Saturday, February 20, 2010
The Who, Odorono:
From The Who Sell Out, 1967.
Pink Floyd, The Bike Song
From The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967
Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?
From Are You Experienced, also 1967. I guess I really wasn't paying attention that year...
- Number of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference: ~10,000
- Number of attendees voting in the straw poll: 2,395
- Top 3 placers in straw poll: 1) Ron Paul, 31%; 2) Mitt Romney, 22%; 3) Sarah Palin, 7%.
The (slightly) longer version is at TPM.
Followup, 6:56 PM: The much longer version is at Fivethirtyeight.
What’s being tested here is not just our ability to solve this one problem, but our ability to solve any problem. Right now, Americans are understandably despairing about whether partisanship and the undue influence of special interests in Washington will make it impossible for us to deal with the big challenges that face our country. They want to see us focus not on scoring points, but on solving problems; not on the next election but on the next generation. That is what we can do, and that is what we must do when we come together for this bipartisan health care meeting next week. Thank you, and have a great weekend.Krugman appears to be viewing this fairly optimistically. Me? Not so much. Still, as I said in the title, I'm relieved that Obama seems to recognize how frustrated we are. I guess it's not really a surprise; he hit many of the same notes in the State of the Union Address a month ago.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Followup: I've noticed that with AP, they sometimes change the URL's then redirect older, sometimes even very recent, links to a generic and utterly useless AP page. This appears to be what they've done with the link above. Here's one to WaPo that seems, as best as I can tell, the same story, and which should be stable. The headline is the same, at least.
They are big. From the Wiki cane toad page,
The cane toad is very large; the females are significantly longer than males, reaching an average length of 10–15 cm (3.9–5.9 in). "Prinsen", a toad kept as a pet in Sweden, is listed by the Guinness Book of Records as the largest recorded specimen. It reportedly weighed 2.65 kilograms (5.84 lb) and measured 38 cm (15 in) from snout to vent, or 54 cm (21 in) when fully extended.They have spread rapidly. (From the cane toads in Australia page)
They have caused some, but not many, as best as I can tell, human fatalities, and in fact can be eaten safely if prepared correctly. But predators- including cats and dogs- are at risk. Native predators and other amphibians are at risk as well.
So back to the cat food. Is cat food toxic to the toads? No. It was actually that odd juxtaposition that led me to click over and read the story. Toads and frogs famously "can't see" immobile objects; I suspect the more accurate phrasing would be "don't appear to perceive." No, the cat food can used to bait foraging ants to the edges of water bodies during the period when the young toads are finishing their metamorphosis from tadpoles to their mature form. Australian meat ants are voracious predators, and will attack the young toads. They are also immune to the toads' poison.
Between July and September 2008, researchers studied tens of thousands of cane toads emerging from cat food-lined ponds and found that 98 percent of them were attacked by meat ants within two minutes. Of the toads that escaped, 80 percent died within a day from ant-inflicted injuries.As is pointed out in the article, this will not be enough to complete control the toad population, and the absolute mortality rate is not clear to me, but appears to be somewhere in the range of 80 to 98%. That's nothing to sneeze at.
But what really struck me was this bit:
The baby toads are less than half an inch (1 centimeter) in size, about the same as a meat ant. The aggressive ants have strong jaws and can kill even larger animals by sheer numbers.In most circumstances, that is not a stupid response. While an individual toad may be injured or die, it leads to an elimination of predators that are inclined to attack cane toads. In evolutionary terms, it benefits the toads' population. In the case of ant attacks though, while I wouldn't use the word "stupid," it clearly is a non-beneficial reaction.
"It's a pretty unequal fight," Shine said. "The toads have this terribly stupid response to attack - which is just to freeze and do nothing."
So what would non-scientific approaches predict in this situation? Nada. They don't do predictions, and they don't do testing. They just take everything for granted, and are thus useless.
