Maps – A New Perspective

Maps have always fascinated me. My first book was an atlas and, like many others I am sure, I spent hours pouring over it deciding which countries I would visit when I was old enough to subject myself to the indignities of airport security.

My atlas had three different views of each country. One showing the various industries and raw materials (including whales) available. Another showing your standard mountains and crinkly bits. And a last one illustrating the wildlife (including, once again, whales).

But it had something in common with all atlases, it focussed on the land.

Which is why I found this projection, by cartographer Jack Van Wijk so fascinating.

Van Wijk uses a process he has dubbed “Myriahedral Projection” which divides the globe’s surface into small polygons that are unfolded into a flat map, just as a cube can be unfolded into six squares.

Finding this startling new way to look at our planet earned Van Wijk the Henry Johns Award from The British Cartographic Society.

Well played Sir…

Attention – Drunks!

Here’s a road sign from Romania warning drivers of hazards ahead…

The translation of the text is Attention – Drunks although this pissed up pedestrian seems to have had his arse cut off to add injury to insult.

Peter Antal, the mayor of Pecica, who erected the signs said…

We are a border town and have lots of cars thundering through here all the time. But we also have a very vibrant nightlife and the two don’t mix. We have to target the drivers because by the time they get to this state, the pedestrians are beyond caring.

We must warn drivers that sometimes people who have little control over their actions can suddenly appear in the road

Nice sign… although if I was mayor I think I’d go with some a touch more graphic. Something like this perhaps…

The text beneath would read "I love you man... you're me best bleeurgh

Late Breaking Plagiarism Update: Perhaps Mayor Antal has recently come back from holiday in Thailand. Here’s a photo my wife took in Phuket 9 months ago just before she passed out.

Which raises the question. Was the original model Thai? And where the hell is his or her arse?

The Orca Slave Rebellion

The media love an animal attack story and the “death by whale” narrative produced at Sea World on February 24th has produced hundreds of columns and opinion pieces. They chiefly fall into two broad camps – “It was a tragic accident and the whale was playing” or “These animals aren’t called Killer Whales for nothing and you shouldn’t get in the water”. What seems to be lost in most accounts are the questions of orca behaviour and whether these creatures are behaving naturally or reacting against a captivity which is far from tolerable to them.

The issues surrounding orca captivity are hardly new. In 1992 the Whale and Dolphin Conservation society commissioned a report entitled The Performing Orca. The society sponsored the investigation with an open mind as “there has been considerable confusion over the so-called facts routinely tossed around and argued over by polarized pro and con advocates”.

During this capture at Penn Cove, in 1970, hunters used bombs to corral a pod of 80 whales. 5 died, including 4 calves. Their bellies were slit and filled with stones to hide the evidence. Only one captive remains alive today, despite many wild orca living in excess of 70 years

Researching and writing the report took the author Erich Hoyt almost a year; during which he visited most of the 17 parks around the world that kept orca, travelled to Iceland, the site of most Orca captures, interviewed marine park owners and trainers and top orca scientists from around the world. The report (a pdf copy of which can be found here)  investigated, amongst other things, the educational value of keeping orca, the value of scientific studies funded by marine parks, the world orca trade, the impact on captivity conditions on orca behaviour and the dangers to trainers. And it is that last chapter, dangers to trainers, that drew my attention the most given the recent death of Dawn Brancheau at the hands fins of Tilikum.

Bruce Stephens, former director of animal behaviour at Sea World, says he has been hurt on dozens of occasions…

Any person who has trained these animals has been thumped, bumped, bruised, bitten and otherwise abused over the course of time. It happens to everyone… You have to appreciate the potential for danger.

But, in defence of his trade, he went on to add the record…

…has really been quite good for orcas, especially when you consider that about 40 people a year are killed in accidents with elephants.

Presumably he failed to take into account the large numbers of captive elephants in comparison and the difficulty an orca has in leaping from a pool to go on a rampage.

During the 1980s Sea World pioneered a new training programme devised by David Butcher. His system, known as PLESR (pronounced Pleasure), emphasised human interaction as reward for the whales. It was split into five elements; Play – in which anything goes, Learning – when new “behaviours” were taught, Exercise, Socialisation – where whales interacted with several trainers to simulate a wild pod and Relationship, where whale and trainer bonded one-on-one. If a whale misbehaved it would be punished by being stared at by Butcher and his fellow trainers. To avoid predictability sessions would be scheduled at random and no one whale would get to play the lead, “Shamu”, exclusively. They would all take turns.

Sea World's blurb for the "Believe" show reads... "At the heart of every being lies a spirit of wonder. Feel it come to life in our most sensational show ever: Believe. A captivating and visually stunning Shamu show that will transport your heart to the edge of wonder".

The approach, dubbed the “Sea World method”, brought dividends in the range of new tricks, or “behaviours”, the whales would perform but it also had unintended consequences. In March 1987, Jonathan Smith was grabbed by an orca during a performance at Sea World, San Diego. It dove to the bottom of the pool, then carried him to the surface and spat him out. He gallantly waved to the crowd before a second orca slammed into him and dragged him back down. He was repeatedly attacked and dragged beneath the surface until, with the desperate help of his fellow trainers, he managed to struggle from the pool bleeding with a six-inch laceration on his liver and a ruptured kidney.

