Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Occasionally Youtube has some pretty interesting videos that are not just about cats falling or going into things, although those are still just great.

Here are some silver screen training movies that run the gamut of suspiciously pure propaganda,  to cartoons that are surprisingly technical and some of them answer questions I never knew I had, such as how would people cope with being in a sinking submarine and what did Dr Seuss do doing during World War 2?

  • Land and Live in the Desert 1945, I became invested in the fates of Bob and Skipper. For soldiers under stress they are quite polite. There are a whole series of these, Sea, Jungle & Arctic. Nothing about how to survive in an urban environment like Karangahape Road, Auckland though, (essential advice, do not make eye contact).
  • Submarine Escape. "Experts at grabbing sack time." vs chlorine leak. Actually quite sophisticated procedure with variation of practices according to urgency. The SEA's are multipurpose. Described hazards, oxygen poisoning, anoxia, decompression sickness and excitement, you know, assuming there are no obstructions and everything goes to plan.
There are a whole series of SNAFU movies, apparently all voiced by Mel Brooks, which is why it sounds like Bugs Bunny, they are sort of definitely made for adult males and probably in the circumstances of their intended audience, they would sort of, definitely grab my attention.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

This is pretty much the only way to make that animal stay still.


XKCD : Interferometry.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Ghosts of Gondwana (2016) by George Gibbs.

Really I acquired Ghosts of Gondwana (2016)  because it has a number of good pictures and included as its subject matter a number of species I was interested in at the time. Its subject matter goes beyond my initial objectives and in this time of a predominant human centered world view with increasing urban population density, accelerating cultural change and overwhelming housing property prices this book represented a respite, looking into the natural world of which we are part of.

Ghosts of Gondwana (2016) can be understood as a book about the biodiversity of New Zealand. Its author introduces his subject by a reference to the landfall by Captain James Cook in 1769 at Poverty Bay, New Zealand, with Joseph Banks and David Solander noting the uniqueness of New Zealand flora and fauna. This is a book about the natural history of endemic life in New Zealand, detailing from evidence the various evolutionary origins of iconic and somewhat esoteric animals and plants in New Zealand, present before European colonization. The evidence is described in terms of historical biogeography, the processes of vicariance, dispersal and extinctions and relies on phylogenetic analysis, fossil evidence, tectonic geology and as Gibbs puts it "the clock hypothesis with all its faults" (Gibbs 315 : 2016).

One point that Gibbs makes early on is that the idea of New Zealand flora and fauna as being survivals from a supercontinent of Gondwana, is simplistic. He recognizes that each endemic organism in New Zealand has a unique explanation, with the joke being that all life has historical explanations that reach into the Cretaceous. His point is that the separation of the New Zealand Pacific plate from a shared Australian, Antartic and South American plate around 80 million years ago allows this distinction of endemic New Zealand life having Cretaceous origins.  Endemic organisms that do conform to a vicariance explanation with Cretaceous origins include flowing freshwater species, fresh water mussels Echyridela menziesii, Family Hyriidae (Kakahi), Scorpion flys (Family Nannochorista) and mayfly (Ameletopsis persescitus) (Gibbs 295 : 2016) due to restrictions on dispersal. Fresh water mussels (Kakahi) have an interesting relationship to Glaxiid fish (White Bait), as their parasitic larval stage relies on White Bait for nutrients and transport, introduced species do not transport mussel larvae (Gibbs 299 : 2015). Gibbs suggests a vicariance of the Hyrridae family prior to the disintegration of Gondwana, during the Jurassic.

The actual extent of endemism, can be illustrated by comparing at what taxanomic level (Linnean classification scheme) endemism occurs. In New Zealand this is described as

                 Vascular plants    Vertebrates     Invertebrates
Order         -                          3                    -

Family       -                          9                    6 

Species      2000+                 200+              20,000+     

So the most common taxanomic level of endemism occurs at species level, when I can make comparisons, I will.

The most probable dispersal sources of endemic New Zealand flora and fauna lay in Australia, due to proximity, yet aside from fossils, there are no snakes, turtles or crocodiles, no scorpions, no monotreme marsupials and no placental mammals. With the absence of placental mammals the niches that would be otherwise occupied are shown in endemic species such as the Ratites like the Moa and the emblemic Kiwi. The Kiwi is a carnivorous, nocturnal, burrow digging flightless bird that uses smell and has degenerated optic lobes associated with poor eyesight, which is unusual for a bird  (Gibbs 242 : 2016). In the northern hemisphere this niche would probably be occupied by a mole or vole. I think this suggests that the Kiwi is a rather humble icon.

