Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Pest Control 101

The holiday season, aka Christmas, is wrapping up (pun intended), but with all that extra food lying around over the last week or so, I should probably talk about pest control.  Pest control isn’t all that difficult if you follow a few simple rules.

Rule #1: Focus

In order to eradicate your pests, you need to focus.  This means that you need to define exactly what you are trying to eradicate.  Are you going after all your bratty nieces and nephews-or just the ones less than three feet tall?  What about those terrifying eyelash mites we heard about in Grade Six?  The ones that literally dive in and out of your eyelashes with reckless abandon, sucking the juices out of them until they (the eyelashes) wizzle up and fall off?

eyelash_mite
Demodex folliculorum (maybe)

I think this is an unretouched image of an eyelash mite contemplating diving into its next eyelash with reckless abandon. But I’m a little suspicious of the overall quality of the information on the site where I got the image (everything you wanted to know about eyelash mites).

For instance, I found this quote kind of misleading:

“Actually they (Demodex folliculorum) like to burrow into the follicles. You don’t have any symptoms. But your eyelashes can get irritated and very itchy. This can cause our eyelashes to fall out.”

Hello?  Last time I checked, irritation is a symptom.  Like when your patient says, “My eyelashes are irritated.”  That’s a symptom.  And if you’re really on your game that day, you will immediately counter with a patient-centered interviewing technique and ask,

“What do you think might be wrong with you?”

The patient will probably say, “I literally think I have eyelash mites.”

And what about itchiness?  Same story.  It’s a symptom too.

Eyelashes falling out is a symptom if the patient tells you about it, but if you happen to see eyelashes falling out on physical exam, then it’s a sign, not a symptom.  But maybe I’m splitting hairs.  And who the hell actually examines their patients these days anyway?

I’m just saying you should be a little wary of some of the stuff you read on line.  Especially the stuff in some of these would-be humor columns.

But I’m getting way off focus here, so let’s talk about spiders.  They make pretty good pests since many of us non-spiders are terrified of them.  And supposedly we’re less than three feet away from a spider  literally everywhere on Earth.

OK let’s stop right here.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but to me it seems like literally everyone  is misusing “literally.”  I wanted to see if anyone else was noticing this problem so I googled “overuse of literally.”  Literally less than one second later, my suspicions were confirmed.  Literally tons of people are concerned about this issue.  I found a great site that outlines the problem: stop saying literally .

The author, Liz Bureman, explains:

“When something is literally occurring, that means that it is happening exactly as described. Someone who is literally passing out from excitement has their eyes rolling back in their head, and is collapsing to the ground as we speak.

Usually, the intended word is figuratively, which means that whatever is happening is being described metaphorically. Someone who is figuratively on pins and needles with anticipation is really looking forward to something. Someone who is literally on pins and needles is currently experiencing small puncture wounds on their body.”

I literally adore the way Ms. Bureman thinks.

Note that just now I misused “literally” another way: I used it for emphasis when really, I should have been looking for some other adverb like “totally” or “absolutely” or “incontestably.”  Just saying.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, spiders.  Although I think they are great pests, it turns out that this whole less-than-three-feet-from-a-spider-almost-everywhere-on-Earth thing is another one of those pesky urban legends.  Just go to the truth about spiders where you’ll read about Norman Platnick’s tragic error back in 1995.  Norman Platnick is a famous arachnologist, in case you were wondering.

norm-platnick
Norman Platnick less than three feet away from a spider

You could also just try using some common sense.  Do you honestly think there are spiders crawling everywhere in Antarctica?  What about at the summit of Everest? Or during free-fall whilst skydiving.  Next time you are in Antarctica or on the summit of Everest, or in free-fall, take a look around, would you?

I want to move on but first I need to give you this short list of other things we’re literally never more than 3 feet from: nitrogen and oxygen molecules, our cell phones, someone bitching about Donald Trump even if we happen to be alone in a small capsule orbiting the Earth, 20 mph playground/school zones where there the nearest playground/school is literally 200 yards away, situated behind an 8-foot, barbed-wire fence.

Ok, we’re good.

I just realized that if we’re going to get serious about eradicating pests, right away we run up against a big problem, which is how to pluralize animals.  A good way to pluralize animals is to stick a male and female together for awhile.  You will probably wind up with more of that animal, sooner or later.

Now one platypus rooting around your yard isn’t such a big deal but what if there are more?  You will have a hard time getting anyone to take you seriously if you don’t get the terminology down pat.

You: Hello, I’d like to speak to someone about my pest problem.

Norm: Hi, this is Norm Platnick.  What can I do for you?

You: There are a bunch of platypuses rooting around my backyard.

Norm: Don’t you mean platypi?

You: Whatever.

Norm: I’d like to help you but I’m an arachnologist, not a platypusologist.  How did you get this number?

I literally just realized that I’m still in Rule #1 so I should probably make a new rule.  You need to know how to tell what kind of pest you’re dealing with, if it isn’t something obvious like a platypus or a spider.  This next rule will give some helpful pointers.

Rule #2: How to spot pests

If you have an octopus problem you’re likely going to find open jars of peanut butter out on the counter, or maybe open child-proof pill bottles.  You might find that all your combination locks are dangling open as well.  Octopodes are smart as hell and can open anything.  You really need to worry if you never had any peanut butter, child-proof pill bottles or combination locks in your house, because that means the octopus was bringing them into your house.  So that is one devilishly clever octopus.  Good luck.

