May 29th, 2009

krazy koati

I'd hammer out danger

A surprising report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported surprisingly that rooks could make and use tools. I mean it's surprising that I'm surprised that it was found surprising, not that it was a surprise that the surprise surprised everyone. If you understand what I mean then you're doing very well. If you don't follow what's surprising then that's all to be expected. My point, I think, is I'm surprised to find people are surprised to find rooks are using tools, and I think that's all the surprises I want in one sentence.

It's important that the rooks here are the birds, the variant model of the crow sporting a moonroof and power aelerons, and not the chess pieces. They are often confused, what with all the surprises going on, and with the strong membership of the International Federation of Chess Playing Animals, which is properly known in French by a name that is basically the same but with the words put in a different order. In the wild, rooks are more likely to rely on the bishops to carry their games forward, leaving them quite vulnerable to badgers, who control the pawns.

The thing is it should be decades now since anybody was surprised by animals making and using tools. Oh, it used to be trendy to say humans were the only animals who used tools to blush, but that crashed once animal researchers tried actually looking at the animals they were researching. Today we know that humans are the only animals who toss the warranty registration cards for their tools in the kitchen drawer that will never be cleaned out because it's too hard to fully open and too depressing to sort fully through.

Meanwhile we see animal tool use all over the place and providing an important part of the economy such as it is. For example, nearly two-thirds of all Craftsman tools are sold to tree-dwelling creatures not more than eighteen inches long. Nearly the entire world supply of rotary sanders have been purchased by squirrels, which is one of the ways to distinguish them from chipmunks, who prefer belt sanders.

Besides, animals have been creating tools of general usefulness for nearly all time now. For example, the inclined plane was nothing more than an incline before the sea turtle thought of matching it to the plane. With the plane they were suddenly able to take out much of the underside of the incline and advance into sea-saw turtles, which survives in this day in a corrupted form as the jigsaw puzzle. The confusion in naming underscores how mission drift happens even aquatic forms of life. The inclined plane was used until 2004, when it was discontinued to save money for some other foolish expenditure, possibly involving the Internet, which was created by saber-toothed cats to share pictures of their humans.

The monkey wrench, as you might expect, is misnamed in that it was not invented by a monkey. It was invented by a team of four monkeys working in close synchronization for over ten years, at the end of which they produced the works of Shakespeare, which they had been reading during breaks.

And then there's the role of animals in inventions all over the place, for example in the fundamental unit of entertainment, skee-ball. There would be no skee-ball as we know it without groundhogs, who had brought the important `ball' side to the game. Without their work we had only ``skee-'' and a lingering feeling among players that they were missing something important and roundy. Acknowledging the groundhogs' role is not to disparage that they were complementing the earlier work of capybaras, who brought the ``skee'' into it. Without groundhogs and capybaras there would have just been ``-'', as we started out, rows of people with flat, emotionally indifferent expressions on their faces. We wouldn't even have had that without the pikas, small hare-like rodents that come ten to the horizontal inch in typewritten text, twelve for elite.

I wonder if it's not confusion between the rooks that got the rooks looked at in the first place. That wouldn't surprise me.

Trivia: Around 1926 Henry Ford estimated his production saved $2.60 per car from using Roberston (square-socketed) screws. Source: One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw, Witold Rybczynski.

Currently Reading: Alice, Let's Eat, Calvin Trillin.