Microscopic Orchestra [Weekly Head Voices #53]

Dear friends, I was planning to write a nicely focused post, but it’s definitely not going to be this one. There’s just too much we need to talk about, and by “we need to talk” I of course mean that “I need to do my monologue”. Do strap yourselves in, as this edition of the WHV has tea, peanuts, chocolate milk, general nerdery, some ground-breaking science and even some thought-provoking art.


Will the real Rooibos please stand up?

Will the real Rooibos please stand up?

Rooibos is a brilliant herbal tea from the Western Cape province (the same one that spawned me) of South Africa. It is both tasty and super healthy. As I was shopping for my stash in the local Albert Heijn (huge grocery chain here in Dutchieland), I found all kinds of Rooibos blends, for example with honey or even with orange. Now while I appreciate the fact that you can even find Rooibos in any old store over here, the only good Rooibos is of course PURE Rooibos, so I was quite happy to find the most non-descript Albert Heijn box stating just “Rooibos” (not an orange or honeypot in sight), and also the Pickwick box proudly proclaiming “Pickwick Rooibos Original”. I was considerably less happy when I noticed in the list of ingredients (list? it’s supposed to be just tea!) that the addition of cardamom, cinnamon and ginger (!!!) to these supposedly original specimens was apparently acceptable. In the words of an entrepreneurial friend of mine: MUPPETS. Fortunately, the boys and girls at Zonnatura do get it, and have the right stuff on the shelves, pure and uncut. As if fate needed to equalise this advantage however, their website is pure and absolute Flash suckage. Go figure.

On the topic of healthy nutrition, there are two more tidbits I’d like to mention:

  • Peanuts are of course not nuts, they’re officially beans, or legumes. When further perusing the wikipedia page on peanuts, one is most pleasantly surprised to find that this delectable snack is in fact also super food! Allegedly the favoured core nutrition during (Ant)Arctic expeditions, peanuts contain more protein than any true nut, oodles of carbohydrates (570 kcal per 100g) and also 30 other hardcore nutrients and vitamins. No Vitamin C though, so the perfect diet would unfortunately still require more than just peanuts and beer.
  • This one surprised me more: In a number of studies, for example this one from 2006 and this very recent one from the University of Texas, it was found that (low-fat) chocolate milk works really well as a recovery drink after strenuous exercise, better than those really expensive sports drinks you always see real athletes prancing uselessly around with. CHOCOLATE MILK people!


  • HTC’s Android phones run Sense, a graphical user interface layer over mostly Google’s smartphone operating system. Sense is really quite cool, except for the fact that it’s too easy accidentally answering or declining calls when fishing the phone from your pocket, as HTC has mapped these actions to vertical swiping instead of horizontal swiping. On my nerd blog, I’ve written a short post on how to work around this problem.
  • I’ve recently installed the Rapportive plugin for GMail. Whenever I view or compose a mail, Rapportive shows incredibly detailed information on the recipients or senders in the right sidebar, detail that it grabs from services such as facebook, LinkedIn, twitter and so forth. Obviously you also get to see recent emails between you and said senders or recipients. This context information makes a huge positive difference in the mails that you are able to craft.


I had the privilege of accompanying Genetic Offspring Unit #1 to Naturalis, National Museum of Natural History, in Leiden. On the ground floor, they have a reproduction of the Miller and Urey experiment published in ’53. This was a landmark experiment during which Miller and Urey tried to show that under the conditions on primitive Earth, organic compounds, such as amino-acids, would be synthesised from inorganic precursors. They built a relatively simple closed setup containing only water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen, added water evaporation and an electrical spark (simulating lightning) to the mix, and voila: amino acids, the building blocks of proteins in living cells!

Although more recent evidence suggests that the general atmospheric mix was probably not exactly like in the Miller-Urey experiment, their work did pioneer the study of the origin of life on earth. Current scientific opinion varies from organic compounds arriving here by meteorites, or that organic molecules may have indeed been synthesised in localised reducing environments such as those proposed by Miller, for example near to volcanic plumes!

Now that’s just hardcore.

Art (and a dash of backyard philosophy)

On the top floor of Naturalis, I arrived at what was to be my absolute highlight of the visit: An art installation by Matthijs Munnik called “Microscopic Opera”.

There are better photos of this installation online, but this one is mine.

There are better photos of this installation online, but this one is mine.

The installation consists of 5 petri dishes filled with mutated C. Elegans worms, each moving differently due to their mutations. Above each petri dish is a microscope-camera feeding the video to an analysis algorithm that turns each worm’s motion into a different choir voice. The total effect is altogether eerie and quite mesmerising. The artist intriguingly writes:

… I’m also fascinated by the worms, who have no idea of the world above them. We are like gods to these little lab worms, following them from their first cell division to their death, manipulating their bodies and mutating their DNA. Are we really like gods, or are we like the worms, unaware of the things above us in a different dimension, the biggest thing becoming the tiniest.

I think I’m going to leave you with that. Have a beautiful week, worms!