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Feb. 20th, 2009

Well, I've thought about it for a long time, and all I can say about ABC's "LOST" is this:

Chronology Protection Conjecture.

There I said it. Move along.
Barring Martial Law, it's pretty much over.
Paradise is Inhumane
The Quickest Route to Colony Failure

A few months ago, I asked on my LJ:

What if human beings evolved on a planet with a highly malleable form of plant life which could be used in the spontaneous construction of shelter as well as a source of food but which cannot perform this function when killed? Perhaps then our philosophy of expansion would be based on maintaining a constructive relationship with our environment. And since our anthropologists tell us that competition for resources has throughout our evolution been the driving force behind war, perhaps a world where our primary building material is a part of the environment and must not be broken down to serve our needs would be a world in which war was less likely evolve than the one in which we currently live.

I got that answer (sort of) when the denizens of my ant farm went extinct. Unlike the ant farms of old, this farm was not filled with dirt or sand. In new store-bought farms, the primary building material is agar - a vegetable gelatin made from an assortment of bleached and tinted seaweed. The gel is transluscent and provides the ants with all of the food and water they would need, yet also serves as building material.

In my experience, ants are simple automotons which carry out a relatively small set of programmed responses, not the least of which are controlled by environmental queues, chemotaxis and the presence of pheremones. But many of those pheremonal queues come from the queen...and without a queen the ant farms we get for our kids are simply a place to watch ants work, grow old and die.

Unfortunately for the ants (and anyone who purchases their farm), Federal law (7 CFR 301.81) prohibits the transport of ant queens.

In 1918, the South American black fire ant Solenopsis richteri Forel appeared in the Southern port States, presumedly via a cargo ship ballast infestation. They and their red counterparts, Solenopsis invicta Buren (which appeared in the '30s) have been agricultural pests for the southern states ever since. The severity of their infestation is heavily weighted upon their aggressive behavior and the evolution of and early development of their poison glands, since they can send most mammals and would-be predators into anaphylactic shock or just plain kill them.

In short, they are bellicose ants - the Mongols of the ant world. They conquer with force, and eliminate or send their large predators into exodus. They do have their small predators, however, Pseudacteon for example, the so-called "ant-decapitating fly".

All of this is good reason for a federal law prohibiting the ferrying of ant queens. However, the only federal law I could find was very specific about the transport of black and red fire ant queens, but mentions no other species. Most companies selling ant farms use harvester ants, and for good reason. The harvester ants have, over time, evolved new non-aggressive functions for their poison gland. This makes them much safer to handle should they breach their container.

But what functions? There are many, but my favorite of them (and therefore the only one I can ever remember) is to secrete the "propaganda substance", used by the so-called "slave maker ants" and by the "cuckoo ants". In one species, this substance is only secreted or sprayed by the queen, and has evolved for her defense...the spray overrides nestmate recognition for an invading ant colony. The result is that they are driven to attack each other instead of their enemies, and the queen is then free to beat a retreat.

In harvesters this ability is not exclusive to queens, and is used by members of other castes as well. These ants release the propaganda substance in enemy colonies which have already driven to an alarm state by the warrior caste that sounds the pheremone alarm at the start of the invasion. With the propaganda substance in the air, the colony loses all recognition of one another and attacks itself, while the invaders search for the nursery and steal the colony's eggs. When they've acquired the eggs they retreat to their own colony, where they will raise the stolen brood as workers. There's a lot of contraversy surrounding the idea that they're actually being raised as "slaves", and most arguments warn of the dangers of anthropomorphisation.

There is one odd thing about the absence of a queen, and makes me wonder how much thought is put into which species a company decides they'll send. Queens of some species produce a "queen suppressant" pheremone. Since all workers of the colony are female (haplo-diploidy means that males are few and far between), any one of them could rise to queen status in the presence of certain environmental or chemical queue (this is similar to bees which could be queens so long as they're fed royal jelly while they are larvae). If the queen is absent, so is her suppressant, and the worker females's bodies are freed from their shackles and race to queenhood. The winner, I guess (I actually only read about this briefly years ago and could use an update), would be the first worker to reach a stage when she can start producing her own suppressant.

So if one doesn't choose carefully, sending even a lowly worker can result in an agricultural disaster, and that law should receive some serious updates. I hope I'm wrong...I'd be shocked if the law truly deals only with red and black fire ants - it's possible that I just couldn't find the right laws. I've been posting questions about this for years all over the net and I still haven't gotten a straight answer. Is 7 CFR 301.81 truly the extent of federal law and the queen embargo?

All that stuff is exciting, but my sad little ant farm's denizens did none of this stuff. They had no competition. They had no queen (and no developmental response to the lack of a queen). Their micro-world was constructed entirely of food and water, so they had no shortages and no needs.

