How Hot Tuna (and Some Sharks) Stay Warm

Monday, October 31st, 2005

It looks like some fish are (sort of) warm-blooded. From How Hot Tuna (and Some Sharks) Stay Warm:

Scientists now have direct evidence that the north Pacific salmon shark maintains its red muscle (RM) at 68-86 degrees Fahrenheit (F), much warmer than the 47 F water in which it lives. The elevated muscle temperature presumably helps the salmon shark survive the cold waters of the north Pacific and take advantage of the abundant food supply there. The heat also appears to factor into the fish’s impressive swimming ability.

[...]

Salmon sharks are lamnids, a group of sharks that also includes the mako and great white. Numerous studies have shown that lamnid sharks and tunas share many anatomical and physiological specializations that endow them with their impressive swimming power and speed. In contrast to other fish where the RM is near the skin, the RM of these sharks and tunas is near the backbone. Even though the ancestors of bony tuna and cartilaginous sharks diverged more than 400 million years ago, selection pressure for high-performance swimming in each group seems to have occurred independently about 50 million years ago.

Throughout its life, a salmon shark never stops swimming because it will sink. The body heat generated from continuous swimming elevates the RM temperature, which in turn, warms the surrounding white muscle and allows the shark to survive the frigid waters of the north Pacific. If a shark stops swimming, it could die from cold exposure.

Apple sells a million videos in new service

Monday, October 31st, 2005

Wow. Apple sells a million videos in new service:

Apple Computer on Monday said its iTunes online service has sold a million videos in under 20 days, sending shares up almost 5 percent.

Seal bites off woman’s nose

Monday, October 31st, 2005

They seem so cute, don’t they? From Seal bites off woman’s nose:

A seal bit off a South African woman’s nose after she tried to help it back into the sea, an official said Monday.

Elsie van Tonder, 49, is expected to undergo surgery this week after being bitten on a beach near George, about 240 miles east of Cape Town Saturday.

Her nose was found but could not be reattached to her face, local media reported.

‘The seal had been lying in the same spot since Friday, so the lady and a few other people were trying to take it back to the water,’ said Herman Oosthuizen, a marine biologist with the Department of Environmental Affairs.

‘The young female seal then bit her in the face.’

The Great Pumpkin: Backyard Botanists Shoot for 1-Ton Mark

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

I feel like some kind of Luddite when I read a story like this. It’s unnatural! From The Great Pumpkin: Backyard Botanists Shoot for 1-Ton Mark:

Such dedication produces pumpkins that can measure 15 feet to 16 feet around. Twenty years ago, a 500-pound pumpkin was considered a monumental feat. Now, giants regularly tip the scales at 1,200 pounds to 1,400 pounds, bringing within sight the previously incomprehensible: a 1-ton pumpkin.

Howard Dill, a farmer in Nova Scotia, Canada, ushered in the age of the behemoths in the late 1970s by perfecting the genetics of a seed he patented as the Dill Atlantic Giant. Mr. Dill’s seed gave anyone a shot at growing a jumbo, throwing open the door to backyard enthusiasts from California to Ohio to as far abroad as Australia. Growers in the northern half of the U.S. have the best success, because cooler summers extend the growing season through September, giving the pumpkins more time to reach their humongous size.

Civilization IV Whom?

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

Douglas Kern has relapsed into Civilization addiction. In Civilization IV Whom?, he explains the difference between Civilization and civilization:

The history of civilization (but not Civilization) is as much a history of decay, abandonment, and degradation as it is of freedom and heroism. When we assume that civilizations will necessarily progress rather than regress, we take the first step towards undoing the very progress we foolishly assumed to be a given. It seems unlikely that any computer game will ever capture the essence of growing and cultivating a civilization, because the maintenance of a civilization is boring. The patient teaching of age-old lessons, the defense of honorable customs and manners, the reverent admiration of greatness and the intolerance of evil — little animated men on a screen can’t act out these dramas. But these dull, humble acts build civilization more than technology and wonders of the world ever could.

