Category Archives: Humor

Amusing Monday: Cartoon characters tell a story about the elements

Elements — the basic building blocks of chemistry — come alive in cartoon characters created by Kaycie Dunlap, who created 112 individual illustrations for her senior project at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.


Kaycie, whose website is KcD Studios, got the idea for her elemental characters in high school chemistry class while watching a video, according to a profile of Kaycie in the online magazine “Women You Should Know.” In the video, the narrator acted out a few of the elements.

“High school chemistry class used to be confusing at best,” Kaycie said. “Then I imagined what the elements would be like as characters. Suddenly everything became a lot more interesting.”

Kaycie’s characters fall into one of three themes. My favorites are those in which the properties of the element are embodied in the cartoon figure. For example, fluorine, a highly reactive element, is depicted as an angry woman with fiery hair. Hydrogen, being the lightest element, floats in the air and has the ability to control water.


Some characters describe how they are used. Aluminum is a strong and lightweight female drinking a lot of soft drinks. Other characters simply depict the person for whom the element is named. It is impressive how Kaycie is able to convey a truly unique personality for each character.

Her original exhibit, “Elements — Experiments in Character Design,” was first shown at the 2011 MIAD Thesis Expedition, where observers could press a key on a touchscreen to call up any of 72 elements and see the cartoon character with a sample of the material. She later completed another 50 characters. (See MIAD Alumni News.)


Kaycie, who now creates illustrations for a game company in San Francisco, has developed a set of flashcards to help students remember the elements. Each card features a cartoon character on one side and basic information about the element on the other side. Order from her shop at Etsy. In her spare time, she is also working on a story in which she hopes to bring the elemental characters together.

To see all 1112 characters, visit this page on BuzzFeed.



Amusing Monday: Odd research may actually benefit mankind

When a group of physicists put their minds to working on the subject of urination, they discovered that mammals of all sizes take about the same amount of time to pee.

It’s a matter of fluid mechanics, and it turns out that mammals above 3 kilograms in weight — from dogs to elephants — empty their bladders in 21 seconds, give or take 13 seconds. Small mammals are hindered by high viscous and capillary forces that limit their rate of flow, while large mammals benefit from bigger pipes and gravity that helps flush out larger volumes of urine in a short time.

It’s amazing to think that scientists actually pursued this question, but the researchers insist that the results may have practical use in the field of urology.

Meanwhile, the oddity of the subject earned the researchers from Georgia Tech an Ig Nobel Prize, an award that honors the best research that “makes people laugh and then think.” The awards ceremony, held Sept. 17 at Harvard University, honored 10 groups of researchers from throughout the world. The prize, a mainstay of the website “Improbable Research,” is a play on the word “ignoble,” which means either humble or dishonorable.

The following are the other awards presented this year. For specifics, see “Winners of the Ig Nobel Prize.”

Chemistry Prize: Researchers identified a process for “partially unboiling an egg.” When I first heard this, I found it incredible, but it apparently is true. It has to do with the way long protein chains can alter their functional state by the way they fold back on themselves. The process offers a method to produce certain medicines at much less cost. For a good explanation, check out the video on this page or read the story by Summer Ash on the MSNBC website.

Literature Prize: Linguistic experts looked the world over and found that almost every language has an utterance like the English “huh?” — and the meanings are all about the same. See the second video on this page.

Management Prize: According to new research, many business leaders developed a fondness for risk-taking early in their lives after surviving natural disasters — such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and wildlifes — with no dire consequences to their lives.

Economics Prize: The award went to the Bangkok Metropolitan Police for offering to pay police officers cash bonuses if they refuse to take bribes.

Medicine Prize: Two research groups working in various parts of the world discovered from experiments that intense kissing and other intimate activities produce biomedical consequences, such as reduced allergic response.

Mathematics Prize: A group of European scientists used mathematical techniques to figure out how Mouley Ismael, the bloodthirsty Sharifian emperor of Morocco, managed to father 888 children from 1697 to 1727.

Biology Prize: By attaching a weighted stick to the tail of a chicken, researchers discovered that the chicken walks in a way similar to how dinosaurs may have walked.

