Thursday, September 23, 2010

How (or which) large is it?

Yawn. How did I get to the point where one of my foci is actually one of my greatest weaknesses? I have a really loose relationship with the English language and somehow Ive found myself trying to explore its structure. Particularly Adjectives, Adverbs, Indefinite Pronouns, & Prepositions. What exactly is the difference in meaning between these terms where the word large is the root:

rather large

All of these terms are used in fairly recent descriptions of new species of wasps. A new published description is required for a new species to be valid. Right now that description, as required by the Zoological Code, must be text. Historically these texts do not adhere to any real rules of language (obviously! Unenlarged is not even a 'real' word according to Websters). A person could be as loose or florid as they desire with their descriptions, creating a lot of variation in word usage in descriptions of species.

Great by Platyscelio striga image by Norman F. Johnson & Charuwat Taekul with enlarged antennal segment

So if a person was describing the antenna in the image above he/she could say:
Antennal segment is rather large.
Antennal segment is enlarged.
Antennal segment is larger than the proceeding segments.
Antennal segment is the largest.
Antennal segment is large.
Proceeding antennal segments unenlarged. (Only one author used this word - lets just push this under the rug and forget it ever happened?).
We may only need the word root. Large. Comparisons seem to be the answer and we can remove all terms except the root terms. If we said: Second antennal segment large compared_to proceeding segments we would know that segment is the largest segment. Lets try an even more detailed example. Second antennal segment large compared_to third antennal segment. Third antennal segment large compared_to proceeding antennal segments. We then would know that the third segment is actually of medium size.
Words like 'rather' are nice but lack any real meaning and could be ignored. Or does 'rather large' actually mean 'its kinda, sorta large compared to all the other wasps but I wouldnt necessarily call it large". That doesnt sound like a word to use in describing a decisively new species.
Who cares? Well only a few people right now but we are moving away from human descriptions of new species. It is a bit sad that we will loose some of the 'authors touch' for the sake of automation. I have the same feeling about it as I did when the NOAA weather radio man in my hometown turned into a robot voice. I was never excited again about a severe thunderstorm warning.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Upcoming Special Programs on WFMU

Dave Soldier + Irene Moon
Wednesday, September 22nd, 7pm - 8pm
Do or DIY with People Like Us
An old musician's joke is on the order of "it takes him half an hour to play the Minute Waltz". Today, WFMU's favorite local classical music composer Dave Soldier visits for a live performance of his newest collaboration, with the late Frederic Chopin and living electronic musician Sean Hagerty. Soldier performs the Minute Waltz on the grand piano at Le Poisson Rouge very very slowly, lasting a half hour, while Hagerty stretches each piano note out over time. Chopin may make a surprise appearance.

Irene Moon and a cast of characters from the Auk Theater perform a musical mystery theater about insects. Each character has an insect of choice that is suspect in a recently discovered serial murder. Information about insects is introduced as they try to unravel the "who done it." Not all of the content is logical, but it is absolutely factual. Irene is an entomologist and musician at North Carolina State University whose present research involves the dissection of wasp heads and the representation of the muscles found within the head. She was quoted recently to say, "social bees and wasps are commonly found and easily organized. It's the non-social beasts that fascinate and truly demonstrate how many creative methods there really are to dispose of an unfriendly caterpillar."