The Longest Month

Filed as Features on February 2, 2007 4:12 pm

This installment of Science Blogging sees the calendar page turned to February, the longest month of the year. Out my window the snow is falling fast, finally providing that beautiful white blanket we’ve missed until now due to unseasonably warm temperatures that have kept fleas and mosquitoes alive and ready to strike whenever the mercury gets above 60. Which it has done regularly, all the way through January.

The longest month you ask? Why, anyone can tell just by looking at the calendar they got for Christmas that February is the shortest month! Ah, but dear friends, I am here to object! My seed catalogues have all arrived, I’m anxious to get the seedlings started, and I should already have planted peas, spinach and kale! But this whole long-short thing is definitely a plot by our invisible evil overlords to wreak havoc on our sense of cosmic justice.

Punxutawney Phil usually sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, but this year it was cloudy. ‘They’ say that means we will NOT have six more weeks of winter. But in my opinion Groundhog Day is itself just another of those overlord plots, this one in league with whoever figures the tables for the Farmer’s Almanac, which any decent farmer will tell you is highly unreliable. Worse than the 5-day weather forecast on local television. If you divvy the time between February 2 and March 21 – the “official” start of Spring – it’s one day less than seven whole weeks. Besides, Punxutawney Phil lives in Pennsylvania. Has there ever been a winter north of the Mason-Dixon line that didn’t last well into April? I view this sneaky short-February calendar-fixing as equivalent to Daylight Savings Time – just another way to screw with our internal clocks and mess with our heads twice a year. Because they can. …Bastards!

Thus I was delighted to see Coturnix over at A Blog Around The Clock had something to offer from the realm of neurobiology about – you guessed it – Time-Perception. In his blog New Model for Interval Timing our Serbian friend links us to a paper in the journal Neuron about a new computer model of time perception in humans that sounds positively poetic (nice for lite reading on a cold February day).

Like the ripples on a pond when a pebble is dropped, the model suggests that every time our conscious awareness processes a sensory perception, a cascade of reactions occurs in our brain cells and transfers through the connections. These reactions leave a signature – the ripple – that encodes our sense of time. I like this idea because it explains why February is so darned long. A grey-scale world in between black and white isn’t very stimulating. And like the water in the dog’s bowl, the ripples tend to freeze. Gosh, I can’t wait for Spring!

Of course, Spring this year might prove to be a bit disappointing to the organic gardener in me. Coturnix also offers in My Picks from ScienceDaily an article to dampen my expectations. Come Spring, Expect Fewer Blooms tells me that due to that record warm spell it’s going to be a fairly colorless season. Great, JUST what I needed to help me get over Seasonal Affective Disorder and an interminably long February!

And I am apparently not the only person who suffers significant energy-drain. Alex Palazzo over at The Daily Transcript has a theory about how microscopes do the same thing to biologists who spend their days peering through microscopes. According to his blog entry Show me the energy, if you sit in front of a microscope in the dark for more than 4 hours, energy is sucked out of your body through your eyeballs. Now, the energy has to go somewhere (according to conservation laws), but he hasn’t figured that one out yet. Alex gives a few suggestions on that, including the possibility that the energy is transferred to that secret island of lost socks (somewhere off the coast of New Jersey).

Of course, that’s more geographic than biological, so Alex goes ahead and expands on some of the more in-discipline possibilities that sci-watchers will probably find more interesting than Blackbeard’s treasure stash. It was always my theory that energy is directly transferred from parents into young children. They always have too much, and parents always have too little. Thus in this case the energy no doubt goes out the eyeballs, down the scope, and straight into whatever’s on the slide. Seems pretty simple to me…

And while we’re on the subject of microscopes, Orac takes a gander at ScienceBlogs under the microscope. Unfortunately, he’s talking about “someone” over at BlogCritics instead of Moi – complete with an actual name – intrepidly surfing science blogs for the Blog Herald in search of fantastic facts, fascinating findings and fearless fire-walking scientific adventurers who have a knack for asking mind-spinning questions and translating knowledge for the rest of us – a great service to science, education, the blogosphere and die-hard pursuers of trivia.

It’s probably just as well I’ve managed so far to escape Orac’s scrutiny, though. He seems particularly grumpy about some of the reviews, which the anonymous author seems to think require his/her nastiest second-rate B-movie pans. I’m a little surprised that it hasn’t yet occurred to Orac that a second-rate B-movie reviewer is probably just who he’s dealing with, but then again, it’s February. Who can think straight while stuck in the Groundhog Day time warp? For the purpose of breaking out of that spell, I’d highly recommend reading Orac’s series on the Zombie Hitler, particularly It returns: The horror invades Michigan. Wonderfully chilling (and hilarious) stories to read aloud to the kiddies while sitting cross-legged in front of the fireplace on cold winter nights.

Let’s face it. The best way to conquer the February doldrums is to go ahead and fill your mind with Spring things. If you’re a gardener like me, there’s the seed catalogues to get you through. If you’re a city-dweller, there’s dreams of the wide open countryside and deep woods just waiting for your soft post-Easter footfalls. Jake Young offers an interesting blog in Pure Pedantry answering an age-old question the kids are just bound to ask during your planned outings. How Woodpeckers’ heads don’t explode with a link to work that won the [ig]Nobel award (sort of the opposite of the real thing) for explaining why we should all wish we had special cushioning eyelids and low amounts of cerebral spinal fluid. Then we too could beat our heads against immovable objects whenever February gets too depressingly long!

That’s it for this blog about Science Blogging. Hope to keep my head intact and my impatience under control for next time, which will (most unfortunately), still be February. ARGH!

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