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The Olympics games continue in Tokyo and I wanted to put up a brief post to honor the festival (before going off to watch some more of the drama on television). This year’s Olympic controversies have featured plenty of questions about appropriate costumes, which strikes me as funny, since the original ancient Greek games were a largely nude affair. However, even in the ancient games there were exceptions. This 5th century Attic vase shows one of the most grueling non-nude events–the hoplitodromos–the race in armor.

A red-figure vase depicting an athlete running the hoplitodromos by “the Berlin Painter”, ca. 480 BC (collection of the Louvre)

Participants wore a heavy bronze helmet, metal greaves, and carried a heavy wooden shield (which was issued by the game organizers so as to prevent cheating). The hoplitodromos was thought to be so fundamentally different from fully nude footracing that no athlete could win at both, however, the greatest Olympic champion of classical antiquity, Leonidas of Rhodes, proved such opinions wrong by winning the premier short races and the hoplitodromos for 4 Olympics in a row.

The point of today’s post is not really to rhapsodize about Leonidas of Rhodes (whose glory remains undiminished after 2200 or so years), and to enjoy this exquisite red-figure vase by “The Berlin painter” an unknown master artist whose work still remains, even if his name has not survived. Of course, the Berlin painter was not really from Berlin (although his work wound up there), but was an Athenian of the golden era. Whatever his story was, he certainly knew how to portray the fatigue and the emotional pressure faced by ancient athletes competing in the armor race (we know that the figure on the vase is an athlete because he has neither sword nor cuirass…nor even a loincloth).

Today’s short post is really just a link to an animal story about Arnold, a Canada goose whose foot was injured. Kindly veterinarians took in the wounded bird and performed surgery to mend his broken limb and toes. However, as they worked on the goose, there was a mysterious tapping at the door…which turned out to be Arnold’s concerned mate! She came over to the surgery to visit and see if he was alright. The story is adorably cute and, since I know LG (my parent’s guest goose who flew down to the barnyard and assumed command of the domestic pilgrim geese and has been lording it over the place ever since), I believe it entirely.

Disturbingly, geese are like little people with wings and giant hard noses. This is obviously not disturbing in and of itself, but it upsets me because so many people I talk to just despise Canada geese (usually because the geese defended their nests against blundering humans or pooped on a moronic golf course somewhere). I keep replaying Arnold’s story…but with some anti-bird cretin calling animal control to have the waterfowl euthanized (or just illegally attacking them outright).

As we can see from Arnold’s mate and from LG, animals have feelings and plans and worries. I wonder how we can make other people see that more clearly…

Here at Ferrebeekeeper we pay far too little attention to cartilaginous fish such as sharks, rays, skates, sawfish, and chimaeras. This is partly because I know and love bony fish better (that is a weird sentence to fling out to the world), but, to a larger degree it is because sharks already have people–there are whole networks, hit movies, and even weeks dedicated to them (in fact, my friend’s first book was about a “Shark Detective“). So when longtime reader, K Hindall asked about my favorite angelshark, I was tempted to respond only in the comments and get back to bloviating about pufferfish. But how could I respond to such a clever and thought-provoking question in a short blurb. Clearly a full post is required, even if I have to pull myself away from blogging about the Olympics.

For symbolic (and complex personal) reasons I have been making artworks about flatfish–a taxonomical order which is vastly larger, more diverse, and more widespread than say the familiar order of Primates (particularly when you remove one particular over-represented species of hominid from the mix). Boy you would never know it from artworld pushback I receive about why I concentrate my art on “a single obscure sort of fish”. Sigh…Anyway, K Himdall correctly notes that angelsharks are not flatfish…but are very much flat fish. She then asks what my favorite angelshark is.

There is probably a bearded wobbegong shark in there somewhere, assuming I didn’t mislabel the picture file

She knows me too well! But my my favorite sort of flat sharks are carpet sharks of the family Orectolobidae–which is to say wobbegong sharks! Not only are these are the most beautiful sharks (assuming you can see them at all), they also have the best name of any shark…or pretty much any other creature* They are also flat as pancakes (i.e. not perfectly flat but pretty flat) and exquisitely ornamented with chaotic ocean camouflage and sharkskin gillysuits which help them blend into their habitat.

