Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Cephalopod Sex on the Centimeter Severed Arm ScaleHedgehog
pointed me to this story in the Syndey Morning Herald
, via MemeMachineGo
The male blanket octopus faces a significant gender imbalance - he is just two centimetres long, while the female of the species can measure up to two metres. . . .This reproductive arm, known as a hectocotylus, is tucked away in a white spherical pouch between its other arms. When males mate, the pouch ruptures, the penis injects sperm into the tip of the arm, the arm is severed, and passed to the female. It stays there until used to fertilise the female's eggs, which can be weeks later. And while the human post-orgasm is sometimes referred to as "the little death", for the male blanket octopus the term takes on literal meaning. The male dies, but the female carries on, free to have sex with more males. "It's kamikaze sex, effectively," said Dr Norman. "They've found females with up to six male arms in the gill cavity.
It's old news (2003), but still so Cephalosexy. I like some of the quotes from this National Geographic article
Imagine if your spouse was 40,000 times heavier and a hundred times larger than you. This is reality for the male blanket octopus, which was recently spotted alive for the first time off Australia's northern coast . ."Imagine a female the size of a person and the male a size of a walnut," said Tom Tregenza, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Leeds in England. . .Females have the odd appearance of a "big pink drifting blanket" said Tregenza, explaining the origins of the octopus's name.. . Such expeditions involve taking a boat to sea on moonless nights and suspending a diver up to 20 meters (66 feet) into the pitch-black water. The researchers then waited in the eerie silence and used torches as light sources in the hope of attracting interesting passers-by, said Tregenza..
The last bit sounds like they were actually hazing a young marine biologist who happened to get lucky! In more current Octopus news, Oregon State University has an opening for a charismatic midsize octopus to greet visitors
I didn't make it into the City today, but I thought I'd say:
"I disagree. It's a debate about whether you think gay people are part of the human condition or just a random fetish. . . .Being gay is part of the human condition.
" Jon Stewart, debating Bill Bennet about gay marriage on the Daily Show.
I look forward to the day when Pride can be all party and no protest.
I can't say enough good things about the Lick. (Scotto)
Saturday I was lucky enough to ride someone's coat-tails into the Lick Observatory
on Mount Hamilton (inland from San Jose). Every summer they open up the telescopes to the public for six evenings -- and you have to win the lottery
to get a ticket. If you time it right, you'll show up when we did: the pre-sunset golden hour
. Mt. Hamilton is the highest thing around for quite a ways, and the views are something else. Of course, that means an hour of winding roads  as the initially tiny white domes tease you from the hilltop.
The star of the Observatory is the 36-inch scope. Now, 36 inches can't hold a candle to, say, Keck
.  But I say Keck, shmeck, because that's a lot of fun to say. Also because it's not about the lens; it's about the history. The people at Lick went to Australia in 1922 to prove general relativity
. Another eclipse expedition, to Flint Island
in 1908, produced records detailed enough to stop destructive development 90 years later. And they built the world's biggest scope, once upon a time.
The 36-incher is a thing of beauty, and I recommend getting in to look at it before the sun goes down. The whole room sang to me, with magnificent wood paneling and
metal framework housing the machine itself, which reminded me strongly of my grandfather
. As an engineer when computers filled rooms , he had the most gorgeous instruments; craftwork sliderules and sextants and even ledgers that made me want an excuse to need them. Staring at this telescope, I realized I'd misheard the guide, because it sounded like he said it was 125 years old, and it was clearly fifties technology. That's probably equal parts my ignorance and great accomplishment, because the thing really was built in the 1880s. At the time, not only the world's largest telescope, but the first one with the blinding insight of being on top of a tall hill.James Lick
died in 1876 as the richest man in California. I mean, the man owned enormous tracts all over the place, including half of Lake Tahoe and all of Santa Catalina Island. He made his fortune carving pianos in South America (obviously) and came back with a literal treasure chest as soon as he heard they made a state out of this place. 17 days later he found gold, and he ended up buying half of downtown San Francisco. When he died, he planned to erect a pyramid for himself larger than Giza, in the heart of SF. Talked out of this tasteful plan by Men of Science
, he instead donated money pretty much everything good you could find anywhere in California, and a huge pile of it to build the observatory. It took a decade or so to pull off, but once they put the scope up they exhumed his body and re-interred it underneath the telescope. Yeah, they tell you this in the middle of the talk after you've gotten all nice and comfy sitting on him.
