The Whale Warehouse

The Whale Warehouse from KPCC on Vimeo.
THIS IS SPECTACULAR. It has so many of my favorite things:

1) Specimens in jars.

2) Card catalogs.

3) Whales, my favorite animals.

And hey, if you also love my very favorite kind of whale, the orca, and you want to simultaneously completely ruin your day and be fascinated by the intelligence and complex social structures of a marine mammal, then you should watch the horrifying and totally fantastic documentary Blackfish. Warning: I had crazy nightmares for days after watching this movie.

THE WHALE WAREHOUSE was produced by AudioVision, a publicly funded project associated with radio KPCC.

Like a Bat out of Hell

Vampire running! from Carl Zimmer on Vimeo.

Watch this video of a vampire bat running. Do it. Most bats are pretty much helpless on the ground, but not the vampires. Mesmerizing, no?

I sometimes write these little nonfiction booklets for people who are learning to speak English. My favorite ones to write are always the wildlife books, because I get to spend a lot of time watching Planet Earth, pretending that it’s “research”. But actually, the research is pretty fun, and I’ve learned a lot of amazing things. Did you know bat wings are covered in tiny, sensitive hairs that enable the creatures to detect wind flow? Or that some bats have to contract their ear muscles when they screech to avoid deafening themselves, because their calls (in a frequency undetectable to humans) are at the same decible level as a rock concert? This helps them stay aloft. Ever since I wrote my special on bats, they’ve been my second favorite animals (first place: orcas). I even asked my editor if we could increase the page count so I could include all the weird information I’d found. So if ever you want to feel kind of terrified and amazed by the scope of our planet, go read the wikipedia pages for bats and orcas. Seriously, do it. 

Video courtesy of Dan Riskin, Brown University.


Been working on major writing deadlines lately so I’ve had no time to post, but I wanted to remind you all the check out the livestream of Oliver Sacks speaking at Cooper-Union tonight! Dr. Sacks will be talking about his new book, Hallucinations, which (I hope) is on its way to delivery at my house as we speak because it looks just as awesome as everything this man has ever done. Neuroscience research with hallucinations and psychedelics is a fascinating field where there are still a lot of unknowns and really promising signs. Psilocybin, LSD, and MDMA have all shown great potential as cures or aids for a wide range of issues such as alcoholism, depression, and PTSD. The talk is tonight at 8 pm EST (ie: in 5 minutes), so don’t forget to tune in. Until next time…

Oh… oh, my…

Wired has done an amazing photo series of American National Parks as viewed from space. Stunning, no? Featured above is my personal favorite, Death Valley in California/Nevada. Check out the whole collection here.

On a related note, did you know you can buy passes for the National Parks? 80$ a year for unlimited access to all parks! With entrance fees at around 10-20$ per person/car, that’s not a bad deal. The Boy and I have often talked of getting one and doing the grand tour across the states. AND, even better, if you’re over 62 years old you can get an unlimited LIFETIME pass for 10$. TEN DOLLARS. To visit any National Park you want, whenever you want for the rest of your life? Sold.

The Truth and Lies of Doomsday

Boing Boing contributor Maggie Koerth-Baker conducted an excellent interview, “The Annotated Apocalypse,” with John Hoopes, an archeologist and professor of anthropology at University of Kansas. Hoopes gives a concise, lucid explanation of the “2012 Mayan Calendar Prophecy” that’s had everyone whose every flipped past the History Channel in a total tailspin for pretty much the last decade.

In addition to clearing the air about what is real, not real, and possible regarding the 2012 doomsday predictions, Hoopes elegantly ties in discussions about the relationships between pop culture and science and spirituality (including the theology of Harry Potter), the “production of culture,” how we actively and continuously generate myths, and our power to believe in those myths even when they are not necessarily rooted in tradition.

Those are called “synchretic beliefs,” or the “Pizza Effect.” The funny name comes from the history of pizza, which was invented by Italian immigrants living in America. “But as American tourists went to Italy in search of authentic pizza the restaurateurs were happy to oblige by inventing a history of the pizza in Italy. And now you have this “authentic” Italian pizza coming back to the U.S.”

A similar phenomenon is occurring right now with modern Mayans, who are beginning to re-imagine their own religion according to Western interpretations as though they were part of Mayan spirituality all along. But Hoopes insists:

It is authentic. Synchretic beliefs are absolutely authentic. You know, the authenticity argument is really one of, “Do these people authentically believe this,” and the reality is that many, many Maya are authentically evangelical Protestants. Yes, it’s recent. But it doesn’t mean it’s any less authentic. But there’s a difference between authenticity and tradition. And the arbiters of truth and what is tradition are changing. Ironically, this is happening at a point where we know more than we ever did before about ancient texts because we can actually read them so much better. And there’s nothing in there about aliens.

Check out the full interview, such a fascinating and insightful read!