Tuesday, March 30

Latest from The Kruger

The Internet is acting up again. Posts may be delayed and/or sporadic. Sorry about that.

Kruger National Park is a pretty well known place. At least in Africa. If you live in South Africa and don't know it, you probably live in the northern end of Bumbleweed, Northern Cape. Probably. I don't really know these things.

Anyway, Kruger is a huge wildlife sanctuary, and the premium destination for South African safaris. Some people these days say the tourists are overrunning the place. Its a good deal: South Africa is arguably the most stable of all African nations, and you can see all the big five plus the animals that are actually cool (giraffes are way better than African buffalo).

A few days ago, a poacher in Kruger was chased by hippos and then eaten by lions.

That's all.

Thursday, March 25

Troop Mind Journal 02/26

Sometimes accidents happen. The best of those are accidents where no one gets hurt, and I learn a thing or two about baboon movements and hierarchies.

It was a morning on the mountain like any other. I waited for the baboons to come down out of the trees where they slept. They'd been here for most of the days this week, so I felt I knew what to expect. They'd spend one, maybe two hours laying around at the edge of the forest. This was the place where a few weeks earlier, Aaron had created the "sloshing" effect.

Seemingly the opposite behavior possessed Aaron today. Where before he seemed content to lick Siri's heels for any length of time, on this morning, he came down from the trees before the sun had fully risen, and rolled on out of there. The alpha male walked deliberately. What was he going for? Had looked back on his path, it would have been a beeline - neither his bearing nor speed wavered in the slightest.

When he reached his destination about half a kilometer distant, Aaron sat down and began to eat. There was food sitting there, mostly fresh, though plain food. Too a baboon, delicious. I've no idea how it got there, it probably fell out the back of someone's truck. The food is irrelevant. The point is that Aaron went straight for a resource, and the entire troop followed after.

Yup, everyone came along. Aaron departed so quickly, I think the others may have been given a fright. After all, its not like Damian or Janny is going to defend the integrity of the troop. The rest of the group was a bit slower (Aaron took a maximum of 5 minutes to travel between point A and point B), but inevitably fell into line, and joined Aaron at the site of his treasure.

When Aaron had his fill of the food, he dropped the leftovers where he had found them and continued to move in a similar direction as he had originally. There was a waypoint nearby, which he appeared to be approaching. As soon as he left, Lottie came over and ate some, and was followed by Nadine (those two are known to be the first and second ranked female, respectively, largely thanks to incidents like this). Nadine might have been scared off, or perhaps just full, but next came Janny, and after his was a juvenile male, large but definitely not sub-adult yet. This guy had been circling the scene, waiting for a chance to slip in for a few bites. There wasn't much left after he'd satisfied himself, but a few smaller juveniles nevertheless spent ten minutes or so scouring the area for edible debris.

Certainly, the leftovers served as motivation for some of the troop members to follow. Still, only two females and two sub-adult males were able to pick over the remains, which weren't much. Aaron definitely appeared to exercise his power as "heart of the troop mind" in this instance. I doubt he saw the food first, but he was only baboon to make a dash for it. They might have been deferring to him from minute zero, knowing that in the end, he would get as much of the food as he wanted, no matter who made the initial move.

A new question arises: clearly Aaron has immense sway over the troop mind, as alpha, but how far does his influence extend? How many tyrannical movement decisions would he need to make before he began to lose power? Do they even need to be tyrannical? In this case, the benefit to Aaron was clearly worth the effort. But if he continues to assert his absolute dominance over the movements of the troop, when will the others get sick of him. Aaron is known for his easy-going nature, probably due to his extreme dominance as alpha, so as it stands, I might not get many chances to see Aaron truly throw his weight around.

Tuesday, March 23

More on the Internet

Following MWEB's announcement of their uncapped internet options, a bunch of other South African internet service providers jumped on the bandwagon. Famed Cape Town blogger Chris M summed up the latest deals pretty well at his own place.

Worth noting is that Telkom, the largest broadband provider in the country, has yet to fall into line.

Can anyone say government backed monopoly?

Sunday, March 21

Uncapped Internet reaches South Africa

...and about bloody time.

South Africa's internet infrastructure is disproportionately small (largest African economy, yet only fifth largest internet), for reasons I've mentioned previously. In that post, I also outlined the major problems with a huge lack of modern internet conveniences. Newcomer MWEB is going to start providing uncapped broadband services, which is a new idea for this market.

