Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Celebrating the quirkiness in all of us - 2014 Ig Nobel Prize winners announced

Some people are recognized for achievements in academics, or in the sports arena or in the entertainment business... your "normal" type of accomplishments. Then there are others who strive to be remembered for their unconventional undertakings and leave their mark on the world, be it a quirky train of thought.

Once again as in past years, the Ig Nobel Prizes were handed out with the 2014 ceremony held on September 18. For the uninitiated and those wondering if there's any relationship to the famous Nobel Prizes, these awards, according to the Annals of Improbable Research magazine with the ceremony co-sponsored by the Harvard-Radcliffe Society of Physics Students and the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association, are to "celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." Judge for yourselves.

Physics Prize (Japan), specifically Kiyoshi Mabuchi, Kensei Tanaka, Daichi Uchijima and Rina Sakai, for measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that's on the floor.
I mean, do we really need to know the amount of friction when one steps on a banana skin when and/or if one's rear end meets the ground? Perhaps the speed of falling...

Neuroscience Prize (China/Canada), specifically Jiangang Liu, Jun Li, Lu Feng, Ling Li, Jie Tian, and Kang Lee, for trying to understand what happens in the brains of people who see the face of Jesus in a piece of toast.
Most of us see your usual, mundane jam, peanut butter and the like, while others see unusual images...

Psychology Prize (Australia, U.S.A. UK) specifically Peter K. Jonason, Amy Jones, and Minna Lyons, for amassing evidence that people who habitually stay up late are, on average, more self-admiring, more manipulative, and more psychopathic than people who habitually arise early in the morning

Public Health Prize (Czech Republic, Japan, USA, India), specifically Jaroslav Flegr, Jan Havlíček Jitka Hanušova-Lindova, David Hanauer, Naren Ramakrishnan, Lisa Seyfried, for investigating whether it is mentally hazardous for a human being to own a cat.
Perhaps somewhat alienating given the affectionate nature of cats but nothing compared to owning fish and the affection they offer to their care givers, which is relegated to rising to the top of the tank for food but otherwise zilch, nada... But I digress.

Biology Prize (Czech Republic, Germany, Zambia) specifically Vlastimil Hart, Petra Nováková, Erich Pascal Malkemper, Sabine Begall, Vladimír Hanzal, Miloš Ježek, Tomáš Kušta, Veronika Němcová, Jana Adámková, Kateřina Benediktová, Jaroslav Červený and Hynek Burda, for carefully documenting that when dogs defecate and urinate, they prefer to align their body axis with Earth's north-south geomagnetic field lines.
Most likely few and far between dog owners note or even want to or have thought about which direction their dogs defecate and urinate, being concerned with having to pick up the end result. Right dog owners?

Art Prize (Italy),  specifically Marina de Tommaso, Michele Sardaro, and Paolo Livrea, for measuring the relative pain people suffer while looking at an ugly painting, rather than a pretty painting, while being shot [in the hand] by a powerful laser beam.
Art being subjective, is in the eye of the beholder and what one believes is an ugly painting could be viewed as beautiful by another. Being shot with a laser beam, however, can definitely alter one's view with that of experiencing pain, period.

Economics Prize (Italy: ISTAT) the Italian government's National Institute of Statistics, for proudly taking the lead in fulfilling the European Union mandate for each country to increase the official size of its national economy by including revenues from prostitution, illegal drug sales, smuggling, and all other unlawful financial transactions between willing participants.

Medicine Prize (USA, India) specifically Ian Humphreys, Sonal Saraiya, Walter Belenky and James Dworkin, for treating "uncontrollable" nosebleeds, using the method of nasal-packing-with-strips-of-cured-pork.
Just wondering whether cured pork would have more of an impact or effect on nose bleeds than un-cured pork, if for whatever reason, one opted to use it.

