Category Archives: Science

Folie a Plusieurs

One benefit of working as a mental health professional  in the middle of nowhere is the opportunity to see people with all sorts  of different diagnoses that one wouldn’t necessarily see in urban areas due to the increased specialization there. When you are the only game in town (or a 100 mile radius) you get to see it all.  Very few of my urban colleagues have seen Huntington’s Chorea first hand, tested people with Lewy Body Dementia  or Korsakoff’s psychosis, and also treated  children with PANDAS (Look it up. It isn’t as nice as it sounds).

The recent uptick in conspiracy theories and QAnon reminded me of a case I was privy to decades ago involving a shared delusion.  Folie a Deux is a condition in which one person with a Delusional Disorder convinces someone else without a Delusional Disorder that their delusions are real. It usually occurs in couples or close relatives.   It is rare.  It barely made the last edition of the American Psychiatric Association  Diagnostic and Statistical  Manual.  The case I remember is that of  one person in a couple having  the delusion that a member of a famous  Country Western singing group loved them,  and transmitted secret messages to them over the television.  The delusional person convinced their partner this was true, and both had to be hospitalized.

I wonder if APA is reevaluating the rarity of shared delusions in our current political climate.  It may be more prevalent than we previously thought.  I love the French terms for these conditions.  Folie a Plusieurs is the term for “madness of several”,  which we certainly have observed recently.  The treatment usually involves separating the truly delusional from the ones they have convinced about their delusions.  Then they can see what is really happening.

What are your favorite non-English terms?  Make up some fun and helpful  conspiracy theories.  

Polar Bear Glue

I was quite amused to read in the Fargo Forum the other day an  article about the problem tracking male polar bears in the Arctic.  Scientists who track animals typically track them with collars. Female polar bears have  have large heads and small  necks. Their collars stay on.   Male polar bears have small heads and large necks.  The smaller heads on the male polar bears means that their tracking collars slip off, rendering the tracking collar useless.   Leave it to 3M, and the lead researcher from White Bear Lake (how appropriate), to solve the problem.

3M developed Polar Bear Glue to stick tracking devices on the male bears’ fur that would track the bears until they shed their fur in the Spring.  The tracking devices could then be retrieved from their radio signals, and the bear travels documented. The test bears would be Churchill, Manitoba polar bears.  I have a soft spot in my heart about anything from Manitoba. Taking the Polar Bear Express from Winnipeg to Churchill is on my bucket list.

What are some inventions you would like to see for what P. G. Wodehouse referred to as “our dumb chums” to make their lives easier?  What are some of your favorite recent news items?

Choir During Covid

We had church choir rehearsal yesterday for the first time since March.  Our county is a Covid hot spot, and the idea of rehearsal made me somewhat nervous. Choir rehearsals have been superspreader events across the country.

I really had little to worry about, as  there were only six singers, plus the director and the  accompanist. We sat in the pews instead of the choir loft, two singers to a pew, socially distanced, with two pews in between each twosome.  The church bought these plastic dealies that go under our masks and prevents the masks from being sucked back against the lips when you inhale. We all wore masks. We were all glad to sing. We expect more to join us in the coming weeks, but I think we can distance and sing and perform. We really have to listen carefully since we can’t sit right next to each other, and the tenors  aren’t right behind us and the sopranos aren’t right in front of us. It is  a musicianship challenge.

I have always considered myself a risk take, but this was a little scary until we got started and I saw how things would go.

What kind of a risk taker are you?  Has Covid changed your risk tolerance?

 

The Importance of Pals

I was tickled to see the New York Times article last week about the benefits of baboon friendships.  Researchers have studied the friendship patterns of baboons in Kenya since 1971.  They noticed early on that female baboons with lots of gal pals lived longer than those with fewer friends. Male baboons have been harder to follow and study, but the evidence is now in that male baboons’ life spans are longer the more  platonic female friendships they have.  Female baboons groom both  their male and female buddies, thus decreasing parasites and strengthening bonds that reduce conflict.  The same lifespan and  platonic friendship associations  are noted in many social species from horses to dolphins to humans.  Let’s give thanks for our friends!

Who have been your best male and female friends?

Licorice Alert

Wouldn’t you know it!  Husband has Type II diabetes, and watches his carb intake very carefully. We rarely, if ever, have chips and such in the house. His blood sugar levels are quite stable and in the normal range. He loves to snack on figs, so I order organic Turkish figs for him from a place in New York that sells all sorts of dried fruit, candy, dried beans, baking ingredients, etc.

