Tegan is home at last, so we’re celebrating with a couple cat pictures.

Tegan is finally home from three weeks out of town, and both His Holiness and I are very happy. She’s still catching up on sleep and recovering from her journey, so I decided to use today to share a couple cat pictures. The first is from our semi-regular turn about the village. St. Ray likes to sample the various grass patches on offer, and sniffing around for traces of the various outdoor cats and strays that pass through “his” territory. When we first started this tradition, I was worried that I’d be cleaning up grass-filled puke around the apartment, but it seems to agree with him just fine, and he’s almost as insistent about his constitutional as he is about being fed. I particularly like this shot, because for some reason his legs look disproportionately short and stubby – like one of those “munchkin cats”. I think it’s just that he’s crouching a bit to make sure he’s got the best leverage for his salad.

The image shows a brindled black and gray-brown cat with white legs, a white chest, and a white muzzle and forehead. He’s craning forward with his mouth open wide to take a big chomp out of a blade of grass. The grass is growing by a tree, whose trunk fills the lefthand third of the photo.. You can see a sun-dappled patch of lawn behind the cat, and out-of-focus bushes and mulch behind that. The angle of the photo, combined with the cat’s plush fur and chunky stature make it look like his legs are comically short and stubby.

Salad is important whether or not Tegan is home.

Her homecoming is slightly marred by the fact that we are distancing in the apartment for a bit, so he doesn’t get to have both of us on the same piece of furniture. It also means that the windows are open, otherwise the distancing would be pointless. That means that it’s very chilly in here. The walls are cement, and do a great job of staying cool. That’s lovely in the summer, but Autumn has landed with a resounding crunch, the days are getting shorter fast, and it’s not uncommon for it to be colder inside than outside. This means that the natural thing to do is to huddle together for warmth, but Tegan and I are being downright irrational, so he has to cuddle with us one at a time. Normally, when he hangs out on the bed, he’ll be just under an arm’s length away, but yesterday he came and curled up as tightly against me as he possibly could:

The image shows myself (a bearded human) and His Holiness (a cat) on a bed. My gray sweater fills up most of the photo, with my head craning to fit in the bottom left corner. You can see the green flannel sheet and a bit of a black t-shirt in the top left corner, by my shoulder. His Holiness is curled very tightly under my armpit, and is resting his head on my chest. For all he’s a chonker, he looks tiny in this picture.

He’s currently doing his shift on Tegan’s lap in the other room as I write this, and he’ll shift back to me when she goes to sleep, ’cause there’s not room for both of them on the couch. Even if things aren’t fully back to normal, we’re all glad to be in the same building, and within yelling distance of each other. Tegan and I holler conversations, and he spends the two hours or so before each of his three feedings screaming about his impending doom to all who can hear.

Truly, nothing says domestic bliss like a small mammal screaming at the top of its lungs

If you want to forestall the looming starvation of His Holiness Saint Ray the Cat, or you want the ability to request more cat posts, you can support me and my work at patreon.com/oceanoxia. I’d like to increase the number of people giving $5 per month and under. That seems to be a better foundation for crowdsourced income, so if perchance you were thinking that your three pennies per day isn’t enough to make a difference, well, you can stop thinking that now! How exciting for you!

ADHD and the daily struggle to make my brain do what I want it to (spoilers for Everything Everywhere All At Once)

This tweet fired a couple neurons for me that made me realize something new about the movie Everything Everywhere All At Once. I’m going to talk about a central part of how the story works, so if you haven’t seen the movie, please watch it before continuing (unless you’re at all vulnerable to photosensitive seizures, because this movie has a lot of strobe effects throughout). Maybe a couple of entirely hypothetical people could watch it with a visiting relative! Seriously – don’t read this blog post if you haven’t seen the movie, and you’re going to at any point. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that you won’t regret, and I don’t want to take away from that.

[Read more…]

Video: True Facts about the slime mold

Today was more or less a day off. Enjoyed napping with rain on the windows, shaved parts of my head, and met up with some cool people for drinks and conversation. A pleasant time was had by all, except His Holiness, who is doubly angry. Not only did we go out, we’ve also had to cut back on his kibble, because he’s been progressing in his effort to become a literal furball. I hope you’re all having a pleasant weekend, and in service of that, here are some true facts about slime mold. These are some of the strangest and most fascinating organisms out there, and this video is a great overview of their bizarre lives.

Well, ain’t that just the sea’s bees?

