Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

What Happened to All the Dermatologists?

Recently I was sitting in the Department of Having A Brain That Is A Lot Closer to 60 Years Old Than I’d Like To Admit (right next door to the Department of Disturbing Trends, not that it matters) when I realized that I had twice used the same excuse for a long interval between columns: “There was this problem and I’m late because of it.”

I guess I could chalk it up to age but I’m not exactly geriatric yet.  More likely it’s stress.  We know that mental stress can have a profound effect on cognitive function in general and memory in particular.  And I did experience some mental stress recently, on a trip to Atlantic Beach, Florida (State Motto: There Are All Kinds Of Sharks Out There; You Just Can’t See Them”) to spend a week with some in-laws.  Spending a week with in-laws can be pretty stressful, depending on the in-laws, but I think it had more to do with the disturbing trend I noticed.

The first day we were at the beach, a guy right next to us was casting into the surf zone, ten or fifteen yards offshore, and after awhile he hauled out a three-foot shark.  This was a little bit concerning to me, since he probably didn’t have a fishing license, but also since the water tends to be kind of murky on the Atlantic side of Florida. (Other State Motto: Most of The Sharks Are Only Three Feet Long) If something is going to eat me, I usually like to see what it is first, but in the end, I figured that a three-foot shark can’t do too much damage, so I shrugged it off.

But the next day when we got to the beach, a helpful local denizen informed us that we had just missed a guy who pulled a five-foot shark out of the surf zone.  He (the denizen) cheerfully allowed: “There are all kinds of sharks out there; you just can’t see them.”

I didn’t like the way this trend was headed, so the following morning we went home.

No seriously, we stayed, and I still went swimming every day, figuring that if something really wants to eat you, it probably will, whether you can see it or not.  But it was still sort of stressful.  I think that if you’re planning to swim in murky, shark-infested waters on a routine basis, you should follow some simple strategies to stress-proof your brain, and maybe pick up a chain-mail unitard while you’re at it.

The first strategy is to start using one of those brain-training apps for your phone.  The app is actually for your brain, not the phone, but you know what I mean.  The one I like is Elevate.  For one, it’s supposed to be good for your memory.  Just now I can’t remember how long I’ve been using it though.  Maybe I got it last Christmas.  Or the Christmas before that.  Or maybe it was Easter.  I can’t remember.  But anyway, now I’m really good at subtracting five-digit numbers without a calculator.  I can also read 560 words per minutes, as long as the words shoot on to the screen one at a time, in a vertically ascending stack.  As I type this, I’m thinking that it would be great to be able to read that fast but all the books would basically be these gigantic reels of two inch-wide paper.

And I can rapidly find speelling and and other grammatical Mistakes in shor treatises about things like history of shark attacks in Florida. (Third State Motto: Dang We Had A Lot Of Dermatologists Down Here Until They All Went Swimming)

I’m suspicious that all this brain training just helped me to develop a set of very particular skills: skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you…No wait!  That’s a line from “Taken”, that movie where Liam Neeson single-handedly introduces a significant perturbation into the adult male life-expectancy statistics for about five European countries.

neeson

Albania was one of them.  I forget the others.  So maybe we had just better move on to stress-proofing strategy number two.

That would be pets.  Pets are known to reduce stress.  For example, a purring cat in your lap can drop your heart rate and blood pressure significantly.  But only until the cat abruptly sits up, stares intently at the corner of the room, then bolts upstairs like it is being chased by a shrieking horde of unseen entities.  A Stress Monkey is probably a much better choice.

My wife Jeanette and I saw this clip on the news about this tiny monkey that spent most of its day clinging to the back of the family cat, reducing its heart rate and blood pressure, and protecting it from unseen entities.  Jeanette, who has a medical clinic, said: “Maybe that’s what I need!  A Stress Monkey!  It could sit on my shoulder at the clinic, and reduce my heart rate and blood pressure!”

I thought maybe it could also double as a Mood Monkey, like those Mood Rings everyone wore back in the day, shortly after the invention of liquid crystals.  The Mood Ring, as we all know, was supposed to change colour according to your mood: calm–>pale blue

seasick–> greeny-yellow

terrified–>white

apathetic–>colourless.

mood-rings

So logically, a Mood Monkey is a little monkey that sits on your shoulder and makes faces at people you secretly loathe, freeing you to smile at them sweetly.

Person you loathe: “Your monkey just made a horrible face at me.”

You (smiling sweetly): “Oh behave, you bad, bad monkey.”

