Announcing: Slashdot Deals - Explore geek apps, games, gadgets and more. (what is this?)

Thank you!

We are sorry to see you leave - Beta is different and we value the time you took to try it out. Before you decide to go, please take a look at some value-adds for Beta and learn more about it. Thank you for reading Slashdot, and for making the site better!



Australian Web Filter To Censor Downloaded Games

danny Amazon pages will have to be blocked (200 comments)

Australia's game classification system has no "adult" category, so many games sold without any controls at all elsewhere in the world are flat out banned ("Refused Classification") here.

So if what Conroy has announced here goes ahead, a whole pile of product pages at Amazon (among others) are going to have to go on the blacklist. (Leisure Suit Larry is among the games banned in Australia.

The problem is that many of the proposed filtering solutions work by routing traffic to IP addresses that host prohibited pages to a proxy server. As we saw with the Internet Watch/BT/Wikipedia debacle, this approach is likely to cause problems with high traffic sites (and may well overload the proxy server).


more than 5 years ago

Japanese ESRB Bans Rape Depiction In Games

danny sex crimes and pornography in Japan - the evidence (662 comments)


Within Japan itself, the dramatic increase in available pornography and sexually explicit materials is apparent to even a casual observer. This is concomitant with a general liberalization of restrictions on other sexual outlets as well. Also readily apparent from the information presented is that, over this period of change, sex crimes in every category, from rape to public indecency, sexual offenses from both ends of the criminal spectrum, significantly decreased in incidence.

more than 5 years ago

Has Superstition Evolved To Help Mankind Survive?

danny anthropomorphism as the origin of religion (621 comments)

A good argument for the origins of religion in anthropomorphism is Stewart Guthrie's Faces in the Clounds (link is to my review).

"Attributing human or animal agency to events is an explanatory strategy which, while it sometimes fails, is in general extremely effective. Since other humans and, after them, animals are the most important things in our environment, it is vitally important to take them into account when they are there -- important enough that erring on the side of caution means accepting regular anthropomorphic and animistic 'errors'."


more than 6 years ago



danny danny writes  |  more than 7 years ago

danny writes "The science fiction writer James Tiptree, Jr. appeared in 1967, writing dark and unsettling short stories, winning prizes, and corresponding widely, but his identity remained unknown until in 1976 he was revealed to be Alice Sheldon. This is one of the most intriguing episodes in the history of science fiction, involving many of its leading figures and raising questions about gender and identity, but until now there has been no book-length work on Sheldon/Tiptree. Julie Phillips has filled that hole with a lively and informative biography.

Phillips' approach is chronological, with some forward and backward references, and straightforwardly descriptive. In places she steps back to provide some context, but there's no attempt to impose an overriding psychological framework or thesis. Her narrative remains solidly grounded in Tiptree and Sheldon's stories and letters, interviews with her friends and acquaintances, and other sources.

It is two hundred pages, half way through James Tiptree, Jr., before Tiptree appears and science fiction takes centre stage, so those only interested in the science fiction connection might be tempted to skip some of the earlier material. The one can't be understood without the other, however, and while Sheldon would not have merited a biography without Tiptree, there's no shortage of excitement in her earlier life.

Alli the nickname Alice later preferred and which Phillips mostly uses was born Alice Hastings Bradley in 1915. Her early life was dominated by her mother Mary, a notable writer, explorer and socialite. Alice was taken on expeditions to Africa three times, at age 6, 9 and 15 and went to finishing school in Switzerland. She was pretty and social, but also experienced an early out-of-place-ness; her original vocation was as a painter. At the end of 1934 she abruptly married William Davey, with whom she stayed, with some separations, "for six and half restless, violent years", leading a bohemian life.

During the war Alli found a niche in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corp and then Women's Army Corp, working in photointelligence. This led to a posting to Germany and meeting with "Ting" Sheldon, who she married in 1945. After the war they ran a chicken hatchery and then worked for the CIA, though Alli's job there was low level. She returned to university, doing a doctorate and then research in psychology, investigating rat behavior.

There's little mundane about any of this, but Phillips resists the temptation to make more of it than is warranted. She doesn't exaggerate the importance of Alli's wartime work or her CIA status, for example, or make a mystery of the connection with Africa.

