Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mon premiere message en Francais!

Voila ma brouillon!:

Bienvenue a ma premiere message de blague Francais!

C'est le 5ieme jour de la Programme Explore, et Je ne connais pas quelle langue Je parle! J'ai oublié un petit peu d'Anglais, parce que Je n'ai pas parler Anglais pour cinq jours...mais Je n'ai pas appris beaucoup de Français. Mais c'est certain que J'appris les langues universels.....Normalement, en Anglais, J'utilise ma mains un petit peu. En Francais, Je suis un bouffon (un clown); parce que J'ai bras déréglés, J'ai beaucoup de la langage du corps et un voix très expressif.
Mercredi, Nous avons rendu un visite au centre-ville de Sherbrooke. Nous avons découvert beaucoup des choses intéressant.....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Science = War !!!!!

Data Collection Day 1 (Monday)

Enemy in Chief - Scyphozoa
In our first day of data collection for our group projects, the Old Man of the Sea let us know who was boss. Just as our group was heading out to start chasing some schools, we received dire warnings from a group which had hit the water before us. In fact, they were retreating, regrouping out of the water, donning armor against the perennial enemy of researchers - JELLYFISH! Quickly, the word spread to minimize exposed skin, layer up, and prepare for inevitable burning stings from the elegant creatures. Of course, we simply donned long pants, rash gaurds, etc., in an effort to ward off the stings and harvest some data.......a strategy of mixed success, as many jelly fish can send their stingers right through light material, and it is rather difficult to remain objective when your skin is stinging. Fortunately, the stings from the species which were washed in by the tide caused only a burning sensation which fades after a few minutes (just long enough for you to feel the next sting at full force)....but no lasting damage.
One of the frustrating things with jellyfish is the uncertainty of pain-although all species are undoubtably beautiful, only some species have nematocysts with painful stings.(Wiki commons pic)
One classic dilemma- seeing a large pack of jellyfish of various (unknown species for us newbies to applied marine bio), and wondering whether to stop and view the light show as the sun filters through their transparent bodies and they pulse with the elegance of highly evolved extraterrestrial spacecraft....or to flee from the pack, hoping to avoid stings (and if you flee, what possible direction is safe when the whole reef is full of them?).

Nevertheless, our intrepid bands of researchers plugged on through the pain, plying our various tools of the trade, the most important of which is of course universal tool of scientists since time immemorial - 'the notebook.' Unlike the easy lives of terrestrial scientists, who simply grab any paper and a pen, preparing to take observation notes requires a ritual which will be familiar to snorkel/scuba researchers:

1. Find a slate which is gauranteed to be covered in someone's illegible notes from a previous project
2. Don gloves
3. Sprinkle Slate with Ajax
4. Clean slate (coffee filters work surprisingly well, and are always available)
5. Very carefully lay-out spots for observations in the water - making sure that you include every observation category needed.
6. Realize that you don't have enough space for all the observations - repeat steps 1-5.
7. Realize that you've forgotten one category (like what percentage of time the fish spends in the middle of the school).....repeat steps 1-6 with choice expletives.
8. Tie pencil onto slate
9. Realize pencil is rather dull and you don't have any pockets to carry extras- sharpen with pocket knife.
10. Put slate someplace safe while you gear up
11. Head into water, put fins on.......then take fins off climb out, and retrieve slate from 'safe' place.

Now that you're in the water, the magic of field observation underwater starts to sink in. Although in a foreign medium, the subtle beuaty of just hos simple science's tools are is renifocred- almost all our of our data is collected with reference to a scientists best friend (SI units), very simple measuring tools, and noting them down- tools shared since before Aristotle. Of course, even the earlier pioneers of empirical science like Francis Bacon probably never dreamed of working quite like this!:

One quickly learns that accomplishing tasks, whether it is note taking or winding up a measuring tape is in fact mush easier when your face is in the water, and quote difficult if not impossible with your head out of the water. Also, The more time spent closely observing the foibles of fish (e.g. the yellowtail damselfish below),
the greater your affinity for them is. (Louis' pic, showing one of the prettier fish, which looks truly like precious jewels when viewed by the naked eye)
Typically, by the end of an observation session, your fins have morphed into caudal (tail) fins of a fish, your snorkel has simply become an extension of your lungs, your arms evolve into steering pectorl fins and your face feels funny with the mask off. In other words, one very quickly becomes a fish* when 100% of your time is spent observing them, and the only time your face leaves the water is to exchange a few words with your colleagues. Sometimes me thinks we took the wrong branch in evolution.....wouldn't doing nothing but play, eat fish, and enjoying the octupuses garden all day be more fun?

