Showing posts with label Fitzroy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fitzroy. Show all posts

Sunday, December 14, 2014

De-extinction

The awkward term “de-extinction” designates the idea of recreating a living organism that had become extinct. This idea gives rise to two quite different questions:

• First, of course, it’s a matter of deciding how to attempt to perform such a de-extinction operation, at a purely technological level.

• Second, there’s the question of the ethical implications of such an act. In other words: Would we have a right, morally and socially, to perform such-and-such a de-extinction operation?

The de-extinction of dinosaurs would appear to be a failure at both levels. So, you should feel free to go ahead with plans for a nice wedding, say, with no fear of unexpected interruptions.


Things get somewhat more complicated when we envisage the de-extinction of Neanderthals.


Let’s suppose that we did in fact succeed in carrying out a successful de-extinction operation. What would you then do with such a fellow? It would be unwise to let him wander around freely as if he were a normal citizen of the world, because he would surely run into trouble, for countless obvious reasons. You could always try to get him adopted by a nice family of well-off God-fearing American Republicans. Or maybe you might think about packing him off to an outback cattle station in Australia to work as a jackeroo. But, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, there would be certain unknown unknowns… including the ugly idea that our Neanderthal friend might be enticed into becoming a militant in a jihadist organization.

The de-extinction of a woolly mammoth would appear to be a far more reasonable project.


On the one hand, with the help of modern elephants, the operation is probably feasible, and there would be room enough in the wilderness of lands such as Canada or Siberia to organize an ideal home-place for the resurrected creature, and maybe create a family environment.

In my native Australia, there are two fascinating candidates for de-extinction. The first is an amazing creature that was last seen as recently as 1985: the Gastric brooding frog.


Its mode of reproduction was really weird. The female swallows her fertilized eggs and then uses her stomach as a womb, finally giving birth to baby frogs through her mouth (as you can see in the above photo).

The other perfect candidate for de-extinction is the Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, which became extinct in 1936.


An Australian scientist, Mike Archer, has made a brilliant presentation of the case for de-extinction of these two creatures. Click here to watch his fascinating talk on this subject. At one point in his talk, Archer presents an old-timer who led him to his bush hut which used to be visited by Tasmanian tigers. And he introduces the marvelous theme of maybe keeping these animals as pets. Personally, I almost broke into tears of emotion when I heard Mike Archer making his case for this aspect of a de-extinction project. I looked fondly at this painting of a Thylacine and her pup:


And I said to myself that, since my dog Fitzroy has now developed the regular habit of sleeping inside the house, his charming old kennel is free to receive a guest.


So, if ever Mike Archer were looking for a nice place to house one of his future Thylacine pups, Fitzroy and I would be more than happy to receive such an adorable creature at Gamone. As for the idea of also accepting the Neanderthal fellow, to look after the tiger pup, I’m prepared to look into the question… but I would probably prefer a Neanderthal maiden who wouldn’t mind combining her Thylacine-care activities with housekeeping work at Gamone.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Artistic dog

My dog Fitzroy continues to demonstrate his tastes in sculptural forms. These days, I have a large stock of high-quality firewood in the shelter alongside the house, and this includes a big pile of wood chips. Well, yesterday, I was surprised to see Fitzroy pounce onto the top of this pile of wood chips, and start burrowing with his muzzle. I imagined that he’d spotted a mouse. However, as he moved away from the firewood shelter, Fitzroy held no mouse in his jaws. There was merely an unusually-shaped piece of wood, which I promptly photographed.


As you can see, it’s a fragment of beech wood comprising an old knot. I would imagine that Fitzroy was attracted by the delightful combination of shapes, hues and textures. As I said, my dog has a highly-developed artistic taste. And we can use the word “taste” quite literally. We humans admire beautiful objects by merely looking at them. But Fitzroy goes one step further, and sets about finding what they taste like.


In any case, I’m convinced that my dog is talented in the world of forms and colors. If only my neighbor Tineke Bot were to decide to organize sculpture classes, I would immediately enrol Fitzroy.

