In Trust We Trust

I am a trusting person.

I am a trusting person. The good news is that there is much to trust in our daily lives.

I trust that sometimes around the time I wake the sun will have risen—or will soon rise—in the east. I trust that the weather will vary during the day and although I may be oblivious to it the weather will vary during the night as well. I trust that a year will pass in a series of days and those days will pass in a series of hours, minutes, and seconds. I trust that time will not reverse in this process and I will become older, not younger. I trust that seasons will bring changes to how the world appears, at least in my part of a large planet full of differences.

I trust that I survive each day because the invisible stuff that surrounds me contains oxygen and that some of this oxygen ends up bound to my hemoglobin and myoglobin proteins and will end up servicing core and peripheral functions of my body. I have never seen an oxygen or any other gas molecule per se but I have seen hemoglobin data modeled out using physical probes and understand that hemoglobin is transported in red blood cells (aka erythrocytes), which I have seen through photomicrography recorded by others. I trust that when I drink and eat a whole series of enzymatic processes will turn the foods and beverages into energy, some used immediately, some stored for a nomadic existence that has long ceased to be relevant for many. Some of what was once delicious will cause me to get up when I don’t want to get up and do things which are among the least dignified activities any of us will perform on a regular basis. On the other hand, we have no choice, so why complain?

I trust that most of the people I see on any given day will behave themselves within acceptable parameters… except when some of them are driving, at which time this subset will take actions that they are told by the motor vehicle and people licensing authority are not acceptable… yet they do these things anyway. You’ve probably seen them do these things wherever you are and you may see them do worse things that I shudder to even imagine. I trust that, while most of the people I see are behaving appropriately somewhere, someone is not doing all that well in this regard. Oh, and that the “someone” to whom I refer is accompanied by others who are also not behaving. These behaviors take place in all towns, cities, and countries and by all people, regardless of wealth (presence or absence thereof), country of origin, employment status, religion, ethnicity, gender. Both well-intentioned behavior and its opposite are aspects of human existence. While other creatures on our planet do violence to each other on occasion, we are the only species that participates in violence and its correlates so pervasively and still find a way to live with each other (for the most part).

Sometimes, I look up a word before starting in on it. It seems to have roots back to the early state of languages called Proto-Indo-European (aka PIE (not π)). For a phenomenal map of what languages are derived from which others, please go to the site provided under the following version:

 

indoeuropeantreedielli1-svg

 

I’m just going to drag something over from the Wiktionary page to get into how trust is linked to some very fundamental human values:

From Middle Englishtruste ‎(trust, protection), from Old Norsetraust ‎(confidence, help, protection), from Proto-Germanic*traustą, from Proto-Indo-European*drowzdo-, from Proto-Indo-European*deru- ‎(be firm, hard, solid). – https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/trust

“Protection,” “confidence,” “help,” “be firm, hard, solid.” This is what we associate with the meaning, although we don’t necessarily think through that the word is from Old Norse and Middle English, or that it is related of “confidence” and thus to the Latin fides, which meant trust, faith, and belief and is responsible for fidelity and bona fides. Interestingly, the Wiktionary page also points the reader to derivation of the words “true” and “tree.” “True” seems explicitly related; one wonders if the concept of trust and truth both came from an appreciation for the confidence, help, protection, firm, hard, solid virtues of houses built from the readily available (far more then than now) tree.

It is also interesting that the ideas of faith and belief are concepts that grew simultaneously with the concept of trust. I wonder, though, whether these meant something far more alike to trust when they were conceived than they do now.

While I trust in all of the experiential, reliable events that I cited in the first couple of paragraphs (with some elaboration from the sciences, admittedly), I do not need to have faith in them or believe them to be true. They simply are trustworthy and true. When I listen to politicians tell us to have faith in them or believe in them, I start wondering where I left my wallet and whether my bank has secured the accounts against hacking. I understand why they want my belief but I will give it when their actions measure up to their words. I will believe them when I trust them but I will not trust them until I believe that they have achieved what they promised.

It is also interesting that the word “truss” meaning a structure that supports or stiffens a building is phonetically related to “trust,” as that is the function it is intended to convey to the building. It makes the building, no longer made of trees, one that you can have confidence in entering. Your faith will not be tested, your belief shattered. Well, unless the weather gets really bad. And I trust that it will on some days.

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Something is Going Well Around Here!

