Three new Boffin and Mage stories

Here are three new short stories in the Mage and Boffin series. I hope you enjoy them. The stories are as follows:

Sea Dragons – The dragons ask the Boffin and the Mage for help again, but these dragons don’t fly. They swim! The Boffin and the Mage also acquire some helpers.

Water, As Far As The Eye Can See – The Boffin has an accident and loses her memory. The Mage has to search for her. Clever little Mouse knows where his Great Gran is!

Selene Base – The Boffin goes to the Moon the hard way, while the Mage manages the communications.

All my stories can be found here.

Eggsactly

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A woman has, within her ovaries, all the ova or eggs that she will ever have. No ova develop in a woman during her lifetime. When she ovulates one egg passes through her reproductive system and embeds itself in the wall of her uterus. If it is not fertilised, it gets shed with the lining of her womb during menstruation.

Actually, I skipped a point above. What a woman has in her ovaries are oocytes, or objects which have the potential to form ova. Even before oocytes form, the future baby girl has seven million oogonia, most of which die, some few hundred of which become oocytes.

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If you are wondering why I started thinking about ovulation and all that, the answer is chickens! Chickens lay eggs roughly every day once they start laying and lay for two to three years at least. Some lay for much longer.

I knew that ova, or rather oocytes, are not formed in human females once they are born, and I sort of thought that chickens would be similar. If my maths is correct, human females are born with five hundred or so oocytes, given that one ova is used up during each reproductive cycle and they have thirteen or so cycles per year for approximately forty years.

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Chickens however lay one egg per day, for up to four years or so, meaning that chicken ovaries have at least fourteen hundred to fifteen hundred oocytes, assuming a similar system to the human female system. Ah, Google showed me this article which pretty much confirms the above.

So, chickens are pretty much big bags of potential eggs. I found it interesting that chicken have an internal production line for eggs operating inside them, and several may be on their way to the outside world at any one time. When I read that it reminded me of my Gran, who used to pluck and gut her own chickens, showing me the immature eggs in a chicken’s oviduct. There can’t be many of the younger generations who have seen that!

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Of course a chicken egg must contain a life support system for the embryo (assuming the egg is fertilised, of course), whereas the life support system for mammals is contained within the mother’s body. This does allow humans to grow larger than chickens – the size of an external human egg would have to be at least as large as a small football, and probably larger, as the developing human embryo takes nourishment from the mother’s body, and an external egg would have to contain all that nourishment at the time that the egg is laid.

Another difference between chickens and humans is that the chicken’s offspring have to immediately be able to walk, eat, and largely look after themselves. The human offspring however can feed off the human mother’s milk for sometime, and can gradually get used to normal human foods, like pureed pears, laced with sugar in a glass jar. Yes, well, that’s a side track I can get into another time, I guess.

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In the animal group called the marsupials, this dependency on the mother is extreme. The babies (joeys) are so dependant on the mother’s milk and are born so small, that they are kept in the mother’s pouch until the become big enough for independent life.

So, which is the best strategy? Well, all things being equal a chicken could have at least a hundred or two offspring, but we aren’t drowning in chickens, so of the thousands of eggs that a chicken lays, only a small number don’t end up as scrambled eggs or feeding a predator. There is huge “wastage”.

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Humans on the other hand, well, we are drowning in humans, one might claim, so the strategy of having only a few, but initially very dependent offspring, seems to work for us as a species. In spite of the fact that children could be totally independent of their parents by the time they are reaching the end of their teens, most human children are so bonded to their parents that only the death of the parent breaks that bond.

Another advantage of laying eggs is that humans like eggs. Boiled, scrambled, fried, poached eggs. Eggs used in cooking. As result, rather than searching the landscape for eggs, humans have domesticated chickens. Everywhere humans are, there are chickens. They have even gone into space with us. On that measure chickens have been very successful. In exchange for a few unfertilised embryos chickens have gone further than chicken-kind has gone before. It’s even possible that when mankind sets up outposts on the Moon or Mars that chickens will accompany them.

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Of course, chickens are often kept in conditions which are, to put it mildly, not very nice. It’s even possible that at least partially because of this, that at some time in future, chickens as a food source may be phased out in favour of some sort of artificial egg production process. However, if we manage to visit and maybe colonise earth-like planets, we won’t initially be able to ship out vast protein manufacturing plants.

No, since we probably won’t know what we will find on a distant planet, we will probably ship along some chickens, or at least some eggs. In addition, if the chickens eat the local vegetation and then keel over, we will know that it is harmful, at least to chickens. In addition, the sound of clucking chickens is restful, and would remind the settlers of a distant of what they have left behind them. They would be a comfort, as well as providing a self replicating source of protein in several forms.

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In understand that scientists can produce chicken meat by using a chunk of chicken and feeding it with nutrients. They can then carve off chunks of it and feed it some more. I don’t know if they have actually tasted such meat, and what the pitfalls are for this scheme. There will be some. It’s likely that it is a cumbersome and tricky process.

No, I suggest that when we travel to the stars we take our chickens with us. Our motto could be “ad astra per alia pulli”. To the stars on the wings of chickens.

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[A note about Gettyimages. Gettyimages is a site that provides images, some of which are free and embeddable in WordPress, and no doubt other similar sites. I’ve decided to use images from Gettyimages to decorate my site. The images may or may not bear any relationship to my text, and I do not endorse any views represented or implicated by the images. They are just decoration. I highly recommend Gettyimages.]