Our Brains Strive To See Only the Good, Leading Some to God

Friday, October 28th, 2005

From Our Brains Strive To See Only the Good, Leading Some to God:

Religion used to be ascribed to a wish to escape mortality by invoking an afterlife or to feel less alone in the world. Now, some anthropologists and psychologists suspect that religious belief is what Pascal Boyer of Washington University, St. Louis, calls in a 2003 paper ‘a predictable by-product of ordinary cognitive function.’

One of those functions is the ability to imagine what Prof. Boyer calls ‘nonphysically present agents.’ We do this all the time when we recall the past or project the future, or imagine ‘what if’ scenarios involving others. It’s not a big leap for those same brain mechanisms to imagine spirits and gods as real.

The Horse and the Urban Environment

Friday, October 28th, 2005

It’s easy to forget that car exhaust was a big improvement. From The Horse and the Urban Environment:

While the nineteenth century American city faced many forms of environmental pollution, none was as all encompassing as that produced by the horse. The most severe problem was that caused by horses defecating and urinating in the streets, but dead animals and noise pollution also produced serious annoyances and even health problems. The normal city horse produced between fifteen and thirty-five pounds of manure a day and about a quart of urine, usually distributed along the course of its route or deposited in the stable. While cities made sporadic attempts to keep the streets clean, the manure was everywhere, along the roadway, heaped in piles or next to stables, or ground up by the traffic and blown about by the wind.

Biloxi Boom!?

Friday, October 28th, 2005

If you look hard enough, you can often find a silver lining. From Biloxi Boom!?:

Land prices in Biloxi are up. The reason? Mississippi is a poor state and so historically even homes with water views were modest. When the coast boomed, due to gambling and tourism, the land became a lot more valuable in alternative uses like hotels, casinos, and vacation homes for the rich. But it’s costly and takes a long time for developers to buy up small lots and bundle them into bigger packages. The hurricane, however, acted like nature’s form of eminent domain. With the small houses destroyed there are many sellers, bundling is becoming easier, and everyone expects that zoning will be changed to favor the developers.

Christopher Hitchens on Heaven on Earth

Friday, October 28th, 2005

In his interview with PBS on their documentary on the history of socialism, Heaven on Earth, former-Trotskyite Christoper Hitchens explains the appeal of Marxism — and how Marx recognized the power of capitalism:

The enormous dynamic and creative, as well as destructive energy of capitalism which is written up with more praise and more respect by Marx and Engels in the 1848 Communist Manifesto than probably by anyone since. I mean I don’t think anyone has ever said so precisely and with such awed admiration how great capitalism is, how inventive, how innovative, how dynamic, how much force of creativity it unleashes.

Well, implied in this is the view that for the first time ever in history there might actually be enough to go around. That this would be possible, that machines could replace drudgery and in the end obviate the need for exploitation at all. So, that the struggle would be not of man against man, but of man to master nature, and that this was not utopian because the actual wealth was there, being created before their eyes. That’s why the socialist movement took off, as a vindication of materialism in the minds of the working class. They could see from the mansions and the empires and the great ships and railways that there was no need for them to be poor, there was no need for them to go on making things they were too poor to buy.

So to close that gap in perception was the project. And of course to leave behind such remnants of feudalism that had survived into the capitalist system, such as the monarchy, the nation-state, the church, rubbishy cobwebs from the mental attic of prehistory. As I say it now — what a brilliant idea.

Book Picks from Generals, Defense and Intel Experts

Friday, October 28th, 2005

The Insider offers a long, long list of Book Picks from Generals, Defense and Intel Experts and says, “to understand the war in Iraq, read something old, something new.” No mention of anything borrowed or blue.

