A Paradox or Nine

I listen to documentaries while I’m at the lab, because the image analysis I’m doing is something a well-trained kindergartener or ambitious monkey could do without much trouble. A bit of background noise makes the analysis goes by faster…or at least means it takes longer for me to get restless while I’m quantifying cells.

(Now that I’m in the lab full-time for the summer, I’ve gone through a lot of documentaries.)

I do like that I pick up quite a scattering of trivia this way: siphonophores are carnivorous marine colony organisms, and the biggest can grow to 40 meters long. (Portuguese man-o’-wars — men-o’-war? — are a kind of siphonophore.) One of the glaziers restoring the stained-glass window at the east end of the York Minster after WWII wrote “TOP” on God’s forehead when it was dismantled, in case it wasn’t entirely clear which piece was supposed to go at the top of the window. And some kinds of plants, called thermogenic species, can give off their own heat — possibly to help spread the smells they give off and attract pollinators, or to fight off winter frost. Since many thermogenic plants have flies as pollinators, they often smell like rotting flesh (cf. the dead-horse arum). Lizards don’t seem to mind, though, since they use the plants to warm up their body temperature, and snack on the flies at the same time.

At the end of this post is a sampling of the documentaries I particularly enjoyed over the last two weeks — in part so I don’t forget what I’ve already watched.

Kings of Camouflage has some incredible footage of the flamboyant cuttlefish, and was possibly my favorite of them all; Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives has a segment about building a robotic pterosaur that’s fascinating; and Secrets of the Viking Sword is worth watching just for the moment when a master smith takes a sword from the forge once it’s so hot it’s glowing bright orange…then he quenches it in oil, pulls it out, and suddenly the entire sword is aflame. I think my jaw actually dropped.

I also tried to watch BBC documentaries about perfume and Britain’s mastercrafts, but they were much more modern and public interest-y than I prefer, and a documentary called The Dinosaur that Fooled the World which started saying things that were either wrong or massive generalizations, so I stopped watching it. The Attenborough documentaries were, of course, fantastic.

(I should note that recommendations are absolutely welcome, because I’ll have gone through the Life and Life on Earth series in another week, and clicking around YouTube isn’t going to work for much longer.)

Life in Cold Blood
Dragons of the Dry:

Land Invaders:

The Cold-Blooded Truth:

Armoured Giants:

Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives
Magic in the Rocks:

Putting Flesh on Bones:


The Rare Glimpses:

Kings of Camouflage

The Magical Forest

Britain’s Most Fragile Treasure

Art of Eternity – The Glory of Byzantium

Secrets of the Viking Sword

Life on Earth
The Infinite Variety:

Building Bodies:

The First Forests:

The Swarming Hordes:


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