government Of Alberta. Same thing.

Anyways, apparently somebody else had second thoughts-or even first thoughts-about Social Distancing and decided to do something about it. Just in case you thought the following poster was an example of the increasing problem we’re having with Fake Posters, here is the link:https://open.alberta.ca/publications/covid-19-information-help-prevent-the-spread-poster

And here is the poster:

Plus, if they cough or sneeze you can also whack them with the hockey stick

Yes!! Thank you Government of Alberta! Long live clarity of written speech.

Meanwhile, when you’re not brandishing your hockey stick, one of the other things you could be doing with your time is learning about the plight of the beleagured Key Largo Wood Rat. (Key Largo is in South Florida, doing its level (!) best to stay above the water level.)

By the way, I just want you to know that “Florida Wood Rat Crisis!” can be rearranged into the following cryptic exclamation:

“Orc dirt! I do owl safaris”

What does that even mean? I have no idea. Really. It was the best thing I could come up with. And it took me like two hours. A LOT like two hours in fact. One hundred and twenty minutes to be exact. If you can come up with something less incoherent in under two hours let me know. I’ll send you an autographed hockey stick.

Hockey stick signed by noted virologist and pro athlete Gordie “Monkeypox” Howe

The animals we’re going to be concerned with for the rest of this discussion fall into the general category of “critters” according to my wife’s taxonomy. These critters are pack rats that inhabit a large swath of the United States as far west as Colorado and as far south as large parts of Cuba including Miami.

The Key Largo Wood Rats-which I happen to think is actually a pretty excellent name for an NHL hockety team- earn their name mostly because they live in Key Largo, but also because these rats are known for building startlingly large homes. (Not unlike retired NHL hockey players!) And everyone knows that “even the wildlife in Florida want enormous homes”.

abandoned Florida Wood Rat den
Example of an enormous abandoned Key Largo Wood Rat lair

Seriously, these industrious little 15-inch long creatures construct massive forest dens by dragging countless sticks and full-on branches for yards through the thick underbrush. These dens can be up to 4 feet high and 6 to 8 feet in diameter and are often festooned to taste with things like shells, discarded Sharpie caps, Eucalyptus Floral Semi-Sheer Rod Pocket Curtain Panels, frayed bungee cords and old videotape copies of the movie “Willard”. So really, we’re talking about a creature that is kind of like a little land beaver who has picked up the decorating skills of an octopus-or maybe Martha Stewart. Or both.

Conical Wood Rat den
Newly-constructed Florida Wood Rat house awaiting festooning by industrious occupant

Overall though, despite their flair for decorating, the Wood Rats along Key Largo have been in decline due to pressure from agriculture and construction of things like missile silos and luxury resorts. Predation from snakes, raccoons, Shoebill Cranes, Komodo Dragons, warthogs and a huge raving horde of feral cats hasn’t helped.

The KLWRs don’t make it any easier for themselves either. Take another look at that large cone-shaped pile of sticks and branches in the photo above. That is a lot of sticks and branches. When the rats construct their houses, they make a TON of noise dragging all that stuff through the forest in the middle of the night. They might as well strap small magnesium flares to their heads and lay down on dinner plates, as far as the ravenous feral cats are concerned.

There have been efforts to curtail the cats by catching them, sterilizing them, lopping off the tops of their left ears to mark them and then releasing them back into the wilds of the local luxury resorts. This seemed to work until the cats banded together and started lopping off the tips of the left ears of their unsterilized companions. The whole program ground to a halt. Never underestimate the intelligence of feral cats.

But there’s one thing to remember about Key Largo. It’s only about a half-mile wide. Sooner or later people will probably start trying to jump over it with Jet Skis.

I feel like this guy is NOT going to make it

Not all of them will be related to Evel Knieval. (For those of you who weren’t around in the 1970’s, Evel Knieval was a motorcycle stunt jumper.) Therefore, Key Largo may soon be littered with the hulls of defunct Jet Skis and researchers have already proved that the wood rats will happily move into empty Jet Ski hulls. (I’m not making this up.) Then the rats can rest safely and happily in their new homes and stop lying down on metaphorical dinner plates with small metaphorical magnesium flares strapped to their heads every night.

So there’s always hope.

Just ask Evel Knieval.

