Thursday, October 22, 2015

Biology Stuff: Huge Horses, Pint-Sized Ponies, and my newest biological specimens!

Fun fact about Julie!  I have several indoor terrariums, most of which house little creepy crawlies like lizards or exotic insects.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Insects are creepy and why am I posting this?  Oh, dear reader.  Insects aren't creepy.  They are our misunderstood exoskeletal friends and in their own weird ways, they are lovely.

Don't believe me?

Now that I've defended bugs to you, I should admit that I was tired of them and turned my empty terrarium into an aquarium.  Say hello to my new friends:

(The same fish in the two pictures above, a black moor.)

(A betta, which was called a "Siamese fighting fish" when I was a kid.  Andrew named this little guy Fish Washington, after George Washington.  It's not a very good pun.)

The banjo catfish pictured above was an "accidental shipment" that Petco didn't know what to do with.  I got it for free as an "adoptable."  Banjo catfish can pinch so it's generally not a good idea to do what I'm doing in this picture.

Needless to say, immediately upon getting fish, I was gifted an insect and needed to buy another terrarium.

Don't see her?  Look closer:

How do I know it's a her?  She LAID AN EGG SAC!

I've identified this mantis as a Carolina mantis, notable for being flightless.  The egg sac, laid in October, will rest over winter and hatch sometime in April (hopefully).

If you don't like bugs and need some eyebleach, here's some less creepy pursuits.  One of my planters keeps getting destroyed by the feral cats of my neighborhood, so I made a little fake plant diorama that should be able to withstand any amount of urine.  Let's see you kill that, cats!

My other (living) outdoor plants are doing well:

Nearly all of my plants are in bloom or producing fruit right now, which is not very surprising when you consider that we live in California and that, short of spraying your plants with toxic chemicals, they will probably grow just fine.

Even with toxic chemicals, many develop superpowers and go on to become slutty Batman villains.

Of course, my first love will always be animals, because of their closeness to humans and their incredible diversity and the fact that they are furry and I can hug them, and you can't necessarily hug an insect or a plant, even if it has turned into a slutty Batman villain.

Recently someone brought up a horse named Brooklyn Supreme for example.  Brooklyn Supreme has been billed as the "World's Largest Horse."


The biggest horse on record is Sampson, a Shire horse 21.2 hands high by the time he was four years old, when he was re-named Mammoth. His peak weight was estimated at 3,360 lb. He was born in 1846, before Brooklyn was ever born.  Brooklyn "only" stood 19.2 hands high.

A "hand" is 4 inches, and based on this diagram, it is based on some sort of Satanic cult gang sign.

The record-holder for biggest living horse as of 2007 was a Shire horse named Tina who was 20 hands high. Tina died in 2008 and was subsequently beaten by Big Jake, who is 20 hands plus two and three-quarter inches and still alive, holding the current record. Big Jake weighs only 2,600 pounds compared to Sampson, but Guinness no longer records "biggest" by weight, but by height, to prevent negligent owners from trying to get records by abusing their animals.

I think this influenced that decision.

If you're looking for pictures of Sampson, you're out of luck, because cell phones didn't have cameras in the mid-1800s.

The horse pictured above is thought to Sampson but it is unconfirmed.

This has been floating around the web as Sampson, but c'mon, guys.  This is probably just some other huge horse.  This photo was obviously taken in the 1970s.  What's more,  notice that they're on a slope as well to make him appear bigger.  FOR SHAME.

Fortunately, in this day and age, photos are cheap and easy, and so we have plenty of pictures of Big Jake:

But wait!  What's that weird looking pig-dog running around Big Jake's feet?  Why, it's Thumbelina, the world's smallest horse!

Thumbelina is a miniature horse with pituitary dwarfism, making her tiny and also repulsively adorable.

If you think genetic mutations are adorable, then you'll love Wendy the whippet!

Wendy is a whippet with myostatin deficiency. Myostatin regulates muscle growth; without it, you get ripped like Wendy here. Unfortunately, this kind of uncontrolled muscle growth leads to a lot of health problems.  You need myostatin to break down your muscles and keep them in check; even if you're working out and drinking a lot of protein shakes, your body still needs myostatin.  This disorder is so common in whippets that it even has a name: bully whippet syndrome.