This is an unretouched photo of Natalie Biggins, a non-swimmer and dermatologist, on her wedding day somewhere in England, with her Mood Monkey: “Mr. Bigglesworth”.  She is smiling sweetly so that might be ominous but on the other hand, her monkey seems noncommittal.  Time will tell, I guess.

natalie-biggins

Now these prevention strategies are OK as far as prevention strategies go, but if you really need a serious memory overhaul, you need to start thinking about medical nanotechnology, which is basically swarms of tiny “nanobots” released into your bloodstream, making their way to wherever they’re needed, repairing damaged brain tissues, rearranging your sock drawer, and sperm-surfing in their spare time, clinging tenaciously to the sperms with their menacing FDA-approved nanoclaws.

nanobot

Researchers are hard at work developing this technology, but my chief concern is this: what if these nanobots go out of scope and just start beetling around, doing whatever they please?

Early reports are not promising…

Here is a picture of Enrico, at age two, cheerfully anticipating his tenth trip into low earth orbit:

bc1

This next picture is Enrico, age fifteen, after retiring to Atlantic Beach, Florida, worn out from his life of adventure, suffering from general crankiness, post-traumatic stress, memory loss, hemorrhoids (not shown) and advanced depilation.  He is clearly a candidate for a nanorobotic makeover.

bc2

And here is Enrico, after his makeover:

bc3

At least now it’s probably safer for him to go swimming…

Next month: How (and why!) I traveled to Miami, Florida, met the prominent Miami Herald nanoroboticist/humor columnist Dave Barry, and returned to Calgary, in less than 24 hours.

Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

The Good Good Pig

I’m going to talk about the beer/porcupine in this picture at some point, but the first thing I want to talk about today is teen romantic comedy cult classic movies.  I’m not sure about the best order for all those adjectives, but I’m not going to dwell on it because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. My favorite cult comedy is The Sure Thing, starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga, and directed by Rob Reiner.

By the way, I apologize for the long delay between this column and the last one; somewhere along the way, a big problem came up and the column was late because of it.  Actually, the very same thing happened in The Sure Thing.  Cusack’s character in that movie is Walter Gibson aka “Gibby”.  Gibby is a freshman in college and one morning he’s late for English class.  His prof asks him why he’s late and he says: “There was this big problem…and I’m late because of it.”  I liked that excuse, because it’s so vague, so I use it from time to time, just to see if people are paying attention.  I think it made Daphne Zuniga roll her eyes when Cusack used it, but at least it got him on her radar.

Speaking of big problems, there’s a class of math problems called Fermi Problems, named after Italian physicist and Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi, who also invented Fermions.  Note that if American physicist, Pulitzer Prize winner and anagramist Dave Barry was writing this column, he would be tempted to rearrange Fermions into “Firm nose”.  I’m going to resist that temptation and just say that a Fermion is a type of elementary particle, which is a particle that falls out of the shoe of an elementary school student.

I’m not sure how the particle would get into the shoe of any elementary school student, since kids in elementary school these days basically have to remain immobile when they go out on the playground.  Life was a lot more exciting when there was a decent probability that somebody would skin their knee, break an arm or Heaven forbid, get a sunburn once in awhile.  Now, the worst thing that can happen at recess is that someone’s phone goes dead when he or she is playing Pokemon Go.  (Pokemon Go can be rearranged to Monk Goop with an E left over, not that it matters.)

But back to Fermi Problems.  A Fermi Problem is a problem in which you have to estimate something when you have limited data to work with.  You have to arrive at your answer by making a series of assumptions and then stringing them all together.

Here’s a pretty typical Fermi Problem: How many border collies are there in Calgary?

And below is a scene from the 1926 teen cult physics movie Pogo Monk, directed by Rob Reiner, in which Enrico Fermi (played by Enrico Fermi) is trying to calculate what would happen to a border collie if it was shot into low Earth orbit at some angle θ relative to that line pointing to about 12:30, if that big circle was a clock.

fermi

 

 

 

 

To answer the Border Collie Fermi Problem (or any Fermi Problem for that matter), it helps if you know a lot of synonyms for the word “guess”.  You’d probably start by taking a guess at the population of Calgary, then multiplying that by your conjecture about how many people in Calgary own a dog, then multiplying that answer by a presumption about how many dog owners have border collies, having assumed that most border collie owners only have one. One is plenty, by the way.