Some people might remember Lick for being so #*$%@ rich. Others might praise OR damn him for bringing the Eucalyptus tree up from Australia. Those in the know are grateful that he brought Domingo Ghirardelli
up from Lima, Peru to make his chocolate here. But I'm just happy he made such a beautiful monument. Better than a pyramid.
Actually, if you looked at a candle with Keck I imagine you would go blind.
But ahead of his time! He gave us our first computer when I was a kid, starting me on this road to cyber iniquity.
Good News for Coffee
Two recent items caught my attention, and I don't even drink
Right here in Oakland, the folks at Kaiser Permanente have reported that drinking coffee reduces liver damage
. Seriously -- quoth the maven:
These data support the hypothesis that there is an ingredient in coffee that protects against cirrhosis, especially alcoholic cirrhosis.
Meanwhile, in Australia, researches at the University of Queensland found evidence that coffee might even make us smarter
... or more open-minded ... or something. This one is sure to be (and already being) mis-referenced but the upshot was that two cups of Joe had a big impact on how likely a person was to be persuaded by a strong argument
. Also found, but reported less widely, was that these coffee-drinkers more easily shot down weak arguments. So the many suggestions that lawyers and dates should pull out the coffee only make sense if they really are good lawyers or dates.
And the good news just keeps coming. Apparently, a moderate regular intake has some connection to preventing depression and suicide
, offers some help against gallbladder disease
and Type 2 Diabetes
, and is even linked to improved sexual performance in the elderly.
So, you know. Yay, coffee! But before you get too swept up in the enthusiasm, don't forget the well-known downsides
A Wookie Plays the Drums
I like the Gnarles Barkely Crazy
single making the rounds of the airwaves. If you like Gnarles or Star Wars or both, you might appreciate this YouTube clip of the MTV Movie Awards
, courtesy of Telstar Logistics
. It's kinda crazy.
Relying on Dinosaurs
In the comments to the last post, badmash pointed out how much he liked Saheli's phrase, "I'll move my weight around myself instead of relying on dead dinosaurs."
Well, Saheli, that's because they're dead
, silly. It'd make much more sense to have live
dinosaurs move you around, instead:Did you know?
Brontosauruses emit Wi-Fi connectivity from their frontal lobes. It's a little-known fact!
P.S.: Yes, I know the proportions aren't right, but if I depicted Saheli at actual size, she'd be, like 3 pixels tall. :D Pretend it's a baby brontosaurus.
An Inconvenient Truth
On Saturday evening a bunch of us went out to go see An Inconvenient Truth
. There weren't too many particular pieces of new information in it. I hadn't realized the extent to which the glaciers are melting. I hadn't really visually absorbed the extent to which the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has exceeded the levels of the last 650,000 years. I didn't know about the polar bears drowning because the ice is too thin to hold them. But it was still a useful exercise in being reminded of something we'd rather forget. 928 papers in the ISI index about human-caused climate change, and not a one that disagrees with the notion that we are causing dangerous changes to our planet
. To me that's the most basic statement of why it's time to stop arguing and throwing the dust of manufactured doubt in people's eyes, and time to start changing things.
I recommend you go see it, if only as a reminder. I don't know if it can change someone's mind, but I've heard that the slideshow it's based on has done so in the past.
We need more reminders in our culture of inconvenient truths, and less sensitivity to having our faces rubbed in our derelicted duties. I'm as guilty as the next person. It never ceases to amaze me how even the most rationale of people--myself included-get utterly defensive when our contributions to pet peeves like climate change and the war in Iraq are pointed out to us. It's almost as if we are socially and mentally built to constitutionally oppose any kind of helpful feedback. Humility, thou art a difficult prize. And of course, in my experience, the people who posess the most humility need it the least.
It makes me wonder if perhaps we need to be able to look in the mirror, say, "God, you're awful," and mean it, and not collapse under the weight of such a statement. Bite the bullet, nod, and go, "Yep. Time to change." My whole life almost everyone from Mr. Rogers to my grade school teachers to college professors said, affectionately, "look in the mirror and say you're wonderful." Sure, sometimes that's useful. But admire yourself unconditionally? Approve of yourself unconditionally? That can't possibly always be good.
So here, I'll start it. I'm wasteful. I drive more than I should or even "need to" by relative California standards. I often leave the lights on. I buy bottled drinks even though I have a perfectly good Kleen Kanteen. Etc. etc. So then what?