*(random sciency nitpick follows) Apparently, aquatic human mutants don't need to eat for 'days on end'......which seems a pretty silly point, since fish generally forage continually, so screw you Kevin Costner/Wikipedia- the Mariner should basically be either munching on algae or fish continaully, not less often than Homo Sapiens

Data Collection Day 2 (Tuesday)

Enemy in chief -"a disturbance or variation that transfers energy progressively from point to point in a medium and that may take the form of an elastic deformation or of a variation of pressure, electric or magnetic intensity, electric potential, or temperature."

"Tumultuous waves embroil'd the bellowing flood,
All trembling, deafen'd, and aghast we stood!
No more the vessel plough'd the dreadful wave,
Fear seized the mighty, and unnerved the brave."
- Alexander Pope

On Tuesday, my group, which spends the whole day chasing Blue Tangs and Ocean Surgeonfishes around, decided to tackle the south reef of Folkestone Marine Park. For each reef, there are three distinct zones, 'spur and groove' in deep water, 'crest' which is shallow water in the middle, and 'back reef' which is flat and fairly shallow close to shore. When a sea is running, things tend to get a little interesting on the crest, where the heavy swell rears up into white water. Murphy's law dictated that we were working on the south reef- so the game of avoiding white water and coral bashing began in the morning. This basically entailed dashing from one deep spot across the shallows of sharp, stinging corals to another deep spot, trusting to a wing and a prayer that you weren't picked up by a monster wave in the meantime and dumped onto the prickly reef. Even when on pavement (no coral growth with a relatively smooth 'rock'), the only way to avoid your masks/fins being ripped off by the roaring crest is luck- or madly scrambling for a place deep enough to dive below the wave. I had my mask ripped off while taunting the surf- a humbling experience, and one which reminded me of both the sea's limitless, totally impersonal power- and the feeling of security/completeness that a mask gives me.

Further out, in depths of 2 to four fathoms, the swell is certainly less dramatic, but another danger exists which is usually far from a swimmer's mind- seasickness. The gentle heaving of the sea can become ardous when combined with fatigue, salt water down your throat/lungs/nose/everything else, a sense of dislocation as you constantly switch from note taking underwater to observing to checking the horizon to make sure you swimming buddies aren't too far. I have to admit, that as a seasoned sailor I thought I would be immune to the landlubberly disease.....yet as I pulled my tired carcass out of the water in the afternoon, the solid ground beneath heaved from side to side- and nausea didn't subside for half an hour. Still I was lucky compared to the trials of some other groups, some of whom had to stay in one spot with little to do but notice the swell and wait for the right creature to swim by---one scuba diver actually had to puke into their reg. (hmmmm...our dive instructor's told us this was possible....I didn't think it would happen!).

Anyway, we're all a little more seasoned now, and can take pride that we too have endured the hazing of the sea and still came back with precious data points on our slates. We've all got the wounds of war- blisters on our feet our de rigeur for most of us (oooohhh how I wish I had brought my booties, my precious comfortable sailing booties!), large abrasions from brushes with coral are unremarkable, and strange rashes from sea water are par for the course.

In the end, we leave the sea a little wiser, knowing the dangers that lurk beneath the gentle soothing of the surf.....

(Louis' pic showing the diversity of coral and fish that we encounter on a regular basis)

"The garrulous sea is talking to the shore; let us go down and hear the graybeard's speech."
- Alexander Smith

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kyle's Observations Monday AM

School #1
Depth: ----Evan
Size: 12 cm
Species: Ocean Surgeanfish, Blue Tans go in and out
Zone: Spur & Groove
# 80-100
Substrate: 60% sand, 35% Rock, Live 5%

Fish #1
Size: 20cm
Species: Blue Tang
Depth: 20 feet (est)
# bites: 120
# attacks: 2
substrate: 100% live  (hung around on finger coral all day)
zone: Spur & Groove
Time Observed: 5:27

Fish #2
size: 23cm
sp: Ocean surgeonfish
depth 12 feet
# bites 60
# attacks: 4
Zone: Crest
Time Observed: 5:00
Substrate 33/33/33
(Travel/Chillin time: 2:00)

Fish #3
size: 7cm
sp: Blue Tang
Depth: 13 feet
# bites: 0
# attacks: 0
Zone: Spur and groove
Time Observed: 1:00
substrate 50% rock 50% sand

Fish #4
Size: 12cm
sp: Blue Tang
Depth: 8 to 16 feet
# bites: 40
# attacks: 2
Zone: Spur & Groove
Time Observed: 1:50
Substrate:60% live, 25% rock, 15% sand