I'm unsure if this development is directly related to the Seacom, the new mega-internet fiber pipe, connecting up with the continent, or if MWEB is trying to push ahead of the curve so as to capture the uncapped market before it goes mainstream with Seacom's operation. In any case, it will be interesting to see how MWEB fares against Telkom, considering Telkom's government subsidy. Arguably, it'll b mostly the same to the consumer, if MWEB fails but manages to force Telkom to open up uncapped services before.

Regardless, these developments come too late for me to take advantage. So you won't be seeing an angry comparison of African internet services from me any time soon.

Thursday, March 18

Friends with benefits

Damian has continued to maintain his unusually good ties with Lauren for the past few months, and this relationship doesn't appear to be dying down anytime soon, if one looks at all the obstacles they've mounted thus far.

Its been found that Damian is not exclusive with Lauren. Recently, another timid young female by the name of Reyna has gone in and out of estrus, and Damian chose to consort with her. Lauren got this time "off," which I first observed when she was scene interacting with other females for the first time in months. One of those situations where you look and think, I don't know that baboon, and then puzzle over it for a few minutes before face-palming over the obvious answer.

Nevertheless, at the end of the affair, Lauren returned to Damian's side. She remains even now, despite the fact that she is clearly pregnant, and Damian has no need to worry about guarding her swelling or her child. He could leave her to her own devices and return later to guard their child, but he keep her exclusive, and the two show no signs of giving up their status as the weird, reclusive couple of the troop.

They would have had some competition for that title, had not a similar turn of events lead the other pair away. Chester, one of the old males (probably the oldest male in the area) has always had a fondness for Eunice, a female of little consequence. Chetser, Eunice, and her baby would often be seen at the periphery, alone, grooming one another and playing with the baby. None of them have been so rigidly withdrawn as Damian and Lauren. Chester is a genial old male, and often has a small pack of infants following him around. He's like the friendly neighborhood grandpa. He's very protective of his playgroup, too.

But, when Chester decides to go for a rest, often he'll go to Eunice and her child and settle down for a nap right next to them.
Adorable baby baboon not pictured. That would have been too much to fit into a single photo, I guess.
Similarly, Eunice will actually mingle with the rest of the troop, unlike Lauren. Neither half of this pair is the most social of baboons, but neither are they they the token reclusive couple, ala Damian and Lauren. Then again, there's also Wilhelmina, who is the oldest and shyest female anyone has ever seen. She grunts like a male, her voice is so worn out.

I suppose the child must be Chester's - it seems very strange that Chester would favor this single infant over the others. Perhaps this is what will happen between Damian and Lauren when her child is born.

There is another possibility: Eunice is Chester's daughter. Since females stay in one troop throughout their entire lifetimes, and Chester is old as sin, this is quite reasonable, and the possibility makes incest discussions even more fun. Oooh! Maybe he's the father of both of them. It would be like the baboon version of Chinatown. What I wouldn't give to have full genetic data for these troops.

So Damian and Lauren had their reclusive title locked up pretty securely in the first place, but now its completely inconsequential because Chester, Eunice, and her infant have vanished.

Okay, that's blowing it a bit out of proportion. A couple weeks after Mortimer pulled his stunt, I began to wonder what Chester was up to when I didn't remember seeing him. One morning I received a call from a colleague up the mountain, "I've spotted Chester up with the troop here, and, uh, Eunice is here with her baby as well."

It was odd enough for an old male like Morty to switch it up, but an old guy, his filly, and their young ward? If I were the mother, I'd be pretty afraid for the life of my baby upon entering a foreign troop filled with testosterone bloated males just dying to spread their genes around some more. That's some impressive loyalty to follow your male into the hornet's nest... of other males.

I wish the news had been more surprising, but the funny thing is that this isn't the first time Chester and Eunice have eloped together. The previous occasion was before my time, but I gather it was quite similar. One day, the two of them went off to the second troop and stayed there for about a month. Then they came back. I really hope they come back soon, I miss that old guy already...

Tuesday, March 16

Variety Show

Monkeys choose variety for variety's sake

ScienceDaily (2010-03-16) -- Given a choice between spending a token to get their absolute favorite food or spending it to have a choice from a buffet of options, capuchin monkeys will opt for variety. ... > read full article

Oooh, this is a fun one. Some of you ought to remember former East Campus Housemaster candidate and Behavioral Economics professor Dan Areili. He's at Duke now, and appears to be the driving entity of this research.

