Saturday, May 29, 2010


Hat Tip to RH Foster's Shared items... I finally got around to watching this, and I'm awfully glad.

Saturd80's: Unintentional English Edition

English Beat, Mirror in The Bathroom:

Kate Bush, Under Ice

XTC, No Thugs in Our House

Bonus XTC! I love this song! Towers of London:


Okay, I can see the intended humor of the above cartoon, but I really don't like it. What is it trying to say? That scientists see themselves as god-like? They don't. No one is more aware of a scientist's fallibility than scientists. It is central to the process of science to criticize and find flaws in one's own work and that of others. That simply shows that in doing science, we expect to make mistakes, and that sometimes the mistakes aren't obvious or glaring. Hardly god-like.

Is it trying to say the general public should view this achievement as god-like? They shouldn't. If they do, they misunderstand what science is. Basically, we observe the world around us, make lots of (well-informed) guesses about how it works, then look for reasons to think that guess is wrong. Edit, lather, rinse, repeat... endlessly. Sometimes we find guesses that work better than older guesses, sometimes we find that old guesses couldn't logically be correct, and sometimes we're left hanging in limbo for excruciating periods of time. Dark matter and dark energy are two concepts that come to mind with respect to the latter: we have ample evidence that they exist, but we don't really have a clue as to how they work or what they are. In fairness, we have quite a few things we know they aren't, so that's progress. Hardly god-like.

Is it trying to say the cartoonist sees this as god-like? Unlikely. Political cartoonists may be the one group of people as a whole who are more cynical, sarcastic and jaundiced with respect to human nature than I am. And I'm not inclined to see any human achievement as god-like.

Is it saying that this is a miraculous achievement? I suspect that's what it's trying to get at, but even that is a clean miss. Yes, if you focus for years on achieving some particular goal- in this case, inserting a synthetically created DNA molecule into a cell to "create" a functioning life form- you are much more likely to reach that goal, at least compared to your chances if that's not what you're trying to do. The news surrounding this has made it sound comparable to the leap from hand-cranked mechanical calculators to modern integrated chips. It's more like figuring out how to write a very simple program to display "Hello, world" on computers that we just happen to have laying all around us. To quote from the Wiki article linked there,
Such a program is typically one of the simplest programs possible in most computer languages. It is often considered to be tradition among programmers for people attempting to learn a new programming language to write a "Hello World!" program as one of the first steps of learning that particular language. Some are surprisingly complex, especially in some graphical user interface (GUI) contexts, but most are very simple, especially those which rely heavily on a particular command line interpreter ("shell") to perform the actual output.
And there you have it: it can be surprisingly complex, but most often it's pretty simple. It's not as if we now have the ability to create life from scratch.

This is not to detract from the researchers' efforts and achievement; both are impressive, and deserve respect. But I think the cartoon above both denigrates the concept of "God," and overstates the nature and impact of what was done. And yeah, I'm probably over-thinking it, but it really does get under my skin and irritate me when I see stuff like this, and science is an area where I feel more comfortable calling "hubris alert" when I see it happening.

For a more thoughtful context and framework in which to place this news, see the always excellent Olivia Judson's commentary on the news this week. I really need to point to her writing more often, and this week's essay is a great place to start.

"There are moments that I've had some real brilliance, you know,"

RIP Dennis Hopper.

"But I think they are moments. And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough."

Yes, you did, sir, and yes, sometimes they are.

You will be missed.

Friday, May 28, 2010

@BPGlobalPR: BP Cares

I had seen the (mock) Twitter account a few days ago, but this article at the Guardian does a remarkable job of explaining the role of PR in modern life.
You see, big corporations often make a lot of irresponsible decisions because for the most part, they are fuelled by greed. Our job is to step in and engage the public while villains hide out and look for legal loopholes so they can make money again. Here are the simple steps you must take in any PR campaign. We'll use our most recent BP campaign as a case study:

1. Acknowledge the problem without acknowledging specifics. This was our very first tweet:
@BPGlobalPR: We regretfully admit that something has happened off of the Gulf Coast. More to come.
2. Be open about one piece of bad news and no more. You want to appear human, but you don't want to appear like a bunch of idiots. There's another word I'd use there, but I don't think I can. It rhymes with mickleticks.
@BPGlobalPR: Sadly we can no longer certify our oil as Dolphin Safe.
Those are just the first two tips of seven; I also much enjoyed number 6:
6. Be willing to laugh at yourself! After I spilled a salad on my lap, I immediately tweeted about it.
@BPGlobalPR: Eating at a very expensive restaurant and spilled salad dressing on my pants. Not sure how to tackle this.
Others I've enjoyed from the Twitter account include the following
Flying Rand Paul in to consult. Evidently he's an expert at keeping black out of places. #bpcares

If you've ever wanted to take a dump in the ocean, now is your chance. #whynot? #bpcares

What a gorgeous day! The ocean is filled with the most beautiful rainbows! #yourewelcome #bpcares

Our company psychiatrists say now is the time to move onto the last phase of experiencing a tragedy, acceptance mixed with forgetfulness.

