I’m being serious here. Think about it… light is pretty persistent. After all, you can see stars that are many light years away. That means the light from those stars has traveled for years—even thousands of years—to get to your eyeball, and over all that distance and all that time the light has persisted. So, it seems logical to me that, in an enclosed room with no windows, the light from a flashlight should stay in the room even after you turn off the flashlight. After all, light is an electromagnetic wave that goes on forever…
But only if nothing absorbs it. Let’s say you’re in a room with no windows. You turn on a light bulb to light up the room, but the room gets dark again as soon as you turn off the bulb. Why? Because the light is quickly absorbed by the walls (and even by the air particles in the room). It happens so fast your eyes can’t detect it. It occurs to me that if the light wasn’t being absorbed, the room would get brighter and brighter the longer you left the light bulb on because the light would just continue bouncing off the walls, and the “old” light would remain in the room even as new light is being added. That’s a strange thought, but strange thoughts are the way I roll.
Okay, let's take this a step further… what if the walls of the room are mirrors? Wouldn’t the reflected light just keep bouncing around in the room for a long time? Nope. The light still disappears in an instant, due to the fact that typical mirrors do not reflect 100% of the light hitting them. Okay, then what if we had really, really good mirrors? Like, perfect mirrors that reflect 100% of the light. Well, as it turns out, the mirrors with the highest reflectivity, made for reflecting a laser beam, have a reflectivity of about 99.999%. Therefore, the light in the room of mirrors would still disappear in an instant. You have to consider how fast light travels. If you have a little cubical room that is 10 cm wide on each side, a beam of light will bounce off the walls about three billion times in one second! So, even if the walls were made of the best mirrors in the world, with 99.999% reflection, the light would be gone in a tiny fraction of a second.
So much for my idea of making a container to hold some light for when I might need it later.
- Hands holding light - DepositPhotos
The other day, Trish and I were exploring an interesting property located a mile down the road from us, called Kumberland Gap. In the 1970s, the owner carefully moved about twenty old structures to this property by dismantling them at their original locations and reconstructing them here, creating an authentic "frontier town."
Decades ago, they regularly opened the "town" as a tourist attraction. Recently, it was purchased by new owners, who intend to restore the place to its old glory.
Anyway, we were exploring the main structures (jail, grain mill, blacksmith's shop, general store, and many more), when we saw a trail back into the woods. We followed the trail and found this old homestead-type cabin.
This got me to thinking... what must it have been like to live in a place like this, deep in the woods, long before we had internet, cell phones, and other modern conveniences? And... this may surprise you, but one of the main reasons I admire those brave, resilient people is that they did not have modern insect repellant. Think about it. We have chiggers here that can ruin your whole week if you make the mistake of going into the woods for only one hour without proper protection. To the north (like in Minnesota), the mosquitoes, black flies, and deer flies will make your life miserable without insect repellent.
I know, I know... those people had to use an outhouse, they canned their own food, and they worked their fingers to the bone with countless other tasks. But I am most in awe of the fact that they did all of this without Off or Repel! I gotta respect them for that.
Kumberland Gap cabin - Stan C. Smith
Did you know the wild turkeys of North America almost went extinct in the 1930s? Mainly due to overhunting and loss of their forest habitat. Actually, their decline began back in the 1600s, when European colonists began aggressively hunting them and clearing forest to make farmland.
Today, domestic turkeys are often part of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, but by 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving an official U.S. holiday, wild turkeys were completely gone from Connecticut, Vermont, New York and Massachusetts. By the 1930s, they were nearly extinct everywhere. Thanks to intensive state and federal efforts over the last 90 years, there are now 6 to 7 million wild turkeys in North and Central America.
