These are pictures of a river otter attacking an American alligator at the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Apparently the otter killed and ate the gator, disproving everyone who thought otters are precious little angels that would make great pets. Those things have fangs like a wolf and the temperament of a black bear with an ass full of honeybees. I don't know if that's actually true or not, but people shouldn't be keeping otters as pets anyways. You want a weird pet? Get a curtle (cat/turtle hybrid).
Keep going for a couple more of the fight.
This outsized book beautifully accomplishes what I thought impossible: it makes those already-adorable Atlantic puffins even more lovable.
In a world populated by ten thousand or so bird species that come in a range of sizes and colours and occur in a variety of places, one species truly stands tall in people's imaginations: the diminutive Atlantic puffin, Fratercula arctica -- which is only as tall as a paperback novel (or if you read e-books, this bird would be shorter than your kindle).
Although most people have never seen a puffin in real life, nearly everyone recognises them instantaneously. That's remarkable, considering that these mysterious birds are not visible most of their lives. They live somewhere far out at sea for most of the year, coming to land for just a few months to nest in earthen burrows dug into steep cliffs on desolate craggy islands. Yet, in view of this iconic little bird's popularity, it's surprising that there are few books out there intended to educate the puffin fan club about its life and habits.
This charming 176-page hardcover is filled with so much life history information that almost everyone will learn something by reading it. The author also includes anecdotes that give the reader the feeling that she is there too:
Puffins would doubtless always be popular with people, given their colourful and singular appearance. However, it surely helps that some of the places where they breed are open maritime landscapes, scenic, bracing and spectacular, rather than buildings, or trees or farmland. [...] To see them in the wild, therefore, is to embark on an adventure, often a boat trip, or a long walk or drive along remote tracks, away from civilisation. Puffin places are vivid and colourful, subject to the whims of violent weather: they instill awe and wonder, and a sense of wildness. Visits to such locations leave you with far more than just an encounter with a bird. [p. 54]
In general, the writing is accessible and clear although it would have benefitted from some careful editing: for example, the author has an annoying fondness for the word "obviously" (which appears 3 times in just one paragraph on p. 27, for example).
The full-colour photographs, by award-winning wildlife photographer Mark Sisson, are superb. Although Mr Sisson has neither invaded the birds' nest burrows nor followed them far out to sea, he has captured some enchanting images of puffins doing puffin-y things, like sleeping (p. 75) and sticking out its tongue (p. 11). Also included are pictures of the breathtaking (p. 96 & p. 117) and dramatic (p. 42 & p. 64) places where these birds nest in the UK.
A combination of a coffee-table book and a species monograph, this outsized book beautifully accomplishes what I thought impossible: it makes those already-adorable puffins even more lovable. The hundreds of lavish full-colour photographs will appeal to puffin lovers of all ages, and the book will enlighten and delight those who love birds and those who are inspired by stunning nature photography.
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Dominic Couzens is a British birder, author and journalist. He contributes regularly to Bird Watching and BBC Wildlife magazines; and is a professional field trip guide. He has written more than 20 books, including The Secret Lives of Garden Birds, which was selected by The Guardian as one of the best wildlife books of 2004; The Secret Lives of British Birds, which was chosen by The Guardian as one of the best wildlife books of 2006, and The Secret Lives of Garden Wildlife, which was named as one of best new nature books of Spring 2008 by The Times. He resides in Dorset, UK, with his wife and two young children.
Mark Sisson is an award-winning nature photographer whose work is regularly published in a wide variety of books and journals such as BBC Wildlife, Birds and The Countryman. He also co-owns and runs the leading wildlife photography holiday and workshop business, Natures Images, teaching others how to pursue wildlife photography in a responsible and enthusiastic manner. He resides in the small market-town of Newport in Shropshire, UK.
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Jon Hamilton, "Alzheimer's Blood Test Raises Ethical Questions", NPR Morning Edition 3/9/2014:
An experimental blood test can identify people in their 70s who are likely to develop Alzheimer's disease within two or three years. The test is accurate more than 90 percent of the time, scientists reported Sunday in Nature Medicine.
The finding could lead to a quick and easy way for seniors to assess their risk of Alzheimer's, says Dr. Howard Federoff, a professor of neurology at Georgetown University. And that would be a "game changer," he says, if researchers find a treatment that can slow down or stop the disease.
But because there is still no way to halt Alzheimer's, Federoff says, people considering the test would have to decide whether they are prepared to get results that "could be life-altering."
But having a prediction with no prospect for a cure is not, in my opinion, the biggest problem with tests of this kind.