Sarah Palin keeps sending us cutesy Evites to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Even we are disturbed. #bpcares #wearebppr

They want to fine us $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled? Umm, we're not spilling barrels, the oil is going directly into the gulf. DUH

Lots of people blaming this on Bush or Obama. Pph, we wish. The truth is Presidents don't have any control over what we do. #bpcares

The ocean looks just a bit slimmer today. Dressing it in black really did the trick! #bpcares
Also too, that logo pictured up top is available on a tee-shirt; proceeds go to The Gulf Restoration Network.

Lost on Me

I was not a fan of "Diff'rent Strokes," nor of Gary Coleman. But this amused me. From The Frogman.

"I Am Hopeful"

I'm glad I chose that word, rather than "optimistic," because I wasn't really optimistic. But I was, and remain, hopeful, despite this news:
If the efforts succeeded, officials intended to pump cement into the well to seal it. But the company suspended pumping operations at 2:30 a.m. Friday after two junk shot attempts, said the technician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the efforts.

The suspension of the effort was not announced, and appeared to again contradict statements by company and government officials that suggested the top kill procedure was progressing Friday.
So BP told the Coast Guard that the oil flow had been contained, while knowing they had suspended operations hours earlier? I hope we castrate every BP executive, and lock them away for life. I hope we confiscate every penny of BP profit for the next decade. I hope people can learn to metabolize tar balls. But I have precious little hope left for the Gulf, and the people who live nearby.


I have been a little flabbergasted at some of the rumors and myths regarding the census over the last couple of months, and they continue to crawl out from under inside the rocks occupying the right's cranial spaces. From
  • It’s not true that Census workers can demand that your landlord let Census workers into your apartment when you are absent, as claimed by a conservative former House member.
  • And it’s also not true that the Census Bureau is artificially inflating official employment figures by causing temporary hires to be counted multiple times, as claimed by a newspaper columnist.
The sources of those two lies are former Representative Bob Barr (R-Ga) and New York Post columnist John Crudele, respectively.

And to proactively avert some other misleading "facts" about the census, I offer the following:
  • You are not required to provide sexual sevices to Census workers on demand.
  • Census workers are not authorized to remove children or belongings from your home.
  • Census workers are not expected to take nude photographs of you or other residents in your domicile "for the permanent record."
  • You are not required to allow Census workers to take your vehicle for a test drive.
  • Census workers will not ask to install cameras in rooms around your dwelling, nor are you encouraged to allow them to do so.
  • Finally, Census workers are not creating a visible record of their visit by drawing, in permanent black marker, Hitler mustaches on you and other residents of your home. If someone wearing such a mustache tells you that's what happened to them, it's either Hitler or Glenn Beck. Run.
Hope that clarifies everything.

Top Killed?

As of about an hour ago, BP is claiming to have stanched the escape of oil from the well in the Gulf of Mexico, using a mixture of drilling mud, golf balls and shredded tires.
HOUSTON — By injecting solid objects overnight as well as heavy drilling fluid into the stricken well leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico, engineers appeared to have stemmed the flow of oil, Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, the leader of the government effort, said on Friday morning. But he stressed that the next 12 to 18 hours would be “very critical” in permanently stanching what is already the worst oil spill in United States history.
As that passage makes clear, this is not absolutely the end, but I am hopeful.

While the worsening of the disaster may be coming to a close, the actual size and impact is still unknown, as are future repercussions. Unsurprisingly, sensing the possibility of blood in the water more intensely than oil, Republicans are screaming bloody murder about the moratorium barring new drilling. "Drill, Baby, Drill" is still in vogue in some quarters.

