Allow Me to Entertain AND Educate You

Part of Our Hey! Look at That! Science and Technology Series

Good and Fun Stuff to Know

 There is an old lament that there is nothing good on TV. I still have friends that are proud that they do not have a TV (although many sort of cheat by streaming). There was a time that was true, but it really is no longer accurate. This is something of a golden age of TV. The challenge now is keeping track of all the good stuff out there from so many good outlets.

The same is true for print/electronic media. Amidst all the nonsense out there is a plethora of good journalism, particularly in the sciences. Today I would like to share with you an offering from each of these domains. Two items that I have thoroughly enjoyed, and I hope you will, too.

The Food That Made America

 The History Channel has developed a really fascinating and informative documentary series, played out mostly as docudramas about the development of food in America. Food as an industry,  as an important player in science, as cultural icons. There have been 14 episodes so far, with more on the way in a few weeks. I cannot tell you how much we have enjoyed them and learned from them.

The range is broad, from candy to soup to fast foods, to frozen foods, and much, much more. We learn more than we ever imagined about KFC, McDonalds, Byrd’s Frozen Foods, Good Humor Ice Cream, Pizza Hut, White Castle, TV Dinners, Post cereals, coke and pepsi, and many more names we all grew up with ourselves.

Three Lessons Run through Every Episode
  • Things happened because someone had a vision and they were determined to see it come into fruition, often against unimaginable odds. Many gambled everything they had.
  • Every one of them failed, repeatedly, along the way. But they would not give up. The failures were seen as lessons learned, not defeats.
  • This series reminds us of one of the real assets of capitalism – competition. In almost every case, 2 or 3 people had the same general ideas and were racing to actualization. It was competition that drove innovation and ever higher standard.

To enjoy this series, you will need access to the History Channel through your cable or streaming service. This is excellent TV. Just know that you are likely to be hungry after each episode. Here is an information and teaser link from the History Channel.

And just in case you think food is only a national footnote, check out these statistics: 1/5 of the US economy is based in foods. 1 in 4 jobs is food connected. Food generates $5 billion in economic activity in the US every single day. Not small potatoes, this food business.

Animal Navigation

Most of us have marveled over how carrier pigeons navigate, how long-lost pets find their way home, how birds migrate. We had no idea how amazing these are, but science is opening our eyes.

I recently read an article in the New Yorker that updates us on the science and what we are learning. Not a long read, but really fascinating. I will post a link for you momentarily. But first, let’s look at two elements that really caught me. One is the science, the other is the capabilities of creatures.

As for the science, what we can do now is stunning. One illustration: we can attach a GPS to a butterfly and track its movements. Think of that. How small would such a GPS have to be to attach to a butterfly and not affect its ability to fly? By the way, those trackers can be read from the International Space Station.

We can sequence and decode the DNA of the smallest creatures. We can track and photograph almost anything, using cameras, satellites, and drones.

Regarding the Animals

I am in awe of their capabilities and the variety of tools they use. Various critters, we now know, can mark and remember landmarks. Some can count off paces for use in a return trip. Some use magnetic fields or infrared light readings.

They do all this while running, flying, swimming, or swinging tree to tree. They do it by day and by night, often in what would seem impossible weather. Some sense bad weather and circumnavigate it. Many make journeys of thousands of miles for the first time, with unerring accuracy. Some seem to have the information needed in genetic codes, others have it passed on from within their species, from elders.

Some do all this flying at altitudes no one thought a living creature could fly. A migrating salmon can smell a drop of water for his home destination in 500 gallons of sea water (I’m telling you; spawning is a powerfulmotivator!). Some travel in vast packs or flocks, others all alone – yet they mostly make it.

Crows can find food they stored over a hundred square miles in hundreds of locations. Spiders can figure out a maze to reach prey, even if it means going in the opposite direction of the prey. Some insects weave balloons to ride great distances in the wind.

All this with almost nothing we would recognize as brains. And surely it is more than muscle memory. We can track and measure like never before, but as yet we are mostly clueless on the how of most of this. What fun it will be figuring all this out.

Have a Good Time

This is a fine, fun read, less than 6 pages in length. It comes with lots of good books and sources referenced for those who want more. To use one of my technical terms, you will be gob smacked.

                Bill Clontz

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2 replies to Allow Me to Entertain AND Educate You

  1. Bill, I loved the New Yorker article about animal navigation. Thanks for sharing!

    • Interestingly, there is a story circulating over the last couple of days about how sharks use the earth’s magnetic fields to navigate, and bats measure the speed of light and sound to maneuver. Fascinating stuff!

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