Strategic control, by the book

Friday, October 28th, 2005

Jamie Hailer, of Hailer Publishing, sounds like my kind of guy. From Strategic control, by the book:

Hailer’s best seller is a 40-year-old work on counterinsurgency written by a French army officer who served in China, Southeast Asia and Algeria. Since starting his company as a sideline in March, Hailer has sold about 2,400 copies of David Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice to everyone from intel experts to generals-in-training.

‘I kind of stumbled on a subculture of retired CIA and Army guys who are pulling their hair out about us blowing it in Iraq like we did in Vietnam,’ said Hailer (pronounced Hi-ler). ‘When they found out I was publishing this book, they pushed it like crazy.’

Rick Newton, an instructor at the Joint Special Operations University at Hurlburt Field in Florida’s Panhandle ordered 100, then e-mailed his buddies at West Point and the Naval War College; they also wanted the book.

Newton, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, said he had been looking for the Galula book for a couple of years before being put in touch with Hailer.

‘It’s the only book I’d found which takes strategic-level goals and links them to what soldiers on the ground have to do,’ Newton said of the book, written in 1964 while Galula was on a fellowship at Harvard. ‘You read it and scratch your head and say, ‘He got it right.”

Next thing Hailer knew, the head of the Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, where the Army trains its top brass, ordered 1,500 copies, saying he wanted to put the book in the hands of every student.

Then came e-mail from some sources at the CIA, suggesting that Hailer try to track down a 1978 book on the formation of the Saudi kingdom.

‘They said they’d been looking for the book for years and that the only copy had walked out of their library,’ Hailer said.

[...]

Hailer began moonlighting as a publisher after reading an article late last year in Inside the Pentagon , an independent weekly journal published in Washington. The author took an informal poll of active and retired generals, defense and intel experts, asking them to name books that would help officers and troops understand the insurgency in Iraq.

“Perhaps the most enthusiastic endorsements from officers and experts … are reserved for out-of-print or hard-to-find books – mostly on counterinsurgency warfare – that seem to have gained new urgency and application in Iraq,” wrote ITP‘s senior correspondent Elaine Grossman.

Hailer said that statement triggered an enterprise he’d been mulling over for some time, after finding an out-of-print book he wanted on the British Royal Navy was selling on the Internet for more than $1,200. Hailer decided to make his first reprint effort the Galula book because a retired CIA officer told ITP‘s readers to “run — not walk — to the Pentagon library and get in line” for the book, which he considered “a primer for how to win in Iraq.”

Hailer, who had read the Galula book in graduate school, found a copy in the University of South Florida’s library. He then tracked down Greenwood Publishing Group in Westport, Conn., the company that had acquired the book’s original publisher, and got an enthusiastic response.

“I was lucky I found someone supportive on the first phone call,” Hailer said. “He said, “Knock yourself out. We don’t even have a copy.”‘

Hailer drew up a simple contract, agreeing to pay Greenwood royalties for reprint rights (Galula died in 1967). He found a Fort Lauderdale company that was able to make a high-quality scan of the book without destroying it, then he shipped the electronic file to a printer in Minnesota who can produce as few as 10 or as many as 2,000 copies in a run.

The hardest part, said Hailer, is tracking down the rights’ holder. In most cases, the copyright for out-of-print books resides with the publishing house, but widespread acquisitions in the industry have made it difficult to trace old contracts. In a couple of cases, the rights have reverted to the author, leading Hailer on more than one global goose-chase.

“I’ve been tracking one guy for a year-and-a-half now,” Hailer said. “His last known address was Florence, Italy, and his last known communication was in 1990. I think he’s long gone and for all I know he left no heirs.”

In Defense of PowerPoint

Friday, October 28th, 2005

A few years back, Edward Tufte (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information) wrote a particularly damning piece about “slideware” — PowerPoint is Evil (which, by the way, I blogged about at the time). I recently revisited Tufte’s piece and some counterarguments.

