Archive for the 'Otto' Category

26
Sep
13

The How and Why of Early Man

So many questions about our past are debated because of the lack of  written records. Before man put proverbial pen to paper, we had only bones and teeth, soil contents, paleo-geology and -geography and -climate, to intuit what might have been.

This, despite the fact that we know for a fact that written records are always from the writer’s perspective. They are only trustworthy to the point we trust the writer–like a Leakey, Donald Johansson, Chris Beard, Jane Goodall. These interpretations–albeit highly trained–of primary sources (Earth’s record) are given more credibility than the primary source itself (an action I’m sure discouraged by Leakey’s and Johnasson’s and Beard’s and Goodall’s teachers as they pursued their research). Why? The reason is simple: It takes a PhD to interpret Earth’s story. Continue reading ‘The How and Why of Early Man’

13
Feb
13

DNA Computers and DNA Viruses

science-41994_640Cat’s the one who started me on DNA computers (we share a grad student office). My AI Otto is struggling with my need for speed in his computations and his need for energy to complete the work. When I ask him a question, he sorts through a datasphere the size of the digital Library of Congress (all public sources on the internet. Imagine if you searched ‘Homo erectus’ on the internet and then read and absorbed the one million hits–that’s what Otto does just to get started) to create the simulated reality required for his movies. You can see the importance of speed.

Here’s what I know about DNA computers. They weigh almost nothing, carry their own energy pack, can perform ten trillion operations at once and store an amazing amount of information–all in a drop of water with room to spare. The mechanics are deceptively simple. A high school senior won a scholarship by programming the Declaration of Independence into a DNA molecule. Here’s a link to How Stuff Works if you’d like more information.

The problem, from what Cat’s explained, is the amount of error in DNA computing. In our human genome, we call them mutations and they’re considered part of our uniqueness. The average child has around 6.3 billion base pairs of DNA with around 277 mutational differences from his/her parents. Many are noninvasive because 1) cells have built-in redundancies, 2) parts of our genetic make-up are inactive. Maybe they used to be active, but with H. sapiens sapiens, they aren’t. 3) some have nothing to do with how we get along in the world.

But, for traditional computing needs, we need more accuracy than that. The theorists believe that within highly-structured uses, they can be controlled. Taiwan has already created a chip out of DNA.

Continue reading ‘DNA Computers and DNA Viruses’

21
Jan
13

Ump–Dog of the Pleistocene

Conventional wisdom says dogs weren’t domesticated until the time of Egypt. Think Cleopatra and her cat. But, I’m convinced from the day man became smart enough to realize other animals didn’t always wish him well and survival was more than eating, sleeping and living, he has sought out a companion he could trust without doubt, who believed in him without question and followed him through good and bad.

Ump

Ump

Lyta might not have called it ‘dog’, but she found that in Ump. She met him after she became separated from her group by a massive earthquake, precipitated by an asteroid’s collision with her habitat and followed by seering fires that destroyed her homeland. Here’s how Otto showed their first meeting:

Below her lay a Canis, tail flopped to his side, pinned under a tree limb. A gash cut his heaving chest. Lyta dropped to the ground and approached with caution. Never had she been so close to this animal. Even supine, his muscles rippled as though prepared to flee. His great jaw sprouted sharp canines and massive grinding teeth. His fur stuck out from his trapped body in tufts like coarse wild grass. The one exposed eye—dark and small, like Snarling-dog (a coyote-like creature from the Pleistocene)—latched onto hers. The great pink tongue hung loose from his mouth, bobbing up and down in rhythm with his labored pant. The dirty tail gave a tired whomp.

Lyta studied the blood caked into his fur and dried over his ribcage like a big red leaf. Why was he here?  She had seen him as he fled the fires, well ahead of the panicked herds of animals.

“Why, animal?”  She asked, “What brought you back?”

As though he understood, his black lidded eye focused up and over to the side. There, a dead female lay with her pup, both crushed beneath a fallen limb. The canis refused to leave his mate, not understanding she would never again run with him through the fragrant grasslands. His loyalty benefited neither, but common sense had nothing to do with his decision.

Lyta pulled an herb from neck sack and chewed it to a pulp. “You’re going to be OK,” she soothed as she gently removed the branch from Canis’ wounded ribs and pasted a layer of mulched herbs over the wound, followed by long-fibered leaves. She worked slowly and with care, watching his face for pain or discomfort.

