by syaffolee

Tangled Bank #107: The CYOA Edition

You’re trapped on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, bored out of your mind. The swimming pool holds no appeal. Gambling is pointless because the advantage is on the house. The books you brought with you have long been finished. You’ve even resorted to registering for a cha-cha class to relieve your ennui. But that’s no fun, because the instructor is always yelling at you for having two left feet.

Then on a Wednesday morning, the ship docks on a small island. Travelers are allowed to go on land for the day. You debark and after wandering past the marketplace filled with locals hawking loud jewelry and ceremonial masks (probably manufactured in Taiwan), you find yourself in a small clearing with several paths meandering off into the undergrowth. There’s a sign nearby saying:

“Welcome to the one hundred and seventh edition of Tangled Bank.”

At the foot of the sign is a machete.

What do you want to do?
1) Take the south path.
2) Take the west path.
3) Take the north path.
4) Take the machete and carve your own path.
5) Go back to the ship. You had wanted to see Easter Island instead.

* * *
1) Take the south path.

The path winds along the coast of the island. Overhead, the sky turns dark. You see a cave nearby and reach the shelter just as lightning flickers and the rain pours from the sky.

So it’s raining. Big deal. But have you ever wondered how big are raindrops? Julie Kelsey from Mama Joules tries to tackle this question with some data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the USDA, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

In Women and Superstitions – Part Three, Kylie Sturgess on PodBlack continues her investigation on how anomalistic psychology and gender intersect with some analysis on studies involving sports superstitions and conspiracy theories.

Ames at Submitted to a Candid World discusses one of the weirder creationist ideas out there–Biblical scientific foreknowledge, i.e. claiming that the Bible got science right before science did.

And careful where you step (or where you drink). The guinea worm, described at Evolved and Rational, might sound like something from a B-grade horror movie, but it’s a parasite that can cause quite a bit of misery for its human host.

After several hours, the rain stops and the sun comes out. Where do you want to go now?
Back to the clearing.
Back to the ship.

* * *
2) Take the west path.

After a few hundred yards, the dirt path turns into gravel and then cobblestone. It terminates into a grand colonial house that looks as if it had seen better times. The door is open and inside, you discover a myriad of interesting rooms:

Many popular science writers go for the hot subjects which will excite the crowd. But what about the other stuff? Chris Hallquist from The Uncredible Hallq argues why the retina is sexy, too.

Clear the Mud posits that there is only a tiny difference between life and death. It’s wafer-thin–all depending on the coding of your DNA.

Designing communication devices for outer space isn’t such a trivial task as Charles Pergiel from Pergelator reports. After all, one also has to consider the amount of radiation out there.

Ouroboros‘ Chris Patil points out an article by the linguist Steven Pinker which parses out the idea of “human dignity”. During the course of his argument, Pinker discusses life extension technologies.

Monado at Science Notes shows an example of cultural Darwinian evolution where a select few use their social position as an advantage to survive during the hard times.

After a thorough investigation, where do you want to go?
Back to the clearing.
Back to the ship.

* * *
3) Take the north path.

The path steepens and soon dead-ends on top of a hill. But that doesn’t stop you from making your own way down to the other side where you find a number of interesting things:

Prokaryotes. Jonathan Hughes at Ramblings tells us to never trust anything with a nuclear envelope. Cause not only are they incredibly hardy in extreme environments, they don’t need us eukaryotes, even when we need them. Speaking of prokaryotes…

E. coli. P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula explains historical contingency in evolution using this bacterium as an example. It’s not because beneficial mutations just suddenly arise out of nowhere–instead, how organisms evolve is dependent on background genetics.

Telomeres. One of the many examples of noncoding DNA that is not junk. Sandwalk‘s Larry Moran describes these sequences at the end of the eukaryotic chromosomes that help protect against degradation and loss of information when the chromosomes are copied as part of a series on junk DNA and the organization of mammalian genomes.

Angiotensin-(1-7). Possible anti-cancer drug? Scicurious reports on this vasodilating peptide hormone which has the ability to inhibit the growth of lung cancer cells.

Passenger pigeons. Wait a minute, aren’t those extinct? Pinguinus over at Great Auk – or Greatest Auk? did a bit of reading about these birds and proposes that if billions of them were still alive today, they would have a significant ecological impact.

Where do you want to go next?
Back to the clearing.
Back to the ship.

* * *
4) Take the machete and carve your own path.

The blade feels light in your hand as you swing it toward some dense leaves. As you make your way through an uncharted part of the island, some things catch your eye…

Like plants. As Bora Zivkovic writes in A Blog Around The Clock, the whole field of chronobiology was started with plants when a French astronomer noticed the daily opening and closing of leaves of a heliotrope plant.

And 10,000 Birds. Well, at least one bird anyway. Mike Bergin shows us Winnie the Whimbrel, a champion flier that set a new record by covering 3,200 miles in under a week.

There’s incredible biodiversity in the world. Nick Sly explains on Biological Ramblings, there were at least 130 new vertebrate species described in the first five months of 2008 alone.

Observing animals out in the wild is nothing like that of captivity. So why have zoos? In Zoo-ology, James Cambias at Science Made Cool explores the reasons and problems behind these animal jails.

Larry Ferlazzo has found an interesting web application called Wild Sanctuary which includes audio of wildlife in specific places.

After hours of hacking away at the undergrowth, your arm is a bit tired. Where do you want to go next?
Back to the clearing.
Back to the ship.

* * *
5) Go back to the ship. You had wanted to see Easter Island instead.

As you board the cruise ship again, you bump into Bubba, the cha-cha instructor. He gives you a repressive glare. “You didn’t want to explore the island?”

You answer in the negative.

“We’re not even coming a hundred miles of Easter Island,” Bubba says incredulously. “You really are missing out on this island’s unique charms. And you have a whole day to explore! I know you don’t want to learn how to dance. So go, out!”

He pushes you back to the island.

* * *
6) Head back to the ship.

As the ship departs, you saunter back to your cabin and glance at the itinerary that had before looked so dull. You notice something that you didn’t remember reading previously. Ah, you’ll be arriving at the next Tangled Bank on June 25, located at the next port-of-call, Wheatdogg. There’s a guided tour included! You can even submit suggestions for places to visit to the event planner at pzmyers@gmail.com.

Then you start wondering, does e-mail even work on a cruise ship?

THE END

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