The 1,000 “like” road marker disappearing in the rear view mirror…

The WP auto-post function just told me that I have accumulated 1,000 “likes,” which are all because the imaginary “you” have been appreciating what I’ve been pouring forth since June 22nd. It hasn’t been four months yet and I have so many “likes!” Who knew?!?

I’ve logged 87 posts (one was a repeat, so doesn’t really count and one was a reblog in respect for a new WordPress-induced friend) in 111 days, meaning that I’ve hit about 78% of the days between start and present. Not bad. Could be better. Let’s see if I can pick up the slack.

Thank you, everyone!

MSOC

The Tree of Genes

I think that I shall never see/a tree as complex as a tree (with apologies to Joyce Kilmer)

By this time in your life (however old you are), you have heard the letters DNA and RNA countless times… or at least once each. You have been told about genomes, genes, and chromosomes, although you may have what is which and vice versa somewhat muddled. You may have a sense that someone somewhere has mapped out the complete human genome and that it is a large bowl of alphabet soup… with a very short alphabet of four letters—A, C, T, and G. You may have even seen references to other genomes from other creatures going through the process of “sequencing” while this sequencing business may remain a mystery.

This is the thing… all of this genetic data has an implication for how biologists—and lay people—have thought about the tree of life since we started grouping similar-looking creatures together into domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. This “tree” metaphor started taking root (yuk-yuk) in the middle ages and became more complicated as more creatures were discovered (this being the usual term that we use when we find creatures that knew they were there all along without being “discovered”). The way we all look is how our genetic makeup is expressed. The genetic makeup has a much more complicated message about how we are all (by all I mean all living entities on this planet) related.

haeckel_arbol_bn
Attribution

First, all living entities contain some type of polymeric nucleotide, whether it is single-stranded DNA or RNA or double-stranded DNA or RNA. But let’s back up. What is life? The generally accepted biological definition is that life must exhibit seven characteristics:  organisms maintain homeostasis, are composed of cells, undergo metabolism, can grow, adapt to their environment, respond to stimuli, and reproduce. This definition covers most of what we perceive as living with the exception of viruses (there is more on those critters at What is life?). A lot of that definition is dependent on polymeric nucleotides in one way or another. There are other definitions of life but this is sufficient for our purposes.

The number of base pairs determined in the human genome is about 3,079,843,747 (3.1 billion). A base pair is either adenine paired through hydrogen bonding to thymine OR guanine paired through hydrogen bonding to cytosine (fun fact: guanine got its name from the biological source from which it was isolated – seabird “guano,” more commonly referred to as poop):

dna_chemical_structure-svg
Attribution

In RNA, thymine is replaced by uracil, another nucleoside (nucleosides do not have the phosphate “backbone” that links the ribose or deoxyribose sugars together to form RNA or DNA chains, respectively).

Within this 3.1 billion base pair code of life, there are currently estimated to be about 21,000 genes, each of which is a message for creating a protein of one type or another, some of which are structural proteins (i.e. make up parts of our bodies) and some of which have a wide variety of functions (e.g. digesting carbohydrates, initiating certain activities in a cell, etc.). The 3.1 billion base pairs are distributed across the twenty-three chromosomes that are packages of DNA with between 50 and 2,000 genes in each chromosome (fun fact: the chromosome with only 50 genes is the Y chromosome that must be present for a male to be “expressed;” the genes in the Y chromosome contain about 59,000,000 base pairs). These twenty-three are paired with identical chromosomes so that most cells contain forty-six chromosomes, useful during cell division, reproduction, and all that crucial life business. The following illustration may help with the geography of DNA, genes, and chromosomes and how they are related:

chromatin_structures
The major structures in DNA compaction: DNA, the nucleosome, the 10-nanometer “beads-on-a-string” fiber, the 30-nanometer fiber, and the metaphase chromosome.
(Attribution)

An odd factor is that there are long segments within these genes that do not seem to have any function, do not seem to be translated onto RNA and coded into any kind of protein or function determined to date. They are like sets of blank pages interspersed in groups within a novel, which is entirely readable without the blank pages. Some geneticists hypothesize that these unused segments are bits of genetics that may have been used by some previous version of ourselves or may be conserved from other creatures in our long evolutionary history but have gone silent for so long that they are like scaffolds left standing outside (or inside) a completely finished building; they aren’t needed but there they are!

