Embarrassing Moments in Science

Regular readers will know that the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel loves to celebrate excellence……….excellence in failure, that is!  Yes, there is something about epic fails that fills the heart with soul healing mirth and with admiration for the gumption of those who dared to try and fall flat on their faces.  That is why, the IgNobel Awards are frequently feted here.

But recently, the Squirrel had been alerted to a new source of inspiration.  Fieldwork Fails is a book that has a collection of stories of scientists hard at work in the field collecting data and making a fool of themselves in the process.  Kind of a tribute to those who push the boundaries of science and find that the sometimes the boundaries push back.

Here is a couple of examples from Fieldwork Fails which is compiled and illustrated by Jim Jourdane.

science fails 1

science fail 2.jpg

Now I have a few personal examples that I could add to the compilation on account that I am a scientist, have done fieldwork and have experienced epic fails.  But the following is one of my favorite, true, “cross my heart and hope to die” yarns.

This was early in my career as a conservationist and I joined a scientific expedition to a part of the Malaysian jungle that had been relatively poorly investigated by science.  I was really inexperienced at that time but had the wonderful privilege of being in the company of some very respected biologists and botanists and learning from them.  In return, all these eminent scientists asked of me was to carry all their heavy gear through the hot, steamy jungle.

We operated out of a base camp that was almost totally constructed of jungle material.  We slept on stretcher like cots made out of wooden poles and canvas under a shelter that was constructed from various palm leaves laid over a wooden frame.

On one occasion, I had a chance to follow a group of three entomologists who were leaders in their field.  (Entomologist = someone crazy about insects).  After a long day out in the field collecting insect specimens from various traps, we returned to camp and plopped our tired bodies down on to adjacent cots.

It was there, while we lay in the fading light, nursing our sore muscles, that one of the guys spotted an extremely large stick insect up in the rafters of our crude shelter. Now, Malaysia is famous for its many species of stick insects – some of which are very large.

Cameron Highlands - Stick Insect

Anyway, all four of us continued to lie on our cots exhausted, observing the creature from afar and there then ensured an academic debate as to the identity of the curious visitor in our rafters.  One was sure that it was a rare species.  Another disagreed, citing the proportion of the body to the head did not fit the species characteristics.  The third insisted it was yet another species based on the structure and positioning of the legs.  For once, I was wise enough to keep silent and let the experts argue it out.

After, about 15 minutes of heated discussion, one of the experts declared, “There’s only one way to settle this!”.  With that, he got up, reached for his butterfly net and scooped the insect from the rafters for closer examination.  With the prize in hand, all three gathered round to make the final identification.

That’s when they realised that it wasn’t a stick insect at all, it was a …..stick.

Bitter Searching for Commonwealth

Remembering Orlando……

Remembering Orlando, Paris, Brussels, Syria, Kenya, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Boston, Oslo, Sandy Hill, Virginia Tech, Turkey, Oklahoma City, New York ……………….. so many.

Why so much hate?  Where is the love for brother man?  If we cannot at least respect each other, how can we hope for a better world for our children?

My tribute to those whose lives have been snatched away or shattered……. and my plea to the world……

Poem by F.R. Scott; song by Leonard Cohen.

May we rise, from bitter searching of the heart, to play a greater part that men may know commonwealth again.

Korean War Memorial

bloom county war
Cartoon by Berke Breathed (Bloom County Babylon: Five Years of Basic Naughtiness)

The cartoon kinda sums up my confused state of mind.    When I was a wee lad, I grew up  on a diet of television series like “Combat”, movies like Chuck Norris’ “Missing in Action” and Commando War Comics. All of which tended to give a glorified and sanitized portrayal of war, in that, the bad guys are usually clearly viciously bad and deserve to be killed by the virtuous good guy heroes who almost always just get flesh wounds.


And so, I grew up playing soldier and even cowboys and Indians.  Only later did I begin to understand that war is almost never clear cut black and white and it’s not just the bad guys that get killed.  I learned about “collateral damage”, “civilian casualties”, “killing fields” and “genocide”. I began to see that war wasn’t cool.

