Quarantine Newsletter #5

Hola nerds!

This week has been very quiet compared to all the birthdays, holidays, and appendage emergencies of the last few weeks Indiana really seems to be opening up as we go into phase one. Broad Ripple was downright busy all weekend and traffic has come back to nearly pre-COVID levels. I’m a little grumpy about it. I adored driving when everyone was home. I felt like it was early apocalypse, you know, where the streets haven’t turned to rubble yet and you can scavenge in rich peoples houses to get the last remnants of class warfare out of your system before you settle in for survival.

Also Holly G. has a little fun fact science corner for y’all.

“Something amazing happened in Indiana last week

A coalescence of circumstances lead to a record shattering number of migratory birds flying over the Indiana Dunes. Birders witnessed over 6 hours of bird traffic in the early morning. I would be thrilled to see a couple of orioles at our feeders. 900 Baltimore Orioles flew over the Dunes that morning.

Why so many together?

Birds land en masse in safe and food filled locations. Eagle Creek Park and The Indiana Dunes are two such places in Indiana. They are dependent on good winds, good weather, clear skies and earth’s magnetic field to make this flight. When the weather keeps them grounded, they amass, sometimes in large numbers. Then, once in a lifetime, there are 7,000 blue jays flying over Hoosier birders standing on the shore of Lake Michigan with their binoculars.

Did you know that birds migrate at night? While we sleep, millions of birds are flying overhead in the spring and fall.

My last social gathering before Corona virus was to hear Kenn Kaufman give a talk on bird migration at Holliday Park. He. blew. my. mind. In addition to or instead of the earth’s magnetic field, birds use THE STARS to navigate, so they fly on clear nights. Night flight is why millions are killed by brightly lit buildings, wind turbines and glass covered stadiums.

Interestingly, the magnetic fields that help guide birds (and our compasses and GPSs) are shifting. With the planet’s magnetic poles wandering at record speed and possibly preparing for a flip, the birds might have to rely on the stars even more.

-Click here for the short Indiana Dunes article.
-Here is Kenn Kaufman’s new book, A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration.
-Are the magnetic poles going to flip polarity? Look here to learn a little about the science behind this.”

Book Recommendation

This week I’m sticking with nonfiction and recommending the oeuvre of Sam Kean. (BIG shout out to Lily B. for turning me on to him) I’ve only read the Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons because I’ve been on hold for the others since, like, last year. The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist’s Thumb are some his other books to check out. But I sat in a bookstore (months ago) and paged through most of Violinist’s and Spoon so I feel comfortable recommending him as an author. He takes fairly dry topics and reframes them to bring in an interesting human element.

Neurosurgeons traces the development of neurology and our understanding of the brain. Pretty dull on first glance. But he frames each chapter as a struggle between two scientists as they develop their theories and studies. It was fascinating. He finds the personal in the science, fleshing out the odd personalities of the researchers and their patients. I insisted Holly G. also check it out and she loved it. Spoon devotes a chapter to each one of the periodic elements, going over their history, discovery, and use. (Does that not sound amazinggggg?I cannot wait for my hold to come up) Violinist’s looks at DNA. I’d explain more but I am officially out of time for writing.

One hurried caveat, I feel suspicious of Kean’s writing and I can’t quite put my finger on why. Everything just fits together so logically and neatly. It feels like the narrative is unchallenged by inconvenient facts. I’m just sus about his writing and I have nothing to back it up. So I’m still recommending the books because they are excellent science writing for the layperson but if in ten years it comes out that he plagiarized or massaged the facts to fit his thesis, or kicks dogs/whatever. I get to say I told you so.

Movie Recommendation

Watch Titanic again. Critically evaluate that raft. lmk.

TV Recommendation

Mythbusters! Seasons 11-20 available on Hulu. Earlier seasons available for purchase on YouTube TV or from Discovery.

Morgan and I grew up watching this with our parents. It was the one TV show deemed acceptable on a school night. I adored it and I adore it now. It makes for great quarantine watching as it is both riveting enough to keep you engaged (Explosions! Science!) and predictable enough that you can easily multitask (Explosions!). There are two hosts, Adam Savage and Jami Hyneman who started this whole thing, and three other hosts. Each group takes a myth (Was there enough room on the raft for both Rose and Jack? How many chickens does it take to tip over a clifftop car? Will spray on truck bedliner stop a bomb?) and tests it. They have blown up cement mixers, tried to fool drug tests, made an ice boat, shot countless bullets, and torn poor Buster (their crash test dummy) to shreds.

