Cell phone II

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Well, I ended up needing to execute on the cell phone thing earlier than I had originally planned – my current cell started to flake out. My priorities for the new phone were, in order: good phone function (duh!), Bluetooth, decent camera capabilities, and 3G network access. I ended up with a Samsung SGH-A707 – it does what I want it to do. The camera is OK – not great for closeup work (as you can see in the bonus bookshelf blogging shot below), but ok for a quick snap. An excellent extra is that it will record video; I’ve got some footage (can you call it that when it’s a pile of bits?) of my Dendrobates tinctorius that I’m trying to edit so I can post a clip. Unfortunately, iMovie doesn’t seem to want to deal with the camera’s file format – my copy of Final Cut imports it fine, so it looks like I’ve got to get busy climbing the Final Cut learning curve.

The shot at the top of the post is the cell, taken with my junky lo-res digicam. I tried to take it using the cell’s camera, using my cat-like speed (and quantum uncertainty) – unfortunately, I ran into the same problem I experience whenever I try to look at the back of my head by spinning around really quickly. The cell picture is here as a hat tip to Señor Lex10, who posted the graphic goodness I’m using as wallpaper – thanks!

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Saab 96


One of the best rides I ever got back in my hitchhiking days was a short one – one town to the next one over, here in NH – in an old Saab. It was powered by their three cylinder two-stroke engine, sounded like a pack of angry chainsaws (and smelled like one too) and was driven by a tiny woman with a salt and pepper braid about 3 feet long. She pulled over, I hopped in – noticed the box full of cans of two-stroke oil in the back seat – and we passed a pleasant 10 minute ride talking about cars and who can remember what else. Pointless reminiscence inspired by metacool – also, check out his Flikrstream (this is not a Saab!):

Later - I can’t believe my friend Eliza’s pea soup green 96 slipped my mind – what a good car!
Even later - I remembered another great set of Saab pics driving home tonight – Coop’s from La ’06 Carrera Panamericana. Click through and scroll down just a bit. Check out those Minilite wheels (and that chainsaw exhaust)! More info from el equipo Saabpearl Svenska here.

Bookshelf

Just for grins – I think that every so often I’ll post a picture of a random couple feet worth o’ bookshelf (mine, that is). Anyone who wants to reciprocate and post on their blog (if you don’t blog, email the pix to me and I’ll post for you) – way cool. Hopefully, this isn’t too much information…

Various and sundry links

A few things I’ve run across that I wanted to post…

  • One of my very favorite web cartoonists (graphic web-page-ist?) visits the Google campus. Personally, I would have risked failure and filled my pockets at the hundred dollar bar. Also, Echo and Siouxsie Sioux? Awesome!
  • A brief trip down memory lane courtesy of Daniel Davies at Crooked Timber. The linked post on ‘embodied energy’ (and the subsequent link at the Yorkshire Ranter) are interesting in and of themselves, but it’s the reference to Piero Sraffa and theories of value that takes me back. In the mists of prehistory, when I was finishing my BA in Economics and doing an ill-fated year of graduate work on same, the big battle royale among the theory types on campus was Neo-Ricardians versus Marxists (forget the neoclassicists – boooring >grin<). Ah, good times...
  • Inexpensive book scanner. The Plustek Optibook is optimized for scanning bound material – the glass runs right up to the edge, cutting down on shadows and the amount of squashing (grits teeth just thinking about it) one must do to get a good image. Maybe with one of these I could scan some of the books I really ought to cull, making me a little more likely to do so. Haaa, ha, ha, gasp, snort – who am I fooling… h/t BoingBoing
  • Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Lot’s ‘o Lovecraftian fun on the interwebs over the past few days – if Darren Naish is going to venture into the biology of Howie’s critters, I can help out with research on the Old Ones – Arkham isn’t too far away and I assume the Miskatonic University archives still have material from the ill fated Pabodie expedition. Semi-seriously, though – I re-read At the Mountains of Madness and The Call of Cthulhu recently – spurred on by Charlie Stross’ A Colder War (you can read it on line by following the link) – and I think that Rucker’s Hollow Earth needs to get queued up on my nightstand. Incidentally – the edition of Mountains of Madness I linked to above is a two-fer – it’s got a great introduction written by China Mieville.

That ought to do it for now…

High Plains Fembot

Or: Robosex on the Leks

Some very cool research on Sage Grouse is being done by Gail Patricelli and Alan Krakauer out of UC Davis. From Dr. Patricelli’s site:

Using a 24-microphhone recording array as an ADM system, Alan and I plan to examine whether males adjust their acoustic radiation patterns to direct the energy of their displays toward females, and whether variation in directionality affects male courtship success. Since females often move during courtship, we will examine the degree to which males adjust their positions and/or acoustic radiation patterns to track females, and whether the ability to do so affects male courtship success. To examine this experimentally, Alan and I collaborated with Tom Fowler of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to build a robotic female sage-grouse that will allow us to measure each male’s ability to track moving females and respond to female behaviors by adjusting their displays. The robot is equipped with a microphone and video camera, allowing us to quantify the male’s display from the perspective of the receiving female. Using the ADM system to measure the signal that the male radiates in all directions, and the robot to measure the signal received by the target female, we will have a unique ability to quantify how directionality shapes male display behaviors and female choice in sage-grouse.

Be sure to click through and check out the fembot spycam footage (or just click here, you lazy dubba >smile<).

Danger can happen!

From the sublime (Andy Goldsworthy) to the ridiculous (Kaiju Big Battel) in honor of Darren Naish’s foray into the science of Godzilla.

Nice to see my merely three-dimensional earth relative get some YouTube time, and jeez, that Kung-Fu Chicken Noodle has got some moves!

