Tag: Science

Scienceweatherzoos

Gonna rock you like a hurricane

This week, hurricane Florence, a category-5 storm, is gearing up to kick the Carolinas in their short and curlies. Climate change implications aside for the moment, Florence is projected to hit the US as the northernmost category-5 storm ever. And it’s currently pointing itself at what Carolinians (ed. note: Caroliners? Carolinears? Caroloins?) call “low country”, because “coastal bog” doesn’t have as nice a ring to it.

The governor of South Carolina ordered a mandatory evacuation of all coastal residents on Monday, and the governor of North Carolina followed suit the next day. And that’s probably smart, considering a gigantic whirlpool of hate, rain, and wind is currently pointed at all those “we rated our construction for much smaller storms” houses.

But what about those residents who CAN’T leave. No, I don’t mean the disenfranchised or the poor or the elderly, all of whom make up a substantial portion of the Carolina coastal residents. That’s a whole ‘nother issue for another time. No, I’m talking about the zoos in the Carolinas. What happens to the elephants, the flamingos, the heffalumps (ed. note: not a thing), the jackalopes (ed. note: also no), and the naked mole rats (ed. note: this one is real and it looks like a ballsack with teeth) who all can’t relocate to a Holiday Inn farther inland?

molerat

Look at it. JUST LOOK AT IT.

Turns out all zoos that are affiliated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is pretty much all zoos in the US and abroad – more than 230 worldwide, requires all member zoos have disaster emergency plans for things like hurricanes. These plans were created in part in 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Irma caused extended power outages at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, resulting in the loss of more than 10,000 fish. Since then, zoos and aquariums have taken a much more programmatic approach to hurricane prep, as well as public communication.  As hurricane Irma bore down on Miami in 2017, Zoo Miami posted the following on their Facebook page.

We don’t evacuate our animals since hurricanes can change direction at the last minute and you run the risk of evacuating to a more dangerous location. Furthermore, the stress of moving the animals can be more dangerous than riding out the storm. The animals that are considered dangerous will stay in their secure night houses, which are made of poured concrete and welded metal. These animals survived [Hurricane] Andrew without injuries. We’ve loaded up on additional food and water, our generators have been tested and ready to go. In addition, we’ve stored all cycles and removed debris.

This forward planning sometimes leads to unusual scenarios, like when Zoo Miami’s flamingos were housed in the men’s room for their safety…

flamingos.jpg

“Who are those handsome devils in the mirror?”

So when you’re watching the hurricane coverage over the next few days, think about all the captive critters riding out the storm in less than perfect accommodations. And to everyone anywhere currently in the path of Florence – stay safe, nail down the pool toys, and try not to think about naked mole rats.

 

BiologyHistoryScienceUncategorizedWarfare

It’s a bomb, Batman! …

…or more accurately, “it’s a bat-bomb, man!”

It was World War II. The US was dealing with war in two theaters – Europe and the Pacific, and the Department of War was having to deal with combating two entirely different enemies in two very different environments.

And that’s where our hero of our story comes in. Lytle Adams was a mild mannered dentist by day, and an insatiable hellcat by night (ed. note: citation very much needed and probably super unlikely). History may be inconclusive on whether Dr. Adams was or was not a hellcat, but he was most assuredly a dentist, and he was one with a curious mind. In fact, in 1937 Doc Adams invented and patented a way for airplanes to pick up and drop mail without landing. While that idea was inarguably awesome, the idea we celebrate Lytle for today is an altogether different one. Because, in 1942 Lytle Adams was the person who gave us the idea for the BAT BOMB.

batbomb

                                        No, not that one.

The idea Adams came up with could be summed up with this premise: “What if we strapped a sh*t-load of bats with a sh*t-load of tiny incendiary bombs and then chucked the whole thing at Tokyo?” And Adams told his very good friend Eleanor Roosevelt about his idea. After hearing his idea, Roosevelt presumably asked “Jesus, man. What the hell do you have against bats?” before taking the idea to her husband who happened to be the president of the United States. After laughing himself out of his wheelchair, FDR asked a few zoologists if the idea was at all practical, to which the zoologists replied “Prolly“.  You see, Adams realized a number of useful facts:

A: bats are able to carry their own body weight in flight

B: bats would seek out places to land after being dropped out of an airplane. Places like under eaves and roofs

C: bats are unable to read and therefore unable to ask why the hell a giant Molotov cocktail was being strapped to its backside

D: WWII era Japan, being made of wood and paper, was flammable as hell

And what Doctor Adams thought about these facts was that hundreds of small bats could be strapped with tiny incendiary bombs and then collectively loaded into a large canister which would then dropped from a plane once over Japan. Once dropped, a parachute would open and the panels of the canister would pop off, allowing the suddenly awakened bats to fly away, only to roost for the day in buildings all over a 20+ mile radius from the drop zone.