I reckon there are about a million people in Calgary so I’ll start off thinking that thirty percent of them own a dog; that’s 300,000 dogs.  As mentioned, border collies are a handful, so I’ll say only two percent of dog owners have one.  So my estimate is 6000 border collies in Calgary.  That seems high, so then I whack myself on the side of the head and say “I’m an idiot”- at the same time hoping that no sepulchral echo-voice answers back “you’re an idiot”-which would be eerily like what happened in The Grinch, starring Jim Carrey and directed by Ron Howard.

In the photo below, Ron Howard is on the right.

ron-and-grinch

I’m whacking my head because I realize that I actually need to ponder how many households there are in Calgary, and then work from that number.  (Recognize that inside my main Fermi Problem there is this other Baby Fermi Problem-which is to estimate how many households there are in Calgary.) But I’m taking my medication regularly, so I’m able to move past this.  I simply hypothesize that there are 250,000 households in Calgary given a million people; that takes me down to 1500 black and white, high-strung canines descended from Old Hemp, who got some air-time in the last column.  Anyway, 1500 is an estimate I can live with, even if I stop taking my medication.

So now you know what a Fermi Problem is. But you’re still in the dark about when in tarnation you should write the word “three” and when you should write the digit “3”.  This is a different type of problem, one that I threatened to talk about as I was finishing off the column about Superman’s Water Pik.  Or was it Superman’s Memory Crystals?  I forget which.

The person in this next photo is none other than E.B. White, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The New Yorker, animal lover, children’s book author and also co-author of The Elements of Style.  Just FYI, The Elements of Style is not a book about what not to wear.  It’s a book about what not to write.

eb-white

Various sources including White himself agree that you should spell out numerals when they denote numbers less than 100.  This would include numerals like three, fifty-two and ninety-six.  Therefore, a numeral like two thousand and sixteen should actually be written as 2016, AS LONG AS THAT NUMERAL DOESN`T START A SENTENCE.

So you should write “Two thousand border collies competed at the last All-Australian Sheep Herding Open held in 2015, in Iceland” but you shouldn’t write “2000 border collies were recently shot into low Earth orbit”, even if that’s true.

But what about the sentence: “2015 was a good year for Icelandic sheep-herders.” ?

That sentence is OK, because both E.B. White and the Associated Press Stylebook say you can start a sentence with a numeral when that numeral signifies a year.You also don’t have to stop and wonder why in hell the All-Australian Sheep Herding Open would be held in Iceland if you skirt around the whole issue like I did.

You can spend as much time as you want researching all this in more detail, and look up the distinction between a number and a numeral while you’re at it.  Personally, I need to move on now to talk about a large pig named Christopher Hogwood.

good-good-pig

“The Good Good Pig” is the biography of Christopher, who starts out as a runty piglet just like that other famous-but-fictional pig Wilbur.  Whereas Wilbur was adopted by a small girl named Fern, Christopher was adopted by author, New Hampshire resident, and itinerant animal lover Sy Montgomery and her husband Howard. (Howard is also an author and also resides in New Hampshire, in case you were wondering.)

Christopher comes to enjoy an increasingly-intimate relationship with Sy, Howard and the Earth’s gravitational field, over the course of his fourteen peaceful years, eventually attaining an impressive weight of 752 pounds.  And like Wilbur, Christopher eventually dies of natural causes, surrounded by many loving admirers, and lots of spiders.

If you already know who E.B. White is, I think you should read The Good Good Pig right away.  If you have already read The Good Good Pig, I think you should read Charlotte’s Web right away.  If you have already read Charlotte’s Web, you should re-read it.  I cry at the end every time I read it, and my kids always make fun of me for it; I don’t care.

But let’s get back to Christopher.  Sy Montgomery has this to say: “As Christopher’s girth increased, so did our doubts about who was in charge at our house.  Not only was Chris destined to vastly outweigh us, but we faced a growing realization that our pig was dangerously, possibly diabolically, brilliant.” Frankly, I find the concept of a diabolically brilliant, 752-pound animal just a tad unsettling.

In addition to his formidable brainpower, Christopher also developed a formidable appetite for beer.  Howard gave him a swig of Rolling Rock one hot summer day in his (Christopher’s) piglet-hood, soundly reasoning: “After all, what is beer but liquid grain?”  Christopher demonstrated the truth of that statement by polishing off the Rolling Rock, then a Corona and then a Genesee Cream Ale, burping loudly and then proceeding to gain another 700 or so pounds.

