Wool vs Sweat
Pale Blue Dot
Hubble Deep Field
Powers of Ten
Correction: Lauren talks about the culture of baboons changing when the males of the group succumb to leprosy. It was actually tuberculosis.
Episode 59: Instructions, One Inch Tall – Shel We Read a Poem?
British Voice: Shel We Read a Poem.
Russ: Hello all and welcome to Shel We Read a Poem. I’m Russ.
Lauren: And I’m Lauren.
Russ: Lauren, we were talking about Icebreaker shirts.
Lauren: Yeah. I have a few.
Russ: They’re $100…
Lauren: I don’t ever pay full price
Russ: …for a shirt!
Lauren: I don’t pay full price.
Russ: I’m wearing a t shirt that came in a pack of five for $18.
Lauren: Okay, well, I’m wearing an Icebreaker shirt that’s red. I mean, well, it’s under this other shirt, but anyway… Russ laughs. But I didn’t pay full price for it. I have ways.
Russ: Did they fall off the back of a truck?
Lauren: No. You know, I get some pro deals from working in the outdoor industry and I know where to find good sales on things.
Russ: Oh, look, they have dress shirts that are $200. It’s Arc’teryx all over again.
Lauren: That’s what outdoor gear is like. It’s expensive. But I don’t pay that much.
Russ: This might not be a good investment for me.
Lauren: No. I don’t really think so. You don’t… So the purpose of wool, and especially this nice, thin, not super scratchy wool is that… There are two reasons to wear it. One is that you can wear it many days in a row without washing it. And the other is that it’s good for keeping you warm when you’re outdoors, especially when it gets wet and you’re in the rain. And you don’t really like being outdoors that much and you really don’t like going unwashed. So I don’t think it’s a good investment for you.
Russ: Now I do have properly sweaty armpits. Can wool help with that?
Russ: It wouldn’t retain my horrible human stench?
Lauren: No, it’s… so wool is anti-microbial. And so it takes quite a while for it to stink.
Russ: Wow, maybe this would be a good investment for me secondary to hyperhidrosis alone.
Lauren: Yeah, so I don’t sweat very much. So I can go a very long time without cleaning my wool. But you do have to wash it on cold and gently and you can’t put it in the dryer or it will felt and get tiny.
Russ: I have or have always had really sweaty armpits. And the rest of my body gets you know, a little bit sweaty, but the armpits just go wild. And to the point I had a job once where I had to wear suits and also be outside and so I would put like panty liners and the armpits of my suits.
Lauren: Oh huh.
Russ: And I was like, well, there’s got to be a way to sort this out. Ran across a product called Certain Dri that, like, stops sweating in an area. Like it stops your skin from sweating in that area. And when you put it on it burns, I would come to find out. So whatever’s happening there probably isn’t healthy. So I was like, Well, I’ll try anything. And so I tried this, as I said, and it burned. And I found that I did stop sweating a lot from my armpits, but it just redistributed.
Lauren: Laughs. Oh, no.
Russ: So it’s like now my armpits which have always been the sweatiest area aren’t sweating very much. And now the rest of me that traditionally doesn’t make a lot of sweat is now doing so.
Lauren: Wool wouldn’t stop you from sweating. You’d still sweat the same amount. It just wouldn’t stink.
Russ: That is the ideal solution to my problems.
Lauren: Yeah. Well, it might help you then.
Russ: All right, I’ll play your game, you rouges. Well, what are we talking about today?
Lauren: Well, I am going to read “Instructions.”
If you should ever choose
To bathe an armadillo,
Use one bar of soap
And a whole lot of hope
And seventy-two pads of Brillo.
And there is a picture of an armadillo. It’s not really to scale. The front part of it is very large and the sort of pillbug-looking part of it is smaller and the tails a little stubby, but the front, the face, just looks like something from the Dark Crystal.
Russ: The Skeksis.
Russ: Adorable little isopod dogs.
Lauren: I know they’re so weird. I hadn’t seen a live one until I saw one in Florida. I remember driving through Texas and Oklahoma and never seeing one and only seeing them dead on the side of the road. There’s nothing but dead armadillo.
Russ: It’s very true. I’m told that they are a carrier of leprosy, but that might be an old superstition. I’m not sure if it’s true or not.
Lauren: Well, a lot of times the animals are carriers of diseases so…
Russ: But leprosy, that’s such a cool one. Who gets leprosy?
