Stateless Stochastic Automatons

…is my krautrock band name. Seriously, while driving to NYC last weekend, I finally started listening to Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders’ podcast, Our Opinions Are Correct – specifically, ep. 18: Alien Minds. It was so good that I listened a second time on my way home; strongest possible recommendation. The episode addresses alien minds in 3 big chunks: alien aliens (little green men/BEMs), AI/created minds and aliens that live on the planet with us.

The outer space alien portion focused partly on communication (my sweet spot) – it caused me to add Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series to my TBR list and made me think about a couple of my favorite aliens. The Ariekei/Hosts of China Miéville’s Embassytown speak with two mouths driven by one mind and their “Language does not allow for lying or even speculation, the Language reflects both their state of mind and reality as they perceive it”.* There are a bunch of interesting things going on: language/mind feedback, the destabilizing effect of new ‘technology’ and, for me especially, the Fall (of Babel/from a state of language perfection) as the Hosts learn to lie. The other aliens that sprang to mind were the Wang Carpets from Greg Egan’s Diaspora. I honestly don’t remember whether communication ever got established with the Carpets, but they were a great stab at building an intelligence that was barely recognizable.

[A] voyaging ship has found the first example [of alien life] on planet Orpheus, large “carpets” submerged and slowly moving through an ocean. The carpets hardly seem candidates for sentient life, each one being comprised of a single long carbohydrate molecule. But it turns out they are behaving as a Turing Machine made up of Wang tiles (renamed Wang’s Carpets by the human clones who discovered them).

Wang tiles are a mathematical system proposed by Hao Wang in the form of a conjecture that [simplified version:] square tiles with differently coloured sides can fill an plane, and if so in a periodic pattern. Hao Wang argued that if the such a tiling exists that would imply that there is also an algorithm that would decide if such a pattern exists. Wang’s student showed that there is no such algorithm and the tiling problem is undecidable.

The Wang Carpets on Orpheus are doing that computation, but instead of the simple two-dimensional case proposed by Hao Wang, in this story the carpets occupy many levels in the ocean and thus an immensely powerful computation is going on (and can be visualised by Fourier analysis). An intelligence comprised of a multidimensional Turing Machine. *

The AI minds portion was excellent as well – encoded biases/non-neurotypical AI minds/&c, but I’m going to just tell you to listen. I’m going on longer than I wanted and am going to cut to the chase; the portion where Newitz and Anders talk to Lisa Margonelli about her book, Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology. Most of my exposure to eusocial insects is via the Hymenoptera as a beekeeper and as a lover of both Uncle Milton and Six legs Better. Termites are different critters entirely. They’re most closely related to cockaroaches and rely on their gut biota to digest cellulose. A superorganism with symbiotic protists, which in turn have bacterial ectosymbiotes? Hell yes. What really got me going was the discussion (35:27) of what I am assuming (bought the book, haven’t cracked it yet) are Macrotermes colonies.

Macrotermes colonies host a remarkable symbiotic relationship with a basidiomycete fungus, Termitomyces. The termites cultivate the fungi in a fungus garden, comprising a few hundred fungus combs, structures built from chewed up grass and wood, and inoculated with fungal spores. Each year, these fungi produce a crop of large mushrooms (pictured at left), known locally as omajowa, which are highly prized as a delicacy.

Unlike the fungi cultivated by leaf-cutter ants, which the ant colony uses as food, the Termitomyces culture in a Macrotermes nest aids in the breakdown of cellulose and lignin into a more nutritious compost which serves as the termites actual food. The fungus garden is, therefore, a kind of extracorporeal digestive system, to which termites have ‘outsourced’ cellulose digestion. *

An aside – I inoculated some logs last spring with shiitake and oyster mushroom spawn and it occurred to me at the time that what I was doing was turning wood into food with a fungal assist.

fungus comb

I’m unclear as to whether Macrotermes have the same gut biota as other termites (wait!! see below) – guess I need to read Underbug. Regardless, what a superorganism! What a community! Extra bonus – one of the species of fungus, Termitomyces titanicus, “has a cap that may reach 1 metre (3 ft) in diameter on a stipe up to 22 inches (57 cm) in length and is reputed to be the largest edible mushroom in the world.”* Termite-stuffed mushroom caps anyone (totally serious)?

By Blimeo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56726209

P.S. It occured to me as I was proofreading that perhaps I could do a google search on ‘macrotermes gut biota’ and yes, there are papers!

Sub-miniature Graboid

Via Tetzoo, a critter that I would love to see on the the Big Bike Ride! Dr. Naish’s post is on speculative, “could yet be discovered” animals that are not already cryptozoological cliches – so no Nessie. The whole thing is a lot of fun but the entry for “A gigantic, predatory, limbed amphisbaenian” really caught my attention.

