Category Archives: Blog

Back to the primitive : Reintroducing large predators to Scotland

I always thought it was odd that the lion is considered to be symbolic of Great Britain, but we don’t actually have wild lions here; it’s kinda like Fiji deciding to make the polar bear its national animal.

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Straight up G

However, after doing some research, I learned that we did at least use to have lions in Britain, along with giraffes and even hippos! – Albeit this was 13,000 years ago when the climate was warmer but still, they were here. I guess under the same logic you could make the case to have a stegosaurus on our Olympic logo instead of a lion but whatever.

But lions arent the only large carnivore that used to stalk the British isles – as recently as 1,000 years ago in Scotland, bears, wolves and Lynxes used to inhabit our island. Sadly a Combination of habitat loss (95 % of Scotland used to be covered in forest – it is now around 17%) and hunting pushed these species into local extinction.

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And this lack of predators is a major contributing factor in the population explosion of deer, between four species there are estimated 777,000, of them in Scotland and this has a crippling effect on natural vegetation and overall ecosystem health due to overgrazing. You might think that being a deer in an environment with no predators would be smooth sailing, but while they don’t have to worry about being eaten themselves competition for food is high, and disease transmission is substantially increased due to the animals living in proximity to one another.

Many solutions have been put forward to deal with this problem, perhaps the most controversial being the reintroduction of large predators back into the wilderness to re-establish the natural equilibrium. However, the mechanics of how this would impact the deer population are not as obvious as you might expect.

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For example – let’s say you reintroduce the grey wolf back into Scotland; you could only fit around 18 individuals across the country due to their territorial nature and limitation of suitable habitat. While 18 wolves may kill a decent amount of deer (probably around 15-20 each every year), it would be an insignificant dent in their wider population.

However, studies have shown that the mere presence of predators means that the deer spend much more time watching out for predators and spend much less time eating and reproducing and this causes there fecundity (populations reproductive output) to decrease significantly.

So if we reintroduce large predators into Scotland, they would actually eat very little deer, but their presence spooks them enough to change their behaviour and in turn curb their population. So out of our locally extinct predators, which ones would be most suitable for reintroduction?

Bears

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Black, brown and even polar bears used to call Scotland home, while these half cuddly half nightmare fuel animals would be sure to scare the shit out of the deer, they would also do the same to people. We are very fortunate to have wild camping laws in Scotland which give us the right to camp pretty much anywhere, but these may need to be revised if there where bears are roaming around. Proponents for bear reintroduction point out that the European brown bear is known to be typically less aggressive than the American grizzly  but at the end of the day its still a fucking bear.

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 Up top bro.

 Grey wolf

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This is a bit more reasonable than bears, although they do pose a small risk to people, the main thing that is standing in the way of there reintroduction is farmers concerned about their livestock getting eaten. This could be managed with proper investment in fence infrastructure and subsidy arrangements, but opposition to wild wolves in Scotland remains strong and their reintroduction is unlikely.

 Lynx

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These feline gangsters are probably the most suitable for reintroduction, they grow to about the size of a golden retriever but can take out a fully mature deer with a covert bite to the back of the neck. Its possible a few local pets may go missing which is a concern but the real fear is that one takes a child. While this is feasible it is incredibly unlikely, and this concern for human life would be more appropriately placed in the number of tragic fatalities that happen on our roads every day.

The Lynx has been reintroduced into a number of European countries and is considered to be a success story; It would be great to see wolves reintroduced as well as this has been very successful in other ecosystems (yellow stone park in America) but the Lynx is a good starting point. However we live in an era of political stalemate, the gears of change are slow to turn, we are probably more likely to get a good deal on Brexit than to see large predators roam across our wilderness once more.                                                                                                            

At least we still have Nessie.

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Trapped by the past : The limitations of evolution

We often wonder at the incredible adaptations that the process of evolution has endowed in certain animals, from a 10 cm long frog that is so toxic it can kill two African bull elephants to the harpoon like tongue of the chameleon. It seems like there is no problem that given enough time, the process of evolution cannot solve.

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SBA : Super Bling Amphibian

While all this is true, what is often overlooked is the imperfections that arise from the process of evolution. For example, the human eye is an incredible organ as it has around  2 million working parts, can see over 7,000,000 colours and has been a fundamental part in our success as a species.

However, its method of operation is gallingly suboptimal as our retina has essentially evolved to be inside out! The nerves and blood vessels on the surface of the retina instead of behind it as in the case in many invertebrates such as bees and shrimp. This arrangement forces a number of complex adaptations and due to the way the optic nerve connects to the back of the eye we have a blind spot.