Followup: here's a mapplet that overlays the outline of the spill on your location- it's quicker than the one I posted a while back, and automatically recognized where I was. I do wish that people who design things like this would note the date that the template is based on.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nyctereutes lockwoodi

Cute as buttons!
Nyctereutes is an east Asian genus of the family Canidae, consisting of just one living species, the Raccoon Dog. Nyctereutes, as a genus, is shown to have appeared about 9.0 Ma with all but one species becoming extinct before the Pleistocene.
I had heard of these creatures before, but I don't think I'd ever seen a photo. And despite the cuteness factor, they probably have massive teeth and a predisposition to disembowel prey many times their size, or spit acid or some such. Still, I was tickled to read at Laelaps that a new species has been identified in the fossil record.
The new canid, a relative of the living raccoon dog dubbed Nyctereutes lockwoodi in honor of paleontologist Charles Lockwood, is represented by a complete skull and a smattering of other material.
Now here's the punchline: my namesake was Charles Brown Lockwood, my fourth or fifth great-grandfather. He went to California with the forty-niners, quickly realized he wasn't going to find gold, and set himself up a dry goods and mining supply store. He went back to Cleveland, invested the money he had earned and saved into the steel industry, and indirectly, it's his work that is supporting me today. (Just to be clear, neither he nor I have ever been qualified to say much about paleontology).

And while I have gone by "Lockwood" as my "first" name for my entire life, confoundingly to bureaucracies and computers, my full name is Charles Lockwood DeWitt. So I'm pleased to think that this dog-like creature, whose name honors "Charles Lockwood," was even cuter, less dangerous, and more inclined to enjoy pets and pats than the lovely animals above.

Don't Forget Haiti

I come across articles on Haiti from time to time, mostly in foreign sources. But this one is from right here in Oregon:
Certainly, Burley knew about the devastation in Haiti from the earthquake that struck in January, but nothing could have prepared her for the sights that met her 18-member Project Helping Hands team when the plane reached the capital city of Port-Au-Prince.

“I had only flown over big cities like Seattle which had huge houses and were really organized,” Burley said. “When we were flying over Haiti all I could see were blue tarps. Then we immediately saw all of the fallen houses.”

The Haiti airport was chaos. The baggage claim area was a free-for-all where the PHH team “made a mad dash to get our stuff” before it could be stolen. Burley was carrying 150 pounds of luggage, almost all of it medical supplies.

Next, she was greeted by “hundreds of faces looking at you. It was a little scary at first.”

The weather was strictly abominable, 90 degrees hot mixed with 90 percent humidity. “You felt you couldn’t breathe,” Burley said.

In their first two days in the country, her mission team treated 900 patients.
With the ongoing (though possibly optimistic- I'm trying to find clearer info) situation in the Gulf, it's easy to forget. We are, as a nation, fabulously forgetful. In case you need a reminder,
The earthquake occurred at 16:53 local time (21:53 UTC) on Tuesday, 12 January 2010. An estimated three million people were affected by the quake; the Haitian Government reported that an estimated 230,000 people had died, 300,000 had been injured and 1,000,000 made homeless.
Haiti is still in desperate need even 4 1/2 months later, and will be for years to come. Please remember.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Love It!

A recursive link... it takes you to itself twice!

The Goose That Lays Golden Eggs

Rick Sanchez once again demonstrates the incredible depths of his ineptitude:
3.28pm: Wow, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez is asking a retired admiral some very silly questions, such as why can't we use our nuclear submarines? (Because they couldn't do anything, the admiral says gently.) But then Sanchez goes one step further in demanding to know why the US military aren't being used in the Gulf right now:

We see our guys over there solving the problems of the Iraqis ... and now it's our country that's in need, why can't we use those boots on the ground to solve our problems in our country?

Who needs Fox News when CNN has comedy gold like that?

From a live reporting/blogging story at The Guardian.

Wednesday Wednesday


How LOST Should Have Ended

I know nothing about the series, never watched an episode. But of course, a big part of news and blogospheric discussion has been about the final episode. Some liked it, some hated it. I have to say, the "resolution" seems sort of lame to me. I think the following shows a little more imagination. Lack of Spoiler Alert: This is not how the show actually ended!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday Tits

Crested Tit: Parus cristatus.

Utterly Consistent

Not. Bobby Jindal, then:
The strength of America is not found in our government. It is found in the compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens. We are grateful for the support we have received from across the nation for the ongoing recovery efforts. This spirit got Louisiana through the hurricanes and this spirit will get our nation through the storms we face today.

