Category Archives: Humor

Amusing Monday: Odd research is recognized with Ig Nobel Prizes

Two researchers were awarded a less-then-noble prize for discovering — and reporting — that objects look different if you turn around, bend over and look at them through your legs.

Atsuki Higashiyama demonstrates his research at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies at Harvard University on Thursday. Photo: Michael Dwyer, Associated Press
Atsuki Higashiyama demonstrates his research at the Ig Nobel Prize ceremonies at Harvard University last Thursday. // Photo: Michael Dwyer, Associated Press

It’s all a matter of how one perceives the world — and perception seemed to be the accidental theme during last week’s 26th annual Ig Nobel Prize awards ceremony.

While one study asked research subjects to make observations while mooning the world, a market-research project called for people to ascribe human personalities to a variety of rocks, as an exercise in branding. And then there was the man who went to great lengths to become a goat — or at least replicate the experience of a ruminant four-legged animal with a stinky beard.

Two weeks before some of the best researchers in the world are honored with Nobel Prizes, an organization called Improbable Research tries to bring a smile to people’s faces by handing out prizes meant to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The ceremonies were Thursday at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Two Japanese researchers, Atsuki Higashiyama and Kohei Adachi, received the Ig Nobel Prize in Perception for collecting data about between-legs viewing. In accepting the prize, Higashiyama demonstrated the head-down posture for the audience, then explained, “When the viewer is inverted, the objects appear smaller than in a normal upright position.”

Before he was done with his acceptance speech, three human “alarm clocks” began singing their alarm song and escorted the researcher away for exceeding his allotted one-minute time limit.

Thomas Thwaites takes to the stage in his goat apparatus to receive the Ig Nobel Prize in biology from Nobel laureate Eric Maskin. Photo: Michael Dwyer, Associated Press
Thomas Thwaites takes to the stage in his goat apparatus to receive the Ig Nobel Prize in biology.
Photo: Michael Dwyer, Associated Press

The concept of viewing things in unusual positions has been around for a century. The best explanation is that people are so accustomed to seeing things with their heads upright that the brain cannot provide a realistic picture when the head and eyes are upside down and backwards.

Here is a description of the findings from the actual research report, titled “Perceived size and perceived distance of targets viewed from between the legs: Evidence for proprioceptive theory”:

“In between-leg observation, since the retinal image is formed on a site that differs from the usual site of stimulation and the trunk is in a position that differs from its usual upright position, it is difficult for some observers to maintain the habit of seeing the world stably.”

The two researchers and their Ig Nobel Award were featured in The Japan Times.

The Ig Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Mark Avis, Sarah Forbes, and Shelagh Ferguson for assessing the perceived personalities of rocks. Here is the script the researchers read to their test subjects:

“We would like you to think of each rock as if it were a person. This may sound unusual, but think of the set of human characteristics associated with each rock. If you see a descriptor and you have no sense of how it applies to the rock, look at the rock picture again and think of it as if it were a person.”

The researchers were testing the theory that people perceive objects as having personalities and that these personalities can be categorized in five different ways — the “brand personality five-factor model,” or BPFFM. I should mention that these researchers seemed skeptical at the outset, and they eventually arrived at this conclusion:

“The fact that participants were able to assign distinct personalities to each rock can therefore only be reasonably explained as an artifact of the research methodology… Rocks were found to have a personality simply because participants were asked to perceive one, and the only explanation of this finding is that the BPFFM therefore ‘creates’ personality.” See “The brand personality of rocks: A critical evaluation of a brand personality scale” (subscription).

The goat man, Thomas Thwaites, has received the majority of media attention, most coming before the recent Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. I guess you can call it scientific research, but it appears to be mainly a stunt for his latest book, “Goat Man: How I took a holiday from being human.” Still, his endeavor, which involved prosthetic goat legs and other strange elements, was so impressive that he was awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Biology.

“Human life can just be so difficult,” Thwaites told National Public Radio’s Scott Simon. “And you look at a goat and it’s just, you know, it’s free. It doesn’t have any concerns.”

