Thursday, July 20, 2017

Iceland (photos)

Warning: photo heavy.

I think it's a Glaucus Gull? They're beautiful! And they also seemed a bit larger than the seagulls hereabouts.

We just got back not long ago from Reykjavik, and I'm already missing (strangely enough, of all things) the sulphurous smell that accompanies the hot water. I was a bit skeptical at first when my coworker was telling me that one of the things she remembers most about Iceland was that the hot water smelled of sulphur ("... you mean like rotten eggs?" "Yeah, exactly that."), but I actually found there was something soothing about it once I experienced it myself. And I was also surprisingly fond of all the licorice flavoured stuff they have there - this coming from someone who used to absolutely shiver with disgust whenever she so much as heard the word licorice crawl out of someone's mouth! (The hotdogs were also amazing.)

Can't help but think buttcrack when I look at the photo, to be honest.

We were very lucky in terms of weather; every day trip we took (one to the South and another to Snæfellsnes) was more or less sunny, with a bit of cloud and rain for Snæfellsnes, which made for a couple of rainbows - a couple of double rainbows, actually! - at the waterfalls in the South and a fun time all around. Our guide for the Southern tour told us that this was the first time in about a month that he was able to actually talk about the volcanoes we were passing, because they had been hidden from sight all the other times he had led the trip by fog or cloud! My film never caught after I reloaded it during the South tour, and that was for the camera I was using the most that day, unfortunately, so there isn't too much to show for it (including double rainbows at both waterfalls), but apart from that tidbit, everything went pretty smoothly and we even got to go into a cave!

We went with Gateway to Iceland for both trips - they keep the tour sizes small, and the tour guides were knowledgeable and obviously passionate about their work, which is always great to see!

Double rainbow...! Jokes! Film didn't catch till I gave up on trying to capture that. Photos or it didn't happen though?

It was actually even more of a saturated blue than this.
Directly across from where we were living.


The rest of the time we stayed in and around downtown Reykjavik, though we did go visit the trail in the Elliðaàrdalur valley (I still can't pronounce it) after visiting Àrbærjarsafn (Àrbær Open Air Museum), where I finally got to see some sheep up close! We got a bit confused along the way to Elliðaàrdalur, trying to match up a map with reality and not realizing that we were looking at the wrong bit of map (the road we were looking at continued with the same name even though it looked as though it was just an intersection), and ended up having to ask for directions. Once we reached the river, my brother and I both saw - but failed to capture! - a fish jumping right up the small waterfall (if you could call it that). Not sure what fish it was, but it had great timing! Although there isn't too much in terms of wildlife that I saw, the bird population we encountered was huge. Birds everywhere, from gulls and Arctic terns (I will never forget the sound of their warning calls or the feeling of the love tap they gave me on the back of my head - beautiful birds otherwise) to ducks and geese to your regular pigeon. We had just gone during nesting season, too, so after that tern attack, I couldn't really fully enjoy Viðey island the same way as maybe I would've been able to before that encounter, especially not after seeing a "protected nesting grounds" labeled on the map. The island was... I don't want to say it's boring, but there wasn't too much to see. It's great for a leisurely hike, and I'm sure we missed out on a lot of the more scenic routes because we tried to avoid getting attacked by birds and stuck to the main road, but I kind of expected more colour all around.

Did I mention the lichen and the moss?
I have no idea what's going on there, but this was in between houses.

The colours that you can find sort of just everywhere in Reykjavik are so incredibly vivid and varied that I was tempted to take photos of basically everything I came across at times - imagine a Hockney-esque panorama of some view or other, even within the city with all the buildings. The roofs of the buildings offer pops of colour left and right, and even the building walls themselves are coloured! I'm not sure why exactly, and from the photos my brother took last time he went (a couple years ago, I think?) from up in the church, it does seem to have dulled a bit in comparison, but it's still very cheerful at ground level to see the variety of colour. Something else that was everywhere: wall paintings and graffiti.


The entire construction wall was graffitied through, ranging in style.

See below.

I thought I saw you somewhere before! (There's also a restaurant called Ugly, though not sure if associated?)

I know we have moss & lichen here too, but there's something about it!

There's also a profuse amount of moss and lichen, the likes of which I want to say I've never seen before, but I'm sure I have and it simply didn't make as great an impression on me. What really got me, though, was the moss. And not even the incredibly bright green moss that carpeted the entire ground on either side as we were driving along the road for the South tour (because it had just rained the day before). It's the thick, light green-grey stuff that's probably inches thick growing on the lava fields. Those are absolutely mind-boggling! How thick and lush they are; how plush! Just imagine lying down on that! (Though you'd get a pretty hefty fine from what I understand if a ranger found you on top of the moss.)

This. Is. The. Dream.
See that streamlined shape in the foreground, that the guy at the side is keeping an eye on? That's an arctic tern (see below).

Aggressive when nesting.

We didn't explore too much around the city itself, going to the same broad areas throughout the week:
  • Along the harbour. We ate ice cream at Valdís a couple of times, where I tried a salted licorice ice cream despite my initial misgivings (I mean, it is licorice after all, and you know those boxes of black and brightly coloured licorice candies? That was my first experience of the stuff, so I think it's an understandable reaction). We also went to the omnom factory, where we got most of the chocolate souvenirs.

Along the way to Whales of Iceland

The car roof looks like water!

  • The Whales of Iceland exhibit. I think they set this up quite well: the audio guides were small and unobtrusive, the size of an iPod mini, I think, and they provide you the headphones as well. I usually never listen to audio guides, so the fact that I did is a good sign. There were also tablets set up beside each dolphin or whale so you could read a little blurb about it if you chose not to listen to the guide or if you wanted a reminder which is which (with language options between English, Icelandic, and German). There were also interactive displays that gave a bit more information about specific things, such as killer whales, the evolutionary backdrop to whales (and how hippopotamuses are their closest living relative), and another one on mink whales. Then there are the models and the way they were displayed, such that you literally walked among the whales! Pretty cool.
    • The only concern I had after watching the documentary they were showing was that the documentary, which talks about Keiko the killer whale, who was set free after a campaign following the Free Willy movie. The documentary shown (that I saw - perhaps there is more than one being shown?) only goes up until the part where Keiko is still in the pen in the ocean, being slowly trained to eat fish in the water instead of having fish being thrown into his mouth. It doesn't tell you that Keiko never integrated into the pod that was closeby, or that Keiko died alone off the Norwegian shore, completely dependent on humans for subsistence for the rest of his "free" life. I spoke to one of the workers there and he told me that they had only just started showing the documentary, so perhaps they will be adding the other one, which follows Keiko till the end of his life - they actually have this documentary in the store, so I really hope they do! - depending on how things go, later on. It would definitely change the views of the visitors who come into the exhibit, I think, and be a bit more thought-provoking, though I suppose that isn't really the point of this particular exhibit.

Outside the bedroom window

Nifty back corridor we took to get to the harbour & thereabouts.

  • We walked along Laugavegur a couple times also, taking the bus to Hlemmur and walking back to Ranargata, where we lived.
  • City Hall area, which was actually very close to where we were staying, so I'm somewhat surprised we didn't go more often considering how beautiful it is there. That being said, if we had made regular strolls around the city in addition to all the touring we did, I'd probably not have made it back in one piece, so I'm glad we decided that sleep is important and we should probably indulge in that.
    • Surprisingly, the 24-hr daylight didn't bother my sleep schedule one bit. I probably slept better there than I have continuously in a while. It might have something to do with how much walking we were doing every day and how many activities we would fit into each and every day, such that I'd be exhausted by the end of it all, but all the same. I loved the constant sunlight.
  • Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. They are the best. I'm not even a hot dog person. I stay away from street meat when in Toronto to the point where I can't even remember the last time I ate one. But these I'm pretty sure I can eat every day. No joke.
  • We did get to go visit one of the swimming pools, which was beyond amazing! We went to Laugardalslaug and stuck to the outdoor pool and the hot tubs - I didn't even realize the beach volleyball was accessible from the floor of the pool area - and the lack of chlorine was a nice change from the swimming pools here. There was also the fact that even though the lanes weren't strictly regimented into slow/medium/fast lanes and didn't tell you which direction you had to swim, everybody looked out where they were going and it self-regulated well. But that's not even the best part. The entire system is the best part.
    • You get a little wristband after paying that allows you past the turnstile and opens/locks the lockers inside the changerooms. The pool provides towels if you didn't bring your own (already amazing) as well as soap (which pools provide here as well, but the soap was actually soap-like, not the poor excuse for soap they provide at public pools here). There's an open shoe rack outside the changerooms, and shoe lockers right beside those if you want to use them, so shoes are not allowed at all into the changerooms. The floor of the changeroom is also completely dry. Whoa. I'm always tiptoeing left and right around the disgusting muck that is the floor here! Someone monitors who goes into the pool and comes back in, as well as hands out the towels, so if they see you're heading into the pool dry, you'll get stopped and reminded to shower. The pool gets to stay cleaner and you don't step on all manner of dirt and hair on your way back into the changeroom - incredible. There was also a dryer so your swimsuit wouldn't drip all over the place afterwards, although I hear that's been implemented here also in some pools. On your way out, there's a bag for you to dump your towel and the turnstile lets you out only after you return your wristband. I have no words to describe how much I love this system. No words.


I was never afraid I'd get lost to the point of no return, and navigating the streets came pretty naturally after the first day, which is weird. I can get lost in Toronto, and it's a pretty rigid grid system in Toronto. It might have something to do with how colourful everything is and how close to the ground everything is. I definitely want to go back - maybe in the winter next time?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Riff Dress

Just finished a dress.