An odd factor is that there are long segments within these genes that do not seem to have any function, do not seem to be translated onto RNA and coded into any kind of protein or function determined to date. They are like sets of blank pages interspersed in groups within a novel, which is entirely readable without the blank pages. Some geneticists hypothesize that these unused segments are bits of genetics that may have been used by some previous version of ourselves or may be conserved from other creatures in our long evolutionary history but have gone silent for so long that they are like scaffolds left standing outside (or inside) a completely finished building; they aren’t needed but there they are!

So here’s another interesting fact. Although we think quite highly of ourselves, we are by no means the creature on this planet with the greatest number of chromosomes. With 46 chromosomes per cell, we sit snugly between the rabbit (44) and the chimpanzee, gorilla, and hare (48), or if you prefer, between the Syrian hamster and cultivated tobacco. The kingfisher has 132 bite-sized nuggets of genetic material, while the adder’s tongue fern contains about 1,200 chromosomes.

ophioglossum_closeup
Ophioglossum vulgatum contains roughly 1,200 chromosomes compared to our measly 46

Does this mean we’re less or more than any other life form? No. The genes on these varying number of chromosomes occur in different zones of their distinct strands of DNA and are translated in different ways and while there are expressed similarities between humans and rabbits (e.g. we both have ears that stick out from our heads, erm, we’re both mammals who carry our young internally) and between humans and gorillas (e.g. 96% of base pair sequences are identical; if the gene sequences are compared, the comparison moves up to 98% of the base pair sequences are identical), the genes code for different traits in the final results (i.e. there are similarities but we’re obviously not “the same”).

The implication of genetics is that the “tree of life” model isn’t as much about external or anatomical similarities and differences but is about how genes on chromosomes are expressed. This has resulted in various reconsiderations of how the “tree” concept can be replaced by more genetically-based models. The bottom line is how are sequences of base pairs (DNA) interpreted by RNA and various resulting proteins to produce the life forms all around us? As usual, the models are more complicated.

The following is a “tree of life” based on genomic sequences. How do you read this (aside from the fact that it is impossibly rich in detail and the print is illegible)? At the center of the diagram are a couple of lines radiating out from a short line. These two lines branch out and become two more and those branch into two and this goes on until you end up with various genus and species names arrayed around the edge of the circle. The genii and species that came before the displayed names are not listed; if this diagram is complicated, imagine what a mess it would be if all life forms were listed!

tree_of_life_svg-svg
For a higher resolution version of this file, please go here.

This does not resemble the classical Haeckel tree of life anymore… except, perhaps, if one imagined looking down on a tree from directly above and saw all the branches radiating out from the trunk.

There’s a fascinating website called Open Tree of Life taking shape as more and more genomic data rolls in from laboratories around the world. This model really gets into the details of how these various branches articulate outwards and become the huge variety of life, some of which we have seen but most of which we will never see as we are typically only vaguely familiar with the life forms that make up our immediate environment. To interact with Open Tree of Life (OTL), click on any round node in the model and a new page will open with all the critters mapped to date that fall under that category. To date, the OTL project only has about 50,000 creatures in this database; there are estimated to be 2.6 million separate life forms known, so there is quite a bit of work to do to complete the project. Nonetheless, this is a far more accurate and dynamic view of life on earth than the featured image ever could have hoped to illustrate.

A really great outcome of this project is something called OneZoom. This website starts with a clickable version of the image below (instructions: go to the website and click on any of the bubbles):

top-level-onezoom-map
Snipped from OneZoom

Each click will take you down that particular rabbit hole of life forms. I suggest clicking on the ladybug: (1) you are likely to have some familiarity with these happy-looking little insects (unless you’ve had a swarm of them in your area) and (2) you are probably going to be familiar with other the creatures you encounter down that particular node of life.

One other site you may like to visit and browse (it will take you a while – set aside a few years… or just nibble!) is the Encyclopedia of Life site. The site was the result of a talk by Edward O. Wilson, one of the great biologists (and certainly the greatest myrmecologist) of our current era (and perhaps of all time). He’s no spring chicken, so be patient as he tells you about his love of all of these critters that should be our friends and fellow travelers.

To close out this episode of “It’s More Complicated Than You May Have Not Been Considering in the First Place,” here is a Smithsonian Institution site for a standing exhibit on genomes:

https://unlockinglifescode.org

And here is a website that delves into genetics in more detail:

https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer

And just because genetics should never be considered without attempting to understand the complex nuttiness of life within any individual cell, feast your eyes and ears on this video (prepare to be astonished at all the work you’re doing while you’re attempting to relax):

One final sentence: If you’re young and scientifically inclined, consider learning as much as you can about genetics and its affiliated disciplines (e.g. sequencing technologies); this will be a growth area for decades to come.