Among the weirdest of amphisbaenians are the ajolotes (or bipedids), the only extant group to possess limbs. These limbs are not small stumps or flaps (as they are in some other near-limbless, serpentine squamates) but well-developed, clawed forelimbs. According to some phylogenetic models, ajolotes are not the sister-group to limbless amphisbaenians but deeply nested within the limbless clade (Conrad 2008, Videl et al. 2008), in which case their limbedness – if you will – perhaps evolved from limbless ancestors. Add to this the fact that some amphisbaenians are robust-jawed, short-faced predators of vertebrates that ambush prey from beneath the surface and bite chunks from the bodies of surface-dwelling mammals and reptiles.

[…]

So then… where oh where are the giant, limbed, robust-skulled, vertebrate-eating amphisbaenians? By ‘giant’, I am not talking about a graboid-sized monster of several metres (though that would be nice), but a more reasonable animal of a mere 1.5 metres or so. Easily the stuff of nightmares. They could inhabit warm regions of any continent.

So what’re these ajolores? The word references 2 very different animals: the axolotl of Lake Xochimilco (endangered in the wild) and the Mexican mole lizard of Baja California – obv it’s the latter we’re interested in.

Bipes biporus is a small pink worm-like lizard with forellimbs only – no hind legs. Their scalation is segmented and used. peristaltically, to move through burrows. The big digger feet move sand out of the way (see the illustration in the Tetzoo post) and the blunt head helps in their fossorial fun.

I wanna see one!

Bipes biporus.jpg
By marlin harms, CC BY 2.0, Link

And in case ‘graboid‘ doesn’t ring a bell:

 

 

Two updates

The Adventure Cycling Assoc. posted “Following the Monarchs” (referenced in the post below) to their website. Now you can read the whole thing and not rely on my photo! Side note: dirtbag panniers 4evah!

 

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#coffeeneur no. 3: ☕ & 🥯 in Durham #coffeeneuring

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Handbuilt Bike news has coverage of the New England builder’s Ball (Two Wheels X 2). They did a much more complete job than my ‘ooh shiny’ reportage. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Below is a photo I should have taken – I really liked this ANT rig.

 

Monarchs

The migration south is still going strong here in southern NH, so monarchs have been much on my mind. The starting point was finding what I think was a freshly emerged female in the back yard a few weeks ago. I’m sure she would have been fine, but I moved her to a protected perch on the breezeway to rest and warm up a bit.

Then the Oct/Nov edition of Adventure Cyclist arrived. It’s the house organ of the Adventure Cycling Assoc. – a great group that’s created some amazing route maps. The cover story was Sara Dykman’s 10,000 mile ride following the multi generation migration from Mexico to Canada and back. Naturally, I’m wondering if I should swing south after either Baja or Barrancas del Cobre. Hmm.

monarch story

Ms. Dykman’s web site is here and I’ve embedded a map of her route below. A dang cool ride, I must say.

From ButterBikes to Butter-Gliders – shifting gears a bit, the Venture Bros. are back on teevee, For those who don’t know the show, one of the main characters is a supervillian called The Monarch (née Malcolm Fitzcarraldo). The new run – Season 7 – is superb and gets a strong recommendation. The AVClub has a TV Club 10 post with ten essential episodes; let me quote the intro to give those of you unfamiliar with the show a sense of what it’s all about.

When it started, The Venture Bros. was an unsubtle parody of Jonny Quest, centering on a super-scientist, a burly bodyguard, and a couple of rambunctious teens who love a good adventure but are also just a hair too naïve to really survive for long on their own. Calling it a Jonny Quest parody now is almost comically reductive, though, because the show spent its first six seasons expanding into one of the most complex and bizarre universes of any animated series—including its newer Adult Swim contemporaries like Rick And Morty. It’s a superhero parody, with deep Marvel cuts that have become a lot less deep thanks to the movies. It’s an outlet for obscure musical references, where David Bowie somehow became a regular character until creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer decided that was too limiting and just made him into a shapeshifter who pretended to be David Bowie. It’s a G.I. Joe parody, where the good guys and bad guys all need a silly gimmick and a codename. Mostly, though, it’s about a family that always sticks together, even in the face of constant, inescapable failure.

That’s the word that always comes up when trying to describe The Venture Bros., but even saying it’s a show about failure is reductive. That reading doesn’t take into account how the characters have grown and changed over the years or how they sometimes completely stumble into success. Really, if you want to cleverly say that the show is about any one thing, then it’s about subverting expectations. The show knows what people like and what they’ll want to see, and then it goes off in a different direction that deepens the characters in an unexpected way or throws a needlessly complicated wrench into a plot that is already needlessly complicated (or maybe it pulls the wrench out and lets a complicated plot run down to something more simple).

From an earlier season, DRAMA!

