Author Archives: John Wilson Mcavoy

From the Wolf to the Chihuahua

For a lot of people like me, dogs are just a regular part of life. I grew up with at least two big dogs in the house at all times, and it just doesn’t feel like home without a big lovable slobber hound waiting for me when I walk in the door. Dogs are such a normal part of life here in America and all over the world, its easy to forget that these pooches all came from wolves. It is also very easy to forget that wild wolves are not dogs, something IWolf-Dog have to remind myself of when I find myself 30 minutes into YouTube searching of wolf dogs. (I mean come on, who wouldn’t want this) When I was thinking about this, I realized that I have absolutely no idea how we went from the mighty wolf to the Chihuahua, and I was extremely surprised to find out that it is actually because of us.

The way that most species evolve over generations is through mutations in offspring that prove to be advantageous in its current environment. This mutation either helps the animal survive or makes it less likely to. If it survives, it passes this gene down to its offspring, and so on. The case of wolves becoming dogs is a bit different though. It started out with a small genetic mutation, making some wolves less prone to running away from a human (or anything it perceives as a threat) at a closer distance. Because of this, wolves would hang around camps where humans have settled, and feed off of any left overs or thrown away food, where other wolves would not get so close to the humans. This began a symbiotic relationship between wolves and humans. Eventually, humans began to take in these wolves slowly, seeing their potential as hunting partners and as protection. They would then breed the ones that were friendlier and more loyal, while not breeding the less desirable (2) This kind of artificial selection allowed humans to pick what qualities they liked in the wolves, and which they didn’t. For example, if they breed ten wolves, they then raise the puppies but only breed the friendliest 10% of those puppies, and so on. This process speeds up evolution exponentially, quickly leading to many different types of wolves that were fitted for their specific environment. In colder harsher climates, wolves with thicker coats would be preferred, whereas in warmer areas, shorter haired dogs were more useful. Some dogs were bred specifically for hunting, aka what became the retrievers, some dogs were bred for protection, German Sheppards and Rottweilers, and some just for companionship or warmth, poodles and many small dogs.

Over thousands of years, as dogs spread out over the world with humans, they began to develop into all of the diverse breeds we see today as a result of the needs of the humans they were with.

Dolphins, our Guardians of the Sea?

Dolphins these days have attained a reputation of being naturally friendly animals, known for their advanced intelligence and their beauty and grace in the sea. For most people, the mention of dolphins either raises memories of trained dolphins jumping through hoops and splashing water, or the image of a school of dolphins swimming along just past the crashing waves of the beach, but how many people immediately think dolphin_hoopof a helping hand? The connection between humans and dolphins is one that goes back centuries, as far as the ancient Greeks. There is no shortage of Greek mythology showing dolphins helping humans lost at sea, whether its saving a drowning person, rescuing someone from a shark attack, or guiding a lost ship to safety, humans have always felt a kinship with dolphins, a kinship that dolphins appear to reciprocate. There is no shortage of stories of dolphins helping humanity, but do they mean to? According to research, they just might.

Following their research on dolphins and the dolphin brain, scientist at Emory University have concluded that behind humans, dolphins are the dolphin with graduation capsecond most intelligent animals on earth, behind humans. The study found that dolphins share many skills with humans, including being smart enough to recognize symbol based communication, their own identities and language, the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror, the ability to pass information from parent to child, and even the ability to read each others actions and behaviors in order to work together. There have even been reports of wild dolphins in brazil that work with fishermen, trapping fish close to shore and signaling the fishermen when to drop their nets, allowing the dolphins to easily get a large mean and the fishermen to make a larger catch. Upon discovering how intelligent dolphins are, it was proposed that dolphins should have rights, describing them as “non-human persons“, and India has even taken measures to ensure the protection of dolphins rights.

In an experiment done by Jack Kassewitz in Miami, the dolphins sound based language was produced as silent pictures, and the dolphins could recognize it as what was originally said with 86% accuracy. Think about that, because it is amazing. Dolphins speak to each other in a a specialized language, which is so advanced that they can recognize it when written down. Researchers are currently working on deciphering this language, with growing success.

