Saturday, March 30, 2013

Siiiiiiilent Flight!

This post title would have been so much better four months ago. Ah well.

Most people know that owls fly silently. The why of this is pretty simple: it makes them better hunters. Effortless, in fact. Their large eyes help them see in the dark. Their excellent hearing helps them pinpoint their prey. And their silent flight helps them swoop in undetected. They are amazing predators. But how do they do the stealth thing?

It all comes down to feathers. You know, those things birds are covered with.

These are macaw feathers, and fairly representative of the feathers of many birds:


Now, feathers come in all different sizes and colors and levels of floofiness, but what I'm wanting you to pay attention to here is the symmetry. Notice that the shaft in the middle is offset, with one being much larger than the other. These are flight feathers-- found on the edges of the wings-- and the short edge of the feather is the leading edge. Macaw feathers are stiff and thick, almost like plastic. They sort of rattle together if you shake them in your hand.

Now, for comparison, an owl's flight feathers:

There are several obvious differences between these two sets of feathers. Owl feathers are larger, wider, and more rounded at the tips. One other difference, though difficult to know without holding them, is that owl feathers are much softer, almost like structured down.

But there are a couple other things, more difficult to see here, that help owls fly silently. The first is the velcro-like structure of bird feathers. If you've ever handled a bird feather too much (or given it to a small child), they can look pretty tattered pretty quickly. What a lot of people don't know is that they can look pretty tattered on a bird, too-- the bird just preens them back into pristine condition. You can do this, too, the next time you handle a feather. Stroke the vanes of the feather gently with your fingers from the quill to the edges. It won't look as good as it does when the bird does it, but they've had tons of practice.

Anyway, this velcro effect will help by keeping the feathers together in one uniform piece so they break up the air as a whole instead of in tiny bits and pieces. But the real secret is in the leading edge of the feather.

Here's a close-up of a barn owl feather:


A-ha! Those little tiny ruffly bits at the top-- those are the secret!!! Right there!! You can see it!!

Okay, okay. I'm not crazy. Just excitable.

But, really-- that's the secret. Those tiny barbs act like baffles to break up the air flowing over each feather and the wing as a whole. Break up the air, and you can fly like a ninja. An air ninja.

Aw yeah.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

You May Not Like This Post

Guys. (And gals).

Most of you reading this don't need this message. But I've decided to step away from my usual candy-coated honesty and give you a straight-up, brutal message regarding rejection.

See, the thing about rejection is that it hurts. This seems painfully obvious (hardy-har-har), but it bears repeating. And the other thing about rejection is that it can be hard to understand. No one wants to sit around and mull for hours about why so-and-so never texted them back, or why that manager from the interview that went so well never called, or why Dream Agent 1.0 never even bothered to respond to your query.

But the other OTHER thing is, being hurt by or not understanding rejection gives you NO RIGHTS AT ALL.

That's right. I'm saying it. Someone's got to.

Just because you're upset that you were rejected, or you don't get why, doesn't mean that ANYONE owes you ANYTHING. In fact, unless you have entered into a monetary agreement with someone, there's very little in life that anyone will ever actually owe you. Sure, people SHOULD pay up and at least send you an "I'm not interested" text/ email for closure's sake. But there is no law that says anyone has to. And if you get that much, you're lucky.

That's the hard message. Now the hard words.

If you are having a difficult time dealing with rejection, whether it be romantic, personal, or professional, it is never, and I mean NEVER, okay to take it out on someone.

Vent, sure. Go ahead and do that. But do it privately. Do not attack the person who rejected you-- they have their reasons as surely as you feel entitled to know them. But again, they have zero obligation to share them with you. And sometimes, even if they do tell you why, there may not be anything you can change. You can be upset all you want about it but until humanity invents the Next Big Thing Logic Parameter Machine, subjectivity will always play a part in rejection. Is it fair? No.

But this isn't the third grade. No one has to play nice here.

Our society tends to focus so much on the Me Show that we forget other people are people, too. Those rejectors are not sitting behind desks and laughing gleefully every time they press send on a form email. They're trying to do a job the best they can with the tools they have available. And if that means breaking some hearts, well, they will. But they don't set out to do so. Choosing to be heart broken is all on you.

You simply can. not. take it personally.

Okay. I've yelled long enough. Here's where I break out the candy and pats on the back.

I'm not impervious, you know. I have spent my fair share of hours lamenting at how unfair the system is. Wondering what I did wrong, what I could change, if I could have a second chance. Asking everyone I know if there's something wrong with me, if I'm crazy to think I had a shot to begin with. And this all happened yesterday, by the way. I'm totally right there with you.

But I understand the other side, too. I get it. In my past, I've had to do some rejecting. It's not easy, and not taken lightly or with glee. Once, when I was interviewing candidates for a new position at one of my former jobs, I had called to tell a candidate that we were going to give them the position. Not two minutes after I got off the phone, my boss pulled me into his office and told me that he had given me the info of the wrong person to call. I had to call that person back and TAKE BACK THEIR GOOD NEWS. She was devastated, and confused, and understandably upset. I felt like scum. I cried after.

From this side of the desk, rejection is a bit harder to swallow, but it's also simply a fact of life. Even if I had it all: an agent and a book deal and my husband and my dream job and every animal I wanted, there would still be critics of said book, friends and acquaintances that didn't text me back, bad days at work, and days when my animals wanted nothing to do with me. There is literally nothing you can do to escape rejection. Especially when you put yourself out there to be rejected.

So the next logical question is, is there anything you can do to deal with rejection?

Well, yes.

But you're not going to like it. Because I'm not going to candy-coat this for you, either.

The cure for rejection is:

To get over it.