Mice are easy.  Obviously you might see droppings or hear scritching sounds emanating from the walls.  More subtle signs include a note left inside the fridge:

cheese-request

Again,  good luck.  That is clearly not an ordinary mouse you’re facing although it seems to be polite.  It could have written: “More Gouda.  Or else.”  You should also probably watch “Mouse Hunt” a 1997 movie starring Nathan Lane, Lee Evans and featuring guest exterminator Christopher Walken.

mouse-hunt

Elephants are tough to spot.  Clues include random vibrations of the floor, random earsplitting trumpeting sounds, and random small mountains of dung also called “cookies.”

What about marine iguanas Piece of cake.  They’re easy to spot.

This next image depicts a marine iguana feeling quite pleased about life in general and its new hairdo in particular.

marine-iguanas_2
Marine iguana relatively free of eyelash mites but facing a fairly serious algae problem

What about snakes?  A surefire sign that there are snakes nearby is if you spot a hatchling marine iguana hauling ass and literally running for its life. If you don’t believe me you need to watch this clip: hatchling marine iguana literally running for its life.

That clip is the best thing I have ever seen.  Seriously.  Even better than that picture in which two guys are dueling with van de Graaf generator-based weaponry.  You will be on your feet cheering your heart out for that iguana.

You can literally trust me on this.

 Next month: How to tell if you have a Komodo Dragon problem when you’re not a deer.
komodo-dragon-problem
Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

There and Back Again (With Apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien)

I initially titled this post:

There And Back Again: In Which I Leave Calgary at 6 AM One Tuesday Morning, Fly To Miami And Return To Calgary 30 Hours Later Carrying Little or No Luggage and Committing No Felonies That I Know Of, In Case You Were Wondering

But I shortened it.

This whole business started back in 1993, when I was a Family Doctor in Emo, Ontario. We Emo-ites had our choice of two largish newspapers: The Winnipeg Free Press and The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal.  I liked the Free Press, as it carried Dave Barry’s hilarious weekly humor column, entitled: Dave Barry.  Here’s a link to one of his oldies, published around the time I was in Emo: Tarts Afire.  Mr. Barry is a man who unquestionably knows how to have a good time with everyday household objects including small appliances.  For this, I commend him.

I was doing a bit of humor writing back then, and eventually sent Dave some material.  In the fullness of time, he was kind enough to send me a postcard, which I keep in a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault, next to my cigars.

postcard-1993-2

postcard-1993-1

After twenty-two years, it’s not that legible, but if you peer at it closely, you still can’t read it. Maybe it’s due to the special lamination process I put it through-the same process used to preserve priceless documents like the original edition of the Kama Sutra, and Santa’s pilot’s license.  Anyway, it says:

Dear George:

They don’t actually let you near patients do they?

With Alarm,

Dave Barry MD.

We now fast forward to June 2015 when I started writing these columns.  I sent a few of them to Dave earlier this year, and once again he kindly sent me another postcard:

2016-postcard-2

Inexplicably, in late August I was seized by a powerful urge to shake Dave’s hand before I died (or before he did).  And as fate would decree, it turned out that he was still alive, and was about to embark on a tour to promote his new book: “Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland”.  (I feel like maybe that last period should have gone inside the quotation marks but I’ll leave it alone for now.)

The first stop on the tour was Tuesday, Sept 6 at the stately (and old) Coral Gables Congregational Church, coincidentally located in Coral Gables, a city just south of Downtown Miami.

best-state-evercoral-gables-cong-church

Next thing you know it’s 4 AM, Tuesday September 6, 2016 (a banner day!) and I’m headed to the Calgary airport to catch a plane to Dallas or maybe it’s Houston, followed by another flight from there to Miami.

4:00 AM I leave my house.

6:00 AM: U.S. Customs, Calgary International Airport.  The Customs Officer looks askance at me, as I have no luggage, and I’m basically making an assault run to Miami.  But he actually knows who Dave Barry is.  We become friends.

5:00 PM: I land in Miami. (I came through either Dallas, or Houston; I forget which.) I check into my hotel room, which is conveniently located on the airport departure level.  Well, the front desk is, anyway.  The book-signing begins at 7:30 PM, so  I have lots of time.  I pace around  my hotel room for a while, then grab a bite to eat.

6:00 PM: I hail a cab. The driver seems uncertain about the current location of Coral Gables let alone the church.  I start to squirm.  He mutters something which sounds like “Lajeune”.  I wonder if that’s his wife’s name, a French epithet, the name of a street, or what. He appears to set out on a northerly vector, but soon we turn south. I stop squirming.  It starts to rain.

6:15 PM: We are still heading south. I notice that we are on Le Jeune Rd. I take comfort in this.  Then the driver asks me how much farther it is to the church.  I gently remind him that his part in this is to know where he’s going and my part is to pay him for this knowledge.  I suggest he call his dispatcher. I whip out my smart phone to look at a map.  He whips out a small object which appears to have waxed string spooling out from it and stretching back north the way we’ve come.  It’s raining harder now.

