30 April 2007


Big shout-out to Mika and Amy for doing the Walk for Dafur this past weekend.

Instead of just watching TV and telling their friends to donate money (like some people) they actually walked 15km as part of a longer, very ambitious fundraiser organized by local students.

Mika provided a picture of the walk (above), and I’ve provided an irrelevant picture of Mika playing pool.

27 April 2007

Fishes Are King

Ecologists, like myself, tend to be very loyal to their study organisms. It’s not uncommon (it is very common, in fact) for Cricket and I to have the following scientific debate:

Me: Frogs suck.
Cricket: Frogs are awesome.
Me: Fish are so much better than frogs.
Cricket: Are not!

If Monica was in the room, she’s make some comment about how crabs are better than both fish and frogs. Then Oz would say that raptors are better than all those taxa, and Julie would start in on how great whales are, and the room would erupt in chaos. Debates like this are pretty useless, because none of us are going to convince anyone else that our animal is the best (and also because none of us have ever defined what “better” really is).

But all the debate is over. I’ve known for a long time now that fish are better than all the other animals. Not cuter, necessarily, or smarter, or more innovative, just Better. I’ve never been able to articulate it, but then last night while I watched Grey’s Anatomy, it hit me. Vandellia cirrhosa is the reason that fish are better than anything else out there.

For those of you that don’t know, this is a blood-parasite Amazon fish that will swim up the urethra of mammals (and this includes humans) presumably because it is following the ammonia in our urine. And these things aren’t small, either.

When the candirĂș successfully invades a human …it quickly wriggles its way in as far as possible, often accompanied by the victim's frantic attempts to grip the slippery, mucus-coated tail. In the unlikely event that the panicked victim manages to grasp the fish, its backwards-pointing barbs would cause excruciating pain at each pull, and bring a quick end to the dramatic tug-of-war. Once inside, the parasite inches its way up the urethra to the nearest blood-gorged membrane, extends its spines into the surrounding tissue, and starts feasting. (Source)

I’d like to see a Western toad try to swim up some guy’s penis! It’ll never happen; only fish are awesome enough to do it. Take that, frogs! In your face, birds of prey! Up yours, marine crustaceans! Talk to the hand, whales! Fishes are King. Debate over.

26 April 2007


I think, in the course of a lifetime, we do many things of which we are ashamed. Hell, in any given week I do things that I would be embarrassed to admit to. Like last night, I sat down to watch (forgive me) American Idol Cares, a very special results/charity fund raiser episode where the Idols and all their celebrity friends came together to perform and raise money for the needy people of the world. Yes, The World. Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and that Randy person are going to save The World. I watched because I had heard that Bono would be on. I love Bono, I really do, but even my brand of obsessive, fanatical love has its limits. I had to watch his appearance before I could determine if it was forgivable. It was. He had the good taste not to appear on the live broadcast. His part was pre-taped and all he did was talk to the contestants about the One Campaign, and do a little interview where he was self-deprecating about appearing on American Idol. Damn, he’s good. (I thought it was polite of him not to perform and therefore juxtapose his awesome talents with the less-awesome “talents” of the contestants.)

It was such a bizarre two hours (yes, God, two hours!) of television. The charities were completely worthy, and even I have to admit it was pretty awesome that they chose local and international charities, and causes as simple as buying arts n’ crafts supplies to things as important as literacy and antiviral HIV drugs. I commend them for raising the money, and for trying to cause some positive change in The World. I have no doubt that this money will do a lot of good; it’s just that something about it does not sit well with me.

The whole show seemed absurd. I usually like the absurd, but this was… preposterous. It was still a typical American Idol results show. So, after the video clip of the woman raising 14 little AIDS orphans in Africa, we cut to Seacrest telling some talentless hack that s/he’s “safe” for another week, because America loves them. How nice for them, to be safe and loved by an entire country. Then we cut to the people of Louisiana that America has somehow managed to forget about even though they live in slums of abject poverty. If only they could sing! If only they were willing to debase themselves for our entertainment! Then maybe America would care.

Yes! I know! I’m a huge cynic! But the whole thing was awful! Seacrest talked the whole evening about the “shocking” results that were to be announced that evening. Who cares?! You can’t aim to educate people about the plight of the poor in America and Africa, stress the importance of all of those lives, then hold the results of your stupid, trite, talent contest on the same level of importance.

The whole thing was like some bad parody of American hypocrisy. Except it wasn’t a parody. If only they had held the results another night. Then I might not have been so offended by it. I’m glad money was raised, I just wish they had gone about it differently.

It reminded me of Ricky Gervais raising money for Kenya.

Oh, and you should all donate money to some charities.

23 April 2007


So far in 2007, Edmonton is averaging 1 homicide every 11.4 days. At this rate, the city will be empty in about 30,000 years.

20 April 2007

Arrested Development

I shouldn’t have to tell anyone how great the show Arrested Development was. Everyone already knows that it is the funniest show in the history of television. Even though it was cancelled a year ago it still lives on in our hearts and our minds. I only have to think of some of my favourite lines and I can’t stop laughing. Take the following, said by Tobias Funke:

"Are you forgetting that I was a professional twice over — an analyst and a therapist. The world’s first analrapist."

