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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?

A number of concerns…

The guy in the featured image is not me.  Let’s get that straight right now. I don’t know who that guy is, but he looks worried.  He could be worried about facial tics but probably not.  Maybe he’s worried about his tie.  I don’t know.  More likely, if he’s from Earth, he could be worried about Smart Appliances.  If he’s not worried about Smart Appliances, he probably should be.

Smart refrigerator thinking about ordering way more Unagi than you probably need

This refrigerator has an IP address.  It’s probably smarter than you.  And it’s probably best friends with Alexa. (Editor’s note: “Alexa” is a link to another LTD blog which deals with Alexa.  You should check it out.  P.S. LTD stands for Lateral Thinking Department.)

Anyways, this refrigerator allows you to share photos and calendars with the rest of your family.  It also has three built-in cameras that take pictures of the goings-on inside of itself.  And it mirrors your TV.  It can probably keep track of exactly what foods are in there and when you’re running low on vitally important items like hot sauce and maybe Unagi (Japanese for eel).  It’s probably  in direct communication with your sock drawer.  Or maybe your toilets.  Or both. And your car.  Anything is possible these days, not that I’m a Luddite or anything.

I just worry about all this connectivity.  I also wish it would quit raining here in Calgary.

A great idea just occurred to me!  Why don’t we just TALK to our families/members of our households instead of putting photos and calendars on the fridge?  My son, for example, will often text us when he is inside the house.  Why doesn’t he just surface from his lair/bedroom and talk to us in person?  Or at least yell from upstairs: “Mom/Dad. I’m hungry! How do I find food?” I’m worried that in the future we will communicate mostly with our thumbs instead of our larynxes.

I’m also worried about the future of our hippocampi.

Our hippocampi reside in our brain.  There’s one for the left side and one for the right. Like bookends.  Sort of.  They’re shaped like little seahorses.  Among other things, they (the hippocampi) concern themselves with long term memory, keeping track of eel recipes and making mental maps of things like the streets of London, England.  (If you happen to be a British cab driver.)

nattily-attired British cabbie
British cabbie displaying zero concern for his excellent tie

Apparently British cabbies have impressively-large hippocampi due to their need to construct large mental maps of the complex, tortured streets of London.  Now British cabbies aside, your hippocampi would probably make a mental map of what’s in your fridge if you just let them.  Your  brain probably isn’t making any mental roadmaps, that’s for sure.  You already outsourced that task to the nav system in your car.  That’s my point.  If we outsource all this stuff to our smart devices, our hippocampi will probably shrivel to the size of dessicated baby seahorses.  And who wants dessicated baby seahorses in their brain?

Baby seahorse wondering how it will find food

All I’m saying is that if you don’t use it, you lose it.  And I’m worried about this.  (I also don’t want the fridge telling Alexa to order things like hot sauce.  And shinguards.  Even if I don’t have any shinguards in my fridge.  Yet. (Editor’s note: “shinguards” is a link to another LTD blog which deals with the hazards of trimming the edges of your lawn.)

Plus, what’s going on in my fridge that I don’t know about?  Nothing I hope.  Why do I need pictures of the inside of my refrigerator??

None of this food is ambulatory, as far as I know.  Or sentient.  And as my Dad always used to say, “If you look for trouble hard enough, you’ll find it.”  I have enough to worry about already.  Now if I put a live octopus in my fridge, that’s an entirely different matter.  (Editor’s note: “octopus” is a link to another LTD blog about the intelligence of octopi.)

If there was a live octopus in my fridge I would want to for sure keep an eye on it.  Otherwise, next thing you know a truck would pull up on the driveway bearing $8,000 worth of saltwater aquarium equipment.  And a case of shinguards.  Just in case I’m planning to trim the edges of my lawn.  Which I will do-if it ever stops raining.

Maybe that’s what that worried-looking guy is pondering: the weather.  If he’s from Earth, then he should be worried about the weather.  Things are warming up.  That means more energy in the atmosphere.  Which means more storms, more lightning, more floods, more heat waves, more fires, more hail, more coral bleaching, eel shortgages, etc.

