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Cryptozoology Part II: If You Were Going To Trade Your Dog In For Something Else, What Are Your Options?

When we last met, I was going on about whether or not you should trade your dog in for something else on the basis of your getting tired of toweling it off all the time, especially when it’s wet. Options included another type of dog with or without water-repellent fur, or maybe a member of an entirely different species.

If you are opting to go with a different species, I’m going to give you some suggestions.

Here goes:

1) Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs (or maybe some other kind of smallish pig):

The footage that follows was taken right outside my office window.  I’m almost positive that this video captures a pot-bellied pig dutifully following its owner back to the car.  But it might be a dog.  It’s definitely not a Sasquatch aka Bigfoot even though the video is very reminiscent of your typical Sasquatch aka Bigfoot video: grainy, indistinct, over-before-you-know-it.

I personally think that stubby little tail is almost a dead giveaway.

Be forewarned: by all accounts pot-bellied pigs make for challenging pets.  They’re affectionate, smart, demanding; they get into everything; they’re headstrong; they can make a mess if left untended.  Wait a sec! That sounds an awful lot like a toddler!  Maybe you should grow one of those instead.

It’s probably faster and easier for you to get a pig than to grow a toddler.  But what if you like to surf?  Lots of people do: especially people who live near water. Do you live near water?  If you do, I just this minute realized that your dog is probably wet quite a bit of the time already, so this whole wet dog thing may be a non-issue for you.  You might want to stop reading now.

But if not, rest assured that there’s a good chance that you will be able to take your new pig surfing.  Some pigs love to surf!  They are probably the descendants of wild pigs who learned to surf after migrating to Hawaii from thousands of miles away (with the assistance of Testicle Navigators, of course!)

pigs on beach
Feral Hawaiian surfing pigs patiently awaiting next set
man and small pig on surf board
Hawaiian surfing pig teaching human being to surf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

surfing border collie
Border collie who spontaneously began surfing after observing feral pigs

2) Goats:

Now as we all know, surfing can be a fairly high adrenaline pastime.  So some people might prefer to trade their dog for an animal that is content to engage in a more chill activity, such as yoga.  If you are one of those people, a baby goat is just what you need, as shown by this simple equation:

Wet Dog + Baby Goat + Yoga = Baby Goat Yoga – Wet Dog

Yes, you heard me correctly!  Yoga with baby goats is a thing.  A big, trending thing, actually.  Nobody knows for sure where Goat Yoga started but roughly twenty states are currently fighting over bragging rights for the title of  Goat Yoga State.  (Actually, I’m lying.  Goat Yoga started in New Hampshire.)

Incidentally, Goat Yoga State can be rearranged to spell: A Saggy Teat, Too.  (Ed. Note: Dave Barry totally pioneered the technique of rearranging phrases to spell other phrases which more-or-less make sense.  I shamelessly adopted his literary device.)

I also threw in a comma that wasn’t in Goat Yoga State.  Just saying.

The baby goats don’t actually do the yoga.  They basically mill around in adorable baby-goat fashion amongst the people.  The people do the yoga.  There is a lot of goat-cuddling involved.  And nibbling.  The goats nibble on various body parts within range as well as any clothing they can manage to sink their teeth into, including  Lululemon™ activewear.

The absolute best thing about Goat Yoga though, is the comments that people are posting alongside the Goat Yoga video clips.  Especially the following comment (and its reply) found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvj6voiH5S0

Arielle Masters, who clearly has an inquiring mind, asked this question:

This isn’t an April Fool’s joke? It’s very cute – but do they ever pee on the people doing yoga?

Ethan Moreau, who is clearly your basic smart-ass guy, shot back:

Arielle Masters yes they do but they don’t mind. They also poop on them too. However the smell of the poop is very therapeutic for them. So they just leave it. Sometimes the guests poop on the floor with the goats.

This just goes to show you the trouble that can arise when you use pronouns in a way that leaves thing open to interpretation.  Who doesn’t mind?  The goats or the people? Do the goats poop on the people or do the people poop on the goats?  It’s unclear.  Exactly who is deriving therapeutic benefit from the smell of the poop?  Again, unclear.

By the way, a big plus if you’re considering swapping out your dog for a goat is that once again, if you like to surf, chances are that your goat will too!

goat standing on surf board
Surfing goat sporting stolen organic Lululemon™ PFD

That brings our tally of creatures who like to surf up to three.  I’m sure there are more. So I’m going to do an experiment right now.  I’m going to bet that somewhere out there is a photo of some kind of Cryptid on a surfboard.  Then I’m going to see if I can find that photo.