He discussed his thoughts about eating grass:

“I made this kind of bag that I had strapped to my body, and I could take a mouthful of grass and then chew it up and then spit it into this bag. And this bag … was intended to be my artificial rumen with the goat bacteria in it. But I just really didn’t fancy getting diarrhea for the rest of my life so I ended up having to pressure (cook) what I spat into this bag and made a weird delicious, disgusting grass stew.”

Thwaites shared the prize in biology with another researcher, Charles Foster, who lived in the wild at various times as a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox and a bird.

The full Ig Nobel Prize ceremony can be viewed in this video. Here are the other prizes awarded this year:

Medicine Prize: In another study of perceptions, German researchers discovered that if you have an itch on the left side of your body, you can relieve it by looking into a mirror and scratching the right side of your body (and vice versa). See “Itch Relief by Mirror Scratching: A psychophysical study” by Christoph Helmchen, Carina Palzer, Thomas F. Münte, Silke Anders and Andreas Sprenger

Psychology Prize: An international group of researchers was honored for their study about lying. As described by the Ig Nobel Committee, the researchers asked a thousand liars how often they lie and then tried to decide whether to believe those answers. The research report, “From junior to senior Pinocchio: A cross-sectional lifespan investigation of deception,” found that “lying proficiency improved during childhood, excelled in young adulthood and worsened through adulthood. Likewise, lying frequency increased in childhood, peaked in adolescence, and decreased during adulthood.”

Peace Prize: The Ig Nobel Committee cited only the title of the scholarly study by Canadian researchers: “On the Reception and Detection of Pseudo-Profound Bulls–t.” In the study, human subjects were presented with statements consisting of randomly organized buzzwords that had syntactical structure but no discernible meaning. They found that “some people are more receptive to this type of bulls–t and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims.” Tania Lombrozo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, writes a commentary on the subject for NPR, “What Makes People Susceptible To Pseudo-Profound ‘Baloney’?”

Reproduction Prize: The late Ahmed Shafik was recognized for his research involving rats wearing pants. The professor at Cairo University in Egypt, who died in 2007, crafted little trousers out of polyester, cotton and wool and studied the rats’ sex lives. He found that rats that wore polyester were less likely to be successful in their quest for sexual companions. He suggested that the effect, which could apply to humans, was caused by an electrostatic charge that developed on polyester fabric.

Chemistry Prize: Volkswagen, the German car manufacturer, was acknowledged for solving the problem of excessive automobile pollution. (Did this company really need more attention?) The invention, which was actually deployed on real cars, was innovative software that caused vehicle emissions to automatically produce fewer emissions when cars were put through testing procedures.

Literature Prize: Fredrik Sjöberg of Sweden was honored for his three-volume autobiographical work about the pleasures of collecting flies that are dead, and flies that are not yet dead. NPR interviewed this man with a most impressive collection of hoverflies in an article titled “The Uppermost Aristocracy of the Hoverfly Society.”

Physics Prize: Separate research teams investigated why white-haired horses are more horsefly-proof and why dragonflies are fatally attracted to black tombstones. Both studies demonstrated the effects of polarized and nonpolarized light. Check out “An Unexpected Advantage of Whiteness in Horses: The Most Horsefly-Proof Horse Has a Depolarizing White Coat” along with “Ecological Traps for Dragonflies in a Cemetery…”

Amusing Monday: On location with music for a warming Arctic Ocean

As chunks of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier break off and crash into the sea next to him, Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi plays on, performing a piece he wrote for this moment.

As seen in this video, Einaudi’s piano is situated on a floating platform surrounded by small pieces of floating ice. He came to Norway this past June on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise to make a statement about the need to protect the Arctic Ocean. The composition, “Elegy for the Arctic,” fits the time and place.

“The ice is constantly moving and creating,” he told Sara Peach, a writer for Yale Climate Connections. “Every hour there is a different landscape. Walls of ice fall down into the water and they create big waves.”

Because of global warming, the Arctic is losing its ice, changing this remote ecosystem. Environmentalists are concerned about the increasing exploitation of minerals and fish in this fragile region. Greenpeace is among the groups pushing for international protections.

Supporting the cause, Einaudi performed with his grand piano on an artificial iceberg, 33 feet by 8.5 feet, made of 300 triangles of wood attached together.