Let's consider a few more wild turkey tidbits. The bird's name actually comes from the name of the country, Turkey. Here's the story: In the Middle Ages, a bird called the African guinea fowl was brought to Europe, first becoming established on farms in Turkey. Eventually, the African guinea found its way to farms all over Europe, and people called it the Turkey bird. When Europeans first ventured to North America, they thought wild turkeys resembled the African guineas (Turkey birds) from back home, so they called them turkeys.
Domestic turkeys (as opposed to wild turkeys) did not originate in the United States. They have a rather interesting history. The Mayans of southern Mexico were the first to domesticate turkeys, about 2,000 years ago. Early Spanish explorers took some of these domesticated turkeys back home with them, and before long, domestic turkeys became common on farms throughout Europe. Then, when Europeans began migrating to the eastern United Sates, they brought domestic turkeys with them, completing a "turkey circle" back to North America.
So, domestic turkeys are not descendants of the wild turkey subspecies that live in the U.S. Instead, they came, via Europe, from a subspecies of southern Mexico.
- Wild turkeys - DepositPhotos
We’ve all experienced it. We gaze up at the stars at night, and it gives us a strange feeling. Suddenly, we have questions we don’t normally think of. Even people who don’t normally give a hoot about science suddenly understand why scientists are so drawn to the mysteries of the universe.
It’s not only the stars that have this effect. A view of any breathtaking scene can do the trick. The dramatic play of light on ominous clouds following a thunderstorm. A vast landscape of mountains, or prairie, or forest. The Grand Canyon. A coral reef, teeming with brightly-colored fish and invertebrates. The list could go on. Personally, I get the same feeling when I look at tiny things through a microscope, seeing a hidden world on the surface of an insect’s head, for example. The point is, looking at certain things gives us a sense of awe. Why? And what is awe anyway?
“Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world.” This is a quote from Greater Good Magazine, and I think it sums it up nicely. However, different people experience awe in different ways. Awe does not have to come just from looking at the stars. I feel awe when I watch a music performer I have admired all my life. I feel awe when I watch a spectacular movie, such as Avatar. I feel awe when I read a book that is so well written that I cannot put it down.
I’m beginning to realize it is important to seek out new ways to experience awe. We should learn to feel awe as we watch the maple leaves turn orange in the fall. We should feel awe when we see a child laugh or smile just like their parents, or when we see someone give money to a homeless person. We should feel awe every time we find a crinoid fossil on a lake shore, or see a T. Rex skeleton in a museum. We should learn to feel awe as often as a four-year old child does.
Awe has evolutionary roots. Historically, awe would bring people together, bound by fascination, to achieve the same objectives. Unfortunately, awe is becoming endangered as people spend more time indoors and working mind-numbing jobs. Awe can be found indoors, but it is much easier to find outdoors. Not only that, but if people forget how to feel awe at the natural world, we will have lost what it means to be human.
Remember to look up at the stars.
The rodents are preparing for winter. Example: Trish bought a brand new car a few months ago. A few days ago, she lifted the hood to see if rodents were causing damage (a common problem here), and she discovered some little rascal was making an impressive nest on top of the engine. And chewing on wires.
The squirrels are busy burying acorns and walnuts. And here is an eastern chipmunk that was stuffing corn into its cheek pouches in our yard.
Eastern chipmunks, the only chipmunk species in Missouri, are fairly common in our area. The genus name for these chipmunks is Tamias, a Greek word meaning "a storer." Chipmunks enthusiastically gather nuts and seeds, stuff them into their cheek pouches, and carry them to their nests to build up a supply for lean times. When I say they do it enthusiastically, I mean it—a single chipmunk will usually create a cache of about a half bushel (about 4 US gallons) of seeds and nuts.
Okay, let's do some math. Eastern Chipmunks weigh about 3.5 ounces on average. A half bushel of corn weighs 26 pounds, so I'm going to estimate that a half bushel of various nuts weighs somewhat less, let's say 20 pounds, or 320 ounces. So, a 3.5-ounce chipmunk regularly gathers and hides 92 times its own weight in seeds.