6:30 PM: I reach the conclusion we should have hung a right about 4 blocks ago.  My driver has come to the same conclusion after a lengthy conversation with his dispatcher, via what I now realize is a tin-can phone.  We turn around and head north.  He apologizes and explains that he never comes to the airport, and does all his driving over at the beach.  That being the case, I’m tempted to ask him what in the heck he was doing picking up fares at the airport instead of the beach, but I refrain.

6:30-6:45 PM: We are heading the right way but are encountering a lot of complicated traffic circles. I’m squirming again, and it’s still raining.

6:46 PM: I point out the church to the driver, as he is about to go past it.  A bunch of people are filing in a door at the side of the building.  I take encouragement from this.  By the time I pay the driver and exit the cab, they have all disappeared.  Undaunted, I press on around the building, ignoring  numerous paper signs bearing arrows on them.  Above the arrows, the words “Books and Books” are printed.  Books and Books is the bookstore sponsoring the event.  I know this but have somehow blocked it out of my conscious mind.

6:51 PM: I find myself in an open courtyard within the confines of the church.  It’s still raining.  I still have oodles of time.  I see a guy on the opposite side of the courtyard, pacing around and having a smoke.  I go up to him and ask him where the event is.  He points me to a door leading back into one side of the courtyard.  He seems to have a bit of a hunted look in his eye.

6:52 PM: I find myself outside a small room, after navigating many twists and turns.  I go in the room.  People are drinking coffee and eating cookies at a side table.  A cheerful woman with a nametag shakes my hand and says her name is Sandy.  Or maybe it’s Phyllis.  I tell her my name.  I look around.  The room seems very small.  In a quavery voice, I say to cheerful Sandy/Phyllis, “Is this the Dave Barry event?”  She cheerfully informs me that actually, it’s an AA meeting.  My heart leaps!  This could only have happened to me if I’m close enough to the man himself, to feel the reality-warping effect of the Barryon Rays he emits.  I leave the small room.

6:53-6:55 PM: I make my way back the way I came, this time paying much more attention to those signs I saw on the way in.  I follow a rivulet of people who have three things in common: they’re older than I; they all have way better tans then I do; they look rich. I gaze furtively at my battered Converse sneakers, which coincidentally happen to be on my feet, and press on.

6:59 PM: Oh Happy Day! I am in line to pick up my pre-ordered copy of: Best.State.Ever.

7:00 PM: I am seated next to the centre aisle, in the church itself.  I squirm a bit more. I find out that the people beside me have relatives in Northern Alberta.

img_1129

7:30 PM: Dave appears and starts talking.  Alleleuia indeed!

The theme of the talk was all the weird stuff that happens in Florida, through no fault of native Floridians, and actually due to so many weird people moving to Florida every day.  Dave got off to a good start, regaling us with the story of a woman who crashed her car in March 2010 whilst en route to the Keys to visit her boyfriend, accompanied by, of all people, her ex-husband.  Surprisingly, she ran (!) into trouble because she was attempting to spruce up her “personal area”, as Dave put it, by giving it a trim.

Where are all the self-driving cars when you need one?

Anyway, it’s all here: Woman crashes car while shaving bikini area

Dave then went on to talk about some of Florida’s old-time tourist attractions starting with a sort of Grecian Sponge Temple named Spongeorama.  (Spongeorama is a Greek outburst which means:  there are a shit-ton of different kinds of sponges in  here!)  He then moved on to walk us through the Weeki Watchee Springs Mermaid Show.  I actually went there when I was three years old, and I still remember the place; I would recognize that manatee anywhere.  In the poster below and right, the manatee is in the centre of the group.

spongeorama.jpg

weeki-wachee-springs

Dave was just starting into telling us about his  stay in The Villages of Geriatric Line-Dancing , when I interrupted him and asked him a question:

ME: “Dave, did all this take place before, or after, the invention of the cordless electric razor?”

The room went quiet, and I think he sort of squinted at me with a puzzled expression.

ME AGAIN: “You know, per your anecdote about the woman who had to tend to her personal area, as you put it, whilst driving.”

DAVE: “Ohhh.  Are you still stuck on that?”

ME: “Yeah, I just can’t seem to move past it.”

DAVE: “I can’t wait to find out what you’re thinking about Spongeorama.”

That exchange drew lots of laughs.  What can I say?  I wanted him to remember me.  I didn’t come all the way to Miami just to lay up.  And I don’t even golf.  (But I love that movie Tin Cup, starring Elias Koteas and Nia Vardalos.  Or maybe it was Kevin Costner and Rene Russo.  I forget.)

All too soon, the talk was over, and we were in line to get our books signed, shake Dave’s hand, and get on with our lives.  When it was my turn, I told him “I’m the guy who flew 3000 miles down here from Calgary, in Canada, for this.”

“Cal-gah-ree  huh,” he said, seeming a tad bemused.  I think I was probably about the 300th person in the line, so I can’t blame him for being slightly shell-shocked at that point in the evening.  I forget what we else we said.  Maybe something about the 1994 postcard.  But we laughed, shook hands, and a nice woman ahead of me took some pictures.  Dave is wearing the blue shirt, and I am wearing Converse (not shown).  Those are his glasses.

img_1135img_1138img_1141

9:30 PM: I have the good sense to walk one block to a famous Miami fixture, The Biltmore Hotel Miami Coral Gables, to hail a cab. The driver confides to me in a conspiratorial tone that most cabbies don’t know their way around the city.