Knowing that dolphins are so intelligent, is it possible that when they help a swimmer from drowning or a shark attack, they know fully well what they are doing? In other words, do dolphins feel empathy? Though there is no hard evidence to assert this, time after time dolphins seem to come from the depths to help humankind for no apparent reason. Now, this isn’t to say that dolphins are perfect peaceful creatures, they are still wild animals after all. The difference is their heightened intelligence, which allows them to do good and do harm more efficiently. Many people assert that dolphins helping humans from sharks is actually a selfish act for dolphins, because dolphins seem to inertly hate sharks, and have been seen going out of their way for no reason simply to annoy sharks. Because they are smarter and faster than sharks, small groups of dolphins have been known to confidently harass sharks, including flipping them upside down and lifting them to the service, effectively killing many sharks. Male Bottlenose dolphins have even been found to form small groups and forcefully mate with a single female which they single out, aggressively forcing her to stay with verbal and physical abuse. They have also been known to attack babies of other species, carefully biting them directly on their vital organs.

So as far as being our guardians in the oceans, that may be a bit of an over exaggeration, but dolphins are definitely one of the best things to see if you ever find yourself lost at sea. In the end though, they are still wild animals, unpredictable and not to be underestimated.

The Mantis Shrimp

More specifically, the Peacock Mantis Shrimp.   This species of crustacean live in the warm waters of the indo-Pacific ocean, south of Japan, North of Australia, and East of Africa. There are many things that set these creaturedownloads apart from other ocean dwellers, be it their incredible coloration, (hence the peacock naming), their unparalleled eye sight, or their extremely advanced fighting and hunting
adaptations, these shrimp hold two world records. When looking into all the things that make these shallow water dwellers unique, i found that there was no shortage.  For starters, lets look at their fantastic eyesight and coloration.mantis-shrimp2

Actually, there isn’t much that needs to be said about their coloration, I think pictures do it proper justice that my words just couldn’t do. The males of this species are more brightly and flamboyantly colored, for mating reasons, with vibrant colors over a base olive or green color, red limbs, and leopard like spots. No doubt, these creatures are extremely brilliant to look at, but compared to mantis shrimp, we don’t even know what color is. One of the most incredible features of the Mantis shrimp is its eyes. As far as eye sight goes in the animal kingdom, humans are relatively basic. We have three photoreceptor cones, red, blue, and green, one more than dogs. It is no surprise that many animals have better eye sight than us, just think about birds of prey which utilize binocular like vision to be able to spot potential prey from up to three kilometers away, or even the butterfly, which has an extra photoreceptor cone, giving the ability to see in the ultraviolet spectrum. By having just one more cone, butterflies are able to see are far more brilliant spectrum of visual light than humans, so what about mantis shrimp? Holding the world record for the most advanced eyesight, the mantis shrimps eyes have 16 color receptive cones. Let that sink in. every single color that we can see all derive from 3 colors. With 16 base colors, our brains are unable to images (2)comprehend what seeing through the eyes of a mantis shrimp would be like. With each eye being individually controlled, the mantis shrimp can scan 360° at all times, allowing it to use these incredible eyes to seek prey and avoid predators. Though predators may want to watch out for the mantis shrimp more than the other way around.

The other world record that the mantis shrimp holds is due to its attacking/defending mechanisms. See, there is a reason that it is very difficult to keep mantis shrimp in an aquaOs-female-striking-snail-b-medrium or a fish tank, and that is its club like arms it keeps folded below its body. These appendages are able to attack at an unbelievable speed, with the same acceleration as a .22 caliber bullet. This allows the mantis shrimp to smash the shells of its prey, such as clams or crabs, with ease. This, when added to its aggressive and territorial nature means that putting a mantis shrimp in an aquarium usually leads to dead fish, broken glass, and a wet floor. That’s right, this little guys punches have been known to shatter the glass of aquariums and fish tanks, meaning that this exotic beauty is almost impossible to keep for yourself. To further put the power of these punches into perspective, when the hammer like appendages make contact with prey, there is so much force that the air in the surrounding water is vaporized, causing a small implosion which produces heat, sound, and even light. Yeah, these things punch so hard that they create light. 61b89a5fa3405980b9ceb9f138021e74this has caught the attention of a lot of people, including the United States military. They have been studying what it is that makes these clubs able to withstand such incredible force, and in recreating this material, they have created materials stronger than any we had previously tried for things such as airplane shells and combat armor. Clearly these little shrimp have a lot to offer us in terms of their mechanics, having two of the most advanced mechanisms in the entire animals kingdom in one colorful package.


