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I Digress...

8/31/2007

..therefore I shall be splitting technology rantings to my wordpress blog from now on. Check it out here.

This blog shall remain for whatever interests me - gnomic or whatever ;-)

PS I just read 1984 for the first time last weekend. It was very interesting indeed. I encourage those of you who have not read it to give it a whirl.
--
tnn


New Yip Yap

8/23/2007

I finally did it - I've bought a new work mobile.

Regular viewers will know that I am a bit of a gadget geek, and that my concept of a mobile office is vivid and strong.

I have long been a fan of the Sony p900i, a phone that I classified as the 'best phone I have ever had'. Well after moving from that to a Windows powered SDA (yuk) and then back to a Siemens S65i (awesome, but awful battery life, it is a 2004 phone afterall!) I have now purchased a Sony P1.

Lovely jubbly.









Expect a review soon.



--
tnn


Where have all the flowers gone?

8/21/2007

Awful summer init?

Anyway, here's something else thats gone missing - good teaching and apprenticeship!

When you have a discussion about management, leadership, succession planning, or career planning, someone usually brings up mentoring. Usually at this point people nod their heads and automatically think that they understand what a mentor is. However, the idea of a mentor probably conjures up different images for different people. Some may picture Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid, or Obi-Wan from Star Wars. Others may picture their boss, their moms or dads, or perhaps a favorite teacher. The point is, mentoring means different things to different people, which is okay, because in fact, there are different kinds of mentors. Below is a list of the kinds of mentors you might find out in the world.

The wise experienced leader: The title gives this one away. This is a person who has reached the peak of his or her career and wants to share his or her wisdom with others. Often this is done within the organization, but sometimes it can be with someone outside the company. Depending on the age of these kinds of mentors and whether they wish to continue to work, they can sometimes sell their services as a “master” mentor.

Peer mentors: These mentors are friends or colleagues who pair up to help one another along, whether it is through a project or as they work through their career within an organization. Sometimes these relationships are formalized and people are assigned to a “peer” mentor but more often than not they are informal and may be on-again-off-again as work and life situations change.

The life coach: This is your trained, sometimes certified (often part of the HR department or a consultancy), mentoring professional. Sometimes you see life coaches appear right about the time layoffs are announced, but more and more employees are seeking these professionals out to try to help themselves get ahead in the working world.

The teacher: As I stated in the first paragraph, teachers are often natural mentors, particularly for those who are working and going to school, whether they are traditional students who have yet to fully enter the workforce or those that are returning to school seeking job advancement.

The conscientious manager: This is the manager who is serious about succession planning and has imparted the information needed for one or more people to be able to succeed them. Depending on the manager, the person he or she is mentoring may not even realize they are being groomed for succession.

The confidante: I also have heard this called the “accidental” mentor — the person who people gravitate toward to use as a sounding board and, in the process, end up learning from them without realizing it.

The media mentor: People who write books, such as “best practice books,” or perhaps people who blog such as myself often do so as a way of sharing their knowledge and experiences and find it to be a way of giving back to the community. And if we are lucky, we actually toss out an item or two occasionally that are “keepers” that prove particularly meaningful to our audience.

There are probably a dozen more ways of labeling mentors, and it is not uncommon for people to have more then one and not realize it. If you are lucky enough to have a mentor and recognize it, whether it is a formal relationship or not, make the most of it. Good mentors are worth their weight in gold and they can help you to grow tremendously both personally and professionally. Keep in mind that almost everyone has something you can learn from and that if you keep your mind wide open, the world can be your mentor.


--
tnn


Fearful managers make bad leaders?

8/15/2007

Grabbed this from a techrepublic article:


I recently came across a survey blurb that stated that a certain percentage of management feared being out of the office because they were afraid that a subordinate would outshine them in their absence. While I don’t remember the exact percentage of those respondents, I know it wasn’t a trivial number.

I was a bit shocked by the response because (perhaps naively) the thought never occurs to me when I’m out of the office. The fact that there are managers with this paranoid fear says several things to me about their management difficulties:

  1. They are very insecure in their position.
  2. They work in a very dog-eat-dog environment.
  3. They are afraid of their own subordinates.
  4. They probably take credit for everything.
  5. They probably never share in the blame.
  6. They have low self esteem.
  7. They don’t view their marketability as being very high, increasing their fear that they will lose their job.

