Stress

I think I mentioned our friends who are travelling the world this year… [checks]…

Yes. Yes, I did.

I’ve been following their progress though South America, a bit of North America, Australasia and then on to Malaysia, Thailand and towards Vietnam. Their images and videos have been amazing, and their blogs have – entirely reasonably – been… hmm… can we say “infrequent”? 😉 but always interesting.

I particularly enjoyed St.John’s latest observations as he reflected on stress and the difference that traveling for 6 months has made to his view of it. (Spoiler: (or maybe not) it might not be quite what you expect):

I have come to the conclusion that what I have come to call “positive-stress” that drives the get-up and go urge, is innate. The brain will look for things to worry about and create must-do’s regardless of how inane or trivial. It needs to prioritise and feel important. It will try and fit a certain amount of stress into your life regardless of what one is doing.

Not many people have the opportunity of being able to conduct this sort of experimentation, so I was intrigued by his hypothesis. Now, I’m driven to  try to find a “beautiful remote resort, only accessible by boat, two tropical reefs 100m offshore, turtles nesting, friendly staff and cold beers” in order and reproduce his experimental conditions.

Facetiousness briefly aside though, it’s an intriguing idea that in a stress-free environment, we are compelled to create our own… discomfort(?) in order to actually get things done. Surely this is an entirely personal thing? There must be people out there with the ability to exist wholly stress-free in a stress-free environment?

But what of the rest of us? What of St.John? If his innate “positive stress” fails to kick in – what then? Can that even happen? And if it does, does the lack of “positive stress” and its benefits lead to a build up of “real”, negative stress?

The short-term stress of travel is real. I know that. But once you are there, once you are six months into a year-long round trip, surely that diminishes?

So many questions. And I don’t have the answers yet, I’m afraid. Too few beaches, too few turtles, (but a reasonable number of cold beers if I’m honest).

Hit the blogroll – sidebar right – for more on their year-long sabbatical.

Accelerated evolution

This was always going to be a hectic week, but a major cock-up by a Dutch airline(I won’t mention any names) (Keeping Luggage in aMsterdam) (cough) means that I have a less stressful morning today, but has instead moved that stress to the next couple of days.

It does give me chance to share this article which I saw through Brian Micklethwait’s blog, though.

Author Matt Ridley details several (or more) examples of apparent accelerated evolution in fauna living in urban environments. Ridley uses this as the basis of a potential argument for the removal of restrictions on building in the green belts surrounding our cities.

Suburbs are already richer in wildlife than most arable fields in the so-called green belt, making environmental objections to housing development perverse.

I’m not about to join his side in that discussion, especially given the lack of any citations in his article (although to be fair, it was a column for The Times originally, not a scientific paper). Simply because there are new subspecies emerging in our towns and cities surely doesn’t mean that we should willfully eradicate their country cousins.

Or unwillfully for that matter, I suppose.

The city is a harsh environment, with many evolutionary pressures, and they are what are driving this accelerated natural selection.

Blackbirds first showed up in London in the 1920s, later than in continental cities. Studies in France and the Netherlands found that urban blackbirds were rapidly diverging from rural ones. They tend to have shorter beaks and wings, longer intestines and legs, as well as higher-pitched songs. They may soon count as a separate species, just as town pigeons are very different from their rock-dove cousins.

Some of them are related to streetlights and traffic noise, but a worryingly large number appear to be associated with the toxins found in our habitats. And while it’s remarkable, impressive, incredible that bird and fish are adapting so quickly and readily to these potential problems, we should note that the wider picture is wholly unpretty.

We’re not evolving anywhere nearly as quickly as our urban wildlife.

Still, these provisos and warnings aside, it’s both fascinating and amazing to me how we’re shaping the lives of the wildlife around us, and the plan is definitely to do a bit of further reading on this.

For the science.

Last week

This is the last week of school before the holidays kick in, and so it’s also the last week of work before… er… the holidays kick in. While the kids are on a general wind-down after a busy term, the pressure is increasing at work to get things finished and out of the way before we leg it off to France and beyond.

As a consequence of this, I might be a bit scare on the interwebs and a bit brief on here. I mean, I’ll fit in what I can, but there is so much to do here that it’s actually rather scary.

So, in lieu of a proper post, here’s a video from Casey… no… wait… hear me out, please… Here’s a video from Casey Neistat about an amazing person, and with an important lesson from a brilliant song.

This story and this message deserves more than just a few lines on the blog, and I reserve the right to return to it when time allows. But in the meantime, please take the time to listen to Wayne Coyne’s words on this song which I am amazed I haven’t included on the blog before.

Do it.

See you tomorrow.

Hello Svalbard

I recently watched a couple of videos from Svalbard. Things didn’t go according to plan for photographer Thomas Heaton because of the warmer than expected conditions there:

See?

It’s been documented by the Washington Post as well.

The international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, Kim Holmen, who lives in Longyearbyen, says of climate change here, “This town is certainly the place where it’s happening first and fastest and even the most.”

Holmen notes that Svalbard used to be where students came to observe Arctic conditions. Now it is the place they come to study a climate in transition.

That’s it, Kim. Always look for the positives.

Of course, observing Arctic conditions studying a climate in transition isn’t the only thing to do in Svalbard, as I found out by googling Things to do in Svalbard.

Pyramiden looks like the place to be, not just offering mining and (possibly still?) glacier, but also polar bear and bear.

Ursines. One never can get enough.

And can we just take a moment to acknowledge the names of settlements in Svalbard? Svalbard is great.

The Longyear Town“, “Ice Fjord“, “The Pyramid” and er… “New Ålesund” (less impressive, let’s be fair) in that foursome above alone.

Many beagle-eyed readers will likely see this post as a thinly veiled attempt to get some readers in from the wonderful island of SVALBARD – one of the few places on earth from which 6000 miles… hasn’t been accessed. Maybe it is.

If you’re reading this, Kim Holmen, please give us a shout.

Cheers.

Memeworthy Kitty Cat

Brian has been taking photos of French teenage cats. Specifically, this one:

This is Oscar. Bonjour, Oscar.

Says Brian:

Oscar has reached the stage in life where he is still a kitten in his behaviour, but not any longer in his appearance.  Sort of a cat teenager.
Oscar has a very short attention span, and is currently programmed to check out everything he sees, like some obsessively exploratory robot.

And I think that this particularly brilliant image of Oscar needs memeing.

There’s even a sensible and convenient amount of space left above and below for the caption(s). That’s really thoughtful, clever photography, right there. Genius.

I’m going to be using this to depict my fairly regular moments of horror as I make various realisations about South Africa and discoveries about life in general.

Watch this space.