Angelsharks are similar flattened lurking benthic predators, but they live on open sea floors as well as among rocks and reefs. In our world of habitat loss and rampant overfishing, angelsharks are not doing as well as carpetsharks, because fisheries have been overharvesting the former and selling them as “monkfish”. The angelsharks family Squatinidae has two dozen known species, most of which are endangered or threatened. During the day they bury themselves in the sand and wait for prey and predators both to unknowingly pass over them (although at night they swim about hunting for crustaceans, fish, and mollusks.

It is hard to chose a favorite angelshark because they have amazing names like “sand devil” and “ornate angelshark”. The easy choice for artists Squantinidae gugenheim is, ironically, too cubist for my aesthetic taste. Thus, my favorite angelshark is Squatina nebulosa, “the clouded angelshark”. Not only does its pattern of spots and stipples remind me of wobbegong sharks, but the clouded angelshark lives in the waters around Japan and Taiwan (so maybe I can claim this as an Olympics post after all). I also like how the large “eyespots” of the clouded angelshark make it look like it has a whole bunch of big milky eyes.

Hopefully this answers the question of my favorite angelsharks while also popularizing the noble squantinidae and their ilk. At very least, this first shark post reminds me that I am going to have to write a post about wobbegong sharks at some point…

Do I even have any wobbegong pictures at all, or is this all just gunk sitting on the ocean floor?

*although they might have some competition from nightjars, numbats, quokkas, woolly mammoths, and the humahumanukanukaapuaa (which also needs its own post)

Since I was a child, I have loved the Olympics, but a lot has changed in the world since the black-and-white moral conflict of the cold war (and a lot has changed for me since I was a child living in blood-red rural America). As one of the few venues where the nations of the Earth convene, the Olympics gives us a god’s eye view of the international order (albeit through the darkened lens of corporate sponsorship and whatever NBC thinks will appeal to the most American viewers). As the games proceed we can talk about some of what we are viewing. For example, I think the Tokyo Olympics will illustrate how America’s ongoing political crisis is leading to precipitous national decline even more starkly than say the manifold failures of our navy or the savage buffoonery of our national legislature. But we will see! The games have yet to be played and there are always surprises. First let’s talk about the opening ceremony.

One of the ways the Olympics outshine quotidian sports contests is by throwing little tidbits to other disciplines like fashion, music, technology, art, and dance. The original Olympics had medals for music, literature, and the arts, and, although such cultural contests have been subsumed by the dictates of modern broadcasting, elements remain within the pageantry and protocol of the games. Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening ceremony–which certainly showcased Japan’s continuing expertise at robotics (and also featured some delightfully preposterous dance routines). However the real spectacle worth watching is the parade of nations! We get to see almost all of the other nations of Earth and a sample of how they dress for fancy occasions, not to mention a prime lineup of extremely fit human beings of all shapes and varieties.

Ghana’s flag bearer, Nadia Eke

It was wonderful, like it always is. Also, after a year or more of watching anxious and sick people on TV, the athletes looked particularly happy and healthy. I don’t know about you, but my heart soared with delight seeing that flag holder from Ghana dance into the stadium with such graceful & proud bearing.

And there was so much more! There were Bermudans in Bermuda shorts! There were magnificent gleaming Hercules chests (these days, Tonga is not the only nation headlined by a magnificent oiled muscleman!)

Who wore it butter?

There were jewels and gold from the Persian Gulf.

I really liked the style of the bejeweled Bahraini athletes!
The Hungarians themselves look great, though

Of course there were also fashion choices which failed to “stick the landing” too. Hungary is an amazing country but their outfits made them look like the title sequence of the gory film I watched in driver’s ed! Maybe let’s try to avoid red spatters in future costumes.