Fish #5 *********************beside school for middle 40 seconds, paired for last 40 seconds
Size: 18cm
sp: 20cm
Depth: 8 to 22 feet
# bites: 0
# attacks: 0
Zone: Spur and Groove
Time Observed: 2:10
Substrate: 33%/33%/33%

Fish #6
Size: 19cm
sp: BT
Depth: 12-16 feet
# bites:  90
# attacks: 9
Zone: Spur and Groove
Time Observed: 4:40
Substrate:80% Rock, 15% Coral, 5% Sand

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Barbados Field Study Day 2

So it's about 48 hours since we've arrived at Bellairs Research Institute, and they have been jam-packed with the wonderful mayhem of field science.
Most of us arrived on the island a little early....and got a chance to appreciate the beauty, like the awesome sunsets that happen almost instantly, throwing gorgeous colour on the horizon. The sunset is of course, best viewed on the beach with a cold drink in hand after along day in the water. The
South and East coasts, where most of the accommodation is, are almost entirely saturated with stereotypical white sand beaches, palm trees waving overhead, sharing the crystal clear shallow water with turtles.
The above picture, close to the St. Lawrence Gap, was taken by one of the students on the field course, Alex (right), who has professional photography skills and shoots literally hundreds a day- so we have are very own photojournalist! All the photos here will be Alex's......
Alex, like the rest of us, just can't stay out of the water, which is astonishingly warm for Canadians who had to deal with snow in Montreal last week!
Ten of us actually did SCUBA training down here for the four days right before the course, which was so incredibly amazing it needs a blog post all on its own (hopefully I'll get one up soon). In short, breathing underwater, floating free like a fish is truly magical. Of course, once you're accustomed to breathing underwater, your visual cortex is simply overwhelmed by colour, movement and grace as schools of fish swarm by in a rainbow of colours. The fish are there of course, because of the coral, like the magnificent coral growths that have formed on shipwrecks in Carlisle bay, where we learned to dive.
Anyway....before I get too carried away with the sheer joy of diving on coral reefs- back to Bellairs. Applied Tropical Ecology started out in fine form with amazing Bajan (Barbadian) cooking providing a sumptious meal that we shred with our professors, eaten in the Bellairs dining room which is beside a gorgeous garden lawn/palm trees.

The first meal in a field course, which is often the first 'official' activity often sets the tone for the rest of the course. In this case, we had ~20 students, all highly motivated to learn about the amazing ecosystems around us, practically giddy with with excitement to finally be on the island after counting down for months enjoying informal chat with each other (comments like I saw a turtle today!/I got certified to dive today/Do you want to go night snorkelling?/Can you believe we're right beside a beautiful coral reef?) - and chatting with our professors who were I suspect, just a little bit excited to be back in Bellairs doing the nitty gritty of field work. At the end of the meal, we get the low down for the course - we'll be doing an orientation lecture/swim in the morning, then spending a day each studying fish on the coral reef, seagrass on the epic East coast, and DNA barcoding in groups of 7. Sunday night, we basically relazed, soaking in the heat, sun and a few of us did a night snorkel.
Snorkelling at night is pretty fun on a normal beach when you have a light to see where you are going, and the bright stars reflcting off the water. Add in an amazing reef chockfull of charismatic fish- and you get a pretty rewarding experience. ON our first night snorkel, we saw a lobster, a long trumpet shaped predator which ambushes it's prey (trumpetfish), many different parrotfish and wrasses (e.g. the flashy bluehead wrasse), the famous puffer fish, and one scary looking dude called a porcupine fish.
The next morning we got to appreciate the reef in vibrant daylight, as we accustomed ourselves to the reef, practiced identifying fish, and started to delve into the mysteries of fish behaviour and their interaction with coral and algae. In just a few hours, two unforgettable memories imprinted themselves into my brain. First, we saw a turtle lazily making his way around the marine park, pretty much oblivious to our awkward underwater lunges as we tried to observe it up close. The young turtle (about 14" long, I think a teenaged Hawksbill) moving effortlessly through the water encapsulated to me how incredible survival strategies, like swimming in your own unbreakable house, can result in a creature which easily floats threw the water with a divine grace.The second indelible observation will have to wait, as it is time to send my boyd for some much-need rest, so I'll just leave it with a few more of Alex's pics:
This is our 'backyard' at Bellairs:

Fabio, getting acquainted with the scurrying invertebrates which share the rocks by the sea:

The game is on tomorrow (Go Habs Go!), so I surely won't get another update until at least Friday.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Thorubos, free speech, and pro-life speakers.....