Don Norman’s In Defense of PowerPoint makes the straightforward point that PowerPoint didn’t create the problems it’s blamed for:

We have had poor talks long before PowerPoint. We have even had bullet points long before PowerPoint — long before computers. In the old days, people typed, stenciled or hand-lettered their slides onto transparencies which were shown with the aid of overhead projectors or wall charts, or photographed them on to glass-plated photographic slides and then, later, 35 mm. slides. These talks were also dull and tedious.

Norman points out that these three things should be separate documents:

  1. The notes the speaker will use (which should be seen only by the speaker).
  2. The slides the audience will see.
  3. Handouts that will be taken away for later study.

Tad Simons makes similar points in Edward Tufte doesn’t hate PowerPoint, he hates the culture that spawned it:

Tufte’s gripes about PowerPoint sound an awful lot like 1960s criticisms of television’s corrupting effect on the mind, and before that, the stupefying nature of vaudeville. This isn’t to suggest that Tufte is wrong, just to clarify that our culture has been engaged in an extended conversation about the impact of technology on human thought and communication, of which the debate over PowerPoint is only a small but significant part.

If anything, PowerPoint is the culmination of a decades-long trend in all types of media used to distill complex information into ever more easily digested pieces, making it all but impossible to communicate any kind of complex or nuanced message. Sound bites, campaign slogans, ad copy and bullet points are all part of this evolution toward content-free language. And, for better or worse, this trend has been exploited most profitably in the worlds of business, politics and media — worlds in which, not coincidentally, PowerPoint is extremely popular.
[...]
Tufte’s true beef is not with PowerPoint, it is with the entire larger culture outside of academia: the culture that favors get-to-the-point practicality over ivory-tower idealism; the culture that prefers action over dialogue and fists over philosophy; the culture that doesn’t trust people who speak in complete sentences; the culture that says don’t think about it, “just do it”; the culture that, hate it or not, seems all too willing to deceive itself in the name of freedom, democracy and the American way.

Rule America?

Friday, October 28th, 2005

In Rule America?, Jonathan V. Last asks, “What does modern history have to teach us about the age of American empire?”:

At the beginning of the 20th century, the British Empire was an unopposed hyperpower (much as the United States has been since 1989). As historian Colin Cross observes: ‘In terms of influence it was the only world power.’ The British people and their leaders accepted this fact. In the early 1930s, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin pronounced that ‘the British Empire stands firm, as a great force for good.’ Historian William Manchester argues that ‘most of the crown’s subjects, abroad as well as at home, felt comfortable with imperialism.’

But after the conclusion of the first World War, Britain’s imperial psyche began to fracture. ‘After the survivors of the Western front came home,’ Manchester writes, ‘Britons wanted nothing more to do with war; most of them hoped never again to lay their eyes on an Englishman in uniform, and they were losing their taste for Empire.’ Winston Churchill despaired of this change. ‘The shadow of victory is disillusion,’ he noted. ‘The reaction from extreme effort is prostration. The aftermath even of successful war is long and bitter.’

A deep desire to avoid conflict, even at the price of letting the Empire dissolve, permeated British society. In 1931, the House of Commons passed the Statute of Westminster, the first step toward independence for Britain’s dominions. In 1932, a poll found that 10.4 million Britons supported England’s unilateral disarmament, while only 870,000 opposed it. Historian Alistair Horne observes that, after World War I, it took just about 10 years for the ‘urge for national grandeur’ to be replaced by ‘a deep longing simply to be left in peace.’

Why did it all crumble? Several interrelated reasons — among them the grisly fact that England had lost virtually an entire generation of future leaders in the trenches of Europe. But another important cause was the waning of confidence on the part of liberal British elites, whose pacifism evolved into anti-patriotism.

[...]

These elites could see evil only at home. The French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir did not believe that Germany was a “threat to peace,” but instead worried that the “panic that the Right was spreading” would drag France, Britain, and the rest of Europe into war. Stafford Cripps, a liberal Labor member of Parliament, feared not Hitler, but Churchill. Cripps wrote that after Churchill became prime minister he would “then introduce fascist measures and there will be no more general elections.”