Continue reading ‘Ump–Dog of the Pleistocene’

11
Jan
13

Homo habilis vs. Homo erectus

Homo erectus--note the width of the skull and the less-protruding snout


Homo erectus–note the width of the skull and the less-protruding snout

My passion is studying early man, specifically how we became who we are. Is our violence an aberration or part and parcel of survival? No other mammal kills their own, but maybe–as the alpha on the planet–our greatest threat to our survival is our own species, so we’re forced to destroy each other.

What was lacking in H. Habilis that led to their extinction, to be replaced by the big-brained, scrawny Homo erectus? Habilis was preyed upon by species with bigger claws, sharper teeth and thicker skin. Habilis (and my friend Lyta) scavenged their left-overs, in between hiding from the imposing mammals that dominated the Plio-Pleistocene African savanna. But, eventually hiding wasn’t enough and H. erectus took over (we don’t know if they fought with each other or if habilis left ‘with a whimper’).

H. erectus, with his longer lower limbs for running and walking efficiency, his bigger brain especially in the areas for planning and forethought (and speech depending upon whose research you’re reading) was tall, thin, and barrel-chested, hardly daunting in a world of sabertooth cats, mammoth and giant sloths. Yet , it is he who spread from Africa to China, India, the Middle East, Java. It is he–not predator cats or alligators–who developed a highly adaptable culture allowing him to survive a wide range of climates and habitats.

That is the first of their firsts. Want more?

  • first appearance of systematic hunting.
  • first use of fire (though arguably no control of it)
  • first indication of extended childhood (thanks to the helplessness of their infants)
  • first indication of the ability to lead a more complex life (their Acheulian tools were sophisticated, their hunting was planned)
  • first to wear clothing (how else to survive Georgia and China)
  • first to create complex tools and weapons

Continue reading ‘Homo habilis vs. Homo erectus’

08
Jan
13

Palindromes

Palindromic Latin Word Square, the Sator Square

Palindromic Latin Word Square, the Sator Square

For those of you who don’t know, a ‘palindrome’ is a word or phrase that reads the same

Hebrew Palindrome

Hebrew Palindrome

backward as forward. That’s why my AI is ‘Otto’ and why my son Sean calls me ‘Mom’. When we want to catch each other’s attention without alerting others, we write words backwards. It looks like jibberish, but it’s our code. One of several we use. I’ll share others later.

We’ve gotten so good at palindromes, we can talk backwards, write backwards, almost as

Sanskrit Palindrome

Sanskrit Palindrome

fast as forward. Thanks to palindromes, I knew Sean was in trouble last summer. He was kidnapped, but the nappers never caught on to the trail he was leaving. It worked out in the end, thanks to Zeke and Eitan and Otto. But neither of us will be the same. Seminal events rarely leave one unscathed.

Continue reading ‘Palindromes’

17
Apr
12

Ump–Dog of the Pleistocene

Conventional wisdom says dogs weren’t domesticated until the time of Egypt. Think Cleopatra and her cat. But, I’m convinced from the day man became smart enough to realize other animals didn’t always wish him well and survival was more than eating, sleeping and living, he has sought out a companion he could trust without doubt, who believed in him without question and followed him through good and bad.

Ump

Ump

Lyta might not have called it ‘dog’, but she found that in Ump. She met him after she became separated from her group by a massive earthquake, precipitated by an asteroid’s collision with her habitat and followed by seering fires that destroyed her homeland. Here’s how Otto showed their first meeting:

Below her lay a Canis, tail flopped to his side, pinned under a tree limb. A gash cut his heaving chest. Lyta dropped to the ground and approached with caution. Never had she been so close to this animal. Even supine, his muscles rippled as though prepared to flee. His great jaw sprouted sharp canines and massive grinding teeth. His fur stuck out from his trapped body in tufts like coarse wild grass. The one exposed eye—dark and small, like Snarling-dog (a coyote-like creature from the Pleistocene)—latched onto hers. The great pink tongue hung loose from his mouth, bobbing up and down in rhythm with his labored pant. The dirty tail gave a tired whomp.

Lyta studied the blood caked into his fur and dried over his ribcage like a big red leaf. Why was he here?  She had seen him as he fled the fires, well ahead of the panicked herds of animals.

“Why, animal?”  She asked, “What brought you back?”

As though he understood, his black lidded eye focused up and over to the side. There, a dead female lay with her pup, both crushed beneath a fallen limb. The canis refused to leave his mate, not understanding she would never again run with him through the fragrant grasslands. His loyalty benefited neither, but common sense had nothing to do with his decision.