Three months later, Joanne Webber had a three ton orca, Kandu, land on her during rehearsal. Chris Barlow was rammed soon after during a show and Mark McHugh was bitten on the hand while feeding. In August the accident rate accelerated and, a dozen incidents later, in November a five-ton male named Orky crashed down on John Sillick as he rode on the back of a female orca. Sillick suffered multiple fractures to his back, pelvis, hips, ribs and legs.

The Orky incident was the last straw. Butcher was fired and lawsuits involving Sillick, Smith and Webber were settled out of court and gag orders imposed. But the idea of orca as large, lovable dolphins desperate to bond with their human captors had been shattered as comprehensively as Mr Sillick’s pelvis. And, as The Performing Orca points out, there had only been one recorded instance of a wild orca attacking a human (when a surfer was “mouthed” off a California beach).

But today, 18 years after Erich Hoyt’s original report, little has been done to change the conditions orca face in captivity. And, as Tilikum reminded his captors two weeks ago, the whales continue to lash out at their jailers.

One of the articles in the wake of Ms Brancheau’s death wistfully asked, “If only they could talk. I wonder what they would say” whilst another, citing the bible opined the offending creature should be put to death. (Originally the author had mentioned stoning as a possible method although he seems to have retracted that part of his column saying he was misquoted and “trying to stone a whale would be silly”). The combination of the two did fire my imagination however. It reminded me of a scene from the Kirk Douglas classic Spartacus and, with the assistance of our audio-visual editor CuriousCartman, we can now offer you a glimpse of the Orca Slave Rebellion as the officials hunt for the whale Spartacus (played by Tilikum).

Oxygenated Booze? This Dr says YES

As some of our regular readers may have noticed I have been somewhat tied up of late.

This may be the case for a while (and hopefully it is… a dream writing job has turned up and will, with any luck, keep me busy for at least six months) but I’m aiming to get back to regular posting as soon as I establish some sort of routine. I’ve always been a creature of habit and changing a regular routine for a new one often takes me a bit of time. What doesn’t change, however, is the urge to have a delicious beverage as the sun goes down.

So it was with some degree of excitement I noticed that Korean scientists have discovered a way of tweaking booze and lessening the dreaded morning after effects, without tampering with its strength.

We've all been there. On occasions I've also woken up wearing a similiar dress.

Drs Kwang-il Kwon and Hye Gwang Jeong have studied the properties of oxygenated alcohol, a popular snifter in Korea, similiar to carbonated drinks elsewhere but using oxygen instead of carbon dioxide. When you drink alcohol, your body needs to oxidize it to water and carbon dioxide in order to process it. This occurs via hepatic oxidation, but the enzymes in your liver require oxygen to process the booze. It’s thought that by storing the oxygen in the alcohol itself, the system functions more quickly and efficiently.

In short, it means fewer and less savage hangovers without sacrificing all the fun of getting off with ugly people and cravings enormous kebabs at 3am.

If you can find it in your local shops, pick yourself up a bottle of O2 Linn. I love their blurb, for “Brain, Body, Beauty” indeed!

Is this the World’s crappiest product?

Alerted by a post at Fark the other day, I checked out this ad for the Hug-E-Gram.

Sometimes, when I come across come across something as irredeemably shit as this, I am filled with awe and a sense of bilious wonder at who could have dreamt up this crap. And it’s at moments like these that I wonder not who will buy this rubbish but how do you explain to someone what you do for a living when you are the inventor of the Hug-E-Gram?.

How do you explain it to your kids?

Swine flu still not an apocalypse

Last August here at Notes, Dr Throttling, in a post entitled Apocalypse Not, referred to the N1H1 flu pandemic as “The Great Swine Flu Swindle”. Recent statistics show that he was pretty much on the money with that assessment:

More than 57 million Americans have become ill from the H1N1 influenza virus and nearly 11,700 have died, according to estimates released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a normal influenza season about 36,000 deaths are attributed to influenza and pneumonia with 90% of them being in people age 65 and older.

So, in fact, Swine Flu, tipped to be the next great plague, ended up being so mild that it is responsible for only one third of the fatalities that we might typically expect to see in a normal flu season.

And the biggest winners from all this?

1) Swiss Pharmaceutical company Roche that manufactures Tamiflu, just reported an 8% rise in annual sales , double the industry standard. That followed a 34% rise in profits in 2007 when governments around the world began stocking up on Tamiflu.

2) Your average worker who probably squeezed out a few more sick days by telling the boss they had Swine Flu even if they didn’t.

3) Pigs, with pork sales down in most places since the onset of the flu.

If this is the future of air travel then count me in…

When I was young I always thought the future of air travel would involve excessive luxury. At school in the 1970s, every child I knew thought future travel would inevitably involve rocket powered flight, meals from toothpaste tubes and shiny spacesuit pyjamas.

Everyone should get their space pyjamas when they check in...

Little did we know the horrible truth would evolve in the shape of bargain basement airlines, sardine-like passenger seating and security arrangements that involve being scrutinised naked by a complete stranger paid to be surly.

Fortunately there are people out there who are fed up with it too…

Have a look at these concept plans by Seymour Powell for a 265m high solar powered airship that would bring back the golden age of luxury travel. It would contain a hotel featuring a penthouse, four duplex apartments and five smaller apartments. There would be a bar and lounge, and two communal decks, as well as a control deck. Designed to return to the era when much of travel was about the journey as well as the destination, the airship would be able to cruise at speeds of 100-150km/h, allowing it to fly from London to New York in 37 hours, or London to Shanghai in 90 hours.

Where do I sign up?