Friday creatures Twitter dump (2): Confirmation that Nature sucks

More evolved ghastliness news from Steve Stewart-Williams:

This unfortunate snail is infested with a parasitic worm, which is mimicking a caterpillar so a bird will eat it. The worm will then reproduce in the bird’s gut, and its eggs will be released in the bird’s feces – which will then be eaten by other snails. Yep, nature kinda sucks.


Lockdown chat with Patrick

On June 2nd, Patrick Crozier and I had another of our recorded conversations, this time about Lockdown.

In the course of this, I refer to a photo that I did take, and a photo that I didn’t take. The photo that I did take was this:

That being me, and another bloke, recording the fact of empty shelves in Sainsburys. The photo that I didn’t take, but talk about with Patrick, is the one I should also have taken of how the shelves laden with less healthy food – crisps, chocky bickies etc. – were crammed with yet-to-be-sold stuff, a lot of it offered at discount prices.

Patrick, in his posting about this chat, mentions something he thought of afterwards but didn’t say during, which is that what may have been going on with the crisps and bickies was not that people were shunning unhealthy food, but rather that they were shunning party food, on account of there suddenly being no parties being had. Good point. In my photo above, you can see in the distance, the drinks section. Plenty of drink still to be had also.

I remember, when I used to do chat radio, I used to regret not having said things I should have said, either because I had them in mind but forgot, or because I only thought of them afterwards. But, in due course, I realised that what mattered was what I did say. If that was reasonably intelligent and reasonably well put, then I did okay. People wouldn’t say: Ooh, but he forgot to mention blah blah. They would merely decide whether they liked, or not, what I did say.

Well, this time around, I think there was a huge elephant in the virtual room that we didn’t discuss, which I am sure some listeners would expect us to have at least mentioned. Sport. As in: There hasn’t been any! Patrick and I are both sports obsessives. He is a Watford fan. But he has had no Premier League relegation battle to warm his heart during the last few months. I love cricket, not just England but also Surrey. Likewise for me: nothing, despite some truly wonderful weather at a time when it’s often very grim. But, not a single sporting thing, other than ancient sportsmen reminiscing about sports contests of yesteryear on the telly. Yet we never mentioned any of that. Since a lot of the point of our chat wasn’t to yell at politicians and scientists, hut rather just to remember the oddities of our own lives now, this was a major omission. We talked, as we always do whether that’s the actual topic or not, about war, this time in connection with the question of which economic policy attitudes will prevail during whatever attempts at an economic recovery start being made in the months to come. Yet sport, the thing that has replaced war in so many people’s lives, got no mention by us.

Signs of our time

Regulars here will know that I love to photo signs and notices. So evocative. So precise for defining a time, a place, a mood, or an official attitude. And never more so than right now:

Those are some signs I photoed yesterday, inside the entrance to Oval tube, and on the side of a bus. Right now, such verbals are commonplace. Soon, we must all hope, they’ll become an impossibly weird reminder of an impossibly weird time.

Here are three more that I photoed in April, of signs in shops windows:

On the left, the bog standard sign that happened in nearly every shop. We’re shut for the duration. Sorry. In the middle, the regular signage at the front of my local chemist, and on the door, a scrimmage of irregular signage, concerning this and that. And on the right, one of the signs saying: We’re still open. Come in. Buy stuff.

Finally, one of my favourites, from way back in March at the Wigmore Hall, at one of the last public events I attended, a performance of all the Beethoven String Trios, as I recall. Superb. We were up in the socially distanced seats at the top and back of the hall. Normally the Wigmore would have been packed out for a show like this, but this time, there were empty seats. If we’d known then blah blah, we’d surely not have gone.

They don’t allow photoing of performances, but at the beginning and at the end, you can photo away, so I photoed this, at the beginning:

And we obeyed. My impression, as I recall it, was that there was actually less coughing than usual.

A great souvenir sign, from pretty much the exact moment when it all suddenly kicked off and got serious.

Shark skin under microscope

Is this for steering, or just to damage you if you rub them up the wrong way?

With thanks to Matt Ridley’s Twitter feed.

According to a commenter, these are “dermodenticles”, but google asks: Did you mean dermal denticles?

According to this:

These denticles decrease drag and turbulence, allowing the shark to swim faster and more quietly. Olympian swimsuit designers have taken a page from the shark’s playbook and created a fabric that mimics the exact proportion of the shark’s denticles, hugely improving a swimmer’s speed.>

Blog and learn.

A Twitter dump

For several months now, as alluded to tangentially already today, I have a ever heightening heap of, in particular, tweets piling up in my computer, which I have in mind to say clever things about, and which I do not in the meantime want to completely forget about. Pocket is great for articles with big headings at the top, but less good for tweets. So, here is a twitter dump, several of which are now way out of date, but still fun to remember.