And thus, Project X-Ray was born. In 1943, the US Army designed a bomb-shaped bat carrier that consisted of twenty-six stacked trays each capable of holding up to 40 boom-bats. For those scoring at home, that’s more than a THOUSAND tiny organic potential explosives.

And the army took Doctor Adams’ idea seriously, spending over $2 million dollars (ed.note: that’s nearly $30 MILLION in 2018 dollars) in design and testing. And the idea worked. During a 1943 test at the Carlsbad Army Airfield in Carlsbad, New Mexico, one of the bats managed to roost under a fuel tank, resulting in the entire test range being incinerated.

The National Defense Research Committee, who was in charge of finding cool new ways to blow sh*t up, determined that Project X-Ray was an effective weapon, but the project was shelved in mid-1944 (ed. note: much to the relief of bats everywhere) when the government opted to go another direction – instead of many small explosions, one big ass bomb that blew up everything and everyone. But that’s a story for another day.

HistoryMedicineScience

Fastest scalpel in the west…

…The West End of London that is. The man who for years carried the infamous distinction of being capable of the fastest amputations in London was a Scottish doctor by the name of Robert Liston. And, in the anesthesia-absent dark ages of the middle nineteenth century, being able to neatly and (relatively) cleanly sever a limb was a definite marketing advantage for a doctor.

In the time before sanitary hospitals, antibiotics, and any kind of anesthesia other than possibly several stiff belts of whisky and maybe an actual belt to bite on, working with speed was critical. Patients were often writhing in agony and fighting the doctor every step of the way. Often, doctors were attended by assistants, whose only job was to keep the poor sod with the gamey leg from scarpering off. Kind of like when the heavy kids sat on your chest to hold you down in gym class, while the bully put gum in your hair. Except you usually finished gym class with the same number of limbs you started with. Unless you went to particularly tough parochial boarding school, I guess.

Doctor Liston was a skilled surgeon and was responsible for a number of medical innovations of his time, including authoring several medical textbooks, inventing locking forceps, and even a type of leg splint still in use today. But the writin’ and inventin’ ain’t the things Doc Liston is renowned for. If he was, this would be titled “Most Book Writing-est Doctor in the West”, but he’s not and it isn’t. No, Doc Liston was renowned for his speed. According to medical historian Dr. Richard Gordon, Doctor Liston was capable of severing a limb in about two and a half MINUTES.

In fact, according to Gordon, Liston had several surgeries notable for their speed. Some of the notable ones being: the time Liston removed a 46 lb. scrotal sac tumor (ed. note: one assumes this took a lot of balls. We’re not sorry.) and the time Liston was arguing with a colleague whether a red patch on a boy’s neck was a simple abscess or a more deadly aneurysm of the carotid artery and Liston advocated that there was no way it could be a aneurysm, and killed him when he tried to lance it. (ed. note: The artery remains in the University College Hospital pathology museum to this day – specimen # 1256. Stop by and ask to see it. Tell them we sent you).

However, there is an apocryphal story of the time old Doc Liston managed a 300% mortality rate on a single surgical amputation. Allegedly, once Liston amputated a patient’s leg in less than three minutes. The patient eventually succumbed to gangrene (ed. note: Strike one). In his enthusiasm to work quickly, Liston accidentally severed the fingers of his assistant; unfortunately the (unnamed) assistant developed a case of greasy stump, a euphemism for gangrene that I just made up (ed. note: Strike two). And finally, a (curiously also unnamed) bystander who happened to wander too close to the surgical table had his coattails severed, not something usually considered fatal. However, the bystander felt the pull of the knife and saw the copious blood, and dropped stone dead of a heart-attack (ed. note: Steeeee-rike three!). Three deaths, one operation, presumably very little waiting.

Nobody ever remembers that Richard Liston was the first surgeon in Britain to use chemical anesthesia (ether) or any of the other innovations contributed to modern medicine. Nope. But kill three people in one go, and you’re a legend forever.

