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Animals

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Jurassic World.

“The earth is about to become a lot less ‘natural.’ Biologists have already created new forms of bacteria in the lab, modified the genetic code of countless living species and cloned dogs, cats, wolves and water buffalo, but the engineering of novel vertebrates — of breathing, flying, defecating pigeons — will represent a milestone for synthetic biology. This is the fact that will overwhelm all arguments against de-extinction.”

By way of Follow Me Here, the NYT’s Nathaniel Rich examines the promise, challenges, and ethics of reviving extinct species, and beyond:

“What is coming will go well beyond the resurrection of extinct species. For millenniums, we have customized our environment, our vegetables and our animals, through breeding, fertilization and pollination. Synthetic biology offers far more sophisticated tools. The creation of novel organisms, like new animals, plants and bacteria, will transform human medicine, agriculture, energy production and much else. De-extinction ‘is the most conservative, earliest application of this technology,’ says Danny Hillis, a Long Now board member and a prolific inventor who pioneered the technology that is the basis for most supercomputers.”

“The Blood Harvest.”

“‘Every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using LAL,’ PBS’s Nature documentary noted, ‘as do surgical implants such as pacemakers and prosthetic devices.’ I don’t know about you, but the idea that every single person in America who has ever had an injection has been protected because we harvest the blood of a forgettable sea creature with a hidden chemical superpower makes me feel a little bit crazy. This scenario is not even sci-fi, it’s postmodern technology.”

In The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal unearths the amazing secrets, and industry, surrounding horseshoe crab blood. “The thing about the blood that everyone notices first: It’s blue, baby blue…The iron-based, oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecules in our blood give it that red color; the copper-based, oxygen-carrying hemocyanin molecules in theirs make it baby blue.”

Berkday 14.

Today would have been Berk’s fourteenth birthday. I don’t believe in an afterlife — the end is The End, so enjoy it while it lasts — and if there is some sort of Rainbow Bridge out there, I expect Berk would probably be trying to base-jump off it regardless. So, when it comes to life after death, my memories and this here Interweb will have to do.

With that in mind, happy b-day, old man. The apartment’s too quiet without you.

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R.I.P. Berkeley 2000-2014.

Yesterday morning, two weeks before his 14th birthday, Berkeley and I went to the vet. This was just for a check-up and a bordetella vaccine, and Berk seemed chipper as always — He was always especially happy and excited when we broke our morning routine to venture somewhere else. I told the vet that I was actually surprised by the good health he’d been in. Since the bad bite and lost toe in 2012, Berk had been the picture of vitality — Just the night before, we’d played a solid half-hour of “apartment Frisbee.” From what they could tell, the vet agreed — they said his heart seemed normal, his movement lively, his disposition upbeat, his joie de vivre intact. He did have an ear infection in one ear, so they gave me some topical meds for that. I took him home, applied them, scratched him behind his ear, and went to work.

Yesterday evening, I came home from work to find Berk splayed out on the floor, dead for many hours. (His body seemed like it was in a violent position – legs up, head half under the couch. But now that I think about it, what probably happened is he died on the couch, hopefully sleeping, and his body fell off sometime later — hence the contortion when the rictus sent in.) My friend Arjun and I carried his corpse downstairs and drove it to the vet for cremation. In the space of ten hours, he’s gone from being happy to just being gone. Looking out at the snow everywhere this morning, I can’t help but think that this is the type of day he would have loved.

The shock of it all notwithstanding, I know that this a pretty fortunate way for the old man to go. He was happy and in good health — still able to jump to his perch on the table whenever he wanted, still interested in smelling things and exploring the world, still eager for a bite or three of whatever I was having for dinner — on the day he died. Neither of us had to go through the long fade, as it were. And, y’know, he would have been fourteen in two weeks: We had an amazing run together. I knew this day was coming sometime in the relatively near future. I just thought — and hoped — it wouldn’t be today. What do we say to the God of Death? Not today. But today — or yesterday — it was. And now his watch is ended, his perch is empty.

Berkeley was born on February 25th, 2000. My ex-wife and I got him on May 15 of that year. We knew we wanted a sheltie, and I had seen a Mother’s Day sale for them out near Harper’s Ferry. We ended up seeing three or four pups in a barn — three brown-eyed shelties barking and licking our hand, and one blue-eyed one, watching us silently from afar. I knew right away I wanted the introvert.