Husband doesn’t eat much candy at all, but has a love for black Finnish licorice.  I really like it, too, and we go through a one pound  bag of it pretty fast. The New York connection sells wonderful Finnish licorice, and the last time he ran out of figs, I decided to order three pounds of figs and, to save money, I bought a five pound bag of black Finnish licorice.

A few days after the licorice  arrived, a news story emerged about the dangers of eating more than two ounces of black licorice a day.  Some guy on the East Coast collapsed and died from heart complications from eating a pound of black licorice a day for months. Licorice root in any form apparently has a compound called glycyrrhizin that lowers potassium levels which can lead to heart arrhythmias. Even licorice tea can increase blood pressure. The guy who died apparently had a really poor diet, and was eating in a fast food restaurant  when he collapsed. His potassium level was really low, and caused his heart to fail. Husband’s potasium levels were a little higher than normal at his recent checkup, probably due to figs, which are high in potassium. His blood pressure is in the average to low range.

All this hasn’t stopped our licorice eating, but it sure makes us hesitant to eat too much at once.  The five pound bag on the counter might last pretty long time.

How do you respond to expert dietary  advice?  What favorite snack would be hard for you to give up?

New Toys

Husband’s new smoker/grill arrived on Tuesday. You can see it in the header photo.  It is quite the machine, something my dad would have called a “delicate piece of equipment” given all the complexity involved in using it. It is iron, true. It took two trips to the hardware store just to unpack it. We needed a tin snips to cut the thick, wire strapping that secured its protective wrappings. Then we found it was firmly attached to a heavy wooden pallet by screws that had odd heads needing  a bit with a square head for the electric screwdriver.  I am thankful I managed to remove the screws without stripping them.  What would we have done then?!

Husband has waited years for this grill with the same anticipation as a child waiting for a long hoped-for special toy at Christmas. His first smoked sausage and country style pork ribs turned just as he wanted.  We are truly blessed with good cooking equipment.

What is the most complex piece of equipment you ever had to operate? What is your favorite cooking vessel or utensil. 

 

The House of Orange

Husband informed me this week that the reason carrots are orange is a result of selective plant breeding in the 17th century as a tribute by Dutch gardeners to William of Orange.  Prior to this they were purple, white, and yellow.  This was a real surprise to me, as I assumed such activity  was a phenomenon of the 20th century.  What a wonderful thing to know!

What new things have you learned lately?  What would you change the color of, if you could? Got any good carrot recipes? 

RIP Grant Imahara

I saw the sad news that Grant Imahara has passed away, from a brain aneurysm at the age of 49.  Although he worked for 9 years behind the scenes and Lucasfilms and Industrial Light & Magic as well as winning the third season of Battlebots, he is probably best known as one of the co-hosts of Mythbusters from 2005 to 2014.

I started watching Mythbusters right about the time that Grant started and I was hooked from the beginning.  This was about the time in my life when I was really starting to embrace my interest in science or as my baby sister says “my nerd stuff”.  As I know I’ve talked about here before, I spent decades of my life trying to mask my intelligence.  Even though I was the “smart one” in the family and did well in school, I never highlighted any accomplishments and purposely didn’t gravitate to things that were too nerdy.

But by the time Grant came into my life I had begun to realize that being interested in science, being a big reader, watching shows like Mythbusters was nothing to be ashamed about.  I loved the show and I was always amazed at Grant’s ability to whip up a robot whenever it was needed, from a baseball pitching machine to a robot that could fling a metal rimmed hat at a statue (a la James Bond).

So I will always be grateful to Grant for helping me along a path that has made me happier – I (and the rest of the world) will miss him.

Anything around your house you would like a have a robot do?

Gadzooks – It’s Our Anniversay

Trail Baboon has reached a milestone – TEN YEARS!  In honor of our anniversary, I am re-running a piece from our first week (with Dale’s approval!)   I was going to change the question, but it’s turned out to be eerily prescient in our current situation.

SIX MEN IN A TUB
An intriguing human experiment has begun in the western part of Moscow at the Institute for Medical and Biological Problems.

Six men just started a 520 day “mission” to Mars.  They are enclosed in “a series of windowless steel capsules” for the duration, with enough food and activities and chores to keep them busy.  There’s also ample time for relaxation.  The “voyagers” will have to exercise two hours a day but will only be able to shower once a week.