But if he’s NOT from Earth, he’s STILL worried about the weather, but now it’s a question of scope. Now we’re talking about things like massive solar flares, gravity waves, asteroid strikes and kilonovas.  I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again.  I think The Gravity Waves is a stellar (!) name for a band.

Novas result from the explosion of relatively small stars.  Supernovas result from the explosion of bigger stars.  Kilonovas arise from the collision of neutron stars.  When two neutron stars hook up, things get interesting.  We think that kilonovas generate jets of pure heavy metals (think gold, iridium, osmium, etc) barrelling along at close to the speed of light.  (Editor’s note: “heavy metals” is a link to another LTD blog which deals with dance competition medals and how they’re named.)

Now if we could intercept just a tiny bit of one of these jets I think it would be good for the National Deficit. But more likely, if one happened to be aimed directly at Earth it would make the Deathstar look like a pea-shooter.  Goodbye Earth.  Hello expanding cloud of ionized gas.

Kilonova emitting jets of expensive matter

But in all honesty, there’s not a whole heck of a lot we can do about the rest of the cosmos.  I have to worry about Mickey.  (Do I need to put another Editor’s Note in here?  I hope not.)  If it doesn’t stop raining soon though, I’m going to have to get Mickey some rain gear.  I’m getting tired of toweling him off three times a day.

Border Collie in raincoat
Mickey feeling a bit sheepish but also wondering if there is anything good to eat in the fridge.  Such as leftover eel.

Maybe I’ll see if there’s anything suitable at Hammacher Schlemmer. (Motto: We also sell Kilonova Survival Suits.  Not to mention a vast assortment of gadgets intended to deal with maladies affecting every part of your body including your appendix and possibly your hippocampi.)

Next blog:

A complete inventory of Hammacher Schlemmer gadgets intended to deal with maladies affecting every part of your body including your appendix and possibly your hippocampi.

appendix
Abandoned appendix turned into local police by Smart Refrigerator

Applied Math And Other Topics

Math has a bad reputation and people often say it has no application to everyday life.  I dispute this contention.  I had several bad days recently.  Math came in handy on one of them.

I was trimming the grass in my back yard recently with a string trimmer aka “Weedeater” aka edge trimmer when my mind suddenly wandered. (Quelle suprise.)  Next thing you know I had slashed my left lower extremity.

Left lower extremity after mind-wandering

After I finished hopping around and cursing, I went in and cleaned the wound.  Suddenly a thought occurred to me: “I’m an idiot.”  Then another thought occurred to me, that I could actually use this.  After all, every cloud has a silver lining.  Right?

I counted the slashes and there were ten of them.  I reasoned that in the time it took me to withdraw my leg from the crime scene, the trimmer had made ten rotations.  Then I recalled from the depths of my mind somewhere that the reaction time in situations like this is around 200-250 milliseconds.  Not that you care but a perfect example of this would be when you jerk your hand away from a hot object such as a lump of near-critical U235.  And by the way, you should be more worried about the hefty dose of radiation you would also pick up in that situation.  But that’s for another blog.

Anyway, I dug up an on-line visual stimulus reaction-time tester and tested myself.  It came up at 400 msec but per the site, you have to factor in the lag time introduced by your computer and the internet.  Still, that time was good enough to put me at age 29 according to their nomogram, even though I’m rapidly approaching age 61.  So I felt pretty good about that but I kept going.

Then I Googled (I guess that’s an official verb now) “average reaction time hot object” and it returned the reaction times for a variety of stimuli: visual, auditory, touch, dodging a falling 10-ton weight, etc.  I figured my string-trimmer episode fell into the touch stimulus category so I went for 150 milliseconds (0.15 seconds) for the time it took me to jerk away from the trimmer.

So now I was able to estimate that in the time it took me to react, the trimmer completed 10 revolutions in 0.15 seconds.  That’s 67 revolutions per second or about 4000 rpm.  That’s about where you would upshift in a ’99 Civic, not that you care.