In light of my recent addition to the stash (though really, I haven't been adding to the herd much this past year or so), I feel as though I should put on a proper show of stashbusting at the very least. Granted, the Rosebleed shawl was also knit using yarn dug out from somewhere around the middle layers of my stash, time-wise; I purchased both this teal cotton and the studioloo lacey loo at the same time at the Knitter's Frolic a couple of years back. Maybe there's an incubation period that yarn has to go through before I can finally use it? (Though I'm not sure what that means for all the yarn that I bought when I first started into the knitting abyss and have yet to use...)

Anyway, this dress was a riff off the Country Garden Top pattern, using completely different yarn & needles producing a different gauge and completely disregarding the pattern altogether save the feather and fan bib. I also took the idea of knitting the straps past the front and attaching everything at the back. And that's basically it. So I think of the Country Garden Top pattern as more of an inspiration than anything, but I'm also veering heavily towards "let's not make a pattern out of this".

More slip dress-like than I planned

I was aiming for a summery dress, and to be sure, this fits the bill, but I overestimated how much 40" would be once it went completely around the bottom hem of the dress, so it's a bit less voluminous than I wanted it to be. In hindsight, I should have skipped the A-line shaping altogether and did heavier decreases at the top, just under the front bib, to get a more dramatic shape out of it, but I suppose this is fine too. It came out rather more slip-like than babydoll dress-like, but I think I can work with this - and it supports layering!

The yarn gives this dress wonderful drape, as you can see in the photo above, and the cotton makes it heavy enough to actually hang down rather than float about me, which I sometimes get when working with light wool. I was afraid that I was playing yarn chicken throughout - the original plan was actually to introduce another yarn to colourblock the straps/back because I thought I might not have enough yarn - until I realized that the first skein of yarn (out of two) took me well past half of the entire dress. It would probably have worked out just about perfectly if I had skipped the body decreases and just knit a straight tube up until the armholes, but alas. I'm pretty happy with how the back turned out, though! It's a bit of a hassle in terms of making it work with a bra, but isn't it always? And the straps going all the way from the front to the back was a nice touch, which I probably wouldn't have done normally, so I'm glad I took a look at the Country Garden Top pattern (if only just to double check that what I thought was feather and fan lace was actually feather and fan lace).

Not as sheer as I'd feared, either!

The entirety of the pattern I drafted was worked out on the yarn label, so there isn't much to go off of, and I'm not sure I really want to write this one out at all, as I mentioned above. We'll see if I ever do it, but in case you're interested in knitting this up yourself, here's the recipe:
  • It's an A-line dress, knit bottom-up.
  • CO a multiple of 18 sts for the bottom hem (the feather and fan pattern is an 18 st repeat)
    • I cast on 40", but I would maybe suggest even 50~56" if you want to do the body decreases throughout to get a nicer silhouette
  • If you want the A-line like I did, decrease slowly up to the armholes
    • You don't want to decrease down to your bust measurement though! You're going to be doing *k1, k2tog* or some variation thereof (I think just k2tog to end, or even *k1, k3tog* might be better), so make the calculations as to how many stitches you need before starting out the armhole shaping
    • Keep in mind also that you'll be binding off about 1" each side of both front & back pieces! Those you don't need to account for in terms of the decrease row.
    • I also think it might be better if we keep the decreases to the front bib (but do it all along the back), but that's up to you. The ribbing of the strap does help ease the look.
  • Armhole decreases/shaping (do this in reasonably few rows, because you want the pleats/gathers to be right over your bust - I decreased one stitch/side, every row, 3x)
  • Gathers row: whatever variation of this you decide on, just do it across to get to the measurement you need to cover your front
    • Keep in mind that the ribbed straps will pull in a bit, so keep a few stitches (or just don't do the decreases as heavily) in the strap area to accommodate for this
      • I forgot to do this, personally, and remedied it by pu&k around the outer edge of the armhole, which worked
  • Mark off however large you want the front bib to be and start feather & fan lace, placing markers to mark off where the ribbing starts/ends and where to work the lace
    • Work even until high enough for you, then BO all feather & fan lace part
  • Work straps individually until it goes around to the back, minus however high you want the back neck to be.
    • I worked the back piece armhole shaping and all that just past the gathers row so it was ready for grafting while I was here, also. Just use another skein or use the other end of the ball of yarn you've got.
  • Long-tail CO back neck stitches using scrap yarn and knit across to join both straps to main body piece once more.
    • Work in rib until long enough to reach back piece.
  • Graft together using kitchener stitch. I'm not sure if it's necessary, but I made sure to adjust the instructions for whenever I saw that it was a purl stitch next rather than a knit stitch (because one side is ribbing), to make it a smoother transition. I know this is something that makes the work look better if both sides are ribbing/not stockinette, but I'm sure it would have blended in just fine even if you just do the regular ol' kitchener.
  • If you would like to add some stability to your straps, PU&K around outer armhole (I didn't even count, but I did just pick up every edge stitch I saw - I slipped first stitch of every strap row, so you might actually want to do a different pickup rate)
    • I didn't do that for the inside, because I liked how it looked better without, but feel free to do whatever!

I know you're thinking there's no way I could possibly have written all this onto one yarn label, but that's because I was making stuff up on the fly as well. It's mostly just the calculations, so it really does fit on just a few lines!

Have fun!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


on a reindeer skin
That's (probably) what you think it is, yes.

This is going to be real quick. Just stuff I bought in Iceland (the irony being that both of the above items are from Finland). Yes, I added to my stash. No, I didn't take any digital photos, so photos of Iceland will have to wait until all the film has been processed and printed.

Eskimo wool blanket
In the colour Pistachio, even though I've never met a pistachio quite this acid yellow-green.

This lovely blanket came from a souvenir gift shop, but the moment I saw the colour, I couldn't quite bring myself to leave it behind. (Though I did leave it for a day before going back. It helped that I had it in my mind that it was double the price it actually was, so when we did go back (to get postcards, but also take a second look), I snatched it up immediately.) I've been noticing that I'm quite attracted to this type of colour, as you might have gleaned already from what yarn I'm attracted to and this dress I knit. The blanket itself is also just dreamy - look at that weave pattern! It's not just a diamond grid, and that slight off-centering just makes the blanket - and seeing as I got a lot of use out of an older large doubleweave red-black blanket/scarf that I dug out of storage earlier this year, I was able to justify it to myself. I'm sure this pistachio blanket is going to get a lot of use later on, once autumn comes back around.

I'm not sure what Sisustus & Sina mean, but I had a lot more luck googling Reeta Ek, the designer. This comes from her Lapuan & Kankurit SS/2016 collection, and just looking at her other collections, I really like her aesthetic! There's something about this blanket (and the collection itself) that leaves me beyond confused though: which part of this is "Eskimo"? Because that's what the blanket is called both in print (on the back side of the tag; I didn't notice until after I got home and looked at the full card) as well as on her site, where it says "Eskimo & Mehiläispesä (beehive)". Beehive makes sense, so I'm wondering if this is the result of some unfortunate naming due to an unfamiliarity with the English language (it also translates in English under materials, "100% wool, pistachios", and I'm not sure if it's 100% pistachios or 100% wool, or... both?) and the offensive connotations of the term "Eskimo" (though a quick search on Google tells you it's offensive right at the very top, so in which case I'd suggest simply doing some research), or if there's something I'm not quite understanding here about what Ek is trying to say about either the blanket or the collection. I mean, I still love the blanket itself - just uggggghhhhhh. I feel as though the blanket just got a bit heavier.

Onto a lighter subject, though: yarn. (Though perhaps not so light considering how much of it I have?)

Grenadine Einband for a lace dress I saw in the Handknitting Association Store

There was really no way I could've made it out of Iceland without bringing some yarn with me (despite not yet having used the yarn my brother brought back last time), so here's some more Einband. The dusty rose (Grenadine) above is going to become something akin to Miðja, which I think I saw a sample of in-store. There were two other dresses of similar style, cinched with ribbing at the waist and covered otherwise in allover lace, that I quite liked. I think there's actually too much yarn here, since the dress looked a bit big on me - I didn't try it on - but better safe than sorry, right? I also don't have the pattern, so I think I'm just going to find a lace I like and improvise. As I do.

The below three are going to be used for a sweater. Hopefully I've got enough of the body colour, but even if I don't, I'm sure I'll be able to make do with some of the other Einband I've got in my stash.

Main colour.

Contrast/accent colours.

You might notice I haven't really talked about what the wool blanket is sitting on, in the first photo. It's a reindeer skin. I've been eyeing a reindeer skin for a while from the Shetland Tannery (as well as the lambskins, to be honest), and I did wait until the last day to purchase one from Iceland, because we're not really a fur or leather family, and what am I going to do with a reindeer skin? In the end, I couldn't get it off my mind and I caved - especially after hearing one of our tour guides say that the lambskins in Iceland all come from lambs that are used in the meat industry, and that Iceland tries to use as much of the animal as it can, though this reindeer skin in particular did not come from Iceland, as I noted above; I didn't know the airport duty free stores also stocked skins, and Icelandic ones at that! It's always a gamble to wait until the airport anyway though - so now I am a happy owner of a beautiful reindeer skin! I'm still kind of drooling at the Shetland Tannery lambskins though, so if I ever make a trip to Shetland, I might still end up bringing home a sheep, or as much of one as I'll most likely ever own.

