Monthly Archives: January 2016

Bees – a short story

Victorian-era Gold Bee Brooch

“If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Quote incorrectly attributed to Albert Einstein, but accurate all the same.

 

“I am afraid the logistics of making a mechanical bee is still years beyond current technology,” said Professor Melissa Beowulf. She pushed her honey-coloured hair back from her face, fighting hard against her overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. “We aren’t going to make the deadline following this path of inquiry.”

“What about the other projects? Maybe we should switch the focus and funds to one of them?” suggested Mr Woozle, the Prime Minister. He sat back into his chair, which was upholstered in an expensive leather too soft to squeak, and tried to look concerned. Melissa wriggled in her chair, seated across from him in a much cheaper and squeakier chair. He continued on, “I promised the country we would find a solution. I need something to give heart to the farmers affected by the bee shortage.”

He wasn’t fooling Melissa. She ignored the royal ‘we’. She knew the Prime Minister wouldn’t shoulder any of the blame and would be quick to distance himself from any failure, as slippery as any toad. He was infamous for it. He would then pull all funding from anything to do with the bee shortage … including the long-term breeding strategies, the best bet for recovery.

Instead of panicking, she sorted through her files and pulled out a couple of the ones that she mentally labelled as ‘pseudo-science’; as her granny used to say, Desperate times call for desperate measures. She laid the files out in front of her. She wondered just how little science Mr Woozle understood. Melissa assumed that, to become Prime Minister, he couldn’t be a stupid man, and yet he was popularly considered to be quite the Luddite in his attitudes to science and technology. Her pseudo-science files might test that assumption.

“I have here some innovative suggestions – you might even call them cutting edge,” said Melissa.

Mr Woozle leant forward, and Melissa resisted the urge to lean back.

“Well then, let’s hear them,” he said.

She opened the first folder and few out a few concept illustrations. She fanned them out in front and Mr Woozle. He looked them over, and Melissa took careful note of his expression; his face remained interested. He didn’t look amused, nor did he start to sneer, which Melissa found encouraging.

The pictures showed tiny people helping the bees to pollinate flowers.

“As you know, due to the lack of bees to pollinate crops, we are facing a food shortage. So, as an alternative to bees, or to assist them, one of my teams suggested we genetically adapt humanoid creatures. The success of the human form makes it a good all-rounder.”

Melissa was pleased that Mr Woozle nodded as if he understood.

She continued, “We know historically and traditionally that, in most cultures, homunculi were considered to assist in the growing of all sorts of flora.”

“Excellent,’ said Mr Woozle, steepling his hands and leaning even further forward. “As you know, I like to think of my government as standing for traditional family values. Maybe you should divert some of your funding to this group.”

“Well, the idea isn’t something we can pull together overnight. We would need secure, long-term funding for such a project.”

“Hmmmm. You boffins always say that,” said Mr Woozle, sitting back in his chair and twisting his expression to create his trademark ‘cynical eyebrow lift’. He used that eyebrow to cower junior members of his party and the opposition, but Professor Melissa Beowulf was made of sterner stuff.

“We can’t abandon the other projects just when some of them are coming close to showing results,” she said, gesturing to her pile of folders. “As well, we can profitably repurpose the results from my various teams.  The robotic bees – as the project stands now – can be modified to be spy bugs, as just one example.”

The quirked eyebrow had lowered significantly at the mention of the word ‘profitably’. If there was one thing that Mr Woozle treasured over everything else, it was economic gain. It was ironic that it had been his devotion to great god of Economics that had created the problem in the first place. His government had approved the use of chemicals to improve crops by regulating harmful insects; except it had also regulated bees to near extinction. At first, the government had fobbed of the loss of bees as collateral damage and denied that anyone needed to be concerned. However, most of the very same crops that needed to be ‘protected’ from insect attack also needed bees to pollinate the flowers that produced the crop. When shortfall started to hit the general public with larger grocery bills, and the complaints had started pouring in, only then did the government set up a taskforce to save the bees.