When an ant died, her body was carried droopily to the compost pile and only as the result of a curiously indiscriminate chemotaxis, and in at least one case one of these tiny funeral directors was buried beneath the compost pile with her charge, since due to lack of room, the compost pile was also the place they'd carry any building material mined out of their tunnels. Indiscriminate because she'd carry a living ant to the compost pile too if that ant had managed to get death smell on herself. The ants' conflicting subroutines say "ANT SMELL DEAD CARRY COMPOST" and it's carried out without regard for how much it struggles to break free of her grip.

Right now, my ant farm is a pile of dead ants stacked in a corner beneath a massive construction site...and the one or two ants that carried their comrades there died in separate parts of the colony - alone, and with no one to carry their bodies to the graveyard.

At night, I'd watch the ants all huddled together in the nursery. Sleeping, I guess. Or whatever ants do. Shut-down.

But the nursery was empty.

I would recommend an ant farm to anyone. But please, please, build it yourself. Get the ants outside somewhere. You might get lucky and find a queen in a caravan above the ground somewhere...or perhaps alighted on a leaf after mating...sometimes you'll know her because her wings have begun to be metabolized for the sake of her eggs. She's completed her marriage flight with some random drone somewhere, and she's landed and begun to work.

Take her. She'll do well with whatever you give her. Put other insects in there. Predators even. Make it a large colony. Do anything.

Because giving them a perfect world is cruel.
Mars as Schulzian Kite-Eating Tree

Marsnik 1 (Mars 1960A) - 10 October 1960 - Attempted Mars Flyby (Launch Failure)
Marsnik 2 (Mars 1960B) - 14 October 1960 - Attempted Mars Flyby (Launch Failure)
Sputnik 22 - 24 October 1962 - Attempted Mars Flyby
Mars 1 - 1 November 1962 - Mars Flyby (Contact Lost)
Sputnik 24 - 4 November 1962 - Attempted Mars Lander
Mariner 3 - 5 November 1964 - Attempted Mars Flyby
Mariner 4 - 28 November 1964 - Mars Flyby
Zond 2 - 30 November 1964 - Mars Flyby (Contact Lost)
Zond 3 - 18 July 1965 - Lunar Flyby, Mars Test Vehicle
Mariner 6 - 25 February 1969 - Mars Flyby
Mariner 7 - 27 March 1969 - Mars Flyby
Mars 1969A - 27 March 1969 - Attempted Mars Orbiter (Launch Failure)
Mars 1969B - 2 April 1969 - Attempted Mars Orbiter (Launch Failure)
Mariner 8 - 8 May 1971 - Attempted Mars Flyby (Launch Failure)
Cosmos 419 - 10 May 1971 - Attempted Mars Orbiter/Lander
Mars 2 - 19 May 1971 - Mars Orbiter/ Attempted Lander
Mars 3 - 28 May 1971 - Mars Orbiter/ Lander
Mariner 9 - 30 May 1971 - Mars Orbiter
Mars 4 - 21 July 1973 - Mars Flyby (Attempted Mars Orbiter)
Mars 5 - 25 July 1973 - Mars Orbiter
Mars 6 - 5 August 1973 - Mars Lander (Contact Lost)
Mars 7 - 9 August 1973 - Mars Flyby (Attempted Mars Lander)
Viking 1 - 20 August 1975 - Mars Orbiter and Lander
Viking 2 - 9 September 1975 - Mars Orbiter and Lander
Phobos 1 - 7 July 1988 - Attempted Mars Orbiter/Phobos Landers
Phobos 2 - 12 July 1988 - Mars Orbiter/Attempted Phobos Landers
Mars Observer - 25 September 1992 - Attempted Mars Orbiter (Contact Lost)
Mars Global Surveyor - 07 November 1996 - Mars Orbiter
Mars 96 - 16 November 1996 - Attempted Mars Orbiter/Landers
Mars Pathfinder - 04 December 1996 - Mars Lander and Rover
Nozomi (Planet-B) - 3 July 1998 - Mars Orbiter
Mars Climate Orbiter - 11 December 1998 - Attempted Mars Orbiter
Mars Polar Lander - 3 January 1999 - Attempted Mars Lander
Deep Space 2 (DS2) - 3 January 1999 - Attempted Mars Penetrators
2001 Mars Odyssey - 7 April 2001 - Mars Orbiter
Mars Express - 2 June 2003 - Mars Orbiter and Lander
Spirit (MER-A) - 10 June 2003 - Mars Rover
Opportunity (MER-B) - 7 July 2003 - Mars Rover
Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter - 10 August 2005 - Mars Orbiter
Phoenix - 3 August 2007 - Small Mars Scout Lander
Mars 2009 - Late 2009 - Mars Science Laboratory Rover
Mars 2011 - 2011 - Scout Mission

