100 a day in May

I don’t know about you, but my job can be quite sedentary. Lots of time spent in front of the computer or looking at skulls, very little time getting any exercise – obviously not counting my stint as Extreme Curator

Every so often I try to get off my backside and do something approaching exercise, but because I am fundamentally lazy, I can find it hard to get motivated.

Last year I forced myself to do the Push-ups Challenge (100 push-ups a day for 6 weeks) and by the end of the challenge I was feeling far stronger, more toned and significantly more self-satisfied, because I’d stuck to my goals.

One of the things that helped me was to share my progress each day on Twitter as way of keeping track of the challenge. What I hadn’t expected was the support and encouragement that came from people online, which really made me feel like I wanted to complete the challenge.

I’ve decided to do a version of the challenge again this year, during May and I hope to encourage other people to take part. The hashtag on Twitter is #100aDayInMay and if you feel like doing some exercise with some training buddies to offer support and encouragement, why not join in?

The rules are simple:

  1. try to do 100 push-ups a day. Both full and half push-ups are fine, and you can split them into as many sets as you need. 20 sets of 5 are as good as 5 sets of 20 in this challenge. Ideally, by the end of May you’ll be able to do fewer sets of more push-ups, maybe with some harder variations included – like doing full push-ups as well as/instead of half push-ups, or elevating your feet if you want to really challenge yourself.
  2. don’t injure yourself. Use good form on your push-ups and if you have any medical issues please check with your doctor before trying the challenge.
  3. share and support! Anyone can decide to do some push-ups, but it’s more fun and more motivational if you share what you’re doing with the other people taking part (you can find them on this list).  If you want to join in, just send a tweet containing the hashtag #100aDayInMay saying that you’re taking part. Remember that other people like to be encouraged too, so don’t forget to support the others taking part.

Finally, here’s a video explaining good form in both full and half push-ups (although the guy’s bum seems to be raised a little bit too high for perfect form):

I hope you feel like joining in!

WHY I AM NO LONGER A SKEPTIC

No, not me – this is my brief response to a post by Stephen Bond.

There are some valid points in his article for the sceptical skeptic, but as is often the case with polemic writing there is a lot of cherry-picking, generalisation and reliance on ecological fallacy.

He makes the point that most Muslim women don’t wear burkhas, but he then misses the point that any community is shaped by all of its members, not just a handful of highly visible (or visibly invisible) individuals. This applies to skeptics as well – the famous, loud and/or obnoxious are more visible, but they do not represent the whole.

I did toy with the idea of dissociating myself with skepticism a year or so ago, for several of the reasons stated by Stephen. Fortunately I discussed this with my friend and colleague James and we decided to do something a bit more positive, which led to us setting up PubSci and later Hackney Skeptics with Alice. These events are more focussed on science and socialising than bashing people we don’t agree with.

I think it’s a shame that Stephen has embraced the typical polemic style adopted by skeptics for his piece, as I think that style is one of the most damaging tools used in modern skepticism. It lacks nuance and is fundamentally unhelpful when trying to encourage consideration of a different perspective and it can alienate those with more moderate views.

In my opinion, polemic needs to be dropped if skepticism is to avoid becoming an echo chamber populated by a smug and mouthy minority.

Steampunk confetti gun

You may well have seen some of this already on Youtube, but I thought I’d do a brief post about my new ‘toy’ – a steampunk confetti gun:

I made this with help from my good friend Graham over a couple of weekends and it was remarkably straightforward.

The barrel and mechanism housing are made from some old vacuum-cleaner tubing and a large washer, the stock is from an old air-rifle and the mountings were all hand made from bits of copper roofing strip that I bent into shape and attached with nuts and bolts, plus some old metal decorative plates I picked up in a junk shop.

The working mechanism is fairly simple, it is an electrical circuit powered from a glow-stick power source that runs through a switch (that makes the trigger) and into a glow-plug  normally used for starting model aircraft engines. The earth return runs out through the bolt that attaches the mechanism housing and trigger-guard to the stock.

The attachment between the working section housing and the barrel is simply a push-fitting, which makes the canon a partial breach-loader, allowing the flash cotton charge that propels the confetti to  be loaded in a way that means it will be ignited by the glow-plug. When the cotton catches it burns incredibly quickly, creating a rapid expansion in the base of the barrel, forcing out the wadding and confetti (see video below).

Now I should say that for the purposes of the video I also used flash tissue, which is slower to ignite than the cotton, meaning that it doesn’t flare up until just after it leaves the gun, giving a spectacular flash of orange fire (or green fire if I use my specially treated paper).

I hope to take the gun along to White Mischief at the weekend, so I may need to swap the flash tissue for tinfoil to avoid setting anyone’s hair on fire, but the burst of confetti will hopefully be enough to celebrate Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in style!

Namibian Jumping-weasel

I thought I’d pen a quick post about an interesting specimen that I discovered the other day:

It’s a species I’d not heard about before and I was intrigued to discover a bit more about it.

It’s a Namibian Jumping-weasel Mustela jocuverus (Primus, 1881) which is a small mustelid native to Namibia and Botswana. It is very similar in habits to other Weasels and Stoats, but it has a very special adaptation – it jumps.

Now other mustelids also jump as part of their hunting technique, as can be seen in this video clip:

But this mustelid hunts in arid desert conditions and it has little cover from vegetation, making it more dependent on high speed bounding to overtake its prey of small rodents, which it quickly overpowers with a bite to the back of the neck from those impressive canines.

Happy April!

Friday mystery object #141

This week I’ve been rather swamped with co-organising the Natural Science Collections Association conference, so I haven’t had much time to think of a good mystery object from the Horniman’s collections. However, here is a nice (if somewhat distinctive) specimen from the excellent Grant Museum of Zoology for you to identify:

image

Any idea what it is?

You can put your comments below and I’ll do my best to respond, as the opportunity arises. Best of luck!