Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July !!

A quick report (11:00PM): Boston celebrates 4th of July in style, again. The Boston Pop under Keith Lockhart performs at the Half-Shell on the Esplanade for a crowd of half a million with music that combines country and pop, the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky complete with canon firing and church bell ringing, Puccini's Nessun Dorma from Tourandot, John Philip Sousa's Star and Stripes Forever - just to name a few. The event is MC'd by Craig Ferguson. And the fireworks are simply breathtaking that light up the dark summer sky with spectacular reflection from the Charles River.

It is a great city, Boston. Please come and visit.

Incidentally, Red Sox 6, Yankees 4, today.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

9.1 Shrimp's auntie

No, this is not a cockroach. It is a mantis shrimp (shown above is one of the less colorful varieties), also known as 蝦姑 (the shrimp's auntie) in Chinese.

A more colorful one is shown below:
It is more a crab than a shrimp. The taste is rather bland, though - probably the reason why it has never made it into the menu of Chinese restaurants. The Italians do have a way of preparing it (recipe below quoted from here):

Canocchie (or Panocchie) alla Pezza - Mantis Shrimp Pezza Style

To serve 4:
16 Mantis shrimp, about 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) in all
A small clove of garlic, minced
A small bunch parsley
A lemon (optional)
Olive oil
Salt to taste

Lightly oil a deep skillet large enough to contain all the shrimp, and lay them flat in it with the garlic and a pinch of salt. Sprinkle a little water over the shrimp, cover the skillet with a wet cloth, and cook over very high heat for 2-3 minutes. Serve the shrimp at once, garnished with sprigs of parsley and, if you like, lemon wedges.

Note: It goes without saying that it'll be a messy sitting, as the shrimp shell is a bit hard to crack.

There are always people who look at the shrimp differently. A few have noticed the unusual eyes:
And a close-up (by Roy Campbell, from
In the 3/20/2008 issue of Current Biology, Cronin, Marshall, and Caldwell reported that the mantis shrimp had a 4th mode of vision. Really, unlike everybody else, it sees circular polarization light. (Note: the other three modes of vision: black & white, color, and linear polarization). So what does that mean? Let's look at the polarization process first (below quoted from here).

"Light in the form of a plane wave in space is said to be linearly polarized...If light is composed of two plane waves of equal amplitude by differing in phase by 90°, then the light is said to be circularly polarized. If two plane waves of differing amplitude are related in phase by 90°, or if the relative phase is other than 90° then the light is said to be elliptically polarized."

In other words, if one can see the tip of the vector, circularly (or elliptically) polarized light would appear to rotate. It can be produced by passing linearly polarized light through a quarter-wave plate at a 45° angle to the optic axis of the plate. For the transmission of electromagnetic waves, circular polarization has almost no signal loss. It will be a great way of cell phone communication - no more dropped signals. Of course, for the mantis shrimp, this "technology" has been in use for more than 400 million years. Human electrical engineers are still yet to catch up.

It is fair to assume that the mantis shrimp uses circularly polarized light to communicate for mating and/or staking territorial claims - as in other animals. Its shell then must be the source of the reflected polarization light. Its compound eyes already contain thousands of rows of light-detecting units called ommatidia - a mix of photoreceptors and filters.

If you think about it, the mantis shrimp will survive long pass other species on earth: It looks un-appetizing, in fact, not much taste, has a hard shell for protection, and communicates with polarized light which no one else can see. Not bad at all. In fact, it is also known as the shrimp from Mars.

Speaking of Mars...