Today, I consider myself to be firmly in the peace-loving, pacifist, flower-power camp.  Or at least, that’s who I grew up to be.  And yet, I confess that I was excited to have the opportunity, with my brother,  to visit the Korean War Memorial and their open air collection of war machines.  Please forgive this relapsing war-junkie as I guiltily present some photos from that visit.

Enter Korean War Memorial (Photo by LGS)
The front of the Monument showing the brave and valiant fighters (Photo by LGS)
The rear of the Monument showing perhaps the suffering of the people (Photo by LGS)
F86L Sabre (Photo by LGS’ brother)
F-51D Mustang (Photo by LGS)
The opposing MIG 19 (Photo by LGS)
LGS valiantly defending against air attack (Photo by LGS’ brother)
The Hardware of War (Photo by LGS)
American Tanks (Photo by LGS)
Cool-looking attack boat (Photo by LGS)
This Patrol Boat actually took place in the Second Battle of Yeonpyeong and still carries the scars of the battle to repel a North Korean naval incursion in 2002 in which 6 South Koreans lost their lives. The red holes are battle damage. (Photo by LGS)

Squirrel Control to Major Tom

Things seem a bit depressing at the moment. Wars, atrocities, air crashes, etc.  All bummers.  Not even the promised distraction of sporting competition where man challenge man to greater heights of achievement bring much relief.  The upcoming Euro football championships have the threat of terrorist attacks hanging over them and the Olympics are under a cloud of mosquitos bearing the risk of Zika.

So I have decided to treat you loyal friends to an escape. An escape into the crazy imagination of a nut-addled squirrel mind.  Let’s leave the world and all its worries behind behind and blast off in our own Eagle Transporter into the world of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Space 1999.

Regular readers (all two of you and the stalker), will know that my birthday wish in 2014 was to have my own Eagle Transporter  model kit.  Unfortunately, it is incredibly hard to get as the model was based on a British TV series that ran between 1975-1977.  They had long stopped producing the models.

But so desperate was I to go on a flight of fancy that I did not give up the search.  Finally, after about a year on the quest, I finally found one in Melbourne, Australia.

And here it is………..  I am a bit rusty so my model building skill is lamentable.  Nevertheless, come fly with me.

What should my next project be?  Should it be the Star Wars Death Star or Millennium Falcon?  How about Star Trek’s Enterprise or Klingon Bird of Prey?  I am thinking maybe a World War II bomber, or perhaps an aircraft carrier, or maybe a tall ship.  What do you think?

Broken Glass Houses

In the last post, I made comment about the crazy gun, greed and celebrity culture that seems to be prevalent in the USA these days.  But the Lone Grey Squirrel remembers the adage, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”  And so before you start throwing stones back, I readily admit that things are not so great over here either.

Recently in the news was a 21 year old Malaysian girl studying chemical engineering in Sydney, Australia.  The bank made a mistake and gave her bank account an unlimited overdraft facility and she proceeded to spend AUD 4.6 million (USD 3.3 million) on handbags, luxury items and rental of a luxury apartment – all in less than a year.  When authorities began to make inquiries, she tried to leave the country on an emergency travel document but was arrested at the airport.  When asked why she had spent so much and not reported the mistake to the bank, she replied that she had just assumed that her parents had given her the money to spend.

So many questions?  Whose fault is all this? The girl’s or the bank’s? Was she dishonest? Is she guilty of any crime? Or is she just naive?  Did she really believe that her parents would give her millions to spend?  And finally, how come the banks have never been kind enough to make such a mistake with my accounts?

Of course, she isn’t alone.  The Malaysian Prime Minister has also been in the spotlight with regards to USD 681 million that was paid into his personal bank account.  He too has an explanation……….it was a donation from an unnamed Saudi Prince.

The perception is that corruption and dishonesty has permeated the fabric of Malaysian society at every level from the man on the street to the engines of industry to the corridors of power.

Here are two funny tales that are circulating which help to explain how things are perceived to be done in Malaysia these days.

Story 1:- Shrewd Financial Management

A homeless man finds a 100 dollar bill  He goes to a 5 star hotel, gets a room for the night and orders room service.  The next day, the hotel demands payment of 800 dollars.

