Why Waterworld is Wrong: How Gills actually work

Barring other glaring scientific issues the film Waterworld has (like the total loss of all technology because of glacial melting) there is one that should be brought to light.  The movie follows a man named “The Mariner” as he wanders through a flooded post-apocalyptic end of days scenario, fighting bandits and criminals and being outcast because of a simple mutation.  Kevin Costner’s character in the film is able to breathe underwater because he has gills.

Now, it seems like a pretty simple thing, but the science behind gills ruins the sci-fi flavor of the movie.  Gills are an organ that have specially evolved over the course of time to allow animals (fish, mollusks and such) to survive in water.  The gills themselves don’t actually allow the fish to breathe water, rather they allow the fish to pull oxygen out of the liquid.  Given that we mammals breathe air, roughly 200,000 parts oxygen per million; our respiratory tracts are unable to deal with the 4-8 parts per million that water has.  Where Waterworld falls apart is that Kevin Costner is a human being, warm blooded and all that.  What that means is his metabolism is at the level of a warm blooded creature: super high.  Fish along with all gill equipped animals are cold blooded because it reduces the rate at which oxygen is burned within the body among other things.  While the idea is interesting, Costner would not be able to breathe comfortably in water unless he found a way to move water through his gills at 25,000 times the efficiency that fish have.

How gills work is quite interesting.  They are basically a series of flaps of flesh with a tight lattice of blood vessels, arranged in a sheet to allow for maximum surface area.  The gills are covered with a flap that can be opened and closed at will, allowing the fish to essentially breathe in and out.  The blood vessels carry deoxygenated blood directly from the heart of the fish and push it countercurrent to the water that runs up against the gills.  Through diffusion, upwards of 70% of the oxygen in the water is transferred to the blood stream of the fish.  The issue that fish run into is in the influx of salt/lack of salt in their system from running a constant osmosis (basically a balancing act from zones of high concentration of stuff to zones of low concentration of stuff).  The solution that fish have is two-fold: fresh water fish pee.  A lot.  This helps to remove water from their bloodstream and keep their salt levels higher than the outside liquid.  Saltwater fish have cells that allow them to excrete sodium chloride, keeping their salt levels lower than the water around them.

Just as an interesting addition, not all gills are made equal.  Sharks have more gills then most fish (upwards of 7 to the usual 4 of a fish) and don’t cover them with flaps.  Because of the lack of the flap, most sharks are able to blast water through a special hole in their mouths called a spiracle.  Spiracles funnel water through their mouths directly over the gills.  The water then mimics currents over the gills while the sharks aren’t in motion.  Some sharks are without the spiracle and must remain in constant motion to breathe.  This variety is known as an Obligate Ram Ventilator and includes around 2 dozen species of shark.  The most famous variety of obligate ram ventilator?  The Great White shark.

Citations, because Waterworld should have done their research:


Unwhitewashed History. pt.V

France has historically been the host of a surprisingly high number of fighting women during an era of male dominance.  Most people have heard of Joan of Arc, some may even know the story, but few realize just how daring and dangerous breaking with tradition was during the Middle Ages.

The Maid of Orléans

Joan of Arc was born in 1412 (we have this as an exact date because she stated she was 19 at the time of her trial in 1431) the daughter of Jacques d’Arc, a minor town official and farmer in the minor French town of Domremy.  In the early 1400s, France was in shambles.  Brugundians and Armagnacs formed a political rift within the political world of France, leaving an opening for their neighbor, the English.  The English had conquered most of the mainland and dethroned the king, scoring a series of stunning military victories on the split political nation of France.  Charles VII of France was the heir apparent to the throne, but lacked the control or the military to ascend to his throne.  Then Joan appeared.  In 1424, she said she saw Saint Michael, Saint Margret and Saint Catherine, who told her she must aid the Dauphin (Charles) in regaining France.  An illiterate peasant girl, she petitioned a local garrison captain for aid in her journey to Charles’ court in Chinon.  When she was refused, a pair of his troops, both minor nobility, swore to aid the maid in her task, allowing her enough influence to gather a small group of troops for her task.  When she made it to Chinon, her petition to join the siege reinforcements in Orleans was allowed by Charles.

