Saturday, December 29, 2012

Playing Poker

With Mr P.

Scientists, long puzzled by why people go backpacking, have recently given up trying to understand the phenomenon.

The problem is, as you know if you've ever tried to explain your obsession with dirt, pain, flies, and sleeping in the woods, insoluble.

The answer is that there is no answer.

And nobody cares anyway, which means it's really, really hard to get grant money. Without money, you ain't got no salary, and without a salary you're no longer a scientist, just another homeless person.

What to do?

Two choices.

(A) Since you're homeless already, buy a pack and hike the Appalachian Trail.

(B) Invent stuff, especially things that will torture backpackers. They kinda deserve it for ruining your career, doncha think?

That's what Woo Kyung Cho, and his or her buddies are up to.

First step: understand the porcupine principle.

Intro to subject: The basics of porcupines are well known. Porcupines are critters covered in needles. You may never have seen one in person but if wake up and find yourself staring one in the face, you'll know enough to back off.

Even if you're exceptionally stupid.

Even if you're an exceptionally moronic college sophomore on spring break, and have just drunk 18 beers.

Nobody is dumb enough to mess with Mr P.

Except scientists, and most of them have grad students to do all the dangerous work anyway.

It seems that porcupines (as a group) are smarter than almost all of us, even those of us who hang out in wise crowds and tweetle a lot, and do The Facebook.

Individual porcupines, maybe not, but evolution has a great multiplier effect.

Woo Kyung the Cho-Master has discovered that the tips of a porcupine's quills are pretty clever even if the rodent isn't, so much.

The barbs help a quill to penetrate flesh.

More easily than a hypodermic needle.

Using only half the force.

And then they make it nearly impossible to remove said quills (quills always come in the dozens - go ask a dog with a snoot full).

OK, that was Poking Science 101.

Where does backpacking come in?

Well, if you have a Ph.D., have lost all your grants, and are in danger of involuntarily becoming a homeless backpacker, you might invent a thing or two to get even.

Like the Sans-A-Strap pack.

Remember Sans-A-Belt pants? No? Too young?

Sans-A-Belt pants were like the wash-and-wear drip-dry suit, which surfaced at about the same time.

You know - another modern convenience.

Forgot your belt? No problemo. Worry not with Sans-A-Belt. As long as you remembered the pants, you were covered.

Same deal with the Sans-A-Strap pack.

No more adjusting, fiddling, chafing, buckles, hitches, pull tabs, levelers or any of that. Simply have someone hold it for you (or hang it from a tree), and then back into it.

Hundreds of tiny, precision crafted, barbed needles effortlessly sink into your hide and lock the pack in place. Without straps! Practically pain free! (Note: medical bills due to infection are not covered by the purchase price.)

Need to take the pack off? Like to go to work or something?

Again, no worries.

Since you're a backpacker you have no job to go to, and you can wait one to three weeks until your body rejects the pack and sloughs it off automagically.

Then, while healing and regaining your strength, you can make camp and spend quality time recovering.

So simple. Yet so ingenious.

So ingenious that you ask yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Because you're not a scientist, dummy.


Porcupines sport some 30,000 quills, which easily penetrate flesh - and then stay stuck in it.

Microstructured barbs on the North American porcupine quill enable easy tissue penetration and difficult removal

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Life Past The Edge

Scraping the bottom.

"We're pretty certain we've found something," said Dr Walker Reklaw, a lead scientist at Extremophiles-R-Us, a joint scientific consortium consisting of scientists from Russia, the U.K, and the U.S.

Earlier this month, teams from those three countries began drilling into Antarctic lakes lying under many, many kilometers of ice.


First, because they're scientists, and scientists do things like that.

But there are more profound reasons, like having generous funding, which pays the bills and keeps the teams supplied with beer, cigars, and tins of smoked herring.

And even more fundamental reasons. Like fame. Which comes to those who uncover previously unknown weird stuff.

Stuff like microbes creeping around blindly in dark waters at unfathomable depths in frozen wastes. Which impresses some.

But yet again, hey. Only microbes. What is it with the microbes?

Which is where Walker Reklaw enters the picture.

He's got a different angle.

Instead of drilling holes in ice and searching through frigid muck for signs of life, Reklaw is after bigger game.

And he may have found it.

