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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Computing Intelligence Relaunched!

I have finally gotten around to reactivating my research-oriented blog Computing Intelligence with a new post on The Challenge of fMRI Interpretation. I have had the post half-written for about two weeks now, but it is now finally done and up. I have some more posts outlined, so I should start producing content more regularly.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Monday Morning Quotations

I apologize for missing last week's quotation instalment. As it is, the epitaph edition was the last 'E' section, and we are now into the 'F's.

"Human probabilities are not sufficient grounds to make war upon a neighbour nation." - Thomas Fairfax responding to the proposal in 1650 to forestall an expected Scottish attack by invading Scotland first, English Parliamentary general and commander of the New Model Army from 1645-1650, 1621-71

"Why sir, there is every possibility that you will soon be able to tax it!" - Michael Faraday responding to Gladstone's question about the usefulness of electricity, English physicist and chemist, 1791-1867

"The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left - the King of England, the King of Spades, the King of Clubs, the King of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds." - Farouk, King of Egypt from 1936-52, 1920-65

"If I could remember the names of all these particles I'd be a botanist."
"Whatever Nature has in store for mankind, unpleasant as it may be, men must accept, for ignorance is never better than knowledge."
- Enrico Fermi, Italian-born American atomic physicist, 1901-54

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I saw this charming video a couple of weeks ago, and thought it was definitely worth sharing. Just keep your harpoons and tow-cables stowed away.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cayo Largo, Part III: More Beach Critters

In Cayo Largo, Part II I ended with my first successful fish pictures off the tip of the Playa Sirena peninsula. I had also mentioned that there were some massive starfish, but the depth and bareness of the sand makes it difficult to appreciate their size. I took some much better starfish pictures which will appear in a later part. During our snorkeling about, though, Sarah did borrow the camera to grab a photo of me showing off my snorkel prowess (and I'm a critter too).

Snorkeling about (click for larger size).

The next day we took the train again, only this time we got off at Playa Paraiso. On the southern edge of Playa Paraiso is a whole series of quite extensive tide pools which we decided to investigate. The pools were surprisingly deep, although far too gooey to make snorkeling desirable. Large swathes of the pool edges were covered with snails, and Sarah's practiced critter eye managed to spot a couple of snail shells that were not exactly what they seemed.

As far as wild invertebrates go, hermit crabs are some of the safest and easiest to pick up and play with (provided you spot them). Their claws are largely ineffectual (at least with crabs of the size that we found), and they don't move very quickly. We did manage to spot what looked like a horseshoe crab, but it was a very fast invertebrate and disappeared long before I could get the camera ready.

The tide pools were also large enough to house a number of fish. Although the water was not nearly as clear as the open ocean, I still managed to grab my only underwater shots of the trumpetfish that we found all along the beaches (once we learned to look out for them).

Trumpetfish in the tide pools at Playa Paraiso (click for larger size).

The next day we had our last big beach adventure when we wandered south about three quarters of a kilometer down the beach from our resort looking for a stretch of coral. En-route we discovered a patch of rocks covered in swift scuttling crabs. We spent a few minutes trying to grab a video showing off how the crabs moved from crevice to crevice, but they never quite cooperated for getting a good video. I did manage to snag a decent photograph, though, of one crab that decided it was comfortable enough in its current crevice.

Crab hiding under the lip of a rock along Playa Blanca (click for larger size).

Once we got to the beach with the coral we broke out the snorkel gear and headed into the water. Although the depth didn't drop off with the same extreme slope of the tip of the Playa Sirena peninsula, it did get appreciably deep much faster than the beach in front of our resort and the main beach at Playa Sirena and Playa Paraiso. The coral was a small patch nestled at the base of a rocky shelf. Although it was far more exciting than anything we had previously encountered, there still wasn't a lot of colour or fish swarms about. I was very excited to spot my first 'tropical' fish: the banded butterflyfish (not that the other fish weren't tropical, but the butterflyfish had the stripes that always come to mind when thinking of tropical fish).

Banded Butterflyfish near small coral patch off Playa Blanca (click for larger size).

Our best snorkeling was yet to come, though, from our boat excursion the next day. That, however, means it doesn't count as beach anymore, and will thus be covered in the next installment.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Start of the Week Quotations - Epitaph Edition

This week the typical alphabetic ordering is interrupted, and instead the collection of quotations are all actual or suggested epitaphs.