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(As I am not a biologist or a geneticist, I hope I haven’t made egregious, unforgivable errors that might offend The Biology Yak et al.)

Another Slow Day in Paradise

It was another slow day in paradise.

It was another slow day in paradise. A and B were flitting about the huge meadow with its vast and varied flowers, shrubs, and trees, all of them spaced perfectly so every flower, shrub, and tree got the perfect amount of sunlight, the perfect amount of water sipped from the fertile earth. Every kind of beetle, fly, bee, ant, butterfly, and spider floated about in the gentle breeze, while every kind of bunny, mouse, cat, dog, horse, goat, sheep, pig, lion, giraffe, elephant, and gazelle pranced about, munching on all of the good things there were to eat, which sprang back up as soon as they were nibbled. A stream ran through the center of the meadow but then again there were streams with stepping stones every so often all over the place. Some had waterfalls and some had pools of just the right depth in their centers, causing the stream to widen a bit more than usual, then tighten back up after the pool was behind the coursing waters.

Theit (that’s what it liked to call itself when it came down to check in with A and B; it wasn’t a real name, sort of a joke—”the it”—you see?) had just wafted in from everywhere and coalesced in the form of a fluorescent tapir. Theit had tried subtler appearances but had to spend too much time convincing these two that it was it. Theit did it gently as the last time it at coalesced, A and B had run off screaming and it took precious seconds to find them cowering behind a baobab tree. This time, Theit found form behind a yew bush growing near one of the streams and strolled out to talk to “the experiment,” as it called them in its mind.

“Hi A. Hi B. How’s it going down here?” The fluorescent tapir spoke in a perfect East African accent, which sounded startlingly like many of the sounds A and B heard on a daily basis, except shaped more carefully and regularly into sounds that made sense to their minds.

A and B stared at the tapir and knew what it said. This sort of thing had happened before and while it had been confusing and a little terrifying at first, they had grown accustomed to unexpected creatures sauntering up to them and having a chat. After all, they spent a good deal of any day doing the same thing with squirrels and horses. Walking up, having a chat, the creatures chatting back. Why not this oddly-hued beast with truncated snout?

“Hi Theit!” they said in unison. It was like they shared a brain. Not always in a good way either. “It’s going the same as always. Nothing new to say, just having a nice day speaking to everyone and enjoying the sunshine and streams and fruits. Did you want something in particular?”

“Well, yes. It’s lesson time.” Theit noticed that both of them shuddered. Theit was aware this was not their favorite activity, which was exclusively wandering about bothering their fellow creatures and picking an excessive number of flowers, which it had warned them about on numerous occasions: “They’re for the bees and butterflies, you two. All you’re doing is taking beauty out of the ground, sniffing it, then throwing it down. Just lean over and do your sniffing on the living thing, please!” he had said. They went ahead and picked flowers as if they had no memory at all.

“Do you remember what we talked about yesterday?” Theit had a really confused sense of time as it meant nothing to it at all, while still being this counter-function it had implanted in the world so that stuff might eventually get done.

A and B shook their heads. No surprise. And, to be fair, it may have been more than a day. Theit needed to work out how to be more regular in lesson-giving.

“Well, we worked through addition and subtraction. Remember those? I give you two fruit, then I give you two more. How many fruit do you have?”

“Two” they said in unison.

Theit breathed in slowly and then let the air escape from the tapirs lungs. “No. I first gave you two fruit. At that time you had two fruit. Then I gave you two more. How many fruit did you have?”

“Two” they said in unison. Then B said “Two two.”

“Good, B! And how many is two two? What do we call that number of fruit?”

“Fruit” said A. “Two two” said B.

“And what do we call “two two,” B?”

“Four?” said B. “Fruit” said A.

“Very good, A! I can hear that you remember the word for two two! That is very nice! Please teach that to A so he remembers, okay?”

“Yes” said B.

“Okay, let’s see how you remember subtraction. If you have four fruit and I ask for two fruit back so that I may share them with other creatures. How many fruit do you have?”

“Two” said B.” “Fruit” said A. At this point Theit thought A’s time might be better spent smacking himself in the head with a rock but Theit didn’t make him do that. Although that made sense. That would have been beneath Theit’s mission with this experiment, which was purely about creation, observation, data, and outcomes.