Historians have guessed that Charles allowed a teenaged peasant girl who claimed to be guided by God to lead his army because all other logical decisions had failed.  Joan of Arc was, in a way, France’s hail Mary pass.  She was allowed to become a pseudo-knight while leading the troops, but all her equipment had to be donated.  When asked about a sword, she said they would find her blade in the church of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois (they found one there).  When she got to Orleans, Joan led a sudden assault on the defenders, foolhardy and decidedly against the orders of the commanding French officer.  The attack was a success, but won her few allies in the command unit.  When she planned another attack, the commander ordered the gate barred.  Joan gathered the townsfolk, common soldiers and a single captain to force the mayor to unbar the gates.  With her ragtag force, she attacked the main English stronghold, taking an arrow to the neck.  With a glorious victory, the siege turned in the French favor after that.  Joan reportedly took a cannonball to the head during the fight and survived.

Successfully battling her way through France, she was ultimately captured in May of 1430 by the Burgundians.  After a number of escape attempts (including jumping out of a 70 foot tall tower into a dry moat) she was brought to trial in a Medieval/Ecclesiastical kangaroo court.  Tried for heresy, Joan was asked if she was in the grace of God; a trick question that would end in heresy with nearly any answer because one could not know if they were in the grace of God, but  if not then she would be  considered guilty.  Her answer bespoke a great deal of understanding: ‘If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”  Joan was eventually convicted of heresy on what amounts to a technicality because of her dress.  Joan wore men’s clothing while a prisoner to deter rape, then when she was tried, she wore women’s clothing.  Switching back to men’s again allowed them to consider it a repeat offense of Heresy which would be punishable by death.  She was burned at the stake as a witch and a heretic in 1431, but her efforts in France eventually led to Charles VII taking the throne.

La Maupin

Julie d’Aubigny, born in 1670, was quite well known in France during her era.  Her father taught her as though she was a son, training her in etiquette, literature, dancing, music and above all, swordsmanship (or in another story, she learned how to use a sword after a long and fortuitous affair with a fencing master).  Said to be strikingly beautiful, she floated her way up the social ladder until she was a frequenter of the Parisian courts, gaining the name La Maupin when she married a count of Maupin (she eventually bored of him and left).  Her story becomes interesting when her habits become involved; she enjoyed dressing up as a man and doing all the things men do.  She would start fights, she would seduce women, she would do all of this while dressed up as a male and clearly being a female.  She reportedly killed more than 11 men in duels throughout her life, all the while becoming a popular opera star.  Her exploits were all encompassing and read very much like a penny dreadful story, with the exception that she was a woman.  In one story, she seduced a young woman while she was dressed as a man and began a torrid love affair.  When the woman’s family found out, they sent the young lass to a convent.  La Maupin followed her to the convent, became a nun, STOLE A DEAD NUN’S BODY and placed it in the girl’s room, which they then set on fire and escaped, leaving a charred corpse where the girl would have been.  After some time, the girl had to return to her family and La Maupin was tried as a male for everything between body snatching and kidnapping.  She never showed at the trial, but the sentence was death by fire.

In another story, La Maupin was at a party and started a duel with three squires, all of whom she defeated.  One of them was run clean through his shoulder with the blade (far enough that he could look behind himself and see his own blood on the sword).  When the day was through she found herself worried that the young man had been killed (she never worried after duels in usual circumstances) and she found the surgeon of the city to find out if the lad survived.  She found out he was the son of the Duke of Luynes and went to him to apologize, dressed as a woman.  One thing led to another, and the two had a long and torrid affair from then on.  Because dueling was illegal, she had a sentence hanging over her for her many actions, but in most cases, the King was persuaded by assorted nobility to give her a pardon for her actions.  La Maupin, France’s female James Bond.

Citations, because the history of Cross dressing is surprisingly large:

I’d Have Believed Her After She Predicted Finding a Sword in a Random Church:

La Maupin Should Really be More Popular With the Internet:

History of a Holiday: St.Patrick’s Day

March 17th is now the day where we gather around pubs after donning merry green attire to celebrate all things Irish.  The day itself falls on the Feast of St.Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.  Oddly enough, St.Patrick was neither Irish, nor were his celebrated endeavors particularly well recorded.