FoodScience

Cooking without cooking…

…part one of whatever.

It’s summer here in the northern hemisphere (ed. Note: Motto: “Pretty much everybody lives here”), and that means it’s sometimes just too damn hot to stand over a stove, slaving away at a meal. And sometimes you just can’t stand ordering another pizza (ed. note: Bet me).

Turns out, there’s several ways to ‘cook’ your food without actually applying any heat to it. And one of the easiest and most affordable ways to cook seafood without heat comes to us courtesy of the southern hemisphere (ed. note: Motto: Only twelve percent of the global population, but responsible for 100% of all Crocodile Dundee and Yahoo Serious movies). The dish is ceviche and its home is Peru. Sure, Peru may or may not have created it, but they sure as sh*t made ceviche part of their culture, with ceviche considered the Peruvian national dish, much like bulgogi in South Korea or the Double Value Meal in the US. 

In Peruvian ceviche, fish gets cured with an ingredient called ‘leche de tigre’, which translates as ‘tiger’s milk’, but really means ‘just some limes and stuff’. This tells us that somewhere in Peruvian cooking history, there’s probably a real unfunny practical joke involving an assistant chef and a tiger. With super sexy terms like ‘leche de tigre’, ceviche can feel both exotic and inaccessible for your typical home cook, however ceviche is simply seafood that has been cured in citrus.

But before we get to the tasty bit, how does curing in citric acid actually COOK the fish? Truthfully, it doesn’t. Cooking requires heat. However, heat and acid both contribute to the exact same chemical process of ‘denaturation’, which begins to break down the structure of proteins, in this case, Mister Fishy. When an external stressor (like acid or salt or your Weber grill) is applied to protein, the tissues begin to break down and form a more solid structure – essentially firming up the meat, which ultimately makes it more edible and digestible to hungry mammals and alleged lizard persons like us. Denaturation isn’t the sexiest food word (ed note: that would be fromage. Say it with me.”fromage”. MMM), but that’s the science behind how meat gets cooked. And science you get to eat is the BEST SCIENCE.

So, let’s say you want to denature the hell out of some lovely fresh seafood for a summer picnic. Before you start remember: while it’s super easy to make ceviche, make sure you know where you’re getting your seafood. Use a high quality, firm fish or shellfish (scallops and shrimp are wonderful in ceviche) that has been commercially frozen. Maybe don’t get your fish from a gas station this time around, OK?

All you need for ceviche is fish, cut into bite sized chunks or strips and limes. After that, everything is down to taste. Here at the Lamprey Online Test Kitchen we used yellowfin tuna as the base and it turned out so well, I received six wedding proposals.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sh*tload of limes (ed. Note: Eight. He means eight limes)
  • 6 – 8 oz of yellowfin tuna
  • 1 roma tomato
  • ¼ red onion
  • ¼ cucumber
  • 1 jalapeno, seeed. Or not. I’m not your supervisor
  • 1 handful cilantro
  • Black pepper to taste

 

Juice the limes in a bowl and then just chop the rest of that stuff and pour it right into the lime juice. You want everything in a manageable size, and it’s important the fish has adequate surface area. Cover it and throw it in the fridge to let it set up until the meat is just turning opaque and firm. Less time for flakier fish like red snapper, longer for dense stuff like scallops. You’re definitely thinking in the 20 – 50 min range.

Serve it with avocado chunks and tortilla chips. Then, next time play around…change the protein. Add red pepper flakes. Try some garlic. Go nuts.

Then, enjoy the science. The tasty, tasty science.

meteorologyScience

“It’s not the heat…

…it’s the humidi…oof….OW! HEY, CUT IT OUT!

Sorry. Had to be done. But c’mon, admit it. There are few phrases more annoying than “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” (ed. note: Number one: “Looks like somebody has a case of the Mondays”). But with about one in three Americans in the middle of a heat wave, maybe these people are on to something.

The National Weather Service (ed. note: Apparently, they don’t make and deliver the weather, so we recommend “The National Weather Forecast Gang”) warns that most of the northeast and midwest US will be experiencing a heat wave right up until July 4th holiday. Alarmingly, reports of high temperatures plus high humidity will mean reading of over 100 on the heat index.