Evel Knieval courageously attempting to pilot his specially-engineered rocket motorcycle “Monkeypox” across the Snake River Gorge

Aliens vs Anna Salander et al

OK, here’s my theory:

Any alien civilization sufficiently advanced enough to make the journey to Earth from a distant star system would also have had the capability to detect the numerous X-ray and gamma ray plumes triggered by nuclear and thermonuclear detonations in the 40’s and 50’s. Right? (Not to mention the detonations in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, etc.) So it’s quite plausible that some aliens detected our fireworks and came to check us out back in the 1950’s.

I think it’s also quite plausible that once they got here, they hung around for a couple of decades to see if it was worth their time getting to know us, but after watching the 60’s unfold in all their glory, and experiencing the invention of disco, they covered their collective faces with their collective appendages, shook their collective heads in dismay, then left the galactic neighbourhood, realizing that we were basically a hopelessly insane species not even worth exterminating.

Oy vey!

But say that didn’t happen. I have a backup theory to cover that possibility…

Editor’s note: By the way, I have NOTHING against the movie Independence Day. I love that movie. I mean, if I had just saved the planet, I would for sure be walking back across the desert with my buddy, full of piss and vinegar, sporting the widest shit-eating grin you ever saw, feeling quite pleased with myself and smoking quite a large cigar, thank you very much.

The only issue with Independence Day is that truth be told, any civilization that has mastered interstellar travel could likely just snuff us out of existence from 300 light years away if it really wanted to, without even getting up off the couch. Especially if it had intercepted any Reality TV broadcasts along with the X-ray and gamma ray plumes. Just saying.

Where was I? Oh yeah, my backup theory.

Suppose that the aliens delayed going home. Suppose they were very patient and stuck around through the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s, flying about every once in awhile to tease us-the way magpies tease my cat Zoey. They sat through the advent of ridiculously baggy jeans, dial-up Internet access, Lorena Bobbitt and also the development of the Pontiac Aztek. Maybe they were eventually hoping to sign Earth up to Galactaway-their cosmically successful multilevel marketing company. I dunno. My point is: they stuck around.

I hypothesize that they didn’t make the call that we were a lost cause as a species until January 1, 2013. That’s the point at which the light finally went on for them that humans are basically insane. THEN they left the galactic neighbourhood, never to return. So anything you hear about new UFO sightings after January 1, 2013 is probably bogus.

According to my backup theory.

It just so happens that January 1, 2013 is the day when a viral video featuring a cheerful young Swedish girl named Anna Salander appeared. In this video Anna is seen cheerfully trotting about on all fours in an indoor arena accompanied by rousing music, jumping gates just like a horse. Unsurprisingly, the Germans referred to Anna as Pferdemadchen, roughly translated as “horse girl.” Why the Germans had their noses in what the Swedes were doing remains an open question.

Apparently Anna started out wanting to move around on all fours to emulate her Grandma’s dog “Peggy”. Anna graduated to horses when she was 10 or so. Things could have been worse I guess. “Peggy” could have been a Komodo Dragon. Or a Siberian Tiger.

I don’t know what Anna is doing currently. In 2017 she appeared on a Steve Harvey TV show called Little Big Shots. After she underwent bilateral wrist joint-replacement surgery she took up highjumping. Last I heard, she had started a company selling designer footwear.

But the flame in the torch of equine animorphing never went out. In May 2019, more viral video erupted, featuring a Norwegian teenager named Ayla Kirstine running rampant in the wild, jumping over many obstacles including picnic tables, pallets, gates and a funeral hearse. (OK, maybe not a hearse.) The Ozzy Man Review of Ayla’s antics is hilarious, by the way. It was actually my jumping-off point (!) into the world of equine animorphing.

There are tons of instructional videos out there on how to jump like a horse when you – in fact – happen to be a human. The Canadians aren’t taking this lying down (!) either. A young Canadian woman named Ava Vogel has posted many videos of her retroevolutionary forays into quadrupedalism and was also interviewed by the Fox commentator Jesse Watters .

This whole thing about young women wanting to emulate horses is laid out in detail in an informative blog by Lexi Pandell. Apparently the practice is really common. And really hard to get right. So don’t judge, OK?

Now go back in time to 1989, when a Coral Gables, Florida woman named Joanna Rohrback invented a fitness program called Prancercise. This was (fortunately) before the time when humans gained the ability to easily upload video to the Web. There wasn’t one until 1991. Anyway, Joannae shelved Prancercise for several decades until she revived it in 2012.

WARNING: DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO CLIP!