As we can learn from the cited publication (Mark Mapstone et al., "Plasma phospholipids identify antecedent memory impairment in older adults", Nature Medicine 3/9/2014) , the "more than 90 percent of the time" accuracy is defined as "a sensitivity of 90% and specificity of 90%" for identifying participants who had unimpaired memory at the beginning, but would begin exhibiting cognitive impairment during the study.
One small point is that the size of the study was not large enough to be very certain about these numbers:
We enrolled 525 community-dwelling participants, aged 70 and older and otherwise healthy, into this 5-year observational study. Over the course of the study, 74 participants met criteria for amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) or mild Alzheimer's disease (AD) (Online Methods); 46 were incidental cases at entry, and 28 phenoconverted (Converters) from nonimpaired memory status at entry (Converterpre).
The blood tests are converting participants in the "Converterpre" category from the "Normal Controls" (NC) category, and 28 is not a very large number.
But the bigger problem lies in the meaning of "sensitivity" and "specificity", as explained by John Gever, "Researchers Claim Blood Test Predicts Alzheimer's", MedPage Today 3/9/2014:
If the study cohort's 5% rate of conversion from normal cognition to mild impairment or Alzheimer's disease is representative of a real-world screening population, then the test would have a positive predictive value of just 35%. That is, nearly two-thirds of positive screening results would be false. In general, a positive predictive value of 90% is considered the minimum for any kind of screening test in normal-risk individuals.
Let's unpack this. We start with a 2-by-2 "contingency table", relating test predictions and true states or outcomes:
|Reality is Positive (P)||Reality is Negative (N)|
|Test is Positive||True Positive (TP)||False Positive (FP)|
|Test is Negative||False Negative (FN)||True Negative (TN)|
In the context, the "sensitivity" is the true positive rate: TP/P, the proportion of real positives that test positive.
The "specificity" is the true negative rate: TN/N = the proportion of real negatives that test negative.
And 90% sensitivity and specificity sounds pretty good.
But what doctors and patients really learn is only whether the test is positive or negative. So suppose the test is positive and the true prevalence of the condition is 5%. Then out of 1,000 patients, there will be 0.05*1000 = 50 who are truly going to get AD; and of these, 0.9*50 = 45 will have a positive test result. But there will be 0.95*1000 = 950 who are not going to get AD; and of these, 0.1*950 = 95 will have a positive test result.
So there will be a total of 45+95 = 140 positive test results, and of these, 45 will be true positives, or 45/140 = 32%.
Thus the real problem with a positive test result, in this case, would not be learning that you're fated to get AD and can't do anything to prevent it. Rather, it would be believing that you're 90% likely to get AD when your actual chances are much lower.
In fact , I think that the numbers might be a bit better than Gever's article suggests. According to "2012 Alzheimer's disease facts and figures" from the Alzheimer's Association:
The estimated annual incidence (rate of developing disease in a one-year period) of Alzheimer’s disease appears to increase dramatically with age, from approximately 53 new cases per 1,000 people age 65 to 74, to 170 new cases per 1,000 people age 75 to 84, to 231 new cases per 1,000 people over age 85.
Even at a rate of 53 per 1,000, the chances of "converting" within three years would be (1 – (1-0.053)^3) = 0.151, so the positive predictive value of the test would be more like 62% than 32%. But 62% is still not 90%, and the general point is an important one.
For more on the terminology involved, see the Wikipedia article on sensitivity and specificity.
In the recent interview with Comic Book Resources about the Witchfinder comic book I’m co-writing with Kim Newman for Dark Horse Comics I mentioned that I love monsters – the likes of the classic Universal film monsters, or Godzilla, etc. Writing monsters, and seeing an artist bring them to life, is a thrill.
I stated that I even had the t-shirt. I wasn’t joking. I decided to take a photo of me in it after that interview.
It’s a beloved top. I’ve bought it in Dublin maybe a decade ago, and I have to be careful not to wear it out.
The handy thing about monsters is that they don’t fade or shrink, and they’re always in style.
When I finally trudged upon the Sun Museum, it was a bit of a let-down. There's a lot of boring 'science' stuff, including a wonky waxwork of Gallileo. Then, there are several rooms of arty crafty representations of the sun. Looks like someone's collection of solar souvenirs from places they'd travelled. That was all OK, if not thrilling.
The weird thing is, before you start, you have to sit in this room and paint a little plaster sun plaque of your choice, which dries while you're walking around, and you can take it home. There were a few other people ahead of me, there, but when I got back, there was only one sun left, and it wasn't mine! The guy very nicely offered to let me make another, but I opted to just keep the strange one that had been left 'for' me, green rays, etc. Think it was a kid's work. I quite like it.
