Squiddy elbows and conflicts of interest.

Ok, i found the actual info via this CNN video, but the National Geographic article is much more informative, so I’ll focus on that.

Basically, this thing is its own genus and species though it’s currently classified as a squid.  It has ten appendages like other squids, but on the Magnapinna the leggies are all the same – tentacles are not differentiated – and it has some sort of joints near the head on each leg that function similar to elbows.  they are even more elusive than the Colossal Squid – so far, no adult specimens have been confirmed, as far as I could find.  Most of what we know about them comes from the juveniles that wash up and the deep sea videos and photographs taken, some of which are random captures from deep sea oil drilling tools (well, at least it’s good for some human advancement). We don’t even know if they chase prey – the long trailing arms (up to 23 feet in length, longer than the giant squid) could be a form of trapping that drifts until bumped, then snaps up the intrusion. Take a look:


Not something you’d want to meet in the dark depths of the ocean.

The Fab Lab and the Unwettables

There are occasional instances when my current employer makes me go ‘cool!’  or ‘I want that!’.  Today both have happened.

Recent research at MIT is codifying the way surfaces repel materials.  Researchers have been refining their understanding of the way thin liquids like oil can be kept from coating or being absorbed into a material.  By examining the way duck feathers resist the higher surface tension of water, scientists were able to come up with a surface that could resist coating by oil and even pentane (a solvent which has the lowest surface tension at atmospheric pressure, and is thus most liable to wet a surface).  They are now completing a list of the ‘rules’ that apply to wetting.  In this future this should mean super-wet-proof materials for consumers.  Cool.

In addition, based on MIT models, a new fabrication lab is being opened in Providence.  It will be an industry-grade lab that’s open to the public for a variety of projects and developments, and is being opened in association with AS220, an arts and technology collaborative.  Since its based on similar labs somewhere around here, it makes me want to go out and fabricate.  I have the ideas, and could possibly have access to the tools, so why not?  I want that.

A last frontier?

The United States was a country that was partially shaped by its idea of ‘frontier’ and ever-outward expansion.  To a certain extent, the modern American still has a sense of himself as ruggedly individualistic and ready to pit himself against the world.  That external world, however, has greatly changed.  The frontier, even in remote areas of Alaska, doesn’t truly exist the way it once did.  Now it seems that one of the last frontiers will become more easily reachable – the oceans.

Scientists around the world are currently cataloguing and delving deep into the oceans.  Their aim is to gather enough data to complete a sort of ocean ‘census’ by 2010.  The data already collected is already providing interesting results: new depths at which ocean predators like jellyfish are sucessful, new habits and migrations of sharks, massive congregations of aquatic life in unusual places.  Researchers will meet Tuesday to begin compilation of various data points.  They will be working in association with the website PLoS ONE to get the content out, which is fabulous.  Who doesn’t like direct access?

King Solomon’s Copper.

I’m not really up on my Biblical history.  This could be a flaw in my education, or perhaps just in my interest.  Somehow, the lineages of the Kingdom of Edom and when the Israelites were where don’t really pique my interest.  Despite this, occasionally I wish I knew a little bit more about the timeline, mostly in places where it would improve my knowledge of certain stories or would help in trivia games.

One of the areas where I have limited knowledge is about the ‘real’ reign of King Solomon.  This is probably partially due to H. Rider Haggard and various associated movies.  Why did the king bury bunches of treasure in a mine?  Who ends up dying as they leave?  Was there a previous lost love?  Is it a friend who is taken in the unfairness of African life?  Does a safari end in melancholy?

Well, archeology is trying to answer some of those questions.  A copper mine has recently been dated to the time of King Solomon.  It is possible that this mine, therefore, had some connection to the king and may even have been one of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’.  However, both the Bible (which is one of few written sources we have) and early archeologist linked the area to the Edomites at the time the site was dated to.  So to me this indicates that despite it being during Solomon’s rule, it was probably not under his direct control.  Edom was basically a vassal state, but I’m guessing that any mines in question would have been the governor of Edom’s, rather than Solomon’s.