SECOND WARNING: I TOLD YOU NOT TO WATCH THE CLIP. YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO UNSEE IT. ROHRBACK ALSO WROTE A BOOK. DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT READING THAT BOOK.

This is what Rohrback said about her book:

“This book finally let me experience my inner horse. I was like a child again, prancing through the woods. At one point, I was convinced I had four legs. A smile radiated from my face. I punched the sky, knowing that I was free. Call me Prancer, for I walk my path with joy.”

Subtitle: How I Defeated Gravity

This is an actual review of the book, via a deep-space transmission intercepted by the good folks at SETI.

“I’m an entity who used to weigh 340 lbs depending on the local gravitational field strength. I used to lift weights to stay in shape, until I dropped a bar on my head and was knocked into a coma. While unconscious, an angel visited me in my hospital bed and commanded me to wake up and try Prancercise. I regained consciousness immediately and bought this book, and what a difference it has made in my life! My weight is now 148 lbs -again subject to the local gravitational field strength of course. I don’t know what my mass is, but I have never felt better. I have to buy a new set of ankle weights though, since I had to remove my last pair to get away when a dozen teen girls, many of them emulating horses, came running after me the last time I was prancing through the park. Get this book! You won’t regret it.”

Actually, I think you probably WILL regret it.

But in closing, here is my third and final theory about why the aliens abandoned Earth:

One of them crash-landed in a park in Coral Gables, Florida, met Joanna Rohrback and then started a mass alien exodus to help bring Prancercise to the rest of the Universe.

It seems like this horsing around stuff can get under anybody’s skin, regardless of what color it is.

2020 New Year’s Resolutions

Resolution #1: Stop circling around the unexplained mystery of Russian Nanospirals mentioned in previous posts and just get to the point.

Resolution #2: Explain why Ayn Rand left Russia as a young woman.

Resolution #3: Maybe also explain who Ayn Rand is.

Resolution # 4: Update my ongoing research into the half-life of Girl Guide cookies.

OK! Seems like I have my work cut out for me. And it’s already February 6th. I might as well get started.

Ayn Rand’s real name was Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum. As names go, that’s a bit of a mouthful, so I can’t blame Alisa for changing her name. “Ayn” was born in St. Petersburg in 1905. She studied history at Petrograd State University and became a big fan of Aristotle, Plato, Nietzsche, Nikola Tesla, Howdy Doody and also Capitalism.

In 1926 she moved to New York City, lived with relatives for a few months, then moved to Hollywood despite being freakishly intelligent. Eventually she became even more freakishly intelligent and moved back to New York, invented the philosophy of Objectivism and went on to become a world-famous author, playwright and philosopher. She died in 1982.

One of the more-flattering images of Ayn Rand, taken just hours after her birth

Every generation rediscovers her books: Ayn Rand’s Guide to Quokkas, Anthem, Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, We The Living, and also the lesser-known but still-popular: The New York City Intellectual’s Diet. Amphetamines, Cigarettes and Scotch.

Most of the people (and their pets) who rediscover Atlas Shrugged are usually unconscious within seconds of getting into protagonist John Galt’s 80-page soliloquy which starts on page 1873. John’s soliloquy is basically Rand’s treatise on Objectivism. And you thought Hamlet was bad.

Atlas Dozed

Popular Wisdom has it that Ayn Rand initially fled Russia to escape the rise of Communism but that’s only part of the puzzle. I wanted to blame her abandonment of Mother Russia on the weather until I found out that the weather is actually not that bad in St. Petersburg. On average, it’s a hell of a lot warmer in winter than Calgary was this past January, that’s for sure. So much for that theory.

I postulate that one of the reasons Ayn Rand fled to NYC was probably Face-Slapping Contests. I’m not making this up. I think she would have left the planet to get away from Face-Slapping Contests, given half a chance. I know I would. SpaceX, get a move on, would you?

Face-Slapping Contests are a Russian phenomenon in which large Russian men square off and take turns slapping each other. I am not making this up either. It’s not really slapping per se: it’s more like extending your arm straight out from the shoulder to the right (or left) and then rotating that arm at about 5000 radians/sec until it contacts the side of the other person’s cheek/ear/jaw/neck. I think it probably feels a lot like getting slammed repeatedly upside the head by Godzilla or maybe The Hulk. Here’s an example:

What??? Wait, wait, wait!

No! Sorry! That was a photo from an Ear-Candling contest. I don’t know how Ayn Rand felt about Ear-Candling contests.