Then I looked up the RPMs for a trimmer (don’t you just LOVE Google?) and lo and behold it ranges from 3000 RPM or so at idle to 10000 RPM at full bore.  I was running the trimmer above idle so I reckoned that my math was OK.  (I probably need to work on the whole “Safety First” concept though.)

You can try this at home but don’t say I told you to do it.  And maybe think about wearing shinguards when you trim your grass, and don’t remove the honkin’ big housing on your trimmer about two seconds after you get it out of the box, like I did.  Just bear in mind that if you leave that housing in place, you won’t be able to do precision trimming.  Everything has it’s price.

You might consider trimming your grass borders the old-fashioned way…

Another option to consider if you have lots of time on your hands and were born somewhere before 1960.

You could also say forget it and consider hiring someone to do your trimming as long as they bring their own equipment.

The other bad day I want to tell you about is the day that began when I walked my dog Mickey wearing the same T-shirt I had worn the day before and also the ratty old shorts I tore up when I tried to run my son off a luge course at Canada Olympic Park.

Anyway, when I got home from dog-walking I raced off to work and forgot to change.  No one at work noticed, if that tells you anything.  FYI, I did shower that morning before I donned my dog-walking outfit.

But it gets worse.  Later on that same day I found myself trying to open one of the doors to the lab by holding an orange plastic folder up to the scanner.  Nothing happened.  Then I realized I should have been using my swiper.

Kirlian photography of my fingertips adorning one side of my swiper.

Ooops!  Wrong side!  This is the other side:

Me and my lovely wife Jeanette. Jeanette is on the left.

There, that’s better.  Things went smoother after I got that sorted out.

Later that day I went to visit my son Drew, his wife Dominique and my grand-daughter Max.

Max thinking that a baby elephant would be handy to have around the house

Alexa features prominently in my son’s household.  You know who Alexa is.  She’s that helpful entity wired to Amazon.  Alexa listens to your conversations and will obey your every command.

Drew:  “Alexa, don’t listen to Max.  We don’t need a baby elephant.  Go to sleep.”

Alexa:  “OK Drew. Don’t worry that I might still be listening or anything.  Just saying.”

If she was real I think Alexa would look like this:

Alexa wearing advance neural interface and neck-skin tightener

Based on my earlier experiences that day and also recalling my misfortune with the edge trimmer, I started to think to myself how many ways things could go wrong if you let Alexa into your life.  Because after Drew told Alexa to go to sleep I immediately began thinking to myself: “What if she really only PRETENDS to go to sleep and continues to listen to everything that goes on?”  And also: “What if she can read minds?”

What could go wrong?

Lots of stuff.  For example, next thing you know a truck could be pulling up in your driveway dropping off a bunch of items Alexa happens to think you might need, such as shinguards, a baby elephant complete with several bales of hay or worse yet-two sub-critical chunks of U235 and a neutron source, complete with instructions:

WARNING: DO NOT SANDWICH THE NEUTRON SOURCE BETWEEN THE CHUNKS OF U235 AND CLAMP THE WHOLE SHOOTING MATCH IN A VISE.  THE BABY ELEPHANT WILL RAPIDLY BECOME THE LEAST OF YOUR CONCERNS…

Never trust anyone named Alexa.  Just saying.

Keep an eye on your RPMs.  And your shins.

The Half-Life of Girl Guide Cookies

I know, I know.  A lot is going through your mind right now as a result of reading the header for this blog.

The first thing you’re thinking to yourself is this: “The Half-Life Of Girl Guide Cookies?  That sounds like the title of a Literary Fiction novel to me.” The second thing that you’re thinking is: “What the heck IS literary fiction anyway?” The third thing you’re thinking is: “Why is the featured image for this blog a water molecule and not a picture of a couple of Girl Guide Cookies?”  The fourth thing you’re thinking is: “How does he know what I’m thinking?  Is he psychic?  Or what?” The fifth and last thing you’re thinking is: “What’s a half-life?”

All these concerns will be answered in due course.  Remember: patience is a virtue.