What would a scientific approach predict? I'm no expert (he says, for the zillionth time), but this seems a pretty easy one to me. Chance variation will lead to a few offspring that jump like pole vaulters upon being bitten, or smelling the ants (formic acid is pretty pungent), or seeing an ant approach, or some other ant-related stimulus. These offspring will have a better chance of surviving and passing these traits on to still more offspring. So if cat food warfare is widely and consistently adopted, it seems likely that it will lead to behavioral changes in the cane toad population. Which in turn suggests that cat food technology may have an impressive impact at first, but decreasing benefits over the long term.
This has happened over and over, with insects, with germs, with rodents, with all sorts of pests. Man invents a better mousetrap, natural processes design a mouse better equipped to avoid it. That's not to imply that we should give up trying to invent better mousetraps- quite the opposite. What it does imply, though, is that our actions have broadly predictable outcomes, and it behooves us to be aware of them. Anticipating future conditions is far preferable to arriving in the future and being left with praying for divine intervention as our only option for coping with problems we ourselves have contributed to creating.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
"If you're reading this, you're no doubt asking yourself, 'Why did this have to happen?' " the message says. "The simple truth is that it is complicated and has been coming for a long time."Followup, 12:42 PM: "AUSTIN, Texas — Police in Austin, Texas, say the crash of a small plane into a building that houses the Internal Revenue Service is an isolated incident and "there is no cause for concern" about terrorism." There may be "no cause for concern" about further acts of terrorism, but if they're trying to argue that this wasn't an act terrorism, color me amusedly unconvinced.
In the lengthy, rambling message, the writer rails against the government and, particularly, the IRS. See text of the note (PDF)
I did go read Stack's (alleged) statement, and it doesn't strike me as rigidly right wing. There's a lot of ranting against issues that people from both sides of the political spectrum are angry about. I have noted before that many of the core issues of concern and anger are similar throughout the US, but that the major differences between the right and the left are in proposed policies to deal with those issues. All that said, violence as an act of political statement, i.e. terrorism, has been espoused by only one faction.
And that would be the teapartiers.
Followup, 1:20 PM: Joseph Andrew Stack now has a Facebook group "celebrating" his achievement. "Finally an American man took a stand against our tyrannical government that no longer follows the constitution and is turned its back on its founding fathers and the beliefs this country was founded on." Every member of this group (143, as of this writing) should be quietly investigated and put under surveillance. If you want to see the quintessence of the tea party membership in all of its raw ignorance, incoherence, rage and hatred, read some of the comments.
Followup, 5:39 PM: As best as I can tell, the Facebook group has been taken down. The link above takes me to my FB home page. I wanted to reiterate my statement above, "it doesn't strike me as rigidly right wing," regarding his screed. It's a lot to read, but Michael Tomasky has done a nice job of distilling it in his analysis.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The wage-energy farm will work like this:The development site was on the lot of a large lumber mill that had closed some years before. Pre-existing high-load power lines, in place to supply the necessary electrical input in the past, saved the expense of installing such lines for potential output from the proposed facility. A brief description of the technology being used is posted at Wikipedia. If I recall, the original design involved a magnet bobbing inside a coil as the waves passed. In the map below, the timber mill site is on the seaward side of the "101" icon near the middle, and partially obscured by it. I wanted to zoom out enough to include a bit of the actual coastline.
- Energy is drawn from waves at the ocean's surface through a network of buoys set up along the coast.
- The buoys convert the wave power to electricity.
- Submerged cables send the energy to shore.
However, there are drawbacks with this type of energy harvest. The buoys can sink or end up on the beach, creating a tangled mess. Plus, commercial fishers and crabbers get closed out of wave-energy areas as those become no-fish zones.
View Larger Map (This is showing up as the intended map in preview, but as the Mallorca map I posted last Friday when I look at on my blog. What are you seeing?)
The particular article that I had read probably came out about the same time as this one; the emphasis on proactive community engage is similar.
