Saturday, December 19, 2009

Staring at the Sun


The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is a spacecraft launched over 14 years ago to study the sun. Onboard are a variety of different instruments that can take pictures of the sun in different wavelengths, sample the solar wind, measure radiation ect.
You can take a look at what SOHO has seen, for example this beautiful video of a five day long observation or another of solar flares
Here's the SOHO homepage, with lots of other videos, pictures and interesting stuff.

photo courtesy of SOHO (ESA & NASA)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Musical Monday: Skyclad

Sorry about the bad quality, but I absolutely wanted this particular song and there are no other videos of the studio version with this singer around. It's the first Skyclad song I ever heard and I loved it from the start. I like the metal-folk mix and the lyrics - lots of wordplays and tons of sarcasm.
I stopped listening to their new CDs after they changed the singer, but I still love seeing them live, they are a lot of fun - even though in Hamburg only 50 people or so come to their concerts, no idea why.

I'll leave you with a much better quality video of Vintage Whine, another favourite of mine:

What moves you on Musical Monday?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Listen to Saturn

Did you know that planets make sounds? These sounds are generated by particles from the solar wind hitting the atmosphere of a planet, generating radiowaves.
Listen to Earth and Jupiter and my favourite Saturn.
Here's another cool audio - it was recorded by the Cassini spacecraft when it crossed Saturn's bowshock, a disturbance in the solar wind generated by the planet's magnetic field.

The aurora (Northern or Southern light) also makes sounds like this or this

You can listen to more sounds from space here and here are some more aurora sounds. Those must be downloaded and unzipped (and may make a good musical background for your next Halloween party...).

I wonder if meteor showers make sounds. Tonight the Geminids will reach their maximum and I hope that the sky will clear up around here. They are spectacular, up to 150 meteors per hour, and take a fairly long time to reach their maximum, so you have several days to watch for them. If you're outside tonight, take a look!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Meet the mice: Isgrimnur

Isgrimnur came to me with his brother Dinivan. They belonged to a family who kept them in a tiny cage. Both were unneutered and only the lack of space had kept them from fighting too much with each other, but both had bitemarks already. Apart from that, they had mites - so many that they could be seen with the naked eye. Eew. Their owners had gone on vacation and the person who looked after them called me for advice. She also paid for neutering them, treating the mites and convinced the owners to give the mice up.


I found a new home for Dinivan and kept Isgrimnur, although I didn't plan to. But even after all the mites were gone, he kept scratching himself, so much that he lost his fur and started to bleed, he even scratched away his ears. I had hoped that the company of other mice would keep him busy and it worked, he stopped scratching so much and he was happy with his new friends, although he had only been neutered four weeks and some of the others were neutered males, too. Sometimes that can be a problem, it takes a while for the hormones to wear off (up to six months) and until then, neutered males can still be aggressive towards other males.

Isgrimnur keep scratching himself and I can't do much about it. I've tried everything the vet and I could think of: new bedding, medication against the itch and inflammation of the wounds ect. Some of what I tried made it even worse because he scratches more when he's stressed. But at least he doesn't scratch himself bloody now and he doesn't do it all the time. Some of his fur regrew - although I suspect that the fur is part of the issue. He's a rex or frizzy, which means that his fur is curly and that includes his whiskers and his eyelashes. His eyes are often inflamed because the eyelashes grow inward. I did think about euthanizing him and if the scratching hadn't gotten better, I would have asked the vet to do it. But at the moment, I think that Isgrimnur leads a fairly happy life, socializing with the others, exploring the cage and only stopping once in a while to scratch. He may not be very beautiful, but I doubt that he or the others care.

Isgrimnur and Dinivan were named for characters from one of my favourite books, Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Librarian's Life

We've earned 80 Euros by selling old books at the Christmas bazaar of my Wednesday school! I've already bought some new books from that, mostly from trilogies that we need to complete, but also Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, a book that I've read and loved a while ago.
It's slow today, not much to do and I have time to write a few book recommendations for next year, I want to have a new one for both novels and non-fiction books at least once a month, but better every two weeks.

I had a talk with the head teacher of the Tuesday school and we decided to throw out many of the old books. When I say old, I mean 30 years old at least. We'll buy new ones next year, at the moment I'm gathering ideas from the departments about what to buy. I'm so happy about this, I did all my work smiling yesterday - it's great when you can actually accomplish something instead of just guarding books no-one wants.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Meet the Naked Soled Gerbils


This is Shran, one of my three naked soled gerbils (Tatera indica). They are the size of a small rat, have huge eyes (they are nocturnal) and indeed naked feet. You probably know Mongolian gerbils - what most people mean when they say gerbil, but there are a lot more species in that family, it's a very diverse group.

Naked soled gerbils were imported in some numbers a few years ago, but they don't make really good pets. They are very shy, need a lot of room and it's almost impossible to handle them. I cannot touch mine at all and that is perfectly normal for the species. They are extremely curious and always come looking when I'm in the room, but when I come close with my hands, they run.
A friend of mine got their parents when the veterinary department along with several animal rescue organisations cleared out the apartment of an animal hoarder. Six of the gerbils were kept in a 20 gallon tank (but at least they had water, unlike many other animals there...many were already dead and had been for quite a while).