Five minutes later…

I’m back!  Sure as Jack’s your uncle, there IS such a photo.  Like all Cryptid images, it’s kind of grainy and indistinct.  We’re not really sure what we’re seeing.

surfing crow
Grainy, indistinct photo of what might be Bigfoot catching a wave and silently mocking a kayaking Cryptozoologist in front of him

3) Cryptids:

There are probably dozens of Cryptids that would make great pets.  Assuming you could catch one.  Like this thing in the gutter right outside my office window.  I don’t have the first clue what it is.  Large Guinea Pig? Rabbit? Hell, it might even be a sandbag, for all I know.  It’s hard to say because the image is kind of grainy and indistinct.  Can it surf?  I don’t know.

rabbit on sidewalk
Possible Cryptid taking five in the gutter outside my office

 

I could go on about Cryptids but I won’t because then we might get sidetracked into other unsolved mysteries/possible conspiracies such as: Area 51, 9-11, why so many US state names start with the letter “M” and how more than twenty-five washable breast pads (also called nursing pads) could simply vanish out of a washing machine into thin air, leaving the other laundry items unscathed.

A lot of these mysteries are completely ridiculous, yet some of them are strangely compelling.  When I googled “breast pads vanishing from washing machine” I found a UK site with inputs from other people with the same issue! There’s just nothing new under the sun, apparently.

Meanwhile, keep your dog.  Just go buy some more towels.  And pick up some more breast pads while you’re at it, in case you followed my suggestion to grow a toddler.  I found some excellent ones.  They’re made from organic materials including bamboo.  Guess what?  They’re called Bamboobies!  And the company that makes them is called Bamboobies!

This world truly is a weird and wonderful place.  And the Bamboobies logo is equally wonderful:

logo

this a picture of two bamboobies breast pads

Bamboobies also make yoga nursing bras.  I’m not kidding. They do.

I’ll bet the goats will love them.

Next column: The Worst Sound In The World.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cryptozoology Part I: Should You Trade In Your Dog For Something Else?

Here in Calgary it’s June, as is the case in many other parts of North America.  Calgary gets most of its rain in May and June, and consequently these are the months when I confront my annual issue, which is:  wet fur.  My dog Mickey has long fur and every time we go out in the rain, it gets wet.  No surprise there.  But it takes awhile to towel him off when we come back. Time is a precious commodity, so every June I always have to revisit my whole approach to wet dogs in general, and Mickey in particular.

From where Mickey sits, the toweling-off ritual is a great thing, because I take the towel in both hands and quickly swaddle his head in it so he can’t see anything.  (Except towel.)  He pretends to get all ferocious and will chew on the towel, growl at it menacingly and occasionally start barking enthusiastically until my wife says: “What the heck are you doing to that dog?  Whatever it is, cut it out!”

I guess I could just stop getting him all worked up when I dry him off, but he really likes the routine: it’s the highlight of my day.  Oops!  I meant his day.

I’ve been down the raincoat and booties road as well.  Mickey doesn’t mind it and the cats are OK with it too.  One or maybe both of them (the cats) will usually come to inspect the proceedings before we set off.

border collie cross wearing coat and booties
Patches, giving Mickey a pre-walk inspection, paying special attention to his nether regions for reasons known only to her.

But truth be told, it takes as long to get Mickey dressed in foul weather gear as it does to towel him off if he goes out au natural.  So realistically I only have a few options for dealing with this wet fur conundrum:

1) Scotchgard™

2) Trade Mickey for a dog with shorter, water-repellent fur.

3) Trade Mickey for a completely different species of animal.

Right away Scotchgard™ is off the table.  Everyone knows that it contains perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS).  Thank goodness the half-life of PFBS is just a little over a month.  Until 2003, Scotchgard™ contained perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) which has a half-life of 5.4 years.  So you only grow one extra eye with chronic PFBS exposure whereas with PFOS on board you will for sure grow an extra eye, plus a tail.  Last time I checked, Mickey had a full complement of eyes, and a tail.  So no PFBS for him.  Or PFOS for that matter.

Options 2 and 3 are not up for discussion either. I would never, ever give Mickey away, and this is why:

When we’re out walking, we occasionally encounter a three-year-old, so we stop to visit.  Three-year-olds are great because they will believe almost everything you tell them.  So I gravely tell them that at any given time there can only be seven Best Dogs In The Whole World, and that Mickey is one of those seven.  Their eyes usually go wide and they say: “Really?”  And every time I say that, my eyes go wide too.  Mickey totally is one of the seven Best Dogs In The Whole World, and I love him to pieces, even if he does mercilessly eviscerate every new toy that comes his way, to get at the squeaker.

dog proudly guarding a squeaker from a squeaky toy
Newly-extracted squeaker being guarded by one of the Seven Best Dogs In The Whole World

But Squeakers aside, I just realized that I haven’t actually addressed the question comprising part of the header for this blog: Should you trade in your dog for something else?  As far as I’m concerned you absolutely should, if you’re so inclined.  After all, it’s your dog, not mine.  My dog is staying put, wet fur, eviscerated squeaky toys and all.

eviscerated dog toys
You know who you are and you know what you did.

If you have your heart set on a trade though, I have some candidate animals in mind.  So this brings us to the other part of the header for this blog: Cryptozoology Part I.

Cryptozoology is “the scientific study of unknown animals about which only circumstantial, or at best insufficient, material evidence is available” according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.

These unknown animals aren’t completely unknown though.  If they were completely unknown, we wouldn’t be studying them because we wouldn’t know about them.  Right?  So let’s just say that cryptozoology  is the study of “Cryptids” or critters that might exist, but we don’t yet have sufficient proof.

