Hello there 🙂
Welcome to issue twenty three of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected things I’ve recently encountered.
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Speaking of coffee, grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, let’s do this thing…
Part I: Things I’ve Encountered Online…
This week I read about how the introduction of the Glanville fritillary butterfly (pictured below) to the tiny island of Sottunga in Finland, led to the surprise emergence of other species.
Thirty years ago, scientists introduced Glanville fritillary caterpillars to the island. However:
“Some of the caterpillars contained a parasitic wasp, Hyposoter horticola, which bursts from the caterpillar before it can pupate and become a butterfly.”
Bad news. But it gets worse; some parasites themselves carry further parasites; and those Hyposoter horticola parasitic wasps were carrying another species of parasitic wasp:
“Living inside some of these small wasps was another even tinier, rarer parasite, a “hyperparasitoid” wasp known as Mesochorus cf. stigmaticus. It kills the parasitic wasp around the same time as the wasp kills the caterpillar, and emerges 10 days later from the caterpillar’s carcass.”
So we have caterpillars carrying H. horticola parasitic wasps, and those H. horticola parasitic wasps are in turn carrying M. stigmaticus parasitic wasps.
But still there’s more:
“Also along for the ride was a bacterium that is carried by the female H. horticola wasps and transmitted to her offspring. By some unknown mechanism, Wolbachia pipientis increases the susceptibility of the parasitic wasp to being taken over by the tiny parasitic wasp M. stigmaticus, which can only live on the H. horticola wasp.”
A bacterium is a microorganism; and this particular bacterium (Wolbachia pipientis) essentially gives a leg up to the smaller parasitic wasp (M. stigmaticus) which lives on the H. horticola wasp.
The Guardian article doesn’t provide much in the way of detail of how these parasitic wasps function, but given that they sound pretty gruesome (and I have a peculiar fascination for the more gruesome-side of the natural world) I wanted to find out more.
I came across this delightfully titled article: “Body snatchers, eaten alive!”, on the Natural History Museum website. Dear reader, as the title of that article suggests, these parasitic wasps eat their hosts alive:
“Hyposoter horticola, employs a sinister tactic to get inside its host, the egg of the Glanville Fritillary butterfly.
After keeping a close eye on a set of new butterfly eggs, a female wasp will lay its own inside them just before the tiny caterpillar is about to hatch.
The wasp larva sits tight inside the body of its host until the caterpillar is almost fully grown.
At that point, the wasp puts on a growth spurt. It eats the entire contents of the caterpillar’s body and spins its own tough cocoon to pupate in, before emerging as another adult wasp.”
Poor Colin the caterpillar 🙁
Having successfully avoided a bunch of other natural predators like birds and what have you, he’s there one day having a lovely time munching on some delicious leaves, (and possibly thinking about how he’ll soon transform into a butterfly – pretty cool, he thinks), when all of a sudden he finds himself being eaten from the inside.
“What fresh hell is this?!” he thinks, before succumbing.
But back to Sottunga: how are those butterflies (and their parasitic wasps) faring? It’s kind of a good news / bad news situation.
The good news: despite the tricky conditions on the island, (which is prone to drought), the butterflies, and their associated parasites have survived.
The bad? The butterflies introduced to Sottunga aren’t great flyers, and haven’t made it across to any neighbouring islands; however:
“Since H. horticola was accidentally introduced on to Sottunga, the wasp has been discovered on other islands to the north, where it was previously not recorded. These individuals show similar genotypes to Sottunga, suggesting they originated from the wasps accidentally introduced to that island.”
THE PARASITIC WASPS HAVE ESCAPED THE ISLAND TO INFECT OTHER BUTTERFLY POPULATIONS.
Duplouy [the lead author] said the study, which is published in Molecular Ecology, could serve as a warning to projects seeking to reintroduce or restore rare species, showing how easily other organisms – or pathogens – can be inadvertently released alongside the target species.
“The reintroduction of endangered species comes from the heart, a good place, but we have a lot to learn about the species we are reintroducing and the habitat where we want to reintroduce them before we do so.”
Dear reader, has Jurassic Park taught us nothing?
Moar serendipitous finds:
Possibly you’ve thought something like this at some point:
“If I’d put a hundred bucks into bitcoin when I first heard of it, I’d be a millionaire today…”
If so, good news friends! You almost certainly wouldn’t be. McKinley Valentine explains why:
“If you’d put $100 into bitcoin back in the day, you’d have sold it when it reached $1000. Maybe $10,000. And holding on to $100,000 in the hopes it’d turn into a million? Come on.…It’s literally not possible for a sensible person to make life-changing amounts of money from cryptocurrency, because the only way to do it is to bet more than you can afford to lose. Even if you only initially put a little down, every time the price goes up and you don’t sell, you’re effectively choosing to bet fresh each time at the new higher rate.”
Valentine goes on to highlight that what we’re falling for here is something called “resulting fallacy” – when we judge whether or not something was a good decision based on the actual results, rather than the likely results. She also links to a fascinating interview with poker player Annie Duke about resulting fallacy; where Duke notes:
“Knowing the outcome infects us. We’re rational beings that think things are supposed to make sense.It’s very hard for us to wrap our heads around a bad outcome when we didn’t do anything wrong.
Or that there’s a good outcome that’s just random.
We’re really uncomfortable with randomness in that way. It’s just the way we’re built: to recognize patterns.”
Last year, three cryptocurrency enthusiasts bought a cruise ship. They named it the Satoshi, and dreamed of starting a floating libertarian utopia…It didn’t work out 🙂
Maria Popova reviews Wolf Elbruch’s book about coming to terms with death and loss.