THIS is a typical blow being landed in a Russian Face-Slapping contest:

little kid's new year's resolution
Victor “Godzilla” Kuznetskiiy striking Ivan “The Beaver” Bobrov

This jovial exchange of blows continues until someone is unconscious. Usually it’s one of the two contestants. The winner receives a copy of Atlas Shrugged, signed by Warren Buffett.

But I feel like the for-sure main reason Ayn Rand left Russia was because of the Quokka. She was quite passionate about these small, adorable marsupials and thought that she would find some in New York City. Sadly, Quokkas are indigenous to Australia. Biology was not Ayn Rand’s strong point.

Interestingly, Quokkas were the secret weapon of Australian diamond miners because the Quokka is the only animal on Earth possessing the ability to detect the scent of diamonds. Sadly again, Australia has pretty much run out of diamonds because the Quokkas were so darned good at sniffing them out.

Quokka, strongly in need of corrective eyewear, alerting its handler to the scent of a hidden diamond pipe

The Quokka is also the mortal enemy of the Shoebill Crane which is why Australia is now devoid of both diamonds AND Shoebill Cranes. The Quokkas drove the Shoebills away because they (the Quokkas) had nothing to do after they found all the diamonds. How the Shoebills wound up in Africa after they were driven out of Australia is anybody’s guess.

Shoebill carrying its pet duck “Nestor”

Moving right along, this whole Russian Nanospirals thing didn’t surface until long after Ayn Rand passed away. But I feel like it could still be relevant to this narrative. Somehow. And no matter what, I’ll still nail Resolution #1 by bringing it up now.

Basically, Geologists in the Ural Mountains are rumored to have found precisely-machined nanospirals made of tungsten and molybdenum embedded in rock strata at least 100,000 years old. Maybe 300,000 years old.

Nanospiral which could have come from somewhere in the Ural Mountains. Or not.

My point here is that these tiny objects were out of place. Some people think that these POOPTARTs (Patently Out Of Place Tiny ARTifacts) are remnants of an advanced-possibly alien-civilization that existed on Earth well before the invention of Exchange-Traded Funds and certainly well before Warren Buffett was born. Physicists now speculate that nanospirals could be used to create surface coatings with unusual properties such as invisibility. I swear on Ayn Rand’s unusual headgear that I am not making this up.

Ayn Rand sporting her (unfotunately) visible hat.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. All this totally makes sense now. Somebody back in 300,000 BC forgot to turn off the cloaking device when they parked their spaceship. Then they couldn’t find the darned thing again. Then there was a landslide. All that was left was a bunch of nanospirals.

A similar thing could happen to the new Tesla pickup trucks except people will intentionally bury them because they (the trucks) are basically hideous if you ask me. So hideous, in fact, that they could cause “actual retinal damage” to quote eminent materials scientist Dave Barry PhD.

Advanced hideous pickup truck with nanospiral cloaking device turned off.

Anyway, there’s tons of content posted on line about these pesky nanospirals. Some of the sites have great comments. This is my favorite:

“These guys should be in the Olympics for jumping to conclusions.”

Or maybe for Face-Slapping. Look for it in Beijing, Summer 2022! Along with Ear-Candling.

Next column: Resolution #4.

P.S. Hmmm. Resolution #4. That’s not a bad name for a band, come to think of it. The Rushin’ Nanospirals is also kind of catchy.

Russian Nanospiral Update: Part II

Before there can be any sober discourse about Russian Nanospirals, I need to get this whole wire transfer business out of my hair. Various questions spring to mind, but chief among them is the following:

Why does it take a bank three or more business days to do what Western Union can do in an hour? Good question!

One explanation is that if a bank can pluck some money out of your account and then somehow delay doing anything with it for a few days, that money is basically in limbo. The bank can lend it to someone else in the interim and make a few bucks on interest.

OK, OK. Call me a cynic.

But this close to Christmas, we shouldn’t be giving in to Cynicism. We should have faith: faith in our fellow humans and faith that large corporations are utilizing technology to enrich the lives of all living creatures including subatomic particles. So what follows is basically a story about faith and hope (and dubious physics).

All information these days can be converted into long strings of bits-short for binary digits. These bits can be stored as voltages but also as tiny snowmen made of a special ceramic material first discovered in the Ural Mountains of Russia which is the same place that the Nanospirals were discovered, oddly enough.