Perhaps I have it all wrong, and in fact, they are all very well adjusted and particularly shrewd in the analysis of their current situation? Maybe a few, but I’m guessing the rest of the respondents have one or more of the problems described above — all of which are bad and need further elaboration.

First and foremost, no manager can be effective if they truly are afraid of being shown up by their subordinates when they are out of the office. These managers are not likely to mentor their subordinates, don’t give a flip about continuity/succession planning, are probably very risk averse, are very controlling and route every decision to themselves, and probably micromanage to an extreme — in other words — a real dream to work for, eh?

Addressing the first two points, one must wonder if the insecurity is rooted in actual behavior observed in the current environment (have they seen it done to others before in their workplace?); is this a manifestation of past experience or just plain paranoia? If this is a regular practice in your workplace and you don’t happen to be playing for an NFL team where you are fighting for roster spots all the time, then one might consider looking for a healthier environment. If the insecurity is based on other factors, some serious introspection is probably warranted.

Points three, four, and five above are mostly symptoms of their fear, manifested as poor management. Points six and seven are personal problems that need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and perhaps some counseling; however, all the traits in the list above can be dealt with proactively in some fashion by changing some workplace behavior.

If you’re afraid of being replaced by a subordinate, you can solidify your position in proactive and healthy ways. The first way is by building better relationships. As a manager, you have readier access to individuals in the organization that your subordinates do not. Use this access to build relationships with those above you and across from you on the org chart. It is not only good for business — you will come to understand the operations of your organization better — but it also buys you the good will of the people you interact with. Relationships are taken into consideration when hiring, firing, and promotion opportunities present themselves.

Being out of the office (assuming it is for business) also means that you again have opportunities for relationship building and for networking. Good work outside will filter back to your organization.

If you are concerned because you believe you have lost your edge and your subordinates are sharper than you…well…do the obvious. Work on sharpening your skills to stay competitive. Keep in mind that the skills you are sharpening are probably not the same as those of the people reporting to you, particularly as you move up the org chart. How well you program in C# probably doesn’t amount to a hill of beans to your boss if your job is not to program but to manage. Lifelong learning helps you to avoid skill gaps that can lead to insecurity and low self esteem.

Try and remember that as a manager you work THROUGH people and they are your assets and hopefully your allies. If your workplace resembles Mutiny on the Bounty, you had better take a hard look at how you are managing. Your subordinates should not hate you nor be plotting against you. If they are, you better try to get to the root of the problem ASAP, and you should start by looking at yourself first.

Lastly, work hard, be proud of what you do, but always be ready to leave. The workplace, as is the world, is a very unpredictable place and hardly ever fair. Never get so settled in a position that you become complacent. Always plan for your next move. Put away some money in an “emergency cache” that can fund six months of unemployment. It may take you awhile to build it, but having it gives you the peace of mind that your world hasn’t completely fallen apart should you find yourself out of work. That peace of mind also works to reduce anxiety about being let go.

In summary, a manager carrying around fears of their subordinates outshining them when they are absent is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Whether you need to leave an unhealthy environment or do some serious self-evaluation and behavior changing, you do not want to operate out of fear. It is unhealthy for the organization, the people you supervise, and ultimately you, the manager.

Have your ever been paranoid about scheming subordinates or been in an unhealthily competitive environment? Have you ever observed or tried to coach other managers with these traits?




--
tnn


Land of Hope and Exploitation...

8/09/2007

The Worst Jobs in America



A lot of congratulations were passed around by lawmakers a few weeks
ago when the federal hourly minimum wage was increased to $5.85, a 70
cent uptick. But wages are just part of the problem for workers in
bottom-rung jobs. Health hazards, lack of insurance and labor law
violations are among the on-the-job inequities faced by these workers,
according to industry experts interviewed by TIME, as well as a new
report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University
School of Law. "This is incredibly important because we're talking
about people who, for whatever reason, have been pushed to the fringes
of society," says policy analyst Liana Fox of the Economic Policy
Institute, a Washington-based research group.


What are the worst jobs in America? Things are especially tough for
service workers in three low-wage U.S. industries: laundry services,
supermarkets and nail salons. Industry representatives argue that
conditions in these jobs are no worse than those in other competitive
service sectors. But these are trades that often go unnoticed. Unlike
many manufacturing jobs, these positions aren't vulnerable to
outsourcing, but they�re losing protection as domestic unions lose
sway. "There's no reason these jobs have to be unsafe or very low-wage
jobs," says Fox. "These could be good jobs. And these are all jobs that
are more or less here to stay."