To solve our current problems, Washington must lead. But the way to lead is not to raise taxes and not to just put more money and power in hands of Washington politicians. The way to lead is by empowering you, the American people. Because we believe that Americans can do anything.
So is Bobby boy now saying that Louisianans should sop up the oil with "compassionate hearts and the enterprising spirit of our citizens?" Not exactly.
“We need to make the federal government accountable,” Jindal said Monday in Louisiana, with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at his side.
“We have been frustrated with the disjointed effort to date that has too often meant too little, too late to stop the oil from hitting our coast,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said during a Monday news conference at Port Fourchon with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“BP is the responsible party, but we need the federal government to make sure they are held accountable and that they are indeed responsible. Our way of life depends on it,” Jindal said.
(Politico) Now don't get me wrong... I'm not suggesting we actually deliver the kind of gummint that Republicans are fond of claiming they want: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." What I am suggesting is that you can't have it both ways. If want a Libertarian paradise, move to Somalia. If you want a government that's robust and powerful enough to make a difference in the case of a disaster of this magnitude, you're going to have to pay for it. That means taxes. If you want to have disasters of this magnitude, by all means, keep fighting to end or minimize all oversight and regulation of corporations. If you'd prefer the only rational alternative to disasters like this one, you're going to want some pretty serious oversight and regulation.

There's plenty of room for disagreement about exactly how far we want the government's power to extend, but this sense that government shouldn't exist until you need it- until your "way of life" is threatened- is self-centered, juvenile, and blatantly stupid.

Not that I expect most of today's far-righties to comprehend that.

Towel Day?

Yes, Towel Day.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Towel Day: A Tribute to Douglas Adams
Monday May 14, 2001 06:00am PDT

Douglas Adams will be missed by his fans worldwide. So that all his fans everywhere can pay tribute to this genius, I propose that two weeks after his passing (May 25, 2001) be marked as "Towel Day". All Douglas Adams fans are encouraged to carry a towel with them for the day.

So long Douglas, and thanks for all the fish!

– D Clyde Williamson, 2001-05-14
(above from EpicPonyz, other pictures and quotes from the Wikipedia article linked at the top)

I had never heard of this commemoration before, so I'm not carrying my towel with me today. I do know exactly where it is, and I would have plenty of time to go grab it if a Vogon construction fleet were to show up... come to think of it, I'm sure Bill or another Interzone barista would let me use one of theirs in that event. So I'll just participate pictorially today. (Next from photobucket)
Thanks, Douglas Adams, for your hilarious philosophical meanderings that millions of us have shared.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Shocked! Shocked, I Tell You!

Last Wednesday the EPA ordered BP to stop using the dispersant Corexit within 72 hours, and switch to a safer and more effective alternative. As of today, BP is still using Corexit, with no apparent plans to change. I have been suspicious of ties between BP and Corexit's manufacturer for some time, but I'm well behind the curve on this one. The NYT's Greenwire had a report on this relationship on the 13th.
Critics say Nalco, which formed a joint venture company with Exxon Chemical in 1994, boasts oil-industry insiders on its board of directors and among its executives, including an 11-year board member at BP and a top Exxon executive who spent 43 years with the oil giant. "It's a chemical that the oil industry makes to sell to itself, basically," said Richard Charter, a senior policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife.
Cleanup workers suffered health problems afterward, including blood in their urine and assorted kidney and liver disorders. Some health problems were blamed on the chemical 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient discontinued in the latest version of Corexit, Corexit 9500, whose production Nalco officials say has been ramped up in response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Among Corexit's competitors, a product called Dispersit far outpaced Corexit 9500, EPA test results show, rating nearly twice as effective and between half and a third as toxic, based on two tests performed on fish and shrimp.
So it's not really a case of BP paying itself to use a more toxic, less effective dispersant, but a situation where BP affiliates are profiting from BP's choice of a more dangerous and less effective choice.
The company was founded in 1994 as a joint venture with ExxonMobil's chemical division. Nalco bought out Exxon's share in 2001, but retained its strong oil industry ties. One Nalco board member, Daniel Sanders, and a vice president, Steve Taylor, both served as senior executives at Exxon. Another Nalco board member, Rodney Chase, worked for BP for 38 years. In an interview, Nalco spokesman Charles Pajor says that former oil industry officials are "not by any means a majority" of the company’s corporate leadership. Nevertheless, cleanup effort has been good business for Nalco: the company has reported that it expects to sell $40 million worth of dispersants by the end of this week. Pajor says it's BP's decision to invest so heavily in one chemical. "It's a matter of them making a choice of what they've had experience using in the past and feel that it works for them," he says.
Meanwhile, the manufacturer of Dispersit,
Gebhardt says he could make 60,000 gallons a day of Dispersit to meet the needs of spill-containment efforts. Dispersit was formulated to outperform Corexit and got EPA approval 10 years ago, he said, but the dispersant has failed to grab market share from its larger rival.
(The above excerpt is from the first article at Greenwire.) BP argues that Dispersit "may" contain a component that breaks down into a persistent hormone disruptor. However, that compound, if it does in fact break down into a byproduct of concern, is a microscopic proportion of hormone disruptors present in the oil... which is still leaking into the Gulf at rates many times what BP would have us believe.

Under the Weather

I seem to have acquired some nasty flu or cold... at first I thought cold, but the achiness and disorientation suggest it might be flu. Dunno, don't much care. I don't get these things very often; it's been years since I've had one of these bugs, but I generally weather them OK. Just miserable for two or three days.

So the upshot is, posting is likely to be light for a while... my brain seems to be more full of snot than my sinuses. I read stuff, come to the end, and have no idea what the piece was even about. Not conducive to coherence.

See ya.

Accretionary Wedge: Geo-Images

Followup, June 2: This wedge has been accreted.

The theme for this month's Accretionary Wedge is geo-images. I haven't seen anyone post any of Ansel Adams' photos yet, and the one below has always mesmerized me. (from here, and there is an enormous version here- highly recommended!)

Ansel Adams, Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine, California, 1944Adams had a special fondness for the Sierra Nevada and its surroundings. Mount Whitney, the tallest point in the 48 contiguous states, is the prominent peak on the right. (The peak on the left is closer to the valley and thus looks higher in comparison.) The Alabama Hills are largely shadowed in the mid-ground, and grazing horse is lit in a sunbeam a little closer, giving the viewer a better sense of scale.

To me, this photograph has always captured the grandeur of geology and nature, and the preciousness of life in a harsh world. As geologists, we are forced to confront the fact that a great deal of our world is beyond our comprehension... we can calculate and compare, use analogies and metaphors, but comprehension is elusive. This is where images can help: by hitting us in the gut with a sense of the beauty and scales involved, we may, for a brief time, at least feel as if we comprehend. That sense may be fleeting, but the memory of it is a powerful thing. A truly outstanding image is one we can return to again, over the passage of a lifetime, as I have with this one, and once again capture a sense of the sublime.

Not saying it's wrong, but I think it's a measure of mankind's attitude toward this world that the field in which the horse is grazing is now a golf course.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Old joke, but it may be old enough that it's fresh for others.

Oddly, the site where I found the original picture,, claims that this was the mailbox for Saint Ronnie himself in the post-presidency years, until the time of his death in June 2004. The site further claims the original address was 666, but Nancy had it changed.

Of course, I can't vouch for either of those claims. I'm just sayin'.

Tourism in Oregon

(click for bigger) Here's an interesting idea... a Google Maps template that uses the density of Panaramio photos as a proxy for "touristiness." I think at a certain level, it may not be the best proxy- for example Boise, Idaho is not a spot I think of as a hot tourist destination, but there are plenty of people there taking pictures. Nevertheless, from what I know of Oregon destinations, this is very good. The isolated yellow spot in the SE part of the state is Steens Mountain. Westward about halfway to the coast is a bright spot where Crater Lake sits. The coast is overall bright. Portland and the Columbia River Gorge are highlighted. The central Cascades, Bend-Sisters and Newberry Volcano stand out, and in the northeast corner of the state, the Wallowa Mountains are lit up as another bright spot.

With the exception of Portland, I'd say the ultimate draw in every one of those spots has its root in geology. Of course there's pretty stuff growing on the geology too, but the geology is the dominant factor.

Of course, I think pretty much the whole state should be bright yellow. I'll get to work on that.

Sunday Funnies

Just push the button to enter this week's funnies...
Friends of Irony
Animated Albums
Sober in a Nightclub
Señor Gif's
Bits and Pieces
Hacked IRL
My First Fail
Very Demotivational
Skull Swap
Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr
Bits and Pieces
Bits and Pieces
The Daily What
Hacked IRL
Señor Gif's
My First Dictionary
Joy of Tech
Probably Bad News
The High Definite
funny car photos
see more Funny Vehicles... that is actually quite disorienting to me.
Bits and Pieces
Noise to Signal
Cake Wrecks
God Hates Protestors
Sober in a Nightclub
Friends of Irony
see more Lol Celebs
Three Ewok That's No Moon, via The Daily What, and available here.
But they still opened in the first place. Hacked IRL
LadyPoppinsBug; Acting Like Animals
demotivational posters
see more Demotivators
Fake Science
Engrish Funny Stay away from the monkeys; they will make you danger, and won't invoke the cradle car.
Nothing's wrong... I remember that episode. Blackadder
Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr
Darius Whiteplume's Tumblr
Probably Bad News

Bits and Pieces
Calamities of Nature
One of 15 Clever Billboards at Oddee; the above is for hair coloring.