Later in life, he became friends with a Border Collie named Tess.  (I swear on Ron Howard’s driver’s license that I am not making that up.)  Christopher also joined A.A. and the Libertarian Party, in no particular order.  The Libertarian tendency was verified by Dick Amidon, the Montgomery’s family friend, former chief of staff for the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a Republican-turned-Libertarian.

Holding forth on Christopher’s political leanings, Dick said, “If there’s ever been an example of a Libertarian pig, that’s Christopher.  He’s his own person; he doesn’t want overregulation-all the things that Libertarians look for.  He’s a free spirit.”

Now after reading all this, many of you may be seized by a powerful urge to move to New Hampshire.  If so, I suggest you get in touch with realtor Mark Warden, the owner of Porcupine Real Estate in Manchester, NH.  Mr. Warden’s firm does about 90 percent of its business with Libertarians who want to move to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project.  You can read the article entitled “Why Libertarians Are (Still) Plotting to Take Over New Hampshire” here:

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/02/libertarians-new-hampshire-free-state

statue

 

The picture depicts Mr. Warden standing in front of the New Hampshire State Capitol building.  Or maybe it’s Thomas Jefferson.  I forget.  Anyway, in the article, Mr. Warden says, “A lot of my clients want to be self-sufficient—whether that’s living off the grid and growing their own food, wanting to shoot border collies into space, hunt on their own property, or being able to raise pigs and chickens without zoning laws interfering…We speak the same language.”

I think I made up that part about the border collies. And maybe the part about Thomas Jefferson.  But you should still read Madison’s article after you finish packing and reading Charlotte’s Web.

I learned many interesting things about Libertarians from that article, such as the fact that they have adopted the porcupine (also known as the “quill pig”) as their mascot because it is “a peaceful creature that defends itself when attacked.”  And according to Critter Control, who have been “protecting people, property and wildlife in New Hampshire since 1983” (http://nh.crittercontrol.com/services/porcupine/) there are lots of porcupines in New Hampshire.

I want to finish now, but before I go, I want to share with you a couple of pictures taken from the promo piece for Tom Hanks’ new movie: “Quill Pig at Large.”

The first picture depicts a New Hampshire porcupine, bearing a faint resemblance to Enrico Fermi, frowning with concentration and thinking seriously about emigrating to the Valley of 1000 Hills, Botha’s Hill, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, home of the Porcupine Quill Micro Brewery and Deli.

quill-pig-at-large

The second photo (below) is an unretouched image of a heat exchanger situated on the wall of the Porcupine Quill Micro Brewery and Deli.

heat-exchanger

 

 

 

I have absolutely no idea why Tom Hanks thought you would want to see a picture of their heat exchanger, but I hear their food is fabulous.

The beer is good too.

quills-beer-bottle

Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Superman’s Memory Crystals

Seems to me that at the end of the last column about Octopuses, I threatened to devote this column to interesting facts about border collies.  So let’s take that off the table right now: this column is probably not going to be about border collie facts, although I might segue to some border collie facts at some point.  I haven’t decided yet.

But before I go any farther I want to say for the record that the only reason I watched all 220 episodes of Smallville was to humor a small boy who I’ll call Andrew (not his real name).  Remember, when you’re talking about distance, use farther; when you not talking about distance, use further. Remember also that you use whom when there’s a preposition involved, such as in this sentence: ”Whom shall I give this last piece of  piecaken to?”  And when there’s no preposition involved, use who.

Anyway, “Andrew” and I watched Smallville, which everyone knows is the story of Clark Kent (not his real name) growing up in Smallville, after he plummeted to Earth in an escape pod.  His parents Jor-El and Lara put the baby Kal-El in the escape pod because the star around which their home planet Krypton orbited was about to go nova.  When Kal-El got to Earth he did a lot of stuff including getting a new name and getting an “A” in welding shop.

heat-vision
Welding shop-Day One

He also lifted tractors, rescued Lana Lang and Lois Lane and made it to school on time even when his alarm clock was set for 8:59 AM.  (School started at 9:00 AM in Smallville.)

clark-kent-superspeed-smallville-11191776-300-448
Almost late, but not quite!

 

 

When he wasn’t busy rescuing Lana Lang and Lois Lane, navigating his troubled relationship with his friend Lex Luthor (What’s with the LL’s anyway?), meeting his cousin Kara Zor-El aka Supergirl, and battling people from other dimensions, he would often retreat to his Fortress of Solitude and Teen Angst. (FOSATA for short.)