So maybe you should put Cryptids on your list of candidate animals.

Cryptids include things like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, The Toronto Tunnel Monster, The Mongolian Death Worm and any elected official appearing three days in succession within a 500-metre radius of the House of Commons.

20130204tunnelmonster

Unfortunately, most of the evidence for the existence of Cryptids consists of eyewitness testimonials, tufts of hair, toenail clippings, pocket fluff, grainy/blurry still photos, and short, grainy, blurry video clips.  But if you succeed in nabbing one, and take it home for a pet, you will likely become very famous.  (Keep your day job though.)

Below is a classic example of a Cryptid photo, capturing the mysterious Floating Red Oval of Mischief which has been spotted throughout the swamplands of Florida pretty much since Walt Disney was in diapers.

supposed cryptid photo

Actually, I lied.  That red oval is actually a red herring (!) and is just there to highlight the indistinct blob in the background.  The indistinct blob could be anything including tree stumps, a large man wearing a deep-sea diving helmet talking to a shorter man with his back to the camera wearing an ill-fitting grey jacket, and a fossilized Member of Parliament.

Clearly, the life of a Cryptozoologist is full of uncertainty.  And frustration.  And bad photographs.

I’m no Cryptozoologist but I do have some very interesting photos and video of my own to show you. They’re going to have to wait though.  It’s getting dark and I need to take Mickey for a walk.  I hear that the Long-Snouted Nocturnal Sloth Badger of Royal Oak may be on the prowl tonight.

Next column: If You Were Going To Trade Your Dog In For Something Else, What Are Your Options?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robots vs Sweden

An article ran in the New York Times a few weeks ago about some researchers in Singapore who set out to build a robot that could conquer “one of the hardest human tasks”.  Part of the article headline won’t be a surprise to you since I already told you the general idea.  But the other part of the headline was a surprise to me.  Maybe I should just quit dissembling though and reveal the headline:

Robot Conquers One of the Hardest Human Tasks: Assembling IKEA Furniture

I wasn’t too sure who thought that assembling IKEA furniture was one of humanities hardest tasks: the New York Times, or the researchers in Singapore.  I know there are lots of people who aren’t crazy about assembling IKEA furniture, but I don’t think it’s very high on the list of challenging tasks for humans, so I forged ahead and did my own survey of ten people chosen at random, asking them what they thought the hardest human task was.  These are the answers I got:

1) Building a  stargate

painting of a stargate

2) Repairing a space telescope

astronauts repairing the Hubble telescope

3) Underwater welding

two divers welding a pipe underwater
Divers on another planet, welding a submerged stargate on a May 24th long weekend and earning serious overtime pay

4) Climbing a mountain in the nude.

naked man standing on snow-covered mountain

5) Unicycling down a mountain: maybe the same one you just climbed in the nude.

6) Teaching a cat to read music AND play piano

cat playing piano
Cat attempting to learn the song “Memory” from “Cats” Broadway musical

7) Toilet training a cat

cat perched on toilet seat

8) Training two cats to use the toilet simultaneously

two cats using the toilet simultaneously

9) Training a cat to plunge a toilet

cat holding a toilet plunger
Apprentice toilet-plunging cat

10) Trying to understand what would possess a cat to insert itself into a paper tube

cat wrapped in a paper tube
Cat trying to be inconspicuous until its owners go to bed so it can pilfer sausages accidentally left out on the counter

I don’t know what’s up with all these cat responses.  Somehow I guess I just randomly encountered an inordinate number of people who happen to like cats.  I don’t blame these people one iota.  Cats are hilarious.  Maybe I asked the wrong people.  I dunno.  In my defense, I was in a pet store at the time.  But I also want to point out the distinct lack of people in my survey who said anything about IKEA furniture.

Anyway, for whatever reason, these researchers over in Singapore decided to build a robot that could assemble a piece of IKEA furniture, specifically the STEFAN chair, reasoning that this would use many human skills such as: planning, reading instructions, ignoring instructions, subsequently messing around for thirty minutes until your wife says “Just read the damned instructions would you?”, overdriving the fasteners and damaging the furniture pieces, swearing, and throwing the pieces around or possibly throwing something else such as a unicycle.

Actually, the group in Singapore are not the first group to construct a robot that can assemble IKEA furniture.  Back in 2013, a team at MIT built an “IKEAbot” that was able to assemble the LACK table.  Note that the LACK table is so-named because it lacks complexity: it has only five pieces.  Four of them are screw-in legs.  A baby hamster could assemble a LACK table.  Or maybe a baby octopus.

This reminds me.  Did you ever wonder how they name IKEA furniture?  I did.  I even wrote about it back in 1989, in my first year of Med School.  It was in the class newspaper: The Chronic Enquirer.  I think it was one of the first humor columns I ever wrote.  (I use the archaic term “humor column” because blogs hadn’t been invented yet.  Remember that the World Wide Web had just come out of Labour and Delivery in 1989.)

I probably should have quit while I was ahead.  But I didn’t.