Monday, June 26, 2017


I haven't watched the movie, and I didn't realize they were beetles. I was also unaware they went by "May beetles".
  1. Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn
    • I forget where in my periphery this showed up, but the moment I realized this was another book about a little boy's friendship with a tree, I realized I needed to read it, especially after having been left completely torn about The Giving Tree not too long ago. Goldstyn does not disappoint. A meditation on both friendship and death and how friendship transcends death through the imaginative and heartwarming gesture of the little boy, this book is absolutely beautiful.
  2. A Streetcar Named Desire ballet
    • I'm so glad I went to the pre-show talk for this, because I didn't realize how much of it I had forgotten - no surprise, considering it's been since high school though - and what I had never really picked up on (for example, desire being something that is inescapable being signified by the streetcar, in that we are all in no more control of our own desires as we are as passengers in a streetcar). I had also completely forgotten about Stella's pregnancy, and while I'd never watched the movie before, which scene was the "Stella!" scene? I'm also blithely unaware of the mime gestures used in ballet and what they mean, so it was very helpful to have it pointed out the significance of the gesture of Blanche placing Allan's hand to her forehead when they first dance. I'm sure I would have made the connection at some point later on, especially after he has shot himself and she tries to revive the connection, revive him and undo her vitriolic rejection of him.
    • All this to say, I wanted to love this ballet very much, but for personal reasons, I couldn't. I was predisposed by situational factors, mostly, so I'll go over real quick a couple of things to give an idea of what my commentary's going to be coloured by: going in straight after work, I had forgotten my water; the subway was having power failure issues at Finch when I got there, and when it started back up again there was an incessant loud beeping noise that continued until either Sheppard or Lawrence; and I only had a cookie for dinner, during the intermission. So in that state, going into the second act and listening to a slew of cacophony with an eerie slant of classical thrown into the mix, I was quite unable to rouse myself to absorption in the ballet. That being said, I completely understand how the music chosen for both the first and second acts complemented the events in each scene, both physical/literal as well as internal. I loved the death scene, the repeated deaths, and the recurring dance where Blanche is lifted by her partner, happening throughout the ballet and becoming more suspect each time.
    • I'm pretty sure I made the connection back when we were studying A Streetcar Named Desire, but I know for sure we didn't actually play the song in class nor discuss lyrics to It's Only a Paper Moon. I remember searching up the song, and I can only hope I wasn't so daft as to not realize what it meant in the context of the play. It remains one of my favourite songs to this day, and I think its incorporation within the ballet, interrupting Blanche's memories incessantly, was quite a nice touch. There was something about it that was both lonely and accusative, and it captured Blanche's state quite well. Her desires and the consequences to the actions she takes to either procure what she desires or to reject them is captured in her inability to run from the reality of what has happened, even - or perhaps especially so - in her memories.
  3. Ice Diaries: An Antarctic Memoir by Jean McNeil
    • This was more of a work-related reading and something I most likely would not have picked up on my own, by dint of the fact it is filed under Biography & Memoir. Not that I veer far away from it and avoid them at all costs, so much as I don't browse there, generally.
    • I cannot help but think that this memoir could plausibly have taken place anywhere; not in the sense that anywhere would have done, so much as it is much less a book that transports you where the author has gone, and one that details the author's thoughts and revelations, her anxieties at every turn and how they are related to her past. There is not a single instance where I am carried away entirely by the text to Antarctica, and I find myself disappointed. I looked forward to the blocks within the book, between her diary entries and her narrative, the separate thread - her past - was much more intriguing to me. I know it all ties together, and even at the very beginning McNeil states that the characters featured are of necessity characters and not people, despite their having basis in reality - to an extent, I feel as though any one person's interpretation of another, either through observation or by transcribing them into words, already renders the one they have created in their mind, on the page, a separate existence from the person they are based upon - but for myself personally, I would have preferred either a full narration, a novel (which I believe actually does exist, so perhaps I should have looked there instead), or a diary. McNeil does blend them all quite well, in a cohesive manner, and I enjoyed the way she achieved this, but there is a self-consciousness there - one that is part and parcel of the category of memoir, I suppose - that made me think it no memoir, rather a guarded telling of a story, threaded together from elements of McNeil's life.
    • While McNeil writes in a beautiful prose, I kept getting this nagging sense of pretense throughout precisely because of her style. There are a family of adjectives that keeps popping up in her descriptions at some point, along the lines of glutinous and glaucous, and while I can appreciate there being a glutinous quality to the air, the atmosphere, the very experience of being on base in the Antarctic, there appeared to be some pattern of choosing her adjectives such that they conjured the feeling of starting with a G, if that makes sense. I realize in terms of meaning, the words don't have any relation, but there is a physicality in reading the words that groups them together in some stringy, sticky mass, impossible to disentangle from the text. Something about the sheer quantity of words that McNeil chooses that fall into some nebulous category of "not quite often observed in the vernacular from my own experience of it, apart from the literary crowd perhaps" strikes me as another layer of defense against what I associate to be the revealing nature of memoir: it is as though we see her thoughts, her connections, and the events she experiences only through layer upon layer of ice, in all their colours and brilliances. I suppose this is what makes me feel as though I am reading not so much a memoir as a novel. It is less of a revealing, a flensing, as McNeil herself might put it, than a meditation on her life as a collage. Which is fair; it is a memoir. It's simply not what I expected, and when I keep reading on, trying to transport myself to the Antarctic or the Arctic, wherever it is McNeil goes, I realize I am doing it using brute force, and my sheer force of will is not enough. I am instead transported into McNeil's thoughts, and the general sense of her thoughts remains the same throughout, essentially unchanged and unaffected (despite what it may seem, and against what is written).
  4. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
    • I like the rundown before the novel of places you might like to enjoy a leisurely read. I wonder if Colgan does this for every novel she writes? Another one of the armchair travel (as Ice Diaries above) reads for work. Next on this list is A Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks. See a pattern here? Sheep, countryside, Antarctica... isolation and a harking back to the good ol' days I never partook in (which generally means a romanticization of what it is to actually live those climes)?
    • Whenever Scotland comes up as a topic, I always refer to it as my spiritual homeland, because the one time I went for vacation, there was this feeling of belonging, or perhaps it was just a level of comfort I'm unused to, and Colgan captured that beautifully with Nina surveying the fictional town of Kirrinfief: "here, looking down on the valley, at the tiny villages full of people getting on with their own lives in their own way... Nina had the oddest sense of things she had ever experienced... she felt that she had come home" (p.41). Not that I got too many views of tiny villages, but you get the idea. The novel is peppered throughout with descriptions of the beautiful countryside, complete with festivals featuring dancing and drinks and a view of the aurora borealis, all transporting you to Kirrinfief with the beautiful imagery. The daily life is what really gets me, though, in the closeness of the entire town and how everyone gets along and looks out for each other (as Nina wryly remarks in response to her friend Surinder saying much the same as I just did: "Well, we have to... there isn't an Accident and Emergency for sixty miles" (p.216)).
    • As far as the plot is concerned, well. It's pretty lighthearted stuff. Not so much the content, I suppose, although that too, so much as the style of writing and the general tone of the novel overall. It's some light reading for your leisurely time, as Colgan herself suggests in the Message to Readers right before the story starts.
      • To be honest, I really wish that Nina became able to stand up on her own, without the romance aspect of it. "Good thing I don't talk much then"????? Really? Anyway.
  5. The Lottery and Other Short Stories by Shirley Jackson
    • Each and every single one of these short stories has an odd mundaneness to them in that they seem to be a story about just another ordinary day... until they take some weird twist, as when Jim leaves his own apartment, where he has hosted a neighbour for dinner, and he goes "back" to her room instead, leaving her and her colleague in his apartment. It's as though our notions of what constitutes the norm don't apply, and yet these stories don't exist in another dimension altogether: they have just enough of the surreal to them to strike the reader as really weird and kind of freaky, but enough similarities to our familiar world that the oddness of the story creeps in on you rather than rudely making itself known.
    • The titular story is quite disturbing, and the stoning that happens retains its savage quality despite not being written in full (to her death), precisely because of the nonchalance of that town's inhabitants throughout. Chilling, unsettling, these stories are spooky in their own right despite not really detailing anything all too out of the ordinary (save maybe in The Lottery).
  6. XXY (2007)
    • What a beautiful film! That family has such a wonderful dynamic and the support and love that the parents provide and have for Alex is palpable. The only thing is, I'm not sure whether the surgeon had to be as stubbornly unchanging as he was, in viewing Alex as a case that needed to be solved, as well as embodying most evidently the societal norms that the family moved to get away from when he talks to his son about leaving. I'm not sure that Alvaro leaves ready to face the changed dynamics between his parents and in terms of his own life, although he was able finally to talk seriously with his father. All said, all the characters developed throughout the film, and while Alex always had her own, it was great to see in the end that she chooses not to care about what others think about her being intersex and (from what I understood) going on to lay charges.
  7. The Book of Henry (2017)
    • We were supposed to go to the ROM FNL. Then we were supposed to watch Wonder Woman. And because we got the times wrong, we ended up going with the movie that had the worst rating & the most hilarious review titles instead: The Book of Henry. Here are a few of the ones that popped up immediately following a quick google search: The Book of Henry is so deliriously bad, it feels cursed (Vox), The Book of Henry Review A Unique Kind of Terrible (Vulture), and The Book of Henry is a Warped Nightmare of a Movie (The Atlantic). They're all true.