I went to an event yesterday entitled "Echoes of the Holocaust: when personhood is denied, the unthinkable becomes reality."

The event was disrupted by people singing for about an hour. At that point, 3 or 4 police officers arrived on scene warning that disruptors would be charged with mischief. This statement succeeded in temporarily breaking up the crowd which had congregated at the front ofthe room for solidarity and in order to block the visuals of the presentation.

Two people who refused to stop disrupting were arrested, presumably for 'mischief,' and the police withdrew from the room ( I assume they were busy booking the two persons arrested).

Jose, the invited speaker, then resumed the beginning of the presentation, but as his presentation progressed, the heckling became more intense, and very little of the orators message came through.

What I found the most fascinating was that those who wished to hear the orator's words claimed that the hubbub raised by the protestors was an impingement on free speech. In fact, the orator himself stated that free speech doesn't include the right to freely speak in a disruptive manner, and declared that he was a journalism major and therefore knows his stuff.

This however, isn't true. In fact, the idea of preventing a speaker from delivering their message by shouting them down has roots as old as the the tradition of allowing anyone to speak whatever they wished. The greeks called it 'thorubos' and it was quite common. A classics academic, Robert Wallace, shows how important it was to Athenians:

For the Athenians, isêgoria and parrhêsia included the power (exousia) to speak in public, to participate frankly and openly in civic debate, and to say what one wanted, including insults. But Athens’ democracy was no oppressive “heavy state”. It was a community of citizens, governing themselves in their own interests. Asssembly thorubos had first the practical purpose of regulating debate, as the Athenians set no official time limits for Assembly speeches. More importantly, thorubos was a negative
vote by the community, constituting its fundamental power to decide what it
would listen to. All citizens could freely address the Assembly. None could demand
to be heard for as long as he wanted to speak. The obligation to sit quietly
without speaking, to listen silently to whatever someone said, was considered a
hated characteristic of oppressive regimes: monarchy, tyranny, and oligarchy.

None of the speakers driven from the orator’s platform mention isêgoria, parrhêsia
or the right to be heard without interruption. On the contrary, Aeschines
states that some politicians “shamelessly” refuse to yield to the people’s shouting
and step down (1.34).
While every citizen could exercise the freedom to speak, the community’s power to shout down stupid or windy speakers was democratic freedom. The denial of that freedom amounted to oligarchy or tyranny.

In fact, I would argue that any true believer in free speech must admit that if everyone has a right to speak, then people have a right to speak disruptively.

One thing that people who were in the audience probably didn't realize isthat they themselves utilized some very effective thorubos of their own; every time the protestors attempted to deliver their own proganda, they were shouted down by audience members who thought that their opinions were unworthy of listening to.

In fact, I didn't particularly like the message either group was sending (though I really liked the sing-along part), but I recognize that free speech means the orator has the opportunity to speak freely- and the audience has the chance to freely interrupt him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

HOPE! The bright light of non-violence in Iran.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that armed forces in Iran, from the front line soldiers to the top ranks, are no longer willing to be associated with the Basij elements that are brutally repressive. There were rumours several days ago that some senior officers had been arrested and shipped to a prison camp because they were rebelling against the idea of such brutal violence. The most important point here is that there continue to be daytime rallies in the capital that are ~hundreds of thousands strong.
Of course, we shouldn't raise our hopes too high- there are undoubtably some military officers who feel threatened, and can only respond with beatings and murder, and there is always a source of disaffected young man willing to buy into ideology in return for employment and status.
However, these young men have families, have mothers who no doubt remember that the funerals in '79 served to do nothing but open Iranians heart to the revolution then. Some accounts:
From a Western journalists first-hand account, filed this PM:

"It was interesting that the special forces - who normally take the side of Ahmadinejad's Basij militia - were there with clubs and sticks in their camouflage trousers and their purity white shirts and on this occasion the Iranian military kept them away from Mousavi's men and women.

In fact at one point, Mousavi's supporters were shouting 'thank you, thank you' to the soldiers.

One woman went up to the special forces men, who normally are very brutal with Mr Mousavi's supporters, and said 'can you protect us from the Basij?' He said 'with God's help'.

It was quite extraordinary because it looked as if the military authorities in Tehran have either taken a decision not to go on supporting the very brutal militia - which is always associated with the presidency here - or individual soldiers have made up their own mind that they're tired of being associated with the kind of brutality that left seven dead yesterday - buried, by the way secretly by the police - and indeed the seven or eight students who were killed on the university campus 24 hours earlier.