Its pretty cool from what I see, though I haven't read the paper yet (oh African internet). Chosen variety is closely related to neophilia, a characteristic which appears to divide primates. Even among chacma baboons, there are some which appear to be curious, friendly, and neophilic, and those which are neophobic, who would prefer the same boring stuff again and again, rather than experimenting with variety.

Neophilia appears to be a characteristic of more cognitively advanced primates; despite the fact that capuchins are new world monkeys, they are remarkably intelligent. Unfortunately, as a distant relation, they don't provide a great deal of anthropological info. Behavior is still great, but behavior plus human relations is the where the proverbial money lies.

Anyway, there are very very good reasons for animals to fear new stuff and variation, most of them having to do with the fact that new stuff tends to kill you. So, when you find an animal that isn't afraid of the unknown (within reason, of course), that's exciting business.

Thursday, March 11

Human Ethology: Microblogging

I'm an internet sort of guy, and the internet is big, going on bigger. The internet is something which appears to be reaching its tendrils into every aspect of our lives, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Such growth may cause great trouble, because while the human mind is very adaptable, that doesn't mean it is always a quick study, and as I'll argue, microblogging has some deep ethological conflicts we need to address immediately.

Following the recent introduction of Google's new Buzz service, the company and internet were flooded with privacy concerns on the new service. Facebook has been through privacy scandals too many times, and Twitter is no stranger to these catastrophe's either. It appears that microbloggers are particularly susceptible to judgment or design errors. Why might this be?

A Selective History

Microblogging could hardly exist as a term without the older and respectable weblog, from which we derive "blogging." A blog isn't as mock conversation though, a blog is primarily associated with written work - logs, journals, diaries. Blogs were (and are) longer, thought out, and usually edited. When they were journals, they were more private and introspective, but they attempted to be contemplative.

Microblogging is closer to being a stream of consciousness; indeed, it was described as such by Jason Kottke when the term tumbleblogs was coined in 2005. A "no holds barred" philosphy was embraced, encouraging tumblers to post tiny messages, straight links, quotes, videos, songs, images, and even full length blog style posts. Whatever was on your mind, you ought to be able to leave it on the tumbleblog.

Together, Facebook and Twitter made microblogging more about status updates than media. Links are still common, but a greater emphasis is placed on the blogger's internal thoughts.

Why would you want to put your stream of consciousness, you inner thoughts, passions, and desires, all over the internet, the greatest single network in history?

What Microblogging represents in our minds

I need to take a moment to talk about the importance of symbolism in understanding human ethology. Let's use a linguistic example: a widely used title for a king or lord is "highness." Why highness? The meaning is quite literal. In our hunter-gatherer days, having an position elevated above the rest of the group meant you could see everyone when they cannot easily see each other. One could see further into the distance, to spot approaching game or enemies. One is visible to all, and can more easily issue commands. Overall, to sit/stand higher on the ground was/is a position fought over and claimed by the strongest, as such a position strengthens the holder.

Exactly the same logic falls under the phrase "look up to." You look up to them because they are above you, both literally and hierarchically. They have gained the higher position on the ground because of their success, to you look up to them (where they stand above you), and emulate them so that you too may be successful and control the higher ground.

The point is that much of our figurative language, art, and thought is actually quite literal, and can be directly tied to ancient behaviors which are very much alive in us today.

What is the symbol of microblogging? The symbol of Buzz is a multicolored quotation balloon. Twitter has that little bird with a 't' in a quotation bubble. Facebook makes use of quotation balloons so rampantly it is often difficult to find your way around the site. And Tumblr? Well, Tumblr is practically designed to be confusing, messy, and unaesthetic.

This is the fundamental problem: microblogging services want us to treat them as surrogates for spoken conversation, and we are easily drawn in and comply. But, microblogging is far too different from personal conversation. This divide is what makes costly errors so frequent in microblogging. 

A False Sense of Stability

What is a conversation? It is an interaction between two or more people, where everyone involved alternates between speaking and listening, all the while issuing feedback signals to everyone around. You know exactly who you're talking to and exactly how they react in real time. Microblogging removes the majority of natural feedback. you would receive throughout the course of a naturally paced conversation.