Born around 380 AD, Maewyn Saccat lived in Bannavem Taberniae for the early part of his life.  While likely in Scotland, Bannavem could have been located in Wales or in England during the time of the Roman occupation of the British Isles.  Known better by his Christian name, Patricius (Patrick a la Romanization), Maewyn resided in Great Britain until around 396 AD, when a group of Irish raiders captured him and forced him into slavery in Ireland.  Patrick found himself herding sheep for the Irish pagans for the next six years until God spoke to him in a dream and laid down an escape plan for him.  Patrick walked 200 miles across Ireland where he hopped a boat and sailed to his homeland in England/Scotland/Wales.

His religious experience led to him joining the Church and becoming an ordained priest, when God sent up another smoke signal to the young Patrick in his dreams.  Patrick decided to return to Ireland with the Pope’s blessing and set about converting the locals of the island.  He found immense success with the population and converted huge parts of the population as he wandered about, setting up schools, convents and monasteries as he went.  The Druids who were the religious authorities of the land found Patrick’s constant conversions to be an irritation and they pressed for his arrest.  Legend is that he escaped all the attempts, being guided by his God may have had something to do with it.

Patrick died on the 17th of March, cementing his position as an early force in Church conversion attempts.  Here’s where the interesting bit begins.  Very little is actually known about St.Patrick.  What we do know comes from his biography and some scraps of writing that survived the last 1600 years.  What is now considered to be common knowledge about Patrick (i.e. the use of the shamrock to teach the trinity, the driving the snakes out of Ireland) are all based on local folklore and mythos that developed over the years.  Just like legendary figures from the early years of any group, (Rome wasn’t actually started by a kid whose mom was a wolf, that just sells magazines) St.Patrick has become much larger than life.  One story is that while converting a certain town, he stuck his walking stick into the ground.  The population was so stubborn that when he finally finished converting the town, the stick had grown roots and become a tree.  Another holds that while fasting, Patrick was attacked by a swarm of snakes, who he warded off with the power of his conviction, driving them all into the water and off the island.  Just so you all know, Ireland has no snakes.  Never has.  The closest thing to them is a wee legless lizard that scientists found in a little Irish town in 1970.  So either snakes never migrated to the islands, or Patrick scored a critical hit when scaring snakes.

The other curious thing about St.Patrick besides him being the most Irish non-Irishman is the way certain things have become associated with him.  The Four-Leaf Clover is emblazoned on nearly every cheap St.Paddy’s day knickknack and found on every third image of the holiday, but the story is that St.Patrick showed the people of Ireland the basic concept of the Trinity by using a shamrock (3 leaf clover).  It was actually the Druids who managed to sell Four-Leaf Clovers as lucky charms, not the Catholic Saint.  Odd how some of the things we see most as St.Patrick-ey are actually the product of the religion he tried to eradicate.

Citations, so you don’t overlook your four leaf clover:

Just so that isn’t a weird segue, it’s from a 1927 song http://www.fourleafclover.com/vshop/4-leaf_clover_song


“The mouth of a Perfectly Content man is Filled with Beer”

Believe it or not, the title is actually an ancient Egyptian proverb.  The same drink people crack open when watching a ball game was used to pay for the Pyramids.  Beer itself can actually be traced back to nearly the origin of human society, because we are a simple breed of animal with simple needs.

Just how old is the wheat drink?  One of the oldest references to beer was on a clay tablet to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of Brewing Beer (not even joking, there’s one for brewing, one for beer and one for enjoying beer) which explains the process for brewing.  The Hymn to Ninkasi dates back to roughly 1900 BCE, though even before the hymn, the Ebla tablets from 2500 BCE refer to at least 20 varieties of beers that were produced and sold in the city of Ebla in Syria.  There are also archaeological evidence pieces with chemical evidence of brewing (potsherds with random fermentation residue on them) that date back to anywhere between 5000 and 3600 BCE.    Egyptians and Mesopotamians would use beer as an offering piece to the gods and kept it close to home in their societies, often with several gods who were dedicated to the craft of inebriation.

