Saturday, December 31, 2016

True-to-yourself resolutions

Some Happy New Year inspiration for those tired of broken resolutions...

Keeping New Year's resolutions to move forward with our goals is a great way to feel a sense of accomplishment, so why is it so hard to keep them?  Why even make resolutions if we aren't going to keep them?

The disappointment of not keeping a promise to yourself that James Corden mentions in the video is serious, so we can all take a cue from Shakespeare:  "To thine own self be true."

No one else cares if you resolve to "eat better", "exercise more", "read more books", or "stop watching stupid fail videos".

Making resolutions that you are going to keep helps you be true to yourself and that counts for a lot. Here are two of mine for 2017:
  1. I resolve to keep exercising my brain and body every day and make each effort count.  
  2. I further resolve to eat ice cream only once per day!
Go for it!  Here are some well-researched tips from one of my previous resolution-keeping assessments.

Good luck and, in honor of Carrie Fisher, may the Force be with you!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Can I still eat this? Some basics on saving or tossing food

Canada Food Board, through Wikipedia
Our earliest ancestors—who roamed forests and grasslands to hunt and gather foods, carrying whole antelope or heavy baskets of fruits picked from trees or tubers dug from the ground back to their shelter—had to ask the question.

Early agriculturalists—who stored grains they painstakingly harvested and kept safe from wild animals to last them through the winter—had to ask the question.

Today, even those of us back from a trip to a modern supermarket with food in a refrigerator, have to ask the question.

Can I still eat this?

Answer:  It depends.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

10 facts about fast-feeding, fast-flying hummingbirds

Just some of the great variety of hummingbirds,
shown together in color plate illustration
from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur (1899)
Along with other migratory birds, the hummingbirds have also flown south from North America to warmer winter homes in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Instead of good-bye, let's say hello to this group of tiny but gorgeous group of avian acrobats.

While they are found only in the Americas, there are more than 300 species of them; only 12 migrate to North America each year.

They migrate north for the plentiful food, in the form of insects and flower nectar, that pops up in northern climates every spring.

Here are 10 fun facts about hummingbirds, some of which you may already know! (thanks HummingbirdsPlus)

#1: Their long bills: One of the main purposes of a hummingbird’s bill is to help them probe deep into the flowers for specialized feeding. The shapes of various hummingbird bills have evolved over time.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hearing voices: elephants can distinguish friends and foes

With experience, elephants learn that some humans are dangerous, while others are harmless.

Cool Elephant Fact 1:  When faced with a leopard call, elephants will not bother moving or changing their activity. When faced with a lion call, they freeze in place, perk up their ears to listen, and move off silently to avoid trouble.

Cool Elephant Fact 2:  They do the same with different groups of people.

One key to survival and biological fitness is knowing your enemies -- fleeing costs energy, so animals that know when to run and when to keep feeding will get to feed more than those that are perpetually nervous or interrupted while feeding.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Starting the day right means a good breakfast -- or not?

Yep. Fido makes a great point.

Nutritionists favoring a daily breakfast say that skipping that first meal increases hunger throughout the day, making people overeat and seek out snacks to compensate for missing that first – and some would say most important – meal of the day. Is this a myth?

And does skipping breakfast lead to weight gain?  Not really.  Or maybe, it depends on the study and the confounding factors. Men that skipped breakfast also tend to drink and smoke more, which can be controlled for, but likely do other things differently from breakfast eaters, things still undetected by researchers.

Nutrition studies are often based on observations or self-reporting, so the science behind nutritional recommendations can be insufficient, biased, or based on false information. Transparency in interpreting results would help, though more gray area tends to confuse a public already uncertain of how and what to eat!

What, in fact, is a breakfast for champions?

All this talk of dogs and eating reminds me of the ultimate dog tease — enjoy:

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A snaccident waiting to happen

What is snacking?

Is it eating small portions of healthy foods or drinks between main meals to keep your energy level up?

Or just grazing on what's handy because your stomach is rumbling?