Uh oh.

There are many obstacles to overcome in a real journey to Mars.  There would have to be a shield to protect the humans from solar radiation.   And psychologists predict that one the greatest emotional hazards is the likelihood that the crew would begin to grow tired of each other’s company.   But at least in a genuine Martian trip there would be a sense of excitement and anticipation of arriving on the planet – something that’s missing in this effort.

Perhaps the greatest hurdle in this make believe exercise is to get six grownups to pretend for almost a year and a half that they can’t just walk out for a smoke or a bit of vodka.   After all, it takes skilled actors years of training to get you to suspend reality for two hours on a stage.  How long can fact-based scientists and researchers last?

Because a similar effort ten years ago ended badly (sexual harassment allegations, fistfights), the mission commander is quoted in an AP article as saying “Each crew member has the right to end the experiment and walk out.  We have had such negative experience in the past, and I hope it won’t happen during this experiment.”

Double uh oh.

Which guy will make a bid to scuttle the mission after 500 days because he can’t stand “Commander Flatulence” or would just like to get out and feel the sunshine? The longer you’re in, the greater the pressure to stay in.  And the longer you’re in, the greater the leverage for anyone who threatens to leave.

This sounds like a twisted reality show disguised as a scientific experiment.  All it needs a name and a theme song, like that ditty that introduced “The Brady Bunch”.

Here’s the story of a group of fellas
Who were simulating flying into space.
They were scientists and they all liked each other
Which is not commonplace.

They’re pretending to go to a planet.
If you’re Martian it’s the place that you belong.
In the movies when the Martians meet the Earthlings,
they never get along.

Till this mission where these fellas met this planet.
Well not really but they tried to make believe.
They had almost made it there when it started.
That’s when everyone declared “I’m going to leave.”

I’m going to leave.  I’m going to leave.
I can’t stand you, and you, and you I’m going to leave.
I’m going to leave.  I’m going to leave.
This is Moscow we’re on Earth I’m going to leave!

What would you need to survive 520 days enclosed in a series of windowless steel capsules with five other people, all pretending that you can’t go outside?

 

To Baader-Meinhof or Not to Baader-Meinhof? That is the Question.

Photo Credit:  Hulki Okan Tabak

A few weeks ago a friend came over for some socially distant muffins and tea.  We had a wonderful time chatting in the backyard about all kinds of things.  At one point she recommended a series called “Walking Through History”.  The host walks around Britain and archaeologists and historians pop out of the surrounding country add information as he walks.  Sounded like my cup of tea so I searched it out.

I didn’t actually binge watch it but over the next couple of weeks, I had seen them all.  The host, Tony Robinson, seemed vaguely familiar, so I googled him.  Turns out he is SIR Tony Robinson, an English actor and host and he seemed familiar because he played Baldrick in the “Black Adder” show a gazillion years ago.  I read through his entire Wikipedia page and found that he has had a fascinating career of acting, presenting and writing and has made charity part of his life’s work.

I’m waiting for a DVD of Black Adder from the library (to re-watch) and have checked out Bad Kids: Naughtiest Children in History .  It was very funny – a kids’ book about various ways in which kids are raised (and punished) in various cultures throughout history.  There are quite a few children’s books about history in his bibliography.

Another thing that caught my eye in his biography was a television show that ran for 20 seasons on BBC called “Time Team”.  A group of archaeologists and historians (and Tony Robison as presenter) go someplace in Britain (often invited by a town or home owner) to look into the history of some ruin – they give themselves 3-5 days and then present their findings.  It took me a bit to find it, but eventually I did – on demand cable – all 20 seasons.  It’s fascinating.  I’ve watched 2 seasons so far.

So imagine my surprise when this morning, while reading In the Woods, a murder mystery that takes place in an archaeological site by Tana French (which has been on my shelf for a few years and I’m just getting to), I found this:

“How’s the dig going?” Cassie asked sociably.
One corner of Mark’s mouth twisted sourly.  “How do you think?  We’ve got four weeks to do a year’s work.  We’ve been using bulldozers.”
“And that’s not a good thing?” I said.
He glared at me.  “Do we look like the f***ing Time Team?”

French then adds a couple of sentences explaining Time Team for those readers who don’t happen to be binge watching it this week.

I’m sure a mathematician can probably explain the odds of this occurrence, but I’m thinking there just has to be magic involved.  And maybe dragons.

For what kind of show would you like to be a presenter?