Sunday, 1 May 2011

Weakness, Colour, and Every Hour - Really?

You wouldn't believe the number of times I start writing this blog and then change my mind and write something completely different.

So I'm not going to bother telling you.

But it's lots.

Today's offering is one such example of one idea being rejected in preference to others. I was going to tell you rather boringly about how I have done absolutely bugger all this weekend so far, but have much more interesting things to bring to your attention. In fact I have questions - questions that my curious mind has created, and that I need answers to. The inspiration for these questions have come from the TV Programme "QI", which I highly recommend. I hasten to add that I have not simply stolen the questions I am about to ask from QI, but have formed these questions based on answers given in the show. So don't give me a hard time.

Achilles, as you all know, was a Greek hero of the Trojan War. He was also virtually impossible to kill. No matter where on his body he was wounded, he would survive - with the exception of the heel. And of course, someone went and stabbed him in the heel with a spear one day (It was Britney actually - yeah, it was Britney's spear), and that was it.
However, was it just the one heel that was his weak spot, or was it both? I always thought it was just one, but I could be wrong. Mind you, looking at the statue of Achilles in the picture, he might also have had a dodgy right elbow and forearm, an iffy left forearm and hand, and pretty weak waist and lower limbs. But my question is, did Achilles heel itch? Before he discovered it was his one weak spot (in the second before death), was Achilles plagued by an incessant itching, burning sensation? Being his only weak spot, it must have given him some problems?  - or as his life ebbed away, did he look at the speak sticking out of the back of his ankle and think to himself "well, I never would have thought of that!"

Which brings me nicely on to food colourings. These little beauties in the picture to the left are Cochineal - tiny insects which are crushed and used with to make food colourings. They actually extract the dye from the female insects. It takes 40,000 of these little things to make 1 pound of food colouring. They were first used way back in the 15th Century by Central American cultures. Nowadays we use artificial food colourings, because it's easier and more efficient - but back then, they didn't know that. So my question is - did they try getting other colourings from different insects - or even different animals. Was there a six to eight week period where a bunch of Mexicans discovered that crushed spider gives a wonderful blue colouring, and that 20,000 fiddler beetles made a very nice green food colouring? Did they then go on to discover that crushing 14 goats got you a wonderful yellow, and that if you take 20 pigs, crushed together with 7 chickens and a handful of spiders, you end up with the most amazing Indigo colour that turns boring old Maize cakes into mystical Indigo cakes! They must have experimented like that, surely? I would have!!

And it is Beetles that I want to finish up on tonight - not literally. If I go to bed and find myself spooning with some sort of cockroach (pun intended), I'll be violently ill - for sure.
Anyway, scientists reckon that a new species of beetle is discovered every hour roughly. That's 24 new species of beetle in a day, 168 new species in a week, and loads in a month etc. But how can that be? I can't believe that one brand new species of beetle is discovered every hour, purely because of the number of beetles that have already been discovered. The Natural History Museum has over 12 Million Beetles in its collection.
Think about it - you are wandering through the Amazon rain forest looking for Beetles. You find one, but can't be sure if it is a new species or not. So, you photograph it, and check against the current Beetle database. Now, even assuming that you could check the entire Beetle database in an hour, the odds of finding a brand new species are slim at best because as more new species are discovered the chances of finding another new species automatically gets less and less. You would just spend hours, days, weeks even walking around picking up Beetles and going "is that a new one?"

So, I don't think that they do find a new species of Beetle every hour - I think they make it up to compensate for the fact that they are boring scientists, and can't meet girls.

Well, look at that: three burning questions that I have got off my chest. If any of you want to submit an answer to one, some, or all of these  - please do.

Right, I've got "Love Actually" on the telly, and a bottle of wine too finish. All I need is Cameron Diaz (or a suitable alternative) to share it with.

So....just the one glass then.

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