Wait. What in the name of my broiled sunburn is the heat index? So, answer – What is the heat index and do we care? Well, like most things there’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is “it’s how hot it is, and no, you really don’t care much beyond ‘f*ck, it’s hot’, do you?” The long answer is still pretty interesting. All the heat index represents is how hot it FEELS. Think wind chill, but with less wind and definitely less chill.

This chart, handily provided by the good people at NOAA, shows that basically, the more humidity you add to higher temperatures, the more it feel like three rats getting intimate in a wool sock (ed. note: Hot and unpleasant. Especially for the third rat. He’s always left out).

heat index

Note the density of orange and red in the chart. Red and orange never mean good things on a chart; this applies especially to a chart of Starburst flavors (ed. note: Yellow rules. Fight me if you disagree). It also means that if its above 90 degrees (that’s in freedom units…works out to 32 centigrade) and it’s humid, you’re gonna have a bad time. Except this bad time means your dog and/or elderly relative might die of heat stroke.

OK, great. We have a chart that tells us when the outside feels like sitting in a fat man’s armpit. But, I can hear you thinking is there a handy equation I can use to calculate the heat index? No. There most assuredly is not. There IS an equation, but handy it ain’t. Here it is (where T = Temp in Fahrenheit and R = Relative humidity):

Heat Index = -42.379 + 2.04901523T + 10.14333127R – 0.22475541TR – 6.83783 x 10-3T2 – 5.481717 x 10-2R2 + 1.22874 x 10-3T2R + 8.5282 x 10-4TR2 – 1.99 x 10-6T2R

Good lord, that certainly doesn’t help. So, what the heat index tells us, despite the obvious (it’s hot) and its cumbersome math is that prolonged exposure to a mix of high temps and humidity can have a seriously deleterious effect on people and pets (ed. note: this means you can get heat exhaustion or the much more serious heat stroke). A high temp one day can be more or less dangerous than the same temp the following week. Take the right precautions; such as:

  • Hydrate. Lots
  • Light weight, loose clothing
  • Hydrate. That means water, not margaritas, which despite being delicious aren’t helpful here
  • Wear a hat. And would it kill you to wear some sunscreen?
  • Alternate sun time with cooling down in the shade time

And the next time some slack-jawed doofus tries to tell you that it isn’t the heat, it’s the humidity, you can tell them no, it’s actually the heat index. And then you can show them the above equation and then beat them to death with a shovel.

Uncategorized

When the moon hits your eye…

…it looks suspiciously like it’s the same size as the sun. What the hell, right? Is it a conspiracy? Is the moon just the sun’s ‘CLOSED‘ sign? Well, it turns out it’s just astronomical coincidence, and it’s one that occasionally makes for some pretty spectacular events.

Let’s start with a couple of basics: D&D. No, not the dice-centric roleplaying game. D&D in this case are of the celestial variety: distance and diameter. Look at the sun. (Ed. note: No…stop that. Don’t look at the sun. It’s bad for your eyes. Jesus. I’ll be more specific.) CONSIDER the sun. It’s about 864,000 miles across, plus or minus the distance between Detroit and Chicago. That’s a lot of miles across the solar equator. But…the sun is also really far away. Like 93 million miles far.  In short, the sun is big and far.

Now, there’s the moon. Also big, also far. Just not as big or as far as the bright shiny thing you use to work on your summer tan. The moon’s diameter is a relatively tiny 2,160 miles across…basically the distance between Philadelphia and Salt Lake City – not even all the way across the continental US. But, it’s closer too. Much closer. Only a short 239,000 miles away (and moving farther away every day; but that’s a story for another time).

So, to sum up: Sun – big and far. Moon – less big and less far. But, there’s a proportional aspect. The sun 864,000 mile diameter is almost exactly 400 times bigger across than our moon (400.3415 times to be exact). However, the distance between the sun and the earth is 389 times the distance between you and the thing that makes tides AND werewolves.

And that ration of 389:400 is close enough so that our simple vision makes the two seem to be the same size, which in turn makes for really, really cool things like eclipses once in a while. The next really good one will be a total lunar eclipse Friday July 27th (2018), visible to our friends in on pretty much every continent EXCEPT north america. This site helps keep track of any upcoming astronomical events, like eclipses, meteor showers, rise of Cthulhu and the Dark Ones…you know, the usual space stuff.

LOOK TO THE SKIES. …except during the day, because that sh*t will make you blind.