“B, could you help out A with this subtraction concept? There are bigger numbers to add and subtract and even different ideas that are not addition and subtraction and we must talk about them as well.”

“Okay” said B. A said “fruit!”

Theit was a little worried. It seemed that B was slowly understanding the information being shared but A was not. And both of them, to be honest, seemed more concerned with playing with the creatures and picking flowers than they were in learning. How was multiplication and division going to go if adding and subtracting up to four was proving this difficult? Theit let a rare shudder ripple through the tapir’s frame, although Theit was the one shuddering. Was this another failed experiment like the bacteria that ate all its own young and didn’t multiply? Or the lizard that popped off its own head when it was caught by a predator? They seemed like good ideas at the time—bacteria that controlled themselves, lizards with an escape mechanism—but those had gone wrong.

Theit didn’t really know how long that thought lasted. Was it brief or was it really long? In any case, Theit looked up and A was chasing a bunny through the meadow grasses and flowers and B was chasing A. Neither A nor B were catching what they chased but they laughed as they ran. You couldn’t really hate that.

“Come here, you two” said the fluorescent tapir. “More studying to do!”

A and B took their time but came over looking a little petulant with the tapir, which was an odd look as tapir’s usually provoke giggles rather than petulance. Theit didn’t care. It was time for lessons.

“Okay, let’s try something. It’s a trick I use all the time and it works on stars, planets, galaxies, and universes. I even used it here to make all these grasses and trees and flowers and bunnies. You like all these things, right?”

A stared and B nodded. A looked at B and noticed the nodding thing, which he had seen before, and nodded as B took the time to stare.

“Now, I’m going to talk about multiplication. It’s a way to make big numbers of things out of small numbers of things. Just listen and see if you get a pattern. We’re going to start with “one.” One multiplied by one is one. You can say this more simply just by saying “times” whenever you would say “multiplied by,” okay?”

“Okay” they said in unison. Theit had no idea if they were mimicking him or understanding, so he went on.

“If one times one is one, guess what one times two is?”

A said “one” and B said “two.” Perhaps there was some hope for B.

“Next. One times three is what, B?”

B said “three.”

“A. Anything?” asked Theit.

“One” said A, looking quite determined. Inside, the fluorescent tapir sighed a little sigh.

“B, what is one times four?”

“Four” replied B. A rubbed his leg and looked at a flower.

“Let’s try it something, B. What is four times one?”

“One” said B. Theit’s brief snout wiggled a little. It was confirmed. This was going to take a long time. Whatever would happen when the discussion turned to algebra? The snout wiggled ferociously at this thought. Theit sent a calming wave of thought through the tapir and got it to settle down. No one liked a condescending teacher, even if the teacher was a loveable tapir in bright colors.


Theit had a thought. There was a lot to do. Although Theit was coalesced in various forms all over this universe and every other universe doing this same kind of stuff, Theit thought that it might be time to pay attention to some of the more curious experiments and leave these two to their own devices. Their meadow too. It was a nice meadow and was perfectly balanced to live without dying and replenish itself without looking too sad. That took a certain amount of stamina from Theit’s other projects, which were infinite in number and completely manageable but still….

paramecium_caudatum

Theit visited A and B, this time as an enormous paramecium with lots of undulating cilia. A and B knew it was Theit because they had never seen this thing before. Although they found it sort of horrible, they also knew that it was okay to approach it as it ciliated its way over to them.

“A. B. How are you?”

“Good” they said in unison.

“Getting enough to eat?”

“Yes.”

“Finding enough playmates among the squirrels and bunnies?” Theit asked about these because it seemed that A and B had a particular fondness for them over the larger animals or the ones who roared, although they all lived well next to each other. As was planned.

They both nodded. That seemed like an advance. Perhaps B had taught A the nod thing.

“Okay. Well. I have good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”

“Good” they said again, although perhaps they meant that they would like to hear the good news first. That’s how Theit interpreted it.

“Well then. The good news is that all of this stuff you like is going to stay here. You can play with it all and eat fruit and drink from the streams and have as much fun as you like. Would you like to hear the bad news now?” Theit asked.

“Good,” which Theit took as a tacit understanding that they would now like to hear the bad news.