Now let's imagine I'm a chipmunk, at my normal weight of 185 pounds. I would have to scour the forest floor for seeds, stuffing my cheeks full, and carrying the seeds to my nest, over and over again until I have 17,020 pounds of seeds.
Respect to the chipmunks of the world.
Did you know the frilled shark has hardly changed (as a species) in 80 million years? Therefore, it is called a "living fossil."
This primitive shark, which is extremely rare, lives in deep water, usually 50–200 meters (160–660 ft) below the surface, and much deeper during warmer months of the year. They are long and eel-like, with characteristics of some of the most ancient fossilized sharks. They grow to about 6 feet (2 m) long and live about 25 years. Because they are rarely seen alive, little is known about their behavior.
They get the name frilled from the numerous tips of their gills that stick out beyond the edges of their gill covers.
Frilled sharks have about 300 teeth, arranged in clusters and pointing backward to help prevent their prey from escaping. They eat fish, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and sea slugs (nudibranchs). Squid make up about 60% of their diet. This information is based on stomach contents and structural features observed in dead frilled sharks, because live frilled sharks have rarely been observed in the wild, and they are extremely difficult to keep alive in captivity.
No one knows how many frilled sharks remain, but because they are sometimes accidentally caught in fishing nets (resulting in their death), and because they reproduce very slowly, they have been classified as "near-threat of extinction."
Frilled shark - Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
It's true, right? At holiday gatherings, family reunions, or just about any other gathering of the people we are fond of, we eat more than we normally do. I used to think this was just me, because I often perceive that everyone else around me is eating far less than I am. Getting together with others seems to trigger something in my mind, and I lose control, like a shark in a feeding frenzy, going after buckets and buckets of chum. However, a bit of research reveals that I am not alone in my temporary, get-together, food-snarfing insanity.
My first thought, when examining this mystery, was what I’ll call the “litter of piglets” scenario (I am not calling my family a litter of piglets… it’s just an analogy). Perhaps you’ve seen a litter of piglets struggling for access to the sow’s teats, when there are often fewer teats than there are piglets. With limited food, the piglets have to get as much as they can. Maybe that’s why I eat more when I’m around other people? Well, this hypothesis doesn't hold up, because I do not have a tendency to shove everyone out of the way to get to the taco bar first. So, forget the “litter of piglets” scenario.
What, then, causes this phenomenon? Decades of research reveals that the vast majority of people do indeed eat more when in the company of others. In fact, psychologists have called this the “single most important and all-pervasive influence on eating yet identified.” Wow, harsh—especially when I'm the poster child for this behavior.
Surprisingly, some researchers have ruled out hunger, mood, or distracting social interactions as important factors. Instead, they put the blame squarely on the length of the meals. When people are together, they simply eat for a longer period of time. They enjoy talking and laughing together, and they sit around the table (or stand around the food) for much longer than they normally would. Extra minutes at the table = extra food stuffed into the mouth. Studies show that bigger groups enjoy longer meals, and when the meal times are limited, they eat no more, on average, than when they are alone. In other words, we eat the same amount of food per minute, whether we are alone or in a group, but groups eat longer.
It’s simple math, dude.
- People eating together - DepositPhotos
Did you know the now extinct gastric-brooding frog barfed up its babies? Yep, two species of these frogs, which lived in Queensland, Australia and became extinct in the 1980s, were unique among frogs because they incubated and hatched their eggs within the female's stomach. Really.
Let's break it down. Like other frogs, female gastric-brooding frogs laid their eggs, then the males fertilized them outside of the female's body. That's just how frogs do it, and it's normal. But then, with these frogs, things got strange. Next, the females swallowed the fertilized eggs... about 40 of them!
Hey! Wouldn't the female's stomach digest the eggs and kill them? Sure, except that these frog eggs secreted a chemical that made the mother's stomach stop producing hydrochloric acid. Well, that means the mother couldn't eat anything the entire time the eggs were incubating in her stomach and while the baby frogs were growing—more than six weeks.