Here we go:

Your concern about “The Half-Life Of Girl Guide Cookies” sounding like the title for a Literary Fiction novel is well-founded.  Literary Fiction novels typically have somewhat cryptic, unusual titles and I think “The Half-Life Of Girl Guide Cookies” fits right in there.  See below for a short list of Literary Fiction novels:

The Shape Of Water

If, Then

All The Light We Cannot See Because We’re Wearing Super-Cool Designer Sunglasses

The Time Traveler’s Unpaid Parking Tickets

The Art Of House-Painting During A Polar Vortex 

Charlotte’s Web Of Deception

Res Ipsum Loquitur

The Florida Man Game

The Weasel Keeper’s Linen Closet

Moby Dick

You asked what the heck Literary Fiction was.  Good question!  For everyone who was asleep during English class-or whatever it’s called these days- Literary Fiction is “a term that came into common usage in the early 1960s… principally used to distinguish serious fiction (a work that claims to hold literary merit), from Genre Fiction and Popular Fiction”.

As well as having unusual – OK obscure – titles, the covers of Literary Fiction novels tend to be “arty”, and the stories tend to be more serious than other fiction.  The plots can be convoluted and slow-moving.  Literary Fiction is also said to offer a deeper look at the human experience which includes posting on social media 16 to 18 hours a day and sleeping 6 to 8 hours at night, plus/minus naps.  This is all just another way of saying that Literary Fiction can bore the crap out of you.  In fact, an entire pack of marauding rabid wolverines was once lulled to sleep in seconds flat by listening to the first few paragraphs of Moby Dick being read aloud by the Literary Critic for the Tuktoyaktuk Literary Review.

So that’s Literary Fiction in a nutshell.

What about the reason that the featured image has nothing to do with the title of this blog?  Well that’s kind of like what happens in Literary Fiction novels.  You sometimes don’t find out what the title of the book has to do with anything, until about page 324.  And the book only has 325 pages.  And sometimes you never find out.  This was typical of the Pythons.  If you happen to own the DVD collection of all the Monty Python TV episodes you know what I’m talking about.  More often than not, the skit titles had little or nothing to do with what the skit was actually about.  But this is what happens when you throw together a bunch of guys educated at places like Oxford and Cambridge.  They start reading Literary Fiction and getting all deep and obscure on you.

You still haven’t remembered what a half-life is!  I know this because I’m psychic.  A half-life is the time it takes for half of something to disappear, either by radioactive decay, a chemical change into something else, evaporation, theft by light-fingered Borrowers, sheer carelessness or possibly mouse-nibbling.

Now that we’re clear on all this, I’m going to open my own literary window into another common human experience: cookies.

One day, three boxes of Girl Guide Cookies appeared in the lunchroom where I work. (I know what you’re thinking here.  Yes, I actually work for a living.)  The cookies were a gift from a mysterious unnamed benefactor.  I’ll call her Tracy Marsden for the sake of argument.

Girl Guide aka Girl Scout cookies (chocolate on left)

I got to wondering how long it would take “Tracy’s” cookies to vanish.  So in the interests of Science, and also Literary Merit, I popped into the lunchroom periodically after the cookies showed up and took note of how many cookies were still there at each check point.  This is a graph of the number of cookies as a function of time:

You can see that the first thirty cookies de-materialized in about 70 minutes. So I guess you could say the half-life was 70 minutes.  But if that’s true then at the end of another 70 minutes there should have been about 15 cookies left.  After 210 minutes there would be 7.5 survivors huddled together.  And 3.25 cookies would still be standing after 280 minutes.  That didn’t happen: the remaining 30 cookies vamoosed in just another 78 minutes.  Clearly these cookies were not made of Thorium or worse yet, Polonium.  And there were no signs of Borrowers or mice.  There was something at play here much more powerful than radioactivity, Borrowing or mouse-nibbling.  I call it “furtive human guilt-snacking”.

I never saw anybody actually EAT a cookie, yet they ALL disappeared.  This tells me that for two and a half hours people were loitering around near the lunchroom until the coast was clear and then furtively swooping in to eat cookies when no one was watching.  This explains why the rate at which the cookies were disappearing increased after the first thirty cookies were engulfed: people started to panic.