Phillips continues with a chronological narrative, following Tiptree's public career and Alli's private life together. The later part of the biography is more vivid and engaging, perhaps because its sources are mostly more immediate: Tiptree writing letters about the present rather than the past, for example.

Apart from an early encounter with Weird Tales through a friend of the family, and a brief foray into writing during the 50s, science fiction had played little part in Alli's life so far. But the genre was to offer her a new freedom, an opening for creative expression and social connection. The creation of the Tiptree alter-ego was more spur-of-the-moment than planned, but was in many ways a natural expression of her character.

Speculation about Tiptree's identity was widespread: Robert Silverberg notoriously rejected suggestions he might be a woman on the grounds that there was "something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree's writing". But Phillips sticks to an internal perspective, exploring how writing as Tiptree both liberated Alli and constrained her.

"Like the genre itself, the Tiptree name also allowed Alli to play, to take her writing less seriously. It freed her from the need to be a genius. The stories that came out at first were often silly or scatological, as if Alli were testing her freedom: Can I really say anything? Make bathroom jokes? Tell dirty stories?"
Alli used a second pseudonym "Raccoona Sheldon" as a outlet for experiences and ideas that couldn't be fitted into Tiptree. And the revelation of her identity changed both the way she approached writing and the results.

There's plenty for those interested in science fiction history: correspondence and friendship with Frederik Pohl, Harlan Ellison, Ursula Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Barry Malzberg and many other writers and editors; winning Nebula and Hugo awards; participation in a famous 1974/75 symposium on women in science fiction; and more.

Alli also worked on a never-finished book The Human Male, which seems to have contained sociobiological ideas before they became fashionable. And she continued a long struggle with depression, controlled use of amphetamines, and the still dominating presence of her mother. In 1987 she killed her husband and then herself.

This bald summary doesn't capture the way Phillips weaves details together, using her broad range of sources without letting them intrude into the story or subjecting them to analysis. In a few places this is unsatisfying: how much should we make, for example, of two vague and inconsistent references, in letters forty years later, to a teenage incident of near-incest with her mother? But mostly she leaves us confidently trusting her selection and dissection of material.

The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon is an essential resource for a key period in the history of science fiction. It is also an effective biography, a sensitive and insightful account of a woman's struggle to fit creativity and independence in with social and psychological constraints. Alli was exceptional, but many will find resonances in her life as a geek and misfit to whom science fiction offered a haven. Over 900 book reviews by Danny Yee are available at dannyreviews.com."

danny danny writes  |  more than 7 years ago

danny writes "If you're interested in insects, or think you might be interested in them, then Thomas Eisner's For Love of Insects is one of the best works of popular science I have read. Read on for my review. In For Love of Insects, Eisner gives a engaging presentation of his work over more than half a century, studying insects and their defense systems. He includes some autobiographical material and captures the excitement of discovery and the adventure of curiosity-driven experiment and research, but his focus is very much on the insects, on the variety and complexity of their adaptations.

Bombardier beetles deploy 500 pulse per second chemical cannons, which they can fire in all directions and accurately target against attacks on different parts of their bodies.

"The bombardier is even able to fire forward over its back. It does this by bouncing the spray off a pair of skeletal reflectors that it manages to stick out from the tip of the abdomen at the moment of ejection. Ants are therefore at risk even if they scale a beetle's back."

Whip scorpions spray a mix of acetic and caprylic acids. Millipedes and a range of insects produce hydrogen cyanide. One way to manage poisonous substances in high concentrations is by mixing separately produced precursors "on demand"; another is by storage and transport in drainage tubes lined with cuticle.

Polyxenid millipedes use "grappling hook" bristles to entangle ants. When attacked, Hemisphaerota cyanea beetles hunker down and hang on with an adhesive force hundreds of times their body weight; this stops ants but not specialised predators that inject muscle relaxants. And there are caterpillars that consume Drosera sundews, using sensory hairs to carefully manoeuvre around the sticky droplets.

