Pygmy vs. Hobbit

January 31, 2007

pygmyseahorse_blog.jpgAnother shot has been fired in the Hobbit vs. Pygmy debate regarding hominid skeletal remains found on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Some say it is a Hobbit (new species Homo floresiensis) and others say it is a Pygmy Homo sapien.

The problem is that while the Hobbit/Pygmy is quite small (brain size is 400 cm3 vs. 1400 cm3 for modern humans) they have found advanced tools and signs of advanced tool use in the excavation.

Really this is a battle of one Hobbit vs. Three Pygmies. The Hobbit is a new species of Homo. The Three Pygmies are subspecies/pygmies of one of three known Homo species. The three Pygmy options are Homo sapiens (modern human), Homo erectus (Java man which is a large neanderthal-like early human that lived in Asia long before H. sapien arrived), and Homo Habilis (smaller but less advanced in tool use than H. erectus but never thought to have left Africa).

Time will tell but if I’d put my money on a Pygmy H. sapien. Keeping with the theme of Indonesian Pygmies and yesterday’s seahorses, I’ve included one of my pictures of a Pygmy Seahorse from N. Sulawesi. He/she is only about 2cm long (including the tail).

Seahorse Sex

January 30, 2007


Mr. Ringed Pipefish in this photo is carrying eggs. Pipefish are related to seahorses. The males carry the eggs though seahorses keep them in a pouch rather than externally. CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks interviewed Dr. Katrien Van Look about The Mysteries of Seahorse Sexual Activity. No shotguns were used in Dr. Van Look’s research :-) Click on the player below to listen to the interview.

Securing a Rare Rodent

January 28, 2007

CBC Radio’s science program, Quirks and Quarks, had a segment on the discovery of a new rodent found in the cloud forests of Peru. Host Bob McDonald interviewed Dr. Bruce Patterson about the find.

DR. PATTERSON: Immediately it appeared extremely curious and nothing like it was known from the region so it was obviously a high priority item to secure for study and further description.

BOB MCDONALD: To secure? So how did you secure it?

DR. PATTERSON: With dust shot from a 20 gauge shotgun.

BOB MCDONALD: You shot it?


According to Made To Stick this is an example of “Unexpected” in their SUCCESs template.

Green Ideas Speak Furiously

January 27, 2007

Green Fury

Linguist Noam Chomsky is known for his phrase:

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

Language provides a portal to the inner workings of the mind. No one speaks more lucidly about language and the mind than fellow linguist Steven Pinker. The Toronto Star has an article named Of thought and metaphor that discusses Pinker’s upcoming book:

The 52-year-old cognitive scientist, born and raised in Montreal, is again challenging conventional wisdom with The Stuff of Thought, a book about language due out in September.

I can’t wait to read it :-)

The video “In My Language” is a fascinating window into the world of a woman with autism. The first three minutes show her interacting with her environment, humming, tapping, touching, in what she later describes as her language. In the final five minutes she appeals to us “typicals” to ummmmmmm….. smarten up I guess.

The more I learn about autism the more confused I get. After reading the book Mindblindness and related theories about the role of mirror neurons, I thought that social cognitive abilities, like group identity, should be underdeveloped in autistics. An autistic painter would not identify with other painters and she certainly would not care what other people thought of her paintings.

That would have been my conclusion if I observed or attempted to interact with the woman in the video. Give her a keyboard, however, and she writes an “autie” manifesto deriding the closed mindedness of the “typicals”. Sheesh, no problem with group identity there.

Cold Compassion

January 26, 2007

Cold CompassionIt was intensely cold outside last night, about -25 celsius (-13F). This image, in my mind, represents that cold well. It is an abstract winter shot taken about a year ago. I don’t think it was particularly cold that day, that is, I did not have to experience intense cold in order to create an image that conveys intense cold (at least subjectively to me).

In a LensWork podcast named Photography as Personally Expressive Art, Brooks Jensen said:

Art is particularly and keenly involved in the expression of human emotion.

Brooks goes on to say the following:

…but if photography is art, its not about what is in front of you, its about what is inside of you.

I think this statement feels right and we want it to be true but I think it represents a misconception. The misconception is that art springs forth from the emotions felt by the artist. The distinction I make is that the work of art conveys an emotion but it does not have to represent what the artist felt at the time the art was created.

I think this misconception goes beyond the age old “What is Art?” debate and applies to everyday topics. Solutions to problems are often judged by how well the proposed solution expresses the anger or compassion people feel towards the problem.

This, I believe, is why so many people have problems with the suggestions of economists on many social issues. If you are against public housing or raising the minimum wage then you lack compassion towards the poor or the needy. The economist is focused on outcomes while the general population is focused on the emotional value of the proposed solution.

I think there is something to be said for Cold Compassion.

Life in a Bottle

January 25, 2007

Fangblenny in a BottleThe provincial government of Ontario is introducing a new program next month that will require that we return liquor and wine bottles to the beer store. Premier Dalton McGuinty said:

The single most important thing that Ontarians need to know is that we have come kicking and screaming out of the dark ages when it comes to LCBO containers

Uh huh. As an aside to our friends living outside Ontario (Canada), the LCBO is the government run thingamabobee where we buy liquor while The Beer Store (formerly known as Brewers Retail… apparently some government thingamabobees do know marketing) sells beer. There will be a deposit system to help Ontarians do the right thing and we will need to return our liquor/wine bottles to The Beer Store.

But why? Doesn’t the Blue Box program work? The claim is that this program will help “divert about 25,000 to 30,000 additional tons of glass from landfills”. Wow. That can’t be right. That claim feels false to me mostly because, personally, the Blue Box is the absolutely best way to get rid of bottles and glass. I don’t want to put them in the garbage. Bottles are big, heavy, and they break. So where does this 25,000 tons of LCBO orginated landfill waste come from?

A little time with our friend Google turns up this wonderful debate that sheds some light on the matter.

If you don’t think it is true that glass is being landfilled, then I suggest you drive about 100 kilometres up Highway 6 from Fisherville and watch 100% of the glass that goes in the front door of a recycling centre come out the back door to be sent to the Green Lane Landfill for disposal. That is just one of many examples where glass collected in a blue box recycling program is landfilled every day in Ontario.

As an environmentalist with your track record, you should also know that the only environmental benefit of recycling glass has to do with the energy savings of making new glass bottles with glass cullet as opposed to making new glass bottles from mined natural resources. However, that energy savings is lost as soon as the glass has to be sent more than 80 kilometres to market. There are very few blue box recycling programs in Ontario that are within an 80 kilometre range of a glass manufacturer or glass recycling facility. Sending wine and liquor bottles destined for recycling back in the same truck as beer bottles destined for recycling can at least help narrow that energy gap. What would be even better would be if the truck that just delivered cases of wine and spirits to the local LCBO retail store was filled back up with empty wine and spirit bottles destined for recycling instead of that truck driving empty back to an LCBO distribution centre.

La voila. So my intuitions were right, recycling bottles in the Blue Box is what most people do but most out-of-the way municipalities just send the glass right on to the landfill.

But I am grateful that this enlightened government program has given me the opportunity to share my photo of a little fangblenny living inside a coral encrusted bottle :-)