9:30-9:49 PM:  I ponder this new piece of information during my short ride back to the hotel.

9:50 PM: I arrive back at the hotel.  Eventually I go to bed.

6:00 AM Wednesday: I’m on a plane and headed for Calgary, via Dallas, or maybe Houston.  I can’t remember.  It’s been an eventful 30 hours, with lots of take-offs and landings, just to get a book signed.

12:30 PM Wednesday: I’m back in Calgary and back on my treadmill.  Nobody even knew I was gone.

Well, that’s one more thing off my bucket list and one more thing on my reading list.

Best.State.Ever. signed and delivered.JPG

Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Static Electricity

I was at a medical conference in Toronto recently and one of the speakers cited the work of a physician named Dr. Hu in her talk.  After the talk was over, the moderator thanked the speaker and then said, “We have to get Doctor Hu here.”

Unbidden, the following conversation immediately popped into my head:

“We have to get Doctor Hu here.”

“Doctor Who?”

“Yeah, Hu.”

“Doctor Yahoo?”

“No. Doctor Hu.”

“Ohhh… Doctor Hu here!”

“No, not Doctor Huhear.  Doctor Hu. Here.”

“When?”

“Now! And then we need to dispense with these ridiculously short sentences and get on with the main topic of this column.”

“Is there ever a main topic?”

“Rarely”

Now that I have that off my chest, I have to talk about a book by Bill Bryson that I’ve been reading lately entitled: At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York. Doubleday, 2010.  Like all Bryson’s books, At Home is written with wonderfully dry, witty humor, and it’s packed with fascinating trivia.

bryson-at-home

In Chapter 11, which is in no way bankrupt(!) of trivia, Bryson launches into a discussion of mousetraps, mice, bedbugs, bats, rabies and last but not least, rats.  He cites this example of their ingenuity:

“Rats are smart and often work cooperatively. At the former Gansevoort poultry market in Greenwich Village, New York, pest control authorities could not understand how rats were stealing eggs without breaking them, so one night an exterminator sat in hiding to watch. What he saw was that one rat would embrace an egg with all four legs, then roll over on his back. A second rat would then drag the first rat by its tail to their burrow, where they could share their prize in peace.”

I really, really wanted to believe that story, but at the same time, the urban legend warning light in my brain started flashing, just like it did when I read about the intoxicated Marine who was supposedly arrested after a failed attempt to foil his car ignition interlock by having a raccoon breathe into it. (Craggy Island Calculus Problem)  I knew that one wasn’t true.  Turns out both the Marine AND the raccoon were drunk.

Anyway, back to the pilfering rats. I did what everybody does these days when we want to find out if something is true: I Googled “rats carrying eggs” and sure enough, I came up with that sketch you see up top, which was penciled by English naturalist and sportsman Charles William George St. John (b.1809-d.1856). Various webpages have reproduced that drawing including one in which a guy named Michael claims that his Aunt Mavis told him, “That’s exactly how rats steal eggs in England!” (What Aunt Mavis said)

But I was still suspicious.  After all, in Charlotte’s Web, the spider Charlotte had to move heaven and earth to get just one rat named Templeton to cooperate with her in saving Wilbur’s life.  I just couldn’t picture three rats  teaming up and then amicably sharing the booty.  Plus, I thought surely if rats really use one of their mates as a sort of travois during criminal activities, someone would have caught it on video by now, posted it on YouTube and it would have 83 million hits and counting, as I type.

After some more rooting around with Google, I didn’t find what I was looking for; however, I did find a clip in which a lone sumo wrestler-sized rat named Ossi  picked up an egg, bit into it, and then scampered up to its lair with the egg leading the way, impaled by Ossi’s front teeth. (Ossi the rat pilfering an egg)

But this really didn’t prove anything. For example, just because you see someone wearing a kilt, it doesn’t disprove that they couldn’t also wear a small patch of absorbent material on their forehead sometimes.  Because they could.  If they really wanted to.  No one would care.  Just saying.

dr-mcgillson
Dr. McGillson
sweat-patch-middle-of-forehead
Don’t ask

Finally though, after more Google-rooting, I found a pretty definitive statement on this page (Rats aren’t as clever as we would like them to be) dedicated to the identification of British egg thieves .  Here is what it said about rats:

Rats
  • Rats prefer the large, cryptic eggs of colonial nesting birds and consume the eggs in the nest.
  • They make a hole in the side or end of the egg with characteristic chip marks, then lick out the contents.
  • Squirrel signs are very similar.
  • A common myth is that rats co-operate to steal hens’ eggs – one lies on its back, holding the egg to its chest, while another rat pulls out the content with its tail. This is not true.

Well I guess that’s that.  But at least I’m now at a place where I can talk about static electricity.  One of the reasons why I was a little suspicious about this whole rats-teaming-up-to-steal-eggs thing is that the sledge rat would probably accumulate some serious static electricity if it’s furry, egg-laden body was rubbing along on a wooden, glass or worst-case, rubber floor.