The slow breeding rates of particular endemic species is noticeable, which is appropriate in cold environments where nutrition is a significant challenge and these include the Kakapo (parrot), Tuatara (Family Splendantia), endemic frogs (Family Leiopelmatidae) and endemic carnivorous land snails (Genus Powelliphantia) (Gibbs 284 : 2016).

The discussion of vicariance and dispersal involves a discussion about plate tectonics and the submergence of a land mass  described as Zealandia, (composition includes the Challenger Plataeu, Chatam Rise and Lord Howe Rise), during the late Oligocene around 23 million years ago of which unsubmerged Holocene New Zealand is part of. The degree of submergence has been debated, the presence of limestone indicates submergence (Gibbs 122 : 2016), Dr Hamish Campbell proposing that the geological evidence suggested a total or near total submergence with extinction events. George Gibbs mentions this theory but is critical of it. He discusses it in terms of the flora and fauna of New Zealand and a March 2013 Otago Daily Times article, "A Theory Flounders" appears to summarize this theories demise, or at least the movement towards a dialectical compromise.

This is a large book, at 416 pages, but it would need to be. Its chapters individually are easily read at an undergraduate level and it presents a natural history explanation, or hypothesis for the species it covers which may make it a good reference book, as part of a starting point for further investigations. At the very least it provides a reasonable scope for understanding the biodiversity of New Zealand and currently, may be unique in its subject matter.


George Gibbs. (2016). Ghosts of Gondwana. Published by Potton & Burton Publishing. Printed in Nelson. Pages 416.

Friday, 25 August 2017

A picture, observers correctly identified the pukeko in the picture, which is nice.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Girl with all the Gifts, (2014), by M R Carey.

So I picked up (bought, bought not picked up, that doesn't sound right) Mr MR Careys "The Girl with all the Gifts" from Whitcoulls, published by Orbit. One of its reviewers, Jenny Colgan is quoted as "Kazuo Ishiguro meets The Walking Dead". Which to me is an interesting quote, I have questions as to why she would say that. Joss Whedon is quoted as saying "as fresh as it is terrifying", which could be sarcasm, but probably isn't, but I get why he would be a person to quote with a book such as this.

According to a transcripted interview, at the back of the book, it's based on a short story that was collected in Paula Gurans Years Best Dark Fantasy & Horror Anthology (2013), Iphigenia in Aulis that had Melanie (one of the protagonists obsessed with the Illiad. There are book group questions at the back, including one which goes , "compared to Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro how far does each book characterize children as grotesque and to be feared?". So that goes some way towards my question about that particular quote. Suspiciously so. Or not.

I have to say how slick the marketing and packaging of the book is. From the short story, Mr MR Carey wrote a screen play and a novel at the same time. The cover of the book and the posters to the movie echo each other and the transcripted interview, book group questions both address that process and serve to frame the book in an intellectual manner. I am sure my thought processes are going in the direction the marketers of the book intended.

The book reads like a movie, written in a passive third person  perspective and until page 29 the voice is all about Melanie, the protagonist. I've seen the movies version of Melanie, from shorts played by Sennia Nanua. The books version is a "very fair" girl with blond hair and "a good girl smarminess" (page 80 : 2014) that probably channels real life cynicism. I challenge you to see the movie short and then hold onto the books version of Melanie as you read it. I gave up, but I acknowledge there could be difference. The books ending is interesting, there is enough science in the book, in the same way that there is enough science in Brahm Stokers Dracula, to legitimize the fictional narrative and it echos real life concerns. Which to be clear, was good. In my opinion, which is just another voice in the wind, a lot of progress is kind of muddling along particular paradigms and if Hegel came up with dialectical materialism it's because societies tend to oscillate from one issue to another through the generations as circumstances alter. I'm not convinced that the books ending is a happy one but it is an ending and I guess that's the point.

The book was easy to read, it took me less that two days to complete but then again I'm not watching TV and I found it entertaining and liked what it did.