Lauren: I mean, people have gotten leprosy. People still get leprosy. There was this one study where some group of…I want to say baboons. I’m not really sure. They were known for being particularly violent and terrible. And then all of the males got leprosy from a pile of trash and died. The so then they had this matriarchal society, wherein anytime a male would try to enter the group and be violent, they would just beat the crap out of them until they were peaceful, or I guess they would they would chase them out. And so they had this one extremely atypical culture of baboons or whatever it was, and that was all thanks to leprosy.
[Correction: It was thanks to tuberculosis.]
Russ: We have the best tangents. I have learned that some armadillos are naturally infected with the bacteria that cause Hansen’s Disease, which is the cool new name for leprosy, I guess. But that it’s unlikely to spread to people.
Russ: Well, why are we talking about “Instructions?” Is it because it’s just one of the few that’s left?
Lauren: Yes. But also it has to do with cleaning. Actually, I feel like we should discuss Brillo because maybe if you are a younger Millennial or Gen Z, you don’t know what Brillo is. Brillo is pretty much just steel wool. And steel wool is this, like, metal that has been spun very finely. And it’s a crunchy cotton ball that you scour things with.
Russ: I always use it as a fire starter.
Russ: Yeah. And back when I was teaching science, which I’m going to bring up later, I used it in one particular experiment that showed that some chemical reactions could add mass to a substance.
Lauren: So you’re visiting soon.
Russ: I am Hurray, hurray. Are we finding armadillos?
Lauren: No, I’m just thinking about cleaning because I haven’t had anybody here in a while. And I’m kind of a magpie of chaos. I’m not a terribly dirty person. But I am a little hoarder-y. And I’m a little bit… and I’m very chaotic. So I’m like, but I want to appear as if I’m not. Both laugh.
Russ: And now you just told all of our listeners that you are so.
Lauren: Right, but I’ve said that many times before.
Russ: They’re not fooled.
Lauren: I think we talked about how I’m a little hoarder-y when we talked about “Hector the Collector.”
Russ: Oh, that’s right. Things look mildly chaotic behind you.
Lauren: Yeah, I think all you can really see is pillow chaos.
Russ: And we’ve just named our band.
Lauren: Sounds like a great name. Pillow chaos. Yeah, I have too many pillows around my living room. I did terrible things to my fingers today.
Russ: What terrible things did you do to your fingers today?
Lauren: I get a lot of joy out of providing myself with food of my own labor, whether it’s gardening or foraging. And today, I decided I was going to go harvest nettles. But I think I do this thing every year where I forget that you actually need good gloves to harvest nettles and not just whatever gloves you’re wearing while you’re biking. And so I stung the fuck out of my hands.
Russ: Oh, god. What are these nettles used for when you harvest them?
Lauren: You can use them like a vegetable like you would… they cook very similarly to spinach.
Russ: And they’re not just made of knives when they come out?
Lauren: No, no, they’re fine.
Russ: Well it’s like if they’re going to tear your hands up that much…
Lauren: They don’t tear your hands. They have little tiny hairs that…
Russ: That don’t hurt your mouth for some reason?
Lauren: No, once they’re crushed and the heat also deactivates them. Once they’re crushed or deactived or heated, they aren’t a thing anymore.
Russ: I just pictured that being like some sort of endurance trial.
Lauren: No, it’s perfectly fine to eat them. You can eat them raw if you crush them properly.
Lauren: They’re very nutritious.
Russ: They better have some benefit. Eat one, get a superpower…
Lauren: For a plant they’re very high in protein.
Russ: …or appear on Jackass.
Lauren: They were used for treating arthritis.
Russ: Hi, I’m Lauren and this is Eat a Cactus.
Lauren: I have eaten cactuses. You probably have, too.
Russ: Yes, I’ve eaten cactus, but not where I’ve just picked it up on the spot. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
Lauren: I mean, I did try to eat it… I was curious about cactus fruit once and I did try to pick a cactus fruit and I got, you know, pickers and my finger fingers.
Russ: Cactied? Are you obsessed as I am with the screaming hairy armadillo?
Russ: No? Not a fan or not familiar?
Lauren: What is it? I don’t know what it is.
Russ: Oh dear.
Lauren: I’ve never heard of fairy armadillos. But I’ve never heard of a hairy armadillo.
