Posted by: The Amoeba | October 16, 2011

The Sense of Sensible Nonsense

A little while ago, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba came across yet another of those “feel-good” kind of messages that are all over the internet these days. Perhaps trying to drown out all the people who are virtually screaming at each other.

This particular message proclaimed things like “I am strong because I am weak, I am beautiful because I know my flaws”, yadayada. The kind of thing that’s supposed to make sense because it doesn’t make sense. Probably making cents for somebody in the process. ka-CHING!

YFNA long ago gave up the idea of making either sense or cents in this space. But that doesn’t stop him from wishing to peek at the backside of that “strong because I’m weak” picture. Folk hear this stuff often enough, there must be something to it, somewhere …

Yes, yes, YFNA knows all about the Scythians. The ones that cut out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision. He’s read Ambrose Bierce too. The Scythians are welcome to try.

Instructions for removing the eyes from an amoeba.

1. Find eyes …

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Posted by: The Amoeba | October 15, 2011

Fish fry

No you can’t have any. At least not until they grow up.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba supposes he’d better explain.

Some while ago, YFNA set up some aquaria. Seeing as how the adoption of more traditional pets is incompossible with our retaining permission to live in this house. Not that some of the more traditional pets haven’t tried to adopt us, or at least claim our space. But let’s leave those plot complications for Charlene, eh?

The fish chosen for these aquaria all come out of Lake Tanganyika in Africa. There’s a reason, in addition to their being pretty or weird-looking and (more or less) easy to keep. Ever hear of Darwin’s finches? That’s a group of birds, all of which are descended from a single pair that flapped (or got flapped) from mainland South America to the Galapagos Islands, found that they had the whole place to themselves, and set up shop. Eventually, the birds evolved from one pair – and therefore one species – to a flock of species (a “species flock”, natch) each one of which was adapted to all the different ways to make a living (an “ecological niche”) on the Galapagos and acquired bill shapes to match.

The same thing happened in Lake Tanganyika and its neighboring lakes. When Tanganyika first opened up, about 10 million years ago, a single pair of cichlid fish (the “Tilapia” you buy in the fish market is a cichlid) fell in, and its descendants are now adapted to all the different ways to make a living in the lake. Some of the ones in YFNA’s aquaria swim in open water and look like sardines, some live among the rocks and look almost like worms. And some are tiny things that live in snail shells.

Yes. Really.

YFNA set up the aquaria with sandy bottoms, threw in a bunch of snail shells from the garden (another plot complication for Charlene) and from beach-combing in various places we’ve visited, and when all that had settled down, added the fish. Presto. Hours of entertainment watching the fish carry (yes, carry) the shells from one place to another, squabbling over them in the process, and burying them in the sand so only their lips showed. Then guarding those shells, and ducking down into them anytime a threatening-looking Amoeba walked by.

Until, of course, they learned that the “threatening-looking amoeba” carried food.

Ever see a fish beg?

So YFNA was feeding the menagerie about a week ago, when he saw these specks on the sand outside of one of the shells that the male (more about this in a minute) shell-dweller was guarding closely, and kinda frantically. Quilly came over to see. “Oh. Look! Babies!

Now, as you know, baby dogs are puppies, baby cats are kittens, yadayadayada. Baby fish are called “fry”. (Were you wondering how long it was going to take to get to that explanation I promised?) Don’t ask me why “fry”. Ten of these things will fit on your little fingernail. Filleting them is out of the question. Maybe it’s supposed to be foreshadowing. “Your fate, Finn, awaits on some human’s stove”.

The other fish in the aquarium didn’t have stoves. Just as well: good luck with getting gas or electricity in there anyway. Not to mention that it’s danged hard to manipulate a frypan with fins. Or a filleting knife. It didn’t matter. What did matter was that these fry weren’t going to have lives to foreshadow, Daddy’s best efforts notwithstanding, unless YFNA did something.

Fortunately, for once, the best laid plans of mice, men, and amoebae amounted to something. YFNA reached into the tank, which caused Daddy fish and most of the fry to duck into the shell Dad was guarding, then picked up the fish-laden shell and carried it to the other aquarium, which had been specifically set up to receive them. Some of the fry didn’t make it back into the shell. No worries. YFNA got out his trusty turkey baster, sucked up the wanderers, and squirted them into the new tank. Where all is now well. Apart from the baleful stare that Dad gives YFNA every time he walks by.

