June 3rd, 2007

krazy koati

''Stop,`` said the mama fishie, ``or you will get lost''

The Underwater World aquarium on Singapore's Sentosa Island, which is a huge tank featuring a plexiglass tube underneath so that you can stand on the moving sidewalk or crowd onto the too narrow fixed portion and stare up underneath rays of various kind that lay on the tube, has put in a new feature. This is as though I didn't already miss the place enough and want to return, despite going on average once a year when I actually lived a very short bus ride away. Well, the new trick is an interesting one: they've put radio frequency identification microchips into some of the fish. When they swim past a sensor, a touch-screen panel displays the species and personal name and whatever other information may be relevant about the fish. That might diminish some of the traditional zoo and aquarium fun of looking at a storybook-type illustration of a creature and trying to locate one that looks convincingly like it, but it would help convey information more efficiently and avoid pointless arguments between people who disagree about which drawing more closely matches the fish that doesn't look quite enough like any of the illustrations. Though deep down I think they did it just for the fun of talking about ``fish and chips''.

The thing that made me suspicious of the news report when I first noticed it was that I didn't think radio waves worked underwater. This is why submarines would have to surface, exposing them to considerable risk, to receive new orders: if they're deep underground the light just can't reach them. But then I remembered, bypassing everything I learned as a physics major, back to high school and that radio waves don't penetrate water well, but can at the right frequencies make it a couple of feet in. And for this application radio waves getting a few feet in is just fine. Until I remembered that I was starting to spin out new flights of fancy thinking of sound-based ways to try the radio frequency identification-style trick, and none of them looked likely to work.

The tagged species according to one article include ``arapaima, alligator gar, flower ray, pacu, redtail catfish, shovelnose catfish, and walking catfish'', and they're considering tagging the sharks. Underwater World marketing manager Peter Chew claims they're the first aquarium to tag exhibit fishes with microchips this way. People can also buy pet toy fish, name them, and put the names in reader range to see the pet names on the displays.

Trivia: On 3 June 1956, a total of 1,095 airplanes took off in the United States, carrying 136,823 passengers. The day was documented by Life magazine. Source: Naked Airport, Alastair Gordon.

Currently Reading: Last And First Men, Olaf Stapledon.