Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Roller life

With reference to: http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-software/042910-a-robot-that-balances-on-a-ball

It's hard to imagine a wheeled creature evolving. Scifi provides few examples, I believe David Brin touched on it (along with some very intriguing waxy-toroid creatures).

Let's imagine a Rolla bird. It is flightless but egg-laying, with thick fluffy feathers. The baby Rolla hatches in late Spring, as the first rays of sun strike its icy habitat and begin the thaw. It immediately lays an egg (unfertilised), half the size of the bird itself, and makes its first attempts at balance. As the thin snows clear, revealing the smooth glacier ice formed over polar volcano flows, movement becomes easier.

The Rolla sets out with its siblings in search of food. A pygymy spruce local to the area offers up pine nuts, just within reach of the infants. The pine nuts are difficult to digest for the small stomach of the baby bird and a substantial part is injected into the egg under its feet.

As the Rolla matures, this contribution is enhanced with additional enzymes and organisms. A nucleus forms within the mass of waste which becomes like a second stomach. The hardest parts, mostly bits of cone, are pumped outwards through a constantly extending network of cracks to expand and reinforce the egg. Softer parts which still carry nutrition are retained in the centre.

After a couple of months the Rolla has reached adulthood and migrates in search of a mate. Rollas are hermaphroditic and exchange ova while still upright. The foreign ova, injected into the egg, is fertilised by the DNA therein and begins to divide. The by-now thoroughly decayed soft food waste is consumed to fuel the growth.

No more than a month after conception, the adult Rolla bird lies down for the first and final time. Its frantic summer of feeding is over and winter stands in the wings like Death, beyond survival. As the days draw in, the adult dies and the egg is slowly buried in the snows. The thick outer shell and battery of nutrition will sustain it until the land is inhabitable once again, and this most independent of birds will hatch again.


I tried to introduce a couple of evolutionary triggers - a low-hanging food source and a killer winter not even a penguin could survive. The glacier ice is an attempt to explain WTF the place is flat enough for a wheel to work. It's still not the most probable of creatures but not entirely beyond imagination I hope!

The parent who dies before the child is born is rather compelling. Every year a new generation would be totally alone. It'd be interesting to extend this to a small planet, with an extremely long year and a civilizing race. Born in the snowy tropics, slowly migrating to the poles as the equator becomes uninhabitable then back again to breed and die. Each generation would discover the artefacts of the last as if a foreign people. The standard tradition vs discovery dichotomy would have to be reexamined when 'tradition' (IE following the example of prior generations) requires discovery. And of course there is a great, unavoidable extinction every generation.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Crazy cat man

Working towards my lifegoal of being eaten by my cats when I die, I've decided I will need a cat. I tried the Blue Cross initially but they don't have a Bristol centre. Foop. I tried a few others, including one VERY unfriendly site that pretty much said "Halo + mansion or GTFO" - and didn't even have any cat listings up! The RSPCA site was ok but they only have a few cats listed which is a shame as they must have a hundred waiting. I flatter myself that in this net-savvy generation there are an increasing number of consumers who like me are happiest not even contacting a provider until we know exactly what we want!

Fortunately I tripped and fell heavily upon Bristol and Wales Cat Rescue. They work out of people's homes which could a) mean they're big-hearted animal lovers doing their best on the cheap, b) a scam. However they have cat macros on the site! This substantially enhances their credibility. Also they have a cute rollerskating chick. A girl that is, not a baby chicken, though that would be MOST amusing.

I was planning on picking up a little princess but experience must be sinking in at last as I've decided an elder statesman will suit my lifestyle much better. Maestro the 14 year old, barrel chested and fit as a fiddle. Well, barrel shaped somewhere as he is 6kg. And possibly only fit as a very well-loved fiddle considering his heart murmur and the dental work he's just had done. I shall be purchasing insurance for the wee beastie.

On which topic - FOR SCIENCE! At least, a spirited inquiry. Animal Friends insurance is dirt cheap which reviews say translates directly to being treated like dirt. Sainsbury's allegedly double your premium after a year even if you don't claim, and do not necessarily inform you of this despite the terms of the direct debate mandate. Some others are also full of shit. More Than appear to possess something of a monopoly position in the market for "insurance wot pays up" so with their good selves I shall entrust the care of my feline companion.

Gosh I'm long-winded. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but verbosity is the full English breakfast. And so to vittels. Cats are naturally carnivorous in contrast to my addled self. I appear to be pursuing an oxygenarian or at least breadhead diet. Anyway while I'm not about to start force-feeding the poor creature spinach, I'd rather it didn't eat a) anything which hopes to be fois gras in its next lifetime, b) total crap. Item A rules out pretty much anything from Tesco. Item B is a slippery slope which begins with eliminating bacon flavour lard balls and ends with me preparing chicken sushi garnished with intestine and liver pate. Damned if my pet is eating better than me.

Suddenly! Bristol! It turns out one of the better kibbles is available from Roxford's which is about 25mins walk from my house. I'll probably drive since I'll be carrying about 10kg of used animal tissue home. Here's a picture.

So it looks like the scragball will cost about £22 in insurance and £18 in food (70g/day @ £21/2.5kg) per month. Ouch. He may have to subsist on Whiskas or some other proletarian gruel for a little while. On the plus side I may save on hot water bottles.

Go ducky gogogo!

Took about an hour. I made those clouds by hand then just as I'm finishing off I discover GIMP has cloud filters! Oh well, next time. I used some HSV noise and blur filters for the road, which was nice because drawing all those little dots would have taken FOREVER! The skate wheels have some DIY noise on them courtesy of an elliptical mask and the Galaxy brush, but noise filters are so much better.

It's time for bed. Tonight I have researched cat insurance, researched cat food, written a blog post about researching cats and drawn a ducky. Who says you go crazy when you live alone?!