Sartorial magnificence of every flavor was on display. However to my eyes, the most beautiful costumes belonged to the athletes from…Benin? Their regal embroidered tunics and dresses of royal blue featured fluorescent pink and aqua floral icons. These matched their magnificent satin hats (of name unknown to me). I wasn’t expecting the word’s 163rd wealthiest nation to win the international fashion contest (in fact half of my favorite things from my notes are from nations on the Gulf of Guinea!), but like I said, half of the delight of the Olympics comes from joyful surprises.

America’s outfits were fine, I suppose, but the dark navy blue on top of dark denim read as almost black. Also, I always worry that our nation mistakes casual comfort for elegance, which is to say I thought we maybe looked a bit like lazy villains (which suits the past four years, I guess).

Anyway, the opening parade is over and we can get back showing off in venue which primatologists (or bio-scientists of any stripe) will instantly recognize: physical competition. But before we get too competitive I hope we hold onto a bit of the international amity and open delight in the appearance and actions of foreigners which characterized the opening ceremony. Something tells me we are going to need to love each other a lot more if we are going to survive what is coming (much less make it through to a glowing future of thriving forests, healthy oceans, joyful children, and giant space arks). But somewhere in that Olympics parade there are always things that make me think that such a world is at least possible.

Hubble space telescope.

Happy news to follow up on our somewhat glum Fourth of July post! The Hubble space telescope (which went offline on June 13th, 2021 due to a failure in the main computer) has fully rebooted and is once more humankind’s eye in the sky for observing the greater universe.

The telescope, which has been orbiting Earth for 30 years, can no longer be serviced by space shuttle crews and must now be fixed remotely by command staff at Godard Space Center in Maryland. Since the Hubble scope was was built in the 1980s, some of its technology is very old and esoteric. To repair the scope, NASA brought back alumni staffers who pored over 40 year old schematics with today’s engineers.

IT departments everywhere joke that the solution to all tech problems is to turn the system on and off, but the solution to Hubble’s problems was not nearly so simple (although, um, that was actually the solution…in a way).

First the NASA team believed a memory module was degrading and switched to other modules. When that did not work, they turned on Hubble’s backup payload computer (for the first time since Hubble was launched to space). Then they carefully turned components on and off to analyze potential faults in the the Command Unit/Science Data Formatter and the Power Control Unit. Although this sounds straightforward, it involved a carefully planned use of backup “safe mode” (from the backup computer) and a laborious process of switching circuits and interfaces.

As it turns out the power supply was at fault, but there is a backup of that too! Now the Hubble is taking pictures of the universe again (like this new picture immediately above–which was imaged since the space telescope returned from its near death glitch). Hurray for Hubble! Imagine how much astronomers will be able to accomplish when they have two space telescopes, assuming everything goes right with the James Webb telescope this autumn.

The day is almost over and I have barely accomplished anything, but there is still time for a startling visual post about triggerfish! Here are all three known species of the aggressive genus Pseudoballistes.

Pseudoballistes flavimarginatus
Pseudoballistes flavimarginatus

The first is Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus (AKA the yellow margin trigger or pineapple trigger) which lives throughout tropical reefs of the IndoPacific.

Pseudobalistes fuscus
Pseudobalistes fuscus

The second, a real stunner, is Pseudobalistes fuscus (AKA the “blue triggerfish” or “rippled triggerfish“) lives in the same range. It is even more aggressive than the pineapple triggerfish and many divers just swim away from blue triggerfish on sight so as to avoid painful bites. But look at that gorgeous pattern of blue labyrinths on their body!

Pseudoballistes naufragium
Pseudoballistes naufragium

The third is Pseudoballistes naufragium (“the stone triggerfish”) which lives in the Eastern Pacific from Baja down to Chile. This is the largest triggerfish in the ocean growing to a size of up to 1 meter 1 meter (3.5 ft) in length.

Usually my ocean posts end in portentous warnings and sadness, but all of these triggerfish are clever aggressive generalists who are doing well (and will savagely attack you if you mess with them). They sound practically human! (but maybe don’t tell them I said that)

One of my favorite colors is disgusting–even its name is gross. Yet, as with most aesthetically ugly things, there is something otherworldly, compelling and…beautiful (?) about it too. I am speaking of acid green, a goblin-ish haunted color somewhere between bright yellow and brownish green (although, lately, contemporary car manufacturers are trying to present fluorescent neon green as acid green).

