About that chicken/egg thing

23 02 2010

If we set aside for a while that tired old question about which was first, a person can get to thinking about other important egg laying questions.  Such as, if humans laid eggs daily, like a bunch of ladies sitting around in the hen house each morning, how large would these eggs be? Would they be the same size as a baby? Smaller? Larger? Would the, um, laying equipment that is in place be able to function as is or would modification be necessary to lay these human eggs?

I don’t want anyone to get started on that whole mammals don’t lay eggs bit, that has already been discussed.  Apparently, eggs do not necessarily follow rules of proportion and don’t change as one would expect according to the size of the bird – according to the Government of Alberta, whom I’m going to go ahead and declare a reputable expert on egg sizes.  Their stated example of the lack of a guiding rule of proportion is that of New Zealand’s kiwi bird. The kiwi is about the size of a chicken, but the eggs it lays are about three times larger than the ones sold by the dozen at the supermarket.  How does this bird do it?  Well, they pretty much max out at laying three eggs per year.  That sounds like a totally doable amount of egg laying for our human hen house scenario.

Okay, let’s get down to some nitty-gritty proportions.

Ostrich eggs are about 18 cm long and weigh 1.2 kg. Lady ostrich birds average about 100 kg in weight and 1.8 meters in height.  In terms of height, the egg/ostrich ratio 1:10 (10%), and for weight 3/250 (about 1%).

Lady kiwi birds are about 40 cm tall and weigh around 100 grams.  Kiwi eggs are about 15 cm long and weigh around 430 grams.  As for the egg/kiwi ratio, which we already know will be absurd, for height it is 3:5 (60%) and for weight 10:43 (about 25%).

Chicken eggs are about 65 grams and 5 cm long  Hens are about 40 cm tall and also clock in around 2 kg.  The ratio for the familiar egg/chicken is 1:8 (12%) for height and 13:400 for weight (about 3%).

What does all of this mean? The size of egg we’d lay as humans would depend on what bird we modeled.  And, a host of other variables related to the physiology of the egg and fetus.  But! For amusement’s sake, let’s say we want to follow in the footsteps of the barnyard chicken.  If we took the digits of an average human female with egg laying capabilities, let’s say she is 5’6″ and 140 lbs, then we’d expect her to lay eggs that were 7.8 inches long and weighted 4.2 lbs.  Now, let’s say we wanted the convenience of only having to hit the nest three times a year and modeled the kiwi, our same lady would lay eggs that were 39 inches long and 35 lbs!!!


Are Kansas?

22 02 2010

Along the same lines as this revelation, I remember the first time I realized that Arkansas was basically the word “Kansas” with an ‘A’ and a ‘R’ leading the way. There was a moment of disbelief, followed by the looping of of the noise are-kansas, are-kansas, are-kansas, are-kansas, as my brain attempted to process and reconcile these two state names. Was this some sort of joke? Why hadn’t anyone told me? How did it escape my notice? How could they be different?

Arkansas was the first to enter the Union,1936

Kansas trailed behind, joining in 1861.  As with many place names in America, the root of Kansas goes back to the people who lived on the land prior to European settlers. The area that now makes up the state of Kansas was home to the Kanza people (officially known now as the Kaw Nation). According to kawnation.com, when the original French explorers of the region approached the people living on the land and inquired as to the name of the people and the place, the French phonetically recorded the answer “Koln-Za” as Kanza, which over time transitioned to Kansas. Great, that explains Kansas. But what about Ar-kansas? The Kanza people, before being squished into an area in Oklahoma, after a number of “treaties” with the federal government occupied great swaths of land on the Northern Plains. This is not where Ar-kansas is.

Well, this is where things get a little tricky. Inhabiting the land to now known as Arkansas, was a group of people now known as the Quapaw people. The Quapaw were known by other area tribes as “the downstream people,” inhabiting the land where the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers met.  Another phonetic spelling adventure by French explorers attempting to record what their local guides orally reported to them about the downstream people led them to label the Quapaw and their area as “Akansea” which, over time, morphed into Arkansas.

