First Cuckoo in 1913

I was thinking about the seasons and how we look out for our first Yellow-billed Kite every year around Spring. We also love hearing the first Piet-My-Vrou and other cuckoo calls.

Richard Lydekker (1849 – 1915) was an English naturalist, geologist and writer of numerous books on natural history. In fact, about thirty books in thirty years, some of them multi-volume tomes – up to six volumes!

Lydekker attracted amused public attention with a pair of letters to The Times in 1913. He wrote on 6 February that he had heard a cuckoo, contrary to Yarrell’s History of British Birds which doubted the bird arrived before April. Six days later on 12 February, he wrote again, confessing that “the note was uttered by a bricklayer’s labourer”.

We have all been caught out by a tape recording, a cellphone audio clip – and a mimic like our Natal Robin, so we feel for poor Lydekker over a century later!

After the mirth subsided, letters about the first cuckoo became a tradition every Spring in The Times.

Poephol

Everyone knows how to be cautious at an ATM. Do not allow yourself to be distracted. I’m wide awake, so when the guy ahead of me said “Eish, they’ve changed their system, but I managed to get my cash,” I smiled and moved on. When he offered to help me I shoo’d him off. Pest. He looked like a bit of a smiling simpleton. I felt sorry for him, but I firmly told him I can do this, I don’t need your help. Next minute my card was stuck in the machine and he was gone. One minute later my phone beeped: R3000 withdrawal – my max amount.

How the HELL did he do that!? He was gone.

So I was wrong: He was no simpleton. But then again, maybe I was actually right: There WAS one simpleton in that ATM booth this Sunday.

——-ooo000ooo——-

poephol

Umzimkulu Ambition

Rippleby the Kirb was desperate. He had a boat with two holes in it and only one body to fill one of the holes. He needed another body and he was at the stage when any body would do.

It was the South African K2 Champs and this time Rip was not going for a top spot, he just wanted to be there on the lovely Umzimkulu River with its fascinating and unusual features: Clean water and running water. We’d had a few seasons with neither in our other rivers.

He obviously didn’t ask me, as I was a bit handicapped. Firstly, I had a firm ‘one man, one boat’ policy; secondly, I had never paddled a double, so although that made me an unknown factor, it was not widely thought that I’d be an asset in the engine room. Thirdly, when once I tried to join his group he called has-beens he put me firmly in my place with ‘Swanie, you can’t be a has-been if you never was.’

Eventually he did ask me – I told you he was desperate – and I accepted on condition I did not have to take a paddle along. I would sit in the back and provide company and good cheer. And some heckling. No, he insisted, I had to take a paddle – even though he knew it would be mainly for ornamentation.

We compromised: I took a paddle and a carry-pack of beer.

We decided to come last, so when the gun went off, nothing happened. This was my usual start but for Rip a novelty. Only when shouted at from the bank to ‘Get A Move On!’ did we mosey off downstream.

It soon became apparent that our plan was in danger. We passed a lot of people. People swimming, people looking for their paddles, people trying to lift up their boats filled with water and wrapped around rocks.

But we were prepared. We stopped below the first big rapid and had a beer each and helped people in need. Then we moseyed off again once everyone had left the scene. But once again we started passing hordes of boats. Flotillas! It was a problem. We stopped twice more for the same reason and refreshment.

Eventually there was nothing we could do, the finish line arrived and we crossed it burping pleasant beer breath. We kept an eye on the line over a couple more beers at the finish and about ten boats finished after us.

Mission unaccomplished. But a lot of fun was had.

——-ooo000ooo——-

K2 – double kayak, or two-man kayak (also called double canoe)

Umzimkulu canoe marathon – now called the Drak Challenge

C. elegans’ colleague dies

One of my heroes died! Sydney Brenner, Germiston boykie, Witsie and a real mensch, died. Always a heavy smoker, he only lived one thousand five hundred and ninety five C. elegans life cycles. Or 92 years. He was amazing. Some colleagues called him “the funniest scientist who ever lived.”

So what was he famous for? For his research fellow Caenorhabditis elegans, who is pictured below. And also for RNA. Syd was short, but this colleague was only 1mm long – and transparent. Syd could see right through him . .

Syd Brenner realized he needed a simpler animal to study than the fruit fly, a standard organism used in laboratories. He settled on Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans, a tiny, transparent roundworm that dwells in the soil, eats bacteria and completes its life cycle in three weeks. That worm has spun off many developments, starting with the decoding of the human genome.