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Most invertebrates have a superior eye design than mammals

A better structure for the eye would be to have the optic nerve connected to the side of the retina that does not receive the light like octopus and other cephalopods.

Creationists used to (and still do) argue that because the human eye is irreducibly complex and it couldn’t have evolved as it needs all its parts to operate and what good is half an eye?

The answer to that question is “better than no eye ”

Our eyes first formed hundreds of millions of years ago when we were not much more than a moving blob of cells and worked as a basic sensor that could detect light and has evolved into the complex and capable organ (although imperfect) that we possess today.

The eye is also used to argue against creationists and intelligent design theorists (new term for creationists) because if an all knowing and all powerful god did design our eyes, why did he fuck it up so badly?

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The natural world is littered with examples like this, such as the laryngeal nerve which connects the brain to the larynx which is about 30 times longer than it needs to be –  a bit like the Hobbit movies.

This is because it is an evolutionary hangover from when we were a fish type creature and didn’t have a neck, this inefficient feature is dramatic in Giraffe’s due to their long neck and Richard Dawkins eloquently explains this in the clip below.

Despite this, it’s worth remembering that nature doesn’t tolerate gross inefficiency, if an organism is too poorly adapted it simply won’t survive. Furthermore, all the biological life in the known universe is operating under the same evolutionary process so its kind of a level playing field.

Where the playing field is not level is real intelligent design, where humans can make machines from scratch – uninhibited by adaptations that were relevant in the past. Although there is a journey of efficiency (first prototype to latest model)  we can create things that are frighteningly effective and the natural world simply cant compete.

Look at this vehicle cutting down trees with almost grotesque efficiency; The technology now exists to make this thing autonomous.

The natural world has not adapted for the type of pressure our industrialised culture can put on it, and we should remember that If nature loses, we lose.

The good news is that, although the gears are slow to turn people are starting to utilise the incredible efficiency of design to create a more sustainable format for humans to live on the planet. The worlds first off shore wind farm are currently just being installed off the coast of Scotland, and China is leading the way with forest cities.

China's first Forest City, designed by Milan-based <a href="https://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/en/" target="_blank">Stefano Boeri Architetti</a>, could help the country tackle its air pollution problem.

More of this is needed, but we are taking steps in the right direction.

 

 

Game Theory : Civility in Nature ?

Fighting over potential mates is a common theme in the natural world which takes many forms between different species – each with their own unique set of rules and complexities.

In this post, I am going to take a look at this dynamic in nature and see if any parallels can be drawn with humans.

Bears are legit furry monsters, standing at three meters tall and weighing nearly 400 KG, along with 10 kitchen knives for fingers and jaws with a crushing power of 1300 PSI they are more than equipped to give you a bad day.

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Male bears like many other animals fight each other for the right to mate but what is interesting is that this competition shows the trappings of civility.

If male bears fought with no rules and used all of the in-built weaponry, I listed before it wouldn’t end well for either of them, even if one wins it is very likely that it will sustain significant injuries that impair its ability to hunt properly and will die in the long run.

To get past this problem bears wrestle which establishes a similar outcome to the duel as the bear that wins the wrestle would also most likely win the death match as the larger and more powerful bear has a significant edge in both formats. By instinctually agreeing to wrestle and not full on fight each other the chances of injury during the competition is dramatically reduced, these rules are however not absolute- bear on bear fatalities do happen but this is rare when fighting for mates.

This instinctual agreement is known as Game Theory.

The parallels between humans and animals here are obvious; even the wrestling techniques are similar – MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov (The Eagle) was trained as a kid by wrestling bears.

Look at how the bear uses its paw to block his hips and pin him, the bear is showing real skill and technique here.

Humans don’t have the same built-in weaponry as bears but a no rules hand to hand combat match between two humans can be very damaging.  But by agreeing to a safer form of fighting that is likely to simulate the same outcome of a real combative encounter – both participants benefit from the reduced risk.

A more simplistic version of this is seen in great white sharks, if two great white sharks had an actual fight neither would live so they swim next to each other and measure each other up, the larger one wins and the smaller one defers – its as simple as that. Although they do occasionally bite each other as you can see in the image below.

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Worth noting that in Great White Sharks the females are bigger and more dominant than the males and thus the females fight each over for mating rights with the males, below is a real picture of ‘big blue’ – a massive female that has been spotted of the coast of New Mexico.

