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July 19, 2008

Aquarian Idol: Singing Fish — The origin of vertebrate vocalization


Who knew that Singingfish wasn't just a funky name for a defunkt website but much, much more?

This week's Science magazine report about the likelihood that making sounds originated in ancient fish is demystified in David Malakoff's ScienceNow article, which follows.

    From Grunting to Gabbing

    Next time you tell someone "I love you" or "Hey, that's my parking space," thank a fish. The brain wiring that enables vertebrates like us to vocalize probably first evolved in fish some 400 million years ago, a new study suggests.

    Fish can be noisy. They hum, grunt, buzz, and even warble to attract mates or stake out territory. Charles Darwin speculated that fish might have passed on their soundmaking machinery to their vertebrate descendants, including us. But researchers had few clues about how a passionate opera solo might have evolved from an underwater growl.

    Now, some insight is coming from a homely fish that likes to lay its eggs while swimming upside down. The midshipman — also called the humming toadfish [top] — is a bottom-dweller found along North America's rocky Pacific coasts. Males carve out cavelike nests under rocks, then perform hours-long humming concerts to lure in females, which lay their eggs on the roofs of the caves. They defend their nests against other males with growls and grunts.

    Andrew Bass, a neurobiologist at Cornell University, has been studying the midshipman's vocal habits for more than a decade. Recently, he and two colleagues mapped out the neural circuitry that controls the fish's soundmaking. They found that a set of rhythmically firing neurons control the fish's vocal muscles and the pitch and duration of its calls. And by tracking the brain development of larval fish, they discovered that the neurons grow at the base of the hindbrain and the upper part of the spinal cord.

    That vocal circuitry is remarkably similar in location and function to brain structures found in other vertebrates that vocalize, including birds, amphibians, and mammals, Bass and his colleagues report in tomorrow's issue of Science. The similarity suggests that the vocal structure originally evolved in the common ancestor of modern vertebrates, the authors write, and then spread far and wide.

    The finding "makes total sense; it's a lovely piece of work," says Arthur Popper, a biologist who studies fish communication at the University of Maryland, College Park. He says many biologists already think that "the basic structures for hearing evolved in fish, so why shouldn't the structures for sound production have as well?"


Now you're all warmed up and ready for the abstract of the paper in Science; it follows.

    Evolutionary Origins for Social Vocalization in a Vertebrate Hindbrain–Spinal Compartment

    The macroevolutionary events leading to neural innovations for social communication, such as vocalization, are essentially unexplored. Many fish vocalize during female courtship and territorial defense, as do amphibians, birds, and mammals. Here, we map the neural circuitry for vocalization in larval fish and show that the vocal network develops in a segment-like region across the most caudal hindbrain and rostral spinal cord. Taxonomic analysis demonstrates a highly conserved pattern between fish and all major lineages of vocal tetrapods. We propose that the vocal basis for acoustic communication among vertebrates evolved from an ancestrally shared developmental compartment already present in the early fishes.


Listen to a variety of fish sounds including growls, grunt trains and hums here, courtesy of Andrew Bass's lab.

Can't get enough?

Watch and listen to a video narrated by Bass in which various humming toadfish audition in an effort to become the first Aquarian Idol.

July 19, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's smallest boom box


Videre est credere.

From the website:

    World's Smallest Boom Box

    Mini boom box gives you great sound wherever you go.

    Features AM/FM radio, clock w/date, twin speakers, folding handle, telescopic antenna, rotary tuner and volume control.

    Requires 4 AA batteries (not included)

    5.5"Ø x 3"H.




July 19, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Josh Goebel Needs Cell Numbers


Res ipsa loquitur.

July 19, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack



From the website:


The Moonbag is a multifunctional bag designed for easy changing from wet to dry clothes — but it can be used for so much more.

It is made of strong nylon with a drawstring top and a shoulder carrying strap.

Can be opened fully to create a circular waterproof mat of one meter diameter that can be stood on to change from and into wet gear such as swimming costumes or, for the more adventurous — surf gear!

You then just pull the drawstrings together and you have a bag.


Can be used to carry all manner of items for trips to the beach or picnics — open it up to use as a picnic mat.

When we tested this bag we used it to put all our gear in for a trip to the beach.

Having taken everything out, we opened it out as a mat for our picnic, then later on when a chill wind blew up I wrapped it around me to act as a wind cheater — fantastic!


Well, there it is.

Blue, Black, Pink or Red.


[via Regalos para todos, compradiccion and Babygadget]

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

Just how far would you go to save money on a plane ticket?


"Travelzoo's survey also revealed Americans are willing to go to great lengths to get a deal on travel. Over 40% of Americans would give up restroom privileges when flying if that meant they could save 50% off the ticket price and more than a quarter (28%) of consumers would actually stand rather than sit if it meant they could save 50% on an airline ticket," according to PrimeNewswire.

I wonder if the airlines would have the nerve to put pay toilets on the flights without restroom privileges: they could charge the other half of the ticket price and accept credit cards... can you imagine?

Talk about the flight from hell....

July 19, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Shut Up Tape


200 feet (60 meters).



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

Free DRM-free movie? Not likely


When I ordered "The Bank Job" on Blu-ray (above) from Amazon the other day I noticed that orange sticker on the front, "Includes Bonus Digital Copy."

What's that about, I wondered?

I mean, I'm buying the best possible version of the film so what's the point of another copy of it?

Then, when it arrived today, I read on the back of the box that you can "Download the film to your favorite portable player!"

Too bad I don't have one.


I got to thinking that hey, this means I can give the digital copy (it's on its own disc) to people so they can all download the movie and watch it free.


What a fool I am, eh?

I mean, what was I thinking?

That's the opposite of what's going down with the movie business, where the point is to cripple your ability to do stuff like that.

Sure enough, when I opened the DVD box I was greeted by the following: "Simply insert the disc into your PC. Enter Serial Number and valid email address. Click on 'Redeem'."


Here's what I'm gonna do: Offer my digital copy + Serial Number as the grand prize in a contest that I've yet to create.

Stay tuned.

July 19, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Reveal Light — Use your illusion


Designed by Adam Frank.

From a website:

Reveal Light

An innovative light fixture that creates the illusion of natural sunlight, streaming in through a double window and onto your interior wall.


As air currents pass through the projector, the branches of the projected tree appear to sway in a gentle, morning breeze.

An ideal solution for small urban spaces and rooms that could use a "view."

Projector measures 8"W x 6"L x 8"H.


Limited edition of 1,000.


July 19, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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