Now as kids, we all quickly learned to rub balloons against our clothes or heads, then stick them (the balloons) on a wall, a cat or each other.  We learned even more quickly that if we inflated the balloons first, it worked even better!  We asked our grandmas how that all worked.  Mine said, “How the hell do I know?  I’m eighty-three years old; I was born in a small village about 60 miles south of Sparta, in Greece; we moved to Detroit when I was about seven years old and it took me a long time to learn English, never mind Electrostatics.  Go ask your mother.”

But somehow we all eventually learned that static buildup is due to electron transfer between two different insulators such as T-shirts and cat hair, or leather and rubber.  The transfer is increased if the two materials rub together.  A big van de Graaf generator, which uses this principle (dissimilar things rubbing together), can build up an electric potential of hundreds of  thousands of volts.

Check this out. I think  these two people are standing on big van de Graaf generators.  I’m soooo jealous.

lordsoflightning

Here are some schematics showing how a van de Graaf generator works:

van-de-graaf-generator

 van_de_graaf_generator

If you think that the schematic on the left looks an awful lot like a vertical treadmill, you are correct!  Alert readers know that I have a treadmill desk (Treadmill Desks).  Jimmie Kimmell apparently also has one.  He may  wear a kilt occasionally.  I don’t know for sure.  It looks like he has on a pair of shorts in the picture below.  It might be a skort though.  Again, just saying.

jimmy-kimmel-on-treadmill

One thing I do know for sure is that my treadmill works exactly like a van de Graaf generator, and the reason I know this is that one day, when things got colder here in Calgary (and hence drier) I was talking on my desk phone as I was walking, and then I started getting zapped in the ear every few seconds.  The built-up charge was finding its way to ground by arcing across to the earpiece of the phone. Then the display screen on the phone blanked out.

Awhile later I got a pretty good lifter when a spark lanced from my fingertip into my computer mouse, right by the scroll-wheel.  After that the scroll-wheel quit working.

Then for some reason I decided to increase the speed of the treadmill and suddenly there was a loud SNAP! and my heart stopped.  Just for a few seconds though. I was fine.  Really.  Didn’t miss a beat! And  I’m getting way better range with my new all-electric car now, for some reason.

Tesla RMA.JPG
Tesla Model S

As soon as the grounded wrist strap  I ordered gets here, it’s all good.

wrist-strap

Meanwhile, I have a grounded rod I can hang on to, need be.  It looks a little weird though, and another downside is that I can’t play the bagpipes if one hand is hanging on to a grounded rod all day. But the upside is that the friction (!) between me and my co-workers has diminished considerably.

My grandmother always told me you can’t stay grounded AND play the bagpipes.  And if you don’t believe her, just ask this physicist.  I’ll bet he knows a lot about Electrostatics.

bagpipes-in-space
Bagpipes in low-Earth orbit
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

Gravity Waves

There’s something that’s been on my mind for quite a while now but I just couldn’t seem to get inspired to write about it.  In addition to seeming like I couldn’t get inspired, I actually couldn’t get inspired.  And if I had gotten inspired, I would have written this already, wouldn’t I?  Just saying.

All that changed recently when the detection of gravity waves was announced. I don’t know if it has already occurred to you, but it occurred to me, that The Gravity Waves actually sounds like a great name for a band. (Well maybe not great, but at least sort of quirky.) Again, just saying.

In order to get to the thing that has been on my mind for a long time, I first need to talk about gravity.  But now I can’t bring up gravity without giving gravity waves a nod.  But I can’t talk about gravity waves without giving spacetime a nod.  So let’s start there.

Until Hermann Minkowski came along and gave the matter serious thought, we had this idea that space and time were two different things, like Bernie Saunders and Hilary Clinton. In 1908, he (Minkowski, not Bernie Saunders) came up with the notion that the best way to look at the Universe is with a 4-dimensional coordinate system called spacetime, consisting of three spatial dimensions and a time dimension thrown in for good measure.

Spacetime is great because it helps us do the math to understand why objects that move really fast look smaller, and don’t age as fast as slower-moving objects.  This could explain why Jane Fonda doesn’t look like she is 78 years old; she’s probably spent some time zipping around at close to the speed of light.

Anyway, after Minkowski held forth about spacetime, Einstein went on to postulate that cataclysmic gravitational events like the collision of two black holes, the explosion of stars or the vigorous grappling of sumo wrestlers, can generate waves that propagate at the speed of light through spacetime, warping it as they go.

sumo

The predicted magnitude of the warping is pretty tiny though, on the order of 1 attometer or 10—18m, which is, by the way, roughly about the distance a 14-year old boy moves when he is asked to clean up the kitchen.

Einstein thought that gravity waves would be too weak to detect, but for decades since the early 1900’s, scientists at many facilities including The Department of Measuring Really Tiny Things and Drinking A Lot of Coffee, have been relentlessly trying to prove their existence.  And finally, the good people at the United States-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO for short) have succeeded!

By the way, an interferometer is a sophisticated instrument that is capable of measuring the attometer-sized changes in the distances that two laser beams travel as they bounce back and forth inside it, interfering with each other.

Laser Beam #1: Stop that!

Laser Beam #2: Owww.  That really hurt.

Laser Beam #1: Owww  back. Keep your E-field to yourself.

Laser Beam #2: Keep your M-field out of my grill.

Laser Beam #1: You’re bossy.

