Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Rant time: what happened to decorum?

Having heard and read good reviews about the film, "Prisoners", a night out at the movies was in order. Actually, the title of the film aptly describes the feeling of being seated in front of what can be best described as a couple of selfish numbskulls. Whatever happened to movie theatre decorum one wonders, anyway?

The film, which is too long in my view but that discussion is for another blog entry, is an intense cop drama that requires focus and concentration. Let me state for the record that I'm a big popcorn aficionado and a bag of the white stuff is a pre-requisite for an enjoyable night out at the movies. There are popcorn eaters and then there are popcorn eaters and it's truly amazing how the noisy eaters seem to gravitate to where we're seated.

No sooner did the film begin than a male, who shall be known as the 'Crinkle Bag Cracker', started what may be described as torturous routine consisting of inserting a hand (maybe two) into a paper receptacle, retrieving "a" i.e. one-at-a-time, kernel causing the bag to rustle/crinkle, in addition to what sounded like movements inside the bag, one surmises, distributing butter throughout. It was akin to a form of aural torture. Perhaps "popcorn torture" should be added to the lists of gleaning information for interrogation purposes.

"Who is your contact?" an interrogator would ask.

"I don't know what you're talking about," the person being interrogated would respond.

"We have our ways of making people talk! 'Bring out the terrible-bag-of pain!' an interrogator would command, after which a large bag filled with white kernels would be flashed in front of the prisoner. "These will be eaten one kernel at time over a 24 hour period."

"No-no! Not the terrible crinkly bag of popcorn! I'll talk! I'll talk"

But I digress. Getting back to the movie theatre issues...

After a while, instead of watching the film, I found myself wondering when the next popcorn kernel would be retrieved, resulting in the inevitable rattle that would follow. No amount of turning around and giving him 'the eye' had any impact on his behavior. It was interesting to note that there were other people seated around us that were eating popcorn but none produced the same level of noise as Mr. Crinkle Bag.

During the last half hour during the culmination of the story line and having finished the contents one presumes, Mr. Crinkle Bag decided for whatever reason - insanity springs to mind - to fold the empty bag over and over and over... It was more than our nerves could sustain compelling us to turn around and uttered loudly, "enough already!" which appeared to shock him into the realization that there were other people in the theatre.

As if this wasn't irritating enough and in spite of a notice on the screen to turn off  all cell phones before the movie started, the cell phone of his female accomplice sitting next to him rang. Rather than turn it off, she lifted it up to see the caller and allowed it to ring at least 3-4 times. Ignoring theatre patrons seated behind her who requested politely that she turn it off, she took her time texting a response, after which she finally turned it off. Not related but related, I've also attended funerals where cell phones were answered in addition to conversing with someone while the service was conducted.

As I asked: what happened to decorum?

I dunno. Read some articles in which producers et al complained that movie goers aren't going to theatres to watch movies as they once did. In my eyes - and ears - it's less stressful to watch movies on TV and settle for microwaved popcorn, and where answering a cell phone won't interfere with someone's night out at the movies. Not.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

And the 2013 Ig Nobel prizes go to... Of reclining cows, swallowed shrews and other interesting achievements

The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international and prestigious awards handed out in a number of categories by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and/or scientific advances. There also exists another similar - at least in name - and yet quite different set of prizes acknowledging innovativeness in certain accomplishments.

The Ig Nobel Prizes, according to their site, "honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." The similarity ends with the "Nobel" moniker. Organized by the magazine "Annals of Improbable Research", the ceremony (there is a ceremony, too) is co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association.

The list this year, as in the past, could be and is classified as falling into the unique category:

Have to admit that this never occurred to me but obviously there are people who give this serious thought. The Medicine Prize went to Masateru Uchiyama, Gi Zhang, Toshihito Hirai, Atushi Amano, Hisashi Hashuda (Japan), Xiangyan Jin (China/Japan) and Masanori Niimi (Japan/UK) for assessing the effect of listening to opera on mice heart transplant patients. Who would have thought that mice are opera lovers. More to the point, one (me) wonders which are their favorites.

Somehow, the Psychology Prize, given to Laurent Begue, Oulmann Zerhouni, Baptiste Subra and Medhi Ourabah (France), Brad Bushman (USA/UK), the Netherlands/Poland) for confirming that people who think they are drunk also think they are more attractive, could be viewed as plausible i.e. one could believe while being under the influence of alcohol that visually they seem more visually alluring.

Can't say I've given much if any thought about the plight of dung beetles but obviously Marie Dacke (Sweden/Australia), Emily Baird, Eric Warrant (Sweden/Australia/Germany), Marcus Byrne (South Africa/UK) and Clarke Scholtz (South Africa) obviously have in their discovery for the Joint Prize in Biology and Astronomy that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the milky way. I mean, thinking about this, it's not something that is of concern, at least for me. You?

The Safety Engineering Prize, won by the late Gustano Pizzo (US) definitely falls into the outside-the-box category for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers. The system drops a hijacker through trap doors, seals him (or her) into a package, then drops the hijacker through the airplane's specially-installed bomb bay doors through which he (or she) is parachuted to the ground where police, having been alerted by radio, await his arrival. Presumably, the airplane(s) would have to have a trap door and bomb bay doors on board for this to work. Somehow, the vision of a bunch of police cars chasing the plane in order to ensure the capture of the hijacker springs to mind, yelling "we got him...we got him!". Sort-of a keystone-esque quality. Moving on...

