Seen on TV

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Why rooks roost together…

For a number of years, I lived near a rookery… many hundreds, if not thousands of rooks (crow-like bird) came in every evening to roost in a small patch of woods. (Often, a place rooks have roosted has persisted for hundreds of years.) They came in around dusk, making a clamor that I often found unsettling. Something dark about it.

Why? Why do they gather thus? They don't huddle for warmth, although partners will often roost side by side. (They mate for life.) They have few predadors.

It turns out that they "have a little chat" about who had a "good day" finding food. And the next day, if someone had a good day, that bird's neighbors in the roost will turn up at the food source found by the first bird. And the next day, more birds, and more and more… until the resource becomes overused, and then the cycle repeats, when some "explorer" finds something new.

Apparently the scientific study behind this was based on establishing new food sources, marked somehow, and following what happened next.

(BBC Winterwatch, 22 Jan 15)

Not Cheese!

Now you know! Apparently, mice do not like cheese. For some mice, some cheese, they actually DIS-like cheese! (BBC Winterwatch, 22 Jan 15)

Web of life…

From excellent BBC program "Oceans", "Sea of Cortez" episode…

The Humboldt squid (a scary creature: feeding in the Sea of Cortez may be consuming 10,000 tons of fish per night.

This may be a case of a population explosion arising from the devastation wrought (by man, as usual) on the shark population: Sharks being killed for their fins, for "Shark Fin Soup" market.

- - - -
In same program: The usual feeding depth for Sea of Cortez sea lions: About 70m. One group believed to have changed behavior and started feeding deeper, thus tapping a previously un-tapped resevoir of food.

(For more:

Clone names…

According to QI (BBC TV, presenter, Stephen Fry)….

Dolly the sheep was named for Dolly Parton… apparently the cell from which Dolly was created came from that part of the cloned sheep for which Ms Parton is justifiably famous.

The first cat clone was known as "CC"…. for "Copy Cat".

Going back to Ms Parton, a little tip of the hat to her for her cameo in Miss Incongeniality, and, in other news, do you remember what the Sherrif, played by Burt Reynolds, said to Dolly's character as he left Dolly's establishment of (the oldest…) professional services? "Doing pleasure with you is such a business, Miss Mona". (Best Little W.H. in Texas). Hmmm. Well I was close. Actually, according to IMDB, it is Miss Mona who says to a customer, "You know, it's always a business doing pleasure with you, Charlie!" Oh well. Still funny?

Could this be it?

In "Is the West History?", the presenter states that less than 2% of the British public typically attend church on a Sunday.

He also reports on the rather different church scene in the US, visiting, for instance, an extreme example where 7,000 people gather in what looked to me more like a rock concert…. but the fact remains… churches do better in the US, for good or for ill.

He then went on to make a point that I wish I had noticed a long time ago, supporting so beautifully a point of view I hold: In the UK, and several other European Protestant nations, "the church" has, in effect, been "nationalized". It is, in some senses, "run by the government". In the US, churches operate in a "free enterprise" milieu.

Now, you might say that as a result some US churches are to religion as fast food chains are to dining… but there are aspects to the presenter's point that resonate for me.

Geopolitics according to South Park

The little darlings are in Afhghanistan. Don't ask. They're discussing things with some Afghan kids.

"A third of the world hates us?", asks the ciddie from Colorado, amazed.

"Why does a third of the world hate us?"

"Because you don't realize that a third of the world hates you"….

Driving High

Top Gear does it again! Fantastic 90 minute special… This time they drove 4x4s from the Amazonian rainforest in central Bolivia, west to the Pacific. One thousand miles.

One thousand miles which include an amazing mountain "road" I've seen in other programs…. makes the roads in "Roadrunner" look good and safe. And then up into the really high places. And, oh by the way, finishing across the Atacama Desert. Which, while amazing in itself, isn't the reason for this note.

Reason for note: During the HIGH part of the drive, they started noting the altitude at 15,000 feet. They were eventually driving at 17,200 feet.

High. Yes. Let me give you one way to understand this. The FAA requires pilots to use oxygen when they operate a plane. The rules say that as long as you stay below a certain hight, you can go above 12,500 without oxygen… for 30 minutes. Go above 14,000 at all, and you must have oxygen. Go above 15,000 and the pilot AND passengers must have oxygen…. and the Top Gear team were driving at 17,200….

And much of this through extraordinarily beautiful landscapes.

QI ("Quite Interesting", BBC, host Stephen Fry) Does Geography

Oh, dear… apologies, Gentle Reader. I'm afraid I was watching the broadcast live, rather that from a recording, and can't get the following exactly right for you, but here are some gems… approximately…

What is special about the Spanish National Anthem? Answer: No words. They tried to come up with some words a few years ago, but after the committees were finished, and the New Spanish National Anthem was released, the people rejected it… it was… too nationalistic (???)

The UK doesn't exactly have a national anthem, if you reject Flanders and Swanns "The Engish, the English, the English are best…" (or their proposal of "Jerusalem") There is, of course, "God Save the Queen"… including verse 6, in which we implore a popular (at the time) general to "crush the Scots".

Going back to the Spanish for the moment. While their anthem is purely orchestral, they can take comfort in the fact that the Dutch sing for them…. The Dutch national anthem has a bit in it where the singer swears fealty to the Spanish king…

And while it has nothing to do with national anthems, I thought I'd include one other Geographical Gem from the show: Ambrose Beirce: "War: God's way of teaching Americans (by which he meant US citizens, I believe) geography."