This next picture shows two LIGO physicists thinking about going for their 30thcoffee of the day while they wait for the next gravity wave to come smoking in.

physicists

The detection of gravity waves is big news, because not only does it confirm that Einstein was top-notch in the thinking-about-arcane-stuff-department, it also allows us to see farther back in time than we ever could before, it deepens our understanding of gravity and it may even help us to formulate the long sought-after physics Theory of Everything.  (Unfortunately, it probably won’t help me figure out the rules I’m supposed to be following when sorting laundry.)

But all this talk about gravity finally gets me to the thing that has been bothering me for a long time.  Actually, it’s two related things.

The first thing is how John Carter (the adventurous brainchild of Edgar Rice Burroughs) was able to leap multiple city blocks 40-feet in the air within an hour or so of arriving on Mars.

leaping

The second thing is how the apparent size of The Hulk changes dramatically depending on what Hulk movie you happen to be watching, and even within any given movie.

hulk

I reckoned that the John Carter issue probably had something to do with the decreased gravity on Mars.  And I really didn’t know what to make of the Hulk issue.  Local variations in the strength of the Earth’s gravitational field maybe?  (OK, I’m reaching here.) But you know what? A bunch of other people have been scratching their heads about these exact same issues!  Weird, huh?

At this site ( Kevin Carr weighs in )an astute chap by the name of Kevin Carr weighed in on John Carter:

“Some have said that John Carter was the first action hero and possibly the first superhero. After all, he certainly acted like one, leaping across the Martian desert. These feats of leg strength began when he first arrives on Mars, learning to walk on a new planet. Once he gets his Mars legs, John Carter is able to jump like the athletic love child of Superman and Michael Jordan. It starts with long bounds, but soon he is able to vertically leap over people, Martians, and even several city blocks about half-way through the film.”

Rice Burroughs himself chalked this up to reduced gravity and thinner air on Mars. For sure the air (mostly CO2) is quite a bit thinner over there, but gravity is still only about 1/3 as strong as what it is on Earth, and I don’t see anyone leaping even one city block here in Calgary, much less anywhere else on Earth, so I remain puzzled.  Maybe John Carter was eating a lot of potatoes.  (see “The Martian”).

Or maybe he just became very buffed by walking his Martian dog.  It’s big dog.

johns-dog

This brings me to The Hulk aka Bruce Banner.  Like I said, I’m not the only one noodling over this whole business of exactly how big Bruce gets when he needs to save Earth from Aliens or can’t find a pair of matching socks or whatever.

On the site What is the canonical size of The Hulk someone asked this rather long question:

“I’ve noticed that in the recent Hulk movies his size varies from movie to movie. I’ve heard, but don’t know for a fact that the size of the Hulk seemed to change during the 2003 Eric Bana Hulk movie.  In the Ed Norton version he seems to be 2-3 stories tall. But in the more recent Avengers movie I’d say he was more like 2-3 meters. I can see why he is made smaller in this movie, since he was going to go toe-to-toe with Thor.  So, is there a size that is ever mentioned in the comics? Or do the comics leave room for his size to change to fit the situation?

(Just in case you’re wondering, canonical means: “a natural unique representation of an object, or a preferred notation for some object” as well as “authorized, recognized, accepted.”)

Marvel.com says Hulk can be anywhere from 6’6″ to 8’, depending on what color he is and how mad he happens to be.  I thought Hulk only came in one color (green) but apparently not.  And I swear that in one movie I saw, Hulk was 2- or 3-stories tall. Turns out that I just need to go back to film school. Someone with the Twitter handle Krillgar clarified things for all of us, me included:

“He wasn’t 2-3 stories tall. In the scene where he jumps out of the covered bridge at the school, they’re using a low angle looking up from the ground right at his feet. If he was 2 or 3 stories tall, his head would have been scraping the ceiling of the soda plant in Brazil. He was probably around 7’6″ – 8′ tall in The Incredible Hulk.”

So it’s all just camera angles.  I should have thought of that.  But I guess that settles the Hulk issue! And it’s important because there are a lot of Hulk movies.

You know, I was originally going to come at this John Carter/Hulk stuff from the angle of genetics, and whether great athletes are born or are simply the product of intense training/teleportation/10,000 hours, etc. But I’ll leave that for another time when I talk about some of these new sports like Footrug, Aqua Cricket and Gravity Wave Surfing.

Maybe the quickest way to get to the bottom of the John Carter issue once and for all is to just go to Mars myself.  It looks like that will actually be possible in the relatively near future, because in case you didn’t know, Elon Musk and his brilliant, hard-working crew at SpaceX (headquarters conveniently located at 1 Rocket Road, Hawthorne, California) are drinking inhuman amounts of coffee, racing their Teslas, and feverishly laboring to do just that: get Mankind to other planets, Mars being first on their list.

If anyone has gravity figured out, I’ll bet SpaceX does.

I hear they’re hiring, so I’m just going to shoot (!) my resume on down to Hawthorne, CA.

As soon as I finish waxing my gravity wave surfboard.

sky-surfing

Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Food Mashups and Other Topics

For some reason, I want to spend some time today writing about food mashups.  I also want to mention a new form of matter called spin-liquid.  I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to segue from food mashups to spin liquid yet, but like Roy McAvoy said in Tin Cup: “When a defining moment comes along you define the moment or the moment defines you.”  So here goes…

Alert readers know that a mashup is “a mixture or fusion of disparate elements”.  So for example you could record together a bunch of different music tracks and wind up with something that sounds like five cats, a parrot and a bunch of empty tin cans loose in a dryer set to “De-wrinkle”.

