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The Weirdness of Emergent Behaviors

Whooping Crane in flight in Texas. USDA Photo by John Noll.

While listening to the February 17th episode of This Week in Science podcast, I learned that the whooping crane, Grus americana, which has been on the brink of extinction, was recently reintroduced to the wild in Louisiana, though their original habitat has changed. The birds are responding to this change, and thriving, by altering their appetite to include small reptiles and amphibians. Though their natural history isn’t entirely understood, it’s generally agreed that this is new behavior; it’s behavior that emerged after their habitat changed.

Or consider our cat Rosemary (gone but still in our hearts). She was a normal cat with no particular strange behaviors, until we acquired some small stuffed dragons, which she began to pick up in her mouth and carry around our house. She wasn’t nesting with them, because she didn’t gather them up in one single place; rather, she deposited them in random locations, upstairs and down, and sometimes on the stairs themselves. So this I’m also considering an “emergent behavior”, that is, an unexpected new behavior that emerges after a change in environment.

I suppose this isn’t technically emergent behavior, though. The term, I believe, actually comes from complexity theory and refers to a system which exhibits traits and behaviors that cannot necessarily be explained in terms of the parts. A single neuron, for example, is not at all capable of the higher thought processes that a brain, composed of millions of neurons, is capable of. Similarly, an individual ant is not capable of doing very much, but organize thousands of them into a colony and you get some very complex behaviors indeed (Douglas Hofstader, in his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, even imagined that an ant colony that was capable of rational thought).

This post isn’t meant to be scientific or a reflection of any philosophical notions, just some random thoughts that I’ve pondered throughout the years. The basic point is that emergent behaviors and properties are weird. When an organism’s or individual’s habitat or environment changes in a truly novel way, you can’t necessarily predict what the response will be. Similarly, with complex systems, you can’t necessarily predict what strange properties will show up.

That’s all I got for now. Again, my next post will probably be about our cat Nutmeg, who, because she’s kind of chubby, I’ve taken to calling “Miss Chumbly-Wumbly”. Sure it makes no sense. But neither does this post.

The Tale of the Lonely Spider

Nerd Tree(Click to embiggen this picture. It’s huge.)

We haven’t yet gotten around to decorating our house for Christmas. We were going to do that yesterday (as well as cooking a bunch of food to stock our freezer and so on), but Jennifer got sidelined by a 7-hour conference call for work, so we didn’t get any of that done. So she did that, and I worked on the Holidailies site.

We did put up our Christmas tree a couple of weeks ago. Again, we haven’t had a chance to decorate it, but a day or so after we put it up, we did put on that giant spider that you see in the upper left, assuming that Sherman would knock it down at some point. So far he hasn’t. Then, because the spider was lonely, on Saturday I added the plush Cthulhu, which is a traditional Christmas decoration in our home (actually, Cthulhu lives on top of the grandmother clock in our hallway during the year, but in the tree during Christmas time). And yesterday Jennifer added the Dalek. So is our tree sufficiently decorated? You tell me.

In other news, I have decided that there is far too much negativity and downright nastiness in my life, mostly in the social media aspect of it. So I have promised myself not to be nasty, sarcastic, or mean on Twitter or Facebook. This certainly does include my political posts, and there’s a lot going on in politics right now that has been making me angry. The trick, I think, is to express that anger in a way that isn’t sarcastic or mean. Or, better yet, to channel that anger in a positive way. Saying that one group or another sucks might be cathartic but it’s hardly constructive.

It’s a precarious balance, and since I made that promise to myself, I haven’t actually posted either on Facebook or Twitter. I am sure I’ll post though. I go through phases anyway.

Now, this may be my only post for Holidailies. Enjoy it while you can.

Winds of Patwin County Kindle Edition Now Available for Pre-Order

Um… Pretty much what the title of this post says. The Kindle edition of “The Winds of Patwin County” is available for pre-order here. And at $2.99, I think it’s quite a bargain.

The trade edition will be available on May 1. I’ll keep you posted on that.

The Winds of Patwin County Cover

Some writing-related news

First, my Story of the Week thingy. I’ve rebooted it, and decided to start at Number One all over again. For purposes of this project, a story is at least 250 words and has a (mostly) coherent storyline. I sent out the first story, “The Hunt”, today, and hopefully the lucky readers will enjoy it. To sign up for my Story of the Week mailing list, go here. It’s fun!

Second, I’ve just put up a page for my novella, “The Winds of Patwin County“, featuring cover art by the fantastic Amber Feldkamp of Amber Covers. The novella will be available as an ebook on April 1 of this year, and in paperback on May 1. Share and enjoy!

Third, I’m considering setting up a Patreon page so that people can support my writing endeavors. Everyone else is doing it, it seems, and I just want to be cool. I’ll keep y’all posted.

Finally, on an unrelated note, my wife Jennifer and I just got Jawbone Up fitness bands. So if you’ve got one of those, let’s team up! I go under the name Richard Crawford, of course, and there’s a picture of me wearing a fez.

That’s all. Share and enjoy!

A Wee Whine

I need to update my website.

I need to rebuild the website from scratch.

I need to rebuild the Stonegoose wishlist server from scratch.

I need to complete my advanced PHP/SQL course

I need to learn Ruby and Ruby on Rails

I need to learn all about Amazon Web Hosting services

I need to write a blurb for “The Winds of Patwin County”

I need to finish up my Swords Vs. Cthulhu story

I need to write a synposis of “Code Monkey”.

I need to learn Drupal.

I need to import all of the old (WordPress) articles into the new (Drupal) website.

I think I’ll go read some comic books.

One year on

I don’t deal with death very well.

My friend Leonard Pung died of pulmonary complications brought on by leukemia a year ago today. And every now and then I look through the window of the cafe where we hold our writers’ group meetings, and half expect to see him walking in, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a wry grin on his face, as if he had just come up with a delicious pun that he couldn’t wait to share with us.

I’m putting this video here. It’s Leonard reading from his short story, “Crossroads”. It’s a good story. Enjoy.

Return of the Kings Now Available

Return of the Kings, that awesome book that Jennifer orchestrated for my 45th birthday, is now available as an e-book from Amazon. Proceeds from the sale go to the Leonard Pung Memorial Scholarship for the Clarion Writers’ Workshop.

Go buy this. You know you want to read this.

Signal Boosting

Here are a couple of recent publications that you should be aware of.

First, “Wish-flowers“, by my friend Jamie Thornton, was published in Issue 6 of The Quotable. You should also read the entry she wrote for their blog, “Kill Your To-Do List“.


Also, “Return to Sender”, by my friend Leigh Dragoon, was published in The Crimson Pact Volume 4. You can read an excerpt from the story at Leigh’s blog.

I like saying that these authors are close personal friends of mine. That way when they make it really big, I can say, “Yeah, I hang out with them.”

What are you waiting for? Go read and enjoy!