    • What is this movie even about? What's the overarching plot? Is there one? I get the feeling the director tried to fit in too many subplots and didn't end up making any cohesive and believable story (e.g. Christina goes to live with Susan? Really? Henry's not much of a genius if he shakes the instax polaroid slide, among other things). The characters aren't fleshed out, and personally, I don't think the scenes that were supposed to be tearjerkers were very successful at all. Why did the principal end up reporting Glenn? Is it because Christina started crying on stage? Or her dance conveyed the extent of her abuse? Wait. But what exactly did the abuse consist of, exactly? Was she being beaten, or sexually abused, or what? Because it's such a serious issue at hand, I think it's kind of important for this detail to be hashed out. Besides which, where are her bruises? And she doesn't grow as a character, at all.
    • And what bothered me most was probably the fact that Glenn ended up killing himself - was there no way to fix the issue without him dying? Are there situations where you really do just have to get rid of the person in order to help everyone else? What's the message I'm supposed to take away here? What's the role of that doctor????????? I thought he might be a potential love interest, but there's nothing there for him. What is he even doing there? He's not much emotional support, but he's a bit more than a nameless side character - what's the point of him being there? Ugggghhhhhhh.
  8. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
    • I was recommended this by a customer after I remarked that I had read Rotters (Daniel Kraus), and it's a pretty spot-on recommendation! If only I could do RA with the same aplomb as him for every customer, my (library) life would be pretty golden. Someone who has read Rotters will most likely enjoy The Monstrumologist, and here are just a few reasons why:
      • Father-son dynamics are very similar, in that they're dysfunctional, and it's this odd relationship that fuels the boy's maturation into a young man.
        • The protagonist starts off a boy, reliant upon his parents, before losing them (in Rotters, it's more that the father was never really a father figure, so even though his father is who he gets sent to live with, the boy did lose his parent figure) and being sent off to live with someone who fills the father figure role in an unconventional manner. Someone who's awkward but honourable and lives by rules that don't seem to match completely with the mores of whichever society they're living in.
        • It's a coming-of-age sort of plot, in short.
      • Gravedigging, death, descriptions of dead bodies. If you're into that. Lots of unusual activities taking place under the cover of the night - grave robbery, monster hunting - and a sense of those who participate being at an elevated remove from the rest of society. Elevated in that they are of the impression they are more worldly and know more about nature, or how the world works, than everyone else just living their lives completely unaware of the grave-digging battle happening underfoot, or the existence of monsters that were supposed only to live in myths.
      • Religion, specifically Christianity (or something like). In Rotters, through and through, whereas in The Monstrumologist, used a bit more sparingly and not quite permeating the text.
      • Although Rotters doesn't have a supernatural element to it, there sort of is, in the character of Boggs, and the entire situation is odd enough that you'd be willing to suspend your disbelief for the purposes of immersing yourself in the novel. With The Monstrumologist, there really are creatures of a supernatural slant, so you know what you're getting into, but it's also presented in a more matter-of-fact way, not wavering much between dream/hallucination and reliable testimony.
    • For all that, though, and while I enjoyed the overall plot, adjectives probably constituted about 80% of the text, which is really off-putting and comes across as a bit try-hard. That on its own might not be entirely too much, but coupled with the overall feel of the writing reminding me of someone trying too hard to imitate a writing style gone by of ages past, so I couldn't really get into it as much as I could Rotters. I don't know how authentic Yancey managed to be, as I haven't really made it a hobby to read 19th c. manuscripts, but it prevented me from plunging into the novel. I'm somewhat interested in whether this remains constant throughout the series (I have heard it does), but it's also off-putting enough that I'm not much looking forward to trekking through them.
      • Also, just a note: I didn't get that the monstrumologist was supposed to be handsome until Will Henry commented on it outright. This is odd.
      • Also, the doctor is a bit too flawed, in that the glimpse of humanity we get in the form of his affection towards Will Henry doesn't balance off the general asshole that he is throughout. He's supposed to be intelligent, which would to an extent justify his arrogance and the way he treats everyone else (though even then... but at least he would be more sympathetic as a whole), but he's wrong all the time. And Will Henry, being the narrator, while being critical of the doctor, doesn't have the fortitude of will to go against him outright, for the entire book. I should hope there's character growth in that department throughout the series, but as far as this particular book goes, it's not getting me emotionally vested in the characters.
  9. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper
    • For some reason or another, it appears that words - perhaps languages - have secret lives that are easily discoverable enough that we are able to find books that purport to give us the inside look at, say, pronouns, or in this case, dictionaries. Word by Word is witty and engaging Stamper is everything you could hope for in a narrator about the dictionary and how it is to work as one of the editors who writes the dictionary. Let me say that again: writes the dictionary. Stamper relates it as though it's nothing out of the ordinary when she's asked what she does and she answers that she writes dictionaries, but if you will, just think about the enormity of that phrase: writes dictionaries.
    • Stamper cracks me up at least once in almost every chapter, which is kind of a big feat (maybe less nowadays, but I still think it takes quite a bit to make me laugh out loud when reading). Witty and enlightening - it took Stamper an entire month to define "take" (do you see what I did there?), and another editor nine months to overhaul "but" - NINE MONTHS! That's a baby! - Stamper reveals the day-to-day operations of being a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. The outrage from complaints she recounts I could already imagine, and I have a lot of trouble defining words when asked to do so on the fly, so it came as no surprise that new lexicographers have to take in-house classes on how to define a word, and that it should take so much work to do so, but all of it is is still so well written and frankly hilarious at times that I could barely get myself to put the book down. Read it! Then follow Merriam-Webster on Twitter. Better yet, buy one of their dictionaries so they can continue to churn them out!
  10. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
    • Ultimately, I feel as though it ended up being much more an analysis of the relationship between Bechdel and her mother, or rather the effect her mother had on her growing up (and continues to have as an adult). To be honest, I'm not sure how to write about it, but the way the "story" jumps from one place to another to explore different episodes in her life and how they manifest themselves in her dreams was interesting, and worked well in this graphic novel; it imitated the associations made during therapy, I think, which are explicit following the dreams.
  11. Amerika by Franz Kafka (edited to completed list June 30)
    • It's an onion man, right? It's an onion. Right? (On the cover of the edition I've got, at least.)
      • Is it a representation of Karl's integrity being peeled away and lost one layer at a time?
    • I'm surprised I haven't read any Kafka until now, although I do remember trying to read The Trial during my spare in grade 12. It hooked me in from the start, but I wasn't a library user back then, despite me being an employee at another library. Even just going by Vonnegut's diagram of Kafka's stories (his plot plots are hilarious and I hold them dear), I'm all the more struck by how odd it is I hadn't picked up any of his novels prior to this. I've also tried listening to Benedict Cumberbatch's narration of The Metamorphosis at some point, but I think it's more just that audiobooks aren't quite my jam (or weren't, at any rate; it's been a while).
    • It took me a while to finish this one, mostly because I was reading it as my work breaktime novel, but I'm glad I ended up finishing it after I read The Miner by Soseki. I do think that Karl slowly loses sight of himself throughout Amerika, but at the same time, there is his naivety and industriousness that is never lost, characteristics that help define how this young man has not learned a thing from the beginning of the story to the end. Likewise, the protagonist of The Miner (I forget his name) has much of the same personality characteristics: he had a bit of a problem at home to do with a woman, was banished and went off on his journey, in much the same sort of mood as Karl (though in the beginning with much fewer prospects), and ends up basically just where he started (in terms of what he has learned from the whole experience), though now fully entrenched.
Not quite done these:
  1. The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks
    • Another work-related read for armchair travel reading. This is actually my second time trying to read through this book, and considering the subject matter, you'd think I'd be all over that, right? I thought so too! But I'm just not getting pulled into the life of being a shepherd in Lake District. It might have something to do with the style of writing or the tone, or the way it can get a bit choppy, although there are instances of pure gold in the writing, as in Rebanks' comment about dipping the sheep into chemicals: "No one worried about such things too much back then - but basically we were dipping them in chemical agents developed to kill people in the First World War" (p.35). No comment follows as to whether they have switched to more environmentally & sheep-friendly alternatives to keep the flies away.
    • It's just surprisingly difficult to get through such a short book with such large set type. It's less like strolling through the hills & valleys and more like climbing up a cliff.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Alistair's Rose Pi Shawl
It's been a while since I've knit anything, or so it feels - anyone else noticing a pattern of all-or-nothing going on here? - but I finally got myself to start something up, starting with a skein I've been wanting to use for a couple of years now: Studioloo's lacey-loo in Roseblood. It's a lovely deep, saturated pink that reminds me of honeysuckle (even though I didn't actually know what honeysuckles looked like until I searched them up for writing this post to make sure they are what I'm being reminded of... yes. Even then, they reminded me of honeysuckle) or an overripe fruit, overlaid with a touch of honey to bring forth that almost golden glow - I say almost because there is zero that is yellow or golden to this colourway, and the illusion of a golden pink is only through the slight halo arising of its singles construction, producing the slightest of a golden aura, albeit an imaginary one. The yarn itself is soft and surprisingly strong, and I found zero knots in the entire skein, which meant I had exactly two ends to weave in at the end of all the knitting: the cast on and the bind off. So much for what I love about the yarn, and now onto the murky cons, specifically: it crocked like nothing else (except for maybe that other saturated pink, the madtosh tosh dk that I used for the chevron bomber - I'm tempted to conclude torchere has some relation to torture, that. What's with the pinks?), and subsequently, unsurprisingly, bled into the soak. I tried rubbing it vigorously against a white fabric surface after it had dried to see if it would crock again, but it didn't transfer any colour, so perhaps all the excess dye washed out in that one soak? Probably just my wishful thinking.