Now we normal teens had to make do with the bathroom, but Clark was fortunate enough to be able to retreat to his nifty hangout located somewhere above the Arctic Circle, when things got too intense between him and his adoptive parents Martha and Jonathan Kent.  (Oddly enough, Jonathan Kent looked eerily like a guy I know named Darr-Ell Jones, but that’s another story.)

We never did find out whether the FOSATA had a bathroom, but what it did have was a veritable forest of these Memory Crystals, which contained all the accumulated wisdom of Krypton, plus holograms of Jor-el and Lara, plus a complete list of all 93 weird forms of Kryptonite Clark would eventually encounter, plus his Kryptonian Social Security number.

So these Kryptonian crystals, no doubt, were the inspiration for researchers at the University of Southampton Optical Research Centre (USORC for short), conveniently located in Southampton, England, to develop Earth versions.  They devised a way to encode huge amounts of information in ultrapure, glassy silicon wafers, which have been touted to last “until the Sun burns out”.  Remember that if I was talking about suns in particular no capitalization is required, but since I am talking about our sun, I use Sun.  Just like if I were talking about the upcoming election for President of the United States (POTUS for short) I would say the Presidential Election, not presidential election. But I digress.

Now as we all know, data storage here on Earth, is an ongoing problem.  Magnetized tape (cassettes, videotape, etc) only lasts about 50 years.  Data stored on chips fares better but is still prone to corruption by radiation, alien electromagnetic pulses (EMPs for short) and high temperatures.

“Honey, where’s our terabyte drive?”

“Dang, I accidentally left it in the oven to keep it safe from alien EMPs.  Bye-bye all six seasons of Downton Abbey.”

But glass lasts a long time, even longer than Styrofoam, but even Styrofoam isn’t going to last billions of years, which is why the USORC scientists focused on etching trillions of bits in the depths of ultrapure, glassy silicon wafers, using a femtosecond laser.

In the words of ORC professor (not an orc) Peter Kalansky: “It is thrilling to think that we have created the technology to preserve documents and information (editor’s note: aren’t documents information?) and store it in space for future generations.  This technology can secure the last evidence of our civilization, including the 2016 Presidential debates, and all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.  Plus, we’re really into femtosecond lasers.”

(A femtosecond laser emits really short pulses, a lot shorter than the time it takes “Andrew” (mentioned earlier) to pick up his socks after he’s been asked 200 times. )

The technology hasn’t been commercialized yet, but so far the researchers have preserved noble documents including the King James Bible, the Magna Carta, Isaac Newton’s “Opticks” treatise (about optics, oddly enough) and all six seasons of Downton Abbey.

glass-wafer

So all this immediately got me putting together a list of things I want to see preserved in these wafers:

  1. How to make perfect hard-boiled eggs which you can peel without the annoying “Membrane Problem”. This is a non-trivial problem, by the way.  So far my favorite method is The Cold Start, where you carefully place cold eggs into boiling water, then turn the heat down to “the barest simmer” and cook for 13 minutes.  Not 12 minutes or 14 minutes: 13 minutes.  If you have a better way, let me know.
  2. How to sort the laundry so your wife doesn’t get on your case: “NEXT TIME, that needs to washed on the delicate setting, in the tears of a virgin gathered under a full moon, Honey.”
  3. How to plumb your in-floor heating so that you don’t burn out two hot water tanks in five years, not that I’m bitter.
  4. The Octopus Garden Cocktail: take 3 parts gin; add 1 part dry vermouth; shake with ice; strain; garnish with a baby octopus and a black olive; apologize to PETOBO (short for People for the Ethical Treatment of Baby Octopuses)
  5. How to make Dyson vacuum cleaners: For those of you with overt or latent OCD tendencies, Dyson vacuum cleaners are the greatest invention since fire, or maybe Lululemon yoga wear.
  6. Segue Alert!! How to get the stains out of your carpet after you feed your Border Collie a wide variety of foods including shrimp, bacon, steak and chicken: Also not a trivial problem. Use some kind of oxidizing agent plus Dawn dish detergent.
  7. Second Segue Alert!! Border Collies in General:  Did you know that all modern border collies (note the non-use of capitals!) are descended from Old Hemp b. 1893.  “Chaser” holds the world record for vocabulary: 1000 words including: “Stop looking at me with that wired, intense stare.  It’s creepy.”  And don’t forget “Striker” who can open a non-electric car door in 11.4 seconds.  Also a world record, and a strong reminder of the old adage: never turn your back on the ocean.
  8. The old adage: Never turn your back on the ocean.
  9. Extreme German Unicycling or How to ride a unicycle down something you wouldn’t even walk down: I can ride a unicycle, but this guy is basically insane, plus I’m dying to know what he’s saying on the video clip.
  10. This joke: Q: What do you call a part-time band leader? A: A semiconductor!

extreme-mountain-unicycling-02

Clearly, I need more, and better, material for my list.  If you have suggestions, send them to me and I’ll eventually send them to USORC, who will eventually send them to Elon Musk, who will eventually send them into space along with a kick-ass recipe for potato salad, Martian-style.  (This gives me a great idea for a movie, by the way.)