The worm is, of course, an invertebrate, but Syd said as it was a hermaphrodite worm with occasional males he would call it a PERVERT-ebrate. Using the worm, Dr. Brenner and his colleagues first worked out methods for breaking a genome into fragments, multiplying each fragment in a colony of bacteria, and then decoding each cloned fragment with DNA sequencing machines. His colleagues John Sulston and Robert Waterston completed the worm’s genome in 1998, and they and others used the same methods to decode the human genome in 2003.

Another major project, made possible because of the worm’s transparency, was to track the lineage of all 959 cells in the adult worm’s body, starting from the single egg cell. This feat, accomplished so far for no other animal, made clear that many cells are programmatically killed during development, leading to the discovery by H. Robert Horvitz of the phenomenon of programmed cell death. The topic assumed an importance that transcended worm biology when it emerged that programmed cell death is supposed to occur in damaged human cells, and when that process is thwarted, we call it cancer! The humble worm’s DNA has turned out to be surprisingly similar to our own, helping us understand how our cells grow uncontrollably to cause cancer and why they sometimes die in excess.

For their work on programmed cell death, Dr. Brenner, Dr. Sulston (who died last year) and Dr. Horvitz were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. So the worm was good for him and colleagues would teasingly call him “the father of the worm.” In his Nobel lecture, Syd remarked, “Without doubt, the fourth winner of the Nobel Prize this year is Caenorhabditis elegans; it deserves all of the honor but, of course, it will not be able to share the monetary award.”

Long before he got the Nobel Prize, Dr. Brenner had been the first to conclude that there must be some means for copying the information in DNA and conveying it to the cellular organelles that manufacture proteins. That intermediary, now known as messenger RNA, was discovered in 1960 in an experiment devised by Dr. Brenner and others. Many people, including Dr. Brenner himself, believed he should have been awarded a Nobel Prize for his and Dr. Crick’s work on the genetic code. About his Nobel Prize he said, “In fact, to me this is my second Nobel prize. I just failed to get the first one.”

For years he wrote a tongue-in-cheek column called Loose Ends and later False Starts in which he’d offer advice and comment on matters scientific. To busy scientists seeking a polite way to turn down time-consuming invitations to meetings, he suggested the following reply: “Dear X, I regret I am unable to accept your invitation as I find I cannot attend your meeting. Yours sincerely.”

He held positions at Cambridge and at the Salk Institute in San Diego, where he was appointed, as he termed it, “extinguished professor.”

Insights into the nature of the cell would alternate with his playful scientific inventions, like Occam’s broom — “to sweep under the carpet what you must to leave your hypotheses consistent” — or Avocado’s number, “the number of atoms in a guacamole.” **

For a short time he had been director of the Cambridge Laboratory of Molecular Biology, but he did not much enjoy working as an administrator: “You become a mediator between two impossible groups,” he said, “the monsters above and the idiots below.”

In his last column he decided he’d need another job, writing When one stops doing a job, one should immediately go and look for another one, if only to provide an excuse for not doing all the mundane things one has promised to attend to after retirement, so he wrote a personal service ad: Elderly, white, male, column writer, seven years experience, self-employed scientist, explorer, adventurer, inventor and entrepreneur seeks young, naive, preferably female editor of newly formed scientific journal with a view to obtaining un-refereed access to as wide an audience as possible. Has good title for a column: ‘The Well-deserved Rest.’ Please write, quoting circulation and impact factor.

As well as a good writer he was a great talker, it was hard for any listener not to fall under his spell. He spoke slowly and precisely in a lingering South African accent, his sentences long and perfectly constructed and often ending with a joke.

He tells of abandoning religion when very young on his way to Hebrew school when he had to walk through a rough part of town in Germiston. He got beaten up by a gang. “As I stood there, I said Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Ehad, but nothing came. I got beaten up, nobody helped me and I said forget it. That sort of thing stuck in my mind. To me it was just a lot of nonsense, basically.

——————————————–

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(00)00853-8

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Brenner#cite_note-66

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/apr/05/sydney-brenner-obituary

**see Occam’s razor and Avogadro’s number for the real things.

Give Rock and Roll Another Name

John Lennon said: “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”

Chuck died two years ago today. So I repost this post from my ApacheAdventures blog in tribute and an admission of ignorance. Hey! I was only eighteen and I hailed from the Vrystaat:

——-ooo000ooo——-

Jim Stanton was aghast! He had just invited me along to a rock concert in Oklahoma City and I had immediately accepted. Now he was exclaiming: Don’t say that! Don’t say you don’t know who Chuck Berry is!

My motto in Apache was I only say yes to all invitations to travel. Only YES! Or Yes Please! I only have one short year; Gotta go everywhere! Gotta dodge school!

Jim’s follow-up questions had forced me to admit my ignorance. But I was willing to learn, I had a ball in the City, and I have been a Chuck Berry fan ever since!