Russ: Two shakes I’ll send you…
Lauren: Alright. Let’s see this.
Russ: Yes. There’s my little guy! (Muppet-like screams in background.)
Lauren: This is really cute. Aw, he’s very cute. Meeeeeeh meeeeeeeeeeh meeeeeeeeh. But I’m not that cute.
Russ: So I’ve said before that my favorite movie title is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, because that is a perfect description of that movie. Every single word, it’s like yeah, you told me everything there is to know about this movie. That’s a perfect title. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There’s the movie. So what is a screaming hairy armadillo? Well, all three of those things
Lauren: Is that the actual common name for it? The screaming hairy armadillo?
Lauren: And on that let’s talk about the fairy armadillo. You refer to armadillos as being isopod dogs. Well, check out the fairy armadillo.
Russ: Okay, the screaming hairy armadillo, also known as the small screaming armadillo, the crying armadillo, or the small hairy armadillo. Both laugh.
Lauren: Now fairy armadillo’s not a great name, but…
Russ: Oh amazing!
Lauren: Really is just an isopod, isn’t it? Giggles.
Russ: I am aghast. There is no way… I am staring mouth agape at this magical pink half armadillo, half gopher, half dog, half gerbil.
Lauren: It really is just kind of a mammalian isopod.
Russ: Wow, this is a pokemon. It’s like this thing’s next evolution is the screaming hairy armadillo.
Lauren: Ah, I like that.
Russ: Wow. Now I have like five new Instagrams I need to follow.
Lauren: Armadillos are pretty interesting, aren’t they? I’ve only really seen in the wild the standard though.
Russ:The standard. What is the standard?
Lauren: Oh, I mean, I imagine it’s the one that looks like a dog but also an isopod. Like the big one. What are they called though?
Russ: I’ve always just called them armadillos. Oh, yes. There’s quite a lot of them.
Lauren: So nine banded armadillo is I think the one that we think of when we generally think about an armadillo.
Russ: I think you’re right. That looks like the thing that I think of.
Lauren: That’s the one that gets crushed under tires in Texas and Oklahoma, is the nine banded armadillo
Russ: Making it the most widespread of the armadillos. Sure enough.
Lauren: I’m looking at this Wikipedia, and it says “Armadillos are common roadkill due to their habit of jumping three to four feet vertically when startled, which puts them into collision with the underside of vehicles.”
Russ: They jump directly into the car.
Lauren: “Wildlife enthusiasts are using the northward March of the armadillos an opportunity to educate others about the animals, which can be a burrowing nuisance to property owners and managers.” Okay.
Russ: “Armadillo” means little armored one in Spanish.
Russ: The Aztecs called them turtle rabbits.
Lauren: Also appropriate. Well, I think turtle dog would be better.
Russ: Can we do animals now? Or are we just an animal podcast?
Lauren: We do talk about animals quite a bit. But then again, so does Shel. Shel Silverstein talks about animals a lot. This is the poem about cleaning armadillo with Brillo.
Russ: I have a poem that also involves a couple of animals.
Lauren: Okay, go for it.
Russ: Because this is “One Inch Tall.”
If you were only one inch tall, you’d ride a worm to school.
The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool.
A crumb of cake would be a feast
And last you seven days at least,
A flea would be a frightening beast
If you were one inch tall.
If you were only one inch tall, you’d walk beneath the door,
And it would take about a month to get down to the store.
A bit of fluff would be your bed,
You’d swing upon a spider’s thread,
And wear a thimble on your head
If you were one inch tall.
You’d surf across the kitchen sink upon a stick of gum.
You couldn’t hug your mama, you’d just have to hug her thumb.
You’d run from people’s feet in fright,
To move a pen would take all night,
(This poem took fourteen years to write—
‘Cause I’m just one inch tall).
And of course your illustration is a tiny man, riding a worm, wearing a thimble for a hat.
Lauren: Thimbles are usually about, like, almost an inch.
Russ: Well, no one said we had to be scientifically accurate.
Lauren: Well, that’s not the only problem though, like a crying ant. A tear from a crying and it would be your swimming pool. What the hell?
Russ: It’s almost like he was taking poetic license.
Russ: I had no reason to read this poem other than just to talk about scale and how the universe is cool and interesting.
Lauren: And unfathom-mable.
Lauren: Un… un… unfathomable.