Most importantly, microblogging gives everyone an unknown audience. Audiences didn't exist in hunter-gatherer times. You had your family and friends which made up your entire community, the people who you spent your whole life with. They weren't a real audience, not by modern standards.

You could say whatever you want, and you could be sure that no one except your village will hear you because there's no one else out there for miles around. You knew exactly who you were dealing with and what kind of people they were. Microblogging provides the exact opposite: an audience of unknown size, made up of unknown individuals.

A Game of Numbers

Picture a scene of a hundred people filling a decent sized room, like a lecture hall. Now, wipe it out, and imagine two hundred people in a different, comparably sized room. How does the scene appear different to you? Try it again with 500, then a 1000. Work your way further up the chain if you feel like it.

In the above thought experiment, its important to really wipe your mind of your previous image. The use of a different setting helps with this. Humans are pretty good at saying two amounts are different in comparison, but when it comes to precisely generating internal images of large amounts, we're rubbish. Humans generally have very limited ability to discriminate between large numbers, intuitively.

The psychological sub-field of Numerical Cognition is all about this. When we evaluate small quantities in a blink of an eye, it is called subitizing. But you can't subitize quantities larger than a couple dozen. We thus have learned to count, but some fun studies with modern hunter-gatherer(H-G) cultures have revealed a few that don't really learn all the knacks. When presented with twenty hash marks, and asked to reproduce that number, these H-Gs would just scratch some marks next to it in order to indicate that the amount was "a lot."

In the H-G world, you're almost never going to see very many people organized in once place. If you do, all you need to know is, "that's a lot." Same with hunting herd animals, all you need to know is that the herd is big, and perhaps more importantly, healthy, which isn't a numerical judgment. Plus, these are external, concrete scenes, not mental images you've made yourself.

Yet, when we look at our follower base on a microblog, the emphasis is on a raw number. 23... 145... 2079. Each one is significantly larger than the last, but because these are just raw numbers, they're not strongly connected to the emotional and judgmental regions of the brain. Plus, quantities of that magnitude are barely discriminable within the number centers of the brain, for reasons stated above.

This setup is a recipe for disaster, as evidenced by mistakes made by so called professionals in much more natural situation than Twitter provides. Senator George Allen called some guy "macaca," probably by accident, and winds up losing an easy re-election race. Comedian Michael Richards got angry and made a racist comment while performing, video gets around everywhere, and Richards' almost loses his entire career (basically forced to go on hiatus for several years).

The circumstances were hardly natural from an absolute perspective, but at least these celebrities could see their audience, interpret the feedback, plus had years to adjust to the burdens of fame. Now think of microblogging. Its like these situations but worse in almost every respect.

Negative Feedback (or lack thereof)

When I microblog, I have this urge to just say crazy nonsensical stuff all the time because that's what I do in real life conversations. A lot of the time people get kicks out of it and laugh, providing me with the knowledge that I've hit on something. Other times I just get stares and pauses, the coldness of which indicate how poor my comments have been judged to be.

Buzz, Facebook, and Tumblr only allow you to "like" things. Twitter isn't even complex enough for that, but it allows you to retweet as a way of showing agreement. There is still no way to show your dislike. In Buzz and Facebook, you must leave a comment, and presumably explain yourself if you want to make your feedback negative. Even then, your input is only qualitative; you can't impact those "6 likes." already on the board.

All forms of feedback are a crucial part of personal interaction. So why not allow people to show their disdain as well as their favor?

This is nothing new, even to the online world. Digg and Slashdot both use positive and negative moderation to control the quality of what their users are presented with. This system works because it is anonymous. There is no good reason for a similar system not to be implemented in microblogging.

Furthermore, absence of feedback is still feedback. When someone reads a microblog post, they are going to have a reaction even if no one is present to see it. It might be tiny, but microexpressions (how fitting) are effectively inescapable in human interaction. However large the reaction is, it is effectively wasted. You can tell the poster later how you felt, or comment on the post, but you can never replicate that initial reaction, and that right there is crucial feedback. The poster's fast-acting cognitive architecture never receives this feedback, which sends a different message: there was no reaction, which is of course untrue. Higher order brain architectures will take into account subsequent feedback, but that primitive instantaneous system in our heads will always be providing a substantial bias based on false information. There's no good way around this problem, unfortunately.