I often meet up with references to Fitzroy’s birthplace, Risoul, in the French Alps. The other day, it was mentioned as one of the less expensive ski stations in France.


I like to think that Fitzroy's artistic sensitivity stems from the fact that he was born in such a magnificent place... but I realize that this is not good thinking. Here are photos I took of Fitzroy with his mother and family members at Risoul, just over four years ago:

Click to enlarge

I’ve put a circle around Fitzroy, in the background, with his head leaning against the stone step.



The two pups had been stalking that poor hen, strolling quietly just behind it, following it in every direction, and driving the hen crazy. Finally the mother of the dogs intervened, enabling the hen to escape.

Here is my very first vision of Fitzroy staring straight into my eyes.


Since then, he’s been doing that constantly, many times every day, for the last four years. For me, that penetrating gaze is the symbol of Fitzroy’s presence in my life.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dogs can use mathematical algorithms

I’ve always suspected that Fitzroy might be a mathematician or some kind of a computing wizard… who doesn’t necessarily go out of his way to boast about his talents.


A fascinating article on the theory of so-called shepherding has just appeared in the Interface journal of Britain’s Royal Society.

Click to enlarge

Researchers succeeded in building a model that simulates correctly the way in which a dog herds up sheep. Click here to access the article. To understand the article, which is quite readable, you need to replace the term “shepherd” by “dog”, and the term “agent” by “sheep”.

Most of us (at least in Australia and the UK) have seen demonstrations of smart dogs herding sheep. Here at Gamone, in the past, I’ve tried to herd a dozen or so sheep with the help of my two children, but without a smart dog. It turns out to be difficult, if not impossible, for the simple reason that humans can’t possibly run after stray sheep at the speed of a dog. But what exactly takes place in a dog’s brain when it succeeds in moving a flock of sheep from one place to another?

A basic assumption made by the researchers is that a stray sheep, located beyond the main outside perimeter of the flock, sees the dog as a would-be predator, and it “escapes” from this “predator” by moving back into the midst of the flock. In the model imagined by the researchers, a dog is thought of as engaging, at any particular moment, in one or other of two operations:

— A collecting operation takes place when the dog rushes out beyond the perimeter of the flock to round up the sheep that has strayed the furthest distance from the flock.

— A driving operation takes place whenever there is momentarily no immediate need for collecting, enabling the dog to get behind the flock and drive it towards the destination, which we can call the pen.

The following graph shows the way in which phases of collecting and driving take place, one after the other, until the flock has assembled, as desired by the dog, down in the lowest left-hand corner.


Now, once the theoretical model was created, the researchers were able to validate it by calling upon a genuine sheep dog and a flock of genuine sheep, down in Australia. The dog they chose for the experiment was an Australian Kelpie, which has the extraordinary habit of jumping up onto the backs of the sheep in order to obtain a bird’s-eye view of the global situation, so that it can locate the most distant stray sheep. The following excellent photo (by Martin Pot) illustrates this behavior:


In fact, the algorithm used by the dog to carry out its herding assignment is relatively simple, and it should be an easy matter to create a robot capable of performing this task. I can hear Fitzroy laughing. Like me, he’s trying to imagine a robot capable of racing through the weeds on the slopes of Gamone, jumping over fallen tree trunks, and biting the hind legs of recalcitrant ewes to get them moving in the right direction…

POST SCRIPTUM
I'm amused by the idea of an Australian Kelpie strutting across the backs of the sheep as if they were a nice soft pathway. I'm wondering whether the dog developed this technique on its own (unlikely in my opinion) or whether the grazier trained the dog to do so. I'm reminded of the experimental situation known as the monkey & bananas problem, which used to be a favorite with artificial-intelligence theorists. If you were to put a hungry monkey in a room where a bunch of bananas was hanging, but just out of reach, would the monkey be smart enough to drag a box-like object beneath the bananas so that he could climb up and attain the bananas? I introduced a variant in which there were two monkeys. Would one of them be smart enough to climb up onto the back of the other monkey in order to be able to reach the bananas? I believe that the answer to these questions is no... unless you train the monkeys to behave like the Kelpie.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Punishment for sins

To punish people who have been led astray by sins of the flesh, God invented venereal diseases. And today, ever abreast of state-of-the-art medical science, He has updated His punishment to AIDS.