You could build a house mashup by starting with a dwelling for your pet turtle but then keep adding bits on to the original project as you keep trading up to successively larger pets, as outlined in “Why I Built Fallingwater” by Frank Lloyd Wright.

boogle2

As you can see in the photo below, we have a turtle house grafted on to a duck pen commingled with a rabbit hutch fused to a cat enclosure wedded with a dog kennel.  The nanny goat is trying to convince the boy to become the next occupant but something goes wrong, and instead the goat ends up living in the final structure along with a horse, an elephant (not shown) and a sperm whale (not shown).  Or maybe it was a right whale.  Or maybe I have the right whale but the wrong anecdote.

boogle1

Anyway, enough of that nonsense.  With the holiday season upon us, it’s time for some other nonsense about food mashups.  I forgot about food mashups for a long time after first learning about the Turducken years ago.  As we all know, the Turducken is a deboned chicken stuffed inside a deboned duck tucked inside a deboned turkey.  Sort of like nesting Russian Dolls that you can eat.  According to one article I read, Turducken were popularized by noted chef Paul Prudhomme.  Note that here I am using Turducken to denote both the singular and plural cases.  I could probably have used Turduckens for the plural case, now that you mention it.

I was astounded (well maybe not that astounded) to find out that this notion of an infinite (well maybe not infinite, but pretty darned long) series of cooked birds nestled inside progressively larger cooked birds extends back through time all the way to the early Romans who, by the way, are also credited with the invention of Tums.

So anyway my point is that of late, I hadn’t been spending a lot of time thinking about food mashups in general or Turducki in particular.  (Or is it Turducken?  Turduckens? I’m still not clear on this point.)  Then I heard about Piecakens, courtesy of noted Toronto chef, Arden Longmuir.

Outwardly, the typical piecaken looks like your basic frosted cake, but if you take the trouble to do a terahertz scan of the thing, you will discover that there are one or more pies sequestered inside the “cake”.  If you don`t have a terahertz scanner you can just cut it open and reach the same conclusion.(A terahertz scanner is that thing at the airport that can show people what you look like in the nude.)

cake

Piecakens usually offer up between 40,000 and 60,000 calories per slice, enough to satisfy the average fully-grown Kraken for several days.  You`ll recall that Krakens are giant sea monsters said to inhabit the coastal waters of Norway and Greenland.

kraken

People think that piecakens are a relatively new phenomenon, but like the Turducken, the concept can actually be traced far back in time, zooming past the Romans and going all the way to the early Jurassic Era.     (I may be lying about this last bit, as there were no terahertz scanners in the Jurassic Era.)

Actually, a coffee table book author by the name of Charles Phoenix says that in 2007 he invented a type of piecaken called a cherpumple, which is a mashup of cherry, apple and pumpkin pies.  He’s not sure if he’s the first person to have had the notion to stick a pie inside a cake, but he reckons he is the first person to have made Internet headlines by doing so.  But regardless of their origin, foods like the piecaken and its evil twin sister the cherpumple are everywhere these days.  The piecaken even won a spot on Kelly and Michael just after Thanksgiving 2015; Kelly wisely chewed on a brochure picturing a piecaken, sparing herself 73 extra hours on the treadmill.

But it turns out that for sheer ingenuity, the Inuit of Greenland and Canada are eating the collective lunches of Kelly Ripa, the ancient Romans and all the denizens of the early Jurassic Era, terahertz scanners or no.  But almost no one is eating the lunches of the Inuit when they are serving a traditional winter food called Kiviak.

Kiviak is made by gutting a seal and stuffing the blubber-lined carcass with hundreds of Little Auks (Alle alle), which are tiny starling-sized seabirds (also known as Dovekies).  I swear on Dave Barry`s driver`s license that I am not making any of this up.

dovekies

The first thing you are probably asking yourself is why don`t the Inuit use Great Auks?  Well Great Auks are too big for one, and secondly there aren’t any Great Auks left because they were all eaten by the Kraken.  (Or is it the Krakens?  I’m still not clear on this point.)

Anyway, the auk-stuffed carcass is sewn up and left to ferment under a pile of rocks for up to 18 months.  Below we are seeing an actual seal carcass, looking a lot like the pod of some kind of large Alien insect, being slit open in readiness for lunch.  I swear on Sigourney Weaver`s driver`s license that I am not making up so much as a single syllable of any of this, either.

kiviak

According to foodie Marissa Brassfield, the seal’s fat acts as a tenderizer and preservative; this enables people to eat the birds raw, bones and all.  Apparently it is even common practice to bite off the tiny bird’s heads and then suck out the juices, which are chock-full of nutrients.  Kiviak apparently tastes like some kind of ripe cheese and since it is quite pungent, it is eaten outdoors, typically about 500 miles offshore.  Even Krakens won’t touch it with a hundred-foot tentacle.

Kiviak is considered a special treat to celebrate weddings, birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions such as the discovery of spin-liquid, which was announced late this year by physics professor Takashi Imai at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, located about 2900 kM southwest of Nuuk, the capital city of Greenland.

