Posts from March 2005

Mar 05


Proven By SciencePost a comment • 933 views


This BBC News item (quelle surprise) mentions the smallest mass detected by scales, and it is really rather impressive. Not however as impressive at finding out that a billionth of a trillionth of a gram is called a ZEPTOGRAM.

Scientific prefixes can be great. Witness the joy that Nano has had of late with its own little technologies and robots. Pica is another favourite, especially of Pokemon fans. The Zeptogram however brings to mind the Marx brothers, which then brought to mind the measurement of humour.

Let us say the S.I. measurement of funny should be a Marx. One Marx is equivalent to the standard response to the joke “What’s brown and sticky?”: and this would clearly be measured on a Grouchometer. Is anyone so unfunny that they could earn themselves a Zeptomarx worth of humour? Hmmm

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 3. Capybaras

Blog 71 comment • 532 views

There are only two salient facts about the capybara. 1: They are the world’s largest rodent. 2: They look a bit like a giant guinea pig. Actually this second isn’t totally accurate – guinea pigs are furry with tiny legs and capybaras are bristly with proportionally longer legs – but the idea is a sound one. Capybaras are, like guinea pigs, very cute, do not appear particularly bright and if you’re a certain type of person as soon as you see one you want it as a pet.

I don’t think Capybaras make particularly good pets. In their native Venezuela great herds of them roam the pampas and are gobbled up by caymans. They may well also be gobbled up by man, as are their guinea-pig sort-of-relations. They are, though, still wild animals, which is another clue to their appeal – wild beasts which look like they should be tame.

Isabel and I always planned that our honeymoon would be in Venezuela, watching capybaras in the wild. I had visions of us on a ranch and the tourist-handling guy asking each morning what wonder of nature we wanted to see. “The capybaras again please”. “Crazy gringos.” However political unrest in Venezuela when we were booking made us pick Poland instead and see the bison. The herds of wild bara are still in my future: the nearest tame ones to most of our readers will be a newish pair in the Cotswold Wildlife Park about 15 miles from Oxford. They replaced an ancient specimen who had lost most of his hair and was extremely tame (or just slow), allowing my wife to pat him before he wandered off to continue the traditional capy pursuits of eating, sleeping and standing about in pools.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 4. Anteater

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Are there any other animals who are defined solely by their diet? Plenty of creatures eat ants after all – it is the anteater’s m.o. that gives it special claim in this area. (I googled anteaters to write this entry at least half-hoping that they don’t even eat ants: this is only true of captive ones, though, which eat mashed banana and corned beef.)

It is certainly true that the ant-eating capacities of the anteater are impressive. In fact to a termite or ant colony the appearance of an anteater must be equivalent to the coming of the planet-devouring Galactus: after annihilating the crust of the colony with its forepaws the anteater then guzzles thousands of insects in a few minutes courtesy of a MACHINE GUN TONGUE that can extend two metres and goes at 160 licks per minute.

Spot the difference:

Bad news for the ants. Which are also in our Top 25 animals, so you might think we would hate the anteater. But there is, let’s face it, no shortage of ants.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 5: WolsOwls

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WolThe internet is a wonderful thing. Type “Owls” and click “I’m feeling lucky” on Google* and you WILL get – pretty much everything you need to know about owls. Links to “Owlcams” and lots of great pics of owls looking variously: dopey, grumpy, sleepy and bashful. None looking happy or sneezy. (Or doc).

“This is ridiculous!” you exclaim. “Owls are nothing like dwarves.”

Smugly I point you in the direction of THE BURROWING OWL. Here’s the Burrowing Owl Artificial Nest Box Project to make the point. Yes some Owls do dig the ground for their livelihood. Don’t foist your avian stereotype on the Owl. Remember these are RAPTORS! Yes them what did for Bob Peck in Jurassic Park “Clever boys” sez the hapless Peck (ha!) before getting gutted and fed to owl chicks back in their underground lair. That’s how it goes.

Owls are also top of that school-science staple, the woodland food chain. No bugger gets to eat the owl. Though (see!) in it’s section on Owl Medicine, claims that “in England… Owl broth was given to children to prevent them from becoming drunkards” and “eating charred owls eyeballs was supposed to ward off madness”. Stop the rise of binge drinking – boil an owl.

The Brown Wedge is the place to cover Garner’s fab The Owl Service, but I do have to mention the enormous power that Owls have in story and myth. Terrifying omens, augurs of bad luck, they weave an atavistic web of magic and fear around the unconscious symbols of mankind. Perhaps most primal of all these Stragiforme images is Bubo – the Robot Owl from Clash of the Titans. Aww! Unfortunately, NOT ACTUALLY A REAL ANIMAL.