Object Permanency

Another problem with me saying wacky stuff on a microblog is that its stuck there forever. Thanks to feed control, archiving, and caching, one information is out there, it can seldom be made to go away. When it can be gotten rid of, the greatest risk is that by the time you go through all the channels and waiting periods to get content removed, anyone who was looking could have copied it and saved it for their personal use. Then, its too late.

There isn't much one can do about this problem - I'm not one to advocate for less data accumulation in searches and archives. The removal process could use improvement, but unfortunately, this is something we're probably just going to have to knuckle down to and deal with.

Say what you will about how chat software and text messaging are destroying language; they've got similar problems. They have certainly have their downsides, but as technological advancements go, they are much more ethological than microblogging because as abtract as they might be, you know you're having a conversation.

Returning to the question posed earlier, why would we scatter out internal thoughts all over the internet, I can offer a two-piece answer. Firstly, because we don't understand just who and how many people we're telling, and secondly, those thousands or millions of followers don't let us know they're listening, because its simple and easy to do so.

My Recommendations

I've spent all this time outlining the problems, but I'd just be a whiner if I didn't explain what we can and ought to do about them. Microblogging's main flaws are in feedback. Human conversation relies on constant visual and auditory signals, virtually none of which are available in a microblog. 
  • Microblogging ought to allow for both negative and positive feedback, and when someone leaves feedback, they ought to be able to do so anonymously.
  • Enough with the conversation symbolism. Microblogging isn't speech, and it never will be. Microblog services need to use more accurate representations.
    • For instance, since we've established microblogging is much closer to a stream of consciousness, use a thought bubble symbol, or a brain, or perhaps a combination of the two.
  • Microblogging is a more unnatural technology than chat or traditionally blogging, and it should actually be treated more gingerly because of this.
    • Service providers need to stop this opt-out privacy nonsense. The default ought to be ethological, and ethological means private.
    • If you can use something other than microblogging to accomplish a task, try it out.
      • For example, some people say microblogging is the next big thing in internal corporate communication. Yet some companies use internal Jabber servers for this purpose, and as a proper chat protocol, Jabber is more organized, more efficient, and comes naturally, like in a conversation.
  • Force yourself to think about your microblog, even if "the point" is not to. Take your spur of the moment thought, let it mature a bit, then distill it into a core idea you can post.
    • Not only will this filter out noise and bad ideas, but distilling your ideas like this is an extremely valuable skill to cultivate.
    • This whole process might cost you a minute of extra time.
  • Time! The system will get better as mobile devices become ubiquitous the way the personal computer has, and as users adapt to this new behavior. In the meantime, no one should rush into early adoption in order to get on the bandwagon. You gain very little by being one of the first Buzz users. Let the service providers provide a decent product before adopting it. So, time and skepticism.
    So what do you guys think? Can you Digg it?

      Tuesday, March 9


      It was dark this morning. Darker than usual, which is saying something when its 6 AM in hot and humid Cape Town. Finding sleeping baboons can be tough in the early morning, but they usually give themselves away with occasional grunts, and top it off with a blatant copulation call.

      We had seen them the previous night, but as far as we could tell there were no animals. As soon as they move, monkeys become more easily visible in the trees, but a silent, immobile, unlit baboon is almost impossible to identify, even if you're surrounded by sixty of them.

      Which I was. I had just started off to go look elsewhere when a fine mist began to deposit minuscule particles of an unknown liquid on my skin. Rain? I thought at first. Weather reports had indicated a possibility for light rain. This conjecture was erased from my mind the moment my nose got a whiff of the repulsive odor of concentrated urea.

      About twenty seconds of cursing followed. Then, "Hey guys, they're over here!"

      A word on monkey piss. Getting urinated on my tree dwelling primates is a bit of rite of passage among primatologists. You're not a real field research until you've been soiled by an oblivious monkey. I have already been brought into the fold, so each additional time that invisible haze and accompanying smell settles upon me, it is a matter of some consternation. At least I've yet to be pooped on.

      The worst is when its raining, though. The monkeys will rush up into the trees to huddle, much of the time. Unfortunately for those below, the rain runs down the trunk, collecting on the coat of the monkey, which pools around the tail, and transform into a fountain of hidden horrors. Baboon butts are not pleasing to any human sense. Well, none of mine. More on this another time...

