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?

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.

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:


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.


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 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.
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.”


“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?”


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.


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
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 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.


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



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.


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 Model S

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


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 low-Earth orbit