Day two, part one

A couple of very busy days coming up in the laboratory, so here’s something I prepared earlier.

It’s only… another lot of photos from our Eastern Cape trip.
[audience gasps]

We’re now about halfway through the photos and we’ve already seen lions, elephants, rhinos and a sunset. Who can even begin to guess what other delights await us if I manage to sort through another 250 images this evening?

Meanwhile, feast your eyes on these puppies*.


* not actual puppies.

Pack your trunk – we’re off to Mars

Vital space exploration news greeted me this morning in the shape of this headline from The Times:

Right. Obviously, besides the single benefit stated above, there are also drawbacks with sending elephants into space. For starters, their somewhat larger mass means that you’re going to need a lot more thrust to get you up to escape velocity and out of the Earth’s gravitational pull. They’re also pretty big in terms of volume, meaning that you’re going to need to increase the size of your spaceship to house them. They eat more, they drink more, they poo more, but perhaps our major concern here should be that we’re clearly ignoring the most important factor to consider in this whole plan: they are elephants.

Yes, elephants are ever so intelligent, but they are still elephants. We’ve all seen how clever and caring they can be on those nature documentaries, but elephants are let down by their inability to communicate in basic human language, let alone carrying out computer programming and complex scientific experimentation. In fact, aside from their alleged cancer-resisting traits (and perhaps their reputation for having really good memories), there’s not an awful lot that supports this frankly very dodgy idea to send elephants to colonise Mars.

And then, what if we were to actually follow through on this and colonise Mars with these pachyderms? It sets a worrying precedent for the future colonisation of other planets with somewhat implausible animals. So what next? Sending ornamental ducks to Jupiter? Hammerhead sharks to Saturn? An anteater to Venus? Presumably we’d have to send some ants as well for that last one. See how complicated it becomes?

No, this is a silly idea and we should stop right now. The elephants won’t mind – they’re very thick-skinned – and it might just save us from the inevitable onset of any immature Richard Gere “gerbils in Uranus” jokes.

Fuel consumption

The Saturn V rockets were the workhorses of the US Space Program [sic] in the late 60s and early 70s. And the subject of a great Inspiral Carpets song in the mid 90s. They were huge things – 111 metres in height (that’s the equivalent of a 36 storey building) and with a mass of 2.8 million kilograms (that’s the equivalent of about 470 elephants).

With great size and great escape velocity comes great fuel requirement as well:

The Saturn V rocket’s first stage carries 203,400 gallons (770,000 liters) of kerosene fuel and 318,000 gallons (1.2 million liters) of liquid oxygen needed for combustion.
At liftoff, the stage’s five F-1 rocket engines ignite and produce 7.5 million pounds of thrust.

But what does that actually mean? Sometimes, figures are difficult to interpret without context. That’s why I used the 36 storey building and the 470 elephants above.

In fact, it worked so well, I think I’m going to use the elephants again:

Yes. That’s a quick mock up of Saturn V fuel consumption expressed in elephants. And it’s a lot of elephants.

I trust everything is clear now.

The mystery of the other 48.7%

Ah, the pisspoor Daily Mail. We’ve been here before, haven’t we, folks? Ad nauseum.
But this time – it’s a classic.

In a nothing piece entitled: “Generation who refuse to grow up: No mortgage. No marriage. No children. No career plan.” by nothing columnist Marianne Power, there’s this stat:

Three million 20-to-34-year-olds now live with their parents. A third are men and 18 per cent are women.

Here it is in full screenshot glory:

Fullscreen capture 20130712 113802 AM

Which leaves me – and I would imagine any of you who have more than half a brain – wondering what on earth makes up the other 48.7% of 20-to-34-year-olds who now live with their parents?

Because I’ve been doing some rudimentary calculations and it’s a significant number – 1,461,000 individuals, to be exact.

But what are these individuals? Cats? Dogs? I don’t think so, because 20-34 years old is awfully old for a cat or a dog to get to. And even if we were talking cat or dog years, these are their parents we’re talking about. So, maybe some sort of larger mammal, which generally have a longer lifespan? Horses, perhaps?

Well no, because horses only really last to about 30 years on average. So we’re going to have to go bigger again.
Elephants, then. They last for ages.

Yes, as far as I can work out, the Daily Mail is reporting that there are 1,461,000 elephants between the ages of 20 and 34 years old, living with their parents in the UK.

This amazes me for two reasons. Firstly, that having lived in the UK until 2004, I never saw any of these elephants living with their parents (save maybe for the ones at London Zoo). I recognise that the article suggests that there has been a significant increase in this number, which is one reason (albeit a bit of a minor one) why it is of interest. But even so, they say that even in 1997, 2.5 million individuals (including 1,217,500 elephants) living with their parents.

That’s a lot of elephants to be hiding.

And then, secondly, what of their parents? Given that the elephant is a normal sexually reproducing mammal, it takes a total of two elephants to make a small elephant, which they then tend and nurture through until it’s 20-to-34-years-old. That’s three elephants in a house, and, with the assistance of some dodgy maths, a total of 4,383,000 elephants that I have comprehensively not noticed living in the UK.

The WWF say that there are 470,000 – 690,000 African elephants in the world, and list their status as “vulnerable”. Not any more, guys. Happy days for the elephant population as I reckon I have the Daily Mail has just found another 800% of elephant numbers, living clandestinely behind closed doors in the UK.

It’s no wonder you didn’t count them. They’re hiding.

Unless of course you’re going to go out on a limb and suggest that the Daily Mail have got this one wrong.