However, that’s niether here nor there.  The real question is, how far will fact follow fiction?  In this particualr set of mines (which are probably not the only ones for an entire kingdom), is there any ‘buried treasure’?  or was that all relegated to other mines?  is there romance, or monumental loss, or ideal friendship that is about to unfold in this story of rediscovery?  And what about the Queen of Sheba?

Pigtails? You don’t say…

I read this article on CNN just this morning about your brain and paralysis.  Unfortunately, it was too full of technobabbly and ‘maybe possibly someday’s that it was completely unexciting.  Sure it will be great when paralyzed people will have new technologies that tap into their brains to help them move again.  But the experiment didn’t seem to really prove much to me, so what’s the point of getting excited?

I did find something of note, however – Pigtail Macaques.  Wikipedia has failed me on this particular issue, as they did not mention why these fuzzy things have th ‘pigtail’ name.  They don’t even have hair tufts, let alone actual ‘tails’ of hair.  I guess it could have something to do with the fact that their tails are shorter, but they’re not called ‘lion-tailed macaques’, which is more what they look like.

After careful further research, it is the tail.  “Pigtail macaques have an abbreviated tail, less than the length of the body from head to rump, which is often bare or covered only by sparse fur (Rowe 1996; Groves 2001). Pigtail macaques get their popular name from their tails, which are short and carried half-erect so that they somewhat resemble a pig’s tail (Choudhury 2003).”  I’ll let you decide:

The so-called ‘pigtail’ – is that half-erect?

The apparently unpiggish tail

Stonehenge and the hail cannon.

The word ‘lunatic’ comes from a Latin association with the word ‘luna’, which means moon.  There is some evidence that the word comes from early experience with those who had mental illnesses like bipolar disorder that moved in cycles, similar to the phases of the moon.  But in common usage today, a loony could be anyone outside the ‘normal’ order of things, often including those who make decisions outside of hard science.  Here I’m talking about all the advocates of alternative medicine, alternative farming practices, and even methods of changing the weather (think orgone).

I’m not saying that any particular practice or beleif is, in fact, crazy.  Personally I think many of these alternative practices has some basis in fact, though I reserve judgement on any particular practice until I can ‘see it for myself’.  After all, belief in a cure has been proven to change the course of a person’s illness.  Instead I am drawn to the idea that the popularity of such alternatives is itself cyclical in nature.

Take, for example, a farmer’s recent use of a ‘hail cannon‘, a device which he believes to break up hail through noise within a certain area.  Similar devices using a loud noise such as a cannon or bell to ‘disrupt’ hail formation have been in use at various times, but are currently seeing a marked resurgence.  Is this merely evidence of new weather patterns and more farmers taking drastic measures to avoid damages?  Or is it one of those things that must cycle in popularity?

Another example is seen in recent research into Stonehenge which reveals at least one purpose for the ancient site as a healing center.  Evidently one of the inner rings of stones is a rock called spotted dolomite, which the new study is saying was believed to have healing properties, making the site one of pilgrimage for those who were very ill.  The condition of those buried at Stonehenge seems to support this conclusion, though it remains unclear just exactly how the stones were thought to ‘heal’ the sick.  Currently, dolomite is sometimes used as a dietary supplement to improve health due to its high concentrations of both calcium and magnesium.  Since Stonehenge has been dated to at least 2500 BC in previous studies, making this one of the oldest resurgences in popular health belief that I know of.

So, what does this all mean?  Are these alternatives something we will eventually discard, once and for all, when medicine can treat all of our ailments?  Will we rely only on 100% proven methods to protect our crops and discourage inclement weather?  Will there always be something we can’t quite control, leaving a niche for alternative solutions?  I should hope so.  A new moon and a dark sky all the time does not appeal to me.

Armchair science.

With the advent of the popularity of science, a variety of amateurs set of into the field to ‘discover’.  Amateur archaeologists destroyed countless cultural sites and shipped relics and bones to home museums.  Amateur biologists drove certain species (dutifully observed and collected) to the verge of extinction.  Amateur medical professionals brought disease more than they cured it.  To combat such errors methods were refined, and as technology marched forward, new more advanced tools were found to take the place of more bumbling human agents.  But despite tremendous technological advances, the world remains reliant on individual error checking and observation.  The human mind is still the most potent weapon we possess to filter and analyze the unknown.

