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

pipefishwitheggs_blog.jpg

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?

DR. PATTERSON: Yes.

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 :-)

cuttlefish_blog.jpg

The first time I saw a cuttlefish face-to-face my mind reeled. Oh I had read about them and seen pictures and I had no problem identifying what I was looking at. But, my god, I had no idea. Cuttlefish are cephalapods so they are related to the octopus. Tentacles, gottem. Color change, yupper. But, my god, I had no idea.

My first thought was “who needs unicorns when we have this magical creature”. My second thought was “whoever named the ‘cuttlefish’ needs a lesson in branding”. Cuttlefish mesmerize. Yes they change color, but its not like a new coat of paint suddenly applied. Color moves and flows constantly across their skin and it acts like a psychedelic mood ring responding to your actions. If you want to see EEEEK, Wow, hmmmmm, huh, ACK, displayed in moving color then go hang out with a cuttlefish for a while and watch how it reacts to its environment. Its tentacles hang down from its face like some kind of alien snuffleupagus. Its body is ringed with a ribbon that dances like its being controlled by a rhythmic gymnist showing off.

The cuttlefish reminds me that there are many beautiful things in this world that my still camera can capture but only superficially.

iPhone
 
Apple announced their highly anticipated iPhone earlier this month. If you want to see it in action you should check out the video of Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone. The iPhone has a PDA form factor but rather than use a stylus for text input and navigation it uses a “multi-touch” user interface. It looks like Apple nailed the stylus-less touch screen navigation. The scrolling, a kind of thumb/finger flick, looks awesome.

What confuses me, though, is the overall package and what need the iPhone addresses. Does that wonderful touch-screen navigation compliment its other features to create a unique user experience? It is relatively thin (0.46″) but it has a very Pocket PC-like 2.4″ x 4.5″ face which is largely filled by its 320 x 480 pixel screen. This is the form factor everyone expects from a pure video iPod but the iPhone will carry 4 or 8 GB of flash based storage which is Nano-like rather than the 30 or 80 GB disk based iPod. It has WiFi so browsing when near a 802.11 b/g hotspot should be fast but I’m not convinced that browsing on a 320×480 screen will be such a wonderful experience. Have I missed an important software breakthrough on the iPhone that will make 320×480 viewing wonderful? I have used a WiFi enabled Dell Axim with a 480 x 640 pixel screen to browse and it just doesn’t cut it.

I really like the iPhone’s Visual VoiceMail interface but its seems like the hard part is implemented by Cingular on the back end. The phone navigation looks good but is 2.4″ x 4.5″ too big to hold up to your ear comfortably? A Blackberry user pointed out to me recently that “nobody puts their phone up to their ear anymore”. Maybe.

Speaking of Blackberry, is the iPhone a threat to RIM’s dominant position in e-mail centric smart phones? It may take some of the shine off the Blackberry Pearl in the consumer space but anyone that values e-mail or Instant Messaging or any application that requires decent text input will stick with the Pearl.

I’d certainly love to play with one though :-)

Whadya think?

Wow, I’ve learned a new trick. I have been picking up the phone lately when telemarketers call and I have had great success (3 for 3) with “I’m not interested <happy voice> …and can I please be taken off this list?”.

No problem sir, goodbye.

What happened? I mumble something about a list and BOOM they are gone. That is awesome. Am I dreaming? Someone pinch me.

Duct Tape Stickiness

January 23, 2007

How can you not love a book that has duct tape on the cover? I finished reading Made To Stick the other day and really enjoyed it. The authors try to explain how to create ideas that stick. It is written in an easy to read style filled with tons of wonderful little anecdotes. If you enjoy Malcolm Gladwell you will love this book. Highly recommended.

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Glenn Drummond posted a very nice comment:

I do hope you’ll use your blog as a vehicle for publishing some more of your images – they are really outstanding.

I hope to use my photos to compliment this blog and to change the way we view the world. With this lofty goal in mind I added a photo of ummmmmm….. my junk mail in the post Quicken Mimics National Geographic. Enjoy! Oh, and don’t forget to check out Glenn’s Blog.

Yesterday I received a QuickTax CD in the mail and I couldn’t stop thinking about National Geographic. Many moons ago I used to subscribe to National Geographic magazine. I did not renew my subscription one year and a stream of “special-offer” National Geographic marketing junk mail followed for years. The QuickTax CD is a different animal altogether. Its an installation CD. Remember all those AOL floppies that used to come in the mail and were attached to every computer magazine on the planet?

But here is the thing… the QuickTax CD almost looks like they are offering a free copy of the program. I have not installed it but I’m assuming after the installation they will redirect you to their website to purchase a license. Now I have nothing against marketing but what I’m curious about is whether this kind of marketing is effective. For me anyway, National Geographic’s aggressive marketing has made me fearful of ever giving them my mailing address again though I will still buy copies off the newstand… my privacy proxy :-) What happens when an excited customer installs the “Welcome Back” QuickTax program with the expectation that it will be free only to feel that they have been mislead? I dunno.

QuickTax Marketing CD