Peregrinating Fauna

I seem to have encountered several examples of humanity offering a helping hand to our animal friends in getting from one place to another in the course of the last few rotations of the earth.

The inestimable David Attenborough – in the excellent Life Stories – described a chap who feeds hummingbirds as they migrated past his property (somewhere in the US I think).  This chap provides sugar-water for the “hummers” – initially in fairly sensible volumes but is now buying several tonnes (or, being the US, tons) of sugar per year to feed his feathered friends.  This does rather knock my few kilos of peanuts, sunflower and niger seeds each year into a cocked hat.  It also makes one wonder just how many of the rather diminutive members of family Trochilidae (come on, you’ve missed the references) you could feed with such a huge volume of sweet water (especially as the birds are migrating rather than resident) even given that they consume more than their entire body weight in nectar every day.  Despite my tendency to only allow the need to breathe and sleep to interrupt my eating, I don’t get close to that level of food consumption – I’m not sure even I could pack away 13 stone of scran every 24 hours (and I would definitely need a bigger fridge – or perhaps some form of just-in-time arrangement with Ocado!).

A similar sort of plan is to be implemented in that most exotic of English counties – Yorkshire – where wild flowers are to be planted in corridors to provide snacking opportunities for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.  Apparently, so large are the gaps between flowers that the poor bees cannot move from one area to another due to the lack of grub en route.  I know how they feel, but luckily we humans have developed the rucksack, a technology which has thus far eluded apian science but which enables me to carry sufficient victuals to safely move about the country with minimal fear of being overtaken by starvation.  These floral byways seem to be referred to colloquially as “bee roads”: I presume a route comprised of drying grasses laid down to allow cattle (or horses) to avoid the pangs of hunger striking while journeying would be an ‘ay road.

As established before, whilst I as the Fish am a regular user of the bicycle, our piscine (as opposed to Piscean – though I would also fall into this category) friends are well-known for eschewing the velocipede.  This would now seems to be an error on their part: the warming world means that lake-dwelling fish with a penchant for cold water need to move to more elevated pools. Lacking a mountain bike, they are unable to boost their gravitational potential energy unaided.  Luckily, for at least one Cumbrian species, help as “at fin” thanks to the good offices of the Environment Agency.

The vendace (not a top salesman, but a copepod guzzling fish) – which has been with us since the ice age – is not a big fan of warmer weather and is proud holder of the title of Britain’s Rarest Fish (nothing to do with sushi, but down to its scarcity).  So, a bunch of lucky vendace youths have been moved from Derwentwater uphill to the cooler Sprinkler Tarn – not with the help of Pickfords (other removal firms are available) but on the back of llamas (yes, I did say llamas).  Apparently the route to their new watery home is too steep for a 4×4 or 16 (even without Harry Christophers), and so llamas (scientific name, the splendidly rhyming lama glama) were the obvious(?) next choice.  Twenty-five thousand fish have been transported this way (some 2.5 Dukes of York, to use the SI unit for things marched up a hill), and I rather like to imagine the fish being placed in individual polythene bags, like prizes in fairgrounds of old, for the journey.

By the way, I think the sheer quantity of vendace (vendaces?) being re-settled makes me Britain’s Rarest Fish as there are at least 24,999 fewer of me (last time I checked, and given the relative failure of my cloning experiments) and I shall be looking to claim my rightful title in the very near future.


Never one to shy away from a challenge, this blog will bring you a subscript… or die trying!  Marineville will be saved!

Talking of Marineville (and if anyone wonders why, they should check out the comments to Green Fireworks), am I the only one who thinks that the “red alert” type sound for that folding city was so much better than any equivalent sound used before or since? The manic drumming was so much more effective (and less irritating) than the range of klaxons and sirens used in other series to denote imminent disaster.

So, let’s attempt a little water – H2O – and we’ve done it!  And wouldn’t that have been a much more logical name for Titan’s agent in the world of men?

You may wonder why I continued the Stingray theme  – though regular readers may well anticipate the weak joke which is to come.  The method to subscript the “2”, or anything else is to enter the text in the HTML tab (rather than the normal Visual tab) and preface the item with <sub> and suffix </sub> when you want to return to normal text.  Stingray is, of course, probably the most famous “sub” to anyone of my nationality and age – though, not for my money, the highpoint of supermarionation and involving some decidedly dodgy gender politics.

In researching this post I have discovered that Atlanta was played by Miss Moneypenny herself – which means poor Lois Maxwell failed to get her guy in both puppet and live-action form.  I fear her obvious intelligence, and ability to speak, may have been against her…

Green Fireworks

I suspect anyone who has spent time in a chemistry lab – or seen one of the many programmes affording a brief glimpse of Dr Andrea Sella on the television (he seems to be very much the go-to guy for chemistry experiments these days) – will be familiar with the flame test.  You place a small sample of a metal or compound in the flame of a bunsen burner and admire the pretty colours.  Well, you did in my day – but we did only have black and white television and were use to making our own fun – perhaps young people today just yawn or are too busy texting to notice.

Green was always a tricky colour to obtain – we were taught that barium produces an apple-green flame but we weren’t allowed to play with barium (whether as a result of cost or the rather limited health and safety concerns present in the late 70s, I don’t know) and my teachers never indicated what kind of apple.  There is a huge difference in green between an Egremont Russet and a Blenheim Orange or Rev. W Wilkes.

