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Maggie Chok

Lesson of Loss

26 “Lost and Found” June 6, 2004

Victoria has lost a necklace she got as a present from her parents a few days earlier, and goads everyone into helping her find it. In search of the necklace, her and her friends discover the Lost and Found Emporium, a storage room for all things ever lost by anyone throughout time. However, they’re not allowed to look for the necklace because whatever lesson Victoria gained by losing the necklace would itself be lost if she were to find the necklace.

(Source: Wikipedia: List of Creepschool episodes)

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The Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian explosion, or less commonly Cambrian radiation, was the relatively short evolutionary event, beginning around 542 million years ago in the Cambrian Period, during which most major animal phyla appeared, as indicated by the fossil record. Lasting for about the next 20–25 million years, it resulted in the divergence of most modern metazoan phyla. Additionally, the event was accompanied by major diversification of other organisms. Prior to the Cambrian explosion, most organisms were simple, composed of individual cells occasionally organized into colonies. Over the following 70 or 80 million years, the rate of diversification accelerated by an order of magnitude and the diversity of life began to resemble that of today.

(Source: Wikipedia—Cambrian Explosion)

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Bee Inventory


(Source: Sam Droege—USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab)

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—that is, it lives and dies at densities below our capacity to see it.

The math is straightforward. If you are one of the species that the models estimate has a population of fewer than 1,000 individual trees in the Amazon, then the probability of finding you among all 390 billion trees in the basin is so infinitesimal that it’s hardly worth calculating. For a boots-on-the-ground example, a couple of months ago I was in a remote area of Peru where I spent practically every daylight hour surveying trees. In two weeks I looked at about 2,000 trees. According to the numbers in our paper, the chance that I encountered one of the rarest species is about one chance in 200,000.

A colleague of mine calls this our “dark biodiversity” problem. Just as the astrophysicists’ models tell them that half of all the matter in the universe is invisible to science, so our models seem to be telling us that a large portion of Amazonian biodiversity is invisible to science—that is, lives and dies at densities below our capacity to see it. The numbers are pretty unforgiving. If instead of two weeks in Peru I had stayed on for 20 years—no weekends, no holidays, no sick days, just tree after tree after tree—my odds would have improved to about 1 in 4,000.

(Source: Image—’Paradise 30′ by Thomas Struth 2014, Nautilus Magazine—In Our Nature Issue)

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Swell Shark

Named for its ability to inflate itself with seawater, the Swell Shark (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum) is a fascinating kelp forest inhabitant even before it hatches from its egg case.

Exactly how the little Swell Shark can inflate itself with water was first studied shortly after World War II. It was discovered that — unlike pufferfishes (teleosts of the superfamily Tetraodontoidea), which inflate by pumping water into a special, highly distensible sac along the belly — the Swell Shark simply swallows water and holds it in the cardiac (forward) potion of its stomach. Through this simple mechanism, the Swell Shark can rapidly increase its diameter two or three times.

Underwater observation of Swell Sharks in the wild has revealed that inflation is merely the beginning of their defensive tactic. When threatened, a Swell Shark typically bolts for the nearest convenient rocky crevice and enters it head-first. Once inside, the Swell Shark curls into a U-shape and — with its head and tail innermost — inflates its stomach. As a final touch, the Swell Shark grasps its caudal fin between its teeth, thereby presenting to the hostile outside world a fat, inflated ‘inner tube’ that is wedged into its rocky shelter in a way that is extremely difficult for biting predators to evict.

(Source: ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research)

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L’Invincible; 1758

His Majesty’s Ship Invincible began life as the French warship L’Invincible and was launched at Rochefort, France, in 1744. With two decks, 74 guns, and a crew of 700 this was one of the elite fighting ships of the day. Such firepower could outmatch all but the largest three deck warships and was coupled with the speed and agility of much smaller vessels, making L’Invincible a far superior design. The 74 gun ship became the backbone of the Fleet for over half a century and 16 such vessels were present at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

In 1747 L’Invincible, under the command of Captain Saint-Georges, was escorting a French convoy to India. On the 14 May, when the 30 ship convoy was off Cape Finisterre in northwest Spain, it was intercepted by a British squadron of 14 warships led by Admiral Anson. L’Invincible, though hopelessly outnumbered, fought valiantly to give the convoy time to escape. L’Invincible was the last ship to strike its colours at the Battle of Cape Finisterre. Of the 14 French warships, only two escaped. The rest were captured and put into service in the Royal Navy, or sunk.

L’Invincible was taken as a war prize and recommissioned as Invincible (without ‘HMS’, which was not an official abbreviation until several decades later). During her service with the Royal Navy she was the flagship of three Admirals, took part in two wars against the French and served as far away as the West Indies and Nova Scotia. Despite seeing little combat, the ship’s powerful attributes meant that its fourteen year sailing career included a variety of roles from flagship to fast troop transport.

(Source: Maritime Archaeology Trust, Images—invincible1758.co.uk)

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The smallness of the individual, the relentless crumbling of bricks

In the 1970s a geologist at University College London (UCL), Dr Eric Robinson, began exploring the idea that geology could be taught not just on far-flung field trips but through the buildings and streets of our cities. Britons may not often go to Norway, but they can find polished Norwegian Larvikite on shop fronts in their local high street. It’s an igneous rock, meaning that it was formed when magma, molten rock, subsequently cooled. It’s also rather beautiful: dark green-blue with iridescent feldspar crystals. In April I went to Waterloo station to talk to Dr Ruth Siddall, who worked with Robinson. She first met him in 1989, when she was studying for a PhD in plate tectonics at UCL. At the time, Robinson was a lone voice arguing that there was historical and cultural value in the serious study of the building materials that make up our cities. He was also publishing a series of geo-walks around London for students and members of the public.

“The stones of London”, Siddall said, “come from all over the world.” For much of history and in most places, people have tended to build their towns and cities using whichever rocks were closest to hand. This was never possible in London, which rises up out of a natural basin underlain by the chalk that crops out in the Chiltern Hills to the north-west and the North Downs to the south. Bricks were once made locally, but the clays on which the city is built, and the surrounding chalk, are too soft to make satisfactory building stones. Siddall had agreed to take me on a new geo-walk from Waterloo to St Paul’s. In Benugo, the café where we were having coffee, she took a picture of the countertop: “marble,” she said, “a metamorphic rock, possibly from Carrara in Italy.” Metamorphic is one of the three main categories of rock, along with igneous and sedimentary, and it is related to one or the other—its name means an igneous or sedimentary rock that has been altered through processes of heat and pressure.

(Source: “Urban Geology”—Intelligent Life Magazine Sept/Oct 2014)

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Bicycle Goldfish Salesmen



(Source: Hong Kong Goldfish Street)

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Tigers love pepper. They hate cinnamon.

(Source: The Hangover—2009)

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A spectral, mineral self


A cultured self. A photosynthetic self. A mnemonic self. A mechanical self. A spectral, mineral self.

The crab, who moves backwards, forwards, and sideways, at will;
across the stage, through the garden, up the back wall, and into the street.

You lie under cool enormous leaves. An apronful of green ripples, pickled on your lap.
No, no – there. It’s an umbrella above you, see?

As though at the edge of sleep, all the rooms of a rainy day.

(Source: Hannah Acton and Tess Rafael in conversation)

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