“Well. Hmmm. The bad news. Erm. I’m not sure how this is going to work out but I’m going to be away for a while. I’m not going to be able to perform maintenance on this place. Instead, you’re going to have to start doing it yourself. What does this mean? Well, it means that I’m going to give everything the power to multiply and divide but I’m also going to give everything the power to add and subtract. New stuff will come alive and old stuff will die. Bunnies and horses and trees and flowers and bees will all multiply but their cells—the little bits of life inside them that make all of this stuff work—will divide. That probably makes no sense to you at all since you haven’t really graduated from basic addition and subtraction (and I really don’t want to think about algebra or calculus, Theit said internally) but I’m hoping that if you see it happening it will make sense over time. It may take a while.”

A and B stared at Theit and didn’t move. They really had no idea what Theit was talking about. This was often the case and sometimes if they remained really still for a sufficient amount of time, Theit was quiet and loped off into the trees. It didn’t seem like this thing was going to lope but they could hope.

“It’s been nice, A and B. You’re the only ones I’ve made that are as hairless as you are. Really, you’re just a variation on a theme. See the hairy ones over there? The ones chasing after a zebra? Yeah. You’re the hairless—relatively speaking, of course—variety. And you walk on your back legs without using your front legs. I’m pretty sure that’s going to have consequences, by the way, but that’s beside the point. I do like you. Don’t take any of what’s about to happen personally. It’s not. Really. I just have a lot to do.”

With this statement, Theit coalesced a giant chunk of wrapped paper blocks out of the air and opened one to a middle page.

“See these? I’m going to call them “books” because they don’t have a name. They don’t have a name because I’ve been thinking about them and it’s come time to make some, so here they are. If you look at this page (it’s called a page, guys), you’ll see black squiggly marks. That’s called “writing” and this writing is in the first language of your creature-type. It tells you stuff. But I can’t wait around for you to learn what it says. I’m going to call this “homework” and you have to worry about what it says or you’re going to be a little out of luck for a long time. Okay?”

“Okay” said A and B.

“Okay” said Theit. Then he made the paramecium lope off into the woods.

A and B stared at the “books” and then stared at each other and then sat down.

Then they got up and ran after the bunnies and squirrels.


After a while, A and B noticed that the grasses changed colors and were replaced with other grasses and other flowers and that when they picked the flowers, they didn’t grow back. They noticed that when they picked fruit from the trees, the fruit didn’t grow right back. They noticed that the beasts who roared stopped other creatures from moving and tore them apart and that the smaller creatures kept away from the roarers. Some of the larger creatures were none too thrilled with the roarers either, so a lot of creatures moved away from them and lived in trees. A and B moved along with them. After they ate all the low-hanging fruit, they climbed trees to get the other fruit. After they ate those, they started to look at the bunnies and squirrels sort of like they saw the roarers looking at the bunnies and squirrels. They caught a few and tore them apart but then the bunnies and squirrels got smart and stayed away. And then the streams dried up, so A and B had to start walking. Their hips hurt. Their feet hurt. Their lower backs hurt. And they learned to feel pain, which led them to cry. Then they learned to say mean things to each other, which made one or both of them cry more.

Then one day, B got fatter and fatter and eventually a new creature popped out. B took care of the little creature until it grew. A wandered around playing with animals and flowers and leaving B to do all the work of raising the creature, which was as hairless as they were. And they kept walking until they found a place to call “home,” which was not much like their old place and had less fruit and the creatures stayed away. But it was home and they raised their creature and then another.

There was only one thing they had forgotten. They left the books at the place where Theit made them and had no idea how to get back there.

It took a long time for them to figure anything out. They remembered Theit fondly now and made up some stories, almost none of which were true. And they left out the bits about the fluorescent tapir and the enormous paramecium. They had a difficult time believing those themselves. So who would believe them?

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Paramecium caudatum
Facade

The First Date

She looked fine.

I met her on one of the less-populated branches of the web, one where unpopularity could be confused with privacy, where loneliness could be mistaken for intimacy.

She looked fine. She seemed fine. As I approached, trembling a little on the inside, I could smell her and she smelled better than all the flowers that had ever wafted their perfumes past me.

She turned a little, perhaps shy. We had never met and it was to be expected. At least I thought I expected it. The shyness. Maybe what seemed one way was another. In retrospect. Maybe it was caution. Or curiosity. Was I what she was looking for or just another guy on the web?

I approached. She extended a hand and helped me up. This was moving quite fast! I considered my options and settled in, feeling her energy coursing into me as I pulsated against her, brittle limbs embracing, tight and loose, urgent and relaxed.

