Inside Nature’s Giants

I’ve been infatuated with the PBS series Inside Nature’s Giants ever since I saw comparative anatomist Joy Reidenberg cradle and spank the prehensile penis of a sperm whale. Last night, Amy and Sheila and I watched an episode of Channel 4′s version: Inside Nature’s Giants: Rogue Baboon.

It seems almost every episode of the British and American versions are online.


She thought about it for a minute and then told me a remarkable story about her relationship with technology during the last 40 years living up the mountain a bit east of where we stood. She did not exactly answer my question, but made a point nonetheless.

“I pretty much stayed on the mountain. There are no phone lines. There is no electricity,” she said. “I have my iPhone and I can get 3G and I can get what I want and I have a little solar panel and propane and candles. I’ve been off the grid forever. Now, I have the small solar panel and I can turn on the light and charge my cell phone. I’m not used to it. My daughter tells me, ‘You can plug things in!’ And I say, ‘I don’t have anything to plug in.’ Blow out the lights, not turn out the lights, is my thing.”

Her boss, the chef Michael Jones, filled in the rest of Liz’s story on his blog (punctuation all his). “Liz lives in a trailer on the mountain with no power and no water…two horses, a goat and two dogs. Cats don’t count. She carries water in plastic buckets to the critters….and to her own self,” he wrote. “She pays child support to a scumbag in Missouri or one of those other M states or square states…..Her daughter that I know is an honor student at Davis…….Because she has no power or water, Liz hangs with us after working her 10 hr shift at The Store. We are her TV.”

I’ve ridden my bike out past Cachagua Road and I can attest to the beauty and isolation of the area. It was very near Jamesburg that, climbing a long hill, I passed a man in a cowboy hat and boots, his back to me, urinating. The two cyclists coming down the hill had a much better view and the man made no attempt to stand behind cover.

This particular excerpt reminds me of the photos I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard about my mother-in-law’s family when they lived in the mountains above Big Sur – a kind of lifestyle that seems almost extinct.

Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America

My same friend Susan who brought us the critically acclaimed Omega Institute in Your Pants, 2010 edition today supplied the following list, from the book Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, Dale F. Schweitzer, J. Bolling Sullivan, and Richard C. Reardon:

Sordid Snout
The Herald
Feeble Grass Moth
Dead-wood Borer
The Betrothed
The Little Wife
Serene Underwing
The Consort
Dejected Underwing
Inconsolable Underwing
Tearful Underwing
Sad Underwing
The Penitent
Sappho Underwing
Youthful Underwing
Darling Underwing
Read more

headline of the day

Leap second decision is postponed

The Science of Snot

My friend Susan: “The science of snot is surprisingly fascinating.”

Snot is your body’s best defense mechanism, a sticky moat of protection against invading bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When it comes to where your body is open to the outside world, snot (more properly, mucus) provides a barrier against these alien invaders.

As my junior high school algebra teacher, “Coach” High, put it, “You may think it’s mucus, but I say it’s snot.”

The Dust Library

So what can this unusual library tell us? First, there is the simple parts list. The most common component was organic material, present in 40 of the 63 particles – exactly what is unclear, but it could be anything from pollen to sloughed-off bits of researcher. Quartz, found in 34 particles, came next, followed by carbonates (17 particles) and gypsum (14). “The minerals blow in,” says Coe. “They come from all over the world.” Other ingredients included air pollutants and fertiliser chemicals.

Read more

Brand new island rises from Red Sea depths

Throw away that shiny new atlas you got for Christmas — it’s already out of date.

Volcanic activity in the Red Sea is causing the formation of a new island in the Zubair archipelago as lava is cooled by the surrounding seawater and solidifies. The underwater volcano responsible is located on the Red Sea Rift, where the African and Arabian tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart.

tweet of the day

tweet of the day

Angry Rats

From a year end compilation of scientific photos:

Rats don’t deserve their bad name, but this ball of fury won’t win over many murophobes. Russian scientists bred this aggressive rat strain to compare it with more docile creatures in a study on domestication that has teased out several genetic regions linked to tame traits.

from the moderated comments

Davis baking powder is a NY Metro area regional favorite. Hearth Club is currently being sold by Dollar Tree Corp both online and in brick-and-mortar Dollar Tree and their Deals stores for $1 for 8.1 ounces. Most of the store brand baking powder around here is also made by Clabber Girl Corp. If someone has access to a food chemistry lab, it should be fairly easy to assay the contents of the various brands. My guess is that they vary the portions of ingredients for each brand. But I have been wrong about these kinds before, i.e., except for Rumford, they could all be the same stuff.


Patrick Feaster studies the culture of early phonography (the recording and reproduction of sound) and blogs at Phonozoic, where I’ve been hanging out for the past hour or so. At the 2011 conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Feaster shared “Phonogram Images on Paper: 1250-1950.” You can listen to his presentation and download slides here. Just scroll down a little ways and you’ll find the links.

(via Excavated Shellac)

dear clusterflock

In what contexts, if any, are sanctity or the idea or possibility of sanctity valuable?

photo out of context

LHC has discovered how many terrible Higgs Boson metaphors can fit in one article

The search for the Higgs has become the hottest pursuit in modern physics.

Professor John Ellis: “We’ve been living with Higgs theory now for almost 50 years… it’s become our Holy Grail”

You can think of it as being an enormous giant Jigsaw puzzle, but there’s a piece missing right in the middle there. We have been looking for this for 30 years now, and finally, maybe, hidden under the back of the LHC sofa…we are finally finding it”.

“This hunt for the Higgs is like fishing in an ancient way… instead of using modern tools you are removing the water from the pond… it might look tedious but it is the only way, at the end of the day, when you have removed all the water from the pond to find the smallest fish.”

headline of the day

Errant ‘Mythbusters’ cannonball hits home in Dublin

tweet of the day

from the moderated comments

FALSE: Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing is better than gravity


I also knew it would.

headline of the day

CERN Reconfirms Faster-Than-Light Neutrinos

Snakes’ Feat May Inspire Heart Drugs

Pythons are known for their enormous appetites. In a single meal they can devour animals at least as big as they are — deer, alligators, pigs, household pets.

I’m meeting Sarah in Chicago for dinner Wednesday evening.

At the height of the Battle of Alcaniz on May 23, 1809, as he was about to give the order for a desperate charge by French troops into the center of the Spanish line, Col. P.F.M.A. Dejean happened to glance down.

The air around him was thick with gunpowder and blood, but on a flower beside a stream, he saw something unusual. A beetle. Species unknown. He immediately dismounted, collected it, and pinned the specimen to the cork he had glued inside his helmet.

The first lines of The Species Seekers by Richard Conniff, which came out yesterday.

quote out of context

Using Einstein’s E=mc² formula, which states that energy and mass are directly related, Prof Kubiatowicz calculated that filling a 4GB Kindle to its storage limit would increase its weight by a billionth of a billionth of a gram, or 0.000000000000000001g.

quote out of context

Or, if you really want to prove your dedication to art, take off all your clothes and lie with friends or strangers in a modified sensory deprivation tank in heavily salinized water, heated to the temperature of human skin.

from the comments

Aaron Winslow:

I think of all the dinosaurs as figments of Satan.

List of science-fiction films

Andrew tweeted this, and I thought it was worth passing on. A Wikipedia science-fiction films list of lists.

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