For most of the early history of beer, the production of it was a woman’s job.  As the craft expanded, slowly it began to become a profession that only men could do.  European tribes of Celts and Germans slowly moved the product into Europe around 3000 BCE, but it wasn’t until 822 that the drink began to resemble the beers of today.  Most European beers of the time were fruity and honeyed (and on some occasions purposefully spiked with narcotic drugs) and utterly lacked hops.  The beers of today that contain hops are a result of an unintentional joint effort by Charlemagne and Benedict of Nursia.  The Emperor of the Holy Romans and the Patron Saint of Europe brought the people of today the beers they consume.  History.

In the 6th century, Benedict of Nursia established his Benedictine order of monks who preached asceticism, charity and self-sustainability.  Monks would reside in monasteries off from the urban centers where they would farm and produce enough to keep themselves going.  As part of their creed, the monks were dedicated to helping any person who needed it, which meant the monasteries became waypoints along the roads where cheap food and drink could be had as well as a place to sleep without risk of fatality to animals or bandits.  The monks soon found that producing beer was an easy way to aid travelers (it was one of the few “sanitary” drinks of the age and was served to people of all ages and types), make money (monks would run the same grains through the process upwards of 3 times.  The first brewing would be the highest quality and would be sold for profit, the second would be mediocre and would go to the guests, and the third run through would be a nasty dirty swill that the monks would drink) and provide the monks with sustenance while they fasted.  In 817, Charlemagne ordered Adalard of Corbie to become the Abbot of the Corbie Benedictine monastery in France.  Adalard is attributed to have been the first to add hops to the beer, making hop filled beer a French dish rather than a Bavarian one as most people think.

Only 5 years after his monumental addition, Adalard died and was later sainted (not for adding hops to beer though).  He remains in the Catholic pantheon of saints and is currently a patron saint of gardeners.  His feast day is January 2nd, when you can drink a toast to his clever creation.

Citations; proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy. -Benjamin Franklin


Word is that Russians say Adalard invented the taco.  I truly wish I could cite this, for it is awesome.


Originally a meat product and/or byproduct; Spam has taken on a fully different meaning than originally intended.  Hormel evidently finds the phrase “spam”, “spamming”, “spammed” or any other derivative of the word to be alright with their copyright lawyers provided any reference to the canned meat be described as “Spam” with the capital letter.  Having sold 7 billion cans by 2007 and become a major part of a theatrical masterpiece, Spam is without a doubt one of the most impactful if not the most impactful canned meat substance on the planet.

Created by George A. Hormel, the origin story of Spam began some 40 years before the actual naming of it as “Spam”.  Hormel ran a fresh meat business in Minnesota, where his son Jay eventually took over.  Jay found that his pork looked like all other pork and decided to make his product stand out while simultaneously bypassing a major issue of the meat business: seasonality and shelf life.  By the late 1920s, Jay had discovered a way to can ham and not allow it to dry out.  His canned ham garnered success, but wasn’t named Spam until a man won $100 in a naming contest with his entry.  What “Spam” is is not exactly known; some say that because early Spam was made from shoulders of ham, it was named Spam, others say it stands for spiced ham, and others still believe it means “special processed American meat”.

Regardless of the meaning of the name, Hormel was able to gain lasting fame when he got Spam set into the k-rations of the infantry during WWII.  Though soldiers may not have always received the brand name Spam, they ate huge quantities of Hormel brand canned ham.  Where the American Army went, so went Spam and Coca Cola.  It was the ultimate product placement.  In England after the war, Spam was a commonplace food because of its cheapness and supply.  The war ravaged agriculture of England then began to take on Spam as a household name, and in 1970, Monty Python’s Flying Circus showed off their now famous “Spam” skit.  A smash success, Python’s Spam was later used by internet trolls during the infancy of internet chat rooms.  People wishing to blot out the commentary of their peers would quote the skit and write blocks of text simply repeating “Spam spam spam spam”.  The action of mass messaging became known as spamming.  What had once been known as flooding or trashing then became spamming, as Star Wars fans would rush Star Trek websites to drown out meaningful intellectual discussion with their spam.  Oddly enough, the first case of mass unsolicited messaging was in 1864, over 100 years before the spamming was used in Monty Python’s skit.  The original spam message was a dentistry office who sent out a mass telegram to a gathering of British officials late in the evening telling them he would be open from 10 AM to 5 PM.  Messrs Gabriel, dentist and pre-internet troll.  The original.

Citations! spam spam spam spam spam spam spam spam…