And of course, stored bits can be taken OUT of storage and sent someplace else: as trains of electrical pulses through wires or as trains of light pulses through optic fibers.

I think what happens with these banks is that they take your wire transfer information and stash it as trains of electrical pulses in huge magnetic-confinement storage rings.

Now the pulses would just keep whizzing dejectedly around and around the rings in a dark vacuum, day after day, forgotten and hopeless, if it weren’t for the nice bank physicists.

Senior bank physicists busily tending wire-transfer information storage ring

What happens next is almost beyond belief. But hey. ‘Tis the season. Santa Claus is coming to town soon. So get over yourself and believe.

Hand-picked for their lightning-fast reflexes, the bank physicists capture the bits, take them out of the storage loops, talk to them, give them Christmas snacks, read them stories and then shoo the bits gently back into the storage loops. The bits emit tiny contented cooing noises the whole time. It’s awesome.

This scenario unfolds over and over in the next several days and as you can imagine, the bits love the TLC. And the children of the bank physicists love to hear their parents tell them stories about the lonely bits and the tiny cooing sounds. Children love physics! And baby animals!

Unretouched photo of a single bit of information, drooling slightly and eagerly awaiting its next treat
“I would like a gigantic magnetic containment loop and a 500-megawatt generator for Christmas, Santa. And a baby bunny.”

Things get even better, though. When the bank physicists aren’t tending to the money transfer-related bits, they make their way past the storage rings and down through the subterranean levels of the bank, traversing dimly-lit dank corridors roughly hewn out of the living bedrock. Finally they come to the money vaults, where they beaver away tirelessly, washing and blow-drying the ACTUAL BILLS you deposited that morning for safekeeping. (This is called money laundering.) Then the bills are tucked neatly back into cozy heated drawers, where they dream eagerly about the hustle and bustle of the next day’s Christmas shopping.

The bank physicists’ offspring don’t mind hearing about the money-laundering part either, in case you were wondering. And I think The Bank Physicist’s Identical Twin Children would be a great title for a work of Literary Fiction, now that you mention it.

No wonder the banks have to charge all these ridiculous service fees. People simply have NO idea how complicated banking is these days. Especially when Christmas rolls around.

But all good things must eventually come to an end. Sooner or later the bank physicists tire of fiddling around with the money you gave them to give to someone else. They collect the interest, hook the storage rings up to electro-optical converters, tenderly herd the money transfer-related bits out of the storage rings into the convertors whereupon the bits are promptly converted into trains of laser light pulses. The light pulses enter fiber optic cables and 30 milliseconds later they emerge, blinking owlishly, at undisclosed locations 4000 miles away. Probably in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Or maybe Magnitogorsk.

Money should never sit still.

And if you believed ANY of this, you’re ready to hear about Russian Nanospirals. Or maybe The Attack Of The Eyeworms. I haven’t decided yet.

P.S. It just occurred to me that since the bits/electrons are whizzing in a circle, confined by a magnetic field, they are also losing energy by generating synchrotron radiation (see below). This is one of the main reasons why the buying power of your money diminishes over time. Or else it’s those monthly service charges.

Where does my money go? Besides radiating into space I mean.

Modern Technology

A while ago I needed to send some money to an undisclosed location in California and I decided to do it via a bank draft. Anyone over the age of about 150 or so knows it used to be routine to send money to distant locations by “wiring” it. You just went into a Western Union telegraph office, filled out some paperwork, and somebody else a bunch of miles away had your money within a few minutes. And that’s still true today.

If you use Western Union.

But it’s NOT true if you use a bank draft and the bank you want to send it FROM is also located in the US and you are NOT currently located in the US.

First of all, you have to e-transfer money from your Canadian bank down to your US chequing account. That’s actually pretty straightforward. But then you have to arrange the bank draft to transfer money from the US chequing account to the undisclosed location in California. That’s where the fun begins.

The first thing you have to do is get by the chatbot/mindless sentry you’re connected to when you try to call the US bank where your US chequing account is located. Say it’s RBC located near Atlanta, Georgia, just for the sake of argument.

The chatbot asks you for your 16-digit account number, your shoe size and the name of your first pet. (His name was Harold.) You get through all that and tell the chatbot that you need to set up a bank draft. The chatbot can’t understand what it is you’re trying to do, but before it can explain that you should press “0” or remain on hold for more assistance, you start stabbing the “0” button repeatedly. Somehow you are connected back to the chatbot again. It asks you to enter your 16-digit account number again but now, once bitten and twice shy, you immediately start stabbing “0” repeatedly until you are reconnected to the chatbot yet again.

