Category: Nerdy

Cubic Wombat Poop

One of the many reasons why I love biology is when a great and weird story gets told about some kind of living phenomenon. This week I was surprised to learn that wombat feces are cubic. Evidently it’s been known for quite some time that the wombat’s poop is cube shaped and it is hypothesized that wombats use it to mark their territories and the fact that it is cubed means that it doesn’t easily roll away, but it more likely has to do with attempting to conserve water and the structure of their digestive tract.

Dr. Patricia Yang and co-workers investigated the physical properties of the wombat intestine and determined that variation in the amount of stretch in different sections (by using an inflated balloon no less!) resulted in the cubic feces. As you can imagine, the wombat poop finding is receiving a lot of attention in the popular media. In my opinion the best headline goes to Vice.

Fun fact: Dr. Yang won the 2015 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics for testing the biological principle that most mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds.


Star Trek Discovery: Initial Impressions and Review Based on the 1st Two Episodes

WARNING: This review contains spoilers about the first two episodes of Star Trek Discovery. It also contains references to plot points from other Star Trek series.


My induction as a Trekkie occurred in Grade 7 when a TV station in my area started running the original Star Trek episodes in syndication. From the first episode I was hooked. I’m currently watching all of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes with my son on Netflix. I have therefore been anticipating the launch of a new Star Trek series for quite some time (12 long years) and I have very high expectations for that show given the fact that I wasn’t a huge fan of the series Enterprise.

I watched the two-hour premiere of Discovery last night and must admit to having mixed feelings about the show. I expected the show to be a bit dark in terms of story line and to exhibit “cowboy” space exploration as the show is set 10 years before the original series and space is still likely to really be a somewhat unexplored final frontier.

Many of the details were super cool and nerdy to a Trekkie like myself. These included the transporter effect, the phasers, the Starfleet uniforms (especially the number of pips on the Starfleet badges used to indicate rank), and the bridge of the Discovery. These visuals were permutations of what we’ve seen before as an audience, but with a novel spin which was interesting.

It’s clear from these episodes that the story arc will be continuous and that it will heavily include the Klingons. I’ll be honest that the Klingons as presented in this show are unfamiliar. This includes multiple changes to their physiology, language, and culture. These could all be very interesting over time, but they were rather jarring last night. While the Klingons are still presented as a warrior race, some of them appear to be content to rest on their laurels, some are religious zealots, and others are outcasts due to previous power struggles. They are also pretty sneaky which is exhibiting a distinct lack of honour in my opinion. There is a treasure trove of information to dive into here, but there does exist a danger in unravelling Star Trek cannon a little too much for my liking. My biggest beef was that my husband and I were constantly brought out of the story and show by the guttural delivery of the Klingon language which is much harsher than that spoken by Klingons from any of the other series. I’m intrigued by the fact that the Klingon forehead bridge is highly variable in the Klingons seen on the series thus far depending on their house and I suspect that this might be important as the series develops.

The other large issue for me when watching the episodes last night was that I didn’t find myself rooting for any of the characters. There were a lot of confusing dichotomies on display that seemed unrealistic. As an example, the captain of the USS Shenzhou makes several references to having a past that is filled with pain and suffering caused by conflict, but seems rather lackadaisical about the appearance of an armada of Klingon ships suddenly appearing and the implications of that event to the Federation. The science officer is exceeding cloying. The main character’s personality is all over the place; at times stoic due to her Vulcan upbringing, and later ludicrously irrational when breaking the chain of command on the ship and especially after the death of her captain. She ends up court martialled and sentenced to imprisonment at the end of the second episode and it was a bit of a struggle to frankly care about what’s going to happen to her next. As to that, I’m pretty sure it involves redemption in the form of Jason Isaac’s character offering her a second chance based on the fact that she was the only one who felt that a show of force might have changed the outcome of the first significant contact between the Federation and the Klingons. Pulling people out of jail for a unique skill set seems to be a recurring theme in a couple of Star Trek shows (Ensign Ro Laren in Next Generation and Tom Paris in Voyager being the most obvious examples).

Most Trek series have pretty rocky starts until the cast and crew start to gel and the writing and milieu of the show comes together. This show has a steeper hill to climb based on what’s come before and the fact that they are playing in a much grittier universe than previously. Hopefully they’ll be able to boldly go where no one has gone before and get the kinks ironed out in short order.


Review: Ctrl-V Virtual Reality Arcade

Last Thursday my family and I went to Ctrl-V in Waterloo. It’s essentially a virtual reality arcade. We’d heard about it from Twitter and the local media and thought that it would be cool to check out. I will admit to being a bit skeptical; virtual reality was supposed to take off in the 90’s and never really reached critical mass. When I think of virtual reality, I think of bad movies like The Lawnmower Man. I was prepared to be underwhelmed. My other concern was that I can’t handle IMAX movies or planetarium shows; they give me motion sickness. My worst experience was in the Canadian pavilion at Epcot and the 360° hell that was O, Canada!

The booking process is simple and can be completed online. We had two coupons that gave us 50% off the experience, so for 4 people to each play 1 hour cost us ~$50. Prior to arrival they ask that you read and sign a liability waver and watch a short (and highly amusing) orientation video. Upon arrival we were greeted warmly by Will who is a credit to the organization as he was enthusiastic, professional, and very helpful during our session.

Each person is assigned their own pod, and the gear consists of two controllers that you hold in your hands in order to interact with the simulation, a headset that contains the screen, and a set of earphones for sound. The gear isn’t too clunky, but it felt a bit weird to be tethered to the pod via the headset and by the end of the hour the headset was very heavy and was compressing my neck. It didn’t take long to get set-up.