Reklaw's strategy was to stick to land, and to more temperate regions. He's been exploring remote reaches of the Continental Divide Trail in Wyoming, a place where humans never go. Or never did go.

Until now.

Reklaw's plan was simple: to hike, and to keep at least one eyeball peeled for signs of extremely primitive life.

After weeks of searching he found a clue. A wrapper from a packet of ramen noodles.

Then a discarded boot sole, and shortly after that, ashes inside a ring of stones.

"I can't tell you how excited I've been. I've hardly slept in weeks," Reklaw texted from his tent in the Wind River Range.

And recently I hit paydirt - contact with primitive human-like creatures seemingly native to this environment.

I even befriended some of them. We communicate with hand gestures, and by sharing food. Mostly Snickers bars. Snickers bars seem to be their favorite.

What was a huge surprise to me was that they were all wearing clothes, and they seem to have developed language too.

Some even have names, though they seem a little tentative on that point. Maybe that's why they call them "trial names".

But regardless, they are definitely the most primitive land-dwelling organisms ever discovered.

One distinguishing characteristic is a compelling urge to keep moving north, changing locations daily, and never (or almost never) bathing. And they eat mysterious lumps of disturbing substances they carry in bags on their backs.

And sleep on the ground. All the time.

This could have huge implications for biology as a whole, and especially for the search for extraterrestrial life.

If species this primitive can exist on earth, then that certainly opens the door to finding life on other planets. Even planets spookier than earth.

Meanwhile, back in Antarctica, drill bits continue to plunge ever deeper through layers of dense ice, searching for yet more surprises.

Because you never know what's out there until you look.


Race Is On to Find Life Under Antarctic Ice

Friday, December 14, 2012

Deer Randall

The story of Grandma Ogilvy and Sam Nicks, and Randall the deer.

Well, now I'm recovered a bit I feel I should speak up, so here's my side of this story.

It was around April when this man showed up at the farm, about four years back, you see. He was kind of dusty looking and worn around the edges but nice. You know? Didn't seem like a bad guy and he had this little deer with him, a fawn, it was just a young thing.

He said it didn't have no mama, being as she was killed on the highway, which is where he found this little fawn wandering around, the man did, or so he told it, and it was a cute little one too.

Funny thing about the man, as I recall now that I think back, he looked kinda old and young at the same time and had a little bit of white fur trim on his jacket, which he wore although it was a nice spring day and not really that cold or nothin, but he still had on his jacket, kinda reddish color as I remember it, with the fur trim, which didn't seem to stand out so much at the time but it does now as I remember it.

But he seemed a decent enough fellow and wanted to take good care of this deer, not see it go to a zoo or be left wild with no mama to get run over too, or let the coyotes get a hold of it. You know?

And he didn't look well off or nothin but he offered to pay so's I could keep this deer for a while, and he paid me for a whole year up front if I'd keep it in my yard or in the corral or the barn when the weather got bad and I didn't see nothin harmful in that, seeing as how he paid up and all, so I said sure, I'd keep it, but I asked what he wanted to do with the deer and then he got kind of a bit vague and said something about safe keeping for when he needed to brighten up the night or something, I don't know, but he seemed kind enough so I said sure, I'd do it.

Seems he had some other deer of some kind at his place, which sounded a ways off, up north somewhere, and didn't have room and no easy way to get this one up there since he was hiking around the countryside with his backpack and stuff, which was when I thought I had him figured out, one of those rich city people who get tired of it all and go out and buy a toy ranch or go hiking around but he didn't seem like a rich guy or a city guy neither, pretty nice and sensible over all I thought, and he had a good attitude and seemed all around a pretty decent jolly kind of fellow, kind of grandfatherly sort of, with his white beard and all, but young at heart.

He said his name was Sam Nicks.

So that's how I got started with the deer and then the years went by.

I didn't see Mr Nicks for a long time, but eventually he came around again and paid up for another couple of years, and the little fawn grew up and seemed happy, especially at night, nice and safe inside the barn and it would stick its head out and kind of look up at the sky, especially around Christmas time, on clear, cold nights and it almost seemed there was a glow around it some times, but maybe it was my imagination though there was something special about this deer, I could tell. He sort of warmed my heart.