This cycle repeats itself several times. Forgetting that at some point you were informed that any conversations will be recorded for training purposes (and also to refine the growing psychological profile of you that is being compiled by agents of the Department Of Russian Nanospirals) you finally shout into the phone,

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Get a new AI would you?!”

Then you realize you’re actually still talking to a chatbot and you say to yourself:

“You idiot. You’re still talking to a chatbot.”

Finally a nice human being named Sandy answers. At least you’re pretty sure she’s human. She sounds like she’s from New Brunswick. Or maybe PEI. And everyone you know in New Brunswick is human. Ditto PEI. Ergo, Sandy is probably human.

You sheepishly tell her that you just shouted at the chatbot and told it to “Get a new AI would you?!” Sandy giggles and says, “It IS a new AI. But don’t worry. Everybody yells at it.”

You both laugh. (Your laugh is a tad strained.)

You tell Sandy all you want to do is set up a bank draft to send money from your “RBC” US Chequing account to a bank in an undisclosed location in California. Sandy tells you that if you want to send a bank draft, you have to fill out a couple of forms and email them to the “wire desk” so that they can authorize you to transfer money. It’s a one-time formality.

Sandy goes on to explain that after you email your stuff to the “wire desk” you need to wait until the next morning, call the bank again, bypass the chatbot by pressing “0” and ask to be connected to the “wire desk”. Once you reach the “wire desk”, Sandy says they will confirm that they have authorized you to institute wire transfers. Or not.

You ask why you can’t just call the “wire desk” directly from here on in. Nice try but you can’t, she says.

Then you ask how you actually do the bank drafts/wire transfers. Sandy tells you that when you are seized by an urge to send money somewhere you just call up and ask to be connected to the “wire desk”. When you are connected, you just read all the details of the transfer to the person at the “wire desk”: the amount of the transfer, your account number, the routing number, the name and address of the intermediary bank, the account number of the destination bank and so forth. And don’t forget Harold, she says.

When you ask Sandy how long it will take for the money to reach its destination, she says she doesn’t know. Maybe two or three business days.

This is where you officially lose it.

“Wire desk!” you splutter. “That’s where you went 150 years ago when you wanted to wire money from say, St. Louis, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico! I feel like I’ve been in a coma for 150 years and I just woke up!!”

“I know,” she sympathizes.

“And two or three business days??” you splutter. “They might as well outfit a burro with a couple of saddlebags, stuff the cash in the saddlebags, point the burro toward California and slap its rump.”

“I know,” she sympathizes again. “But please stop putting RBC in quotes. You’re not fooling anyone out there. And while you’re at it, stop putting wire desk in quotes too. I get it. You’re emphasizing that the concept of a wire desk is an anachronism. It’s out of place for 2019.”

“Exactly!” you say. “It’s just like those futuristic Russian Nanospirals that were found in that 300,000 year-old rock formation in the Ural Mountains.”

“Where are the Ural Mountains?” Sandy asks.

You sit down and bury your face in your hands in a gesture of disbelief tinged with resignation. Unless you have a treadmill desk. If you have a treadmill desk you pause the treadmill, plant your elbows on the raised platform where your keyboard is, and THEN bury your face in your hands.

Once again, it feels to you like you’ve been in a coma for about 150 years. You just woke up and now you want to wire some money from Atlanta to Magnitogorsk, Russia. Or maybe to Irvine, California. Same difference.

Time to shake it off and start looking for that burro. You can name it Harold if you want to. I won’t mind.

“Harold” the burro”, heading west circa December 2019

Next blog:

Russian Nanospirals: Part II

How To Learn To Speak Australian

Not that you care, but it’s been over a month since the last blog. Lots of times I’ll finish a blog by threatening to write another one on a specific topic. Then that just sort of niggles at me constantly until I finally sit down and start to write some more. I didn’t do that last time so maybe that’s why this blog was delayed. But more likely it’s because I’ve had a lot on my plate lately including urine steroid heat maps, an aging dog, and Australian public radio. The “on my plate” phrase was just a metaphor by the way. I haven’t had an actual urine steroid heat map or an actual aging dog on a plate in front of me. In case you were worried.