It blocked out spectacularly! I also can't aim my camera today.

I knew from the start I wanted to use more or less the entire skein on one project (it took 979 yards total to make this size using 3.25mm needles and laceweight yarn), so a pi shawl seemed the best bet, besides which it had been a while since the last one and I've been itching for a large project since finishing the brioche dress. (There might also have been the little issue of me not wanting to do the whole nine yards for swatching, so garments were out of the picture altogether.) And of course, having such a saturated pink in a colourway called Roseblood, of all things, I figured I should go all in or nothing and look for something flowery in design. Alistair's Rose Pi Shawl seemed (and I think did turn out to be) a pretty perfect fit, so I went for it. Now, the design's lovely and very easy to follow - I think everything's pretty self-explanatory upon seeing the charts, especially if you understand the mechanics of a pi shawl.

Just to see the edging, which I ended up pinning while it blocked.

However. And this is a very stressed however. If you follow the instructions to the letter, your charts will not match up. They will not be centered. It's not by much - one stitch, and what's one stitch in the grand scheme of things? Can you tell I only found out after the first chart? Can you also tell I goofed, twice!, and tried to fix one of them? No? Good. - but if you, like me, are the type to be bothered (but apparently not bothered enough to rip back after discovering that yes, I would have to rip back an entire chart or two) by this one stitch off-centered design, then you just need to insert these lines into the pattern as you work your way through:

  1. Before working Chart 2, after working the yo & K rounds: sl first stitch of round so it becomes the last stitch of round
  2. Before working Chart 3, after working the yo & K rounds: sl first stitch of round so it becomes the last stitch of round
  3. Before working Chart 3B: sl first stitch so it becomes last
  4. Before Chart 4: sl last stitch of round so it becomes the first stitch of the round
I believe that's all. I'm pretty sure the direction of slipping stitches I've provided here is correct, but just pay attention to the numbers (count how many stitches until the center of the chart below, and make corresponding changes to current chart). I made the mistake of not looking through everyone else's projects before starting, also, so although a number of others have made a note of this already, I failed to see it until I encountered it myself.

Perfect size for doubling up as a crescent shawl

The original plan was to keep it for myself, but as with all the best laid plans, this is going to become a gift. My parents mentioned my cousin very briefly while I was knitting this and I haven't been able to get it out of my head thereafter that this shawl is to be hers. Not that I know her very well, unfortunately, but I do think it would look lovely on her, from the couple of times I've seen her over the years. (I'll have to make especial mention of possible transfer of colour though. That's actually quite worrisome.)

I suppose a pi shawl for myself will just have to wait till the next shawl itch comes around.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Part two of May. It's all held together by a very strong thread of whales & dolphins.

I feel as though I'm doing a research paper on whales & dolphins and am just in the research phase right now, trying to make connections. I'm certainly doing a lot more research than I usually do for these reviews, but it's more to do with the fact that they're so closely related and feed off of one another so easily that I can't help but compare & contrast, which leads to some external research. So this is going to be a long one, despite having fewer than 10 items on the list. The first one kind of jumps around, but it gets smoother as I move onto the next two books and relate them to Cultural Lives.

On a related note, I recently found out about Unpaywall, which came up in an article on LibraryJournal. Although I haven't really been doing much that requires free access to scholarly articles, I do still appreciate that it's become that much easier to access them, legally!
Also, ResearchGate, though I have yet to request anything, appears to be a pretty cool resource as well. It looks like you request the article directly from the authors?

I thought I had written a little blurb about Do Whales Get the Bends, but I suppose not? I didn't finish it, so that makes sense. They do, by the way. And I learned about the Coriolus effect from that also, which I'm pretty sure I've learned about before (in elementary school maybe?) and forgotten all about until I read it again in that book. Cool stuff. Hahaha I totally did write about it already. Just in my last post. How did I miss that? Wow.

