Looking back through a mirror

Voluntary homelessness – progress update

Hi everyone,

Some of you have been asking me about my adventures in voluntary homelessness.

It’s been both good and bad. For some reason I had always had this romantic notion of what it be like to live out of my car – or in a van if I could be so lucky (which I am not although I love my little Subaru, not complaining!) The lifestyle had always seemed to me so delightfully gypsy-like and etheric. It’s so free. Nothing to hold you back. The world at your fingertips. No rent. The reality, however, has turned out to be somewhat different.

I’m a month away from submitting my master’s thesis which is a bit of a daunting thing. I have been making a lot of use of libraries which has helped but as much as I love libraries they are not always ideal. They are only open for limited hours and not at the times when I do my best work (aka at night). They are also only open for a couple of hours on Saturdays and virtually never on Sundays. I won’t rant on about this but I really don’t understand the point of that and why so many other institutions that we all need (the post office, the bank, etc.) are never open on weekends when people are actually free! Anyway … oh and you tend to run into a lot of colourful characters in libraries which isn’t always fantastic – especially when they want to tell you their life story and you really just need to get some work done. Despite this, libraries are truly incredible places, though. Especially considering that they are air conditioned!

That’s the other thing .. sleeping in your car is messy business when you live in Queensland, Australia and it is SUMMER! My car bed is actually really comfortable because my car is long enough that I can put the back seats down and stretch completely out. BUT shady parking places are not easy to come by which means you often have to park out in the open and will wake up COVERED in sweat. Suffice to say, I don’t imagine I will keep up with this lifestyle much longer. I have been impressed, though, by how possible it is to live this way. A good friend of mine has been living the lifestyle for over eight months, now. I love her, she taught me that you can always find a hot shower at a truck stop because the truckies need to have facilities. I had never thought of that before but it makes sense. I am also grateful for the experience in the way that it has hi-lighted for me what it would be like to be actually homeless – aka homeless because there was no other option. I have options. I am actually choosing to live this way. And I have a car. That’s a major, major thing. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to wander the streets with nothing and no-one. I was never one to judge homeless people but I especially never would now. People tend to judge homeless people as being lazy and wonder ‘why don’t they just get a job?’. Well I imagine they have tried. I imagine there is much, much more to the story.

Oh well .. I don’t really want to get into a rant about that either. .

I will just say I am grateful for the experience and even more grateful for friends who will extend to me the use of their couch. For now I am house sitting for a friend who is away for a couple of weeks. I’m so appreciative for that as it gives me a bit of an opportunity to work hard at my thesis and get it all squared away. I don’t want to move into a place of my own just yet because my day job situation is up in the air at the moment and I haven’t quite worked out what state I am going to be settling in. But I’ll work that out soon enough.

Blessings to you, everyone 🙂

Extreme simple living – voluntary homelessness!

Some of you would remember when I did a personal experiment on simple living and vowed not to buy anything for myself (sans the usual grocery items) for a month. It was a challenge but really helped me to identify the luxuries in life that were free or that I already owned. I saved quite a lot of money that month and it put me on a path of thinking harder about the financial and environmental consequences of my daily purchases. I realized that I had fallen into a pattern of absentmindedly buying stuff to ignore the feelings of boredom or glumness that were showing up in my life. I also realized that the practice wasn’t really accomplishing anything. I had fallen into debt and I was becoming irritated by all the clutter, further adding to the rather shitty emotions I was experiencing.

Even shittier, I started feeling really guilty about what I was doing because I knew I didn’t want to be so actively participating in our culture’s emphasis on constant acquisition. It was costing me a lot and I knew it was stupid to get sucked into the modern day acceptance of credit card debt. I was also feeling guilty because we live in a world of finite resources and it felt selfish to be consuming so much when so little of it was necessary and almost none of it contributed to a more fulfilling life.

A few months after the month long experiment I completed a three month experiment which I called a ‘consumerism detox’. Even though this challenge was three times as long I found it easier. I had sort of realized by then that it’s actually ok to sit and wait and want something for a while and that you don’t have to just immediately rush out and buy (or charge) whatever it is that you’re wanting. I had also started to get used to enjoying what I already owned – my books, my movies, my internet connection. In the end I was more excited about getting rid of stuff than getting new stuff, especially on the day I de-frumped my closet.

Well it’s now been nine months since I completed the three month challenge. Since then I’ve continued to live a more simple life although I haven’t had any specific ‘rules’ to live by. I paid off my car and almost all of my consumer debt (just about one more month to go on that) and have just began a new experiment, this time with no specific end date in mind. I am sure it will seem extreme to many of you but I have actually become willingly homeless.