What I didn’t tell Jim is I had even less heard of Bo Diddley! He featured with Chuck and they rocked up a storm. “My ding-a-ling” was really big just then! OK, that didn’t sound right, but anyway . . knowwaddimean . . .

He played all his hits, including “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybelline,” “Nadine,” “No Particular Place to Go,” “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Surfin’ U.S.A,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” . . .

That was 1973. Recently I saw a 2014 pic of Jim on the internets. That’s him in the red T at an Apache Rattlesnake Roundup. Hi Jim! Never forgotten! Thought of you again when Chuck died aged 90 this year – 2017.

jim-stainton

Some Chuck Berry: – “People don’t want to see seventeen pieces in neckties. They wanna see some jeans, some gettin’ down and some wigglin’.”

– “I love poetry. I love rhyming. Do you know, there are poets who don’t rhyme? Shakespeare did not rhyme most of the time and that’s why I don’t like him.”

– “It amazes me when I hear people say ‘I want to go out and find out who I am’. I always knew who I was. I was going to be famous if it killed me.”

– “I would sing the blues if I had the blues.”

——-oo000ooo——-

Bo

In 1963, Bo Diddley starred in a UK concert tour with the Everly Brothers and Little Richard. The supporting act was a little up-and-coming outfit called The Rolling Stones.

——-ooo000ooo——-

Ohio Honeymoon

Honeymoon OhioOn our honeymoon in 1988 we visited good friend Larry Wingert. He’d been a Rotary exchange student to Harrismith in South Africa back in 1969-1970.

We flew out of Lawton Oklahoma to Dallas/Fort Worth, on to Little Rock Arkansas, to Cincinatti and on to our destination: Akron, Ohio. on Friday 8 April. Larry’s friend Dave “Zee” picked us up at the airport, took us to his condominium and fed us. Later, Larry fetched us in his Subaru and took us to his beautiful old home on North Portage Path.

I love the canoeing connection with his home: North Portage Path is an 8000 year old path along which native Americans portaged their canoes from the Cuyahoga river out of lake Erie, across a mere eight miles to the Tuscarawas River from where it flows into the Muskingum river, then into the Ohio and on to the Mississippi. Thus they could paddle from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Of Mexico with only an eight mile portage, something any Dusi paddler would do without a second thought! The amazing thing: You can still paddle from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico today, unbroken except for one short section – and along that you could pop in to Larry’s place for tea! America’s waterways are astonishing.

Larry indulged us lavishly. On our arrival in the States some weeks before, we received a letter saying “Please accept these portraits of old American Presidents and USE this plastic card!” Various big denomination dollar bills and a credit card for gas (or petrol)! How’s that!?

He then indulged Aitch’s joy in shopping, especially deli shopping at the best places, followed by a big cook-up at home and music with the two of them on the piano, shoving me aside and asking me to please stop singing! (Note: Gotta find the pics of them at the piano).

Then he took us to parks and nature resorts for me to indulge in my birding passion. When he wasn’t able to join us he handed over the keys to his Subaru. Above and beyond . .

One morning we visited Cuyahoga River State Park quarry area. Afterwards we went shopping at another rather special deli – its obvious Larry is GOOD at this! For supper Larry cooked us some great steaks on his portable barbeque outside his kitchen door. We ate like kings.

A visit to Kendall Lake; Later to Cleveland’s Old Arcade Centre and a look at Lake Erie. Supper at a French restaurant on Larry; He had already spoiled us generously, now this.

Suitably fortified, we moved back home to liquers and piano and song! To bed 2am, rise 5.30am; off to Boston 13 April 1988. Cape Cod is next . .

I Used To Know The Answer . .

It was quite clear to me the answer was NO.

Now I’m less sure . .

——-ooo000ooo——-

Yet again I was caught by an April Fools joke on my birthday, Tommy the perpetrator this time; so I was pleased to see one of my heroes also fell for one back in 1832:

Charles Darwin wrote this in his Beagle diary:

April 1st

All hands employed in making April fools. — at midnight almost nearly all the watch below was called up in their shirts; carpenters for a leak: quarter masters that a mast was sprung. — midshipmen to reef top-sails; All turned in to their hammocks again, some growling some laughing. — The hook was much too easily baited for me not to be caught: Sullivan cried out, “Darwin, did you ever see a Grampus: Bear a hand then”. I accordingly rushed out in a transport of Enthusiasm, & was received by a roar of laughter from the whole watch. —

——-ooo000ooo——-

grampus“ is an old name given to several sea creatures, as well as other animals. Grampus may refer to: Grampus (genus) of the Risso’s dolphin; or a common name for the orca.