Friday, June 29, 2012

Remembering Telstra's Viatel

With the news that France's Minitel network is to be switched off this weekend I was prompted to recall Telstra's (or Telecom Australia's) version of this proto-internet. Back when we were looking to get a replacement for our Multitech (now Acer) MPF-II computer Dad brought home a brochure on the Telecom Australia's Viatel system.

This videotex system used a dedicated terminal to retrieve and submit information over the telephone network. To a kid who had read books like Ender's Game and feeling very isolated in rural Queensland access to online databases and information resources sounded wonderful. Unfortunately, it was too expensive to consider and we ended up with a Amstrad CPC 6128.

I was not to get home network access until 1993 when, while at university, I bought a 2400 baud modem for my 386SX PC. But that is another story...

You can read a lot more about Viatel at Peter Hosie's Promises, promises - Viatel and education, written back in 1985.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Smooth skies and storms

Aircraft should stay well clear of storms according to research released by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.  A storm cell is an air mass containing a convective loop of updrafts and downdrafts. As the mass of air is sucked up, gravity exerts a force pulling it downwards and oscillatory motion is generated. These are called gravity waves (see undular bores for more information).

Being caught in an actual storm cell is an extremely hazardous situation for aircraft, but what this research is saying is that the turbulent effects of storm cells can be felt as far as 100 kilometres away. 

I've flown through a few regions of storm activity in my time and any research that makes for a smoother flying experience gets my vote!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tentacle porn is painful

Opposite Hakodate station is the fish market, around which you can find small restaurants with tanks of squid in the window, ready for eating. We watched one customer use a barbed line to fish out her own meal of squid from a pool. It was then taken by the stall keeper, chopped up and served raw and still wriggling, along with a dash of soy sauce.

Perhaps I was right to feel squeamish. There have been a number of published cases of eaters of raw or undercooked squid experiencing severe pain as packets of squid sperm explode in their mouths. If this sounds disgusting enough, just wait until you find out how squids reproduce.

Rather than the (hopefully) gentle penetration of the male penis into the female vagina, followed by the individual sperm swimming up towards the egg, as happens in humans, the squid process is far more brutal.

The male stabs large sperm packets (spermatangia), each containing thousands or millions of sperm, into the female's arms like a hypodermic syringe. These long thin packets cement themselves to the arms and burrow into the flesh by using enzymes to dissolve it. They then remain there until such time as the female releases her big jelly ball of eggs, which she shapes into a ball with her arms. Sensing this, the sperm are released from their packets and burrow out and into the eggs, fertilising them.

There's a great video of the process on Inside Nature's Giants, recently screened on SBS in Australia.

In many species of squid the female's arms may be implanted with the spermatangia of multiple males.

So there you go, the pain felt by those unfortunately squid eaters was the sensation of the sperm packets adhering and burrowing into their tongue and mouth cavity.



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  2. Shiraki Y, Kawai K, Kojima S, Suzuki Y, Ono K. Stinging in the oral cavity caused by ingestion of the sperm bags of a squid: a case report. Pathol Int. 2011 Dec;61(12):749-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1827.2011.02722.x. Epub 2011 Sep 1. PubMed PMID: 22126383.
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  4. Nakashima H, Akagi M, Miyabe S, Iwasawa H. Two unusual cases of a foreign body in the oral cavity caused by eating raw squid. Acta Otolaryngol Suppl. 1996;522:104-7. PubMed PMID: 8740821.
  5. Hoving H J T, Laptikhovsky V. Getting Under the Skin: Autonomous Implantation of Squid Spermatophores. Biol. Bull. June 2007;212 no. 3:177-179
  6. O'Shea S. Architeuthis (Giant Squid) reproduction, with notes on basic anatomy and behavior. Mar 2003
  7. Myers PK. Machines of aggressively loving grace. Dec 2008
  8. Inside Nature's Giants - Giant Squid, SBS, 2012

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