Photinus fireflies use lucibufagins for defence and female Photuris fireflies use mimicry to catch Photuris males, from which they obtain lucibufagins to defend themselves and their eggs. Lacewing larvae Chrysopa slossonae cloak themselves in trash, making themselves resemble woolly aphids and fooling the ants that herd them. Beetles of the genus Elytroleptus both mimic poisonous lycid beetles and prey on them; if they sometimes become unpalatable themselves, they would combine Batesian and Müllerian mimicry.

Ozaenine beetles direct jets of fluid against attackers using the Coanda effect. Daddy-long-legs Vonones sayi accurately administer benzoquinones onto attackers using their forelegs. Dienutes beetles emit gyrindal to make themselves unpalatable when swallowed by fish, using slow release to combat "oral flushing". Nasutitermes exitiosus termites spray gum against ants. And the secretions of Glomeris millipedes sedate attacking wolf spiders.

Detachable scales help moths escape from orb spider webs. Orb spiders take their webs down during the day, or mark them with "stabilimenta" so birds can avoid them. Argiope spiders deal better than Nephila ones with bombardier beetles and stink bugs, wrapping them in silk before biting them. If not killed, bugs use saliva to weaken the glue and harden the silk, making it easier to break free.

Insect defences have naturally inspired a variety of "circumventers", or predators with ways of getting around chemical defences. Grasshopper mice jam the "armed" tails of Eleodes beetles into the sand before eating them from the head down, stopping just short of the poison glands. Phengodid beetles inject a rapid-acting poison into the necks of millipedes, crawl away and bury themselves in the sand for an hour or so, then return to eat the innards, leaving the poison sacs. Insects of several kinds consume leaves of latex-producing plants after first puncturing key veins to isolate them.

Synchlora caterpillars decorate themselves with flower petals as camouflage. The plant Mentzelia pumila uses lethal defensive spines against insects, but the aphid Macrosyphum metzeliae, moving carefully on long legs, not only feeds on the plant but is protected by its spines.

Insects such as grasshoppers and sawfly larvae use toxic chemicals from the plants they eat: waxes, slime, pine resin, eucalyptus oil, turpentine. Cochineals produce carminic acid not as a dye for humans but to deter predators, but some of those not only cope with it but turn it to their own ends:

"Laetilia, Hyperaspis, and Leucopis illustrate nicely now opportunistic strategies can differ from insect to insect. Evolutionarily all three have achieved the same thing. Through specialization they have 'crashed' through the defensive chemical barrier of their host, and have seized the opportunity of appropriating the host's weaponry for protective purposes of their own. All three use carminic acid for defense, but each does so in its own way. One expels the compound orally, another does so from the rear, and the third deploys it by bleeding."

Cantharidin is poisonous, but has been used as a primitive "Viagra". It is used for protection in meloids (blister beetles) through defensive bleeding. In Neopyrochroa beetles, cantharidin is transferred by males to females, and hence to eggs.

Utetheisa moths use alkaloids derived from plants for defence: males transfer alkaloid to the females, after using a derivative to attract them, and the females use it to protect their eggs.

And these are just some of the insects Eisner covers.

The science in For Love of Insects comes from many disciplines. There is chemistry, describing the structure and synthesis of defensive chemicals and explaining how they were collected and isolated. There is anatomy, looking at defensive structures and organs for producing, storing and targeting defensive compounds. There is ecology, looking at when and against which predators insect defences work, at the role of mimicry, and so forth. There is ethology, looking at behaviours for getting around defences, at transfers of chemicals in mating, and at different life stage strategies. There is evolutionary theory, looking at how all these features evolved, at predator-prey coevolution, sexual selection, and so forth. There is history and anthropology, looking at the role insects have played in human life. And more.

Eisner also includes some details of experimental methodology and design, and background on the mechanics of science; he generously acknowledges his collaborators over the years.

For Love of Insects is illustrated with extraordinary photographs. These are not necessarily the kind to excite an art macrophotographer, but they include action photos of insects, attacking and being attacked, that are both dramatic and informative. Eisner includes some discussion about how the high-speed photography involved was done. There are also electron micrographs and diagrams illustrating anatomical details.

For Love of Insects is the grand synthesis of a veteran scientist looking back, sharing his knowledge and experience but above all his excitement and wonder at the marvels of the natural world. Anyone curious about insects, or indeed natural history, should find it a joy to read."


danny has no journal entries.

Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?