“Being here has been a great experience,” he said in a Greenpeace news release issued at the time. “I could see the purity and fragility of this area with my own eyes and interpret a song I wrote to be played upon the best stage in the world. It is important that we understand the importance of the Arctic, stop the process of destruction and protect it.”

“If you haven’t heard the music of Ludovico Einaudi, then it’s probably because you don’t know it’s by Ludovico Einaudi,” writes Tim Jonze, music editor for The Guardian. “For years, his muted piano music has been stealthily soundtracking TV shows and adverts, seeping into our collective consciousness while the mild-mannered Italian behind it stayed out of the limelight.”

He has written songs for numerous soundtracks, including the trailer for “The Black Swan.” He has collaborated with other artists in theater, video and dance. Besides a long list of albums, his credits include multiple television commercials in Europe and the U.S.

In March, Einaudi released a music video, “Fly,” for Earth Hour (second video on this page). In my annual story about Earth Hour, I noted that the event may be losing its appeal in the U.S. but is still going strong in other countries. See Water Ways, March 16.

In the third video on this page, Einaudi discusses his latest project, an album titled “Elements.”

Amusing Monday: Beer ads reveal difference between the sexes

As a product purchased by consumers, beer has a long history of generating funny television commercials. Hahn, an Australian brand of beer, is responsible for some of the funniest commercials ever seen in that country, according to Duncan McLeod in “The Inspiration Room,” a blog that comments on media creativity.

Because I write about water issues, I thought it would be amusing to share three related videos that show how men and women sometimes see water recreation in different ways. I won’t spoil the surprises, since you can watch all three videos on this page.

The first television commercial, from 2003, was directed by Paul Middleditch for Clemenger BBDO in Melbourne. The ad won the award for “Outstanding Funny TV Commercial” at the 2003 Australian Comedy Awards.

The second commercial, released in 2004, also was directed by Paul Middleditch for Clemenger BBDO. It seems to follow a theme of sophistication, like the first video. While the ad appears to be filmed at a Mediterranean resort, it was actually performed in Sydney over a two-day period, according to Duncan McLeod.

The third Hahn video, involving a gondola and a fish, was created two years later and released in November 2005. The same team of creators and filmmakers was involved.

As Duncan McCleod reported the following January:

“Clemenger’s TV Producer De Giorgio says that the commercial was shot on location in Venice in freezing temperatures surrounded by snow, rain and fog. It was quite a production feat to pull it off and make it look hot and summery. A model fish was used for the stunt shot, but a real fish, purchased from the Venice Fish Markets, was used for the close ups.”

Another more controversial video was first released in 2006 and later morphed into a commercial that depicted a stronger backlash against immature men. The original video showed a romantic couple on a beach, where the woman draws a heart in the sand with a stick. The man turns the drawing into a pair of breasts by supplementing the picture with the heel of his foot. As in the other videos, the man notices the woman’s look of exasperation, and blurts out, “What?”

The revised backlash video ends in a significantly different way. It shows the woman eviscerating various phallic symbols as the man looks on.

I’m not sure how many times, if any, either of these videos appeared on broadcast television. They did become the source of an official complaint for their depiction of women as sexual objects. Australia’s Advertising Standards Board found no fault with the ads, however. The board said the ads, if anything, poked fun at men. Read an account in Duncan McLeod’s blog in December 2006.

Amusing Monday: You can’t duck away from these cute stories

For 13 years, a mother duck has been hatching her eggs in a school courtyard, then waddling through the school hallways to get beyond the building and into a nearby pond, as you can see in the first video, featured on Good Morning America.

“It’s so unusual, but everyone gets so invested in this duck, because how cool is it that she comes back each and every year,” local resident Elizabeth Krause told reporter Abby Welsh of the Livingston Daily in Livingston County, Mich., where Village Elementary School is located.

It seems to me that the most remarkable thing about this story is the duck’s choice of a nesting site. Each year, the duck flies into the courtyard and lays her eggs amidst a large group of active school children. It seems the duck has learned that her nest is relatively safe from outside predators, so she returns again and again.