On the last evening, I also discovered, right by the hotel, a branch of LIDO, and a lovely-looking bakery with huge seedy pretzels. (Drool) Unfortunately, I was, by this time, full of 'curd pudding', and pretzels usually need to be eaten straight away. Bah.
I was peeved about the National Art Museum and House of Blackheads (murals) being closed for refurbishment, but in the old Stock Exchange is a very attractive modernisation, which is now an art museum. Loads of interesting stuff by artists I'd never heard of ,porcelains, and an exhibit of fascinating, haunting paintings by a couple of short-lived Symbolists:
Like I said, I visited about a dozen churches during my stay. Unfortunately, not many of them were very interesting. Even the RC ones were unusually plain and dour. The beautiful Orthodox Cathedral was an exception, though,(Don't forget to cover your heads, gurlz-) . I was hovering curiously over the ornate sarcophagus of some saint, who lay wrapped in velvet, etc, when two priests came in and started chanting away, evidently paying tribute to him. I joined the dozen or so other babushkas who were in attendance, and the priests went on and on, finally distributing communion, etc. and departing. Memorable.
Just down the road is another Orthodox church, full of equally intriguing icons. I was moseying around gawping,when a choir, rehearsing, I thought, began to sing. How lovely, thought I, and then I saw an ancient flower-decked lady lying in her coffin...Gave me a turn, I can tell you. Things like that freak me out. The next church was St Gertrud's, another rather unfancy place. When the solo soprano let rip, I wasn't all that surprised that the next thing I saw was another corpse! This one, also a woman, looked worryingly young. An old man sat in mournful attendance. I departed.
Is Friday Funeral Day in Latvia?
( Some bad newsCollapse )
( So we went to spectate, insteadCollapse )
( And I had a lovely Sunday lunchCollapse )
- Current Music:Reverend and the Makers - The State of Things
RyanAir has a new treat in store; laying out 7 euros for 'security charge'. Receipt then has to be passed through the machine, after I'd already lost mine, etc. RyanAir always lands really bumpily, too, with ironic applause from the passengers.
Here's an Eisenstein sphynx with a nose like Rebecca Adlington's.
People in 'the still centre' all look very rich, and yes, it is very quiet, even for Riga. I went to the Art Nouveau Museum, which was nice, but I think I missed a lot of the famous facades, even after getting a taxi to Alberta street,..( Close as it was, I couldn't find it...) I also didn't realise there were two-hour tours specially to see the architecture. Nothing much is happening, as there are so few tourists around. I was on a City Tour coach with like, four other people.
The hotel gave us a free bottle of Black Balsam, only I didn't realise it was a giftie, and spent 3.50 on a miniature! Oh well...I didn't have room in my backpack to take it home, and probably wouldn't have been allowed to, anyway. Bah.
Must say, on my first nip, I didn't think it was all that bad. Then when I tried it again later, I thought no, it really is rather disgusting, even with a mixer.
Riga is *CLEAN* No litter at all. Even saw a teenager bend to pick up a dropped sweet wrapper. Incredible. People in general seem pleasant and polite. Only had one woman in a souvenir shop suspiciously follow me around to make sure I wasn't stealing, and suggest expensive things I should buy, which got on my nerves.
Couldn't fault the cosy, well-situated Gutenberg's Hotel, either, except for the fact that every other day, the breakfast food wasn't very good. When it was good, it was scrummy. Excellent porridge.
Eating (or not) in Riga:
My newish inner workings are weird. Sometimes I can eat just as I used to before the op. Other times (like in Riga-) I'm just not very interested in food, and can't 'hold' very much.
The LIDO chain of serve-yourself restaurants, as endorsed by motodraconis , have a huge variety of hearty-looking dishes and tempting sundae-type things, cheapish. It was dark, and I couldn't read the English translations, but most of the stuff was obviously meat, and heavier than I was in the mood for. I ended up with a slice of 'blackthorn pie', which was odd, but OK. Otherwise, apart from a couple of supermarket sarnies, all I ate in Riga, after a big breakfast daily, was cakes! One night, before I discovered LIDO, I blew 7 euros round the corner from the hotel, on walnut pancakes with pistachio ice cream, lots of fresh fruit, and syrupy stuff. Nice. On another coffee break, near the Sun Museum, I scoffed half a piece of 'curd pudding' which also came with lots of fruit and nice compotey stuff. Liked that, too, but just couldn't eat any more.
More travel trivia and sketchbook stuff to come. I didn't really draw much at all, but took a lot of photos...which I don't know how to upload. D'Oh!