margin-top: 28px; The Unlikely Times

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Again, Henrietta Lacks

We have been watching old Eureka episodes about one show per night during dinner at Anne's place.  The science on the show is really bad mumbo-jumbo, but the writers were good at picking up on the big keywords that were happening in science at the time -- wormholes, strangelets, quantum computing, AI memes, you name it -- and making them part of the story.


Back at my place, I usually watch a few YouTube videos before bed.  A huge variety of topics, from short biographies, science bits, math puzzles, geography and history, Minecraft updates, D&D lore, board gaming, with subscriptions to Mathologer, ibxtoycat, Nerdist, Aphmau, Professor of Rock, Today I Found Out, and many others.  Let's just say that my main feed is weird.  And if I see something I think Anne would like, I make a mental note of it, and we go to my History page and find it a few nights later.  Over the weekend, I saw this video about Henrietta Lacks, who was not directly involved in science history, but she made a huge contribution to medical research starting in the 1960s.  The name was vaguely familiar so I tuned in to see where I knew it from.  Oh, right, THAT story.  Fascinating stuff.  I won't spoil it for you, since Thoughty2 does such a good job revealing and expanding on the story.  Let's just say there is a cell line called HeLa named after her, and it is still going strong today.   Maybe a little too strong.


When I scroll through my YouTube history of those strange diversions, I usually have to give Anne a little pitch about why I think she would find a particular video interesting, and this time I said it sounded like something out of a Eureka episode.

Last night on Eureka (Season 5 episode 10, about 6 minutes into it), while they were trying to bring Holly back to life (again), Henry said, "Just like Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cell line."  Just like that, out of the blue.  A super obscure medical factoid gets mentioned the day after Anne first heard about it.  It didn't really fit what was actually going on in the show, because it's not a science show.  As I mentioned, they tend to throw out taglines to science stories, and this was a whopper.  But the show is fun to watch because of the great cast.  And sometimes, as thousands of writers try to boil down the thousands of directions of science into digestible bits, there is a convergence of waves in our Unlikely Times.

On a personal note, will they please stop killing Felicia Day??  Come on already.  ;-)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Carnivorous Deer & Squirrels?

Well, let's tone that down to "omnivorous".  Here are some reports of deer eating certain meaty bits ...

carcasses []

rabbit ears []

birds []

birds []

birds (video search) [yahoo]

birds and rabbits []

squirrel [youtube]

The strangest possible revenge for this might be a squirrel that eats deer?  Someone actually asked at
Can a squirrel eat a deer?
Which was dignified with this broken answer:  "Not likely, a squirrel has a body shape that is too small and its digestive system couldn't  digest a deer, so practically no." But wait a minute ... this is fun:
youtube video.
Oddly, this same "vampire squirrel" is also mentioned in Science magazine (June 2014) for being so darn fluffy.  Too cute.  I suppose, when finished, all that's left are the antlers.

Just google "carnivorous squirrel" for all kinds of reports and videos.  It's no surprise that squirrels will eat insects, and it's not unusual for them to eat young birds and other tiny animals.  But what if the fluffy little rats work their way up the food chain?  Over on, there was this deep inquiry: "What would you do if I was being attacked and eaten by carnivorous squirrels?" to which my favorite answer was, "Join them in their feast."

For fun, I will leave you with this piece from Scary Squirrel World.  Which is an overall fun site, full of silly bits and games.

Disclaimer: no, this is not a serious research article, I just like to follow wacky threads and see where they lead.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


We went out to see Cirque du Soleil show "Totem" today.  A spectacular bit of fun, very colorful, one amazing acrobatics act after another.  For each prop or apparatus, they start simple and get more and more daring, until the acts of dexterity reach levels that don't even seem humanly possible.  Some fine misdirection, some great visual gags.  Amusing (and non-scary) clown bits in between.  The trapeze act was breathtaking: like the rest, you think you've seen some playful trapeze work before but no, this goes over the top; risky, wild and playful.  They could take hula hoops or glowing balls or a couple of sticks and make an act you can't believe you're seeing.  Wonderful costumes and makeup.  The stage itself was like a character, with an endless stream of images beamed down onto it, sometimes perfectly in sync with the motions of the people on it, plus movable parts and all kinds of trapdoors and openings. 

There was a live band performing the music -- at least at the end of the show (I didn't see them in the first act, maybe they lowered the reed barrier for act two?).  I admire the simplicity of just paying to get a top-notch performance, as opposed to something like the olympics where some of the same skills require millions of $$ in endorsements, product placement, and other baloney, just to be nitpicked and eliminated in the end.  There were no losers here, just performance, and that overall sense of circus wonder and thrills that reminded me of being a kid.  No real story, just lots of cross-cultural, multilingual and culturally abstract color and life.