Worlds Deadliest

When you think about the deadliest animals on earth, the obvious choices imimages (1)mediately come to mind. Lions, bears, tigers, sharks, and other large predatory animals, atop each of their respective food chains. While these animals are undoubtedly not to be taken lightly, none of them actually crack the top 5 most dangerous animals in the world (don’t read until after) as     according to annual deaths. In fact, of those three, only lions and sharks are in the top 15, with lion at #13 with 100 annual human deaths, and sharks at #15 with 10 annual human deaths. taking a look at the top 15, I was very surprised by the top 3 in particular, or should i say the top 4, excluding humans at #2, which I think is already pretty obvious.

When looking at the Worlds Deadliest animals, the last thing I expected to see was such a common pet as one of the deadliest animals in the world, but at the 3rd (really 4th) deadliest spot is dogs. At first, I thought there was no way that could be true, dog attacks are relatively rare, and the number of people who are killed by dogs each year cant be very high, especially not 25,000 deaths a year high. Then I realized that dog attacks aren’t what make dogs so deadly, its how common they are carriers and transmitters of the real killer, rabies. Rabies is an infectious viral disease, which is generally transferred through saliva into an open wound, usually a bite or a scratch. Of the 25,000 average annual deaths caused by rabies, about 95% take place in poore868F6572-9BDF-4B0F-B63F1E339A9A1A66r areas in Asia and Africa, where proper medical treatment is very difficult to come by. Though there is a vaccine, rabies is so deadly because once someone is infected and shows any symptoms, it is fatal 99% of the time. In other words, if you cant get the vaccine beforehand, and you cant reach it directly after being exposed to rabies, there is nothing that can be done to stop it. It is also very easy to come in contact with a dog with rabies, or for your dog to come into contact with a wild animal with it, considering 99% of infections are from domestic dogs. Most of these deaths take place in poor remote communities where vaccines and modern medicine are not available, with the most common victims are children ages 5-14. It is due to this virus that dogs rank in as the 3rd deadliest animal in the world.

At number 2 (really number 3), is a bit more predictable animal to see atop this list, and one of the most commonly feared animals, snakes. Admit it, along with spiders and, well I guess insects in general, everyone either is or knows someone who is terrified of snakes. It turns out that this fear is very valid, as snakes are responsible for 50,000 deaths each year (though with unreported incidents around the world the real total is estimated at 94,000). How are they so deadly? For the same reason rabie080304-snake-fangs-02s is so deadly, because many areas of the world such as south Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to proper medicine or doctors, which means that these potentially preventable deaths happen very frequently, and often go unreported. These areas of Africa and Asia are also where many of the deadliest types of venomous snakes live, meaning that interaction between them and humans happen very often, making snakes an incredibly deadly animal.

Finally, what would you guess is the deadliest animal in the world? Similarly to the last two, the deadliness of this animal, which is responsible for 725,000 deaths annually, is so deadly due to the lack of advanced medical care in areas like southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Similar to dogs, it also isn’t the animal itself that is so deadly, but what that animal is carrying, which with this little guy can be any number of deadly diseases, which it then injects directly into your bloodstream. That’s right, mosquitos are the deadliest animal in the world. Collectively, mosquitos have killed more people thAnophelesan all wars in history. Outnumbering every other animal on earth during breeding season, mosquitos can be found everywhere on earth (save Antarctica), which means that they have access to nearly every single person on earth. Different species of mosquito can carry different types of diseases, from yellow fever to west Nile virus, and of course the most obvious and the deadliest, malaria. Malaria is responsible for roughly a million deaths each year, most of whom are children in Africa. It lives in the red blood cells of infected individuals, meaning that it is not contagious through contact and cannot be sexually transmitted. This means that the only way to get it is through surgeries or medical procedures, from mother to infant, using dirty or used syringes, or from the main source, mosquitos.BiggestKillers_final_v8_no-logo


So it turns out that disease and poison on smaller animals is the most deadly thing out there, not the big alpha predators that occupy peoples nightma
res and movie screens all over the world. Definitely not what I would have predicted.