For their discovery that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond - if those people and that pond were on the moon, Alberto Minetti, (Italy/UK/Denmark/Switzerland, Yuri Ivanenko (Italy/Russia/France), Germana Cappellini, Francesco lacquaniti (Italy) and Nadia Dominici (Italy/Switzerland), took home the prize in the Physics category. Thinking further - entirely too much time on my hands - one would have to assume that there were or could be ponds on the moon and if so, one would have to be motivated to run across the surface for a reason - say if an alien creature was pursuing one. Moving on again...

Onions have always given me a reason to tear up (injecting a small (very) touch of comedy) and this is confirmed with the bestowing of the Chemistry Prize awarded to Shinsuke Imai, Nobuaki Tsuge, Muneaki Tomotake, Yoshiaki Nagatome, Hidehiko Kumgai (Japan) and Toshiyuki Nagata (Japan/Germany), for discovering that the biochemical process by which onions make people cry is even more complicated than scientists previously realised. Related to this and as a matter of interest, chewing gum while peeling onions will diminish the tearing effect. Really.

Not sure if this is news that we need to know or even want to know but be that as it may, Brian Crandall (US) and Peter Stahl (Canada/US) won their Archeology award for observing how the bones of a swallowed dead shrew dissolve inside the human digestive system. They did this by parboiling a dead shrew, swallowing the shrew without chewing, and then carefully examining everything excreted during subsequent days — all so they could see which bones would dissolve inside the human digestive system, and which bones would not. Moving on while trying to avoid the gagging instinct...

The Peace Prize went to Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, for making it illegal to applaud in public and to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding.

This is something we all (at least me) would never have contemplated or even given it a lot of thought but obviously Bert Tolkamp (UK/the Netherlands), Marie Haskell, Fritha Langford. David Roberts, and Colin Morgan (UK) who won the Probability Prize, for making two related discoveries. The longer a cow has been lying down, the more likely that cow will soon stand up, and  once a cow stands up, you cannot easily predict how soon that cow will lie down again. Logically, at least in my mind and at some point depending on the age of a cow and whether or not it could be suffering from arthritis or rheumatism, a cow will eventually stand up to stretch her legs, after which a short walk, will lay down again.

So Kasian Bhanganada, Tu Chayavatana, Chumporn Pongnumkul, Anunt Tonmukayakul, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Krit Komaratal, and Henry Wilde (Thailand) did their research and received the award in the Public Health category by studying the medical techniques of penile re-attachment after amputations (often by jealous wives). They also recommended these techniques except in cases where the amputated penis had been partially eaten by a duck. Ducks eat penises? Go figure!

And so there you have it. Who knows what exciting and at the very least, thought-provoking discoveries will be made next year!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A time to reflect as to the chicken's place in society

In addition to September being the gate-way month into fall, it is also a fowl month. In case people weren't aware of it - can't speak or opine for others but it never crossed my mind - September is National Chicken Month.

In researching chickens on the web, came across some interesting facts about the bird via blog. These are the type of facts that makes one shake one's head in amazement while uttering, "go figure" or "I didn't know that!':

- the chicken, gallus domesticus, is a domestic subspecies of the red jungle fowl, a relation of the pheasant family and native to Asia. The grey jungle fowl also contributed to the chicken's evolution

- statistically, there are 25 billion chickens on the planet, give or take a couple of thousand who didn't make it into the stats

- they were first domesticated for cock-fights and not for food

- in spite of the general assumption (at least I assumed it) that chickens can't fly, they can with a great effort, make it over a fence or even into a tree. Hopefully, in the case of the latter, there would be no cats lurking in tree branches waiting to be rescued by firefighters... But I digress.

- they are omnivores and enjoy a meal of seeds and insects but - gasp - they also indulge in an occasional meal of nice and lizards. Remember that during your next chicken dinner.

- in the romance area, a rooster announces that he's found food with a "took-took-took" but hens ignore them if they're aware that food is available. The roosters, in an attempt to impress hens, perform a dance called, 'tid-bitting' where they make sounds and move their heads up-and-down, picking up and dropping food. Researchers have discovered that the females of the species prefer roosters that frequently 'tid-bit' along with larger, brighter combs on their heads. One could deduce from this information that hens are somewhat shallow and will opt for looks rather than personality. But again I digress.

- scientists believe the roosters wattle - the dangly thingy under his beak - aids in attracting a hen's attention while performing his tid-bitting.

So this is all leading to that age-old questions which have been perplexing woman/mankind for millenniums: which came first - the chicken or the egg and just why did the chicken cross the street, anyway.

After great thought, it seems logical (at least in my mind) that the chicken had to originate from the egg, initially. However - it's always the 'howevers' in life that get you in the end - there had to be a hen to lay said egg, thus the formula: hen+rooster in the mood=chicks.

Don't want to speak disparagingly but chickens and their ilk are known to have short attention spans. Perhaps - pure speculation on my part - they cross the road merely because there is a road and they want to perpetuate the illusion that chickens enjoy crossing a road, when in effect, they are petrified of becoming chicken fricassee. Then again, how do we really know whether chickens want to cross the road, anyway? Perhaps it's one of those urban legends that have been passed down from person-to-person and chicken-to chicken. When you think about it (too much time on my hands) there is no logical reason for a chicken to cross the road. It`s a fowl day when these issues don`t receive some attention