Yet another reason you should adopt instead of purchasing a dog, because many "purebreds" are inbred to a degree that genetic disorders like pituitary dwarfism and myostatin deficiency are frequent.  Worse, some of these disorders look cute, or appear benign, but end up leading to chronic conditions later down the line.

On to our next biological curiosity: this hamster, which is perfectly normal but appears to be melting.

If you have a hamster and would like to flatten it, enjoy this Japanese tutorial on the art of hamster flattening:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

25 Tips for Los Angeles Drivers: Show Your Commute Who’s Boss!

If you live in, or are planning to spend any time in, Los Angeles, then you should know that our traffic situation is pretty bad. Like, really bad. It is not uncommon to be going less than 10 MPH down the freeway while construction signs ironically blink at you to “SLOW DOWN.” Since I recently started my new job at UCLA, I thought I might help the rest of you chumps with a commute. Here’s 25 increasingly bitter tips on how to cope with traffic.

[1] Acceptance. Embrace the darkness. You are part of the traffic. You are legion, one of the hoard. The sooner you come to terms with that, the better.

(If you are unable to accept that you are part of the problem, please refer to steps 22-25.)
If you’ve followed step 1 and let your soul become corrupted and are okay with that, let’s make your commute less painful! First things first. Recognize the worst part of being stuck in traffic is the feeling of helplessness. One of the best ways to give yourself a sense of control is to [2] let people in if you see that their turn signal is on. One car length (or even two, or three, or nine) won’t significantly impact your commute time, but it will give you an incredibly smug sense of satisfaction. When people wave or blink their hazards at you appreciatively, you’ll feel good. So instead of trying to frantically cut other drivers off, wave them in.


The other worst part of being stuck in traffic is the mounting panic that you’ll be late. Whether it’s work or a doctor’s appointment, you will find that your anxiety over timeliness will translate pretty quickly into road rage. So do yourself a favor and [3] give yourself some extra time. And I mean a LOT of extra time. Whatever Google told you, double it. (Triple it if it’s rush hour.) (We call it “rush hour” but at ten miles an hour or less, who are we kidding, really?) Bear in mind, if you live in Los Angeles, that “traffic” is no excuse for being late because we all know exactly how bad the traffic is and we’re expected to know how to accommodate our time for it. Besides, if you leave early and get there early, you get to have the same smug sense of satisfaction you get from waving people in, and you can also be a justifiably huge dick to anyone who arrives late. You give up the right to complain about tardiness if you yourself are tardy. So there’s more than a couple benefits to leaving early and taking it easy in traffic.

Now that you’re all ready to sit in traffic for the foreseeable future, and to spend an hour or more going at the pace of a brisk run, it’s time to make your commute as pleasant as possible! Before you get in the car, [4] prepare yourself for the sun. Bring a hat, a bottle of water, and sunglasses. You will regret it if you don’t. Also, [5] put a dryer sheet in your air vents. This will make your car smell nice. And since I know a lot of you hate the idea of wasting gas, [6] start owning your gas mileage. Having enough oil and tire pressure can save you a ton of money on gas in the long run. Keep your car clean is also a (surprisingly effective) way to keep your MPG down. Also, if you want to maintain good MPG, don’t drive like an asshole. Seriously. Stop-and-go driving is among the worst thing you can do to your car; leave a decent following distance from the car in front of you (you should always be able to see their back tires), and avoid brakng as much as possible. Ideally, if you can chug along or coast at 5 MPH, this is better than bursts of speeding and braking. If you’re braking a lot in traffic, slow the fuck down. You should only need to decelerate around curves, and should brake only when you need to stop your car. This is sometimes inevitable, but seriously, Speed Racer, calm the fuck down. [7] Getting a car with manual transmission will help you control your speed, your gas mileage, and your temper. It will keep you more engaged than an automatic car, and also will help you with step 14 if you decide to copy my spaceship fantasy.

Last tip for prepping for a good trip: [8] get a phone charger. Here in Los Angeles, it is illegal to talk on the phone while driving, and is also incredibly fucking douchey.