Or pigging out at night while you are working, writing your blog post, or uploading photos to your favorite social media site?

Debate continues on the health benefits vs threats from snacking:

It could stabilize your blood sugar or curb your appetite so that you eat less during the next meal. (but apparently, this doesn't happen that often)

Or it could lead to weight gain, depending on your portion and the energy density (calories) of the foods. Research on the topics suggests:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Head, shoulders, trunks and toes: how to tell elephant species apart

Up ahead, you see a massive grey animal. It has very little hair, small eyes and a long trunk for a nose. An elephant, of course. But do you know the difference between African and Asian elephants?

Here are the basics:

They are two different species!
Image credit: Thomson Safaris, Pinterest

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Octopuses take on aqua-jogging

octopus jetting across the ocean floor
An octopus jets across the ocean floor. Fwooosh!
Photo: Albert Kok, Wikimedia
Any injured runners who have tried to "run" in the water know it's hard -- the resistance to movement in water is far greater than in air -- so why would an octopus run?

Especially when they typically move through the water by jet propulsion.

Octopuses (octopi?), like other cephalopods, have both a mouth, which sits in the center of their arms, and a tube-shaped organ called a funnel, or siphon, near their heads, that they use to breathe by bringing oxygenated water to their gills.

They also use the siphon to create their own personal jet propulsion, by filling up their muscular mantle cavity (their body, basically) with water and then quickly expelling the water out of the siphon. Fwoooosh.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunglasses don't just look cool, they protect your eyes and lids

Skin is sensitive to the sun's ultra-violet radiation. Ask Ellie!
Photo: George Powell
Summer's already here unofficially in North America. Time for us all to hit the beach remember to wear sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses.

Sunlight helps us maintain sufficient vitamin D in our systems, historically warding off tuberculosis and ricketts and possibly lowering the risk of some cancers (lung, colon, and breast cancers).

However, exposing our skin to too much ultraviolet (UV) light contributes to a host of health problems, sunburn being just the most immediate and obvious.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How far can you carry your seed?

A North American migrant, the American robin,
is known for catching the worm, but over half its diet is fruit!
photo: Kristof-vt, Wikimedia commons
As we speak, millions of birds from hundreds of species are migrating north from the tropics to their summer breeding areas in Europe, northern Asia, and North America, where new leaves, fruits, seeds, and insects are super-plentiful now but disappear in the winter (when the birds fly south again).

The migration itself is miraculous, given the small size of many of these animals. Not just that they travel so far and so fast, but that some carry seeds between stops along the way, helping plants disperse over larger distances than people realized.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Run for Clarity

Today was a gorgeous day for a run, low humidity, bright green spring leaves, and birds chirping all over. It was a great workout, and I may have grown some new neurons in the process. (One can always hope).

See? Spring!  OK, Christmas. In the City. Not at all what I saw in the park.
Still hoping I gained some neurons, though.

Monday, March 28, 2016

OK, a funny.

Image: The Awkward Yeti
Tyrannosaurus rex was a huge meat-eating dinosaur, with thick, heavy skull and a 4-foot-long (1.2-meter-long) jaw, designed to crush bones.

Scientists think T. rex could eat up to 500 pounds (230 kg) of meat in one bite.

T. rex was not just huge and immensely powerful: s/he could outrun all but the fastest of today's marathoners. Results of several studies suggest that this ferocious predator could run 10 to 25 mph (17 to 40 km/h) in order to catch its dinner.

Catch being the key word here -- its tiny arms were unlikely to seize another animal, and they were too short to reach its mouth.

So T. rex had to catch prey — mainly herbivorous dinosaurs, but could include smaller tyrannosaurs — in its monster jaws. And apparently, it wasn't above scavenging when a carcass was available.

Coincidence?  The largest and most complete T. rex skeleton found to date was nicknamed Sue (after its discoverer, paleontologist Sue Hendrickson).

Sue and her fellow predators had arms about as long as a large human's but had 12 m (40 ft) high, 5,400 kg (11,900 lb) bodies, so the funnies are not exaggerating.