*Bonus science: another thing you can safely google is “Tasty Chick Hypothesis” – now tested on Owls, to no great conclusion

A big thank-you

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 299 views

A big thank-you to everyone who came to Poptimism last week – it was a huge success, with over 100 people turning up (I had expected about 60 and sneakily hoped for 80). I do hope you enjoyed it and that if you did you’ll come again.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 6: Widgeon

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It sounds like pigeon.

But funnier.

More about the Widgeon.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 7: Pigeon

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Is it all getting a bit parochial around here? As in the excellent video for Midfielding by Midfield General, why should all the big sexy animals get all the screen time. Think about it, we live with pigeons, day-in, day-out and do we give them much of a second thought? Probably not, but they are remarkable creatures: if only for the disablist triumph against adversity displayed by so many of them.

The current CGI animated film Valiant posits the knowing participation of carrier pigeons during World War Two. Anyone who has seen puff pieces on the film will be aware that pigeons won medlas for valor in said war, which is only fitting being one of the few animals with a chest suitable for pinning medals on*. A quick survey of the pigeons knocking around at the moment though will surely suggest that this secret shadow war has continued to the present. Either that or the average pigeon likes to hang around in a minefield, the number of maimed and one legged pigeons there are about.

So pests they may be: but they are never in the way. Indeed their internal radar seems to sort that out (have you ever tried to kick a pigeon?) Rats of the air? Merely due to their abundance. They may say that while there are ravens in the Tower, Britain will never fall. I have another suggestion. The mere presence of pigeons illustrate the potential longevity of London. You never see a pigeons nest after all: an it is clear that they make their home in an upper dimension protecting London from strange invaders. Stop The Pigeon? Never

*See also Muttley.

The new big thing is films made completely in computer,

Do You SeePost a comment • 261 views

The new big thing is films made completely in computer, actors existing at best on green screen. It was used in Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, the upcoming Sin City and in super-bore Japanese yawn-fest Casshern.

Did I say that Casshern was rubbish?

Apparently Casshern is based on a long running (for which read potentially interminable) Japanese animated series from the seventies. Dystopian future – blah blah – dead hero brought back to life – blah blah – no heroes, we are all villains. Apparently the original also had a cute dog for comic relief, who unsurprisingly barely turns up in the 150 minutes of hell that this film is. This film could not be more po-faced unless it
a) had a real actual face that
b) was made of porcelain and kept under a Victorian bed and
c) someone shat in it.

I have a degree in Philosophy (not worth the paper it isn’t written on but…) and when people say a film is philosophical I tend to sigh. Usually because the level of enquiry presented is that of two fourteen year olds having their first joint. And for all the superpowers, explosions and the giant robots, Casshern is just a couple of dopeheads musing on mans inhumanities to man. Surely the point is that it is mans very humanity to man that makes it keep starting wars, killing innocent victims and MAKING FILMS AS TERRIBLE AS THIS.

Green screen computer movies are a great technology for the visionary. So far it appears that vision has been solely to produce films full of giant robots. At least Sky Captain did it for the fun of it. Casshern goes on and on and even the giant robots stop being fun (the strange claymation bringer of death equally pales). Every time I talk about this film its individual elements make it sound like the best thing ever. IT IS NOT. The moral of the film is apparently that the human race needs hope. Ironic because everyone in the cinema had easily lost all hope by the time its final expensively pointless effects sequence finished.

THE FT TOP 25 ANIMALS – 8. Badgers

Blog 7Post a comment • 490 views

The badger is the grumpy symbol of British wildlife, earned through its position as 70s/80s TV staple. The black and white stripes of the woodland monarch remind all true Brits of long hours spent rubbing up next to Terry Nutkins in the dank proving ground of the hide. In a filmed sense.

I actually went on a badgerwatch once and it was terry-rific. It involves sitting for several hours in a felt contraption which artificially heightens your perceptions of the animal world around you, and also gets you so enormously cold and numbed that when a mammal does appear you count it as a supreme miracle: this is how cults get people involved I believe. For the badger it’s all in a night’s work – emerge from sett, rootle in undergrowth, jump over log looking for worms and grubs. (Badgers eat over 200 worms every day!). So many badgers did this exact same thing that I started to wonder if they weren’t trained badgers just going back down another hole and round again.

At Kew Gardens there is a HUMAN-SIZE BADGER SETT which I have written about before. It is terrific and has almost inexhaustible power to fascinate children. Going on the badgerwatch reminds you of what an odd little animal these miniature dog-bear-zebra things are: if it came from some exotic clime (like Australia) you wouldn’t believe in it.


The Brown Wedge2 comments • 1,843 views


Unfortunately I imagine most of this stuff has been removed now. However the piece in the Museum Of Natural History, despite its predictable war theme, is just remarkably cute.