“Everyone knows about the duck because even maintenance (staff) will go, ‘Can we cut the grass in the courtyard yet, or is the duck there?’” said principal William Cain. “I told them, ‘No, you have to wait until the duck is out of there.’”

I thought this duck journey was a one-of-a-kind event until I realized that I had been looking at videos from two different schools. Both videos were shot this past spring. The second school, Glover Elementary in Milton, Mass., involves the students, who quietly form a parade route to watch the ducks go by. Reporter Mina Corpuz tells the story for the Boston Globe.

The second video on this page is a clever three-minute version, accompanied by music, at Glover Elementary School, showing the ducks all along the parade route. The video was produced by Bill Driscoll, nephew of the school nurse. Shorter, more newsy video stories were offered by Inside Edition as well as CNN.com.

I never realized that so many cute duck stories existed until I began reviewing dozens of videos for this Amusing Monday feature. One story that was especially well done was by Steve Harman of CBS Evening News called “Duck pals: A girl and her duck” (third video on this page). There is an unrelated story by Inside Edition about a boy and his duck.

If you enjoy cute duck stories, you can’t miss this incredible story called “The cat and the ducklings” (video below).

Amusing Monday: Art within a soap bubble

It begins with secret formulas for bubble solution, takes off with personal creativity and becomes an entertaining show with smoke, lights and music. They call it bubble art.

The first video shows Melody Yang, who has been performing bubble art since the age of 3 as the youngest member of the performing Yang family. Her father, Fan Yang, studied the science of bubbles and found new ways to blow bubbles to create works of art. He started the troupe called the Gazillion Bubble Show, which performs in New York City. Check out other videos from the show.

For his continually expanding and multiplying bubbles, Fan claims to have broken the Guinness Book of World Records 16 times. I found him as the current record holder of the longest bubble wall, nearly 167 feet long. See Guinness World Records website.

Melody has now followed in the footsteps of her parents, uncle and brother. She has performed on television in Italy, Greece, France and the U.S., including an appearance on the Queen Latifah Show.

Another bubble artist is Su Chung Tai, shown in the second video on this page. I found him listed as the current world record holder for the most bubble domes created inside one another, a total of 12, and the most soap bubbles successfully blown inside a larger soap bubble, a total of 779.

Su started working with bubbles in 2011 and has become a celebrity in Taiwan and other areas in Asia. He calls his show “Be Fantasy: The Joy of Bubble.”

One more bubble artist is Javier Urbina, a Spanish actor, director and theater producer known as “The Lord of the Bubbles.” Since 2014, he has performed more than 250 bubble shows in Spain and Mexico.

Amusing Monday: Purple sea creature becomes an unlikely video star

Purple stubby squid is a real creature from the deep sea. Photo: EV Nautilus/YouTube
Purple stubby squid is a real creature from the deep sea.
Photo: EV Nautilus/YouTube

Wait! Don’t touch that! It’s not a toy. It’s a living thing.

Researchers aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus were scanning the seafloor off the coast of California using an unmanned submarine when they spotted a purple thing that caused them to laugh with amusement.

“It looks so fake,” one researcher said. “It looks like some little kid dropped their toy.” (Watch and listen in the first video player on this page.)

They maneuvered the remotely operated vehicle Hercules closer and continued to laugh at the creature with eyes that looked glued on. Later, as the video went viral, this purple cephalopod — a class that includes squid, octopus and cuttlefish — became known to many people as the “googly eyed squid.” Since Aug. 12, more than 2.5 million viewers have clicked on the video.

This species, Rossia pacifica, is known to Puget Sound divers as the stubby squid or sometimes the bobtail squid, but it is not a true squid. See The Cephalopod Page by James Wood to understand the relationship among family groups.

This particular stubby squid was seen in early August on the seafloor about 2,950 feet deep off the California Coast. They can be found from throughout the North Pacific south to Southern California. They are found at many depths from coastal waters to inland seas.

The second video shows a bobtail squid spotted from the EV Nautilus in August of 2014, and the third shows a flapjack octopus from August of 2015.

