WTF, Evolution?

March 15th, 2013

WTF, Evolution? (a.k.a. nightmare fuel.)

The hairy frogfish cannot believe what you've done…

Hairy frogfish

… or …

I really don't want anyone to eat this wattle cup…

Hairy brown moth

[Via Schneier on Security]

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Antbirds spotted

September 25th, 2012

Natalie Angier on army ants and their parasites:

[Wherever...] there are army ants out on a hunting raid, peckish antbirds are almost sure to follow.

The birds are not foolish enough to try to eat them: Army ants are fiercely mandibled and militantly cohesive. Instead, they hope to skim off a percentage of the ants' labor, by snatching up any grasshoppers, beetles, spiders or small lizards that may jump to the side in a frantic attempt to elude the oncoming avalanche of predatory ants.

It's a gleeful reversal of the conventional notion of parasites as little, ticky things that plague large, poorly dressed hosts. Here the big vertebrates are the parasites, freeloading off insects a fraction of their size. [...]

Fun and frightening as the army ants are, the real stars are the birds. Angier explains that the antbirds' behaviour is in flux. Over time, as the populations of the various species of antbird fluctuate, scientists are observing how species are changing their behaviour in order to take advantage of the opportunities that open up. Fascinating stuff.

[Via The Awl]

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'We're in a present where a £100 point-and-shoot camera has the approximate empathic capabilities of a infant.'

August 9th, 2011

Matt Jones has posted a summary of a recent talk he gave pulling together his thoughts about The Robot-Readable World.

Robot-Readable World is a pot to put things in, something that I first started putting things in back in 2007 or so.

At Interesting back then, I drew a parallel between the Apple Newton's sophisticated, complicated hand-writing recognition and the Palm Pilot's approach of getting humans to learn a new way to write, i.e. Graffiti.

The connection I was trying to make was that there is a deliberate design approach that makes use of the plasticity and adaptability of humans to meet computers (more than) half way.

Connecting this to computer vision and robotics I said something like:

"What if, instead of designing computers and robots that relate to what we can see, we meet them half-way – covering our environment with markers, codes and RFIDs, making a robot-readable world"

The entire post is packed with fascinating ideas and links to other writings on the topic, including one to this terrific BLDGBLOG post on The New Robot Domesticity that I happened upon earlier the same day I read Matt Jones' piece.

We live in interesting times.

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Cars 2

July 12th, 2011

"Cars 2" opens this week and Josh Berta will not be seeing it is a must-read:

Without question, [Pixar's] greatest misstep in design, and perhaps in general, is the film Cars. Released in 2006, this film follows the "stranger comes to town" adventures of stock car racing sensation Lightning McQueen. While it was less than loved by critics, there is no question it was a commercial success. In fact, some would say it is Pixar's most obvious grab at a pay day, appealing to the NASCAR set without even the thinnest of veils. But I would argue its middle-American appeal goes much deeper than its subject matter. Indeed, I believe Cars is a vehicle for the conservative, science-denying belief known as Intelligent Design.

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Therapsid therapists

February 16th, 2011

Earlier today, James Nicoll perpetrated the best typo I've seen in a long time.

[Via James Nicoll]

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Symbion pandora

April 29th, 2010

The life cycle of Symbion pandora is so outlandish it reads like something from the first draft of Ridley Scott's script for his Alien prequel:

Things start to get complicated when you consider their life cycle. Let's start with a feeding animal living on a lobster's mouthparts: this individual – it's hard to assign a sex – can then produce one of three kinds of offspring: a "Pandora" larva, a "Prometheus" larva or a female.

The Pandora larva develops into another feeding adult – a straightforward case of asexual reproduction. By contrast, the female remains inside the adult and awaits a male – but, attentive readers will be crying, what male?

The answer lies in the Prometheus larva [...]

[Via MetaFilter]

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One step at a time

September 1st, 2009

Evolving a better mousetrap, one step at a time.

[Via Kevan Davis]

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Intriguing

May 5th, 2009

Credit where it's due: Bruce Schneier certainly knows how to come up with an arresting post title. How can you scroll past a post entitled Security Considerations in the Design of the Human Penis?

(Shouldn't that be "Security Considerations in the Evolution of the Human Penis"?)

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"Man, this guy didn't know anything."

January 19th, 2009

Blogging the Origin:

Hi! My name is John. I've got a PhD in evolutionary biology, and I've spent much of the past decade writing about evolutionary ideas, as applied to everything from literary criticism, to language, to anti-terror policy, and even on occasion to biology. And I've got a confession – I've never read the Origin of Species.

He's reading The Origin of Species for the first time, and blogging about it as he goes. Looks well worth following.

[Via Blog of a Bookslut]

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Hydrogen Sulphide

April 16th, 2008

Peter Ward and his colleagues reckon they might have figured out the cause of mass extinctions:

In the deep history of our planet, there have been at least five short intervals in which the majority of living species suddenly went extinct. Biologists are used to thinking about how environmental pressures slowly select the organisms most fit for survival through natural selection, shaping life on Earth like an artist sculpting clay. However, mass extinctions are drastic examples of natural selection at its most ruthless, killing off vast numbers of species at one time in a way that is hardly typical of evolution.

[...] An asteroid probably did kill off the dinosaurs, but the causes of the other four mass extinctions are still obscured beneath the accumulated weight of hundreds of millions of years, and no one has found any other credible evidence of impact craters.

But now, together with Mark Roth of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, I believe we have found a possible biochemical scar, present within living animals, that links Earth's greatest mass extinction to a single substance: hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Hydrogen sulfide is a relatively simple molecule that gives rotten eggs their distinctive foul odor and is quite toxic — in high concentrations a single breath can kill. And it looks like that is what happened: Hundreds of millions of years ago, hydrogen sulfide probably saturated our oceans and atmosphere, poisoning nearly every creature on Earth. [...]

Fascinating.

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