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Tuesday, 28 February 2006
yin yang

yin and yang

Apparently I also stole someone’s ideas with the photo above. Perhaps I should wait to see if Dan Brown cops it before admitting anything.

I recently started playing with technorati, hence the blogs that link here on the menu column on the left. Besides for the fact that very few people link to this site, technorati doesn’t actually work that well. So I am now playing on with a new toy coComment. It doesn’t attempt to do what technorati is attempting, but it may eventually succeed at what it does attempt. I am not sure technorati will.

Posted by bigblue on 28/02/2006 at 11:46 PM
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Monday, 27 February 2006


I had another go at the droplets on the roof of my car the other morning, and this photo is the result. The light is not as interesting, but the drops give better coverage.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the last Karl Pilkington podcast, I am looking forward to the next instalment. I see that his pimp, Ricky Gervais, wants to charge for it this time so I will probably miss it. Or else I just won’t pay. Whatever.  One of Karl’s stories (or was it Ricky’s) concerned the parasite/host relationship. Well, via Boring Boring (what the hell I’m in an insult one, insult all mood tonight), comes a link to The Wisdom of Parasites on Corante, with the gruesomly glorious story of the wasp named Ampulex compressa.

As an adult, Ampulex compressa seems like your normal wasp, buzzing about and mating. But things get weird when it’s time for a female to lay an egg. She finds a cockroach to make her egg’s host, and proceeds to deliver two precise stings. The first she delivers to the roach’s mid-section, causing its front legs buckle. The brief paralysis caused by the first sting gives the wasp the luxury of time to deliver a more precise sting to the head.

The wasp slips her stinger through the roach’s exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently uses sensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach’s brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears.

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach’s antennae and leads it—in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex—like a dog on a leash.

The zombie roach crawls where its master leads, which turns out to be the wasp’s burrow. The roach creeps obediently into the burrow and sits there quietly, while the wasp plugs up the burrow with pebbles. Now the wasp turns to the roach once more and lays an egg on its underside. The roach does not resist. The egg hatches, and the larva chews a hole in the side of the roach. In it goes.

The larva grows inside the roach, devouring the organs of its host, for about eight days. It is then ready to weave itself a cocoon—which it makes within the roach as well. After four more weeks, the wasp grows to an adult. It breaks out of its cocoon, and out of the roach as well. Seeing a full-grown wasp crawl out of a roach suddenly makes those Alien movies look pretty derivative.

Carl Zimmer of Corante also advises that the wasp is not technically a parasite but a exoparasitoid. I have a phobia of cockroaches and spiders, but this story appeals to me. Perhaps because the roach gets it.

Posted by bigblue on 27/02/2006 at 11:22 PM
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Friday, 24 February 2006
what I saw ...

Wye Valley

We haven’t done this whole What I saw ... what you saw malarky for a long time, so here goes.  This photo and the previous are taken on the Hay Bluff, on our recent trip to Wales.  This is what I was looking at, the valley of the River Wye.

Posted by bigblue on 24/02/2006 at 11:46 PM
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what you saw


We haven’t done this whole What I saw ... what you saw malarky for a long time, so here goes.  This photo and the next are taken on the Hay Bluff, on our recent trip to Wales.  This is what you saw.

We’ve had the smallest postoffice .... and smallest church ... and now .... ladies and gentlemen .... (drumroll) ... we present ... at the feet of the bigbluemeanie .... in an exclusive photograph by Scarlett .... the smallest road! (cymbals crash)

Posted by bigblue on 24/02/2006 at 11:42 PM
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Thursday, 23 February 2006
No sunshine

Smisby snowfall

I woke up to a light snowfall this morning, pictured above through my bedroom window. It didn’t stick around long. After work it had gone: melted in the rain, but leaving drops of sweat on the roof of my car.

Posted by bigblue on 23/02/2006 at 10:49 PM
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Wednesday, 22 February 2006
Opposite the Post Office

public telephone

Also opposite the Capel-y-Ffin Post Office is the conveniently located public telephone booth, a short walk from the Youth Hostel.  This hostel has been under threat of closure for a number of years. The local MP, Kirsty WIlliams has supported the campaign to save the hostel:

The hostel requires an investment of �100,000 in order to update the facilities and ensure it remains commercially viable, but the Youth Hostel Association is unable to meet these costs alone.

Following a meeting with other interested parties, Ms Williams said: “Capel-y-Ffin youth hostel is an historic building set in the stunning landscape of the Black Mountains. It is vital that it remains open and continues to offer the thousands of tourists who stay each year the chance to enjoy the beautiful Brecon countryside”.

Ms Williams is calling on the Welsh Tourist Board and the National Assembly to provide grant assistance to help the building, which is the oldest youth hostel in Wales, remain open.

Notes: 4,507 people stayed overnight at Capel-y-Ffin in 2004. The �100,000 would be used to create small rooms, increase the shower ratio, and provide better dining facilities at the hostel. Further investment would also enable an outbuilding to be converted into a classroom, which could be used to house the courses the hostel runs. These currently include rug making, dry stone walling and ‘Wine and Walking’ weekends”.

Posted by bigblue on 22/02/2006 at 10:02 PM
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One of those things

I feel some pity for those scientists who invested in a new technology to predict the surname of a person based on their DNA:

The method exploits genetic likenesses between men who share the same surname, and may help prioritise inquiries.

Details of the research from the University of Leicester, UK, appear in the latest edition of Current Biology.

The technique is based on work comparing the Y chromosomes of men with the same surname. The Y chromosome is a package of genetic material found normally only in males.

It is passed down from father to son, just like a surname.

On the day of this announcement, other researchers announce that they have identified social trends which will render this obsolete.

Posted by bigblue on 22/02/2006 at 08:08 PM
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Tuesday, 21 February 2006
In case you miss the obvious clues

Welsh Barn

This is a barn on the side of the road in Capel-y-Ffin, Wales (just opposite the Post Office).  The sign on the door advises that you should not park next to the barn as the wall of the barn is unstable. The notice reminds me of the labels on packets of peanuts that warn consumers that the product “contains nuts”.  Still, everyone believes that an accident won’t happen to them.  Nearby there’s a barn that’s safe as houses to sleep over in.

Posted by bigblue on 21/02/2006 at 11:39 PM
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