One day, Duck turns around to find Death standing behind her. Terrified, she asks whether he has come to take her, but he remarks rather matter-of-factly that he has been there her entire life…
Clay Williams simultaneously reviews Manhattan’s new Margaritaville Resort in Times Square, and muses on the concept of conspicuous leisure — essentially being nonproductive in order to brag about it, rather than for your own rest and self-betterment. The whole article is a delight and the resort sounds like an absolute hellscape.
Poet and essayist Mary Ruefle has made her mark on thousands of pages since beginning her erasure series in 1998. A selection of her erased books, along with a group of her captioned postcards, is on display in Mary Ruefle: Erasures at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum.
For Ruefle’s daily erasure practice — she’s completed more than 110 books — she uses markers, correctional fluid, paint, tape, and even cuts text from the page with scissors to erase existing words and phrases.Texts, photos, and drawings from other publications make their way into these pages, as well as pressed flowers, handwritten notes, grocery lists, fingerprint samples, tangles of string, and other objects. Ruefle’s altered pages playfully question notions of authorship — whose work is this now?
Ruefle doesn’t read the books before erasing them; her process is intuitive and improvisatory:
“I describe it like this: the two pages are a field,.The words are growing in the field, and they hover above the page. They’re like flowers, and I pick the ones I like. My eye is roaming all over, trying to make connections.”
Clearly not a serendipitous find, but nevertheless something you might be interested in…
A few weeks ago I spoke at the Business of Content, (a virtual event) alongside a whole bunch of excellent speakers including Alice Chandrasekaran, Nick Eubanks, Rand Fishkin, Kameron Jenkins, Joel Klettke, Daisy-ree Quaker. If you couldn’t make the live event, you can now access recordings of all of the talks completely free – just register to gain access.
Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now
This fortnight I read another Booker Prize longlist nominee (more on that shortly), and I also read Schadenfreude (why we feel better when bad things happen to other people) by Tiffany Watt Smith. It’s a slim, chatty, fun read which explores this often shame-inducing, but nevertheless frequently delicious emotion.
For me, the most interesting chapter is towards the end of the book; it’s titled “Power”, and here, Watt Smith notes:
“What might work well when it punches up to the privileged, is less appealing when it is striking out in every direction – left, right and down to the less fortunate.”
Reading the book I found myself thinking a lot about my own relationship with schadenfreude; in some contexts it’s an emotion I enjoy guilt-free, but in other contexts that spark of joy quickly turns to shame.
On reflection, I think my relationship with schadenfreude it’s pretty similar to my relationship with comedy. I enjoy comedy which punches up and ridicules those with privilege; but when it punches down; I’m just not into it.
Similarly I enjoy the feeling of schadenfreude (pretty much guilt-free) when the individuals in question have power and privilege; but when they don’t, the feeling quickly sours and I’m ashamed of myself.
Watt Smith ultimately suggests that schadenfreude is perhaps a useful emotion:
“Being able to recognise the fine differences in our emotional weather is an important part of emotional intelligence.
… Schadenfreude happens for a reason. And when we are willing to look it in the eye, it’s easier to ask what prompted it in the first place. Did you think the person deserved a comeuppance? Why? Was your pleasure more about winning? And if so, against whom? Do you envy the person whose suffering you are enjoying? Were they making you feel inadequate or vulnerable? Betrayed? Misrepresented? Angry?
Noticing our schadenfreude and understanding why it feels so deliciously satisfying can help us face up to the more excruciating feelings underneath.”
I also read China Room by Sunjeev Sahota (which is on the Booker Prize longlist). The year is 1999, and our protagonist is a young man, who, in attempt to battle his heroin addiction, leaves his home in the north of England to spend a summer in rural Punjab with his relatives. His first-person account is interspersed with the story of a young woman called Mehar, who also lives in Punjab, but her story takes place much earlier, in 1929. (We later find out that Mehar is his great-grandmother.)
For the most part, it’s Mehar’s story that takes centre-stage. She is a 16-year-old bride who finds herself living in the “china room” – a cramped building on a farm, named for the willow-pattern plates that adorn it. Mehar shares the room with Harbans and Gurleen, whom she has only recently met; the three of them have been married, in a single day, to three brothers. Now, they spend their days doing chores and waiting for the matriarch, Mai, to tap one of them on the shoulder, thereby summoning her to a bedroom to meet her husband and, it is hoped, become pregnant with a son.
The reader is left to draw their own parallels between the story of Mehar, and our present-day protagonist. For me, it’s a book about freedom (or lack thereof), self-determination, finding kinship, and the trauma which is inevitably handed down from one generation to the next.
It’s quiet, sad, and beautiful; and I’d highly recommend it.
Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching
Not much to report here I’m afraid.
Money Heist is back on Netflix… well kinda. They’ve released half of season 5, and the remaining episodes will be released in December. Why do streaming companies do this?! I want to watch the whole thing at once, damnit! For me, this half-a-season is weaker than previous seasons; but continues to be trashy fun so I’ll doubtlessly watch the final installment of episodes in December.
Part IV: What I’ve been up to…
This fortnight has been slammed, but in a really wonderful way. I ran an in-person training course at BrightonSEO (my first in-person thing since January 2019!) which was really great; plus I got to meet up with a bunch of my pals. I think, (or I hope), I mostly avoided utterly disgracing myself – seriously, do any of us know how to behave in public anymore?
Hot on the heels of Brighton, I got to spend the weekend in that London with my Dad and some friends. We went to see Anything Goes at the Barbican and were utterly blown away by Sutton Foster who is just incredible. In other news, I want to take tap dancing classes now.
Next week I’m escaping London with Mum (we’ve rented a cottage for a couple of days in East Sussex). I’m looking forward to some lovely walks, pub grub, reading, and doing jigsaw puzzles.
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