Roland Anderson of Seattle Aquarium described early surveys in Puget Sound, where stubby squids were found in muddy sand at 11 sites between Seattle and Tacoma, including Elliott and Commencement bays. Check out “Field Aspects of the Sepiolid Squid.” (PDF 3.3 mb)

In a piece on “The Cephalopod Page,” Anderson writes, “One surprising thing recently learned about stubby squid is that they are found in polluted urban bays with highly polluted bottom sediments, such as the inner harbors of Seattle and Tacoma.

“There may be several reasons they can survive there. Deposition from rivers maybe capping polluted sediments. Their short life spans (just two years from eggs) may not allow them to absorb a significant amount of pollutants from the sediments. Another survival factor may be the stubby squid’s ability to produce copious quantities of mucus, which may protect it from the sediments like a thick Jello jacket.”

Reporter Stefan Sirucek of National Geographic News interviewed Michael Vecchione, a cephalopod expert at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

“It’s not an uncommon species,” he said. “They get all the way from scuba-diving depths down into the deep sea. If that is all one species, then it’s pretty broadly distributed.”

Vecchione said large eyes are fairly common among deep-see animals.

“They are funny-looking eyes, but I’ve seen other species of this genus that had eyes that looked very similar,” he said. “People were actually asking whether those eyes were photo-shopped in to make it look more like a cartoon or something. No, those are the real eyes. That’s what they look like.”

In low light, the big eyes help them hunt for crustaceans and avoid predators. In either case, the strategy is to remain still so other animals don’t notice it there, which can make it look like a child’s toy.

“My guess is it was probably frozen because of this big machine that was brightly lit up in front of it,” Vecchione said in the interview. “So it was trying not to be seen, basically.”

Amusing Monday: Rollin’ on a river, or any water that will float your log

I have trouble balancing on a log that is lying flat on the ground, so standing on a floating log seems like an impossible feat. I guess that’s why I’m impressed with the old-fashioned sport of log rolling, an activity that is catching on across the country.

I have always been amused by log rolling, but I realize that this is very serious activity, comparable to Olympic sports for many people. The first video on this page shows the skill of professionals, while the last one offers a bit of silliness in the world of commercial television.

Log rolling was once a sport of lumberjacks, since walking on floating logs was part of the job for many. But now the activity seems to be attracting all ages of boys and girls, who enjoy the challenge of balancing as well as getting soaked in the process — a nice hot-weather sport. Some folks really are pushing to get log rolling approved for an upcoming summer Olympics.

One of the sport’s many supporters is Pat Foster, director of Camp Corey on Keuka Lake near Rochester, NY. For three years, the summer camp has been offering classes in log rolling using a special training log created by Key Log Rolling, a family-owned business in Golden Valley, Minn. In the second video on this page, Jennifer Johnson, a reporter for WUHF-TV in Rochester interviews Foster then goes for a spin on the log herself.

As for the future of log rolling, ESPN sport writer Jim Caple raises the question, “Could log rolling become an Olympic Sport?”

“Tug of War was in the Olympics until 1920,” Caple writes. “There are movements to get squash, ballroom dance and chess in the Olympics, as well as log-rolling. Yes, log-rolling. While I would much rather see baseball back in the Olympics, I definitely would choose log-rolling over ballroom dance or chess.”

For information about the sport, Caple calls on Abby Hoeschler, a champion log-roller and instructor who plays a leading role in the family business.

“It’s such an intense sport; it’s a sparring sport,” Hoeschler said. “You’re on this log in the water with an opponent, and you can’t touch them. There’s a center line you can’t cross. It’s sort of like boxing with your feet.

“You’re doing maneuvers to dislodge your opponent. As a female, there aren’t many opportunities where you can compete in sports that are intense like that. You step on the log, and if you make one wrong move, you’ve lost.”

Jeff Ozimek, outdoor program manager for Bainbridge Island Metro Park and Recreation District, got involved in log rolling while he attended college at the University of Montana in Missoula.

The competition, loosely associated with the College of Forestry, involved all the lumberjack sports — from pole-climbing to crosscut sawing to axe-throwing. Jeff says these logging-type sports help people to celebrate the history of the Northwest. Check out the video of the 2015 Montana log rolling competition, also called Birling.