Diagnostic Prize: It turns out that speed bumps make a good tool for diagnosing acute appendicitis. The deciding factor is how much pain a person feels while driving over speed bumps that jostle their insides.

Physiology and Entomology Prize: The prize was awarded jointly to two individuals who laid their bodies on the line for science. Justin Schmidt developed the Schmidt Sting Pain Index to rate the relative pain people feel when stung by various insects. Michael L. Smith allowed bees to sting him on 25 different locations on his body to identify the least painful spots (skull, middle toe tip and upper arm) and most painful (nostril, upper lip and penis).

The awards ceremony, which is long but contains plenty of light moments, can be viewed in the video below. Another ongoing website about odd and unusual studies is “Seriously, Science?” which I discussed in Water Ways about a year ago.

Amusing Monday: Fabulous photos from parks and wild places

The U.S. Department of Interior maintains a large photo album of incredible outdoor pictures taken at national parks and other federal lands throughout the United States. I look forward to checking these pictures each day to see what stunning views have been newly posted.

Photo: Yin Lau, U.S. Department of Interior
Photo: Yin Lau, U.S. Department of Interior

The picture at right shows the Potomac River where it rushes through a narrow gorge before flowing past Washington, D.C. This photo, by Yin Lau, was taken on the Virginia side of the river.

You can access this photo album on Instagram or on Twitter.

This “Amusing Monday” post is a day late and somewhat abbreviated, because I am battling a virus that drained my energy the past few days. I’m feeling better today.

Amusing Monday: Listen and learn about all kinds of underwater sounds

Years ago, people living near Quilcene in Jefferson County reported an eerie humming sound that kept them awake at night. Since Quilcene is located near the Navy’s acoustic-testing range in Dabob Bay, some folks speculated that the Navy was up to something.

Plainfin midshipman Photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Plainfin midshipman // Photo: Wash. Department of Fish and Wildlife

Some people thought it might be some kind of frog, and a few advanced theories of extra-terrestrials. Finally, an acoustic biologist heard a recording of the sound and concluded that it was a midshipman, a bottom-dwelling fish often called a bullhead. (Click on the arrow below to listen.)

1. Plainfin midshipman     

I have not been able to locate the story I wrote about the incident, but it appears the fish created similar confusion three years ago in Seattle, according to a story by Ryan Grenoble in the Huffington Post. I wonder how many other people have heard a similar humming noise that they could not identify.

What I’m leading up to is an amusing webside called Discovery of Sound in the Sea, which allows you to check out all kinds of underwater sounds. Did you know that some sea urchins can form a chorus of sound while grazing on vegetated rocks?

2. Sea urchin     

“Discovery of Sound in the Sea,” or DOSITS, is packed with information about the science of underwater sound, including jobs in the field and equipment used by researchers. There’s even a list of activities, which can be used to teach children about sound.

I find that the most engaging part of the website is the Audio Gallery, a list of recorded sounds that can be selected and played. The list consists of eight different baleen whales; 17 toothed whales, porpoises and dolphins; 10 seals and sea lions; a manatee; four invertebrates, including the sea urchin; 21 fish; seven natural nonbiological sounds, such as rain under water; and 12 man-made sounds from wind turbines to torpedoes.

The website is associated with the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography and Marine Acoustics, Inc., of Middletown, RI. Contributors include independent researchers, school teachers and others. The U.S. Office of Naval Research has provided financial support.

Here’s a sample of some interesting sounds. I’ve included the sound of the fin whale, a species seen in Puget Sound last week for the first time in decades. Check out the report by King 5 TV. If you visit the DOSITS website, you’ll get details about each recording and what is making the sound.

A killer whale mother and calf calling to each other in Johnstone Strait in British Columbia

3. Killer whale     
Baleen whales
4. Gray whale     
5. Humpback whale     
6. Fin whale     
Man-made sounds
7. Cargo ship     
8. Torpedo     

Amusing Monday: Rare octopus has variety
of tricks up its sleeves

The surprise trick of coming up behind someone and tapping him or her on the opposite shoulder is a technique that seems to work especially well for the larger Pacific striped octopus.

This is how the octopuses often catch a shrimp for dinner, as you can see from the first video on this page. For a little more emotional drama, watch this same video with a musical soundtrack added by UC Berkeley Campus Life.