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But game theory isn’t always about size and strength, instead of fighting some animals have adopted an acrobatic/dancing approach to attracting mates.  These displays still rely on physical prowess and good health and are generally employed by animals with a more fragile physiology such as birds.

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Basically a walking emoji

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Kidney mc kidney face

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The walking Cornetto

Dancing is used by humans both to attract mates and even settle disputes – dance off between gangs are a real thing as actually fighting is bad for both parties. A similar element of this can even be seen in some traditional forms of kung Fu which employ impractical and overly embellished combative movements in a ritualised sequence, the practitioner that performs the sequence best wins – again better than actually throwing down for both parties involved.

You can even draw parallels here for political debates – a ritualised, argument to decide who gets to be the alpha that leads the pack. This obviously has its drawbacks which have recently resulted in the appointment of this guy to being the most powerful human in existence.

As I mentioned before game theory does break down at times and this is particularly damaging with this happens with humans as it results in industrialised warfare.

It is interesting to note that civility is even employed in the savagery of the animal kingdom as it dampens the negative effects of competition and allows the species to prosper as a whole, the world might be a better place if we put for resources into healthy competition such as the Olympics, rather than launching exploding tubes of metal at each other from afar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Election Special – Immigration : The story of Humankind

As we steam towards aTory  (Scottish Gaelic for thief) Brexit general election into possible economic and cultural oblivion, it is fitting to reflect on why the western world has entered into the comedy show that we call modern politics, and there is one era-defining and polarising word that fits into the centre of this Brexit/Trump mess –  ‘immigration’.

The most credible evolutionary theory explaining why we became bipedal is the persistence running theory which speculates that humans started to walk upright primarily to increase energy efficiency while running and thus enabling them to chase/hunt animals to exhaustion.

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Present day persistence running hunters

So it appears that traversing extended distances is a fundamental factor in the genesis of humanity, which goes hand and hand with immigration. You can also trace the literal origin of humankind to so-called ‘cradle of humanity’ in Ethiopia (although there is now speculation that humankind may have started in Europe) meaning that if you go back far enough we are all immigrants.

Our cultural history is also laced with immigration. What is now Britain was a chaotic mix of Anglo Saxons, Danes, Scots, Picts and Britons to name a few. Each of these ‘tribes’ of humans all came here from foreign lands and although they existed in a constant state of war – all of them contributed something to our ‘native’ cultural heritage.

So if Immigration is so fundamental to the human story, how has it become a toxic buzz word lingering at the centre of mainstream political debate?

The answer may lie in our physiology, deep in our brain we have an area called the amygdala, this has been there since we where reptiles (often referred to as the ‘reptilian brain’). This part of the mind, which is responsible for processing fear and identifying threats has an almost binary setting.

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If something looks different it is dangerous and you should either run or try to kill it.

In the hostile wilderness that humanity had to endure this setting may of been both useful and relevant. But as we enter a more peaceful existence (kind of) this impulse that anything different is dangerous has become almost a hangover of a time when being munched by a sabre toothed tiger was a legitimate concern.

Basically a giant cat vampire

When you think about it, its no great mystery why humans are violent considering we until very recently in evolutionary terms had to share an environment with tigers the size of Clydesdale horses with giant fuck off knives attached to their face.

There are obviously massively influential social and economic factors at play in the modern world but this part of human physiology can perhaps partly explain explain (not excuse)  this resurgent xenophobic ideology in the western world.

We are still feeling the effects of the economic crash due to the madness of the synthetic collateralized debt obligations used by bankers to essentially make money out of nothing. And politicians are adept at employing the media to use their age old get out of jail free card to divert attention from them and the flawed financial system they uphold.

This is eloquently implemented by mayor Quimbey in the clip below.

The agmidila is still useful for lots of reasons and it remains a fundamental part of what makes us human. However it is just one component of what makes up our consciousness, we also have the limbic brain which creates emotions and the neocortex which is responsible for our higher thinking and its this part that Shakespeare used when he wrote his prolific master peace’s and scientists used to put a man on the moon.

 

Image result for neocortexRecognising the amygdala as an almost relic of our physiology may make it easier to overcome its whispers to our mind and while thinking like a crocodile does have its uses at times it has little place in the world of rational thought. We shouldn’t let politicians appeal to this primitive part of our brain to cover up problems caused by financial greed.