This thing up above is an actual unretouched image of a steroidogenic pathway diagram. It’s not even remotely edible but it does show how the various steroid hormones we make interrelate and also shows relatively how much of each steroid is present at a given point in time. I call it a steroid heat map.

Heat maps weren’t my idea. Years ago, I found an example of one in a cave, inscribed on metal foil which turned out to be made of pure tellurium. I was only able to read it with the use of some special headgear someone had thoughtfully placed beside the foil. But afterward there was a fire which destroyed the foil AND the headgear. So you’ll just have to take my word for all this.

Special headgear for decoding arcane tellurium foil inscriptions

Misinformation Alert: I’m totally bullshitting you here.

I didn’t find any tellurium foil. Or special headgear. And people have been measuring urine steroids for decades and also drawing steroidogenic pathways for decades. I just decided that it might be sort of nifty to light up some steroidogenic pathways with colours reflecting the measured amounts of the various hormones. And I also had a team of really smart people working with me on the whole urine steroids project for two years. (You know who you are and you know what you did. )

I do have an aging dog. His name is Mickey. He’s 12 and he has arthritis in his shoulder and a pinched nerve in his spine. It’s taking a lot longer to walk him now, and I have to carry him up and down stairs some times. But he’s still a ferocious guard dog. He could probably lick multiple intruders to death without even trying.

Mickey on guard at the front door

This brings me to Australia…

Australia is a great country which my wife and I once visited for approximately three days. But they were three action-packed days. I gave a number of lectures on steroid hormones (pre-the tellurium foil episode). We went hot air ballooning and saw kangaroos. (We were in the air; the kangaroos were running on the ground below us.) We saw saltwater crocodiles aka salties. I learned from first principles how to swim out of a riptide. We spent a lot of time working out that a Long Black is actually an Americano.

Australian coffee decoding chart found lying beside primitive urine steroid heat map

Like I said, we got a lot done in three days. But the one thing I regret about that trip was that I didn’t learn to speak Australian.

That all changed this summer when I started streaming ABC Radio out of Melbourne. I don’t know why I started. It just happened. In particular, I tune in to this call-in evening quiz show called “The Challenge”. Since we’re 16 hours behind Melbourne, it’s on each morning here in Calgary, when I’m driving to work.

The Challenge consists of 25 questions broken up into 5 categories that change nightly. Here are some sample categories:

  1. Poisonous snakes of Australia
  2. Poisonous toads of Australia
  3. Poisonous spiders of Australia
  4. Poisonous insects of Australia not including the spiders
  5. Poisonous water-dwellers of Australia including cone snails

Sample question: Which of the following terms is correct: antivenin or antivenom?

You stay on as long as you keep answering the questions correctly. Or until you get bitten by something. Or eaten by a saltie. If you are still able to draw breath and answer the 25th question you win a prize. Usually it’s a book about poison centipedes or maybe a wallaby. Or maybe a small vial of antivenin.

Anyway, people regularly call in from all over the place. These people include Emily Lyons.

Duchess Emily holding a mystery object in her right hand

Emily is 96 years old, has led a fascinating life including a long stint as a circus performer, and resides in Dubbo, New South Wales, about 6000 kilometers north of Antarctica.

I think everyone in Australia knows “Em” as they call her. She’s also affectionately referred to as: The Duchess of Dubbo. Google it if you don’t believe me.

Callers are always asking after Em when they ring up to try their hand at the quiz.

And Em rings up every night to check in, update everyone on any current health challenges, have a go at the quiz and thank the many well-wishers who continually ask after her and send her cards and letters. And every night she signs off by well-wishing right back at them saying, “A great big hoo-roo to all my friends.”

I think the whole business is really nice. The world could do with a lot more random hoo-rooing amongst folks who have never met face-to-face.

I’m totally calling in to that quiz show, as soon as I perfect my accent. And I’m totally planning on going back to Australia, now that I have their coffee figured out. I’m just going to have to make sure I keep my eyes out for spiders, paralyzing ticks and cane toads.

P.S. I forgot to mention the Common Death Adders.

Next month: Everything you need to know about traditional Icelandic foods

What To Do If You Have Too Much Time On Your Hands

I’ve had the following conversation with various children (most of them mine) at least fifty times over the last fifteen years.  Maybe you have too.  Not sure why you’d be talking to my kids but I’m not going to nit-pick.  Let’s just get going in the interests of saving time.