It was then that it all went wrong. She turned her head, opened her mandibles and bit into my left eye, blinding me. But she just munched, cracking the crisp facets of what had been a perfectly good eye into a chitinous snack. I opened my mandibles to protest and she assumed, I guess, I was offering her one. Well… both. But one at a time in a token act of selfless courtesy on my part, I suppose. And there it went, my left mandible falling apart in her mouthpieces and departing whatever still remained of my head.

At some point in this dismemberment, I realized I was still within her, priming what would be a new generation of young mates, guys and girls, ready to pair off and go through something horrid like this when they grew up and became adults. At this point, I felt a flutter of hope and tried to pry myself off her, away from her hooked arms, her tight and unyielding embrace. She would have none of it.

It’s an odd thing, being eaten so soon in a relationship. I know I had hoped for a second date, maybe a third. This had been my first, of course. It would be my last. Perhaps my expectations had been too high.

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Panic
Pretend

Thanks to confabler for unwittingly providing me with the idea for this piece!

I Was Nominated (and Accept)

Confabler nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger Award!

My distant, yet close friend Confabler has nominated me for the Shiny Shiny Sunshine Award. I love her imagination and sense of whimsy; she lets her muse du jour lead and she follows. There’s a wonderful freedom to that which is (1) difficult to allow in the rational process of “writing” and (2) enjoyable to find.

1. If you were to choose an insect that would take over the world after human extinction, who would that be?

It sort of depends on our route to extinction. If it involved an epidemic, the population of flies might see a giant uptick. This would be a good one:

mydas_sp
Gauromydas heros

If it is a slow process, then I nominate the Japanese Rhinoceros beetle because it would be awesome if creatures  with such improbably fashioned protuberances were to be the alpha species (Megasoma and Titan beetles would be acceptable alternatives):

800px-kabutomushi-japanesebeetle-july2004
Allomyrina dichotoma

 If our extinction took all other terrestrial life along for the ride, I would like to see this enormous isopod (a relative of our terrestrial roly-polies) rule the seas (note inclusion of actual human hands for sense of scale):

Giant_isopod.jpg
The underside of a male Bathynomus giganteus, a species of giant isopod captured in the Gulf of Mexico in October 2002.

2. How old were you when you first read Harry Potter? And your favorite author of course?

I was pretty old when I read my only Harry Potter book (the first one). I didn’t enjoy it enough to complete the series, although I’ve seen all the films and enjoyed them well enough. In the period I read that first one, I was typically reading a lot of history and didn’t find that it was a good use of my time. When I was really young, I read the Classics Illustrated versions of novels, which were quite good at introducing a curious young mind to the wonders of literature without having to do the work (sort of illustrated CliffsNotes (I didn’t use these in school though), if you will). When I was a little older, I read Robert E. Howard, Sax Rohmer, John Carter of Mars, H. Rider Haggard, Stanley Weinbaum, George McDonald fantasies, etc.

My favorite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez for One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. His writing is so rich, amusing, full of simple wisdom and abundant humanity it is hard to believe he was just a human being writing about the lives he saw playing out around him. I literally would read some passages and have to put the book down as if I had just sipped the richest chocolate elixir in the world and needed to savor it until I sipped again. His Spanish-to-English translators did a good job in getting it right; Gregory Rabassa (OHYoS translator) was even praised by Garcia Marques himself!

3. If you were invisible what is the craziest thing that you would do?

Here’s an odd one: Go and hang around bigots, transcribe their conversations, and publish them for the world to see how terrible people speak when they think no one is listening (but, oh yeah, we have the internet so this already happens). If I could walk through things, which seems fair since I’m invisible, I would go around seeing what it felt like to do that—see if there were different textures to different things on the inside than on their surface.

4.what food makes you feel like a hungry hyena?

This has changed so much over time! These days, I don’t get this kind of urge anymore. In my early adult (late teen?) years… ICE CREAM!!!!

5. A song that makes you dream?

Gymnopedie #1 by Erik Satie


6. Have you ever planted a tree?

Yes. Unasked but answered: quite a few!

7. Choose your man: superman/ Spiderman/ iron man and if he was your best friend one thing that you would make him do?

Can I choose Supergirl? If I can, I would have her take me around to various places in the world, build shelters so I could stay there and visit free, then whisk me off to the next place on “our” list (she would be enjoying the sight-seeing with me, of course! What kind of boor do you think I am?!?!).

8.How much time do you spend in front of the mirror everyday?