Later – just in case anyone misinterprets – Kaiju Big Battel = ridiculous (in a good way); Darren’s post = great stuff.
h/t Steve for the Naish link

Dogs: Shows, Trials, Tests, Matches, etc.

Another dog post – and there may be more coming – yikes! I’ve been looking at pedigrees and got a note from a friend recently reminding me that Westminster is next week – I figure there’s no time like the present to lay out my views on dog ‘assessments’.

First – why evaluate? Often, it’s done as part of a breeding program – does the dog look right? Can it do what it was bred to do? Breeding isn’t always the motivation, though; obedience trials can show how biddable a dog is, but they can also showcase the two-legger’s training skills. A particular activity with a particular breed falls somewhere on a breeding <-> skills continuum. Excellence in the obedience ring is an important data point if I’m looking at Border Collie pedigrees (teamwork/intelligence being a key element of what I think of as good Border Collie-ness) – the same attribute in a Bluetick Hound? Not so much – that one is really a testament to trainer effort. I’ve got a foot in both boats – as a obedience trainer and instructor it’s important for me to demonstrate competence by titling dogs – as a bird hunter, I need to look at breedings with an eye towards field work.

Why would a breeder want to formally test their dogs? Lots of reasons – if we’re talking about AKC registered dogs (the vast majority of ‘purebred’ pups in the US) it’s important to remember that the cosmystical papers (as in, “My dog’s a purebred, I have his papers.”) mean one thing – sire and dam have papers. Even the sire and dam thing was a little iffy in years past, but the AKC is doing more DNA testing to keep their brand safe. Papers do not mean that the dog can herd stock or find birds or tree raccoons – they certify that the parents were AKC registered, period. From the Designer Dogs article referenced below:

For example, the A.K.C. has no choice but to register anything that’s the product of two registered German shepherds as a German shepherd. And yet Mark Neff, a canine geneticist at the University of California at Davis, says, “I can go out and find the most bizarre German shepherds in the world, and I can start crossing and inbreeding them,” selecting for, rather than against, their eccentricities. Gradually, he could produce some deviant dogs. They could be lithe and spotted. They could be dwarfs. “I would be despised,” Neff said, but his dogs would be German shepherds by virtue of their all-German shepherd pedigrees.

If the dog belongs to a different registry (breed clubs, Field Dog Stud Book) there may or may not be more going on than there is with the AKC – I’ll talk a little about German-affiliated US clubs in a bit. A breeder could actually work his or her dogs – AKC or not – and demonstrate to potential buyers that the breeding has the right stuff – a common occurrence when looking at a working breed. There may be issues with relying exclusively on this approach – distance problems (if one is really interested in pudelpointers for example, but finds that most of the breeders are in the upper midwest) and that always perilous affliction – kennel-blindness. I assume that any breeder I speak with is going to think pretty highly of his dogs (if not, I’m outta there); sometimes that regard for one’s own gets a little out of control and too much is done to show the dog in the most favorable light. So… for a bunch of reasons, it seems like it would be nice to have some objective measures of a particular dog – in come the shows, trials, etc.

I classify dog evaluations into 2 groups – unfortunately, the names of the evaluations don’t give you a hint as to which class they fall into. First, we have what I’ll call competitive evaluations: conformation shows (think Westminster) and field trials, for example. The second group are standards-based evaluations like hunt tests and obedience trials. In a competitive evaluation there are a fixed number of ribbons to be awarded – 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd place, the rest of you go home. Standards do come into play, but dogs are primarily judged against each other – in a show, the question is ‘who is the most Pointer-y of all the Pointers here today?’ The judge can withhold ribbons (at least in a conformation show) if none of the dogs are up to snuff, but to say that’s a rare event would be understatement. In a standards-based evaluation the number of ribbons can range from zero to the number of dogs entered. If your dog does what it’s supposed to do well enough, it qualifies. There may also be 1st, 2nd, 3rd places, but a qualifying score – even if it’s not within shouting distance of the first-place performance – gets you closer to a title.

The big problem with competitive evaluations can be summed up in a word: more. If some coat on a dog is good, more must be better. If a little slope to the dog’s topline is good, more must be better. If medium range and some bird finds are good, huge range and more finds must be better. The testing method encourages, even drives, extremism and helps cause the show/field split that has divided some kinds of dogs into two separate breeds. Nobody, seeing an AKC show English Setter and an American Field (FDSB) setter for the first time, should be expected to realize that – up until quite recently – they were the same dog. Don’t get me wrong – there are clubs that are doing their darndest to keep work and conformation together in one dog, but more is a powerful force for fragmentation.

I think standards-based evaluations do a much better job establishing a baseline for what a breed should be. Dogs who fit the standard are recognized, those who don’t, aren’t. Here’s where I think the German breed clubs and their foreign affiliates do a nice job. They evaluate, against standards, for both conformation and performance. If a dog looks like a, b and c and has demonstrated it is capable of doing x, y and z then it gets a check mark for being a breedable example of Schleswig-Holstein Goose Dog (don’t bother Googling – I made it up – I hope). A key word here is baseline – one needs to establish an envelope – inside you’ve got German Shorthairs, with some healthy variation – outside, other dogs.

Horses for courses – within the broad boundaries of a breed, it’s up to breeders and to some extent, the breed club to decide what they’re all about. A falconer hawking big prairie grouse and a gun hunter crawling around a New England woodcock cover may have different needs regarding range and thus may choose different breeds or breeders. One thing’s for sure though – if they buy a pointing dog, they need a dog that will point feather without being taught – baseline for not just the breed, but the type.

As I mentioned below (in comments, especially), I’m hoping to be able to share a couple field dog examples over the next couple years – don’t touch that dial.