INDUSTRIAL LAUNDRY AND DRY CLEANING WORKERS



Garbage collectors have historically set the bar for messy jobs.
But laundry workers, particularly in hospitals, deal with a more
perilous kind of waste. When bio-hazardous materials aren�t disposed of
properly, they sometimes find their way into laundry rooms. "They have
blood, needles, body parts, bits of fingers, everything in those bags,"
says a worker quoted in the Brennan Center report, "Unregulated Work in
the Global City," referrring to the bags of hospital linens that he is
required to wash.


Exposure to toxins is another danger for the 235,000 laundry and
dry-cleaning workers nationwide, Forms of nonyl phenol ethoxylate
(NPEs), chemicals commonly found in U.S. detergents, have been shown to
cause fish to change gender and are banned in the European Union and
Canada. On June 5, laundry workers petitioned the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) to provide health and safety protections from
NPEs. Currently, the EPA's guidelines on chemicals date back to 1985,
and do not reflect recent research on NPEs.


Dry-cleaning workers, too, are at risk from prolonged exposure to
chemicals. The National Institute of Environmental Health Services
reports that in high concentrations, perchloroethylene (PCE) — the
dry-cleaning chemical used as the primary solvent in more than 90% of
the estimated 50,000 dry cleaning stores in the U.S. — can harm the
central nervous system. According to the Centers for Disease Control,
studies show that PCE may be a factor in the increased risk for
cervical cancer among female dry-cleaning workers. Tom Kelly, director
of the indoor environments division of EPA, confirmed that PCE may be
dangerous, particularly in residential buildings, and can be a factor
in both cancer and non-cancer illness. Nora Nealis, executive director
of the National Cleaners Association, responds that, while conditions
vary from plant to plant, the industry has made great strides in
protecting workers. "With proper training," says Nealis, "especially
with all the technology available, I wouldn't say that dry cleaners are
exposed to any untoward risks."


In the non-union laundry plants that make up 70%-80% of the
industry, workers earn the minimum wage or just above it. Coin-operated
laundries often pay less, sometimes as little as $3 an hour. Dry
cleaners' wages average between $250 and $400 a week for about 60
hours. Workers are often pressured into reporting that they�ve worked
fewer hours than they have, and non-union workers are forced to skip
meal breaks.


SUPERMARKET STAFF


Baggers have it bad. They�re on their feet all day, repeatedly
lifting loads as heavy as 80 lbs., which puts them at risk for
musculoskeletal disorders. As for safety, they're largely on their own.
In 2001, Congress axed regulations proposed by the Occupational Safety
and Health Administration (OSHA) that would have required employers to
provide safety training and to compensate injured workers. Instead,
OSHA issued voluntary safety guidelines that employers can legally
neglect. Yet the official tally of injuries and illnesses among
supermarket workers has declined, according to the Food Marketing
Institute, which attributes that change in part to improved safety
measures and employee training.


Grocery store workers earn an average of $332 a week, according to
the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with average weekly earnings
of $529 for all workers in the private sector. But some baggers don't
even make $300, because they are paid only in tips. But according to
Jill Cashen, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers
Union, grocery store jobs, when unionized, can be stable enough to
support a family. "From baggers up to meat department managers," Cashen
says, "workers can look at their union grocery jobs as career positions
that provide financial security."


While chains like Whole Foods are making inroads across the U.S.,
independent, non-union grocery stores are proliferating too, and many
lag on labor standards. On June 19, for example, the New York State
Labor Department learned of potential labor violations at one of the
grocery stores in the Manhattan-based Amish Market chain. The
Department sent investigators to all 11 of the chain's outposts, and
the preliminary findings suggested minimum wage, overtime and
tip-credit violations, according to Commissioner Patricia Smith —
charges that Amish Market downplayed, calling the investigation routine.


Smith�s department has also started performing random searches in an
effort to combat other labor problems, not just wage violations. "In
the past, if there were violations we didn't have jurisdiction over, we
would just ignore them," she says. Now, Smith instructs inspectors to
alert relevant agencies. Worker advocates argue that broader
enforcement of existing regulations nationwide could help improve
conditions for more than 2.5 million supermarket workers.