Arctic Science Prize (Norway, Germany, USA, Canada), specifically Eigil Reimers and Sindre Eftestøl, for testing how reindeer react to seeing humans who are disguised as polar bears.
Thinking further, it's possible that reindeer, many of whom hope to accompany Santa Claus on his Christmas voyage, would or could recognize humans in disguise and laugh themselves sick. Pure speculation of course...nudge-nudge...wink-wink...

Nutrition Prize (Spain), specifically Raquel Rubio, Anna Jofré, Belén Martín, Teresa Aymerich, and Margarita Garriga, for their study titled "Characterization of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated from Infant Faeces as Potential Probiotic Starter Cultures for Fermented Sausages." Sure - why not.

There you have the 2014 list of noble and somewhat unconventional thinkers that say, "we're different!" And then some.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

September is a fowl month

Sometimes special occurrences have a way of sneaking up without us being cognizant of their arrival, especially those that are for the birds. This is not meant as a derogatory remark since September being National Chicken Month is once more upon us. Couldn't find a scratch of background information in spite of pecking around as to the reason for devoting an entire month to chickens. Perhaps chicken farmers and people in the agricultural community felt that chickens needed a higher profile. Go know.

For people reading this wondering, "what type of background data have you gleaned about chickens , Eleanor?" - your wait is over. According to the, here are a few highlights:

the chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, is a domestic subspecies of the red jungle fowl, a member of the pheasant family that is native to Asia.
- the  bird was probably first domesticated for the purpose of cockfights, not as food.
- chickens aren’t completely flightless—they can get airborne enough to make it over a fence or into a tree.
Now the latter fact comes as a surprise, at least to me. I've always been under the impression that chickens and their ilk were earthbound, fated to scratch and peck the earth. Can't speak for others but I've never actually seen a chicken in flight or stuck up in a tree. Mind you, I've seen photos of roosters sitting on a fence or on top of chicken coops waiting for the sun to put in an appearance on the horizon, in preparation to declare that the day has officially started. Flying chickens, though, are one would imagine, somewhat of a rare sighting in most circles.
- these birds are omnivores. They’ll eat seeds and insects but also larger prey like small mice and lizards.
Yet another I-didn't-know-that fact. Remember this the next time you sit down to a chicken dinner

-  with 25 billion chickens in the world, there are more of them than any other bird species.
-  female chickens are pullets until they’re old enough to lay eggs and become hens. Male chickens are called roosters, cocks or cockerels, depending on the country one lives in.
Another interesting puzzler in the chicken world. Chickens start out being pullets until they're a year old after which they lay eggs and are suddenly known as chickens. Why? I mean, wouldn't it be easier for everyone concerned for them to be known as pullets all their lives? Is there something wrong with being a pullet? To confuse the issue (for me at least) a hen is also known as a female chicken. But I digress.

- in the romance area, a rooster announces that he's found food by emitting a "took-took-took" sound but hens ignore them if they're aware that food is available. Why would a hen want to wait and get it second-hand if it's available free, right? Food first, obviously, before romance. In order to get their attention and in an attempt to impress the hens, roosters perform a dance called, 'tid-bitt-ing' where they make sounds moving their heads up-and-down, picking up and dropping food.

 - researchers have discovered that the female 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.

Amazing how chickens have had an influence on our lives and are mentioned in many everyday expressions. Came across  a listing of fowl terms on the site:

- flew the coop - gone
- up with the chickens - waking early with the sunrise.
- going to bed with the chickens
- like a chicken with it's head cut off (there have been instances where a/chickens have been reputed to live without a head like Mike the Headless Chicken, who was reputed to have survived 18 mos. minus a head
- shake a tail feather - get moving
 - being chicken - being afraid 
-  sunny side up - cheerful attitude
-  chicken out - not follow through
-  ruffle one's feathers - something annoys you
-  chicken hearted - not brave
-  chickens have come home to roost - the past is catching up (this infers that chickens leave home for a while and if so, one wonders where they go and what they do while gone. Anybody?)
-  rule the roost - to be the boss
-  pecking order - finding your place
-  cock of the walk - to be the boss
-  do chickens have lips? - dumb questions gets dumb answer (love this expression)
-  play chicken - a stand off
-  something to crow about - exciting news to tell
-  chicken scratch - poor handwriting (frequently attributed to those in the medical profession)

All of this is leading up to that age old question or issue that has stumped human-kind for time immemorial: just why did the chicken cross the road?