The larger Pacific striped octopus seems to be the odd one out, according to recent observations by marine biologist Roy Caldwell of the University of California at Berkeley. Findings reported this month by Caldwell and colleagues in the open-access journal “PLOS ONE” confirm strange stories told about the octopus over the past 30 years — behaviors far different from those of most octopuses.

Two years of observations of live large Pacific striped octopuses in Berkeley laboratories and elsewhere have confirmed behaviors never seen among most octopuses. Activities include unusual beak-to-beak mating, which looks like the animals are kissing; males and females shacking up together, sharing food and having sex for days at a time; and females living long beyond the time they lay their first clutch of eggs, as they continue to eat, mate and lay more eggs.

Male larger Pacific striped octopus stalks its prey. Photo: Roy Caldwell
Male larger Pacific striped octopus stalks its prey.
Photo: Roy Caldwell

The paper also discusses the possibility that these odd octopuses may live together in colonies, as observed by scuba divers, and come to recognize each other based on unique color patterns and postures.

As for tapping a shrimp on the shoulder, “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Caldwell told Robert Sanders of Berkeley News, the media outlet for UC Berkeley.

“Octopuses typically pounce on their prey or poke around in holes until they find something,” he continued. “When this octopus sees a shrimp at a distance, it compresses itself and creeps up, extends an arm up and over the shrimp, touches it on the far side and either catches it or scares it into its other arms.”

In addition to Caldwell, authors reporting observations in the paper are Christine L. Huffard of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; Arcadio Rodaniche of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; and Caldwell, Huffard and Richard Ross, all of the California Academy of Sciences.

The larger Pacific striped octopus is perhaps the oddest of an odd group of creatures, with their shifting octopus shapes, mesmerizing eyes and uncanny intelligence, Richard Ross told Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein.

“They’re aliens alive on our planet,” Ross said, “and it feels like they have plans.”


Two larger Pacific Striped Octopuses appear to embrace and kiss in a unique mating ritual.

Sometimes these octopuses move along by bouncing across the bottom of the ocean.

These octopuses can change their coloration along a bilateral line while twirling their arms.

Amusing Monday: Animal cartoons offer
a variety of humor

Greg Bishop is a San Diego veterinarian, whose previous jobs include marine mammal stranding coordinator in the San Juan Islands, field researcher in the Amazon jungle and assistant at the San Diego Natural History Museum.


He’s also a very good cartoonist, as you can see from the cartoons on this page and on his website, Fauna Cartoon. Greg claims to get his ideas from monkeys at the zoo, giving him a scapegoat if someone complains. By the way, he once worked at the San Diego Zoo.

Greg says he has been drawing since he could hold a pencil, including cartoons for school newspapers from middle school clear through graduate school.

Before vet school, he studied ecology at the University of California at Davis, where he illustrated a cartoon strip about squirrels. Check out the online version of “Nuts.” Earlier works (not available) include “The Turtle Avenger,” “Sentient Vegetables In the Big City,” and “The Meaty Adventures of Corn Dog and Bacon Boy.” I can only imagine what these were like.


Greg’s current cartoon series, “Fauna Cartoon,” ranges from smart to silly, and I really enjoy the variety. The quality of his drawings is exceptional. He doesn’t pump out new cartoons as fast as some artists, and I know his fans are clamoring for more, but Greg has plenty of other things going on in his life.

He says his hobbies include surfing, bird-watching, painting, 80s hair-metal, welding, history and theoretical physics.


If you like Greg’s cartoons, you can buy an autographed print or enjoy them on merchandise — including clothing of all kinds, bags, cell-phone covers, water bottles, coffee mugs and all sorts of stuff. Greg’s online store can be found on the Galloree website.

The cartoon at right shows one water buffalo buying bottled water from a stand while the rest of the herd drinks from a crocodile-infested river.

I became aware of Greg through the SeaDoc Society, a nonprofit research group based on Orcas Island and affiliated with U.C. – Davis. In 2011, Greg worked as a summer intern for SeaDoc, helping coordinate responses to stranded marine mammals, including performing necropsies on dead animals. Based on that work, he presented his findings about the causes of harbor seal deaths at a meeting of the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine.