NAIL SALON WORKERS


Manicurists and pedicurists in the U.S. number 155,000, and the
industry has tripled over the last two decades. Forty-two percent of
nail technicians are Asian immigrant women, according to industry
estimates, and many have little recourse when exposed to dangerous
health conditions. Cosmetics ingredients don't fall under the
jurisdiction of either the EPA or the Food and Drug Administration, and
many such products sold in the U.S. today contain known toxins.
Formaldehyde and toluene, both identified by the EPA as carcinogens,
are part of the mix in many common cosmetics, as are phthalates,
chemicals that have been linked to birth defects. For the average
consumer, opening a bottle of nail polish once every so often is a
negligible risk. But for professionals exposed to them consistently, it
can be a bigger problem.


According to a 2006 report by the National Asian Pacific American
Women's Forum, 89% of the 10,000 chemicals used in nail-care products
have not been safety tested by an independent agency. Since 2001, the
Environmental Working Group, a public health watchdog, has been
studying many of those same ingredients, with disturbing results. The
group has noted that one common brand of nail glue contains ingredients
linked to cancer and reproductive defects, a significant finding given
that more than half of Asian immigrant women working in nail salons are
of child-bearing age. Hannah Lee, executive editor of Nails Magazine,
an industry publication, says that safety fears are often overblown.
"If you follow all the rules that are out there, it's a perfectly safe
job," Lee says. "There's no research that suggests that the amount of
chemicals that nail technicians or maniurists are exposed to on a
day-to-day basis is a problem."


In 2005, California, which is home to 21% of all nail technicians
nationwide, passed a Safe Cosmetics Bill, requiring cosmetics
manufacturers to disclose dangerous ingredients to the State Department
of Health and Human Services. Disclosure, though, doesn't mean mandated
elimination of those chemicals, leaving the onus on workers to reduce
their exposure. "It's as safe a job as you can make it," says Lee.

Time mag.
--
tnn


OK, so what will americans think of this?

Two hominid fossils discovered in Kenya are challenging a long-held view of human evolution.

The broken upper jaw-bone and intact skull from humanlike creatures, or hominids, are described in Nature.

Previously, the hominid Homo habilis was thought to have evolved into the more advanced Homo erectus, which evolved into us.

Now, habilis and erectus are thought to be sister species that overlapped in time.

The new fossil evidence reveals an overlap of about 500,000 years during which Homo habilis and Homo erectus must have co-existed in the Turkana basin area, the region of East Africa where the fossils were unearthed.

"Their co-existence makes it unlikely that Homo erectus evolved from Homo habilis," said co-author Professor Meave Leakey, palaeontologist and co-director of the Koobi Fora Research Project.

The jaw bone was attributed to Homo habilis because of its distinctive primitive dental characteristics, and was dated to around 1.44 million years ago.

It is the youngest specimen of this species ever found.

The skull was assigned to the species Homo erectus despite being a similar size to that of a habilis skull. Most other erectus skulls found have been considerably larger.

But it displayed typical features of erectus such as a gentle ridge called a "keel" running over the top of the jaw joint. Analysis showed the skull to be about 1.55 million years old.

The new dates indicate that the two species must have lived side by side.

Sister species

If Homo erectus had evolved from habilis and stayed within the same location then both must have been in direct competition for the same resources.

Eventually, one would have out-competed the other.

The particularly small Homo erectus find, shown from above with the large skull from Olduvai (Tanzania) to demonstrate the gorilla-like size variation of the species. Credit: National Museums of Kenya
There may have been a large size difference between the sexes
"The fact that they stayed separate as individual species for a long time suggests that they had their own distinct ecological niches, thus avoiding direct competition," Professor Leakey explained.

Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum, said: "Both were apparently stone tool-makers, but one possibility is that the larger and perhaps more mobile erectus species was an active hunter, while habilis scavenged or caught small prey."

It is most likely that both species evolved from a common ancestor.

Other possibilities

But the linear, ancestor-descendent relationship between the two species cannot be ruled out altogether.

Fred Spoor, professor of developmental biology at University College London, and co-author of the paper, told the BBC News website: "It's always possible that Homo habilis lived, let's say, 2.5 million years ago and then in another part of Africa, away from the Turkana basin, an isolated population evolved into Homo erectus."

After a sufficient amount of time to allow both species to develop different adaptations and lifestyles, Homo erectus could have then found its way to the Turkana basin.

With separate "ecological niches", both species could co-exist without direct competition for resources.