Put your phone away while you drive; you should be paying attention and not braking a ton, like I mentioned before. (The worst stop-and-go drivers are texters who look up, discover traffic is moving, floor it, then brake suddenly and go back to texting.) If you have a smart phone, it probably constantly needs charged; since you shouldn’t be using it while driving, you might as well take this opportunity to get it all charged up, right? If you charge your phone while driving, you won’t have to worry about losing power when you finally get to the bar and decide to play Candy Crush instead of talking to your friends.

Now that we’re snug in our cars, let’s discuss how to keep alert, entertained, and non-homicidal.

First thing first. [9] Learn to use your radio presets. In nearly all cars with a radio, you can operate the radio presets by finding a station and then pressing and holding the button you want to correlate to that station. My top picks for Los Angeles are Alt 98.7, Jack 93.1, and KEarth 101.1, though sometimes I go over to Coast 103.5. But you can find a comprehensive list here if you’re not into Alternative and classic rock. By the way, if you dance along to the music with a big dumb grin on your face, you become instantly more likable to your fellow commuters (unless they are heartless, in which case there's nothing you can do to make them like you). Bopping in your seat is disarmingly endearing to most, and when you're likable, people are more likely not to get road rage in your direction. (Other methods for emotionally manipulating your fellow commuters into calming the fuck down include wearing a large, silly hat or having a friendly-looking dog hang out your window.)

Being friendly has never been easier, or more awkward!

If you don’t like music, you’re a monster, but also you ought to [10] consider listening to PodCasts or audio books. There’s a PodCast for nearly everything and, unsurprisingly, most are based out of Los Angeles. My top pick for PodCasts is hands-down Probably Science, which I might possibly be on sometime in the near future because science. Look how scientific I am. Look!

If you don’t have an audio device in the car, then never fear. There are plenty of other coping methods.

Like slowly going mad!

In Los Angeles traffic, you can easily play the license plate game and win it a couple times over before getting off of the 405. In fact, if you’re tired, [11] reading signs is an excellent method to stay awake and alert. Having played the license plate game often myself, I find that Q is the most difficult letter to find. Quiznos has been doing God’s work for years.

 Okay, calm down fuckers, Q isn't really that hard.

Speaking of plates, if you’re a Los Angeles native, seek out an out of town plate (preferably some desolate wasteland like a Dakota or a Montana) and [12] watch as they have a completely and utter meltdown in normal Los Angeles traffic. A fun variant of this game involves finding someone with a "coexist" bumper sticker and counting how often they flip off their fellow human beings.

Don’t feel like they get to have all the fun, though! Sitting in traffic is a great time to [13] have an existential crisis as you contemplate your utter insignificance in the timeless cosmic abyss! Why get mad at the other drivers when you could be blaming yourself? Heavy traffic is a good way to make sure you're getting the most out of therapy. If you’re not ready to have an existential crisis, you can also lie to yourself. [14] Lose yourself in a rich fantasy world. You’ll need to find a way to integrate driving into your fantasy. I like to pretend I’m Rocket Raccoon piloting through a meteor shower. I find that thinking about the void of space is a great way to dovetail into an existential crisis. Another comforting lie is telling yourself that you’re [15] taking the scenic route! Who says graffiti and hobos fighting over an In-and-Out bag can’t be scenic?


Enjoy your surroundings and try to find something nice to look at. You can multi-task and spend this time to [16] build an ever-increasing grudge against the GPS voice or the traffic lady on the radio. Try having an argument with her in your head about just how bad the traffic is. [17] Winning imaginary arguments is a great alternative to road rage. You shouldn’t try to argue with an actual person, because you won’t win in an argument against a BMW owner, because they’re better than you. Just ask any BMW owner.

They all look like asses to us, though.

Personally, to cope with road rage, I [18] make up excuses for other people’s douchiness. Anytime I get cut off, I tend to speak for the person in a squeaky voice: “Yes sir, Mr. President! Right away, Mr. President!” When I pull up to the person who just cut me off, I find it comforting to see what appears to be a 16-yr-old girl on a cell phone. Obviously, she is a spy and a master of disguise.