What does this mean?  Only that the two state names are unrelated!  Unless, you were going to count their shared origin in phonetic interpretation.


5 06 2009

Another post about a happening on a ferret vacation.

Tromping through the sagebrush, I was aware one could be there. In fact, the previous day I had sworn to have heard one give a warning shake in my general direction. Though this claim was dismissed by my fellow campers due to my lack of a sighting of the source of the sound. I hadn’t really given myself much of a chance of confirming the source of the rattle, having kicked my jet engines into gear, following my heart leaping into my throat, and rocketed myself down the hill back to camp.

Tired from the hike and the altitude, we took a break. I sat down under an aspen, desperate for shade in the canyon. Then came the pronouncement: the dingo had located a rattler. I made my way over to the source of the excitement. And there it was, coiled in a ball under a sagebrush, watchfully lurking.

Photo by Abbey Paulson

This was the first rattlesnake I had ever had the chance to stare down, outside of an incredibly controlled aquarium-esq environment. It glared right back at me, pleased with its position of power. Knowing we were all fearful of it’s venom, there, five hours from civilization and who knows how many more from a doctor.

Back at the campsite that evening, I pulled out my colleague’s guide to reptiles and amphibians. Looking at the rattlesnake distribution maps, it was likely this had been a Western Rattlesnake, though it’s color seemed slightly off from the basic description. Reading all the way through the text on the Western Rattlesnake, I eventually came to the conclusion this snake is pretty free-wheeling with it’s color and markings. Brown, yellow, green, grey, pink and all the shades and combinations of these; sometimes with markings, sometimes without.

Rattlesnakes as a species can be found basically anywhere in Western North America. Especially impressive is the altitude range they have been spotted in habiting – sea level to 12,000 ft. I can only imagine the terror of bounding down the beach in a wetsuit, longboard balanced overhead, and cross the path of a rattler. Along these lines, the Western Rattlesnake habitat list was also disconcerting: grassland, semi-desert shrubland, mountain shrubland, montane woodland, sandhills and areas between land and stream.

Rattlesnakes do not necessarily rattle before striking. Rattlesnakes have control over how much venom they decide to ‘dose’ the victim with. Rattlesnakes can strike and inject venom after they are dead (even if the head is separated from the body!) through a reflex.

As terrifying as all of this was to a camping ferret, it could have been worse. The snake about down could have been more aggressive (Western Diamondback) or more deadly (Inland Tiapan) or more aggressive, deadly and giant (Black Mamba).

On the horizon

23 04 2009

Goodbye Pluto, hello Gliese 581 d and Gliese 581 e.



Scientists announced this week that Gliese 581 d, first spotted by astronomers in 2007, could possibly have liquid oceans. Closer examination of the planet’s orbit around this particular galaxy’s “sun,” revealed it to be within what is deemed a habitable range.  Originally it was believed to be orbiting further away, producing a cooler landscape and frozen oceans.  Newly spotted Gliese 581 e, is much closer, completing it’s orbit in only 3.15, and as such is likely hot, rocky and barren.

Red Dwarf

Red Dwarf

The “sun” in this instance is a red dwarf star, named Gliese 581, near the Libra constellation.  Gliese 581 is referred to as a host star, meaning that it has smaller objects orbiting it.  In this case the orbiting objects are Gliese 581 d and Gliese 581 e, which in turn are called exoplanets, as they are planets outside our own Solar System, orbiting a star.

Our own sun, the yang to our moon’s yin, is a yellow dwarf star.

Our Sun

Our Sun

Sun and Red Dwarf photos from NASA
Gliese image from Digitized Sky Survey


23 04 2009

There are times, when sharing meals with colleagues, one learns that they have been unwittingly been carrying on in an inappropriate manner with a particular food item. It was pointed out to me that eating the fuzzy area in the artichoke – above the heart, encircled by the prickly leaves – was a faux pas (or ‘fox pox’ in the words of a particular cognitive scientist). I had been eating the whole of the artichoke, save for the prickliest of leaves, for years. When I inquired as to the concern about consuming the fuzzy middle a little concerned that perhaps this explained my mental state, my colleague shrugged. Apparently this fell into that grey “just because” area.

