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January 19, 2008

World's only four-axis snail


Look at the photo above.

What do you see?

No, it's not a creature from a David Cronenberg movie but, rather, a newly discovered species of snail called Opisthostoma vermiculum, whose shell (above) is about 1 millimeter long.

Henry Fountain wrote about it as follows in the January 15, 2008 New York Times Science section.

    Shell of New Species of Land Snail Coils Its Own Way

    It looks like the plumbing on a rocket engine, or perhaps an alpenhorn gone wild. But the oddly coiled tube pictured here (at great magnification) is actually the shell of a land snail.

    "I thought it was one of mother nature's practical jokes,"€ said Reuben Clements of the World Wide Fund for Nature in Selangor, Malaysia, who found the shell and dozens more just like it in a limestone outcropping in central peninsular Malaysia.

    The shells, which are about one twenty-fifth of an inch long, belong to a new species of snail, Opisthostoma vermiculum, which Mr. Clements and colleagues describe in the journal Biology Letters. Because of the collection technique, none of the actual snails survived; so nothing is known about them, although it is presumed that they eat detritus like other small land snails.

    But the shells are remarkable. While the typical snail shell coils tightly around a single axis, attaching to itself as it spirals outward, O. vermiculum coils much more loosely, twisting and turning and reattaching only in spots.

    Other loose-coiling land snails are known, but O. vermiculum surpasses them in one respect. It coils around four distinct axes, shown by the white lines in the image. That is one more than any other known snail.

    Mr. Clements said O. vermiculum was found in only a single outcropping in a karst region — an area of limestone hills and caves formed by erosion of ancient marine sediments. He is studying the karst fauna with a view to protecting it from quarrying and other industrial activity.

    As to why the snail forms such a distinctive shell, Mr. Clements suggested that perhaps the odd shape helped with flotation, increasing the snail's survival chances in wet conditions.

    But that is just speculation. "I'm hoping to observe them in the wild,"€ Mr. Clements said. "But these are really tiny snails, and they're a challenge to find."


Here's a link to the abstract of the Biology Letters paper, published online on January 8, 2008; the abstract itself follows.

    Further Twists in Gastropod Shell Evolution

    The manner in which a gastropod shell coils has long intrigued laypersons and scientists alike. In evolutionary biology, gastropod shells are among the best-studied palaeontological and neontological objects. A gastropod shell generally exhibits logarithmic spiral growth, right-handedness and coils tightly around a single axis. Atypical shell-coiling patterns (e.g. sinistroid growth, uncoiled whorls and multiple coiling axes), however, continue to be uncovered in nature. Here, we report another coiling strategy that is not only puzzling from an evolutionary perspective, but also hitherto unknown among shelled gastropods. The terrestrial gastropod Opisthostoma vermiculum sp. nov. generates a shell with: (i) four discernable coiling axes, (ii) body whorls that thrice detach and twice reattach to preceding whorls without any reference support, and (iii) detached whorls that coil around three secondary axes in addition to their primary teleoconch axis. As the coiling strategies of individuals were found to be generally consistent throughout, this species appears to possess an unorthodox but rigorously defined set of developmental instructions. Although the evolutionary origins of O. vermiculum and its shell's functional significance can be elucidated only once fossil intermediates and live individuals are found, its bewildering morphology suggests that we still lack an understanding of relationships between form and function in certain taxonomic groups.

January 19, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lumber Thickness Gauge


From the website:

    Lumber Thickness Gauge

    This tool comes in handy when scouting lumberyards or trolling in the offcut bin.

    Acting as a simple go/no-go gauge for checking lumber thickness, it has steps that measure thickness from 3/8" to 2" (in 1/8" increments under 1" and 1/4" increments over 1").

    It is especially useful when you are looking for a piece with a certain minimum thickness.

    Based on common lumberyard promotional giveaways from the 1950s, it has a sleek, thin design that slips easily into a pocket or attaches to a key ring.

    Made in Canada from stainless steel, it is about 3-1/4" long overall and comes with a split ring.




January 19, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Deep Web — 'Size Matters'


Long story short: The "Deep Web" contains about 500 times more information than a typical Google search will reach.

Only by knowing where — and how — to look beneath this deceptive surface can most information be found.

Of course, having people who can tell you where to look is equally powerful.

As Samuel Johnson remarked, "Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information on it."


January 19, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

SENZ — World's first aerodynamic umbrella


Looks a bit like one of those helmets bicycle racers wear, with its teardrop swoopiness.

Anjali Athavaley featured it in January 17, 2008 Wall Street Journal story about a new wave of "windproof" umbrellas coming to market.

Wrote Athavaley, "By Totes, its aerodynamic shape — which is longer in the back than in the front — is designed to minimize resistance to the wind. We thought it was both lightweight and sturdy, but its odd shape drew some stares. It has a foam handle and flat tips at the ends of the canopy


to ensure you don't poke someone's eye out. It is small enough to throw in a purse or work bag."

Black, Crimson, Khaki or Navy.

Two versions: Original (top; $55); Mini (below,



January 19, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Memo to Steve Jobs — Amazon Music Rocks


I happened to notice something new the other day when I went to Amazon to buy a CD (above, what I saw).

What's this? I thought.

So I tried to buy an MP3 song with 1-Click, just like the man said.

Alas, it wasn't that simple.

But it wasn't that hard, either.

Because I couldn't download Amazon's MP3 player because I don't have "OS X 10.4 or higher" (I'm still running 10.3.9/Panther, with a planned upgrade to 10.6 real soon now... wonder what they'll call that one — Ocelot? But I digress), I had to download it the old-fashioned way, directly to my browser, whatever that means.

All I know is that when I clicked on "Download directly," the Download Manager appeared from wherever it hangs out between downloads and in less than 10 seconds there was the song in MP3 format right smack on my desktop.

Sounded pretty darn good, too.


January 19, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Carabiner Calculator







January 19, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



I watched this film on DVD last night and man, was it a piece of work.

I've liked every single movie made from Philip K. Dick's books and stories and this one was no exception.

Yeah, yeah, the reviews were terrible and that's why it took me so long to get around to it.

No matter.

The movie's a little confusing but that's true of Dick's books as well, so perhaps that's a good thing.

Doesn't matter — just strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

Good cast, too: Julianne Moore, Nicolas Cage, Jessica Biel trying really hard to be believable.

Worth buying for $19.99 ($27.95 in HD) at Amazon?

I dunno – but definitely worth $2.99 to download it via Apple TV.

January 19, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

My favorite T-shirt of the year


Ever since I saw it in a catalog last week I've been pondering its message, worthy of Wittgenstein.


January 19, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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