Because of the way things can drift around in water, a lot of different aquatic organisms use a sort of “immersion” strategy for reproduction. Rather than going through all the bother of finding a mate and copulating, they just produce such massive amounts of gametic material that it’s guaranteed to encounter its target, just drifting around. This is particularly a good strategy for species that are either stuck to the sea floor, or that are themselves drifting without direction. Another version with which you’re probably familiar is the clouds of pollen released by trees and some other plants in the spring.

I had long assumed – and I wasn’t alone in this – that aquatic plants of all sorts relied on this dispersal method. It seems obvious, right? With water being an ever-present resource, why would any sort of “pollinator” relationship develop? Well, as always with evolution, the adaptations that provide immediate, short-term benefits are the ones most likely to stick around.

In this case, it turns out that red algae “pollen” is a bit sticky (as gametes are wont to be), and there are tiny creatures that make their living on and around the algae in question:

Are sea animals involved in the reproductive cycle of algae, like pollinating insects on dry land? Dispersal of the male gametes, or spermatia, of red algae generally relies on water movement, and up until now, scientists did not recognize the role played by animals.

Yet an international team led by Myriam Valero, a CNRS scientist affiliated with the Evolutionary Biology and Ecology of Algae research unit (CNRS / Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile / Sorbonne University / Universidad Austral de Chile) and Roscoff Marine Station (CNRS / Sorbonne University)1 , has revealed that tiny marine creatures called idoteas act as ‘sea bees’ for the red alga Gracilaria gracilis.

 

The image is a black and white microscope photograph of an Idotea isopod. It has a segmented body, with at least eight legs. It’s shaped a bit like a pill bug or a prawn – longer than it is wide, with what appears to be two long, thick, segmented antennae on its head. The only color in the photo is little green dots, highlighting the places where algal gametes are stick to the Idotea’s exoskeleton. There’s a circle around two of its legs, corresponding to a zoomed-in circular photo showing a more detailed image of the Idotea’s clawed feet, and the “pollen” dusting them.

Idoteas contribute to the fertilization of G. gracilis as they swim amid these algae. The surfaces of the male algae are dotted with reproductive structures that produce spermatia coated with mucilage, a sticky substance. As an idotea passes by, the spermatia adhere to its cuticle and are then deposited on the thalli of any female alga the crustacean comes into contact, thus helping G. gracilis reproduction.

But idoteas also stand to benefit in this arrangement. The seaweed gives them room and board: idotea cling to the algae as a protection from strong currents, and they munch on small organisms growing on their thalli. This is an example of a mutualistic interaction—a win-win situation for plant and animal alike—and the first time that an interaction of this kind between a seaweed and an animal has been observed.

While these initial findings do not indicate the extent to which animal transport of gametes contributes to algal fertilization relative to the role of water movement—previously thought to be the sole means of gamete dispersal—they do offer surprising insight into the origin of animal-mediated fertilization of plants. Before this discovery, the latter was assumed to have emerged among terrestrial plants 140 million years ago. Red algae arose over 800 million years ago and their fertilization via animal intermediaries may long predate the origin of pollination on land. Valero’s team now aim to focus on several other questions: Do idoteas trigger the release of spermatia? Are they able to distinguish male G. gracilis algae from female individuals? And most importantly, do similar interactions exist between other marine species?

First off, I just want to appreciate the way the authors take time to flesh out the historical implications of this discovery. Underwater ecosystems, as far as I know, tend not to have plants that evolve organs specifically to attract animals as pollinators. I could imagine a number of reasons for this, but at the same time, I could imagine reasons why it might not be a beneficial strategy on land. For one, if the current decline in insect populations continues, wind-pollinated plants are probably going to fare a bit better in the coming century or two.

Part of me wants to assume that if there were underwater organisms that used something like scent to attract “pollinators”, we’d have noticed that behavior in the animal in question. That said, our oceans are vast, treacherous deserts, with brutal, unyielding conditions that make study extremely difficult and dangerous at times. At the end of the day, I love reminders that there’s still so much to discover, and when I get a chance to throw in a fun pun for the title, well, that’s just the sea bee’s knees!


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Good news! Scientists have made progress on safely destroying PFAS!