Christmas Tree Oh Christmas Tree

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is finally time to shamelessly dive into all things Christmas. At least for me it is. All over America for those who celebrate Christmas, this month of December is synonymous with green and red, holiday movies, peppermint everything, and of course, the all important tree. Pine trees have become a symbol of this holiday, be it the Christmas tree itself, the scent of pinesap in Christmas candles, or wreaths made from branches and pinecones. No doubt we are all very familiar with pine trees, but do we really know how complex they are? From different gender pine cones to seeds that only fall in the event of forest fires to their ability to survive and flourish in extremely dry and cold climates without water for as long as 6 months strait, pine trees are some of the most interesting and durable trees in existence today.

pine_cones_male_flickr_ccnc_gjshepherd_brPitch pine cone
(Male)                                                                                   (Female)

One of the most fascinating things i found out about pine trees is their reproductive methods. Unlike most trees which flower in order to reproduce, actually have two different kinds of cones, males and females. The male cones, which are much smaller than female cones, are responsible for spreading

One of the most fascinating things i found out about pine trees is their reproductive methods. Unlike most trees which flower in order to reproduce, conifer trees (all trees that produce cones for reproduction) actually have two different kinds of cones, males and females. The male cones, which are much smaller than female cones, are responsible for spreading
mass amounts of pollen to the wind. If you are a Pennsylvania native, you have no doubt walkyellow pollen-3ed outside in the spring only to find everything covered in a thin layer of yellow dust.
This is pollen released from the male cones looking for unfertilized female cones. As for the females, they begin as hard, tightly compacted cones with unfertilized seeds safe between closed scales. When the female cones begin growing, the scales open up slightly to allow the males pollen to reach the seed and begin the fertilization process. The scales close back up, and for the next three years they remain closed as the seeds inside grow and reach maturity. After three years, the fully grown female pinecones re-open and allow the fully grown seeds to be taken by the wind or animal in order to find soil in which it can germinate and grow into a pine tree sprout.

There is one type of pine tree in particular though that raised my eyebrows. The Bishop Pine tree is found primarily in the south west united states, an area well known for its dryness and frequent wild fires. Once the female cone receives the pollen, it closes and reaches maturity like most pine trees, but once matured, Bishop Pinecones don’t open. Instead of immediately releasing the matured seeds, the cones will wait for intense heat, more specifically that of a wildfire, until they open up and release their seeds. This is an extremely advantageous trait specific to its region, because a forest after a wildfire is the ideal breeding place for new foliage. there is a plethora of sunlight for new saplings to feed on along with extremely nutrient rich soil left from the fire. Bishop Pinecones have been known to sit in full maturity for over 10 years until they receive enough heat to open their pinecones. Talk about adapting to a specific environment.

The other thing that struck me about conifer trees is their incredible ability to survive and maintain. In a way, they are like the sharks and crocodiles of the plant world, unchanged for millions and millions of years for one simple reason, what they have works and it works well. There is a reason that coPine-Trees-at-Night-9-HD-Wallpapernifer trees have survived virtually unchanged for 300 million years, and that is that they are designed to survive. While most plants have evolved to use flat leaves in
order to capture maximum sunlight and water, conifer trees all have thin needles. Though these do capture significantly less sunlight, they are much more effective at water retention during droughts and hot spells, allowing conifer trees to go weeks if not months without water. They also don’t fall off during winter, as opposed to flat leaved trees. This means that during the winter months, conifer trees can still photosynthesis with the limited sunlight and moisture, allowing them to be efficient all year long. These needles also tend to form in uniform clusters, allowing for maximum water retention while avoiding snow build up in the winter. These needles are also very difficult for any animal to eat, with little nutritious pine_needles1_t670value and a chemical called terpene, which tastes bad and deters consumption. All of this allows conifer trees to be abundant in areas where little can live, primarily high longitudinal and latitudinal locations where temperatures are harsh and resources scarce. There is a reason that the oldest, tallest and thickest living things in the world are all conifer trees.

This is a lot of information about something that most people don’t give a second thought to, but sometimes knowing how something works can give you a new appreciation for that thing, so the next time you look at a Christmas tree remember that you are looking at a dinosaur, unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, the perfect survivalist. Feliz Navidad.