Dr. George W. Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of OPT, said, "PNGC Power makes an important contribution to the energy requirements of the Northwest, and we are very pleased to work with them in connection with the Reedsport OPT Wave Park. It is important that these initial phases of the project be done in close coordination with, and respect for, the various state and local organizations with interests in the wave park. PNGC has demonstrated that vision and practice, and we appreciate their cooperation and support."The Oregon Coast is rugged and beautiful, and in the past communities there have depended primarily on fisheries and lumber as their major employers. For a variety of reasons, these two industries have been slammed hard during the past 30 years. A number of other job types have gained in importance, but coast towns are still struggling- particularly in the climate of the last couple of years. So to convince these hard-working and rugged citizens ahead of time that jobs in the electrical industry would make up for locking them out of (I'm guessing) a few square miles of prime fishing grounds struck me as a very smart move.
Now this is of interest to me, not because I think it'll be wildly successful: I don't. I think it's more likely to end up being too expensive- particularly in maintenance costs- and uncompetitive against other sources. But I don't know and neither does anyone else. So even though this is beyond the preliminary test stages, and toeing over into commercial development, it's still very much experimental. But now the experiment is economic rather than technological.
And I very much like that. I'd like to see many more such experiments with other renewable technologies. Many, even most, may turn out to be economic failures, but we won't find the successes until we try many different ones.
These sorts of things are a little disconcerting to me, and I wouldn't have posted this if it didn't have some redeeming value. Notably, the wonderful Engrish. The first one flies by in just a couple of frames, so here's the transcription: "When affairs took place car up took of actual condition..." The other three are likewise opaque. Via Kottke.
The story is about access, not use, based on US Census results. But even though I spend an ungodly amount of time using the internet, when averaged with 2.9 million other Oregonians, I don't think that should affect the final numbers in any real way.
I don't think.
I have joked around since the Reagan era that the best possible application of "Star Wars" or SDI technology would be to blast mosquitos and flies out of the air. Usually followed by guffaws and descending, fluttering fingers to portray the charred remains of these pestilential little bastards falling out of air the after after a successful deployment of the imaginary laser system.The research, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is intended to reduce the incidence of malaria by finding ways to keep mosquitoes from infecting people. Sometimes science and technology advance faster than one expects.
I don't pay a lot of attention to science by press release anymore; I simply don't trust it. PhysOrg is one of a number of groups that pick up press releases, slap their copyright claim on it, link others' graphics and multimedia, and aggregate it all in one convenient, slick website. Despite my distrust of such sites, I do skim over many titles from them each day. And I guess the bottom line is that if you're approaching them with a high degree of skepticism, if you're alert to weaselly phrases containing "might" and "could" (e.g. "Scientists could be on brink of discovery that might lead to unicorns who fart rainbows, reports say."), and if you read them in light of their PR intent, they can have some positive value. "Myhrvold said that the lasers could shoot between 50 and 100 mosquitoes per second."
Still, I find it interesting that PhysOrg would make the effort to take a YouTube video, change formats to an unembeddable one, but leave the YouTube logo in place.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Time to turn out some of the stale winter air in the apartment.
As I've mentioned several times, this is an unusually mild winter, as is often the case during El Nino years in the PNW. But even for an El Nino year, this one has been warm. How warm? Well, as is my wont, I took a stroll around today and took pictures of spring flowers. I'm a little stunned.
Bluebells are at least a couple of weeks early.
Most if not all of these will grow, like, um, spring flowers, if you click on them.
Daffodils are a couple of weeks early as well.
In a neighbor's yard.
Crocuses generally bloom about this time, but these have been blooming for several weeks, at least.
Miniature Iris normally blooms sometime in March.
Pansies start early, so this isn't too surprising, but again, these have been blooming for a month or so.
A nice show of crocuses and some irises just opening.
More daffodils opening in front of some lavender. Lavender blooms for most of the growing season, let's say March to September, if it has water. (Our summers are quite arid.)
As you can see though, this one is blooming maybe a month early. For some reason, blooger insists on uploading this rotated to a vertical format. I have run into this issue before, and have no clue why it happens or how to fix it.
Tulips are up; typically at this point, they're just little green nubbins. They look as if they may bloom in the next 2 or 3 weeks. I would normally expect them to start late March to early April.