Melissa tried not to feel bitter that she had been advocating for the bees for years before the crisis had finally occurred. As her granny used to say, An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. It was a pity that governments spent money so grudgingly on science-related projects. The Prime Minister and his government were among the most technophobic she had ever encountered. Having to come to the man, subservient, with cap in hand, was a subtle form of torture.

Mr Woozle didn’t notice how Melissa’s lips thinned as she waited for his response. He was again studying the pictures in front of him. It would have taken a heart of stone not to be captivated by the images of tiny people frolicking with the fuzzy bees; he had enough fibres of humanity left to set his heart a-twitching. And he could see it wouldn’t be that hard to sell the general public on such an attractive project.

“It’s a pity we only have sketches,” he said. “An actual  … what did you call it? A human-clueless? One of those would make funding this project so much easier.”

Melissa looked uncertain. “The file does make mention of a prototype,” she said, “but I haven’t witnessed it in action.”

“Excellent!” barked Mr Woozle. “Arrange a demonstration for me asap. You may go.”

Melissa gathered up her folders, smothering elation. The Prime Minister hadn’t mentioned anything about cutting her funding. She’d bury him in flower fairies if she thought that would keep her projects going.

 

Doctor Tündér was one of those men who looked like they were carved rather than grown, since he was all sharp angles and thin, long limbs, with smooth teak-coloured skin. Melissa found him attractive, but she was perturbed by what his motivations might be and what was it that dedicated him to his project; he looked too stern to be creating cute, thumb-sized homunculi. As her granny used to say, Handsome is as handsome does. However, he certainly looked like the type of scientist that the Prime Minister would best respond to: male, white-coated, clinical, and serious.

A good half of Doctor Tündér’s laboratory was a greenhouse, full of flowering plants and pleasantly a-buzz with bees. The air was fragrant rather than antiseptic. Instead of artificial lighting, it was full of sunshine. Melissa approved of the set-up. The more she saw, the better she like Doctor Tündér.

Mr Woozle flinched as a bee flew past one of his ears.

“Do they sting?” he asked, glancing around in a nervous manner, as he walked with Melissa and Doctor Tündér. The Prime Minister was nattily dressed in a Saville Row suite with Italian shoes … he had to look good in his photos. Behind him trailed his ‘crew’: his personal media assistant/spin doctor, his Minister for Industry – in lieu of a non-existent Minister for Science – and his personal media assistant, and the usual flock of housebroken journalists and photographers.

“Only if provoked,” said Doctor Tündér, “so I wouldn’t be too worried. Unless you are allergic?”

“I don’t think so,” said Mr Woozle. “I can remember being stung as a child.”

“Then you should be fine,” said Doctor Tündér.

Melissa fused a few of her brain cells at the thought of Mr Woozle as a boy. She just couldn’t imagine him playing outdoors. Surely he was more the type to stay indoors and play computer games about world domination. He did try to improve his image with action shots, but even the least cynical person could see that most were staged photographs.

Doctor Tündér led them through into the back of his greenhouse. There, on an ordinary wooden bench, stood a little object that resembled a pigeon coop merged into a doll house. “This is where I house my prototype. Please don’t crowd around too close. The creature is too small to be truly intelligent, and I have attempted to modify her instincts accordingly. The creature gets easily frightened by the presence of large animals and by unexpected loud noises.”

Melissa stood perfectly still, and resisted the urge to stop breathing, as Doctor Tündér leant down beside the strange little house and made a clicking noise with his tongue against his teeth. It was obviously how he communicated with his prototype, because a little person walked out of its house and onto the bench. The murmuring of the Prime Minister’s entourage grew silent. The creature was humanoid in shape, but it did not look like a miniaturized human being. It had a rotund, bottom-heavy body, so that its arms looked long and elegant by comparison. Its least human-like feature was its head, as round as a ball, small-featured, noseless, and crowned with a mass of dark fluff. It had been dressed in a simple tunic, but the stiffness of the fabric created the impression of a swing skirt; it was self-evident that Doctor Tündér was not a seamstress. Melissa guessed the creature stood approximately three bees in height, or just under the length of her thumb.

“Amazing,” she whispered. Doctor Tündér had managed a scientific miracle on a very limited budget. Her eyes met with her fellow scientist, and they smiled.