Amusing Monday: Sand sculpting continues to make an impression

Sand sculptors from throughout the world continue to turn their unique ideas into temporary masterpieces to be washed away with the tide. Only memories and photographs remain of these intricate, but fleeting, art objects.

"Life" (side 1) by Karen Fralich took first place at the Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Competiton in June. Photo: Hampton Beach Village District
“Life” (side 1) by Karen Fralich took first place at the Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Competiton in June.
Photo: Hampton Beach Village District

Perhaps someone can tell me if this unusual art form is on the increase or decline. Some sand-sculpture festivals keep going each year; some have disappeared; and new ones have started up since I started featuring this art form in 2009. Last year (Water Ways, Aug. 25, 2014), I rounded up all the “Amusing Monday” pieces about sand sculpture. I remain as impressed with the new work today as I have ever been.

In June, Hampton Beach, N.H., was the site of the 15th annual “Master Sand Sculpting Competition,” which is about as good as it gets. The first two pictures on this page show opposite sides of a sand sculpture created at the festival. The piece, which artist Karen Fralich calls “Life,” took First Place at the festival this year.

Other top winners are featured in a very nice gallery of photos on the Hampton Beach website. The artists discuss their work in a series of videos by Newhampshiredotcom. Though the sound quality leaves something to be desired, I did find it interesting to hear these folks describe their very interesting concepts:

"Life" (side 2) by Karen Fralich Photo: Hampton Beach Village District
“Life” (side 2) by Karen Fralich
Photo: Hampton Beach Village District

Another noteworthy festival is the 12th annual Revere Beach National Sand Sculpting Festival in Massachusetts. The theme this year was “The Spirit of Massachusetts.”

The best photo gallery of the winning entries was a nice presentation by Boston magazine. The contest features both solo and doubles entries, adding a extra element of excitement.

“Open Your Mind and Let Your Spirit Fly” by Mélineige Beauregard took first place at Revere Beach.
“Open Your Mind and Let Your Spirit Fly” by Mélineige Beauregard took first place at Revere Beach. //

The winner in the solo competition was Mélineige Beauregard of Montreal for “Open Your Mind and Let Your Spirit Fly,” shown in the third photo on this page.

Some additional images were provided by Boston photographer Matt Conti in the publication “North End”

Another good competition is the Texas SandFest held in May in Aransas, Texas. A list of winners with photos is featured on the festival’s website.

Coney Island held its 25th annual Sand Sculpting Contest this past weekend. So far, few worthwhile photo galleries have been posted, but reporter Kate Cummings of Brooklyn TV News 12 had a report, which I posted in the video player at the bottom of this page. Last year’s event was featured nationally on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Finally, coming in our state, Olympia’s annual Sand in the City festival will be held this weekend. Sponsored by the Hands On Children’s Museum, it should have some excellent sand sculptures, though the event is not rated as a top-tier competition. Last year’s sculptures can be seen on the museum’s website.

For a fairly complete list of sand sculpting events in the U.S. and Canada, go to

ABC Latest News | Latest News Videos

Amusing Monday: Art students create unified environmental message

A selected group of art students has created a unique collection of posters, videos, illustrations and a mural to deliver a coordinated message about protecting water quality and salmon habitat.

The project, supported with a grant from NOAA Fisheries, involved students from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland. The art students have been producing various elements of the projects over the past year.

Animation student Beryl Allee teamed up with illustrator Grace Murphy to produce a potential media campaign called “Citizen in the Watershed,” focusing on how human damage to the ecosystem eventually comes back to harm humans. The first video on this page is called “Littering.” Two other videos, one dealing with yard care and the other with driveway runoff, can be viewed on NOAA’s website “NOAA 2015 Science in the Studio Award” or on Beryl’s Vimeo’s website.

An illustration to accompany public-outreach information about household products has been completed, with two more to be done before the end of August. See NOAA’s website.

Read about the two artists Beryl Allee and Grace Murphy.