The real acid green is a sort of dirty, unwholesome chartreuse. Although this color was big in the sixties, its name does not come from Lysergic acid diethylamide, but rather from stomach acid (which, uh, isn’t really green–the real name for this color should be bile green).

Acid green somehow does not look like a natural green anyway, but like something that came out of an industrial vat or was summoned into being by a necromancer. It is this ersatz anti-green feeling which makes the color appealing. Grandma Connie liked to refer to things as acid green or include it in her stories. Come to think of it, Grandma had a real fondness for that color too (or near variants through the years like avocado (70s), chiffon (50s), green apple (80s) and so forth). Because she was so elegant and good at using colors, I always thought of it as an elegant color. Maybe I inherited the affection for the color from Grandma. I wish I had asked her where she first started to like this yellow green. Maybe it is an affinity stretching over the generations. Do you have colors that male you think of people too?

I have noticed that today’s social media feed (and even the actual media feed) is filled with people who are angry about billionaires going to space. Now there are lots of actual reasons to be quite angry about the existence of so many billionaires and their ever greater consumption of humankind’s limited resources! For example, I am furious at how easy it is to pour dark money into politics and buy up right-wing politicians without anybody finding out about it (or other politicians too, I guess…but apparently most oligarch money quietly goes to the right). Likewise, I am angry at how billionaires use their enormous wealth to skew markets. Such wealth is already a product of market tampering and political favoritism. Where you find billionaires you find monopolies, monopsonies, and cartels. You also find the attendant ills of price-fixing, regulatory capture, and strangled innovation.

Above all, where you find billionaires, you find graft. What is even the point of having so much money other than to convert it into power over courts, and police, and laws, and rules?

So billionaires (or really the status inequality which they represent) are a big problem…but that doesn’t seem to be what is making everyone angry about Branson, Musk, Bezos, et al. Instead on social media I find lots of variants of the tired old line “with so many problems here on Earth, how could you spend that money on space?” (although, in fairness, a close second was “how about they pay their taxes instead?” and that criticism is absolutely on point). A lot of people seem angry about “joyrides and stunts” from these plutocratonauts. It makes me worry that hatred of these creeps is transforming into more pushback against space exploration–and none of us can afford that!

Commercialization of space has a sort of dinosaur’s wing problem. Archaeopteryx obviously gleaned all sorts of advantages by flying around on stylish feathered wings, but how did evolution bridge the awkward gap between such gracile bird-like fliers and their ungainly forbears who just had flaps and pin feathers? There are irrefutable reasons for nation-states to pour money into space exploration (“confers military and technological dominance” jumps first to mind), but what entices entrepreneurs to try to scale such formidable barriers to entry? The first satellite provided the Soviet Union control of the heavens. The first space hotel will provide a way to die trying to use the toilet.

Perhaps this generation of space billionaires is the transitional flap which will someday develop into a functional wing (perhaps a more apt metaphor for this would involve the freewheeling early days of private aviation which involved all sorts of Lindbergs and Howard Hughes).

Also maybe spending this sort of money will actually provide some economic returns. When I get money, I spend it on catfood, beans, shoes, electricity, and internet. Billionaires don’t have a billion more cats than me or use a billion times more electricity, or need a billion more boots (and frankly, I doubt they even eat beans at all). Even with a dozen mansions, a super yacht, and a gulfstream (and a non-bean-based menu) spending simply does not keep up with capital accumulation–their money is hoarded. but money spent on space is actually spent here on Earth (on engineering, materials science, researchers, and other useful things)

Or we could just tax these guys properly and spend the money on scientifically useful space exploration (and medical research, and infrastructure, and fundamental R&D etc.). Yet for some reason, politicians don’t seem to be rushing to close loopholes and collect those taxes. For right now these ungainly space jaunts may be the best way towards actual meaningful space enterprise.

