Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pandora's Litter Box: My Highly-Specialized Lobe-Finned Fish

For reasons which now elude me (oh, I remember now1), I ended up perusing the wikipedia article on tetrapods. While discussing classification of various tetrapoda (Greek for "four-legged critters") throughout various geologic periods, the article throws out the note, "Each of these lineages, however, remains grouped with the tetrapoda, just as Homo sapiens could be considered a very highly-specialized kind of lobe-finned fish."

As Pandora was draped across my lap (part of the reason I was perusing wikipedia articles at nearly 2 in the morning -- she was too cute to disturb), it struck me that she is just as much a highly-specialized lobe-finned fish as I am. I suspect that will be my new pet name for her, replacing the current favorite of Ms Fuzzy Pants ("Ms Pants" for short).

Added: Things I would have mentioned originally had I actually been awake when I posted.
  • Green Dam's full name is "Green Dam Youth Escort." The Chinese government claims the software is necessary to keep their youth clean ("green") from exposure to pornography, except, well, that's not all the Great Firewall of China is blocking at the moment, is it? The computer's user also has no way of finding out which sites are on the software's internal (and remotely update-able) black list.
  • American PC makers Dell and HP6 still have not agreed to pre-install the software, although they also haven't categorically refused to do so. There are plenty of places you can go to sign petitions telling them not to cave in. You can find one here, complete with a typo in the first line of the message. (I'm sending them an email right now to tell them to, oh, send another set of eyes over those things before posting syntactically incorrect notices in an attempt to change the world.)
  • Spoon is not so much a highly-specialized lobe-finned fish as he is a highly-chubby lobe-butted cat.

1How I ended up reading the wikipedia article on tetrapods:
  1. This article on "Green Dam," China's software for Windows PCs that would allow them to restrict and spy on their citizens' Internet usage with greater ease than their border firewalls do today2, had a "Most Popular in Science" sidebar, where...
  2. ... this article on the long-beaked echidna was #3! Take a look at that picture and tell me that's not some creature out of Doctor Who! Anyway, the long-beaked echidna is, with the short-nosed echidna and our wacky pal the platypus, one of three surviving monotremes, extremely archaic mammals. I was trying to figure out where they (or we) branched off in the mammalian family tree, so I started poking around to see if I could find an actual, well, pictorial family tree. That's when I came across
  3. The Tree of Life Web Project, and working backwards from the Mammalia page, hit the terrestrial vertebrate ("Stegocephalians") page, and
  4. Actually, I'm really tired, but moving even one limb lower on the tree came up with a lovely picture of our wacky, great-great-...-great-great-aunt, the ovoviviparous coelacanth, and I said, "That's wacky!" (it was really late, but not as late as it is now). Anyway, you and I and great-aunt Coel3 there are all sarcopterygians, so deal with it.
2Note the NY Times article nowhere mentions that the software is Windows-specific. Those goddamned Apple (Steve Jobs is seriously the antichrist, and no, your only other computer choice is not Bill Gates) commercials aside, I see "PC" and my brain automatically assumes that, were I given access to the box, Linux and/or FreeBSD would be installed on the thing forthwith. Vista even makes it easy to shrink existing partitions so you can have space for another OS without needing third-party disk management software! Does the Chinese government also block sites from which one can download Linux or FreeBSD? Because you can put all the nasty software on the Windows partition that you want, and it's not going to matter if you're running another fucking operating system.4
3I actually have a (twice-over) great-aunt Ceil, although I actually have no idea how she spells her name. (I'm guessing.)7 But she doesn't look like that great-aunt Coel, at least no more than you or I or Pandora.
4Yes, I'm cranky. Just because you may have to water a few things down (notice I did not say "dumb down") to make science writing digestible by a nonspecialized audience doesn't mean you, the writer, have a right to be, well, dumb. The absence of mention of a specific OS actually confused me further, because then I had to start wondering if they were confusing "software" with "firmware" and meant the filtering took place at the hardware level. I had to look up Green Dam elsewhere to figure it out.5
5Note that if I didn't believe Intelligent Design was created by morons, I probably would have been in bed an hour ago.
6Smack yourself if you saw that and immediately thought "Harry Potter."
7Answered: I asked my mother and it's "Cile."

No comments: