The Killers of Eden was a group of orcas off the coast of Australia that helped the local whalers, the Davidson family in particular. The orcas would go out and round up baleen whales. The orcas would even invite the Davidsons out to join them—they’d swim up the bay and splash their tails when they were ready to go on the chase. The orcas worked a lot like dogs round up sheep or corner foxes. After the baleens were killed, whether by teeth or harpoon, the orcas would eat the lips and tongue and the rest would go to the whalers. The relationship continued for decades up until 1930, when Old Tom died.
Old Tom was the most celebrated orca in the pod, the one the Davidsons were probably closest with. He seemed to have a sense of humor about him, and he was also known for grabbing a rope on the boats and taking the whalers for a joyride. If you find this all as mind-blowing as I do, you might like to see the names and photos of some of Eden’s killer whales or read more about Eden’s whaling history.

This bit of trivia and more can be found in the surprisingly excellent book I recently finished, Thousand Mile Song. These animals are smart.

E.O. Wilson on “Darwin and the Future of Biology”

E.O. Wilson at Emory University
Tonight I went to listen to E.O. Wilson talk about ‚ÄùDarwin and the Future of Biology‚Äù. Biology is most definitely not a strong interest of mine, but it was cool. It also reminded me that I’ve been meaning to read his book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.

He opened with what seemed like an elementary review of Darwin, his books, his journeys, and his influence; then on to biology as it is today and the two major approaches to biology: functional versus evolutionary, the how versus the why, the lab versus the field, the problem solvers versus the naturalists. (He wasn’t trying to paint them as warring factions, just equally valid methods that serve scientists with different interests and temperaments.) He also talked a bit about intelligent design and made the most basic, pragmatic, friendly critique I’ve heard yet: we just don’t need it. It’s a solution in search of a problem. He also did a good job of saying there’s no point in antagonizing or mounting a heavy offense against ID advocates.

Lastly, the dreaded Q&A afterwards. This one wasn’t too painful, but I recommend this as general advice: if you’re going to quote the speaker, at least *listen* and quote the speaker accurately. There is such a thing as a stupid question. I suppose when you get to be as old and wise as Wilson, you learn to be as generous and polite as he was tonight.

A New York Times article about boredom reframes it as an opportunity rather than an unavoidable state:

The brain is highly active when disengaged, consuming only about 5 percent less energy in its resting ‚Äúdefault state‚Äù than when involved in routine tasks… That slight reduction can make a big difference in terms of time perception. The seconds usually seem to pass more slowly when the brain is idling than when it is absorbed. And those stretched seconds are not the live-in-the-moment, meditative variety, either. They are frustrated, restless moments. That combination, psychologists argue, makes boredom a state that demands relief—if not from a catnap or a conversation, then from some mental game.

Some evidence for this can be seen in semiconscious behaviors, like doodling during a dull class, braiding strands of hair, folding notebook paper into odd shapes. Daydreaming too can be a kind of constructive self-entertainment, psychologists say, especially if the mind is turning over a problem. In experiments in the 1970s, psychiatrists showed that participants completing word-association tasks quickly tired of the job once obvious answers were given; granted more time, they began trying much more creative solutions, as if the boredom ‚Äúhad the power to exert pressure on individuals to stretch their inventive capacity.”

How We’re Wrecking Our Feet. It’s the shoes. Old news, but worth hearing again and again.
Foot freedom is a movement in the ultralight hiking community as well. Once you realize that you don’t need to carry 50lbs for a weekend trip, you realize that you can ditch the leather boots and hike with shoes. And after that, for me at least, it’s been an ongoing search for the lightest, most flexible shoes I can find. I really like Inov8‘s line of “trail slippers”. The Vibram Five Fingers models were mentioned in the article. Shoes from Vivo Barefoot were also mentioned but I have no idea why even their cheapest models cost over $120. [via link banana]

The Best American Science & Nature Writing 2007 (review: 3.5/5)

I found The Best American Science & Nature Writing 2007 when I was out hiking a couple few weeks ago. An Appalachian Trail hiker left it behind, recommending to whoever came by. I snagged it.
Any anthology will have some hits and misses. At least, in contrast with my frustrating experience with Flash Fiction Forward, all of my favorites from this book are available online, and only two of those are behind paywalls. Score. These were the ones I especially liked:

An interview with Mythbusters:

We’re just trying to see what happens. And we have relatively little time and a whole lot of curiosity, so the most efficient way to get there is what we do, and that often happens to be some form of science… That being said, the fact that we don’t have formal training, that makes what we’re experiencing a little bit more accessible to the viewers. If we actually knew what we were doing ahead of time, it would just be like talking at you, instead of experiencing the situation with you.