Use what we got.

Cuttlefish are awesome. If you didn’t know how awesome before, I recommend this TED:

As you can see, these aquatic animals are pretty cool.  Not that I wish I was one, or that I have any great desire to change my skin pigmentation at will.  Truthfully, most of my bad hair days come from having only half flathead and half ‘fro. Adding color to the mix doesn’t seem wise. But there are things about my own body I’d like to control better – like my flailing limbs, my ability to stand, and my general athleticism. The cuttlefish is one up on me in this.

He may also be one up on me in big-screen televisions as well.  Evidently the way a cuttlefish changes colors is by membrane distancing.  Think of it like a light table, or a window, where a colored piece of paper covers the glass.  If you put a white piece of paper right on top, you can still see the color through it pretty strongly.  If you lift the white paper slowly, the further you get away, the less color you see, until all you can see is white.  That’s what a cuttlefish does, on a large scale and with multiple layers (and without a light source on the inside).  Eventually such substances will be used in television screens and probably as colored electronic paper, all because of a color-changing swimmer that we might not have learned from in the past, even though we wondered at him.

Another place we might have learned more readily from is our own past.  Take cathedrals – they are pretty awesome, but most of the time we think that we’ve learned all we can from them, technologically speaking.  Most cathedral builders operated on the ‘you broke it, you bought it’ principle.  If the building came crashing down while being constructed, the builder was probably dead inside.  Balanced with that was the constant pressure to make the next one bigger, grander, and better.  There was a constant testing process to see what could withstand nature and the elements, and the price of failure was high.

We don’t have that anymore.  We’ve freed ourselves from the rigor of masonry building materials and the solid facade, and learned to anticipate the vagaries of nature with various codes and rules.  Supposedly this makes our buildings safer, but it may not have made us wiser.  We don’t have to take the surrounding environment into account, so by and large, we don’t.  There’s this highly prevalent view about reflective glass and how it doesn’t intrude into the skyscape of a city – which it might not, visually for some humans.  I’m not so sure what a goose would think about a new glass ‘scraper along a traditional migration route, or how a bat might perceive such a surface.  In general, the environment of such buildings is about control of the surroundings, not adaptation to it.  According to John Ochsendorf, adaptive is something traditional construction had to be.  I think there’s a lesson there, about what we know, or think we know, and how best to truly use it.

The nose knows.

Late last night, I was having an in-depth conversation about Tycho Brahe.  Why?  Because that’s the sort of uber-smart super-cool person I am.  And because stars are cool, and measurements are cooler, and I’m the kind of nit-picky person who likes redundancy and repeated observations.  Of course, as all enlightened conversations do, ours eventually wound down into the mundane – Tycho’s fake nose (we’re appropriate conversationalists – we don’t get into mercury poisoning and UTIs).

Personally, I am all about the nose.  I love the smell of autumn, the smell of dew in the morning, and the not-quite-greasy smell of old metal.  I have allergies, so the consistent sneezing reminds me of my own nose.  In addition, my German heritage gives me the facial spine to judge other, lesser noses.  I get offended when people stroke my nose and firmly intend (at times) to knock other noses out of joint.  A nose is a terrible thing to lose, and I sympathize with Tycho.  In addition, carrying the weight of a plastered on metal fake-nose must have been a burden.

Still, the nose can occasionally get in the way.  When you’re peering out of a window, it restricts the angle of your vision.  When you’re smooching, it can be an awkward protuberance.  It’s one of the first things to get snapped ina  fist fight, and like ears (as Tycho can attest to) it can easily be lopped off.  One of my friends noted that making certain nighttime observations, the nose prevents a direct line of sight.  Of course, this little tidbit suggests the monumental question:  Did Tycho Brahe remove his nose to make celestial observations?  You be the judge.

White Orca – For real.

While claims had been made in the past regarding a ‘white killer whale’ in the north Bering and central Aleutians, these sightings were generally considered spurious.  No record of the sightings was every obtained, nor were scientists able to confirm whether or not the sighted animals were, in fact, ‘killer whales’.  This time, however, there’s proof.  An entire team of federal scientists saw this one.  Furthermore, there’s now both photographic and video evidence of the whale’s existence.

I appreciate the science that motivated early resistance to the myth of the ‘white killer whale’.   I’m even more appreciative of the explanation of the whale itself – the idea that it’s probably not a true albino, since it has brownish and yellowish markings.  Ok, I don’t get this.  How can an albino python have orange patches, and this guy with brownish ones is not a ‘true albino’?  Of course, they say albinos typically have other health problems and don’t survive long in the wild, and this one has probably been around since 1993.  But really?

Also, this is probably due to the article writer rather than the scientist, but there’s no such thing as a killer whale. Or, more formally, the animal known commonly as the ‘killer whale’ is not a whale at all – it’s a dolphin.  So this whole thing about a ‘white killer whale’ is completely a myth.

Sunlight makes things better

I have recently made a commitment to myself to try and observe more of the world around me on a daily basis. It’s true, that I live in an old city, so there’s built-up infrastructure and concrete everywhere, but even the ugliest part of city life can have redeeming qualities.

Today for me it was the snow remainder. I don’t mean the still-white patches that were glowing in the sun, or the gentle drip of the melting eaves of houses. I mean the gross stuff that’s been churned up from the streets liberally coated and mixed with motor oil. It’s the kind of big messy piles that you really hope you don’t even have to walk across for fear of contamination. When the sun hits them just right, the icy surface places refract like crystals, like strange geodes embedded in a duller, more sullen rock matrix.

It made me think about the sun in general – how long-ago peoples, my ancestors, worshiped its return in spring, dancing or singing or otherwise recalling it to life and vigor. It reminds me of the way grass looks greener in the afternoon. It reminds me if I want to paint color, I should do it in the afternoon, when the angle of the light reveals the world at it’s richest. I don’t know the principles of why this is true. Like the flintknappers of the past, I don’t know the physics of the thing, I just know that if you hit the rock here, it will carry the force through to there, splitting and cracking along a certain plane of force.

When I wake up in the morning now, it’s still to a vague dawn light. It makes me want to crawl back under the covers again. But by the time I’ve gotten ready and stepped outside to walk to the bus stop, the sun is up and smiling. It puts a little jig in my step.