Take the example of Alice Kober and the decipherment of Linear B.  Sure, guesses were made about what the script might be, and that its form might be linked to inflection.  Sure, certain reoccurring sign patterns were noted.  But it took a keen human eye and hundreds of categorical notecards to discern the real patterns of the script.  Kober (a woman, mind you, well-trained but serving as the assistant to another archeologist) was the one who had the time and patience to hunt down and analyze these patterns, without the drama of fieldwork or the assistance of advanced modeling platforms. Here is armchair science as it’s supposed to be – a discerning mind applied to a problem or question, without the need for recognition or success – to investigate the question is enough.

Today astronomy has brought us another example of a ‘real’ armchair scientist int he form of one Hanny van Arkel.  As a part of the Galaxy Zoo project, she has been spending her time and brainpower pouring over old archived photographs of galaxies far, far away.  The purpose of the project was to allow for quick categorization of each galaxy as spiral, elliptical, or something else, and involved amateurs to free time up for the main researchers.  It is the human element to perception (currently better than computer analysis) that allowed van Arkel to pick out an anomaly, currently being called a ‘cosmic ghost’ for lack of a clearer understanding of what we’re looking at, in one of the photos just below a bright galaxy.  They think the ‘ghost’ is a hot cloud of gas illuminated by a long-dead quasar even further away, but more research is to be done in the area.

What does this say for all of us?  As my sister, Shelly, likes to say, ‘use your brain’.  We are, all of us, still able of contributing something to the collective understanding of the world.  The human mind (or brain, if you prefer) is a tremendously complex wonder with an amazing power to analyze, categorize, and intuit.  As such, we are each the best tool possible for making something great, if we but use that power to question for the question’s sake, rather than the answer’s.

Wellfleets. Yum.

I like raw oysters.  Only since moving to Boston did I realize I like them.  In Indiana, oysters just aren’t as prevalent, and while I like seafood, somehow I never got around to trying them.  Now I love to hop up to Summer Shack after a long week and grab a pitcher of Fisherman’s Brew and a nice little selection of oozy goodness.  I generally try what they have on hand, learning the names of different types and maybe even something about the part of the coast a particular oyster comes from.

Wellfleets are pretty good.  The Wellfleet Oyster Fest describes them as ‘long and strong-shelled. Experienced tasters know that they are plump and clean with a distinctively good balance of creamy sweetness and brine.’  But I’ve never been to Wellfleet, MA, and didn’t even know they had a lighthouse, until now.

It is interesting to me the way local legend grows up around a particular event or circumstance.  It must have been true that someone in Wellfleet knew the fate of the lighthouse at the time it was moved.  The amount of effort it must take to move a lighthouse from one coast to another, even disassembled as some think it was, must have meant the local population was well aware of the movement, even if they were unaware that the lighthouse would eventually end up on Point Montara, CA.  Someone must have written the letters that are now coming to light as evidence of the movement of the lighthouse.  Local rumor may have eventually spewed forth the idea that the lighthouse was merely disassembled and not transported, but what of those ‘in the know’?  Is there some reason they would not want the town to know that their lighthouse was still being used (and is still being used today) somewhere else?  Or did the townspeople themselves simply prefer to allow the truth to fade into past and legend.

It is odd the ways truth and story blur in local tradition.  In Talcott, WV, it is often said that after his titanic battle with the steam engine, John Henry came home to his wife, had a quiet dinner, and passed softly in his sleep, his big heart finally giving out from the strain of that struggle.  In Ireland, Oisin lives to tell his tale to the future, perhaps even to Saint Patrick.  We are drawn to the poetry of the moment, and who would rather not see their beacon of light sinking slowly beneath the waves forever, rather than used for purposes not their own on some distant shore?