Therefore, here’s that column, inside jokes and all:

secrets of the swedish furniture industry

secrets of the swedish furniture industry Part II

secrets of the swedish furniture industry Part III

Star Wars characters holding IKEA moose at gunpoint
Typical good, clean, Swedish shenanigans at IKEA furniture-naming fest: October 28, 1988

 

Grand Unified Theory of Dance Competition Medals

Shortly after they colonized Earth and devised the Theory Of How To Sort Laundry Without Anyone You Happen To Be Married To Getting On Your Case, Quantum Physicists busily set about trying to devise a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) which would merge the electromagnetic, weak and strong interactions into one single force.  The notion behind this was that if the GUT could then be coupled with the gravitational interaction (aka gravity), this would  produce a Theory Of Everything or TOE for short.  These two acronyms could then be rearranged into another acronym: GET OUT, as in: “Get Outta this galaxy!  That is one badass theory.”

richard feynman standing in front of a blackboard
Quantum Physicist Richard Feynman with a somewhat different haircut than the one he had in the photo on his Los Alamos ID card

But decades later, the TOE still eludes them.

What happened?  Well unfortunately, along with a large number of regular human beings, the Quantum Physicists got sidetracked once their kids started taking dance classes.

Anybody whose has kids in dance knows that it’s a cutthroat and hectic business come competition season.  Your kid might be in as many as six different dance competitions throughout the months of April, May and possibly part of June.  And if you have more than one kid in dance, the complexity of driving them all over the place and watching all the various dance numbers rapidly becomes overwhelming.  Even to Quantum Physicists.

densely packed handwritten quantum physics equations
Typical logistics planning for dance competition season

Then there are the awards.  Each competition seems to have a different hierarchy of medals that are handed out.  To save time, I’m just going to focus on the medals for the highest awards.  In one competition, first place would be a Gold medal.  Makes sense, right?  Gold was probably good enough for the Greeks when the Olympic Games started 2,784 years ago.  And it’s still used for first place in today’s Olympics.

picture of a gold medal for a dance competition award hanging on a ribbon

But in another competition, the highest award might be Platinum.  And in yet another one, Titanium is the highest award.  It’s so confusing, especially when you start looking  at the Periodic Table.

colorful periodic table

Recall that the Periodic Table organizes the elements into rows and columns according to the structure and size of the atoms.  The atomic number reflects the size of the nucleus: bigger atomic number, bigger nucleus.  Simple, right?  So there’s no way that Titanium, coming in way down at atomic number 22,  should take precedence over Platinum (atomic number 78) or Gold (atomic number 79).

That’s my point.  See how easily I got sucked in?  The same thing happened to the Quantum Physicists!  They spent too much time trying to figure out the transportation schedules for dance competition season.  And when they got done with that, they started trying to devise a Grand Unified Theory of Hierarchification of Dance Medals.  So they forgot all about the TOE.

But back to Titanium et al.  You can barely give Titanium away.  It sells for like $12/kg whereas you are going to fork over almost $30,000 for a kilo of Platinum and over $40,000 for a kilo of Gold.  So again, Titanium loses on atomic number AND price.  The only thing it really has going for it is corrosion resistance and a high strength-to-density ratio.  Big deal.

I feel like Titanium should be banished from the podium.  There are lots of other elements that could take its place, like Osmium (atomic number 76) and Iridium (atomic number 77).  They’re not making as much Osmium and Iridium as they used to, so as is the case for Platinum and Gold, you and your bank account will be parting ways to the tune of $35,000 to $45,000/kg if you want to score some Osmium and Iridium.  And don’t even get me started on Rhodium. Its price can spike up to several hundred thousand dollars per kilogram.  I swear on Warren Buffet’s money clip that I’m not making that up.

And there’s always good old Ununennium (aka Eka-Francium).  Ununennium, at atomic number 119, hangs out way, way up there in the Periodic Table, on the Island of Stability, where all the Chartered Accountants first settled when they came to Earth.  (The Quantum Physicists settled in LA.)  Trouble is, it costs several billion dollars per atom, so that would make for some pretty small medals.  Plus who can pronounce it?

Dance Competition Judge: “And the High Unending Award goes to…Sorry I mean High Unununennui Award…Whoops! There I go again!  The High Underwearennium Award…Crap!  One more time.  The High Ununennium Award for Lyrical Dance goes to entry number 187 for: Badass Theory!

Audience: Wild applause and odd biphasic hooting sounds.

Really, at the end of the day, most metals (including Silver!) look similar: silvery, greyish or greyish-blue.

stack of titanium rods
Titanium rods

 

crystals of platinum metal
Platinum crystals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

beautiful osmium crystal formation
Weird-looking thing made of pure osmium

Even Theodore Gray, author of the best-selling book The Elements would admit that most of the metallic elements look alike.  I think he even says that somewhere, maybe page 123, but don’t quote me.

photo of the cover of Theodore Gray's book: THe Elements
Don’t get me wrong.  This is an excellent book.  If you’re into Chemistry.  Not that I’m biased

So maybe I’m overthinking this whole thing.  Maybe no one besides me cares how the blazes a dance competition chooses to name its medals.  The kids in dance work darned hard.  They deserve those awards no matter what they’re called.