  1. The Cultural Lives of  Whales and Dolphins by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell
    • There's less information under this review than in the other two cetacean books below, mostly because I found it easier to relate this as my base and talk about specific things from it in relation to whatever I read in the other two books.
    • Let me just gush a bit about how the authors have organized this book, and how they have, firstly, defined their terms and discussed other definitions and why they do or do not subscribe to them, along with pros and cons of using their definition v.s. others; secondly, they discuss other viewpoints and present arguments to their own interpretation of the observation data available to them, offering the reader the chance to consider alternative explanations - it can sometimes be very easy to become swept along at the author's pace if you're not reading especially critically (maybe it's just me that reads quite that unthinkingly sometimes), so I really appreciate that the authors should present voices of dissent; and overall, this book is just so well structured! It's easy to follow each of the chapters, despite the dense look of the typeset and the academic feel of the text, and Whitehead & Rendell present plenty of examples of what might constitute culture in cetaceans. And I know this one should be standard practice, but sadly it is not always the case (I'm looking at you Christopher Hibbert), but they provide endnotes, some of which expand upon the point, all of which give you where the authors found what information, in case you're so inclined to go look at the original source.
      • Although Whitehead & Rendell make note of alternate explanations for certain behaviours throughout the chapters as well, they do have a separate chapter altogether dedicated to highlighting opposing viewpoints and detailing their own arguments against them or just pointing out how impractical it would be to apply the same standards across the animal kingdom, alternatively accepting point blank that there is still room for doubt, even if there is a lot of evidence that supports there being culture in cetaceans.
      • Some of the arguments against cetacean culture that Whitehead & Rendell lay out strike me as straw men (in the sense that even the authors say that you'd have to opt for rather convoluted reasoning in order to arrive at those alternative conclusions just to steer clear of "culture" per se), and I'm not sure if that's just because they are, or if there are other arguments not cited in this book. I'm pretty taken with the authors here, so I'm leaning heavily towards the counter-arguments riding a lot on technicalities and semantics - granted, technicalities are important, because otherwise it'd be no use to define anything well enough to study them.
        • They spend quite a bit of time expanding on alternate views and detailing what it is that opponents are latching onto, which makes this a great place to start, but when I say this, I don't mean to say that it is just an introductory level book, in that Whitehead & Rendell are incredibly thorough. I've got a couple more books to go that talk about either whales or dolphins specifically, but even if I didn't, I think I would be pretty satisfied having read this one. Obviously, there is more to learn about cetaceans that they do not cover, either because it is outside of the scope of this book (i.e. not really about culture in cetaceans), or simply because they are not aiming to become the authority or touchstone book regarding everything to do with whales and dolphins. Whitehead & Rendell do a great job sticking to the point and laying out their arguments in a way that I think appeals (and satisfies) both leisurely readers as well as those who might come from a more scholarly or academic background.
    • I love the way this was written in terms of style as well, especially considering the fact that it's a collaboration! I'm not sure if it's because it was mostly one person doing the bulk of the writing, but it's incredibly easy to follow (if a bit dense), the style remains constant throughout without being cut-and-dry, and the authors retain a dry humour that I appreciated. As an example, "thanks are due to the unhurried pace of some Costa Rican customs procedures" (p.304), as that was when the outline of the book was written by Whitehead.
      • Also, the bibliography stretches from pages 351-398. And if you're wondering where any of the information that is outlined in the book came from, the notes from pages 307-349 will most likely cover that for you.
    • Hypothesis-testing, flawed? I'd love to read more on this! Especially considering that that's basically all you get taught in Statistics in undergrad (or at least the intro to stats, along with advanced stats, and at least for my psych - not sure about other programs and other schools).
    • Haplodiploidy is pretty weird.
    • In the case of the two girls of Midnapore, India, raised by a wolf mother till around the age of 8, when they were taken into human custody (p.199), I wonder why they felt the need to remove them from their wolf family? I suspect even now it would happen, but if they have assimilated into the life of being a wolf, why not just let it be? Especially seeing as "the children were profoundly incapable of functioning independently in human society, with no evidence they ever approached concepts of things like shared meanings or cultural identity" (p.199).
      • This story was related in relation to Keiko, whose freedom was campaigned after the Free Willy movie, and was released, but was unable to integrate into the wild Icelandic pod, continuing to be fed by humans throughout his life (pp.200-201). It appears killer whales require social input in the early stages of their development in order to assimilate into a pod, akin to the way humans require social input to experience normal development.
    • Is the 52-Hz whale the loneliest whale? It is! Is there a possibility it is/was a hybrid whale? That BBC article ends saying there might be more than one other whale out there singing at around 50-Hz, and that 52 might just have been a wandering member... but what are the chances of that? Another blog post about that here, from UCL, but nothing in the lit.
    • I haven't found it again, but in one of the chapters, I'm not sure whether the authors were making a joke or what, but they said something along the lines of "whales occasionally pair up to beach together, and group suicide looks a lot like a social act to us", which just tickled me pink. Of course, I'm reading this in the driest voice you might be able to muster.
      • As it happens, this is not a joke: whales do beach together, intentionally, though the reasons for this elude us. Whitehead & Rendell discuss this later in the book when they talk about the effects of culture on a species (pros/cons), one of the cons being that maladaptive behaviours (read: stupid behaviours) sometimes stick.
      • See below (when I discuss Are Dolphins Really Smart?) for more detail on this.
    • If there's some evidence that the advent of killer whales around ten million years ago coincided with the "disappearance of about half the species of cetaceans, pinnipeds, and sirenians" (p.248 & in chapter 6), why should we think that humans are acting outside of the way nature works in our rather total devastation of habitats supporting wildlife, whether on land or in the oceans? I'm not saying we shouldn't try to help other species survive - I'm just wondering why we don't consider it part of the natural flow of things. Is it because we're destroying habitats at a much faster pace than ever before (as far as we know) and making it so that extirpation of animals around the world is on the rise? Or is it mostly to stroke our own egos and make ourselves feel better? I'm not discounting the other possibility, of course: we done goofed and we're just trying to make amends.
      • It would be interesting to see what past mass wipe-outs have been like (I'm sure I've read about it before in another book - I think possibly in Randall's Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, but I could be incredibly off the mark), and see whether we're just following the pattern (if there is one).
    • The authors gave me more information about killer whales than all of the previous books I've read combined (granted, none of them were focused specifically on whales and dolphins): there are more than just the two ecotypes that other books mention!
      • In the northwest Pacific, 3: transients, residents, and offshores (deepwater fish, esp. sharks)
      • northeast Atlantic, at least 2: cetacean hunters & type 2 generalized diet
      • Antarctic, at least 5, maybe more: type A (minke whales), pack-ice (seals), Gerlache (penguins), Ross Sea & sub-Antarctic both eat fish
        • This is way more detail than the more simplistic "residents v. transients" information I was getting before, and assuming each ecotype is also morphologically different, how different do they get before branching off into separate species altogether? Or are they prevented from doing so because they deplete their food supply (as there is some evidence to suggest it has happened in the past)? (pp.132-133 & later on as well).
        • And the reason for all these ecotypes? Apparently 3 main reasons: picky eaters, xenophobic, and culture (p.129). 
    • Genetic bottlenecking: I'm super confused, and not because I don't understand what Whitehead & Rendell are saying about it here, but because in Into Great Silence (below), there seems to be a completely opposite use of the term. Does it apply to both situations? Discussion below.
      • Also, bottlenecking and in relation to Palumbi & Palumbi's The Extreme Life of the Sea, where they briefly discussed how both giant squids and sperm whales had surprisingly low genetic diversity, which might have happened because of genetic bottlenecking happening to both of them around the same time. I forget exactly what they said about it, but I believe it was something along the lines of "sperm whales & giant squids came into being around the same time, and both went through genetic bottlenecking because of their relationship to one another (or because of shared environments? not sure) and so the low genetic diversity found in both of them can be thus explained". Which means it cannot be thus explained, and there must be another reason why both of these species, one of which feeds on the other, both contain such startling low genetic diversity. For the sperm whales, Whitehead has suggested cultural hitchhiking (see below), but this works only because sperm whales are matrilineal in nature, which means it wouldn't apply to the giant squid. Does that mean it's just a coincidence? Or is there something to the predator-prey relationship that made it so? Specific genetic mutations didn't survive in squid because of the genes that did in sperm whales, perhaps? It just so happened that those neutral tagalongs (or perhaps the more actively chosen genes) affected the fitness of the squid because they were being hunted in such and such ways? Would love to read more about it.
    • This is really frustrating, but I can't find two articles (or perhaps one was The Gene by Mukherjee) that discuss how your grandparents starving as children might either increase or reduce your chances of obesity. I believe they said contrasting things, although I'm almost positive the first one I read was talking about a potato famine - I don't remember if it was in Ireland or Denmark, or perhaps elsewhere altogether - and the second one more recently stated that it helps reduce your chances of obesity if your grandparents starved as children.
    • Some articles that might be of interest:
      • Does theory of flocking affect the way in which culture disseminates? Also bowerbirds and the way they imitate their neighbours in the way they decorate their bowers (p.280)? It's social learning, which flocking doesn't sound to be (since flocking is more just in reaction to the 7 closest partners, or however many it is). But I wonder if any of that translates over?
      • Evolution Runs Faster on Shorter Timelines as it relates to white/pink/red environment and how that influences cultural evolution.
        • So evolution doesn't run on red scales, then, because on shorter timescales, they change a great deal and change much less over the long run. In which case, pink noise seems like it's the best fit there. Or does it even make any sense to talk about genetic mutation in terms of frequency scales? Since in Cultural Lives, it seems like the concept is used more to talk about cultural evolution and how useful it is in different environments as compared to (or in addition to) genetic mutation: that is, when is culture more useful than genetic mutation?
      • Possible Quanta articles of interest: Scientists Seek to Update EvolutionThe Beasts That Keep the BeatCan Darwinian Evolution Explain Lamarckism?, and A Map of Human History, Hidden in DNA. Interestingly enough, Scientists Seek to Update Evolution talks about Kevin Laland, with whom Rendell had been working before working on this book.
    • On a slightly unrelated note: is this the same Tomasello talking about human & nonhuman culture (p.34-5) as the Tomasello mentioned in Are Dolphins Really Smart (see below) and from The Hunt for the Golden Mole? I'd really like to know, because it if is... well. That's kind of amazing.
  2. Land in Sight (2013)
    • My brother won two tickets for this movie from the Goethe Institut, so I got the chance to go see this one. It was less surprising to me than I expected it to be, and one scene reminded me a lot of a documentary film we watched in an anthropology course, showing how a woman in the Philippines was trying to get married to a customer at the club she works at - the man hailing from the United States.
  3. Onegin musical by Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille
    • Wow! This was such a fun performance! I had an inkling of what Onegin was about, never having read the poem nor gone to any of the other performances (though I did want to attend the ballet, I didn't end up doing so), but this was so much more energetic than I had expected. I originally thought it'd be a pretty sad affair, considering it's pretty much rejection after rejection - and add to that the death of Lensky - so I was very pleasantly surprised at how upbeat it all was. This is motivating me to actually pick up the copy of Onegin I have in translation to read it through.
    • I really enjoyed the songs throughout (see Let me Die here), especially the Once More, Onegin that Onegin sings at the end with Tatiana. I did find that Josh Epstein, who plays Vladimir Lensky, seemed to stand out quite a bit in terms of his singing - if I'm remembering correctly, he was in another Onegin musical that took place in Vancouver, which makes sense to me. All of the cast's voices were lovely, don't get me wrong! There was just something about Epstein's voice that seemed to me to take everything one step further.
    • I also know how to pronounce Onegin now, which is a plus!
  4. Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas by Eva Saulitis