"But that is a much more complex proposition," Professor Spoor explained, "the easiest way to interpret these fossils is that there was an ancestral species that gave rise to both of them somewhere between two and three million years ago."

Not so similar

The fossil record indicates that modern humans (Homo sapiens) evolved from Homo erectus.

However, to some researchers, the small size of the erectus skull suggests that species may not have been as similar to us as we once thought.

On average, modern humans display a low level of "sexual dimorphism", meaning that males and females do not differ physically as much as they do in other animals.

The scientists compared the small skull to a much larger erectus cranium found previously in Tanzania. If the size difference between the two is indicative of the larger one being from a male and the smaller being from a female, it suggests that erectus displayed a high level of sexual dimorphism - similar to that of modern gorillas.

Sexual dimorphism can relate to reproductive strategies and sexual selection.

If erectus was very sexually dimorphic it may have had multiple mates at a time. This differs from the more monogamous nature of modern humans, indicating that Homo erectus was not as human-like as once thought.

The researchers dismiss the idea that the small size of the skull could be a result of it belonging to a youngster.

"By studying how the skull bones are fused together we discovered it belonged to a fully grown young adult rather than a developing juvenile erectus," said Professor Spoor.


--
tnn


Hmm, deja vu...maybe?

8/08/2007

August 8, 2007

New York City Transit System Is Crippled by Flooding

Powerful thunderstorms swept through the New York metropolitan area this morning, tearing up trees and damaging cars and homes, and creating havoc during the morning commute.

Subway stations were flooded, forcing commuters out onto the streets and into taxis and buses, and bringing traffic in many areas to a standstill. The region’s three major airports — La Guardia, Kennedy and Newark — all reported flight cancellations and delays.

No subway line was unaffected by the heavy rains and winds, according to the M.T.A. For the time being, the M.T.A. was advising commuters to stay at home.

Train delays and cancellations were reported on the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North, and train and bus delays and cancellations were reported on New Jersey transit. As the storm knocked down power lines, thousands of homes were without power.

An M.T.A. spokesman said train and bus services were expected to return to normal by about noon.

Meteorologist Brian Ciemnecki of the National Weather Service said an investigator would be sent to the scene to determine if a tornado was responsible, The Associated Press reported.

But Jeff Warner, a meteorologist at Penn State University, said no tornados formed or touched down. He said 1.7 inches of rain fell in Central Park between 6 and 7 a.m., and recent hot, humid weather powered clusters of thunderstorms over Pennsylvania and lower New York State that moved through the metropolitan area.

Paul Fleuranges, a spokesman for New York City Transit, said: “We’re coming back slowly. We have to dry out we have to clean up and then we have to make sure the circuits and the signals are working before we resume service.”

For the latest service information, please see the Times’ City Room blog.

Alfonso Quiroz, a Consolidated Edison spokesman, said that about 4,000 customers throughout the city were without power — including 1,500 on Staten Island and 1,000 in the Bronx — largely because the storm knocked down power lines.

Amid the commuter havoc, M.T.A.’s website, mta.info, shut down. It was the second time in several weeks that the website was not able to function during a transit crisis. The last one was during a minor blackout on the east side of Manhattan several weeks ago.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was to give a press conference this morning in the Bay Ridge district of Brooklyn, one of the areas hard hit by the storm.

“It looked like tornado activity, a very dense black wall, almost like a heavy velvet fog,” said J. R. Thomason, a fundraiser for the New York Philharmonic, who watched the storm from an attic room in a three-story house in the Kensington district of Brooklyn between 6 and 7 a.m.

“It was over very fast, within 30 seconds,” he said. In a nearby street, a large tree had crushed a van and its branches stretched across the road, stopping traffic. In Brooklyn, the F train was delayed, and as trains started up again later in the morning, subway cars were way overcrowded.

John Han, 50, a financial adviser, said he arrived at the Fort Hamilton stop at around 7:45 a.m., but about an hour later had given up and was going home.

“The cars are running, but real slow,” he said, accompanied by his wife. “It looked like a sardine can. We are going home and taking a shower and going to try again, because we are very sweaty.”

Around Brooklyn, motorists drove in search of an open subway line, so that they could park and take the train. In the Kensington area of Brooklyn, leaves and other debris littered the street, trash cans were knocked over, and awnings on stores were ripped. On the corner of Dahill Road and Church Avenue, trees blocked road lanes, and a 30 foot long pizzeria sign was down on the sidewalk.