Russ: How cute the idea of a one inch tall person, but you know, on any planetary or cosmic scale, there’s not much of a difference between being a meter and a half tall or one inch tall.
Lauren: I mean, there isn’t that much difference on a cosmic scale of being a meter and a half tall and not existing.
Russ: …and existing. So that got me thinking about using this poem as a means to teach scale. And I used to teach eighth grade science, which is a fantastic job because you get to talk about all the really cool stuff. One thing is biomass. And humans, I checked, have about 350 million tons of biomass on the planet, whereas ants have about 3 billion, with a B. So humans are meaningful, but there’s a lot more meaningful things out there.
Russ: Ants for one, on the flip side of the scale, you know, from ant to human to lots and lots of ants to the outward universe, the Pale Blue Dot popped into my mind. For those who are unfamiliar. In 1977, NASA launched a probe called Voyager One that would go out and take a whole bunch of pictures of the solar system. And it is still out there. Traveling at about 40,000 miles an hour. It is the most distant human made object from Earth and the first one to ever leave the solar system. And its mission was supposed to stop at Jupiter, but it has kept going into this day.
Lauren: But now, it’s hard to get information from it.
Russ: Yeah, it takes quite a long time to get information from… I’m sorry, I said Jupiter. Voyager One was supposed to work until Saturn. And as it was going to pass Saturn in 1980, Carl Sagan proposed the idea of the probe turning around and taking one last picture of Earth. For bureaucratic reasons, it took about until 1990, ten years later, to get this actually to happen, but it did happen. The photograph itself is mostly sunbeam. But right in the middle of it, you have the tiniest, tiniest pixel of blue, which is of course Earth. And Sagan’s 1994 book was called Pale Blue Dot. And he explains the significance of the photograph. And Carl Sagan writes, “From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest, but for us, it’s different. Consider again, that dot, that’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives, the aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forger, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there, on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” And I will link the entire poem; it’s really rather beautiful. And of course, the ultimate point is that we’re all we’ve got, and no one is coming to help us and how stupid it is to fight and die over fractions of this, nothing. To round out the issue. I thought then about my favorite photograph ever taken, which is the Hubble Deep Field, as I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you at all. And for those who are unfamiliar, I will link it. It was taken by the Hubble in 1995 and covers a section of the sky that is about equivalent to a tennis ball being held at a distance of 100 meters. And so it’s a nothing-th of the sky. And there’s no visible stars there. It’s just yeah, you wouldn’t even notice it. And so the Hubble took 342 separate exposures of this nothing of a sky and what appears are 3000, in the neighborhood of, deep space objects, most of which are galaxies, each one containing at least 100 million stars. And this is a nothing of what surrounds us.
Lauren: What is the film that goes on orders of magnitude? I used to see it in the planetarium when I was a child.
Russ: Where you start from like a person laying in like a field, and then it zooms into them, and then it zooms out to the universe?
Lauren: Yeah, because when I look at the Deep Field, it to me it looks a lot like looking into a microscope and watching all the paramecium float around and do their thing. You know, the galaxies look quite a bit like paramecium.
Russ: The mind reels.
Lauren: It’s called Powers of 10.
Russ: 1977. Oh, wow. I remember this one. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. That was exactly what was in my mind.
Lauren: Yeah, we were both thinking of the same thing.
Russ: Good on ya. That’s perfect. Oh, yeah, I remember this.
Lauren: Yeah, just strange to think of it because in that Deep Field, the galaxies look like micro organisms. I think that if we were one inch tall, fleas would probably be about the size of a rabbit, don’t you think?
Russ: Or an armadillo. Oh!
Lauren: Or an armadillo. Maybe a little fairy armadillo or the screaming one. The screaming one!
Russ: You transform down to one inch tall and find out that fleas scream. Lauren laughs. That would… welcome to your new hell.
Lauren: Oh god, I mean the faces… the faces and mandibles and such of insects are not great to look at. So being that close up with them. Ugh.
Russ: And a sound comes out of it.
Lauren: Neeeeeeh. Neeeeeh.
Russ: Or worse yet, what if they have little voices? “Hello. I’m Frank.”
Lauren: “Okay. Hi Frank.”
Russ: “You speak English? “I do now.” Welcome to One Inch Tall.
Lauren: The podcast between a human and his friend, Frank, the flea.