An Internet search revealed that this fuzzy part is the choke to the arti. While all cooking sites noted the choke needs to be discarded before serving, no one felt the need to explain this necessary procedure. I came across a Yahoo! Answers question, from someone in the same predicament as myself:

Help! Someone just ate the fuzzy center of the artichoke. I can’t find out what I should do. Is it poison?

I have come to view the answers given on Yahoo! Answers with suspicion, but I was glad I wasn’t alone in my choke poisoning. The answer chosen as the resolution to the question stated that while the choke was not poisonous, it can get stuck in one’s throat, causing one to choke, hence the name. This hardly seemed believable. While I am unable to think of other fuzzy edibles, I’m sure they exist and do not get stuck in one’s throat, just because the fuzzy tentacles lash on to the uvula on the way down.

Artichokes, in their old tyme native land were called articiocco, the Italian can be broken down and translated into ‘chief stump’. Apparently, in the 16th century the artichoke had yet to go for anyone’s throats. It wasn’t until artichokes were brought to Elizabethan England that folk etymology appears to have taken over. Such as can be evidenced here, in this line from Ben Johnson’s 1598 comedy “Every Man In His Humor:”

Like a young Hartechocke that alwayes carries Pepper and salte in it selfe.

Apparently from the earliest dates of artichoke (or variously hartichoke) existing in the English speaking world there has been a belief that, as the OED puts it:

The flower contained an inedible centre which would choke anyone attempting to eat it.

I guess I’m just lucky.

500 Miles

21 04 2009
  1. A great song by The Proclaimers
  2. Length of the border fence between US and Mexico in December 2008
  3. Maximum distance an e-mail will travel
  4. How far away a blue whale’s sounding can be detected
  5. Distance peddled on my bicycle between 08/2008 and 04/2009


18 04 2009

I was sworn to secrecy on this, but the matter is too inconceivable for me to process alone. Besides, I will present it in a vague enough matter to protect the privacy of the innocent. Here it is: a co-worker of a co-worker had a stroke after popping his/her neck. And I do mean stroke as in the serious, life-threatening medical event.

This, I did not know was possible. Why is it that as young people growing up, we were scolded upon cracking knuckles and warned of impending arthritis, but no one thought to bring up the dangers of popping vertebrae? Clearly this phenomenon called for a little further researcher.  As it turns out there is quite a bit of information surrounding this topic in and around Google; as there is a certain group of people who have quite an stake in a link between neck cracking and strokes. Chiropractors.

Unbeknownst to me, there has been a great war waging between neurologists,  who believe they see a clear link between the spinal manipulation therapy chiropractors perform and strokes, and the chiropractors attempting to defend their profession, maintaining the evidence to be too circumstantial to to draw such a conclusion. Here’s an example of how this plays out in the popular press.

Fine, so it isn’t completely an urban legend.  Looking at the neurologists reports, the type of that can be stroke caused by the twisting and cracking of a neck is ischemic.  Ischemia being a Latin base term denoting the repression of a constant blood flow.

artery1 The cartoid arteries are the main pipeline of fresh blood to the brain.  They  run parallel to  the vertebrae in the neck, as illustrated to the left.  More so than that, they are also entwined with the bones, as this birds-eye view  of a single vertebrae shows.


The neck cracking ischemia occurs when these arteries become twisted and stretched, which can result in a tear to the inner lining of the arterial wall.  This tear does not necessarily happen immediately, right after the ‘crack!’, though it can.  Neurologists discovered the connection between chiropractic adjustments and strokes after looking into the history of atypical stroke victims – individuals who were much younger than one would usually suspect to suffer a stroke.  Many had recently seen a chiropractor.

Of course, an ischemic stroke is much more likely to be caused by a blockage of the artery, due to an abundance of fatty deposits.