"Excuse my dust." - Dorothy Parker's suggested epitaph for herself in 1925, American poet and satirist, 1893-1967

"God damn you all: I told you so." - H. G. Wells' suggested epitaph for himself in 1939, English author, 1866-1946

"Good friend, for Jesu's sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones."
- inscription on William Shakespeare's grave, English dramatist, 1564-1616

"Here lies W. C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia." - W. C. Fields' suggested epitaph for himself in 1925, American comedian, 1880-1946

"He was an average guy who could carry a tune." - Bing Crosby's suggested epitaph for himself in 1977, American singer and actor, 1903-1977

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cayo Largo, Part II: Beach Critters

In Cayo Largo Part I I talked about many of the exciting critters that Sarah and I discovered on the resort grounds. Of course, going to a tropical ocean paradise means some ocean exploration is in order, and so we bought ourselves a pair of snorkel sets before we left. The beach in front of our resort, adequately described by the resort name of Playa Blanca, was a beautiful strip of dazzling white sand. While providing lovely scenery and an excellent place to relax or take a casual ocean dip, the pristine water and sand didn't leave much to see through the goggles.

The beach at the Playa Blanca resort (click for larger size).

Our first attempt to find some interesting snorkeling was a trip north along the beach towards a strip of rocks. We decided to go north because we figured the rocks might provide a better sea creature habitat than the plain sand. It turned out, however, that the life supported by the rocks was mainly an extremely slippery gooey green covering. Combined with a strong surf, we ended up getting knocked around and dunked a few times but never did find anything worth putting on the goggles and flippers. Our trip up and back down the beach also involved far more middle-aged man-parts than either of us would have liked, as we discovered that the stretch of beach just beyond the resort was the designated nude beach. I don't know why, but by and large all nude beaches I have seen seem to be nearly exclusively occupied by middle-aged (and older) men. Perhaps the breeze is nice, but I would worry about the possibility of a very painful sunburn.

After our disappointing opening-day trek up the beach, the same helpful couple who told us about the iguana pointed out a few possible places for us to explore: the eastern side of the peninsula that formed the south-western-most beach of Playa Sirena and a small coral reef at the next resort to the south of ours (we had clearly picked the wrong direction to travel on the beach).

Armed with new knowledge of where to go and the promise of seeing giant starfish, we set off the next morning to Playa Sirena. Looking at a map of Cayo Largo you can see in the southwest a pair of beaches called Playa Sirena and Playa Paraiso. These two beaches are common beaches for all visitors to the island - there are no resorts on the beaches, and 'trains' are provided to transport visitors from the resorts to the beaches. I put train in quotations because it is in fact a little car designed to look like a train engine that pulls a set of passenger cars. There were two main trains: one had cars that had rickety roofs while the second pulled a set of uncovered cars. Although the roofs were nice for keeping the hot sun off, they also creaked, squealed, and swayed disconcertingly like they were about to give up and collapse. By far the oddest thing about the trains, though, was that we took them four times in total (out and back once to each beach), and never once did we complete the trip on the train we initially boarded (often we would even have to transfer between the trains multiple times). One of our transfers had a clear and legitimate reason, as the brake line between the second and third car burst, which meant the last two cars no longer had brakes. However, the other three times seemed to be completely random - we would would be riding along when we would suddenly pull over, wait a few minutes in the blistering sun, and then the other train would pull up. Our driver would leap out and gesture wildly at us, and everyone would disembark and transfer trains. Still, the trains were a free service, so one shouldn't complain too much about operating mysteries.

Train car providing transportation to Playa Sirena and Playa Paraiso (click for larger size).

Once we arrived at Playa Sirena we spotted what I felt to be the most upsetting institution on Cayo Largo: swim with the dolphins. I recognize the thrill of interacting with dolphins (one of my favourite memories from my childhood was of swimming with dolphins in the ocean off of New Zealand), but the health of the dolphins needs to factor into any setup. These dolphins were held in a fairly small pen along a stretch of shore, and a significant portion of the pen looked like it was only about knee-deep.

Dolphins performing in their much too small looking pen (click for larger size).

Walking past the dolphins, however, we got to the undeveloped side of the Playa Sirena peninsula. The flora and fauna started off fairly gooey, from tiny underwater forests of algae to small pulsating lumps of jelly on the sand, with the most colourful collection clustered on the rotting stumps of an ancient dock that jutted from the ankle-deep water.

Assorted underwater growth on an old dock pylon (click for larger size).

Although gooey tropical marine life is certainly more exciting than the algae we find in Canada, the conch that Sarah pulled out of the water shortly thereafter was far more exciting. It was also the feistiest conch I've ever seen, wildly flailing about with its foot.

Not long after we put the conch back in the water we reached the tip of the peninsula. We spotted a number of other people in the water snorkeling, so figured there must be something to see. The shore on this part of the peninsula was quite different from the main beaches since the depth dropped quite quickly after only a brief stretch of shallow water, which was fairly convenient for snorkeling. Although the sea floor wasn't covered with bright coral, sporadic vegetation shared the sand with some impressively large starfish and an immense conch. A number of different fish were also swimming about, although they were all a translucent milky white colour that made them quite difficult to pick out. However, when I ended up in the middle of a small school I finally had a chance to catch a few pictures of fish.

White fish off the coast of the Playa Sirena peninsula. If anyone can identify the species, it would be much appreciated (click for larger size).

Continue reading: Part III: More Beach Critters