As little as possible, which involves shaving and brushing my teeth. I find that shaving my teeth first helps with the brushing.

9.why you started blogging and tell us about the post enjoyed the most making.

I was having a bunch of conversations with people who did not seem to understand the wonderful humility of learning and doing science and wanted to see how well I could write about how science is a discipline that can assist us all in not leaning out too far over our skis (getting ahead of ourselves and pretending we know stuff we don’t). Blogging has become so much more than that since my first post on June 22, 2016, and I have had so much fun writing fiction and revisiting some poetry I wrote several decades ago (and finding them easier to “fix” than I remembered).

I’m not sure which of my posts I enjoyed the most. They’re all my children so I like them all? I probably like the odd bits of fiction that I had no idea were inside me when I woke up and then found them on the page looking up at me. I like The Big Day of these. Of the science posts, I like The Mess: Parts 1 & 2 and the Appendix 1 items best (maybe). Of the historical pieces, I like Risk Management. Of the life pieces, I like Building Blocks the best. Anyone who reads this is encouraged to make up their own mind; I am hopelessly biased.

10. Which social media platform are you addicted to (including WordPress)?

I don’t do much social media except WordPress. I don’t like Facebook at all and deleted my account. WordPress is addicting but in a very healthy way! You get to create something and share it with new friends from all over the world. That’s a great addiction have.

Now the rules:

1.thank the person that nominated you.

Thank you, Confabler. You are a true virtual friend, and I don’t mean that in any Pokemon way either!

2. Answer the questions from your nominator.

Done.

3. Nominate fellow bloggers you follow.

Hereinafter lie the following nominees in no particular order (order, of course, being an illusion):

Confabler – it would be completely wrong not to boomerang this thing back at her; how could I like what she writes and like that she nominated me but ignore why we share interests at all?

November_child –  in her poetry, every word is judiciously considered for its various meanings and the images they stir and she makes great short stories that are deep and playful and serious all at the same time

anonymouslyautistic – for doing an AMAZING job of writing about this misunderstood spectrum of living – and for inviting others who share her interest to contribute

English Lit Geek – because she searches the web and her library for poems that communicate her inner soul to us all out here in the ‘sphere and I appreciate this!

Wiser Daily – because this guy writes REALLY well about every single subject he wraps his mind around, because he is not a scientist but writes extremely clearly about science, because he is just a damned good writer!

Breathmath – because they are doing an astonishingly serious job of trying to get the world to see the beauty in mathematics

Sheryl – because she’s written a book, is working on others, has great tips for doing the same, and kindly visits my offerings fairly often

The Nexus – because he writes REALLY well about physics and does a great job of doing what I set out to do, whether I’m doing it on any given day or not

The Biology Yak – because she is passionate about biology and shares her passion in every word on every topic she chooses

afternoonifiedlady – even though I have no idea what it is to be an afternoonifiedlady, I love her rants about living with and without her ex and trying to wrestle with notions of romance – she is very witty and amusingly pissed off!

Yaskhan – for her lovely, succinct way with words

urbanagscientist – because she is at least as worried about the misunderstanding of science as I am

Luke Atkins – because he writes really well about difficult subjects and he writes like the stuff matters a lot, which it absolutely does!

And there are more in my list of 119 writers that I am following but this is enough for now.

4. Give them 10 questions to answer.

If you wish (and I clearly cannot impose this on any of you, please respond to confabler’s funny questions. I enjoyed them, maybe you will too!

Kind regards, MSOC

https://confabler.wordpress.com/2016/09/20/shiny-shiny-sunshine-award/

It was Generous of confabler to choose me. Now I have to Jump off and do other stuff!

Depth

Want to visit another planet? Go deep. The diversity – and strangeness – of life in the oceanic depths challenges the most fertile imaginations found in fantasy and science fiction. Bioluminescent jellies signal to their prey. Angler fish dangle a glowing morsel just above their enormous, needle-toothed jaws. Creatures both beautiful and, to our dry-land eyes, frightening. But life abounds.

When I was in middle school (quite a long time ago), I found a book in our small town library called “The Abyss.” I don’t know who authored it and cannot find it on the enormous number of websites that might reveal it to my own increasingly abyssal memory, but it was mesmerizing for a 12-year old. Full of fascinating, real-life monsters that glowed. It even had bioluminescence science fair experiments, although with reagents I could not readily obtain. While we have a huge universe spread before us in every upward direction, we understand so little of what we have on earth.

Depth