I am being overly simplistic here, there are many pieces of this puzzle that I haven’t addressed but at the end of the day the issues facing modern society are complex problems that thus require complex solutions and its obvious what part of our brain we should engage to find them.

 

 

 

 

Dressed to Kill : A review of formal wear

Formal wear has always perplexed me! The idea that wearing unpractical and uncomfortable shoes that have no real specific function is quite a bizarre practice when you really think about it.

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Very swish, but good for ……………..?

I understand the prestige that dressing extravagantly/formally brings to a wedding but everyone attending it has their mobility restricted – if the zombie apocalypse hits when you’re at a wedding you are kinda fucked.

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(Zombie weddings are a legit thing now I hear)

As a Scottish native, I am a proud owner of a kilt in my clan colours (Kilt is what you get if you call it a skirt) but  I always thought that this heavy and cumbersome garment would be a nightmare to wear while hunting and fighting in the highlands of Scotland.

I did some research on this, and it turns out that the real highland kilt was very different to the modern representation of it, it covered your whole body and was waterproofed with wax – the original tartan even worked as a primitive camouflage! but nowadays its more like a ceremonial robe than a practical garment.

Another example worth mentioning is the tie, it apparently started off in the Victorian era as a prize/trophy awarded to the winner of a sporting achievement and was worn as a status symbol to impress people  (apparently the arrow like shape is supposed to highlight your genitals to the opposite sex). But like the kilt, the function of this item has gone through a metamorphosis, and it is now enforced upon people as a symbol of conformity rather than a status symbol.

When it comes to formal wear and uniforms putting aesthetics over practicality is done all over the world in many different cultures, here are a few reasons as to how this practice may have started and if there is an equivalent elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

Authority/status symbol

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Alpha papa

Kings crowns, Native American headdresses and top hats are all examples of elaborate head garments that are used to signify and represent authority. These accessories help cement the hierarchal power of the individual wearing it and communicate their status to other people. It should be noted that these are not necessarily particularly unpractical and could be worn in battle/worksites without significant limitation.

An example of this in nature can be found in gorillas as once a male gorilla rises to the top of the social hierarchy he develops silver hair on his back (a silverback gorilla is not a distinct species but an alpha individual) this lets other gorillas not to mess.

 

Distancing from manual labour

Senior figures directing workers at a building site may have sought to don particularly impractical clothing such as dress shoes to ensure they weren’t asked to ‘help out’ with labouring tasks they viewed to be beneath them.

Can’t really think of an equivalent in nature here.

A tool for oppression

I mentioned before I believe ties fall into this category but there are much more extreme examples of this.

Binding woman’s feet so they can barely walk or enforcing them to wear rings to stretch their necks to unnatural proportions severely limiting their mobility is a cultural tool for oppressing genders.

I can’t see any equivalent in the animal kingdom.

Enforcing tribalism

Uniforms are employed by the armed forces, industry and schools for many of the reasons I have already gone through, an additional reason that is covered specifically by uniform’s though is to fuse the uniform to the individual’s identity. It is very common for a police officer or soldier to have a strong connection to their uniform and this bond strengthens their commitment to endeavour to please their masters who are further up the social hierarchy. Again this seems to be unique to humans.

Sexual selection

Very obvious dynamic in play here, although it definitely is not unique to formal wear as Gene Simmons has proven.

This dynamic is at play frequently in nature with peacocks being the  one of the most well known, females peahens prefer males with bigger and longer display feathers. However, there is a trade-off as if the tail becomes too big and cumbersome it inhibits its ability to fly and escape from predators, and it gets munched.

And yes peacocks can fly – not very far but they do look boss as hell while doing it.

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Overall I ain’t the biggest fan of formal attire, but I admit it seems to have great value to cultures and societies around the globe and some elements have it have direct parallels in the natural world, although predation stops things from getting a bit too extravagant like this gangster pictured below.

CA P

King of bling

 

leapons and Ligers : The rules of interbreeding

Most people know what the word ‘species’ means when referring to animals but not everyone knows the rules involved in this categorization, they are as follows: If two animals can interbreed to produce fertile offspring (can have its own kids) then those two animals belong to the same species.

But if they can interbreed and have a kid but that kid can’t have its own kids – then they are different species.

For example, a donkey and horse can interbreed to produce a mule, but the mule is infertile (partly due to them having an incompatible number of chromosomes). This means that donkeys and horses are regarded as separate species.

Mules are more patient, hardy and long-lived than horses, and are less obstinate and more intelligent than donkeys which is why they have been utilised by humans so extensively.

