Thursday: Hili dialogue

January 2, 2020 • 6:30 am

Well, 2020 is under way: it’s Thursday, the second of January, and I suspect most Americans with jobs will be taking today and tomorrow off. It’s National Buffet Day, though perhaps gorging yourself is not best to end the holiday season—or start your New Year’s resolutions) . It’s the Ninth Day of Christmas, too (nine ladies dancing).

It’s a holey day: Swiss Cheese Day, as well as National Creampuff Day, National Science Fiction Day, and World Introvert Day.

Finally, it’s Happy Mew Year for Cats Day!

Kagonekoshiro and friends

Stuff that happened on January 2 includes:

  • 366 – The Alemanni cross the frozen Rhine in large numbers, invading the Roman Empire.
  • 1905 – Russo-Japanese War: The Russian garrison surrenders at Port Arthur, China.
  • 1967 – Ronald Reagan, past movie actor and future President of the United States, is sworn in as Governor of California.
  • 1974 – United States President Richard Nixon signs a bill lowering the maximum U.S. speed limit to 55 MPH in order to conserve gasoline during an OPEC embargo.
  • 1981 – One of the largest investigations by a British police force ends when serial killer Peter Sutcliffe, the “Yorkshire Ripper”, is arrested in SheffieldSouth Yorkshire.

Sutcliffee, below, resembled Jack the Ripper in specializing in killing prostitutes and mutilating their bodies. He was convicted of murdering 13 women and sentenced to 20 concurrent sentences of life imprisonment, later changed to the British punishment of “whole life order”, equivalent to the U.S. sentence of life without parole. He remains in prison in Durham.

  • 1991 – Sharon Pratt Kelly becomes the first African American woman mayor of a major city and first woman Mayor of the District of Columbia.

Notables born on this day include:

Cherry-Garrard, who wrote one of the world’s best adventure books, The Worst Journey in the World, was a member of Scott’s 1910 Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica. “The worst journey” wasn’t really the entire expedition, nor Scott’s fatal assault on the South Pole, but the foot journey of Cherry-Garrard and two mates to an emperor penguin colony in hopes of getting penguin eggs. The motivating theory was that penguins were the most primitive of all birds, Emperors the most primitive of all penguins, and, because “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, emperor penguin embryos might show evidence of scales developing into feathers (at that time it wasn’t certain that birds descended from reptilian ancestors). The flaws of the theory, not known at the time, were that penguins are not especially primitive birds—they’re secondarily flightless and are related to fulmars—and feathers did not evolve from scales. The men recovered five eggs but broke two of them; not much was ever done with the others, which still repose on London’s Museum of Natural history. (This story figures in my lecture on “The science of the Scott expedition.”)

The journey was awful because it took place in the Antarctic winter, when Emperor penguins produce their eggs. It was totally dark and terribly cold and windy (temperatures were about -40°, and the men almost died (they lost their tent before recovering it, and their teeth shattered because of the cold). The three were gone from Cape Evans for nearly five weeks. Here are photos taken the day the left, and then only a short time after they returned.

June 27, 1911: The men set off (left to right: Henry Bowers, Edward Wilson, who died with Scott, and Cherry-Garrard:

August 1, 2011: Right after return. The half-dead men have noms at the Cape Evans Station:

And the eggs:

Here are the wonderful closing words of Cherry-Garrard’s book, a passage I read at the end of my talk. It almost breaks me up because it’s lovely (he was a very good writer) and expresses so well the passion for pure science:

And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore.

If you are a brave man you will do nothing:  if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery.

Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, “What is the use?” For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year.

And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers:  that is worth a good deal.  If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg.

Cherry-Garrard served in the Great War after returning from Antarctica, and spent much of the later part of his life bedridden from depression and PTSD. He wrote his book partly as a way to help him with his mental problems. Do read it if you love adventure stories.

  • 1909 – Barry Goldwater, American politician, businessman, and author (d. 1998)
  • 1920 – This birthday isn’t even listed in Wikipedia (h/t: Matthew Cobb):

  • 1936 – Roger Miller, American singer-songwriter, musician, and actor (d. 1992)
  • 1940 – Jim Bakker, American televangelist
  • 1969 – Christy Turlington, American model

Those who decamped from life on January 2 include:

  • 1953 – Guccio Gucci, Italian businessman and fashion designer, founder of Gucci (b. 1881)
  • 1977 – Erroll Garner, American pianist and composer (b. 1921)
  • 2019 – Daryl Dragon, American musician (b. 1942)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, a Polish local who now works in Ireland returned for the holidays, and of course was photographed with Hili:

Hili: What language do cats in Ireland speak?
Justyna: English but with a local accent.
In Polish:
Hili: W jakim języku mówią koty w Irlandii?
Justyna: Po angielsku, ale z lokalnym akcentem.

From Jesus of the Day:

Cat narcissism from Meriliee:

From Mark:

Titania McGrath has Resolutions (or rather, Resolutions That She Demands You Make; read the article):

Two tweets from Heather Hastie via Ann German. First, a highly adorable kitten who must sleep with its toy:

Republicans for the Rule of Law? Now that’s unexpected! (Sound up.)

Five tweets from Matthew Cobb. I’ll show three from the first thread, but there are more.  Of these first three he writes:

Thread of great vids (more to come) – click in the link. The monkeys diving is probably my favourite.

This is very sweet:

And Matthew says this about the last tweet:

These lovely millipedes in the thread aren’t bioluminescent but are fluorescing under UV Light. Lots of terrestrial arthropods do this (including scorpions and harvestmen), but we have no idea if it’s an adaptation or a spandrel (the latter is my guess).

