What Phil will bring to the Solstice Gala

I read like I eat.

I’ll be starting with my fave mag, The Economist. Like tapas, I’ll have something spicy from the Americas section, traditional fare from Europe and something exotic from the Asia pages. A bit from Books and Art before the main course, Edward Tufte’s Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Tufte is so into using graphics to help the reader understand the implications of loads of data. Ever see those election maps with each county in red or blue? Thousands of bits of info in a neat picture. But beware, his mantra is, less ink is better. While this seems like a heavy meat and potatoes entrée, his use of examples and samples gives this book a beef Wellington with garlic infused mashed potatoes yummyness. A little bit of Tufte goes a long way so a chapter or two and its doggie bag time. But wait, there’s desert. And my special treat will be working my way through Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation. A story of the fall of the Galactic Empire might sound like a retread but this one tells the tale of one man’s plan to do a Phoenix like rebirth within a millennium. Hari Seldon, our main character, starts with getting the emperor to commission the Encyclopedia Galactica. He assembles the greatest minds to work on the project thereby saving and cocooning the intelligencia from the great fall. Just like my totally favorite après dinner treats of dark chocolate, strong black coffee and port, these books have it all. Intergalactic battles, palace intrigue, science as magic, heroines and surprise plot twists all told over a thousand years. And where will this repast be laid out? I’ll be in my patio (weather permitting) and then parked in front of my crackling fireplace dining on this feast of the printed word. Bon appetite!

1 Comment
  1. Good Morning Fellow Solsticers, an appetizer from the Economist?
    He’s behind you! Some sharks know how to stay out of sight of nearby people

    HUMAN beings like to believe they are at the top of the food chain. When something else eats one it is not only upsetting to the victim’s friends and relatives, it also seems slightly improper—a reversal of the natural order of things. Such attacks are thus often portrayed as aberrations from predators’ normal behaviour. In the case of sharks, for example, the fish are assumed to have mistaken human swimmers for seals or turtles. But Erich Ritter, of the Shark Research Institute, an American charitable foundation, begs to differ. He thinks sharks know exactly what they are doing when they attack people, and he believes he has the data to prove it.

    Anecdotal evidence suggests sharks generally take swimmers from behind. This would make sense from the shark’s point of view, since its approach would not be detected. But it does depend on its knowing what “behind” means when applied to such an oddly shaped creature as a human. And if that is the case it implies there is no mistake in the animal’s mind about what its target is.

    To test this idea Dr Ritter did an experiment, the results of which have just been published in Animal Cognition. He asked some scuba divers to kneel, for a total of an hour a day each, on the seabed at a site in the Bahamas frequented by reef sharks. Since the divers were stationary, their direction of travel could not give away which part of them was the front, and since they were kneeling their body shapes were about as un-seal-like or un-turtle-like as it is possible for a person to be.

    Some divers knelt alone. Others, acting as controls, knelt back to back, in pairs. A camera at the surface, 12 metres above them, then recorded what happened.

    Altogether, when they looked at the footage, Dr Ritter and his statistician colleague Raid Amin, of the University of West Florida, were able to analyse 312 encounters between sharks and divers. When a single diver was present (211 of the encounters), any approaching shark passed behind him four-fifths of the time, and in front only one-fifth. When there were two divers (the remaining 101), the sharks had no preference about what they did. They did not, of course, have the choice of going behind both divers’ backs. But there was nothing, either in the area or in the divers’ subliminal behaviour, that caused them to go one way round the pair rather than the other.

    Reef sharks rarely attack divers, and this experiment is not proof-positive that those species which do would behave in the same way. But it does show that some sharks, at least, know perfectly well which part of a human being is the front and which, if they wish to remain undetected, is the back.

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