When I told Jeff about how kids could learn to do log rolling by using the training fins on the Key Log, he was impressed, recalling how difficult it is to stay on a log the first few times. He said he would look into the Key Log and would like to know if local residents would be interesting in classes or activities around log rolling. Email him with your interest and ideas,
jeff@biparks.org.

I was reading about all the logging-related events at Crosby Days this past weekend and wanted to know if anyone had ever considered holding a log-rolling competition. (See Tristan Baurick’s story in the Kitsap Sun.)

“Actually, my husband was talking about that this year, but we didn’t have time to get it going,” said Jessica Dukes, secretary of the Crosby Community Club and an organizer of Crosby Days. “It is something we want to consider for next year.”

Competitions in log rolling are held throughout the country by the U.S. Log Rolling Association, but the only event I could find in Washington state was this past weekend in Morton. I think an event that brings in skilled log-rollers would be popular, all the more so if kids could get involved.

Although adults should have an advantage in log rolling because of their weight, it appears that many kids can hold their own against their parents, especially in the beginning when both are learning.

According to the Key Log Rolling Instruction Manual (PDF 3.2 MB), the cardinal rule for log rolling is “DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR OWN FEET.” One must focus on the foot movements of the opponent. An 18-minute video lesson is offered by Abby Hoeschler, president of Key Log Rolling.

With practice, maybe we can all become as skilled as the log-rollers in the video below. Not likely.

Amusing Monday: Local photographer captures a moment with an eagle

A Kitsap County photographer, Bonnie Block, has been named the grand prize winner in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest.

Bonnie Block's winning photograph in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest
Bonnie Block’s winning photograph in the 2016 National Audubon Photography Contest
Audubon Photography Awards

The winning photo shows a bald eagle swooping down on a great blue heron at the mouth of Big Beef Creek near Seabeck. Bonnie, a resident of Kingston, learned that her dramatic photo had been chosen from among 7,000 entries from all 50 states and numerous countries.

Big Beef Creek, not far from my home, is a favorite place for nature photographers and bird watchers, who visit in spring and early summer to observe eagles in action. That’s when the birds come to hunt for fish called midshipman before heading out to find migrating salmon. My wife Sue once counted 58 eagles at one time in that location. See Water Ways, June 18, 2010.

Bonnie describes how she prepared to shoot the critical moment in a story by reporter Christian Vosler published in the Kitsap Sun July 30.

Professional Division winner: Dick Dickinson, osprey, Siesta Key, Sarasota, Fla.
Professional Division winner: Dick Dickinson, osprey, Siesta Key, Sarasota, Fla. // Audubon Photography Awards

Bonnie’s photo was mentioned during a CBS News interview with Melissa Groo, last year’s winner and a judge in this year’s contest. Melissa said a good photograph “freezes that instant that you can’t even see through the naked eye sometimes. Sometimes this behavior happens in a split second, but a photograph captures that unique moment for all of us to see.”

“Which is exactly what this year’s Grand Prize winner is,” commented reporter Brian Mastroianni. “I mean, the shot of the eagle and the heron is pretty incredible.”

“Exactly,” Melissa continued. “It’s that kind of confrontation, that pivotal moment where the eagle is landing and its wings are completely spread out, and you are seeing, obviously, some kind of confrontation. It’s just beautifully captured, technically and artistically speaking.”

A selection of Bonnie’s best photographs are on display this month at Liberty Bay Gallery in Poulsbo. You can also see some photos she has posted on her Facebook page.

Other winners in the Audubon Photography Contest are shown below. Comments from the photographers themselves about their work as well as other photos can be found on Audubon’s webpage.

Amateur Division winner: Steve Torna, eared grebes, Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.
Amateur Division winner: Steve Torna, eared grebes, Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyo. // Audubon Photography Awards
Youth Division winner: Carolina Anne Fraser, great frigatebird, near Española, Galapagos Islands, Equador.
Youth Division winner: Carolina Anne Fraser, great frigatebird, near Española, Galapagos Islands, Equador // Audubon Photography Awards
Fine Arts Division winner: Barbara Driscoll, green violetear, Savegre Hotel, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica.
Fine Arts Division winner: Barbara Driscoll, green violetear, Savegre Hotel, San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica // Audubon Photography Awards

Amusing Monday: At Long Beach, people are really high on kites

Kites of all shapes and sizes have become common features at beaches all over the world, and an annual event at Long Beach on the Washington Coast is billed as the largest kite festival in the U.S.