I’d agree.


22 thoughts on “Thursday: Hili dialogue

  1. In case anyone was wondering- the #teamtrees project exceeded their goal by about 1.3 million trees, and donations continue.

    That means The Arbor Day Foundation will ensure that over 20 million trees will survive long term. I don’t know when that’s supposed to start but I assume immediately.

  2. Probably because of the plaintive piping music, the brevity of the clip and the fact that it’s enigmatic, I’ve long been captivated by this 47 sec. clip of Tsar Nicholas II during the Russo-Japanese war, conducting some sort of ceremony on land before his kneeling troops, and then embarking on a large military ship but I have no clue what’s going on in either of these scenes or who’s on the ship, is it Russian or Japanese or what?

    Answers appreciated.

  3. 1920 – This birthday isn’t even listed in Wikipedia

    Asimov’s birthday wasn’t recorded. According to him (presumably reporting what his family told him), he was born somewhere between late October and the New Year, and he chose to use Jan 2nd as his birthdate.
    Ever tried filling out a form without putting in a birthdate? For most non-bureaucratic reasons, you really don’t need to actually know the year (let alone month and day) of your birth.

  4. Quoth Tatiana, “Decolonise your language.”

    I’m sure that’s something she just pulled out of her arse. She spent too long listening to her psychologist, Sigmoid Freud.

  5. I’m confused. My dictionary and Wikipedia both tell me that spandrel is an architectural term. Connection please with fluorescing millipedes?

  6. Medievel Knievel had me chuckling. Loved the animals playing as well.

    Good ad; I’m glad FOX viewers will see it, though I doubt it will get through to the cult.

    Happy Birthday Matthew! Thanks for the many fine tweets you provide.

  7. Emperors the most primitive of all penguins, and, because “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, emperor penguin embryos might show evidence of scales developing into feathers (at that time it wasn’t certain that birds descended from reptilian ancestors). The flaws of the theory, not known at the time, were that penguins are not especially primitive birds—they’re secondarily flightless and are related to fulmars—and feathers did not evolve from scales.

    So now I’m confused. Looking at birds, they have either feathers or scales (on their legs). Feathers, beaks and scales shares the structural proteins (keratins) and their transcription factors. “The exact signals that induce the growth of feathers on the skin are not known, but it has been found that the transcription factor cDermo-1 induces the growth of feathers on skin and scales on the leg.[10]” “. The presence of this homologous keratin in both birds and crocodilians indicates that it was inherited from a common ancestor. This may suggest that crocodilian scales, bird and dinosaur feathers, and pterosaur pycnofibres are all developmental expressions of the same primitive archosaur skin structures; suggesting that feathers and pycnofibers could be homologous.[76]” [ ].

    And here is a recent paper, as I did not find a review yet:

    Feathers are epidermal appendages comprising mostly corneous β-proteins (formerly β-keratins), and are characteristic of birds today.
    There are close connections in terms of genomic regulation between numerous regularly arrayed structures in the epidermis, including denticles in sharks, dermal scales in teleost fish, epidermal scales in reptiles, feathers in birds, and hairs in mammals.

    The discovery that genes specific to the production of feathers evolved at the base of Archosauria rather than the base of Aves or Avialae (birds) is matched by fossil evidence that feathers were widespread among dinosaurs and pterosaurs, the flying reptiles.
    This suggests that feathers arose first, as simple monofilaments, probably for insulation in the archosaurian ancestors of birds and dinosaurs during the Early Triassic, a time when land vertebrates were speeding up in terms of physiology, with erect gaits and endothermy.

    Feathers have long been regarded as the innovation that drove the success of birds. However, feathers have been reported from close dinosaurian relatives of birds, and now from ornithischian dinosaurs and pterosaurs, the cousins of dinosaurs. Incomplete preservation makes these reports controversial. [b]If true, these findings shift the origin of feathers back 80 million years before the origin of birds. Gene regulatory networks show the deep homology of scales, feathers, and hairs.[/b] Hair and feathers likely evolved in the Early Triassic ancestors of mammals and birds, at a time when synapsids and archosaurs show independent evidence of higher metabolic rates (erect gait and endothermy), as part of a major resetting of terrestrial ecosystems following the devastating end-Permian mass extinction.” [ ]

    Is there a reason to think the ancestral skin structures were not scales as modern archosaurs share those?

    The problem may lie more in the then popular hypothesis that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”, which has been mostly rejected AFAIK. “Since embryos also evolve in different ways, the shortcomings of the theory had been recognized by the early 20th century, and it had been relegated to “biological mythology”[1] by the mid-20th century.[2]” [ ]

    1. Reading more in the last link above, development constraints seem to be the modern theory. “Embryos do undergo a period where their morphology is strongly shaped by their phylogenetic position, rather than selective pressures, but that means only that they resemble other embryos at that stage,…”

      And with modern genetic methods we do see that in animals where cell destiny isn’t hard constrained, reversals of such destiny may happen. E.g. some cells that start to express traits of a certain cell type in development may “trace back” in expression phase space and end up as another cell type! Basically, it becomes messy as the early constraints of few cells and cell types are lifted.

    2. I will check this again, but it’s my understanding that while the signals for scale and feather development may be similar (like for eyes in mice and flies), the structures themselves are not homologous, and that feathers do not develop from the structures that turn into scales, which was what the Cherry-Garrard et al. were looking for.

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