In the case of dogs, God simply invented fleas. Late yesterday evening, I wandered out into the balmy darkness for a pleasant breath of fresh air before going to bed. (To be more honest, for a pee.) My dog Fitzroy followed me out… then he promptly shot off into the night, as if he were on an urgent mission. When it became obvious that my dog wasn’t planning on returning home in the near future (a most unusual situation), I left the light on in front of the house and went to bed. Early this morning, Fitzroy was back home, in a rather scruffy state… no doubt after a night of fornication in a farmyard somewhere up on the mountain slopes in the vicinity of Presles. To restore his energy, he gulped down a dish of croquettes. Then I left him chained up outside (which he doesn’t mind at all) so that he could doze on the grass in the sunshine.

He has spent much of the day scratching himself, which suggests that he received a massive gift of fleas from his lady friend. This afternoon, I gave him a dose of the expensive Frontline Combo product (to destroy flea eggs, and repel ticks) and covered him in flea powder.

When I was a youth, young heterosexual males were in constant fear of catching “the Clap”, which was the slang term for gonorrhea. A lesser evil was the nasty creature known as the crab louse, which seemed to be keen on pubic hair.


An unskilled observer might well imagine that the canine version of this pubic-hair crab beast is the flea, but my zoology is probably faulty.


In any case, God made Himself perfectly clear. The only sound remedy for all these evils is Abstinence. I must try to get that divine message through to Fitzroy.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Another baby donkey at Gamone

For a long time, Moshé (who’s over 20 years old) was the only donkey at Gamone. Today, on the contrary, he has no less than seven donkey companions. But he retains his independent character. Here’s a photo of him striding up the hill, brushing flies away with his tail, and using his ears as a kind of rear-view mirror.


The latest birth, a week ago, was a female.



Her name is Violette. The mother is Bella, and the father (a Provençal donkey, like Moshé) is Barnabé (French version of the biblical “Barnabas”). Here are the three of them, posing for a family portrait in front of my archaic shed:


There’s an opening in the fence between Jacky’s property and mine, so the donkeys can roam freely between the two. Here are some of them in my walnut paddock:



The presence of all these donkeys has cleaned up considerably the weeds on my land. This is an advantage for my dog Fitzroy, above all. When he dashes out on a tempestuous excursion aimed at reminding the donkeys that he's the boss at Gamone (a dozen times a day), Fitzroy no longer returns to the house covered in prickly burs, as was the case up until now. But don't imagine that my dog would ever get around to thanking the donkeys for that service.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Big dog in my lap

Fitzroy is a determined dog who has developed several “bad habits”, which I've never succeeded in controlling. I put the expression “bad habits” in inverted commas for two reasons:

(1) It’s not a matter of behavior of a deplorable kind, but rather things that a well-educated dog wouldn’t normally do.

(2) I tend to look upon these “bad habits” as aspects of Fitzroy’s “personality”. There again, I’ve used inverted commas to underline the fact that the word “personality” might not in fact belong to orthodox canine terminology.

For example, whenever I happen to sit in this canvas garden chair with arm rests, Fitzroy jumps up immediately into my lap.



He wriggles around for a few seconds until he finds a firm and comfortable position, whereupon he lapses into a motionless state akin to sleeping. I always have the impression that he has reverted momentarily to a mental disposition that evokes pleasant memories from his puppy years: maybe even those primordial harmonious hours on 3 September 2010 when Christine and I were driving back to Choranche from Fitzroy’s birthplace—the Alpine commune of Risoul 1850—with the “victim” of our dognapping operation dozing in Christine’s lap.

