Saturday, February 26, 2005

Mal de Debarquement

Hopefully I don't have it. I am tho in my 6th day of landsickness after cruising. Last cruise it lasted 5 days after. Hopefully I'm about done. Googling informed me that Mal de Debarquement is landsickness that goes on indefinitely (shudder).

Cruise was nice. Sunshine, blue skies and water, horizon to horizon views, green islands are definitely a nice break from our winter grays. Snorkeled off St. Thomas, better than last time I tried, sea turtles and huge schools of little fishies were cool. St. Kitts seemed pretty run down, and Granada was still seriously torn up from hurricane Ivan of 5 months ago. Reminded me of the thoughts I had on our 1st cruise: not much to build economies from on these islands, the poverty is depressing, but they say at least there is always plenty of food to eat. Aruba was really pretty -- flat and very developed. High point of the trip was my wife water-skiing off of Palm Beach. Good boat, twin motors, pulled her right up on a slalom ski. She snuck the rope over head before I could have the driver cut the motor and skied a while with the rope behind her neck, which she hadn't done in 20 years, and of course with the rope between her legs. The 20 year old Dutch kid driving us thought she was totally the bomb. He would drive her past catamarans full of people to show her off. And, she is so happy when skiing, with a big grin on her face like a little kid on Xmas morning.

Got some good trash reading in, of course, including 2 1st novels. "Clade", by Mark Budz was a good effort. Post-ecocaust where custom biotech keeps what's left of the ecosphere functioning. Sort of kinder and gentler, a major plot element is when the protagonist and his girlfriend break up with 40 pages to go.

Stronger and edgier was "Spin State", by Chris Moriarity. Genetically engineered humans and AIs (discriminated against, of course) and Einstein-Bose condensate miners. A very good read.

Read another Stephen Baxter, "Coalescent". It was a decent read, but I think I got where it was going too quickly from my evolutionary readings. Basically, a 1600 year old cult/society follows the social insect breeding model and begins to evolve away from mainstream humanity -- actually very possible.

I also read an old David Drake, "Killer". I think this was an old used-bookstore purchase. Good, quick trash reading. Also 2 Elmore Leonard's, "Tishomingo Blues" and "Be Cool" (purchased in San Juan airport for the flight home). His dialogue is always great and the characters always cool, but the plots seem to be getting sketchier and sketchier. At the end of "Tishomingo Blues", I was seriously wondering, so how was this supposed to have ended? I had the same reaction recently to the movie version of "The Big Bounce".

I got to use 2 fun facts in random conversations on the trip that I think are generally useful for just kind of saying "Evolution is real, here's evidence":

  1. Dogs and humans have been hanging out together for ~150,000 years, based on when dog DNA diverges from wolf DNA. What a great hunting pair, us with the eyes and dogs with the nose. You can always bring this up in conversations with dog-lovers.
  2. Lactose intolerance is the natural state of affairs for all mammals but humans. It makes total sense that mammals quit manufacturing enzymes to digest lactose after the age of weening -- to continue to do so would be a total waste of effort. Lactose tolerance in human adults has only evolved in the last 10,000 years since humans domesticated cows and goats and harvested their milk -- evolution in action, in the brief period of time covered by human history. You can always bring this up in conversations with lactose intolerant people (who are apparently slight "throwbacks").
Downloaded two more albums from iTunes. It's bad tho, Amazon suggests these, I go to iTunes to get them ($9.99 instead of $14). I then immediately put on CD for listening to in the car. Problem is, amazon is going to lose track of my history and I will miss the recommendations of Amazon's canny data-mining software. Anyway, got Jack Johnson "On and On". Kind of like John Mayer, but more folky/acoustic, and some of the lyrics seem weak. Still, easy to listen to, 3 stars. Also got another Death Cab For Cutie "The Photo Album". Just listening to that now.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Monkey Business

Just finished "The Third Chimpanzee", by Jared Diamond. I have recently seen 2-3 references to his more recent "Guns, Germs and Steel". This was mentioned as prequel (published 1992), thought I'd read it first. This is a great read, a history of the 3rd species of chimpanzees (homo sapiens), and what makes us human. Diamond sounds like he has had an interesting life: physiology prof at UCLA, but has spent lots of time in New Guinea as a bird watcher. He has a good sense of humor, and the book is full of fun facts:
  • My favorite percentage: chimps and humans share 98.4% of the same DNA, as opposed to chimps or us vs. gorillas: 97.7%. So chimps (and pygmy chimps or bonobos) are more closely related to us than to gorillas, hence "The Third Chimpanzee".
  • Chapters on human sexuality, how we choose our mates, "The Science of Adultery". Humans are unique in having hidden fertility in the female, hidden copulation, and menopause. And, we choose to marry people who look like us (correlation coefficient of length of middle fingers between spouses: .6).
  • A review of Darwin's theory of sexual selection, as leading to the creation of races.
  • Precursors of traits considered distinctively human seen in other animals: language, art, murder, war, ecological pillage.
  • His explanation of drug usage, like a peacock's tail advertising one's fitness by being able to engage in expensive, potentially destructive behavior, didn't ring true to me. I have always felt the urge to get high was innate in the species -- a two-year old will spin in circles until they get dizzy and fall over. Still, might explain why girls go for the dangerous, cool boys.
  • Hunter-gatherers prior to the invention of agriculture 10000 years ago were healthier: fewer cavities, less disease, taller. But, with agriculture the same land can support 10x the people. So, the human race choose quantity over quality. As I'm part of the quantity, I guess that's good.
  • The spread of Indo-European languages starting in 3300 BC coincides with the domestication of the horse: a military development that dominated warfare for the next 5000 years.
  • The natives (for 11000 years) of America and (for 50000 years) of Australia got a bad draw in that there were no domesticable animals comparable to the horse or cow. Domesticating a species is hard.
  • New Zealand appears to have had an ecology with all niches filled by birds, of all shapes and sizes (moas)! The Maori showed up in 1000AD and, over the next 500 years, wiped them all out.
  • The 1st Americans who crossed from Siberia took less than 1000 years to pretty completely fill North and South America, and wiped out the large mammals (mammoths, giant sloths and horses, sabertooth tigers) as they went. Anytime humans have moved to someplace new, they have pretty much extincted all the large animals there, who did not evolve to fear humans. Africa has retained the large mammals it has because they evolved with humans and know that we are bad news.
  • Genocide has been popular and in fact admired through much of human history. We ignore this historically because we don't like to think about it. Diamond hopes that improved communication will help us past this.
Anyway, this was a very enjoyable read, I was sorry when it was over.

I also started reading "America, the Book", by my hero Jon Stewart, which I got for xmas. I decided to read it a chapter at a time, I think my enjoyment of the humor will last longer that way.

Music-wise, made my second iTunes purchase: "Final Staw" by Snow Patrol. Boy pop, a little catchy, we'll see how much it grows on me, 3 stars. Also bought (used) 2 dance compilations "La Maison de l'Elephante".

Caribbean crusing starting 8 days from now. Enjoyed it the 1st time, looking forward to trying again. Plus, I have my iPod to travel with now (as well as my beautiful wife)!