The Quantum Physicists need to get back to work devising a TOE.  I obviously need to get a life. And I will, as soon as I check whether hierarchification is even a word.  I feel like it should be.

Next column: Robot successfully performs one of the hardest human tasks

 

 

 

Bird Brains

In the last few years I’ve noticed that there is no originality in journalism any more.  At least in the magazines that I poke my nose into.  Yes, I still read words printed on paper, bound into booklets called magazines.  These magazines are mailed to me every month or so. Unless someone scoffs them before they make their way into my mailbox.  Which happens occasionally.  A lack of integrity among mail carriers has developed in parallel with a lack of journalistic originality.  We live in a troublesome age.

I read Popular Science, Scientific American and National Geographic.  Back in the 80’s I would dread the arrival of Scientific American, because it was approximately an inch thick and it would take me about two weeks to read one issue. Now most of the articles are no longer than three or four pages, and many of them have a distinct political slant.

I’m trying to figure out why National Geographic is still called National Geographic.  It used to be about an inch thick and had lots of maps in it.  And pictures of people, roads, buildings, animals, fish and birds.  Now it’s a lot harder to see the connection to Geography in some of the articles, and many of them have a distinct political slant.

I guess you could say I’m disillusioned with both Scientific American and National Geographic.  Or maybe disappointed.

On the other hand,  I’m not disillusioned or disappointed with Popular Science.  So I’m stopping here briefly to wonder if instead I could say that I’m illusioned or appointed with Popular Science.  Probably not.  English can be tricky that way.

I think I’ll just say I’m pretty stoked on Popular Science.  For starters, it was never an inch thick.  And many of the articles have to do with things that a) go really fast b) look super-complicated c) might involve serious amounts of electricity or d) are just generally dangerous to play with.

Anyway, getting back to the lack of originality in journalism, I’ve noticed that if one of the three magazines I just mentioned, such as National Geographic, was to run an article about a topic such as why the hierarchy of medals handed out in dance competitions doesn’t make any sense from a Chemistry standpoint, then sure as shootin’ that same topic will be covered a month or two later in one or both of the other two magazines I just mentioned.

picture of a gold medal for a dance competition award hanging on a ribbon
Dance competition medal

I don’t have the space here to get into this whole dance medal hierarchy/Chemistry thing because I really want to talk about Ornithology, and in particular I want to talk about the intelligence of birds.

giggling man with large parrot perched on his shoulder
Ornithologist (left) looking quite pleased with career choice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birds are smart.

Take your basic pigeons for example.  If a pigeon runs across one of those fake plastic owls it will figure out in pretty short order that that owl is bogus.  Meanwhile you shelled out how much for thing. $29.95?  No bird would pay $29.95 for a sham owl. That’s for sure.

And what about this? Just recently I was musing out loud about Normal versus Lognormal statistical distributions and my parrot suddenly chimed in:

Parrot: “No. Remember that the standard deviation is MULTIPLICATIVE in Lognormal distributions and ADDITIVE in Normal distributions.”

Me: “Shit!  You’re right.  What was I thinking?”

Parrot: “I dunno.  May I have another cracker?”

Me: “Yes, if you can answer this riddle:  What did the mathematician say when he lost his parrot?”

Parrot: “Polygon.”

See what I mean?  That is one smart bird.

I probably made that whole conversation up.  I don’t actually have a parrot, but I do have a dog and two cats.  None of them can talk.  And at this point, if I got a parrot to talk to, the thing would likely outlive me. But I’m getting off topic here.

My point is that bird brains are getting lots of air time lately.  Earlier this year, both National Geographic AND Popular Science ran articles discussing the intelligence of birds.  Coincidence?  I think not.  This is a perfect example of the current lack of originality in journalism.  You thought I was kidding.  And bloggers are even worse because they just pick up the stuff that the magazines are copying from each other and replay that to their followers.  All fifty-six of them.

The February 2018 National Geographic article entitled: “Think ‘Birdbrain’ Is an Insult? Think Again”  had all kinds of great stuff in it though, including a tool-making cockatoo named Figaro and another expert puzzle-solving cockatoo named Muppet, who was described as ” a little, focused engineer”.  (If I ever get another pet I think I will name it Muppet.  Even if it’s an iguana or worse yet, a Komodo Dragon.)

There was also mention of some crows in Seattle who began bringing dozens of trinkets to an 8-year old girl and her brother after they started laying out crow snacks (in the form of dog kibble) in their back yard.  The trinkets included Lego pieces, tiny gears, lightbulbs, a tiny Waldo (maybe he’s in the photo below, maybe not), a tube of Crazy Glue, the rubbery insert that I lost from one of my earbuds last year, a discarded intracardiac pacemaker electrode,  a small plastic squid (not shown) and a Wenger 16999 knife (also not shown).  Note that the crows had to team up to bestow the Wenger, as it weighs approximately seven pounds.

cockatoo nibbling on a piece of cardboard in order to make a tool
Cockatoo constructing primitive slide rule
trinkets brought as gifts by crows
Trinkets bestowed on two children in Seattle by a bunch of crows who are partial to dog kibble

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if that wasn’t enough, Popular Science followed suit by devoting their entire Spring 2018 issue to intelligence of all sorts: human, animal, robot, car and sentient public washrooms.  The cover featured a crow that was reputed to be smarter than your 5th grader. On page 104 of that issue, I also learned that crows and maybe corvids in general  hold funerals for their departed.