The man says all he has is the 100 dollar bill.  The hotel manager calls the police.

The police come and arrest him. While in the police car, the man offers the cops the 100 dollar bill.  The police immediately release him and ask where he would like to be dropped off.

Now, that is shrewd financial management

Story 2: National Service

Malaysia joins the space race and wants to send a man to Mars.  After a grueling training and selection process, the hopeful astronauts have been whittled down to just three candidates.

A high ranking government Minister in charge of the space program decides to meet the candidates before making a final decision on who will be selected. Each candidate was asked in turn, what would they like as a token of thanks from a grateful nation for carrying out this dangerous mission.

Candidate 1 told the minister that he was happy to serve the country but it was a risky mission and he has 3 wives and their families to feed.  He therefore asked that he be given 3 million dollars to make sure that his families were well taken care off in case he did not come back.  The Minister said he would consider the request.

Candidate 2 similarly asked for 1 million dollars.  He explained that he had one wife and that 1 million would make sure that his wife and family were well taken care off if he failed to come back.  The minister said he would consider the request.

Candidate 3 told the minister that he would need 5 million dollars.

Taken aback, the minister asked if the candidate had 5 wives?

Candidate 3 replied that he was not married.

“Why then do you need 5 million?” asked the minister.

Candidate 3 leaned over and whispered into the minister’s ear, “Give me 5 million……2 million I give to you, another 2 million I will keep and I know a fool who will actually go on the mission for just 1 million.”

Or in other words…….how government tenders work.


If Squirrels were in Charge….

Squirrels are well trained to look for and spot a bad nut and we also know what to do with bad nuts…….

squirrels with bad nut
….squirrels make sure that the BAD NUTS don’t get away and cause any harm!!!

So, if squirrels were in charge there would be none of these nonsense……..

zimmerman gun

If squirrels were in charge, ……. THERE WOULD BE NO PROFITEERING FROM TRAGEDY!




Excerpts from BBC report:-

The handgun used to kill unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 has been sold for $250,000 (£172,000), US media say.

The gun was put up for auction by George Zimmerman, who fired the shot but was acquitted of Trayvon’s murder.

The sale of the gun drew criticism from those saying Mr Zimmerman, 32, was seeking to profit from the killing. Gun rights advocates say he was exercising his legal rights under US law.

Denny Honeycutt, a Florida bar owner who said he had agreed a price of $150,000, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that Mr Zimmerman had reneged on the deal.

“I thought he was a man of his word,” Mr Honeycutt told the paper.

He said the buyer was a woman who had wanted the gun as a birthday present for her son.

Honestly, humans! What the heck is going on in that”superior” Homo sapien nut of yours?  Better let us squirrels take charge before you make things even worse.

Colouring Between the Lines

Has it finally happened?!?!?!  Has the Lone Grey Squirrel become so grey that he has entered the proverbial second childhood?

For whatever reason, LGS has returned to the childhood activity of trying to colour between the lines.  I blame my wife. She started it and I got dragged in.

As you smart and trendy readers would know, there seems to be a surging interest in colouring books for adults.  These books are full of line drawings of varying complexity but all uncoloured.  All awaiting our inner child to awake and put our imagination and creativity on paper.  It is touted as a great way for stress relief and I guess it is more constructive than my old standard of throwing darts at a picture of my boss.

At any rate, the sheer proliferation of such books are a clear reflection of its popularity.  And as I always say, “50 million monkeys can’t be wrong”!*

*in case you are wondering, those are lyrics from the song “The Peanut Vendor” by Moises Simons of Cuba; although the English lyrics were by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Marion Sunshine.

Anyway, I present before your cruel, critical eyes,some of my early work in this medium.  Please be kind – like to a helpless baby seal. Thank you.

SQUIRRELS! Of course, I had to start here!  This could be my coat of arms….what do you think? (drawing from Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom; colouring by LGS)
You may be wondering what possessed LGS to do this?  All I have to say is SHROOMS! (drawing from Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland; colouring by LGS)
bird nest
Now, colouring between the lines seems to be here to stay, like a  BIRD COMING IN TO NEST! (drawing from Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland: colouring by LGS)

Will you catch the bug too?

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels


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