Posts Tagged ‘California’

The Post – Mischievous Octopus

March 3, 2009

An octopus has incredible flexibility in its arms and its ability to manipulate objects, even small ones, surpasses anything man has manufactured. It’s one of the reasons the octopus is of major interest in robotics research. Jointed metal arms on underwater vehicles are klunky by comparison and can’t work well in tight spaces. Something that can be thin, smooth, and able to move in all directions with a minimum of space, would be a real plus. If researchers can replicate the infinite flexibility of an octopus arm, the applications for that kind of tool are almost as infinite.

On the flip side, such abilities in this critter, can sometimes backfire and yield unanticipated problems. Just ask the staff at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California.  🙂

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090227/ap_on_fe_st/odd_octopus_flood

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The Post: Under the Pier – Setting as Character, Part I

March 15, 2008

I’ve seen writing books and articles that talk about “setting” as character. For some stories setting may just be the convenient place to locate a tale that could happen anywhere. Though, I have to wonder if that’s really true. I suspect on some level, setting is always a character. I have to think the author chose the particular locations for a reason, if only to give a certain emotional feeling or atmosphere to the story.

In Under the Pier, it’s a main character. I can’t imagine it taking place in California, North Carolina, or even New Jersey. There is a unique combination of influences: history-from witches to rebellion to World War II; independent Yankees who kept farming or going to sea, refusing to quit and finding innovative solutions for their problems, even though the land stinks for farming and so many died at sea; ethnic and immigrant work ethics, religion and beliefs; family ties; blue collar industrial types, and a pragmatic, no-BS attitude that sees through and hates charm and flattery. That butts head-on against Yuppie, new money, old money, universities and the intellectuals. You have the heritage of rebels like Sam Adams, abolitionists like John Brown and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and those strange independent types who would spend a year living alone on Walden’s Pond writing a book, thrust face to face with investment bankers, world politics, and cutting edge research. Where else would a large town mayor be accused of Mafia ties and the people still want to keep him in office because he revitalized the region?

The climate is difficult – as steamy and hot as the south in the summer, yet bitter cold with Artic winds in the winter. The short growing season and poor land make it difficult to earn a living farming. The sea brings nor’easters and claims fishermen as karmic payment for men daring to venture out there. And yet, they keep going.

Crammed right in each other’s faces are the poor and rich, intellectual and backwoods, new and old. The small geographical area makes it a pressure cooker because it shoves these groups right in each other’s faces. Like all places where boundaries meet, the participants cross back and forth between the two sides all the time. You can walk into a diner on a tougher side of town and have a truck driver on one side of you and a neurosurgeon on the other. People are pragmatic. If they want good diner food, they go to where they can get it and it doesn’t matter what walk of life they come from. Tough blue collar dockworkers raise sons and daughters who go to Ivy league colleges and have letters after their names like “PhD.” In fact, it’s almost an unwritten law in those harder places that you make sure your kids work hard, “get an education” and get a job where they don’t have to “do what their parents had to do to get by.” In a culture where immigrants measure progress in generations, the force and focus is always on making sure that next generation moves up a notch and has that “security” the previous generation never had.

So in looking this over, if this isn’t a character in its own right, I don’t know what is.

Under the Pier is set in one of those boundary places that straddles the worlds of commercial fishermen, dockworkers, manual laborers, and factory workers, vs the “new moneyed” rich tourists who fill their restaurants, the higher class well-educated intellectuals, and old money.

Max lives in the world of diners and auto body shops, commercial fishermen and the wharfs downtown. Her grandmother, Connie, is a widow, and has worked in Rosa’s diner all her life. It’s where she met her husband who came back from Vietnam and drove trucks for Grunder’s Moving and Storage until he died. Her grandmother’s total focus was to make sure her kids had the security and respect she didn’t have when she grew up. It’s all about prestige, money, position, getting ahead, but it’s really about security. If you have the others, the thinking is, you have the security. Connie’s youngest son is one of those who have crossed the line. He’s a post-doctoral researcher dating another PhD whose love is all those undersea critters. Her oldest daughter is a business consultant married to a successful doctor and lives in an exclusive area in Farmington CT. The biggest worry of Connie’s life was that middle daughter, Alicia, Max’s mom, who threw caution out the window, followed her artistic heart to Cape Cod, and worried her mother to death because she rejected most of her mother’s values….at least on the surface.

So the “personality” of the place, creates the personalities of the people who live there. From those personalities and the fact they’re all thrown up against each other, you get, story conflict.

Coming up next: Place as Character, Part II: Specifics of the Story’s locations and the research behind them.

The Post – How Long Do Fiddler Crabs Stay Pregnant?

February 23, 2008

I spotted this question on a Google search and decided to follow up on it. It has been the question in our house – Scarlett O’Hara seems to get bigger every day with the larval crabs she’s carrying. How long will she carry them? What will she do with them? I’ve learned that female fiddler crabs usually like to hang on to the babies until the right set of tides and conditions so that their babies will be carried out to the open ocean. Apparently they do this because the larval crabs stand a better chance of finding food, and of not becoming someone else’s food, out in the open ocean. That gives them the best chances for reaching adulthood.

The question in our minds here is: we have no outgoing ocean tides in the “aquarium estuary” so when will she release them?

We’ve noticed she keeps hanging out on top of the water filter. In fact yesterday she was deep down INSIDE the water filter. She’s also been ripping the filter backing apart and eating whatever she’s pulling off the fibers. Since fiddler crabs like to eat a lot of microscopic algae, I assume that’s what she’s found. I keep wondering though, is she going to release her babies in the “currents of the water filter?” If so, I wonder how she will decide which currents are “outgoing tide” to that imaginary open ocean we don’t have. 🙂

Anyway, two good articles I came across in my search:

1) When ‘in a pinch’ won’t do: Ultra-picky female fiddler crab cited in UCSD (Univ of California at San Diego) study.

Apparently the female California fiddler crabs are VERY picky about their mates and have REALLY high standards for what kind of “house” the male is offering them. On average the female passes up 23 offers before finally selecting a male. In one case a female passed up 106 offers before choosing her mate. Now…I don’t know who to be more impressed with – the female fiddler crab who passed on 106 males before choosing one? Or the human researcher who followed this female fiddler crab around and kept track of how many males she turned down before choosing? In any event, an interesting article on the life cycle habits of the California fiddler crab.

2) The SC and C FAQ Database: it has a large number of questions and answers about crabs, shrimp, and crayfish. Question # 16 is about 3 pregnant female fiddler crabs and how long their gestation period lasts. Apparently in an aquarium, the female will release the eggs in about a week. We shall see. …Also it has information on what to feed the newly released babies, which might actually let them survive in an aquarium and grow to adults. Hmmmm 100,000 grandchildren. Needless to say my husband is thrilled with the news we might actually be able to help the babies survive in a tank! 🙂 Now all I need to do is find micro-plankton, like Infusoria, to feed to them…..