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October 31, 2020

'Count Belisarius' — Robert Graves


[Belisarius may be this bearded figure in the mosaic in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, which celebrates the reconquest of Italy by the Roman Army]

This 1938 novel completed Graves' so-called "Trilogy," following "I, Claudius," and "Claudius the God," for both of which he was awarded the 1934 James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Claudius rings a bell but Belisarius might as well be from Betelgeuse as far as most people are concerned — yet Count Belisarius was one of the very greatest generals of the Roman Empire, ranking with Julius Caesar, Agrippa, Augustus, and Scipio Africanus.

Graves brings the early sixth century to life with this compelling narrative.

October 31, 2020 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

First-ever footage of a ram's horn squid in its natural habitat

From ScienceAlert:

Ram's horn shells are small, delicate spiral structures beachcombers can commonly find throughout the world.

Yet despite their ubiquity, the original owners of these shells are extremely elusive.

Until now, we've never had footage of a single one in the wild.

In the twilight zone of the ocean, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) has now delivered the first footage of a ram's horn squid (Spirula spirula) in its natural habitat.

This strange-looking cephalopod is a quite small — under 3 inches in length — with eight arms, two tentacles, a pair of bulging eyes, and a general muppet-like appearance.

In its tail-end, hidden beneath its mantle, is a tightly-coiled internal shell equipped with chambers of gas that the animal manipulates for buoyancy. 

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[The shell of a ram's horn squid]

At first, researchers operating the ROV at the Schmidt Ocean Institute had no idea what they were looking at. 

"What on Earth?" a scientist can be heard exclaiming in the background of the video, which was shot live on the Great Barrier Reef at a depth of roughly 2,790 feet (about a half mile down).

The rare sighting has since been shared online and confirmed to be the first footage of a live Spirula in the deep sea.

While there are numerous deep-sea species never before seen in their natural waters, this recent chance encounter has got scientists especially excited.  

The ram's horn squid is rarely seen in the wild, and it's one of the most unusual cephalopods out there.

Apart from cuttlefish, it's the only other known mollusc that contains an internal chambered shell to keep it buoyant.

Yet unlike cuttlefish, this squid's skeleton is tightly coiled; molluscs in the Nautilus genus also have similarly-shaped shells, but they're on the outside of the animal.

"I've been looking for these for a long time," zoologist Michael Vecchione, who studies midwater squid at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, told ScienceAlert.

"I have no question at all it's a Spirula." 

While Vecchione regularly catches this species from the deep, sometimes housing them in aquariums, he'd never before seen footage of the squid in its natural habitat.

Neither had Neige Pascal, who studies Spirula at the University of Burgundy in France.

He told ScienceAlert the video is "very exciting".

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[Spirula shell] 

Apart from the sheer rarity of this encounter, there's one particularly surprising aspect in the footage: the very position of the animal, with its head and tentacles floating upright, and its fins pointing down.

"Are we completely sure about the orientation of the shoot? If this is the case, this is a king of revolution," Pascal told ScienceAlert.

Morgane Oudot, a PhD student of Pascal's and one of the few researchers in this field, agreed and said the video had her questioning everything she thought she knew about the ram's horn squid.

"A lot of people are freaking out because the head is up," adds Vecchione. "And the reason they're freaking out is because the shell with its buoyancy is at the other end of the squid. So you'd think the head, which is heavier, would be hanging down."

When put in an aquarium, that is actually how the squid orients.

Its head with the arms and tentacles faces down and the end with the shell is up — so the species was thought to take the same position in the deep sea.

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According to Vecchione, however, there's a problem with that assumption.

Ram's horn squid also have a light-generating organ, known as a photophore, which is located near the buoyant shell.

This means if Spirula are hanging with their head down, that light would be facing upwards, and that's highly unusual for deep-sea animals. 

In the twilight zone of our oceans, predators often have their eyes looking up in the hopes of glimpsing the silhouette of a possible meal. 

Hence photophores help disguise prey in the deep sea by washing out their silhouettes with light.

If that lamp is pointing upwards, that organ isn't nearly as useful.

There's a lot we still don't know about Spirula, including how the species reproduces and where it lays its eggs, but the way this squid orients itself in the water is one of the biggest questions for Vecchione. 

While he can't be sure it floats with its tentacles always facing upwards, he says the footage is good evidence the squid does this at least part of the time. 

More evidence is needed.

And the curiosities surrounding the ram's horn squid don't end there.

When the creature at last dashed away in the video, it looks as though a bit of ink spilled into the water; Vecchione is pretty sure that came from the squid — a possible diversion tactic for its escape.

"That's interesting because Spirula has the mechanism to make ink but it's reduced in this species, like other deep-sea species," Vecchione told ScienceAlert. "But this suggests it's functional and they're using it for defence."

October 31, 2020 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bookfinder — 'Find any book at the best price'

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This looks good.

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Check it out.

October 31, 2020 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Have you seen me?


It's my meticulously modified Comcast remote, which I cleared for action years ago with the application of about half a roll of masking tape, such that I can use it in the dark by feel without suddenly entering a crazy function menu by pressing the wrong button.

For those wishing the back story, it appeared on January 24, 2016 under the headline "How to hack your TV remote with tape to make it user-friendly."

You could look it up.

Anyhoo, it disappeared into a parallel universe this past Monday and I haven't had access to that world since.

Keep an eye out, OK?

Quantum theory says there's a greater than zero chance it will turn up in your place.

October 31, 2020 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Got Insomnia?

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Here's something to do while you wait.

From the website:

Putting your kids to bed can be hard.

Who can blame them?

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For kids, the bed is a pretty boring place.

Snoozefests are beautiful duvet sets that turn your comforter and pillows into fun activities.

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The Maze Duvet is one big maze, with 19 stops along the way from START to END.


The Word Search Duvet has names of different animals hidden on it, and the animals are printed on the pillows.

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Each set comes with a twin duvet and two pillow cases.


October 31, 2020 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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