Dandelions... meh. No biggie. I think that unless it's actually well below freezing, with a bit of persistence, one could find a blooming dandelion any day of the year when there's a bit of sunshine in Corvallis. They seem to set buds, then hold them for warm, dry and sunny days. What strikes me is how freaking many of them there are open right now.
I don't know what this is called, but it's a heavily used landscaping plant in Oregon.
(Followup, 2/17: Celina tells me this is wisteria. I'm glad to finally connect the name to the plant; I've heard the name countless times, but not known what it was.)
Rhododendrons are almost purely a mid to late spring term bloomer... April to June.
Camellia generally start in mid-March.
A different angle on the blossom in the lower left of the previous picture.
I loved the vibrant colors on this bud on the same bush.
And another clump of very confused rhodies.
So is this due to climate change? No. It's due to a somewhat predictable stretch of abnormally warm weather. The east coast has been hammered by an abnormally snowy winter, and I haven't felt that there has been any reasonable amount of attention paid to the fact that the PNW has been balmy to the point of bizarre. I expect the simple reason is that this hasn't caused suffering and disruption, as has the cold snowy weather in the east. But while the planet as a whole may be a bit warmer or colder from one year to another, my sense is that at any given time abnormally cold in one place is balanced against abnormally warm in another.
What climate involves is looking at long term trends. The idiocy of "It's cold, therefore global warming is a hoax," boggles my mind.
There have been a number of fine articles on this topic in the last day or two. One example is "The Dunning-Kruger Effect and the Climate Debate," at Skeptical Science.
The author skillfully dissects a comment left by a reader who tries to make the case that global warming is a hoax, since the Mauna Loa CO2 measurements are often taken as a proxy for global CO2 levels, the peak is volcanic and emits CO2, therefore the data are skewed upwards. The whole thing is worth reading.
One of the best titles for a scientific paper has to be the Ig Nobel prize winning "Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments". The paper compares people's skill levels to their own assessment of their abilities. In hindsight, the result seems self-evident. Unskilled people lack the skill to rate their own level of competence. This leads to the unfortunate result that unskilled people rate themselves higher than more competent people. The phenonemon is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after the paper's authors, and is often seen in the climate debate. There are many with a cursory understanding who believe they're discovered fundamental flaws in climate science that have somehow been overlooked or ignored by climate scientists. Some take this a step further and believe they're being deceived.
Before anyone takes offense, let me begin with some disclaimers. I'm not saying the Dunning-Kruger effect is limited to one side of the debate. It's a universal human condition not confined to a particular ideology. When I first got into climate science discussions, I made my fair share of over-confident yet naive statements. As my understanding grew, I came to realise the complexities of climate science and how much more I have to learn (as predicted by Dunning and Kruger). I'm also not saying all skeptic arguments are a result of the Dunning-Kruger effect. However, a few examples demonstrate how the Dunning-Kruger effect can lead one astray.
I have taken enough classes in atmospheric science to comprehend how gawd-awfully complex it is, and avoid getting entangled in any substantive discussions on the topic. That doesn't stop me from puncturing obvious gasbags, though. And it gives me yet another excuse to gloat over the beautiful climate that I inhabit.
Monday, February 15, 2010
And the one below, captured a few minutes ago, shows that it fell off even faster than it rose.
And this one shows yesterday's visitors compared to the last 30 days.
Now don't get me wrong, I appreciate the visitors, but this sort of thing is actually kind of frustrating. If I click the back link in the stats, I get a generic Stumbleupon page; I can't see the actual post or feed that links to me. Not one of these visitors left any kind of comment, so I have no idea which item(s) were so compelling as to bring in over 2100 visitors in a few hours. Finally, I've been having fun watching the uneven and slow growth of visits and readers in this blog. A spike like that will make it difficult to see anything else for the next month.
Still, I have to admit taking a pleased double-take when I saw the number of visitors had increased by a factor of ten, when I made one last check before going to bed.
...information was received that the climber was approximately five feet from the edge on a cornice when it gave way.That's a nice picture, above, but I guarantee that it's not as pretty right now. It's rainy (i.e. snowy in the mountains), overcast (i.e. socked in at high elevations), breezy (i.e. howling up high), and getting dark. Wishing the victim and searchers-rescuers the best of luck.