Quite a lot of policeman are beginning to smile towards the demonstrators of Mr Mousavi, who are insisting there must be a new election because Mr Ahmadinejad wasn't really elected. Quite an extraordinary scene.

There were a lot of stones thrown and quite a lot of bitter fighting, hand-to-hand but at the end of the day the special forces did keep them apart.

I haven't ever seen the Iranian security authorities behaving fairly before and it's quite impressive."

By the way, the journalist is one of the brave souls who has defied the ban on Western Media reporting."

From an Iranian twitter feed:

"Saw police wear green scarves riot man was crying
Well I want to find email addresses of doctors and link them too the medic.
Doctors are trying to get to rural areas, as there is less support there
Far as eye can see people in every corner people everywhere...revolution is close to end... Ghandi would be proud
I cannot count the numbers too big
When all these troubles behind us I will get my camera back and go to the park with my daughter"

"Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong”-Mahatma Ghandi

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Interesting Iran tweets:

  • Military summary: high ranks confused and fragmented, middle ranks leaning toward revolutionaries, low ranks split and angry, feel betrayed.
  • thr R plenty of gd questions, but it feels lk we're ALWAYS limited to 140 characters..
  • Election official seen in green and attacking lone Besiji worker in Tabriz
  • It is good you all are being wary of sources- including me. But asking me to verify myself seems a bit silly.
  • is doing a great job, now has multi-gigabit VPN. E-mail for details
  • REMINDER: You can RT my name and encourage people to follow - I can't be touched by Iranian regime.
  • New private #Iran proxy server up *BULLET*PROOF* for 72-96 hours, need 50 people in #Iran who need accounts,
  • nothing special, Sirens, motorcycles, smock & smell of burnt stuff.
  • it is now dawn in tehran - streets are quiet - we must move from here - this was good internet connection but not ours - #Iranelection
  • last night thousands stayed in streets between Parkway and Vanak sq until after 2am
  • only baseej militia and Etellaat folowing orders - they cannot contain country without Army
  • unconfirmed - military has refused orders to shoot protesters -
  • several arrests today after tracking thru twiter proxys
  • The most circulated email today was asking people to keep their door open for those escaping from riot police

Good English language sources for Iran developments. Annotated list.

I'm adding another great source for deeper analysis:
An astute mideast prof providing good context. For e.g. his most recent post explains how Mousavi became a reformer in the late 80s because of his protest against violent repression of dissidents.

So I'm making this for my own reference, but anyone can't read Farsi first-hand might be interested in the following, so I annotated it as best as I could, and encourage you to pass it on to anyone who is hungry for info:
Andrew Sullivan is aggregating personal messages addressed to him coming out of Iran, and also links to insightful Western analysis. Has some good tweet aggregation too
Nito Putney is basically doing the same thing as the Dialy Dish, and I tend to refresh these two most often, they are all over the story, and if you can keep up with them, you won't miss much in the 'breaking news' category.
Another grat aggregator, especially good for breaking news.
Washington-based Iranian-American community. Same as above, provides a lot of the quickest translation from Farsi, and good background from people- for e.g. right now they have annotated pictures describing which elements the plainclothes officers belong to.
Less frequently updated than above sources, but good aggregation and analysis
Juan Cole is a middle east prof- so he has some good explanation of how the various power factions in the Iran gov't are working right now. His earlier posts have provided very good explanations of how, and why, the vote was rigged.
An independant hub started by a harvard journo for Persian and Western media reports- very good, professional reports.
The Gaurdian is one of the few (along with the NYT, which you can get to from The Lede, above) Western media sites that is actually nimble enough to publish long pieces with good analysis- that are supporteed by on the gourn twitter facts, and aren't out of date.
This used to be a really good source for twitters coming from the Teheran area- but there are now many, many messages coming from Western sources who have changed their twitter location to Teheran. They have done this so that Iran's security forces can't pinpoint legit Iranians twittering- hopefully its working. The traffic is still interesting, and probably close to mirroring #iranelection at this point.
Community Persian blog, written in English.
Good source on the latest development- that there will be a recount.
A bio of the Supreme Leader, which I haven't taken the time to read- anyone who does, I'd love to hear if there is anything that may shed some light on his future actions.
"How to setup a proxy for Iran citizens- also has links for other OSes...this is important, because the proxies can no longer be tweeted, since that is effectively making them public for the security forces to block.
Also see: for some guidelines, like don't DDOS when the whole internet link is close to shut down.

Some good twitter:

[ 7 good twitter sources redacted out of concern that re-posting may endeanger them- please personally email me if you would like to follow them. Some are general opposition feeds, some have heartbreaking first hand accounts of current events]