Mr Woozle, on the other hand, was disappointed.  “It isn’t terribly sweet,” he said.

“Whatever do you mean?” asked Doctor Tündér, reluctantly breaking eye contact with Melissa.

“It doesn’t look anything like the illustrations. It’s kind of boring.”

Doctor Tündér just stared at the Prime Minister, literally and figuratively gobsmacked. In complete contrast, Melissa discovered a whole avalanche of words that she wanted to say, but most of them were unrepeatable.

“I think you misunderstand,” she said icily. “This is a magnificent achievement. World shaking.”

“This little toy? It doesn’t even look that much like human,” said Mr Woozle. He gestured at the creature with his hand.

The little creature jumped back and went into a crouch. Melissa thought it had a thorn clutched in one fist. And was it her imagination, or did the bees suddenly seem more agitated?

“Careful!” said Doctor Tündér. “I asked you not to frighten her.”

“Her? HER?” spluttered Mr Woozle, almost shrieking with disapproval. “Your prototype is a female?”

The creature went down on one knee as if she felt the Prime Minister’s outrage like a blow. The buzzing of the bees grew louder. More angry.

“I didn’t keep it a secret,” said Doctor Tündér.

“All worker bees are female,” pointed out one of the brighter media clones. He was death-glared at for his trouble. The Prime Minister’s face turned puce.

Melissa broke in before Mr Woozle to start into a rant. The furious bees were beginning to frighten her.

“Why does it matter?” she asked.

“How am I supposed to fund this ugly thing?” asked Mr Woozle, and he jabbed his finger down at the cowering creature.

She jabbed right back, using her tiny weapon. Then she turned and ran back into her house.

“It bit me!” howled Mr Woozle.

“Well, you frightened her!” replied Doctor Tündér. “I told you not to frighten her.”

“And she didn’t bite you, she stabbed you with something. Maybe a cactus thorn,” said Melissa. “She was defending herself. You look like a monster to her.”

Mr Woozle turned to inflict his anger on Melissa, but the bees stopped him. They rose in a stormy squarm and attacked. Panic ensued as Mr Woozle and his entourage fled, knocking over plants and overturning tables in their hurry to escape. Melissa expected to be badly stung, but it was soon apparent they were only targeting the Prime Minister.

The politician was shrieking and flailing his arms, driven out of his mind with pain. Melissa went to run to his aid, but Doctor Tündér grabbed her arms and held her back. “The bees are defending one of their own,” he explained. “You might get stung.”

“But we can’t just leave him to suffer like this,” said Melissa. As much as she disliked Mr Woozle, she had never wanted to see him hurt or injured.

“Wait… and watch,” whispered Doctor Tündér, still holding Melissa close.

From the doll house came a high-pitched crooning noise, almost too high to hear. The angry drone of the bees lessened immediately. The crooning noise continued until the bees were calm and returning to their flowers. Mr Woozle remained in a heap, moaning. One of his entourage could be heard calling for an ambulance.

“She is the queen?” asked Melissa.

“She is a queen analogue. It seemed to be the quickest way to gain the cooperation of the bees,” Doctor Tündér replied. He loosened his grip on Melissa, but she felt no urge to move out of his arms.

“How clever,” she said. And as her granny always said, You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

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Moving House

buried under moving boxes

Over the next week or so, I am moving house. Normal service can’t be expected for at least a week, maybe longer.

 

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Another bit of culture – Image #19

Source: Another bit of culture – Image #19

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Blameless by Gail Carriger

Source: Blameless by Gail Carriger

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Draft of Timeline of Women in Science During Victorian Era

All suggestions of additions welcome. This is something I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks, because I really needed a proper understanding of the background for women in Science in the Victorian era. It is only partially complete, but the backbone is there.