In an important sense, the British Empire’s strength failed because its elite liberal citizens stopped believing in it.

The Man Who Would Murder Death

Friday, October 28th, 2005

The Man Who Would Murder Death looks at anti-aging “prophet” Aubrey de Grey. While his scientific ideas are fascinating, so are some of his biographical details:

The man who brought them together began his career as a computer scientist, working for several years on programs that find bugs in other programs. He later received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Cambridge and devoted himself, in a sense, to finding the bugs in human beings.

An important turning point in Mr. de Grey’s personal and professional life occurred at a friend’s party in 1990. That’s when he met Adelaide Carpenter, who would later become Adelaide de Grey. When they met, Mr. de Grey was a computer scientist in his twenties and had never been married. His wife-to-be was in her forties and had been married twice before. Despite the 19-year age difference, they fell for each other immediately and have been together ever since.

At the time, Ms. de Grey was on sabbatical from her position as a professor of genetics at the University of California at San Diego. She had already established her reputation in the discipline (and made some discoveries that are now in textbooks) and had a comfortable, tenured position. But she had grown tired of her research and her job. So, after she met Mr. de Grey, she decided to quit, move to Cambridge, and work as a technician in a fruit-fly laboratory. It was a big step down professionally, but she enjoyed her work and the company of her new husband.

The age difference was unimportant to Ms. de Grey: What mattered to her was intellectual compatibility. ‘I need my male partner to be smarter than I am,’ she explains. ‘And — I’m trying to be modest here — that narrows down the field quite a bit.’ Does her husband fit that bill? She nods vigorously. ‘Oh yes.’

Ms. de Grey taught her husband genetics over the dinner table. She was amazed at how quickly he could absorb the concepts. ‘Very shortly we were able to have a conversation rather than a tutorial,’ she says. While talking about her academic career and her relationship, Ms. de Grey is puffing away steadily on an unfiltered Camel. Mr. de Grey would like her to quit, but she’s been a smoker since she was a teenager and believes that nicotine is necessary to kick-start her brain. Unlike her husband, Ms. de Grey has no wish to live forever. She has not agreed to be cryogenically frozen when she dies. (Mr. de Grey has, just in case medicine does not advance speedily enough to save him.)

‘I don’t think anyone would want to thaw me out,’ she says and smiles, revealing a mouth mostly devoid of teeth.

When the software project Mr. de Grey had been working on didn’t pan out, he got a part-time job designing a database for fruit-fly researchers at the lab where his wife worked. It is a position he still holds; as it turns out, being a prophet is not a sufficiently remunerative profession. In 1995, after having absorbed a great deal of genetics, Mr. de Grey moved on to gerontology, a subject that had always intrigued him. For two months he immersed himself in the literature. He emerged with an insight into the mechanics of mitochondrial mutations, wrote a paper on what he thought, and submitted it to a respected journal.

It was accepted. He was off to a good start.

Playing Music: The Lost Freedom

Friday, October 28th, 2005

Charles Rosen reviews Robert Philip’s Performing Music in the Age of Recording in Playing Music: The Lost Freedom:

His main thesis is that recording has directed performance style into a search for greater precision and perfection, with a consequent loss of spontaneity and warmth. Various expressive devices once common in the early twentieth century have been almost outlawed: ‘portamento’ (sliding from one note to another on a stringed instrument); playing the piano with the hands not quite together (Philip calls this dislocation); arpeggiating chords (not playing all the notes of the chord at the same time but one after another), and flexibility of tempo.

Why?

When a recording is intended to be a renewable image of the music rather than the capture of an individual performance, then even eccentric details become less desirable. A sudden rhythmic hurrying of the second theme by Schnabel in Mozart’s Concerto in C Major, K. 467, was interesting and effective when I first heard it; now I wait for it come and it is an irritant.