Meanwhile, I’m going to drink a cocktail, spark up my Dyson, vacuum up some fluff and then I might re-watch Smallville: Episode 220. You know, it’s the one where Clark finally gets his pilot’s license…plus a hefty fine from the Federal Aviation Administration. (FAA for short)

1230161-clark_flying_3

Next column: When to spell out a number, and when to just use the number itself.

Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Octopus Update

I know a lot of you are wondering the same thing I have been wondering lately: exactly what are all the octopuses doing on the ocean floor when we’re not keeping an eye on them?  I’m happy to report that after extensive research by agents of The Department of Keeping Tabs on Octopuses, it’s safe to say that they are doing plenty of interesting stuff.  It’s actually pretty hard to know where to start.

Octopus means “Eight footed” in Greek, so if you’re going to talk about more than one octopus, Greek convention dictates that you use “octopuses” as the plural.  Some people prefer “octopi” or “octopodes”, but to me, octopi sounds like a dessert, and octopode sounds either like some kind of worm or maybe a radio tube.  So I’m using octopuses. And my mother was Greek.  By the way, octopuses have arms, not tentacles.  Tentacles only have one sucker.  Each octopus arm has around 250 independent suckers.  Each sucker is roughly as intelligent as a small border collie.

Octopuses are smart creatures, generally regarded as the most intelligent of all invertebrates even when you include politicians.  They are master problem solvers, escape artists and camouflage experts. Rumor has it that octopuses are even being trained as special operatives by the U.S. Military, due to their unique abilities and powerful brains.

There are myriads of coconut shells lying around in many places on the ocean floor, mostly near places where there are coconut palms, oddly enough, and some octopuses have used this to their advantage. The octopus pictured below is comfortably ensconced in its coconut-shell house, already looking a lot like Casper the Friendly Ghost but still thinking hard about what it’s going to wear for Hallowe’en.

casper-octopus

But there’s more.

Julian Finn, an octopus researcher in Melbourne, Australia, was probably one of the first to report that members of at least one species of octopus have learned to carry two coconut shells around, scuttling about with an awkward gait known as “stilt walking”.

The following is a link to a clip of an octopus in field training as a Navy SEAL (Slimy Eerie Aquatic Leptosome) displaying its ability to seamlessly segue from stilt-walking to defensive maneuvering under enemy fire:   Octopus Stilt-Walking

If you can’t be bothered to watch the clip, here’s a capsule summary: a veined octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) lumbers along the seafloor, minding its own business and lugging its coconut shells.  Suddenly it stops, hops into one of the shells, pulls the other shell over top itself like a helmet, then rolls off down an incline.

Why did it do this?  No one knows.  Maybe it was late for supper.  And since you asked, supper for an octopus consists mostly of shellfish, which it consumes by “drilling a hole in the shell and slurping out the soft parts.”  I’m not sure how an octopus drills a hole though.

Male Octopus: “Honey, I just broke another drill bit.  I’m going to hop into my coconut-shell vehicle and roll over to Underwater Tool Den for a new one. Don’t wait up.”

Female Octopus (aka “Hen”): OK.  If you wake me up I’m going to peck you mercilessly.

The only thing wrong with that scenario is that octopuses are solitary creatures who only get together to mate.  Sadly, not long after they mate, they both die.  No wonder they’re solitary.

But sometimes the male’s demise is, for lack of a better word, untimely.  People are studying this for a living.  I know, because I found a paper which includes a positively riveting account of a hapless male octopus who was attacked, suffocated, had its ink-sac punctured and was ultimately cannibalized by a hen after mating with her 13 times in 3.5 hours. (That male probably had it coming.)  It’s a great paper which includes some beautiful color photos featuring coral, octopuses and ink-clouds.

inkjet

citation

I don’t know about you, but I happen to think that all this business with the coconut shells demonstrates a pretty fair degree of intelligence.  Man didn’t invent the automobile until the last 150 years or so, but octopuses have probably been rolling around the ocean floor in their shell vehicles since their debut in the Carboniferous Period more than 300 million years ago.  (By the way, the Carboniferous Period is that epoch in Earth’s history when nobody was worrying much about carbon dioxide.)