Humans being humans have tried a whole bunch of weird combo animals such as the Zonkey (below) or the leapon (featured at top of article).

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The zonkey, also known as a zebroid 

As far as the naming goes the male animal goes first (probably because of this patriarchy thing I’m always hearing about) so if it is a male lion and female tiger (tigress) then it is called a liger and if it is a male Tiger and female lion then it is called a Tigon.

But it gets more interesting than that – Ligers grow to be gigantic, and Tigons are very small in comparison (as big cats go).

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A Liger

Why is this?

All animals have specific genes called growth limitation genes that kick in after puberty (kinda like an aversion to one direction) that stop us from getting too big. In tigers these genes are carried by the male, and in lions, they are carried by the female – this means that the specific gender combo of ligers means that they have no growth limitation genes and continue growing until they die. This might sound great but their organs get all fucked up as they become too big for their skeleton and they struggle with a plethora of health afflictions and would never be able to survive in the wild (lions and tigers habitats used to overlap before humans came along and shrunk their respective distributions considerably).

The opposite is true for Tigons, they have two sets of growth limitation genes so that means that they stop growing when they are very young, also their legs seem to be unusually long compared to the rest of their body.

It is quite funny though because you might be intimidated by the enormous size of a liger, but they are actually have super mellow temperament.

Tigons on the other hand are apparently highly strung super aggressive mental bastards.

In case you are wondering what Buckfast is click here.

I hoping that this information I have provided with today will have some relevance and benefit to your existence but I accept that this is unlikely.

 

 

Copy Cats: Industry Inspired by Nature

Engineering is one of the fundamental defining characteristics of the human race – you could almost characterise it as an instinctual behaviour.

‘Mans ability to make tools is remarkable. But it is his ingenious ability to make sense of the world and use his tools to make even more scense and even more engenious tools, that makes him exceptional.To paraphrase Winston Churchhill ‘we shape our tools and there after they shape us’.Tools are part of what it is to be human. In the words of Henrey Petroski, ” To engineeris human”.

Transcript from Engineering – a very short introduction by David Brockley.

Our ability to engineer is one of the fundimetal reasons the human race for better or worst left the unrelenting killing grounds of the natural world and after the industrial revolution entered into a deferent realm of living.

However engineers still look to the natural world to solve all kinds of engineering problems and challenges – this is referred to in the industry as bio mimicry which was popularised by scientist and author Janie Bengus  and the concept looks to nature as a “model, measure and mentor and emphases’ sustainability as one of its core principles

here are a few examples.

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This top hat wearing gangster, Mark Brunel rose to engineering fame after he finished the world’s first tunnel under the Thames in 1825, this revolution of engineering was possible due to Brunels invention of a contraption called a tunnelling shield which consisted of a multi-leveled wooden structure crewed by teams of workers and allowed for significantly larger and more stable passageways to be formed under the ground.

The inspiration for this remarkable innovation was from Brunel’s observations of the infamous shipworm Teredo navalis.

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Shipworms actually belong to the molluscs family along with snails and clams and have evolved a hardened calcium carbonate shell around their head to protect their soft body as they bore through wood using specially adapted teeth. These creatures can grow up to 60 cm long and are found inside trees in mangrove forests around the world. However, they are also highly adept at chewing through ship timber and were the scourge of many naval fleets over the last 500 years or so.

On his fourth voyage to the Americas in 1502, Christopher Columbus lost all his vessels to shipworms and they are also the reason that no wood was left on the Titanic when the wreck was discovered in 1985.

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I don’t think there are enough holes in this bit of wood

Brunel changed the story of the shipworm from a pest to problem solver, as he partly copied the protective shell to take human tunnel engineering into a new era by developing the first ever tunneling shield – this is an excellent historical example of biomimicry.

Drilly mcdrill face

In the present day, ginormous machines called TBMs (Tunnel Boring Machines) that weigh hundreds of tonnes are used to very slowly and precisely tunnel through mountains and under cities to provide modern man with infrastructure. These TBMs can trace their design heritage all the way back to the humble shipworm,

These TBMs can trace their design heritage all the way back to the humble shipworm,

King fishers and Bullet trains

Japanese Bullet trains can reach speeds of 300 KM per hour.However, an unforeseen problem of this impressive speed was the sudden compression of air when the train entered a tunnel caused a deafening booming sound which as you can imagine was annoying as hell for anyone living near by.