I have moved out of the house that I shared with two friends and into a storage unit with no plans to get another place any time soon. My friends were going to be moving out of the house we shared anyway and since I am away most of the time with work I don’t really want to waste my money on rent when I could pay the same (or less) and just get a hotel for a few days or camp out somewhere. I usually only have a week or so off in between work assignments so my plan at this stage is just to cruise around when I am off work. Go visit people, travel, volunteer, work on the film that I have been needing to head up to the Atherton Tablelands to get footage for, stuff like that.

The only problem that I can see with it is that I am one of those people that loves to be at home. The idea of not having a home is a little confronting but I do think that this experiment will be character building and will (hopefully!) allow me to save up to actually buy a little place somewhere in the next year or two – hopefully somewhere peaceful in the hinterlands and not to far from the beach.

I shall keep you posted!

To see how I’m going with this, click here

Bat research is fascinating

my research project on sperm competition in bats

Hi folks – long time, no blog!

I have written before about the relationship between testes size and brain size in micro bats (aka echolocating, insect-eating bats as opposed to fruit or nectar eating bats). Many of you have also emailed me information about the scientific study that was published in 2006 by research team Pitnick et al. that first demonstrated this relationship. Thank you very much for that and in exchange I thought I might give you a bit of an update on what I am in the middle of doing to further our understanding of the brain-testes relationship in bats.

For my masters degree I am looking at whether or not there are any differences in the brain volume of male and female micro bats. I have been wondering if there might be ever since reading about Pitnick et al.’s study. My thinking was that if there is, indeed, some sort of inverse relationship in bats between brain size and testes size whereby the two metabolically expensive organs trade off against each other then it stands to reason that perhaps females could have larger brains than males since they don’t have testes competing with their brains for dominance in the body. At least, I thought, this might be the case in species where males have very small brains due to their enormous testes which hog all the body’s resources.

My study is fairly small in scale but I am hoping that it will still prove interesting. I am comparing averages of male and female brain volumes in 9 Australian micro bat species – some that have mating structures where females are promiscuous and some where females are loyal to a single mate (a dominant male harem leader). To do this we are CT scanning a collection of skulls and then using computer technology to create 3D models of the brains as a way to ascertain volume.

Here’s a picture of the first skull we scanned. It makes me laugh every time I look at it – such a big machine to scan such a tiny object (that little spot on the blue towel is the skull):
going through the CT scanner

And here is a model I am putting together of that same skull. It needs work but it’s still pretty cool:
model of a bat skull - in progress!

Interestingly, the factor that influences testes size in micro bats in female sexual behaviour. When females are highly promiscuous and take many sexual partners the males tend to have much larger testes than species where females are loyal to a single mate. It is assumed that the large testes trait develops in species where females are promiscuous because there is greater competition among sperm for access to the eggs in these individuals and so those males with more sperm available tend to be selected for over time. It is similar to how if you are really keen to win a meat raffle you will buy more tickets.

The same relationship between female promiscuity and testes size occurs in primates, including humans and for that matter, basically all animals. You can look at most any wild animal and get a good idea of the level of female promiscuity by looking at the testicles of the males. The difference with bats is that because bats weigh very little (as little as 2 grams!!) and have an extremely tight energy budget they cannot afford to have both heavy brains and heavy testes and so they trade one tissue type against the other.

Pitnick and his colleagues in their landmark study originally predicted that the opposite relationship would occur – ie that large brains would equal large testicles. They postulated that species with promiscuous females would have larger brains as a way for the males to avoid being cuckolded. They were surprised when they discovered that the opposite was true and remarked that “perhaps monogamy is more neurologically demanding.” I think many of us would attest to the truth of this statement!

If my study shows that there are any size differences in male and female bat brains as a function of testes size it may potentially mean that female promiscuity is a force strong enough to influence male intelligence in a measurable way. An intriguing notion but at this stage very much a theoretical one.

*Sidenote: the boys on the construction sites where I have been working have heard me talk about animal testicles so much that they have become terrified I’m going to show up at their bedroom door one day with my calipers! Actually that’s not completely true .. some have actually volunteered for the job! .. all in the name of science, right? 😉

** Oh and yes the bat in the picture above is alive! It was just very very cold because I pulled it from a tree which had just been buldozed on a construction site in the very early hours of a winter morning.

Size matters – and if it didn’t, you’d be smaller

Does size matter? It’s the age old question. Some say that it’s the ‘motion of the ocean’ that matters while others have pointed out that ‘they don’t make small dildos’. Still others have pointed out that, actually, they do make small dildos! If you ask me, I’ll tell you that size does matter. But I’m not just speaking of pers

onal preference, here. The question of whether or not length and/or girth is important becomes obvious if you look, as I always do, to the animal kingdom.