With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe: Quoth the raven:”Nevermore” !

picture of a crow hoilding a pencil in its beak
Crow gloating after finishing the SAT in three hours and twenty-seven minutes

This is really great and all, but the best thing I ran across pertaining to birds is some recent research that has determined that birds can see the magnetic field of the Earth.  This may be due to special proteins in their retina called cryptochromes.  Cryptochrome comes from the Greek meaning “special protein in the retina”.

With the help of cryptochromes, magnetic fields are visible to the birds in the presence of certain wavelengths of blue light.  This is due to Quantum Coherence, which may occur whenever a quantum physicist utters a coherent sentence understandable by normal human beings including, but not limited to, Ornithologists.  But Quantum Coherence also occurs whenever wave functions “cohere” or have the same phase.

Here is what some theoretical and computational biophysicists think the sky might look like to migrating birds, thanks to Quantum Coherence:

road sign pointing to Reykjavik

I’m kidding.  This is actually what the biophysicists think the sky might look like to migrating birds, especially owls:

 

hooters written in skywriting

No. I’m kidding again.

Seriously, I am really and for true about to show you a picture of what the biophysicists think that birds might see.  But first I have to swear on this real picture from the Los Alamos ID badge of iconic quantum physicist and super-genius Richard “Dick” Feynman, that I’m not going to show you another fake picture.

picture of the Los Alamos ID badge of quantum physicist Richard "Dick" Feynman
Richard Feynman as a youth, smirking after he finished the SAT in 23 minutes and 12 seconds

Here we go with the real picture.  The top series of images somehow represent magnetic fields and the bottom series is the superposition of the magnetic fields onto the bird’s field of vision:

magnetic fields superimposed on blue sky

All the bird has to do is keep itself oriented to the desired pattern of brightness.  Pretty amazing huh? What is even more amazing is that other creatures besides birds can detect magnetic fields.  Alert readers will recall that dogs exhibit a preference for facing north when they poop.  And some birds will also help dogs get their “bathroom bearings”:

parakeet sitting on nose of golden Labrador Retriever
Parakeet whispering to dog: “The bathroom is over there to your right.”

We may not understand them, but we should take our hats off to all the Quantum Physicists of this world, and also to the ones on the Home World of Quantum Physicists.

Better living through Quantum Coherence!

Next column: Robot successfully performs one of the hardest human tasks

 

 

 

Tips For Traveling Solo

According to authoritative sources like Solo Traveler and HuffPost, more people are choosing to travel solo these days. Common reasons cited for choosing this vacation option include: a need for breathing room, an urge to: “do what I want to do when I want to do it” , a need to seek challenges/gain confidence, to recharge, to avoid having to wait for anyone, to “get the hell away from my spouse before I wring their ever-loving neck”,  and last but not least, as a retaliatory spending strategy.

Say you come home and your spouse says, “Honey, you’ll never guess what I bought today!  Cover your eyes.”  You dutifully cover your eyes and are led out to the driveway where you behold the following:

63turbinb

 

Yes!  You guessed it!  A new car!  But not just any car.  This is a 1964 Chrysler turbine car!  Those things that look like laser cannons poking out of the business end are actually the turbine exhaust ports.  Neat huh? This car has a lot going for it.

  1. It sounds sort of like a jet engine revving up.
  2. Although it was designed to burn diesel fuel, it can burn pretty much any flammable liquid including kerosene, jet fuel, peanut oil, tequila and Chanel No. 5.  (I swear on the proboscis of an elephant seal that I am not making up the bit about Chanel No. 5.)

Elephant Seals

3. Jay Leno owns one.  (A Chrysler turbine car, not an elephant seal.)  In addition to his massive lower jaw, Jay has an equally massive collection of expensive vehicles.  He bought his turbine car directly from Chrysler and paid $415,000 for it.

These cars never really took off (!) as a mainstream product because other drivers kept gawking at them, saying to themselves “What in tarnation is that?” and then plowing into things like other cars and trees.  Turbine cars would have wound up costing about four times more than a regular car, and you could never get the Chanel No. 5/peanut oil smell out of the upholstery.  Long story short, Chrysler only made 55 of these cars, and destroyed most of them.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah,  so in retaliation for your spouse’s financial indiscretion, you think to yourself: “Heck, if he just spent all that money on that stupid turbine car, I’m going to retaliate by taking a solo trip to check out some of those Lost City alkaline hydrothermal vents that lots of people are talking about these days.”

alkaline vents

theenergeticThese plumes of hot, alkaline, mineral-rich water which can generate and concentrate a wide variety of small organic molecules, may just happen to be the places where life originated, according to a book by Nick Lane:

21SciBook-facebookJumbo

If you happen to like geology, electrochemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics physics and saw-whet owls, this is the book for you.  (Actually I threw in the saw-whet owls just to see if you were paying attention.  As far as I know, saw-whet owls do not get any airtime in Mr. Lane’s book.)  Seriously though, this is an amazing book.  I’m not kidding.  Really.  I’m not.