♂ Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) Photograph By Shantanu Kuveskar, Mangaon, Maharashtra, India.jpg

As teams of engineers puzzled to find a solution, one reflected on how he had witnessed how little a splash a kingfisher makes when it hits the water as it murders fish. He took this observation to his colleagues, and they experimented with modelling the front of the train on the unique shape of a kingfisher’s beak. This change solved the compressed air booming problem and also increased the energy efficiency of the train due to improved aerodynamic profile.

Shark Skin

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Sharks have a unique skin in the animal kingdom; it is made up of thousands of modified teeth which are called dermal denticles wich feature longitudinal grooves across them. As the shark passes through water, these grooves create micro vortexes wich increase the hydrodynamic profile of the shark enabling them to conserve energy better when swimming compared to other fish.

This adaptation has been studied by the Naval and Marine industries as coating ships and submarines such a the trident nuclear subs (not sure if it will help with the nuke going in the wrong fucking direction though)with a replica shark skin could dramatically reduce turbulence and drag and therefore improve the vessel’s top speed and fuel efficiency. The dermal denticles are also effective at inhibiting algal growth on sharks/ships due to their unique shape.

Hump Back Whale

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Despite being over 15 metres long and weighing several tonnes humpback whales can perform amazing feats of agility; they are known to work in groups to trap fish by producing controlled streams of bubbles just 1.5 meters across.

They can achieve this precision despite their size because of the unique shape of their flippers which have irregular looking bumps called tubercles across their leading edges that allow them to ‘grip’ the water at sharper angles and make tighter turns.

These tubercles are being studied by the tidal and wind turbine industries as mimicking their shape may be able to significantly increase the energy yield of turbine based types of renewable energies (wind and hydro power).

The Bell Rock Lighthouse

The Bell Rock is the oldest offshore lighthouse in the world as it has endured over 200 years of the fury of the North Sea and still in working condition today, it even survived and attack by the Luftwaffe in world war 2. The lighthouse is based on the Eddystone lighthouse design which was developed by John Smeaton who modelled his design on an old English oak tree that he witnessed survive a powerful storm while other trees were uprooted.

In a world where the natural world becomes ever more distant It is nice to see such cutting edge innovations to be inspired by nature, it has after all being doing this shit much longer than we have.

 

 

Tripp to the Zoo : PRISONS preserving biodiversity

Recently a 28 stone silverback gorilla escaped its enclosure at London Zoo and gained access to a staff area where it proceeded to drink 8 litres of Blackcurrant cordial.

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 Gorilla crack 

The BBC managed to seize the opportunity to use the story to mock the 1st minister of Scotland on national TV.

Accidental I’m sure

Overall it was a pretty minor incident but as, usual the internet decided to throw a tantrum over the event with many keyboard warriors calling for an end to the zoo trade. It’s not the first time this year gorillas have made international news by being on the news as On May 28, 2016, a three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and was grabbed and dragged by Harambe, a 17-year-old Western lowland gorilla. Fearing for the boy’s life, a zoo worker shot and killed the gorilla.

The decision to kill the animal was widely criticised as from watching the footage it appeared that the gorilla was protecting the boy. However, many primatologists described the gorilla’s posture as being extremely aggressive and due to tranquilizer darts taking 15 mins to take effect and the incredible weight and strength of the animal the only option was to, unfortunately, shoot Harambe with a high calibre rifle.

Modern zoos try to use as few security bars as possible as they want to create a seamless barrier between the animals and the spectators, the problem is that it allows unsupervised children to climb into the exhibits and endanger the life of themselves and the animals in the enclosure.

Another recent zoo controversy happened when a Danish zoo killed a healthy young giraffe which they didn’t have space for and dissected it in front of school children and then fed it to the lions.

This prompted an outcry from the international community demonising the zoo for this perceived morbid cruelty.

What the fuck do you think the zoo usually feeds the lions – grapes?

Predatory animals eat meat – that means the zoo pays for animals to be killed to feed all the carnivores and surely it’s more ethical to kill a giraffe that was sadly going to be put down anyway than it is to kill 20 pigs and feed them to the lions?

It seems fashionable to hate on zoos these days with many popular online media outlets such as Vice calling for their closure and this is understandable. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the best place for an animal to be is living wild in its natural habitat and locking animals in cages so people can stare at them is a bit abhorrent.

But our natural wilderness across the globe is shrinking fast and a growing list of species are looking down the barrel of global extinction. The fact that there are more tigers living in people’s back gardens in Texas than there are in the wild is a stark illustration of this.