If you’re still having difficulty managing, then we need to get you out of traffic as quickly as possible. [19] Pick up hitchhikers so that you can use the HOV lane. If you’re a woman, [20] consider going into labor. If you’re a man you’ll have to settle for having a stroke or similar medical emergency to get out of traffic faster.  The hitchhiker you picked up in step 19 might stab you (even if you don't ask!) so feel free to use this as a medical emergency also.

Still not satisfied? If you [21] get a motorcycle, you can careen dangerously in the spaces between cars. This is called “lane splitting” and it is legal in Los Angeles. If you get a motorcycle, traffic jams will become a distant, unpleasant memory. You will find drivers hate you a lot, though. If you’re on a motorcycle, they will expect you to drive too fast and be reckless, and if you’re not, they’ll get angry, but if you aren't they’ll get angry.

Sometimes even getting a bike doesn't help with rush hour.

If getting a motorcycle seems like an extreme solution to you, and you’re unhappy despite all my tips, you might want to [22] switch to a non-GMO, gluten-free car. The problem is obviously not you or your attitude, so it’s probably all the dietary additives in your car that is making you feel frustrated. Go down to your local Trader Joe’s and ask about an organic, sustainable car with a "coexist" bumper sticker.

Since everyone else is driving harmful gluten cars, though, you’re going to get exposed no matter what. For the sake of your health, you might want to [23] quit your job and [24] move. I hear Wyoming is nice. Try Wyoming.

If all else fails, [25] honk your horn furiously at the person immediately in front of you and change lanes a lot. It might initially seem like weaving through traffic is dangerous, pointless, stupid, and exasperating the traffic jam, but you’re important and have someplace to be, dammit, and that asshole in front of you just did it, so just this one time, go ahead and drive like a huge asshole. Besides… the President needs you.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Oregon Vacation Photo Dump!

Last week I went on vacation to Oregon to visit my awesome friend Brad, who you may remember from blogs such as this one.  Andy and I went on vacation because I had one week between the end of my old job as a tech at USC (Go Trojans!) and the beginning of my new job as a lab manager at UCLA (Go Bruins!).  We road-tripped up to Oregon and saw crusty hippies and a couple of llama farms and a pick-up truck with a wolf-dog in it.  Most importantly, though, when we got to Oregon, Brad was there and he showed us a great time.


The Crater Lake

Brad insisted on taking us to this very cool lake, where we discovered that Brad is an excellent photographer and that nature is crazy cool.  We already knew one of those things, but I won't say which.


Fun facts: This is the bluest lake in the world, the deepest lake in America (over 2,000 feet!), and was formed by the explosion of a volcano.  You can see the volcano behind us on what people call "Wizard Island."  Yes, that is its real name.  Learn more about this bizarre lake here.
The Shasta River

We ate lunch at the side of the river, which runs though a redwood forest.  My view was mostly close-ups of the riverbed because I discovered frogs there.  (Protip: Never bring a biologist to a river.  They will get hyperfocused on the tiny things therein and fail to appreciate the scenery as a whole.)

 Brad's view:
My view:

Don't worry; we put him back.

The Redwood Forest

Andy's view:
 Our view: 

Again, never take a biologist anywhere biological.  Every two seconds I was like "GUYS!  MORE FUNGI!"

How big are these trees?  Here's Andy standing in the center of one that had been knocked over:

Wee!  Nature!

Irony!  (Read the bench; it's a famous Giacomo Leopardi quote.)

♫ ♬Moments in the woods:

Fun fact about redwoods: Redwood forests are considered to be "temperate rainforests."  Redwoods live 1,000 - 2,000 years.  They can grow to be 300-400 feet tall, so theoretically, you could pop like 5 end-to-end into Crater Lake and still have room left over, although the National Park Service would really prefer if you didn't.

 The House of Mysteries:

You might recall that Andrew and I are pretty big fans of a show called Gravity Falls.  Like, huge fans.  So you can imagine our glee when we discovered that the mystery shack is real:

Brad had no idea why I was flipping out over a stupid roadside attraction but was kind enough to let us get some pictures of the sign.

My only complaint about vacation is how brief it was.  I'm back now and settling in nicely to my new job as a lab manager, but that's a blog post for another time!

Note to self: Link the entire 400-picture Imgur album here and/or cross-reference Andy's blog.