They explain how they scientifically test the myths, using principals of sound science. Some TV magic does let you skip the repeated runs but otherwise, you could come out of watching with a basic understanding of how to design an experiment. ( Next level watching: Peer review their experimental protocols. Argue with your partner over the scientific validity of their work. Play F, Marry, Kill with the cast.)

Look, its science and TV. What more could you ask for?

Podcast Recommendation

Sam D. agreed to write a podcast rec for us all. (read: I demanded)

“What I have for you today is a small mess of recommendations for anyone who might even remotely be interested in the game Dungeons & Dragons (hereafter just D&D, because lazy.) If you’re over 50 and you just rolled your eyes, please bear with me, or maybe just skip to the next section of this newsletter. It’s okay, we won’t judge you.

If you don’t know what D&D is, please just google it. I only have 20 minutes to write a last-minute recommendation and I really can’t spend all of it explaining the game. I like D&D because, as one of my favorite D&D influencers says, “It’s the most fun you can have with your brain.” D&D is immersive, it’s collaborative, it’s easy to play over Zoom or Facetime, what have you. I’m sure that D&D community-oriented websites like dndbeyond.com and roll20.net are losing their minds over how much money they’re making during this pandemic.

So, to the recommendation part. If you’re looking to get into D&D or learn more about it, or just make fun of some nerds, you should first check out a couple YouTube channels. You can learn everything you could possibly want to know about the rules from a number of sources, but in particular you should check out these two: “Matthew Colville” and the “Dungeon Dudes.” They give really informative and helpful advice for players and DMs alike.

Furthermore, and more to the point for Emmy’s request for a podcast recommendation, there are two in particular I would recommend: First is “Critical Role,” which is probably the number one D&D podcast out there. Every single player and the DM for Critical Role are voice actors, and their polish and charm makes listening to their games downright delightful. The Dungeon Master, Matthew Mercer, is incredibly talented and can remember individual accents and speech patterns he gave to his characters from years ago. Critical Role is honestly pretty phenomenal. Heads up though, their “episodes” are regularly like 3 or 4 hours long. It’s a lot.

If you want a more tongue-in-cheek D&D podcast, I recommend listening to “The Adventure Zone: Balance.” This podcast made these guys and their dad famous among the D&D community, and it’s full of fun characters and cheeky shenanigans. Also, notably, the Adventure Zone episodes are only like an hour long, which is very short for a live-play D&D podcast. (Having been forced to listen to various DnD podcasts over the course of my relationship with Sam, I would like to back this recommendation. It’s good stuff.-E)

Overall, I just recommend getting into D&D if you’re bored and like sci-fi/fantasy books, video games, etc. The collaborative storytelling experience, where you and your friends get to be heroes, or villains, or something in-between, well, it really is the most fun you can have with your brain.”

Recipe Recommendation

Confession: I never made the Blackberry fluff from last week. I just ate the blackberries and have other ~secret~ plans for the whipping cream. (Ok, the plan is bourbon whipped cream to made the next time it rains so Sam and I can have fancy hot chocolate. Pro Tip: left over whipped cream can be frozen and dropped into the next days coffee.)

This week my veggie delivery brought me a large fennel bulb. I’ve never cooked with fennel before and punished it by neglecting it in my fridge until last night. Some quick googling and a chance purchase of chicken thighs led me to make fennel and chickpea braised chicken thighs from America’s Test Kitchen. I can’t link to the recipe because it is behind a paywall but it was so good. The braising liquid was thickened by some mashed chickpeas and richly flavoured by the fennel bulb/chicken fat/garlic. Super happy to dip some crusty bread into that goodness.

But the function of the section is not to taunt you with recipes I can’t share. (or is it? or do I just enjoy writing about food?)I think this week you should try something new! We have all been doing a lot of home cooking and we have probably all gone through our recipe repertoire. Personally, I have some jimaca coming soon and while I’ve eaten it before. Im excited to see what I can cook with it.

Good News!

Sarah B.’s birthday is today! We have been celebrating all weekend in this gorgeous weather. This email is rushed because Sam and I went to lunch outside in Broad Ripple with Morgan/ Nathan and the Dog. Really Sam and I have been outside a ton this weekend so I guess the real good news is that Sam and I are no longer ghostly pale. If you aren’t following @hollyghollyg on IG, you should for some excellent bird photos and some amazing shots of Odie.

Kent D. sent me this link and I’m loving the absurd sitcom ideas. I lost a chunk of time to this gorgeous line/coastline mash up/thing/internet joy. Need to kill a few minutes? Check out this AMA from NASA scientists about their need for citizen scientists. Gosh, this weeks newsletter is v science-y. Maybe a reaction to some political nonsense happening out there. Can’t think of what. Next weeks will be more literary, promise.

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