Saturday, October 27, 2007

Remedial Gigerology, Part 2

I'm guessing this portrait is already familiar to a lot of you, since I got the link both from a fellow skiffhead and a boardroom mundane, but — speaking as a biologist — this is one of the creepiest, most unsettling creature pics I've ever seen. This thing has teeth where a beak should be — disquietingly human teeth, at that. (In fact, the species profile does refer to a "beak", so this has got to be a superficial resemblance, not a homologous structure. Still.)

I never really thought about it before, but this picture makes me wonder if the secret to generating creepy-verité is not to create something completely alien, but to create something mostly alien and then insert a clearly human feature onto the strangeness. Or maybe it's all about mouths; maybe I wouldn't be so creeped out if this little monster had a humanoid eye where its mouth is. I dunno.

But maybe I was missing the point when I tried so hard to make Blindsight's scramblers so utterly alien in every respect. Maybe, to make them really scary, all I had to do was add a little humanity.

Thanks for the nightmares, Mac.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Skiffies...

Being the selection of a recent science item, hitherto unreported on this 'crawl, most near and dear to my heart.

Oddly, most of the items I've noticed recently seem reminiscent of my second book Maelstrom — from this tell-us-something-we-don't-know piece in the NY Times about the increasing fragility of complex technological systems to Naomi Klein's new book "The Shock Doctrine". Squinting at the news I can almost see the Complex Systems Instability-Response Authority gestating in the bowels of Halliburton; reading Klein's take on "disaster capitalism" I'm reminded of Marq Qammen's rant to Lenie Clarke about Adaptive Shatter: "...When damage control started accounting for more of the GGP than the production of new goods." Starfish may have been a more immersive novel; Blindsight may have had chewier ideas. But Maelstrom, I think, is way out front in terms of decent extrapolation.

Or there's this too-good-to-pass-up story out of Nature Neuroscience by way of the LA Times, in which a study combining button-pushing with the letters "M" and "W" showed that liberals are better at parsing novel input than conservatives, who have a greater tendency to fall into inflexible knee-jerk behaviors. (This would tend to explain, for example, how the inability to change one's mind in the face of new input can be regarded as a strength — "strong leadership" — while the ability to accommodate new information is regarded as "flip-flopping".) (Surprisingly, these findings have not been embraced by those who describe themselves as right-wing.)

But today's Skiffy has to go to this story in the Guardian, simply because it reflects so many facets of my own life (such as it is): marine mammals (in particular harbour porpoises, upon which I did my M.Sc.) are being infected by the mind-affecting parasite Toxoplasma gondii (whose genes were a vital part of "Guilt Trip" from the rifters novels, and which has been cited in this very crawl — May 6 2005) contacted from household cats (of which whose connection to mine own life you should all be aware by now).

Marine Mammals. Rifters. Cats.

No other contender comes close.

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Remedial Gigerology

Okay, I need to tell no one here how very cool it is that moray eels have a second set of accessory jaws that leap out of their throat to handle difficult prey. You all know the obvious movie reference.

What I don't know is, there are a couple of hundred species of moray eels out there. We've known about them for centuries. So why the hell are we only discovering such an obvious anatomical feature now? Hasn't anyone dissected one of these things before?

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