A different realm of stupidity.

There are numerous examples of zoo’s saving animals from extinction and as we continue to deforest and destroy the natural world, they may be our only hope to preserve the Earth’s fauna and most modern zoos try to give the animals as much space as possible and provide enrichment activities to replicate the animals natural habitat.

It is worth noting that some animals respond well to captivity and some don’t, this statement is more relevant to aquariums than zoos and it is bananas to keep a 30 foot 6-tonne super predator that roams across oceans in a pool.  After the documentary Black Fish SeaWorld’s profits have started to tank, hopefully, this is the end of this circus-style approach to presenting marine life to the public.

In conclusion, there are lots of ethical problems with keeping animals in zoos but I feel these are overshadowed by the critical condition of nature on our planet.

To lighten this depressing end note here is a clip of the President-elect getting attacked by a bald eagle (the national animal of the USA I might add).

 

 

 

 

 

Cupping : The dogma of science

You may remember some of the athletes including Micheal Phelps at Rio 2016 backs looked like a one-sided game of connect 4, these marks are from a practice known as cupping which has roots in traditional Chinese medicine.

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Cupping uses air pressure to pull the skin into a suction cup which proponents claim helps blood circulation  and by causing local inflammation, triggers the immune system to produce cytokines, small proteins that enhance communication between cells and help to modulate the immune response. However, these claims are unsubstantiated by the medical and scientific community which indulged in plenty of shit talking about the practice during the olimpics.

A professor of pharmacology at University College London, even told the Independent: “There’s no science behind it whatsoever. There’s some vague conceptual connection with acupuncture, and is often sold by the same people. But how could it possibly do anything? It’s nonsense.”

They asked him if he thought it could give US athletes the edge in winning some medals at Rio 2016, his response was the following: “Not at all. If anything they’ll have a slight disadvantage because they’re wasting time getting cupped.”

I have talked before about the correlation between religious beliefs and sporting/combative prowess, believing in God and other supernatural beliefs can give people a phycological boost which partly explains their prevalence in human culture. This snobbish condemnation from the scientific community of the training practices of Micheal Phelps who with 18 gold medals is the most decorated Olympian of all time is ill conceived.

Image result for phelps with all his medals

You’re doing it all wrong mate.

It seems that all people are vulnerable to dogma, even individuals who have built their entire persona on rubbishing it.

I do see where the atheists/scientists are coming from; alternative medicine scams kill thousands of people every year, Steve Jobs being a high profile example of this. These charlatans will promise the world to severely ill patients who are in denial at what medical science is telling them but fuck off sharpish once they have collected their check and their client’s health starts rapidly deteriorating.  Western medical science certainly is not perfect, and there is much it can learn from eastern medicine (recent research into meditation is a good example of this.

These charlatans will offer alternative therapies such as homoeopathy (wich is proven to do nothing beyond the placebo effect) to severely ill patients who are in denial at to what their doctor is telling them. But after significantly draining their client’s bank accounts will fuck off sharpish once their ‘patients’ health starts rapidly deteriorating – Steve Jobs was a high profile victim of these scams.

Western medical science has dramatically improved the health of the general human populace over the last 100 years but it is certainly is not perfect, there is much it can learn from eastern medicine (recent research into meditation is a good example of this). But if you have cancer and want to have a chance of surviving it for at least a ten year period then your best bet is with western medicine, not drinking warm lemon water and chanting twice a day (although doing both in tandem certainly can’t hurt).

These scams and their backlash have resulted in a pejorative and aggressive attitude towards alternative medicine from established academics wich is understandable, but they have overstepped the mark by wading into the world of sports science.

It is possible that cupping might actually have the physiological effects on the body that its proponent’s claim through some unknown mechanism, it wouldn’t be the first time the sceptics got things wrong.

Win Hoff was written off by the academic community as a bat shit crazy Dutch bastard at first, but after decades of scientific scrutiny his “outrageous” claims have been verified, and they are literally having to rewrite several textbooks on human physiology. Below is a link for his Vice Documentary “The Ice Man” – I suggest you check it out.

Or maybe the process of cupping is just relaxing and reduces the phycological stress of the athletes and allows them to perform at the best of their ability – it could be as simple as that.

In conclusion, the placebo effect is a powerful yet poorly understood concept; performance-based science should be looking at the value of the power of belief not mocking it.