    • This was a great followup to The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins! The style is completely different, and you have completely different expectations as to how the authors relay information: Saulitis takes the storytelling approach, with short chapters, where Whitehead & Rendell took the academic/scholarly approach. I think in part because I read Cultural Lives first, I was able to enjoy Into Great Silence more than I would have if I had switched up the order.
    • Saulitis relates her experiences with the Chugach transient pod to her own maturation as a researcher and a scientist, starting out in a fishery and only encountering her first orca by chance. It's an intimate story that is made more relatable as Saulitis draws parallels between her own life and the lessons she learns during her research at Sound, as well as the parallel to the Eyak and other indigenous cultures that have orcas embedded in their cultures and traditions.
    • OK wait. Saulitis' bottleneck sounds like the exact opposite of how Whitehead & Rendell describe genetic bottlenecking! In fact, what they're saying seems to contradict each other completely:
      • "Lance's genetic study suggested that the Chugach transients exist in a population bottleneck. The animals he sampled had much higher genetic diversity than one would expect in such a small, insular population. That's why, with only twenty-two members before the spill, they could still produce calves. Genetic bottlenecks can result from a sudden decrease in population size. You can live inside a bottleneck for a very long time, but.. you are vulnerable" (Saulitis, p.229).
      • In contrast, Whitehead & Rendell say, "the matrilineal whales - the killer whale, sperm whale, and the blackfish species - have a genetic anomaly. The diversity of their mitochondrial genomes, which they inherit from their mothers, is remarkably low, about a tenth of that of other whale and dolphin species with similar populations" (p.238). A few explanations were proposed:
        • Genetic bottleneck, where a population is very small, resulting in few individuals carrying genes, some of which are related and thus overlap. "Thus, during the bottleneck, the total number of different genes in the population is few. Later, the population may increase, but the number of different genes, which all come from the same few individuals that lived through the bottleneck, stays low. Hence a bottleneck can reduce the genetic diversity of a population" (p.239). Whitehead & Rendell find issue with this explanation for the low diversity in mitochondrial genomes for the matrilineal whales though.
        • The second argument is that those specific genes that don't change much are important for the animal's survival. Again, they find issue with this explanation. A third explanation was the matrilineal nature of the whales being the cause, which was also rejected, because the whales of a pod don't all tend to die together (with the exception of mass strandings).
        • Whithead proposes cultural hitchhiking to explain this genetic anomaly instead: neutral variants are linked to genes that are selected for, so even though they don't directly affect fitness, they tag along for the ride, reducing variation in neutral genetic variants (p.240).
      • So now, back to discussing genetic bottlenecking. How can both descriptions be correct? There's the possibility that for the Chugach transients, there's more movement (in and out of members of the pod) than in the killer whale populations discussed in Cultural Lives for this section? Or perhaps the population used to be a lot larger, and bottlenecked not too long ago, so there's still genetic variety - more than expected for such a small population - but it's still a bottleneck. In theory, different parts of the bottleneck are being described: for the Chugachs, pretty close to the bottleneck incident in evolutionary terms; for Whitehead & Rendell's killer whales generally (nevermind that they reject the bottleneck hypothesis), further down the bottle, around where the body is after everything has settled down.
        • Alternatively, Whitehead & Rendell's bottleneck refers to a population that started out small before booming, whereas the Chugachs started out large before suddenly getting culled somehow. Kind of like flipping the bottle around. It's pretty confusing because they don't discuss different types of genetic bottlenecking, so I'm under the impression there's just the one and apparently I'm not understanding it because these two books seem to say completely opposite things!
      • Edited: I think it might be the case that what Saulitis meant was that for the fact that the AT1 community is constituted of 10 individuals, they had greater genetic diversity than expected (with full knowledge that killer whales in general have low genetic diversity). Rather than saying that the Chugach transients have more genetic diversity than other killer whales, it's more that in terms of genetic diversity in killer whales, taking into consideration that the population is so small and insular, it is surprisingly genetically diverse.
    • Again, bringing to the fore the variety of ecotypes of killer whales, and the different populations of killer whales that make up each ecotype. It expands almost as much as Cultural Lives, in more accessible terms (because Cultural Lives was explaining the concept of pods, clans, populations, ecotypes all at once, which admittedly was a bit hard to keep track of, especially when it came to the residents).
    • There's one quote that is in both Cultural Lives & this book, about how compassion is interpreted into human action and out of other animals':
      • "When a human protects an individual of another species, we call it compassion... If a humpback whale does so, we call it instinct. But sometimes the distinction isn't that clear" (Pittman, quoted from Saulitis, p.203). I think just by having this quote, Saulitis effectively highlights the issue of burden of proof, which Whitehead & Rendell also discuss (in more detail and in so many words), and opens up a forum for discussion without the density present in Cultural Lives. (Whitehead & Rendell also quote this story observed by Robert Pittman & John Durban about the humpbacks that helped the seal out when it was chased off its ice floe by killer whales hunting it down, p.293.) I appreciate both ways of approaching this topic, and I believe all three authors (Saulitis, Whitehead and Rendell) did a wonderful job in vastly different ways of illustrating culture in killer whales. (Of course, Cultural Lives is more expansive with much more breadth, not focusing solely on killer whales, but although Saulitis doesn't explicitly talk about cultures of other species such as the porpoises and humpbacks that get more than a couple mentions throughout this book, I think her descriptions do plenty to bring the question up without so many words.)
    • Not that the tragic story of the Chugach transients wasn't interesting, but I was waiting all throughout more for the point in the book when Saulitis would tell us how she and Craig became partners - there was a point at which I started wondering whether the Craig she mentions at the beginning is the same Craig that comes up in the story, and I even went to the back of the book to see if the last names matched (they did). Silly of me, but I couldn't help but be on the lookout - constant vigilance - in case that information popped up; I couldn't help it.
  5. Sea Change by Frank Viva
    • I picked this up for the cover, and I'm glad I did! The illustrations and odd palette continues throughout the chapters, interacting with and complementing the text. The overall shape of the story is easy enough to guess, but the cheeky narrator makes palpable his unwillingness to go, and the whole dramatic t(w)eenage character gains more depth as we see the world through his eyes. When he has to make a hard choice, betraying the trust of his friend/the girl he's taken with, in order to help her in the best way he knows how, he's taking a step forward, and we feel how heavily this decision weighs down upon him. Beautifully illustrated and sensitively written, I wouldn't mind purchasing this one for my own shelves.
  6. White Oleander by Janet Finch
    • They want to be us. From her mother to her foster mothers, Astrid goes on her journey from childhood to maturity, building up her own identity independent of - or perhaps not independent from so much as separate from - her mother, Ingrid, fusing together elements she has gleaned from each of her homes to become her own person. She is the snake in the garden. Beauty recurs as a theme throughout, as something dangerous for Astrid and those around her who succumb to it - it is a poison for Astrid the way Ingrid's beauty deceives those around her and helps her sculpt her world and impose it upon others. It's a bit heartbreaking to see how the novel begins, bare with simple beauty, three white flowers in a glass vase, hanging their gods upon trees... and then to follow through with the foster homes, to see Astrid grow up and infuse her being with the families she grows up with. Sleeping for the father, a recurring fear. Something she does more than once, and willingly. It's almost as though she seeks them out. Is she looking for a father figure - the one she is, in the end, disgusted by the ordinariness of? - or are those simply her tastes? But she does choose Paul, in the end, who was "more than her boyfriend. He was me". Over her mother, over Oskar Schein. But even as she makes her choice, there is something of the uncertainty of whether she will perhaps waver and sleep with the father (Oskar) again, somehow participate - willingly or otherwise - in the ruin of another family. She will never be free of her mother, in that her mother, along with all her other mothers, has exerted an incredible influence over the person she has become, but White Oleander ends on a hopeful note, despite the bleak picture of her and Paul's shambles of a home, as Astrid is able to mold herself at last.
  7. Stack the Cats by Susie Ghahremani
    • How adorable is this! The illustrations, the cheekiness - six cats prefer... two stacks of three - the CATS. I'd love this as an introduction to counting book, but also for any cat lover.
  8. Are Dolphins Really Smart? The Mammal Behind the Myth by Justin Gregg
    • It's kind of a really weird book in that Gregg is out to debunk all the dolphin myths about their specialness and render them just another animal, effectively taking away some arguments for considering dolphins persons and protecting them. It's a bit humourous the way that he goes on, chapter by chapter, deconstructing the myths and presenting Dolphin, just another animal, stressing the ambiguity found in scientific literature in terms of how "intelligent" these animals are (and thus, implied, how worthy of our protection). In the end, though, Gregg tries to make a different sort of appeal: that we should stop comparing other creatures to humans in determining their value or their worth, and learn to appreciate all the different creatures with which we share the planet in their own right, and for their own sake. That last paragraph probably brought my rating of this book up an entire star.
      • Although it's getting a bit repetitive for me to read, I do appreciate that Gregg outlines the issue of using the term "intelligence" (along with a slew of other terms that are not well-defined even in the literature). In the end, he goes with the definition of intelligence in non-human creatures as a comparison of how closely the animal's behaviour matches with human behaviours. In other words, the more human the animal acts, the more intelligent we suppose it to be. Unfortunately, this strikes me as pretty on point.
    • So I'm just going to be going through my book darts & written notes (I ran out of darts) below:
      • Jumping spiders have huge brain to body ratio, it seems: "jumping spiders, with their eight eyes and brains so big for their body size that they spill over into their legs, seem equally as skilled [at interpreting stimulus from a television screen]" (p.99). I was just reading a Quanta article on spiders and how their webs might be a form of extended cognition: The Thoughts of a Spiderweb. And even though it's been proven to be the wrong way to think about intelligence (even as we struggle to define the concept of intelligence), brain to body size ratio having been one of those factors...
        • So jumping spiders can apparently "hold mental representations when it comes to planning routes and hunting specific prey. The spiders even seem to differentiate among "one", "two" and "many" when confronted with a quantity of prey items that conflicts with the number they initially saw" (Sokol, The Thoughts of a Spiderweb, May 23, 2017). Linked to the article cited in Quanta article to information to which it pertains in quote.
          • I assume this also means they have short-term memory? I haven't read the article I linked to, so I can't actually make this statement with much confidence, but they would have to have the memory of one number in mind, then realize that the number of prey spiders exists once it's out of sight (object-permanence), as well as being able to compare their expectations (if I may refer to it as such) with the reality presented before them. And this would affect their behaviour. Which is pretty cool. If I'm understanding correctly, of course.
      • Pigeons were once trained in a scientific study to recognize a Van Gogh from a Chagall as accurately as college undergraduate students (p.103). I vaguely recall reading this elsewhere - The Thing with Feathers, perhaps? - but it's still funny the second time around. I don't know if it says more about college undergrads or pigeons though.
        • "In a rather peculiar experiment, pigeons were taught to discriminate between good and bad art, and thus might have learned the concept of "beauty"" (p.103, article in endnote). Okay, this I find contention with. There's the issue of what constitutes good/bad in art, as well as whether good necessarily equates with "beautiful", and bad, "ugly". The concept of beauty that was learned is more specifically the concept of beauty held by those adults who sorted out the paintings into the good/bad dichotomy, and it seems to me that the experiment was more enlightening in discovering what made those pieces of art more appealing to the adults by using pigeons to narrow it down to colour and pattern. The sentence as presented in Are Dolphins Really Smart? is a bit misleading, because the author of the actual article it refers to doesn't make quite the same claim - or rather, they do, but they do then go on to qualify what they mean (basically what my quibbles with it are).
          • I'm going to be so incredibly obnoxious here (to Hibbert, as I always am - I can't help making jabs at such a great example of what not to do!) and say, isn't it great when books do proper citations so that you can find where the author found what, and you can actually go and find more information on the original source afterwards if you so choose? Honestly though, while I rarely do go and research more following endnotes and footnotes, here is one of those instances where I'm all about that, and I'm glad that the referenced sources are easy to find. Hurrah for standardization!