These days, Fitzroy has become quite a weighty creature. So, I never tolerate his presence in my lap for more than five minutes or so, after which time I topple him gently onto the floor. He always makes a mild effort to resist being dislodged but, once he has touched the floor, he strolls calmly to his comfortable cushion underneath the stairs.


When he finally falls asleep there, I always like to imagine that Fitzroy is dreaming of the precious minutes he had just spent in my lap. Maybe, on the contrary, he’s saying to himself: “After the regular necessity of jumping up onto old William’s knees, to reassure him that I’m a faithful hound, it’s great to be able to crawl back into a good bed.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My son’s 3-day working holiday at Gamone

François Skyvington leads an extremely busy existence. Over the last few years, my son has been working almost non-stop on his 30-minute moped travel movies for TV. (The latest series will be aired on the Arte channel later on this year.) For the moment, he’s starting major building extensions to his house on the top of Brittany cliffs looking out over the English Channel. And he has also decided to create a high-quality diner-style restaurant alongside the main road between St-Brieuc and Paimpol. I therefore find it perfectly normal that François doesn’t necessarily have free time enabling him to drop down here to see me at Gamone. So, I was thrilled when he phoned me last week to say that he had decided to take the train from Guingamp to Valence for a 3-day stay. To get an idea of how long it was since the last time we had met up, you only need to know that, last Monday afternoon, François met my dog Fitzroy for the very first time.

In such circumstances, it goes without saying that I did not expect my son to spend any part of his precious holiday time in carrying out work around our house at Gamone. But I had not reckoned on the spontaneous desire of François to tackle all sorts of practical problems whose urgency he sensed immediately, as soon as he reached Gamone. First, it was a matter of reducing drastically the volume of the "bun" of branches (my son is preoccupied by BurgerTalk) on top of the pergola.





Finally, the 6 rose bushes composing the pergola looked like young Australian boys of my generation who had just emerged from a customary short-back-and-sides operation at the barber’s shop.


François then set about tidying up the Buxus sempervirens (European Boxwood) hedge that I planted long ago on the outer edge of my future rose garden.



François then set about pruning the various bushes of my rose garden.



He then tackled the huge task that consisted of removing all the wild vegetation (including lots of small trees) on the perimeter of my rose garden. You can detect the presence of this vegetation in the background of the above photos. To remove it, François used both my electric hedge-trimmer and my chainsaw. Thanks to my son's strenuous efforts, I can once again get a glimpse of the road that runs alongside Gamone Creek.

Finally, as if all that work were not enough, François drove the Renault Kangoo and trailer to a nearby quarry where we were able to gather up (manually) a stock of high-quality limestone slabs that will be an essential part of my future wood-fueled bread oven. Here you see François sitting on this nice little pile of stones, alongside the place where the oven will be built (this summer).


I was delighted to see that the relationship between my son and my dog was better than anything I might have hoped for. François was often amazed by Fitzroy’s serenity. Indeed, I like to imagine that my dog and I, through sharing constantly our experiences, are becoming similarly zen in parallel.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Love this lizard

Can you see him?

Click to enlarge

He’s dark green, like the foliage. With a long tail. He's not particularly apprehensive. He emerged at midday to bathe in the Gamone sunshine, plentiful at present. He's so delightfully antediluvian. I would love to call him Bill and invite him in for a cup of tea, with my dog Fitzroy.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Portrait of a sporting dog

You’ve seen photos of great sportsmen and sportswomen posed alongside the tools of their trade. For example, alongside a rugbyman, there’s an oval ball; alongside a tennis star, a bag of newly-strung rackets, etc. In this portrait of Fitzroy, basking in this morning’s winter sun, his faithful blue hose-running equipment lies just below him.

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On an average, this metre of hose is only used for about a minute or so a day, whenever Fitzroy decides to perform a series of three or four dynamic sprints in front of the house, with the blue hose clenched between his teeth. It’s a little like the high-tech bicycle of a track cyclist specializing in 200-metre sprints. The equipment is only actually used by the champion for a brief lapse of time, when he or she is operating in an exceptionally high-powered state. Then the equipment is simply set aside until the next sprinting session, maybe on the following day.