Male humans, you see, have penises far larger than any of the other primate species around the world. Even Silverback gorillas, as massive as they are, only manage to achieve erections of about 1.5 inches. Many theories have been put forward for why humans have such large dingdongs. Originally they wondered if a big penis might have evolved to make insemination easier but that didn’t make sense since the less endowed primates are just as good at breeding as we are. They then thought a big wang might be useful in male/male competition (aka showing off) but then they realized that most indigenous cultures have coverings over their genitals so that didn’t seem like a good explanation either. They then wondered if a big cock might have evolved to help us to perform some of the more adventurous kama sutra style position that many of us are quite partial to but that also didn’t make sense because orangutans, chimps, bonobos and many other primates are into all the same crazy shit that we are – and then some!

Finally someone wondered

if female choice might have been involved but this was dismissed almost immediately after a few studies showed that women don’t really like looking at penises. This isn’t surprising considering what a huge epic fail playgirl magazine was!

So if women don’t even like to look at penises could female selection really be involved in the evolution of the huge human wang? Well as Meredith Small points out in her book ‘Female Choices: Sexual behavior of female primates‘ .. and as what virtually all women already understand .. a woman doesn’t have to love the sight of a cock to appreciate how it feels. Hence it is entirely possible and indeed very likely that the reason men have such large penises is that women enjoy them so much that over time they mated more often with these big boys than with the little smokeys and essentially bred the big cock gene into the species. Women, therefore, are amazing designers. Not just of fashion and homes but of men – and their penises!

Of course female don’t’ always have choice over who they mate with. There are arranged marriages and tribal system where a dominant male type character has rights to females and of course there has always rape. Also women will also make mate choices based on things other than cock size (shocking, I know). But generally speaking it can definitely be argued (and I do) that there have been enough women choosing mates based on their cock size over the last few thousand years to increase the size of human penis beyond what would ever be necessary on a purely functional basis.

So does size matter? Of course it does .. but don’t worry. You’re already doing way better than almost any other primate on Earth.

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy my post on primate testicles

3 months without buying stuff – how I did (consumerism detox, day 90!)

Well my three-month consumerism detox is over. I thought this would feel like a bigger moment. When I decided to do the challenge in January after starring at the huge crapload of stuff I had managed to accumulate after just a week at Woodford and ten days on a cruise, the idea of not buying anything else until April seemed impossible. Surprisingly, though, it really hasn’t been much of a drama. That’s not to say it hasn’t been challenging at times. It certainly has. There were times when I would find myself staring at an item that I wanted and would have a little debate with myself over whether or not I should buy it. Most of the times my rational side won out but there were a couple of times when my free spirit took over and I decided to bend the rules to suit me. For example, one day I managed to talk myself into calling perfume a ‘toiletry’ and bought some .. but I suppose one little bottle of perfume isn’t the end of the world .. although that may be the voice of my free spirit again 😉 I also had to buy some stuff for work which felt like cheating even though it was unavoidable. And a couple of days ago I had to buy a new phone after I dropped my old one in a river.

As I talked about in my last post, my life has now moved in a new direction where there is little need for excess stuff and so I expect to continue on with this new clutter-free, streamlined, cost-effective lifestyle. I’m working as a fly-in-fly-out fauna spotter these days which means that I am away from home most of the time. We work for month-long stints and are flown home for one week in between each stint. When we are away, we each have a little room to call home in which is akin to a mining camp. There are almost no women here and no place fancy to go so there is no need to dress up or worry about keeping up appearances. Slapping on some lip balm and running a comb through your hair in the evenings is enough to get most of the boys excited so there’s not really any need to go to any more effort than that. Little pleasures like lighting a candle or putting on some fresh nail polish seem very decadent. It’s amazing how your perspective changes when you get away from the world of strip malls and so forth.

I guess I should start thinking about what I want to buy now that I am able. I’m having trouble coming up with much, though. There really aren’t any clothes that I need or want. I seem to have everything I need. Most of the time I’m working and in my uniform so it’s only in the evenings that I can put normal stuff on and as I mentioned, there’s no need for anything impressive. And at my house in Brisbane I have more stuff so when I come home I can switch out for new things .. it’s like shopping in my own wardrobe.

I do want to buy a new laptop. The one I’ve have is so bulky which is a pain in the ass when you’re travelling a lot. I’d like to get a smaller one and a little pouch to put it in. I’d also like to buy some candles. I love to light candles in the evenings and really need/want to stock up. Instead of going to the cheapo stores, though, like I’d usually do to buy ten or twenty cheap ones, this time I think I’ll find a really beautiful soy candle and just burn that for a while. Soy candles burn slowly and evenly and smell so much better than paraffin candles ever seem to.

So what has been the big lesson for me in this challenge? I think probably it’s that it’s more enjoyable to have a few good items than a lot of cheap crap. It seems so obvious but when you live in a world where you are constantly bombarded with cheap stuff, it can be hard to resist it.