Friday, May 27, 2011

Anomalous survivors

A new fossil reveals that the likes of Anomalocaris survived for millions of years longer than previously thought: 
Now a team led by former Yale researcher Peter Van Roy (now at Ghent University in Belgium) and Derek Briggs, director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, has discovered a giant fossilized anomalocaridid that measures one meter (more than three feet) in length. The anomalocaridid fossils reveal a series of blade like filaments in each segment across the animal's back, which scientists think might have functioned as gills. In addition, the creature dates back to the Ordovician period, a time of intense biodiversification that followed the Cambrian, meaning these animals existed for 30 million years longer than previously realized.
A similar creature, Schinderhannes, existed still later-- during the Devonian era, 100 million years after its cousins. It was much smaller (4 inches rather than 3 feet), and bore a pair of swimming fins:
Schinderhannes NT

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jovian jellyfish and aerial plankton

Beautiful clip from Carl Sagan's Cosmos, showing hypothetical life forms in the atmosphere of a gas giant: 
Since they are adapted for a wide-open environment where buoyancy counters gravity, these imaginary aerial creatures somewhat resemble marine life in form and behavior (the "floaters" in particular look like jellyfish). This same analogy of sea to sky underlies in the term "aeroplankton"-- referring to the much tinier creatures (insects, seeds, bacteria) that drift in Earth's atmosphere-- and presumably inspired the AirPenguin

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wonderland logic

I am doing that last proposition just mentioned (metalinguistic comment: Alice swift- answered) (With hesitation, weak certainty, hesitation) I am the saying-desirer of the desired-to-be said thing of me. I know culturally that the referent of the last utterance is the same thing.
Literal English re-translation of a passage from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland translated into Lojban, a constructed language based on logic and designed to be free of ambiguity. The corresponding original text is:
`I do,' Alice hastily replied; `at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know.'
Lewis Carroll might have appreciated this exercise. He did enjoy writing logical syllogisms with perfect form but rather strange content:
(a) No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste.
(b) No modern poetry is free from affectation.
(c) All your poems are on the subject of soap-bubbles.
(d) No affected poetry is popular among people of real taste.
(e) No ancient poem is on the subject of soap-bubbles.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fish tanks and fern cases

The Victorians loved to collect creatures from nature and bring them indoors as ornament-- making butterfly collections, pressed flowers, and even microscope slides with tastefully arranged diatoms. But two inventions allowed them to bring a bit of the natural world into their house, not dead and preserved, but living and thriving in an enclosed habitat.

One was the aquarium, which made a fine centerpiece: 

Another was the Wardian Case, a sort of miniature greenhouse. Ferns were especially popular for these cases, in a fad known as Pteridomania:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Spy crows

THE United States military funded research into using networks of 'spy crows' to locate soldiers who are missing in action, and extended the work to see if the birds might be useful in helping them to find Osama bin Laden. The idea may seem far-fetched, but unlike some military research programs (such as the Stargate remote-viewing program) it is actually based on sound science.
From Neurophilosophy. See here for more on the intelligence and memory abilities of crows.

Thursday, May 5, 2011