But intelligent creatures are easily bored, so if you stick an octopus in a tank, you need to give it some stuff to diddle with, otherwise it will probably try to escape. You have to basically weld the lid on to the tank because an octopus can fit through a pretty small hole, as shown in this faintly disturbing video clip: Octopus oozing through a small opening

If it can’t escape, a bored octopus might resort to amusing itself by chewing on things such as one of its arms.  (Don’t worry; the arm will grow back.)  This sounds suspiciously like my border collie, Mickey.  He too, is easily bored and will amuse himself by selecting one toy out of his vast array and worrying at it until all the stuffing comes out.  So far he still has all his appendages though.  From time to time, when I’m bored, I amuse myself by wondering what would happen if you crossed an octopus with a border collie.

When I was trolling the Web for octopus facts, I got to thinking about how people decide how many interesting facts they will post about any given topic.  The first few sites I went to listed an even number of octopus facts.  So I thought hmmm…octopuses have eight arms and eight is an even number.  Maybe I’m on to something here…But then I started running across sites that listed prime, or at least odd numbers of octopus facts: 11, 15, 35.  So much for my theory.

The only thing I can safely conclude is that there are a lot of octopus-fact sites out there, and most of these sites reference a book by Katherine Harmon Courage called: Octopus!  The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea. I have a copy but I haven’t read it yet.  I think you should get one.  Then you won’t have to rely on me for your octopus information.

octo-book

Speaking of information, one site I went to noted that octopuses are “limited in their ability to gather information” due to their short lifetimes.  That’s probably a good thing.  Who knows what one would do if it had more information.  Run for President maybe?

There’s a lot more I could get into, such as the copper content of their (blue) blood, their ink, their hectocotyli (don’t ask) and last but not least, the “Dumbo Octopus”.

dumbo-octopus

I’m running out of space, so I’m going to close with a few simple dictums for would-be octopus owners:

  • Never give your octopus access to any books; especially not ones about making weapons.
  • Don’t put a shark you happen to be fond of together with an octopus. A big octopus can break the spine of a shark.
  • It’s OK to have other pets in the house if you have an octopus. I read about an octopus in Thunder Bay, Ontario that was friends with a dog.  Whenever the dog pressed its nose to the tank, the octopus would come up to the glass and change colour: black where the dog’s nose touched the glass, and brown to match the rest of the dog.
  • By the way, if you own a border collie, consider getting an octopus to keep it company. If you have an octopus but no border collie, I might lend Mickey to you.
  • Consider letting your octopus run in the 2020 Presidential election. We could do worse.

Next column: Interesting facts about border collies

Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Toilet Seat Lore

Well, it looks like I’m cranking these things out somewhat less often than I’d like to, but echoing the immortal words of John Cusack explaining to his prof why he was late to class in The Sure Thing (1985): “Well you see there was this problem and I’m late because of it.”

The problem is that a few weeks ago we woke up one morning and decided to adopt a seven year old border collie named Mickey. Everything you read about border collies says they need to have a job, so Mickey’s job is to play fetch 23 hours a day and look at me reproachfully the rest of the time.

So between Mickey and the treadmill, there’s not a lot of spare time these days. Plus, I didn’t have anything worth writing about until last week when we had visitors from head office, aka The Mothership. For the sake of argument, I’ll call one of the visitors Lisa Kearns (not her real name). “Lisa” was relaying to one of the people I share an office with what a great stay she had had in the Hotel Elan (otherwise known as the Hotel Elan), “a unique, business-friendly boutique hotel in Calgary, located uptown just off vibrant 17th Avenue SW.”

hotel-elanI wasn’t sure what a boutique hotel is so I Googled it.

A boutique hotel is “a small stylish hotel, typically situated in a fashionable urban location.” I read a few more entries and found a pearl of wisdom from Kobrun Vidisdottir, of Reykjavík, Iceland.

According to her, a boutique hotel is “an accommodation that makes their guests feel happy and contented while staying there, makes them feel extraordinary, makes them to realize that they should revert soon and makes them to recognize that this hotel is worth discussing with others.”

I followed most of what Kobrun was trying to say, but I got stuck at the part where she started talking about reverting. Reverting to what? Her maiden name? Windows 7? Human form? Then I figured out she meant return soon. Which reminds me, I should return to the theme of this column, which is supposed to be about toilets. But remind me to tell you a little bit more about Reykjavík in a minute.