Pete Chiaramonte, 41, who was on his way to work at a towing company, said he saw what he thought was the storm touching down at around 5.30 a.m. near the corner of 37th Street and 13th Avenue. “It was a funnel shape,” he said. “It looked kind of black and blue,” adding, “it was way up high and came right down on the roof of” a department store. “Pieces of the roof were all over the place. It was a big bang.”

At 370 East Second St. in Kensington, Carol Perri DeSimone, a sales representative, stood amid the remains of her porch. “I’m heartbroken, my roof landed three doors away,” she said. “I was scared to death.”

In Manhattan, the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 lines on the West Side, and the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines on the East Side shut down for a time. The 42nd Street shuttle was also suspended. The Metro-North Railroad reported at 8:50 a.m. that services on all three of its lines had been restored, although there were significant delays coming in to Grand Central Terminal.

Subways on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were flooded. Brandon Bunting, 31, a police officer on his way to John Jay School of Criminal Justice at 59th and 10th Avenue, said “This is crazy,” as he emerged from the subway station at 86th and Central Park West.

He said he had spent almost an hour on the train as it stopped and started about every 20 minutes, either in a station or between stations, and had finally given up.

Others left the station to try to catch buses or taxis.

As the storms moved across the region from west to east, Long Island was hit by winds and rains. Flooding on the tracks at Bayside, forced the Long Island Rail Road to suspend service on its Port Washington Branch early in the rush hour as torrential downpours swept through Queens and Nassau counties.

The railroad also suspended service to the Hunterspoint Avenue station in western Queens, where passengers from the railroad’s diesel branches make subway connections for the east side of Manhattan.

Trains on the main line through Mineola were delayed by flooding east of the station, the railroad said in a service advisory.

The railroad seemed to have been taken by surprise by the flooding problems. Passengers were allowed to board a Manhattan-bound express train at Port Washington at the height of the storm, and then were told a few minutes after the train’s scheduled 6:45 a.m. departure time that flooding at Bayside was interfering with service and that the crew did not know how long the delay would last.

The train sat in the station for more than an hour with its doors open as lightning struck nearby and the intensity of the rainstorm mounted and ebbed, then finally died away.

Around 7:45 a.m., train crew members began asking passengers whether they thought it would be worthwhile for the train to make its way as far as Great Neck, where they might be able to make connections with Queens-bound M.T.A. buses.

The railroad was trying to arrange for coaches of its own to replace suspended trains, the passengers were told, but had not yet managed to do so. Most of the passengers then gave up and walked off the train, passing under electronic signs on the platform that still, oddly, listed the next few scheduled trains on the line as operating “on time.”

By late morning in the Kensington section of Brooklyn, residents were sweeping the sidewalks and streets, and firemen were putting up yellow tape around the fallen trees.

William Neuman, Patrick J. Lyons, Sewell Chan, Ann Farmer, and Christine Hauser contributed to this article


-- Our thoughts to those who may be affected...we know how you feel!
--
tnn


Extinction

As Megadeth said, we are on a countdown to extinction...

The following is from The Independent. I used to read it often, but I find its getting quite 'spanky' and hiring dubious columnists that have no real views on anything other than their own publicity. Still, it sometimes reports on real news, which is rare these days..




After more than 20 million years on the planet, the Yangtze river dolphin is today officially declared extinct, the first species of cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise) to be driven from this planet by human activity.

An intensive six-week search by an international team of marine biologists involving two boats that ploughed up and down the world's busiest river last December failed to find a single specimen.

Today, the scientific report of that expedition, published in the peer-reviewed journal of the Royal Society, Biology Letters, confirms the dolphin known as the baiji or white-fin in Chinese and celebrated for its pale skin and distinctive long snout, has disappeared.

To blame for its demise is the increasing number of container ships that use the Yangtze, as well as the fishermen whose nets became an inadvertent hazard.

This is no ordinary extinction of the kind that occurs frequently in a world of millions of still-evolving species. The Yangtze freshwater dolphin was a remarkable creature that separated from all other species so many millions of years ago, and had become so distinct, that it qualified as a mammal family in its own right. It is the first large vertebrate to have become extinct for 50 years and only the fourth entire mammal family to disappear since the time of Columbus, when Europeans began their colonisation of the world.