This next graph is interesting:

It tells me that people have no strong preference for chocolate vs vanilla Girl Guide Cookies because both flavors disappeared at pretty much the same rate. This is maybe why each unopened box contains 10 chocolate and 10 vanilla cookies. But maybe I’m just over-thinking the problem here.  It wouldn’t be the first time and it probably won’t be the last.  I should probably just stick to building rule-based expert systems.

But this strange combination of cookies and rudimentary mathematics is making me hungry.  I’m thinking maybe there are some Cuban Lunches lying around here somewhere.  I think I’d better go eat them while nobody else is at home to watch me.  Don’t tell Clive.

Famous novelist, car collector, general man-about-town and cookie fanatic Clive Cussler

Next blog: Why we shouldn’t trust Alexa and probably also what the heck is the Florida Man Game?

 

 

 

 

What To Expect When You’re Expecting…A Polar Vortex

Like any good science journalist, I did some research for this blog which mostly included checking in with the good folks at The Department Of Large Rotating Masses of Frigid Air. They named it that, hoping that most of the people who wanted to know what a Polar Vortex was wouldn’t actually bother calling in because they would figure it out from the name and save themselves some trouble. That strategy didn’t always work:

“Hello, you are reaching on the Department of Large Rotating Masses Frigid Air. Should I be giving you the assistance?”

“Ummmm, yes. Can you tell me what a Polar Vortex is please?”

Yes! Very excellent! Polar Vortex is great name for rock band. Also is name for large rotating mass of frigid airs. Like toilet in sky, above Poles, but flushing air not water.

“Above Poland you mean?”

“No. Above Poles of Earth planet. The Vortex sometimes move down from North Pole or up from South Pole. People blame Trump. Vortex maybe stay put lots of months. This time maybe until 2020 US Presidential election. Or longer. Cause very cold weather: worse than Newfoundland or maybe even Siberia. Or Minnesota. Nobody in Winnipeg notice this. Maybe even cause Fifth Ice Age. Nobody know for sure. Also sometimes vortex is breaking in two pieces.”

“What happens then?”

“Nothing. Except maybe Climate Divorce lawyers make lots money.”

“Hmmmm. Well…Thank you… I guess.”

” Нет проблем .”

As I mentioned, the Vortexes come in a matched set, but you never hear much about the South Polar Vortex these days, or any other days for that matter. This is because the South Polar Vortex (SPV) stays put above Antarctica. Here’s why:

The nearest city, Ushuaia, is 700 miles away, at the bottom of Argentina, but there’s not a lot going on north of Ushuaia for another 1000 miles or so. And it’s a bit of a sea kayak trip from Antarctica to anywhere else: there’s at least three or four thousand miles of ocean to cross to get to either Australia or South Africa.

Australia is overrun with kangaroos these days and the people in South Africa are currently focused on Maye Musk CoverGirl commercials.

And if I missed anybody close to the South Pole they are probably too busy to care about massive atmospheric phenomena because they’re still obsessively watching Bradley Cooper and Stephani Germanotta sing “The Shallow” and posting comments like: “We’re talking about Rocket Raccoon and Lady Gaga here.”

Gagga and Cooper singing

My point is that it’s just not worth the South Polar Vortexe’s time to go walkabout, so it just stays put and sulks.

On the other hand, when the North Polar Vortex misbehaves-as it’s doing right now- half the population of the United States rush out in panic to buy new shovels, long underwear, cases of bottled water, Cuban Lunches, flamethrowers and copies of We Who Survived The Fifth Ice Age.

what happens if it starts snowing and doesn't stop?

The other half of the American population remain calm and find something else to do, such as decide to let their name stand for the 2020 US Presidential Election. NASA is even reporting that they have been receiving deep-space transmissions from alien beings inquiring about the possibility of emigrating to the United States in order to run for President. Trump is apparently talking about building a wall around the Earth to prevent this from happening.