Temnothorax ants living in a tiny acorn

Of all of Ferrebeekeeper’s topics (over there at left in the topic cloud) the one which is farthest from my heart but closest to this blog’s purpose concerns the hymenoptera. This enormous order of important insects always offers diverting stories and anecdotes (like the Schmidt sting index or the Asian giant hornet), but the real reason I started writing about them is that the nature of the huge eusocial ant colonies and bee hives mimics the human super colony in eerie and intriguing ways.

The ants pictured with tapeworm larva (below)

Thus we come to today’s horror story concerning Temnothorax ants which live in German forests in unobtrusive rotting logs and suchlike habitats. Temnothorax ants have a disquieting problem: a parasitic tapeworm likes to live within the abdomens of some of the worker ants. However, to the infected ants it does not seem like a problem. They live up to three times longer than their uninfected sisters and, while the other ants rapidly age and wear out, the ones which harbor live tapeworms keep permanent adolescent good looks through their enormously extended lives. Additionally, infected ants exude a sweet chemical which makes them socially appealing to the honest hard-working ants in their own colonies. Uninfected ants seem to misidentify infected ants as queens (or at least as royalty of some sort) and spend a great deal of time feeding, grooming, and caring for them.

High status individual human

This sounds like a pretty delightful deal for infected ants who live like (and are like?) Kanye West, but there are a couple of drawbacks. The infected ants soak up critical resources from the greater hive and reduce its overall efficacy and ability to survive. Infected hives are at much greater risk of destitution or outright destruction from predators. Which brings up the final problem: the parasitic tapeworm’s final life stage does not take place inside the guts of an ant, but rather the tapeworm must be eaten by an ant-eating bird. There, inside the larger predator, it mates and lays eggs which are released by the bird into the forest where Temnothorax ants feed on the rich droppings and are infected.

So infected ants aren’t just dullard aristocrats not carrying their weight. They are actively seeking self-destruction. When birds tear into the nest the infected ants lift up their heads, glisten, and wait for annihilation (while the infected ones are desperately trying to protect the larvae and the queen). Of course the ants (uninfected and infected) do not comprehend any of this. If we were to ask them about their lives the uninfected workers would probably tell us how fortunate they were to meet so many high-status ants and the infected ones would probably try to sell us self-help books about raw food or talk about running for office in Texas.

The Carina Nebula (a stellar nursery 8500 light years from Earth) as imaged by Hubble

The Fourth of July was on a perfect summer Sunday this year and we failed to celebrate with a gallery of images. Therefore, in a belated salute to our great-but-troubled union, here are some of the all-time best photographs taken from the Hubble Space telescope, the world’s premier orbital telescope, Hubble launched in April 24, 1990 and has provided an astonishing window on the universe since then (despite some glitches which have cropped up from time to time), however now both the main computer and the backup computer are malfunctioning.

The Beautiful Spiral Galaxy M51 (AKA “The Whirlpool Galaxy”)

Hubble was designed to be periodically serviced by a space shuttle and its friendly crew of astronauts, however, since the shuttles have been permanently retired, scientists are now stuck trying to fix the aging legacy systems from 400 kilometers away. Although there are various reset combinations left to try, some astronomers and technicians are starting to wonder if the Hubble era is coming to an end.

The crowded core of a giant star cluster as imaged by the Hubble Wide Field Camera 3

Although Hubble’s troubles are dominating space telescope news at the moment, it is no longer the only story. The long-delayed James Webb telescope is finally getting close to launching (blast-off is set for November). That scope is to Hubble, what Hubble was to its earth-bound predecessors (which is to say, it is orders of magnitude more powerful and sophisticated). We will be talking about Webb in November, but for right now let’s celebrate the warm summer nights with Hubble’s cosmic gallery of astonishing celestial fireworks.

The giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020): The glowing center of the red nebula is a nursery of stars 10-20 times more massive than the sun. The blue nebula is a bubble of ionized hydrogen ejected by the super luminous blue star in the center.

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