The three previous mammal families gone from the face of the Earth are the giant lemurs of Madagascar, which were eliminated in the 17th century, the island shrews of the West Indies, probably wiped out by the rats that accompanied Colombus on his voyage, and the Tasmanian tiger, the last known specimen of which died in captivity in 1936. (The most famous creature to have become extinct in the past 500 years, the Dodo, was a bird.)

Sam Turvey, conservation biologist at the Zoological Society of London, who led the expedition to find the Yangtze dolphin and is chief author of the paper, said: "The loss of such a unique and charismatic species is a shocking tragedy. This extinction represents the disappearance of a complete branch of the evolutionary tree of life and emphasises we have yet to take full responsibility in our role as guardians of the planet."

Several other species are "just hanging on" in the Yangtze and could disappear within a few years unless action is taken now, Dr Turvey warned. They include the Chinese alligator, the finless porpoise and the Chinese paddlefish, which grows up to 7m long but has not been seen since 2003.

"There is a lot of interest now in the baiji - but it has come too late. Why does no one pay attention to a species until there are none left? We really have to use the baiji as a wake-up call to act immediately to prevent it happening again.

"What is poignant is that the Yangtze is a fast river system with a unique range of endemic species. Once they are lost there, they are lost everywhere," he said.

The object of last December's expedition was to rescue any baiji found and remove them to a 21km-long oxbow lake in the nature reserve of Tian'ezhou for an intensive breeding programme. Each of the two boats operated independently with scientists scanning the water with binoculars - dolphins have to surface to breathe - and listening with hyprophones for the distinctive whistles. Despite the technology, they found nothing.

"We used a very intensive survey technique. Both of the boats counted the same number of porpoises - we saw everything that was there. We didn't see a single dolphin," Dr Turvey said.

The cause of the freshwater dolphin's demise was instead all too plain to the investigators. It had become a victim of the world's most populous country's race to get richer. One tenth of the world's population live in the Yangtze river basin. During the expedition, scientists counted 19,830 ships on the 1,669km of the river they surveyed - one large freight vessel every 800m.

The Yangtze dolphin navigated by sonar - its eyes are useless in the murky water - but in a motorway jammed with container ships, coal barges and speed boats, its sonar was deafened and it ran a high risk of being hit or torn by propellers.

An even greater threat came from the nets and 1,000m lines of hooks used by fishermen.

Although they did not intend to catch dolphins, the creatures became entangled in the nets or lacerated by the bare hooks - almost half of all dead baiji found in the past few decades have died in this way. In addition, pollution had fouled their natural habitat and completion of the Three Gorges Dam worsened the decline in smaller fish on which the baiji fed.

The last mammal families to become extinct

Island shrews

Extinct: 1500

The West Indian "island shrews" or nesophontids are known only from sub-fossil remains. They were about the size of a rat and died out following the accidental introduction of black rats, with which they could not compete, from European ships. They were the most ancient land mammals of the West Indies and their extinction represented the loss of an entire mammalian order.

Giant lemurs

Extinct: 1650

The giant lemurs of Madagascar weighed up to 180lb, more than a silverback gorilla. They died out as a result of hunting by humans.

Tasmanian Tiger

Extinct: 1936

The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, left, looked like a large striped dog, with a wolf's head and heavy tail. It was actually a marsupial, related to the kangaroo, with a pouch to raise its young. European settlers feared it and killed it whenever they could. Thylacines never bred in captivity - the last known one dying in Hobart zoo on 7 September 1936.



--
tnn


DNS Rebinding

8/07/2007

You are vulnerable to a serious hacking opportunity that gets by most known defenses. It is called DNS Rebinding, and its a bit scary.

You can see if your browser is vulnerable here.

--
tnn


sludge is good for ya

8/01/2007

is the news you read and watch really news?

do you know what advertorials are?

what about lobby groups discretely funded by corporations?

the best pr ends up looking like news. you never know when u r being manipulated, u just end up forming an opinion based on it.

buy it.

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tnn [mobile]


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Weekly musings from a confused mind. This blog, and all posts within it, are just ramblings. They are in no way affiliated with any past, current or future employers. Neither do they represent my deep felt views, or those of my friends or family. Really, its just a blog, which is a new thing, and has new dimensions. So please, dont take anything seriously. If you do, contact me via a comment, and I will get back to you to resolve the situation. Seriously, enjoy life, ignore this blog, and views within it.

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