    • The way it was presented in The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, it sounded like a lot more than just "[a] single wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin in Australia... observed hunting for cuttlefish using a peculiar - and perhaps unique - hunting technique that is likely her own devising. After first killing the cuttlefish, she beat the ink out of it, scraped it in the sand to remove the skin and the cuttlebone, and consumed the rest" (p.112).
      • Publication dates might offer some clue: Dolphins (2013), Cultural Lives (2015), the article that is referred to in the endnote in Dolphins (2009). You might think, right? No! They actually refer to the same article in both books! So why was it presented as a more wide-ranging thing in Cultural Lives (even in terms of being isolated within that population of bottlenose dolphins) and referred to here in Dolphins as a single and singular occurrence?
        • This article is open access (hurrah!), so feel free to make your own conclusions. It appears to me that where Gregg chooses to focus on the fact that the article authors only made observations of one dolphin processing cuttlefish this way, Whitehead & Rendell take into consideration that "in addition to [the article authors'] observations, individual bottlenose dolphins feeding at these cuttlefish spawning grounds have been observed by divers in the area to perform the same behavioural sequence (as cited by Finn, Tregenza & Norman, 2009). There have also been observations at surface level of cuttlebones floating up around where pods of dolphins were foraging (ibid.). So I'll have to go with Whitehead & Rendell in their portrayal of events in this case, and wonder a bit as to why Gregg decided to make it sound as though it was really only the one dolphin who was observed - ever - to do this. I understand that Gregg wants to debunk the myth of the amazing human-like dolphin, but this instance is making me question everything else he is presenting throughout the book now. Then again, bias is to be expected, and I should simply be reading with more care than I do.
        • It's actually pretty fascinating as an example of how the same source article can be used to argue two completely different viewpoints: in Dolphins, Gregg capitalizes on the fact that the article authors personally only observed the one dolphin, thus bringing to the fore the ambiguity as to how this dolphin might have learned to do so - "might well have been a result of insight and planning... although trial and error and serendipity cannot be ruled out. Unfortunately, none of these examples can be conclusive evidence of insight and planning insofar" (p.112) because researchers didn't witness the first instance of this behaviour, which, by the way, is a bit of an extreme stance to begin with in my opinion, seeing as it's still not conclusive by any means even if the researchers did witness it; there'd simply be other types of doubts that arise - ignoring that apparently other dolphins were also observed to do so by divers, in addition to which even Finn, Tregenza & Norman suggest that going by the evidence of the cuttlebones floating to the surface in association with pods of dolphins, that the behaviour is likely not limited to the one dolphin; thus Gregg cleanly avoids speculating about the possibility of social learning in this instance. In contrast, Whitehead & Rendell focus on the possibility of social learning as it plays a part in this behaviour, because it seems highly improbable that each dolphin practicing this foraging technique learned it independently of all the other dolphins in the same pod doing the same thing.
        • On the whole, Gregg comes off as much more skeptical regarding dolphins' abilities, downplaying sponging behaviour as well (p.121). I'm pretty sure he does this in an attempt to actively err on the side of caution though, in keeping with the feel of the entire book, so I'm not going to do a comparison between Cultural Lives & Dolphins for sponging.
    • Interestingly, Gregg references the 2001 article published by Whitehead & Rendell about cetacean culture (p.123).
    • I remember learning about what the defining elements of a language are in a psycholinguistics course, and how only human language has been able thus far to satisfy all the points. And while I don't remember how many factors there were, I remember thinking it unfair in that we only know how to judge everything else through a human lens, and so what if other animals don't have language in the same capacity as we do anyways?
      • There's a Michael Tomasello mentioned on p.134 and I'm wondering if it's the same Tomasello that discovered the Somali Golden Mole remains in an owl pellet in The Hunt for the Golden Mole.
      • HUMPBACK WHALES AND BENGALESE FINCHES. Implied in Dolphins to have "been shown to comprehend or produce center-embedding or similar hierarchical syntactic structures" (p.148), although neither of them, nor dolphins, "appear to harness the power of recursion" (p.148).
      • Gregg notes that alarm call repertoires are "pitifully small when compared to humans" (p.149), to which I've got to respond, "Well no shit." They're alarm calls. How many predators could you wish upon a single species that they have to generate as many alarm calls to warn brethren about possible dangers as humans have words to refer to so many other types of information? That being said, even in terms of alarm calls for humans, which I'm not really sure are alarm calls so much as shout-outs to warn others of impending doom, are theoretically limitless.
    • Zipf's Law
      • It made me think of Benford's Law, but I don't think they have any relation in this case, as from what I understand, only Zipf's Law would apply to language utterances. What does Zipf's law actually describe though? It applies to word frequencies, city sizes, and whatever else it applies to - what exactly is it? Unless we can define what Zipf's law describes - what makes the set that Zipf's law applies to the set? - it's a bit difficult to use the fact that dolphin whistles adhere to the law well enough as evidence for natural language in dolphins, which Gregg also notes (p.171).
    • Amazing. There's a National Geographic documentary titled Dolphins: The Dark Side, and I want to watch it. It won't play on the site though - not sure if I'm just in the wrong country?
      • Dolphin aggression: bottlenose dolphins attacking porpoises was not mentioned in Cultural Lives, nor was porpicide, although Whitehead & Rendell do make a mention of the myth of the peaceful dolphin: "Male competition is fierce. There is documented evidence that fights can lead to unconsciousness, so it is entirely possible they could result in fatality. There is also evidence that male dolphins sometimes kill calves, for reasons that are poorly understood" (p.101). While Whitehead & Rendell are much more conservative about why male dolphins may engage in infanticide, Gregg presents it as a reproductive strategy with a clear goal: once the calf is dead, the female dolphin will become receptive to mating within days (p.189).
        • Again, the same article is used (Patterson et al., 1998, linked above). Dolphin aggression towards porpoises is part of the title of the article, although Whitehead & Rendell do not make much note of it, choosing to remain speculative as to why infanticide occurs and focusing instead on other aspects of dolphin behaviours, such as male groups, foraging strategies, communication and play, and the massive oceanic dolphin schools in the dolphin chapter. I suppose this makes sense, though, for the purposes of their book, considering they specifically want to discuss culture and possible evidence for cetacean culture. And if that one article from 1998 is all we have to go off of, which I'm assuming it is (although I haven't done a search into the literature) by dint of the fact that it's the one article in common and the other article Gregg cites is also from 1998 (I was unable to find this article, though the same authors published another article in 2002 on infanticide in bottlenose dolphins), despite both of these books having been published quite recently, then perhaps the evidence isn't as clear as Gregg is making it sound? Scratch that - the Patterson et al. article states outright in the introduction that "the reason(s) for the interactions remain(s) unclear" (Ross & Wilson, 1996, as cited in Patterson et al., 1998), though they do posit as explanations "competition for prey, feeding interference, play or practise fighting, and sexual frustration" (ibid.).
          • The 2002 article repeats the ambiguous findings in terms of the motivations behind infanticide, citing as possibilities "resource limitations, parental manipulation, social pathology, and/or sexual selection" (Dunn, Barco, Pabst & McLellan, 2002), which are not too different from the list Patterson et al. laid out in 1998. In fact, oddly enough, even though the article was published in 2002, all of the evidence was still based off of 1996 & 1997 strandings of bottlenose dolphin calves. I'm starting to wonder whether this isn't actually the article that Gregg is citing, especially since I'm having difficulty finding the 1998 one, but the chances of my inability to find it being due to my own incompetency & lack of access to databases are probably higher than Gregg misciting something, I think.
          • Either way, though, both articles' conclusions are much less conclusive than Gregg's seeming confidence in declaring that the reason behind infanticide in bottlenose dolphins is clear: it's a technique to increase sexual success (p.189). You're making me lose a bit of confidence in your words, Gregg!
    • Now onto something happier: epimeletic behaviour.  I can't help but relate epimeletic behaviour to either kin selection or stupidity as Whitehead & Rendell talk about in terms of byproducts of culture and cultural evolution (pp.256-261). And Gregg also discusses mass strandings, although in terms of altruistic behaviour rather than stupidity: the group refuses to abandon a sick dolphin part of the community or family, choosing to follow them into shallower waters, which are safer to be in than open ocean, resulting in mass strandings (p.205). In fact, they are so giving of themselves that healthy individuals strand themselves again on purpose so as to accompany their sick friends and family.
      • Whitehead & Rendell put it in a rather funnier way: "whales and dolphins sometimes strand themselves alive on shorelines - not just briefly to catch a seal or fish but with no apparent intention of leaving" (p.258). Don't ask me why I think that's mildly hilarious. It just is. I'm not finding the situation funny so much as the way they're put it, of course. Anyway, they detail 3 types of intentional stranding, and the one Gregg describes is either typical or atypical mass stranding. Atypical strandings don't seem to fit the bill though, as these are due to loud noises (read: the ones people started making around the mid-20th c.) that disorient the poor animals. Which leaves typical mass strandings. Although something still strikes me as a little odd about Gregg's description: it doesn't fit in too well with any of the three types of strandings detailed by Whitehead & Rendell. It's a mix of the first one - individual animals that strand, usually involving "sick or injured animals and presumably result[ing] from disorientation, an inability to swim, or a desire for the support of the beach - which fits in with the sick individual part of Gregg's description, coupled with the typical stranding, where the stranded animals are generally perfectly healthy (in Gregg's scenario, presumably there are one or two or at most a few sick or injured individuals within the mostly perfectly healthy group, I'm assuming). Something else doesn't quite fit together: according to Whitehead & Rendell, "the species most likely to be involved in typical mass strandings are matrilineal whales: sperm whales, pilot whales, false killer whales" (p.259), although they allow that oceanic dolphins do so as well, at much less frequent intervals.
        • Here's the encyclopedia article Gregg has in his notes for this part, unfortunately not accessible. From the summary though, it doesn't really talk about mass stranding in the same breath as it does sick or injured dolphins intentionally beaching, which is the first case as listed by Whitehead & Rendell. Perhaps I'm understanding Gregg incorrectly - misinterpreting what he's saying, rather: he only says that dolphins beach in groups, which I'm understanding to mean "mass stranding", which is not necessarily the case... although I'm confused as to why there is no mention of groups of dolphins stranding in Cultural Lives, as I get the feeling Whitehead & Rendell would make a mention of it, given that they're detailing the best they can a comprehensive list of when whales and dolphins strand themselves (p.258). Or at least it sounds like they're not only focusing on what might be "stupid" behaviour in this case so much as explaining different types of strandings. Of course, Whitehead & Rendell do state outright that there are three general types of strandings, which does not purport to capture all the different types, though the way Gregg says it, it sounds as though the group strandings happen often enough that it should fit into one of the three general types or constitute a fourth one. Even more frustrating, Gregg doesn't specify which species of dolphin it is he's talking about. I'm assuming the encyclopedic article he references discusses it at some more length - or I'm hoping so, at least.
      • Continuing on in altruism, Gregg notes that some species of social insects "dedicat[e] & sacrific[e] their lives in an effort to care for and protect their queen, the young, and the colony as a whole" (p.206), but I wonder whether this is truly altruism as we might associate with the word? Are the social insects genetically hardwired to dedicate & sacrifice their lives for the good of the colony, or do they make a choice? Perhaps I'm misinterpreting what is meant by altruism, but Gregg doesn't really define it categorically, so I'm left to my own devices here. Then again, if we get into that line of argument, there's no way to actually test for whether animals are making a choice or not, so it's not a very productive way of looking at altruism.
      • Iguanas group up when young - that sounds adorable. I feel as though the male iguanas protecting the females at the cost of their own lives shouldn't be considered as altruistic behaviour so much as a strategy that leads to reproductive success, so long as the female has mated with the male. Or so long as chances are, if the female is fertilized by the male, she will more likely than not lay eggs fertilized and they will hatch. So I suppose the factors are how likely male iguanas are to run into female iguanas in their natural habitat, and which reproductive strategy would serve them better: dying for the female he has fertilized, or letting the female die and finding another female to mate. Without this information, we can't really draw conclusions about whether it's altruistic behaviour or not, right? And I don't know enough about iguanas to say.
    • Why, asks Gregg, is the peaceful dolphin myth so pervasive despite all observation to the contrary (p.208)? It's a little something called confirmation bias.
While we're on the topic of language, fascinating article that briefly discusses black ASL: What Counts as Standard? on Lithub,