For those who don’t know, PFAS are a category of so-called Forever Chemicals:

  • They can be found in many everyday products – outdoor clothing and equipment, textiles, paints, food packaging, photographic coatings, non-stick coatings on cookware as well as fire-fighting foam.
  • They can have harmful effects on human and animal health and stay in the environment and in our bodies for long periods of time where they can increase in concentration. They are often referred to as “forever chemicals”.
  • Some PFAS have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, high cholesterol, reproductive disorders, hormonal disruption (also known as endocrine disruption) and weakening of the immune system.
  • Human and environmental exposure to PFAS can arise from contaminated water and food, PFAS-containing consumer products, household dust and air as well as the reuse of PFAS contaminated sewage sludge as fertiliser resulting in PFAS pollution in soil and crops.

The most recent headline that drew attention was the fact that even the rain is contaminated with this shit.

This is one of the many forms of cleanup we need to do, if we want to take our reliance on nature, not to mention public health, seriously. As with plastic (which is now eaten by several kinds of bacteria), there’s been a fear that these PFAS will continue building up indefinitely, bringing new, and potentially devastating health problems to all life on Earth. That’s still a valid concern, in my opinion, but now researchers at UCLA and Northwestern have developed a method to break down at least some of these chemicals.

Northwestern chemistry professor William Dichtel and doctoral student Brittany Trang noticed that while PFAS molecules contain a long “tail” of stubborn carbon-fluorine bonds, their “head” group often contains charged oxygen atoms, which react strongly with other molecules. Dichtel’s team built a chemical guillotine by heating the PFAS in water with dimethyl sulfoxide, also known as DMSO, and sodium hydroxide, or lye, which lopped off the head and left behind an exposed, reactive tail.

“That triggered all these reactions, and it started spitting out fluorine atoms from these compounds to form fluoride, which is the safest form of fluorine,” Dichtel said. “Although carbon-fluorine bonds are super-strong, that charged head group is the Achilles’ heel.”

But the experiments revealed another surprise: The molecules didn’t seem to be falling apart the way conventional wisdom said they should.

To solve this mystery, Dichtel and Trang shared their data with collaborators Houk and Tianjin University student Yuli Li, who was working in Houk’s group remotely from China during the pandemic. The researchers had expected the PFAS molecules would disintegrate one carbon atom at a time, but Li and Houk ran computer simulations that showed two or three carbon molecules peeled off the molecules simultaneously, just as Dichtel and Tang had observed experimentally.

The simulations also showed the only byproducts should be fluoride — often added to drinking water to prevent tooth decay — carbon dioxide and formic acid, which is not harmful. Dichtel and Trang confirmed these predicted byproducts in further experiments.

“This proved to be a very complex set of calculations that challenged the most modern quantum mechanical methods and fastest computers available to us,” Houk said. “Quantum mechanics is the mathematical method that simulates all of chemistry, but only in the last decade have we been able to take on large mechanistic problems like this, evaluating all the possibilities and determining which one can happen at the observed rate.”

Li, Houk said, has mastered these computational methods, and he worked long distance with Trang to solve the fundamental but practically significant problem.

The current work degraded 10 types of perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCAs) and perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic acids (PFECAs), including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The researchers believe their method will work for most PFAS that contain carboxylic acids and hope it will help identify weak spots in other classes of PFAS. They hope these encouraging results will lead to further research that tests methods for eradicating the thousands of other types of PFAS.

This is good news. As with plastic pollution, having the means to destroy these chemicals is not a substitute for cutting off the source of the pollution, but every bit of cleanup that we know is possible reinforces the fact that we can make things better. Our vast collective knowledge really does mean that we can change what we do and how we do it. I also like that the ingredients required are ones that should be accessible to any nation on Earth, so it won’t require expensive, high-tech facilities. This seems like something that pretty much any water treatment plant in the world could set up, for a pretty reasonable cost. Just a couple weeks ago, it was looking like we were gonna be stuck with PFAS in our food, water, and bodies. It may be that you and I, dear reader, will never be rid of the stuff, but we’re very close to having the means to stop the buildup, even if we can’t yet force corporations to stop making it. I want to end with a quote from near the beginning of the press release, because I find the potential scalability of this reaction very encouraging:

In a paper published today in the journal Science, the researchers show that in water heated to just 176 to 248 degrees Fahrenheit, common, inexpensive solvents and reagents severed molecular bonds in PFAS that are among the strongest known and initiated a chemical reaction that “gradually nibbled away at the molecule” until it was gone, said UCLA distinguished research professor and co-corresponding author Kendall Houk.

The simple technology, the comparatively low temperatures and the lack of harmful byproducts mean there is no limit to how much water can be processed at once, Houk added. The technology could eventually make it easier for water treatment plants to remove PFAS from drinking water.


If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!