Spin-liquid, existing in theory for more than forty years, was recently confirmed in crystalline matter chilled to -272 °C and subjected to magnetic fields 60,000 times stronger than Earth`s.  Under these conditions the electrons refuse to line up in opposite-spin pairs, and remain in an unresolved, or “liquid” state.  I don`t know about you, but if someone tried to chill me to -272 °C and subject me to a ferocious magnetic field I would probably be a little ornery too.

Currently there are no practical applications for this new material, but I`m going to give it some thought as soon as I finish the last –buuurp-helping of this new food mashup I just dreamed up: strands of red licorice threaded through corn dogs baked in banana peels and garnished with Worcestershire sauce.

Just remember; you read it here first.

Posted in zany, offbeat, somewhat silly humor

Material World

These past couple of millennia, many people have been thinking that here on Earth we are way too attached to the material plane of existence.  Consider the sheer panic you experience when you can’t find your wallet or glasses, and the corresponding relief you feel when you touch your hair and say what the hell is my wallet doing in my hair?

Even worse, what about when you’re on Mars, minding your own business when suddenly you’re seized by a feeling of overwhelming vertigo: OMG, where’d I park the MAV?  (MAV stands for Mars Ascent Vehicle aka spaceship.)  But then just as suddenly, a sense of peace washes over you as you realize: what the heck.  It’s just a spaceship.  I’m getting way too attached to the material plane of existence.

That helps you to get a grip and remember that you parked the MAV in the second crater to the north, not the fifteenth crater to the southwest.  So it’s all good.

 

crater

And hey, things could be a lot worse.  You could have a piece of an antenna protruding from your thorax, your crewmates could have ditched you, taking the MAV with them, and you could be stuck on Mars for the next two years with nothing to eat but potatoes.

 

the-martian

Anyway, my point here is that this feeling of missing something that’s actually not missing is pretty common, and maybe it has something to do with being over-attached to the material plane of existence and maybe it doesn’t.

But consider this:

You, talking to your sister on your cellphone:  “So, Sis, then the Marine says to the State Trooper, ‘Was I speeding Ossifer?’ to which the State Trooper replies, ‘Why do you have an unconscious raccoon on the floor of your vehicle?’ ”

Your sister: “That’s hilarious!  Can you text me that link?”

You: “Sure.  I’ll do it right now.”

You reach for your cellphone and for a moment, a wave of unadulterated terror sweeps over you when you can’t find it.  But then you realize that you’re actually talking into it as you search.  There’s a medical term for this phenomenon called: Dude You’re Way Too Attached to Your Cellphone.

There’s another everyday cellphone-related occurrence called Phantom Vibration Syndrome in which you experience the illusion that your phone is vibrating when it’s actually minding its own business, continually broadcasting your location, pulse rate and shoe size to agents of The Department of There’s Alot of Stuff Going On That You Don’t Know About So Just Don’t Ask OK?.  There’s a fairly complicated explanation of how the illusion works, involving your microbiome, time travel and a few other concepts, but the long and short of it is that you’re way too attached to your cellphone.  At least your peripheral nervous system is.

And speaking of being attached to material things, here’s yet another everyday example:  Once again you’re sitting there on Mars, eating your breakfast of potatoes.  Or maybe it’s lunch.  Or dinner.  Or a snack.  Or another snack.  Anyway, you’re sitting there thinking about the starch you’re downing, and how your blood sugar is rising, and that in turn your insulin is rising and that you have another 583 days of eating potatoes to contemplate when suddenly you’re seized by an almost otherworldly (!) sensation of loss, and you think to yourself:

“Insulin?  Insulin?  OMG, where’s my pancreas??”

Image result for pancreas-389623

 

But then a sense of calm returns when you say to yourself No! Wait. What was I thinking?  It’s one of my internal organs!

There’s also a medical term for this and it’s called Reading Way Too Much Stuff About Paleo Diets.  Or maybe it’s that other medical term: Martian Women Don’t Eat Potatoes But Even If They Did, They Wouldn’t Get Fat.

Last but not least, there’s that weird thing that happens when you’re standing on your treadmill at work and you start poking icons on the screen of your desktop computer and then wonder why nothing is happening.  Or you’re punching numbers into your cellphone and wondering why nothing is registering on your desktop screen.

Of course there’s a medical term for this and it’s called Not Every Computer In The World Is Made By Apple, And That’s Your Cellphone Not Your Keyboard, Numbskull.  No seriously.  There is a bona fide medical term for futilely poking your desktop screen and it’s called Touchscreen Illusion Syndrome.  You would think that these medical writers could be a tad more creative when they’re naming these syndromes.  But that’s not my point.

My point is that I’m running out of descriptors (sheer panic , overwhelming vertigo, unadulterated terror, otherworldly (!) sensation of loss) to express the distress we all feel when we can’t find our stuff.  It’s starting to make me a bit edgy.  I don’t know if there’s a name for getting panicky thinking about getting panicky, but before we know it, we’re all going to be wandering around wondering if we’re way too attached to the material plane of existence, patting our pockets to make sure our cellphones are still there, muttering Edward Lear poetry and worrying about our insulin.

I think everybody needs to just sit down and have another French Fry.  And another.  And another…

potatoes