Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Midweek bridge mixture

On the last day of my 42ude, allow me to present a few nuggets that have caught my attention.

• Set aside an hour to browse Michael Durham's wildlife photography site, Durm Photo. Durham seems to specialize in the difficult shots, relying on all kinds of technology to get the amazing shots he presents. In deep woods, he sets up cameras and lights to capture animal that trigger the sensor attached to them. Photos of wild cougars are rare, but Durham has several, including photos of feeding behaviour. One image of a rain-soaked elk slogging through the mud entranced me. It looks so... stuffed. Durham also likes focusing on smaller subjects. I have no idea how he manages to capture head-on shots of flying insects, but I'm glad he does. You'll be glad, too. I think the site could use a more direct navigational system, but the sublimity of the photos easily overcomes that small annoyance.

• Speaking of life, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have been studying the chemistry of extracellular RNA. Their paper in Science reports that they found RNA that self-replicates without any of the mechanisms found inside cells. Those RNA strands that could more effectively replicate themselves came to dominate the environment. It's true molecular evolution, and the amazing discovery sheds light on how life evolved from chemistry. Here's the press release from Scripps, a piece from NPR's All Things Considered, and an article in ScienceDaily.

• This is why you should only use Quebec maple syrup, kids:

• You will use this keyboard in any colour so long as it black or you will die a coward without honour.

• You may already know that the iTunes Music Store has removed copy-protection from nearly all its music files. You can know download once and use the music anywhere, even in music players other than iPods, without going through extra trivial steps. But of you're tempted to stick it to the man and share the music you've bought, you should know that every file you buy is imprinted with your account information, more precisely the e-mail address associated with your iTunes account. Good luck with that.

• We've always been far more liberal than most of our friends with respect to our kids' use of the Net. They've pretty much had complete freedom to go and do what they want, and in a decade of this approach, there's only been one breakdown, and even that wasn't so serious. Child Two was searching for a site on dolls or Barbies or something, and stumbled into a porn site. Maybe that's why Eddie Izzard freaks her out, although Frankenfurter doesn't, oddly enough. Where was I? Oh, yeah.

Parents have been hammered with media reports and screeching interest groups into viewing the Internet as a suspicious cantina, filled with alien monsters of all kinds, all of whom want to sexually abuse your child. The New York Times reports on a task force that has concluded that this is just not so. Sending them online is no more dangerous, and is often rather less so, than sending them off to a store to get some bread. People in general basically behave, offline or online.

I have a pet hypothesis that this parenting generation has been scared paranoid by the proliferation of stories of harm to children. It's not more dangerous out there, on the street or online, than it was when we were kids. I was taking the city bus home from school in Grade One, and that was common. These days, it's nearly all carpools in elementary schools (school bus service is rare). My friends and I would take the Metro downtown and hang out when we were 11 and 12. Now, that's unheard of.

It's not more dangerous out there, though. We hear more about missing and abused kids because the media network - I suppose I could call it a grapevine - is more efficient at informing us about the misfortunes. Bad news bombards us more frequently, even if the rate of occurrence is the same or has even dropped.

Nevertheless, I still give my kids only Quebec maple syrup.


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