Saturday, July 11, 2009

When Comics, History, and Computer Science Combine!

I'm sure you are familiar with the fascinating story of Charles Babbage who, long before the invention of transistors or vacuum tubes, designed and attempted to construct a general purpose computer he called the Analytical Engine.

[cricket sounds...]

I'm sure you are also aware of the story of Ada Lovelace who was one of the very few contemporaries of Babbage who fully appreciated what he was trying to achieve with his Analytical Engine. She's credited with being the first programmer since she published notes describing how the Analytical Engine could be programmed. Sadly, she never had the opportunity to see her programs run on an actual machine.

[more cricket sounds...]

Well, if you've longed to read an appropriately appreciative comic treatment about these far seeing intellectual giants, you owe it to yourself to read this stunning work by Sydney Padua.

In the remote chance you are not familiar with this rich piece of history, Padua provides plenty of resources at the bottom of the comic. Additionally, for a brief look at her motivation for creating this comic, Padua provides a FAQ.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

And Now That it is Summer

Well, my previous worry about peacock population collapse may have been premature. One of the females around here has some chicks following her around now.

There's actually three of them. She does her best to keep them safe. She tries to keep them under cover and guide them around. She'll cluck warnings to them when danger approaches (like me). She'll sit on them or otherwise try to obscure your view of them by keeping them under her wings. But peahens aren't the most ferocious of birds, and she spooks pretty easy depending on the situation. So, we try to give her room.

Of course, the chicks aren't only in danger of predators. Some of the other peacocks and peahens initially followed her around pretty closely. They seemed very curious about the chicks, and not all their interests were benign. My mother says that in the past she's seen peacocks flinging the chicks around. I've heard of this aggressive and sometimes lethal behavior in other animals, and you can readily find possible explanations, so I won't horrify you with an explanation here. Regardless of nature's cruel reasons, it's not really something I want to see.

However, when things are going well, the guys are pretty fun to watch. I actually saw some behavior that I don't know what to make of. Sorry for the low quality picture below. It was dusk, and the exposure was a little long (I didn't want to use the flash). You see one of the chicks below sitting on the mother's back. What you don't see is that he was hopping on and off her back for a good minute. I managed to catch him in the middle of perching on her back. She just sat patiently while he did this, but I was wondering if this was a form of play behavior. I didn't know birds did that. Well, except maybe crows and ravens and types of parrots (Okay, maybe I did know birds played).

Anyway, I've never seen peacocks exhibit play behavior, but this little guy seemed to be having fun. Oh, and it has nothing to do with trying to fly. These guys have been able to fly around for a while now. He just seemed to enjoy trying to perch on her back.