I mentioned sea kayaking earlier. Speaking frankly here, there was a time when you wouldn’t catch me dead in a sea kayak anywhere in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. The Southern Ocean is infested with leopard seals and I was laboring under the misapprehension that they are voracious man-eating predators-on par with Great White Sharks and Komodo Dragons.

I was wrong. Turns out they’re inquisitive, friendly, rather large- OK, OK- huge sea mammals who just happen to look like terrifying prehistoric aquatic reptiles. For the most part, the leopard seals still haven’t figured out that humans are good to eat.

Yes, they will try to eat your camera, if you happen to be an underwater photographer, but so what? They will also try to teach you how to eat penguins if you hang around them long enough. It’s true. I swear on Jacques Cousteau’s favorite regulator that I’m not making this up.

Jacque Cousteau's favorite regulator
Jacques Cousteau, age 187, showing off his favorite regulator

Fearless wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen had this epic experience with a large female leopard seal:

“She started to bring me weak penguins, then dead penguins, then she showed me how to eat penguins. She would offer me partially consumed penguins.
She started to take penguins and actually push them into my camera. I think she thought the camera was my mouth, which is every photographer’s dream. This went on for four days. And then I think she realized that I was this useless predator in her ocean, probably going to starve to death and I think she became quite panicked… So, here I came to Antarctica, to photograph this potentially vicious animal, to have this predator, this top predator in Antarctica, take care of me, and nurture me, and feed me for four days straight.”

I don’t think that every photographer dreams that his or her camera is his or her mouth. I must have misread that sentence. I think Mr. Nicklen meant that every photographer dreams of discovering that animals which look like they could eat your head in one gulp actually just want to feed you penguins. Repeatedly.

Anyway, all that aside, I think that the penguin below is thinking to itself: “Why in the heck did I ever listen to Mom and Dad? I never wanted to be a dentist in the first place. I wanted to be a tap dancer.”

penguin inspecting mouth of leopard seal
Leopard seal patiently enduring annual dental exam

Sorry, I seem to have gotten a little off track here. We were talking about what people rush out to buy during a Polar Vortex shift and I mentioned Cuban Lunches. I know you’re still wondering about that.

The Cuban Lunch is a delicious, calorie-dense chocolate-and-peanut ingot which was invented in Winnipeg almost 100 years ago, and was manufactured and sold in Canada for decades. It became endangered in the 1990’s and was hunted to extinction around the year 2000 but was brought back to life just before Christmas 2018 by a woman named Crystal Regehr-Westergard who found one of the original Cuban Lunches encased in frozen maple syrup while walking her dog in a dense forest. Crystal managed to extract a small sample from it (the frozen Cuban Lunch), and recreated it as a treat for her elderly mother using advance culinary techniques including messing around in her kitchen a lot.

Crystal didn’t stop there, but went on to buy the trademark, find a factory willing to start making the iconic treats once more and start distributing them throughout Western Canada. She is now reputedly also working on a way to recreate the famous Mammoth Burger offered by A&W back in 1650 BCE, on Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia.

I swear on Mme “First, spray everything with PAM” Jehane Benoit’s eyewear that I’m not making up more than 79% of what I just told you about Cuban Lunches .

jehane benoit
Mme Jehane Benoit-coauthor of We Who Survived The Fifth Ice Age- and recipient of the Order of Canada for the invention of PAM cooking spray in 1959

Here is a picture of Crystal presenting her Mom with one of the no-longer-extinct Cuban Lunches, and to the left is a box of them in their natural state at the Safeway just a few blocks from my house.

I may keep a couple of thousand boxes of these on hand (twenty to a box) just in case it keeps snowing. You never know. The Fifth Ice Age could be just around the corner.

Those extra calories might come in handy.

What Is This Woman Smiling About?

