There’s No Place Like Laniakea

Here in the Department of Keeping Tabs On The Universe we note that there’s a lot of stuff going on: gravity waves, stars that explode and jet out opposing beams of pure iridium, planets moving in and out of conjunction and now, rays of light that are shooting up from the sides of the reflecting pool in the National Mall in D.C., rays that are regarded by at least one commentator as “extensions of President Joe Biden’s arms” shooting up to metaphorically embrace America.

Read on. Don’t Say I didn’t Warn you!

Richard And Gunner vs the State of Florida

Back in 2019 I threatened to answer the following question in an upcoming post:

What the heck is the Florida Man game?

Sadly, I immediately forgot all about answering that question. Months went by. But then, a few weeks ago, I ran across an unusual headline emanating from Florida. Happily, the headline jogged my memory about the Florida Man game. Sadly, I soon forgot all about the unusual headline and also my failure to write about the Florida Man game. A couple of weeks went by. I happened to gaze at a map of Florida. Happily, I suddenly remembered the unusual headline and my failure to write about the Florida Man game. But sadly, I had forgotten about an appointment I had to go to. Happily, I made it to the appointment, remembered where I lived, was able to return home where I immediately recalled the unusuaI headline, my inability to write about the Florida Man game and the fact that since my last post was on November third I needed to get my ass in gear. I began to type feverishly…

to find out what I TYPED FEVERISHLY, read on

DIY Hobbies For People With 20:5 Vision

About a year ago I was leafing through a Signals catalogue (Motto: “Gifts that inform, enlighten & entertain” ) and I came across these DIY Miniature House Kits made by a company called Robotime. (Somewhat Opaque Motto: Fun time together. Best hobby forever.)

Thinking that pretty much everyone needs a hobby these days and that pretty much everyone wants to be informed, enlightened and entertained and because I didn’t have any better ideas for a birthday gift for my daughter, I went ahead and ordered the “Sam’s Study” kit.

hobby kit
Innocent-looking Sam’s Study kit

Little did I realize…

TO SEE WHAT WAS INSIDE THE BOX, KEEP READING

Never Mind Flying Under The Radar. How About Flying Right Smack Dab Into The Middle Of It?

In the aviation world, trying to avoid detection is called “flying under the radar”. We did this in school all the time when we didn’t have the faintest idea what the answer was, to the question the teacher had just posed to the class. We would basically sit there immobile, trying to look as nonchalant and inconspicuous as possible, hoping to be mistaken for a store mannequin or maybe a piece of furniture. Or maybe even a young woolly mammoth that was somehow flash-frozen by a super-hurricane like the ones in that cool (!) movie: The Day After Tomorrow.

Super-hurricanes aside, in a sublime moment of cosmic quirkiness, an ordinary housefly barreled fearlessly into the heart of the storm that was raging in the Vice Presidential debate the other night. The first thing I thought to myself was “Holy Kadoda! This is the Chuck Yeager of flies!” (Chuck was an iconic, fearless test-pilot profiled in that old astronaut movie: The Right Stuff.) Anyway, this fly bee-lined (!) directly for Mike Pence’s head. And stayed on it. For quite a long time.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT READING BEYOND THIS POINT

Please Don’t Leave It To Beaver

Spoiler alert: the featured image is highly misleading. That thing staring at the cat is a Cambropachycope, a sea-dwelling arthropod which lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Housecats, on the other paw, arrived on Earth about 3.4 million years ago, from a distant star system but by that time the Cambropachycopes were long gone, having evolved into bureaucrats. Plus, at 1.5 mm, they (the Cambropachycopes, not the bureaucrats) were basically teensy. Not to mention underwater. So there’s no way a Cambropachycope could have gone compound eyeball to eyeballs with a cat. I just put that image out there to get your attention.

NOBODY IS FORCING YOU TO CONTINUE READING

The Skinny On Ketogenic Diets (With No Apology to The Moody Blues)

I have to confess that I was going to entitle this post: The Ketogenic Blues. Then I starting thinking that I should add The Ketogenic Blues to my list of suggested names for bands until I realized that it sounded too much like The Moody Blues (which is a real band-as approximately half of my 27 readers know). But I overcame my reluctance and added The Ketogenic Blues to my list just the same. Here is the up-to-date list:

Continue Reading

How To Weigh 25,000 Penguins (Simultaneously) With Apologies to Dr. Seuss

I guess the first question that pops into my mind at this point is: why would you want to weigh 25,000 penguins? This question is closely followed by a second question which is: what could any of this possibly have to do with the beloved author of books for children of all sizes, Dr. Seuss? Last but not least: do I have even the slightest idea where this column is headed?

Continue reading “How To Weigh 25,000 Penguins (Simultaneously) With Apologies to Dr. Seuss”

Cabinet Of Curiousities

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

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

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

CONTINUE READING

Pecking Order

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

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

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

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

Contributors to Positive Mindset of American males

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

What are we to take from this?

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

Rooster’s sizing up each other’s neck ruffs

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

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

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

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

Here we have Mr. Baart interacting with the owlets.

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

Jos says this about the whole situation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

welcome to Dubbo

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

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

Kepler Hubble Jr. III: “How weird?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

man with Finse structure constant tattooed on his arm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recently-discovered parallel sock universe