And the Bentley…

I DO enjoy "Top Gear", the BBC's TV programme for "motorheads"… people who like cars. I'm not a motorhead. (To the despair… or delight?… of car salesmen on the infrequent occasions when I am replacing my car.) But, even so, rather like NPR's radio show "Car Talk", the show has appeal for its zany humour.

Recently, they were comparing three high end sedans. The spiced things up by saying that their brief was to decide which would be best of an Albanian Mafioso… a certain BMW, a certain Mercedes or a certain Bentley. Now, they say… (a Top Gear catch-phrase) that Bentley had "signed up" to supply one of their cars for the filming, but then pulled out at the last minute. Top Gear's answer? They went off to Albania with a BMW, a Merc… and a beat up old "banger"… a Fiat? (One that even when new wasn't in the league of the executive-mobiles… and it was no longer new). And then they put the cars through their paces, and commented on the performance of the BMW, of the Merc, and of "the Bentley". At no point did they ever admit that "the Bentley" wasn't a Bentley… but they commented on it according to the characteristics of the old banger. So, for instance, when they were talking about headroom, they showed Jeremy Clarkson, one of the presenters, very tall, sitting in the front of the BMW, and he talked about how comfortable he was there. Then they showed him in the Merc; ditto. Then he folded himself into the old banger, and said, "In the Bentley, as you can see, I am not nearly as comfortable, the headroom in the Bentley isn't nearly as good as it is in the others…."

And they did the same for the paintwork, the ride (on Albania's less- than- perfect roads), the quality of the car's radio, etc.

Moral of story… if you promise a TV programme a car to use in comparison tests, it is probably best to keep that promise….

VW vs Porsche 911…

You do know that the Porsche 911 and the VW have a common heritage? The silly boys at Top Gear (see above) thought it would be nice to do a race between a VW and a 911. Over one straight mile. And it was a very close race, with the VW winning!

How can this be, you ask…

Was the VW souped up? No.

Was the Porsche very, very old? No.

You see, although the two cars in the race were racing towards the same finishing point….

They were travelling towards it differently.

The Porsche was travelling over a hozizontal salt pan in South Africa.

The VW was approaching the same finishing point….

From Above.

Yes: They dropped it from a helicopter from 5,280 ft AGL

Now that's mainly just a bit of fun. But think about this: The Porsche did lose the race… but only by a hair. In other words, it was able to race across the desert almost as fast as the VW was falling. Had the Porsche been on a decent surface, it might even have won. (The ground was just dirt, and the wheels spun a bit.)


Lions, elephants, cameramen… in the dark

Are you feeling lucky?

Remember the extraordinary BBC series "Planet Earth"? (2006). Narrated by the incomparable David Attenborough… what a treasure he is.

Anyway, what I wanted to recall here was from the "Diaries" short at the end of the Great Plains" episode.

Imagine that you are a wildlife photographer. And you get an invitation to contribute to the Planet Earth series. Hurrah! Or is it? "Be careful what you wish for."

The assignment is to go to Africa for more than three weeks. Great. And film an unusual pride of lions… a pride of 30 plus. Wow!

(An aside: One day, which is the lions' "snooze time", the pride found a nice place: Cool (watered grass), a swimming pool for drinks, shade trees. Perfect! Not so perfect for the guests of the eco-tourism lodge in the back-country who had to stay in their chalets all day!)

Anyway, it turns out that these lions are on the filming schedule because they have adapted to an unusual prey species…. elephants. The pride hangs out at an isolated waterhole during the dry season. The drought forces elephants to visit… and then the lions wait for a mid-sized elephant to get separated from its group, and they bring it down, eat it. Not pretty. The assignment seeming less wonderful.

Part of the reason the lions can do this is that elephants are near blind after dark. Of course, the lions have some nioght vision. The filming is being done in the dark via infra-red lighting and cameras, to avoid disturbing the behavior. Ummm… wait a minute…. elephants aren't the only blind ones after dark. Night vision goggles tend to give you tunnel vision… and there aren't enough for everyone, anyway.

So now you've signed up to go blundering around in the African bush, in the dark. Where lions are hunting elephants. You do get vehicles, of course. Stay in the vehicle, and the lion "should" not "see" you as prey. How do you fix a broken axle without getting out? Oh well, others in the crew will keep a lookout while you work on the axle. Have you ever tried to find lions in the bush? It can be pretty hit and miss. You can see five of the pride! Where are the other 25 at the moment?

So anyway, you get the axle fixed, and you go back to trying to be in the right place, at the right time. "The right place" being on the edge of a group of elephants, unhappy elephants, who know there are lions about, but aren't quite sure where. They sometimes panic and start running about. Blindly, remember.

You are in a Land Cruiser, on a little platform over the cab. The platform comes up about to the mid shoulder of a lion-lunch-sized elephant. The lions bring the elephants down by "piling on" until the poor thing collapses. Some even manage to scramble as far as up onto the elephant's back. Which is above your little (open) platform.

At least you are certain to be concentrating, and unlikely to fall off your platform.

Are you feeling lucky? Are you sure that the lions won't get confused and decide to go for that little morsel of meat on top of the Land Cruiser?……

But that's okay. The elephants have paniced again, and are rushing about blind in the dark. From the sounds of things, they are going to miss you. Sure would e nice if you could see where they are, what direction they are running. At least you're not woorying about any of the thirty plus lions anymore… for the moment….

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