And then a couple more years went by and I didn't see Mr Nicks though he did send me a check every now and then, enough to pay for room and board for the deer and then some and on the bottom of the check it said For Upkeep Of Randall, or something like that as best as I could make out and everything seemed fine as far as I could tell, though I understand it is technically illegal to keep a wild animal penned up, and Randall was free to go, but he didn't seem to want none of that.

Then around the middle of December this year Randall seemed to be getting anxious about something, especially at night, like he wanted to get out and go look for Mr Nicks or something, so I would take him some carrots out to the barn every now and then, and talk to him for a while to calm him down, but he seemed to be looking up at the sky all the time, like he wanted to get out there and jump up into the sky and fly around or something, and you know it's kind of strange but every time I went out to the barn at night there was this sort of warm glow coming out of it like Randall was lit up or something, no so much like a light bulb but more like a feeling almost, you know?

Like a warm comforting feeling coming off him that lit up the whole place, but he was kind of nervous too, at the same time.

Then, last Wednesday night, he seemed really restless and really wanted out, banging his hoofs around inside the barn, looking out his window and then turning around and running from one side of the barn to the other and all, and I didn't know what to do so I went over to the barn and opened the door a crack and tried to talk to Randall to calm him down so I could go to bed and not worry, but when I did that he just rushed at the door and hit it hard and knocked it open wide which then knocked me down and he jumped right over me and that is the last I saw of him.

My husband came out a few minutes later and found me in the snow, kind of a little beat up but not too bad, more shaken than anything, and I've been knocked around lots worse in my day, but Randall was nowhere to be seen.

We looked for his tracks in the snow but they went a few feet and stopped, like he disappeared, or took off like a bird or something so we had to give up and we went to bed but a little later on, after we put out the lights it seemed like there was some kind of light flying around in the woods out back, going around and around in circles, and then it shot way up in the sky and headed north, and that's really the end of it there.

Somehow I think it was Randall. Somehow I do. I think he wanted to be back with Sam Nicks so much he just took off.

And you know, I think Randall will be all right.

We don't know for sure what happened to him but I have a good feeling about him so don't fret, we took good care of him while he was here and I think he wanted to get loose and go find Sam Nicks and thank him for arranging for his care and all, and I bet you that somehow the two of them met up again and it's probably all for the best in the end.


Captive buck deer injures Florence woman in barn attack.

Florence woman recovering from surgery after attack by captive deer.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sasquatch Poo Found Interesting In Texas

Maybe the dog did it.

Dr Moira Ketchup, Chair of the Department of Hospitality Science and Genetics at T-Bone University in Lizard, Texas, and author of several books including "Non-Intelligent Design: Just do it!", has today emitted a press release on her 5-year long DNA study of an odd-looking lump discovered one summer day in June, 2007.

Our study has utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from samples that my dog found while playing in the field out back. I'm guessing Sasquatch for sure.

The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mitochondrial DNA is mostly identical to modern Homo sapiens, plus something very close to dog hair.

But Sasquatch nuclear DNA represents a novel, unknown hominid thing related to Homo sapiens and other monkey-like species, sort of like my inlaws but somewhat cruder.

This indicates that a previously unknown hominid may still be on the loose, at least in Texas, and might like playing with dogs. We still don't know for sure.

Our best guess (soon to be made into a movie by the guy down the street who knows video) is that the DNA belongs to a true North American Sasquatch.

This would be a hybrid resulting from immigrant Sasquatch males fooling around with female Homo sapiens, possibly some of the ones living in the trailer park across the street from me.

Besides the lump of unknown stuff her dog brought home, there were also several curious artifacts: some rusty buckles, two dirty, worn-out socks, discarded ramen noodle wrappers, and what is most surprising, a fire ring containing ash and charred sticks.

We don't see many people around here, so it couldn't just be some backpackers camped out behind the fence. From what I know backpackers aren't that highly evolved and don't have the use of fire, let alone knowing how to cook ramen, so the material has to have been deposited by Sasquatch.

You might not believe this, but Sasquatch even uses toilet paper. And yes, we have definitive proof resting in the cold storage locker in the cafeteria.

Stay tuned, folks. This could be big.


Melba Ketchum announces Bigfoot DNA results. Without the data.

DNA expert's view of the Ketchum Bigfoot DNA claim