some other info on the probes
1962 USSR Mars 1 radio contact lost
traveled 60 million miles
1964 USA Mariner 3 failed to achieve Mars trajectory
1964 USA Mariner 4 passed within 6200 miles 7/14/65
22 photos
1964 USSR Zond 2 passed Mars 1965
sent no data
1965 USSR Zond 3 enroute to Mars
flew within 5717 miles of Moon
sent 25 photos of far side of Moon
1969 USA Mariner 6 passed within 2100 miles of Mars 7/31/69
photographed equator, sent 100 photos
measured surface temperature
measured atmosphere pressure and composition
1969 USA Mariner 7 passed within 2200 miles of Mars 8/5/69
photographed southern hemisphere
and polar ice cap, 100 photos
measured surface temperature
atmosphere pressure and composition
1971 USA Mariner 8 launch failure
1971 USSR Mars 2 entered Mars orbit 11/71
studied surface and atmosphere
landing capsule crashed
1971 USSR Mars 3 entered Mars orbit 12/71
studied surface and atmosphere
lander successful
stopped transmitting 2 minutes after landing
1971 USA Mariner 9 orbited Mars 11/13/71
two TV cameras, sent 7329 photos
entire surface mapped
photos of Phobos and Deimos
studied atmosphere and surface temperature
saw violent planet-wide dust storm 9/71
spacecraft was turned off 10/72
1973 USSR Mars 4 braking rocket failed, craft overshot Mars 2/74
1973 USSR Mars 5 entered Mars orbit 2/74, snapped photos
quit working after few days
1973 USSR Mars 6 flew past Mars 3/74
dropped lander which crashed
1973 USSR Mars 7 flew past Mars 3/74
dropped lander which missed planet
1975 USA Viking 1 orbited Mars 1976
two TV cameras, 26,000 photos
lander parachuted to surface 7/20/76
weather station, seismometer, soil analyzer
seismometer failed
TV showed red rocky surface
dusty pink sky, sand dunes
no large life forms
soil mostly silicon and iron
temps 20 degrees to -120 degrees
winds 30 mph
lander worked 6.5 years on surface
1975 USA Viking 2 orbited Mars 1976
two TV cameras, 26,000 photos
lander parachuted to surface 9/3/76
weather station, seismometer and soil analyzer
found wind and minor marsquakes
red rocky surface, dusty pink sky, sand dunes
no large life forms
soil mostly silicon and iron
temps -20 degrees to -120 degrees
30 mph winds
lander worked 3.5 years on surface
1988 USSR Phobos 1 left Earth 7/7/88, traveled 12 million of
111 million-mile route to Mars
accidentally turned off by ground control 8/29/88
now aimless in solar orbit
1988 USSR Phobos 2 left Earth 7/12/88, arrived Mars 1/29/89
mapped planet, found water vapor in atmosphere
took photos of moon Phobos
radio contact lost 3/27/89
unable to drop hopping lander on Phobos 4/89
1992 USA Mars
Observer launched 9/25/92, disappeared 8/21/93
three days before it was due to arrive at Mars
while preparing to brake to enter Mars orbit
1996 USA Mars
Surveyor launched 11/7/96, arrived 9/12/97
mapping from 250 miles above Mars began 3/99
findings include signs of water under the surface
1996 Russia Mars 96 final stage failed in Earth orbit 11/17/96
failed to send craft on Mars trajectory
craft fell back to Earth
1996 USA Mars
Pathfinder launched 12/96, arrived 7/4/97, landed 7/4/97
very successful, highly popular Sojourner rover
Pathfinder worked until 9/27/97
Pathfinder returned 2.6 billion bits of information
including more than 16,000 lander images
550 Sojourner rover images
more than 15 chemical analyses of rocks
and data on winds and weather
1998 USA Mars
Orbiter launched 12/11/98, arrived 9/23/99
lost as it entered orbit around Mars
due to a math error by engineers who mixed
metric measurements (newtons) with
English units (pounds) to measure
the strength of thruster firings
1998 Japan Nozomi
Planet B launched 7/3/98, arrival 1/04
orbiter to study the planet's environment
first Japanese craft to reach another planet
1999 USA Mars
Lander launched 1/3/99, arrived 12/3/99
contact with Earth lost after presumed landing
also lost Deep Space 2 pair of penetrators
that were to have separated from Polar Lander
to puncture the surface 35 miles away
2001 USA Mars
Odyssey launched 4/7/01, arrived 10/24/01
to work in orbit through 8/04
mapping chemical elements and minerals
looking for hydrogen in subsurface water ice
relays communication for Mars landers
2003 ESA Mars
Express launched 6/2/03, arrival 1/04
Mars Express to study the planet from orbit and
drop Beagle 2 lander to explore the surface
2003 USA Mars
Rover A to launch 6/03, arrival 1/04
to land and explore
2003 USA Mars
Rover B

Graphical representation of the frequency of specific words used during the DNC and RNC: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/09/04/us/politics/20080905_WORDS_GRAPHIC.html



Jun. 6th, 2008

What was the name of the artist who lay in the street for hours (or even days) with a serious wound (or a mock up of one) in New York city and no one stopped to help?

May. 8th, 2008

The documentary film "GasHole" is playing at the San Diego Eco center. http://sandiego.craigslist.org/csd/eve/665059800.html
$25 though.

For fuck's sake. I'll just get the god damned dvd.


space invaders
King of Nephelokokkygia

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