Nevertheless, even when sporting champions are not actually using their precious equipment, it’s never far away from them, and generally in sight.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Habemus invictam

Trying to capture an image (for posterity) of the very first wisp of white smoke emerging from my new chimney at Gamone is like taking photos of a polar bear in the Arctic snow. At this time of the year, almost everything in the sky of Choranche looks like wisps of white smoke.

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To obtain this proof that smoke does indeed go up the chimney that I designed and erected (with constant help from my friend and neighbor Serge Bellier), I burned no more than a bit of paper and a few wood chips, because I’ll only be taking the stove up to its operational temperature over a period of a week or so, to give the metal time to gradually expand and creak itself into shape.


My only blog reader who’s likely to understand the title of this post is my son François, who also installed a French-manufactured wood stove of the Invicta brand. I was almost going to write Habemus poelam, but Christine would have lost no time in correcting me. The modern French word poêle can indeed designate either a frying-pan or a wood stove, but the ancient Romans only used poela in the first sense. They did not use metal stoves for heating. Their domestic heating installations were based upon steam generated in the cellar by a hypocaust system associated with a furnace (in the style of a pizza oven).


This is the same kind of system that was used to heat up water in a pool—called a caldarium—in the splendid Somerset city of Bath.


At Gamone, my living room is already well heated by my fireplace… provided that I keep the glass cover down, instead of raising it so that I can warm my toes while watching TV: a great pleasure, which I often share with Fitzroy, lying in my lap. Incidentally, talking about Fitzroy, I bought him an elegant cushion yesterday, which I promptly lined with an old pair of ski pants that I’ve outgrown.


For the first time in ages, Fitzroy spent the entire night on the kitchen floor in his new bed, which he guards jealously as if it were a bone that an evil passer-by might try to steal.

PS Don't be too alarmed by the grubby state of my kitchen floor. Apart from the fact that I'm only slowly emerging from the lengthy period of construction of my wood shed [display], not to mention final operations concerning the installation of the wood stove (during which time my tools were often left lying upon the kitchen floor), the current dirty state of the floor is due above all to the fact that the evacuation system for used sink water is clogged up once again. I'll fix that tomorrow, and clean up the mess in the kitchen. One thing at a time...

Friday, November 29, 2013

Vegetal ball

My maternal grandmother, Mary Jane Kennedy [1888-1966], used to tell me about her first doll, when she was a little girl up on her father’s bush property on the banks of the Clarence at Riverstone (Seelands), above Grafton. Her Irish mother, Mary Eliza Cranston [1858-1926], had used a short stout bone from a steer to fashion a doll for her daughter. It must have been a rather primitive creation, with a painted face and rag clothes, but my future grandmother was enchanted by her “little bone doll” (as she put it). Whenever my grandmother told us this story, she insisted above all on the idea that a loving mother, with a little bit of imagination, was capable of performing acts of magic in the eyes of her offspring.

My Fitzroy receives lots of bones every time I buy minced lamb at the supermarket, when the butcher supplies me with a big bag of tasty odds and ends for my dear dog. As for toys, he invented one for himself this morning: a round pumpkin or squash (I don’t know which) that he found in the weeds on the edge of my vegetable garden.

Click to enlarge

Fitzroy knows that his vegetal ball can roll. In a nutshell, my dog has reinvented the wheel. His ball seems to have a mind of its own.


So, he has to keep an eye on it, unless it suddenly decides to roll away and hide in the bushes.


Once it escapes, by rolling down onto the road, Fitzroy has to run to keep up with his vegetal ball.


Fortunately, because of its color, the vegetal ball is easy to see in the icy greyness of Gamone.


Furthermore, although you wouldn’t describe it as edible, the vegetal ball emits a subtle effusion when you happen to sink your teeth into its skin. All in all, it’s an excellent toy... invented by Fitzroy.