Anyway, “Lisa” was going on about the heated and lighted toilet seat in her hotel room, which in her words “changed my life.” I asked her if her life routinely involved sitting on ice-cold toilet seats and she said no, the heated seat was just a particularly pleasant experience. Plus the underside of the seat was ringed with LEDs, which emitted a pleasing blue light.

Now this is important because everyone knows that if you wake up in the middle of the night and turn on a yellow or orange light, it will immediately shut down your melatonin. Everyone  also knows that the last thing you want to do is sit on an ice-cold toilet seat and shut down your melatonin when all you really want to do is take a pee and go back to sleep. But I guess it’s this kind of thing that separates a normal hotel from a boutique hotel. It’s still sort of surreal though, like going to the bathroom in 2176 AD.

Speaking of going to the bathroom in 2176 AD, Calgary happens to have a few choice, futuristic, public washrooms strategically located about the city. I had the chance to use one a few years ago, but to refresh my memory about the entire experience, I paid a visit to one near my house, at the Tuscany LRT station. (My house is not at the Tuscany LRT station; the futuristic public washroom is at the Tuscany LRT station.)

toilets-1

For starters, it’s pretty futuristic-looking. You approach the door, push a button, the door slides open and you find yourself in a little room with a lot of stainless steel including a stainless-steel toilet, with no toilet seat.

first-button

You push another button (“Toilet Seat”) which triggers a bunch of disturbing mechanical noises. A panel in the wall slides open and a toilet seat deploys from behind the panel, spraying liquid in the process. (I am not making any of this up.) You half-expect that some robot arms with metallic claws will appear, seize your eyelids and pry them open, like in “A Clockwork Orange.” A mellifluous robotic voice guides you through the whole process, accompanied by a stirring rendition of “The Ride of the Valkryies.” (kidding)

second-buttonYou go to the bathroom, and if you can’t figure out how to flush, there are instructions to help. Once you wash your hands, the toilet seat folds back into its nook, the panel slides back down and you’re good to go. (I thought you went.)

third-button

But say you’re still sitting down or just remaining immobile for some reason (shock probably). The mellifluous robotic voice comes back on and tells you that you have about 20 seconds until the cubicle door opens, unless you start moving around soon. If you don’t move around, the voice starts counting down. Seriously.

I actually filmed this whole thing and you can check it out here:

(Futuristic Public Washroom video clip)

My son Ty got quite panicky once, when the mellifluous robotic voice announced the countdown while he was still working on Step 2 or whatever. He leaped up from his perch and began waving his arms madly, until he gained the precious seconds he needed to finish his business.

The whole setup is just so weird that I fully expected to emerge from that washroom to find myself catapulted two or three centuries past 2176 AD and face to face with a Dalek or else “Robot” from Lost in Space. “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

verdarobbyThere is another high-end toilet (intended for household use although I’m sure a boutique hotel somewhere has one), which automatically deploys a menacing-looking probe from somewhere in the bowels (pun intended) of the toilet bowl. The probe emits a gentle spray of water which you direct with a complicated remote control. But since I can barely use my TV remote, I probably won’t buy one of those washing probe-equipped commodes, even if I could afford one. I’m saving up for a time machine.

Last but not least, if you happen to have to go potty in O’Hare Airport in Chicago, brace yourself. When you’re in the cubicle, you press a button on an apparatus situated on the back of the toilet. You hear mechanical noises and then a protective plastic sleeve shoots out and envelopes the toilet seat. You do what you went in for, then get up and after more mechanical whirring noises, the sleeve disappears into the apparatus behind the toilet seat.

My only question is: what happens to the sleeve you sat on? Do they just toss it, or is it sent back around for the next unsuspecting victim? I know, I probably shouldn’t worry about these things, but I just can’t help it. Call me a Luddite, but I just think things are getting way too complicated here in 2015.

I think I’ll move to Reykjavík. Quoting here from Randburg.com (whatever that is) about the downtown area: “The old city center is atmospheric and relaxed. Many excellent cafes, bars and restaurants are located there and there are also many shops, including stores specializing in traditional souvenirs and stocking a good selection of merchandise, including crafts, replicas of Viking artifacts, ceramics, jewelry, playing cards, books, calendars, sheepskin products – and Iceland’s famous wool products. “

Sounds great. I’m fresh out of Viking artifacts, so I’ll definitely check it out.  But I bet the toilet seats are freezing.