Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Trash Pandas

Before we get into this I want to apologize to my loyal followers (all ten of you) for not having posted anything since June.  So here goes:

“I hereby apologize for not having posted anything since June.” Happy now?

People have been studying animals for a long time, trying to find examples of how new species can arise from existing species, and even attempting to make new species through selective breeding.  For example, there has been a program going on in Russia for decades trying to breed silver foxes that exhibit the same friendliness toward humans as do dogs and maybe other species such as Komodo dragons, and hippopotamuses.

Here’s an unretouched photo of a genetically-engineered friendly silver fox.  We can tell it’s friendly because of the drooping ears, curly tail, and unusual coloration.  Also because the man is not holding his nose.  (Wild foxes have a “musky” smell.) But mostly we know this one is friendly because it’s not trying to snack on the man.

person holding silver fox
Friendly silver fox exhibiting a marked absence of biting, scratching, clawing and wiggling

In years gone by there have been other examples of this sort of change in animal behaviour, with cows starting to exhibit a love of water, polar bears starting to hunt Beluga Whale calves, and Grizzlies thinking seriously about mating with Polar Bears.

grizzly bear tussling with polar bear
Grizzly-Polar Bear foreplay
aquatic cows
Cows training for 2020 Olympic  200-metre paddle

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re also familiar with the concept of teenagers potentially mutating into creatures with huge eyes, long fingers and no mouth, due to texting 23 hours per day instead of interacting like normal human beings.  (My wife, for one, is convinced this is already happening.)  And don’t forget good old Secretariat The Horse, who won the Triple Crown back in 1970.  Secretariat ate the breakfast, lunch and dinner of all the other horses in the Belmont Stakes, when he won  by a freakish 25 lengths.

So clearly, animals aren’t standing still.  They’re probably busy watching all the Mission Impossible movies (starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt) and they’re learning mad skills.  Even the humble raccoon (Procyon lotor) is in on the game.

In mid-June of this year, the Dow Index fell about 20% for two days because half of the world’s population (well maybe not half) was occupied watching a raccoon free-solo the 20-storey UBS building (whatever that is) after being startled away from minding it’s own business and eating some pigeon eggs near a dumpster in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. (Yes, there ARE 20-storey buildings in Minnesota, in case you were sceptical.  And Scotch Tape® was also invented in Minnesota, FYI.  I think it should have been called Swedish Tape® though.)

Just look at this photo, would you?  See that tiny black blob?  THAT IS A RACCOON.  SCALING A FEATURELESS BLANK WALL.  WITH NO ROPE.  OR SCOTCH TAPE®.  BEING CHEERED ON BY EVERYONE IN MINNESOTA AND MANY OTHER PARTS OF SWEDEN.

raccoon scaling 20-storey building
Tom Cruise’s raccoon love child “Ethan” scaling a featureless wall

It took “Ethan” two days to finish the climb which included an overnight bivouac on a window ledge somewhere along the way.  In case you’ve never tried it, it’s no picnic bivouacking on a one-foot-wide ledge with no supper and no sleeping bag.  Mind you, clinging to the side of a building for hours on end using only your finger- and toenails is no picnic either.

And since you asked, rock climbs are graded via a complicated decimal system.  This climb was graded 5.15r and is off the top of the chart below for difficulty.  It’s off the bottom actually, but the climbs get harder as you go down the chart.  The “r” in 5.15r stands for raccoon, by the way.

grading systems

This next photo shows Ethan crushing the overhanging crux (hardest) move of the climb.  Not bad for a novice.

raccoon executing crux move on north face of UBS building
Ethan the raccoon on-sighting the North Face of UBS
“On-sighting” means strolling up to a rock climb you’ve never seen before and finishing it the first time.  In case you were wondering,
Needless to say, there are mountains(!) of images and tweets out there, posted by office workers on every floor of the UBS building, which document every inch of the journey.  Everyone was crossing their fingers, holding their breath and generally rooting for this animal, including wildlife photographer and lawyer, Paige Donnelly.
Exhibit A:
Below, Ethan was caught on camera performing a stretching routine before continuing the upward voyage, and was also thanking his lucky stars that he never got a mani-pedi before he went foraging for pigeon eggs.
raccoon by window
“As God is my witness, I’ll never eat pigeon eggs again.”
It all ended well though.  Ethan eventually made it to the top, was captured by the Wildlife Management Service folk, ate some soft cat food and was eventually released back into the suburbs somewhere southwest of the Twin Cities, and commenced climbing a 300-foot cell tower.
People went back to work; the Dow rebounded significantly.  Life went back to normal.

 

famous raccoon caged atop UBS building
Ethan atop UBS building, full of cat food and headed for a round of intensive neuroimaging studies before being released back into the wild

Scientists are busily hypothesizing what led the vertically-inclined animal to undertake its hazardous journey.  The leading theory is that it was bitten by a radioactive spider.  Or maybe a radioactive tick. Maybe it was the effect of exposure to environmental toxins or climate change.  Only time will tell.  I’m just saying we could be in for some tough times.  And some pretty tough raccoons.

If you think I’m over-reacting, check out this disturbing link pertaining to attacks perpetrated by a roving gang of raccoons in Abbottsford, B.C. in July 2018.

gang
Gang members caught emerging from sewer manhole in Abbottsford, B.C.

Like I said, Nature just doesn’t stand still.  Dr. Ian Malcolm, of Jurassic Park fame agrees with me, and I quote:

“No. I’m, I’m simply saying that life (raccoons included), uh… finds a way.