But a trip to check out the vents is definitely an excellent retaliatory spending choice since you will need something like the Ocean Pearl, a nifty little $2.5 million-dollar two-person submersible for the trip.  (The vents in question are typically located on the seafloor in about 2500 to 3000 feet of water.)

small-submarine-manufacturer-5
An Ocean Pearl sitting in Jay Leno’s garage.

Another great retaliatory spending idea is a trip to that Island of Stability that lots of other people are talking about.  (I mean the people other than the people who are fixated on the alkaline hydrothermal vents.  In case you were wondering.)

island.jpg
This is not The Island of Stability.  This is The Island of Only Being Able To Take Your Dog For Really Short Walks And From His Perspective Both You And He Would Probably Have Been Better Off If You Had Chosen An Elephant Seal As A Pet, Instead Of Him. But You’re Stuck Here Now So Make The Most Of It.

There’s one hitch:  The Island of Stability is not a real island.  It’s a theoretical region of the Periodic Table.  As you recall from Grade 9 Science, the Periodic Table arranges all the elements according to their properties and the sizes of their atoms.  As the atoms get bigger, they get more unstable, emit radiation and tend to be used for assassinations, smoke detectors and nuclear weapons. 

Physics theory predicts that as the atom size continues to increase we will eventually stagger into a region of really big atoms that are once again stable.  If you have nothing better to do, you can see where The Island of Stability is if you plot the number of protons in the nucleus vs the number of neutrons in the nucleus, like so:

graph

The elements made from the atoms that lurk up in the top right corner of the plot are called superheavy elements and they might have weird and wonderful properties.  For example, they might go on diets all the time.  Science-based thrillers might even be written about them. Who knows?

Theicelimit-book
This book might be about a meteor whose surface is made of a superheavy element.

But one of the things we know for sure about the superheavy elements is that they will cost  millions and maybe billions of dollars to make, because you will need a particle accelerator.  So if you go down this road, it will be one expensive trip, solo or not.

Particle accelerators use massive amounts of electricity and nobody is giving that away these days, but to run a really powerful accelerator you also need to take out extremely expensive insurance against the possibility that you might accidentally create a tiny black hole that could expand and swallow the entire Earth.  As you can imagine, this would be very bad.  And costly to repair.  And who would be the beneficiary?  You thought your car insurance premium was bad.  Try insuring a planet.

Here are some other potential properties of superheavy elements that some people have suggested:

1) The elements 113 and 114 mark the beginning of the 7p elements. Because of large relativistic spin–orbit effects on the 7p orbitals, these metals are expected to be more volatile than their lighter homologues.

2) Sg (element 106) is expected to be very refractory in the elemental state but should form volatile halides, oxide halides, oxide hydroxides and carbonyls.

3) Element 113 might give off a weird odor such as Chanel No.122.  Or burning pepper.  Or maybe cooked asparagus.

4) Element 118 is expected to avoid eye contact, and appear vaguely shifty at all times.  It may be able to demagnetize the stripes on your plastic at distances of 10 metres or more.  Do not even think about dating this element.  Or worse yet, marrying it.



Well, at this point it’s abundantly clear that there are lots of exciting possibilities for solo vacations.  So plan that trip now.  The sky’s the limit, and you don’t have to answer to anyone.

A couple of helpful closing tips:

Helpful Closing Tip #1: Do not, and I repeat, do not drink unfiltered water from rivers, lakes, ponds and ditches on your trip.  Otherwise you might end up with laryngeal hirudiniasis.  Laryngeal hirudiniasis is easily mistaken for asthma due to progressively worsening coughing and wheezing.  Laryngeal hirudiniasis is also known as “having a live leech fastened to some part of your airway.”  WARNING: YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO UNSEE THE FOLLOWING IMAGES.  DON’T LOOK.  I MEAN IT.

thoraxjnl-2017-211394-F1.large[1]
Lee P, et al. All that wheezes is not asthma. Thorax 2018;0:1. doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2017-211394
You looked.  I knew you would.  To make you feel better though, I’m reproducing some tweets from a site that posted the images from the paper:

-So was it the leech that had asthma?

-Everyone should have a pet.

-BRB.  Vomiting.

 

Helpful Closing Tip #2: Try not to overpack.  You’ll regret it.  Even if your backpack was only $49.95 at Hammacher Schlemmer. (Motto: We know lots of great chiropractors!)

backpack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Testicle Navigators

Many times over the years I have asked myself the following question and I’ll bet you have too:

“How in the heck did the ancient Polynesians manage to leave their idyllic villages and navigate their rafts thousands of miles over the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii without the benefit of modern conveniences such as Waze, Google Maps and so forth?”