It just gets funnier the more you think about it.

17 April 2007

French for Penguin

The other morning I was watching TV and came across this great, little computer-animated children’s show about penguins. There was a family (I assume) of 5 super-cute penguins. Their beaks and flippers were colour-coded, so you could tell them apart (kind of like TMNT). They lived on an ice floe and slept in bunk beds. The only draw-back to this show was that it was in French. Apparently my French vocabulary is ranked somewhere lower than “Toddler” because I didn’t understand a word those little penguins were saying. I watched it anyway, because I was intrigued by the plot. From what I could tell, four of the penguins weren’t sleeping well and they blamed it on the well-rested fifth penguin. They tried to get revenge by scaring him. They snuck up on him, put on scary costumes, but nothing worked; probably because a super-cute penguin is still super-cute even if it is wearing a witch’s hat. One morning the fifth penguin wakes up to find his 4 siblings gone. He looks all over for them (well, he looked under the bunk beds anyway), then goes to ask the neighbours. This is where it fell apart for me. I liked it up until this point, I really did. The fifth penguin talks to some kind of cat, like a leopard or something, then some seals, then polar bears. Sadly, I doubt this penguin traveled all the way to the opposite pole to look for his siblings. This is just bad biogeography and we shouldn’t be teaching kids that polar bears and felines live on Antarctica. Granted, the children watching this show will probably see the extinction of all those animals in their lifetime, so maybe it doesn’t matter that they never knew where they lived if they’re only going to see them in museums. But still! It’s just lazy biology and I won’t stand for it.

During my daily onset of soul-crushing boredom, I came across an observation that I don’t think I ever published. It dates back to just before Christmas:

So I was on hold with a cab company, and in between pieces of musak, there was a recording talking about all the good things about that particular company. One of the things it said was that all vehicles are equipped with GPS trackers, “for your safety.” Oddly, that does not make me feel safe, if anything the fact that they feel they need to track their vehicles makes me uneasy. The only thing that tracker is going to help them with is finding out what route the cabbie took to the ravine to dump my body.

16 April 2007

Just for you, Kimm-my

My good friend Kimm-my has been bothering me for a while to make a correction to something on my old webpage. Well, Kimm, I finally made the changes! I'm posting a picture of me and Kimm-my standing in front of a giant mining pit.

B.A. in Futurism

You have to respect H.G.Wells (1866-1946). Not many people have written 20+ books. And despite titles like Love and Mr. Lewisham, he managed to be world renowned without the benefit of a video weblog. He’s the father of an entire genre of fiction! The guy had “futurist” on his business card, how awesome is that? I bring all this up because I finished listening to War of the Worlds on CD in the lab the other day. The only other Wells work I’d read previously was The Time Machine, which I enjoyed but the point of which I completely missed. How was I supposed to get all that?

After reading the book I wanted to see a movie version, to see how they portrayed the book. I chose the most recent version, with Tom Cruise. Granted, the book was published in 1898 and the movie made 107 years later in 2005, so some things will be different. I could tell that the screenwriters had read the book, at some point in their life, maybe when they were kids. Some of the points were right: aliens in enormous tripods, heat rays, blood-drinking, and the eventual death-by-bacterium (sorry if I spoiled that for anyone). And I could tell that certain scenes were inspired by events from the book, and one character (just one) was the amalgamation of two characters from the book. Other than that, nothing can be attributed to Wells. Wells’ aliens didn’t have protective force-shields (lame!), they didn’t plant the tripods here centuries ago (at lease I don’t think that was in the book; I might have zoned out for that part), they didn’t come to earth in a lightning storm, they did have cool black-gas that they used on the humans. There is no analogue for the Cruise character or the aggravating Dakota Fanning character (I really wish the aliens had eaten her). But I’ve seen worse adaptations, so I won’t complain further. As an adaptation it could have been better: more suspense and less action. As a summer blockbuster popcorn flick it was just what you would expect.

10 April 2007

Tan me hide when I'm dead, Fred

I had a dream this morning. It occurred in the space of time between my alarm going off and me getting up. Since this period averages 60 minutes, it’s plenty of time for another REM cycle. In the dream I was living at my parent’s house in Grafton. I had acquired two large aquaria. One held some fish – I didn’t actually see the fish, but I knew they were there. The other was more of a terrarium and contained two miniature wallabies. I actually don’t know how large wallabies are in real life, but I assume they’re larger than what I had in the tank. At one point I went to look at them, and I saw that my cats (dream cats, I don’t have real-life cats) had eaten them. Except they hadn’t eaten everything, so there were still little wallaby corpses in the tank. It was awful. In the dream, I told my father that the cats had eaten my wallabies, and he said that cats will do that. As if there was some axiom that, given the opportunity, cats will eat wallabies.

The worst part of the dream, other than the waking-up sad part, is that I’ve had Tie Me Kangaroo Down stuck in my head all morning, particularly the part about the “wallaby's feed.”