Imagine that your kid is strolling toward the front door…

You: Where are you going?

Your kid: The mall.

You:  The mall?  Which one?  Market Mall? Chinook? Heritage?  Last time I checked there were approximately thirty-seven malls in Calgary.

Your kid:  Long sigh followed by eye-rolling and a pause… We’re going to CrossIron Mills.

You:  OK, great.  Have fun and remember: clarity of speech is a virtue.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget that iconic American riverboat pilot-turned iconic American silver miner-turned iconic American author Samuel Langhorn Clemens once said: ” The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.”

Noted riverboat pilot/silver miner/author Samuel Langhorn Clemens posing in front of an early prototype of a Dyson Airblade

As an aside, one of the other things that Clemens said was, “What in the heck ever possessed me to start hanging out with Nikola Tesla?”

Samuel Langhorn Clemens saying to his buddy-iconic crazy Serbian-American genius and prankster-Nikola Tesla (lurking in background with an impish expression on his face): “Nikola, I said lightning bug! Not lightning! Turn this damned thing off!”

I swear on my Model S that this is not a phony picture.  They were besties.  Tesla may even have helped Clemens invent a wireless moustache trimmer.

Anyway… I might have been at the mall searching for a copy of The Electrifying Adventures Of Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla (Who Needs Wires Anyway?) but I happened to detour into Time Capsules `R Us first.  In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of pretty cool time capsules for sale these days.

housecat-sized time capsule
Housecat-sized time capsule

Who would have ever thought that some day there would be an entire store devoted to selling time capsules? But there it was, right next to World Of Paperclips.

And there I was, confronted by all these time capsules, so I started thinking about what the heck I would put in one.  Specifically, what could I put in a time capsule that would give our descendants a really clear picture of what we were like?

The answer came to me immediately: I could make a detailed analysis of a random issue of the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogue and stick THAT in the time capsule.  From the detailed analysis, our descendants will get an unvarnished picture of what we were like.

For example, they might conclude that many of us retired to Florida (before most of it went underwater) where we proceeded to obsess over our health-and also thank our lucky stars that we decided to buy stock in FedEx and UPS.

Since I had too much time on my hands I decided to perform that detailed analysis.  And here it is:

DETAILED ANALYSIS OF THE 2019 HAMMACHER SCHLEMMER SUMMER SUPPLEMENT

2019 summer supplement Hmmacher Schlemmer
This bike is nowhere near the Remote-Controlled Abrams Tank, which is on page 70, in case you want one.

I identified 24 categories of health-related products plus this kick-ass kite which I  felt deserved an honorable mention.

F-35 kite
F-35 kite (Pilot’s license not included)

From all the other non-kite-related categories, I concluded that:

(a) Our feet are a big issue for us-I catalogued 31 products related to foot problems (neuropathy, swelling, plantar fasciitis and general comfort), some of them spring-loaded!

spring-loaded insoles-excellent for leaping tall buildings

(b) Our eyesight and hearing are terrible-30 offerings  related to vision-mostly glasses, lamps and voice-clarifiers/amplifiers

Advanced rearview mirror-includes 22-page installation manual

gooseneck viewer
Dang you Patches! Are you under there? Your supper is ready.  If the Roomba is under there too tell it it come out.

(c) Joint problems are rampant-I noted 22 items including massagers (some of them laser-assisted!), heating pads, braces, and a small masseuse named Hector.

Now where was that “Off” button again?  I KNEW I should have checked out that little Hector guy

(d) Collectively, we worry too much about our lips, sagging skin, toenails, faces, teeth and last-but-not-least our sinuses-13 gadgets total

I have to stop eating dragonflies once and for all.

My name is Alexa and I work for Amazon. How can I help you?

sinus irrigator
Sinus lavage device including convenient repository for any small metal parts that might wash out of your nose.

(e) We are lousy sleepers-the tally included 12 beds, mattresses, wedges, toppers, and a lounger

wake me up in 2783
Wake me up in 2783 if my alarm doesn’t go off

Well that was instructive, but I feel like I should get back to looking for that book I mentioned and I know you probably have better things to do too.  One of the other things on my list is doing something about those darned kids who keep sneaking into my pool.  Maybe Hammacher Schlemmer can help…

fake alligator
This thing is nowhere near the replica 1635 AD torture device/Cervical Traction Back Stretcher which is on page 55.  I know you want one.

cervical traction device
Why was that giraffe staring at me in the zoo?