A helicopter from J&L Aviation responded to the area and located a 50-year-old male on a 45-degree snow slope near the bottom of the crater. The medical condition of the climber is unknown at this time although he is blowing an emergency whistle.
Followup: OregonLive has another article, with some nice link resources. The above photo was clearly taken in mid to late summer; note the lack of snow. The view is ENE, and the peak in the right distance is Mt. Adams, the only Cascade peak that has ever seen mining operations. Native sulfur from fumeroles near the top has been mined in the past, though I don't know that was ever profitable. I do know it wasn't profitable in the long run.
Followup, 7:00 PM 2/16: Sadly, he didn't make it. Helicopter rescue crews had to back off in the face of windy, stormy conditions. When I heard that on a local news break last night (Yes, I have been watching the Olympics), I was afraid this might be the outcome.
Actually, languages can be very tricky in this respect. The eminent linguistic philosopher J. L. Austin of Oxford once gave a lecture in which he asserted that there are many languages in which a double negative makes a positive, but none in which a double positive makes a negative — to which the Columbia philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser, sitting in the audience, sarcastically replied, “Yeah, yeah.”I have been telling this as a joke for years, with the punchline delivered by an anonymous student yelling "yeah, right." And I've come across descriptions claiming that the joke was based on an actual exchange, but I've never seen an authoritative statement of that fact. So the above tickled me.
I'm really looking forward to his reaching calculus- integral calculus especially. Everything up through algebra, geometry, trig and to a lesser extent, derivative calculus, just seems sort of intuitive to me. I didn't have to work at it very much, I just got it.
But when you start pulling extra dimensions out of nowhere, I get confused.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Alphville, via Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
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The Daily What
My First Dictionary
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(Grocery Store | Redlands, CA, USA)Not Always Right
(A mother approaches me with her daughter.)
Customer: “I’m hosting some of my daughters friends for the night and I couldn’t find your condoms.” *puts her hand on her daughter’s head* “Lucy is turning 13.”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Customer: “You know, condoms! Ketchup and mustard. We’re having a BBQ. It’s simple. Where are they?”
Me: “Oh! Condiments.”
Customer: “Yes, condoms. Where are they?”
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From This Is Why You're Fat, the Meta [Mega?] Meat Cake:
Four types of sausage, bratwurst, chorizo, ground beef, ground pork, diced ham, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, hickory smoked bacon, hot cappy, queso blanco, provolone and sharp cheddar, wrapped in sausage, bacon and cheese ball dough and baked. Then decorated with American, cheddar squeeze cheese and bacon strips.
Probably Bad News
There, I Fixed It
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File this under "stuff I have a hard time keeping straight." Actually it just dawned on me that this is the same as "nine weeks before the standard election day." Criggo
Epic Eye Chart from Skull Swap
That Will Buff Out
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Via The Daily What
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Let's get ethical... Criggo
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
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Probably Bad News
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see more Friends of Irony. Finding Nemo...
This is why one should be cautious about bringing claims against the city. Criggo
Took me a moment, and totally worth it. Failblog
From This is Why You're Fat, bacon cheese turtleburgers:
Ground beef pattie topped with sharp cheddar cheese, wrapped in a bacon weave shell with hot dog head, legs and tail.
see more Celeb Look-A-Likes Uncanny, but I imagine Voldemort has a better voice than Billy Corgan.
Cheerleaders and carnivorous dinosaurs don't mix. Via The Daily What.
Doghouse Diaries (Click for readable size)
From Cake Wrecks, oddly with no poo jokes. And check out today's sweets.
I'm glad they got real expert for that one. Probably Bad News
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Cyanide and Happiness
Sour karma from Criggo. I have lived close to this location twice: less than a block away during 2nd and 3rd grade, then a few blocks away during high school.
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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
Epic Win. I think a lot people would like a donation box for especially difficult children.
Skull Swap. Posted with the comment "This cat's probably mad it's got nine lives right now..."
It took me a moment to see the problem in this one. Criggo