Fallout, Game or Guide?

If you’ve been on the Internet at all in the last couple weeks, no doubt you’ve heard the buzz surrounding Bethesda’s next chapter in the Fallout series, Fallout 4.


The fallout series is an open world action first or third person shooter, with each game centered around surviving in the world after a nuclear war. Each game begins similarly, the player wakes up in what is called a “Vault”, community nuclear shelters, around 200 years after the nuclear detonations. You emerge from the vault, located in Boston in Fallout 4, to find the surface world to be a barren, scarred wasteland filled with bandit gangs, mutated animals and humans, and scattered radiation. Because the war happens many years in the future from now, there are a plethora of modern and futuristic weapons, armors, medicines, and technologies for your character to explore and discover throughout your travels. In the first 24 hours after its release, Fallout 4 sold 12 million copies while raking in $750 million dollars, making it the most successful video game release of 2015. With so that many people playing, the question is raised, just how realistic is this Fallout post-apocalyptic world? In the event of a real global nucleFNV_GGeckoar fallout, would the landscape really turn to a barren wasteland filled with mutated creatures?

First off, lets look at one of the most prominent changes in the fallout world, the animals. Nearly all animals have suffered severe mutations, including cows with three heads, giant hind leg walking lizards, and giant scorpions.


These are consistent with pre-conceived notions of radiation exposure, with almost all post apocalyptic, post nuclear war imaginations about animals, two headed, extra limbs, difference in sizes, with of course the most famous example being Godzilla, who was hypothetically created as a result of radiation from the two nuclear bombs detonated in Japan. GODZILLAIn reality however, the results of radiation on wildlife is much less dramatic, at least in the short term. The best example we have to study today is the site of the Chernobyl disaster. If you don’t know, Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant in the Ukraine that had an explosion, which sent radioactive debris particles into the atmosphere. The accident happened in 1986, and the site to this day is still abandoned. Researchers from Texas Tech investigated the area for years and eventually described it as basically a wildlife preserve. Natural wildlife such as bears, moose, and wolves are in high numbers in the area along with the occasional lynx, bison, and wild horse. Observations of the animals from afar show there to be very little if any serious mutations or genetic weakening. In fact, the area has become home to many endangered species due to the absence of human interaction, providing almost a safe haven for wildlife. So basically, the opposite of the Fallout games.


As for the landscape, Fallout displays a color display of mostly browns a greys. Most plant life looks dead or dying, with the occasional splash of red and green here and there. This sets a very ominous tone for the game, but is it realistic? Does radiation permanently kill plant life? According to Travis Glenn of The Molecular Ecologist after years of observation of chernobyl, “it is reasonable to be concerne38753f415d8a93ab66ef742773af5360d about long-term effects from radiation and the very large number of other environmental contaminants that may induce mutations and transgenerational epigenetic modifications.” In other words, although there were no drastic initial mutations to any species, although the changed environment of radiation may cause long term mutations in species due to natural selection.


So basically, yes, it is possible for a radioactive environment to mutate a species over generations of time to create a world similar to that in Fallout, but according to everything we know now, it would likely be to a much less drastic extent.



College is a time of a lot of new experiences and a lot of emotions. One of the main feelings that everyone goes through at some point, either freshman or senior year, is nostalgia. At some point in every college experience, whether it be at Christmas break, when football season starts up, or just late night when someone throws the lion king on tv, it hits like a ton of bricks. Then, all of the sudden, you want to call your friends from home and reminisce about backyard football games, birthday parties, and Friday nights at the ice rink open skate. (That last one may have been a local thing, but insert your middle school traditions.)


we have to go back


Null Hypothesis: The past was better than today

So is this true?

What is nostalgia, and why is it that memories of the past seem so vividly ideal, with no stresses, no worries, nothing but bliss? Is it that the past really was just a better time? That in our youth we experienced an unburdened lifestyle that we were too young and immature to truly appreciate? According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that in fact these memories are not even real, just tricks our minds are playing on us.

In Greek, the words for return and suffering are nostos and algos. This means that in greek, nostalgia literally translates to “the suffering caused by the yearning to return to one’s place of origin.” Nostalgia is the longing to be home. One of the most recognized pieces of literature ever, Homers The Odyssey, is a tale of a man trying to make it back home, with his nostalgic memories of his wife and homeland as his only motivators throughout his 10 year journey.