      The darkness may have had something to do with the silence. Cloud cover does a surprising amount for diminishing the sunlight at dawn, and the baboons might just have been truly asleep until I "woke them up" (though I've never heard them so taciturn).  As it happened, we waited about twenty minutes without hearing a sound, and the moment after I got wet, the grunting began, soon to be followed by an all to earnest copulation. Thanks for the timing, guys. Wicked pisser.

      Sunday, March 7

      On Pubes

      While glancing through the Scientific American site the other day while soaking up that article about the fate of the PhD, I saw a link to A Bushel of Facts About the Uniqueness of Human Pubic Hair, and my deeply rooted primatological instincts said, "Oooh pubic hair! You were just thinking about that in the field the other day when Aaron and Janny were copulating like mad! Click it! CLICK IT!"

      A Bushel of Facts About the Uniqueness of Human Pubic Hair

      Like many people, I ask myself continuously about some of life’s biggest mysteries. Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? Why do we have those strangely sparse, wiry little hairs growing around our genitals—hair that is singularly different from the all the other hair on our bodies? Fortunately, a group of leading-edge scientists have managed to put my mind to rest on at least one of these daunting existential questions. In recent years, it seems, researchers have made some tremendous advances in the study of pubic hair.

      I didn't regret the click. Actually, I rarely do when my inner chimp speaks up to me in such ways.

      Friday, March 5

      Don't go to grad school

      I was checking the blog of the esteemed John Hawks, and found a link to the following editorial in Scientific American. 

      Does the U.S. Produce Too Many Scientists? 
      American science education lags behind that of many other nations, right? So why does it produce so many talented young researchers who cannot find a job in their chosen field of study?

      Hawks offers his two cents on the problem. Here are mine:

      I don't like academia. I like research. But, I'm in the biological and social sciences, so I don't have as much experience with the systems in the physical sciences. Duly considering the limitations of my perspective, I still haven't met many PhD students in the past few years who are truly happy with the prospects of what they're doing. Some things have changed about the system, and others haven't. As a result, people are unhappy. Hence, continued change is needed.

      Young science enthusiasts are brought up with the old values mentioned by the author, specifically, the image that people go to grad school, labor extensively, and then settle into a faculty position. Unfortunately, this vision is antiquated; the new truth is disguised by the system, and the old yarns perpetuated. I know too many people on their second post-doc, pushing 40, and still looking just about anywhere for faculty positions.

      I like Hawks' suggestion, and they have come close to being implemented at Janelia Farm. I haven't heard the best things about how things are working there, but it is a very new institution, and might just need to mature.

      Responses to the article overwhelming mention the possibilities in research outside of academia. The piece itself handles this issue with only the briefest touches, but the comments are more elucidating, particularly one from award winning Sci-Fi novelist David Brin. Maybe people do need to progress through academia to the PhD level before making a life of scientific research, but the long and winding road of post-docs that follow after are unnecessary.

      Wednesday, March 3

      Breast milk makes my day

      I came home from the field today to find this story blinking at me from my feeds. I was quite excited.

      Baby monkeys receive signals through their mother's breast milk that affect behavior and temperament

      ScienceDaily (2010-03-03) -- Among rhesus macaque monkeys, mothers who weigh more and have had previous pregnancies produce more and better breast milk for their babies than mothers who weigh less and are less experienced. Scientists are using this natural variation in breast milk quality and quantity to show that a mother's milk sends a reliable signal to infants about their environment. This signal may program the infant's behavior and temperament. ... > read full article

      Sweet! Now I don't need to write a Human Ethology article on why you shouldn't get breast augmentation. Though I am not sure if that is a good or bad turn of events.

      Tuesday, March 2

      Midlife Crisis: Part II

      The day was unusual from the outset. The main troop slept very near to one of the miniature troops, and when both troops rose at dawn, they nearly merged together, moving towards the feeding grounds as a single elongated, messy unit. Twas interesting to watch for the novelty, but when you're looking for data, usually you'd prefer the boring, stuff you've seen many times prior.

      This miniature troop truly deserves such a description, consisting of few more than twenty individuals. The old male who once dominated the troop is called Tim Curry, and the entire group takes its name after him. They are an almost constant hazard these days, as seasonality alters the ranging behavior of the troops. Still, we know much less about them since no one has bothered to focus on them.