Obviously, the mother's stomach got pretty large as the young grew. So large that her lungs were smashed, and she had to breathe through her skin instead.
When the babies became fully-formed frogs, the mother would barf them up, usually one at a time. But, if the mother was disturbed by something, she would projectile vomit all the babies out at once.
Unfortunately, gastric-brooding frogs went extinct due to human destruction of their habitat and human introduction of a disease-causing fungus. Amazingly, scientists are making good progress in bringing these frogs back, using a specific kind of cloning called somatic-cell nuclear transfer. In fact, in 2013, they produced a living embryo using preserved tissue from dead gastric-brooding frogs. That embryo didn't survive, but one of the scientists has stated: "We do expect to get this guy hopping again."
- Gastric-brooding frog - screenshot from YouTube video
Time is weird. I’m going to use a Steve Martin quote, from the movie The Jerk: “I know we’ve only known each other for four weeks and three days, but to me it seems like nine weeks and five days. The first day seemed like a week. The second day seemed like five days, and the third day seemed like a week again, and the fourth day seemed like eight days…”
You get the idea without seeing the entire quote, right?
If time wasn’t weird, science fiction authors (like me) wouldn’t write about time travel so much. It’s just weird. How many people have you heard say that time seems to be passing faster as they get older? Everyone says that, except for babies. Obviously, time doesn’t really pass faster when we get older. If it did, old people would be way out in the future and young people would be stuck in the past.
It’s more about perception. For example, my 63rd year seems like 213 days, and my 64th year will seem like 189 days, and my 65th year will seem like 151 days, and… you get the idea.
Why do we have this perception? To understand this, I’ll refer to Psychology Today, which uses a camera, film, projector, and movie as metaphors to represent visual memory. Consider the frames in a movie. If the camera captures more frames per second, and you play it back at a standard rate of 20 frames per second, the picture seems to be in slow motion. If the camera captures fewer frames per second, and you play it back at the same 20 frames per second, the picture appears faster than real life.
Here’s the kicker… as we age, the visual part of our brain captures fewer visual images per unit of time. We simply have fewer visual images of what is happening around us. Therefore, we have fewer visual memories to draw from as we think about recent events. More actual time passes between the perception of each new mental image. When children remember things, they have more visual images of those events, therefore it seems like those events took longer.
Now I understand why I used to always say, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
- Daughter, mother, grandmother with hourglass - DepositPhotos
This mystery comes to me every time I watch the hummingbirds at our feeders. You may think of hummingbirds as cute, docile, innocent little fairy-birds, but I’m here to set the record straight. Hummingbirds are mean, grouchy, stingy, food-hoarders. Of course they're still cute, and we like to watch them. However, if they were the size of eagles, they'd be terrifying sky-demons.
Trish fills our feeders whenever they get low. That means the hummingbirds will not run out of food. Ever. There’s plenty for all, including the hummingbird brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, acquaintances, and total strangers. No need to be stingy. There’s no purpose in sitting near the feeder and dive-bombing every other hummingbird that tries to take a sip. There simply is no point in hoarding an unlimited resource.
Well, as it turns out, this unlimited resource thing is the key to hummingbirds’ contentious behavior. Hummingbirds simply cannot fathom that such a thing as an unlimited resource could possibly exist. They did not evolve feeding on unlimited food. If they had, the world would be filled to overflowing with hummingbirds, and nobody wants that.
Hummingbirds feed on nectar, and flowers tend to bloom and produce nectar for a short period of time. The next flower, or group of flowers, may be some distance away. So, throughout all of hummingbird history, about 22 million years, these little bullies have been viciously guarding their food, to make sure they have enough to survive.
Ruby-throated hummingbirdss at feeder - Stan C. Smith
Everyone needs a creative outlet. That's why I write.