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Wednesday, August 24, 2016


 (in Eng?ish)

It’s a Wednesday, a big one, like a XXXL size one or so, but not a fatty Jabba the Hutt-big one, with all those soggy minutes and hours overflowing from its borders toward a much fitter Thursday [not Tuesday of course, since time, especially the soggy one, can’t overflow into the past, you know, otherwise the arrow of Miss Entropy (a dominatrix/nutritionist with a passion for basic physics, sloths, tattooed double chins and, of course, archery) gets all grumpy (Miss Entropy, not the arrow, which never gets grumpy because it’s very much into meditation, masters the art of self-control, aaand has a strong relationship with Mr. Valium) and you don’t want to mess with Miss Entropy and her arrow, especially when she’s all grumpy -well, maybe you can handle that if you’re a cat used to weird boxes full of guns (or of cyanide tablets and baskets of acids, or of hatching alien eggs, or of four very robust dudes who bet who would have eaten more lentils at lunch and the “it’s digestion time baby!” is going to begin…-]. No, put it simply, it’s a The Rock-big, a Ivan Drago-big, a Thor-big, a Steve Buscemi under steroids-big (… Ok, maybe not this unsettling) Wednesday.
And PiPs is floating like a feather of light on a blue sea. Under a blue sky. With its legs astride of a blue, slender, beautiful board (ok, not the same of the following pic, but, you know, whatever...).
Waiting for The wave.

PiPs surfing by @sciencemug

[The pictures of the ocean (a) the surfboard (b) and of the plastic material (c) are adapted from Public Domain images by @sciencemug (source: Wikimedia Commons)]

But not far from PiPs there’s a wild bunch of blue (and of other colors too) pieces of plastic trash that, on the cry of “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” (oddly enough, plastic rubbish near the shores collectively refer to themselves as “Baby” - nobody really knows why- while the plastic mush in deep water goes by the name of “Vida”) is ready to steal the perfect coming wave from PiPs, while, on the beach, some rubber masks, a couple of parachutes, a tanned heap of creased bucks and a pair of limping mustaches just passing by, seem to enjoy the show.
PiPs knows it’ll be a rough ride, above all ‘cause the plastic stuff can count on a legion of bacteria living on them, and those tiny little bugs can surely surf (and also make a really funny impression of Steve Buscemi under steroids, but that’s another story...)
So PiPs is all tense, focused and already starting to row with its skinny arms to jump on the back of that wave when a woman bravely approaching the surly school of plastic+bugs distracts it and make it lose the moment… (*)

PiPs by @sciencemug
Pips by SM
PiPs- Hey Miss, watch out, they’re nasty stuff! Who’re you anyway, and what are you doing here?

Assistant Professor Ana Maria Barral
Ass. Prof. AMB
Ana Maria Barral- I am Ana Maria Barral, Assistant professor at National University in the balmy region of Southern California and I study the microbes that live on ocean plastic and, along with other life forms that live on it, make the so-called plastisphere. What I do here is hanging squares of different types of plastic that floats in the ocean. I am curious to know what kind of microbes attach to them when they are freshly out floating in the beach. We know quite a bit what kind of microbes live on them once they have disintegrated into tiny particles and are out in the ocean gyre. But we know little if the plastic floating close to the coast can carry any risks.

PiPs by @sciencemugP- Cool, so you study the (coastal) plastiphere [which, by the way, I first thought to be the commercial name –the common one being “the in-real-need-of-a-hell-of-a-ton-of-wide-spectrum-antibiotics-before-they-eventually-stop-working round thingy”- of a super fancy biotech XXI century version of the old disco ball, with, instead of all those banal little mirrors so âgé, a whole load of multi-bioluminescent bugs flashing in sync with the music (hey, I should patent it, maybe I’ll get rich by that and finally realize my dream to retire in a very exclusive url of the dominion “.whateverudreamcomestrueinheredudeevenifuarebutareallystupidpostwithoveractivearmpits”…)].

The plastiphere according to PiPs (by @sciencemug)
The plastiphere according to PiPs (by @sciencemug)

 [The picture of the disco ball is a Public Domain image adapted by @sciencemug (source: Wikimedia Commons)]

Anyway, Prof. Barral, why do you study precisely bacteria and their near shore floating plastic shacks? I mean, why don’t you study, I dunno, how come there’re sea stars but not sea black-holes; or why betters don’t ever wager on seahorses; or who, among bacteria, mosquitoes, cockroaches, rats and drivers who don’t use blinkers, is gonna inherit the world when you humans are gone; or whether, given all the plastic floating on the seas of the world, all the people undergoing plastic surgery risk, afterwards, to go to bed and then to suddenly awaken in the middle of the You-Name-It Ocean with only a pair of leaking water wings around their arms and with a splintered mirror floating aside them on which it is written, with some cheap lipstick, “welcome home”?
And, above all, professor, how come you ended up studying precisely bacteria and their near shore floating plastic shacks? Did you lose/win a bet (on a rigged seahorse race, maybe?)

Assistant Professor Ana Maria BarralAMB- I came from the school that bacteria were bad and caused diseases, so when the whole idea of microbes living in us and on us, and being so important to shape our health came out I was amazed. A great book that just came out on this is Ed Yong’s “I contain multitudes“, I really recommend it. So I am curious about microbes in general and how they impact our lives. On the other hand I love the ocean, I live close to the ocean and I feel very strongly about plstic pollution. So when this project was presented to me I jumped on the opportunity.
As for the how