And back to the real thing – while out for training rides with Lotte the Adventure Teckel, I’ve come across monarchs that are sure to be squashed by traffic unless they’re moved. So I move them. There have only been a few, but with the world in the state that it’s in, every one is worth an effort.

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Road rescue.

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Red hands with missing fingers

As noted in the post below, I zipped back home from the salt marsh last Friday to take care of some loose ends, One of the things on the to-do list was replenishing the bee feeder with more sugar syrup. A bit of backstory: I didn’t keep bees last year – my hives were winter-killed and I missed the windows for ordering replacement packages in the spring. This year, with plans for the Big Bike Trip well underway, it made no sense to start beekeeping again, so I didn’t. But I did leave a hive out in the back yard the past couple years, mainly because I’m lazy that way. Come early August, I noticed some bee activity in and around the hive. “Checking it out to see if they can scavenge some supplies.”, thought I. But they stuck around! I gave them a few weeks to get settled in, then did an inspection. Capped brood (iow, the hive is making new members)! A second inspection and hey! there’s the queen! At this point I realized I needed to start feeding them if there was going to be any chance of them surviving the winter. I’m not big on feeding hives; sugar syrup provides calories, but precious little else. But, just as, given a choice between Soylent (vc) and starving to death, I’ll happily consume the sludge, so too will I choose syrup over losing a nice gentle hive with what I am guessing is a wild-bred queen. They’d been going through a quart of syrup every two days, so I expected to find the feeder empty. I did not expect this:

trashed frames

divot

I was stunned. I’m pretty conservative when it comes to wildlife ID – I’ve heard too many stories about peregrines killing songbirds at people’s bird feeders – so I figured it was a big ole raccoon or a skunk or maybe, just maybe a bear. I composed myself and started cleaning up. And then I noticed a small cluster of workers in the corner of the hive body, looking very much like they were protecting the queen. I grabbed another body, put in 10 untrashed frames and carefully brushed the bees that were left (many had already relocated to the new digs) in the old body into their new home. As of this writing, there are still bees in the hive; I haven’t done a post-attack inspection yet, but the fact that workers are staying put gives me a little hope that the queen survived.

New hive body/frames

When I took a close look at the smashed up hive body, my perp ID changed. Take a look at the distance between the pairs of tooth marks:

toof marks

toof marks

I have never seen a raccoon or skunk skull with that kind of gap between canines. I’m pretty confident it was a bear. There have been bears in the neighborhood before – I hadn’t heard of any sightings this year but that doesn’t mean much.

On the ride back down to salt marsh paradise, I listened to the latest episode of Ken Layne’s excellent Desert Oracle radio show (in podcast form): Lycanthropes of the West.

Bronsplåt pressbleck öland vendeltid.jpg
By Unknown – Oscar Montelius, Om lifvet i Sverige under hednatiden (Stockholm 1905) s.98, Public Domain, Link

One of the topics? Bears, were-bears, and shapeshifting. Properly synchronous! Mr. Layne set me thinking about circumpolar bear cults – the Ainu, the Finns, Siberian shamans – and that circled me around to Gary Snyder. No, not the Smokey the Bear Sutra (though it did come to mind), rather The Way West, Underground.

You aren’t getting out of here without an explicit Smokey reference, though. My favorite psychedelic blue jeans wearing were-bear at Hilton Park in Dover, NH:

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StB's jeans 4evah.

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Next: 2 wheels 4evah!

P.S. bears also call to mind one of the two dog breed recommendations I’m proudest of. A friend and fellow trainer wanted a working breed – a dog that would do well in obedience work and potentially Schutzhund – but she wasn’t esp interested in any of the shepherd-y breeds. I suggested she look into Bouviers – she named her Boov puppy Osa (bear).

 

Deli bal

I was sure I’d posted on this topic before, but a search is yielding no joy, so here goes nuthin’.  I first ran across ‘mad honey;’, aka deli bal in Turkey, while reading about Apis dorsata laboriosa – the Himalayan giant honeybee. A few years ago Andrew Newey’s photographs of Gurung honey hunters were everywhere on the internet.

Below is a video from NatGeo of folks from a different group, the Kulung, harvesting honey. I especially like this for two reasons: it’s a 360 degree shot and it breaks the outdoor videographer’s 4th wall – there is a photographer in frame, roped up. I encourage you to watch it full screen and pan liberally.

Many of the posts on the photos noted that springtime honey is psychoactive. It’s because the bees are visiting rhododendrons, and rhododendrons produce grayanotoxins.