The Solstice Again

The Sun rising over Stonehenge on the morning ...
The Sun rising over Stonehenge on the morning of the summer solstice (21st June 2005). A crowd of between 14,000 and 19,000 people greeted the sun as it rose at 04:58 BST. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, the time when the sun is furthest south in the sky and hence at its highest. From here on in, the days get shorter as we slide back towards winter.

In the Northern Hemisphere,  it is of course the winter solstice, and those living there can expect the days to lengthen, as they move towards summer. Today is the Northern Hemisphere’s shortest day.

English: Daisy Rock's "solstice gap"...
English: Daisy Rock’s “solstice gap”” This shows the gap in the rock along which the sunset is viewed on the longest day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seasonal lag means that we can look forward to the warmest months of the year after the solstice, and those unfortunate enough to live in the Northern Hemisphere can look forward to a couple of their coldest months before things start to warm up.

I read somewhere that winter months are the months when people tend to put on weight and this was attributed to the fact that in winter, in the coldest weather people tend to exercise less and eat more. The reduced exercise is attributed to the tendency to stay home in the warm, by the fireside to avoid the often hostile weather.

Brooklyn Museum - Fireside Companion - Platt P...
Brooklyn Museum – Fireside Companion – Platt Powell Ryder – overall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And the eating more is because, well, what else is there to do but eat, when you are trapped by the weather. Our ancestors used to use up all the reserves that they had laid up for just this occasion, the hams and preserves, dried fruit and root vegetables and so on.

When the summer solstice happens, the weather is warmer and better, so people can get out an exercise, and, for our ancestors at least, agriculture kept them on the move, and the aim was to replenish the stores for the winter months, hence an emphasis on growing rather than eating. Besides, most crops would not be ready for harvesting.


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The winter solstice is one candidate for the start of the year. It marks a definite point in the cycle of the year. It’s after the solstice (a few months after the solstice) that things start growing again. The summer solstice is probably not a good choice as things are humming along then, ploughing and planting, growing and nurturing so it doesn’t really fit as the start of the year.

The spring or vernal equinox falls in March, around the 21st in the Northern Hemisphere. This is also a candidate for the start of the year, but to my mind, it is too late. Winter is tailing off at that time, things are starting to grow and because of the seasonal lag, it’s the start of spring. The year, are I see it, is already under way.


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Interestingly our fiscal year ends on 31st March. This is the date used by individuals to account for tax obligations. In many countries using the Gregorian calendar, the fiscal year ends on 31st December and almost aligns with the (winter) solstice based year. Other countries which use other calendars have fiscal years which relate to the local calendar.

As I have said the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere falls on 21st December (in most years). It is an astronomical point in time, not a whole day and can happen on 20th December. In the decade from 2010 to 2020 it falls on the 20th on three occasions.


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The summer solstice, Christmas Day, and the official 1st January New Year Day all fall within just over a week of each other. There is good reason to suspect historical links between these days, and there is much debate on the actual historical relationship between these events.

It is often said that early Christians adopted the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, to squeeze out or replace a pagan celebration at that time. This may or may not be the case (or it may be partially true), but what is evident is that many cultures outside of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn celebrate a festival at around the time of the solstice.

World map with the intertropical zone highligh...
World map with the intertropical zone highlighted in red. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Between the two Tropics the sun is overhead twice in a year while the sun reaches a southerly point at the time of the southern solstice (winter in the north and summer in the south) and a northerly point at the time of the northern solstice, the hottest time occurs when the sun is overhead. This divides the year into unequal parts in these latitudes.

The climate of these regions is dependant on local conditions, such as whether or not the region is close to an ocean or is in the middle of a continent, and many tropical areas have wet and dry seasons, typically of unequal extents. One example know to many people outside the tropics is the monsoon season when a regions rainfall may predominantly happen.


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On the Arctic and Antarctic circle, at the solstices the sun just grazes the horizon at the summer solstice and the day lasts 24 hours. At the winter solstices the sun just barely reaches the horizon and the night lasts 24 hours. Closer to the poles the number of sunless days or days with the sum always above the horizon increase. At the poles the sun is below the horizon for three months and above it for three months. (I hope this is correct. I did research this a little, but I am not 100% sure).

Interestingly, I learnt recently that the sunset will continue to become later for the next few weeks. The reason for this according to the linked article is because we have tied our clocks to 24 hours exactly and the day is not exactly 24 hours long. Not only is it not exactly 24 hours, but its length varies during the year. In Wellington the sunset goes out to around 3 minutes to 9 and doesn’t dip below that time until 7th January 2015.

English: Sunrise at Winter Solstice (December ...
English: Sunrise at Winter Solstice (December 21, 2006 at 8 a.m.) as viewed through the doorway half way up Maiden Tower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(December data here, January data here).

While looking up these numbers I noticed that the day length in Auckland is nearly half an hour shorter up there. Also sunset is about a quarter of an hour later in Wellington meaning that when the summer weather finally arrives we will have an extra 14 minutes to enjoy the balmy evenings. That’s yet another reason to prefer Wellington over Auckland! We have more time to celebrate the solstice.

English: Wellington Harbour (New Zealand) view
English: Wellington Harbour (New Zealand) view (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Darn! I completed this on Monday but forgot to publish it. Better late than never, I guess!]