You don’t have to answer, but I can assure you that you’re not alone in your puzzlement.  Thousands of scholars have devoted their entire careers to researching that exact same question!  And thousands of other scholars have devoted their entire careers to researching what exactly the ancient Polynesians did when they got to Hawaii.  (Well maybe not thousands of scholars in each case, but quite a few, for sure.)

One popular theory maintains that they had to leave their idyllic villages and sail thousands of miles to Hawaii in order to get flu shots.

p1020524
Primitive Hawaiian flu vaccination clinic

 

This seems highly unlikely.

But we do have a much better grip on how these people got around their neighborhood, large as it was.  To navigate, they used all their senses, observing the wind, the birds, the driftwood, smelling and tasting the ocean, touching it to gauge its temperature, watching the stars and clouds, noting the interference patterns on the ocean surface.  And finally, employing their senses of proprioception AND touch, they also used their testicles.

I swear on the PhD thesis of prominent testicle researcher Timothy Ratliff that I am not making this up.

Tim_Ratliff

I also happen to think that The Testicle Navigators would make a pretty righteous name for a band.  Maybe even more righteous than The Gravity Waves which is my other idea for a righteous band name.

Anywaze, don’t take my word for it.  A chap by the name of David Barrie wrote a book on navigation entitled Sextant and on page 264 in Sextant he says:

sextant.jpg

“The traditional navigators of Oceania made up for their inability to measure longitude by taking advantage of the distinctive patterns of waves and swells, which revealed to them the presence and the direction of land long before it was visible.  When the horizon was obscured and its changing slant could not tell them how their boat was responding to the waves, they apparently stood with their legs apart, using the inertia of their testicles as a guide.”

pose
This may be a photo depicting the traditional stance of a testicle navigator.  Or it just may a picture of an older dude in a yoga pose.

I know that your minds are literally whirring at this point, but I want to stop you and point out that as far as I know, David Barrie is NOT related to humorist Dave Barry.  But he (David Barrie) IS the great great nephew of Sir James Matthew Barrie, the author of Peter Pan.

If you don’t believe David Barrie, you can turn to his source David Lewis, who wrote a book called “Those Twins Were Made For Swingin’ .”

Actually, I’m lying.  The title of his book is actually “We, the Navigators The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific.”

David Lewis

If you don’t believe Barrie or Lewis you can also turn to Harriet Witt, writing for The Whole Earth Review Fall 1991 in an article entitled “The Soft, Warm, Wet Technology of Native Oceania.”

Witt says this:

“To get a feeling for what the wayfinder is doing all this time with his testicles (ed. note: besides scratching them), it helps to understand ocean swells. These enormous formations are powered by distant storms and steady trade winds and shouldn’t be confused with surface waves which change direction as the local wind shifts. Swells march in consistent ranks across thousands of miles. The swell entertaining surfers in Honolulu is generated by winds south of New Zealand. If you can read the shape of a swell you can tell the direction and strength of the current beneath it, and this is critical because if you don’t know what the current is doing you can steer a perfect course and still get lost. The wayfinder reads the swell by sitting cross-legged and nearly naked on the bottom of his all-vegetable-matter canoe and feeling it in his testicles.”

No matter what, one thing is clear.  Whether their owners sat or stood, the testicles have been playing a key role in ocean navigation for a long time-at least until the invention of Saxx.

saxxBut what about sharks?  Did these well-hung navigators have any means of protecting their most personal private areas from shark attacks in the event of misreading a swell, losing their balance and tumbling overboard?

sharksuit

 

 

Yes they did!

Once again, Hammacher Schlemmer comes to the rescue. (Motto: Protecting Testicle Navigators From Shark Attacks For Quite A Long Time)

I quote:

“Only available from Hammacher Schlemmer, this is the sharkproof stainless steel chainmail suit that has protected testicle navigators head-to-toe since approximately 100 AD. The suit’s sleeves are worn beneath the tunic to provide two layers of armor from the elbow to the upper torso while the crotch incorporates a “trap door” design that allows freedom of movement for any or all navigational aids. The tunic’s extended length and front-split bottom is worn under the pants to provide double coverage from the knees to the waist. The pants’ built-in stainless steel belt sleeve extends the entire circumference of the waist for evenly distributed weight support, allowing one to wear the suit with or without the included military-grade jockstrap. Worn under the pants, the booties secure the feet with hook-and-loop fasteners that enable quick removal for secure footing even in the thickest bed of vegetable matter including coconut husks. The hood provides protection from frigate bird droppings for the head and neck.”

I had no idea.

Well, this column is winding to a close and and so is winter (hopefully).  I could finish with a string of really great testicle puns here but a guy by the name of Jesse Bering already did that in a Scientific American blog: Why do human testicles hang like that?

But listen.  it’s still not too late to get your flu shot.  I hear flights to Hawaii are on sale this week but even if they all sell out you could always take the raft.

1200px-Kon-Tiki
Thor Heyerdahl aboard Kon-Tiki, seeking a “destination vaccination”