Mary-Anning-4

Mary Anning

Time Scientist/Instigator Achievement
1799 Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was an English fossil collector, dealer, and palaeontologist

 

Discovery of the Ichthysaurs, Plesiosaurus, and many invertebrate fossil species.
1816 Marie-Sophie Germain (1 April 1776 – 27 June 1831) was a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher. Submitted her third paper, Recherches sur la théorie des surfaces élastiques under her own name, and became the first woman to win a prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences.
1826 Mary Fairfax Somerville

(26 December 1780 – 29 November 1872) was a Scottish science writer and polymath (Caroline Herschel was first in 18th century)

Presented a paper entitled ‘The Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum’ to the Royal Society
1832 Jeanne Villepreux-Power (24 September 1794 – 25 January 1871) was a pioneering French marine biologist The first person to create aquaria for experimenting with aquatic organisms. The first woman member of the Catania Accademia, and a correspondent member of the London Zoological Society.

 

1834 Janet Taylor (1804–1870), was an English astronomer scientific instrument maker, and navigation expert Her “Mariner’s Calculator” was patented. She produced Lunar Tables for Calculating Distances. She was awarded a Civil List pension in 1860.
1835 Mary Fairfax Somerville and Caroline Herschel Elected as Honorary Members of the Royal Astronomical Society
1836 The Deaconess Institute at Kaiserswerth was established t0 teach women nursing.
1842 Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was a British mathematician and writer Wrote the first computer program, for use by the Analytical Engine built by Charles Babbage.
1843 Anna Atkins (16 March 1799 – 9 June 1871) was an English botanist and photographer Self-published her photograms in the first installment of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions

 

1847 Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889) was an American astronomer She discovered a comet, which was recorded as Miss Mitchell’s Comet

 

1848 Maria Mitchell First woman elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

 

1850 Maria Mitchell First woman elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science
1850 Founding of women’s tertiary educational facility, the North London Collegiate School
1853 Founding of women’s tertiary educational facility, Cheltenham Ladies’ College
1860 Florence Nightingale Established the Nightingale Training School for Nurses
1865 Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, LSA, MD (9 June 1836 – 17 December 1917), was an English physician and feminist. the first Englishwoman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain. She was the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women, the first dean of a British medical school, the first female doctor of medicine in France, the first woman in Britain to be elected to a school board and, as Mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain

 

1865 Maria Mitchell Was made professor of astronomy at Vassar College, and she was also named as Director of the Vassar College Observatory.
1869 Founding of first UK women’s university college, Girton
1871 Founding of UK women’s university college, Newnham
1874 Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya  (15 January 1850 – 10 February 1891) was the first major Russian female mathematician She presented three papers to the University of Göttingen as her doctoral dissertation. This earned her a doctorate in mathematics summa cum laude, the first woman in Europe to achieve that degree.
1874 Elizabeth Garrett Anderson founded the first UK medical school to train women, the London School of Medicine for Women
1879 Founding of UK women’s university college, Somerville
1881 Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton (28 April 1854 – 23 August 1923) was an English engineer, mathematician, physicist, and inventor. Successfully completed an external examination and received a B.Sc. degree from the University of London

 

1884 Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya Appointed to a five-year position as Professor Extraordinarius (Professor without Chair) and became the editor of Acta Mathematica.

 

1886 Dorothea Klumpke Roberts (August 9, 1861 in San Francisco – October 5, 1942 ) was an astronomer. Made Director of the Bureau of Measurements at the Paris Observatory for the production of a star atlas.

 

1889 Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya Appointed Professor Ordinarius at Stockholm University, the first woman to hold such a position at a northern European university
1889 Dorothea Klumpke Roberts first recipient of the “Prix de Dames” from the Sociétié des Astronomique de France
1891 Annie Russell Maunder (14 April 1868 – 15 September 1947) was an Irish astronomer and mathematician. began work at the Greenwich Royal Observatory, serving as one of the “lady computers”
1893 Dorothea Klumpke Roberts First woman to be made an Officier d’Académe of the French Academy of Sciences AND she read her doctoral thesis, “L’étude des Anneaux de Saturne” to a large audience of academics at the Sorbonne, and was awarded the degree of Docteur-és-Sciences; the first woman to do so.
1896 Dorothea Klumpke Roberts sailed to Norway on the Norwegian vessel Norse King, to observe the solar eclipse of August 9, 1896

 

1897 Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) was an English author, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist submitted a paper, On the Germination of the Spores of the Agaricineae, to the Linnean Society. Was unable to be taken seriously as an academic and turned to children’s writing.