Monday, April 16, 2012


As an interesting example of synchronicity, try reading a book or magazine while the TV or radio is on in the background. I've found that about once per hour there is a near-perfect overlap of a word being read and a word being spoken on the TV/radio. Just now I was cataloging stamps from German East Africa, and was writing "German" on an envelope just as the news said something about the German Chancellor, the word German being spoken at the same time. 

I've had it happen while reading Sherlock Holmes tales and a commercial for Seinfeld comes on. Or I'm reading a Dune novel and my wife is on the phone talking about gardening. You never know what will mesh together. These moments are really striking. Oddly jarring from a state of dullness to a state of awareness, and sometimes even worth a chuckle. 

It should be completely expected, but we can never guess WHEN it will happen. So it feels weird. I suppose we could increase the likelihood of a hit by reading and listening to things on the same topic. If I was reading about tornados and listening to some Weather Channel report from Iowa (no doubt with Jim Cantore on the line), I would expect to hear a lot more overlaps ... but I'm not sure it actually works that way? 

Back in college we'd sometimes get bored and play a game where we pick up wildly different books and take turns reading lines. Guy might read a line from Shakespeare then I'd have to quickly find a reasonable follow-up line from H.P. Lovecraft, followed by Bill finding some segue into a biology text. Usually just silly, but I remember some very strange times where we'd find almost the same exact words on whatever pages we happened to be looking at. 

Which reminds me: there was some hype a few years back about the "Bible code". How a guy wrote a program to line up letters in the Bible and look for hidden messages up, down, diagonal, or in any pattern. Especially if you vary the length of the lines of text, and quibble over translations, or pick any edition that suits you, you've produced an endless source of essentially random letters. I once started a program to see if I could get the same effect using Moby Dick, but found it unbelievably tedious. The funny thing is, I watched that "Bible Code" show again (on the so-called History Channel, I think), and even with all that fudging the program was only producing the most inane fragments, which had to be augmented and "interpreted" by the author, often allowing for misspellings to make it work. It all shows nothing more than if there are enough things happening side-by-side, or enough searching through noise, there will eventually be something that looks like a signal, but is just a playful bit of nothing at all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mother Goose is Dead?

Most recent anthology with one of my stories in it ...

Mother Goose is Dead

I'm afraid I forgot about it in the shuffle, just got mine today. Always a fun theme to play with!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ancient things never change

Over the weekend, a conversation turned to the somewhat tired topic of people who believe that Stonehenge and the Pyramids (a.k.a. anything ancient and big which took a lot of effort) could not have been built by humans. We glossed over it quickly and got on to more satisfying topics. But that very night I was reading the History of the Danes, by Saxo Grammaticus, written about 1200 A.D. And here was this funny parallel:

"That the country of Denmark was once cultivated and worked by giants, is attested by the enormous stones attached to the barrows and caves of the ancients. Should any man question that this is accomplished by superhuman force, let him look up at the tops of certain mountains and say, if he knows how, what man hath carried such immense boulders up to their crests. For anyone considering this marvel will mark that it is inconceivable how a mass, hardly at all or but with difficulty movable upon a level, could have been raised to so mighty a peak of so lofty a mountain by mere human effort, or by the ordinary exertion of human strength. But as to whether, after the Deluge went forth, there existed giants who could do such deeds, or men endowed beyond others with bodily force, there is scant tradition to tell us."

It's sobering to note that these things were ancient even 800 years ago. Sadly, it's easier to believe in supernatural causes than to believe that some group of humans just worked very hard. Compared to today, yes, there were "men endowed beyond others with bodily force" back then: simply men who would work themselves (or slaves) to death for goals whose importance has since been lost. 6 to 10 ordinary people can flip a car. We've all probably seen videos of bodybuilders pulling fire engines or bulldozers, even using just their teeth. I can easily picture what 100 or 1,000 strong men can do. I just don't see a disconnect. These things have never been impossible.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Getting reamed

Here's what my friend Doug would call "one of those moments of serendipity when things just come together."

I was printing packing slips to mail out a bunch of eBay lots, when I ran out of paper. I went out to the garage to grab another ream. I looked at the stack and said, "Six reams, okay, I won't have to buy paper for a while." That's good. I have a knack of always trying to inventory things.

But when I got back to the computer and clicked on the next order, the customer's last name was Reams!

Now I know from experience that if you read books with the TV on in the background, about every two hours a word will be spoken at the same moment that you read the same word in print. Depends on the types of shows & books. But in over 10 years of genealogy research, having seen tens of thousands of names, and having shipped out over 10,000 batches of stamps around the world ... I didn't know Reams was even a real last name. Never saw it until just now, less than 10 seconds after counting my reams of paper.