The Washington State International Kite Festival, Aug. 15-21, is a weeklong event where people get to show off their kites and compete in aerial displays and downright battles that engage one acrobatic kite against another.

The American Kitefliers Association has organized daily “mass ascensions,” in which at least 100 kites of the same style take to the skies. Sport kite competitions involve kites flying in intricate patterns or dancing to music.

“It’s quite a rainbow of expression,” John Barresi. editor of Kite Life magazine, told reporter Terri Gleich in a story published July 22 in the Kitsap Sun.

“Part of my world,” John said, “is sharing kites with people who say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember I tried to fly a kite and I couldn’t.’ A kite that is well made will fly itself. People will be amazed at how easy it can be.”

The videos on this page give you an idea of the diversity of the kites. Miniature kites — some as small as one inch — can be viewed up close, and nobody can miss the giant kites, which can be up to 20 feet wide and 100 feet long. The precision and art of construction is part of the show.

Fighting kites involve the traditional Japanese Rokkaku kites, which are six-sided and designed for quick response, as well as smaller fighter kites. In battle, the goal is to disable an opposing kite or cut its string with abrasive line.

Promotional materials for this year’s festival mention indoor kites that can be flown without any wind at all. Download the complete program (PDF 10.8 mb) for details about the weeklong extravaganza.

An amazing number of kite festivals are held each year throughout the country. For a complete schedule with links to the various festivals, see Event Calendar on the American Kitefliers Association website.

Other videos I found entertaining include:

Amusing Monday: Strange creatures and other ocean phenomena

Once in a while, a video shows up featuring some amazing phenomena not well known by most people. This is the case with a YouTube video by Mind Warehouse called “Ten Ocean Phenomena You Won’t Believe Actually Exist.”

I’ve featured several of the phenomena you’ll see in this video from my “Amusing Monday” series, but I admit that I did not know that some of these things even exist — and at least one photo appears to be a hoax that fooled the producers of the video on this page.

I’ve searched out a little more about each of the phenomena with links if you would like to learn more about any of these strange goings on.

Giant pyrosome

Thousands of self-cloned animals called tunicates occasionally come together to form a giant hollow tube that may grow to 60 feet long, according to Oceana’s Ocean Animal Encyclopedia. Giant pyrosomes are bioluminescent, producing their own light.

Because the tunicates can reproduce by cloning, the colony can regenerate its damaged parts to keep the tube intact. The tunicates that form pyrosomes are related to those found in the Salish Sea. Check out Emerald Diving’s tunicates page.

Megan Garber has written a story for The Atlantic, accompanied by a video, called “12 reasons pyrosomes are my new favorite terrifying sea creatures.”

Circles on the ocean bed

In 1995, divers discovered what looked like strange “crop circles” like those reported in farm fields, but these were on the ocean bottom near Japan. Other circles were found, but it took a decade before it was determined that male pufferfish make the circles as part of a mating ritual.

“When the circles are finished, females come to inspect them,” according to an article in LiveScience by Douglas Main. “If they like what they see, they reproduce with the males, said Hiroshi Kawase, the curator of the Coastal Branch of Natural History Museum and Institute in Chiba, Japan. But nobody knows exactly what the females are looking for in these circles or what traits they find desirable, Kawase told LiveScience.”

Striped icebergs

Most icebergs are white, but all sorts of blue-striped icebergs can be found in nature. They are the result of water filling a crevice and freezing so fast that no bubbles form. Green stripes form when algae-rich water freezes. Brown, yellow and black are the result of sediments being picked up by the water before it freezes. See undocumented photos and story by Mihai Andrei in ZME Science.

Red tide

Red tides can be found all over the world. Although “red tide” is a term often associated with poisonous plankton, many of the orange and red tides do not produce toxins harmful to people or marine life.