Of course the females were pregnant and my friend ended up with a fairly big group, the males were neutered and re-introduced to the females. I took them in when my friend had to move from her house to an apartment after breaking up with her partner. The gerbils live in a homemade cage measuring 7x2x3 ft long, wide and high. Only three are left now and they may well be the only naked soled gerbils in Germany. Considering how ill-suited they are for being kept as pets, I don't see that as much of a problem, although I do wonder what I am going to do with the last gerbil when the time comes.
Captain Archer
Doctor Phlox - he's missing his tail. Their parents started to groom each other so heavily that they lost part of their fur and the children learned that behaviour along with gnawing on each other's tails. They stopped the tail gnawing now, but the razoring still continues, although it has gotten less after they got used to their new home. At least I can tell them apart. They were named for characters from Star Trek Enterprise.

Meet the mice: Malkovich

Malkovich was born as a feeder mouse, but then he was given up for adoption at the shelter. It often happens that people start breeding mice for their snake and don't think about how fast mice reproduce and how little snakes eat. Breeding mice, even if it's only as feeder mice, takes a lot of thought and room and I will never get why people who spend tons of money for their snakes and do everything for them are content to let the mice live in tiny cages with no consideration for their wellbeing. Yes, they are food, but that's no reason to treat them like things.

apologies for the bad quality, he isn't one for posing for the camera...

So Malkovich wasn't to be eaten, but the shelter was swamped with about 80 mice, all of them pink eyed white - the kind most people don't want. The majority were males and that means a garlic-y and really pungent smell as well as bloody fights for territory. The shelter doesn't have the vet manpower to neuter mice and so after a while they had to separate the males. Many found new homes, some died and 20 or so stayed, alone in their cages for more than a year.

The rodent rescue organization I volunteer for finally got a big donation and we could get all the mice, neuter them and find new homes for them. I picked Malkovich for myself and nocticed right from the start that he was afraid of being touched and that the fear made him aggressive. He just wasn't used to any contact after spending such a long time alone - a year for a mouse is about 30-40 years for us.

After neutering, I tried to introduce him to the group and at first everything seemed fine. For about five minutes. Then Ood tried to say hello and Malkovich freaked, he just didn't know how to react to Ood touching and smelling him. He bit Ood and then started to run after all the other mice, nipping and jostling them. This was clearly not working.

Malkovich needed to learn again how to be a mouse and I decided that he needed a teacher. Susan StoHelit, an older female who was about the only one not scared of him, was the obvious choice and they moved into a big tank and stayed there for a few weeks. Malkovich at first ran after Susan all the time and tried to pick a fight, but she just ignored him. After a while, he noticed that Susan was a female and fighting was the last thing on his mind. I walked in on them, Susan calmy eating a sunflower seed, totally igoring the fact that Malkovich was busy mating with her (neutered mice can still mate, just not produce babies).


By now, Malkovich still isn't comfortable around humans, although he will take treates from my hand - that's also something he learned from Susan, who is pretty tame. But he is very comfortable around other mice and the second introduction into the group, abou two months after the first, went without problems. Here he is cuddling with Ood (black) and Isgrimnur (pied):

Meet the Mice: Ood

At the moment, I keep a group of 10 fancy mice: Ood, Feynman, Malkovich, Duracel, Hypatia, Lise Meitner, Madame Curie, Susan StoHelit, Isgrimnur and Gertrud. Yes, I like giving my pets weird names.
Four of them are neutered males, unneutered males will fight eventually and fight to the death in some cases, especially when they have as much room as they should have. Keeping them in smaller cages can prevent fighting, but that's not really a solution.
All of them come from shelters or private rescues.
Here they are during the introduction, mice need to get to know each other slowly or they will fight.

This is Ood:


Ood comes from someone who "rescues" animals from pet shops. Unfortunately, that person doesn't have the room for all those animals and often knows nothing about the animals she buys. Not to mention that buying animals from pet shops to rescue them may be good for the individual animal, but the next poor creature already stands in line to be sold.

When I first saw Ood, his home was a pet carrier that contained bedding and nothing else. No house, no food, not even water and of course no other mice. Ood's breathing was so laboured that I could hear him from across the room. "Oh, he's already one year old, so why should I treat that" (not an actual quote, but pretty much what was said).
I took him home with me and treated the respiratory infection with antibiotics, after a week he was pretty much fine again and up for neutering.

After the four week-quaratine to make sure he really couldn't make any more babies he got to meet my other mice and he was overjoyed at finally seeing other mice again. He's the most friendly mouse I've ever seen, he loves all other mice, even those that are not that friendly towards him, and he still likes humans and will walk on my hand even without a treat to lure him.

Ood is 2.5 years old now, pretty good for a mouse who had already been written off! The respiratory infection comes back every now and then and the antibiotics can't heal it completely, but he's still the soul of the group. I hope he'll stay around to see his third birthday at least!


In case you're wondering, he was named after the Ood from Doctor Who.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Musical Monday: Nick Cave

I really can't choose a favourite song from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but this one would be high up on the list. It gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it and I always stop what I'm doing to listen to the lyrics. Actually, all his lyrics are more than worth doing that, he's an excellent (if disturbing) storyteller.

What's moving you on Musical Monday?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Musical Monday: Helium Vola

I'm a bit late, but I just remembered about this meme. Heluim Vola are one of my favourite bands, combining electronic music with traditional lyrics and melodies. Their songs are in Middle High German, Latin, medieval English, French or Italian (as in this case). Dormi is Italian and means sleep - as in sleep now, child - it's a kind of lullaby.
I've seen Helium Vola perform once and it was amazing. The singers usually specialize in early music and Ernst Horn, the guy behind the whole project, is a trained pianist, drummer and conductor. He does things with a piano you wouldn't believe. His other band, Deine Lakaien, usually make very electronic music, but they can just as well perform with just a piano:

More music on Musical Monday