 

 

 

 

k9 v Feline : The Battle of the pets

The Olympics just finished and the world is still full of competitive energy and in the spirit of this, I decided I would write about one of the longest rivalry’s going in the world of domesticated animals: Cats v Dogs.

In the UK alone there are 8.5 million dogs and 7.4 million cats living in households as pets and these animals and their personalities along with their long-running feud are ingrained into our culture – pet dogs are coined as loyal yet blundering while cats are snobbish but agile.

cats and dogs

Whos house you gonna spend new year at?

People often theorise that the personalities of these animals bleed into their owners, the saying” the internet is full of cats because dog owners are outside” perhaps reflects this.

Who is smarter?

It is hard to establish a metric for intelligence – for example, primates score high on cognitive tests and are considered to be the most intelligent group of animals, but they are bested in certain areas such as empathy by some species of birds and in some cases even dogs.

To give a general overview of how you can  roughly assess the intellect of a species there are two points to consider.

1)Neurone density and neurone capacity of the brain.

Neurones are electrical cells that send information to our brain and are a useful physiological based metric for rating an animals intelligence. Dogs have larger brains proportional to their bodies, and this corresponds to them having a higher neurone capacity than cats, however cats have a significantly higher neurone density. This leads us to a bit of a dead end as it is currently not clear which of these variables is the best metric for intelligence and further study is needed.

2)Cognitive studies.

In an experiment where they gave both dogs and cats an impossible task to complete for the motivation of food, cats constantly attempted to finish the challenge whereas dogs tried a few times and then looked to a human for help. This is a clear win for the dogs as it seems they realise the futility of their effort and signal for help whereas the cats keep on trying even though it’s impossible.

However all you dog people don’t go celebrating just yet as it should be considered that dogs have been domesticated for around 10,000 years and are reckoned by many to be the first ever tame animals, this means they are very much in tune with the human frequency of thinking (probably as a result of both micro-evolution and selective breeding). The ancient Egyptians are the first known society that domesticated cats around 4,000 years ago however this was nowhere near as wide-spread as with dogs. My point is this ability to ask humans for help may be due to an almost symbiotic relationship between dogs and humans and might not reflect intellectual reasoning. Dogs are certainly easier to train to perform complex tasks than cats but it is possible that cats could do it if they give half a fuck about what humans wanted them to do.

Who would win in a fight?

Ok, let’s put the books down and look at who is going to win in a good old fashioned dust-up. In general, domesticated dogs are larger than domesticated cats which give’s them an advantage but in an encounter between a dog and cat that are the same size the cat will always nearly always FUBAR the dog.

Dogs only have one weapon – their face, they essentially use their jaws to clamp hold of the victim and shake violently to inflict damage. Cats do this as well but in a much more precise manner and they also have two paws with retractable claws to swipe and tear its opponent/prey.

Image result for cats retractable claws memes

And it doesn’t end there, cats are walking biological weapons – they have parasites that can interfere with the nervous system of other animals and there is even evidence to suggest that their urine is also capable of this.

I said at the start that we are talking about pets not wild animals but just as a side note remember that a Siberian tiger weighs around 360 KG whereas a rottweiler weighs around 60 KG. I have also never heard of a country declaring war on an individual dog whereas this happened with a tigress in Nepal.

These combative credentials give cats the edge in a 1v1 Pokemon style duel but  fair fights don’t exist in nature, dogs hunt in packs while most species of cats are solitary, also size does matter and a larger dog will beat a smaller cat wich is more likely to be the scenario in the world of pats.

Whos more useful? 

In terms of utility to humans, both have their uses – cats are killing machines and while dogs can survive on a vegetarian diet cats can’t ( a group of vegans tried to feed their cats on a diet of tofu and they went blind and started walking into walls and shit). If you want to rid your house of rodents cats will happily oblige and also engage in sadistic torture of the poor furry bastards for good measure. Check this video of a leopard torturing a newly born gazelle before killing it – be warned though it’s pretty horrific.

While cats are good as a clean up crew I don’t think you would have much luck trying to train one to heard sheep, guide the blind or dig people out of avalanches. But again this goes back to the long history of domestication of dogs by humans and maybe given enough time we will be able to train cats to do our bidding.

Or judging by this feline regularly seen in a Brockly Sainsbury’s maybe the other way around.

sainsburys-cat.jpg

In summary it’s hard to pick a winner so I am going to defer and leave you with 2 clips of a cat and a dog  going #Thug on their owners in their own style and you can pick your favourite.

Personally I gotta hand it to the cat.