Lyta pulled an herb from neck sack and chewed it to a pulp. “You’re going to be OK,” she soothed as she gently removed the branch from Canis’ wounded ribs and pasted a layer of mulched herbs over the wound, followed by long-fibered leaves. She worked slowly and with care, watching his face for pain or discomfort.

Continue reading ‘Ump–Dog of the Pleistocene’

20
Jul
09

The How and Why of Early Man

So many questions about our past are debated because of the lack of  written records. Before man put proverbial pen to paper, we had only bones and teeth, soil contents, paleo-geology and -geography and -climate, to intuit what might have been.

This, despite the fact that we know for a fact that written records are always from the writer’s perspective. They are only trustworthy to the point we trust the writer–like a Leakey, Donald Johansson, Chris Beard, Jane Goodall. These interpretations–albeit highly trained–of primary sources (Earth’s record) are given more credibility than the primary source itself (an action I’m sure discouraged by Leakey’s and Johnasson’s and Beard’s and Goodall’s teachers as they pursued their research). Why? The reason is simple: It takes a PhD to interpret Earth’s story. Continue reading ‘The How and Why of Early Man’




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Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

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Great Science Books

Assembling California
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
The Forest People
Geology Underfoot in Southern California
The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James Galvin
My Life with the Chimpanzees
Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
Sand Rivers
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
The Tree Where Man Was Born
The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animal and Plants of the Region
The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography


Jacqui's favorite books »
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RSS Fact and Fiction about Early Man

  • Ki'ti's Story, 75,000 BC December 11, 2016
    author: Bonnye Matthews name: Jacqui average rating: 4.27 book published: 2012 rating: 5 read at: 2016/12/11 date added: 2016/12/11 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Bonnye Matthews
  • Meeting Prehistoric Man October 4, 2014
    author: GHR von Koenigswald name: Jacqui average rating: 4.00 book published: 1492 rating: 5 read at: 2014/10/04 date added: 2014/10/04 shelves: early-man review: Meeting Prehistoric Man by GHR Von Koenigswald is a journey throughout the world in discovery of early man as paleoanthropologists understood him during VonKoenigswald's time, circa 1950' […]
    GHR von Koenigswald
  • Letters from the Field, 1925-1975 September 13, 2014
    author: Margaret Mead name: Jacqui average rating: 4.16 book published: 1977 rating: 5 read at: 2014/09/13 date added: 2014/09/13 shelves: early-man review: If you didn't read my last week's post, you may wonder why I am so excited about Margaret Mead's eye-opening book, Letters From the Field. Even if you read me last week, you may wonder--I […]
    Margaret Mead
  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention January 12, 2014
    author: Guy Deutscher name: Jacqui average rating: 4.16 book published: 2005 rating: 3 read at: date added: 2014/01/12 shelves: early-man, research review: Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I […]
    Guy Deutscher
  • She Who remembers November 3, 2013
    author: Linda Lay Shuler name: Jacqui average rating: 4.11 book published: 1988 rating: 4 read at: date added: 2013/11/03 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Linda Lay Shuler
  • The Runaway Brain: The Evolution Of Human Uniqueness July 25, 2011
    author: Christopher Wills name: Jacqui average rating: 4.12 book published: 1993 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: science, early-man review: In my lifelong effort to understand what makes us human, I long ago arrived at the lynchpin to that discussion: our brain. Even though bipedalism preceded big brains, and we couldn't be who we are […]
    Christopher Wills
  • The Origin Of Humankind (Science Masters Series) July 25, 2011
    author: Richard E. Leakey name: Jacqui average rating: 3.97 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, history review: If you're interested in man's roots, there are several authors you must read: Birute Galdikas Dian Fosse Donald Johanson GHR Von Koenigsman Glen Isaacs Jared Diamond Ian Tattersell Lev Vygots […]
    Richard E. Leakey
  • Lucy: the beginnings of humankind July 24, 2011
    author: Donald C. Johanson name: Jacqui average rating: 4.11 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I read this book when I was writing a paleo-historic drama of the life of earliest man. My characters were Homo habilines, but they cohabited Africa with Australopithecines, so to understand the co-st […]
    Donald C. Johanson
  • Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe July 24, 2011
    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.25 book published: 1990 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I have read every book that Jane Goodall wrote. She has an easy-going writing style that shares scientific principals easily with the layman. Probably because when she started, she was little more than a no […]
    Jane Goodall
  • In the Shadow of Man July 24, 2011
    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.33 book published: 1971 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/23 shelves: early-man, science review: I read Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man (Houghton Mifflin 1971) years ago as research for a paleo-historic novel I was writing. I needed background on the great apes so I could show them acting appr […]
    Jane Goodall
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