This effect is really rather important and led to the science of spectrometry, by which we can tell of what chemical elements distant stars are made.  It also explains the colour of sodium street lamps and contributes to the beautiful colours obtained from the fireworks launched to celebrate the capture (and subsequent execution) of a chap with a name homophonous to mine when he tried a rather extreme vote of no confidence in the government of his day.

Green fireworks use barium chloride (BaCl2), but there are concerns that this can build up to toxic levels at sites where fireworks are frequently used – Lewes you have been warned!  I had always assumed barium was harmless – perhaps even tasty – as patients are often given a barium meal in hospital, but further research suggests this process only involves insoluble barium salts.

However, military scientists in the US – I think looking at flares or tracers, rather than celebratory explosions – have discovered that boron carbide also produces a green firework and is non-toxic (no data yet on its flavour when used as a seasoning or spice).

Boron carbide has (more-or-less, it tends to be a slightly carbon deficient in bulk) the chemical formula B4C (apologise for the failure to subscript the 4, not yet sure how to get WordPress to subscript – I rather think it requires more knowledge of HTML than I currently possess) or homophonically, before sea.  This leads me to wonder if one could use words like Beach or Shore (or the Morning of the Second Day) as a brand name for boron carbide.  Boron carbide is incredibly hard – I think the water in Cambridge is pretty hard, but that is nothing to boron carbide – on the mohs scale where diamond is 10, B4C comes in at a very respectable 9.3 (however, it would only satisfy a rather niche taste for jewellery, I fear).  It can stop neutrons, bullets and even shells (ordnance rather than mollusc related, but it could probably stop those as well – let’s face it, snails and their ilk are not known for being all that fast moving) and so is used in armour of all kinds. Presumably when B4C armour is struck by ordnance, one obtains lovely green sparks?

So, let us raise a glass (of crême de menthe or listerine, perhaps) to the US Army scientists of the Picatinny Arsenal.  Green fireworks can now truly be green!

E=mc squared

+½mv² to a decent approximation, as long as you aren’t moving too quickly.

As a chap with an interest in science I’ve known this for a while, though I have recently significantly deepened my knowledge reading a book entitled “Why does E=mc²?” by two Lancashire physicists (only one of whom has a blooming career on TV, so far…).  This book is quite splendidly lucid in its explanations and has convinced me that whilst we may need to conserve wildlife and its habitat, we can leave angular momentum to conserve itself with a clear conscience. (Yes, there is now a poorly thought-out book review strand to this blog).

E, is you will know, refers to energy (I will leave you to look up the mc-squared, but I don’t think it is a rap (or similar kiddie’s music) artist – or at least not only that) which is a pretty fundamental concept in physics, but one  about which a couple of brand names I have seen recently appear to display a significant ignorance.

Cycling past an Esso garage over the weekend I noticed it was advertising “Energy fuels” (I also rather smugly noted how much I wasn’t having to pay for these fuels on my one fish powered velocipede – which rather puts the lie to fish not needing a bicycle, at least one Fish relies upon it). I would have been much more excited if they had managed to develop a non-energy fuel or maybe, an energy-free fuel or zero calorie fuel for those with an overweight vehicle.  Mr Collins (of dictionary rather than “and Herring” fame) suggests that a fuel is “a source of energy” (I am paraphrasing a little here for the sake of brevity – yes, I do know what the word means despite much of this blog standing as a hostile witness). So, their new “brand” is at best a tautology (those formative years listening to Many a Slip were not wasted) but more likely arrant nonsense.  Perhaps United Utilities could start marketing Wet Water next (to distinguish it from all the dry water you get these days)?

I am reminded of a character in a sci-fi novel I once read who regularly passed “The Boutique Shop”, and who rarely resisted the urge to then enter and ask to buy a shop to the bemusement of its (presumably non-Francophone) staff.

I also recently saw (but did not listen to) a televisual sales pitch for some form of cosmetic unguent going by the name of “Sublime Energy”.  Now, it certainly does take energy to sublime a solid direct to a gas – but this would more sensibly be called sublimation energy, and I’m really not sure I want to apply anything to my face which would cause it to move directly to a gaseous state without passing Go (or the liquid state).   Sublime can also mean “of a high moral, aesthetic or spiritual value”, but once again it is hard to see how one can apply this adjective to either energy or some guck to smear on your phizog.

This latter product was being sold by a company called Roc – which I seem to recall is a giant mythical bird, reputedly capable of carrying an elephant off in its talons.  I suppose elephants are quite grey and wrinkled, and so perhaps we are supposed to imagine that a giant imaginary bird will fly off with our wrinkles if we use their products? It is certainly a diverting image for an anti-ageing product (and I do wonder why they didn’t use it in their ad, as it would certainly offer striking visuals) and as a methodology, it is probably at least as likely to work as anything sold to that end on the shelves of chemists and department stores today.

I think I’ll stick with my plan of growing old disgracefully!

Ant Eating (second-hand)

Today, a short tale of eating out whilst abroad…

A traveller in southern Africa, after a busy day on safari, stops at a roadside cafe for dinner.  After perusing the menu, he questions the waiter:

Traveller: I was thinking of having the aardvark steak, but I’m sure I’ve read that aardvark is poisonous.

Waiter: Aardvark is mildly toxic, but only in very large quantities.  A little aardvark never hurt anyone.

Boom! Boom!