Find a friend to get better with. I've been working with some friends to become a competent cyclist, so that eventually I'll move my weight around myself instead of relying on dead dinosaurs. My goal is to drastically cut my gas consumption by the end of the year, and eventually be able to move my self around to my routine destinations. It's slow, slow going, but it would be impossible going without a lot of help from my friends. In general this working-with-friends strategy seems like a good one. My friends encourage me. They cheer me on at all the right moments, and they take time out of their busy weekends to help me feel safe on the busy roads and answer my questions about my bike. It's not that they stare at me grimly and say, "Saheli, you are an awful person for burning so many fossil fuels," every time I bring it up. But neither do they spend too much time defending me to myself when I feel bad. Instead they listen, and when I ask for help with some countervailing project, they give it to me.
To me, that's really what friendship is really about. Hanging out, having fun, relating to each other, mutual admiration--these are all good things. But a card I saw recently had the quote that love is not staring at each other, but looking out in the same direction. "I got your back," implies "I'm going to go into this battle with you." My favorite wedding toast was from someone who said, "You know you're with the right person when being with them puts you in the direction of the best person you ever wanted to be." Less exactingly applied, I think that's a pretty good standard for friendship too. Partner-in-crime was always one of my favorite titles.
So instead of my usual wonkish, numerical meditations on what we can do to stop global warming, I say this--go out and be a good friend, and get good friends. If it's something that's really bugging you, talk about that. Let people you care about know that it's upsetting you, and that you want to change it, much as you would want to get healthier or be more efficient. I think that you will find that the people who want to help you--even if "only" with encouragement, which is so very valuable--are often the people who really care about you.
Did Al Gore invent the Internet after all?
We've all heard and snickered at the "I invented the Internet" comment attributed to Al Gore in 1999. It's an urban myth
, but one that's hung around for a while. Yesterday I got an email that cast a little more light on the background of the story:
I was on the Hill as a Congressional Science Fellow in 1977-78, and worked for a rep who shared committee assignments with Al Gore. What Mr. Gore did, during the late '70s, was add a provision to a bill, after talking with DoD sponsored research scientists, to fund development of a means for them to share their work via a computer network. That was the origin of DARPA Net, from which later the Internet was developed. So it is true, in a sense, that what Al Gore did was one of the first steps toward there being an Internet. BTW that was all that was claimed by Mr. Gore and his supporters, not that he "invented" the Internet. The term "invent" was added by Mr. Rove and his people.
So Al Gore really does deserve some credit for the creation of the Internet, at least as much as any politician does. Of course he didn't establish TCP/IP or write sendmail, but to just laugh him off on this one is to play right into the Rove Spin Factory's hands.
Stephen Colbert Gives a Commencement Speech
In the middle it gets a little sarcastic and satirical, Stephen Colbert the character rather than Stephen Colbert the guy. Straight funny, good stuff. But at the beginning and the end it's quite beautiful
Update from New Orleans
I spent last weekend in New Orleans, attending a friend's wedding in the French Quarter. The Quarter itself is high and dry, with Cafe du Monde serving beignets in the morning and Bourbon Street hopping at night. The stores near the French Market do have hurricane-related T-shirts ("FEMA: Fix Everything My Ass" and "NOPD: Not Our Problem, Dude" -- plus my favourite: "Federal Evacuation Plan: Run, Bitch, Run") but otherwise, the Vieux Carre shows no signs of Katrina.
The rest of the city is another matter. Since we had no car we ended up getting a taxi tour, which included the Ninth Ward, Gentilly, and the Lakeview & UNO neighborhoods. They're a mess. The Ninth is every bit as bad as you've heard, with street after street of ruin, no street lights, houses gutted, and waterlines above head height (mine, not just Saheli's). And on every house there is the ubiquitous spray-painted X from the search teams, the lower quadrant of which has the number of bodies found. We mostly saw zeros, mercifully. The area by Lakeview is more rebuilt, with many of the wealthier homes there showing signs of recent reconstruction and looking very liveable.
Today is the official start of hurricane season (whatever that really means) and the levees aren't done. Almost nobody is moving back to the Ninth Ward and other hard-hit areas because you'd have to be nuts to take a chance on this not happening again. It's hard to believe it's been nine months since Katrina, especially when looking at the state NO is still in. All I can say is good luck, Big Easy. Hope you don't meet any of her friends.