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Tongue Length and Other Things You Should Know About Giraffes

The proud papa isn’t able to pass out cigars, but there was still plenty of celebrating at the Cincinnati Zoo, where earlier this month a giraffe has been born for the first time in 26 years. Tessa, a four-year-old Maasai giraffe, delivered the calf at 9:40am on April 2, and 20 minutes later the tyke (who was later identified as a female, and whose name “Zuri" was selected via a Facebook contest) was tentatively balancing on her wobbly legs and nursing. Birthing a six-foot-tall baby with four sharp hooves sounds unbearably painful to any human who has demanded morphine seconds after her water has broken, but it’s just one of many inconveniences the world’s tallest animal has adapted to over the centuries.

Spot the Difference

Without access to the animal’s DNA, the second-best way to identify different types of giraffes is via the distinctive markings on their coats. There are nine recognized sub-species of giraffe, and for the most part each group keeps to themselves in specific geographic regions of Africa. However, Kenya has the unique distinction of being the only country that is home to three giraffe species – the Masai, the Reticulated and the Rothschild. Masai giraffes (left below) have irregular brown patches with jagged edges on a cream-colored background. Their Reticulated cousins (center) boast very clearly defined orangey-brown patches separated by bold white lines. And the Rothschild family (right) sports light, irregular patches (those less jagged than those of the Masai) on a white-to-buff background, with no markings below the knees.

Nature’s Support Hose

The giraffe is the world’s tallest animal, and as a result requires a lot of extra help to pump the blood all the way to its head. Their extra-large hearts weigh about 25 lbs. and pump fast enough to keep their central arterial blood pressure at 250 mmHg (compared to 100 mmHg in humans). Under normal conditions, that would result in a pressure of 400 mmHg in the legs (in simple terms: severely swollen ankles), but the giraffe has a secret weapon - the skin on its legs is extra thick and extremely tight-fitting, and it prevents the blood vessels from expanding and the blood from pooling. As they walk, their leg muscles help to vigorously pump the blood back upwards to the rest of the body.

In case you’ve wondered why giraffes don’t pass out from the head rush when they bend their heads down to drink, it’s because of the rete mirabile – a complex web of arteries, veins and valves that carefully regulate the blood flow to their noggins.

Gene Simmons Would Be Envious

The average giraffe’s tongue measures from 18 to 20 inches long. It’s also a blue-ish/purply color, but that’s not important right now. Despite the length of its neck, sometimes the tastiest acacia leaves (a staple of the giraffe diet) grow on the uppermost branches of the tree, so the giraffe needs those extra inches its prehensile tongue provides to reach up and grab those tender leaves, which provide not only nutrition but also much-needed moisture. The giraffe’s only natural predator is the lion, and the giraffe is most vulnerable to a lion ambush when it assumes the very awkward spread-legged position necessary to drink water from ground level. Eat enough moist acacia leaves and trips to the local watering hole are reduced proportionately.

Speaking of Tongues

[Image credit: Flickr user William Warby]

Some scientists postulate that the reason a giraffe’s tongue is a darkish color is to prevent sunburn, since it spends a large portion of the day outside of the animal’s mouth and exposed to the hot rays of the African sun. But evolutionary theories aside, scientists do agree that not only is the giraffe’s tongue extraordinarily “tough” – that is, it sustains surprisingly few cuts from the thorns found on acacia branches – it is also protected from infection from the few abrasions it does sustain by some very thick, very antiseptic saliva. That same saliva coats the thorns so thoroughly that they exit the animal in their original form, with no harm done to the digestive tract. Giraffes also capitalize on the antiseptic and prehensile qualities of their tongues by using them to (yech!) routinely clean their ears.

Up Close and Personal

Can an 18 foot tall animal equipped with a lethal kick be considered “cuddly”? Ask anyone who has stayed at Kenya’s Giraffe Manor, a small hotel located just outside of Nairobi. The Manor was originally constructed in 1932 as a hunting lodge by an heir to the Mackintosh Toffee fortune. The property was sold to Betty Leslie-Melville and her husband in 1974, and shortly after their purchase the Leslie-Melvilles found out that the few remaining Rothschild giraffes were in danger of being exterminated thanks to the sale of the animals’ sole habitat by the Kenyan government to a private real estate company. The Leslie-Melvilles, who already had three Rothschild giraffes roaming on their property, agreed to “adopt” two other giraffes who were slated for slaughter. In 1983 the family refurbished the lodge and re-opened it as a hotel. Since that time Giraffe Manor has worked with several wildlife groups in the breeding of Rothschild giraffes and re-introducing them into the wild to expand the gene pool. They fund their efforts via the hotel guests who willingly share their breakfasts with the Manor’s giraffes who quickly learned the meal schedule and are always sure to stick their necks in through a window to beg a tidbit.

Giraffe Manor is still operating today in case you’re ever in the vicinity; some of the celebrities who’ve noshed with the long-necked over the years include Johnny Carson, Mick Jagger, Brooke Shields and Walter Cronkite.

Life is Harsh: Lesson One

Giraffe birth appears to the human eye to be somewhat abrupt and austere. The reality of the situation does seem rather brutal: Mama’s hind legs are about seven feet tall. She does not lie down and curl up when those first contractions hit, but rather she stays upright and expels the baby from a standing position. Luckily, in the giraffe’s natural habitat, there is a ground covering of sand and some random flora to cushion baby’s first free-fall. In captivity, zoologists prepare a cushy sand bed when a cow (female giraffe) is ready to deliver. No matter what the locale, baby G’s introduction to the world comes as a rude awakening – a head-first PLOP onto the ground followed by a sharp hoof to the belly from Mama to stimulate movement. Even in the protective confines of a zoo or wildlife preserve, Nature still prods the mother giraffe to get her baby on its feet as soon as possible, lest there be predators nearby. Here's a graphic illustration of the giraffe birth process (but be forewarned that it is bodily fluid-intensive):

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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