The Quirk: Meat and Two Veg

January 16, 2010

Sometimes something strange happens in science, and i want nothing to do with it.  Thats why we have The Quirk.

Chimpanzees enter into “deals” whereby they exchange meat for sex, according to researchers. This should come as no surprise to any male readers, and though “meat” plays a large part in sex the gift given is usually alcoholic.  This type of subtle prostitution is endemic within the animal kingdom; consider the intricate nest displays of the Satin Bower Bird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus), perfectly constructed twig hollows are decorated with an array of blue and shiny objects.  We humans are some of the worst culprits, how else do you explain the 12 carat emerald-cut diamond ring sitting on the finger of Melania Trump, wife of Donald Trump, twenty-four years her senior.  Just this week I spent £100 on presents for my girlfriend, this may not sound a lot but I buy economy bread from Asda.  I might be able to have sex without the shoes, rings and bottles of Corona, but it’s not a risk I am willing to take.

The female of the species always has the upper hand when it comes to sexual relations; let us consider the fate of male Black Widow spider (Latrodectus mactans).  To get his many legs over he must first spin a web for a potential mate. As if this wasn’t enough, Mrs. Black earns the second half of her name by occasionally partaking in some sexual cannibalism.  That may sound appealing now but it results in death.  My hat goes off to all male Black Widows, prepared to pay the ultimate price for sex.

So if this is hardly unusual male behaviour why was the research done in the first place?  It should come as no surprise that the findings are those of a woman.  Christina Gomes and her team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany studied chimpanzees in the jungles of the Ivory Coast.    Men are well aware of the lengths they must go to in order to mate but Christina seems oblivious to the truth, planning on extending her research to encompass the behaviour of humans.  The work could be done with hunter-gatherer communities in South America, though Walkabout in Croydon would yield much the same results.  The study focused on the how the donation of meat to a lady chimp would effect a male’s future chances of copulation with her.  The team found that sharing meat with a female doubled the likelihood of having sex with that female at a later date.  The evolutionary advantage to sharing meat is obvious; meat equals sex (WAHEY!) equals offspring.  Prostitution is engrained in the DNA of animals.

The conclusion I take from this all must be that Christina and her team, of unspecified sex, are either naïve or chimp sex perverts.  When postulating the theory “men have to do stuff they don’t really want to in order to get some” did they really have to watch monkeys have sex?  I think not, but I don’t think the scientific journal PLoS One would print a paper entitled “Monkey Whores Prefer Meat to Bananas”.

The Quirk

3-D films

January 16, 2010

The recent release of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar has dawned a new era in the cinematic experience.  3-D films are all the rage, and in the case of Avatar look spectacular, but how does it work?

3-D cinema relies on tricking the brain into thinking the flat 2-D image being viewed actually has depth.  To do this each eye must be shown slightly different images.  Some of you may be familiar with the old style red and blue 3-D glasses.  One lens blocks out blue light, whereas the other block out red light, therefore, depending on the image the two eyes with see two slightly different images.  The brain reconciles this difference as viewing a 3-D image.  However this method severely reduces the quality of the image as some colour is filtered out.  The new style of glasses rely on polarised light.

As you may or may not know, light is a wave.  A typical beam of light will have waves co-ordinated at many different angles.  However pass this light through a polarising film and all but one orientation of the light waves are blocked.  This is used to reduce the glare from car headlights.  In the new style 3-d glasses each lens contains a polarising film at different angles.  The screen projects the image at two separate light orientations coordinating to the lenses of the glasses.

All of this means that if you have one eye, 3-D films are not ready for you, you’ll have to wait for holographic technology.

Professor Simon

Why is it so cold?

January 12, 2010

Anyone who has been in Britain in the last few weeks would have experienced the biting cold, ice and snow.  Some parts of Britain experiencing temperatures below that recommended for the refrigeration of food.  In fact it was so cold my toilet froze over.  In the midst of a world where global warming is on the lips of everybody this extend cold period could be confusing. Why is it cold?

First things first, this period of cold weather says nothing about climate change.  I’m sure scientist could be found to argue that this cold snap disproves or proves the world is warming.  The weather in the British Isles is largely affected by the atlantic ocean.  The wind and rain that are strongly associated with Britain are caused by areas of warm low pressure blowing over from the west.  Though we may usually associated wind and rain with the cold during truly cold periods the sky is often clear.  A high pressure system of cold air is sitting over Britain blocking any warm atlantic air.  The strange thing about weather is if this system of high pressure occurs in the summer, we have beautiful clear skies and scorching hot weather.

Weather is notoriously hard to predict, this cold period could abate in a few days or in a matter of weeks.  The behaviour of high pressure systems and when they dissipate are not set in stone, remember a forecast is just an estimation, not a promise

Professor Simon

Welcome to Simple Sciman

January 11, 2010

Science put simply.

Science and technology are forming an increasingly important role in the Human experience, from geopolitical issues like climate change to ethical issues sure as cloning.  Unfortunately the science isn’t always so easy to understand, hopefully Simple Sciman can help.  Each week I hope to dissect the pertinent issues in science and put them in layman terms.  What’s really happening and why is it important?

I look forward to hearing from readers about issues they feel need discussing.

Oh the name, simple simon simple sci-man, geddit

Professor Simon