Photo: Gilles San Martin (cc)
Can the eaten eat back?
The darkling beetle, small and shy with an understated matte-black carapace, is better known as its adolescent self, the mealworm. Mealworms and their darkling cousins the superworms are popular “live feeders”—food for pet reptiles and amphibians that won’t eat prey that’s already dead. For years, a disconcerting rumor has bounced around the “herp” (as in, herpetofauna) community. Heed the words of Fishguy2727, posting on Aquaticcommunity.com: “I have talked to a number of people who have FIRST-HAND watched with their own eyes as the animal ate a mealworm ... and within ten to twenty seconds the mealworm is chewing out of the animal’s stomach.”
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The U.S. has plans for a manned visit to Mars by the mid-2030s. The ESA and Russia have sketched out a similar joint mission, and it is claimed that China’s space program has the same objective. Apart from their destination, all these plans share something in common: extraordinary danger for the explorers. What happens if someone dies out there, months away from Earth?
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Astronaut foods during the Gemini and Apollo programs were highly processed, because "low-residue" food meant fewer encounters with the dread fecal bag. To prevent crumbs, which could float into eyes and instrumentation panels, many foods - even "sandwiches" -- took the form of bite-sized cubes lacquered with waxy, congealed oils. Rarely has anything so cute been so loathed. The coating stuck to the roof of the mouth and the cubes had to be rehydrated by "holding in the mouth for ten seconds."
Runner-up: dehydrated "astronaut ice cream." Only three astronauts (Apollo 8) ever ate it in space, and not very much of it. Without "the creamy, icy sensation of regular ice cream," writes retired NASA food scientist Charles Bourland, "it just wasn't popular with the crews."
Space food has grown moister and more normal over the years, to the point where Emeril and Rachael Ray have gotten involved and Bourland (with science writer Gregory Vogt) has put out a cookbook: The Astronaut's Cookbook: Tales, Recipes and More (Springer, 2010). It is somewhat unusual for the genre, in that it includes sentences like: "The medical guy dropped to the deck and soaked up the emesis with a sponge so that it could be determined how much of the liquid Joe had actually consumed."
Below is Bourland's recipe for the astronauts' all-time favorite space food. Astronaut Story Musgrave used to request it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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Following up on the castration comics
, here's another pair of panels by Ariyana Suvarnasuddhi, inspired
by my books (in this case, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
). This one draws on the stages of human decomposition. Ariyana zeroed in on food images and references in the chapter, using a visit to a sushi bar to illustrate phenomena like "skin slip" and end-stage soupiness (not a technical term). Her work just floors me. More at www.feed-ariyana.com
My last book, Bonk, has a chapter about penis transplants and
reattachments. It includes the story of an epidemic of penile
dismemberments in Thailand during the 1970s. In the wake of a
well-publicized case, more than 100 angry Thai women hacked off the
penises of their adulterous husbands while they slept. Often the
women threw the severed organs out the window in disgust, attracting
the attention of the livestock that hang out in the shade beneath the
elevated homes of rural Thailand. (Oddly, it was ducks, not pigs,
that went after the penises -- often enough that there's a saying in
Thailand now: "I better get home, or the ducks will have something to
A couple months ago, a young Baltimore comic artist and
illustrator named Ariyana Suvarnasuddhi sent me these amazing panels
inspired by the story. "When I first read that passage about the
epidemic I remembered thinking
'Of course!'" she told me in an email. "Not just because I'm Thai,
but because any reference to Thailand in American entertainment seems
to be about either prostitution or transvestites."
Click the images to view them larger. You can see more of Ariyana's work at www.feed-ariyana.com.
The coolest thing I own is a Styrofoam cup that went down to the
bottom of the Palmer Deep, off the Palmer Peninsula in Antarctica. It
was in a net bag tied to an oceanographer's water column sampler. I
don't remember the name of the researcher, but she or he let everyone
on the research vessel, including hanger-on science writers, send
down a cup. The pressure of 10,400
3,100 feet of water compressed the tiny
air bubbles inside the Styrofoam and turned a grande cup into an
espresso cup. More reasons not to go scuba-diving at the bottom of
the Palmer Deep.
A centrifuge creates excess gravitational force (G's) by spinning
things, and sometimes people. (It's excess G's that press you into
your roller coaster seat on those nauseating loops.) Aerospace
medicine types spent lots of time in the 1960s documenting the
unpleasant effects of excess G's. If a pilot starts spinning in a
high-altitude bailout, for instance, the outward force on his/her head
can rupture vessels in the eyes and brain and even, at spins in excess
of 175 rpm, spin the brain right off its brainstem. La, la la.
Seen here is an unusual example of excess G's being harnessed
for the good. The patent holders, George B. and Charlotte Blonsky,
contend that the centrifuge could be a boon to "more civilized
women," who, they surmise, often lack the muscle strength needed to
easily push out a baby. Centrifugal force would act as a sort of
invisible midwife, lessening the muscular force required for birthing.
Would it work, though? Could one create enough outward force on the
baby to make a difference -- without simultaneously making the mother
lightheaded? I sent the patent to April Ronca, who used to research
the effects of zero G on fetal growth and birth for NASA. "That is
an interesting invention," she replied.
As with so many U.S. patents -- the "Decorative Penile
Wrap" I stumbled onto while researching my previous book leaps to mind
-- one longs to know the back story. Did Charlotte undergo a
difficult birth? Did the couple actually build and use the thing? Perhaps they'll read this and post a comment.
Note the elasticized "pocket-shaped newborn net" - lest the
baby shoot out and bump its head with double-G force.
Patent No. 3,216,423: Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child
by Centrifugal Force, Patented November 9, 1965