 

Next column: How not to repair a fence

IMG_1955

 

 

 

 

Craggy Island Calculus Problem

For the sake of argument, say that you happen to be standing on the edge of a beach off the coast of Ireland, directly facing a little island called Craggy Island. Fans of the British television series “Father Ted” will be getting excited at this point, since Father Ted and his fellow renegade priests were exiled to Craggy Island due to some unspecified but nevertheless unsavory behaviour.  But more on that some other time.

Where was I?  Oh yes!  For some inexplicable reason, you have been seized by a powerful urge to kayak to the island, but you don’t know how far away it is.  Assume you’ve never seen “Jaws”.  How could you determine the length of your impending voyage?

Personally speaking, I would just call the Craggy Island Department of Tourism and Limpets (1-877-LIMPETS), and ask them how far it is to their island.  But maybe there’s no answer when you call and maybe you just don’t like taking the easy way out.  So now what?

Well…if you happen to know how fast the lighthouse beacon is rotating, and if you happen to know how fast the beam is sweeping toward you when it hits the (eerily-straight) shore 1/2 kM north of where you’re standing, you could say to yourself: “This sounds like a related-rate problem!  I might be able to use Calculus to solve it!”

220px-triple_integral_example_2-svg

Since you have nothing better to do, you resist the urge to start paddling, so you fly home and spend the next few nights covering page after page with chicken scratch, basically re-deriving Calculus from first principles, since you haven’t taken it for 38 years or so.  (The picture which should pop into your head at this point is that of a large beetle flipped over onto its carapace in front of a blackboard, feebly waving a piece of chalk clutched in its foreclaw.)

beetle-on-backFinally, your son (who oddly enough happens to be taking Calculus at school) takes pity on you after witnessing your struggle and says, “Dad, why don’t you just Google it?”

Since you were born well before Al Gore invented the Internet, you look at him with a dumbfounded expression and reply, “What the heck would I Google?”

He regards you with a sorrowful expression and says,

“I dunno.  Google is pretty clever.  Try typing: ‘Calculus Lighthouse Problem.’ ”

You dutifully follow this directive and to your undying amazement, this search phrase returns a long string of hits, and one of them even refers to Craggy Island!

From there it’s just a short hop to a YouTube video clip (Calculus tutorial) made by an endearing fellow named Bart Snapp who solves your exact problem right before your very eyes!  You really should watch this clip, mostly because I took the trouble to transcribe the intro almost word-for-word, but also because you will find yourself swept away by Bart’s patently obvious love of teaching in general, and Calculus in particular, and also because this guy is great at reading out loud.  I quote:

“Hello there!  Now we’re going to do a problem (waves hands energetically) about a beacon in the ocean, also known as a lighthouse of sorts.  But we’re going to call it a beacon.  All right?

“All right!  Let’s see the problem! (Reads problem enthusiastically and eloquently.)

“All right.  So we have our problem and now we have to… (he pauses for dramatic effect)…Draw a picture! (Bart starts sketching rapidly on a whiteboard)

“All right.  So we have a, we have the shore here, and the shore’s supposed to be straight.  (Draws more-or-less straight line)

“Well.  Well that’s straight enough I guess.  Here’s point A.  (Draws the beacon on a line perpendicular to point A, and presses on)…the beacon has some light that is shining and let’s see…(adds some more notations like dϴ/dt and dx/dt to his diagram).

“What else?…Aha!

“And the water…This is all supposed to be water here.  (Draws blue squiggles.)  That’s great.”

And really, it is great because at that point you see that the beacon, the place where you’re standing directly opposite the lighthouse, and the point where the beam hits the shore 1/2 kM north of you, form a triangle, and you can relate the rotational speed of the beacon (in radians/sec of course) to the sweep rate of the beam along the shore, through trigonometry!

lighthouse

From there it’s only a matter of a couple more days of calculations until you figure out the lighthouse is 1 kM straight out from where you’re standing.  You can easily handle a 1 kM paddle but then you find out that the last person who tried it was eaten by sharks.  What should you do?

The first thing you should do is ask yourself whether this whole eaten-by-ravenous-sharks while-attempting-to-paddle-to-Craggy Island thing is true or is it an urban legend?  And does Craggy Island even exist, or is it the product of the imagination of a couple of half-baked Irish writers named Arthur Matthews and Graham Linehan?

This is important because urban legends are everywhere these days, thanks to Al Gore, and you just can’t be too careful.  Consider the story I read recently about an intoxicated Marine in the state of Kansas who was arrested after a failed attempt to foil his car ignition interlock by having a raccoon breathe into it.

Right away you have to be suspicious that this is an urban legend because there are no raccoons (or Marines for that matter) in the state of Kansas.  Actually, I’m lying.  I made up the Kansas part, and if you consult Google, you will discover that Kansas is literally teeming with raccoons.  I quote from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism website: “Highly intelligent and adaptable, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is one of our most abundant furbearers. “ But all that aside, your first clue that the story is b.s. is that everyone knows Marines don’t drink.

Anyway, the point is that you have to be careful not to waste your time on drivel like the story of The Raccoon and The Breathalyzer. Instead I want you to recall The Owl and The Pussycat, a poem by British artist, illustrator, musician, cookbook author and all-around oddball Edward Lear (1812-1888) and then check out the poem I just wrote.

owl-and-pussycat

With apologies to all the people of Britain, except Prince Charles:

The Owl and the Pussycat did some maths, with the aid of Barton Snapp
They related dtheta to dx (by dt) but they found themselves in a trap
They set forth for the Isle but in a short while, the water began to boil
Attacked by a shark, in the cold and the dark, off shuffled their mortal coil(s).

 

 

Well, it’s time to shut this thing down.  I’m going to heat up a plate of leftover limpets and then get ready for my paddle to Craggy Island first thing in the morning.  But just one nagging thought remains:

I think I’m going to need a bigger boat.

bigger-boat