In Puget Sound, blooms of a dinoflagellate called Noctiluca sometimes create what appear to be works of art, as I described in Water Ways in June of 2013. Eyes Over Puget Sound, a program that monitors surface conditions, frequently presents pictures of colorful algae blooms, including a new edition published this morning.

Whirlpool

One of the strongest whirlpools in the world is at Saltstraumen, a fjord in Norway where a massive exchange of water rushes through an opening just 500 feet wide. Review the video “Deepest Hole in the Ocean.”

Brinicle

When salt-rich water streams into the sea, it can form an underwater finger of ice called a brinicle, sometimes referred to as “the ice finger of death.” The super-cooled briny water is colder than the surrounding sea, so the stream reaches out and freezes as it goes. See the article by Douglas Main in LiveScience or check out the blog post in Water Ways from November 2011.

Killer wave

When big waves come together at sea, the result is often a giant wave large enough to wreck an ocean-going ship or rush to shore with tremendous force. In January of this year, a killer wave — also known as a rogue wave — was recorded along the Pacific Coast in Grays Harbor County at a stream called Joe Creek. See Q-13 TV video “Rogue Wave …”

Frost flowers

When the air is considerably colder than a calm sea or lake, ice crystal can be extruded above the surface to form structures that resemble flowers. This occurs when water vapor sublimes from thin surface ice into the air without passing through the liquid phase. The warm moist air at the surface of the ice rises and quickly freezes in the colder air above.

Conditions leading to frost flowers often occur in the polar regions as new sea ice forms. Once the ice grows a little thicker, the surface cools down and the temperature difference between the ice and atmosphere are too close for the vapor to rise and then freeze.

Robert Krulwich, who hosted a science show for National Public Radio, discussed the phenomenon from the point of view of Jeff Bowman, a University of Washington graduate student in 2009 when he spotted frost flowers on his way back from an expedition to the Arctic.

Baltic and North sea meeting point

In the Mind Warehouse video, the narrator discusses a bunch of pictures purportedly showing the meeting point of the Baltic and North seas. I have been unable to track down all these photos or confirm that any of them were taken at the convergence zone of the Baltic and North seas.

One of the photos appears to have been taken in Alaska, showing the melt water from a glacier converging with ocean water. As in Puget Sound, the lower-density freshwater tends to form a layer over the salty seawater. See Kent Smith’s photo, taken from a cruise ship, and a story about research by the U.S. Geological Survey taken in the Gulf of Alaska.

It’s amusing to see all the myth-versus-fact posts on various Internet sites regarding the question of whether waters from the Baltic Sea actually mix with waters from the North Sea. (Search for “Baltic and North sea mixing.”) I gave up trying to find credible photos, but there exists an actual phenomenon regarding the mixing of the two seas. Wikipedia provides this explanation:

“The Baltic Sea flows out through the Danish straits; however, the flow is complex. A surface layer of brackish water discharges 940 km3 (230 cu mi) per year into the North Sea. Due to the difference in salinity, by salinity permeation principle, a sub-surface layer of more saline water moving in the opposite direction brings in 475 km3 (114 cu mi) per year. It mixes very slowly with the upper waters, resulting in a salinity gradient from top to bottom, with most of the salt water remaining below 40 to 70 m (130 to 230 ft) deep. The general circulation is anti-clockwise: northwards along its eastern boundary, and south along the western one.”

Bioluminescence

Living organisms can be seen to glow during a chemical reaction that involves a light-emitting pigment and an enzyme that serves as a catalyst for the reaction. Depending on the species, bioluminescence may be used to escape from prey, attract prey or signal for a mate. Sometimes researchers can’t tell why an animal has the ability to light up. One of the best write-ups I’ve seen is in Wikipedia.

Last fall, I featured in “Amusing Monday” a tiny creature called a sea sapphire that flashes brilliant hues of green, blue and purple then seems to disappear before your eyes. The organism is a copepod that is able to shift its plates to adjust the wavelength of light reflected from crystals underneath. When the reflected light is shifted far enough into the ultraviolet, the little animals nearly disappear.

Edith Widder, a specialist in bioluminescence, gives a fascinating TED talk on the subject in 2011. You can watch the video called “The Weird, Wonderful World of Bioluminescence,” in which she brings some glowing organisms to the stage.