So what’s all this about “Daddy?”

Well, dude, one of the gnarly things about keeping cichlid fish is that, unlike many other kinds of fish, the parents take care of their fry. Rear cichlids successfully and get a free show, and you have no idea whether you’ll get Leave it to Beaver or Married with Children or Three and a Half Men.

In this kind of shell-dwelling cichlid, what’s supposed to happen is that the female fish gets (ahem) invited to occupy a shell in the male’s territory. The eggs get laid in that shell, and the female sticks around to take care of the fry while the male guards the territory and keeps all those other fish and their frypans away.

Family life in this particular pair of fish seems to take the form of the female getting into the male’s, ah, shell, laying the eggs and then cutting and running. Leaving Dad to do the parenting thing. Makes one wonder what would happen if there were more than one male around in that tank. Which there isn’t, so I guess we’ll never know. At least, not until those fry grow up. Oedipus, anybody?

I will say this. Dad’s job, and mine, in bringing up these fry is surely going to be easier, not to mention cheaper, than it will be for the babies that some of our blogging buddies have been coming up with lately.

Posted by: The Amoeba | October 13, 2011

Quilly’s Write Stuff

Quilly’s legion of fans will be happy to know that she’s coming out of the closet.

Not that closet.

This closet. The one in which Garrison Keillor’s (not so) Secret Society of English Majors meets.

She’s started a new blog in her own name – Charlene Amsden. No more finding a nom-de-plume big enough to hide under. Like James Fenimore Cooper, oh, like a couple centuries ago, she’s decided to see if she can do better than all these authors whose books she’s been reviewing lately. Check her out and cheer her on.

She’s redecorated the Quilldancer site, too. Probably to clean up the amoeba slime that got stuck on it these past few days.

Posted by: The Amoeba | March 18, 2011

The Mirror Tells No Lies

On the bulletin board of the crumbling marine field station, there is a poster.

The poster sells –

C’mon. What else do posters do? The key datum is not whether they’re selling something, but what the something is that they’re selling.

As I was saying. The poster sells the new indie movie Dirty Business. The movie that strives to make its makers rich and famous by getting you to buy in to environmental rabble-rousing. “‘Clean coal’ isn’t clean!”, they yell. “Come on! We’ve got to stop this! Follow us!

I look out into the parking lot of the crumbling marine field station, full of people who will likely be at the screening of this film, of people with professional training in the environmental sciences who already know that ‘clean coal’ isn’t clean, and that even if it were, burning it would exacerbate global climate change, which they know is a fact of nature, not some academician’s conspiracy.

The parking lot is full of cars.

Inside, lights are on, computers are running (whether in use or not), cell phones are charging – and the conversations are about the outrageous prices for gasoline and electricity, and when the furnace is going to be fixed so we can get some heat in this place.

As has been reported in several technical and press reports lately, the cheapest and easiest way for the energy industries to meet the demand for petroleum products in the face of declining petroleum stocks is to make use of so-called Fischer-Tropsch processes. Which, essentially, make petroleum out of natural gas and (NB) gasified coal (this is the ‘clean coal’ technology they’re talking about). Except for algae, biofuels are a cruel joke, costing far more in land, water, and processing than they produce in energy – and algae aren’t anywhere near ready to perform at the speed of business. Crede expertum.

Stocks of both natural gas and coal are projected to last well into the 22nd century. By which time the planet will be flooded and we won’t have any place to drive our cars anyway. But we all know that anthropogenic global warming is a figment of Al Gore’s failed political rehabilitation campaign imagination.

My credo: People tell lies. Even to themselves – sometimes, especially to themselves. But the mirror tells no lies. Held up to the record of your daily activities and mine, it records the truth. And it is here that the people who make the world work (read: your energy companies) are looking.

Quoth the mirror: If you drive, if you heat or cool your home, if you spend hours with your electronics, and – above all – if you complain to the skies about the prices you pay for the energy to do all this, you have voted for ‘clean coal’. And your solemn pronouncements to the contrary don’t mean a fucking thing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to shut down this computer and get to work. Work (that crumbling marine laboratory) is a little over two miles away. It’s about a forty-minute walk.

I’ll probably be the only one who walks to work. As usual.

But so what. Academics, especially those in the environmental sciences, lost their credibility long ago anyhow. ‘Don’t practice what you preach, huh?’ Ask Reg and Syd. Or any Tea Partier.

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