      Tim Curry is a distinctive old guy, as the old males tend to be. Despite having only seen him a dozen or so times, I could easily recognize him. The younger males ID's are less clear. So while following Aaron, I saw a narrowly built male stroll past, and grunt once in the vague direction of Aaron and Lottie.

      Ugh, I thought, that must be one of those Curry males. Waltzing right through the middle of the troop, freaking everyone out. He's got quite a bit of nerve. And he's very lean, but not small. Reminds me a great deal of how Mortimer walks. This guy is probably his son, just at the age of dispersal.

      Half an hour later, I saw the same male. This time I saw his face, an old face. A few stunned moments later, I blurted, "Wait, you are Mortimer!"

      A quick call to a colleague in the other troop gave a bit of confirmation. That was unnecessary, I felt this was Mortimer with the certainty of recognizing a close friend. I knew this guy.

      It is little surprise that of all the possible explanations, my brain missed the obvious one. Mortimer had been giving signs of leaving his troop all the while, but his existence just isn't a part of my main troop image. And frankly, old males switching troops is really weird because we don't know anything about such behavior.

      But that's just what Mortimer did. All of my theoretical questions posed in the first part of Mortimer's escapades now come fully into play. Are the reproductive opportunities in troop 2 that poor? Are the food sources blatantly sub-par? Will he return to troop 2? If so, when? Common opinion is that males stick to their troop for life after dispersal, but now Mortimer has come to play with a new group, so bets are off.

      Monday, March 1

      Troop Mind Journal 02/09

      Aaron was consorting again. When the alpha male is in a consortship with a female, things tend to get (more) boring because the male will just follow her bobbing bum around all day, rather than using his masculine influence to drive the troops behavior towards goals... or rather, other goals.

      This thought crossed my mind, and next I began to think, well, if the male is such a powerful force in the troop mind, then what happens if he appears to not be exerting his influence on the greater mentality?

      This is essentially the situation you're given when a male is indisposed due to the influence of feminine wiles. The troop acts independently of the male since he's just bowing to the whims of his girlfriend. Right?

      As I observed, greater complexities began to emerge before me. It is true that Aaron was just following the estrous female, Siri, as far as I could make out. He remained with her at the rear-center of the group, and left the juvenile and sub-adult males to seek out the feeding ground via the usual routes.

      What was Siri following? Normally she'd tag along with the core of females, which generally followed Aaron's lead by several meters. Without his lead, what influenced her motions? Ultimately it seemed like she followed the lead of the males up front.

      Yet the most telling scene of this day came in the early morning, just after the baboons woke up from their night's sleep. As usual, they groomed and played around their bedspots for an hour or so before beginning to move. Longer, today, because Aaron was leading the departure.

      Aaron and Siri spent the morning quite actively. They were copulating, of course, and Siri was leading Aaron, and the two of them moved back and forth between the eastern to western boundaries of the sleeping site. This pattern continued without fail until the group finally left. The pair were able to complete three cycles of west-to-east-back-to-west in a little more than an hour.

      Here's where the situation becomes intriguing: the rest of the troops' movements mirrored those of the copulating pair, but lagged behind by about ten minutes or so. It was like waves of water washing up along the sides of a half-pipe: Aaron and Siri represented by the tip of each wave, followed by the body of the wave, the bulk of the troop.

      In particular, the other females followed the pair, presumably still following Aaron's movements. He wasn't going very far, the span between the two edges was a hundred meters at most, but the vast majority of the females, and many of the juveniles followed in his wake. In spite of Aaron's clearly altered behavior, the troop was still heavily influenced by his relatively small movements. Aaron and Siri sit at the far western side, and twenty minutes later, they would be headed back from whence they came, but Lottie, Matilda, Punzle, Wendy, and company would be sitting and grooming where Aaron had been a few minutes earlier.

      When the male posse did manage to get out the door, it was unclear if Siri or Aaron was the member of the pair to follow. Aaron was behind her, but that actually says almost nothing, since a male baboon moving behind a female, no matter how calm, could be a follow or herd. Still, where the pair went, the core followed after.

      One must ask again, what was leading Siri that morning? Coyness with Aaron? Legitimate desire to get away from him? Youthful energy (she has yet to have a baby of her own)? Was it the simple by product of the standard copulatory dart, whereby the female runs a short distance away each time the male mates with her? Under the blade of Occam's Razor, we might find that was all there was to it.