This has made some impression on the pile. Not much, but some. So, in no particular order …:

Horrific find in local cafe. Destruction of great literature to create a bookish aesthetic. Shameful. Wasteful.

When God tries to punish your city for homosexuality but gays use their magic shield to protect it.

Two Concordes landing simultaneously.

I was glad to help you get home safely.

… you can be anything you want to be. You absolutely can not.

Inequality is the idea you can never be happy with a million dollars if the guy next door has a billion.

When I said Boris should get the unpopular stuff out of the way straight after the election, I meant unpopular with other people, not me.

“The United Kingdom is the last major European country where it is illegal to use e-scooters on public roads, bike paths, and pavements. This is despite surveys and usage indicating they are overwhelmingly popular where they are legal.” Time to fix that.

I see the potential for a whole new and compelling theory of modern political trends: ‘where does the bonkersness go?’ It could be called The Bonkers Dynamic, or Bonkerology.

Why did the Pilgrim Fathers leave for the New World? … They sailed because they felt themselves in a story.

Brexit Day +4: The grounded planes, the chaos in the streets, the unpaid workers, the crippling strikes, the faltering economy, the upper class buffoon in charge, the petrol bombs, the riot police, the snipers on rooftops, the tanks on the streets. But enough about France

I will not stand for baseless attacks and slander, unless they are directed at people I personally dislike.

A little excess fear is exactly what evolutionary principles would predict. The cost of us getting killed even once is higher than the cost of responding to a hundred false alarms.

However the #CoronavirusOutbreak plays out, pundits and commentators will craft a clean story for why whatever ends up happening was obvious all along.

From Dawah to damage control – All the workshops that used to be around trying to convert non-Muslims to Islam, are now trying to keep Muslims from leaving Islam and doubting religion.

When a team loses it looks unpopular, out of touch, and hence more likely to lose in future. It is the very act of winning that changes other people’s minds because they don’t want to be on the unpopular team, and winning shows that what you’re offering is what’s popular.

When you write two trilogies and only realise it afterwards

Matt Ridley:

Without planning to, I realise I’ve written two trilogies.

The first trilogy was my three books on genetics: Genome, Nature via Nurture and Francis Crick.

The second was my three books on innovation: The Rational Optimist, The Evolution of Everything and How Innovation Works

He found the time to write them all, butI’ll be lucky if I even find the time to read them all. But, hope to.

I can certainly recommend the one about How Innovation Works. One word summary: incrementally.

Expanded summary: Innovations happen when they’re ready, at which point they switch from impossible to inevitable with amazing suddenness, when everything all comes together. Individual inventors are over-rated; innovation is a team game. I think that’s about right.

Robot insects on the march

3D printed flexoskeletons. In English, that would be “a cheap army of robot insects”:

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed a new method that doesn’t require any special equipment and works in just minutes to create soft, flexible, 3D-printed robots.

The innovation comes from rethinking the way soft robots are built: instead of figuring out how to add soft materials to a rigid robot body, the UC San Diego researchers started with a soft body and added rigid features to key components. The structures were inspired by insect exoskeletons, which have both soft and rigid parts—the researchers called their creations “flexoskeletons.” The new method allows for the construction of soft components for robots in a small fraction of the time previously needed and for a small fraction of the cost. …

But what could an army of such robots actually do? The most obvious immediate applications would appear to be military. They could be what I’ve already said: an army. Of miniature kamikaze bugs, or some such horror movie type thing.

I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of a hive of these little thingies.

Another fun thought: See the second category in the category list below.

My supermoon photo

Before I forget, I need to report on my photoing of last Thursday’s supermoon. Alerted by the media, I made my way to the roof of my block of flats and scanned the horizon at the appointed hour. I pointed my camera in what I believe was the correct direction, with the result you now see:

That’s the appropriately named Hide Tower.

Mind you, according to these photos in the media that I came upon afterwards, I didn’t miss much, although it was apparently quite impressive in Lancashire.


Friday being my day for cats and other creatures, and today being everyone else’s day for romance, here’s a couple to celebrate the day:

Number 13 of this collection of twenty five non-human romantics. Although, some of them just look like cats that like each other without being an item.

So, do birds actually mate for life? According to this, ninety percent of bird species are “socially monogamous”, but …:

… socially monogamous birds are not necessarily faithful partners, but they care for each other and for the young of their nest. Rearing young together does not imply sexual fidelity. Studies of eastern bluebirds have found that nests with mixed parentage – that is, they have eggs by more than one father, or more than one mother, or both – are not uncommon.

A lot like us, in other words.