Mural by Esteban Camacho Steffensen Image: NOAA Fisheries
Mural by Esteban Camacho Steffensen
Image: NOAA Fisheries

A mural design produced by PNCA graduate Esteban Camacho Steffensen depicts examples of human alterations to the landscape comingled with images of the natural ecosystem. These images are all wrapped together inside an outline of a chinook salmon — a key symbol of the natural Northwest.

The mural design can be printed on posters or painted on the wall of a building with instructions provided by the artist. The idea is that human activities cannot be separated from natural systems but that people can make choices to reduce their impacts. Read about the artist and his work on NOAA’s website.

Poster by Stephanie Fogel Image: NOAA Fisheries
Poster by Stephanie Fogel
Image: NOAA Fisheries

Interdisciplinary artist Stephanie Fogel created a poster to encourage people to properly dispose of medicines. The design features a salmon surrounded by pills, and the message can be customized for Washington, Oregon or California with specific information about disposing of pharmaceuticals. Read more about Stephanie J. Fogel.

The final video, below, was completed last year by Beryl Allee, who created the interesting illustrations, and John Summerson, who helped with animation and managed the sound design. The video helps people understand just one way that fish can be affected by hard armoring, such as bulkheads, constructed to protect shorelines from erosion. How the video was produced and other information can be found on NOAA’s website, “Bridging art with science to protect salmon habitat.”

Amusing Monday: Time-lapse reveals national-park wonders unseen

Time-lapse photography can add a new dimension to the way we see things. When done well, these speeded-up videos not only help us see things in a new way but also call us to remember feelings about special places and natural wonders.

On their first visit to Olympic National Park, brothers Will and Jim Pattiz captured images from various park locations for what would become a captivating video for the series “More Than Just Parks.” They traveled to some prime locations that many of us have visited, but their careful use of time-lapse equipment create a new sense of inspiration for familiar places.

So find a quiet moment, sit back and enjoy their video full-screen on your computer if not your TV.

If you’d like to learn more about the video project and what the brothers learned about Olympic National Park, read the interview on the Exotic Hikes website, or check out the background on “More Than Just Parks.”

One of my all-time favorite time-lapse videos was shot in Yellowstone National Park, where photographer Christopher Cauble captured the rhythms of nature in a place where geysers, streams, clouds and even the animals move with a natural fluidity. I especially like the sections where the video slows down to remind us about the normal pace of events — something not seen in most time-lapse videos.

The last video on this page shows Mount Rainier in a time-lapse video by West Coast Time Lapse, a company of Nate Wetterauer and Chase Jensen. Like the Olympic National Park video, this one about Mount Rainier was posted within the past year.

If you would like to see more time-lapse video of national parks, take a look at “15 time-lapse videos that capture national parks at their best” by The Wilderness Society. It contains parks from here in Washington (a different Olympic National Park video) to Maine, from Alaska to Texas.

Amusing Monday: Getting wet is always worth a laugh or two

I’m not a big fan of compilation videos that show a series of accidents in which people get hurt and are obviously in pain. I tend to wince and just want to know if the person involved is OK. I’m sure I could laugh if only I was assured that the person didn’t die or get laid up in a hospital — although this kind of video does not normally convey this kind of information.

Getting wet is quite survivable, which is why I get a real kick from videos showing mishaps involving boats. I keep returning to the blooper videos by TV fisherman Bill Dance, who I blogged about in Water Ways two months ago.

America’s Funniest Home Videos put together a nice compilation of minor incidents involving people on the water. The pacing is just right, and the accompanying music, “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” by Frank Sinatra, couldn’t be better. This video is in the first video player on this page.

I don’t know if a person is more or less likely to be hurt on a large ship than a small boat when things go awry, but property damage from a ship can be enormous. I can easily forgive myself for laughing about terrible property damage as long as nobody gets hurt. Don’t ask me why. Check out:

Shifting gears a little, have you ever wondered what it would be like if Weird Al Yankovik were performing on the Titanic at the time the historic ship went down? I find this video funny, despite the human tragedy that occurred. I think it is because the story itself has become nearly a cliché. The video is called “Weird Al Yankovic On A Boat (And The Band Played On).”

Finally, there’s a commercial for Nitro boats featuring a fisherman guy who finds himself choosing between his boat and his new girlfriend. His answer to the question is simple, as you can see in the video below.