My first game selection was an escape room called Escape the Bunker. I’ve never done an escape room in person, but the virtual version was pretty cool. I was able to open a combination locker (this took multiple attempts) and a lock using a key. It was neat to open lockers and a fridge and explore the room. I got stuck when my propane tank went missing from the environment (I was going to make it explode using some beer and a lighter) and decided to switch games. Next up was a first person shooter called Space Pirate Trainer which was lots of fun! Multiple guns could be selected, or you could use a shield and a really cool lasso to pull in the targets. Three of us then did 9-holes of mini-golf in Cloudlands using a local multi-player option. It wasn’t our cup of tea, but would be great for people who aren’t into fast paced action games. I then went a few rounds on Light Blade which is for those of you who have ever wanted to be a Jedi or Sith. It’s basically Luke doing lightsabre training on the Millenium Falcon in Star Wars. Tonnes of fun! My last activity was essentially like being in the ocean. There was a simulation featuring a whale encounter, a coral reef, and the deep sea; all of which were quite relaxing and well done.

All 4 of us had a great time and really enjoyed the experience. While happy that we were able to use coupons to reduce the cost, I believe that this activity is well worth the $25/person cost, especially if this would be your first visit. If you are looking for something cool and fun to do in Waterloo with friends or family be sure to check out this neat option!


Movie Review: Rogue One

This review contains spoilers! Continue reading at your own peril!



My family and I went to see Rogue One two days after it opened in December. We are all huge Star Wars fans and had high hopes for this film. We all really enjoyed the movie, but for different reasons.

The typical crawl of narrative up the screen is missing from the beginning of the film; not sure how I feel about that overall. The first 20 minutes of the film jumps around a lot, complete with planet names appearing at the bottom of the screen, which feels a bit weird for a Star Wars film.

This is a dark and gritty Star Wars film which I appreciated. You find that out in the first few minutes when Jyn Erso’s mother is shot by Stormtroopers and in a scene a few minutes later when Cassian Andor (who is a Rebel) murders an informant. It’s refreshing to see that the Rebellion is not as squeaky clean as once thought or conveyed in Episodes IV to VI.

Jyn’s father Galen is the galaxy’s leading expert on kyber crystals (which also power lightsabers incidentally) and is needed by the Empire to help them design and power the Death Star. He’s not keen, but they essentially kidnap him. During the 15 years he’s been working on the Death Star he’s secretly introduced a design flaw into it that will allow it to be destroyed. I called this particular plot point months before the film was released.

Jyn escapes and hides in a bolt hole and is saved and raised by Saw Gerrera, a local anti-Imperial extremist. Fast forward 15 years and Jyn is in Imperial custody for various petty crimes. The Rebellion has gotten wind of a new Imperial weapon and needs more information. They know that Saw Gerrera is holding an Imperial pilot defector (Bodhi) who has information on the weapon. They bust out Jyn and force her to get them access to Saw and the former Imperial pilot so that they can find out what he knows.

Jyn, Cassian, and a dryly humourous re-programmed Imperial droid named K-2SO, head off to hunt down Saw on the planet Jedha. The Imperials are pillaging the main city as it once housed a Jedi temple and is a huge goldmine of kyber crystals. The main characters get surrounded by Stormtroopers and are helped out by the blind Chirrut and his faithful sidekick Baze. K-2SO gets them out of a tricky situation and they are captured by Saw’s crew.

The next part of the film was my least favourite segment. The Saw character lacks depth and his portrayal by Forest Whitaker is pretty uneven. He seems to be both depressed and insane, half mechanical, and keeps taking puffs from a tank of gas that he carries around with him. I figured he was a drug addict, but others seem to think it was oxygen. Jyn watches a hologram of her father who explains that the Death Star has a flaw, but that they’ll have to get the plans to find out what it is. This is a stupid plot point; he could have simply said that shooting a charge down a particular exhaust port will blow it up, but I suppose that would be too easy. If you have enough memory to store a hologram, you can probably include some specs or a map right?

The first test of the Death Star occurs on Jedha and the special effects are pretty awesome. Our heroes head to an Imperial mining facility on Edu to find Galen and determine the Death Star’s flaw. Galen is killed, but manages to tell Jyn that she’ll have to get the Death Star plans that are stored on Scarif. The gate allowing access through the planetary force field is pretty cool; the archaic means of retrieving data within the facility is pretty laughable. There is an awesome piece by Sarah Jeong that speaks to the ridiculousness of data storage in the Star Wars universe. They obtain the plans, destroy the gate and realign a dish to transmit the data, and a huge space and land battle ensues. The second test of the Death Star destroys the entire planet and all of our heroes die. It says a lot about the lack of character development that both of my children were sadder about the death of the droid K-2SO than any of the human characters.

There are a few cheesy scenes in this film. The first is the appearance of Ponda Baba and Colonel Evazan on Jedha; these are the two thugs that give Luke a hard time in the cantina in Mos Eisley in Star Wars. The second scene is a meeting between Krennic (the new bad guy in this film) and Darth Vader. There is an incredibly bad pun used here that is groan worthy and completely out of character for Vader. The third is a quick cameo by R2-D2 and C3PO.

There are two human characters that are partially CGI. Grand Moff Tarkin is done fairly well, but looks like he belongs in a video game rather than on the big screen, and Princess Leia has had some work done in the final scene of the film.

The coolest and most disturbing part of the film comes at the end when Vader mows down dozens of Rebels in an attempt to recover the plans, but is thwarted as Leia’s ship gets away. This scene almost makes up for Anakin/Vader’s dreaded “Noooooo” scream at the end of Episode III. The scene in Rogue One makes you remember that Vader is a scary and dangerous guy. This provides a solid transition into Episode IV.

Overall, I enjoyed the film; probably because it had aspects that reminded me of The Empire Strikes Back which is my favourite Star Wars movie.