Lord knows I’m not an art critic, but I thought I would add my own take on why the Mona Lisa is smiling. Not that 80,000 other people throughout history, many of them art critics, haven’t already tried to answer that same question. Personally, I think that the Mona Lisa is smiling because she thinks I’m going to fail utterly at trying to write a blog that somehow includes shoebill cranes, sea cucumbers (Genus: Holothuria), and also a book. Ha, ha! Little does she realize…

Shoebill crane patiently waiting to eat one or possibly both of the other items in this collage although it would probably prefer to eat the sea cucumber
PG-13 version of another book that looks almost identical to this one.
sea cucmber
Sea cucumber resembling orange day-glo mop that is being electrocuted

 

 

 

I’ll start with the book. No sense starting with the shoebill. We’ll get to it in due course. I just realized that the book cover is almost the same color as the sea cucumber! Weird. Anyway, the book is basically about how to lead a better, more examined life. I found it very helpful.

One of the things the author suggests is that instead of striving to be right all the time and to be certain about everything, we should try to just be a little less wrong every day, and to embrace uncertainty. We should try to remain uncertain and hence less judgemental about the motives and actions of others; we should be uncertain about our values and should always attempt to reassess them; we should also be uncertain about whether or not I should have strung this last bit together with colons, or used something else. Commas maybe. Definitely not hyphens.

My point here is that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do. Take the shoebills for example. Where do they live? Are they friendly? They seem friendly. They look happy. ARE they happy? Are they related to cranes, storks, velociraptors? Something else? Why are they also known as whaleheads? Are they patient? Can they fly?

Received wisdom says that their large beaks or bills resemble large shoes-which is why they’re called shoebills-no suprise there. So whose shoes are we talking about? Paul Bunyan’s? Shaq O’Neal’s? Bozo the Clown’s? Great question.

I have to add Rosa Kleb’s shoes to that list though. She was the SMERSH agent in the movie From Russia With Love; she also tried to kill James Bond with a poison-tipped shoe dagger. By the way, SMERSH stands for Shoebills Mostly Eat Really Slimy Holothurians.

Don’t give me that blank look. I told you already that sea cucumbers belong to the genus Holothuria.

I’m pretty certain that shoebills would use that wicked spur on the tip of their beaks to spear the sea cucumbers before the spiky, edible sea creatures could inch away. I’m not certain that shoebills eat sea cucumbers though.

Rosa Kleb's shoe-dagger
You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but don’t try picking your friend’s nose-or your nose for that matter-with this shoe

Sorry, I got a little sidetracked there. Back to the long list of uncertainties surrounding shoebills: What else might shoebills eat besides sea cucumbers? What kind of noises do shoebills make?

So many questions. Thankfully I have answers. Some of them are even true. Most of them are true. Maybe they’re all true. I’m not sure.

Shoebills live in marshes in various African countries. They are NOT friendly. They’re feisty and pugnacious as hell. They will go toe to toe with a crocodile if they have nothing better to do. Or fight with their nestmates if there are no crocodiles around.

As adults they’re pretty solitary. I don’t know if they’re happy creatures, but they always seem to be grinning in the photos and video clips I’ve seen. This could be misleading though. The average shoebill is likely thinking: “Hey buddy, I’m going to put you off guard by appearing to grin at you but secretly I’m just waiting to rip one of your ears off with my fearsome beak if you even THINK about calling me a whalehead.” They’re most closely related to pelicans and herons. Since all birds are descended from dinosaurs, I guess you can also say they’re sort of related to velociraptors.

shoebill that looks like a velociraptor
Do NOT call me a whalehead

Apparently shoebills are super-patient. They will lurk in tall marsh grass for hours on end, waiting to lunge out and rip the ear off a tourist or nab a tasty eel, a lungfish, a snake, a duck or maybe a poodle. (No loss there.)

They make some great noises. For example, their mating call is a series of loud pops that sounds like a machine gun. Some describe it as terrifying. I don’t think it’s particularly terrifying; somehow I don’t think they mate very often though. Not sure why.

They can fly with a series of slow flaps interspersed with gliding. They can grow to be as tall as Danny DeVito. This one kind of reminds me of the Mona Lisa:

shobeill that looks like the Mona Lisa

They also like to do yoga:

shoebill doing yoga
Shoebill trying to get in touch with inner velociraptor

I want one…I think. It would probably clean out the rabbits that are racing all over our neighbourhood this winter. I might check in with Mark Manson first though. He gives pretty good advice.