Thinking further (too much time on my hands, obviously), there is really no reason for any chicken not to cross the road if said chicken wanted to.  The big question is what would induce a chicken to cross the road in the first place
Maybe a chicken would want to cross a road simply because the road is there to cross - or not
Perhaps chickens - some but not necessarily all - can't recognize the existence of a road that's set out in front of them
There could be a possibility that to a chicken, a road is a means of seeking an escape from the tedium and ennui of  being relegated to living out its life in a coop (hence the expression: cooped up)
Then again, perhaps the chicken had already crossed the road, had a taste of what was on the other side and wanted to return to see if what she experienced was real
In conclusion, maybe the chicken crossed the road because she had an urge to cross it, which overcame her better judgement, and she was wiser having arrived at the other side knowing that her life would be the same no matter which side of the road she was on.
Oh the angst of chicken indecision!

Since it's impossible to communicate with chickens in a language that would be compatible to both humans and fowl, it's all pure speculation at best. Merely a peck in the dark.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Life's leftover items

As is the case with many of us, over the years I've accumulated a considerable amount of items through various means. Some even date back as wedding gifts, still others make an appearance as birthday presents brought out on occasion over the years, but a larger portion end up stored away in cupboards rarely to see the light of day.

At some point during a lifetime, somebody - usually offspring or close relatives - will be left with the responsibility of making a decision on their eventual fate. Some items most likely will be kept due to sentimental value while others may end up in garage sales or as some people like to call them, estate sales. Call them what you want but in the end someone's left over's are another person's bargains, which will inevitably end up stored away in a basement or cupboard and re-sold at another garage sale. Such is the circle of life.

On a personal note, it's always somewhat surprising to look over people's accumulative treasures. It's like seeing lives in review along with price tags to make it all more meaningful. I mean, how does one part with items or tchotchkes that have graced side tables. or sets of dishes part of holiday celebrations. More to the point, how can a value be placed on them?

My main concern as an artist, is a collection of paintings that have been amassed over the years. Obviously, some are better than others but in my mind and eyes,  they are all valuable. Many are gracing the walls of our abode and still others, without a place on the wall to call home, are displayed on easels. Each one has a story to tell focusing on paint-overs, color mis-matches and other assorted trial-and-error processes, which made the end result more meaningful. One wonders, though, as to their eventual fate.

I'd like to think that the painting output will be handed over in care of Christies or other equally famous auction houses, where they will be auctioned off for millions of dollars or at least in the hundred-thousands for sure.

"Item number 1234-29 in your catalogue, people," the auctioneer will direct bidders. "A painting by well-known artist, Eleanor Tylbor, who expresses her talent in the Nouveau Transitional-Tylbor style. You will notice her strong use of yellow, one of her favorite colors, accompanied by mixed hues of green and beige to capture nature's harvest. How much am I bid for this masterpiece of nouveau expressionism?"

Actually, the reality is that once a painting is finished if it is ever finished, since it can be "fixed" even a year or two later, it rarely leaves home. The emotional attachment is overwhelming and hence the reason for them remaining part of my collection but accommodations can be made, though. It could be difficult to bid it adieu but its departure would be acceptable, knowing it would have a good home

Then there is the collection of my plays written over the years. They are mere words to many people but when put together, they can tell stories of people put in situations that shape our lives. Plays are witness to society's changing mores and reflect the times we've lived in.

Ancient civilizations have come and gone and remnants of former lives emerge. In the end, though, tchotchkes live on.