So what did this monster do with its really short forearms?

Scientists think T. rex could use the small but super strong arms to hold a struggling prey animal while killing the animal with what are thought to be the most powerful jaws of any terrestrial animal ever.

The arms might also have helped this giant killer get up from lying down after a nap.

They just weren't good for clapping.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Seed predators break into and eat nutritious foods that others can't

It's not even spring yet, technically, in the northern hemisphere, yet flowers are already starting to blossom. To be followed by fruits. We spoke about leaf-eating (folivory) awhile back, and now for St. Patrick's Day, we'll resume our discussion of eating (green, unripe) seeds.

In an earlier post, we learned how seeds and nuts have particularly high nutritional content, and that they provide us with numerous health benefits, despite their high fat content. Plus they are yummy.

Did someone say Yummy?  Nuts and seeds have a "high fat content"?
Does this mean that sweetened waffles with flavored whipped cream can substitute?
Answer: No. Photo: BridgettBlough

Monday, March 7, 2016

Can music really help our workouts?

Greg Sample and Jennita Russo of Deyo Dances.
Credit: Barry Goyette-Wikimedia Commons

As New Year's resolutions start to fade, are you trying to motivate your tired self to get to the gym, track, or aerobics studio but not looking forward to it?

Wondering if some upbeat (or bad-ass) music will make that dreaded workout pass by more quickly?

Might listening to your favorite tunes help you overcome your frustration at feeling out of shape enough to go to the gym?

Curious whether tunes at a faster tempo could actually make you run faster?

If you answered Yes to any of these, you'd be right!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Dancin' and prancin' and lookin' for love

Valentine's Day is the perfect occasion to enjoy the crazy displays of devotion in the natural world. Birds of Paradise are among the most amazing, and we've covered them and their cousins, the bowerbirds, here before.

Male bowerbirds build bowers (imagine), structures typically made of twigs and other plant material, shaped into towers or tunnels and decorated with colorful bits and bobs from the forest to try to attract a mate.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Where have your birds gone?

A gorgeous male prothonotary warbler
Photo: Dominic Sherony, Wikimedia Commons
Unless your eyes have really become one with your mobile phone, you'll notice that a lot of northern hemisphere birds are now missing.  It's cold, and they can't find food (seeds, vegetation, and insects are all scarce in winter!), so many migrate thousands of kilometers south.

Despite the very tough journey, they return in spring to take advantage of the seasonal bounty in seeds, vegetation, and insects.

But where they all go and what routes they take have eluded us - Cornell's Lab of Ornithology has pulled millions of locations of 118 species of migratory birds to create this amazing animated map of migration routes in the western hemisphere. Many of the data points were taken by "citizen scientists" -- regular people interested in birds who record what they see and hear to online databases, such as eBird.

In their published findings, the scientists concluded that "a combination of geographic features and broad-scale atmospheric conditions influence the choice of routes used during spring and fall migration."

If you plan your trip right, you might even see the same birds (or butterflies) in two different countries as they make their way north or south.  Keep your eyes and ears open!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A New Year of health — mental as well as physical!

So it's a New Year and we all are already attempting that annual Get-Back-In-Shape ritual after a wee bit of overeating and over-lying around relaxing and talking with friends and family.

In fact, Losing Weight topped the New Year's resolutions list in the United States for another year, according to StatisticBrain, several places, in fact, ahead of Staying Fit And Healthy.

Some other numbers you might enjoy:
Inspiration for (yet another year's) self-improvement. Image: The MetaPicture 

45:   Percentage of Americans who usually make New Year's resolutions

38:   Percentage of Americans who never make New Year's resolutions

  8:   Percentage of Americans who succeed in achieving their resolution

64:   Percentage of resolutions maintained more than 1 month

46:   Percentage of resolutions maintained more than 6 months

10:   How many times more likely do people who explicitly make resolutions attain their goals          vs people who don't explicitly make resolutions