Sunday, June 29, 2008

Oh look, a crocodile!

There's a new tourism facility opening in Darwin very soon called Crocosaurus Cove. It might sound like a great place to lie on a beach towel and soak up the sun while giant reptiles wander past, but it's actually going to be the equivalent of an aquarium for crocodiles. Big crocodiles - we're talking 18 footers here. And Big Gecko was contracted to assist with moving them from the Darwin Crocodile Farm into the new facility, situated in the middle of town. Don't worry, there will be pictures to come but for now I should relate a cautionary tale about driving large crocodiles down the highway on a Saturday! It's the kind of activity that can be extremely hazardous, but not for the reasons you might think. Catching and transporting the crocodiles is a piece of cake really, but getting one down to highway into the town centre without causing a major accident? Now that's quite a job! People nonchalently overtaking in the right-hand lane would suddenly realise they were overtaking a trailer holding a very large crocodile, slam on the brakes, and fumble around on the back seat for their mobile phone camera so they could show the kids, all while weaving around wildly. When they weren't taking their eyes off the road, their passengers were winding the windows down to gesticulate towards the crocodile in case anyone had failed to spot it. We even had cars slowing down in front of the towing vehicle, causing our driver to overtake just so they could take a photograph as it passed them.

And people think crocodiles are dangerous...!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sim Croc

I used to love playing Will Wright's simulation games when I was younger. I spent hours on Sim Ant, Sim Life and Sim Earth, all of which offered a fascinating if somewhat limited simulation of the subject matter. They become more sophisticated over time, and now Will Wright is putting the finishing touches to Spore - a game that enables you to take a single celled organism, evolve it into a multicellular creature, build a tribe, a civilisation, and eventually colonise other planets. It all sounds like an overly-optimistic exercise, but I'm looking forward to how it turns out nonetheless.

The first taste of the game was released a few days ago in the form of the Spore Creature Creator. As a zoologist I couldn't resist. You start off with a basic body and spine, and the ability to change its shape, add limbs, sense organs, weapons and other bits and pieces. After mere minutes you normally end up with a living, breathing digital creature that you can take for a walk around a small arena, activating a number of behaviours to show it off. It's a prelude to the main game, but it's no doubt a complete game in its own right. The power of the editor is remarkable, and the way the game interprets your creature and makes it move is impressive to say the least.

It really is a zoologist's dream come true - the ability to create whatever creature you want, to act like a digital God. There are limits of course, this is a computer simulation and not life, but the exponentially expanding Sporepedia of life shows just how incredibly flexible it can be.

Naturally, my first inclination was to create a crocodile. Frankly, it turned out a bit flat because I hadn't figured out how to manipulate the body properly. I won't even assail your poor eyes with it! My second attempt, however, was much better. Of course, I took some liberties with the crocodilian form and ended up with something more akin to an endearingly cute crocodylomorph / dinosaur hybrid. There's a picture below, followed by the .png file so you can import it into the Creature Creator if you want to play around with it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tempus fugit

I seem to be missing the whole point of this blog thing! It's all about rapid updates, about sharing thoughts and snippits of information that might not otherwise be particularly newsworthy - a glimpse into my psyche, I suppose.

So it doesn't really work when it's been two months since the last update! How am I supposed to create an audience? Ok, let's try this again. This time I promise to regale you with all kinds of bits of useless information, and hopefully a little bit of useful information too.

I recently came back from Bolivia, where I attended the 19th Working Meeting of the Crocodile Specialist Group. The CSG is an IUCN-SSC (ie. Species Specialist Commission) group, essentially made up of volunteers who are invited into the group because they are significantly involved in crocodiles: conservation, education, research, management, farming, that kind of thing. Every two years there's a working meeting where the steering committee meet and we have several days of spoken and poster presentations. Of course, the main value of these meetings is really meeting people, catching up with friends and colleagues, sharing ideas, and hatching plans for collaborations. Before I'd finished I'd been invited to just about every country in Latin America, and it must be said I can think of few better places to visit. Bolivia was my first visit to South America and it was a great experience, and not just because it was just so completely spectacular. Even coming into Santa Cruz from La Paz ensured that I was glued to the aeroplane's window totally gobsmacked by the spectacular views of snow-clad mountains with clouds spilling down their flanks.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll write more about this later. I have to keep these short and sweet so that I have incentive (and time!) to keep writing them. Sometimes you get so busy that you completely forget where the time has gone.