Seasonal settlement near Stonehenge: “We’ve never seen anything like it before”

I like learning.  I like learning about people, and about our past, and about anthropology and archeology and some parts of history.  It’s interesting to me to see who we once were, to revel in and possibly unravel the mysteries of who we could be.  A part of this is extrapolation.  A part of this is examining the facts and hypothesizing what might have been.  A part of this is amazement at new discoveries and presenting those findings to the public.  However, I get quite annoyed at the sensationalism that often accompanies such publication.  The discoveries themselves are quite amazing enough – there’s no need to add hype to get us excited about the possibilities.

Take the recent studies undertaken of Stonehenge.  Fact: Carbon dating of burials has proven that the site was a burial ground for at least 500 years, 400 years longer than previously thought.  Fact: At least one burial occurred at the time the standing stones were being erected.  Fact: a nearby settlement, most likely related to Stonehenge, was seasonally occupied in midwinter and midsummer.  Fact: a wooden standing circle at the settlement was oriented towards midwinter sunrise, as Stonehenge is towards midsummer sunrise.  None of these facts requires statements to dress them up such as, “we’ve never seen anything like it before”, regarding the settlement, or ‘ The actual building and purpose of Stonehenge remain a mystery that has long drawn speculation from many sources’.  Ok, the second semi-quote is from the article itself, so that can be attributed to the flamboyance of writing for AP, but the first is Mike Parker Pearson, archeology professor at the University of Sheffield in England and head of the Stonehenge Riverside Archaeological Project.  And he’s never seen anything like a settlement near an ancient burial ground.  Or maybe he meant a seasonal settlement by an ancient burial ground.  I will give him that the site must be unique, but really, he’s never seen anything ‘like it’?

I can’t blame anyone getting excited over what they love.  And this new research is probably giving us great insight into how people living and how they respected their dead and even some of what they may have believed.  But I expect more out of respected members of the field.  I expected comments like “We are now investigating the potential of hierarchy at the settlement,” or “these new findings lead us to suspect that Stonehenge may have been a site of central religious meaning in the area.”  I don’t expect hyperpole that leaves me saying ‘duh, of course Stonehenge is a burial site.  There’s giant TOMBSTONES everywhere.’

Why I’m not your next pop *STAR*

One of the things I like to do is try new things.  I like a wide variety, which is what led me to strange foods, new places, and whole worlds of fun.  I’ve tried the usual trendy sports – snowboarding, rock climbing, white water rafting – as well as more traditional pastimes – knitting, carpentry, gardening.  Heck, I even tried to learn to play viola, despite my fumble fingers.  And I haven’t broken anything yet.

Part of that drive is why I started my photoblog.  I can take pictures!  I can…write stuff!  It’ll be grrreat!  Unfortunately I’ve been neglecting it recently with all the other stuff I’ve been doing, and I have about 50 pictures I want to upload and wax poetic about.  Alas, it has suffered from the second part of most of my new activities – a dying off of interest.  Like so many things – the computer game I started making in China for my sisters, the still life I was doing to learn how to paint with oils, the novel/ screenplay/ autobiography/ terrifying monster of wonderfulness I was going to write with Gina – it has fallen out of my range of vision.  But I will get back to them all – someday.

My new project of ridiculousness is all Gina’s fault.  We were in the car, and she responded to my dumbness about something-or-other with “you should write a song about that”.  Bad Idea.  Now I’m off on the Gina Song Project, and I will not be deterred.  I will have lyrics, I will have music that actually sounds good, and I will have a video to include (but not limited to: a) unicorns b) dragon books (not actual dragons, just dragon BOOKS, mind you).  I’ve already thought about how to include the unicorns, and I think my book will be called Dragon Heads, because that’s not a real book that I know of and it sounds funny.  I think the video will also need to include a bathroom stall.  And with that, I’ll stop giving away all my good ideas.

So far, I’ve produced the basic structure of the song, but I need some serious work on building up the lyrics with instrumentals.  But I’m learning, along the way.  What I’ve learned so far is that contorting your body like a monkey knot to be closer to the built-in microphone does not improve your singing ability.  I’ve also found that such contortions put odd pressures on your lungs and make it much more difficult to sing in key.  Finally, I’ve learned that however much you love them, steel drums do not go with every song.  The Gina Song Project is going to have to take a step back from the islands and rethink.

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