Fun direct action against corporate energy waste

It’s been said before that the French have a lot to teach U.S.ians about protesting. For all folks back home love to claim that the United States is “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, to quote our obnoxious national anthem, it seems to take a lot more for people to take to the streets. What’s more, those few who do directly fight back when the police attack tend to be condemned as a radical minority that “goes too far”.

For contrast, here’s French firefighters responding to police attempts to put down their fight for better treatment:

Now, we’ve got another bit of direct action that’s available to anyone with the requisite athletic ability, and doesn’t even require fighting police.

Have you ever walked through a city at night, and noticed lots of business signs are still lit up, even though the businesses are closed?

Have you ever thought about how much electricity is wasted, and carbon dioxide emitted, just to keep those lights on?

Does it feel like the status quo has us begging our overlords to let us save ourselves, while being forced to watch them keep screwing us over because they can’t be bothered to act like decent human beings?

Well, a group of French activists are once again showing us the way, in an action that is not only direct and effective, but I would say is also rather hard to argue is doing any harm that would merit a societal reprimand.

They’re unplugging or switching off those signs.

Honestly, I only see one downside – it seems like this might save money for the businesses in question, and they’ve already demonstrated that they don’t deserve to have that money. This is right up there with wheatpasting or tearing down fascist propaganda (always use your keys, they sometimes hide razors behind their posters) as a method of direct action that’s within reach of most people.

Being able to do parkour obviously makes this sort of thing easier and faster (speed is important if you’re doing something and you don’t want to have unpleasant conversations), but it seems like careful use of a long stick or slower climbing could work just as well.

As I keep saying, the people in charge, at every level, very clearly don’t see climate change as an emergency. They don’t seem to feel any urgency about it at all, except perhaps for some concern over how they’ll keep the rabble in line as climate change starts killing us off.

Businesses and governments have been chiding us for years for not turning our lights off enough, and I think it’s past time to turn that advice back on them.

 

Video: Hard work is a grift.

Hey, so because of personal reasons I’ve had trouble writing the past couple days. It is very fortuitous that Thought Slime put up this video today. I’m about 2 minutes in, and this feels uncomfortably like a description of me, or at least some aspects of my life. At around 4 minutes, it just starts describing my work process, which feels a little rude to do without consulting me first! Fortunately, this video is about more than how my brain works (and nobody else’s). It’s about the concept and history of “laziness” in general, and how it just destroys people; not in isolation, but in conjunction with everything else in society.

Oceanoxia has an index now! Also new patron perks!

Ok, so it occurred to me a little while back that I’ve written a lot of blog posts, and while some are basically content to keep the blog afloat. Many are more than that. It’s getting harder to find the ones I want, when I want to re-share or refer back to them, and I actually have an internal search function the rest of y’all can’t access.

So.

I decided to make an index, and because I hate having a pinned post at the top of my blog, I’ve made it on my patreon. Basically, the goal is to have all my blog posts on it, organized by topic. Some posts are relevant to multiple topics, so they’ll show up in each topic index. The posts in each topic are ordered newest to oldest, like your standard blog, but it’s just links, so it’s easier to scroll through. This is currently free to anyone – patron or not – and I intend to keep it that way.

For my patrons, well, I’ve not been great so far at making content just for them, so most of them are currently there just because they want to support my work. That said, I want to offer patron rewards that I can actually deliver, so here’s the new deal:

I’m working a lot more on fiction now, so my patrons – at $5 and above – get to name characters in my fiction. The higher your tier, the more influence you get over the character’s personality, backstory, appearance, and so on. This being the internet, I’m obviously retaining editorial control, so there won’t be any “Longrod Von Hugendong” in a story where it just wouldn’t fit. Joke names will have to wait for joke stories, I’m afraid. Beyond that, my economic future kinda depends on both happy patrons, and on publishing the novel I’m working on, which means this is the perfect opportunity for you to slip something for yourself into a subversive sword and sorcery epic!

I’ll be updating the index fairly regularly, not just to fill out new topics and keep up to date, but also to improve the index as a resource. That means that if you have an opinion about how it’s organized, if there’s a post you think should or should not be in a category, or anything constructive feedback, feel free to send it my way!

And finally, thank you all for reading, commenting, and sharing. I’m finding this work more fulfilling than I honestly expected to even this time last year, and a lot of that is because of you folks. Hopefully enough people will sign up that I can afford to keep doing it when my current situation ends in a couple years.

Things remain chaotic and scary out there, and it still looks like that’s going to keep getting worse before it gets better. Take care of yourselves and those around you.