Physical symptoms from grayanotoxin poisoning appear after a dose-dependent latent period of several minutes to approximately three hours. The most common clinical symptoms include various cardiovascular effects, nausea and vomiting, and a change in consciousness. The cardiovascular effects may include hypotension (low blood pressure) and various cardiac rhythm disorders such as sinus bradycardia (slow regular heart rhythm), bradyarrhythmia (slow irregular heart rhythm) and partial or complete atrioventricular block.*

Note the mention of low blood pressure. One of mad honey’s uses, at least in Turkey, is to enhance sexual performance. Oh, yes. Turkey… Nepal is one place with rhododendron forests

Rhododendron Forest

and the Black Sea coast of Turkey, where Rhododendron ponticum grows, is another. There’s also a very interesting falconry tradition in that area, but that’s for another day.

Why a mad honey post now? I’m re-reading Gore Vidal’s Creation and his narrator, Cyrus Spitama (grandson of Zoroaster), tosses off an offhand comment referencing it.

Mr. Vidal is way more well-read than I, but this reference isn’t a deep dive; there are many classical accounts of mad honey poisoning. My favorite is Xenophon, because it is from the Anabasis, a rippin’ yarn in its own right and the story that The Warriors is based on.

After accomplishing the ascent the Greeks took up quarters in numerous villages, which contained provisions in abundance. Now for the most part there was nothing here which they really found strange; but the swarms of bees in the neighbourhood were numerous, and the soldiers who ate of the honey all went off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea, and not one of them could stand up, but those who had eaten a little were like people exceedingly drunk, while those who had eaten a great deal seemed like crazy, or even, in some cases, dying men. So they lay there in great numbers as though the army had suffered a defeat, and great despondency prevailed. On the next day, however, no one had died, and at approximately the same hour as they had eaten the honey they began to come to their senses; and on the third or fourth day they got up, as if from a drugging. *

I’ll end with a picture of a walk I took with friends almost exactly a year ago from Van Cortland Park to Coney Island, hitting many of the shooting locations that the movie iteration of The Warriors used.

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Warriors.

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Thálatta! Thálatta!

Bicycling companion

One of the sub-projects that I have had on *simmer* for a while is rigging a crate or basket for my cycling companion – Lotte the Wonder Teckel. I like mulling over projects for a while; though I’m not averse to trying an approach, failing, and trying a different tack, too many iterations frustrate me. But – it’s time to get Lotte on the bike. I  did a little shopping for crates – her crate is just too heavy – no joy.I have a coroplast tote that I’d been eyeing as a potential dog basket; I strapped it to the rack and went for a test ride. It was obvious off the bat that my first guess on orientation – long axis of the tote parallel with the long axis of the bike – wouldn’t do, so mid-ride I adjusted it to ride cross-ways. To keep it from nudging my butt, I moved it back a bit and tried loading the tent in front of the basket and the much lighter sleeping pad behind. Success! The rack has 6 tapped holes so one can bolt stuff to the deck. I used 1 pair and added 4 re-usable zipties.

I put a U-bolt in. centered in the basket, and cut up some closed cell foam to pad the bottom. Time for a test ride with a gallon of water filling in for Lotte. I am going to be the anti-shred on this ride: I don’t want to deal with busting myself up and I certainly do not want to make L uncomfortable, let alone put her in harm’s way. I figured if I could keep the gallon jug upright and in place (not sliding around), I’d be in good shape. It did fall over twice, but both times were during mount/dismount efforts. Acceptable.

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Partial load w/ erzatz doggo.

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On the doggo side a harness was needed. Lotte will be leashed into the basket and a collar will not do. I wanted a harness with attachment points both top (walking on leash) and bottom (secured in basket) and couldn’t find anything that would suit locally. Off to the internet! While we waited for delivery, we did a few ‘sit in the basket/get plied with treats/ear skritches’ sessions. Time well spent.

The harness came today. I fitted it to her and let her wander around the house – NBD. So we went for a walk. She didn’t care.

Moment of truth! I got a pocket full of treats and put Molly Fin in a shady spot, scooped up Lotte and leashed her into the basket, fed her a couple treats and took the bike off her kickstand.

[side note/a bit of my dog training philosophy: quit while you are succeeding! Too often, the two-legger gets all “I want one more repetition!” and keeps going until the dog stops cooperating (out of boredom or fatigue or sheer cussedness) and then one is faced with ending on failure or pushing through and forcing the issue. Neither is as good as, “Yes! Excellent job pup! We’re done now, let’s goof around!!” So I was ready to pull the ripcord at the first sign of Lotte not having fun from this point on.]

I pushed the bike down the road a couple hundred feet, watching Lotte like a hawk the whole time, until I got to the back entrance to the elementary school next door. She was still happy and curious. I threw a leg over the bike, looked back at her (still fine) and started pedaling. Woohoo! We spent 10 minutes or so in parking lots and on paved paths, then I did pull the plug. Back home – and I acted like this was something we’d always done, even though, internally, I was over the moon. Now, we just need to take it slow and keep it fun…

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*heaves a sigh of relief* 🚀🐕🚲💨

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