03 April 2007


I’ve been putting off writing about this. I had so much to say, but couldn’t figure out how to say it. Anger is hard to express articulately, and rage and grief even more so. I’m talking about the movie Sharkwater I saw last week. It’s a documentary about the slaughter of sharks and their subsequent precipitous drops in abundance. The narrative thread was the story of making the movie, the things the maker (a Canadian in his early twenties) went though to get it made: 5 years, murder charges, flesh-eating bacteria, etc. Because it was told through his eyes, he featured heavily in it. The main criticism I’ve heard of this movie was that it was self-indulgent. I agree that the filmmaker did seem to love himself very much, and was not afraid to feature himself on camera in a speedo. However, the movie wasn’t really about him, it was about sharks. He simply made an error in including himself too much. It was not a vanity project by any stretch of the imagination; I truly believe this movie was made to benefit sharks, not himself.

The other criticism that I’ve heard of this movie is the lack of women that appear in it. I was really surprised when I heard this. I was so distracted by the horrific content, I barely noticed when my former Dalhousie prof Boris Worm appeared on screen, let alone the fact that women didn’t. I think the lack of women is indicative of the lack of women in fisheries in general. I know of no female fisheries biologists, and can’t think of any female marine ecologists that would give the movie clout. This lack-of-women thing is a non issue in my book.

I already knew about the population declines and I knew about the finning. What I did not know about was the scale of the finning, about the horrible mistreatment of the sharks, the appalling waste of their lives. Knowing and seeing are two different things. I’ve worked with sharks, I’ve hauled them by their eye sockets and cut them open; I’ve felt their hearts beat. I believed, when I did that work, that I was helping to make the best of a lamentable situation. I still believe that. Nothing I experienced before prepared me for what I went through watching this movie. I’ve always been sensitive to animals in pain, and to watch a shark dragged aboard a boat, to have its fins cut off, and thrown back into the water STILL ALIVE to die slowly and painfully on the ocean floor was unbearable. A lot of people know about finning (the removal of shark fins to use in shark fin soup), but they don’t really let themselves see what it is. The sharks are often alive when their fins are taken; they are thrown back into the water to die. This isn’t a few sharks we’re talking about either: it’s hundreds of thousands of sharks. Why is this acceptable to us? If hundreds of thousands kittens or polar bears were tortured and left to die every day we wouldn’t tolerate it for a minute. When it happens out in the ocean where we can’t see, it’s somehow not worth our attention.

This shark fin soup thing really bothers me. Shark fin is apparently tasteless, so the soup is flavoured with chicken or beef, and the fin is just put there for show. It’s a sign of wealth and status. What happens if they wake up tomorrow and decided that golden eagle eyes or panda infant livers are the new status symbol? But that won’t happen, as shark populations decrease even further, fins will increase even more in their worth. Remember the story of the Great Auk?

I tend not to get too personal with my blog entries. I’m not one of those people who routinely bare their soul on the internet. I will say that this movie really got to me. I cried while I watched it, and I wept when I got home and continued to think about it. My faith in humanity has decreased, after contemplation of this situation. I don’t believe that we will save the sharks, even if we are capable of somehow enforcing international law in international waters. I think that massive shark extinctions or extirpations will occur in my lifetime and when there are no shark fins left, some other absurd and arbitrary food item will become the fashion.

If you still have hope, you should see Sharkwater, and you should sign the on-line petitions to stop finning. And you should give this guy money, because even though what he’s doing is morally ambiguous, he’s actually doing something.

Shame on you, lame ass hick! Get a library card

I’ve been listening to a lot of U2 lately. I was getting very tired of my playlist, so I made an all-U2 playlist (only 255 tracks, mostly live performances) and I’ve been listening to that and remembering where my obsession comes from. I don’t care if they are billionaire hypocrites (which I don’t really believe) I just love their music. Seriously, I’ll be working and a note or lyric will strike me and I’ll just pause in my work to appreciate it – it’s that good.

I recently finished rereading (for perhaps the 4th time) A Scientific Romance. Now I’m on to a biography of Edith Wharton that I don’t really like. I haven’t read many biographies, and this one takes what Wharton wrote in her autobiography and diaries and psychoanalyzes to the point where the author is creating supernatural creatures to represent Wharton’s adolescent sexuality. I love Wharton, but I think I can do so quite well without knowing these things. And the fact that Wharton herself already wrote her biography suggests that what she wrote was all she wanted people to know. It seems almost rude for these Wharton scholars to dredge further into her personal life than she herself would wish, were she around to have any say.

If you’re thinking to yourself: “Who the hell is Edith Wharton?” To that I say: “Shame on you, lame ass hick! Get a library card.” Wharton is my Favourite Female Author (I have to separate Favourite Authors into distinct categories or my head will explode), she also makes the short-list for Favourite Author Overall. She wrote mostly about New York high society in the early 1900s. She didn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture of those times, though. What I love best about her is her ability to write endings. I have yet to be disappointed by the end of a Wharton book, when I’m so often let down by other authors. Wharton’s endings are always realistic, even if that makes them unhappy (which many authors would shy away from). For more on her awesomeness I refer you here or here (sorry about the po-ups).