What we see when we look back is actually something referred to in psychoanalysis as screen memory, in which many memories are all put together into one, and during which all negative emotions were screened out, hence the name. This means that the memories that we think back on are really a lot of memories, and the positive emotions that went with them, with all negative emotions left out. Its no wonder everyone loves seeing a film, TV show, or even a picture from their childhood.

In the end, our null hypothesis turned out to be wrong, the past was no better than today, our brains just trick us into remembering it as being a perfect time in our lives, and to be honest, whats so wrong with that?

For a little fun here, lets play a game.  If you feel nostalgia, you lose.

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images    197186-goldeneye3

61    You_b0fbe1_949332



Maybe I Wrote Too Much?

Hello class, TA’s, Professor, and any other readers.

My name is John McAvoy, although I go by Wil from my middle name, Wilson. I am a junior here, although this is my first year at the beautiful main campus. I was born and raised in Phoenixville, PA, son to a Penn State grad and a Canadian dairy farmer, AKA Mom and Dad. As a result of this I am a duel citizen of the United States and Canada, as well as spending at least part of every summer of my life in Canada, including this past summer where I was in Canada all summer living with my cousin, working on his dairy farm. Not the most glamorous job in the world, but hey it pays, and if nothing else there are a lot of dogs and cats around the farm in addition to all the cows and calves, and of course Chetley, my cousins 4 month old daughter.

I mean who couldn’t love this face right?



Just for the record, when it’s really hot in the barn in the summer, a bucket of water is a great way to cool down your baby. The more you know.


As I mentioned before, this is my third campus in three years. After graduating from The Episcopal Academy, it was down to Florida with me to a small school just outside of Orlando, Rollins College. Normally when I tell people that I went to a small school on a lake in Florida, and left to come here, they look at me like I have three heads, but I have my reasons. I was at Rollins to play lacrosse, which as you could imagine, gets to be a very, very warm ordeal in Florida. Being the half Canadian that I am, I love seasons. Don’t get me wrong, I love summer, but I also love when it turns to fall and its time for jackets and jeans, then to winter for snow and coats, then to spring to break out the shorts again. In Florida, there is only one season, summer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does get old relatively quickly for someone like me, especially when we have lacrosse practice at 6 A.M. in the middle of September and the sun isn’t up and you’re already dripping sweat in the pre practice stretching because of the intense humidity. It didn’t really hit me that that wasn’t where I wanted to be until December though, when it was early December and 60 degreed outside. I would wake up to go to classes, and out of habit throw on sweatpants and a jacket, then walk outside and immediately be reminded that winter doesn’t exist in Florida.

After my freshman year, I decided that Rollins wasn’t the place for me, so I decided to transfer to the school that I grew up always wishing I could go to, where my dad went, my sister went, and where I had had enjoyed at least one football game a year surrounded by 110,000 of the best people I could hope to be around. The Pennsylvania State University. What I was quickly informed of though, is that you cannot transfer into Penn State main campus with less than two years of college credits, and so I found myself at Penn State Altoona, where almost immediately I felt more at home and comfortable that the previous year. Although I was nervous about transferring, meeting all new people and going into a whole new environment, I felt that I immediately fit in with the Penn State crowd, and had the best year I could ask for last year.

And now here I am, at University Park, living the dream, a full time student at this incredible school, this incredible campus, surrounded by these incredible people. Let me just say, having experienced another school, there really is something special about the atmosphere here at Penn State. The school pride and spirit is something that is absolutely unrivaled from anything I’ve experienced, or even heard about from any of my friends at other universities and colleges. Having had the experience of being at a school that I didn’t feel was right, I truly feel that I can appreciate it so much more here now.

As for this class, I have always felt myself attracted to the sciences and how they relate to everyday life. I think knowing how and why things work is such an interesting thing, because science is everything around us, all the time, and we usually never take the time to stop and notice it. That’s why I am so excited for this course, to gain a new understanding and appreciation for science in every day life and so on. I am very excited to see where this class takes me and what I can take away from it.

Finally, as a lover of all things food, I will leave you with these useful food hacks, because who doesn’t want to make better food?

Food hacks, because why not