My ex-wife and I divorced the following year, in 2001. I knew I wanted Berk and gave up all our other (very few) common possessions — Berk coming with me was never really in doubt. And for the next twelve+ years, he was my constant companion and power animal. We’d walk the streets of New York and DC together, spend the weekends in Riverside and Central Park, Dupont Circle and the Mall, and days and nights just hanging around the pad — him circling or on watch.

There was a year or two of grad school there where Berk was the only living entity I had consistent contact with. I remember at least twice in our time together, when I was devastated after a scorched-earth break-up and the general despair of the long-term PhD process, where the only thing I could do for days was stagger around my apartment sobbing, clutching a half-gallon of water so I didn’t completely dry out. Berk would dutifully follow me around, tail wagging, and lick my face dry when I got in a place where he could reach me. Despair or no, there was salt to be had here.

He was a great dog. Lived happy until the day he died.

And he was my best friend. I can think of a lot of times when he felt like my only friend.

RIP, little buddy. I’ll miss you.

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Llewyn to Caesar. | The Cat is the Hat?

“You always blithely write shit in and then find out that it’s a pain in the ass to do it,” groaned Joel. “In Inside Llewyn Davis, we very blithely wrote that there was a cat in all of these different scenes. And then we got on the set and had to do it, and you know, cats are a pain in the ass. They’re just an unvarnished pain in the ass, that’s all there is. There’s nothing fun about it.”

As Inside Llewyn Davis hits theaters, Joel and Ethan Coen talk about their potential next projects — looks like Hail Caesar is still flitting around — and the trouble with filming felines. “‘You have lots of different cats on set,’ said Joel. ‘”Oh, that one won’t do the scene? Try this other one, see if he’ll do it.” And you just sit there until he does it, or until you say, “Fuck it, he ain’t gonna do it,’ and come up with something else.”‘”

I haven’t seen Davis yet — DC being a second-tier film town, it hasn’t arrived yet — but I have a sneaking suspicion Llewyn’s kitteh will be playing the role of Tom Reagan’s hat here — a metaphor for his self-possession. Looking forward to finding out this weekend.

I Don’t Normally Bark Like Cujo…

…but when I do, there’s probably in-line skates, skateboards, Segways, or Ranger the Australian sheepdog (Berk’s neighborhood nemesis, the Joker to his Batman, snake to his mongoose, etc. etc.) involved. I put this up on Twitter/Facebook last week, but for the GitM-inclined, here’s Berkeley, nearing 14 this February, cultivating his Most Interesting Dog in the World cachet. Stay thirsty, my friend.

Skynet, Year One.

“‘If a drone’s system is sophisticated enough, it could be less emotional, more selective and able to provide force in a way that achieves a tactical objective with the least harm,’ said Purdue University Professor Samuel Liles. ‘A lethal autonomous robot can aim better, target better, select better, and in general be a better asset with the linked ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] packages it can run.'”

Er, right, but aren’t we forgetting something here? And don’t you people ever go to the movies? Scientists are apparently working toward drones that can make their own autonomous decisions about targets. “Though they do not yet exist, and are not possible with current technology, LARs are the subject of fierce debate in academia, the military and policy circles. Still, many treat their development as inevitability.”

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the world:

“Scientists at Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have come up with one solution to the jellyfish problem: build robots to kill them. For the last three years, the team has been working to create robots that can travel the ocean, seeking out swarms of jellyfish using a camera and GPS. Once the jellyfish are located, the robots set about shredding the jellies with an underwater propeller.”

INITIATING PROTOCOL SHRED-ORGANBAGS 101101111…Due to a climate-change-fueled ascendance of jellyfish across the world, Korean scientists have unleashed automated robotic sentinels to mitigate the problem. [T]he video at top is what they’re doing beneath the surface, using a specialized net and propeller. Be warned, it’s graphic. In preliminary tests, the robots could pulverize 2,000 pounds of jellyfish per hour.”

Sigh…this will all end in tears, people. Paging Kent Brockman.

Take Berk Out to the Ball Game.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can help them pick up a new pastime or two. On account of Pups in the Park night at Nats Park, Berk got to take in his first MLB game Saturday night: Phillies over Nats, 5-4. FWIW, he seemed to quite enjoy the experience, most notably all the many other dogs around and the bag of peanuts in the seat in front of him. The folding chairs, not so much.

A Mean Fender Corgi.

“People who play bass with their fingers look like they’re tickling hairy dogs.” And, lo, a meme was born: Because of, y’know, the Internet, Bassists tickling dogs. It’s heartening to see that Daft Punk opted for a traditional K-9.

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