 

1898 Annie Russell Maunder She photographed the outer solar corona from India in 1898, then published The Heavens and their Story with her husband as coauthor. She was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in November 1916.
1899 Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton At the International Congress of Women held in London, Hertha presided over the physical science section.

 

1899 Margaret Lindsay, Lady Huggins (born 14 August 1848, Dublin – died 24 March 1915, London), was an Irish-English scientific investigator and astronomer. co-authored the Atlas of Representative Stellar Spectra with her husband, William Huggins.
1902 Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton Published The Electric Arc, a summary of her research and work on the electric arc.
1904 Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton Became the first woman to read a paper before the Royal Society.
Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton was awarded the Royal Society‘s prestigious Hughes Medal “for her experimental investigations on the electric arc, and also on sand ripples”.

 

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Rainbow Rose

Rainbow Rose

A photo I took myself. I am working on improving my photography skills.

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Pearls

 

“No, you can’t have my doll,” shouted Lily Henderson. She just knew she was going to cry, and she was too big a girl to cry in front of other people.

Lily, moments before, had been most impressed with her new friend. She had never met anyone with a lovely purpley-silver tail before. And Shirra had the most beautiful jewellery, made of shells and coral and smooth, creamy beads.

Shirra, on the other hand, was utterly taken by Lily’s doll. She told Lily that no one had anything like it in her town.

Lily found that hard to believe…her doll was nothing special. Yes, it had its own bottle and two sets of clothes, but there were dolls that could walk and speak and eat and poo their pants. The only thing really special about her doll was that Lily loved it with all her heart.

The two little girls had spent a beautiful hour playing mothers in the rock pool. Lily’s mummy was sketching, sitting on the rocks just a little above the tiny pool where the girls were. She kept half an eye on her daughter, but could see she was perfectly safe with Shirra. The two children were just out of reach of the turning tide, and the rock pool was shallow…though it did hide the girls from the hips down.

But now, Shirra wanted Lily’s baby. “Please, please, please let me have it,” she sobbed, “I have to go now. I can hear my mother calling me. I’ll never get to see you or your wonderful doll again.”

Merbaby

Lily listened carefully, but couldn’t hear anyone calling. All she could hear was the mournful note of a horn in the far distance. She suspected Shirra was lying, so as to steal the precious toy. “No! You can’t have her!” pouted Lily, and then a happy thought struck her, “Look, I’ll go ask my mummy if we can come back tomorrow. We can play again.”

“No. You can’t see it. My mummy is going to be very mad when she knows I’ve been playing with you. She won’t let me come back.”

“Oh. I do so see,” said Lily, “You’ve come down to the water by yourself. That is naughty. You should never go near water by yourself. You might drown.”

Shirra tried to smile through her tears. “It’s kind of like that. Please Lily, let me keep the doll. I’ll swap you all my necklaces.” She pulled off several of the long, gleaming strands of pretty beads, and held them out to her friend. “Here, you can have all of them.”

Lily looked at the necklaces. They were enticing. The beads were gold, white, cream, silver, grey, and blue…with hints of the shining rainbow in their sheen. Even so, she really loved her doll.

Then, she looked up into Shirra’s eyes. She was too little to understand all the emotions she saw, but she could understand the yearning and the sadness. Her tender heart melted.

“Here,” she muttered quickly, before she could regret her generous impulse, “You can have my dolly. You don’t have to give me your stuff.”

“Oh no, oh no, you take them!” came the joyous reply. Shirra clutched the little plastic baby to her chest, hugging and caressing it. “Oh Lily, I will never forget you. I will look after this as if it was the rarest treasure. Look, I really have to go. Thank you. Thank you.”

Shirra slithered over the side of the pool, and snaked down the sand to the water. With a flip of her tail, she was into the waves. She glanced back at Lily, smiled, and then dived deep into the water.

For a moment, Lily wondered if she should call for her mother. After all, little girls weren’t supposed to go into the water by themselves. But, somehow, she sensed that Shirra was okay, that she wouldn’t drown.

After all, she could swim like a fish.

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